Everything you always wanted to know about Satan, demons, and zombies but were afraid to ask

This fall, at the last minute, I decided to volunteer as the student ministry teacher at Mars Hill Shoreline on Wednesday evenings. It’s been a lot of fun doing interactive teaching, answering questions, giving away study Bibles , and throwing out huge candy bars to students who have good answers to questions. Nearly every week, it seems, the students have questions about Satan, demons, and zombies. So this week I’m teaching these themes on Halloween, and I thought I’d pass some of that content on to you, much of which is adapted from the books Doctrine and Vintage Jesus .

Genesis 3 is one of the most important chapters in the entire Bible because it explains the source of and solution to sin and death. In painful brevity, with each word dripping horror, we read how the human rebellion against God that began with the first sin is altogether foolish, tragic, and mad.

The scene is the beautiful and perfect garden made by God for our first parents to live in together without sin and its many effects. There, God lovingly and graciously speaks as a father to Adam and Eve, giving them complete freedom to enjoy all of creation, except for partaking of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, which was forbidden.

Part 1: Satan

The entrance of the Serpent marks the beginning of chaos in creation. The Serpent is Satan, according to Revelation 12:9 and 20:2.

Satan began by tempting Eve to mistrust God’s Word by changing its meaning, just as he did when likewise tempting Jesus in Matthew 4:1–11. Rather than rebuking Satan, Eve entertained his lies and was subsequently deceived by his crafty arguments. Satan was so bold as to accuse God of being a liar. He tempted the pride of Adam and Eve by declaring that if they disobeyed God they could in effect become divine peers and gods themselves.

Eve was faced with trusting in her own judgment[1] or God’s protective warning that the fruit was deadly. Satan promised that, upon sinning against God, they would become like God. Yet, they were already like God by virtue of the fact he made them in his image and likeness.

Not only did Satan tempt the first Adam in a garden, but he also tempted the Last Adam (Jesus Christ) in a desert. In each of the synoptic gospels, Satan appears as the tempter of Jesus Christ.

From the opening to the closing pages of Scripture, Satan is presented as an enemy of God, and subsequently an enemy of God’s people. He is named in a variety of ways, including the devil, dragon, serpent, enemy, tempter, murderer, father of lies, adversary, accuser, destroyer, and the evil one throughout Scripture.

The pride of Satan

Foundational to our study of Satan is the recognition that he is in no way equal to God. His knowledge, presence, and power are limited because he is an angelic being created by God for the purpose of glorifying and serving God; however, he became proud in his heart and desired to be worshiped and exalted like God.

The motivation for all of the Serpent’s work is pride and self-glory instead of humility and God-glory. Subsequently, one of his most powerful weapons in opposing God’s people is their own pride.

Some have speculated as to why the Serpent continues in his war against God even though Scripture is clear that he will be ultimately defeated and painfully judged. It may be that Satan is indeed so proud that he has deceived himself and now believes that God is a liar who can be beaten.

The schemes of Satan

In his war against God, the Serpent not only commands demons, but also has people who are allies in his army, either by demonic possession, demonic influence, or simply living according to their sin nature and sinful flesh. Such people include false prophets who speak for the Serpent, false apostles who begin ministries for the Serpent, false Christians who divide churches, and false teachers who teach heretical doctrine for the Serpent.

Regarding spiritual warfare as it is experienced on the personal level, 2 Corinthians 2:11 (NIV) says, “. . . Satan might not outwit us. For we are not unaware of his schemes.” Therefore, knowing Satan’s tactics helps us in anticipating his work and living in victory rather than as victims.

Scheme 1: The world

“The world” refers to our external enemy that tempts us to sin against God. What is meant by the term “world” in its negative sense? The world is an organized system in opposition and rebellion against God.

In 1 John 2:16, the world is defined as corporate flesh working together in three ways:

1. The world is the domain of the lust of the flesh, which is the sinful longings for physical pleasures—everything from gluttony to drunkenness to sexual sin to chemical highs.

2. The world is the place devoted to the lust of the eyes, where the sinful longing for coveted possessions manifests itself in everything from advertising and marketing to pornography.

3. The world is where the boastful pride of life is commended, and haughty selfish ambition is considered a virtue rather than a vice.

In his book Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices , Puritan author Thomas Brooks says that our enemy will use the world to bait our hook with anything that we find desirable. In other words, Satan will gladly give us sex, money, power, pleasure, fame, fortune, and relationships—as bait. Satan’s goal is for us to take the bait without seeing the hook. Once the hook is in our mouth, he reels us in to take us as his captive.

Therefore, no matter what our enemy hangs on our proverbial hook as bait, we must always put to death our internal flesh if we hope to avoid sin.

Scheme 2: The flesh

The flesh is our internal enemy and a seed of corruption that lingers in us until our glorification following death. In brief, the flesh is our fallen internal resistance to obey God and our desire to put self-interests above God’s interests.

“Flesh” sometimes means a physical body, as when the “Word became flesh.” But the Bible does not locate our sin in our physicality, as ancient and contemporary Gnostics do. The sinful deeds of the flesh come from every part of our person. Paul uses “flesh” to refer our innate propensity to sin against God; he says that the flesh is the seat of our sinful passions, the realm of sinners, and the source of our evil desires.

The Bible commands Christians to put to death sinful desires. Puritan theologian John Owen called this the “mortification of sin.” The opposites of mortifying sin include excusing sin, tolerating sin, or merely wounding sin by attempting to manage it rather than kill it. Mortification is Holy Spirit-enabled conviction followed by repentance of sin, faith in God, worship of God, and perseverance in holiness so that sin remains dead and joy remains alive. 

Scheme 3: Demons

Whatever his tactics, Satan’s ultimate goal for believers is typically a compromised and fruitless life beset by heresy, sin, and ultimately death. This demonic opposition is increasingly pronounced for those who serve God most faithfully. As the Puritan William Gurnall said, “Where God is on one side, you may be sure to find the devil on the other.”

Part 2: Demons

In pride, Satan, who was created as an angel, declared war upon God, and one-third of the angels joined his army to oppose God (Rev. 12). Judged by God for his sin, the Serpent and his servants were then cast down to the earth.

Those fallen, sinful spirits are commonly referred to as demons. Like Satan their leader, demons are not equal to God, nor do they share his divine attributes. A demon is not all-knowing, all-powerful, or all-present.

Demons at work

The Bible speaks of Satan’s ordinary and extraordinary work through demons.

Ordinary demonic work entices us to sexual sin; marriage between Christians and non-Christiansfalse religion with false teaching about a false Jesus; unforgiving bitternessfoolishness and drunkennessidle gossiping and busy-bodyinglying; and idolatry.

Extraordinary demonic work includes torment, physical impairment and injury, counterfeit miracles, accusation, death, and false spirits.

False gods

The Ten Commandments begin with, “You shall have no other gods before me. . . . You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God.”

We hear more about some of these “other gods” throughout Scripture. The Lord executes judgment on all the gods of Egypt. He warns Israel of the lure of these false gods as they head into the Promised Land.

Deuteronomy 32:15–21 reveals a warning about “strange gods” and “new gods” that is very contemporary in our age of spirituality where angels and demons are considered equally good because they’re equally spiritual.

According to Scripture, the gods are powerful but created, finite spiritual beings who have revolted against the Lord and have become corrupt. They try to establish their own power base in religions and nations. In a word, they are demons.

Demons with names

Sometimes, demons in the Bible have names. This was the case, for example, in the ministry of Jesus when, in speaking to a demon-possessed man, Jesus had a conversation with a demon and asked its name, to which it replied “Legion.” The Bible is filled with other examples of demons with names who are known and even worshiped by their respective names.

One of the key regional demons of the ancient Canaanites mentioned in the Old Testament was Baal, typical of these powerful spiritual beings. Baal and his under-spirits controlled business, which in an agrarian society revolved around the fertility of land, animals, and people. Apparently Baal was quite the voyeur. If he got turned on by watching the “attendants” in his shrines engage in sexual sin with the worshipers, then he’d grant blessings (Holman Bible Dictionary , "Fertility Cults"). He and the other gods also enjoyed human sacrifices, along with all the other horrific practices. Baal is also the god that the prophet Elijah humiliated at Mt. Carmel.

There are many others demons/false gods named in Scripture. Asherah (the mother goddess of Sidon and Tyre), Astarte (Baal’s sister, a goddess of war, love, storms, the evening star, and the queen of heaven), Chemosh and Molech (infant-loving gods of Moab and Ammon), and Artemis of Ephesus are some of the named ones. We also see the princes of Persia and Greece at spiritual war with the Lord’s angels in Daniel 10.

The bottom line is this: when you see spirituality encouraging sin in any religion or spiritual practice, it is likely that evil demonic forces are at work empowering the leaders. Paul says as much in Ephesians 6:12, “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.”

Demons know Jesus

One of the more curious aspects of Jesus’ earthly ministry is that people were often unable and/or unwilling to see him as God. Jesus used the word “dull” to refer to such people. They were as discerning as the guy who drives for miles with his turn signal on. The exception to this rule, shockingly enough, was the demons. While many humans said Jesus was demon-possessed and raving mad, the demons usually got it right.

On one occasion, Jesus stirs up a fuss when he comes to town. He calls, and tough men follow him. He teaches, and people are astonished. But it’s the demons who know that Jesus is “the Holy One of God.” We find many similar examples throughout Jesus’ ministry.

Interestingly enough, the demons demonstrate some of the highest Christology found in the gospels; though they themselves do not love Jesus or receive the gift of salvation from him, they know who he is. The demons believe more about Jesus than most cults and world religions today, as well as some who profess to be Christian, which is tragic.

Jesus defeats demons

As God promised our first parents following their sin, the defeat of Satan and his works is only possible through the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ in our place for our sins. This is exactly what the Bible teaches. As Hebrews 2:14–15 says: “Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.”

Colossians 2:13–15 also speaks clearly about Jesus defeating demons through the cross, where “he disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.” Numerous other Scriptures reveal that Jesus died to crush Satan, demons, sin, and the world as our Christus Victor who achieved cosmic triumph.

Lastly, at no time does Satan ever rule over Jesus, even in hell. We see in Revelation 14:10 that Jesus Christ the Lamb rules over hell, and in Revelation 20:10 that Jesus rules over the punishment of Satan and demons in hell. Jesus has defeated Satan and demons and rules over them forever as Lord of all.

Can a Christian be demon-possessed?

This is one of those questions that many people answer too quickly. The problem is that the word “possess” has at least three common meanings:

1. Own. In this sense, a Christian would essentially belong to Satan.

2. Dominate. In this sense, a Christian would be controlled by Satan.

3. Influence. In this sense, a Christian would live a life marked by the influences of Satan.

Obviously, the answer to the question matters greatly depending on context and the sense in which “possess” and “possessed” are used.

In the first sense, the devil never owns a Christian. We have been rescued from the dominion of darkness and transferred into the kingdom of the Son, as Paul tells us in Colossians 1:13.

In the third sense, the devil can influence a Christian. We are in warfare against the enemy who seeks to steal and kill and destroy. Even Jesus was attacked by the devil in this way, according to Matthew 4:1–11 and Luke 4:1–13.

It is the second sense where there is a lot of debate among Christians. Can demons dominate a Christian? While some teach that through personal sin, generational sin, or even curses, demons can have authority to dominate believers, Scripture is clear that Christians are never under the ruling authority of darkness. The devil can never take authority over a Christian. Others teach that if we pray and feast on God’s Word, we never need fear a demonic attack. But if Jesus can be attacked, how can we say we cannot?

Christians may be deceived, accused, or tempted by Satan, and may yield to those attacks (though they do not have to). If believers begin to wrongly respond to such things, they may give demons influence in their lives. Apparently, an evil spirit can empower, energize, encourage, and exploit a believer’s own sinful desires. Examples would include Peter and Ananias.

As children of God, regenerated and indwelt by the Spirit, Christians are responsible and empowered by God to resist Satan. If we do, we need not suffer from his influence.

However, for the non-Christian it is possible to be demon-possessed in every sense of the phrase. In Scripture, we see that Jesus does cast demons out of tormented people who are then converted spiritually and often healed physically. This includes men, women, and children.

How Christians can defeat demons

One of the most stunning truths of Scripture is not only that Jesus is seated at the right hand of God the Father exalted in glory, but that we who are by grace in Christ are also seated with him positionally.

Ephesians 2:6 says that God has “seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.From this position, Paul says to Christians, “Do you not know that we are to judge angels?” Amazingly, today Christians possess the delegated spiritual authority of the exalted Jesus Christ. Furthermore, one day we will join Jesus in the judgment of angels and demons.

Practically, this means that, even though we remain physically upon the earth, we are positionally seated with Jesus in heaven. Subsequently, we are granted use of Jesus’ spiritual authority over Satan and demons. As a result, we need not succumb to Satan’s temptations, believe Satan’s lies, or receive Satan’s accusations and condemnations.

Because Jesus has ascended and rules over all, and because his unparalleled authority has been delegated to us, we who are his people can walk in his spiritual power and victory. Consequently, any Christian has the authority to resist a demon, commanding it to get away from them in Jesus’ name.

It is vital to remember that Jesus has already disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them at the cross. We don’t have to do anything to take authority over a demon—that victory has already been won by Jesus for us. We need to live in his authority delegated to us repenting of sin, speaking the truth of the Bible, and walking in the freedom that Christ’s victory gives.

Part 3: Zombies

When a massive earthquake devastated Haiti a couple years ago, I was on the ground shortly thereafter as chaos reigned and decomposing bodies filled the streets.

Driving around with two seminary professors with doctorates from very conservative cessationistic American schools that don’t even much believe in supernatural miracles continuing today, I was shocked when they casually began speaking about the zombie problem in Haiti. Apparently, it was a reality they had dealt with on multiple occasions in their pastoral ministry.

What I learned is that our pop culture notion of undead creatures that emerge from their graves to feast on living flesh has a dark history. Go figure. Zombie origins trace back to the voodoo cults of West Africa. These practices were imported to the Western Hemisphere by way of Haiti, where voodoo is practiced by roughly half the population.

According to the Encyclopedic Dictionary of Cults, Sects, and World Religions , “zombi” can refer to a snake deity, or “someone in voodoo circles who, as a result of having been put under a spell or having taken harmful potions or drugs, has had his or her mind come under the control of the substance and thus is easily manipulated to perform servile tasks mindlessly.” Voodoo sorcerers attempt to control living human beings or corpses by turning them into “zombis.”

Perhaps just as surprising as the living dead walking the earth in modern-day Haiti, there are a few passages in the Bible that seem to validate their existence. Zechariah 14:12–13 sounds like a page straight out of a George Romero script:

And this shall be the plague with which the Lord will strike all the peoples that wage war against Jerusalem: their flesh will rot while they are still standing on their feet, their eyes will rot in their sockets, and their tongues will rot in their mouths. And on that day a great panic from the Lord shall fall on them, so that each will seize the hand of another, and the hand of the one will be raised against the hand of the other.

The context for this passage is a prophetic description of Jerusalem at the end of time. The Bible says it will be a “unique day,” which is certainly one way to put it. Apocalyptic predictions in Scripture are notoriously difficult to interpret. But in Zechariah, “Obviously a supernatural plague is in view,” as commentator James Smith describes it.

Zombie-like occurrences in Scripture are not limited to cryptic verses in the back of the Old Testament. After Jesus died, Matthew tells us:

The earth shook, and the rocks were split. The tombs also were opened. And many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised, and coming out of the tombs after his resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many.

According to Scripture, along with Jesus, God raised to life a few others who had been dead. “These were ‘holy people,’” observes commentator Stuart Weber, “those set apart for a special purpose [. . .] perhaps as confirming witnesses to the reality of Jesus’ resurrection.”

Revelation predicts a similar episode, when “two witnesses” will prophecy in the city of Jerusalem for 1,260 days before “the beast that rises from the bottomless pit will make war on them and conquer them and kill them” (Rev. 11:7). The passage goes on to say that their dead bodies remain in the street, much to the joy of God’s enemies. “After three and a half days,” however:

. . . A breath of life from God entered them, and they stood up on their feet, and great fear fell on those who saw them. Then they heard a loud voice from heaven saying to them, “Come up here!” And they went up to heaven in a cloud, and their enemies watched them. And at that hour there was a great earthquake, and a tenth of the city fell. Seven thousand people were killed in the earthquake, and the rest were terrified and gave glory to the God of heaven.

Revelation 11:11–13

Like those brought back to life after Jesus’ death, the “two witnesses” are resurrected as a miraculous testimony of God’s power and glory at a particularly significant moment in history. As commentator Dr. Bob Utley writes, “God used their visible bodies in a powerful resurrection manifestation of his power and confirmation of their message.”

Zombies in the Bible are distinct from the zombies we hear about in voodoo (living or reportedly dead bodies animated and controlled by demonic forces) and the zombies we find in pop culture (which commonly serve as cultural metaphors, an endless source of horror movie material, or an odd way for adults to wrestle with the inevitability of death). Biblical “zombies” are dead people that God raises to life, for a season, for his purpose.

What all of these zombie classifications have in common, however, is some form of revivification: mortal creatures resuscitated to a mortal existence. In theory, a demon could also indwell a deceased body giving it the false appearance of return from death. Jesus promises something more.    

“Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead?” 1 Corinthians 15:12

A final “zombie verse” in Scripture demonstrates the power of God’s to take what is permanently dead and make it eternally alive. In one of the most well-known prophesies in the Old Testament, Ezekiel sees a vision of a valley full of dry bones:

And as I prophesied, there was a sound, and behold, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone. And I looked, and behold, there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them. But there was no breath in them. Then [God] said to me, “Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to the breath, Thus says the Lord GOD: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe on these slain, that they may live.” So I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived and stood on their feet, an exceedingly great army.

Ezekiel 37:7–10

The human remains that Ezekiel sees are beyond corpses. Bones on the verge of dust are strewn about the landscape, deader than dead. Standing before this tough crowd, God commands Ezekiel to preach. With that, the breath of God moves through the barren valley to recreate life in God’s people. He promises, “I will put my Spirit within you, and you shall live” (Ezek. 37:14).

That is our condition—helplessly dead.
That is our need—God’s intervention.
That is our faith—there is hope for sinners.

For “any hope of victory over death would require a reunion of the physical body and the life-giving breath,” says commentator Lamar Eugene Cooper. “This is what Ezekiel saw,” and that is exactly what we have in Jesus. “If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied,” says Paul. “But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead."

The dead end of this post

When it comes to subjects like Satan, demons, and zombies, it’s tempting to go overboard and indulge an unhealthy fascination with the occult. As C. S. Lewis wrote in The Screwtape Letters , “There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them.”

Ultimately, we’re far better served by knowing the God who defeated Satan, the Lord who rules over demons, and the only One with the power to give life, take it away—and give it back again even better than before.

When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.” “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

1 Corinthians 15:54–57

[1] The wordings in Gen. 2:9 and 3:6 are identical.