What does Matthew 12:43 mean?
ESV: “When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, but finds none.
NIV: When an impure spirit comes out of a person, it goes through arid places seeking rest and does not find it.
NASB: Now when the unclean spirit comes out of a person, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, and does not find it.
CSB: "When an unclean spirit comes out of a person, it roams through waterless places looking for rest but doesn't find any.
NLT: When an evil spirit leaves a person, it goes into the desert, seeking rest but finding none.
KJV: When the unclean spirit is gone out of a man, he walketh through dry places, seeking rest, and findeth none.
NKJV: “When an unclean spirit goes out of a man, he goes through dry places, seeking rest, and finds none.
Verse Commentary:
Earlier in this chapter, Jesus freed a man from demonic possession (Matthew 12:22). Critics such as the Pharisees ignored that sign and instead claimed Jesus was using Satanic power (Matthew 12:24). After refuting that claim and rebuking the Pharisees for their stubbornness, Jesus shifts the topic back to that of demon possession.

Jesus now describes what happens to a demon who leaves a person without being sent to the inescapable "abyss" or "pit" to await God's judgment (Luke 8:31). Jesus has mentioned exorcisms performed—or at least claimed—by some Pharisees (Matthew 12:27). It could be those attempts were ineffective in sending the demon away for good. This verse doesn't say the demon is cast out, but that is the context of the chapter.

In either case, the demon, away from its victim, wandering and looking for somewhere to rest. Some commentators speculate that the reference to deserts implies places less touched by God's blessing, which therefore have less interference in the work of demons (Psalm 63:1). The other possibility is that the demon's eagerness to find a new host is compared to a thirsty person searching through a desert. In either case, the demon looks for rest by hunting for another human to occupy. In this case, the demon is unsuccessful, so it decides to return (Matthew 12:44).
Verse Context:
Matthew 12:43–45 contains a warning from Jesus for "this evil generation" of Israelites, who have failed to receive Him as Messiah. Jesus describes a demon that has left a person but can find no other home. The demon returns to the person and finds its old "house," the formerly possessed person, cleaned up and orderly. The demon invites seven even more wicked demons to join it in re-occupying the person, making them worse off than before being freed. Jesus uses this analogy to warn against a similar fate for the people of His era.
Chapter Summary:
Matthew 12 features confrontations between the Pharisees and Jesus over several issues. Among these are working on the Sabbath, healing on the Sabbath, and the source of His power to cast out demons. Jesus counters each argument and rebukes the Pharisees sharply for their obstinate unbelief. He even notes that those who maliciously ascribe His miracles to demons are unforgivable. He warns them, and the rest of their current generation, about the judgment to come. Jesus calls the Pharisees a brood of vipers and rejects their demand for another miracle. All they'll be promised is the sign of Jonah. The Son of Man will be in the heart of the earth for three days. Jesus also states that all who do His Father's will are His family.
Chapter Context:
Matthew 11 depicted Jesus preaching and teaching after sending out His chosen disciples in pairs in chapter 10. Chapter 12 immediately picks up with more confrontation with the Pharisees. Jesus responds to those criticisms and rebukes their evil hearts as the source of their evil words. In the following chapter, Matthew will shift His focus onto Jesus' parables.
Book Summary:
The Gospel of Matthew clearly shows the influence of its writer's background, and his effort to reach a specific audience. Matthew was one of Jesus' twelve disciples, a Jewish man, and a former tax collector. This profession would have required literacy, and Matthew may have transcribed some of Jesus' words as they were spoken. This book is filled with references to the Old Testament, demonstrating to Israel that Jesus is the Promised One. Matthew also includes many references to coins, likely due to his former profession. Matthew records extensive accounts of Jesus' teaching, more than the other three Gospels.
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