“When an unclean spirit goes out of a person, it passes through waterless places looking for rest but does not find it. Then it says, ‘I will return to the home I left.’ When it returns, it finds the house empty, swept clean, and put in order. Then it goes and brings with it seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they go in and live there, so the last state of that person is worse than the first. It will be that way for this evil generation as well!” (Matthew 12:43-45 NET)
What was Jesus talking about? Unclean spirits, empty houses, and even more evil spirits!
When we look at the context of Matthew 12, we find that Jesus is discussing the change people must make in their lives when they choose to follow him. Earlier a man who was demon-possessed, blind, and mute had been brought to him, and Jesus healed him – he could now speak and see. This did not go down well with the Jewish leaders – they stated that the only way he could cast out demons would be by the power of the ruler of the demons (v.24). Jesus began to teach that in life, we either follow God or we follow Satan – there can’t be a bit of both. It is either one or the other.
He used several illustrations to get this point across. A kingdom can’t be divided against itself (v.25-26). You can’t steal a strong man’s property unless you first tie him up (v.29). The fruit on a tree will either be good or bad, but not both – it has to be one or the other (v.33). Good people do good things because their heart is good; evil people do evil things because of the condition of their heart (v.33-35). They had plenty of signs from Jesus to know who he was aligned with.
But what about the unclean spirit leaving and coming back? In this illustration, Jesus said that the unclean spirit left a person. The spirit could not find anyplace to go. So it decided to check out the house it had left – and found it nice and clean – but empty! Undoubtedly this person had had an unclean spirit, Jesus had cast it out, and he seems to have rid himself of the bad in his life. But the problem was that his life was still empty – he had not replaced the bad with good things. He had simply created a vacuum in his life. The problem with vacuums is that they seek to be filled.
And this one was filled – the spirit found seven other spirits more evil than it was and they all went to live in this empty shell of a person. Before he had had only one evil spirit living in him – now he had eight. The last state of the person was worse than the first. This, Jesus said, was a warning against “this evil generation as well!”
What is the lesson? It isn’t good enough to know we need to get rid of the bad in our lives. Yes, that is important, but don’t leave our lives empty. We need to then seek out good to fill our lives, so that there isn’t any weaknesses for evil to exploit. With Jesus, it is all or nothing. “Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters” (Matthew 12:30).
Readings for next week:
9 February – Matthew 15
10 February – Matthew 16
11 February – Matthew 17
12 February – Matthew 18
13 February – Matthew 19