Demons, Devils and Satan

A Christian Perspective

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Demons, Devils and Satan
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About the Author

Reverend Dr. Morar Murray-Hayes

Reverend Dr. Morar Murray-Hayes

The Reverend Dr. Morar Murray-Hayes is the Minister of Maple Grove United Church, and is a member of the Interfaith Councill of Halton. A chatty extrovert with a conversational preaching style, a multi-tasker who is a “multi-worrier” when it comes to caring about people’s problems, and a leader who treasures teaming with the lay people in her church, Morar says that at Maple Grove she has experienced “a deeper level of ministry than I thought possible.” Anyone who has personally received Morar’s deeply compassionate caring and wise counsel will testify to what an inspirational, healing and encouraging ministry it is.

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Pretty much all religions and cultures refer to supernatural entities that are considered evil. They may be forces of nature that cause bad weather, gods or goddesses that cause destruction, or evil spirits fixated on making one’s life miserable. A site dedicated to the study of good and evil lists 159 historic names for demons and that isn’t a complete list. The personification of evil has been going on for as long as humans existed, and let’s face it, evil has been going on for as long as humans existed.

Pop culture might confuse most Christians today when it comes to demons. When you think of “demons,” you might think of Zombies. But in reality, if you want to learn about demons, you should read the Bible.

There are a lot of descriptions of evil in scripture:
Demons, devils, Satan, unclean spirits, fallen angels, dragons, powers of this world, gods of this age, principalities and powers, ancient serpent, deceiver of the whole world.

A Very Brief Summary of Biblical Teachings about Evil from Genesis to Revelation

The biblical writers — both Old and New Testament — described demons as fallen angels, who, along with their leader Satan (otherwise known as the devil), chose to rebel against God. Though they were created good, they were given free will to choose good or evil and, guess what? they chose evil.

Satan is identified with the serpent who tempts Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden and his fall from heaven is described in Isaiah 14:12–15, Ezekiel 28:12–15 and the Book of Revelation.

The Bible says that demons also…

  • Tempt people toward immorality (Matthew 4:1-11)
  • Disseminate false teachings (2 Thess. 2:2; 1 Tim. 4:1; 1 John 4:1-3; cf. 2 Cor. 11:14-15)
  • Oppose the life and ministry of believers (Rom. 8:38-39; Eph 6:12)
  • Encourage the worship of idols (1 Cor. 10:20; Rev. 9:20; cf. 2 Thess 2:3, 4, 9).
  • Influence human governments (Dan. 10:13-20; Eph. 6:12).
  • Work in opposition good angels (Dan. 10:12-13).

For people of the Bible, evil was personified in demons, Satan, the devil and this appears to be Jesus’ understanding as well. Particularly in the New Testament, it is clear that people, including Jesus, believe that demons can inhabit or possess a person.

Jesus recognizes demons in people, converses with demons, and heals people of demon possession, along with other maladies. Demons appear to know who Jesus is, which is a whole other article.

Jesus Tempted by Satan at the Beginning
Lent, the oldest of all Christian seasons, taking place over the forty days before Easter, finds its root in this verse, traditionally read on the first Sunday of Lent:

“He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan.” Mark 1:12-15

This happened right at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, before even he knew just what God’s will for him was or where it would lead.

Here, right at the beginning, he encountered Satan and all the temptations of power that Satan promised. Jesus sees Satan as a personification of evil with the potential to distract him from his mission.

For forty days and nights
In the wilderness – in the desert
Jesus prepared himself to devote his life to God’s will
By refusing to be distracted by the devil’s temptations.

Our Lenten Response
We have traditionally taken on a spiritual discipline during Lent, inspired by Jesus’ time in the wilderness.

  • A colleague announced that she was giving up wine, coffee and chocolate for Lent, and then confessed she had 10 pieces of chocolate the first day so decided maybe wine and coffee were sufficient.
  • A popular site this season encourages getting rid of 40 bags of stuff you presumably can do without for Lent. 
  • Weight loss groups see a spike in attendance during Lent.

There is a value to the physical discipline that giving up requires. But it shouldn’t fool us into thinking that by giving up one or two things, we are following Jesus. After all, I don’t think Jesus went to the cross so you or I could kick a caffeine habit, empty a closet or lose weight.

Jesus Conquers Evil through Suffering
Much later in Jesus’ ministry, Jesus teaches the disciples about evil when he prepares them to watch him become a victim of evil. Mark 8:27-38

“he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.

Jesus now understands his ultimate mission. Evil will not have the last word. Demons, devils, Satan. Christ has disarmed them for us.

This makes no sense to Peter, who cannot see how weakness, nonviolence, submission can possibly overcome evil.

“Get behind, me Satan!” is Jesus’ refusal to focus on the devil, to give it a place in his field of vision. He will not be distracted by human logic or Peter’s affection for him.

“I have to go through this evil to conquer evil. Don’t distract me!!”
“Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”

What does Jesus’ struggles with Satan have to do with us?
Because Christ has refused to be distracted we have nothing to fear. If the Holy Spirit resides in the heart of a follower of Christ, there is no way evil spirits can enter in. “The one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world” (1 John 4:4).

For our lives, a distraction is what evil may best be described as. Whether we see evil personified, experience ourselves or others ‘infected’ or possessed with a demon, or simply find ourselves as Christians sensitized to recognize evil wherever and however it exists, Jesus calls us to

  • examine our own life critically, decisively, in the light of Jesus’ life;
  • identify evil wherever it lurks
  • refuse to be distracted by from doing what we believe God wants us to do.

Demons, Devils, Satan. Evil still tries to distract us, but the Holy spirit resides in our hearts as we follow Christ.

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