Most people don’t realize that many if not most of Jesus’ parables were intended not as general morality tales, but as particular pronouncements of coming judgment and change. Jesus was warning Jerusalem to repent and to accept its new King (Jesus) or else fall under ultimate condemnation of God. In fact, much of Jesus’ teaching in the Gospels pertains primarily to that pre-ad 70 crowd, and without reading it in this light, we misunderstand it. And when we misunderstand it, we misapply it.
The following section of Luke requires this understanding. The parables Jesus tells during His final journey to Jerusalem (Luke 9:51-20:26) almost all pertain to the rebellion, faithlessness, judgment, and coming destruction of Jerusalem….
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Not only is Jesus threatening the “faithless generation” (Luke 9:41; 11:29-32, 50-51) with “desolation” (11:17, 13:34-35; 21:20), but there is further textual correlation with Leviticus 26. Four times in Leviticus 26 God promises that if the rebellious Jews do not respond to His chastisements, He will punish them seven times more for their sins (Lev. 26:18, 21, 24, 28). In Jesus’ parable in Luke 11:26, the cast-out demon goes and finds seven more demons to return and possess the desolate house.
In announcing this seven-fold worse punishment, God phrases it this way: “I will set my face against you” (Lev. 26:17). The Greek phrase in the Old Testament Greek (called the “Septuagint” or LXX) is the same as in our turning-point passage here (Luke 9:51): Jesus “set His face” to go to Jerusalem. In Leviticus 26:17, God says His face will be set against the people. This Greek phrase eph’ humas “against you” obviously designates judgment in this context. The exact same phrase appears in the Strong Man parable: “the kingdom of God has come upon you [eph’ humas]” Luke 11:20). In the person of Jesus, the Strong Man, the kingdom had indeed come not only “upon” but literally “against” the unfaithful people.
Some people may find it difficult to believe this “binding the strong man” passage has its primary if not only interpretation in the first-century context of unbelieving Israel. But the parallel account in Matthew makes this context and application explicit. After his version of the story where the wicked spirit is cast out, Matthew records Jesus concluding with this statement:
Then it goes and brings with it seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and dwell there, and the last state of that person is worse than the first. So also will it be with this evil generation” (Matt. 12:45).
The last sentence in this verse proves the context: Jesus was applying this parable of judgment to “this generation”—the generation to whom He was speaking. And, that generation Jesus considered “evil,” and thus deserving of the judgment that was to come. He was bringing a legal declaration of desolation to come. He had truly set his face against Jerusalem.
[This essay and many more like it are available in the author’s book Jesus v. Jerusalem: Jesus’ Lawsuit Against Israel.]