The Pursuit of God

Serious Topics for Serious Christians

Understanding Jesus: Do we have authority over demons?


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“Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing will injure you.” (Lk. 10:19)

Here is another one of those tantalizing statements that Jesus said to someone else and yet we just want to reach back in time and claim these words as a promise for ourselves. Today you’ll find many preachers and teachers in the Church who will tell you that Jesus has given YOU the authority to tread on serpents and scorpions and reign over the demonic realm. Today many will teach you that God will keep anything from injuring you—provided that you have enough faith. See they always have to add that last part to make sure they have some way of blaming you when the promise doesn’t hold true. You’ve always got to be the fall guy, because it can’t be God and our false teachers are never going to admit that they’re, well, false. So if you’ve been clinging to this promise and you feel like it’s just failed you in a major way, this post will help. If you haven’t started clinging to these words as some kind of rock solid guarantee from God—good. Keep reading so you’ll learn why you don’t want to go there.

As always, we need to start with context. We also need to step into Jesus’ sandals for a moment and see things from the Divine perspective. This is the day when He sees His little missionaries in training coming back from one of their test runs. My, and they are so excited. Eyes lit up, mouths moving a mile a minute. They just can’t wait to tell Him all of the amazing things that happened. Guess what, Jesus? We cast out demons! All by ourselves! It’s like watching your little kid get all excited the day he learns to work the pedals on his new tricycle. It’s cute, even if the disciples are a bit misguided as to how things really work.

The seventy returned with joy, saying, “Lord, even the demons are subject to us in Your Name!” (Lk. 10:17)

Well, yes…almost. Demons are actually never subject to people, they are only ever subject to God. The reason this group has had so much success on their little mission trip is that the Holy Spirit has been showing off His amazing skills by keeping seventy overeager bumblers in line with His Divine will. God doesn’t drive out demons until God is good and ready to do so. When He is, He sometimes taps us to pray or say something right before He flicks the demons away. And then, in our egotistical foolishness, we think that we played some really critical role in the process.

Suppose I hold a book up in the air and I tell you to say the word, “Drop!” You say it. I drop the book. What just happened? Did you make me drop the book? Did you override the strength of my hands and force the book down towards the earth? No, you didn’t. You did what I told you to do, I did what I wanted to do, and in the end an illusion of cause and effect was created. This is what happens when “we” exorcise demons in the Name of Jesus. We don’t actually do anything. God invites us to participate in something that He is going to do with or without us. He prompts us to pray and tells us what to say. We obey. He casts out the demons. We arrogantly take the glory. It’s a process that really leaves much to be desired, but this is how it is when humans get involved in God’s work: they’re always trying to steal His applause.

So then, who exorcises demons? God does. Who has supremacy over demons? Only God. Try casting out a demon when God’s not in the mood for that sort of thing and you’ll quickly discover how much your “dominion” over the forces of darkness is worth. You don’t have dominion over anything and you never will have. It doesn’t matter how many verses you pluck out of the Bible—you can quote verses at God till you’re blue in the face and He’s not going to share His power with you. But many teachers will lie to you and tell you that He will. If you want to believe lies, go ahead, but you’re not going to progress in the faith and you’re not going to please God with your life. You’re a powerless speck—that’s what He created you as and that’s what He wants you to be. The sooner you embrace this and accept your identity as a dependent slave of Christ, the better off you’ll be.

Now Jesus knows His disciples are not totally grasping the mechanics of how things work, but on this day He’s in a generous mood. He looks at all their eager faces and hears their excited comments about how powerful His Name is, and He slips in a not-so-subtle reminder that hello, He is God Almighty. Of course He is powerful.

And He said to them, “I saw Satan fall from heaven like lightning.” (Lk 10:18)

Satan fell from Heaven before this human creation ever got off the ground. This is one of those comments like “Before Abraham was, I Am” (Jn 8:58). In other words, Jesus is not just another human—He’s God and He’s been very much involved in the Divine management of the angelic creation. Jesus is flashing some Divine credentials here which give power to His next statement:

“Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing will injure you.” (Lk. 10:19)

Now your next door neighbor can give you the authority over demons, but what is it worth? Nothing, because your neighbor doesn’t have any authority to give you. But as Jesus has just reminded His disciples, He’s God, not just another man. So He’s in a position to hand out power.

But what is Jesus really doing here? Is He passing them the Divine wand and saying, “Swing it about at will—from now on, I’m yours to command?” No, He isn’t. Whenever God gives us authority to do something, it goes without saying that we will be acting in alignment with His will at all times. We’re back to the book dropping analogy. I can say to you, “I’m giving you the authority to make this book drop upon command,” but in real life I’m not going to drop the thing until I want to, and you won’t see your words having any effect unless you stay in alignment with my orders. When I tell you to say “drop”, you’ll know I’m ready to drop the book, and if you speak just then, you’ll see something happen. But if I’m busy reading my book and eating my lunch and you come up and say “drop!”, I’m going to look up and tell you to go away. We have to get clear on this: God does NOT take orders from us, and He will not be led by us. He leads, we follow. This is the way it will always be. God is our Master and we are His slaves, not His partners or His assistants or His occasional supervisors.

What Jesus is saying to these disciples is that if they stay in alignment with His will—which means keeping in step with the Holy Spirit’s convictions—then they are going to see a whole lot of miracles happening in their futures. But Jesus is also massively exaggerating with that last bit about “nothing will injure you.” All of these men are going to die and many of them will die ugly deaths. Many will get beat up plenty of times before they die. All we have to do is read the book of Acts and we’ll learn that Jesus was not speaking literally here. God exaggerates. We should certainly be able to accept this because we exaggerate all the time. “I’ll always be faithful, Lord. I’ll never turn away from You.” How many flowery promises do we make to God in our prayers and our worship songs that we later break? Far more than our egos care to remember. Well, here Jesus is surrounded by a bunch of excited little humans and He’s trying to direct their excitement into confidence about their futures. It’s like He’s saying, “This is just the beginning, guys. Wait until you see what will come next.” But let’s now complete the thought, for Jesus has more to say.

“Nevertheless do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are recorded in heaven.” (Lk. 10:20)

Notice this very important redirection. The disciples are excited about dominating the spiritual ranks. Well, they aren’t dominating anything in real life, they’re just getting a taste of how awesome it is to stand up close to God performing miracles and be in sync with His will. It’s all fine to enjoy the show, but submission and obedience are far more important, for these are the things by which we are saved. Jesus tells them NOT to get all hyped up over wowing the demons, but instead to rejoice about their salvation. And how do we get saved under either Covenant? Through reverential submission to God. Jesus wants His little guys to focus on what really matters: it’s not about the show, it’s about heart attitude. Today we need to take the same warning: don’t get so focused on the exciting things God is doing in your life that you stop valuing the relationship itself. The fact that we are accepted by God is far more important than what goodies He can give us. We want to value God for who He is, not for the blessings He can pour down on our heads. We want to cherish our relationship with Him at all times—in seasons of miracles and in seasons of trials.

At that very time He rejoiced greatly in the Holy Spirit, and said, “I praise You, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and intelligent and have revealed them to infants. Yes, Father, for this way was well-pleasing in Your sight.” (Lk. 10:21)

This is just fun. We can see Jesus with a big smile on His face—enjoying the outworking of the glorious Divine plan. Now He praises Yahweh for hiding His truth from those who consider themselves to be wise and intelligent—the religious know-it-alls, the arrogant theologians, the teachers who think they have all the answers. And instead, it is these seventy nobodies who are slowly learning about God’s truth and progressing successfully through a time of great theological upheaval: the changing of Yahweh’s Covenants.

Don’t miss how Jesus refers to His eager little crew as infants. In the eyes of the world, these seventy don’t know anything about anything. They’re not the movers and shakers of their day. They’re just average nobodies, and yet they are the ones to whom God is revealing His soul-saving wisdom. While these seventy transition into the New Covenant, the religious know-it-alls will end up eternally damned because they have their closed their arrogant minds to any doctrinal changes. They’ve already decided who God is and what He can and can’t do. Plenty of souls today are in the same boat. Plenty of Christians are missing out on intimacy with God because they refuse to let the Holy Spirit surprise them or change the beliefs they’ve always clung to. To thrive with God, we have to stay flexible and fluid. He changes His methods and doctrines. We need to be willing to change with Him.

“All things have been handed over to Me by My Father, and no one knows who the Son is except the Father, and who the Father is except the Son, and anyone to whom the Son wills to reveal Him.” (Lk. 10:22)

Once again, Jesus reminds everyone that He is more than a man—He is God Almighty: Peer and Confidant of the great Yahweh. No one is going to understand anything about Yahweh unless Jesus chooses to teach them. And right now during a transition in Covenants, it is vital to be someone who Jesus is willing to teach. If not, you’re going to end up in Hell.

Turning to the disciples, He said privately, “Blessed are the eyes which see the things you see, for I say to you, that many prophets and kings wished to see the things which you see, and did not see them, and to hear the things which you hear, and did not hear them.” (Lk. 10:23-24)

The Old Testament is peppered with promises and hints from Yahweh that made no literal sense to the audience He originally spoke them to. Prophets and kings who really cared about God spent countless hours mulling over passages that spoke of some coming Messiah, a glorious eternal kingdom and some new Covenant of peace. They didn’t get it because they couldn’t get it: Yahweh wasn’t giving them enough information. But now that Jesus has come, a lot of blanks are starting to be filled in; a lot of questions are being answered. Ironically, these “infants” that He’s with don’t appreciate the advantage of their position because they aren’t educated in Scriptures enough to grasp the significance of what Jesus is doing. There will be plenty of time for mulling over the Old Testament later—right now, they are living out the fulfillment of prophecies that they aren’t even thinking about.

How well do you remember what your pastor preached on two weeks ago or even a month ago? Jews had their church services on Saturday, and for many that was the only time they heard certain portions of Scripture being read. There were no pocket scrolls of the Old Testament. There were no take home Bibles. Scrolls were expensive and only the rich and smart people had access to them. So while Jesus is being magnificent and amazing on earth, He’s intentionally surrounded Himself with a crowd of bumpkins that don’t begin to grasp the import of what He’s doing and saying. It’s a picture that’s filled with irony, yet this is how Yahweh and Jesus wanted it. Jesus turns to His disciples and tells them how blessed they are. We can just picture them blankly smiling back and bobbing their heads while they think about how cool it is that demons leave whenever they say Jesus’ Name.

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