The books of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John record Jesus’ life and ministry on earth. They tell how He became human, preached about the coming Kingdom of God, did many miracles, was crucified and rose from the dead to return to heaven.
Many of these stories about Jesus mention His confrontation with spiritual powers. Let me quote a few:
- Mark 1:12-13, at the start of Jesus’ ministry: “The Spirit immediately drove Him [=Jesus] out into the wilderness. And He was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan.” The other gospels provide more details here, but Mark’s summary suffices to show us that Satan (God’s enemy, also called the devil) tried to tempt Jesus into sin, which would have disqualified Him from being the Savior of humanity. So, right at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, there was an attempt by spiritual forces to hinder God’s salvation plan. (There had already been other attempts before the start of Jesus’ ministry). But this attempt failed.
- In the same chapter, verses 21-28 describe Jesus’ encounter with a demon possessed man. “And they went into Capernaum, and immediately on the Sabbath He entered the synagogue and was teaching. And they were astonished at His teaching, for He taught them as one who had authority, and not as the scribes. And immediately there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit. And he cried out, What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are-the Holy One of God. But Jesus rebuked him, saying, Be silent, and come out of him! And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying out with a loud voice, came out of him. And they were all amazed, so that they questioned among themselves, saying, What is this? A new teaching with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him. And at once his fame spread everywhere throughout all the surrounding region of Galilee.”
This story teaches us some important lessons. First, Jesus had the power to silence and drive out demons. Second, these demons knew who He was and feared their own destruction. Third, we read that the evil spirit was “convulsing” / “tearing” / “shaking” the man. Spirits not from God will try to make you a slave and in the end will kill you. Fourth, Jesus’ dealing with the unclean spirit made people aware that He was not an ordinary human.
- A few verses later, Mark summarizes: “And He healed many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons. And He would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew Him” (Mark 1:34). Many people were set free from unclean spirits. So, the previous narrative was just one example of Jesus’ supernatural power over demons.
This is just the first chapter of Mark’s gospel. Later chapters and the other gospels provide many more examples. Apparently, Jesus’ battle with spiritual powers was an important part of His ministry. Why?
Jesus came to destroy the devil’s work
God created the world good. But Satan came to destroy creation. He tempted the first humans into sin, and the consequences were disastrous. However, God promised Adam and Eve that one day, their offspring would crush Satan’s head. Satan’s dominion would not last forever. Centuries later, God the Son became human, and in that sense was a descendant of Adam and Eve. He was the one to conquer Satan. He would take back His creation and destroy His enemy. 1 John 3:8 makes this point clear: “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil.”
Satan and his servants, the demons, were aware of these facts. For they know God, and they know about His salvation plans for creation. Therefore, they shudder when this salvation plan unfolds! (see James 2:19). Satan has tried really hard to prevent his own downfall. He tried to kill Jesus as a baby (Matthew 2:13-18). He tried to tempt Jesus into sin at the start of His ministry (Mark 1:12-13, Luke 4:1-13). He stirred up the religious leaders and one of Jesus’ disciples to kill Him (Luke 22:1-6). But nothing Satan did, could stop Jesus from fulfilling His task.
Against this background, we can understand why Jesus cast out demons. They were His adversaries! It also explains why so many demons cried out to Jesus. They felt threatened by Him – and rightly so, for “having disarmed the [spiritual] powers and authorities, He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross” (Colossians 2:15, NIV).
Jesus showed His power and authority
In Mark 1:27-28, we read about the people’s response to Jesus’ confrontation with an evil spirit: “And they were all amazed, so that they questioned among themselves, saying, What is this? A new teaching with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him. And at once his fame spread everywhere throughout all the surrounding region of Galilee”. Jesus later told His disciples, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” (Matthew 28:18). This claim was supported by the miracles He did, including those where He had authority over demons.
Jesus saved people
When Jesus met people, He had compassion on them and showed them God’s goodness, “healing every disease and every affliction among the people” (Matthew 4:23). Being possessed by demons is mentioned as such an “affliction”: “They brought Him all the sick, those afflicted with various diseases and pains, those oppressed by demons, those having seizures, and paralytics, and He healed them” (Matthew 4:24). Various Bible stories show that people can indeed suffer greatly from the demons dwelling in them. Let me quote a few:
- “And behold, a Canaanite woman from that region came out and was crying, Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon.” (Matthew 15:22)
- “And when they came to the crowd, a man came up to Him and, kneeling before Him, said, Lord, have mercy on my son, for he has seizures and he suffers terribly. For often he falls into the fire, and often into the water. And I brought him to your disciples, and they could not heal him. And Jesus answered, O faithless and twisted generation, how long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you? Bring him here to Me. And Jesus rebuked the demon, and it came out of him, and the boy was healed instantly.” (Matthew 17:14-18)
- “They came to the other side of the sea, to the country of the Gerasenes. And when Jesus had stepped out of the boat, immediately there met him out of the tombs a man with an unclean spirit. He lived among the tombs. And no one could bind him anymore, not even with a chain, for he had often been bound with shackles and chains, but he wrenched the chains apart, and he broke the shackles in pieces. No one had the strength to subdue him. Night and day among the tombs and on the mountains he was always crying out and cutting himself with stones. And when he saw Jesus from afar, he ran and fell down before Him. And crying out with a loud voice, he said, What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I adjure you by God, do not torment me. For He was saying to him, Come out of the man, you unclean spirit!” (Mark 5:1-8)
Having an evil spirit will destroy life and therefore those who have evil spirits need healing. And Jesus wants to set people free!
Jesus announced God’s coming Kingdom
The miracles Jesus did were not only meant to relieve the suffering from the people there and then. They were also signs of His coming Kingdom. His healings indicate that there will be no more illness in His new world. When Jesus raised the dead (see Luke 7:14-15; 8:52-55; John 11:43-44), this was a sign that death will be no more (Revelation 21:4). In a similar way, Jesus showed that the evil spirits and demons will be cast out. There is no place for them in God’s Kingdom (Revelation 20:10). For in God’s new world, evil and its consequences will be gone forever. Then Jesus’ victory over Satan and his demons will be final and complete!
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Relevance for present day believers
Even today people can be bound by Satan. Sometimes it is because they have given Satan opportunities to influence their life. Sometimes people have been infected by people from their immediate social environment. However, we know that all spirits will flee at the name of Jesus. When we take shelter in His blood, we are safe.
When we think about this subject we can be subject to two pitfalls. The first is that we give the devil too much power and are always afraid of his influences in our lives and never feel completely free by the blood of Jesus. The other pitfall is that we actually do not believe in the power that the devil still has. Satan is real and strong. But Jesus is infinitely stronger! (1 John 4:4)