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Following Christ’s Example: A Biblical View of Discipleship

Matthew even states that Jesus’ healing ministry was a means of proclamation: “Jesus withdrew from that place. Many followed him, and he healed all their sick, warning them not to tell who he was. This was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet Isaiah: ‘Here is my servant whom I have chosen, the one I love, in whom I delight; I will put my Spirit on him, and he will proclaim justice to the nations”’ (Mat. 12:15-18 NIV).

Jeremias adds that the Spirit of God always brings both word and deed, “The word is never without its accompanying deed and the deed is never without the word that proclaims it. So too with Jesus: the concluding revelation is manifested in two ways (see Mat. 11:5f.) in acts of power and in words of authority.”20

As we have seen in Luke, Jesus specifically connects the presence of the kingdom with casting out demons. How are we to understand this? William Barclay frames the first century world-view, “Men believed that the air and atmosphere were crowded with demons, most of them malignant spirits waiting to work men harm.”21 Guignebert concurs,

For the Jews of Jesus’ day Palestine was a land peopled by good or evil spirits. … A man who claimed to speak in God’s name and to prepare his ways was known as a true recipient of the sign of Jahweh by his intimacy with angels, and still more by his authority over demons. …22

As for Jesus himself, there can be no doubt that he was born and bred and lived out his life in the midst of a threatening cloud of hostile spirits, and that belief in their existence and in their activities was one of … [his] formative elements. …23

This means that since Jesus bears the kingdom of God, he must also cast out the demons who oppose it. MacArthur acknowledges this in part, as he writes, “… Jesus encountered Satan and defeated him by his dunamis, his power. … In every case Jesus’ gift of power was used to combat Satan’s kingdom.”24 But MacArthur then takes away what he gives by concluding that, “God’s intended purpose for miracles: [is] to confirm new scriptural revelation.”25 Which is it? Is Jesus the Warrior-King in battle with the devil, or is he merely using the devil to authenticate himself as bearing new revelation from God?

The Spirit of God always brings both word and deed.

Without a real deliverance from evil, Jesus’ proclamation is bogus or mythological or docetic—giving us credentialed truth, disconnected from our own fallen history and bondage to Satan. There is no kingdom of God where the ruler of the other kingdom, is not put to flight. Jeremias identifies the war which has been declared, “Jesus enters this world enslaved by Satan with the authority of God, not only to exercise mercy, but above all to join the battle with evil.”26 Stauffer agrees and adds, “The kingdom of God is present where the dominion of the adversary is overthrown.”27 With these power-encounters against the enemy, the end, the eschatological climax to all of history has begun. Jeremias notes, “These victories over the power of evil [casting out demons] are not just isolated invasions of Satan’s realm. They are more. They are manifestations of the dawn of the time of salvation and of the beginning of the annihilation of Satan.”28 They “are a foretaste of the eschaton [End].”29 God is making his final move in his Son as he bears the kingdom come and coming, and this move continues in his Church until the glorious return of her Lord (see I Cor. 15:22-25).

Jesus not only drove out demons, he also healed the sick. This, again, was a necessary manifestation of the presence of the kingdom. While, for MacArthur, Jesus’ healings credential the new revelation which he brings, for the Gospel writers they reveal his compassion for the sick (Mat. 9:35-36; 14:14; 20:34; Mk. 5:19; Lk. 7:13; cf. Acts 4:9) and the restoration of the fallen creation. The traditional first century Jew used the doctrine of retribution far too simplistically by equating sickness with punishment.30 Jesus, however, saw the demonic in many forms of illness. Hengel comments, “His eschatological struggle was directed against the demonic powers in the light of the sicknesses caused by them. … His only weapon in this struggle was the word of authority. …”31 And Hengel concludes:

The victory which occurs in Jesus’ healings, over the power of Satan, which manifests itself in illness and possession, means the signal and visible ‘dawn’ of the rule of God. A heavenly event corresponds to this victory: the fall of Satan, the Accuser before God. Probably Jesus’ activity as an ‘exorcist’ and ‘healer of the sick’ awakened among the simple Galilean population at least as much attention and enthusiasm as his preaching. It can be seen that this part of his activity (which we find so hard to understand today) was also given great importance in the early tradition of the community, for in the tradition about the Mission of the disciples the Twelve specifically receive authority to exorcise and to heal the sick. … Even an old baraita knows of the Jewish Christians of Palestine having authority ‘to heal’ those fallen seriously ill ‘in the name of Jesus’ … and of this being gladly made use of by the non-Christian Jewish population despite the objections of individual rabbis.32

It is impossible, therefore, to make the exorcisms and healings of Jesus simply into evidences for his deity, clustered around his historical presence and that of his apostles, as those who oppose the third wave or “Signs and Wonders” movement tend to do today.33 A. M. Hunter sees the following serious objections to this position. First, Jesus did not work miracles in order to call attention to his message or himself. In Mark 8:12 he refused to produce a sign on demand. R. H. Fuller comments, “Like the devil in the temptation, they [the Pharisees] tempt Jesus to perform some striking act to prove who he is. Jesus rejects this kind of a sign en toto. … Jesus refuses, not to perform signs as such, but signs intended to point to himself.”34

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Category: Living the Faith, Summer 2007

About the Author: Donald M. Williams, Ph.D. (Columbia University), M.Div. (Princeton Seminary), retired in 2002 from the pastorate of Coast Vineyard in La Jolla, California that he planted in 1988. Previous pastoral experience included serving as College Pastor at the Hollywood Presbyterian Church for ten years and Mt. Soledad Presbyterian Church in La Jolla, CA. He has held teaching posts at Claremont MacKenna College and at Fuller Seminary. He is the author of thirteen books, including 12 Steps with Jesus (Regal/Chosen, 2004), Start Here: Kingdom Essentials for Christians (Regal/Chosen, 2006), and The Communicator's Commentary for Psalms 1-72 (Word, 1986) and Psalms 73-150 (Word, 1989).

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