Mark 1:21-28


This passage is paralleled only at Luke 4:31-37. Matthew does not give us this account.

Mark 1:21 They went to Capernaum, and when the Sabbath came, Jesus went into the synagogue and began to teach.

In the account in Luke we have this order: Jesus' baptism, the temptation by Satan, His appearance in the Synagogue in Nazareth, and then the parallel to our text. In Mark we have this order: Jesus' baptism, the temptation by Satan, the call of four disciples, and then our text. What the two have in common is that the power of Jesus over unclean spirits is placed prominently forward.

Hendriksen: In the desert of temptation Satan had been defeated (Mark 1:12.13; cf. Matthew 4:11 ). So now it is not surprising that the prince of evil is going to attempt in every possible way to oppose Christ and his Kingdom. Does the Anointed One seek entrance into the hearts of men? Satan sends out his servants, the demons, to take control of these hearts.

Cases of devil-possession and exorcism occur with much less frequency after the Gospels. They occurred with high frequency during Jesus' days on earth.

The subject is Jesus and the four disciples. In fact, it seems the four were called on Friday. They went immediately into Capernaum for, evidently, they were already close to it. Lenski suggests that this occasion might have been Friday evening after 6 p.m. Though Jesus had been in Capernaum before (John 2:12), this occasion was His first public appearance there. Evidently Andrew and Peter had already moved to Capernaum from Bethsaida (cf. verses 29-31 ) and Jesus, too, had moved to Capernaum, though He said later that He had no home of His own (Matthew 8:20).

Jesus lost no time going where He could preach about the Kingdom of God. The verb denotes ingressive action: "He began teaching." 

Mark 1:22 The people were amazed at his teaching, because he taught them as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law.

The tense and meaning of "amazed" are important. The imperfect denotes ingressive and continued action. It is variously translated "astonished, amazed, astounded," a very strong verb which means literally "to strike out." 

"His teaching" can denote either the act of teaching or the substance thereof. Here evidently the latter is stressed. The periphrastic denotes a constant teaching. NEB, TEB and JB make "authority" adverbial ("With a note of authority" or its equivalent). The other seven translations make it adjectival ("as one that had authority" or its equivalent). We prefer the latter.

The people sensed that Jesus Himself was authoritative.  "Teachers of the law" means  "Bible scholars." Ezra was the first Bible scholar. From the time of the return from the Captivity these "Bible scholars" degenerated into almost worthless teachers.

Ylvisaker: The teaching of the scribes was traditional, that is, a fatuous reiteration of sentences and man-made precepts, which would never satisfy the aspirations of the soul.

Space does not allow a full discussion of the scribes, the Sopherim, of that time.

Fahling: There was no appeal to human authority, neither did He resort to subtle logical distinction, legal niceties, witticisms, or clever sayings. Clear and limpid words flowed from the spring, which was itself life and truth.
Stoeckhardt: Jesus testified of the Kingdom of the God, which had now come, and as the Lord of heaven He unveiled its mysteries.

With reference to this verse, Hendriksen draws six points of comparison between the scribes and Jesus.

  1. He spoke 'with authority';
  2. His message came straight from the very heart and mind of the Father (John 8:26);
  3. His message came from his own inner being, and from Scripture;
  4. The scribes were constantly borrowing from fallible sources, one scribe quoting another scribe;
  5. They were trying to draw water from broken cisterns;
  6. He drew from himself, being 'the Fountain of living waters' (Jeremiah 2:13).

The divinity of Jesus is plainly implicit in verse 22.

Mark 1:23 Just then a man in their synagogue who was possessed by an evil spirit cried out,24 "What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are--the Holy One of God!" 

"Just then" occurred in verse 21. Here we have it again.

Bengel: Mark delights in this adverb. It has the effect of beautifully characterizing, especially in the first and second chapters, the rapid career of Christ, who was ever tending towards the goal, and the opportunities rapidly presented to Him, and His rapid success.

Lenski and TEV state that this verse means that the person immediately came into the synagogue. The other commentators and versions do not say this, nor does the text. By the way, neither Mark nor Luke says that this person was a "man" in the sense of male. Both use the word "person" which leaves the sex undecided. We are not insisting that it might have been a woman.

The verse describes the person, totally possessed by an impure, obscene spirit, a devil. Devil-possession wasn't just illness, affliction or some kind of abnormality. Nor do the Scriptures say that it was caused by a specific sin on the part of the possessed person. Job was not "devil-possessed." Not even Judas is called that. It is not said that Paul, though the thorn in his flesh was devil-sent, was possessed of the devil. In most cases devil possession afflicted the body, but not all. But, in every case of devil-possession, the pitiful victim had no control of self. It occurs with high frequency in the Gospels, much less so in Acts. Furthermore, it is clear from verse 27 that the people somehow knew that it was devil-possession. There was something very terrible about it all. They didn't wonder whether it was or wasn't devil-possession. They knew. Furthermore, the account in Luke 10:17 -20 clearly shows that the seventy knew that they were dealing with demoniacs.

The commentators dwell at length on this phenomenon. Does it occur today?

Fahling: As little as the possible occurrence of present day miracles can be denied, just so little the possibility of demoniacal possession. But it would be difficult to establish a particular case. In the writer's opinion they have practically ceased as such, at least in Christian countries.

Missionaries in heathen countries have reported instances in which only the Word of God could deal with the situation but even in these instances we ought to be reticent to call it devil possession. Satan knew why Christ had come. He used every foul means at his disposal to keep people from Christ, and to destroy the Kingdom. But the Son of God appeared to destroy the works of the devil (1 John 3:8). Through His death Jesus overcame the one who had the power of death, the devil (Hebrews 2:14).

Ylvisaker: Human nature is wholly stifled under the alien power of the devil -- it is entirely unresisting and submissive. In possession, the devil employs the human organism as his personal instrument, he speaks and acts as if it were His own. Even the spirit is forced from its central position in the personality of the possessed person, and the human entity is null and void. It is the demoniac spirit which rules and controls the individual. It is the rational principle of the demon which operates through the human personality, thinks its thoughts, speaks its words, and acts its deeds.

It must have been awful. But, back to the text.

It is not said that the person suddenly appeared. He was ill the synagogue. Evidently, from what is said later, the people knew him. These Notes suggest that this person had been in the synagogue on previous occasions but heard only the unauthoritative droning of the scribes. But when Jesus spoke, suddenly the person shrieked, but he spoke audible and understandable words. According to the Nestle/Aland Greek text the person screamed, a word not read here, but it is found at Luke 4:34, the parallel account. AAT gets this verse correctly: "And he screamed, 'Leave us alone, Jesus from Nazareth! You've come only to destroy us! I know who You are -- God's Holy One!" He's practically saying: "Get out of here!" 

Is the person making a question or a statement? Bengel, Stoeckhardt, Lenski and AAT take it as a statement of fact and these Notes consider that correct. What is the antecedent of "we know?"  Is this man identifying himself with other devils or with the people?

At Mark 5 and Luke 8, in the account of the devil-possessed, we read that many devils possessed one man. But that is not said here in Mark 1 :24. These Notes, therefore, take the position that "we know" does not mean "me and fellow devils" but "me and these other people" He was telling Jesus to quit teaching and to leave because He was the enemy of the people. And when he says: "I know who You are, the Holy One of God," he was picturing Jesus as the destroyer of man, quite the opposite of Luke 19:10: "The Son of man has come to seek and save that which is lost." 

"God's Holy One" occurs only here, in the parallel at Luke 4:34, and in the mouth of Peter at John 6:69. But the difference is tremendous. Satan is using this demoniac as a missionary to picture Jesus as the destroyer of men. Peter used the same term, acknowledging that Jesus is the Savior of men. Of course, if people reject Jesus, He becomes their Judge and Destroyer. It was true in this devil's case. He knew and he trembled. James 2:19. But it was not true of the people to whom Jesus was preaching. Can anything be more diabolical than to picture Jesus as the enemy of mankind?

Mark 1:25 "Be quiet!" said Jesus sternly. "Come out of him!" 

Note that Satan's missionary is described with "cried out" in verse 24. Jesus' speech is introduced with the same word. The demoniac shrieked. Jesus sternly rebuked and forbade. Why did Jesus say: "Be muzzled and come out of him?" Commentators point out that Jesus would not allow demon possessed people to use His titles. Why not? Because this devil was using this title with a meaning quite the opposite of what it really means. And, lest the demon-possessed would say anything else to turn the people against Jesus, by His almighty Word Jesus absolutely forbids him to say anything else and makes the demon come out of the man.

Note that in verses 23-24 the demon and the person are identified. But in verse 25 a distinction is made. Jesus is separating the two when He speaks.

Mark 1:26 The evil spirit shook the man violently and came out of him with a shriek.

Just as Jesus had made a distinction between the evil spirit and the person in verse 25, so in this verse an even clearer distinction is made. The demon shakes the man. The demon is called "unclean" because he could produce only that which was impure, obscene and diabolical.

"Shook" does not denote laceration, as might be indicated by the KJV , but convulsion, as is clearly stated by most of our translations. The Lukan parallel clearly states that the demon did not harm the man. Jesus would not permit it.

Again the verb "call out" evidently denotes a shrieking, a painful cry. The demon does not leave the man willingly. The devil never lets go willingly.

Ylvisaker: This incident teaches three things: 1) the personal existence of the devil; 2) that the devil has a terrific power, which can harm no one, however, who is protected by Him who is the stronger; 3) that the devil never willingly but only through necessity, releases his victim.
Bengel: This prohibition ('be silenced') did not prevent the cry of the unclean spirit when going out of the man, but merely the utterance of articulate words, such as are mentioned at verse 24.
Fahling: Jesus' words sufficed. One wild paroxysm, and the poor sufferer was free from demoniacal possession; one final fit, and he was perfectly healed.
Lenski: Mark uses this as the first miracle of the many recorded in his Gospel. It fits most perfectly the theme of this first half of his Gospel, Jesus proving himself to be the Christ, God's Son, by His mighty teaching and deeds.

But isn't it remarkable that Jesus says nothing of Himself? The demon had announced Jesus as "The Holy One of God" but Jesus forbade him to say more. Jesus did not come saying:  "I am the Son of God, the Son of man, the Messiah, the Christ." By His words and deeds Jesus caused people to come to that conclusion. Cf. John 4:25-26. Only after the woman began speaking about the Messiah did Jesus identify Himself. Cf. John 10:22-26. His enemies say: "If you are the Christ, tell us openly." In verse 25 He declares to them that He told them that He was the Christ by the miracles which He performed. But they reject Him and His miracles. When He walked with the Emmaus disciples He did not permit them to know Who He was until He had gone through many or passages to describe the kind of Savior they truly needed, not one of their own making. Then He permitted Himself to be identified.

Mark 1:27 The people were all so amazed that they asked each other, "What is this? A new teaching--and with authority! He even gives orders to evil spirits and they obey him." 

"Amazed" is another strong verb, a synonym to "astonished" in verse 22, variously translated "amazed, astonished, dumbfounded." In verse 22 the verb is imperfect, denoting a continued state. In verse, 27 we have the aorist, denoting an explosion of amazement. Its subject is "all the people", denoting unanimous amazement and wonder. Might it include the person who was cured? The sentence reads literally: "And, as a result, all were so dumbfounded that they questioned among themselves, saying: 'What is this'?" 

Note that the text in Nestle/Aland Greek version is that of Sinaiticus and Vaticanus. According to the Koine text, KJV and NKJV read: "What new doctrine is this? for with authority etc." 

Our English versions suggest about eight different translations of what the people said. They differ among themselves for two reasons: 1) The variant readings, and, 2) Punctuation. TEV places a question mark after  "Some kind of new teaching?" AAT reads thus: "A new teaching!"  NEB reads as does AAT but places a period at the end. "A new kind of teaching! He speaks with authority." Others: "With authority He gives orders etc." If the Nestle reading is correct, perhaps NASB is best: "A new teaching with authority! He commands etc." In other words, they answer their own question. It is a teaching of a kind different from that of the scribes because it is authoritative. That is proved by the fact that "He orders even the unclean spirits and, as a result they obey Him." It is implied that the scribes could do nothing about demon-possessed people.

Mark 1:28 News about him spread quickly over the whole region of Galilee.

"News" is variously translated "His fame,"  "the news about Him,"  "His reputation,"  in all cases referring to Jesus, not the healed man. KJV and NKJV understand the final phrase to mean not only Galilee but also the territory surrounding it. NKJV reads: "throughout all the region around Galilee." All the other versions take it as does RSV: "throughout all the surrounding region of Galilee." In any case, His fame spread geographically to quite an extent. And note that it spread quickly, immediately.

Note that "quick" occurs three times in this text: 1) In verse 21 Jesus went immediately to the Synagogue; 2) In verse 23 the reaction, on the part of the demon-possessed, to Jesus' preaching was immediate; 3) In verse 28 Jesus' fame spread immediately and quite far.

It is remarkable that only the demoniac called Jesus "The Holy One of God" 

Hendriksen: When the demon declares 'I know' he is not telling a lie. There are certain things that are known to the prince of evil and his servants. Cf. James 2:19. Moreover, some of this knowledge causes them to tremble, to be frightened. They know that for them there is no salvation, only dreadful punishment. ...Jesus is 'holy' in the sense that he had been anointed, hence set apart, separated, for the performance of the most exalted task (Isaiah 61:1-3; Luke 4:18.19; 19:10; John 3:16; 10:36; 2 Corinthians 5:21). When radicals deny Christ's deity they show less insight than the demons, for the latter are constantly acknowledging it. To be sure, they do not do this in the proper spirit. For reverence they substitute impudence; for joyfulness, bitterness; for gratitude, turpitude. But they do it all the same.

And because of this Jesus muzzled the demoniac so that he would say no more. The audience had not yet been brought to the point at which they acknowledged Jesus to be "the Holy One of God."  This must have been painful for Jesus. It is incumbent upon every preacher of the Word to bring his hearers to a hearty acknowledgment of the fact that Jesus is the Holy One of God, the Savior of sinners, the Redeemer of the lost, the One Who truly conquered the devil and his hosts. And he must ever remember, as said Luther, that whatever is not of the Word and Sacraments is of the devil.


Adapted from Exegetical Notes, Series B, Festival Season Sundays Gospel Texts, by Harold H. Buls, Concordia Theological Seminary Press: Ft Wayne IN, 1981, pp. 35-39. Used with permission.

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