1 John 5:19 – Does Satan rule the world?


“And we know that we are of God, and the whole world lieth in wickedness.” 1 John 5:19

One reader of this blog wrote in about the above passage a few weeks back asking the question “Does Satan rule the world?”

Below is our response (slightly amended for the sake of the post) for the benefit of others who may also be interested in this question:


A reply to the question

The answer to your question will depend on who you believe ‘Satan’ to be. Satan simply means ‘adversary’ in the original Hebrew and therefore I would need to know which Biblical ‘adversary’ you were referring to specifically to answer your question.

Below is an expert of an article I have written on the subject:

The original word for Satan

This is a word which has only been selectively translated into English by the translators of the Bible. The word actually means “adversary” and can be used in a good or bad sense:

“And God’ anger was kindled because he went: and the angel of the LORD stood in the way for an adversary (a SATAN) against him. Now he was riding upon his ass, and his two servants were with him.” Numbers 22:22

We can see from the above passage that this angel was doing God’s will but was a “Satan”. If you take the true meaning of the word and do not read any pre-conceived ideas into passages that use this word then you will see there is no evidence for it to mean a “supernatural” monster.

For example:

“But he turned, and said unto Peter, Get thee behind me, Satan: thou art an offence unto me: for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but those that be of men.” Matthew 16:23

The popular belief is that the fiery monster of Satan had possessed Peter and he had lost control of his actions and had allowed Satan to take over. This verse does not say this and you have to read all of that into the passage without any scriptural evidence. This is just one example of how preconceived ideas have twisted the true meaning of Satan.

For more information see ‘The true identity of the devil’:


In regards to the verse you have quoted:

1 John 5:19

“And we know that we are of God, and the whole world lieth in wickedness” KJV
“We know that we are children of God, and that the whole world is under the control of the evil one.” NIV
“We know that we are of God, and the whole world lies under the sway of the wicked one.” NKJV
“We know that we are from God, and the whole world lies in the power of the evil one.” ESV

This verse does not prove ‘Satan’, a firey immortal fall angel is in control but that the world is under the influence of a wicked one. What is this influence of wickedness? In what sense does the world lie under it’s spell we might ask. The previous verses explains some of this for us:

“All unrighteousness is sin” 1 John 5:17

Also, consider an earlier verse:

“We know that whosoever is born of God sinneth not; but he that is begotten of God keepeth himself, and that wicked one (other translations have ‘the‘ wicked one) toucheth  him not.” 1 John 5:8

So the context here is the context of choosing not to sin. Of choosing righteousness over unrighteousness. Of not being influenced to sin. Sin is personified here as “that wicked one”. A figurative being which is trying to make us sin. If you are honest you have to admit that it does not state here this is a literal fallen angel devil. You have to read that into the text based on previous bias. Personification is explained more in the article linked to above.

We might ask the Bible the next question.

How is it we sin?

“But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed. Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death.” James 1:14-15

Sin is something which comes from us being ‘drawn away by our own lust’. This is a personal thing which happens because of our fallen human condition as explained by this verse:

“Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned:” Romans 5:12

Adam (the one man) sinned. Death and mortality entered the world as God said it would (Gen 2:17). This ‘state’ of death passed upon all men because at the time all the human race (Adam and Eve) had sinned. Connected to this state was the inbuilt bias to sin. Elsewhere this ‘nature’ is called ‘The diabolos’ or ‘The devil’.

The wonderful thing about Gods plan was that he designed a way of escape from this fallen sin and death cursed state. This plan was consistent with His righteousness and it has to do with God’s son, Jesus Christ. Christ was a man in regards to his ’nature’. Just like all other human beings he had the temptation to sin however he overcame. This is explained to us in verses such as this from Hebrews:

“Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same; that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil;” Hebrews 2:14

Christ destroyed the ‘devil’. The false accuser. This was his nature ‘personified’ (described as if it was a person). He destroyed the devil in that he overcame the temptations to sin and was obedient to God even unto death. For this reason, God raised him from the dead and removed his mortality from him giving him eternal life. In this process, mortality and its proneness to sin were destroyed.

The righteousness of God

We are called to agree and believe in the righteousness of God in regards to these things. That it was right that Jesus died – for even though he did no sin he was in the fallen mortal human condition with all its temptations and lusts. That it was right God raised him from the dead – for he was completely obedient and did not commit a sin.

God is righteous in all that he does. Man in his natural state is in a condition worthy of death. Based on our faith in this key part of the gospel message which has to do with the things concerning “the name of Jesus Christ” (Acts 8:13). God in His mercy has promised to justify us and forgive our sin. He has promised to change our nature from that of mortality to that of eternal life when Jesus returns to the earth and establishes God’s Kingdom (Phl 3:21). Those who have believed this and have been baptised (Mark 16:16) into this hope have this redemption for them awaiting in prospect should they hold firm to the hope they have accepted. It is on the basis of this faith in God’s word that God has promised this (Rom 1:16, Rom 10:17).

These things we are told in Romans 3:

“Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus.” Romans 3:24-26

So the reason the world “lieth in wickedness” is not because of some mythical fallen angel devil. It is because of the sinful state of mankind which God has called a select people out of by His truth to be saved from through the work of His son Jesus Christ.

I hope this helps you in finding the answer to your question.

Much Love

Additional considerations – who rules the earth?

Having written the above some months ago, the following verses have since come to mind which show that it is God who is in control of the world and not some imaginary fallen angel:

The earth is the LORD’S, and the fulness thereof; the world, and they that dwell therein. Psalm 24:1 (also quoted in 1 Corinthians 10:26

The earth is Gods. It does not belong to a fallen angel. God has permitted man to live upon it for His purpose. Man caused and continues in sin. It is in this sense that wickedness prevails. Not because the one in control is wicked.

…to the intent that the living may know that the most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever he will, and setteth up over it the basest of men. Daniel  4:17

God rules, unbeknown to those humans in high positions, in the kingdoms of men. It is God who does this not a fallen angel.

But our God is in the heavens: he hath done whatsoever he hath pleased. Psa 115:3

God is all-powerful and does as He pleases. There is no being able to resist His almighty power:

am the LORD, and there is none else. I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these things. Isa 45:6-7

Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God. Romans 13:1

In conclusion

In conclusion, therefore, I submit that the Bible is teaching us that God, the creator of the heavens and the earth is in full control of His creation. It is man and his tendency to sin which has led to the world living in wickedness. God in His love, mercy and forbearance has devised a way by which those He calls might be saved. This way is based on His principles by which He requires those who desire to be saved to have faith in and live lives in accordance with that faith as proof of their commitment.