We live in a mixed bag of theological positions, but we must labor to avoid errors regarding angels, demons, and Satan. Satan and other fallen angels are real spirit beings. Don’t mistake Satan as a red monster with horns and a pitchfork. He masquerades as an angel of light. From the pages of Scripture, we see that Satan and demons appeared in many places to oppose Jesus’ ministry and the ministry of the Jesus followers. To ignore the reality of demons is to ignore the truthfulness of many accounts on the pages of the Bible.
In 2009, Barna Research Group released troubling statistics from a nationwide survey regarding spiritual beings.
“Four out of ten Christians (40%) strongly agreed that Satan “is not a living being but is a symbol of evil.” An additional two out of ten Christians (19%) said they “agree somewhat” with that perspective.”
This is troubling to say the least, but it’s not new. The late German theologian Rudolf Bultmann vehemently denied the existence of demonic spirit beings. He referred to them as ancient myths. According to Bultmann, the New Testament message had to be “demythologized” by removing such tales in order for the gospel to be understood.
As we read the Bible, it’s abundantly clear that demons are real beings that we face while living in this present evil world. There is a world of darkness that our eyes can’t see, but it’s real and there is a real spiritual warfare taking place (Ephesians 2:1-10). This truth is evident as we look at how demons opposed Jesus and the message of the gospel. That hasn’t changed. Demons still oppose Jesus and His church.
What are Demons?
What is a demon? We often hear in our pop culture people talking about fighting or battling with their demons. What they’re often referencing is a battle against some difficult circumstance in their life – but not a spirit being.
Demons are, in short, fallen angels. When Lucifer, the devil, led an uprising to dethrone the King of the Universe – he and all of his followers were cast down from heaven. At some point after God’s creation was in place, we see that Satan rebelled against God. The prophet Isaiah records the fall of Satan (Isaiah 14:12-15). Jesus spoke of Satan’s fall in the gospel according to Luke. Luke 10:18 reads, “And he said to them, ‘I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven.'” John describes this terrifying scene in Revelation 12:3-9.
What are Some Characteristics of Demonic Activity?
1. Sin and Rebellion
Sin and rebellion are primary characteristics of demonic activity. Paul, in his letter to the church at Ephesus, describes the pre-conversion state of believers as “following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience” (Ephesians 2:2). Disobedience is a key characteristic of demonic activity. All of us are born as children of wrath. We are born depraved sinners. All sin is not specifically the act of a demonic attack, but perpetual and persistent sins of the flesh can be linked to the “spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience.”
2. Deception and Lies
Satan is referenced as the “father of lies” in John 8:44. The apostle makes it clear that all lies have originated with him. Scripture lists liars in the same breath as homosexuals, enslavers, perjurers, and others who oppose sound doctrine (1 Timothy 1:10). According to Revelation 21, all liars will experience the wrath of God in the lake of fire. When Satan is called the deceiver of the whole world in Revelation 12:9, a clear line must be drawn from deception to demonic activity.
3. Destruction, Disease, and Murder
In Mark 5, we see a man who was possessed by a spirit being named Legion. It is estimated that 2,000 to 6,000 demons possessed this wild man who lived in the tombs as an outcast in the country of the Garasenes. A brief overview of that passage reveals that the demons were leading the man to practices of self-mutilation as he cut himself with rocks. He demonstrated violent behavior and this too is a clear sign of demonic influence and activity.
Not all disease can be traced to demonic activity, but we can certainly say that demons can cause sickness. That was the case with Job as he was afflicted by Satan. In the New Testament, we see the woman who had a “spirit of infirmity for eighteen years” in Luke 13:11. Jesus said of the woman that she was “a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen years” (Luke 13:16).
What was the first thing that happened to the 2,000 pigs after the demon possessed man was delivered by Jesus? They ran violently down the hillside to their death. Destruction and death are characteristics of a demonized agenda. That’s clear as we see Satan enter Judas and immediately he set things in order to betray Jesus which led to the brutal crucifixion of Christ (Luke 22:3). Jesus called Satan a murderer from the beginning (John 8:44). Satan is on the prowl seeking to devour (1 Peter 5:8).
4. Opposition to Jesus Christ and His Church
Satan tempted Jesus with many things in the wilderness. His goal was to stop the gospel mission. Satan is jealous of Jesus’ throne. As Satan entered Judas, the man was immediately moved to betray and seal the death of Jesus. The opposition of Jesus led to the opposition of His church. Jesus warned His disciples of this reality (John 15:18-25). Jesus promised that the authority of hell would never prevail against His church, but that statement in Matthew 16:18 likewise serves as a promise of opposition. Eventually all of the inner circle of Jesus died for their faith.
Paul experienced the opposition from the “servants of Satan” who claimed to be apostles and they disrupted his teaching. Demons are opposed to the truth. As Jesus taught the Word in the synagogue, a man with an unclean spirit interrupted the sermon (Mark 1:23-24). Even Paul warned the church at Galatia about receiving conflicting doctrine from what may be perceived as an angel from heaven (Galatians 1:6-9). The point is clear, demons opposed Jesus, His followers, and the preaching of His truth.
In conclusion, I firmly believe that demons are real and their work is a real factor that we must face in this life. However, it’s an unfortunate thing to see pastors deemphasize gospel preaching in order to go on demon hunts. We must remember that the Great Commission was not “Go and cast out demons.” The Great Commission involves preaching the gospel and making disciples. Beware of those who are constantly talking more about demons and exorcisms than they are about Christ and His church. As we face the real powers of darkness in this present evil world, we must do so in confidence that Christ has overcome Satan and the day of reckoning is coming when every demonic knee will bow to Jesus and confess Him as Lord – to the glory of God the Father. Until then, all demonic spirits are under the rule of God’s sovereignty. Even Satan is under God’s control. Martin Luther once rightly called the devil God’s devil. We must not fear – God remains upon His throne – even in the midst of demonic attack and activity.
Paul David Tripp writes, “Spiritual warfare makes us think of demon possession, horrific demonstrations of satanic control, and dramatic exorcisms. But Scripture presents spiritual warfare not as the violent, bizarre end of the Christian life, but as what the Christian life is!“1
1. Paul David Tripp, Age of Opportunity, P&R Publishing, 1997, p. 116