And these signs will accompany those who believe: In my name they will drive out demons; they will speak in new tongues… Mark 16:17
At the end of the Gospels, we have Christ's "Great Commission" towards all who believe. There are four Gospels that are considered canon: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. The end of these letters contain Christ's detailed commission to the particular followers who were in audience at this specific moment, but it extends to all who will believe in Jesus from that time forward. With the preceding principal understood, the general thought is that, at the end of Mark, verse 17 is intended to be applied more so as a sign towards the unbelieving Jews, to demonstrate and corroborate that Jesus is who he claims to be. This is demonstrated by Mark 16:20, which says, "Then the disciples went out and preached everywhere, and the Lord worked with them and confirmed
his word by the signs that accompanied it" [emphasis added]. We can see that the Lord "confirmed" his word "by" the signs that accompanied it, which gives context towards intention of this verse.
Some pertinent information regarding the topic of salvation under the Old and New Testament times is helpful for the explanation of this topic. Under the old covenant, believers had an authentic, experiential relationship with God under the confines of the old Law and, therefore, under the old covenant people had a relationship that was (to some degree) dependent on their performance in adhering to the Law. Under the new covenant, believers have a relationship to God through Christ that is based on Christ's performance, not our own. Furthermore, a key difference between the covenants is that new covenant believers have the permanent indwelling of the Holy Spirit, while old covenant believers could only have temporary contact with the Holy Spirit. Under the old covenant, typically, a believer was not fully filled with the Holy Spirit which would have prevented other spiritual influences from permeating the individual; under the new covenant, the Holy Spirit takes up residence in the believer, preventing any possible future conquest by darkness (Romans 8:1-39). The important implication of these facts is that it could be possible for an old covenant believer to be demon possessed, while in the new covenant, a born-again believer cannot be possessed by a demon since the Holy Spirit has taken up permanent residence in them.
Building from the previous paragraph, it follows that during the resurrection and Pentecostal times following Christ's ascension to heaven, there could be many atypical situations in regards to demons:
- the possibility that a believing person could be aware of some of the facts of believing in Christ but not all of them, and his conscience was bound to the old way, rather than the new, and they could have some level of demonic affliction
- the possibility of a non-believing person being possessed and then having a demon explicitly exorcised, who then believes
- the possibility of a non-believer having an exorcism done on them, who still does not believe
- the conversion of a non-believer or believer in Judaism to Christ, and consequently, demons are expunged because they cannot co-exist with the Holy Spirit
The last example of these four is most significant to modern-day, born again believers. Once someone believes in Christ, demons no longer have the ability to possess them, as they are occupied by the Holy Spirit. God has transferred believers from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of light (1 Colossians 1:13); therefore, demons cannot exist in the kingdom of light (James 2:19), or in the presence of God. Rather than becoming a believer and having to fight off the possession of demons, believers have the gift of exemption from possession for all eternity, for Christ holds us unto himself, and will never release us. In John 6:37, Christ tells us here "All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out." Therefore, Christians are not forced to deal with having to drive demons out of each other or themselves time and time again, as they have escaped this fate; the possibility of demonic possession has been eradicated by Christ's victory over the grave, thus the power of death to dominate us has been vanquished for all time. We still, however, must put on the armor of God so that we can resist the devil's attacks, as he is still able to oppress and harass Christians, but only from a position of inferiority, until his final doom.
In light of this, when Satan attacks us (and he will attack those who have been born again), it is true that demons must obey those who wield the name of the son of God (if they have believed), as Mark 16:17 has shown us, however there is a better formula prescribed to follow in His Word for resisting Satan and his demons. If believers submit themselves and draw close to God, He will draw close to us, and the Devil will flee from us, for "...God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble. Submit yourselves therefore to God, resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you" (James 4:6-8). This example is also provided for us by narrative, when Christ repeated to Satan in the fourth chapter of Matthew three different times "...it is written," making reference to God's word, which Satan flees from. We draw near to God by wielding his Word as our sword to attack back, and Satan flees. Ephesians 6:17 tells us that "...the sword of the spirit...is the word of God." For the outcome of using the formula that repels Satan and his minions results in him leaving us, as it did for Christ at the end of his temptation recounted in Matthew 4:11 "...and the devil left him."
While we as Christians can use the name of Jesus and demons will flee, it is important to keep perspective on the overall understanding of the concept. It is quite possible to be a believer and use the name of Jesus to repel satanic attacks (oppression, not possession
) that we have brought on ourselves through sin, while not drawing near to God. Romans 6:16 points out, "Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness?" If this is the case, that we are not walking in the light, but walking in disobedience, then repelling Satanic forces by Christ's name would only give us temporary victory, if that. But if we are instead walking in obedience then "...if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin" (1 John 1:7). So on this principal Christ is our example for repelling satanic attacks as shown in Matthew chapter four, and the formula His brother James gives us in chapter four of his epistle. This is not to say that at times, using the name of Jesus to repel Satan as we walk in obedience, is the wrong move; we must be aware that even when we are in close fellowship with God, Satan can still attempt an attack and we can use our Lord's name to repel him.
After everything has been taken into account, it can be deduced that directly repelling a possession of a demon, or Satan himself, in a human being is unnecessary (in the form of an exorcism) due to the fact that placing one's faith in Christ expels all demons for all time, which is far more beneficial than any temporary victory. Rather than to expel Satan by the name of Jesus, we do the greatest charity towards an acquaintance, stranger or friend to lead them to take Christ as their personal savior whose "...yoke is easy and my burden is light" (Matthew 11:30). Anyone without Christ struggles needlessly, because Christ has won a final victory over death, for our spiritual struggles against darkness are insurmountable without Him and we will certainly be defeated, consistently, until answering His invitation to "Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest"(Matthew 11:28). God gives us the invitation into Christ our Lord, and to leave the dominion of "...the ruler of the kingdom of the air..." (Ephesians 2:2) and to be forever seated "...with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus" (Ephesians 2:6). We answer that invitation by believing with heartfelt trust and praying, in our own faith-filled words, to believe in Christ. "...For with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation" (Romans 10:10).