The Truth Concerning Demon Possession
Dear Jesus, teach me to never underestimate the danger the Devil and his angels pose to my soul. With eyes enlightened by Your Word let me see the appealing temptations of the Devil and the world for what they are—traps for my soul. Equip me with the armor of God so that I may stand against every temptation. Bolster my use of the armor by sending Your Spirit to work in my heart through Your Word in our worship today. Amen.
Satan suggested that the reason Job was so faithful to God was because God had given him everything. God allowed Satan to afflict Job, but with limitations: Satan could not touch Job personally (though later God also allowed that, but without taking Job’s life). Satan and his forces have power, but their power is limited and their activity is held in check by God.
Jesus defeated Satan for us; the victory over him is ours! However, Satan still wants your soul. He wants to pull you away from Christ because without Jesus you will be his prey. But don’t be afraid. Your conquering Savior also equips you to withstand the wiles of the Devil.
Text: Luke 8:26-39
Then they sailed to the country of the Gadarenes, which is opposite Galilee. And when He stepped out on the land, there met Him a certain man from the city who had demons for a long time. And he wore no clothes, nor did he live in a house but in the tombs. When he saw Jesus, he cried out, fell down before Him, and with a loud voice said, “What have I to do with You, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg You, do not torment me!” For He had commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man. For it had often seized him, and he was kept under guard, bound with chains and shackles; and he broke the bonds and was driven by the demon into the wilderness. Jesus asked him, saying, “What is your name?” And he said, “Legion,” because many demons had entered him. And they begged Him that He would not command them to go out into the abyss. Now a herd of many swine was feeding there on the mountain. So they begged Him that He would permit them to enter them. And He permitted them. Then the demons went out of the man and entered the swine, and the herd ran violently down the steep place into the lake and drowned. When those who fed them saw what had happened, they fled and told it in the city and in the country. Then they went out to see what had happened, and came to Jesus, and found the man from whom the demons had departed, sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind. And they were afraid. They also who had seen it told them by what means he who had been demon-possessed was healed. Then the whole multitude of the surrounding region of the Gadarenes asked Him to depart from them, for they were seized with great fear. And He got into the boat and returned. Now the man from whom the demons had departed begged Him that he might be with Him. But Jesus sent him away, saying, “Return to your own house, and tell what great things God has done for you.” And he went his way and proclaimed throughout the whole city what great things Jesus had done for him.
In Christ Jesus, our Savior, and the conqueror of Satan and all of his evil host, dear fellow-redeemed:
The author, C.S. Lewis, wrote many works confessing his faith in Christ. One of the more familiar of these titles is his book, The Screwtape Letters. In this particular writing, Lewis takes the position of a tempter—one of the evil angels—and writes a series of letters to his nephew, a junior-tempter. Through this series of letters the author illustrates the many ways in which Satan and his angels may tempt us into sin. The book offers a perspective we don’t often consider because it is the perspective of those who oppose God.
In the preface of this book, Lewis points out that it is wise not to take too healthy of an interest in demons, but also not to ignore their existence. There are many in our world who do take much too great of an interest in the Devil, his angels, and the forces of darkness. For some it is simply playing with darkness—experimenting and seeing what they can find. For others it is outright worship of Satan. There are also those who don’t take the enemy seriously enough—those who don’t believe there is a real personal being known as Satan. These dismiss the Bible’s words concerning Satan as a caricature—a picture of evil in the world, but not really a spirit who is out there trying to destroy us. Those who diminish the seriousness of the enemy are his ready prey.
Of all the references to the Devil and his work that we find in Scripture, some of the most interesting and at times perplexing are the examples of demon possession during Jesus’ life and in the early days of the New Testament church. The effect of being possessed by an evil spirit varied, but in all cases it was harmful physically as well as spiritually.
There are many misunderstandings about demon possession and many questions as well. Some of the questions have to remain unanswered, but some of them we seek to answer this morning as we go to God’s Word to learn THE TRUTH CONCERNING DEMON POSSESSIONWe’ll find that I. Jesus has power over Satan’s forces II. The forces of darkness are still a threat today III. The ones who are healed remain a beacon of hope.
The account we have just read in Luke is also recorded in Matthew and Mark. Matthew tells us that there were two demon possessed men who came to meet Jesus and the disciples when they stepped out of the boat in the land of the Gadarenes. Mark and Luke mention only one man. This is one of the texts that skeptics of the Bible like to use and say, “You see, they can’t even agree!” However, this is not an example of contradiction in Scripture. The explanation for the difference is actually rather simple and clear. Matthew reports the events of two men being healed and gives and account of the miraculous healing. Mark and Luke have in mind to trace the personal element of the story as they relate to one of the two men who was brought to faith in Jesus. Incidentally, we hear nothing more of the second man beyond the fact that he was healed.
When Jesus first met the demon possessed man, He saw that the man wore no clothes and lived in the tombs. When the man saw Jesus “he cried out, fell down before Him, and with a loud voice said, ‘What have I to do with You, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg You, do not torment me!’ For He had commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man. For it had often seized him, and he was kept under guard, bound with chains and shackles; and he broke the bonds and was driven by the demon into the wilderness.” [vv.28-29] In this particular instance the demon possession of the man led him to have uncharacteristic strength so that he could break bonds and shackles. The demon drove him out into the wilderness to be separate from the people and to behave in a very uncivilized and uncontrolled manner. Other examples of demon possession in Scripture tell of demons causing their host to throw themselves into water or fire to harm themselves (Cf. Matthew 17:14ff), and other frightening symptoms such as foaming at the mouth (cf. Mark 9:20) and other crazed activity. In the early days of the New Testament church, the apostle Paul cast a demon out of a girl who had actually given the girl the ability to foretell the future (cf. Acts 16:16ff). We also see the effect the evil spirits had on the pigs when they left he man and entered the herd of swine. The activities of the demons in those whom they possessed was varied, but in all cases it was the angels of the Devil afflicting these individuals, taking up residence in their lives and bodies.
Jesus spoke to the spirit and commanded it to come out of the man. The spirit spoke through the man and knew Jesus. This shouldn’t surprise us. James tells us, “You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe—and tremble” (James 2:19). Even the devils know who the true God is. Their knowledge is not the same as our faith, but they know His power, and they tremble.
We are right to be wary of the Devil and his angels, and their effect in the world, and their temptations, and their goal of ruining us eternally. We should be wary and stand watchful because they do have power. But we do not need to be fearful because the power of the Conqueror, our Savior, is greater. As powerful as the Devil and his angels may be, that power is minute compared to the power of God. As we heard in the Old Testament reading, that limited power of the Devil is also curtailed within the parameters set by God. So when Jesus commanded the demon to leave the man, it was afraid. It cried out through the man, “I beg of you, do not torment me!” [v.28] The evil spirit knew Jesus’ power and knew that he would have to yield to that power when Jesus commanded him to come out.
Jesus asked the man, “‘What is your name?’ And he said, ‘Legion,’ because many demons had entered him.”[v.30] This man was not afflicted by just one demon, but many. A Roman legion was typically made up of 6,000 soldiers. We don’t need to understand this as meaning there were 6,000 demons in this man, but it was a name that indicated a great many evil spirits tormented him.
The evil spirits begged Jesus that He would not send them out of the man and into eternal judgment in Hell. We know that God has expelled Satan and his angels from heaven and “has reserved [them] in everlasting chains under darkness for the judgment of the Great Day” (Jude 6). In Revelation we hear that the Devil—pictured as a dragon—was bound, but would also be released for a little while and would wreak havoc on the earth (Revelation 20:1ff). God allows the Devil and his angels to wander the earth in this present time between Jesus’ life and Judgment Day.
The evil spirits were afraid Jesus would cast them into final judgment and wanted to go into the pigs instead. The spirits had to ask for permission from Jesus to enter the pigs. They could not do that on their own. They begged Jesus to permit them to go into the pigs. Jesus did permit them and into the swine they went.
Throughout this whole series of events, who was in control? Not the demons who were possessing the man. Jesus was in control! Jesus had the power to cast out the evil spirits and He did exactly that. Jesus alone could grant the demons permission to enter the swine, and they did.
Jesus has conquered Satan and his angels for us. In Colossians, the apostle Paul writes about Jesus’ descent into Hell on Easter morning saying, “[Jesus] disarmed principalities and powers, He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them in it” (Colossians 2:15). When Jesus came back to life He descended into Hell to show His triumph over death, the Devil, and the powers of Hell. Jesus had gone to the cross with our sins. There He bore our sins and the death they deserve. At the moment of His death and during the time He lay in the grave it looked as if Satan had won. Afterall, Jesus had died and what good is a dead Savior? But on Easter morning Jesus rose triumphantly and proved His victory over death and over Satan, and He descended into Hell to show that triumph.
Jesus’ victory is ours. We need not be in fear of Satan’s forces because Jesus has power over them. If you are walking through a dangerous area of town unprotected and weak then you are vulnerable. The vulnerability and the associated fear go away when you have an army around you. Yes, the dangers of the devils and Satan himself is great; yes they have power; and yes, they seek our destruction; but Jesus our Savior who walks with us has power over them. So we need not be afraid.
In all of the instances of demon possession one of the more natural questions is, “Can demon possession still occur today?” As we consider the various examples of demon possession in the New Testament, we find that the outward manifestation of that possession may look similar to certain diseases and seizures that today we would associate with physical causes. Again skeptics of the Bible say, “It was called demon possession in Jesus’ day because of a lack of knowledge and superstition. But today we recognize it as epilepsy or some other physical or emotional cause.” No, God clearly identifies these things in the New Testament as being demon possession. They cannot simply be dismissed by saying it was superstition back then and now in our enlightened age we know it was something else. The causes behind the symptoms described in the New Testament were not diseases or mental illness. These were actual demon possessions.
Is it possible for someone to be demon possessed today? Certainly. When we see something that is out of the ordinary is it possible for us to identify someone as demon possessed? No. The reason we know that these New Testament instances were caused by demons is because God tells us so. We don’t have that same kind of inside information for the people we meet today.
Should we expect demon possession today? Not necessarily. What we need to understand about Satan is, first of all, his goal. His goal is to destroy the souls of sinners. He thought he had that accomplished when he led Adam and Eve into sin and then throughout history by accomplishing great wickedness in the world. God put a stop to that plan by sending Jesus to be our Savior. Yet, Satan still works to keep sinners separate from Jesus so they do not enjoy the forgiveness of sins which He won. Satan’s goal has never changed. His goal has been and always will be the destruction of souls.
Satan’s methods to attempt to reach his goal haven’t really changed either. He uses subtlety. He uses temptations to make things look appealing and harmless when indeed they are deadly. He uses our flesh and the world around us to try to entice us.
Satan’s goal and method haven’t changed, but the details of his work for each individual case do vary. The temptations you face are in similar to the temptations I face, but you all undoubtedly face specific temptations that I do not face, just as I face temptations you don’t face because our weaknesses are different. Satan is not omniscient like God. He can’t read our hearts and minds as God can, but he watches and learns from our activity to know where our weaknesses are. Then he attempts to exploit those weaknesses. He still has the same goal and overall method, but he tailors the temptation and the pitfalls for each of us.
In the days of Jesus walking the earth and in the days of the early New Testament church, one of the ways the Devil tried to accomplish his goal was through this open demon possession. Perhaps it was because Jesus the Son of God was walking on the earth at that time so Satan unleashed the fullest fury that he could. Perhaps there are other explanations, but that was a mode of Satan’s activity then. Is it possible for him to use that same activity now? Yes. Do we need to expect it? No. But we do need to watch and pray for what he is doing today, because whether he is still possessing individuals as in our text, or not, the forces of darkness are still a threat today. They just look different. They come in different details. The dangers are still there.
C.S. Lewis’ warning to not dismiss the threat of the evil forces is consistent with Scripture. In our New Testament reading God warns us through Paul that we do not fight against flesh and blood, don’t pooh-pooh the devil as if they were nothing. We have the every forces of hell itself wanting us as prey. So perhaps we don’t face demon possession, but the ongoing temptation and push for material acquisition; the devil doesn’t need demon possession if he can so consume us with desire for material things that it replaces our love for God. Though it’s not demon possession we can find people into his world, that become so consumed with what they are doing that they are possessed—controlled by that instead of the direction God offers. What is determining the priority in our life? What is making the decision in our lives? What is leading us? What is the guiding force and direction for our lives? We pray that it will always be Christ. The devil is working hard to put anything else he possibly can because once he begins that separation even if it is just a little, he can try to open up the wedge and separate us further and further from our Savior and conqueror. So we do need to stand guard, to watch and to pray, because the forces of darkness are still a threat today. Stand against those temptations and threats.
When the man who met Jesus was cleansed from his evil spirit, the people saw him sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed, and in his right mind. And they were afraid. [v.35] They were afraid because they didn’t know how this could be. They were afraid because they knew what that man had been, they knew what had possessed him and now he was just like them. They were afraid because through the report of those who were there they knew what happed to the herd of swine when the demons left the man and went into the animals. They were afraid because they didn’t understand what Jesus had done, who He was, or what He meant for them.
The man who was healed wanted to go with Jesus. Jesus said, “no.” Jesus said, “‘Return to your own house, and tell what great things God has done for you.’ And he went his way and proclaimed throughout the whole city what great things Jesus had done for him.” [vv.39-40] There was fear in the land of the Gadarenes after the miracle. Jesus told the man who had been healed to remain to give them news of what had happened, to explain, to give them understanding, to testify of Jesus who He is and what he had done. The man who was healed was to remain as a beacon of hope in the midst of all that fear. He was to remain as a message of truth in the midst of all that confusion and misunderstanding.
The same is true for us. We have been healed. We have not been demon possessed in the physical sense, but we were born slaves of Satan. We are born captive in sin and under the sway of the Devil. Through Christ we are set free and released from that—we are healed. Our sins are washed away. The power that Satan once had is taken away and broken. We are now servants of God and slaves of righteousness, no longer slaves of evil. We have been healed through our conquering Savior, Jesus. We remain to be beacons of hope.
The world still is fearful. The world is still a wicked place. The world is still filled with misunderstanding about Jesus and about all the wickedness and everything else in the world. We who are healed remain to be beacons of hope. Jesus tells us that He delays in returning on Judgment Day to allow those who are yet unbelievers to see the beacon, to hear the Word, and be brought to faith (1 Peter 3). At times especially elderly Christians whose days of physical labor are long gone, wonder aloud why the Lord may allow them to continue in this earth because it seems like there is so little reason. The explanation is that for as long as we are on the earth, every child of God remains to be a beacon of hope and testifier of our Savior. When that work is done God will call us home, but in the meantime we are to be the light of the world—the beacon of hope through Christ Jesus.
The truth concerning demon possession is that there is victory over whatever Satan and his forces could throw our way. The truth is that we have victory and power over them through our Savior Jesus Christ. So as we journey through this life facing the wickedness, facing the efforts of Satan and his angels, we stand guard, watch, pray, and arm ourselves with the armor of God and then go forward confident in the victory. Amen.
—Pastor Wayne Eichstadt