Last week, we took a look at the first portion of Matthew 12, where we saw Jesus declaring more boldly who He is. We saw Him clearly state that He is the Lord of the Sabbath. We also saw Him rebuke the man-made laws of the Pharisees regarding the Sabbath, thus exposing their murderous hearts. Jesus would not submit to ungodly laws made by men, and He would heal and deliver the lost sheep of Israel even on the Sabbath. We also saw Him urging those He healed not to make Him known in the streets. His time had not yet come, and the people were looking for the wrong type of Messiah. They were looking for an earthly king like David, and Jesus is far greater than David. Jesus came to do what only He could do, to set us free from sin and the grave forever.
Matthew 12:22-45 (ESV)
Matthew 12 (ESV) | Blasphemy Against the Holy Spirit
22 Then a demon-oppressed man who was blind and mute was brought to him, and he healed him, so that the man spoke and saw. 23 And all the people were amazed, and said, “Can this be the Son of David?” 24 But when the Pharisees heard it, they said, “It is only by Beelzebul, the prince of demons, that this man casts out demons.” 25 Knowing their thoughts, he said to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and no city or house divided against itself will stand. 26 And if Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then will his kingdom stand? 27 And if I cast out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they will be your judges. 28 But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. 29 Or how can someone enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man? Then indeed he may plunder his house. 30 Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters. 31 Therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven people, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven.32 And whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.
This passage is often used by those looking to sell how-to books on Spiritual Warfare to prop up their methodologies. The thing here is that Jesus isn’t teaching the art of spiritual warfare here… He isn’t even teaching exorcism. Jesus is rebuking the Pharisees and warning them that their current sin can forever separate them from God’s forgiveness. Rejecting the Holy Spirit, blaspheming Him to the extend of declaring His mighty works to be that of Beelzebul, will harden their hearts from the only means of salvation. To whom are the Pharisees referring when they accuse Jesus of casting out demons by Beelzebul? Let’s turn to 2 Kings 1.
2 Kings 1:1-8 (ESV) | Elijah Denounces Ahaziah
1 After the death of Ahab, Moab rebelled against Israel. 2 Now Ahaziah fell through the lattice in his upper chamber in Samaria, and lay sick; so he sent messengers, telling them, “Go, inquire of Baal-zebub, the god of Ekron, whether I shall recover from this sickness.” 3 But the angel of the Lord said to Elijah the Tishbite, “Arise, go up to meet the messengers of the king of Samaria, and say to them, ‘Is it because there is no God in Israel that you are going to inquire of Baal-zebub, the god of Ekron? 4 Now therefore thus says the Lord, You shall not come down from the bed to which you have gone up, but you shall surely die.’” So Elijah went. 5 The messengers returned to the king, and he said to them, “Why have you returned?” 6 And they said to him, “There came a man to meet us, and said to us, ‘Go back to the king who sent you, and say to him, Thus says the Lord, Is it because there is no God in Israel that you are sending to inquire of Baal-zebub, the god of Ekron? Therefore you shall not come down from the bed to which you have gone up, but you shall surely die.’” 7 He said to them, “What kind of man was he who came to meet you and told you these things?” 8 They answered him, “He wore a garment of hair, with a belt of leather about his waist.” And he said, “It is Elijah the Tishbite.”
The charge levied against Jesus by the Pharisees wasn’t merely some academic theory, it was a pointed accusation. Remember how closely the Prophet Elijah is tied to the coming of the Messiah? Jesus spoke of John the Baptist as the Elijah who was to come. Jesus first points out the folly in suggesting that Satan would be in the business of casting other demons out of people so that they might be set free from Satan’s power.
Then there is a curious turn… Jesus points out that if He is casting demons out by demonic power, how can the Pharisees justify their own exorcisms? The Pharisees had their own rituals for exorcism (and for everything else you can think of). Okay, so usually I try to reflect back into the Old Testament, but for this point of interest, I’d like to fast-forward to the Acts of the Apostles.
Acts 19:11-20 (ESV) | The Sons of Sceva
11 And God was doing extraordinary miracles by the hands of Paul, 12 so that even handkerchiefs or aprons that had touched his skin were carried away to the sick, and their diseases left them and the evil spirits came out of them.13 Then some of the itinerant Jewish exorcists undertook to invoke the name of the Lord Jesus over those who had evil spirits, saying, “I adjure you by the Jesus whom Paul proclaims.” 14 Seven sons of a Jewish high priest named Sceva were doing this. 15 But the evil spirit answered them, “Jesus I know, and Paul I recognize, but who are you?” 16 And the man in whom was the evil spirit leaped on them, mastered all of them and overpowered them, so that they fled out of that house naked and wounded. 17 And this became known to all the residents of Ephesus, both Jews and Greeks. And fear fell upon them all, and the name of the Lord Jesus was extolled. 18 Also many of those who were now believers came, confessing and divulging their practices. 19 And a number of those who had practiced magic arts brought their books together and burned them in the sight of all. And they counted the value of them and found it came to fifty thousand pieces of silver. 20 So the word of the Lord continued to increase and prevail mightily.
Wow. Interesting wording in Luke’s account of the event, eh? Something to think about. Getting back to our text, Jesus returns to the matter at hand. Again, He isn’t there to argue demonology 101, He is proclaiming the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand. Jesus says to them, if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. What is Jesus saying here? He’s saying, quite plainly, that if He is casting out demons by the Spirit of God, they should understand a very clear sign that the Kingdom of God has come. This is what John the Baptist warned them about (Repent! For the Kingdom of Heaven is at Hand Matthew 3) and what Jesus preached throughout the region. The question of “could this be the Son of David” is the appropriate question, given the signs and wonders being performed as a testimony to Jesus as the Messiah. It is to this question the Pharisees launched a blasphemous counter-assertion. Now that we have this as our context, we have a better framework for understanding the binding of the strong-man. Again, this is not an instruction on how we can become better spiritual warriors. Jesus has come to set the captives free. From whom? The enemy, Satan. So when was the strong man (Satan) bound? The notes in the Reformation Study Bible makes an interesting point. Remember what we saw in Matthew 4:1-11? Jesus defeated Satan in the wilderness. Since then, we see the demons crying out for mercy, permission, and being silenced and cast out. We don’t see any of them contending with Him. The Kingdom of Heaven is indeed upon Israel, and the Pharisees are blinded and blaspheming the Holy Spirit out of their hate of Him. Jesus then draws a line in the sand, those who are not with Him are against Him. There is no neutral ground. Either we are with Jesus, or we are against Him.
John 3:16-18 (ESV) | For God So Loved the World
16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.
No middle ground. He silenced the Pharisees, and gave them grave warning for their sin. The Kingdom of Heaven was upon them, and they continue to plot against the Christ, the Son of the Living God. The tables have been turned, and Jesus isn’t finished exposing the sin of the Pharisees here. Let us continue in Matthew 12.
Matthew 12 | A Tree Is Known by Its Fruit
33 “Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad, for the tree is known by its fruit. 34 You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. 35 The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil. 36 I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak,37 for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.”
They accused Jesus of serving a false god and they blasphemed the Holy Spirit. They will be held accountable for the words they speak, and unless they repent, their condemnation will remain upon their heads.
Matthew 12 | The Sign of Jonah
38 Then some of the scribes and Pharisees answered him, saying, “Teacher, we wish to see a sign from you.” 39 But he answered them, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. 40 For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. 41 The men of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and behold, something greater than Jonah is here. 42 The queen of the South will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon, and behold, something greater than Solomon is here.
To defend themselves, it seems they demanded a sign, proof of who Jesus is claiming to be (the Messiah). Nevermind that they had just blasphemed at the casting out of a demon. They weren’t interested in repenting, they were simply trying to regain control of the situation, for that is their place. They measured, they weighed, they decreed, and they placed a heavy burden on God’s people. Jesus refuses, and prophesies of His own death and resurrection. Notice here, Jesus is also pointing out that the scriptures point to Him. Jonah was a foreshadow of Him. Solomon, too. A pale foreshadow of the Promised One, the Christ. The Son of God was standing in their midst, greater than Jonah, than Solomon, and they demand a sign that they might measure Him? They’ll be judged by the men of Nineveh in the day of judgment. That must have been hard to hear… if they’d had an ear to hear it.
Return of an Unclean Spirit
43 “When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, but finds none. 44 Then it says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ And when it comes, it finds the house empty, swept, and put in order. 45 Then it goes and brings with it seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and dwell there, and the last state of that person is worse than the first. So also will it be with this evil generation.”
Again, this isn’t about teaching demonology. I believe Jesus is addressing both the man who had been set free from the demon that made him blind and mute as well as the Nation of Israel. He has come to set things in order, to clean the house. He performed many mighty works which testified of Him… for those who believed, their freedom is eternal. For those who still did not believe, their state will be worse than it was before the Kingdom of Heaven had arrived.
John 15:22-27 (ESV)
22 If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not have been guilty of sin, but now they have no excuse for their sin. 23 Whoever hates me hates my Father also.24 If I had not done among them the works that no one else did, they would not be guilty of sin, but now they have seen and hated both me and my Father.25 But the word that is written in their Law must be fulfilled: ‘They hated me without a cause.’
26 “But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me.27 And you also will bear witness, because you have been with me from the beginning.
Until Next Week…
Next week, we will start looking at some of Jesus’ parables in Chapter 13. Until then, spend time in the Word and in prayer.
Jude 1:24-25 (ESV) 24 Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, 25 to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.
In Christ Jesus,