Demonology 101

There are quite a few misconceptions about angels and demons in our current society. Most people will get their doctrine from popular television shows and movies. When we were doing ministry in Oklahoma City, we had a couple guys visit our church. They had style. I liked them. When we got to talking, I realized their belief was that people who go to hell eventually become demons. Not coincidently, their favorite television show was Supernatural. Now, I like that television series as well, but almost nothing portrayed is accurate to the truth. While, in today’s text, we do not see what happens to people after they descend into Hell, we will see something about the nature of demons and their work during the time of Christ.

Matthew 8:28-34

When He came to the other side into the country of the Gadarenes, two men who were demon-possessed met Him as they were coming out of the tombs. They were so extremely violent that no one could pass by that way.

And they cried out, saying, “What business do we have with each other, Son of God? Have You come here to torment us before the time?”

Now there was a herd of many swine feeding at a distance from them. The demons began to entreat Him, saying, “If You are going to cast us out, send us into the herd of swine.”

And He said to them, “Go!” And they came out and went into the swine, and the whole herd rushed down the steep bank into the sea and perished in the waters.

The herdsmen ran away, and went to the city and reported everything, including what had happened to the demoniacs. And behold, the whole city came out to meet Jesus; and when they saw Him, they implored Him to leave their region.

The demon-possessed men (v. 28-29)

When He came to the other side into the country of the Gadarenes, two men who were demon-possessed met Him as they were coming out of the tombs. They were so extremely violent that no one could pass by that way.

When Jesus and at least the two disciples mentioned in the previous passage arrive on the other side of the Sea of Galilee, two demon possessed men come out to meet them before they can arrive in any populated area or go into the city. It is not described for us how these men are recognizable as demon-possessed, only that they are. They come out of the tombs to meet Jesus and His disciples.

The text is careful to describe this for us. These men do not come out of the city, meaning they do not live in the city with the rest of the people. Instead, they come out of the caves near the city where the people of the city would bury their dead. This is a place that is considered to be ritually unclean by the Jews, including Jesus and His disciples. We do not know why these men were cave-dwellers, so it’s best not to make too many speculations. The fact that the city people will later be despondent toward Jesus because he will cast out the demons seems to indicate that they are, in some way, benefitting from the services of these demons according to their own perception. So, the demon-possessed men are probably not outcasts as they are often presented in Bible-studies or sermons.

Secondly, we read that these demon-possessed men are so violent that no one, neither Jesus nor His disciples, could pass by them this way to the city. These men were standing in the way of Christ such that they stood as an obstacle to the work of Christ.

The text does not describe these men as acting unreasonably or chaotically. It describes them as violent, but violent in such a manner as to accomplish a purpose- to keep Jesus and His disciples from passing by that way. So, demoniacs are not necessarily the mindless, incapacitated, screeching, poltergeist, horror-movie creatures that Hollywood presents them to be. These demoniacs seem to be aware, functional, self-sustaining, and set to accomplish a purpose. This can be a terrifying realization for anyone who may have been convinced that demonic possession is obviously identifiable. It is not. In fact, it is often characterized by rational behavior and purpose-driven living in opposition to Christ and the movement of the Gospel.

And they cried out, saying, “What business do we have with each other, Son of God? Have You come here to torment us before the time?”

When these demoniacs cry out, they ask this question. When they refer the themselves, there are two ways that this can be interpreted through a basic or simplistic reading of this verse. First, the demons who possess these men are referring to themselves. Second, the men speaking, whom the demons possess, are referring to themselves and the other gentiles in the city. We must consider the Old Testament text and the context of this verse as it is situated in Matthew’s Gospel in order to discern which is the case.

Are the demons referring to themselves?

There is one pointing in the text that surely indicates that the demons are referring to themselves. In verse 39, the demons will ask to be cast into the herd of swine. The gentiles of this region cannot not be cast into swine because they are people. In fact, the demons, themselves, will be cast into the swine later in this passage when Jesus’ casts them out of the demoniacs. This, is, however the only pointing in favor of this interpretation. Still, it seems to be pretty definitive.

Are the demoniacs referring to themselves and the other gentiles of that region?

There are a few pointings in the text that seem to indicate that the demoniacs are referring to themselves and the other gentiles of that region. First of all, the subject of verse 28 is the men, not the demons. The word “demons” is the direct object in the adjoining adjectival phrase, “who were demon-possessed,” which explains who the men are. So, verses 28-29 are mainly about what the men are doing while under the influence of these demons. It is the men who are coming out of the tombs. It is the men who are violent. It is the men who are crying out. In the same way, verses 33-34 proclaim what has happened to the men, not the demons. The whole city, not only those who are demon possessed, will come out and implore Jesus to leave, effectively working toward the same purpose that the demoniacs are working toward while under demonic influence.

So, in verses 28-29, the men are speaking to Jesus. Jesus does not respond to them. In verses 30-32, the demons, themselves, speak to Jesus, and Jesus responds to them. In verses 33-34, the other gentiles in this region affirm that their purpose is the same as that of the demoniacs. 

When these demoniacs say, “What business do we have with each other, Son of God? Have You come here to torment us before the time?”, it is these men, who are under the influence of demons, referring to themselves and the other gentiles of the city. This affirms that these men have their wits about them. It also makes more sense in light of the Old Testament. If it is the men speaking, “…before the time” refers to the time of the judgement of the world, the coming of the kingdom of Heaven, the time when God will judge the kingdoms of the world (Isaiah 40:3, Malachi 4:5-6). If it is the demons speaking about themselves, then this part of the story doesn’t really fit into the grand narrative of Scripture because there is nothing in the Old Testament about a time set aside in which Jesus will torment demons. They have already been judged.

The problem with the belief of the demoniacs is that they believe the judgment to be future. Jesus has already revealed that the kingdom is currently at hand and the Great and Terrible day of the Lord is here (3:1-12, 4:17). Click here to refer back to our study on the Great and Terrible day of the Lord. We will do the same thing that these demoniacs did, especially when we read the book of Revelation. The dispensationalist (a form of futurism) will say that we currently live in the age of grace. There was the age of works and in the future there will be the tribulation, the judgment, and then the resurrection. That’s the future, it’s not yet time. The problem is that Jesus proclaims that this is all being fulfilled in His own birth, preaching ministry, death, burial, and resurrection. There is not enough in this verse to extrapolate it into some in-depth eschatology, but we notice that Jesus’ timing is not off. He is judging the world.

The demons’ request (v. 30-32)

Now there was a herd of many swine feeding at a distance from them. The demons began to entreat Him, saying, “If You are going to cast us out, send us into the herd of swine.”

Notice the change in language. In verses 28-29, it was the men talking as men who were under the influence of demons. Now, Matthew changes his language to indicate that it is the demons who begin to speak. This is probably not like a movie or television show where the dormant demon suddenly takes control of the host. We will learn why when we look at verse 32.

If Jesus is going to cast out the demons, they ask that He send them into the herd of swine. Here, we learn a couple things about possession. The first is that Jesus has authority over possession. The demons cannot simply enter the swine. Jesus must cast them into the swine. Demons are subject to Christ’s will both in possession and in being cast out. The second is that demons prefer to have a host rather than not, even if that host is animal rather than human.

We learn something about the composition of the human person. We were designed for indwelling. If there is space for the Holy Spirit, that design must be superintended by the designer. It was God’s plan all along that His people would be indwelled by His Holy Spirit. At the moment someone comes to Jesus, he or she is indwelled by the Holy Spirit (Book of Acts). This is why a true Christian cannot be possessed, or indwelled, by a demon. This means a couple things regarding demon possession. When demons possess people, it is an act of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. They are trying to fill the position of the Holy Spirit in the life of a person. This also indicates that the influence a demon has over a host is something like the influence that the Holy Spirit has in the life of the Christian. The personality, cognition, desire, and beliefs are still present. Just as the Holy Spirit acts as a counselor and guide, a possessing demon will influence the thoughts and actions of a person- perhaps even endowing the person with some type of seemingly supernatural qualities. While the Holy Spirit’s purpose is to exalt Christ and glorify the Father, a demon’s willful purpose is to stand in opposition to Christ and exalt that which does not honor the Father. This is simply another form of Satan’s blasphemy. Whereas there is only one Holy Spirit who indwells all believers and gifts all believers according to His will, a demon can only possess one person and sometimes multiple demons possess a single person (cf. Mark 5:9). This will mean much when we set out to interpret Matthew 12:32 at that point in our exposition.

And He said to them, “Go!” And they came out and went into the swine, and the whole herd rushed down the steep bank into the sea and perished in the waters.

Jesus commands the demons and they go into the swine. The demons occupied unclean people. The demoniacs lived in an unclean place. The demons desire to go into a ritually unclean animal, a type of animal that, at this time, only gentiles would herd. Demons are attracted to what is unclean. It is sensical to believe that the more vile and corrupt a people, the greater presence of demonic entities.

We also see the response of the pigs. When the demons enter into them, their reaction is similar to what we might imagine. It is a reaction against demonic possession. The pigs are not willing to accept this host. So, it is not the case that a demon must be invited in by a host. Demons enter with Christ’s permission alone and they are drawn to that which is unclean.

The response of the people (v. 33-34)

The herdsmen ran away, and went to the city and reported everything, including what had happened to the demoniacs. And behold, the whole city came out to meet Jesus; and when they saw Him, they implored Him to leave their region.

There were some spectating herdsmen, probably those who owned the pigs. They went to complain about Jesus in the city. They were either complaining because Jesus cast out the demons or because Jesus caused them to lose their herd or both. When the people of the city come out, they implore Jesus to leave their region. They were not thankful that demons had been cast out of their countrymen. They only wanted Jesus to leave. They wanted Him to leave primarily because the herdsmen reported what happened to the demoniacs, and only secondarily everything else. They are less angry that they lost their source of bacon and more upset at the expulsion of the demons. They would rather have had the demons stay in the men.

Jesus has now proven His authority before His disciples and before the Gentiles. His disciples were filled with a sense of wonder while the Gentiles asked Him to leave their region. The prospect that Jesus is the Messiah is terrifying for those who do not follow and who are too attached to the world’s temporal luxuries. It is inspiration to and awestruck wonder for those whom Christ is saving.

Questions

  1. How can we easily misrepresent the way in which demons work?
  2. Are demons able to possess anything by their own authority?
  3. Is it possible for people to like or even benefit from the presence of demons? If so, how?
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2 comments

  • Thank you Pastor Paul for this wonderful teaching on Demons. You have sincerely made it clear, especially to us here in Graceland Global Christian Centre, Okene, Nigeria.

    What you have explained about demons possession and its superficiality is what we are seeing today all around us as ” genuine Christianity “, albeit wrongly.

    In Nigeria, it is a common believe to see persons who are supernaturally gifted performing signs and wonders BUT it does not being Glory to Christ.
    It only point to the self. It centres around ” the man of God”. He has placed himself into the position of the saviour and thus, as I understand, is blasphemous.

    I will develop this message and pray that God grants me understanding to handle its teaching so as many will learn and flee from all appearance of great signs and wonders that does not glorify Christ.

    Thanks

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