As polarization engulfs our nations, Jesus’ words take on new urgency: a “house divided against itself will not stand.” What does this mean for us?
The scribes had foolishly accused Jesus Christ of casting out demons by the power of Satan. Jesus replied that if He were acting on behalf of Satan to cast out Satan’s own evil assistants, then Satan’s kingdom could not stand.
While His immediate response was to refute the accusations against Him, the meaning of His proclamation carries significance beyond that particular episode.
Jesus said that a kingdom (or nation) divided against itself cannot stand, and also that a “house” divided against itself cannot stand.
What is the significance of what Jesus said? What does it mean for our lives in our increasingly polarized nations today?
Jesus’ response to a dramatic accusation
All three of the synoptic Gospels describe this event using very similar wording (Matthew 12:22-37; Mark 3:20-30; Luke 11:14-23).
Mark 3:22-26 tells us: “And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem said, ‘He has Beelzebub,’ and, ‘By the ruler of the demons He casts out demons.’
“So He called them to Himself 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 cannot stand. And if Satan has risen up against himself, and is divided, he cannot stand, but has an end.’”
Matthew 12:24-26 has similar language: “Now when the Pharisees heard it they said, ‘This fellow does not cast out demons except by Beelzebub, the ruler of the demons.’
“But Jesus knew their thoughts, and said to them: ‘Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation, and every city or house divided against itself will not stand. If Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then will his kingdom stand?’”
Modern examples of a kingdom divided against itself
Jesus completely refuted the accusation against Him.
But how does His statement apply to other situations? Many can bring to mind examples of kingdoms and families divided against themselves. We can think of the ancient kingdoms of Israel and Babylon and Egypt. We can think of many modern examples of a nation or a kingdom divided against itself.
A more recent example is the bitter split over the impeachment of the president. And, of course, the parties are currently engaged in a contentious 2020 presidential election campaign.
Modern news reports on political issues are less likely to use words like division or divided, but everywhere we see the term polarization.
There has always been division and polarization within nations and groups. But it seems that today polarization has become more pronounced and widespread.
Polarization is a word that has many uses. But let’s focus on what is often referred to as political polarization. This usually refers to the divergence of attitudes to the extreme sides of a particular issue, instead of having the majority of people in agreement.
Perhaps a graphical representation might illustrate the concept. The two graphs below represent a theoretical poll or a vote on a particular issue; think of the legalization of late-term abortion or of same-sex marriage, for example.
The first graph portrays a completely divided or polarized population; the second graph illustrates a perfectly unified or united population.
Of course, while this graphical portrayal may serve to illustrate the concept, it is completely unrealistic and unachievable in the real world. Actual statistics on any issue will always be fuzzier.
Most of the political polarization issues seem to arise in democratic systems of government where there is a two-party system or where most of the power is collected in two main parties.
History shows that one end result of extreme polarization is state collapse, a complete failure of a governmental system or a sovereign state, as in the fall of the Roman Empire.
Polarization is the opposite of unity
One recent example of what comes from lack of unity is what has taken place between the United Kingdom and the European Union.
On Jan. 31, 2020, the United Kingdom officially left the European Union (even though the U.K. will still operate according to EU regulations until the end of the calendar year 2020).
Brexit came after the U.K. spent 47 years as a member of the European Union and after almost four years of acrimonious negotiations between the U.K. and the EU, and among members of the various political parties in the U.K.
Political polarization: a widely publicized phenomenon
A Google search for the phrase political polarization reveals millions of sources of information on the topic. There is, of course, a Wikipedia article on the subject. The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace has an article titled “How to Understand the Global Spread of Political Polarization.”
The Pew Research Center has published many polls that reveal attitudes related to the subject. For example, its poll on “U.S. Media Polarization and the 2020 Election: A Nation Divided” shows that “deep partisan divisions exist in the news sources Americans trust, distrust and rely on.”
There are even full-length books written on the subject. One notable example is Why We’re Polarized, by Ezra Klein. This book was published in January, and its author has been interviewed extensively on such television networks as MSNBC. Excerpts from the book reveal an interesting perspective:
“The digital revolution offered access to unimaginably vast vistas of information, but, just as important, it offered access to unimaginably more choice. And that explosion of choice widened that interested/uninterested divide. Greater choices let the devotees learn more and the uninterested know less” and has resulted in a “political media system” that “deepens political identity, hardens polarization, and raises the political stakes.”
What does it mean to us today?
But how should we as individual Christians think about all this evidence of division and polarization? Jesus’ statement that a nation divided against itself cannot stand can be viewed along with many prophecies in the Bible that show nations that break God’s laws will bring punishments on themselves.
Even though the United States shows many symptoms of division and sin, many Americans find it hard to believe that a nation so militarily and economically powerful—a nation so greatly blessed—could fall. Even though the United States shows many symptoms of division and sin, many Americans find it hard to believe that a nation so militarily and economically powerful—a nation so greatly blessed—could fall. (Learn more about the source of these national blessings and the responsibilities they bring in our book The United States, Britain and the Commonwealth in Prophecy.)
Though it seems hard to believe, God’s Word must be true even if every man is a liar (Romans 3:4). Didn’t ancient Babylon view itself as impregnable just before it fell to the Medes and Persians virtually overnight? Can a similar fate befall the United States?
God’s Word cautions us to be careful when we think we are strong, lest we fall (1 Corinthians 10:12).
Did God really mean it when He said that our sins would be punished by national captivity as happened to ancient Israel? Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28 list blessings for obedience and curses for disobedience, warning that God will “break the pride of your power” (Leviticus 26:19), “bring a nation against you” (Deuteronomy 28:49), “scatter you among the nations” (Leviticus 26:33), and “you shall serve your enemies” (Deuteronomy 28:48).
What an added emphasis this gives to Christ’s imperative to “watch therefore, and pray always that you may be counted worthy to escape all these things that will come to pass, and to stand before the Son of Man” (Luke 21:36)!
(For more details on the downfall of the nations that have enjoyed the blessings of Abraham, as well as the comforting promises of restoration, see our article “What Is Jacob’s Trouble in End-Time Prophecy?”)
The most important division to repair: our separation from God
Perhaps there is little we can do now to change the world’s nations that have largely abandoned any vestige of righteousness. But we can recognize and strive to correct what may be the most important instance of division and polarization: our sins that separate us from God (Isaiah 59:2).
As followers of Jesus Christ, we should strive to ensure that our goals and behavior reflect the truth of God’s Word. We should examine ourselves and seek to draw closer to that truth, knowing that we can rely on God’s plan for righteousness to reign in all the world when Jesus Christ returns and the Kingdom of God is established. (Study more about this in our booklet The Mystery of the Kingdom.)
God speed that day!