Answering Islam - A Christian-Muslim dialog

Appendix B

The members of the heavenly council recognize God’s unique Son

Sam Shamoun

This is the second appendix to my two-part discussion on Jesus being greater and better than all the members of God’s heavenly host (1, 2).

The Synoptic Gospels relay a few instances where the Lord Jesus casts out certain unclean or evil spirits from specific individuals. The interesting aspect of these encounters is that they actually provide implicit support for Christ’s prehuman existence. The reaction of these wicked spirits upon seeing Christ for the first time on earth testifies to Jesus’ divine origin.

Notice, for instance, the following instances from Mark:

“They went to Capernaum, and when the Sabbath came, Jesus went into the synagogue and began to teach. The people were amazed at his teaching, because he taught them as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law. Just then a man in their synagogue who was possessed by an impure spirit cried out, ‘What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God (ho hagios tou theou)!’ ‘Be quiet!’ said Jesus sternly. ‘Come out of him!’ The impure spirit shook the man violently and came out of him with a shriek. The people were all so amazed that they asked each other, ‘What is this? A new teaching—and with authority! He even gives orders to impure spirits and they obey him.’” Mark 1:21-27

“Whenever the impure spirits saw him, they fell down before him and cried out,You are the Son of God (ho huios tou theou).’ But he gave them strict orders not to tell others about him.” Mark 3:11-12

“They went across the lake to the region of the Gerasenes. When Jesus got out of the boat, a man with an impure spirit came from the tombs to meet him. This man lived in the tombs, and no one could bind him anymore, not even with a chain. For he had often been chained hand and foot, but he tore the chains apart and broke the irons on his feet. No one was strong enough to subdue him. Night and day among the tombs and in the hills he would cry out and cut himself with stones. When he saw Jesus from a distance, he ran and fell on his knees in front of him. He shouted at the top of his voice, ‘What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God (huie tou theou tou hypsistou)? In God’s name DON’T TORTURE ME!’ For Jesus had said to him, ‘Come out of this man, you impure spirit!’” Mark 5:1-8

In all these cases the unclean spirits knew that Jesus is God’s Holy Son who was capable of destroying and torturing them if he wanted.

The last episode from Mark is also found in Matthew and Luke, but with some additional details that are quite amazing: 

“When he arrived at the other side in the region of the Gadarenes, two demon-possessed men coming from the tombs met him. They were so violent that no one could pass that way. ‘What do you want with us, Son of God?’ they shouted. ‘Have you come here to torture us BEFORE THE APPOINTED TIME?’” Matthew 8:28-29

“When Jesus stepped ashore, he was met by a demon-possessed man from the town. For a long time this man had not worn clothes or lived in a house, but had lived in the tombs. When he saw Jesus, he cried out and fell at his feet, shouting at the top of his voice, ‘What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, don’t torture me! For Jesus had commanded the impure spirit to come out of the man. Many times it had seized him, and though he was chained hand and foot and kept under guard, he had broken his chains and had been driven by the demon into solitary places. Jesus asked him, ‘What is your name?’ ‘Legion,’ he replied, because many demons had gone into him. And they begged Jesus repeatedly NOT TO ORDER THEM TO GO INTO THE ABYSS.” Luke 8:27-31

The demons not only knew that Jesus is God’s Son they even knew that he is the One who would torture them at the appointed time by sending them into the Abyss!

According to the Holy Bible, the Abyss is the place where evil spirits are imprisoned:

“The fifth angel sounded his trumpet, and I saw a star that had fallen from the sky to the earth. The star was given the key to the shaft of the Abyss. When he opened the Abyss, smoke rose from it like the smoke from a gigantic furnace. The sun and sky were darkened by the smoke from the Abyss. And out of the smoke locusts came down on the earth and were given power like that of scorpions of the earth. They were told not to harm the grass of the earth or any plant or tree, but only those people who did not have the seal of God on their foreheads. They were not allowed to kill them but only to torture them for five months. And the agony they suffered was like that of the sting of a scorpion when it strikes. During those days people will seek death but will not find it; they will long to die, but death will elude them. The locusts looked like horses prepared for battle. On their heads they wore something like crowns of gold, and their faces resembled human faces. Their hair was like women’s hair, and their teeth were like lions’ teeth. They had breastplates like breastplates of iron, and the sound of their wings was like the thundering of many horses and chariots rushing into battle. They had tails with stingers, like scorpions, and in their tails they had power to torment people for five months. They had as king over them the angel of the Abyss, whose name in Hebrew is Abaddon and in Greek is Apollyon (that is, Destroyer).” Revelation 9:1-11

It is also the place where Satan will be chained for a thousand years:

“And I saw an angel coming down out of heaven, having the key to the Abyss and holding in his hand a great chain. He seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil, or Satan, and bound him for a thousand years. He threw him into the Abyss, and locked and sealed it over him, to keep him from deceiving the nations anymore until the thousand years were ended. After that, he must be set free for a short time.” Revelation 20:1-3

This is the very place which the evil spirits knew Jesus would send them at the appointed time of their destruction.

Thus, in all of these instances the demons knew who Jesus was even though this was their first encounter with Christ while he was on the earth. In light of this, how did these evil spirits know that Jesus was the Holy One of God and the Son of the Most High who had the power to destroy and torture them? Moreover, how did they know that Jesus would eventually torment them at the appointed time by sending them into the abyss?

It is one thing for these unclean spirits to know the name of Christ and his hometown since that would have been common knowledge. However, what wasn’t known at this time – since it hadn’t been revealed to the masses yet – is that Christ is the Holy Son of God who would be sent to judge and condemn all those rebellious spirits that turned against God.

The obvious answer is that these unclean spirits knew who Jesus was because they had previously seen him in heaven! The demons recognized Christ since they all had been part of the heavenly council and so they already knew from that time that Jesus is the divine Son of God. They also knew from way back then that the Father had appointed a time in which Christ would come to pass judgment upon them for their rebellion and wickedness.

The Scriptures testify that God’s heavenly host includes evil spirits whom God uses to accomplish his sovereign purposes:  

“Micaiah said, ‘Therefore, hear the word of the LORD. I saw the LORD sitting on His throne, and all the host of heaven standing on His right and on His left. The LORD said, “Who will entice Ahab king of Israel to go up and fall at Ramoth-gilead?” And one said this while another said that. Then a spirit came forward and stood before the LORD and said, “I will entice him.” And the LORD said to him, “How?” He said, “I will go and be a deceiving spirit in the mouth of all his prophets.” Then He said, “You are to entice him and prevail also. Go and do so.” Now therefore, behold, the LORD has put a deceiving spirit in the mouth of these your prophets, for the LORD has proclaimed disaster against you.’” 2 Chronicles 18:18-22

It should therefore come as no surprise that these unclean spirits whom the Lord Jesus cast out were at one time members of God’s heavenly host who turned against their Maker. 

In fact, even the very language they use shows that these demons recognized Jesus from the heavenly council. By calling Jesus God’s Holy One and the Son of the Most High, these wicked spirits were using terms normally associated with heavenly beings, as can be seen from the following examples: 

“I beheld in the night vision upon my bed, and, behold, a watcher and an holy one (hagios) came down from heaven and cried aloud, and thus he said, Cut down the tree, and pluck off its branches, and shake off its leaves, and scatter its fruit: let the wild beasts be removed from under it, and the birds from its branches. Only leave the stump of its roots in the earth, and bind it with an iron and brass band; and it shall lie in the grass that is without and in the dew of heaven, and its portion shall be with the wild beasts in the grass of the field. His heart shall be changed from that of man, and the heart of a wild beast shall be given to him; and seven times shall pass over him. The matter is by the decree of the watcher, and the demand is a word of the holy ones (hagioon); that the living may known that the Lord is most high over the kingdom of men, and he will give it to whomsoever he shall please, and will set up over it that which is set at nought of men. This is the vision which I king Nabuchodonosor saw: and do you, Baltasar, declare the interpretation, for none of the wise men of my kingdom are able to shew me the interpretation of it: but you, Daniel, are able; for the Holy Spirit of God is in you… And whereas the king saw a watcher and a holy one (hagion) coming down from heaven, and he said, Strip the tree, and destroy it; only leave the stump of its roots in the ground, and bind it with a band of iron and brass; and it shall lie in the grass that is without, and in the dew of heaven, and its portion shall be with wild beasts, until seven times have passed over it;” Daniel 4:10-15, 20 LXX

God stands in the assembly of gods (en synagoge theoon); and in the midst of them will judge gods… I have said, You are gods; and all of you sons of the Most High (huioi hypsistou).” Psalm 81[82]:1, 6 LXX

Let us not forget that this is the very same Psalm which the Lord Jesus quoted to defend himself against the accusation that he was blaspheming for claiming to be the unique divine Son of God:

“Jesus answered them, ‘Is it not written in your law, “I said, you are gods”? If he called them gods to whom the word of God came (and scripture cannot be broken), do you say of him whom the Father consecrated and sent into the world, “You are blaspheming,” because I said, “I am the Son of God (Huios tou theou eimi)”?’” John 10:34-36 RSV

The readers will recall that we had mentioned that there is some dispute among Biblical scholars whether this particular Psalm is referring to the members of the heavenly host or to humans whom god had appointed to judge. As such, one cannot be dogmatic concerning the meaning of the Psalm and must leave open the question of whether it refers to spirit rulers or to human judges. 

However, there is no dispute concerning the following passage, one which calls the members of the heavenly council holy ones and sons of God:

“The heavens shall declare your wonders, O Lord; and your truth in the assembly of the holy ones (ekklesia hagioon). For who in the heavens shall be compared to the Lord? And who shall be likened to the Lord among the sons of God (huiois theou)? God is glorified in the council of the holy ones (en Boule hagioon); great and dreadful/fearsome toward all that are round about him. O Lord God of hosts, who is like you? You are mighty, O Lord, and your truth is round about you.” Psalm 88[Heb. 89]:5-8 LXX

Interestingly, we see the holy ones in heaven responding to God in the same way that the demons reacted towards Christ when they say him, namely, with fear and trembling!

Here is a different translation of the verse in question which helps to bring this out more clearly:

In the council of the holy ones God is greatly feared; he is more awesome than all who surround him.” Psalm 89:7

In fact, the demons responded to Christ in the same way that James says they react towards God:

“You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe—and tremble!” James 2:19

The reason why demons respond to Christ in the same exact way they react in God’s presence is because they know that Jesus is the divine Son of God who is one with the Father in power and essence.

Thus, the demons’ recognition of Jesus and the names which they ascribed to him, i.e. “Holy One of God,” “the Son of God/Most High,” provide implicit support for Christ’s prehuman existence and divine origin. The evil spirits knew who Jesus was and knew that he was the one who would destroy them at the designated time, despite the fact that this was their first meeting with him while he was on the earth, and such information concerning Christ hadn’t been revealed to the masses yet.

The only way these wicked spirits knew so much about the Lord Jesus is because they recognized him from heaven and remembered that he is God’s beloved and unique Son who had been appointed by the Father to destroy them on the day of judgment.