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5-20 The God / Prince Of This World

2 Corinthians 4: 4: “In whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them”.

John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11: "The prince of this world"

See 2-4 “The Jewish Satan”.

2 Corinthians 4:4 "The god of this world"

The Eastern (Aramaic) text reads: "To those in this world whose minds have been blinded by God, because they did not believe"

Note in passing that it is darkness which blinds men’s eyes (1 Jn. 2:11), i.e. not walking according to the light of God’s word. There is only one God- not two. And it's also noteworthy that Is. 6:10 speaks of God as having the power to blind Israel. The New Testament repeats this. Rom. 11:8 says that God (and not Satan) blinded Israel to the Gospel; 2 Cor. 3:14 says that their minds were blinded or “hardened” (RV) as Pharaoh’s was. Whoever “the god of this world” is or was, God worked through it and is therefore greater than it. Henry Kelly comments: "Given this track record, can we see the God of this Aeon as our God, as Yahweh? He is, after all, in charge of everything" (1). It is God and not any independent Satan figure who sends people an energeia of error to believe falsehood (2 Thess. 2:12)- the ultimate 'energy' in the process is fro mGod.

For something to be called “the god of this world” does not necessarily mean that it is in reality “the god of this world”; it could mean ‘the thing or power that this world counts to be God’. Thus Acts 19:27 speaks of the goddess Diana, a lifeless idol, “whom all the world worshippeth”. This doesn’t mean that the piece of wood or stone called Diana was in reality the goddess of this world. I mentioned in section 1-1-2 that Paul is quoting "the god of this world" from contemporary Jewish writings rather than actually believing such a 'god' existed. It's also possible that "the god of this world" who blinds people is an allusion to material in the documents comprising what are now known as the Gnostic Gospels. The Hypostasis Of The Archons claims to record God's rebuke of Satan: ""You are mistaken, Samael", which means, "god of the blind"" (2). Paul in this case would be alluding to popular belief about Satan, and reapplying this language to the Jewish opposition to the Gospel, and to the human "blindness" which stops them accepting Christ. In Eph. 4:18 Paul specifically defined what he meant by "darkness": "Having the understanding darkened... through the ignorance that is within them... the blindness of their heart". That opposition, rather than any mythical 'Samael', was the real adversary / Satan.

Even if it is insisted that Satan exists as a personal being, the question has to be faced: Who created Satan? Is his power under God's control, or not? Time and again the 'satan' and 'demon' passages of the Bible indicate that however we are to understand these terms, God is more powerful, God is in control. The book of Job shows how the Satan there had all power given to him by God. The power of the Lord Jesus over 'demons' makes the same point. And in that context, note how Ex. 4:11 assures us that God is the one who makes people deaf, but Lk. 11:14 speaks of how such muteness is apparently caused by demons. Clearly, God is in control. This world, with all the evil and negative experience in it, has not been left under the control of some out-of-control evil being. With this in mind, it should be apparent that the 'god of this world' can't mean that the world is under the ultimate control of Satan rather than God. Rather, "the god of this world" [aion] "can also be read as merely a personification of all the forces of this aion that would thwart the success of the Christian message" (3).

The way that the idea of 'Satan' is used to describe both individual sin and societies governed by the principle of sin is very much in line with the way that first century society was very much a communalistic rather than an individualistic society. The society was the person. Further, social scientists and psychologists have time and again confirmed the Biblical teaching that the fundamental motivation of human beings is the ego, self-interest- what the Bible calls 'Satan'. This is what drives people at the individual level, and thus drives societies (4). It's appropriate, therefore, for 'Satan', the personification of human sin and self-interest, to also be a term applied to human governments and societies as a whole. Truly in this sense (the Biblical) Satan could be understood as "the god of this world".

A Jewish Interpretation

If Scripture interprets Scripture, “the god of this world (aion)” in 2 Corinthians 4: 4 must be similar to “the prince of this world (kosmos)” (Jn. 12:31; 14:30; 16:11). Both the Jewish age [aion] and kosmos ended in A.D. 70. In the context, Paul has been talking in 2 Cor. 3 about how the glory shining from Moses’ face blinded the Israelites so that they could not see the real spirit of the law which pointed forward to Christ. Similarly, he argues in chapter 4, the Jews in the first century could not see “the light of the glorious (cp. the glory on Moses’ face) gospel of Christ” because they were still blinded by “the god of this world” - the ruler of the Jewish age. The “prince” or “God” of the “world” (age) was the Jewish system, manifested this time in Moses and his law. Notice how the Jews are described as having made their boast of the law…made their boast of God (Rom. 2:17,23). To them, the Law of Moses had become the god of their world. Although the link is not made explicit, there seems no reason to doubt that “the prince of this world” and “Satan” are connected. It is evident from Acts (9:23-25,29-30; 13:50,51; 14:5,19; 17:5,13; 18:12; 20:3) that the Jews were the major 'Satan' or adversary to the early Christians, especially to Paul. Of course it has to be remembered that there is a difference between Moses’ personal character and the Law he administered; this contrast is constantly made in Hebrews. Similarly the Law was “Holy, just and good”, but resulted in sin due to man’s weakness - it was “weak through the flesh”, explaining why the idea of Satan/sin is connected with the Law. Because of this it was in practice a “ministry of condemnation”, and therefore a significant ‘adversary’ (Satan) to man; for in reality, “the motions of sins...were by the Law” (Rom. 7:5).

John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11 "The prince of this world"

The “prince of this world” is described as being “cast out”, coming to Jesus, having no part in Him and being “judged”, all during the last few hours before Christ’s death (Jn.12:31; 14:30; 16:11). All these descriptions seem to fit the Jewish system as represented by the Law, Moses, Caiaphas the High Priest, Judas and the Jews wanting to kill Jesus, and Judas. Note that "the prince of this world" refers to Roman and Jewish governors in 1 Cor. 2:6,8. At Christ’s death the Mosaic system was done away with (Col. 2:14-17); the “bondwoman”, representing the Law in the allegory, was “cast out” (Gal. 4: 30). “The prince of this world” is described, in the very same words, as being “cast out” (Jn. 12:31).

Wycliffe in archaic English renders Mt. 26:3:  “Then the princes of priests and the elder men of the people were gathered into the hall of the prince of priests, that was said Caiaphas”. The “world” in John’s Gospel refers primarily to the Jewish world; its “prince” can either be a personification of it, or a reference to Caiaphas the High Priest. Caiaphas' equivalent name in Hebrew could suggest ‘cast out’; his rending of his priestly clothes at Christ’s trial declared him “cast out” of the priesthood (see Lev. 10: 6; 21:10). “This world” and its “prince” are treated in parallel by John (12:31 cp. 16:11)- just as Jesus, the prince of the Kingdom, can be called therefore “the Kingdom” (Lk. 17:21). Colossians 2:15 describes Christ’s ending of the Law on the cross as “spoiling principalities and powers” - the “prince” of the Jewish world being “cast out” (a similar idea in Greek to “spoiling”) would then parallel this. The Jews “caught” Jesus and cast Him out of the vineyard (Mt. 21: 39) - but in doing so, they themselves were cast out of the vineyard and “spoiled” by Jesus (Col. 2:15).

If indeed "the prince of this world" is a reference to Caiaphas, then we have to face the fact that this individual is being singled out by the Lord for very special condemnation, as the very embodiment of 'Satan', sin and its desires, all that was then in opposition to God. This is confirmed by the Lord's comment to Pilate that "he that delivered me unto you has the greatest sin" (Jn. 19:11 Gk.- "greater" in the AV is translated "greatest" in 1 Cor. 13:13; Mk. 9:34; Mt. 13:32; 18:1,4; 23:11; Lk. 9:46; Lk. 22:24; Lk. 22:26). It was Caiaphas and the Jews who "delivered" Jesus to Pilate to execute (Mt. 27:2,18; Jn. 18:30,35 s.w.). But the Lord speaks as if one person amongst them in particular had delivered Him to Pilate- and that specific individual was Caiaphas. If Caiaphas had the "greatest sin" in the crucifixion of God's son, we can understand how he is singled out by the Lord Jesus for such description as the "prince of this world". A number of expositors have interpreted "the Devil... that had the power of death" in Heb. 2:14-17 as an allusion to Caiaphas.

Judas And "The prince of this world"
After Judas left the upper room we get the impression that Jesus started to talk more earnestly and intensely. Immediately after Judas went out Jesus said, “Now is the Son of man glorified...Little children, yet a little while I am with you... Hereafter I will not talk much (longer) with you: for the prince of this world cometh, and hath nothing in me” (Jn. 13:31,33; 14: 30). Because He knew Judas would soon return with his men, Christ wanted to give the disciples as much instruction as possible in the time that remained. This would explain the extraordinary intensity of meaning behind the language used in John 14-17. After He finished, “Judas then, having received a band of men and officers from the chief priests and Pharisees, cometh...” (Jn. 18: 3); “The prince of this world cometh”, Jesus had prophesied, epitomized in the person and attitude of Judas. Christ had told the disciples that “the prince” “hath nothing (cp. no part) in Me” (Jn. 14: 30). Not until Judas appeared with the men would the disciples have realized that he was the betrayer (see Jn.18: 3-5). Jesus knew this would come as a shock to them, and would lead them to question whether they themselves were in Christ; therefore He warned them that Judas, as a manifestation of “the prince of this world”, had no part in Him any longer. For “the Devil” of the Jewish authorities and system, perhaps Caiaphas personally, had put into the heart of Judas to betray the Lord (Jn. 13:2). The whole Jewish leadership were the “betrayers” of Jesus (Acts 7:52) in that Judas, the one singular betrayer, was the epitome of the Jewish system. The prince having nothing in Christ suggests a reference to Daniel 9:26: “And after threescore and two weeks shall Messiah be cut off, and shall have nothing (A.V. margin - i.e. have no part): and the people of the prince that shall come (the Romans) shall destroy the city and the sanctuary”. Thus it was the Jewish world as well as Judas which had nothing in Messiah, and the system they represented was to be destroyed by another (Roman) “prince that shall come” to replace the (Jewish) “prince of this world”. The occurrence of the phrase “prince” and the idea of having nothing in Messiah in both Daniel 9: 26 and John 14:30 suggest there must be a connection of this nature.

Judas betrayed the Lord Jesus because he was bought out and thus controlled by the Jewish ‘satan’. The fact that Judas was “one of the twelve” as he sat at the last supper is emphasized by all the Gospel writers - the phrase occurs in Matthew 26:14; Mark 14:20; Luke 22:47 and John 13:21. Thus later Peter reflected: “he was numbered with us (cp. “one of the twelve”), and had (once) obtained part of this ministry” (Acts 1:17), alluding back to Christ’s statement that “the prince of this world” ultimately had no part in Him. Similarly 1 John 2:19 probably alludes to Judas as a type of all who return to the world: “They went out from us, but they were not of us” (cp. “Judas, one of the twelve”). Judas is described as a devil (Jn. 6: 70), and his leaving the room may have connected in the Lord’s mind with “the prince of this world” being cast out. Those who “went out from us” in 1 John 2:19 were primarily those who left the Jewish ecclesias (to whom John was largely writing) to return to Judaism, and they who left were epitomized by Judas. 2 Peter 2:13 & 15 equates the Judaizers within the ecclesias with Balaam “who loved the wages of unrighteousness”. The only other time this latter phrase occurs is in Acts 1:18 concerning Judas.

“Cast out”
“Cast out” in the Old Testament at times refers to Israel being cast out of the land for their disobedience (cp. Lk. 19:45). This was what was to happen to the first century Jews. The Law itself was to be “cast out” (Gal. 4:30). The idea of being cast out recalls the casting out of Hagar and Ishmael. The Lord commented concerning the end of the Mosaic system: “The servant abideth not in the house for ever: but the Son abideth ever” (Jn. 8: 35). The description of apostate Israel as being “cast out in the open field” with none to pity them except God must have some reference to Ishmael (Ez. 16:5). Galatians 4:29-30 specifically connects the Law with Hagar, and the source of this passage in Isaiah 54:1-7 concerning the calling again of a forsaken young wife who had more children than the married wife has similarities with Hagar’s return to Abraham in Genesis 16. After Hagar’s final rejection in Genesis 21, she wandered through the Paran wilderness carrying Ishmael - as Israel was carried by God through the same wilderness. The miraculous provision of water for Israel in this place is a further similarity, as is Ishmael’s name, which means ‘God heard the cry’ - as He did of His people in Egypt. Thus Hagar and Ishmael represent apostate Israel, and both of them were “cast out”. Romans 9:6-8 provides more confirmation: “For they are not all Israel, which are of Israel...but, In Isaac shall thy seed be called. That is, They which are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God”. Paul’s reminder that the seed was to be traced through Isaac, and that the apostate Israel of the first century were not the true Israel of God but the children of the flesh, leads us to identify them with Ishmael, the prototype child of the flesh. In the same way, Jeremiah describes wayward Israel as a wild ass (Jer. 2:24), perhaps inviting comparison with Ishmael, the wild ass man (Gen. 16:12). I have elsewhere given many other Biblical examples of how God's apostate people are described in terms of those who are not God's people (5).


(1) H.A. Kelly, Satan: A Biography (Cambridge: C.U.P., 2006) p. 66.

(2) As quoted in Elaine Pagels, The Gnostic Gospels (Garden City: Doubleday, 1989) p. 29.

(3) Neil Forsyth, Satan And The Combat Myth (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1989) p. 275.

(4) See R. Harre, Personal Being (Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 1984) and many others.

(5) See my Judgment To Come 4-8, .