Q: #571. Can unbelievers (non-Christians) cast out demons?
A: This question came out of a study on (Mt 7:22-23) which says, “Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils (demons)? and in thy name done many wonderful works (miracles)? (23) And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.”
Looking at these verses, we see that these people “prophesied, cast out demons, and performed miracles” “in the name of Jesus.” Yet, Jesus replies, “I never knew you.” Therefore, if Jesus doesn’t know them, they aren’t Christians, and if they can still prophesy, cast out demons, and do miracles, this implies that unbelievers (non-Christians) can do these things, right?
There is a LOT of debate on this subject! There are also a LOT to verses in the Bible to consider in relation to this! I will “try” to keep this as short as possible.
First, it seems to me that there are three possible answers to explain (Mt 7:22-23), and answer the question of whether “unbelievers can cast out Christians.”
1. The people who professed to do these miracles really did not do miracles at all. The “miracles” were either deception, or trickery.
***Note: Some believe they were simply lying to Jesus about doing the “miracles,” but this seems ridiculous to me. They knew they were standing before the God who knows all things, and yet they are going to try deceive Him??
2. Only God / Jesus / the Holy Spirit can perform miracles, however, through His power, God can use people (both believers and unbelievers) to accomplish miracles.
3. Satan (and his demons) has the ability to perform miracles, and through his power, he can also use people to perform miracles.
First, I believe we can rule out #1. as an answer right off. I do not believe these were people who “knew” they were falsely prophesying, nor do I believe they were pretending to cast out demons and do miracles by deception or trickery. On the contrary, I truly believe these were people who “sincerely” thought they were doing God’s will, and this is what makes this so tragic.
They “believed” they were doing miraculous things “in the name of Jesus.” However, since Jesus says He “did not know them,” the power to perform these miraculous things did not come from Him, right? So, where “did” the power come from? The answer is obvious. More on this in #3.
I believe the key to understanding #1. is to understand why Jesus said “I do not know you.” How “does” Jesus know us? He “knows” us when we have a “personal relationship” with Him. And, how do we have this “personal relationship?” When we repent of our sins, accept Jesus’ sacrifice and payment for our sins, and profess Him as our Lord and Savior. At that moment, we become a “child of God,” and begin a relationship with Jesus that will last for “eternity.”
However, the people of #1. did not have a “personal relationship” with Jesus. They were not trusting in Jesus “alone” to get to Heaven. They were trusting in the things they had “done” for Jesus as well. However, the Bible is clear that “works” play no part in our salvation (Eph 2:8-9)(Titus 3:5)(Rom 4:4-5)(Rom 3:27-28).
In other words, #1. is a picture of people who “believe” they have a relationship with Jesus, and should get into Heaven based in part upon what they have done for Him. These people are “workers of iniquity,” and they will “depart from Jesus” for all eternity.
Moving on, and ruling out #1., I believe that either #2. or #3. give us the best chance to answer our question, “Can unbelievers cast out demons?”
Looking first at #2, I believe there is strong evidence that God can and does use and empower “unbelievers” in “some” cases and situations to accomplish His purposes. We can see examples of this in the Bible. He used unbelieving kings: i.e. Nebuchadnezzar (Jer 27:6)(Jer 43:10), Cyrus (Isa 44:28 – 45:1). He used unbelieving nations (Hab 1:5-11), He used unbelievers to prophesy: i.e. Balaam (Num 23:5,16, Num 24:2-3,15,20), Saul (1 Sam 10:9-13), Caiaphas (Jn 11:49-52).
And, I still believe God still does this today. For example, I have personally seen “false teachers” and “false prophets” lead people to the Lord.
So, in relation to our question, is there “evidence” in the Bible that God can also use and empower unbelievers to “cast out demons?” Yes, but not a lot. And again, I do not believe that (Mt 7:22-23) from above is an example, as I believe the people in those verses got their power from Satan and not from God.
Perhaps the best evidence for this is found with Judas Iscariot, who was almost certainly an unbeliever, and is likely now in Hell. In (Mt 10:1-4), we are told that Jesus gave His 12 disciples (including Judas), “power over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal all kinds of sickness and all kinds of disease.” Later, the 12 disciples (including Judas) were sent out by Jesus as part of a group of 70, to “heal the sick,” and who had power to control demons “in Jesus (Your) name” (Lk 10:1-24).
Keeping these things in mind, I see no “clear” evidence that Judas was not able to do these things, just as those who were with him were doing them. The “empowerment” that was given to the 12, and the 70 by Jesus was also given to Judas. Jesus used Judas, as an unbeliever, to accomplish His purposes, “including” casting out demons.
There are also places where God / Jesus / the Holy Spirit “COULD” (caps emphasis here) be empowering unbelievers to cast out demons. For example, in (Mt 12:27)(Lk 11:19) Jesus says that “the sons” of the Pharisees (who were likely unbelievers) were casting out demons. In (Acts 19:13), we see that “Jewish exorcists” (likely unbelievers) were casting out demons.
Was Jesus using and empowering these “unbelievers” to accomplish His purposes as they cast out demons? It is “POSSIBLE” (caps emphasis here), but personally I don’t think so. This leads us to #3., and what I believe is the best answer to our question.
While I do believe that God can and does “at times” use and empower unbelievers to accomplish miraculous things, including casting out demons, I believe the “power” behind most miraculous things accomplished by unbelievers is Satan himself.
As I have already said, I believe this applies to (Mt 7:22-23) from above, and I believe it applies to those “unbelievers” we just mentioned who cast out demons.
To explain this, first we need to establish that the Bible clearly says that Satan can indeed perform miracles. Here are some verses that tell us this.
(Mt 24:24) “For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall shew great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect.” (Also see: Mk 13:22)
(2 Th 2:9) “Even him, whose coming is after the working of Satan with all power and signs and lying wonders”
(Rev 16:14) “For they are the spirits of devils, working miracles, which go forth unto the kings of the earth and of the whole world, to gather them to the battle of that great day of God Almighty.”
(Rev 19:20) “And the beast was taken, and with him the false prophet that wrought miracles before him, with which he deceived them that had received the mark of the beast, and them that worshipped his image. These both were cast alive into a lake of fire burning with brimstone.”
In addition to these, we have “signs and wonders” (“miracles”) that Satan has performed (or will perform) such as:
The evil magicians repeating the first 3 of God’s plagues upon Egypt (Ex Ch. 7 & 8)
The “beast” making fire come down from heaven in (Rev 13:13-14)
Satan controlling the weather (see: “Can Satan control the weather?”)
Personally, I would even say that Satan, or demons, having the ability to enter into people is somewhat of a miracle. (They cannot enter into a Christian.)
***Note: It might also be noted that “good angels” (those who did not fall, and belong to God) are shown to perform miracles: see (Rev 7:1)(Gen 19:11)(Dan 6:22).
Having established that Satan “can” perform miracles, we must also keep in mind that all unbelievers belong to Satan. In other words, if we don’t belong to Jesus, we belong to Satan. Since unbelievers “belong” to Satan, it logically follows that Satan can use them to accomplish his purposes, and this includes using them to perform miracles.
In fact, the Bible actually gives us a warning us about people who perform “signs or wonders,” but are not from God.
(Deut 13:1-3)(NASB) “If a prophet or a dreamer of dreams arises among you and GIVES YOU A SIGN OR WONDER, (2) and the sign or the wonder comes true, of which he spoke to you, saying, ‘Let’s follow other gods (whom you have not known) and let’s serve them,’ (3) you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or dreamer of dreams; for the Lord your God is testing you to find out whether you love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul.” (caps emphasis mine)
These verses are clear that there are people who perform “signs and wonders” (miracles) who are not from God, and are “false prophets” (unbelievers). How do we know they aren’t from God? Because they point people away from God. Therefore, their miraculous power comes from Satan.
So, having established that Satan can perform miracles, and can use people to accomplish this, we must now address this question: “When demons are possessing people, why would Satan empower people (unbelievers) to cast those demons (in essence himself) out?”
This very point was made by Jesus in (Mt 12:24-26). In (Mt 12:22), Jesus had cast a demon (or demons, we aren’t told) out of a demon-possessed man. (Mt 12:24)(NKJV) follows saying, “Now when the Pharisees heard it they said, “This fellow does not cast out demons except by Beelzebub (a name for Satan), the ruler of the demons.””
Jesus replied to this as follows:
(Mt 12:25-26)(NIV) “Jesus knew their thoughts and said to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and every city or household divided against itself will not stand. (26) If Satan drives out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then can his kingdom stand?”
In other words, if Satan was empowering Jesus to drive demons (in essence himself) out of a demon possessed person, how could he stand? Why would he do this? Logical, right? BUT, there is an important thing to recognize here.
When Jesus, or those belonging to Him cast out demons, they were cast out “forever!” They could not return (i.e. Mk 9:25). Therefore, if Satan gave power to Jesus to do this, he would only be hurting himself. However, what if “unbelievers” were the ones casting out the demons? Could those demon return? I believe the answer is: Yes! This being the case, what Jesus said would not apply here, because Satan would not be fighting against himself, right? Satan would actually be in control of the situation, because those “unbelievers” who cast out the demons (in essence himself) actually belong to him. They are casting out demons by Satan’s power, not the power of Jesus and the Holy Spirit.
***Note: Some believe that (Lk 11:24-26) is an example of a demon being cast out, and then returning (with 7 other demons). However, if you study this in detail, you will find that this is a parable Jesus is using to describe the spiritual condition of the Pharisees.
Why is this distinction important? Because if demons can return to the person they were cast out of, Satan is not “divided against himself.” And, if Satan is using unbelievers (who belong to him) to cast out the demons, he is in charge of the whole situation. And, this is important because if Satan is in charge of the whole situation, he can use this to accomplish his purposes.
Let me elaborate on what I am saying here.
If Satan has the ability to enter into people (possess them) (“only” non-Christians, Satan cannot possess Christians), and leave people at will, then he could use this ability to make it LOOK like an “unbeliever” is “casting demons” out of a possessed person, when in reality, Satan is leaving of his own accord. Why would Satan do this? To accomplish his evil purposes. Let me give you an example.
Going back to our opening verses in (Mt 7:22-23), we have the people who said they were “prophesying, casting out demons, and performing miracles” “in the name of Jesus.” And, as I said above, I believe these people sincerely believed they were carrying out God’s will, through the power of Jesus. But, Jesus didn’t “know them.” Why? Because, they were deceived by Satan. They were accomplishing these “miracles” by the power of Satan instead of Jesus.
In other words, relating to our question, if Satan can make it LOOK like unbelievers are casting out demons, or performing miracles “in Jesus name,” when they aren’t, he has won souls for his kingdom (Hell). Let me share another example here.
Let’s say I was a “false prophet” (an unbeliever) and I wanted to get you to follow me, and make you think that I was speaking for God: how could I get you to do so? A miraculous “sign or wonder” (a “miracle”) could do it, right? So, let’s say I approach a person you know is demon-possessed, and I say to the demon in that person, “I command you demon to leave,” and the demon leaves. Wouldn’t you believe that I had performed a miracle? And as a result, wouldn’t you believe that God was behind what I did, and therefore, believe the things I was saying? (I would probably believe God was behind it too.)
In reality, however, Satan was behind this “miracle,” and he has used me (an unbelieving “false prophet”), to fool you into following me, and believing I was sent from God. Instead, Satan was behind the “miracle,” and he has used it to lead us both down the path to Hell!
The Bible also gives us several examples of Satan using “miracles” performed by those who belong to him (unbelievers) to “deceive” people, and get them to follow him. (Satan is a deceiver: Rev 12:9, Rev 20:7-8,10.)
The miracles of “Simon the sorcerer” had people saying he was “the great power of God,” and they “heeded him because he had astonished them with his sorceries for a long time” (Acts 8:9-11).
“With all power, signs, and lying wonders,” the Antichrist will deceive “those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth, that they might be saved” (2 Th 2:8-9).
The “false prophet” will “work signs” and deceive “those who receive the mark of the beast and those who worship his image” (Rev 19:20). (Also see: Mt 24:24)
In fact, we are warned that these things will happen in the end times:
(1 Tim 4:1)(NKJV) “Now the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons.”
(Mk 13:21-23)(NASB) “And then if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ’; or, ‘Look, there He is’; do not believe it; (22) for false christs and false prophets will arise, and will provide signs and wonders, in order to mislead, if possible, the elect. (23) But beware; I have told you everything in advance.”
So, how can we “know” if “signs and wonders” are from God, or from Satan? The Bible tells us this:
(1 Jn 4:1) “Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try (test) the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world.”
(1 Th 5:21) “Test all things; hold fast what is good.”
(Mt 7:15-20) “Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. (16) Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? (17) Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. (18) A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. (19) Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. (20) Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.”
Summing up these verses, we need to remember that not all “signs and wonders” are from God. We need to “test” those who perform these “signs and wonders.” How do we test them? We test them through God’s Word. When we do, we will see fairly quickly, whether their words and actions line up with God’s Word, or don’t. If they do, the “sign or wonder” is likely from God. If they don’t, their “sign or wonder” is from Satan (see: Deut 13:1-3 from above).
In closing, I need to add a VERY IMPORTANT thing to what we have said. (Perhaps I should have said this earlier.) Satan’s ability to do “signs and wonders” does have limitations.
First, “only” God has the ability of creation. Satan cannot create something from nothing. For example, Satan cannot create life. Satan cannot make the dead un-dead. Satan, and his demons, cannot create physical bodies for themselves (as “fallen angels,” they are “spirit” by nature Heb 1:14, and invisible 2 Kin 6:16-17, Num 22:22-31). Satan cannot make “anything” suddenly appear. Satan can “only” manipulate the things God has created. For more on this, go here.
Second, Satan can only do “signs and wonders” within the boundaries that God has given him. In the New Testament, we often see the words “the world” connected with things that are not of God (see: 1 Jn 2:15-17, James 1:27, James 4:4, Rom 12:2). We also told that Satan is the “God of this world” (2 Cor 4:4) and the “prince of this world” (Jn 12:31)(Jn 14:30)(Jn 16:11). While God in His sovereignty is ultimately in control of ALL things, He has given Satan a measure of freedom (as the “god of this world”) to manipulate things that belong to this world. (Christians do not belong to this world: Jn 15:19, Jn 17:14-16.)
For example, in relation to unbelievers, who belong to “the world,” Satan can manipulate them, he can blind them (2 Cor 4:4), he can possess them (and animals: Mk 5:8-13, Gen 3:1-15), he can make them sick (Lk 13:16)(Acts 10:38) (and believers as well with God’s permission: see: Job 2:6-10), and he can even end their lives (see: here). In addition, he can control and manipulate things of this world that God has created: i.e. the weather (I believe “at times” Satan can be behind hurricanes, earthquakes, tornadoes, and other weather disasters.).
So, wrapping up this study, the answer to the question, “Can unbelievers cast out demons? is: “Yes!” However, they can ONLY do this in one of two ways: if God / Jesus / the Holy Spirit gives them this power to accomplish His “good” purposes (or) if Satan gives them this power to accomplish his “evil” purposes. If a person attempts to cast out demons without either of these two things, take a look at the “Seven sons of Sceva” in (Acts 19:13-16). to see what can happen.