“The scribes who had come down from Jerusalem said, ‘He is possessed by Beelzebul,’ and, ‘He drives out demons by the ruler of the demons.’ So he summoned them and spoke to them in parables: ‘How can Satan drive out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand.’” (CSB – Read the chapter)
Have you ever been so upset that you didn’t realize what you were saying? You said things and made charges and didn’t give the first consideration to how little sense you were making. It’s a little scary to see someone get that angry, let alone actually hit the mark yourself. It’s also a little funny when you get to watch from afar. In this case it was a lot sad too. Jesus had so gotten under the skin of the Pharisees they were resorting to making wild, offensive charges that didn’t even make sense. And Jesus called them on it.
The scribes and Pharisees knew how God operated. Or, at least, they thought they did. That’s probably not strong enough. They were sure they did. They had studied the Law more closely than anyone else. They had it all memorized. They spent hours studying its various interpretations in the Talmud and debating them. No one ever came up with anything truly new, but man did they know the old stuff well.
Then Jesus came along. Jesus had an incredibly irritating knack of challenging their notions about God at every turn. He kept offering excuses as to why He wasn’t really breaking the Law over and over again, but while He may have been able to fool most of the people, He wasn’t fooling them.
Except, they couldn’t ever out-argue Him. Every time they thought they had Him backed into a corner He would manage to wiggle out of it on some technicality they hadn’t considered.
And as if that weren’t bad enough by itself, Jesus didn’t stop there. If He had, while they would have had plenty of reason to hate Him, it would have likely stopped there. They would have felt the need to continue opposing Him in front of the people, but nothing more permanent than that would have been necessary.
Rather than leaving well enough alone, though, Jesus pressed on and made more and more grandiose claims about Himself. These kept running up against the line of heresy in their eyes, but they didn’t go sailing over the edge. Finally, though, Jesus went beyond any hope of return. He was an incorrigible heretic who was defaming God in front of all the people. He needed to be stopped.
There was just one, glaring, gigantic problem: His miracles. He kept doing the kind of things that only God could do. He kept healing people of everything. He drove out demons as well. And the demons would occasionally shout out strange things as they left a person about His being the Son of God or the Messiah. This simply didn’t fit the mold they had created for Him in their minds. They had to come up with an explanation.
So they did: He was doing this by the power of an even greater demon, perhaps Satan himself. He wasn’t driving them out so much as reassigning them to go somewhere else. Their apparent terror wasn’t because He necessarily had power over them, but because He so thoroughly outranked them. He wasn’t just bad, He was evil, a chief demon of some kind.
Well, this was a charge Jesus couldn’t just leave alone. So He responded. And there are two aspects of His response that are worthy of quick comment. First, He wanted to make sure everyone within earshot understood just how much their charge didn’t make sense. He wanted everyone there to know His critics were grasping at straws to try and explain Him away, and that this was a particularly weak one. If Satan started undermining his own kingdom, it would eventually fall apart. The devil may be evil, but he’s not stupid. He doesn’t do mercy and that’s what this very obviously was for the people who had been possessed.
Second, Mark specifies that Jesus was speaking in parables. Why does this matter? Well, Jesus explains His use of parables more specifically in chapter 4, but the gist now is that they were extras for experts moments. They were designed so that anyone understood the basics, but only those folks who actually believed in Him could grasp the real heart of the message.
In responding with parables, while He was obviously refuting the charge made against Him, He was speaking in such a way as to specifically reaffirm His identity to His followers. They would have heard the silliness of the charge of His being demonic, but they would have also heard the implicit counter-affirmation that He really was the Messiah.
Here’s a nugget, then, for us: Jesus can defend Himself. We don’t have to worry about defending His character and identity to a hostile world. There aren’t any charges made against Him today that haven’t already been made, that weren’t made when He was around physically. Our job is to demonstrate His character and identity well in our own lives and point people to His word so that it can do the work it was intended to accomplish. The world doesn’t like Him and doesn’t understand Him and will occasionally make charges against Him and His followers that are just silly. Don’t let these phase you. Stick closely to the truth and keep moving forward. He’s got your back.