Many decades ago the subject of delivering people from demonic bondage became a top priority. Some excesses earned Christians news headlines, such as a book entitled ‘Pigs in the Parlour’ that gave ‘guidance’ to any would-be exorcists to make sure they got the right name for each demon that was resisting being expelled as, in some cases, the demon spoke through the victim that it would not leave unless it was properly named! Of course, Satan is a liar from the beginning and for sure demons will do their utmost to confuse anyone challenging them. This caused many of us to go back to Scripture to get some sober assessment on the whole topic. Since those heady days the Christian ministry seems to have quietened down on the issue, except perhaps in some missionary settings where there is recognition among their audiences of attacks on them by demonic powers. And of late I for one have become aware of a resurgence of satanic activities that need to be addressed afresh. This study is an expansion of a paper we published after much study and discussion all those years ago.
- Naming demons biblically
Context is all important in determining the meaning of a noun such as ‘spirit’ or a phrase such as ‘a spirit of whoredom’ (Hosea 4:12; 5:4) or ‘a spirit of confusion’ (or ‘foolishness’ New Living Translation of Isaiah 19:14; all quotations from the English Revised Version unless otherwise stated).
1.1 The godly side of the invisible spiritual realm
- The Holy Spirit – a Person
No sensible Christian is going to contend that ‘the Spirit of wisdom and revelation’ (Ephesians 1:17) is a two-headed angel who indwells him. Indisputably he is none other than the Holy Spirit himself, elsewhere ‘the Spirit of adoption’ (Romans 8:15).
- A good attitude
Sometimes the Greek noun pneuma is best understood as an attitude in such phrases as:
– ‘a spirit of gentleness’ (1 Corinthians 4:21; Galatians 6:1; compare 1 Peter 3:4)
– a ‘spirit of faith’ (2 Corinthians 4:13)
– ‘the spirit of your mind’ (Ephesians 4:23)
- Spiritual gifts
In a few instances pneumata (spirits) is evidently shorthand for spiritual gifts. Comparing 1 Corinthians 14:12 (literally spirits) with the first verse of that chapter, this is certainly the case. In fact, verse 32 might just mean ‘the spiritual gifts of prophets are under the control of prophets’. Also, most likely in 2 Thessalonians 2:2 Paul is assuring the believers that they need not be disturbed either by a spiritual gift (such as a prophetic utterance) or a (preached) word or a (written) letter claiming that the day of the Lord had already arrived.
- The satanic side of the spiritual realms
Bearing these three clues in mind when we come across negative expressions about spirits, we will find that we have a similar set of options.
- The devil – a person
‘The spirit that is now at work in those who are disobedient’ (Ephesians 2:2) must refer to Satan, as does the term ‘the spirit of the world’ in 1 Corinthians 2:12 where he is contrasted with the Holy Spirit. This seems the most likely explanation of the ‘spirit of confusion’ that had infiltrated the national life of Egypt in the eighth century BC (according to Isaiah 19:14), and the ‘spirit of stupor’ affecting the majority of Jews in Paul’s generation (Romans 11:8).
By the time of Hosea Ephraim was only nominally God’s special people, soon to be sent into exile in Assyria because ‘a spirit of prostitution’ (Hosea 4:12 and 5:4 New International Version) among them had led these tribes astray to consult wooden idols.
Nor can 2 Corinthians 11:4, ‘You [plural] receive [accept] a different spirit [singular]’, prove that individual demons will need to be cast out of these church members. Paul is still talking of the general deceiving activity of Satan he had referred to in verse 3 (the serpent’s cunning) – leading Christians astray from simple devotion to Christ by a different gospel about a different Jesus presented in the power of a different spirit than the Holy Spirit.
- A wrong attitude
We cannot categorically claim from 2 Timothy 1:7 that there are multitudes of demons in the world named ‘the spirit of fear’. Paul is simply declaring that the Holy Spirit (see verse 14) produces attitudes of power, love and self-control, but not one of fear.
- False spiritual gifts
‘The spirit of error’ (1 John 4:6) could mean a false spiritual gift (that is, by demonic inspiration) – the counterpart of true gifts of the Spirit in 1 Corinthians 14:12.
- Demons classified scripturally
Having said all that, of course we are aware that the word of God clearly testifies to the existence and activities of such beings as ‘unclean spirits’ who:
 shudder, believing that there is only one God (James 2:19)
 tremble upon recognition of Jesus as the Son of God, their judge (Matthew 8:29) – indicating their intelligence and emotions as persons
 differ from one another in degrees of wickedness (Matthew 12:45)
 desire to inhabit physical bodies (Mark 5:12; Matthew 12:43-45)
 can utilise human faculties such as speech (Mark 5:7, 12)
 seem to have been assigned to specific earthly locations (Mark 5:10; Daniel 10:13, 20)
Maybe they also have been given set functions to perform, hence the very few names or categories mentioned in Scripture.
- Deceitful spirits
‘I will … be a lying spirit in the mouth of all his [false and ungodly] prophets’ (1 Kings 22:22; 2 Chronicles 18:21). In 1 Timothy 4:1-5 they deceive by means of a doctrine of legalism and hyper-spirituality concerning vegetarianism and celibacy.
- Unclean spirits
This term is associated with a broad category of demonic activity (Luke 9:37-43).
- Spirits of illnesses
The woman with the prolonged ailment that kept her back bent is said by Dr. Luke (13:11 New American Standard Version) to have ‘a sickness caused by a spirit,’ or ‘a disabling spirit’ (ESV), or ‘a spirit of infirmity’ (King James Version).
Jesus on another occasion commanded ‘a mute and deaf spirit’ to come out of a boy (Mark 9:25).
- Occult spirits
Paul exorcised ‘a spirit of divination’ from a girl in Philippi (Acts 16:16 margin; literally ‘a spirit of Python’) which had enabled her to tell fortunes; compare ‘a familiar spirit’ in the Old Testament.
- A biblical context for the ministry of exorcism
The expulsion of evil spirits is never mentioned in the Old Testament, and is only reported in the Gospels and Acts in the New Testament – mostly in the context of public evangelism. The very rare mention of evil spirits in the epistles and Revelation never remotely concerns the matter of exorcising them from Christians.
Here is what we discovered from a survey of all the key words relevant to exorcism:
- daimonidzomai (demonised) = Gospels x 13; elsewhere x 0
- daimon (demon) = Gospels x 3; elsewhere x 2, Revelation 16:13-14; 18:2.
The dragon, the beast, the false prophet and Babylon are not church members!
- daimonion (demon) = Gospels x 51; elsewhere x 8, as follows:
The Greek philosophers of Athens thought that Jesus and the resurrection were ‘foreign demons’ (Acts 17:18 Interlinear Greek-English New Testament).
‘The sacrifice of pagans are offered to demons’ (1 Corinthians 10:20-21).
‘The rest of mankind … did not … give up worshipping demons and idols’ (Revelation 9:20).
So far, only heathen are mentioned in connection with demons. The next text refers to the faith of demons – they are not polytheists, nor do they believe that their boss, or any of them, is a god! (James 2:19). And the one other verse with the noun demonion does connect demons and Christians – but only demon-propagated teaching that gets into the backslider’s head and heart (1 Timothy 4:1).
- Unclean spirits = Gospels x 20; elsewhere x 4, as follows:
Two in Revelation (16:13 and 18:2); two in Acts, both in the context of mass evangelism (Acts 5:16; 8:7-8).
- Evil spirits = Gospels x 4; elsewhere x 4.
Those in Acts all refer to the time of Paul’s ministry in Ephesus; the first relates to his evangelistic work, and the later three to the experience of unsaved Jewish exorcists who presumed to use Jesus’ name (Acts 19:12-13, 15-16).
- Cast out = Gospels x 34; elsewhere x 0
The Gospel references to exorcism are often in the context of mass evangelism (e g Matthew 8:16; 10:1, 8; Mark 1:34, 39; 6:13; 16:17). There are parallel expressions in Acts regarding demons ‘coming out’ (e g 8:7; 16:18; 19:12-13; compare Luke 4:40-41) in evangelistic settings.
- Scriptural guidelines regarding exorcism
It is beyond question that not only does Scripture validate the ministry of expelling demons but indicates that it should be an integral part of our evangelistic work, especially in situations where occult practices have prevailed.
The case of Legion is instructive about the issues involved in such ministry. Matthew informs us simply that he and his mate were demonised (8:28, duo daimonidzomenoi = two [who were] troubled by demons). But Luke describes him as ‘having demons’ (8:27, echon daimonia) ‘for a long time’. Mark focuses on his actual state when Jesus disembarked with his disciples, describing him as being at that point of time ‘a man in the grip of an unclean spirit’ (5:2, William Barclay’s apt rendering of en pneumati akatharto); as Jesus approached him, this demoniac was suddenly seized by this unclean spirit as he had often been before (Luke 8:28-29).
3.1 Marks of demonic possession (Mark 5:1-20)
 Exceptional physical strength (verses 3-4; compare Acts 19:13-16)
 Raving and shouting (verse 5)
 Physical self-injury (verse 5; compare Luke 4:35; Mark 9:14-27)
 Clairvoyance (verses 6-8; compare Acts 16:16-17)
 An unsociable lifestyle with a penchant for the cemetery (verses 2-3)
 Resistance to the kingdom of God (verses 8-10)
Some Spirit-filled doctors and nurses in psychiatric wards have been able to differentiate between patients whose problems are due to physical causes (brain damage or chemical imbalance) or emotional pressures (traumas or bereavement), and those whose mental affliction is of demonic origin, by slipping into the ward at night to praise and pray quietly while all the patients are sleeping – demoniacs will often react with blasphemy.
 Dramatic, instantaneous transformation of his personality when the demons had been expelled (verses 13 and 15)
3.2 Keys to effective exorcism
 Top priority must be a life of prayer
Paul’s statement on the war against wicked spirits in the heavenlies is given in the context of prayer – all kinds of prayer, at all times, for all the saints, in the Spirit (Ephesians 6:10-20). Not only did the Master say that the kind of spirit in the boy at the foot of the mountain on which he had just been transformed only comes out by prayer (Mark 9:29), but he himself was already ‘topped up’ in prayer before descending that mountain (Luke 9:29, 37-43).
 Be aware of God’s timing
Paul waited ‘many days’ before delivering the fortune teller in Philippi (Acts 16:16-18).
 Don’t waste time on the unrepentant
In fact, they should be handed over to satanic control! (1 Timothy 1:20; 1 Corinthians 5:5; Acts 8:20-23).
 Discover Jesus’ method in each instance. His ways are varied:
* Jesus healed at a distance a Canaanite girl who was cruelly demonised (Matthew 15:22 – 28)
* In many instances Jesus rebuked demons and commanded them to come out of their victims (Luke 4:35, 41)
* Demons were caused to leave those in Ephesus who were touched by aprons and handkerchiefs which had been in contact with Paul (Acts 19:11-12)
 It is advisable not to minster alone
Jesus tended to send his disciples out on mission in pairs (e g Luke 10:1). Exorcism and healing were part of their evangelistic methodology (e g Matthew 10:1, 8; Luke 9:1).
 Recognise your place of authority in Christ (Ephesians 1:21-23; 2:16; 6:10-12)
Don’t experiment – remember the Jewish exorcists in Ephesus who challenged evil spirits ‘in the name of Jesus whom Paul preaches’ were overpowered and bloodily beaten by the demoniac, losing their clothes in the melee, because the evil spirit knew Jesus and knew about Paul but failed to recognise them (Acts 19:13-16)!
 Silence any demonic reaction (Mark 1:25; 9:25)
 Command any demonic spirits to come out (e g Luke 4:35; Mark 9:25) in Jesus’ name (Acts 16:18; compare 19:15-16)
 Any prolonged struggle indicates either the victim us unready or we are
The only occasion recorded when Jesus apparently experienced some measure of struggle is that of delivering Legion. (In some other instances the spirits departed violently, e g Luke 4:35; 9:42).
To savour the drama of the release of Legion let us follow Mark’s account in chapter 5, carefully noting Mark’s use of the very expressive tenses of the Greek verbs as he unfolds the events blow by blow. Aorist tenses indicate suddenness; present and imperfect tenses imply a more continuous process.
* At first Jesus had been repeating, ‘Come out of him at once’ (verse 8).
* After the man had been asked for his name, the demons kept beseeching Jesus, ‘Don’t suddenly send us forth’ (verse 10).
* Then the evil spirits at that point pleaded with Jesus, ‘Send us away now that we may instantly enter these pigs’ (verse 12).
* Jesus thereupon granted permission [sacrificing a pawn to checkmate their king?]; they instantly came out and at once entered the hogs that rushed immediately into the sea and gradually choked (verse 13)! The struggle was evidently not prolonged.
 See to it that the one now emptied of Satan is cleansed from sin and filled with Christ by his Spirit (Luke 11:24-26)
- To what extent can Satan intrude into the life of a child of God?
4.1 Satan can trouble believers
 He can harass us
‘A thorn was given me in my flesh, a messenger [Greek angelos = angel] of Satan to harass me’ (2 Corinthians 12:7).
To harass or torment (NASB), kolaphidzo, means ‘to strike with a fist’ (kolaphos). This particular spirit gangster gave Paul a rough ride in every one of his outreach missions. Although he prayed three times for its removal (verses 7-10), as Jesus had done in Gethsemane concerning the cross, God’s grace was more than enough to endure the demonic disturbances in his campaigning.
 He can obstruct our plans
‘We wanted to come to you – I Paul, again and again – but Satan hindered us’ (2 Thessalonians 2:18).
 He can try to overwhelm us
‘Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour’ (1 Peter 5:8). The noun ‘devour’ is translated ‘drown’ in Hebrews 11:29; the devil would like to overwhelm the believer’s mental outlook and emotions just as the collapsing walls of Red Sea waters swamped Pharaoh’s army. That’s why Peter bids us to ‘be sober-minded and alert’ and ‘resist him, firm in the faith’ (1 Peter 5:7-9).
4.2 Satan can test believers
 He attempts to deceive us
He tries to seduce, deceive, ensnare and lead astray (2 Corinthians 11:3; 1 Timothy 4:1; 5:15; 2 Timothy 2:24-26). He does so by tempting us (peiradzo, 1 Corinthians 7:5; 10:13; Galatians 6:1; 1 Thessalonians 3:5). The verb means ‘to test out’, and is often used by Matthew not only of Satan’s tempting of Jesus (4:1, 3) but also of the trickery of his human opponents in their various attempts to catch him off guard (16:1; 19:3; 22:18, 35).
 He can sift us
He was given divine permission to sift the original band of twelve apostles, as Jesus forewarned them: ‘Simon! Simon! Take heed. Satan has begged earnestly to have all of you for himself to sift you like wheat. But I have entreated especially for you, Simon, that your own faith might not fail; and you, Simon, once you have retraced your steps, it’s for you to be the support of your brothers’ (Luke 22:31-32, a composite of various translations).
And how did he do the sifting? By putting an idea in Judas’s unregenerate heart (John 13:2) to betray Jesus, then, after Judas had eaten unworthily of the special morsel from the covenant meal (verse 26), Satan entered into him (verse 27). Through Judas’s betrayal of their Master the devil sifted the entire group of ‘the Twelve’. But Jesus prayed that the remaining eleven would be preserved (John 17:11-12).
But not only can Satan harass and hinder, deceive, ensnare, overwhelm and sift God’s people –
4.3 Satan can tie believers up
 He can bind them with physical maladies (e g Luke 13:10-17). Of a woman … who had had a disabling spirit for eighteen years … bent over and could not fully straighten herself’’ Jesus said two significant things. She was a true spiritual ‘daughter of Abraham’ – as Zacchaeus became after his conversion (Luke 19:9-10) but unlike the unsaved Pharisees who falsely claimed to be Abraham’s children (John 8:31-45) – yet she was also one whom Satan has bound’ (Greek deo) for eighteen long years’ (Luke 13:11, 16).
Does the Greek expression in verse 11, ‘having a spirit’, force us to the conclusion that she was inhabited by a demon? It is true that Luke employs the same phrase in Acts 8:7 in the context of Philip’s evangelistic work in the city of Samaria. ‘Many of the ones having unclean spirits, crying with a great voice, came out’. But the case cannot be argued from the mere repetition of a phrase. Compare: the telling about a woman ‘having a baby’; that could refer to two very different contexts to two quite dissimilar modes of ‘having’. ‘The woman was in travail, having a baby’ is not at all the same as the grandmother in her sixties child-minding her son’s infant although she too is a woman having the baby, not now by Caesarian section at its advent into the world, but just for the afternoon, already breathing and clothed!
In the case of the handicapped woman Jesus did not expel any demon with great vocal manifestation. He simply spoke a word of release (Luke 13:12-13).
The other clue as to the extent of satanic activity is the diagnosis of Jesus. He very deliberately compares her state to the tying up and subsequent loosing of an ox or an ass. In the livestock analogy the farmer doesn’t bind the ox by protractedly holding its horn in one hand while personally gripping some fixture with his other hand. Rather, he ties it up by means of a bond. In the case of the crippled woman, the ‘farmer’ was a spirit of infirmity who did not need to indwell her throughout the years; it simply left her bound by an affliction (the ‘bond’) for nearly two decades of her life. By his word Jesus severed that bond, liberating her from her crippled condition.
 Satan can bind believers motivationally
Simon, the ex-sorcerer, ‘thought [he] could obtain the gift of God with money’ because his heart was not right before God. As a consequence he was ‘in the gall of bitterness and in the bondage of iniquity’ (Acts 8:20, 23). Simon was a baptised believer (verse 13). Peter did not inform him that he needed to have a demon expelled, but that he must ‘repent … of this wickedness of yours, and pray to the Lord that, if possible, the intent of yours may be forgiven you’ (Acts 8:22).
 Satan can tie up a believer mentally
The Thessalonian believers could easily become unsettled or alarmed by false prophecies, as we noticed earlier (2 Thessalonians 2:2) – literally ‘quickly … shaken … from your mind … through a spirit’ (Interlinear).
Because of their deeply entrenched fortress mentality, Paul needed to ‘wage war’ with unworldly ‘weapons’ that ’have divine power to destroy strongholds, … arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and … take every thought [of theirs] captive to Christ’ (2 Corinthians 10:4-6).
One of Satan’s main lines of attack on the Christian’s mind is by accusation (see Zechariah 3:1-5 and Job 1 and 2) which we must resist by the word of our testimony – both to the death of Christ for and to our readiness to die for him (Revelation 12:10-11).
Satan can ‘bewitch’ Christians! He does so by getting us out of the Spirit into mere human thinking, mere human sentiment and mere human activity (see Galatians 3:1-3). Matthew 16:21-23 gives us a key example: Peter’s very human thinking would cause him to try to dissuade Jesus from going to his death on the cross. His Master saw that ‘Satan’ was making use of the focus of Peter’s mind ‘on the things of man’ rather than on the things of God’.
To summarise this aspect of our subject:
- A stronghold is:
- Located in the mind
- Often based on good ideas – such as Peter’s rescue plan in Matthew 16
- Usually built in an area of natural strength – as a secure hill, not on an open plain (e g Zion’s hill, 1 Chronicles 11:4-5 = ‘fortress’ NLT)
- Frequently the result of a painful disappointment
- The causes of double-mindedness and all round stability (James 1:5-8)
- How can we demolish these forts of the enemy? (See James 4:7-10)
- Humbly submit to God
- Resist the devil persistently: Jesus himself used the sledge hammer of Scripture truth (Matthew 4:4, 7, 10)
- Draw near to God for a fresh encounter with him the realm of the Spirit
- Then we are able to cleanse our hands (that is, our activities, such as complaining, criticising, coveting) and our hearts (that is, from attitudes such as double-mindedness, especially about God’s power and goodness).
- Resist the devil persistently: Jesus himself used the sledge hammer of Scripture truth (Matthew 4:4, 7, 10).
- On what grounds can Satan affect us?
5.1 By divine permission
Satan cannot trouble, or test, or tie up the child of God without first obtaining God’s permission (see Job 1-2; Luke 22:31; compare 2 Corinthians 12:7 and Luke 10:19).
5.2 Sometimes by church permission
Concerning the unrepentant incestuous man who was a member of their church, Paul instructed the Corinthians: ‘In the name of our Lord Jesus, when you are assembled, and I am with you in spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus, I have decided to deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of his flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus’ (1 Corinthians 5:4)
The normal hedge of divine protection is thus removed (Job 1:10). Similarly, as we observed above, Paul also delivered Hymenaeus and Alexander over to Satan so that they may be taught [form a root signifying discipline] not to blaspheme (1 Timothy 1:20).
The immoral man in Corinth may have experienced some wasting disease. It seems to have brought him to his senses, assuming he is the same person they received back in 2 Corinthians 2:5-11, without any hint of exorcism.
Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 18 throws considerable light on this matter of church discipline which delivers a believer to Satan. In verses 15-20 the local church can bind (and loose, the same verbs as in Luke 13:10-16 above) a persistently intransigent brother. In verses 21-35 the fellow-slaves report the deliberately unforgiving slave to their lord who hands him over to torturers (verse 34, margin – e g insomnia, ulcers, confusion, tension etc.). See also 1 Corinthians 11:17-30).
5.3 Satan can bind a believer by the individual’s permission
There are three main ways in which a Christian can give ground to Satan.
- Indulgence in sin
James reckons that: ‘Each one is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own evil. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death’ (James 1:14-15).
The verb conceived suggests two parents of each sin. Similarly, to produce fruit of the Spirit involves two parents: ‘from me comes your fruit’ (Hosea 14:8).
In the same way, before a believer can speak an untruth he is tempted by a lying spirit. If he is not enticed to respond, due to lack of some appropriate desire in his heart, such as to save face, no sin is conceived. If he tells a one-off lie and duly repents of it and confesses it to those he tried to mislead, he is not ensnared in any bondage. But if he persistently commits a particular sin such as lying or stealing this leads to satanic bondage such as kleptomania. ‘Death’ here undoubtedly has the same sense as in 1 Timothy 5:6, 11-12, 14-15 where the young widow who indulges in wanton carnal pleasure ‘is dead even while she lives’, giving ‘the adversary occasion for slander’, having ‘already strayed after Satan.’
- Satan can bring bondage when the believer’s resistance is low during some experience of trauma
‘In your anger do not sin: do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold’ (Ephesians: 4:26-27).
Foothold (Greek topos) is literally ‘room’, or figuratively ‘opportunity’ (NASB). Anger is like a high explosive: used legitimately and under control dynamite can blast rocks out of a quarry, but detonated in an uncontrolled manner it can cause serious damage; anger like dynamite can be a blessing or a curse.
Any trauma that opens a deep wound in a Christian’s spirit can lead to bondage, such as a serious accident resulting in persistent anxiety and fear. The reason is that at the moment of trauma the believer failed to appropriate available grace. ‘See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God that no root of bitterness springs up and causes trouble and angst and many become defiled’ (Hebrews 12:15; compare 2 Corinthians 12:7-10).
- Grave clothes can be brought over from the Christian’s pre-conversion life
Lazarus when first raised physically from the dead was still bound (Greek deo) by grave clothes that hampered his progress; from these the disciples of Jesus were commanded to unbind him (Greek luo) him and set him free (John 11:44). John’s reason for selecting seven major miracles of Jesus is that they are signs to point readers to saving faith (20:30-31). That is, these physical miracles illustrate spiritual realities. In this case, by analogy we understand that only Jesus can impart eternal life to people who are dead through trespasses and sins, but his present day disciples are then authorised to loose than from any spiritual bondages they may have carried over into this new life.
The idea that a bondage can persist after new birth is no more a mystery than that a born again person smokes compulsively.
A related idea that is overdue for scriptural scrutiny takes the concept of grave clothes to the nth degree – namely a family curse. The texts (or pretexts?) for this are the second commandment (Exodus 20:4-5) in the light of Paul’s statements in 1 Corinthians 8:4-6; 10:19-20 that, although idols are mere inanimate objects to the Christian, they are means of communication with demons for the pagan worshippers. The argument from Exodus 20 reckons that occult bondages can be transmitted to the third and fourth generation because the bonds tied by occult spirits are stronger than those of other spirits and need a specific releasing ministry.
But surely Exodus 20:4-5 must be read in the light of all the many other canonical texts that speak of the accumulatory effects of familial, tribal and national sins. For instance, the Lord told Abraham that ‘the sin of the Amorites’ had ‘not reached its full measure’ but would do so ‘in the fourth generation’ (Genesis 15:16).
Jesus challenged the Pharisees’ hypocrisy in their boast that they wouldn’t have killed the prophets as their ancestors had done. In fact, they were about to slay the Son of God himself. ‘Fill up the measure of the sin of your forefathers,’ he told them (Matthew 23:32). ‘And so [for this reason] on you will come all the righteous blood that has been shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah, [the first and last reference to martyrdom in the Hebrew scriptures] …upon his generation’ (Matthew 23:35). Hence the total destruction of Jerusalem, its temple, and the Levitical sacrifices in AD 70.
In 1 Thessalonians 2:14-16 Paul links the current persecution of Christians by unregenerate Jews as the ‘the way they always heap up their sins to the limit. The wrath of God has come upon them fully [NIV margin] at last’, in ‘the coming wrath’ (1:10), namely, the final everlasting destruction on the day when the Lord comes back (2 Thessalonians 1:9-10), of which AD 70 was the foretaste.
Ezekiel chapter 18 makes it very plain that no descendant is punished for the sins of his fathers if he himself has renounced that sin and discontinued its practice. Rahab and her household were completely liberated from the Amorite curse and entered upon the covenant of Israel ‘to the thousandth generation’ – her family members were especially blessed around the 35th generation (or was it nearly the 40th due to deliberate omissions? Matthew 1:5, 16) when it hit the jackpot of covenant love (Hebrews 2:11-13)! The issue that decides blessings and cursing is not ancestry but whether the individual currently hates YHWH or loves him and keeps his commandments.
- Keys for the deliverance of bound believers
6.1 Discernment of the need
* The gift of ‘the ability to distinguish between spirits’ (1 Corinthians 12:10) will enable us to discern if a Christian’s sickness is due to natural causes, sin or a ‘spirit of infirmity’.
* Experience trains one’s faculties to perceive instinctively some people’s condition (see Hebrews 5:14; 1 Corinthians 2:15)
* Wise questioning can also give us clues: e.g. ‘Jesus asked the boy’s father, “How long has he been like this?”’ (Mark 9:21). The purpose is not voyeurism, but to expose the works of darkness to the light of recognition (see Ephesians 5:8-13).
6.2 A desire to be free
We would be wasting our time trying to release anyone who secretly enjoys his bondage (John 5:6).
This includes verbally confessing and practically renouncing of any sin that has given the devil opportunity (2 Corinthians 4:2; renounce means ‘to speak away’), and especially forgiving any who have wronged us (Matthew 18:23-35).
6.4 Pulling down of fortresses
In 2 Corinthians 10:3-5 Paul refers to double-mindedness, conflicting thoughts, reasoning and speculations – many of them probably deep, compulsive and involuntary – against the knowledge of God; they resemble a high wall blotting out the warmth of God’s sunshine. The members of the church in Corinth had allowed their thoughts to be captivated by the ministry of super-apostles. Paul was determined to use his weapons [Greek hopla] of war to demolish these false arguments and bring back their thought into God’s fortress and obedience to Christ. He does not specify what the weapons actually are. Laying on of hands could play a part, as well as words of release, because the members of the physical body are called hopla by Paul in Romans 6:13.
6.5 Living in the truth
* counting oneself dead to sin (Romans 6:11)
* renewing one’s mind (Romans 12:1-2; Ephesians 4:23; Colossians 3:10)
* obeying the truth (thereby purifying oneself, 1 Peter 1:22; John 8:31-32)
* walking in the Spirit (Galatians 5:16)
* resisting the devil (1 Peter 5:9; James 4:7 – note the order of sequence: first ‘submit … to God’ then ‘resist the devil, and he will flee from you’)
Some practical testimonies
Let me conclude this quite intense and detailed study with some testimonies that remind us that, above all else, we must remain sensitive to the guidance of the Great Physician. His methods of ministering deliverance are many and varied. How he delivered me and then my wife was through the ministry of the laying-on of hands. This contrasts with his dealings with Ian, my good friend and web master.
- My personal journey concerning ‘holy communion’
Throughout my childhood, adolescence and early adulthood, ‘the breaking of bread’ was the special service every Sunday morning. It was featured on the church notice board as ‘The Lord’s Supper 11a.m.’. This provoked the comment by one passer-by: ‘Cor! He has his supper early!’
We held firmly to a belief in ‘the priesthood of all believers’, but the adjective ‘male’ was invisibly inserted before the noun ‘believers’! This meant that any man could minister in public prayer, in preaching and teaching, and at ‘the Lord’s table’. What we didn’t realise was that the sacred hour had been chosen by Martin Luther during the Reformation. He loved to debate scriptural issues at length on a Saturday night and therefore slept long into the next day. And, since any time after 11 o’clock would have meant each week would not begin until Sunday afternoon so, it is said, he decided on the latest possible morning hour. (I’m not sure if there is any documented evidence of this.)
When some of us were led by the Lord to begin our first ‘church in the home’ in the late 1960s, I felt wracked with guilt that we now didn’t meet until Sunday evening each week and so were missing early communion to start the week. No one else in our fellowship seemed to find it a problem. (This situation had come about because my wife had already launched a Sunday school for our four children who were quarantined for many weeks with the domino effect of measles. And another mum living nearby had just testified to Rosemary of committing her life to Christ in her own Sunday school days, so she brought her young son and daughter along to our home on a Sunday morning.)
Some years later, I attended a week’s conference in the Netherlands. While engaged in personal heart preparation for communion on the final evening, I got a shock. At lunchtime, a main speaker offered counselling in the afternoon to those who felt they needed releasing from bondage of spirit. Turning to me he suddenly asked, ‘Would you like to see me this afternoon?’ ‘Maybe later’, I spluttered. ‘Maybe next week!’ he retorted.
At that final service, he renewed his offer of ministry for deliverance by their team. So I raised my hand. ‘Ah!’ he commented, ‘The Big Preacher who always sits at the back and smiles. At last he admits his need of help!’ He shocked me further by uttering over me release from my church tradition that was restricting my spiritual liberty – ‘religious spirits’ he called them. All I need to comment is that when I got home my wife knew something radical had taken place before I ever said a word to her. She had not seen any such change when, two years earlier, I had returned from another conference speaking in tongues. And, after prayer, that night she began to praise the Lord in tongues as she was drifting off to sleep. But some while later she too requested ministry for a release from the religious bondage of her spirit!
Back in those far off days I began to be aware that we had treated ‘the Lord’s supper’ more as a wake than a celebration.
Jesus’ initiation of ‘holy communion’
Matthew 26:27-29 reads in The New Living Translation:
‘And he took a cup of wine and gave thanks for it. He gave it to them and said, “Each of you drink from it, for this is my blood, which confirms the covenant between God and his people”’ – compare the historic night of Israel’s exodus from slavery in Egypt – a joyous occasion. ‘It is poured out as a sacrifice to forgive the sins of many. Mark my words – I will not drink wine again until the day I drink it new with you in my Father’s Kingdom.”
He at that time declined this cup of celebration. Why?
All this contrasts with what Jeremiah (16:5-7 English Standard Version) referred to as a ‘cup of consolation’ in ‘the house of mourning’ – at what in Ireland would be called a wake! But let’s pause to consider why our Lord Jesus declined the cup of blessing at the last supper with his disciples in that upper room in Jerusalem.
- 1 Corinthians 11:26, ‘… you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes’.
How we tended to conduct the Lord’s Supper in my younger days could be described by a line in Hosea 9:4, ‘It shall be like mourners’ bread to them.’ However, the apostle Paul made clear that ‘the Lord Jesus’ himself did not intend this Christian discipline to be a mourning of his death, but: ‘as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes’ (1 Corinthians 11:26 ESV).
The verb ‘proclaim’ suggests a bold announcement of triumph as in Psalm 97:6, ‘The heavens proclaim his righteousness and all the peoples see his glory.’ And when our Lord returned from his forty days in the desert he preached in the synagogue of his home town Nazareth, as Luke 4:19 tells us, ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor . . . to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour’.
And we are still in that gospel era, ‘The Year of Jubilee’ in which we must proclaim release to sin’s captives. So, as we pass the bread to each other and take some, no one needs permission to shout Hallelujah! or Praise the Lord! as they partake.
- Psalm 116:13, ‘I will lift up the cup of salvation.’
I always used to quote this verse from the King James Version: ‘I will take the cup of salvation and call on the name of the Lord’. But it is correctly translated in more recent versions as: ‘I will lift up the cup of salvation’ That is the action one adopts in making and responding to a toast. In most languages the traditional words uttered are: ‘To your health!’ or ‘To your well-being!’ But my favourite is the Jewish toast: ‘L’Chaim!’ – ‘To life!’ Never does a week go by but on many a day I thank the Lord for the certain hope of the resurrection. And, my brothers and sisters, his risen life already quickens these mortal bodies of ours.
Communion wine is served in our church in small personal portions, so celebrants can each raise their small cup when all have been served, and say to one another, ‘To life!’ if they wish. Paul called this ‘the cup of blessing … a participation in the blood of Christ’’. And a toast is a corporate celebration of life shared – shared by those who do not hide their sorrows and joys, but make them known to one another in a gesture of hope. Lived alone, life could at times be overwhelming, but we celebrate two blessings: (1) Hebrews 4:15 assures us that Jesus is ‘able to sympathise with our weaknesses’, and (2) and Galatians 6:2 tells us to ‘bear one another’s burdens’ (Galatians 6:2).
Interestingly, such procedure can expose any hidden condition of religious bondage! But, I ask once again: why did our Lord decline the cup of blessing at that last supper. What has changed since Calvary from the traditional Jewish understanding? Everything has moved from the routine Passover ritual; ‘exodus’ now had a brand new meaning in Christ’s fulfilling of the Passover message!
P.S. There are so many variations on how we can conduct this lovely Christian exercise. I recall pleasantly surprising an evangelist friend at a meal we shared in a restaurant. I had retained a piece of the bread roll that had accompanied my soup course, and my wine that I had so far left untouched. This was a new experience for him, but he admitted that this was probably how the first church after Pentecost conducted their lives together at their evening meal in each other’s homes. ‘Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favour of the people’ (Acts 2:46-47 New Living Translation).
(2) Ian’s testimony
While driving along the motorway from Bolton to Newcastle on a business trip, Ian was enjoying a worship tape without a care on his mind. Since he and his father lived full lives well distanced from each other he had agreed to pick dad up en route in order to get some time together.
He began to cry uncontrollably, issuing in coughing and retching, so he had to find a place to park and recover – and try to fathom the cause of this flood of emotion.
Still mystified, he resumed his journey. When he called for his father he was told, ‘Your mother’s in bed, not feeling very well. Pop up and see her.’ After a chat, he hugged her and told her, ‘I love you’, and then resumed his journey with dad on board, without any mention of that recent experience.
It was only when reflecting on all this a couple of days later that he realised that they’d never been a family that expressed affection to each other, and he could not recall ever hugging his mother before!
Also he became aware of persistent fears that apparently had now gone. For instance, instead of dreading the dark he henceforth enjoyed it like daylight. Since becoming as father, he’d had a constant nagging fear of the consequences of his death; he had dreaded what would happen to his wife and family were he to die which he felt sure was destined to happen. That retching on his lone drive on the M25 had been the shedding of these demonic bondages.
On a later occasion while passing a garage on a local homeward car journey, a sudden memory triggered another bout of uncontrolled weeping that required him once more to park. The deep sobbing continued for a while. On walking into his home, the sobbing returned; and he was unable for some time to speak to his wife. Eventually he could breathe and tell her of this God-encounter that had set him free from deep hurts and major wounding. This release occurred as a series of tearful sessions. He knew that the Lord had bound the wounds of the broken-hearted. He was now able to reflect freely on various past experiences of wounding.