The Parable of the Strongman

Jesus’ Parable of the Strongman illustrates the conflict between the kingdom of heaven and the kingdom of darkness. The strongman who owns the house is Satan; today’s world is his house; his possessions are people.

In his parable, Jesus likens himself to a robber. Just as a robber breaks into a home and ties up its strong homeowner while carrying off his possessions, Jesus bound the strong adversary and carried away the people. By freeing demon-possessed people from spirits that afflicted them, Jesus was robbing the possessions of the strongman’s house.

Found in all three synoptic gospels, this parable forms part of the Beelzebul controversy, where Jesus’ opponents accused him of gaining his power to exorcise demons by being in the same league as Satan.

Opening page of Warren Camp's 'Parables of Jesus' Bible-study website

par•a•ble [noun] a simple story used to illustrate the meaning of or a moral or spiritual lesson, as told by Jesus in the gospels
synonyms: allegory, moral story/tale, fable

Jesus’ Parable of the Strongman

Matthew 12:22–37; Mark 3:20–29; Luke 11:14–23; 12:10

In today’s parable, the strongman represents Satan while the attacker represents Jesus, who’d been telling the Pharisees that he couldn’t perform exorcisms (demonstrated by stealing the strongman’s possessions) unless he was opposed to, and had defeated, Satan (demonstrated by tying up the strongman). The three gospel accounts are quite similar.

Mark’s account of this parable is the shortest of the three synoptic accounts. It omits two elements included in Matthew and Luke. Mark’s first omission helps provide the parable's context; it’s the story of Jesus healing the blind, mute, demonized man by driving out the demon who’d afflicted him. Mark's second omitted element is the crowd’s response: They were “amazed” (Luke 11:14) and asked, “Could this be the Son of David?” (Matthew 12:23). The "Son of David" was a Messianic title, tantamount to asking, “Could this man be the Messiah?”

All of the essential elements of the Parable of the Strongman are covered in the following commentary. This video presentation, highlighting Matthew and Luke’s gospels, does a great job of putting this parable into context.

Jesus speaks the Parable of the Strongman to the Pharisees.

The Parable of the Strongman

A Story about Jesus’ Attack of the Strongman — Satan 

Matthew 12:22–37; Mark 3:20–29; Luke 11:14–23; 12:10

Jesus spoke this parable during an encounter between him, “the scribes who came down from Jerusalem” (Mark 3:22), and “the Pharisees” (Matthew 12:24). Scribes differ from Pharisees, although some scribes were presumably Pharisees. Scribes were those Israelites who had knowledge of the Mosaic Law and could draft legal documents; every village had at least one scribe. Pharisees were those Israelites who were members of a religious party that believed in the "resurrection of the dead" and in following "legal traditions of their fathers," as opposed to those traditions ascribed to the Bible; historically, most Pharisees were small landowners and traders, not professional scribes.

In Mark’s view, Jesus’ main adversaries in Galilee were scribes, but, according to Matthew, they were Pharisees. These apparently conflicting views can readily be reconciled: Men knowledgeable about Jewish law and tradition would have scrutinized Jesus carefully, and it’s likely that both scribes and Pharisees challenged his behavior and teaching, as the Gospels indicate (e.g., Matthew 9:11; 12:2; Mark 2:6, 16; 3:22).

Although the scribes (in Mark’s account), the Pharisees (in Matthew’s account), and the crowd (in Luke’s account) had just seen Jesus cast out demons, that miraculous act of his failed to stimulate and develop their belief in Jesus being their Messiah. Rather, they’d charged the Lord with operating under the power and authority of Satan (Beelzebul) after they saw Jesus exorcise evil spirits and heal the oppressed. Their argument was that “by the prince of demons (Satan) he is driving out demons” (Mark 3:22). In other words, the reason the demons listened to Jesus was that they were in the same league as he was and recognized him as their commanding officer, so to speak. Their failure to believe in who and what Jesus was documents a spiritual problem in the scribes’ hearts. For us today, no matter how much evidence we’re given for the work of God and the identity of Christ, we don’t believe unless we’re granted new hearts that have the capability to submit to the Lord’s revelation.

Jesus’ response to the scribes and Pharisees indicates that his work was unlike that which other Jewish exorcists performed in those days. He refuted their blasphemous argument with plain logic: “How can Satan cast out Satan?” (Mark 3:23). Jesus rebutted the Pharisees with some logical arguments for why he wasn’t casting out demons using Satan’s power (Matthew 12:25–29). Then he spoke of the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit: “I tell you, every kind of sin and slander can be forgiven, but blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come” (vv. 31–32). He immediately told them his Parable of the Strongman that the video above highlights clearly.

In his response to the scribes, Jesus first spoke of the principle of a “divided kingdom” that cannot stand (vv. 24–26). Then he told them, “No one can enter a strongman’s house without first tying him up. Then he can plunder the strongman’s house” (Mark 3:27). Jesus refers to Satan as the “strongman” and to himself as the One who enters the house and plunders the place. Of course, before Satan allows his domain to be “plundered,” he must become incapacitated. Jesus wasn’t in Satan’s league, as the scribes suggested, but had come to the earth, which is essentially Satan’s “house” (1 John 5:19), in order to bind Satan then plunder his “goods,” which are the souls of men (Luke 14:18; John 17:15; Ephesians 4:8).

Satan’s kingdom was crumbling; Christ had been effectively attacking its very foundations; there was absolutely no way that he could have needed to operate under the devil’s auspices! Our Lord Jesus’s God-enabled victories have been so thorough that if he’d been an agent of Satan, the devil would have been in the position of destroying himself (Mark 3:22–26). Even Satan wasn’t that foolish. Christ was clearly against Satan then, as much as he is today.

In Mark’s account, Jesus furthered his argument against the scribes’ charges by noting that his success was due to his binding (or tying with rope) the “strongman” — Satan — and plundering the devil’s house (v. 27) of his possessions: people. First-century Jews expected the Messiah to “bind the devil.” We see in Isaiah 49:24–26 that God promised to capture the prey of the enemies of his people. Isaiah foresaw a day when the Lord would act decisively to redeem his people and take back what their foes had taken. Isaiah 49 is about the Servant of the Lord; in that chapter we see that this recapturing of what had been lost was a required task of the Servant, the same individual who atoned for the sins of his people (Isa. 53). So, in binding this strongman, Satan, and taking back what that obnoxious enemy had claimed for himself, Jesus proved his messianic calling, demonstrating that he was indeed the one through whom God brings salvation.

The scribes were wrong: Jesus’ exorcisms weren’t acts of Satan! Instead, they were part of a divine rescue mission wherein the Lord liberated men and women from evil Beelzebul’s grasp. Today, we see the Lord Jesus’ work in action, every time a person’s sinful nature is redeemed by the power of the gospel.

In God’s Presence

We dare not underestimate the power and influence of Satan. Neither should we fear him. He’s the strongman whom Jesus has bound; yet, he’s unable to hold on to what rightfully belongs to God and his people. We Christ-followers can testify confidently about how the gospel personally assures us of our salvation; we know that the Lord will use this good news to liberate sinners from the devil’s snare. When we remain very trusting in Christ, we know assuredly that we’re on his side. He’ll give us victory over the devil and all his henchmen. So, going forward, strive to put and keep Beelzebul behind you so you can successfully continue to follow Jesus who’s in front of you, leading your way.

Conflict Between Two Kingdoms

In his Parable of the Strongman, Jesus gives six reasoned arguments when he answered the scribes’ and Pharisees’ accusations.

1. It would be absurd for Satan to oppose himself. Why would he send out demons to torment men, and then make Jesus drive out the demons? To divide his resources against himself would cause his kingdom to fall.

2. Jesus asked them about the Jewish exorcists whom they endorsed. If the religious leaders approved of them allegedly driving out demons, but with the same result as Jesus, what was their source of power? How could they be seen as doing God’s work while Jesus was being viewed as having needed to use Satan’s power?

3. The third argument (as shown in Matthew and Luke’s account only) identifies the true source of Jesus’ power: “But if I drive out demons by the Spirit of God. . .” (Matthew 12:28a) isn’t presented as a remote possibility. It shows the absurdity of the previous suggestion that Jesus was using Satan’s power. Realize that “if” his power source had been the Spirit of God, that realization is consistent with how Jesus continually lived his life: under the Spirit’s power and direction.

4. The parable itself provides essential reasoning. The “strongman,” representing Satan, is strong and armed for battle. “His house” represents his (dark) kingdom, a realm of evil, misery, and death. In his house he has “possessions,” probably seen as people under his control. Like the “demon-possessed” man, the people were Satan’s possessions. Jesus is the “stronger man" who attacked and overpowered the "strongman," tying him up and taking his possessions. He’d just freed a man from Satan’s possession.

5. It all comes down to the matter of one’s allegiance: “He who is not with me is against me...” (Matthew 12:30a; Luke 11:23a). A deliberate choice must be made; being indecisive about believing in and following Jesus amounts to being against him.

6. Jesus’ sixth argument amounts to being a warning about unforgivable sin. Every sort of sin and blasphemy is forgivable, excepting one’s a blasphemy of the Holy Spirit. God will never accept or forgive such a grievous act (Luke 12:10).

A Hearty Way to Apply This Parable Today

In order to effectively weaken an enemy’s power in any battle, we first have to bind or tie up up the opposing strongman. Once we’ve tied him, we can plunder and take control of his house (his realm or kingdom). Those of us who learn these practical and spiritual principles and continually put them into action will be victorious over Satan; that’s a fact that he knows all too well.

We need to understand and fully appreciate that binding the strongman doesn’t mean we’re eradicating all the evil in this world. We know that Jesus is the only one who can and will do that. However, when we expose the strongman and eliminate him from the equation, we remove every bad influence from our lives, the lives of our families, our businesses, our finances, our cities, our nation, and more.

Jesus told his disciples, “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven” (Matt. 16:19). We open the doors to the kingdom of heaven by using the authoritative word that God has placed on our lips. Using that same authority, we’re able to "bind the powers of the enemy, " who’s the adversary that operates in the spiritual realm. Everything that we bind in the spiritual atmosphere is also bound here on earth.

Who can bind?  When you put your faith in Jesus Christ, you have his power and authority to bind evil and loose God’s plans in any situation.

Why do we bind?  Jesus commented on the need to bind evil, explaining in his parable that we must first bind the strongman before we can plunder his house. “Or again, how can anyone enter a strongman’s house and carry off his possessions unless he first ties up the strongman? Then he can plunder his house” (Matt. 12:29).

When to bind or loose?  When we face an evil stronghold in life, we’re obliged to first use our inherited authority — as children of God — to bind the evil forces involved. After that, we can loose, or call forth, God’s plans for restoration. When we bind something, we declare it unlawful (or evil) based on God’s Word. As co-heirs in Jesus Christ, we have his authority to execute this judgment on the forces of evil (Psalm 149:5–9). And, as Jesus warns us in the closing verse of Matthew's Parable of the Strongman account, every one of us must give our personal account to God on the day of judgment “for every empty word we have spoken.” Realize this: There will be a time of reckoning. Words are powerful; take them seriously. Words can be your salvation; they can also be your damnation. Every one of our empty, careless words is going to come back to haunt us (Matthew 12:37). 

May we pray a binding prayer?  “Father, I thank you for sending your Son, Jesus, to die for me, resurrecting him to now sit at your right hand in heaven. I also thank you for bestowing upon Jesus all power and authority over evil. In His name I speak to evil spirits, especially spirits of ___________, ___________, and ___________ ( fill in the blanks). Enable me to bind every evil spirit in my life so that I can prevent its attacking me today. Empower me now to ask Christ Jesus to eradicate every evil spirit. Knowing that I’m covered and protected by Christ’s blood, I thank you Lord for delivering me. Amen.”

“. . . but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven; they are guilty of an eternal sin” (Mark 3:29).

The name Beelzebul or Beelzebub is a name derived from a Philistine god, formerly worshiped in Ekron, and later adopted by some Abrahamic religions as a major demon. The name is associated with the Canaanite god Baal.

Christian theological resources sometimes see Beelzebub as another name for the devil, similar to Satan. He’s known in demonology as one of the seven princes of hell.

— Beelzebul or Beelzebub ( Hebrew: בַּעַל זְבוּב‬ Baʿal Zəvûv)
Blasphemy is generally defined as “defiant irreverence.” The term can be applied to such sins as cursing God or willfully degrading things relating to God.

Blasphemy is also attributing evil to God or denying him that goodness we should attribute to him.

Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit has to do with accusing Jesus Christ of being demon-possessed instead of Spirit-filled. This particular type of blasphemy cannot be duplicated today. The Pharisees were in a unique moment in history: They had the Law and the Prophets, they had the Holy Spirit stirring their hearts, they had the Son of God himself standing right in front of them, and they saw with their own eyes the miracles he performed. Never before in the history of the world (and never since) had so much divine light been granted to men; if anyone should have recognized Jesus for who he was, it was the Pharisees. Yet they chose denial and defiance.

— Blasphemy (Hebrew: בַּעַל זְבוּב‬ Baʿal Zəvûv)
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, . . .”

— Luke 4:18
My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one.

— John 17:15
 This is why it says:
    “When he ascended on high,
     he took many captives
     and gave gifts to his people.”

— Ephesians 4:8
24Can plunder be taken from warriors, or captives be rescued from the fierce? 25But this is what the Lord says:
“Yes, captives will be taken from warriors, and plunder retrieved from the fierce; I will contend with those who contend with you, and your children I will save. 26I will make your oppressors eat their own flesh; they will be drunk on their own blood, as with wine. Then all mankind will know that I, the Lord, am your Savior, your Redeemer, the Mighty One of Jacob.”

— Isaiah 49:24–26
And everyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven.

— Luke 12:10
5Let his faithful people rejoice in this honor
    and sing for joy on their beds.
6May the praise of God be in their mouths
    and a double-edged sword in their hands,
7to inflict vengeance on the nations
    and punishment on the peoples,
8to bind their kings with fetters,
    their nobles with shackles of iron,
9to carry out the sentence written against them —
    this is the glory of all his faithful people.

Praise the Lord.

— Psalm 149:5–9
Evil spirits often have specific functions and names. Examples include but aren’t limited to lust, adultery, pride, despair, strife, anger, unforgiveness, discouragement, condemnation, shame, hate, envy, covetousness, idolatry, homosexuality, suicide, obsession, oppression, domination, control, and witchcraft. These are just a few of the many possible spirits that confront us daily.

— Some of Today’s Evil Spirits