In this passage, Luke turns from Jesus’ teaching about prayer to his casting out a demon and encountering opposition. The emphasis is actually on the opposition. The telling of the miracle itself is brief. This is in keeping with the greater context of the narrative. Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem, where he will be arrested and killed. As he gets closer to Jerusalem, the opposition to him increases. This story demonstrates it.
This particular demon inhabited a man and made him mute. (14) Mute means not speaking or able to speak. It is interesting the this story appears right after Jesus taught about prayer. He said for his disciples to speak to God in prayer. He presented the prayer as one we might say together, as a congregation. This man was mute, so he was unable to do that. He could not speak either praise or petition to God.
When Jesus cast the demon out, the man spoke. His speech was proof to all that the demon was gone and that Jesus had cast him out, whether they could see the demon or not. No one questioned that he had cast out a demon.
Casting out demons was not a new thing for Jesus at this point in his ministry. He had encountered the devil in the wilderness and prevailed. (Luke 4) He had cast out demons on several occasions and cast out a legion of demons on one occasion. (Luke 8) 1 John 3:8 says the reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil.
Most of the people marveled. But, there were some detractors in the crowd. They were antagonistic toward Jesus. They accused Jesus of casting out the demon through the power of the prince of demons. They called this demon “Beelzebul”. (Note: I am using the English Standard Version. The New American Standard Bible also refers to Beelzebull. If you use the New International Version, it refers to “Beelzebub”.)
In 2 Kings 1:2, King Ahaziah got sick and sent a messenger to Ekron to inquire of their god Baal-zebub” whether he would survive the illness. Ekron was a city of the Philistines at that time, but was an old Canaanite city. It had a sanctuary devoted to Baal.
The name of the god of Ekron was probably “Baal-zebul”. That means “Baal is exalted”. It is thought the Jews intentionally corrupted the name to Baal-zebub as an insult, for that name means “Lord of the Flies”. That is where William Golding go the name of his 1954 novel, Lord of the Flies.
By the time of Jesus, however, the name was applied to the so called Prince of Demons, Satan, the Devil. So, the accusation is that Jesus is casting out demons by the head demon.This of course is a terrible blasphemy. To accuse the Son of God to act in the power of Satan is a terrible insult to Jesus. It is also a clear rejection of Jesus’ claim to be the Son of God.
Jesus could have called down fire on the crowd, thus justly punishing this total disrespect for God and giving the sign from heaven that others wanted. Instead, he countered them with logic. He said that any kingdom or household that is divided will be conquered and fall. Therefore, Satan would not divide his kingdom by driving out his own demons. (18)
Jesus went on to condemn their inconsistency. There were Jews that had the power to cast out demons. When they did so, it was claimed to be the power of God. Jesus said, it is inconsistent to claim power from God in their case and the power of Satan in his case. Therefore, their own sons were their judges in this matter. (19)
Jesus also countered them by pointing out the consequences if what he claimed was true. If he cast out demons because he had the power of God, then the Kingdom of God had come upon them. (20) The saying “finger of God” is a way of saying the “power of God”.
All of the miracles of Jesus were signs that that the Kingdom of God had come. But the casting out of demons particularly showed that Christ had come to begin taking away the kingdom of Satan on earth, reclaiming it for God through the ministry of the Son of God. Each casting out of a demon was a defeat of Satan and a victory for Christ in the battle for earth and for humanity.
Jesus gave an example of this. He said a strong man with weapons guards his palace and protects his goods. (21) But, when a stronger man comes, that man defeat the first man, strip him of his armor and take his goods. (22) In this story, the devil is the strong man. There is another possible play on words here, for the Greek word for Beelzebul means “lord of the house”.
Jesus is the stronger man. Satan is powerful; Jesus is more powerful.
The hymn written by Martin Luther is about this very battle. Here are the words.
A mighty fortress is our God, A bulwark never failing;
Our shelter He, amid the flood Of mortal ills prevailing.
For still our ancient foe Doth seek to work us woe;
His craft and pow’r are great, And, armed with cruel hate,
On earth is not his equal.
Did we in our own strength confide, Our striving would be losing;
Were not the right Man on our side, The Man of God’s own choosing.
Dost ask who that may be? Christ Jesus, it is He;
Lord Sabaoth is His name, From age to age the same,
And He must win the battle.
And tho’ this world, with devils filled, Should threaten to undo us;
We will not fear, for God hath willed His truth to triumph through us
The prince of darkness grim — We tremble not for him;
His rage we can endure, For lo! his doom is sure,
One little word shall fell him.
That word above all earthly pow’rs — No thanks to them — abideth:
The Spirit and the gifts are ours Thro’ Him who with us sideth.
Let goods and kindred go, This mortal life also;
The body they may kill: God’s truth abideth still,
His kingdom is forever.
After telling this story, Jesus added two warnings. The first one was that there can be no neutrality in this war. He said “whoever is not with me is agains me”. (23) You must choose Christ or you have chosen Satan. You must gather to Christ or be scattered away from him.
The second warning has to do with what happens after a demon is cast out, but the person does not fill himself with Christ. Jesus said the spirit may not find another place to dwell, so it returns to the person from whom it was cast out. But, he also brings with him seven other spirits who are even more evil and they all possess the person. This leaves that person more miserable than he or she was before.
I do not know if this saying is meant to be literal, or literal for every occasion. But it does point out that you cannot conquer sin simply by trying to get rid of it. You must have your soul filled with the Holy Spirit and you must fill your mind with the things of God.