When we begin to talk about spiritual warfare, Christians either overemphasis it, or underemphasize it. It is important to have a balanced and proper understanding of spiritual warfare, which is what the last lesson in “The Life of Jesus” tries to do in a lesson entitled, "Jesus Casts Out Demons." In this blog, I would like to quickly look at the deeper meaning of one power encounter between Jesus and an evil spirit in Capernaum, as recorded in Mark 1:21-28.
Mark tells us that a man "cried out" in the presence of Jesus, saying that the man has an "evil spirit." Luke's parallel says he was "possessed by a demon, an unclean spirit." Just a few verses prior to this text, Jesus battled Satan himself in his temptations, now he battles Satan's demonic forces. The battle takes place in the synagogue, the place where the people of God went to pray and worship God.
The demon tries to overpower Jesus in two ways. First, he says, "What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth?" What we often fail to understand is that this was a confrontational way of trying to get the other person to have nothing to do with you. It could be translated this way, "Go away and leave me alone!"
The demon then says, "I know who you are—the Holy One of God!" In the first century, they thought that if you knew someone's name, you had power over them. So, it appears that the demon is trying to overpower Jesus by stating that he knows Jesus's name. Of course, neither of these attempts works against Jesus. This demon has run into a more powerful foe.
The demon then asks, "Have you come to destroy us?" Judaism expected the Messiah to come and destroy Satan and demons at the end of the age. This demon is scared and knows he is in trouble.
Jesus takes command of the situation, “Be quiet!” said Jesus sternly. “Come out of him!” Let's look at each of these phrases, as we can easily miss the deeper meaning.
“Be quiet!” can be translated as "Be bound." Jesus is binding the demon from being able to do anything, including speaking. Jesus has absolute power and authority over the demonic realm.
"Jesus said sternly" was a technical phrase that was used to bring evil powers into submission. The NASB translates this phrase, "Jesus rebuked him."
He then commands the demon to “Come out of him!” The word translated "come out" is from a Greek word from which we get the English word exorcism. While the English word exorcism often brings with it connotations of crazy possessed madmen who are foaming at the mouth (perhaps from the influence of Hollywood films), this term simply means "coming out." So, Jesus is casting this demon out, or doing an exorcism.
Often the demons come out with no physical sign, though in this case, we see that the demon shook the man before it came out with a shriek. Luke's parallel adds that the demon came out "without injuring him." Jesus brings deliverance and freedom over the unseen demonic forces that bring suffering.
The text ends by saying that the Jewish people in the synagogue are not only amazed at Jesus's authority in teaching, but also with his authority in casting out demons. Why were they amazed? Perhaps it is due to the fact that Jesus cast out the demon with a word; without using magical formula or magical "props" or calling upon other higher powers.
This exorcism is unlike other exorcism accounts known to the people of Jesus' day: there is no long struggle between Jesus and the demon, there is no uncertainty in the outcome. Jesus authoritatively commands the demon to come out, and it did—immediately. Jesus came to set the prisoner free from demonic bondage. No demon has a chance before Jesus.
Jesus makes it clear that he will build his church and all the powers of Satan cannot overcome it (Matthew 16:16-18), but, that does not mean that Satan is powerless! To ignore him is to invite trouble. We must fight this battle by relying on prayer, tapping into the authority and power of Jesus—so that we "can take our stand against the devil’s schemes" (Ephesians 6:11).