The Demons: Confederates of Satan

The Bible tells us of only one devil, but of legions of demons. The name “devil” is reserved for Satan, hut allied with him in his destructive work are unnumbered legions of wicked, fallen angels called “demons” of whom Satan is head or king (Revelation 9:11). Much greater attention has been paid to the demons than to Satan in Christian theology. The Scriptures also say more about the demons than about Satan, their head and ruler.

Note on Karl Barth and the demons

Among modem theologians Karl Barth has paid considerable attention to the existence and activities of demons and Satan. He says that it is necessary “to cast at least a glance” at the demons, but that we should not concern ourselves overmuch with this “chaotic business” because an extensive treatment might be just the things the demons would like. They enjoy being found interesting and are gladly considered a subject of independent importance in theology. “A sharp look at them is not only enough, but it is the only proper way to treat them.” The old demonology, says Barth, did not understand that demons should be thought of only in terms of anger and disdain, and did not appreciate as it should have that the Bible speaks of the demons only in the sense of struggle against them and rejection of them. To Barth it is incorrect to place a demonology next to an angelology. When we do this we make the demons a substantial part of the Christian message with the result that the Christian message becomes one of fear, melancholy and anxiety.

Barth also denies that the demons have reality comparable to the angels, on the same level as the angels. There is no independent kingdom of evil with actual power. The demonic kingdom “lies in that it represents itself to God and the creature as a relevant factor worthy to be taken seriously. It lies in that it pretends that it can interpose itself between God’s grace and the salvation of the creature, that it can weaken and make God’s grace of non-effect that it can arrest or hinder the salvation of the creature.” The demons lie when they create the impression that they have come from heaven to earth and have some business here. Barth admits that at first glance it appears from the New Testament that the demons are fallen angels. To him the New Testament teaching is obscure, and the doctrine of a fall of the angels is a bad dogmatic dream. Angels have never stood at the crossroads of right and wrong. The angels cannot sin. The demons have never been in heaven even though they like to create the impression that they have been. “The devil was never an angel.”

Undoubtedly Barth is correct when he says it is possible to have too much respect for “this disorderly business.” But the Christian Church has never called men to believe in the devil and the demons in the same way in which we believe in God. It is not possible to think rightly about Satan other than in relation to God’s revelation. The demons do not fall outside the area of creation and are not for one moment withdrawn from the sphere of God’s power. The New Testament gives unusual attention to the need of resisting the demons and indicates that the triumph of grace can only be understood when it is seen in its concrete context. Christ came with this purpose: to destroy the works of the devil (I John 3:8).

The identity of the demons

Little need to be said about the reality of the demons, inasmuch as the testimony of the Bible is so unequivocal on this point. Nevertheless, unbelief in their existence is widespread in Western culture. This skepticism stands in marked contrast with the almost uniform belief in demons and spirits that exists in pagan cultures. The belief in the existence of the demons is not the remnant of medieval superstition, and is not, as some make of it, occasion for crude jokes.

In the Old Testament the “shedhim” referred to in Deuteronomy 32:17 and Psalm 106:36-37 were regarded as demons and not merely idols. The idol in itself was nothing; the demonic spirit behind the outward form was important and real “Seirim” (satyrs) were obviously considered demonic conceptions (see Leviticus 17:7; II Chronicles 11:15; Isaiah 13:21, and 34:14).

The New Testament seems to have been a period of special activity of the demons. Their existence is clearly described (“You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder” James 2:19) and accepted (“The rest of mankind. did not…give up worshipping demons” –Revelation 9:20). Their nature is described by Luke in Luke 4:33 and 6:18 as “unclean.” The New Testament also describes their activity (1 Timothy 4:1 and Revelation 16:14), mentions on a number of occasions their expulsion (e.g. Luke 9:42), suggests their organization under Satan ( Matthew 12:26), indicates their abode (Luke 8:31 and Revelation 9:11). and points out their final doom (Matthew 25:41). Although some deny that Christ shared these views of the demons, the New Testament record makes it abundantly clear that he accepted and reckoned with their existence. He commanded his disciples to cast them out (Matthew 10:1), cast them out himself (Matthew 15:22, 28), rebuked them (Mark 5:8), had complete power over them (Matthew 12:29), and viewed his conquest over them as the conquest of Satan (Luke 10:17, 18).

The Scripture also makes very clear the origin of the demons. They are wicked, fallen angels. It appears that when Satan rebelled against God, he drew with him a great multitude of lesser angels (Matthew 25:41 and Revelation 12:4). These are spoken of together in Matthew 25:41 as “Satan and his angels.” Satan is called “Beelzebub, prince of the demons” ( Matthew 12:24), and “the Dragon…and his angels” (Revelation 12:26).

It also appears from the New Testament data that there are two classes of demons! (1) those that are free, and (2) those that are bound. The free demons work under Satan, but their destiny is hell and the pit. There appears to be a certain group who are not free, who are even now confined to “pits of darkness, to be reserved unto judgment” (II Peter 2:4). When Jesus was about to cast out the legion of demons from the Gadarene demoniacs, the demons pleaded with Jesus not to command them to depart into the abyss (Luke 8:31; Matthew 8:29). From this dreadful, temporary prison house they shall be· let loose to afflict, deceive, and energize wicked men in the last awful stages of godless rebellion with which our present age will end (Revelation 9:1–10).

Idolatry and the demons

It is more accurate to translate the Old Testament and New Testament words for these hosts of evil spirits as “demons” and not “devils.” To understand their character and working we must look at the materials in Scripture regarding their relationship to idolatry among the nations and peoples of the world.

It is always dangerous to generalize on the basis of one’s own limited experiences, but it was evident in our Ceylon experiences that the practical daily religious beliefs of the idolater included on his part a vivid experience that the idols he used in worship were real. His idols ate, drank, slept, and had the power to bless and curse him in every detail of his life. His gods subsisted on the “spiritual” elements of the material food he supplied in the offerings and sacrifices he made to them. There was no doubt in the mind of animist, devil worshipper, Hindu, and Buddhist of a reality that existed but which was only represented by the image.

It is for this reason that any ridicule of pagan duties is ineffective. Pagan peoples do not worship wood and stone. The carved figures conceal “soul-stuff” in a special degree or are animated media of spirit worship. If one calls the pagan’s attention to the sacrifices and offerings, pointing out that the food was not actually consumed for it remained where it was placed, such a person only reveals his ignorance of what a sacrifice and a god or demon are. No pagan believes that the spirits appropriate the matter of the food, but rather they take from the sacrifice the soul contained in it, the vital power. This renders the offering useless as food afterwards, for this is the important thing even for men.

The polytheism of the pagan only serves to enforce the truth that behind this worship there is a host of malevolent spirits inspiring this evil denial of the one, true God. The current, popular, evolutionistic conception that monotheism developed. from polytheism not only makes a lie out of the truth but places the true God on a level with the false gods to whom men are enslaved. Only radical deliverance and being set free as has happened in Christ’s great victory is able to. change this allegiance of man to false worship.

The Hebrew people were taught by God to regard the idols (“shedhim” or lords) as being mere visible symbols of invisible demons who were in reality being worshipped by man (Psalm 96:5; 1 Corinthians 10:20). The Israelites who lapsed into idolatry were said to have “sacrificed unto demons, which were no gods, to gods they had never known, to new gods that had come in of late” (Deuteronomy 32:17). It is clear that there are behind the idols real spiritual existences, energizing their worship. Psalm 106:37–38 speaks of the idolatrous Israelites as having sacrificed their sons and daughters to the demons.

The classic Old Testament passage is found in Psalm 96:5 which in the Septuagint (LXX) translation identifies idols with demons: “all the gods of the peoples are idols (LXX—demons).” Paul in I Corinthians 10 speaks repeatedly of false worship and the demons. He says, e.g., that “what pagans sacrifice they offer to demons and not to God” (vs. 20), and speaks of not wanting believers to become partners with demons in this worship (I Corinthians 10:20). He also speaks of the “cup of the Lord and the table of demons” and “the table of the Lord and the table of demons” (1 Corinthians 10:21).

One more incident recorded in the Scriptures should be referred to. By Jeroboam I the worship of God was instituted at Dan and Bethel under the form of golden calves. The record says, “He appointed his own priests for the high places, and for the satyrs (hairy ones, he-goats, LXX=demons), and for the calves which he had made” (II Chronicles 11:15). Josiah in his sweeping purge of idolatry broke down these places (II Kings 23:8). Isaiah portrays these satyrs as dancing among the ruins of Babylon and calling to one another in the desolated city (Isaiah 13:21, 34:14). The Jews regarded these references as being to the demons.

We can say, then, that the Bible clearly reveals that idolatry in all forms is demon inspired. It is not just a result of ignorance. It is an invention of hell. Near the end of time the worship of Satan will culminate in anti-christ who will even get himself up in the temple of God. The demons are bold, sacrilegious, profane, defiant of God.

In our ministries and labors we must clearly identify the enemy. We are not wrestling with flesh and blood. Our ministry, received from Christ, is like His to destroy the works of the devil.



Demon possession

A great and extensive literature has developed on the subject of demon possession. The discussions include such references as the nature, meaning, and significance of demon possession. The usual discussion of the subject is concerned with the question whether the phenomenon is still found in our present day.

Before we begin to study demon possession itself a few preliminary observations are in order:

(1) We must clearly distinguish demon possession and demon influence. Both are taught in the Bible. The New Testament gives ample warrant for making the distinction between demon possession or control, and demon influence. Only unbelievers are exposed to demon control; both believers and unbelievers to demon influence. In the one case (demon possession ), the personality is invaded, the body inhabited, and a dominating control is gained. In the other cases (demon influence), attack is made from without; through pressure, suggestion, and temptation. The very nature of our salvation in Christ is sufficient evidence why the believer is not subject to this. The unbeliever, however, remains under Satan’s power, “following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience” (Ephesians 2:2).

Demonic influence may assume a variety of forms. It often manifests itself in departure from the faith or open apostasy (I Timothy 4:1), in doctrinal corruption and perversion of the truth, resulting in Christian disunity (I John 4:1–2), in ritual formalism or adherence to the letter without the spirit (II Timothy 3:5), in hypocrisy (I Timothy 4:2, 3). in corrupt conduct and practice (I Corinthians 10:16–22), in worldliness (II Timothy 3:4), and uncleanness (II Peter 2:10–12).

(2) There are in all about eighty references in the New Testament to demons, and the language employed when discussing their activity is usually quite exact. The New Testament teaching about the demons is markedly different from current Jewish demonology and from pagan demonologies of that day.

(3) The New Testament clearly distinguishes in a number of instances (eleven) between demon possession and diseases accountable for by natural causes (Matthew 4:24; 8:16; 10:8; Mark 1:32, 34; 6:13; 16:17, 18; Luke 4:40, 41; 9:1; 13:32; Acts 19:12).

(4) The results of demon possession are not exclusively mental or nervous (Matthew 9:32, 33; 12:22).

a. In only two instances are these results distinctly and peculiarly mental (Matthew 8:28 – the Gadarene demoniacs, and Acts 19:13ff).

b. Epilepsy is specified in only one case ( Matthew 17:15).

c. A distinction is made between being demonized and epileptic, and being demonized and insane (Matthew 4:24).

(5) A distinction is also made between diseases caused by demons and the same disease not so caused. (Matthew 12:22; 15:30). In most cases no specific symptoms are mentioned. In an equally large number of instances there are occasional fits of mental excitement often due to the presence and teaching of Christ.

(6) Being demonized did not mean the entire loss of one’s personality. A peculiar instance of this is one of the Cadarene demonincs to whom Jesus said, “What is your name?” The reply, “My name is…Legion, for we are many.” It appears that for a moment the man had power to express himself.

Although the life and times of Jesus were characterized by a great upheaval among Satan and the demons, there were reasons for this increase in the expression of the demons. But we must not falsely assume that demon possession was confined to the time of Jesus’ ministry. Both before and after Jesus’ ministry demon possession was recognized and common. Among the Jews the Sadducees were the only group who did not practice exorcism. The phenomenon continued for a long time in the New Testament Church.

It is very difficult on the basis of the New Testament record to determine whether there was a moral fault which led to being demonized. This hardly seems to have been the explanation in every case, for Mark speaks of a boy who was demonized “from a child” (9:21). Demon possession may have its explanation in a special divine permission for unusual demonic operation to accomplish some extraordinary purpose of divine wisdom, while always remaining subject to the divine sovereignty. From this viewpoint it would also be necessary to conclude that it was not a permanent condition.

Our Lord cast out demons as one of the functions of His ministry of mercy (Mark 1:23–27, 32–34, 39; 3:11–12; 5:1–20; 7:25–30; 9:17–29, 38; 16:9–17), delegated this power to the Twelve (Mark 3:15), to the Seventy (Luke 10:17), and to believers (Mark 16:17). The prevalence of the phenomenon in his day was but the inevitable result of the head-on clash between Christ and the powers of darkness.

Does demon possession continue in our day? Modern research has shown us that under certain conditions the mind of one person can take control of that of another. Good angels can comfort and influence the minds of God’s people. The Holy Spirit can enter, take possession of and influence for good those who choose the way of salvation. From this it would seem a valid conclusion that Satan and the demons can also enter into man’s body, and assume control by taking possession of his faculties and powers.

From my own limited observations on the mission field, I personally feel very strongly that there continues in our day such a phenomenon as demon possession and I agree with those who insist that some of the phenomena that we witness can be accounted for in no other way.

OUR COMFORT: Satan has been defeated by Christ. We can be absolutely confident that “nothing in God’s whole creation is able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Some of the greatest thrills I have ever experienced happened when I announced in the name of Christ to those who aU their lives had been subject to the bondage of demons and spirits that through the work of Christ they were free from sin and death and the devil and they could now say in Christ’s name to Satan, “Be gone!” There is no need any longer for anyone to walk in darkness and bondage to seducing spirits and deceiving demons now that Christ has conquered Satan for us and crushed the head of the serpent.

After a lapse of some months TORCH AND TRUMPET is pleased to be able to continue the valuable series of the Rev. Richard R. De Ridder, pastor of the First Christian Reformed Church of Sioux Center, IA, on “Christ, the Christian and Satan.” This material was first presented in the form of lectures at the Juan Calvino Theological School, Mexico City, Mexico.