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Q&A: Why were demon possession, gifts of healing, and gifts of tongues more prevalent in biblical times?

Why were things like demon possession, gifts of healing, and gifts of tongues more prevalent in biblical times than they are now?

Let’s discuss demon possession here and spiritual gifts in this Bible study.

Possible reasons for the perception

Satan is certainly still active in tempting God’s children away from their Savior. The apostle Paul says, “Our struggle is not again flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:12). However, it does seem that physical, visible possession of people is rarer today.

Here are possible reasons for that perception:

  • Satan likes to live in extremes. The devil seems to have different modes of operation for different times and cultures. Either Satan wants people to believe that he is as powerful as God or to think of him as a joke. At times and in certain cultures, Satan has been given too much credit. In these situations, there seems to be greater visible evidence of his work. Today it seems that his tactic is to convince people not to take him seriously. It’s much easier for the lion if his prey is unsuspecting (1 Peter 5:8).
  • Jesus came to overcome the devil. It’s a dangerous thing to corner a rat. In a sense, this is what happened to Satan when Jesus walked this earth. The devil stepped up his attacks because he knew he was fighting the ultimate battle against Jesus. He was cornered and desperate.
  • We can have too narrow of a view of demon possession. When we think of demon possession, we often think of the Gerasene demoniac who was naked, too powerful to be chained, cut himself, and raving mad (Luke 8:26-39). Sometimes in Jesus’ day the possession was subtler and manifested in physical ailments. In Luke 13, we hear about a woman who had been crippled by a demon for 18 years. Matthew 17 records that a boy with seizures was afflicted by a demon. This is not to say that every physical or mental ailment is caused by a demon, but possession today may occasionally manifest itself in this subtler form.

Comfort for the believer

God is infinitely more powerful than Satan. However, Satan is still powerful and God warns us to take him seriously. It’s still dangerous to reach into the cage to try to pet the lion!

Satan seems to come because of an invitation or a void. James 4:7 says, “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” The opposite is true as well. Many who have interacted with demons unintentionally invited Satan in some way, perhaps by attending a séance or even dabbling in the occult. The Bible says “resist,” not “invite.”

In Luke 11, Jesus describes a man who had a demon removed but did not fill that space with God’s truth. The demon returned, bringing seven other demons with him. Jesus ends the account by saying, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it” (verse 28). The Bible says to fill your mind with God’s truth!

Finally, go with the comfort God gives: “In all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons . . . will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus, our Lord” (Romans 8:37-39).

Have a question, ask it here!

Author: David Scharf
Volume 109, Number 07
Issue: July 2022

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This entry is part 13 of 62 in the series question-answer

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