Summary: The “unclean spirit” is Satan or his demons. Satan delights in causing uncleanness in persons, places and things. His going out of a man, as presented here, is voluntary, not like his eviction by force as when Christ cast out demons.
Harmony of the Gospels
Title: Jesus Answers a Demand for a Sign
43 When the unclean spirit is gone out of a man, he walketh through dry places, seeking rest, and findeth none.
44 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.
45 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 12:43-45, KJV)
The “unclean spirit” is Satan or his demons. Satan delights in causing uncleanness in persons, places and things. His going out of a man, as presented here, is voluntary, not like his eviction by force as when Christ cast out demons. He may leave those Scribes and Pharisees for awhile, while Christ and the Gospel are with them, and they may appear religious, even though they are destitute of the grace of God.
These evil spirits were thought to walk or haunt desert and desolate places, seeking rest and satisfaction. Their rest is not the rest that we seek; to refresh our bodies and minds. But they seek to disturb and cause mischief to men, so Jesus said that they would return into the land of Judea, particularly into the Scribes and Pharisees who make great pretensions to holiness. They are Satan’s house; they belong to him, and he never really left them.
The house is empty, but not of sin. It is empty of God, and the true knowledge of Him, and love for Him, of Christ and faith in Him.
His abiding place, the person who is his host, may appear swept, but the reformation is only outward and superficial. There is no internal grace, placed there by God, which makes saints glorious within. Instead, there are secret lusts and corruptions which create an agreeable habitation for these unclean spirits. Satan may even allow a little garnish in the form some external rites and ceremonies, even some fasting and prayer, so long as the heart is empty of spiritual grace.
Now when these demons return to exert their full fury once more, they enter into the man again. They are more violent and cruel than before; worse than the devil, himself. In this state the man will drop all pretenses of religion and holiness. They will return like dogs to the vomit and like swine to wallow in the mire.
This parable was suited to the Scribes and Pharisees, and to the men of that generation. They were blinded to the preaching of the Gospel by Christ and His apostles, but the unclean spirits left for a season, and when Christ departed they returned and filled them with more malice, blasphemy and blindness than before, which caused their complete ruin and destruction.
24 When the unclean spirit is gone out of a man, he walketh through dry places, seeking rest; and finding none, he saith, I will return unto my house whence I came out.
25 And when he cometh, he findeth it swept and garnished.
26 Then goeth he, and taketh to him 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. (Luke 11:24-26, KJV)
Satan may order his forces out, or so it may seam, in order to draw a poor deluded soul into an ambush. What Christ is saying here is that, even though God may have begun to break Satan’s control, that one may reject the council of His word and lapse back into subjection to Satan. This is the condition of many hypocrites, for the unclean spirit has gone out, but not by the power of converting grace. He has withdrawn for a time, so that it seams that the man is no longer under his control.
The house is swept, but not washed. Jesus said, “If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with me.” The house must be washed, or it is none of His. Sweeping only removes the loose dirt; it doesn’t reach the deep sin that stimulates the sinner. The sin that the world can see is gone, but the secret sin is untouched, because grace has not been applied by faith in Jesus.
Now when Satan returns to take control, he brings spirits more wicked that before. It seams that even devils are not all alike, for they have different degrees of wickedness. When Satan wants to do greater damage, he brings those who are the most wicked. Notice that in the end the man is worse off that before. Hypocrisy is a road that will often lead to total rebellion against God; the word apostasy is used to describe that condition. Their last state is worse than the first in respect to both sin and punishment. Their consciences are seared and their sins are bold and daring. They will suffer greatly at the judgment. Let us therefore rest in God’s grace, and hold fast to our integrity.