The Kingdom of Darkness
by Gerald R. Thompson*
For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places. (Eph. 6:12 – KJV).
Many people conceive of the battle between good and evil as a contest or competition for men’s souls. This is an unfortunate characterization because it misses the point in two significant ways.
First, people – men’s souls – are merely pawns in this great battle, not the ultimate goal. I know it’s a difficult concept to grasp, but it’s not all about you. From the Devil’s perspective, people are simply a means to an end. He wants to rule the world, and in order to do this, he needs people who are willing to serve him (knowingly or unknowingly), and to die for him if need be (and many millions will die). In other words, the Devil needs pawns – useful idiots, really – to help him achieve his goals, which He simply cannot achieve by himself.
From God’s perspective, unlike the Devil, He actually loves people and cares for them, and wants to live with them. Nevertheless, the disposition of men’s souls has never been a numbers game. The salvation He offers has never been calculated to generate more followers than the Devil. “For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” (Mt. 7:14). God has known from the beginning that the vast majority of people will not be saved. He is in no way threatened by the fact that the Devil will accumulate the most followers. That is not what the battle is about.
Second, the battle between good and evil is mostly a contest between two kingdoms – the kingdom of God vs. the kingdom of darkness. Yes, the battle is between God and the Devil, but it is entirely kingdom related: Who will ultimately sit on the throne of heaven and rule the entire world going forward? God has always been on the throne until now, of course. For the Devil’s part, he wants to unseat God, usurp the throne of heaven and earth, and establish himself as the supreme God.
For His part, God is not worried about the outcome – He knows with absolute certainty that the Devil’s rebellion will ultimately amount to nothing. He knows the Devil’s efforts will fail miserably, and the Devil will not only be imprisoned and suffer for eternity, but he will also be humiliated and put to shame in the process. Nevertheless, God is content to let the process play out in history, as it provides a suitable context for people to come to a decision about whom they really want to serve and follow.
The Devil has no choice but to play along, since God has defined the game and set all of its rules. On the other hand, people are dumb and easily deceived. So the Devil’s strategy, among other things, is to make things appear as though the outcome of this great contest has not been predetermined, but is up for grabs. He also deceives people into thinking that the rules of the game can be rewritten in order to change the outcome. He even deceives people into thinking that God’s overthrow would be a good thing for them in the long run.
What I want to do here is examine the manner in which the Devil’s kingdom – the kingdom of darkness – has been laying the groundwork for thousands of years to bring about this grand rebellion against God, and to make a play for the throne of heaven which will ultimately fail. And how most of the people around you will get sucked in to choosing the wrong side. To avoid getting sucked in yourself, it might be profitable to see what the Devil’s game plan is.
“See, I have set before you today life and good, death and evil.” (Dt. 30:15).
I talk about the battle of good vs. evil as a clash of kingdoms for a specific reason. A kingdom is, by definition, a form of sovereignty ruled by a leader (a king) who sits on a throne, issues commands and leads his forces into battle. A kingdom requires a king, and a king requires a personality – an identifiable person in charge. Forget about evil being merely the dark side of the force, or dark magic as opposed to light magic. On the side of good is God the true king of the world, whose word is law. On the side of evil is the dark one, the Devil who is the wannabe king of the world, and whose every action and intention is lawless.
In biblical terms, evil is disobedience or rebellion against God’s laws. However, the Devil is not the only person who violates God’s laws. Every person who is or ever was, was born lawless. Anyone may of their own free will participate in lawless behavior, and is quite frankly unable to restrain themselves. In other words, people sin, or are lawless, not because the Devil made them do it, but because they are predisposed to sin ever since the original Fall into sin. However, this human tendency to sin is not the only kind of evil there is.
Evil is not merely a personal choice, nor is it merely haphazard and random. There are forces – personalities – which the scripture calls the rulers of the darkness of this world, who are encouraging, manipulating, orchestrating, and plotting the increased lawlessness of human behavior. Therefore, evil has two components: an internal predilection, and an external inducement. This external component not only has a global leader with specific goals and methods, but also in fact an organizational structure designed to bring about the kingdom of darkness. This is what I wish to examine.
You may not believe in the Devil as a real person. If so, that is your choice. But the Bible speaks very clearly about the Devil, also called Satan, Lucifer, the serpent, the dragon, and several other symbolic names. I will simply assume the scriptures are true and accurate in this regard, and see what else they tell us about the kingdom of the Devil, how it operates, and what its main goals are. What you do with this information is up to you.
The Devil’s Backstory
First, a little background on the Devil and his origin story. It used to be, 50 or 60 years ago, that most churchgoers knew this information because they were taught it in sermons, Sunday School, or even in Bible studies. However, this is information that is rarely talked about anymore, if at all. So, let’s do a brief review to make sure we are all on the same page.
The Devil was created as a guardian cherub, an angel of high position within the heavenly host, called Lucifer, Day Star, or Son of the Morning, depending on the Bible translation. (Isa. 14:12). Apparently, he was very much like the guardian cherubs assigned to guard the Garden of Eden once Adam and Eve were cast out of it. (Gen. 3:24). Now remove any picture in your mind of cute, chubby, cuddly, baby-faced cherubs with little bows who shoot arrows of love at people on Valentine’s Day. We’re talking about warrior angels in battle dress who wield flaming swords of death, here.
“You were the signet of perfection, full of wisdom and perfect in beauty. You were in Eden, the garden of God; every precious stone was your covering… On the day that you were created they were prepared. You were an anointed guardian cherub. I placed you; you were on the holy mountain of God; in the midst of the stones of fire you walked. You were blameless in your ways from the day you were created, till unrighteousness was found in you. … Your heart was proud because of your beauty; you corrupted your wisdom for the sake of your splendor. (Eze. 28:12-15,17).
In other words, the Devil was initially made perfect, like the rest of God’s creation. He was blameless until he became prideful and corrupted his wisdom. The extent of the Devil’s pride and corruption is described in Isaiah, where it is made obvious that his ambitions were to sit on the throne of heaven and to be like God. Small wonder then, that he tempted Eve with the desire to be like God. (Gen. 3:5).
“You said in your heart, I will ascend to heaven; above the stars of God I will set my throne on high; I will sit on the mount of assembly in the far reaches of the north; I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.'” (Isa. 14:13-14).
When the Devil became corrupt, he apparently convinced a third of the angelic host to defect, or rebel against God, along with him. (Rev. 12:4). This is the first angelic rebellion, which would have occurred prior to the temptation of Adam and Eve.
… God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to chains of gloomy darkness to be kept until the judgment. (2 Pet. 2:4). And the angels who did not stay within their own position of authority, but left their proper dwelling, he has kept in eternal chains under gloomy darkness until the judgment of the great day. (Jud. 6).
These fallen angels, that is, the participants in the angelic rebellion who were then cast out of heaven, are what are now known as demons. The Devil is the leader of these demon hordes. (Rev. 9:11). Again, put out of your mind any mental pictures of demons that you have seen in movies or TV shows. Also forget about personal demons in this context. We’re not talking about your internal struggles, we’re talking about rebellious angels – beings who are separate from us.
For his part, the Devil is variously called the god of this world (2 Cor. 4:4), the ruler of this world (Jn. 12:31; 14:30), and the prince of the power of the air (Eph. 2:2). According to 1 Jn. 5:19, the whole world lies in the power of the Devil.
However, in all of this the Devil has only one primary goal – the same one he has always had – to overthrow God and to rule over the earth in His place. Consequently, when we see the Devil’s dominion described in scripture, it always relates to the kingdoms and governments of the world, as we will see next. Why else would the Devil have a throne? (Rev. 2:13).
He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son. (Col. 1:13).
In this verse we see contrasted the kingdom of God and the kingdom of darkness. But the Devil’s dominion is not like our dominion. Many people incorrectly assume that because the Devil is said to be the ruler of this world, he has taken over the dominion of the earth originally given to mankind in Eden. Or that somehow because of the fall of mankind, we forfeited our God-given dominion and it defaulted back to the Devil. But of course, the scriptures nowhere say any such thing. These are unmerited assumptions contradicted both by logic and the fact mankind’s dominion was reaffirmed long after the fall. (Gen. 9:1ff).
The Devil isn’t interested in subduing the earth (as in owning property, working the land, etc.), ruling over the animal kingdom (by using them for domestic labor, or keeping pets), or starting families, making babies and raising children. Oh, he uses property and people to achieve his purposes, but other people’s property, other people’s families, and other people’s money. He isn’t merely trying to secure a better future for his family and friends.
And the fact is, mankind’s dominion has continued unabated ever since creation. People still make new families and have children, own property and transform the surface of the earth, work the land and rule over the animal kingdom. Nothing in the original Dominion Mandate (Gen. 1:28) has changed. I mean, if people stopped having babies, I must have missed it.
So when it is said the Devil rules this world, it means that at the same time people rule the world for domestic purposes, the Devil rules the world for some other purpose. Eph. 6:12 tells us that our spiritual warfare is directed against (depending on the translation), thrones, dominions, principalities, rulers, powers, and high places. All of these have one thing in common: they all pertain to governments. Not heavenly government, and not angelic government, but the real life governments we all deal with here on earth. What would you expect, given that the Devil’s chief ambition is governmental in nature, i.e., to rule the earth? He doesn’t just want to boss other angels around.
This is made manifestly clear in the Devil’s temptation of Jesus.
And the devil took him up and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time, and said to him, “To you I will give all this authority and their glory, for it has been delivered to me, and I give it to whom I will. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.” (Lk 4:5-7).
Now, the Old Testament scriptures never tell us that God gave the Devil authority over the kingdoms of the world. This has led some people to conclude that the Devil was merely lying when he claimed to have been given this authority, and he doesn’t really have it at all – he just wants people to think he has it.
But I argue the Devil had to have the actual ability to deliver the world’s kingdoms in order for Jesus to be genuinely tempted. If the Devil was lying, Jesus would have known he was lying, and that he could not actually deliver the kingdoms of the world. In which case, the Devil’s empty promise would not have tempted Jesus at all, and to say that it was a temptation would be disingenuous. If the Devil was lying, Jesus would have seen right through it and laughed at him. Therefore, I take the Devil’s claim to be a true statement.
Plus, there are several instances of things revealed in the New Testament about people in the Old Testament, that the O.T. itself never reveals. For instance, that Abraham was looking forward to the New Jerusalem. (Heb. 11:10). Or the fact that Moses was 40 years old when he fled Egypt, and 80 years old when he encountered God at the burning bush. (Acts 7:23, 30). So the Devil’s statement would not be out of character compared to other N.T. statements.
Yet, there is still more evidence that the Devil does indeed have authority over the governments of the world. Namely, that the scriptures at various times refer to the Devil as being the king over a real world government. Thus, the Devil is referred to as the king of Tyre in Eze. 28:12, a real city along the Mediterranean coast. But in the next few verses, the king of Tyre is described as being made perfect as a guardian cherub, who was present in the Garden of Eden. Undoubtedly, the city of Tyre had a real human king, probably several of them over the course of history. But were any of them angels present in Eden? No.
The indication is that whoever actually occupied the office of the king of Tyre, the Devil was the one who was the real power behind the throne, and the human king merely served the Devil’s pleasure. Another example is Isa. 14:4, where a taunt is raised against the king of Babylon, but later verses make clear the taunt is directed to Lucifer, who fell from the heavens. (Isa. 14:12). Now again, there were normal human beings who were king of Babylon in history – Nebuchadnezzar being one of them – but the clear indication is that the Devil was really running the Babylonian government.
Similarly, Isa. 14:25 is part of a prophecy directed against the Assyrian – not Assyria (the nation), or the Assyrians (a group of people), but one man. Which man? The Antichrist, the chief instrument of the Devil in waging war against God. And who is the Antichrist? He will be the leader of nations, specifically the ten nation confederation referred to as the beast kingdom in the end times. (Rev. 12:3; 13:1). Meaning that right up until the very end, the Devil will be exercising dominion over the kingdoms and governments of the world. This is his modus operandi. This is who he is.
Thus he said: “As for the fourth beast, there shall be a fourth kingdom on earth, which shall be different from all the kingdoms, and it shall devour the whole earth, and trample it down, and break it to pieces.” (Dan. 7:23).
When it comes to dominating the nations and governments of the world, the Devil is a man with a plan. You see, it takes time and effort to organize a global rebellion against God. Getting the fallen angels on board is one thing – but how can he get the people of the world to commit to his cause?
As we will see when we look at the Devil’s need for infrastructure, especially the need for advanced global telecommunications and weaponry, it wasn’t exactly feasible for the Devil to execute this rebellion any time in the past. So he been carefully laying the foundations, building the human networks and chains of command, and amassing the resources necessary to carry out the rebellion. It should be no surprise that these efforts will have manifested themselves in various nations in history.
Although the Antichrist, the False Prophet and the mark of the beast tend to grab all the attention, the many scriptures about end times prophecy tend to focus on the rise and fall of nations, kingdoms and empires. It is the movement of kingdoms and governments that really animates the greater part of end times prophecy. Movements which are, for the most part, orchestrated and controlled by the Devil. The one giant exception, of course, is the preservation and restoration of Israel, which is controlled and orchestrated by God, in spite of the Devil’s best efforts. But even that is the movement of a kingdom.
The movement and control of the Gentile nations by the Devil throughout history and in end times prophecy is what makes up the kingdom of darkness. Thanks to two primary scriptures, Dan. 2 and Rev. 17, we have been given a pretty clear picture of what the kingdom of darkness has looked like in the past, as well as how it will appear in the future. Putting these scriptures together, we can see how the kingdom of darkness has morphed over the years, and track its progress even now. In fact, prophetic scriptures give us a lot of details concerning these nations.
The Great Dragon of Revelation
And he carried me away in the Spirit into a wilderness, and I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast that was full of blasphemous names, and it had seven heads and ten horns. (Rev. 17:3).
The overall scheme is given to us in the word picture of the scarlet beast having seven heads and ten horns, mentioned in Rev. 12:3; 13:1 and 17:3. All of the heads and horns are symbolic of nations, governments, and rulers. The key to understanding the symbolism is to realize that the seven heads refer to past world empires, and the horns refer to future nations and their leaders. Together, they give us a picture of the kingdom of darkness at its climax during the Tribulation.
Rev. 17:9-14 gives us the basic explanation of the symbolism. The scarlet beast, or red dragon, represents the kingdom of darkness throughout history, opposing the kingdom of God at every turn. The dragon, of course, is representative of the Devil, and symbolizes the fact that this final beast kingdom is his creation, and is under his leadership. (Remember, the beast kingdom is the kingdom of darkness when the Antichrist is put in charge of it.) The color red indicates that the chief characteristic of the kingdom of darkness is bloodshed, it being responsible for the deaths of countless people.
“This calls for a mind with wisdom: the seven heads are seven mountains on which the woman is seated; they are also seven kings …” (Rev. 17:9-10). So let’s exercise a little wisdom. The seven mountains on which the woman sits are not the seven hills of Rome or any other city. They are not literal hills or physical mountains at all – they are seven kings, or kingdoms. This is symbolic language. Heads = mountains = kingdoms.
Don’t waste your time looking for cities or places built on seven hills to understand this prophecy. The woman is the mother of harlots, that is, the source of all false religions in the world, tracing back to the Tower of Babel, and she sits on – or rules – all seven historical manifestations of the kingdom of darkness. Thus, none of the kingdoms of the world ruled by the Devil are informed by true religion. No surprise there.
The seven heads represent seven historical kingdoms, or world empires, that the devil has used to build his own empire of rebellion against God. When the book of Revelation was written, five of those empires had fallen, that is, were in the past as of 68 A.D. – Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Medo-Persia, and Greece. The sixth empire “now is,” which is to say that from the viewpoint of John the Revelator, it then existed in 68 A.D. – the Roman empire. The seventh empire was future to John (“has not yet come”), but is now in the past.
We need not identify the seventh empire here, but suffice it to say the Roman empire could not have been both the sixth and seventh empires, and then also come back as the eighth empire. (Rev. 17:11). That interpretation would make Rome appear as three of the eight empires, when the scripture clearly indicates the eighth empire will be one of the first seven empires come back for only a second time. So whether you think Rome will reappear as the final empire or not, it cannot also be the seventh empire. Somewhere in history, after Rome, there is another key player.
Thus, one of these seven past empires will make a resurgence, that is, it will come to power a second time. Rev. 17:11 counts this empire as an eighth kingdom, but in reality it is still one of the original seven, which is why the beast only has seven heads, not eight. All of the seven heads must be different empires. Again, people often interpret this scripture so that Rome, as the sixth empire, returns as the “final” seventh empire, but this can never be right, because it is one empire short of what the scripture requires. There will be eight historical manifestations of the kingdom of darkness, not seven.
On the other hand, the ten horns are not to be taken historically, but are ten future kings (i.e., ten nations) which will form a confederacy in order to revive one of the prior world empires. Rev. 17:14 tells us that this last empire in the kingdom of darkness will make war against the Lamb (Jesus), but the Lamb will conquer them. This is a word picture of the Second Coming of Christ, when he will destroy the kingdom of darkness in its entirety at Armageddon.
The Great Statue of Nebuchadnezzar
“You saw, O king, and behold, a great image. This image, mighty and of exceeding brightness, stood before you, and its appearance was frightening. The head of this image was of fine gold, its chest and arms of silver, its middle and thighs of bronze, its legs of iron, its feet partly of iron and partly of clay.” (Dan. 2:31-33).
The same story (in abbreviated form) is told 600 years earlier, through Daniel’s interpretation of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream of a mighty statue. In that dream, the statue had five layers, representing five world empires, but beginning with Babylon as the top layer. The next three layers of the statue represent the empires of Medo-Persia, Greece and Rome, and the bottom layer jumps to the final version of the kingdom of darkness. Notice that Nebuchadnezzar’s dream tracks with the word picture of the red dragon in Rev. 17, but it only covers five of the eight total empires. Egypt, Assyria and the seventh kingdom are ignored in the dream.
From Daniel’s perspective in 600 B.C., Babylon was the world empire then in power, and all the other kingdoms were still future. The vision ended with a stone cut from a mountain by no human hand (the stone, or rock in scripture is always Christ) which destroys the statue and all of its layers by smashing them into dust. A mountain is almost always the symbolic representation of a kingdom in prophecy, so the stone cut from a mountain by the hand of God represents the kingdom of God and His Christ. The kingdom of Christ will utterly destroy the kingdom of darkness, which the mighty statue represents.
Notice that Christ does not merely conquer the bottom layer of the statue, or the final version of the kingdom of darkness. Rather, by smashing the statue in its entirety, Christ will destroy the very foundation of the kingdom of darkness, eliminating even the historical remnants of that kingdom wherever they may be found. All the governmental structures, systems, networks, methods, instrumentalities and war machinery that the devil has carefully developed over the last few millennia will all be rooted out and destroyed.
Not coincidentally, the ten toes of the feet of the statue represent the ten kings (or nations) of the final empire in the kingdom of darkness, the beast kingdom ruled by the Antichrist. Of their destruction, scripture says,
And in the days of those kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that shall never be destroyed, nor shall the kingdom be left to another people. It shall break in pieces all these kingdoms and bring them to an end, and it shall stand forever. (Dan 2:44).
This statement, that the kingdom of darkness will be brought to an end, and the kingdom of Christ shall stand forever, effectively means that when the kingdom of Christ comes, it will be the last kingdom on earth. The kingdom of darkness will never rise again on the face of the earth, and it will have no new iterations. This is the full extent of the governmental destruction which will pave the way for a kingdom of righteousness.
What Makes the Kingdom of Darkness So Evil?
Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness. (1 Jn. 3:4).
Now, you might wonder what it is that makes the kingdom of darkness, or the Devil’s kingdom, so evil. Is it the fact people will reject Christ as Savior, or that they will suffer from the sin of unbelief? What do the scriptures say?
Paul tells us that when the Antichrist appears, he will be the man of lawlessness, or the lawless one – not The Man Who Would Not Be Saved, nor The Man Who Would Not Believe. He further said that the mystery of lawlessness is already at work. (2 Th. 2:3-9). In other words, the Devil has been using lawlessness to entice people from the beginning, and when his kingdom reaches its zenith, the man who leads it will be characterized by lawlessness.
Lawlessness is what makes the kingdom of darkness so evil – it is not merely that people yield to temptation or refuse to accept Christ. Instead, the kingdom of darkness is all about fomenting a rebellion against the laws of God and commands of Christ. This is what the Psalmist wrote about:
Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the LORD and against his Anointed, saying, “Let us burst their bonds apart and cast away their cords from us.” (Ps. 2:1-3).
Many commentators see this text as referring to the crucifixion of Christ, but I suggest there is a latter days component to this prophecy, as well. Every aspect of this scripture is being fulfilled at this moment.
The nations are indeed having Days of Rage, and are generally in an uproar. The leaders of nations, as well as the unseen powers behind the thrones, are taking counsel together against God and His Christ, particularly the laws of God and the commands of Christ. What are the bonds (shackles) and cords (ropes) the world is trying to get out of and away from, if not the constraints and restrictions of God’s laws? To the nations, God’s laws are the problem, and lawlessness is the solution.
Thus, when we look at the progression of kingdoms represented by the great statue in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, as the kingdoms move from gold to silver to brass to iron to iron mixed with clay (the beast kingdom), each kingdom becomes less worthy, or more sinful and lawless, than the prior one. Each version of the kingdom of darkness becomes more morally corrupt than the prior version. However, from the Devil’s perspective, he is gradually perfecting the organization and structure of a kingdom of evil. To him, increased lawlessness is progress.