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QUESTION: Re An Evil Spirit Appearing to People

The following question came to me via the Question Box on our Church web site.

Does an evil spirit appear to people in this world; if so, where in the Bible I can find an example?
The answer is Yes. In the earliest part of the Bible, the Tempter appeared to our Mother Eve in Genesis 3. This appearance was in the form of a serpent. Read the entire story in Genesis 3:1-24. It is the story of the Fall of Man that resulted in the Man and the Woman being driven from the Garden of Eden.

Akkadian Temptation Seal from 2300 - 2200 BC in the British Museum. Note the two figures reaching for the fruit and the snake behind the woman. The Akkadians apparently knew the story of the Fall of Adam & Eve.

Off-hand, I cannot think of another instance in which an evil spirit appeared in a physical form, but there may be one or more such instances. There were many instances when different people were tempted or otherwise “troubled” by an evil spirit. In the New Testament, especially, Jesus and His apostles frequently met people who were possessed by an evil spirit or spirits.

On one occasion, they met a man who had a “Legion” of spirits who had possessed his body and taken over his personality. The New King James Version describes this in this way:

They they came to the other side of the sea, to the country of the Gadarenes. And when He had come out of the boat, immediately there met Him out of the tombs a man with an unclean spirit, who had his dwelling among the tombs; and no one could bind him, not even with chains, because he had often been bound with shackles and chains. And the chains had been pulled apart by him, and the shackles broken in pieces; neither could anyone tame him. And always, night and day, he was in the mountains and in the tombs, crying out and cutting himself with stones. When he saw Jesus from afar, he ran and worshiped Him. And he cried out with a loud voice and said, “What have I to do with You, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I implore You by God that You do not torment me.”

For He said to him, “Come out of the man, unclean spirit!” Then He asked him, “What is your name?”

And he answered, saying, “My name is Legion; for we are many.” Also he begged Him earnestly that He would not send them out of the coutry. Now a large herd of swine [i.e., pigs – JS] was feeding there near the mountains. So all the demons begged Him, saying, “Send us to the swine, that we may enter them.” And at once Jesus gave them permission. Then the unclean spirits went out and entered the swine (there were about two thousand); and the herd ran violently down the steep place into the sea, and drowned in the sea. – Mark 5:1-13

This is, perhaps, the most vivid encounter Jesus had with one who was possessed, though there were many other similar instances.

Our most frequent encounter with evil spirits is in the form of temptation. Peter speaks of this when he encourages us:

Be sober; be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. Resist him, steadfast in the faith, knowing that the same sufferings are experienced by your brotherhood in the world. – 1 Peter 5:8-9

Note that Peter does not say the devil appears to us as a lion, but that he walks about (one translation says “prowls about”) like a roaring lion. His temptation is more subtle than to appear to us in very ferocious way. Yet, he is like a lion in that his appetite and hunger to devour us is great. This subtlety is in mind when Paul expressed this concern about his converts:

But I fear, lest somehow, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, so your minds may be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ. For if he who comes preaches another Jesus whom we have not preached, or if you receive a different spirit which you have not received, or a different gospel which you have not accepted – you may well put up with it. – 2 Corinthians 11:3-4

Paul was afraid the Corinthian church would be deceived by the same deceiver who tempted Eve long before by corrupting the message so that Jesus was no longer the Son of God who died for their sins. Or the message might be so corrupted that a different spirit – for example, arrogance instead of humility – would affect them. This message would be a corruption of the good news itself – and his fear was that they would embrace this while leaving the simplicity of the true message of Christ.

Sometimes, as we think about the power of the devil in this world, we become frightened and afraid that he will somehow overpower us. When the child of God is discouraged by such fear, he needs to remember what the apostle of love wrote:

Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God, and every spirit that does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is not of God. And this is the spirit of the Antichrist, which you have heard was coming, and is now already in the world. You are of God, little children, and have overcome them, because He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world. – 1 John 4:1-4 [Emphasis added, JS]

While we need to have respect for the devil and his power, we also need to realize that Jesus has defeated Him. Just as Adam and Eve were cast out of the Garden of Eden, the devil who accuses us before God and to ourselves has been cast out of heaven after a war in heaven between Michael, the archangel, and the devil and his angels. The devil was thrown out of heaven and down to earth where he has great wrath – and does his best to defeat God’s people here. Read about this in Revelation 12:7-12. But when we are faithful to God, we overcome him, as the Scripture there says:

Then I heard a loud voice saying in heaven, “Now salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of His Christ have come, for the accuser of our brethren, who accused them before our God day and night, has been cast down. And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, and they did not love their lives to the death. Therefore rejoice, O heavens, and you who dwell in them! Woe to the inhabitants of the earth and the sea! For the devil has come down to you, having great wrath, because he knows that he has a short time.” – Revelation 12:10-12 [Emphasis added – JS]

We can take comfort. The devil is defeated. He is no longer able to accuse us before God. Yes, he is cast down into the earth, but his time is short. He knows he does not have long. This makes him angry – but he knows his doom is certain. We have that knowledge as well. Plus, we have the Spirit of God within us, and the Spirit of God is more powerful than the devil! So we can be confident in the Lord.

I hope these few words will be of some assistance to you in your studies of the Word of God and in your walk with Him.


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