Divided Kingdom: Mark 3:22-30

22 And the teachers of the law who came down from Jerusalem said, ‘He is possessed by Beelzebul! By the prince of demons he is driving out demons.’

23 So Jesus called them over to him and began to speak to them in parables: ‘How can Satan drive out Satan? 24 If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. 25 If a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand. 26 And if Satan opposes himself and is divided, he cannot stand; his end has come. 27 In fact, no one can enter a strong man’s house without first tying him up. Then he can plunder the strong man’s house. 28 Truly I tell you, people can be forgiven all their sins and every slander they utter, 29 but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven; they are guilty of an eternal sin.’

New International Version

Horsham, 28th February 2024

This incident takes place in Capernaum, where Jesus is living. We have already commented that people are travelling from all over the region to see Jesus, (see Mark 3:7-12) but the fact that his activities have caused such widespread attention that senior observers have now been sent from Jerusalem is a new development. These men were almost certainly dispatched at the direction of the Sanhedrin, to look into Christ’s activities. He has come to attention in the highest of places.

Some years ago I found myself in an argument with a colleague who was not used to having his own view of life called into question, especially by someone he regarded as a junior colleague. I felt terribly hurt that my integrity was being called into question and I would describe my response as ‘robust’.  We became angry with each other and, in short, the argument quickly escalated to a point where we had to walk away from each other with the issue unresolved. I am a bit embarrassed when I reflect on that situation, but you may have had similar encounters. When our integrity is questioned, it hurts.

It seems to me that these learned people believe, as Jesus does, in the powers of evil. The name ‘Beezebul’ is another name for Satan, whose existence as an entity was accepted by the Jewish people and leaders. It’s clear that they have witnessed Jesus at work. They have seen him ‘casting out demons’, and they make no attempt to deny that the outcomes are real. Their point of dispute, however, is Christ’s claim that this is the work of the Holy Spirit.  Their response is to discredit the Holy Spirit and give the credit for this  life transforming power not to God, but to Satan.

When his integrity is called into question, Jesus response sounds much more coherent than mine would have been! He responds with not one, but two, mini parables.

It would be absurd, says Jesus, for Satan to be working against his own legion of demons. It would mean working against himself. It would undermine his power. His kingdom would ultimately fall. Divided houses – divided families – are less successful than those who stand united. This is a truth we can understand, and a concept which is often repeated (eg Abraham Lincoln’s famous speech of 1868).

The second parable is quite different and its meaning easily missed. If you want to raid the house of a strong man, you need to be able to incapacitate him first. A strong man will only be defeated by one who is stronger. Again, that’s a simple truth – but there’s a deeper meaning. I wonder whether you recall the words of John the Baptist: ‘‘After me comes the one more powerful than I’ (Mark 1:7). As Christians, we need to remember that even the lowest powers of evil are extraordinarily powerful and destructive. Satan is the master of all evil. Christ is the one who is stronger. Mark wants you to notice that Christ has already defeated the lower demons, and that He is the One who will walk fully into the house of Satan and rise undefeated to take his place at the right hand of God.

In a previous post we faced the problem that the friends and family of Jesus thought he was mad. Now, we see the suggestion that the work of Christ succeeds because he is in league with the powers of evil. Both of these positions are incompatible with the outcomes of Christ’s healing and deliverance ministry.

A more contemporary, but equally destructive approach, would be to say Jesus was just a great man, or even a prophet, but not the Son of God.  Our only source about Christ is the Bible. Scripture does describe a man who was good, but it describes a man who carries the power of the Holy Spirit to perform miracles and wonders. It describes a man who claims at this point the Son of Man, and later the Messiah.

Our conundrum is the same as that of his friends, family and accusers. We may want to see Jesus as mad, or evil, or just a good man – or he is none of these. If we read Scripture and accept all rather than part of it, there is no doubt. Jesus is the Son of God.

For discussion about vv28-29, see ‘The Unforgivable Sin’

Richard Jackson, LifePicture UK




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