The idea portrayed by secular world regarding satan or demons are often incorrect. This causes some to doubt and even mock Christianity. In this post we will explore what satan can and cannot do based on Scriptures.
Satan vs Demon vs Unclean spirit
And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem said, “He has Beelzebub,” and, “By the ruler of the demons He casts out demons.” So He called them to Himself and said to them in parables: “How can Satan cast out Satan? … “Assuredly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the sons of men, and whatever blasphemies they may utter; but he who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is subject to eternal condemnation”– because they said, “He has an unclean spirit.”Mark 3:22-23, 28-30
Based on how Jesus and the first century Jews used the terms, Satan is synonymous to Demon, which is synonymous to unclean spirit. The topic was discussed in detail at this post, Satan, demons and unclean spirits. Hence, Satan, demon and unclean spirit – all refer the same.
Demons cannot haunt non-living
There is no such thing as being “haunted”. Scripture no where mentions of any spirits dwelling on non-living things. Scripture does speak about land being defiled (Lev 18:25) and cursed (Jer 44:22) and the events happening on a particular piece of land could be related to an earlier murder or spilling of innocent blood. Understandably, this is often related by some in secular circles to be haunted by the spirits of the victims. However, Scripture does not support any form of haunting. Let’s listen to Jesus and the events of casting demons out.
“When an unclean spirit goes out of a man, he goes through dry places, seeking rest, and finds none. Then he says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ And when he comes, he finds it empty, swept, and put in order. Then he goes and takes with him seven other spirits more wicked than himself, and they enter and dwell there; and the last state of that man is worse than the first. So shall it also be with this wicked generation.”Matt 12:43-45
Are there no vacant houses or remote places in this world? Absolutely yes. But, Christ made it clear that a spirit needs a house to rest, and this house is not a non-living material but a human or animal host body.
So the demons begged Him, saying, “If You cast us out, permit us to go away into the herd of swine.” And He said to them, “Go.” So when they had come out, they went into the herd of swine. And suddenly the whole herd of swine ran violently down the steep place into the sea, and perished in the water.Matt 8:31-32
This is why, the demons begged Jesus to go into the herd of swine.
Demons cannot do anything unnatural
When Jesus saw that the people came running together, He rebuked the unclean spirit, saying to it: “Deaf and dumb spirit, I command you, come out of him and enter him no more!”Mark 9:25
There are several references by Jesus casting out demons and unclean spirits to cure sickness. We also know that it was Satan who brought calamity and sickness to Job. However, there is no reference in Scriptures for Satan or demon or unclean spirits doing anything unnatural in this world. By saying “unnatural”, I mean stuff like telekinesis or skeletons animating with help of unclean spirits etc., as portrayed by most secular world.
“Behold My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself. Handle Me and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see I have.”Luke 24:39
We cannot handle and see a spirit. This also means, a spirit cannot handle us in the same way how we handle things. e.g., a spirit cannot move physical things of this world.
“It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing. The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life.John 6:63
Jesus said, His words are “spirit” and they are “life”. If we fully understand this statement, then can clearly understand why unclean spirits cannot do anything unnatural in this world.
Identifying demonic activities
Wonder why there are so many prizes for evidence of the paranormal, yet none was claimed to date? Refer the wiki, List of prizes for evidence of the paranormal. The problem is lack of understanding of demonic activities.
And when He had come out of the boat, immediately there met Him out of the tombs a man with an unclean spirit, who had his dwelling among the tombs; and no one could bind him, not even with chains, because he had often been bound with shackles and chains. And the chains had been pulled apart by him, and the shackles broken in pieces; neither could anyone tame him. … And he cried out with a loud voice and said, “What have I to do with You, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I implore You by God that You do not torment me.” For He said to him, “Come out of the man, unclean spirit!”Mark 5:2-4, 7-8
Many often associate demonic activities with the above event.
When evening had come, they brought to Him many who were demon-possessed. And He cast out the spirits with a word, and healed all who were sickMatt 8:16
Demon possession can be identified with people are driven to kill or harm themselves as the herd of swines, depression as we see distressing spirit troubling Saul (1 Sam 16:14), liars because of lying spirits leading towards destruction (1 Kgs 22:23). Several sicknesses can also be associated with demons and many don’t even know it.
Demons require God’s approval
Irrespective of what demons can do in this world, it is very crucial to understand they cannot do anything without first getting approval from the LORD God
Are not two sparrows sold for a copper coin? And not one of them falls to the ground apart from your Father’s will. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Do not fear therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.Matt 10:29-31
Every human, even the wicked, is more valuable to God than sparrows and He doesn’t want any to perish. Demons cannot even make a hair fall without God approving it.
So all the demons begged Him, saying, “Send us to the swine, that we may enter them.”Mark 5:12
Demons need to get permission from God, even for possessing animals. In short, demons cannot simply do harm or possess anyone unless God allows it. This brings us to the last question, why would God allow demons to possess?
Why God allow demons to possess?
While we cannot get a direct answer, we can infer some crucial points from what Jesus said.
And suddenly they cried out, saying, “What have we to do with You, Jesus, You Son of God? Have You come here to torment us before the time?”Matt 8:29
And they begged Him that He would not command them to go out into the abyss.Luke 8:31
Based on the conversation between Jesus and the demons, we can understand that demons were fearful of being sent to abyss but allowed to be in this world only for a period of time.
When an unclean spirit goes out of a man, he goes through dry places, seeking rest, and finds none. Then he says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ And when he comes, he finds it empty, swept, and put in order. Then he goes and takes with him seven other spirits more wicked than himself, and they enter and dwell there; and the last state of that man is worse than the first.Matt 12:43-45a
We can also understand that demons require a living host body to be in this world. A living host was also referred by Jesus as it’s home when it posses. Thousands of demons can make a single human body as it’s home. e.g, the name of demons referred as Legion.
Hence, demons are allowed to roam on this world only for a period of time and they require a living host to possess during that time. The only protection from them is to allow God’s Spirit to dwell on us.
Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me.Rev 3:20
Jesus answered and said to him, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him.John 14:23
God never forces Himself in but always willing to come into us and dwell within us. The only way to allow Him to make us as His home is by keeping His word. If God doesn’t have us as His home, it is vacant for demons to have it as their home.
But the Spirit of the LORD departed from Saul, and a distressing spirit from the LORD troubled him.1 Sam 16:14
Do not cast me away from Your presence, And do not take Your Holy Spirit from me.Ps 51:11
This is why, we see in case of Saul, when the Spirit of God left him, a distressing spirit from the LORD entered him. This is also why David pleaded with God to not take His Holy Spirit from him for his murder and adultery because he had seen what will happen if God left him as He did to Saul.
Hence, God gives permission for demons to enter a person because the person doesn’t give permission for God to enter.
Satan is synonymous to demons, which is also synonymous to unclean spirits. Demons cannot haunt non-living things like houses etc., but require a living host like humans or animals. Demons also cannot do unnatural things like telekinesis or animating materials in this world. Spirits don’t have flesh and bones. If a spirit has mass and if it can interact with anything on this world, I am sure that we can bottle up and eliminate unclean spirits completely from this world. Hence, it is very important to understand and identifying demonic activities. Demons cannot enter a person unless permitted by God and He gives permission for demons to enter a person because that person doesn’t give permission for God to enter by not keeping His Word.