Robert Wurtz II
And when they had come to the multitude, a man came to Him, kneeling down to Him and saying, “Lord, have mercy on my son, for he is an epileptic and suffers severely; for he often falls into the fire and often into the water. So I brought him to Your disciples, but they could not cure him.
Then Jesus answered and said, “O faithless and perverse generation, how long shall I be with you? How long shall I bear with you? Bring him here to Me.”And Jesus rebuked the demon, and it came out of him; and the child was cured from that very hour.
Then the disciples came to Jesus privately and said, “Why could we not cast it out?” So Jesus said to them, “Because of your unbelief; for assuredly, I say to you, if you have faith as a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you. However, this kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting. (Matthew 17:14–21 NKJV, Majority Text)
A cursory reading of this passage leaves one with the impression that there is a direct relationship between a person’s personal walk with God and their ability to exercise the faith necessary to move in what some may term “the prophetic” or “the supernatural.” A man brought his demonically troubled child to the disciples, but they could not cure him. The reason given by Jesus is faithlessness and perversity — a clear allusion to Deuteronomy 32:5. In a replay of the Mount Sinai event when Moses went up into God on the mountain only to come down to Aaron’s failure, Jesus and three disciples go up on a mountain (where He is transfigured) only to come down to the disciples’ failure.
The disciples had failed and their unbelief had led to this fiasco. Even the disciples were like and part of the faithless (apistos, unbelieving) generation in which they lived (A.T. Robertson).
We have an additional clue in Matthew 17:21 (MT) where Jesus states, “However, this kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting.” Getting away to pray was standard practice for Jesus, and based on the text, we can imply that He was given to fasting. We know this is true because he fasted forty days early on and immediately afterward defeated the enemy who suggested that He turn stones into bread. Our Lord’s answer should be programmatic to our thinking, “But He answered and said, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God’ ” (Matthew 4:4 NKJV). In other words, obedience to God is the key to everything.
A Faithless and Perverse Generation
When Jesus referred to the people (including the disciples who stayed behind) as a “faithless and perverse generation” He was pointing to a behavior pattern that must be dealt with if the disciples were ever to enter the Kingdom of God. If we trace the Greek word for “perverse” (diastrepho) back to the first use (in the LXX), we discover the word being used by Pharaoh to describe how Moses was attempting to turn the Israelites away from their work in Egypt. “Moses and Aaron, why are you diverting my people from their tasks”(Exodus 5:4 NETS)? We find it again used to describe how the sons of Gad and Reuben were imitating what the ten spies had done decades before in “perverting the minds of the sons of Israel not to cross over into the land that the Lord is giving to them” (Numbers 32:7 NETS).
One of the more telling examples of the word involves Elijah confronting Ahab. “And it came to pass, when Ahab saw Elijah, that Ahab said unto him, Art thou he that troubleth Israel? And he answered, I have not troubled Israel; but thou, and thy father’s house, in that ye have forsaken the commandments of the LORD, and thou hast followed Baalim.” (1 Kings 18:17–18 KJV) The English word “troubleth” is the Greek word diastrepho (pervert or twist) the same as above. Perhaps the most telling is in Ezekiel where we read, “Because with lies you have made the heart of the righteous sad, whom I have not made sad; and you have strengthened the hands of the wicked, so that he does not turn from his wicked way to save his life” (Ezekiel 13:22 NKJV). The implication is that they were diverting the righteous from doing right and were diverting the sinners from repentance.
With all these examples in mind, it is evident that the “faithless and perverse generation” are people who don’t believe in obedience. There was a battle going on for the souls of men (all of whom are now in eternity) and a generation in place discouraging holiness and encouraging worldliness. God says to do one thing, and they rebel or turn the people in a different direction altogether. This is the wilderness mindset that God hates and it must be repented of and utterly renounced. The children of Israel wandering in the wilderness is a case study on behavior that God rejects.
The Relationship Between Failure and Faithlessness
Faith is a “right response to God.” Sin is a “wrong response to God.” As Christians, our mandate is to live by every word that proceeds from His mouth. Unless this mind is in us (as it was in Jesus), we cannot possibly be God’s children. We can’t even come into covenant with God until we are determined to obey Him. The whole of our lives in the New Covenant, wrought through the regenerating power of the Holy Spirit, is to obey from the heart. He puts His laws in our hearts and minds and causes us to will and do His good pleasure. It’s not to try to turn people away from living right.
The disciples couldn’t set the child free of the enemy because they weren’t free themselves. At this juncture in their lives, they needed a total transformation of mind and heart. Each experience and each teaching brought them closer to comprehending what Christianity is all about. It didn’t happen overnight. Some thought Jesus was going to destroy Rome and it took time for them to realize that it was them He was conquering. He had to establish His Kingdom in them.
Every generation is a “faithless and perverse generation” until they turn fully to God. The disciples were healing the sick and casting out lesser demons until they were exposed. They were moving in a delegated authority. When Jesus went up on the mountain to pray they stayed back. How many Pentecostal’s and Charismatic’s today believe they can move in the gifts and have no real prayer life? Could it be that they strike up the band as a substitute for a daily walk with God because they don’t want to walk close to God? They want power, but they don’t want God. They want tingles and assurances of His presence because they assume that feeling=acceptance. As the neon sign reads hanging under the giant stained glass window at Liverpool Cathedral, “I felt you and I knew you loved me.” In previous centuries the presence of God was forged with architecture and stained glass… today it’s with music, lights, and smoke. Is it not what Aaron did? Is it not a substitute? Is it not perverting the right ways of the Lord?
Jesus asked the question, “O faithless and perverse generation, how long shall I be with you? How long shall I bear with you?” If we intend on being Christians that the devil takes seriously we have to live right. Isn’t that common sense? Could we possibly be so far from God not to realize that basic requirement? The devil mocked the seven sons of Sceva. Why? They had no relationship with Christ of their own but tried to manifest power and challenge the enemy. Let that sink in for a moment. No prayer. No fasting. No right living. No holiness. Just a passing desire to tangle with the devil.
We will never see the world changed while believers have a weekend relationship with God at best. The idea that we must come out of the world and be separate is almost lost in the mainstream. All the while the world languishes under bondage. I’m almost terrified of the words of the dear man who declared, “I brought him to Your disciples, but they could not cure him.”