Jesus Christ: Exorcist

When we rush to explain away Jesus' miracles, we risk overlooking the deeper message of his liberating power.

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Jesus performed exorcisms of demons. Even his enemies acknowledged that, when they said, "He has Beelzebul, and by the ruler of the demons he casts out demons" (Mark 3:22). In other words, they agreed that Jesus cast out demons, but they accused him of working in alliance with Beelzebul, the ruler of demons, also known as the devil. But Jesus' own interpretation was diametrically opposed: whenever he exorcised, he liberated people captive to Satan and delivered them to God (Matthew 12:28-29). In words ascribed to the Apostle Peter, "God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him" (Acts 10:38).

Jesus was not the only exorcist or miracle worker of his era. Some scholars argue that Jesus' methods differed from others': he did not use elaborate incantations or techniques. (That did not stop enemies from accusing him of sorcery, however.) In any case, Jesus and his first followers interpreted Jesus' exorcisms as proof that all Jesus' deeds and words were backed by God.

These exorcisms enacted and verified the release from oppression that Jesus preached (see Luke 4:18-19). The demons' recognition of Jesus and obedience to his word (see, for example, Mark 1:24-27) showed that they acknowledged his authority as supreme. Later, that same authority was vested in Jesus' true followers, who also exorcised (see, for example, Acts 8:7; 19:12; compare Acts 19:13-20).


Since the Enlightenment, many people have reinterpreted the biblical accounts of exorcisms: Jesus didn't really cast out demons, because victims were actually suffering from psychological maladies, or epilepsy. (And so also for the miracles of Jesus: he was walking on a sandbar and not the water; he didn't multiply loaves and fishes, but people learned to share). Such rationalizations miss the point of the Gospel accounts. Jesus' exorcisms and other miracles were never understood simply as raw displays of power but as

signifiers of the gospel

--the "good news" of the reign of God and the devil's imminent demise. When we rush to explain away the miracles, we risk overlooking their deeper message for us.

Today, belief in the spirit-world is widespread among Christians in non-western, developing-world nations. Even in developed Western countries, many people insist that Satan and the demons are alive and active, corrupting culture and engaging in "spiritual warfare" against the faithful. A danger of such belief is that it easily veers over into radical dualism-a view of God and the demonic forces as pitted in a more or less equal contest. But Christianity affirms that there is one creator, one true ruler of the world. Evil powers are dangerous, but parasitic on God's good creation. They are not autonomous powers capable of overthrowing God's reign.

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