The narrative is in Matt. 12:43-45: “When an unclean spirit goes out of a man, he goes through dry places, seeking rest, and finds none. Then he says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ And when he comes, he finds it empty, swept, and put in order. Then he goes and takes with him seven other spirits more wicked than himself, and they enter and dwell there; and the last state of that man is worse than the first.…”
Jesus’ parable may have been suggested by the case history of an insane man who was thought to be healed. It may frequently have happened that one seemingly cured from demoniac possession suffered a relapse, and that his state became worse than before.
The demon, expelled from a man’s house of life, wanders in a wilderness. Then, homeless, returns to look from far at the house he came from. Finding it swept and set in order–but empty–he summons seven other devils each worse than himself; and they, in alliance too strong for the man, come to possess him. His “last state is [thus] worse than the first.” Empty houses never remain empty. Dust gathers in the corners; rats gnaw at the floorboards.
There is a terrible persistence in wickedness: it returns, and the soul not indwelt by the rightful tenant is always beleaguered. Reformation is never enough, no matter how thorough the cleansing. At best it is only a prelude to a new loyalty. Nature and human nature both abhor a vacuum: no faith is almost worse than a bad faith, for no faith invites a swarm of bad faiths; no life remains empty of worship. It doesn’t greatly help a man to know what he does not believe, unless he knows also what he does believe.
The Pharisees had cast out the gross sins, but they left life empty of any loyalty beyond themselves. So seven other devils arrived, such as money, greed, self-righteousness, and contempt for those without the Law. But the followers of Christ had invited Him to live in a house which, when He first came, was not even swept or garnished. Yet soon their table was spread, for He was their Bread of life. They feared no darkness, for He was their Light. Death held no terror, for He was their Resurrection and Life. When shall we learn that our hearts are made for a Divine indwelling? When shall we learn to say, “I believe with all my heart”?
Our world needs that passionate and positive commitment. Otherwise our emptiness invites a worse fate. When Christ comes to live in us the devils keep their distance.
The last part of v. 45 shows Jesus’ meaning: “So shall it also be with this wicked generation.” In the form of a parable our Lord foretells the degeneration of the people who imagine that they have nothing to learn from Him, although He has more wisdom to impart than Solomon gave to the queen of Sheba. The people were in danger of a relapse into even greater evil if they did not open their hearts to receive the words of Jesus.
A spiritual lesson vital to the alert Christian also can be drawn from this parable. Normally, in our unregenerate state, our house of life was the abode of many unclean spirits: we were harboring many fleshly ways, many unchristian interests and attitudes. Once the way of Christ is presented to us and we accept its challenge, we attempt to reform our lives, with the result that our house becomes swept and garnished: the old evil propensities are forced out. But the flesh is weak and the evil is strong, and the process of keeping our house clean and free from the demon self proves more drastic than we suspected. Our worst self is ill at ease in such a wholesome atmosphere.
Let us beware of such an “evil Spirit” that, once banished, can return.