The Unclean Spirit


(Mark 1:21-28)

By Wayne S. Walker

     During His earthly ministry, Jesus performed many different kinds of miracles–He healed the sick; He made the lame to walk, the blind to see, the deaf to hear, the mute to speak; He stilled tempests; He turned water into wine; He caused a few loaves and fishes to feed multitudes; He even raised the dead. While unbelievers deny the truthfulness of all these miracles, perhaps the most controversial kind of miracle that Jesus did was casting out demons. One such incident that occurred very early in His earthly ministry is recorded in Mark 1:21-28. According to the Biblical record, this is not a myth, legend, or fictional account. It is presented as an actual fact. So what can we learn from the story of the unclean spirit?

     First, this man did have what is called an unclean spirit. "Now there was a man in their synagogue with an unclean spirit" (Mark 1:23). The modernistic view is that there is not now and never has been any such thing as unclean or evil spirits. To the modernist, this was just the ancient, superstitious way of explaining natural phenomena such as epilepsy, mental illness, or other physical conditions. It is true that in the Biblical accounts being under the influence of an unclean spirit may sometimes have had various outward manifestations such as mental or physical illnesses in certain cases. However, if we believe the Bible, we must accept the fact that at least in Bible times, unclean spirits did exist and were active. The Bible also refers to them as demons (compare Matthew 8:28 to Mark 5:1-2).

     What or who were these demons? The word itself in the Greek language refers to the concept of the spirit of a dead person come back to haunt the earth, evidencing what many in ancient times may have believed demons were. While the Bible does not teach this concept, the fact is that we really do not know exactly who or what they were. Many believe that perhaps they were fallen angels (2 Peter 2:4, Jude 6). We do know that the devil is said to have had his angels to do his bidding (Matthew 12:22-29, 25:41). So, it is at least within the realm of possibility that demons might have been fallen angels who were allowed in Bible times to be on earth and inhabit people. There is a lot about them, their exact identity, and their origin that we do not know, but, again, Bible believers must accept the fact that demons or unclean spirits did exist and do the things recorded about them in the scriptures.

     Second, this demon knew who Jesus was. "And he cried out, 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!’" (Mark 1:23-24). Therefore, we can say that the demon obviously believed in Jesus, because He called Him the Holy One of God. This shows 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!" (James 2:19ff).

     Rather, the Bible teaches that true, saving faith is something that works in harmony with God’s will, that obey’s God’s teachings in all things (Galatians 5:6, Hebrews 5:8-9). Thus, we can understand that we are not justified by faith only but by a faith that acts, that works, that obeys, as illustrated in Hebrews 11:4-8. Each of the individuals named was blessed because "by faith" he DID something. If all it takes to be saved is just to believe that Jesus is divine and acknowledge Him as being from God, then this unclean spirit will be saved!

     Third, Jesus had the power to cast out the unclean spirit. "But Jesus rebuked him, saying, ‘Be quiet, and come out of him!’ And when the unclean spirit had convulsed him and cried out with a loud voice, he came out of him" (Mark 1:25-26). The fact is that Jesus used this same power on many other occasions (Matthew 4:23-25, 8:16-17; Mark 1:32-34, 3:7-12; Luke 4:40-41). Furthermore, Jesus gave His apostles and others this power also (Matthew 10:8; Mark 16:17-18; Luke 10:1-17; Acts 19:11-12).

     What was the purpose of all this? The Bible says that it was to confirm the message being preached so that people would believe that Jesus is the Christ (Mark 16:19-20, John 20:30-31). Thus, we conclude from what is revealed in the scriptures that demons were allowed to be on earth and do what they did in Bible times in order to show the power of God, Christ, and their inspired messengers over Satan, thus confirming the message of the gospel as being of divine origin.

     Fourth, the casting out of this demon led to the conclusion that a new doctrine was being taught. "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.’ And immediately His fame spread throughout all the region of Galilee" (Mark 1:27-28). The Bible teaches that the scriptures, which were revealed and confirmed by the inspired men who had the power to cast out demons and perform other miracles, are complete and provide everything that we need in our relationship to God (2 Timothy 3:16-17). Therefore, we conclude that we have all things that pertain to life and godliness because the faith has been once for all delivered to the saints (2 Peter 1:3-4, Jude 3).

     However, there are many in the religious world who still believe that miracles are being performed, including the casting out of demons, and they have been known to practice supposed exorcisms. Remember the movie "The Exorcist" of a few years ago? Yet, if that were true, then it would be evidence that new doctrine is being revealed. What did Paul say about anyone who would come and claim to be preaching new doctrine? "But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again, if anyone preaches any other gospel to you than what you have received, let him be accursed" (Galatians 1:8-9).

     The fact is that the casting out of demons was part of that miraculous activity in Bible times related to the revelation and confirmation of the word. Miracles were involved with revelation in part, and Paul said that what was in part would be done away when that which is perfect would come (1 Corinthians 13:8-10). And we do have the perfect law of liberty (James 1:25). If demons are being cast out today, then we should have new doctrine. However, since the Bible says that there is no new doctrine being revealed after the New Testament was completed, and in fact forbids preaching any such new doctrine, then we have to conclude that demons are no longer active in the same way as they were in Bible times and thus there is no casting out of demons today.

     Jesus talked about those who claim to cast out demons in His name but are not acting by His authority. "Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’" (Matthew 7:22-23). Those who claim to be casting out demons today fall into the category discussed by Paul as he described the great apostasy and said, "The coming of the lawless one is according to the working of Satan, with all power, signs, and lying wonders" (2 Thessalonians 2:9). They are "lying wonders" that the devil uses to deceive people.

     However, there are some important lessons that we can learn from the Biblical accounts of unclean spirits who did actually exist in the first century. One such lesson is that the power of Christ is greater than the power of the devil. Satan may not operate directly as he did in the Bible times through demons, but he is still active. He has his false ministers (2 Corinthians 11:13-15). He is the source of every temptation (1 Thessalonians 3:5, James 1:13-15). He is as dangerous as a roaring lion (1 Peter 5:8). He wants to lead us into sin and keep us in sin so that we can be lost. Yet, Christ has the power to forgive our sins so that we might be freed from Satan’s control (Romans 6:3-18). And He has the power to help us overcome the influence of the devil in our daily lives (1 Corinthians 10:13). "Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you" (James 4:7). (—taken from Expository Files; July, 2004; Vol. 11, No. 7)


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