“They *went into Capernaum; and immediately on the Sabbath He entered the synagogue and began to teach.” (Mark 1:21)
Jesus was born in Bethlehem and raised in Nazareth, but it seems that He chose Capernaum as His home during His ministry (cf. Mark 2:1, Matthew 4:13). The Lord’s teachings were summarily rejected in His own hometown of Nazareth (Luke 4:16-31) thus sending Him elsewhere to establish His base of operations, as it were. Capernaum was a much more prominent city within the region, serving as a commercial center for the Galilean fishing industry and billeting a Roman garrison. Jesus’ words and actions within the synagogue here elicited a very different response from that in Nazareth. For in this city the people were amazed, not enraged, by His preaching.
Matthew, Mark, and Luke all reference Capernaum as the location where Christ’s ministry really began; particularly His miracles. And Mark and Luke both focus on the Lord’s activities within the city’s synagogue as its point of origin. The Gospel of Mark paints the portrait of Jesus Christ the Servant of God, but the writer is also dutiful to establish His authority over all matters, physical and spiritual. The Servant, Jesus Christ, is also the Creator and, as such, retains all power and authority over His own creation.
Within the very first chapter of Mark, we see Christ’s authority over sickness (vv. 31 and 34), disease (vv. 41-42), the demonic (v. 25), and even Satan himself (v. 13). Jesus teaches with authority, Mark records, expositing authoritatively His own Word and Scriptures. Verse 22 highlights the fact that the Jewish religious scholars of the day taught by the authority of those who preceded them, quoting and referencing the masters of Judaic theology who had lived in times past, never daring to presume the weight of their own rhetoric with their listeners. Yet the Lord Jesus Christ was the very Author of the Words on which He commented! He alone retained the prerogative of resting on His own authority when teaching on their meaning.
Mark will reveal throughout his Gospel that the authority of Jesus Christ is complete and total over all His creation. He commands the winds and the seas and they obey Him (Mark 4:41). He is Lord of the Sabbath (Mark 2:28). Even death itself must yield to the authority of the Lord Jesus (Mark 5:41-42). By the time the reader gets to the Resurrection of Jesus, there should remain no doubt in their mind that the One Whose authority was pervasive over all other aspects of His own creation could just as easily conquer the grave.
“And there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit; and he cried out, Saying, Let us alone; what have we to do with thee, thou Jesus of Nazareth? art thou come to destroy us? I know thee who thou art, the Holy One of God.” (Mark 1:23-24 KJV)
First, let us consider where the man possessed by the unclean spirit was. Was he imbibing strong drink with the drunkards at a tavern? Was he visiting with a harlot at a house of prostitution? Or perhaps conspiring with thieves and murderers in the dens where such men hide? No. He was in the synagogue! Let us never suppose that Satan and his minions lurk only in the shadows and frequent the places where evil is openly practiced. Their work of deception is carried out within the places of worship; it is the houses of God where the forces of Hell battle for control of the hearts of people. Of all places on earth, where was the devil on the eve of Christ’s crucifixion? He was not in Herod’s palace or Pilate’s judgment hall. Nor was he in the meeting place with the Sanhedrin as they conspired to arrest the Lord. Neither was he in the prison cell with Barabbas or the two thieves whose destinies would intersect with the Lord’s. No, he was in the upper room with Jesus and His disciples as they celebrated the Passover and partook of the Last Supper (John 13:27).
The demon then challenges Jesus with the words, “What have we to do with Thee?” This expression can be found in the Old Testament as a call for justification on the part of an aggressor by the one who is being threatened. Jephthah’s envoy asks a similar question of the Ammonites in Judges 11:12. David used the phrase to Abishai to stay his hand when he sought to vindicate the king’s honor when Shimei cursed him (2 Samuel 16:10). And the widow spoke like words to Elijah, fearing that he had been sent by God to torment her by convicting her of sin through the death of her son (1 Kings 17:18).
Even so, we also sense within the demon’s query a sort of recognition of the vast chasm which exists between the Kingdom of Light and that of darkness. The Apostle Paul, speaking of marriage between believers and non-believers, would reflect this sentiment in his axiom, “What fellowship has light with darkness?” (2 Corinthians 6:14). There exists such a huge expanse between the Lord Jesus Christ and this simple foot soldier in the army of Hell that the demon himself must have been astonished to suddenly be thrust into the presence of God Almighty. The unclean spirit seemed to be aware of his own fate, and that of his fellow fallen angels, by asking if this was the time set aside for his destruction at the hands of the Lord.
Finally, we have what might be the most potentially confusing aspect of this entire encounter (along with subsequent encounters between Jesus and the demonic, such as those mentioned in verse 34). Why would Jesus silence the demons who recognized Him and declared Who He was? Wouldn’t He welcome their testimony verifying His identity? I believe there are two reasons why He disallowed their “witness.”
First, Jesus would fulfill His purposes according to the will of the Father and based on His own timing and methods. Jesus did nothing haphazardly and without purpose and specific motive. He could have just as easily arrived on the scene, shouting from the rooftops, “I am the Messiah, the Holy One of God!” But Jesus’ purpose in casting out the demon was to reveal His authority, not His divinity. He sought to verify His teachings through His miracles so that people would first believe what He said and would trust Him based on that. Later would come the Holy Spirit’s authentication within the heart of Who Jesus really was (cf. Matthew 16:17). Jesus came, not as the conquering King, but as the suffering Servant and He would draw people to Himself through His words and His work of Salvation. Jesus did not come to force people into submission through the declaration of His power as God. We looked at the Lord Jesus’ exercise of authority over many things, but never do we see Him exercising His authority over the hearts and will of men.
Secondly, Jesus neither wanted nor needed the testimony of Hell. James reminds us that the demons know and acknowledge Who Jesus is and they tremble because of it (James 2:19). But their concession is made, not in faith, but merely as the recognition of that which is true. They are not trusting on Christ nor believing Him for Salvation, they simply are making a mental assent to the fact of Jesus’ divinity. Make no mistake, when a demon cries out in recognition of Jesus’ identity, it is for his own evil purposes. He is not paying homage to Christ as Lord, but is seeking to frustrate the purposes of God.
“But the Pharisees were saying, “He casts out the demons by the ruler of the demons.”” (Matthew 9:34)
“The Jews answered and said to Him, “Do we not say rightly that You are a Samaritan and have a demon?” ” (John 8:48)
Jesus would have enough accusations brought against Him that He was in league with Satan. He did not need demons going about “witnessing” for Him. The Apostle Paul had a similar motivation when he cast out the demon from the slave-girl possessed by a spirit of divination (Acts 16:16-18). The demon was accurately testifying that Paul and his companions had come to preach the Way of Salvation. But Paul cast out the demon, silencing its testimony because he did not want or need the help of Satan and his minions as he sought to make converts in a land which had not yet heard the Gospel.
To God goes all glory. In service to Him,
[This post was originally published Jan. 8, 2015]
**Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from the New American Standard Bible (NASB) © The Lockman Foundation and are used by permission.
[If you do not know the Lord Jesus Christ or you are not certain where you are headed when this life ends, I invite you to read the article “Am I Going To Heaven?”]