Some bibliography:Through New Eyes by James Jordan — A classic work on creation, cosmology, symbolism, etc. See especially the chapter on angels.
The Forgotten Heavens, edited by Doug Wilson — This early Canon Press publication covers a lot of interesting ground, including a chapter on “governing princes” that deals with angelic/demonic powers.
Unseen Realm by Michael Heiser — Heiser, like Jordan, largely built his career off of dealing with the “deep weird” material in the Bible. I do not agree with all of Heiser’s exegetical judgments and his criticisms of Calvinism are way off the mark. But he is worth reading if you want to dig deeper into the heavenly council, the principalities and powers, etc.
Answers in Genesis website — The AiG folks are willing to deal with the strange stuff in the Bible (and strange stuff outside the Bible, like alien encounters). Are there dragons in the Bible? Are there unicorns? Check out AiG to find out.
Unholy Spirits by Gary North - Dated, but still THE definitive treatment of anything and everything demonic from within a Biblical worldview.
The Discarded Image by C. S. Lewis — This book gives somes insight into the biblical, medieval cosmology that runs through all of Lewis’ work (The Space Trilogy, Chronicles of Narnia, etc.). Think of the conversation between (secularist) Eustace Scrubb and the Ramandu in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader: "In our world, a star is a huge ball of flaming gas." "Even in your world, son, that is not what a star is, but only what it is made of." Often when Scripture speaks of the morning stars, it obviously has angelic creatures in view (Job 38:7). The medievals took that seriously. Shouldn't we? Lewis thought so.
There have been numerous studies of the principalities and powers published, especially since World War II. Some of these studies are compelling in various ways, but they still lack key ingredients. For example, Walter Wink's trilogy on the powers has become very influential. But while he has a lot of insights into ways in which good things in the creation can be twisted and distorted into idolatrous, enslaving "powers," he has accommodated himself far too much to the disenchanted, post-Enlightenment, secularized worldview. A lot of older commentaries on the biblical passages that mention the principalities and powers do a much better job grappling with what the biblical authors are actually describing
The Haunted Cosmos podcast -- I just started listening to this and it's pretty interesting. The most recent episode is on aliens. The podcast is a Christian (and therefore anti-secularist, anti-materialist) examination is strange phenomenon.
There is certainly a lot more data in the Bible dealing with angelic and demonic forces, their connections to nations/territories, etc. than I was able to cover in the sermon. I was just scratching the surface. Here’s an example: Hebrews 2:5 says “For it was not to angels that God subjected the world to come, of which we are speaking.” Break this down: The implication of this text is that the old world WAS subjected to angels (fallen and unfilled) as its rulers but is no longer. The old creation was the age of the angels. The “world to come” in this context is the world of the new covenant, now under the reign of Jesus. That’s the world the writer of Hebrews has been speaking of in the preceding context. And “the world to come” in Hebrews is the post-70AD world; the eschatological pivot in the book of Hebrews is the destruction of the temple, because it means the old covenant has come to a an end (cf. Heb. 8:13). We live in "the world to come" right now.
So the old world, from creation until the coming of Jesus, was under the angelic mediators. Since Satan had apparently been the highest ranking angel before he fell, it is no wonder the old world was largely kept under darkness. Dark forces had the upper hand. But as I said in the sermon, the world has been exorcised by Jesus (John 12). Satan has been cast out of heaven, the place of power, and now all he can do is prowl the earth. Sure, he still has power, but he has also been bound and his house (the nations) is being plundered. Satan is no longer the “god of this world.” Jesus is the God of this world. The age of angels has given way to the age of men, as man now sits on God’s throne.
In the old world, angels were called to be humanity’s tutors. We would be under angelic tutors for a time, until we were promoted above the angels. Satan did not like this plan; he was jealous of the glory that would come to man if God’s plan was fulfilled. So he decided to try to thwart God’s plan. Instead of teaching man truth as he should have, he entered the Garden of Eden to teach lies. Good angels counter-acted this Satanic deception by teaching truth, e.g., delivering God’s law to Moses at Sinai, the appearances of the Angel of the Lord to the nation Israel, angelic messengers like Gabriel who delivered divine revelation. The Angel of the Lord is instructive in biblical eschatology, especially since the Angel of the Lord is likely a Christophany. Jesus appeared in the form of angel during the age of angels; his incarnation means the age of men has arrived.
In the new world, we are no longer “a little lower than the angels.” Now angels serve us (Hebrews 1). At the last day, we will judge angels (1 Cor. 5). While we should have a healthy respect for demonic principalities and powers (cf. Jude 9), we should not fear the demonic. A Christian cannot become demon possessed; demonic possession only happens to those who deliberately open themselves up to it by their evil actions. As Christians, we have the power to resist the devil and he must flee from us. We do not have to fall for his temptations or his lies. We have the power to do what is right and to live in the truth. As I said in the sermon, the cosmos was once haunted and enchanted; now that Jesus has come, the enchantment remains but the haunting is over.
According to Jordan, angels not only inhabit the political world as “cosmic mediators” (Deut. 32:8), they also inhabit the natural world:
Angels run the world for God. This is one of the most difficult aspects of the Biblical worldview for modern men to under- stand, and so we should take a closer loo~ at it. The modern view of the world is that the cosmos is run by natural forces, sometimes called natural laws. The expression "natural law" is a holdover from earlier, more Christian times. The notion of a "law" requires a personal lawgiver; and also a personal agent to obey the law. What modern people mean by "natural law" is better termed "natural forces."
At this point, most modern people are deists. They believe that God created the universe (billions of years ago), winding it up like a clock, and then leaving it to run itself. Occasionally God interferes in these natural processes, and they call this a "supernatural" event, or a "miracle."This is not the Biblical view. Christianity teaches that God is intimately active in running His universe all the time. He is not an "absentee landlord." There are no impersonal natural forces at "work" in the cosmos. Bavinck writes that "after the creation of the world God did not leave the world to it- self, looking down upon it from afar. The living God is not to be pushed to one side or into the background after the creation issues from His hand.”….
From the Biblical perspective, a miracle occurs when God does something differently from the way He usually does it. ...
God usually does things the same way, and this enables us to go about our business in the world with confidence that the grav- itational constant, for instance, will not change. The gravitational constant and coriolis force and other "forces" that are described by natural science are actually regularities that God has imposed upon Himself and His angelic agents. The covenant regularities of our present world were set up after the Flood, ac- cording to God's promise in Genesis 8:22, "While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, and cold and heat, and summer and winter, and day and night shall not cease."6 This poetic statement sums up the natural world, and says that as regards nature God will not change the fundamental way He does things until the end of the world. From a Christian standpoint, the study of the "laws of nature" is a study of the terms of the Noahic covenant….
This means that at least sometimes angels are involved in running the weather, and carries with it an implication that angels run other things in the world also. God, of course, is concurrently running the world, but angels are also involved, at least sometimes. Thus, for instance, if you pull the watch off your arm and drop it into your lap, what causes it to fall? And to fall at a rate we can describe by a "gravitational constant"? Well, first of all, the eternally active God caused it to go down at that rate, according to His provisions in the Noahic covenant. Sec- ond, it is likely that gravity-angels either pulled or pushed it down at that rate….
Before the rise of modern secularism, Christian theologians spoke more freely about this kind of thing. Let me just call attention to some of John Calvin's remarks on the prophecy of Ezekiel. Calvin takes note of the fact that the angelic cherubim who drive God's cloud-chariot have four faces: the faces of man, eagle, ox, and lion. Calvin does not hesitate to say that:
by these heads all living creatures are represented to us: for although trees, and the sea, and rivers, and herbs, and the air, and stars, and sun, are parts of the universe, yet in living beings there is some nearer approach to God, and some clearer display of His energy: for there is motion in a man, in an ox, in an eagle, and in a lion. These animals comprehend within themselves all parts of the universe by that figure of speech by which a part represents the whole. Meanwhile since angels are living creatures we must observe in what sense God attributes to angels themselves the head of a lion, an eagle, and a man: for this seems but little in accordance with their nature. But He could not better express the inseparable connection which exists in the motion ofangels and all creatures. We have said that angels are not called the powers of God in vain: now when a lion either roars or exercises its strength, it seems to move by its own strength, so also it may be said of other animals. But God here says that the living creatures are in some sense parts of the angels though not of the same substance, for this is not to be understood of similarity of nature but of effect. We are to understand, therefore, that while men·move about and discharge their duties, they apply themselves in different directions to the objects of their pursuit, and so also do wild beasts; yet there are angelic motions underneath)· so that neither· men nor animals move themselves) but their whole vigor depends on a secret inspiration.
No one has given these kinds of issues more attention than Jordan; his insights in these areas are worth pursuing.
Luther’s hymn “A Mighty Fortress” (based on Psalm 46) is a great celebration of the victory Christ has won. It reminds us that while we do have a powerful demonic foe who wants to destroy us, we have nothing to fear. Consider the lyrics:
A mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing;
Our helper He, amid the flood of mortal ills prevailing:
For still our ancient foe doth seek to work us woe;
His craft and power are great, and, armed with cruel hate,
On earth is not his equal.
Did we in our own strength confide, our striving would be losing;
Were not the right Man on our side, the Man of God’s own choosing:
Dost ask who that may be? Christ Jesus, it is He;
Lord Sabaoth, His Name, from age to age the same,
And He must win the battle.
And though this world, with devils filled, should threaten to undo us,
We will not fear, for God hath willed His truth to triumph through us:
The Prince of Darkness grim, we tremble not for him;
His rage we can endure, for lo, his doom is sure,
One little word shall fell him.
That word above all earthly powers, no thanks to them, abideth;
The Spirit and the gifts are ours through Him Who with us sideth:
Let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also;
The body they may kill: God’s truth abideth still,
His kingdom is forever.
Luther was acutely aware of the church’s spiritual warfare. He says we have an ancient foe. This ancient foe — Satan — seeks to destroy us. No one on earth is equal to him.Thus, if we relied on our strength, we would lose the battle (how obvious is this, given that even unfallen Adam fell when Satan attacked?). Thus, we must look to the “right man” — Jesus — to be our champion in this battle. Christ has won the battle for us. To be sure, the world is still filled “devils” who would “undo us,” including “the Prince of Darkness grim,” but we need not fear. One little word will conquer Satan. What is that word? Gospel? Cross? Jesus? Or is the Word here simply the Word of God?Whatever we choose, certainly this Word is from God and carries God’s power. This Word will topple Satan. Luther knew this well. He knew that church’s best weapon in fighting back against the wiles of Satan is the two-edged sword of God’s Word. This Word has a power that towers above all earthly powers. And it will endure, no matter what persecutions Satan brings against us. The kingdom of God will overthrow the kingdom of Satan. Even the martyrdom of the saints will advance the cause of God’s truth. Thus, we should live faithfully and fearlessly.
Think of how well this hymn addressed Luther’s own situation. He had legitimate reason to fear for his life. He was a wanted man, an outlaw in much of Europe. He did not know who he should or could trust. He was challenging the greatest earthly powers of his day, including Pope Leo X and Holy Roman Emperor Charles V. Luther’s life was on the line day after day. All he had to do was recant his teaching of God’s Word and he could be spared, but he refused to do so. He trusted God’s Word would overcome whatever powers, whether earthly/political or demonic, stood in its way. Perhaps you know the story of Luther throwing the ink jar at the devil — that’s a good symbolic picture of how Luther fought his battle, using the Word of God to take on dark spiritual forces. Ultimately, Luther won his battle because he kept writing and preaching that one little word that could fell the devil. This is how Luther described the progress of the Reformation:
I only urged, preached, and declared God's Word, nothing else. And yet while I was asleep, or drinking Wittenberg beer with my Philip Melanchthon and Amsdorf, the Word inflicted greater injury on popery than prince or emperor ever did. I did nothing, the Word did every thing.
Luther won the battle of his day through the Word and we can do the same.
After the sermon, I was asked a question that I figured would come. The query concerned all the information and speculation regarding UFOs and aliens going on right now. Full disclosure: In the late 1980s, there were a lot of UFO sightings in the Pensacola, FL area. Maybe that should not be surprise because a naval base is nearby. There are a lot of things in the sky there all the time, right? Sure. But there were many people who claimed to see something in the sky unlike any naval aircraft they had seen before. Among the witnesses were my aunt and uncle (Duane and Dari Cook) and my cousin (Chip Holston). They were actually on a TV show, re-enacting a night when they spotted a UFO in the sky along with some others. My uncle Duane and cousin Chip were interviewed for the program and a picture Chip took was considered one of the best pieces of photographic evidence for a UFO from that time period. You can watch a clip that includes them here. All that to say: I've been interested in the UFO question for a long, long time.
A lot of claims are being made at the moment and obviously not everything being claimed is true (even, maybe especially, if it comes from the government). I certainly will not believe the claim that non-human biologics have been recovered from a UFO crash without hard evidence. But suppose there are reasonably credible reports of (a) unidentified objects in the sky and (b) encounters with non-human intelligent life. What are we to make of all this? There are handful of possibilities:
1. Actual extraterrestrials exist and are making contact with our planet — This seems impossible to me. No unassailable evidence that rises to this level has been presented and the evidence we do have simply does not support the claim that aliens exist. More importantly, from a biblical perspective, it seems very, very unlikely that there is life outside of planet earth. Given a biblical cosmology, there is no reason to think there are other beings in the universe, comparable to humans in intelligence, morality, etc. Would these beings be imago Dei? Are they sinners? Did Jesus take on their nature to die for them? The biblical creation account seems to suggest that earth is unique in that it is the planet where God created life — human life, animal life, and plant life. Genesis 1 says the other heavenly planets were not created to be inhabited but to serve as signs and for seasons. Outer space or the heavens may be inhabited by angels and demons, but not aliens as they are usually conceived.
2. UFOs are natural phenomena we do not understand and cannot explain (yet) — There are certainly many strange phenomenon in our world, and many of them defy understanding. It is possible that at least some supposed UFOs are actually naturally occurring events that are rare and not well understood. Perhaps our science will eventually solve the UFO mystery the way it has other natural phenomena.
3. UFOs are actually top secret technology, whether ours or another nation’s — While this is possible, it seems unlikely. Many UFO encounters reported by pilots described phenomenon moving faster, and with greater agility, than anything we are capable of — indeed, reports would suggest the objects defy the laws of physics as we know them. My guess is that many nations have top secret technology (the USA certainly does), but why would our government release any information at all on this technology, even as an elaborate ruse or bluff? And given the way nations spy on each other, wouldn’t someone somewhere be able to blow the whistle on this? And how could such technology — which seems several orders of magnitude beyond what we currently possess — be kept secret anyway, especially for a long period of time? Especially when so much money could be made from harnessing it? There are other possible technological explanations that can be given for aerial phenomena, e.g., Forbes magazine had an article that speculated that many UFOs are phantom projected images using lasers or some other technique. In other words, what if this is all an elaborate hoax? It's possible.
4. UFOs and supposed alien encounters are actually demonic — If there really is data to be explained, this seems most probable to me. But I wouldn’t stake my life on it, as even this explanation has problems. Why are the sightings where they are (mainly concentrated in USA and Britain where, incidentally, Hollywood and science fiction have the strongest grip on the popular imagination). Some supposed alien encounters certainly seem like they could be demonic (if they are not hallucinations, etc.). But I still have to wonder why, if UFOs are demonic, they do not act in a more malevolent way.
5. UFO sightings, alien encounters, etc. are all lies, hoaxes, or delusions -- This is certainly possible. Many of the sightings are suspect, because of the character of the witnesses, drug use, etc. In the case of the Pensacola, FL sightings I mentioned above, there were many suspicious details, including accusations that one witness had used trick photography with a model UFO to bolster his claims.
I confess to not having satisfactory answers to the all the questions here. But I would also urge you as Christians to filter everything you read and hear through a biblical filter. In other words, if it does not seem to fit with a biblical cosmology (and in fact, it seems to subvert that cosmology and prop up debunked myths like evolution or give the government an excuse for taking away more of your freedoms and money), be very, very suspicious. Very suspicious. We live in a world where strange things happen. We do not know as much about the world as we think we do. There is also an unseen, but very real, world that sometimes manifests itself to people in visible ways. There are a lot of possibilities here. But God's people should be discerning and wise, not gullible, when it comes to these matters.