Who Can Bind the Strong Man?
The mighty Samson could not bind sin, so sin ruled in his house. But Jesus was always the Lord of his house... Jesus would not be under its dominion.
It started out with an accusation from his own family: “He is out of his mind.” The scribes, surprised at hearing this from Jesus’ relatives seized on this thought and then slandered him.
Jesus then rebukes them for their faulty logic and shows that Satan could not cast out Satan. He then illustrates this showing a house divided against itself is doomed to fail. But then, an unusual parable,
How would his disciples understand this parable? What do you think it means? Samson was the only strong man in scripture who was bound, enabling the enemies of Israel to plunder the house of Israel. In light of this parable, we can clearly see the goal of the Philistines was to “bind the strong man” of Israel.
The Philistines eventually prevailed.
What is even sadder is that earlier, Samson’s own countrymen from Judah, thought it expedient to bind Samson.
“We are come down to bind thee, that we may deliver thee into the hand of the Philistines.” (Judg 15:12).
Samson was God’s Deliverer. The angel proclaimed that he would begin to save them from their arch enemy, the Philistines, yet the men of Judah worked alongside the Philistines to bind Samson and deliver him for death. The Hebrews displayed an astounding lack of faith. They saw the miracles and signs of Samson but wouldn’t follow him.
In the end, Samson stood alone. The Hebrews had chosen to remain in bondage to the Philistines, instead of becoming free men. With Samson bound, they could spoil and rule over the house of Israel.
Perhaps what we miss at the beginning of our story was that Jesus’ own family wanted to bind him too! The words “lay hold” mean to restrain, “seize by force” (Weymouth), “lay hold on him” (YLT). Like Samson’s brethren, Jesus’ brethren wanted to have power over him, and bind him up.
Like the Philistines, Jesus’ religious contemporaries eventually succeeded and caused him to be bound and delivered to his enemies.
In the end, Jesus stood alone.
We can easily understand that Samson was a strong man. What we fail to appreciate sometimes is that Jesus was the strong man!
Consider these similarities: both Jesus and Samson had their births announced by angels, both were to be deliverers, both performed signs and miracles. We see many parallels between Samson and Jesus. But in the end, Samson ended up being a slave in his enemy’s house. He would die with them.
The slander of the scribes painted the same picture. Their hateful slander against the Son of the Living God was that Jesus couldn’t save because he was the slave to a Philistine god, Beelzebub. But we still haven’t solved this parable.
Who is the strong man that Jesus speaks of? When we read carefully, the answer is given. Evil can’t cast out evil. The strong man in the parable must be sin. Sin is what binds all of us to death. So, the real question in Jesus’ parable is who can bind the strong man of sin? There is only one man stronger than “the strong man”, only one man who can bind him—Jesus!
But let’s step back for a minute. The Greek word Beelzebub means: “Lord of the House”. When you think of this slander directed at Jesus, you realize that sin was never “The Lord, the possessor of the house” of Jesus, his body. Until Jesus lived, sin successfully resisted every attempt made against it.
Even a strong man like Samson could not prevail against it. The mighty Samson could not bind sin, so sin ruled in his house. But Jesus was always the Lord of his house, not Beelzebub. Jesus would not be under its dominion. Jesus bound the strong man of sin his entire mortal existence.
Paul picks up on this in Hebrews and Romans.
We can see how this simple parable starts to illuminate a greater truth to us. Sin is the master that has ruled mankind. It is the strong man demanding submission, obedience from us. But the parable goes on. There are two metaphors used in this parable.
- “Spoil his goods”—The word “goods” (Gr. skeuos) is translated as “vessel” 19 out of 22 times. I believe the translators missed this and it should have been translated as “spoil his vessel”. Scripture uses “vessel” as a metaphor for our bodies. It’s the same word used in 1 Thessalonians; “that each one of you know how to possess himself of his own vessel in sanctification and honor” (1 Thess 4:4). Or in this version “keep his body holy” (BBE).
This is where Samson, and the rest of us have failed. For us to successfully possess our vessel means that everything that was previously in it, (i.e., sin), be displaced, pushed out, swept clean and filled with righteousness. Jesus did what we fail to do. He took possession of his body, took it captive, spoiled it. This brings us to our second metaphor.
- “Spoil the house”. The word “house” means an “inhabited dwelling” or the “inmates of the house” (Liddell & Scott). All of us are inmates, locked in a body of sin. Prisoners seeking freedom. This can only happen if someone more powerful than the strongman of sin frees us. We probably don’t think of sin or the infirmities of the flesh this way, but clearly, all of us are bound.
Now consider verse 16 in the context of this parable:
Perhaps the very next day, Jesus would illustrate this parable. Jesus crossed the Galilee with the sole intention of healing one-man—Legion.
The Greek for “right mind” means to “exercise self-control,” “to curb one’s passions.” When you think of our Lord, the real battle was inside himself. Jesus defeated the strong man of sin within him by condemning it, never giving in to it. He strangled evil thoughts and bound them tightly.
But the only way sin could be truly defeated, was to put his body to death. When Jesus was raised, clothed in immortality, he had taken his captivity captive. It was conquered and destroyed. Jesus entered the arena of sin, this was in his own body, and there he defeated it!
This brings us back to Samson. Samson was in the arena, in the house of a Philistine God, possibly Beelzebub. He too stretched out his arms, and he destroyed that house of sin. He brought down that evil building and he also destroyed his own body of flesh.
His death pointed to what Jesus would do more fully. Only Jesus could say, “Destroy this temple (i.e. house, see Matt 21:12-13), and in three days I will raise it up.” (John 2:19).
Our strong man Jesus tells us this: “Him who overcomes.” Perhaps a better translation is to
In Matthew’s account where Jesus is called Beelzebub, Matthew adds one more detail.
This challenge from Jesus is directed to us. Which strong man will you serve? Will you battle the strong man of sin who is trying to occupy your body, or do you resist? If we choose wisely like Legion, this blessing will fall on us too. But Jesus said unto him,
Moorestown Ecclesia, NJ