Authority over Demons

SynopsisJesus demonstrates his victory over Satan by driving his forces out of God’s children in his exorcisms – Mark 1:21-28.


Jesus previously defeated Satan during the temptation in the Wilderness. The effects of that victory are now put on display as he exercises authority over demon spirits on the Sabbath Day. Capernaum was on the northwest shore of the Sea of Galilee near the entrance of the River Jordan. It was along a major trade route between the seacoast and the city of Damascus in the border region between the territories of Philip and Herod Antipas. Consequently, it contained a customs office (Mark 2:14).

 ‘Synagogue’ means “gathering place.” It functioned as an assembly hall where Jews would gather to pray and study the Torah. The synagogue was not an institution established by the Mosaic Law and probably came into existence during the Babylonian Captivity as a vehicle to maintain Jewish religious practices and identity. It became even more important after the destruction of the Temple by a Roman army in 70 A.D.

(Mark 1:21-28) – “And they journey into Capernaum. And straightway on the Sabbath entering into 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 impure spirit,—and he cried out aloud, saying— What have we in common with thee, Jesus of Nazareth? Hast thou come to destroy us? I know thee, who thou art, The Holy One of God. And Jesus rebuked him, saying— Be silenced, and come forth out of him! And the impure spirit, tearing him, and calling out with a loud voice, came forth out of 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 impure spirits also he giveth orders, and they obey him! And forth went the report of him, straightway, on every hand, into the surrounding country of Galilee” [Citation from the Emphasized Bible]  – (Parallel passages: Luke 4:31-37)

The people in the synagogue at Capernaum were astonished, not by the content of his teaching but by the authoritative manner by which Jesus taught it. Jewish scribes expounded the Law by citing oral traditions and legal precedents, the “tradition of the elder.” In general, the scribes did not make authoritative pronouncements about scriptural interpretations, whereas, Jesus taught directly and decisively on his messianic authority (cp. Matthew 7:8-13, 7:28).

Of Mark’s thirteen recorded miracles, four are exorcisms, the most frequent type of healing by Jesus in his gospel. Eleven times the gospel of Mark refers to demons as “unclean spirits,” and at least eleven times as “demons” (the terms are used interchangeably). Four times Mark uses a verbal form of “demons,” which more accurately means someone who is “demonized,” that is, oppressed by demons.

Unclean” refers to a state of ritual defilement. A person with an unclean spirit would be excluded from the synagogue. Why not in this case? In Mark’s gospel, a synagogue is a place where all too often demons are found, religious leaders are antagonistic to Jesus, and where hardness of heart and persecution occur. The synagogue became a place of conflict and confrontation whenever Jesus was present (Mark 1:39, 3:1, 6:2, 12:39, 13:9).

It is not accidental that Christ’s first recorded miracle was an exorcism. Jesus came to destroy the works of the Devil. His ultimate battle was with cosmic forces opposed to God there were (and are) determined to enslave mankind.

The demon spoke through the man: “What to us and to you, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us?” Though only one demon was present, he used the plural pronoun to represent all demonic forces. This exorcism was a harbinger of Christ’s larger conflict with all of Satan’s forces.

The Anointed One had begun to plunder the Strong Man’s house. The “destruction” of the works of Satan was a key component of this ministry. The demon recognized him as the “Holy One of God.” Though hidden from others, the demon comprehended exactly who and what Jesus was.

The command to silence was not an attempt to hide the messianic status of Jesus but, by identifying him in public, demons cast doubt on his messianic mission.

Mark does not yet provide the content of Christ’s teachings. What matters in this paragraph is the way in which he taught, “one having authority,” and its effect on his audience (“they were all amazed”). His teaching demonstrated his superior authority over the scribes; his exorcisms demonstrated his authority over Satan.

Mark links this exorcism with Christ’s authoritative teaching. The authority by which he taught was the same authority by which he cast out demons. The defeat of demonic forces was part and parcel of the proclamation of the Kingdom of God.

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