The apostles, like other Jews of their time, regarded the air as a region between earth and the higher heavens, inhabited by spirits, especially evil spirits. In Eph 2:2 the air is the abode or Satan (see below); in Eph 6:12 ‘the heavenlies’ (τὰ ἐπουράνια)—a vague phrase used also in Eph 1:3, 20; 2:6; 3:10 to denote the heavenly or spiritual sphere, the unseen universe*—is where the wrestling of the Christian against the spiritual hosts of wickedness takes place, and is apparently in this ease equivalent to ‘this darkness’ (cf. Lk 22:53, Col 1:13 ‘power of darkness,’ i.e. tyranny of evil). In Rev 12:7 the war between Michael and the dragon is in ‘heaven.’ This can hardly refer to the first rebellion of Satan, nor yet can we with Bede interpret ‘heaven’ as the Church; but rather the righting is in the heavens, a struggle of Satan to regain his lost place, ended by his final expulsion. ‘As the Incarnation called forth a counter-manifestation of diabolic power on earth, so after the Ascension the attack is supposed to be carried into heaven’ (Swete, Com. in loc.). But the conception is not unlike that of St. Paul as noted above.
There are several parallels to these passages in that class of literature which is thought to be a Christian rehandling of Jewish apocalyptic writings. In the Testaments of the XII. Patriarchs (q.v.) we read of the ‘aerial spirit Beliar’ (Benj. 3). In the Ascension of Isaiah (q.v.) there is described an ascent ‘into the firmament,’ where were Sammael and his powers, and there was a great fight (vii. 9); Christ descends from the lowest heaven to the firmament where was continual warfare, and takes the form of the angels of the air (x. 29). In the Slavonic Secrets of Enoch the apostate angels are suspended in the second heaven awaiting the Last Judgment (§ 7; see Thackeray, Relation of St. Paul to Contemp. Jewish Thought, London, 1900, p. 176f.). These works in their present form probably date from the latter part of the 1st or the beginning of the 2nd cent. a.d. The ideas seem to have had much currency among Christians, for we find Athanasius (de Incarn. 25) speaking of the devil having fallen from heaven and wandering about ‘our lower atmosphere,’ ‘there bearing rule over his fellow-spirits …,’ ‘while the Lord came to cast down the devil, and clear the air and prepare the way for us up into heaven.’
The prince of the power of the air (Eph 2:2) is Satan. That he had authority over the evil spirits whose abode is in the air was the general Jewish belief, except among the Sadducees. St. Paul does not, however, here say ‘powers of the air,’ i.e. evil spirits, but the ‘air-power’ or ‘air-tyranny’ (for this meaning of ἐξουσία see Lightfoot’s note on Col 1:13). Satan is the arch-tyrant whose abode is in the air.
Literature.—See art. Demon.
* The Peshiṭta renders it ‘in heaven,’ except in 6:12 when it significantly has ‘under heaven.’
q.v. quod vide, which see.