The scene begins in Mark 5:1-10: “Then they came to the other side of the sea, to the country of the Gadarenes.  And when He had come out of the boat, immediately there met Him out of the tombs a man with an unclean spirit,  who had his dwelling among the tombs; and no one could bind him, not even with chains, because he had often been bound with shackles and chains. And the chains had been pulled apart by him, and the shackles broken in pieces; neither could anyone tame him. And always, night and day, he was in the mountains and in the tombs, crying out and cutting himself with stones. When he saw Jesus from afar, he ran and worshiped Him. And he cried out with a loud voice and said, What have I to do with You, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I implore You by God that You do not torment me.” For He said to him, Come out of the man, unclean spirit!” Then He asked him, What is your name?” And he answered, saying, My name is Legion; for we are many.” Also he begged Him earnestly that He would not send them out of the country.”

If you follow the biblical narrative closely, it seems that demon possession was more prevalent in Christ’s first advent—particularly in the three years of His public ministry. I think that is because of the significance of the gospel of God— the significance of Jesus’ death and resurrection in this world—and the resulting effect being the restoration of the Imago Dei. Our spiritual enemies tried to thwart that plan—this covenant that God promised back in the Garden of Eden, after the Fall of Adam and Eve, and accomplished in the life, death, and bodily and eternal resurrection of Jesus.

And in light of this, I truly believe that this world—every tribe, tongue, and nation—is still being subdued 2000+ years later to the unshakeable reality that Jesus, the eternal God, really did enter into our world as a man. He really did suffer. He lived in the shadow of our sins. He took the punishment that our sins deserved, thereby plundering hell and He bodily and eternally resurrected in this world.

That is what the whole of biblical narrative was moving toward, and that is what God promised in the Garden. We now live in light of knowing that the resurrection of Jesus means not just our spiritual resurrection, but one day, our physical resurrection. That is the glorious gospel of God.

Now at the same time, we should not be ignorant of a fierce, cosmic battle presently being waged. It is a battle in which our enemy, the devil, has been defeated, but not finally defeated. So, we must not and cannot afford to be ignorant of the reality of the unseen realm—that there is such thing as angels—both un-fallen and fallen. The fallen ones are better known to us as demons, and what we experience in this life (this life where sin and suffering still exist) is a spiritual battle.

We have spiritual enemies waging war on the souls of man. Hell has not yet been shut up forever. That happens in the second advent of Jesus. And while Christ is victorious now, there is still this subduing work that happens as the gospel of God is announced to the nations. While this is going on, our enemy—the devil along with his demons—seeks to devour.

C.S. Lewis, in his work of fiction called Screwtape Letters (which I highly recommend to you), says this in the preface of his book:

“There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. They themselves [speaking of the devils] are equally pleased by both errors and hail a materialist or a magician with the same delight.”

By “magician” Lewis here means the one who is obsessed with demons—sees them everywhere and in everything. The magician has superstitious tendencies. In Protestant circles, denominations like Assemblies of God are given to an overemphasis in this particular area. In the Reformed tradition, the danger lies not in the camp of the magician, but in the camp of the materialist—functioning as if there is no unseen realm. There must be a biblical balance between the two.

For the purpose of the readers of this magazine (who are mostly in the Reformed tradition), I am going to push against the materialist perspective. We must forsake a materialistic perspective of the world.

We are made body and soul. We have a body that we perceive physically (sight, touch, etc.) and we have a soul—a spirit—that we cannot see. One day when we die, those of us who are in Christ, our souls will go to be with the Lord in heaven. One day when Christ returns, our souls will be reunited to our (glorified) bodies, and we will live forever with the Lord in the new Heavens and the new Earth (1 Corinthians 15; Revelation 21). But we aren’t the only creatures made of what is seen and unseen—so are other parts of God’s magnificent creation.

The creation that Christ rules over is composed of heaven and earth. Consider Colossians 1:15-16, “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers…”

The Greek (ἀρχαὶ, archai; ἐξουσίαι, exousiai) underlying the phrase “principalities or powers” means Spiritual Beings—and spiritual beings are both fallen and un-fallen— that is why elsewhere Paul says 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” (Ephesians 6:12).

Now, if we were to take this man possessed by Legion in the Mark passage quoted earlier as a case study today, and have the country’s top doctors examine him and publish peer reviewed medical journals about this man, would demon possession be allowed to even factor into it? Is there any room for that at all? Or would we reduce his strength, his anguish, his self-harm to some materialist diagnosis that only acknowledges what is seen? This is a legitimate question if we are to maintain, as the Scriptures do, that this was a demonic possession. There are some things that are so evil and erratic and bizarre—so very twisted—that they rise to the level of being called “demonic”. Yet we rarely use that word.

Let me illustrate this further by bringing in a couple of Old Testament passages. First, Leviticus 20:1-2: “Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, Again, you shall say to the children of Israel: Whoever of the children of Israel, or of the strangers who dwell in Israel, who gives any of his descendants to Molech, he shall surely be put to death.’””

Now, read Hosea 4:11-14: “Harlotry, wine, and new wine enslave the heart. My people ask counsel from their wooden idols, And their staff informs them. For the spirit of harlotry has caused them to stray, And they have played the harlot against their God. They offer sacrifices on the mountaintops, And burn incense on the hills, Under oaks, poplars, and terebinths, Because their shade is good. Therefore your daughters commit harlotry, And your brides commit adultery. I will not punish your daughters when they commit harlotry, Nor your brides when they commit adultery; For the men themselves go apart with harlots, And offer sacrifices with a ritual harlot. Therefore people who do not understand will be trampled.”

One final Old Testament passage, 1 Kings 11:5: For Solomon went after Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, and after Milcom the abomination of the Ammonites.”

In the Leviticus passage we see the name Molech (or Milcom as in the 1 Kings passage). This god was an Ammonite god and the offerings of worship included child sacrifice, as we see in Leviticus. We also see in Leviticus a stern warning from the Lord through Moses to the Israelites not to give their children—their descendants—as a sacrifice to Molech and not to even allow it amongst them. That is why the “stranger” in Leviticus is brought up. The Israelites were not to even allow the stranger to offer a child in sacrifice to Molech. We also see that this sort of pagan influence and participation was worthy of the death penalty, which was righteous and just (equal weights and measures; Leviticus 19:35-36).

In the Hosea passage we read of what is called “ritual harlots”, which were temple prostitutes of sorts that promoted all types of sexual perversions. And these were done as acts of worship to what the text calls, “wooden idols”. Many biblical scholars believe this to be representative of the goddess Ashtoreth mentioned in 1 Kings. This goddess is also known as the “Queen of Heaven” a.k.a., Astarte, Ishtar, or Asherah.[i] Ashtoreth was a goddess or god prevalent in Canaan and the followers of this cult promoted all sorts of pagan ceremonial acts which included sacrifices, self-mutilation, and perverse sexual acts, all done as a religious experience of sorts. What is this but not demonic?

We also see the contagious nature of this demonic religious practice. In the Old Testament, we have evidence of how quickly God’s own people including a King of Israel (Solomon) became desensitized to this type of wickedness. They tolerated it, began to participate in it, even promoting it at times. Furthermore, we see that participation in the demonic was always met with God’s fierce wrath.

As I’ve considered these texts, I can’t help but wonder if the starting point for them was ceasing to call the demonic “demonic”? In asking this question, I hope you can see some parallels already with demonic worship and with what is going on around us culturally. If I were to describe our society presently, I would say that it—far from being atheistic—worships Molech and Ashtoreth, merely dressed up in materialistic language.

What our present-day society does is deny the spiritual cosmic battle going on; it denies the “powers and principalities” through the manipulation of words and definitions. Our spiritual enemies work craftily in the PR department.

For instance, modern society takes the sacrifice of children—the murder of our descendants to the god of Molech (an ultimate marring of the image of God)—and instead calls it “Women’s Healthcare” or “Pro-Choice”. Furthermore, the priests wear white medical coats or the black Armani suits of politicians.  This great and sinister PR attempt by our spiritual enemies creates a cultural environment that fosters a low view of children, one that leads to this sort of wickedness being tolerated, accepted, and even celebrated in society. We even become desensitized to it. We constantly hear talk about how expensive children are—how inconvenient they are. We view a family of 5, 6, 7+ strangely in our society.

Mothers that would dare stay at home to shepherd and steward the souls of their children have their work—their life’s work—constantly  devalued. We take animals and treat them better than we do people, the only beings created in the image of God. And all of this helps to accelerate a wicked, demonic plan that fosters a low view of children and a low view of the family, which in turn paves the way to the acceptability of child sacrifice in our society.

That is just Molech, however. Think of the worship of Ashtoreth and how our culture offers this type of worship up presently. We again use the power of words to downplay the demonic nature of things; pornography—including what is in the TV shows many people watch—is considered entertainment and art instead of lust and the viewing of adultery for pleasure.

The LGBTQ+ movement and the promotion of castration or the maiming of the bodies of people—especially in our young people—is demonic. Yet instead of seeing the sinister, demonic, and oppressive body and soul harming nature of the movement, it is sold as a civil rights movement. And it is wreaking havoc on individuals created in the image of God– reminiscent of Legion. And anyone who loves people in this movement enough to be truthful with them faces real consequences in this present age. This is all demonic.

And we need clarity and conviction on this, because it is a gospel issue. Some may think it isn’t—some may think it to be merely a political issue, and that the church has no business in the political—but they would be dead wrong. In fact, to think of these issues as political demonstrates just how well we have been assimilated into thinking about the world from a materialist perspective.

In contrast, maintaining a view of the world that is both seen and unseen allows one to have moral clarity in a world that calls what’s righteous “unrighteous”, and what is unrighteous “righteous”. Maintaining a view of the seen and unseen realms can help you have the courage of convictions shaped by the Word, which leads to gospel clarity and to the redemption of individuals created in God’s image. Having a view of the world that is seen and unseen will also help you to rightly fear God, who is over all things, instead of man who is merely a creature. And we must fear the One to whom all men must give an account.

References:

[i] We see this goddess mentioned in Judges 2 & 3, Jeremiah 7 and other places in Jeremiah—we also see that this god was to be put away along with Baal in 2 Kings by King Josiah in the midst of his reforms.

Download the rest of October 2023 issue of Theology for Life on the Image of God.​

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