Demon possession: Mark 5

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Today’s reading: Mark 4-5.

“Can people really be possessed by demons?”

When Jesus got out of the boat, a man with an evil spirit came from the tombs to meet him. This man lived in the tombs, and no one could bind him any more, not even with a chain. For he had often been chained hand and foot, but he tore the chains apart and broke the irons on his feet. No one was strong enough to subdue him. Night and day among the tombs and in the hills he would cry out and cut himself with stones. When he saw Jesus from a distance, he ran and fell on his knees in front of him. He shouted at the top of his voice, “What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? Swear to God that you won’t torture me!” For Jesus had said to him, “Come out of this man, you evil spirit!” Then Jesus asked him, “What is your name?” “My name is Legion,” he replied, “for we are many.” And he begged Jesus again and again not to send them out of the area. A large herd of pigs was feeding on the nearby hillside. The demons begged Jesus, “Send us among the pigs; allow us to go into them.” He gave them permission, and the evil spirits came out and went into the pigs. The herd, about two thousand in number, rushed down the steep bank into the lake and were drowned. Mark 5:2-13

I have no personal experience with demon possession, but the gospels are full of accounts of Jesus freeing people from demons. In its modern, scientific bias our society tends to write off these episodes as undiagnosed mental health disorders. We would be wiser to accept the gospel accounts at face value. For 2,000 years the power of the kingdom of God, unleashed by Jesus, has spread throughout the world restraining the activity of demons in historically Christian nations. Missionaries in the undeveloped world still report encounters with demon possession, attributing it to the worship of idols and the use of occult materials. The Bible associates idol worship with the worship of demons (Leviticus 17:7, Deuteronomy 32:17, Psalm 106:37, I Cor. 10:20).

We need to keep some caveats in mind. The Gospels didn’t blame every illness on demons. Jesus healed physical diseases as well as illnesses caused by evil spirits. Mental health disorders and demon possession are not the same thing. None of the Gospel accounts seem to describe depression or anxiety, the most common mental health disorders, as characteristic of evil spirits, but demon possession may cause mental or physical symptoms. Typical signs in the Bible include:

  • unnatural strength
  • self-harming behavior
  • torment
  • physical impairments including inability to speak, blindness, and seizures
  • supernatural knowledge, including acknowledgement of Jesus as the son of God
  • immediate healing when demons are expelled

Demon possession is not a threat to believers. As in the example given by Jesus in Luke 11, our house has been cleaned and filled with the Holy Spirit, not left empty for demons to come and fill. Our chief battles are spiritual, however. Paul reminds us that we struggle with demonic forces rather than flesh and blood (Eph. 6:12). Though not mastered by evil spirits, we still face satanic influences and temptations.

The most important lesson is that Jesus is Lord over evil spirits. He enters the strong man’s (Satan’s) house and binds him and overpowers any evil influence (Mat. 12). Jesus said this was another proof that the kingdom of God had come on earth.

There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. They themselves are equally pleased by both errors, and hail a materialist or a magician with the same delight. – C. S. Lewis
Since a demon cannot enter even into a swine without being sent by God himself, how little is the power or malice of them to be dreaded by those who have God for their portion and protector! – Adam Clarke

The collective teaching of Scripture is that demons can never spatially indwell a true believer. A clear implication of 2 Corinthians 6, for example, is that the indwelling Holy Spirit could never cohabit with demons. In Colossians 1:13, Paul says God “delivered us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son.” Salvation brings true deliverance and protection from Satan. In Romans 8:37, Paul says we overwhelmingly conquer through Christ. In 1 Corinthians 15:57, he says God gives us the victory. In 2 Corinthians 2:14, he says God always leads us in triumph. In 1 John 2:13, John says we have overcome the evil one. And, in 4:4, he says the indwelling Holy Spirit is greater than Satan. – John MacArthur

Image by James Vaughn on Flickr, CC by-nc-sa 2.0

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