The Role of Satan and Demons in Human Suffering

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Satan is pictured in Scripture as being extremely powerful and influential in the world. He is called the “prince of this world” (John 12:31), “the god of this age” (2 Corinthians 4:4), and the “ruler of the kingdom of the air” (Ephesians 2:2). He is also said to deceive the whole world (Revelation 12:9: 20:3). He is portrayed as having power in the governmental realm (Matthew 4:8-9; 2 Corinthians 4:4), the physical realm (Luke 13:11, 16; Acts 10:38), the angelic realm (Jude 9; Ephesians 6:11-12), and the ecclesiastical (church) realm (Revelation 2:9; 3:9).

Demons—Satan’s “fallen angels” (Revelation 12:7)—are designated as “unclean spirits” (Matthew 10:1), “evil spirits” (Luke 7:21), and “spiritual forces of evil” (Ephesians 6:12). These terms point to the immoral nature of demons. They follow the lead of their diabolical leader, Satan (Revelation 12:7).

Satan and demons target both unbelievers and believers in different ways, and they are responsible for immense suffering among both.

How Unbelievers Are Targeted

Scripture reveals that Satan blinds the minds of unbelievers to the truth of the gospel (2 Corinthians 4:4). This passage indicates that Satan inhibits the unbeliever’s ability to think or reason correctly concerning spiritual matters. One of the ways Satan does this is by leading people to believe that any way to heaven is as acceptable as another. He promotes the idea that one does not need to believe in Jesus as the only means to salvation.

Satan also looks to snatch the Word of God from the hearts of unbelievers when they hear it (Luke 8:12). Demons, under Satan’s lead, seek to disseminate false doctrine (1 Timothy 4:1). They also wield influence over false prophets (1 John 4:1-4) and seek to turn men to the worship of idols (see Leviticus 17:7; Deuteronomy 32:17; Psalm 106:36-38). In short, fallen angels do all they can to spread spiritual deception.

This is significant, for false doctrine is a path to human suffering. An example is the modern Word-Faith movement, which teaches that if a person is sick, he or she either does not have true faith in God or has a demon residing within. I know of one older man who was dying of cancer, and he was in emotional torment because he became convinced he did not have true faith in God and that perhaps a demon was living within him. False doctrine can cause tremendous pain!

Scripture also portrays demons as inflicting physical diseases on people, such as dumbness (Matthew 9:33), blindness (12:22), and epilepsy (17:15-18). Further, they afflict people with mental disorders (Mark 5:4-5; 9:22; Luke 8:27-29; 9:37-42), cause people to be self-destructive (Mark 5:5; Luke 9:42), and are even responsible for the deaths of some people (Revelation 9:14-19).

We must be careful to note, however, that even though demons can cause physical illnesses, Scripture distinguishes natural illnesses from demon-caused illnesses (Matthew 4:24; Mark 1:32; Luke 7:21; 9:1; Acts 5:16). In the case of many healings mentioned in the Bible, no mention is made of demons. As one theologian put it, “In Matthew… no mention is made of demon exorcism in the case of the healing of the centurion’s servant (8:5-13), the woman with the hemorrhage of twelve years’ duration (9:19-20), the two blind men (9:27-30), the man with the withered hand (12:9-14), and those who touched the fringe of Jesus’ garment (14:35-36).”[1]

How Believers Are Targeted

Fallen angels are especially active in fostering sin and suffering among believers in a variety of ways. For example:

• Satan tempts believers to sin (Ephesians 2:1-3; 1 Thessalonians 3:5).

• Satan tempts believers to lie (Acts 5:3).

• Satan tempts believers to commit sexually immoral acts (1 Corinthians 7:5).

• Satan accuses and slanders believers (Revelation 12:10). Sometimes he accuses and slanders believers before God’s throne. In other cases, Satan accuses the consciences of believers, looking to make them feel unworthy of God.

• Satan hinders the work of believers in any way he can (1 Thessalonians 2:18).

• Satan and demons seek to wage war against and defeat believers (Ephesians 6:11-12).

• Satan sows tares among believers (Matthew 13:38-39). He causes divisions among them.

• Satan incites persecution against believers (Revelation 2:10).

• Demons hinder answers to the prayers of believers (Daniel 10:12-20).

• Satan is said to oppose Christians with the ferociousness of a hungry lion (1 Peter 5:8).

• Satan seeks to plant doubt in the minds of believers (Genesis 3:1-5). Today many Christians struggle with doubts and consequently feel unworthy before God.

• Satan seeks to foster spiritual pride in the hearts of Christians (1 Timothy 3:6).

• Satan seeks to lead believers away from a “sincere and pure devotion to Christ” (2 Corinthians 11:3). He promotes a mentality of adding good works to assure salvation. The gospel becomes faith plus works.

• Demons seek to instigate jealousy and faction among believers (James 3:13-16).

• Demons would separate the believer from Christ if they could (Romans 8:38).

• Demons cooperate with Satan in working against believers (Matthew 25:41; Ephesians 6:12; Revelation 12:7-12).

Satan’s Names and Human Suffering

The names used of Satan in Scripture also reveal the various ways he can cause human suffering:

• Satan is the accuser of the brethren (Revelation 12:10). He loves to inflict guilt in the mind of the Christian.

• Satan is our adversary (1 Peter 5:8). He opposes us in every way he can.

• Satan is Beelzebub (Matthew 12:24), meaning “lord of the flies” or “lord of filth.” An example is the filth of pornography.

• Satan is the Devil (Matthew 4:1), meaning “adversary.” He stands against both Christ and His followers.

• Satan is our enemy (Matthew 13:39), a term that comes from a root word meaning “hatred.” He hates both God and His children.

• Satan is the evil one (1 John 5:19). He opposes all that is good.

• Satan is the father of lies (John 8:44). His lies undoubtedly encompass the cults and false religions, which have caused incalculable levels of suffering among multitudes of people.

• Satan is a murderer (John 8:44), meaning “man-killer.” If he cannot murder you physically, he will seek to murder you emotionally.

• Satan is the god of this age (2 Corinthians 4:4). He influences the world against Christ and His followers.

• Satan is the prince of this world (John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11). Again, he influences the world against Christ and His followers.

• Satan is a roaring lion (1 Peter 5:8-9). He looks to mutilate Christians in any way he can.

• Satan is the tempter (Matthew 4:3). His constant purpose is to incite Christians to sin.

• Satan is a serpent (Genesis 3:1; Revelation 12:9). He is full of treachery, deceitfulness, venom, and murderous proclivities.

Given the foregoing, we may conclude that Satan’s avowed purpose is to thwart the plan of God—and the people of God—in every area and by every means possible. In the process, he causes seemingly endless suffering among human beings.

Those seeking victory over Satan and fallen angels are invited to consult my book, Spiritual Warfare in the End Times (Harvest House Publishers, 2021).

Some of the content of this article is derived from three of Ron Rhodes’ books, all of which may be consulted for further study:

Why Do Bad Things Happen If God Is Good (Harvest House Publishers, 2004).

The Secret Life of Angels (Harvest House Publishers, 2008).

Spiritual Warfare in the End Times (Harvest House Publishers, 2020).


[1] Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1987), p. 450.

Dr. Ron Rhodes received his Th.M. and Th.D. degrees in systematic theology from Dallas Theological Seminary, graduating with honors. He is currently the president of Reasoning from the Scriptures Ministries, an apologetics organization located in Texas.

The author of more than 60 books, with millions of books in print, Dr. Rhodes is a keynote speaker at conferences across the United States and Canada. As time permits, he also teaches at a number of seminaries, including Dallas Theological Seminary and Veritas Evangelical Seminary. He has been a guest on many national and regional radio and television programs, including the John Ankerberg Show. He and his wife, Kerri, reside in Texas.

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