A Kingdom Divided

Matthew 12:22-29


During World War II, Hitler commanded all religious groups to unite so that he could control them. Among the Brethren assemblies, half complied and half refused. Those who went along with the order had a much easier time. Those who did not, faced harsh persecution. In almost every family of those who resisted, someone died in a concentration camp. When the war was over, feelings of bitterness ran deep between the groups and there was much tension. Finally they decided that the situation had to be healed. Leaders from each group met at a quiet retreat. For several days, each person spent time in prayer, examining his own heart in the light of Christ’s commands. Then they came together. Francis Schaeffer, who told of the incident, asked a friend who was there, “What did you do then?” “We were just one,” he replied. As they confessed their hostility and bitterness to God and yielded to His control, the Holy Spirit created a spirit of unity among them. Love filled their hearts and dissolved their hatred. When love prevails among believers, especially in times of strong disagreement, it presents to the world an indisputable mark of a true follower of Jesus Christ. This illustration is from Our Daily Bread, October 4, 1992. This should be true of the church. We need to be one with all fellow believers even as Jesus is one with the Father. The interesting thing about all this, though, is that Satan knows the power of unity as well. Satan is not stupid. He knows that his kingdom needs to be united if he is to make any headway. So there are two kingdoms that are united internally, and fighting each other externally. Which one will win? And which side should we be on? Each side seeks to introduce disunity into the other. Satan loves it when Christians fight each other. Divide and conquer, the saying goes. Well, Jesus knows this principle as well. He knows that if He binds the strong man (Satan), then He can plunder Satan’s kingdom. Jesus will win. That is the point.

Last week, we saw that Jesus was God’s chosen servant, able to perform what God had told Him to do. Jesus is also full of grace. A bruised reed He will not break, and a smoldering wick He will not extinguish. Speaking of a smoldering wick, we now see a demon-oppressed man being brought to Jesus. The demon had almost extinguished him. He could not see or hear. He was a smoldering wick. What would Jesus do about him? Notice that the man’s blindness and deafness was due to the fact that he was demon-possessed. This puts him in a slightly different category than those who are merely blind or deaf. Just because one is blind does not mean that the cause is demon-possession. The fact that Jesus healed the man is important for the story, but it is not the main point. The healed man becomes a talking point, as it were, for the kingdom of God versus the kingdom of Satan. The people to be convinced are the crowds.

Look carefully at verse 23. The crowds say, “Could this be the Son of David?” This is a vitally important question for understanding the passage. So, to understand it, we must look at what I seldom mention in sermons: grammar. The grammar of this question is very important. The question implies a serious amount of doubt on the part of the ones asking the question. The question implies that they are more than likely to answer “no.” However, the possibility remains that the answer could be “yes.” This grammar is important because it will help us to understand what the Pharisees are after. What is happening here is that the crowds, are at least some people in the crowds, are starting to wonder about this Jesus fellow. He does a lot of miracles. And now, it is clear that He can not only heal people, but He also has authority over demons. This is the key issue that is getting some people to ask this question that could be answered “yes.” They are starting to waver. This makes the Pharisees very insecure in their power over the people. They start to feel very threatened. And so they do the only thing they possibly can do, which is to attack Jesus. It is quite clear that the Pharisees have not clearly thought through the implications of their answer. In fact, their answer makes little sense. It is an attack on Jesus, pure and simple, an attack designed to discredit Jesus, and prevent any more people from starting go follow Him.

Their charge is that Jesus only casts out demons by the power of the prince of demons. Beelzebul is a name that means “Lord of the skies” or “Lord of heaven.” In Ephesians 2, Paul tells us that we were under the power of the prince of the kingdom of the air. That is the same here as “Beelzebul.” Of course, it is just one of the names that Satan has. The name has the connotation, however, of his power over the other demons.

Jesus knows their thoughts. It is plain that the Pharisees were not talking to Jesus, but to the crowds. That also is important, for Jesus knows what is in their hearts, and how they are reasoning. He knows that supernaturally. And so, Jesus starts to respond to them, and His arguments are irrefutable.

The first point that Jesus makes is that if the power of Satan casts out a demon under Satan’s power, then Satan is shooting himself in the foot. Notice that Jesus says that a kingdom divided will perish, and a city or house divided cannot stand, either. No matter how small or large the “kingdom” is, if it is divided, it will not last. Demon possession is part of the way that Satan exercises his power over people. It is part and parcel of his kingdom. The implication here is that if Satan gets hold of a person, he will not let go of that person. So, to take away his power over a person by driving out his own demon is rather counter-productive. As verse 26 says, “If Satan drives out Satan, he is divided against himself.” Jesus’ argument depends on a prior assumption, namely, that Satan is not so stupid as to do something like that. Satan is a formidable foe. So that is the first point: Satan would be divided, and his kingdom could not stand. Satan is not stupid. Therefore, Satan is not divided.

The second point that Jesus makes here is that the Pharisees already recognize the gift of casting out demons. They already do it themselves. To understand Jesus’ argument here, it is necessary to point out that there are only two kinds of spiritual power: satanic spiritual power, and God’s spiritual power. Jesus and the Pharisees were doing the exact same thing. So, if Jesus is casting out demons by the power of Satan, then so are the Pharisees. In other words, by accusing Jesus of being in league with Satan, the Pharisees are also accusing themselves of being in league with Satan. If you point a finger at someone, oftentimes you have three fingers pointing right back at yourself. So, those people who are Pharisees who are casting out demons will be the judges of those Pharisees who are accusing Jesus. Jesus then presents the alternative, again, recognizing that there are only two kinds of spiritual power. The alternative is that the Spirit of God is casting out demons. If that is so, then the kingdom of God is upon the Pharisees. The Holy Spirit being poured out was a sign of the coming of the kingdom all over the Old Testament. The Holy Spirit would belong to the church, and would also inhabit individuals within the church. This is a sure sign that the kingdom of God has begun its reign on earth. So that is Jesus’ second point: that the only logical source for Jesus’ power to cast out demons is the Spirit of God.

The third argument is that of Jesus’ intentions. He tells us what He wants to do, which is to plunder Satan’s kingdom of all the people who are under the reign of Satan. The strong man here is Satan. The one binding the strong man is Jesus. Jesus binds him, and then goes into his kingdom (which stands for all the people), and takes away all the people He wants to take away. So Jesus’ intention is to combat Satan’s kingdom, not to further it.

So how did Jesus bind Satan? He bound Satan by everything He did while on earth: becoming a human, resisting temptation in the wilderness, going to the cross and dying there, being buried, and then being raised from the dead, and ascending on high to heaven, victorious over the powers of darkness. That is how Jesus bound Satan. All of that is included in the binding of Satan. What we see today is great opportunity for the Gospel to go forth, since Satan no longer has the whole world wrapped up in darkness. There are Christians everywhere, and more coming to faith every day. Satan is bound indeed, if the Gospel can make that much progress all the time.

Is Satan bound in your life? Has Jesus come to bind him away, and free you from his influence? Has Jesus come in the power of the Holy Spirit to reside in your life? That is the only way to be free from the power of Satan. Yes, Satan is bound, but he is still powerful. He can do much even in chains. It does no good to underestimate him, as so many people do today who simply deny that he even exists. Satan is no more powerful than when people do not even acknowledge that he exists.

But the comfort in all of this is that if Satan is bound in your life, then you are safe. And, if he is bound once, he is bound forever. He may struggle and thrash, and seek to bring you down, but the Holy Spirit is simply more powerful. He can cast out those sins that so easily entangle us.

Secondly, are you divided against another Christian in your house, or your city, or your church? This will not do, you know. We cannot stand as Christians if we are divided. What Jesus said of Satan’s kingdom is equally true of God’s kingdom. We are always to be seeking unity. There is one very important qualification that must be placed on that unity, however, and it is one that is usually ignored today: we must be unified around the truth. Truth is almost a curse word today. Yet the kingdom of God is built on the foundations of the Holy Scripture. It is the truth of the Word around which we must be unified. Truth and unity always belong together. We must never separate them.

Thirdly, we are now part of that plundering of Satan’s kingdom. As Jesus did, so do we now do. If Jesus tells us to witness to people, then that is plundering Satan’s kingdom. If we can bring people from darkness into light, then we are plundering Satan’s kingdom. That is definitely a worthwhile task. It is being a true soldier of the cross.

Hermeneutics and Confessions

Last time I went through the FV Joint Statement, I dealt with paragraphs 5-6 together. A word on the rhetoric of that post: what I mean when I say “in other words” is that this is the consequence of what is being said. I still do think these two paragraphs are the weakest section in the whole document. I really want to ask several questions, however.

Could Doug please explain what “hyper-specialized terminology in the regular teaching and preaching of the Church has the unfortunate effect of confusing the saints?” Especially since it appears he is talking about hyper-specialized terms that have broader biblical usage (“biblical use of the same language”). What is his target here? The terms justification, sanctification, propitiation, expiation? Oh wait, those are biblical terms. Election, predestination, fore-ordination? Oh wait, those are biblical terms, also. Maybe he is talking about the terms that the church has been forced to use because of heresies (such as the Arian heresy). Words like “homoousias,” which can be translated as “of the same essence.” I’m not sure how that term could be confusing, though.

Second question: is such language (let’s talk about the Dordtian use of the term “election,” which might very well be what Doug is talking about) not biblical? Is “good and necessary consequence” a legitimate way of using terms as summaries of biblical teaching? Oftentimes, I think the question comes down to exegesis of such passages as Ephesians 1: is Paul using the term “election” there in what could be described somewhat anachronistically as the Dordtian way, or is it the FV “covenantal election?” Here it is clear that I believe that the FV has not proven their case exegetically AT ALL. I have yet to see a detailed exegetical discussion of why they interpret Ephesians 1 of covenantal election rather than decretal election. Look at the benefits that come from election in Ephesians 1: adoption (vs 5), redemption through Christ’s blood (vs 7), forgiveness of sins (vs 7), obtaining the inheritance (vs 11), the hope in Christ (vs 12), belief in Him (vs 13), and the seal of the Holy Spirit (vv 13-14). These people are true believers, not just covenant members according to the FV definition of covenant. Unless the FV is willing to say that all these benefits are losable, then it seems rather clear that Ephesians 1 is talking about election in the decretal way, not a supposed covenantal way.

Remembrance and Paedo-Communion

In this post I am going to argue that the meaning of the word ἀνάμνησιν in 1 Corinthians 11:24-25 does not provide evidence one way or the other as to whether children may participate in the Supper, since the whole question depends on a prior question of whether infants participated in the Passover. 

First of all, I reject the interpretation of the word that makes it into something that God remembers.
The reason for that is very simple. The folks who have argued for this position have been using the wrong Old Testament precedents for arguing as its meaning. John Barach, for instance (and I think Leithart also goes this direction), looks to the Noahic covenant and the rainbow as a precedent for understanding the term in this way. The problem here is that there is a much more direct precedent for understanding the term, and that is in the institution and instructions for Passover itself. Even Leonard Coppes agrees that the Passover is part of the background for the Lord’s Supper (Coppes would argue that most of the other Old Testament feasts participate in the type as well). Deuteronomy 16:3 says this:

לֹא־תֹאכַל עָלָיו חָמֵץ שִׁבְעַת יָמִים תֹּאכַל־עָלָיו מַצּוֹת לֶחֶם עֹנִי כִּי

בְחִפָּזוֹן יָצָאתָ מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם לְמַעַן תִּזְכֹּר אֶת־יוֹם צֵאתְךָ מֵאֶרֶץ

מִצְרַיִם כֹּל יְמֵי חַיֶּיךָ׃  

In Greek: οὐ φαγῇ ἐπ᾿ αὐτοῦ ζύμην· ἑπτὰ ἡμέρας φαγῇ ἐπ᾿ αὐτοῦ ἄζυμα, ἄρτον κακώσεως, ὅτι ἐν σπουδῇ ἐξήλθετε ἐξ Αἰγύπτου· ἵνα μνησθῆτε τὴν ἡμέραν τῆς ἐξοδίας ὑμῶν ἐκ γῆς Αἰγύπτου πάσας τὰς ἡμέρας τῆς ζωῆς ὑμῶν.

In English: You shall eat no leavened bread with it. Seven days you shall eat it with unleavened bread, the bread of affliction—for you came out of the land of Egypt in haste—that all the days of your life you may remember the day when you came out of the land of Egypt.

The point here is that “remembering” is clearly second person in both Greek and Hebrew: “You will remember.” The verse has a summarizing feel to it such that this is the purpose for the Passover, so that the people will remember.

Exodus 12 does nothing to shake this conclusion, since the whole emphasis is on the people remembering. They do all the necessary preparations so that they will remember everything the Lord wants them to remember. There is no indication in Exodus 12 that the Lord is doing the remembering. Of course, Tim Gallant argues (pg. 86 of Feed My Lambs) that it is both God remembering and the people remembering. He argues that ἀνάμνησιν means both, and that it is the purpose of the Sacrament, not a prerequisite (pg. 85). I am personally leaning towards the people being the ones who remember on this one, as I see no indication of Passover meaning anything else. There is no proof that the word means anything other than the people’s remembrance. Even if there were, it would not prove that the word meant that in 1 Corinthians 11. If the Passover is the main antecedent in the Old Testament (which I agree that it is), then the Passover’s theology of remembrance should carry over into the Lord’s Supper. The reason why this argument cannot be used in favor of credo-communion is that it is debated as to whether children partook of the Passover. If they partook of the Passover, and yet they can still be said to be doing the remembering by their very partaking, then the argument is not proved one way or the other. The whole question will then turn on whether children partook of Passover or not.