The reader of the Gospels and Acts is given the impression that Jesus and the apostles regularly encountered demon possessed people. Today things seem very different. Demonic activity in America appears to be non-existent. Demon possession and other obvious demonic misdeeds do not seem to take place now like they did in the New Testament. What is going on? Are demons still active today?
Demons are very real beings who posses great power and intellect. They are evil spiritual creatures who rebelled against God and were cast out of their positions of heavenly service. They exist now in opposition to God and in hatred of all men. Demons do not have physical bodies but can take control of physical creatures to accomplish their purposes. The New Testament indicates that demons give people supernatural strength (Mark 5:3-4), cause people to do harm to their own bodies (Mark 9:20-22), speak prophecies through the people they possess (Acts 16:16) and manipulate people to oppose the work of God.
Violent acts today are often blamed on drugs or mental illness. Many tragedies have multiple contributing factors, but why don’t Christians give serious consideration to the possibility of demonic activity behind some horrific events? It is overly simplistic to say demons are responsible for every tragedy of humanity, yet it is also dangerously naive to say demons have no role in any terrible event. The Bible mentions demonic influence in some diseases and mental disorders. Not every sickness or mental disorder can be traced to a demon. But why not some? Why disregard a demonic role in any addiction, disease or mental illness just because a medical explanation is (sometimes) available.
More important than the influence of demons over the physical body is the spiritual role they play. Demons are intent on war against God and the spiritual destruction of mankind. Their goal is to hold people in spiritual condemnation (2 Corinthians 4:4), facilitate spiritual destruction (1 Peter 5:8), hinder the Christian’s obedience (Ephesians 6:12) and oppose the working of God in this world.
The Bible does not say much about how demons go about their nefarious spiritual work. The book of Daniel tells of a demon that held off an angel of God and hindered the revelation of God’s truth to the prophet. (Daniel 10) In Daniel and the book of Ephesians are hints that demons are involved in manipulating the governments of the world. (No, this does not mean that politicians are demon possessed, not even corrupt politicians.) 1 Corinthians 10:20 says that those who worship idols are making sacrifices to demons. In 1 Timothy 4:1 false doctrine is described as the product of demons. This does not mean false teachers are demon possessed, but false teaching and false religions originate with demons.
Demons are still actively at work in the world today. They are battling to keep the hearts and minds of men in spiritual darkness. The work of demons does not require big displays of demonic power. They move behind the scenes combating the work of God, tempting men to sin, spreading lies and opposing the truth of God’s Word. This activity of demons is far more dangerous than causing individual humans to do terrible things to others. Demons are still at work in the world seeking the eternal destruction of men.
Modern folklore presents Satan as the ruler of the underworld. He stands on a high cliff bathed in the red light of infernal flames and oversees the torments of the damned. He sends his demons out into the world to accomplish his abominable purposes. He is the lord of the underworld. Or is he? What does the Bible say is the current role of Satan?
Satan does not rule hell. Hell is not a kingdom. Hell is a prison. Satan is not the warden of the underworld, like a Christian version of the Greek god Hades. Nor is Satan the top dog in hell, like a gang leader running a prison from the inside. Satan’s relationship to hell is that of a convict out on bail waiting for sentencing.
Satan is not yet in hell. At this time he is free and roams the earth. “Your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour.” (1 Peter 5:8).
Satan does not rule in hell, but he does have great authority. Satan is the chief of the fallen angels. Jesus speaks of “The devil and his angels”. Revelation 12 speaks of Satan being cast out of heaven “and his angels were cast out with him.” Satan is represented as the greatest of the rebellious angels. The Bible hints at a hierarchy of leadership among fallen angels (Ephesians 6:10; Colossians 1:16), but it is silent on how Satan exercises his supremacy over the other fallen angels.
Satan is also called “the prince of the power of the air”. (Ephesians 2:2) Satan has a significant power over the affairs of men. Satan’s rule is not limited to Satanists or those who have sold their soul to the devil. All the unsaved are described as under the kingdom of darkness with Satan as the spirit actively at work in them. Because of mankind’s sin, Satan exercises holds great authority and influence in this earth.
Despite his great power Satan is not the ultimate ruler of the affairs of earth. God remains sovereign over all things- including Satan. The devil does no more than he is allowed to do. Though Satan is a rebel bent on opposing God he is, in fact, accomplishing God’s purposes. Satan is the enemy of God who is still subject to God.
Satan is not God’s equal or opposite. Satan is the first of sinners, the chief of rebels and the father of lies. He is a vicious, powerful creature, but creature he remains. How can the creature become as great as the Creator? Satan is greatly inferior to God and must yield to the commands of God.
Though Satan is not in hell he will one day be cast into the lake of fire. “And the devil that deceived them was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are, and shall be tormented day and night for ever and ever.” (Revelation 20:10) The Lake of Fire is not his domain of rule but his place of punishment. Satan’s end will be an eternity of suffering the unending wrath of God.
The Devil, Beelzebub, the prince of darkness, Apollyon, Lucifer, the evil one. Satan.
In the Christian worldview Satan is seen as the chief enemy of God, the first rebel and the instigator of sin in humanity. Those with a Biblical background see Satan at work in the serpent that tempted Eve to sin in the Garden of Eden, as the spiritual being working through the antichrist in the last days and as an active agent for evil throughout history. Satan accuses Job, afflicts Jesus and prowls about like a roaring lion seeking for his prey.
Where did this evil being come from? Did God create the father of lies?
Satan first appears on the Biblical stage in Genesis 3 in the guise of a serpent. Though Satan is not named in the book of Genesis, the book of Revelation states that the serpent in the garden was the Devil. John sees “that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world:” (Revelation 12:9) I believe Satan possessed the serpent, like demons would later possess men and beasts (Matthew 8:31), and used that creature to deceive Eve.
The Bible does not specifically tell of Satan’s origins. Other statements of the Bible direct us to an answer. Satan is a created being. Everything that exists owes its existence to God. Colossians 1:16 specifically mentions the creation of angelic beings, “For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him:” Because nothing exists that was not made by God we can be certain Satan was created by God.
Everything God created was perfect. Genesis 1 describes God’s act of creation. Though the opening chapter of the Bible does not describe the creation of angels (and in fact, the Bible does not anywhere describe the creation of angels), the reasonable assumption is that God created all angelic beings sometime during the creation week. I believe God created the angels on the first day when He created “the heaven and the earth”. Regardless of when God created angels, He created them and He created them perfect. Psalm 18:30 says all that God does is perfect. At the end of the creation week God examined all His work and declared it “very good”. All of creation, including the angels, was perfect and exactly as He intended it to be.
Satan was created by God as a perfect creature. The Bible speaks of Satan’s sin and rebellion. In Ezekiel 28 God pronounces judgment on the King of Tyre. The judgment includes the earthly ruler of Tyre (vs. 1-9) and the spiritual power behind the wicked king- Satan. (vs. 11-19) Satan sinned, was cast out of his exalted position and condemned to God’s judgment.
Ezekiel 28:15 sums up the origin and sin of Satan, “Thou wast perfect in thy ways from the day that thou wast created, till iniquity was found in thee.”
The previous article began to answer the question “do demons need to possess living beings to do evil? The Bible does not speak of demons for the purpose of teaching about their nature or limitations but some deductions about demons can be made from the Biblical references to them. A reasonable inference can be drawn from the Bible that at least some demons prefer to inhabit physical beings. This preference does not necessarily mean demons require a physical body to accomplish their diabolical purposes.
Demons are angelic creatures who rebelled against God and were cast out of their positions of service in heaven (Revelation 12:3-4, 7-9). God created them spiritual beings who have the same nature as angels. There is no instance of a righteous angel requiring or desiring to inhabit a physical body. The demons desire to inhabit a body is not a part of their created nature.
As evil angels following in the path of Satan it can be surmised that demons are actively fighting against the will of God and are actively working for the harm of mankind. The gospels and the book of Acts show a real physical component to this malicious activity. Demons possessing a human body cause seizure like symptoms which cause the possessed to fall into fire or water, instigate the person into cutting themselves, drive the person into unsafe living conditions and causing tearing pains in the body of the person.
The physical harm done by demons is only part of their activity. Their work has a physical effect but not is limited to physical means. Ephesians 6 describes the Christian life as a spiritual battle. Paul says we do not fight against flesh and blood. The battle is against “but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.” (Ephesians 6:12) The tools for the Christian in this battle are depicted as armor but not of leather and steel. The Christains’ armor is spiritual not physical. His armor is truth, righteousness, readiness, faith, salvation and the Word of God. Such an armament will not defeat a physical enemy, but it will stand against evil spirits.
Daniel 10 gives a glimpse into what the spiritual activity of demons may look like. An angel of God came to the prophet Daniel to explain the meaning of a vision he had seen. The angel told Daniel the “prince of the kingdom of Persia” fought against his coming to Daniel. The angel Michael, “one of the chief princes” came to the assistance of the first angel and allowed him to reach Daniel. Though the details are limited this passage provides a glimpse into the spiritual battle that is taking place. These angels and demons were not warring together through humans they controlled. Daniel probably would have noticed a swordfight on his front doorstep. They were engaged in a spiritual battle in their own spiritual forms. A physical form is not necessary for the evil work of those angels which followed Satan.
Demons can do possess individuals even in America today. Nothing in the Bible would imply demons are limited to only working by controlling a physical body. Demons are powerful spiritual beings actively at work in a spiritual battle against God. Christians need not fear demons for, “greater is He that is in you than he that is in the world.” (1 John 4:4)
Demons are always a compelling topic of popular entertainment. Demons are not only a subject of imaginative and terrifying storytelling, they are mentioned multiple times in the Bible. One popular portrayal of demons, promoted by preachers and popular media, is that they require a physical host to perform their malevolent deeds. Do demons require a physical host, whether a person, an animal or an object, to work their deviltry?
The four gospels and the book of Revelation contain the majority of the Biblical references to demons. The New Testament epistles and the entire Old Testament only contain a few mentions of demons. No where does the Bible discuss demons for the purpose of teaching about them. For example, when the gospels tell of Jesus casting out demons, it does not do so to teach about demons. It tells of Jesus casting out demons to teach about Jesus and His power as God. The Bible’s discussion of demons is always secondary to the main point of the passage. This does not mean what the Bible says about demons is inaccurate, merely that the discussion of demons is always incidental to the Bible’s purpose. The reader can draw inferences about the nature of demons from these descriptions, but must be careful to keep in mind the purpose of the information is not intended to teach about the characteristics, power or abilities of demons.
The Gospels contain the most information about demonic activity in the world. In every instance demons are presented as possessing physical beings. The Gospels never present demons as possessing objects nor does it present them as being nothing more than evil forces. The account of Jesus casting a Legion of demons out of a man living in Gadara is important to answering this question.
When Jesus commanded the demons to leave the unfortunate man they asked, “Send us into the swine, that we may enter into them.” The desire of this Legion of demons to enter the herd of pigs is offered as proof that demons must have a physical body to possess. However, this conclusion does not line up with the reason the demons themselves give for wanting to be sent into the swine. In Luke’s gospel the demons Legion ask that they not be sent into the abyss, but into the pigs instead. The abyss is a place of imprisonment for fallen angels. (Revelation 9:1-3, 11; Revelation 20:1-3) The demons were fearful of being imprisoned and so desired to be sent into the pigs instead.
Another passage pertinent this discussion is the parable of Jesus found in Luke 11:24-26. Jesus describes a demon as going out of a man and wandering through desolate places but finding no rest. The point of the parable is not to teach about demons but about the futility of self-righteous self-reformation. The description of the demon leads to the conclusion that at least some demons prefer to possess a physical body.
It seems reasonable to deduce that at least some demons prefer to possess living beings, but the preference to possess living creatures does not mean demons require a physical body to perform their infernal deeds. The Bible presents the activity of demons as that which does not require a physical body to accomplish. More on that later.
Satan is the mighty angel who rebelled against his Creator. In his pride, Satan desired to be equal with God. He was cast out of his position as an exalted angel. In his hatred for God, Satan led Eve and Adam to sin against God. Satan now holds great power in the world as the prince of the power of the air (Ephesians 2:2) and the god of this world (2 Corinthians 4:4). Satan is a liar and a murderer actively bent on the destruction of men. Satan is a mighty foe of God and man. He is responsible for much harm in this world. He is the first and greatest enemy against God. What will happen to Satan? What will be his final end?
Satan’s fate is discussed in the book of Revelation. Popular entertainment portrays Satan as the king of hell residing in the place of torment and overseeing the torture of wicked people. This is not at all true. Satan is not now in hell, does not have any access to hell and does not want to go to hell. The book of Revelation tells how in the last days Satan will ramp up his assault on humanity. He will deceive the nations of the world and will be the spiritual force driving humanity towards a great war. Revelation 19 tells Jesus will return just before the war reaches it final climactic battle. At Jesus’ command a mighty angel will capture Satan, bind him in chains and throw him into hell. (Revelation 20:1-3) Satan will be bound in hell for one thousand years. He will be released and will immediately lead a final rebellion against God. Satan’s last rebellion will immediately be crushed.
After the failure of his last rebellion, Satan will be thrown into the Lake of Fire. In the Lake of Fire Satan will be constantly tormented for ever. Satan’s end will be one of horrible, eternal torture. Satan will not reign in hell. He will no longer have power over the earth or power to persecute men. He will no longer be able to practice his rebellion against God. Satan’s fate is already determined. He will be thrown into the lake of fire and eternally suffer the consequences of his sin.
Surveys in America have revealed that a majority of Americans believe in Satan. When questioned further it seems that most Americans believe Satan to be an evil force and not a personal being. Is Satan a real, personal being or is he a symbol that personifies evil in this world?
Evil exists. Even the most die hard of atheists would be reluctant to deny the reality of evil in this world. The question regarding Satan is not if evil exists, nor even is it if evil people exists. The question is if there is a spiritual being actively working to accomplish his evil purposes in this world? The existence of Satan cannot be proven based upon any empirical evidence. That is, Satan has not been and cannot be video taped, recorded, interviewed or subjected to lab tests. The Bible presents Satan as an angelic creature. Because he is a spiritual being, we do not expect Satan to be perceptible to the physical senses.
What does the Bible say that leads us to conclude Satan is a real being, not just an evil force? Ezekiel 28 describes Satan as the anointed cherub. A cherub is a type of angel. Satan was at one time a powerful angel entrusted with great responsibility in the worship of God. In the book of Job, Satan stands before the throne of God and has a conversation with God about the man Job. The Old Testament describes Satan in very personal terms, presenting him as much more than just a force. The gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke describe the temptation of Jesus. After Jesus spent forty days fasting in the wilderness, Satan appeared to Him and tempted Him. The account of this temptation is clearly the account of a personal being engaged in conversation with another personal being. If Satan was merely a force of evil, one would have to conclude that Jesus was having some kind of hallucination in which He carried on a conversation with a force. This would be as nonsensical as someone having a discussion with electricity about how lights work.
Other indications of Satan being a real being are found scattered throughout the Bible. In 2 Corinthians 4:4 Satan is the god of this world who actively works to prevent men from believing the gospel. In Ephesians 2:2 Satan is the “prince of the power of the air” who holds dominion over unsaved men and is actively at work in them. In John 8:44, Satan is described as a murdered and a liar that has spiritual descendants who follow in his footsteps. In the book Revelation Satan is described as coming under God’s judgment, being bound and then cast into imprisonment. Evil exists in this world, but Satan is not just a personification of evil. Satan is a real being, created by God. Satan rebelled against his Creator and is now bent on the spiritual and physical destruction of man. Satan is a mighty angelic creature who stands in rebellion against God and seeks to oppose the plan of God.
The devil, also known as Satan and Lucifer, is a powerful angel. Lucifer was created by God. He was created perfect but Lucifer soon turned from God. In pride, Lucifer rebelled and sought to take to himself the majesty and glory of God. As punishment for his rebellion, Satan was cast out of his glorious position near the throne of God. Now Satan is the chief adversary against God, leading a massive army of rebellious angels. He attempts to overthrow the plans of God. He seeks the destruction of all men and viciously attacks Christians. Satan is described in the Bible as the adversary, a murderer, a liar and a roaring lion bent on destruction. He is called “the prince of the power of the air” and “the god of this world”.
The devil is a powerful adversary, a spiritual being much greater than any man. The Bible only gives us a few hints of the powers of angels. They are able to move swiftly from heaven to earth. Some angels are messengers of destruction, bringing about the judgment of God on men. Demons are able to inhabit and control human bodies. Angels are able to bring about swift death and destruction on great armies of men.
From the Bible we also know some of the limitations of angels. Angels, whether obedient or rebellious, are creatures. All angels are limited beings. Though powerful and majestic none possess the power and glory of God. No angel is all powerful, all knowing or able to be in more than one place at once. Satan’s knowledge, though vast, is not complete. Satan’s power, though great, is not limitless. Satan’s presence, though daunting and supported by a great army of demons, is restricted. In all the interactions of angels with men discussed in the Bible, none give any indication that angels can read the thoughts of men.
The Bible records only two conversations between humans and Satan. The first was between Satan and Eve when he tempted her to eat of the forbidden tree. In that brief dialogue there is no hint that Satan was reading her mind. He skillfully manipulated her, but the whole conversation is based on her verbal responses to him. The other interaction between Satan and a person took place when Satan tempted Jesus in the wilderness. Once again Satan attempted to manipulate Jesus, playing on what he believed were Jesus’ desires. Satan’s interactions appear to be based only on what Jesus said. There is no hint that Satan could read Jesus’ mind. Satan is able to exert great influence on people, and skillfully works to stir up sinful desires in the heart. Satan dominates the system of this world, but nothing in the Bible hints that Satan can read the thoughts of men.
The absence of any definite Biblical statement requires we be cautious with our understanding of Satan’s power. The Bible’s silence on whether or not Satan can read minds can not be interpreted as a conclusive argument for either opinion on the matter. It seems most consistent with what is revealed about Satan to think he cannot read minds, but no definitive answer is given in the Bible. Speculations about Satan’s potential power should not cause the Christian undue fear and worry. However great Satan’s power is, the truth still stands, “Greater is He that is in you, than he that is in the world.” (1 John 4:4)