Postcards From the Edge: Why I Believe in Angels and Demons
November 19, 1995
Angels are in. In the words of the Wall Street Journal, “after a hiatus of almost 300 years and much skepticism, angels are making a comeback.” A recent survey confirmed this fact: 58% of Americans in households making over $50,000 believe in angels, as do 55% of college graduates, 54% of working mothers and 51% of parents of children under the age of eight. These are the affluent consumers who have snapped up angel earrings and helped propel books on angels into bestsellers.
Ten years ago you could hardly find a single book on angels in a secular bookstore. Now you find dozens. Not surprisingly, the Christian publishing market has followed the same trend. Billy Graham recently published a revised version of his bestseller Angels: God’s Secret Agents. The book, which sold 3 million copies in its first release, has sold tens of thousands in its second edition.
Easier to Believe in Satan
Angels are definitely in. But so are demons. A recent issue of Newsweek magazine contained a major story on Satan. According to a recent poll, two out of three Americans believe that the Devil exists. The same issue contains a short article by Billy Graham in it he comments that some people today have a harder time believing in God than they do in Satan:
A recent Gallup Poll in Canada, for example, revealed that from 1985 to 1995 belief in God slipped from 87 percent to 70 percent–but during the same time period belief in the Devil rose from 33 percent to 54 percent.
He goes on to say that “perhaps this is because of the daily headlines that tell of repeated acts of senseless violence and unexplainable horror that continually rock our world–events that can only be explained by the reality of an active evil spiritual power.”
If you doubt the popularity of Satan and his demons, go into any Christian bookstore and you will find at least 20 books in print on this subject. In fact, it seems to me that, for the Christian public at least, demons interest us far more than angels.
That shouldn’t surprise, however. Bad news always travels faster than good news. That’s why our ten o’clock newscasts almost always begin with a robbery or a murder or a conviction or a terrible accident.
Angels may be more important, but they aren’t nearly as interesting as demons.
Our Only Reliable Source
Our only reliable source of information regarding the spirit world is the Bible.
In this sermon I’d like to survey the biblical evidence for angels and demons. Right up front, I need to make one point very clear. Our only reliable source of information regarding the spirit world is the Bible. There may be some people here who have had some personal experience with angels and demons–or with what you took to be angels or demons–but your experience, whatever it is, must bow before the written Word of God, the Bible. Outside of the Bible, we have no sure knowledge of angels or demons. Everything that we know for certain–and in fact, everything that we can know for certain–is found in God’s Word. That must be the touchstone of truth for the Christian.
But that fact shouldn’t discourage you since the Bible has a great deal to say about angels and demons. In fact they are mentioned in 34 different books of the Bible in over 300 different places. You will find the first angels in Genesis 3, the first demons in Deuteronomy 32, the last demons in Revelation 16 and the last angels in Revelation 22. Therefore, we have plenty of material to study, far more in fact that we could cover in one sermon.
I. Angels Among Us
Who are the angels? Here is a five-part answer: They are …
The angels are real beings created by God who, because they are spirit beings, are normally invisible to the human eye. According to the Bible, the total number of angels is beyond all human computation. Often they are referred to by such terms as the “host of heaven,” the “joyful assembly” and the “mighty ones.” When God created the universe he also created a vast number of angelic creatures at the same time.
Two angels are named in the Bible–Michael the archangel and Gabriel who is something like a divine press secretary. For instance, he’s the one who announced to Mary that she would give birth to Jesus the Messiah (Luke 1:26-38). Furthermore, it appears that the angels are organized into various groups. For instance, the Bible speaks of the cherubim and the seraphim. It also uses terms such as “thrones,” “powers” and “authorities” to describe the various ranks of angels.
However, the Bible doesn’t reveal everything we’d like to know. As we study the angels, we are like an audience waiting for a play to begin. As the house lights go down, you can see feet moving beneath the curtains and from time to time the curtains rustle as someone brushes them from the rear. Occasionally you see eyes peering out from the wings. So you know someone is back there. But how many people, and what they look like, or what they are doing, you cannot say for certain. That must wait until the curtain finally rises and the play begins. Even so our knowledge of angels is small compared to the vast reality that is hidden from our eyes.
What Angels Do
What exactly do angels do? The Bible pictures angels as fulfilling four great roles:
1. They worship God in heaven. This is the most familiar picture of angels in the Bible. Most often when we see them, they are worshipping God. For instance, when Christ was born, the shepherds heard the heavenly host singing, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, peace goodwill toward men” (Luke 2:14). All the angels praise God; some angels seem assigned to this as a permanent duty.
2. They serve as messengers for God. This is what the Greek word for “angel” means. An angel is a messenger for the Almighty. Genesis 28 tells of Jacob’s amazing dream of a staircase reaching from earth to heaven with the angels of God descending and ascending on it. That dream demonstrates the close connection that exists between heaven and earth. Those we don’t ordinarily see that staircase, it’s always there and the angels constantly go back and forth. I believe the angels ascend to heaven with our prayers in their hands and come back to earth with God’s answer for his children.
3. They war against Satan and his demons. We see this most clearly in the book of Revelation, but you have glimpses of it in other places in the Bible, most notably Daniel 10. In that passage, a heavenly being was hindered from coming to Daniel because he was contending with the “prince of Persia,” evidently a demon who had strong influence over the government of Persia. But then Michael the archangel intervened and the demon was defeated. Revelation 12:7 paints a dramatic picture of an event yet future to us: “There was war in heaven. Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, and the dragon and his angels fought back.” The next verse tells us that Satan was defeated and his army expelled from heaven once and for all. Please note a crucial fact. Whenever angels and demons go to war, the angels of God always win because God is greater than Satan.
4. They offer special protection to God’s people. Psalm 34:7 says, “The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him, and he delivers them.” There are many cases of miraculous angelic deliverance in the Bible. For instance, when Lot was attacked in Sodom, the two angels struck the unruly mob with blindness. When Daniel was thrown in the lion’s den, an angel closed the mouth of the lions so they would not harm him. When Peter was thrown in jail in Acts 12, an angel came to set him free.
Two Crucial Questions
Several questions might be asked at this point:
1. What about guardian angels? Some people have taught that each individual is assigned a special “guardian angel” at birth. The Bible doesn’t specifically teach this. However, Jesus in Matthew 18:10, speaking of little children, says, “their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father in heaven.” When Peter came to the door in Acts 12, the disciples didn’t believe it was him. They thought it was “his angel” (v. 15). We do know from Hebrews 1:14 that angels are “ministering spirits” sent to serve Christians. But whether or not we each have an assigned angel, the Bible does not specifically say. However, I am inclined to agree with John Calvin who says, Yes, we have guardian angels, but not just one each! The Bible speaks of the “host of heaven”–whole armies of angels watching over God’s people. I like that idea. Perhaps God has a platoon of Angelic Special Forces watching over you right this moment.
2. Could we encounter an angel today? I think the answer is yes, though you probably wouldn’t know it when it happened. Most of the time angels work behind the scenes. When my son and his friends had their wreck back in August, Bob Loro told us it was a miracle that someone wasn’t killed. The van hit the tree directly in the middle of the front bumper. If it had moved one foot to the left or right, I’m sure that Perry or Mary would have been killed instantly. When Howard Harvey heard the story, he said, “An angel took the hit.” Based on what the Bible says, that may very well be true. Hebrews 13:2 reminds us to entertain strangers gladly, “because some people have entertained angels without knowing it.” We’ll never know till we get to heaven how much the angels of God have done to protect us and we’ll never know how many times we met angels and didn’t even know it.
There are many songs about angels, but the words of the old spiritual come to mind: All day, all night, angels watching over me, my Lord. Indeed they are. Several years ago Lehman Strauss wrote a little book with a charming title: Demons, Yes! But Thank God for Good Angels.
Billy Graham ends his book on a similar note:
The Scripture says that there is a time to be born and a time to die. And when my time comes an angel will be there to comfort me. He will give me peace and joy even at that most critical house, and usher me into the presence of God, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever. Thank God for the ministry of his blessed angels!
II. Demons on the Loose
Who are the demons? The answer is very simple. Demons are fallen angels. The five attributes of angels are therefore also true of demons. When God created the universe, he created a vast array of angelic beings. The most glorious angel was a being named Lucifer, which means “Morning Star.” Isaiah 14:12-14 describes in poetic terms how he led a rebellion in heaven in an attempt to overthrow God. That rebellion failed, but in the process one-third of the angels followed Lucifer in his evil scheme. Lucifer became the Devil and the rebellious angels became the demons.
The whole word is the Devil’s playground and the demons are his foot soldiers.
The Bible tells us that Satan set up his headquarters right here on planet earth. He won his first victory when he convinced Eve to eat the fruit and she gave it to Adam and he ate. Thus did sin enter paradise. From that moment until now, this the whole world has been the Devil’s playground and the demons have been his foot soldiers in his great battle against God.
Demons have only one purpose: to further Satan’s evil work in the world. They are evil through and through, they hate God and they hate Jesus Christ. They are unholy, disobedient, arrogant liars. Like Satan, they come only to steal, kill and to destroy. And like him, they work through the world and the flesh to tempt us to do wrong.
Demons were connected with pagan idolatry.
The Old Testament doesn’t say much about demons. However, we know from Deuteronomy 32:17 that demons were connected with pagan idolatry. That’s why the people of Israel were repeatedly warned against any form of sorcery, witchcraft or anything occult. All of it was strictly forbidden.
Most of what the Bible says about demons comes from the gospel accounts of the life of Jesus. Time and again Jesus encountered men and women who had somehow fallen under the control of demonic spirits. Some of the terrible afflictions included blindness, deafness, loss of speech, paralysis, insanity, seizures, and suicidal tendencies. Interestingly, the Bible never connects demon possession with personal moral sin . In fact, the gospel writers seem to put it in the category of sickness and disease. It’s also worth noting that whenever Jesus cast out a demon, it came out instantly because the demons must bow before the mighty name of the Son of God.
Three Crucial Questions
Let me answer a few questions that may help focus our thinking.
1. Do you believe that demons are at work in the world today? Absolutely. In fact, the Bible seems to indicate that demonic activity will increase as we near the end of the age. I think that demons work especially through Satanism, occultic games, seances, the New Age movement, eastern religions, sexual perversion of every kind, homosexuality, drug abuse, pornography, and idolatry.
2. Is it possible for a person to be demon possessed in the same sense the Bible uses the term? In my judgment, the answer is yes and no. Yes, unbelievers can be “possessed” or fully controlled by demons. After all, if you don’t know Christ as Savior, you are already living in Satan’s kingdom. As an unholy sovereign, he can do as he wishes with his subjects.
But I believe the answer is quite different for the Christian. I do not believe that a Christian can be “possessed” or “demonized” in the same sense that the New Testament uses those terms. In fact, I believe such a notion flies in the face of the biblical teaching regarding our position in Christ, the complete forgiveness of our sins, the power of the blood of Christ, the indwelling Holy Spirit, and the absolute promise of God’s Word that “greater is he that is in you than he that is in the world” (I John 4:4 KJV). Let’s get our theology in line with the Bible, please. If God is in us, then there’s no room for the demons because God will not share his children with the Evil One. And he won’t give the Devil “Squatter’s Rights” either.
3. Do you mean to imply that we shouldn’t take demons seriously? No, not at all. I’m only suggesting that we stick with the Bible, not with wild speculations. Demons are real, they are at work in the world today, and they do everything they can to harass God’s people. However, I believe they operate from outside the believer, not from within.
However, I do believe that evangelicals have been enamored with the demonic in recent years, often at the expense of sound Bible doctrine. We have too often tried to deliver people from demons when we ought instead to be challenging them to take personal responsibility for their own actions, put on the whole armor of God, and begin to grow spiritually.
Get Rid of the Manure!
A few weeks ago Dr. Erwin Lutzer from the Moody Church in Chicago shared a most helpful illustration with me. Suppose you woke up one morning and discovered a half-ton of fresh manure on your front lawn. The manure not only smells terrible, it also attracts a thick cloud of ugly flies that buzz around you whenever you go outdoors.
How would you ever get rid of the flies? There are two answers that question. First, you could try to catch the flies one by one, naming them, classifying them, ranking them, figuring out who the head fly is and who his top lieutenants are. You could even write papers on “How to Get Rid of flies” or “Understanding the Hierarchy of flies” or “Discerning the Flies in Your Family Tree.” That’s one way to handle the problem. Or, you could just get out there with a shovel and get rid of the manure. When the manure is gone, the flies will leave too.
That’s a great illustration because it graphically shows how Christians should deal with demons. Get rid of the manure in your life and the demons will leave you alone.
James 4:7 says, “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” He also tells us exactly how to do that:
1. Submit to God in every area of your life. v. 7
2. Come near to God in prayer and worship, v. 8.
3. Confess your sins, v. 8.
4. Purify your heart, v. 8.
5. Weep over your sin, v. 9
6. Humble yourself before the Lord, v. 10
Then you have the promise: “And he will lift you up.” It is never God’s will for any believer to live in bondage to demons–not even for a moment. If you want to, you can be free from Satan’s power in your life. But you must stand and fight the good fight of faith. You must take up the armor of God every day. And above all else, you must start taking personal responsibility for your own life. As long as you keep making excuses for the manure in your life, you leave yourself open to demonic attack.
III. Striking a Biblical Balance
1. Base your faith on the Bible, not human experience.
At this point I would repeat again that the only reliable source of information is the Word of God. The Bible tells us absolutely everything we need to know in this area. Unfortunately, many people turn to human experience to fill in the blanks. This is a grave mistake because you end up with an elaborate theory of angels and demons that doesn’t come from the Bible.
I agree with David Pawlison when he argues that much contemporary evangelical writing in this area owes more to occult theology than to the Bible. The Bible says nothing about ancestral spirits, yet some people speak of them as if they were a revealed truth. The Bible says nothing about a demon of lust, a demon of depression, a demon of anger, yet Christian exorcists routinely claim the ability to name the demons one by one. The Bible never encourages us to blame demons for our personal sin, yet it would appear from certain popular writers that virtually all sin comes from demonic influence. Finally, some people apparently want to base their theology on personal experience, not on the Word of God. We must resist this temptation at all costs.
We want to believe everything the Bible says about the spirit world, nothing more, nothing less, nothing else.
2. Remember that both angels and demons are completely under God’s control.
Martin Luther believed fervently in the Devil, even to the point that he sometimes would throw his inkwell at the wall in order to get rid of him. But it was Luther who rightly said that the Devil is “God’s Devil,” meaning that he is completely under God’s control. For reasons we do not understand, God has allowed Satan to wreak havoc in the universe. But remember Job 1! Satan must ask God’s permission before he attacks Job. Remember Luke 22:31, where Jesus says to Peter, “Satan has asked to sift you like wheat.” Everything Satan does, he does with God’s permission. He cannot touch a child of God unless God gives the okay.
That is why I John 5:18 says that the evil one (that’s Satan) cannot harm a child of God. The Greek means to do permanent, lasting, irreparable harm. Satan and his demons can harass us, oppress us, confuse us, disturb us, mislead us, trick us, and discourage us. But in the end, we will stand like champions before the throne of God and say, “He never laid a glove on us.” He can slow us down, but he can’t stop us. He can discourage us, but he can’t defeat us. He can knock us down, but he can’t keep us down because by God’s grace, we will get up to fight again. He can take away our assurance, but he can’t take away our salvation because the Holy Spirit has taken up permanent residence within the heart of every believer.
3. Let this truth increase your confidence in God.
Be encouraged, child of God! We’re on the winning side. In the end, Satan will be judged and cast into the lake of fire. The Bible says that he walks about as a roaring lion (I Peter 5:8). But lions roar because they are old and toothless. Satan’s greatest weapon is fear. He enslaves millions of people through fear of death.
Satan’s greatest weapon is fear.
Years ago Stanley Collins, director of the Forest Home Conference Center, came to speak at the church I pastored in Downey, California. While preaching on Paul’s magnificent words “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” (I Corinthians 15:55), he told us about an occasion during World War II when, as young officer in the British Army, he and some friends had come upon an unexploded German artillery shell. Immediately they called in the experts who disarmed it. Later that night, he walked into his room and found a friend using the shell as a pillow! Once the fuse had been removed, the shell was harmless.
We still die, but Christ has taken the sting out of death. We still fight Satan, but we fight from a position of victory because Jesus Christ won the battle 2000 years ago. We still struggle with temptation, but we don’t have to give in because God has provided the way of escape. We face many hardships in this life, but we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, who are called according to his purpose. We may be filled with doubts and think ourselves unworthy of God’s love and we may fear that God will get angry and cast us off. But we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.
4. Use the weapons God has given you.
What are the weapons of our warfare against Satan? Paul spelled them out for us in Ephesians 6:10-17. You know the passage. It begins this way: “Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the power of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.” Do you want to know God’s will for your life? God’s will is that you stand in the evil day! He’s given you the armor. Put it on and take your place on the firing line!
And what is the armor of God?
It’s the belt of truth
It’s the breastplate of righteousness
It’s the shoes of the gospel of peace
It’s the shield of faith
It’s the helmet of salvation
It’s the sword of the Spirit, the Word of God
It’s resting in God’s truth, it’s living a righteous life, it’s walking in God’s peace, it’s living by faith, it’s relying on your salvation, it’s standing on the mighty power of God’s Word. Then Paul wraps it up with one final ingredient: Prayer. Verse 18 says, “Pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayer and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints.”
Here, then, are the Christian’s tools for spiritual victory: Truth, righteousness, faith, peace, unity, obedience, the Word of God, and prayer. Wear this armor every day and you will not–indeed you cannot–be defeated!
One Little Word
Martin Luther wrote many hymns, one of which was called the “Battle Hymn of the Reformation.” After 450 years, we still sing it. You know it as “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.” Martin Luther believed in the real existence of Satan and his demons, but he believed even more in the power of God through Jesus Christ. That’s why verse 3 reads this way:
And though this world with devils filled, should threaten to undo us.
We will not fear for God has 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.
Be encouraged, people of God. Rejoice and give thanks. We have the Word of God on our side and the Holy Spirit living within. We’re on the winning side.
Now may the angels of God watch over you. May they strengthen you in times of weakness and protect you in times of danger. May they lead you to the throne of God where you can join them in praising our wonderful Savior, who defeated Satan by his death on the cross and disarmed the demons by his victorious resurrection from the dead. Go now from this place to walk on victory ground because Jesus Christ has won the battle! Amen.
For Further Reading
The following resources have proven very helpful to me in preparing this sermon.
Bubeck, Mark. The Rise of Fallen Angels. Moody Press, 1995. Bubeck is especially helpful in the areas of warfare prayer, the power of God’s Word, and the conditions for revival. He writes with a pastor’s heart and his warmth comes through on every page. The suggested “Revival Prayers” are worth the price of the book. You will be challenged and convicted to take spiritual warfare very seriously after reading this book.
Ice, Thomas. Overrun By Demons. Harvest House, 1994. Similar to Pawlison but written in a very popular style. Shows how evangelicals have become enamored of the demonic at the expense of clear Bible teaching.
MacArthur, John, Jr. How to Meet the Enemy. Victor Books, 1992. An excellent overview on the whole area of spiritual warfare. Contains a study guide. Deals with Ephesians 6:10-17 and challenges believers to apply God’s Word on a daily basis. As with all of MacArthur’s writing, this book is very strong in explaining the meaning of the text of Scripture.
Pawlison, David. Power Encounters, Baker Book House, 1995. One of the most revolutionary books I have ever read. Pawlison argues for a “classical” mode of spiritual warfare over against a “deliverance” model that emphasizes casting demons out of believers. Clear, and to my mind, completely convincing.
Reformation and Revival. This quarterly journal devoted an entire issue (Winter 1995) to the subject of “Spiritual Warfare.” Tom Austin wrote a fine article on “The Demonization of Believers” (pp. 11-28) in which he discusses (and refutes) various arguments put forward in favor of the notion that believers can be demonized.