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SYMPATHY FOR DEVILS?

 

All Scripture citations are to the King James (Authorised) Version

 

Mark 5: 12, 13:

 

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.

 

Question: Why did Jesus comply with the devils’ request?

 

Answer: The exorcism of the wild man in the country of the Gadarenes is unique among the gospel narratives of demon possession. In this account a large number (legion) of demons inhabited the man. The case is remarkable for Jesus’ apparent co-operation with the demons.

 

Fits of epilepsy and the mental imbalances of schizophrenia were once mistaken for the work of evil spirits. In past ages, before the protocol of neuroscience or psychiatry, ‘spirit possession’ was the standard explanation for transient disruptions to a generally robust personality. Modern advances in our understanding of the mind cause many Christians to doubt the veracity of the reports of spirit possession recorded in the gospels. Could this fierce maniac simply be hallucinating?

 

Were it not for the plain dialogue and Jesus’ straight speech, one might have liberty to explain the gospel exorcisms in modern terms, equating His healing to the powers of anti-psychotic drugs capable of the same results. But the scene of deliverance in the hill country bordering Galilee is more than the healing of a man’s mind, for Jesus enters into conversation with the unclean spirits before their transfer into the herd of pigs.

 

The exchange begins with the rebellious challenge of the possessing host to Jesus, taken here from Matthew 8: 29: ‘What have we to do with thee, Jesus, thou Son of God? art thou come hither to torment us before the time?’ Jesus doesn’t answer their question, neither refuting or concurring with the accusation.

 

The challenge hints at devilish wit, for it both invites transgression and expresses a divine truth. The host of demons knew they had a degree of liberty until a divinely appointed time – the day of judgement. ‘Know ye not that we shall judge angels?’ asks St. Paul in 1 Corinthians 6: 3. These are the angels which had sinned, ‘reserved unto judgment’, according to 2 Peter 2: 4.

 

The ‘torment’ of our principal text is translated from the Greek basanizo (basanizw) which is often translated to mean ‘pain’ or ‘to vex’ (Matthew 4: 24; Luke 16: 23, torments). However, the word also carries the meaning of interrogation, an attempt to uncover truth (see Thayer, etc.) But the word long ago took on the sole meaning of torture, a brutal regimen of inquiry well understood by the translators of the King James Bible. This meaning was bequeathed to subsequent generations, thus bolstering the notion of eternal torment in a fiery hell. But Jesus had no intention of torturing the fallen angels. He probably knew a time had been appointed in his Father’s plan for a judicial interrogation of these beings; a time when these former sons of the Most High would be called to account for their disobedience.

 

Perhaps had Jesus answered yes to their question, He might have opened Himself to the accusation of pre-empting the Father’s times and seasons. Had he answered no, then the spirits with more subversive wit may have used His negation as permission to continue their abuse. Instead His silence testified to a resolve to continue, unswayed by the demons’ taunt. The exorcism bore fruit in the cleansed man’s witness in the Decapolis, and vindicates Jesus’ motives. But, returning to our question, why did Jesus grant the demons’ request in the first place?

 

The time for the judgement of these fallen angels was then centuries in the future, and Jesus’ ministry on earth was not yet complete, so the time had not come for Him to judge them. However, as St. Peter writes, Jesus’ sufferings for sin and the fact of His resurrection did serve as a witness to these angels who, having fallen from heaven, were now ‘imprisoned’ in the earth (1 Peter 3: 18, 19):

 

18 For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit: 19 By which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison.

 

From this Scripture, we can see that Jesus’ work of redemption will offer salvation to Adam’s race, and for the fallen angels – the demons – a model of loyalty, obedience, and the possibility of repentance. See Colossians 1: 20:

 

And, having made peace through the blood of his cross, by him to reconcile all things unto himself; by him, I say, whether they be things in earth, or things in heaven.

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Copyright November 2012 ukbiblestudents.co.uk

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