Upon being accused of having a demon, and using demonic power to cast out other demons, Jesus’ response in Mark 3 is familiar but confusing:
22 And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem were saying, “He is possessed by Beelzebul,” and “by the prince of demons he casts out the demons.” 23 And he called them to him and said to them in parables, “How can Satan cast out Satan? 24 If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. 25 And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. 26 And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but is coming to an end. 27 But no one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man. Then indeed he may plunder his house.
I’ve heard this verse used as a tactic in spiritual warfare: You speak to the “strong man” in a demonized person, binding him in Jesus’ name, so that you can get past the demonic influence and deal with the person directly.
I do believe there are people today who are oppressed by demons, just as there were in Jesus’ day, and that at times believers should cast out demons in Jesus’ name. But I don’t think Jesus is giving us tips here on how to do that. He’s telling us something bigger and better.
Let’s look at his argument. Remember, he’s answering an accusation: that his power to cast out demons comes from Satan. He gives two statements as a response:
- Satan can’t cast out Satan; if he were divided against himself his house could not stand (vv. 23-26). In other words, the accusation that Jesus uses Satan’s power to fight Satan is absurd on its face.
- But no one can enter a strong man’s house and take his property without first binding the strong man (v. 27).
Notice his use of house in both points. What’s clear is that Satan’s house is in trouble: he’s losing his kingdom, his influence. Jesus says the house isn’t crumbling because of an attack from the inside (point 1); instead, someone is coming in from the outside, binding the owner of the house, and taking his stuff (point 2). Jesus is saying, “I’ve bound the strong man.”
This interpretation makes the best sense of the situation: Jesus isn’t being asked how to cast out a demon; he’s being challenged on the authority by which he casts out demons. In response, he says in effect, “My power most assuredly doesn’t come from Satan. In fact, I’ve overpowered Satan, defeated him, and I’m bringing his whole house down.”
It also fits well with how Jesus describes his mission elsewhere:
- In the parallel passage in Matthew, he says that his casting out of demons by the Spirit proves that “the Kingdom of God has come upon you” (Matt 12:28).
- In Luke 10, when the disciples return rejoicing that the demons submit to the name of Jesus, he replies “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven” (Luke 10:18). In other words, the demons submitting to Jesus’ name proves that Satan has been dethroned.
- In John 12, as Jesus realizes that his death and resurrection are imminent, he says, “Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out” (John 12:31).
In his life, death, and resurrection, Jesus has defeated Satan. Yes, he still “prowls about like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour,” but that’s because “he knows his time is short.” Our King’s victory– and therefore ours– is already accomplished. The strong man is bound, and very soon he will trouble us no longer.