Sunday School Lesson
Lesson 6 (KJV)
The Kingdom Has Come upon You
Devotional Reading: Matthew 6:5–15
Background Scripture: Matthew 12:1–32
22 Then was brought unto him one possessed with a devil, blind, and dumb: and he healed him, insomuch that the blind and dumb both spake and saw.
23 And all the people were amazed, and said, Is not this the son of David?
24 But when the Pharisees heard it, they said, This fellow doth not cast out devils, but by Beelzebub the prince of the devils.
25 And Jesus knew their thoughts, and said unto them, Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation; and every city or house divided against itself shall not stand:
26 And if Satan cast out Satan, he is divided against himself; how shall then his kingdom stand?
27 And if I by Beelzebub cast out devils, by whom do your children cast them out? therefore they shall be your judges.
28 But if I cast out devils by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God is come unto you.
29 Or else how can one enter into a strong man’s house, and spoil his goods, except he first bind the strong man? and then he will spoil his house.
30 He that is not with me is against me; and he that gathereth not with me scattereth abroad.
31 Wherefore I say unto you, All manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men: but the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost shall not be forgiven unto men.
32 And whosoever speaketh a word against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven him: but whosoever speaketh against the Holy Ghost, it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world, neither in the world to come.
If I cast out devils by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God is come unto you. —Matthew 12:28
The Righteous Reign of God
Unit 2: Jesus Envisions the Kingdom
After participating in this lesson, each learner will be able to:
1. Summarize Jesus’ encounter with the Pharisees.
2. Explain why the logic used by the Pharisees was defective.
3. Identify an instance of false logic used against Christians today.
How to Say It
The 1992 film Unforgiven won four Academy Awards, including the award for Best Picture, in telling the story of an aging farmer who regressed into his previous occupation as a gunslinger. The appeal of the movie for popular audiences is its moral ambiguity. The film takes place in the so-called Wild West, an era depicted as a time when morality was in the eye of the beholder (compare Deuteronomy 12:8; Judges 21:25). During this time, it seemed that a person was only “forgiven” or “unforgiven” on the basis of self-rationalizations.
The Bible, however, is much clearer on what has to happen for a person to be forgiven. Even so, I once counseled a church member who was convinced that he had committed an unforgivable sin. He was in despair, deciding if to live a dissolute life because he would not receive forgiveness. The possibility of committing a sin that God will not forgive was troubling, even terrifying. Understanding what Jesus taught concerning sin that will not be forgiven requires that we pay close attention to the setting and context of today’s lesson.
B. Lesson Context
Although the Gospel of Matthew does not identify its author explicitly, the early church attributed it to Matthew, one of the original 12 apostles chosen by Jesus. His given name was Levi (Mark 2:14; Luke 5:27–29), being named after one of the 12 sons of Jacob (see Genesis 29:34; 35:23). Levi was the patriarch of the priestly tribe (Deuteronomy 18:1). The name Matthew is from the Hebrew language and means “gift of the Lord.” Some believe this may have been a nickname given to him, perhaps even by Jesus (compare Matthew 16:18; Mark 3:16–17).
We know little about Matthew’s family background, although he is once identified as a “son of Alphaeus” (Mark 2:14), creating the possibility that he was a brother of “James the son of Alphaeus” (Matthew 10:3), another of the 12 apostles.
Matthew’s chosen profession was to be a publican (tax collector). This means that he worked for the hated foreign overlords, the Romans who occupied Palestine. His job was to squeeze taxes from his fellow Jews to appease the oppressors, and he was allowed to dip into this money flow to enrich himself (compare Luke 19:2, 8). Such tax collectors were seen as traitors. Indeed, the Gospels categorize them with “sinners” and “harlots” (Matthew 9:9–10; 21:32).
By contrast, the Pharisees of Jesus’ day were regarded in a positive manner, zealous for scrupulously keeping the laws of the Jews (see Acts 26:5). Even in Galilee, far from Jerusalem, the Pharisees formed an elite brotherhood that demanded strict observance of their understandings of the law. They were identified by their mode of dress (Matthew 23:5). While influential, they were never numerous. Some estimate their numbers to have been fewer than 10, 000 at the time of Jesus. They frequently appear in the Gospels as Jesus’ critics and opponents, and He repeatedly pointed out their hypocrisies, teaching that the people needed another way to find God’s favor than the way of the Pharisees (see 5:20; 23:13–32). Similar and parallel accounts to today’s confrontation are Matthew 9:32–34; Mark 3:22–29; and Luke 11:14–23.
I. Kingdom and Healing
A. Three Maladies Cured (v. 22)
22. Then was brought unto him one possessed with a devil, blind, and dumb: and he healed him, insomuch that the blind and dumb both spake and saw.
The account begins much as the one in Matthew 9:32 does: with a succinct setting of the stage of the controversy that followed. By this time, Jesus had already garnered widespread acclaim as a healer (Matthew 4:23–25; 12:15). The Greek word translated healed here is the source of our word therapy. It has the sense of a person being made whole or delivered from afflictions. The healing ministry of Jesus included casting out “devils,” or demons (4:24; 8:16). In the case at hand, the man brought to Jesus suffered physical disability in two ways, in addition to being demonized. To be both blind and dumb is an unusual combination, because inability to speak is more often associated with being profoundly deaf. Nevertheless, Jesus healed him, presumably also expelling the demon—with the result that the man could both see and speak.
What Do You Think?
In what ways can people lack spiritual “sight” because of sin?
What evidence is there that a person has received spiritual “sight” because of Jesus’ work?
B. Two Reactions Provoked (vv. 23–24)
23. And all the people were amazed, and said, Is not this the son of David?
To proclaim Jesus to be the son of David was a way to acknowledge Jesus as the long-awaited Messiah of the Jews (see Romans 1:3). Some believed God’s Messiah would have a divine gift of healing (Matthew 9:27–30). Jesus’ mastery of both the oppressive demon and the physical issues caused the people to wonder if He was indeed the Messiah they had been waiting for. Not everyone recognized that possibility though (next verse).
What Do You Think?
How do the different titles of Jesus, such as “son of David,” describe the various aspects of His person and work?
What title do you need to understand better, and how will you study it?
24. But when the Pharisees heard it, they said, This fellow doth not cast out devils, but by Beelzebub the prince of the devils.
Some Pharisees, not present at the healing, had a different explanation. They did not doubt the fact of the exorcism, but to explain it they attributed Jesus’ power to an unholy, undivine source. In other words, they ascribed Jesus’ command of the demons to His being in league with the demons themselves. Their logic was that Jesus’ control over the minor demon that afflicted the man was due to the fact that Jesus was in league with a greater demon. The people had great respect for the Pharisees, so this slanderous accusation would be taken seriously. These religious leaders had made this charge before (Matthew 9:34), and their opposition to Jesus was becoming more entrenched.
Historically, the name Beelzebub is related to the name “Baal-zebub,” the pagan god of the Philistine city of Ekron (2 Kings 1:2–3, 6, 16). The name means something like “lord of the dwelling,” which relates to the account at hand. The Pharisees did not see Beelzebub as a pagan god, however. Rather, he was thought to be the prince of the devils, meaning the ruler of all the demons. Their charge against Jesus was that He was the opposite of the Lord’s anointed one, the chosen Messiah. Jesus’ power, they concluded, came not from God but from the satanic realm.
The Bible depicts demons as crafty and unified in their opposition to God’s work and in their desire to deceive people (example: Genesis 3:1). Satan was the great deceiver and liar, and still is today (see Revelation 20:10). To lump the work of Jesus in with theirs surely takes one’s breath away!
Calling Good Evil
In the first half of the twentieth century, Russian Communists did their best to stamp out Christianity in their country. Church buildings were demolished or otherwise “repurposed.” Leaders were harassed, arrested, and killed. Religious holidays were canceled. According to the government, Christians were mentally deficient, immoral, and unpatriotic traitors who cooperated with foreign spies. As a result, many believers met in secret, sometimes under the guise of having a birthday party.
The Pharisees of Jesus’ day were not the first to call good evil (see Isaiah 5:20), and they won’t be the last. However, no matter how powerful Jesus’ opponents were, He was not afraid of them, and we should not be either (Matthew 10:28). The same Jesus who endured abuse has guided His church through difficult years of persecution, and He continues to do the same today. Whenever opposition comes, is your first thought to remember that He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world (1 John 4:4)? If not, why not? —A. W.
II. Kingdom and Unity
A. Division’s Result Is Failure (v. 25)
25. And Jesus knew their thoughts, and said unto them, Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation; and every city or house divided against itself shall not stand.
Jesus was never deceived about the motives of His opponents. He saw into the hearts of people and knew their thoughts (Luke 6:8; etc.). In the case at hand, Jesus knew of the jealousy of these Pharisees that pushed them to wrongly interpret the healings as evil in origin.
When under personal attack, there are typically three ways for a person to react:
1.Don’t react; say nothing
2.Defend yourself with words of correction
3.Launch a counterattack
Here we see Jesus responding with option 2 as He points out the logical absurdity of the Pharisees’ conclusion.
Many people have heard about Abraham Lincoln’s “House Divided” speech, delivered on June 16, 1858. But it should be remembered that Jesus used the phrasing first in pointing out that any kingdom or city or household that bickers and becomes divided against itself will fall. Turning against one’s allies and fighting them is utter foolishness, for you are aiding and abetting your enemies.
B. Satan’s Realm Is Unified (vv. 26–27)
26. And if Satan cast out Satan, he is divided against himself; how shall then his kingdom stand?
Jesus continues under option 2, above. Both Jesus and the Pharisees see the demonic realm as an organized kingdom (compare Ephesians 2:2; Revelation 2:13). This stronghold stands in opposition to the kingdom of Heaven, which was at the center of Jesus’ preaching of good news (Matthew 9:35). Spiritual war exists between the kingdom of Satan and the kingdom of God, not as an internal strife within Satan’s domain. No one thought Satan or the demons were fools in that regard; they would not work against themselves.
27. And if I by Beelzebub cast out devils, by whom do your children cast them out? therefore they shall be your judges.
Having destroyed the Pharisees’ argument, Jesus now switches to option 3 as He counterattacks (see above). Jesus’ response assumes the personhood of Beelzebub, tacitly agreeing with the Pharisees’ claim that Beelzebub was “the prince of the devils” (Matthew 12:24, above). There is evidence in the Dead Sea Scrolls that the name Beelzebub was used as a synonym for Satan in Israel at the time, and we should understand it this way here. This is not a hypothetical entity for either Jesus or the Pharisees. Jesus therefore started from common ground to use their charge against Him—a charge that He was empowered by Satan and the demonic—to reveal their hypocrisy.
Ancient sources tell us that some Jews were known as exorcists in this period. One example we have is in Acts 19:13–16, the account of the seven sons of Sceva. These Jews were itinerant exorcists in the Ephesus region who failed spectacularly to drive out a demon when they used the name of Jesus inappropriately.
Jesus even hinted at a personal, family relationship between the accusing Pharisees and some local exorcists, their children. Jesus warned that if such local exorcists were summoned, they would serve as condemning judges against the Pharisees. This would defend Jesus’ authority as coming from God, not Satan, further exposing the hypocrisy of the charge.
C. God’s Spirit Unites (vv. 28–30)
28. But if I cast out devils by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God is come unto you.
Jesus used this occasion to announce a fulfillment of something that He had been preaching. He began His ministry by proclaiming that the people had to repent of their sins because God’s kingdom was near (Matthew 4:17). He taught His disciples to pray for the coming of the kingdom of God (6:10). Here He cited His authority over devils as a confirmation of the arrival of the kingdom. God’s reign on earth had overtaken Satan’s rule (also John 12:31). No demon could withstand the one empowered by the Spirit of God! The work of God was evident in Israel, banishing the evil spirits that had crippled and tormented the people (see Luke 7:21; etc.).
What Do You Think?
What evidence have you seen of the work of the kingdom of God in your neighborhood or town?
How can believers remain confident in the ultimate victory of God, even when evil appears prevalent?
29. Or else how can one enter into a strong man’s house, and spoil his goods, except he first bind the strong man? and then he will spoil his house.
Jesus offers one more analogy to show the absurdity of the Pharisees’ charge. The analogy involves an “everyone knows” type of illustration. A thief who wishes to steal from a strong man’s house knows that the homeowner must be neutralized before any thievery is possible; otherwise, the thief risks physical harm. One method the robber might use would be to bind the strong man. If tied up securely, the man could do nothing but watch as his house is burgled.
The lesson of the analogy is that Jesus’ actions in casting out demons is to spoil Satan’s house. It is to mess with Satan’s plans and operations. Since Satan is powerful, how could this be? Only if Jesus were able to neutralize, or bind, Satan (see Revelation 20:1–3). Jesus could do this by “the Spirit of God” (Matthew 12:28, above), who is infinitely stronger than the strongest member of the demonic world, Satan himself. Jesus was not working for Satan. Instead, Jesus has overcome Satan/Beelzebub himself (compare Luke 10:18; Revelation 12:7–9).
30. He that is not with me is against me; and he that gathereth not with me scattereth abroad.
Jesus ended His comments with a warning. For a person not to recognize and appreciate His power to heal and cast out demons meant that person was against Him. Likewise, one who did not gather with Jesus was working against Him by scattering those Jesus would call to himself. There was no middle ground, no neutral zone. The disinformation campaign of the Pharisees had dire eternal consequences, for no one who was against Jesus would prevail. In the end, all will bow to Him in worship (Philippians 2:10–11).
What Do You Think?
How do you ensure that you do not live contrary to God and His will?
What spiritual tools (see Ephesians 6:10–18) do you use to fight the influence of evil?
Gandhi was rumored to have said, “I like your Christ; I do not like your Christians.” Similarly, an acquaintance from social media recently posted a lengthy rant about the selfishness and intolerance of professing Christians and the corruption of the church. By contrast, he sang the praises of Jesus himself—as a friend of sinners who cared about all parts of the person, physical as well as spiritual. He described Jesus as a fearless radical who spoke hard truths to people in power, called out self-righteous religious people for their hypocrisy, and threw in His lot with the poor and oppressed.
I responded that I agreed with his conclusions about Jesus, and that is exactly why I am a Christian. More than anything, the world needs the real Jesus, who is all too often hard to see through the smoke and mirrors that some believers throw in the way. God is not divided against himself, nor is His kingdom. Do you live in a way that helps His kingdom grow, so that unbelievers see your actions and attitude and want what you have? —A. W.
III. Kingdom and the Spirit
A. Blasphemy (v. 31)
31. Wherefore I say unto you, All manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men: but the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost shall not be forgiven unto men.
Several times the Bible refers to something that has been called the unforgivable sin, or the unpardonable sin (compare Exodus 23:21; Hebrews 6:4–6; 10:26–27; 1 John 5:16). The verse before us identifies such a sin as blasphemy against the Holy Ghost. Therefore, the text takes a very dark turn at this point: Jesus stated that His opponents were flirting with eternal disaster.
Blaspheme is a Greek-based word referring to an insult or slander intended to harm the reputation of a person. Against a human this can be forgiven if admitted with repentance. But consistent and repetitive slander against the reputation of God and His work is another matter. For Jesus, slander against the Holy Spirit is the same as an insult against God.
B. Opposition (v. 32)
32. And whosoever speaketh a word against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven him: but whosoever speaketh against the Holy Ghost, it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world, neither in the world to come.
Remarkably, even speaking against Jesus, the Son of man, can be forgiven. Church history is replete with stories of powerful opponents of Jesus (such as the apostle Paul) who came to faith and served the cause of Christ. That is not what the Pharisees were doing. They were attributing God’s divine work among humanity to Satan! This was not accidental or casual. It was deliberate (compare Numbers 15:30–31).
We should understand this verse as a warning rather than a pronouncement of judgment. None of the Gospel accounts of this incident indicate that the Pharisees had committed full blasphemy against the Holy Spirit and therefore had entered into a state of eternal unforgiveness. But they were surely close. That Jesus would issue this grim warning revealed His underlying love and concern for them. He did not want them to cross the line and be committed followers and servants of Satan.
What Do You Think?
How will you respond to Christians who believe that they have committed an unforgivable sin?
How does a person’s willful defiance of God versus their willful concern to follow the ways of God inform your response?
A. Evil, Be Thou My Good
In Book IV of Paradise Lost, author John Milton has Satan musing at length on his situation and prospects. Satan realizes that his rebellion against God has left him without hope for redemption; thus he utters, “Farewell, hope.” Satan then reasons, “All good to me is lost.” He had begun a journey away from God from which there was no return. Therefore, he decided, “Evil, be thou my good”—one of the most chilling lines in all of literature.
What does it take to commit an eternal sin, a sin that cannot be forgiven, ever? Are we in daily danger of this, always walking a tightrope between salvation and eternal damnation? Could a careless word or thought condemn us for eternity?
We should recognize that some Christians fear the possibility of committing an unpardonable sin. However, we are probably not in a position to evaluate for sure whether it has been committed. Paul speaks of those who have a “seared” conscience (1 Timothy 4:2), referring to those who will not and so cannot repent. They have willingly reversed the order of good and evil in the universe, becoming like those Isaiah condemns when he says, “Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness” (Isaiah 5:20). These are the ones who have agreed with Milton’s Satan: “Evil, be thou my good.” Some would say today that evil and depravity are celebrated more than good. But we must not turn our backs on the unrepentant people in our community, just as Jesus did not abandon the Pharisees without a warning.
In the end, it is for God, not us, to judge whether or when the unforgivable sin has been committed. The old rule of thumb is that if you are concerned about it, you have not yet committed it, for you still have a conscience that discerns good from evil. God and His Word call us constantly to repent. If you still sense the stirring in your heart to get right with the Lord, even if the stirring is weak, you must do so.
Jesus’ words remain a lesson for today’s church. Opponents of Christianity will always seek to discredit Jesus and divide His followers. Once confronted with the gospel, it is impossible to remain neutral. To reject Jesus is to be against Him. This may done subtly, however. If we’re not careful, we may end up working against Jesus to divide and scatter His followers, bringing disunity to the body of Christ.
Heavenly Father, we want to rely even more on the power of the Holy Spirit for good works and to please You. May we never be intimidated by those who refuse to recognize You and Your power in their midst. We pray in the name of the one who loves us, Jesus our Lord. Amen.
C. Thought to Remember
Learn from the Pharisees’ mistakes.
Standard Publishing. KJV Standard Lesson Commentary® 2022-2023 (p. 1055). David C Cook. Kindle Edition.