Too Many Demons and the Bigger Story of the Bible: Understanding Deliverance in Jesus’ Ministry

Just as they were going out, a demon-possessed man who was unable to speak was brought to Him. When the demon had been driven out, the man spoke. (Matthew 9:32-33)

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about our need to stop and notice what’s weird in Scripture, especially in the gospels. When we don’t, our overfamiliarity with these stories can stop us from asking important questions.

This story is a case in point. Deliverance is such a common feature of Jesus’ ministry that we take it for granted. It seems like “casting out demons” just goes with the territory, like butter and salt go on popcorn.

But there IS something strange in this story, and in fact throughout the gospels as a whole. In brief:

There are too many demons.

Where Did All the Demons Come From?

A quick run-through of Matthew’s story so far reveals the scope of the problem:

They brought to Him all those who were afflicted, those suffering from various diseases and intense pains, the demon-possessed, the epileptics, and the paralytics. And He healed them. (Matthew 4:24)

When evening came, they brought to Him many who were demon-possessed. He drove out the spirits with a word and healed all who were sick. (Matthew 8:16)

Matthew paints a picture of demon possession as a common occurrence—something afflicting his countrymen in large numbers.

In comparison with our own day, this is weird. If we’re honest, few of us have ever seen possession on this scale. In North America, most of us have never seen it at all. It’s definitely more common in some other parts of the world, and it’s definitely possible that it sometimes hides behind the label of “mental illness” here.* But even so, the scope of demon possession in Jesus’ time is unusual.

(*The Bible does not suggest that all cases of mental illness are demonic in nature, and definitely not that they are tantamount to possession. No case of demon possession in the gospel of Matthew looks remotely like what we would call mental illness.)

But where this gets really striking is when we compare Matthew’s account to the Old Testament. While the Old Testament recognizes the existence of demons and connects them to idols (more on this in a moment), it does not contain even ONE clear reference to demon possession.

Contrast this to the New Testament, which refers to demons more than 100 times—and in the gospels, every reference is to demon possession.

Luke 4:41 describes the situation pretty well:

Also, demons were coming out of many, shouting and saying, “You are the Son of God!” But He rebuked them and would not allow them to speak, because they knew He was the Messiah. (Luke 4:41)

Given the Old Testament backdrop, I don’t think we’re supposed to see a spiritual norm here. Rather, we’re supposed to recognize that this situation is strange—a historical anomaly.

And THAT should lead us to ask “why?”

It’s Part of a Bigger Story

The gospels are part of a bigger story: the story told by the entire Bible, beginning in Genesis and continuing through the story of Israel. When we detach Jesus’ ministry from this bigger story, we are bound to miss some important things.

In this case, I believe that pulling back to view the bigger story sheds a LOT of light on the situation in Galilee.

Put briefly, the Jewish people in Jesus’ time were under the “curse of the law,” the curses laid out in Deuteronomy 28-29 as part of the covenant with God. Because they had broken the covenant, the curses had overtaken them.

The final curse was exile and oppression by pagan nations, but the core sin that brought about these curses was idol worship. Idol worship, the entire Old Testament declares, is tantamount to spiritual adultery—and it’s not the idols of wood and stone, ultimately, that are the problem. It’s the demonic powers behind them.

Deuteronomy 32:17 prophesies, “They sacrificed to demons, not God, to gods they had not known.”

Later, Psalm 106:37-38 echoes this:

They sacrificed their sons and daughters to demons.
They shed innocent blood—
the blood of their sons and daughters
whom they sacrificed to the idols of Canaan;
so the land became polluted with blood.

Psalm 106 goes on to detail the consequences of this idolatry and demon worship:

Therefore the LORD’s anger burned against His people,
And He abhorred His own inheritance.
He handed them over to the nations;
Those who hated them ruled them.
Their enemies oppressed them,
And they were subdued under their power.
(Psalm 106:40-42)

This certainly came to pass in the natural realm: Israel was ruled and oppressed by a series of pagan nations, from Babylon to Rome. In Jesus’ day, Rome was still in control. But they were also ruled and oppressed by their spiritual enemies: the very demons whose power they had once courted.

Those Who Worship Them Become Like Them

This story in Matthew 9 contains another point of resonance with the Old Testament warnings about idols. The man possessed by a demon cannot speak.

Centuries before, Psalm 135:15-18 declared:

The idols of the nations are of silver and gold, made by human hands.
They have mouths but cannot speak, eyes, but cannot see.
They have ears but cannot hear; indeed, there is no breath in their mouths.
Those who make them are just like them,
As are all who trust in them.

There is a clear warning here. Worship dumb idols, and become dumb yourself. Worship the deaf and blind, and you will become deaf and blind. Invite oppressors, and you will be oppressed. We become what we worship.

Humanity was originally created to bear the image of God—the God who spoke the world into existence. Yet this man brought to Jesus has no voice. His authority, his image-of-Godness, has been stolen. Under the oppression of demonic powers, he has become like the idols of wood and stone.

But Jesus does not tolerate this.

When the man comes to him, he throws the demon out—and the man speaks.

The Kingdom Work of Casting Out Demons

Within this longer narrative of covenant, fall, and redemption, we can see that Jesus’ deliverance ministry doesn’t just give us guidelines for casting out demons. Rather, it’s a powerful picture of what happens when God’s kingdom comes.

With the coming of the kingdom, there is power to deal with demons and free the oppressed. Past sins are forgiven, the curse is broken, and captives are released.

  • Those who have become like their idols can be restored to the image of God—to their full humanity.
  • Those who have lost their voice, their authority and creative power, can regain it.
  • Those who are bound in sin and shame can be restored to freedom and honor.

Psalm 106 does not end with idol worship leading to oppression. It ends with the covenant-keeping God coming to the rescue:

When He heard their cry, He took note of their distress, remembered His covenant with them, and relented according to the riches of His faithful love … Save us, Yahweh our God, and gather us from the nations. (Psalm 106:44-45, 47)

Every part of Jesus’ story is the story of kingdom come at last. It’s the climax of the Old Testament tale, the rescuer come to set his people free.

In Jesus’ Galilean ministry, we don’t just see an effective exorcist at work. We see the gracious and loving King defeating his enemies and freeing his people from slavery to them—even though his people had signed up for it in the first place.

And in that, we see a microcosm of the whole gospel once again. Jesus has come to set us free and restore our humanity. He has come to forgive our sins, defeat the power of the enemy in our lives, and give us back our voices.


AUTHOR’S NOTE: I owe some of the insights in this post to the work of New Testament scholars G.K. Beale and N.T. Wright. To dig deeper, check out We Become What We Worship: A Biblical Theology of Idolatry by G.K. Beale and The Day the Revolution Began: Reconsidering the Meaning of Jesus’s Crucifixion by N.T. Wright.


I would love to hear from you. Scroll down to leave a comment below!

This is Part 133 in a series on the Gospel of Matthew, which you can access here. Unless otherwise marked, quotes are from the Holman Christian Standard Bible.


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5 responses to “Too Many Demons and the Bigger Story of the Bible: Understanding Deliverance in Jesus’ Ministry”

  1. Robert Long Avatar
    Robert Long

    Hi Rachel,
    Unfortunately the demon situation is the same if not worse than when Christ was here.
    If you cannot see it, that will be part of 2 corin 4.4
    Lets not forget john 10.10
    Eph 6.12
    1 peter 5.8

    These spirits at the very least minister to people, yes you and me.
    Its the inner voice, but could be a spirit from God or the other side.
    If someone has an addiction for example, yes that is a spirit.
    All the negativity in life may not always be demonic, but often is.
    I say more often than not.

    Enough for now let the HS guide you in Jesus name.

    Look at Derek Prince. On Youtube.
    He was involved in Deliverance for over 40 years.

  2. Susan Avatar

    I love your insight on scripture. You approach God’s holy words with humility and grace but help so many of us dive deeper with our questions.
    Thank you for bravely sharing!

    1. Rachel Avatar

      Thank you so much, Susan!

  3. Brenna Avatar

    Hi Rachel,

    Your writing continues to grow in its eloquence. I still remember your amazing WriteatHome classes 11 years ago. Keep it up, this stuff is fantastic! Deeply thought provoking. Yes, Jesus is indeed all about restoration and deliverance.😁

    1. Rachel Avatar

      Brenna! So fun to hear from you! So glad you’re enjoying the blog :). Thanks for commenting!

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