Devils, Demons, Unclean Spirits and What the Bible Says
Sue arrived at work ready to face the busy day ahead. It was finals week and the semester was coming to an end. Things around the school would turn chaotic around this time and civility and diplomacy between faculty and staff would sometimes be strained. It is during this time when patience would fly out the window and tempers would flare.
Sue was hoping it would not turn out to be one of those days where there would be no misunderstandings or hurt feelings. Just when she thought the coast was clear and the day would end on a good note, the door to her office opens and the dean of her department and the newly hired supervisor walk in with a complaint from one of the faculty.
As Sue tries to explain to the dean what happened during her phone conversation with that faculty member, she turned to face the newly hired supervisor and saw something that startled and disturbed her deeply. Sue was seeing something she had never seen before. This supervisor, who Sue thought of as a nice person, approached her and as she walked towards her, she noticed that the woman’s face became very flushed and suddenly transformed. Her blue eyes turned completely black. There was no white in her eyes. Her eyes had turned into big round black orbs.
Frightened, Sue looked away, thinking that her eyes were playing tricks on her. When she looked back at her supervisor’s face, the huge black orbs were still staring back at her. She was seeing them clearly. Sue was so startled and confused that she could not look at the woman in the face as she spoke. A little while later, the woman’s expression returned to normal. The black orbs for eyes turned back to their normal blue color and her skin color back to normal. This was one of the most disturbing experiences Sue had ever had. Did Sue just witness someone who was possessed by a demon? Or was there a scientific and logical explanation for what she saw?
Believing to the extreme
When it comes to devils, demons, and unclean spirits, this topic, next to angels, is one of the most popular and most misinterpreted areas in the Bible among believers. At one end, you have believers that see shadows, spirits, and demons in every corner, and at every turn they make they are rebuking devils. They know all about demons, evil spirits, and fallen angels, and even have names for them. Fear and superstition rule their lives, and whenever things go wrong, they believe they are under attack or in a spiritual warfare with Satan and his demons. Some believers even come to believe they are demonically possessed and seek out exorcisms.
Some of these individuals may be suffering from a physical, mental, and/or emotional problem and cannot make sense of what they are experiencing. In their world what they are seeing, sensing or feeling is very real to them. What is more disturbing is that many of these people may have others in their lives reinforcing their fears, and instead of helping them, they are hurting them. There are churches today where believers are led into thinking they are all demonically possessed, including the pastor, and perform rituals to exorcise their demons.
Then you have those who have actually experienced or witnessed supernatural things in their past. Mostly these are believers that at one time, before they came to Christ, were involved in the occult and know that evil spirits do exist. However, because many lack understanding in the redemptive power of the blood of Jesus, they cannot break away from their past and continue to live in overwhelming fear.
Believers that don't believe
Then you have the opposite side of the spectrum. You have believers that have never had a supernatural encounter and have constricted beliefs when it comes to the spiritual side of the Bible. They try to scientifically and logically explain away Jesus’ miracles and other accounts in the Bible. If they can’t explain them away, then they write them off to be metaphors or allegories instead of taking them to be literal accounts.
They struggle in the spiritual area and try to find rational explanations to things that are meant to be understood in the spirit. Most of these believers are intelligent, self-educated, and will only deal with what’s tangible. Everything else is a parable, an allegory, or cultural superstitions of the time. Then a question comes to mind, how can anyone believe in God and not believe in the spiritual accounts of the Bible? Is God not Spirit?
At last, a balance!
Fortunately, there is a middle ground to both sides. There are those that read the Bible sensibly and know when a passage is speaking figuratively or literally. These believers do the research, deal with the facts and the cultural beliefs of the time but also faithfully believe in the spiritual accounts of the Bible as being true and literal. They realize that not everything will have an explanation and they do not lose faith when they cannot explain away a mystery. They do not see shadows and spirits in every corner but they do know that there is a spiritual realm where evil does exist. However, most importantly, they focus on Jesus and not on demons or evil spirits. You can safely say, these are sensible level-headed believers diligently seeking God and in search of truth in a society so ill-informed when it comes to the Word of God.
New Testament vs. Old Testament
Some believers believe that although the New Testament (NT) mentions demonic possession, they doubt there are demons or demon possessions, and are certain it is all a fabrication of a mind that is ill. One cannot blame them for believing this way. Many of these illnesses from Bible time have a likeness to sickness we see today, such as what we see in people who suffer from epileptic seizures, Tourette’s syndrome, schizophrenia, and other forms of mental disorders.
However, the people of the Bible back then knew how to differentiate between sickness of the mind and of the body from those possessed with devils. Mt 4:24 says, "And his fame went throughout all Syria: and they brought unto him all sick people that were taken with divers diseases and torments, and those which were possessed with devils, and those which were lunatick, and those that had the palsy; and he healed them."
Even in light of what is clearly stated in the Bible, there are still many individuals who are convinced that Jesus played along or behaved in a manner that made people think they were being delivered from their demonic possession in order to restore their mental health. Therefore, according to this belief, when Jesus performed miracles and cast out demons, such as when He commanded “legion” to come out of the man and allowed them to go into thousands of pigs (Luk 8:26-33; Mar 5:1-20), He was doing this to make people believe their demons were cast out. Although this way of thinking may appeal to some, when it comes to the Bible (not only the new translations but also the Greek text), there should be no doubt that Jesus cast out unclean spirits. This sort of thinking is not only inaccurate but unbiblical as well.
Why would Jesus use deception and play along with the sick or possessed people He encountered? There is no deception in Christ Jesus. Would not Jesus, the Son of God, know who needed healing and who were actually afflicted with demons? The Bible says in numerous passages Jesus cast out demons and healed the sick. If demons were not cast out, the Bible can simply say He healed the sick. However, the Bible clearly says Jesus cast out devils and healed those who were sick.
Then why doesn’t the Old Testament (OT) mention demon possession? Some will explain it away by saying that this emergence of demonic possession in the New Testament (NT) stemmed from the cultural beliefs Jews adopted after they were exiled to Babylon, then later by the Greek and Roman culture with all their deities and beliefs.
However, the OT does mention “familiar spirits.” In the Old Testament, God warned His people not to seek those with familiar spirits or wizards (Lev 19:32). In Deuteronomy 18:10-11, He warns against going after enchanters, witches, charmers, consulters with familiar spirits, and wizards or necromancers. Furthermore, wizards and those with familiar spirits, and all images and idols were to be put away from the land. Consulters with familiar spirits (mediums, witches, fortune tellers) and wizards (conjurer of ghosts) served as hosts to these familiar spirits, did they not? So, the OT does make a reference to this.
The question remains, were the people of Jesus day demonically possessed or were they mentally ill? Well, let's see. In the NT, did the Jews continue to be influenced by beliefs of other cultures and strayed away from God? Did they continue to seek and worship other gods and idols, and did they consult with mediums and sorcerers? The answer to all these questions is yes. Many of the Jews in the NT were influenced by other culture’s beliefs as in the OT. It seems that God’s people did not change much in 400 years that transpired between the OT and the NT. Because of their continual disobedience and sin, many became afflicted with sickness and demon possession.
Even after Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection, Paul pleaded and called out to the Jews to stay away from pagan beliefs and practices. Many of the Jews were consulting with mediums and witches, just as in the OT. In Acts 16:16-19, there was a slave girl that was possessed by the spirit of Python and was being exploited by her masters. The Greeks believed anyone who had the power of divination was said to be possessed by the spirit of Python. After many days of following Paul and grieving him, Paul finally turned to her and commanded the spirit to come out of her, and the Bible says the spirit came out of her the same hour.
In the OT, Jews believed all spirits were sent by God. In I Sam 16:14-15, the Bible says God’s Spirit departed from Saul and his servants believed an evil spirit from God was troubling Saul. Did God send this evil spirit or did He allow an evil spirit to torment Saul? If all spirits came from God, then why did the evil spirit depart from Saul when David would play his harp for him? Why was Paul able to cast out this evil spirit (Python) from the slave girl? Better yet, why did Jesus cast out unclean spirits if all spirits came from God? It is apparent that not all spirits come from God. However, whether evil spirits come from or are allowed by God is irrelevant. What is relevant is that God was and is still in control, and He has the final say.
The consequence of breaking God’s commands (sin) opened doors to a spiritual realm that was not of God but of the devil, and the devil knew how to use these idols and cultural beliefs to deceive people and entrap them. Sin, devils (as they are called in the NT), and sickness took over God’s people and imprisoned them. Therefore, sin played a major role in people’s sickness. Did not Jesus tell the crippled man after He healed him in John 5:8-14 to stop sinning or something worse may happen to him?
Why then were these devils only cast out in the NT and not the OT? The key here is Jesus Christ. His coming was foretold in the OT and was being fulfilled in the NT. He was to become the mediator of the New Covenant, a covenant of grace (Heb 12:24), and He accomplished what He came down to do with His crucifixion and resurrection. Jesus, (Yehoshua or Yeshua in Hebrew), came to forgive sins, to cast out devils, heal the sick, and bring salvation to mankind. Moreover, not only did Jesus have the authority to forgive sins, cast out devils, and heal the sick, but He also gave His disciples the authority to do the same (Mat 10:1; Mar 6:7; Luk 10:17).
God was being glorified in these miracles and wonders as Jesus of Nazareth and His disciples spread the Good News. The Bible says Jesus casted out devils with His word and healed all that were sick (Mat 8:16; Luk 6:18; 7:21; 8:2). He commanded unclean spirits with authority and they obeyed Him (Mar 1:27; Luk 4:36). Unclean spirits knew Him to be the Son of God and would fall down before Him (Mar 3:11; Luk 8:28). Therefore, it is clear that devils or demons and not mental illnesses were cast out. The mental and physical healing came after the casting out of devils, which were causing sickness to begin with as a result of sin. Again, there should be no doubt in the minds of believers that Jesus casted out demons. The Bible is not ambiguous about this; it is crystal clear.
On a final note, the story of Sue at the beginning of this article is a true account of what happened to me not long ago. I just changed the name to a fictitious one. After that experience, I fasted and prayed and my fear left me. I do not focus on what I experienced nor do I let my past of dealing with the occult creep back into my life and fill me with fear. I keep my focus on our Lord Jesus Christ as every believer who is fascinated by the subject of demons and spirits should. It is still a mystery as to why God allowed me to see this, but I take it as a warning to beware of this individual. After this experience, I began to notice things in this woman I hadn’t noticed before. However, this does not concern me because I know where I stand and Who covers me.
"The light of the body is the eye: therefore when thine eye is single, thy whole body also is full of light; but when thine eye is evil, thy body also is full of darkness." (Luk 11:34)