Do demons exist and operate in today’s world? What does demonic work look like? In my experience, if you want to know what the activities of demons are ask any missionary. Missionaries deal with demons in various forms.
The past couple of weeks I have written about the fall of Satan as well as Satan’s position and activities. In today’s post I want to look at the origin of demons (where they came from) and the work of demons (what they do).
Writing a post about demons reminds me of the Steven King quote when someone asked if he writes his books at night time, “Are you kidding, I can’t write what I write at night.” The study of demons is a little scary, but let’s take a look.
Photo Credit: “St. Raymond of Penyafort” by Tommaso Dolabella (1570-1650)
The Origin and Work of Demons
I. THE ORIGIN OF DEMONS
There are two views on the origin of demons. I believe that the view that demons are fallen angels is correct, but others hold the other view. Let me know which view you hold in the comments below.
A. Fallen Angels
One view is that demons were once angels in heaven with God, but when Satan rebelled against God those angels followed Satan and became demons.
This views relies on a view of Revelation 12 describing events that happened in the past.
Then another sign came from heaven. Behold! A large fiery-red dragon had seven heads and ten horns. On his seven heads were seven crowns. The dragon’s tail swept one-third of the stars from the sky and threw them down to the earth. The dragon stood in front of the woman as she was about to give birth so that when she gave birth to her child he might devour the child. (Rev 12:3-4)[ref]Unless otherwise noted, all translations are my own[/ref]
The dragon in this passage is Satan (Rev 12:9; 20:2). His tail that “swept one-third of the stars from the sky and threw them down to earth” refers to the angels that fell from God’s grace and became demons on the earth. Further explanation is given a few verses later.
Then there was a war in heaven. Michael and his angels waged war against the dragon. And the dragon and his angels[ref]”Michael the archangel (cf. Jude 9) and his angels fought against Satan and his angels, that is, demons” (John Walvoord, “Revelation” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary, vol. 2)[/ref] waged war back. But, the dragon was not strong enough to find a place for himself and his angels in heaven. Next, the great dragon, the ancient serpent, the one called the Devil and Satan—he is the one who deceives the whole world—was thrown down to earth with his angels. (Rev 12:7-9)
These two passages along with Isa 14:12-17 and Ezek 28:12-19 describe the original fall of Satan from heaven. When reading Revelation 12 it appears that there are other angels that fell from heaven with Satan, and those angels are now what we call “demons.”
In Peter’s second letter he told his readers, “For God did not spare even the angels who sinned. He threw them into hell, in gloomy pits of darkness, where they are being held until the day of judgment” (2 Peter 2:4). Jude wrote something similar, “And I remind you of the angels who did not stay within the limits of authority God gave them but left the place where they belonged. God has kept them securely chained in prisons of darkness, waiting for the great day of judgment” (Jude 6). With this verse in light of the ones we have already looked at, it appears some demons roam the earth and serve Satan while others are locked and waiting for judgment.
While doing a little reading I found a helpful diagram that explains the idea that some of Satan’s demons are roaming the earth (Eph 6:11-12) and causing harm now while some are bound and confined (2 Peter 2:4; Jude 6).
At first glance when reading 2 Peter 2:4 and Jude 6 it might be easy to conclude that demons do not roam the earth because they are locked away. However, I find it hard to believe that “ALL” demons are locked away because of how many times Jesus encountered demons while he walked the earth, how often demons were dealt with in the book of Acts, and how many passages such as Eph 6:11-12 say that we need to be alert and on guard against demons.
What we do know is that there will be a future judgment of demons, “Then the King will turn to those on the left and say, ‘Away with you, you cursed ones, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his demons'” (Matt 25:41)
As Charles Ryrie rightly asserts, “Nowhere in the Scriptures are demons directly said to be fallen angels, but the evidence . . . seems to point to the conclusion that they are” (Ryrie, Basic Theology, 181). I hope the passages I’ve shared with you in this section show you that demons are angels that fell from heaven with Satan.
B. Offspring of Ungodly Union
The view which I believe is less likely is the view that demons are the offspring of the ungodly union between women and angels in Genesis.
The sons of God saw the beautiful women and took any they wanted as their wives. Then the Lord said, “My Spirit will not put up with humans for such a long time, for they are only mortal flesh. In the future, their normal lifespan will be no more than 120 years.” In those days, and for some time after, giant Nephilites lived on the earth, for whenever the sons of God had intercourse with women, they gave birth to children who became the heroes and famous warriors of ancient times. (Gen 6:2-4)
This view has a few requirements. First, the “sons of God” have to be angels. See Job 1:6; 2:1; 38:7 where angels are called “sons of God.” Second, the “giant Nephalites” have to be one of two options. One option is that demons had bodies and were the “giant Nephalites.” Another option is for the offspring of the “sons of God” and women to have been part human part angel (a half breed type of a thing). Third, when the flood came and destroyed the earth (Gen 6-9) those demons that had bodies lost their bodies, and now are demons who “disembodied” spirits that roam the earth. I hope you can see that this view requires too many unlikely things in order to be correct.
This view relies on the Jewish apocalyptic book of 1 Enoch 10:11-14 as well as Numbers 13:31-33.[ref]The “sons of God” are most likely, “a group of fallen angels who, because of this unique sin, were confined. Because ‘sons of God’ is used almost exclusively of angels in the Old Testament (Job 1:6, 2:1; 38:7) (Ryrie Study Bible, NASB, p. 10)[/ref]
II. THE CHARACTERISTICS AND ACTIVITIES OF DEMONS
In this section I lump the characteristics and activities of demons with what Satan does. The idea behind this is that Satan was the one who led the rebellion against God, angels followed Satan, and now they are demons on earth. Satan is the “prince of demons” (Matt 12:24, NIV) on earth and they do what he wants. If Satan is the leader, what he does, the demons do. So if a passages says “the devil does this” then I think it is acceptable to say that demons “do that too.”
A. Persons Reflecting
By “person” I don’t mean a live flesh and blood person. I mean a being who has intelligence, will, and emotions.
Paul told the believers in Corinth, “I fear that somehow your pure and undivided devotion to Christ will be corrupted, just as Eve was deceived by the cunning ways of the serpent” (2 Cor 11:3, NLT). Eve was deceived by Satan and demons can deceive people too. In other words, Satan is the leader of all demons, if Satan deceives, so does his demons. That deception requires intelligence. Have you ever heard the saying, “It’s easier to tell the truth than lie because if you lie you have to remember what you lied about.” The idea is that if you always tell the truth then you won’t have to worry about getting your story mixed up. In order for demons to deceive others they must have the intelligence to create deception.
Paul told Timothy that if there are people who oppose God’s Truth that he should gently instruct them so that “they will come to their senses and escape from the devil’s trap. For they have been held captive by him to do whatever he wants” (2 Tim 2:26). Apparently, Satan has had control of some people and they do what Satan wants. In other words, they follow Satan’s will.
The half-brother of Jesus, James, told his readers that “You say you have faith, for you believe that there is one God. Good for you! Even the demons believe this, and they tremble in terror” (James 2:19). Notice at the end of that verse that the demons “tremble in terror.” Demons have emotions like people do. Satan also has emotions. In Revelation 12 (see my blog posts about Rev 12:1-6 and Rev 12:7-12 and Rev 12:13-18) there is a battle between the dragon (Satan) and a woman (the nation of Israel). When Satan realizes he was failing to inflict harm on the woman it says he “was angry at the woman” (Rev 12:17).
B. Oppress and Possess Humans and Animals Causing
When reading these, please don’t think, “Oh my husband is violent, therefore he is possessed by a demon!” Or, “my son has autism and cannot talk, is he possessed by a demon?” The point here is that demons during Jesus’s ministry were active and caused these things in people. Just because someone might have the symptoms below does not mean that the person is possessed by a demon. In the passages I quote the harm done to these people is attributed directly to demons.
The violence of demons is seen when Jesus arrived in the region of Gadarenes and he was approached by two demon possessed men. Matthew described these men as so “violent” that no one could travel through the area they lived (Matt 8:28). They also “screamed” at Jesus when approaching him (Matt 8:29; see Mark 5:1-10 and Luke 8:26-29 for the parallel passages). When some Christians were traveling and casting out demons (Acts 19:11-14) they tried to cast a demon out of a man but the man who was demon-possessed “leaped on them, overpowered them, and attacked them with such violence that they fled from the house, naked and battered” (Acts 19:16). Now that’s scary!
2. Speech Impairment
When demons possess humans sometimes they impair the speech of the person they indwell. Two times in Matthew’s gospel he described “a demon-possessed man who couldn’t speak” (Matt 9:32; 12:22). Sadly, demons can impair the speech of children as described by Mark when a man brought his son to Jesus because the child was “possessed by an evil spirit” that wouldn’t let him talk (Mark 9:17).
Matthew described a man that was brought to Jesus who was “demon-possessed” who was “blind” (Matt 12:22).
A man approached Jesus once saying that his son regularly had seizures and that he suffered because of them (Matt 17:15). Jesus then cast out the demon from the boy and the boy no longer had seizures (Matt 17:18).
C. Extraordinary Powers to Those They Indwell
When Paul and Silas arrived in Philippi they met a demon-possessed slave girl. She was a fortune-teller who earned a lot of money for her masters (Acts 16:16). Paul commanded the demon to come out of the girl (Acts 16:18) and when the demon did the girl could no longer tell fortunes (Acts 18:19) which caused the men she was making money for to get angry at Silas ans Paul (Acts 18:20-24).
2. Physical Strength
The two demon-possessed men that lived in the region of Gadarenes were “so violent that no one could go through that area” (Matt 8:28). Later in Matthew’s gospel a man brought his demon-possessed son to Jesus (Matt 17:18) because the boy often had seizures and suffered terribly. Because of those seizures the boy often fell in fire or water.
In the book of Acts there were some Christians traveling and casting out evil spirits. When they tried to do it to one demon-possessed man the man “leaped on them, overpowered them, and attacked them with such violence that they fled from the house, naked and battered” (Acts 19:16). Demon possession seems to not just have a spiritual effect on people but also a physical effect as well.
D. Instigate Deceptive Doctrines
No other place in the Bible is it as clear that demons instigate deceptive doctrines than Paul’s first letter to Timothy. “Now the Holy Spirit tells us clearly that in the last times some will turn away from the true faith; they will follow deceptive spirits and teachings that come from demons” (1 Tim 4:1-3). There are deceptive spirits and teaching that will come directly from demons.[/ref]”It comes as a shock to some people that Satan used professed Christians in the church to accomplish his work. But Satan once used Peter to try to lead Jesus on a wrong path (Matt 16:21-23), and he used Ananias and Sapphira to try to deceive the church at Jerusalem (Acts 5). Paul warned that false teachers would arise from within the church (Acts 20:30). (Wiersbe, Be Faithful, p. 62)[/ref] The false doctrines that demons use to deceive people will continue all the way throughout the book of Revelation, “But the people who did not die in these plagues still refused to repent of their evil deeds and turn to God. They continued to worship demons and idols made of gold, silver, bronze, stone, and wood—idols that can neither see nor hear nor walk!” (Rev 9:20, NLT).
E. Deceive Nations
The fact that demons instigate deceptive doctrines doesn’t just happen on a personal level. It also occurs to entire nations as in the book of Daniel. The book of Daniel contains prophecies and visions that I struggle to understand and interpret. What is clear though is that demons actively work in nations to deceive people, lead them away from God, and to outright rebel against God.
During one of those visions an angel comes to Daniel and tells Daniel that he would have been there sooner but the “spirit prince of the kingdom of Persia blocked” his way from going to Daniel (Dan 10:13). Dr. John Walvoord clarifies, “This prince is not the human king of Persia, but rather the angelic leader of Persia, a fallen angel under the direction of Satan, in contrast to the angelic prince Michael who leads and protects Israel” (Walvoord, Daniel, p. 310). A brief time later the angel told Daniel, “Soon I must return to fight against the spirit prince of the kingdom of Persia, and after that the spirit prince of the kingdom of Greece will come” (Dan 10:20).
An example of demons deceiving the nations in the end times is seen in the sixth bowl judgment in the book of Revelation. The apostle John saw “three impure spirits that looked like frogs come out” (Rev 16:13) that were “demon spirits making signs which go out to the kings of the whole earth to gather them for the battle of the great day of the Lord, the Almighty!” (Rev 16:14). These demons did not just deceive a person or two, they “gathered the kings and their armies to the placed called in Hebrew, ‘Armageddon.’” (Rev 16:16).
F. In Prison but Let Loose in the Great Tribulation
There are two passages in the New Testament that describe demons being bound and shackled now, but will be let loose in the future. To be honest, these passages confuse me.
For God did not spare even the angels who sinned. He threw them into hell, in gloomy pits of darkness, where they are being held until the day of judgment. (2 Peter 2:4)[ref]This could be referring to the fallen angels that cohabitated with women in Gen 6:1-4 or could refer to the angels who rebelled with Satan before Adam and Eve sinned. See the Ryrie Study Bible, NASB, p. 1551.[/ref]
The other is in Jude,
And I remind you of the angels who did not stay within the limits of authority God gave them but left the place where they belonged. God has kept them securely chained in prisons of darkness, waiting for the great day of judgment. (Jude 6)
These verses say that demons are bound and awaiting judgment. Yet, the Bible also says that demons have been given permission to roam the earth and do harm. I am not always sure how to reconcile this. How do I balance these two verses out with Ephesians 6:10-12 that says there are active demons that follow Satan today?
What is clear is that in Revelation 9 there are vast amounts of demons that are let loose. These are demons specifically in Rev 9:18-19 as well as Rev 16:14 which are let loose during the Great Tribulation.
G. Occasionally Sent To Do the Will of God[ref]There should be a letter “F.” that outlines how demons recognize and obey Jesus.[/ref]
I am cautious on this point and am treading lightly cause I want to be careful when saying “demons are occasionally sent to do the will of God.” So, let’s look at a few examples.
1. Evil Spirit Sent to Saul
Most people know that Saul was not a righteous king and when God decided to make David the king of Israel the Spirit of the Lord left Saul and “an evil spirit tormented him” (1 Sam 16:14). The New Living Translation implies that, “The LORD sent a tormenting spirit that filled him [Saul] with depression and fear” (1 Sam 16:14, emphasis added). I believe the New Living Translation implies this from 1 Sam 16:15 which reads, “Those who were with Saul told him, ‘the evil spirit from God is tormenting you.'” Later in 1 Sam 16:23 it says that whenever Saul was troubled by the “tormenting spirit from God” that Saul was comforted by David.
2. Satan Allowed to Harm Job
In the opening chapter of the book of Job Satan approaches God and God points to Job as man who was blameless in all he did, full of integrity, feared God, and stayed away from evil (Job 1:8). To that Satan simply replied that Job was that way because God was so good to Job and always protected Job (Job 1:9-11). So in order to prove to Satan that Job truly loved God, God allowed Satan to harm (Job 1:12). In this exchange, God allows Satan to harm Job so that God can show Job was a righteous man.
3. Satan’s Messenger Kept Paul Humble
Paul told the Corinthian believers that God had provided him so many things and given him revelation about the kingdom of God. Yet, “to keep me from becoming proud, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger from Satan to torment me and keep me from becoming proud” (2 Cor 12:7). In some way Paul was hurt physically by Satan as a way to keep him from becoming proud. Perhaps that thorn was sent by God through Satan to keep Paul humble and relying on God.
III. CONCLUSION AND APPLICATION
A. Demons are real and are a threat to my spiritual walk.
If this post doesn’t convince you that demons are real and active in our world I am not sure what will. Most importantly, demons are a threat to your spiritual walk because they are Satan’s army sent to cause harm to God’s holy people.
B. Saying “in the name of Jesus” and Scripture memorization are my tools to battle demons.
There once was a sign at a textile mill that read, “When your thread becomes tangled, call the foreman.” A young woman was new on the job. Her thread became tangled and she thought, “I’ll just straighten this out myself.” She tried, but the situation only worsened. Finally she called the foreman. “I did the best I could,” she said. The foreman replied, “No you didn’t. To do the best, you should have called me.” And that’s how it is supposed to be with our relationship with Jesus Christ. To do our best we need to call on Christ especially when it comes to battling demons.
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