The Stronger Man

14 Now he was casting out a demon that was mute. When the demon had gone out, the mute man spoke, and the people marveled. 15 But some of them said, “He casts out demons by Beelzebul, the prince of demons,” 16 while others, to test him, kept seeking from him a sign from heaven. 17 But he, knowing their thoughts, said to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and a divided household falls. 18 And if Satan also is divided against himself, how will his kingdom stand? For you say that I cast out demons by Beelzebul. 19 And if I cast out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they will be your judges. 20 But if it is by the finger of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. 21 When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own palace, his goods are safe; 22 but when one stronger than he attacks him and overcomes him, he takes away his armor in which he trusted and divides his spoil. 23 Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.” – Luke 11:14-23 ESV

After recording Jesus’ instructions to His disciples on the subject of prayer, Luke seems to make a rather abrupt shift in the topic. There were a lot of rumors concerning Jesus. Some believed Him to be the Messiah, while others speculated that He might be Elijah or one of the other prophets, resurrected from the dead. His miracles and messages had made a powerful impression on many people, but there were those who took exception to this enigmatic Rabbi from Nazareth. And their speculation regarding His identity had been heavily influenced by the rumors the religious leaders had begun to spread.

We know from the gospel accounts of Matthew and Mark that the Sanhedrin had begun to circulate the rumor that Jesus was demon-possessed. Even while He had been ministering in Galilee, a contingent of Pharisees had been sent from Jerusalem to the region around the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee. It was on this occasion that these men pronounced their verdict regarding the source of Jesus’ miraculous powers.

“He’s possessed by Satan, the prince of demons. That’s where he gets the power to cast out demons.” – Mark 3:22 NLT

Matthew seems to record a similar, yet different situation in which Jesus cast a demon out of a man and was immediately accused by the Pharisees of having done so by the power of Satan.

“No wonder he can cast out demons. He gets his power from Satan, the prince of demons.” – Matthew 12:24 NLT

These men had been trying to counteract the enthusiasm of the crowd. Some of those who had witnessed this miraculous healing had begun to wonder out loud if Jesus really was their long-awaited Messiah.

Could it be that Jesus is the Son of David, the Messiah?” – Matthew 12:23 NLT

The Pharisees could not tolerate this kind of speculation, so they began to accuse Jesus of being in league with Satan. Unable to deny His power, they decided to question its source. And in all three cases, Jesus strongly refuted their accusations, exposing the illogical nature of their claim.

In Luke’s account, it appears that the Pharisees had been successful in circulating their rumor concerning the satanic source of Jesus’ power. They had planted the seed of doubt and it had begun to take root. On this occasion, it was not a Pharisee who leveled the accusation against Jesus, but one of the onlookers.

“He casts out demons by Beelzebul, the prince of demons…” – Luke 11:15 ESV

The Jewish people commonly used the name, Beelzebul, when referring to Satan. It is derived from two words, Baal, which was the name for the chief Canaanite deity, and Zebul, which means “exalted dwelling.” In the Greek New Testament, it is sometimes spelled Beelzeboul, which can be translated as “lord of dung.” It was a commonly used euphemism for Satan himself, the prince of demons.

So, on this occasion, you have some in the crowd accusing Jesus of being a tool of Satan, while others are demanding that He show them some kind of heavenly sign to prove He is the Messiah. It was a volatile and intensely polarized scene. But, just as He had done before, Jesus calmly and patiently addressed the unsubstantiated and blasphemous rumors being leveled against Him.

None of it made any sense. Why in the world, Jesus asked, would Satan cast out one of his own? That would not only be illogical but highly unproductive. And to drive home His point, Jesus forces His accusers to consider the absurd nature of their argument.

“Any kingdom divided by civil war is doomed. A family splintered by feuding will fall apart. You say I am empowered by Satan. But if Satan is divided and fighting against himself, how can his kingdom survive?” – Luke 11:17-18 NLT

It would be totally irrational for Satan to provide Jesus with the power to cast out demons. To do so would be self-defeating and self-destructive. And those who had witnessed Jesus cast out demons would have recognized that the demons never left willingly or without a fight. On many occasions, they opposed Jesus, verbally acknowledging Him as the Son of God. Luke records an earlier situation in which Jesus was confronted by a disgruntled demon and his companions who fully recognized and confessed His divine power and authority.

“Why are you interfering with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!” – Luke 4:34 NLT

Jesus’ ability to cast out demons was a clear indication of His sovereign power and validation of His identity as the Messiah. He was the King and, in exorcising demons, He was exercising His divinely ordained power and authority over the enemy. The demons clearly recognized this fact, but the Pharisees could not or simply would not.

And Jesus points out the hypocrisy of it all. The exorcism of demons was not uncommon among the Jewish people. And Jesus raises the logical question that since there were others who claimed to possess the power to cast out demons, were they also in cooperation with Satan? They couldn’t have it both ways. Either exorcism was divinely empowered or it was not. It was a work of God or it was a work of Satan. But Jesus points out the most logical and significant conclusion.

“But if I am casting out demons by the power of God, then the Kingdom of God has arrived among you.” – Luke 11:20 NLT

Whether they realized it or not, those in the crowd who had demanded a sign had already received one. Jesus was operating by the power of God and, in doing so, was giving evidence that He was the King of Israel. And His arrival was proof that the long-awaited promise of the kingdom was being fulfilled. He was the Messiah, the stronger man who was defeating the strong man (Satan) by the power of God. He was the chosen one who had been sent to bring release to all those held captive by the enemy. Ever since the fall, Satan had operated as the prince of this world, enslaving and controlling mankind, and waging a relentless war against God. Even at the incarnation, Satan had attempted to destroy the Son of God through the demon-possessed efforts of Herod (Matthew 2:1-18). Immediately after Jesus’ baptism, He was led by the Holy Spirit into the Judean wilderness, where Satan launched an all-out assault designed to derail Jesus from His God-ordained mission. But he failed.

And now Jesus was waging war on Satan. With every exorcism He performed, Jesus was giving evidence that Satan’s power was waning and his days were numbered. In Jesus, Satan, the strong man, had more than met his match. And Jesus informs His accusers that their disbelief was tantamount to insurrection. By accusing Jesus of operating by the power of Satan, they were actually illustrating their own cooperation with the enemy.

“Anyone who isn’t with me opposes me, and anyone who isn’t working with me is actually working against me. – Luke 11:23 NLT

This is essentially the same message Peter had received when he had rebuked Jesus for speaking of His coming suffering and death in Jerusalem. Jesus had strongly admonished His well-meaning but misinformed friend, “Get away from me, Satan! You are a dangerous trap to me. You are seeing things merely from a human point of view, not from God’s” (Matthew 16:23 NLT). In opposing Jesus’ declaration of God’s will, Peter had unknowingly aligned himself with the aims of the enemy. He had essentially become the tool of Satan, trying to thwart the redemptive plan that God had ordained for His Son. What Peter failed to realize was that Jesus’ death was going to be the key to breaking Satan’s power over mankind. With Jesus’ crucifixion, Satan would assume he had won the victory. But he would be wrong – dead wrong. The sacrificial death of Jesus would bring about the emancipation of all those who were held captive by the enemy. The author of Hebrews reminds us:

Because God’s children are human beings—made of flesh and blood—the Son also became flesh and blood. For only as a human being could he die, and only by dying could he break the power of the devil, who had the power of death. Only in this way could he set free all who have lived their lives as slaves to the fear of dying. – Hebrews 2:14-15 NLT

And the apostle John adds, “the Son of God came to destroy the works of the devil” (1 John 3:8 NLT). While Jesus walked this earth, He demonstrated His power over the enemy. But it was on the cross, as He breathed His last breath, that Jesus delivered the death blow to Satan. With the willful sacrifice of His life, Jesus fulfilled the curse that God had placed upon Satan as a result of his temptation of Adam and Eve.

“And I will cause hostility between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring. He will strike your head, and you will strike his heel.” – Genesis 3:15 NLT

Jesus, the stronger man, has defeated Satan. Yes, he still wields his power and displays an open disdain for God and His people, but he is a defeated foe. His days are numbered and his future is sealed. He fights a futile war with a preordained outcome. All because Jesus, the Son of God, fulfilled the will of God and gave His life as a ransom for many.

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.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson