This is a medieval interpretation of the moment when a demon is expelled from a person at the hand of Jesus. The image depicts Jesus’s hand raised in authoritative command, like a general commanding his forces, or a schoolteacher pointing out an unruly offender, or a policeman summoning you to pull over.
And the Greek word used for “expel” is ekballo,which simpy means “throw out” or “evict.” The idea is of a nasty, bullying tenant who has taken over your attic and is threatening the peace of the whole house. He has to go.
But the only one who can evict him is the owner himself -or someone standing in by proxy, who fully understands his own rights in the matter.
Here’s Luke’s account of such an event, in Luke 9.
“The next day, when they came down from the mountain, a large crowd met him. 38 A man in the crowd called out, ‘Teacher, I beg you to look at my son, for he is my only child. 39 A spirit seizes him and he suddenly screams; it throws him into convulsions so that he foams at the mouth. It scarcely ever leaves him and is destroying him. 40 I begged your disciples to drive it out, but they could not.’
41 ‘You unbelieving and perverse generation,’ Jesus replied, ‘how long shall I stay with you and put up with you? Bring your son here.’
42 Even while the boy was coming, the demon threw him to the ground in a convulsion. But Jesus rebuked the impure spirit, healed the boy and gave him back to his father. 43 And they were all amazed at the greatness of God.”
It’s interesting that Jesus is addressed as “Teacher” (Διδάσκαλε) by a man in the crowd – it was also so on the occasion in Mark 1 when “The people were amazed at his teaching, because he taught (διδάσκων) them as one who had authority” (Mark 1:22). Not only were these people hearing God’s will in a way that they had never heard before, but the theory was being demonstrated by the authoritative expulsion of demons.
Several years later, as the apostle Paul is equipping other men to teach the gospel of the Kingdom, we see the same principle in action. Titus 2:15 is where the evangelist is admonished to “speak and exhort and reprove with all authority. Let no one disregard you.” The word of God is not some mushy thing like toast dipped in milk. It is the “power of God,” Romans 1:16. It was/is to be taught “with all authority.” We too are to “teach with authority.”
And the word “authority” takes us back to the picture of general, schoolteacher or policeman. If you are in Christ then you are in a position to do something about these unruly intrusions.
But the description of “convulsions so that he foams at the mouth ” sounds like epilepsy, doesn’t it? Isn’t this “just” a medical condition?
I have to confess to a personal agenda here, since I suffered from epilepsy from the age of about 15 to 25. I can’t remember exactly when or how it started but I remember how it finished -so maybe that’s enough! My experience leads me to strongly identify with the clause here, that “It scarcely ever leaves him and is destroying him.” And that was my own feeling about the condition, to be honest: I didn’t care whether it was “medical” or “demonic” or whatever – I just hated it and wanted rid of it! It was always there and it was destroying my life. I couldn’t drive (and that was a big deal to this young man!) and I was always hyper-conscious of the signs of onset, stealing my time, killing my joy, destroying my peace.
And this is the precise activity that the Bible ascribes to “Satan,”who is characterised as a “thief that comes to steal, kill and to destroy.”(John 1o)
And Jesus deals with the situtation preremptorily, commanding the man to bring the boy; but “Even while the boy was coming, the demon threw him to the ground in a convulsion.” The Bible pictures something alien and parasitic, violently assaulting its innocent victim.
And I know this may sound a little strange, but I experienced the sense as a teenager that I was being “played with.” I wasn’t thinking or operating as a Christian believer and was very far from personnifying a medical condition into a malign “spirit” but even so, I remember the embarassment of being exposed, of falling, convulsing in the worst possible places and times. I remember a schoolteacher saying that I was an exhibitionist! Really helpful advice. If they only knew the acute sensitivity of teenagers!
So I can really empathise with this kid coming in front of a crowd and immediately doing his stuff.
And then something unexpected happens. “Jesus rebuked the impure spirit, healed the boy and gave him back to his father. And they were all amazed at the greatness of God.”
That’s what happened to me. I started attending this church in Barnoldswick in the north of England, and Jack, (one of the elders), prayed simply and strongly against epilepsy and the thing was done. I never had another seizure (and I learnt to drive too).
It comes down to that word “ἐπετίμησεν” which is translated “rebuked.” Jesus rebuked the thing and it was gone.The word is interesting, since its root meaning is connected with the giving of honour or place or the ascription of worth. In the context of the narrative here, Jesus was refusing any place (or honour, or worth) to the Thing.
He was evicting a bad tenant.
Jack didn’t mention “evil spirits” to me. I think he sensed that my own background would have thrown up a defensive wall against such talk at that point. So he gave me two simple points to consider before beginning to pray. One was that God was powerful and loving; and the other was that something was in me that shouldn’t be there. And, as I said before, I already half thought that myself.
“And if God is powerful, he is able to do all that is necessary for your wellbeing. And if he is loving, he wants to, too! So, in Jesus name, I refuse entry to this unclean thing.”