Jesus—His Life and Message: Miracles (Part 11)

June 20, 2017

by Peter Amsterdam

Casting Out Demons (Part 1)

Throughout the Gospels, we read about the miracles Jesus performed, which attest to His power and authority. One aspect of His miracle-working power, which showed both His authority as well as His love and compassion, was casting out demons from those who were possessed.

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives, to set at liberty those who are oppressed.1 

It’s clear from Scripture that Jesus was known, among other things, as an exorcist. Before moving on to the Gospel accounts of Jesus casting out demons, it might be helpful to look at some information about demons from Scripture.

Of course, many in today’s world don’t believe in demons, let alone demon possession. However, many who live in cultures where occult practices are commonplace, and missionaries who minister the gospel in such places, come face to face with demon possession from time to time and know it exists. It’s clear from the Gospels that Jesus believed people were sometimes controlled by demons, that the demons’ control manifested itself through the actions of those afflicted, and that Jesus had the power to cast them out. There are accounts within the Gospels of specific instances in which Jesus cast out demons from people,2 and other general references to His doing so, such as:

He went throughout all Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and casting out demons.3

That evening they brought to him many who were oppressed by demons, and he cast out the spirits with a word and healed all who were sick.4

His fame spread throughout all Syria, and they brought him all the sick, those afflicted with various diseases and pains, those oppressed by demons, epileptics, and paralytics, and he healed them.5

Some modern Christian theologians have written that the Bible’s teaching on demons and demonic involvement in human life is only superstitious thinking. However, the New Testament repeatedly refers to the existence of demons, and Jesus taught that demons are real and that they cause a variety of physical and mental disorders. Believing that demons exist and can affect people does not mean believing that all or even most mental or physical disorders are caused by demons. We live in a fallen world, and our world contains illness, deterioration, and death as aspects of life, without any connection to demons. Throughout the Bible, illness—physical and psychological or spiritual—is understood to come from sources including the natural realm, the effects of our sinful nature, and demonic forces.

Levels of demonic influence

In the New Testament, we read that demons have influence on some people:

Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons.6

Even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled only to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.7

For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.8

According to H. A. Virkler, who wrote a chapter on demonic influence in a book on psychopathology, it can be deduced from Scripture that there are different levels of demonic influence.9 The first level is no involvement. It’s clear from Scripture that we are tempted to sin without any demonic influence.

From within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.10

Each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.11

The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?12

We choose to sin because of our sinful desires. In addition, sometimes we sin when a natural desire—something good or acceptable when done in moderation and within God’s defined limits—becomes something evil through excess. We can also sin when we allow the world’s system of thinking to lead us into sin.

The second level is demonic temptation. We read of Satan tempting Jesus in the wilderness.13 King David was incited by Satan to take a census in Israel, which displeased God.

Then Satan stood against Israel and incited David to number Israel. … But God was displeased with this thing, and he struck Israel. And David said to God, “I have sinned greatly in that I have done this thing. But now, please take away the iniquity of your servant, for I have acted very foolishly.”14

We also read of Satan tempting Ananias:

Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back for yourself part of the proceeds of the land?”15

The third level is considered to be demonic oppression. Oppression can be seen as a more intense level of demonic involvement, and is sometimes described as demonic influence, subjection, or obsession. In such cases, the demons are believed to exert considerable influence over a person’s life, though not actual possession. The role of demons in these situations is to intensify the temptations. Oppression can refer to a person being continually surrounded and harassed by the powers of darkness. Some Scriptures which give indication of such demonic influence are:

In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.16

Such subjection can also be seen in the woman whom Jesus delivered from a disabling spirit she’d had for eighteen years. He said:

“And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath day?”17

The fourth category is demon possession. In some, but not all, instances of Jesus casting demons out of someone, the person was described as showing specific symptoms. These include extraordinary strength,18 self-destructive convulsions with symptoms such as foaming at the mouth and grinding teeth,19 or making statements that suggested they had supernatural knowledge.20 In some cases it seems the individuals were continually possessed, and in other cases it seems the demon came and went. There are eight references in the Gospels which tell of Jesus casting out specific demons,21 and seven which refer to casting out demons in general.22

The Devil and his demons23

Throughout the New Testament, references are made to the Devil, who is considered to be the chief of all demons, the prince of evil spirits, the adversary of God and Jesus. The Greek word used in the New Testament to refer to the Devil, diabolos, is used 37 times in 35 verses, in many cases by Jesus Himself. Examples include:

The enemy who sowed them is the devil. The harvest is the close of the age, and the reapers are angels.24

Then he will say to those on his left, “Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.”25

You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and has nothing to do with the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies.26

Jesus, when tempted in the wilderness, confronted Satan himself:

Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.27

In the Gospels the Greek word satanas, translated as Satan, is used as a synonym for the Devil.28 Beelzebub/Beelzebul is also used to refer to the Devil:

When the Pharisees heard it, they said, “It is only by Beelzebul, the prince of demons, that this man casts out demons.”29

Other Greek words used as a title for the Devil are ho ponēros, meaning the Evil One,30 along with the Tempter,31 Prince of Demons,32 the Enemy,33 and Ruler of This World.34

There are two Greek words used in the New Testament in reference to demons, those who are in league with Satan. The first is daimonion, which refers to evil spirits or the messengers and ministers of the Devil. It is used 60 times in 52 verses. For example:

In the synagogue there was a man who had the spirit of an unclean demon, and he cried out with a loud voice.35

Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out.36

The second Greek word is daimōn, used five times in five verses, including:

For he had commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man. (For many a time it had seized him. He was kept under guard and bound with chains and shackles, but he would break the bonds and be driven by the demon into the desert.)37

For they are demonic spirits, performing signs, who go abroad to the kings of the whole world, to assemble them for battle on the great day of God the Almighty.38

The King James Version of the Bible translates daimonion and daimōn as devil or devils, while the other eight Bible translations I use for reference translate them as demon or demons.

Often the word “spirit” is used for a demon, accompanied by an identifying word, such as “evil spirit,”39 “unclean spirit,”40 “spirit of infirmity” or “disabling spirit,”41 and “mute and deaf spirit.”42 It appears that there are a vast number of demons, as the book of Revelation infers that one-third of the angels were led astray by Satan.43 We read in Ephesians44 the concept that there is an order of rank amongst demons: “principalities,” “powers,” “world rulers of this present darkness,” “spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.” Demons are created beings—personal, immortal, and incapable of reconciliation with God. They have great power as compared with humans, but little power as compared with God.

Casting out demons

The New Testament tells us that Jesus gave His disciples the power to cast out demons:

He appointed twelve (whom he also named apostles) so that they might be with him and he might send them out to preach and have authority to cast out demons.45

So they went out and proclaimed that people should repent. And they cast out many demons and anointed with oil many who were sick and healed them.46

In the Acts of the Apostles there are specific accounts of Peter, Philip, and Paul casting out demons.47

Jesus and His disciples weren’t the only exorcists in Israel at that time. When addressing the Pharisees who accused Him of casting out demons by the power of the Devil, Jesus responded with, If I cast out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your sons cast them out?48 The success that Jesus and His disciples had in casting out demons caused others to also use the name of Jesus in their rituals.

John said to him, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.”49

Then some of the itinerant Jewish exorcists undertook to invoke the name of the Lord Jesus over those who had evil spirits, saying, “I adjure you by the Jesus whom Paul proclaims.” Seven sons of a Jewish high priest named Sceva were doing this.50

Scripture clearly teaches that the Devil and demons exist, can tempt people to sin, can oppress individuals, and in some instances can possess people. While many people today do not believe there is a Devil or such a thing as demon possession, there are many documented accounts of exorcisms, especially in areas of the world where people practice the occult, such as in Africa, Brazil, etc. There are also accounts of possession in Western society. Craig Keener, the author of Miracles, addresses this:

Reports of spirit possession have been less frequent in most mainstream Western society, yet not so infrequent as to occasion no comment. From popular reports to the public claims of a small number of psychiatrists willing to defy the conventions of modern Western intellectual thought, some even in the Western world report not only cases of possession but also cases of successful expulsion of spirits. … Another psychiatrist warns against viewing most sorts of emotional problems as demonic, but notes that he has seen a few clear cases of possession by a genuine spirit “even in my own psychiatric practice.” Still another psychiatrist notes that 70 percent of his work deals with psychosomatic cases, but in 4 percent of the cases he has treated, he has needed to undertake exorcism. He notes roughly 280 cases that required exorcism, especially resulting from the occult practices of the person or their family.51

The Catholic Church has long believed in casting out demons and has designated some priests as exorcists.

As will be seen in the Gospel accounts that we’ll cover in upcoming articles, Jesus had power over the Devil and his demons, and through that power delivered those who were bound by Satan.

(This topic will continue in “Casting Out Demons, Part Two”)


Unless otherwise indicated, all scriptures are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

General Bibliography

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Bock, Darrell L. Luke Volume 2: 9:51–24:53. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1996.

Brown, Raymond E. The Birth of the Messiah. New York: Doubleday, 1993.

Brown, Raymond E. The Death of the Messiah. 2 vols. New York: Doubleday, 1994.

Carson, D. A. Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount and His Confrontation with the World. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1987.

Charlesworth, James H., ed. Jesus’ Jewishness, Exploring the Place of Jesus Within Early Judaism. New York: The Crossroad Publishing Company, 1997.

Chilton, Bruce, and Craig A. Evans, eds. Authenticating the Activities of Jesus. Boston: Koninklijke Brill, 1999.

Edersheim, Alfred. The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah. Updated Edition. Hendrickson Publishers, 1993.

Elwell, Walter A., ed. Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1988.

Elwell, Walter A., and Robert W. Yarbrough. Encountering the New Testament. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2005.

Evans, Craig A. World Biblical Commentary: Mark 8:27–16:20. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2000.

Evans, Craig A., and N. T. Wright. Jesus, the Final Days: What Really Happened. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009.

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France, R. T. The Gospel of Matthew. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2007.

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Green, Joel B. The Gospel of Luke. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1997.

Green, Joel B., and Scot McKnight, eds. Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1992.

Grudem, Wayne. Systematic Theology, An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine. Grand Rapids: InterVarsity Press, 2000.

Guelich, Robert A. World Biblical Commentary: Mark 1–8:26. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1989.

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Jeremias, Joachim. Jerusalem in the Time of Jesus. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1996.

Jeremias, Joachim. Jesus and the Message of the New Testament. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2002.

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Jeremias, Joachim. The Prayers of Jesus. Norwich: SCM Press, 1977.

Keener, Craig S. The Gospel of John: A Commentary, Volume 1. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003.

Keener, Craig S. The Gospel of John: A Commentary, Volume 2. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003.

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1 Luke 4:18.

2 Matthew 9:33, 17:18, 15:22–28; Luke 4:33–36, 8:29–34.

3 Mark 1:39.

4 Matthew 8:16.

5 Matthew 4:24.

6 1 Timothy 4:1.

7 2 Corinthians 4:3–4.

8 Ephesians 6:12.

9 The paragraphs referring to the four levels of demonic influence are condensed from H. A. Virkler, Demonic Influence, Sin, and Psychopathology, in D. G. Benner and P. C. Hill, eds., Baker Encyclopedia of Psychology & Counseling (2nd ed.) (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1999), 326–328.

10 Mark 7:21–23.

11 James 1:14–15.

12 Jeremiah 17:9.

13 Matthew 4:1–11.

14 1 Chronicles 21:1, 7–8.

15 Acts 5:3.

16 2 Corinthians 4:4.

17 Luke 13:16.

18 For many a time it had seized him. He was kept under guard and bound with chains and shackles, but he would break the bonds and be driven by the demon into the desert (Luke 8:29).

The evil spirit answered them, “Jesus I know, and Paul I recognize, but who are you?” And the man in whom was the evil spirit leaped on them, mastered all of them and overpowered them (Acts 19:15–16).

19 Someone from the crowd answered him, “Teacher, I brought my son to you, for he has a spirit that makes him mute. And whenever it seizes him, it throws him down, and he foams and grinds his teeth and becomes rigid. So I asked your disciples to cast it out, and they were not able” (Mark 9:17–18).

20 In the synagogue there was a man who had the spirit of an unclean demon, and he cried out with a loud voice, “Ha! What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God” (Luke 4:33–34).

21 Matthew 15:22–28, 17:14–18;Mark 7:26–30, 9:17–27; Luke 4:33–36, 8:27–39, 9:38–42, 11:14.

22 Matthew 4:24, 8:16; Mark 1:32–34, 39, 16:9; Luke 4:40–41, 8:2.

23 This section is summarized from W. A. Elwell and B. J. Beitzel, “Demon, Demon Possession,” in Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible (Vol. 1). (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1988), 610–612.

24 Matthew 13:39.

25 Matthew 25:41.

26 John 8:44.

27 Matthew 4:1.

28 Matthew 4:1 says, Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. Describing the same event, Mark 1:13 uses Satan instead of devil: He was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan.

29 Matthew 12:24.

30 Matthew 13:19, 38; John 17:15; Ephesians 6:16; 2 Thessalonians 3:3; 1 John 2:13–14, 3:12, 5:18–19.

31 Matthew 4:3.

32 Matthew 9:34, 12:24.

33 Matthew 13:39.

34 John 16:11.

35 Luke 4:33.

36 Luke 8:2.

37 Luke 8:29.

38 Revelation 16:14.

39 Acts 19:12, 13.

40 Matthew 10:1; Mark 1:23, 26; Acts 5:16.

41 Luke 13:11.

42 Mark 9:25.

43 Revelation 12:4.

44 Ephesians 6:12.

45 Mark 3:14–15.

46 Mark 6:12–13.

47 Acts 5:16, 8:6–7, 16:16–18.

48 Matthew 12:27.

49 Mark 9:38.

50 Acts 19:13–14.

51 Craig S. Keener, Miracles Volume 2 (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2011), 838–39.