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Article 41 - Demons
Jon Gary Williams
Demons are widely mentioned in literature contemporary with the New Testament. Demons meant different things to different cults and religions. They were given all types of grotesque forms and were thought to be everywhere. All sorts of things were attributed to them: unexplained illnesses, toothaches, outbursts of anger and natural disasters.
However, in the Bible we have a different picture of demons. The Greek word is "daimonion," meaning "evil being" (figuratively, "evil spirit"). Thayer renders the term as, "A being inferior to God, superior to man."
What were demons?
Here are a few widely accepted views: Myths and superstitions, offspring of angels and women, a form of some "pre-adamic" race and fallen angels.
However, a more rational, sensible view is that they were spirits of deceased men. Many early writers had this understanding: Josephus, Philo, Plutarch, Justin Martyr and others. Many reliable Bible scholars have held this view. Most scholars of the restoration held this view.
From Luke 8:31 the suggestion is that they were from the "abyss" ("deep" KJV) and Paul equates the "abyss" with the realm of the dead (Rom. 10:7). Thayer says demons were "the spirits of wicked men deceased."
Whatever they were, God allowed them to a degree of freedom, even to dwell in physical bodies. Their existence allowed Jesus and the apostles to show power over the demonic world of Satan.
Attributes of demons
They were conscious, responsible beings, having the ability to perceive, reason and speak. They demonstrated attitudes of rage and hate. They could harm their victims. They were under Satan's control ( Mk. 3:22,23). They gave out false doctrine (I Tim. 4:1). They knew their eventual doom (Matt. 8:29). They could believe and tremble (Jam. 2:19). They could demonstrate unusual strength (Mk. 5:4; Acts 19:16).
In regard to Jesus, they knew. Him (Mk. 1:24, Acts 19:16), worshiped. Him (Mk. 5:6), called. He "Son of the Most High God" (Mk. 5:7), entreated Him (Lk. 8:31), were rebuked by Him (Mk. 1:25), were cast out by Him (Lk. 9:42) and were kept from speaking about Him (Mk. 1:34).
Of the more than one hundred times demons are mentioned in the New Testament, twenty-six of these deal with demon possession. Demons had a liking for human bodies. They possessed men (Matt. 8:28), women (Acts 16:16) and children (Matt. 15:22).
They possessed human bodies even in plural number ( Mk. 5:8,9). They even preferred the bodies of pigs than no habitation at all (Mk. 5:12). The Bible says that "many" were possessed with demons (Matt. 8:16).
The possession of demons caused wild, fierce actions (Matt. 8:28-34), blindness and dumbness (Matt. 12:22; 17:14-18), personal injuries (Mk. 9:17,18), divination (Acts 16:16) and attacks (Acts 19:13-16).
Demon possession was not mental illness. Rather, demon possession was real. A distinction is made between mental illness and those actually possessed with demons. In Matthew 4:24 we read that Jesus healed, ". . . those which were possessed with devils, and those which were lunatic . . ."
That demons were actually cast out is a matter of record
In the great commission Jesus said that this would occur (Mk. 16:17). Peter cast out demons (Acts 5:16). Philip cast out demons (Acts 8:7). Paul cast out demons (Acts 16:16-18; 19:12).
Note: Casting out demons is not to be confused with the so-called "exorcism" of modern times. When Jesus and the apostles cast out demons, they left immediately. It was not prolonged for many days. Demons did not come out of their victims as "frogs," "bats," or "green blood." Demons did not speak against Jesus as seen in the modern concept of demons, but were submissive and obedient to him.
Demons do not exist in the world today
Since the gifts of the miraculous age (including the power to cast out demons) have ceased (I Cor. 13:8-10), it follows that demon possession has also ceased. (If they did exist today, of necessity the gift of casting them out would also still exist. But it does not!)
With the passing of the age of miraculous and since the completion of the New Testament (God's final message to man), such things as demon possession and the miraculous appearance of angels no longer have a place in God's program of work. If demons were present today, there would be no doubt about it. No one could question it! Most everyone would have witnessed them.
Demons were real and they existed for a specific purpose - so Jesus and the apostles could show their power over the forces of Satan. (See I John 3:8) Demons no longer exist.