By Lisa Loraine Baker, Crosswalk.com
The world is full of varying depictions of the devil—from a monstrous-looking red being with horns, cloven hooves, and a twisting, pointed tail to an almost cherubic, harmless-looking animation with a cute smile. Some people even refuse to believe in the devil and his minions. Demons are spoken of as angels who, when Satan fell, changed from good to bad as they followed him. They are also said to be subject to him. But are they? And are demons really fallen angels?
Where Does the Bible Mention Demons?
The Bible has much to say about demons, and we find them spoken of (as demons) in all four of the Gospels. The Gospels mention them concerning Jesus ridding people of them (Matthew 8:28; Mark 5:15; Luke 4:35) or the Jewish religious leaders claiming Jesus had a demon (John 8:49).
Synonyms the Bible uses to describe demons include those employed by Paul in Ephesians 6:12: the rulers, the authorities, the cosmic powers over this present darkness, and the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Other terms include unclean spirits (Matthew 12:43), Legion (Luke 8:30), a “spirit of divination” (Acts 16:16), evil spirits (Luke 7:21), and “the devil and his angels (Matthew 25:41). At times, as seen in the Acts passage, the demons are called by what they attempt to do.
Most mentions of the term demon occur in the New Testament. However, they are present in the Old Testament as well, as seen in Leviticus 17:7, Deuteronomy 32:17, and Psalm 106:37. In other parts of the Old Testament, some evil beings are called gods (1 Samuel 28:13; Isaiah 8:19) and are acknowledged as demonic spirits because they are linked with the deceased. Another Old Testament term commonly referred to as a demon is azazel (Leviticus 16:8, 10, 26).
What Does the Bible Say about Fallen Angels?
As followers (and we all follow something or someone), we emulate our leader. As Christians, Jesus Christ is our leader. He is our Lord (Revelation 17:14), the Author and Perfecter of our faith (Hebrews 12:2). One of our main goals is to become like Him (Romans 8:29; 1 John 3:2). Demons take a different course because, they are fallen angels—those who fell with Satan when he was banished from God’s presence in heaven (Revelation 12:3-4). Being fallen angels, demons are spiritual beings (Matthew 10:1). They are also enemies of God (Revelation 12:9) with limited power over men (Revelation 16:14).
When Satan fell, one-third of the angels in heaven followed him, and they serve him to their ultimate demise (Luke 10:18; Revelation 12:3-4, 12:7-9; 18:2, 21). Barry Cooper states, “Demons are angels who fell with Satan who was, of course, an angel himself. They were those who had taken sides with Satan in his rebellion against God. Talk about being on the wrong side of history.”
Matthew 25:41 tells us what happens to demons; they will depart as cursed and be placed in the “eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.”
Is Satan a Fallen Angel?
Satan gained his notorious name when he fell from heaven. We must be careful with the interpretation of problematic texts. However, given its context, the prophet seems to refer to Satan in Ezekiel 28:1-19. The descriptions used cannot fit a human (King of Tyre). Yes, there existed a certain king over Tyre, but we can reckon Ezekiel seems to have moved past a human understanding to describe Satan’s fall from heaven. A human cannot be described in the Bible as “perfect in beauty” or having been in Eden as an anointed, guardian cherub. This being is also described as having walked in the midst of the stones of fire (See Daniel 7:9), an allusion to being before the very throne of God. No human king has ever been in such a position.
Many believe Satan’s name before his fall was Lucifer, taken from the Hebrew word Helel. Don Stewart explains, “When this Hebrew term was translated into Latin, the word lucifero was used. Lucifero basically means ‘to shine.’ Therefore, if this term is understood to be a proper name of the king of Babylon, that name, in Latin, would be Lucifer.”
If the Ezekiel passage speaks of Satan, we can infer the following:
- He was the seal of perfection, wise, and perfect in beauty.
- He was in Eden, and his appearance was likened to precious stones.
- He was an anointed guardian cherub.
- He was in God’s presence.
- He is a created being.
- He was blameless until unrighteousness was found in him.
- He became and is a creature of violence, deception, and sin.
- God cast him out of heaven.
- Pride was his sin and caused his fall.
- He will come to a “dreadful end and will be found no more forever” (Ezekiel 28:19).
Further, and with explicit meaning, Jesus, in Luke 10:18, said He saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. Only three types of beings inhabit heaven—God (the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit), angels, and the souls of saints. Therefore, since Satan is neither God nor a saint, he must be an angel in fallen form.
Revelation 12:9 gives further clarification when it tells us the devil was thrown down to the earth and his angels with him.
Given all of that, we can’t help but recognize Satan’s foolishness. Yes, he is shrewd in his dealings with humanity. However, he knows his end and goes forward as if he can thwart God’s plan.
What Powers Do Demons Have?
Although demons have wills, they are limited in what they can do, just like their leader, the devil. They are created beings and, as such, are held in check by the Creator. In his excellent book Providence, John Piper argues that God has never given Satan any power that does not come under God’s perfect and good will. Therefore, the devil’s minions are held in check as well.
Matthew 8:29-32 shows us an interaction between Jesus and thousands of demons. They asked the Lord if He came to torment them before the time. They know their termination but do not know when. Jesus’ sovereignty is pictured for us, for he says one word, “Go,” and they depart. They have no choice but to obey Him (Mark 1:27).
Demons can mimic Jesus only to a point, for they are liars, just as Satan is. Their powers are limited.
In contrast to God’s sovereign power, Satan (and therefore demons) are not omnipresent.
- Are what Satan uses as the mediators of idolatry. The idol is “a block of wood,” so to speak, yet every idol has a demon connected with it who prompts idolatry, with its worship and sacrifices (Revelation 9:20).
- Spread lies among humans (1 Timothy 4:1)
- Try to seduce Christians (1 Timothy 4:1).
- Introduce themselves as mediators with the dead (Leviticus 20:6).
- Are part of a hierarchy of evil agents.
- Are permitted to affect people with physical diseases (Luke 13:16)
- Shudder before God (James 2:19).
- Recognize Jesus as Lord and Judge (Matthew 8:29).
- Can be cast out of people (Matthew 17:20).
- Our sovereign God is always and forever in control.
An excellent BibleStudyTools article gives an additional list of what demons can and cannot do.
As we consider the devil and demons, fear not, and remember, our God is sovereign. Martin Luther penned a great hymn, which includes this stanza;
“And though this world with devils filled should threaten to undo us,
We will not fear, for God hath willed His truth to triumph through us.
The prince of darkness grim, we tremble not for him;
His rage we can endure, for lo, his doom is sure.
One little word shall fell him.”
- Martin Luther, “A Mighty Fortress is Our God,” 1529
Dale and Tamara Chamberlain explore what it means to experience the abundant life that Jesus promised us by tackling ancient truths in everyday settings in their podcast Kainos Project. Listen to their episode on what the Bible has to say about angels by clicking the play button below:
Photo Credit: ©Unsplash/Lukas Meier