Evil spirits, in the beginning created sinless, were equal in nature, power, and glory with the holy beings that are now God’s messengers. But fallen through sin, they are leagued together for the dishonor of God and the destruction of men. United with Satan in rebellion, they cooperate in warfare against divine authority.
Old Testament history mentions their existence, but during the time when Christ was on earth evil spirits manifested their power in the most striking manner. Christ had come for man’s redemption, and Satan determined to control the world. He had succeeded in establishing idolatry in every part of the earth except Palestine. To the only land not fully yielded to the tempter, Christ came, stretching out His arms of love, inviting all to find pardon and peace in Him. The hosts of darkness understood that if Christ’s mission should be successful, their rule was soon to end.
That men have been possessed with demons is clearly stated in the New Testament. Persons thus afflicted were not merely suffering with disease from natural causes; Christ recognized the direct presence and agency of evil spirits. The demoniacs at Gadara, wretched maniacs, writhing, foaming, raging, were doing violence to themselves and endangering all who should approach them. Their bleeding, disfigured bodies and distracted minds presented a spectacle well pleasing to the prince of darkness. One of the demons controlling the sufferers declared, “My name is Legion: for we are many.” Mark 5:9.
In the Roman army a legion consisted of from three to five thousand men. At the command of Jesus the evil spirits departed from their victims, leaving them subdued, intelligent, and gentle. But the demons swept a herd of swine into the sea, and to the dwellers of Gadara the loss outweighed the blessing Christ had bestowed; the divine Healer was intreated to depart. See Matthew 8:23-34. By casting the blame of their loss upon Jesus, Satan aroused the selfish fears of the people and prevented them from listening to His words.
Christ allowed the evil spirits to destroy the swine as a rebuke to Jews who were raising unclean beasts for gain. Had not Christ restrained the demons, they would have plunged not only the swine, but also their keepers and owners into the sea.
Furthermore, this event was permitted that the disciples might witness the cruel power of Satan upon both man and beast, that they might not be deceived by his devices. It was also Christ’s will that the people should behold His power to break the bondage of Satan and release his captives. Though Jesus Himself departed, the men so marvelously delivered remained to declare the mercy of their Benefactor.
Other instances are recorded: The daughter of the Syrophoenician woman, grievously vexed with a devil whom Jesus cast out by His word (Mark 7:25-30); a youth who had a spirit that ofttimes “cast him into the fire, and into the waters, to destroy him” (Mark 9:17-27); the maniac, tormented by a spirit of an unclean devil who disturbed the Sabbath quiet at Capernaum (Luke 4:33-36)—all were healed by the Saviour. In nearly every instance, Christ addressed the demon as an intelligent entity, commanding him to torment his victim no more. The worshipers at Capernaum “were all amazed, and spake among themselves, saying, What a word is this! for with authority and power he commandeth the unclean spirits, and they come out.” Luke 4:36.
For the sake of obtaining supernatural power, some welcomed the satanic influence. These of course had no conflict with the demons. Of this class were those who possessed the spirit of divination—Simon Magus, Elymas the sorcerer, and the damsel who followed Paul and Silas at Philippi. See Acts 8:9, 18; 13:8; 16:16-18.