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In responding to allegations that he drives out demons by the power of Beelzebul, Jesus says, among other things:

When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it wanders through waterless regions looking for a resting place, but not finding any, it says, "I will return to my house from which I came." When it comes, it finds it swept and put in order. Then it goes and brings seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and live there; and the last state of that person is worse than the first.

—Luke 11:24-26 (NRSV)

What is his point here? What action does he expect his followers to take to avoid such a fate?

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4 Answers 4

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Considering the context that Jesus was engaged with the Pharisees and the subject that He alone was powerful enough to remove the Devil from his kingdom, various commentators seem to conclude that this is a parable to expose the true nature and hypocrisy of religion without Christ.

Religion pretends a higher morality than the common man and tries to show it by external boasts of ritualistic practices and avoidances of external common sins. Jesus says this is like a room that has been swept clean. However this, when without faith in Messiah is not filled with God, therefore all the better habitation of Satan in that he can live there without being noticed.

Sime commentators explain the dry lands as the Gentiles, others as referring to Jewish legends about Devils, but this is not relevant to the main idea.

Naturally Christians apply this to the Jews. Some think it prophetical about the near future total depravity of Israel after rejecting her own Messiah. Sine see this as historical in that after the Babylonian exile Israel ha finally purged herself of idolatry which was considered the only Devil, yet this 'sweeping' led to the greater wickedness of self-righteous pride and legalistic hypocrisy of the Pharisees.

I prefer the historical view as there is nothing in the verses directly indicating a future tense. This is the view taken by the Jewish Historian and Theologian Alfred Edersheim:

he came back ‘with seven other spirits more wicked than himself’—pride, self-righteousness, unbelief, and the like, the number seven being general—and thus the last state—Israel without the foulness of gross idolatry and garnished with all the adornments of Pharisaic devotion to the study and practice of the Law—was really worse than had been the first with all its open repulsiveness. (The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah by Alfred Edersheim 2.201)

Therefore the action his disciples were to take is to ensure they do not just do a surface clean through vain religion but by faith receive Christ as the only 'strong man' that alone can cast the kingdom of Satan from a heart. Otherwise all one's religion and good works will be the perfect nest for every evil.

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The historical view doesn't tie with the parallel in Matthew: "So shall it be with this generation." Jesus was casting the demon out of Judah and would send His Spirit to replace it, to occupy the house, to "fill it up." Those who rejected Pentecost would be filled with seven worse demons (perhaps the ones cast out of Mary?) which is why 1) the Jewish rulers persecuted and murdered the saints, 2) the apostles had to fight false teachers (Judaizers), and 3) the Jewish rulers finally roped in Rome against the Church as they had done against Christ, leading to their annihilation. They were worse off than if they had never heard the Gospel. The fire Jesus kindled had fast-tracked the good fruit and the bad, and the bad had "filled up" their sins.

There is certainly an aspect that relates to the Restoration Covenant. Idolatry was exorcised from Israel, seen by Zechariah as a wicked woman inside a false Ark of the Covenant, enshrined in Babylon. But it seems this harlot had returned and been welcomed -- but it was idolatry in a more subtle sense. Revelation pictures her enthroned, self-exalting, and at the height of her powers.

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It would seem that the most simple interpretation is this: When an evil spirit is cast out, you MUST replace it with The Good Spirit [Christ - the strong man who kicks out the Devil]. Failure to do so will result in more evil filling the empty space, because that's just what the human heart gravitates towards, and demonic forces are happy to oblige. The application is both broad (Israel's law-based self-righteousness replacing their blatant idolatry) and individual (me becoming proud because I kicked one bad habit). If the heart and soul of a nation, or an individual, is not being filled with the Holy Spirit, it will just get filled with more other junk. Jeremiah says that the heart is "desperately wicked". So, if the heart is only temporarily purged of an evil spirit, but no good seed is planted there, namely, the very presence of the Holy Spirit, the "weeds" of evil with fill the void with a vengeance. Satan and his demons find sanctuary in hearts that don't have Christ.

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Welcome to Stack Exchange, we are glad you are here. Please consider registering an account to fully take advantage of what this site has to offer. Also, be sure to check out the site tour and in particular what constitutes a good answer... Your answer is pretty good as is, but would be improved by some adding some references that support your interpretation. – ThaddeusB Aug 5 at 16:03

One thing I like to point out in pondering such passages is the obvious development of a whole new religious dimension in the NT that is absent in the OT. I mean, wouldn't Moses find such a discussion to be bizarre and unintelligible? But in the NT, daemons, devils, "filthy breaths", etc. abound everywhere and are the cause of all kinds of ills including disease. These ideas evidently arose from the influence of the scrolls of Enoch:

Chapter 15: 8 And now, the giants, who are produced from the spirits and flesh, shall be called evil spirits upon 9 the earth, and on the earth shall be their dwelling. Evil spirits have proceeded from their bodies; because they are born from men and from the holy Watchers is their beginning and primal origin; 10 they shall be evil spirits on earth, and evil spirits shall they be called. [As for the spirits of heaven, in heaven shall be their dwelling, but as for the spirits of the earth which were born upon the earth, on the earth shall be their dwelling.] And the spirits of the giants afflict, oppress, destroy, attack, do battle, and work destruction on the earth, and cause trouble: they take no food, but nevertheless 12 hunger and thirst, and cause offences. And these spirits shall rise up against the children of men and against the women, because they have proceeded from them.

This seems to be the background of the passage we are considering. (The scrolls of Enoch were considered scripture by the authors of the NT and early Christians). So Jesus is alluding to the assertion that these thirsty troublemakers came from humans and "therefore" rise up against them. (There is no rationale given for why they would afflict the species they proceeded from. Jesus gives a rationale).

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