Question: “Do demons exist?”

Answer: The Bible speaks of demons as real, actual beings. However, Scripture’s depiction of demons is very different from the popular concept of them. The Bible describes demons as powerful but limited and ultimately defeated creatures. They are angels who followed Satan in rebellion against God (Revelation 12:3–4). The Bible doesn’t give many details about demons, but what it provides is enough to dispel typical myths.

Demons are referred to by several alternate names, including “unclean spirits” and “evil spirits.” Some of the false gods that received human sacrifices are described as actual demons (2 Chronicles 11:15; Deuteronomy 32:17). Since demons are fallen angels, they possess the same level of power and influence as angels. However, Scripture seems to indicate that God has limited their abilities (2 Thessalonians 2:6–7). The Bible indicates that not all afflictions are due to demonic influence (Matthew 10:1; Luke 8:2). The vast majority of demonic influence is spiritual, not physical.

Popular culture frequently depicts demons in monstrous form. This includes drooling fangs, sharp claws, leathery wings, and so forth. Or they are portrayed as shadows or ghosts. None of these have any biblical basis at all. In fact, the Bible never physically describes any fallen angel. As is the case with angels, demons are spiritual creatures with a primarily spiritual influence, so they are unlikely to have any set physical appearance. If they choose to take on a physical appearance, it actually makes more sense for them to choose something inviting rather than scary (2 Corinthians 11:14).

So, demons are literal, actual beings. The demons described in the Bible exist. However, the oft-portrayed horror-movie and Halloween versions do not.

Question: “What does Satan look like? What do demons look like?”

Answer: The closest the Bible comes to describing what Satan and the demons look like is in 2 Corinthians 11:14, “Satan disguises himself as an angel of light.” The surrounding verses refer to Satan’s human servants disguising themselves as “apostles of Christ” and “servants of righteousness.” In context, these descriptions are referring to false teachers. But the principle surely applies to demons as well.

One problem—and it’s a big one—with trying to describe what Satan and demons look like is that they are spirits. Spirits are, by definition, non-physical, and it is impossible to assign physical features to a non-physical entity. As spirit beings, demons do not have noses, eyes, hands, feet, tails, or anything else that we might look for in drafting a description. That’s one reason why the Bible never describes Satan’s appearance. Even the “angel of light” description in 2 Corinthians 11:14 is not meant as a sketch of his appearance; rather, it means to emphasize the deceitful nature of Satan. The devil wants us to believe he is truth when in reality he is falsehood.

Now that we’ve established that Satan is an angel, a spirit being, having no physical likeness that can be grasped by our senses, we can do some surmising. Should Satan decide to make a physical appearance—if he manifested himself to us visibly—he would do so in a deceptive manner.

The common, pop culture portrayal of Satan as a scary-looking, goat-like beast with horns is not found in the Bible. Prior to his rebellion against God, Satan was a beautiful, glorious being (see Ezekiel 28:12–15). What Satan “looks like” now is a mystery. Based on 2 Corinthians 11:14, though, we can know one thing for certain: Satan deceives people into thinking he is an angel of light. For Satan to reveal himself as the evil, murderous being that he is would be counterproductive. Most people would not follow the hateful, malicious maniac of conventional portrayals. Just as sin often looks attractive at first—only later revealing that it leads to death—so Satan would seek to deceive us by appearing as something other than evil.

The same is likely true of the demons. What do demons look like? No one in the Bible ever saw one outside of Micaiah’s and John’s divine visions; Micaiah did not provide visual details, and John, using apocalyptic symbolism, wrote of spirits “like frogs” (see 1 Kings 22:21–22 and Revelation 16:13). If demons were to take visible form, they would choose whatever would further their deception. As fallen angels, the demons are intelligent and powerful beings. And they are led by perhaps the most powerful created being (Jude 9), Satan, whose example they follow. The demons appearing as the evil beings they really are would hinder their mission of deception and temptation.

What does Satan look like? What do demons look like? There is no way to know for certain. If they did appear, they would put on a masquerade. Deception always wears a mask. Satan and the demons attempt to portray themselves as servants, guides, and “light” for people. But, make no mistake, “the thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy” (John 10:10).

No matter what Satan would like us to think about himself, we know the truth: “Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). And we know his end: “And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world—he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him” (Revelation 12:9).

Question: “What does the Bible say about demons?”

Answer: Demons are fallen angels, as Revelation 12:9 indicates: “The great dragon was hurled down—that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him.” Satan’s fall from heaven is symbolically described in Isaiah 14:12–15 and Ezekiel 28:12–15. When he fell, Satan took some of the angels with him—one third of them, according to Revelation 12:4. Jude 6 also mentions angels who sinned. So, biblically, demons are fallen angels who, along with Satan, chose to rebel against God.

Some of the demons are already locked “in darkness, bound with everlasting chains” (Jude 1:6) for their sin. Others are free to roam and are referred to as “the powers of this dark world and . . . the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” in Ephesians 6:12 (cf. Colossians 2:15). The demons still follow Satan as their leader and do battle with the holy angels in an attempt to thwart God’s plan and hinder God’s people (Daniel 10:13).

Demons, as spirit beings, have the ability to take possession of a physical body. Demonic possession occurs when a person’s body is completely controlled by a demon. This cannot happen to a child of God, since the Holy Spirit resides in the heart of the believer in Christ (1 John 4:4).

Jesus, during His earthly ministry, encountered many demons. Of course, none of them were a match for the power of Christ: “Many who were demon-possessed were brought to him, and he drove out the spirits with a word” (Matthew 8:16). Jesus’ authority over the demons was one of the proofs that He was indeed the Son of God (Luke 11:20). The demons who encountered Jesus knew who He was, and they feared Him: “‘What do you want with us, Son of God?’ [the demons] shouted. ‘Have you come here to torture us before the appointed time?’” (Matthew 8:29). The demons know their end will be one of torment.

Satan and his demons now look to destroy the work of God and deceive anyone they can (1 Peter 5:8; 2 Corinthians 11:14–15). The demons are described as evil spirits (Matthew 10:1), unclean spirits (Mark 1:27), lying spirits (1 Kings 22:23), and angels of Satan (Revelation 12:9). Satan and his demons deceive the world (2 Corinthians 4:4), promulgate false doctrine (1 Timothy 4:1), attack Christians (2 Corinthians 12:7; 1 Peter 5:8), and combat the holy angels (Revelation 12:4–9).

The demons/fallen angels are enemies of God, but they are defeated enemies. Christ has “disarmed the powers and authorities,” and He has “made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross” (Colossians 2:15). As we submit to God and resist the devil, we have nothing to fear. “The one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world” (1 John 4:4).