Devil Possession in the Bible

This week’s scripture reading – Matthew 8:28-34, 

And when he was come to the other side into the country of the Gergesenes, there met him two possessed with devils, coming out of the tombs, exceeding fierce, so that no man might pass by that way. And, behold, they cried out, saying, What have we to do with thee, Jesus, thou Son of God? art thou come hither to torment us before the time? And there was a good way off from them an herd of many swine feeding.

So the devils besought him, saying, If thou cast us out, suffer us to go away into the herd of swine. And he said unto them, Go. And when they were come out, they went into the herd of swine: and, behold, the whole herd of swine ran violently down a steep place into the sea, and perished in the waters. And they that kept them fled, and went their ways into the city, and told every thing, and what was befallen to the possessed of the devils. And, behold, the whole city came out to meet Jesus: and when they saw him, they besought [him] that he would depart out of their coasts.

The Devil is in the Details

It is often the subtle nuances that get missed while reading about devil possession in the Bible with the first one being this, it was the two possessed with devils who met Jesus by coming out of the tombs. As ancient burial places, often hewn out of the rocks amid cliffs, tombs were not exactly the most desirable location for people to reside. As it was with devils however, this was likely a comfortable abode for them among the dead. The initial point worth making is that it was the two possessed with devils who came out of the tombs toward Jesus and this will serve as an introduction to devil possession in scripture.

While it is only speculative, it is questionable why they would have confronted Jesus, given their statement made shortly thereafter, What have we to do with thee, Jesus, thou Son of God? art thou come hither to torment us before the time? Here in this brief instance, the devils of darkness immediately acknowledged who Jesus was, the eternal Son of God, and they were also aware that a time of reckoning was coming to them at some future time, described here as one of torment. One would think given that they knew full well who Jesus was and what eventually awaited them, they would have perhaps remained hidden in the cave but as it was with the inherent nature of devils, their intent was to always spread darkness among the light of the world. 

Old Testament Devil Worship

Devil possession in the Bible started early on. Historically in the Old Testament, there are limited records of devils, or the devil, perhaps with the exception of four explicit verses noted here. On one occasion, the ancient Israelite priests were instructed not to make sacrifices unto them as shown in Lev. 17:7, And they shall no more offer their sacrifices unto devils, after whom they have gone a whoring. This shall be a statute for ever unto them throughout their generations.

During another time, when the Lord was highlighting the contrasting difference between Jacob and Jerhurun, the latter one was described in Deut. 32:15-17, …he forsook God [which] made him, and lightly esteemed the Rock of his salvation. They provoked him to jealousy with strange [gods,] with abominations provoked they him to anger. They sacrificed unto devils, not to God; to gods whom they knew not, to new [gods that] came newly up, whom your fathers feared not.

Another notable instance of devil worship was with Jeroboam after he cast off the Levite priests and placed other priests in their place, but unfortunately continued as noted in 2 Chron. 11:15, And he ordained him priests for the high places, and for the devils, and for the calves which he had made. Devils in this instance were hairy, goat-like idols. 

The last reference of devil possession in the Bible worth noting from the Old Testament is from the book of Psalms with this one chronicling the ancient Israelite people following their exodus out of Egypt. During the reign of Moses, the people did not always destroy the pagan practices before them but followed in their evil ways as in Ps. 106:35-38, ...mingled among the heathen, and learned their works. And they served their idols: which were a snare unto them. Yea, they sacrificed their sons and their daughters unto devils, And shed innocent blood, [even] the blood of their sons and of their daughters, whom they sacrificed unto the idols of Canaan: and the land was polluted with blood.

Satan in the Old Testament

This no doubt resulted in their own defilement and the wrath of the Lord was set against them for their behaviour, resulting in heathen nations ruling over and oppressing them (Ps. 106:41-42). Aside from these references in the Old Testament, it of course does not negate the fact that the devil himself often went under several aliases, such as the serpent (Gen. 3:1-14), Satan (Job 1:6),  Lucifer (Is. 14:12) and king of Tyrus (Ezek. 28:12).

Affliction of Devils

Transitioning to the New Testament, there is some debate on other gospel accounts from Mark and Luke related to the one from Matthew. For this study, they will be treated as one and the same given pre and post similarities to the event. In addition, other occurrences of demon possession in the Bible will be referenced to gain better context from all recorded accounts.

Let us now have a look at the insidious nature of devils during the possession of people from scripture. First to note, as mentioned previously, is their desire to dwell among the dead such as in tombs. Second is the enraged nature instilled upon such possessed people, here described as exceeding fierce, so that no man might pass by that way. In Luke’s account, more description is provided of one person possessed with devils in Luke 8:27, …and ware no clothes, neither abode in [any] house, but in the tombs. We shall see that devil possession in scripture had a tormenting effect on certain people.

The dismal state of this man is further noted in Luke 8:29, 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.) This account from the Gospel of Mark also embellishes further on the circumstances of this possessed man from Mark 5:3b-5, 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. In summary, this was indeed the most sorry and pathetic state for this man who was at the mercy of the devil and clearly under his control. * (fetters – iron shackles)

Son of the Most High

Revisiting the earlier comment and observation from Mattew’s account, in reference to the people possessed with devils who approached Jesus, here is further information as recorded from Mark 5:6-7, 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. In Luke’s account, we see similar observations recorded from Luke 8:28, When he saw Jesus, he cried out, and fell down before him, and with a loud voice said, What have I to do with thee, Jesus, [thou] Son of God most high? I beseech thee, torment me not. It is now very evident from all three accounts, that the demon possessed person or persons, took the initiative to come toward Jesus, then addressed Jesus as the Son of God, then pleaded with him not to torment them before the appointed time and lastly, that there were multiple devils indwelling and possessing them.

Legion of Devils

On this note of devil possession in the Bible, it is interesting that Jesus asked the devils their name with the response recorded in Luke 8:30, And Jesus asked him, saying, What is thy name? And he said, Legion: because many devils were entered into him. This particular name is also confirmed in Mark 5:9. The possession of individuals by multiple devils was also recorded in Matt. 16:9.

Now when [Jesus] was risen early the first [day] of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom he had cast seven devils. This multiple indwelling or possession was further noted by Jesus in Matt. 12:43-45, 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.

…through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil.

Heb. 2:14b

Also confirmed in the above scripture is evidence that both men and women were possessed by devils, which is also recorded in Acts 16:16-17, And it came to pass, as we went to prayer, a certain damsel possessed with a spirit of divination met us, which brought her masters much gain by soothsaying: The same followed Paul and us, and cried, saying, These men are the servants of the most high God, which shew unto us the way of salvation. Another such record of a woman possessed by a devil was documented in Matt. 15:22, And, behold, a woman of Canaan came out of the same coasts, and cried unto him, saying, Have mercy on me, O Lord, [thou] Son of David; my daughter is grievously vexed with a devil. Devil possession in scripture, whether with men or women, continued even after the ascension of Jesus. His apostles, such as Philip, while in the city of Samaria, encountered possessed people as shown in Acts 8:7, Acts 8:7, For unclean spirits, crying with loud voice, came out of many that were possessed [with them:] and many taken with palsies, and that were lame, were healed.

Omnipotent Son of God

With all of this said, devil possession in the Bible is indeed a serious matter that inflicts tormenting behaviours upon people, often exacting incredibly strong physical power. A person possessed by devils would have led to a tragic existence and the fact that Jesus was able to cast them out with a simple command was indicative of his omnipotent power over the spirit world. This was the principal reason for the Son of God to be manifested into the world as per 1 John 3:8b, For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil. This was also reflected in Hebrews 2:14b, …through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil.

Also recall the question posed to Jesus by the devils over being tormented before their time, since this was spoken of by Jesus as he foretold of things to come in Matt.25:41, Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels. The fate that awaits the devil and his minion demons is indeed less than a pleasant one.

Neither give place to the devil.

Eph. 4:27

New Life in Christ

To close off this study on devil possession in the Bible, one might ask where this leaves believers in the Lord Jesus Christ. Scripture indicates many notable and unchangeable distinctions in people once they come to a saving faith in Christ.  Paul wrote of this in his letters such as 2 Cor. 5:17, Therefore if any man [be] in Christ, [he is] a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new. Further to this, Paul wrote a similar passage on the transforming nature of believers in Gal. 2:20, I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.

Adding to this from another one of Paul’s letters, he confirmed the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in believers as shown in 1 Cor. 6:19, What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost [which is] in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? The apostle John also noted the distinguishing fact that believers are now indwelt by the spirit of Christ in 1 John 3:9-10, Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for his seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God. In this the children of God are manifest, and the children of the devil. 

With all of this encouraging scripture now referencing a believer’s new birth in Christ, along with the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, there is indeed absolutely no possibility for a Christian to ever become possessed by devils. Devil possession in the Bible is pertinent to unbelievers. Where there is risk however, is the influence and temptation that resides from our sin nature, this side of heaven. For this reason, the apostles wrote frequently on the need for believers to be vigilant in this regard such as James 4:7, Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.

Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.

Eph. 6:11

Abiding in Christ

Paul wrote in a similar fashion to believers in a short but direct admonishment in Eph. 4:27, Neither give place to the devil. Further on in the same letter, Paul described the need to be properly equipped in this battle of evil influence and temptation in Eph. 6:11, Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. While devil possession in scripture prevailed, there are clearly many opportunities for Christian’s to be guided by God’s word.

The apostle Peter also described the nature of the devil toward believers in 1 Pet. 5:8-10, Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour: Whom resist stedfast in the faith, knowing that the same afflictions are accomplished in your brethren that are in the world. But the God of all grace, who hath called us unto his eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after that ye have suffered a while, make you perfect, stablish, strengthen, settle [you.]

For believers, this vigilance will indeed be one that involves daily prayer, worship and meditation upon God’s word. It is important to realize however, that this is a spiritual battle among good and evil and that it is first and foremost a battle that belongs to the Lord as noted in 2 Tim. 4:18, And the Lord shall deliver me from every evil work, and will preserve [me] unto his heavenly kingdom: to whom [be] glory for ever and ever. Amen.

Bible Study Questions

  1. In this study on devil possession in the Bible, what do you think it meant when the devils asked Jesus if they were going to be tormented before the time?
  2. If the ancient Israelites knew about the one true God, why do you think they still worshipped and sacrificed to devils?
  3. Can you recall the four verses in the Old Testament that give reference to Satan from devil possession in the Bible?
  4. In the section, Affliction with Devils, can you identify three things that happened to people possessed with devils?
  5. Since Jesus was able to cast out devils from people who were possessed what does this tell you about the power in him?
  6. As Christians, we have the Spirit of the almighty God dwelling in us which prevents any possession from devils, true or false?
  7. What influences in your own life should be repented of to ensure you are not influenced by devils?

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