Do the nations belong to Satan or God?

by William J. Stewart

In Matthew 4:8-9, we read:

…the devil took Him up on an exceedingly high mountain, and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. And he said to Him, ‘All these things I will give You if You will fall down and worship me.’

Does this mean that Satan owns the world and the nations that are in it?

Recall in John 8:44, Jesus identified the devil as a liar, even the father of lies. Just a few verses earlier in Matthew 4, standing with Jesus on the pinnacle of the temple, Satan cited Psalm 91:11, but misapplied the text. We have an enemy who knows God’s word well, but is a compulsive liar.

I imagine the devil is aware that Jesus was the prophesied “King of kings” (Daniel 2:37), and that He would be the king over all (Zechariah 14:9). Knowing that Jesus expected to rule over all, is it a stretch to think that Satan might lie to Him by offering all the kingdoms of the earth? Matthew 4 doesn’t say they belong to the devil, just that he offered them to Jesus. Today, when someone offers to give us something that is not their’s to give, we generally call them a swindler. Satan may be the master of swindlers, but Jesus wasn’t buying.

That Satan has power upon the earth is evident from Scriptures. He is called the “prince of the power of the air” (Ephesians 2:2) and the “ruler of the darkness of this age” (Ephesians 6:12), and John tells us “the whole world lies under the sway of the wicked one” (1 John 5:19). He has power, but all of these fall short of saying the nations of the earth belong to him.

But what about John 12:31 and John 14:30, which call him “the ruler of this world”? And in Luke 4:6, the parallel of Matthew 4, Satan specifically says he had authority to give it, for “this has been delivered to me, and I give it to whomever I wish.” Was he telling the truth? Have we caught the devil telling the truth? Do keep in mind, telling the truth is inconsistent with his character.

Over and over, the Bible tells us that the earth is the Lord’s, not Satan’s (Exodus 9:29; 19:5; 1 Chronicles 29:11; Psalm 24:1; 50:12; 89:11; Acts 17:29). The Bible does not just say God generically owns the world and those in it, but identifies Him as the one who possesses the nations. In fact, it was God who began the nations (Genesis 11:1-8).

Paul declared to the Gentiles that God is in control of all. In Acts 17:26, he stated,

…He has made from one blood every nation of men … and has determined their preappointed times and the boundaries of their dwellings…

Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon learned that

…the Most High rules in the kingdoms of men, and gives it to whomever He chooses (Daniel 4:16, 25, 32; 5:21)

In Daniel 2:21, we’re told,

…He changes the times and the seasons; He removes kings and raises up kings; He gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to those who have understanding.

In Jeremiah 27:5, the Lord said,

…I have made the earth, the man and the beast … and have given it to whom it seemed proper to Me.

Do you think it seemed proper to God to turn His creation over to the devil?

In fact, the Septuagint translation of Deuteronomy 32:8 says,

…when the Most High divided the nations, when he separated the sons of Adam, he set the bounds of the nations according to the number of the angels of God.

The text infers that God set angelic beings in place to oversee the nations. There are several texts which seem to say the same thing (Job 1-2; Daniel 10:4-21; Ephesians 3:10; Colossians 1:16; 1 Peter 3:22).

So, what is the point? Why does this matter? Quite simply, though Satan has a measure of power in the world, he’s not in control; God is. The Lord is longsuffering with leaders, but perhaps from time to time (when nations fall), He shares the same lesson that Nebuchadnezzar learned.



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