The Text: Mark 3:20-30 – The multitude came together again, so that they couldn’t so much as eat bread. And when those close to Him heard, they went out to restrain Him, for they said, “He is crazy!”
And the scribes which acme down from Jerusalem said, “He has Beelzebub, and by the prince of demons He cats out demons.” And He called them, and said to them in parables, “How can Satan cast out Satan?”
“And if a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand. And if Satan rises up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but has an end.”
“No man can enter into a strong man’s house and take his goods, unless he first binds the strong man; then he can rob his house.”
Truly I say to you, ‘All sins shall be forgiven to the sons of men, and blasphemies as many as they shall blaspheme; but he that shall blaspheme against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is in danger of eternal damnation.”
[Jesus said this] because they said, “He has an unclean spirit.”
In the last half of Mark chapter three, the writer deals with what people thought about Jesus’ mental state and His allegiance; and that’s followed by Jesus’ words regarding who His true family was. While Mark records actual, 100% true events, they might not be recorded in chronological order. Luke, who claimed to write his gospel “in consecutive order” (1:3, NASB), records some of these events in chapter 11, and then the last part seen in Mark 3 is recorded in Luke 8. This doesn’t affect the inspiration of the Scriptures at all, for Mark never made the claim that he was writing chronologically. Instead, there’s a logical progression to Mark’s unfolding of events.
The Text, part 1 – The View of His Associates (Mark 3:20-21).
In verses 20-21, the focus is on how certain people close to Jesus viewed His mental state because of His actions here.
And the multitude comes together again
This is the great crowd of people who just about crushed Jesus earlier in the chapter. Jesus requested a small ship be prepared so that He wouldn’t be “thronged” or crushed like a grape. But now, the same scenario arises again—except that this time there’s no ship, because Jesus is at a house (see verse 19).
So that they couldn’t so much as eat bread.
Whoever the “they” is (whether it’s Jesus and the apostles, or the crowd), the point is that there was so many of them that having the space and taking the time to eat was an impossibility (literally, they did not have the power even to eat). The crowd wanted Jesus’ time and attention—it’s all they cared about. It seems as though this is the same kind of thing that happened when Jesus ended up feeding the 4,000:
Jesus called His disciples and said, “I have compassion on the multitude, because they continue with me now three days, and have nothing to eat: and I will not send them away fasting, lest they faint in the way (Matthew 16:32).
Have you ever been so focused on Jesus and wanting to be close to Him that you forget to eat—or don’t think eating is important enough to stop reading His word and going to the Father in prayer? Jesus said “blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled” (Matthew 5:6); and He told His disciples, “My [food] is to do the will of Him that sent me” (John 4:34). When our hunger for spiritual things becomes greater than our hunger for physical things, we have grown greatly in Jesus Christ.
Many of those who followed Jesus (including, certainly, many in this multitude) were not interested in His teachings, but in seeing a miracle or being the recipient of His healing power (Mark 3:10).
And when those near Him heard of it…
There’s debate as to who these people are. The KJV and ASV say “friends,” the NKJV and NASB say “His people,” while the ESV (and many commentators) says “His family.” Literally, the text says “the ones beside Him.” Regardless of who it was (I tend to think it is His newly-appointed apostles whom He said would be “with Him”—Mark 3:14), these were people who cared about His well-being.
They went out to grab hold of Him
They wanted to rescue Him, to save Him from the crowds that put His life in danger before by mobbing Him. Given the size of the crowd, it took some courage for these people to work their way to Jesus and try to take Him away from the mob.
For they said, “He is beside Himself!”
Literally, they said “He is crazy!” It’s as though they were questioning Jesus’ sanity in going back out to the mob that all wanted to touch Him and crowd Him. If indeed it is the apostles under consideration, imagine what they’re thinking. They were selected that morning, and now, to them, it looks like Jesus is trying to commit suicide by letting the mobs come rush Him again.
But Jesus wasn’t crazy. What His associates didn’t understand is that Jesus had the power to stop the mob in their tracks if He wanted. He could have simply walked through the crowd like He did in Luke 4:28-30:
And all they in the synagogue, when they heard these things, were filled with wrath, and rose up, and thrust Him out of the city, and led Him to the brow of the hill on which their city was built, so that they might cast Him down headlong. But He, passing through the midst of them, went His way.
Mark doesn’t tell us what happened next. He doesn’t say that the associates of Jesus pulled Him into the house, and doesn’t say they Jesus told them not to worry. It’s simply left with their thought that Jesus was crazy.
The Text, part 2 – The View of the Scribes (Mark 3:22)
And that leads directly into verse 22, which tells us that the scribes held a somewhat similar view—but with a completely different motive.
The scribes which came down from Jerusalem…
These were some of the religious teachers who were supposed to be well-acquainted with the Law of Moses, having copied much of it by hand. The fact that they were the scribes in Jerusalem meant that they were the most prestigious scribes in the nation. Their words held a lot of weight with the people.
They came “down” from Jerusalem, because Jerusalem is situated on a mountain. They weren’t using “down” to mean “south” like we do when looking at a map. They walked, and so anywhere out of Jerusalem was “down” to them.
[They] said, “He has Beelzebub”
Beelzebub is a name the Jews used for Satan. Literally, it means “Lord of the flies,” but it’s also been said that this originated with the idea that the flies buzz around piles of poop. Thus, according to some who have studied the issue, the name Beelzebub is a derogatory name to describe Satan as “poop lord” or “the poo-poo god.” (and yes, that is a direct quote).
So when the scribes from Jerusalem made this accusation, it wasn’t just that they were questioning Jesus’ power and authority (which, if we are really lenient, we might say they did in ignorance), they were also degrading Jesus. It wasn’t a scared, fearful, “He serves Satan,” but instead a sneering and mocking, “He has the poo-poo god.”
In the Old Testament (1 Kings 16), the Philistines worshiped “Baalzebub,” which is almost definitely the same name. Ahaziah, one of the kings of Israel, was sick and injured, and instead of enquiring of God as to whether he would recover, he sent messengers to go enquire of Baalzebub. Elijah stopped them and sent them back with a message: because the king would rather enquire of Baalzebub than of the God of Israel, he was going to die. Over a hundred men were killed with fire from heaven in the course of the chapter, all going back to the actions of the king.
“By the prince of demons, He casts out demons.”
There’s not a single good motive behind what these scribes said of Jesus. They said that He has Beelzebub, as though He’s possessed, not just by any demon, but by Satan himself, the ruler of demons! He who was casting out demons, they claim, is the most possessed man there is!
Now don’t miss what they’re saying. They are admitting, without a doubt, that Jesus was casting out demons. Thus, they are admitting that Jesus possesses supernatural power—miracle-working power. And they are so opposed to Jesus that they take the ridiculous position that He’s actually working for and with Satan!
Now, for the sake of the argument, we should recognize that in casting out demons, there were only two possibilities—either the power of God was behind it, or the power of Satan (the ruler over demons) was behind it. The scribes tried to convince the people that Jesus was controlled by Satan, or working with him, in an effort to trick people into following Satan, by casting out the demons. In effect, their accusation was that Satan was trying to pretend to be an angel of light to draw away followers after himself.
His associates thought He was crazy, but His enemies claimed He was Satan-possessed!
The Text, part 3 – A House Divided (Mark 3:23-27).
Jesus’ response is to show the ludicrousness of their accusation. Mark doesn’t give us everything Jesus used in response, but he gives us enough to make the point pretty clear.
He called them, and said to them in parables, “How is Satan able to cast out Satan?”
Mark wants to make sure that his readers don’t miss the point of these parabolic statements from Jesus. They each are given as ways of asking the same question, “How is Satan able to cast out Satan?” The word translated as “can” in the KJV is the word dunamai, the noun form of which is very frequently used to describe miracle-working power. When it appears here, the question is “How does Satan have the ability [or power] to cast himself out?”
Jesus, who knew what the scribes were thinking and saying, called them and presented a series of arguments to them.
“If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand.”
Imagine a king who tries to undermine the very laws that he uses to govern people. Or a ruler who bombs his own army. If Satan is casting out Satan, it’s the same as though a king was banishing himself from his own kingdom, or perhaps banishing all his subjects (since Satan is the ruler of the demons). Once there are no more subjects, there’s no kingdom.
Jesus’ point is that no one with any sense at all would actively seek to destroy his own kingdom, and Satan isn’t stupid—he isn’t going to actively try to destroy his own power, and therefore himself.
“If a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand.”
Jesus goes from the large (the kingdom) to the small (the family) to show that this principle applies all the way around. A family which does nothing but fight isn’t really a family at all any more, except perhaps in name only, because the people in that family have destroyed it.
“If Satan rises up against himself, and is divided, he cannot stand, but has an end.”
Jesus makes it clear that the demons that have been cast out are loyal to Satan; by casting out the demons, it is an attack on Satan himself. Thus, if this is being done by Satan’s power, then Satan is attacking himself. And if Satan is attacking himself, neither he nor his kingdom can stand. If Satan is attacking himself, he has an end—he is committing suicide.
However, Satan isn’t stupid. Satan isn’t attacking himself. Satan isn’t committing suicide.
But something is going on… Satan is being attacked… His soldiers are being defeated… His kingdom is shaking.
No one can enter into a strong man’s house and steal his goods, unless he first binds the strong man; then he can rob his house.
The scribes’ accusation was that Jesus was possessed by Satan. Jesus’ response is to say, in essence, Are you kidding me? Satan’s kingdom is falling, and he’s not doing it himself. I’m the one who is doing it, for Satan—as strong as he is—is no match for me. I’m taking his kingdom.
It is a statement of Jesus’ amazing power. He, as God in the flesh, has come and beaten Satan at his own game. Satan went after Him hard and heavy, tempting Him during those forty days (Mark 1:13), but Jesus came out victorious, and began to announce that the Kingdom of Heaven was at hand. Satan continues to fight back, but his kingdom is losing power every day that Jesus works. Satan is the “strong man,” but Jesus is even stronger!
The Text, part 4 – The Blasphemy of the Holy Spirit (Mark 3:28-30).
Understanding the context is key to understanding what the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit actually is. Jesus didn’t just spit out these words are a random moment; He thoughtfully said them in response to an actual event. And it’s rather important that we notice the progression of what’s happened here in His interaction with the scribes.
- They make the accusation that He’s doing miracles by the power of Satan.
- He shows the ridiculous nature of their accusation.
- He declares His superiority in power over Satan (which is actually a claim to be Deity).
And now, Jesus warns them that eternal damnation (which He has in His power to administer) awaits those who make such accusations.
“Truly I say to you, All sins shall be forgiven to the sons of men”
Murder, robbery, hatred, etc., all of the things we think of as sin will be forgiven by God if we repent. Of course, this is not saying that God will forgive every sin period. There is no grace for those who sin willfully (Hebrews 10:26), or for those who don’t know God or who reject the gospel (2 Thessalonians 1:8). But Jesus is saying that forgiveness is available for all sins…except for one.
“Even blasphemies, as many as they shall blaspheme”
Blasphemies are speaking evil of someone, speaking against them. Even blasphemies will be forgiven by God. Saul of Tarsus blasphemed (1 Timothy 1:13), but was forgiven. Blasphemy itself does not guarantee eternal damnation. But one kind does…
“But he that shall blaspheme against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is in danger of eternal damnation.”
Jesus brought this up for a reason, which Mark gives in verse 30. The scribes had seen first-hand the power of Jesus to cast out demons (see Luke 11:14-15), but were so hard-hearted that they’d rather give the glory for this wonderful miracle to Satan than to Jesus, who did it by the power of the Holy Spirit. They, the teachers of the law, the supposed experts, were calling good “evil.”
Woe to them who call evil “good,” and good “evil”; that put darkness for light and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter! Woe to them who are wise in their own eyes, and prudent in their own sight! … Therefore as the fire devours the stubble, and the flame consumes the chaff, so their root shall be as rottenness, and their blossom shall go up as dust: because they have cast away the law of the LORD of hosts, and despised the word of the Holy One of Israel. Therefore is the anger of the LORD kindled against His people…(Isaiah 5:20-21, 24-25).
Miracles, which came from the Holy Spirit, were given as absolute confirmation from God Himself that the things spoken were divinely approved, and that the messenger was from God (Mark 16:20, Mark 2:10). If someone saw the evidence given by God, and still rejected it, and even worse, claimed that it was Satan that was doing it? That is a full-on attack on God Himself, His nature, His goodness, His power, and His deity. The person who is that hard-hearted has destroyed his chance at forgiveness.
Some Greek manuscripts read “guilty of eternal sin,” which gets the same basic idea across. It is a sin that never dies, that never goes away.
People often wonder (and worry) about possibly committing this same sin today. First, you need to remember what it is: accepting the miracles of the Holy Spirit, but rejecting the message, the messenger, and attributing those miracles to Satan. So, the only way you could commit this unpardonable, eternal sin today is if you admitted the miracles of Jesus and the apostles took place, but agreed with the scribes that it was done through the power of Jesus. Or perhaps if you said that the Bible itself (given by inspiration of the Holy Spirit) was a product of Satan, and not of God.
The point to remember is that if you’re trying to be right with God, there is ZERO chance that you could commit this sin. It isn’t a sin that is committed on accident. The scribes intentionally spoke against the miracles of Jesus. It wasn’t that they questioned them, or just weren’t certain; they did it on purpose. That is what made it unforgiveable. They knew it was a miracle, and they intentionally gave credit to Satan for it instead of God (via the Holy Spirit).
[He said this] because they said, “He has an unclean spirit.”
Jesus has completely turned the tables on them. They came with what they probably thought was an ingenious argument, and they left exposed and condemned. Their condemnation came because they had said Jesus Himself had an unclean spirit—specifically Satan—guiding His movements. How hard-headed and close-minded do you have to be to claim in one breath to believe in God and His word, and in the next denying God’s power, and by implication praising Satan???
Is it any wonder that they left condemned?
You Might Not Know the Whole Story…
The associates of Jesus (regardless of who they were) wanted to help Him, to essentially save Him from Himself. But they didn’t understand the whole story. They didn’t fully grasp what was going on, who Jesus was, and what power He had. There are times in our lives where we make assumptions about other people, and sometimes those assumptions turn out to be completely wrong. The ones who went to grab Jesus were acting out of concern for His well-being, and that is absolutely commendable. It’s an example we should follow. But at the same time, they were acting on an assumption.
When you start to question the motives of others, stop and ask yourself if you’re assuming they have bad motives, or if you know for certain that such is the case. It might be that you have misunderstood what is happening. It might be that their motives are pure and they simply made a mistake. It might be that they just plain don’t have the same level of understanding that you do in some matters. In all things, instead of making assumptions, we should go to the person and help them, make sure we know the truth about any given situation so that we can be able to act based on facts and not assumptions.
The Other Unforgiveable Sin
Jesus said that blasphemy against the Holy Spirit was not forgivable; but there is another sin that is unforgiveable. That sin is the one that you know you’ve done, but don’t repent of. Hebrews 10:26 says “if we sin willfully, after having received a knowledge of the truth, there remains no more sacrifice for sins…” To sin willfully is to know you’re sinning, to do it on purpose. 1 John 1:9 says “if we confess our sins” (and the idea is not just saying “yep, I did this,” but confessing it to God with a repentant heart), “He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” That word “if” means that when you don’t repentantly confess your sins to God, you won’t be forgiven.
Brethren, when you know you’ve sinned, repent and ask God for forgiveness for it, and He will forgive you.
Those verses were written to Christians who had already taken hold of the blood of Jesus Christ through humble obedience to His word. The very first sermon delivered after the resurrection of Jesus is found in Acts 2. In that sermon, Peter’s goal was to help people be saved. After getting their attention, Peter said, “hear these words,” and proceeded to tell them about the death and resurrection of Jesus. He appealed to both Scripture and miracles to prove it to them, so that they would believe it. When the people realized he was telling them the truth, they were cut to the heart and asked, “What shall we do?” Peter’s response to these people who were not yet Christians, and who wanted to be forgiven, was this: “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, for the remission of sins.”
If you have not obeyed the gospel commands, please delay no longer. Follow those simple God-given directives and enjoy a new life with your old sins all erased!
-Bradley S. Cobb