…Of Devils and Demons
As I read and reread the Gospel of Mark this month, one thing that sticks out to me are the numerous mentions of demons. In fact, in the NASB95 translation of Mark there are 29 references to demons, demon-possession, and unclean spirits. Add to that the number of references to Satan (also a demon) and that number totals 35 mentions contained in 32 verses. That is actually quite a bit of content when you figure that several of the New Testament books (Philemon, Jude, 2 John, 3 John) have less than 32 verses in the entire book.
Now, I know what some may be thinking, “Is this guy really going to waste digital space to write about demons?” Yes, I am. And no doubt some of you will stop reading at this point to find something that you believe to be more credible and substantial to read about instead of what you perceive to be fairy tales. You aren’t alone. According to a 2009 Barna Poll which can be viewed here: https://www.barna.org/barna-update/faith-spirituality/260-most-american-christians-do-not-believe-that-satan-or-the-holy-spirit-exis#.VQC_gibB4qY, a large chunk of American Christians do not believe that Satan and demons are real living beings. This poll provided 1,871 adult American Christians with the statement that Satan “is not a living being but is a symbol of evil.” Of those polled, 40% strongly agreed with this statement while another 19% somewhat agreed and another 8% reporting that they really didn’t know one way or the other. All of these figures added together basically states that 67% of these adult American Christians are really confused about the existence of something which the bible very clearly portrays as real. If this is truly represents Christian Americans, it would mean that roughly two-thirds of the Christian audience reading this post do not believe that Satan and his demons truly exist. This is alarming, and I pray is not accurate.
C.S. Lewis in his book, The Screwtape Letters, states in the preface that, “There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. They themselves are equally pleased with both errors…”
On the one hand, we can completely dismiss the reality of their existence. On the other hand, Lewis suggests that we can err in having an unhealthy obsession with demons. Both are pleasing to the devils themselves, but both are mistakes.
Martin Luther made a similar argument that we should not fail to recognize the reality of demons and the demonic realm. He stresses that they are not only real but that they are very much engaged with our lives. He said, “The first thing, then, is to hold firmly that the devil exists and that he is much closer to us than the shirt on our body.” Luther of course understood very clearly the spiritual battle God’s children are in with the deceptive principalities, powers, and spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.
So, maybe you are reading this and you haven’t thought about it very much whether or not the demons of the bible are real. Or maybe you are a complete skeptic when it comes to the idea of an unseen demonic realm, believing that demon-possession can all be explained through medical science. Or possibly you have had first hand experiences with Satan and his followers. Whatever your perspective and experience, it is my hope that in this post you will gain a fresh perspective, a biblical perspective, concerning the reality of demons. I will attempt to do this by stating four evidences that will prove that demons are real just as the bible describes them and also that they have very real power to cause harm.
Evidence #1 – The Biblical Evidence
As I mentioned in the prologue to this post, the biblical references to demons is quite extensive. Beginning with the Old Testament, we find the word for demon is only used three times in the NASB95 translation (Leviticus 17:7, Deuteronomy 32:17, Psalms 106:37). But other words that reference them as well as the principle for the demonic is used extensively.
We find that those references are often used in conjunction with idolatry, false prophecy, testing, and punishment for unfaithfulness. Also we should mention that all of this is in accord with God’s plan and what He allows them to do and not do.
A couple of references looked at in more detail shall suffice. In 1 Kings, we find that demons are used in conjunction with the Lord’s plan to remove evil King Ahab from power. God does this by allowing a deceiving spirit (read demon) to influence and manipulate Ahab’s prophets to speak falsely, therefore, leading Ahab to make poor choices that will result in his death.
“”The Lord said, ‘Who will entice Ahab to go up and fall at Ramoth-gilead?’ And one said this while another said that. Then a spirit came forward and stood before the Lord and said, ‘I will entice him.’ The Lord said to him, ‘How?’ And he said, ‘I will go out and be a deceiving spirit in the mouth of all his prophets.’ Then He said, ‘You are to entice him and also prevail. Go and do so.’ Now therefore, behold, the Lord has put a deceiving spirit in the mouth of all these your prophets; and the Lord has proclaimed disaster against you.”” 1 Kings 22:20-23 (NASB95)
This is kind of a crazy story, especially considering all of the talk and emphasis about prophets these days. Just goes to show we would do well to always examine everything in light of scripture, hold fast to that which is good, and reject every form of evil because even so-called prophets can be influenced to tell lies.
Another reference and equally crazy story is found in 1 Samuel. In this story, we see another king who has rejected God and faced the terrible consequences of his choices, namely the manipulation and torment from a demonic spirit.
“Now the Spirit of the Lord departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the Lord terrorized him. Saul’s servants then said to him, “Behold now, an evil spirit from God is terrorizing you. Let our lord now command your servants who are before you. Let them seek a man who is a skillful player on the harp; and it shall come about when the evil spirit from God is on you, that he shall play the harp with his hand, and you will be well.”” 1 Samuel 16:14-16 (NASB95)
So that is a quick look at the Old Testament, how about the New Testament? The specific use of the word translated as demon in the NT is used a lot more, in fact, if I did my math right there are 56 times that the word demon is used in the NT. Of the 27 books of the NT, 19 have a reference to Satan and 23 have a general reference to demons. That is almost every book of the NT.
In conclusion to Evidence #1, both Old and New Testament point to the reality of demons. If we find ourselves doubting and dismissing the substantial evidence found in the scriptures, then we will find ourselves doubting and dismissing the validity of the bible as well. But conversely, if we hold the bible to be true, then it logically follows that demons are true as well.
Evidence #2 – The Witness of Jesus
This may come as a surprise to some of you, but, Jesus believes in demons. As we consider Jesus and His earthly ministry, we find that a large chunk of it dealt with confronting, commanding, and exorcising demons. We see examples in the beginning of His ministry as He was tempted by the chief demon, Satan (Matthew 4:1-10). We see Jesus confronting them during His travels throughout the cities of Palestine (Mark 1:32-34), sometimes coming into contact with them even in their synagogues (Mark 1:23-27). There were children who were possessed and tormented that Jesus made whole as well as a legion of demons that He commanded to leave.
We also see that Jesus shared His authority over the demonic realm with His disciples, giving them the ability to cast out demons.
“And He summoned the twelve and began to send them out in pairs, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits” Mark 6:7 (NASB95)
“The seventy returned with joy, saying, “Lord, even the demons are subject to us in Your name.” And He said to them, “I was watching Satan fall from heaven like lightning. Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing will injure you.” Luke 10:17-19 (NASB95)
“These signs will accompany those who have believed; in My name they will cast out demons…” Mark 16:17 (NASB95)
One thing about it, if we were to ask Jesus about the reality of demons, it is clear that His response would be a resounding “Yes.”
Evidence #3 – The Activity of Idolatry
Evidence #3 shows us that the activity of idolatry proves the reality of demons. We find in both the Old and New Testaments that idolatry and demonic activity go hand in hand. The writer of Psalm 106 referenced this concerning Israel’s fall into idolatry.
“But they mingled with the nations and learned their practices, and served their idols, which became a snare to them. They even sacrificed their sons and their daughters to the demons, and shed innocent blood, the blood of their sons and their daughters, whom they sacrificed to the idols of Canaan; and the land was polluted with the blood.” Psalm 106:35-38 (NASB95)
In these verses we see that idols and demons are used interchangeably. These verses show us that in the practices of idolatry that Israel learned in the land of Canaan, specifically child sacrifice, that the underlying influence was demonic. This same theme is pointed out by Paul in 1 Corinthians.
“What do I mean then? That a thing sacrificed to idols is anything or that an idol is anything? No, but I say that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to demons and not to God; and I do not want you to become sharers in demons. You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons; you cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons.” 1 Corinthians 10:19-21 (NASB95)
The point that I believe Paul is making in the first part of these verses is that idols really aren’t anything, but the influence behind the idol is the concern. He points out that the sacrifice being offered isn’t to an idol but is actually to demons.
So if we interpret these verses as teaching that the influence behind idolatry is demonic and we also recognize that idol worship is alive and active in the world (although it may not necessarily take on the form of sacrifices to statues), then it leads us to further evidence for the existence of demons and their influence around us.
Evidence #4 – The Presence of Deception
The logic behind this point is similar to the last one. Just as the activity of idolatry proves the existence of demons, so the presence of deception in the world proves the existence of demons. We find in the world today and even sometimes in church settings, that the spread of deception is everywhere. Whether it comes in the form of cults who deny the deity and lordship of Christ, or false teachers who teach a different gospel than the one taught in scripture, this proliferation of deception, deceitfulness, and lies, gives further evidence for demons. Just as we have been warned in scripture:
“But the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons, by means of the hypocrisy of liars seared in their own conscience as with a branding iron…” 1 Timothy 4:1-2 (NASB95)
This points out that deceitful spirits and their doctrines will be responsible for some falling away from the faith. They will be found working through hypocritical liars who teach these false doctrines. This reminds us of the story in 1 Kings concerning the deceitful spirit who offered to be a deluding influence in the mouths of the prophets of Ahab. Once again, we desperately need scriptural discernment in the church today!
Satan and His Scheme
While there is much more that could be said, hopefully these four evidences have been convincing proof for those of you who may be skeptical about Satan and his demons. But remember the words of Lewis that were quoted above in which he warned of two possible errors, either we completely disbelieve their existence or we develop an unhealthy obsession. Both have serious consequences. So how are we as disciples of Christ to respond in a healthy way? Resist the devil and he will flee; putting on the full armor of God so that we will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil; remembering that Jesus has given us authority to tread on serpents and scorpions rejoicing that our names are recorded in heaven.
The bible says in 2 Corinthians 2:10-11 that we are to forgive so that no advantage would be taken of us by Satan for we are not ignorant of his schemes. More and more in my walk with Christ, I realize how many acres of ground we have given up to the devil and his schemes because of our inability to forgive one another in the church. Emperor Constantine at the Council of Nicea referred accurately to divisions in the church as being much worse than any battlefield. As we look at how fragmented the Lord’s church is, I can’t help but wonder how many times we have failed to resist the devil and his demons as they feed the fires of unforgiveness. Church, let us not be ignorant of his ways.
“The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet.” Romans 16:20 (NASB95)