A gracEmail subscriber writes: “What is the New Testament specifically talking about when it says that Jesus and the apostles ‘drove out demons?’ Does this refer to mental defects (insanity, bipolarism, etc.) or psychological or physiological problems (epilepsy, addictions, etc.)? Or does this mean real demons as in ‘The Exorcist’ movie? This is very hard to get my head around since I have never to my knowledge met anyone possessed by a demon.”
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I believe that demons are real, that Jesus is stronger, and that demons are cast out by his name. As in the Gospels, demons sometimes cause mental, psychological and physiological manifestations. However, such maladies and symptoms regularly occur totally apart from demonic influence also, and it is a mistake to suppose that exorcism is appropriate in most cases. I personally do not believe that believers in Jesus can be demon-possessed, although they can be tempted, harassed and afflicted by the devil. Believers are encouraged to resist the devil with the promise that he will flee from them (James 4:4-8). This is a struggle primarily involving attitudes and affections. It does not mean that demons are lurking behind every bush.
The whole Bible story occurs in the context of a cosmic struggle between God and his adversaries — spiritual beings known as “demons” led by the devil or the “Satan.” These all were originally created by God but rebelled against him before the creation of human beings (see Luke 10:17-20 and perhaps Ezek. 28:11-19). When Adam sinned, human beings and creation itself came under the power of the enemy.
Jesus as God’s agent personally confronted and overthrew the devil, freeing humankind from his grasp and overcoming death. At a time appointed by God, Jesus will return to usher in new heavens and new earth which will be forever free from sin or its effects (Heb. 2:14-15; Rev. 1:17-18; Rev. 12; Rev. 20:10). Jesus’ healings and exorcisms were visible manifestations of his victorious assault on Satan’s domain, as are healings and exorcisms in Jesus’ name ever since (Lk. 11:20-22; Acts 4:10-12).
Exorcisms (without Hollywood special effects) were common for the first three centuries after Christ and still occur today, most often when the gospel penetrates for the first time areas, cultures or persons long held by Satan. (Examples of ministries reporting such include Gospel for Asia, Wycliffe Bible Translators and Youth With A Mission.)