The new teaching with authority. 1:21-28


Chapter 1:21-34, represents a single day in the life of Jesus, or more properly, a Sabbath day and the evening of the next day, given that the new day begins at sunset. The events of the day include a visit to the Synagogue and to the home of Simon and Andrew at Capernaum. We see Jesus teaching, exorcising and healing. Jesus, the "Holy one of God", the messiah, speaks with authority, such that even the demons are subject to his word. In response, the people are both excited and alarmed. It is significant that Mark's first recorded miracle is an exorcism, for as Jesus later points out, "if it is by the finger of God that I drive out demons, then the kingdom of God has burst in upon you", Lk.11:20.

The passage

v21. In v29 we see that the "they" are the four fishermen who have "left their nets and followed" Jesus. Most likely they all lived in Capernaum, a town situated on the northwestern shore of lake Galilee. The ruins at Tel Hum today probably represent this thriving town which became the center for Jesus' ministry. In typical fashion, Jesus, a rabbi (teacher), attends the local synagogue and is invited to expound the scriptures to the congregation. At the outset, Mark identifies the substance of Jesus' mission, namely, divine communication.

v22. The content of Jesus' teaching was most likely the gospel, a summary of which is found in v15. Obviously, the content, along with the authority with which it was delivered, disturbs the people. Jesus delivered his teaching quite contrary to the rabbinic tradition where the scriptures were expounded in line with the tradition of the elders. Jesus launched out in a style even more confronting than the prophets of old. Here was an authoritative revelation from God which served to amaze the congregation.

v23. A man, possessed by an evil spirit, then enters the synagogue. His personality is so damaged that the powers of darkness now rule his will. Faced with the danger of God's son, the demon screams in terror and rage.

v24. The demon proclaims the name of Jesus, his function and his title, "Holy One of God". He (it/they) does this to gain mastery over Jesus, for in a name there is power. If the demon can precisely identify Jesus, he may be able to contain his power (or so was the belief of the day). The demon denounces Jesus' right to interfere with him; "what have we to do with you? (you have no business with us). The demon declares that he and his demonic friends know what Jesus is on about (judgement) and who he is (God's messiah) and therefore, Jesus should mind his own business.

v25. The evil spirit's knowledge is powerless before God's messiah. Without relying on some invocation to the divine (symbols, spells, techniques), Jesus tells him to "shut up" and "come out". When it comes to the powers of darkness, Jesus has absolute authority over them.

v26. Jesus came to confront the powers of darkness and strip them of their power. In the face of the authoritative judge, the powers shriek in defiance, but come out, silenced and broken.

v27. The congregation is totally astonished. They have never before witnessed such an authoritative teaching. Here is a rabbi who declares a word without reservation (not even "thus says the Lord", but "I say unto you"). When this authoritative word is directed toward demonic powers, they scatter in fear. "Here was a teaching qualitatively new in the authority with which it laid hold of men. And the people were alarmed", William Lane.



v28. News of the disturbance spreads far and wide.

The power of God's Word

In this story, in fact in all Jesus' exorcisms, we see the activity of God gaining control over a creation separated from him and now hostile to him, a creation subject to dark forces. These hostile powers are brought under God's rule by an authoritative word from the divine man, Jesus.

In grammar, the Mood denotes the way we should understand the action of a verb. For example, a verb in the Subjective Mood denotes a thought or wish, rather than an actual fact. The Indicative Mood makes a general statement, expresses a truth or factual observation (eg. We sing). The Imperative Mood gives a command. The Bible is full of commands. We are commanded to work out our salvation with fear and trembling. We are commanded to strive toward the perfection we possess in Christ. Such commands often leave us with the impression that our progress in the Christian life is a matter of effort, a matter of obeying God's laws. We all know that getting saved is totally dependent on what Christ has done for us, but when it comes to staying saved, there are many believers who think it depends on what we do for God.

Believers tend to divide into two groups when confronted with the issue of salvation. Some are Calvinist (God chooses us) while others are Arminian (we choose God). Is it both? One of the hot issues of debate is whether it is possible to lose our salvation. A Calvinist will argue "once saved always saved." Yet, scripture does warn us that we can lose our salvation, at least in theory. We can choose to walk with Christ, or choose not to walk with him. The interesting fact is that Arminius, unlike his followers, was not convinced that a regenerate believer could lose their faith. Having once tasted Christ, who could cast him away?

So then, how do we stay on the narrow way; how do we maintain our standing before God; how do we progress in the Christian life? We are kept in the game of faith by the power of the Biblical Imperative. The authoritative Word of Christ commands, and in the strength of the Spirit of Christ, those hostile powers that would undermine our faith, are subdued. We hear and are set free by the grace of Christ's authoritative Word. In simple terms, our standing as a Christian, yesterday, today and tomorrow, rests on Christ's authoritative promises, not on what we may, or may not, be able to do.


1. What amazed the congregation?

2. In what ways did the exorcism demonstrate Christ's authority?

3. Discuss how to apply Christ's authoritative word in the business of our daily walk of faith.

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