While my family and I were in Romania, an Orthodox priest made the news because he was trying to exorcise a “demon” from a girl. As a part of the “exorcism” ritual, he had stuffed some type of cloth into her mouth. As a result of the whole process, the girl died. I do not know how the Orthodox Church and her members reacted to all of that.
Books and movies about demons and evil spirits might be great story-telling, but the danger is always that we will get our theology from the movies and TV shows we watch rather than letting God’s Word inform us relative to spiritual matters.
Let’s take a look at demon possession in Mark 5:1-20 and see what we can learn about it.
What Are “Unclean Spirits” (Mark 5:1-2)?
There are two ideas relative to what unclean spirits or demons are. One idea is that they are the evil spirits of dead (evil) men. Those who believe this idea use the example here in Mark 5 as support. I do not know if there is anything theologically wrong with that idea. But, it seems to me that a stronger case can be made that demons are evil spirits or wicked angels who have followed Satan in his rebellion against the God of heaven. I find strong support for this position in the words of Jesus in Matthew 25:41 where He says that hell was prepared “for the devil and his angels.”
What Can Demons Do (Mark 5:3-7)?
There are seven specific examples of demon possession in the life of Jesus (Mark 1:21-28; 5:1-20; 7:24-30; 9:14-29; 16:9; Matthew 9:32-34; 12:22-37) and two in the book of Acts (16:16-18; 19:12-16). There are eight references to demons after the book of Acts, but no references to demon possession.
When we summarize the behavior of demons, we see that they could do some harm to their human hosts but never killed them, and they never used their hosts to kill someone else. They did cause some physical ailments but demon possession was a separate issue. This account, in Mark 5, shows us that demons could have supernatural strength.
What about Today (Mark 5:8-13)?
One of the burning questions that people have today is whether God allows demon possession today. When Jesus sent out His apostles and disciples during His earthly ministry, He gave them power to cast out demons (Luke 10:1-20). Look at Mark 16:17-20 to see a specific context of the apostles casting out demons. Those last two verses help us understand that demon possession served a special purpose in the ministry of Jesus and in the early years of the church, a purpose that the Bible itself now fulfills (cf. Jude 3).
Why Did God Allow Demon Possession (Mark 5:14-20)?
As with all miracles, demon possession served a general purpose: to prove that man was teaching the truth about God (John 20:30-31).
In Luke 11:20, Jesus showed that His power over demons proved that the Messianic Kingdom was about to be established. The unclean spirit was going to pass out of the land (cf. Zechariah 13:1-2). I think this is the specific purpose of unclean spirits and demon possession. It shows us in a graphic way that Jesus is more powerful than Satan (1 John 3:8; John 12:31).
Now, to say that demon possession no longer exists today does not mean that Satan and his angels are no longer active today. The devil works primarily through deception (cf. 2 Corinthians 11:13-14; 2 Thessalonians 2:9-10). The only defense we have against Satan is to rely on the truth and stay closely with the truth. While Satan is still active today, Christ is more powerful. We can be “more than conquerors” through Him (Romans 8:37).
Copyright © 2014 by Paul Holland, in Droplets of Living Water, November 26.