Binding the Strong Man
16 March 2022 Hits:1084
I became a Christian in a Pentecostal church at age 19. Pentecostal Christianity was my Christian formation and has continued to be my practice. I value the spontaneous, spirit-led and spirit-filled experience of my relationship with God. I love leading a church community that is renewed by God’s presence. We see God at work in and through our lives. God is real, tangible, and awesome.
However, my experience doesn’t blind me to the many downsides of modern Pentecostalism. I’ve witnessed plenty of abuses of God’s power, word, and name in my forty-plus years in church life. One of these is the often-shallow handling of Scripture. Verses are plucked out of context and applied in ways they were never intended.
The shallow approach to Bible study has led to bizarre interpretations and practices that are foreign to authentic Christianity. In this blog, I’ll explore one of these ~ binding the strong man ~ a tradition based on one of Jesus’ shortest parables.
It’s a Parable!
The parable is just one verse in Matthew 12. Jesus asks, “Or how can one enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods unless he first binds the strong man? And then he will plunder his house.” (29, NKJV). Modern translations update the word “binds” to “ties up.” But that doesn’t sound nearly as good in a Pentecostal prayer meeting where people love to “bind” the devil from all sorts of things.
Jesus’s statement is often combined with two other mentions of “binding and loosing” in Matthew’s gospel (16:19; 18:18). But these statements have absolutely nothing to do with prayer or spiritual warfare. I discuss this in another blog.
Context is Vital
Now, back to the verse in question. It begins with “or”, linking this statement to what Jesus has already said. Early in chapter 12, Matthew told the story of a demon-possessed man who was blind and mute, and Jesus healed him so that he could both talk and see. All the people were astonished and said, “Could this be the Son of David?” (22-23). The Messiah would be a descendent (son) of King David, the closest example of an exorcist in the Tanakh. Consider 1 Samuel 16:23, “Whenever the spirit from God came on Saul, David would take up his lyre and play. Then relief would come to Saul; he would feel better, and the evil spirit would leave him.” David’s music brought temporary deliverance to Saul.
The Pharisees reacted to the crowd’s question. They said, “It is only by Beelzebul, the prince of demons, that this fellow drives out demons.” Beelzebul means “Lord of the House,” a term applied to Satan in later Jewish sources. Hence Jesus speaks about plundering the strong man’s house.
Jesus Knew Their Thoughts
Jesus said to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and every city or household divided against itself will not stand. If Satan drives out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then can his kingdom stand? And if I drive out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your people drive them out? So then, they will be your judges. But if it is by the Spirit [breath, wind] of God that I drive out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.” (25-28). In other words, Jesus is NOT in league with Satan as they suggest. Jesus then tells the little parable, “Or again, how can anyone enter a strong man’s house and carry off his possessions unless he first ties up [binds] the strong man? Then he can plunder his house.”
Matthew’s Broader Context
Matthew Chapter 12 proves that Jesus is the Messiah. Jews believed that the Spirit withdrew when the last prophet died about 400 years before Jesus came. Protestants call this the 400 Silent Years. But the Spirit would return in the time of the kingdom when Messiah came.
Jews also believed that Satan and demons were “bound” or imprisoned after God cast them from heaven. In this parable, Jesus is declaring that he has already defeated Satan and could therefore plunder his possessions by freeing those who are demon-possessed.
Isaiah prophesied this time in 49:24-25,
But this is what the Lord says:
“Yes, captives will be taken from warriors,
and plunder retrieved from the fierce;
I will contend with those who contend with you,
and your children I will save.
Satan and the demonic realm were completely and utterly defeated by Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection.
It’s Already Done!
While some Christians have the gift of discerning spirits, including the power to cast out demons, the strong man, Satan, is already bound. So there is no need for believers to go around binding him or any demon. They’re as restrained as they’re ever going to be, and that is COMPLETELY!
The gotquestions website states, Some Christians, usually in the Charismatic or Pentecostal movements, apply Jesus’ parable to the spiritual warfare that believers must wage. They teach that Christians are the ones who must “bind the strong man” in their lives or in their cities and then win the victory in Jesus’ name. Some Charismatic preachers even name the “strong men” and attempt to identify the cities or geographical areas over which they hold power. Such doctrines go far beyond what Jesus said. The Lord’s parable was simply to impress upon the scribes that He was not in league with Satan. Never does Jesus instruct us to “bind the strong man” or tell us how to do it. We do not have warrant to interpret the parable as a spiritual reality over geographical regions.
We Christians need to rest in Jesus’ completed work and enjoy the victory and freedom he has provided. No one needs to bind the strong man because Jesus has already done it, once and for all.