• Know Your Enemy Pt 1: What Are Demons?

Know Your Enemy Pt 1: What Are Demons?

Welcome to our Halloween-themed blog series on demons!

Actually, that’s a joke. The reason we are posting this series every Monday for three weeks is because the book of Ephesians, which we are studying in the Already and Not Yet sermon series, has many references to Satan, demons, and evil power (1:21[1]; 2:2; 3:10; 6:11-12). The city of Ephesus was a town filled with evil spirits, and Paul wanted the Ephesians to know that they didn’t need to worship other gods or practice magic to have victory over them (see Acts 19:11-41).

This first part is going to center on the question what are demons? In answering this question, I want to stick as close to the Bible as possible—and therein do we come upon our first problem. There is very little in terms of deep description in the Bible. The picture of dark red, ghastly figures with spades for tails who are hunchbacked and poke people with tridents is nowhere to be found in the Bible; the same goes for dark black images with red eyes. Almost everything we might think we know about demons is speculation or based off of experience. This blog series is not about saying your experience (or lack of one) is wrong; it’s about having a biblical foundation to help you interpret any other information or experience you might gain.

What (or Who) Are Demons?

Since the common understanding of demons is that they are fallen angels, we should probably know a bit about angels first. Angels are “spiritual beings that God created [Psalm 148:2, 5] higher than humans [Hebrews 2:7], some of whom have remained obedient to God and carry out his will.”[2] The word translated “angel” from either Hebrew or Greek means “messenger.” So, the angels are God’s messengers, but their roles include much more than relaying messages. The second century church father Athenagoras says that there is, “a multitude of ministering angels [Hebrews 1:14], whom God the maker and framer of the world distributed and appointed to their various posts by his Word.”[3] So these messengers are given different assignments across all creation in order to do God’s will in bringing about his salvation purposes. It appears that some are given to the sphere of individuals (Matthew 18:10), some are given to the sphere of certain churches (Revelation 1:20), and some are possibly given to the sphere of specific nations [Deuteronomy 32:8—this depends on the translation of “sons of God” (ESV) rather than “sons of Israel” (CSB). The early church thought this verse referenced the angels].

The First to Fall

The words “Satan” and “Devil” can both be translated as “adversary” or “accuser.” “He is the opponent, the one who opposes the cause and the people of God.”[4] Jesus seems to agree with the scribes that Satan is the prince of demons (Mark 3:22-27). The Apostle John says that the devil has “angels” (Revelation 12:9). So how did Satan fall? The safe answer is we don’t know, but maybe we do.

Truth or Speculation? Part 1

Ezekiel 28:11-19 was interpreted by the early church to be about Satan, but most modern commentators reject that interpretation because, to them, it’s a prophecy directed to an earthly king. Let’s think, though. Could it be that our modern, Western commentators have been influenced by the anti-spiritual worldview of our day? If you read it, you will see that it describes this King of Tyre as once being magnificently beautiful and wise and holy. He had access to both the Garden of Eden and the mountain of God. He was designated by God as a guardian cherub [perhaps the first guardian cherub of Eden (before the one in Genesis 3:24)?]. But his heart became proud on account of his own magnificence and splendor (1 Timothy 3:6), and he began to use his wisdom for evil purposes. Then, God threw him to the ground from his high position [Genesis 3:14?] to make him a laughingstock to all the kingdoms of the world.

Now, does this sound like it is about an earthly king? Cards on the table, I lean towards the view of the early church that Ezekiel 28:11-19 is about Satan’s fall and eventual destruction. Third century church father Cyprian mentioned that it was the reality that God had made humankind in his own image that led Satan to the sin of pride and jealousy.[5] Is this the real answer? Prayer for enlightenment is the way forward for issues like this.

Now what about demons? When did they fall? The safe answer is, again, we don’t know, but maybe we do.

Truth or Speculation? Part 2

It’s interesting that, once again, we are left with controversially interpreted passages as our only guides on this, which means that we have to be humble in our opinions because we could be wrong. I will once again present an early church view that is not usually accepted by modern, Western commentators. Let’s look at what 2 Peter and Jude say about fallen angels:

God didn’t spare the angels when they sinned but cast them into the lowest level of the underworld and committed them to chains of darkness, keeping them there until the judgment” (2 Peter 2:4 CEB[6]).

I remind you too of the angels who didn’t keep their position of authority but deserted their own home. The Lord has kept them in eternal chains in the underworld until the judgment of the great day. In the same way, Sodom and Gomorrah and neighboring towns practiced immoral sexual relations and pursued other sexual urges. By undergoing the punishment of eternal fire, they serve as a warning” (Jude 6-7 CEB).

Why is the language between 2 Peter and Jude so similar? They are both referring to a non-Scriptural book called the Book of Enoch. There are many questions that surround their use of this book (Should this book be in the Bible?), but we at Mercy Hill believe that God’s inspiration only extends to and guarantees the truth of everything within the books contained in our Bibles. So—and this is important—we can only rest assured that what Peter and Jude say about the angels is true, and the rest of what the Book of Enoch says about these things must be taken with suspicion.

The Book of Enoch takes a particular interpretation of Genesis 6:1-4 that many of the early church fathers (e.g. Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, and Origen) and, seemingly, Peter and Jude took.[7] This interpretation says that angels, “the sons of God,” became attracted to the women of earth and took many as their wives. The angels and women produced children who were giants called the Nephilim. The sexual aspect of this interpretation is taken by Jude as he says in verse 7 that “in the same way” as these imprisoned angels, Sodom and Gomorrah committed sexual immorality. Both the angels and the citizens of Sodom left the design for sex that God had set for each of them and, therefore, were punished by God. When Peter and Jude say that these angels have now been imprisoned in darkness for these crimes, they could be referring to the idea that these angels were shut out of the splendor of heaven by God and have been limited somewhat in their ability, so now they are stuck here on the spiritual plane of earth (Ephesians 6:12) until the final judgment. But it also could mean that just these angels who committed these sins are imprisoned and others fell at other times.

A Strange Book

The Book of Enoch expands on this by saying that as part of the angels’ punishment, the Lord was going to judge their giant offspring by making them war with each other. They would all eventually die out, and their souls became the evil spirits that are active in the world.

There are so many questions. Are there some fallen angels imprisoned and some that are still at work in the world under Satan? Are evil spirits and fallen angels different? When did these demons begin to come under Satan’s authority? Is Satan a demon or just the prince of them? I think, if we are going to be good Bible people, we have to at least consider adopting the Genesis 6:1-4, 2 Peter 2:4, and Jude 6-7 explanations for some fallen angels and their punishment. This may be wildly unbelievable to us, but the words of commentator Gordon Wenham is a good check: “those who believe that the creator could unite himself to human nature in the Virgin’s womb will not find this story intrinsically beyond belief.”[8] But we can’t be firm that this was how all the demons came to be (although, we are given no other clear suggestion in Scripture). Also, the minute details supplied by the Book of Enoch must be held with great suspicion. And in all things, pray.

In conclusion, the origins of both Satan and demons are murky. Perhaps God has given us clues in the Scripture as to how they came about. The one thing that we can be sure of is that they are spiritual beings who oppose the work and plan of God, and we’ll see next Monday how they go about trying to thwart that plan.

-Alex Nolette (Equip Coordinator)


[1] This reference to spirits might not be clear upon first look, but rules, authorities, powers, and dominions were terms all used by Jews in the first century as categories of spirits, and in the particular context of Ephesians, demonic spirits.

[2] Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology: Third Edition

[3] Quoted in Gregg R. Allison, Historical Theology

[4] Erickson, Christian Theology: Third Edition

[5] Mentioned in Allison, Historical Theology

[6] The CEB gets it right here. Most popular translations say that the angels were cast into “hell,” but that’s not the Greek word used.

[7] Some modern commentators who also hold this view: Richard Bauckham, Thomas Schreiner, and Gordon Wenham.

[8] Gordon J. Wenham, Genesis 1-15, Word Biblical Commentary