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One of the most abused concepts in the Bible is the role of demons, exorcisms, and Satan and how they apply to humans living in the twenty-first century. The abuse comes from two sources. One is atheists who claim that the whole thing is a throwback to mystic thinking from ancient times and results from false religious indoctrination. The other is from people in the religious world who feel that demon possession is a real threat to us today, and needs to be dealt with by religious leaders. Both of these views are rooted in misunderstanding the Bible and the spiritual world. We hope to clarify some of these misunderstandings in this discussion.
THE CREATION INVOLVES BOTH
THE PHYSICAL AND THE SPIRITUAL.
We all know Genesis 1:1, and we know it says that God created everything. What seems to escape most of us is that the Bible tells us that the physical creation was not all that was involved. Colossians 1:16 – 17 tells us, “For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” Ephesians 6:12 tells us that our struggle is not against flesh and blood or any physical enemy; but “against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world.” Ephesians 3:9 – 11 tells us that the “administration of this mystery, … was kept hidden in God, who created all things. His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose that he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
What is important to understand is that the powers and authorities these verses refer to and which we call angels were created outside of space/time. They are not limited to the physical world, they do not age or die, and they have the freedom to choose between good and evil. Whatever their choice is, they make that choice into eternity. Passages like Isaiah 14:11 – 19; 1 Timothy 3:6; 2 Peter 2:4; Jude 6; and Revelation 12:7 – 9 all support this. Atheists have to dismiss all of this as religious myth. In doing so, they logically end up denying that evil even exists as Richard Dawkins does in his book River Out of Eden1. How anyone can live on planet Earth for very long and still deny that evil exists is difficult for most of us to comprehend, but it is the only way around the question of evil if you embrace naturalism.
THERE IS A WAR GOING ON BETWEEN
GOOD AND EVIL.
Ephesians 6:12 makes it clear that there is a war going on and that we humans are involved in the conflict. The forces of evil use spiritual terrorism as a weapon against those who embrace good. Job 1 and 2 give us a picture of the battle that is taking place. Ephesians 3:9 – 11 and 6:12 spell out the conflict we are involved in. Revelation chapters 20 to 22 end the Bible with the victory picture of this battle. We live in a culture that is immersed in every form of literature in existence using this conflict to make up story after story, movie after movie, and video game after video game. Why is it that we can embrace Stephen King, Harry Potter, and literally dozens of superheroes who fight evil and deny that such a struggle does really exist?
One of the lessons we can see as we read through the Bible is that God always allows humans to choose whether they will embrace good or evil. From the Pharaoh to Judas we see villains who chose to reject God and went to great lengths to do so. When “God became flesh and lived among us” (John 1:14) there was a need to show that God had control over the spiritual. People were amazed that even spiritual beings obeyed Jesus (Mark 1:27). Demons were a tool of Satan used as a spiritual weapon to attack the power of Christ.
DEMONS WERE REAL IN THE DAYS OF CHRIST.
Demons are a New Testament phenomenon. The Hebrew word for a demon is shaidim, and it is only used twice in the entire Old Testament. In Deuteronomy 32:17 we read that Jews sacrificed to demons, but the context is that it was idols they sacrificed to. In Psalm 106:37 a similar use is made. In the time of Jesus, demons were very common, but they were varied in what they did. Notice how varied these demon possessions were:
- CHILDREN WERE POSSESSED: Matthew 17:18; Mark 7:25; and 9:24
- SOME COULD NOT SPEAK OR SEE: Matthew 12:22
- SOME HAD CONVULSIONS: Mark 1:23 – 26
- SOME WERE MENTALLY AFFLICTED: Matthew 17:14 – 18; Luke 8:26 – 33
- SOME WERE VIOLENT AND DANGEROUS: Matthew 8:28; Mark 5:1 – 5; Acts 19:13 – 16
- SOME WERE MILD AND HAD SPECIAL GIFTS: Acts 16:16 – 19
- SOME COULD BE IMPARTED TO ANIMALS: Luke 8:26 – 33
To get rid of a demon, a simple command authorized by Christ was all that was required. There was no ritual or drawn out procedure. In Acts 16:18 we read, “Paul turned and said to the spirit, ‘I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.’ ” When people tried to get rid of a demon without the authority of Christ, the result was disastrous (see Acts 19:13 – 16). Luke 9:1 tells us that Jesus gave authority to the twelve disciples and Mark 16:17 makes it clear that the purpose was to establish the authority of those who spoke for Jesus.
DEMON POSSESSION DOES NOT HAPPEN TODAY.
Here are seven reasons why demon possession is not a risk in the twenty-first century.
Demon possession violates the biblical concept of free moral choice. If an innocent age child can be possessed today, then demons can take over someone and separate him from God without them choosing to do so. That violates the whole concept of sin and God’s redemption of sinners.
The Bible makes it clear we are saved or lost by our choices. Philippians 2:12 tells us to “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.” Countless passages tell us to choose to obey God, not to pray that we will not get taken over by a demon depriving us of choice.
Prophecies indicated that demons would stop and exorcisms would no longer function. Zechariah 13:1, 2 tell us that when the Messiah would come that God “would cause the unclean spirits to pass out of the land.” First Corinthians 13:8 – 10 makes it clear that all the special gifts that were present in the days of the apostles would be done away when “that which is complete has come.” Second Timothy 3:16 – 17 tells us that what was complete was the Word of God, unavailable when demons were a factor.
Modern demon possessions and exorcisms have almost no resemblance to what we read in the Bible. I have been involved in two exorcisms, both of which lasted over two hours and both of which involved abuse of the possessed person before the desired response called “the demon coming out” was accomplished. The purpose of the exorcism was not the same as in the Bible, the methodology was completely different, and it did not last.
Nowhere are there any warnings to the early church that demon possession would be a risk to the salvation of their souls. Many other things are warned against (see Acts 20:27; Acts 20:31; 1 Corinthians 4:14; Colossians 1:28; and 2 Peter 1:3). Surely if demon possession were a risk for us, we would be warned about it.
The cures we are given for resisting Satan are not consistent with demon possession. James 4:7 tells us to resist Satan, and he will flee. Ephesians 6:12 – 18 talks about the armor God has given us to resist Satan.
Jesus was tempted in EVERY WAY as are we, and no one has ever suggested that Jesus was demon possessed. Hebrews 4:15 lets us know Jesus faced everything we face, and demon possession is not one of those things. In 1 Corinthians 10:13 God tells us that he will provide a way to escape any temptation. Romans 8:28 tells us that God will take anything Satan does to us and make something good come out of it. None of God’s promises to us match up with the threat of demon possession.
God is a rational God, and he wants us to come to him out of love and with feelings of gratitude and thanksgiving. We are to be new creatures, not just creatures purged of a perceived problem by a human not authorized by God to do so. We are told, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation” and “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.” God allows you to choose “this day whom you will serve, … But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” (Acts 2:36 – 41; and Philippians 2:12; and Joshua 24:15).
- Richard Dawkins, River Out of Eden (New York: BasicBooks, 1995), page 133.
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