Luke 11:14–28 . . . Bible Study Summary with Questions
Jesus vs. Beelzebul: Exorcism
When you try to get to know people, it's revealing to see how they respond under pressure. The common view of "gentle Jesus, meek and mild" is flat and two-dimensional, missing the "Jesus under fire" that we see this week. What emerges is a direct, penetrating response to slander. How to do that is what we disciples should learn from Jesus.
Keeping Luke's presentation clearly before you, here's a breakdown of his account.
-- Jesus casts out a demon; most of the crowds marvel, but: (1) some accuse him of driving out demons by the power of Satan himself (11: 15, shown below); (2) others ask for a sign from heaven (v. 16).
-- He answers the accusation of casting out demons by the power of Satan in three ways (vv. 17–22): (1) If Satan were attacking his own forces, he'd soon defeat himself; (2) Jewish exorcists would be subject to the same criticism; and (3) Jesus casts out demons by overpowering Satan who's oppressing the person.
-- Then he states emphatically that there's no place for neutrality in the war against Satan (vv. 23–28): (1) Those who don't gather with Jesus, scatter; (2) Unless the "house" of an exorcised person is inhabited and guarded, it'll fall to demonic forces again; (3) Freedom from Satan is only possible through obedience to God's Word.
Let's first examine how Jesus handles the slanderous charge that "he's empowered by Beelzebul (a.k.a. Beelzebub and Belial)."
Exorcising the Mute Man, then Crediting Beelzebul (vv. 14–16)
This conflict began in the context of Jesus' everyday ministry of preaching the Word, healing the sick, and casting out demons. On this occasion, Jesus heals a mute man; who's unable to speak (and, according to Matthew 12:22, he's also blind). Here, Jesus discerns that the root of these physical symptoms is spiritual, not organic. So he expels from the sufferer the demon causing his affliction. When the mute man — now healed — speaks, the crowds are amazed. Most of them, anyway.
Jesus' ministry has moved south into Judea, closer to Jerusalem, the center of Judaism. His successes have also attracted critics. Unwilling to see God's hand in these healings and exorcisms, Pharisee and scribe critics present an alternate theory. They accuse Jesus of being an agent of Beelzebul, the prince of demons, able to command his minions where to go. Jesus answers this slanderous charge rather fully in vv. 17–28. To those who ask for a sign from heaven (v. 16), he responds in vv. 29–32. By Jesus' day, Beelzebul had become the popular name for Satan. The scribes and Pharisees attribute Jesus' success at exorcism to being empowered by Satan, which is slanderous.
A Kingdom Divided Against Itself (vv. 17–20)
The Pharisees' accusation was outrageous. Unanswered, it could entangle Jesus' ministry; he must speak to it. Jesus appeals to his hearers' reasoning by demonstrating how the accusation is ludicrous. He first states the universal principle: An internally divided kingdom will crumble from within. Then he extends this to the specific accusation: If Satan goes about scattering his own forces, he can't survive. The charge is foolish!
Then he takes a second approach to undermining his critics' charge. Jesus wasn't the only one in Palestine casting out demons; there were various Jewish exorcists in Jesus' day. Luke also makes note of non-Christian exorcists in 9:49 and Acts 19:13–16, who had, in both instances, incorporated Jesus' name into their incantations. In v. 19, Jesus is arguing, If I'm casting out demons by Beelzebul, the same could be said of your own exorcists. Jesus first displays his critics' flimsy logic; then he aims charges against exorcists of their religious sect. But he goes one step further.
Jesus is saying in v. 20, If you're wrong, and God — not Beelzebul — is empowering me, then the kingdom of God has come to you and you're too blind to see it. The term "finger of God" in v. 20 is a powerful term, similar in meaning to "hand of God," coming from the time when God's action was seen powerfully during the Exodus (Exodus 31:18) and the giving of the Law before Mt. Sinai (Exodus 8:19).
Overcoming the Strong Man (vv. 21–22)
If Jesus isn't casting out demons by Beelzebul, how's he doing it? He continues with a parable explaining the spiritual dynamics of what's going on when he casts out demons. He tells a brief story of a wealthy man whose home contains rich treasures, so rich that he hires armed guards to protect it. No one's able to break in by stealth, only by greater strength. So when a stronger force attacks the armed guards and disarms them, the house's contents can be looted. It's a story about a superior force overcoming armed might, pure and simple. Jesus casts out demons by his superior power, not by Beelzebul's lesser power. Jesus' power is far superior to Satan's!
[In Warren's commentary on the Parable of the Strongman, he illustrates the conflict between the kingdom of heaven with the kingdom of darkness. The strongman who owns the house is Satan; today’s world is his house; his possessions are people.]
Gather or Scatter? Commitment or Neutrality? (vv. 23–26)
In v. 23, Jesus makes it clear that when mighty forces are arrayed against each other, individuals must take sides or they'll be crushed in the battle. The strong man, the prince of demons, has taken a stand against the Anointed One and his angelic armies of heaven. Jesus' words pose this ultimate question: Are you with me or against me? You cannot straddle the fence.
Next, Jesus relates a narrative, a parable of sorts, a story explaining the necessity for commitment vs. neutrality. Desert places were popularly regarded as the haunts of evil spirits; Jesus pictures this one as wandering through such waterless regions without finding rest. The point is, perhaps, not the dry air but the absence of men from such desert regions, keeping the demon from finding a place to rest. Whatever the significance of the desert places, the demon doesn't find therein a comfortable abode, so he decides to return to his former "house." The demon thinks of the person as a dwelling place. Without a demon's presence, a man's life has become more regular and organized but still empty (v. 25). The point of the parable is to illustrate Jesus' saying, "Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters" (v. 23). There can be no neutrality in a spiritual battle. Here, emptiness represents the lack of commitment, purpose, and focus. There can never be spiritual neutrality.
Blessed Are Those Who Hear and Obey (vv. 27–28)
Our passage concludes with another word about neutrality and commitment. A woman in the crowd is enthralled by this young rabbi. Everyone hears her words: "Blessed is the mother who gave you birth and nursed you." Some smile, some frown. How will Jesus reply? they wonder. Jesus has a wise word to give in response: "Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it" (v. 28).
You would expect Jesus to pause and then say something kind about his mother Mary. Instead, Jesus says the unexpected: Only full commitment will suffice. Neither neutrality, nor emptiness, nor family relationship mean anything here. Jesus' disciples don't follow out of family allegiance or pride. Instead, they commit themselves to hearing God's Word through his Son, and then obeying it.
Why do you follow Jesus? Jesus makes the strong point in today's passage that his true disciples are those who listen ever so closely to discern God's voice and written Word, then putting it into practice. Are you a true practicing disciple? You must be!
Neither can we true disciples compromise our stand. We must surrender to and follow Jesus, helping him in his harvest work; otherwise, by our example, we help to scatter and weaken Jesus' church and his kingdom.
Yes, there are days when we, like Jesus, will be scorned by critics and enemies. But, praise God, we have a great Hope that our critics lack; we have a Strong Man to serve and obey. He is our Lord Jesus.
- Q. 1 Regarding those who hear God's Word and continue to obey it, how committed are you to both?
- Q. 2 Why does Jesus turn around the blessing shouted to him in v. 27? What's he emphasizing?
New International Version (NIV)
[To view it in a different version, click here; also listen to chapter 11]
Jesus and Beelzebul
14Jesus was driving out a demon that was mute. When the demon left, the man who had been mute spoke, and the crowd was amazed. 15But some of them said, "By Beelzebul, the prince of demons, he is driving out demons." 16Others tested him by asking for a sign from heaven.
17Jesus knew their thoughts and said to them: "Any kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and a house divided against itself will fall. 18If Satan is divided against himself, how can his kingdom stand? I say this because you claim that I drive out demons by Beelzebul. 19Now if I drive out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your followers drive them out? So then, they will be your judges. 20But if I drive out demons by the finger of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.
21"When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own house, his possessions are safe. 22But when someone stronger attacks and overpowers him, he takes away the armor in which the man trusted and divides up his plunder.
23"Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.
24"When an impure spirit comes out of a person, it goes through arid places seeking rest and does not find it. Then it says, 'I will return to the house I left.' 25When it arrives, it finds the house swept clean and put in order. 26Then it goes and takes seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there. And the final condition of that person is worse than the first."
27As Jesus was saying these things, a woman in the crowd called out, "Blessed is the mother who gave you birth and nursed you."
28He replied, "Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it."