Angels and Demons

Here are some word usage statistics from the book of Acts (ESV):

Angel(s) 22:0 Demon(s)
(Holy) Spirit 56:7 (evil/unclean/divination) spirit

One of the things that always gets my alarm bells ringing theologically is an over-emphasis on demons and the demonic. It is so out of step with the emphasis in the New Testament. And yet it is not uncommon to hear Christians talk about being "under spiritual attack", or to hear of spiritual warfare in terms of "discerning the demonic forces over an area." When you listen to some people talking you would think there were demons round every corner, and demons responsible for every little niggle of life!

Now I don't deny that demons are real, or that our battle is against spiritual forces in the heavenly realms; it's just that I don't see a lot of emphasis or talk about demons in the New Testament. When they are mentioned it is usually in the context of Jesus driving them out with a word or having authority over them. When Paul drove out evil spirits in the book of Acts, he didn't even bother to turn up in person, but just sent along a handkerchief. On another occasion (with the spirit of divination) it seemed he would much rather ignore the spirit than even condescend to give it his attention (until his patience was finally exhausted). And when the apostles returned to Jesus full of excitement that the demons submitted to them in his name, he was quick to refocus them upon the good news of the Gospel - that their names were written in heaven.

It is important, therefore, to keep a sense of perspective when talking about demons. Here are some facts to bear in mind.

Demons are a distraction
Satan's rebellion arose when he tried to divert the worship and focus that belonged to God towards himself. Nothing has changed. The main purpose of demonic activity is still to divert people away from giving their worship and attention to God. When we give them too much attention we play right into their hand.

It does not require much discernment to recognise demonic possession
You never read in the gospel accounts of people puzzling over what was the matter with a person who was possessed by demons. Everyone recognised; everyone knew. It didn't require a specialist or someone with a gift of discernment to come in and tell them that was the problem. When Jesus drove out demons, although many questioned how he did it, no one questioned what he had done. Demonic doctrine (distortion of true Christian teaching) is another matter, but direct demonic activity is not subtle or hidden - it's obvious.

There are more angels than demons
By my reconning there are at least two angels for every demon (if we take some prophetic imagery as literal) If we take the emphasis in the book of acts as representative then it is more like 3:1. So if we take the Bible as our guide for what should be normative in our Christian life we should expect at least three angelic visitations for every demonic manifestation! One question I always want to ask those who see demons everywhere is, "How many angels have you seen!?" If like Elisha's servant we have our eyes opened to the heavenly realities around us, we will see it is not the demons that surround us, but the host of heaven! [2Ki 6:17]

Demons fear Christians
Did you ever hear it said of some creepy-crawly or slippery reptile: "It's more afraid of you than you are of it"? Well, the same is certainly true of the demons. You don't need to have some special ministry of exorcism to drive them out - Christ himself is in you - and he is more than enough every time. Acts 19 shows that even the mention of his name is often enough (it took a brave demon to finally call the sons of Sceva's bluff). If Christ is within you you have nothing to fear from any power of evil. He who is within you is greater. [1Jn 4:4]

Don't give your attention to the darkness, look to the light. Live in the light, walk in the light, let the light of God shine on you and in you and through you. You'll find that the darkness beats a retreat by itself! Focus on the realities of heaven and laying a hold of them; focus on the good news of the gospel of the kingdom and you will find that as heaven invades earth it drives out the shadows as a direct consequence.

Don't go looking for demons, there are much better manifestations to pursue!


SLW said...

If nothing else, I certainly agree you see the biblical emphasis correctly. What goes by the name of casting out demons today bears little resemblance to what is described in the scriptures.

Honestly, I think it's a case of Abraham and Sarah "helping" God out and ending up producing Ishmael. Christians see a promise to cast out devils, don't see it happening as they think it should, or would like it to, and so help out God by intuiting a whole retinue of spirits that need to be put under authority.

The practice looks more like a rodeo than the Bible, there's so much binding, branding and breaking. And the end result: a cowboy show that has little to do with the real work of ranching. It would be much better if we left things in the hands of the Holy Spirit and followed his lead rather than employing techniques fabricated by man on spirits that exist only in our imaginations.

Anonymous said...

Generally, you see what you look for. Too much of charismatic/Pentecostal Christianity is entertained by the demonic.

Ricky Carvel said...

Thanks Chris!

I especially like your two last points - that angels outnumber demons by two or three to one, and also that demons fear Christians.

There's one person in my church (in particular) that I wish would take this sort of teaching on board. But rather she's the sort who, when you ask her 'How are you?', instead of saying 'Fine' (like most of us do) or explaining some problem she's facing (like we sometimes do) will always express her current situation in terms of the 'attacks' she is having to deal with. Me, I just think that flat tyres on cars happen sometimes, but to her that's a demonic attack... Sigh.

Richard Bentall said...


Just to add a bit of weight to the out numbering of two - one is this point. When Satan, who was once the angel Lucifer, rebelled against God and fell from heaven (Isaiah 14; Ezekiel 28), one third of the angelic host joined his insurrection (Revelation 12:3-4,9) Therefore one thrid demonic and two thrids angels.


Chris Hamer-Hodges said...

Thanks for providing the scriptures, Richard! :-)

I'm wary about assuming this establishes an exact ratio, because numbers in prophetic writings are often more about symbolic significance than exact accounting!

"A third" is a reoccurring motif in the scriptures representing those under the judgement of God: Eze 5:12, Rev 8:7-12,9:8,12:4

Thus a third of the stars cast down to earth communicates the judgement of God against (a minority) of the heavenly host; but not necessarily the exact ratio.

My own suspicions are that angels outnumber demons by a much larger ratio!

Lance Blades said...

Do the number of demons out-number humans? I agree an over emphasis of this topic is not healthy, however ignorance can be dangerous when faced with situations that may involve the spiritual realm. We may not choose to over indulge with study and interaction with spirits, however there are non-Christians who do.