Demons and Fallen Angels
2 Peter 2:4
1 Peter 5:8
Recently I finished reading John Milton’s Paradise Lost. I say “finished reading” because I had started it some time ago, then put it aside. Was I not in the mood? Did something else gain my attention? Was it too difficult to decipher? I can’t remember now. All I know is that, for whatever reason, I chose not to finish it until a few weeks ago.
For those not familiar with John Milton, he was an eighteenth-century English poet. One of his poems, “Sonnet on His Blindness,” ends with the well-known words, “He also serves who only stands and waits.” Although blind, Milton did far more than stand and wait. His contributions to literature in general and religious literature in particular are both extensive and meaningful.
Paradise Lost is an epic poem consisting of twelve fairly lengthy books, or chapters. It begins with the expulsion of Satan and his followers from heaven, and ends with Adam and Eve being expelled from Eden. Although Milton begins with Satan’s troops falling into the abyss of hell, he later describes the preceding battle with God’s forces at some length. As you might expect, God wins the battle easily, and Satan’s defeat is swift, complete, and permanent.
What I find interesting is the cause of Satan’s rebellion. Milton attributes it to Jesus Christ. When God declared that the Son was the Lord of all creation, before whom every knee should bow (remember Philippians 2:9-11?), Satan, the chief of all the angels, became jealous. He was unwilling to take second place to the Son, and chose to rebel and fight a war that, at heart, he almost certainly knew he couldn’t win. Milton has Satan say, “Better to reign in hell than serve in heaven. With his two quotes on serving, Milton draws an obvious distinction between himself and the devil.
The defeat resulted in Satan and the angels who stood with him being cast down from heaven—a distance so great that (according to tradition) they fell for a thousand years before arriving in “the pit.” So far is hell removed from heaven that all that time was necessary to traverse between them. Supposedly, according to Milton, none of the fallen angels—not even Satan himself—would be able to escape. We know that turned out to be incorrect.
It should be noted that “Satan” was the new name given to the rebellion’s leader. His original name was Lucifer. That no longer fit his new persona—and his new shape. Milton describes the physical changes in the fallen angels. Instead of the brightness we associate with angels (The Bible often describes them as “men in white clothing”), Satan’s cohorts are dark, foul-looking creatures, with hideous shapes and horrid faces. Another change happens, Milton says, after Satan inhabits the serpent (an innocent creature until then) in order to tempt humankind to sin. The fallen ones—demons by this time—take the shape of serpents, deprived of arms and legs, and forced to crawl.
There isn’t much scriptural basis for this poem. Much of the book is Milton bringing his creative imagination to bear on stories that were passed down through generations. Some of these stories have been recorded in the books of the Apocrypha or in extra-biblical sources. The verse in 2 Peter gives us some information. The verse from 1 Peter tells us that Satan has not given up the battle. Despite his centuries of losses, he still holds to the hope that he can take a significant portion of humanity with him. To that end, he roams the earth “like a roaring lion, seeking whom he can devour.” We know the arch-devil takes other shapes as it suits his purpose.
Make no mistake, the fallen angels/demons know the strength of their foe. That’s why, according to James, they tremble. They know the battle is hopelessly one-sided, but that doesn’t stop them from trying.
Don’t be one of the casualties.