Are Angels and Demons Active Today?
from 40 Questions About Angels, Demons, and Spiritual Warfare
by John R. Gilhooly
Yes! Given what the Bible teaches about the nature of angels and demons, we have good reasons to believe that both angels and demons are active in creation today. In the first place, angels continue their work of ministry both to God and to men. In the second place, demons continue to tempt human beings and spread false gospels.
Angels Are Ministering Spirits
The Bible teaches that angels are “ministering spirits sent out to serve for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation” (Heb. 1:14). Because God’s plan of salvation has not come to completion, we have every reason to think that the angels continue in this role. People are still being saved by the finished work of Jesus. But, how exactly do angels minister to people? We do not know all the ways for sure; however, the Bible does indicate that angels have a keen interest in God’s activity among men. For example, Peter notes that the revelations that were given to the prophets were of interest to the angels (1 Peter 1:12). Furthermore, Jesus tells his disciples that the angels of God rejoice over a sinner’s repentance (Luke 15:10). The ongoing process of salvation through Christ’s finished work is a source of wonder for the angels, as it should be for us also.
The Devil Is Seeking Whom He May Devour
The Bible also teaches that the enemy is intent on disrupting God’s purposes in salvation. Peter cautions his readers to be vigilant because “Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). There is no indication in his letter that the threat of the enemy would cease in the near future. In fact, Peter goes on to point out that other Christians are undergoing the same trials as his readers, which would also include the threat of the Devil and his angels. Likewise, Paul exhorts us to “Put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil” (Eph. 6:11). We have reason to believe that demons are active today because the Bible exhorts us to be faithful to Christ as a means for resisting the “cosmic powers over this present darkness” (Eph. 6:12).
In addition to these reasons, we have also the regular reports of such activity from faithful Christian missionaries, especially in frontier settings. Some of the reports might be mistaken, but we have no reason to believe that all of them are mistaken. Furthermore, many of the descriptions are congruent with the patterns that emerge in the Scriptures. It seems unwise to dismiss all such accounts out of hand, and the number and consistency of the reports seems to provide some evidence of supernatural activity.
Type of Activity
Nevertheless, even though it seems that angels and demons are active today, there is less reason to expect the type of activity among angels and demons that we see in the gospel accounts. In the first place, the period sur- rounding the life of Jesus was a heightened time of spiritual activity, judging at least from the density of the reports of spiritual activity in the narratives compared to other narratives in Scripture. One might respond, however, that such activity is always as frequent and intense as it is in the gospel accounts, but that the biblical authors simply did not make note of such details in their writings. I think this is a dubious response, both because it argues from silence and because the intensity of certain kinds of spiritual activity wanes as the narrative of the New Testament develops. By the end of the Acts, the apostles and their immediate disciples have become the messengers of the good news, such that the angels (lit. “messengers”) are no longer needful for that purpose. Hence, the author of Hebrews can declare that the Father has now spoken finally through his Son, whose gospel he has entrusted to the church (Heb. 1:1–2).
Furthermore, the activity of the angels is not always showy or obvious, even in the Bible. As the author of Hebrews notes, “some have entertained angels unawares” (Heb. 13:2). It seems clear that the allusion is to Lot’s encounter with the divine messengers recorded in Genesis 19, but there are other passages of Scripture (e.g., Judges 13) in which angels are encountered in such a way that they are confused for human beings. The fact that the author of Hebrews makes mention of this possibility, however, suggests that angelic activity is continuing.
Demonic activity also wanes in intensity or appearance. In the gospel ac- counts, for example, the presence of the demon-“possessed” is such a regular and assumed feature of the narrative that it seems that demoniacs were ubiquitous in society. By the time Paul is writing his letters to the churches, however, he makes no mention of exorcisms or casting out demons. Instead, he describes the assaults of the demons in terms of their lies, false doctrines, and temptations to do evil and turn away from Christ. Likewise, John tells us, “Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil” (1 John 3:8). What we are to make of this transition is difficult to say, but it seems clear that any expectation of rampant demonizing or “possession” is an expectation that has focused on the wrong sort of threats. Instead, Christians are charged to guard their thought life and affections in a world of false teachers and beliefs deriving from the Devil.
In fact, apparitions of angels in Scripture occur when God intends to communicate a message to someone, either by a physical manifestation of the angel or in a dream or vision. It would be outside the character of this pattern for us to expect to see angels crossing the street or waving from a street-shop window. Surely, such things could happen, since it falls within the divine power to send his angels where he wishes. Hence, asking whether such encounters could happen seems to be the wrong sort of question. What we really want to know is if such encounters do happen.
Because there is no evidence to show that angels and demons are definitely not active in our world, some rush to the conclusion that they are super-active, and/or active in ways inconsistent with the depictions we have of them in the Bible. As an extreme example, in her book on encounters with angels in the form of dogs, Joan Anderson queries, “If God would use anonymous spirits in human form to work his will, why not in dog form?” This author is sincere that after praying for guidance from the Holy Spirit, she had come to believe that angels sometimes appear as dogs to provide assistance to humans in need.
Is it possible that this happens? Maybe, but I strongly doubt it. Do we have any biblical evidence that it does? None whatsoever. The only evidence we have to go on is the sincere(?) reporting of other human persons. If such reports are congruent with the patterns in the Bible, then one should be more comfortable considering the case. But, we have no reason beyond a series of anecdotes to suppose that angels appear as dogs. We should be cautious about believing stories about angelic activity simply because someone tells us about their experience, especially if the account is inconsistent with the biblical witness.
At the same time, it would be inconsistent to believe that angels and de- mons are active and then to deny that they ever acted. In fact, to do so would be merely to pay lip service to the mention of the angelic and demonic realms in Scripture. Even though we might debate a particular instance of alleged spiritual activity, the Bible indicates that angels and demons are real, personal beings who are active in creation. While we should analyze reports of angelic and demonic activity with biblical scrutiny, it is wrong to assume that angels and demons are not active in the world, or that all reports of their activity are made up. They are creatures of the cosmos just as we are, and they are active in the world today.
Angels and demons are active in the world today, but that does not mean that we should expect to constantly see them or encounter traces of them in the world. The Scripture indicates that we could interact with angels without even knowing it, but it does not encourage us to seek them out or to expect to hear from or see them. Hence, we need to be cautious about reports of spiritual activity, even though we need not dismiss them out of hand.
 Joan Wester Anderson, Angelic Tails: True Stories of Heavenly Canine Companions (Chicago: Loyola, 2011), xi.
This post is adapted from 40 Questions About Angels, Demons, and Spiritual Warfare
by John R. Gilhooly If you are interested in adopting this book for a college or seminary course, please request a faculty examination copy. We will also consider requests for your blog or media outlets.
In 40 Questions About Angels, Demons, and Spiritual Warfare, John Gilhooly provides a biblical and balanced perspective on the many issues surrounding the spiritual realm. Using a question-and-answer format, he explains spiritual warfare, angels and demons, the role of Satan, models and practices for spiritual warfare, and topics related to the occult. Beneficial as a comprehensive overview or as a reference guide to particular subjects, this volume provides concise but thorough answers to many important questions, including:
- Do believers have guardian angels?
- Can Christians be demon possessed?
- Are there territorial spirits?
- Why and when did the devil fall from heaven?
- What is the role of prayer in spiritual warfare?
- Are there such things as spiritual curses?
Want to learn more about the 40 Questions Series? Visit the new website 40Questions.net!