Deliverance from Demon possession by Jesus Christ
Paul, this Luo pastor, was confident that the falling on the floor and the writhing about was certain evidence of demon possession. People can even claim that they themselves have demons. They themselves can be mistaken, and often are.
by Geoff Thomas
There is no doubt that once the Lord Jesus began his ministry in Galilee a great plague of demonic activity broke out and spread the province. This black death of evil spirits possessed many people, especially those who were more vulnerable through moral, psychological or physical weaknesses. Mark tells us of such a man in the very first chapter of his gospel, and again in our text above we are told, "Whenever the evil spirits saw Jesus, they fell down before him and cried out, ‘You are the Son of God.’ But he gave them strict orders not to tell who he was" (vv. 11&12). Later on in this chapter he gives his apostles "authority to drive out demons" (v.15), and then chapter five of this gospel begins with the healing of a man with an evil spirit who was living in the tombs. There can be no doubt that all the gospel writers want us to be aware of this remarkable phenomenon, that when the Lord Jesus was in the land the activity of evil spirits was especially evident. There are in fact 52 references to demon possession in the Gospels and in addition to them there are references to this in the book of Acts.
We would expect nothing less than that. Let me illustrate it like this: think of a situation in London when the British Nazi party announce that it is going to hold a national rally on a certain Saturday. Their leader is going to be there and make an inspirational speech. They are going to use the occasion as a recruiting opportunity. What happens? Many of the anti-Nazis, far more than the Nazis themselves, go to that place from all over the south of England and protest about them, their beliefs and activities. They hold a counter-demonstration to break up the Fascist meeting. So it was here: it was this Lord of glory, the Son of God, who had consigned these fallen angels to hell, and kept them in its darkness awaiting judgment. When they heard that he had come to earth leaving the glories of heaven – a heaven which they had once known – and always having access to this world, they seized the opportunity of opposing and troubling Christ in his great redemptive mission. It couldn’t have been otherwise. He had come to confront their kingdom of darkness and to establish his own everlasting kingdom, and they were intent upon thwarting his intention. We know that the kingdom of darkness of the god of this world is always in existence. Satan never relaxes his grip on sinners. Christ’s presence on earth simply exposed the activity of these sinister forces.
The recently appointed Bishop of Durham, Tom Wright, helpfully describes these principalities and powers in this way: "Calling these forces ‘unclean spirits’ is a convenient way of saying two things about them. First, they are non-physical powers that operate upon, and sometimes within, a person. Second, they defile the one they inhabit, making such a person behave in ways that are untrue to their calling as a human being. But these spirits know when they are in the presence of a power greater than themselves. They recognize in Jesus, not just a great healer, but a spiritual power and presence of an altogether different order from themselves. And so they yell out Jesus’ real identity" (Tom Wright, "Mark for Everyone," SPCK, London, 2001, p.33). Dr Wright is an intelligent man, and he doesn’t have the same theology as I have, but he is not prepared to rubbish these New Testament claims to pervasive demon possession.
It’s often suggested that the simple people of Jesus’ time looked at folk with learning difficulties, or these who had seizures, and they said, "Ah, those kinds of people are demon-possessed." Yet when we read the gospels we meet parents who are distressed at the epileptic fits of members of their families. They are quite aware that their loved ones have an organic disease not some spiritual or demonic problem. You notice this in Matthew 4:24, "People brought to Jesus all who were ill with various diseases, those suffering severe pain, the demon-possessed, those having seizures, and the paralysed, and he healed them". You notice how they instinctively made the distinction between their friends and family members having seizures and those they knew to be demon-possessed.
Why should we take time to consider this matter? It is here in the Bible, of course, and that should be enough for us, but also because the apostle warns Timothy that "in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons" (I Tim. 4:1). We live in such times. The book of Revelation might even teach that before the return of Jesus Christ there may be another outbreak of unclean spirits. We also need to have a sensible grasp of this matter because of the fantasy dimension in Hollywood films and horror writing some of which is extremely popular and accomplished in its plots and drama. Books about evil powers sell in their millions.
We have to consider it because theological modernism has dismissed the entire New Testament approach. Emil Brunner, for example says so airily, "For the Fundamentalist, of course, this subject presents no particular problems. The Bible speaks of angels and of devils; in accordance with the Scriptures therefore, we can do so too. But for us this way is impossible" (Dogmatics, Vol. II, Lutterworth Press , London, 1952, p.135). Such liberals say that Christ chose not to correct the popular opinion of his day, but he did so with many other treasured opinions. Is the theme not important enough? Would Christ allow people to go on being deluded? Did he not say elsewhere that if something were not so he would have told them? Others say that Christ accommodated his language to the prejudices of his time, but in this instance it would to the extent of accommodating himself to what is a massive fabrication of falsehood. Then there is the whole liberal mistaken view that the actual God the Son had emptied himself of his omniscience and shared the muddled views of the people of his age, wandering around Galilee in gawking wonder at things that went ‘Bang!’ in the night. But if Christ is unreliable when he speaks about Satan and demons, when is he reliable, and why? Others say that Christ didn’t actually cast out any demons but the gospel writers erroneously taught that he did. So the Scriptures themselves, from this perspective, are a very unreliable record.
Such attempts to find another explanation for the presence of demons in Galilee reflects the old cold rationalist approach to the supernatural. How quaint and out of touch it all seems in this age of seances, witches’ covens, exorcisms and the absolute fascination with the occult. This characterises the time in which we preach the gospel. The best selling Christian books are those that deal with angels, spiritual wars, end time demon activities. Those liberals in the 20th century high age of cerebral modernism, were rationalist children of their time. For them the Christian faith was going to be explained and defended by grey-suited men meeting in ‘Brains Trusts’ and civilized discussions in book-lined rooms. The atmosphere would be reasoned; no power that walks in darkness would trouble it. But the Christ of the New Testament was confronted with the Devil. Demons cried out to him. His is another religion from liberalism. Goethe once said, "People don’t know the Devil is there even when he has them by the throat." Christ transcended his time and ours.
Our own age has swung to another extreme and some religious people can see demons where there is just the cunning deceit and desperate wickedness of the natural heart. If a certain woman, for example, is judged to be demon possessed, while her problems are in fact the result of her own sinful behaviour, then her case is going to be deeply complicated. She is meeting men who speak with an intensity and certainty who tell her that she is possessed by an evil spirit. Then they attempt to cast out her nonexistent demons. Not only are such efforts futile, leading to her own hopelessness and despair, but it has shifted the focus away from the responsibility of this woman for her own behaviour. She begins to view herself as a helpless victim rather than as a guilty sinner. This results in her being confirmed in her sinful life patterns when the attempted exorcism fails, and the people trying to help her are reduced to fruitless prayer, and pity, and discouragement. I say that when we are confronted with bizarre behaviour our first response must be to attribute it to deceit, or long patterns of wickedness, and not to demons.
I had a letter this week from a former student here who has been in Botswana for many years. He describes the gloomy situation in the country thus: "Evangelism is very slow and so little fruit. ‘Revival Crusades’ abound and people are exhorted to have demons of witchcraft, jealousy etc cast out of them. People are told they are bound by demons and all they have to do is go up front and be prayed for. Sometimes Christ is not mentioned at all in sermons . . . People here get the impression that the demons alone make them sin, and all they need is to respond to the alter call or have someone put hands on them and all will be well. Sometimes I feel that this country will be the last to receive a true revival. The church we go to has some of these elements but one survives by ‘switching off’ when such things happen. There is nowhere else to worship. The health and wealth gospel is alive and active here, and is also preached in the crusades. People are promised that their bank accounts will be inflated, and there will be no more illness. ‘Praise and worship’ sessions may be little more than singing ‘Amen! Alleluia!’ many many times. Many churches depend on ‘holy’ water, charms and strings which members wear in order to protect themselves from evil. The Zion Christian Church people stamp on the ground in order to drive out the devil from their lives." This is a fair reflection of the Africa described to us as abounding in Christianity. What kind of Christianity?
We must avoid the error of equating unusual behaviour with demon possession. Keith Underhill and I were once in a small village in rural Kenya, and we had a meeting which lasted until 11 p.m.. The people then requested that they should stay in the small room a little longer and sing some hymns. They had traveled a distance and liked to be with one another. We weakly agreed, but it had been a long enough evening for everyone, and we should have forbidden it and urged everyone to go off to bed. But the two of us crawled under our mosquito nets and lay down while they sang and sang in this nearby hut. The singing got louder and louder, and the clapping, and then there were shouts and cries and noise. Then we heard them walk home between one and two in the morning talking excitedly. In the morning the leader Paul told us that they had cast evil spirits out of two women. "Who were these spirits?" we asked. "The spirits of their ancestors that trouble them," we were told. "How do you know that it was demon-possession?" we asked. "They fell on the floor and twisted themselves about." We told Paul firmly that he should know that after people die their spirits go to God and their destinies are secure, the righteous in heaven and the evil in hell. The former have no wish to trouble us and the latter are prevented by God. We told them that after five hours of meetings, ending in some hours of chanting and drumming, it was a wonder that they didn’t all fall off their chairs in that little room and writhe on the floor. Since that time Paul has taken two more wives and now runs his own meetings where he has no biblical restraints on his activities or the ‘exorcisms’ that characterise such meetings.
Paul, this Luo pastor, was confident that the falling on the floor and the writhing about was certain evidence of demon possession. People can even claim that they themselves have demons. They themselves can be mistaken, and often are. I don’t think we can come to such a conclusion based purely upon bizarre behaviour, our own feelings or even on what these people say to us. In the New Testament the accompaniments of demon possession are really very broad. Categories of illness predominate; they include convulsions, an orthopedic condition, self-injury, bizarre behaviour, isolation and withdrawal, deafness and dumbness, but Christians would be very anxious to affirm that being sick like that is certainly no proof that a person is demon-possessed.
What was significant with those sick people in the Bible which tell us that they were demon-possessed? There seems to be four or five features:
i] There was a change in their personalities. When we are ill with convulsions, deafness and dumbness or whatever, our personalities don’t change, not even when we have a mental illness. But during the life of Christ when there was demon possession there could be a change of personality. "The poor possessed person begins to act in a strange and unusual manner or is no longer able to function as he normally does, or is at times deprived of the normal use of his faculties. In other words, in the accounts of this condition we find that violence is at times manifested" (D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, "Not Against Flesh and Blood: the Battle Against Spiritual Wickedness in High Places" Bryntirion Press, Bridgend, 2001, p.62).
ii] There was a failure to conform to any known pattern of symptoms for a disease. Today you examine a person; "he is suffering from a disease and he has a complex of symptoms. There is a definite clinical entity or picture. But when you look at a case of devil possession, you see that it can never be put into one or the other of the clinical pictures. That is one of the diagnostic points, one of the ways to differentiate devil possession from a disease" (Lloyd-Jones, op cit, p.69)
iii] There was given to these people unusual knowledge and information. See them in our text, "Whenever the evil spirits saw him, they fell down before him and cried out, ‘You are the Son of God’ (v.11). In the New Testament, it is striking how those with an unclean spirit were able to recognise our Lord. The Pharisees and scribes and Sadduccees and Herodians did not, but these people did. The women with a spirit of divination in Philippi had the insight to recognise that Paul and Silas were the servants of the most high God. So this demonic influence also gave a person a capacity above their own insight and knowledge.
iv] There was always the debased element, an element of uncleanness. That was not seen in ordinary illnesses that people had but it was present through the influence of an unclean spirit.
v] There was always a great variety in the influence of these evil spirits. We have one extreme case in Mark’s gospel chapter 5 of the Gadarene demoniac, that man who couldn’t be bound even with a chain. "He tore the chains apart, and broke the irons on his feet" (Mk. 5:4). He lived naked amongst the tombs and cut himself with stones. This was clearly a singular and horrible example of demon possession. No other people in the New Testament were like that. Others possessed by demons might have had some kind of sickness, but there are no symptoms at all given to us in the case of Mary Magdalene just the fact that a number of demons troubled her. So there were gradations amongst them.
The Lord Christ gave strict orders to these demoniacs not to tell who he was (v.12). Mark’s gospel is about God revealing certain truths to men in his own way and in his own time, and what we have in the first section of this gospel is Jesus opening the eyes of his disciples by a variety of means to the fact of his own identity. Once you’ve seen that, of course, it becomes perfectly evident why he did not allow the demons to speak. "They are not," as Bengel put it, "the messengers, nor is this the time." Jesus says to Peter in Matthew’s gospel that flesh and blood had not revealed Christ’s Messiahship to him by his Father in heaven. That is utterly crucial. The Father himself does the work of the opening of the disciples’ eyes in his own time. Peter learned who Jesus of Nazareth was from heaven, not from angels even, and demons are prevented from publicising the identity of Jesus even to his disciples until the time comes for the divine revelation to dawn upon them.
I have never come across a case of demon possession, but I am reluctant to say that it could not occur today. One sympathizes with the great R.L. Dabney who said that he did not feel qualified to affirm or deny it. We know that men and women can come under the influence of other people – as they do, for example, in hypnosis. There we see the case of one personality governing and controlling another. There have been preachers and religious leaders with that kind of natural charisma. They can mesmerize people so that an audience is swayed to act in certain way by the hypnotist. They will get out of their seats, they will swoon, they will even laugh in hysterics and weep, or they will make animal noises. The people are responding to the personality of the man. Think of the hypnotic power of a Hitler. When you see pictures of him today with that little moustache he seems a pathetic figure. How could cultured Germany – of all the nations of Europe – have come under the influence of such an evil creep? Well, you have to bring in this dimension of mesmerism. My point is this, that if men can come under the influence of other men it is surely possible for them to come under the influence of unclean spirits. People who dabble in the occult, in voodoo, in idol worship and sacrifice, those who seek to talk to the dead in seances are opening themselves to such fearful possibilities.
Dr Lloyd-Jones writes of one example he came across of a person he believed to be demon-possessed: "Here was a poor girl who was supposed to be paralysed, and many doctors had fallen in the trap of thinking that since she could not walk she had an organic disease. But they could not say which one it was, for none of the doctors could fit the paralysis into any known disease. Then it fell to my lot to see her – partly as a doctor, and partly as a minister – and what struck me immediately was that this was not an organic disease at all, but clearly a case of devil possession. How did I know that? Well, one of the reasons was that when I approached her bed with her doctor and her own minister, the expression on her face changed to something I shall never forget, and though she had not been able to walk for eight years, she began to make the most violent movements with her arms and legs and head, and this continued for ten minutes. Later, as the result of the conversion of two of her sisters, one after another, with a good interval between, that poor girl began to attend a place of worship – she was carried there at first – and finally she herself was converted. Nothing was ever said about her paralysis, but it just completely disappeared" (Lloyd-Jones, op cit, p.71).
Now I realise there would be other sound and reliable pastors who might have looked at that girl and seen some evil influence in her life, but who might not come to the same conclusion as Lloyd-Jones that she was actually demon-possessed, but like him who would go on to approach her by prayer and the word and who would finally see the same happy transformation of her that he reports. No experts in demon-possession exist. No other spiritual gift of delivering people from demons is possessed by anyone than what you as a Christian possess already. Take such persons to God in prayer! Address them armed with the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, and with the healing balm of Jesus’ blood which is found in the gospel. Not one word will fall to the ground.
In 1536 a pastor in Frankfurt on the Oder wrote to Martin Luther to ask advice concerning the treatment of a girl believed to be possessed. Her name was Matzke Fischer, and she had a long history of mental illness. Suddenly she became worse. A Roman priest tried in vain to exorcise the demon. "We must," wrote Luther, "persevered in our prayer for the girl and our contempt of the devil until finally, Christ permitting, he lets her alone." Luther urged that a thorough investigation be made to ensure that deception was not being practiced. As he put is, "I have encountered such frauds, and afterwards reproached myself for my simplicity." Luther stressed prayer, and faith, and the preached word. "The devil," he wrote, "hates the Word of God more than any other thing."
In his Table Talk Luther made these comments to his students as they sat and ate together: "We cannot expel demons with certain ceremonies and words, as Jesus Christ, the prophets and the apostles did. All we can do is in the name of Jesus Christ to pray the Lord God, of his infinite mercy, to deliver the possessed persons. And if our prayer is offered up in full faith, we are assured by Christ himself (Jn. 16:23), that it will be efficacious, and overcome all the devil’s resistance. I might mention many instances of this. But we cannot of ourselves expel the evil spirits, nor must we even attempt it" (quoted, Frederick S. Leahy, "Satan Cast Out: A Study in Biblical Demonology", Banner of Truth, Edinburgh, 1975, p.113).
Trust in God and speak from your heart in his strength. Christians will come to different conclusions. There is no infallible guide in such cases anywhere and never will be, though plenty of sensible counsel from fellow pastors – we all have men we turn to when we feel out of our depth or entering uncharted waters. Such difference of opinion in diagnosis is not at all a disaster as long as the cure is pure. Dr. Lloyd-Jones made a judgment about the evil influence over this girl, and he was a discerning man not easily swayed by claims for the supernatural. For example, he said that he had never personally witnessed a miracle – though there were more than one man who wanted him to acknowledge such cases. I think it is significant that he cautiously mentions just this single case of a woman delivered from an unclean spirit.
What delivered her from the kingdom of darkness? Not bizarre ceremonies of exorcism. Not jiggery pokery. The testimony of people she knew who came to trust in Christ as their Saviour, regeneration by the Holy Spirit, the new birth, attendance at a gospel church on Sundays, the preaching of the word week by week, such things as these – the ordinary yet extraordinary means of grace – these things transformed her in body, mind and spirit.
"A more unequal match can hardly be,
Christian must fight an angel;
but you see The valiant man by handling sword and shield,
Doth make him, tho’ a dragon, quit the field."
There is another memorable case of the conversion of the medium or spiritist in the 1930s in the Forward Movement Hall in Sandfields, Aberavon, where Dr Lloyd-Jones was then the pastor. It is often quoted, and it is a salutary incident. Dr. Lloyd-Jones tells the story like this: "Here was a woman who made her living as a spiritist medium, earning her three guineas almost every Sunday night. One Sunday she was unable, because of a slight illness, to go and do what she normally did. As she was sitting in her house she saw people walking to a place of worship. Quite suddenly she thought to herself, ‘What if I went with them? I wonder what they do there? I wonder what that place is like in comparison with what we do?" So she went to that place of worship, and that led to her conversion. She never again did what she had been doing before.
"But I want to quote to you her reply to my question, ‘What did you feel like when you came to this service?’ ‘Well,’ she said. ‘this was what really convinced me and finally convicted me. When I came into this place I felt immediately that there was a spiritual power here, exactly as we have in our meetings. I was always conscious of power in our meetings, and I was conscious of power in your meeting, but there was one great difference. The power in this building here, in some indefinable way, seemed to me to be clean. I didn’t think of it. I wasn’t reasoning. I was just conscious of power and cleanliness and of purity such as I had never known before.’ That is it. Spiritism is unclean … the mediums are not in touch with the spirits of the departed dead, but with evil spirits impersonating the dead" (Lloyd-Jones, op cit, pp. 54&55).
This Saviour appeared preaching that the Kingdom of God was near. He showed his kingly authority over sickness, the effect of sin, over death itself and over the devil. His apostle John says, "The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work" (I Jn. 3:8). He said, "Do not believe me unless I do what my Father does. But if I do it . . . believe the miracles, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me, and I am in the Father" (Jn. 10:37&38). Believe the miracles! Do you? God is in Christ and he is in his Father. What’s your response to this Miracle man? Do you believe that Jesus is the God in whom we live and move and have our being? He can break the grip of sin and death in your life. He can translate you from the kingdom of darkness into his own kingdom. He will bring you into his renewed creation. This conqueror of the devil indwells every single Christian. So do not leave this place afraid because of the power of the god of this world, but with quiet thanks and praise that greater is he that is in you than the devil, all his legions and all his works. Walk in step with Jesus Christ through the days ahead and you have nothing to fear.
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