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What Did Jesus Mean by “A House Divided Cannot Stand”?

What Did Jesus Mean by “A House Divided Cannot Stand”?

"Jesus knew their thoughts and said to them, 'Every kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and every city or household divided against itself will not stand.'" - Matthew 12:25

"If a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand." - Mark 3:25

"A house divided cannot stand" recalls Abraham Lincoln to mind and his famous speech of 1858. But do we understand who said it first, why he said it, and for what purpose? We find the phrase "a house divided cannot stand" in Matthew 12:25 and Mark 3:25. Jesus used it in defense of his authority against accusations made by the Pharisees.

What Does "A House Divided" Mean in the Bible?

Jesus intended for his teachings to prove he was the Messiah and the Son of God. He also wanted to prepare his hearers to accept the kingdom of God, which he would establish. Last, he purposed to persuade the Jews that God would accept Gentiles into his kingdom. As Jesus' hearers paid better attention to his teachings, they resisted his message.

Because of this resistance, Jesus withdrew to private places to teach and minister. Many people followed him to those places and brought the sick to him for healing. Because of his compassion for the hurting, Jesus healed them and mended their broken lives. One such man, who was demon-possessed, was blind and mute. Jesus healed him so that he could speak and see. This astonished the people, and they asked among themselves if this could be the Messiah.

In the original Greek sentence construction, astonished means "besides themselves." It also indicates progressive movement as they couldn't stop talking about it. It makes me wonder if the people tried to bring the most impossible situation to Jesus. Then Jesus did the "impossible" and set this man free, and their astonishment spread like wildfire. The amazement started as a whisper. Then it rolled through the marketplace like the hum of a diesel engine. "Did you hear? Jesus healed the demon-possessed man. He can speak and see! Could this be the Messiah?" The story and question went from person to person like the ancient version of a viral social media post. And then it reached the Pharisees' ears.

Earlier in Matthew 12, Jesus revealed his authority by healing a man's shriveled hand on the Sabbath. This act of compassion on a Sabbath prompted the Pharisees to plot ways to kill Jesus. Now they found out Jesus set someone free from their demon possession, and people are asking if he's the Messiah. Upon hearing about this new miracle, they accused Jesus of being in league with Satan.

What Did Jesus Say This in Response To?

The Pharisees were mid-plot in devising to kill Jesus. This latest healing posed the ideal time to level an accusation against him. If they could challenge his identity and claim he was working with Satan, they could charge him with a crime. The crime they hoped to level against him was sorcery, which was punishable by death. They said Jesus was demon-possessed and that his power came through an alliance with Satan. The Pharisees desired to discredit Jesus' identity and attribute his power to Satan. Jesus summoned his accusers and responded to their illogical accusations with three arguments. One, that Satan would be working against himself. Two, that their own Jewish exorcists claimed to use God's power. Three, that Jesus was able to go into Satan's kingdom and walk away with spoils of victory.

First, Jesus reveals his awareness of two kingdoms at war: The kingdom of darkness and the kingdom of God. If Jesus was in fact possessed by Satan, yet set this man free, then Satan defeats his own purpose. A kingdom working against itself fails. This was when Jesus said, "a house divided against itself cannot stand."

Second, the Pharisees claimed their own exorcists cast out demons by the Spirit of God. By calling into question Jesus' authority, they denied the kingdom of God at work in their lives. Jesus doesn't say it but again implies that "a house divided against itself cannot stand." 

Third, Jesus tells the story of the strongman. This parable shows Jesus' ability to go into the strongman's house and walk away with the spoils of victory. Jesus binds the strongman and robs him by releasing his enslaved victims. Again, Jesus shows that "a house divided cannot stand."

Releasing someone from demon possession undermines Satan's kingdom. His kingdom forms a united front to enslave people to sin, sickness, possession, and death. Rather, Jesus invaded the devil's realm and disabled him. Jesus carried off one of Satan's captives by setting him free.

What Lesson Was Jesus Trying to Teach?

Jesus' power was undeniable when he set the demon-possessed man free. Through this miracle, Jesus also revealed the conflict between the two kingdoms. The kingdom of God holds an important position in Jesus' teaching and mission. Almost twenty of his parables relate to this concept. He brings the kingdom of God to the people—he unites their hearts to his and builds his church on him, the firm foundation.

The characteristics associated with the kingdom of God are internal and spiritual. But the people wanted a kingdom based on national identity and political power. Jesus' miracles, including driving out demons, conveyed the reality and authenticity of God's kingdom. It was undeniable.

Jesus taught that the kingdom of God is both present and future. It is present in the person of Jesus Christ and what he did through his death and resurrection. It is within us as we experience spiritual growth in the middle of a fallen world. It is in the future that Christ will come again in his power and glory to finalize the devil's destruction. Jesus was trying to teach the importance of unity in him. To be with him, to gather with him, and to tell others about him. Not to scatter or stand against him. The kingdom of God is already and not yet, and the church can help or hinder the work of the kingdom of heaven.

How Unity Builds a House

When Jesus stated, "a house divided cannot stand," he meant that a house which opposes itself has no power. Since sin, sickness, and bondage still prevail in our world, we know that Satan's power has not ended. Jesus opposes the realm of death and darkness by bringing freedom to captives. He holds the ultimate authority, and when he comes again, he will defeat Satan for good.

To reach unity in the body of Christ, we must build our spiritual lives on the person of Jesus Christ. We have the task to grow into maturity with Christ as our leader and Lord. We stay loyal to his teaching and follow his example in life. We choose steadfastness and faithfulness, joy, and hope.

Jesus came to earth to make a way for us to know the Father's heart. Jesus' complete purpose means that one day he will come again in power and glory. He will separate the wicked from the righteous. He will fulfill the wedding banquet promise from Matthew 22:1-2 and Luke 22:29-30. Jesus will resurrect the dead, institute the final judgment, and bring the age to come. This event between Jesus and the Pharisees results in Jesus making a call to action. A house divided against itself will not stand, and he who is not with Jesus is against him. He who does not gather with him scatters. Jesus, filled and empowered with the Holy Spirit, sets humankind free to live for him, love him, and stand in unity with him.

Photo credit: ©GettyImages/Vitezslav Vylicil

Jessica Van Roekel author headshotJessica Van Roekel loves the upside-down life of following Jesus as she journeys to wholeness through brokenness. As an author, speaker, and worship leader, she uses her gifts and experiences to share God’s transformative power to rescue, restore, and renew. She longs for you to know that rejection doesn’t have to define or determine your future when placed in God’s healing hands. Find out more You can connect with her on Instagram and Facebook.

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