Who Jesus is, what He taught, and what He did is the gospel. In other words, the gospel is Christ Himself. Our saving response to that, enabled by His sovereign grace, is repentant faith. But the gospel itself is not merely a message (though it is that!), but the identity, teaching, and work of a unique and individual person.
Because of this reality, it should not be surprising to us that the identity of our Lord is under attack in many quarters, and has been ever since His incarnation. People cannot be saved by putting their faith in the wrong Jesus, and more than anything, Satan wants to see people go to Hell because He hates God’s saving nature (and hates God’s plan to redeem sinners to be in fellowship with Him). So he ensures much false teaching about the identity of the Lord Jesus. Over the years, I have tried to familiarize myself with the teaching of various cults and false religions, to better understand where they go wrong with the Scripture and how to refute them. Some of the heretical “doctrines of demons” about our Lord include: He is a created being, perhaps an angel, but not eternal sovereign God. He is an apocalyptic teacher who proclaimed the kingdom of God but was mistaken about His role or identity in that plan and was devastated by the crucifixion. He was a magician or gnostic teacher who embraced the divine feminine and had Mary Magdalene as a consort. He was a zealot who wanted to overthrow Rome and usher in God’s kingdom for Israel. He was a prophet who pointed to Muhammad and Islam, but His words were corrupted by Christians to make Him a god who died for sinners. More recently (thanks to the proliferation of the internet and blogs), He was indeed Messiah, virgin-born, and king of God’s kingdom…but was merely an anointed, Spirit-empowered man (not even an angel!), who must never be given the worship and honor of the only God, the Father.
How tragic that many people have embraced “another Jesus” (2 Cor. 11:4) who cannot save and will only damn the soul! A true understanding of our Lord’s identity is the first step to a saving knowledge of Him. Mark has given us facets of that in his gospel up to this point, and here, he envelops us in a wondrous display of our Lord’s sovereign authority. We will see three ways His authority is manifested.
A. Manifested in His Word (vv. 21-22)
The day after the Lord called the first apostles to service, they enter Capernaum. This is the headquarters of Jesus’ ministry, and a strategic location. Resting on the northwest side of the Sea of Galilee, it was a prominent city that was right alongside major trade routes. Our Lord could have much influence here, and He was wise to choose it.
Being observant Jews, Jesus and His apostles are going to the synagogue for weekly Sabbath worship. From Luke, we learn Jesus regularly taught on the Sabbath day after the Scripture was read (Luke 4:16, 31). This is of note, since our Lord will say that it is a main goal of His earthly ministry to proclaim the Word of God (Luke 4:43; Mark 1:38). You say, “But isn’t His main goal to die for sinners?” Yes, but the Lord had to lay the foundation for that death by showing Himself to be the Son of God, Messiah, and final Prophet of God. Proclamation of the work God would do in and through His incarnate Son as King was unalterably necessary for the success of His cross-work, because the proclamation was part of His divine, sinless identity.
Indeed, we as His body are called to proclaim truth as well, whether vocationally or not. And as His body, when we speak in accordance with His Word rightly understood and applied, we have His authority to see His will don on earth in our lives and those of others! For only His words have divine authority.
The people who heard our Lord teach that Sabbath day were amazed by it—literally, they were “struck by a blow.” They were astounded, shocked, dumbfounded. You see, they were used to pedantic, dry, legalistic, and arrogant teaching by the scribes—those professional interpreters of the Mosaic Law—on insufferable minutiae of what other rabbis and teachers had said about it. That was the difference with Jesus: He did not look to other men for support, but taught on His own authority! And He did so with fresh, Spirit-led, powerful, convicting, glorious exposition of the Word of God! Surely this was unlike anything these people had ever heard before. But we will see their response, though genuine, did not go far enough.
B. Manifested in His Judgment (vv. 23-24)
As the Lord is speaking, suddenly a man in the congregation begins to manifest the influence of a powerful demon who is possessing him. This is most interesting: The demon cannot stand the sound proclamation of the Word by the Lord, nor His holy, spotless, and sovereign presence. It is all too much for him to stay silent, not unlike if someone were to place our hands on a hot stove. He must scream out in pain—and that is exactly what he does. The Greek text has the word “shrieked”! It is almost an animalistic howl of pain. The demon, using this man’s vocal cords, screams, “What have You to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth” (v. 24). Lit., “What to us and to you,” implying a sharp divide and contrast between our Lord and the demon. This evil spirit knows that he and the Lord are in completely, utterly distinct categories (and not merely because Jesus is a human being and he is a spirit—recall that human beings would not be human without a spirit).
The demon has good theology. He knows Jesus will destroy them someday (Isaiah 24:21-22; Revelation 20:10), and doubtless he is terrified by that prospect. But more importantly, he confesses what none of the saveable humans in the room have: That Jesus is the Holy One of God (v.24b)! Think of it: This demon gains nothing by speaking the truth. He cannot be saved. He is a reprobate spirit, confirmed in his evil rebellion, whose only destiny is the Lake of Fire (Matthew 25:41). Yet he confesses, in sheer terror, that Jesus is the promised Messiah, sinless and holy, and eternal God in flesh (Isaiah 9:6; Micah 5:2; cf. Ezekiel 16:63; Zechariah 12:10, 13:3-5, 9). How strange, how tragic, that a demon, a sworn enemy of the thrice-holy God, has “eyes to see” what humans cannot!
The demon knows the authority of Jesus—he knows Jesus is the One who will judge him and all people as sovereign God, purging His world forever of all hint of rebellion. There is no doubt in his wicked mind. And it rightly terrifies him.
C. Manifested in His Power (vv. 25-28)
Our Lord of course refuses the demonic PR, even if it is accurate. He commands the demon to be silent and to come out of the man—and the demon instant obeys! The final thrash of his evil rage is seen in the scream that erupts from the man’s mouth and the convulsing, much like an epileptic seizure that throw him to the dirt floor of the synagogue.
And how do the people respond to this display of unarguably sovereign, divine, and even eschatological (as a foretaste of the “regeneration” [Matt. 19:28] that is yet to come in the “restoration of all things” [Acts 3:21]) authority? They are “amazed”—literally, astonished, even terrified. This is certainly not a wrong reaction in itself—Paul demonstrated this attitude when the Lord saved him (Acts 9:6; the exact same word is used)—but by itself, it does not go far enough. These people have just seen their promised Messiah standing in front of them doing exactly what the Messiah is supposed to do—cleanse the world of evil rooted in His substitutionary death for sinners—and they simply have an emotional reaction. They respond to the power display and the awesomeness, but not with understanding and consecration. They do not connect it to the truth of who He is. They do not have “eyes to see.” I hope that some of them later came to a full understanding of who He was, and surrendered to Him in faith and love. But for now, this is the seed of where Jesus’ external popularity begins (v. 28). This is the same attitude of people who will follow Him for a distance to watch Him create another free breakfast, and try to make Him their king by force. They are the same kind of people who, when His teaching does not suit them, will walk away from Him forever. Perhaps, like Judas, they are also the type of people who think to use His power and promise for their own gain.
Did they not realize that the One who will judge demons will also judge all people? Hat these very same people will have to one day stand before this very same Man and either be acquitted by their free-grace union with Him, evidenced by an obedient faith, or condemned forever as rebels who refused to come to Him that they might have life? O that they would see the urgency of this! O that they would feel the flames of hell licking at their ankles, and the perfect earth to come overflowing with joy and love and heavenly song! They do not see! And yet these realities held true for every soul alive on the earth at that time, and every soul alive in ours.
Jesus is not merely a good teacher, not merely a man, not even “merely” the Messiah. And He is not someone to simply be fascinated by because of His teaching (that, in all likelihood, you have badly misunderstood), or His virtue, but not surrendered to as only Lord and God and Savior! He is God in human flesh, anointed king of God’s everlasting Kingdom and sole Savior, who is coming back soon to redeem, judge, and damn. Oh that you would be ready! Bow the knee in repentant faith to this Holy One who is Himself God and man, and then know the joy of following by faith His wondrous and blessed directives for your life!
N.B.: I am indebted to Dr. Mark Minnick, senior pastor of Mount Calvary Baptist Church in Greenville, South Carolina, for some of the ideas and final phrasing used in this blog post.