Demon Possession


The topic of ‘demon possession’ is an interesting subject to say the least and I know most people have their own thoughts and ideas about it. Some believe it still happens today and other say there’s no way it can happen today and still others are not sure.

I remember many years ago a friend of mine witnessed someone who was a member of a certain ‘church’ being literally beat up by the ‘pastor’, as he says this was the only way to drive out this ‘evil spirit’ from the young boy.

Anyone who knows anything about the Scriptures will know that ‘beating’ up someone to drive out some ‘demon’ is nowhere found in the Bible.

There was a documentary on TV a few years ago where certain ‘churches’ were being investigated for this very subject. Their pastors were claiming they some members were ‘possessed’ because they stole something from a shop, some were claiming that members were ‘witches’ because since those individuals joined the ‘church’ nothing but ‘bad luck’ has happened to other members.

Our television is filled with programmes which speak about demon possession, films have been made about demon possession, someone heard about someone else in the middle of some far-off country, in the middle of some village, of someone who possessed.

You can go on YouTube and see a video of people who are supposedly possessed and you can see videos of people having those demons driven out.

I mean, it’s everywhere and people’s minds are slowly being filled with all kinds of wonderful ideas about the subject. However, whether we like or not these practises are still rampant within some religious circles today.

Possibly because of ignorance, possibly because some so called ‘pastors’ have a desire for power and financial gain.

The whole purpose of this study is to try compare what people believe is demon possession today with the Scriptures and then you can make your own mind up about the subject in hand. We can either believe ‘people’s testimonies’ or the Word of God. And please know that I’m not disputing what people are claiming they have seen and witnessed but I am disputing if what they saw and witnessed was genuine. Some people claim that they have been possessed by a demon or they at least, claim they know someone who has been possessed.

Do demons exist?

We can’t deny that demons or ‘evil spirits’ exist because the Bible tells us so. James 2:19.

We know that demons were under the power of Satan, who is the commander of all evil spirits. This is what the Jewish leaders were accusing Jesus of in Matthew 12:24,

How did demons operate?

We know from the Scriptures that these demons entered into people’s bodies and controlled their lives Matthew 8:28-34.

They often caused sickness in the people they entered such as not being able to speak or see, Matthew 12:22.

They caused people to become insane and mad Luke 8:26-36.

They often caused people to conduct personal injuries on themselves Mark 9:14-27.

They often caused other kinds of bodily infirmities Luke 13:10-17.

What do demons know?

Well, unlike most of the people in Jesus’ day, they certainly knew who Jesus was and they understood why He came into the world in the first place, Luke 4:41.

There’s no doubts that they actually believe in God too James 2:19.

They are well aware about the coming Judgement and they fear the Judgment and their eternal punishment, Matthew 8:28-29.

All of the above text shows us that demons are not some kind of diseases like some people have claimed but these demons or evil spirits are just that, they are spirit beings who think, speak, and act.

Who was capable of casting out demons?

Now this is an important question which we’ll get back to later but for now, we see in clearly Scripture that Jesus often cast demons out of people, Matthew 8:16.

Jesus also gave the ability to cast out demons to His early disciples, Luke 10:17.

Jesus also gave the ability to cast out demons to His apostles, Mark 16:17-18 / Acts 5:16 / Acts 8:7 / Acts 16:16-18 / Acts 19:11-12.

The apostles were able to give miraculous gifts to others by laying their hands on them, Acts 6:6-8 / Acts 8:14-21 / Acts 19:1-6.

Please remember that these miraculous powers would have included the power to cast out demons, Acts 8:5-8.

Do demons still possess people even today?

1. There is no indication that demon possession occurred before the ministry of Jesus and His apostles.

We have no references to it in the Old Testament, Saul was not demon possessed, 1 Samuel 18:10.

And the first we hear of this is in the Gospels during the ministry of Jesus. The last we hear of it is during the ministry of the apostles.

This suggests that demon possession was something God allowed for a short time in order to demonstrate the power and authority of the Lord Jesus and of His apostles.

2. There is no instruction in the epistles on how to cast out demons.

If demon possession is a problem for the church today, then surely believers need to be able to cast out demons and to do so we must know how. Because there is no such instruction, suggests this isn’t a problem now.

If demon possession continued today, Satan would have more power than God, for he could send his demons into people, but God’s people couldn’t cast them out.

3. What is sometimes called demon possession today doesn’t match up with the accounts we find in Scripture.

We don’t find people, for example, who break the strongest of chains, as the possessed man of Gadara did, Mark 5:3-4 / Luke 8:29.

4. Most alleged demon ‘exorcisms’ today are secluded, backroom affairs that are only later publicised.

Yet when Jesus expelled evil spirits, his miracles were publicly viewed, by astonished multitudes, Luke 4:36.

When did demon possession end?

Zechariah, an Old Testament prophet, spoke of the time when Christ would come, Zechariah 13:1. This fountain was opened when Jesus shed His blood on the cross for the sins of the world, Zechariah 13:2.

Following the time when the Lord would die for our sins, prophets, men who spoke by the Holy Spirit, and unclean spirits, demons, would no longer be in the land, earth.

So, I guess the question is, when did this happen?

Like we saw earlier, only the early disciples and just before Jesus ascended back to the Father, only the apostles could drive out demons. Later it was only those whom the apostles laid their hands on had the ability to drive our demons and perform other miracles.

In other words, since no early disciples are still alive today, since no apostles are still alive today and since no Christians of whom the apostle’s laid their hands on to bestow upon the gift of casting out demons are still alive today, we can safely say that demon possession can’t exist today because no one has the power to drive them out today.

We understand that the purpose of these miracles was to confirm or prove that what they were saying was God’s Word, Mark 16:20 / Hebrews 2:2-4.

One the nine spiritual miraculous gifts in the first century according to 1 Corinthians 12:8-11 was ‘the discerning of Spirits’.

We must remember to try to understand these gifts in the context of the historical period during which they were exercised. This verse, which seem so strange to us, would be perfectly understood by the people alive at the time of the writing of Paul’s letter.

For example, his readers would understand that, when he writes in 1 Corinthians 14:37 about those whom he describes as ‘spiritual’.

Paul was referring to those who were believed to be possessed by a spirit, because this was the name by which such people were known.

Also, Christians weren’t the only ones who believed in ‘spirit-possession’ i.e. individuals who were regarded as being under the influence of spirits which used them as their ‘instruments’. Both Jewish and Pagan religions also had their prophets, whom they believed were under spirit-control.

Paul hints at this in 1 Corinthians 12:1-2 ‘Now about the gifts of the Spirit, brothers and sisters, I do not want you to be uninformed. You know that when you were pagans, somehow or other you were influenced and led astray to mute idols.’

But, because men recognised the existence of both good and evil spirits, it was essential to determine by which spirit a person was being ‘possessed’ and ‘controlled’.

We know that during the ministry of the Lord Himself, there were times when He encountered and dealt with people who were possessed by evil spirits. The man at Gadara, and the spirit-controlled son of the man who came to Jesus because he said, the disciples couldn’t cure the lad, Matthew 17:14-20 / Acts 16:16-19.

Luke records the experience of Paul at Philippi, in dealing with a spirit possessed girl. With this in mind, Paul lays down two criteria that must be used in making this judgment.

1. ‘Sanity’

For centuries about 500 B.C., in fact, the Greeks had flocked to temples where priests or priestesses were believed to contact and be controlled by the gods, for who they acted as ‘mouthpieces’, as the gods spoke through them to deliver messages.

Whether it was real or fake, when these people were under the control of their gods they foamed at the mouth, their hair streaming out, and their limbs wildly flailing, as in an epileptic fit, all of which was taken to prove that they were being ‘moved’ by the spirit of the god whom they served.

Not so the prophets of the church, they did not scream or foam at the mouth, or roll on the ground! The Holy Spirit enlightened their minds and sharpened their vision. They didn’t claim that they were the mouthpiece of God, but the messengers of God.

2. The credit of honour to Christ

The well-used Christian confession of faith in New Testament times was ‘Jesus is Lord’, and as Paul reveals in 1 Corinthians 12:3, this was the formula by which the prophets were to be judged either true or false.

Bear in mind that, beginning with Caesar Augustus, Roman Emperors had begun to regard themselves ‘gods’, and everyone in the Empire was required to recognize and acknowledge this! Citizens had to declare their loyalty to Caesar as a god by saying the words, ‘Caesarea Kyrios’, ‘Caesar is Lord’.

In fact, at the entrance to every Roman Camp there was an altar onto which the soldiers were expected to throw a pinch of incense in the worship of the Emperor, whilst saying those words, ‘Caesar is Lord’, and, woe betide any man who failed to do so!

But when the favour with which Rome had originally looked on Christians turned into persecution, this affirmation of loyalty to Caesar was something that the Christians also were required to make, and failure to make it usually meant death.

At the same time, there was a quite different affirmation that was being freely made by both Jewish and Pagan enemies of the church. They were saying, as Paul records in 1 Corinthians 12:3, ‘Jesus is accursed’, and obviously, only the enemies of Christ would utter those words!

Furthermore, when a Christian refused to speak those words which were taken as an acknowledgment of Caesar’s deity, their refusal was taken as a denial of his deity and that was treason which brought the death-sentence. Thus, the distinction between the prophet inspired by the Holy Spirit, and the false prophet was, in this way, easily made.

The one was happy to say, ‘Jesus is Lord’, whilst the other, because he was under the influence of an evil spirit said, ‘Jesus is accursed’.

John also writes about the importance of making this distinction in 1 John 4:1-3 ‘Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world.’

One needs little imagination to understand that in a pagan world, there were many who pretended to be possessed and controlled by the gods, so that they might claim to be speaking in their names.

The significant contrast between these frenzied fakers, and the calmness of the Spirit-led Christian prophets are, as Paul states in 1 Corinthians 14:26-33.

Notice ‘The spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets’.

In other words, there was no wild abandonment in the manner in which they delivered their message. Everything was done in an orderly manner, because ‘God is not the author of confusion, but of peace’.

A final observation, the exercise of the ‘gift of discerning of spirits’ was to be used when several prophets spoke in the service, 1 Corinthians 14:29.

Now Paul said these spiritual miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit would fail, cease, and vanish away, 1 Corinthians 13:8-10. These miraculous gifts would cease when that which is perfect is come. This refers to the New Testament, which is called the perfect law of liberty, James 1:25.

Like we noted a moment ago, one of these miraculous gifts was the power to cast out demons. Therefore, evil spirits possessing men, along with the power to cast them out, ceased when the New Testament was completed and confirmed.

Some people often go to Matthew where Jesus says in Matthew 7:21-23 ‘Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’

Notice that Jesus didn’t say they did prophecy or drive out demons in His name, He was simply saying what they would claim. And the very fact that He says, He didn’t know them and called them evildoers, suggests that what they were doing was fake, 2 Thessalonians 2:9-12.

Why demon possession in the New Testament?

The New Testament clearly indicates that demons were under the control of divine authority. Jesus, for example, could command them to leave a person, Matthew 8:16, or even to keep quiet, Mark 1:34.

The demons that tormented the man in the country of the Gerasenes couldn’t enter the nearby swine herd except by the Lord’s concession, Mark 5:13-14

Since it’s the case that demons could do nothing except by divine permission, the intriguing question is, why did God allow these spirits to enter into people?

The truth of the matter is, the Bible doesn’t give a specific answer to this question. I personally believe that God permitted demons to possess certain people in the time of Christ and the apostles so that His power could be seen. Not only did Christ have power over nature, disease, and death, but He also had power over the spirit world. The Devil and his demons were proved to be powerless before the Son of God, Colossians 2:15 / 1 John 3:8.

And we do know that the ability to cast out demons in the first century was given in order to confirm the truth of the Gospel message, Mark 16:17-20.

Demons still exist, but they don’t possess people today. Today, we need to be concerned about Satan, the Devil, who tempts us to sin. We know that the devil is still working today but he doesn’t have the power he once had and so he can only work through lying and deceit.

Lying and deceit

Note the following passages which speak about how he operates today, John 8:44 / 2 Corinthians 11:3 / 2 Corinthians 11:13-15 / Ephesians 6:11 / 2 Thessalonians 2:9-12 / Revelation 12:9 / Revelation 13:12-14 / Revelation 19:20.

The purpose of the church, especially the duties of elders, preachers, and teachers, is to teach people so that they are not as vulnerable to such deceit. These were all in place ‘to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming.’ Ephesians 4:12-14

Like I said at the start of this subject, the whole purpose of this is to try compare what people claim is demon possession today with the Scriptures, in order for you to make your own mind up about the subject in hand.

And to know that I’m not disputing what people are claiming they have seen and witnessed but I am disputing if what they saw and witnessed was genuine.