“And 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!”” (Mark 1:23–25, ESV)
One of the first stories about Jesus that Mark describes to us is his encounter on the Sabbath in the synagogue! with an unclean spirit. There is a reason that Mark does this, he is not just slapping together different stories about Jesus haphazardly, as if he is sitting in his office, thinking, “let’s see, what happened next?”
Notice first, that, as we pointed out before, Mark leaves the story of Jesus’ encounter with Satan somewhat ambiguous. In Matthew, Jesus successfully repels the temptation by Satan, in Mark, we don’t really know the outcome. I think Mark does this because he is setting up this cataclysmic battle between Jesus and Satan and leaves it for the reader to discover, as he reads through Mark’s gospel, the outcome of Jesus’ battle with the spiritual forces of darkness.
Mark proceeds to relate the first skirmish as Jesus is confronted by a man with an unclean spirit in the synagogue. In an excellent article under the heading “Demon, Devil, Satan” in the Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, G. H. Twelftree, makes several interesting points:
- “For Jesus and the Gospel writers the Devil, or Satan, is the chief enemy of Jesus and the establishing of the kingdom of God.”
- “In harmony with beliefs of that day, the Gospels depict demons causing convulsions, loud screaming, a change of voice or character, chaotic and unpredictable behavior, preternatural strength and an indifference to pain. Notably, a disturbance is caused by and in the sufferer when confronted by Jesus (Mk 1:21-28; 5:1-20; 7:24-30; 9:14-29 and par.).”
- “One of the questions addressed in Mark’s Gospel is the identity of Jesus (1:27; 2:7; 4:41; 6:1–6, 14–16, 49–50, 54; 8:27–28). Mark asserts from the beginning (1:1), and has God confirm (1:11), that Jesus is the Son of God. Then, throughout the first part of his story, Mark shows the human characters ignorant of Jesus’ true identity. Yet through the cries of the demons, Mark is able to remind his readers who Jesus is (1:24–25, 34; 3:11–12; 5:7).”
- “From Mark’s perspective the importance of Jesus’ dealing with the demons can be gauged by noting that one of Jesus’ first public act [sic] is an exorcism. And of his thirteen healing stories the largest single category is that of exorcism (1:21–28; 5:1–20; 7:24–30; 9:14–29).”
What the careful reader of Mark learns is that Mark uses these encounters between Jesus and the spiritual forces of darkness, to show us again and again that Jesus has the power over demons and the demonic, and amazingly, that it is the unclean spirits that recognize Jesus true identity even though the human characters, including even the disciples, do not!
What is the outcome of the clash that begins in the wilderness when Jesus is tempted by Satan? Jesus wins every battle; he has the authority; the demons must obey him. Every. Time.