Jesus and Satan
The conflicts of Jesus
40 Blogs of Lent: Day 20
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.
In the film, “Last Days in the Desert,” Ewan McGregor plays both Jesus and Satan. Are Jesus and Satan two sides of the same coin? Is the devil the evil equivalent to Jesus? That Jesus is like Satan is an idea that refuses to go away.
In the passage the healing is not what is important, healings were dealt with in chapters 8 and 9 of Matthews gospel. Here Matthew is looking at people’s reactions to Jesus, contrasting the people wondering if Jesus was ‘The Son of David,’ God’s anointed, the Messiah or the Christ, but not sure of the answer. By way of contrast, the reaction of the Pharisees is saying that Jesus is casting out demons by Beelzebul (Beelzebub in older translations). The rest of the passage is Jesus’ words regarding the Pharisee’s reaction. The passage is paralleled in Luke’s Gospel, but in three places, so it is possible Matthew is bringing different sayings of Jesus together to make a point, which would be typical of the way Matthew’s Gospel is written.
Baalzebub in the Old Testament if the god of the Philistine city of Ekron. In the New Testament the Greek is Beelzeboul, not lord of the flies, but lord of the dungheap, but one meaning could be lord of the house, meaning the head of the house of demons. Jesus talking of entering a strong man’s house would bear that out.
Jesus throws the Pharisees accusation straight back at them. ‘by whom do your sons cast them out?’ Jesus was not alone in performing exorcisms, members of the Pharisees did so too. The leaders were trying to turn the sympathies of the people against Jesus.
Jesus’ argument is that he cannot be casting out demons by the power of Beezebul as that would be self-defeating, so he must be casting them out by the power of the Holy Spirit, a sign that God’s Kingdom has come. Jesus is casting out demons because a power greater than Satan’s power is in him. There is no equivalence between Jesus and Satan, Jesus is far, far greater than Satan.
We don’t talk about blasphemy much these days, and when we do it is usually about using the name of God or of Jesus as a swear word, often in anger or frustration. There is more to it than that. Jesus is saying that in a relationship with him there can be no neutrality. God is the one who gathers in the harvest and in saying, ‘whoever does not gather with me scatters,’ Jesus is saying that he is doing the work of God and asking others to join with him in doing so. Repentance and forgiveness were always a big part of Jesus teaching, and here he returns to that, offering those who are neutral or indifferent to him the chance to commit themselves more fully. Jesus is gathering people into the kingdom and is saying that those who oppose him are scattering. Blaspheme in the sense of using Gods name in anger is not what is at stake here, in fact Jesus is saying that will be forgiven. Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is deliberately saying that the works of the Holy Spirit through Jesus are the works of Satan.
When love comes up against formalism and living by the rules, love wins.
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