43 “When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, but finds none. 44 Then it says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ And when it comes, it finds the house empty, swept, and put in order. 45 Then it goes and brings with it seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and dwell there, and the last state of that person is worse than the first. So also will it be with this evil generation.” – Matthew 12:38-42 ESV
These verses seem to come out of nowhere. But if you look closely at the overall context of this portion of Matthew’s Gospel, you’ll notice that it contains the healing of the blind and mute man from whom Jesus cast out a demon. And Jesus referred to the scribes and Pharisees as being part of “An evil and adulterous generation” (Matthew 12:39 ESV). In these verses, Jesus simply combines the two topics to further demonstrate the wickedness of those who refused to accept Him as Messiah and to warn of their future judgment.
There is much about Jesus’ comments regarding demons that are difficult to understand. But we can know with certainty that Jesus believed in demon-possession and, evidently, the possibility of someone becoming re-possessed by the same demon. In each case where Matthew recorded Jesus casting out a demon, the individual who benefited from Jesus’ miracle enjoyed the benefit of His power, but there is no indication they expressed belief in Him as their Messiah. In essence, they were left in a nuetral state – no longer demon-possessed, but still in their unrepentant, unredeemed state.
And Jesus indicates that the dispossessed demon will seek “rest,” passing through “waterless places” until it finds it. It is difficult to build a theology of demon possession from these few verses. It may be that Jesus was using the common Hebrew perception regarding demons to make His point. The book of Tobit, part of the Apocrypha or Deuterocanonical scriptures, believed to have been written in the 400-year period between the Old and New Testaments, mentions demons preferring desert conditions. So, perhaps Jesus is utilizing this Jewish perception to make His point. The only reason a demon would leave a human host would be because of an exorcism, such as Jesus had performed on the blind and mute man. But, according to Jesus, that dispossessed demon will seek rest, but not find it, because its main purpose is the torment of human beings. So, Jesus suggests that the demon, unable to find rest or a cessation from its demonic responsibilities, will seek to return to its original host.
And Jesus infers that the formerly possessed individual, while having cleaned up his act and put his life in order, will prove an easy target for the demon. In fact, the demon will return, making himself at home and bringing seven, more wicked demons with him. It would seem that Jesus is not attempting to provide us with a doctrine on demons, but a statement regarding man’s need for something or someone to occupy his life. In Jesus’ story, a man whose life is swept clean and in order and free from demon possession, is not safe from the attacks of the enemy. In fact, he is an easy target and will find his last state worse than the first.
Not having a demon is not enough. Having your life swept clean and in order is no protection from the attacks of the enemy. The outward appearance of righteousness is not the same as a life made righteous by faith in Christ. Jesus once again refers to the Jews of His generation as evil. He does so because they will refuse to accept Him as their Messiah. Their rejection of Him will condemn them. He had come to expose the darkness in their lives and yet, they “loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil” (John 3:19 ESV).
Jesus had said, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign,” and yet, Jesus had appeared in their midst, a visible sign of God’s promise of redemption – and they were going to end up rejecting Him. Jesus’ use of the phrase, “evil generation” would have been very familiar to the scribes and Pharisees. With their superior knowledge of the Scriptures, they would have recognized that Jesus was using the very same words God had used of the Jews who refused to enter the Promised Land under the leadership of Moses.
35 “Not one of these men of this evil generation shall see the good land that I swore to give to your fathers, 36 except Caleb the son of Jephunneh. He shall see it, and to him and to his children I will give the land on which he has trodden, because he has wholly followed the Lord!” – Deuteronomy 1:35-36 ESV
Later on, in the very same book, Moses would speak of the faithfulness of God and the unfaithfulness of the people of God.
4 “The Rock, his work is perfect,
for all his ways are justice.
A God of faithfulness and without iniquity,
just and upright is he.
5 They have dealt corruptly with him;
they are no longer his children because they are blemished;
they are a crooked and twisted generation.
6 Do you thus repay the Lord,
you foolish and senseless people?
Is not he your father, who created you,
who made you and established you?” – Deuteronomy 32:4-6 ESV
The Jews had a habit of treating God with contempt, refusing to honor Him as their God. Instead, they lived according to their own desires, treating His faithfulness with disdain. They had been chosen by God. They had been rescued from slavery by God. He had promised to give them a land flowing with milk and honey. But they had refused to trust Him. They had been unfaithful to Him. And Moses described them as a crooked and perverse generation.
Now, centuries later, the problem remained the same. This generation of Jews was no different. The promise of God was being fulfilled in their midst, but they were going to reject it. The Messiah had come, just as God had said He would, but they would choose not to accept His offer of salvation. Jesus had come, offering to free them from their slavery to sin and their captivity by the enemy. He came to transform their lives from the inside-out. But they were going to have to place their faith in Him, believing that He was who He claimed to be. And not long after Jesus had died, resurrected and ascended into heaven, the apostle Peter would preach a powerful message of redemption to the Jews in Jerusalem gathered on the day of Pentecost.
36 Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.”
37 Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” 38 And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” 40 And with many other words he bore witness and continued to exhort them, saying, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation.” 41 So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls. – Acts 2:37-41 ESV
Save yourselves from this crooked generation. Believe the promise of God. Accept God’s gracious offer of salvation through faith alone in Christ alone. You can attempt to sweep the house clean and put your life in order, but only Christ can make all things new.
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. – 2 Corinthians 5:17 ESV
English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.