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by William J. Stewart
In the spirit realm, there are good spirits, identified at times in the Bible as angels, but there are also evil spirits, identified at times as demons. There are references to demons in both the Old and New Testaments, though by far, the majority are in the gospels.
When the pagan nations (or the people of Israel for that matter) made sacrifice to idols, they were in fact sacrificing to demons (Leviticus 17:7; Deuteronomy 32:17; 2 Chronicles 11:14-15). In 1 Corinthians 8 & 10 (as well as Romans 14), Paul discusses at length the meats which were offered to idols. He states that the idols are nothing; that is—they are not real (1 Corinthians 8:4; 10:19), and the meat was fine to eat (ie. not polluted), unless the conscience of the one eating (or another who is present) cannot separate the meat from the idol/demon.
Moses’ Law forbade witchcraft, sorcery, consulting spirits and such (Deuteronomy 18:10-11). Those who practiced these things were to be put to death (Leviticus 20:27). The New Testament doesn’t specifically mention mediums or consulting spirits, but does speak against magic [curious arts, KJV] and sorcery [witchcraft] (Acts 19:19; Galatians 5:20).
Unless I am missing something, there is little to no focus on demon possession in the Old Testament. In fact, the times we read about a spirit coming upon someone in the Old Testament, it is attributed to the LORD. We read of the distressing spirit which was upon king Saul (1 Samuel 16:14-23), and perverse or lying spirits at work among the enemies of God’s people (1 Kings 22:21-24; Isaiah 19:14; 37:7). None of these are a possession in the sense we find in the New Testament.
We read through the Old Testament with no mention of demons possessing people (perhaps because it was not happening???), and then there is a flood of possessions in the first century AD. Specifically, the synoptic gospels show how widespread demon possessions were during the ministry of Christ. It seems likely that Satan, knowing the Son of God was upon the earth, used everything at his disposal to battle the Messiah.
Looking at the demon possession texts, let’s divide them based upon what we are told about the possessions. The first list of texts will simply be general references to demons possessing someone and being cast out, while the other texts refer to the activity of the demons in those whom they possessed.
Matthew 8:16; 8:31; 10:1, 8; 12:43-45; Mark 1:34, 39; 3:15; 6:7, 13; 7:24-30; 9:38; 16:9, 17; Luke 6:18; 7:21; 8:2; 9:1, 49; 10:17, 20; 11:24-26; 13:32.
Demons causing mute condition:
Matthew 9:33; Mark 9:17; Luke 11:14
Demons causing convulsions:
Matthew 17:15-18; Mark 1:23-26; 9:20, 26; Luke 4:35; 8:38, 42
Demons revealing Jesus’ identity:
Mark 1:25-26; 3:11; Luke 4:33-34; 4:41
Demons causing derangement:
Mark 5:1-16; Luke 8:27-35
Demons causing deaf and mute:
Demons causing infirmity:
That’s quite a list of effects demons were having on people. But I want you to notice something—demons did not cause people to sin. None of the conditions listed above are sinful conditions. If have missed a case in the Bible where a demon caused a person to sin, by all means show it to me. They caused trouble and severely altered people’s lives; of that there is no doubt. But none of the things listed
above are sinful. God gave man free will; the ability to choose to do what is right or wrong. From a survey of the possession accounts in the New Testament, demons were not empowered to force an individual to sin. Primarily they affected health and quality of life.
John’s gospel doesn’t record any instances of demon possession. With the other gospel accounts already addressing Jesus’ activity in casting out demons, perhaps there was no need for John to add more. It appears the discussion of demons was outside the scope of what the Spirit had planned for John’s gospel.
After the Lord ascended, we find a few instances of demon possession in the book of Acts (5:16; 8:7; 16:16-18; 19:12-16), but the number of occurrences is negligible compared to the synoptic gospels. Why? It seems reasonable to think that a considerable reduction in the report of demon possessions by Luke in the book of Acts compared to his record in the gospel would mean the number of instances had also gone down considerably.
The prophet Zechariah foretold the coming of the Messiah by writing:
…they will look on Me whom they pierced. Yes, they will mourn for Him as one mourns for his only son, and grieve for Him as one grieves for a firstborn. (12:10)
In the beginning of the next chapter, we read:
…I will cut off the name of the idols from the land, and they shall no longer be remembered. I will also cause the prophets and the unclean spirit to depart from the land. (13:2)
Why did occurrences of demon possession drop off? It was prophesied. Next week, we will consider whether possessions still occur.