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After Jesus’ transfiguration on Mount Hermon, we read in Luke 9:37,
37 And it came about on the next day, that when they had come down from the mountain, a great multitude met Him.
Nine of Jesus’ disciples had been ministering and preaching the word to the people of Caesarea Philippi while Jesus was on the mount with Peter, James, and John. It appears that they obtained significant success in preaching the word, even though they were yet unaware of what had transpired on the mount.
We do not know how many days it took for Jesus to make the Hermon trip, but Luke tells us that after He was transfigured, Jesus returned “the next day.” It is likely that it took at least a day to go up the mount and a day to return. The transfiguration took place that night, because the disciples were exhausted from the trip and slept through most of that event.
The nine disciples, then, had at least two full days of teaching and ministering before Jesus returned. On the return trip, Jesus told Peter, James, and John to say nothing of what they had seen (Matthew 17:9). They seemed most curious about Elijah, however, since “the scribes say that Elijah must come first” (Matthew 17:10). Had Elijah truly come back from the dead, as the scribes believed, before the Messiah would appear?
Jesus affirmed the belief, saying, “Elijah is coming and will restore all things.” However, Elijah’s appearance on the Mount was not the fulfillment of that prophecy. Rather, He said, “Elijah already came” (Matthew 17:12). Elijah was John the Baptist, who had come in the spirit and power of Elijah (Matthew 17:13).
Luke omits these details, saying nothing of Jesus’ conversation with the three disciples on their return trip. From the account in Mark 9:16 it seems that as Jesus approached the crowd near the town, they were discussing or arguing about something. Jesus asked someone, “What are you discussing with them?” Presumably, he was addressing the man whose son was afflicted by an unclean spirit and was then told that His disciples were unable to heal him.
Luke records only how the crowd welcomed them upon their return to Caesarea Philippi, and how a man from the crowd shouted out to Him for help. Luke 9:38-40 says,
38 And behold, a man from the multitude shouted out, saying, “Teacher, I beg you to look at my son, for he is my only boy, 39 and behold, a spirit seizes him, and he suddenly screams, and it throws him into a convulsion with foaming at the mouth, and as it mauls him, it scarcely leaves him. 40 And I begged your disciples to cast it out, and they could not.”
Matthew 17:15 adds that the boy often fell into the fire or into the water when these seizures occurred.
This petition tells us that the disciples had been praying for the sick as well as teaching. After all, they already had some experience in healing the sick when Jesus sent them on their earlier mission trip. The crowd meeting Jesus bears witness of their success. And yet this single problem seemed to be beyond their ability. Luke 9:41-43 says,
41 And Jesus answered and said, “O unbelieving and perverted generation, how long shall I be with you, and put up with you? Bring your son here.” 42 And while he was still approaching, the demon dashed him to the ground, and threw him into a convulsion. But Jesus rebuked the unclean spirit, and healed the boy, and gave him back to his father. 43 And they were all amazed at the greatness of God.
Some unclean spirits manifest in people by causing epileptic-type seizures. This has caused some to assume that all so-called “demons” are merely an ignorant way of diagnosing physical and mental illness. There is a difference, however. Ordinary sickness requires treatment or prayer for healing, which is often successful. But when such things originate from demons or unclean spirits, simple healing prayers are insufficient.
In such cases, one must follow Jesus’ example where “Jesus rebuked the unclean spirit.” He did not address the symptom, but its cause. He always treated unclean spirits as entities and spoke to them as if they were intelligent spiritual beings. Hence, it is not just the terminology that points to the reality of the demonic realm, but also the manner in which Jesus took authority over them, which helps to define them as beings.
Mark 9:25-27 gives a more detailed account of the manner in which Jesus dealt with the problem, saying,
25 And when Jesus saw that a crowd was rapidly gathering, He rebuked the unclean spirit, saying to it, “You deaf and dumb spirit, I command you, come out of him and do not enter him again.” 26 And after crying out and throwing him into terrible convulsions, and it came out; and the boy became so much like a corpse that most of them said, “He is dead!” 27 But Jesus took him by the hand and raised him; and he got up.
We learn here the nature of the unclean spirit. It was a “deaf and dumb spirit.” Earlier, in Mark 9:21, the boy’s father had told Jesus that his son had been in this condition since childhood. Hence, the boy had been deaf and dumb since early childhood, in addition to being epileptic.
In my experience, I have noticed that those who do not believe that the demonic realm exists are also incapable of dealing with such problems when they surface. Yet one’s disbelief in the existence of demons itself need not be a hindrance, for if they would simply follow Jesus’ example, they might be able to bring healing in such situations. In other words, instead of praying for healing in the usual manner, they ought to rebuke the spirit behind that disease and command it to leave in the name of Jesus.
In practice, however, when men do not believe in the existence of demons, their belief itself prevents them from addressing the condition as an entity. As a result, they treat it as a disease by praying for simple healing, rather than grabbing the unclean spirit by the back of the neck and throwing it out. The problem comes about only when men fail to deal with such problems in the way Jesus did.
I have found Jesus’ method to be very effective in my own experience. In fact, I have found that casting out unclean spirits is much easier than praying for people’s healing. Perhaps this is because I am not gifted with the gift of healing, but I do know that I have authority over unclean spirits. Whatever the reason, I have seen instant healing occur as a byproduct of casting out unclean spirits. I have also witnessed spirits talking through their victims, although in one case the spirit would only talk about me to others. In that case, I listened, but did not attempt to force the spirit to talk to me. When I spoke, it was only to command that spirit to leave. It left immediately, and the woman was healed and returned to her right mind to this day.
In the case at hand in Luke 9, the disciples had already been trained to heal and to cast out unclean spirits, and yet they were unable to deal with this particular case. Luke does not tell us the reason for their failure. Yet in Matthew 17:19, 20 Jesus tells us the answer,
19 Then the disciples came to Jesus privately and said, “Why could we not cast it out?” 20 And He said to them, “Because of the littleness of your faith; for truly I say to you, if you have faith as a mustard seed, you shall say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it shall move; and nothing shall be impossible to you.
If faith as small as a mustard seed can move mountains, then, like with any mustard seed, it is really not the size of faith that matters, but its quality. Hence, “the littleness of your faith” is really talking about quality, not quantity. There is no known limit when faith is present. Faith is not a mere wish but a knowing confidence that one will obtain a result.
There are times when we are to “let your requests be made known to God” (Phil. 4:6). In such cases, sharing our heart with the Father is done by faith. Such faith is in knowing that He hears us, even if we do not know how He will answer. But when we are led to command or decree something, it is necessary to know that our word is law and that it will change something in the world.
To do this, however, one must first receive the word of the Lord directing our words and actions, for “faith comes by hearing” (Romans 10:17). One must first hear and be led by the Spirit before making such decrees. I have found that when I have no distinct word from the Lord, I lack the confidence of knowing; but once I have heard the voice of God, I can issue commands and decrees without the slightest doubt. (Then when we obtain visible results, my critics may analyze and criticize my confidence, calling it “pride.”)
Matthew 17:21 says,
21 But this kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting.
Many old Greek manuscripts do not include this verse. Panin’s Numeric New Testament also omits it, indicating that its inclusion would destroy the underlying numeric patterns inherent in all inspired text. Nonetheless, even if Matthew did not actually record these words, they are indeed found in a shortened version in Mark 9:29,
29 And He said to them, “This kind cannot come out by anything but prayer.”
The KJV adds “and fasting,” but the NASB omits this phrase, and Panin’s Numeric New Testament agrees with the NASB. So we learn from Mark that Jesus included this in His explanation to the disciples, even though Matthew did not originally record it, and it is omitted entirely in Luke’s account. Nonetheless, “fasting” is not one of the requirements stated in Mark.
So what did Jesus mean? Certainly, when He rebuked the unclean spirit, He did not need to set aside time to pray, nor did He pray to the Father to deal with the problem. He simply cast out the unclean spirit. This instruction was given to the disciples. He was telling them that if they could not cast out an unclean spirit, they needed to pray to receive more specific instructions on how to handle the situation. Though fasting was not mentioned specifically in the original Greek text, it was understood that this may also be required, for fasting compresses time and shortens the prayer time needed to obtain the answer.
For this reason, it appears that later manuscripts inserted “and fasting” into Mark’s account, for they believed that fasting was implied in the requirement to pray.
The bottom line is that Jesus was NOT telling the disciples that most of the time they could be successful by casting out the demons apart from prayer, but that certain kinds would require them to pray that God might heal the victims. No, He was telling them that if they did not succeed, they should go into prayer and receive further revelation from God. It may be that they were facing a specific “kind” of unclean spirit that would require a different tactic or method.
In other words, they should find out the reason for their lack of success, so that they learn and grow from their experience. Failure is not an option.