Authority over Demons

OVERVIEW - Jesus demonstrated his authority over Satan by driving his forces out of the children of GodMark 1:21-28.

Silence - Photo by Scott Umstattd on Unsplash
Jesus defeated Satan during
 his temptation in the wilderness, the effects of which were subsequently demonstrated when he exercised authority over demonic spirits in the Synagogue at Capernaum. The town was located on the northwest shore of the Sea of Galilee, not far from the entrance to the Jordan River. It straddled a major trade route between the seacoast and the city of Damascus - [Photo by Scott Umstattd on Unsplash].

Synagogue’ means “gathering place” and functioned as an assembly hall for Jews to study the Torah, pray, and worship. It had not been instituted by the Torah, and probably came into existence during the Babylonian Captivity to maintain Jewish religious practices and identity. It became central to the practice of Judaism after the destruction of the Temple in A.D. 70.
  • (Mark 1:21-28) - “And they journey into Capernaum. And straightway, on the Sabbath, entering the synagogue, he began teaching. And they were being struck with astonishment at his teaching, for he was teaching them as one having authority and not as the Scribes. And straightway, there was in their synagogue a man in an unclean spirit, and he cried out aloud, saying: What have we in common with you, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know you, who you are, the Holy One of God. And Jesus rebuked him, saying, Silence, and depart from him! And the unclean spirit, tearing him and calling out with a loud voice, departed from him. And they were amazed, one and all, so that they began to discuss among themselves, saying: What is this new teaching! With authority to the unclean spirits also he gives orders, and they obey him! And forth went the report of him, straightway, on every hand into the surrounding country of Galilee.”
The men and women at the synagogue were amazed by the authoritative manner by which Jesus taught, but NOT by the content of his teaching. The scribes expounded the Law by citing oral traditions and legal precedents, the “tradition of the elders.” In general, they did not make authoritative pronouncements on scriptural interpretations; however, Jesus taught decisively with his messianic authority.

Of the thirteen miracles recorded in Mark, four are exorcisms, the most frequent type of healing by Jesus in this gospel account. Eleven times it refers to demons as “unclean spirits,” and at least eleven times as “demons.” Four times Mark employs a verbal form of the Greek term for “demons” to signify someone who is “demonized,” in other words, oppressed by demons.

In this story, “unclean” refers to the state of ritual defilement. A person with an unclean spirit would be excluded from the synagogue and the Temple in Jerusalem, at least, not without undergoing the required rituals to reestablish ritual purity. Why, in this case, was the man allowed in the synagogue?

In Mark, the synagogue becomes the place where, all too often, demons are present, religious authorities antagonistic, and hardness of heart persistent. Like the Temple, the synagogue is an arena of conflict whenever Jesus arrives and begins to teach - (Mark 1:39, 3:1, 6:2, 12:39, 13:9).
It is not accidental that the first recorded miracle of Jesus was an exorcism. He came to destroy the works of the Devil. His battle was with the cosmic forces opposed to God that had enslaved humanity.

The demon spoke through the man - “What have we in common with you, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us?” Although only one demon was present, he used the plural pronoun to represent all demonic forces. The confrontation was a harbinger of the larger conflict building between Jesus and the forces of Satan that, ultimately, culminated in his arrest, trial, and execution.

Thus, the Messiah began to plunder the Strong Man’s house. The demon recognized Jesus as the “Holy One of God.” Though hidden from men and women, the demonic spirit knew who and what Jesus was. The command by Jesus for the demon to remain silent was not to hide his messianic status; however, by identifying him in public, the demon could discredit his mission.

More than the content of his teachings, what matters in this story is the way in which he taught - “with authority” - and its effect on the people in the synagogue - (“They were all amazed”).

The words of Jesus demonstrated his vastly superior authority over that of the scribes, and his exorcisms showed his authority over the Devil. The authority by which he taught was the same authority by which he expelled demons. Each exorcism demonstrated that the “coming one” was reconquering territory from Satan, and adding it to the Kingdom of God.


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