When they came to the crowd, a man came up to Jesus, falling on his knees before Him and saying, "Lord, have mercy on my son, for he is a lunatic and is very ill; for he often falls into the fire and often into the water” (Matthew 17:14-15).
There are a number of matters that need to be addressed before we can come to a better understanding of that is going on in this encounter. First of all, we need to include the parallel passages of the event for a fuller, more complete rendering of what is being said. All of the texts regarding this event are found in Matthew 17:14-21; Mark 9:14-29; and Luke 9:37-43a. When harmonized together it reads,
"A man in the crowd ran up to Jesus and knelt in front of Him. He said, 'Teacher, I have brought my son to You. I beg You to look at him and have mercy on him. He is my only child but he is possessed by a spirit that will not let him talk. Whenever the spirit takes control of him he has a seizure. He shrieks, goes into convulsions, grinds his teeth, and foams at the mouth. It throws him to the ground, often into fire or water. After a struggle, the spirit goes away, leaving the child worn out. I begged Your disciples to force the spirit out of him, but they could not do it. They did not have the power.'"
What was wrong with the boy? Clearly the Bible says the boy was demon possessed, and certainly that was not an uncommon condition for some people in the days of Jesus. Many scholars today believe the symptoms of the boy parallel epilepsy. Having dealt with epileptics, I know that some do manifest these symptoms. But what was going on with this boy was far more severe than epileptic seizures. And let’s not make the mistake of believing that people who suffer epileptic seizures are demon possessed - they are not. Epilepsy is a genuine medical condition that has nothing to do with one’s spiritual state.
The boy was demon possessed. Is that possible for a follower of Jesus Christ? No. It can be symptomatic of a person who is a non-Christian, but not necessarily so. Not all non-Christians are demon possessed, but all demon possessed people are non-Christians. And not all people who suffer epilepsy, dementia, Alzheimer’s, autism, or other mental disorders are demon possessed. And not all demon possessed people act ‘weird’ or ‘deranged’. Some are very astute mentally and very controlled physically. How are we to know? That’s not our concern. Our concern is to stay focused on Jesus and to minister the Gospel to those we meet, leaving the rest up to the Holy Spirit.
“Lord Jesus, keep our mind, heart, spirit, and life focused on You and Your Gospel, and to not be concerned about the higher levels of the demonic world. While such things are fascinating to some, and while we are engaged in spiritual warfare, it is not our primary calling to battle one-on-one with demons. May Your Holy Spirit lead us to those whom You have prepared for our ministry - all to Your honor and glory I ask, Amen.”