A Possible Ambush, A Great Change, Matthew 12:22-28

Perhaps you have heard the advice that if you don’t have a good, sound argument, then find an argument that sounds good. Anyone interested in American politics sees that ploy in use all the time. But you can find people in the Gospels trying the very same tactic on Jesus.

The Jewish religious leaders, led by the scribes and Pharisees, had a problem on their hands. They had given a name to their pain, and that name was Jesus. We already know they were working on a plot to kill him (Matthew 12:14), but they had to be careful about his death to avoid any blame.

Might there be another way to stop Jesus?

Matthew 12:22-28

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.

Commentary

When you read this, the Dallas Cowboys will be preparing for the playoffs. As every football fan knows, when you have a powerful opponent, it is vital to scout them thoroughly and try to find some way to attack them. The Pharisees and their allies had been scouting Jesus from the beginning, but his abundant miracles, both healings and exorcisms, gave their efforts special urgency.

It is my opinion that the events we are looking into today may have been an ambush. The Pharisees knew Jesus would perform an exorcism, if the need arose, and they had prepared an argument that they hoped would place him in such danger that his life could be taken according to the law. Practicing magic or sorcery was a capital offense under Jewish religious law, so one promising line of attack was to convince the public that Jesus was a sorcerer.[1] Such a charge would put him on the wrong side of Roman law as well. As in the trial and crucifixion of Jesus, Roman consent was necessary to execute anyone, but an aroused mob needs no consent. While this is speculation on my part, it fits the circumstances as we know them.

Matthew reports the miracle with remarkably few words (verse 22). Yet the few words present a man in abject misery, having an ongoing experience of blindness and inability to speak due to a demonic presence within him. This man is an archetype for a prisoner of Satan. Though the details are not stated, we can infer that Jesus cast out the demon, and muted it as well, because Mark informs us that, upon seeing Jesus, the unclean spirits would cry out, You are the Son of God (Mark 3:11). Jesus freed this man so he could both see and speak (Matthew 12:22).

Yet the words Matthew reports are those of the astonished witnesses: Could this be the Son of David? (verse 23). France notes that this is the first time in Matthew’s Gospel a crowd has used explicit messianic language about Jesus.[2] The significance of the crowds reaction is not lost on the Pharisees! They immediately respond with their prepared charge: It is only by Beelzebul, the prince of demons, that this fellow drives out demons (verse 24). Beelzebul seems to have been a popular nickname for Satan, a name chosen for the crowds ears.

In making his first counterargument (verses 25-26), Jesus too relies on what is common knowledge; a demon king attacking his own forces would divide his own kingdom and lead to its fall. The people knew all about how internal divisions had torn Herod’s kingdom into many pieces after his death (see the map in the introduction). So, it made no sense for Satan to attack himself by empowering Jesus exorcisms.

How does unity among Christians play a vital role in accomplishing Jesus work among us and in our community? What about the effect of disunity?

Jesus makes his second counterargument in verse 27; his opponents have no right to criticize his exorcisms while approving exorcisms done by their own disciples.[3] Do not fail to notice verse 27b: So then, they will be your judges. In the final judgment, when the deeds of every person are evaluated by God, the disciples of the Pharisees will testify that they performed exorcisms on orders of their masters, bringing them shame for criticizing Jesus.

The idea that these false charges against Jesus were orchestrated finds support in Jewish sources making the same charge of sorcery or magic against Christians working miracles well into the second century after Christ came.[4] One such Jewish source talks about an early second-century rabbi who, when near death, tried to get a second rabbi to let a Christian enter and pray for him, but he died before he could finish the argument.[5] We all want miracles!

The Arrival of God’s Promised Rule

Matthew 12:28 But if it is by the Spirit of God that I drive out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.

My guess is that the Pharisees were not expecting Jesus to meet their prepared charge with a strong defense. Worse for them, Jesus took the offensive (verse 28) with an effective, though indirect, claim to cast out demons by the Spirit of God. His audience knows what he is claiming, but his wording offers no effective way to charge him with anything.

This skirmish between Jesus and the Pharisees has the appearance of a strictly earthly struggle for religious control of Galilee, but Jesus is revealing developments in a much larger conflict. Jesus is ripping away parts of Satan’s kingdom and making them part of his own. He pulls back the concealing drape in verse 28.

The if-statement in verse 28 has a form meaning that it must be taken as true for the sake of argument. As a matter of fact, we know the if-statement to be true. Jesus does drive out demons by the Spirit of God. That means the matching conclusion is true as well: then the kingdom of God has come upon you (verse 28b). Jesus is warning his opponents that his decisive victory over the demonic spirits by the Spirit of God is a clear sign that God’s rule has come through him. To oppose Jesus is to oppose God.

What are the implications of such an effortless victory by Jesus over Satan? What does this victory say about Jesus ability to help you defeat spiritual enemies in your own life?

The person who best develops the meaning of the phrase the kingdom of God has come upon you (verse 28) is Darrell Bock of Dallas Theological Seminary when he explains Luke 11:20. Bock points out that Jesus demonstration of saving authority demands a decision: Jesus is perceived as ruling over God’s many salvation benefits. He has the authority to distribute them to anyone who responds to his message.[6] Bock points out that the presence of Jesus rule within believers, through the indwelling Holy Spirit, looks forward to his coming physical rule over the earth.

Have you made a decision about the reign of Jesus over your life? If not, what is standing in your way?

Copyright 2017 Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.

[1]Craig S. Keener, A Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew(Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1999) 361.

[2] R. T. France, The Gospel of Matthew, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2007)477.

[3] Keener, Matthew,363.

[4] Keener, Matthew, 362.

[5] Keener, Matthew, 362.

[6] Darrell L. Bock, Luke 9:51-24:53, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1996), 1081.

Exposition of Daniel 10:10-14 The angelic front of the Great War

Daniel 10:10–14

10 A hand touched me and set me trembling on my hands and knees. 11 He said, “Daniel, you who are highly esteemed, consider carefully the words I am about to speak to you, and stand up, for I have now been sent to you.” And when he said this to me, I stood up trembling.

12 Then he continued, “Do not be afraid, Daniel. Since the first day that you set your mind to gain understanding and to humble yourself before your God, your words were heard, and I have come in response to them. 13 But the prince of the Persian kingdom resisted me twenty-one days. Then Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, because I was detained there with the king of Persia. 14 Now I have come to explain to you what will happen to your people in the future, for the vision concerns a time yet to come.”

The angelic front of the Great War

Since Daniel proved unable to hear the voice of the Messiah, an angelic messenger lifts him to his feet while declaring that he has “now been sent” (verse 11) to explain things that Daniel is commanded to understand. Though still trembling, Daniel is strengthened to listen and learn.

What the angel reveals is astonishing because it describes spiritual activity — both influence on specific people and conflict with one another — that goes on all the time but is unseen by humanity. The angel reassures Daniel and explains that his humble heart triggered a response from heaven on day one of his fast (verse 12)! So, why did it take 21 days for the message to arrive? The answer is that the angel was resisted by “the prince of the kingdom of Persia” (verse 13). Wood explains, “These matters taken together show that this adversary was a demon, no doubt of high rank, assigned by the chief of demons, Satan, to Persia as his special area of activity.”[1] If that sounds odd, recall that Cyrus, king of Persia, is the one who returned many Jews to Jerusalem and whose further decisions would affect their welfare. The entirety of Revelation 12 tracks the attempts of Satan to attack the Jews, kill the Messiah and dominate the earth, so influencing Persian policy was vital!

The messenger-angel was not able to reach Daniel, a subject of king Cyrus of Persia, until greater angelic power was brought to bear in the person of Michael, “one of the chief princes” (verse 13). The standard Hebrew lexicon says that here prince means “a higher being, a guardian angel.”[2] Miller summarizes: “From this passage several important facts are evident concerning angels: (1) angels are real; (2) there are good and evil angels; (3) angels can influence the affairs of human beings. Particularly, this passage teaches that angels inspire human governments and their leaders.”[3] From this conclusion we can understand why Paul commands Christians to pray “for kings and for all those in authority” (1 Timothy 2:2) no matter how we may feel about them. Our lives may depend on it!

In a book that emphasizes God’s rule over all things, it is vital to know that he rules over the unseen realm as surely as over the part we plainly see. His temporary tolerance of rebellion, both human and angelic is no sign of weakness or disinterest. Miller quotes a wise statement by Old Testament scholar Gleason Archer: “‘While God can, of course, override the united resistance of all the forces of hell if he chooses to do so, he accords to demons certain limited powers of obstruction and rebellion somewhat like those he allows humans. In both cases the exercise of free will in opposition to the Lord of heaven is permitted by him when he sees fit.’”[4] Of course, even limited rebellion has serious consequences as the punishment of the Jews amply demonstrates!

Verse 14 describes the scope of what the angel came to tell Daniel. He will explain future events that involve “your people” (the Jews). These events are said to be “in the future” (NIV), but, in fact, the phrase means “in the latter days,” as we said in connection with Daniel 2:28. Miller explains, “Normally the phrase describes events that will occur just prior to and including the coming of the kingdom of God upon the earth.”[5]

We will soon discover that the angel’s message focuses on Antiochus IV Epiphanes (who ruled 175 B.C. to 163 B.C.) and his Satanic, end-times counterpart the Antichrist. Both men were of interest to Daniel, but the second one is our chief concern today.

Copyright © 2015 Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.

[1] Wood, Daniel, 272.

[2] HALOT, sar, prince, q.v.

[3] Miller, Daniel, 285.

[4] Miller, Daniel, 286, quoting G. Archer, Daniel, 125.

[5] Miller, Daniel, 286–7.

Exposition of 1 Corinthians 10:14-22 Two kinds of partnership

1 Corinthians 10:14-22

14 Therefore, my dear friends, flee from idolatry. 15 I speak to sensible people; judge for yourselves what I say. 16 Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ? 17 Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all share the one loaf.

18 Consider the people of Israel: Do not those who eat the sacrifices participate in the altar? 19 Do I mean then that food sacrificed to an idol is anything, or that an idol is anything? 20 No, but the sacrifices of pagans are offered to demons, not to God, and I do not want you to be participants with demons. 21 You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons too; you cannot have a part in both the Lord’s table and the table of demons. 22 Are we trying to arouse the Lord’s jealousy? Are we stronger than he?

In the previous lesson we spoke of covenant loyalty between Christ and his people. Garland points out how utterly unique that was in Roman Corinth: Pauls insistence on exclusive loyalty to a religion was something uncommon in paganism. People were accustomed to joining in the sacrificial meals of several deities, none of which required an exclusive relationship.[1]

The technical term for mixing parts of a number of religions is syncretism, and it also characterizes many postmodern faith choices. Many contemporary people — even some atheists — blithely chose elements from a smorgasbord of faiths.

To all these pluralistic tendencies, whether ancient or modern, Paul says, Flee from idolatry (1 Cor. 10:14). He has been working toward this conclusion throughout chapters 8-10. In verse 15, Paul appeals, probably without irony, to these sensible people to judge his words carefully.

Paul will demonstrate that the Corinthians have failed to understand the nature of the spiritual community that exists in the sacred meal established by Jesus (i.e. communion) and the religious meals celebrated in idol temples. Obviously, the two questions in verse 16 expect the answer yes. Twice in verse 16 the NIV uses the English word participation to translate the Greek noun koinonia. Thiselton expands that slightly to say communal participation and explains that here it denotes having an active common share in the life, death, resurrection, and presence of Jesus Christ as the Lord who determines the identity and lifestyle of that in which Christians share.[2] That rich meaning is quite different from the mere idea of social fellowship that many evangelical Christians associate with koinonia.

Verse 17 is very difficult because it carries a lot of symbolism. The one loaf is Jesus Christ; recall that Jesus held the bread at the Last Supper and said, “Take and eat; this is my body” (Matt. 26:26). By sharing in the one loaf, we, who are many, are one body (1 Cor. 10:17b). This fact also shows how ridiculous it is for divisions to exist in the Corinthian church.

Even though the final paragraph (verses 18-22) begins with Israel, that is merely a jumping off point to talk about feasts dedicated to idols. Paul begins by establishing that those in Israel who ate the sacrifices were participants (Greek koinonia again) in the altar (1 Cor. 10:18). Some believe verse 18 refers to the God-ordained sacrifices (e.g. Lev. 10:12-15), while others believe this is a description of certain Israelites participating in sacrifices to idols, a practice totally forbidden by God. Either way, the answer to Pauls question is yes; those who eat the sacrifices are participants in the altar.

Verse 19 tells us that idolaters are not actually worshipping a god that exists, so the sacrifices honor no actual god. But at this point, in verse 20, Paul drops the bomb on Corinthian practices! By participating in banquets dedicated to idols, the Corinthians are actually joining themselves to demons; the sacrifices of pagans are offered to demons (1 Cor. 10:20). Idols are nothing, but demons are real indeed!

Paul tells the Corinthians they cannot have it both ways. They cannot be partners with demons and united to Christ at the same time! (1 Cor. 10:21). If they continue down that path, the jealousy of the Lord will utterly sweep them away (1 Cor. 10:22).

Copyright 2013 Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.

 


[1] David E. Garland, 1 Corinthians, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003) 472.

[2] Anthony Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: William. B. Eerdmans publishing Company, 2000) 761.