At first, glance, the appearance of Baal-Zebub in 2 Kings 1 does not appear to immediately be about Satan. Baal-Zebub, which is translated as Lord of the Flies and serves as a title, again, rather than a personal name, happened to have been one of the gods of Ekron and like many of the Canaanite deities, was called Baal (or Lord), which is a name by which many people refer to God and Jesus Christ, referring to them by titles rather than by their personal names. 2 Kings 1:1-4 is very brief in discussing Elijah’s condemnation of the worship practices of Ahaziah, the son of Ahab: “Moab rebelled against Israel after the death of Ahab. Now Ahaziah fell through the lattice of his upper room in Samaria, and was injured; so he sent messengers and said to them, “Go, inquire of Baal-Zebub, the god of Ekron, whether I shall recover from this injury.” But the angel of the Lord said to Elijah the Tishbite, “Arise, go up to meet the messengers of the king of Samaria, and say to them, ‘Is it because there is no God in Israel that you are going to inquire of Baal-Zebub, the god of Ekron?’ Now therefore, thus says the Lord: ‘You shall not come down from the bed to which you have gone up, but you shall surely die.’ ” So Elijah departed.”
At first glance, this does not appear to be a reference to Satan at all. Why are we talking about it now, therefore, in a book about Satan in scripture? As it happens, somewhere along the course of Jewish history between the writings of the historical prophets recorded in 2 Kings and the time of Jesus Christ, Baal-Zebub, in transliterated form, became applied to Satan as one of his own titles rather than being an obscure and forgotten Canaanite deity from one of the cities of the Philistines. And so it is that in talking about Baal-Zebub we are indeed talking about Satan. Indeed, the reference to Beelzebub is so notable that it appears in all of the synoptic Gospels. Let us look at all of the relevant accounts and then comment upon the importance of Baal-Zebub in understanding aspects of Satan and the demonic kingdom.
Matthew 12:22-30 tells us: “Then one was brought to Him who was demon-possessed, blind and mute; and He healed him, so that the blind and mute man both spoke and saw. And all the multitudes were amazed and said, “Could this be the Son of David?” 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? And if I cast out demons by Beelzebub, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they shall be your judges. But if I cast out demons by the Spirit of God, surely the kingdom of God has come upon you. Or how can one enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man? And then he will plunder his house. He who is not with Me is against Me, and he who does not gather with Me scatters abroad.”
Mark 3:20-27 then follows, telling us: “Then the multitude came together again, so that they could not so much as eat bread. But when His own people heard about this, they went out to lay hold of Him, for they said, “He is out of His mind.” 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. No one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man. And then he will plunder his house.”
Finally, Luke 11:14-23 tells us: “And He was casting out a demon, and it was mute. So it was, when the demon had gone out, that the mute spoke; and the multitudes marveled. But some of them said, “He casts out demons by Beelzebub, the ruler of the demons.” Others, testing Him, sought from Him a sign from heaven. But He, knowing their thoughts, said to them: “Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation, and a house divided against a house falls. If Satan also is divided against himself, how will his kingdom stand? Because you say I cast out demons by Beelzebub. And if I cast out demons by Beelzebub, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they will be your judges. But if I cast out demons with the finger of God, surely the kingdom of God has come upon you. When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own palace, his goods are in peace. But when a stronger than he comes upon him and overcomes him, he takes from him all his armor in which he trusted, and divides his spoils. He who is not with Me is against Me, and he who does not gather with Me scatters.”
In both Matthew and Mark, this passage is followed by a discussion of the unpardonable sin, which is beyond the scope of this particular book, and in Luke the next passage discusses the behavior of demons, something we will return to (as we will return to all of these passages again to speak about how they relate to the activity of demons). Jesus’ casting out of a demon, something that was common in his ministry, something about which we will return to later when we discuss the connection between Jesus’ ministry and exorcism and its implications for illness and trials led some of the witnesses of this deliverance to speculate that Jesus’ healings of people were a result of his serving Satan, since Satan, the ruler of demons, is given the name of Beelzebub by some of the Jews. What had once been the name of a heathen deity, one of many Baals in the land that Israel and Judah had unfortunately not consigned to oblivion had become a title given to the ruler of all of the demons, and so it remains to this day.
What is particularly striking here, though, is the way that Jesus Christ replies to this accusation, making two statements about the kingdom of the demons and the certainty of Satan’s fall. First, Jesus reasons with the crowd that if Satan’s kingdom were so divided that one cast out demons by the ruler of demons, then Satan’s kingdom is divided against itself and will fall. This is a wise insight, and not one that has been well enough recognized in the discussion of this passage. We will return to it at greater length later on when we revisit this passage. Second, Jesus tells them that no one can plunder a strong man, like a demon, unless one is stronger, pointing out that the Spirit of God is stronger than the spirits of demons and the ruler of demons, namely Satan. Matthew and Luke then add the question that if Jesus Christ casts out demons by Satan, who do the other Jewish exorcists supported by these leaders cast out demons by? Those who are a part of the same trade should have some sort of ethic by which they support the legitimacy of others in their field, after all. And so it was that the name of a heathen Canaanite deity became a name for Satan and an opportunity for Jesus to deliver some pointed insights about the demonic world.