The Demon Survival Guide
Replace demons with zombies, and Luke becomes a veritable Hollywood horror flick. Here's a guide for how to spot a demon in this gospel:
- They are otherworldly beings who are generally smarter than mortals. For example, they know who Jesus is (4:34, 41; 8:28) whereas regular people do not (9:7-9, 18-20). Come on, regular people.
- They take possession of people and force them to act in strange, usually very violent ways (4:35; 8:27, 29; 9:39, 42). Sometimes they cause disabilities or illness (6:18; 11:14).
- They are definitely social beings. They love hanging out so much that they sometimes join together in large numbers to take possession of a single person (8:30; 11:26).
- They go by names like Satan (10:18; 11:18; 13:6; 22:3, 31), Beelzebul (11:15), and Legion (8:30). Chances are if you meet a Legion walking down the street, you've got a demon on your hands.
- They can return and take possession of a person even after their initial exit. When that happens, they invite their even more wicked friends to join them (11:24-26). Yowza.
Now we know who they are, but why do they hang around so much? Well, for one thing, they make it really easy for Jesus to demonstrate his superpowers.
Each story of exorcism (4:33-37; 8:26-33; 9:37-43) unfolds according to a few key ingredients: Jesus meets a possessed person (4:33-34; 8:27; 9:38); Jesus and the demon exchange words (4:34-35; 8:28-31); Jesus orders the demon to depart (4:35; 8:29; 9:42); the demon obeys with some kind of parting gesture (4:35; 8:33; 9:42); witnesses respond with shock or fear (4:36; 8:34; 9:43). And that's that. Whenever a demon's around, Jesus steps up to the plate.
Jesus and his followers—to whom he gives some of his demon-crushing power—make it pretty clear that God can take on the demonic order any day. In the course of Luke's gospel we readers can affirm with Jesus, "I watched Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightning" (10:18). Take that, Satan.
Head to Head With the Devil
The Devil has some pretty particular powers. Namely, he's the one who's in charge of divvying out positions of power throughout the Roman empire (4:5-7). The implications for what this says about Luke's overall attitude toward the Roman imperial authorities should go without saying. Ouch, Luke.
Before beginning his own work in 4:14, Jesus squares off against the Devil (a.k.a. Satan), the top dog in the demonic pecking order (4:1-13). Jesus resists the Devil mostly by—wait for it—quoting scriptures. Yep, that's right: Jesus forgoes his bare hands and tears the Devil apart with his rhetoric.
In 4:13, the Devil retreats after Jesus successfully wins in a battle of wits. And while his demonic minions are present throughout Luke's gospel, Satan himself does not appear again until 22:3, when he takes possession of Judas, whose betrayal sets the events of the passion in motion.