In John Milton’s classic epic poem Paradise Lost, Satan and his host are cast from heaven for their rebellion. Yet even in the face of such conditions, Satan remains resistant to God, declaring: “Better to reign in Hell, than serve in Heav’n”.
Even in Jesus’ day some, like Milton’s Satan, refused to bow to the lordship of Christ. Three times in our chapter, the Pharisees resisted Jesus and rejected His claims. In verses 1 to 14, they applied a legalistic attitude to Scripture and resisted Jesus’ actions of eating and healing on the Sabbath. They would rather follow their own rules than yield to the “Lord of the Sabbath” Himself (v. 8). Jesus was none other than the servant figure promised in Isaiah, but because of their resistance, Jesus “withdrew from that place” (v. 15).
Later, in verses 22 to 32, they attributed to Satan what God’s Spirit was accomplishing through Jesus. Rather than recognize the work of God’s in-breaking kingdom, they blasphemed against God and rejected the work of Christ. Finally, in verses 38 to 42 the Pharisees disguised their opposition to Jesus by demanding miraculous signs. One greater than Jonah or Solomon had arrived, but they remained incredulous.
Why did the Pharisees so vehemently resist Jesus? Scripture explains: their outward resistance reflected the inner condition of their hearts, “for the mouth speaks . . . what the heart is full of” (v. 34). More concerned with their own legalism and ideas about what God’s Messiah should look like, they outwardly appeared “swept clean and put in order” (v. 44). But in reality they had rejected Christ and His Spirit, opening themselves to future spiritual attack and blindness. Jesus’ final words about His true family teach us that it is possible to be externally religious yet remain outside God’s kingdom.