Sun Tzu in “The Art of War” says, “Know your enemy and know yourself and you can fight a hundred battles without disaster.” That’s a great quote and it’s hugely applicable to the Christian life. One could almost summarize the path of discipleship using almost those words. Being a Christian means getting to know Jesus, ourselves, and our enemy – and the Bible teaches us about all of those.
The primary message of the Bible, from Cover to Cover, is about Jesus – hopefully you know that by now. The secondary message of the Bible is the story of humanity – or getting to know ourselves. And, perhaps the tertiary message of the bible is the story of the spiritual realm, how angels and demons work. Everything in scripture revolves in those three spheres, and in all the stories we watch as those spheres cross over each other, revealing something about all three of them.
God wants us to know Him, and so He’s revealed Himself in many ways – through Jesus, creation, scripture, circumstances and other people. But God also wants us to know ourselves – and so He uses those same mediums to help us learn about who we are, where we came from, and where we are going. And, God wants us to know that it’s not just Him and us, but there is another realm – the spiritual realm – where things occur that affect us every day. And it is our responsibility to not only believe that, but to live accordingly.
In today’s scripture we find those three areas – Jesus, Humanity, and the Spiritual Realm – overlapping and intersecting, and teaching us a lot about all three.
“They came to the other side of the sea, to the country of the Gerasenes. And when Jesus had stepped out of the boat, immediately there met him out of the tombs a man with an unclean spirit. He lived among the tombs. And no one could bind him anymore, not even with a chain, for he had often been bound with shackles and chains, but he wrenched the chains apart, and he broke the shackles in pieces. No one had the strength to subdue him. Night and day among the tombs and on the mountains he was always crying out and cutting himself with stones. And when he saw Jesus from afar, he ran and fell down before him. And crying out with a loud voice, he said, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I adjure you by God, do not torment me.” For he was saying to him, “Come out of the man, you unclean spirit!” And Jesus asked him, “What is your name?” He replied, “My name is Legion, for we are many.” And he begged him earnestly not to send them out of the country. Now a great herd of pigs was feeding there on the hillside, and they begged him, saying, “Send us to the pigs; let us enter them.” So he gave them permission. And the unclean spirits came out and entered the pigs; and the herd, numbering about two thousand, rushed down the steep bank into the sea and drowned in the sea.
The herdsmen fled and told it in the city and in the country. And people came to see what it was that had happened. And they came to Jesus and saw the demon-possessed man, the one who had had the legion, sitting there, clothed and in his right mind, and they were afraid. And those who had seen it described to them what had happened to the demon-possessed man and to the pigs. And they began to beg Jesus to depart from their region. As he was getting into the boat, the man who had been possessed with demons begged him that he might be with him. And he did not permit him but said to him, “Go home to your friends and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.” And he went away and began to proclaim in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him, and everyone marveled.” (Mark 5:1-20)
There are so many things we can learn from this episode in Jesus’ life, but before we take apart what is happening here specifically, I want to take the time to talk about that third realm – the spiritual realm – and specifically, Satan and his demons.
A Romantic View of Satan
There only seem to be three ways that people in North America seem to think about Satan and demons. The first is the Biblical worldview, not held by most people, and we will talk about what that is in a minute. Second is the opposite view, the atheist worldview, again not held by most people, that Satan and demons don’t exist at all. The third view, which we can call the “Romantic view”.
I use the word, Romantic, in the sense of the definition that they have an “idealized view of reality”. In the same way that love-struck people idealize their sweetheart – that they have perfect skin, a perfect attitude, could never do anything wrong, and that they will be wonderful for all time, without exception, ever – many people in our culture paint Satan with a personalized, romanticized interpretation, not in keeping with reality.
The average person, when asked what the devil looks like will picture him as a little red guy, with horns and a pitchfork, that sits on your shoulder, giving you bad advice. Or, they picture some huge, terrifying, winged, red-skinned giant, wreathed in flames. Or, if you’ve watched some movies, they will picture a handsome man in a business suit, or a seductress in a red dress, who promises will give people all the power and pleasure they could ever ask for, if they would only sign on the dotted line and forfeit their souls.
And to complicate matters, we now have characters in our favourite movies and TV shows which are “anti-heroes”. They aren’t the classic white hatted, good-guy who saves the town, but instead, wear the black hat of the bad-guy, are associated with evil. Some are even demons. These anti-heroes, more and more, are the lead character and person we end up cheering for! We are encouraged to cheer for the outcast demon who just wants back into heaven, the bank robber who is outwitting the police just so he can be left alone, the car thief who just wants to get back home, the adulteress who just married the wrong guy, the serial killer who is just struggling his own form of with addiction, or the manipulative businessman or shady cop who breaks the rules, drinks like a fish, and can’t keep his family together – but gets the job done. Examples include Severus Snape, Spawn, Ghostrider, Hellboy, Constantine and of course the most famous anti-hero, Batman.
Each of these pictures, though accurate in a small way, are only a caricature of who Satan really is. Yes, he is a tempter, but he’s not small or cute. Yes, he is terrifying, but he is also a spirit, so we don’t know what he looks like. Yes, he is seductive and full of lies, but he does not have power over souls. Yes, he is ruthless, but he’s also under God’s authority. And though entertaining and interesting, these anti-heroes cloud our judgement and help us practice making excuses for why bad people do bad things, and how, deep down, even Satan has a back-story that can excuse everything he’s doing.
We must be absolutely clear that Satan and demons are not just misunderstood anti-heroes. They are not just bad guys doing bad things with the excuse of trying to accomplish something positive – at least from their perspective. No, we must not be clouded in this – they are evil and are the source of evil in this world.
Evil is Real
A Christian must believe that evil isn’t just an idea, but is a real, tangible, experientially substantive force in this world. When Jesus spoke about evil and Satan, He spoke of them not as ideas to be overcome, but actual persons and forces in this world. He cast real demons out of people. He spoke to them, rebuked them, ordered them around.
If you don’t believe in hell, demons, evil, Satan or the spiritual forces in the heavenly realms, then much of the Christian faith, the message of the Gospel, the reason for prayer, and a huge portion of scripture, simply won’t make any sense to you. A Christian with a Biblical Worldview believes that evil is real, Satan is real, demons are real, and hell is real.
A Biblical Understanding of Demons
Let’s talk about that and go through a little of what the Bible says about Satan and Demons.
Let’s start with the backstory of where Satan and demons come. Unfortunately, though much ink has been spilled on the matter, we really don’t know much about how demons came about. We know that they existed before the creation of the world because Satan was there and ready in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3). What happened before that is a bit of a mystery, but if we tie together a few passages from the Old and New Testaments we can get a bit of a picture.
The first passage is from Luke 10:17-18 which is when Jesus is getting a report back from the 72 disciples he sent out to preach the gospel, heal the sick and cast out demons. It says,
“The seventy-two returned with joy, saying, ‘Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name!’ And he said to them, ‘I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven.’” Jesus is likely saying here, “Yeah, Satan is defeated. I was the one who knocked him out of heaven in the first place!”
Now, let’s tie that to a passage in Revelation 12:3-4, which gives us a bit more information about what was going on in the spiritual realm as God was preparing the world for Salvation.
“And another sign appeared in heaven: behold, a great red dragon, with seven heads and ten horns, and on his heads seven diadems. His tail swept down a third of the stars of heaven and cast them to the earth. And the dragon stood before the woman who was about to give birth, so that when she bore her child he might devour it. She gave birth to a male child, one who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron, but her child was caught up to God and to his throne…”
This is a picture of what was going on behind the scenes during the creation of the world and the Christmas story. Satan is the “great red dragon” whose “tail swept down a third of the stars of heaven and cast them to the earth” Those “stars” are the demons that were in rebellion with Satan. And we can see that “the dragon” was trying to kill the “male child” who is Jesus.
Now, let’s tie those two passages to Isaiah 14:12-15 which many believe is a picture of the fall of Satan, and which gives us a bit more back story to why Satan was cursed and removed from heaven. It says,
“How you are fallen from heaven, O Day Star, son of Dawn! How you are cut down to the ground, you who laid the nations low! You said in your heart, ‘I will ascend to heaven; above the stars of God I will set my throne on high; I will sit on the mount of assembly in the far reaches of the north; I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.’ But you are brought down to Sheol, to the far reaches of the pit.”
Finally, let’s tie in Ezekiel 28:11-19, which gives us a little different picture of the event:
“You were the signet of perfection, full of wisdom and perfect in beauty. You were in Eden, the garden of God; every precious stone was your covering, sardius, topaz, and diamond… 17 Your heart was proud because of your beauty; you corrupted your wisdom for the sake of your splendor. I cast you to the ground…”
Now, there is a lot of speculation going on here, and theologians are divided on this, but this is our classic picture of what happened when Satan fell. Satan was, likely, a great, beautiful, powerful angel, serving God in heaven before the creation of the world. At some point, he took his eyes off God and caught a glimpse of himself – and was taken over by pride. He decided he wanted to be equal to God. And led a rebellion of demons. It didn’t work, and he was cast out of the presence of God.
He became a powerful outcast, and took to tempting God’s new creation with exactly the same thing that got him kicked out of heaven – to become God. He fell from grace, and then wanted us to do the same.
Similarities Between Humanity and Demons
Actually, there seems to be a lot of similarity between demons and humanity.
First, we are both created beings. Certainly demons are powerful, spiritual beings – often depicted as serpents or monsters in scripture – but they are still creations who exist under God’s authority.
Second, demons and humans were given freewill to make choices. From what we read about them in scripture, demons are free to do a lot of different things, but, like us, they are always under God’s dominion. Think of the beginning of the book of Job where God gives Satan permission to attack Job’s family, but is withheld from being allowed to touch Job himself (Job 1). Satan could attack him however he wanted, but it was limited. In the same way, humans can do many, many things, but we are still under the authority, and within the bounds, of what God allows.
And third, both humans and demons rebelled against God because they wanted to be Him. Both of us exercised our freewill and, in our pride, tried to usurp God and be our own gods.
And fourth, we know, from what humanity was like before the Flood, that left to ourselves we will become as corrupt as the demons. Genesis 6:5-6 describes the world like this:
“The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And the LORD regretted that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart.”
In verse 11-12 it says,
“Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight, and the earth was filled with violence. And God saw the earth, and behold, it was corrupt, for all flesh had corrupted their way on the earth.”
That’s a great description of a demon – but it’s used to describe humanity! The only difference between us and the demons is that God has given us grace, and has chosen not to give grace to them.
Demons exist with their wills permanently opposed to God’s. They are fallen, without the presence of the Holy Spirit, without conscience, without anything good. They hate everything that God loves. They despise goodness, truth, Jesus, the worship of God, the church, and even the world God created.
And what blows my mind, is that demons are exactly what humans would be if God took away His hand and allowed evil to take over humanity – just as we talked about last week.
So what are Satan and the demons doing now that he has been cast from heaven? 2 Peter 2:4 and Jude 6 tell us that even though they have power, and are a very present, powerful force in the world today, they are also defeated and are awaiting final judgement.
But in the meantime they are doing exactly the same thing that they’ve always done: everything they can to make as many beings as possible rebel against God. They are doing what comes naturally to them as beings who are opposed to God: spreading hate, addiction, fear, pride, and anything else that kills the soul and distracts from God – and especially opposed the work of Jesus Christ.
No one in history dealt with the demonic and spiritual opposition more than Jesus. Satan and his demons did everything they could think of to ruin Jesus’s work, His reputation, and His mission so they could keep salvation from coming to the world. They wanted Jesus to succumb to temptation, so they hit him hard, every day. They wanted to keep Jesus off of the cross so that humanity would be damned forever. Satan wanted the same thing he’s always wanted: to rule the world as a god, and have everyone under his boot.
But, as we talked about last week, Jesus won the battle and destroyed the power of the Satan, death and sin over all humanity for anyone who would believe in Him! And that really ticks Satan off. He’s defeated, but that doesn’t mean he’s going to stop fighting. The evil forces in the heavenly realms still have a lot of strength, intelligence, and experience messing with humans – and they are going to do it right up until the end. To take as many of us with them as possible.
Some Points on Satan
Satan is not God’s opposite. Satan is not all-knowing, all-seeing and ever-present (Job 1:7). He is a created being under God’s authority. He can only be in one place at a time.
He has a host of demonic allies under his command, and Jesus says that they are working together to do anything they can to accomplish their mission (Matthew 12:22-26). They will inflict or exploit physical and mental illness, tempt with every form of pleasure, accuse and bring every possible allegation possible to a person’s mind so they will be racked with shame and fear, and even oppress and possess them – just like we read about in our passage today.
Demons cannot possess a Christian, but they can oppress them. When a demon possesses someone, it means they physically and mentally take over someone’s body and mind – which is a terrifying thought – but it can’t happen to a Christian because God’s Holy Spirit dwells in us, is stronger than any demon, and will never let us go (Luke 11:20-21; 1 Cor 3:16; 1 John 4:3-4; Romans 8:11, 35-39). As 1 John 4:3-4 says, “…every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already. Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.”
The Bible says there are only two teams: Satan’s and Jesus. Anyone who is not on Jesus’ team works for Satan’s and can be used by him to further his mission. But that doesn’t mean that demons can’t affect a Christian. They can and will certainly attack them, tempt them, and influence those around them in an attempt to harm, distract and destroy their joy, their witness and their love for God and others.
Going on the Offensive
We are told in many places in scripture that we can “resist” or “oppose” the demonic forces (James 4:7; 1 Peter 5:8-9). Resistance isn’t meant to be passive, as though we are locked in a bunker just trying not to get blown up. It means to work against, or try to prevent, to make a stand against what Satan is doing. It means “to exert oneself so as to counteract or defeat” the enemy.
That means that we are not only defended by God, but we can actually go on the offensive with Him. Ephesians 6:12 says that our battles aren’t really with the people around us, but are with demons. It says,
“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.”
The Armor of God represents a series of ways that we resist, or work against, or counteract, all the things Satan is doing around us.
It means we have a commitment to telling the truth when we are presented with demonic lies.
It means that we promote righteousness in the face of demonic temptation and sin.
It means we spreading the good news of the peace that comes from the Gospel of Jesus Christ, opposing the demonic messages of pride, indulgence and hopelessness.
It means having a strong faith, and building up others in faith, even while all of the flaming darts of temptation and accusation come flying from all directions from the evil one.
It means being studious in our minds, pursuing wisdom, and being assured of our salvation by the word of God in the face of demonic doubts, distractions and trickery.
It means having a fierce commitment to the Word of God, which is the sword by which the Holy Spirit destroys demonic strongholds in this world.
And it means we are always in prayer, always connected to God, always depending on Him, keeping alert, persevering, and praying for one another – because we realize that it is by prayer that we work with God to dismantle the plans of Satan. (Ephesians 6:10-20)
“Know your enemy and know yourself and you can fight a hundred battles without disaster.” (Sun Tzu) It is my prayer that you will know your enemy, and that you will know yourself – but it is my deeper prayer that you will know Jesus Christ. For, if we know Jesus and take up His armour, working out our faith every day, then we will know ourselves and know our enemy – and we will see him defeated over and over.
We will go through hundreds of battles in our lifetime, but through the power of Jesus Christ, and because of His love and commitment for us, we will overcome.