Jesus Christ: Exorcist

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

BY: Susan R. Garrett


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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.

Another danger of demon-belief is that it may lead us to approach problems such as clinical depression as strictly "spiritual," or to blame social problems on demonic control, with the result that we fail to see our contributions to the trouble. On the other hand, affirming the reality of spiritual powers can have important positive consequences. Such belief keeps us mindful that there is more to life than meets the eye. Superficial "problem-solving" approaches (whether to medical treatment; family, church, and social relations; or politics) may fail if they do not attend to the spiritual dimension.

However we make sense of demons today, the message of the Gospel is that Jesus is Lord: he releases us from all kinds of bondage and empowers us to live a new life in service and in praise of God.

This article used with permission of the Search for Jesus e-course. Join now for eight weeks of provocative essays and debate on Jesus' life.
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