Rev. Shiju M. George, Faculty, India Bible College and Seminary, Kumbanad

The New Testament clearly recognizes the influence of demonic activity in the world, and its primary focus is evangelism and Christian growth. A number of passages show that the New Testament authors were definitely aware of the presence of demonic influence in the world. Jesus had also asserted that “Satan comes to steal, kill and destroy.” Moreover, Jesus underlines that “devil was a murderer from the beginning and has nothing to do with the truth…he is a liar and the father of lies”. In the Gospels, understanding demons or unclean spirits is closely connected to the background of the Jewish thought. The Jewish idea is that hostile angels and evil spirits were created by God, and are under the control of God. The unclean spirits or demons are thought as entities dependant of Satan. This discussion is about the life and the ministry of Jesus with special emphasis on exorcism and its different aspects.

During the time of Jesus and gospel writers, all men and women, both civilized and barbaric, were basically superstitious. The fears and beliefs gave rise to the way to contact the supernatural world of demons and bodiless human spirits, to ascertain the future, and to control their destinies. The influence of demons was strong. There were magical papyri which contain traditional incantations and spells for controlling demons. Astrology, magic, exorcism (casting out demons by a secret formula), augury (predicting the future by an examination of the inner organs of sacrificed animals or by observation of bird migration), and necromancy (consulting the spirits of dead men) all fascinated and gripped the common populace of those times. In such a context Jesus entered into ministry where he could minister among the people who were oppressed and possessed by the demons.

The summary statement in the gospels about Jesus’ exorcising activity is seen in Mt 8:16-17.One evening the crowds brought to him many who were possessed with demons; and he cast out the spirits with a word, and cured all who were sick. This was to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah, “He took our infirmities and bore our diseases.” Some of the records of Jesus expelling demons is in the gospels and are namely the demoniac in the synagogue (Mk. 1:23; Lk. 4:33-36); the Gerasene demoniac (Mt. 8:28-34; Mk. 5:1-20; Lk. 8:26-39); the Syrophoenician girl (Mt. 15:21-28; Mk. 7:24-30); the epileptic boy (Mt. 17:14-21; Mk. 9:14-29; Lk. 9:37-43); the mute demoniac (Mt. 9:32-34) and the healing of the crippled woman “whom Satan bound for eighteen long years” ( Luke 13:10-17).

The physical or mental effects occurring in certain individuals as a consequence of being possessed by a demon or demons were varied in all the above cases. More than one demon could indwell a person. Mary Magdalene had once been inhabited by seven demons (Lk. 8:2). Some demoniacs were afflicted with blindness or the inability to speak (Mt. 9:32; 12:22). Some thus possessed might be prone to violent convulsions.

A case recorded by all three synoptic writers tells of a young man who was “epileptic.” He suffered grievously, frequently falling into the fire or into water (Mt. 17:15). He was dashed to the ground and bruised badly (Mk. 9:18; Lk. 9:39); he foamed at the mouth, ground his teeth, and “dashes him down” (Mk. 9:18). This final descriptive may suggest that the boy’s body became rigid so that he was incapable of motion.

A demon-possessed man who lived among the tombs on the eastern side of the Sea of Galilee had excessive strength. He often had been bound with chains and fetters, but he had broken these restraints into pieces, and no one had the power to tame him (cf. also Acts 19:16). Further, he was characterized by both emotional illness and antisocial behavior (e.g., he wore no clothes [Lk. 8:27]), but when Christ purged the demon from the poor fellow he was observed “clothed, and in his right mind” (Mk. 5:15).

It is important to distinguish between cause and effect in these cases. The cause was that of demon possession; the effects were physical and emotional maladies. The Scriptures never confuses the two. In other words, demon possession was not just an ancient, unenlightened attempt to explain physical or mental problems. Rather, a clear distinction is made between being inhabited by an unclean spirit and being sick. Demon possession could produce illness, but not all illness was attributed to the indwelling of evil spirits.

There are various dimensions reflected in Jesus’ expelling of demons. Some of them are discussed below.

There is a well preserved gospel tradition that portrays Jesus as one who cast out demons with authority. He possessed divine authority to reveal the true meaning of the Scriptures and the plans of His Father (John 12:49–50). He was aware of the fact that God anointed him to release the captives, recover the sight of the blind and free the oppressed ones. He was a miracle worker, particularly one who cast out demons in first-century Palestine. He is not the only first-century teacher to whom exorcisms are attributed; other rabbis were known for casting out demons. What sets Jesus apart is the manner in which he exorcised evil spirits. Other exorcists relied on particular procedures to help oppressed people and by no means worked on the basis of their own inherent authority. Jesus simply commanded unclean spirits to leave. They were helpless before his word. It is not exorcism itself but the authority of Jesus’ conduct which amazed the Jews (Mk 1:27). All the demon had to hear was the sound of the Lord’s voice and the order to depart, and it fled. In so doing, the demon acknowledged who Jesus was-“the Holy One of God” sent to bring Satan’s kingdom to its knees. Not only did Jesus’ ministry have miraculous authentication of authority, but he also endowed his disciples, who were to travel throughout Israel proclaiming the kingdom (Mk 3:14-15), with authority over demons to confirm their preaching of the kingdom.

Exorcism is a power encounter between the Kingdom of Satan and the Kingdom of God. It is reflected from the gospels that Satan is constantly at war with the kingdom of God. Satan is referred to as the supremely evil being, he is also known as ‘the devil’ or ‘the ruler of this world’ (Jn 14:30) who is hostile to God and Jesus. He is depicted as working to overthrow the purposes of God. Matthew and Luke tell us that at the beginning of his ministry, Jesus had a severe time of testing when Satan tempted his work. The devil is seen as the opponent of the kingdom of God in some of the parables of the kingdom. In the parable of the sower, Satan (Mt 4:15; Mt 13:19 [the evil one]) snatches the seed that is “sown in the heart.” In the parable of the tares, the enemy who sows weeds among the wheat (Mt 13:25, 28) is identified with the devil in the interpretation (Mt 13:39). The Satan and the demons stand against God’s Kingdom by oppressing and possessing the humankind and at last destroy them.

In the healing of those who are demon-possessed it becomes evident that Jesus has invaded the house of the ‘strong man’, has bound him fast and so is in a position to plunder his goods (Mt 12:29).The Kingdom of God breaks into the domain of the evil one. The power of Satan is broken. Through the exorcism Satan’s kingdom is diminishing and God’s kingdom is growing. Jesus sees Satan falls like lightening from heaven. He possesses and bestows power to trample on the dominion of the enemy.

The reign of God manifests itself in the person and deeds of Christ. He came proclaiming that the kingdom of God was near (Mt 4:17). The signs he performed were prophetic evidence of his right to come as the King. This is why in Luke 4:18-19 he quoted Isaiah 61:1-2, which included the phrase, “To proclaim liberty to captives, and freedom to prisoners.” It appears palpably and visibly in the casting out of demons and generally in Jesus’ miraculous power. He said, “But if I cast out demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you (Matthew 12:28).” Here it is obvious that Jesus has carried out his ministry of exorcism in the power of the Holy Spirit and as a sign that he was qualified to offer and fulfill the kingdom.

The coming of Jesus into the world and his ministry by the approval of God, was a threat to the Kingdom of Satan. The word of God says, “The Son of God was revealed for this purpose, to destroy the works of the devil.” This was being done through his ministry, especially through exorcism. This means Jesus’ ministry is a war to overpower the powers of darkness and that extends the rule of God on the surface of the earth. Nothing can be impossible for those who go forth into the world, invested with Jesus’ power, as witnesses of the Kingdom.

This conquest over Satan by the power of the Kingdom of God is accomplished in this age, before the coming of the eschatological Kingdom. However, we need not think of this victory as a complete defeat of Satan this age. But the ultimate destruction of the power of Satan will be accomplished when Christ reigns as the king of the world in the coming age. However, Satan still continues to be active in this age to carry out his deceptive endeavors to lead the people astray (2Cor. 4:4).

Jesus liberated people who were oppressed and possessed by the demons through exorcism. For instance, the Gadarene demoniac sitting at the feet of Jesus was clothed and in his right mind, shows the impact of liberative power of Jesus’ exorcism. Once he was an outcast from society dwelling among the tombs, constantly screaming and gashing himself with stones night and day. The Power of Jesus’ command forcefully made the unclean spirits to come out of the man. This gave him complete healing and as a result he was physically and emotionally healed.

Another instance is a man who was both deaf and dumb. This was not an ordinary physical problem. He had this difficulty because he was possessed by a demon. Jesus dealt with the root cause by casting out the demon in him so that he could speak and hear. A further instance is a boy who had the problem with epilepsy; he had several symptoms, foaming at the mouth, grinding of the teeth, and general rigidity of the body. Due to the sudden unexpected attacks, he often fell into the fire and water. When Jesus rebuked the spirit that kept this boy from speaking and hearing, it came out and he was able to stand, which means he was completely healed.

Through exorcism of Jesus, individuals are being liberated from their infirmities and oppression at every level of their being. Wherever Satan exercised his sway, the proclamation of the good news of Jesus and power of the kingdom are concerned to bring about release and liberation to humanity. However, much of our secularized society is unwilling to admit the existence of demons and demonic activities. If Scripture gives us a true account of the world of Jesus as it really is, then we must take seriously the intense demonic involvement in human society in today’s world. Our failure to perceive the involvement of demonic forces in the affairs of human lives dampens and loosens our power and God given authority to rescue people from the clutches of Satanic powers. In fact, there is no reason to think that there is any less demonic activity in the world today than there was at the time of the New Testament. We are in the time period of God’s salvific plan for this world to bring every nation to Christ for a preparation of the future reign of God and a time that has been devoid of Satanic influence.