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. But some of them said, “He casts out demons by Beelzebul, the ruler of the demons.” Others, to test him, kept demanding from him a sign from heaven. But he knew what they were thinking and said to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself becomes a desert, and house falls on house. If Satan also is divided against himself, how will his kingdom stand? —for you say that I cast out the demons by Beelzebul. Now if I cast out the demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your exorcists cast them out? Therefore they will be your judges. But if it is by the finger of God that I cast out the demons, then the kingdom of God has come to you. When a strong man, fully armed, guards his castle, his property is safe. But when one stronger than he attacks him and overpowers him, he takes away his armor in which he trusted and divides his plunder. Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.
“When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it wanders through waterless regions looking for a resting place, but not finding any, it says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ When it comes, it finds it swept and put in order. Then it goes and brings seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and live there; and the last state of that person is worse than the first.”
I always struggle with this passage, because Jesus seems to be saying so many different things in such a short amount of time. So, I admit, I got a lot of help from the internet on this one.
The first part is easy. Jesus makes two rapid arguments about why He can’t be a servant of Satan. First, demons don’t fight demons because if they did then there wouldn’t be any left. Second, if He’s a demon-worshiper, that would make their exorcists demon-worshipers too. Bam. Therefore, if he isn’t from Satan, He must be from God, which means the Kingdom of God is at hand. Bam again.
The part about the strong man, however, gave me a pause. Because it is sandwiched between two very different points, I saw two possible interpretations depending on how you read it. But I think I’ve settled on the better interpretation. The strong man is Satan, and the stronger man who defeats him is God or Jesus. In this way it now connects what it is sandwiched between. Sort of like this: Jesus, being not from Satan and therefore from God, is stronger than any demon. By battling against them he is able to cast them out. Therefore anyone working against Jesus must be casting out (or scattering) His works.
Then I got to the really confusing part. I mean, I understood that the demon returns to his empty host. But I thought that was awfully bleak. Why would Jesus be so pessimistic. Then I reread it as a warning. If you leave your body empty, it is wide open for demonic possession. He is warning the crowds so they will fill themselves in order to protect themselves. Fill themselves with what? you may ask. THE HOLY SPIRIT!!!!! It was such a “duh” moment when I finally figured it out. Like, it just seems so obvious now. We just spent all that time establishing that Jesus is stronger than any demon, so clearly He will be more than capable of protecting any of us from any attack like the one mentioned in this story. I love light bulb moments.