Friday, March 7, 2008

Authority of Jesus – Part 2

Top of the day to you (that's my best Irish accent, as St. Patrick's Day is approaching.) I thought I would deal with a challenging subject for this post: Demons, Evil and Unclean Spirits. In the Gospels we see that Jesus dealt repeatedly with these forces of evil. I count Jesus having six separate encounters casting out and rebuking demons in the Gospel of Matthew alone. In the Book of Acts, the Apostles also have stories where they encounter, cast out and rebuke these forces of evil. So today's post looks at Jesus' authority over demons, evil spirits, and unclean spirits, and whether or not Jesus has provided His authority over these evil beings to His followers in 21st century America.

What does Jesus have authority over? It is clear from Matthew 28:18 that Jesus Christ, the Son of God has authority over all things:

Matthew 28:18 - And Jesus came and said to them, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.

The Messiah having this kind of power was prophesied about in Daniel chapter 7, where Daniel wrote: "to the Son of Man was given dominion… his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away." (Daniel 7:14-15).

There are also a number of other references to the Authority of Jesus (this is a great topic study, if you have the time):

  • All things handed over to Jesus (Matthew 11:27);
  • The Father loves the Son and has given all things into his hand (John 3:35);
  • God has put all things in subjection under his feet (1 Cor. 15:27; Eph. 1:22; Hebrews 2:8);
  • At his name every knee should bow (Phil. 2:10);
  • It was given to him authority to execute judgment (John 5:27).

Jesus healed many people from being tormented by demons and evil spirits. As examples of Jesus' freeing people are the following verses:

  • He healed many people of diseases and plagues and evil spirits (Luke 7:21);
  • When evening had come, they brought to Him many who were demon-possessed. And He cast out the spirits with a word (Matt. 8:16);
  • Two demon possessed men at Gergesenes who were cast out by Jesus into a herd of swine (Matt. 8:28-:34/See Mark 5:2/Luke 8:29);
  • He healed a demon possessed man causing him to be blind and mute (Matt. 12:22-30);
  • He healed Canaanite woman's severely demon-possessed daughter (Matt. 15:22-28);
  • He healed a man's son who suffered from epileptic seizures caused by a demon that the apostles could not remove (Matt. 17:14-:18);
  • Other examples are also contained in Mark and Luke. And so, one of Jesus' main ministries was to free people from being tormented by demons and evil spirits.

Jesus gave his authority over demons to the apostles:

  • And when He had called His twelve disciples to Him,
    He gave them power over unclean spirits, to cast them out (Matt. 10:1);
  • Peter and the apostles healed all those with unclean spirits (Acts 5:16);
  • Phillip cast out and healed those who were possessed by unclean spirits (Acts 8:7);
  • Paul cast out evil spirit in a fortune teller (Acts 16:18);
  • Even Paul's handkerchiefs and aprons cast out and healed people from evil spirits (Acts 19:11-:16);

Jesus gave authority over demons to the additional 72 followers of Jesus:

  • The seventy-two returned with joy and said, "Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name." 18 He replied, "I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. 19 I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you. 20 However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven." (Luke 10:17-19)

Our enemy is not people of different views, ideologies, or religions. Instead, our only enemy are the spiritual enemies around us (Eph 6:12 - For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.)


So do we in 21st century America have this same authority that the apostles were given over demons and evil spirits? My answer is I don't know, this is one issue that is hard to be certain of. But God's Word says that Jesus has all authority in heaven and on earth (Matt. 28:10). And if it is Jesus' authority that demons fear, then we may have the same authority given by Jesus to the 72 followers of Jesus in Luke 10:17. The 72 followers of Christ described in Luke 10:17-19 were not super-Christians. They did not have special powers – they were not special exorcists. They were simply people who called Jesus their Lord and Savior, and it was Jesus' authority that did the rest. And because Jesus' authority has not changed, it seems that we also can use this power for God's glory.

How do we fight our enemy? First, we have the full armor of God described in Ephesians 6:10-18. Start also with prayer, ask God for discernment of what is from God and what is from the enemy. Next, use the name of Jesus and His authority through stern words (Luke 4:35), with rebukes (Mark 1:25), and sometimes even with prayer and fasting (Mark 9:29). Perhaps this is what James meant when he said that we should submit to God and resist the enemy (James 4:7). There is also power in God's Word, by remembering verses and even saying them aloud. If you are feeling overwhelmed with the battles that you facing, it may be a spiritual battle you are facing. Our enemies are not the people around us, but instead our enemies are the unseen evil forces around us (Ephesians 6:12). So the next time you sense evil spiritual forces attacking you or your family, try something new and get into the spiritual battle with the weapons and armor that the Lord has provided. God please be with us in the battles we are facing.


Bryan & Meggan said...

I recently was looking into this topic and something I came upon was the fact that Christians are never commanded to "rebuke", or "bind", or "cast out" Satan and his demons. Rather, we are merely told to "resist" them (Eph. 6:13; Jas. 4:7; 1 Pet 5:9). And it is interesting to note that those passages where we are told to "resist" don't concentrate on particular techniques or formulas for spiritual battle. Rather, they focus on the character of the Christian.

It seems that while demonic oppression can occur to anyone, demonic possession can only occur in unbelievers. Which means that the greatest antidote to demonic influence is the preaching of and the trusting in the Gospel.

Just some food for thought.


tom wolff said...

Hey Bryan, thanks for your response and giving us your thoughts on Christians dealing with the forces of evil in our world. You noted that we should resist the enemy, but you also thought that because there was no specific command for believers to rebuke or command demons then perhaps we should stay away from this. In the interest of bringing clarity to an issue above agreement (you are a fan of Dennis Prager, right ), let me ask a few questions:

First, Jesus was attacked by Satan in the desert. Now Jesus was not “possessed” by Satan, only attacked. Do you think it is possible for believers in today’s Church to be similarly attacked or tormented, yet not possessed, by spiritual forces of evil?
And do you really believe there are demons or any sort of evil spirits in today’s world? Now I hope you don’t read this question as an attack. I am also trying to sort through the topic, and I have a growing understanding of biology, genes, and DNA, and their impact on the lives of people. So perhaps all of the challenges that people go through can be attributed to biology. But I think this isn't the whole picture. Instead, I think we can be aware of the impact of biology on us, but to also be aware of the spiritual. And so, do you think it makes sense to use the double-barrel shotgun when facing these challenges: use medication/counseling to battle the natural forces of disease, etc., while also using the spiritual forces of the armor and weapons that Jesus’ authority has provided to us when facing spiritual evil.

Finally, if there are demons / evil, unclean spirits in today’s world, you suggested we “resist” the enemy, and stay away from any magical/mystical techniques (these are my words, not yours). This is a good recommendation but how should we do this? The Gospel message is always a great starting point. But what about for the already born-again believer who is being tormented? The believer who has accepted the Good News of Jesus Christ will not receive much more comfort from hearing the Gospel again. Instead, shouldn’t we follow the examples of Jesus Himself and the Apostles in how they dealt with demons? I count a total of 17 encounters in the Gospels that Jesus had with demons or evil spirits. And the Apostles had 6 encounters themselves. And in each case when spiritual forces of evil were met, they were easily dealt with through commands or rebukes, because of Jesus’ name and authority. When there are SOOOO many examples in God’s Word, shouldn’t we pay special attention? Aren’t we being wise when we follow the examples set before us by Jesus and the Apostles if we are confronted by our enemy?

Thanks again for the interesting discussion.

Bryan & Meggan said...

Hey Tom,
Sorry if I wasn't too clear. By no means am I denying the existence of demons and demonic influence. In fact, I wholeheartedly believe that demonic possession (of unbelievers) still occurs today (though I think it is a rarer thing than some think)! Moreover, I wholeheartedly believe that Christians can be under some sort of “attack” from demonic influence. I didn’t mean to deny any of that by what I wrote.

In addition to that, I wasn’t trying to say that we shouldn’t be involved in these spiritual battles. Rather, I was just trying to raise a question in our minds regarding what that involvement looks like for 21st century, post-apostolic believers. It is not as if there is a list of things to go through to get rid of demonic influence.

As far as the counseling issue goes, for those being affected by demons in some way there is no one better to go to than a mature Christian. If they only thought they were affected by demons when they really weren’t, then the counselor should try to biblically diagnose what is behind the motivation for that belief. If it requires medical help then get that help, but the counseling never stops there. The counselor’s goal is to get the counselee to think biblically about their situation, whatever that may be. To think unbiblically of a situation (in any area) is to be in sin. So, in that vein of thought, those affected by demons are to be counseled to think biblically about their situation.

Regarding the believer’s actively fending of demonic activity, I have to admit I am still putting together the puzzle in my theology. I agree that the Gospel is the starting place. In fact, I would argue that the only antidote to demonic possession is faith in the Gospel, otherwise after “losing” a demon, a person is worse off than better off if they were to reject the Gospel (Matthew 12:43ff). And for a believer affected by demonic activity, the only example of commands (i.e. non-narrative examples) I’ve found is in regard to the Christian’s obedience and character, rather than the Christian’s full frontal assault against the demonic power.

In a class at the seminary where we briefly covered this topic there were a few suggested conclusions on how the Church today is to deal with demonic forces, so here are a few of them summarized:

First of all, this is the Lord’s work and not ours. Looking at Jude 9 even the angel Michael called upon the Lord when interacting with the devil rather than confronting him by himself. By way of application, when attacked by demonic forces the Christian is to call upon the Lord for help rather than do solo battle with the demonic forces.

Secondly, only unbelievers can be possessed by demons. This is making a distinction between “possession” and “oppression”. If one is possessed by the Holy Spirit, then one cannot be possessed by demons (cf. Col. 1:13)

Thirdly, believers are not immune to demonic temptation and opposition. Job obviously went through this. Paul had this to some degree (2 Cor. 12:7). And as you pointed out, even Jesus went through this (Mark 1:13).

Fourthly, God sometimes uses Satan/demons as an instrument of judgment or chastisement. Saul was tormented by an evil spirit sent from the Lord (1 Sam. 16:14). Paul says to hand the immoral believer “over to Satan” (1 Cor. 5:1-5). Paul actively handed Hymenaeus and Alexander over to Satan “to be taught not to blaspheme” (1 Tim. 1:18-20). So Satan/demons can be used by God in both the believer’s and unbeliever’s life.

Again, I’m still trying to put all of the pieces together myself, but the philosophy I’ve sort of adopted for now is that judging by the focus of Scripture, while I am to be aware of demonic forces, my own focus as a believer is to primarily be on my sanctification, other’s salvation, and the purity of the Church.

Hope that clarifies for you!


P.S. I do respect Prager’s opinion on any issue he speaks to, though I don’t agree with him on everything. When I have the chance to listen to him (which is rare these days) the thing I enjoy the most from him is his commitment to clarity. It brings a fresh breath of air to my mind that is constantly pummeled with those who celebrate confusion (i.e. Emerging types, liberal theologians, nonjudgmental postmodern types, etc.)

tom wolff said...

Vey good, Bryan. Thanks for the additonal comments and the summary from your Seminary class.

tom wolff said...

Here is a scary example of demonic activity reported in the New Oxford Review. Levitation of the person, of other objects, abnormal strength, cold room, etc. - it all sounds like the 'Exorcism' movie. Here is the link: