Understanding Satan and Demons
When you teach a passage such as Matthew 8:28-34 where Jesus casts demons out of a pair of men and into a herd of pigs, there is no way around dealing with the reality of Satan and demons. Kids need to know that Satan and demons are real and they need to learn what the Bible truly teaches about them in an age-appropriate way. This particular passage actually has a lot of information about Satan and demons. Start by noticing what the demons say to Jesus in the encounter according to Matthew 8:29-31.
Suddenly they shouted, “What do You have to do with us, Son of God? Have You come here to torment us before the time?” Now a long way off from them, a large herd of pigs was feeding. “If You drive us out,” the demons begged Him, “send us into the herd of pigs.”
These three sentences teach us quite a bit about demons and by extension Satan, a demon himself:
- They know who Jesus truly is. Notice that the demons immediately reference Jesus according to His divinity – Son of God. There was no doubt in their minds of who Jesus is. It is interesting to contrast these demons with the religious leaders in Jesus’ day. The demons rather matter-of-factly declare Jesus is God, yet despite Jesus’ propensity of evidence that He is God, the religious leaders went to great lengths to reject this truth. Demons know who Jesus is, yet they continue to reject His lordship over them.
- They recognize Jesus’ authority over them. This is important. The demons don’t even try to put up a fight. Why? Because they know it is a battle that cannot be won. They can claim victory over the men they possessed. They can claim victory over leading men and women astray. Those are battles that they can win. But they know that they are powerless in the presence of Almighty God! Jesus may not be their Lord in the sense that they lovingly and willingly obey Him, but He is their Master in the sense that they must yield to His authority.
- They know that they are a defeated foe. The demons know that a time is coming when they will be tormented forever in the Lake of Fire. They also seem to know that there is an appointed time for that and that time was not on this day when Jesus walked up to them. So here’s the question: If Satan and the demons know they are defeated, why continue to war against God? It’s a good question, but since when has sin been logical? Satan and his demons are a defeated foe, but they are not going down without a fight. Their goal is to cause as much turmoil as they can until their time is up. And to that end they are dangerous. Like a cornered wild animal, they will lash out and can still do quite a bit of damage requiring us to stand behind Christ and let Him battle for us.
- They are not all-knowing. Satan and the demons are incredibly intelligent. They know the Bible. They know history. They know the future according to what God has revealed about it. However, do not make the mistake of thinking that they are all-knowing (omniscient). They are not. Only God is.
- They reflect personhood. When we say “personhood” we mean that someone is a person, and not an impersonal force or entity. The classic three-fold definition of being a person is the expression of will, emotion, and intellect. This is a test that the demons pass. Demons are persons, not spiritual forces. That is not to say that they are people like we are. They are fallen angels – unique creations.
- They are in willful rebellion against God. Here’s an interesting question: Are demons eligible to repent and be saved? The answer is no. Two reasons. One, Jesus paid the sin price for people who would believe in Him, not demons who are a separate creation. Two, as we read in this passage, the demons’ fate has already been sovereignly decreed by God. It is best to understand that no more angels will fall and no demon will be saved. So does that mean that the demons have no choice in their rebellion? Not at all. They are willingly continuing in rebellion against God and in doing so continue to store up God’s wrath against them.
The book of Job gives us some more important clues about the nature of Satan and his demons. When Satan challenges the reason why Job follows God, God permits Satan first to wreak havoc in Job’s life without touching him and then to impair Job physically without killing him. Don’t miss it. Satan could not act without God’s permission and was given clear parameters that he had to follow!
Some believe that Satan is God’s opposite and equal – sort of a yin and yang of good and evil. That is unbiblical and untrue. Satan is a created being who is under the authority of God. He is wise, but not all-knowing. Only God is omniscient. He is strong, but not all-powerful. Only God is omnipotent. He is a spirit, but he is local, meaning he can only be in one place at a time. Only God is omnipresent.
We are in danger when we don’t give Satan and his demons enough credit. There is a spiritual war going on all around. However, we are also in danger when we give Satan and his demons too much credit and put him on par with God. He isn’t and they aren’t.
One other note on Satan. He is often depicted as ruling hell for all eternity. Again, this is not what the Bible teaches. According to Revelation 20:10, Satan will be thrown into the Lake of Fire where he will be punished forever for his rebellion along with the rest of the demons and all who reject Jesus. He is not a ruler there. He is a bearer of God’s wrath.
So what should we do with what we know about Satan and demons as we teach our kids? Well, I certainly don’t advocate walking them through what is in this post! However, I would encourage you to look for age-appropriate ways to properly teach who Satan and demons are. Tell kids that Satan is a fallen angel along with the other demons. Tell them that he is a powerful enemy of God, but that God is more powerful. Tell them that he is defeated because Jesus has defeated him on the cross. Help kids understand that they should respect who Satan is but they do not have to fear him.
And as always, point them to Jesus. Don’t talk about Satan and demons for 45 minutes and tack-on Jesus at the end. Focus on how Jesus has power over Satan, demons, and all evil in the world.
Brian Dembowczyk is the team leader for The Gospel Project for Kids. He served in local church ministry for over 16 years before coming to LifeWay in 2014. Brian earned an M.Div. from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and a D.Min. from the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. Brian and his wife, Tara, and their three children – Joshua, Hannah, and Caleb – live in Murfreesboro, TN, where Brian enjoys drinking coffee and teaching 1-3 graders at City Church.