Demons and Evil Spirits. Bible Question.
“Would please answer a question on demons and evil spirits? The popularity of supernatural and vampire themed TV shows/movies (often violent) has piqued the interests of our teens. With the appeal of the occult and with it being the Halloween season, we are confused. As described in the New Testament, are demons and evil spirits different, or the same? Was this just a disease? Or a mental disorder? Or was it some ‘outside’ influence? And are there demons or evil spirits in people today?”
Much about the evil spirits remains obscure, but there are some things we can know. Let us first note two passages that deal with this subject.
They went into Capernaum; and immediately on the Sabbath He entered the synagogue and began to teach. They were amazed at His teaching; for He was teaching them as one having authority, and not as the scribes. Just then there was a man in their synagogue with an unclean spirit; and he cried out, saying, “What business do we have with each other, Jesus of Nazareth? Have You come to destroy us? I know who You are—the Holy One of God!” And Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be quiet, and come out of him!” Throwing him into convulsions, the unclean spirit cried out with a loud voice and came out of him. They were all amazed, so that they debated among themselves, saying, “What is this? A new teaching with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey Him.” Immediately the news about Him spread everywhere into all the surrounding district of Galilee.
– Mark 1:21 – 28 (New American Standard Bible)
They came to the other side of the sea, into the country of the Gerasenes. When He got out of the boat, immediately a man from the tombs with an unclean spirit met Him, and he had his dwelling among the tombs. And no one was able to bind him anymore, even with a chain; because he had often been bound with shackles and chains, and the chains had been torn apart by him and the shackles broken in pieces, and no one was strong enough to subdue him. Constantly, night and day, he was screaming among the tombs and in the mountains, and gashing himself with stones.
Seeing Jesus from a distance, he ran up and bowed down before Him; and shouting with a loud voice, he said, “What business do we have with each other, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I implore You by God, do not torment me!” For He had been saying to him, “Come out of the man, you unclean spirit!” And He was asking him, “What is your name?” And he said to Him, “My name is Legion; for we are many.” And he began to implore Him earnestly not to send them out of the country.
Now there was a large herd of swine feeding nearby on the mountain. The demons implored Him, saying, “Send us into the swine so that we may enter them.” Jesus gave them permission. And coming out, the unclean spirits entered the swine; and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the sea, about two thousand of them; and they were drowned in the sea.
Their herdsmen ran away and reported it in the city and in the country. And the people came to see what it was that had happened. They came to Jesus and observed the man who had been demon-possessed sitting down, clothed and in his right mind, the very man who had had the “legion”; and they became frightened.
Those who had seen it described to them how it had happened to the demon-possessed man, and all about the swine. And they began to implore Him to leave their region. As He was getting into the boat, the man who had been demon-possessed was imploring Him that he might accompany Him. And He did not let him, but He said to him, “Go home to your people and report to them what great things the Lord has done for you, and how He had mercy on you.” And he went away and began to proclaim in Decapolis what great things Jesus had done for him; and everyone was amazed.
– Mark 5:2 – 7
There are many other passages that deal with this subject, but let us first look closely at the two above. These passages show that some people, in the first century, were “possessed” by evil or unclean spirits. These evil spirits were also called “demons”. There seems to be no distinction between the two terms. These demons derived their power from Satan, the devil (Matthew 12:24 – 28; James 2:19).
The evil spirits had supernatural knowledge, recognizing, without being told, that Jesus was the Son of God long before even the apostles did. These evil spirits also had supernatural strength, as witness the events in Mark 5. Having supernatural power (from Satan), it took supernatural power (from God) to overcome these evil spirits. Jesus, while He was here on earth, liberated many people who were possessed by evil spirits. He also gave the apostles power over them (Matthew 10:1).
The evil spirits (in the passages above) used the body of a man to speak and act; but the evil spirit was in control. The man was “sick”, certainly, but it was not any ordinary sickness as we know such today. It was not a physical, nor mental illness. Neither sickness or mental illness would make it possible for one who had never heard of Jesus to recognize Him as the Son of God. But the evil spirits always did (Mark 1:24; Mark 5:7; Luke 4:41; etc.). They were always conscious of God’s power over them (Mark 5:9 – 13; Acts 16:16 – 18; Acts 19:13 -16), and were in constant fear of eternal torment (James 2:19; Matthew 25:41).
An interesting prophecy is found in Zechariah 13:1, 2 . . .
In that day a fountain will be opened for the house of David and for the inhabitants of Jerusalem, for sin and for impurity.“It will come about in that day,” declares the Lord of hosts, “that I will cut off the names of the idols from the land, and they will no longer be remembered; and I will also remove the prophets and the unclean spirit from the land.
Notice that prophecy would end, and so would the power of the evil spirit, when the fountain for sin and impurity was opened. This obviously refers to the time of Christ, and His death on the cross.
Power over the evil spirits (and other such miracles) were given to “confirm the word” (Mark 16:20) which the apostles preached.This was also true with the “gifts of the Holy Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:4 – 11) which were to pass away when the revelation of God was completed (1 Corinthians 13:8 – 13). When the gospel message was delivered and confirmed, there was no further need of the miraculous power. Therefore, both the supernatural power of the evil spirits and the miraculous power of the Holy Spirit were brought to an end.
However, the “signs” (miracles) which confirmed the word remain: “but these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name” (John 20:31).
Do we have evil spirits today, as they had in the times of Jesus? I don’t believe so. As the prophet pointed out, they ceased during the beginning of the gospel age; they “passed out of the land”. If there were evil spirits today, taking over and controlling people, we would need Christ or His apostles to exercise the miraculous power to subdue them.
There is still much we don’t know about the evil spirits. Personally, I don’t want to get on a first-name basis with any of them! That Satan is still at work in this world is clear (1 Peter 5:8). That the devil’s “angels”, “ministers” or “servants” are at work in this world is also evident . . .
“. . . such men are false apostles, deceitful workers, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. No wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. Therefore it is not surprising if his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness, whose end will be according to their deeds.”
– 2 Corinthians 11:13 – 15
But they are not allowed to “possess” a person, rendering him helpless while using his body for their nefarious purposes. The devil and his demons are constantly trying to tempt and influence us, but their power over us is not that of “possessing” us. In most cases, people do evil things not because they are “possessed” by demons, but because they choose to do them.
Related article (ink) on this blog:
(the Witch of Endor and the Seven Sons of Sceva)