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THEOLOGY > Sin > Reality of Satan > Demons > Limitation of Demons 


Demons are limited, limited by virtue of their creation and limited by virtue of God’s Sovereignty (see: God is Sovereign and Scriptural Support for Sovereignty). They are creatures and thus are dependent upon the Creator for their continued existence; and they cannot act in a completely autonomous manner, for their actions must conform to God’s design.

Demons and even Satan must have the permission of God (Job 1:12; 2:6) before they do their deeds of evil. The calamities that brought such acute suffering into the life of Job were not arbitrary, nor were they occurrences outside of the will of God, either the directive will or the permissive will, however His will may be viewed (see: God’s Will and Concepts of God’s Will). The point is that Satan and his angels are not independent in their actions but are subservient to the Almighty. To be able to enter into swine, demons asked the permission of Christ (Mk. 5:8-13). So both Testaments record the fact that the actions of the forces of evil are not exclusively self-directed.

The Psalmist affirms that the angelic world obeys God and accomplishes His will:

Bless Yahweh, O you His angels,
you mighty ones who do His word,
obeying the voice of His word!

Bless Yahweh, all His hosts, His ministers,
who do His will.
Ps. 103:20-21

While the argument can be made that these verses refer exclusively to the good angels who wait before God in order to perform His desires, an argument can also be made that the reference includes the total angelic multitude with the understanding that all of the angels, good and evil, do the will of God. In fact, the words “all His hosts” are used and, perhaps, suggest this understanding. Even Cyrus was called “His anointed” (Isa. 45:1), and God said that He had grasped the right hand of Cyrus to enable him to do the things that he did.

Other texts reveal that evil itself and evil beings accomplish the will of God—all that has been brought into existence serves His purposes. For instance, there is the “evil spirit” that afflicted Saul (I Sam. 16:14, 16, 23; “harmful spirit” in the ESV and “distressing spirit” in NKJV)) and the “lying spirit” sent out by God (I Ki. 22:22-23; II Chron. 18:21-22) to deceive Ahab. It is legitimate to raise the question as to whether these spirits are good angels sent out to perform a deceptive act or whether they are evil angels who must submit to the bidding of God, and in doing so are performing the acts that are natural to them. It is not inconceivable that God so uses evil angels (demons) to accomplish His purpose in the same manner that He used wicked Babylon to punish His people for their sins (Jer. 20:4-6) and sinful men to crucify His own Son (Acts 2:23). Over evil and evil beings God exercises His will (see: God is Sovereign).

During the earthly ministry of Christ the demons were subject to Him and obeyed His word. Jesus cast out demons (Mk. 1:21-28, 34; 5:1-20; 7:24-30; 9:17-29; Matt. 9:32-33), and contrary to the assertion of the Pharisees (Matt. 9:23), Jesus did not cast out demons by being in league with the demons. The demons recognized Him, even imploring Him to leave them alone, and questioning whether He had come to destroy them: “Let us alone! What have we to do with You, Jesus of Nazareth? Did You come to destroy us? I know who You are—the Holy One of God!” (Mk. 1:24; see: 3:11-12). Jesus instructed the demons to be quiet (v. 25). Those who observed the exchange exclaimed: “For with authority He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey Him” (v. 27). On another occasion Jesus addressed an unclean spirit: “Deaf and dumb spirit, I command you, come out of him and enter him no more!” (Mk. 9:25). Without hesitation, Jesus confronted demons and controlled them—by the finger of God He cast them out (Lu. 11:20).

Jesus sent out the seventy as lambs among wolves (Lu. 10:3). When they returned they expressed amazement in one area: “Lord, even the demons are subject to us in Your name” (v. 17). Several facts are established: one, demons exist; two, Christ has power over them; three, authority over them can be given to the believer; and four, the authority is not the believer’s but the believer’s Lord (see: Mk. 9:17-18).

In response to the astonishment of the seventy, Jesus said: “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven” (Lu. 10:18), perhaps meaning that through the work of the seventy Satan’s work was being limited, or through the announcement of the kingdom by them, Satan’s work was revealed to be ultimately doomed. Note: Perhaps Jesus is making reference to the past fall of Satan from the position he occupied by virtue of his creation, or He is referring to some other cosmic event of which we have no knowledge.

Like the seventy, the same instruction and authority were given to the twelve: “Cast out demons” (Matt. 10:7; see: Mk. 3:14-15; 6:7; Lu. 9:1). They were empowered to do this as they went out preaching that “the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matt. 10:6). In the advancement of the kingdom of God there is a restriction placed on the demonic world. The point is: demons are limited.

Jesus entered the world and bound the strong one, plundering his goods (Matt. 12:24-29; Mk. 3:22-27; Lu. 11:14-22); by the doing of Christ the power of the Devil was broken, and in this accomplishment the believer was set free. “He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son” (Col. 1:13); thus, while victory is denied the forces of  evil, there is also imposed a limitation on what Satan and his angels can do to the believer—we belong to the kingdom of the Son.

Since the believer is to resist the devil (Jas. 4:7), it is comforting to know that “He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world” (I Jo. 4:4). As believers we are able to be strong in the midst of demonic attacks; in fact, the Scriptures command us to be strong with a strength that is not ours—the strength of God: 

Be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all to stand firm (Eph. 6:10-13).

In order to grasp fully the limitation of demons, it must be understood that God is the Creator of all things, all beings, that is, the unseen spirit world of good and evil: “For by Him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through Him and for Him” (Col. 1:16; the words used by Paul reflect the Jewish thought of his day regarding the ranks among the spirit world).

Not only is Christ the Creator of every spiritual being but He is the head of all of them: “You have been filled in Him, who is the head of all rule and authority” (Col. 2: 10; “head of all principality and power” in NKJV). And during His earthly life Christ disarmed the evil spirits who opposed the will of God and triumphed over them: “He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in it” (Col. 2:15; “it” refers to the cross).

Because of the accomplishment by Christ of this work on the cross, the Father raised Christ and seated Him “far above all rule and authority and power and dominion” (Eph. 1:21) and “has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son” (Col. 1:13). Thus, the limitations of demons are predicated on several truths:

One, they are created and, therefore, contingent;

Two, Christ is the head of the spirit world, meaning He has authority over it;

Three, on the cross, Christ broke the power of evil to oppose the work of God;

Four, Christ has been elevated to a position above all of creation, which includes demons;

Five, Christ has a kingdom that will ultimately bring an end to the kingdom of evil.

Return to: Demons; Next Article: Destiny of the Demons

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