Let us open in Gods Word with the gospel of Mark, chapter 3, and we consider verses 19b-27:
And they went into an house. And the multitude cometh together again, so that they could not so much as eat bread. And when his friends heard of it, they went out to lay hold on him: for they said, He is beside himself.
And the scribes which came down from Jerusalem said, He hath Beelzebub, and by the prince of the devils casteth he out devils.
And he called them unto him, and said unto them in parables, How can Satan cast out Satan? And if a kingdom be divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house be divided against itself, that house cannot stand. And if Satan rise up against himself, and be divided, he cannot stand, but hath an end. No man can enter into a strong man’s house, and spoil his goods, except he will first bind the strong man; and then he will spoil his house.
When we turn back to the first verse of this gospel, we see Mark’s purpose in writing this book: “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” It was Mark’s goal from the very beginning to demonstrate that Jesus of Nazareth is the Christ, that is, the Messiah, and is the Son of God. And repeatedly, as we have gone through this book, we face the question: Who is He?
In our text, we have two answers to that question, one from His friends and one from the scribes who have come to destroy Him. The friends say, “He is beside Himself, He’s mad.” The Jewish leaders say, “He’s possessed by the devil, He’s bad.” Who is He? That is the question that is answered in the text for this message.
We look at these verses under the theme: “A Conflict of Two Kingdoms.”
The opposition to Jesus through His friends and the scribes
We have in the text before us two unbelieving responses to Jesus. The first comes from His friends. “The multitude cometh together again, so that they could not so much as eat bread. And when his friends heard of it, they went out to lay hold on him: for they said, He is beside himself.”
Jesus had gone into a house with His disciples (v. 19), He was swarmed by a multitude (v. 20), and the multitude was so pressing upon Him in the house that He and His disciples could not even eat a meal. They followed Jesus and they swarm into the house with Him uninvited, so that Jesus and His disciples cannot get to the place where the food is stored. They cannot sit for a meal. They cannot find each other in the midst of this pressing multitude. It is so bad that Jesus’ health and physical well-being are in jeopardy. That is why, in verse 21, His friends came, and why, later in the chapter, His mother and His brothers came.
They come (v. 21) well-intentioned and concerned for the physical well-being of Jesus. In their minds, His religious fervor is going to bring His demise. (And we know it is.) They see Him as a madman, crazy. This is not the Jesus they once knew, when He was Joseph the carpenter’s son and He worked with His father. He is driven now by something else. And we see their concern in this, that when they were going to take Him by force, they were willing to take Him back to their own home. If they did not care about Him, they would leave Him. Who wants a madman in their personal care and custody?
So, what we have here is unbelief, one of the faces of unbelief. This is a refusal to see who Jesus was. In response to the question whether this was the Son of David that the multitude was pressing, they said, “No! He’s just a crazy man.”
Now, we know from the Gospels that Jesus was rejected not only by His own countrymen in Nazareth, but also by His own family members. John, chapter 7, tells us that as Jesus’ ministry comes to a close, His brothers believed not. These are the people who actually knew that, yes, this was the Son of David. But this just was not how they envisioned the work of the Messiah. So they said, “He’s beside Himself, He’s mad.”
This rejection was a real part of the suffering of Jesus Christ. He was rejected of His own. He could not sit down with His own family members and explain this to them. They would not hear it.
This kind of unbelief is not unlike the rejection of the gospel that you find today in liberal Christianity that says that Jesus was a man, that there is a real Jesus but He was just a man, probably a little fanatical and a little over the top about His religion, but we admire Him for His dedication, and we especially admire Him for His teaching. That is the Jesus of modern Christianity and of American religion today (at least what calls itself Christian). Jesus is a man, but just a little too fanatical. The Christ of the gospel is rejected and the gospel itself is lost.
But there is another face of unbelief in the text here. We see it in the second answer to the question, “Isn’t this the Son of David, the Messiah?” It comes from the scribes. That is the way they are described here in verse 22: “And the scribes which came down from Jerusalem.” These are religious leaders who are specialists in the Old Testament law. These scribes belong to the party of the Pharisees. And they come with the clear intent (as we saw in verse 6) to destroy Jesus. Their accusation is laced with hatred. These are the ones who are jealous of Jesus. Their minds are made up and they are prejudiced. As soon as they hear the question, “Isn’t this the Son of David?” they have an answer. You see their answer in verse 22 where they say, “He hath Beelzebub,” that is, they say He is possessed. And the point of the vicious accusation that they are making here is this, that Satan himself is the demon that possesses Jesus, and that Jesus is operating here (casting out demons) as the prince of demons. That is the meaning in verse 22 that “by the prince of devils casteth he out devils.” The idea is simply this, that their opinion is that the demons that controlled all other demons, the Devil himself, Satan, has possessed Jesus. That is their answer to the question: Is He the Son of David? Is He just, perhaps, a madman? They said, “No! He is possessed by the Devil himself!”
The second part of their opinion is that Jesus operates as a sorcerer, a necromancer, someone who has access to dark magic, and that it is by this means that Jesus is casting out these demons. You see, there is something here that they could not deny. What they could not deny was the miracles of Jesus, especially in the immediate context here. A man possessed with a demon, who was also blind and dumb and deaf. And he was healed! It was undeniable. How could you explain this? The people asked, Is this the Son of David? And they said, No! He is an operative of Satan himself. He uses His demonic powers to dupe the multitudes.
Now, if you look down to verses 28-30 you see that Jesus calls their accusation blasphemy against the Holy Ghost and the unpardonable sin. I plan to come back to that in the next message. But here I want to point out the seriousness of this accusation that they make against Jesus. Of all the things that are ever said about Jesus in the Gospels, this is the worst! It must be the worst because Jesus says: “All blasphemies against the Son of man shall be forgiven but not this one.” That is how serious this is.
It is aggravated by the fact that as religious leaders they promote this opinion among the people. These were men of power and influence. They came not just to intimidate Jesus, but also to scare and to warn the people. This is their answer to “Is this the Son of David?” No, He is possessed of the devil, He is operating as the prince of demons. So, the people will think, “Oh, this is how we should be thinking of Jesus? Well, then He is a very dangerous man.”
Again, this opposition to Jesus is a part of His suffering, a part of His suffering for us. In fact, it is this suffering at the hands of the Jewish leaders that will lead to His crucifixion. They will be the ones who call for His crucifixion.
The explanation from Jesus (He tells two brief parables)
The answer that Jesus gives to these Jewish leaders here indicates that He is very aware of this, that this is His suffering. On the one hand, His answer is very clever. He turns the tables to show that not He is the operative of Satan but they are the true operatives of Satan. But, on the other hand, His answer shows that He understands that He has entered into the world for exactly this conflict. This is why He has come. In this moment Jesus is very conscious of this, that He is the Seed of the woman who has come to crush the head of the serpent.
Jesus’ answer begins in verse 23: “How can Satan cast out Satan?” Then, notice that He spoke to them in parables. We have in the verses following two parables. They are intended by Jesus to illuminate, or make very clear, His answer, so that they would understand it. In the next chapter we are going to come to the parables of Jesus. There is a common misunderstanding about the parables, that the parables were used by Jesus as a kind of riddle to obscure what He was really saying. That is not the parables. The complete opposite is true. That is evident right here. Jesus uses these parables to make something very obvious to the Jewish leaders. And that is the point, of course, of an illustration. So Jesus uses these two parables here to make an irrefutable point. And these parables are very simple and easy to understand.
With the first one, the parable of a divided kingdom and a divided house, Jesus showed that their argument is absurd, that it makes no sense. Then, with the second parable, the one of binding the strong man, He shows that what He is doing does make sense.
The first parable, verses 24, 25: “If a kingdom be divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand.” Jesus is saying, “Imagine a kingdom in which there is civil war. That civil war goes on and on. And as it goes on and on and creates a division in the kingdom, well that kingdom will collapse.”
Verse 25, a similar illustration: “If a house be divided against itself, that house cannot stand.” Now, think of fighting in a family or marriage, and that goes on for years and years. Jesus is saying that it will eventually end in divorce and the disintegration of that family unit. He says, “Your argument that my casting out demons in the devil’s name as the prince of demons, that is absurd. Satan and demon-possession come because he wants to establish dominion. What I am doing here in casting out demons obviously breaks the dominion of Satan. Look at this man here. Demon-possessed, blind, dumb, and I have come to set him free. So, what you are saying doesn’t make sense, it’s absurd.”
Then, it is as if He says to them, “Let me help you make sense of what I am doing.” That is the second parable or illustration in verse 27, “Let me make sense to you of what I am doing.” He says, “No man can enter into a strong man’s house, and spoil his goods, except he will first bind the strong man; and then he will spoil his house.” Here is a parable with different elements. Who is the strong man? Well, the strong man is Satan. Who or what are the possessions of this strong man? They are all those who are under the dominion and under the watch of Satan, all who are under the power of sin. Who is the one who has come to break into the strong man’s house and to spoil his house, to break his dominion, to free his captives? Jesus is saying, “This is me. This is what I am doing. This is why I have come, to disarm the strong man, Satan, to destroy the works of darkness, to free those who are held captive by sin, to liberate them, to make them my own. This is what I am talking about. This is why I have come.”
This beautiful second parable really shows us three things. First, it demonstrates to us the character of the work of Jesus Christ as warfare. He has come as a man of war. This, of course, is representative of the conflict of the ages that comes in the very first promise of the gospel in Genesis 3:15 when God says, speaking to the devil: “I will put enmity between thee and the woman, between thy seed and her seed.” Jesus comes as the arch-enemy of Satan, not as an operative of Satan. Jesus is saying, “This is why I’ve come, I’ve come to bind the strong man.” Now, of course, this is what you would expect. Jesus did not come simply to say nice things to the people who had problems in their life. He came to deal with the root of these issues: sin. He came to conquer sin. He came to free them from the bondage of sin and of Satan, and to do that He begins by binding the strong man, Satan. The kingdom of God has come. He comes preaching the kingdom.
The second thing that this shows us is this: If you oppose Jesus the man of war, then you are with Satan in his opposition. That is what Jesus is saying by this parable to the Jewish leaders. He turns the tables here, and their silence indicates their conviction.
But, third, we have in the second parable a wonderful setting forth of the good news of the gospel. First, He binds the strong man, then He sets the captives free. You think about that with regard to Jesus going to the cross and Jesus conquering sin and conquering Satan and overcoming death, removing the curse, liberating the captives. Let me read two other passages in the New Testament. The first is Hebrews 2:14, 15. In the context here Jesus is called the Captain of our salvation. This is what Hebrews says: “That through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil; and deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage.” Here He is breaking into the strong man’s house. The devil is the ruler of the darkness of this world, the prince of this world, and Jesus comes, breaks into his house, binds the strong man, and sets the captives free. The other passage is I John 3:8b. The context here is the bondage of the power of sin. We are talking here about sanctification. Here He says, “For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil.” Then, look at how it continues: “Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for his seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God (v. 9). How does He destroy the works of the devil? He gives us new life. And that is what Jesus is saying here when He says, “I’ve come to bind the strong man so that I may take possession of my own.”
The significance for us
So, what is the significance of this passage for us today? I want to say three things in closing.
First, that really set forth in this passage very clearly is the biblical truth of the antithesis, the war, the conflict that exists throughout the ages between light and darkness, the people of God and the people of the seed of the serpent. This conflict has been here from the very beginning, and it will continue till the very end. We are at war. It is expected. Listen to what Jesus says in the gospel of Matthew, chapter 10, verses 34-36: “Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword. For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law. And a man’s foes shall be they of his own household.” There is a war! We are engaged in this war.
That is the antithesis—light against darkness, truth against the lie, right against wrong, heaven against hell, Satan against Christ. And we are engaged in that war, that conflict. We find it in ourselves, especially in this way, that we feel a personal struggle in our own hearts with sin. We wrestle. We do not wrestle against flesh and blood. That is, the enemies are not armies, but there is a spiritual warfare that Paul recognizes in Romans 7 when he says, “I delight in the law of God, but I find another law in my members.” So this is war between the law of sin and the law of God. And this conflict has an end. That is the point of this parable. Jesus is coming to bind the strong man. It is something like, I will say, a game of chess. Checkmate has taken the piece already. There are a few remaining moves that the opponent may make, but he has lost already. So it is in this war. Satan, the strong man, has been bound. Sin will be overcome.
But then, the second thing that we should notice here as significant is this. The side that you are on in this warfare comes down to what you say about Jesus. Not just what you say, but your view of Jesus. That is the great question here: Who is He? We have in the text over against true faith (which says Jesus Christ, the Son of God, come into the world to bind Satan and to set sinners free) two kinds of unbelief. The one kind of unbelief is quite charitable. It labels Jesus as a religious fanatic. These people appreciate Him. They care about Him. But they will not say that He is Jesus, the Son of God. They will not believe it. That, of course, is the opinion of thousands today who walk in unbelief. Then the other kind of unbelief here, filled with venom, says He is not mad, but bad, Satanic. The one group says He is mad, the other says He is bad.
Jesus Christ, God’s Son. And the question before all of us in this message, indeed before every man, is this: Who is Jesus Christ? You see, the most important thing for us in response to the gospel is this: What do you say about Jesus? The most important thing is not whether you felt edified by the sermon and whether all the points in the sermon lined up with your thinking. The most important thing is this: What do you say of Jesus? Who is He? When Paul preached, he said in I Corinthians, “I determined to know nothing among you, save Jesus Christ and him crucified.” Our passage presents us here with what one commentator called a tri-lemma (not a dilemma). You have to say something about Jesus. Do you say He is mad, a religious fanatic? Do you say He is bad, an agent of Satan? Then you are deceived in unbelief. Jesus Christ, God’s Son, our Savior, our Lord.
The third thing we want to say, and with this we close, about the significance of this is that what is presented to us in this passage is amazing. What a wonderful Savior! The suffering and the opposition that Jesus endured here is our suffering. And He is so deeply aware of that. That is the point of the parable, is it not? He has come to bind the strong man, He has come to free us from the tyranny of Satan and from the bondage of sin. And going forward in His ministry, He knows precisely what that will entail. His friends and His disciples do not understand it. His family does not understand it. But this is the cross. In the end it is a rejection not just by unbelievers, but a rejection of Jesus Christ by all. He is forsaken of His own. And it is especially this, that He is forsaken by His Father: “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” There is so much humility here, but at the same time, there is courage and resolve. Wonderful Savior!