About how the New Testament uses the term “the world,” Watchman Nee continues to write,
Concerning this system [“the world”] there are two things to be emphasized. First, since the day when Adam opened the door for evil to enter God’s creation, the world order has shown itself to be hostile to God. The world “knew not God” (1 Cor. 1:21), “hated” Christ (John 15:18)
and “cannot receive” the Spirit of truth (14:17). “Its works are evil” (John 7:7) and “the friendship of the world is enmity with God” (James 4:4). Hence Jesus says, “My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36). He has “overcome the world” (16:33) and “the victory that hath overcome the world” is “our faith” in him (1 John 5:4). For, as the verse of John 12 that heads this study affirms, the world is under judgment. God’s attitude to it is uncompromising.
This is because, secondly, as the same verse makes clear, there is a mind behind the system. John writes repeatedly of “the prince of this world” (12:31; 14:30; 16:11). In his Epistle he describes him as “he that is in the world” (1 John 4:4)and matches against him the Spirit of truth who indwells believers. “The whole world,” John says, “lieth in the evil one” (5:19). He is the rebellious kosmocrator, world ruler-a word which, however, appears only once, used in the plural of his lieutenants, the “world rulers of this darkness” (Eph. 6:12).
There is, then, an ordered system, “the world,” which is governed from behind the scenes by a ruler, Satan. When in John 12:31 Jesus states that the sentence of judgment has been passed upon this world he does not mean that the material world or its inhabitants are judged. For them judgment is yet to come. What is there judged is that institution, that harmonious world order of which Satan himself is the originator and head. And ultimately, as Jesus’ words make clear, it is he, “the prince of the world,” who has been judged (16:11) and who is to be dethroned and “cast out” for ever.Scripture thus gives depth to our understanding of the world around us. Indeed, unless we look at the unseen powers behind the material things we may readily be deceived.
This consideration may help us to understand better the passage in 1 Peter 3 alluded to above. There the apostle sets “the outward adorning (kosmos) of plaiting the hair, and of wearing jewels of gold, or of putting on apparel” in deliberate contrast with “the incorruptible apparel of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price.” By inference, therefore, the former are corrupt and worthless to God. We may or may not be ready at once to accept Peter’s evaluation, depending upon whether we see the true import of his words. Here is what he is implying. In the background behind these matters of wearing apparel and jewelry and make-up, there is a power at work for its own ends. Do not let that power grip you.
What, we have to ask ourselves, is the motive that activates us in relation to these things? It may be nothing sensuous but altogether innocent, aiming by the use of tone and harmony and perfect matching merely to gain an effect that is aesthetically pleasing. There may be nothing intrinsically wrong in doing this; but do you and I see what we are touching here? We are touching that harmonious system behind the things seen, a system that is controlled by God’s enemy. So let us be wary.
With the Fall, however, Satan brought on to this earth the order which he himself had conceived, and with that began the world system of which we are speaking. Originally our physical earth had no connection with “the world” in this sense of a Satanic system, nor indeed had man; but Satan took advantage of man’s sin, and of the door this threw open to him, to introduce into the earth the organization which he had set himself to establish. From that point of time this earth was in “the world,” and man was in “the world.” So we may say that before the Fall there was an earth; after the Fall there was a “world”; at the Lord’s return there will be a kingdom. Just as the world belongs to Satan, so the Kingdom belongs to our Lord Jesus. Moreover it is this Kingdom that displaces and that will displace the world. When the “Stone not made with hands” shatters man’s proud image, then the kingdom of this world will “become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ” (Dan. 2:44, 45; Rev. 11:15).
Politics, education, literature, science, art, law, commerce, music-such are the things that constitute the cosmos, and these are things that we meet daily. Subtract them and the world as a coherent system ceases to be. In studying the history of mankind we have to acknowledge marked progress in each of these departments. The question however is: In what direction is this “progress” tending? What is the ultimate goal of all this development? At the end, John tells us, antichrist will arise and will set up his own kingdom in this world (1 John 2:18, 22; 4:3; 2 John 7; Rev. 13). That is the direction of this world’s advance. Satan is utilizing the material world, the men of the world, the things that are in the world, to head everything up eventually in the kingdom of antichrist. At that hour the world system will have reached its zenith; and at that hour every unit of it will be revealed to be anti-Christian.
This explains a lot, does it not?