Most believers have experienced spiritual highs and spiritual lows. There are times where you sense God’s presence in a strong and unforgettable way and then there are those times where you wonder where God’s presence is. If you have done much ministering in the name of Jesus you may have encountered times where God’s power seems to flow through with ease and then you had times where there seemed to be no power or authority at all.
This is what happened to some of the disciples. The disciples had experienced the Lord’s authority flowing through them with casting out many evil spirits, but one day something seemed to change. A man brings his demon possessed son to the disciples and they could not do anything about it. Then Jesus shows up, delivers the boy and then gives the disciples a lesson about why they couldn’t handle this particular demon.
Let’s read about it and then examine some lessons from it. Mark 9:14 says,
When they returned to the other disciples, they saw a large crowd surrounding them, and some teachers of religious law were arguing with them. 15 When the crowd saw Jesus, they were overwhelmed with awe, and they ran to greet him. 16 “What is all this arguing about?” Jesus asked.17 One of the men in the crowd spoke up and said, “Teacher, I brought my son so you could heal him. He is possessed by an evil spirit that won’t let him talk. 18 And whenever this spirit seizes him, it throws him violently to the ground. Then he foams at the mouth and grinds his teeth and becomes rigid. So I asked your disciples to cast out the evil spirit, but they couldn’t do it.” 19 Jesus said to them, “You faithless people! How long must I be with you? How long must I put up with you? Bring the boy to me.”
20 So they brought the boy. But when the evil spirit saw Jesus, it threw the child into a violent convulsion, and he fell to the ground, writhing and foaming at the mouth. 21 “How long has this been happening?” Jesus asked the boy’s father. He replied, “Since he was a little boy. 22 The spirit often throws him into the fire or into water, trying to kill him. Have mercy on us and help us, if you can.” 23 “What do you mean, ‘If I can’?” Jesus asked. “Anything is possible if a person believes.” 24 The father instantly cried out, “I do believe, but help me overcome my unbelief!” 25 When Jesus saw that the crowd of onlookers was growing, he rebuked the evil spirit. “Listen, you spirit that makes this boy unable to hear and speak,” he said. “I command you to come out of this child and never enter him again!” 26 Then the spirit screamed and threw the boy into another violent convulsion and left him. The boy appeared to be dead. A murmur ran through the crowd as people said, “He’s dead.” 27 But Jesus took him by the hand and helped him to his feet, and he stood up.
28 Afterward, when Jesus was alone in the house with his disciples, they asked him, “Why couldn’t we cast out that evil spirit?” 29 Jesus replied, “This kind can be cast out only by prayer.” (NLT)
This event is about faith. God wants us to think about our trust and dependence on Him. Let’s break this down into three sections: the lack of faith, the Lord of faith, and a lesson on faith.
The Lack of Faith (Mark 9:14-19)
In verse 14-19 we see the lack of faith by the disciples, but we also see a hurting, weak, and fallen world.
People Problems: arguments and conflicts
Beginning in verse 14 we read, “When they returned to the other disciples, they saw a large crowd surrounding them, and some teachers of religious law were arguing with them.” This event happened immediately after the Lord’s transfiguration on the mountain top.[i] Jesus had taken three disciples up the mountain, but “when they returned to the other disciples” down in the valley “they saw a large crowd surrounding” the other disciples who were in an argument with “some teachers of religious law.” Let’s understand the scene. When I was in high school, from time to time a fight would break out at the school. Whether that was a physical fight or a verbal fight, it didn’t matter. As soon as it started a crowd would gather to watch the show. Before long, you would have the one’s fighting surrounded by a crowd of on lookers. This is what you have between the nine “disciples” that were left in the valley and the “teachers of religious law.” They were arguing and crowd had gathered to watch the conflict. A few of thoughts.
What were they arguing about? Based on the context, they probably were arguing over the disciples’ inability to cast out the demon and heal the man’s son. The religious teachers were probably saying, “Since you can’t deliver this man’s son in the authority of your Jesus then that proves that the authority of Jesus isn’t real. You guys are fakes. You are guys are telling people this Jesus is the Messiah and deliverer, but He is not here to help and you are unable to help this man’s son.” This was an opportunity for them to question and challenge the authority of Christ.
The three disciples who were blessed to go up the mountain with Jesus are on a spiritual high from witnessing the transfiguration of Jesus. They have had a mountain top experience. You need those moments in life where your spiritual batteries get charged. Sometimes they come in the form of Sunday morning church, a retreat with other believers for the weekend to a conference, on a mission trip or discipleship trip. Sometimes they happen while you are alone with God at your home praying and reading His word. You need those moments where God’s presence is strong and overwhelming in your life. Those mountain top experiences recharge your spiritual batteries and provide spiritual nourishment. However, God never intended for you to stay there. He wants you down here ministering among the hurting and suffering. He wants you living with and serving real people who have been devastated by the ravages of the Fall and sin. Peter wanted to stay on the mountain top (Mark 9:5), but Jesus leads them down the mountain and straight into an argument between the other disciples and the religious teachers over the authority of Christ and his disciples regarding healing of a man’s son. The spiritual high is over and the service among sinners takes over.
Is that not how it is in life? You have this incredible alone time with God in prayer and His Word then five minutes later the kids are fighting over some toy, the spouse is complaining about something, or the boss is blaming you for something that went wrong. You go to church on Sunday and worship God and hear His Word, you get pumped up for the week and before you get home your family is already at each other’s throats. From the mountain top to the valley. From encountering a perfect and holy God to encountering broken and hurting world. What a contrast![ii]
According to verse 15, at some point during this argument, “the crowd” that was watching the argument between the disciples and the religious teachers “saw Jesus.” Two things happened. First, “they were overwhelmed with awe.” They were excited to see Jesus. They were surprised. They were overcome with admiration. Second, “they ran to greet him.” This word “greet” (aspazomai) means to embrace and enthusiastically welcome. Picture people running to Jesus hugging him, patting him on the back, and saying things like “Welcome back. We are so glad to see you. We missed you.”
What’s interesting to me is that this crowd is made up of normal people. Some who believe, some who are leaning toward faith in Jesus, and all of them are sinners who need a Savior whether they know it or not. What’s wonderful about all this? You see Jesus who is perfectly holy, just, full of grace and truth and sinners are running to Him amazed and “overwhelmed with awe” at His goodness and fascinated by His love and the truth He speaks. Jesus truly is a “friend of sinners” (Matthew 11:19; Luke 7:34) and I think many sinners, like you and me, sense that before we became a follower of Jesus.
Spiritual Problems: evil spirits
In verse 16 Jesus asked the question, “What is all this arguing about?” Then we are told in verse 17, One of the men in the crowd spoke up and said, “Teacher, I brought my son so you could heal him. He is possessed by an evil spirit that won’t let him talk. 18 And whenever this spirit seizes him, it throws him violently to the ground. Then he foams at the mouth and grinds his teeth and becomes rigid. So I asked your disciples to cast out the evil spirit, but they couldn’t do it.” An unidentified man spoke up and explained what created the argument and what it was over. It was in regard to the condition of the man’s son and the disciples’ inability to heal him.
Before we get to deep into this, let’s look at this man who spoke up and his attitude toward Jesus.
- Mark tells us the man refers to Jesus as “teacher.” The word “teacher” (didaskalos) refers to someone who teaches to shape the will of one being taught. This “teacher” is one who provides instruction or systematically imparts truth. Someone once said that “The great teacher is the one who turns our ears into eyes so that we can see the truth.”
- Matthew tells us the man refers to Jesus as “Lord” (Matthew 17:15). At some level, the man gave Jesus ownership of his life or at least this situation. By calling Jesus “Lord” the man was acknowledging Jesus’ authority and power.
- Matthew also tells us the “man came and knelt before Jesus.” This was an act of humility, desperation, and acknowledgement of Jesus being worthy of great respect.
In verse 17, the man goes on to say, “I brought my son so you could heal him.” By now, the popularity and power of Jesus had spread far and wide. This man had heard that the disciples and Jesus were in the area. He found the nine disciples who were waiting on Jesus in the valley, but they couldn’t do anything. He wasn’t looking for them, but for Jesus. At that moment, the disciples would have to do.
Then the man begins to describe his son’s condition, “He is possessed by an evil spirit that won’t let him talk. 18 And whenever this spirit seizes him, it throws him violently to the ground. Then he foams at the mouth and grinds his teeth and becomes rigid.”
- In describing his son’s condition Mark tells us “he is possessed by an evil spirit.”[iii] An “evil spirit” is a wicked supernatural being sometimes called an unclean spirit, impure spirit, deceiving spirit, lying spirit, demonic spirit or demons. Evil spirits work against God and His people. They are a part of the kingdom of darkness and fully support Satan’s agenda. Their intention is to inflict physical harm, moral perversion, mental confusion, and spiritual depravity. They fully embrace Satan’s mission of killing, stealing, and destroying anything created by God that might give God glory. They are a significant part of the spiritual battles you face every day. These evil spirits have been actively doing Satan’s work since the Fall. They do not usually make their presence known, choosing rather to operate covertly by disguising themselves as something more acceptable. When they possess someone they usually take the form of some emotional or mental disorder. Listen carefully, I’m not saying that all emotional and mental disorders are the result of an evil spirit. All physical, emotional, and mental disorders are a result of the Fall, when sin enter the human race and created broken people. If you were to remove all the evil spirits from the world, you would still have physical, emotional, and mental disorders because of the sinful nature we are born with. In most cases the cause is psychological or physiological, but in some cases it is demonic. What I’m saying is that evil spirits will often mimic these various disorders to stay hidden and mistreated. In this case, modern medicine or treatment could not have helped.[iv]
- The man also says that the evil spirit “won’t let [the boy] talk.” So he is mute. He may make sounds and noise, but he is unable to put words together to make a sentence.
- In addition to preventing the boy from being able to talk the evil spirit “throws him violently to the ground.” The evil spirit would cause him to fall to the ground forcefully, hard, and in brutal ways in attempt to bring pain and harm. While on the ground “he foams at the mouth” and he would “grind his teeth” and “become rigid.”
- On top of all this, notice the man says, “whenever this spirit seizes him” indicating these seizures could occur anytime and anyplace.[v] In verse 22 we are told they would happen “often.” Think about this in your context for a moment. It could happen at church, at school, while shopping, while playing in his room, or when he is with other kids or it could happen while he is with baby sitters.
The Gospels make a definite distinction between demon possession and physical illness. In this particular case there seems to be a blurring of this distinction. The symptoms described by the father imply epilepsy, especially a grand mal seizure. This “evil spirit” was possessing the man’s son and trying to hide it under the disguise of epilepsy. The “evil spirit” was mimicking epilepsy. Let me be clear by repeating myself, the Bible is not saying that anyone who has the signs or symptoms of epilepsy is possessed by an evil spirit. What the Bible is saying is in this case the boy’s problem was an “evil spirit.”
Faith problems: inability and lack of faith of believers
At the end of verse 18 the man says, “So I asked your disciples to cast out the evil spirit, but they couldn’t do it.” These disciples loved Jesus. They were committed to Him. They had seen Him cast out demons multiple times. They knew they were real. They could identify them. They had experienced authority over them, but in this case they could not “cast out the evil spirit.” Have you ever been approached by someone and they asked you to pray for something (direction, healing, wisdom, restoration in a relationship, etc.) but nothing happened. No change occurred. There are several reasons that could be; like it’s not God’s will or God’s timing. Sometimes it may have to do with those who are praying. Their faith isn’t where it needs to be and their faith needs to grow. There are some things as a believer that you are not ready for and you need more growth. That’s okay, as long as you learn and keep growing.
However, for the disciples they should have already known better. Notice the response of Jesus to the man’s description of his son and the disciples’ inability to help in verse 19. Jesus doesn’t address the man first he turns to his disciples and the crowd and says, “You faithless people! How long must I be with you? How long must I put up with you?” These questions, seem to be aimed at the crowd, but especially the disciples.
Jesus describes them as “You faithless people!” Luke tells us that Jesus also called them “corrupt” (Luke 9:41). They were “faithless” and whatever belief they had was “corrupt.” The disciples had spent about two years living with Jesus at this point. They had heard Him teach over and over again, they had seen Him perform miracle after miracle, cast out evil spirit after evil spirit, and even raise the dead. Jesus had given them authority to cast out evil spirits earlier and they had done so with amazement. But now, after all that it’s like they have no faith and their faith has become corrupted with doubt and confusion once again.
So Jesus says, “How long must I be with you?” Jesus is saying, “How long do I need to be with you before you get it! How many times do I need to tell you have been given my authority and you represent Me? How many more lessons and experiences on this do you need before you understand and believe? How long must I be with you?” Then Jesus rhetorically asked, “How long must I put up with you?”
The disciples demonstrated incredible faith previously. They were used by God to do miracles and cast out evil spirits, but their confidence started shifting to themselves and they began to rely on their own past successes for current spiritual battles. As a follower of Jesus there is never a time where your own wisdom, strength, power, and spiritual resume will ever be enough to deal and confront the kingdom of darkness and its might. You will need a constant reliance and confidence and faith in God’s power to deal with the spiritual forces of evil. Jesus is about to teach them this lesson once again.
In this story we are seeing the real world. A world full of religious arguments over Jesus and His authority and who He really is and what He can and will do. We are seeing the pain and hurt and confusion created by the kingdom of darkness on individuals and families. We see the inability, lack of faith, and immaturity of believers when it comes to ministering to others. This is the real world, but thank God for Jesus!
The Lord of Faith (Mark 9:19-27)
So far, we have seen the lack of faith and the impotence it has against the kingdom of darkness. Now we see the Lord of faith and Jesus demonstrates His authority over all the powers of darkness, even the most stubborn ones.
At the end of verse 19, Jesus turns His attention to the boy. Jesus says, “Bring the boy to me.” What a powerful statement by Jesus! “Bring the boy to me.” I can’t help but see parents bringing their children to Jesus through prayer. “Lord, deliver my son from his addiction.” Bring the boy to me. “Jesus, give my child wisdom regarding who he dates.” Bring the boy to me. “Lord, give my child a hunger for You and Your word.” Bring the boy to me. “Lord, I don’t know why they are the way they are and do the things they do but I bring them to You. Heal them. Deliver them. Rescue them.” Bring the boy to me.
Verse 20 says, “So they brought the boy. But when the evil spirit saw Jesus, it threw the child into a violent convulsion, and he fell to the ground, writhing and foaming at the mouth.” When you study the life of Jesus you discover that when evil spirits encounter Jesus, there is always a violent reaction (Mark 1:23-26, 34; 3:11-12; 5:6-13).
While the boy goes into a violent convulsion, falls to the ground, writhing and foaming at the mouth Jesus decides to have a conversation with the dad and asks in verse 21, “How long has this been happening?” Jesus is completely calm while this is happening, which I think also helps the father remain calm. Jesus knew about this boy. He knew how long he had been suffering. Jesus wasn’t asking the question for Himself, He was asking the question for the dad and those watching and listening. Jesus allowed the boy’s father to open his heart to His sympathetic and loving ear.
I think there are times we just need to let people talk. Let them share their suffering, their pain, their worry. There is something therapeutic about telling someone else about what you have been going through. Be that sympathetic ear. Be that sounding board for someone. Listen carefully to 1 Peter 3:8, “All of you should be of one mind. Sympathize with each other. Love each other as brothers and sisters. Be tenderhearted, and keep a humble attitude” (NLT). To sympathize means to care about someone else’s pain, hurt, trouble, grief or misfortune. Jesus was demonstrating sympathy by allowing the man to share his pain.
The man tells us several things about his boy and his convulsions.
- These convulsions have been happening since childhood. He tells us his son has been suffering from these attacks “since he was a little boy.” This is not something new. They have been dealing with this for a long time. It’s possible that the father tried various medicines and methods to help his son, but nothing worked.
- These convulsions happen frequently. Then in verse 22 he says, “The spirit often throws him into the fire or into water, trying to kill him.” These convulsions could happen at any time and any where. They were unpredictable.
- These convulsions are suicidal in nature. From the dad’s perspective it looks like the boy is trying to kill himself. Verse 22 says, “The spirit often throws him into the fire or into water, trying to kill him.” Throughout the boys life they had to keep him away from pools of water and fires. This is in a world where you have to have fires to heat your house and cook your food.
This explains why the man says, “Have mercy on us and help us.” The father identifies himself with the need of his son. To show mercy on the son is to show mercy on the father. To show mercy on the father is to show mercy on the son. To help the father is to help the son. To help the son is to help the father. This condition consumed their life and family.
I believe when you bless one person you also are blessing those in his or her life. When you help one person you in some way you help someone else. There is a domino effect on blessing people.
Then at the end of verse 22 he says, “If you can.” I love Jesus’ response in verse 23, “What do you mean, ‘If I can’?” It seems obvious to me the man knew enough about Jesus’ healing power to bring his son to Him. We are not told how much the man knew, but he had obviously either heard about some of Jesus’ miracles or seen some of them or both. Either way, the man thought Jesus might be able to do something about his son’s condition.
If Jesus were to answer His own question I think it might sound like this, “What do you mean, ‘If I can?’ I’ve walked on water, calm the storms, and raised the dead. Of course I can. I have healed all kinds of diseases and sicknesses. Of course I can. The cripple walk, the deaf hear, and the blind see. Of course I can. I have healed children, men, women, young and old. Of course I can. I have cast out demons and evil spirits in the hundreds and thousands. What do you mean, if I can? Of course I can.”
Then Jesus says something amazing at the end of verse 23, “Anything is possible if a person believes.” This is true, but it is true only in the context of the will of God who governs all things, including this promise.
- Jesus is not saying, “If you believe then you can make anything happen.” He is not saying that if you have faith then anything you want can happen. This is not a name it and claim it or confess it and possess or blab it and grab it statement.
- Jesus is saying, “When a person believes and has faith in God then anything is possible because God is all powerful who makes all things possible. This is not about a faith that produces the impossible, this is about a faith in the God who can do the impossible. The one who believes will set no limits on the power of God. This was the man’s issue. He knew Jesus could some incredible things, but maybe his son was to much for Jesus. In his mind, he had placed limits on Jesus’ power and authority. This is why the man said, “If you can.”
There are some things that God desires to do in your life, but He has chosen to sovereignly leave it up to you and will only respond to your faith in Him regarding that situation. He wants you to believe Him on this and for this. God has chosen to connect some of His activity and power to your faith. This is why “anything is possible if a person believes.” When your faith connects with the will of God that’s when you see God work in your life. The two have to go together.
In response to Jesus’ statement, verse 24 says, “The father instantly cried out, “I do believe, but help me overcome my unbelief!”[vi] Jesus did not usually call for faith in those He healed. In this case, however, He intended to use this man as an illustration for the disciples of what even imperfect faith in Him can accomplish. In brutal honesty, the man cried out, “I do believe, but help me overcome my unbelief!” Here is a man that is honest and saying, “I believe, but there are still areas in my life where I don’t believe.” For example, there are people today who have placed their faith in Christ for salvation, but they struggle trusting God to meet their needs. They trust in one area of their life, but they don’t trust God in another part of their life.
Just as he pleaded in desperation for Jesus to deliver his son from the evil spirit, he also pleaded for Jesus to help him be delivered from his unbelief. The Lord is not limited by imperfect faith; even the strongest faith is always mixed with a measure of doubt. The man acknowledges that he has faith, but he wants to have more. As one translation words it, “I do have faith! Please help me to have even more” (CEV).
This request by the man can be asked regarding other areas of your life. You may need to say, “I do believe, but help me to have more faith.” But you might also need to ask, “I am determined to obey, but I need more determination,” or “I am willing to obey, but help me have more willingness” or “I am being patient, but I need more patience.”
This takes us to verse 25, When Jesus saw that the crowd of onlookers was growing, he rebuked the evil spirit. “Listen, you spirit that makes this boy unable to hear and speak,” he said. “I command you to come out of this child and never enter him again!” Jesus says three things to the evil spirit.
- Jesus says, “Listen, you spirit that makes this boy unable to hear and speak” – Jesus spoke directly to the evil spirit, getting the spirits attention.
- Jesus says, “I command you to come out of this child” – Jesus commands the spirit to come out of the boy. He uses His authority over the evil spirit.
- Then Jesus says, “and never enter him again!” – Jesus then commands the evil spirit to never enter the boy again. The description of the boy going into convulsions may indicate the evil spirit would leave and enter the boy at various times. Jesus was closing the door on the evil spirit returning in the future.
Notice the reaction in verse 26, “Then the spirit screamed and threw the boy into another violent convulsion and left him.” This reminds me of the person who is kicked out of their apartment, but in a rage against the owner tries to create as much damage to it before he leaves. The evil spirit did three things in response to Jesus’ rebuke.
After the evil spirit left the boy we are told in verse 26, The boy appeared to be dead. A murmur ran through the crowd as people said, “He’s dead.” What’s ironic about this is the crowd thought the boy was dead, when in reality the boy was now more alive than he had ever been. He was now restored.
So in verse 27 we are told, “But Jesus took him by the hand and helped him to his feet, and he stood up.” Mark does not comment on the reaction of the crowd but Luke does when he writes, “Awe gripped the people as they saw this majestic display of God’s power” (Luke 9:43, NLT). They were amazed at the greatness of God.
The Lord of faith demonstrated His authority over the kingdom of darkness and this evil spirit. By doing show He revealed Himself once again as the Messiah and Deliverer. He also demonstrated the reality of sin, spiritual forces of evil, and His power to subdue them.
The Lessons of Faith (Mark 9:28-29)
We have seen the lack of faith and the Lord of faith, now let’s consider some lessons of faith. In verse 28 the crowd has gone home, the religious leaders have left, the boy and his son are back at their house beginning a new life together. In verse 28 we read, “Afterward, when Jesus was alone in the house with his disciples, they asked him, ‘Why couldn’t we cast out that evil spirit?’” This is a good question. They had cast out evil spirits before. Back in Mark 6:12 we are told, “The disciples went out, telling everyone they met to repent of their sins and turn to God. And they cast out many demons and healed many sick people, anointing them with olive oil” (vs. 12-13, NLT). Whatever they did in Mark 6 was not working in Mark 9 when it came to casting out demons.
Jesus’ answer to their question was, “This kind can be cast out only by prayer” (v.29). The disciples needed to recognize that the spiritual ability to cast out evil spirits was directly connected to their complete dependence on God and His power, not their past successes. If we are not careful we begin to think our past spiritual victories are based on our goodness rather than God’s greatness.[vii] Reliance on God through prayer is a constant process. When Jesus says “prayer” he is not talking about your prayer list. He is talking about an intimate and close relationship with God that is seen in complete dependence on His power to accomplish anything good.
When Jesus says “this kind” of evil spirit He is probably referring to the class or sort of demon that was in the boy. When talking about evil spirits in Matthew 12, Jesus referred to evil spirits being “more evil” than others (Matthew 12:45). By implication, Jesus is indicating to the disciples that this particular demon is more difficult to remove than the others they had cast out earlier in their ministry. This was a particularly strong, stubborn, and resistant spirit.
When answering their question Jesus mentioned two things. Mark points out their lack of prayer and Matthew emphasizes their lack of faith (Matt. 17:20). For some demons to respect our authority in Christ our prayer dependence on God must be strong and our faith and trust in God’s power must be solid. As someone once said, “Little faith little power. Much prayer, much power.”
Jesus answered their questioned and saw this as a growth moment for them. Jesus pointed them to the true source of their power, God. They seemed to have forgotten where the authority and power comes from over the kingdom of darkness. Jesus reminded them they must have a strong connection and fellowship with God through prayer and faith to experience His spiritual authority flowing through their lives.
[i] Luke says this event took place “the next day” after they had come down from the mountain (Luke 9:37).
[ii] The episode took place immediately after the transfiguration, and the contrasts between the two events are striking. The transfiguration happened on a mountain; this happened in the valley below. In the transfiguration, there was glory; here there was suffering. In the transfiguration God dominated the scene; here Satan did. In the transfiguration, the heavenly Father was pleased; in this incident, an earthly father was tormented. In the transfiguration there was a perfect Son; here there was a perverted son. At the transfiguration, fallen men were in holy wonder; in this story, there was a fallen son in unholy horror. (MacArthur, John. MacArthur New Testament Commentary: Mark)
[iii] According to Matthew 17:15 the Father didn’t mention demon possession at all, but when described in Mark and Luke it is described as an evil spirit. It is important to note that epilepsy was the father’s assessment of his son’s situation. The seeming discrepancy in the three biblical accounts is probably due to the fact that the father said a lot of things in trying to describe his son’s condition. He was distraught, desperate for help, and at a loss to describe what was happening to his son. The fact that the father speaks of epilepsy or seizures in Matthew’s account and calls it a “spirit” in the other two Gospels does not create an irreconcilable difference. The father could easily have said all of the above as he described his son’s condition. He did not know what was wrong. He only knew that he needed help. On another note, the term epileptic is used only twice in the New Testament, in Matthew 17:15 and Matthew 4:24. The word translated “epileptic” comes from the Greek word for “lunatic.” In those days, the term could be applied to any type of seizures or behavior that resembled insanity. In New Testament times, people had no way to differentiate between brain disorders and demonic possession. Little was known about the causes or treatment of epilepsy, traumatic brain injury, or dementia, so it is understandable that the father in Matthew 17 would describe his son’s behavior as epilepsy. But we know from Jesus’ treatment of this boy that the child was in fact demon possessed (Mark 9:26).
[iv] The Bible does mention epilepsy or seizers as a condition separate from demon possession. Matthew 4:24 says, “So his fame spread throughout all Syria, and they brought him all the sick, those afflicted with various diseases and pains, those oppressed by demons, epileptics, and paralytics, and he healed them” (emphasis added). Here epilepsy is listed with other physical ailments, indicating that epilepsy is a medical condition that can cause symptoms similar to demonic possession. Jesus healed epileptics, and He also cast out demons. The two conditions were not synonymous. Although many inexplicable behaviors that affect the personality can be attributed to demonic oppression, we should never rush to judgment. Demons are still active and can possess and oppress people. Prayer and spiritual warfare can enable us to help those who are oppressed (2 Corinthians 10:4; Ephesians 6:12–17). But brain abnormalities or injury can also affect human behavior and can respond to medical treatment. Jesus always treated the individual, and He rarely healed the same disease in the same way. This shows us that we should also respond to individuals with sensitivity and discernment, using everything at our disposal to help and heal any way we can
[v] Seizes (katalambano) means to take eagerly, grasp with force, lay hold of and seize with hostile intent. The idea is to gain control quickly in order to harm.
[vi] “Cried out”(krazo) refers to a loud cry and is a strong word expressing deep emotion. Krazo is one of those words which imitates the hoarse cry of the raven, and can be an inarticulate and brutish sound or an exclamation of fear or pain.
[vii] Some believers will start relying on a method rather than the Master. They have a certain formula, routine, or ritual they go through in order to cast out evil spirits. Their faith begins to be on the routine rather than the Lord.