Synopsis: The crowds enthusiastically welcomed Jesus because of his miracles but only demons recognized who and what the was – the Son of God – Mark 3:7-12.
The third chapter of the gospel of Mark describes several incidents that occurred while Jesus was proclaiming the gospel in and around the town of Capernaum in Galilee. At one point, crowds eager to see and experience his healings thronged Jesus to the point it became necessary for him to speak from a boat anchored along the lakeshore. In the middle of this activity, demons began to declare that Jesus was the “Son of God.”
After a confrontation with Jewish religious authorities about his healing activities on a Sabbath day, Jesus departed the local synagogue to minister to the crowd. His fame was more widespread by this time than that of John the Baptist. Therefore, he had become an increasing threat to the Temple authorities. John had drawn crowds from Jerusalem and Judea; however, Jesus attracted people from as far south as Idumea (Edom) and as far north as the (largely Gentile) cities of Tyre and Sidon. This range covered most of Palestine.
Idumea was approximately 195 kilometers south of Capernaum and populated by mixed races of Jewish and Gentile origins. Tyre and Sidon were 80 kilometers to the north and populated by Hellenized Gentiles, many of Phoenician stock. The region east of the Jordan River was also populated predominately by Gentiles. Even at this early stage, Jesus ministered to Gentiles when the opportunity arose.
(Mark 3:7-12) – “And Jesus with his disciples retired unto the sea; and a great throng from Galilee followed, also from Judaea, and from Jerusalem, and from Idumaea, and beyond the Jordan, and around Tyre and Zidon, a great throng, hearing whatsoever things he was doing, came unto him. And he spake unto his disciples that a little boat might attend him, because of the multitude, — that they might not be pressing upon him. For he cured many, so that they were besieging him, that they might touch him — as many as had plagues; and the impure spirits, as soon as they beheld him, were falling down to him and crying aloud, while he was speaking, Thou art the Son of God! and sternly was he rebuking them, lest they should make him manifest.” [Citation from the Emphasized Bible] – (Parallel passages: Matthew 4:24-26; Luke 6:17-19)
Mark is the only one of the three synoptic gospels that note that the crowds came from as far away as Idumea, the homeland of Herod’s family. Mark most likely included this reference because of the mention of the “Herodians” in verse 6.
The Greek verb for “pressing” or “thronging” in verse 9 is thlibō, a word related to the noun translated “tribulation” elsewhere in the New Testament (thlipsis). It means “to press, to crush, to press in.” While the crowd was not hostile, what is described resembles a mob scene with people pushing to gain access to Jesus. In previous accounts, he “touched” those in need – now they press in to “touch” him.
Some demonized individuals were present and caused their human hosts to fall prostrate before Jesus and cry out, “You are the Son of God!” The Greek verbs used to describe this scene are in the imperfect tense, which stresses ongoing action in the past. That is, this was not a one-time occurrence but happened frequently that day.
Like the religious authorities from Jerusalem, demons followed Jesus in order to interfere with his ministry. Their declarations distracted people from his message and helped to discredit his ministry. Thus, it was necessary for Jesus to silence them.
Note well that Jesus did not engage in elaborate rituals or lengthy prayers in order to silence or cast out demons. He simply commanded them to keep quiet, thus, demonstrating his authority over even demonic forces.
As elsewhere in the gospel of Mark, and before his crucifixion, it was demons rather than religious leaders, the crowds, Christ’s family or even his closest disciples who recognized who and what he was (Mark 1:24, 3:11, 3:21, 5:7, 8:27-38).
While the crowds enthusiastically welcomed Jesus because of his miracles, only demons recognized that he was the “Son of God.” It was above all in response to this declaration that Jesus “sternly rebuked them, lest they should make him known.” This raises the question: Did Jesus not wish to be identified at this point to be Israel’s Messiah, or was he concerned more with how others perceived the nature of his office and ministry?