What are the Three Evil Spirits in Revelation 16:13-14?

Revelation 16:13-14 contains one of the stranger images in the whole book: three evil spirits come out of the mouth of the dragon, beast, and false prophet. These three demons look like frogs and perform miracles and gather the kings of the whole world for battle on the great day of God Almighty. What are these “demon frogs”?

Demons as Frogs in Revelation

Between the sixth and seventh seal and trumpet there was a lengthy interlude. Many commentaries consider Revelation 16:13-16 to be an interlude between the sixth and seventh bowls. Following Robert Mounce, Robert Thomas disagrees. He considers these verses as a “topical commentary” on the sixth seal explaining why the kings of the earth gathered in Armageddon (2:263).

There is one additional problem in verse 13. The verb “coming out” (ESV) is not in verse 13. “Out of the mouth of” appears three times, but John has omitted the verb so most translations supply “coming out.” Emerged or even “breathed out” are possibilities as well.

This is the first time this satanic trinity is mentioned together explicitly for the first time although all three appear separately in Revelation 13, and they will appear again in 19:20 and 20:10. The dragon was identified as Satan in Revelation 12:9. The beast is the government lead by a parody of Jesus, the antichrist (the beast from the sea, Rev 13:1-10). The false prophet is the religious support for the kingdom of the beast, doing miracles like an anti-Holy Spirit (the beast from the earth, Rev 13:11-18).  David Aune draws attention to similar passage in 1 John 4:1-3 (see this post on 1 John 4:1 and deceptive miracles). John says some spirits are false prophets (4:1) and the spirit that does not confess Jesus came in the flesh is the spirit of antichrist (4:3).

Why are the Three Evil Spirits Described “Like a Frog”?

There is nothing quite like the three evil spirits in Second Temple literature. Josephus describes a Jewish exorcist who “put a ring that had a root of one of those sorts mentioned by Solomon to the nostrils of the demoniac, after which he drew out the demon through his nostrils” (Ant. 8.47). This fits well with the frogs coming out of the mouth of the dragon, beast and false prophet, but there is nothing in other literature describing demons “like frogs.”

There are several possibilities for the image of a frog for evil spirits in Revelation 16:13. First, these are unclean spirits, so the image of a frog may have been prompted the fact frogs are unclean (see Leviticus 11:10). Second, Beale suggests the image was chosen “partly because of their characteristic croaking, which is loud but meaningless” (revelation 832). Third, since there are many other allusions to the Exodus in this chapter, John may be alluding the plague of frogs (Exod 8:2-11). Finally, perhaps all that is meant this adverbial phrase is the spirits “leapt like frogs out of their mouths.” Since the verb is missing, the adverb is not modifying anything. In either case, the demons do not look like frogs (despite medieval illustrations of this scene or weird online Christian digital art).

These unclean spirits do miracles deceive the kings of the earth to gather for a final battle against God Almighty. John uses the title pantokrater, (παντοκράτωρ), a title used to describe Roman emperors. Although it refers to Trajan, see this post for the combination of pantokrater, earth and sea at Pergamum. These demons set up the ultimate confrontation between the one who claims to be all mighty and the God who is the All Mighty.

Michael Heiser, The Unseen Realm (Faithlife Films, 2019)

Michael Heiser is well-known for his books on angels and the supernatural world as well as his Naked Bible podcast. He is a Scholar-in-Residence at Faithlife Corporation. This film is a companion to his book The Unseen Realm: Recovering the Supernatural Worldview of the Bible (Lexham, 2015). Heiser’s PhD dissertation at the University of Wisconsin-Madison was entitled “The Divine Council in Second Temple Literature” (2004) and he contributed articles on the Divine Council in the Dictionary of the Old Testament: Wisdom, Poetry, and Writings (InterVarsity Press, 2008), Prophets (InterVarsity Press, 2011) and in the Lexham Bible Dictionary.

Actor Corbin Bernsen is the host of the film, but Heiser does most of the speaking. The video has a wide range of soundbites from other biblical scholars, including Eric Mason, Gary Yates, Darrell Bock and Ben Witherington III. The film runs about an hour and twelve minutes and is well-produced as far as documentaries go. The music is dramatic but not distracting and the general tone of the film inviting. Heiser and the other speakers do not present this material as some great secret suppressed by the church (as most biblical documentaries seem to do these days).

Heiser takes the ancient Near Eastern worldview of the Bible seriously. The imagery used in the Bible for the gods, angels and demons is drawn from the ancient world. There are many examples in the Old Testament where God sits at the head of a “heavenly council” (for example, Psalm 89:5-7, Daniel 7).

In the introduction to the book form of the Unseen Realm Heiser says “What you’ll learn is that a theology of the unseen world that derives exclusively from the text understood through the lens of the ancient, premodern worldview of the authors informs every Bible doctrine in significant ways.” Some of these are very helpful and it is important Bible readers hear the echoes of the ancient world rather than medieval paintings. For example, cherubim is a supernatural throne guardian similar to Assyrian and Babylonian throne guardians.

Heiser describes three supernatural rebellions explain the presence of evil in the world: The Fall in the Garden, the Nephilim, and the Tower of Babel. Although I agree each of these represents a rebellion against God, I am not sure the second two rebellions are on the same order as the Fall. Heiser thinks the sons of Anak were descendants of the Nephilim were the actual target of the Israelite conquest. There are more details on this in the book, but I remain unconvinced the “giants” in the land were the literal descendants of the Nephilim (who presumably survived the flood).

With respect to the New Testament, the demons recognize Jesus, but they are “duped into killing Jesus.” Caesarea Philippi (now called. Banias), in the area of Bashan. According to Heiser, Bashan was ground zero for the worship of demons. Heiser argues this location is the “gates of Hell,” which is why Jesus says the “gates of hell will not prevail” against the church Jesus will build “upon the rock” (Matthew 16:18-19).

Heiser points out Paul reflects the ancient worldview, although there is much more which could be said about the unseen realm in the Pauline letters. Two examples which need more development. First, there are far better descriptions of Paul’s view of the defeat of spiritual powers. For example, Timothy Gombis, The Drama of Ephesians (IVP Academic, 2010), Clint Arnold, The Colossian Syncretism, Power and Magic: The Concept of Power in Ephesians (both now reprinted by Wipf & Stock) and Powers of Darkness (IVP Academic, 1992). Second, the worldview of the Old Testament reflects the ancient near east and this is certainly part of the background for Jewish writers in the New Testament. But Heiser does not take fully take into account the Greco-Roman worldview for the Pauline mission to Gentiles. For residents of Ephesus, the Nephilim the Mesopotamian council of the gods would have been unknown. Readers of Paul’s letters and Revelation (written to Ephesus and Asia Minor) were immersed in the gods of Rome, Artemis and the Imperial Cult.

For some viewers, Heiser takes the ancient worldview far too seriously. I suspect some conservative viewers will be shocked to hear how angels and demons fit into the worldview of the ancient worldview. Like John Walton, Heiser recognizes that the Old Testament adopts and adapts the cosmic geography, divine council, and spiritual beings of the ancient world. But less-than-conservative viewers will find Heiser’s acceptance of these elements as “too literal.” Heiser may describe the worldview of the ancient world accurately, but he actually believes that worldview is an accurate depiction of reality. In fact, this film concludes with a clear presentation of the Gospel.

Much of what Heiser says in the film (and the book Unseen Realm) is accurate description of the worldview of the ancient world. I find his description of sacred space and cosmic geography very helpful and the parallels between Eden, Tabernacle and Temple are important (if not commonly accepted today). There are many details in the film which go too far, such as his view of the role of the giants in Canaan during the conquest, the implication Ezekiel 28 refers to Satan, and the background of Banias for understanding Jesus’s words in Matthew 16. Nevertheless, for many viewers, this film will be a good introduction to the discussion of a biblical theology of angels, demons, spiritual warfare, and the “unseen realm.” Along with Heiser’s book, The Unseen Realm, this film would be good for a small group Bible study or Sunday School class. The website is unclear on licensing (can the film be used for a small group?) and as far as I can see there are no workbooks or other curriculum available at this time. 

Here is the trailer for the film, View clips of the film at FaithlifeTV.

 

 

Acts 19:11-17 – Exorcists in Ephesus

Acts 19:11-17 reports the amusing story of the Sons of Sceva who attempt to cast out demons in the name of Jesus and Paul. Jewish exorcists are well known in the ancient world. Legends about Solomon’s great power of demons were well-known. Josephus says God gave Solomon great wisdom, but also remarkable magical powers (Antiq. 8.42-49).

“God also enabled him to learn that skill which expels demons, which is a science useful and sanative to men. He composed such incantations also by which distempers are alleviated. And he left behind him the manner of using exorcisms, by which they drive away demons, so that they never return, and this method of cure is of great force unto this day.”

He goes on to describe a Jew by the name of Eleazar who cast out demons in the presence of the emperor Vespasian and many other witnesses. The method Eleasar used to cast out the demon was strange: “He put a ring that had a root of one of those sorts mentioned by Solomon to the nostrils of the demoniac, after which he drew out the demon through his nostrils; and when the man fell down immediately, he abjured him to return into him no more, making still mention of Solomon, and reciting the incantations which he composed.”

seven-sonsSolomon is not the only Jewish name thought to have magical powers. In Paris Papyri 574, the exorcist says to the demon, “I abjure you by Jesus the God of the Hebrews,” and “hail God of Abraham, Hail God of Isaac, hail God of Jacob, Jesus Chrestus, Holy Spirit, Son of the Father.”

In Ephesus, at least some Jewish exorcists attempted to use the names of both Jesus and Paul as “power words” to cast out demons. This is the only place in the New Testament where the Greek ἐξορκιστής (exorcist) is used.  When commanded, the demon reverses the usual process and “exorcizes” the exorcists! This humorous scene shows that the God of Paul is not to be manipulated like the other gods of the ancient world.

The news of beating of the sons of Sceva spreads quickly.  The text says that the name of the Lord Jesus was held in high honor (μεγαλύνω).  This does not necessarily mean people became believers. The word appears in Acts 5:13 to refer to the reputation the apostles gained in Jerusalem (“held in high regard by the people”), but certainly in that context people were not converted to Christianity.

What are the implications for modern evangelism and/or church life? While I suspect this will have a different application in the West as opposed to other parts of the world where a belief in demons is more vivid, American Christianity is not immune from using the name of Jesus as a quasi-magical word that someone guarantees we “get what we wished for.” This kind of neo-paganism is common, but very dangerous.

Testament of Solomon: Several Biblical Expansions

After interviewing the demons, Solomon is visited by the Queen of Sheba, who is a witch in the Testament of Solomon 19. The Queen of Sheba visits Solomon in 1 Kings 10 and marvels at the glory of the Temple and Jerusalem and she is certainly not a witch. Testament of Solomon says she came before Solomon with “much arrogance” and was humbled before the king. Since the chapter is unrelated to the next, it is possible this is an insertion into the manuscripts.

Later, the queen tours the temple, including the innermost parts of the Temple. She sees the altar, including the cherubim and seraphim over the mercy seat. She contributed a great deal to the building of the temple (ten thousand copper shekels, in 1 Kings 10:10 she gave 120 talents of gold, a great quantity of spices and precious stones). This paragraph serves as brief summary of Solomon’s building activities in 1 Kings 7:13-51.

In chapter 20 Solomon demonstrates his wisdom in a variation of the biblical narrative in 1 Kings 3:16-28. Two men bring a case to Solomon an elderly son and his violent son.  The demon Ornias is laughing and explains to Solomon that the old man wants to kill the son. Solomon sends them away for three days, after which time the old man “has become childless.” The interesting element of this story is the source of the demon’s information. When Solomon asks him how he knew wha the father intended, Ornias explains that demons go up into the firmament of heaven, “among the stars,” and they hear the decisions of God concerning men.

Solomon then receives a request from the king of Arabia to deal with an evil spirit afflicting his kingdom (chs. 23-25). After seven days, Solomon sends a servant boy with a leather flask to entrap the Arabian wind demon, Ephippas. He is interrogated and placed in the “immovable cornerstone” of the Temple. Solomon asks the demon what he can do for him, in the service of the temple. He promises to raise a pillar of air from the Red Sea and set it wherever Solomon should ask. Ephippas does what he promised, and delivers the pillar to the temple, an enormous stone pillar which is floating in the air “to this day.”

The book returns to Solomon’s interrogation of demons in chapter 25. This final demon is called Abezethibou and came out of the Red Sea as a great pillar. This demon once sat in the first heaven and was responsible for hardening Pharaoh’s heart and the rebellion of Jannes and Jambres. Like Paul in Romans 9:16-17, this the presence of a demon absolves God of the guilt of hardening Pharaoh’s heart (cf. Romans 9:16-17. The tradition of two magicians in Egypt is found in 2 Tim 3:6-9. Although Exodus 7:11-13 mentions magicians, there are no names in the text. There are several rabbinic sources for Jannes and Jambres (b.Men., 85a; Exodus rabba, 7 on 7:11) and in Targum. Ps.-Jonathan. on Exod 1:15. This demon was engulfed in the waters to the crossing of the Red Sea and has been there ever since.

The final chapter of the Testament recounts Solomon’s many wives, especially his great love for a Shummanite woman. It is possible this is an allusion to Abishag, David;s concubine who was a Shummmanite, or to the woman in Song of Solomon 6:13 (a “maid of Shulam”). But the story more likely alludes to Samson’s demand for a Philistine wife in Judges 14. The woman’s parents require Solomon to worship the gods Raphan and Molech, but he refuses. They threaten their daughter with violence if Solomon does not marry her and worship these gods, so Solomon relents because he so loves the girl and does not want harm to come to her. As a result of Solomon’s compromise, the glory of the Lord departs from him.

This story provides an explanation for Solomon’s idolatry in 1 Kings 11. The canonical text indicates Solomon’s heart was not completely devoted to the Lord and he worship the gods of his wives. Here in the Testament of Solomon, Solomon is more or less forced to worship these gods in order to save his beloved from abuse and death. Nevertheless, Solomon describes himself as a “wretched man” who has become a laughingstock of demons. The phrase “wretched man” is similar to Paul’s in Romans 7, a man who knows what is right and chooses the evil instead.

Jesus and Demons

As with his healings, Jesus commands the demons to leave without invoking an authority (Matt 8:28-34).  Later exorcisms in Acts are done in the name of Jesus, but Jesus simply command the demons and they leave the victim.   In fact, knowing the name of the demon was consider the first step in an exorcism.  In Luke 7:26-36 Jesus encounters a man with a demon living among the tombs near Gerasenes.  This demon speaks to Jesus and calls him “Son of the Most High God.”  This ought to have given the demon power of Jesus since he knows Jesus’ true name.  But Jesus simply commands the demon to give his name, then commands the demon to come out of the man.  No other authority is necessary for Jesus to cast out the demon, they simply obey him.

Also absent from Jesus’ exorcisms are the elaborate preparations for an exorcism described in contemporary literature. [Tobias] took the live ashes of incense and put the heart and liver of the fish upon them and made a smoke. And when the demon smelled the odor he fled to the remotest parts of Egypt, and the angel bound him (Tobit 8:2-3).  The Testament of Solomon is more or less a manual on how to cast out demons written in the third century A.D., although it may contain material from much earlier.  In this story, workers in the Temple find a ring which is able to control demons.  Solomon then captures and interrogates a series of demons.  They are forced to give there name and what they are in charge of as demons.  Then Solomon forces them to explain how they are cast out.  For example, in chapter16  Solomon interrogates a demon called Kunopegos, a spirit in the shape of a horse in front and a fish in back (a sea-horse?)   He can change himself into a man and causes seasickness.  In order to thwart this demon, one must go through a complicated ritual involving bowls and hemp ropes. Solomon sealed him with his ring and stored the demon away.

What is the point of Jesus’ exorcism ministry?  Twelftree argues that there is a two-stage defeat of Satan being described in the gospels, the first mission of Messiah render the power of Satan useless, it is in his second coming that he will judge him and consign him to the Lake of Fire (270).  Satan is trying to hinder Jesus’ ministry, but Jesus constantly defeats him with no struggle whatsoever.

Bibliography:
G.  H.  Twelftree, “Demons, Devil, Satan,” in DJG 163-172.

Wendy Cotter, Miracles in Greco-Roman Antiquity: A Sourcebook for the study of New Testament Miracle Stories (Routledge, 1999).