What are demons?

Question
What are the different types or names of demons? What would you do if you literally met a demon in its literal form face to face on the street? Wouldn't you be afraid?
Answer
The source for such answers should be the living Word of God (Heb. 4:12; cf. Isa. 49:2; Jer. 23:29). Accordingly, the Bible doesn't mention much concerning demons, particularly their specific names or types. And, we shouldn't guess concerning such matters. But let's look briefly at some of what we do know.

What are demons? Demons are simply the sent ones or messengers of Satan. In Revelation 12:4 we read that a great dragon "swept down a third of the stars of heaven and cast them to the earth." Then a few verses later Revelation 12:9 says the "great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world—he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him" (cf. Luke 10:18). Since hell was made for the devil and his angels (Matt. 25:41), this infers that demons may be fallen angels, or at least demons are called angels in the sense that they are Satan's sent ones or messengers.

Ephesians 6:12 mentions rulers, authorities, powers, and spiritual forces. But from the fuller context (Eph. 6:10-18), it doesn't appear that these are names of demons. These titles seem to refer to an organized hierarchy which the Christian spiritually fights (e.g. Eph. 6:10-18). Such spiritual warfare is a common theme in the Old Testament as well (cf. 2 Kings 6:15-18; Dan. 10:10-14).

Demons do exist and are seen in the Bible to be active. We observe they possessed people and animals (Mark 5:1-16). They afflicted some (Mark 9:17, 22) and terrorized others (1 Sam. 16:14-15; 18:10; 19:9). They deceived prophets (1 Kings 22:19-23), encouraged idolatry (Deut. 32:17; Psa. 106:37), promoted false doctrines (1 Tim. 4:1-3; cf. 1 Cor. 12:3; 1 John 4:2-3), and initiated false worship (1 Cor. 10:20-21). They are preoccupied with deception (2 Cor. 11:1-15) and death (John 8:44).

Satan himself was even instrumental in the death of Jesus (1 Cor. 2:8; cf. John 13:2, 27; Luke 22:3) and desired to devour him at his birth (Rev. 12:4; cf. Matt. 2:16-18). However, demons unwittingly serve God's divine purposes (Judg. 9:23). From the temptation in the garden to the temptation of Judas and everything in between, all this evil activity contributed to the salvation of God's elect and Satan's own undoing! (1 John 3:8). It was all part of God's master plan; a plan still playing itself out in redemptive history through his church whom he has granted authority (Matt. 28:18-20).

Satan and his host were defeated at Calvary (Col. 2:15). Demons are terrified of the gospel (Mark 8:29) and can't separate the believer from Christ (Rom. 8:38). They can be restrained by the Holy Spirit (2 Thess. 2:6) and have already been judged by God (2 Pet. 2:4; Jude 1:6), and are awaiting final judgment (Rev. 20:10). And demons seem to be concerned about a particular time — their "appointed time" (Matt. 8:28-34; Mark 5:1-20; Luke 8:26-33). James 2:19 declares that demons are smarter than atheists, believing that there is only "one God." But they are also rather nervous because they are aware of what awaits them — the eternal judgment of God.

Some today conduct exorcisms, which is the practice of casting out demons from a person believed to be possessed by them. Charismatic circles have demons name themselves before allegedly casting them out. Peter Binsfeld, a 16th century German bishop, designated individual demons to the seven deadly sins. Yet others blame demons for their individual sin — the myth of "the devil made me do it." Many seem to see a demon behind every tree and leave no room, or at least limited room, for anything else! There is an excessive fascination in society with the occult. Even Hollywood makes movies about it.

But from my reading of Scripture as a whole, its main emphasis concerning demons is that they aren't all-powerful and must submit to Jesus and his followers (e.g. Phil. 2:10-11; cf. Matt. 10:1-8; Luke 10:17-20). We see this played out over and over throughout Scripture. The Bible's emphasis is upon Jesus, not some fascination with the naming of demons, etc. We shouldn't be like the Jewish exorcists called the seven sons of Sceva who wanted mere power, control, and fame over demons (Acts 19:11-20). Jesus — including his way, will, and word — is the One who should consume our every thought (Heb. 12:2; cf. Song 7:10; John 14:6; Gal. 2:20; Phil. 1:21; 4:6-9).

What would I do if I ever literally met a demon face to face on the street? While I'm not convinced that I or any other human this side of glory will ever see a demon in its actual form. If confronted by one, I would continue to trust in Jesus and quote the word of God (John 4:4, 7, 10; cf. Eph. 5:26; 6:17). But this is really a normal day at the office per se and nothing to be feared (2 Tim. 1:7). Of course, if one doesn't know Jesus, then they should be afraid; a depraved life and then an eternal hell await them. But in all frankness, we meet demons, or at least their doctrines, every time we confront false teachings — atheists, agnostics, and others in false religions, etc. In such situations, we should continue to fast, pray, and share the truth of the living Word of God with these people who are in bondage.

You could say we confront demons every day in life because these minions are instrumental in inspiring depraved minds to separate themselves even further from the living God. Much of what is on television, in music, and such things as porn, drugs, child abuse, rape, human trafficking, etc., all have a demonic foundation.

But God still desires and is able to convert and redeem sinners whose lives are filled with the doctrines of demons.

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Answer by Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr.

Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr., D.D., M.Div. is the Theological Editor at Third Millennium Ministries (Thirdmill).