Summary: Most people concentrate on the exorcism of the unclean spirit as the demonstration of Jesus' power and authority. Rather we should concentrate on the authority of His teaching.
The Authority of Jesus: An Exposition of Mark 1:21-28
From the moment Jesus entered into the synagogue, it was apparent that things were different. As He began to teach them, they became increasingly aware that Jesus was no ordinary Rabbi. We wished we could know what Jesus taught that morning. All we can surmise is that it centered upon Jesus’ message to repent and believe the good news. What made his teaching so different? Was it because it was a Bible-centered message? Although it certainly was grounded in Scripture, the synagogues held the Scripture in the highest regard. It is the very words of God. The Scribes who had to painstakingly copy the Scripture by hand knew every line of it. They took care that not a single tittle was omitted or changed. They acted as a sort of encyclopedia to the Pharisees and Rabbis who taught the people. They were the authority on Scripture.
So here comes Jesus on the scene. How much they might have heard of Him is hard to surmise. Reports may have come back from the people who had witnessed Jesus’ baptism. There may have been other reports as well. We just don’t know. But the synagogues were democratic in the sense that any male Jew of age could stand up and request to both read and comment upon the Scripture. At any rate, Jesus got up to teach, and things were never more the same.
Jesus had come on the scene. He held no degree in Rabbinics. He had not been to seminary. There is no indication that he had sat at the feet of a great Rabbi like Gamaliel who had taught Paul. He came with no letters of recommendation or ordination certificate from Jerusalem. These are the conventional ways that authority is granted. This is true in the church today as well. He just appeared and taught. His authority came from His teaching itself, and the people noticed how superior it was to the weekly instruction from the Scribes.
The people of Capernaum were not the only ones to notice the authority of Jesus’ teaching. It was also said of Jesus after the Sermon on the Mount as well. He used in that sermon of the same teaching techniques as the great Rabbi’s. It wasn’t how he taught. It wasn’t His great skill of oration. It was who He is and what He taught.
It is important to know that this authoritative teaching was recognized in the synagogue that morning before the service was interrupted by the cry of a man who had an unclean Spirit. The teaching of Jesus was always first. Signs and wonders followed to confirm the words of Jesus by demonstrations of power. We tend to get this wrong and chase after miracles and healings rather than to hear the Lord speak to us and teach us. Most of us think that the miracles would grant authority to the teaching. If we do some great thing, people will listen. Not so with Jesus. The teaching comes first.
We do not know how long the man with the unclean spirit had been there before he acted out. Was he a regular worshiper at the synagogue who never felt threatened by the teaching of the Rabbis? However, the demon could not sit still through the message. He too recognized the authority of Jesus. Satan and his demons had been cast out of heaven after the great rebellion against God. As God, the Son, they had memory of the authority and power God had exercised over them. The demon recognized him. This was the same Son who had cast them out of heaven and had come down to earth. Satan and the demons were and are terrified by the person of the Son. Satan was not omniscient, and neither are his minions. But they knew that they were going to be judged and destroyed in the end. Satan had already had a hand in trying to derail the mission of Jesus in the Temptation but could not. One could only think that the demon did not mean well by identifying Jesus and more than Satan in the wilderness did by telling Jesus: Since you are the Son of God….” As Mark does not mention the temptation in the wilderness by Satan, the same thought is brought out here.
So why did the demon blow his human cover and cry out? How was He trying to derail the mission of the Son? Was it to get the people to look upon the works of Jesus instead of His teaching? This would seem to be one of the motivations. Another motivation would be that He could no longer stand to hear the words of Jesus and blurted out. Another motivation is found in the power of naming someone. Using names is an attempt to exert influence over a person, for good or ill. Sometimes flattery is used along side this attempt to influence. The demon was far ahead of the curve as far as knowing who Jesus is. The people were amazed at Jesus’ teaching but the demon knew who he was.