Jesus describes a strange truth about demon-possession and likens it to this evil generation.
The parallel gospel account of this teaching is found in Luke 11:24-26.
After Jesus met the challenge of the scribes and Pharisees about giving them a sign to prove that He was the Messiah and His historical rebuke of their lack of faith, He returned to the topic of evil spirits. In the Pharisees’ third challenge against Jesus, they accused Him of casting out demons by the power and authority of the ruler of demons (Matthew 12:24).
Jesus explains what happens when an unclean spirit goes out of a man. The term, unclean spirit, is another name for a demon. Jesus says the demon passes through waterless places seeking rest, and does not find it. It is not certain what Jesus means by waterless places, but from the context it seems to apply to being in a state of not being in a man. This could be a reference to the fact that a human body primarily consists of water. When the unclean spirit is not inhabiting a human, it cannot find rest as it passes through these waterless places. The rest it is seeking appears to be to possess another man to torment.
When it does not find rest, the restless unclean spirit says (possibly to itself) I will return to my house from which I came. After going out of a man, the demon comes back to his house (the man) in order to find rest. And when the unclean spirit returns it finds the man unoccupied, swept, and put in order. The man is spiritually empty and unoccupied. Jesus says that the house is swept and put in order to indicate that the man is ready to be reoccupied. His house is ready to be moved into once again.
But the unclean spirit does not immediately move in as we might expect it to do. Instead, it goes and takes along with it seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there. Instead of moving in immediately, it finds other demon friends more wicked than itself and then they all possess the man together. Perhaps this restless demon, who has been evicted once, recruits reinforcements, to better secure the potential to remain in possession of the man. Instead of being agitated by one unclean spirit, the man is now afflicted with eight evil spirits. Jesus points out the last state of that man becomes worse than the first. It is bad for a man to be the host of one demon. It is worse for that man to be the host of eight.
Jesus then likens this demon-possessed man to this present, evil generation. He says that is the way it will also be with this evil generation. What does Jesus mean by this comparison?
He may be trying to describe the nation of Judea. The account that Jesus just gave about the man, the unclean spirit, and the seven other wicked spirits may have allegorical meaning in addition to being a literal description of supernatural evil.
The metaphor might be as follows. The man is Judea, or the spiritual leaders of Israel, such as the scribes and Pharisees. The unclean spirit is the sin of pagan idolatry, which the children of Israel and both the Northern and Southern kingdoms constantly struggled with until the Babylonian exile. The casting out of the spirit is the Babylonian exile and return under Ezra, Nehemiah, and later the Maccabees when the Jews renewed their commitment to the Law and God’s commandments.
But even as they externally pretended to keep the Law, they did not do so, because they did not obey from the heart. They neglected the core teachings and spirit of the Law. Even as they praised God with their words and external rituals, internally they were empty and unoccupied. When the unclean spirit of paganism returned with the Roman occupation, it found the Jews ready to be repossessed, but instead of merely reinstituting the old forms of Paganism, the unclean spirit also invited seven other demons such as religious legalism, social elitism, and sectarian strife. At which point the Jews were in a worse predicament than they were at the first. If Jesus had something like this in mind, then His point is that this present generation had become worse than the unfaithful generations throughout Israel’s history.
Now when the unclean spirit goes out of a man, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, and does not find it. Then it says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came’; and when it comes, it finds it unoccupied, swept, and put in order. Then it goes and takes along with it seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there; and the last state of that man becomes worse than the first. That is the way it will also be with this evil generation.
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