THE SYNAGOGUE SITUATION

MARK 1:21-28

Brief intro: Previously, in my last posts, we discussed how Jesus had been prepared for His ministry (baptism and the temptation in the wilderness). We then observed Him gathering followers (2 sets of brothers who were fishermen) to become part of the “12” men that would make up His whole group of disciples. With these four by His side, they travel into Capernaum, “a prosperous fishing village on the NW shore of the Sea of Galilee,” and on the Sabbath, enter a synagogue where Jesus begins to teach.

I see two different aspects of this visit within this next portion of scripture that we will be meditating on, but they point to one thing! Mark shares this historical account for a reason; let’s go find out what it is!

21 They *went into Capernaum; and immediately on the Sabbath Jesus entered the synagogue and began to teach. 22 And they were amazed at His teaching; for He was teaching them as one having authority, and not as the scribes.

FOCUS ONE: The first aspect: His teaching

Here is an idea of what the synagogue might have looked like in Jesus day.

We read that Jesus, along with Simon, Andrew, James, and John, travels to Capernaum in these verses. He (Jesus) went into the synagogue on the Sabbath and began teaching as will become His custom. Luke also shares this account in His writing (Luke 4:31-32). What is rather interesting about both reports is that they are very brief. Neither has seen fit to elaborate on what Jesus said in His teaching.

All we can gather from these testimonies is that:

  1. He went into the synagogue 
  2. It was the Sabbath 
  3. He taught them
  4. His teaching had authority, not like the scribes
  5. And, the results of His teaching: they were amazed (astonished)

So, what is the one central element of this short account that the reader, then and now, ought to observe? HIS AUTHORITY!

We do not know what He said, but it is apparent that He said it far differently than the scribes and Pharisees did. We do not know what facial expressions He made or what His body language might have conveyed. But, we do know all of it personified authority!

Jesus, unlike the scribes and Pharisees, had “authority” over all mankind, and that was given to Him by the father (John 17:2). This authority was not a secret or only perceived by those who heard Him, not at all; He verbalized it at times to those around Him (Matthew 9:6; John 7:16; Matthew 28:19-20). And as we will witness shortly, He manifested it to the people through miracles! His words, those given to Him from His Father, He gave to His disciples and others (John 17:8).

FOCUS TWO:  The results

What is apparent is that Jesus and His teaching were noticeably and radically different than the people were accustomed to. The people were “amazed” at His teaching. The verb used here in Greek for “astonished or amazed” has a powerful meaning. It is not used superficially, as we might express amazement today. Instead, Seeing that Jesus did not have to quote other rabbis as His authority to say what He was saying, the people noticed that what He said had behind it real, authentic authority. And why? Because His power came straight from God.

“His authority was inherit within Himself.”

Mark used two different Greek words for “astonished” (v.22) and “amazed” (v.27). This isn’t obvious in our various translations because most translate them both as “amazed.” So, there is no reason to elaborate on them here since there is no significant value in it for our understanding of the text.

BUT, by using them, Mark does emphasize an important reality: what they heard and witnessed was so much better and higher and impactful that the only response to it was utter amazement (great wonder)!

This contrast between Jesus and the religious leaders of His day is expressed elsewhere in scripture. Places such as Matthew 7:28-29; Mark 2:6-17; 7:1-13; 14:1- the ultimate contrast: Christ taught the truth, they rejected it and sought to kill Him.

23 Just then there was a man in their synagogue with an unclean spirit; and he cried out, 24 saying, “What [a]business do you have with us, Jesus [b]of Nazareth? Have You come to destroy us? I know who You are: the Holy One of God!” 25 And Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be quiet, and come out of him!” 26 After throwing him into convulsions and crying out with a loud voice, the unclean spirit came out of him. 27 And they were all amazed, so they debated among themselves, saying, “What is this? A new teaching with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey Him.” 28 Immediately the news about Him spread everywhere into all the surrounding region of Galilee.

FOCUS THREE: The second aspect, rebuking the evil spirit

We read in these verses that a man appears in the synagogue who had an unclean spirit (morally and sexually impure). Notice how Mark relates it to his reader, “just then.” One commentator observes: “The spirit HAD control of this man. He was in his possession; He led him captive to his will. The man was there but not to be taught or to be healed!” He was there but not causing any disruptions until Jesus was present! His teaching and authority sparked this man, and he cried out.

The unclean spirit recognizes who Jesus is (holy one of God). Sad to say, that many in our day do not. This unclean spirit acknowledged Christ’s name and where He is from (humanly speaking v. 24). He also professes that “I know who you are-the Holy One of God!” Friend’s, not only do demons believe that there is one God and tremble (James 2:19), they also know that their time to do such things in this fallen world is short (Matthew 8:29).

Observations: 

  1. Jesus then rebukes him (personal pronoun), not an “it,” force, or illusion, but a created being with personality. 
  2. He commands him to come out of the man, and the spirit obeys, but not without causing distress in his victim (convulsions, loud voice)!
  3. The spirit despairs being saved by Him and dreads being destroyed by him!

And, in this encounter, we have the second aspect of our study. The first related to Christ’s teaching; the second to His ability to cast out demons. We see this in verse 27. 

The people in the synagogue were astonished at what had just happened. This “amazement” led to a debate among those in the synagogue regarding a new (not like the scribes) teaching with authority and His casting out unclean spirits. “What is this?,” is the response of many. These folks are stupefied at all that just transpired in the synagogue. “New teaching with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey Him” (v.27). They do not know how to react to what they just heard and seen. 

So, the question posed at the beginning of our study was: what do the two aspects of the synagogue story point to? What do they teach us about Christ? What is Mark’s purpose in n sharing this?

  1. A signal that warfare on earth with the Son of God present has begun between the Son of God and Satan.
  1. Who are said to be hypocrites by Christ (Matthew 7:5), and add man-made rules to the Law. Jesus speaks from the core of His character and nature as God! As such, He has authority, which is very apparent to all. But, he teaches as “one sent from God,” He displays His deity by revealing His sovereignty over all things, including the spiritual realm! Unlike the scribes and the Pharisees who reference other scribes and the like as their authority.

The things that happened in the synagogue (both aspects) were meant to display the power, authority, and deity of this “Jesus of Nazareth!”

So, what were the results of this complete encounter? People started spreading the news about Jesus EVERYWHERE in the areas surrounding Galilee. Many concluded He was a teacher sent by God. It raised Christ’s reputation!

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