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Occasionally we hear a story about a person who was possessed by a demon and delivered from that demonic oppression through the intervention of a Christian. Sometimes when these stories circulate people can be heard saying things like, “Why don’t we talk more about this?” and “I wouldn’t have known what to do if this had happened to me!”
Let us therefore reflect on the Bible’s teaching about demon possession and deliverance. I don’t claim to have all the answers on this, and I fear being confronted with situations in which I wouldn’t know what to do just like many of you. However, I do believe a number of things are clear from the Scripture, and I think it is valuable to share them with you:
1. It is clear that there is a real battle going on which involves a real, living devil and his forces of evil: 1Pet. 5:8-9; Eph. 6:10ff.; Jm. 4:7.
2. Jesus had ABSOLUTE authority over all demonic power. The demons knew who He was -- and they trembled in terror. In 2Cor.12:7 Paul speaks about “a messenger of Satan to torment me” who is said to be serving God’s purposes.
3. It is clear that Christians are, through Christ, to have power over Satan and His forces, at least on one level: Acts 26:18; John 10:29; Col. 1:13; I Jn. 4:4; Rom. 8:38-39. However, if we had to face the devil or even one minor league demon on our own, we wouldn't stand a chance. All of us together wouldn't stand a chance. These angelic beings are far more powerful, glorious and intelligent than humans.
4. Demons cannot force man to sin (we see this in the case of Jesus and in 1Cor.10:13), but are often allowed by God to tempt men.
5. Demons are also often allowed to afflict and torment men in various ways, from demon-possession (where the person’s body is basically hijacked by a demon) to Job’s torments to Paul’s thorn in the flesh, which he calls “a messenger of Satan” (2Cor.12:7) and to Paul’s testimony in 1Thes.2:18 where he says that "Satan hindered me" from coming to Thessalonica.
6. So, just as the angels are God's ministering spirits to serve His purposes, especially among His elect, so demons work against man in two ways: through temptation and through affliction. These two must be carefully distinguished. Temptation is Satan’s activity directed at the heart of man. Affliction is Satan’s activity directed at the body of man.
a. Satan tempts us to sin, which is what is behind warfare, immorality, evil desire, greed, idolatry, disobedience, dishonesty, anger, hatred, injustice, murder, slander, etc.
b. But God also allows Satan to afflict us through disease, famine, injury, pain, tiredness, toilsome labor, aging, natural disasters, etc. The most serious form of demon affliction, it would seem, is seen in the story of the gospels when people were sometimes possessed by a demon.
7. All the indications in the NT are that demon-possession is connected with affliction and NOT temptation. There are at least four reasons for coming to this conclusion:
a. The effects that demon-possession have upon a person are physical, not spiritual.
i. Sickness is often associated with demon-possession.
(1) “And there was a woman who for eighteen years had had a sickness caused by a spirit; and she was bent double, and could not straighten up at all. When Jesus saw her, He called her over and said to her, ‘Woman, you are freed from your sickness.’ And He laid His hands on her; and immediately she was made erect again and began glorifying God.” (Luke 13:11-13)
(2) “Then there was brought to Him a demon-possessed man who was blind and dumb, and He healed him, so that the dumb man spoke and saw.” (Matt.12:22)
ii. People are thrown into water and fire (Matt.17:15). They have convulsions (Mark 1:26), they fall on the ground, roll around and foam at the mouth (Mark 9:20). Demon-possessed people even attack others (Acts 19:16). But demon-possession is never said to move people to sin in their hearts.
b. Healing language is often used for demon-deliverance. For example:
i. Matthew 4:24 “The news about Him spread throughout all Syria; and they brought to Him all who were ill, those suffering with various diseases and pains, demoniacs, epileptics, paralytics; and He healed them.” (Cf. Mark 3:10; Luke 8:2; 9:42)
ii. Luke 7:21 “At that very time He cured many people of diseases and afflictions and evil spirits; and He gave sight to many who were blind.”
iii. Acts 10:38 "...healing all who were oppressed by the devil."
c. The demon-possessed are never held accountable for their condition – not once!
i. Jesus is always kind and compassionate toward the person demon-possessed but always stern and relentless with the demons themselves.
ii. The gospels never link demon-possession with the person’s sin. No person is ever blamed for having been possessed by a demon.
iii. No person is ever delivered by means of repentance or asked to repent afterwards nor does anyone ever repent for having been possessed by a demon.
iv. Jesus never deals with a person’s sin by casting out a demon from them.
v. (This is all in contrast to the way these things are said to happen in our time, when demon-possession supposedly occurs as a result of giving in to sin.)
d. The result of demon-deliverance is not moral transformation but situational restoration like peace, relief, healing, the restoration of mental and physical capabilities.
i. The boy whom the demon convulsed found relief. The man driven mad with restless torment was seen sitting down, clothed and in his right mind. The woman who had been doubled over stood up straight. The Syro-phoenician woman’s daughter who had been cruelly harassed by demons was delivered. The man who had been blinded and silenced by a demon was made to see and speak. But, like those who were healed of illnesses, etc., these people were not necessarily converted.
ii. In Matt.12:43-45 Jesus says that a person might be worse off after having been delivered from a demon if some deep internal change doesn’t take place.
8. OT history includes very little about demon-possession. Two thousand years of church history contains very little about demon-possession. And yet during the three years of Jesus’ ministry He had regular contact with demon-possessed people. It was as if there were demon-possessed people all over the place (see Matt. 8:16; Mk. 1:34). Why?
9. The Bible gives us the reason why Jesus cast out so many demons. It was a demonstration of the fact that He had come to destroy the works of the devil. In Matthew 12:28 Jesus says, “But if I cast out demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.”
a. There is something much bigger here than just a conflict with some fallen angels. And Jesus tells us what is really happening here. “This is a signal that the kingdom of God has come upon you.”
b. The world had been dominated by the power of Satanic deception since the fall. But now One has come to destroy the works of the devil. A new Adam has come onto the scene, a second Adam, who comes to undo the work of the first Adam. The first Adam allowed Satan to gain power, the new Adam rids the world of this nemesis.
c. First He demonstrates His ability to resist Satan's personal attacks, then He goes on the offensive and begins to attack Satan and overpower him, casting out Satan – as the first Adam should have cast Him out in the garden of Eden.
d. When Jesus demonstrates His dominance over Satan it is a sign that at last the King has come to establish His kingdom.
e. Jesus will overpower Satan on the last day (Rev.20:9-10, 14; Gen. 3:15; Romans 16:20.) When Jesus cast out a demon it pointed ahead to what He would do to the powers of evil on the last day.
10. The fact is that times change. God doesn’t always deal the same way with His people in different ages. Today Jesus does not want us to cross lakes by walking on them, or pay taxes by getting them from a fish’s mouth or catch fish by commanding them to come into our net, or feed the hungry by multiplying a few loaves and fishes, or authoritatively speak words from God, or unilaterally command people into ministry like Jesus did with the disciples and with Paul. He didn’t even expect His disciples to operate this way. The miraculous mode was not supposed to be normal.
a. We should not expect Jesus to give us special knowledge that someone is fudging on his tithe and call him down publicly so that he will be struck dead – like Ananias and Sapphira.
b. Jesus does these mighty works but He doesn’t teach us how to do them. He teaches us how to pray and how to repent and believe and to live and to control the tongue and to be alert and to work at reconciliation and to be honest and to identify false teachers and how to handle money and so forth. But He says nothing about how to cast out demons or walk on water or multiply fishes or command storms to cease.
c. We are supposed to do even greater works than Jesus, but apparently we’re supposed to do them by normal means (like prayer and preaching and love and hard work), not by commanding miracles and demonstrations of supernatural power.
d. With most of the miracles Jesus does there is a purpose that is either given or obvious. We are not told to do likewise.
11. When Jesus sent them out two-by-two in Judea, the disciples were given power (authority) to heal and to cast out demons (Matt.10:1). But nowhere in the Bible are we given either of those powers. We can pray for a person to be healed or delivered, but right now we don’t have the authority to boss angels around – whether elect or fallen. Of course we can certainly make petition to the One who has this authority.
12. The instructions we are given about how to deal with the devil and his forces do not include casting out demons or directly addressing demons. In passages like Eph. 6:10ff. the way we're supposed to engage in spiritual warfare is spelled out.
a. “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication.”
b. What do we focus on to combat the powers of darkness? We focus on the truth of God, and His righteousness. We use the gospel. We use faith. We focus on our salvation and upon the word of God and prayer.
c. God does give us instructions about dealing with demons, and here they are!