Is there demonic activity today?

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.

Is Satan the Ruler of Hell?

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.

Do demons have to possess physical bodies?

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.

Are ghosts real?

A ghost is generally understood to be a mystical, non-physical presence of a person who has died. Of course, such manifestations make great fodder for movies and television shows. For millennia, men and women have made a living offering others a chance to speak with or to see a departed loved one. Many people over the ages have experienced strange, spiritual encounters with beings that have appeared to be the spirit of a deceased person. Are these experiences real? Are the beings encountered really the spirits of dead people?

As in all other matters, the Bible must be the final source of authority in this. Despite the difficulty of reshaping one’s conclusions, those who have personally experienced a manifestation must let the Bible control the understanding of any strange experiences. The Bible speaks much of the spiritual. Man has a spirit that is somehow distinct from the flesh. God created a vast army of powerful spiritual beings who are active in this world. The Bible leaves no doubt a great spiritual conflict exists and will continue until eternity is usheredSome spiritual creatures are malevolent and bent on the destruction of men. Some are benevolent and act as God’s servants for the benefit of men. These demons and angels are in conflict against one another. These spiritual creatures have the ability to appear in human form. The Bible tells of one instance in which a spiritual being appeared as a specific, deceased individual.

Saul, the King of Israel, was desperate for guidance. The prophet of God, Samuel, had died and Saul had been rejected by God because of his disobedience. Despite it being expressly forbidden in the law of God, Saul visited a medium and asked her to call up the spirit of the prophet Samuel. To the medium’s amazement, an apparition of Samuel appeared and spoke to Saul. What was this? Was this the ghost of Samuel the prophet of God? Since the woman of Endor was engaged in activity forbidden by God, and since Saul was conspiring with her to continue her wicked practices, it seems very unlikely that what appeared to Saul was actually the spirit of Samuel.

Other Biblical reasons add further weight to the conclusion that Samuel did not appear to Saul. In Hebrews 9, the Bible summarizes death and it’s subsequent events, “It is appointed unto man once to die, but after this the judgment.” Little room seems to be left in the afterlife for haunting the earth or appearing at seances. Most forceful in this regard are the words of Jesus. In Luke 16 He tells of the deaths of two men, one who went to heaven and one who went to hell. Jesus relates a conversation between the one in hell and Abraham in heaven. The one suffering in hell plead with Abraham for someone to be sent from heaven to warn his brothers of the horrible judgment of hell. Abraham responded that it is impossible for anyone to be sent from heaven to earth. None leave their eternal abode to visit the earth. Not Samuel the prophet, not the poor man Jesus told of and not any other person who has passed on.

If the apparitions people see are not the spirits of men, what could they be? In many cases, such things can and should be chalked up to an over reaction of the mind. Those distraught, fearful or fatigued are much more likely to experience mild hallucinations or to greatly exaggerate something unexpected. In those few cases where something actually appears, the most likely possibility is that the creature is of demonic origin. Saul probably saw a demon masquerading as Samuel to torment him further with his rejection by God. Ghostly forms that terrorize people or “haunt” buildings are best explained as demons seeking to terrorize men. Ghosts are not real, but the spiritual creatures that may appear as ghosts definitely are.