What About Demons?
Do demons really exist? In our Western worldview, we have excluded this possibility for the most part. Are people possessed or oppressed by demons? The word that the authors of the First Testament use shares some light on the answer is the original word diamonizomai that means to be demonized rather than possessed. It is an influence that controls at times rather than complete habitation. Are illnesses caused by demons? The theological perspective of the First Testament runs counter to modern science in this respect. Its answer seems to be a resounding “yes!” Demonized healing, therefore, means breaking the demonic influence and the restoration of affected areas of an individual’s life. Of course, as with almost any other biblical subject, there is controversy in this area.
The Man With The Unclean Spirit (Mark 1.21-28; Luke 4.31-37)
Mark’s account tells us that this breaking of demonic influence took place in a private setting in the Jewish synagogue (Mark 1.21). It is one of the first of Jesus’ acts of power.
Jesus came to Capernaum with at least four disciples (Mark 1.16-20) and encountered a very verbal demoniac. No particular symptom of demonization was apparent in the man. He was just there on that day in the synagogue to worship God. But in the presence of Jesus, the demon manifested through the man.
There are three words that we should draw our attention to understand this encounter. The first is “Be Quiet!” The original language suggests that the silence that was being commanded came from an outside source. In short, this does not mean he told the man to keep quiet, but that more than likely the power of God was going to cause the demon to become quiet. The second word is “sternly.” Another word that would be a good translation would be “rebuked.” On this occasion Jesus did not continue to speak to the demon (as he did to the demons who were influencing the man living in the tombs, see below); he spoke once and the act was accomplished. Finally, there are the words “Come out.” The language tells us that the demon had to take the initiative to come out of the man and stop his influencing power over the man. The demon had no choice. We could paraphrase it this way: “You (demon) being silenced (by God’s authority/power) come out—you have no choice (command).” The result: the crowds were amazed (Mark 1.27); news spread throughout all the surrounding region of Galilee (Mark 1.28). In this breakage of power, the kingdom (rule) of God had taken control of in this issue that was occurring in this present evil age.
The Gerasene Demoniac (Matt. 8.28-34; Mark 5.1-20)
Mark’s blow-by-blow description of this story demonstrates that we have an intense case of demonization. There doesn’t seem to be any of this man’s life that was not affected by the influence of the demons that tormented him. He had no social relationships as he lived among the tombs. He mutilated himself physically, cutting himself. He was emotionally and mentally tormented, i.e., crying out, and spiritually he was set apart from God.
The demons influenced this man at certain times. He still could operate in his own power and saw Jesus coming at a distance, ran and knelt before him (Mark 5.6). There was one demon that spoke for the rest (Mark 5.7, 9). When God’s presence is manifested, demons will always show themselves. In this encounter with the man and the demons, Jesus spoke over and over to them. One could translate the passage “he said and kept on saying, ‘Come out of this man, you evil spirit.’” During this time Jesus asked the demon to identify itself. “Legion” was the reply, “because we are many.” The Jewish mode of exorcism believed that if you knew the name of the demon you could have authority over it. Knowing the name in this story does not seem to imply that by such knowledge Jesus then had control of the demonic activity.
The demons begged not to be sent from their present area (Mark 5.10). Some believe that they have an allocated geographic area of operation and become disoriented and ineffective in a new area. We must note that the text does not confirm this teaching. The demons wanted to be sent into a herd of swine (Mark 5.11-13). It is believed that demons live in bodies, like houses, and preferably in human bodies, because they can then express their distinct personalities and lusts through the body. Matthew points out that when spirits do not have a home, they live in arid places and restlessly look for a new home (Matt. 12.43-45). This does not mean the body is possessed by the demon. The demon(s) only take up residence and then influence as they have an inroad to do so. In this case, their influence could be detected by the way the man lived and acted.
Jesus broke the power of the demons over this man with a command, and his sanity, sense of dignity, and emotional life were restored. The final result of his healing from this bondage was that the surrounding regions heard about his story and many were brought to hear Jesus (Mark 5.15-20).
The Slave Girl At Philippi (Acts 16.16-21)
There is one occurrence of demonic healing which is specified in the book of Acts. This story occurred in Philippi, while Paul was there on his second journey. A young lady began to follow him around until Paul sensed the right occasion to break the influence of the demons demonizing her. Like Jesus, Paul is to the point. The text of Acts reads: She kept this up for many days. Finally Paul became so troubled that he turned around and said to the spirit, “In the name of Jesus Christ I command you to come out of her!” At that moment the spirit left her. (Acts 16:18). One phrase (one word in the original language) is important for us to note: “Come out.” It is the same word that Jesus used when he broke the influence of the demon in the man at Capernaum. The word infers immediacy.
The formula “in the name of Jesus Christ” is as powerful when evoked by Jesus’ disciples as Jesus himself saying the words. It is as potent in exorcism as in other forms of healing. The words “out of her” could be translated “away from her.” One may note that Jesus did not ever touch anyone when exorcism was taking place. Here Paul follows the same model. The result of the demonic healing was great for the ecclesiae. Paul went to jail (Acts 19.19-24), signs and wonders occurred in jail (Acts 19.25ff.). The conversion of the jailer and his household occurred (19.34), and the mention of “brethren” at verse 40 indicates that the ecclesia grew. It is important to note that these stories are set in the arena of signs and wonders.
Point Of View
Some things to note about demonic healing are: demonic influence may cause other illnesses in a person (spiritual, mental, emotional, physical, and social). When a demonic influence has been broken, the healing of other areas may also be observed. The presence of demons can be discerned via natural discernment. That is to say, if a demon manifests, you will know it is there. One may discern that a demonic influence needs to be broken by a prophetic insight. “Possession” or “control” only occurs temporarily when the spirit seizes the person. The followers of Jesus may not be “owned” by the enemy, but they can be influenced in their life choices by demons.
There can be varying degrees of demonic influence in certain areas of a person’s life. Think about it in these terms. A military invasion of a city may imply that a friendly force controls it, while at the same time there are enemy forces that have invaded parts of the city. Demons may from time to time try to bargain and use evasive tactics to keep their strongholds. We should operate in teams when dealing with demonized people. Remember, the person who has had demonic influence broken needs the continued recovery of support systems in the ecclesiae, such as home groups, counseling, etc. A word of caution is in order. We should not become “demon-seekers,” who are looking for demons behind every situation. We should not be quick to name spirits. We should be preoccupied with God and his direction in our prayer and ministry to others. Above all be compassionate and respect the dignity of the person that is being prayed for.
Community Discussion Questions
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- Have you ever been involved with the healing process of a demonized person? What happened?
- Can you explain demonization?
- How will you know when you are praying if a person is being influenced by demons?
- Can a believer be influenced by a demon(s)?
- How can you know the difference between demonic activity and simple choices made to follow the habits of life of this present evil age?