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In the movie, “The Usual Suspects,” one of the main characters quotes, “The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was to convince the world he did not exist.” This statement is very relevant in our world today. Even within Christianity, many people struggle with the supernatural, and this is called evangelical deism. As Sam Storm explains it,
“The problem of evangelical deism – For many years I readily acknowledged the existence of both holy angels and fallen demonic spirits but relegated their activity to the pages of the Bible. As one who affirms biblical authority, I couldn’t deny the reality of such beings, but as an evangelical deist, they played little if any role in the daily affairs of my life. Angels and demons were fine (in a manner of speaking), but only if they remained tucked safely away inside the two covers of my Bible. That I should ever encounter an angelic being, or a demonic one, was not something I expected and something that I would have quickly explained away lest I be regarded as theologically naive or given to charismatic sensationalism.”
However, Scripture teaches something different. Scripture teaches that there is a real spiritual world that exists. This unseen realm is where God exists and where His created spiritual beings exist.
Christians believe in a real, unseen, spiritual world. Scripture teaches that God created all things, including physical and spiritual beings. Although Scripture is about God’s creation of and work with humanity, it also teaches us about the spiritual realm. The creatures in that realm are often compared to stars or heavenly hosts and are generally called angels and demons (Genesis 1:16, 15:5, Deuteronomy 4:19, Judges 5:20, Daniel 8:10, Isaiah 24:21-22). All creatures that God created were created good, but some fell, so the spiritual world has both holy beings and fallen/evil spiritual beings. The holy ones continue to work with God and help humanity while the fallen ones are set on evil, death, and destruction.
At times, Scripture gives us a glimpse behind the curtain and shows how God is working with spiritual beings. This is sometimes referred to as "God’s Divine Council" or "Assembly of the Holy Ones" (Psalm 82:1 and 89:5-7). In 1 Kings 22:19-23, God allows this council to decide about Ahab and in Job 1 it is in this council where Satan accuses Job before God. In Daniel 7:9-10, we read about thousands and thousands of spiritual beings serving God at His court that sits in judgment. Some are even seen as being appointed over geographic areas of the world (Deuteronomy 32:8-9, Psalm 8, Daniel 10, 12).
Within the spiritual, unseen realm are good creatures that Scripture refers to as angels. Opposed to much of modern stereotypes, angels are not all winged creatures that sit on clouds or play harps. The Bible portrays different types of angels that have different roles and responsibilities. They are, however, awesome creatures that can produce fear in humans (Luke 2:10). All angels are created beings (Psalm 148:2, 5). The main role of angels seen in Scripture is that of messengers ("malak" in Hebrew and "angelos" in Greek) sent to help humanity in different ways. They are personal beings who interact with humans (2 Samuel 14-20, Revelation 22:9) and are either characterized as holy or lying and sinning (Matthew 25:41, John 8:44, 1 John 3:8-10). They can even appear as humans and be “entertained” by humans without notice (Hebrews 13:2). Scripture also pictures angels with different types of categories or possible level of authorities (Colossians 1:16, Romans 8:38, 1 Corinthians 15:24, Ephesians 6:12, Colossians 2:15). Some categories include Cherubim (Genesis 3, Exodus 25:18) and Seraphim (Isaiah 6:2-7). All have distinguished characteristics, features, and roles. There are only two named angels in Scripture; the Archangel Michael (Daniel 10, 12:1; Jude 1:9) and Gabriel (Daniel 8 and Luke 1).
There are also angels that did not keep their roles but chose to “fall” and rebel. These are often also referred to as demons. In the Old Testament, the “Sons of God” is a title for spiritual beings and in Genesis 6 those that fell wreaked havoc on humanity. Idols were seen as visible images of invisible demonic spirits (Deuteronomy 32:17; Psalm 106:3-7, 96:4-5). Demons are not named in the New Testament, aside from a single reference to Satan as "Belial" (2 Corinthians 6:15), and perhaps "Legion" in Mark 5. The terms most commonly used are demons (63 times), spirits/evil spirits (21 times), and Angels (Matthew 25:41; 1 Peter 3:22; Revelation 12:7). Some demons are even already in chains waiting for final judgment (Jude 1:6, 1 Peter 3:18-20).
“The satan” is a title, not a name, meaning “the accuser.” Just as all the angels were created, Satan was also created (Colossians 1:16; John 1:1-3). Although he is pictured as leading the fallen angels, he is in no way equal to God or an opposite power. He is however, very powerful over this world (1 John 5:19, 2 Corinthians 4:4). He is highlighted in the New Testament as the one who is like a lion (1 Peter 5:8), who shoots flaming darts at us (Ephesians 6:16), and who we should not give an opportunity to based on our human weaknesses (Ephesians 4:26; 1 Corinthians 7:5). In The Lord’s Prayer we are told to pray to be delivered from him (Matthew 6:13). The word “lucifer” is also not a real name. It is the Latin (Vulgate) translation of the Hebrew word “helel” which means morning star or shining one in Isaiah 14:12.
Virtually everything true of angels is true of demons, the only difference is that the demons are evil, serving Satan, and the angels are good, serving God. Demons appear to us in various forms, both spiritual and physical (Matthew 4; Revelation 9:7-10,17; 16:13-16). Demons can speak to and communicate with humans (Luke 4:33-35,41; 8:28-30), they are intelligent (Luke 4:34; 8:28; Acts 19:13-17), and they formulate and propagate their own false doctrine (1 Timothy 4:1-3, 1 John 4). There are also differences or degrees in their strength (Mark 9:29) and sinfulness (Matthew 12:45).
Demons “demonize” people (Matthew 9:32,12:22), which can be translated as possessed or oppressed. They can visit us without our knowing it (Hebrews 13:1-2), can infuse their victims with super-human strength (Acts 19:16; Mark 5:3), and can move swiftly through space (Daniel 9:21-23; 10:10-14). Demons can also physically assault people (Luke 9:39, Matthew 17:15, Matthew 9:32-34). Demons also engage in cosmic level warfare with the holy angels (Revelation 12:1-12, Hebrews 2:14, 1 John 3:8, Daniel 10, 2 Corinthians 4:4, Acts 26:18, Colossians 1:12-13, Ephesians 2:2, Matthew 13:1-23).
1 Samuel 28:7-21 is the only passage where an actual disembodied soul comes and speaks to a living person. Everything in the passage about the act, the means, and the event is pictured as unnatural and evil. God allowed this one event for a specific reason, and it does show that humans have a spiritual existence after death as we await resurrection. However, since this is the only occurrence in Scripture it is not normative, and any seemingly appearance of a ghost or of someone who has past away is probably the work of a demon or a figment of the imagination.
When it comes to studying and having a solid theological framework for angels and demons it is critical to have a healthy balance. In his book “The Screwtape Letters” C.S. Lewis states it like this, "There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. They themselves [i.e., the demons] are equally pleased by both errors, and hail a materialist or a magician with the same delight.”
On a final note, it is important to rest in the fact that in Jesus we have victory over any and all evil spiritual forces. It is because of the incarnation, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus that this defeat of the Devil and demons has occurred (Exorcisms in the Gospels: Luke 10:18, Hebrews 1:5-2:9). Christians carry on this victory over Satan and demons as we are in Christ and stand His achievements of the cross and proclaim the authority of Jesus' name (Luke 10:17, 1 Corinthians 6:3).Key Ideas:
God is the Creator of all that exists, both physical and Spiritual.
There is a real, spiritual realm that exists.
God created spiritual beings with free will, some of them chose to fall.
Holy Spiritual beings are angels and there they have a variety of types and roles.
Evil or fallen spiritual beings are the same as angels but are bent on human destruction and leading people astray.
Evil spiritual beings are led by “the satan” or the devil.
Humans can interact with angels, often without knowing it.
Angels are awe inspiring, but not to be worshipped or mistaken for the Creator.
Demons “demonize” people and inflict different levels or oppression and harm.
The power of God that comes through the work of Christ and by the Spirit in us is stronger than any demonic force.
Resources:Sam Storms Clinton ArnoldDr. Michael Heiser The Bible Project
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