The book of Matthew tells us of the ministry work of the apostles as Christ called and commissioned them during His earthly ministry. “And when he had called unto [him] his twelve disciples, he gave them power [against] unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal all manner of sickness and all manner of disease. And as ye go, preach, saying, The kingdom of heaven is at hand. Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out devils: freely ye have received, freely give” (Matthew 10:1, 8). Part of their commissioning had to do with healing the sick and expelling demons. Later on, when He had concluded His earthly ministry, Jesus further instructed the Apostles to do the same, not only they, but those who would also believe.
And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned. And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues; They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover. (Mark 16:15-20)
The Contemporary Debate
In recent years as well as in the past, there have been serious academic and scholarly debates about whether healings and exorcisms are still normative in our day as in the apostles’ day. Some have vehemently argued against this supernatural phenomenon arguing that the command was specifically give to the apostles and is therefore not applicable to the modern day believers. Some scholars have as far gone to castigate the Mark 16 ending as a later insertion not found in the earliest manuscripts of the Bible.
As if this was not enough, the modern academic movement has even contended that God cannot be working through miracle simply because the purpose of the miraculous was to witness to the Deity of Christ and once after they had served their purposes, believers have no further admonition to be on the lookout of miraculous healings and exorcisms because the canon of the Bible have been completed and therefore, what only matters now is the faith of believers they exhibit as they endure in their sufferings, hoping that their sufferings are for the glory of God.
Debates have raged on form the evangelically fundamental to the doubters and the skeptic. Voluminous works have been written, theological professors have argued in the classroom, the radicals, the informed and the uninformed have all had a say in the contemporary theological melting pot. The Pentecostals and Charismatics on the other hand have taken the Church by storm claiming that the supernatural manifestations of the Spirit should be normative in the Church today. Their critics have questioned the authenticity of their claims as well as the supernatural encounters in that movement. Both camps have called each other names as the sought to fight for what they thought is right. Verse after verse has been used to prove or disprove each camp and many have been left at the crossroads in a state of confusion, not knowing which direction to follow.
These matters of opinion and differences in understanding lie in a hermeneutical problem or to a traditional approach to biblical theology. Each school of thought have constructed its own ideology and catechism, a creed to live by with a set of doctrinal beliefs which have either hindered God’s movement or has made people to experience more of God’s grace and saving power. While it is not the intention of this work to fuel the debate, I have rather chosen to take a simple approach to the biblical text and advance my understanding of the subject. The best place as always, is to begin with Christ. Peter preaching at the house of Cornelius reiterated, “That word, [I say], ye know, which was published throughout all Judaea, and began from Galilee, after the baptism which John preached; How God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Ghost and with power: who went about doing good, and healing all that were oppressed of the devil; for God was with him. (Acts 10:37-38)
Biblical Healing and Exorcism
When we approach the Scriptures with an objective and yet open mind, we are confronted with another truth that we will do well to pause for a moment and glean certain insights into it. The New Testament clearly indicates that there are certain spirits of infirmities, which when expelled, brings healing to the body. These spirits can live in human bodies for several years until they are expelled. At times, their hosts succumb to illness and death without receiving deliverance or their healing.
And he was teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath. And behold, there was a woman which had a spirit of infirmity eighteen years, and was bowed together, and could in no wise lift up herself. And when Jesus saw her, he called her to him, and said unto her, Woman, thou art loosed from thine infirmity. And he laid his hands on her: and immediately she was made straight, and glorified God. (Luke 13:10-13)
This passage from Luke’s Gospel tells us of a woman who had been attending a synagogue as Jesus was teaching. Sadly, the woman had endured a spirit of infirmity for eighteen years and had been bowed down in that condition. Her condition had been deteriorating day after day. In her quest to get whole again, she had tried everything to get her healing. The physicians of her day and the priests could as well have tried to help her in her unfortunate state until it finally dawned on her that her condition could not be cured by ordinary means.
All hope for her healing might have faded along the way as year by year, she saw her body wasting away because of infirmity. Each day she struggled to rise because the infirmity had bent her down. It was a hopeless situation. On this particular day, the Lord Jesus was teaching in their synagogue. There in her utter vulnerability, the Lord saw her and took notice of her. The compassionate Christ was moved by compassion and God’s power was available to heal, so He called her. Jesus came so that we may have life in its abundance (John 10:10). There He was with the woman. He discerned the situation and noted that the cause of her illness was a spirit. So he had to set her lose, to set her free from the spirit of infirmity. He opened His mouth and declared, “Woman, thou art loosed from thine infirmity”.
Thou are loosed from thine infirmity? Yes, that’s what the Scriptures say. We are made to understand that she could only be loosed is she had been bound before. We cannot let her loose if she was not bound. This passage tells us then, that, there are spirits of infirmities that can enslave a person and chain him to sickness for such a long time. What would have happened had Jesus not reached down to the woman and set her free? Obviously, she would have died in her state and the spirit of infirmity celebrated its victory. But not so in the eyes of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords to whom all powers and spirits must bow. Jesus let lose the woman, set her free and laid His hands upon her and healed her.
The Gospel of Matthew records another incident were an evil spirit caused sickness. The boy only managed to receive his healing after the demon had been expelled by Christ. We read,
And when they were come to the multitude, there came to him a [certain] man, kneeling down to him, and saying, Lord, have mercy on my son: for he is lunatick, and sore vexed: for oft times he falleth into the fire, and oft into the water. And I brought him to thy disciples, and they could not cure him. Then Jesus answered and said, O faithless and perverse generation, how long shall I be with you? how long shall I suffer you? bring him hither to me. And Jesus rebuked the devil; and he departed out of him: and the child was cured from that very hour. (Matthew 17:14-18)
In Matthew 8, we also learn of a similar events:
And when Jesus was come into Peter’s house, he saw his wife’s mother laid, and sick of a fever. And he touched her hand, and the fever left her: and she arose, and ministered unto them. When the even was come, they brought unto him many that were possessed with devils: and he cast out the spirits with his word, and healed all that were sick: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Esaias the prophet, saying, Himself took our infirmities, and bare our sicknesses. (Matthew 8:14-17)
Jesus had just healed a leper as he descended from the mountain on His way to Capernaum. While in Capernaum, He had met the centurion who had begged Him to just speak the word only so that his servant could be healed. He had healed the Centurion’s servant and was now welcomed at Peter’s house. Upon arrival in Peter’s house, he found his mother-in-law laid down, sick with a fever. He then stretched forth his hand, touched her and healed her. The fever left her! The healing might not have happened so secret for soon, the people recognized that the healer was in their midst.
During the evening, people started to crowd Peter’s house in search for Jesus, in search for healing. Two groups of people are mentioned by Matthew in this account. The first group is those who were taken by evil spirits, the possessed and the second group consisted of those who were sick. It is interesting to note that He healed all that were sick. The Lord Jesus Christ revealed Himself as the healer of all manner of sickness and disease among the people. He did not let anyone go without healing. He healed them all! These mass healings thus tells us that God is able to heal all manner of sickness and disease among the people.
We also note form Matthew’s account that healing and exorcisms happened simultaneously at the same time to the people. With our earlier reference to the woman bound with the spirit of infirmity, we can rightly infer that among the multitudes in the crowd, some folks would have been taken by divers spirits of infirmity as well and Christ would have healed them too when the spirits were expelled by His word.
Jesus’ public ministry consisted mainly of four things, preaching, and teaching, healing and expelling demons. These worked simultaneously and the miracles confirmed His message as well as His Sonship as God’s Messiah King.
And Jesus went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the Gospel of the Kingdom, and healing all manner of sickness and all manner of disease among the people. And his fame went throughout all Syria and they brought unto him all sick people that were taken with divers diseases and torments, and those which were possessed with devils, and those which were lunatic, and those that had the palsy; and he healed them. And they followed him great multitudes of people from Galilee and from Decapolis, and from Jerusalem, and from Judaea, and from beyond Jordan. (Matthew 4:23-25)
There is our first record of Jesus’ earthly ministry immediately after John’s baptism. He went about preaching and teaching. He expounded the Good News of the Kingdom of God and showed what happens when the Kingdom has come into the sphere of natural men. At one time, He even said, “But if I cat out devils by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God is come unto you” (Matthew 12:28). The healing ministry of Jesus of Nazareth was a sure sign that God’s kingdom had come to the Jews. The God incarnate was walking on planet earth meeting physical and spiritual needs of the people. His emphasis was not first in the healings, miracles or exorcisms, but in preaching and teaching the Gospel of the kingdom. It was only after He had given them the Word that is able to save them that he healed their sick.
God is not only capable of saving us from sin, but He is also able to deliver us from sickness and demonic bondage. The condition of people in Jesus’ day is still the same with people in our day. All manner of sickness and disease still abounds. We have the lunatics, the tormented, and harassed and vexed by evil spirits, the paralytic and the possessed. People are in hopeless situations and everyone is staggering to and fro in search for a cure. The Lord lives and He is still the compassionate Christ, for He never changes (Hebrews 13:8). He is willing to heal our sick and bring physical wellbeing into our natural environment.
There is definitely a relationship between healing and the need for deliverance. In my travels around the world in my evangelistic and pastoral ministries, I have discovered that many are never healed because they have not received deliverance from the spirits that made them sick. I am not implying that every time you see a diseased person that disease has been caused by a demon. There is a need for both natural healing and demonic healing. To understand what I am referring to, let us first look at demons and their work.
Demons are unclean spirits, the servants of the devil who does his bidding. Subritzky (1996) mentions that demons are spirit beings without bodies who have an intense desire to live in a body so that they can carry out their own desires and use that body for their own purposes. The Old Testament has little specific record of demonic origin or activity but reading it in the light of the New Testament, we learn that Satan and his hosts has been operational on planet earth since the Fall of mankind which gave the devil authority to rule this world as the prince of this world. By virtue of Man’s fall, Satan took over the control of man’s life through sin and has unleashed a reign of terror as is evinced by the mortality rate of the world. The devil has used every available weapon at his disposal to make human beings suffer on this planet. He is ruthless slave master who does not let his servants go free. In his quest to outshine the Lord, he has worked to destroy humanity that was created in God’s image by all forms of sickness and disease and has even possessed and chained people to his evil schemes.
Man’s only hope for survival is by turning to the Lord Jesus and accepting His offer of salvation. If we reject God’s offer of salvation, our only way of escape from Satan’s claws, we will continue being vulnerable and end up in an eternal hell, without hope and without God. God’s offer of salvation for us is found in none other than Jesus Christ (Acts 4:12), the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29, 36) and our mediator before God (1 Timothy 2:5).
The devil’s plan has been to shut people from heaven by leading them in rebellion against God. This, he has achieved by luring man and offering a false independence from God where man is self-willed, self-centered and self-governing while giving his allegiance to the devil by committing sin. Demons have aided Satan in his agenda by enticing and enslaving man, possessing them and at times driving them against their will. On occasions, these evil or unclean spirits harass and torments people making them blame God for their troubles and suffering thereby failing to love God, trust Him and serve Him only.
One strategic way this has occurred over the past is by bringing sickness to the people as well as death. The author of Hebrews makes it clear that this kind of life is likened to a lifetime of bondage (c.f. Hebrews 2:14-15). While demons do other dirty works for the enemy of our souls, sickness and disease is one area of their expertise. When we confront Satan in the book of Job, he boldly boasted before the Lord of this ability to touch human bodies and afflict them with pain,
And Satan answered the LORD and said, Skin for skin, yea, all that a man hath will he give for his life. But put forth thine hand now, and touch his bone and his flesh, and he will curse thee to thy face. And the Lord said unto Satan, behold he is in thine hand; but save his life. So went Satan forth from the presence of the LORD, and smote Job with sore boils from the sole of his foot unto his crown. And he took him a potsherd to scrape himself withal; and he sat down among the ashes. Job 2:4-8
From this account in Job, we learn that the devil and probably his hosts have discovered that physical affliction is the best way to cause man to give everything just to have his life spared. Thus, they have hatched a diabolical plan to inflict pain and disease on humanity who will in turn think God is afflicting them for their sins. Many times, we cry and blame God for our calamities as if God has been the perpetrator of such evils. But we need to know that God is not the author of our human evils and sufferings; it is the devil and his hordes of uncouth devils.
We should be clear however, to point out that not all sicknesses are a result of demonic activity. As we read the New Testament, there are some accounts that portray sickness as a direct work of Satan and his demons. Some infirmities, deaf and dump conditions, etc are ascribed to satanic work while in other places no mention or suggestion of Satan’s influence over the people is assumed.
Are Demons the Only Cause of Sickness?
People can get sick when they fail to heed dietary, sanitary and health laws. People can get sick when they are exposed to hazardous substances and environments that jeopardize their health. Negligence and careless driving leads to accidents that can injure and cripple people for life while the most unfortunate ones lose their lives. There are several reasons why unfortunate things happen to good people. We have managed to unearth a part of these reasons, but we understand there are more to it than what our finite minds can comprehend. Yet, in all these things, we never doubt God’s ability to preserve and protect His people. We also know that He can choose to heal or not to heal, to give life or not. He is a sovereign God and we cannot question Him on his choices. All we ever need to do is trust Him that He is causing all things to work together for our good. If He chooses to heal so be it. If He chooses not to heal us again, even so, come Lord Jesus!
The historian Luke has written,
Now when the sun was setting, all they that had any sick with divers diseases brought them unto him; and he laid his hands on every one of them, and healed them. And devils also came out of many, crying out, and saying, Thou art Christ the Son of God. And he rebuking [them] suffered them not to speak: for they knew that he was Christ. (Luke 4:40-41)
This account makes it clear that many of their sicknesses were caused by demons. Demons can, I believe, be the cause of almost every kind of physical pain and sickness, but it takes discernment to distinguish between sicknesses or pains that have a demonic cause and those that are purely physical. With our limited understanding, we may find it difficult to envisage how a spiritual entity such as a demon can occupy a physical space, such as an area of the human body. But whether we understand it or not, the fact is that it happens and that is depicted frequently in Scripture.
There are also other sicknesses that are not caused by demons as earlier indicated. However, others forcefully contend that all sickness are a result of demonic activity. For instance, one writer has written that the mindset of those living in the first century was that sickness was a work of Satan, a heavy weapon of his demonic force. Sickness and disease were ways in which Satan ruled the world. When Jesus healed those who were sick, he was in the act of pushing back the kingdom of Satan. In healing, Jesus not only attacked the demons, he attacked their work. He undid their damage.
The writer thus contend that all manner of sickness a direct result of Satan’s work. He then adds,
The words disease and suffering in the following passages do not communicate the force of the original language. For he had healed many, so that those with diseases were pushing forward to touch him (Mark 3:10). Immediately her bleeding stopped and she felt in her body that she was freed from her suffering (Mark 5:29). He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering” (Mark 5:34). The original word is martix, which is defined as a whip or a lash. It is the same word which is translated as scourging in Acts 22.24 and Hebrews 11.36. It appears that whip is closer to the meaning in these passages. The idea is that sickness can be viewed as being whipped by the enemy. The whips, scourges, and lashes inflicted by the evil one were ordinary diseases which the Western mindset often accepts as ordinary experiences-fevers, cancers, and heart problems-Jesus considered the result of satanic oppression. Satan uses a spiritual whip to inflict pain on humans. Sickness is not a part of the plan of God for his creation. Satan rules his captured realm by causing suffering and agony in the world. Jesus came to take the whip off the backs of those enslaved by Satan (Luke 7.21).
Demons Afflicting Human Bodies
We are not sure why demons prefer to inhibit human bodies and use them by inflicting pain on their host. However, we are made to assume several significant truths by studying God’s Word the Bible. Jesus had this to say about their activity with human bodies,
When the unclean spirit is gone out of a man, he walketh through dry places, seeking rest, and findeth none. Then he saith, I will return into my house from whence I came out; and when he is come, he findeth [it] empty, swept, and garnished. Then goeth he, and taketh with himself seven other spirits more wicked than himself, and they enter in and dwell there: and the last [state] of that man is worse than the first. Even so shall it be also unto this wicked generation. (Matthew 12:43-45)
If we could look at the character and work of the devil, we would sum it up as killing, stealing and destroying (John 10:10). The whole demonic forces is bent on fulfilling his agenda in the same way the forces of heaven are committed to bring the world to Christ at any cost. This is not to advance the theory that any and every form of sickness has a demonic source or subscribing to Philo’s philosophy that there is a spirit behind everything. On the contrary, there are a number of sicknesses that are a result of direct demonic intrusion as they forcefully lay their hold on their host making his last state worse than the first. Paul Warren Gray has expressed it thus,
At minimum, every sickness and disease CAN be traced back to original sin, the fall, and thus stems ultimately from the direct work of the devil within the realm of mankind. (There’s no sickness, pain, nor disease in Heaven, after all.) Based upon this, Jesus has come to “destroy the works of the devil” (1 Jn. 3:8) and redeem mankind from every curse (Gal. 3:13, which includes sickness and disease) and effectively offer salvation to all who will believe. (Rom. 10:9)
Of particular interest is the story of the man whom Jesus healed from an unclean spirit. The Bible tells us,
And they came over unto the other side of the sea, into the country of the Gadarenes. And when he was come out of the ship, immediately there met him out of the tombs a man with an unclean spirit, Who had [his] dwelling among the tombs; and no man could bind him, no, not with chains: Because that he had been often bound with fetters and chains, and the chains had been plucked asunder by him, and the fetters broken in pieces: neither could any [man] tame him. And always, night and day, he was in the mountains, and in the tombs, crying, and cutting himself with stones. But when he saw Jesus afar off, he ran and worshipped him, And cried with a loud voice, and said, What have I to do with thee, Jesus, [thou] Son of the most high God? I adjure thee by God, that thou torment me not. For he said unto him, Come out of the man, [thou] unclean spirit. And he asked him, What [is] thy name? And he answered, saying, My name [is] Legion: for we are many. And he besought him much that he would not send them away out of the country. Now there was there nigh unto the mountains a great herd of swine feeding. And all the devils besought him, saying, Send us into the swine, that we may enter into them. And forthwith Jesus gave them leave. And the unclean spirits went out, and entered into the swine: and the herd ran violently down a steep place into the sea, (they were about two thousand;) and were choked in the sea. And they that fed the swine fled, and told [it] in the city, and in the country. And they went out to see what it was that was done. And they come to Jesus, and see him that was possessed with the devil, and had the legion, sitting, and clothed, and in his right mind: and they were afraid. And they that saw [it] told them how it befell to him that was possessed with the devil, and [also] concerning the swine. And they began to pray him to depart out of their coasts. (Mark 5:1-17)
It is quite unfortunate that in most cases, we fail to see the original root of some human sickness and thereby end up prescribing wrong treatment to those that are suffering and in need of our sympathy. This true story in Mark 5 tells us that the possessed man had been driven by the demons. Luke 8:29 states, “(For he had commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man. For oftentimes it had caught him: and he was kept bound with chains and in fetters; and he brake the bands, and was driven of the devil into the wilderness.)” The man was being driven out of his senses. All he ever needed to do was under the direct influence of the demonic spirits, and they had caused him to leave his house and family to make his life among the tombs of the dead. Instead of people helping him, they had failed. They had tried to bind him hands and feet with shackles of iron, but the demonic forces proved to be powerful for the chains for he often broke them. Here was a hopeless man in need of physical and spiritual deliverance. He was fortunate to meet the healer, the Living Christ and had his life transformed, for we are told that after the unclean spirits had left him, they found him sitting, clothed and in his right mind. It is thus clear that demons can cause mental illness from this passage.
I remember listening to the late Dr. Derek Prince’s teachings on healing and deliverance. While I personally don’t endorse all his teachings, I agree with him when he said that Jesus made no hard-and-fast distinction between healing sickness and expelling demons. The gospels record that Jesus healed the mute, deaf, and blind by expelling demons (see Matthew 9:32-33; 12:22; Luke 11:14). In Mark 9:17-29 Jesus dealt with a boy who had the symptoms of epilepsy. He confronted it, however, as “a dumb and deaf spirit” (verse 25). When the demon was expelled, the boy was healed. Nearly two thousand years have passed, but the same principles still apply.
Expelling Demons Is Part of Preaching the Gospel
It is noteworthy that Jesus never once sent out His disciples to preach the gospel without also telling them to cast out demons. We find these quotations:
And when he had called unto [him] his twelve disciples, he gave them power [against] unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal all manner of sickness and all manner of disease. Now the names of the twelve apostles are these; The first, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother; James [the son] of Zebedee, and John his brother; Philip, and Bartholomew; Thomas, and Matthew the publican; James [the son] of Alphaeus, and Lebbaeus, whose surname was Thaddaeus; Simon the Canaanite, and Judas Iscariot, who also betrayed him. These twelve Jesus sent forth, and commanded them, saying, Go not into the way of the Gentiles, and into [any] city of the Samaritans enter ye not: But go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And as ye go, preach, saying, The kingdom of heaven is at hand. Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out devils: freely ye have received, freely give. (Matthew 10:1-8)
And the seventy returned again with joy, saying, Lord, even the devils are subject unto us through thy name. And he said unto them, I beheld Satan as lightning fall from heaven. Behold, I give unto you power to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy: and nothing shall by any means hurt you. Notwithstanding in this rejoice not, that the spirits are subject unto you; but rather rejoice, because your names are written in heaven. (Luke 10:17-20)
And he goeth up into a mountain, and calleth [unto him] whom he would: and they came unto him. And he ordained twelve, that they should be with him, and that he might send them forth to preach, And to have power to heal sicknesses, and to cast out devils: (Mark 3:13-15)
And they went out, and preached that men should repent. And they cast out many devils, and anointed with oil many that were sick, and healed [them]. (Mark 6:12-13)
And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned. And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues; They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover. (Mark 16:15-18)
The above Scriptures show us that there is a relationship between preaching the Gospel, healing the sick and expelling demons. When Christ commissioned the apostles, He also empowered them to drive out demons using His name and authority. Matthew record that part of the apostles mission was “Teaching them (the believers) to observe all things whatsoever I (Jesus) have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, [even] unto the end of the world. Amen.” (Matthew 28:20) The Greek word translated, “observe” is tereo which means to guard from loss or injury, by keeping the eye upon, to fulfill a command, to detain or to maintain. Thus, the apostles were to pass on Christ’s teaching (doctrine) to all believers who would accept the Gospel so that they would carry forward what Christ had begun both to do and teach.
To be continued…