Demons: An Introduction & Historical Overview

Contrary to the thought of many in churches and societies today, demons are not only real but they are actively involved in the world and people around us. The pervading ignorance regarding the fallen angels has been detrimental to the church, and thereby, the world. When the active power of demons comes up, people get fidgety and say that it’s not for them, or proclaim that they are Protestants and it’s only the Romans who need exorcists. While the audacious kind say, “we don’t deal with that kind of thing in America.” Others say that in the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ, Satan was bound and will be until the Day of Judgement. These, however, are not the ideas of the Scriptures, the historical Church, or the Reformers.

In City of God, St. Augustine was heavily devoted to describing the real presence of the Devil and the interaction of he and his demons with humankind. The Devil fell from grace and is the Great Deceiver with a plan to draw men away from the worship of God. Yet not only Satan fell, but a host of angels with him, who also are devoted to deceiving men, turning God’s realities into lies. He does not present just a general involvement of the demons, but a specific one. Augustine is very clear that the Devil, the adversary to Christians, is now working in the world, seeking to deceive whom he may. I Peter 5:8 bespeaks this saying, “Be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. Resist him.” Many other places in Scripture also describe him as the Enemy of God and His people (cf. Ephesians 6:11; James 4:7; I John 3:8).

Satan, however, is only one angel, though he is the most powerful, and so he has employed the other fallen angels in his service since his fall. The demons, though of lesser power than Satan himself, are more powerful than humans are because they are angels. Just as the good angels can protect and guard men, so can the evil angels deceive and harm men. Augustine believed that “their powers of influence were enormous: they could so interfere with the physical basis of the mind as to produce illusions, etc….” Some went so far as to assert that Augustine believed that “the human race is ‘the Devil’s fruit-tree, his own property, from which he may pick his fruit;, it is merely a ‘plaything of demons.’ It is they who are seen as active, and man as merely passive.”

Luther, who is known to have interesting interactions with demons, says that one of the reasons he “should not wish to have free choice given to [him is that he] should be unable to stand firm amid so many assaults of demons, seeing that even one demon is mightier than all men.” He too calls the world “the Kingdom of Satan” and says that Satan “holds captive to his will all who are not snatched from him by the Spirit of Christ.”

Calvin also follows in the footsteps of Augustine saying, “All that Scripture teaches concerning devils aims at arousing us to take precaution against their stratagems and contrivances, and also to make us equip ourselves…and ought to fire us to an unceasing struggle against him.” To our brethren that think the demons have no active power around us and even with us, Calvin says, “lest any persons, entangled in that error, while thinking themselves without an enemy, become more slack and heedless about resisting the Prince of this World (John 12:31).”

Why, if it is the history of the Church to teach Christians about demons, have so many (dare I say most?) left this out? The Romans at least still have trained exorcists that are available and used frequently around the world. And oddly enough, the charismatic and Pentecostal clans have a more historical view of demons. Perhaps I have just been the lucky recipient of a father who has done numerous exorcisms and trained his children what it means to “be on the guard” but I don’t think so. When the Scriptures warn Christians about something, it ought to be paid attention to – particularly when it is about such a character as Satan and his minions.

Those who deny that much of “that stuff” goes on in America I have no answer because they are much like a child that walks through a snake-infested desert oblivious and completely defenseless, save the father that walks by his side sparing him from the venomous teeth. In this illustration though, the child will grow up and learn about the danger of the snakes, which is more than can be said for most who choose to deny the real and active workings of demons.

The last opponent says that Satan was bound at Gethsemane. This comes from Revelation 20:2, John’s futuristic revelation says, “[God] laid hold of that serpent of old, who is the Devil and Satan, and bound for a thousand years.” The key here is that this binding is going to happen in the Day of Judgement. Now, Satan was trampled by the seed of a virgin mother, but the freedom that he had in Job and has in the New Testament appears the same. And one day that same seed of woman will bind him for eternity.

St. Paul said, “Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against…spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.” We as Christians should assume that Paul meant that there really, really was a war going on that we needed to be prepared for. And all this is not to say that we are to fear the roamer of this earth or his angels, for the Holy Spirit which lives within us is infinitely stronger than the demons. I am also not saying that we should be binding and loosing all over the place just for good conscience’ sake, but it should also not be a shock or uncommon happening when someone casts out a demon or talks to one. The historical Church Catholic has had this mindset of demons, and we should follow her wisdom praying for defense “against sin, the flesh, and the devil.”

Ephesians 6:10 “be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might. 11 Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. 12 For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age,[c] against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. 13 Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.
14 Stand therefore, having girded your waist with truth, having put on the breastplate of righteousness, 15 and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; 16 above all, taking the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one. 17 And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God; 18 praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints”


3 thoughts on “Demons: An Introduction & Historical Overview

  1. Thanks for the devotional this morning. This must be a paper you are writing for a class? I can’t say I understood all but there were paragraphs that sparked a memory of experiencing the Bible with other believers that led me to believe through time that it (the Bible) is really real even for the here and now including Satan. This experience makes it impossible for me to return to the belief; if I can’t see it then it is not real.

  2. I know this was posted almost a month ago but I feel the need to respond.

    In 1998 I went to Tanzania, East Africa on a two month mission trip. I saw things there that I have never seen, and may never see, in America.

    In a village we visited the demons would be exorcised from a person only to go into another somewhere else in the village. We saw possessions on almost a daily basis. On one occassion a school teacher was lying on the floor on her back screaming with white foam coming out of her mouth. The pastor we were working with, and several other people, were gathered around her praying. They prayed for hours. As they prayed the woman constantly screamed profanities and growled. She screamed F*** you over and over again in English. We were told after the excorcism that the woman did not speak a word of English.

    After two months of other similar experiences I began questioning why I had not seen these things in my homeland. I truly beleive that we medicate and name every single issue that comes our way thus destroying the knowledge of spiritual beings among the people. If someone cusses excessively and sporadically we call it Turrets Syndrome. If someone has multiple personalities we call it Multiple Personality Syndrome or Dissociative identity disorder. If someone commits suicide we say they were severely depressed and forgot to take their medication that day. We medicate and we medicate and we medicate some more. We leave no room at all for the supernatural. How can a human being possibly fight against a demon when there brain is numb from medication?

    Can people have a physical ailment that causes the above symptoms? Of course they can. But, we must never leave out the supernatural or else many go on suffering their entire lives.

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