When Jesus was emaciated to the point of near starvation, and had been praying many hours a day and fasting in His determined effort to grow ever closer to God so that He would be able to withstand the strongest imaginable temptations, He actually allowed Satan, who is called the prince of the power of the air, to literally convey His physical body from one place to another through the air. The Bible claims Jesus was actually picked up and taken to a pinnacle of one of the Temple buildings; that He was taken to the top of Mount Hermon, and that the encounter with Satan took place over an area of several hundreds of miles, ending finally "in the wilderness" (probably the Negev) where it had begun.
Throughout His ministry, Jesus continually encountered those who were afflicted, tormented, tortured, "bothered," or even possessed by Satan's demons. (Judas Iscariot allowed himself to be possessed of Satan himself) Never once did he "advertise" to the general public that He was coming to that village or this town for the purpose of casting out demons or performing great signs and wonders! When his ministry was completed there were no doubt many people still possessed of demons in the land, as there were many who were sick, afflicted, maimed or injured.
From time to time, however, in the course of His ministry, individuals would come to Him seeking special favor and compassion because of a loved one who was grievously tormented by being possessed or influenced by one of these evil spirit beings.
Matthew tells of a time when a man came to Him and dropped to his knees before Him, saying, "Lord, please have mercy on my boy - because he is acting crazily, and is terribly bothered. Very often, he will fall into a fire, and oftentimes into the water; it seems the spirit that possesses him is trying to kill him. He will have these seizures, falling to the ground, literally foaming at the mouth until he is bruised and cut, and then will go into these long dark periods of time where he just lies there like a vegetable, following the fit. I desperately wanted him cured, so I brought him to your disciples, and, they tried very hard to get the demon to leave, but they couldn't cast him out!" (See Matthew 17:14-21; Mark 9:17-29; Luke 9:38-42.)
Jesus sighed deeply, and said aloud to the disciples that were there, "O faithless generation, how long am I going to be with you - how long am I going to put up with you? Bring the boy to me!" They brought the boy to him, and the instant the spirit saw him, he recognized exactly who He was, and threw the boy into a particularly violent fit. it caused a huge ruckus, and people began running from all directions when they saw the young man suddenly flung on the ground, writhing and moaning, chewing on his tongues and frothing at the mouth.
An uglier scene cannot be imagined than a human being wallowing on the earth in terrible torment. Jesus asked the father, "How long ago did this spirit come into him?" The father answered, "When he was a child."
Jesus looked at the man and said, "If you can believe, all things are possible to a person who can believe!" The father, terribly distraught and seeing the son on the ground, broke up and with tears in his eyes and trembling voice said, "Lord, I believe, help me with my unbelief." He did believe that Jesus had the power to heal the boy, but he recognized that the revolting physical spectacle represented pretty powerful testimony in itself, and he knew that there were certain waverings in the back of his mind; certain doubts nagging away at his consciousness, and that he was not near so faithful and strong in his conviction as he should have been. His statement, while I do not wish to wax maudlin over it, is nevertheless a beautiful example for those who are willing to pray to God today, and who are not ashamed to call out to God and ask, "Help me with my unbelief!"
When Jesus saw the crowds gathering rapidly, He said, "You dumb and deaf spirit, I order you to come out of him, and never enter into him again!" Even after this command, the spirit yelled loudly through the vehicle of the boy's own voice and threw him into an even more violent fit, and then left the boy lying on the ground as if in a total coma.
A lot of the people began to murmur that he was probably dead, but Jesus reached down and taking the boy by the hand, drew him to his feet - whereupon the boy seemed to stir, looked around wonderingly, and began to flex his muscles and straighten his clothes, brushing the dust and twigs from his garments and from his hair, no doubt wondering what in the world had taken place.
Later, in private, the disciples rather sheepishly wondered why they had not been able to cast the demon out. They were not about to confess this in public, and were no doubt chagrined when the father had said so openly that they had been unsuccessful in previous attempts to exorcise the spirit.
Jesus gently rebuked them by telling them there were some demons that were far more tenacious than others, thus illustrating that demons are individual creatures and spirit beings who have different kinds of personality and different degrees of stubbornness, and strength. He said, "this kind [of violent demon which is able not only to convulse the body, but also to cause the ears to be stopped up and the tongue to be blocked] will not be cast out except through prayer and fasting."
Even the use of the word "lunatic" in the old King James version shows the popular concept of the person who was "struck by the moon" or "moon struck" when he was mentally addled, thus believing the affliction was more from an astrological source, attributing certain mystical powers to the moon, than from a demon. (The Latin luna provides the etymological basis for "lunatic" and means "moon.")
On one occasion Jesus was up in the vicinity of Tyre and Sidon, along the Syrophoenician seacoast, when a woman of Canaan, a Greek-speaking native of the old Phoenician area, was pestering His disciples.
Perhaps they were walking along through a marketplace shopping for some food to eat to take along to the coast where they could sit down for a few hours' relaxation and casual conversation, listening to the boom of the surf, and enjoying the bright blue day, when a woman kept asking first one and then the other of the large group of men who were walking among the bazaars and shops of the marketplace, stopping to examine first this and then that article, "Which one is Jesus Christ of Nazareth, the one who is able to do all the healing - I am desperate, you have got to point Him out to me because I need help!""What do you want?" one of the disciples asked. "My daughter is terribly tormented and I believe it is a demon, and I have got to get some help, she is suffering terribly."
Looking back over their shoulders, perhaps Peter, John and Andrew saw the growing mob of people around the loud protestations of the woman, and, knowing Jesus had come into the area for a much needed rest, probably tried to hustle Him along a little faster, saying, "Lord, let's get out of here. I think a crowd is gathering." Finally, the woman managed to discern who Jesus was and began crying after Him very loudly.
The disciples said, "Lord, send her away, she's been nagging and crying around after us for a long time now. She is embarrassing the daylights out of us, making a public disturbance and causing everyone to think we are crazy.
Perhaps Peter told Him, "Lord don't listen to her, you know you came up here to get a rest, and there is no reason to get involved with these people or there is no telling what is going to happen. Let's wait until we get back down into Galilee before drawing any further attention to ourselves."
The woman said "I know you. You must be the one who is the Jesus of Nazareth. You have got to help me! I am desperate. My daughter is terribly troubled with a demon!"
Jesus refused to answer the woman. He did not even look at her! (See Matthew 15:21-29, especially verse 23.)
The woman kept insisting, and finally Jesus turned to her and said, "I am sent only to the lost sheep of the House of Israel." This surely reinforced the disciples' attitude that she was nothing but a complete nuisance.
Yet she persisted.
Clutching at His garment she knelt before Him in worship, bowed her head, and said, "Lord, help me!" Jesus looked down at the woman, seeing her shaking shoulders, and said, "It isn't right to take the children's food, and cast it to the dogs!" This eyewitness account should be shocking proof concerning the true character and identity of Christ.
Jesus' refusal to even answer the woman goes squarely against the grain of those who, like Judas, wanted to create him in their own image, one who would never refuse anybody anything. This "popular" Jesus would have emptied every graveyard in sight, healed every illness, cast out every demon, and would never have refused a single request for aid from anyone. Yet the real Jesus did refuse to even listen to the woman initially, and had it not been for her own tenacity, and especially her faithful answer to a question she was asked, the account in Matthew clearly indicated that he would have stolidly refused to have helped the woman's daughter.
The Bible account says that's exactly what He did. First, He refused to answer her at all. She had had to fight her way forward through the disciples until she finally discovered which one was Jesus. Then, she had to kneel before Him and beg Him to help her. Still, He refused.
Rather He gave her the statement that He was come only to the lost sheep of the House of Israel and then gave her the unpleasant analogy of taking the food from the table of the children of the household, and then instead of giving it to them, throwing it to the dogs. Finally, the woman said, "That's true Lord; still, the dogs are able to eat the crumbs that fall from their master's table."'
With a sigh, and knowing that it meant the end of His few days' enjoyable vacation where He was able to bask with his disciples in the anonymity of a strange area, unrecognized, untormented by the crowds, not being maligned, ridiculed or accused by the religious leaders. and be able to thoroughly enjoy their forays into the nearby countryside, their times on the beach together, their pleasant walks through the streets of Sidon and Tyre, Jesus nonetheless relented. He said, "Why, lady, your faith is really great. it will be unto you exactly as you believe."
Matthew says that the woman's daughter was made whole, "from that very hour." The mother, of course, didn't find out until later. When she arrived home, she found that the demon had indeed departed and her daughter was resting comfortably in bed.
No doubt she wasn't surprised at all. However, she did determine, from conversations with others at her home Who were with her daughter, that her daughter had become sane and was no longer tormented by the demon within the exact same time frame when her encounter with Jesus had taken place. Sure enough, that was the end of Jesus' few pleasant days on the Syrophoenician seacoast.
"Jesus departed from thence and came nigh unto the Sea of Galilee and went up into a mountain and sat down there" (Matthew 15:29).
The people living on the heights overlooking the Sea of Galilee had been telling stories for years about a "crazy man" who lived in a graveyard nearby. When Jesus came into their country, He was to be confronted by this man who was known to be demon-possessed and who had been captured, tied, and even bound in chains several times previously by the local people. Demons always recognized Christ immediately. As James says,
"Thou believest that there is one God [or, "God is one"]; thou doest well: the devils [demons] also believe, and tremble" (James 2:19)
Even though they hated Him, these unseen spirit beings, able to speak through the voices and minds of their human hosts, knew they were totally subject to His divine authority, and that they had to obey Him.
In this case, the man was actually possessed by many different demons. "And when he had come out of the boat, there met him out of the tombs a man with an unclean spirit, who lived among the tombs; and no one could bind him any more, even with a chain; for he had often been bound with fetters and chains but the chains he wrenched apart, and the fetters he broke in pieces; and no one had the strength to subdue him.
"Night and day among the tombs and on the mountains he was always crying out, and bruising himself with stones. And when he saw Jesus from afar, he ran and worshiped him; and crying out with a loud voice, he said, What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I adjure you by God, do not torment me" (Mark 5:2-7, RSV).
This was spoken in sarcasm - saucily and contemptuously - even though the demons were forced to admit Christ's true identity. Their sarcastic implication that Jesus would 'torment" them was coupled with fear of being sent out of the country, or being commanded to go "out into the deep" (Luke 8:31). Luke's account shows that he had already commanded the demons to depart, and they began to bargain for some alternate hosts. Maybe it's spooky to think about, but he plainly said, "When the unclean spirit is gone out of a man, he walketh through dry places seeking rest " (Matthew 12:43).
Demons desperately want to possess and inhabit, like a spiritual parasite, either humans or animals.
Jesus asked the man,
" 'What is thy name?' And he said, 'Legion, because many devils [demons] were entered into him.' And they besought him that he would not command them to go out into the deep. And there was an herd of many swine feeding on the mountain: and they besought him that he would suffer them to enter into them. And he suffered [allowed] them. Then went the devils [demons] out of the man, and entered into the swine,: and the herd ran violently down a steep place into the lake, and were choked" (Luke 8:30-33).
The demons tried to cause the man to destroy himself; and somehow, enough human mind was functioning to keep the man alive, even if in a wretched, bloody, virtually mindless state. Not so with the pigs. Even though the demons begged Jesus not to send them "into the deep," their violent entry into the pigs caused such a stampede the demons couldn't control their new host - and immediately upon the death of the pigs were once again disembodied. (Another theory, suggests that some demons want to die; that they are so perverted they are constantly in a suicidal state. Consequently, they try to kill whomever they possess. But, they themselves, being spirit, cannot die.). The swineherds (pigs were unclean and not fit to eat, according to God's laws and, therefore, were avoided by the Israelites) were upset by the loss, of their livelihood - and they began spreading the word around the nearby villages.
Soon, some of the local citizens arrived at the scene, to see the well-known crazy man of the graveyard sitting calmly at Jesus' feet, fully clothed and in his right mind. To these pagan people, he had some mysterious powers of which they were terribly afraid. instead of rejoicing that the poor demented man was healed, they begged Christ to leave the country. The man who had been demon-possessed asked to join Christ - but He refused him, saying, "Return to your own house, and show how great things God has done unto you" (verses 34-39).
Jesus Christ's confrontation with the demonic world projected a meaning far more important even than the helping of suffering human beings. His ability to command the evil demonic spirits, as demonstrated by His casting them out of human minds, witnesses to the fact that He is Lord and Ruler of even the spiritual world. This once again reinforces the fact that in His Prehuman life, the personality Who became Jesus of Nazareth, the God of the Old Testament, was the very Creator Being who had originally created all the spirit beings. And his confrontation with demons during His physical life fore shadowed the time when He, as King of kings and Lord of lords, will take control of the entire earth and subject all the demons to His direct control, binding them with Satan for a thousand years.
Born of the Spirit
Jesus' sensitive awareness of the spiritual dimension was constant, continual, all pervasive and perennial. That the voices which he and/or others heard on various occasions throughout His life and His ministry had to be the voices of heavenly messengers, or angels, was made very clear by him when He said, "And the Father himself which hath sent me hath borne witness of me. Ye have neither heard his voice at any time , nor seen his shape" (John 5:37). Earlier, John had said, "No man hath seen God at any time" (John 1:18).
This awareness of the "other dimension" gave Jesus an insight into human nature that was the most fabulous in all of history. He knew that combination of instant appraisal of expression, body language, gestures, mannerisms and speech of individuals to the point that He quite literally could read their minds, and know exactly what they were thinking in any given situation.
The Bible says as much on several occasions. Especially interesting is an account following the first "cleansing of the Temple" when He threw the money changers out (there could have actually been two such occasions, although most people would never discover this in a quick reading of the gospels separately).
Jesus told the money changers, "Get these things out of here - and don't make my Father's house a house of merchandise." Then some of the religious leaders demanded to know what in the world He was doing and wanted Him to show "some sign." They, like many a religious fanatic today, were hung up on the idea of "supernatural signs."
On this occasion, He refused to give them an immediate sign. He said instead, "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up," referring to Christ's own forth-coming three day-and-three-night period in the tomb. He was saying, very plainly, that some of these leaders were themselves guilty and coconspirators with others who were seeking any possible excuse to put Jesus to death. The obvious inference was that He was referring to His own body, and yet the Jews answered, "Forty-six years it took to build this temple and you say you are going to raise it up again in three days?"
But John said, "He spoke of the temple of His body," and went on to say that when Jesus was risen from the dead His disciples remembered that He had said this to them - and thereby believed all the more the Scriptures and the words which he had said. Then follows a verse which indicates how thoroughly he understood the attitude of other human beings around Him. When He was in Jerusalem at the Passover, many believed in His name when they saw the miracles which He did:
"But Jesus did not commit Himself unto them because he knew all men - and needed not that any should testify of man: for He knew what was in man " (John 2:24-25).
He did not "commit Himself unto them," meaning totally reveal who and what He was; nor did He place Himself in a position of compromise or jeopardy, because He knew very thoroughly how quickly those same individuals who "believed in His name" because they saw miracles - could become so enraged they would become a mob and cry out for His blood. This actually happened on many occasions, until finally they succeeded.
Bearing this in mind, we can read with more understanding Jesus' own words to Nicodemus, who came to Him privately at night and entered into a conversation about his qualifications. Though most professing religions cannot seem to accept these plain words without swallowing a tremendous amount of false doctrine, and completely altering the popular concept of the meaning of the words "born again," the meaning is nevertheless plain. John's account said that Nicodemus was a Pharisee and one of the "rulers of the Jews," who, because he feared his constituency, decided to talk to him at night when there was less likelihood of being recognized.
When he was finally inside Jesus' quarters and began to talk he admitted that Jesus had come from God, because he said, "No man can do these miracles that you do except that God would be with him." He earnestly told Nicodemus,
"I'm telling you truthfully, that except a man be born again, he can't see the Kingdom of God!" (See John 3:3)
Jesus may have spoken in the Greek language since He was in cosmopolitan Jerusalem; in any event the gospel uses the Greek word gennao which has no exact translation equivalent in the English language, since the word gennao in the Greek implies the entire process from conception to birth (parturition) and unlike the words in English "beget," "conceive," or "give birth," it can be used of both men and women.
Gennao can include the entire process from conception to birth, and it is clear from Nicodemus' startled response that he understood Jesus to mean the process of being born like the birth of a cow, an elephant, or a human being.
Nicodemus said, incredulously, "How can a man be born when he is old?" He made himself abundantly clear when he said, "'Can he enter the second time into his mother's womb and be born?" That retort was perhaps a little laden with sarcasm, as well as incredulity. Nicodemus had already compromised his position to the Pharisees by coming to Jesus in the first place - and by coming there after dark he in essence admitted to him that he was afraid of his peers. He then further compromised himself by acknowledging plainly to he that he knew that He, Jesus, had to be a man of God. Having seen him personally on some occasions, and having heard all the rumors, Nicodemus seemingly wanted to be convinced further.
But here was this young leader of these hill-country disciples telling him an utterly impossible thing; and he chose to seemingly hurl the words back in Jesus' face with even a little ridicule or sarcasm thrown in, protesting that no adult human being could ever crawl up into his mother's 'womb and "be born again"! Nicodemus plainly understood what he meant as He went on to explain it.
He told Nicodemus, "I'm telling you the truth - that except a man be born of water and of the spirit, he cannot enter into the Kingdom of God!" Jesus then said in John 3:6, one of the most important verses in the Bible, "That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit."
A simple observation - yet crucially foundational to the very essence of God's ultimate purpose for mankind.
You and I, lizards, turtles, rabbits, elephants and oxen were all "born of the flesh," and like all other creatures, you and I are composed of flesh - physical matter, a metabolic, organism made up of cells, with functioning physiological systems.
We can easily understand that "that which is born of the flesh is flesh" - why then is it so difficult for some to understand that "that which is born of the spirit is spirit"? For that's precisely what Jesus meant!
Even as He lived and moved in a "spirit world" consciousness, so He wanted Nicodemus to understand that a complete transformation from one state of being into a new and different state of being would actually have to take place before a person could inherit the Kingdom of God.
Jesus went on to explain. "Don't be puzzled that I'm telling you that you have to be born again. The wind blows randomly, and though you can hear its sound, you can't tell where it comes from or where it goes to, because you can't see it; that's the way it is with everyone who is born of the spirit!"
Nicodemus was almost equally confounded by Jesus' statement that an individual who was "born of the spirit" would actually be a "spirit" (become spirit essence, something extraphysical, extraterrestrial, having its being in the spiritual dimension rather than the physical). Nicodemus said, "How can these things be?" He then showed Nicodemus that He was using "earthly" examples and analogies, and, asked,
"If I have told you earthly things, and you don't believe, how can you believe if I tell you of heavenly things? And no man has ascended up to heaven, but He who came down from heaven, even the Son of man which is in heaven."
Surprisingly, many millions have never read these words, and even many who have, still do not understand them. Yet this conversation with Nicodemus leads directly into the "golden text" in John 3:16, so beloved and so oft quoted, "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life!'
Few seem to know that statement is a part of the quotation Jesus spoke that night to Nicodemus and that he was earnestly trying to communicate to Nicodemus some essential points about the gospel of the Kingdom; the hope and trust in him as Messiah; the belief in the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus as a sacrifice for the sins of the world; the acceptance of Him as the risen Savior; the necessity to await for one's own personal resurrection at His second coming; and the fact that only when you are really born of the spirit and literally became spirit have you been fully "born again."
It's no wonder that later, Nicodemus, together with Joseph of Arimathaea, lovingly and carefully wrapped the body of Jesus in grave clothes and ointments, and helped lay Him in the tomb following His crucifixion. He had come from a spirit world, and confidently expected to overcome the flesh and once again to be "born into" that spirit world and return to the bosom of the Father. He was trying to explain to a human being, from His own unique perceptions of that "other dimension," what it would be like to actually become a spirit!
Rather than choosing electricity (for it had not been "invented" yet), nuclear energy, or any other more "modern" space-age analogy, Jesus chose the example of air as a physical substance which has weight, occupies space, and is familiar, in order to illustrate to this leader of the Jewish people that when a person is truly born of the "spirit," he is to really become spirit!
This fact is lost on many religious leaders, who cannot seem to accept the plain statement that Jesus became, following His Resurrection, the "first born among many brethren" (Romans 8:29) and this "rebirth" was the act of being changed from human to divine, from physical to spiritual, from a fleshly body to a spiritual body.
The confusion is quite understandable since these critics are so thoroughly confused about what being "born again" means. To them it is the conversion experience , the time when one repents, and accepts Christ as Savior. Of course, Jesus did not have, to repent. He never sinned, and He surely never had to be born again in the sense normally (mis)understood by most religionists! But he was "born again" in the biblical meaning of the term: He was born of the spirit at His Resurrection and became spirit, Just as will happen to us at our resurrection. That's why he is called the "first born" of many brethren .
It's no wonder the Apostle Paul talked about the fact that at the last trumpet, at the time of the resurrection of the dead, "We shall all be changed ," and that Job said he would wait in the grave "until my change come"!