Spiritual warfare, particularly in the area of demonology is quite neglected in many reformed churches. This is a problem because it creates a vacuum for those whose position on demons and spiritual warfare is influenced more by unchecked testimonials and Hollywood than by the careful instruction of the Apostles documented in God’s Word. C.S. Lewis said it best:
“There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel and excessive and unhealthy interest in them. They themselves are equally pleased by both errors and hail a materialist or a magician with the same delight” (Lewis 1942, ix).
Christians are guilty of both extremes. Christians who are excessive about spiritual warfare and demonic activity make an unbiblical idol out of it and are in danger of living unproductive lives for the kingdom of God. Those who ignore it, are in danger of the sin of unbelief.
Charles Hodge cautions, “The rule of interpretation which gets rid of the doctrine of Satan and his influence, if carried out, would blot all the peculiar doctrines of the Scripture from the Bible” (Hodge, 1879). And J.C. Ryle agrees, “Unbelief about the existence and personality of Satan has often proved the first step to unbelief about God” (Ryle, 1955). Therefore, we begin this brief look at the influence of demonic activity, but we must be tethered to a text (and we will ground ourselves more as we move along).
“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore, take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm” (The Apostle Paul, Ephesians 6:10-13 ESV).
Where Did the Devil and Demons Come From?
Before we go any further in looking at the Ephesians 6 passage of Scripture, we must identify the Devil and his demons and briefly identify their origin. We understand that the serpent in Genesis 3 is in the Garden of Eden before the fall of man. This serpent is analogous to Satan and his work as he tempts Adam and Eve to distrust God and worship the creature rather than the Creator (Romans 1). Because the serpent is in the Garden before the fall of man, we must deduce that the serpent is older than man. Revelation 20:2 confirms this when the Apostle John states, “And he seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years…”
Although we know that Satan, and consequently demons, and demonic activity existed prior to the creation of man and life as we know it, the Scripture doesn’t give any sort of narrative about how this all came about. The closest thing to a narrative is found in two Old Testament passages. Theologian John Frames says of these two passages, “Scripture does not narrate the fall of Satan and his angels, but Isaiah 14:3-21 and Ezekiel 28:2-19 deal with the defeat of the kings of Babylon and Tyre, respectively, using imagery suggesting analogies with the fall of Satan” (Frame 2013, 775).
Reverend and Professor Frederick S. Leahy seeks to give us a bit more insight into the origin of Satan and I am indebted to him for his careful handling on the subject. He states:
Satan revolted against God and became the leader of all other rebel angels. Under his rule they are joined in a confederacy of evil and consequently we read of ‘the devil and his angels’ and ‘the prince of demons’. He is given such names as Satan (adversary), Devil (slanderer), Apollyon (destroyer) and Belial (worthlessness or wickedness). The Jews called him Beelzebub and regarded him as Prince of the demons. Satan is also termed the Dragon (a name associated with pagan powers in their opposition to the people of God, Ezekiel 29:3; Jeremiah 51:34) and Serpent (Revelation 20:2), a name which reminds us of his cunning (Leahy 1975, 19-0).
Later Leahy asserts that Satan is known for his “power, malice, cunning and hostility (20). It is important for us to see the biblical evidence for Leahy’s comments. Lucifer (Isaiah 14:12-15), is in fact called the Devil and Satan which means “accuser” or “slanderer”. He is in fact crafty (Genesis 3:1) and can “anticipate well the plans of God” (Frame 2013, 776). And he is accompanied by his fallen angels that promote hostility toward God and his plan (Luke 13:11, 16; Acts 10:38; 2 Corinthians 12:7; 1 Thessalonians 2:18). Jude 6 gives us some insight into the origin of demons, “And the angels who did not stay within their own position of authority, but left their proper dwelling, he has kept in eternal chains under gloomy darkness until the judgment of the great day…”
What Is Their Goal?
Having briefly surveyed the origin of Satan and his fellow demons, we must give attention to their goal. In this we interact with our original passage in Ephesians 6. According to our primary text, they promote evil so that the man of God may not be strong in the Lord. Now, this is a very broad job description but other passages of Scripture can give us specifics about the cunning plan of Satan and his demons. Satan and demons “ceaselessly oppose God and strive to deflect his will” (Leahy, 19). In Genesis 3 we see Satan convincing Eve and consequently Adam to distrust God and to become jealous of His knowledge and position. In Job, Satan attempts to take everything good from Job in an attempt to convince Job to curse God. Ephesians 6:16 says that Satan and his demons throw “flaming darts” at believers. In 1 Peter 5:8-9, the Apostle Peter warns, “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experiences by your brotherhood throughout the world.”
The ultimate goal of Satan is to make man like him in his refusal to worship the only true and Sovereign God, Yahweh. The Apostle Paul puts language around this goal:
“For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles.” Late Paul goes on to say, “And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done” (Romans 1:21-23; 28).
Satan’s goal for the unbeliever is to keep them in their unbelief by tempting them to continue to suppress the knowledge of God that is plain to them (Romans 1). He may do this through a myriad of practical tactics. Two main idols that promote unbelief is sexual immorality and greed. Our culture can’t get enough of either and the church must speak to these so that the broader culture may repent of the sin of unbelief.
For the believer, the aim is that of the Accuser. Accusations may come like this: “Christ’s sacrifice did not atone for this sin” or “God would never use someone as messed up as you”. The temptation from Satan isn’t always accusatory though. It may come in the form of “you are forgiven, so indulge your flesh a little more” (see Romans 6:1). “You can’t expect to pursue sexual morality in today’s culture” (1 Corinthians 6:12-20). Satan’s aim is to steal the joy of the believer and replace it with a withered, cheap, unquenchable idol.
We Will Overcome Because Christ Crushed the Head of the Serpent
A brief survey of spiritual warfare and demonology would not be biblical or complete unless we acknowledge the universal Lordship of Jesus Christ. Two passages are of primary importance for us in our fight against “rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places (Ephesians 6:12). God says to Satan in Genesis 3:15:
“I will put enmity between you [Satan] and the woman [Eve], and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”
God is preaching the triumphant message of the gospel of Jesus Christ immediately after the fall of man. Jesus is the great Snake Crusher. Through his life, death and resurrection He has crushed Satan and his limitless deceiving power. The work of Christ is accomplished and applied to His Church. He is now seated and ruling and reigning over heaven and earth. Hebrews 10:12-13 gives us a glimpse into this:
“But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet.”
Jesus is seated and He won’t return until all enemies are made his footstool. That tells us that there is still a spiritual war for Christians to engage in. However, the war has already been fought and won. Our job is to announce the victory of war to the nations (Matthew 28:18-20) and to allow the triumphant message of the gospel make Christ’s enemies his footstool.
Where Does this Leave Satan?
Satan is bound. I preached a sermon not too long ago where I attempted to illustrate the current position of Satan. When I was a young teenager growing up in Southern Georgia, I killed a rattlesnake with the help of an older teenage friend. After we killed the snake, my friend and I thought that it would be funny to put the snake on my parent’s front porch and knock on the door. I remember vividly my mom’s reaction to seeing a snake on her porch. Now, if you aren’t familiar with killing snakes, when they first die they still move and they can still bite you. In some ways, the bite of a dead rattlesnake can be more harmful than the bite of a live snake. This is because a snake’s venom is unregulated after death. I learned that valuable lesson from my parents who later explained that to me.
The point is, the snake was defeated, but not powerless. I believe this is an appropriate way to view the work of Satan. Christ has defeated him, but the New Testament writers still warn us to resist and flee him. The beauty of this is that God has deposited His Holy Spirit in every believer and with that comes the ability to resist the devil for the glory of God. It is a Christian’s joy to do so.
This article first appeared in Theology for Life Winter 2016 Issue. To download the rest of the issue click here.
Frame, John. Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Christian Belief. Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 2013.
Hodge, Charles. Princeton Sermons, No 59, Thomas Nelson & Sons, 1879.
Leahy, Frederick S. Satan Cast Out. Edinburg: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1975.
Lewis, C.S. The Screwtape Letters. New Yorkt: HarperCollins, 1942.
Ryle, J.C. Expository Thoughts on the Gospels, comments on Mark 5:1-17. James Clarke & Co., 1955.