Demons: What Are They

By: Dr. John Ankerberg and Dr. John Weldon; ©2005
Demons are not the spirits of dead men, or of some pre-Adamite race, nor are demons merely personifications of evil, or of natural forces, such as the “gods” of nature. So what are they?

Demons: What Are They?

Demons are not the spirits of dead men, or of some pre-Adamite race, as some argue, for the spirits of the human dead are not free to roam but are confined and under punishment (Lk. 16:19-31; 2 Pet. 2:9). Nor are demons merely personifica­tions of evil, or of natural forces, such as the “gods” of nature, as skeptics assume. Nor are demons the superstitious designation for particular natural diseases, such as epilepsy or mental illness, because Scripture clearly distinguishes these disor­ders from demon possession, although it is possible that both can be present or that demon possession could induce mental illness.[1] Demons are fallen angels who are now irredeemably corrupted. Demons are set in their ways and have no opportunity for redemption. Thus they will eventually be cast forever into the lake of fire (Rev. 20:2-3, 7-10). This may explain why they responded to Jesus with fear and derision. For example, “What do I have to do with you Jesus, Son of the most high God?” (Mk. 5:7; cf., Lk. 4:41). And, “Have you come to torment us before our time?” (Matt. 8:29).

These evil angels are morally corrupted spirits who are in rebellion against God (Psa. 106:37; Matt. 12:34; Mk. 1:36; Jn. 8:44; 2 Pet. 2:4; Jas. 2:19; Jude 1:6). Their rebellion was led by Satan (Jude 6; 1 Jn. 3:8; Matt. 12:24-25; 25:41; Ezek 28:12-17) and resulted in their fall and expulsion from heaven (Lk. 10:18, Rev. 12:7-9). As a result they became destructive, self-centered creatures who seek to thwart the purposes of God and Christ (Deut. 32:17; Psa. 106:37; Rev. 2:10; 1 Pet. 5:8; Eph. 6:11; Matt. 13:39; Lk. 22:31; 1 Thess. 2:18; 1 Tim. 4:1; Mk. 3:11; 4:15).

One of the demons’ principal ploys is to deceive people through false religion or deceptive miracles and thereby blind people to spiritual truth (2 Cor. 4:4; Acts 26:18; 2 Cor. 11:14; 2 Thess. 2:9, 10; Rev. 16:14; 20:10).

However, it must never be forgotten that Satan and demons are only creatures who are ultimately constrained by the sovereign power and purpose of God. When needed, the Christian has power over them (1 Jn. 4:4; Jas. 4:7) because Christ Himself was victorious over Satan at the Cross (Heb. 2:14; Col. 2:15; Jn. 12:31). Jesus proved His complete power over demons (Matt. 12:28; Mk. 1:34), often casting demons out of people (Matt. 8:31; 15:22-28), and He commanded His disciples to do the same (Mk. 6:13; Matt. 10:1; Lk. 10:17).

Using the Bible to catalog the powers and abilities of angels in general wouldgive us a glimpse into their capacities, which would also help us discern the abilities of demons as corrupted angels. The following list indicates the capacities or meth­ods of fallen angels in general. Some listings refer to the good angels to indicate that fallen angels would probably also have these abilities.

  1. Power to torment. (Rev. 9:1-11; Lk. 8:27-31)
  2. Immense power; four angels are released to kill one-third of mankind. (Rev. 9:14- 15)
  3. Considerable influence; the world is said to be greatly affected by Satan’s power. (2 Cor. 4:4; 1 Jn. 5:19; in Matthew 4 Jesus did not question Satan’s right to grant Him the worlds’ kingdoms)
  4. Purposeful deception. (Gen. 3:1-5,13)
  5. Disguised as good spirits. (2 Cor. 11:14-15)
  6. A particular number of rebellious angels now confined (2 Pet. 2:4-5, Jude 6-7), the result of apparent sexual involvement and cohabitation (the exact term “Sons of God,” bene elohim is only used of angels. C. Fred Dickason, Angels: Elect and Evil (Chicago: Moody Press, 1975), pp. 222-25; Ben Adam, Astrology: The Ancient Conspiracy (Bethany, 1963), pp. 90-112; Gen. 6:1-4)
  7. Producing insanity; great physical strength. (Lk. 8:26-35)
  8. Inducing sickness for 18 years; producing suffering and deformities. (Lk. 13:10- 17)
  9. Power over nature: Satan produces whirlwinds, fire from heaven and great miracles in the presence of people. (Job 1:16-18; Rev. 13:13; Heb. 1:7, Psa. 104:4)
  10. Power over the human body: Satan produces painful boils or welts. (Job 2:7)
  11. Dumbness, blindness, epilepsy, attempted murder. (Gen. 19:11; Matt. 9:32-35; 12:22; 17:15,18)
  12. Multiple possession; apparently seeking “rest” by possessing humans. (Lk. 8:30; 11:24-26; Matt. 12:43-45)
  13. Convulsions, child possession, mauling. (Lk. 9:38-39)
  14. Animal possession. (Matt. 8:30-32)
  15. A limited prevision of the future; fortune-telling. (Acts 16:16). Despite this appar­ent ability, demons are not omniscient; any powers they may have are still subject to God’s controlling and intervening providence. (Isa. 44:25-26)
  16. Anger, great strength and power. (2 Thess. 2:7; 2 Pet. 2:11; Acts 19:16)
  17. Treacherous natures, scheme wickedly, attack humans. (Eph. 6:10-16; Judges 9:23)
  18. Provide supernatural revelations. (Heb. 2:2; Acts 7:53; Gal. 3:19)
  19. Animals may recognize them. (Numbers 22:23-27)
  20. Ability to speak through an animal. (Gen. 3:1-5)
  21. Supernatural power to travel. (Job 1:7)
  22. Instantaneous projection of a false reality. (Matt. 4:8)
  23. Apparent ability to remove thoughts, to implant thoughts and to manipulate the mind. (Jn. 13:2; Matt. 13:19, 38-39)
  24. Moral corruption, deception and murder. (Jn. 8:44)
  25. Possess humans. (Matt. 8:28; Jn. 13:27)
  26. Great wrath. (Rev. 12:12)
  27. Ability to incite betrayal. (Lk. 22:3-4)
  28. Physical ailments. (2 Cor. 12:7)
  29. Deception; blinding minds. (2 Cor. 4:4)
  30. Deceive the nations. (Rev. 12:9; 20:7-8)
  31. Invisibility, but an awareness of their presence. (Job 4:15)
  32. Ability to terrorize. (1 Sam. 16:14-15)
  33. Can assume human form. (Gen. 19:1-10; Jn. 20:12; Acts 12:8-9; Heb. 13:2)
  34. To a degree, they can duplicate God’s miracles, changing sticks to snakes, water to blood (control over matter and energy), control over animals. (Ex. 7:10- 12, 20-22; 8:6-7; 2 Thess. 2:9)
  35. Defilement through occult practices and human sacrifice. (Deut. 18:9-13)
  36. Transport human beings. (Matt. 24:31; Lk. 16:22)
  37. Limited ability over events and human actions. (1 Chron. 21:1; Dan. 10:13; 1 Thess. 2:18)
  38. Destroying the flesh; power of death. (2 Sam. 24:15-17; 1 Cor. 5:5; Heb. 2:14; Acts 12:23)
  39. Tempt with evil. (1 Cor. 7:5)
  40. Objects of pagan worship. (Deut. 32:17; 1 Cor. 10:20; Col. 2:18)
  41. Child sacrifice and murder. (Psa. 106:37)
  42. Oppression. (Acts 10:38)
  43. Control humans for their own goals. (Rev. 2:10)
  44. Pervert the ways of God. (Acts 13:10)
  45. Fire and brimstone rained down upon a city (destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah). (Gen. 19:13,24)
  46. Influence dream states. (Gen. 31:11)
  47. Send pestilence, power to destroy a city. (2 Sam. 24:15-16)
  48. Communicate by speech to humans. (1 Ki. 13:18; Acts 23:9)
  49. Materialize and dematerialize at will. (Lk. 2:9,13,15)
  50. Vast in number. (Heb. 12:22; Matt. 26:53)
  51. Speak to men; control of vocal cords, paralysis and possession. (Lk. 1:19-20)
  52. Different languages. (1 Cor. 13:1)
  53. Preach a false gospel and deception about God. (1 Ki. 22:19-23; Gal. 1:8; 1 Tim. 4:1; 1 Jn. 4:1)
  54. False visions and experiences. (Jer. 23:16; Col. 2:18)
  55. Miracles. (Rev. 16:14)

This partial listing indicates that demons have more power and influence than most people may realize. And the preceding list is surprisingly relevant for today, when almost everything in this “ancient” list is duplicated somewhere in the world of the cults and the occult. As we documented in detail in the Encyclopedia of New Age Beliefs, evil angels (demons) imitate good angels and express great concern for people’s welfare. They give false visions and revelations in dreams or through channeling, automatic writing and so on. They can possess people, perform various miracles, cause insanity or cause murder to be committed. They can produce various physical ailments, sicknesses or mental torments. They can predict the future (albeit in a limited capacity subject to God’s sovereignty), encourage occult practices, manipulate the human mind by impressing thoughts, ideas or images, and they can influence nature. They can even assume physical form at will, from human to child, animal to mythological creature. They seek our worship and to pervert God’s ways. In the end, however, they destroy people’s lives.[2]

Go Deeper


  1. See Matthew 4:24; Mark 1:32, 34; Lk. 7:21; 9:1; Kurt Koch, Occult Bondage and Deliverance (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publishers, 1970).
  2. John Ankerberg, John Weldon, The Coming Darkness: Confronting Occult Deception (Eugene, OR: Harvest House, 1993).

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