There’s a lot of curiosity surrounding angels and demons today. But how much of what we know about angels and demons is from Hollywood and how much of it is from the Bible?
Perhaps this lack of understanding is why so many young people today are interested in supernatural or even occult practices. After all, it’s common for young teens to play with Ouija boards during parties or cast spells they find in books “just for fun.”
In 2006, the Barna Group published the results of nationwide studies involving more than 4,000 teens. The study found that 73% of the youth surveyed had “engaged in at least one type of psychic or witchcraft-related activity, beyond mere media exposure or horoscope usage.”
Unfortunately, this spiritual curiosity can lead people down a very dark path. And at the very least, it leaves people with only more questions and confusion about spiritual beings instead of clarity.
So what’s the truth about angels and demons? Do ghosts roam the earth? Is Satan a real being or just a literary figure? Let’s see what the Bible says.
First of all, angels and demons are spiritual beings. Hebrews 1:14 describes angels as ministering spirits that God sends to serve believers in Jesus. And Psalm 103:20-21 says angels are mighty in strength and do the will of God.
But what does that mean? Scripture shows angels performing various tasks according to God’s will. Some angels send messages from God to people on earth. Think of the angel Gabriel, who appeared to Mary to tell her she would give birth to the Messiah. Other angels shut the mouth of lions for Daniel in Daniel 6:22 or did battle against an enemy army as in Exodus 33:2 or Isaiah 37:36.
Angels also appear to people in the Bible to commission them or warn them. An angel visited Gideon in Judges 6 to commission him as Israel’s next redeemer from the Midianites. And in Matthew 3, an angel appeared to Joseph in a dream to warn him about King Herod’s murderous plot against the baby Jesus.
You might ask, “If angels are servants of God, what do they do and what do they look like?” Angels are spiritual creatures, so we don’t know for sure what their true essence looks like, but the Bible does give us some clues.
Sometimes angels appear to people in the Bible in human-looking form. And in Hebrews 1:7, it says God makes angels “winds” and “a flame of fire.” Some Scriptures describe angels as having multiple wings such as 1 Kings 6:27 discussing types of angels called cherubim.
The main difference between angels and demons is that demons do not do the will of God. Instead, they seek to harm people and undermine God’s perfect will, and in some cases in Scripture, we see them inhabiting humans to oppress them.
Are demons fallen angels? Revelation 12:7-9 would seem to support that notion. In that passage, we see Satan and his followers in a battle with God’s angelic hosts. Satan and his demons lost the battle and were cast to earth (see also Luke 10:18).
While Genesis makes it clear that humans are made in the image of God, it doesn’t say the same about angels and demons. In fact, it doesn’t say one way or another.
What we do know is that what sets humans apart from the animals and plants is that we have eternal souls, or spirits that are modeled after God. Because of this, humans have certain aspects of God’s characteristics since God is spirit (John 4:24). But this does not mean that we have all of them since we have but a taste of God’s attributes. This image was first placed into Adam when God breathed life into him.
“And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath (spirit) of life; and man became a living being” (Genesis 2:7).
The Hebrew word for breath here is nashamah and is often translated as “breath” or “spirit.” Often Christians describe the image of God as superior intellectual ability, such as reason and abstract thought, worship of God, language and communication with God, ability to make decisions, creative expression, immortality, emotions such as love, sadness, anger, and so on.
These attributes show how separate man is from beasts and other physical entities; however, angels and demons have many of these same attributes.
For instance, when the serpent—who was influenced by Satan—tempted Eve in the Garden of Eden, he used deception to influence her. Genesis 3:1 even describes the serpent as “cunning” or “clever.” And in Job 1:9-11, Satan uses logic, albeit faulty logic, to argue that Job would turn on God if his health and possessions were taken away from him.
We see the ability to express affection as angels surround God’s throne to worship Him in Revelation 7 and feel joy in Luke 15:10. Though not angels, the four living creatures surrounding God in Heaven show creative ability as they “sing a new song” to the Lord (Revelation 5:8-10).
Because of media and cartoons, many picture Satan as a beastly man dressed in red with horns, a tail and a pitchfork—and a black goatee to top it off. But Satan, like his fellow demons, is a spiritual being. Satan is first mentioned by name in the book of Job, where we see him arguing with God about Job’s commitment to the Lord. We also see him bringing harm to Job’s possessions, family and health.
In the New Testament, other names reveal more about Satan’s current nature. Devil (diabolos) means “false accuser, Satan, slanderer” in Greek and is the word from which the English word diabolical is formed. Satan is called a dragon in Revelation 12:9 and 20:2, as well as the “evil one” in several places. Revelation 12:9 calls him “that ancient serpent” or “serpent of old,” and Matthew 4:3 calls him the “tempter.”
Other names for Satan include Abaddon (destruction), Apollyon (destroyer, Revelation 9:11), Beelzebub or Beelzebul (Matthew 12:27) and Belial (2 Corinthians 6:15). Satan is also referred to as the god of this world/age (2 Corinthians 4:4), prince of this world (John 12:31), and father of lies (John 8:44).
The Bible also seems to indicate that he was at one point an angel who submitted to God’s will.
Many biblical scholars believe passages like Isaiah 14 and Ezekiel 28 refer to Satan and his downfall. Ezekiel describes him as a “cherub,” and Isaiah calls him a “morning star” and “son of the dawn.” Both passages describe the beautiful creature rebelling against God and awaiting his final judgment.
It’s important to point out that, contrary to media portrayals, Satan is not the “ruler of hell.” God created hell as a place of eternal judgment for Satan, his demons, and all those who reject Jesus Christ.
Similarly, Satan’s power is in no way comparable to God’s. The Bible shows God as infinitely stronger than the devil and foretells His final judgment on Satan at Jesus’ Second Coming.
Some might be skeptical about angels and demons still being active today. At the very least, there’s nowhere in Scripture that seems to indicate that they ceased to exist or operate.
In the Bible, we see Jesus and His disciples cast demons out of people suffering from demonic oppression. And in Acts 16, the apostle Paul casts a demon out of a young servant girl who could seemingly predict the future. Are these same things happening today?
In Western cultures, it’s rare to hear about things like demonic oppression or possession.
But it’s not as rare to see in other countries. Nowadays, missionaries working in Hindu and Buddhist cultures, as well as other societies where voodoo and witchcraft are widespread, do often see things that may reflect the demonic activity described in the Bible.
Does the fact that we don’t hear similar stories in the West mean that demons and angels simply don’t operate here? Dr. Terry Mortenson, researcher for Answers in Genesis, says no.
“Demonic activity is not limited to obvious visitations and dramatic displays of possession,” he writes. “Paul warned Christians about doctrines of demons infiltrating the church (1 Timothy 4:1), and he said that Satan could disguise himself as an angel of light (2 Corinthians 11:11-14).”
Dr. Mortenson points to Joseph Smith’s encounter with a so-called angel as an example of this. Not long ago in American history, Smith claimed to have received the doctrines of Mormonism from an “angel of light.” If that claim is true, the angel must have been a demon, because he taught Smith a false gospel.
Thankfully, though, there is no reason for God’s people to fear demons. The Bible tells us that Jesus defeated “the god of this world” and manifested to destroy the works of the devil (1 John 3:8).
When talking about supernatural beings like angels and demons, the question often comes up about ghosts (not to be confused with Holy Ghost, another name for the Holy Spirit often rendered in translations). Many people have claimed to see ghosts. Some say they saw the spirit of a loved one who passed away. Others describe their ghost sightings as frightening apparitions.
It’s a murky topic, but the Bible makes it clear that ghosts, as portrayed in the popular media, do not exist. There is no passage in Scripture where a spirit of a dead person lingers on earth. People die once, then face judgment per Hebrews 9:27.
Although by the power of God, there were a few instances in which a person's spirit reappeared on earth after death. In 1 Samuel 28:7-21, King Saul disguises himself to see a witch in Endor. The witch performs a séance, during which the spirit of the deceased prophet Samuel seems to appear, causing the witch to cry out in fright.
Some scholars say God might have sent Samuel for this one instance to warn King Saul. Others say it could have been a demon impersonating the spirit of Samuel. Either way, God condemns what King Saul did in trying to summon the dead.
Moses and Elijah both reappeared talking to Christ at the transfiguration in Luke 9:30-31 (See also Matthew 17:1-4).
There’s simply no evidence available that the spirits of deceased people can loiter on earth. From what we read in the Bible, the only conclusion is that ghost sightings are likely the figments of overactive imaginations or misunderstood phenomena.
One ancient instance of this was when Jesus was walking on water (Matthew 14:26 and Mark 6:49) and the disciples thought they saw a ghost (phantasma in Greek). This is where we get the modern word phantom, which means ghost. The disciple’s imagination allowed them to mistake Jesus walking on water as a ghost or apparition. Again later, those same disciples mistook Jesus after He resurrected as a spirit when in fact, Jesus had bodily rose from the grave per Luke 24:37-40.
The sad reality is that many Christians are unaware of the spiritual war raging against them. And as a result, many believers don’t know how to counteract the attacks of the enemy on their lives and families.
The apostle Paul describes the spiritual battle we as Christians face every day in Ephesians 6.
“For 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).
Are angels and demons involved in this war? We know for sure that angels and demons do wage war against each other—as we see in Daniel 10. In that passage, an angel appears to Daniel and tells him that he was delayed in giving Daniel a message from God because of the demonic assault against him.
It’s clear in Scripture that demons wage attacks to try to disrupt the will of God. And since the Garden of Eden, two of Satan’s most strategic assaults have been focused on destroying the sanctity of the marriage covenant and the unity of our homes. God’s Word shows that the devil is intent on ripping our families apart. Satan will use any tactic he can to disrupt the harmony in our homes.
Thankfully, the apostle Paul doesn’t just tell us that a spiritual war involving angels and demons exists—he also tells us how we can successfully combat the devil’s attacks. James 4:7 indicates that if we resist the devil he will flee.
“Put on the full armor of God, so that you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil. … Stand firm therefore, having girded your loins with truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; in addition to all, taking up the shield of faith with which you will be able to extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (Ephesians 6:11, 14-17).
The weapons we use to fight Satan’s attacks on our marriages and families are spiritual in nature. We wage spiritual warfare through prayer, faith, obedience to God’s Word, and speaking the truth in love.
It’s crucial that God’s people equip themselves with the truth about angels and demons and the battle they wage today.
Learn more about the spiritual war against Christianity in America in Godless in America on Answers.tv.
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