A Remarkably Contemporary Question - Do Demons Exist?
The devil and demons are often props used by comedians and even philosophers to taunt Christians for their confession. Nothing could please this “Father of Lies” more than to belittle the followers of Jesus unless it is that humans boast that the supernatural is mythology. Beelzebub (“Lord of the flies”) is a menacing but perilous spiritual reality deserving its own attention. However, this article will seek to confine its scope to just “Beelzebub’s filthy flies”—demons. The singular matter before us is, “Are Demons Real?” We will not use literary device to “hold-out” on the response, as if to build the drama in answer to the question. The threat demands an immediate answer: Yes, demons are most dangerously real!
We tend to disregard what we cannot understand. We are inclined to deny what we cannot see. The counsel of the Almighty to old Job is good for us:
“Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? When the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy?” (Job 38:4, 7).
Mystery does not equal non-existent. So it is with the question of the devil and demons. C.S. Lewis guides us in the larger context of our study. For he wrote so succinctly and wisely,
“There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The evidence to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them.”1
M. Scott Peck, M.D., the celebrated psychiatrist and author, reminded us of the challenge we face in dealing with this subject:
“Satan is spirit, and spirit is mysterious. Some things can be said about it: most cannot . . . My only alternative would have been to write nothing at all. But that, I believe, would have been the greater sin. These things need to be talked of.”2
Believers Need Not Fear Demons
The believer must not fear the power of evil that feeds these hideous creatures. But she must respect it. Those without Jesus Christ are in a different category regarding the devil and his fallen angels. And I do not hesitate to urge you to fly to Jesus swiftly. For before you, even now, innumerable supernatural beings exist, intent on tempting you and leading you to their master’s ever-present obsession: death and destruction of human beings and scorn for the Lord Jesus Christ. However, any serious biblical consideration of demons must, in some sense, be an inquiry of the figure of Satan, i.e., the devil, Diablos, the Evil One.
John Milton (1608-1674), the great English poet brought these creatures to our attention in Paradise Lost. Milton wrote, “Millions of spiritual creatures walk the earth unseen, both when we sleep and when we awake.”3
The matter of demons is a remarkably contemporary question because the post-Christian, Postmodern, Enlightenment-infused, materialistic, and cynical Western culture has evident difficulty in coming to terms with evil. Traumatic incidents such as school shootings, brutal attacks on Christians while at worship, and the inexplicable, unimaginable, and sadistic torture of human beings by barbaric groups like ISIS, test our journalists’ capacity to report the nature of such brutality. The answer is quite simple if not mysterious, and plain if not perplexing: Yes, evil is a real and present danger. Even more, there are supernatural powers, authorities, and disembodied creatures that are quite active, though unseen, in the realm of humankind. Their history is revealed. Their powers are limited. Their activities are often predictable. Their allegiance is known. Their abilities have been unmasked. And their future is decidedly grim. Demons are, indeed, most real and most active.
Evidence for the Existence of Demons
Disputes over whether there are demons often focus on epistemological questions: “How can we know?” Some say we cannot prove that demons exist because we cannot see them. As we will learn in this article, even this has been refuted by scholarly and trusted sources. However, for the purpose of argument let us concede this premise as hypothesis. But can we? It is a logical fallacy to (seek to) prove a universal negative. For instance, we cannot posit, merely because demons are unseen, that they do not exist. Such an attempt is an example of “begging the question” in logic, that is, moving to a conclusion without evidence. However, there is compelling evidence for many things that are invisible and yet real. For instance, we cannot see love. But go to the maternity ward of your local hospital. There, you see a young woman cradling an infant in her arms. As the mom looks into the little eyes of her baby what do you see? How about an entire world that is unseen? Scientists believe there are organisms beyond Nano-scale. Submicroscopic entities challenge the vocabulary of science—from “nano” to “pico,” from “femto” to “atto,” and, now “zepto.”4 There is so much more that we affirm yet cannot see. Yet, each of these mysteries exists.
The evidence for the existence of demons begins with the revelation of God in Jesus Christ. The word of God which has been “inscripturated” (a word used by Dr. Robert L. Reymond in his A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith) by the Holy Spirit is the Holy Bible. We as believers must never assume that everyone believes the Bible is true. Many do not believe. But if the Lord Jesus is who He said He was (He is), and if He is risen from the dead (He did), according to the testimony of the apostles, whose lives were changed dramatically ending in martyrdom for their faith (save the apostle John who died a natural death, though persecuted greatly), and if over 500 saw Him alive after He was crucified and buried, as it is historically recorded (they did), then the Bible is true. For Jesus said it was so. Jesus not only mentions Satan 25 times in Scripture, but Jesus is the great Exorcist of the foul demon spirits that do Satan’s bidding. From the story of the Gadarene, the “man of the tombs,” freed from the multitude of demons called “Legion,” to a little boy possessed, Jesus’ epiphany upset the spiritual world of darkness. “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you” (Isaiah 60:1). Thus, Mark wrote,
“And he healed many who were ill with various diseases and cast out many demons; and he was not permitting the demons to speak, because they knew who he was” (Mark 1:34).
From the evidence of divine revelation, we must add recorded human experience. Experience by itself is an unreliable witness. And when experience counters Scripture we must be on guard lest we fall for yet another scheme of the devil. But when Scripturally-validated experience—case studies, reports by scholarly sources, and reputable sources—is coupled with the testimony of the Holy Bible we have a most reliable case study from which to gather facts about demons.
So, What is a Demon?
A demon is a fallen angel, that is, a spiritual entity created by God, that is part of an army of fallen angels under the rebellious leadership of a single dictatorial figure that the Bible calls Satan. The brother of our Lord, Jude, wrote,
“And the angels who did not keep their positions of authority but abandoned their proper dwelling—these he has kept in darkness, bound with everlasting chains for judgment on the great Day” (Jude verse 6).
Satan is not omnipotent, not omniscient, and does not possess any of the divine attributes of God. Satan was created in perfection (Ezekiel 28:12-13). Indeed, this one called Diablos rebelled out of its self-delight in its beauty and power (Exodus 28).5 This once-God-worshipping being not only rebelled against God but was cast from heaven to await final destruction. The devil is, as Luther taught, like a mad dog on a leash. God allows him so much rope (though God by His nature is altogether good, altogether pure, altogether holy, and can never be either the author of sin or the culpable agent for evil). This “serpent,” (Gen. 3), this masquerading “angel of light” (2 Cor. 11:14), this “dragon” (Rev. 12), a metamorphosing and foul spirit of Hell, is awaiting destruction. The creature, an adversary of Jesus and His People, is active and goes about like a roaring lion to devour whom He may (1 Peter 5:8). Satan is the iniquitous tempter of the saints and the perpetual enemy of believers. Indeed, the devil loves death, speaks nothing but lies, and spreads discord (John 8:44).
Satan sought to kill God by filling the hearts of spiritually susceptible men with the very poison that caused his assignment to Hell and destruction: self-centered pride. This gruesome being was the dark energy behind the uncommon alliance of both Gentile Romans and Jewish rabbinical leadership. The Devil and his demons witnessed the crucifixion. Satan thought that he had stage-managed the crucifixion of the Second Person of the Triune God. And this is where the malevolent creature received its first and greatest defeat.
Peter talks of how good angels cannot understand the glory of grace.6 How much more must Satan have been fooled by the paradoxical power of the Cross of Christ? In the moment when this angel-turned-beast-of-Hell considers his artful deception to have succeeded, the cross becomes a Crown and the grave becomes a Sanctuary. That which was intended to destroy God’s plans, destroy humanity, becomes the very thing that fulfills God’s plans and secures the salvation of fallen Man. Satan is a created being that disfigured his being by pure evil. This monstrous being leads a morbid confederation of equally grim disembodies spirits, fallen angels, called demons. These defiled spirits name Satan their prince because demons are discarnate, occultic minions of Satan (Luke 11:15). These lost spirits smell of the smoke of Hades.
What Can Demons Do to People?
St. Paul warns the People of God:
“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” (Ephesians 6:12).
Demons demand respect for their cunning and fiendish abilities to influence, to direct, and to infect the human soul. However, we who name Jesus as Lord need never fear them. Jude says that there were some who were actually conversing with demons as if they had a power of their own to deal with these devils. Jude wrote,
“Yet Michael the archangel, when contending with the devil he disputed about the body of Moses, durst not bring against him a railing accusation, but said, The Lord rebuke thee.
But these speak evil of those things which they know not . . .” (
So, while these defiled creatures are our adversaries, they possess metaphysical powers that are beyond our ability to control. We must always seek Christ and His name and authority. To the contrary of some fellow believers, I must warn our readers, “Don’t speak to demons.” Instead, appeal to Jesus the Savior. Pray to Him: "May You, O loving Christ, command these wicked spirits to depart!” Speak the Word of God to yourself in prayer: “And Jesus came and said to them, 'All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me'” (Matthew 28:18).
Demons are limited by both their evil allegiance to Lucifer and to the name of Jesus. However, we learn in the Book of Daniel that entire nations can be steered to evil-doing because of demons. Humans may suffer spiritual pathologies because of these spirits. In Western nations, where Enlightenment philosophies have shaped so much of everyday life, we rarely see supernatural acts of demonism that are routinely reported in third-world countries. Why? The Devil and his demons are not omniscient. He economizes. He doesn’t need to “waste his time” on possessing people who are hell-bent on self-destruction through unbelief when he can destroy the lives of those who are “pre-Christian” and who would come to Jesus if invited.
As a Pastor, I Have Witnessed the Presence of the Demonic.
I have seen the hideous darkness that has plagued a young person; I watched as she was bent on suicide. Remembering my own training to differentiate between the physical and the spiritual, I recognized that the pathologies of the soul had migrated into the young person’s mind and body. I quickly sought medical attention for her, but I did not farm out the necessary work of prayer. Not once did I have to command a demon (I would not). But I prayed openly. I praised Jesus for His authority over all evil and all things hurtful to His creatures. I recited the Scriptures that name Jesus as King of Kings and Lord of Lords. The twenty-third Psalm was my weapon. And I saw healing take place. I saw the life of adolescent girl saved from the grips of Satan and renewed to her right mind and a loving relationship with her parents.
What happened in this case? I do not have all of the answers. But I do know that each of us can leave holes, openings, if you will, through which the diabolical entities may enter. This is why Paul taught us,
“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you” (
Did you read the blessing that comes from the command? “The God of peace will be with you.” Good things, things of God, things that are honorable and just, pure, lovely, things that bring praise to God, these are divine remedies to close the open spiritual wounds through which the demonic may enter.
What is the Difference between Demon Possession and Demonic Oppression?
Saint Paul had desired to visit the church at Thessalonica; however, he was hindered, oppressed, attacked. We read that Paul’s plans were disrupted by the Devil. Paul wrote, “because we wanted to come to you—I, Paul, again and again—but Satan hindered us” (1 Thessalonians 2:18). Satan may hinder you as a believer, but Satan cannot possess you. If you are in Christ, you are a sanctuary of the living God. The Apostle John says that you have a “sealing.” No . . . demons cannot possess you. Like the most hideous form of parasite or virus, these disembodied malevolent spirits must have a “host.” Everything from pigs to humans may become the host for the vulgar spirits. Demons may enter and possess (make their vipers’ nest). But they cannot enter a child of God. And if they enter a human being their home may be quite temporary. For they must flee at the name of the Lord Jesus: not as an incantation, but through faith in Him and His righteousness and His sacrifice for sin and His present rule and reign.
What Christians Must Know about Spiritual Forces
I think that I shall never forget the first time that I went out with another fellow to share Jesus Christ openly. We were in New Orleans; it was Mardi Gras time. My friend and I had been going through Evangelism Explosion, a course that teaches you about evangelism and encourages you to go out and do it. During our training, prior to our time of witnessing, the late Dr. D. James Kennedy warned us that if we had never encountered the demonic to “get ready.” Why? He said, “Because the Devil and his fallen angels don’t bother Christians who are sedentary, that is, who fail to proclaim Jesus as Lord. But the minute you testify to the King of Kings you will encounter spiritual darkness.” It could have happened in Kansas City or Los Angeles or Paducah, Kentucky. But we were in the very eye of the hurricane of evil. The god Bacchus was being worshipped with every form of debauchery and drunkenness that night in New Orleans. My friend, Charles, said, “If we are going to do this let’s do it right. Let’s go to the French Quarter.”
We were spat upon. Otherwise normal suburban moms and dads began to curse at us as we merely walked down Bourbon Street with our Bibles in hand. We weren’t Mormons. We weren’t Jehovah Witnesses. We were garden-variety Protestant Christians. Charles told me: “Look at that poor girl being taken advantage of by those men. Let’s help her.” We drove off the men as if they were a pack of jackals. The young lady, in her early twenties, thanked us. Our aid had earned us the right to speak to her about the Lord. On that night, amid the loud music, ungodly visages, and even angry provocations against us, this girl received Jesus Christ. I gave her my Bible. We told her to leave: “Submit therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you.” She did. And we did.
That was the inauguration of a life of Satanic and demonic attack against my own person. For that was the time when I had committed my life to the God of grace—His life lived for me, His death an atonement for my sin—and I determined by God’s strength that I would share the life of Jesus for the rest of my days.
The Devil is Real. Demons are Real. But They are Not Equal with God.
And they cannot harm a child of God though they may seek to thwart the plan of God in you. We would do well to recall that one of the Church’s greatest theologians, Dr. Martin Luther, not only taught the truth about demons but taught the might of Jesus Christ our Lord. His most famous teaching is inscribed in his paraphrase of Psalm 46: A Mighty Fortress is our God (“Ein feste Burg is unser Gott”). I could do no better in concluding our study that commending Luther’s third verse to you. May it be your prayer and mine.
“And though this world, with devils filled,
Should threaten to undo us,
We will not fear, for God hath willed
His truth to triumph through us:
The Prince of Darkness grim,
We tremble not for him;
His rage we can endure,
For lo, his doom is sure,
One little word shall fell him.”7
1. C. S. Lewis, “Preface.” The Screwtape Letters (New York: Macmillan, 1961).
2. M. S. Peck, Glimpses of the Devil: A Psychiatrist’s Personal Accounts of Possession, Exorcism, and Redemption (Free Press, 2005), xiii.
3. John Milton, Book IV, lines 677-678, The Paradise Lost, ed. James R. Boyd (New York: A.S. Barnes & Co., 1867).
4. Christopher Ober, “Beyond ‘Nano’: A Scale That Weighs Viruses,” www.hgc.cornell.edu, accessed January 21, 2019.
5. The other names given to Satan in the Scriptures include Devil (slanderer), 1 Peter 5:8; Lucifer (son of the morning), Isaiah 14:12; Belial (a false god), Matthew 12:24; Evil one, 1 John 5:19; Tempter, 1 Thessalonians 3:5; Prince of this world (John 12:31; and, Accuser of the brethren, Revelation 12:10.
6. “It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look” (1 Peter 1:12).
7. Martin Luther, “A Mighty Fortress,” Hymnary.org, 1529.
For a scholarly bibliography that accompanies this study, see: Michael A. Milton, “Bibliography for ‘Are Demons Real?,’” MichaelMilton.Org, January 21, 2019.
- Boa, Kenneth D., and Robert M. Bowman Jr. Sense and Nonsense about Angels and Demons. Zondervan, 2007.
- Ingram, Chip. The Invisible War: What Every Believer Needs to Know about Satan, Demons, and Spiritual Warfare. Baker Books, 2015.
- Kreeft, Peter. Angels and Demons: What Do We Really Know about Them? Ignatius Press, 2014.
- Martin, Dale Basil. “When Did Angels Become Demons?” Journal of Biblical Literature 129, no. 4 (2010): 657–677.
- Nevius, John Livingston. Demon Possession and Allied Themes : Being an Inductive Study of Phenomena of Our Own Times. Chicago : F. H. Revell, 1894. Accessed January 19, 2019. http://archive.org/details/demonpossessiona00nevi.
- Sproul, R. C. Unseen Realities: Heaven, Hell, Angels and Demons. Geanies House, Scotland; Lake Mary, Fla.: Christian Focus Publications; Ligonier Ministries, 2011.
- Unger, Merrill F. Biblical Demonology: A Study of Spiritual Forces at Work Today. Kregel Publications, 1994. & What Demons Can Do to Saints. Moody Publishers, 1991
Michael A. Milton, PhD (University of Wales; MPA, UNC Chapel Hill; MDiv, Knox Seminary), Dr. Milton is a retired seminary chancellor and currently serves as the James Ragsdale Chair of Missions at Erskine Theological Seminary. He is the President of Faith for Living and the D. James Kennedy Institute a long-time Presbyterian minister, and Chaplain (Colonel) USA-R. Dr. Milton is the author of more than thirty books and a musician with five albums released. Mike and his wife, Mae, reside in North Carolina.
Photo credit: ©Thinkstock/Zeferli
Michael A. Milton, Ph.D. (University of Wales; MPA, UNC Chapel Hill; MDiv, Knox Seminary) Dr. Milton is a retired seminary chancellor and currently serves as the James Ragsdale Chair of Missions at Erskine Theological Seminary. He is the President of Faith for Living and the D. James Kennedy Institute a long-time Presbyterian minister, and Chaplain (Colonel) USA-R. Dr. Milton is the author of more than thirty books and a musician with five albums released. Mike and his wife, Mae, reside in North Carolina.