Locking Out Evil Spirits: Matthew 12:38-45

Focus Passage: Matthew 12:38-45 (GW)

38 Then some experts in Moses’ Teachings and Pharisees said, “Teacher, we want you to show us a miraculous sign.”

39 He responded, “The people of an evil and unfaithful era look for a miraculous sign. But the only sign they will get is the sign of the prophet Jonah. 40 Just as Jonah was in the belly of a huge fish for three days and three nights, so the Son of Man will be in the heart of the earth for three days and three nights. 41 The men of Nineveh will stand up with you at the time of judgment and will condemn you, because they turned to God and changed the way they thought and acted when Jonah spoke his message. But look, someone greater than Jonah is here! 42 The queen from the south will stand up at the time of judgment with you. She will condemn you, because she came from the ends of the earth to hear Solomon’s wisdom. But look, someone greater than Solomon is here!

43 “When an evil spirit comes out of a person, it goes through dry places looking for a place to rest. But it doesn’t find any. 44 Then it says, ‘I’ll go back to the home I left.’ When it arrives, it finds the house unoccupied, swept clean, and in order. 45 Then it goes and brings along seven other spirits more evil than itself. They enter and take up permanent residence there. In the end the condition of that person is worse than it was before. That is what will happen to the evil people of this day.”

Read Matthew 12:38-45 in context and/or in other translations on BibleGateway.com!

Perhaps one of the most troubling spiritual pictures Jesus ever gives comes following His response to some religious leaders and Pharisees who request to see a miraculous sign. After responding directly to them, Matthew tells us that Jesus follows up by giving us a picture into the spiritual realm – and this picture is challenging but also powerful when we look at its implications.

Matthew’s gospel tells us that Jesus describes the following scenario: “When an evil spirit comes out of a person, it goes through dry places looking for a place to rest. But it doesn’t find any. Then it says, ‘I’ll go back to the home I left.’ When it arrives, it finds the house unoccupied, swept clean, and in order. Then it goes and brings along seven other spirits more evil than itself. They enter and take up permanent residence there. In the end the condition of that person is worse than it was before. That is what will happen to the evil people of this day.” (v. 43-45)

The first thing we should note is that this is a description of what will happen to evil people. God’s people appear to be excluded from this. While this is great news for those who have placed their faith, hope, trust, and belief in Jesus, the question lingering in the back of my mind when I read this is what makes these “orderly” evil people different from those who are simple-living Godly people? What is the difference between the evil people this illustration describes and God’s people who have been freed from evil spirits?

One word in the description I believe holds the key. When the evil spirit returns, Matthew draws our attention onto Jesus’ description of the person as a house that is “unoccupied, swept clean, and in order.” (v. 44b)

The key word in this description is “unoccupied”. By using this word, Jesus describes a segment of evil people who have focused on cleaning up their lives. These evil people have done a masterful job of emptying their lives of all the negatives and all the bad in them, but by doing so, they leave themselves “empty” or “unoccupied”. This description is of a group of people who have placed a significant amount of time focusing on what to get rid of from their lives, and very little time focusing on what to bring in – in the spiritual sense.

When an evil spirit returns to an evil person who has cleaned up his/her life, the big indicator whether they will be able to capture the person again is whether their lives are “unoccupied”. By only focusing on cleaning the bad from one’s life, an individual only does half of what is necessary to stay clean.

The subtle key and insight I see in this passage separating the evil people Jesus is describing and the righteous people who are excluded from this picture is that those who are righteous will not have empty lives/hearts. This tells me that in order to finish the process of life change and “life cleanup”, I must intentionally choose what to place into my life and heart that will take residence there – making my life look occupied and not empty. The only truly evil spirit-proof One to invite is God – specifically God’s Holy Spirit. With Him in my life and heart, Satan doesn’t have the chance of regaining a foothold in my life.

This thought was inspired by studying the Walking With Jesus "Reflective Bible Study" package. To discover insights like this in your own study time, click here and give Reflective Bible Study a try today!

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