Are Demons Real?
We are fighting a war as Christians. Every single moment of our lives, we are locked in a struggle between the forces of good and those of evil. It is a clash that literally involves the fate of the world. In the thick of the struggle, it is easy to confuse friend from foe.
There is a lot of disagreement within the Christian community about demons. There are those who say that there are none around today. They claim that all of the problems in the world are from physical disease or mental illness and should be treated as such. There are others who see demons in everything. They believe that every physical manifestation of disease in the body is from a spiritual attack and that demons are everywhere. Further adding to the confusion is our cultural fascination with demons. They are constantly in films and books, usually inaccurately depicted. It gets really difficult to determine what to believe about what is a very important subject.
So what is the deal? Are there demons around today and if so, do we as Christians have to worry about them? The truth is somewhere in between the extremes. Let me tell you a story.
I have Something Inside Me
This subject became up close and personal for me a few years ago on a Sunday morning at church. I had read what the Bible said about demonic possession and had an intellectual position. I also had heard stories from friends on the mission field about their encounters with people they said were possessed with demons but had never seen it myself. I had not doubted a good friend when he told me about his prayer meeting in South America suddenly filled with strange voices coming out of the PA system. It was a detached understanding, though. Enemy activity was for the far off places of the world, not for suburban America. It was certainly not for a Sunday morning at church. That changed very quickly that day.
My wife and I noticed something was amiss after we had arrived. There was something odd with gentlemen in front of us during worship. He was acting strangely. He was twitching randomly. He was not singing and his facial expressions were changing rapidly. He appeared like he was in some sort of great internal distress as the music praising Jesus played.
Newcomers to church come from all backgrounds and strong emotions are not unusual to see. That is great! It is wonderful to see someone pouring out their heart before the Lord. People also suffer from a range of physical conditions that have unusual presentations. That is also understood. I don’t go judge people who step foot in God’s church. He takes them as they come. This was just…different. We were not being critical, the person just appeared almost in pain. He seemed like he was physically fighting with himself in a very obvious way. It was hard to miss.
I introduced myself and he was responsive but not exactly there. He was half listening to me and appeared to have a lot on his mind. Again, people come to Jesus in lots of different conditions and that is great. I was just trying to make him feel welcome. It was obvious that there was something spiritually very, very wrong.
The message began and the verses we were being taught on were from the Gospel of Luke. It was about a man is possessed by a mute demon. The pastor started his sermon by explaining why the demon being mute was significant. He was saying that the man was possessed by a demon and that demon could not speak so there as a problem. The pastor did not get to explain the problem because the man in front of us interrupted and said:
“I am not mute, I can speak”
Sitting almost directly behind him, I got chills when I heard this. I wanted to lean over to my wife and whisper “Honey, I think it is time to go.”
The man continued speaking though and offered:
“There is something inside of me and I need to get it out.”
He also began talking about a dark man following him. Boy, did we sit up and pay attention. Our church is not a Pentecostal one. Signs and wonders were not part of service. There is never an interruption of the message as we feel that takes away from the focus on Jesus. We were there to hear the Word of God taught, not be distracted by other things. Most people do not even go to the bathroom during service if they can help it. Demons were not encountered or cast out as part of the service. People were not moving around, interactive or caused to fall down. This interruption was not at all part of the service. This was all the idea of the person speaking.
He had something inside him and he wanted to get it out.
After talking with the man and praying for the man, the pastor asked him to accept Jesus as this was the only way to be healed from what was ailing him. After repeating clearly and in a frightened voice that he had something inside of him that needed to come out, the man who had been calmer declined the invitation and his whole demeanor changed. He began looking extremely troubled again. Whatever opening there was passed and it seemed darkness descended once again in force. The man left the service and never returned.
The Bible and Demons
So what are we as followers of Jesus in the 21st Century to think of an incident like this? It seems so odd in our modern world to think of someone as demon possessed but should this be so? The idea may make us uncomfortable or intrigued based on our background. But what does the Bible say about demons and what occurred that day? It is the Bible that is our standard for judging all things, right? Let’s look.
The Bible contains multiple accounts of demon possession. Jesus and His followers regularly encountered people who were in the grips of the enemy. Jesus and the Disciples cast out demons on a regular basis. One particularly dramatic example was when Jesus encountered the man possessed by a Legion of demons in Mark 5:
They went across the lake to the region of the Gerasenes. 2 When Jesus got out of the boat, a man with an impure spirit came from the tombs to meet him. 3 This man lived in the tombs, and no one could bind him anymore, not even with a chain. 4 For he had often been chained hand and foot, but he tore the chains apart and broke the irons on his feet. No one was strong enough to subdue him. 5 Night and day among the tombs and in the hills he would cry out and cut himself with stones.
When he saw Jesus from a distance, he ran and fell on his knees in front of him. 7 He shouted at the top of his voice, “What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? In God’s name don’t torture me!” 8 For Jesus had said to him, “Come out of this man, you impure spirit!”
9 Then Jesus asked him, “What is your name?”
“My name is Legion,” he replied, “for we are many.” 10 And he begged Jesus again and again not to send them out of the area.
Depending upon the time period, historians estimate that a Roman Legion consisted of 6,000-12,000 soldiers. The demonic forces state that they are Legion for they are many. Whether this is literally 6,000 demons or just a whole lot we do not know. What is clear, though, is that there were many demons possessing the man and making him act according to their plan for him. They have a certain amount of control over him. They have led him away from other people and to harm himself greatly. The Bible says that Satan seeks to steal, kill and destroy and that is evident in the life of the man Jesus encounters. He is literally living among the dead in a graveyard. This is life with Satan.
It is very much worth noting that Jesus is not shocked by the man or his appearance. He is not surprised or taken aback that the man is possessed by many demons. He does not comment on the existence of many demons as unusual. He doesn’t seem shocked that the enemy is leading people to their destruction. Jesus also never points to the possession by a demon in any of His encounters as an aberration. As with the other incidents with demonic spirits recorded in the Bible, Jesus simply exercises His authority as King of Kings and casts them out. He also gives His disciples authority to go out and cast out demons as well. So Jesus and His disciples treat demon possession as a real thing and are not surprised by encountering demons. According to the Bible, demons are a real thing. It is also one of the signs that they work for the true Messiah. Demons tremble at His Name.
What about Now? Are Demons Around Today?
But what about after Jesus is crucified and ascends to heaven? Are there still demons around?
Well, Paul casts out a demon from the girl who was following him in Philippi in Acts 16:
16 Now it happened, as we went to prayer, that a certain slave girl possessed with a spirit of divination met us, who brought her masters much profit by fortune-telling. 17 This girl followed Paul and us, and cried out, saying, “These men are the servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to us the way of salvation.” 18 And this she did for many days.
But Paul, greatly annoyed, turned and said to the spirit, “I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.” And he came out that very hour.
Paul states that those who are sacrificing to false gods in Corinth are actually sacrificing to demons and there will be seducing spirits after people:
1 Corinthians 10:
Are not those who eat of the sacrifices partakers of the altar? 19 What am I saying then? That an idol is anything, or what is offered to idols is anything? 20 Rather, that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice they sacrifice to demons and not to God, and I do not want you to have fellowship with demons. 21 You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons; you cannot partake of the Lord’s table and of the table of demons.
Now the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons, 2 speaking lies in hypocrisy,
The Sons of Sceva even somewhat comically run into trouble with a demon when they try to cast it out without faith in Jesus in Acts 19:
Then some of the itinerant Jewish exorcists undertook to invoke the name of the Lord Jesus over those who had evil spirits, saying, “I adjure you by the Jesus whom Paul proclaims.” 14 Seven sons of a Jewish high priest named Sceva were doing this. 15 But the evil spirit answered them, “Jesus I know, and Paul I recognize, but who are you?” 16 And the man in whom was the evil spirit leaped on them, mastered all of them and overpowered them, so that they fled out of that house naked and wounded.
The Biblical account makes it clear that the demons who were in the world at the time of Jesus continued to be present after He ascended into heaven. The Bible never states that these demonic forces would cease their efforts to oppose the work of the Lord.
We Have Powerful Enemies
That there is an active force of opponents working behind the scenes against God appears very clear from the Scripture. Paul sets out that we do not battle against flesh and blood, people, but against powers and principalities of the air. He later identifies those forces as the ones aligned with Satan. Paul’s letters to the churches reference being on the lookout for the work of these enemies of the faith as well. His armor of God directions from Ephesians 6 specifically tells us that the armor protects us from the arrows of the enemy and
“against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.”
James, Peter, Luke, John, and Jude all mention demons or evil spirits and their ongoing existence. There is no reason to think that the same demons are not present and active on an ongoing basis around us today. It does not mean every disease or bad action experienced by people is a result of demons, but we cannot say that they do not exist.
For the gentlemen from church that day, we can look at the circumstances and note that he showed up on the morning the teaching was on demonic possession and Jesus casting out demons, interrupted the sermon to say that he needed something out of him and then refused to accept Jesus and wonder. It certainly seemed like the rulers of the darkness of this age were at work. Without his accepting Jesus and seeing the results, though, we will likely never know for certain. There are also legitimate physical and mental disorders that do not directly stem from sin or spiritual warfare. Discernment and prayer are always necessary for this area.
We have an All-Powerful Father
I saw a lot of scary movies when I was a kid and the depictions of demons gave me nightmares. As entities in the service of the enemy, they are not to be taken lightly and dealing with them on our own we would be greatly outmatched. In the Book of Jude, it says that the Archangel Michael did not take on Satan himself rather he invoked Jesus’ name to fight the battle. In Daniel, the demonic Prince of Persia detains Daniel’ s angelic answer to prayer due to his strength in opposition to God. Angels are hugely powerful beings and fallen angels still retain some of that power. They should not be taken lightly and not taken on by ourselves.
That said, a Christian is indwelled by the Holy Spirit. Where the Spirit of the Lord is there is no struggle for dominance. Greater is He that is in you than he who is in the world. We are sealed permanently by the Holy Spirit upon conversion and no created being can ever change that. God chose us before the foundation of the earth and Jesus died to set us free from the enemy. The same power that raised Jesus also lives in us. So Christians should not fear being taken over by demons and can rest in the freedom that Jesus won for us on the Cross. Jesus also defeated His enemies when He rose from the grave. It is now just a matter of time before they are rounded up and thrown into an eternal prison.
God chose us before the foundation of the earth and Jesus died to set us free from the enemy. The same power that raised Jesus also lives in us. So Christians should not fear being taken over by demons. We can rest in the freedom that Jesus won for us on the Cross. Jesus also defeated His enemies when He rose from the grave. It is now just a matter of time before they are rounded up and thrown into an eternal prison.
So yes, demons are real and they inhabit the earth looking to do the work of their prince, Satan. They are powerful and oppose the work of the Lord in the world. We are not their equals if we were standing alone. We are never alone, though, thanks to Jesus. As a result, believer has nothing to fear from them. We are protected by a Good Shepherd who promised that no one will take us out of His hand and nothing can separate us from the love of Christ. Nothing means just that.