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Question 18

Q: Were demon possessed people in Jesus’ day more obvious than today?

Were people with mental illnesses lumped into the ‘demon possessed’ category?

Asked by: Eileen, Illinois

A: Well, Eileen, that’s a very good question and the answer, I think, is yes. I have no doubt that when Jesus was here on Earth there was really an extended amount of demonic activity.

Just think of it from the demonic point of view. Jesus comes, the devil knows that He’s the Son of God, and he wants to oppose all that Jesus is doing. I have no doubt that the devil began to concentrate his activity in Israel, where Jesus was, and maybe that’s why every time Jesus turned around, it seems as if there was another demon that He had to confront.

But having said that, in answer to the second part of your question, was mental illness lumped in with this? Yes, to some extent it was and the biblical diagnosis is correct.

When we read that Jesus cast out a demon from a man that was demented, such as in Mark 5—that actually happened. Now I’m not prepared, of course, to say that all mental illness is demon possession, in fact, I think we ought to back away from that because we’re beginning to discover that there are many different causes of it. However, I do think that if we were more sensitive to the work of Satan, and recognized him with discerning eyes and ears, we might be able to help a lot of people who appear to be mentally ill.

I also believe, however, that because there are many different causes of mental illness, I am not opposed to those who take drugs for schizophrenia, or the manic-depressive illness etc. Since we do not have the same exhaustive knowledge that Jesus has, we must be very humble in our opinions.  He knew which ailments were demonic and which ones were not; we can only speculate and sometimes we get it wrong.

However, the thing that you must recognize, Eileen, is that Satan can do a lot more damage to sinning saints than most people realize. There’s a debate as to whether or not demons can inhabit Christians. It appears that they probably can’t, since we’re also inhabited by the Holy Spirit, but we must never underestimate the amount of influence that Satan can have in the lives of Christians that toy with sin. This topic deserves a much longer discussion that cannot be undertaken here. 

And let’s not forget that God can use Satan to discipline us when we stray. So we need to be prodded to come back to the Father, back to God, back to yieldedness, and put on that armor that we might stand against the wiles of the devil. Thankfully, Jesus won the victory so we can stand on conquered ground!

Scripture references

  • Mark 5

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