Misrepresented as Being in League with the Demons (Matthew 12:22-50; Mark 3:20-35)

Submitted by admin on Sat, 2008-01-26 12:42.

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Large crowds began to gather around Jesus and even scribes from Jerusalem came down to the area in Galilee which was the focus of his activity. The constant presence of crowds did not permit Jesus and his apostles to have the needed time to eat. News about these developments, possibly including word about the hostility of the Pharisees, caused Mary and his brothers to become concerned. They concluded that Jesus had lost his senses and needed to be rescued from the situation that had come into existence. (Mark 3:20-22)

On one occasion, people brought a man whose blindness and inability to speak they believed to be caused by demon possession. Jesus cured the afflicted man, enabling him to speak and to see. Amazed, those witnessing the miracle wondered, “Might he not be the son of David [the promised Messiah]?” (Matthew 12:22, 23) Hearing this, the Pharisees (the scribes that had come from Jerusalem [according to Mark 3:22]) did not deny the miracle but concluded that Jesus performed it by the power of Beelzebul (Beelzebub) or the devil, the ruler of the demons. (Matthew 12:24)

Aware of the thinking of those who opposed him, Jesus exposed the folly of their reasoning. “Every kingdom divided against itself comes to ruin, and every city or house divided against itself will not stand. And if Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself. How, then, will his kingdom stand? And if I, by Beelzebul, cast out the demons, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore, they [your sons, probably meaning the disciples of the Pharisees] will be your judges.” (Matthew 12:25-27; Mark 3:23-26)

It would have been unreasonable for Satan to work against his own interests, creating loss in his realm. Furthermore, the Pharisees would never have contended that their “sons” or disciples engaged in expelling demons by satanic power. They would have attributed such exorcism to the power of God. So, their own “sons” or disciples exposed them as having come to totally inconsistent conclusions when claiming the very opposite about Jesus.

“If, however,” Jesus continued, “I cast out demons by God’s spirit, then God’s kingdom has come upon you. Or how can anyone enter the house of a strong man and seize his belongings, unless he first binds the strong man?” Deprived of his ability to prevent the seizure of his goods, he would be vulnerable. It would then be possible to enter his house and rob him. (Matthew 12:28, 29; Mark 3:27) The expulsion of demons through the powerful working of God’s spirit identified Jesus as God’s anointed king and as exercising royal authority that even the demons had to obey.

All who did not take their stand for Jesus, demonstrating themselves to be “with him,” were “against” him. Those who did not “gather” with him, actively supporting his work, made themselves guilty of “scattering” or trying to interfere with his labors. (Matthew 12:30)

Jesus stressed the seriousness of attributing his good works to satanic power. People who, in ignorance, became guilty of blaspheming or reviling God’s Son or sinned seriously could be forgiven. (Compare 1 Timothy 1:13-16.) Blaspheming God’s spirit, persistently maintaining that the unmistakable evidence of the working of divine power for the accomplishment of good was satanic or demonic, would not be forgiven then or in the age to come. It would always be an unforgivable sin. (Matthew 12:31, 32; Mark 3:28-30)

To “make the tree good” would denote to consider the source of the fruit as good and, therefore, the fruit itself as good. When, however, the tree is “made rotten” or the source of the fruit is viewed as bad, the fruit is likewise regarded as bad. Those who opposed Jesus viewed him as evil, and so they called his good works (the “fruit”) the product of evil. The Son of God, however, set forth the trustworthy standard for judging, “A tree is known by its fruit.” His works were undeniably good, establishing that he, as the one through whom they occurred, was good. (Matthew 12:33)

Therefore, all who reviled his good works revealed themselves to be evil, “the offspring of vipers.” As wicked persons, how could they possibly “speak good things”? It is out of the “abundance of the heart” or from all that constitutes the inmost self that the “mouth speaks,” the unguarded words revealing the true identity of the individual. Out of the “good treasure [of his heart, according to some manuscripts],” the depository of his deep inner self or the real person, the good man bring forth good things. The evil or corrupt person brings forth evil things from his “evil treasure” or his inmost self, which identifies him as the person he truly is. (Matthew 12:34, 35)

In the future, everyone would have to render an account for their words and actions. The judgment to be executed upon those blaspheming or reviling God’s spirit (as the scribes and Pharisees had done when attributing Jesus’ good works to demonic power) would be very serious. As Jesus continued, “In the day of judgment,” people would have to give an account for every worthless saying they had uttered. By their words, they would be either justified (acquitted or vindicated) or condemned. (Matthew 12:36, 37)

Then, in response to what Jesus had said, some of the scribes and Pharisees asked for a “sign.” They were not satisfied with the many signs or miracles Jesus had performed and which provided clear evidence that he was the Messiah, God’s unique Son. The unbelieving scribes and Pharisees wanted a spectacular heavenly sign that, in their estimation, would be required to establish his identity as the Messiah who was promised to come. Jesus then referred to the existing generation of which they were a part as “wicked and adulterous” and revealed that their unbelief would not be accommodated. It was a “wicked” generation in its hatred of Jesus and its denial of the operation of divine power through him. By refusing to accept him as the one whom his Father had sent, that generation was guilty of unfaithfulness to his Father and disregarded the covenant that required submission to his will. This unfaithfulness constituted adultery. (Matthew 12:38, 39)

The kind of sign the wicked and adulterous generation wanted would never be granted. No sign other than the sign of the prophet Jonah would be given to that generation. Just as Jonah was in the belly of the large sea creature for “three days and three nights,” the Son of Man would be in the “heart of the earth” or in the tomb for “three days and three nights.” Accordingly, the definitive sign would be the resurrection of Jesus from the dead after parts of three days in the tomb. Even that sign, though, would not persuade those who had hardened themselves in unbelief. So, as Jesus said, the people of Nineveh would rise in the judgment and, because of their having repented upon hearing Jonah’s proclamation, would condemn the generation of unbelieving Jews who saw and heard someone far greater than Jonah. (Matthew 12:39-41; see also Jonah 1:17; 2:10; 3:4-10.)

Likewise, the “queen of the South” would rise in the judgment and condemn the unbelieving generation. Based on reports she had heard, the queen of Sheba (probably located in southwestern Arabia) traveled many miles to hear the wisdom of Solomon. The unbelieving generation, though, had someone in their midst who was far greater than Solomon but turned a deaf ear to him. The course of the queen of Sheba thus stood in marked contrast to that of the generation that persisted in unbelief. (Matthew 11:42; see also 1 Kings 10:1-10.)

Jesus emphasized the grave danger in which the faithless generation found itself. To illustrate this aspect, he drew on then-existing beliefs about unclean spirits. Upon coming out of a man, an unclean spirit passed through dry areas, searching for a resting place. Unable to locate such, this spirit decided to return to its former abode and found it unoccupied, swept clean, and orderly. It then went on its way and found seven other spirits even more evil than it was, and all of them made their home in its former residence. The final condition of the man then came to be worse than the former undesirable state. Jesus concluded with an application of this likeness, saying, “Thus also it will be with this wicked generation.” (Matthew 12:43-45)

In the past, the “demon” that had taken hold on unfaithful Israel proved to be idolatry, particularly Baal worship. After the Babylonian exile, however, the former idolatry no longer posed a threat. Eventually, though, worse “demons” found a home. The legalism that developed, which came to be devoid of love, compassion, and justice, brought the generation existing during the time Jesus was on earth into a more ruinous state. The low level to which unbelief plunged them became more and more evident from their hatred of the unique Son of God and their wanting to bring about his death.

While Jesus continued talking, Mary and James, Joses (Joseph), Judas, and Simon arrived, wanting to speak to him and have him leave with them. The disturbing reports they had heard made them feel they needed to take control of the situation, for they had concluded that he had lost his senses. Unable to get near him because of the crowd around the house where he was, they got word to him through others. Told that his mother and brothers were outside wanting to speak to him, Jesus, by extending his hand in the direction of his disciples who were sitting around him, identified them as his mother and brothers. Then he added, “Whoever does the will of my Father in the heavens is my brother and sister and mother.” (Matthew 12:46-50; Mark 3:21, 31-35; 6:3; Luke 8:19, 20) According to Luke 8:21, his mother and brothers would be those hearing God’s word and acting in harmony therewith.

Notes:

Josephus, in his Antiquities ( VIII, ii, 5), provides evidence that exorcism was practiced in the first century. He attributed to Solomon the procedure for expelling demons. “And he left behind him the manner of using exorcisms, by which they drive away demons, so that they never return, and this method of cure is of great force unto this day; for I have seen a certain man of my own country whose name was Eleazar, releasing people that were demoniacal in the presence of Vespasian, and his sons, and his captains, and the whole multitude of his soldiers. The manner of the cure was this: He put a ring that had a root of one of those sorts mentioned by Solomon to the nostrils of the demoniac, after which he drew out the demon through his nostrils; and when the man fell down immediately, he abjured him to return into him no more, making still mention of Solomon, and reciting the incantations which he composed. And when Eleazar would persuade and demonstrate to the spectators that he had such a power, he set a little way off a cup or basin full of water, and commanded the demon, as he went out of the man, to overturn it, and thereby to let the spectators know that he had left the man.”

A Dead Sea scroll (11QAprocryphal Psalms) dated from before the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 CE contains four psalms used for exorcism, one of which is Psalm 91. The other three are not found in the book of Psalms. Of these three, one is ascribed to Solomon and indicates that YHWH would send a powerful angel against the demons and that they would be sent into the great abyss or the deepest Sheol.

It should be noted that Jesus did not use any special procedure or resort to a display for spectators. Possibly because the Pharisees had maligned him as being in league with the demons, Jesus chose to contrast his greatness with that of Solomon, whose name was commonly associated with exorcism. Those hearing Jesus, based on their beliefs about exorcism, should have been able to discern that his casting out of demons and performing other powerful works confirmed his being greater than Solomon.

While there are variations in Matthew, Mark, and Luke, the basic thoughts are the same. Identical wording for quotations should not be expected, as the narratives were composed in Greek and not in the language Jesus or others originally spoke. Minor details preserved in one account but not repeated in another provide indirect proof that the writers produced them independently of one another, based on the information available to them.