November 19, 2022 - Angels and Demons

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Today we’re going to talk about angels and demons. Demons are simply angels who have fallen by rebelling against God. Angels are not resurrected humans who are on their way to godhood. Although they usually appear in the form of humans, angels are immortal spirits who are like God, but are much less powerful than God, and who do not have bodies of flesh like ours. In fact, both cherubim and seraphim (2 kinds of angels) are said to have wings. In Revelation 14, an angel flies. Do these sound like resurrected humans? I don’t think so!

Hebrews 2:7 says that humans are “made a little lower than the angels,” and Hebrews 1:14 clearly says that angels are SPIRITS. They are the “sons of God” in Job 38:7 who existed long before humans were created. Many of the times when the Hebrew Bible speaks of gods other than the one true God, it’s actually talking about angels. Angels and humans alone are made in the image of God. Angels reflect the image of God without having bodies of flesh.

The term “angel” in both Hebrew and Greek (we get our word angel from the Greek angelos) is a term that means simply “messenger.” Whenever they are sent by humans to carry messages to other humans, the word means human messengers. Sometimes the word must mean a heavenly messenger, and sometimes it’s hard to tell which. Angels are spirit, not flesh; that’s why Jesus says they do not marry. That’s why angels can appear and disappear instantaneously.

We learn a lot about angels simply by observing when and where they show up in God’s word, and what they do there. Angels rescue Lot from Sodom before it is destroyed. Angels rescue Hagar twice from dying in the desert. An angel stops Abraham from sacrificing Isaac, warns Laban not to attack Jacob, blocks the pagan prophet Balaam from going to curse Israel, and announces to Israel in Judges 2 that God will stop helping them conquer the Promised Land. An angel recruits Gideon to lead Israel into battle, and announces the birth of Samson to an old childless couple. David sees the angel that is ready to strike Jerusalem with plague. Twice Elijah is helped by an angel. Unseen angels destroy the Assyrian army, and rescue Daniel twice. Daniel and Zechariah both had revelation given to them by angels. Isaiah saw a vision of angels.

In the NT, an angel announces the birth of John the Baptist to his childless father. Gabriel appears once to Mary, but Joseph gets 3 visits from angels, most importantly to assure him that Mary’s child was not conceived by sin, but by a miraculous act of the Holy Ghost. An army of angels announces Jesus’ birth to local shepherds. Angels spring into action when Jesus rises from the dead. An angel rescues Peter from jail twice, sends Philip to proclaim Christ to an African pilgrim, and sends Peter to proclaim Christ to a devout Roman sergeant. An angel also appears to Paul during a long storm at sea, reassuring Paul that he and everyone on his boat will live through their upcoming shipwreck.

Angels do not appear all the time. Abraham only got 1 such visit. Peter got 2. Joseph got 3, at times where Joseph badly needed vital information. Beware of anyone who claims to have had dozens of appearances by angels, like the founder of one religion who claims to have been visited by an angel 14 times. Messengers from God are usually either rescuing people from harm, or giving people limited pieces of vital information that they had no other way of getting. We are told that an angel is assigned to each of the 7 churches in the province of Asia. Jesus’ teaching that children all have guardian angels who constantly behold the face of God appears in one solitary scripture: Matthew 18:10. How many angels are there? Jesus says he’s got 12 legions of angels (72,000) on standby to defend him if needed.

Angels can be messengers of either good or evil. They can be fallen or unfallen. And Paul warns us that a fallen angel can appear as an angel of light. That’s why Paul pronounces a curse on any angel that would bring the Galatians any gospel other than the message he preached to them. Angels are no guarantee that a message is from God. If an angel calls attention to himself rather than pointing us to God or Christ, it’s not an angel from God.

The only good angels who are named in the Bible are Michael and Gabriel. The chief fallen angel, the leader of the pack, goes by numerous names, including the devil, Lucifer, Satan, and Belial. Jesus calls him Beelzebub, “Lord of the Flies,” a takeoff on one of the names of Baal.

The name beliyya‘al starts out as an ordinary Hebrew noun. The ranch-hands at Nabal’s ranch in 1 Samuel 25:17 complain that their boss is “such a son of beliyya‘al that one cannot speak to him.” (“Son of beliyya‘al” is the equivalent of our English term “S.O.B.”) Most of our Bibles (other than the KJV) do not show the presence of the Hebrew term beliyya‘al in this verse. Instead, they say that Nabal is “so ill-natured” (NRSV) or “such a scoundrel” (NKJV). But “S.O.B.” would be a fitting abbreviation of this expression “Son Of Belial.” Poor guy – even his wife Abigail calls him a “Son Of Belial” in 1 Samuel 25:25!

It’s interesting to look at who all is called a son (or man) of beliyya‘al in the Bible, an expression usually translated as “worthless man” or “scoundrel.” We begin the list with the lone example of the expression “daughter of beliyya‘al.” In 1 Samuel 1:16, Hannah begs Eli the priest not to think that she’s a daughter of beliyya‘al when he mistakes her for a drunken woman.

The men in Deuteronomy 13:13, who would lead an entire town astray to worship idols, are called “sons of beliyya‘al.” So are the men of Gibeah who demanded sex from the traveling Levite (Judges 19:22, 20:13). So are the sons of Eli (1 Samuel 2:12), who treated the sanctuary offerings with contempt, and slept with the women who served at the sanctuary.

When we get to the NT period, Beliyya‘al becomes a standard name for Satan, a function the term almost never serves in the Hebrew Bible. Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 6:15, in a passage that contrasts light with darkness and the temple of God with idols, “What agreement does Christ have with Beliar?” (The spelling Beliar is used when the name occurs in Greek.) Here Belial is clearly another name for Satan. It would certainly appear that Satan is the greatest “Son Of Belial” – if not for the fact that he is the spiritual father of them all!

So what do we know about Satan? Let’s take a look at his names. Satan is a Hebrew noun that means simply the “Enemy” or “Opponent,” making Satan the great arch-enemy of God. He is sometimes called the Devil (in Greek, Ho Diabolos), meaning “Slanderer,” which fits with the passage in Revelation 12 where he is called “the Accuser of our brethren.” Jesus also calls Satan the “Ancestor of Lies” (John 8:44) – he pours a constant stream of lies into our ears. The Rolling Stones’ song “Sympathy For the Devil” speaks the truth where Mick Jagger’s Devil in that song sings that “confusing you is the nature of my game.”

Satan’s original name was Lucifer, Latin for “the One Who Bears Light.” The apostle Paul teaches in 2 Corinthians 11:14 that Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. Satan likes to appear as a bright shining angel. In fact, Satan started out as God’s #1 ranking angel, before he led the original rebellion against God. We find this story in Isaiah 14 and in Ezekiel 28. Unlike Christ, who is the second person of the triune God, Satan is a created being.

In Isaiah 14, Isaiah declares God’s judgment against the future king of Babylon. Then in verses 12-15, Isaiah shifts his attention to the power behind the king of Babylon, where we read, “How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! ...For thou hast said in thine heart, I will ascend into heaven. I will exalt my throne above the stars of God... I will ascend above the heights of the clouds. I will be like the Most High! Yet thou shalt be brought down to hell, to the sides of the pit.”

So here we learn that Lucifer (named after the morning star Venus) is a character who wants to become like the Most High. The problem is that only one God belongs on that throne. There is no room for 2 or more to reign from heaven. Anyone else reigning in heaven (like we find in Revelation 22:5) reigns under the authority of the one true God, not as his rival or partner or replacement. Lucifer’s wish to become like the Most High becomes his downfall.

Let’s see what more we can learn in Ezekiel 28. Here, we begin by seeing God’s judgment on the prince of Tyre. In verse 9, God asks, “Will you still say before him that slays you, I am a god? But you are a man, and not God, in the hand of him that slays you.” So the prince of Tyre is only a man. But then in verse 12, Ezekiel laments the fate of the “king” of Tyre, the power behind the earthly ruler. “Thus says the Lord God: You were the seal of perfection, full of wisdom and perfect in beauty. You were in Eden, the garden of God; every precious stone was your covering.” He says, “You were on the holy mountain of God. You walked up and down in the midst of the stones of fire. You were perfect in your ways from the day you were created, until iniquity was found in you.” It says, “Your heart was proud because of your beauty.” Therefore, God says, “I cast you as a profane thing from the mountain of God.”

Here we find a guy whom most scholars understand to be the same character referred to as Lucifer in Isaiah 14. He is definitely superhuman. He starts out on the holy mountain of God. The place is called Eden, but there are stones of fire, and nowhere are we told that the Garden of Eden in Genesis is on a mountain (it’s probably a heavenly Eden). Depending on how we translate, this character either has a cherub or angel at his side, or he is an angel himself (I take him to be an angel himself). He is perfect in all his ways from the moment he was created, until iniquity was found in him, and then he is cast out as an unclean thing from the mountain of God.

Isaiah and Ezekiel give us brief glimpses of a monumental event that happens in heaven at some point before human history begins, possibly before the world was created, when a great evil power first turns to the dark side and rebels. Genesis does not tell us when this happens. Genesis picks up the story when this evil power comes to earth in the form of a serpent to drag the newly-created human race into his power.

Revelation 12 speaks of a great dragon, whom it says “is called the Devil and Satan,” who takes a third of the stars and sweeps them with his tail down to earth. In Revelation, we are told that stars are angels. So Revelation tells us that Satan is cast down to earth (apparently before the dawn of time), and then he drags 1/3 of the angels with him.

Satan is mentioned by name very few times in the Hebrew Bible. The most important place is at the beginning of the book of Job, where Satan appears before God along with the other sons of God (meaning angels), and tries to make the case that God’s most faithful man on earth (Job) is faithful only because nothing bad has happened to him. (Here we see Satan functioning in his role as “accuser of our brethren.”) When God tells Satan to confess what he’s been up to, Satan boasts that he’s been “going to and fro in the earth,” and “walking up and down on it.” Satan can’t be everywhere at once, like God is, but Satan has help from other fallen angels to cover the territory, and we might be surprised how much territory Satan can cover on his own. In Job, God also allows Satan to inflict Job with tragic losses and with sickness, although God is able to stop Satan any time he chooses.

Satan is only mentioned 2 other places in the Hebrew Bible. In 1 Chronicles 21, Satan prompts David into numbering Israel, against God’s will. And in Zechariah 3, Satan is firing accusations against Joshua the high priest, and God says, “The Lord rebuke you, O Satan! The Lord who has chosen Jerusalem rebuke you!” Leave this guy alone!

But Satan is all over the NT. We find his name 37 times, particularly in the Gospels. When God comes to earth in human flesh, Satan shows up and tries his best to shoot him down. We find Satan trying to tempt Jesus in the desert. Jesus sees Satan fall from heaven while his disciples are on their mission tour. We find Satan again entering into Judas to betray Jesus. And we find Satan at work in the early church

Satan is not make-believe or a myth. Satan is real. Too much evil in the world has to be more than blind chance or coincidence, nor can it all be traced to a conspiracy of human agents. We have an invisible enemy who seeks to throw our lives off track in any way he can, whose tactics are artfully described in C S Lewis’ novel The Screwtape Letters.

Satan seeks to blind those who do not know God, and to neutralize believers, to cripple their spiritual lives. And he doesn’t have to use horrible sins to do the job. Apathy works just as well as adultery. Church conflict is as good as atheism. Stubbornness is as good as Satan worship.

The devil doesn’t normally use full-scale demon possession to attack us. That usually happens only through drugs and the occult (witchcraft, séances, and devil worship). Cases of actual demon possession appear to be relatively rare, except on the mission field, although who know how much mental illness could be more than just illness?

But Satan knows that most of us will never fall prey to drugs or the occult, so he finds other ways to attack us wherever our weaknesses lie, whether it be through pride, anger, laziness, sexual desire, or slander. Satan has 2 basic objectives. 1. If we have never gotten right with God by placing our faith in what Christ has done to take away our sin, Satan wants to make sure we never do so. 2. If we have been saved, Satan will try to knock us out of action, so we will not be a threat to his plans.

Anything Satan can do to stop us is fine with him. Distraction (getting your mind off God) works just as well as sin. Why bother trying to tempt good Christians to sin, if you can just get them to do nothing? Satan does the same with churches. He can use pastoral misconduct or church fights to do tremendous damage. Or he can sweet-talk a church into becoming one big harmless couch potato. Satan uses illness, breakdowns, delays, and enormous wastes of time to keep missionaries from doing their job.

Satan can be a prime cause of depression and discouragement (in addition to normal medical and emotional causes). Satan wants to paralyze us, to immobilize us, to get us to quit trying. He wants to destroy our confidence, to paralyze us with feelings of fear and inferiority. Satan wants us to dwell on our failures, to flounder around in despair, kicking ourselves for past mistakes. He wants to devastate us with guilt. When we sin, Satan says, “God will never forgive you for that!” And if we believe him, he’s got us right where he wants us.

God doesn’t want us paralyzed by guilt. God wants to lift us out of the mud. But Satan wants us to dwell on our failures, to get us so depressed that we never fix what’s wrong. Satan is sneaky. If he can’t get us through pleasure or violence, he’ll use pride or self-righteousness. He loves to get people fighting each other rather than him. That’s why Paul says “we wrestle not with flesh and blood, but with evil powers in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12).

Satan loves to sell lies. Satan loves religion, as long as it’s false! He offers all kinds of idols and half-truth. Some of Satan’s most effective work is done through religious people. That’s why Paul says that his servants disguise themselves as ministers of righteousness (2 Corinthians 11:15). And because Satan disguises himself as an angel of light, Paul warns the Galatians (1:8) that if an angel from heaven preaches any other gospel to them, let him be cursed. But Satan’s cleverest tactic is to pretend he does not exist – that way, he can operate unseen.

Don’t let Satan bully or distract or devastate you with defeat or guilt. Don’t let him tell you that you are powerless to resist. James 4:7 says, “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.”

We can be truly thankful that God is greater than the great enemy of our souls. can be thankful that God has made us just a little bit lower than the angels, and has crowned us with favor beyond what any of us deserve. have a lot we can be thankful for.  We’ll take a comprehensive look at all we have to be thankful for next time on Biblical Words and World.