Summary: Jesus demonstrates a kind of authority that they could not have guessed. He has already shown power over nature, but authority is more than power, it is the right to exercise power.
The authority of Jesus
The apostles are with Jesus at this point, going back toward their home base. Here Jesus demonstrates a kind of authority that they could not have guessed. He has shown power nature, but authority is more than power, it is the right to exercise power. Jesus is demonstrating His right to do the things He does.
21They went to Capernaum, and when the Sabbath came, Jesus went into the synagogue and began to teach. 22The people were amazed at his teaching, because he taught them as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law. 23Just 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!”
25“Be quiet!” said Jesus sternly. “Come out of him!” 26The evil spirit shook the man violently and came out of him with a shriek.
27The 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.” 28News about him spread quickly over the whole region of Galilee.
Mark 1:21-28 (NIV)
Jesus has authority over the Scriptures
Jewish teaching insists that interpreting the Bible in any way separate from the Rabbinic authorities is heresy. They have a powerful oral tradition. They believe that some of the questions that are raised by the law of Moses are answered in oral laws that were handed down by authorities over the centuries. They believe that this tradition spans the entire history of the OT. Rabbinical authorities learned these 613 laws called the Mishna and studied them by learning the interpretations of authorities who came before them.
This was all done orally until about 300 AD when the laws themselves were written down along with authoritative interpretations in a series of books we now know as the Talmud.
In Jesus’ day, before it was written down, students would become attached to an authority and memorize this oral tradition from him. They would learn to debate the interpretations and promote a specific line of practice. The debate was part of the training. They tried to surface the truth of the oral law by debating till falsehoods could be eliminated. When Jesus debated the pharisees, He was not being rude, He simply engaged in the practice of His faith.
We have a strong allusion to this tradition in the Bible. The book of Acts says that Paul sat at the feet of Gamaliel. Gamaliel is still one of the recognized authorities in the Talmud. To say that Paul sat at his feet is to say that he had an authoritative mentor.
But this is where Jesus comes in. He did not rely on the authorities to teach the Scriptures. He read them and interpreted them for Himself. So when Jesus reads from Isaiah about the end of time and the coming of the LORD to rescue His people, the scribes might have said, this is a military rescue from our enemies, but Jesus ignored these traditions and said, "today this passage is fulfilled."
This was an unheard of type of teaching. Jesus was establishing Himself as an authority over the rabbinical tradition. He was setting Himself up as not only more important than the other teachers of His day, He was setting Himself up as more important than the teachers of history, even the prophets themselves.
He continued to treat the Scriptures this way by defining
• What He could and could not do on the Sabbath
• What made a person clean or unclean
• What constituted murder and adultery
• How retribution should be practiced
• When the death penalty should be practiced
By going into all these things, Jesus was teaching His apostles that He and not traditional interpretation was the ultimate authority in Scripture.
This was revolutionary. No wonder the religious leaders were offended. Jesus with a casual word negated their entire life’s work and the whole traditional system of training and faith.
Incidentally, this is a cornerstone of Mennonite teaching. Jesus is the center of our faith and so He is the center of the way Mennonites interpret Scripture. Whatever else we find in the Bible, in order to see how we should interpret it, we first look to see what bearing Jesus’ actions and words have on the subject. He is the first and the last word. In that way, the gospels become the key to the entire Bible. That is not to say that they are more inspired or that the other books are unimportant, but it does mean that the Gospels should be our guide to all else.