…11Put on the full armor of God, so that you can make your stand against the devil’s schemes. 12For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this world’s darkness, and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. 13Therefore take up the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you will be able to stand your ground, and having done everything, to stand.…
Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers(12) For we wrestle.–Properly, For our wrestling is. That there is a struggle, a “battle of life,” must be assumed at once by all who look at the world as it is; the question is whether it is against flesh and blood, or against a more unearthly power of evil.
Flesh and blood.–Or rather (as perhaps also in Hebrews 2:14), blood and flesh. So in John 1:13, “Not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh.” In Matthew 16:17, 1Corinthians 15:50, we have “flesh and blood.” The sense is clearly, as the comparison of all these passages shows, “mere human power.” Possibly the word “blood” is here put first to prevent even a moment’s confusion with the idea of wrestling against “the flesh” as an evil power within ourselves. In many passages of this Epistle St. Paul had dwelt on the opposition of the Christian to the heathen life, and the duty of rebuking and putting to shame the works of darkness; but here he warns us that the struggle is not a struggle with the “flesh and blood” of wicked men–a struggle which may still admit of some reserve of sympathy–but a truceless war with the spiritual powers of evil themselves.
Against principalities, against powers.–See Note on Ephesians 1:21.
Against the rulers . . .–“Principalities” and “powers” describe simply angelic powers, whether of good or evil. But in the following clauses St. Paul defines them as powers of evil, and appears to indicate two different aspects of this evil power. The original phrase is striking and powerful, “against the world-rulers of this darkness, against the spiritual powers of wickedness in the heavenly places.”
The rulers of the darkness.–Properly, the world-rulers of this darkness. This phrase is simply a poetical expression of the idea conveyed by the title “the prince of this world,” applied to Satan in John 12:31; John 14:30; John 16:11 (on which see Notes). For “this darkness” is obviously (as our version renders it, following an early gloss on the passage) “the darkness of this present world,” as a world overshadowed by sin, and so kept, wholly or partially, from the light of God. The title “the prince of this world,” was applied by the Jews to Satan, especially in reference to his power over the heathen, as lying outside the safety of the covenant. St. Paul applies it in a corresponding sense here to those outside the wider covenant of the gospel; just as in 1Corinthians 5:5, 1Timothy 1:20, he speaks of excommunication from the Church as a “delivery to Satan.” The spirits of evil are therefore spoken of as wielding the power which the Tempter claims for himself (in Luke 4:6) over such souls as are still in darkness and alienation from God. This is a power real, but limited and transitory, able only to enslave those who “yield themselves” to it, and destined to be overcome; and it seems to refer especially to the concrete power of evil, exercised through physical and human agency.
Spiritual wickedness in high places.
–The “spiritual powers” are not spiritual principles, but “spiritual hosts” of wickedness; and the phrase “in the heavenly places,” corresponding to “the power of the air” in Ephesians 2:2 (where see Note), stands obviously in antithesis to “the darkness of this world.” The sense, as in all other cases, seems to be local. (See Note on Ephesians 1:3.) The spiritual hosts of evil are described as fighting in the region above the earth. But the meaning underlying this figure surely points to the power of evil as directly spiritual, not acting through physical and human agency, but attacking the spirit in that higher aspect, in which it contemplates heavenly things and ascends to the communion with God. As the former idea corresponds to the gross work of temptation on the high mountain, so this to the subtler spiritual temptation on the pinnacle of the temple.
Pulpit Commentary Verse 12. – For we wrestle not against flesh and blood. Our conflict is not with men, here denoted by “flesh and blood,” which is usually a symbol of weakness, therefore denoting that our opponents are not weak mortals, but powers of a far more formidable order. But against the principalities, against the powers. The same words as in Ephesians 1:21; therefore the definite article is prefixed, as denoting what we are already familiar with: for though all of these, evil as well as good, have been put under Christ the Head, they have not been put under the members, but the evil among them are warring against these members with all the greater ferocity that they cannot assail the Head. Against the world-rulers of this [state of] darkness (comp. Ephesians 2:2). “World-rulers” denotes the extent of the dominion of these invisible foes – the term is applied only to the rulers of the most widely extended tracts; there is no part of the globe to which their influence does not extend, and where their dark rule does not show itself (comp. Luke 4:6). “This darkness” expressively denotes the element and the results of their rule. Observe contrast with Christ’s servants, who are children of light, equivalent to order, knowledge, purity, joy, peace, etc.; while the element of the devil and his servants is darkness, equivalent to confusion, ignorance, crime, terror, strife, and all misery. Against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. The natural meaning, though questioned by some, is, either that these hosts of wickedness have their residence in heavenly places, or, that these places are the scene of our conflict with them. The latter seems more agreeable to the context, for “in heavenly places” does not denote a geographical locality here any more than in Ephesians 1:3 and Ephesians 2:6. When it is said that “we have been seated with Christ in heavenly places,” the allusion is to the spiritual experience of his people; in spirit they are at the gate of heaven, where their hearts are full of heavenly thoughts and feelings; the statement now before us is that, even in such places, amid their most fervent experiences or their most sublime services, they are subject to the attacks of the spirits of wickedness.