A perspective view of the ages covered by the history in Bible records, shows that the rise and fall in spiritual power of the people of God, was marked by the recognition of the existence of the demoniacal hosts of evil. When the Church of God in the old and new dispensations was at the highest point of spiritual power, the leaders recognized, and drastically dealt with, the invisible forces of Satan; and when at the lowest they were ignored, or allowed to have free course among the people.
The reality of the existence of wicked spirits by whom Satan, their prince, carried out his work in the fallen world of men, cannot be more strongly proved, than by the fact that the statutes given by Jehovah to Moses in the fiery mount, embodied stringent measures for dealing with the attempts of evil spirit beings to find entry to the people of God. Moses was instructed by Jehovah to keep the camp of Israel free from their inroads, by the drastic penalty of death for all who had dealings with them. The very fact of Jehovah thus giving statutes in connection with such a subject, and the extreme penalty enforced for disobedience to His law, shows in itself (1) the existence of evil spirits, (2) their wickedness, (3) their ability to communicate with, and influence human beings, and (4) the necessity for uncompromising hostility to them, and their works. God would not legislate for dangers which had no real existence, nor would He command the extreme penalty of death, if the contact of the people with evil spirit beings of the unseen world, did not necessitate such drastic dealing.
The severity of the penalty obviously implies, also, that the leaders of Israel must have been given acute "discerning of spirits," so sure and so clear, that they could have no doubt in deciding cases brought before them.
Whilst Moses and Joshua lived, and enforced the strong measures decreed by God to keep His people free from the inroads of Satanic power, Israel remained in allegiance to God, at the highest point of its history; but when these leaders died, the nation sank into darkness, brought about by evil spirit powers, drawing the people into idolatry and sin; the condition of the nation in after years, rising and falling (see Judges 2: 19, 1 Kings 14: 22-24; compare 2 Chron. 33: 2-5, 34: 2-7) into (1) allegiance to God, or (2) idolatrous worship of idols, and all the sins resulting from the substitution of the worship of Satan--which idolatry really meant--in the place of Jehovah.
When the new dispensation opens with the advent of Christ, we find Him--the God-Man--recognising the existence of the Satanic powers of evil, and manifesting uncompromising hostility toward them, and their works--Moses in the Old Testament, Christ in the New. Moses, the man who knew God face to face. Christ, the Only Begotten Son of the Father, sent from God to the world of men. Each recognizing the existence of Satan and the evil spirit beings; each drastically dealing with them as entering and possessing men, and each waging war against them, as actively opposed to God.
Taking a perspective view, from the time of Christ on throughout the early history of the Church, up to the giving of the Apocalypse, and the death of the Apostle John, the manifested power of God wrought (in varying degrees) among His people, and the leaders recognized and dealt with the spirits of evil--a period corresponding to the Mosaic period in the old dispensation.
Then the forces of darkness gained, and, with intermittent intervals and exceptions, the Church of Christ sank down under their power, until, in the darkest hour, which we call the Middle Ages, all the sins having their rise through the deceptive workings of the evil spirits of Satan, were as rife as in the time of Moses, when he wrote by the command of God, "There shall not be found with thee . . one that useth divination, or that practiseth augury, or an enchanter, or a sorcerer, or a charmer, or a consulter with a familiar spirit, or a wizard, or a necromancer" (Deut. 18: 10-11).
Now, at the close of the dispensation, and on the eve of the millennial age, the Church of Christ will again arise, and reach God's purposed power, only when the leaders recognize, as Moses did in the Old Testament Church, and Christ and His apostles did in the New, the existence of evil spirit powers of darkness, and take towards them and their works, the same uncompromising attitude of hostility, and aggressive warfare.
Why the Church in the twentieth century has not recognized the existence, and workings, of evil supernatural forces, can only be attributed to its low condition of spiritual life and power. Even at the present time, when the existence of evil spirits is recognized by the heathen, it is generally looked upon by the missionary as "superstition" and ignorance; whereas the ignorance is often on the part of the missionary, who is blinded by the prince of the power of the air to the revelation given in the Scriptures, concerning the Satanic powers.
The "ignorance" on the part of the heathen is in their propitiatory attitude to evil spirits, because of their ignorance of the gospel message of a Deliverer and a Saviour sent to "proclaim release to the captives" (Luke 4: 18), and Who, when He was on earth, went about healing all who were "oppressed by the devil" (Acts 10: 38), and sent His messengers to open the eyes of the bound ones, that they might "turn from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God" (Acts 26: 18).
If missionaries to the heathen recognized the existence of evil spirits, and that the darkness in heathen lands was caused by the prince of the power of the air (Eph. 2: 2; 4: 18 ; 1 John 5: 19; 2 Cor. 4: 4), and proclaimed to the heathen the message of deliverance from the evil hosts, they know so well to be real, and malignant, foes; as well as remission of sin, and victory over sin through the atoning sacrifice of Calvary; a vast change would come over the mission field in a few brief years.
But the Holy Spirit is already at work, opening the eyes of the people of God, and many of the leaders in the Church are beginning to recognize the real existence of Satanic powers, and are seeking to know how to discern their workings, and how to deal with them in the power of God.
The hour of need always brings the corresponding measure of power from God to meet that need. The Church of Christ must lay hold of the equipment of the apostolic period, for dealing with the influx of the evil spirit hosts among her members. That all believers may receive the equipment of the Holy Spirit, whereby the authority of Christ over the demon hosts of Satan is manifested, is proved not only by the instance of Philip the deacon in the Acts of the Apostles, but also by the writings of the "Fathers"note 1 in the early centuries of the Christian era, which show that the Christians of that time (1) recognized the existence of evil spirits, (2) that they influenced, deceived and possessed men, and (3) that Christ gave His followers authority over them through His Name. That this authority through the Name of Christ,note 2 wielded by the believer walking in living and vital union with Christ, is available for the servants of God at the close of the age, the Spirit of God is making known in many and divers ways. God gives an object lesson, through a native Christian like Pastor Hsi,note 3 in China, who acted upon the Word of God in simple faith, without the questioning caused by the mental difficulties of Western Christendom; or He awakens the Church in the West, as in the Revival in Wales, by an outpouring of the Spirit of God; which not only manifested the power of the Holy Spirit at work in the twentieth century, as in the days of Pentecost; but also unveiled the reality of Satanic powers in active opposition to God and His people, and the need among the Spirit-filled children of God, for equipment for dealing with them. Incidentally, too, the Revival in Wales threw light upon the Scripture records, showing that the highest points of God's manifested power among men, is invariably the occasion for concurrent manifestations of the working of Satan. It was so when the Son of God came forth from the wilderness conflict with the prince of darkness, and found the hidden demons in many lives aroused to malignant activity, so that from all parts of Palestine crowds of victims came to the Man, before whom the possessing spirits trembled in impotent rage.
The awakened part of the Church of to-day, has now no doubt of the real existence of the spirit beings of evil, and that there is an organized monarchy of supernatural powers, set up in opposition to Christ, and His kingdom, bent upon the eternal ruin of every member of the human race; and these believers know that God is calling them to seek the fullest equipment obtainable for withstanding, and resisting these enemies of Christ and His Church.
In order to understand the working of the deceiver-prince of this power of the air, and become acute to discern his tactics, and his methods of deceiving men, such believers should search the Scriptures thoroughly, to obtain a knowledge of his character, and how spirits of evil are able to possess, and use the bodies of men.
The distinction between the workings of Satan as prince of demons, and his evil spirits, should specially be noted, so as to understand their methods at the present day; for to many the adversary is merely a tempter, whilst they little dream of his power as a deceiver (Rev. 12: 9), hinderer (1 Thess. 2: 18), murderer (John 8: 44), liar (John 8: 44), accuser (Rev. 12: 10), and a false angel of light; and still less of the hosts of spirits under his command, constantly besetting their path, bent upon deceiving, hindering, and prompting to sin. A vast host wholly given up to wickedness (Matt. 12: 43-45), delighting to do evil, to slay (Mark 5: 2-5), to deceive, to destroy (Mark 9: 20); and having access to men of every grade, prompting them to all kinds of wickedness, and satisfied only when success accompanies their wicked plans to ruin the children of men (Matt. 27: 3-5).
This distinction between Satan, the prince of the demons (Matt. 9: 34), and his legion of wicked spirits, is clearly recognized by Christ, and may be noted in many parts of the Gospels (Matt. 25: 41). We find Satan in person challenging the Lord in the wilderness temptation, and Christ answering him as a person, word for word, and thought for thought, until he retires, foiled by the keen recognition of his tactics, by the Son of God (Luke 4: 1-13).
We read of the Lord describing him as the "prince of the world" (John 14: 30); recognizing him as ruling over a kingdom (Matt. 12: 26); using imperative language to him as a person, saying; "Get thee hence"; while to the Jews He describes his character as "sinning from the beginning," and being a "murderer," and a "liar," the "father of lies," who "abode not in the truth" (John 8: 44) which once he held as a great archangel of God. He is called, also, "that wicked one" (1 John 3: 12, A.V.), the "Adversary," and that "old serpent" (Rev. 12: 9).
In respect of his method of working, the Lord speaks of him as sowing "tares," which are "sons of the evil one," among the wheat--the "sons" of God (Matt. 13: 38, 39); thus revealing the Adversary as possessing the skill of a master mind, directing, with executive ability, his work as "prince of the world," in the whole inhabited earth, and with power to place the men, who are called his "sons," wherever he wills.
We read also, of Satan watching to snatch away the seed of the Word of God from all who hear it, this again indicating his executive power in the world- wide direction of his agents, whom the Lord describes as "fowls of the air"; in His own interpretation of the parable (Matt. 13: 3, 4, 13, 19; Mark 4: 3, 4, 14, 15; Luke 8: 5, 11, 12); plainly saying that He meant by these "fowls" the "evil one" (Gr. Poneros, Matt. 13: 19); "Satan" (Gr. Satana, Mark 4: 15); or "Devil" (Gr. Diabolus, Luke 8: 12); whom we know, from the general teaching of other parts of the Scriptures, does his work through the wicked spirits he has at his command; Satan himself not being omnipresent, although able to transpose himself with lightning velocity to any part of his world-wide dominions.
The Lord was always ready to meet the antagonist whom He had foiled in the wilderness, but who had only left Him "for a season" (Luke 4: 13). In Peter He quickly discerned Satan at work, and exposed him by one swift sentence, mentioning his name (Matt. 16: 23). In the Jews He stripped aside the mask of the hidden foe, and said, "Ye are of your father, the devil" (John 8: 44), and with keen-edged words spoke of him as the "murderer" and the "liar," prompting them to kill Him, and lying to them about Himself and His Father in heaven (John 8: 40-41).
On the lake in a storm, fast asleep, and awakened suddenly, He is alert to meet the foe, and stands with calm majesty to "rebuke" the storm, which the prince of the power of the air had roused against Him (Mark 4: 38, 39).
In brief, we find the Lord, right on from the wilderness victory, unveiling the powers of darkness, as He went forward in steady aggressive mastery over them. Behind what appeared "natural," He sometimes discerned a supernatural power which demands His rebuke. He "rebuked" the fever in Peter's wife's mother (Luke 4: 39), just as He "rebuked" the evil spirits in other, and more manifest forms, whilst in other instances He simply healed the sufferer by a word.
The difference between Satan's attitude to the Lord, and that of the spirits of evil, should also be noted. Satan, the prince, tempts Him, seeks to hinder Him, prompts the Pharisees to oppose Him, hides behind a disciple to divert Him, and finally takes hold of a disciple to betray Him, and then sways the multitude to put Him to death; but the spirits of evil bowed down before Him, beseeching Him to "let them alone," and not to command them to go into the abyss (Luke 8: 31).
The realm of this deceiver-prince is specifically mentioned by the Apostle Paul in his description of him as "prince of the power of the air" (Ephes. 2: 2), the aerial, or "heavenly places," being the special sphere of the activity of Satan, and his hierarchy of powers. The name Beelzebub, the prince of the demons, meaning the "god of flies," suggestively speaks of the aerial character of the powers of the air, as well as the word "darkness," describing their character, and their doings. The Lord's description of Satan's working through "fowls of the air" strikingly corresponds to these other statements, together with John's language about the "whole world lying in the evil one" (1 John 5: 19); the "air" being the place of the workings of these aerial spirits, the very atmosphere in which the whole human race moves, said to be "in the evil one."
The gospel record is full of reference to the workings of evil spirits, and shows that wherever the Lord moved, the emissaries of Satan sprang into active manifestation in the bodies, and minds, of those they indwelt; and that the ministry of Christ and His apostles was directed actively against them, so that again and again the record reads, "He went into their synagogues throughout all Galilee, preaching and casting out demons" (Mark 1: 39); He "cast out many demons, and He suffered not the demons to speak, because they knew Him" (Mark 1: 34); "Unclean spirits, whensoever they beheld Him, fell down before Him, and cried, saying, Thou art the Son of God" (Mark 3: 11). Then came the sending out of the twelve chosen disciples, when the spirits of evil again are taken into account, for "He gave them authority over unclean spirits" (Mark 6: 7). Later He appointed seventy other messengers, and as they went forward in their work, they, too, found the demons subject to them through His Name (Luke 10: 17).
Were Jerusalem, Capernaum, Galilee, and all Syria, then filled with people who were "insane" and "epileptic"? Or was the truth of evil spirit possession of people a common fact? In any case it is evident from the gospel records, that the Son of God dealt with the powers of darkness as the active, primary cause of the sin, and suffering of this world, and that the aggressive part of His, and His disciples' ministry, was directed persistently against them. On the one hand He dealt with the deceiver of the world, and bound the "strong man," whilst on the other He taught the truth about God to the people, to destroy the lies which the prince of darkness had placed in their minds (2 Cor. 4: 4) about His Father and Himself.
We find, too, that the Lord clearly recognized the devil behind the opposition of the Pharisees (John 8: 44), and the "hour and power of darkness" (Luke 22: 53) behind His persecutors at Calvary. He said that His mission was to "proclaim liberty to the captives" (Luke 4: 18), and who the captor was He revealed on the eve of Calvary, when He said, "Now is the judgment of this world, now shall the prince of this world be cast out" (John 12: 31); and later on that this "prince" would once more come to Him, but would find nothing in Him as ground for his power (John 14: 30).