Continuing a study of the passages from Luke’s Gospel which have been omitted from the three-year Lectionary for public worship, today’s post is part of my ongoing series Forbidden Bible Verses, also essential to understanding Scripture.
Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur (‘The Vilification of Jesus’, Parts 1 and 2).
Jesus and Beelzebul
14 Now he was casting out a demon that was mute. When the demon had gone out, the mute man spoke, and the people marveled. 15But some of them said, “He casts out demons by Beelzebul, the prince of demons,” 16while others, to test him, kept seeking from him a sign from heaven. 17 But he, knowing their thoughts, said to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and a divided household falls. 18And if Satan also is divided against himself, how will his kingdom stand? For you say that I cast out demons by Beelzebul. 19And if I cast out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they will be your judges. 20But if it is by the finger of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. 21When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own palace, his goods are safe; 22 but when one stronger than he attacks him and overcomes him, he takes away his armor in which he trusted and divides his spoil. 23 Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.
In last week’s passage, Jesus rejoiced regarding His Father’s will (Luke 10:21). Emphases in bold mine below:
21 In that same hour he rejoiced in the Holy Spirit and said, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will.
The mention of the Holy Spirit is important for reasons we shall soon see below.
Afterward, Jesus related the parable of the Good Samaritan to the young lawyer (Luke 10:25-37). Then He met Lazarus’s sisters Martha and Mary (Luke 10:38-42). He also responded to the disciples’ request to be taught how to pray. Jesus taught them the Lord’s Prayer (Luke 11:1-13).
Today’s episode in Jesus’s ministry followed that prayer and explanation of God’s willingness to bless His people.
Before going into today’s verses from Luke, it is worth noting that Matthew has a similar episode, which John MacArthur points out took place in Galilee. Luke’s takes place in Judea.
This is Matthew 12:22-32; I have highlighted differences in the accounts below. Note Jesus’s warning about blaspheming against the Holy Spirit:
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?” 24But 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. 26And if Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then will his kingdom stand? 27And if I cast out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they will be your judges. 28But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. 29Or 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. 32And 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.
How is it, therefore, that these two episodes are so similar if they occurred in different locales? MacArthur explains that the Jewish Sanhedrin spread the opprobrium from Jerusalem to Galilee to Judea about Jesus being in league with the devil:
First they started sowing the idea that He’s demonic… And then they just raised it to the peak and said He is doing what He’s doing not just by any demon but by Beelzebul, the prince of demons. This was the…this was the party line. This was the…conventional wisdom that Jerusalem was sending down and disseminating through the crowd. And the witless people bought it all and parroted back. And here we are in Judea and it doesn’t say anything about scribes being there, it doesn’t say anything about Pharisees, it just says, verse 15, “Some of them said” … There they are sowing that same lie. They sowed it in Galilee and it was successful. And now they’re dogging His steps with it in Judea.
Now to Luke’s reading where Jesus cast out a demon which made a man mute (verse 14). When the demon departed, those witnessing this miracle ‘marvelled’ (verse 15). They didn’t deny it happened; they did not call it magic. This is true of all of Jesus’s miracles; no one who saw them disputed them. And their power was clearly sufficient to worry the Jewish hierarchy. These were no magic tricks, as some atheists and pagans have attested through the centuries.
Then the spiteful denunciation began (verse 15). The Gospels mention other times when Jesus faced the same accusation of working in league with the devil, among them Mark 3, John 8 (here and here) and John 10.
Some of those who did not ally Him with the devil asked Him for a sign from heaven (verse 16). That, too, was a form of spite and mockery. The Gospels also contain several references to unbelievers asking for signs, including Matthew 16, Mark 8, John 12 and Matthew 12:38-42:
The Sign of Jonah
38Then some of the scribes and Pharisees answered him, saying, “Teacher, we wish to see a sign from you.” 39But 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. 40For 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.
In verses 17 and 18 of today’s verses, Jesus, ‘knowing their thoughts’, pointed out the illogical notion that He was allied with the devil. First, He says that a divided household will fall. Second, He questions the reasoning of their saying that Satan wants to see his own destruction. Therefore, it made no sense for them to accuse Him of working for Beelzebul.
As Matthew Henry explains and paraphrases Jesus’s words:
Note, Obstinate infidelity will never be at a loss for something to say in its own excuse, though ever so frivolous and absurd. Now Christ here returns a full and direct answer to this cavil of theirs …
‘ … Now, if Satan should thus be divided against himself, he would hasten his own overthrow, which you cannot suppose an enemy to do that acts so subtlely for his own establishment, and is so solicitous to have his kingdom stand.’
MacArthur explains the name Beelzebul:
They called Satan Beelzebul, it was a sort of a Jewish twist on an old Canaanitish god meaning the lord of the high place, a term referring to Baal...Baal, the lord of the high place. They corrupted it from lord of the high place to lord of the dung, or lord of the flies as a way to mock that Canaanitish deity. But over the years Beelzebul became … their word for Satan, and so they conclude that He does what He does by the power of the ruler of the demons.
MacArthur points out that in Jesus’s time, the Jewish hierarchy also had exorcists who were largely unsuccessful:
They had their people who purported to be able to cast out demons, who could, of course, not do that in the power of God. They knew the difference. They had never seen anything like it and yet as soon as the crowd begins to marvel, the propagandists blurt out, “He casts out demons by Beelzebul, the ruler of the demons.” And I don’t know that Jesus even heard because it says in verse 17, “He knew their thoughts.” But He knows what people think and He knows what they say when His ears can’t hear it.
This is why Jesus asked them in whose name the Jewish detractors attempt — and fail — to cast out demons (verse 19).
It is also why He told them that if He works in God’s name, then they are seeing a manifestation of God’s kingdom (verse 20). And who better to manifest that kingdom than our Lord Himself?
Jesus stated that a strong, armed man — alluding to the devil — could defend his house only against weaker attackers. As soon as a stronger being appears — Jesus — his house and possessions are vulnerable (verses 21 and 22). Whenever He banished demons, they left forever.
This is why He says that no one who doubts Him can be on His side (verse 23). Furthermore, anyone who is not on His side ‘scatters’ as if to the four winds — lost forever.
As MacArthur explains:
Blasphemy like they did shows their absolute lack of spirituality. They were so lost and so sinful and so self-righteous and so hard-hearted and so hateful and so determined to reject Him, so blind and so dead that they considered themselves to be the enlightened and the religious and the righteous, they couldn’t even recognize the King of heaven when He stood there and talked to them. They couldn’t see the Kingdom of God when it was right in their midst. The god of this world has blinded their minds so the light of the glorious gospel can’t shine to them. They are the natural men who understand not the things of God.
And so stating the obvious as compared to the impotent Jewish exorcists who deliver nobody and heal no one, Jesus says if I’m doing this on the other hand by the Kingdom of God, or in the Kingdom of God, if I’m demonstrating the finger of God at work, then you are in a serious situation, very serious. They didn’t even entertain the possibility that this might be the King.
As for us, MacArthur warns:
… you are faced with the fact that you are in one or the other of those two groups and there is no third option. There are not spiritual orphans. You are Satan’s or you are Christ’s. It’s always so helpful to see how our Lord with such simple words grasps such profound realities and makes them unmistakably clear to us. And my admonition to you is to take a look at where you are and be sure that you understand the incomparable Christ who was moving with the finger of God and therefore is the King who brought His Kingdom. No one is to be compared to Him. And you only have two options. You either affirm that He is who He says He is, or you cannot say anything other than that He is the ultimate blasphemer because He claimed to be God and He is not. So you are either with Him or you’re left against Him. And He offers to you the same invitation. Wherever your thinking is, think it through again. Understand the irrationality of rejecting Christ. Understand the inconsistency of rejecting Christ against all the evidence, comparing Him to any other religious leader. Understand the lack of spirituality, the spiritual deadness and blindness of rejecting Christ.
Next week’s reading continues the theme of exorcism — the charlatan’s versus Jesus’s.
Next time: Luke 11:24-26