Thursday, May 29, 2014

Tying up the Strongman

The Beelzebul Controversy of Mark 3 reveals that no one, not even his enemies, denied that Jesus exorcised demons. He was well known, perhaps best known, for being a powerful exorcist. Expectedly then, The Synoptic Gospels, present Jesus performing exorcisms frequently. Instead of turning water into wine, the very first public act of Jesus’ power in Mark and Luke is the cleansing of a man with an evil spirit. From the time he starts his public career, Jesus is engaged in a cosmic battle between good and evil. Jesus enters a world in which Satan has obtained authority over all the kingdoms(Mttw 4:8-10, Lk 4:5-7). He must act to restore God’s creation, freeing it from the control of Satan.

This restoration is the good news Jesus proclaims. However, it is not until after being tempted in the wilderness that Jesus begins to make this proclamation. Jesus must tie up Satan before he can bring the reign of God.
Jesus asserts this during the Beelzebul Controversy.

And the teachers of the law who came down from Jerusalem said, “He is possessed by Beelzebul! By the prince of demons he is driving out demons.”
So Jesus called them over to him and began to speak to them in parables: “How can Satan drive out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. If a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand. And if Satan opposes himself and is divided, he cannot stand; his end has come. In fact, no one can enter a strong man’s house without first tying him up. Then he can plunder the strong man’s house”(Mark 3:22-27).

The scribes are correct that Jesus has the power to cast out demons but they do not understand where this power comes from. In seeing the kingdom of Satan falling they assume Satan has become divided. Jesus, possessed by a demon, is casting out demons.

The truth of the matter though is that one greater than Satan has come. Jesus tied up the strongman in the wilderness and is now freely plundering his kingdom with the exorcism of demons. Those in Satan’s grips are being freed because Satan cannot stand.

Matthew and Luke include in their version of the controversy, “But if it by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom has come to you”(Mttw 12:28, Lk 11:20). Exorcisms are the manifestation of one kingdom replacing another.

The definitive blow to the kingdom of Satan comes when Satan is dethroned. In the request of James and John for thrones of power(Mark 10), Jesus reveals his means of dethroning Satan. Jesus himself will be seated in a throne but it will be a throne of weakness rather than power. The cross is his throne. In taking it up he will overthrow Satan.

Many of the elements of a royal coronation and enthronement are present in Mark’s passion narrative. Jesus is robed in purple, crowned with thorns, and mockingly paid homage. Though those witnessing his crucifixion are blind to the truth, the true messiah, the ruler of the whole world, is being made king before their eyes. Satan falls like lightning as Jesus is lifted up. In secret, like a mustard seed, the Kingdom of God has entered the world.

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