At the beginning of his public ministry, Jesus went to the synagogue in Nazareth and read from the prophet Isaiah:
4 18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives
and recovering of sight to the blind,
to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.”
Luke 4:18-19, ESV
Jesus told those gathered in the synagogue that this prophecy was now fulfilled, and in so doing, he defined the course that his ministry would take. Jesus healed the sick and delivered those oppressed by demons as he travelled announcing the kingdom of God. This was also the ministry of the early church and is being rediscovered in contemporary times.
The heart of Jesus Christ’s mission
Francis MacNutt writes “miraculous healing – with its twin, the casting out of evil spirits – lay at the very heart of Jesus Christ’s mission.” MacNutt traces the reason for Jesus’ mission back to the Fall. The Genesis 1 account of creation tells us that God saw his creation was good (verses 4, 10, 12, 18, 21, 25); in fact in verse 31 God saw “it was very good.” However, in Genesis 3, the serpent, who is identified as the devil or Satan, tempted the woman and the man, who was with her, to sin. MacNutt explains that “whether we view [Genesis 3] literally or allegorically, the basic point is that, through pride, the human race sinned and fell from fellowship with its Creator.”
MacNutt describes four consequences of the Fall. Firstly, that mankind became separated from God after Adam and Eve were expelled from the Garden of Eden. Secondly, the world became “under the dominion of Satan.” 1 John 5:19 “We know that we are from God, and the whole world lies in the power of the evil one.”
Thirdly, human beings became “inclined to sin.” Paul struggles with this in Romans 7:15, “For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.” Bob Ekblad calls this “the microforces that assault people in forms such as anger, jealousy, lust, and greed, labelled by the early church fathers as ‘passions’ or ‘demons.’” MacNutt says sin has brought sickness in our bodies, and ultimately death.
Finally there are the macro effects of sin, described by Ekblad as “the larger macro powers such as legalism, nationalism, discrimination, and the like, labelled by social prophetic writers according to the biblical vocabulary surrounding ‘principalities and powers.’”
But God was not satisfied to leave his creation in this state. The good news is that God sent his Son, Jesus Christ, into the world, to restore the relationship between God and man, to redeem us by paying the price for our sin, defeating the work of the devil, and to restore our inheritance in the kingdom of God.
Jesus healed every disease and affliction
All the Gospels include accounts of Jesus’ healing ministry. The writer of the Gospel of Matthew describes the ministry of Jesus as follows:
And he went throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction among the people. 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.
Matthew 4:23–24, ESV
Matthew goes on to record that Jesus healed lepers, raised the dead to life, gave sight to the blind, opened the ears of the death and opened the mouths of the mute. He restored withered hands and enabled the lame to walk. Some of the diseases and afflictions may not be known in the same terms today. Leprosy, for example, could cover a variety of skin diseases and not necessarily the chronic disease also known as Hansen’s disease. Before the invention of spectacles, poor eyesight would have meant effective blindness. However, many of the sicknesses and conditions that Jesus healed were debilitating to the sufferer and to be healed of them would be transformational.
Matthew states that Jesus healed “all who were sick,” (emphasis added). At Gennesaret the sick touched the fringe of Jesus’ garment, “And as many as touched it were made well.” Jesus also healed a Centurion’s servant from a distance. In every recorded account Jesus healed those who came to him for help. MacNutt notes that choosing to heal on the Sabbath, at risk of punishment from the religious leaders showed how determined Jesus was to heal and that “healing and deliverance were not merely ‘signs and wonders’; [but] together with preaching, they were the central focus of His Kingdom message.”
Jesus demonstrated who he was and why he had come by what he did. When John the Baptist in prison heard about what was happening and sent messengers to ask if Jesus was the Messiah, Jesus replied:
“Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.”
Matthew 11:4-6, ESV
The message Jesus sent to John the Baptist was the same fulfilment of the Isaiah prophecy recorded in Luke 4.
Jesus cast out demons
The Synoptic Gospels accounts of Jesus healing the sick also record that he delivered those oppressed by demons. The kingdom of God is in direct opposition to Satan’s dominion. MacNutt quotes 1 John 3:8 to illustrate this: “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil.”  When Jesus taught his disciples to pray, in what is known as the Lord’s Prayer, he prayed “deliver us from evil,” or in some translations, “deliver us from the evil one.” MacNutt argues that, “delivering people from evil spirits is, along with forgiving sins and healing the sick, an essential part of the Gospel.”
Before Jesus began his public ministry he was baptised by John in the Jordan. Then the Holy Spirit led him to the wilderness where, after fasting forty days, he was tempted by the devil. The devil tried three ways to tempt Jesus; with food, by using Scripture, and by offering power and glory. Jesus resisted the devil each time and commanded him to leave. MacNutt cites the third temptation as further evidence that the world is “under the dominion of Satan.” That the devil left Jesus when he ordered him, also demonstrates that the devil must leave at Jesus’ command.
Ekblad comments that “Jesus re-enters the land as the true Son of God and returning king to undo the devil’s works manifested in the anti-life passions and powers occupying the land.” Jesus is now able to commence his public ministry. Ekblad continues, “Jesus’ successful resistance to the devil’s temptations in the wilderness is followed by aggressive confrontations with invisible spiritual enemies like demons, sickness, and legalism as he announces the kingdom of God and demonstrates constant love to human beings, including his opponents.”
Ekblad draws the parallel between Jesus starting his public ministry and the Israelites conquest of Canaan under the leadership of Joshua. The name Jesus in Hebrew is Jeshua, which is a form of Joshua. Ekblad notes that “the Greek term most used for Jesus’ deliverance ministry [is] ekballo (ἐκβάλλω), ‘to cast out.’” In the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible, ekballo is the word used to describe how the nations are cast out of Canaan. Ekblad writes that, “Forces like sickness, demons, sin, principalities, and powers are severely confronted by Jesus and the apostles much as enemies were violently attacked in the Old Testament.”
Healing and deliverance in the early church
Healing and deliverance drew people to follow Jesus. Along with proclaiming the kingdom of God, they were at the heart of Jesus’ mission. Jesus also instructed his disciples to do the same when he sent them out.
These twelve Jesus sent out, instructing them, “Go nowhere among the Gentiles and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And proclaim as you go, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons. You received without paying; give without pay.”
Matthew 10:5-8, ESV
The writer of the Gospel of Luke records that Jesus “gave [the twelve] power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases.” Similarly, Jesus sent out the seventy-two and commissioned them to “Heal the sick.” The seventy-two returned filled with joy and reported to Jesus that “even the demons are subject to us in your name!” Jesus told them:
And he said to them, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall hurt you.
Luke 10:18-19, ESV
The early church continued to practice healing and deliverance in Jesus’ name. The Acts of the Apostles records how, following the receiving of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, first the apostles and then later other believers healed the sick and those afflicted with unclean spirits. Peter healed a lame beggar in Acts 3:1-10. Philip preached in Samaria and “unclean spirits, crying out with a loud voice, came out of many who had them, and many who were paralyzed or lame were healed.” Paul also ministered in this way as he preached the Gospel message on his missionary journeys.
MacNutt explains that the reason why the early church continued to practice healing and deliverance was that “it was a natural part of the incoming kingdom of God. Jesus taught his disciples to move in power to help spread the Good News.” MacNutt notes that Christians continued to pray for the sick and cast out demons for the next three hundred years.
After Constantine’s conversion the church moved from being under persecution to general acceptance. The miraculous also declined over the centuries and became the preserve of only a few. In the Middle Ages healings would take place at shrines containing relics of the saints. MacNutt writes that following the Reformation most Protestant churches rejected such devotion as idolatry. He explains that “Calvin also taught ‘Cessationism,’ the belief that supernatural healing ended with the death of the last apostle.”
Healing and deliverance in the church today
With the advance of medical science any talk of healing and deliverance from evil spirits sounds like superstition. MacNutt writes that this is the view held by many educated Christian scholars. He says, “The established wisdom of mainline theologians and Scripture commentators is that demon possession and exorcism come out of a primitive, superstitious worldview that we have fortunately escaped, but which Jesus, a man of his day, accepted.”
Yet the experiences of those working with the poor and the needy suggest that there are other powers at work. Ekblad writes, “While this cosmology may seem archaic to some, my work with people struggling with addictions and mainstream people in emotional and spiritual turmoil is convincing me that our battle is not merely against flesh and blood.” Inmates explain how spells are placed over batches of drugs which make the addicts take on a particular characteristic.
In Bible studies, prisoners can identify “a ‘thief’ who robs, kills, and destroys or a power like this ‘ruler of this world’ who comes to you to mess with you.” Ekblad continues, “I am convinced that a robust and clear-eyed view of evil helps us better differentiate God’s good works and people’s deepest desires from the works of the Enemy, so we can invite people to choose resistance and freedom over collusion and bondage.”
From the birth of Pentecostal churches at the start of the twentieth-century, to the charismatic renewal of the last four decades, Spirit-filled churches have begun to rediscover the value of healing and deliverance in their mission. The purpose remains the same – to advance the kingdom of God. This is not to replace the medical profession, but working with it to help restore wholeness to people with physical, emotional and mental illnesses and conditions.
An approach provided by Chester and Betsy Kylstra prays into four problem areas. Firstly, generational sins and curses which pass down a family line, such as alcoholism, drugs or sexual abuse. This is taken from Exodus 20:3-6, “where the sin of idolatry results in the curse of “the iniquities of the fathers being visited upon the children unto the third and the fourth generations.”” Secondly ungodly beliefs, which are the “untruths and half-truths” we pick up from our upbringing, circumstances and life experience that shape our worldview.
The third area for prayer is soul or spirit hurts, which are “the pain of past hurts [that] rule many lives.” These are the bitterness of unforgiveness from past hurts that can fester and the ties that are made from unhealthy relationships. Finally, there is demonic oppression. Peter warns believers to, “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.”
F.F. Bosworth poses the question, “Is it still the will of God, as in the past, to heal all who have need of healing?” As we have seen, Jesus healed all who came to him, and the early church in the power of the Holy Spirit continued to work healing and deliverance. Bosworth points to the nature of God’s compassion to demonstrate his willingness to heal.
The Lord is gracious and merciful,
slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
The Lord is good to all,
and his mercy is over all that he has made.
Psalm 145:8-9, ESV
However, it is a mystery why not everyone receives a healing when prayed for today; although the reasons would require a longer discussion. MacNutt concludes that, “Without the twin ministries of healing and deliverance, our preaching that God’s kingdom is here and that Satan’s dominium is being destroyed is hollow.”
Healing and deliverance were central to the mission of Jesus. He taught his followers to practice these ministries and the early church continued to do so as they preached the Gospel message. Healing and deliverance are about undoing the effects of the Fall and reclaiming the world from the dominion of Satan. As people are restored and set free, the works of the devil are rolled back and the kingdom of God is advanced. Following centuries of neglect, the church is beginning again to move in the power of the Holy Spirit. Healing and deliverance are not an end in themselves. Rather they point to the God whose kingdom advances as he heals people and sets captives free.
Bosworth, F.F., Christ the Healer, (Grand Rapids, MI: Chosen, 2008).
Ekblad, Bob, A New Christian Manifesto: Pledging Allegiance to the Kingdom of God, (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox, 2008).
Goll, James W., Deliverance from Darkness, (Grand Rapids, MI: Chosen, 2010).
Hammond, Frank D., Demons and Deliverance in the Ministry of Jesus, (Kirkwood, MO: Impact Christian Books, 1991).
Kylstra, Chester and Betsy, An Integrated Approach to Biblical Healing Ministry, (Lancaster: Sovereign Word, 2003).
Lozano, Neil, Unbound: A Practical Guide to Deliverance, (Grand Rapids, MI: Chosen, 2003).
MacNutt, Francis, Deliverance from Evil Spirits, (Grand Rapids, MI: Chosen, 2009).
MacNutt, Francis, The Healing Reawakening: Reclaiming our lost inheritance,(Grand Rapids, MI: Chosen, 2005).