In this verse, Paul described the spiritual enemy. He had already mentioned the “devil”; but Satan has many allies, “the spiritual hosts of wickedness.”
It is a fact beyond denial that the ancient pagan world was organized along patterns of evil, and the whole pagan complex of antiquity was fitted together, dovetailed and interwoven in Such a manner as to forbid the notion that such a sprawling, powerful, effective and arrogant pagan society was merely accidental.
Satan had organized it.
Regarding “Principalities” there are various dominions of evil, that is, certain classifications of it. Paul’s use of some of these words here appears to be figurative; nevertheless, there were and are genuine realities behind them.
“World-rulers of this darkness” is a poetic expression of the idea conveyed by the expression `prince of this world,’ applied by Jesus himself to Satan.
The power of Satan is limited to them who yield themselves to do evil; and in no sense does Satan share ultimate authority with God.
“In heavenly places” is an expression, as Paul used it, sometimes means “in the very presence of God,” but in others it is limited to what might be called, loosely, the Christian religion; and it is so limited here.
Satan is not conducting any war in heaven against God!
However, religion, in the broad sense, provides a very extensive and convenient field of satanic operations, the great apostasy itself having been produced in the church herself.
The crisis of all ages had arrived.
Jesus would die on the cross to redeem men from the curse of sin, enabling them to be saved eternally, and to restore the fellowship with God, broken such a long while before by the disaster in Eden.
That the cosmic victory over Satan would be won by such a thing as the death of Christ on Calvary is the mystery hidden before times eternal.
The victory came through death itself, and that at the very moment when Satan might have thought that he had won (Hebrews 2:15).
The words Jesus spoke here were in anticipation of that victory.
“The prince of this world” refers to Satan, called also the “god of this world,” and “the prince of the powers of the air.” The casting out will be accomplished by the cross, as verse 32 shows:
The prince of the world … is another reference to Satan as in John 12:31.
Hath nothing in me …
There is a hint here that Satan might have expected to have something in Christ; but the Saviour calmly announced that he would do what the Father had commanded, that is, die on the cross; and how, it may be wondered, had Satan hoped to thwart that?
Satan had already exhausted every resource in vain efforts to kill Jesus; but with the announcement that Jesus would lay down his life of his own accord (John 10:17,18).
That such a temptation came to Jesus is certain from Matthew 26:53.
Jesus here announced that Satan’s strategy had failed.
The price of human redemption would be paid by the Saviour.
Convict the world … The means of the Spirit’s convicting the world…
He will convict the world, not by direct work upon their hearts, but as the event shows (Acts 2:37), through the life of the apostles, declaring the wonderful works of God. The Holy Spirit came not “unto the world” but “unto the apostles.”
The world could not receive the Spirit directly (John 14:17), and never can, AS THE WORLD.
The apostles received him, and through their testimony he reaches the world.
And HE …
The Trinitarian concept of three persons in the Godhead is in these verses. See under John 16:14-15.
Convict, involves the conceptions of authoritative examination, of unquestionable proof, of decisive judgment, and of punitive power.
He who “convicts” another places the truth in a clear light before him, so that it must be seen and acknowledged as truth … He who then rejects … rejects it with his eyes open and at his peril.
The issue of whether the world will or will not receive the truth is not treated here.
Sin … righteousness … judgment …
The comprehensiveness of these terms is boundless.
Here are the two fundamentals of man’s spiritual condition and the two options, or alternatives, open to him.
The Spirit convicts of sin, revealing man’s fallen estate and bondage to Satan, and showing his total helplessness to achieve through his own efforts any healing of his condition.
“Sin … righteousness … judgment …”
Over against these three words stand three proper names: Adam, Christ, and Satan.
Through Adam came sin; through Christ came righteousness; and upon Satan the penalty of ultimate judgment shall fall (John 16:11).
The “world” acting through its representatives, had charged Christ as a sinner (John 9:24).
Its leaders trusted that they were “righteous” (Luke 18:9), and they were at the point of giving sentence against the “prince of Life” (Acts 3:15) as a malefactor (John 18:30).
At this point the threefold error (Acts 3:17), which the Spirit was to reveal and reprove, had brought at last its fatal fruit.
Any human intelligence capable of understanding the phenomenal connections of these three words (sin, righteousness, and judgment) with all that was previously written in John, and as encompassing in their total significance the entire history of Adam’s race from Eden to the Great White Throne – any mind which sees all that can only marvel at a critic’s conclusion that such words “do not fit.”
The soul that does not believe in Jesus Christ is convicted of sin.
Of righteousness …
The world is convicted of this by:
- Christ’s return to God.
- The absolute finality of Christ’s work – “ye behold me no more.”
Jesus’ resurrection and ascension to God were irrefutable proof that his total message was from God; and his remaining thus at God’s right hand signaled the total completion of the righteousness which he wrought.
Of judgment, because the prince of this world … Calvary was intended by Christ’s enemies as their judgment of him; but God made it the judgment of his enemies, particularly of Satan, the prince of this world.
The cross indeed bruised the heel of the seed of woman, but it bruised the head of Satan. Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection condemned the value-judgments of men.
Wicked men, living lives of conformity to the will of their prince (Satan) behold in Christ the rejection by Almighty God of their principles of judgment.
The way of Christ was declared by his resurrection to be the right way.
The Spirit of God would never cease from Pentecost and ever afterward to convict the world of what righteousness really is.
Turning, now, from the work of the Spirit as it concerned the world, Christ spoke of the work of the Spirit within the apostles.