From his rebellious debut to modern day, the devil has always been a political figure.
In the most recent presidential debate, Trump was unusually literal in demonizing his opponent, at one point calling Clinton “the devil.” While such rhetoric is foreign to presidential debates, it is commonplace in many conservative Christian communities, where liberal political leaders are often suspected of being the Antichrist. And while their readings of biblical prophecy are questionable at best, my research on the devil has convinced me that they are not completely on the wrong track: The devil has always been right at home in the political world.
The devil has always been right at home in the political world.
The title of my book, The Prince of This World, refers to an epithet that Jesus twice uses to describe the devil in the Gospel of John. It jumped out at me as a possible title because my project was to demonstrate that the devil was not solely a theological symbol, but also a political one. Though he is undoubtedly a rebellious prince, insubordinate to his rightful ruler, God, nonetheless he remains a prince.
It would be easy to dismiss this as mere imagery, but to do so would be to misunderstand the devil’s place within the worldview represented by the New Testament writings. The devil is of course not simply identical with human rulers, but he does engage in a rule that is not merely metaphorical or symbolic. In the world of the Gospels, he asserts control over individual human beings. As with most rulers, this control is mostly mediated through subordinates (demons), but on important occasions it can be more hands-on. For instance, in two of the Gospels (Luke and John) he personally possesses Judas Iscariot and incites him to betray Jesus.