The Satan Versus Satan Story.

by K.W. Leslie, 24 July 2022

Mark 3.23-26, Matthew 12.24-30, Luke 11.17-18.

Jesus was in the habit of ignoring Pharisee customs. In part because they aren’t biblical and therefore aren’t necessary (and aren’t sin when you break ’em). In part because too many Pharisees pointed to their customs as proof they were devout… and hoped the customs distracted people from the fact they were breaking the Law just as much as any gentile. It was all hypocrisy—the one thing which really pisses Jesus off.

Pharisees who legitimately tried to follow God, easily recognized Jesus is from God. Pharisees who were only interested in looking devout had the darnedest time trying to prove Jesus isn’t from God: It’s kinda impossible to make such a case when Jesus so obviously has God’s power to cure the sick and throw evil spirits out of people. When Pharisees tried to cure people and do exorcisms, they had such a low success rate, lots of Jews turned to witch doctors instead. In comparison, Jesus looks like he put hardly any effort into it. Sometimes he had to pray real hard, or lay hands on someone more than once, or had to give up because people were so faithless. But most of the time he’d say, “You’re cured,” and they were; or “Get out,” and the critters would scream and flee. He had the Holy Spirit without limit, Jn 3.34 and this almightiness showed.

So Pharisees had nothing. But it looks like the Galilean Pharisees decided to pick the brains of Judean Pharisees, who came up with the explanation, “He hath Beelzebub, and by the prince of the devils casteth he out devils.” Mk 3.22 I explained the backstory of “Beelzebub,” properly Baal Zevúl, in another article. It’s pretty much a euphemism for Satan. Like many a cessationist nowadays, these Judeans claimed Jesus did his thing through the power of the devil. ’Cause God would never work through such people.

In response, Jesus told this parable.

Mark 3.23-26 KWL
23 Jesus, summoning them,
is telling them in parables,
“How can Satan throw out Satan?
24 When a kingdom is divided against itself,
that kingdom can’t stand.
25 When a house is divided against itself,
that house can’t stand.
26 And if Satan rises up against itself and is divided,
it can’t stand. Instead it’s the End.”

Can Satan overthrow Satan?

In the Mark version of this parable, Jesus caps it with the statement, “Instead it’s the End”—ἀλλὰ τέλος ἔχει. The KJV renders this “but hath an end”; the NIV and NRSV go with “his end has come.”

This is actually an apocalyptic statement: Jesus is stating something about how Satan’s end will come. Generally it comes when Satan winds up fighting itself.

I know; in all the wacky End Times scenarios Christian prognosticators have invented, not one of us figures on a battle between Satan and itself. The closest some of us have come to is a Battle of Armageddon scenario; some future World War 3 (or World War 4, at this rate) which takes place in Israel, where the Beast marshals the world’s armies to fight Israel, but loses ’cause Jesus picks right then to have his second coming. Which’d be really dramatic of Jesus, but since he says nobody but the Father knows when he’s returning, Mt 24.36 I’m pretty sure it’s not gonna happen just because Satan decides to throw yet another war.

Look, the main reason Satan’s never successfully taken over the world, is because it does chaos, not order. It sucks at order. We humans are barely capable of it ourselves; we keep making it all micromanagerial and totalitarian. I used to joke the best example of Satan fighting Satan was when the Nazis fought the Soviets during World War 2, but I now figure Satan fighting Satan looks way more like libertines fighting libertarians. Chaotic people fighting other chaotic people.

There’s a lot of this chaos evident in pagan mythology’s End Times scenarios. In most of their creation myths, the world was established only after the gods all fought one another. One of ’em came out on top (and frequently formed the earth out of the corpses of his enemies; ewww) and became king of all gods. In Baalism, this god would be Baal; in the Greco-Roman religion, this’d be Zeus or Jupiter; in the Norse religion this’d be Odin. But pagan mythologies regularly taught this battle was never gonna be the last battle. Kronos overthrew Uranus, Zeus overthrew Kronos, and if Zeus became any more of a jerk, someday one of his kids would overthrow him. Odin overthrew Ymir, and one day would be overthrown by Fenrir. The pagans always foretold a future of chaos, destruction, disaster… and especially for us humans, ’cause pagans feared we’d be trampled underfoot in this war of the gods. It’s the End.

Okay, we Christians (and the Pharisees) understand the End Times way differently. Most Evangelicals believe in the millennium—that Jesus is coming back to take over the world, and it’s not gonna be precluded by a battle among the gods… although some of us think there’ll be a massive war among us humans, as Satan tries to take over the world and fails. Oddly, in all the wacky End Times scenarios

Well anyway. Pagan mythology or revelation, the results are essentially the same: If Satan’s fighting itself, its end has come. But you realize if Jesus is fighting Satan—and winning—its end has also come.

Matthew and Luke’s variants.

In the other synoptic gospels, Jesus says a little bit more; some stuff about God’s kingdom going over the Pharisees’ heads. Here ya go.

Matthew 12.25-28 KWL
25 Jesus, who knew their reasoning, tells them,
“Every kingdom divided against itself is ruined.
Every city or house divided against itself can’t stand.
26 If Satan throws out Satan,
it’s divided against itself.
So how will its kingdom stand?
27 If I throw out demons by Baal Zevúl,
by whom do your sons throw them out?
This is why they’ll critique you.
28 If I throw out demons by God’s Spirit,
then God’s kingdom goes right over your head.”
Luke 11.17-20 KWL
17 Jesus, who knew their thoughts, tells them,
“Every kingdom split against itself is laid waste,
and house falls upon house.
18 If Satan splits against itself,
how will its kingdom stand?
—for you say I throw out demons by Baal Zevúl.
19 If I throw out demons by Baal Zevúl,
by whom do your sons throw them out?
This is why they’ll critique you.
20 If I throw out demons by God’s finger,
then God’s kingdom goes right over your head.”

The word ἔφθασεν/éfthasen, which I translated “goes right over your head,” means to unexpectedly overtake someone, kinda like a basketball team who overconfidently did not expect their opponent to beat ’em 297-15. Those three-point skyhooks were just murder on them—and it’s the very same concept. They didn’t at all expect God’s kingdom to come in power before the Son of Man appeared in the clouds. Yet here it is, already empowering Jesus and his kids to throw out demons left and right.

It goes to show how completely blind these guys were to the Holy Spirit’s activity. All because you had a Messiah who didn’t look and act like you expected, and an End Times timeline which wasn’t at all going as you’d calculated. You do realize these are the very same problems certain Evangelicals are gonna have when Jesus returns, right?