43 When the unclean spirit is gone out of a man, he walketh through dry places, seeking rest, and findeth none. 44 Then he saith, I will return into my house from whence I came out; and when he is come, he findeth it empty, swept, and garnished. 45 Then goeth he, and taketh with himself seven other spirits more wicked than himself, and they enter in and dwell there: and the last state of that man is worse than the first. Even so shall it be also unto this wicked generation.
In this passage, Jesus is responding to the Pharisees’ request for a sign, made just a few verses earlier. Jesus’ reply is not a discourse on how demons operate but an indictment against Israel’s current spiritual condition. Before Jesus came, God gave the Israelites the law and sent His prophets to turn Israel back towards Him. Now God sends His only begotten son and Jesus is trying to show them that this is the hour of their visitation and they’re in danger of missing it. Their legalism is blinding them from recognizing Jesus as the Messiah.
To understand the full meaning of Jesus’ words and their message for us, we need to build a proper context around them with respect to Jewish culture of the day—the culture in which Jesus’ earthly ministry took place. The Jews believed unclean spirits dwelt in many things and were completely pervasive throughout the natural world.
For instance, the Pharisees thought unclean spirits dwelt in bread crumbs, yet Jesus knew this when His disciples gathered 12 baskets full of fragments, after He had fed 5,000 people (Matthew 14:20).
Jewish culture forbade Jews from drinking after Samaritans but Jesus didn’t hesitate at the opportunity to drink after and minister to the Samaritan woman at Jacobs well (John 4:5-29).
Israel believed evil spirits lived in dry, arid places. Still, despite this belief, Jesus completed one of the most important acts of His earth-bound ministry when he fasted and prayed for 40 days in the wilderness (Matthew 4).
So it is clear by His repeated disregard for the Pharisees’ beliefs that Jesus does not agree with their theology about spirits. His statement in Matthew 12 is communicating to them that driving away an unclean Spirit and avoiding the physical objects and places believed to harbor these spirits is insufficient—no matter what you do the spirit will return and this time he’ll bring help. Jesus is attempting to show the Pharisees they need more than the law to reconcile themselves to God.
The distinction comes down to practice versus confession. It’s not enough to hate evil and want it gone. The Pharisees confessed but had no Godly practice. They had tradition and liturgy but lacked power. The message of Jesus is that we should love Godliness and fill our house with the things of God, eliminating any room for the uncleanness of sin. Being filled with the presence of Christ is mankind’s only hope now, just as it was then.
John the Baptist said I must decrease, He must increase. This should be our prayer as well. Let Jesus fill the empty places of your life and you will find the true peace that can only come from a right relationship with Him. Live Strong. Love Strong.
– Ps. Ken
The Person of Jesus: The historic Jesus, the Exalted Christ is the current series at Spirit Life Church. You can listen to the messages in this series and more on Spirit Life Church’s website or by subscribing to the weekly Spirit Life Church podcast.