#5 – The Unclean Spirit – Matt 12:43-45

Matthew 12:43-45 (NKJV)
43  “When an unclean spirit goes out of a man, he goes through dry places, seeking rest, and finds none.
44  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. 45  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. So shall it also be with this wicked generation.”

Luke 11:24-26 (NKJV)
24  “When an unclean spirit goes out of a man, he goes through dry places, seeking rest; and finding none, he says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’
25  And when he comes, he finds it swept and put in order. 26  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.”

First Century Background of Unclean Spirits

Christ’s first recorded miracle in Mark 1:23 was the casting out of an unclean spirit. In the Bible there is not as much mention of spirits tempting people as there is of causing disease or mental illness. We find examples in Matt 9:32 (dumb), Matt 12:22 (blindness), Matt 17:18 (epilepsy), Mark 9:17-29 (deafness),  Luke 4:39 (fever), Luke 8:2 (infirmity). The twelve disciples were given the power to cast them out. Matt 10:1 “… He gave them power over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal all kinds of sickness and all kinds of disease. The 70 he sent out also had this power. Luke 10:17 “Then the seventy returned with joy, saying, “Lord, even the demons are subject to us in Your name.”  In Acts 8:5-7 we see that Phillip also had this power even after Christ’s ascension.

Matt 12:38 The scribes and Pharisees asked for a sign: “Teacher, we want to see a sign from You.”

Matt 12:39 “…an evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign…”

Matt 12:43 “When an unclean spirit…” Jesus here clearly acknowledges the existence of unclean or demonic spirits. While many scholars deny their existence, there is much evidence in the Bible for them. There is some evidence, from the times, that people held that there were different classes of spirits based on the locations they preferred. I found these divisions in Adam Clark’s commentary on the verse:

“1. daimonev ouranioi, Celestial demons. 2. daimonev herioi, Aerial. 3. daimonev enudrioi, Aquatic. 4. daimonev cqonioi, Terrestrial. 5. kai daimonev upocqonioi, And subterranean demons. See Orph. ad Mus. ap. Schott. The Platonists, the followers of Zoroaster, and the primitive Jews, made nearly the same distinctions.”

he goes through dry places” This could simply be unsuitable places where there was no flesh to inhabit.  

“…seeking rest, and finds none.” Would possibly indicate that a host must give them permission to enter.  In Matt 8:32-33 the demons sought permission to enter swine when Christ cast them out. This particular demon was “…seeking rest…” Which could indicate that a demon had to have something, or someone, to occupy and could not be destroyed simply by being  cast out. It is interesting to note that the unclean spirits requested unclean animals (pigs) in which to enter.  

Matt 12:44 “… I will return to my house from which I came.”  Notice that the unclean spirit still considers that the house/person is still his own, even after he had left. “… he finds it empty, swept, and put in order.” The unclean spirit finds that the house/person has not replaced the power that had left with any other power. It was open and empty to entrance by whomever might come in. It should have been filled with good, not be left empty.

Phil 4:8  Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy–meditate on these things.

If it had been filled with these things, it would have had no place for the return of the unclean spirit. “… he goes and takes with him seven other spirits more wicked than himself, and they enter…” Just as the Israelites did in the wilderness, they were also doing in the first century. They did not follow after God for 40 years in the wilderness, now they don’t accept Christ for the 40 years before they are destroyed!

Acts 7:41-42  And they made a calf in those days, offered sacrifices to the idol, and rejoiced in the works of their own hands. 42  Then God turned and gave them up to worship the host of heaven, as it is written in the book of the Prophets: ‘Did you offer Me slaughtered animals and sacrifices during forty years in the wilderness, O house of Israel?

“… So shall it also be with this wicked generation.”  The condition of the heart of Jews in the first century was very hard toward Christ the Savior and he “gave them up.” In these verses we see the power Satan had at that time. 

2 Thes 2:9-12 The coming of the lawless one is according to the working of Satan, with all power, signs, and lying wonders, 10  and with all unrighteous deception among those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth, that they might be saved. 11  And for this reason God will send them strong delusion, that they should believe the lie, 12  that they all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness.

The results of this kind of heart are found in this verse:

Zech 10:2 For the idols speak delusion; The diviners envision lies, And tell false dreams; They comfort in vain. Therefore the people wend their way like sheep; They are in trouble because there is no shepherd. They did not accept Jesus as their shepherd!

Matt 12:45 “… seven other spirits…” To the Jews, “seven” meant complete or full. Therefore, the later state of the man would be that he was completely controlled by the evil spirit. Like one who has a drug habit, if he cleans up, then relapses, he often becomes worse with each relapse. Bad habits have to be replaced with good habits for healing to happen.

“… and the last state of that man is worse than the first. So shall it also be with this wicked generation.” Here Jesus returns to the condemnation of the Jews.

Luke 13:34 “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, but you were not willing!

Jesus was sent to the lost sheep of the house of Israel, but they rejected him and his prophets and killed him Luke 11:47, Acts 7:52, Rom 11:3, 1Th 2:15. They rejected him despite the many signs and wonders that he performed. They truly were filling up the measure of their guilt for having martyred the prophets! Matt 23:29-38

There remains the question of unclean spirits having power over unwilling subjects. Perhaps a person could have lived so evil a life that the unclean spirit was able to enter in. Or maybe they existed in the first century just so that Jesus could show his power over them. Consider these verses:

Romans 9:22 What if God, wanting to show His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath prepared for destruction,

John 9:2-3  And His disciples asked Him, saying, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” 3  Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but that the works of God should be revealed in him.

Exodus 8:15 But when Pharaoh saw that there was relief, he hardened his heart and did not heed them, as the LORD had said.

Exodus 10:1 Now the LORD said to Moses, “Go in to Pharaoh; for I have hardened his heart and the hearts of his servants, that I may show these signs of Mine before him,

After Pharaoh hardened his own heart, we see that the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart that he might show signs before him. God from the beginning has used certain individuals and nations to display His power or work His will upon His chosen people. But there is an indication that signs, wonders and unclean spirits would end at a determined time.

Zechariah 13:2 “It shall be in that day,” says the LORD of hosts, “that I will cut off the names of the idols from the land, and they shall no longer be remembered. I will also cause the prophets and the unclean spirit to depart from the land. 

“… in that day…” God would “… cause… the unclean spirit to depart from the land.” When would “that day” be? Zechariah links together the time the prophets and unclean spirits would cease in the land. In the following verse we see that there would be a time when the prophecies would end.

1 Corinthians 13:8-10 Love never fails. But whether there are prophecies, they will fail; whether there are tongues, they will cease; whether there is knowledge, it will vanish away. 9  For we know in part and we prophesy in part. 10  But when that which is perfect has come, then that which is in part will be done away.

Since the end of the prophets and the end of the unclean spirits are linked, there would be a time when the unclean spirits would also end. During the time Christ was on earth the unclean spirits were still in the land. During the time the apostles were casting out unclean spirits there were also prophets in the land. Here are some interesting questions for more study: 

  • Do prophets of God remain today?
  • Do unclean spirits remain today?
  • When did they both end?
  • What land was being spoken about?

Brent E. Hughes