“I will no longer talk much with you, for the ruler of this world is coming, and he has nothing in Me. But that the world may know that I love the Father, and as the Father gave Me commandment, so I do. Arise, let us go from here.”
Jesus has an interesting phraseology in this passage. “[The devil] has nothing in Me.” This is significant in helping us discern the difference between Jesus’ use of “ruler” in the Gospel of John, and the Gnostics’ use of it in their theology.
The Greek term is “archon.” That is the word translated as “ruler,” and it is also what rules the world in Gnosticism. Here is their general teaching on the archons. By whichever Gnostic creation myth you take – and there are several – there emerges in the cosmic story a lesser deity who creates the material world. He is Yaltabaoth, or the Demiurge. After he creates the world, he creates 365 archons who help him rule the world.
The number 365 clues us into what’s going on here. The things that arise from time and space – that is, a physical universe – are under the rulership of the lesser, evil deity. And all the things that mark the physical universe, with all its structures, systems, and laws, are how the archons rule. Let’s look at a few examples.
The obvious example is the gender binary. If, as the Gnostics believed, we are sparks of divinity – what the modern world calls “the Self” – trapped inside our physical bodies, then there can indeed be the claim that my “Self” has a gender designation that has nothing to do with what the gender binary – rooted in our bodies and DNA – tell us.
Or, there’s marriage. Conservatives make the argument that thousands of years of cultural tradition, every major religious tradition, common sense, and even biological science establish that there is a reproductive system involving a man and a woman through which new people come into the world. Marriage arose from this reality. But when conservatives make that argument, their opponents only see the archons at work, the rulers of this world order trying to keep intact their structures of power and exclusion, so as to keep the Self from awaking and being liberated.
There are so many holes in this way of thinking it hardly bears a response. Ultimately, everything material would then be “trapped” in the structures and systems of thought undergirding it. Who says to eat an apple binds you to using your mouth on a juicy red fruit that, um, looks and tastes like an apple? Well, now we can begin to understand why the Sufis, the Islamic Gnostics, thought this question was so clever: “Why is the sound of an onion?” The whole purpose is to deconstruct everything.
In any event, the bigger point is, the Gnostic archons ruled the material world, the external world. By contrast, Jesus suggests Satan’s rule of the world is the opposite. The focal point is not “out there” but “in Me.” Now perhaps you can see the sense Jesus says, “He has nothing in me.” By way of suggestion, what He’s also saying is, “The ruler of the world rules the internal faculties of humanity; that is his reign; that is where he exhibits is power. But he has nothing in me.”
We could also extrapolate more. The devil’s reign is within the psychological faculties of humanity – in his will, his mind, his soul, his emotions – all areas beyond the material substances of humanity. (Interesting that Gnosticism would seek its reality and god outside the material world; this is the only area Satan can “claim” (scare marks because the territory the devil claims is nothingness and chaos), for the rest belongs to God.)
Recall, God had declared everything He had created very good. And St. Paul affirms this truth when he writes, “For every creature of God is good, and nothing is to be refused if it is received with thanksgiving; for it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer.” Notice, use of the word “eucharistia” (thanksgiving) implies something we’ve been dealing with these past weeks, that the Sacrament transforms our vision of the whole world, so that we see the goodness of the Lord, as Christ fills all in all, and so that we can be thankful for every creature.
That’s Christ’s domain, the creation, all things in heaven and on earth. The realm of nothingness – the realm of human will, the choosing toward evil that Adam did – is where Satan is the ruler of this world. Because everyone sins, his rule continues… is something we would say prior to the Holy Spirit’s advent, when He comes and explains new understandings of sin and Satan: sin is not believing in Jesus; Satan is judged and cast our of heaven so his rule ends. Well, then again, St. John says if we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves. Perhaps the best way to look at it is to take it out of chronology. It’s not as if the Holy Spirit comes, casts Satan out, and now Satan no longer rules over us.
Rather, like Jesus seeing Satan falling like lightning with the preaching of the Word, that’s how it happens. When the Holy Spirit delivers by apostolic proclamation what He witnesses at God’s right hand, the restoration of humanity, and this is administered to individuals in time and space, Satan indeed is cast out of heaven, sin is rendered moot, and righteousness is the One sitting at the right hand of the Father, the very one who makes His home in us by the Holy Spirit’s work. But that reality, though eternal, must be administered in time and space, as the anchor of our faith. Still, we live in a “not yet” world where Satan still reigns, clearly, in human will and choosing.
But Christ is the One person in whom this is not the case. Christ is the one physical thing in all creation that is not under the devil’s reign. The devil has nothing in Him. As He takes this reality up into fellowship with the Father, He sends the Holy Spirit to deliver this reality to us by declaration, and the words can be true that St. John writes, “For whatever is born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world – our faith.” Or again, “And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony.”
It is the blood of the Lamb, received in thanksgiving through earthly elements, that testifies to the goodness of all creation, the restoration of all creation in Christ, and gives us a renewed vision of all things, by the Holy Spirit. It’s almost as if in the Sacrament – only when it’s understood as truly Christ’s body and blood – the statement rings out: “You may have control of this fallen world, Satan, as you work your nihilistic program and try to return everything to chaos by controlling the will of humanity, but here is one area of creation you don’t own, where Christ is present. And you have nothing in Him. And as people commune in that, they too become part of the creation you don’t own. And their faith is infused with a vision, a revelation by the Holy Spirit, of the whole creation that you don’t own, for which they are thankful and see God’s goodness. And this faith overcomes you.