Matthew 12:43–45: The Danger of Neutrality
In Matthew 12:43–45, Jesus’ clash with the scribes and Pharisees that began with his exorcism of demons comes to a head. It is not that Jesus is dangerous because he relies on the power of Beelzebul; rather, it is the unbelieving religious leaders who are in danger because they have encountered the Messiah and seen his power, but yet do not believe in him. Although Jesus’ presence alone brings various blessings, those blessings are temporary apart from genuine faith in him. In fact, for those who come to know Jesus to some degree, but do not believe in him, their condition will be worse than it was at the first. Here, Jesus draws a clear line: whoever is not with Jesus is against him (Matt. 12:30).
1. What has happened in Matthew 12 that leads up to Jesus’ story about the exorcised demon? What do you think the “waterless places” Jesus describes here signifies? Why is the demon unable to find “rest”? What does this tell us about the relentless cruelty of Satan and his unclean spirits? What do you think about demons and demonic activity in this world? How does Jesus push against our low view of demonic activity here?
2. What is it that the demon calls “my house” (v. 44)? What is the condition of that house when the demon returns to it? What does this condition suggest about what this person has done after finding some relief from his or her demonic oppression? In what ways are you tempted to pursue spiritual neutrality? Why does Jesus teach us here about why spiritual neutrality is so dangerous for us?
3. Why does the demon go to recruit seven more demons? What does this tell us about the power and persistence of demons to torment human beings made in the image of God? How does this lead to a worse state than at the beginning? In what ways do you think this might show up in someone’s life? What is the solution that we need in order to defend ourselves against the power of future spiritual attacks?
4. Jesus said a few verses earlier that “Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters” (Matt. 12:30). How does this story teach us more about that claim? What tempts you to try to retain some degree of independence from God’s Holy Spirit? Where are you tempted to put our trust instead? What does Jesus warn us about the powerlessness of those other sources of protection against a demonic onslaught?