Belief of our Fathers: Angels, Demons, and Satan (Chapter 6)
September 1, 2019
This continues a study on the beliefs of our forefathers, based largely on the 1632 Dordrecht Confession of Faith. This section tells about Ecclesiology, or the study of the Church. This has been edited for space.
To read other chapters in this series on the Beliefs of our Forefathers, click below:
Angels, Demons, and Satan
Angelology and Demonology
For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth; visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him. (Colossians 1:16)
Most of us grew up knowing that angels, demons, and the devil exist, but what do we know about them? Usually, our churches taught very little about the extent of their power or the function of the spirit. No one talked much about angels. The term “Holy Ghost,” rather than the term “Holy Spirit,” was most commonly used, which gave many of us a spooky concept of the spirit world. Throughout history, an absence of biblical knowledge has often resulted in superstition filling the void. The word “spirit” simply means a supernatural being without a flesh-and-blood body. Scripture shows us that these spirits are typically invisible, though they may appear in visible form or even as men.
On the other hand, we were taught much about Satan and his desire to lead us astray from God. The blame for many of our sinful actions was attributed to him. Satan and hell went hand-in-hand and instilled much fear in us. Threats to make us behave often tapped into this fear.
There are a variety of false teachings about the spirit world—some that can raise your hair. By diligent study of God’s Word, though, we can understand why God created these invisible creatures, their purpose and involvement in our lives, and whether we should fear them or not.
What the Anabaptists Teach
We find these few comments on the subject of angels and demons in the Dordrecht Confession of Faith:
- [God] is the Creator of all things visible and invisible. (Article 1)
- Adam and Eve were seduced by the subtlety and deceit of the serpent, and the envy of the devil. (Article 2)
- . . . nor through angels . . . could [they] be raised. (Article 2)
- . . . destroyed the works of the devil. (Article 4)
- God . . . will dwell and walk among them, and preserve them, so that no floods or tempests, nay, not even the gates of hell, shall move or prevail against them. (Article 8)
The subject is touched upon in parts of In Meiner Jugend (an Amish devotional book), under “Rules of a Godly Life.” We read in Part 1:
- Think often on . . . hell, for there is nothing more unbearable. (No. 3)
- Likewise, even the smallest sin, if it is cherished and not repented of, can bring a man down to hell. (No. 11)
- The way to hell is always full of wandering souls. . . . God would say, “Because you have sinned with the majority, you must also be cast into hell with the majority.” (No. 14)
Then in Part 3 we find:
- Satan can possess your soul and keep it in his control by means of a single sin.” (No. 2)
- Avoid idleness as a resting-pillow of the devil . . . . Great is the power the devil has over the slothful. (No. 10)
- No sin was punished more severely than pride. It changed angels into devils. (No. 11)
One of the prayers of In Meiner Jugend touches upon the subject of demons:
“Let me not be an instrument of the evil spirit lest he exercise and fulfill his wickedness . . . through me. For such is the image of Satan” (page 111).
Later in this same document, candidates for baptism are asked to “renounce the devil” (page 195).
From all of these passages, we gained a fear and a ready awareness of the presence of evil spirits.
What the Scriptures Teach
Who Are These Invisible Spirits?
As Colossians 1:16 states, God created the invisible world—the spirit world. The Bible commonly calls beings from this realm angels, yet God has many other names for them: cherubim, seraphim, messengers, hosts of the Lord or of heaven, ministers, powers, principalities, stars or morning stars, rulers in high places, and sons of God. Some are referred to by specific names: Lucifer (Isaiah 14:12), Gabriel (Daniel 9:21; Luke 1:19), and Michael (Jude 9). Others are simply referred to in a general sense as those who ruled over other angels, too numerous for us to count (Rev. 5:11).
We know the angels were in existence before God created the earth because when God laid the foundations of the earth . . . the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy (Job 38:4, 7). They were created as holy, eternal creatures (they don’t die).
We know angels are mighty in strength. David wrote: Bless the Lord, ye his angels, that excel in strength, that do his commandments, hearkening unto the voice of his word (Psalm 103:20).
Jesus told us that angels do not marry, For when they [men] shall rise from the dead, they neither marry, nor are given in marriage; but are as the angels which are in heaven (Mark 12:25). We humans were made a little lower than the angels, and the human side of Jesus was also made a little lower than the angels so He would be able to die (Psalm 8:5; Hebrews 2:9). Yet as the Son of God, He was so much better than the angels, and all the angels of God were urged to worship Him (Hebrews 1:4, 6). Jesus has authority over them, because He created them, which from the beginning of the world hath been hid in God, who created all things by Jesus Christ (Ephesians 3:9). Even though the angels are higher, mightier, and wiser than we are, we must never give our worship to them. Let no man beguile you of your reward in a voluntary humility and worshipping of angels, but we can thank the Lord for them (Colossians 2:18).
What Is Their Purpose?
Angels were created as ministering [serving] spirits, sent forth to minister [to believers in Christ] (Hebrews 1:14). What a comforting thought to know that God sends out His angels to help us in our weakness and ignorance. Throughout the Bible, we read many instances of angels coming to earth to attend to God’s people or to deliver messages to them:
An angel ministered to Elijah in the wilderness:
And as he lay and slept under a juniper tree, behold, then an angel touched him, and said unto him, Arise and eat. And he looked, and, behold, there was a cake baken on the coals, and a cruse of water at his head. And he did eat and drink, and laid him down again. And the angel of the LORD came again the second time, and touched him, and said, Arise and eat; because the journey is too great for thee (1 Kings 19:5–7).
The beggar Lazarus died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom (Luke 16:22).
Peter was put in prison by Herod and heavily guarded, and an angel was sent by God to set Peter free (Acts 12:7–11).
Hagar fled when Sarai treated her harshly, and an angel helped them (Genesis 16:7–11).
There was a pool called Bethesda in Jerusalem where many sick people gathered and an angel went down at a certain season into the pool, and troubled the water: whosoever then first after the troubling of the water stepped in was made whole of whatsoever disease he had (John 5:4).
After Jesus had been in the tomb for three days, there was a great earthquake: for the angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and came and rolled back the stone from the door, and sat upon it. His countenance was like lightning, and his raiment white as snow: And for fear of him the keepers did shake, and became as dead men. And the angel answered and said unto the women, Fear not ye: for I know that ye seek Jesus, which was crucified (Matthew 28:2–5).
An angel even spoke through Balaam’s donkey (Numbers 22:22–31).
God used angels to announce his great plan of salvation to Abraham, Zacharias, and Mary and Joseph, but the list of angels’ involvement with humans in history could fill a book of its own. Angels do God’s will in heaven as well as on earth, and God still uses them in our lives.
The Bible tells us that God gave His angels the job of protecting us. For he shall give his angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways. They shall bear thee up in their hands, lest thou dash thy foot against a stone (Psalm 91:11–12). In this way, God protected Daniel in the lions’ den, and Daniel proclaimed, My God hath sent his angel, and hath shut the lions’ mouths, that they have not hurt me (Daniel 6:22). In Psalm 34:7, David tells us that the angel of the LORD encampeth round about them that fear him, and delivereth them.
How comforting that even our little children who haven’t yet come to faith in Christ are watched over by angels. Jesus told those who were following Him to take heed that ye despise not one of these little ones; for I say unto you, That in heaven their angels do always behold the face of my Father which is in heaven (Matthew 18:10). When they do come to trust fully in Jesus alone, the heavenly Father and His angels rejoice together as they do for every sinner who repents. Jesus said: I say unto you, that likewise joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons, which need no repentance. . . . There is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth (Luke 15:7, 10).
The angels observe us, watching God’s every move on earth in amazement of His grace and mercy, and probably in disbelief at our rebellion toward God.
Another task given to angels is one of delivering judgment on those who reject God on earth. For instance, the angel of the Lord smote Herod because he did not give God the glory (Acts 12:23). There are many examples where angels were used to destroy human lives because of their open rebellion against God’s grace. After David had numbered the people, God used an angel to bring judgment (2 Samuel 24:16).
In 2 Kings 19:35, we read that the angel of the Lord went out, and killed 185,000 Assyrians. We see in the book of Revelation that God will use angels to pour out His wrath upon the earth.
Who Are the Devil and His Demons?
The devil’s name was originally Lucifer, the anointed cherub whose heart was lifted up in pride (Ezekiel 28:14, 17). In his pride and conceit, he vowed he would become like the most High. The Almighty gave His angels great strength, but how could one of His created beings ever think he could become like his Creator? Yet in Isaiah we read that Lucifer said, I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God: I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation, in the sides of the north: I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will be like the most High (Isaiah 14:13–14).
God will not tolerate anything contrary to His character. He is perfect. No one can improve upon His might, wisdom, or beauty. Anything inferior to His perfection must be removed from His presence. Lucifer chose to serve himself, for which he was cast out of God’s dwelling place. Jesus explained that when the time comes, Satan will be cast into the place of torment prepared for the devil and his angels (Matthew 25:41). Satan greatly underestimated God and His Word.
After he rebelled, Lucifer, whose name means the shining one or the star of the morning, became Satan, the adversary, the enemy. He is also called the devil. The angels who followed him in his rebellion became known as demons. They are allowed by God to roam this earth until the time of their eternal punishment. Yet some are being held in captivity until the judgment day because of their great sin. Second Peter 2:4 says, God spared not the angels that sinned, but cast them down to hell, and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved unto judgment. Jude wrote, And the angels which kept not their first estate, but left their own habitation, he hath reserved in everlasting chains under darkness unto the judgment of the great day (Jude 6).
These demons have the ability to possess and control a man as they did in the country of the Gadarenes: There met [Jesus] out of the tombs a man with an unclean spirit, who had his dwelling among the tombs; and no man could bind him, no, not with chains. . . . And always, night and day, he was in the mountains, and in the tombs, crying, and cutting himself with stones (Mark 5:2–3, 5). This poor man was tormented by demons, but Jesus cast these unclean spirits out and sent them into a herd of swine. Jesus later reminded His disciples that they would cast out demons in His name (Mark 16:17).
When we consider all of Scripture, we see that demons cannot dwell together with the Holy Spirit within a true believer. For example, 2 Corinthians 6:15–16 tells us that Christ and the devil cannot dwell together, for when we become believers, we become the temple of the living God.
Satan has become the god of our world’s system. The god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them (2 Corinthians 4:4). The once shining one now seeks to put out the light of the One who is our source of light. He entered our world and deceived his way into the life of Eve, which spread to Adam and to every generation born after him (Gen. 3:1–6).
Satan is effective with his talent for deception, and most of the human race has chosen to worship him, the creature, rather than God, the Creator. Romans 1:21–25 reveals the progression of evil into our world because of Satan’s influence and our unbelief.
Satan is the father of lies, as Jesus stated: Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own: for he is a liar, and the father of it (John 8:44).
Satan refuses to believe that he was defeated at the cross and that we were set free from his hold, but we know there is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death (Romans 8:1–2). Satan continues his assault on us.
We must remember that he is a defeated enemy and will leave this world in shame, spending eternity in torment, taking with him those he has infected with rebellion against God. And the devil that deceived them was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are, and shall be tormented day and night for ever and ever. . . . And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire (Revelation 20:10, 15).
Casting Out Evil Spirits
Howbeit this kind goeth not out but by prayer and fasting. (Matthew 17:21)
When Jesus sent the twelve apostles on their first mission, He gave them power and authority over demons and diseases. Both the healing of sickness and casting out of demons served as signs that the kingdom of God had come. When seventy others were sent out as recorded in Luke, they also had power over demons. The seventy returned again with joy, saying, Lord, even the devils are subject unto us through thy name (Luke 10:17). After Jesus ascended into heaven and established the church through the coming of the Holy Spirit, we see that people in the days of the early church were healed of sickness and unclean spirits. There came also a multitude out of the cities round about unto Jerusalem, bringing sick folks, and them which were vexed with unclean spirits: and they were healed every one (Acts 5:16).
It is God who grants believers power and authority over demons. When Jesus, Peter, James, and John came down from the Mount of Transfiguration, they were greeted by a multitude of people. From among them, a father came up to Jesus and pleaded for Him to heal his son. He had brought the boy to the disciples, but they were unable to heal him.
Their inability was due to a lack of faith in Christ, not a lack of power or authority (Matthew 17:17–20). Jesus went on to offer a solution to this lack of faith, saying, This kind goeth not out but by prayer and fasting (Matthew 17:21). Prayer and fasting aren’t some sort of magical step that gives us power. Instead, they are spiritual disciplines that get our eyes off ourselves and draw us nearer to God and to all He is, which increases our faith in Him. God does not give His power to the faithless, and He chooses when and where to grant that authority and power.
When an unclean spirit departs from a person, it leaves behind a vacancy (emptiness) (Luke 11:24–26). In some cases, the person may try to amend his life on his own. This “cleaning up” or turning over a new leaf, when accomplished by our own determination, is only temporary. We may be prompted to change ourselves by religion, pressure to conform, pleasing others, or ridding ourselves of the consequences of our bad behavior. In this way the house may be put in order, but it is uninhabited—empty. In Luke, the demon couldn’t find another place to live, and so decided to go back where it had been, along with seven other unclean spirits which also entered that man, making his state worse than it was before.
In contrast, God’s desire is to fill that vacancy in our hearts with His Holy Spirit. When we believe in Jesus and His death, burial, and resurrection, the Holy Spirit comes to live inside us. First John 4:3–4 says: And every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God, but for those who are children of God, greater is he that is in you than he that is in the world. When the Holy Spirit moves into your life, you don’t have to fear the evil ones, because you are able to overcome them by God’s power (1 John 2:14; Ephesians 6:10–13).
Being born again does not mean that we will be sinless. Sin breaks our fellowship with God. As His children, we know that God is ready to forgive us, and we need to turn to Him immediately. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9).
Unfortunately, human tendency is to not recognize sin for what it is, instead harboring sin in our hearts while accusing others of the same things we are guilty of. However, by the power of the Holy Spirit who resides in us, God wants to help us avoid sin in the future (Galatians 5:16).
What Is God’s Purpose in Allowing the Devil and the Demons to Live?
We all ask why God didn’t send the devil and his demons to the lake of fire immediately after their rebellion. Believe it or not, God uses Satan as a part of His plan. Paul told the Corinthians: Lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure (2 Corinthians 12:7). Paul knew he could easily be proud of his knowledge of the Lord, but this thorn kept him humble.
All things were created by [God], and for him. He forms light, and He creates darkness. He makes peace and also creates evil (Isaiah 45:7). He created the angels who rebelled, and He uses them in His great and mighty plan.
How would we know the greatness of God’s love, mercy, and truth if we didn’t have the contrast of Satan’s hate, injustice, and lies? God, in His all-knowing ways, allows the evil ones to torment and tempt us and spread their lies to us. Even Jesus was allowed to be touched by Satan’s hand through persecution, through temptation, and through death.
As we consider God’s use of Satan in the life of Job, we see that God is the one in charge. He is the one who allowed Satan to use his destructive hand on Job. He gave Satan the power to destroy. Satan, even though he is described as a roaring lion . . . seeking whom he may devour (1 Peter 5:8), cannot touch us without God’s permission. In Job chapters 38–42, we see that the Almighty really knows what He is doing when He allows evil to afflict our lives. When the evil one is allowed to use his influence in our lives, it is for a good purpose, for we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28). God desires obedience, and when we fail to obey Him, we must be prodded with painful experiences to get where He wants us to be, for He knows that godly sorrow worketh repentance (2 Corinthians 7:10).
Don’t forget, the evil ones are created beings. They don’t have God’s unlimited power to be in all places at once. They are limited to only one location at a time. That is why Satan is constantly going to and fro in the earth (Job 1:7).
Evil spirits don’t have all knowledge as God does. They cannot read our minds, but by observing our actions, they can see where our interests and weaknesses lie and seek to pull us further into sin. They are crafty, sneaky, and very clever in their ways to keep us from worshiping the true and living God of the universe. They constantly try to influence our minds with their lies. That’s why God urges us to guard our minds. Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight, O LORD, my strength, and my redeemer (Psalm 19:14).
Satan will do anything and use anyone to gain our love, loyalty, and obedience. It seems Satan’s most common method for drawing us into his hold is to imitate Christ by forming false religions to pull in the masses. The apostle Paul, in a sermon to the immature church at Corinth, stated: For Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light. Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers [demons] also be transformed as the ministers of righteousness; whose end [judgment] shall be according to their works (2 Corinthians 11:14–15). It is our works that destroy us. It is the Savior’s work that saves us. God warns us again through Paul in Colossians about Satan’s type of religion—a religion of human works that makes us feel worthy of God’s grace. Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ (Colossians 2:8).
The evil spirits trick us into worshiping anything other than God Almighty. An idol is anything we deem as more important or more valuable than what God has told us—our personal belongings, our church teachings, our ancestors’ ways, or even our parents’ advice. If we pledge our loyalty to them before our loyalty to Christ, it is evil, for there are only two roads in life: God’s and man’s. No servant can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other (Luke 16:13). Man’s road is Satan’s road, for he is our heavenly father unless we turn to the true heavenly Father.
Getting to know God through His Word is the most important thing we can do in our lifetime. Without a good knowledge of the Bible, we might blindly follow Satan, and we won’t even realize it is happening. A. W. Tozer once said, “No religion can rise higher than its concept of God.” By putting other things or people above our relationship with God, we will only have a cheap religion that is not God’s.
From what we read in Scripture, we see that Satan attracts people into his world by offering them power, just as he dared to do with Jesus Christ:
And the devil said unto him, All this power will I give thee, and the glory of them: for that is delivered unto me; and to whomsoever I will I give it. If thou therefore wilt worship me, all shall be thine. And Jesus answered and said unto him, Get thee behind me, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve. (Luke 4:6–8)
Once pulled in by the experience of Satan’s powers, a person will only want more and more. Others may think they are under a curse from which they cannot escape. It is true that angels, whether good or evil, are greater in power and might than we are (2 Peter 2:11), but angels and demons are always subject to the name of Jesus Christ (Eph. 1:21).
People influenced or possessed by evil spirits often suffer mental problems, have obsessions with sex or greed, or try to destroy themselves and others. They become violently angry or have a strong disrespect toward authority. They also battle with guilty minds and unreasonable fears. We must not underestimate an evil spirit’s power to convince us, as he did Eve, that sinning will bring us greater knowledge and freedom.
Many people are convinced that they have committed the unpardonable sin by dabbling with the devil. They read of instances in the Bible of God’s refusal to pardon Manasseh for shedding much innocent blood, but it was the heart of Manasseh that God judged. His murderous ways were evidence of his rejection of God (2 Kings 21:16).
Matthew 12:31–32 speaks of the Pharisees who resisted Christ much, and even attributed Christ’s power as Satan’s. Jesus’s answer is sometimes misunderstood, and some become fearful and uncertain: Wherefore I say unto you, All manner of sin and blasphemy [denying, cursing] shall be forgiven unto men: but the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost shall not be forgiven unto men. And whosoever speaketh a word against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven him: but whosoever speaketh against the Holy Ghost, it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world, neither in the world to come.
Jesus makes it very clear in Matthew 12 how we will know on which side we are. He that is not with me is against me; and he that gathereth not with me scattereth abroad (Matthew 12:30). Do not worry about whether or not some past sin will keep you from heaven, and do not let Satan’s lies discourage you. If your heart is still towards the Lord and not against him, you likely have nothing to fear. Focus on gathering with Jesus, and let the Holy Spirit lead you into all good things.
Our suffering and torment at the hands of evil spirits may be God’s method of turning us from sin. If we respond with a contrite and repentant heart, He is then able to forgive, comfort, strengthen, love, and impart wisdom to us. God will never give the believer in Christ more trials than he is able to handle, and He will always provide a way of escape. There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it (1 Corinthians 10:13).
How Can We Guard Ourselves against Satan and His Evil Spirits?
The gospel of Christ is the only power we have against Satan’s domain, for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek (Romans 1:16). The only way to avoid Satan’s possession of us is to admit our rebellion toward God and accept Christ’s work on the cross as our only method of salvation from sin, Satan, and eternal hell.
This one act of total surrender allows the Holy Spirit to possess us, change us, and protect us. This does not mean that the evil spirits will leave us alone, but it makes it impossible for them to enter our body to control it. The demons will continue to harass our minds, but we can even be delivered from that.
As Erwin Lutzer says in his book God’s Devil, we need:
- Faith in the blood of Christ for salvation: Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood (Romans 3:24–25).
- Repentance from sin: The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise (Psalm 51:17).
- To be filled with the Holy Spirit as a continual surrender to His will: And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit; Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord (Ephesians 5:18–19).
- To believe God’s promises for Christians: Nevertheless we, according to his promise, look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness (2 Peter 3:13).
Our real battles take place in the invisible world, not with our fellow man, for we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places (Ephesians 6:12).
Strive to bring glory to the name of God. He wants to be your sanctuary, your room of safety. Run to the arms of the loving Father whenever you sense a demon assaulting you. Call for Him to rebuke the evil ones and trust His promises. If you don’t know what those promises are, make an effort to read your Bible over and over and memorize those promises.
Dear Heavenly Father, Savior of my soul, deliver me from the evil spirits who seek to bring shame to Your name through me. Please place Your hedge of protection around me. Fill me with Your Spirit that I might not sin against You. Thank you for Your forgiveness. Thank You for the power to turn from sin. Thank You for Your promises to guide and protect me. Help me to die to self-confidence and deliver me from fear. For I am crucified with Christ. Nevertheless I live, yet not I, but Christ liveth in me. And the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me (Galatians 2:20). I pray this in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.
Do your beliefs line up with our Anabaptist forefathers?
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Chapter Six: Angels, Demons, and Satan
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