The Fourth Day of Christmas: Principalities and Powers

There was more to the stifling stability of the ancient world than just social constructs; humanity was “a little lower than the angels.” The world into which Jesus was born was subject to angelic powers that governed via human intermediaries. A couple millennia after Jesus destroyed the system, the details are hard to reconstruct, but we know the broad outlines.

In the antediluvian world, we had close contact with angels, learned from them, sometimes had children with them. After the flood, there was more distance, but the basic arrangement continued. Even God’s law was mediated to men by angels (Acts 7:53). Under the powers, the court magicians worked real magic and the “divine” kings exercised a supernatural insight and charisma that historian John Pilkey once described as a kind of “Gentile Pentecost.” It was a world of fixed tribal identities under tutelary deities, a world of thousand-year empires and very little change. You couldn’t make the demons leave.

Before Jesus, exorcism amounted to restraining the possessed person and then doing things the demon wouldn’t like until it finally chose to leave. It could take days. Jesus did nothing like that; He commanded demons to leave, and they went. This was new: a man had authority over angels. The old order shattered: everywhere the gospel went, the patron gods lost their authority and the “divine” kings fell. With a man ascended to God’s right hand, the era of real human rule began…and we share in it.

This is both good news and bad news.

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