“…should not this woman, a daughter of Abraham, who Satan has kept bound for eighteen long years, be set free…?” Luke 13:16
As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”
“Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life.” John 9:1-3
Some believe in God and angels, but not the devil and demons. Surprisingly, many Christians hold this position, primarily because they imagine the demonic teachings to have been born out of superstitions. They cannot believe in a “little red man with horns and a pointed-tail.” Of course, the Bible never describes Satan like that! Furthermore, the same authorities (the apostles) who spoke about God spoke also about the devil. If we can’t believe what they said about one, how can we trust what they said about the other? Some people, however, suggest that Satan is merely the personification of the evil that is in every man. Yet the Bible shows Satan tempting Christ while He was alone in the Judean wilderness and no evil was in Christ’s heart.
We are involved in a struggle, a fight, and the fight is not merely with our selves and our personal weaknesses. We have an enemy who is strong, organized, ancient, and determined. Every human being has some fight, some struggle and conflict, with the devil, but the Christian is in the struggle in a different way. He has already changed sides and has aligned himself with Christ. All people are victims of Satanic deception but Christians can be victors in Christ. We can have hope and encouragement because of Jesus Christ. David said to God in his shepherd’s psalm, “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.” This table of grace is what we need today in the presence of our spiritual enemies.
A description of the enemy
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 spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Eph. 5:12
We do not fight against flesh and blood. We can understand several things from this statement. First, we see how it contradicts ideas of self-mutilation and self-punishment for spiritual gain. Christ died for our sins paying the price in full. To punish our selves physically will not bring salvation. Our enemy is not our own body. Secondly, our enemy is not our fellow human being. We cannot look at certain people and say that they – that race, that nationality, that class, that profession – are our real enemy. Thirdly, the point is to make certain that we know the origin of our enemy, so not only is flesh and blood not the enemy, but superstitious approaches to amulets, crosses, voodoo dolls, etc. must be understood in this context and rejected. The Bible says that an idol is nothing at all in the world, and if we think that certain material or physical things have power we are misled.
Four phrases in Ephesians 5:12 describe our enemy.
Principalities, pros tas arxas, The root word is arxe and it literally means “ancients” or “those relating to the beginning.” This is where we get our English word archeology from and pointed out that the demons are fallen angels whose creation was before our own. (See Isaiah 14:12-15 and Revelation 12.) Jude 6 used this word arxe in the phrase “positions of authority” (NIV), indicating the ancient beginnings of the fallen angels. Although they are created beings, they are superior to and pre-date human life. Interestingly, emphasizing the supremacy of God over the demonic powers, John’s gospel opens with the phrase en arxe, “In the beginning was the Word” (John 1:1) reminding us that Christ has seniority and superiority over all the demons.
Powers, pros tas ezousias, meaning “power, ability, faculty, rule, dominion, jurisdiction”. The demons are powerful creatures. The word ezousias was used several other places in the New Testament. For example, in describing the benefits of faith in Christ the word was used in John 1:12, “Yet to all who received him, to those who believe in his name, he gave the right (ezousias) to become children of God.” In that verse ezousias meant “privilege, power, or right”. This word was also used in Eph 1:21 and 1 Cor 15:24 teaching us that Christ overcomes these powers. In fact Eph. 1:21 says that Christ has been seated “far above all rule (arxes) and authority (ezousias)”. In the close of Matthew’s gospel, ezousias was used to denote “authority or power” (28:18) reminding us that Christ has all authority. So these demonic beings have some power, privilege, dominion, or jurisdiction, but only Christ has all power.
World-rulers of this darkness, pros tous kosmokratoras tou skotous toutou. Ephesians 2:1-3 informs us that Satan is the ruler of the kingdom of the air and his ways are the ways of the world. As air cannot be hemmed in by one nation, so Satan’s influence is worldwide. “Darkness” was used often in the Bible to describe confusion and evil.
Evil spirits, pros ta pneumatika tes panerias en tois epouraniois. Although I usually use the New International Version in my ministry, and am quite fond of it, I do find myself preferring the King James Version’s translation of this phrase. The NIV translates it: “against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms,” emphasizing the arena of Satanic power. The KJV translates it: “against spiritual wickedness in high places,” emphasizing the original rebellion of Satan and the fallen angels. The phrase en tois epouraniois literally means “in the heavens” or “in the heavenlies”.
The Scriptures that tell us about Satan and his origins are few and shrouded in mystery. From Isaiah 14 and Revelation 12 we learn that Satan was originally an angel of light and rebelled in heaven by lusting after God’s own position and led one third of angels astray with him in his rebellion. This points out to us the shamelessness of Satan and his demons. He rebelled against God in the heavenly realms, so he is certainly not intimidated by a church building or a Christian amulet like a cross.
Martin Luther, the great reformer, wrote A Mighty Fortress Is Our God. In that hymn he described Satan and these words still remind us of Satan’s power.
For still our ancient foe
Doth seek to work us woe.
His craft and power are great
And armed with cruel hate.
On earth is not his equal.
He certainly described Satan and his demons accurately. In this Ephesians 6 text we have a serious call for us to wake up and consider how evil and powerful our adversary is. He is formidable!
Other biblical descriptions of the devil help us to understand what he does in our lives and our world. The devil is called Apollyon, Destroyer, Exodus 12:23 and Rev. 9:11. He does not create, He only destroys. Jesus called him a murderer from the beginning and a liar, John 8:44. He is a blinder from the truth and an enslaver of the will, 2 Cor 4:4, Eph. 4:17-19, John 8:34. He is a deceiver and a formidable foe (Rev. 12:9). Another Greek word to describe Satan is diabolos. Diabolos comes from dia “through” and ballo “to throw” and means to slander, accuse, deceive. Satanas in Greek comes from the Hebrew and Aramaic word Satan and means the adversary.
Satan is imposing but, he is not all-powerful. Jesus is greater. Jesus has all power and all authority both in heaven and earth, Matthew 28:18. Christ is the True Ancient One and though they may try to take His place, these evil spirits are only counterfeits of Him.
The power of the gospel
Missionaries and Church historians have noted that wherever the gospel has been proclaimed and churches established the occasions of demonic possession significantly decreased. Occasions where sicknesses were also attributed to demonic powers likewise decreased. The battle we are in is between light and darkness, truth and lies, the genuine and the counterfeit.
Many religions have a dichotomous concept of good and evil, a “Star Wars” theology of the good side of the force and the dark side. Sometimes people unwittingly bring these concepts into Christianity resulting in a mixture of truth and lies to the weakening of the teachings of Christ and their faith in Him. Whenever truth is mixed with error, truth will always lose out and the lie will always be enhanced! The Bible does not present such a view of good and evil, like they are two opposing but equally strong forces. The Bible clearly teaches that God is greater and more powerful!
The basic nature of Satan is to deceive, lie, steal, usurp, and bind. One of his most commonly used methods is to intimidate people through fear, enslaving them to superstitions and entrapping them in lies and half-truths. Many people through the years and across the world have been convinced that they were physically sick because of their superstitious fears of demonic powers and, like psychosomatic illnesses, came down with mysterious illnesses. In many cultural settings any unexplained illness is attributed to an evil spirit attacking someone. When the Bible attributes human problems to Satanic powers often it is a description of the general problems we have in this fallen world. In that sense all our problems can somehow be attributed to Satan. As Jesus said, “You belong to your father, the devil…He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him” (John 8:44).
It would be an error, however, to suppose that every sickness should be attributed to Satan only in the broad general sense of human fallenness. In Job’s case his physical afflictions were a personal attack by Satan, the same seems to have been the case with this woman, and it was also true for Paul who attributed his thorn in the flesh to a messenger from Satan. (See Job 2:6–7; Acts 10:38; I Corinthians 5:5, and II Corinthians 12:7.) In addition to the general impact of sin on the human race, Satan also makes personal attacks. Yet God always limits what Satan can do. Satan’s power is not without controls and limits.
Some might ask the question, “If God can control and limit Satan why does He not destroy him altogether?” The question really answers itself: It is precisely because God can control and limit the devil that He is timing the ultimate destruction of the devil in accordance with His plan. God is not thinking in terms of a combatant who is equally matched and must strike while his enemy is weakened. Omnipotent God works His purpose and has promised complete destruction of evil in accordance with His plan and at just the right time.
The answer for the fear in the heart of individuals of spirit beings is the proclamation of the gospel that announces that Christ is more powerful and Satan’s days are numbered! Christ Jesus is love and the one who fears is not made perfect in His love (1 John 4:18)! Our approach in these instances should be to share the simple gospel message of the love of God. Whenever Christ is proclaimed and people believe in Him the devil’s power is severely curtailed and significantly limited.
Is there a formula for confronting demonic related illnesses?
The Bible proclaims that it is only through the blood of Christ, through His sacrificial act on Calvary, that Satan’s power is broken. Satan is a deceiver and an accuser. When the angels sinned there was no Redeemer given for them, so they are without hope. Yet Christ the Son died for sinful humanity, which was created “a little lower than the angels” (Psalm 8:5). Satan himself has no way to ever be forgiven and restored, yet he is a superior creation from you and I. Although Satan is not omniscient, omni-present, nor omnipotent, he is much brighter than us and is keenly aware of our shortcomings. By his own condemnation he could present a passionate case before God why we also should be eternally condemned for our sin. But the answer from God for all of the accusations Satan can make against us is that Christ on Calvary completely satisfied all that is required by the holiness of God in terms of payment for our sins.
If we were to paint a more accurate picture of Satan for our day it would not be a little red man with a tiny pitchfork and horns. A more precise portrait is to imagine a handsome, brilliant, and articulate attorney presenting his case before God for why we should be eternally condemned for our sins. This demonic attorney has already been found guilty himself and has absolutely no hope of ever enjoying a single blessing of the forgiveness, restoration, and redemption that we desperately need and long for. Imagine him presenting his case passionately, articulately, and accurately for our eternal condemnation. He could argue from the position of the holiness of God that God must condemn sin and judge sinners. He could argue from our own sinfulness and unfitness for heaven. He could argue from the position of fairness – it is not fair that he and his demonic hordes are condemned and we are not. He could argue from the position just being practical – if human lives have already messed up one paradise with our rebellion against divine rule, what will we do to God’s home in heaven? Only one thing could possibly save us from such arguments before God – that God paid the price for our sin and rebellion Himself.
Zechariah the prophet graphically described the forgiveness that Christ offers in just such a scene. In a vision God showed him the high priest of his day, Joshua, standing before the angel of the Lord, “and Satan standing at his right side to accuse him” (Zech. 3:1-8). The personage in the Old Testament called “the angel of the Lord” is the pre-incarnate Christ. In the drama that unveiled the forgiveness of God in that passage, Satan was rebuked for his accusations and Joshua was likened to a burning stick snatched from the fire. His filthy clothes, representing sinfulness and moral failure, were taken off and he was dressed in rich and clean garments.
When people realize that all sin was atoned for on Calvary and that they have the privilege of becoming part of God’s family through His grace, when they turn from their sin and trust in Christ they become new creations. All of Satan’s accusations fall silent. Christ took our payment for our sin upon Himself on the cross. God takes believers and, like newborn babes, begins to grow them by His grace. As Peter wrote: “Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good” (1 Pet. 2:2-3).
If we are looking for a formula to combat evil we will not find one in the Bible, but there are patterns established. We cannot reduce the power of God to a formula, ala “Buffy, the Vampire Slayer”. Remember the infamous Seven Sons of Sceva, who tried to duplicate the exorcisms of Paul? They said to a demon, “In the name of Jesus, whom Paul preaches, I command you to come out.” The demon replied, “Jesus I know and Paul I know about, but who are you?” Then he turned on them and gave them such a beating that they ran out of the house bleeding and naked! (Acts 19:13-16)
Remembering that Satan is a deceiver, any approach to demonic deliverance that has as its basis the teachings of other religions is entirely unacceptable. As mentioned above, anytime truth is mixed with error truth will inevitably suffer. Some zealous but misguided believers have taken superstitious approaches, thinking that there must be power in spoken prayers, with the wording just so, or with pronouncements worded just so. All of this just leads to further deception and confusion. Some Christian pastors have even relied on former experts in other religions, newly converted to Christianity, to advice them on demonic organization and activity. This is a dangerous thing to do because their information will not be based on biblical revelation, the truth of God.
Rarely in my personal experience of ministry have I found or heard of people whose physical problems could be reasonably attributed to demonic binding. The cases we are aware of in the Bible (Job, the woman of Luke 13:11, and Paul) were known by special revelation of God. Christ could diagnose the spiritual causes behind a sickness and our only capacity to make such a diagnosis must be by His Spirit’s revelation to our hearts and minds. We should certainly not attribute every sickness to demonic binding. Such an approach will surely result in distractions in ministry. Whenever we do suspect with good cause that someone’s illness has some direct demonic relation to it, we can rely on biblical patterns of behavior or approaches to the problems. The patterns we find consist of: (1) concentrated concerted prayer, (2) sharing the gospel of Christ, (3) in the Name of Jesus commanding the spirit to come out and leave the person, and (4) helping the person to spiritual wellness. The first two of these are worth examining further.
Concentrated Concerted Prayer. The disciples were helpless to affect an exorcism of a young demoniac. Jesus had gone up on a high mountain with Peter, James, and John, where He was transfigured before them, and they were left trying to deal with a demon-possessed young boy and his frustrated father. They had tried to cast out the demon but were unsuccessful. When Jesus arrived He rebuked the demon and healed the boy. Mark and Matthew both record two things that Jesus said that identified the reason the disciples had been unsuccessful: lack of prayer and lack of faith (Matt. 17:14-23; Mark 9:14-32).
Prayer and faith go hand in hand. Prayer is essentially a statement of our dependence on God. The more we believe He can help us the more we will go to Him with our needs. In dealing with any demonic-related situation where wholeness is needed, we must begin with admitting that only Jesus has power over the demonic.
Prayer should be concentrated and corporate. In the very next chapter of Matthew, we find Jesus teaching His disciples about the importance of agreeing together in prayer (Matt. 18:19). The context of the passage is filled with references to the cross and the crucified life. To agree together means to have hearts that know what God’s will is and are willing to sacrifice anything to have it accomplished. Even the most spiritual people may not know what God’s specific will is in every situation, but it is essential to pray well for us to have general knowledge of God’s plan and His desires. God reveals more of His will to those whose hearts are surrendered. We seriously err in our theology if we put any power in the hands of the one who prays. It is not our prayer that moves God rather it is God who moves us to pray.
Hallesby, in his classic book on prayer, made this poignant observation.
Notice how graciously prayer has been designed. To pray is nothing more than to let Jesus into our needs. To pray is to give Jesus permission to employ His powers in the alleviation of our distress. To pray is to let Jesus glorify His name in the midst of our needs.
The results of prayer, therefore, are not dependent upon the powers of the one who prays. His intense will, his fervent emotions or his clear comprehension of what he is praying for are not the reason why his prayers will be heard and answered. No! God be praised, the results of prayer are not dependent upon these things! To pray is nothing more than to open the door, giving Jesus access to our needs and permitting Him to exercise His own power in dealing with them.
He who gave us the privilege of prayer knows us very well. He knows our frame; He remembers that we re dust. That is why He designed prayer in such a way that the most impotent can make use of it. For to pray is to open the door to Jesus [Rev. 3:20], and that requires no strength; it is only a question of our wills. Will we give Jesus access to our needs? That is the one great and fundamental question in connection with prayer.
If there is a fitting biblical illustration that parallels physical binding by Satan it must be the experience of the Israelites with the “fiery serpents” in the wilderness, probably venomous snakes of some kind (Num. 21:4-9). The bite was poisonous and many died from these serpents. God commanded Moses to construct a bronze snake and put it on a pole and “anyone who is bitten can look at it and live” (Num. 21:8). God did not require that those bitten make their way over to the bronze snake to touch it, nor that it be carried to their bedside and touch them. Many more would have died than been saved if that was required. He only required a look of faith. Jesus took this event and used it to illustrate the cross. He said, “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man be lifted up that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life” (John 3:15). Prayer is such a look of faith at Christ trusting that He can help.
An appropriate prayer to pray in these situations could be similar to this.
Lord Jesus, we acknowledge You as the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords. Your power is greater than any other power in the universe. We bring this concern of ours and the need of this person whom You love to your attention in prayer. We place this need before You and trust that You have the resources within Your power to defeat the demonic powers involved in this binding. In loving trust in You we pray for deliverance from evil for this person, that he may be restored to physical and emotional wholeness and turn to trust in You. We also surrender ourselves as Your servants to use in any capacity to be your instruments through whom You will meet this need. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.
Sharing the gospel of Christ. Only one gospel is given to the world and that gospel is good news to all, regardless of their lifestyles or weaknesses, problems or positions in life. The gospel message as preached by Jesus and the apostles announced Christ’s power over the evil spirits.
A missionary in Zimbabwe shared with me an encounter he had with a woman who gave every appearance of being demon-possessed and physically afflicted as well as emotionally and spiritually. The gospel had found great response among her village and many had repented and had believed in Christ. And her condition was a response of the evil spirits who sought to incite fear and superstition and enslavement again among the people.
My friend was called out late at night and when he arrived the woman was literally out of her mind, very agitated, emotional, and screaming a number of things. A Zimbabwean pastor was with him and after a period they were able to get the woman calmed down. Then as she lay on the bed they opened the Bible and read to her the story of the healing of the boy with an evil spirit found in Mark 9:14-27. She became calm as the story was read and they were able to share with her more fully about Christ and why she must turn to Him in faith. That night she put her trust in Christ.
Many of us have witnessed similar dramatic transformations of those who were oppressed or maybe even possessed by demonic spirits that found liberty in Christ when they believed in Him.
On a practical level, I believe that when we sense that we are under some demonic oppression we need to especially direct our thoughts to God. It is not merely a matter of rebuking Satan and sending him away, but it is also a matter of restoring the peace of God to our hearts. Greater is He that is in us than He that is in the world and this knowledge should be a source of great comfort. We are more than conquerors through Him who loved us, so we should live in the victory of Christ daily.
 Some translations of Mark’s gospel have added the words “and fasting” to verse 9:29. This appears to have been added to the original text and not part of the original words of Jesus.
 O. Hallesby, Prayer (Intervarsity Press: Leicester, England, 1948) p. 10.