Demons are spiritual forces of wickedness that possess people.

Angels are mentioned nearly 200 times in the New Testament, but they are called “spirits” only once:

Ministering spirits, sent out to render service for the sake of those who will inherit salvation” (Hebr. 1:13-14).

In contrast, the New Testament uses the Greek word pneuma many times for “unclean spirits,” also called “demons,” for example:

Jesus summoned His twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out” (Mt. 10:1; cf. Mark 6:7; Mt. 12:28).

A woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit … kept asking Him to cast the demon out of her daughter. … And He said to her, “Because of this answer go; the demon has gone out of your daughter.” (Mark: 7:25-30).

Demons possess people.

It is not recorded that Jesus ever encountered these “unclean spirits” by themselves.  Rather, the demons interacted with the physical world by possessing people (Mat. 8:16).  In fact, many demons may exist within a single person:

Mary who was called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out” (Luke 8:1-3).

Jesus told the story of an unclean spirit that goes out of a man, but find no place to rest.  It then goes back to the man and “finds it unoccupied, swept, and put in order.”  “Then it goes and takes along with it seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there; and the last state of that man becomes worse than the first.” (Mat 12:43-45; cf. Luke 11:24-26; cf. Luke 11:24-26; Mark 5:2-16).

Demons possess animals.

The following is another example of many demons possessing a man, but in this instance, these demons were also able to possess animals; in particular pigs:

Jesus and His disciples sailed to the country of the Gerasenes.  “When He got out of the boat,” He was met by a man from the city who was possessed with demons; and who had not put on any clothing for a long time, and was not living in a house, but in the tombs.” The man “ran up and bowed down before Him (Jesus); and shouting with a loud voice, he said, “What business do we have with each other, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I implore You by God, do not torment me! For He had been saying to him, Come out of the man, you unclean spirit!’ … He was asking him, ‘What is your name?’”  “And he said, ‘Legion’; for many demons had entered him.

The story goes on to relate how the legion of “demons” went out of the man and into the swine, and how the entire herd of about 2000 pigs drowned in the sea.  But “the man who had been demon-possessed” was “sitting down, clothed and in his right mind.” (Mark 5:2-16)

Cast out

To cure possessed people of these demons, Jesus cast them out, for example:

They brought to Him (Jesus) many who were demon possessed; and He cast out the spirits with a word” (Mat. 8:16; cf. Mark: 7:25-30; Mark 1:21-26).

Jesus also gave authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, to His twelve disciples (Mt. 10:1; cf. Mark 6:7; Mt. 12:28).

Intelligent Beings

Sometimes it seems as if these unclean spirits were really only a natural disease, such as epilepsy or seizures, for example:

One of the crowd answered Him, ‘Teacher, I brought You my son, possessed with a spirit which makes him mute; and whenever it seizes him, it slams him to the ground and he foams at the mouth, and grinds his teeth and stiffens out. I told Your disciples to cast it out, and they could not do it. … Jesus … rebuked the unclean spirit … ‘I command you, come out of him and do not enter him again’. … The boy became so much like a corpse that most of them said, ‘He is dead’! But Jesus took him by the hand and raised him; and he got up. … His disciples began questioning Him privately, ‘Why could we not drive it out?’ and He said to them, ‘This kind cannot come out by anything but prayer.’” (Mark 9:17-29; Luke 9:37-43).

In this case, the spirit did not speak and probably was only a natural illness. However, these spirit beings were able to speak through the people they possess.  For example, Philip performed many signs. “In the case of many who had unclean spirits, they were coming out of them shouting with a loud voice” (Acts 8:7; cf. Acts 19:12).

These demons also knew that Jesus was “the Son of God,” something which ordinary people did not realize:

Whenever the unclean spirits saw Him, they would fall down before Him and shout, ‘You are the Son of God!’” (Mark 3:11)

Some Jewish exorcists “attempted to name over those who had the evil spirits the name of the Lord Jesus, saying, ‘I adjure you by Jesus whom Paul preaches.’” But the evil spirit said to them, “I recognize Jesus, and I know about Paul, but who are you?” And the man, in whom was the evil spirit, leaped on them and subdued all of them and overpowered them, so that they fled out of that house naked and wounded. (Acts 19:13-16)

In Capernaum “there was a man in their synagogue with an unclean spirit.”  When Jesus entered, the man cried out, “What business do we have with each other, Jesus of Nazareth? Have You come to destroy us? I know who You are—the Holy One of God!”  After Jesus “rebuked him, … the unclean spirit cried out with a loud voice and came out of him.” (Mark 1:21-26).

These unclean spirits, therefore, were intelligent beings.  In modern times we find it difficult to believe in the existence of demons possessing people, but if we believe the Bible, we have to.

Controlled by demons

In addition to speaking through the people they possess, these demons are able to control people in other ways.  In one instance they caused the possessed man to attack people (Acts 19:13-16).  These evil spirits also actively infuse people with false teachings:

The Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons” (1 Timothy 4:1).

In one instance a man, possessed by an evil spirit, was in the synagogue (Mark 1:21-26).  This shows that demon-possessed people also attend church and we are not aware of it.  But Jesus’ presence forced the unclean spirits to present themselves.

Spiritual forces of Wickedness

Jesus described the unclean spirits as “the enemy:”

The seventy returned with joy, saying, ‘Lord, even the demons are subject to us in Your name.’” Jesus then said, “Behold, I have given you authority … over all the power of the enemy, and nothing will injure you. Nevertheless do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are recorded in heaven.” (Luke 10:17-20)

This reminds me of Paul’s words:

Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Eph. 6:12).

The prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience” (Eph. 2:1).

The god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ” (2 Cor. 4:4).

These are indications of the war in the spiritual realm. See War in Heaven.

SUMMARY

Angels are mentioned nearly 200 times in the New Testament, but only Hebrews 1:13-14 refers to them as “spirits.”  In contrast, the New Testament uses the Greek word pneuma many times for “unclean spirits,” also called “demons.”

Possess people

It is not recorded that Jesus ever encountered these “unclean spirits” by themselves.  Rather, these demons interacted with the physical world by possessing people (Mat. 8:16).  Many demons may exist within a single person (Luke 8:1-3; Mat 12:43-45; cf. Luke 11:24-26; Mark 5:2-16).  There is one incident where demons also possess animals; more specifically, pigs (Mark 5:2-16).

In addition to speaking through the people they possessed, these demons are also able to control the people they possess in other ways.  In one instance they caused the possessed man to attack people (Acts 19:13-16).  These evil spirits not only passively possess people; they actively infuse them with false teachings (1 Timothy 4:1).

To cure possessed people of these demons, Jesus cast them out (Mark: 7:25-30; Mark 1:21-26).  He also gave authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, to His twelve disciples (Mt. 10:1; cf. Mark 6:7; Mt. 12:28).

Intelligent beings

Sometimes it seems as if these unclean spirits were really only a natural disease, such as epilepsy or seizures (Mark 9:17-29; Luke 9:37-43).  However, these spirit beings were able to speak through the people they possess.  They also knew that Jesus was “the Son of God” (Mark 3:11; Mark 1:21-26; Acts 8:7; Acts 19:12) and they knew about Paul (Acts 19:13-16).  They, therefore, were intelligent beings.  In modern times we may find it difficult to believe in the existence of demons, but if we believe the Bible, we have to.

In one instance a man, possessed by an evil spirit, was in the synagogue.  This shows that demon-possessed people also attend church and that we are unable to recognize such people.  But Jesus’ presence forced the unclean spirits to present themselves.

Spiritual forces of wickedness

Jesus described the unclean spirits as “the enemy” (Luke 10:17-20).  This reminds of Paul’s words:

Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Eph. 6:12; cf. 2:1; 2 Cor. 4:4).

ARTICLES IN THIS SERIES

For general discussions of theology, I recommend Graham Maxwell, who you will find on the excellent Pineknoll website.

Your comment is important.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.