Question: Did God turn the rulership of this world from man to Satan after the fall?
Answer: Thank you for submitting such a thought-provoking question! The Bible tells us a lot about Satan, but we can only make some educated guesses about the events that occurred toward the beginning of his timeline. That being said, there is definitely enough data to comment on your query—but I also feel that we have enough information answer it. So, let’s explore.
Most of us will agree that Satan is the ruler of this world. That fact explains much of what we experience in life. But the rulership of Satan is also clearly established in Scripture, and it is attested by Matthew, Peter, Paul, John and Jesus among others.
(All quotes are from the NIV, and all emphases are mine.)
“Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.” (Matthew 4:1)
“Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion and looking for someone to devour.” (1 Peter 5:8)
“in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient.” (Ephesians 2:2)
“We know that we are children of God, and that the whole world is under the control of the evil one.”
(1 John 5:19)
“Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out.”
Satan was (most likely) already “in power” before God announced that human beings would have dominion over the earth. I realize that God announced man’s dominion in Genesis chapter one and Satan was not introduced into the narrative until Genesis chapter three, but we have indications that Satan was already in full-stride at that point. As such, his taking rulership of the world had to happen sometime before chapter 3.
“Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”” (Genesis 1:26–28).
“Now the serpent [Satan] was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?”” (Genesis 3:1)
The beginning of the book of Job (which is arguably the Bible’s oldest narrative) shows us that Satan has an almost breezy access to both heaven and earth. Therefore, the fact of Satan’s having instant access to the entire world (and to God himself!) is one of the oldest concepts in the Bible—and in literature itself!
“One day the angels came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came with them. The Lord said to Satan, “Where have you come from?” Satan answered the Lord, “From roaming throughout the earth, going back and forth on it.”” (Job 1:6–7)
Although the book of Job demonstrates Satan’s power over humanity, Isaiah’s book proclaims it… well… sort of. Most commentators understand Isaiah 14 as referring to Satan. This tells us a lot about his fall, but it does not tell us much about the time of his fall. Since this verse reads as though the events occurred outside of earthly time, this narrative sounds more like something that happened in heaven—and at a time before humans were created. This, however, is speculative.
“How you have fallen from heaven, morning star, son of the dawn! You have been cast down to the earth, you who once laid low the nations! You said in your heart, “I will ascend to the heavens; I will raise my throne above the stars of God; I will sit enthroned on the mount of assembly, on the utmost heights of Mount Zaphon. I will ascend above the tops of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.” But you are brought down to the realm of the dead, to the depths of the pit.” (Isaiah 14:12–15)
Since we can put Satan’s fall sometime before Genesis chapter 3, since his “breezy” access to heaven and earth speak to activities beyond the human realm, and since Isaiah’s description of Satan’s fall is timeless, it is plausible to place Satan’s assignment as ruler of this world at a point in time before humans were even created. Here is why.
First, we do not know if God created the angels before he created the cosmos. But if he did, there is a possibility that Satan rebelled even before time and space began. And if he did, he could have bargained for his place in the world even before it existed! This too is speculative—but it is plausible. After all, the spiritual world does not need the physical world to exist before its dramas unfold. Furthermore, the omniscient God knew the requirements of humankind—what elements must be in place before we can have a legitimate free will. (If humans have no legitimate choices, they cannot be said to be truly volitional.) And Satan, as the non-God candidate in the election for the Lord of our lives, keeps God from “running unopposed,” making our choice a true choice—which is clear and polarized.
Second, many people hold to the “Gap Theory” of creation. These see a perfect creation in Genesis 1:1—but then a great destruction occurring between Genesis 1:1 and Genesis 1:2. This gap can hold any number of years and any number of disasters—like of the fall of Satan. If that were true, then it is likely that God assigned Satan rulership over the earth even before humankind came upon it. But either way, if Satan’s rule were not well-established before Eden (which is your point), God would not have allowed him to set that snare—and this is the only time-marker of which we can be sure.
Finally, there are three concepts that we must keep separate: Satan’s rulership of the earth, human dominion of the earth and the Earth’s physical corruption.
We humans exercise dominion over the earth, but we do not exercise Lordship; that’s what Satan does, and they are markedly different types of authority. Our dominion over the earth means that we have the power of stewards, not kings. But Satan does indeed have the power of a king—and that is a godlike power when compared to ours. But since these powers are discrete as to type, function and judical agent, one did not become the other.
As to the Earth’s physical corruption… that one’s on God—not on Satan. Satan was certainly the agent of temptation in the Garden of Eden, but Satan was not the one who sinned—Adam sinned. And God punished Adam in two ways. First, God caused the curse of death to fall upon Adam and all his progeny. Second, God cursed the earth itself.
Now, don’t get me wrong; Satan certainly was in the chain of causation for both curses—and the way he runs things keeps a destroying pressure upon the world and all its inhabitants. But it was God, and not Satan, who conceived of and actuated the curse upon the earth—sentencing his own Son to death! However, amid this entire trauma, the administration of God’s creation did not change: Satan remained ruler of this world, and humans maintained their dominion over the earth. The issue is that our job as a stewards turned bitter—but it was not lost to (nor usurped by) Satan.
Therefore, if you saw Satan as the agent of the our ongoing difficulties in making a living, then I could see where you might have thought that man had dominion… but then handed it over to Satan. But since God, and not Satan, is the primary agent of our stewardship miseries, those actions merely made our jobs harder. They did not transfer any power to Satan.
“To Adam he [God] said, “Because you listened to your wife and ate fruit from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat from it,’ “Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat food from it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return….” (Genesis 3:17–20)
Thank you again for submitting a question, and I pray that these perspectives have helped you.