And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem were saying, “He is possessed by Beelzebul,” and “by the prince of demons he casts out the demons.” And he called them to him and said to them in parables, “How can Satan cast out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but is coming to an end. But no one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man. Then indeed he may plunder his house.
“Truly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the children of man, and whatever blasphemies they utter, but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin”—for they were saying, “He has an unclean spirit.”
(Mark 3:20-35 ESV)
Jesus is essentially saying, “if I am the satan (the adversary) and I am casting out demons, then good news, folks, the satan’s kingdom is gonna fall!!! But no, really, if you want to destroy the satan’s kingdom, then you first have to bind up the satan, and then destroy his house.” In other words, Jesus has bound the satan and that’s why he’s cleaning house.
A couple of existential observations. Notably, in the First Testament, the three times the satan is mentioned he is at least twice a prosecuting attorney for God, most memorably in the prologue to Job. With this in mind, it is fascinating, to see Jesus claim that the satan is bound, and then proclaim the forgivness of sins (nothing to do with the cross) over the children of man.
Nevertheless, we know that in the period between the Testaments, that the character of the satan grew in stature and power into the figure we encounter in canonical and non-canonical apocalyptic literature. But here too, the satan is never simply “Satan” as many often imagined, but the satan is connected with the evil political powers of the day (see here for an example).
With the large accusatory Temple scene in Mark 11-12, we know that Jesus is attacking the corrupt powers (especially the scribes, see 12.28-40) of Jerusalem leadership. With these three points in mind, I submit the following as a clue to the existential concerns of the text. First, Jesus is calling out the scribes and other Jerusalem leadership for perpetuating evils, oppression, etc. These evils are built on the premise that they run the system which negotiates sin and retribution between God and the masses. Jesus, having bound the satan, is cleaning house with the forgiveness of sins, emptying the power of the corrupt leadership.
The existential concern is behind the premise that people need forgiveness of sins in order to be right with God. With the existential crisis being that the people have no control over their own destiny, the forgiveness of sins meets crisis in several concerns. First, it is identity with the people of God, a sense of belonging with the other righteous. Second, the cost for peasants to have to participate in the sacrificial culture is an economic strain. The forgiveness of sins, reduces this burden. Finally, corrupt leadership tries to answer the the existential crisis, where they have no control over their own destinies, to try to control the destinies of others. In some ways, the forgiveness of sin breaks their power to control the destinies of the people.
A good existential reading then will first focus on the identity, the economics, and oppression, before making too much of what “blaspheming the holy spirit” might mean.
Are there existential concerns that I missed?