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Understanding the doctrine of demons

Fire, Demonic
Unsplash/Marek Piwnicki

With respect to doing battle with the enemy, we should never forget the fact that Satan is not ugly on the outside.

When the Bible warns about being deceived by “deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons” (1 Tim. 4:1), the last thing we should do is think the devil’s instruction will be superficially distasteful. On the contrary, it will be a surprisingly appealing poison.

Of course, there will be people who drink down the ugliness of external Satan worship, but their numbers will always be small. The net Satan wants to cast is much larger than that and, to meet his goal of making as many disciples as possible, he’ll employ his true cosmetic nature.

If you’ve ever wondered where the red, horned, pitchfork-wielding devil-with-a-pointed-tail concept originated, it came from the medieval church in the Middle Ages. Although they sought to wound Satan’s pride by depicting him in a ludicrous way, something tells me the devil inspired it in an act of brilliant misdirection.

The fact that later generations have accepted this caricature as true is pure genius. What better way to spring a trap on your victim than by luring them into a welcoming Hansel-and-Gretel gingerbread house that they don’t fear?

That being the case, if we are not to be “ignorant of his schemes” (2 Cor. 2:11), all of us would do well to remember what the real doctrine of demons looks like.  

Beautifully evil

Because “Satan disguises himself as an angel of light and “his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness” (2 Cor. 11:14-15), his destructive teaching will manifest as he does and in the same way it did to Eve. To her, it looked “good,” “a delight,” and “desirable” (Gen. 3:6).

It will promise life and paradise but deliver death and hell. It will dismiss or encourage sin, thus making its victim miserable. It will sound like the truth, but be a lie. It will provide false light that leads to eternal darkness. It will promise freedom but ultimately enslave.    

The devil’s teaching vows to generously give, revive, and sustain, but will instead “steal and kill and destroy” (John 10:10). Because moral judgment is the most repellant thing to nearly everyone today, it will deny any ultimate judgment or imply its victim’s “good works” are enough to escape it.

Tracing the devil’s doctrine

Putting the doctrine-of-demons puzzle together biblically is an interesting exercise. It begins with Satan’s original cry of rebellion recorded in the Old Testament: “I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High” (Is. 14:14).

Flash forward to the Garden where the devil tells Eve: “You surely will not die! For God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God” (Gen. 3:4-5).

Just from these two examples, we already see a pattern emerging.

From there, move to a city originally called “Babel,” but better known by its later name – Babylon. Founded by a man named Nimrod, which literally means “to rebel,” the city’s population came together and parroted the devil’s boastful ambition to be God: “Come, let us build for ourselves a city, and a tower whose top will reach into heaven, and let us make for ourselves a name” (Gen. 11:4).

With this rebellion, Babylon becomes spiritual ground zero for systematizing and disseminating the devil’s doctrine of man-glorifying religion. Is it any wonder that its destruction is the last event preceding the second coming of Christ (Rev. 17-18)?

And how does Scripture depict Babylon? Just like Satan himself; beautiful on the outside but grossly wicked on the inside: “The woman was clothed in purple and scarlet, and adorned with gold and precious stones and pearls, having in her hand a gold cup full of abominations and of the unclean things of her immorality, and on her forehead a name was written, a mystery, “BABYLON THE GREAT, THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS AND OF THE ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH” (Rev. 17:4-5).

Don’t miss the fact that the harlot holds a single externally-beautiful gold cup, indicating one core false teaching. And it is an understatement to say the results of that teaching have been horrifying: “all the nations were deceived by your sorcery. And in her was found the blood of prophets and of saints and of all who have been slain on the earth” (Rev. 18:23-24, my emphasis).

Let that last part sink into your mind for a moment.

The doctrine of demons is one hydra with many heads of false religion (including aberrant Christian teachings like universalism) that attempt to glorify humanity in the same way Satan wants to deify himself. John MacArthur says, “People ask me all the time ‘Do you think there are a lot of Satanic religions around today?’ and I say ‘Yes, every religion that is not Christianity is Satanic.”

Sadly, the victims of the devil’s doctrine don’t understand the day-and-night, underneath-the-covers contrast between Christ and Satan’s ways. Jesus has a pure and spotless Bride whereas the devil has his harlot. While Jesus loves His Bride, Satan hates his harlot. And while Jesus gave His life to save His Bride, the devil takes the life of his harlot and destroys her. That’s the stark reality and difference between Christ’s teaching and the doctrine of demons.

Unfortunately, many don’t see it because Satan isn’t ugly on the outside. 

Robin Schumacher is an accomplished software executive and Christian apologist who has written many articles, authored and contributed to several Christian books, appeared on nationally syndicated radio programs, and presented at apologetic events. He holds a BS in Business, Master's in Christian apologetics and a Ph.D. in New Testament. His latest book is, A Confident Faith: Winning people to Christ with the apologetics of the Apostle Paul.

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