Authority Over Satan

Jesus defeated Satan in the wilderness by rejecting his temptations and lies. The effects of that victory were demonstrated when he exercised authority over demonic forces in the village of Capernaum near the Sea of Galilee. The first incident occurred in the local synagogue, typically, a place where Jews would gather to study the Torah and pray.

The institution of the synagogue is not mentioned in the Torah, though it possibly originated during the Babylonian Captivity. It would become central to the practice of rabbinical Judaism after the destruction of the Temple by the Romans in A.D. 70.

Capernaum - Photo by Phil Goodwin on Unsplash
[Capernaum - Photo by Phil Goodwin on Unsplash]

  • (Mark 1:21-28) - “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. 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!

The men present in the synagogue were amazed by the authoritative way Jesus taught. The Scribes expounded the Law by citing oral traditions and legal precedents, the “tradition of the elders,” but they did not make authoritative pronouncements on their own.

In contrast, Jesus taught decisively and with practical applications based on his Messianic authority. He was the “Son of Man” portrayed in the Book of Daniel who received authority and dominion from the “Ancient of Days” – (Daniel 7:13-14).

Of the thirteen miracles recorded in the Gospel of Mark, four were exorcisms, the most frequent type of healing in Mark’s account. Eleven times Mark refers to demons as “unclean spirits.” Four times the verbal form of the Greek term for “demons” is used to denote someone who was “demonized” or oppressed by demons. In the present passage, “unclean” refers to a state of ritual defilement.

Why was this man allowed in the synagogue despite his “unclean” state? In Mark, the synagogue is frequently the place where demons are present, religious authorities are antagonistic to the Messiah, and their hardness of heart is the rule rather than the exception. Like the Temple, the synagogue became an arena of conflict whenever Jesus began to proclaim the Gospel of the Kingdom of God - (Mark 1:39, 3:1, 6:2, 12:39, 13:9).

This demon spoke through the man using the plural pronoun, “we”: “What have we in common with you, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us?”

The unclean spirit represented all the demonic forces that were present in the synagogue. This confrontation was a harbinger of the larger conflict between Jesus and the satanic forces that would culminate in his arrest, trial, and execution.

The demon acknowledged Jesus as the “Holy One of God.” Though hidden from men, the “unclean spirit” knew who he was. The command of Jesus for it to remain silent was not to hide his Messianic status. By identifying him in public, this spirit could discredit his teachings and mission.

The words of Jesus emphasized his superior authority over those of the Scribes, and his exorcisms validated his authority over the Devil and his forces. The authority by which he taught was the same as the authority by which he expelled demonic forces from the children of God.

His exorcisms demonstrated conclusively that the “Coming One” announced by John the Baptist was now reconquering territory from Satan’s realm for the Kingdom of God.

  • The Forerunner - (John the Baptist prepared the way for the Messiah, the herald of the Good News of the Kingdom of God – Mark 1:4-8)
  • Son of Man - (The one like a Son of Man in Daniel is the source of Christ’s self-designation as the Son of Man and his authority)
  • His Authority - (Jesus is the Son of Man foreseen by Daniel, the Messiah who has absolute authority from Yahweh over the peoples of the Earth)



The Word Made Flesh

Language of the New Testament