Authority over Demons

Jesus demonstrated his authority over Satan by driving his forces out of the children of Israel – Mark 1:21-28. 

Jesus defeated Satan in the wilderness, and the effects of his victory are now demonstrated as he exercises authority over demonic forces in Capernaum. The village was located on the northwest shore of the Sea of Galilee where it straddled the major trade route between Galilee and Damascus.

The incident took place in the local synagogue. The term “synagogue’ means “gathering place,” typically, an assembly hall where Jews studied the Torah and prayed.

The institution of the synagogue is not mentioned in the Torah, and it probably originated during the Babylonian Captivity. It became central to the practice of rabbinical Judaism after the destruction of the Temple by the Romans in A.D. 70.

  • (Mark 1:21-28) - “And they journey into Capernaum. And straightway, on the Sabbath, entering the synagogue, he began teaching. And they were being struck with astonishment at his teaching, for he was teaching them as one having authority and not as the Scribes. And straightway, there was in their synagogue a man in an unclean spirit, and he cried out aloud, saying: What have we in common with you, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know you, who you are, the Holy One of God. And Jesus rebuked him, saying, Silence, and depart from him! And the unclean spirit, tearing him and calling out with a loud voice, departed. And they were amazed, one and all, so that they began to discuss among themselves, saying: What is this new teaching! With authority to the unclean spirits also he gives orders, and they obey him! And forth went the report of him, straightway, on every hand into the surrounding country of Galilee.”


At the synagogue, the Jews were amazed by the authoritative manner by which Jesus taught, but NOT by the contents of his teaching.

The scribes expounded the Law by citing oral traditions and legal precedents, the “tradition of the elders.” They did not make authoritative pronouncements on scriptural interpretations, at least, not by their own authority.

In contrast, Jesus taught decisively with practical and relevant applications based on his messianic authority.

Of the thirteen miracles recorded in the gospel of Mark, four are exorcisms, the most frequent type of healing in this gospel account. Eleven times Mark refers to demons as “unclean spirits,” and as “demons” as well. Four times the verbal form of the Greek term for “demons” is used to denote someone who is “demonized.” In other words, oppressed by demons.

In this account, “unclean” refers to a state of ritual defilement. A person with an “unclean spirit” was excluded from the synagogue and the Jerusalem Temple unless he or she underwent the required rituals to reestablish ritual purity.


But why was this man allowed in the synagogue despite his ritually “unclean” state? His very presence indicates that the members of the synagogue did not rigorously follow the purity codes in the book of Leviticus, or at least, not the men present that day.

In Mark, the synagogue is the place where demons are present, religious authorities are antagonistic, and their hardness of the heart is the rule rather than the exception. Like the Temple, the synagogue is an arena of conflict whenever Jesus begins to proclaim the gospel of the kingdom of God - (Mark 1:39, 3:1, 6:2, 12:39, 13:9).

This demon spoke through the man: “What have we in common with you, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us?”

The unclean spirit used the plural pronoun “we” since he represented all demonic forces that were present. The confrontation was a harbinger of the larger conflict between Jesus and the forces of Satan that culminated in his death.

This spirit recognized Jesus as the “Holy One of God.” Though hidden from men, it knew who he was. Christ’s command for it to remain silent was not to hide his messianic status. By identifying him in public, the demon could discredit his teachings and mission.

And even more than the content of his teachings, what matters is the way in which he taught - “with authority” - and its effect on the people in the synagogue (“They were all amazed”).

The words of Jesus demonstrate his superior authority over the words of the scribes, and his exorcisms highlight his authority over the Devil. The authority by which he teaches is the same one by which he expels demons. Each exorcism shows that the “coming one” is reconquering territory from Satan and adding it to God’s realm.


Suffering Servant

The Living Word