When reading the Bible do you ever notice certain word choices that make you say, “Why would they phrase it like that?” I do. All the time. It sends me on Greek/Hebrew word searches for the actual meaning of the word. It forces me to read various translations, and I always end up reading commentaries to find out the “why” behind my questions. The phrase that piqued my interest this month is found in Mark 1:23 and Luke 4:33.
Now there was a man in their synagogue with an unclean spirit (Mark 1:23).
Now in the synagogue, there was a man who had a spirit of an unclean demon (Luke 4:33).
Mark calls the spirit “unclean”, whereas Luke says it is a “spirit of an unclean demon.” So here’s my question – aren’t all demons technically “unclean?” This, of course, led me to more questions – how was this originally written? How do the Jews view demons and Satan in particular? How did Jesus see Satan and demons? Are fallen angels demons? And the list in my head goes on and on. But before I can answer any questions, I have to look at everything in context, not just with the surrounding scripture, but with the rest of the Bible. I also like to take into account the beliefs of the Jews in regards to Satan and demons. So when I have a Bible study, it can sometimes take me weeks before I will put anything on paper to share with you, which is why my posts are becoming so infrequent. I haven’t forgotten about you. I’m just knee deep into my Bible looking for answers. So the questions I’m currently pursuing are the areas of Satan, demons, angels and spiritual warfare – what did Jesus believe about it all? And have Christians inadvertently added to his beliefs? To get those answers, we first have to ask a few more questions.
What Do the Jews Believe About Satan & Demons?
Jewish thought about Satan, who he is and his purpose, is entirely different from that of Christians. Whereas Christian’s believe Satan was an angel who rebelled against God and cast to earth along with his demons (aka fallen angels), Jews believe quite the opposite. They believe Satan is an agent of God and has no free will or independent existence. Therefore he could never rebel. He can only do what he was created to do. He cannot do anything outside of God’s will and intended purpose for him. In other words, in their eyes, Satan was created by God for one reason – to test humanity – an angel whose sole purpose is to tempt, deceive, lie and manipulate man into sinning. They call him the adversary (1 Peter 5:8). He is an angel who cannot go outside the will of God or harm someone physically without first getting God’s permission to do so. They cite Job, chapters one and two as proof of their belief that Satan cannot act outside his created purpose.
Since God created good and evil (Deuteronomy 30:15; Isaiah 45:7) the belief that Satan is vying for God’s throne is totally foreign to Jewish people. He is simply an angel of God with a purpose – to get people to sin.
However, when it comes to Jewish belief on demons, I found those views to be wide and varied. They ranged from the belief that demons were the stuff of folklore, to supernatural, malevolent beings with the power to hurt humans, to the belief that demons don’t exist at all. This last one I found very surprising, considering that they believe Satan does exist as an angel. Hmm…curiouser and curiouser. So I searched the Scriptures and asked myself these questions: Did God create demons? If there are different types of angels, could demons be a “type” of an angel as well, that God created for a particular purpose? What does the Bible say?
What Are Demons or "Unclean Spirits"?
In the Old Testament demons were most often associated with idol worship (Lev. 17:7; Deut. 32:17; 2 Chronicles 11:15; Psalm 106:37). They are sometimes referred to as demons, devils or unclean spirits. An unclean spirit is a better description of what they are because it gives us a clue as to what it is and what it isn’t. In Mosaic Law, something that was “unclean” was considered unfit to use in worship to God. When the Israelites turned to making their own gods and worshipping them, not only did the item itself become unclean, but the spirit used to worship these idols became unclean. In essence, an “unclean spirit” (or demon if you will) is not fit to worship God, and they are made unfit by giving their adoration to an object or person. The object created also becomes unclean or “demon possessed”.
So, where do we get the idea that demons are horned creatures that are malevolent beings? The Torah refers to devils or demons as satyrs, ancient mythical creatures that were half goat and half human. They were similar to those worshipped in Egypt along with bull and calf idols. In fact, goat idols are mentioned along with calf idols in 2 Chronicles 11:15. So, this is how demons and Satan in particular got their horns.
And they shall no more sacrifice their sacrifices unto the satyrs [Christian Bibles changed this word to demons or devils], after whom they go astray. This shall be a statute forever unto them throughout their generations (Leviticus 17:7, Jewish Publication Society).
“… and he appointed him priests for the high places, and for the satyrs, and for the calves which he had made” (2 Chronicles 11:15, JPS).
So when the Torah refers to demons, it is not referring to fallen angels but to man-made idols like goat idols or calf idols. Which is why many Jewish people don’t believe in demons as a spiritual entity.
They sacrificed unto demons, no-gods, gods that they knew not, new gods that came up of late, which your fathers dreaded not (Deuteronomy 32:17, JPS).
So when the Israelites demanded that Aaron create an idol for them to worship (when Moses was up the mountain talking to God), their spirits automatically became unclean or “demon possessed” because they offered themselves to an idol in worship.
Whether we want to acknowledge it or not, we are, as a species, always seeking something greater, better than ourselves. It is the spirit God created in us that drives that desire to find our way back to Him. For those who seek to know God with an earnest and sincere heart, they will find Him. Some, however, will impose their views of what spirituality looks like, and so they lose their way and wander far from God. The more their spirit is exposed to the profane, the more “possessed” the person becomes who is giving in to unholy desires. An unclean spirit, therefore (or demon), resides in anyone who has given themselves in worship to something or someone, who is not God.
There is a reason the Holy Spirit is given to all who accept Jesus as Saviour. Not only are we cleansed by the blood of Christ and forgiven of all our sins, but when God’s Holy Spirit takes up residence in us, we house the Shekinah Glory of the Lord (the Holy Spirit). He leads us and guides us into all truth. Our desire to worship and honour God becomes part of who we are. But, as human beings, we are always fighting against the adversary (Satan). Who will, until the day we die, tempt us to sin. There is a reason God calls us to be holy in all our conduct (1 Peter 1:15-16). There is a reason we are commanded in Scripture not to grieve the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 4:30), and there is a reason the first five verses in the Ten Commandments deal strictly with how holy God is and how we are to revere Him. Our spirits are meant to worship God and God alone and we are to live our lives in such a way that we glorify Him. To give ourselves in worship to anything or anyone else is to invite an unclean spirit to take up residence within us.
When Did Satan Get Cast Out of Heaven?
Christians believe that when Satan rebelled against God, he and a third of the angels who sided with him were cast out of heaven. These angels then became known as fallen angels or demons. Christians base their beliefs on the following verse:
And war broke out in heaven: Michael and his angels fought with the dragon, and the dragon and his angels fought, but they did not prevail, nor was a place found for them in heaven any longer. So the great dragon was cast out, that serpent of old called the Devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world; he was cast to the earth, and his angels were cast out with him (Revelation 12:7-9, NKJV).
So why were they cast out of heaven and when exactly? Well, that involves reading Revelation 12 in context.
And another sign appeared in heaven: behold, a great, fiery red dragon having seven heads and ten horns, and seven diadems on his head. His tail drew a third of the stars of heaven and threw them to the earth. And the dragon stood before the woman who was ready to give birth, to devour her Child as soon as it was born (Revelation 12:3-4).
Revelation is full of symbolism and metaphors. We must remember this when trying to interpret it. We see Satan standing before the woman (Israel) who was about to give birth. He wants to devour her child as soon as it is born. That child was Jesus.
She bore a male Child who was to rule all nations with a rod of iron. And her Child was caught up to God and His throne (Revelation 12:5).
Jesus is caught up to God and His throne. This either refers to Jesus’ resurrection or his final ascension into heaven. Then war breaks out in heaven in verse seven and Satan, and his angels are cast to earth. Notice the progression. Jesus has returned to heaven after completing his mission on earth, and war breaks out there, resulting in Satan and his angels being permanently cast to earth. It would appear from Scripture that up until Jesus’ ascension, Satan was allowed to come before God, along with the other angels, to give his report on what he was doing on earth (Job 1:6-12, 2:1-7). Could it be possible that with Jesus’ defeat over sin and death, there is no longer any purpose for Satan to report to God on what he has been up to on earth? He has been defeated because of Jesus’ death on the cross. But with Jesus’ victory over him, Satan suddenly realizes there is no place for him in heaven any longer. Nor is there a place for those angels who were created to help him (Revelation 12:8), and they will also be cast out of heaven. So there is a war in the heavenly realms as Satan fights for the right to stay there. He loses and is cast to earth with his angels with one purpose in mind – vengeance. He is going to attack and persecute all those who acknowledged Christ as their Saviour. He is going to attack and persecute those who are called God’s Chosen People (the Jews). And he is going to make sure those who haven’t accepted Jesus never do. And we see it in the following verses:
So the great dragon was cast out, that serpent of old called the Devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world; he was cast to the earth, and his angels were cast out with him. Then I heard a loud voice saying in heaven, “Now salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of His Christ have come, for the accuser of our brethren, who accused them before our God day and night, has been cast down. And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, and they did not love their lives to the death. Therefore rejoice, O heavens, and you who dwell in them! Woe to the inhabitants of the earth and the sea! For the devil has come down to you, having great wrath, because he knows that he has a short time” (Revelation 12:9-12, NKJV).
This is why there is victory in Jesus! Satan has already been defeated. But he is still carrying on as he did before – causing temptation, deceiving others, causing destruction everywhere he goes, because he is angry that he lost his place in heaven and because he knows his time is short. The sad part about all this is, of course, that Christians still act like Satan hasn’t been defeated at all. We should be walking in victory, but instead many of us are slumped over in defeat.
Are Demons Fallen Angels?
When you look at any mention of those with evil spirits or who were demon possessed in the New Testament, the words used to describe them when translated mean “an inferior spirit, false god or minister of the devil.” In other words, like Satan, who was created for a purpose (to tempt people to sin), God also created helpers for him, also known as demons. The Torah calls them “unclean spirits”. Christians call them fallen angels (ministers of the devil) who possess anyone who offers themselves to idols in worship or live in defiance of God. If you have accepted Jesus as your Saviour, you no longer have an unclean spirit within you. With your confession of Christ as Saviour and your repentance to turn from sin, God’s Holy Spirit resides within you instead. But, you will still (just like Jesus in the desert) have to deal with the temptation of the adversary to sin.
Are Demons Created by God or the Result of Sin?
The answer would be both. They exist because of humankind’s penchant for sin and its desire to disobey or defy God. Which would mean that those who reject or defy God, worship false gods or dabble in the occult could open themselves up to satanic forces. They could find themselves in the same circumstances as the man in the tombs who was possessed by a legion of demons (Mark 5:1-20).
In Matthew 12:24 one word used for Satan is Beelzebub. In Greek, it is translated to mean “lord of the house, a name of Satan, prince of evil spirits.” This is very telling because God’s angels are often referred to as “princes”. The word “prince” in Hebrew is sar, which has many meanings: “prince, ruler, chief, captain, leader,” and quite a few other forms of leadership. It can be in reference to an earthly leader or an unearthly one, as we see in Daniel 10:13, where the archangel Michael is referred to as the “chief of princes.” In fact, the word sar is also used about the prince of darkness or Satan. So, where Michael is the chief prince of all angels, Satan would be the prince of evil spirits. So when we look at God’s servants, His angels (His princes) we can see a particular structure or organisation of how they serve Him and why they were created. Besides the myriad of angels who are used by God daily to communicate God’s will to men (Luke 2:8-14; Luke 1:26-38; Genesis 19:15; Acts 7:52-53), they also give instructions and act as guides to mankind (Matthew 1:20-21; Acts 8:26; Acts 10:1-8) and strengthen and encourage God’s people (Matthew 4:11; Acts 5:19-20; Acts 27:23-25). But there are other levels of angels as well. For example:
It is because of this organisational structure that I am convinced the Jewish people are right about their views on Satan, in that God created him for a specific purpose. While we may not understand why God would create such a being, I have to accept that if, as the Scriptures state, God created good and evil (Deuteronomy 30:15; Isaiah 45:7) and everything He creates is “good” (Genesis 1:31) then Satan and his helpers were formed for one purpose – to tempt humans to sin, or in simple terms – to test our loyalty to God.
Which means we have a choice – to live for God or to live in defiance of Him. One way leads to life, the other to destruction (John 3:36; Revelation 20:15). Which will you choose?