Studies in Mark: Opposition by Friends and Foes

Mark 3:19‑30  •  15 min. read  •  grade level: 11
17Opposition by Friends and Foes
“And he cometh into a house.1 And the multitude cometh together again, so that they could not so much as eat bread. And when his friends2 heard it, they went out to lay hold on him: for they said, He is beside himself.3 And the scribes which came down from Jerusalem said, He hath Beelzebub, and, By the prince of the devils4 casteth he out the devils.5 And he called them unto him, and said unto them in parables, How can Satan cast out Satan? And if a kingdom be divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand.6 And if a house be divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand.? And if Satan hath risen up against himself, and is divided, he cannot stand,7 but hath an end. But no one can enter into the house of the strong man, and spoil8 his goods, except he first bind the strong man; and then he will spoil9 his house. Verily I say unto you, All their sins10 shall be forgiven unto the sons of men, and their blasphemies11 wherewith soever they shall blaspheme;12 but whosoever shall blaspheme against the Holy Spirit hath never forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal 13 sin: because they said, He hath an unclean spirit” (3:19-30, R.V.).
Immediately after the call and appointment of the twelve it would seem that the Lord delivered an exposition of the principles of the new kingdom, such as is recorded by Matthew (5-7.) and Luke (6:20-49). But Mark does not mention what is commonly known as the “Sermon on the Mount"; he states briefly that the Lord and the band of apostles came home, or to the house. This house was one habitually occupied by Jesus and His disciples when they came to Capernaum. Here on a previous occasion the crowd had gathered, and the paralytic let down through the roof was healed (2:1-11). In the house He explained the parable of the sower to His disciples (7:17). In the house also the Lord questioned the apostles privately as to the subject of their disputations among themselves by the way (9:33).
This practice of Jesus appears to have been recognized in Capernaum, for, as a crowd quickly assembled upon a former occasion, so we read they did so “again"; “the multitude cometh together again, so that they could not so much as eat bread.” The open doors of Eastern houses and the liberal hospitality of the domestic circle would explain as customary much of what in this incident the Western mind might regard as an unwarrantable intrusion. But making due allowance for local custom, it is clear from this passage and others (Mark 6:31-3331And he said unto them, Come ye yourselves apart into a desert place, and rest a while: for there were many coming and going, and they had no leisure so much as to eat. 32And they departed into a desert place by ship privately. 33And the people saw them departing, and many knew him, and ran afoot thither out of all cities, and outwent them, and came together unto him. (Mark 6:31‑33)) that there was a great eagerness on the part of the people to know more of the Prophet of Nazareth, while on His part an absolute disregard of self and an absorbing love to do good to the needy led Him willingly to forego meal-time when an occasion such as this arose for service.
The news that Jesus was again at Capernaum spread quickly beyond the town itself into the surrounding country and to Nazareth where He was brought up. His relatives received these tidings with feelings of apprehension. They were alarmed at the growing interest and the excitement displayed by the populace, and possibly more so by the fact that a deputation of scribes and Pharisees from Jerusalem (3:22) was even then in Capernaum to investigate the practices of the Prophet of Nazareth and to ascertain whether anything in the new teaching was antagonistic to the religion they had received from Moses and the fathers.
As soon as they heard,14 they started out, presumably from Nazareth, to go to Capernaum in order to prevent this mischief, for so they conceived it, spreading further. In their blind ignorance and blinding unbelief they said, He is beside Himself, or, out of His mind.
There is no ground for understanding the term “friends” in the above translation in the sense of a relation based mainly upon feelings of love and regard. When the Lord said to His disciples, “Ye are my friends, if ye do the things which I command you” (John 15:1414Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you. (John 15:14)), He used a different word altogether (φίλοι), which does signify those who love. But here the Evangelist employs a peculiar phrase (οἱ παρ᾿ αὐτοῦ, literally, those from Him, or, from His home. It means no doubt His relatives or kinsfolk, and certainly included, as we find from the account in this chapter of their subsequent arrival (3:31), His mother and brethren. Cranmer's Version (1539), following Tyndale's (1534), translated the phrase expressively enough as, those belonging unto Him: “And when they that belonged unto him heard of it, they went out to laye handes vpon him. For they sayde: he is madd.”
We are shown here by this outrageous comment of the relatives how utterly unable “flesh and blood” under the most favorable conditions was of appreciating the true nature of the service of Jesus. It might be supposed that the family at Nazareth would have supported Him. And yet sacred history is not without examples of family ties covering family feuds, even though the enmity existed upon one side only. Cain slew Abel his brother; the sons of Jacob sold Joseph into Egypt; and the sons of Jesse scoffed at David the shepherd who slew Goliath before their eyes.. And the Spirit of Christ in the prophets said, “I am become a stranger unto my brethren, and an alien unto my mother's children” (Psa. 69:88I am become a stranger unto my brethren, and an alien unto my mother's children. (Psalm 69:8)); and again, “Because of all mine adversaries, I am become a reproach, yea, unto my neighbors exceedingly, and a fear to mine acquaintance” (Psa. 31:1111I was a reproach among all mine enemies, but especially among my neighbors, and a fear to mine acquaintance: they that did see me without fled from me. (Psalm 31:11), R.V.).
The Gospels illustrate the fulfillment of this predicted estrangement. Mary, in her overweening anxiety that Jesus should do some great thing to signalize Himself, said to Him suggestively at Cana, “They have no wine.” Before the feast of tabernacles, His brethren said to Him in Galilee, “Depart hence, and go into Judaea, that thy disciples also may behold thy works which thou doest.... If thou doest these things, manifest thyself to the world” (John 7:3, 43His brethren therefore said unto him, Depart hence, and go into Judea, that thy disciples also may see the works that thou doest. 4For there is no man that doeth any thing in secret, and he himself seeketh to be known openly. If thou do these things, show thyself to the world. (John 7:3‑4)).
Here, as Mark shows, mother, brethren and others came out to restrain Him, for such zeal, they said, bespoke an unsound mind. Thus in every case, whatever appearance of aid their actions had, there was real opposition to Him in His path of service.
How full of bitterness was the cup of the Lord, who endured not only the “contradiction of sinners” against Himself, but the mistaken and evil judgments of His own kinsfolk. He trod first and foremost in that pathway wherein, as He warned His disciples, a man should find that his foes included his own household.
It has seemed to some that to translate ἐξέστη by “out of his mind,” “beside himself,” or “is mad,” is to give the word a stronger sense than is justifiable. And it is true that in John 10:2020And many of them said, He hath a devil, and is mad; why hear ye him? (John 10:20), where His enemies say, “He hath a demon and is mad,” a different word is used. But whatever may be an exacter rendering here in Mark the general sense is certainly that they thought Jesus was actuated by an extravagant enthusiasm which altogether exceeded the bounds of soberness and propriety. This was a false judgment which arose because they failed to understand what Person had now undertaken service for Jehovah in the midst of His chosen people.
With that austere impartiality which is indubitable evidence of the divine inspiration of the sacred Gospels, the Evangelist, after showing that the Lord's zealous activities awakened in His kinsfolk a suspicion of mental derangement, states, in immediate juxtaposition, the awful charge preferred against the Servant of Jehovah by the religious leaders of the Jews. They were unable to disprove or to deny the reality of the signs and wonders wrought by Him. They therefore, with horrible perversity, attributed this power to a Satanic origin. They could not condemn Him as guilty of this charge by the test laid down of old in the Scriptures of failure in the fulfillment of His words. For in their presence the Lord spoke the word of healing to the palsied man who was so helpless that only by a most extraordinary method was the prostrate sufferer brought before the Prophet of God. His word was immediately effective, as crowds in Capernaum could testify, and the man was able to carry away his bed before their eyes. This proved conclusively the validity of the Lord's claims. Was it not written, “When the word of the prophet shall come to pass, then shall the prophet be known that the LORD hath really sent him” (Jer. 28:99The prophet which prophesieth of peace, when the word of the prophet shall come to pass, then shall the prophet be known, that the Lord hath truly sent him. (Jeremiah 28:9)). And Moses had previously written of the converse, “When a prophet speaketh in the name of the LORD, if the thing follow not, nor come to pass, that is the thing which the Lord hath not spoken: the prophet hath spoken it presumptuously; thou shalt not be afraid of him” (Deut. 18:2222When a prophet speaketh in the name of the Lord, if the thing follow not, nor come to pass, that is the thing which the Lord hath not spoken, but the prophet hath spoken it presumptuously: thou shalt not be afraid of him. (Deuteronomy 18:22)). In the case of the Lord, however, there were abundant instances that His word was fulfilled, so that a fair-minded teacher of eminence in Israel was constrained to confess, “Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God: for no man can do these signs that thou doest, except God be with him” (John 3:22The same came to Jesus by night, and said unto him, Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him. (John 3:2)).
The Pharisaic scribes from Jerusalem,15 unable to accuse Jesus of failing to comply with these tests divinely laid down in former days for an alleged prophet, resort to a charge of complicity with evil spirits. Such a charge, if established, would have rendered the Lord liable to the death-sentence of the law. For Jehovah had commanded through Moses, “A man or a woman that hath a familiar spirit, or that is a wizard, shall surely be put to death; they shall stone them with stones” (Lev. 20:2727A man also or woman that hath a familiar spirit, or that is a wizard, shall surely be put to death: they shall stone them with stones: their blood shall be upon them. (Leviticus 20:27)). The Jews did, as we learn elsewhere, say of the Lord that He had a demon (John 7:20; 8:48, 52; 10:2020The people answered and said, Thou hast a devil: who goeth about to kill thee? (John 7:20)
48Then answered the Jews, and said unto him, Say we not well that thou art a Samaritan, and hast a devil? (John 8:48)
52Then said the Jews unto him, Now we know that thou hast a devil. Abraham is dead, and the prophets; and thou sayest, If a man keep my saying, he shall never taste of death. (John 8:52)
20And many of them said, He hath a devil, and is mad; why hear ye him? (John 10:20)
), and they also sought to stone Him (John 8:5959Then took they up stones to cast at him: but Jesus hid himself, and went out of the temple, going through the midst of them, and so passed by. (John 8:59)). Here they went further, for they said, “He hath Beelzebub,” and “By the prince of the demons casteth he out demons.” The degree of aggravation in this charge will be seen when we remember, on the one hand, that Judas, the perfidious traitor, in his act of betrayal, was possessed not of a demon but of Satan himself (Luke 22:33Then entered Satan into Judas surnamed Iscariot, being of the number of the twelve. (Luke 22:3); John 13:2727And after the sop Satan entered into him. Then said Jesus unto him, That thou doest, do quickly. (John 13:27)), and, on the other hand, that the Man Christ Jesus was anointed for service by the Heavenly Dove, the Holy Spirit of God (Mark 1:10-1210And straightway coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens opened, and the Spirit like a dove descending upon him: 11And there came a voice from heaven, saying, Thou art my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. 12And immediately the Spirit driveth him into the wilderness. (Mark 1:10‑12)). By this statement of theirs which attributed the works of Jesus to the power of Satan, the scribes incurred the guilt of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit.
There seems to have been a special commission sent from Jerusalem by the Sanhedrin to investigate the words and deeds of Jesus in Galilee. See also Matt. 4; Mark 7.
The Servant of the Lord did not contend with those that opposed Him so unscrupulously, but He gently, meekly, patiently, instructed them (see 2 Tim. 2:24, 2524And the servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle unto all men, apt to teach, patient, 25In meekness instructing those that oppose themselves; if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth; (2 Timothy 2:24‑25)). He called them to Him and showed them (1) the absurdity of their charge, using for this purpose plain and forcible figures of speech (vers. 23-27), and (2) the gross wickedness of their charge, and the peril of it to themselves (vers. 28-30).
(1) Their folly. The Lord demonstrated that these learned scribes whose opinions by reason of their eminence would possess a weighty influence upon the people, were devoid of even ordinary wisdom. He set this forth in “parables” or pithy metaphors stated in the form of interrogatories. “How,” said He, “can Satan cast out Satan?” The prince of the demons is a liar and a murderer (John 8:4444Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own: for he is a liar, and the father of it. (John 8:44)), and his purpose is to rob and kill and destroy. How unthinkable therefore that Beelzebub should be the author of the merciful and beneficent deliverances from the power of the demons wrought in the cases they had witnessed. The prince of darkness could not be the agent of such works of light. Besides, as the Lord proceeded to point out, such a policy involved self-destruction on the part of Satan. All worldly experience proves that disunion and faction in a community result in disintegration. That union is strength is a universal maxim. Whether it is a kingdom or a household that is divided against itself it will not be able to subsist. And if Satan had risen up against himself, as the words of the scribes implied, he could not continue, but must destroy himself. Thus the Lord exposed the folly of His accusers and then added another truth which the many instances of the expulsion of demons by Him proved. Every demoniac was a witness of the power Satan wielded over men; while every such miracle of Jesus was evidence of the superiority of His power to that of the Evil One. As the Lord said, “No one can enter into the house of the strong man and spoil his goods, except he first bind the strong man; and then he will spoil his house.” This He Himself had already done. He had resisted the temptations of the strong and crafty one in the wilderness. He had also delivered a great number of demoniacs. And shortly He would bruise the serpent's head, through death bringing to naught him that had the power of death (Heb. 2:1414Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same; that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil; (Hebrews 2:14)). The hand of Jehovah was thus upon the Man of His right hand, the Son of man whom He made strong for Himself (Psa. 80:1717Let thy hand be upon the man of thy right hand, upon the son of man whom thou madest strong for thyself. (Psalm 80:17)). And if only Israel had faith, they might well sing praise with the Psalmist, “All my bones shall say, LORD, who is like unto thee, which deliverest the poor from him that is too strong for him, yea, the poor and needy from him that spoileth him?” (Psa. 35:1010All my bones shall say, Lord, who is like unto thee, which deliverest the poor from him that is too strong for him, yea, the poor and the needy from him that spoileth him? (Psalm 35:10)). But the scribes and Pharisees could not deny the gracious mercy in exercise in their midst, yet would not believe it to be the power of God, bringing rather the baseless and improbable charge of Satanic influence against the Lord.
(2) Their wickedness. This gross charge was not only foolish, it was worse; it was impious and blasphemous. They said of Jesus, He hath an unclean spirit; and this statement was blasphemy against the Holy Spirit by whom the Son of man was indwelt, anointed and sealed. And the Lord warned of the gravity of their sinful speech, prefacing His warning by the solemn and impressive phrase, “Verily I say unto you."16 He said to the scribes, “Verily I say unto you, All their sins shall be forgiven unto the sons of men, and their blasphemies wherewith soever they shall blaspheme; but whosoever shall blaspheme against the Holy Spirit hath never forgiveness but is guilty of an eternal sin.”
The Lord, speaking as the anointed Servant of Jehovah, shows that He regarded the railing of the scribes as directed not so much against Himself as against the Holy Spirit by whom He wrought His miracles. In like manner Ananias, in lying to Peter, lied to the Holy Ghost dwelling in the newly-formed church; and, taking another instance, the Sanhedrin, in refusing the testimony of Stephen, resisted the Holy Spirit (Acts vii, 51, 55). Only here the sin was greater; for those that sat in Moses' seat, in the obstinacy and virulence of unbelief, called the Holy Spirit an unclean spirit.
Though they knew it not, these scribes were tools of the great enemy of God and man. They were carrying into effect the scheme of Satan to cause that the Lord should be regarded among men as his emissary. The awful character of this design will become more apparent to us when we recollect that, according to apostolic teaching, Satan will even yet succeed in imposing upon men for a time a modified form of delusion. If he then sought to persuade men that Jesus was his Servant, he will yet delude men into accepting his agent as the object of divine worship. Such temporary success over men Satan will accomplish in the days of the coming apostasy, which will affect both Judaism and Christendom. This agent is in the prophetic word called the “man of sin, the son of perdition,” and in evil arrogance will impersonate the Messiah Himself to the deceit and destruction of many. It is said of this personage that at his future coming he “opposeth and exalteth himself exceedingly against every one called god or object of veneration; so that he sitteth down in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God,” his coming being “according to the working of Satan in all power and signs and wonders of falsehood, and in all deceit of unrighteousness” (2 Thess. 2:4, 94Who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped; so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God. (2 Thessalonians 2:4)
9Even him, whose coming is after the working of Satan with all power and signs and lying wonders, (2 Thessalonians 2:9)
Scripture is clear that this gross imposture will be accepted by the mass of Christendom as well as of the Jews, and this servant of Satan will be successful in luring multitudes to destruction. But think of the enormity of this evil scheme, originated in the days of the Lord, to characterize Jesus, the meek and lowly Servant of Jehovah, as One under the power and direction of Satan! And according to the subtle policy of the serpent, that the slanderous accusation might fall with greater force upon the hearts of men, this declaration concerning the Prophet of Nazareth was made by the religious leaders who had come down with authority from Jerusalem to Galilee.
Such a sinful charge, directed as it was against the eternal Spirit of holiness, was of such heinousness that there was no forgiveness, neither in that age nor in that to come (Matt. 12:2929Or 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. (Matthew 12:29)).
[W. J. H.]
(To be continued)