In our study of Matthew 12, we have seen that the Pharisees have been trying to trap Jesus regarding the Sabbath day. They watched as He said to a man with a withered hand, "Stretch our your hand," and it was completely restored. They watched as Jesus cast out demons with a word. But this wasn't convincing them. They thought, "If He wants to prove Himself, let's see something huge! Not a little physical healing, but a massive atmospheric wonder! When He says He can't, then we'll know He's a fake and a fraud!"
When the religious rulers approached Jesus, they said, "We want to see a sign," expecting Him to say, "I can't." But they weren't prepared for His real answer: "You'll get a sign all right. But not the one you're expecting."
He went on to explain that the one sign they were going to get was the same sign as Jonah the Prophet gave the Ninevites. Jonah had been in the belly of the great fish for three days and three nights. Jesus was going to be physically dead, buried in the heart of the earth, for the same time period.
Jonah had been a sign to the Ninevites (Luke 11:30), and the Ninevites had repented. Every one of them. We read in the book of Jonah,
Jonah 3:5-9 Then the people of Nineveh believed in God; and they called a fast and put on sackcloth from the greatest to the least of them. When the word reached the king of Nineveh, he arose from his throne, laid aside his robe from him, covered himself with sackcloth and sat on the ashes. He issued a proclamation and it said, "In Nineveh by the decree of the king and his nobles: Do not let man, beast, herd, or flock taste a thing. Do not let them eat or drink water. But both man and beast must be covered with sackcloth; and let men call on God earnestly that each may turn from his wicked way and from the violence which is in his hands. Who knows, God may turn and relent and withdraw His burning anger so that we will not perish."
They all repented because of the sign of Jonah. But when Jesus rose from the dead, which demonstrated a far more powerful sign, His generation did not repent.
Likewise, when people all over the world were speaking of Solomon's great wisdom, the Queen of the South made an effort to see for herself. 1Kings tells us,
1Kings 10:1 Now when the queen of Sheba heard about the fame of Solomon concerning the name of the LORD, she came to test him with difficult questions.
And when she saw his wisdom for herself,
1Kings 10:6 Then she said to the king, "It was a true report which I heard in my own land about your words and your wisdom."
Jesus was proving Himself to be far wiser than Solomon, and yet the scribes and Pharisees were refusing to admit it.
Thus, Jesus said that the men of Nineveh and the Queen of the South would be their judges.
We often quote this section of Scripture when discussing deliverance from demons. And yet, it is important that we not miss that there are two teachings present here. The first regarding what happens in the spiritual realm when someone is delivered, and the second is that Jesus is drawing a parallel between that event and the generation to whom He is preaching.
First of all, He describes what happens when a demon is cast out. It leaves the human body it is possessing (of which we spoke in detail in our last study), and it has to go somewhere. It goes through waterless places, dry and barren deserts. But it doesn't find rest in these places. Back in our study of chapter eight, we talked about the demons who preferred wait for their judgment by being confined in the sea rather than the abyss.
It would seem that unless a demon is forced into that situation, it is free to roam the earth. However, waterless places offer it no rest. It begins to think how much more comfortable it was in the body it previously inhabited, and decides to see if it is still available.
What determines if the body is still available? If it is found to be unoccupied. What else could occupy that body besides a demonic spirit? Only the Holy Spirit.
Paul the apostle said,
Rom. 8:9 ...you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him.
He asked the Corinthians,
1Cor. 3:16 Do you not know that you are a temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?
When does the Spirit begin to live inside of a person?
Eph. 1:13 ...after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation -having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise
This is why Paul was able to write to Timothy and call the Holy Spirit, He "who dwells in us" (2Tim. 1:14).
When a demon is cast out of a person, it is absolutely vital that they hear the gospel and believe it, so that the Holy Spirit will take up residence in that body. If not, the person may get his or her life back together, but that will only make it more appealing for the demon to return. And this time, it won't return alone - it'll bring seven other spirits more wicked than itself.
We can see that delivering someone without preaching the gospel to them actually makes their situation worse.
That is the first and most obvious part of this teaching. And yet, don't miss the fact that Jesus is saying that the generation to whom He is preaching is in that same boat. He is casting out demons, and people's lives are being cleaned up. But if they don't receive Him, then their final situation will be much worse than their original situation. If they don't believe the gospel, then it would have been better for them if they'd never heard it at all!
The generation of rejectors was not limited to the religious crowd. The Bible tells us that Jesus' own brothers did not yet believe in Him (John 7:5). So, who does Jesus consider family? Those who do the will of God by believing in the Son of God.