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The Beelzebul Controversy
Candlelight Service 12/22/02
by Tony Grant
I now invite you to turn in your Bibles to the gospel of Luke, chapter 11 and follow along as I read verses 14-23. Hear what the Spirit says to us.
14 Now he was casting out a demon that was mute; when the demon had gone out, the one who had been mute spoke, and the crowds were amazed.
15 But some of them said, "He casts out demons by Beelzebul, the ruler of the demons."
16 Others, to test him, kept demanding from him a sign from heaven.
17 But he knew what they were thinking and said to them, "Every kingdom divided against itself becomes a desert, and house falls on house.
18 If Satan also is divided against himself, how will his kingdom stand? --for you say that I cast out the demons by Beelzebul.
19 Now if I cast out the demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your exorcists cast them out? Therefore they will be your judges.
20 But if it is by the finger of God that I cast out the demons, then the kingdom of God has come to you.
21 When a strong man, fully armed, guards his castle, his property is safe.
22 But when one stronger than he attacks him and overpowers him, he takes away his armor in which he trusted and divides his plunder.
23 Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.
Amen. The word of God. Thanks be to God.
"Beelzebul" is a variant spelling of "Baalzebul." It means in Hebrew "Lord of the Flies." In the OT it was name of the god worshipped by the Philistines of Ekron. In the NT, it is the name of the Lord of demons--which tells us something about demons. In the ancient Middle East, flies were a constant irritant--swarming everywhere, getting into everything, biting, and contaminating--just generally making life miserable. And that is pretty much what demons do in the spiritual realm. Of course the lord of the demons is Satan; hence, Beelzebul is another title for Satan.
In LK 11, a man was possessed by a demon. He had so committed himself to evil that a demon had came into his life and took up residence there. And the outward manifestation of this was that he lost the power of speech. He had not lost his speech because of some physical problem, but because of a spiritual problem. Now of course today we would describe this in psychological terms. We would say that this man has been subjected to some sort of trauma that had rendered him speechless. And that is true. But the trauma was that he had allowed himself to be possessed by a demon.
Now in order to understand what is going on in this passage, we need first of all to understand what demon possession is. Unfortunately, we sometimes get more of our ideas about demon possession from Hollywood than from the Bible. We have all probably seen movies in which the demon-possessed did all sorts of weird things like have their heads spin around on their shoulders, or in which they had spectacular powers--as, for example, the power to cause things to spontaneously catch on fire. Now there probably are extreme cases in which that kind of thing has happened, but most demon possession is not like that.
Every person who belongs to the kingdom of darkness is possessed by the darkness. Every person who belongs to Satan is to some extent demon-possessed. That is not surprising doctrine. We say the same thing about the kingdom of light. Every person who belongs to Jesus Christ has, to some extent, the Holy Spirit. Some may have more than others, but every Christian has something of the Holy Spirit. Why then sd it surprise us to say the same thing is true of the other kingdom? People who belong to the devil are to some extent possessed by the devil.
You might ask, "Aren't people who are possessed by the devil altogether evil? Aren't they always speaking hatred and spite and doing bad things?" Not necessarily. Evil always seeks t look like business as usual. Everything is all right. Everything is just fine. That is the coat that evil wears.
When Jesus met the devil in the wilderness, the devil did not say, "I am bad and I want you to be bad." The devil put on an appearance of godliness and even quoted the Scripture. But the way he sought to lead Jesus was toward the kingdom of darkness and away from the light--which is what the devil always tries to do.
The devil want nothing to do with the light, and the light wants nothing to do with the devil.
The Apostle Paul says the same thing in Romans. There he used the figure of slavery. He said that the slave belongs to his master, and in the spiritual realm two possible slaveries exist. One can be a slave to the devil or one can be a slave to Christ. We give ourselves to one of those powers and whichever one we give ourselves to possesses us and owns us. Now we were all in slavery to the devil. Thus, in LK 11, we were all the demon-possessed man. We were blind in that we did not see God; we were deaf in that we did hear God's Word; we were dumb in that we did not proclaim God with our lives. Since we belonged to the darkness, all that we could see and talk about and think about was darkness. And we could not of ourselves get out of that slavery. The man who was possessed by a demon could not cast out the demon himself. For that he needed Jesus, and so do we. LK 11:14 is the gospel to us. It shows us that our problem is demon possession and it shows us where to go to take care of that problem--to Christ.
These verses also show us the reaction of people to the gospel. When the people saw that Jesus could cast out demons, some marveled. That was a natural reaction. They realized that they were in the presence of power, and they were astonished.
Others immediately sought to put him down. Thus we read in V15, "Some of them said, he casteth out demons through Beelzebul, the chief of the demons." Why did they say that? Why such spiteful slander? Because their hearts are so hardened against him that they are not going to accept him no matter what he did. He had cast out the demon so that "the dumb man spoke." Thus, it is obvious that he had spiritual power. But they are unwilling to think good of him, they were so prejudiced against him that they could only conclude that he worked by the power of Beelzebul.
This way of thinking is still very much among us. We make up our minds about people and harden our hearts against them and find it easy to slander them even when they are doing good. That kind of malicious gossip is a cruel sin because most people are so eager to receive it and to keep it alive by telling and retelling it. It is a human failing that most people would rather hear something that puts another person down than hear something that lifts another person up. Not even Christians are free from this particular temptation. We need to examine ourselves on this and see how often we leap to the worst conclusion about other people. How often do we impute bad motives to people that we dislike? We need to examine ourselves on this and to remember that that is exactly what they tried to do to Jesus when they accused him of having a pact with Beelzebul.
Jesus replied to their malicious slander with several illustrations.
First, he reasons from the general to the specific.
" Every kingdom divided against itself becomes a desert." If you want to see what happens to a kingdom divided against itself, look at what used to be Yugoslavia. This is something our nation could take to heart, but Jesus is not really talking about nations.
Then Jesus said, " and house falls on house." A family divided, its members filled with anger against each other, does not need to worry about outside forces destroying it, it destroys itself. Again that is a good lesson. We need to learn to work together so that our families will work, and our families need to work together so that our communities will work.
Now this was not new teaching. Everybody there, in LK11, would
have said, "Right, Jesus, we know that." So then Jesus makes the application--which is that Beelzebul knows that too. Even the devil knows that we must work together to make anything work. Thus, the devil is not going to destroy himself by destroying his own. So you do not cast out demons by the power of demons.
That a logical, straightforward answer, but apparently it did not convince Jesus' critics. His answer reduced them to silence, but their hearts were hardened. Jesus knew that so he had two choices. One was just not to say anything else to them. There is no use in talking to people who are not listening. But V14 has told us that some there marveled at his works and were willing to be instructed. It is for their sake then that Jesus continues the argument.
The lesson is that we should present Jesus even to those who are not willing to hear; we should even argue against them not for their sake, but for the sake others who may be willing to hear.
LK11:19 gives us the second part of Jesus' answer about the source of the power in him. He asked: "Now if I cast out the demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your exorcists cast them out?"
He says, why are you condemning me when if one of your own had done this, it would be all right.
That is the way the world always operates. It is the way of the world to condemn in others what we approve ourselves. Thus, the adulter condemns adultery when it is done by someone else. The gossip condemns gossip when someone else is gossiping. The person filled with spite and hatred condemns spite and hatred--in other people. The lesson is that we should stop condemning other people and start applying our standards to ourselves.
I should mention that in the first century the job or function of exorcist was fairly common among both Jews and pagans. In the first century, people were more spiritually inclined that they are today. Jew and pagan alike recognized that there are demonic forces in the world that must be dealt with, and that was the function of the exorcist. Today we seem to think that we have gotten beyond all that, but a causual reading of our newspapers indicates that we have not. We could use a few good exorcists today.
But this verse also tells us something else. What Jesus was doing in casting out demons was unusual, but not that unusual. There were other men and women, empowered by the spirit, who did the same thing, and so Jesus said, "Therefore shall they be your judges." He said, I am doing what they are doing, using the same power they are using, and so I appeal to them to testify as to the power behind their exorcisms.
Then Jesus goes on to tell us what that power is, saying in v20, "But if it is by the finger of God that I cast out the demons, then the kingdom of God has come to you." In MT12:28, where MT refers to this same incident, we learn that the phrase, "the finger of God" is a figurative reference to the Holy Spirit. By the way this is true of all such references in the Bible. When we see references to the arm of God, or to the hand of God, we are not to suppose that God is a man such as we are; rather, these are only figurative ways of describing God acting in the world, and God acting in the world is the Holy Spirit.
To return to our text, what Jesus said is when you see a demon being being cast out--that is, when you see the devil being defeated, and God being proclaimed--then you know that you are in the presence of the kingdom of God, for the devil's kingdom is opposed to God's kingdom, for a demon is not driven out by a demon nor by the power of man alone, but by the power of the Holy Spirit.
From this it follows that where "the finger of God" does not cast out the devil, there the devil's kingdom still exists. Thus, as long as the Holy Spirit does not enter our hearts, we are citizens of the kingdom of Satan. We belong to Satan, and we do what pleases Satan--because that is what it means to be in Satan's kingdom, it means to do what pleases Satan.
In IITM2:26, reference is made to "the snare of the devil." How do we know when we are caught in the devil's snare? We do his will. We are in the darkness and we work for that power. So, what Jesus is telling us, and what the whole Bible tells us is that there really is a power of darkness. There really is a devil, and he has his kingdom. He has his influence, and if that is the way we want it, we can belong to that kingdom. On the other hand, there is also a power of light, and the light drives out the darkness. Which leads us to the major question: Are we of the light or of the darkness? Do we belong to God or to Beelzebul?
In V21 and 22, Jesus uses another illustration. A strong man, fully armed, guards his castle. The image is of a big muscular man, alert and armed with an assault rifle with bandoliers of ammunition across his shoulders. That is a man whose property is secure, we say. But there is always someone stronger, with better guns and more ammunition, and when the stronger comes, he attacks and overcomes the strong man and plunders his property.
The devil is the strong man. And he is taking care of his property. He possesses his people, and there is nothing his people can do about it. He guards and garrisons and fortifies them so that no one can take them away from him. And notice this: Jesus said that as long as some stronger force does not come to dispute with the devil, he is at peace. As long as the finger of God does not oppose him, the devil is content to let his people go along as they are going. After all they are going in his way, and that is fine with him. The devil does not get stirred up, he does not put on his War Face, until he is in danger of losing his property. This is why many who are serving the devil seem to be indifferent to God, and sort of content in their indifference.
Indeed, their indifference is a sign of demon possession. They are going to hell, and they are content to go that way, and the devil is content to allow them to go that way. But when they become unhappy with their destination and condition, and start to seek a new master, then the devil really goes to work. That is why people who start to think seriously about Christ, sometimes find themselves assaulted by more troubles and temptations that they have never known before. The devil is trying to get them back and he will get them back unless they have help.
The person who rebels against Satan may win some of the opening battles. He may to some extent cast out Satan, but ultimately Satan will re-conquer that soul, unless the rebel has an ally. That is what Jesus means in V22 when he says that the strong man who guards his palace can only be conquered by someone stronger. To succeed against Satan, we must have an ally stronger than Satan. We must have Christ.
V23 then is the conclusion. Jesus says, " Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters." This the same point that he has made all along. There is no neutrality in the spiritual realm. We are either for Beelzebub or we are against him. We are either for Christ or we are against him. And Jesus tells us in V23 how we can know that we are for him. When he gathers, we do not scatter. We devote ourselves to his interest. We do not divide his kingdom. We do not cause trouble in his house, but we work together in his power to build up his kingdom and his house. Amen.
If you have questions or comments, email Tony Grant
Copyright 2000 York Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church
Last modified 2/12/03