When all else fails, Satan and his demons are prepared to manifest themselves visibly, or through some display of power, in order to prevent people from learning and living the truth. They prey upon the fears of believers and unbelievers alike. Paul told Timothy that “God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.” The demons are uncomfortable around people that they cannot control through fear. For that reason, when people are close to the gospel as unbelievers, or close to living the victory that they have in Christ as believers, demons will manifest.
This fact is a condemnation upon modern Western society. The very fact that one does not see evidence of demonic manifestation on a regular basis in the modern world tells against our claim to spiritual superiority. It does not mean that we have the spirit world under control. It means that the demonic realm has us under control. Manifestation reveals the truth of demons’ existence. They do not want to do that because they are more comfortable working in the background, and convincing people that evil is inherent within them and that there is no remedy for the suffering it causes.
The Christ of the Gospels
When Jesus appeared on the scene in the Gospels, he came in complete awareness of the demonic presence and with power to overpower it. When people saw that someone was capable of dealing with demonic oppression and possession, they “brought to him many who were oppressed by demons, and he cast out the spirits with a word.” These were not people with merely psychological problems, or brain illnesses. They were people under the control of spirit-beings. Jesus did not counsel them, or hold therapy sessions. He cast the demons out. In a society where demonic oppression and possession is denied a priori, such victims have to be put away because modern science cannot treat them. Jesus was under no such restriction. He was able to properly diagnose and treat the cause of these people’s suffering.
The church in the West today must rediscover this gift. In fact, it is part of what makes us distinctive as a religious body. Christ called his disciples together “and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out.” That authority has never been rescinded. We do our society and our planet an injustice when we disregard this fundamental aspect of our existence.Christ was known as one who had power over demons, and he intended for us to be known for that as well. Across the world today, in cultures deep in the depression of demonic bondage, some believers stand out as rays of hope because they do not fear the Intimidators. The church in the West is not seen as the solution to this kind of problem, but we can be.
In Jesus’ day, the people took note of his teaching because it was more than just ideas. He backed up his words with power, so “they questioned among themselves, saying, ‘What is this? A new teaching with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.’” His acts of deliverance drew the people to his words. When he said that God loved them, they could believe it, because they had seen him manifest God’s love by healing and delivering people from demons. That is what deliverance ministry is for. It is not intended to promote the minister but to verify the message. Sometimes today, people get involved in deliverance ministries for the wrong reason. Deliverance is intended to advance the gospel, not to overshadow it.
Deliverance is designed to reveal who Christ is. When the demons encountered Christ in the Gospels, they recognized who he was. The Bible says, “whenever the unclean spirits saw him, they fell down before him and cried out, ‘You are the Son of God.’” That is the essence of the church’s authority against demons today. It is not a magical power invested in us. It is the reality of who our Savior is that makes the demons afraid. For that reason, any born-again believer can oppose a demon. One does not have to be properly taught and pre-conditioned. All one really has to know is who Jesus is.
Deliverance overcomes bondage and frees people for productive ministry. Many of the women who supported Jesus’ public ministry were free to do so because he had freed them from demonic bondage. Demons do not really want to kill us as much as they want to keep us in bondage to worldliness so that we are unproductive in kingdom living. If worldliness loses its charm, the demons will seek to keep us distracted with fear by physically manifesting. The only thing that prevents them from doing so more often is the knowledge that manifesting removes them from the category of things that do not really exist.
How a demon can manifest
Demons manifest as departed human spirits regularly. That explains why practically everybody had a ghost story. These ghosts are not really the spirits of dead people. They merely pretend to be. They can do a convincing job because they have observed those they choose to imitate prior to their deaths. Christians who are aware of this tactic can immediately dismiss these visitations and send the demons back where they came from with a failed mission.
Demons can also manifest as monsters that exist in public imagination. They take advantage of fear and seek to maintain an atmosphere of fear. There are remedies against any such paralyzing fear: often merely mentioning the name of Christ, or the power of his blood will send the demons away with a taste of their own medicine. Demons fear Jesus more than anything.They are aware that he will bring about their destruction at the end of the age.
Dabbling in the occult
Some people open themselves up to demonic attack by dabbling in the occult or getting too interested in paranormal phenomena. Even Christians can do this. Some have argued that it is impossible for a true Christian to become oppressed by a demon because he has the Holy Spirit within. This is faulty reasoning. True Christians are attacked by spirits all the time; the presence of the Holy Spirit does not prevent it. Also, these demons are persons. Believers are free to communicate with these persons, although doing so is not wise.
Levels of influence
There are levels of influence for demons, from the lowest (the attack) to the highest (possession). Giving in to fear (or curiosity) leads to more loss of control, until one is completely under the demon’s control. At any point up until complete possession, a person may get freedom by professing Christ. The higher the level of influence, the more likely a person may need the help of others in breaking away.
The reality of the spirit realm
Some general conclusions are in order before leaving the subject of the spirit realm.
- Angels and demons do exist. They are not figments of the imagination.
- Angels have been commissioned to serve humanity, particularly those who will inherit eternal life.
- Demons have a variety of functions and manifestations. Their attacks can be categorized as follows: temptation, deception, accusation and intimidation.
- Demons do most of their work in darkness. That is, they function without the awareness of those on whom they are working.
- Demons can manifest, but seek to work usually without doing so. Manifesting removes the illusion that they do not exist.
By Rev. Jefferson Vann
(Rev. Jefferson Vann is a graduate of Berkshire Christian College, Columbia International University and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. He and his wife Penny have been involved in Advent Christian ministry since 1984, serving as missionaries in the Philippines and New Zealand. Jeff is the author of “An Advent Christian Systematic Theology” and “Another Bible Commentary” and is a contributing editor to “Henceforth …”)