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.
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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
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.
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.
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:
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:
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:
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:
Here we have a vivid revelation of Saul’s heart
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:
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:
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.
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:
Symptoms of demonisation are many and varied. Some people only had one symptom, others had many:
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:
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
In some cases the spirits shrieked and violently threw the people around as they were delivered but no harm came to them.
(a) Jesus has authority
(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:
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)
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.”
(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)
The case of the slave girl at Philippi is the most detailed account of deliverance outside the gospels (Acts 16:16-18):
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.
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.”
John Robertshaw - Written before 1989 - Reviewed 2018
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