Jesus demonstrated his authority over Satan by driving his forces out of the children of God – Mark 1:21-28.
During the temptation in the wilderness, Jesus defeated Satan, and afterward, the effects of that victory were demonstrated by his exercising authority over demonic forces in Capernaum. The town was located on the northwest shore of the Sea of Galilee and straddled the major trade route between it and the city of Damascus.
The incident took place in the synagogue at Capernaum. The term “synagogue’ means “gathering place” and, typically, was a local assembly hall where Jews studied the Torah and prayed. The institution of the synagogue is never mentioned in the Torah. Most likely, it originated during the Babylonian Captivity to maintain Jewish religious practices and identity. It became central to the practice of Judaism after the destruction of Jerusalem and 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. 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 Jews 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 so-called “tradition of the elders.” In general, they did not make authoritative pronouncements on scriptural interpretations. In contrast, Jesus taught decisively based on his messianic authority.
Of the thirteen miracles recorded in Mark, four were exorcisms, which is the most frequent type of healing in this gospel account. Eleven times Mark refers to demons as “unclean spirits,” and at least eleven times as “demons.” Four times the verbal form of the Greek term for “demons” is used for someone who was “demonized,” in other words, oppressed by demons.
In this story, “unclean” refers to the state of ritual defilement. A person with an “unclean spirit” was excluded from the synagogue and the Temple in Jerusalem unless he or she underwent the required rituals to reestablish his or her ritual purity. But why, in this case, was the man allowed in the synagogue despite his “unclean” status? His very presence indicates the members of this synagogue did not rigorously follow the purity codes from the Book of Leviticus, or at least, not the men present on that day.
In Mark, all too often, the synagogue is the place where demons are present, religious authorities antagonistic to Jesus, and hardness of heart is the rule. Like the Temple, the synagogue was an arena of conflict whenever Jesus arrived and began to teach – (Mark 1:39, 3:1, 6:2, 12:39, 13:9).
The demon spoke through the man: “What have we in common with you, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us?” He spoke using the plural pronoun to represent all demonic forces. The confrontation was a harbinger of the larger conflict between Jesus and the forces of Satan, which would culminate in his death.
The demon recognized Jesus as the “Holy One of God.” Though hidden from men, it knew who and what he was. His command for the demon to remain silent was not to hide his messianic status. But by identifying him in public, the demon could discredit his mission.
In this story, more than the content of his teachings, what matters 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 the words of the scribes, and his exorcisms highlighted 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.