You might see the phrase adorning houses that have differing sports teams or political views: “A house divided.” Though it is mainly shown to be humorous about the conflicting opinions within the household, the origins of this phrase are very sound and biblical.
The words of Jesus are what sparked the sentiment. It is stated in Matthew 12:25: “Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation, and every city or house divided against itself will not stand.” It is also expressed in Mark 3:25: “And if a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand.”
While it is said in playful humor for certain situations nowadays, when Jesus stated these words, He was describing the division within the house of the Lord that would eventually lead to His sacrifice on the cross.
But what does it mean that “a house divided cannot stand”? In the eyes of Jesus, it is something we all can contribute to, knowingly or unknowingly, but we can also stop it before it is too late.
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The Context: Jesus Is Called Satan by the Pharisees
In the context of both verses in Matthew and Mark, the issues began as Jesus was developing His ministry and performing miracles while spreading God’s truth throughout the land. Matthew describes Jesus’s healing of a demon-possessed, blind, and mute man, while Mark depicts the overwhelming crowds clamoring for Jesus to bring healing into their lives, which was not shared among His fellow brethren.
In both situations, the Pharisees witnessed the miraculous changes Jesus was bringing to the people, and believed that He was operating in the spirit of Beelzebub, another name to describe Satan. To them, this would explain how Jesus was able to cast out demons, because they were His own kind (Matt. 12:24, Mk. 3:22).
In response to these accusations, Jesus reflected on this concept by asking the question of how “Satan could cast out Satan?” (Matt. 12:26; Mk. 3:23). He goes on to explain in both passages that any kingdom divided against itself will be destroyed, and any house divided against itself cannot stand.
This notion is to convey that when a house (or a kingdom) is fighting against itself, it can’t prosper or overcome the battle. Any victories only lead to losses and nothing good can come from it.
Jesus goes on to say, going back to the Pharisees calling him Beelzebub/Satan, that “If Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then will his kingdom stand?” (Matt. 12:26). Mark 3:26 makes this point as well, stating that if Satan were to rise up to himself, he wouldn’t stand, but would have an end instead.
Just as Jesus makes it a point that Satan wouldn’t prosper if he was against himself, He makes an even bigger point in seeing the house as the body of Christ dealing with the same self-inflicting wounds.
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What Does “a House Divided” Mean?
Though it would be clear that a house divided would fall apart structurally, Jesus was more specific when it comes to what represents “the house.”
As we read in Matthew and Mark, the Pharisees were against anything that didn’t follow the rules and regulations that they determined were to honor God the most (the same rules and regulations that helped them prosper the most as well).
But as Jesus describes in the verses from Matthew and Mark about a divided house, His perspective is pointed at the divided house within the body of believers of God. The Pharisees were going after their own house, meaning Jesus, because He didn’t follow the rules and regulations they established. He was disproving everything they stood for – the things which brought them fortune and others poverty. Jesus was flipping all of their expectations, and their hearts were hardened towards His message.
By condemning what He was doing (performing miracles, helping those deemed “unholy,” and healing on the Sabbath), the Pharisees hoped others would see the “believed wrong” Jesus was doing and continue following the Pharisee’s unrighteous, greedy plans.
Jesus even boldly proclaimed in Matthew 12:30 that “He who is not with Me is against Me, and he who does not gather with Me scatters abroad.” This is definitely a statement directed towards the Pharisees, that those who don’t believe in Jesus and what God had brought Him to earth to do would find it to their undoing. They will be scattered without Christ's guidance.
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Christians Must Be United, not Divided
The profound words of Jesus captured in the books of Matthew and Mark are words we should live by now, as we grapple with a tumultuous world and a body of believers that have had their fair share of in-fighting.
As we have seen in recent years, some of the biggest debates have circulated among Christians over various topics; a perfect example of what Jesus means by “a house divided.”
Why should Christians be unified? Well, the biggest reason is to remind a world in need of hope that the truest hope is found in Jesus and knowing He died on the cross so we could be saved from our sins and reunite with God again. This world will do all it can to destroy our hope for a better future, but Jesus reminds us that God has a better future for us on earth and in heaven.
However, if we are divided in our beliefs as the body of Christ, this shows the world and the unbelievers that it is better to be on your own than to believe in a God that allows such turmoil among His own people. God doesn’t allow it; we allow it when we don’t come together, rectify our differences, and unify to spread God’s love and hope to others.
If we feel we are dividing, we need to remember Jesus’s words that we won’t stand against life’s challenges or even unbelievers’ questions because our foundation of knowledge and truth won’t be firmly in the shared belief of God. We will be scattered abroad, as Jesus states in Matthew 12:30, instead of uniting together to speak God’s Word to those who need to hear it.
We need to re-examine what is dividing us and see if the reasons are for our own agendas, or because we are following a leadership different from that of God.
Our house can stand if we stop trying to justify our own rules and regulations pertaining to God and instead stick to the Bible as the only representation of God’s truth.
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Follow God, and Stand Together
While this phrase is normally a comical jab at people living under the same roof who like opposing sports teams or have different viewpoints on matters, it is actually a sound, biblical truth that Jesus shared as a warning to all believers.
He stated that “a house divided against itself will not stand,” making the point to the Pharisees, who were set on disproving everything that Jesus did and actually were causing strife among the body of believers.
The same understanding applies to believers today, as we are divided as a body over several elements of the world today. But if we continue to be divided over issues instead of united in following God’s teachings, our house of faith, truth, and love will not stand against life’s storms.
Now is the time for us to come together to stabilize our house to not let division unsettle it. For if we stand with Jesus, God will always keep our house together and know that life’s promises are nothing compared to the promises of God.
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Blair Parke is a freelance writer for BibleStudyTools.com and editor for Xulon Press. A graduate of Stetson University with a Bachelor's in Communications, Blair previously worked as a writer/editor for several local magazines in the Central Florida area, including Celebration Independent and Lake Magazine in Leesburg, Florida and currently freelances for the Southwest Orlando Bulletin.