Matthew 12:45
Then goeth he, and taketh with himself seven other spirits more wicked than himself, and they enter in and dwell there: and the last state of that man is worse than the first. Even so shall it be also unto this wicked generation.
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(45) Seven other spirits more wicked than himself.—The number seven, as in the case of Mary Magdalene (Mark 16:9; Luke 8:2), represents a greater intensity of possession, showing itself in more violent paroxysms of frenzy, and with less hope of restoration.

In applying the parable to the religious life of the Jewish people, we have to ask, (1) What answers to the first possession and the expulsion of the evil spirit? (2) What to the seven other spirits joined with the first, and yet more evil? (3) What is the last state, yet future at the time our Lord spoke, which was to be worse than the first? The answer to the first question lies on the surface of their history. Their besetting sin from the time of the Exodus to that of the Captivity had been idolatry and apostasy. The worship of other gods exercised a strange and horrible fascination over them, deprived them, as it were, of light, reason, and true freedom of will. They were enslaved and possessed. Then came the return from the Exile, when, not so much by the teaching of the prophets as by that of the scribes and the Pharisees, idolatry seemed banished for ever. But the house was “empty, swept, and garnished.” There was no in dwelling presence of the enthusiasm of a higher life, only an outward ceremonial religion and rigid precepts, and the show of piety. The hypocrisy of the scribes was the garnishing of the house. And then the old evil came back in the form of Mammon-worship, the covetousness which is idolatry (Ephesians 5:5), and with it, bitterness and hate, and the license of divorce, and self-righteousness, and want of sympathy, and that antagonism to good which had come so terribly near to “the sin against the Holy Ghost.” That state was bad enough as it was, but our Lord’s words point to a future that should be yet worse. We must turn to the picture drawn by the Jewish historian of the crimes, frenzies, insanities of the final struggle that ended in the destruction of Jerusalem, if we would take an adequate measure of the “last state” of that “wicked generation.”

12:38-45 Though Christ is always ready to hear and answer holy desires and prayers, yet those who ask amiss, ask and have not. Signs were granted to those who desired them to confirm their faith, as Abraham and Gideon; but denied to those who demanded them to excuse their unbelief. The resurrection of Christ from the dead by his own power, called here the sign of the prophet Jonah, was the great proof of Christ's being the Messiah. As Jonah was three days and three nights in the whale, and then came out again alive, thus Christ would be so long in the grave, and then rise again. The Ninevites would shame the Jews for not repenting; the queen of Sheba, for not believing in Christ. And we have no such cares to hinder us, we come not to Christ upon such uncertainties. This parable represents the case of the Jewish church and nation. It is also applicable to all those who hear the word of God, and are in part reformed, but not truly converted. The unclean spirit leaves for a time, but when he returns, he finds Christ is not there to shut him out; the heart is swept by outward reformation, but garnished by preparation to comply with evil suggestions, and the man becomes a more decided enemy of the truth. Every heart is the residence of unclean spirits, except those which are temples of the Holy Ghost, by faith in Christ.Then goeth he ... - Seeing the state of the man; dissatisfied with a lonely dwelling in the desert where he could do no evil; envious of the happiness of the individual, and supremely bent on wickedness, he resolved to increase his power of malignant influences and to return.

He is therefore represented as taking seven other spirits still worse than himself, and returning to his former habitation. Seven denotes a large but indefinite number. It was a favorite number with the Jews, and was used to denote "completeness" or "perfection," or any "finished" or "complete" number. See 1 Samuel 2:5. Compare Revelation 1:4. Here it means a sufficient number completely to occupy and harass his soul.

Even so shall it be with this generations - This shows the scope and design of this illustration. The state of that man was a representation of that generation of people. Much might be done to cure their unbelief, much to reform them externally; but such was the firm hold which the principles of infidelity and wickedness had taken of their minds "as their proper habitation," that they would return, after all the means used to reform them, and they would be worse and worse. And this was literally accomplished. After all the instructions and miracles of the Saviour and his apostles; after all that had been done for them by holy people and prophets, and by the judgments and mercies of God; and after all their external temporary reformations - like the temporary departure of an evil spirit from a man possessed - yet such was their love of wickedness that the nation became worse and worse. They increased in crime, like the seven-fold misery and wretchedness of the man into whose bosom the seven additional evil spirits came. They rejected God's messengers, abused his mercies, crucified his Son, and God gave their temple, and capital, and nation into the hands of the Romans. and thousands of the people to destruction.

It is not "proved" by this passage that evil spirits actually "dwell" in deserts It is proved only that such was the opinion of the Jews; that that opinion was drawn from some expressions in the Bible; and that "such expressions were sufficiently clear to justify the Saviour in drawing an argument from them to confound those who firmly believed that such was the case." Nor is there any absurdity in the opinion; for,

1. There are evil spirits. See the notes at Matthew 8:33.

2. They must exist in "some place."

3. There is as much propriety that they should be located about our earth as anywhere.

4. The clear doctrine of the Bible is, that many of them have much to do with our world.

5. It is as reasonable that they should dwell commonly in desolate and uninhabited regions as anywhere else.

43-45. When the unclean spirit is gone out of a man, &c.—On this important parable, in connection with the corresponding one (Mt 12:29) see on [1283]Lu 11:21-26.

A charming little incident, given only in Lu 11:27, 28, seems to have its proper place here.

Lu 11:27:

And it came to pass, as He spake these things, a certain woman of the company—out of the crowd.

lifted up her voice and said unto Him, Blessed is the womb that bare Thee, and the paps which Thou hast sucked—With true womanly feeling she envies the mother of such a wonderful Teacher. And a higher and better than she had said as much before her (see on [1284]Lu 1:28). How does our Lord, then, treat it? He is far from condemning it. He only holds up as "blessed rather" another class: Lu 11:28:

But he said, Yea rather, blessed are they that hear the word of God, and keep it—in other words, the humblest real saint of God. How utterly alien is this sentiment from the teaching of the Church of Rome, which would doubtless excommunicate any one of its members that dared to talk in such a strain!

His Mother and Brethren Seek to Speak with Him and the Answer (Mt 12:46-50).

Ver. 43-45. The speech appeareth parabolical, the persons concerned in it are expressed in the last words, the men of that wicked generation. The text is thought to be well expounded by Peter, 2 Peter 2:20, If after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, they are again entangled therein, and overcome, the latter end is worse with them than the beginning. Our Lord here compares the Jews to a man out of whom the unclean spirit was gone. The devil is called the unclean spirit, both in regard of his own impure nature, and because his work is to tempt men to sin, which is spiritual filthiness. The Jews were a people holy to the Lord, a people distinguished from pagans by a visible profession; so as the devil in a great measure had left them. Now, saith he, the devil is an unquiet spirit, and findeth no rest if he cannot be doing mischief to men. For the phrase, he walketh through dry places, seeking rest, we must know, that in parabolical speeches we must not make a severe scrutiny upon every phrase. Dry places are for the most part places least inhabited, for want of the conveniences of water. The devil cannot be at rest where he hath no mischief to do to men.

Then he saith, I will return into my house from whence I came out: the devil so leaveth none, but he will be attempting to come into them again; and he ordinarily succeeds where Christ hath not prepossessed the soul: all other reformation proves but a sweeping and a garnishing, while the soul is empty of Christ. It may be swept from the filth of flagitious sins, and garnished with the paint of religion, or some habits of moral virtue; but none of these will keep out the devil.

Then goeth he, and taketh with himself seven other spirits more wicked than himself, and they enter in and dwell there. Seven, that is, many. The meaning is, he makes that man much worse than before. So (saith he) it shall be to these Jews. God gave them his laws, and so delivered them from such a dominion as the devil doth exercise over pagans. In force of this law, the scribes and Pharisees amended many things, so as they were like a house swept and garnished. God sent his Son to dwell amongst them, but him they rejected; so the house was empty, though swept and garnished. The devil will come again, and they will be ten times worse.

Then goeth he, and taketh with himself seven other spirits,.... This is said in allusion to, and in imitation of the seven spirits before the throne; or may denote a large number of devils, seven being a number of perfection; or else the various corruptions of a man's heart, the swarms of internal lusts which are there stirred up by Satan;

more wicked than himself, as these are more pernicious to man, than the devil himself:

and they enter in and dwell there; that is, though they were there before, now they exert and show themselves, and such men appear to be under the power and government of them; when leaving their seeming religion and holiness, they return like the dog to the vomit, and the swine to the wallowing in the mire.

And the last state of that man is worse than the first: he becomes more wicked than ever he was, before he made pretensions to religion; as such apostates generally are more extravagant in sinning, and are seldom or ever recovered by repentance, and their last end is eternal damnation; see 2 Peter 2:20

even so shall it be also unto this wicked generation. This parable fitly suited them, the Scribes and Pharisees, and the men of that generation, from whom in some measure the unclean spirit might be said to depart through the doctrine, and miracles of Christ, to go into the Gentile world; but being followed there with the preaching of the Gospel by the apostles, returns to the Jews, and fills them with more malice, blasphemy, and blindness, than ever, which issued in their utter ruin and destruction; of which this parable may be justly thought to be prophetical.

Then goeth he, and taketh with himself seven other spirits more wicked than himself, and they enter in and dwell there: and the last state of that man is worse than the first. Even so shall it be also unto this wicked generation.
Matthew 12:45. ἑπτὰ ἕτερα πνεύματα, etc. This feature is introduced to make the picture answer to the moral condition of the Pharisees as conceived by Jesus. The parable here passes out of the region of popular imagination and natural probability into a region of deeper psychological insight. Why should the demon want associates in occupancy of the house? Why not rather have it all to himself as before?—οὕτως ἔσται, etc. Ethical application. The general truth implied is: moral and religious reform may be, has been, succeeded by deeper degeneracy. The question naturally suggests itself: what is the historical range of the application? It has been answered variously. From the lawgiving till the present time (Hil., Jer.); from the exile till now (Chrys., Grotius, etc.); from the Baptist till now (Weiss. etc.). Christ gives no hint of what period was in His thoughts, unless we find one in the epithet μοιχαλὶς (Matthew 12:39), which recalls prophetic charges of unfaithfulness to her Divine Husband against Israel, and points to the exile as the crisis at which she seriously repented of that sin. It is not at all likely that Christ’s view was limited to the period dating from John’s ministry. Moral laws need large spaces of time for adequate exemplification. The most instructive exemplification of the degeneracy described is supplied by the period from Ezra till Christ’s time. With Ezra ended material idolatry. But from that period dates the reign of legalism, which issued in Rabbinism, a more subtle and pernicious idolatry of the letter, the more deadly that it wore the fair aspect of zeal for God and righteousness.

45. Even so shall it be also unto this wicked generation] Israel had cast forth the demon of idolatry—the sin of its earlier history, but worse demons had entered in—the more insidious and dangerous sins of hypocrisy and hardness of heart.

Matthew 12:45. Τότε, then) sc. when he has reconnoitred it.—ἑπτὰ, seven) Therefore, counting him, there are eight. The fathers have numbered also eight deadly sins: see Columbanus,[589] and Goldastus[590] on him; also Ephraem Syrus,[591] f. ΥΚΒ. The seven, however, differ from that one in wickedness, perhaps also among themselves. The greater number includes the lesser numbers also disjunctively; cf. Luke 8:8, with Matthew 13:8. Therefore, six spirits may occupy one, five another, four another, etc.—ΠΟΝΗΡΌΤΕΡΑ, more evil) i.e., operating with greater subtilty, not by violent paroxysms. There are, therefore, unclean spirits who are yet less evil than others; and there are other spirits exceedingly malignant.—κατοικεῖ; inhabit) make their habitation more perseveringly than before.—χείρονα, worse) Seven times worse and more.—καὶ, also) That which happened to the man in his body, shall be done to this generation spiritually.[592]

[589] ST COLUMBANUS was a native of Ireland, who flourished towards the close of the sixth and commencement of the seventh century. He was celebrated for his writings, theological and poetical, as well as for the extent and success of his missionary labours.—(I. B.)

[590] MELCHIOR GOLDASTCS VON HAIMENSFELD, a Swiss by birth, edited the works of St Columbanus, and others, in 1604. He was a laborious antiquarian and philologist. Born in 1576 or 1578; died in 1635.—(I. B.)

[591] EPHRAEM SYRUS was an eminent father of the Church, who flourished in the fourth century. He was born at Nisibis, where he became a pupil of St James, the celebrated bishop of that place. He went to Edessa A.D. 363, and, embracing a monastic life, retired to a cavern in one of the adjacent mountains, where he is said to have composed most of his works, which are very numerous. Some, however, are attributed to him, of which he was not the author. He obtained a high character for sanctity, and died in 378 or 379.

[592] Inasmuch as this generation has had so great a deliverance vouchsafed (offered) to it by the power of Christ.—V. g.

Verse 45. - Then. On seeing that this is the case (cf Matthew 3:5, note). Goeth he (πορεύεται). Part of the figure; the others would not be far off. And taketh with himself seven other spirits more wicked (evil, πονηρότερα) than himself. Christ emphasizes the force and the malignity of a spiritual relapse. And they enter in. Into the heart, and thence into the whole body and soul. And dwell there. Permanently. And the last state of that man is worse than the first. Our Lord's words are apparently quoted in 2 Peter 2:20. Observe that the idea of pollution is found there as well as here. (For the form of the expression, comp. also Matthew 27:64.) Is; becometh (Revised Version), as the result. Even so shall it be, This is more than a warning; it is a verdict. Also unto this wicked generation. Observe Christ's solemn addition of "wicked" (evil, Revised Version; cf. ver. 340; τῇ γενέᾳ ταύτῃ τῇ πουηρᾷ The twofold use of "evil" in this verse is not accidental; this evil generation is already fit for the coming of the evil spirits. Matthew 12:45
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