Out of darkness (Matthew 12:22-29)

We recognize oppression, but where’s the liberation?

Open Matthew 12:22-29.

Any closed system, left to itself, runs down. Entropy is a law of nature. You don’t have to do anything for dust to build up in your house or for your garden to fall into disorder.

But earth is not a closed system. Enormous amounts of energy arrive from the sun. On a clear day, it’s about a kilowatt of energy for every square metre. Without it, we’d freeze. Plants and the whole ecosystem thrive on that incoming energy.

There’s another kind of energy as well, one that isn’t measured in kilowatts. Bette Midler was wrong. God is not “watching from a distance” while his realm deteriorates and spirals into disorder. His creative power sustains us each day. Our heavenly sovereign is restoring order to his troubled realm.

The sun powers our ecosystem, but it’s the Son who restores creation under God’s power, as the kingdom of God.

Jesus was a master at restoring human beings. There are forces opposed to God’s kingship, scavengers feeding on entropy, eating away at God’s good world and breaking it down.

These destructive powers harm people. In some cases, they can even block a person’s sight or voice:

Matthew 12:22-23 (my translation)
22 They brought him someone who was demonized, blind and unable to speak. He healed him: no longer silent, he could speak and see. 23 All the crowds were astounded, “This isn’t the son of David, is it?”

The crowds saw Jesus driving back the powers of evil, and they made the connection with their ideal king. David had given them victory over their enemies. He had the power to do that because he was God’s anointed, the chosen representative of God’s sovereignty on earth.

The Davidic kingship had been gone for 600 years. This crowd recognized it resurfacing in the person of Jesus. Here they saw God’s anointed, the chosen representative of God’s kingship on earth.

In the preceding centuries, Israel had gradually realized that their enemy was something more than the nations that had overpowered them. There was a spiritual foe, a Satan (adversary) that did not want God’s rule restored.

As they saw Jesus driving back these spiritual foes, they wondered, “Could this possibly be the son of David, the king anointed by heaven to rule God’s people on his behalf, the one who will restore heaven’s reign to the earth?”

But Jesus’ kingship did not sound like good news to the people who saw themselves as leaders in the Galilean towns — the Pharisees. They could not deny the incoming spiritual energy working through Jesus, so their only option was to claim that his spiritual power came from the dark side. They used fear tactics to paint him as in league with the scavengers, working for the destroyer:

Matthew 12:24-28
24 When the Pharisees heard it, they said, “This person can’t expel demons, unless it’s by Beelzeboul the ruler of the demons.”
25 Aware of their opinions, he said to them, “Any kingdom divided against itself falls apart. Any city or household divided against itself can’t survive. 26 If Satan is expelling Satan, he has sabotaged himself, so how can his reign survive?
27 If I am expelling demons by Beelzeboul, by what do your own sons expel them? That line of argument judges you too. 28 But it I expel demons by God’s Spirit, then God’s reign over you has arrived.”

(On Beelzeboul, see this.)

Jesus as a double-agent? This ridiculous accusation collapses under its own weight: he was visibly undermining the power of their enemy. A saboteur for Satan would not keep on expelling Satan’s agents. Jesus is the commissioned agent of heaven’s government, acting with the authority of the divine Spirit, liberating God’s people from their oppression.

Before their very eyes, Satan was losing his grip. God’s kingship on earth was being re-established through this son of David.

Ever since the coup against God’s reign in Eden’s Garden, the big question has been how the heavenly sovereign would restore his kingship over the earth. It’s as if an enemy had taken God’s creation and raised their flag to claim the fallen territory. To restore “God’s reign over you,” Jesus must deal with this deceiver who claims “all the kingdoms of the world and their glory” (4:8). To dethrone the oppressor, God must enter “his” territory and regain possession.

In the person of Jesus, God did exactly that. God entered the disputed territory, the earth. He confronted the strong enemy that enslaved God’s people. God stepped onto the earth to oust the pretender and reclaim the earth as his possession.

Matthew 12:29
29 How can anyone enter the strong person’s house and raid his possessions without first tying up the strong person? Then he can raid his whole house.

Ponder Jesus’ words. That’s what the incarnation means.

Matthew introduced Jesus as “God-with-us” (1:23). God — the strongest power in the universe — became a helpless baby and stepped into the disputed territory of the earth. As a human being, he confronts and defeats the enemy of God’s people, releasing the captives — the “whole house.”

It’s true: “God’s reign over you has arrived” (12:28).

Salvation is the restoration of God’s kingship.


What others are saying

R. T. France, The Gospel of Matthew, New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2007), 481:

The robbing of the strong man recalls the imagery of Isa 49:24–25, where it symbolizes God’s rescue of his people from their oppressors. This little parable is left uninterpreted, but the context in which it is set leaves little doubt of its meaning for Matthew. Jesus’ exorcisms, far from being in collusion with Satan, are a direct assault on his “possessions”; his “kingdom” is under attack. Satan’s “strength,” as the “god of this world” (2 Cor 4:4; cf. John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11) is acknowledged (cf. 4:8–9), but now at last he has met his match. Jesus has “tied him up” and so is now free to appropriate his possessions — or, in the imagery of Isa 49:24–25, to release his captives. The tying up represents not an exorcistic technique, but the comprehensive superiority of Jesus’ authority over that of Satan, and so the coming into force of the kingship of God.

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Author: Allen Browne

Seeking to understand Jesus in the terms he chose to describe himself: son of man (his identity), and kingdom of God (his mission). Riverview Church, Perth, Western Australia

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