Since most modern Christians do not have the Bible’s sacred architecture hidden in their hearts, much of the impact of Jesus’ words is lost on them.
When Jesus described the fate of a house built upon sand (Matthew 7:24-27), it is likely, although unstated, that He had Herod’s Temple in mind. “The sand of the sea” was the typological buffer zone between the “Land” of Israel and the untamed “Sea” of the Gentiles. Its basic meaning is a multitude of people –– usually Jews, but sometimes Gentiles –– so it seems Jesus is condemning the Herods for their simultaneous exaltation of the Jewish identity and envy of Roman state power, and their failure to seek true refuge, and true succession, through faithful obedience to God.
The continual temptation of the Jews was to consider themselves elite, rather than simply privileged, exalting themselves as kings rather than as an ascension on behalf of the nations. A compromised kingdom such as this was vulnerable to Gentile invasion, the waves of the Sea. It was the Jewish rulers, those who considered themselves safe upon the high rock of Zion, who not only rejected the testimony of Jesus, and followed this up by murdering Him, but then repeated the process in the rejection and murder of the Apostolic Church (Hebrews 6:6). The final expression of this sin was their revelling in the annual Passover feast after the completion of Herod’s Temple, instead of focussing on the Feast of Booths, which concerned Israel’s ministry to the nations, now fulfilled in the Gospel of Christ. Thus, Satan now stood upon the sand of the sea to call up Neronic Rome against the Bride of Christ, the Apostolic Church (Revelation 12:17 – 13:1), but the beast instead destroyed the harlot, Herodian Israel.
However, when Jesus spoke of a house filled with demons (Matthew 12:43-35), He left us in no doubt concerning His target, and the events He described are a demonic inversion of the Day of Pentecost. Just as Saul received an evil spirit from the Lord when David received the Holy Spirit, so the Jews who blasphemed the Spirit of God would be inhabited by those with whom they had consorted. As it was with Saul, the purpose of this demonic possession was to render them open to deception, a “strong delusion” (2 Thessalonians 2:11), that their destruction might be hastened. The Lord would make “short work” of those in the Land (Romans 9:28). He had come to heal them, to make them better, but their refusal of His testimony would make them far worse. It is better to have never heard the Gospel of Christ than to have heard it and rejected it.
Everything Jesus says is shaped by the Covenant-Literary structure common to all Scripture. This helps us understand the architectural nature of His condemnation of the last generation of the Jewish rulers.
First, an overview of the heptamerous “architecture” of the passage, and then a more detailed commentary, allowing other passages which employ this shared structure to speak to this one through “literary correspondence.” If you are familiar with the Bible Matrix, you will see that Jesus plays not only upon Israel’s failure to trust God in the wilderness, but also exposes the “ministry” of the Herodian priesthood as a strain of Covenant sorcery, that is, an Adamic attempt to seize the blessings of the Covenant without obedience to the Ethics of the Covenant.
Creation – “When an unclean spirit goes out of a man,
Division – he goes through dry places, seeking rest, and finds none.
Ascension – Then he says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’
Conquest – and they enter and dwell there; and the last state of that man is worse than the first.
Glorification – So shall it also be with this wicked generation.”
We can now unpack, line by line, the rich significance of the structure for the full meaning of the passage.
- “When an unclean spirit goes out of a man…
The “man” here is a reference to Adam, who failed to receive the Holy Spirit, and thus to all who suffered from the bondage he wrought in Eden. Jesus is a better Adam, and his triumph over the temptations of Satan in the wilderness gave Him the authority to cast evil spirits out of others.
- he goes through dry places, seeking rest, and finds none.
The allusion moves from Genesis to Exodus, perhaps referring to Israel’s complaint against Moses at Rephidim, when there was no water for the people to drink.
- Then he says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’
Leviticus concerns the ministry of the Aaronic priesthood, with the newly constructed tent of God providing a sacrificial covering – a shelter – for the nations. But the disobedience of Aaron’s sons, Nadab and Abihu, in offering strange fire, was a symptom of their failure to distinguish between that which was common and that which was unclean (Leviticus 10:10). Of course, “the house” in this case is the “Adam” in line 1, a temple made ready for the Holy Spirit.
- And when he comes, he finds it empty, swept, and put in order.
The central line is fivefold, corresponding to the books of the Torah, and the center of this line is the “empty” house. Old Israel was “cut off” in Numbers. The complete process is Creational, and the Pentecost step takes us from Forming to Filling. Jesus has cast the demons out of the people of Israel, but the Holy Spirit, pictured in the “seven spirits” before the throne, the golden Lampstand, is not dwelling in the house. He has been blasphemed, which means that the seven “eyes” of this Tabernacle are “full of darkness” (Luke 11:34). This is exactly what happened to King Saul, who was rejected by God.
- Then he goes and takes with him seven other spirits more wicked than himself…
The Trumpets step concerns armies, hosts, multitudes, swarms, or clouds. Since the eyes of Israel were darkened (Acts 9:8; 13:11; Romans 11:25), the whole body would be full of darkness. At Firstfruits, the singular unclean spirit was the speaking “head” in this structure. These seven other spirits are the body. This text is a prediction of the false church of Judaism which would arise in revolt against the Gospel. Where the true church was a fragrant cloud of incense before God (a new Israel), this false church was sulphur from the bottomless pit, a cloud of ravenous locusts upon the Land — the Fifth Trumpet in Revelation.
- and they enter and dwell there; and the last state of that man is worse than the first.
The Adam is now Israel’s high priesthood before and during the Roman siege, entirely corrupted, and filled with a legion of demons which caused the Jews to slaughter not only Christians but also each other. The delusion of grandeur was now complete. Encouraged by a minor victory, Jerusalem stood against the might of Rome and lost. The festal reference (Atonement) is an inversion of the cleansing of the priesthood and the Land on Yom Kippur. Instead of the uncleanness being cast out, it came home to roost, and the birds were circling. There was no more sacrifice for sins.
- So shall it also be with this wicked generation.”
The final line reveals that the old priesthood represented Adam, and it would be superseded. The placement of this statement at Succession (line 7, Day 7) is ironic: this would be the last “generation” of the succession of Abraham according to the flesh. The circumcision itself would be cut off, and there would be no rest for those who gloried in the flesh. Jerusalem would find herself “under the ban,” just like Jericho, and not one man, woman, child or beast would be left alive. The other irony is that step 7 concerned the filling of the house, representing all Creation, with the glory of God. This is what happened when the Tabernacle, and Solomon’s Temple, were completed. But the Spirit of the Lord now dwelt in a living Temple.
This warning concerned first century Jews, but can it be applied today? Our culture heard the Gospel and was cleansed. When tempted with “strange fire” (false ideologies) and “Midianite women” (the expression of this idolatry in sexuality), we rejected the testimony of Christ and His Apostles. Our last state will be worse than the first.
If you are new to this method of interpretation, please visit the Welcome page for some help to get you up to speed.
Art: Abe Goolsby, for the HCSB Study Bible.