Jesus and Satan

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Matthew 12:22-37 (Blasphemy against the Spirit)

INTRODUCTION: Our message series is called Mission and Conflict, and we are nearing the end of our series of messages from Matthew 10-12. Throughout this series we have seen that mission and conflict go together. When you go forth on mission for Christ, you can expect conflict. You can expect opposition from the world and from those who hear your message.

But now in today’s passage, we get to peak behind the curtain and see where all that conflict is actually coming from. There is a driving source behind all this conflict, and his name is Satan. (Read Matthew 12:22-24 and pray.)

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The ultimate conflict behind all other conflicts is the conflict between Jesus and Satan. This conflict was prophesied all the way back in Genesis 3:15 and continues all the way into the book of Revelation. The reason we experience conflict when we are on mission for God is because of this ultimate conflict between Jesus and Satan.

And we see this in the newest conflict that arises between Jesus and the Pharisees in today’s passage. The Pharisees know that Jesus has super-human power to do the things he does, and yet they refuse to acknowledge that his power comes from God. That leaves them with only one alternative, and when they accuse Jesus of being empowered by Satan instead of the Spirit, Jesus tells them they have committed the unforgivable sin.

I. Accusation: Jesus is empowered by Satan (22-24)

The story begins with the healing of a demon-possessed man and with this accusation that Jesus is empowered by Satan. But notice it is not the people in general who accuse Jesus in this way. It is only the leadership, represented here by the Pharisees.

   A. The people wonder if Jesus is the Messiah (22-23)

The people have a very different reaction. The people are astonished at Jesus’ miracle and wonder if Jesus is the Messiah. Look at verses 22-23:

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?” (Matthew 12:22-23)

The Son of David was a common term for the Messiah who would come. The Old Testament prophets foretold that the Messiah would be in the line of David, and so “Son of David” was a common way to refer to the Messiah. When Messiah came, the prophets foretold that he would work miracles, including healing the blind and the mute (Isaiah 35:5-6), and so when Jesus works this particular miracle, the people naturally wonder, “Could this be the Son of David? Could Jesus be the Messiah?”

   B. The Pharisees attribute Jesus’ power to Satan (24)

Well, as we’ve already mentioned, the Pharisees have a completely different reaction to Jesus’ miracle here. Instead of wondering if Jesus could be the Messiah, they dive off the deep end and attribute Jesus’ power to Satan. Look at verse 24:

But when the Pharisees heard this, they said, “It is only by Beelzebub, the prince of demons, that this fellow drives out demons.” (Matthew 12:24)

The word “Beelzebub” means “Lord of the Flies.” It was another name for Satan in those days, and so they were literally accusing Jesus of driving out demons by Satan, the prince of demons.

What are the Pharisees trying to do here? They are seeking to discredit Jesus. They obviously cannot deny his ability to cast out demons. Everyone can see that. But they can cast doubt on the source of his power. The bottom line is they don’t believe Jesus is from God, and yet he clearly has supernatural powers. And so, they accuse him of driving out demons by the prince of demons, Beelzebub, or Satan himself.

II. Reality: Jesus is empowered by the Spirit (25-29)

But the reality is that Jesus is empowered by the Spirit, not Satan. And so, Jesus confronts the Pharisees with reality. And he does this in two ways.

   A. Jesus shows the Pharisees’ accusation makes no sense

First, he shows the Pharisees that their accusation makes no sense.

      1) A kingdom divided against itself cannot stand (25-26)

Look at verses 25-26:

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? (Matthew 12:25-26)

How can Satan drive out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. If a city or house is divided against itself, that city or house cannot stand. And if Satan is divided against himself, then his kingdom cannot stand.

Basically, if Jesus is casting out demons by the power of Satan, then Satan is fighting against himself. But that doesn’t make any sense. It’s like a group of soldiers firing on each other instead of on the enemy. Or let’s say you are in the Super Bowl. You are running for the winning touchdown, you’ve got a clear field ahead of you, when suddenly your own teammates chase you down and tackle you. Or how about a band of bank robbers entering a bank, and the chief bad guy robs his partners instead of the teller?

Well, none of that makes any sense. And that’s what Jesus is telling the Pharisees here. He is telling them, “What you are saying doesn’t make sense. How can Satan drive out Satan? A team has to work together. If Satan drives out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then can his kingdom stand?”

      2) If Satan drives out Satan, how do your people do it? (27)

And then Jesus presses his point even further. Look at verse 27:

“And if I drive out demons by Beelzebub, by whom do your people drive them out? So then, they will be your judges.” (Matthew 12:27)

There were other people who drove out demons in Jesus’ day, and apparently some of them were associated with the Pharisees. Jesus is saying to the Pharisees, “If it’s Satan who drives out Satan, then how do your people do it?” In other words, they weren’t just accusing Jesus with this statement. They were accusing themselves. And so, Jesus says your own people will be your judges.

Jesus confronts the Pharisees with reality first of all by showing them that their accusation makes no sense. A kingdom divided against itself cannot stand. And if Satan drives out Satan, then how do your people do it?

   B. Jesus driving out demons by the Spirit is a sign that God’s kingdom has arrived in Jesus (28-29)

No, the reality is that Jesus is driving out demons by the Spirit, not Satan. And this is a sign that God’s kingdom has arrived in Jesus. Look at verses 28-29:

“But if I drive out demons by the Spirit of God, 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 rob his house.” (Matthew 12:28-29)

In other words, it’s not Satan’s kingdom attacking Satan. It’s God’s kingdom attacking Satan! And that makes a whole lot more sense. The kingdom of God has arrived in the person of Jesus, and the proof is in the miracles themselves. Jesus is driving out demons by the Spirit of God. Jesus is demonstrating his power over Satan and Satan’s kingdom.

Jesus says no one can enter a strong man’s house and carry off his possessions unless he first ties up the strong man. Imagine a strong man armed to his teeth. I mean this guy is built. He’s huge. He works out. Not only that, he’s got an automatic rifle in his hands, and he’s not afraid to use it. If you’re going to rob this guy, you can’t just walk in and start taking things out of his house while he stands by and watches. No, you’re going to have to overpower him and tie him up first. You’re going to have to tie him up good. Then you can rob his house, and he can’t do anything about it. But if you are going to bind the strong man, you better make sure you are stronger than him first.

In these verses Satan is the strong man. Make no mistake. Satan is a powerful, malevolent being. You cannot just walk up to him and start plundering his kingdom. That’s what Jesus is saying here. Jesus could not be robbing Satan’s house by casting out demons unless he had overpowered and tied up Satan first. In other words, Jesus is not controlled or possessed by Satan. Satan is controlled and overpowered by Jesus! Yes, Satan is strong, but Jesus is stronger.

Jesus shows the Pharisees that their accusation makes no sense. Jesus driving out demons by the Spirit of God is not a sign of Satan’s kingdom. It is a sign that God’s kingdom has arrived in Jesus.

III. Judgment: Blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven (30-32)

Next Jesus speaks a word of judgment against the Pharisees.

   A. No middle ground: You are either with Jesus or against him (30)

And he begins by saying there is no middle ground. You are either with Jesus or you are against him. Look at verse 30:

“He who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me scatters.” (Matthew 12:30)

You cannot be neutral about Jesus. If you are not with Jesus, Jesus says you are against him. If you are not gathering with him, that is, if you are not on mission with Christ, then you are scattering or working against him. You cannot avoid a decision about Christ. Not to decide is to decide. When it comes to Jesus Christ, the Son of God, there is no middle ground.

   B. Good news / bad news: All sin can be forgiven except blasphemy against the Spirit (31-32)

And then Jesus shares some good news / bad news. The good news is that all kinds of sins and blasphemies can be forgiven. The bad news is that blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. Look at verses 31-32:

“And so I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the 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.” (Matthew 12:31-32)

The good news is that all kinds of sins and blasphemies can be forgiven. That is really good news. It means that no matter how badly you have sinned against God, God can still forgive you. In fact, even the sin of blasphemy can be forgiven. Blasphemy means deliberately mocking or profaning God, so that’s a pretty bad sin. And yet Jesus says all types of sins and blasphemies of men will be forgiven them. The Bible says that even blasphemy against Jesus can be forgiven! That is really good news.

But, and this is the bad news, Jesus also said, “The blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven…. Anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.” (Matthew 12:31-32) So here we come to the unforgivable sin – blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. If all other blasphemies can be forgiven, this one must be really bad to be singled out as a sin that is beyond forgiveness.

So, what exactly is the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit? It is only mentioned here and in the parallel accounts of the gospels, so we need to get the context from this particular event and from what was happening in this particular circumstance.

We’ve already seen the context. The Pharisees were accusing Jesus of being empowered by Satan rather than the Spirit. And so, it would appear that the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit is attributing the work of the Holy Spirit in Jesus’ life to Satan. It is the blasphemous belief that Jesus was not empowered by God through the Holy Spirit, but that he was in fact a double agent, that he was a servant of darkness and got his power from Satan. Such a hardening of the heart towards God’s work in Christ through the Holy Spirit that you would call it the work of Satan is a blasphemy that will not be forgiven, either in this age or the age to come.

A number of years back a certain atheist web site presented what they called “The Blasphemy Challenge,” where they challenged different people to upload YouTube videos of themselves denying the Holy Spirit. A whole lot of atheists responded to the challenge, and they uploaded their videos, saying “I deny the Holy Spirit.” It was very sad to see and was meant to be shocking. But the irony of it all is I am not so sure they were actually committing the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit, certainly not as Jesus defined it. They were committing a very serious sin, but they were not attributing the Holy Spirit’s work in Jesus’ life to Satan.

In fact, I’m not sure if an atheist is even capable of blaspheming the Holy Spirit the way Jesus defined it. Blasphemy of the Holy Spirit means believing that Jesus was doing supernatural works by the power of Satan rather than God. If you’re an atheist, how can you do that when you don’t believe in Jesus, the Holy Spirit, Satan or God? And so, what these atheists are doing is sad, it is foolish, it is wrong, it is sinful, and if they never come to Christ for forgiveness, they will be judged according to their words. But I do not believe they have actually blasphemed against the Holy Spirit and put themselves beyond God’s forgiveness.

Sometimes people worry that they may have committed the unforgivable sin. But I would say if you are worried about it, then you haven’t done it. If you had truly blasphemed the Holy Spirit, your heart would be so completely hardened against God that you wouldn’t be worrying about whether God could forgive you.

What I would be more concerned about are forgivable sins. You know what’s worse than committing the unforgivable sin? Committing forgivable sins, but then never coming to Jesus Christ for forgiveness. That’s the saddest thing of all.

The Pharisees saw Jesus the Son of God doing good works by the power of the Holy Spirit, and they said he did it by Satan’s power. In so doing, they chose their side for all of eternity. As Jesus said: “Anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.” (Matthew 12:32)

IV. Fruit: Your words reveal your heart (33-37)

Finally, Jesus talks about the importance of fruit in a person’s life, especially as it relates to your speech. Your words reveal your heart, and you will have to give an account for every word you have spoken.

   A. Your words reveal your heart (33-35)

First of all, your words reveal your heart. Look at verses 33-35 where Jesus says:

“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 out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks. 35 The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him.” (Matthew 12:33-35)

How do you tell if a tree is good or bad? You look at the fruit. You don’t dig up the roots buried under the ground because you don’t have to. You can just look at the fruit, and it will tell you everything you need to know.

In the same way your words reveal your heart. How do you know what was in the Pharisees’ hearts? Just listen to their words. They accused Jesus of being empowered by Satan, and that tells you everything you need to know. They weren’t evil because of the words they spoke. Rather the words they spoke revealed the evil that was already in their hearts.

Jesus said out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks. Or as someone once put it: “What’s in the well of the heart comes up through the bucket of the mouth.” If you have good things stored in your heart, then good things are going to come out of your mouth. If bad things are coming out of your mouth, that means you have bad things stored in your heart. Your words reveal your heart.

   B. You will have to give an account for every word you have spoken (36-37)

Your words reveal your heart, and you will have to give an account for every word you have spoken. Look at verses 36-37:

“But I tell you that men will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken. 37 For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.” (Matthew 12:36-37)

Have you ever spoken a careless word? Have you ever said something you wish you could take back? Of course, you have. We all have. But there are no excuses on judgment day. We will all have to give an account for all the words we have spoken. And if even careless words will be brought forward for judgment, how much more the deliberate, wrongful, hurtful words we have spoken.

Jesus said, “By your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.” The good, the bad and the ugly will all be brought forth on judgment day. The Pharisees accused Jesus of being empowered by Satan. Those words would return to them on the day of judgment. And all your words and mine will be brought forth for judgment as well. Thank God for the forgiveness we have in Christ!

CONCLUSION: The ultimate conflict behind all other conflicts is the conflict between Jesus and Satan. Jesus and Satan are not on the same side. And it is blasphemy against the Spirit to suggest otherwise.

When we experience conflict in mission, we need to remember that our battle is not against flesh and blood but against the spiritual forces of darkness. We need to love people while resisting Satan in the power of the Holy Spirit. We need to align ourselves with Jesus who will ultimately win the battle.

There is no middle ground when it comes to Jesus. Everyone has to choose a side. I pray that you will choose wisely.

© Ray Fowler

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