Today we’re going to start with an area which is of great fascination for some people and mostly ignored by others: the power of Jesus name over demons. Then we’ll turn our attention to a seldom considered aspect of the subject and that is the effect the name of Jesus has, or should have, on believers. I’ll let you be curious about that for the next few minutes. For now we’re going to launch directly into a brief consideration of the power of Jesus name in the realm of evil spirits.
There is little doubt that we are aware of only a small fraction of our spiritual environment. But when I say “we” here, I’m talking particularly about those of us in more western cultures. Having travelled in other parts of the world, I know that people in other cultures are much more conscious of the spirit realm. So I’d like to begin by offering a suggestion as to why we observe this division.
As I understand spiritual reality, spirit beings, both demonic and angelic, are intellectually superior to humans. Right now we’re going to consider evil spirits or demons. They are smart. They are cunning. They are manipulative. And they are powerful. However, while their power is real, much of it is comes from the people under their influence. This influence is mostly a matter of deception. Just as a bully in the playground dominates other children principally through their own fear, demons exert their influence through the response of people to them.
I believe that the difference we see in demonic activity in different parts of the world is more a matter of strategy than quantity. In more scientific/materialistic cultures, demons apply their influence subtly to distract people from spiritual truth. As long as people are denying all spiritual reality, focussed on their own comfort and pleasure, demons choose to not create big disturbances. In fact, to do so would be counter productive because it would make people more aware of the spiritual realm, convincing them of its reality, and, potentially, causing them to seek God.
In less scientific/materialistic cultures, demons are much more open in bullying people into submission and prompting a misunderstanding of their power. Thus people are deceived into thinking that the forces of evil are stronger than the power of God and that it is more important to appease demons than to seek God.
Of course, there will be local, individual, exceptions to this, but in all situations, the intent of demons is to draw people away from God, to deceive them about their own existence and power, to ensure that as few as possible seek God and experience the power of the Holy Spirit in their lives. They will do this in the most effective way possible in any given situation.
That said, even a casual reading of the New Testament leaves us with the impression that demons are active in human lives and societies. The culture of Jesus’ time was of the less scientific/materialistic class, so demonic activity was usually in the open. The confrontation between the dominion of Satan and the Kingdom of God was very public. Satan and his demons were credited directly with many of the ills observable in the world, often even things like sickness, that in western cultures today we would attribute to germs or genetics. At any rate, what we observe in the ministry of Jesus and His followers is that whenever a confrontation between them and demons occurred, the demons lost. Though, of course, when people try to use the name of Jesus without having an authentic relationship with Him, they put themselves in jeopardy.
Let’s read some verses together, then consider their implications.
In Mark 9:38-39 we read of an encounter between Jesus and John, who said: “Teacher, we saw someone who does not follow us casting out demons in Your name, and we forbade him because he does not follow us.” But Jesus said, “Do not forbid him, for no one who works a miracle in My name can soon afterward speak evil of Me.”
In Mark 16:17 we read these words of Jesus: “And these signs will follow those who believe: In My name they will cast out demons; they will speak with new tongues;
Luke 10:17 gives the account of seventy disciples, who had been sent out by Jesus, returning with joy, saying, “Lord, even the demons are subject to us in Your name.”
Acts 16 gives us the account of a demon-possessed girl who had been bothering Paul for many days. In verse 18 we read that Paul, greatly annoyed, turned and said to the spirit, “‘I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.’ And he came out that very hour.”
These are just a few examples of demons being subject to the authority of Jesus, whether He exerted it first hand, or through His disciples acting in His name. But let me point out a few things.
First of all, there is very little teaching about confronting demons. Most of what we know about the subject comes from examples. I searched in vain for a little “how to” passage, so what follows is based on observation.
Secondly, power over demons is generally exerted on an individual level. I say that to distinguish it from a church-based rite or ritual.
Thirdly, all demonic confrontations are verbal. It appears that demons can’t read our minds, so we can’t just think a command to them. When demons were faced by Jesus, He always spoke to them. In the cases of possession, He bypassed the demon’s victim and spoke directly to the possessing spirit.
Fourthly, from my reading of the Scriptures, it appears that every believer indwelt by the Holy Spirit has authority over demons. However, as we saw in an earlier program, sometimes special spiritual preparation — specifically, prayer and fasting — must be undertaken. (If you want to double-check that, read Mark 9:14-29.)
Fifthly, let me draw your attention to a teaching Jesus gave in Matthew 12:43-45. While there is no specific example of this situation recorded, Jesus indicated that when an unclean spirit is cast out, it may return and if the person has not turned to God and is indwelt by the Holy Spirit, the demon may, once again, take control and worse yet, may take other demons with him making the person’s condition worse than ever.
Sixthly, based on the previous two points, I believe that Christians need to be wise in their confrontations with demons. This is not an area to fool around with or to become obsessed with. We may face demons along the way and need to confront them, but let’s not fall for some of the bizarre portrayals of exorcism we find in the media.
Lastly, remember that when we act in Jesus’ name, whether in confronting demons or anything else, we are merely the channels of His grace and power. It is not our own authority that is at work, but His. This is something we may take as matter-of-factly as any other spiritual work — an opportunity to share the gospel, the chance to encourage a brother or sister, an occasion to relieve suffering or bring hope.
Now, let’s move into another area. We have seen that demons are responsive to the name of Jesus. Now we’ll look at human responsiveness. Here are some verses, written by the apostle Paul, to get us started.
1Co 1:10 Now I plead with you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment.
2Th 3:6 But we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you withdraw from every brother who walks disorderly and not according to the tradition which he received from us.
2Ti 2:19 Nevertheless the solid foundation of God stands, having this seal: “The Lord knows those who are His,” and, “Let everyone who names the name of Christ depart from iniquity.”
In these verses Paul used the name of Jesus to emphasize that he was not giving his own personal advice, a piece of righteous logic, or even a holy suggestion, but a divine command. In the Corinthians passage, he invoked the name of the Lord Jesus on the issue of unity. With the Thessalonians, he was concerned with purity in the local fellowship, and in writing to Timothy, he highlighted personal holiness.
In Paul’s case, he had what we sometimes call apostolic authority which gave him the right to speak to the newly established churches in a way others could not. Yet on these important matters, he appealed to the highest possible authority — the name of Jesus — to challenge his readers. Remember Paul was introducing truth through what would become the Bible. Sometimes he could quote from the Old Testament to back up what he was teaching, but in the early days of the church as God was revealing new truth to the New Testament writers, they had no authoritative quotations to build their cases on. That is why Paul reminded his readers at the beginning of his letters that he was an apostle of the Lord Jesus — an appointed representative of the Lord. Additionally, in the cases we’ve just reviewed, he appealed to the authority resident in the name of Jesus to urge the early Christians to submit to his teaching.
What about Christians today? Personally, I would be very hesitant to invoke the name of Jesus regarding some new idea which had popped into my head. In fact, I can’t imagine any circumstance in which I might be motivated to do so. However, there is a sense that every time I present the truth of the Bible to others, it is in the name of Jesus — that is I am speaking His truth with His authority. I’m not doing it for my benefit. I’m doing it that God might be glorified and people blessed.
Of course, all preachers need to be careful about making claims like this. We need to be searching our hearts to be sure that we are not preaching truth so that others will be impressed with us, like us, or bless us materially. We may not be able to avoid such things, but we should not be motivated by them. I freely confess that I have been particularly blessed by the preaching of some specific individuals. I respect them. I speak highly of them. I share some of my resources with them to encourage them. But I’ve never gotten the impression that they were looking for any of those things.
As we saw last time, not everyone who claims to speak in the name of Jesus is actually doing so and we need to apply some discernment as we listen to preachers and teachers, comparing their insights with scripture to ensure that they are, in fact, teaching Biblical truth under the authority of Jesus for the glory of God.
When we speak in Jesus name, whether it be to one person or a crowd, we are looking for a response to Him, not to us. We may or may not see evidence of a response. That is not what matters. What matters is that we have been faithful to the truth, spoken it with the authority of the Lord, and understood that regardless of our audience’s response to us, they now have to answer to the One in whose name we have spoken.
Sometimes, those of us who listen to a lot more preaching and teaching than presenting it, forget that when a speaker opens his or her mouth with the truth of God, they are doing so in the name of Jesus, whether or not that is specifically said. It is then our responsibility to answer to the Lord on whatever issue is presented. How easy it is for us to listen to some uncomfortable, convicting teaching, and quietly convince ourselves that it is not really the Lord who is speaking to us, just a cranky preacher riding his theological hobby horse. That is not true. Strange as it may be for some of us to admit, even the least polished speaker, preaching in Jesus name, is bringing the truth of God to bear in our lives. You might be able to write off some presenters as “not very eloquent” but if they are speaking in Jesus’ name, you can’t write off the truth they are presenting.