Casting out Demons

Immediately there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit. And he cried 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.’ But Jesus rebuked him, saying, ‘Be silent, and come out of him!’ And the Aunclean spirit, convulsing him and crying out with a loud voice, came out of him” (vv. 23–26).

- Mark 1:23-18

Among the other Jewish teachers who worked in the first century, Jesus stands out for the ways in which His practices differed from those of His contemporaries. In yesterday’s study, we noted how Christ spoke with an authority that was unparalleled. He possessed divine authority to reveal the true meaning of the Scriptures and the plans of His Father (John 12:49–50). Jesus also stands out in His calling of His disciples. As we saw in Mark 1:16–20, Jesus called His disciples to follow Him; they did not seek Him out. Other first-century rabbis did no such thing. Instead, men who wanted to be their disciples would seek out their rabbi of choice. In keeping with His authority, Jesus commanded men and women to follow Him; He did not wait for them to find Him.

In today’s passage, we read of yet another way in which Jesus differed from the other Jewish teachers who were popular in first-century Palestine. Mark 1:23–28 records the first of many exorcisms that Jesus performed during His earthly ministry. We must note that Jesus is not the only first-century teacher to whom exorcisms are attributed; other rabbis were known for casting out demons. What sets our Lord apart is the manner in which He exorcised evil spirits. Other exorcists relied on particular procedures to help oppressed people and by no means worked on the basis of their own inherent authority. As we see in today’s text, however, Jesus simply commanded unclean spirits to leave. All the demon had to hear was the sound of the Lord’s voice and the order to depart, and it fled. In so doing, the demon acknowledged who Jesus was—“the Holy One of God” sent to bring Satan’s kingdom to its knees. Although the ESV renders verse 24b as a question, it is likely that it was a statement. (Punctuation, to some degree, is a translator’s choice, as the original Greek manuscripts do not contain it.) If so, the Spirit said something like, “You have come to destroy us!”

Regardless of the punctuation, the exorcism demonstrates that the kingdom of God at hand in Jesus’ ministry had to come first in the cosmic arena. The Lord came to break oppression, establish justice, and heal the diseased (Luke 4:16–21), but this could not happen until the forces of evil were defeated and the “strong man” was bound (Mark 3:27). Christ came to set things in creation right, and this demanded that He conquer the devil, who had enslaved the world in sin and darkness.

Coram Deo

As Romans 8:19–21 indicates, the salvation that Jesus brings will encompass even the physical order. That cannot happen, however, until Christ deals with the evil powers that hold creation hostage. Jesus dealt the decisive blow of victory on the cross, and now He sets people free from the devil’s tyranny as the gospel goes forth. We are called to pray for this gospel to succeed wherever it goes that God’s elect will be freed to serve Him in gladness.

Passages for Further Study

Isaiah 61
Matthew 8:16
Luke 11:20
Ephesians 6:10–20

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