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.
My family and I have just finished reading Chapter 20, “Satan and Demons,” of Wayne Gruden’s Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1994) in our family Bible-reading time. Here I’ll share some of what we learned from our reading and of what I learned from other sources in preparing for our family reading. I’ll consider the origin and nature, the activity of, and the relationship to us of Satan and demons, and I’ll suggest some benefits of studying about good and evil angels. For a list of the other sources which I consulted, see the bibliography for my December 17 post on angels.
The Origin and Nature of Satan and Demons
In my August 9 post on Satan I quoted from two other passages which suggest the fall of Satan and his followers, Ezekiel 28:11-19 and Revelation 12:3-4. Grudem also refers to the following passages:
– “God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to chains of gloomy darkness to be kept until the judgment” (2 Peter 2:4).
– “And the angels who did not stay within their own position of authority, but left their proper dwelling, he has kept in eternal chains until the judgment of the great day” (Jude 6).
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. Grudem suggests that 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 my last post 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.” Grudem suggests that 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 Grudem says, “The devil’s characteristic has been to originate sin and tempt others to sin” (Grudem, Systematic Theology, page 415).
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.
(Augustus Hopkins Strong, Systematic Theology (Valley Forge, Pa.: Judson Press, 1907), pages 454-459.
I haven’t given Biblical examples of demons’ performing these activities because there are so many of them. If anybody reading this post wants examples, ask in a Reply to this post and I’ll give some.
Our Relationship to Satan and Demons
The bulk of Grudem’s chapter on Satan and demons 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 is 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. If anybody reading this post would like to know what he suggests, ask in a Reply to this post and I’ll summarize his suggestions.
– 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).
Benefits of Studying Angels, Good and Evil
In my last post I shared a list of practical uses of the doctrine of angels given by Strong. It was actually a list of uses of the doctrine of good angels, and he also gives a list of uses of the doctrine of evil angels. However, instead of sharing that list here, I’ll share the benefits suggested by Millard J. Erickson of studying all angels, good and evil.
1. It comforts and encourages us to realize that angels are available to help us. Grudem 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. Grudem quotes 1 Corinthians 10:12, “Let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.”
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.
(Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker, 2013), pages 419-420.