Jesus’ Power over Demons – A Sign of Authority in Teaching (A Literary Study)

“What is this? A new teaching—and with authority! He even gives orders to impure spirits and they obey him (Mark 1:27).”

CASTING OUT DEMONS DEMONSTRATES JESUS’ AUTHORITY IN SPEECH

All of the Gospels state that Jesus spoke with authority and with power. All of the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, but not John) compared Jesus with his contemporary scholars and implied that others who read, studied, and taught the law paled in comparison to Jesus.

Mark and Luke 

To demonstrate just how powerful Jesus’ teaching was, both Mark and Luke placed his teaching authority within the context of Jesus’ words in casting out demons (Luke 4:31-36 and Mark 1:22-27). In both of these Gospels the power of Jesus’ word in commanding demons was placed in immediate context with the power of Jesus’ word in teaching. The two were intimately connected.

Mark and Luke (but not in Matthew) commented about Jesus’ authority in word and teaching, placing those comments immediately before and immediately after the narrative of Jesus casting out a demon. When we have one subject or statement positioned before and after another, surrounding the other subject in the Bible, it means that the subject in the middle is meant to be taken together with the two end pieces. I call this the sandwich effect, as is seen in this:

  1. The people were amazed at his teaching, because he taught them as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law (Mark 1:22).
  2. A demon surfaced and was cast out with a few words, but only after the demon acknowledged that Jesus was the Holy One of God (Mark 1:22-26).
  3. The people were all so amazed that they asked each other, “What is this? A new teaching—and with authority! He even gives orders to impure spirits and they obey him (Mark 1:27).”

In Luke 4:31 ff, this section is repeated almost verbatim:

  1. They were amazed at his teaching, because his words had authority (Luke 4:32).
  2. A demon surfaced and was cast out with a few words, but only after the demon acknowledged that Jesus was the Holy One of God (Luke 4:33-35).
  3. All the people were amazed and said to each other, “What words these are! With authority and power he gives orders to impure spirits and they come out!” (Luke 4:36).

Beyond the look at the writing style of Mark and Luke, when Jesus cast out demons with a word (or 2 or 3 words), the main reason that Jesus’ ability to cast out demons  was so amazing to people, was that the people were accustomed to exorcists using incense, incantations, roots, and potions to cast out demons. Jesus differed from them in that he spoke and demons obeyed his word. Mark and Luke simply emphasized the connection between his word casting out demons with his teaching, because they saw this was important to their goal of establishing that the power of Jesus’ words were extraordinary – above human capabilities. They were helping their readers to see that Jesus was beyond a normal human being. They were hoping their readers would ask, “Who is this man?”

Matthew

Although for whatever reason, Matthew left this section out of his writing (IE: the sandwich mentioned above), Matthew recorded that the people were amazed at the power found in his teachings after the Sermon on the Mount, unrelated to any demon being cast out: When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, because he taught as on who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law (Matthew 7:28-29).

Matthew did not connect Jesus’ teachings with his ability to control the spirit world, but instead connected the power of Jesus’ word in teaching to healing. Shortly after the Sermon on the Mount and shortly after the people were amazed at his authority as a teacher, a Centurion came to Jesus and asked him to heal his servant. When Jesus was about to go to the man’s house, the Centurion told Jesus that his word would be good enough. Sure enough, with a word from Jesus, from a distance away, the servant was healed by Jesus’ word (Matthew 8:5-13).

In this story, the Centurion illustrated how Jesus’ word could be so powerful:

The centurion replied, “Lord, I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. But just say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and that one, ‘Come,’ and he comes. I say to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it (Matthew 8:8-9).”

It turns out that this passage about the Centurion was loaded with both an illustration on how Jesus’ authority worked and a statement about faith.

When Jesus heard this, he was amazed and said to those following him, “Truly I tell you, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith (Matthew 8:10).

Jesus marveled at the Centurion’s great faith just as he was amazed at a lot of people’s faith during his ministry. As will be revealed in further posts, Jesus regularly recognized and affirmed the faith of others. Any words he mentioned about lacking faith were reserved for those who were hostile toward him and for his disciples who were training to be healers.

ABOUT DEMONS

demonsHollywood likes to demonize demons into ugly creatures half human. In reality, during Jesus’ day demon possessed people were probably what we would call emotionally sick or emotionally troubled people who looked nothing like Linda Blair in the Exorcist. People with demons could also be normal people with some sort of disease.

The Book of Tobit (found in the Apocrypha) helps us see that in the ancient world, people believed that even good people could have a demon attached to them. In the book a woman named Sarah married seven men who all died on their wedding night because of a demon of lust that was attached to her. Men in the ancient world believed that their lust for women was primarily due to things women did such as using make up and seducing them. This demon of lust no doubt attracted men to Sarah for the wrong reasons (due to their lust for her) and killed them before they could consummate their marriage vows. But burning the heart and liver of a fish on the wedding night sent the demon packing so Sarah could have a good life with a godly man (Tobias) who had just married her.

Likewise, the Apostle Paul claimed that a messenger of Satan was messing around with his flesh. Paul claimed that God refused his request to be delivered, because he was better off humbled with the “infirmity of the flesh.”

There were different theories about where demons came from in the ancient world. Modern Bible scholars use verses from a passage in Ezekiel 28 (originally an oracle against the city of Tyre), a passage in Isaiah 14 (originally a prophesy against the king of Babylon), and one in Revelation 12 to extract the origins of Satan and demons. From these studies, it is concluded that Satan was the head, or the most powerful, or just the most beautiful of all of the angels at one time; but because of pride, he fell from heaven and led a large portion of the angels in rebellion. That rebellion has been in existence since before this world was created.

In the First Century A.D., there was another theory that was also popular in some or maybe many circles. This second theory was connected to the Book of Enoch which was a book that the Bible did not include, but was popular in the First Century  (Jude quoted from it, and it is debated to be behind many Bible passages in Peter, Jude, and a few places here and there). However, Enoch said nothing about Satan, but instead spoke of powerful angels called Watchers who were supposed to guide and help humanity, but instead left their habitation to sleep with women they lusted after (as is derived from Genesis 6), whose children were the giants that Genesis 6 talks about.

giantWhen God divvied out judgment on them and destroyed the world with water, the Watchers were thrown into a fire under the world, and the giants died. The spirits of those giants became unclean spirits that roamed the earth, and which oppressed, corrupted, and bruised upon earth (Enoch 15:9) until the end of the world. Enoch foretold that at the end of 70 generations (Jesus’ generation) the Watchers (and probably the unclean spirits) were to be thrown into a lake of fire for eternity.

A third theory according to Josephus, was that demons who caused a range of diseases in people were the spirits of the wicked who had died.

CONCLUSIONS

Jesus’ teaching carried authority that people recognized was unusual.

His teaching authority had the same power as his authority over spirits.

The connection between these two were seen in Mark and Luke.

Although Matthew did not make this same connection, he saw the connection between Jesus teaching and his ability to command healing from a distance.

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