Can Satan Cast Out Satan?

Can Satan Cast Out Satan?
by Jack Cottrell (Notes) on Friday, November 27, 2009 at 9:24am

A RECENT QUESTION: By what authority did those in Matthew 7:21-23 and Luke 9:49 apparently succeed in removing demons apart from Christ, if it is also true that “Satan cannot cast out Satan” as the Lord said?

MY REPLY: In Matthew 7:22-23 Jesus says, “Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.’” From what Jesus says in v. 23, it is clear that these people are not Christians. Also, from what he does NOT say, it may be concluded that the claims of these people in v. 22 are true: they really did prophesy, do miracles, and cast out demons. I.e., he never said their claims were false. But how could they do these things if they are not Christians?

I have concluded that they do these things from the deceptive power of Satan. Satan can empower miracles (Matt. 24:24; 2 Thess. 2:9), even by people who THINK they are doing them in Jesus’ name. All three of these activities (prophesying, which is a general term that can include tongue-speaking, Acts 2:17; working miracles, such as healing; and casting out demons) can be Satanic in origin.

But how is this consistent with what Jesus says in Matt. 12:26? In response to the Pharisees’ accusation that He was casting out demons by Satan’s power (v. 24), Jesus responds that this would make Satan be fighting against himself, which is self-defeating (v. 25). “If Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself; how then will his kingdom stand?” (v. 26). Jesus goes on to reveal that he is casting out demons by the power of the Holy Spirit (v. 28).

How may we resolve this apparent contradiction? First, the Name of Jesus in itself, representing the power and authority of Jesus, is powerful enough to force demons to leave a person, even if the one using that Name is not a true believer. That may be the case in Luke 9:49-50; see also the incident involving the seven sons of Sceva in Acts 19:13-17, where the Name of Jesus exerts power over an evil spirit in an unexpected way.

Second, there apparently were Jewish exorcists who had some success in casting out demons apart from using the Name of Jesus (Matt. 12:27; Acts 19:13). As Jews, they would be evoking the Name and power of Yahweh as He was known through Old Testament revelation. Thus it is possible that the ones of whom Jesus speaks in Matt. 7:22-23 began as Jewish exorcists and then began to use the Name of Jesus in their exorcisms without ever surrendering their lives to Christ.

There is a third consideration, however, that I believe is the best explanation of the problem here. One thing we learn, both from Scripture and from Christians who have been involved in deliverance ministry, is that there is a hierarchy of authority within the realm of demons. Satan himself is the chief demon or chief fallen angel (Matt. 12:24); he was probably an archangel before he sinned (cf. Jude 9; Rev. 12:7, where Satan seems to be equal in authority with Michael). See Mark 9:29, and Paul’s frequent use of the “principalities and powers” terminology when referring to demons (e.g., Eph. 1:21; Col. 2:15).

What this means is that some demons are more powerful than others, and can address the weaker ones with orders that must be obeyed. For example, missionaries have testified that witch doctors possessed by powerful demons can indeed drive weaker demons out of the bodies of people who come to them for help with some kind of problem. How is this consistent with Matt. 12:26, though? The answer is provided by one of the first modern evangelical experts on demonology, Kurt Koch. He testifies that in his wide experience with occultic and demonic situations, he observed many cases where Satanic power apparently helped a victim of Satan’s wiles (e.g., provided healing), but there was always a catch, or a trade-off. He may deliver an afflicted person from a demon that is causing one kind of problem, but that person always develops some other kind of problem later. I can’t remember Koch’s exact terms here, but I think he calls this something like the “law of compensation.” I.e., Satan never does something for nothing.

Thus, when Jesus suggests that Satan cannot “cast out Satan,” he is referring to TRUE deliverance where Satan’s minions are TRULY cast out. Any situation where demons are driven out of a person by Satan’s own power (as probably in Matt. 7:22) is actually a FALSE deliverance, i.e., one that is temporary or is an exchange for an even greater oppression by the devil.

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