By Dr. Elmer Towns
What Are Demons?
The Bible provides abundant evidence of the existence of demons. Satan’s evil angels are known in Scripture as demons. We know from certain Scriptures that Satan fell from heaven and other angelic beings (demons) shared in Satan’s fall and became evil (Ezekiel 28:18; Matthew 25:41; Revelation 12:4).
The word for demons in the Greek language is daimon and is found more than 75 times in the Greek New Testament. In each case it is translated by the word devil in the King James Version.
In Jesus Christ’s teachings and ministry He often confronted demons and their activities, i.e., demonic possession of individuals (Matthew 12:22-29, 15:22-28, 25:41; Mark 5:1-16). Christ demonstrated His power over demons and, furthermore, He gave His disciples power to cast out demons (Matthew 10:1). (ANGELS ELECT AND EVIL, C. Fred Dickason, p. 150).
Demons attack in a number of ways. Examples provided in the Bible include:
- Physical Illness
- Mental Impairment
- The Spread of False Doctrine
- Spiritual Warfare
Theories Surrounding the Origin of Demons
There are a number of suggestion origins of demons, with the most logical being that they are fallen angels.
- They are spirits of deceased wicked men. However, this cannot be, for the Bible declares the unsaved dead are in Hades and not roaming the earth (Psalm 9:17; Luke 16:23; Revelation 20:13).
- They are spirits of a pre-Adamic race. But there is no scriptural support whatsoever for this view. The Bible declares that Adam was the first man (1 Corinthians 15:45).
- They are the spirits from the unnatural union between angels and women in Genesis 6. However, this view, like the previous two, is without the slightest Biblical support.
- The most logical conclusion is that the word demon is simply another title or name for fallen angels. (THE DOCTRINE OF ANGELS, Dr. H. L. Willmington, pp. 23,24).
Two Greek words are translated similarly in the New Testament but their meanings are slightly different. The word diabolos is translated ‘devil’ and refers to the devil himself. Another word, diamon, is usually translated ‘devils’ in the King James Version but might be better translated ‘demons.’ The Bible makes a very real distinction between a single devil and many demons. Whenever we read of ‘devils’ in the Bible, we are reading about demons.
It appears most likely that demons are fallen angels who rebelled against God in heaven and were cast out of the presence of God. As such, what things are true about the nature of good angels are also true of demons. When it comes to identifying demons, the question that should be asked is “Where do demons come from?” At least four suggestions have been made to help explain the origin of demons.
Spirits of the Dead
One contemporary idea relating to the origins of demons claims they are the spirits of the evil dead. This is the underlying assumption of much of the popular occult literature. It is not a new idea at all, for it was the explanation of some Greek philosophers years before Christ. The early age of this theory does not however make it any more believable. It stands in direct conflict with biblical teaching.
The Bible teaches that the souls of the evil dead go to ‘Hades’ (Luke 16:23). They will remain there until the end of the millennial reign of Christ on this earth. Only then are they brought before God to be judged (Rev. 20:11). Then they are cast into eternal punishment.
Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. Revelation 20:14
Children of Angels
Some have suggested that demons are the result of the union of angels and women as described:
The Nephilim (giants) were on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God came in to the daughters of man and they bore children to them. These were the mighty men who were of old, the men of renown. Genesis 6:4
Some suggest that this verse describes sexual relations between angels and women, since the expression ‘sons of God’ is used elsewhere in the Old Testament to identify angels. Even if this interpretation is correct, it is extremely unlikely that such a union produced demons. Some have suggested the ‘giants’ could be an expression of the political or military might of these men. Others believe it could refer to the results of genetic tampering in a pre-Flood society. But there is no scriptural evidence to prove that the result of the union of humans and angels were demons.
One explanation, called the ‘gap theory,’ presupposes that the world is several million years old. According to this theory, God created a perfect world and society, as recorded in the first verse of the Bible but, for one reason or another, God had to destroy it before the situation as described in Genesis 1:2. This theory allowed for a society which existed for millions of years, thus harmonizing the contemporary views of the age of the world with the Bible account of creation.
The spirits of those who lived before Adam, still inhabiting the earth are the demons, according to those who hold this view. But before we can conclude that demons are the disembodied spirits of a pre-Adamic race, we must first prove the existence of such a race. Once again, most biblical evidence is against such a theory.
Most conservative scholars believe that demons are fallen or evil angels. When Jesus described hell, he called it “eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matt. 25:41). John described the fall of Satan in a highly symbolic fashion, noting that the devil took a third of the angels in heaven with him.
His tail swept down a third of the stars of heaven and cast them to the earth. And the dragon stood before the woman who was about to give birth, so that when she bore her child he might devour it. Revelation 12:4
This has led some to conclude that Satan was of three angels responsible, with Gabriel and Michael, to other angels. When Satan fell, a third of the angels which he had supervision may have followed him in rebellion against God.
When Israel finally prepared to enter the Promised Land, God instructed Israel regarding their relationship to the occult demonic religions of Canaan.
When you come into the land that the Lord your God is giving you, you shall not learn to follow the abominable practices of those nations. Deuteronomy 18:9
Despite the obvious implication that Christians should not be engaged in occult practices, some church youth gatherings have played around with such things as astrology, Ouija boards, and other games that have some relationship to ‘the spirits.’ One who recognizes biblical authority will seek to rid his life of any occult influences.
Names of Demons in the Bible
In rare instances, the Bible mentions demons by name. These demons had such an impact on the lives of believers that their presence warranted mention by the writers of the scripture.
Although the scriptures never explicitly refer to Molech as a demon, the worship of Molech was a recurring problem for Israel throughout the Old Testament. The origin of Molech worship is unclear. Scholars believe that Molech worship came to the region of Canaan with the Phoenicians.
You shall not give any of your children to offer them to Molech, and so profane the name of your God: I am the Lord. Leviticus 18:21
Then Solomon built a high place for Chemosh the abomination of Moab, and for Molech the abomination of the Ammonites, on the mountain east of Jerusalem. 1 Kings 11:7
One of the most documented practices of Molech worship was that of human sacrifice. Molech worship reached its peak during the reign of Solomon and would not be abolished until the time of captivity in Babylon.
Demons in the Bible often congregate together and one example is Legion. When Jesus arrived at the country of the Gerasenes, He encountered a possessed man on the outside of the city in a cemetery.
And when Jesus had stepped out of the boat, immediately there met him out of the tombs a man with an unclean spirit. He lived among the tombs. And no one could bind him anymore, not even with a chain, for he had often been bound with shackles and chains, but he wrenched the chains apart, and he broke the shackles in pieces. No one had the strength to subdue him. Night and day among the tombs and on the mountains he was always crying out and cutting himself with stones. And when he saw Jesus from afar, he ran and fell down before him. And crying out with a loud voice, he said, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I adjure you by God, do not torment me.” For he was saying to him, “Come out of the man, you unclean spirit!” And Jesus asked him, “What is your name?” He replied, “My name is Legion, for we are many.” And he begged him earnestly not to send them out of the country. Mark 5:2-10
The man was not only considered a menace, but he had such great strength that he could not be contained. When Jesus spoke to the man, the Demons within him referred to themselves as Legion, for there was not one demon but many.
One of the most frightening examples of demons mentioned in the Bible is Abaddon. Abaddon is described by John during the ‘Seven Trumpets’ prophecy.
They have as king over them the angel of the bottomless pit. His name in Hebrew is Abaddon, and in Greek he is called Apollyon. Revelation 9:11
When the fifth trumpet is blown, the ‘abyss’ will open and demonic locusts will be released to torture those who have not received God’s seal. Their leader will be Abaddon, one of Satan’s underlings and leader of the ‘abyss’. Abaddon will have a simple mission, inflicting pain and suffering on those who have not responded to God and accepted Jesus Christ as their savior.
Types of Occult Satanic Worship in the Bible
There are many ways satan is worshipped through occult means that includes demon worship:
Divination was one of the specific practices named by Moses in his prohibition on occult worship (Deut. 18:10). Often this practice included the killing of a chicken or some small animal, and on occasions to observe its liver to determine the state of affairs and direction of the immediate future (Ezek. 21:21). Divination is an illegitimate means of determining the will of God. The Christian desiring to know the will of God should consult the Scriptures, not the stars (Ps. 119:9).
A second occult practice of today was also banned by God. ‘Necromancy’ is an effort to communicate with and interrogate the dead. As the Bible teaches the dead are unable to communicate with the living (Luke 15:27-31), it only stands to reason that those who claim to have this ability are lying or are themselves deceived. In either case, the necromancer was considered an abomination unto the Lord (Deut. 18:11, 12).
The use of magic formulas and incantations was also forbidden. Today it is popular to distinguish between white and black magic, but leading biblical scholars agree that both forms of magic find their source and strength in demonic power. Those who practice magic are under certain limits as to what they can accomplish (Dan. 4:7). Even when it appears that magicians are able to duplicate the power of God, they still fall short of what God is able to accomplish (Exod. 7:11, 12).
Closely related to magic is sorcery. Magic usually relates to accomplishing specific acts-such as rods becoming serpents-whereas sorcery relates more closely with calling upon demons to create situations around people. Thus the enchanter or sorcerer is one who uses incantations or omens. Their practices may have also included the use of mood-changing or mind altering drugs. This has led some Bible scholars to denounce the use of such drugs because they are used as part of occult worship.
Around the world today, there exists a growing number of those who call themselves witches. Witchcraft is directly opposed to God (Dent. 18:10). When Saul became the first king of Israel, one of his first acts was to ban the practice of witchcraft from the kingdom (1 Sam. 28:9). A witch is one who makes use of magic and sorcery to accomplish the will of demons.
One of the oldest forms of the occult still practiced today is astrology. Contemporary astrology is a combination of what astrological cults practiced in Babylon, Egypt, and Canaan. In Canaan, astrology centered around the bull. The worship of the golden calf, child sacrifices to Molech, and Baal worship were all part of Canaanite astrology. The Old Testament is very clear to prohibit God’s people from involvement there.
In Egypt, God challenged the astrological gods of Egypt in sending ten plagues which directly attacked the authority of those gods. The highest of the Egyptian gods was Ra, the sun god. Three days of darkness was a direct indictment against the religion of Egypt.
What Are The Works of Demons
Several activities are identified in the Bible in which demons may be involved. Sometimes they are responsible for physical disease or mental suffering. While not all mental disorders are demonic in origin, some apparently are. Demons are also credited with tempting people to engage in immoral practices. They are the originators and propagators of the false doctrines taught by heretical religious groups. The Bible also teaches that some people were possessed by demons. Demons are committed to evil, yet God will use them to accomplish his plan during the end of the world.
Demons Unknowingly Do The Will of God
It must be frustrating to demons after they had accomplished some evil scheme to later find out that they were carrying out the will of God. Satan did not realize what God wanted to do in Job’s life when he caused him physical suffering. Also, God used ‘an evil spirit’ to accomplish his will in the life of Saul, Israel’s first king (1 Sam. 16:14).
On another occasion, God used ‘a lying spirit’ to deceive the false prophets of an evil king (1 Kings 22:22, 23). At the end of the Great Tribulation, demons will be used by God to gather the nations of the world to battlefields of Armageddon (Rev. 9:16). God is able to use even demons to accomplish his will.
There are many reasons why a person may experience physical illness. Sometimes it is the result of God’s judgment for sin (1 Cor. 11:30). On other occasions the same sickness may come as a result of breaking some health law and exposing oneself to germs or viruses. It may come from God as his means of ending a person’s life in a natural way. On other occasions, demons may be the reason a person experiences physical suffering.
Several specific physical afflictions are attributed to demons in the Bible. Jesus cast a demon out of a dumb man who immediately began to speak (Matt. 9:32, 33). On another occasion, a blind man began to see when the demon went out of him (Matt. 12:22). Job was afflicted physically with boils covering his body, the result of satanic activity (Job 2:1-10). Demons may have been the messengers that carried out Satan’s commands to smite job. Of course, afflictions are not always symptoms of demon activity, but demons are capable of and do occasionally cause physical pain and suffering.
Various forms of mental diseases can also be attributed to demons. In at least two cases of demon possession treated by Jesus during his ministry, the demons had so affected the minds of the victims to cause abnormal behavior. One man lived among tombs, a practice considered unclean during this time, and created a disturbance day and night (Mark 5:4, 5).
A young boy possessed with a demon involuntarily went into an apparent convulsion when he encountered the presence of Jesus (Luke 9:37-42). In both instances, the victims engaged in some form of self-destruction and physical mutilation of the body. After the demon was cast out of the person, the apparent mental problem disappeared.
For the Christian, our final moral code of ethics is the Bible. Those who oppose God would also oppose, the morality of the Bible. Demons are instrumental in leading both the saved and unsaved into moral compromise. One of the often-used names for demons in the Bible is ‘unclean spirit,’ an appropriate name, as they tarnish everything they influence. When Israel left Egypt, God gave them the land of Canaan. One of the reasons God wanted them in a separate land was that the heathen nations had given themselves over to unclean spirits and had become: corrupted (Lev. 18; Deut. 18).
Paul discussed one main work of demons when he warned young Timothy of conditions “in the latter times.”
Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons. 1 Timothy 4:1
Demons are the source of many organized doctrines of the false cults. Even in the early church, there were false apostles (Rev. 2:2) and false doctrines (Rev. 2:14) that had to be opposed.
The Bible teaches the coming of an antichrist during the Great Tribulation but, by the end of the first century, John wrote, “Children, it is the last hour, and as you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come. Therefore we know that it is the last hour.” (1 John 2:18). The word ‘anti’ had a twofold designation; first it meant ‘against’ Christ, but the secondary meaning was the most evident, it meant “in substitution for,” or “instead of,” Christ. The existence of ‘antichrist’ leaders throughout the church age is the result of demon activity.
Their main activity is to foster a ‘substitute religion’ in place of Christ and his doctrine.
One of the chief difficulties of living for God today is not the social pressures or inconvenience of life; it is the spiritual battle in which we are engaged. Our enemies are demons. Paul observed, “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” (Eph. 6:12). The phrase “the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil” refers to demons and their activities.
Part of the work of demons, particularly as it relates to the Christian life, is doing battle with Christians on the spiritual level. This condition is the reason behind the apostolic imperative, “Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil.” (Eph. 6:11). Without spiritual help from God, the Christian is unable to win the battle against demons.
‘Demon possession’ is not a biblical expression, yet the idea of demon control is more than simply a carry-over of ancient superstitions. Demon possession, as we understand it, occurs when God permits demons to possess a person and control his mind or body. On many occasions demon possession resulted in mental derangement. In most cases recorded in Scripture, the person possessed was apparently responsible for being possessed.
Understanding Demon Possession
There is much confusion about demon possession. Demon possession is the culmination of a volitional rejection of God and a volitional acceptance of Satan and his demons. A person does not become possessed by demons on a casual basis.
Demon possession is the opposite of the filling of the Spirit just as some Christians are more effective when filled with the Holy Spirit, so some unbelievers have greater demonic power as a result of their demonic possession. The same word is used of the Holy Spirit controlling in Ephesians 5:18 as Satan’s control of Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5.
Demon possession and demon activity is more commonly recognized in third world countries. However, there is increasing evidence of demonic activity in our Western society because of its waning Christian influence. As our nation turns from God and more people worship Satan and demons, there will be more evidence of demon activity in our society.
Many have conjectured about whether or not demons can ‘possess’ or ‘influence’ believers. Since the Bible is silent concerning Christians being ‘possessed,’ it has much to say concerning demons’ possible influence on us and of our need to be aware of their desire to adversely affect our wall with God.
Can Christians Have Demons?
The short answer is no. Satan and his demons may tempt us, but they cannot dwell within us.
If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you. John 14:15-17
Thus, you see, the Holy Spirit lives in every child of God. Additionally, Jesus says in verse 23: “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.”
Not only does the Holy Spirit dwell in every Christian, but the Father and the Son, through the Spirit, dwell in every Christian. No demon, nor the devil himself, can dwell in a Christian if the Father and the Son or the Holy Spirit are dwelling in that Christian. God and the devil cannot dwell in the same place or in the same person.
God emphasizes in His Word the Holy Spirit lives within those who have repented of their sins, have accepted Jesus as their Savior, and have thus been born into the family of God.
You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. Romans 8:9
The Holy Spirit who lives in a born-again child of God bears witness with that person’s spirit that he is a child of God. If the devil or a demon lived in that Christian, and possessed that Christian, the Holy Spirit could neither dwell in that person or bear witness that such a person was a child of God.
What Will Happen To Demons?
When Jesus encountered a demon-possessed man during his earthly ministry, the demons asked, “Have you come here to torment us before the time?” (Matt. 8:29). Demons understand something of their eternal destiny, The phrase, “before the time” could mean that they feared premature expulsion from the man, but it probably meant premature judgment to hell. The destiny of demons can be summarized in three phases of confinement.
Some demons are currently confined. John described the release of some of these demons in Revelation 9 during the Great Tribulation, when they will come from the bottomless pit to afflict the people. Jude identified another group of demons whom God “he has kept in eternal chains under gloomy darkness until the judgment of the great day” (Jude 6). Apparently the crime of these angels was so horrendous that they will never again experience any degree of liberty (2 Pet. 2:4).
During the Great Tribulation, there “are demonic spirits, performing signs, who go abroad to the kings of the whole world, to assemble them for battle on the great day of God the Almighty.” (Rev. 16:14). As demons are in part responsible for the battle of Armageddon, it is reasonable to expect they would be prevented from making war during the millennial reign of Christ.
While their millennial destiny is not specifically identified in the Bible, most commentators would agree that they would be confined with Satan their leader in the bottomless pit (Rev. 20:3). They certainly are not active during Christ’s reign on the earth.
One of the key thoughts to keep in mind when attempting to understand hell is to remember it was never the will of God that anyone should go there (1 Pet. 3:9). When confronted with that truth, the obvious question is, “Why did God create hell in the first place?” The answer to that question is found in Matthew 25:41. Hell was “prepared for the devil and his angels.”
A man will only go to hell by choice, his choice as expressed by his rejection of Christ. Demons are apparently aware that someday they will be eternally confined to the lake of fire (Matt. 8:29).
Christians Become Judges
The Bible also teaches that angels are not exempt from judgment. Paul asked the Corinthians, “Do you not know that we are to judge angels?” (1 Cor. 6:3). Toward the end of the age, it will be our responsibility as Christians to represent God in the role of judge.
It may be that during the Tribulation, the millennial kingdom, or eternity to follow, we will serve as judges similar to the judges who ruled before Israel’s first king. As judges, we will be given a position of authority over angels.