Did we not cast out demons?

“John answered and said, ‘Master, we saw someone casting out demons in Your name; and we tried to prevent him because he does not follow along with us.’ But Jesus said to him, ‘Do not hinder him; for he who is not against you is for you.'” – Luke 9:49-50 (NASB)
“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you who practice lawlessness.’” – Matthew 7:21-23 (NASB)

How to square these two texts?

Assuming that the “many” in Matthew 7 are testifying truthfully about their deeds, it seems that Jesus contradicts himself. The statement, “he who is not against you is for you,” without futher qualification, is an absolute. Yet Matthew 7 is the clearer text, and Luke 9:50 is more proverbial. “He who is not against you” should be taken, therefore, as a generality, like the majority of Proverbs. “Train your child in the way he should go, and in his old age he will not depart from it,” for example, is not a universal promise, but a maxim of general wisdom. It applies in many circumstances, but not all.

In general, those who are not against Christians are for them. If someone is driving out demons in the name of Jesus, they are likely to be his followers. Likely, though not guaranteed, as Matthew 7 elucidates. And indeed, the two passages address very different questions.

The Luke passage answers the question, “How do we treat disciples of Christ who do not follow along with the Twelve?” The implication both in their question and in Jesus’ response is that the disciples were arrogantly parading their authority over demons as exclusively and inherently theirs, and not a gift of God to be distributed at his discretion. Jesus tells them not to hinder them, suggesting that this was the very action in the minds of the disciples – to oppose the casting out of demons among any non-apostolic groups. Jesus rightly discerns that the ministry of the apostles will be so divisive that it will be obvious who is for them and who is against them, and anyone helping them should be counted a fellow Christian.

The Matthew passage answers the question, “Is the mere claim of Jesus’ lordship enough to qualify one for salvation? Jesus responds by prophesying that many will fail to attain salvation who not only have claimed his lordship, but have performed mighty works in his name; thus eliminating any causal relationship between good works in the name of God (including claiming his lordship, which can be categorized as a good work) and salvation.

It is interesting that the casting out of demons in the name of the Lord is the thread that binds these two very different texts together, and it certainly is no accident. We are meant to contrast the opposite ends of the spectrum – the outcast Christian who casts out demons in the Lord’s name, and the outcast non-Christian who casts out demons in the Lord’s name. Both are alienated: the former by his fellow Christians and the latter by the Lord himself. By this contrast Jesus proves that the righteous will indeed be persecuted in this life, though finally accepted, whereas the unrighteous will be praised in this life, and finally rejected.

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~ by bradybush on August 17, 2011.

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