Today's topic is demon possession--not a cheerful one for many people. Most of the modern world rejects the notion of demon possession as mere superstition. Many Christians reject the notion of demons because they've seen too many Hollywood movies that scared them. Nobody likes to be scared, so they bury their heads in the sand and choose to think only about the positive things in the Bible. Yet God's Word is just as serious in its mention of demons as it is in its stories about angels--and most people who believe in God also believe in angels. So, if you want to believe in God and in angels, citing the Bible as your authority, then you have to believe in Satan and demons as well. So, if you ask me whether I really do believe in the devil and demons, the answer is yes--because the Bible says so.
But my belief in satanic forces is not simply from academic persuasion. I have seen people (and localities) that have been possessed or oppressed by demons, and have successfully cast them out, in the name and authority of Jesus. But I won't go into those stories here today. Suffice it to say that my conviction of the reality of demons isn't simply out of a desire for biblical truth.
In Matthew 12, Jesus talks about demon possession in two different passages. But before we look into this, go with me to 2 Chronicles 25, which says:
14 After Amaziah came from striking down the Edomites, he brought the gods of the men of Seir and set them up as his gods and worshiped them, making offerings to them. 15 Therefore the Lord was angry with Amaziah and sent to him a prophet, who said to him, “Why have you sought the gods of a people who did not deliver their own people from your hand?” 16 But as he was speaking, the king said to him, “Have we made you a royal counselor? Stop! Why should you be struck down?” So the prophet stopped, but said, “I know that God has determined to destroy you, because you have done this and have not listened to my counsel.”
The Bible tells us that the false gods of the Canaanites were in fact demon spirits that hungered for the people's worship. Leviticus 17:7 says, "So they shall no more sacrifice their sacrifices to goat demons, after whom they whore. This shall be a statute forever for them throughout their generations." Deuteronomy 32:17 says, "They sacrificed to demons that were no gods, to gods they had never known, to new gods that had come recently, whom your fathers had never dreaded." 2 Chronicles 11:15 (HCSB) says, "Jeroboam appointed his own priests for the high places, the goat-demons, and the golden calves he had made." Finally, Psalm 106:37 says, "They sacrificed their sons and their daughters to the demons."
While it would be a stretch to claim that all gods of all religions are demons (some are simply figments of human imagination), it is safe to say that all demons want worship of one kind or another. Demonically-inspired substance abuse, gossip, promiscuity, violence, or greed (just to name a few) certainly draw people to worship at the idols of their own sinful desires. In 2 Chronicles 25, the prophet asks Amaziah, “Why have you sought the gods of a people who did not deliver their own people from your hand?” In other words, "When you know that your God is stronger, why did you turn to weak devils and worship them?" We say that is foolish to worship a weak, false, demon-god when a person knows that the One True God is Almighty, yet we find ourselves pursuing our own kinds of idolatry nonetheless.
In Matthew 12, we read:
22 Then a demon-oppressed man who was blind and mute was brought to him, and he healed him, so that the man spoke and saw. 23 And all the people were amazed, and said, “Can this be the Son of David?” 24 But when the Pharisees heard it, they said, “It is only by Beelzebul, the prince of demons, that this man casts out demons.” 25 Knowing their thoughts, he said to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and no city or house divided against itself will stand. 26 And if Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then will his kingdom stand? 27 And if I cast out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they will be your judges. 28 But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. 29 Or how can someone enter a strong man's house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man? Then indeed he may plunder his house.
Beelzebul, or "Lord of the Mansion" is often equated with Beelzebub, which means "Lord of the Flies." Click here to read more about this Canaanite demon-god. While not technically correct, these names have become synonymous with Lucifer himself. It is better to say that they are representative of satanic forces in general.
In Matthew 25, Jesus is accused of casting out demons by the authority of Beelzebul, a demonic prince. If He had wanted to correct their misguided notions about the existence of such an entity, this would have been his opportunity. Yet, rather than saying, "Silly Pharisees--demons don't really exist," He simply corrects their understandings about spiritual authority. It wouldn't make sense, He says, for Satan to cast out Satan and undermine his own kingdom. "But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you." Jesus' reference here to binding a strong man is an assurance that He has gained victory over the devil that He has cast out, by binding it though the authority that He has as the Son of God. If you'll forgive the ridiculous run-on sentence, here is Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible, on verse 29:
Or else, how can anyone enter into a strong man's house,.... This is another argument of Christ's proving that his casting out of devils could not be by Satan, but by the Spirit of God; for if he did not act by any superior power to Satan's, and such by which he was able to master, overcome, and bind him, he could never spoil his goods, as he did; or dispossess devils out of the bodies or souls of men: just as if a man should enter into another man's house, who is strong and robust, with a design to spoil his goods, who would never make use of the man himself to do it, and can never be thought to effect it, unless he has a power superior to his, and uses it; except he first bind the strong man, and then he will spoil his house: by the "strong man", is meant the devil, see Isaiah 49:24 who is powerful and mighty, as appears from his nature, being an angel, though a fallen one, excelling in strength human creatures; from his names, such as the roaring lion, the great red dragon, leviathan, &c. from the extent of his dominion, here called "his house"; which reaches to the whole posse of devils, and world of men; whence he is called the prince of the power of the air, and the prince of this world, and the god of it; and from his works and actions, in and over the bodies and estates of men, by divine permission; which might be exemplified in the case of Job, and the demoniacs in the time of Christ; and in and over the souls of men, not only over wicked men, but men under a show of religion, as antichrist and his followers; yea, saints themselves, and even over Adam in a state of innocence; but Christ is stronger than he, and attacked him, and dispossessed him of the bodies of men; and restraining him from doing them any hurt, enters into the souls of men, dethrone him, and leads him captive, who led others; and keeps him from doing them any damage; as he will in the latter day "bind" him and shut him up in prison a thousand years; and also "spoils his goods", or "vessels", and "his house"; the palace of Satan, by taking bodies and souls out of his possession; by awakening the conscience, enlightening the mind, working upon the affections, subduing the will, and implanting principles of grace and holiness in the heart; and so making it a fit habitation for God, which spoils it for the devil: in all which, Satan can never be thought to have any hand; and therefore the suggestion that Christ casts out devils by his assistance, even out of the bodies of men, has no show of reason in it.
In the same way that a large part of Jesus' ministry involved casting demons out of afflicted people, the Lord also commissioned His followers to do the same thing. Matthew 10:1 says, "And he called to him his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every disease and every affliction." In Mark 16:15, Jesus says, "In my name they will cast out demons." Delivering souls from bondage to the devil is still a part of the Christian's commission today. Unfortunately, we don't take this part of our calling as seriously as we ought.
As glorious as casting out demons might sound, there is a second part of deliverance ministry that is necessary, if a former victim wants to remain freed. In Matthew 12, Jesus talks about an evil spirit that is cast out of someone:
43 “When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, but finds none. 44 Then it says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ And when it comes, it finds the house empty, swept, and put in order. 45 Then it goes and brings with it seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and dwell there, and the last state of that person is worse than the first. So also will it be with this evil generation.”
When a person is freed from demonic influence, they need to fill their lives with the presence of the Holy Spirit, who only comes to reside inside of believers in Jesus. The poor soul that Jesus is talking about has left his spiritual house empty--an invitation for the demon and his friends to return and take up residence once again.
Has God freed you from an evil influence that once had control of your life? Have you accepted the freedom that Jesus offers, in exchange for the slavery that you've endured in service to the false "gods" that you've been worshiping? You can't simply celebrate that freedom without making some definite changes in your life. You can't leave your life swept clean and lying empty ready for any spiritual squatter to come along. You've got to fill your life with God's Spirit, who seals you against further attack. Furnish your heart with godly things that will repel any attempt to reclaim your life.
If you feel that you need to be set free from spiritual or demonic oppression, don't go through it alone. Find a Christian friend or minister who understands both Satan's influence over your life, and Jesus' greater power to set you free. Pray together, and ask the Lord to deliver you from this evil. If you haven't received Jesus as your Savior, then ask Him to forgive your sins, come into your life, and save you today. If you have received His saving power into your life, then you can trust that the Bible is true when it says, "Little children, you are from God and have overcome [evil spirits], for [Jesus] who is in you is greater than [Satan,] who is in the world (1 John 4:4)."
*Unless otherwise noted, all scriptures taken from the ESV.