Demonic Activity in the End Times

The Goal of this Article

There are several passages in Revelation that refer to demons (fallen angels) and their activities. These passages contribute greatly to the things that commentators can disagree about. There is room for disagreement because the specific information about demons is rather sparse. As such, any effort to reconcile all of these “demonic” passages will require some degree of speculation.

The goal of this article is mainly to demonstrate that these demonic references can be reconciled in a scripturally consistent way.

Chronological Accounting of Demonic Activity

I will discuss the demonic activity passages in what I propose to be chronological order. Since the events of Revelation are not written in a simple chronological order, but rather as a series of periods which partially overlap (as explained in Revelation Overview), the referenced passages are not necessarily in the order that they appear within the text of Revelation.

The final seven-year end times period corresponds with the 70th week of Daniel (Dan 9:24-27). The first 3 1/2 years of this period may actually seem like “business as usual” for the earth. The first four seal events will be fulfilled during this time, but those events are not that exceptional. People have risen to great political prominence (as in the first seal) many times in the past, there have been many wars and famines (as in the second and third seals), and many people have died of such things (as in the fourth seal). There have even been multiple peace treaties involving Israel (like the “covenant” mentioned in Dan 9:27).

However, when the first 3 1/2 years are finished, we will have reached the midpoint of the end times period, and things start happening in the angelic realm that will strongly shape the course of events on earth for the second 3 1/2 years. This is the period called the time, times, and half a time (Dan 7:25, Dan 12:7), and it begins with the 42 months of the great tribulation, as discussed below:

The Midpoint

Rev 12:7-12 – 7And there was war in heaven, Michael and his angels waging war with the dragon. The dragon and his angels waged war, 8and they were not strong enough, and there was no longer a place found for them in heaven. 9And the great dragon was thrown down, the serpent of old who is called the devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world; he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him. 10Then I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, “Now the salvation, and the power, and the kingdom of our God and the authority of His Christ have come, for the accuser of our brethren has been thrown down, he who accuses them before our God day and night. 11“And they overcame him because of the blood of the Lamb and because of the word of their testimony, and they did not love their life even when faced with death. 12“For this reason, rejoice, O heavens and you who dwell in them. Woe to the earth and the sea, because the devil has come down to you, having great wrath, knowing that he has only a short time.”

At the midpoint of the seven-year end times period, God gives the command to expel Satan from His presence in heaven, and Satan is thus cast down to the earth. I believe Satan knows that this time is coming, but he doesn’t know when it will happen. When that time arrives, Satan will be enraged because he will then know that his time is short, specifically, the time, times, and half a time period (Rev 12:14).

Satan Establishes His Final Kingdom

Rev 13:1 – And the dragon stood on the sand of the seashore. Then I saw a beast coming up out of the sea, having ten horns and seven heads, and on his horns were ten diadems, and on his heads were blasphemous names.

Rev 13:11 – Then I saw another beast coming up out of the earth; and he had two horns like a lamb and he spoke as a dragon.

Knowing that his time is short, Satan’s first order of business is to try to change the “time, times, and half a time” that has been decreed (Dan 7:25). For this purpose, he creates a new kingdom on the earth to oppose God and God’s people. This will be the eighth and final such kingdom that Satan will have created on earth (Rev 17:11). He begins by raising up these two “beasts”, which are demons who shall empower the two human leaders of this kingdom. The first is the political leader Antichrist, and the second is the religious leader The False Prophet.

From the midpoint forward, the Antichrist and this demon who empowers him appear to be synonymous, and they are collectively called the “beast“.

I believe that the demon who empowers Antichrist may be the same demon described in the fifth trumpet: Rev 9:11 – They have as king over them, the angel of the abyss; his name in Hebrew is Abaddon, and in the Greek he has the name Apollyon.Note that both of these names mean “destroyer”.

The idea that this “demon king” of Rev 9:11 is the same “beast” who empowers Antichrist would explain some curious things about this demon:

  • Why is this demon is given so much prominence in Rev 9, even to the point of stating his name? Because he shall have such a prominent role as the demon of Antichrist.
  • Why is this demon’s title “angel of the abyss” so similar to the “beast from the abyss” ascribed to Antichrist (Rev 11:7)? Because these titles refer to the same demon.
  • Why is this demon is called destroyer? Because Antichrist is called a “destroyer of the earth” (Rev 11:18).
  • Why is this demon is identified as a “king”? Because Antichrist is the king of Satan’s kingdom.

Side note: If this speculation is correct, it would mean that the “angel of the abyss” associated with the fifth trumpet event (Rev 9:11) had already come out of the abyss (or sea) at the midpoint (Rev 13:1), some time before the other demons were released in the fifth trumpet event. This idea does not conflict with the account of the this demon given in Rev 9:11).

The Persecution of God’s People, Israel

Rev 12:13-16 – 13And when the dragon saw that he was thrown down to the earth, he persecuted the woman who gave birth to the male child. 14But the two wings of the great eagle were given to the woman, so that she could fly into the wilderness to her place, where she was nourished for a time and times and half a time, from the presence of the serpent. 15And the serpent poured water like a river out of his mouth after the woman, so that he might cause her to be swept away with the flood. 16But the earth helped the woman, and the earth opened its mouth and drank up the river which the dragon poured out of his mouth.

Continuing from the midpoint, Antichrist (now empowered by the demon) will break whatever peace treaty he had established with Israel, beginning with an event called the abomination of desolation, in which he defiles the temple and stops the sacrifices (Dan 9:27, Dan 12:11, Matt 24:15, 2 Thes 2:3-4). After defiling the temple, he will attack the Jews with intent to annihilate them.

However, some Jews will heed God’s advice to flee to the Mount of Olives (Zech 14:5, Matt 24:16-21), and those Jews shall be protected there for the entire time, times, and half a time period which follows the abomination (Rev 12:14). The protected remnant of Jews will be represented by the two witnesses (Rev 11:3) for the 1260 days following the midpoint. The trumpet event plagues will be striking the earth during this time, with some of them possibly occurring at the pronouncement of these two witnesses (Rev 11:6).

Side note: Some readers may wonder why I have placed these events at the end of chapter 12 chronologically after the events in chapter 13. The reason is this: I believe chapter 12 is summarizing what Satan will do, and chapter 13 provides elaboration on how he will do it. This pattern of summary followed by elaboration is actually observed multiple times in Revelation.

The Persecution of God’s People, the Christians

Rev 12:17 – the dragon was enraged with the woman, and went off to make war with the rest of her children, who keep the commandments of God and hold to the testimony of Jesus.

Rev 13:5-7 – 5There was given to him a mouth speaking arrogant words and blasphemies, and authority to act for forty-two months was given to him. 6And he opened his mouth in blasphemies against God, to blaspheme His name and His tabernacle, that is, those who dwell in heaven. 7It was also given to him to make war with the saints and to overcome them, and authority over every tribe and people and tongue and nation was given to him.

Satan, now even more enraged because of his inability to completely destroy the Jews, shall turn his wrath against Israel’s offspring (Rom 9:6,7,8), the Christians (those who keep the commandments of God and hold to the testimony of Jesus). Christianity is, of course, the faith borne from the remnant of Israel that acknowledged Jesus as the Christ, and are thus rightly called Israel’s offspring. Against the Christians, Satan’s appointed king shall prevail for the 42 months of great tribulation. Thus we see Israel protected and the Christians persecuted in the end times.

The Fifth Trumpet Demons

Rev 9:1-6 – 1Then the fifth angel sounded, and I saw a star from heaven which had fallen to the earth; and the key of the bottomless pit was given to him. 2He opened the bottomless pit, and smoke went up out of the pit, like the smoke of a great furnace; and the sun and the air were darkened by the smoke of the pit. 3Then out of the smoke came locusts upon the earth, and power was given them, as the scorpions of the earth have power. 4They were told not to hurt the grass of the earth, nor any green thing, nor any tree, but only the men who do not have the seal of God on their foreheads. 5And they were not permitted to kill anyone, but to torment for five months; and their torment was like the torment of a scorpion when it stings a man. 6And in those days men will seek death and will not find it; they will long to die, and death flees from them.

At some point during the great tribulation, after the first four trumpet events have ravaged the earth, an angel (the “star” mentioned in verse 1) will release many more demonic creatures from the abyss. Presumably, the same abyss from which the two beasts of Revelation 13 came. This will mark the beginning of the fifth trumpet event, in which these demons torture people for five months.

The identity of the “star” in verse 1 is much debated. It almost certainly is some sort of angelic being, but is it a holy angel or an evil angel? It’s not a point for which one should be dogmatic, but I tend to think that this star is not only an evil angel, it is actually Satan himself. My reasons are as follows:

  • The angel is described as “from heaven which had fallen to the earth“, and note that “had fallen” is past tense. That is, John did not see this angel fall to earth as part of the fifth seal event. Rather, he is just describing this angel as one that was from heaven, but had fallen to earth. Given the chronological timing of demonic events, this identification points to Satan, who (as discussed above) was cast down from heaven to earth at the midpoint — the event that started the great tribulation.
  • The text of Rev 13:1 suggests that Satan was involved in raising the first two demons out from the abyss, so it only stands to reason that Satan should release these other demons from there as well.
  • Interestingly, there is yet another account in Revelation of an angel who comes from heaven to earth with a key to the abyss: Rev 20:1 – “Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, holding the key of the abyss and a great chain in his hand to open the abyss“. The angel in chapter 20 is clearly a holy angel, because he comes to put Satan into the abyss (Rev 20:2). Note the contrast between the language of these two accounts:
    – The angel of chapter 9 was “from heaven having had fallen“.
    – The holy angel of chapter 20 was “coming down from heaven“.
    This difference in language suggests that the angel in chapter 9 is not a holy angel, and that he came to earth against his will.
  • Also, note the contrast in the purpose of these two angels:
    – The angel of chapter 9 came to release demons from the abyss.
    – The holy angel of chapter 20 came to put a demon into the abyss.
    The opposing purposes suggests that the angel in chapter 9 is not a holy angel.
  • That Revelation has two similar verses featuring an angel going from heaven to earth with a key to the abyss is suggestive that these two verses are meant to be related in a poetic way. The significance of this would be evident if Satan is placed into the same prison from which he had himself released demons.

If the angel of Rev 9:1 is Satan (as I believe it is), then we are left with the problem of motive. That is, why would Satan be the instrument of carrying out the fifth trumpet event, which delivers painful sores to people — except for the 144,000 Jewish servants sealed to by God (Rev 9:4)?

I believe the answer to this question is discovered by making some observations:

First of all, it’s not hard to see why Satan would want to release these demons who had joined his rebellion against God, because they would clearly increase Satan’s power upon the earth. Evidently, these demons had been imprisoned in the first place because they were particularly dangerous to mankind, so we should not be surprised that they should be harmful to men when released. In fact, Rev 9:5 indicates that they would have done far worse, except that they were restrained by God. The only reason they couldn’t kill people nor harm the 144,000 is because God didn’t permit them.

Also, the fact that people should suffer as a result of these demons surely wouldn’t bother Satan. But more to the point, the suffering of the people actually helps Satan’s cause, as seen by the consequences of “these plagues” (which includes the fifth trumpet event):

Rev 9:20-21, “The rest of mankind, who were not killed by these plagues, did not repent of the works of their hands, so as not to worship demons, and the idols of gold and of silver and of brass and of stone and of wood, which can neither see nor hear nor walk; and they did not repent of their murders nor of their sorceries nor of their immorality nor of their thefts“.

That is, I believe that these people will blame God for the torments they suffer from Satan’s demons, and thus they harden their hearts even further against God. The fact that the 144,000 Jews are not harmed by these demons may actually create the false impression that the Jews are allied with the demons! People will continue to worship false Gods, and continue their murders (the martyrdom of the saints per Rev 6:11). This deception certainly appears to be working toward Satan’s purposes.

Side note: Many commentators describe the things that happen in chapters 6 through 11 as the “seal judgments” and the “trumpet judgments“. For the seals and trumpets, I prefer to use the more generic term, “events“. I believe that only the bowl events truly represent the judgments of God for the reasons given at the beginning of the chapter 19 commentary.

The fifth trumpet event is a case in point, because calling it a “judgment” implies that God is the one inflicting people with sores, when in fact this may really have been a direct act of Satan and his demons. God actually stepped in to limit the damage caused by this act (Rev 9:4-5).

However, it is also clear that God has ultimate authority of what is happening. That the angel of verse 1 was “given a key to the abyss” indicates that God granted Satan the authority to release these demons. Even if this event was caused by Satan for wicked purposes, it will ultimately fulfill God’s purposes. This point is discussed further below.

Will Christians be afflicted with the Fifth Trumpet torment?

The text says that the fifth trumpet demons will torment only the men who do not have the seal of God on their foreheads, which I believe clearly refers the 144,000 Jews who received the seal of God on their foreheads in chapter 7. This suggests that all other people, including Christians, may suffer this torment. Understandably, many believers have trouble accepting the idea that God would allow Christians to be tormented by these demons.

However, as discussed above, I don’t think we need to see the fifth trumpet torments as a “judgment from God”. From the text, the only actions clearly attributed to God are:

  1. He gives the “star” (Satan, in my view) permission to release the demons from the abyss.
  2. He imposes limits on how much damage these demons are allowed to do.

The actual desire to release these demons and torment people belongs to Satan, not God. With this being the case, there is no reason to think that Satan and his demons would exclude Christians from this torment.

It may still seem out of character that God would even permit Satan to hurt Christians. However, He does permit it, and this is not a new concept. We know from the account of Job (e.g. Job 2:6-7) that God has granted permission for Satan to harm a faithful person before. In fact, the great tribulation is a period of time when God gives Satan’s final king 42 months to conquer the saints (Rev 13:5,7). Of course, we know that most of the prophets and apostles suffered greatly for the sake of their testimony. Finally, Jesus Christ, the most righteous person ever, was allowed to suffer the worst agony for our sake.

Here are some points to keep in mind about saints allowed to suffer Satan’s attacks:

  • In all cases, the suffering (even suffering unto death) is temporary, and it fades into nothing when compared to the promised kingdom (2 Cor 4:17, Phil 3:8).
  • In all cases, the temporary suffering of the righteous can honor God (Matt 5:11-12).
  • If Christians do suffer from the fifth trumpet demons, they still have an advantage over unbelievers: They can pray for God to heal them. It’s possible that God will heal them, which itself may even be used to advance the gospel.
  • Remember that Satan has a kingdom on earth only because he deceived people into joining his rebellion against God. By rights, it should be God punishing these sinners! However, He graciously allows Satan’s kingdom to exist temporarily in order to give sinners an opportunity to receive the warnings (the trumpet events), repent, and by grace enter God’s eternal kingdom.

The Sixth Trumpet Demons

Rev 9:13-15 – 13Then the sixth angel sounded, and I heard a voice from the four horns of the golden altar which is before God, 14one saying to the sixth angel who had the trumpet, “Release the four angels who are bound at the great river Euphrates.” 15And the four angels, who had been prepared for the hour and day and month and year, were released, so that they would kill a third of mankind.

Here, we see another account that involves the releasing of “bound angels“, which must surely be demons. In this case, it appears that the same angel who sounded the sixth trumpet will release these four demons. Perhaps this is because these four demons are bound in a different prison (not the “abyss” as in the fifth seal, but “at the great river Euphrates“). The “star” of the fifth seal was given a key to the abyss, but not to this other prison.

These four demons of the sixth trumpet appear to have some special status as particularly mighty angels who are especially dangerous to mankind. The emphasis on these angels, having been “prepared for the hour and day and month and year“, suggests that these angels may be mentioned elsewhere in scripture. This brings to mind the references to demons during the time of the flood:

1 Pet 3:19-20 – “…spirits now in prison, who once were disobedient, when the patience of God kept waiting in the days of Noah, during the construction of the ark“.

2 Pet 2:4 – “For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to pits of darkness, reserved for judgment“. The word translated here as “hell” is not the normal Greek word for that (geenna). It is the word Tartarus, borrowed from Greek mythology and defined as “the deep abyss in ancient Greek mythology that is used as a dungeon of torment and suffering for the wicked” (Wikipedia). It is not necessary to think that these demons have been brought out of hell.

Jude 1:6 – “And the angels who did not keep their positions of authority but abandoned their proper dwelling–these he has kept in darkness, bound with everlasting chains for judgment on the great Day.

These verses refer to angels who sinned in the days before the flood, and have since been imprisoned. The only passage in Genesis that could correspond to these angels is the one below, where the angels appear to be called “sons of God“.

Gen 6:1-8 – 1When human beings began to increase in number on the earth and daughters were born to them, 2the sons of God saw that the daughters of humans were beautiful, and they married any of them they chose. 3Then the Lord said, “My Spirit will not contend with humans forever, for they are mortal ; their days will be a hundred and twenty years.” 4The Nephilim were on the earth in those days—and also afterward—when the sons of God went to the daughters of humans and had children by them. They were the heroes of old, men of renown. 5The Lord saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time. 6The Lord regretted that he had made human beings on the earth, and his heart was deeply troubled. 7So the Lord said, “I will wipe from the face of the earth the human race I have created—and with them the animals, the birds and the creatures that move along the ground—for I regret that I have made them.” 8But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord.

It is hard to be certain of exactly what this means, or to what extent (if any) figurative language is being used. Given that scripture frequently uses sexual immorality (e.g. adultery, harlotry) to symbolize idolatry, it’s possible that the implied sexual union with angels refers to people worshiping demons, giving “birth” to much wickedness. Whatever happened, it was a great offense to God, and it prompted Him to destroy mankind with the flood — sparing only Noah and family.

A limitation is placed on these demons of the sixth trumpet. but only that they are not permitted to kill more than one-third of people. Again, I believe God places these limits because this is not yet the time of God’s wrath. The sixth trumpet represents the final moments of the time of God’s warnings. Throughout the trumpet events, we have been seeing increasingly damaging events, and the sixth is the certainly the most damaging so far. However, all of the trumpet events have been clearly limited in the extent of damage they would cause. In contrast, when the wrath of God does come (in the bowl judgments), we will see no such limitations.

Satan’s Rise to Power

The fifth and sixth trumpet events have both featured the release of demons from prison. I believe that what we are seeing is that Satan, in the final moments of his role as “ruler of this world“, shall be granted the greatest authority and power he has ever had. All of the demons who followed him in rebellion have been released from their prisons and are now active upon the earth. Some demons are torturing people, others are killing them, and people will be blaming God for all of this (Rev 9:20-21). This then is part of the great deception of the end times.

And yet, from God’s perspective, the release of these demons has been decreed to happen at this time so that they could be a deluding influence to those who place their trust in Satan’s Antichrist. Thus, this delusion on one hand serves Satan’s purposes in causing people to hate God, but on the other hand it also serves God’s purpose in bringing about their judgment. Paul referred to this period of deception in the passage below (concerning Antichrist):

2 Thes 2:9-12 – 9 that is, the one whose coming is in accord with the activity of Satan, with all power and signs and false wonders, 10 and with all the deception of wickedness for those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth so as to be saved. 11 For this reason God will send upon them a deluding influence so that they will believe what is false, 12 in order that they all may be judged who did not believe the truth, but took pleasure in wickedness.

The Final Moments of Satan’s Reign

Rev 11:7 – When they have finished their testimony, the beast that comes up out of the abyss will make war with them, and overcome them and kill them.

The “they” in verse 7 is referring to God’s two witnesses in Jerusalem, and this verse describes the conclusion of their work on earth during the 1,260 days of great tribulation (Rev 11:3). As mentioned in the chapter 11 commentary, these two witnesses have been striking the earth with plagues, possibly including the first four trumpet events.

These two witnesses will be indestructible for nearly 3 1/2 years, but Rev 11:7 says that Satan’s human cohorts will finally succeed at killing them. Having killed those two witnesses in Jerusalem, Antichrist and his followers will believe that they have stopped the plagues. This “victory” will also make them confident that they will finally be able to destroy that seemingly indestructible remnant of Jews who had also been protected by God during those 3 1/2 years (Rev 12:14-16).

This will be the high point of Satan’s career. He and his Antichrist shall be worshiped with joyous praise. It will be the closest that Satan shall ever come to being like God, which is what he has always desired (Isa 14:13-14). In truth, Satan falls infinitely short. He and his followers will enjoy this moment for just 3 1/2 days (Rev 11:10-11), and then the two witnesses will be raised from the dead, and bowls of God’s wrath will begin to strike the earth.

In these last moments of Satan’s rule, demonic forces will abound. People will be worshiping false gods, murdering Christians, celebrating the deaths of God’s two witnesses, and looking forward to the annihilation of Israel. The last time that there was this much wickedness going on in the world was in the days of Noah, before the flood and before all these demons were imprisoned. And just as God poured his wrath upon the wicked people in Noah’s day, God shall pour His wrath upon the wicked people of the end times. Instead of using a flood, God will use the bowl judgments. As Jesus said regarding the end times:

Matt 24:37-39 – 37For the coming of the Son of Man will be just like the days of Noah. 38“For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, 39and they did not understand until the flood came and took them all away; so will the coming of the Son of Man be.

As we shall see in Rev 19:20-21, when Christ comes, God’s wrath shall take them all away. Satan and the rest of his demons and followers will be cast into the lake of fire (Rev 20:10, Matt 25:41).

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