Jesus gives us two fascinating insights in this short section. First he provides an insight into the spiritual realm. He shows us what happens to a demon when it is cast out of a man. Second, he then gives us a warning to make the necessary changes that will keep the evil spirits away.
In relation to the first point we see that when an evil spirit is cast out it “…passes through waterless places seeking rest, but he finds none.” (Vs. 43) It is clear that for an evil spirit to exist outside the flesh of man is a harsh experience, like being in the desert. There is no rest and it is a difficult existence for the evil spirit. (Don’t take pity on them…they deserve what they get!)
After wandering in this spiritual desert for some time the evil spirit then returns to the man from whom it was cast out. In the example Jesus gives we see the evil spirit finds the “house” from which it came, that is the man it was cast out from, “…empty, swept and put in order.” (Vs. 44) This is showing us that the man has been cleaned up but is empty, ready and waiting for a new occupant. But as the “house” (man) is empty, the spirit goes and gets seven demons worse than him…and moves in.
Now why does the evil spirit bring back seven worse demons than itself? I believe it is for self-preservation and protection. You see if the demon has all these strong and worse demons with him, they may be able to take a stronger hold over the man to prevent him seeking the Lord and thus make their “home” secure…from the Lord. By making the evil in the man stronger they can control him.
Jesus pointed to this in Matthew 12:29 saying, “…how can one enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man? Then indeed he may plunder his house.” This is important for it tells us both what the evil spirits were thinking and also how we can keep the evil spirits away.
This brings us to the second point, how to keep the evil spirits at bay.
The reason this man had such trouble is that although he had been swept and put in order, ready for a new “tenant”, he was still empty. By being put in order by the Lord he was made ready to receive the Holy Spirit, but the man had not taken that step. Now if they do not receive the Holy Spirit after cleansing of the evil spirit, what is there to stand in the way of the evil spirit returning? But if the new tenant is a “strong man” as referred to in verse 29, then he will prevent the old evil spirit from coming in. And the Holy Spirit is a “strong man” having access to both Jesus and the Father himself.
So the warning we see here is…don’t leave the “house” empty after it has been cleaned. Otherwise the evil spirit squatters will return and, “…the last state of that man becomes worse than the first.” (Vs. 45)
Jesus also warned the people of his generation that they too could end up like this. They were being prepared through his teaching and ministry to repent and be baptised (i.e. swept and put in order), in preparation to receive the Holy Spirit. If they chose not to, then they too would be in a worse state than they were previously. So we too must heed his warning. When your “house” is swept and put in order, don’t leave it empty. Fill it with the in-dwelling Holy Spirit so you can be led into all of the truth.