The first couple times I read the book of Ephesians I was perplexed about the nature of the principalities and powers that Paul mentions in Ephesians 6:12. Others may have wondered about these mysterious entities as well. I think most Christians understand that these have something to do with demonic forces. In the same passage Paul says that we contend not with flesh and blood but “against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.”
But exactly what or who are powers and principalities. It is never clearly spelled out in Scripture. However, J. Vernon McGee in his commentary on the book of Daniel sheds some light on this question. Dr. McGee discusses the hierarchy of angelic/demonic entities. He is addressing the rather mysterious struggle of some angel (probably Gabriel) against Satan. The archangel Michael’s intervention was needed to free up this messenger who was coming to Daniel as an answer to Daniel’s prayer for discernment concerning a very powerful vision he was given of the pre-incarnate Christ. In Chapter 10 the angel says to Daniel, “When you began to pray, God sent me to answer your prayer, but I couldn’t get through to you because on the way the prince of the kingdom of Persia withstood me for 21 days.” Quite obviously no human prince could withstand an angel and so its apparent that this prince refers to the “principalities” mentioned by Paul. Also, Dr. McGee points out that this is one of the Bible’s most important clues in understanding the ongoing invisible warfare being waged in the air around us.
According to Dr. McGee, thrones are at the top of the angelic organization. These are the archangels Satan and Michael. Gabriel and also possibly Uriel, and others not mentioned in the standard canon may also be archangels. Gabriel is God’s primary messenger in the bringing of good news and obviously a very important angel but Scripture never clearly spells out if he is an archangel. Below them are dominions, which would be the cherubim and seraphim. They are somewhat mysterious but have key roles in heavenly worship. Under them are the principalities which McGee likens to “generals.” They are likely given authority to rule over cities, countries or geographic areas. Lastly come the powers. They are the devil’s “foot-soldiers” and the likely equivalent of guardian angels. In his book Angels Billy Graham gives a similar breakdown of the ranks of angelic forces and one would imagine that the organization of demonic entities parallels that of the heavenly host.
In my book Satan’s Top Ten Tricks I address some of these issues along with spelling out how I see Satan influencing both our thought life and the greater world.