At the beginning of chapter 12 the Pharisees complained to the Lord Jesus about his disciples when they picked and ate some ears of corn on the Sabbath Day. And then we read about the time when the Lord was teaching in the synagogue and there was a man with a shrivelled hand. And, looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, his opponents asked the Lord whether it was lawful to heal on the Sabbath. They were picking a fight with him. In fact, Matthew tells us that after the Lord healed the man, the Pharisees went away and began to plot how they might kill him. So, the opposition to the Lord Jesus is growing. And in today’s passage, the Pharisees once again confront the Lord Jesus.
Verses 22 to 24
We read in verse 22 that they — Matthew doesn’t tell us who ‘they’ are — brought the Lord a demon-possessed man who was unable to see or speak. And Jesus healed him so that he could talk and see. The miracle itself is remarkable, isn’t it? And like all of the Lord’s miracles it’s a foretaste of what he will do for all his people when he comes in glory and with power on the last day, because on that day the heavens and the earth will be renewed and our bodies will be renewed and made perfect. But the focus of this passage is not on the miracle itself, but on what happened afterwards.
Matthew tells us about the mixed response. He says that all the people — so the ordinary people — were astonished. And they said to themselves: ‘Could this be the Son of David.’ ‘Son of David’ was a title for the Messiah, the Special Servant God was going to send to save and to rule over his people. So, could Jesus be the Messiah? Could he be God’s Special Servant?
They aren’t sure. All the miracles he performed indicated that he had come from God, because who else could heal the sick and drive out demons but someone sent from God? However, they were probably expecting the Son of David to do what David did, which was to gather together an army to fight against their enemies. And the Lord gave no indication that he was going to do that. So, was he the Son of David? Was he the Promised Deliverer? They weren’t sure.
That’s how the ordinary people responded. And how did the Pharisees respond? They were certain they knew who Jesus was. They were certain they knew his true identity. And they were sure he had come, not from God, but from Satan. They were sure that the reason he had power over the demons and could drive them out was because he had come from Beelzebub, who is Satan, the prince of demons. So, as far as they were concerned, that’s who Jesus is. He a servant of Satan.
So, the ordinary people thought the Lord Jesus might be God’s Special Servant. They thought he might have come from God. But the Pharisees were sure he had come from the Devil.
Verses 25 to 28
And so, in the following verses, the Lord responded to what the Pharisees were saying about him.
Matthew tells us the Lord knew their thoughts. It’s not clear whether he knew their thoughts because he had supernatural insight into what they were thinking; or whether he knew their thoughts the way we often know by instinct what other people are thinking. Whichever it was, the Lord knew what they were thinking and how they suspected that he was a servant of Satan.
And he responded to what they were thinking by pointing out the absurdity of it. We can imagine him saying to them: ‘Come on now. Think about it for a moment. If you think about it for even a moment, then you’ll realise that what you’re saying about Satan doesn’t make any sense whatsoever.’ And the Lord explained to them: A kingdom divided against itself will be ruined. A city divided against itself will be ruined. A family divided against itself will be ruined. When half the family is fighting with the other half, the whole family will be destroyed. And if what you’re saying is true — if Satan has sent me to drive out his demons, then that means Satan’s kingdom is divided. And do you really think Satan will divide his kingdom like that? Satan is not stupid. He’s not a dummy. He won’t divide his kingdom like that. He won’t weaken it like that. He won’t send me to undermine what his demons are doing. What you’re saying about Satan doesn’t make any sense.
And then the Lord asks another question: You’re saying that I’m driving out demons by the power of Satan. What does that say about your own people who can drive out demons? Where do they get their power from? Are they getting their power from Satan too? And when the Lord says in verse 27 that they will be your judges, he means something like: ‘Ask them. Ask your people who drive out demons where their power comes from. Ask them and they’ll tell you that you’re wrong to say the power to drive out demons comes from the Devil. You’re dead wrong.’
So, if he didn’t drive out demons by the power of Satan, how then did he do it? He tells them in verse 28: he did it by the power of the Spirit of God. And since he was doing these things by the Spirit of God, then that means the kingdom of God has come, because having the Spirit means that he is the Messiah, because the Messiah is God’s Spirit-Anointed Servant–King, was was coming into the world to overthrow God’s enemies and to establish God’s kingdom on the earth.
And then the Lord goes on in verses 29 and 30 to use the image of the strong man and the even stronger man. The strong man is Satan and his house is the world, because the whole world is under his wicked influence and he rules over the hearts and minds of unbelievers. He blinds their minds to keep them from knowing God and to make them do his wicked will.
But the even stronger man, who is able to tie up the strong man, is the Lord Jesus Christ. So, before the Lord came into the world, Satan was able to deceive the nations and keep them from knowing God. And he was able to lead the whole world astray. Apart from the people of Israel, every other nation went astray and they worshipped idols instead of the true God. But then the Lord Jesus came into the world as our conquering King. And when the demons saw him, they were terrified, because they knew who he was and how he had come to destroy them. And the Lord Jesus went on to disarm Satan when he paid for our sins with his life and secured our forgiveness. The Lord Jesus disarmed the powers and authorities, says Paul in Colossians, making a public spectacle of them and triumphing over them by the cross.
And since Christ has paid for our sins with his life, and has secured our forgiveness, then Satan has no hold over us. And from his throne in heaven, the Lord Jesus sends preachers into all the world to proclaim salvation to every nation. And from every nation he’s calling men and women and boys and girls out of Satan’s kingdom of darkness and into his own kingdom of grace where there is life and salvation.
So, the Devil is the strong man, but the Lord Jesus is the even stronger man who ties up Satan and who sets his people free. He’s not driving out demons by the power of Satan, but he’s driving them out because he’s God’s Spirit-Anointed Servant-King who has come into the world to conquer his enemies and to establish God’s kingdom on the earth.
And his coming divides the world. It divides the world, because you’re either with the Lord Jesus or you’re against him; and you’re either gathering with him or you’re scattering. Gathering and scattering in verse 30 are agricultural images. The farmer and his hired hands work together in the field, gathering the harvest. But their enemy comes and wants to scatter what they have gathered. And so, everyone is either with the Lord Jesus or they’re against him. There’s no in-between. There’s no neutrality. You’re either with him or you’re against him.
Verses 31 to 37
And those who are on the side of Christ can rejoice because look at verse 31, where it says that every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven. We are forgiven when we come over to Christ’s side and believe in him as the only Saviour of the world. And so, whoever is on Christ’s side can rejoice, because our sins are forgiven. There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ. And whoever believes has crossed from death to life, because we’ve crossed over from Satan’s side to the Saviour’s side. So, our sins are forgiven when we come over to Christ’s side and believe in him.
But blasphemy against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven. And when the Lord mentions blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, he’s referring to what the Pharisees were doing, because instead of believing in Christ, who is God’s Spirit-Anointed Servant–King, they rejected him, saying that his power came, not from the Holy Spirit, but from Satan. So, instead of believing that Jesus was God’s Spirit-Anointed Servant-King, they regarded him as the servant of Satan. And if someone refuses to believe in the only Saviour of the world, then there can be no forgiveness for that person, not in this age or in the age to come, because such a person has rejected the only Saviour of the world.
But there’s always forgiveness for those who are on the Saviour’s side, because in his kingdom there’s a fountain of forgiveness which will never ever run dry.
Verses 33 to 37
And in the last part of today’s passage — verses 33 to 37 — the Lord makes clear that what the Pharisees were saying about him corresponds exactly to their sinful nature. So, he compares them to a bad tree. A bad tree produces bad fruit. And they, being evil, cannot say anything good about him. He then compares them to a brood of vipers. A viper cannot help biting and spitting, because that is its nature. And the Pharisees cannot help biting and spitting at him with their evil words, because they are evil. And the wicked things they say are the overflow of their wicked hearts, where evil things are stored up.
And so, the wicked things they were saying about him correspond exactly to their sinful nature. What they were saying about the Lord Jesus and about the Holy Spirit corresponds exactly to the darkness in their hearts. And therefore on the day of judgment, they will be condemned because of what they said about him, because what they said about him reveals their true nature.
And, of course, each one of us was born with the same sinful nature which they had. We are sinners by nature. We are sinners by birth. When we were born, we were just like them and we were incapable by ourselves of seeing the glory of Christ.
But thanks be to God who is gracious and merciful and slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. And instead of condemning us, which is what we deserve because we’re sinners, he was patient with us. And he sent his Spirit into our lives and he shone his light into our dark hearts and he enabled us to see the glory of Christ and he enabled us to repent and to believe in him, so that we might receive the forgiveness of our sins and the hope of everlasting life. Though by nature we were a bad tree, and did not deserve anything except condemnation, he graciously made us into a good tree and he enabled us to believe in Christ and to acknowledge his glory and to praise his name.