Jesus’ initial ministry was concentrated in Galilee, which encompasses the northern portion of the Promised Land. Yet that does not mean the actions of Christ went unnoticed in the south. Today’s passage makes that clear as it narrates our Lord’s encounter with “the scribes who came down from Jerusalem.” Commentators agree that this is most likely a reference to an official entourage of some sort. The Jewish leaders had heard of Jesus’ work, and they wanted to see what it was all about.
When they examined Christ’s ministry, however, they issued a startling accusation, namely, that Jesus was exorcising demons on the authority of Beelzebul (Mark 3:22). Much debate regarding the meaning of the name “Beelzebul” has occurred over the years, but the consensus is that it includes a reference to the Canaanite god Baal, who was one of the chief pagan deities of the ancient Near East. Coupled with the Old Testament teaching that false gods are really demons in disguise (Deut. 32:17) and the reference to “the prince of demons,” the scribes plainly attribute the Lord’s ministry to Satan.
Jesus’ response to these charges confirms this, for He asks, “How can Satan cast out Satan?” (Mark 3:23). That is, if Jesus truly were an agent of the devil, then Satan would be working against himself. In fact, were Satan to rise up against himself, he would be undermining his own purposes (vv. 24–26). Note the logical nature of the argument that our Lord is making—no one intentionally works against himself, so it is patently absurd to charge Jesus with having a demonic agenda since He is victorious over Satan wherever He goes.
Of course, Satan is a deceiver, so one could retort that Jesus’ argument is not self-evident. The devil could act to make us think he is suffering defeat when he is actually advancing his purposes. John Calvin answers this with the sheer effectiveness of Jesus’ work. Christ “cast out devils in such a manner, as to restore to God the men in whom they dwelt sound and whole. . . . Christ attacked Satan in open combat, threw him down, and left him nothing remaining. He did not lay him low in one respect, that he might give him greater stability in another, but stripped him completely of all his armor.” In other words, when Jesus deals with Satan, it is no temporary victory but permanent conquest. The devil cannot retake the ground Jesus recovers. If Satan pretends to suffer a setback in order to deceive us, it is only a matter of time before the ruse is revealed.