Summary: Is there a real, personal Satan and a kingdom of evil against which we are in spiritual combat?
Today we are looking at a rather remarkable story of Jesus as he leaves Nazareth and goes to Capernaum. As is his habit, he goes to the synagogue to teach. Again the people are amazed. But Luke tells us that the reason the people are amazed at Capernaum is not because of his gracious words, but because he spoke with authority. The Greek word for authority here is exousia, and can also mean “power.” The authority and power of his words were impressive — very impressive, as we shall see.
But as Jesus begins to teach something unusual happens. Almost as proof of the authority which Luke has been speaking to us about, an event takes place to prove the power of Jesus. It is a fulfillment of the passage of Isaiah that he read back in Nazareth: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed” (Luke 4:18). There was a man possessed by a demon, an evil spirit, there in the synagogue. The man began to yell at the top of his voice. Now you would expect that if this was a truly evil spirit it would yell something like, “Jesus, you are a fraud. There is no God, and you are not teaching people the truth. You have betrayed the teaching of all the greatest teachers of the past. Throw him out of here.” But, in fact, this demoniac says just the opposite. Listen as he says, “What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are — the Holy One of God!”
Even more interesting is the fact that these are almost identical to the words we have coming from a demon possessed man living at Gadara — a different town and culture many miles away. When Jesus approached the demoniac in Gadara he said, “What do you want with us, Son of God? Have you come here to torture us before the appointed time?” (Matthew 8:29). It carries with it the same idea. The demonic spirits in both these men realized they had been confronted by a higher power, in fact, the highest power in the universe. They also realized that their time was near. The appearance of Christ upon the earth marked the closing days of their freedom. But still their manner is subdued in the presence of Jesus and they honor him and speak the truth about him in his presence. They can do nothing else.
Passages like these cause some people a lot of problems. They do not believe in the existence of a personal devil or his angels, whom we call demons. Now this causes a considerable problem if we are going to take the Scriptures seriously. The Bible never tries to explain, or defend, the reality of a kingdom of evil in the world, it merely presents it as fact. People have tried to say that it was just that the biblical writers did not understand modern day psychology which can explain these kinds of emotional abnormalities. But if that is true then we must say that the Scriptures have deliberately misled us. If that is true, then you have to explain the similarity and consistency of the witness of these demoniacs. You have to explain how such mentally disturbed people could make such sense. Many people are surprised to find that it is demon possessed people who give us the clearest witness about Jesus Christ in the New Testament. But beyond that, you have to explain why Jesus treats these demonic spirits, who are inhabiting people, as real entities.
If you do not believe in the existence of the devil you have to account for the fact that Jesus spoke to him directly during his period of temptation in the wilderness. Now either Jesus was so exhausted and weary from his desert experience that he began to have hallucinations or what happened in the wilderness was quite real. To hear some people talk you would think that Jesus was having nightmares as a result of the pizza with anchovies that he ordered before wandering into the wilderness. Or maybe his fasting was causing him to see things. But the reality of the spiritual world of evil is quite evident from the Scriptures, and it is something to take seriously.
The Christian world, by and large, does not understand that we are in a spiritual warfare — a cosmic struggle between good and evil. It began with Adam and Eve and their experience with Satan, and continues to our day. But we have such a tame idea of Christianity that we think being a Christian means being a “nice” person. We are not alarmed at sin — we are fascinated by it. We look on it as an adventure, not as something dangerous. We want our children to be happy with no thought of their spiritual welfare. We are too comfortable and have life too good. Those before us did not have life as good and could sing with enthusiasm about another world which was coming. They sang things like: “This world is not my home, I’m just a passin’ through.” Or they lifted their voices to hymns that said: