Christ’s statements are not inconsistent, but they complement each other. Please understand that Christ was addressing two different sets of circumstances.
In the passage in Mark 9:40, we read the following, beginning with verse 38: “Now John answered Him, saying, ‘Teacher, we saw someone who does not follow us casting out demons in Your name, and we forbade him because he does not follow us.’ (verse 39) But Jesus said, ‘Do not forbid him, for no one who works a miracle in My name can soon afterward speak evil of Me. (verse 40) For he who is not against us is on our side.'” Compare, too, Luke 9:49-50.
On the other hand, in the passage in Luke 11:23, Christ responds to an accusation against Him to the effect that He was casting out demons by Satan the devil, the ruler of the demons. He states, beginning in verse 20: “But if I cast out demons with the finger of God, surely the kingdom of God has come upon you… (verse 23) He who is not with Me is against Me, and he who does not gather with Me scatters.” Compare, too, Matthew 12:30.
(1) “He Who Is Not Against Us Is For Us”
In Mark 9:38-40, Christ addressed a person who was not opposing Christ or His disciples; rather, he performed miracles IN THE NAME OF JESUS and OPPOSED their common enemy–SATAN THE DEVIL.
John Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible points out:
“Many copies read, ‘he that is not against you, is for you’; as this man; he was not against either Christ, or his disciples; he was doing the same work, promoting the same interest… he was opposing the same common enemy [Satan and his demons], and did nothing against them [Christ and His disciples], he ought to be reckoned as one for them, and on their side.”
The commentary of Jamieson, Fausset and Brown adds:
“Two principles of immense importance are here laid down: ‘First, No one will readily speak evil of Me who has the faith to do a miracle in My name; and second, If such a person cannot be supposed to be against us, ye are to consider him for us.'”
The Nelson Study Bible adds the following timeless admonition that is very relevant for the churches of God today: “… this statement was meant to remind the disciples that God’s work was not necessarily restricted to their small group.”
The Broadman Bible Commentary includes further insightful remarks, when discussing Christ’s comments, as recorded in Luke 9:50:
“The disciples claim that the unnamed exorcist was not following with them (cf. Mark 9:38). That is to say, he was following Jesus but not as a part of their group. By casting out demons in the name of Jesus, he was exercising the prerogatives of discipleship without having what they considered to be valid credentials… The man whom the disciples had rebuked was ministering to broken lives in the name of Jesus… Jesus’ principle is contained in the words ‘he that is not against you is for you’… Through the centuries some Christian groups have turned this around to say: ‘He who is not following with us is against us.'”
Some Church of God organizations–or some members belonging to such organizations–claim today that only they comprise the true Church of God. They don’t seem to understand that the true Church of God is not limited to any human organization, but that it is a spiritual organism, consisting of all members in whom God’s Holy Spirit dwells. In their misguided zeal, they even go so far as to claim that unless someone belongs to their particular group, he will not enter the Kingdom of God–or, at the very least, God won’t protect him during times of trials, including the soon-coming Great Tribulation.
Those who believe, teach and proclaim such a false message–either by posting it on public or private websites, or by printing it in their literature or preaching it in their sermons–would be well advised to listen to Jesus Christ’s words in Mark 9:40 and Luke 9:50!
(2) “He Who Is Not With Me Is Against Me”
As we have seen, in the previous passages, in Mark 9:40 and Luke 9:50, Christ addressed those who wanted to be His followers. They were determined to live a Christian life–to do things in the name of Christ–that is, with His backing and approval.
On the other hand, Christ addressed quite a different situation in Luke 11:23. In that passage, self-righteous and envious enemies OPPOSED JESUS. They accused Him of casting out demons with the power of Satan; that is, He was accused of being a tool in Satan’s hands, a worshipper and follower of Satan himself.
Christ was not dealing here with people who wanted to follow Him; rather, He had to address people who opposed Him and who tried to convince others that He was a false prophet, a deceiving teacher, a son of Satan.
When it comes to deciding whether to follow Christ and His way of life, or to continue to follow Satan and the ways of this world, there can be no neutrality. We cannot follow God and the false prophet Balaam; we cannot serve the God of Israel and Baal; we cannot worship God and do things which bring us in contact with demons; we cannot walk in light and in darkness; we cannot serve God and mammon.
As the Nelson Study Bible states: “Jesus’ ministry forces everyone [who is being called to the Truth] to make a choice. Neutrality is not an option. Either Jesus comes from God or He does not. Not to align with Jesus [against Satan] is to be against Him.”
The Broadman Bible Commentary adds: “Jesus affirms that there can be no middle ground… Neutrality is as much an expression of unbelief as is open hostility.”
It states in its comments to the parallel passage of Matthew 12:30: “Before Jesus, man is called to decision. One may not remain neutral. One who is not positively with Jesus is against him. One who does not gather the flock… scatters it.”
In conclusion, Christ addressed two different situations in Mark 9:40 and in Luke 9:50. As long as members of God’s Church–the spiritual organism, the “Body of Christ”–are following and serving Christ, while OPPOSING SATAN and his ways, they are our friends and brethren–they are “on our side.” On the other hand, if someone OPPOSES the true JESUS CHRIST of the Bible and His followers, he is not “with Christ.” This would even include a person who is called to understand the Truth, but who prefers to stay “neutral”–neither supporting nor condemning Christ and His way of life. Such a person might not actively persecute Christ and His followers and speak evil of the Way of true Christianity. Still, he is not “with Christ”–he is not one of His disciples–when he fails to make a decision to leave and OPPOSE SATAN and fully and totally cleave to God.
Lead Writer: Norbert Link