“When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, but finds none. Then it says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ And when it comes, it finds the house empty, swept, and put in order. Then it goes and brings with it seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and dwell there, and the last state of that person is worse than the first. So also will it be with this evil generation.”
Understanding And Applying the Text
Christ’s intent in this parable about an unclean spirit is to magnify God’s grace. Christ came to rescue us from the tyranny of the devil. And so we may receive His favor. This is what Christ stated in the miracle where he cast out a demon earlier in the chapter.
Christ shows His grace to us and casts Satan from us. Christ describes Satan’s nature. Satan never stops trying to harm us. When Christ vanquishes him it only enrages him more. It increases his desire to injure us.
The phrase passing through “waterless places” is a metaphor. It conveys the idea that for an evil spirit to dwell outside of men is banishment. It resembles a barren wilderness. The demon is “seeking to rest.” As long as he dwells outside of man, he works to regain what he has lost. “The devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” (1 Peter 5:8b)
The image of a clean house that is in order is a reference to a person from whom the spirit departed. But it is empty. Christ has not taken up residence. For believers, God’s Spirit dwells in a person. Christ fortifies believers on all sides. Nothing is open to Satan.
When the evil spirit returns he brings with him seven more evil spirits, more evil than him. We are not to understand the number seven as a specific number. Seven is the number of completeness. In other words, the man is completely filled with evil.
His assault on the Christians is continuous. For he once ruled within the Christian and now he does not. We should not assume that Satan is conquered by a single victory. He returns time and time again. Do not think the attacks are always full-on assaults. They may be. But more it is more likely to be guerrilla warfare. Short hit and run tactics to wear us down. When we are weary our defenses are down. We may say, “That sin is not so bad.” Or “I guess that is the way I am. Why fight it?”
Unless the Holy Spirit resides in the heart, unholy spirits may enter (Romans 8:9). If people are not committed to the King, their final state will be worse than if the kingdom had never come (Hebrews 6:4-6)