39. Evidence that Produced Various Verdicts (Luke 11:14-36)
Jesus was driving out a demon that was mute. When the demon left, the man who had been mute spoke, and the crowd was amazed. But some of them said, “By Beelzebub, the prince of demons, he is driving out demons.” Others tested him by asking for a sign from heaven.
Jesus knew their thoughts and said to them: “Any kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and a house divided against itself will fall. If Satan is divided against himself, how can his kingdom stand? I say this because you claim that I drive out demons by Beelzebub. Now if I drive out demons by Beelzebub, by whom do your followers drive them out? So then, they will be your judges. But if I drive out demons by the finger of God, then the kingdom of God has come to you.
“When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own house, his possessions are safe. But when someone stronger attacks and overpowers him, he takes away the armor in which the man trusted and divides up the spoils. “He who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me, scatters.
“When an evil spirit comes out of a man, it goes through arid places seeking rest and does not find it. Then it says, ‘I will return to the house I left.’ When it arrives, it finds the house swept clean and put in order. Then it goes and takes seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there. And the final condition of that man is worse than the first.”
As Jesus was saying these things, a woman in the crowd called out, “Blessed is the mother who gave you birth and nursed you.” He replied, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it.”
As the crowds increased, Jesus said, “This is a wicked generation. It asks for a miraculous sign, but none will be given it except the sign of Jonah. For as Jonah was a sign to the Ninevites, so also will the Son of Man be to this generation. The Queen of the South will rise at the judgment with the men of this generation and condemn them; for she came from the ends of the earth to listen to Solomon’s wisdom, and now one greater than Solomon is here. The men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and now one greater than Jonah is here.
“No one lights a lamp and puts it in a place where it will be hidden, or under a bowl. Instead he puts it on its stand, so that those who come in may see the light. Your eye is the lamp of your body. When your eyes are good, your whole body also is full of light. But when they are bad, your body also is full of darkness. See to it, then, that the light within you is not darkness. Therefore, if your whole body is full of light, and no part of it dark, it will be completely lighted, as when the light of a lamp shines on you.”
Josh McDowell has written a book entitled, Evidence That Demands a Verdict. A lawyer friend of mine tells me that the title is inaccurate because evidence does not demand a verdict. As I have been studying our text for this week I would say that one would be quite foolish to think that the same evidence would produce the same verdict. In this passage found in the 11th chapter of Luke’s gospel, the evidence is the same for all to see: Jesus cast a demon from a man, a demon which caused him to be dumb.197 All who witnessed this event concluded that a great miracle had been performed, but from this point on there is a great difference of opinion. The crowd was amazed at the miracle; some in the crowd (who, according to Matthew, were Pharisees, (Matthew 12:24); Mark also tells us that they were teachers of the Law from Jerusalem, (Mark 3:22) concluded that Jesus did this through the power of Beelzebub. Others were undecided, or at least uncommitted, and asked for “a sign from heaven” (Luke 11:16). And still others, like the woman who shouted from the crowd, missed the point of the miracle altogether (Luke 11:27).
On the basis of this passage I would have to agree with those who say that “you can prove anything you want from the Bible.” This is not to say that the Bible proves all points of view. Nor is this to say that it is impossible for the Christian to find answers in the Bible which he or she can hold with great confidence and conviction. It is to say, though, that many who view the biblical evidence miss the point. The beauty of this text is that it not only shows us how far men can stray from the truth, but it reveals to us why they do so. Here is a text of great importance to all who would seek to know the truth, to come to the verdict which the biblical evidence leads us. Let us listen well to the words of this text, for doing so can keep us from going astray, and it can help us to understand and to help those who have missed the point of God’s Word.
The Structure of the Text
I have outlined the structure of our text in this way:
(1) The Setting: Various Responses to the Demon Deliverance by Jesus—vv. 14-16
(2) Jesus’ Response:
- To the Beelzebub Charge—vv. 17-23
- To those who would try to remain neutral—vv. 24-26
- The woman who missed the meaning of this miracle—vv. 27-28
- To those who demand more proof by seeking a sign—vv. 29-32
(3) The Real Problem: Not the Evidence, but the Eye—vv. 33-36
The Evidence and the Verdicts
At some point in Jesus’ ministry198 He cast the demon from this man, a demon which caused him to be speechless. Proof that a miracle had occurred was virtually immediate because the man began to speak for the first time since he was possessed by the demon. The man’s words made an immediate impact on those who saw the miracle. The crowd, Luke tells us, was amazed, which seems to inform us that they believed Jesus had done this deed through the power of God. Some, however, did not see it this way. These people, admitted that a miracle had occurred, but attributed the power to Beelzebub, that is to Satan,199 and not to God. They acknowledged the miracle about as reluctantly as some recognized the power of God at work in and through the disciples of Jesus, as recorded by Luke in the book of Acts:
“What are we going to do with these men?” they asked. “Everybody living in Jerusalem knows they have done an outstanding miracle, and we cannot deny it” (Acts 4:16).
In Mark’s account they go so far as to accuse Jesus of being demon-possessed (Mark 3:22), as they had also accused John the Baptist (Luke 7:33).
Others took a more mediating position. They were not willing to acknowledge that Jesus was the Messiah of God,200 nor were they willing to deny it, thus accusing Jesus of operating by Satan’s power. They thought of themselves as open minded and willing to be convinced. But they also believed that they had not yet seen sufficient evidence on which to arrive at a sound conclusion, and so they requested a “sign from heaven.”
It is significant that Luke (alone) tells us that a sign from heaven was requested. I take it that this “sign from heaven” was one that would clearly link with the prophecy of Joel, demonstrating that the “kingdom of God” was at hand:
“I will show wonders in the heavens and on the earth, blood and fire and billows of smoke. The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD” (Joel 2:30-31).
Even John the Baptist did not seem satisfied with the words and the works of Jesus, and wanted more positive proof that He was the Messiah (Luke 7:20-23). Jesus was not willing to give John any greater proof than that of His teaching and of His works. There were no signs from heaven for John either. You will recall that during the crucifixion of our Lord there was the heavenly sign of darkness, which testified to Christ’s deity and frightened many (Luke 24:44-45; cf. Matthew 27:54). Jesus also taught that there would be heavenly signs which would precede His second coming (Luke 21:25-28), and these heavenly signs are also linked with the coming of the Spirit in Acts 2, when Peter cited a portion of the second chapter of Joel’s prophecy, which spoke of heavenly signs. But Jesus would not give such signs here, for this was His first coming, when He came to save men, not to judge them.
Jesus Challenges the Beelzebub Verdict
In verses 17-32 Jesus challenged the various verdicts of the crowd which are briefly summarized in verses 14-16. He first takes on the charge that He has delivered this demoniac from Satan’s power through Satan’s power. With a series of powerful thrusts Jesus showed the logic of His opponents who accused Him of being a servant of Satan to be wanting. In two paragraphs (vv. 17-20, and vv. 21-23) He shows the error of their thinking. Each paragraph ends with an indictment (vv. 20, 23).
Satan Doesn’t Shoot Himself in the Foot (Verses 17-20)
The logic of the opponents of Jesus is apparent. They must admit that a miracle has been performed by Jesus. A demon was cast out. They will not admit that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God. To whom or to what, then, do they attribute His power? If He delivered a man from Satan’s grasp, perhaps He did so through Satan’s power. Here was the only “rational” explanation for Jesus’ power His enemies could come up with: Jesus was operating in the power of Beelzebub, in the power of Satan.
Jesus’ response quickly shows how foolish such a conclusion was. It was as if Jesus had said, “Who willingly and knowingly shoots himself in the foot?” Satan would not do harm to himself, would he? Why, then would they be so foolish as to think that Jesus was attacking Satan’s kingdom (by casting out demons) with Satan’s approval and power? Any kingdom that fights against itself falls. Satan would not fight himself. The opponents of Jesus were foolish to make such a charge against Him. Not only was it false; it wasn’t even logical.
Jesus is not yet done with them. There is more. If the power to cast out demons is to be attributed to Satan, then in whose power are the opponents own children casting out demons? We see from texts like Matthew 7:22, Luke 9:49-50, and Acts 19:13-16 that a number of Jews were exorcising demons, some of them (Matthew 7:22) as unbelievers, but all seemingly in the name of Jesus. If the sons of Jesus’ opponents were casting out demons in Jesus’ name, were these men willing to attribute the power of their sons to Satan as well? Jesus presses their case much further than they wished to take the matter, but it was the logical conclusion of their argument.
Jesus was speaking in His defense, but in verse 20 He takes the offensive:
“But if I drive out demons by the finger of God, then the kingdom of God has come to you.”
Jesus has probed their logic (which was faulty), and He has pressed it to a very uncomfortable conclusion (their sons are operating by Satan’s power, too, for they also cast out demons). Now, He gives them one more logical thrust: If they are wrong and He is operating in the power of God, then they must admit that the kingdom of God has come and that Jesus is the King. This is the very thing they most dreaded, and Jesus has just reminded them of what good logic must conclude: He is the King, whom they refuse to receive.
Only One More Powerful Than
Satan Can Take Away His Possessions
The second argument of Jesus is just as forceful as the first. Not only were Jesus’ opponents wrong in attributing His power to Satan because Satan would not attack himself, they were also wrong because the One who would attack Satan must be more powerful. Jesus compared His deliverance of the demon-possessed to the plundering of a powerful foe (cf. Isaiah 49:24-26). No one can take away the possessions of a powerful man without first overpowering the person. The powerful man must first be overpowered, then disarmed, and finally bound, so that his goods can be plundered.
In this analogy, Satan is the strong man and his “possessions” are those who are demon-possessed and Jesus is the One who has greater power and is taking away those he has possessed. Jesus is saying that He must overpower Satan before He can deliver those whom he had formerly possessed. His enemies refused to acknowledge that Jesus was God or that His power was God’s power, and yet logic would once again force them to this conclusion. In order to deliver men and women from demon-possession Jesus had to be greater than Satan. To attribute His power to Satan was foolish. To think He was not greater than Satan was also folly. If the evidence were interpreted according to good logic, the evidence would point to Jesus as the Messiah.
Jesus now counters the logic of His critics with another indictment. Not only is Satan Jesus’ enemy, not only are His opponents (who attribute His power to Satan) His enemies, but all who do not respond rightly to Him. Verse 23 is saying that those who were negative to Jesus were His enemies, but so were those who were neutral. Verses 24-32 address those who have not responded negatively toward Jesus, but have not rightly responded to Him as a right interpretation of the evidence would demand.
Neutrality Toward Jesus is
Hospitality Toward Demonic Repossession
In football, lining up in the neutral zone is an offense. In life, many seem to think that neutrality is a virtue. In the Bible, neutrality toward the person of Christ is offensive to God. In verses 24-26 Luke will inform his reader that neutrality toward Jesus is also dangerous.
Jesus told yet another story. A man was exorcised of a demon. That demon wandered about in very unpleasant circumstances. The demon finally concluded that his former abode was far superior to the arid places he was now inhabiting, and so he returned to his former abode, but with additional demons. The final state was worse than the first, Jesus taught.
If Jesus is more powerful than Satan, which His last argument has shown, man is not. Man is not able, in and of himself, to resist Satan. The man who is possessed by a demon can, Jesus said, be re-possessed. The only power that can keep the demons out of a man is the power of the One who is able to deliver that man in the first place. Jesus was warning those who would attempt to remain neutral, who would not come to receive Him as their Messiah and to obey His commandments, that neutrality toward Messiah is hospitality toward the hostile forces of Satan. It is no blessing for men to be exorcised, rid of demon-possession if men do not have the person of God dwelling within. Just as man is unable to rid himself of a demonic inhabitant, neither is he able to keep an exorcised demon from returning. Jesus must not only be believed in as Messiah, He must also be received into one’s life, lest Satan only return in greater force.201
Neutrality about the person of Jesus is no virtue, it is a vice, and indeed it invites Satanic involvement, and it leads to a latter state that is worse than the former. Are those who attribute Jesus’ power to Satan His enemies, those who live dangerously? So, too, are those who think they can remain neutral concerning Him, for those who are not for Him are against Him (v. 23).
A Mother’s Praise
Would some oppose Jesus while others remained silent? There was a woman in that crowd who spoke up, whose words, on the surface, were those of praise, but which fell far short of what was pleasing to the Savior. This woman seems to have recognized the power and the greatness of Jesus, but her praise was not for Jesus, but for His mother. She cried out,
“Blessed is the mother who gave you birth and nursed you” (v. 27, emphasis mine).
When compared to the hostility of some and the neutrality of others, these words may seem warm and welcomed to us, but Jesus’ response is corrective. He gently corrects, it should be noted, but He does not allow the woman’s words to stand unchallenged. The woman’s focus was on the mother of Jesus, and her blessing in bearing and nursing Him. This was true, for Mary was indeed blessed in this regard (Luke 1:28, 42, 46-49). The woman’s focus was wrong, however. Her praise seems to be more focused on Mary than on Messiah, seeing a greater blessing in motherhood (bearing and nursing Jesus) than in discipleship (obedience to Jesus).
Why do you suppose that this woman saw such blessing in bearing and in nursing Jesus? It is my opinion (I want to go on record here that the text does not say this, but I think we can infer it) that the woman is viewing Jesus too much from a woman’s point of view. She views Jesus as a woman, and not as a disciple. For her, as for most women in that day, a woman’s role and her contribution was through bearing children (especially sons). This woman’s significance was in bearing and nurturing children, and thus she could only think of Jesus as a child and blessedness as being the child’s mother. While this woman has come farther than the opponents of Jesus and those who are, as yet, uncommitted, she has not come far enough. If Jesus is all that the evidence declares Him to be, then this woman should be focusing on obeying Christ’s words, not on the blessings of being Christ’s mother.
Obedience to Jesus is one of the central themes of the Gospels, one of the fundamental elements of discipleship. The Father said it at the mount of transfiguration:
“This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him” (Luke 9:35).
In John’s gospel, the issue of obedience (or of not wanting to obey) is clearly linked with the accusation that Jesus was demon-possessed:
At these words the Jews were again divided. Many of them said, “He is demon-possessed and raving mad. Why listen to him?” But others said, “These are not the sayings of a man possessed by a demon. Can a demon open the eyes of the blind?” (John 10:19-21).
The real problem for those who rejected Jesus and who attributed His power to Satan was that of obeying Him. In seeing this as the issue, they were correct. In rejecting Jesus as Messiah, as the Son of God, they were wrong.
The woman was wrong, too. She did not interpret the evidence correctly. She saw Jesus as great and His mother as blessed, but she did not see that Jesus was the One to receive and to follow by obeying His commands. How often we view Jesus through the grid of our own needs and desires and our own narrow view of significance.
The Sin of Sign-Seeking
Some of those in the crowd there were those who refused to come to a verdict, who resisted coming to any conclusion as to who Jesus was. Their reasons may have varied, although I cannot help but think that two factors weighed heavily in this matter.
First, I suspect that the strong opposition of Israel’s religious leaders to Jesus placed considerable pressure on the rest not to side with Him. It would seem that the most outspoken and radical opposition to Jesus was from the religious leaders of the nation Israel. The parallel accounts of Matthew and Mark both inform us that the “Beelzebub charge” came from the religious leaders. For anyone to openly recognize Jesus as the Messiah and to follow Him would have been to incur the wrath of these same leaders (compare John 9:34). It may well be that those who attempted to maintain some degree of neutrality were motivated, at least in part, by a desire not to oppose their leaders.
Second, many may have resisted coming to any firm conclusions about Jesus due to their understanding of the implications of such a decision. To acknowledge that Jesus was Israel’s Messiah meant, as Jesus had told the exuberant mother, that His words should be listened to and obeyed. If Jesus was the Messiah then men should follow Him, and that meant “taking up a cross.” Jesus was not the kind of Messiah most people were hoping for, and thus to accept Him as Messiah meant changing one’s aspirations from prosperity to persecution. The price was too high, so the decision was postponed.
The beauty of this stance is that it had an air of respectability to it. Some might even think it to be the wisest position to take. After all, why should one come to a hasty conclusion? There seemed to be evidence on both sides. The religious leaders were opposed to Jesus. On the other hand, some devotedly followed Him. Why not simply “hang back” and see how things worked out? Better yet, why not put Jesus on the spot, by requiring that He produce a heavenly sign? If He was the Messiah, let Him make it undisputedly clear. This is, after all, the “scientific method” isn’t it?202 Shouldn’t one withhold a decision until all the facts are in?
Jesus has very strong words for those who request a sign from heaven. His words inform us that this is evidence that this generation of Israelites is wicked, and so much so that the “belief” of two Old Testament peoples puts them to shame. The people of Nineveh accepted the “sign of Jonah” and repented, and the Queen of the South believed the reports about Solomon’s wisdom. For this, they will testify in the day of judgment against this generation for their unbelief.
Two things strike me about our Lord’s use of the Ninevites and the Queen of the South. The first is that both are Gentiles, and they, because of their belief, will condemn the unbelief of this generation of Israelites. The second is that both parties believed with much less evidence than that which this generation had seen. The Ninevites repented at the preaching of Jonah, which as we find it recorded in the book of Jonah may have been only one short sentence: “Yet forty days and Nineveh will perish.” That’s not a lot of evidence! And from all we know of Jonah, he spoke these words in a way that was not meant to convince or to convert these people. But the Ninevites believed. The Queen of the South also was convinced of Solomon’s wisdom when she heard his words.
To put the matter a little differently, THE BELIEF WHICH GOD COMMENDED WAS BASED UPON INSPIRED WORDS, MORE THAN UPON WORKS.
The responses of all of these people within the crowd that witnessed Jesus’ deliverance of the demoniac were varied, but the end result and the problem was the same in every case: they did not believe in Jesus as their Messiah. And this unbelief was rooted in their rejection of Jesus’ words, which led them to a misinterpretation of His works.
The great problem of sign-seeking is that it does not find the words of God to be enough, and thus it demands an on-going stream of miraculous works. The Israelites of old consistently “put God to the test” by not believing His words, and by insisting upon more works. The tests which Satan put to our Lord were all intended to get Jesus to do some work, in an act of unbelief in the Word of God, to which Jesus always responded with the Word of God. In Hebrews chapter 11, as elsewhere, we are told that faith is not grounded in what is seen (works), but in what is unseen (God’s word). The heroes listed in this “hall of faith” in Hebrews all lived out their lives in faith, believing in God’s promises, even though they did not see what was promised.
Those who thought themselves wise by remaining neutral were caught up short by our Lord’s strong words here. He taught them that neutrality was actually hostility, and that it was also dangerous (hospitality toward Satan, and condemnation in the day of judgment). The Lord’s work of casting out the demon was meant to be interpreted by Jesus’ words, by His teaching. John the Baptist had identified Jesus as the promised Messiah. Jesus had thus identified Himself as well. To fail to see this work as the work of Messiah could only be the result of the rejection of His words. It was not that the evidence was so little (for look at how the Ninevites and the Queen of the South responded to so little evidence), but that their unbelief was so great.
The relationship between Jesus’ words and His works can be seen throughout the gospels. In the Gospel of John, certain “signs” are selected, but the significance of each is defined by Jesus’ words. Jesus’ healing of the blind man is explained in terms of His being the “light of the world” (John 9). Jesus’ raising of Lazarus is explained in terms of His being the “resurrection and the life” (John 11).
People persisted in wanting more works from Jesus, while not wanting His words. When Jesus fed the 5,000, the people wanted this bread from then on, and they would have forcibly made Him their king (John 6:15). But when Jesus spoke of eating His flesh and drinking His blood, people could not stand to hear His words, and they left Him (John 6:60). When the disciples were asked if they, too, would leave, they responded in terms of Jesus’ words, and not just His works:
“Lord, to whom shall we go? You have words of eternal life” (John 6:68).
In Luke chapter 16 Jesus told the story of the rich man and Lazarus. When the rich man petitioned that someone be sent to his family, to warn them of the judgment to come, “Father Abraham” responded that his relatives had “Moses and the Prophets,” the Word of God, as it were, to warn them. He further said that if they would not receive these words, the return of one from the dead (a miracle, a sign) would not convince them. In other words, men insist that God produce works, signs, when they refuse to believe His words. Seeking signs is not an evidence of faith, but an evidence of unbelief.
The Real Problem:
Not the Evidence, but the Eyes
In the final paragraph of this section, Jesus now exposes the real problem which underlies all of the misinterpretation that precedes:
“No one lights a lamp and puts it in a place where it will be hidden, or under a bowl. Instead he puts it on its stand, so that those who come in may see the light. Your eye is the lamp of your body. When your eyes are good, your whole body also is full of light. But when they are bad, your body also is full of darkness. See to it, then, that the light within you is not darkness. Therefore, if your whole body is full of light, and no part of it dark, it will be completely lighted, as when the light of a lamp shines on you” (Luke 11:33-36).
In verse 33 Jesus says that the purpose of a lamp is to illuminate, and thus a light is put in a prominent place. I understand Him to be saying that He has come as the light of the world, that He has come to illuminate men (Luke 1:79; John 1:4-18, 9:1ff.). Since He came to illuminate men, He did not speak or act in secret, but openly. His light, as it were, was brightly exposed to men. His generation would not perish for lack of light.
In the context of this passage we might say it this way: Since Jesus had come to convert men, His evidence was both plentiful and public. The evidence was clear. Indeed, no one denied the miracles which Jesus performed. In this passage, no one denied that He had cast a demon from the dumb man. Everyone, however, failed to come to the right conclusion with this evidence. They came to the wrong verdict. The evidence did not convince or convert men. The reason why this is so is seen in the next verses. They tell us that the problem was not with the evidence Jesus produced, but with the eyes which beheld it.
The eye, Jesus said, is the gateway to the person’s entire being, his whole body. If the eye is good, if it lets in the light, the whole body is illuminated. If the eye is defective, if it lets in little light, the whole body is dark. Moving from the symbolism to the substance of this argument, Jesus is saying that everyone who failed to interpret the evidence of this miracle as they should has done so because of a defect in their ability to “see” the truth, not because of any deficiency in the evidence.
As I look through the Scripture, I find the analogy of the eyes frequently employed for one’s receptivity to the truth, to one’s perception:
And he uttered his oracle: “The oracle of Balaam son of Beor, the oracle of one whose eye sees clearly, … Then he uttered his oracle: “The oracle of Balaam son of Beor, the oracle of one whose eye sees clearly” (Numbers 24:3, 15).
Do not pervert justice or show partiality. Do not accept a bribe, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and twists the words of the righteous (Deuteronomy 16:19).
Here I stand. Testify against me in the presence of the Lord and his anointed. Whose ox have I taken? Whose donkey have I taken? Whom have I cheated? Whom have I oppressed? From whose hand have I accepted a bribe to make me shut my eyes? If I have done any of these, I will make it right” (1 Samuel 12:3).
The precepts of the Lord are right, giving joy to the heart. The commands of the Lord are radiant, giving light to the eyes (Psalm 19:8).
For in his own eyes he flatters himself too much to detect or hate his sin (Psalm 36:2).
Open my eyes that I may see wonderful things in your law (Psalm 119:18).
Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord and shun evil (Proverbs 3:7).
Make the heart of this people callused; make their ears dull and close their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed” (Isaiah 6:10).
The Lord has brought over you a deep sleep: He has sealed your eyes(the prophets); he has covered your heads (the seers). Isaiah 29:10.
To open eyes that are blind, to free captives from prison and to release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness (Isaiah 42:7).
Lead out those who have eyes but are blind, who have ears but are deaf (Isaiah 43:8).
They know nothing, they understand nothing; their eyes are plastered over so they cannot see, and their minds closed so they cannot understand (Isaiah 44:18).
Like the blind we grope along the wall, feeling our way like men without eyes. At midday we stumble as if it were twilight; among the strong, we are like the dead (Isaiah 59:10).
“Son of man, you are living among a rebellious people. They have eyes to see but do not see and ears to hear but do not hear, for they are a rebellious people (Ezekiel 12:2).
Then he turned to his disciples and said privately, “Blessed are the eyes that see what you see (Luke 10:23).
For this reason they could not believe, because, as Isaiah says elsewhere: “He has blinded their eyes and deadened their hearts, so they can neither see with their eye, nor understand with their hearts, nor turn—and I would heal them.” Isaiah said this because he saw Jesus’ glory and spoke about him (John 12:39-41).
May their eyes be darkened so they cannot see, and their backs be bent forever” (Romans 11:10).
The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God (2 Corinthians 4:4).
So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal (2 Corinthians 4:18).
I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints (Ephesians 1:18).
I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see (Revelation 3:18).
As I look at all the Scriptures it would seem that a man’s ability to understand what God is saying and doing is dependent upon his ability to “see” the truth. Man’s receptivity to the truth is the problem. The Bible is replete with evidence, but the eyes of man are not able to see it.
Man’s inability to see is attributed to at least three sources. First, man himself is responsible for his unreceptive heart toward God and toward spiritual truth. That seems to be the thrust of our Lord’s words to the crowd in Luke 11:
“See to it, then, that the light within you is not darkness” (Luke 11:35).
Man’s blindness is also attributed to the work of Satan, who blinds men’s minds from the truth (2 Corinthians 4:4). But blindness is also a work of judgment on God’s part, for He has blinded the eyes of Israel as a temporary judgment, due to their persistent unbelief (cf. John 12:39-41).
How, then, does one who is blind come from blindness to sight, from darkness to light, from death to life? I believe that the answer to this question is clear in the Bible. Man cannot, in and of himself, heal himself of his blindness, for it is a blindness of heart. Instead, God, through a gracious and miraculous act on His part, opens our eyes to see the truth. I believe that Paul’s physical blindness and the reception of his sight (Acts 9:1-19), was symbolic of his spiritual blindness. Later in Acts, we read of Lydia’s eyes being opened, as it were:
One of those listening was a woman named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth from the city of Thyatira, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message (Acts 16:14).
The epistles frequently speak of God’s bringing His people out of darkness into the light:
For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ (2 Corinthians 4:6, cf. Ephesians 5:8; Col. 1:13; 1 Peter 2:9).
Man’s conversion begins when God sovereignly opens the eyes of those who sin (along with Satan’s blinding) has kept them from seeing the truth and responding to it. This does not mean that man has no responsibility to believe, but only that he cannot believe until his eyes are opened. The ministry of the Holy Spirit is also involved in this “enlightenment” (cf. Ephesians 1:17; 1 Corinthians 2:6-16).
Once a person has come to faith in Christ, it is the Scriptures which expose the light in our lives, and which reveals our sin. The Scripture “sharpens our focus” as it were. On the one hand we must ask for God to “open our eyes” as we come to the Word, so that we may see in it the things God has for us (Psalm 119:18). On the other hand, the Scriptures serve to open our eyes, to show us life as it is, ourselves as we are, and God as He is (Hebrews 4:12-13).
This text has clearly shown us that men will normally and naturally reject incontestable evidence in a broad variety of ways because they will not believe God’s word, due to the fact that they view the evidence through their own perceptions, through their own grid, rather than from God’s point of view. This truth has many applications, but allow me to suggest a few.
First, we see the desperate need for prayer and the Word of God in our lives. God’s word is the truth, but we need our eyes opened to see and understand it. Prayer petitions God to open our eyes. God has given us both His Word and His Holy Spirit to enable us to grasp His truth. The Word of God and prayer are the vital mainstay of the saint.
Second, the Word of God and prayer are the mainstay of our ministry. I have heard this said by Bible believing Christians: Nobody would reject the gospel if it was clearly explained.
This is not only untrue, it is a denial of the truth. No one more perfectly proclaimed the gospel than our Lord, and yet most refused to receive it. The problem is not with the evidence, but with the eye that beholds it. The Word of God proclaims the truth, and thus the material of our ministry should be the Word of God. The Spirit of God internally convinces men of the truth of the Word (John 16:5-15). Prayer petitions God to open the eyes of blinded men, through the Spirit and the Word. It is no wonder that prayer and the ministry of the Word was a priority of the apostles (Acts 6:1-6). It should be our priority as well.
Evangelism is accomplished primarily through the proclamation of the Word and through prayer. We will never argue a person into the kingdom of God. We will never produce enough evidence to apologetically save anyone. The problem is not in the evidence (which we can and should present), but in the eye of the lost. Let us proclaim the truth and let us pray, for we cannot convert a single soul. Only God can replace darkness with light. Only God can open eyes that are blinded to the truth. Wives who nag their husbands with the gospel forget who and what saves their mates. It is not that they have not heard the gospel often enough (more than likely), or that it has not been put in the right words (though it should be well said), but that lost men can’t understand it and would not accept it if they did. Salvation is a miracle which God performs, and in which we are privileged to take part.
Third, this text reminds us that we should never interpret the Scriptures from “our own grid” although we must apply them through our grid. One problem with each of these people who failed to conclude from the evidence that Jesus was the Messiah was that they viewed the evidence through their own grids. The leaders of Israel viewed Christ through their grid, through their aspirations, their ambitions, their authority, their biblical understanding, and thus they rejected Him. Those who tried to remain neutral also did so in the light of their own goals and aspirations (such as not offending their leaders). The woman viewed Jesus through the grid of a mother, but not as a disciple.
Most Bible studies therefore approach the study of the Bible from the wrong perspective. People gather together and seek to answer the question, WHAT DOES THIS PASSAGE MEAN TO YOU?
This is precisely what each of those who were wrong about Jesus did. They all viewed the evidence in the light of what it meant to them, not in the light of what it meant. Jesus’ words and His works would only be accepted it they fit into the expectations and desires of those who witnessed them. But we have seen that our perspectives are wrong, our hearts are wicked and deceitful. We must come to the truth in the light of what God is saying to us, not in the light of what we would like to hear. We are coming to the Scriptures as husbands, fathers, leaders, employers, employees, mothers, wives, and so on, but not as disciples. We are to apply the Scriptures through our own grid, but not to interpret them in this way.
Fourth and finally, if you are still neutral toward Christ you are really hostile toward Him and hospitable toward Satan. There is no such thing as neutrality when it comes to the gospel. The evidence from God’s Word is clear. We are all sinners, deserving of the penalty of death (Romans 3:23; 6:23). God has sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to die in our place, to bear our penalty, so that we might have eternal life (John 3:16). All who trust in Him for salvation have eternal life (John 1:12). Do not remain neutral any longer, my friend, for this is a dangerous and damnable sin.
198 The gospel writers all place this event differently. It is hard to know where this event fits chronologically, and this is not really necessary, since the writers appear to be handling this matter thematically rather than chronologically.
199 Casting out demons was apparently one power which the opponents of our Lord felt they could attribute to Satan’s power. Note, however, that a number of people could exorcise (Luke 9:49-50; Acts 19:13-16), including unbelievers (Matthew 7:22), and the “sons” of the opponents (Luke 11:19). In every case I can find in the New Testament the demons were always cast out in Jesus’ name.
Geldenhuys writes of Beelzebub: “[Beelzebul] is used in the New Testament as a name for Satan. In the Mishnaic Hebrew Ba’al Zebul would have the meaning ‘Lord of the house’ (Zebul meaning generally ‘residence’ and more specifically the earthly or heavenly temple). This etymology thus throws light on the following references to the divided house (verse 17) and to the strong man armed guarding his ‘court’ (verse 21), and also on the words of Matthew x. 25, ‘If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul … ’ The original sense of Ba`al Zebul, however, is ‘Lord of the high place’; it is found in this sense as the name of a Canaanite deity in the Ras Shamra tablets (c. 1400 B.C.); this deity appears in 2 Kings i.2ff., where however, his name is transformed by an ironical word-play into Ba`al Zebub ‘Lord of flies.’” Norval Geldenhuys, Commentary on the Gospel of Luke, The New International Commentary on the New Testament Series (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1975 [reprint]), p. 332, fn. 4.
201 There is a parallel thought to be found in Romans chapter 7 as I understand this text. Paul is here teaching that the Christian does not have the power to resist sin in the flesh, and that only through the indwelling Spirit (“walking in the Spirit”) can sins power be resisted, so that man can do that which is pleasing to God and resist that which is not.
202 While it may appear that I am taking a shot at the scientific method, I am not, so long as it is applied to matters of science. But the laws of faith (as seen in Hebrews 11) are very different from the laws of science. Many today are using the scientific method as an excuse for their unbelief.