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The Pharisees Question Jesus - James Tissot (1886-1894)

A demon-possessed man who was blind and mute was brought to Jesus. Jesus healed the man returning his speech and eyesight. All of the people were astonished and said, “Could this really be the Son of David, the Messiah?” The Pharisees heard this and said, “It is only by Beelzebub (Beelzebul), the prince of demons, that this man drives out demons.”

Jesus knew their thoughts and told them:

“Every kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and every city or household divided against itself will not stand. If Satan drives out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then can his kingdom stand?

If I drive out demons by Beelzebub, by whom do your people drive them out. So then, they will be your judges. But if it is by the Spirit of God that I drive out demons, the kingdom of God has come upon you.”

Jesus continued rebuking the Pharisees, explaining:

“How can anyone enter a strong man’s house and carry off his possessions unless he first ties up the strong man? Then he can plunder his house. Whoever is not with me is against me and whoever does not gather with me scatters. And so 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.”

“Make a tree good and its fruit will be good or make a tree bad and its fruit will be bad, for a tree is recognized by its fruit. You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil say anything good? For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of. A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him. But I tell you that everyone will have to give account on the day of judgement for every empty word they have spoken. For by your words you will be acquitted – and by your words you will be condemned.”

What the story means to us today

“Whoever is not with me is against me”

Jesus rebukes the Pharisees - artist unknownJesus’s rebuke of the Pharisees (and to some extent, the crowd of people) is remarkable, both in its message and wisdom. The verses in this story contain a plethora of the most profound and powerful statements Jesus made throughout all his teachings.

The essence of Jesus’ message to the Pharisees is that, as demonstrated by their words, their hearts are evil and they will be judged accordingly. The Pharisees refuse to believe in Jesus and his new message and as Jesus eloquently points out, “whoever is not with me is against me.”

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There is no middle ground with Jesus. Belief in God and adhering to his principles is not optional. Failure to follow Jesus and his teachings with deep dedication is as dangerous as outright opposition.

Additional thoughts and considerations

The significance – and insignificance – of the healing of the blind, mute, demon-possessed man

The healing in this story is given little attention. The writer associates blindness and muteness with demon possession, a common motif in ancient times. However, this time the crux of the story is not the healing but rather, the conflict that arises between Jesus and the Pharisees – and the wavering doubt that lingers in the minds of the people.

“Could this be the Son of David?”

The original text imparts a true awareness that people began to entertain the possibility that Jesus could indeed be the Messiah. It was not a metaphorical question but a true sense of shock. The healings were magnificent – and to be expected from the Messiah. But others before had done similar things and were ultimately called out as frauds. With Jesus, the people begin to seriously consider Jesus as the promised Messiah. However, Jesus’ message did not fall in line with what the people expected from the Messiah. His reworking of Old Testament understanding and emphasis on doing good and treating others with tender love was unexpected. The miracles pointed to a messiah, but the message that Jesus delivered was confusing to the people – they did not expect an overturning of Pharisee’s teachings. In response to the people’s consideration that Jesus could indeed be messianic, the Pharisees counter by accusing him of using demons to do his miraculous works.

Two different audiences

The Pharisees accuse Jesus of using demonic power to drive out demons. Their statement prompts Jesus to rebuke the Pharisees. But remember, there are two audiences present during Jesus’ discourse – the Pharisees and the crowd of people who expressed doubt. Most of Jesus’ statements are directed at the Pharisees but could apply to the crowd of people too.

Jesus’ logic – a divided house cannot stand

Jesus turns the Pharisees accusations on end using a profoundly logical argument. “If my abilities to drive out demons come from the prince of demons, what would be the benefit of such an arrangement?” Logically, what the Pharisees proposed made no sense. “Satan driving out Satan” is a mutually destructive arrangement. Satan would be counteracting his own attempts to attain power over the people

Who will judge the Pharisees

Jesus tells the Pharisees, ‘By whom do your people drive out demons? So then they will be your judge.” Jesus’ miraculous acts far surpassed those of the Pharisees, a primary reason his presence in the region concerned the Pharisees. The question of where his power derives is posed in an attempt to discredit him. To the Pharisees, Jesus asks they consider who grants them the power to perform miracles. Then reminds them that the same entity will ultimately judge them based on their deeds.

If it is by the spirit of God that Jesus drives out demons, then the kingdom of God has emerged in person among the people

Without openly declaring himself the Messiah, Jesus poses a great question to the Pharisees. If Jesus’ power comes from God, then God is now walking among the people. It was a powerful truth that surely struck awe in those present.

How can a strong man be defeated without first tying him up

Pharisees accuse Jesus - Pamela P. Stround (date unknown)Jesus tells the Pharisees, “Look at it this way. How can anyone carry off a stronger man’s possession unless he first binds the strong man? Once bound, then his possessions can be carried from his home.”

Jesus message can be understood in two ways. Firstly, Satan cannot be defeated unless we first defeat his minions. Jesus has already repudiated the logic of the Pharisees’ accusation that his power comes from Satan. Now he reminds them that his acts perfectly align with those of someone working to defeat Satan.

Secondly, Jesus is accusing the Pharisees of attempting to “plunder God’s house” by first attempting to “bind” Jesus with their false accusations. The duality of Jesus’ statement is clever because the statement that follows, “whoever is not with me is against me”, perfectly applies to either interpretation.

Whoever is not with me is against me

A notable saying, “Whoever is not with me is against me” is analogous to Jesus’ other statement, “whoever does not gather with me scatters”. Both relate to Jesus’ message, purpose, and method. Jesus is telling the Pharisees, and the crowd that expressed doubt about him, when it comes to following Jesus, there is no middle ground.

Or is it “whoever is not against us, is with us”?

In these verses, Jesus tells the Pharisees “whoever is not with me is against me”. In other sections of the Bible, the inverse statement is presented – “whoever it not against us is with us”. Some try to portray this as a contradiction.

Applying both statements to the same situation could be considered a contradiction but even then, it would depend on which side of the statement you stood on – whether the statement was directed at a believer in Jesus Christ or a non-believer. However, the two instances in which the differing statements were delivered were completely different circumstances.

In Mark 9:40 and Luke 9:50, Jesus tells his disciples, “whoever is not against us is with us”, but the statement applied to an instance where the disciples were about to stop a person from casting out demons – a man who was not a recognized disciple. Jesus stops the disciples from acting by explaining that the man is doing no wrong. Just because he was not an official disciple did not exclude him from spreading the word and helping others. The declaration could have been delivered in an equivalent statement as: “His purpose and actions are the same as ours and since he’s not against us, he’s for us.”

Blasphemy against God will never be forgiven

Blasphemy is the act of showing contempt or speaking sacrilegiously against God. Jesus tells us that speaking against or insulting Christ is forgivable – but blasphemy against God is an eternal sin – one that can never be forgiven. Does this mean that someone who does not believe in God can never be brought into the fold?

This is a misunderstanding on two counts. First, blasphemy is an outward, aggressive act toward god, not simple misbelief or doubt. Secondly, Jesus specifically words his statement as “blasphemy against the Spirit”. The use of the word “Spirit” likely implies prior recognition or acceptance of God. In other words, blasphemy is the act of a Christian speaking out against God. The severity of the act is clear. A knowledgeable Christian speaking out or insulting God could readily harm anyone whose relationship with God is yet to form or is in its early infancy.

Many people worry about this “unforgivable sin” and question if they may have done so at some point in their lives. An unforgivable sin, in a system that focuses on forgiveness of all trespasses, is indeed unique. If a Christian questions whether they have blasphemed at some point in their lives, they probably have not. The very act of being concerned about the sin shows awareness and recognition of God – the opposite of blasphemy. A more accurate example of blasphemy would be a Christian who ceases their belief in God and proactively attempts to convince others to turn against God by demeaning or denigrating his name. It is akin to turning to Satan even though they recognize that God exists. It’s a purposeful attack against God – an assault that has the potential to turn other souls away from God, and into the arms of Satan.

Make a tree good and its fruit will be good

A good person does good, a bad person does bad. If you make (or encourage) a person to be good, they will do good. In contrast, if you make a person bad, they will do bad. Their actions portray who they are.

Jesus condemns the Pharisees, whose misguided hearts are full of sin, pointing out that given their inner being, they are incapable of doing good. This line of thought leads into the next passage…

From the mouth speaks what the heart is full of

Our actions reflect our feelings and character. The same is true for our language. We are incapable of speaking good and doing good things unless goodness exists within our hearts – and if we want to help a person turn from evil to good, we must work to change their hearts.

The importance of our words

Jesus Denounces the Scribes and Pharisees - etching by Friedrich Ludy (Unknown date)Jesus tells the people that on the day of judgement, they will be held accountable for every “empty word” they have spoken –

“By your words you are acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.”

You must pay attention to the statements you make. Truly analyze your spoken words, even if you feel they are said in a sardonic manner. God sees beyond our words and knows that what we speak reflects what is in our hearts – even if those words seem insignificant, empty, or sarcastic at the time. We must take care to recognize the words that come out of our mouths and relate those words to our true feelings. Often we can come to recognize deep-seated, disguised feelings by the statements we make.

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Jesus’ miracles are recognized – even by the Pharisees

Note that the Pharisees did not accuse Jesus of being a fraud. They did not deny he could perform miracles and supernatural feats. Instead, they attempted to misattribute Jesus’ deeds to Satan. Throughout the Bible, we see many examples of others confirming the miracles and magnificent feats Jesus performed. Despite the devilish accusation by the Pharisees, their action offers further confirmation that the miracles Jesus performed were accurately described in the Bible.

Notes on Biblical translation

“Your sons”

Jesus asks the Pharisees, “If I drive out demons by Satan, by whom do your sons drive them out?” Some translations word this as “by whom do your people drive them out?” Most believe “your sons” (or “your people”) refer to the Pharisees but given the statement that follows Jesus’ question, it could be a reference to the disciples who also drove out demons and healed the sick. Still, it is more likely Jesus is referring to the Pharisees. In other words, Jesus is saying, “If I use demons to drive out spirits then you also used demons to drive out spirits – and demons will be your judge in the end.”

Bible Text

NIV

22 Then they brought him a demon-possessed man who was blind and mute, and Jesus healed him, so that he could both talk and see. 23 All the people were astonished and said, “Could this be the Son of David?”

24 But when the Pharisees heard this, they said, “It is only by Beelzebul, the prince of demons, that this fellow drives out demons.”

25 Jesus knew their thoughts and said to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and every city or household divided against itself will not stand. 26 If Satan drives out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then can his kingdom stand? 27 And if I drive out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your people drive them out? So then, they will be your judges. 28 But if it is by the Spirit of God that I drive out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.

29 “Or again, how can anyone enter a strong man’s house and carry off his possessions unless he first ties up the strong man? Then he can plunder his house.

30 “Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters. 31 And so I tell you, every kind of sin and slander can be forgiven, but blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. 32 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.

33 “Make a tree good and its fruit will be good, or make a tree bad and its fruit will be bad, for a tree is recognized by its fruit. 34 You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil say anything good? For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of. 35 A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him. 36 But I tell you that everyone will have to give account on the day of judgment for every empty word they have spoken. 37 For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.”

The New International Version. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011. Print.

Jesus condemns Pharisees for their religious traditions and hypocrisy - Unknown artistThe NET Bible

12:22 Then they brought to him a demon-possessed man who was blind and mute. Jesus healed him so that he could speak and see. 12:23 All the crowds were amazed and said, “Could this one be the Son of David?” 12:24 But when the Pharisees heard this they said, “He does not cast out demons except by the power of Beelzebul, the ruler of demons!” 12:25 Now when Jesus realized what they were thinking, he said to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself is destroyed, and no town or house divided against itself will stand. 12:26 So if Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then will his kingdom stand? 12:27 And if I cast out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your sons cast them out? For this reason they will be your judges. 12:28 But if I cast out demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God has already overtaken you. 12:29 How else can someone enter a strong man’s house and steal his property, unless he first ties up the strong man? Then he can thoroughly plunder the house. 12:30 Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters. 12:31 For this reason I tell you, people will be forgiven for every sin and blasphemy, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. 12:32 Whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven. But whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.

12:33 “Make a tree good and its fruit will be good, or make a tree bad and its fruit will be bad, for a tree is known by its fruit. 12:34 Offspring of vipers! How are you able to say anything good, since you are evil? For the mouth speaks from what fills the heart. 12:35 The good person brings good things out of his good treasury, and the evil person brings evil things out of his evil treasury. 12:36 I tell you that on the day of judgment, people will give an account for every worthless word they speak. 12:37 For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.”

Biblical Studies Press. The NET Bible First Edition; Bible. English. NET Bible.; The NET Bible. Biblical Studies Press, 2006. Print.

New King James Version

22 Then one was brought to Him who was demon-possessed, blind and mute; and He healed him, so that the blind and mute man both spoke and saw. 23 And all the multitudes were amazed and said, “Could this be the Son of David?”

24 Now when the Pharisees heard it they said, “This fellow does not cast out demons except by Beelzebub, the ruler of the demons.”

25 But Jesus knew their thoughts, and said to them: “Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation, and every city or house divided against itself will not stand. 26 If Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then will his kingdom stand? 27 And if I cast out demons by Beelzebub, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they shall be your judges. 28 But if I cast out demons by the Spirit of God, surely the kingdom of God has come upon you. 29 Or how can one enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man? And then he will plunder his house. 30 He who is not with Me is against Me, and he who does not gather with Me scatters abroad.

31 “Therefore I say to you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven men. 32 Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man, it will be forgiven him; but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit, it will not be forgiven him, either in this age or in the age to come.

33 “Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or else make the tree bad and its fruit bad; for a tree is known by its fruit. 34 Brood of vipers! How can you, being evil, speak good things? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. 35 A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good things, and an evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth evil things. 36 But I say to you that for every idle word men may speak, they will give account of it in the day of judgment. 37 For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.”

The New King James Version. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1982. Print.

The Message

22–23 Next a poor demon-afflicted wretch, both blind and deaf, was set down before him. Jesus healed him, gave him his sight and hearing. The people who saw it were impressed—“This has to be the Son of David!”

24 But the Pharisees, when they heard the report, were cynical. “Black magic,” they said. “Some devil trick he’s pulled from his sleeve.”

25–27 Jesus confronted their slander. “A judge who gives opposite verdicts on the same person cancels himself out; a family that’s in a constant squabble disintegrates; if Satan banishes Satan, is there any Satan left? If you’re slinging devil mud at me, calling me a devil kicking out devils, doesn’t the same mud stick to your own exorcists?

28–29 “But if it’s by God’s power that I am sending the evil spirits packing, then God’s kingdom is here for sure. How in the world do you think it’s possible in broad daylight to enter the house of an awake, able-bodied man and walk off with his possessions unless you tie him up first? Tie him up, though, and you can clean him out.

30 “This is war, and there is no neutral ground. If you’re not on my side, you’re the enemy; if you’re not helping, you’re making things worse.

31–32 “There’s nothing done or said that can’t be forgiven. But if you deliberately persist in your slanders against God’s Spirit, you are repudiating the very One who forgives. If you reject the Son of Man out of some misunderstanding, the Holy Spirit can forgive you, but when you reject the Holy Spirit, you’re sawing off the branch on which you’re sitting, severing by your own perversity all connection with the One who forgives.

33 “If you grow a healthy tree, you’ll pick healthy fruit. If you grow a diseased tree, you’ll pick worm-eaten fruit. The fruit tells you about the tree.

34–37 “You have minds like a snake pit! How do you suppose what you say is worth anything when you are so foul-minded? It’s your heart, not the dictionary, that gives meaning to your words. A good person produces good deeds and words season after season. An evil person is a blight on the orchard. Let me tell you something: Every one of these careless words is going to come back to haunt you. There will be a time of Reckoning. Words are powerful; take them seriously. Words can be your salvation. Words can also be your damnation.”

Peterson, Eugene H. The Message: The Bible in Contemporary Language. Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2005. Print.

King James Version

22 Then was brought unto him one possessed with a devil, blind, and dumb: and he healed him, insomuch that the blind and dumb both spake and saw. 23 And all the people were amazed, and said, Is not this the son of David? 24 But when the Pharisees heard it, they said, This fellow doth not cast out devils, but by Beelzebub the prince of the devils. 25 And Jesus knew their thoughts, and said unto them, Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation; and every city or house divided against itself shall not stand: 26 And if Satan cast out Satan, he is divided against himself; how shall then his kingdom stand? 27 And if I by Beelzebub cast out devils, by whom do your children cast them out? therefore they shall be your judges. 28 But if I cast out devils by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God is come unto you. 29 Or else how can one enter into a strong man’s house, and spoil his goods, except he first bind the strong man? and then he will spoil his house. 30 He that is not with me is against me; and he that gathereth not with me scattereth abroad. 31 Wherefore I say unto you, All manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men: but the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost shall not be forgiven unto men. 32 And whosoever speaketh a word against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven him: but whosoever speaketh against the Holy Ghost, it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world, neither in the world to come. 33 Either make the tree good, and his fruit good; or else make the tree corrupt, and his fruit corrupt: for the tree is known by his fruit. 34 O generation of vipers, how can ye, being evil, speak good things? for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh. 35 A good man out of the good treasure of the heart bringeth forth good things: and an evil man out of the evil treasure bringeth forth evil things. 36 But I say unto you, That every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment. 37 For by thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned.

The Holy Bible: King James Version. Electronic Edition of the 1900 Authorized Version. Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2009. Print.

Sources: NIV, The Message, The NET Bible, King James Version, NET Bible Notes, Faithlife Study Bible, The Apologetics Study Bible, The Bible Knowledge Commentary, Jamieson, Fausset, Brown Commentary, The Bible Reader’s Companion, Matthew Henry’s Commentary, Holman Concise Bible Commentary, The Bible Exposition Commentary, The Teacher’s Bible Commentary, The Teacher’s Commentary, The Bible Guide, Word Studies in the New Testament, Holman Bible Handbook, Calvin Commentaries, Wiersbe’s Expository Outlines, The New Manner and Customs of the Bible, Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary, The Lexham Bible Dictionary, Easton’s Bible Dictionary, Harper’s Bible Dictionary, Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible, The Archaeological Encyclopedia, Biblical Archaeology Review, The New Bible Dictionary, The Lexham Analytical Lexicon, Glossary of Morpho-Syntactic Database
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