“That evening, at sunset, they brought to him
all who were sick
or possessed with demons.”
Sickness. Disease. Death.
In the ancient world, particularly in Palestine of the first century CE, all of this could be associated directly or indirectly to the activity of demons, evil spirits that could afflict human beings by external means or through possession. It is why in the New Testament you not only find healing and exorcism mentioned in tandem but also that illness is at times attributed to the work of some wicked spirit.
Over on his website, καταπέτασμα has written a post on this very subject entitled “Diseased Demons: Spirits as Agents of Illness.” Because of the strong association of disease with demonic possession, καταπέτασμα suggests that maybe Jesus never considered himself to be a healer as much as he considered himself to be an exorcist. He writes,
What all this indicates is that it is possible that Jesus conceived of himself not as a healer per se, that is, as someone who miraculously restored broken and infected bodies to working order, but rather as an exorcist who achieved cures by casting out wicked spirits. As conduits of God’s mighty spirit, Jesus and his first followers believed that by displacing the forces of evil they could eradicate various demon-caused maladies.
I find this construction of Jesus’ ministry in the Markan Gospel in particularly not only plausible but likely. Since in the Gospel of Mark, Jesus’ ministry is the proclamation of the impending reign of God (Mark 1:14-15), and since Satan is considered a ruler of his own kingdom that evidently has a stranglehold on the land of Israel (thanks, in part, to Roman occupation), then it makes sense that Jesus’ primary goal was to eradicate the land of these evil spirits, bringing healing and restoration to the land before the reign of God is established in Israel and, of course, over the world.