This week the church Life group which my wife and I attend completed a two-part study of “4. Angels” in the Statement of Fundamental and Essential Truths of the Pentecostal Assemblies of Newfoundland and Labrador. Five of the ten who have attended this fall were present. My wife, Leonora, opened with singing and prayer; we discussed the material on evil angels that I’d given out earlier (see below); Ray Noble took prayer requests and led us in prayer; and we closed with lunch.
4. Angels – Evil Angels
How are you fallen from heaven,
O Day Star, son of Dawn!
How are you cut down to the ground,
you who laid the nations low!
You said in your heart,
“I will ascend to heaven;
above the stars of God
I will set my throne on high;
I will sit on the mount of assembly
in the far reaches of the north;
I will ascend above the heights of the clouds,
I will make myself like the Most High.”
But you will be brought down to Sheol,
to the far reaches of the Pit.
Although this passage (Isaiah 14:12-15, ESV; all Biblical quotations are from the ESV) is addressed to the king of Babylon, it seems too strong to refer to just a human king. Thus many take it as being also addressed to an angel who sometime before the fall of humans led a rebellion against God, bringing sin into God’s creation. We know the angel as Satan and at least some of his followers as demons.
The Origin and Nature of Satan and Demons
Other passages also suggest the fall of Satan and his followers, notably Ezekiel 28:11-19, 2 Peter 2:4, Jude 6, and Revelation 12:3-4. However these passages refer to fallen angels who are confined, whereas the Bible, especially the Gospels, shows Satan and demons as active in the world. Perhaps they have Hell, rather than Heaven, as their home but are able to range from there to affect people and events in the world.
Being angels, Satan and demons fit the description which I gave of angels in our last study except that they work against instead of for God. Thus they are “spiritual beings created by God” without physical bodies, “personal beings who can be interacted with,” and “moral creatures who can be characterized as good or evil.” Like angels “they have superhuman knowledge but are not omniscient” and “have superhuman power but are not omnipotent.” However since sin has a weakening and destructive influence, Satan and demons have less power and knowledge than they originally had.
The Activity of Satan and Demons
As I observed above, sometime before the fall of humans Satan led a rebellion against God, bringing sin into God’s creation. Genesis 3:1-5, 14-15 describes his temptation of Eve to disobey God and his punishment by God for tempting her. Since then his activity has been to tempt us to sin. Thus his main characteristic has been to originate sin and tempt others to sin.
In his Systematic Theology Augustus Hopkins Strong describes these activities of demons:
1. They oppose God and strive to defeat his will.
2. They hinder man’s temporal and eternal welfare,—sometimes by exercising a certain control over natural phenomena, but more commonly by subjecting man’s soul to temptation. Possession of man’s being, either physical or spiritual, by demons, is also recognized in Scripture.
3. Yet, in spite of themselves, they execute God’s plans of punishing the ungodly, of chastening the good, and of illustrating the nature and fate of moral evil.
(Valley Forge, Pa.: Judson Press, 1907, pages 454-457).
Our Relationship to Satan and Demons
The bulk of Wayne Grudem’s chapter on Satan and demons in his Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1994, pages 412-36) is about our relationship to demons. Here I’ll summarize the main points that he makes:
– Demons are active in the world today. Our still being in the church age, there’s no reason to think that there is any less demonic activity in the world today than there was at the time of the New Testament.
– Not all evil and sin is from Satan and demons, but some is. If there is a continued pattern of sin in a Christian’s life, the primary responsibility rests in his or her choices to continue that pattern. However if the Christian has struggled for some time to overcome the sin, he or she may also consider whether a demonic attack or influence could be contributing to it.
– Whether a Christian can be “demon possessed” depends on how the term is defined. If it is defined as the Christian’s being completely dominated by a demon so that he or she has no power left to choose to obey God, then the answer is “No” (“For sin will have no dominion over you,” Romans 6:14). However if it is defined as a Christian’s being under attack or influence by demons, then the answer is “Yes” (“A thorn was given to me in the flesh, a messenger from Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited,” 2 Corinthians 12:7).
– Demonic influences can be recognized by the affected person’s exhibiting odd and often violent behaviour (as in Mark 1:23-24) or making blatantly false doctrinal statements (as in 1 Corinthians 12:3) and/or by a subjective sense of their presence. 1 Corinthians 12:10 notes that some Christians are given “the ability to distinguish between spirits,” and Grudem suggests that all Christians have something similar to but not as developed as that gift.
– Jesus gives all believers authority to rebuke demons and command them to leave. The basis for our authority over them is the work of Christ on the cross and we exercise it as children in God’s family. In actual practice we may simply command, in the name of Jesus and possibly with a quotation from the Bible (as Jesus did when tempted by Satan), the demon to leave. James 4:7 says, “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.”
– Grudem suggests several other considerations that a person should take into account in ministering to other people whom he or she suspects are under demonic attack or influence.
– We should expect the gospel to come in power to triumph over the works of the devil. After all, “the reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil” (1 John 3:8).
[END OF PRESENTATION]
We had a good discussion of the above presentation, particularly on whether a Christian can be demon possessed and on the discerning of spirits. Although all of us agreed with what Grudem said about whether a Christian can be demon possessed, I concluded our discussion of it by reading what the Statement of Fundamental and Essential Truths of the Pentecostal Assemblies of Newfoundland and Labrador says about it (see “B. The Believer and Demons” below).
At the end of our study of good angels two weeks earlier, I’d asked the group to consider before this week’s study “4. Angels” in the Statement of Fundamental and Essential Truths of the Pentecostal Assemblies of Newfoundland and Labrador and the benefits or uses of studying the doctrine of angels. Unfortunately we didn’t have time to discuss either. However I’ll give both here.
Angels were created as intelligent and powerful beings to do the will of God and worship Him (Psalm 103:20; Revelation 5:11,12). However, Satan, the originator of sin, fell through pride and was followed by those angels who rebelled against God. These fallen angels or demons are active in opposing the purpose of God (Isaiah 14:12-17; Ezekiel 28:11-19; Ephesians 6:11-12; 1 Timothy 4:1; Jude).
Those who remained faithful continue before the throne of God and serve as ministering spirits (Hebrews 1:14).
B. The Believer and Demons
Demons attempt to thwart God’s purposes. However, in Christ, the believer may have complete liberty from the influence of demons (Hebrews 2:14; 1 John 3:8; 4:1-4). He cannot be possessed by them because his body is the temple of the Holy Spirit in which Christ dwells as Lord (Matthew 6:4; 1 Corinthians 6:19,20).
Benefits of Studying the Doctrine of Angels
Millard J. Erickson gives these benefits of studying the doctrine of angels in his systematic theology textbook:
1. It comforts and encourages us to realize that angels are available to help us. Erickson illustrates this benefit by referring to the relief that Elisha’s servant must have felt on seeing the army of angels that surrounded the city of Dothan when it was under attack by the Syrians (2 Kings 6:17).
2. The angels’ praise of and service to God gives us an example of how we should act towards God.
3. Some angels’ yielding to temptation and falling reminds us of the need for us to be careful. Erickson quotes 1 Corinthians 10:12, “Let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall” (ESV).
4. Knowledge about evil angels alerts us to how dangerous they can be and gives us insights into how they work.
5. We receive confidence from knowing that, although they are powerful, there are limits to what Satan and demons can do. We can resist him successfully with the help of God, and his ultimate defeat is certain.
(Systematic Theology, Third Edition, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker, 2013, pages 419-20. Erickson gives fuller statements of the benefits than I have.)
Here are a few other benefits of studying the doctrine of angels given by Augustus Hopkins Strong in his systematic theology:
– It teaches us humility that beings with so much more knowledge and power than ours gladly perform unnoticed services for us because of their love for God, and it should encourage us to perform such acts of humble service for others because of our love for Him.
– It helps us in our struggle against sin to know that angels are near us to note our wrongdoing if we fall and to help us if we resist temptation.
– It demonstrates that the Gospel is wholly of grace since God hasn’t made any such provision for the angels who rebelled and fell.
(Systematic Theology, Valley Forge, Pa.: Judson Press, 1907, pages 462-64. Strong gives five uses of the doctrine of good angels and four uses of the doctrine of evil angels, and like Erickson he gives fuller statements of them than I have.)