Jesus ‘Bound the Strong Man’ and What It Means for You

September 11, 2017

by Brandon Crowe

All Christians acknowledge that the Gospels are vital for discipleship today. But interpreting and applying the Gospels can be difficult since they’re about things that happened a long time ago—“back then.” What difference do these ancient events make for our daily lives?

The Gospels are relevant because they showcase the victory that Jesus Christ, through his lifelong obedience, won on our behalf. The victory he won back then has cosmic and personal consequences that affect us right now.

To demonstrate such relevance, let’s turn to a difficult parable of Jesus: the binding of the strong man, as found in Mark 3:22–30. Although this passage can be a head-scratcher, it’s best understood as a parable explaining Jesus’s mission.

In Mark 3 Jesus’s mission is under attack. After announcing the coming of God’s kingdom (Mark 1:14–15), he begins to heal the sick, cast out demons, teach with authority, call disciples, and even forgive sins. But not everyone is happy with him. In Mark 3:22–30 the scribes challenge the source of Jesus’s authority, claiming it comes from Beelzebul, the prince of demons (Satan). In response, Jesus points out that his attacks on the kingdom of Satan invalidate the accusation that he’s working with Satan.

Jesus says he came to bind the strong man (that is, Satan) in order that he himself, as the stronger man (cf. Mark 1:7), might plunder Satan’s house. This is Jesus’s own explanation of the events we encounter in Mark 1–3.

But what did this binding of the strong man mean back then? And what difference does it make right now? Here are three key truths.

1. Jesus Came to Crush the Devil

First, Jesus came to defeat the Devil. We can lose sight of this point since the Gospels contain many stories. But at a foundational level the Gospels are about Jesus’s victory over Satan (cf. 1 John 3:8). Before we get to Mark 3—a text that features Jesus, the Devil, and the Holy Spirit—Mark’s readers have already encountered the wilderness temptation (1:12–13) featuring the same three characters. We’re therefore encouraged to read the binding of the strong man in light of Jesus’s obedience in the temptation episode.

So how should we understand the temptation episode? Most probably view the Devil’s threefold challenge and Jesus’s scriptural response as an example for us as we fight temptation. This is a valid application, and Jesus does indeed provide a model for us.

But is there more? When we read Mark’s account, we’re struck by how distinctive it is: Jesus was with wild animals and angels ministered to him. How is that a model for us? It’s better to think of Jesus’s temptation primarily as a unique event in the history of redemption when God’s anointed Son battled and bound the Devil as part of his kingdom work.

Reading Mark’s temptation account as Jesus’s initial victory over Satan fits well with Mark 3:22–30. Jesus’s explanation of binding the strong man employs kingdom language (3:24–27), and only after Jesus’s obedience in the wilderness does he announce the coming of the kingdom (1:14–15). Jesus is the king who establishes the kingdom on the basis of his own obedience. The battle with Satan isn’t over in Mark 1 or Mark 3 (Jesus will end up sacrificing his life to establish the kingdom fully), but a decisive blow has already been dealt . . .

. . . continue reading at The Gospel Coalition.

Brandon Crowe

Dr. Crowe (PhD, Edinburgh) is associate professor of New Testament at WTS.

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