Rev. Steve Sanchez

Rev. Steve Sanchez
Swedenborgian Minister

Friday, April 24, 2015

Part one: Possession and Exorcism in Scripture and History In Times of Jesus

To see the darkness Jesus faced gives the observer of history and the Bible, key insight into the life of Jesus. To understand redemption, we must understand what we were redeemed from. Otherwise it is not possible to fully understand the mighty work that Jesus acccomplished from his own power.

Matthew gives us a good picture of the dire darkness on the Land and how Jesus and the disciples work diligently against this tide to bring hope.

As they went out, behold, they brought to Him a man, mute and demon-possessed. And when the demon was cast out, the mute spoke. And the multitudes marveled, saying, “It was never seen like this in Israel!”
But the Pharisees said, “He casts out demons by the ruler of the demons.”
Then Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every sickness and every disease among the people. But when He saw the multitudes, He was moved with compassion for them, because they were weary and scattered, like sheep having no shepherd. Then He said to His disciples, “The harvest truly is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest.”
And when He had called His twelve disciples to Him, He gave them power over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal all kinds of sickness and all kinds of disease (Matthew 9:32 - 10:1).              

In each of the gospels it is told several times of people being de-possessed, and in general it is told that Jesus and his disciples healed multitudes of the sick and demon possessed. We learn a lot from observing the nature of these encounters. They give us a window to see how Jesus subjugated evil spirits not only on earth, but in the spiritual world. In each encounter the evil spirits recognize the divine power in Jesus and beg for mercy. There are profound principles at work here that have to do with the very purpose that the Lord suffered himself to be born on earth. In order to battle with an enemy a person must be with them in close quarters, hand to hand, or sword to sword, so to speak, and so it was with the Lord. God in his essence could not come into the presence of people, spirits, or angels, because the divine fire of his love and truth would instantly destroy anyone, just as it would destroy a man to come too close to the sun. Humans were further separated from God and heaven because the accumulation of evil caused a dark cloud between heaven and earth. The dark cloud was due to the overabundance of evil spirits in the spiritual world that resulted in an interference of influx to the earth. These evil spirits built false heavens that grew bigger and bigger. God suffered Himself to be born on earth for in this way He could be accessible to humantiy without doing harm. By being born on earth Jesus had access to evil forces, and evil forces had access to him. Jesus had access to them because He was born from a human mother, and anyone born on this earth has hereditary evil passed on to them; we recieve hereditray evil from the body of the mother, and from the soul of the father. Since Jesus soul was from God, and therefore divine, He did not receive evil from the father, only from the mother. Because he possessed hereditary evil in his body Jesus could be tempted and attacked by evil spirits. God in his purity cannot be tempted. Swedenborg informs us that Jesus was doing the work of putting evil spirits back into their place in the spiritual world on a large scale. He tells how on sight hundreds of evil spirits who had made a siege on heaven would run and seek refuge in caves. The light from Jesus was like scalding water to them; the atmosphere of love from him caused them to not be able to breath as if they were in a vacuum.
For instance, in the Gosples even the Pharisees accept that Jesus removed evil spirits, for that was the recognized common mode of healing; they tried to discredit Him by saying he removed demons ‘by the ruler of demons’, further indicating the dominance of evil in their lives. Because of their lust for power the spiritual leaders led the people deeper into blindness for their deepest desire was to maintain their power; they wanted to kill the light in Jesus. The common people saw Jesus differently; they marveled that “it was never seen like this in Israel”. In reality the miracles of Jesus were pure and wondrous, and done with a deep, tender love.
It is frequently told in the Bible that Jesus, and His disciples after Him, performed exorcism, and depossesed people, which is to say they removed evil spirits. It is even more often told that they healed the sick. People in these times were going about their normal lives, performing their work, trying to better the lives of their family, but the darkness was a dominant factor in their life. It effected their daily lives in almost every way. Biblical historians inform us that there were exorcist and healers on city block corners as common as barber shops doing business, apparently some were sincere, and some worked dark magic for their clients.
Healing the sick has more or less the same meaning as removing evil spirits, which the above scripture indicates. The Jewish people (and all the peoples around them) believed that illness, madness, disease, and even misfortune, were caused by evil spirits influencing, or possessing the victim, and consequently that healing was achieved by removing the evil spirits. This practice was held by all the different people’s in the mediternean, and beyond, at the time. Referring to the Jewish people Ogden writes: “They referred the cause of various pathological conditions, especially madness, leprosy, and plague, to ‘evil spirits’ who smote the sufferer, or entered his body. Other diseases, no doubt, were attributed to demonic animals, such as the seraphim, or flies” (Ogden, p.  ).
In ‘The History of Civilizaton’, C.K. Ogden describes how all the various peoples in the mediteranean had similar beliefs about supernatural influences, including the Jewish people. The ancient Arabs believed supernatural, mostly evil creatures called Jinns were present everywhere, and caused rustlings and disturbances along their travels. Jinn’s especially haunted abandoned villages where people had lived and died. Wherever they settled for the night Arab travelers made a sacrifice to the Jinn, for they feared the Jinn would avenge themselves upon them in a terrible way (possession, disease, plague). Islam in general had similar beliefs. They believed that demons would take their abode in wild beasts, especially birds of prey, serpents, lizards, and scorpions. Many of these influences are still alive to day, for instance when an Arab passes a ruin he will stuff his nose to prevent Jinn’s from entering his body. Or when imposing whirlwinds pass the desert it is believed Jinns threaten. The Bedouins believed in the existence of flying serpants, very similar to the Jewish seraphim. The great historian of antiquity, Josephus, tells the story that Herodotus is said to have found the bones of a seraphim in Egypt. Another fable tells of a seraphim like serpant that is used as one of the grim ingredients for scorceror’s magic, the intent of which was to raise the dead (Ogden, p.  ).
Ogden describes the dreadful fear of the Seraphim by the Isrealites, and the magical means used to combat them:

We find wholly similar ideas and practices among the Isrealites…The Isrealites believed that caravans crossing the desert were attacked by formidable winged serpents called seraphim. The only way to escape their fatal bite was to make a bronze image of them, which had the double virture of magic control over them and of a means of appeasing them (2 Kings 18: 4). These hybrid creatures were certianly not ordinary animals, for according to Isrealite belief they were the seraphim that proclaimed Jaweh’s glory in the Temple; they always retained something of their animal nature, being naked and winged (Ogden 239).
The Jews also believed the deserts were occupied by demons. They came to call Sodom and Gammorah the valley of demons. They felt anyone that dwelled among ruins was a despiser of invisible powers (Job 15:28). The Isrealites, like their neighbors, were in the habit of offering  sacrifices to appease gods and demons, especially when they needed to inhabit a place for any length of time.

In regard to the dead and demons one of the distinguishing qualities of the Isrealites are their sanctity and purity laws. There were many rules to be obeyed if a person touched the dead, or even if one was in the presence of the dead.  Although some of these rules were motivated by religious considerations, the real basis of them was the fear of demons and the dead. For instance it was unclean to be in a cemetery without proper rituals before and after. It was imperative that a dead person be buried within a day. The obsession over this had two main motivations: one, it was feared the dead person would not be able to enter Sheol, but would be condemned to be a homeless wanderer; and two, the living were terrified the unhappy dead would bring havoc upon them. When it was necessary to touch the dead, the person who did so would have to be ritualistically cleansed. The consequences of uncleanliness were dreadful; it meant a person took on unwanted spirits and demons, which amounts to loss of identity, even the loss of their soul. According to the belief, the people were powerless to escape these consequences. The washing of hands before meals, sacred rituals, and other activities was a frequent daily practice or all the people in the Mediterranean. Spiritualy all this is the consequence of the cosmic imbalance toward evil.
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