“. . . it passes through waterless places seeking rest and finding none.”  Luke 11:24

Jesus gives us an insight into unseen spiritual realities in Luke 11:24-26.  He cast a demon out of a man, in verses 14-23.  He freed a man, restoring him to fuller humanity.  But some, watching this wonderful deliverance, accused Jesus of accomplishing it by the power of Satan.  They knew something was happening.  That was obvious.  But they construed a beautiful thing as its horrible opposite.

Why?  Why did they get it so wrong?  Jesus said, “The kingdom of God has come upon you” (verse 20).  These people hadn’t bargained on that.  They wanted a decent world, of course.  But the kingdom of God?  The rule of God?  That much of God?  To these people, that much blessing was a threat.  So, without realizing it, they aligned themselves with the devil by attributing to the devil the oncoming power of the kingdom of God.

That’s scary.

Then Jesus goes on to describe the career of a demon — presumably, like the one he had just cast out, just your average demon.  So here is what Jesus wants us to understand about what it’s like to be a demon.

When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, and finding none it says, “I will return to my house from which I came.”  Luke 11:24

A demonic spirit is unclean, impure, like the ritually unclean animals of the Old Testament.  It is unacceptable to God, excluded, a perpetual outsider, not belonging to the One whose very presence defines belonging-ness, at-home-ness, comfort.

Left to its own potentialities, a demon’s existence is external barrenness and internal restlessness.  Gnawing drivenness, never stopping to rest, rejoice, give thanks.

Parasitic, needy, self-pitying, possessive (“my house”), and delusional (“from which I came [by my own free choice]” rather than “from which I was expelled by the mighty Son of God”).

And when it comes, it finds the house swept and put in order.  Luke 11:25

A demon is comfortable with a human being who has been tidied up, who is sinning less than before, who looks good and smells fresh and even quotes 1 Corinthians 14:40 about all things being done decently and in order.  “Swept and put in order” is no bulwark against evil.  The demon licks its chops.

Then it goes and brings seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and dwell there.  And the last state of that person is worse than the first.  Luke 11:26

Demons are at various levels of evil.  And they network.  They coordinate.  They don’t take no for an answer but look for an opportunity to retake lost ground, turning a defeat into an even greater gain than they had before.

In the context of Luke 11, what is the “last state worse than the first”?  It is, having experienced the kingdom of God coming in power, then to reject the rule of God exalting Jesus as an evil intrusion.  If someone construes the glorious display of Jesus as the hideous approach of Satan, what will save them then?  That false sense of alarm, that foolish barricading of oneself against Christ, is Satan’s masterpiece of iniquity.

Finally, this teaching of Jesus reveals how vulnerable is purely negative repentance, turning from sin without turning to God, getting free of bad habits without getting bound to newness of life in Christ.  Any moral reform that creates a mere vacuum will be filled by evils worse than before.  Our only safety is to be filled with the Holy Spirit.  Escape from evil is not found in neutrality, not even in well-manicured neutrality; our only safety lies in welcoming and revering and rejoicing in the kingdom of God coming upon us in divine power.

When the kingdom of God gets us glorying in the commanding presence of Christ, then the demons tremble.

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5 thoughts on “What is it like to be a demon?”

  1. Perfect! Excellent insights, even from a psychological point of view.

  2. John Bradley says:

    Powerful study on spiritual warfare. The battle is already won, we are to just to stand in the breach!!

  3. Excellent and biblically-sound article. I will print and use this article in teaching my students at the classical Christian academy where I teach, especially in conjunction with The Screwtape Letters and Dante’s Inferno.

    I wonder if another example (and I’m sure you’ve already considered this) from Jesus’s interaction with demons might also be illuminated a bit by your thinking. When Jesus cast demons out of a man and they sought refuge in a herd of pigs, I wonder if that shows their desperation for touchpoints with the physical, the inordinate desire to work within flesh and blood, an affinity for the unclean, and the ability to regroup (as your parable shows) for later action.

    Thank you for an insightful article. I’m wondering, have you read Demon: A Memoir by Tosca Lee? Though I myself have not, I understand its fictional point of view addresses this issue.

    Yours and His,
    Latayne C. Scott

  4. Mike Francis says:

    This was tremendous. Thanks for your labors.

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Ray Ortlund

Ray Ortlund is senior pastor of Immanuel Church in Nashville, Tennessee, and serves as a Council member with The Gospel Coalition. You can follow him on Twitter.

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