Authority & Power

21 And they went into Capernaum, and immediately on the Sabbath he entered the synagogue and was teaching. 22 And they were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one who had authority, and not as the scribes. 23 And immediately there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit. And he cried out, 24 “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God.” 25 But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!” 26 And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying out with a loud voice, came out of him. 27 And they were all amazed, so that they questioned among themselves, saying, “What is this? A new teaching with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.” 28 And at once his fame spread everywhere throughout all the surrounding region of Galilee.

29 And immediately he left the synagogue and entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. 30 Now Simon’s mother-in-law lay ill with a fever, and immediately they told him about her. 31 And he came and took her by the hand and lifted her up, and the fever left her, and she began to serve them.

32 That evening at sundown they brought to him all who were sick or oppressed by demons. 33 And the whole city was gathered together at the door. 34 And he healed many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons. And he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him. Mark 1:21-34 ESV

In his gospel account, Luke reports that “Jesus returned to Galilee, filled with the Holy Spirit’s power. Reports about him spread quickly through the whole region. He taught regularly in their synagogues and was praised by everyone” (Luke 4:14-15 ESV). And Mark provides a glimpse into one such occasion.

After calling Andrew, Simon, James, and John to be His disciples, Jesus and His new recruits made their way to the town of Capernaum on the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee. On the Sabbath, Jesus and His disciples made their way to the local synagogue. The synagogue was the building in each community where the Jews gathered for worship, prayer, and instruction. The Hebrew word is beit k’nesset (literally, House of Assembly). The Jews typically referred to this building as a synagogue, which is the Greek translation of  beit k’nesset.

The synagogue came into existence during Israel’s Babylonian captivity. After the Babylonians defeated Judah in 597 B.C., they took tens of thousands of Israelites captive and transported them to Babylon. With no access to the temple, the Jews were forced to come up with an alternative place of worship. Even after the Jews returned to Judah and rebuilt the temple which had been destroyed by the Babylonians, they continued to build synagogues in their local communities.

The synagogue was a place of prayer and instruction. And when the Jews gathered on the Sabbath, they would read from the Torah, the five books of Moses (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy). After the reading of the sacred Scriptures, there would be a time of teaching or instruction.

Mark indicates that Jesus was teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum. Because Jesus was recognized as a Rabbi, it would have been quite normal for the leadership of the synagogue to extend Him this honor. But while Mark makes much of the peoples’ reaction to what Jesus’ taught, he provides no details concerning its content. He simply states, “they were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one who had authority, and not as the scribes” (Mark 1:22 ESV). The Greek word Mark used conveys the idea that they were “blown away” by the force of Jesus’ words. It seems that they were astonished or amazed, not so much by what Jesus said than by how He said it. He taught with authority (exousia). The people in the synagogue that day had never heard anything like it. In a sense, they felt like Jesus spoke as if He knew what He was talking about.

Mark purposefully contrasts the instruction of Jesus with that of the scribes. These men were considered the experts in the Law of Moses. Their job was to study the Law, transcribe it, and provide written commentaries about it. But Mark infers that these well-educated men lacked the authority and power that Jesus possessed. This will be the first of many contrasts that Mark establishes between Jesus and the religious leaders of Israel.

And, as if to illustrate that Jesus didn’t just have a way with words, Mark describes an encounter between Jesus and a man with an “unclean spirit.” Mark indicates that as soon as Jesus had finished speaking, this demon-possessed man interrupted the service, crying out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God” (Mark 1:24 ESV).

Evidently, this man had been in the room the entire time. But it was Jesus’ authoritative teaching that caused the demon(s) within the man to react in fear and anger. They had literally been struck by the power of Jesus’ words. The demon’s use of the plural pronoun, “us” may indicate that the man had more than one demon or that there were other demons present in the synagogue that day. Whatever the case, the demon had immediately recognized the identity of Jesus, referring to Him as “the Holy One of God.” This demonic being clearly knew who Jesus was and why He had come. He even asked Jesus if He planned to destroy him and his fellow demons right then and there.

With his description of this encounter, Mark establishes yet another point of conflict that will characterize Jesus’ earthly ministry. Not only will Jesus find Himself at odds with the Jewish religious leaders, but He will also be engaged in a battle with what Paul describes as “spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12).

But these spiritual forces were not relegated to the invisible world. They had infiltrated the realm of men and were wreaking havoc among God’s chosen people. This will not be the last of Jesus’ encounters with demons. But these other-worldly invaders were going to prove no match for the Holy One of God.

Jesus refused to answer or even acknowledge the demon’s question, choosing instead to shut the demon up by casting him out. The Greek word translated as “rebuke” can actually mean “to censure or silence.” Rather than verbally castigate the demon, Jesus simply removed his ability to speak by forcing him to vacate the man’s body.

“Be silent, and come out of him!” – Mark 1:25 ESV

With no host to occupy, the demon found itself with no means of communication.

And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying out with a loud voice, came out of him. – Mark 1;26 ESV

This strange and disturbing scene left those who had witnessed it even more amazed and astonished than ever. But notice that they connected what they had seen to the teaching of Jesus.

“What sort of new teaching is this?” they asked excitedly. “It has such authority! Even evil spirits obey his orders!” – Mark 1:27 NLT

Jesus’ words carried real power. It could not be said of Jesus that He was “all talk, no action.” Unlike the scribes, who could probably describe what the Scriptures had to say about demons, Jesus could control them. He had power over them. His words had authority. And this distinction did not go unnoticed. Mark indicates that “at once his fame spread everywhere throughout all the surrounding region of Galilee” (Mark 1:28 ESV). And that means that it wasn’t long before news of what Jesus had done made its way to the religious leaders in Jerusalem. As Jesus’ fame spread, so did His infamy. And before long, Jesus would find Himself doing battle on multiple fronts.

But Jesus was not done demonstrating His power. After His exorcism of the demon in the synagogue, Jesus made His way to the home of Andrew and Simon. Mark indicates that Simon’s mother-in-law was ill. It is likely that Simon (Peter) told this story to Mark and that is why it is included in his gospel account. When Jesus was informed of her illness, He simply took her by the hand and she was immediately healed. Without a word being said, she went from suffering to serving. This point should not be overlooked. In the scene that took place in the synagogue, the emphasis was on Jesus’ words. He spoke as one having authority. But on this occasion, Jesus said nothing. He took the woman by the hand and she was immediately healed. It was another case of Jesus demonstrating His power and authority, but this time without words.

This latest episode only increased Jesus’ notoriety and further inflamed the curiosity of the people. Mark reveals that by the end of the day, the crowds had gathered outside the home of Simon and Andrew. News had spread and it wasn’t long before “all who were sick or oppressed by demons” made their way to Jesus. And Mark indicates that “the whole city was gathered together at the door” (Mark 1:33 ESV).

And what did Jesus do? He “healed many people who were sick with various diseases, and he cast out many demons” (Mark 1:34 ESV). He demonstrated His power and authority – over disease and demons. In a sense, Jesus gave proof of what the demon had said. He really was the Holy One of God and the source of His authority and power was divine, not human. He was able to do what He did because of who He was. But the people, while impressed by what they saw, were not yet convinced of His divinity.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson