John F MacArthurA few weeks ago, one of my readers asked about demon infestation and manifestation in the present day.

This is understandable. So much evil manifests itself from verbal harassment to incest to murder that it is difficult to understand it all.

In recent years, some nominally Christian cultures have independent pastors — often called ‘Apostle’ or ‘Prophet’ — who perform deliverance rituals to rid seriously troubled people of ‘demons’.

Yet, formal, long-established denominations are careful about using exorcism except in very rare circumstances, if ever.

When I wrote about Luke 4:33-37 in June 2013, I cited one of John MacArthur’s sermons, ‘Jesus’s Authority over Demons, Part 3’.

In that sermon, MacArthur cites the various examples of demons in the Bible manifesting themselves. It is interesting that most did so during Jesus’s time on earth, fewer before or since in that Exorcist type of way. Excerpts follow, emphases mine:

Back in Genesis chapter 6 we find the first occasion of demons manifest. They were working before that, Satan and his forces, but we see them manifest in Genesis chapter 6 because it says in the first few verses that the sons of God, which is a term to describe these demons when they were originally created as angels, they can be called sons of God, angels are so called in Scripture, sons not in the sense of being born like people are born, but sons in the sense of being created by God, these sons of God in the case of Genesis 6 who are now fallen demons cohabitated with the daughters of men. That is to say, demons entered male bodies prior to the Flood, cohabitated with women for the specific purpose of producing what I suppose they felt would be a supremely wicked offspring. A bizarre kind of activity they engaged in.

It is also discussed in Jude 6 which comments on Genesis 6, and 2 Peter chapter 2 where it says angels left their normal habitation and came down and went after strange flesh, that is demons possessing male bodies cohabitating with women to produce what they assumed would be particularly wicked offspring. Demons then indwelt bodies of men in Genesis 6 for specific purpose, that’s the first thing that’s anything like demon possession. It’s not…it’s not the full range of demon possession which seems to be a sort of permanent indwelling for the purpose of control and torment, but it does indicate in Genesis 6 that demons can move into people and accomplish their bizarre intentions.

He adds:

We never see demon possession in the rest of the Old Testament. It isn’t to say that demons don’t move into people, they do but they prefer to be hidden there. After all, the New Testament tells us in 2 Corinthians that they are disguised as angels of light. They would rather operate in a clandestine subtle way …

But it wasn’t rare during the time of Jesus. Jesus was so powerful, His message was so powerful, His person was so powerful that when He came into the world and He began to preach the gospel and He began to come to people with the message of His Kingdom, demons in sheer terror began to expose themselves, I believe, involuntarily out of sheer trauma.

As for our era, MacArthur says:

you can go through your whole lifetime and never see a demon manifestation through a person. As I told you, in my whole lifetime and I’ve been pretty much at the cutting edge, at the front edge of the battle for the gospel, I’ve only perhaps three times actually engaged in verbalization with a demon speaking through a person. They don’t like to do that. They don’t like to manifest themselves. So demon…demon manifestation in a possessed person is a very rare phenomen[on].

That said, yes, demons do work through people. Matthew Henry used different words in the 17th century — the devil or an unclean spirit — more in line with how I was brought up to understand evil. I remain sceptical of using the word ‘demon’ too often except in discussing the New Testament; it is all too easy for us to feed on today’s Christian sensationalism about deliverance and labelling people as demon-possessed.

Back now to MacArthur who tells us where today’s subtle unclean spirits dwell:

They are disguised as angels of light. They are disguised as ministers of righteousness. They don’t want to manifest who they really are …

They would rather operate in a person who is teaching in a liberal seminary. They would rather be a Methodist…they would be in a Methodist pastor who advocates homosexuality. They can get a lot more done subtly. It appears to be high church, it appears to be sophisticated, it appears to be even elitist in terms of its academics. But these people who are the ‘human instruments’ of these disguised demons sound the same as Satan. If you listen to them, these liberal people, they tell you you can’t believe the Bible. Isn’t that what Satan said in the Garden, you can’t believe God, He’s not trustworthy? They tell you the God of the Bible is not good. Isn’t that what Satan implied? God isn’t good, if He was good He wouldn’t tell you you couldn’t eat of that good tree over there. You can’t trust God. You can’t believe God. God isn’t going to look out for your best.

When we see or read of evil, we rightly see it for what it is. Think of the crime stories in the papers or, tragically, those who have suffered violent abuse first-hand. There is no question that Satan and his minions are at work in those circumstances, including those incidents which are church-related and done in the name of Christ or the Bible.

As MacArthur explains of the aforementioned apostate preachers:

Whether they are actually indwelt by demons or not, we can’t know unless there would be some point at which that manifestation occurred. But it’s not usual that they would manifest themselves.

Therefore, it is important to not focus as much on demon possession as it is to pray that God’s grace continues to overcome Satan in this world — in both the civil and ecclesiastical arenas.

And recall what MacArthur said about the empty soul of the moralistic convert from last week’s exposition of Luke 11:24-26:

Cleaned up but empty. And if the living God is not present there, you have a disaster ...

There really is no more serious danger than the danger of morality. It’s like the leper with no sense of pain. Such a person destroys himself without knowing it. Leprosy is a nerve disease that obliterates feeling. And lepers rub off their fingers and rub off their feet and rub off their faces because they can’t feel anything. This is the deadly danger of morality.

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