Just what exactly does our Bible says about Exorcism?
First and foremost, it should be stressed that the expulsions performed by Jesus are not called exorcisms in the New Testament, and that in contrast to typical exorcisms in pagan and even Jewish lit. They were devoid of magical formulas, devices, and invocations…
Our Lord’s authoritative commands were an expression of his absolute victory over real demons and workers of evil. Back then and forever forward.
In this miracle, (Matthew 8:28-34; Mark 5:1-20; and Luke 8:26-39), Jesus Christ commands unclean spirits to come out of two men. Demons must obey Jesus even if people do not. Even so, the demons do not obey Christ’s command immediately. They object, unwilling to abandon their victims.
Christ could have compelled them to come out of the men immediately if He had wished, but the men may not have been able to survive the exorcism on their own strength.
In a separate incident, Mark 9:26-27 informs us, “Then the spirit [one demon] cried out, convulsed him greatly, and came out of him. And he became as one dead, so that many said, ‘He is dead.’ But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him up, and he arose.”
Here, the exorcism had induced convulsions in the man as a single demon left him. Both exorcisms were under Christ’s control; He used His great power but with wise, gentle, and cautious concern.
Jesus addresses the men as if they are possessed by a single spirit, but the demon’s answer, giving his name as “Legion,” shows that he led a company of demons. Mark records that the swine that the demons entered after their exorcism numbered about two thousand (Mark 5:13).
If this was the number inhabiting the two men—each with its own personality, all under the power of one will, animated by one purpose and united in operation—then the plight of the two men must have been horrific in the extreme.
There is great power in the Word of God (Proverbs 30:5). It can transform a person dramatically (Luke 4:4), working mightily in those who have faith in Christ (I Thessalonians 2:13). No one could have as big a problem as these men possessed by a legion of demons.
The world tried many ways to restrain and control the two demon-possessed men in Gadara, but the only effective solution was God’s power through Christ. Man’s idea was to start on the outside with chains and other bonds, but Jesus began on the inside with the Word of God, which is not chained (II Timothy 2:9).
Using their various “programs” to deal with evil, people only treat the symptoms. The best they can do is whitewash the outside. Christ corrects the problem at the source. So Christ is the solution, the remedy for the sin. He cleans out the inside, which is the best way to correct the problem on the outside.
When we study and accept the Word of God, we draw closer to the One who can give us access to the knowledge and power to conquer our spiritual enemy. Hebrews 4:12-13 reads:
The day of accountability is coming—at Christ’s return with power and authority—when all people, as well as Satan and all his demons, will be forced to submit to the Word of God (Revelation 19:11-16).
The well-known parables in Matthew 13 are given in response to the circumstances and events in Matthew 12. The initiating event was a confrontation that began with Jesus healing a demon-possessed blind-mute (verse 22). He established His authority as the One who had power and dominion.
Everything that transpires from this point sets the stage for the subsequent parables, and this context is critical for grasping why Jesus spoke these parables. After the miraculous healing, many wondered if He might be the Son of David (verse 23), the One who would restore the Kingdom.
However, the Pharisees, in their usual defiance, attributed the healing to the power of Satan (verse 24).
Jesus responds that, if exorcism manifested Satan’s power, then the Pharisees must admit that their “sons” (disciples) were likewise in league with the Devil, for they were doing the same thing (verse 27). But if God’s Spirit had performed the exorcism, then the Kingdom of God—the dominion of God—had come upon them (verse 28).
He could rob the demon of its possession only if He bound it first, showing that He had authority over the spirit realm (verse 29). There is no neutrality; a person is aligned either with God’s dominion or with Satan (verse 30).
He continues His unwelcome correction by contrasting Himself with them. After warning about blaspheming the Holy Spirit (verses 31-32), Jesus draws on the principle of examining fruit to determine whether a tree is good or bad (verse 33). He calls His opponents a “brood of vipers,” saying that their blasphemy proved the evil within (verses 34-37).
Since the people expected a conquering king to come and restore the Kingdom to its former glory, Jesus’ assertion that the authority of heaven was working through Him challenged the current leadership. The scribes and Pharisees ask Him for a sign—some proof of His claim—prompting Christ’s words about the sign of Jonah (verses 38-42).
His answer focuses on the timing of His death and resurrection, which only the Most High could bring to pass. It also includes the example of a major Gentile city that repented at the preaching of Jonah, while the current “Kingdom of God” would not repent at the preaching of One greater.
He also refers to the “queen of the South” (Sheba) who came to hear the wisdom of the man sitting on the Lord’s throne, yet He was greater than Solomon—not only in wisdom, but also because Solomon’s throne belonged to Him!
Jesus follows this with another lesson, warning that unless something positive replaces the evil that is cast out, the former evil—and worse—will return (verses 43-45). He foretells that this would happen “with this wicked generation” (verse 45).
All the repentance, baptisms, healings, and exorcisms that had been taking place would do no good if the people did not make their lives inhospitable to the evil influences.
In verses 46-50, Jesus teaches that flesh-and-blood family is of less importance than the spiritual Family, which He defines as those who do the Father’s will (or those “who hear the word of God and do it”; Luke 8:21). The matters of parentage and family relations came up frequently during Christ’s ministry (for example, John 8:39-59).
Because the Jews felt secure in their position before God because of their physical descent from Abraham. Though not obvious, His clarification of “family” in spiritual terms appears throughout the parables of Matthew 13, as Jesus contrasts Abraham’s physical descendants with his spiritual ones.
Jesus walked with His disciples from Bethsaida to the neighborhood of Caesarea Philippi. Six to eight days later, Jesus went up into a high mountain to pray, taking Peter, James, and John with Him and leaving His other nine disciples behind. There He was transfigured before the three.
Meanwhile in the valley, the remaining nine disciples failed to cast out a demon from a young boy. Descending the day following His transfiguration, Christ healed the demoniac boy.
The failure of the nine disciples had given the scribes fuel for criticism of both the disciples and Christ. When Christ arrived on the scene, the scribes were being critically disruptive about the failure. The scribes were not known for their questioning as much as for their refuting and disputing.
“Questioning” (KJV) or “disputing” (NKJV) in Mark 9:14 is translated from a Greek word that implies confuting, that is, attempting to disprove or deny.
The success of Christ, however, countered the failure of the disciples, shutting the mouths of the critical scribes. His coming upon this scene of dispute, chaos, and darkness must have been an incredible contrast to the honor, power, and glory that He had just experienced on the mountain in the Transfiguration.
The sights and sounds that met Him on His return to the sinful world must have disturbed Him.
The gospels record the boy’s horrible symptoms: severe convulsions, foaming at the mouth, grinding of the teeth, and general rigidity of body. Due to sudden attacks, he often fell into the fire and into the water. Another overwhelming symptom was deafness and dumbness.
He could utter only inarticulate sounds, though he possessed all the necessary organs for speech. All of his problems came as the result of his miserable, possessed condition, and they left him so emaciated that all life seemed to be draining from him.
Yet, nothing is too hard for Jesus Christ to conquer, no matter how powerful a demon seems to be. After rebuking the faithless and perverse generation, including the scribes and Pharisees, Jesus rebukes the demon, and it departs from him (Matthew 17:18; Mark 9:20, 25-27; Luke 9:42; see Zechariah 3:2).
The demon dares not disobey Jesus’ order not to re-enter because it recognizes His authority over it.
From then on, the boy is free of the demon. Jesus takes the boy’s hand and delivers him to his father, bringing calmness, peace, and order in place of the disruption that preceded the exorcism. His spiritual power to heal had overcome the demonic force that caused the boy to suffer.
The demon invaded the man’s mind, overriding his conscious personality, which allowed the unclean spirit to speak through him (Mark 5:7). Knowing that God’s Son would come in the flesh to save humanity, and that God is raising first fruits for His Family among humanity, the demons resentfully lust for victory over people.
Though God mercifully limits demon possession, He often allows demons to influence people heavily, as seen in the unclean spiritual condition of this society. Thus, Christians must beware of worldly relationships (II Corinthians 6:15-18).
Jesus commands the demon to leave, giving it a short, direct order backed by God’s authority. He does not rebuke the man, because the unclean spirit had possessed him, yet each of us must resist the influence of demons (I Peter 5:8-9). Jesus tells the demon, “Hold your peace,” which actually means “be gagged or muzzled,” a phrase He also uses to calm the storm in Mark 4:39.
The unclean spirit does not speak again, but obeys in rage and anguish.
By his own power or authority, no man can cast out demons. Even the archangel Michael, not daring to revile Satan, called on the power and authority of God to rebuke him (Jude 9), setting a right example for us. Similarly, in rebuking the “spirit of divination” at Philippi, Paul says, “I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her” (Acts 16:18).
Because of Christ’s authority in performing this miracle, the people in the synagogue are “amazed,” a word meaning “to stupefy” and “to dumbfound or flabbergast.” They express their astonishment in questions: “What is this? What new doctrine is this?” (Mark 1:27), as well as by immediately rushing away to tell everyone they can.
The word translated “amazed” also can mean “to terrify” and “to be frightened.” The people are not only astounded but also fearful of God’s power through Jesus.
The focus of the testimony is on how Jesus exorcises the demon: simply by His command, which shows the power of God’s Word. Contemporary Jewish doctrine for casting out demons was much different, as exorcists among them sometimes appeared to cast out demons by prayers or chants.
Christ, however, does not cajole or request demons to leave, but authoritatively commands them to come out. The world has its weak and useless methods to appease evil and entice it to surrender, but Christ commands its defeat.
First, the exorcism left the men with a new posture, that of sitting and resting, in direct contrast to the constant roaming and wandering about the tombs and mountains and wilderness day and night. Christ says in Matthew 11:28, “Come to me, all you that labor and are heavy burdened, and I will give you rest.”
A problem of sin is discontentment, the lack of peace and rest (Isaiah 57:20-21). However, that all changed when Christ entered the lives of the demon-possessed men to deliver them from the evil adversary.
Second, before the exorcism, the possessed men want nothing to do with Christ, but afterward a tremendous change in attitude occurs: The delivered men want to go with Christ out of reverence and respect for their “Savior.” Jesus, though, has something else in mind: It is more important that they witness to others of what happened.
Jesus instructs His disciples, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me” (Luke 9:23). A man may want to follow Jesus physically, but Jesus wants him to take up his cause for Him.
Third, before their deliverance they wear no clothes, yet afterwards they are clothed (Luke 8:27, 35). Sin makes people shameless and immodest, a natural development due to their separation from the righteous God. The men’s spiritual cleanness is indicated by visible changes; modesty, cleanliness, and appearance improve, as it does when anyone is delivered by Christ.
Wherever God’s truth is received, people’s morals improve, reflected in modest clothing.
Fourth, they regain their sanity. Fools, not wise men, reject God (Psalm 14:1), and sin invites Satan into a person’s mind. Ultimately, his influence causes madness. Jesus explains: “When an unclean spirit goes out of a man, he goes through dry places, seeking rest; and finding none, he says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’
And when he comes, he finds it swept and put in order” (Luke 11:24-25). When a demon is removed, a person’s mind is cleaned of chaos and made orderly. To avoid being possessed again, he needs to replace what was swept out with God’s Spirit and truth.
Fifth, the words “right mind” (Mark 5:15; Luke 8:35) suggest the controlling of thoughts and actions, so it indicates, not only sanity, but also self-control. The demons in the men are uncontrollable (“neither could anyone tame him,” Mark 5:4), but when Jesus comes, they recognize God’s authority over them.
Evil people cannot control their desires, and society cannot control them, so crime rages on. Living God’s way of life as revealed in the life of Christ is the answer. God provides the right mind to produce the fruit of the Spirit, including self-control (Galatians 5:23).
Jesus instructs the healed man to tell people about his deliverance, particularly those who were familiar and intimate with him. He wants him to be an example of God’s grace, first among his own family and friends, so that they can come to repentance.
A Christian is first responsible for witnessing to those closest to him, who will see the greatest difference in him as he lives God’s way of life.