by Jonathan Spurlock
(Holts Summit, MO)
21 And they went into Capernaum; and straightway on the sabbath day he entered into the synagogue, and taught.
This visit to the synagogue took place in Capernaum, as Mark says. Jesus did visit other synagogues such as one in Nazareth (Luke 4:15-30) and perhaps others. Capernaum had at least one other synagogue, built or funded by a Roman centurion, of all people (Luke 7:1-10)!
Just when this event took place is not certain. Mark places this very early in the Lord’s earthly ministry. Note also that Jesus “taught” and what better Teacher than the very One Who gave the Law to Moses in the first place!
Later, Paul also had the chance to teach in the synagogue at Antioch of Pisidia (Acts 13:15-44) and in just about any other place where there was a synagogue such as Thessalonica, Athens, etc.
Synagogues were used as meeting places when Jews worshiped on the Sabbath. There were other functions and uses for synagogues but that goes beyond the purpose of these notes. The reader is encouraged to study the use of synagogues if the Lord leads in that direction.
22 And they were astonished at his doctrine: for he taught them as one that had authority, and not as the scribes.
The same thing was said of the Lord’s “Sermon on the Mount” in Matthew 5-7. In that message, Jesus would compare and contrast what people were saying with what God either had already said or was saying at the time. Examples: “Ye heard it say but I say. . . (Matthew 5:21, 5:27, e.g.).
Whether this visit to the synagogue in Capernaum took place before or after the Lord’s Sermon on the Mount is not specified.
Even so, small groups need to hear God’s messages just as much as large groups. Someone once observed that it wasn’t the quantity but the quality that made the message.
23 And there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit; and he cried out,
First, why this man with an unclean spirit was even in the synagogue has never been explained, as far as I know. Was there no one near the door/s to screen for this, or even to alert the leaders? Or did the demon/unclean spirit enter into the man while the synagogue service was going on? We may never know the answer.
This could be the first recorded case of demon possession in the New Testament. In the Old Testament, demons were called “evil spirits (Judges 9:23, 1 Samuel 16:14, e.g.)”, “unclean spirits (Zech. 13:2)” and “devils (Lev. 17:7)” in the King James Version. The same is true in the New Testament, where Jesus Himself referred to “unclean spirits (Matthew 12:43, Mark 5:2, e.g.)” and “devils (Matthew 10:8, Luke 4:41)”. In Acts 19:15-16 Luke refers to a man in Ephesus who had an “evil spirit”. These were not the only cases recorded in Scripture.
These evil spirits could and did possess men, women, boys, and girls. Examples: this man and the “wild man” of the Gadarenes (Luke 8:26-34); Mary Magdalene (Jesus cast seven demons out of her, per Luke 8:2); a young lad whose father brought him to Jesus (how? see Mark 9:14-27); and a young girl (Matthew 15:21-28). One wonders how many other cases were never recorded in the New Testament.
According to the Bible, there is only one Devil, and his name is Satan. Isaiah 14 and Ezekiel 28 give glimpses of what this being used to have before he sinned and was sentenced to punishment in everlasting fire (Matthew 25:41, Revelation 20:10). Many other evil spirits exist, however.
There is a difference in the original New Testament language between the words “diabolos”, usually translated “devil”; and “daimon”, the word often translated “demon”. This last word usually refers to those other evil/unclean spirits who followed Satan. Paul mentioned several groups of these spirits in Ephesians 6. Long before this, Daniel was given a glimpse of the different levels of “rank” or power (Daniel 10:1-4) among these spiritual beings.
24 Saying, Let us alone; what have we to do with thee, thou Jesus of Nazareth? art thou come to destroy us? I know thee who thou art, the Holy One of God.
Note some of the things this spirit declared. First, he (there is no gender mentioned in the Bible in regards to these spirit beings) recognized Jesus, and that Jesus was from Nazareth. Whether this was an attempt to smear or belittle Jesus, or a grudging admission of where Jesus had lived is not known.
Second, this spirit asked what seems to be a strange question. He asked if Jesus had come to destroy “us”. Whether this means both the man and the spirit, or something else, is not certain but Jesus never came to destroy human lives. Most likely the spirit knew his destiny—everlasting punishment in hell—but could have been asking if this was judgment day. Admittedly, spirits know some things but not all things.
Alternately the spirit may have been trying to make Jesus look bad, saying something like “You wanna get rid of me now? In front of all these people?”
And lastly the spirit knew, and confessed in front of who knows how many people, that Jesus was the Holy One of God! People have been denying this for thousands of years but this demon admitted something nobody else seemed to want to admit. Did James have this or something like this in mind when he wrote that even demons believe in one God, and tremble (James 2:19 )?
25 And Jesus rebuked him, saying, Hold thy peace, and come out of him.
In so many words, Jesus told the unclean spirit “Shut up and get out of that man! Now!”
We may not quite understand this, but this was a test: if Jesus had not been Lord and God, the demon/unclean spirit could easily have laughed at Him or refused to leave. A similar instance, already referred to, happened years later in Acts 19. There was a group of “exorcists” who tried to cast a demon out of a man but the evil spirit said (paraphrased), “I know Jesus, and I know about Paul, but who are you?” The man—with the demon still inside him—then leaped on the others, and then some!
Were the people in the synagogue watching or wondering what was going to happen?
26 And when the unclean spirit had torn him, and cried with a loud voice, he came out of him.
“Torn” is probably not to taken literally but most likely refers to a strong physical, visible, reaction. The unclean spirit didn’t want to leave the “host” or the person whom the spirit had entered.
This spirit “cried with a loud voice” but whether this means the spirit had the ability to speak, or only used the person’s voice organs, is not clear. Grudgingly, it seems, the spirit left the body it had entered. This proves Jesus had power over unclean spirits and that those spirits were indeed subject to Him.
27 And they were all amazed, insomuch that they questioned among themselves, saying, What thing is this? what new doctrine is this? for with authority commandeth he even the unclean spirits, and they do obey him.
They—the people in that synagogue service—had definitely seen something unusual. Note the questions which the people were asking: what new thing is this (how many had ever seen a person who was possessed by an evil spirt—and how many had seen such a person healed or delivered?)
The second question was, “what new doctrine is this?” Doctrine usually meant teaching, so this may refer back to the way Jesus taught, not necessarily so much about the evil spirit and how Jesus cast it out. As mentioned, Jesus would (or did) teach with authority, not like the scribes. Some Bible teachers have explained this as the scribes would “chain-quote”, such as “Rabbi A said that Rabbi B said that Rabbi C quoted Rabbi D when he said . . . . John Gills’s commentaries and Dr. John Lightfoot’s works have numerous examples of similar quotes,
And the people did indeed notice that the unclean spirit left after Jesus commanded it to GO! How long, however, this memory stayed with them is anybody’s guess.
28 And immediately his fame spread abroad throughout all the region round about Galilee.
Several cities were located on and near the Sea of Galilee, plus other cities and villages in the surrounding regions. Good news about Jesus (who would criticize Him, at this time, for healing a man who had been possessed by an evil spirit?) spread in a rather large geographical area.
Scripture quotations taken from the King James Version of the Bible (KJV).
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