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What does it mean that we do not struggle against the flesh, but against rulers?

“For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.” Ephesians 6:12
Here the Apostle Paul prepares us for our spiritual warfare as Christians.  He makes the point that we need to be strong not in our own strength, but in the LORD.  Ephesians 6.10: “Finally, be strong in the Lord, and in the strength of His might.”
Why is this so important? Because we are told in 1 Peter 5:8:  
Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.
Most Christians are very aware of Satan’s influence in our world today. We know he is opposed to God and His will at all turns, and as the “god of this world” (John 12:31, 2 Corinthians 4:4 and others) he will ferociously fight to keep all that he has laid claim to. What we don’t often think about is how we as individual Christians fit into the intensity of Satan’s raging against God.
The Scriptures tell us that his objective was and continues to be usurping the authority that ultimately belongs to the Most High God for himself. Anyone and anything that in any way shape or form stands in the way of Satan’s fight over his perceived authority is fair game for his unrighteous anger. As Christians, we love God supremely and seek to daily walk in the footsteps of our Lord Christ Jesus. This blessing means we are also Satan’s prime targets, hence, we need to be protected by spiritual armor.

Ephesians 6:11 says: “Put on the full armor of God, that you may be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil.”

Paul tells us about symbolic spiritual armor – a specific array of spiritual mind-set and focus that will give us the needed strength and protection.

The armor’s purpose is to enable us to “stand firm against the schemes of the devil,” meaning his strategies of attack.  We know he has many ways to attack us as that “roaring lion,” forcefully trying to destroy our loyalty and trust in our Heavenly Father.  He wants us to turn our trials into tragedies and walk away from God.
In Ephesians 2:2, Satan is called “the prince of the power of the air,” which includes the angelic forces of evil and occult powers.
Finally, we get to verse 12, the one you are asking about.  The Apostle Paul describes one of the schemes and strategies of Satan:
Ephesians 6:12:  For our struggle in not [merely] against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the power, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.

Satan has his own “army” of evil described as “angels who did not keep their own [original] position” (Jude 6 ISV) in the days of Noah. 1 Peter 3:18-20  They materialized and came to earth, and had children with the women. “The sons of God (the angels) saw the daughters of men, that they were fair, and they took them wives of all which they chose.” Genesis 6:2  They are now confined to “tartarus,” earth’s atmosphere, while awaiting their judgment. See 2 Peter 2:4.
Colossians 1:16 says: For by him (Jesus in his pre-human existence as the “Logos” or “word”) were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in the earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or power: all things were created by him and for him.  
In other words, Ephesian 6:12 tells us that not only do we struggle against the world’s influences, other human beings, and our own weaknesses of the flesh, but the chief conflict we must wrestle with is even worse – spiritual evil beings, unseen spiritual powers and occult powers. 
Satan himself, and the demons – his associates in evil – are really the great power working in and through mankind, in opposition to God and his plan. God has all along been master of the situation but has permitted Satan and his legions to exercise power over the rebellious race, ultimately teaching lessons to both men and angels.
Ephesians 6:13 sums this all up:  Therefore, take up the full armor of God, that you may be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm.
To learn more about the meaning of Ephesians 6:12 listen to, “How is Satan Trying to Devour Me?”
To learn more about the armor of God listen to, “Got Armor?” and our Warriors of God series’
To learn more about fallen angels listen to, “How Do Demons Influence Our World?”