10 Things You Should Know about Demons

Last week we looked at ten things we should know about angels. Our focus was on good and holy angels, those who persevered in their obedience to God. But what about demons? Although fallen and rebellious, they, too, are angels. So today we turn our attention to some ten things the Bible says about demons.

(1) Several texts indicate that the idols worshipped by Israel during her time of rebellion were in fact demons. Visible images are but fronts for invisible demonic spirits (Deut. 32:17; Ps. 106:36-37; cf. Ps. 96:4-5). The reference in such texts as Lev. 17:7; 2 Chron. 11:15; and 2 Kings 23:8 is to a “he-goat,” lit., “hairy ones”. This word refers to a male goat in Lev. 16:7-10, 15, 18, 20-22, 26-27. Some believed that demons assumed the shape or form of a goat (Josh. 24:14; Ezek. 20:7). Others suggest that the references here are simply to goat idols (common in Egypt), behind which were demonic spirits. It is worth noting that the goat head is a common symbol or representation of Satan in modern occultic activity.

(2) Although not biblical terms, the purported existence of demonic spirits known as incubus and succubus needs to be addressed. Incubi (from the Latin, incubare, “to lie upon”) are said to be demons who take on the shape or form of men to seduce sleeping women; as succubi they assume the shape or form of women to seduce men. Since demons are incapable of producing either semen or eggs, there is no reproductive fruit from such encounters. Their motivation is primarily to humiliate and corrupt their victims. Most often the alleged victim feels physically immobilized and thus raped. However, it is not uncommon for the demon to deceive the victim into thinking that he/she was a willing partner, thereby intensifying the feelings of deep, personal shame and self-loathing. Many also often find it difficult to develop a healthy sexual relationship with their spouse. In the final analysis, there is no way to know with any degree of certainty whether such demons exist and whether they engage in this sort of nefarious activity.

(3) In Psalm 82 God is portrayed as presiding or ruling over the divine assembly. He accuses the “gods” of failing in their duty to protect the poor and powerless and condemns them to death (v. 7). Who are these “gods”? Some argue they are human beings or judges who are called “gods” because they represent God when they issue their verdicts. More likely this is a reference to supernatural beings. Several things indicate this. The setting of the psalm (see v. 1) is the heavenly council or divine assembly. The terms “gods” (v. 1) and “sons of the Most High” (v. 6) more naturally refer to celestial beings. In v. 7 it is said they will die “like mere men,” which assumes they are not human (otherwise, there is no purpose for the comparison with humans). And the idea that celestial beings have been given responsibility for the administration of justice in particular nations is found elsewhere in the OT, such as Deut. 32:8.

I conclude that the “gods” of Psalm 82 are fallen angels, originally assigned as patrons of various nations, who shirked their responsibility and abused their powers. Sydney Page explains:

“The text is silent about the circumstances of their fall from innocence, but obviously these are fallen beings whose sin had a devastating impact on human society. The angels stand accused of aiding and abetting the wicked in their exploitation of the poor and powerless. Indeed, the plight of the marginalized in society was exacerbated by the actions of these gods. So great was their influence that verse 5 says, ‘All the foundations of the earth are shaken.’ When justice is perverted, the very structure of the cosmic order comes under attack, threatening chaos. Obviously, the psalmist saw the promotion of inequity and the absence of compassion as grievous sins that are not due to human moral deficiencies alone. So great is the evil of social injustice that it can only be accounted for by the activity of cosmic forces opposed to God” (59).

In Isa. 24:21-22 we read of a time when God will punish “the host of heaven on high” or “the powers in the heavens above.” In support of the interpretation that this is a reference to fallen angels, note the contrast in v. 21 with earthly rulers or kings. These demons are thus in some way allied with the kings of various nations; i.e., they are “patron” angels of earthly nations and are involved in the sins mentioned in v. 5. b) The word translated “powers” is used elsewhere in the OT to refer to angels (1 Kings 22:19). This passage also suggests that these demons will be imprisoned in an intermediate place of detention awaiting the final judgment (v. 22; cf. 2 Pet. 2:4 and Jude 6).

(4) Much of the Jewish literature dating from the NT era focused on identifying demonic spirits by name (e.g., Raux, Barsafael, Artosael, Belbel). Aside from a single reference to Satan as Belial (2 Cor. 6:15), the apostle Paul does not identify any demonic being, but there are three terms he typically uses to describe them. The first is daimon or daimonion (demon), used 63x (54 of which are in the gospels). Then there is pneumata, most often translated “spirits” (cf. Luke 10:17 with 10:20). Also, “unclean spirits” is used 21x, half of which are in Mark (see Luke 11:19-26) and “evil spirits” (only 8x in the gospels and Acts; cf. Luke 8:2). Finally, demons are also called angelos, translated “angel” (see Matt. 25:41; 1 Pet. 3:22; Rev. 12:7). I should also point out that the term “devils” is technically incorrect. Diabolos is never used in the NT of demons, but only of the Devil, Satan.

(5) Although demons are rarely named in the NT (see Luke 8:30), it is reasonable to conclude that each has a name (holy angels have names: Michael, Gabriel). Demons can speak to and communicate with humans (Luke 4:33-35, 41; 8:28-30; Acts 19:13-17). They are intelligent (Luke 4:34; 8:28; Acts 19:13-17) and formulate and propagate their own doctrinal systems (1 Tim. 4:1-3).

(6) Demons have emotions and experience a variety of feelings (James 2:19; Luke 8:28). There are also differences or degrees in their strength (Mark 9:29) and sinfulness (Matt. 12:45). Like the holy angels, demons can appear to us in various forms, both spiritual and physical (Matt. 4; Rev. 9:7-10, 17; 16:13-16). If holy angels can visit us without our knowing it (Heb. 13:1-2), there is every reason to believe that demons can do so as well.

(7) Demons can infuse their victims with super-human strength (Acts 19:16; Mark 5:3) and like the holy angels, can move swiftly through space (Dan. 9:21-23; 10:10-14). Normal physical barriers do not restrict their activity (a “legion” [6,000] of demons inhabited one man and later 2,000 pigs). Demons can also physically assault someone and/or cause physical affliction. Luke 9:39 (Matt. 17:15) speaks of a demon’s seizing a young boy. He is thrown to the ground or into fire or water, together with other violent symptoms. In Matt. 9:32-34 a man’s inability to speak is attributed to a demon (cf. 12:22-24; Luke 11:14-15). Be it noted, however, that there are several cases in the gospels of blindness or the inability to speak which Jesus heals that are not attributed to demonic influence (Matt. 9:27-31; 20:29-34; Mark 7:31-37; 8:22-26; 10:46-52; Luke 18:35-43; John 9:1-7).

(8) Demons animate and energize all non-Christian religions and all forms of idolatry (1 Cor. 10:14-22). In Gal. 4:3, 8-9, Paul refers to the “elemental things” of this world, lit., the stoicheia, to which both Jews and Gentiles were held in bondage prior to their conversion to Christ. Many believe this term is a reference to demonic powers. Thus, according to Arnold,

“at one time they thought they were worshiping real gods and goddesses in their pagan worship, but they were soon to find out that these were mere idols — tools of the devil and his powers of darkness. The Galatians had appeared to have turned their backs on their pagan gods, but they were now tempted to add Jewish legal requirements to the pure gospel of Christ, which Paul had taught them. In Paul’s mind this would be trading one form of slavery to the powers for another. . . . Both pagan religion and the Jewish law surface here as two systems that Satan and his powers exploit to hold the unbeliever in captivity and re-enslave the believer” (Powers of Darkness, 131-32).

(9) Demons appear at present to be in one of three places. They are either active in the earth, confined in the abyss (Luke 8:31; although this confinement may not be permanent, see Rev. 9:1-3, 11), or permanently confined/imprisoned in hell/tartarus (2 Pet. 2:4; Jude 6; and possibly 1 Pet. 3:18-20). The verb tartaroo (“to send to hell”) occurs only here in the NT, but is found frequently in Greek mythology where it refers to the depths of the underworld. There is a textual problem in v. 4. Some manuscripts say they were committed to “pits” of darkness while others say “chains” of darkness. It has been suggested that since Peter’s language is necessarily figurative he need not be interpreted as saying that these demons are permanently confined but only significantly restricted in what they can do in the earth. I find this latter suggestion highly unlikely.

(10) Demons engage in cosmic level warfare with the holy angels (Rev. 12:1-12). NT scholars have generally acknowledge that there are four levels of spiritual conflict or warfare: (1) the conflict between God and Satan (Heb. 2:14; 1 John 3:8); (2) the conflict between the elect angels and the evil angels (Revelation 12; Daniel 10); (3) the conflict between Satan and the saints (either direct [a sensible, often tangible encounter between intelligent evil beings and the believer; Ephesians 6], or indirect [the inescapable conflict from simply living in a world that lies in the power of the evil one (1 John 5:18-19), a world shaped by the values, ideologies and institutions energized by Satan]); and (4) the conflict between Satan and the unsaved (2 Cor. 4:4; Acts 26:18; Col. 1:12-13; Eph. 2:2; Matt. 13:1-23); although “conflict” is probably not a good word insofar as the unbelieving world willingly sides with Satan, even though they may not know they do.

The defeat of the hosts of hell does not come by our efforts or energetic shouting or wild gesturing or by turning up the volume when we worship as if demonic spirits cannot tolerate loud music! Paul was clear and to the point, in writing to the Colossians: “He [God the Father, or perhaps the Son] disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him [that is, in Christ, or perhaps in “it,” the cross]. The good news is that we have been granted authority “over all the power of the enemy” (Luke 10:19). Satan and his henchmen are powerful, but they are no match for those who go forth in the name of Jesus (Luke 10:17)!

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About Sam Storms

Sam Storms is the Lead Pastor for Preaching and Vision at Bridgeway Church in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. Sam is on the Board of Directors of both Desiring God and Bethlehem College & Seminary, and also serves as a member of the Council of The Gospel Coalition. Sam is President of the Evangelical Theological Society. Visit http://www.samstorms.com