I’m preparing a sermon for this Sunday on Ephesians 2:1-10. It’s a great passage, and mostly it’s fairly straightforward, but there’s one phrase that’s is a bit confusing. Check it out: “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient” (Eph 2:1-2, ESV).
Who is this Prince of the Power of the Air? Well, since it’s some spiritual figure who seems to be diametrically opposed to God, you’d probably have a safe guess saying that it’s Satan. It sure is. But then the question becomes, why on earth is he being referred to in such a strange way? That’s what I’m trying to address in this post.
First, it’s imperative that we understand the meaning of the words in this phrase. I’ve gone with the ESV for this post (“prince of the power of the air”), but the NASB also renders it exactly the same, and the NIV gives us “ruler of the kingdom of the air.” A key word to understand is “power/kingdom.” It’s a bit vague.
The word translated “power/kingdom” (ἐξουσία) is usually translated into English as “authority,” but in this context carries the idea of “area of authority,” i.e. jurisdiction, domain. So the phrase is referring to Satan in terms of his domain, in terms of his jurisdiction, the realm over which he has power.
The ‘domain/kingdom of the air’ may be an unfamiliar idea to us, but basically, it’s referring to the domain that is above the kingdoms of the earth (mankind) but beneath the kingdom of heaven (God). By referring to Satan in terms of his domain, the writer is taking for granted that we understand Satan to be more powerful than any human, yet totally eclipsed in his power by God.
Satan has a rule, but it is a subordinate rule.
This is actually quite strongly implied in the passage, even though it’s very hard to catch in English. To see this, we have to look back just a few verses to Eph 1:21, when we’re told that Christ has been seated in authority “above every rule (ἀρχή) and authority (ἐξουσία).”
So we’re told that Christ has authority over every rule (ἀρχή) and authority (ἐξουσία), and only a few verses later, Satan is described as the ruler (ἄρχων) of the authority (ἐξουσία) of the air. We miss the connection in English, but for the original recipients of the letter, it would be impossible to miss the parallel.
Yes, Satan has some authority, but Christ has been seated in absolute authority far above him.
So it may seem strange to us that Paul wrote “the prince (ruler) of the power (authority) of the air” when he quite simply could have said “Satan,” but now we can see that by doing so, he was emphasizing that while Satan does have some authority, it is only a subordinate authority, and the ultimate authority belongs to Christ.