Rev. Kortering is a Protestant Reformed minister-on-loan to Singapore.
The subject of demon possession is super-charged with both controversy and emotion. It can easily get out of hand. Our purpose is to write soberly and carefully so that we can reflect upon this aspect of missions as well.
Prior to coming to Singapore, I pretty much accepted the idea that demon possession was part of the phenomena which marked the apostolic age. I felt very comfortable placing it in the same category as miracles, speaking in tongues, and such like. My understanding was that during this particular age Jesus and His disciples (apostles) demonstrated the Lordship of Jesus over all things natural and spiritual. Jesus was confronted by people who were demon possessed, and He showed His majestic power by casting them out. Upon Jesus’ resurrection and ascension into heaven, the early Christian church needed the same outward sign to establish the power of the living Lord as He dwelled with His church by His Holy Spirit. Jesus worked a mighty work through His apostles, and this included such signs and wonders. By doing this, Jesus made very clear who His apostles were. He gave them such signs and wonders to distinguish them from impostors. Upon the writing of the Holy Bible, the need for such external signs and wonders ceased, as explained to the Christians in Corinth. The idea of demons actually taking possession of human beings ended along with the other signs and wonders. The devil was defeated by Jesus Christ. His head was crushed at the cross, and he now is made subject to Christ and is denied such power.
Though there is much truth stated above, there is more to be said about demon possession. My concept of what demon possession is all about has greatly expanded through working h e r e i n Singapore. I would be the first to admit that living in a western culture, which tends to discredit such things anyway, and not having contact with heathen culture, where demon possession takes on an entirely different perspective, I was a bit naive in this regards. I do remember reading of the escapades of the Volta Evangelistic Association brothers who would go into the back country of Ghana, Africa and recount for us in the Foreign Mission Committee their battles with demons. Also, I was most intrigued with missionary accounts of personal struggles with demons, and I wondered how that all could take place.
Living in Singapore for about five years does not make me an expert on demonology by any means. In fact, I hesitate writing on demon possession for the very reason that I would like to study much more on this subject; but then again I suppose a person could put off .writing on almost any topic because of this feeling of inadequacy.
In addition to this, there is something reprehensible about this subject. Fact is, the more I learn about it the more I tremble at the horror of it. We must not approach this subject with such curiosity that we are willing to place ourselves in spiritual danger. Demons are real and they have great power. They hate God and hate God’s people and always work havoc in the lives of those who yield themselves to their power and control. Any account of demon- possession carries with it nothing but horror. Instinctively, as Christians, we ought to run as far from this sort of thing as we can. The purpose of writing on this subject is to alert all of us to the reality of demons, and to try to bring us to some understanding of how we are to deal with it both in heathen and nominally Christian cultures.
Our approach must be that of the Bible. We are warned that in the latter days “some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits and doctrines of devils; speaking lies in hypocrisy, having their conscience seared with a hot iron” (I Tim. 4:1, 2). The devil is so subtle that we are told in II Corinthians 11:13-15, “For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ. And no marvel; for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light. Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also be transformed as the ministers of righteousness; whose end shall be according to their works.”
We can be sure that Satan, as the chief of all demons, would like nothing better than that we imagine that he has little power. Such a response would allow him to do his wicked work unopposed and he could strike as he would. The Holy Spirit makes perfectly clear to us that our real enemy in the spiritual battle of faith is none other than demons. “Put on the whole armour of God,… for we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places” (Eph. 6:11, 12). Here Paul refers to ranks of demons which are under the direction of Satan, their chief. The picture which the Holy Spirit conveys to us here is that the air is literally filled with demons, who are well organized and marshalled for battle against the church of Jesus Christ in this world.
Our Reformed forefathers understood this well when they wrote the Form for the Lord’s Supper and included mention of tampering with demons as reason for one not to partake of the Lord’s Supper. “Such as all idolaters, all those who invoke deceased saints, angels, or other creatures, all those who worship images, all enchanters, diviners, charmers, and those who confide in such enchantments” – all these are admonished to abstain from the meat and drink of the Lord’s Supper.
Beginning with this article, I would like to set forth six principles which I trust will help put into perspective the Bible’s teaching about demons. 1) All non- Christians are under the dominion of the devil. 2) Jesus stripped Satan completely of any control or authority over His people, the church. 3) Christians can never be demon possessed, though they can be harassed by demons. 4) If God is pleased to deliver a non- Christian from demon possession, He does it not through exorcism, but through the ministry of the gospel and prayer. 5) T h e Christian’s security against the assaults of Satan is to live the holy life. 6) Jesus Christ is Lord also over the devil; that is our great comfort as Christians.
The Bible uses this language. In three passages, John 12:30; 14:30; and 16:11, Jesus calls Satan the prince of this world. In John 8:44, Jesus is disputing with the Pharisees subsequent to His exposing their hypocrisy when they brought the woman taken in adultery to Jesus, and He says to them, “Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own: for he is a liar, and the father of it.”When Jesus presented to His disciples the only two possible alternatives, God or mammon, He said, “No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon” (Matt. 6:24). Mammon is the material world under the direction of Satan. It is either Christ or Satan as master.
Having said this in no way contradicts the biblical truth of God’s sovereignty in Jesus Christ. We must add that God is always sovereign over Satan. The point is that until Jesus finished His work of redemption, Satan had the right to exercise His lordship over the entire earth. The very first promise given by God to Adam and Eve by way of Satan was that Satan would have his head crushed by the Seed of the woman, Jesus Christ. The history of Job not only teaches us that Satan had to receive permission from God to touch Job, but it also teaches us concerning the exalted position Satan had among the “sons of God which presented themselves before the Lord,” as Satan was among them (Job 2:1ff.).
This helps us understand the temptations of Jesus as well. Satan offered to Jesus the nations of the world without having to go to the cross (Matt. 4:8). Satan is prince of this world because of God’s curse and judgment upon the world. When Jesus finished His redemptive work on the cross, He settled it once for all that Satan as prince of this world is greatly limited. Satan was cast out of heaven and given the earth as his domain (Rev. 12:9ff.). Hence the cry of the angels went to the earth, “Woe to the inhabiters of the earth and of the sea! for the devil is come down unto you, having a great wrath, because he knoweth that he hath but a short time” (Rev. 12:12).
When we say that Satan has control of this world under the rule of Jesus Christ, we must understand that this control is exercised in varying degrees. Satan exercises his control over the whole world and from his point of view marshals his forces in spiritual battle. From a general point of view we can say that all the wicked are soldiers in the army of Satan. He has his own strategy for battle. He has his own ranking of spirits as described in Ephesians 6. Some devils are like generals, others like captains, sergeants, or infantrymen. He has his choice men in high places in the nations, schools, and churches, wherever they can exert their greatest influence. He has a purpose for the drunk that wobbles in the alleys of our broken cities. Everything outside of Jesus Christ is part of Satan’s own massive offensive against Christ’s church.
The worst form of Satan’s control comes in the form of demon possession. It is called “worst” not because of the amount of influence such a person has, but in the sense of the horrible expression of what Satan is all about and what horrible power he possesses. What we see in a demon possessed person is an outward and tangible display of what is true in the lives of all those who are non-Christian. Satan still rages as a horrible lion, or dragon, seeking whom he may devour (I Pet. 5:8 and Rev. 12:17).
This takes place where fallen men invite him into their lives and openly desire to have the power that Satan gives to them. Demon possession takes place in an environment where he exercises his rule in horrible wickedness.
A couple of examples may help.
You can see demon possession in the heathen temples where the worshipers literally give themselves over to be willful servants of the devil. The worst form of this is the temple medium. Heathen people are very superstitious. They are basically afraid of their deities. They imagine that their temple gods and even their ancestors control their lives. Unless they appease them with sacrifices and prayers, the gods will do them harm.
In such a setting, the temple medium plays an important role. He is the one who is literally under the control of Satan. He acts as the intermediary between the living and the dead. When the worshippers want to know their future or want to communicate with their dead relatives, he knows how to place himself in a trance and function as a direct agent of Satan. It is striking that the families of such mediums are usually affected as well. In many instances their wives and children get involved in this.
Sometimes their demon possession is more controlled. The medium may take on a terrible appearance of death, and tremble, and his voice will sound exactly like that of the dead person when he was yet alive.
We should understand that mediums are not able to awaken the dead, nor to communicate with the dead, but the devils have such power that they are able to mimic it. We know of a Christian who attended such a visit to a medium when her mother wanted to make a financial decision but wanted to consult her dead husband before finalizing it. When the medium was in the trance he spoke with a voice just like her father’s. This is the terrible deception.
At other times the demons take possession of a person, usually in connection with temple worship, and control him in a violent way, very similar to what is described in the Bible. Such a person can know full well that a demon is within him and that the demon is using him.
We know of a person here in Singapore who was born and raised in such a medium family and was also at one time himself demon possessed. He tells how he experienced this. The devil would speak through him, and he had no control over what he was saying. He saw how his brother, while in a trance, had the end of his tongue cut off by a medium with no blood shed, and later how the medium placed the piece back on the tongue with no sign of it ever having been cut off. The Hindu practice of fire-walking is not only adisplay of mind over body, but also a religious festival in honor to their gods. This is a festival which is actually demon controlled.
We had an interesting conversation with a young man on his way to serve as missionary in India. He was born in a Christian family, but he went through a period of spiritual backsliding. During this time he took up New Age meditation. While he was doing this, a devil moved in and took possession of his mind. For over a year, he told me, he lived in literal hellish torment, for this devil taunted him and challenged him that he was not a Christian. He could hardly sleep at night, and always the inner voice of the devil inside of him harassed him. He thanks God for his deliverance, for he sees the demon possession as an attempt of a devil to take control of him; but he had had enough spiritual strength given him by God that he could still resist, though it involved a year-long internal fight.
The Hindus and Buddhists do the same with their meditation to achieve karma. This is a realm in which Satan holds sway.
Devils are real, and the spiritual battle is intensifying as we enter the final moments of history, during which Satan will put forth his last effort to deceive the very elect of God. There is however much comfort for us as Christians. We will examine that in our next article, the Lord willing.