When Jesus drove out a mute demon and the man spoke, “the crowds were amazed. But some of them said, ‘He drives out demons by Beelzebul, the ruler of the demons’” (Luke 11:14–15 CSB).
Beelzebul means “the ruler of demons” or “lord of dung.” Calling Jesus “the lord of demons” was a way the religious leaders could explain away his power. He obviously had supernatural powers, but they didn’t want to acknowledge that he was from God. The only alternative was to say he got his supernatural power from Satan.
“Knowing their thoughts, he told them, ‘Every kingdom divided against itself is headed for destruction, and a house divided against itself falls. If Satan also is divided against himself, how will his kingdom stand? … And if I drive out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your sons drive them out? For this reason they will be your judges’” (Luke 11:17–19).
How does it make sense that Satan would empower Jesus to destroy his other works? If Satan is the one behind certain diseases and afflictions, why would he empower Jesus to clean up those things? Satan’s works go the opposite way of Jesus.
Jesus is also questioning their reasoning by pointing out that if he casts out demons by Satan’s power, then by whose power do they cast out demons? By what standard do they say his power is from Satan and theirs is from God? If his powers are from Satan, maybe theirs are, too. He’s showing them the inconsistency of their accusation. They’re not making an honest intellectual objection; they just don’t like Jesus.
I’ve found this insight really helpful when talking to people today about the gospel. A lot of people come up with objections, but they are not real objections because they’d never apply those same standards to themselves. Many Muslims, for example, apply a historical cynicism to Christian history that they would never apply to their own. They believe conspiracy theories about the Bible but would never look at their own history through the same lens.
On any secular college campus, you’ll hear professors apply a cynicism to the historical evidence for the resurrection that they wouldn’t apply to any other event in history. They assume for this one event that there was some elaborate, almost inexplicable historical ruse.
Or they’ll raise objections from Christian history like, “What about the Crusades?”, implying that Christians acting sinfully invalidates Christianity itself. A young Christian might respond, “Yes, the Crusades were wrong. But they were a departure from Jesus’ teaching. And Christians don’t have a corner on historical violence. Mao Tse Tung’s China and Josef’s Stalin’s Russia, both of which were atheist, committed genocides exponentially larger than anything that happened in the name of religion.” To which the response is generally a form of, “But that’s got nothing to do with the intellectual integrity of atheism.”
Jesus would say, as he says to the crowd in Luke 11, “Why do you apply a cynicism to me you would never apply to yourself?”
If you’ve applied this hypocrisy to your argument against Christianity, perhaps your cynicism has less to do with intellectual honesty and more to do with a dislike of Jesus and his claim of authority over your life.
That authority comes with God’s presence and ultimately demands your surrender. That’s a hard pill to swallow for many who would rather continue on their own terms than acknowledge any spiritual forces warring for control of their lives.
Jesus continues, “If I drive out demons by the finger of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you” (Luke 11:20).
The “finger of God” was a phrase the Egyptian sorcerers used to describe the power Moses displayed in the exodus and was a reference all the religious leaders in the crowd would have recognized. In the exodus, God did a series of miracles to convince Pharaoh to let the Jews leave Egypt. For the first couple of plagues, the Egyptian magicians used some trickery to replicate some of them. Moses threw his staff on the ground and it became a snake, and the Egyptian magicians had this little trick rod that made them look like they also had that power.
In Exodus 8, Moses raised the stakes. He threw his staff into the dust, and as the dust flew up, it turned into gnats that multiplied and covered the land.
Well, the Egyptian magicians couldn’t duplicate that. Creating an optical illusion where it looks like a staff turns into a snake is one thing, but creating gnats out of dust? They can’t touch that. And so they told Pharaoh privately (Exodus 8:19), “This is the finger of God. We can’t do this.” Even the pagan magicians knew the finger of God when they saw it.
Jesus wants the crowd to understand that while their Jewish exorcists could do some impressive things, they couldn’t do anything like what Jesus is showing them. It’s safe to conclude that if the finger of God is present, so is the Messenger of God.
The power of the kingdom indicates the presence of the King. When you acknowledge the spiritual powers vying for your attention, then you’ll be able to fully surrender to King Jesus and watch him do an even greater work in your life.