Books on Christian apologetics rarely reference Matt 12:22-29 and Jesus’ encounter with the unbelieving Pharisees, but I believe this passage has some important implications for apologetics. With this study I am not attempting a full explanation of Matt 12:22-29 but I want to address where this
passage intersects with apologetics and insights for a defense of the Christian faith. This section reads:
22 Then a demon-possessed man who was blind and mute was brought to Jesus, and He healed him, so that the mute man spoke and saw. 23 All the crowds were amazed, and were saying, “This man cannot be the Son of David, can he?” 24 But when the Pharisees heard this, they said, “This man casts out demons only by Beelzebul the ruler of the demons.” 25 And knowing their thoughts Jesus said to them, “Any kingdom divided against itself is laid waste; and any city or house divided against itself will not stand. 26 If Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself; how then will his kingdom stand? 27 If I by Beelzebul cast out demons, by whom do your sons cast them out? For this reason they will be your judges. 28 But if I cast out demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. 29 Or how can anyone enter the strong man’s house and carry off his property, unless he first binds the strong man? And then he will plunder his house.
Jesus’ healing of a demon-possessed man is the catalyst for this encounter between Jesus and the unbelieving Pharisees. The crowds tried to make a connection between what Jesus did and who He was. Does this healing of a demon-possessed man indicate that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of David, or not? This is the question they pose to their religious leaders—the Pharisees. The Pharisees deny that the miracle shows that Jesus is the Messiah. Their claim is that it shows that Jesus is in league with Satan (Beelzebul).
Jesus is dealing with a false claim by the Pharisees, a claim that does not correspond with reality. So how does Jesus respond? Several things should be noted.
First, Jesus engages and interacts with the false claim—“and knowing their thoughts Jesus said to them” (v. 25a). The Pharisees said something false and Jesus immediately challenges their false statement and thinking. He does not become passive or ‘just let it go.’ He does not say, “These guys are hopelessly loss so why waste My time?” No. Something false has been declared and it needed a response.
Second, Jesus responds with logic and reasoned arguments to show that the Pharisees were wrong. One could say that Jesus mows down their false claim with reason. He gives three air-tight arguments to show how wrong the claim of the Pharisees is.
Jesus’ first argument involves showing the absurdity of the Pharisees’ claim:
Jesus said to them, “Any kingdom divided against itself is laid waste; and any city or house divided against itself will not stand. If Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself; how then will his kingdom stand?” (vv. 25b-26).
In other words, Jesus tells the Pharisees that their claim that He is casting out demons by the power of Satan is simply absurd and makes no sense. Everyone knows that a kingdom or military force is doomed if there is inner fighting among the group. In effect Jesus is saying, “It’s silly to think that I am a servant of Satan while at the same time I am fighting Satan by casting out his demons.” That’s a horrible strategy.
Jesus’ second argument involves the inconsistency of the Pharisees’ claim—“If I by Beelzebul cast out demons, by whom do your sons cast them out? For this reason they will be your judges (v. 27). Jesus points out that there were other Jewish exorcists involved with casting out demons. But why is it that the Pharisees did not have a problem with these exorcists? What right did they have to accept what their own exorcists did while rejecting Jesus’ works?
Jesus’ third argument involves proof. “But if I cast out demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you” (v. 28). This is a call to believe correctly and line up with reality. The truth is that Jesus’ casting out of demons is evidence that the kingdom has come upon Jesus’ hearers. Miracles give evidence that Jesus is the King who can bring in the kingdom of God. Jesus’ audience originally thought this when they initially said, “This man cannot be the Son of David, can he?” Authority over the demonic realm is evidence that Jesus is the Messiah. Thus, Jesus is calling on his audience to give proper significance to what He has done. In sum, Jesus is calling on his audience to make the correct connection between what He does and who He is.
Jesus’ three-prong answer refuted the false claim of the Pharisees. At this point Jesus knew that the Pharisees were whole-heartedly against Him. They were planning on killing Him. Plus, Jesus indicated that they were committing the unforgivable sin—which is determined and hardened unbelief in light of the fullest revelation possible—the Messiah performing irrefutable miracles in their midst. Yet refuting lies with truth is a good thing and Jesus does not shy away from exposing error with truth.
In closing, I think we can glean a few principles in regard to apologetics from this encounter.
First, we can actively refute error with truth. We do not have to let false statements and claims remain with no answer.
Second, refuting error with truth can take place even if the audience is not receptive to what we have to say. If someone or some group refuses to believe the truth, that makes them even more accountable before God. But speaking the truth is always a good thing.
Third, we can use sound logic and reason to make our points. Jesus did. Jesus used sound reasoning to refute His opponents. Sound logic and reason are not neutral things but they stem from our Creator God who himself is intelligent and rational. Our ability to reason stems from being made in the image of God and when we are in a right relationship with our Creator our reasoning should function even better. Thus, a proper use of reason in an apologetic encounter is acceptable.