A New Teaching with Authority | Mark 1:21-34

And they went into Capernaum, and immediately on the Sabbath he entered the synagogue and was teaching. And they were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one who had authority, and not as the scribes. 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!” And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying out with a loud voice, came out of him. And they were all amazed, so that they questioned among themselves, saying, “What is this? A new teaching with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.” And at once his fame spread everywhere throughout all the surrounding region of Galilee.

And immediately he left the synagogue and entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. Now Simon’s mother-in-law lay ill with a fever, and immediately they told him about her. And he came and took her by the hand and lifted her up, and the fever left her, and she began to serve them.

That evening at sundown they brought to him all who were sick or oppressed by demons. And the whole city was gathered together at the door. And he healed many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons. And he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him. 

Mark 1:21-34 ESV

When I was a little more than halfway through last year’s study over the attributes of God, a thought occurred to me. Many are taught growing up a kind of prayer that says, “God is great. God is good.” For me, it always followed with “Let us thank Him for our food. Amen.” While that is more of an invitation to prayer rather than actually praying, I realized that the two beginning statements fittingly applied to God’s attributes. What we call the incommunicable attributes could rightly be summarized as the greatness of God, while the communicable attributes could be described as the goodness of God. Both meet in the attribute of attributes, the holiness of God, which is both communicable and incommunicable, both the terrible greatness and the breath-taking goodness of God. In the verses of our study, we see Jesus as the Holy One of God, both great and good.

ONE WITH AUTHORITY // VERSES 21-22

After calling Simon, Andrew, James, and John to be His disciples, Jesus took them into the town of Capernaum, which was likely the hometown of the four men. Like most of the cities along the Sea of Galilee, Capernaum was rather small and largely dependent upon fishing.

On the Sabbath, we are told that he entered the synagogue and was teaching (v. 21). Synagogues, it should be noted, were created during the intertestamental period as places for worship secondary to the temple in Jerusalem. While worship in the temple was very physical and involved the senses (i.e., the smell of incense and burnt offerings or the sight of blood upon the altar), worship in synagogues was necessarily more cerebral since the reading and study of the Scriptures took the place of primacy there. The synagogues could, therefore, be built in any location that had both Jews to gather and a copy of the Scriptures to read and teach. Furthermore, the synagogues were glad to have traveling teachers, which both Jesus and the apostles made great use of. Indeed, as a rabbi, Jesus entered the synagogue of Capernaum and taught those gathered there.

Verse 22 tells us that the result of Jesus’ teaching was astonishment; they were knocked off their feet, so to speak, by His teaching. Note the reasoning: for he taught them as one who had authority and not as the scribes. This is significant because the scribes had authority; indeed, in many ways, they were the authority on how to properly interpret the Scriptures. They were in charge of the transmission of God’s Word and the diligent study of it. Yet even when compared to these authoritative teachers, the teaching of Jesus stood apart. His authority was different than theirs.

Although Mark does not give the particular teaching of Jesus, he already gave the thesis at the heart of each teaching: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel” (v. 15). While the text and content of each teaching of Jesus may have changed, this core message stood at the center of each time Jesus taught. For example, Luke 4:16-21 reveals how Jesus taught in the synagogue of His hometown, Nazareth. He was given the scroll of Isaiah to teach, and after He read a passage, He sat down to teach, saying, “Today, this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” Is that not the same core message as “the time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand”? In both cases, Jesus did not merely teach what Scripture said; instead, He essentially said, “Here I am, the physical fulfillment of these words.” Indeed, Jesus lamented over the scribes and Pharisees because for all their study, they failed to see the Christ standing in front of them.[1]

We, of course, are not Jesus, yet recall that the rulers, elders, and scribes possessed similar astonishment toward Peter and John because “they had been with Jesus” (Acts 4:13). Likewise, Acts 13:12 tells of a proconsul believing Paul’s message “for he was astonished at the teaching of the Lord.” As we said last week of Christ’s calling of the four fishermen, we may say again only from another angle. When it comes to proclaiming the gospel,[2] we do not need to be anxious over how effective we are at declaring it; instead, we only need to be faithful to present the living Christ through His Word. No one can read or hear Scripture and not be confronted with truth itself. These words are living and active, and they reveal to us the living and active King.

THE HOLY ONE OF GOD // VERSES 23-28

Mark then tells us in verse 23 that a man with an unclean spirit began to cry out in the synagogue, 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 (v. 24).

In the Old Testament, the inscription the Holy One is almost always used for God, and especially within the Psalms and Isaiah, it is often given as the Holy One of Israel. Two notable exceptions are in Psalm 106:16 where Aaron the high priest is called “the holy one of the LORD,” and in Psalm 16:10 where David thanks to God “for you will not abandon my soul to Sheol, or let your holy one see corruption.” Peter, in Acts 2, pointedly tells us that David was prophesying about the resurrection of Jesus, and in Hebrews we learn that Jesus is the great and perfect high priest. Jesus, therefore, as God-incarnate and the “high priest of our confession” (Hebrews 3:1), is the Holy One of God.

Even the demons, therefore, recognized the authority of Jesus’ teaching, yet what is very significant is that they also recognized Jesus’ identity. As I noted at the beginning of our study, the whole first half of Mark’s Gospel is focused upon the revelation of Jesus’ identity, first to all of Israel (chapters 1-3) and then to the disciples particularly (chapters 4-8). Even by the middle of the Gospel, the disciples’ understanding will still be fuzzy and vague. Ironically, the demons have a crystal-clear knowledge of who Jesus is. Upon this point, J. C. Ryle offers this lament:

The mere belief of the facts and doctrines of Christianity will never save our souls. Such belief is no better than the belief of devils. They all believe and know that Jesus is the Christ. They believe that he will one day judge the world, and cast them down to endless torment in hell. It is a solemn and sorrowful thought, that on these points some professing Christians have even less faith than the devil. There are some who doubt the reality of hell and the eternity of punishment. Such doubts as these find no place except in the hearts of self-willed men and women. There is no infidelity among devils. ‘They believe and tremble’ (James 2:19).[3]

Speaking of everlasting judgment, notice also the demon’s fear while being in the presence Christ’s holiness. This further displays the uniqueness of Jesus. In Daniel 10, we were given a glimpse into the unseen realm and saw demonic forces attempting to delay God’s message from reaching Daniel. Here we see something altogether different. The unclean spirit knew that there was going to be no battle with Jesus, only defeat. Thus, his question: have you come to destroy us?

Jesus’ rebuke was sharp and authoritative: be silent, and come out of him (v. 25)! Many translators go so far as to say that ‘shut up’ is an accurate modern, English equivalent to what Jesus commanded. While the demon convulsed the man and cried out, likely as one last act of defiance, it promptly obeyed.

All of this caused the people of the synagogue to be even more amazed at the authority of Jesus. This time, though, their amazement is mingled with fear, as the Greek word suggests. This exorcism, after all, was unlike anything they had seen before. No mantras or elaborate routines were needed to coax the demon out of the man; only a word, a single command, drew the spirit’s unwilling obedience. They were witnessing the kingdom of God manifest and were right to be afraid. They were in the presence of the Holy One.

Of course, like the demon, not all fear is the kind of fear that leads to knowledge and wisdom (Proverbs 1:7, 9:10). Both knowledge and wisdom are dependent upon repentance, upon a willingness to be corrected and taught. Indeed, “fools despise wisdom and instruction” (1:7). For those willing to repent, an encounter with the Holy One is insight and beyond; it leads to a changed life. The unrepentant, however, treat the proclamation of Christ like the demons’ do, saying, what have you to do with us? They fail to see the mercy of Jesus’ hand extended toward them and only want to be left to their own devices, which as Romans 1 abundantly indicates is exactly what God will give them should they continue to be unrepentant.

THE HEALING OF SIMON’S MOTHER-IN-LAW // VERSES 29-31

Moving on from the display of Jesus’ greatness at the synagogue, Christ and His disciples entered the house of Simon and Andrew (v. 29). Mark then tells us a very brief encounter: Now Simon’s mother-in-law lay ill with a fever, and immediately they told him about her. And he came and took her by the hand and lifted her up, and the fever left her, and she began to serve them (vv. 30-31).

Here we see the gentle goodness of Jesus, taking the woman by the hand and raising her up from her illness. Throughout Mark’s Gospel, we find Jesus touching those whom He heals. This is significant because in John 4:46-54 we find the account of an official from Capernaum who traveled to Cana to ask Jesus to heal his dying son. Jesus simply told the man, “Go; your son will live” (v. 50), and it was so. Because of the divinity of Jesus, He needed no physical contact to accomplish His miracles. Even so, He does touch the sick, the leprous, and the maimed. Jesus is not only God come down to man but also God reaching out to man.

We also in this account find a wonderful example to imitate. Upon being healed, Simon’s mother-in-law immediately began to serve them. Like this woman, all who meet the healing of Jesus are healed in order to serve. We, after all, have been healed of our sickness rooted in the heart: sin. Being healed and liberated from sin, we are each called to “through love serve one another” (Galatians 5:13). Indeed, such service is an imitation of our Lord, for He “came not be served but to serve” (10:45). And we see His service evidenced here in this private miracle that He was just as pleased to work as His miracles before the gaping mouths of the crowds.

THE WHOLE CITY WAS GATHERED TOGETHER // VERSES 32-34

That evening at sundown they brought to him all who were sick or oppressed by demons. And the whole city was gathered together at the door. And he healed many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons. And he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him.

At the end of this eventful day, the city gathered to see Jesus, bringing their sick and demon oppressed to Him for healing and deliverance, and Jesus does both of those things. Together we have the two kinds of wonders that Christ just performed separately: casting out demons and healing the sick. Furthermore, these are two types of miracles that will continue to fill the earthly ministry of Christ. Let us conclude, therefore, by viewing why these miraculous acts were so important and what they still mean for Christ’s followers today.

Jeffrey D. Johnson helps explain the big-picture significance of Jesus casting out demons:

When Christ began to cast out demons in His earthly ministry, He announced that the kingdom of God had arrived (Matt. 12:28). Rather than the kingdom of heaven physically manifesting itself, as some supposed would happen all at once (Luke 19:11), it would come spiritually, one conversion at a time. Unlike other earthly kingdoms, “the kingdom of God,” Christ said, “is not coming in ways that can be observed, nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There!’” (17:21). Christ is rather building His kingdom slowly by robbing the kingdom of darkness of its citizens. Christ is slowly populating the kingdom of heaven through the new birth.[4]

Sickness, however, is typically an indirect effect of sin. While there certainly are illnesses that are direct results of sin and in times in Scripture where illness came as a judgment of God, sickness generally occurs because the world has been broken by the curse of the Fall.

G. Campbell Morgan makes the following remark about these two categories of miracles:

These miracles of Jesus were not violations of natural order, but restorations to natural order. That man demon-possessed, was unnatural. Then said Jesus to the demon, “Be muzzled, and come out.” That woman in a burning fever, was unnatural; “He touched her, and the fever left her.” He did not violate order; but restored it.[5]

A common trope found in Westerns is of a town that has been invaded by outlaws and made into a hellish place to live, and a nomadic gunslinger strolls into town to execute the bad guys and restore order. Like most story tropes, we keep going back to this one because it imitates an aspect of the Story, the cosmic narrative that God has been weaving since the beginning. Our world is broken and invaded. It is invaded by “cosmic powers over this present darkness” (Ephesians 6:12), but it is also broken by our own hands. The enemy is both without and within. Real forces of evil are always at work behind the material world, yet their greatest power is in luring us into committing the evil that already lust over. Things are in disarray, and the headlines of every generation declare it boldly.

We need a Savior with strength to repel by evil and with kindness to heal the hurting. We need a King who is both great and good. We need the very holiness of God to step into our world, chasing away the demonic and giving life to the sick. We need to the Lord to come down and fix what we have broken.

And that is exactly what Jesus came to do. He is the Holy One of God, and in His presence, both demons and sickness take flight. As He said in the Great Commission, His authority extends over all of heaven and earth, and we are His ambassadors proclaiming His rule as King. The world will not be fully renewed until Christ returns physically once more with all His glory seen by all. However, even now, little by little, the kingdom is still advancing against the domain of darkness. Let us, therefore, look to the Christ daily as both our Savior and our King, and let us make His reign known to all.


[1] John 5:39–40 | You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.

[2] And we really should speak of evangelism as proclaiming rather than sharing the gospel.

[3] J. C. Ryle, Expository Thoughts on Mark, 9-10.

[4] Jeffrey D. Johnson, The Five Points of Amillennialism, 67.

[5] G. Campbell Morgan, The Gospel According to Mark, 37.

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