By Clinton D. Hamilton
For centuries men have been interested in the role of Satan and how he works among men. Demons likewise have captured the interest and imagination of men. Claims are made about what Satan and the demons do in the lives of men that often cannot stand the searchlight of truth. Affirmations are being made about them that need to be examined in the light of the teaching of the word of God.
A question has been received from a reader dealing with this issue. In comments introducing the question, the writer said, “. . . brethren in several places are discussing a new the question of how Satan and his unseen servants work whether demons are able to possess people today in some personal sense as occurred during the New Testament days.”
Question: Do Satan and his unseen servants take personal or direct control of people today who yield themselves to a life of sin? Are any of the powers claimed by the occult movement the result of such personal possession, or are all such claims fraudulent signs and wonders? Does Ephesians 6:12 teach that demons and invisible spirits take control of certain people today (Hitler types, fake healers, gurus, mediums, serial murderers, drug addicts, gang lords, etc.)?
Response: Definitions of terms used in this discussion will be of tremendous assistance in understanding what the New Testament has to say. Satan is from the Greek term satanas, which means adversary. He is the adversary of both God and men (Matt. 4:10; Acts 26:18; 2 Thess. 2:9; Rev. 12:9; Rom. 16:20). Devil is another term that needs to be considered. It is translated from diabolos, an accuser, a slanderer. He maligns both God and man (Job 1:6-11; 2:1-5; Rev. 12:9-10). Demon is translated from daimon and it means an evil spirit, a knowing one.
Related to the term daimon are several others. To be possessed or to act under the control of a demon is translated from the verb daimonizomai, which occurs thirteen times in the New Testament (Matt. 4:24; 8:16,28,33; 9:32; 12:22; 15:22; Mk. 1:32; 5:15,16,18; Lk. 8:36; Jn. 10:21). Daimonion is universally translated devil in the King James Version in the 59 times of its use except in Acts 17:18 when it is rendered gods. Vine points out that it is the “neuter of the adjective daimonios, pertaining to a demon” and that it is mistranslated devil. Daimoniodes is an adjective and occurs only once in James 3:15 and is translated devilish. It means to proceed from or to resemble a demon, hence demoniacal. When one reads these 78 passages, he has read all the uses of the terms.
There is but one Satan or Devil. The translation of the term daimon by the term devil in the King James Version of the Bible has led to erroneous teaching. The term occurs five times in the New Testament (Matt. 8:3 1; Mk. 5:12; Lk. 8:29, Rev. 16:14; 18:2). There are many demons but only one Devil. Both terms, Satan and Devil, refer to the same being in the Bible. he is also called “prince of the powers of the air” (Eph. 2:2), “prince of this world” (Jn. 12:31; 14:30; 16:11), “prince of the demons” (Matt. 9:34; 12:24; Mk. 3:22; Lk. 11:15). Prince is translated from the Greek term archon, which means chief ruler. Satan is the chief or the ruler of the beings that seek to control men in this world and are also of “the power of the air.”
Let us listen to God’s word about Satan and why he is in his current condition. Among the heavenly hosts of angels, there were a hierarchy and a domain or extent of rule and function. Some of these angels did not want to keep the positions in which they were placed by God and aspired to rebel, to break rank. Peter tells us that God did not spare these angels when they sinned, but cast them down to hell, tartarus, and committed them to pits of darkness to be reserved (observe this carefully) unto judgment (2 Pet. 2:4). Observe carefully also what Jude says about the same angels. The angels that did not keep their own principalities but left their proper habitation God has kept in everlasting bonds under darkness unto the judgment of the great day (Jude 6). These two passages are full of information and significance for this current study as the following observations and arguments will detail.
Some terms in these passages need to be defined so that we can focus clearly on what is being said. Tartarus is a section of hades that receives wicked spirits when sent there by God. Hades receives all the dead, good or bad, and is equivalent to sheol in the Hebrew (Psa. 16:10; Acts 2:31). Both the rich man and Lazarus were in hades but one was in Abraham’s bosom and the other one, the rich man, was in torment (Lk. 16:23-31). God who made all spirits controls ultimately their destiny, whether the spirits be angelic or human. The spirit world exists and the spirits exist independent of any house in which they may be. When the spirit leaves the human body, it, the body, is dead, but the spirit still exists (Jas. 2:26). When this earthly tabernacle of Christians is dissolved, there is the building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal, in the heavens (2 Cor. 5:1). The spirit leaves one house and later lives in another of a different kind and nature.
Arche is the term from which principality is translated in the New Testament. It means beginning, government or rule. Those who exercise this rule or principality are called principalities. Angels as made by God were assigned by him certain rule or level of authority to exercise. They left this, aspiring to a rank or level to which God had not assigned them in their rule. For this reason he cast them down to tartarus to be reserved in darkness, in chains, unto the day of judgment. Habitation is translated from oiketerion, which means literally an inhabitant of a house. It refers to the heavenly region appointed by God for angels to dwell. It was their domain, the extent of their dwelling. Having a level of authority to exercise, they left it; having a proper domain or extent of rule, they left it. Their prince is Satan or the Devil, that is, he is the chief or the ruler. He and the angels in association with him did not want to remain in the levels that God placed them and left their rule aspiring to what God had not assigned them. Not content to dwell within the levels and in the extent of their domain, they broke rank and left their proper domain. Angels who remained obedient likewise had principality and habitation. Michael, the archangel, was the prince, the chief, or the ruler of these (Jude 9). But he fully recognized his level or rank and the extent of his domain and did not propose in arguing with the Devil to bring against him a railing judgment about the body of Moses but said, “The Lord rebuke thee.” It was not his to enter judgment and thus to leave his proper principality and habitation. Herein lies the difference between the obedient and the fallen angels.
Being thus rebellious, the fallen angels are cast down to hades in tartarus and are reserved in everlasting bonds unto the judgment of the great day. They are in bonds which God placed and controls. They can only do what he permits. Their destiny is set because of their rebellion from which condition there is no repentance.
Satan, the leader of the fallen angels, is the prince of the world in which they operate. Whatever purpose it is that Satan has, that is their purpose for they are associated with him in his rebellion. It is he who is their prince, chief, or ruler. They assist him in his rebellious work against God and his angels and people. Therefore, one must of necessity conclude that in the spiritual world there are two kinds of spirits, good and evil. The good spirits are associated with the Godhead and the evil are associated with Satan. The appeals that each makes as intelligent beings are reacted to by other intelligent beings either to their weal or woe. Satan lives and works in some men as God does in others. Men are creatures with spirits that operate in the spiritual world in which God and Satan are. Forces of good and evil clash in this spiritual world as the spirits are under the control of their respective leaders or rulers.
But what are demons? Some claim that demons are the spirits of departed wicked men. Among prominent teachers of this view is Alexander Campbell. In his Popular Lectures and Addresses (pp. 379-402) is an address entitled “Demonology” made before the Popular Lecture Club, Nashville, Tennessee, March 10, 1841. It is a study worth reading and one that shows great learning, a breadth of reading of both human and Divine writing. He is always forceful in his argumentation. But as on some other issues, he sometimes taught error as I believe he did in this lecture. I reread this address prior to responding to this question. He wrote the preface to the book in 1861. My edition has the date of 1866. Another view is that demons are fallen, rebellious angels. Some even take the view that demons are nothing but metaphors or figures of speech! The Bible presents them as real beings in the spiritual world.
Campbell’s view is that the term must be taken in its usual or accepted usage when it appears in the New Testament unless it is specifically defined otherwise. He deals with the use of the term among the Hebrews and in the Old Testament and among the pagans, especially in the writings of the classical scholars. He concludes, therefore, that demons are the ghosts of departed wicked men. He argues that Materialism seeks to do away with the spiritual world and, therefore, some way has to be sought to obviate the clear indication of the working of spirits in the world. He forcefully argues that there is a world of spirits.
I disagree with him about what demons are but not until after years of careful study of the word of God. It is my conviction that demons are fallen angels in association with the Devil or Satan. Angels are higher than or above men (Heb. 2:7; Psa. 8:5). Therefore they can do what men cannot. As has been pointed out, some angels rebelled against God (2 Pet. 2:4; Jude 6). Satan, one of these angels, is the prince of the demons (Matt. 9:34; 12:24; Mk. 3:22; Lk. 11: 5). Some of the demons who possessed men knew Jesus and, therefore, referred to him as “the Son of God” (Matt. 8:29; Lk. 4:41; Mk. 5:7). Having been in heaven with him, they knew who and what he was. Furthermore, they knew they were reserved to judgment and they knew the time of this judgment which was not then. The inference appears to be inescapable: they are fallen angels about whom Peter and Jude wrote. What Peter and Jude said and what these demons observed are totally and clearly consistent with their being fallen angels. In fact, the inference that they are fallen angels appears to be incontrovertible.
That demons possessed men as indicated in the New Testament record, one cannot deny. Why did this occur and for what purpose? Surely there must be an explanation. In taking possession of men, they caused men to do fierce or dangerous things (Matt. 8:28; Mk. 5:1-5; Lk. 8:29). What was done was beyond the strength of a man not so possessed of a demon. It follows that their being in possession of man was above the human realm in that what was done was with power to do superior to man’s. Jesus used his ability to control demons to show his divine nature, power, and origin. On one occasion, he said, “And if I by the finger of God cast out demons, then is the kingdom of God come upon you” (Lk. 11:20). This having been demonstrated in the ministry of Jesus and the apostles, the need to show the Lord’s superiority was met. As with miracles, demons taking possession of men ceased. They are in chains permitted to do what God only allows. He no longer allows them to possess men because he has demonstrated Jesus to be his Son by his control of demons.
Demons besought Jesus not to command them to go into the abyss, abussos (Lk. 8:31). The term has the meaning of bottomless, the lower region as the abode of demons (Vine). Permitted by God to come out and to possess men, they did not want Jesus to command them to go back. They knew him to be the Son of God and that he had the power to send them back by command. God revealed to John that Satan would be bound and would be cast into the abyss, abussos, for a thousand years, from which he was to be loosed for a little while (Rev. 20:1-3). After the thousand years, Satan was to be released from his prison, phulake (Rev. 20:7). Phulake is from phulasso, to guard. A prison is a place where one is held or bound. This language is entirely consistent with 2 Peter 2:4 and Jude 6. Satan and his demons can only work within the limits permitted by God. They are bound unto the judgment of the great day.
Jesus came from God, having existed with him from the beginning and having been equal with him (Jn. 1:1-2; Phil. 2:6). He, therefore, knew all about the spirit world. But being Deity he could exert power not only on the material, physical world which he made (Jn. 1:3; Col. 1:15-16), but also in the unseen world of the spirit of which he was also the Creator (Col. 1:16). To demonstrate his Deity, he was to show absolute control and authority in both the spirit and material worlds. His authority in both worlds was, therefore, shown. He healed the sick, recovered the sight of the blind, caused the lame to walk, raised the dead, and commanded the demons to obey him and they did (Matt. 4:2324; 9:35; 12:22; 21:14; Lk. 13:10-17; Acts 10:38; Jn. 11:43-44). He thus showed his power over both the material and the spiritual worlds.
Demons possessed men in the period between the testaments and in the New Testament period and evidently for the reason of presenting the occasions for Jesus to show his power over Satan and his angels in the world of the invisible spirits. It mattered not whether the visible physical world or the invisible world of the spirit was involved, Jesus was able to show conclusively his power and authority and to demonstrate that he was in fact the Son of God. The demons testified to the identity of Jesus (Matt. 8:29). The demons believe and shudder with their perceptive knowledge that God is (Jas. 2:19). But having that knowledge and knowing full well that God is the Supreme Being, they, nevertheless, rebelled. Theirs is the spirit that works in the sons of disobedience now (Eph. 2:2).
The Lord and his apostles having demonstrated they were what they claimed to be, the miracles which confirmed their claims ceased (Heb. 2:1-4; 1 Cor. 13:8-10). Demons do not now possess men and, accordingly, men do not exorcise them. But to those that receive not the love of the truth and have pleasure in unrighteousness God sends a strong delusion that they should believe a lie (2 Thess. 2:9-11). All of this is after the working of Satan with all power and signs and lying wonders (2 Thess. 2:9). If the signs, wonders, miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit cannot be distinguished from what Satan and his demons do, then there would be no confirmatory power in them as the witness of God (Heb. 2:3-4). Demons could not open the eyes of the blind (Jn. 10:21). If they could have done this, the people would have known this. It should be noted that Satan produces lying wonders. Lying is translated from pseudos, a falsehood. A wonder is something that amazes or astonishes. But Satan’s wonders are calculated to deceive. They are not what they appear to be. The end of what is done is to lead one to believe a lie, a falsehood. Satan or the Devil is a liar from the beginning, that is, from the the first lie he told, he has been lying ever since (Jn. 8:44; 1 Jn. 3:8). Satan and his deceitful workers seek to transform themselves into what they are not in order to lead people astray (2 Cor. 11: 13-15).
God, Christ, and the Holy Spirit work in men now as the Bible clearly teaches. Associated with God are angels as ministering spirits “sent forth to do service for the sake of them that shall inherit salvation” (Heb. 1:14). God and the angels can work in relation to Christians and brethren appear not to have serious problems with this knowledge. But is it not strange that utter confusion exists about how other spirit beings can work at the level above human beings to cause evil, not good, to be done! Human beings are responsible for their behavior (2 Cor. 5:10; Rom. 14:10; Jn. 5:28-29; Acts 17:30-31). Whether they listen to Satan and his agents or whether they listen to Christ, men are responsible for their behavior. Satan is the source of wickedness in the spiritual world. He has his workers (2 Cor. 11:13-15) and he has his congregations (Rev. 2:9; 3:9). It is the disposition of some to be led by Satan and others to be led by Christ. Therein lies the difference in men.
Satan is as real as is one’s own spirit. His demons are as real as are our spirits. His servants work with him, following his teaching, his influence, and his wishes. The world of the spirit has both good and evil. Both are real and exist as surely as does the material world in which we live daily. We wrestle against principalities, powers, rulers of the darkness of this world, and spiritual wickedness (spiritual hosts of evil) in the heavenlies (the spiritual realm, Eph. 6:12). Satan and those who joined him in his rebellion in heaven still exist and rail and fight against God and his hosts. Those among men who love not the truth but love unrighteousness join with him in his efforts. He and God work in and among men. The standard of righteousness which is the truth, the word of God, is that by which we can determine who is righteous and who is evil or wicked and who is of God and who is of the Devil (1 Jn. 3:4-10).
Guardian of Truth XXXV: 1, pp. 5-7
January 3, 1991