This entry is part 2 of 42 in the series Christian Theology of Public Policy Course

This essay continues the Christian Theology and Public Policy Course essays by John Cobin, author of the great books Bible and Government and Christian Theology of Public Policy.

Is the state run by Satan? What do we know about the nature of the state? According to the Bible, the state’s power comes from Satan through the “spirits of demons”. In Revelation 13:1-4,1 “a beast rising up out of the sea” with “a blasphemous name” on his heads emerges to rule civil society. This ruler is empowered by “the dragon”, also “called the Devil and Satan” (Revelation 12:9, cf. 20:2), who gives him “his power, his throne, and great authority”. At the time of the writing of the book of Revelation, Domitian was likely Caesar, noted for the band of gold he wore on his head containing the blasphemous inscription “Dominus et Deus” (i.e., “Lord and God”).2 Satan empowered this ruler “beast”, as he does all the “kings of the earth”.Revelation 16:14 (cf. 19:19) says that the “spirits of demons” emerging from this beast and Satan “go out to the kings of the earth and of the whole world, to gather them to the battle of that great day of God Almighty.” And the devil presently uses the state to do his bidding, including casting Christians into prison (Revelation 2:10)—as was the case when Peter and John were condemned for preaching the Gospel (Acts 5:17-29). Plainly, the nature of the state is satanic. Accordingly, when tempting Christ, the devil was probably not lying, and his claims were not exaggerated, when he said that he controls the state.

Then the devil, taking Him up on a high mountain, showed Him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time. And the devil said to Him, “All this authority I will give You, and their glory; for this has been delivered to me, and I give it to whomever I wish. Therefore, if You will worship before me, all will be Yours.” And Jesus answered and said to him, ‘Get behind Me, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and Him only you shall serve’.” (Luke 4:5-7)3

In Revelation 17:11-14 the connection between great states and the figurative beast is made plain, where the beast is identified as the eighth successive king. These beasts stand against the kingdom of God and will be cast into hell (Revelation 19:20-21). Therefore, the state can be generally viewed as an agent of the kingdom of Satan and empowered by the devil – even if it is ultimately ordained
by God (in the sense of Romans 13:1).

How then can the Bible say that states are “ordained” or “appointed” by God to be his “ministers” (Romans 13:1-2, 4, 6)? Briefly, divine appointment to God’s service does not imply that the person or institution appointed is holy or godly. After all, Satan himself is ordained by God, and his actions are bounded by Providence (e.g., as the Bible describes in Job’s trials and the protecting of Peter from being sifted “as wheat” by the devil in Luke 22:31).4 The state is ordained by God but the Bible indicates that its most intimate relationship is with the devil (Revelation 18:9), and the state has generally served Satan’s evil designs throughout history, even if God ultimately directs the state and disposes of it as He wills.

The satanic nexus with the state is also described or implied in Daniel 10:13, Ezekiel 28:12-19, and Revelation 17:1-7. In these passages, Satan is called “the prince of kingdom of Persia” and the “King of Tyre”. Plus, the “kings of the earth” are described as having an intimate and illicit relationship with Satan by way of his “scarlet beast” and the “woman” who is carried by it. So once again we find a direct link between Satan and the earthly rulers that God ordains. The devil certainly controlled these kings, assuming they were historical figures. Perhaps he even possessed them. Hence, we have more evidence to suggest that the state may credibly be considered part of the kingdom of Satan, and only ordained by God in the sense that the devil himself is ordained by God – to fulfill His purposes and to glorify Him.

The Scriptures indicate that the state is often a “minister” of judgment ordained by God (cf. Isaiah 3:4-5, 12-15). To varying degrees, in each judgment situation, the state becomes “the rod” of God’s “anger” and “the staff” of His “indignation” (Isaiah 10:5). It receives a “charge” from God to punish the people who are objects of His terrestrial “wrath” (Isaiah 10:6). The Bible says that Lord himself brings
“calamity” on people (Isaiah 45:7). The state is often a judgment against the people over which it rules (particularly outside of the theocracy of Judah), although God has also used the state to judge foreigners during the Old Testament theocratic kingdom.5 Yet the states that serve God in this way are often at least as wicked as the ones they judge, showing that not all of God’s ordained servants (cf. Romans 13:4) are upright in character. Casting aside popular myths to the contrary, the state’s evil nature and bad character are realities to be expected.

1 Good Protestant hermeneutics mandates that doctrine should primarily be derived from didactical parts of Scripture such as the law, the parables of Christ, and the epistles or decrees of the Apostles. Other revelation should be either supportive or secondary in forming doctrine, having its best purpose to clarify, enhance, or bolster principles. The book of Revelation is an inspired portion of the Scriptures, and therefore “profitable for doctrine” (2 Timothy 3:16), with this kind of supportive role. It contains many passages that relate to the state, and thus is helpful in forming a biblical understanding of public policy.

2 See Herman Hoeksema (1969), Behold He Cometh: An Exposition of the Book of Revelation, Reformed Free Publishing Association: Grand Rapids, Michigan, pp. 451ff.

3 The parallel passage in Matthew 4:8-11 states: “Again, the devil took Him up on an exceedingly high mountain, and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. And he said to Him, ‘All these things I will give You if You will fall down and worship me.’ Then Jesus said to him, ‘Away with you, Satan! For it is written, “You shall worship the Lord your God, and Him only you shall serve.”‘ Then the devil left Him, and behold, angels came and ministered to Him.”

4 The Bible is replete with examples of this fact. Ungodly Old Testament era kings were God’s controlled servants, including Pharaoh (Exodus 4:21), the Assyrian king (Ezra 6:22), Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon (Jeremiah 43:10), and Cyrus king of Persia (Isaiah 44:28; 45:1; 2 Chronicles 36:22; Ezra 1:1). The demons had to ask Christ’s permission to be cast into the swine (Matthew 8:31) instead of the “dry places” (Matthew 12:43; Luke 11:24). Satan is said to be “bound for a thousand years” by God’s angel (Revelation 20:2). God used Michael the archangel to withstand the devil in his wiles (Daniel 10:13; Jude 1:9).

5 Sometimes a state is more evil than the people it afflicts (Isaiah 10:10, Habakkuk 1:4-11) but God uses it for judgment nonetheless.

Originally published in The Times Examiner on October 5, 2005 as “The Nature of the State: Part 1”.

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Dr. Norman Horn

Norman founded LibertarianChristians.com and the Libertarian Christian Institute, and currently serves as its President and Editor-in-Chief. He holds a PhD in Chemical Engineering from the University of Texas at Austin and a Master of Arts in Theological Studies from the Austin Graduate School of Theology. He currently is a Postdoctoral researcher in Chemical Engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.