Who is the God of the Earth?
The apostle John records three times how Jesus referred to Satan as “the ruler of this world” (John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11). Years later, while writing to the Christians in Corinth, the apostle Paul actually referred to Satan as “the god (theos) of this world” (2 Corinthians 4:4). Even Satan appeared to understand something about his reign on Earth when he showed Jesus all the kingdoms of the world, and said, “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” (Luke 4:5-7; cf. Matthew 4:8-9). Yet, how can Satan be the god and ruler of this world if numerous other passages clearly distinguish Jehovah as the “Lord of the whole earth” (Micah 4:13; Zechariah 4:14)? How can the devil be the ruler of the world if Jesus claimed, “all authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth” (Matthew 28:18)? Is the God of heaven not the “Lord of heaven and earth” (Acts 17:24)? Are these two different thoughts completely contradictory (as skeptics allege; cf. Wells, 2015)?
One fundamental interpretation principle that must be considered in any attempt to correctly understand written or spoken communication (which on the surface may seem contradictory) is whether or not the compared words or phrases are used in the same sense. A fan may say about his favorite basketball player, “He is smoking,” and mean the player is shooting the basketball very well. Later, however, the fan may see the same player outside the arena with something in his mouth and shout with astonishment, “He is smoking!” The two statements are exactly the same; they are both true, yet they communicate very different thoughts.
The Bible is very clear that the infinite, eternal Creator of the Universe, Who is “upholding all things by the word of His power” (Hebrews 1:3), is the one, true God, “the Most High over all the earth” (Psalm 83:18). Jehovah is the Creator of all things, including Satan (Colossians 1:16; see Lyons, 2005). In the most complete and ultimate sense imaginable, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is the Ruler of heaven and Earth. However, there is a sense in which Satan is “ruler” and “god” of the world—not in the ultimate sense, but, indeed, in a sense.
In what respect could the devil ever be considered a “ruler” or “god”? The answer to this question is rather simple when one considers the fact that most of God’s human creation through the millennia have chosen to serve Satan, rather than submit themselves in obedience to the true God of the Universe. During the days of Noah, “the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Genesis 6:5). During the days of Moses and Joshua, the land of Egypt was full of idolatry (Exodus 12:12), the land of Canaan was overrun with abominable immorality (Leviticus 18), while people of Israel struggled for centuries with the fleshly desire to serve “other gods.” When Jesus came to Earth, He acknowledged the fact that whereas “difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it” (Matthew 7:14), “wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it” (7:13).
Tragically, most accountable individuals willingly choose to reject the true God—their Creator and potential Savior—and instead make Satan their “god” and “ruler.” Most unbelievers do not literally worship Satan as “god,” but, as Lenski noted, “‘The god of this eon [age/world]’ is apt in this connection…because he [Satan] is the embodiment of all wickedness and ungodliness in this world, the author and the propagator of hostility to God. He originated the perdition in which men perish” (1963, p. 960, bracketed items added). A man who chooses to love the world and “all that is in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—is not of the Father,” but of Satan and his sinful world (1 John 2:16). When a person rejects the true God as Ruler of his life, by default he pledges allegiance to Satan, making him “god” and “ruler.” No contradiction exists among the statements of the Bible about who rules the Earth.
Lenski, R.C.H. (1963), The Interpretation of St. Paul’s First and Second Epistles to the Corinthians (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg).
Lyons, Eric (2005), “Has Satan Always Existed?” Apologetics Press, http://www.apologeticspress.org/APContent.aspx?category=11&article=817&topic=87.
Wells, Steve (2015), The Skeptic’s Annotated Bible, http://www.skepticsannotatedbible.com/2cor/4.html; http://www.skepticsannotatedbible.com/contra/lord.html.