What are demons in the Bible? They are fallen angels who serve the devil in alluring people to destructive behaviors, false teaching, and separation from God. What can we learn from demons in the Bible to help us navigate our own struggles today? Christians believe that demons as described in the Bible were not mythical but real. Moreover, demons continue to tempt us to evil and doubt and spread suffering in our day as well. The good news for us is that, every time a demon came up against Jesus in the Gospels, it was the demon who lost. As 1 John 4:4 tells us, “You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them [evil spirits], because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in in the world.”
My Cultural Context
I come from a culture where the presence and existence of demons and unclean spirits is taken very seriously and even sometimes to the extreme. This often made the spiritual environment feel very heavy and dark. I even once found myself thinking that these demonic forces might be more powerful and omnipresent than the Spirit of God.
In my culture, there is also a common belief that these unclean spirits/demons are somehow connected with the Hindu gods; that though they are idols, there is a strange demonic power/force at work behind them. There have been some reported stories of demon possessions where people witnessed the presence of Hindu gods like Hanuman, Kaali, Shiv, etc. The demons were said to show similarities to these gods and pronounced their names upon asking.
Some of those encounters were too terrifying to listen to. I heard from my family members especially who hold Pentecostal or Catholic beliefs as well as from Muslim friends that demons are immensely powerful and are always surrounding us. Interestingly, my Muslim friends used to tell me about what they called “jinn,” spirits which are different from angels. Some of these jinn can harm us and are considered demon figures.
“Although as Christians we believe that the demonic world is real, it’s important to be able to recognize when superstition exaggerates reality.”
Although as Christians we believe that the demonic world is real, it’s important to be able to recognize when superstition exaggerates reality. Pakistani-Indian culture can be very superstitious. Although the vast majority are Muslims, the stronghold of Hindu practices is still felt. And within Islam, there can be a heavy emphasis on jinns and Black magic.
Some common superstitions when it comes to avoiding demons are not to take a shower at night and not to sit under a tree in the night. Young men and women should be careful to wear fragrance/perfume. Women should not open their (wet) hair because this attracts demons. Do not walk by vacant places or graveyards in the afternoon or the middle of the night. Do not talk about evil spirits at night, and do not watch horror stuff at night because that is the time when these forces are more active. Living in such a diverse culture filled with spiritualism, it was almost hard to avoid stories of demon possession, black magic, and the “evil eye.”
I grew up in a home church where 200+ people came for worship once a week. Toward the end, prayers were offered up along with many exorcisms. I was told that sometimes even some Muslims showed up to exorcisms by Christian pastors because they (Muslims) believed that spirits listen to Jesus’ commands and those exorcisms were successful.
“Prayers were offered up along with many exorcisms.”
Again, however, I have also witnessed this emphasis on demon possession go too far. What was saddening for me was when I saw people needing clinical or medical help because they had diseases like epilepsy, mental disorders, or psychological problems—and it was treated as demon possession. Pastors could be very intense in those exorcisms for that suffering person. In addition, many Christians in Pakistan are very scared of demons because in the past some of their ancestors witnessed some sinister powers of Satan, and they passed the fear down the generations in such a way that demons/unclean spirits can seem so powerful that even talking about them is horrifying.
Like any normal Pakistani kid, I grew up listening to these strange and terrifying stories of exorcisms and demons. I gradually developed a great fear in my heart and soon it started to challenge my faith in God’s power. But I am glad that my mother’s strong faith and prayers helped me to divert my mind by looking at God’s power. She asked me to remember and recite 1 John 4:4 whenever I encountered fears: “Little children, you are of God, and have overcome them; for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.” This was soothing.
“I am glad that my mother’s strong faith and prayers helped me to divert my mind by looking at God’s power.”
Demons According to the Bible
According to the Bible, demons are the fallen angels who followed Satan, rebelled against God, and were withdrawn from God’s presence. Revelation 12:7-9 describes how the archangel Michael and his angels fought against the devil and his angels, and “they lost their place in heaven.” Demons are also called “unclean spirits” and “evil spirits.” They work to harm human life.
The Bible gives hints about the origins of demons and Satan, but never makes the subject crystal clear. I suspect this is because their origin is not as important for our lives as the fact that we must deal with them. The Bible is clearer on who Satan is and what he is doing in our world. In my understanding, Satan in general is mentioned in the Scriptures from Genesis to Revelation (although we need to be aware that the term “the satan,” literally “the accuser,” in the Bible may sometimes be referring more to a position than always to the chief evil spirit we call the devil).
Demons in the Bible: “Demons are the fallen angels who followed Satan, rebelled against God….They are also called ‘unclean spirits’ and ‘evil spirits.'”
Satan is a fallen angel, who made his heart proud and started a rebellion against God (see Ezekiel 28 and Revelation 12). Satan has been given many names in the Bible such as enemy, deceiver, liar, killer, mocker, the devil, accuser, adversary, Son of the Morning, Tempter, and Beelzebub. Satan in his activities shows himself to be very delusional, as he distorts God’s words and truth and tries to capture our attention and to make us believe his version of the story (Gen 3). His main goal is that people would worship him because he sees himself as equivalent to God:
The devil led him up to a high place and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And he said to him, “I will give you all their authority and splendor; it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. If you worship me, it will all be yours.” (Luke 4:5–7)
Furthermore, often rulers, cities, or people in the Bible are associated with Satan because of their evil and proud characteristics (see Ezekiel 28 and Rev 17:5). In this realm of dark forces, there is a definite hierarchy where Satan is the head leader or ruler of the demons, who follow his lead after participating in his rebellion against God. Demons are now his active assistants, facilitators, or delegates who are scheming against God and humans. They are regulating Satan’s work night and day in the world which is created by God.
Demons in the Bible: “In this realm of dark forces, there is a definite hierarchy where Satan is the head leader or ruler of the demons.”
Here are some hallmarks of demonic work:
- Demons can cause suffering and self-harm (e.g., Matt. 17:14-16; Mark 5:1-5)
- Demons can create teachings which deceive people (1 Tim. 4:1)
- Demons can play a part in pagan sacrifices (1 Cor. 10:20; Rev. 9:20)
- Demons can possess people (Mark 5:15; 6:13)
All that may sound scary, and it is, but it’s important to note that, any time a demon saw Jesus, the demon was terrified (Matt. 8:31; Mark 1:24). Hell was created as the final destination for the devil and his angels (Matt. 25:41).
Demons in the Bible: “Anytime a demon saw Jesus, the demon was terrified.”
Demons and the West
As a bicultural person currently living in the world’s most powerful and modern country, I surprisingly sense Satan’s strongholds here too. We tend to think that we are modernized here in the US, whereas demons are more fitting in backward or third world countries, because of prevalent belief in many gods, absurd superstitions, black magic, or evil spirits. But the Bible calls Satan the “ruler of this world” (not of only one part or a quarter). Night and day, he is scheming to steal, kill and destroy God’s people. And interestingly, I see that Satan, as in the East, is remarkably successful and active in Western culture.
For instance, inside the Western church, Satan is affecting us by indoctrinating people in strange kinds of theologies and heresies. Within some churches, abominations are even considered fine. “Deconstructing” good and sound doctrine has become the norm, with biblical writers often denounced as misogynists, backward, or outdated. Believers who feel and voice the pain of seeing false doctrines and philosophies are often boycotted or tagged as radicals, fundamentalists, or intolerant. Some are too afraid to speak the truth and opt for preventing opposition and rejection. Satan is taking full advantage of our pride and fears.
Demons in the Bible: “The Bible calls Satan the “ruler of this world.” Night and day, he is scheming to steal, kill and destroy God’s people.”
He is also at work dividing the churches over distractions as well as attacking the integrity and character of our church pastors or leaders, who are often being caught or accused of sinful behaviors. Today most of our youth are quite reluctant to go to churches and Bible colleges which they perceive as not fun or as too conservative or orthodox for them. In addition, on and off, there have been certain events where people witnessed and reported overt demonic activities.
Furthermore, Satan is also desensitizing us, confusing us, stealing our joy, and giving us so many comforts to move us away from God, our families, our children, and our salvation. Our prosperity, our individualism, and our American dream have become our idols, which have captivated us. He is working to destroy our marriages, our nuclear family systems, our school systems, our political and church leadership, our economy, and our individual selves. Our youth is strongly under attack via pornography, identity crises, abortions, relationships, societal approval, drugs, brokenness, etc.
Similarly, outside the church Satan and his demons are affecting the society through ideologies such as scientism and secular humanism, which deny the presence and existence of the supernatural and worship human intelligence. Thus, where God is rejected, the demons are also taken casually. The result is that people who actually are demon-possessed are treated with medical care or defined by different disorder studies.
Demons in the Bible: “Satan and his demons are affecting the society through ideologies.”
All this to say, when my American friends tell me that demonic stuff is more prominent in countries like Pakistan than America, I’m disappointed that they don’t see what’s happening. Do they see how many Satanic Churches we have here, the thousands of cult practices in the US, the witchcraft, the demonic-themed entertainment (e.g., FX’s Little Demon), and overall obsession with horror and death? There is a source behind this, a real demonic force.
Unfortunately, whereas in the East the belief in the activities of demons is on the extreme, the West takes it too casually. And Satan relishes these divided opinions of our ignorance or fears. Therefore, when we do not study demons and their sinister ways in Scripture, we are not prepared to notice, address, or eradicate these practices from our culture boldly and courageously.
Certainly, these dark forces are stronger than what humans can deal with alone, and that makes us realize how much we rely and depend on God. When we study more about God and experience his power, we find how magnificent, omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient, powerful, and gracious he is. We find our strength in him and realize how blessed and protected we are. It’s only with our trust securely in God that we can engage in spiritual warfare and expect to emerge victorious.
“These dark forces are stronger than what humans can deal with alone, and that makes us realize how much we rely and depend on God.”
Whether we know it or not, we are living in a constant state of spiritual warfare. One clue is how we can’t help but notice awful things happening in our lives and in our society which have no explanation other than the existence of evil. Sometimes terrible things are so vibrant that we start losing hope and accidentally start imagining that Satan is winning. But when we come to the gospels, the more we study the status of demons and their interaction with Jesus, we see them scared, timid, and shuddering before him. Demons give us a window into the true nature of spiritual reality whenever Jesus comes around (e.g., Mark 1:21-27).
We also see that the demons believed in Jesus’ divine identity, were respectful to him, and listened to his commands (Matt 8:31; Luke 8:30). No matter how powerful they were and for how long they kept a person’s body in possession, none of them ever tried to stand their ground in front of him or to disobey his command. In certain accounts, when they saw Jesus, they even begged to be expelled. There was even a case when demons were expelled in just hearing Jesus’ name (Luke 9:49-50).
Demons in the Bible: “No matter how powerful they were and for how long they kept a person’s body in possession, none of them ever tried to stand their ground in front of Jesus.”
Throughout these accounts, we learn that demons are neither all-powerful nor do they seem to be very independent. When confronted, they come under Jesus’ authority and even with their rebellious or evil nature, they listen to and obey his commands.
The world that God created at first was perfect, beautiful, and fragrant. But the world in which we live today is full of abnormalities, defects, and diseases because its ruler is Satan, even as Jesus’ kingdom is pushing Satan’s kingdom back and will be victorious. Meanwhile, our world is in a constant state of spiritual attack and war. Thus, it is important for us to realize how real and alarming the demonic world is. Yet through Jesus’ power and authority which are forever and ever, we expose it, defeat it, and conquer it.