Christians in what we used to call “the third world,” often view the work of Jesus as centered around exorcism. Western Christians tend to view Christ as either teacher or savior. So it usually strikes Westerners as strange to hear believers in other places focus so intently on this “spooky side of things.” When we hear the word “exorcism,” we think about the movies in which people levitate and growl. So what are they talking about, these Christians in the developing world?
Well, actually, they have returned to a much older way of looking at the work of Christ and the meaning of the New Testament. The fact is, exorcism is a constant topic of the New Testament writers. They tell us again and again that Jesus came to “destroy the works of the devil,” and to make it possible for ordinary people to “resist the devil.”
In Matthew, chapter 3, Jesus meets Satan himself in the wilderness. The tempter offers the Lord fame and fortune without suffering or trial. Jesus rebukes him with the words of scripture and then goes out to heal the sick, cast out demons and to proclaim the kingdom of God.
The backdrop of the New Testament is the belief that the world had been overtaken by evil. Satan ruled the governments of the world. The world’s people were afflicted by darkness so profound that they could find no way of escape.
This was a central theme of Christian teaching for a long time. Just think about how the Christmas carols draw on this idea!
“Long lay the world in sin and error pining, till He appeared and the soul felt its worth. A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices for yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.”
In this view, Jesus both teaches and acts in ways to deliver people from darkness. His words bring the light of truth to the human mind. His healings bring relief from the affects of evil on the human body. His death and resurrection undo the knot of darkness that holds together the work evil has weaved through human culture. So everything He does is about deliverance!
In this view, salvation from our sins is Heaven’s pronouncement of human freedom; it is hardly the central theme of the gospel. Jesus frees us from the power of darkness so we can manifest the dignity God granted to us as creatures made in His image and likeness. Therefore, Christ came to restore God’s original purpose for us, not just to save us from sin. He wants us to shine like the stars, not just limp into Heaven.
This is why, in many countries, when Christians arrive at a remote village and see the devastated farms and the diseased bodies, they immediately begin to rebuke the evil one. They are angry against the powers of darkness that afflict the people. However, as they pray, they also call their brothers and sisters from the city who are schooled in agriculture. They call for the doctors and nurses. They call for teachers and construction workers. Soon, an army of believers descend on that village to pray, teach, heal, and build. If you ask these believers what they are doing, they will tell you, “We are casting out the works of darkness so that they who sit in darkness may see a great light.”
It is wonderful to read the New Testament this way; to see the work of “exorcism” simply as delivering the peoples of the earth from the clutches of evil and despair.
This is what Jesus did. This is what we do. For this is kingdom work, proclaiming in word and deed the power and glory of God until no one rattles a saber and no one drags a chain.