By Terry MacCabe
We’re strangely fascinated by the supernatural. Over the past decade a number of television programs have been produced depicting beneficial relationships between angels and humans. Hollywood has also given us several glimpses into mankind’s perspective on what we would hope angels are like. Sometimes these angels are on earth to serve as guardians; other times they’re sent to earth as a type of penance for sinning against God!
In my small city several people claim to have unobstructed access to benevolent angels. They host “angel parties” where they claim to have the ability to introduce you to your own guardian angels. Seldom, if ever, are these people aware that the Bible warns us to be wary of interacting with nonhuman beings who claim to be angelic. Doing so can actually put us in contact with spiritual beings that are not working on God’s behalf, but rather are working against our heavenly Father (2 Corinthians 11:14, 15).
From a religious standpoint, however, there has been little interest in the demonic. It makes us feel good to think there are angels working on our behalf and for our good; but we prefer not to acknowledge that demons may be working just as hard, possibly harder, to harm us.
Because of this, our culture acknowledges little about demons and their power. We would be wise, however, to consider what God tells us in his Word about this force that would seek our harm. Let’s look at some basic biblical facts about demons.
The Reality of Demons
Prominent Catholic theologian Richard P. McBrien states that what the Bible describes as demonic possession is simply physical illness. The people of the day, McBrien explains, simply did not have our knowledge of psychology and anatomy and had to come up with their own explanation for what was happening when people had seizures and convulsions. Thus, what we know today to be epilepsy was not understood by people of the first century.
McBrien dismisses the idea that demons can and do inhabit the bodies of humans under certain circumstances. This in spite of the fact that the church he represents recently began recalling priests to Rome in order to reeducate them on the reality of demon possession and how to perform exorcisms.
Like McBrien, we might like to think there are no such things as demons, but the Bible makes no secret of the fact that demons are real. In Matthew 17 we read about a young boy possessed by a demon that caused him to have seizures and fall into the fire or water. When Jesus heard the story, he didn’t tell the father the boy simply had an illness. Matthew clearly tells us that Jesus rebuked the demon and it immediately left the boy.
If the creator of all things (Colossians 1:16) believed in demons and their power, we would be foolish to deny their existence. Demons were angels created to act as agents of God’s perfect will, but ultimately rejected his authority. Isaiah 14:12, 13 describes how the angel Satan attempted to overthrow God, take his place of authority, and thus rule the world. While the Bible doesn’t tell us how many angels followed Satan, we know it was not a small number, as the demoniac of Mark 5 was possessed by perhaps thousands of demons.
The Destructiveness of Demons
One disturbing aspect of our culture’s fascination with angels is that the uninformed and ignorant may put themselves into contact with demons while thinking they are interacting with benevolent angels. As we’ve previously learned, the devil—and we should assume his cohorts—actively present themselves as angels of light that seek to benefit us, while all along working a master plan to steal, kill, and destroy (John 10:10).
Demons are spirits that seek humans and animals to inhabit (Matthew 8:31, 32). By dwelling in human bodies, they are able to harm both the host and those in the host’s presence.
Though we aren’t told how demons came to inhabit possessed humans, we should understand that people ultimately consent to demon possession by rejecting God. God will never dwell within the same host as a demon (2 Corinthians 6:14, 15) and logically, demons can only enter a person who has rejected God’s presence and influence.
There is never an example in Scripture of demons benefitting mankind. They seek our harm and ultimate destruction. They do this by causing physical and mental illness, disease, and sometimes by causing those they inhabit to harm themselves.
On occasion I’ve met Christians who suggest that demons can have no power over them because they are believers in Christ. Jesus, on the other hand, told us not to fear the devil (and the members of his household) even though they can destroy the body (Matthew 10:28). The book of Revelation also tells us that in the last days (quite possibly our days) the spirits of demons will have great and genuine power that will do serious harm to the followers of Christ (Revelation 16:13, 14).
The Doom of Demons
We would be remiss to study what the Scriptures say about demons without considering what it tells us about their destiny. The Bible tells us that God has created a special place for Satan and his henchmen to go on the Day of Judgment: “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels’” (Matthew 25:41).
Consider how tragic this reality is: beings who were created with greater glory and ability than mankind, destined to be consumed with everlasting fire in the life to come. All their work and determination to take over the world and rule over it will come to nothing.
The Bible presents no concept of forgiveness or redemption for demons. The fact that they would sin against God when they were given so much power and greatness means they have far less excuse for their sinfulness than do men. It’s encouraging and reassuring to realize those who seek to steal from us, kill us, and destroy us will endure such a great and final punishment.
It’s hard to imagine that Satan and the other fallen angels actually believed they had the ability to overpower God and take the universe by force. How could created beings ever think they could take on their creator? Sadly, perhaps because of demonic influence, many people today appear to think the same thing. Though the basic truth of the gospel is well known in our day, many reject Christ, thinking they’ll just wait and deal with God on Judgment Day.
Terry MacCabe is a minister and freelance writer in Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada.
Satan, Pride, and God’s People
1. Ezekiel 28:11-19 and Isaiah 14:12-15 talk about Satan’s fall from Heaven. This is the incident from which demons originated. Satan’s sin is strikingly similar to Adam and Eve’s sin in the garden. The pride that caused Satan to fall is the same pride that trips us up. But God’s reaction to Adam and Eve’s sin (and to ours) is different from his reaction to Satan’s.
2. In Matthew 4:1-11 the devil tempted Jesus himself. Because Jesus was a human being, Satan used the same tricks he uses on us, attempting to play on the same pride that caused his own fall. But Jesus didn’t budge. From his example we know we’re not exempt from the work of Satan and that being humbly rooted in Scripture is the key to overcoming.
3. James 4:7-10 promises God’s protection when we’re fighting against the work of the devil. But to gain God’s full protection we must learn complete humility, clinging to God in utter helplessness and removing the pride that Satan preys on.