The Healing of the Demoniac in the Synagogue


(Luke 4:31-37)

by Wayne S. Walker

     During His lifetime, Jesus performed several different kinds of miracles–healing the sick; making the lame to walk; giving sight to the blind; causing the deaf to hear; allowing the mute to speak; stilling the tempests; turning water into wine; using a few loaves and fishes to feed a multitude; even raising the dead. Our purpose in this article is to look at a specific example of another sort of miracle, that of casting out demons. The story is found in Luke 4:31-37, with a parallel account in Mark 1:21-28. Unbelievers generally deny the truthfulness of the miracles recorded in the Bible. The aim of this article is not necessarily to provide evidence to corroborate the Biblical account of this miracle but, based on the conclusion that the record is not myth, legend, or fiction but actual fact, to see what we can learn from the story.


     In verses 31 and 32 we learn that this event took place in Capernaum. The name is a Greek form of a Hebrew word that literally means "village of Nahum." It was located on the northwest shore of the Sea of Galilee. After departing from Nazareth, Jesus apparently made it His headquarters during His ministry in Galilee (Matt. 4:13). Many of His mighty works were performed there (Matt. 11:23). On one particular Sabbath day, Jesus entered into the synagogue at Capernaum and taught. The Sabbath day, or seventh day of the week, was a day that God commanded the people of Israel in the Old Testament law to keep holy (Exo. 20:8-11). Its primary purpose was to remind them that they had been slaves in Egypt and were brought out by God’s hand (Deut. 5:12-15). The synagogue was an institution that probably developed among the Israelites during the captivity and restoration and had become firmly established by the first century (cf. Matt. 4:23). It seems that one purpose for the synagogue was to help the people remember the Sabbath day by coming together on that day for instruction in the Holy Scriptures and later worship.

     We are not told specifically what Jesus taught. We do know that on other occasions when Jesus went to a synagogue, He read from the Old Testament prophecies which pointed to Him as the Messiah or anointed one (Lk. 4:16-21). Whatever He said, the people "were astonished at His teaching." They were amazed because there was something about His teaching that made it sound different, that set Him apart from others. "He taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes" (cf. Matt. 7:28-29). While His teaching was firmly rooted in the Law of Moses, it was more than just reciting the law as did the scribes. There was some kind of evidence that His teaching came directly from the authority of God the Father (Jn. 7:17, 8:28, 12:49). Keep this in mind because it will become even more important later on.

The Unclean Spirit

     In verses 33 and 34, while Jesus was teaching in the synagogue, there was present a man with an unclean spirit. What is an unclean spirit? If we compare Matthew 8:28 to Mark 5:1-2, we find that in two parallel accounts what one inspired writer calls an unclean spirit another refers to as a demon. To the modernist, there never has been any such thing as real demons, but this was just an ancient, superstitious way of explaining mental illness or other natural conditions. However, if we accept the Bible as truth, we must believe that at least in Bible times, demons did exist and were active. So, what were demons? We really do not know. Many think that perhaps they were fallen angels (2 Pet. 2:4, Jude 6). The Bible does mention that the devil has angels to do his bidding (Matt. 12:22-29, 25:41). There may be a lot about demons or unclean spirits that we do not know, but Bible believers accept the fact that they were allowed to be on earth and inhabit people.

     The unclean spirit asked if Jesus had come to destroy him. In another instance, demons asked Jesus, "Have You come here to torment us before the time?" (Matt. 8:29). It is reasonable to conclude that while the demons were allowed to be active on earth in that day, there was coming a time when they would be bound or limited and thus their ability to inhabit and control individuals would be destroyed. In fact, it is specifically said that Jesus came to destroy the works of the devil (1 Jn. 3:8). Also, this unclean spirit knew who Jesus was. He obviously believed in Jesus because He called Him the Holy One of God. We learn from this that true, saving faith is more than just believing in Jesus and acknowledging Him as divine. "You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe–and tremble!" (Jas. 2:19).

The Healing

     In verse 35 Jesus rebuked the unclean spirit. The word translated "rebuke" here is found only in the gospels. Its original definition was to place honor upon. Then it came to mean adjudge, and finally to signify to chide, reprove, or censure severly. Jesus rebuked the winds, a fever, and evil spirits (Matt. 8:26; Lk. 4:39, 9:42). A different word that means convict or refute is used for situations in which we are told, "Those who are sinning rebuke in the presence of all" (1 Tim. 5:20; cf. Tit. 1:13). However, in our rebuking, we must make sure that we are giving the rebuke of the Lord and not just our own (Jude 9). Next, Jesus told the unclean spirit to come out. It is obvious that Jesus had the power to cast out the unclean spirit. The fact is that Jesus used this same power on many other occasions (Matt. 4:23-25). Also, He gave His apostles and others this power as well (Mk. 16:17-18).

     What was the purpose of such miracles? The signs that Jesus performed, like casting out demons, are recorded "that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name" (Jn. 20:30-31). With regard to others who were guided by the Holy Spirit in revealing the word, their message "was confirmed to us by those who heard Him, God also bearing witness both with signs and wonders, with various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit, according to His own will," which included casting out unclean spirits (Heb. 2:3-4). These passages teach us that unclean spirits were allowed to be on earth and do what they did in Bible times to show the power of Christ and His inspired messengers over Satan, thus confirming the message of the gospel as being of divine origin. When Jesus cast this unclean spirit out, it convulsed the man. Evidently, unclean spirits sometimes did this (Mk. 9:20). This may simply be the demon’s "last hurrah" before surrendering to the power of Christ.

The Effect

     In verses 36 and 37, when the people saw this, they were all amazed. There are three main words that are used in the New Testament to describe supernatural actions which set aside natural laws, as performed by Christ, His apostles, and others. They are "miracles, wonders, and signs" (Acts 2:22). The word "miracle" means "power" and identifies the source of the action as being from God. The word "sign" means "mark or indication" and identifies the purpose of the action as a token of divine authority. The word "wonder" means "something strange" and identifies the effect of the action as causing the beholder to marvel. In their amazement, the people wondered, "What new doctrine is this?" They correctly understood why God enabled people in New Testament times to perform miracles such as casting out demons. It was to show that their "new doctrine" was approved of God.

     Christ came preaching, not the Old Testament law, but something different, the gospel of the kingdom (Matt. 1:23). Therefore, He performed miracles (Matt. 11:1-6). In like manner, He sent His apostles out to preach that same new gospel (Mk. 16:15-16). They also were empowered to perform signs and wonders (Acts 2:43). However, we now have "that which is perfect" in contrast to the miraculous which is said to be "in part" (1 Cor. 13:8-10). God’s revelation of His will is now complete. There is nothing new to preach, and Paul says, "If anyone preaches any other gospel to you than what you have received, let him be accursed" (Gal. 1:9). If there is no new gospel to preach, then there is no need for the miracles, wonders, and signs. One other effect of the casting out of this unclean spirit is that Jesus’s fame spread throughout all the region of Galilee. Today, His fame is spread abroad not by people who perform miracles but by those who preach nothing "among you but Jesus Christ and Him crucified" (1 Cor. 2:2).


     Even though unclean spirits are no longer allowed to inhabit people personally today and thus no one has the power to cast them out, there are some important lessons that we can learn from the Biblical accounts of those unclean spirits which did actually exist in the first century. One lesson is that the power of Christ is greater than the power of Satan. The devil may not operate directly and miraculopusly as he did in Bible times, such as through unclean spirits, but he is still active. He has false ministers (2 Cor. 11:13-15). He is the tempter (1 Thess. 3:5). He is as dangerous as a roaring lion who goes about seeking whom he may devour (1 Pet. 5:8). Yet, he is limited or bound as pictured in Revelation 20:1-3. He cannot force us to sin, and in Christ we can find the power to order our lives in such a way that we do not give place to the devil (Eph. 4:27). Yet, when we do yield, Christ has the power to cleanse us so that we might be free from sin and be servants of righteousness (Rom. 6:17-18). Thanks be to God that He gives His children power over Satan. (—taken and slightly adapted from Truth Magazine; Feb. 16, 2006; Vol. L, No. 4; pp. 1, 24-25)


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