When Jesus gagged a demon

“Hold thy peace, and come out of him” (Luke 4:35)

In the biblical text, demonic presence coincides almost exclusively with the ministry of Christ. Like a meteor grazing the atmosphere, it explodes on the scene and just as quickly fades away. I concur with those who assert, if only on the swiftness and coincidental nature of their presence, that they were allowed by God to appear during the life of Christ to manifest his glory and power.

It is noteworthy that Jesus did not want their witness. James reminds us that the demons believed in Jesus, and trembled at him (James 2:19). Demons regularly confessed Jesus as Christ. In the instance before us (Luke 4:31-37), a demon-possessed individual interrupted the Sabbath service in the synagogue doing just that.

However, while it seems to be the express purpose of the ministry of Christ to help men know and accept exactly who he is (Matthew 16:13-19), Jesus was not interested in men hearing this confession from demons. Not only did he order the demon out, he also rebuked it, saying, “hold thy peace.” The Greek term used here is phimotheti. It literally means “be muzzled” (Thayer) or “gagged” (Vincent).

There were practical reasons for this. For one thing, Jesus’ credibility would be greatly questioned with a ministry full of marvels and demons calling him by name. Could he remain silent and retain his holy credibility? People have traditionally equated demonic possession with occultism and sin. If he didn’t rebuke and condemn the demons, these superstitions would have necessarily attached themselves to Jesus. The Pharisees eventually associated him with Beelzebub (prince of demons) anyway (Matthew 12:24). The action of demons demanded a counteraction.

For another thing, there is timing. Jesus didn’t even allow his own disciples, or people that he healed, to make an unnecessary spectacle of themselves, or to publicly call him “Christ” (cf. Mark 7:33-36; Matthew 8:1-4; 16:20). Some of this happened anyway, but it seemed to be Jesus’ intention to keep in concert with God’s timeline.

Perhaps this is also connected to the deliberate way Jesus preached hard sayings that people often found offensive, each time his fame began to grow (cf. Luke 14:25-26). After all, even hinting at this idea nearly cost him his life in his home town (Luke 4:16-29). Once Jesus’ claim to Messiahship was fully crystallized in the presence of the right people, it was only a matter of hours before his death (Luke 22:69-71).

Finally, there is the obvious point of this tandem existence of Jesus and demons, which is that demons were allowed to possess people so that Jesus could demonstrate his power over them, and the impending arrival of the kingdom over which he now reigns. He said,

“And if Satan cast out Satan, he is divided against himself; how shall then his kingdom stand? And if I by Beelzebub cast out devils, by whom do your children cast them out? therefore they shall be your judges. But if I cast out devils by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God is come unto you” (Matthew 12:26-28).

Demonic presence and possession comprised just one facet of the work that Jesus was to accomplish, in order that men might come to faith in him, and be saved. By silencing them, and casting them out, Jesus silenced critics, prolonged his ministry until the appropriate time, demonstrated his power over them, and claimed his rightful dominion over all things (Ephesians 1:18-23).

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