A significant part of Jesus' ministry was delivering people from demons or evil spirits. These notes are a summary of this subject throughout the Bible.

John Robertshaw  

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A. Introduction

B. The Old Testament
1) God in Control
2) A Case History - King Saul

C. The Ministry of Jesus
1) His Deliverance Ministry
2) His Authority

D. The Ministry of Others
1) The Twelve and the Seventy
2) Deliverance in Acts
3) The unknown Follower and the Seven Sons of Sceva

E. Notes, Observations and Comments


A. Introduction

The Old Testament takes for granted the existence of good and evil spiritual beings but there are no examples of deliverance. The ministry of Jesus included the explicit deliverance of people from demons and this expression of the victory of Jesus is continued into the apostolic era. There is every reason to believe that Christians today as the body of Christ are to continue this task of setting men and women free from the work of the evil one.


B. The Old Testament

1) God in Control

The emphasis in the Old Testament is on the Sovereignty of God. The Lord God (Yahweh) is the creator and ruler of the universe and the director of history. Other gods are “no-gods” and are worthless idols of wood, stone and metal.

  • “Like a scarecrow in a melon patch, their idols cannot speak; they must be carried because they cannot walk. Do not fear them; they can do no harm nor can they do any good... No one is like you, O Lord; you are great and your name is mighty in power... But the Lord is the true God; he is the living God, the eternal King.” (Jer 10:5-6,10)

The beliefs of the nations around Israel were dramatically different. They lived in fear of local gods. They felt that their lives were in the hands of these gods and tried to appease them by sacrifices. They tried to get the favour of one god in order to control the activities of another gods. Their lives were full of superstition. There are still many parts of the world today where similar religion persists. Paul informs us that although there are no other gods but there are demons behind the worship in other religions:

  • Do I mean that a sacrifice offered to an idol is anything, or that an idol is anything? No, but the sacrifices of pagans are offered to demons, not to God..” (1 Cor 10:20-21)

Satan and evil spirits are recognised in the Old Testament but their operation is clearly only by the permission and knowledge of the one true God. His glory is never given to another! This emphasis on the overall sovereignty of God helps to explains a number of difficult passages relating to the activities of evil agents:

  • Satan appears in the court of God before he afflicts Job (Job 1:1-2:10)
  • The two passages relating to David’s census: “Again the anger of the Lord burned against Israel, and he incited David against them saying ‘Go take a census of Israel and Judah...’” (2 Sam 24:1).   “Satan arose up against Israel and incited David to take a census of Israel...” (1 Chron 21:1). The first of these passages reflects the sovereignty of God, the second reflects the detailed mechanism by which temptation came to David.
  • “God sent an evil spirit between Abimelech and the citizens of Shechem.....” (Judges 9:23)
  • God sent a lying spirit from his throne room to occupy false prophets in order to entice Ahab. (1 Kings 22:19-23)
  • “Now the Spirit of the LORD had departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the LORD tormented him.” (1 Sam 16:14)
2) A Case History - King Saul

In the whole bible, the life of King Saul gives the fullest account of affliction by an evil spirit. We discover how he became afflicted and how this influenced his life. You will find the story in 1 Samuel Ch 9-31 - his life is a lesson to us all.

(a) His call by God

The early part of Saul’s life is so promising. He had all of the qualities which would make the first king of Israel and he was anointed by God for this task. (1 Sam 10:1, 12:3) He was given a new heart by God (1 Sam 10:9), the Spirit of God came upon him and he prophesied (1 Sam 10:10), he was proclaimed King by Samuel (1 Sam 10:24), he led Israel in triumph against their enemies (1 Sam 11:1-11) and was acknowledged by the people (1 Sam 11:15). He was a spirit-filled Old Testament believer in a position of authority.

(b) His downfall

Two major sins are related which contributed to his losing the blessings of God.

1) Going beyond his call in God

Saul was waiting for Samuel to offer a sacrifice before he went to battle. Samuel was delayed and Saul offered a sacrifice instead (1 Sam 13:1-15). This was a sinful act since Saul was not a levite. Saul’s motives can be traced:

  • Fear of the enemy
  • Fear of his own men deserting him

In his sin he flouted the clear authority of Samuel.

2) Disobedience (1 Sam 15)

God gives Samuel precise instructions for battle and plunder and he passes these on to Saul. Saul however is slack and does not carry out the instructions precisely (1 Sam 15:1-35). Samuel brings this famous charge against Saul which includes the earlier sin:

  • “Does the Lord delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the voice of the Lord? To obey is better than sacrifice and to heed is better than the fat of rams. For rebellion is like the sin of divination and arrogance like the evil of idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the Lord, he has rejected you as king.” (1 Sam 15:22-23)

Here we have a vivid revelation of Saul’s heart

  • Disobedience
  • Rebellion
  • Arrogance
  • Rejecting the word of the Lord

We often imagine that people become demon possessed by connection with the occult and false religion. Here the word of God reminds us that there are other sins nearer home that are just as evil in the sight of God and which can give opportunity to the devil.

Saul replies with his feeble motive:

  • “I was afraid of the people and so gave in to them.”(1 Sam 15:24)

Remember that the fear of man is a snare. (Prov 29:25)

(c) Tormented by an evil spirit

Shortly after this we read that the Spirit of the Lord had left Saul and that he became tormented by an evil (or injurious) spirit. We can trace the downward track of Saul as he remained rebellious to God and allowed this evil spirit to lead him into deeper sin:

  • He was tormented and depressed. The musical ministry of David helped in alleviating this condition. (1 Sam 16:14-23)
  • He was very angry (1 Sam 18:8)
  • He was consumed with jealousy (1 Sam 18:9)
  • He attempted to murder David (1 Sam 18:10, 19:9-10) and Jonathan (1 Sam 20:32-33)
  • He was afraid of David (1 Sam 18:12)
  • He wasted valuable time of his army trying to find and kill David (1 Sam 24:1-2)
  • With deception and disguise he consulted a medium (1 Sam 28:7-8)
  • He took his own life (1 Sam 31:1-4)

Although he was afflicted and tormented by an evil spirit he was still able to rule his country for a number of years, maintain law and order, retain confidence of other leaders and lead his army. Occasionally he recognised his folly in pursuing David. (1 Sam 24:16-22, 26:17-25) The evil spirit came upon him in a more pronounced way from time to time and it was in these moods that his behaviour became less rational. At other times it was still possible for him to experience the power of God. (1 Sam 19:23-24) He was, however, never delivered of the evil spirit.


C. The Ministry of Jesus

1) His Deliverance Ministry

(a) Terminology

Evil spirits and demons are the same thing. (Matt 8:16) Terms like “demon possessed” or demon oppressed” can be confusing. It is better to use nearer equivalents to the New Testament expressions such as “demonised”, “has a demon”, “has an unclean spirit”, “with an evil spirit” etc.

(b) Biblical Material

There are the following cases in the gospels as well as general references:

  • The man at the synagogue in Capernaum (Mark 1:21-28, Luke 4:31-37)
  • The Gerasene demoniac(s) (Mark 5:1-20, Luke 8:26-39, Matt 8:28-34)
  • The Daughter of the Syrophoenician woman (Mk 7:24-30, Matt 15:21-28)
  • Boy with deaf and dumb spirit - the disciples had trouble delivering this boy (Mark 9:14-24, Matt 17:14-20, Luke 9:37-43)
  • Blind and mute man (Matt 12:22-23)
  • Mute man (Matt 9:32-34, Luke 11:14-26)
  • Crippled woman (Luke 13:10-17)
  • Women with evil spirits (Luke 8:2-3)
  • Troubled by unclean spirits (Luke 6:18, Luke 7:21)
  • Healings in the evening (Matt 8:16-17, Mark 1:32-34, Luke 4:40-41)

(c) Symptoms

Symptoms of demonisation are many and varied. Some people only had one symptom, others had many:

  • Wild manner of life
  • Living outside naked
  • Living in area of tombs
  • Supernatural strength able to break chains
  • Crying out and shouting
  • Cutting oneself with stones
  • Fits - thrown to the ground, foam at the mouth, gnashing of teeth
  • Becoming rigid
  • Attempt to destroy oneself with fire or water
  • Dumb
  • Deaf
  • Blind
  • Crippled
  • Troubled
  • Suffering terribly
  • Sometimes many demons are involved - “Legion”, and 7 demons in Mary Magdalene

(d) Dialogue

      The demons sometimes recognised Jesus and showed this by causing fit-like symptoms, or by crying out. It is difficult to tell whether the demons or the possessed person is speaking but there was acknowledgement of the authority of Jesus and falling down before him:

  • “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth?” (Luke 4:34)
  • “Have you come to destroy us?”
  • “I know who you are, the Holy One of God.”
  • “Swear to God that you won’t torture me!” (Mark 5:7-8)
  • “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God?”
  • “You are the Son of God” (Mark 3:10-12)

In many cases Jesus told the spirits to be quiet (Mark 1:25-26 lit “be muzzled” same word as, Mark 4:39, 1 Tim 5:18); he did not permit them to speak or to make known who he was. On the whole he did not enter into dialogue with demons. The case of the Gerasene demoniac is the only recorded case - Jesus asks the name of the demons and permits them to to go into pigs which are immediately destroyed. (Mark 5:9-13)

(e) The word of command

Jesus rebuked the demons and cast them out with a word of command

  • “Come out of him!” 
  • “Come out of this man you evil spirit!”
  • “You deaf and mute spirit, I command you, come out of him and never enter him again!”
  • Jesus drove out the demon so that the mute man could speak
  • He drove out the spirits with a word (Matt 8:16)

(f) Deliverance

In some cases the spirits shrieked and violently threw the people around as they were delivered but no harm came to them.

2) His Authority

(a) Jesus has authority

  • He taught with authority (Matt 7:29, Luke 4:32)
  • He has authority to forgive sins and heal (Matt 9:6, Mark 2:10)
  • He has authority and power over evil spirits (Luke 4:36, Mark 1:27)
  • He has authority to judge because he is the Son of Man (John 5:27)
  • He has authority over the wind and waves (Matt 28:18)
  • All authority in heaven and earth is given to Jesus (Matt 28:18)
  • Jesus is King of kings (Rev 1:5, Rev 17:14)
  • Jesus is Lord of Lords (Rev 17:14, 1 Cor 12:3)
  • Jesus is at god’s right hand - with angels, authorities and powers in submission to him (1 Peter 3:22)
  • Jesus has a name above every name - at the name of Jesus every knee should bow (Phil 2:9-11)

(b) His authority was contested

A major assault was made by the Scribes and Pharisees on the deliverance ministry of Jesus. The accusation was that he was casting out demons by demonic power. (Matt 12:22-37, Mark 3:19-30, Luke 11:14-23, 12:10, 6:43-45). His reply was:

  • “If Satan is divided against himself, how can his kingdom stand?” (Same with earthly kingdom or household)
  • “Where do your own people get their power to cast out demons?”
  • “But if I by the Spirit of God (Luke 11:20 “finger of God”) cast out demons, then the Kingdom of God is upon you.”
  • “You cannot enter the house of a strong man and rob it unless you first bind the strong man.”

Related passages:

  • Matt 16:19, 18:18 - “What you bind on earth is bound in heaven, what you loose on earth is loosed in heaven.”
  • Matt 12:43-45 - An evil spirit comes out of a man and wanders looking for rest. It finds the house unoccupied, swept, and put in order and then returns with seven more evil spirits.
  • The serious nature of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. (Mark 3:28-30)
  • A tree is known by its fruit, beware of idle words.

Jesus is accused of being demonised on other occasions because of his teaching and when he foretells his death. (John 7:20, 8:48, 10:20)


D. The Ministry of Others

1) The Twelve and the Seventy

The twelve and the seventy were given authority to drive out demons (Matt 10:1,8, Mark 3:15, 6:7, Luke 9:1, Luke 10:1-24)   and returned with great joy because demons submitted to them in the name of Jesus. “Freely you have received, freely give.”

2) Deliverance in Acts

(a) The apostles and Philip

When the believers met at Solomon’s Colonnade, they saw many who were tormented by evil spirits healed. (Acts 5:12-16) When Philip preached the gospel at Samaria, evil spirits came out of many with shrieks. (Act 8:4-7)

(b) Paul

      The case of the slave girl at Philippi is the most detailed account of deliverance outside the gospels (Acts 16:16-18):

  • She had a spirit by which she predicted the future - literally a “python spirit”.
  • She (or the demon) recognised Paul and his team and followed them shouting “These men are servants of the Most HIgh God, who are telling you the way to be saved.”
  • Paul delivers the girl with the words “In the name of Jesus Christ I command you to come out of her!”

Paul also sees people delivered at Ephesus through the sending of handkerchiefs. (Acts 19:11-12)

3) The Unknown Follower and the Seven Sons of Sceva

The unknown follower (Mark 9:38-41, Luke 9:49-50)

This person was driving out demons in the name of Jesus but was not with Jesus’ band. Jesus said that he should not be stopped - “whoever is not against you is for you”.

The seven sons of Sceva (Acts 19:13-16)

These seven men were attempting to cast out a demon in the name of Jesus but they were not Christians, the evil spirit replied “Jesus I know, and I know about Paul, but who are you?”. the man overpowered the seven men and injured them. This is a warning against the use of the name of Jesus as a magic formula for deliverance.


E. Notes Observations and Comments

In the Bible, demons were cast out of people. There are no examples of them being cast out of buildings, objects or geographical areas.

Deliverance was with a word of command. There is no ritual or artifacts. In one case, Jesus says that prayer (and fasting) is required.

The “name of Jesus” means the authority of Jesus as in “in the name of the King”. The power does not rest with the word but with the authority behind the word. It is as believers that we have that authority - Jesus to the seventy “I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you.”

  • In some cases we are told that Satan entered people - Judas (Luke 22:3), Peter? (Matt 16:22-23), Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1-11)
  • We cannot blame demons for our sin. The implication of demonic powers does not remove our responsibility for our sinful ways.
  • Evil spirits seem to influence people in different ways. Sometimes, like Saul, there are moods and occasional irrational behaviour, in some cases there is physical illness, in other cases there is uncontrollable madness.
  • The relationship between demonisation and mental illness is of interest. We should not assume that all mental illness is due to demonisation, on the other hand it may be that in many cases the medical services are controlling symptoms which have demonic origin. We need to be ready to react in different ways as led by the Holy Spirit
    • Mental illness - needs healing
    • Demonisation - need deliverance
    • Other similar problems - need counselling
  • Sometimes two or all three of these will be required. Surely here we need great compassion, sensitivity and the ability to be able to discern spirits! (1 Cor 12:10)
  • Two extremes should be avoided. One is to discount the possibility of the operation of demons. The other is to see them around every corner!
  • There are no “keys” or techniques in scripture for deliverance except working with the authority of Jesus.
  • Apart from the lessons in the life of Saul, we have no idea how people became demonised. This information did not seem necessary for deliverance.
  • Jesus once enquires of the name of a demon but this is not his general style. He tells them to be quiet and not to speak. Our authority does not rest with knowing the name of the demon but by operating in the name of Jesus!

John Robertshaw - Written before 1989 - Reviewed 2018

Last Edited: 2018-07-31   

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