What About Demons?
By Lance Mosher
The subject of demons is met with a variety of responses. Some respond in fear, mainly because the subject seems so mysterious to them that they do not know what to believe. Many are excited, as Hollywood’s depiction of demons has entertained them for a long time. Many think about alleged news stories coming from other parts of the world, where demon possession seems to be an everyday occurrence. Yet, many dismiss the subject of demons altogether.
How many of these responses are based on true knowledge of the subject? What can we know about demons? I want to ask four questions about demons in this study:
WHAT ARE DEMONS?
Throughout the ages, speculation has been made as to the origin and identity of demons. In the New Testament, when demons were most visibly active, people did not have this question. If we have to ask, and they did not, then we must conclude demon activity is not the same today as it was in the New Testament.
Some people of our time have speculated that “demon possession” was only thus called that, because people of antiquity did not understand medicine and psychology. I have heard some say that demons were no more than misunderstood common illnesses. “So-and-so has a fever and cannot keep his food down? Well, he has a demon.” Others have said that demon possession was simply bad habits. Some people want to list their “demons” by listing their personality flaws. Is this what we see in the Scriptures?
Instead of going to Bible dictionaries or influential preachers, let us examine the Scriptures.
When Jesus came into Peter’s home, He saw his mother-in-law lying sick in bed with a fever. He touched her hand, and the fever left her; and she got up and waited on Him. When evening came, they brought to Him many who were demon-possessed; and He cast out the spirits with a word, and healed all who were ill.
In this passage, Matthew distinguishes between those who had illnesses and those who were demon-possessed. We can also see in this passage that demons are referred to as spirits, and in some cases, they are called unclean or evil spirits. Spirit beings in the Bible have the power to reason, communicate, and share in emotions. There are several “spirit beings” in the Scripture, for example: God, angels, humans, Satan, and demons. 
Demons are spirit beings with cognitive ability. With that ability, they believe the truth about God.
You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder.
While possessing someone, they spoke directly to Jesus, revealing they fear God’s judgment.
Seeing Jesus from a distance, he [a man with an unclean spirit] ran up and bowed down before Him; and shouting with a loud voice, he said, “What business do we have with each other, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I implore You by God, do not torment me!” For He had been saying to him, “Come out of the man, you unclean spirit!” And He was asking him, “What is your name?” And he said to Him, “My name is Legion; for we are many.” And he began to implore Him earnestly not to send them out of the country. Now there was a large herd of swine feeding nearby on the mountain. The demons implored Him, saying, “Send us into the swine so that we may enter them.”
Not only did demons have the power to reason, communicate, and feel, but they also had power in the physical realm. In the same context as the passage above, we read:
They came to the other side of the sea, into the country of the Gerasenes. When He got out of the boat, immediately a man from the tombs with an unclean spirit met Him, and he had his dwelling among the tombs. And no one was able to bind him anymore, even with a chain; because he had often been bound with shackles and chains, and the chains had been torn apart by him and the shackles broken in pieces, and no one was strong enough to subdue him. Constantly, night and day, he was screaming among the tombs and in the mountains, and gashing himself with stones.
This certainly does not sound like an illness or a bad habit to me! Certainly bad habits and all death and illnesses are linked to sin and the influence of Satan in this world. And, yes, the demons made this man look like he was out of his mind, but they also gave him strength beyond any man—even a group of men. If anything, illnesses and bad habits make people weaker, but these demons had spiritual knowledge, and they gave this man strength enough to break chains and shackles into pieces!
In the Old Testament, when the subject of demons appears, they are in the form of false gods. For instance, in the song of Moses, sacrifice to false gods is sacrifice to demons.
They sacrificed to demons who were not God,
In reality, there is very little, if any, visible demon activity in the lives of people in the Old Testament. Certainly, Satan and his demons are behind false worship and the worship of idols, which is rampant in the Old Testament, but that is not the same as the demon activity we see in the New Testament.
What we can gain from the New Testament about demons tells us that they are unclean, evil spirits that have a will, a mind, and a strength even beyond our own.
As to the origin of demons, many theories abound—some much more viable than others. It has been variously suggested that demons are fallen angels, that they are the wicked souls of the diseased, or that they are the Nephilim of Genesis 6. Where did demons come from? The Scriptures do not clearly tell us. We must leave that to the secret things of God, as the Israelites were instructed to teach their children:
The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our sons forever, that we may observe all the words of this law.
WHAT POWER DO DEMONS HAVE?
It may have been the case in New Testament times that only vulnerable people could have been possessed by demons.
Now when the unclean spirit goes out of a man, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, and does not find it. Then it says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came’; and when it comes, it finds it unoccupied, swept, and put in order. Then it goes and takes along with it seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there; and the last state of that man becomes worse than the first. That is the way it will also be with this evil generation.
Soon after healing a demon-possessed man, Jesus said it was the one who did not replace the unclean spirit with godliness that left himself open for further inhabitation by the unclean spirit, and even more.
When we see demon-possessed people in the New Testament, they already have the demons when they first come to Jesus and His apostles.
Soon afterwards, He began going around from one city and village to another, proclaiming and preaching the kingdom of God. The twelve were with Him, and also some women who had been healed of evil spirits and sicknesses: Mary who was called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, and Joanna the wife of Chuza, Herod’s steward, and Susanna, and many others who were contributing to their support out of their private means.
If anyone had demons, and then he or she came to Christ, the demons left and never came back. Not once in the New Testament does someone become possessed or repossessed by a demon after he or she begins following Jesus. Nevertheless, when demons did possess people, they caused muteness, blindness, excessive strength, epilepsy (or something similar to epilepsy), and special spiritual knowledge. As scary as that thought may be, let us venture into our third question.
WHO CONTROLS THE DEMONS?
To answer the question quickly and simply, Satan is in control of the demons. In Matthew 12, the Pharisees accuse Jesus of casting out the demons by the power of Beezlebul, the ruler of the demons. Jesus challenges their logic by saying:
If Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself; how then will his kingdom stand?
He challenges their logic, but not their knowledge of the ruler of the demons, whom Jesus names as Satan. Demons do Satan’s bidding. However, God has power over Satan!
There are many questions that we have about the spiritual realm that we will never be able to answer on this side of eternity. These questions form once we are given some information, but then we want more. For instance, we see in the beginning of the book of Job that Satan had to ask permission of God before tearing down Job’s life.
At the end of the book of Luke, Jesus tells Peter a curious thing.
Simon, Simon, behold, Satan has demanded permission to sift you like wheat; but I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.
These passages give me confidence in God’s control over everything, yet I also come away with some other questions the Scriptures do not answer.
Satan is called the god and ruler of this world and the prince of the power of the air. More specifically, such passages claim Satan is only such in the lives of unbelievers.
We serve the Prince of Peace. Demons do not control us. We serve the King of kings. Satan is not our leader. We serve the God of all gods. The devil is not our ruler. We must remember that our God can, does, and will restrain Satan, his power, and his demons for our eternal purpose.
Just then there was a man in their synagogue with an unclean spirit; and he cried out, saying, “What business do we have with each other, Jesus of Nazareth? Have You come to destroy us? I know who You are—the Holy One of God!” And Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be quiet, and come out of him!” Throwing him into convulsions, the unclean spirit cried out with a loud voice and came out of him. They were all amazed, so that they debated among themselves, saying, “What is this? A new teaching with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey Him.”…When evening came, after the sun had set, they began bringing to Him all who were ill and those who were demon-possessed. And the whole city had gathered at the door. And He healed many who were ill with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and He was not permitting the demons to speak, because they knew who He was.
Demons are powerful, but Jesus has power over them! Jesus also gave His apostles and other first-century disciples power to cast out demons. He told the twelve, before He sent them out for the first time:
And as you go, preach, saying, “The kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. Freely you received, freely give.
After sending out more disciples, we read:
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. Nevertheless do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are recorded in heaven.”
In the end, the demons will be judged. When Jesus came to cast them out of people, the demons asked, “Have You come here to torment us before the time?” (Matthew 8:29). When Jesus describes the place after death called “the eternal fire,” He says it was “prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matthew 25:41). If Hollywood and pop culture have convinced you that hell is going to be a party for the devil and his demons, think again.
And the devil who deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are also; and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.
For His purposes, God allowed demons to possess people in New Testament times. And it was Jesus’ authority that cast them out! We who have been baptized in Jesus’ name, we who are clothed with Christ, we who are covered in His love and blood, are protected by His power.
SHOULD I BE AFRAID OF DEMONS TODAY?
All of this talk of demon power and possession can sound quite scary. You may be thinking of images from Hollywood that you have seen. But the Scriptures do not talk about heads spinning in circles, serpentine tongues, and eyes of fire. You may also be thinking of reports from Roman Catholic priests or men from the Middle East who have been commissioned to exorcise demons. But those reports also contain unscriptural descriptions of alleged demons. For instance, many supposed “reports” of modern-day demon activity claim that the so-called “demon” blasphemed God and cursed His people while possessing a man.
However, the demons in the Bible bowed down before Jesus. They revered His name, calling Him the Son of the Most High God. Even today, they continually shudder because of their belief in God, fearing His judgment. They never blaspheme God in the Scriptures. Instead, they spoke highly of Him and His messengers. It was the Holy Spirit’s power that cast out demons in the first century. It is His will that demons do not possess or oppress people. In fact, we are instructed in James 4:7 to “Resist the devil,” and the promised result is “he will flee from you.” If Satan, the ruler of the demons, flees when disciples do God’s will, then we can stand in confidence of God’s power in our lives. False teachers are gaining traction today by telling their audiences that demons can go into or possess Jesus’ disciples. However, not a single true disciple has ever been possessed by a demon. That was true in the New Testament, and that is true today.
Churches with “deliverance ministries” are gaining momentum right now. I have heard people try to validate certain religious groups, because their leaders can supposedly cast out demons. That might convince them and their followers, but it does not convince Christ.
Not everyone who says to Me, “Lord, Lord,” will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. Many will say to Me on that day, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?” And then I will declare to them, “I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.”
God urges us to take Him at His word and rest on Scripture over feeling, and confirmed prophecy over reported events and even our own experiences. Unbelievers who make such claims and Hollywood productions are under the influence of the prince of the power of the air, and we should not support those who make such reports or films.
A Bible timeline that includes visible demon activity among people, that is, demon possession, shows this:
During the swarm of demon activity, Jesus was on earth with the power to cast them out of people. He also gave this power to the apostles. God was sending new messages through Jesus and the apostles, and it was imperative for the original audiences to believe those messages, so God provided His power to prove that the message was divine. The purpose behind casting out demons is no exception.
They were all amazed, so that they debated among themselves, saying, “What is this? A new teaching with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey Him.”
And as you go, preach, saying, “The kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. Freely you received, freely give.
Jesus sent His apostles to preach the good news of His resurrection, once again giving them the ability to cast out demons in Mark 16:15–19. In the next verse we read:
And they went out and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them, and confirmed the word by the signs that followed.
The Scriptures have been confirmed to us, and since that is the case, there is no need for further confirmation through miraculous works, including the casting out of demons.
Jesus came with an authoritative message, one that shows He has the power over Satan and death. He proved that power through various miracles, including the casting out of evil spirits. In His own words, Jesus says:
But if I cast out demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. Or how can anyone enter the strong man’s house and carry off his property, unless he first binds the strong man? And then he will plunder his house.
In the thousands of years of biblical narrative, the only time we see demon possession is in the 50 years or so the first five books of the New Testament cover. Jesus says His exorcism of those demons was His binding Satan before plundering his house, that is, rescuing the devil’s hostages: us!
Now that the Scriptures have been completed and confirmed, demon possession and exorcism are a thing of the past, just as are tongues, prophecies, and supernatural knowledge.
Love never fails; but if there are gifts of prophecy, they will be done away; if there are tongues, they will cease; if there is knowledge, it will be done away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part; but when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away.
Does that mean we should not be afraid of demons today? As far as demon possession goes, fear not! However, I am not saying that we should doubt Satan’s power or the mysteries in the spiritual realm. Neither I nor the Scriptures have indicated that demon possession was the only, or even worst, activity demons have been involved in. There is actually something much more dreadful that is rampant today.
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, men who forbid marriage and advocate abstaining from foods which God has created to be gratefully shared in by those who believe and know the truth.
Paul wrote this to Timothy as demon possession was quickly becoming or already was a thing of the past. Though demon possession is nothing to fear today, false teaching and deceitful spirits are very much alive and dangerous in the false teachings that are so prevalent in the religious world today.
When demon possession was happening, the power over the demons was the living, breathing word of God—Jesus Himself! Today, as demons threaten souls through false and deceptive teaching, what’s the power over them? The living, active word of God—the Scriptures inspired by the Holy Spirit.
Indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted. But evil men and impostors will proceed from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. You, however, continue in the things you have learned and become convinced of, knowing from whom you have learned them, and that from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.
As vulnerable people of the first century may have been setting themselves up for further possession of unclean spirits, so we too, if we are not learning all we can and putting on the full armor of God, then we set ourselves up to be influenced by demons.
However, demon deception, which is more prevalent today than demon possession ever was, threatens the soul. What are you doing to entrust yourself to the one who will set you free and protect you?
So Jesus was saying to those Jews who had believed Him, “If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” They answered Him, “We are Abraham’s descendants and have never yet been enslaved to anyone; how is it that You say, ‘You will become free’?” Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is the slave of sin.”
I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep. He who is a hired hand, and not a shepherd, who is not the owner of the sheep, sees the wolf coming, and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hired hand and is not concerned about the sheep. I am the good shepherd, and I know My own and My own know Me, even as the Father knows Me and I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep…My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand.
Are you with Him? Are you in His hand? If not, why not? What are you waiting for?
Except where noted, Scripture quotations are taken from the NASB. Copyright by The Lockman Foundation