For most human history, people have believed in a spiritual realm alongside the world as we know it. And the biblical authors are no exception. For them, the spiritual realm is a different kind of realm than ours. To highlight that difference, the Bible refers to God’s space as the sky or the heavens. Because the sky is really different from the land, it’s above and beyond. And up there are shiny bodies that move around. The stars gave them the means to talk and think about spiritual beings.
The Host of Heaven
In the Bible, they are called the “Sons of God” or the “Rulers and Authorities” or even sometimes the “Divine Council”.
They are introduced in Genesis chapter 1, where they are called the “host of heaven.” That is the sun, moon, and stars. There, they are also called “Signs,” meaning that their power and status symbolizes and point to God’s power and status. In Genesis 1, God appoints them to rule over the day and night.
Then, later in the Bible, we are told that they were celebrating God’s power and creativity when he created the world. There are also stories in the Bible, where God invites the divine council to participate in making a decision. Like when they help decide how to bring down the corrupt Israelite king, Ahab. Or, in the book of Job, where they debate God’s policy of rewarding people who do good.
The God of the Bible wants to share authority with others. God shares his rule with human partners on earth, and so, in the same way, there is a parallel story of God’s sharing his authority to rule with spiritual partners. That is until it all falls apart in a twin rebellion.
A Twin Rebellion
So, you have humans who want to rule on earth on their own terms, and they start building their own nation using their own definitions of good and evil—the famous story of the building of Babylon. But when biblical authors like Moses or Isaiah looked back at Babylon’s origins, they saw more than just a human rebellion; they also saw a spiritual rebellion.
There were members of the divine council who, like the humans, didn’t want to represent God’s authority anymore. They wanted to be God, and they rebelled. These created beings deceived humans into worshipping them instead of the Creator, and so, Babylon becomes the biblical image for the combined human and spiritual rebellion.
God then scatters the people from Babylon into different nations. In the book of Deuteronomy, Moses says this is when God also scattered the rebels of the divine council with them. So the nations are handed over to spiritual rulers.
This is why when the biblical prophets look out at the violent empires of their day, they see two dimensions to all the chaos and injustice:
Human rebels are being corrupted by the worship of spiritual rebels – the idol gods of money, sex, and military power. When humans give their allegiance to these powers it leads to a world like ours.
Exodus and the Eqyptian Genocide
The best example of this is the story of the Exodus, where we are told that the Egyptian genocide of the Israelites was inspired by Pharaoh and by the gods of Egypt. When God rescued the Israelites from Egypt and its gods, he invited them to become his covenant partners and learn a different way of ruling the world. And they agree to it. But, in the end, they do not honor the partnership. They give their allegiance to other gods. This leads to their exile in Babylon, where they become slaves once again to a foreign nation and their spiritual rulers, awaiting a new exodus into freedom.
This is where the story of Jesus picks up. He said he was here to rescue the world and take it back from the rebels.
Which rebels you ask? The human ones or the spiritual ones?
Well, for Jesus, it was all connected. When he marched into Jerusalem for Passover, he was announcing the ultimate exodus. He was there to confront and overcome all rebel powers and authorities, and he did it by giving up his life.
This is what the apostle Paul meant when he said that Jesus disarmed the powers and authorities, triumphing over them by the cross. Jesus condemned our evil by allowing the rebels to unleash all their hate and evil on him. But he overcame it with the power of his love and resurrection life. Then Jesus told his followers that all authority in heaven on earth now belongs to him.
The ultimate human and divine partner. It is why the apostles started inviting everyone to give their allegiance to the risen Jesus; to discover freedom and a new way to be human.
While Jesus gained a decisive victory over the rebel powers, he did not destroy them. They are still around, causing problems. In fact, they are the problem.
The apostles said that humanity’s real enemy is never another human. Rather, it is the spiritual powers that animate our cultural idols that inspire hatred, division, and violence. When we see people hurting other people, behind it is the divine council gone rogue.
How do we deal with this kind of enemy?
The apostle Paul said we could resist by putting on the character traits of Jesus, like armor. Faithfulness, justice, and peace. He said that our only weapon is the Word of God. The biblical story of good news that Jesus has overcome all rebels with the divine power of his life and love.