Bible-Based Answers to Burning Questions About Angels, Demons, and the Afterlife
What are spirits?
A spirit is “an immaterial intelligent being.”1 Each spirit possesses intellect, emotion, and will. Biblically speaking, there are three categories of spiritual beings: God, humans, and angels. Of course, humans are distinct from God and angels because we also possess a physical being. The words spirit and wind are both derived from the same Greek word, pneuma. Wind blows invisibly; only its effects are seen (John 3:6-8). Similarly, spirits are invisible, but their activities are evident.
What does it mean to test the spirits?
First John 4:1 instructs God’s people to “test the spirits” because there are godly spirits and ungodly spirits. Verses two and three explain how we are to accomplish this testing:
First Corinthians 12:3 explains it this way: “Therefore I make known to you that no one speaking by the Spirit of God calls Jesus accursed, and no one can say that Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit.”
So, spirits who proclaim the fullness of the Gospel of Jesus Christ are of God. In fact, it is only possible to understand the “deep things of God” with the help of God’s Holy Spirit, and He is exclusively available to God’s children (1 Corinthians 2:10-12; see also John 14:16-18).
What are unclean spirits?
On the other hand, spirits who deny any aspect of the Gospel are not of God. The New Testament refers to “unclean spirits” 25 times. This term is synonymous with “demons,” which are specifically mentioned an additional 79 times in the New Testament. Most of these occurrences refer to demons possessing humans to deceive and destroy them. Spirits do not have physical bodies, but they can inhabit a body. Clearly humans have physical bodies, and demons can possess human bodies. It is even possible for multiple spirits to possess the same body (Matthew 8:28-34; Mark 5:11-13, 6:9; Luke 8:30).
What are angels?
Angels are real spirit beings who were created by God before He laid the foundation of the earth (Psalm 104:5). The Bible describes them as wind, fire, and stars (Psalm 104:4; Isaiah 57:13; Ezekiel 1:13). They have supernatural strength, but their strength is limited (2 Kings 19:35; Daniel 10:13). Angels fulfill four primary roles: they are messengers, ministers, warriors, and worshipers.
What is an archangel?
Archangel is a title given to the chief angel, and Scripture names only one. Jude 9 indicates Michael is the archangel. His name means “Who is like God?” The book of Daniel also refers to him as “one of the chief princes” and “the great prince who stands watch over the sons of your people” (Daniel 10:13, 12:1). In Revelation 12:7, it is Michael who battles against the dragon and his angels. Michael’s primary role appears to be protecting God’s people.
Since the Bible makes no mention of any other archangels, I believe when 1 Thessalonians 4:16 is fulfilled, “For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel,” Michael will be the one announcing Christ’s return.
Who is Lucifer?
Lucifer was an angel. The prophet Ezekiel described him as “the seal of perfection, full of wisdom and perfect in beauty” (Ezekiel 28:12). His very name means “light bearer.” Lucifer didn’t have any light of his own, but he was a great reflector. He was built in such a way as to reflect the glory of God. Ezekiel 28 reveals that Lucifer (also referred to as the King of Tyre) had been in Eden and had been the “anointed cherub who covers” with access to the holy mountain of God (verse 14). Verse 13 suggests Lucifer was created as an instrument of praise with “timbrels and pipes.” He had been given a special, distinct commission from God to minister unto Him and cover His glory with music through worship and praise. Lucifer was a walking orchestra. What’s more, this spectacular angel was brilliantly ornamented with every precious stone.
In all his radiance, however, Lucifer developed a fatal flaw: he became prideful. Ezekiel’s account explains, “You [Lucifer] were perfect in your ways from the day you were created, till iniquity was found in you…. You became filled with violence within, and you sinned” (Ezekiel 28:15-16).
Is the devil real?
The Bible uses the term “devil” no less than 34 times. When it speaks of the devil, it speaks of him as an actual existent adversary, so any sincere student of the Bible must do the same. In fact, if we look back to Lucifer, we find the origins of the devil. You see, when Lucifer decided it was no longer good enough to be a perfect angel created in the beauty of God, his name changed to Satan, and he became the sworn enemy of God and God’s people.
Lucifer’s new name, Satan, means “accuser,” and devil means “slanderer.” Scripture gives him a variety of revealing titles. He is referred to as Beelzebub (Matthew 10:25), meaning “lord of the flies,” and Belial (2 Corinthians 6:15), meaning “worthlessness” or “ruin.”
What are demons?
Revelation 12 hints that a third of heaven’s angels fell from God’s grace when Lucifer became Satan (verse 4). These fallen angels are also called demons. Some of them sinned so gravely that God has already imprisoned them in hell. Others remain free, working to disrupt God’s plan and distract people from God’s truth. Fallen and free angels have been deceiving mankind since the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3:4-5). Yet, troublesome as they are, there is good news! Demons cannot rob a Christian of salvation; demons cannot possess a Christian; and after Christ returns, demons will be eternally punished in everlasting fire (Matthew 25:41).
What are Nephilim?
Scripture doesn’t reveal many details about the Nephilim, so there are a variety of theories about who they were. Genesis 6 provides the clearest picture available:
The Hebrew word for “giants” in verse 4 is Nephilim. We know from this passage that these mighty men were descended from “sons of God” and “daughters of men.” Scholars agree, with some nuances, that the daughters of men were human women. But there remains a more controversial question…
Who are the sons of God in Genesis 6?
Not all scholars agree about the identity of “sons of God.” For that reason, many teachers shy away from this subject, but I’ll give you my interpretation: the sons of God were fallen angels…demons.
It may seem strange for demons to be called “sons of God,” but a passage in Job supports this conclusion. Job 38 contains God’s response to Job’s misfortunes. The Lord contrasts Job’s wisdom with His own wisdom demonstrated in creation. He asks, “Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?...when the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy?” (verses 4, 7)
Now, mankind had not been created when the Lord laid the earth’s foundation. The sons of God could not be humans; they must have been angels. Originating from taboo relations between fallen angels and humans, the Nephilim so corrupted God’s plan that He imprisoned all offending angels and destroyed the Nephilim in a worldwide flood.
Are ghosts real?
The answer depends on what you mean by “ghost.” The word appears 108 times in the King James Version (KJV) and once in the New King James Version (NKJV), so it would seem the answer is yes—ghosts are real. However, it is important to note the context surrounding these occurrences.
Of the KJV occurrences, nineteen are euphemisms for death: gave up the ghost, given up the ghost, yielded the ghost, etc. They characterize the everyday language of the era when they were translated to English. The other 89 occurrences of “ghost” in the KJV all refer to the Holy Ghost, which is the Holy Spirit. This is also representative of the sensibilities of seventeenth century British readers. None of the KJV references to “ghost” have anything to do with the disembodied spirits of humans loitering on earth.
In the NKJV, “ghost” appears in Mark 6. After feeding a multitude with five loaves of bread and two fish, Jesus instructed His disciples to immediately board their boat and go before Him to the other side of the sea. The disciples were battling a strong headwind in the early morning hours when Jesus walked out on the water to join them. They were so frightened that Scripture tells us “they supposed it was a ghost, and cried out” (Mark 6:49). The story continues with Jesus immediately talking to them and reassuring them. Interestingly, the older KJV translates the word for “ghost” as “spirit.” The two terms are interchangeable. Notice that it is the disciples—in a moment of exhaustion and fear—who surmise the late-night water-walker must be a ghost. God never suggests on the pages of Scripture that spirits of dead people linger to interact with the living.
What about modern ghost stories—are they real?
As for modern accounts of ghosts, I submit to you that they are nothing more—nor less—than demons masquerading as dead people or possibly, in some cases, overactive imaginations at work. Certainly, if demons can possess the living, they can imitate the dead.
Hebrews 9:27 plainly states, “As it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment.” There is no suggestion of a time-lapse between death and judgment. When Jesus was dying on the cross, He assured the repentant criminal, “Today you will be with Me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43).
Second Corinthians 5:8 declares that, for a believer, absence from the body is presence with the Lord. So, ghostly apparitions are one of Satan’s deceptions.
What is the occult?
Noah Webster defines occult as “hidden from the eye or understanding; invisible; secret; unknown; undiscovered; undetected; as the occult qualities of matter. The occult sciences are magic, necromancy, etc.”2
As it pertains to spiritual matters, the occult is associated with seeking secret knowledge apart from God’s power and the five senses He has given mankind. This includes psychic practitioners, channeling, clairvoyance, astrology, paranormal psychology, tarot cards, witchcraft, magic, shamanism, Wicca, and Ouija boards, among others.
The Bible makes it clear that any wisdom apart from God’s wisdom is foolishness (1 Corinthians 3:19). Eve introduced sin, death, and despair to humanity when she sought wisdom apart from God in Genesis 3, and the destructive pattern has continued ever since. There is no need for hidden knowledge when the Creator of all things has revealed Himself through nature and His Word (Psalm 19). In the Gospel of Mark, Jesus assures us that “there is nothing hidden which will not be revealed, nor has anything been kept secret but that it should come to light” (Mark 4:22). If we lack wisdom, all we need to do is ask God for it because that is a petition He is eager to satisfy (James 1:5).
What happens after death?
In Luke 16, Jesus answers this query by telling a story that draws stark contrast between the earthly lives and afterlives of two men. One man, Lazarus, was a poor beggar while the other man was a wealthy socialite. Each day, Lazarus laid at the rich man’s gate in hopes of being offered a few crumbs from his lavish spread. Lazarus was covered in sores while the rich man was clothed in purple and fine linen that was probably imported and colored with expensive Tyrian dye. Lazarus was surrounded by dogs who licked his sores while extravagance surrounded the rich man. Upon his death, Lazarus’s body was likely dumped on the dung heap of Gehenna where trash was burned, but the rich man’s body was surely laid in a stately tomb following a magnificent funeral.
In the afterlife, however, the fortunes of these men reversed. When Lazarus died, he was “carried by the angels to Abraham’s bosom” while the rich man was tormented in Hades. (Luke 16:22-23). It’s interesting to note that during their earthly lives, a gate is all that separated these men. Lazarus was outside begging for food. The wealthy man was inside the gate feasting. Lazarus couldn’t enter the gate, but it would have been a simple matter for the rich man to exit.
What determines our eternal destiny?
When death came for Lazarus and the rich man, the defining difference was neither their food nor their furnishings; it was their standing before God. You see, Lazarus knew God, but the rich man did not. After death, Lazarus enjoyed the comfort and company of Abraham while the formerly wealthy man experienced physical torment and the agony of knowing his family was destined for the same fate. Then, upon death, neither man could cross over to the other, for there was a “great gulf fixed, so that those who want to pass” from one side to the other could not (Luke 16:26).
When people experience physical death, they pass into everlasting fellowship with God or eternal damnation apart from God. There are no second chances. The most important thing you can do right now is surrender your life to God, and that’s simpler than you might imagine.
What is heaven like?
Imagine a world where you are free to use your gifts and talents in entirely rewarding ways, and you never grow weary. Imagine a world where your health is perfect, and your body never weakens. Imagine a world where you are surrounded by people with whom you are perfectly compatible, and you never tire of their company. Imagine a world with gates of pearl, foundations of precious stones, streets of gold. Imagine yourself as an esteemed citizen of that beautiful place. Imagine a world where evil is absent, and you live without fear in the presence of God.
Friend, that is heaven, and what I’ve described is merely a shadow of all that awaits those who love God. When Jesus was preparing to leave His earthly ministry, He assured His disciples with these words:
Just think, God created the heavens and the earth and everything within them in the space of six days. If Jesus left this earth 2,000 years ago, and He’s been preparing a place for us ever since, heaven must be more magnificent than anything we can imagine! Surely, we cannot comprehend a world unchained by death and sorrow, but the Bible gives us a glimpse in Revelation 21-22.
Is hell real?
Shortly after Jesus’s reference to heavenly mansions in John 14 (above), He made this sobering statement: “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” (verse 6). The only way to heaven is through faith in Jesus Christ, yet many groups have tried to dismiss hell as a distasteful figment of man’s imagination. As a pastor, it’s my responsibility to inform you that hell is every bit as real as heaven, and it is the fate of all who do not trust Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior.
Equipped with this knowledge, it becomes important for us to understand the nature of hell. I don’t enjoy thinking about it, but we must hash this out because hell is a widely misunderstood reality. Sometimes I hear people dismiss its horrors with comments like, “Hey, all my friends are going to hell, so I might as well join them.” Let me tell you, nothing could be further from the truth. Hell is no party, and I wouldn’t wish it for anyone.
How does the Bible describe hell?
- An endless pit that is never full (Proverbs 27:20; Ezekiel 31:15; Revelation 9:1)
- The destination of the “uncircumcised,” which is to say a place of dishonor, far from the favor of God (Ezekiel 32)
- Worse than losing your right eye or right hand (Matthew 5:29-30)
- Capable of destroying the body and soul (Matthew 10:28)
- More fearsome than murderers (Matthew 10:28)
- Separation from God’s guidance (Psalm 28:1)
- Unaffected by earthly affluence (Psalm 49:6-9; Luke 16:19-31)
- A place from which God hides his face (Psalm 143:7)
- Swallows people whole (Proverbs 1:12)
- Maggot and worm infested (Isaiah 14:11)
- Future place of punishment for Lucifer (Isaiah 14:15)
- Future place of punishment and imprisonment for demons and earthly kings (Isaiah 24:21)
- A place of corruption that can neither thank nor praise the Lord (Isaiah 38:17-18)
- A smoking pit like a great furnace (Revelation 9:2)
- The keys are held by Jesus Christ (Revelation 1:18)
- Lake of fire (Revelation 20:14, 21:8)
This Q&A marks the completion of four consecutive posts regarding angels. I hope you’ve enjoyed delving into this fascinating subject as much as I have. In closing, I’d like to share an excerpt from my book, Angels—Who They Are and How They Help…What the Bible Reveals:
One thing we know for sure: Our God uses His awesome power in a compassionate, loving way to help those who need help. I like that about God. I’ve felt His love and compassion in many ways in recent months, and I know He’s that kind of God. While on the one hand He’s holy, there’s the other side of it too: He condescends to be concerned about such as us, and will even dispatch one angel or an army of them for our service and protection.
There’s great hope in that.
This is a good time to remind ourselves again that angels are created beings—God’s created beings. He’s told us much about them, but He’s also withheld much. Even if He told us everything, however—even if we knew all there is to know about angels—the simple truth still would stand that they belong to God. They’re His, and He can do with them whatever He wills. They aren’t ours to control or to use. They aren’t ours to satisfy either our physical and emotional needs or our intellectual curiosity.3
1“Spirit,” def. 7, webstersdictionary1828.com, 1828, https://webstersdictionary1828.com/Dictionary/spirit, accessed on October 17, 2018.
2“Occult,” def. 1, webstersdictionary1828.com, 1828, https://webstersdictionary1828.com/Dictionary/occult, accessed on October 18, 2018.
3David Jeremiah, Angels: Who They Are and How They Help…What the Bible Reveals (Orange: Multnomah Press, 2006), 188-189.