Angels and Devils
Since angels and men have the highest measure of perfection among all creatures, we shall consider them separately. First, we shall consider the angels.
The Name “Angel” Defined
The name Angel (Hebrew: מלאך Maleach) is used for a variety of persons in the Word of God.
(1) The Lord Jesus Christ is called the Angel,
of whom it is stated, “My Name (Jehovah) is in Him” (Exo. 23:21), that He is “the Angel of His presence” (Isa. 63:9), and “the messenger of the covenant” (Mal. 3:1).
(2) Ministers are called angels.
“… for he is the messenger (angel)1 of the LORD of hosts” (Mal. 2:7).
(3) Messengers are referred to as angels (Job 1:14).
(4) Incorporal personal entities are referred to as “angels.”
“And David lifted up his eyes, and saw the angel of the LORD stand between the earth and the heaven, having a drawn sword in his hand stretched out over Jerusalem” (1 Chr. 21:16).
In Greek Ἄγγελος (Angelos) is used two or three times to denote a messenger; otherwise it is always in reference to incorporal personal entities which are denominated as “angels.” This name is not in any way related to their mission. It is a name which belongs as uniquely to these creatures as the name “man” belongs to the human race. Thus, this name does not refer to an office, but signifies spiritual, personal entities in contrast to human beings. “For we are made a spectacle unto the world, and to angels, and to men” (1 Cor. 4:9); “Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels …” (1 Cor. 13:1). Men are compared to angels, Ἰ σάγγελοι (Isangeloi). “But they which shall be accounted worthy to obtain that world, and the resurrection from the dead, neither marry … for they are equal unto the angels” (Luke 20:35–36; cf. Mat. 22:30). These incorporal personal entities are also called spirits, which in Hebrew is רוח (ruach), and in Greek πνεῦμα (pneuma).
This word is also used in a variety of ways.
(1) It refers to God (John 4:24);
(2) to the third Person in the divine essence (Psa. 33:6; 1 John 5:7);
(3) to the soul of man (Psa. 77:3; Acts 7:59);
(4) to the wind (Psa. 1:4; John 3:8);
(5) however, most frequently it refers to angels, that is, incorporal personal entities.
“A spirit passed before my face” (Job 4:15); “Are they not all ministering spirits?” (Heb. 1:14). “And the evil spirit answered …” (Acts 19:15).
Both this name and the name “angel” are proper to their being, and are not assigned to them on the basis of comparison with other creatures. God who gave everything a name according to His will has given these specific names to these personal entities, and those names are synonymous with these personal entities. The use of these names is as common as our use of money; it is not necessary to anxiously and cunningly search for hidden meanings. We know what the word “angel” or “spirit” means, and what we understand by it.
Anyone who believes Scripture and does not impudently reject human histories and witness accounts, needs no proof for the existence of angels. If anyone wishes to join the Sadducees, however, in stating “that there is no resurrection, neither angel, nor spirit” (Acts 23:8), let him not object to being numbered among them.
The angels were created, for whatever exists is either Creator or creature.
Since they are not the Creator, they are creatures and have been created. Paul confirms this when he states, “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” (Col. 1:16). Although it cannot be stated with certainty on which day of creation they were created, we do know that they were not created prior to “the beginning.” Prior to the beginning there was nothing but God Himself who inhabiteth eternity, whereas all creatures have a chronological existence, making them increasingly distant from the initial moment of their existence. It is equally true that they were not created after the initial six days, since God perfectly completed everything within this time frame. It is most probable that as the heavenly host (Luke 2:13) they were created on the first day with the third heaven, for when the Lord in subsequent days brought forth everything from that shapeless mass of matter, they were already present. “Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth?… When the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy?” (Job 38:4, 7).
In the beginning God created but one person, from whom He created a second, and out of these two the innumerable multitude of human beings has been brought forth. However, He created the entire, unfathomably large multitude of angels in one moment. There is “an innumerable company of angels” (Heb. 12:22); “The chariots of God are twenty thousand, even thousands of angels” (Psa. 68:17); “Thousand thousands ministered unto Him, and ten thousand times ten thousand stood before Him” (Dan. 7:10).
The Existence of Angels Defined
An angel is an incorporal, personal being which God has created and gifted with an extraordinary intellect, will, and power.
An angel is a personal being based on the following evidence. Everyone will admit that whatever possesses intellect, a will, and power, and engages in intelligent and energetic activity, is a personal being. All this is true for angels—which we will subsequently support with abundant evidence—and they are therefore personal beings. As their form and manner of existence are unknown to us, however, their internal essence is likewise unknown to us. But we do know that their attributes, such as intellect, will, power, goodness, and wisdom are to be differentiated from their essential being, for “simplicity” is one of the incommunicable attributes of God. Beyond this we cannot delve into the essential nature of their being, since it has not been revealed to us. As it is beyond the reach of our intellect, we do not wish to deal with matters which have been hidden from us, but must wisely be moderate so that our own thinking and that of others may not be tainted.
Angels are incorporal personal beings; that is, beings which exist without a body. It is their very nature to be spirits, and thus there is no essential union with a body. A body is trinam dimensionem; that is, three-dimensional, having length, breadth, and height. We emphatically deny this to be true for angels, even if one were to think of a body of the minutest dimensions. There is not the least relationship between angels and that which is corporal. “… a spirit hath not flesh and bones …” (Luke 24:39). They have been created by God to exist independently, without being united to a body.
As is true of the angels, the soul of man is also incorporal, that is, a spirit. The concept of three-dimensionality is also entirely absent here, for the soul can exist without a body, as is true after man’s death. This does not mean that the soul is then an angel, but as there are various bodily forms, the soul is likewise a different kind of spirit. It has spirituality and incorporeality in common with the angels, albeit in a lower degree, as the essential difference between the two is hidden from us. We also are not fully cognizant of the form of existence of our souls. We do know this, however, that they are not angels, nor are they ever referred to as angels. Rather, they are expressly distinguished from angels. “But ye are come unto … an innumerable company of angels … and to the spirits of just men made perfect” (Heb. 12:22–23).
Although there is no essential union between angels and bodies, they do appear in bodily form. They did not appear as apparitions or shadows during their frequent appearances, but the bodies in which they walked, sat, spoke, ate, wrestled, or touched other bodies, were true bodies. The saints to whom they appeared were not mentally impaired, did not sleep (although they did appear to them corporally in dreams or during a state of mental ecstasy), but were awake, spoke, moved, and interacted with them as if they were human beings.
However, I neither know the origin of the bodies which they temporarily possessed, nor do I wish to make a guess. Although the bodies by which they interacted with men were true bodies, the angels were not essentially united to those bodies as the soul is united to the body. They set those bodies in motion, not formaliter, that is, in essence, but efficienter; that is, as operative agents of those motions, such as when a man moves the gears in his watch. This occurred for the purpose of enabling the angels to meet with man in a manner consistent with his own form of existence, and thus to interact with man in a manner familiar to him.
Although the angels are incorporeal—and thus not surrounded by the atmosphere, etc., as is true for human bodies—they nevertheless, in a manner consistent with their nature, exist in one locality, although we as corporal beings cannot comprehend how. We nevertheless know that they exist elsewhere, for that which exists nowhere does not exist, and whatever exists everywhere and without dimensions is God. If they are in one locality, they are not simultaneously elsewhere. Whenever our bodies change locality, our souls likewise change locality. Whenever a godly person dies, his soul does not remain upon earth, but has its residence in the third heaven. Whenever an ungodly person dies, his soul goes to hell and does not remain upon earth. Thus a spirit changes locality and the angels do likewise.
When the angel was stationed at the east of Paradise, he was at that location and not in heaven (Gen. 3:24). When the angel of the Lord spoke to Zachariah while standing at the right side of the altar (Luke 1:11), he was not in Nazareth. When the angel Gabriel was sent to Nazareth and visited Mary (Luke 1:26, 28), he was not in Jerusalem. When the angels of God ascend and descend (John 1:51), they are changing location. Thus, they are always in a specific locality and move from place to place.
It is even more absurd to think that a spirit is wherever he thinks himself to be. This presupposes of course that he is in a specified locality at that moment. The devil would still be in heaven, since he can think of having been there. Then man would be without a soul whenever he is mentally present in another place. Then the soul of a deceased person would still be within his body upon earth, since he could still think of being there. Whenever the soul of man removes itself mentally to other places it does not go there in actuality, but man brings such distant places and matters into his imagination; thus the soul reflects upon that which is manifest in the imagination. Similarly, an angel also thinks about matters which are remote, doing so in a manner consistent with his nature, but which is concealed from us as we do not know his form of existence.
Angels are intelligent creatures in a manner far exceeding the intelligence of man.
This is why the wise woman of Tekoa said to David, “My lord is wise, according to the wisdom of an angel of God” (2 Sam. 14:20). Their knowledge is either natural or acquired.
By virtue of their nature, the angels from the initial moment of their existence have always beheld the countenance of the Father (Mat. 18:10). They do, however, acquire knowledge concerning matters of which they had no prior knowledge, either by revelation or by experience. The Lord Jesus revealed the mystery of “things which must shortly come to pass” to an angel, sending him to reveal this to John (Rev. 1:1). By constant exhortation, the church makes known to principalities and powers in heavenly places the manifold wisdom of God (Eph. 3:10).
Their knowledge is finite and therefore they do not know all things, as many things are hidden from them.
(1) They are not naturally capable of themselves to perceive future events which will transpire by the exercise of man’s free will or which will result because of secondary causes.
This attribute properly belongs to God alone. “Shew the things that are to come hereafter, that we may know that ye are gods” (Isa. 41:23); “But of that day and that hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels which are in heaven” (Mark 13:32).
(2) They have no knowledge of the heart, free will, and thoughts of men by way of an extrinsic act of the intellect.
Such knowledge is in the first place attributable to God alone. “For Thou only knowest the hearts of the children of men” (2 Chr. 6:30); “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it? I the LORD search the heart, I try the reins” (Jer. 17:9–10a). Such knowledge is never attributed to an angel. Secondly, the reasonable will is subject to God alone and is immediately dependent upon Him. He only is capable of influencing the will. “The king’s heart is in the hand of the LORD, as the rivers of water: He turneth it withersoever He will” (Prov. 21:1); “He fashioneth their hearts alike” (Psa. 33:15).
If angels are cognizant of the will and opinion of men, this is neither due to immediate nor prior knowledge. Rather, they perceive this in retrospect, observing all the circumstances and manifestations of man’s movements and thus they conclude the probability of man’s thoughts and will. However, the probability of being in error concerning these matters always remains. One must always distinguish here between the will and the manifestation of the will. The angels are conscious of the latter from which they conclude the former.
Nevertheless, God does reveal to both good and evil angels some of the things which will come to pass—either to the benefit of the godly or as a trial and punishment upon the ungodly. The angels utilize these revelations for the purpose of comfort and exhortation. The devils, however, use them to deceive, to cause men to acknowledge that they are capable of predicting future events, and to induce men to believe them.
Our little children often ask when they begin to reason, “Why is this?” and “How does this work?” In regard to these matters they ask, “Does an angel have eyes?” Answer: No. “How is he then able to see? How is he able to read the Bible and thus know what it contains as well as what transpires in the world? Does he have ears?” Answer: No. “How then is he capable of hearing what we say? Does he have hands and feet?” Answer: No. “How then is he capable of moving from one place to another? How is he capable of doing anything?” We respond that all this is known to us from God’s Word. Since, however, we are ignorant of the manner of their existence, we are also ignorant of the “how” of their existence. Being unable to understand the “how” of a matter does not mean that we must deny the matter itself. All we can say is that they do not see, hear, and function as man does, but rather in a manner which is consistent with their nature.
The angels are in possession of superior and extraordinary power, enabling them to execute great matters which far exceed the ability of men. “Whereas angels, which are greater in power and might …” (2 Pet. 2:11). It is stated that they “excel in strength” (Psa. 103:20); they are called “His mighty angels” (2 Th. 1:7); they are referred to as “the heavenly host” (Luke 2:13), and as “horses and chariots of fire” (2 Ki. 6:17). All this is evident from the acts which they perform, as recorded in God’s Word.
The Interaction of Angels and Physical Entities
Question: Is it possible, and has it truly occurred that an angel has interacted with a physical entity since they are neither compatible nor have anything in common?
Answer: By positing that there is no compatibility between the two, one thereby presupposes that there are angels as well as men.
First, if this were an impossibility, the impossibility exists either in relation to God, to the physical entity, or to the angel.
The impossibility is not with God for He is omnipotent and can empower a creature to a degree that is pleasing to Him. This also is not true relative to the physical entity which can be set in motion, nor is it true relative to an angel, as both God’s Word and experience confirm this to be so. No one is able to state in what manner this interaction occurs, however, unless he were to have a perfect and thorough knowledge of the nature as well as the manner of an angel’s existence—which man does not have.
Poor, insignificant man! How can men who hardly understand how one physical entity interacts with another even entertain the notion to argue about the power of angels? I said “hardly,” for there be many things of which they have no knowledge at all; they are not able to tell us how sun, moon, and stars influence whatever transpires upon earth, nor the cause of low and high tides, and many other such phenomena. Explain that first to us and then you may explain to us how our soul is united with and influences the body, as well as proceed to state what is either possible or impossible relative to angels. Or else, believe the Word of God, as well as experience, which is the teacher of fools.
Secondly, it is certain that God—who is a Spirit and is distinctly different from physical entities to a far greater degree than is true for angels—interacts with physical entities.
Therefore the fact that an angel is a spirit does not prevent him from interacting with a physical entity. If you reason that God is omnipotent whereas an angel is not, and thus disallow the aforementioned conclusion, I respond that this is true as far as omnipotence is concerned. The congruency between God and angels consists, however, in the fact that both have nothing in common and are incompatible with physical entities. From this we draw the incontrovertible conclusion that this incompatibility and incongruency does not prevent a spirit from interacting with a physical entity. The entire foundation of this logical construction collapses, and thus all reasons for denial are nullified.
Thirdly, our soul is a spirit, and as such is as distinct from the body as an angel is from a physical entity.
Our soul interacts with the body, however, and thus an angel is capable of the same. Upon the suggestion that a soul is united to its own body and therefore interacts with its own body—and by the agency of this body with other physical entities—I respond that the fact whether the spirit does or does not belong to a physical entity is not the issue here. The soul is a spirit and as spirit it immediately interacts with the body. You can suggest as many indirect contacts between body and soul as you wish, but one must ultimately arrive at the point of immediate contact in their union. Thus, we conclude that a spirit interacts with a physical entity. Once more, is God not able to give a body to an angel, temporarily assigning him a body? Would this angel be able to interact with his own body as the soul interacts with its body and, by virtue of its body, with other physical entities? As this is true for the soul, it is obviously true for angels as well. Having eliminated every reason for the objection, it is certain that an angel can interact with a physical entity.
Fourthly, the interaction between angels and physical entities is so clearly and abundantly attested to by Scripture that it merely suffices to read about this.
From a large number of Scripture references let me select the following example. “Then the angel of the LORD went forth, and smote in the camp of the Assyrians a hundred and fourscore and five thousand” (Isa. 37:36). An angel performed this task; no other creature was capable of performing a task of this magnitude. People, and that in respect to their bodies, were the object of his activity; they were killed by the angel. This certainly is an example of interaction with physical entities.
“My God hath sent His angel, and hath shut the lions’ mouths” (Dan. 6:22). Did not an angel of the Lord announce the birth of Christ to the shepherds with heavenly clarity using the language of men (Luke 2:13)? The act of speaking sets air particles in motion, and thus the angel, as well as the multitude of the heavenly hosts which joined him, interacted with physical entities.
It was an angel who spoke with the Lord Jesus Christ in Gethsemane (Luke 22:43).
Angels appeared to the guards and the women at the resurrection of Christ (Mat. 28:2–5). “And, behold, the angel of the Lord came upon him, and a light shined in the prison: and he smote Peter on the side, and raised him up, saying …” (Acts 12:7). Is it possible to express the interaction between a spirit and a physical entity any more clearly? Also in verse 23, “And immediately the angel of the Lord smote him [Herod].” From all these examples it is undeniable that angels interact with physical entities.
Objection #1: The angels were not involved, but were merely bystanders to enhance the luster of God’s work.
Answer: Is there a single text where this is stated? Allow for the enhancement of glory that they would manifest themselves to men in human form; they nevertheless, in this manifestation, were interacting with physical entities. In addition to this it is expressly stated, however, that angels performed all these things. Who dares to contradict what God affirms?
Objection #2: One could ask in what manner angels interact with physical entities. Is it merely by means of their will, or are the exercise of power and exertion of influence also factors?
Answer: (1) The will is the initiating principle for the activity of a rational creature. To bring anything to pass by the mere exercise of the will, however, is an act of God rather than of the creature. God says, “I will: be thou clean” (Luke 5:13); “God … calleth those things which be not as though they were” (Rom. 4:17); “For He spake, and it was done; He commanded, and it stood fast” (Psa. 33:9).
(2) It is nowhere stated in the entire Bible that angels have executed tasks merely by the exercise of their will. Who therefore dares to state such a thing, and what is the basis for such a statement?
(3) God’s Word states that they excel in strength, have power, killed, smote Peter’s side, closed the mouths of lions, spoke, and did everything in a manner as one would describe the activity of men. This proves that in addition to the exercise of their will there also was the exercise of power.
(4) If one wishes to maintain that angels are merely active in exercising their will, such a statement would imply the negation of the fact that angels truly interact with physical entities. By such reasoning one would not be able to rebut those who deny this very interaction itself, thereby confirming the very thing he wished to negate. Since they truly and actually interact with physical entities, however, they are thus not merely exercising their will, but the exercise of power and exertion of influence are added to this. Yet as far as the manner of operation is concerned, we readily remain silent. It should be observed that all this haggling and manipulation is expressive of a subtle inclination to completely deny the existence of any spirit.
As angels interact with physical entities, they likewise interact with each other, as 1) there is among them no incompatibility of natures, 2) Scripture states it to be so, “And one cried unto another …” (Isa. 6:3), and 3) if such were not the case, they would each exist in solitude and would be less perfect than man. It is also to their well-being to see and hear each other and to speak to and interact with each other.
These then are general observations concerning both good and evil angels.
Concerning the Good Angels
In the beginning all angels were created in a holy state; however, a large portion of them have apostatized so that presently both holy angels and devils exist.
The good angels are also referred to as elect (1 Tim. 5:21), proving that there is an election of angels as well as of men.
They are generally referred to as holy angels (Mat. 25:31; Jude 14), angels of the Lord, or also, without the use of an adjective, angels. They are also called ministering spirits, cherubims, appearances (due to their visible appearances to men), and seraphims (aflame) because of their zeal and readiness. In reference to their service they are called holy watchers, sons of God, morning stars, heavenly hosts, thrones, principalities, powers, and rulers. In one text they are called Elohim (Psa. 8:5), which the apostle, in view of their radiation of divine power, translates as angels in Hebrews 2:7.
The third heaven is the residence of the angels.
“… in heaven their angels do always behold the face of My Father which is in heaven” (Mat. 18:10); “… but are as the angels of God in heaven” (Mat. 22:30). Therefore they are called the angels of heaven (Mat. 24:36). It is from heaven that they are sent forth to perform those things which they are commanded to do. “For the angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and came …” (Mat. 28:2); “And there appeared an angel unto Him from heaven …” (Luke 22:43).
There is a very orderly relationship between the angels.
Since God is a God of order, there can be no disorderliness in the holy environment of heaven. The manner of this order and the nature of the hierarchy are not known to us. We only know that there are thrones, principalities, powers, and rulers. The orders or ranks suggested by some are a pure fabrication.
Generally, their task is to execute God’s commands.
“Bless the LORD, ye His angels … that do His commandments, hearkening unto the voice of His Word” (Psa. 103:20). God specifically sends them forth to serve the elect (Heb. 1:14). They preserve them, “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” (Psa. 91:11–12). They warn them against danger (Mat. 2:13); they rebuke them for committed sins (Rev. 22:9); they exhort them (Rev. 19:10); they give them direction as to what their course of action must be (Acts 10:5); they reveal future events to them (Dan. 8:16); they carry their souls to heaven after death (Luke 16:22), and they will be used to gather them prior to the final judgment (Mat. 24:31). God uses them for these and many other special tasks to the benefit of the elect, and uses them on the other hand to punish the ungodly. An angel slew 185,000 men in one night (Isa. 37:36), and an angel smote Herod the King and he died (Acts 12:23).
Someone may ask whether every country, every city, every home, and every person has its special guardian angel. Our response is that nothing of the sort is to be found in God’s Word, and therefore our wisdom must not go beyond the boundaries of what is written. Scripture does state that an angel is present with a godly person (Acts 12:7). Sometimes more angels are present with a godly person (2 Kings 6:17), and sometimes one angel is present with several godly persons (Dan. 3:25).
Practical Exhortations Concerning the Doctrine of Angels
If the angels interact with man in such a fashion, the godly must believe and acknowledge this and behave themselves accordingly for the activity of angels has not been recorded without purpose.
First, one should carefully avoid attributing anything to them which is not revealed in God’s Word and which we are forbidden to attribute to them.
They must neither be acknowledged as intercessors nor must we desire that they intercede for us, as such activity is not according to God’s Word. We must neither serve nor worship them for the following reasons:
(1) It is idolatry to serve anything which by its very nature is not God (Gal. 4:8). One may serve and worship only God. “Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and Him only shalt thou serve” (Mat. 4:10).
(2) It is expressly forbidden. “Let no man beguile you of your reward in a voluntary humility and worshipping of angels” (Col. 2:18).
(3) It is sharply condemned. “see thou do it not … worship God” (Rev. 19:10).
Secondly, one should observe and acknowledge this, and by way of frequent meditation seek to increase both observation of and faith in the fact that it pleases God to accomplish so many great things by their agency.
We must stand amazed at the interrelationship of secondary causes and God’s government of them in relation to the influences of sun, moon, and stars upon earthly things, as well as in relation to the interaction between terrestrial objects. While observing the wisdom and goodness of God in all these things, we must also be amazed about God’s use of the angels. Although we do not know everything, we can deduce many other things from that which has been recorded. We would know even more if we would more frequently contemplate upon it. This would render us more fit to acknowledge and praise God joyfully concerning His wisdom and goodness in His use of the angels.
Thirdly, one must refrain from and be fearful of offending, despising, and grieving the godly, for they have such holy guardians who are displeased with such behavior—standing ready to punish their offenders, as has been demonstrated in the past (cf. Isa. 37:36; Acts 12:23).
It is for this reason that the Lord Jesus states in Matthew 18:10, “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.”
Fourthly, how safe God’s children are!
It is true that only God by His power and supervision protects and preserves His people. Thus, one may neither trust in nor rely upon a creature. Nevertheless, God uses means in this preservation, as He provides nourishment for the maintenance of life and armed forces for the protection of cities and countries. God therefore is to be acknowledged in the provision of means. And we ought to stand amazed and rejoice in the manner whereby He directs the holy angels, in that He uses such glorious creatures to preserve such minuscule and insignificant human beings. Since God has commissioned them to guard, protect, and keep the godly, one ought to be quiet and without fear, even when all things appear to be against us. “For they that be with us are more than they that be with them” (2 Ki. 6:16).
Fifthly, in view of their presence we, even when not being observed by man, ought to conduct ourselves holily and without blame.
Although God’s omnipresence and omniscience alone ought to sufficiently restrain us, God nevertheless uses the presence of men, due to our respect for them, as a means to keep us from many sins and to stir us up to the practice of virtue. Thus, it also behooves us to be holy and without blame in our behavior in view of the presence of angels, considering them to be fellow servants and our “company” (Heb. 12:22). We shall thus cause them to rejoice, and by virtue of their communication of this there will be joy in heaven (Luke 15:7, 10). Consequently, the apostle exhorts that “for this cause ought the woman to have power (a covering) on her head because of the angels” (1 Cor. 11:10).
Concerning the Devils
God created all angels in a state of holiness; however, a large multitude apostatized.
“For if God spared not the angels that sinned …” (2 Pet. 2:4); “And the angels which kept not their first estate, but left their own habitation …” (Jude 6). They are referred to as angels (sometimes without the use of any adjectives) by virtue of their nature—a nature which they have corrupted through sin, but have nevertheless not lost. “For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels … shall be able to separate us from the love of God” (Rom. 8:38–39). Sometimes the term is modified by a reference to the sin which they have sinned; that is, as those “which kept not their first estate,” or by a reference to their leader, βεελζεβούλ (Beelzebul), “the prince of the devils” (Mat. 12:24), “the angel of the bottomless pit” (Rev. 9:11). They are consequently called the angels of the devil (Mat. 25:41), the angels of the dragon (Rev. 12:7), and the messengers of Satan (2 Cor. 12:7).
In view of their nature they are also referred to as spirits.
“They brought unto Him many that were possessed with devils: and He cast out the spirits with His word” (Mat. 8:16). Due to their abhorrent nature they are called “unclean spirits” (Mark 3:11). “And in the synagogue there was a man, which had a spirit of an unclean devil” (Luke 4:33). Due to their internal activity in men they are called “dumb and deaf spirits” (Mark 9:25), “spirits of infirmity” (Luke 13:11), that is a spirit which makes one dumb, deaf, and ill. They are also referred to as practitioners of “spiritual wickedness” (Eph. 6:12).
In Hebrew the devil is called שטנ, and in Greek, Σατᾶν, Σατανᾶς (Satan), that is, one who opposes, resists, and contradicts, since he is in opposition to God, Christ, believers, and all that is good. “… There was given to me … the messenger of Satan …” (2 Cor. 12:7); “And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan” (Rev. 12:9). For this reason he is called Ἂντίδικος Antidikos, or “adversary” (1 Pet. 5:8).
In Greek he is called Δαίμων, Δαιμονιον (Daimon, Daimonion) (demon). These words are derived from δαίω (daio), to know, since he leaves no stone unturned in his quest to know where and in what manner he can perform the ultimate in evil. He is also cognizant of many matters which are hidden from man, which he by divine permission at times reveals, and sometimes guesses on the basis of probability. He is subtle in all his evil practices. “That ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil” (Eph. 6:11); “… as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtilty …” (2 Cor. 11:3).
He is also called Διάβολος (Diabolos), or Devil, which is derived from διαβάλλειν (diaballein), to slander. The devil is a slanderer, for he slanders God by casting fiery darts in the heart of the believer, and he slanders believers in the presence of God (Job 1:9, 11). “Although thou movest Me against him …” (Job 2:3). For this reason he is called Κατηγορος (Kategoros), (accuser) (Rev. 12:10).
The idea that the words Satan, devil, unclean spirits, angels that sinned should be translated with words such as sin, sickness, evil moods, fantasy, imagination, and evil men, is ludicrous. Such an obvious absurdity is contradicted by the Bible, by all Hebrew, Greek, and Latin writers, as well as writers in other languages. Whenever these words occur we know that they do not refer to these abstract ideas, but rather to evil, spiritual, and personal entities. They are mentioned in contradistinction to such things. “And to have power to heal sicknesses, and to cast out devils” (Mark 3:15). Knowledge, the knowledge of Christ, and the ability to reason and to speak, are all attributed to the devils. This will be abundantly evident as we proceed, all of which cannot be attributed to other abstract things. The exception occurs when the Lord Jesus once called Peter Satan, an adversary (Mat. 16:23), because he withstood him and thereby engaged in the work of Satan. Judas, the traitor, was called a diabolus or a devil (John 6:70) since the devil would enter into him and he thus would be a tool of the devil.
To pagans and Christians and to both the godly and the ungodly it is very evident that devils do exist. Scripture makes mention of it so frequently and clearly that no one can doubt this truth unless one wishes to stubbornly contradict the common view of men as well as God’s Word. Such a person would not deserve to be answered with one word, nor to be engaged in a discussion.
Devils do exist, and their number is very large. Scripture frequently speaks of devils, occasionally using the adjective “many” (Mark 1:34), and “seven” (Mark 16:9), as well as referring to the presence of a legion of devils in one person (Mark 5:9, 15). Whenever the reference to the devil is singular, this occurs either because there was only one devil present; because the reference was to his identity, as one would say, “man lives by food and drink”; or because the reference is to the chief of devils.
Whatever has been stated generally concerning the angels also applies to the devils, who are angels. This means that they are personal entities, endowed with intellect and power, and interact with physical and human beings. The fact that they are personal entities is confirmed by all those texts which state that they speak, know Jesus, tempt, tear people, cast them about, kill swine, etc. It is confirmed in Mark 1:34, among other texts, that they possess intellect, “And (He) suffered not the devils to speak, because they knew Him.” This is also shown in the following texts, “And the evil spirit answered and said, Jesus I know, and Paul I know; but who are ye?” (Acts 19:15). “But I fear, lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve through subtilty …” (2 Cor. 11:3).
The fact that devils interact with physical and human beings is confirmed first of all from all those texts which we have previously used to prove that such is true for angels, (the devils being angels), as well as from many other texts of which we merely mention the following,
“Now the serpent … said unto the woman” (Gen. 3:1), and, “The serpent beguiled me” (Gen. 3:13). The one being engaged in this activity is here referred to as a serpent. It is common knowledge that the creeping animal which bears the name “serpent” neither possesses intellect nor the ability to speak, so that it was not the animal which spoke, but it was merely a means used by another. It is also certain that Eve in her holy state was neither subject to illness, melancholy, vain imaginations, nor to any other sinful condition, nor was this an imagination, such as in a waking dream. It was a true historical event. It was also not possible for Eve, due to her holy state, to entertain evil thoughts concerning God in her imagination, to do battle against them, and ultimately to be conquered by them.
Who then did speak to Eve?
The text states that it was the serpent whose head would be bruised by the seed of the woman; that is, it is the one who would be conquered by the Lord Jesus Christ—the devil. “That through death He (Christ) might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil” (Heb. 2:14). It was therefore the devil who spoke to Eve and tempted her, and it is he who presently lives and engages in battle against the congregation of God. “But I fear, lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtilty, so your minds should be corrupted …” (2 Cor. 11:3). The Lord Jesus clearly states that it was the devil. “He (the devil) was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth …” (John 8:44). Thus, the devils at one time abode in the truth, sinned, did not keep their first estate, and are murderers of men. He is called “that old serpent, … the devil, and Satan” (Rev. 12:9). It is therefore undeniable that the devil knew Eve, spoke with her, and thus is capable of interacting with a human being.
Secondly, such interaction is confirmed in the following passages,
“And the LORD said unto Satan, Behold, all that he hath is in thy power … so Satan went forth from the presence of the LORD” (Job 1:12); “And, behold, there came a great wind from the wilderness, and smote the four corners of the house, and it fell upon the young men, and they are dead” (Job 1:19); “So went Satan forth from the presence of the LORD, and smote Job with sore boils from the sole of his foot unto his crown” (Job 2:7). Here the active agent was neither an illness, an evil temper, a sin, nor a man, but Satan. It was Satan, the devil (he is one and the same), who caused the wind to arise from the desert, by which he smote the house and killed Job’s children. It was also he who smote Job with sore boils. It is thus confirmed that Satan interacts with human beings as well as with physical entities.
Thirdly, add to this what is stated in Matthew 4:1–11,
“Then was Jesus led up of the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil,” etc. All this activity, such as reasoning, tempting, resisting, the showing of the glory of kingdoms, was not mere imagination, but truly historical. The agent of this activity was not an evil temper, sin, nor a man. Aside from the fact that all of the aforesaid neither are nor ever are called the devil, they obviously do not fit this context. The Lord Jesus was holy and therefore could neither tempt Himself nor imagine all these things in such a fashion that He would thus reason with His own imagination in order to prevail against that temptation. God also was not the author of that temptation, since He does not tempt man (James 1:13). The text, however, states expressly that it was the devil, or Satan. The devil, although he is a spirit, interacts with human and physical beings.
Fourthly, add to this all the histories—recorded in the gospels—of those possessed with devils.
Those spirits are generally referred to as “devil,” “spirit,” “evil spirit,” but never as “sickness,” “sin,” “madness,” “imagination,” or “temper.” They are said to know Jesus, which was true for almost none but the disciples of Christ only, and their knowledge was but a glimmer. These devils were fearful of being tormented before their time, they prayed for permission to enter the swine—which they did after permission was granted—and killed them. They tore the bodies of those who were possessed, casting them about, all of which are known truths. The casting out of devils were miracles whereby Christ confirmed and manifested His mediatorial office. Paul was buffeted by a messenger of Satan (2 Cor. 12:7). Even though Satan has neither fists nor a body, he can make use of a body by divine permission. From all this it has been clearly proven that devils do exist, are present upon earth, and interact with human and physical beings.
Fifthly, the devils are still continually engaged against man, particularly the godly.
This is evident from the exhortations to manfully resist the devils. “Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil” (Eph. 6:11); “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour” (1 Pet. 5:8).
The methods of Satan’s assaults are manifold. They can, however, be reduced to three main headings.
(1) Sometimes his activity is focused upon man’s five senses. He does so either by impeding their function while simultaneously stimulating the imagination—whereby a person is of the opinion to have truly seen those things—or his presence is audibly or visibly perceived due to a physical appearance.
(2) Sometimes he only stimulates the imagination, be it when man is either awake or is dreaming—during daylight or darkness.
(3) Sometimes he operates by speaking directly to the soul, which is all the more evident when he presents nonphysical matters and arguments to the soul.
The Practice of Fortunetelling and Witchcraft
Thus, we have observed that devils do exist, are operative in this world, and interact with human beings. When devils practice their evil by the agency of men who surrender themselves to the devil for this purpose or otherwise willingly allow themselves to be His tools, we refer to this as fortunetelling or witchcraft.
Fortunetelling is that practice whereby man, assisted by the devil, unveils current matters which are hidden from man but known to the devil, or foretells future matters which the devil can either deduce from the course of nature—concerning which he makes a guess—or which may have been made known to him by God.
Witchcraft is that practice whereby man through the agency of the devil performs strange things which are beyond the capacity of human ability. Such is the case when he causes deceased persons to appear, tormenting men in their bodies. Many texts in Holy Writ confirm that he is capable of such activity, and engages in this. “And the soul that turneth after such as have familiar spirits, and after wizards, to go a-whoring after them …” (Lev. 20:6); “A man also or a woman that hath a familiar spirit, or that is a wizard, shall surely be put to death” (Lev. 20:27); “Now the magicians of Egypt, they also did in like manner with their enchantments” (Exo. 7:11); “Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live” (Exo. 22:18). The witch of Endor caused the form of Samuel to appear and predicted Saul’s death (1 Sam. 28:9–19). Likewise we read of Simon the sorcerer (Acts 8:9), and of Elymas the sorcerer (Acts 13:6–8).
We do not wish to concern ourselves with the manner in which the devil accomplishes this, nor how men accomplish these evil deeds by the devil’s agency. We know from God’s Word that there are witches who have performed strange things, and it is sufficiently confirmed by experience, which is the teacher of fools. This suffices us, although we must admit that very many of such accounts belong entirely to the realm of fables and fabrications.
Exhortations Relative to the Doctrine of Devils
It is not sufficient merely to have knowledge of these things, but we have dealt comprehensively with all these matters for the express purpose that it might be to our benefit. The devil is a prince of darkness and generally wishes to remain unknown and concealed as this enables him to engage effectively in his evil designs. Those who assist him in concealing himself do him a considerable service. Therefore there is profit in this doctrine for unconverted and converted alike, as both are the objects of his activity.
First of all I wish to address myself to the unconverted, stating that as long as you remain unconverted, you are subject to the power of the devil, having the devil as your father.
“Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do” (John 8:44). The devil is lord and master over you and he is at work in you. “The spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience” (Eph. 2:2). You are his captive and in bondage to him. “And that they may recover themselves out of the snare of the devil, who are taken captive by him at his will” (2 Tim. 2:26). He frequently moves you to commit acts, the commission of which you would have never deemed possible. He thus moved Judas to betray the Lord Jesus and afterward to hang himself. The devil often keeps you out of church, especially when he knows that the sermon to be preached could be a choice means to your conversion.
During the sermon he seeks to detract you by infusing other thoughts, holding such matters before you which he knows you delight in, thereby facilitating your meditation upon them. If you hear something that makes an impression upon you, he seeks in every possible way to rob you of this impression (Mat. 13:19). The devil prevents you from comprehending the power of the gospel. “But if our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost: in whom 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 Cor. 4:3–4). Do not think that this renders you innocent, for you yourself are also blind and of an evil disposition, willingly rejecting the gospel. The devil, however, often creates the occasion for this, stimulates you, and you then obey him.
Carefully meditate upon all this and apply it to yourself.
Consider that you are a slave of the devil, that he is your lord and master, that he controls you, engages you to be active in his cause, and will soon drag you as his prey to hell to be eternally tormented there. What a dreadful condition to be subject to such an abominable tyrant—the archenemy of God, Christ, and also yourself—who in bitter hatred murders your soul and eternally separates you from God and His blessed Christ! Therefore have mercy upon your own soul, wake up, hate the devil and his work, flee from him, bid his kingdom farewell, and surrender yourself to the sweet, easy, and lovely government of the Lord Jesus Christ—a government which will culminate in eternal salvation. Oh, that you would hear me! May the Lord save you.
In accordance with God’s declaration, “And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed” (Gen. 3:15), there is a special hatred between the devil and believers, the members of the Lord Jesus Christ. The hatred from the side of the devil is as bitter and evil as possible. It is only a lack of power which hinders him from executing his evil intent, as God continually prevents him from executing his premeditated intentions. How I wish that I could be instrumental in causing the hatred of believers towards the devil to be more lively and intense, that they may be more careful against being beguiled by his subtle temptations or cooperating with him in other ways! That all of this would motivate believers with bitter hatred for, and antipathy against, the wicked enemy of our Lord Jesus, to be courageous and to do battle against his assaults. “Whom (the devil, vs. 8) resist steadfast in the faith” (1 Pet. 5:9).
Wilhelmus à Brakel, The Christian’s Reasonable Service, ed. Joel R. Beeke, (Grand Rapids, MI: Reformation Heritage Books, 1992), 1:285–303.