What Are Principalities?

The phrase principalities and powers occurs six times in the Bible, always in the King James Version and its derivatives (NKJV, MKJV). Other versions translate it variously as “rulers and authorities,” “forces and authorities,” and “rulers and powers.” In most places where the phrase appears, the contexts make it clear that it refers to the vast array of evil and malicious spirits who make war against the people of God. The principalities and powers of Satan are usually in view here, beings that wield power in the unseen realms to oppose everything and everyone that is of God.

The first mention of principalities and powers is in Romans 8:37–39: “No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” These verses are about the victory Christ has won over all the forces ranged against us. We are “more than conquerors” because no force—not life, not death, not angels, not demons, indeed nothing—can separate us from the love of God. The “powers” referred to here are those with miraculous powers, whether false teachers and prophets or the very demonic entities that empower them. What is clear is that, whoever they are, they cannot separate us from the love of God. Victory is assured. It would be unfortunate to dwell on identifying the powers and miss the main thrust of the verse, which is assurance about what God has done to save us.

Another mention of principalities and powers is in Colossians 1:16, “For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him.” Here is the clear statement that God is the Creator and Ruler over all authorities, whether they submit to Him or rebel against Him. Whatever power the evil forces possess, they are not out of the ultimate control of our sovereign God, who uses even the wicked for bringing about His perfect plan and purpose (Daniel 4:35Isaiah 46:10–11).

In the next chapter of Colossians, we read about Jesus’ ultimate power over all other powers: “And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross” (Colossians 2:15). In keeping with all things, the powers are created by Christ and therefore under His control. They are not to be feared, for they have been disarmed by the cross. The Savior, by His death, took dominion from them, and took back what they had captured. Satan and his legions had invaded the earth and drawn mankind into captivity, subjecting them to their evil reign. But Christ, by His death, subdued the invaders and recaptured those who had been vanquished. Colossians 2:14 speaks of Jesus being nailed to the cross along with the written charges against us. The record of our wrongdoing, with which Satan accuses us before God, is nailed with Christ to the cross. It is thereby destroyed, and the powers can no longer accuse us; we are innocent in the eyes of God. Hence, they are disarmed.

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Source: Got Questions