Exorcism is the last means of healing grace that will be considered in this Healing Moment. This will conclude the four parts of this Healing Moment--Healing Comes through Many Means of God's Grace. This will be a limited study of the spiritual gift of exorcism. The goal is to show that the "gift of exorcism" is one of the means of grace God uses to bring healing, wholeness, and salvation.
One of the most misunderstood of all of the spiritual gifts among Protestant Christians is exorcism. Exorcism is often neglected by the church, because it is not taught in the Christian seminaries and local churches. The word exorcism is not specifically found in the Bible. Yet, Christians should not be surprised that God has equipped and empowered the body of Christ with the gift of exorcism, as a means of healing grace. As we observe the ministry of Jesus, the apostles and disciples, we realize the gift's importance to the gospel of Christ. Exorcism comes from the Greek word, "exorkistes" which means "to drive out," "to expel," "to release," "to call forth," or "to free."
In addition to the lack of biblical teaching, the movie industry has distorted the theology, importance, and practice of exorcism, within the life and ministry of the church. It has also capitalized on the ignorance and a lack of biblical and theological understanding of the body of Christ. Such ignorance and lack of understanding has glorified and emboldened Satan, and distorts the evil behind his demonic activities. Consequently, the leaders and the average laypersons in the church don't want to have anything to do with exorcism, or even believe in the existence of evil spirits, demons, or Satan.
However, exorcism was an important part of Jesus' healing ministry for several reasons. First, it established the authenticity of his ministry and mission, as the Messiah of God. Second, exorcism demonstrates that there is no other power, in heaven or on earth, greater than the power God has made available to Jesus Christ and the church. Third, one of Jesus' primary tasks was to destroy the works and evil power of Satan. Fourth, part of Jesus' Messianic mission was to set the captives free from demonic oppression and possession. Fifth, in defeating the works of the devil, the Holy Spirit came to equip and to empower the church, the body of Christ with other spiritual gifts to accompany the gift of exorcism.
Mark's Gospel points out that after Jesus had called his first disciples; Jesus' first healing act was the casting out of an unclean spirit. What is interesting about this unique healing act is that the unclean spirit (demon) recognized who Jesus was, and why God had sent him. The unclean spirit knew that Jesus had come to destroy Satan's kingdom:
And he cried out,24 saying, "Let us alone! What have we to
do with you,Jesus of Nazareth? Did you come to destroy us?
I know who you are--the Holy One of God!" 25 But Jesus
rebuked him, saying,"Be quiet, and come out of him!"
26 And when the unclean spirit had convulsed him and cried
out with a loud voice, he came out of him.27 Then they were
all amazed, so that they questioned among themselves,
saying, "What is this? What new doctrine is this? For with
authority He commands even the unclean spirits, and they
obey Him." 28 And immediately His fame spread throughout all
the region around Galilee" Mark 1:21-28, NKJV).
Matthew's gospel also confirms Jesus' ministry of exorcism
And Jesus went about all Galilee, teaching in their
synagogues, preaching the Gospel of the kingdom, and
healing all kinds of sickness and all kinds of disease
among the people" (Matthew 4:23, NKJV).
Jesus' common method of casting out demons was by a simple command, rebuke, or order "Come out." Because they recognized his authority and power over them, and they readily obeyed him. This also became the method used by the apostles and disciples in casting out evil spirits. However, Jesus taught his disciples that prayer and fasting strengthened their faith in God's presence and ability to use them in exorcising evil spirits.
Luke gives the most striking facts and importance of the ministry of exorcism, "...how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power, who went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with Him" (Acts 10:38, NKJV).
Initially, the disciples had played only a small role in the mission and ministry of Jesus, but now, their ministry would be expanded. In John's Gospel, this point is made clear:
Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the
works that I do he will do also; and greater works than
these he will do, because I go to My Father. 13 And
whatever you ask in My name, that I will do, that the
Father may be glorified in the Son" (John 14:12-13, NKJV).
We owe a debt of gratitude to doctor Luke for the details he gave to the body of Christ concerning the power and authority Jesus had given the church to continue his ministry of healing, including exorcism. First, the church gets its power and authority, from Jesus, to heal the sick, cast out demons, and even to raise the dead.
It is clear, from the Scripture passages below, that Jesus fully believed that God would work through his disciples and apostles, to continue his threefold ministry of teaching, preaching, and preaching. Luke 10:1-2 reads:
Then He called His twelve disciples together and gave them
power and authority over all demons, and to cure
diseases. 2 He sent them to preach the kingdom of God
and to heal the sick... 6 So they departed and went through
the towns, preaching the gospel and healing everywhere"
(Luke 9:1-2; 6, NKJV).
Luke gives the only account of Jesus sending out seventy other disciples, giving them the same power and authority he had given to the original twelve disciples. They were sent out to heal the sick, proclaim the gospel of salvation, and to cast out demons, in his name:
After these things the Lord appointed seventy others
also, and sent them two by two before His face into
every city and place where He Himself was about to go.
2 Then He said to them, "The harvest truly is great, but
the laborers are few; therefore pray the Lord of the
harvest to send out laborers into His harvest...And
heal the sick there, and say to them, 'The kingdom of God
has come near to you." (Luke 10:1-2; 9, NKJV).
After this successful mission, the seventy disciples returned with joy and told Jesus all that they had done:
Then the seventy returned with joy, saying, "Lord, even
the demons are subject to us in Your name." 18 And He said
to them, "I saw Satan fall like lightning from
heaven. 19 Behold, I give you the authority to trample on
serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the
enemy, and nothing shall by any means hurt you.
20 Nevertheless do not rejoice in this, that the spirits
are subject to you, but rather rejoice because your names
are written in heaven" (Luke 10:17-20, NKJV).
We can now understand how essential Jesus' ministry of exorcism is to the mission and ministry of the church. Without it, those who are oppressed of the devil will not be healed. Medicine cannot heal those oppressed of the devil. Common prayer without the power and authority of Jesus' name cannot bring those oppressed of the devil, the healing they need.
Persons with the gift of exorcism have no delusion that their human power equals the power of evil spirits. Christians totally trust and depend on the power and authority that is available to us through Jesus' name. Demons must submit to those who exercise the power and authority of Jesus' name, regardless of where Christians might encounter demonic power. The disciples and Paul proved this fact on many occasions in the writings of the New Testament. In the book of Acts, Luke gives a powerful account of God's extraordinary power working through Paul:
11 God did extraordinary miracles through Paul,12 so that
even handkerchiefs and aprons that had touched him were
taken to the sick, and their illnesses were cured and the
evil spirits left them (Acts 19:11-12).
It is important to understand that evil spirits know that they are only subject to obey and to submit to the power and authority of Jesus' name. Unbelievers that confront evil spirits, do so, at their own peril. Luke was wise to warn unbelievers and believers alike, that the use of God's or Jesus' name is not magic, and that they do so, at their own risk, as in this illustration:
13 Then some of the itinerant Jewish exorcists took it upon
themselves to call the name of the Lord Jesus over those
who had evil spirits, saying, "We exorcise you by the Jesus
whom Paul preaches." 14 Also there were seven sons of
Sceva, a Jewish chief priest, who did so. 15 And the evil
spirit answered and said, "Jesus I know, and Paul I know;
but who are you?" 16 Then the man in whom the evil spirit
was leaped on them, overpowered them, and prevailed against
them, so that they fled out of that house naked and
wounded. 17 This became known both to all Jews and
Greeks dwelling in Ephesus; and fear fell on them all, and
the name of the Lord Jesus was magnified (Acts 19:13-17).
This is a warning that those who seek to use the powerful name of Jesus must be those who only submit themselves to faith, in him.
Exorcism is essential to the whole ministry of healing. Without practicing exorcism, the healing ministry will be less effective and incomplete. Satan will continue to use this ignorance of the people of God, to frustrate God's works as well as perpetuate confusion within the body of Christ. For these reasons, the ministry of healing will seem weak and limited.
Many Charismatic and Pentecostal Churches, and some mainline denominations still believe that God has empowered and gifted the church to continue Jesus' ministry of exorcism. They see this as a ministry of healing through compassion and not judgment or punishment, and not as deserving their spiritual condition. Those who are troubled by evil spirits are not evil persons, but are in many cases victims of evil influences. This is precisely why Jesus showed so much compassion toward those who were powerless to free themselves of being afflicted by demonic oppression.
Therefore, the church must seek to discover and to reclaim this most important ministry of the church. The church has been empowered by God, with the same power and authority Jesus used to defeat Satan and his kingdom of evil, to bring healing, wholeness, and salvation to those oppressed of the devil (Acts 10:38). The person with this gift does not go out looking for those needing this kind of healing, but she or he has compassion like Jesus, to liberate them from demonic bondage.