1

The men of Nineveh shall rise in judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it: because they repented at the preaching of Jonas; and, behold, a greater than Jonas is here.

The queen of the south shall rise up in the judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it: for she came from the uttermost parts of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and, behold, a greater than Solomon is here.

When the unclean spirit is gone out of a man, he walketh through dry places, seeking rest, and findeth none.

Then he saith, I will return into my house from whence I came out; and when he is come, he findeth it empty, swept, and garnished.

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 12:31-35)

The above pasage can be split into three parts:

1) The men of Nineveh 2) The queen of the south 3) The unclean spirit

While I can somehow infer the main underlying thought of the first two parts - the Gentiles (of which were both the men of Nineveh and the queen of the south) thanks to their open hearts can be, in fact, deemed by God as righteous and worthy of salvation, while some of His chosen nation will not be counted as such - due to their closed hearts.

However, I can't wrap my mind around the main thought in the third part. If the Lord is speaking here about the scribes and Pharisees (that is, they are represented here by the man from whom the unclean spirit came out and into whom it returned with seven more), then what exactly is He saying here in their regard? What does it mean that they firstly were possessed by the unclean spirit? What does it mean that it came out of them? What exactly is represented here by the unclean spirit coming back into them?

3

Before we can apply any idea of spirit-possession to the Pharisees, it is important to understand how all three references are similar, and what point Jesus makes with each.

Jonah

In verse 38, the Pharisees and teachers ask Jesus for a miraculous sign. In response, "He answered, 'A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a miraculous sign! But none will be given it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.' "

This explains what prompts Jesus to bring up Nineveh, but it is not directly linked to the three that follow.

Nineveh

The men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and now one greater than Jonah is here.

  1. {implied, refer to the book of Jonah} Nineveh was wicked.
  2. Jonah preached to them.
  3. They repented.

As a result, they have the right to condemn this

  1. wicked and adulterous generation, because
  2. a greater one than Jonah preached to the Pharisees and lawyers
  3. {implied} and yet they still did not repent.

Queen of the south

The same three points, albeit revised, hold true in the next verse:

The Queen of the South will rise at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for she came from the ends of the earth to listen to Solomon’s wisdom, and now one greater than Solomon is here.

In this one,

  1. The queen of the south was far from Solomon
  2. {implied} She heard of Solomon's wisdom
  3. The queen of the south came from afar to listen to his wisdom

As a result, she has the right to stand in judgment against this generation because:

  1. The Pharisees and teachers are near to Jesus
  2. They heard of Jesus' wisdom
  3. {implied} They do not care to listen to Jesus' wisdom, preferring to ask for miraculous proof

The unclean spirit

Now for the passage in question,

When an unclean spirit goes out of a person, it passes through waterless places looking for rest but does not find it. Then it says, ‘I will return to the home I left.’

When it returns, it finds the house empty, swept clean, and put in order. Then it goes and brings with it seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they go in and live there, so the last state of that person is worse than the first.

It will be that way for this evil generation as well!”

As before, this one breaks down the same way:

  1. The spirit tormented the person.
  2. The spirit leaves the person.
  3. The spirit returns to find more available space, so he fills it with more tormentors.

Jesus doesn't craft an explanation for this analogy, but says, "So it will also be to this generation." His point has so far centered around his preaching, so in order for the audience to grasp it, it must follow the same pattern.

The second point must refer, then, to what he is currently doing in his ministry: his preaching, his telling wisdom. This is the basis of his comparison to Solomon and Jonah, remember - the reason he here proclaims himself as greater than they.

If the unclean spirit being gone out of the man refers to his ministry, then the unclean spirit returning and finding more available space must refer to when his ministry ends - after he had done such a superb job of "cleaning the area out," or preaching righteousness. At this time, Jesus says, "the last state of that man [will be] worse than the first."

The application of this analogy goes as follows:

  1. This generation is a wicked generation
  2. Someone greater than Jonah or Solomon is preaching to this generation
  3. If they do not listen, they will be worse than they were before.

Obviously, with a parallel being made to Nineveh (who was warned of destruction) and the blunt phrases "rise in judgment... and shall condemn it" being used twice here, the "worse off" clause in verse 45 seems to include a destruction as well.

In Summary

If the Lord is speaking here about the scribes and Pharisees (that is, they are represented here by the man from whom the unclean spirit came out and into whom it returned with seven more), then what exactly is He saying here in their regard?

He is saying that to ignore his message (as they are doing) will place them in a far worse place than they were in before.

What does it mean that they firstly were possessed by the unclean spirit?

This means that they were "possessed" by wickedness, that they were like Nineveh, a wicked and adulterous generation.

What does it mean that it came out of them?

Jesus' preaching (possibly similar to Jonah's warning of impending doom or Solomon's telling wisdom) was doing a work of cleansing the generation's wickedness.

What exactly is represented here by the unclean spirit coming back into them?

If they refused to listen/repent, then their wickedness would fill the places that Jesus had cleansed, becoming far worse than it was before. The implication is also there of a coming destruction for that wickedness.


As an aside, if this is the correct view (a destruction of Israel for wickedness), then it is a repeated theme brought up again in Matthew 23-24.

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