Title: Jesus Gives Authority to Drive Out Evil Spirits
Text: Matthew 10:1
Date: May 3rd, 2009
We return to our verse-by-verse journey through the Book of Matthew. Before the Easter season we were starting Matthew 10:1, so we’ll begin again at that point: “He called his twelve disciples to him and gave them authority to drive out evil spirits and to heal every disease and sickness.” Next week I’ll talk more about the authority to heal Jesus gives his disciples, but this week I’ll focus on the authority he gives his disciples to cast out evil spirits or demons – or as the literal Greek text says “unclean” spirits. To many people today the whole idea of evil spirits or demons or the Devil is at very least superstition, and at worst psychologically harmful for people today. The modern explanation goes something like this: in ancient days before the advent of modern science, people used to grasp for reasons and understanding of why things happen. For example, why do some people act crazy or out of their minds or exhibit bizarre behavior, etc. The ancients came up with the explanation that spirits or demons inhabited persons and controlled their personalities, causing them to act irrationally or destructively. In order for the possessed person to return to health again they needed to be exorcized – the demons or spirits driven out. The exorcist would through some spiritual ritual drive out the evil spirits and restore the person to normal health. That was how ancient people explained mental sicknesses for which they had no other way of explaining. Today, however, with the progress of modern science, and specifically through the diagnostic tools of modern psychology and psychiatry, we no longer need a spiritual explanation to diagnose a person’s behavior. Today we can treat a person with a mental illness through counseling and if need be through medication. Thus, there is no longer any need to classify anyone with a diagnosis of possessed, nor proscribe spiritual exorcism as a treatment. In fact, it would be harmful and damaging to do so because it would only delay a more accurate and scientific diagnosis of the patient; it would only delay a more legitimate psychological or medical treatment to bring about health. That is the modern consensus opinion of possession and exorcism. Now for the Christian, the serious follower of Jesus Christ who believes that all truth is God’s truth and who seeks to believe and live according to the teaching of the Bible, the modern scientific explanation can’t be taken as the final word on the subject. The New Testament is filled with descriptions of Jesus and his disciples dealing with demon possessed persons, casting the demons out and restoring persons to health. According to Jesus, the disciples and the early Christian church, demons or evil spirits are real – and casting them out is a reality also. But because there is so much misinformation and misunderstanding surrounding this whole subject I’d like to take a few minutes to explain a few things about demon possession and exorcism. I’d like to raise three questions and then give answers.
First, what are demons? Isaiah 14:12-15, “How you have fallen from heaven, O morning star, son of the dawn! You have been cast down to the earth, you who once laid low the nations! You said in your heart, ‘I will ascend to heaven; I will raise my throne above the stars of God; I will sit enthroned on the mount of assembly, on the utmost heights of the sacred mountain. I will ascend above the tops of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.’ But you are brought down to the grave, to the depths of the pit.” Starting with the very original demon – the Devil, Satan himself, we see that he was initially an angel of God, a spiritual being who worshiped and served God along with the rest of the angelic host. But at some point in ages past he rebelled against God’s authority and through pride attempted to take for himself a position in heaven even above that of God. According to the Bible, he was able to recruit other angels in his revolt against God’s authority and as it turned out, he and the other rebellious angels were driven out of heaven by God. The New Testament book of Jude explains further: “And the angels who did not keep their positions of authority but abandoned their own home – these he (God) kept in darkness, bound with everlasting chains for judgment on the great Day,” Jude 6. We don’t have time to go into all of the details of demonology and end time eschatology (study of the events of the last days of the world). But from the two verses above, we can see that perfectly good angels rebelled against God and the other angels, to form a type of shadow kingdom of sin and evil. Demons, including the Devil himself, are fallen angels who are now bound and determined to recruit as many other creatures to join their rebellion against God. I guess their thinking is that if they can recruit enough rebellious creatures to oppose God then they might have a chance of overthrowing him and ruling everything in the place of God. This thinking is totally ridiculous because we know that in the end God and God alone will reign over everything in heaven and on earth. But nevertheless, the Devil and demons pursue their irrational and insane revolt against God by attempting to influence and control human beings on earth to do their bidding. In this way, earth and everyone on it, is caught in a gigantic battle between the forces of Good led by God and the forces of evil led by the Devil. One of the questions I have is to what extent are the radical Islamic terrorists who attack and blow themselves and other people up through explosives, to what extend are they influenced or possessed by demons? How many serial killers are really possessed of demons? And even scarier, who do I know, who do I come into contact with, who in this community is under the control of a demon? These are questions that are hard to answer for certain. But that there are fallen angels or demons in the world today, of that we can be certain.
Second, why do demons need driven out? Matthew 12:28, “But if I (Jesus) drive out demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.” The reason Jesus gave his disciples authority to drive out demons — “He called his twelve disciples to him and gave them authority to drive out evil spirits and to heal every disease and sickness,” Matthew 10:1 – is because evil spirits attach themselves to the soul or spirit of persons and thereby control the persons for sinful and evil purposes. The disciples were given authority by Jesus to cast out or cast off these evil spirits in order to free persons of their control and influence. Now according to professional exorcists within the Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox and Protestant churches, there can be different degrees of influence, control and possessions of persons by demons. On the lowest level, demons can bother people through the use of planting sinful ideas, emotions and impulses within a person. An evil thought can be made to cross a person’s mind. A violent or sinful emotion can be forced upon a person’s heart. An impulse reaction to do wrong or sin can be pushed upon a person’s body from a demon or demons. Most of these contrary and opposite influences can be resisted by the person as quickly as they come. But sometimes demons can catch a person at a particularly weak moment when their powers to resist are low and they can influence a person to sin and do wrong. If the person foolishly makes some kind of agreement or pact with the forces or powers he or she becomes aware of, there is an even greater risk of gradually giving up complete control over time to the evil spirit or spirits seeking entrance. If over a long enough time, a person continually gives in to the evil impulses of the demon or demons, the person can become possessed to the point that the evil spirit or spirits have most control over the human’s personality not the person himself. So there are different degrees of possession ranging from a mild attack to full-blown possession where the individual person no longer has control of his or her life, but is basically a slave to the demon powers who have taken over control. Why do demons need driven out? In order to free the possessed person of captivity. Jesus gives his disciples the authority to drive out demons in order to free people of an evil, outside force that would seek to enslave them for evil purposes. And most people who are possessed of demons do in fact want to be free. What usually happens, again according to exorcist experts – and there are such experts, although you don’t hear much about them — is that a person in some way, at some time, for some reason, actually invites knowingly or unknowingly the demons into his or her life. It could be a harmless flirtation with occult practices, such as the Ouja board or similar spiritualistic instrument, Séances, for example. This provides the opening for demons or evil spirits to enter a person’s life and begin to influence the person’s thoughts and actions. Usually a person senses that they are losing control of their life in some way and they want it back. Exorcism is a means by which a person can regain control of their life from demonic influences.
Third, how can demons be driven out? Luke 10:17-20, “The seventy-two returned with joy and said, ‘Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name.’ He replied, ‘I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you. However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.’” Here we clearly see that disciples of Jesus have authority over evil spirits in Jesus’ name. There is no authority in the disciple’s individual name or power; only in Jesus’ name is their power and authority to cast out demons from a person. The Great Commission of Matthew 28 says, “All authority in heaven and earth has been given to me” – that is to Jesus. The authority rests in Jesus not in his disciples. His disciples take that authority and use it in his name to fulfill their ministries on earth, including the casting out of demons among possessed persons. It’s not even enough to use “Jesus’ name” as a sort of magical hocus pocus spell to cast upon a demon-possessed person. The person using the name of Jesus must be a true believer and must be a disciple of Christ; then and only then may he or she use the name of Jesus. There’s a case in the New Testament book of Acts where some men thought they would play magic with the name of Jesus; they found out it doesn’t work that way. “Some Jews who went around driving out evil spirits tried to invoke the name of the Lord Jesus over those who were demon-possessed. They would say, ‘In the name of Jesus, whom Paul preaches, I command you to come out.’ Seven sons of Sceva, a Jewish chief priest, were dong this. One day, the evil spirit answered them, ‘Jesus I know, and I know about Paul, but who are you?’ Then the man who had the evil spirit jumped on them and overpowered them all. He gave them such a beating that they ran out of the house naked and bleeding.” A believer or follower of Jesus using the power and authority of Jesus over the evil spirits can remove demons from a possessed person. This is how the original disciples cast out demons. This is how demons are cast out of a possessed person today. Yes, there are still possessed persons who suffer today. Yes, there are persons with some degree of possession today. How many people are possessed today is hard to tell. Usually we find out about some form of demonic possession not from the person directly but from someone who knows them, a friend or family member who becomes concerned about their bizarre or strange behavior. We don’t have time to talk about the many different signs of demon possession, but usually the possessed person starts to talk or act differently. They may seek counseling for help but that usually doesn’t work, or they may simply try to solve their problem on their own which usually doesn’t help either. Finally, they contact a church for prayer or a pastor for something more than prayer, an exorcism. That’s when and where the diagnosis of demon possession can be made.
I wish I could say that Jesus and his original disciples cast out all demons so that there are no longer any left to cast out. I wish I could make such a claim, but I can’t. The sad truth is that there are still demons – how many we don’t know, where they are we don’t know either – but that there are still demons we know for sure. Hopefully, most of us will never be put in a situation where we will have to deal with one directly; it’s not a pleasant experience. Personally, I’ve seen only two or three cases where demonic possession was involved, and of these cases, I’m almost certain that one was a 100% genuine case. Around 1990 when I was doing a pastoral internship at a church in Evanston, Illinois there was a woman who attended a seminar sponsored by the church one evening who showed all the basic signs of demonic possession. The seminar was dealing with the topic of damaged emotions and how to pray for people with them, when all of a sudden in the middle of this seminar this woman jumped up from the middle of the audience of about 200 people and started screaming and yelling and ran our of the room. She exhibited very strange and bizarre behavior. When all of this happened I immediately thought of demon possession, even though I had never encountered anything like a real possessed person. Well, the woman ran from the room out into the hallway and began to rip up the rugs and make all kinds of noise. I don’t know what set her off in the meeting but something really triggered something within her that started a whole chain of events that eventually led her out in to the middle of the street in front of the church screaming and hollering. I tried to speak to her in Jesus’ name to come out of the street, to calm down, to stop screaming, etc. Unfortunately, nothing I said would stop her. Eventually, someone called the police and they came and took her to the police station because she was disturbing the peace. I wished we could have dealt with her longer. I wish we could have gotten her out of the street and spent more time with her before the police took her away. I don’t know what happened to her next, but I can guarantee that they didn’t cast a demon out of her at the police station. They probably put her in a psychiatric hospital, which I’m afraid is where most people with true demon possession are taken. They may sedate these people, but that doesn’t get to the root of their problem, which is spiritual. I wish I could have helped this woman but the situation was out of my control, especially when the police came. But something that the woman said as they were putting her in the police car made me certain that she wasn’t just crazy but was really possessed. As they were forcing her into the police car she kept saying out loud, “My brothers are the kings. My brothers are the kings.” That sounds like the kind of things possessed people say. Satan has a counterfeit kingdom, a shadow kingdom, in a pitiful effort to copy the pattern of God only for bad. If she were possessed, her “brothers” or demons could very well be “kings” in this evil shadow kingdom operating under the control and power of the counterfeit and false king of kings, Satan. As disciples of Jesus we have power and authority over all of these false kings in their false kingdom. If we need to, if we have the opportunity, time, and occasion we should cast these fallen spirits out of people – only we should not try to do it alone, but only with other brothers and sisters in Christ as a group, and preferably with those who are mature in the Lord.