In the Greco-Roman world demons were neither good nor evil. Socrates believed that everyone should have their own personal demon. Plato taught that you should never attempt to do something important like found a city without the assistance of demons. They believed that if you could discover the true name of a demon, then you could make that demon serve you. Maybe you want your partner dead so that you don’t have to share the profits anymore. Maybe you want the butcher’s wife to fall in love with you. Enlist the help of a demon and all of your troubles will be over. That’s what they believed with all of their little pagan hearts. But the reality was something much more sinister. The demons may pretend to be on your side, but the truth will grab you by the throat and throw you in shackles. The demon became the master; the oppressor; the corrupter. You cannot play around with evil boys and girls. You cannot win that game. Ever!
In Luke 4:31-37 we have Jesus’ first encounter with a demon possessed man. More is involved here than a single man’s freedom from an evil spirit. There is a seriously important truth here. Jesus went down to Capernaum of Galilee. We are not told right away that he was in the synagogue, but that is assumed. Where else would he be teaching on the Sabbath in Capernaum? The crowd is blown away with his teaching. Literally, Luke says, “for his word was in authority.” Unlike Mark Luke does not compare his teaching to that of the scribes. In our passage the emphasis is likely that he taught as one who possessed the right to teach. Well, yeah! If you want to learn about God, who better to learn from than the Son of God?
In the synagogue there was this man who had a spirit, that is an unclean demon. Luke may word it this way because his audience was Gentile. Demons are not demigods; spirit guides; or helpers. They are unclean. This demon cried out with a loud voice, which seemed to be pretty common demonic behavior. Especially when they came into contact with Jesus. And from their reaction they knew they were in the presence of holiness. I wonder if it was painful for them. So, the demon cried out, “Ah!” Two sources state that the word is a cry of surprise and indignation. “Let me alone!” is probably the intent of the cry. Then the demon added, “what to us and to you?” This phrase represents a denial that the two parties have anything in common with each other. They are diametrically opposed. There may have even been a palpably electric energy in the air. The demon knew exactly who Jesus is – he is the Holy One of God. And I believe that this demon was terrified, claiming, “you have come to destroy us.” He not only knew Jesus’ identity, he knew his mission. He came to set the captive free. He came to do battle against evil. There will be no quarter given here.
Jesus responded by rebuking the demon. This was most likely more than a mere verbal reprimand, “You naughty demon you.” This was a powerful word naming and subduing evil. Then Jesus commanded the demon to muzzle his mouth and to come out of the man. The demon threw him down. One source claims that there is no intent of violence here, but that does an injustice to the word. The demon thrashed him to the ground and left without doing any serious harm to the man. He had to leave. Jesus had already bound the strong man and was raiding his house. He had to leave. He didn’t have to like it though.
The synagogue crowd is again amazed. Not only does Jesus speak as if he has complete authority to teach about God, he utters a command to demons and they obey. This is real authority. This is Kingdom power. This is jubilee. The captive had been set free. The poor had heard the good news. And the news about this authority speaking teacher spread throughout Galilee. Could this be the One? Imagine the excitement; imagine the anxiety; imagine the turmoil.
Jesus did not come to cuddle evil. He ate with sinners, but he rebuked the spirits behind the sins. There is an evil. Evil oppresses. Always. And when we embrace evil with a wise wink and knowing smile, captivity still clamps its shackles on us. We may revel in our understanding and live in oppression. We may even call our oppression freedom. But oppression it is. I believe there are still demons in the world. I believe demon possession still happens. I am not saying this to fear monger. You see, I know the One who speaks with authority. I know the One who makes evil throw an angry tantrum while it cringes in fear. I have no authority, but my Lord does. Follow Jesus! He is the only answer to evil. Grace! Walter