In the past four and a half years, i have tried to become a part of six different churches. It started back in Missouri (a further elaboration of which can be found here), and it followed me to both of the first two churches i tried to join in California over the past two years. There were three other churches between where it started in Missouri and returning to California, but i leave them out of this discussion because they didn’t try to wield the “Thou shalt submit to thy pastor” card. One of these three was a great church, at which i would have remained if i had not already been planning to move back to California four weeks later. (I pray that my church-hopping track record is just about over now; i have finally found an extremely solid, biblical, Christ-exalting church in SoCal.
I bring this up to say that it is a dangerous thing to wield the word “authority” as a pastor. In the words of Uncle Ben to Peter Parker, “With great [authority] comes great responsibility.” It is much too easy to abuse authority. The Belgic Confession of Faith from 1561 reads as follows:
The marks by which the true Church is known are these: If the pure doctrine of the gospel is preached therein; if it maintains the pure administration of the sacraments as instituted by Christ; if church discipline is exercised in punishing of sin; in short, if all things are managed according to the pure Word of God, all things contrary thereto rejected, and Jesus Christ acknowledged as the only Head of the Church. Hereby the true Church may certainly be known, from which no man has a right to separate himself.
As for the false Church, it ascribes more power and authority to itself and its ordinances than to the Word of God, and will not submit itself to the yoke of Christ. Neither does it administer the sacraments as appointed by Christ in His Word, but adds to and takes from them, as it thinks proper; it relies more upon men than upon Christ; and persecutes those who live holily according to the Word of God and rebuke it for its errors, covetousness, and idolatry.
The true church proclaims Christ as the head and relies upon Him alone; the false church overemphasizes its authority. This is an unfortunate situation.
In my experience, i never referred to the churches i left–that is, the ones who were overemphasizing authority–as false churches. At the time, I had never read The Belgic Confession of Faith. But the sad fact of the matter is that in each one, my plea with them was to come to a better grasp of the gospel and to preach Christ exclusively. I was treated as a fool who had no idea what he was talking about by each one.
I say all this because in our text today we will look at the One who demonstrates true authority.
“And they entered into Capernaum, and immediately, [it being] the Sabbath, after coming into the synagogue, He was teaching. And they were amazed at his teaching, for He was teaching them as one who had authority, and not as the scribes. And immediately, a man with an unclean spirit was in the synagogue, and he cried out, saying, ‘What to us and to You, Jesus Nazarene? Have You come to destroy us? I know who You are, the holy one of God.’ And Jesus rebuked him, saying, ‘Silence! Come out from him!’ And after shaking him and crying out in a loud voice, the unclean spirit came out from him. And all were amazed so that they began to discuss with each other, saying, ‘What is this? A new teaching with authority: He even commands the unclean spirits, and they obey Him.’ And the report of Him immediately went out everywhere into the whole region of Galilee.”
Where we’ve been…
In verses 14-15, Jesus officially came onto the public scene, in the region of Galilee. He did this by proclaiming the inbreaking of the Kingdom of God (which today’s text will demonstrate). He also demanded that people repent and believe the Gospel (which essentially is the good news that Jesus’ coming inaugurates the Kingdom of God on earth).
And then in verses 16-20, Jesus calls His first four disciples. They respond without question. He calls; they follow. This is one clear sign of Jesus’ authority, but our text today will discuss even more evident and explicit proof of the extent of Jesus’ authority.
Mark wants us to know that Jesus has authority and that people recognize His authority, but he also wants us to ask ourselves what we are doing with our knowledge of Jesus’ authority.
Jesus Has Authority
The first thing that Mark wants to prove in this text is that Jesus has authority. Mark writes the following in Mark 1:21-26,
“And they entered into Capernaum, and immediately, [it being] the Sabbath, after coming into the synagogue, He was teaching. And they were amazed at his teaching, for He was teaching them as one who had authority, and not as the scribes. And immediately, a man with an unclean spirit was in the synagogue, and he cried out, saying, ‘What to us and to You, Jesus Nazarene? Have You come to destroy us? I know who You are, the holy one of God.’ And Jesus rebuked him, saying, ‘Silence! Come out from him!’ And after shaking him and crying out in a loud voice, the unclean spirit came out from him.”
Our text begins with the words, “They entered into Capernaum.” The they Mark refers to is Jesus and His four new followers. Capernaum was a village—Greek transliteration of the Hebrew that is translated, “Village of Nahum”—in the region of Galilee. If we look at a map of Israel from Jesus’ time, Galilee was the region in the north, south of it was Samaria, and south of Samaria was Judea, where Jerusalem was located. Galilee was the region west of the Sea of Galilee—bordering that sea—and Capernaum was a village on the shore of that sea. It was here that the bulk of the start of Jesus’ ministry begins—fifteen miles northeast of His hometown of Nazareth.
There are two facets to Jesus’ authority. He has authority both over the Word of God and over creation. We will look at each of these in turn.
But first, what does the word authority really mean? We will assuredly be shown pictures of its meaning by watching Jesus’ actions in our text today, but i think it will be helpful to get a dictionary-style definition at the outset.
The Greek word, exousia, which we translate variously in different texts as “authority,” “charge,” “domain,” power,” “jurisdiction,” “right,” “control,” dominion,” and “liberty,” derives from the compound word exesti, which comes from the word ex, meaning “out of” or “apart from,” and a form of the verb eimi, meaning “I am.” The context determines the best way to translate exousia, and in our text today, it is right to translate it “authority.” One scholar explains that it is “the possibility granted by a higher norm or court, and therefore ‘the right to do something or the right over something.’” He goes on to explain, “The word [exousia] is important in understanding the person and work of Christ. It denotes His divinely given power and authority to act.” We will come back to the importance of this word for Jesus’ person and work in the following paragraphs, but at this point, it is necessary to show where the word exousia comes from.
We derive it from a word that essentially means, “Apart from my being.” This means that authority has to be bestowed. No one can claim it for himself or herself. This helps make Jesus’ statement in Matthew 28:19 so amazing. “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.” Notice two things. First, Jesus claims He has authority. Second, He admits that the authority He claims to have has been given to Him.
Authority is not something to beat people over the head with. Authority should cause us to be humble. In whatever office we find ourselves in—government, husband, father, employer, pastor—we should view the authority God has given us as a stewardship to be handled carefully. As i said in my introduction, “With great authority comes great responsibility.”
Let’s look now at what Jesus did with His authority.
Authority over God’s Word
Mark demonstrates Jesus’ authority over the Word of God in verses 21-23. He writes,
“After coming into the synagogue, He was teaching. And they were amazed at his teaching, for He was teaching them as one who had authority, and not as the scribes. And immediately, a man with an unclean spirit was in the synagogue.”
Mark does not tell us specifically what Jesus was teaching, but since Mark had already told us in Mark 1:14 that the primary focus of His teaching ministry was the Gospel, we can be safe to assume that Jesus was preaching the Gospel. And, if Luke’s example of Jesus’ synagogue teaching in Luke 4:18-21 is any hint, Jesus is connecting His teaching in the synagogue to Himself.
There are two statements in our text that prove that Jesus authoritatively wielded the Word of God. First, the people were amazed at his teaching, because He was not teaching them like the scribes. In essence, the people are admitting that the scribes had no authority over God’s Word. R.C. Sproul helpfully explains,
The scribes could cite other scholars and rabbinic traditions. They could try to marshal arguments to support what they were teaching, just as we try to do today in the academic world. But Jesus did not do that—He provided no footnotes, no citations, no marshaling of other people’s arguments. His teaching might have inspired bumper stickers on the chariots in those days: “Jesus said it, that settles it.” When God says something, the argument is over.
John MacArthur adds, “[The scribes] often taught in ways that were mystical, muddled, and often focused on minutiae. But Jesus was clearly different. He did not derive His theology from the musings of other people, nor did He offer a variety of possible explanations. His teaching was absolute not arbitrary . . . His arguments were reasonable, inescapable, and focused on essential matters.”
From a look at Jesus’ sermon in Nazareth in Luke 4, it is clear that Jesus focused on essential matters. He read the text, and then He followed it up with the words, “Today as you listen, this Scripture has been fulfilled” (4:21). Essentially, “This text is talking about Me.” If we want to claim authority when we speak the Word of God, we need to remember that God’s Word is authoritative by itself; it is God’s Word, after all. But if we want to claim authority when we are proclaiming it, we must make sure that we are preaching the Gospel—“God’s power to salvation for everyone who believes” (Romans 1:16)—or else we’re just rambling like the scribes whether we use quotes from commentaries or not.
Also, if Jesus has authority over the Word of God, and if Jesus is God’s Word (John 1:1), then we must submit ourselves to the authority of the written Word. We must be regularly reading it, regularly meditating on what we find within it, regularly praying through what we are confronted with therein. This is the proper response to the authority of God’s Word.
Second, the authority Jesus wielded with the Word of God revealed uncleanness in the synagogue. “And immediately, a man with an unclean spirit was in the synagogue.” We are reading into this verse if we say, “Oh, a guy just walked into the synagogue off the street, and he had a demon.” (I will admit that was how i initially saw this verse.) But it makes much more sense to say that this was a man who regularly came to the synagogue, and it wasn’t until the authoritative preaching of Christ crashed into his ears that he was exposed as having an unclean spirit (a demon).
The authority of Christ over the Word of God carries into His proclamation of the Word of God, and from there it exposes the thoughts and intentions of the heart (cf. Hebrews 4:12). And in this specific situation, the response was violent.
Authority over creation
Mark demonstrates Jesus’ authority over creation in verses 23-26. He writes,
“And immediately, a man with an unclean spirit was in the synagogue, and he cried out, saying, ‘What to us and to You, Jesus Nazarene? Have You come to destroy us? I know who You are, the holy one of God.’ And Jesus rebuked him, saying, ‘Silence! Come out from him!’ And after shaking him and crying out in a loud voice, the unclean spirit came out from him.”
The man exposed as having a demon cries out, and i would bet it wasn’t until he started talking that people even realized he had a demon. He cries out, “What to us and to You, Jesus Nazarene? Have You come to destroy us? I know who You are, the holy one of God.”
He likely would have continued had not Jesus told him to shut up, but just look at the three phrases he speaks:
“What to us and to you?” is an idiom from the time essentially meaning, “What do we have to do with each other?” I kept it in the original expression because it exposes the plurality of the man’s statement: “Us.” The people would likely have been thinking, “You’re just one guy.”
And it only gets more severe when he cries out, “Have you come to destroy us?” The people are likely wondering, “What’s wrong with this guy? Billy Bob has never acted like this before. Jesus is a great teacher; He’s not trying to destroy anyone.”
When the man cries out, “I know who You are, the holy one of God,” not only has the demon wholly taken over the man’s vocal capabilities, but Jesus has had enough of the demon’s unrestrained shouting.
Even if the people didn’t know that the man was possessed, Jesus did know. He diagnoses the situation correctly, and He speaks authoritatively: “Silence! Come out from him!”
The text proves that Jesus speaks authoritatively: “And after shaking him and crying out in a loud voice, the unclean spirit came out from him.” What did Jesus tell the demon to do? Be quiet about the identity of Jesus, and literally: “come out from him.” And what did the demon do: It cried out in anger as it threw the man into a convulsion (obeying Jesus’ command to cease speaking about Him), and it literally: “came out from him.” The words for Jesus’ command and the demon’s response are identical. Jesus has absolute authority over creation.
This is the same Jesus we worship today. No one is beyond His authoritative voice. No one is too far gone to be cleansed from their sin. No one is too sick for Jesus to miraculously touch them with His healing voice (even today). This is the Jesus we worship.
People Recognize HIS Authority
The second thing Mark wants to prove in this text is that people recognize Jesus’ authority. Mark writes the following in Mark 1:27-28,
“And all were amazed so that [they began] to discuss with each other, saying, ‘What is this? A new teaching with authority: He even commands the unclean spirits, and they obey Him.’ And the report of Him immediately went out everywhere into the whole region of Galilee.”
Jesus’ restoring of this man in the synagogue had far-reaching effects. The they following Jesus is more than Simon, Andrew, James, and John from this point forward. Everyone wants a piece of the action. Everyone wants something from Jesus.
But at this point, the rumors are just being concocted. The people in the synagogue at Capernaum are amazed. The force behind the word is “frozen in place.” They cannot believe what they have just witnessed—heard and seen. So, they start talking about it and discussing it. Some translations take it so far as to say, “They began to argue with each other.” No one had any sensible solution for what they had seen and heard: “What is this? A new teaching with authority: He even commands the unclean spirits, and they obey Him.”
The only thing they could agree on was that Jesus possessed authority.
Mark writes this letter with the hope that we see what the people missed: “Jesus is the Son of God” (Mark 1:1) a theme that will be expounded more fully throughout the book. For the original readers of the letter, 20-30 years removed from the actual events, Mark is saying, “They understood then that something was different about Jesus. Have you recognized it as well? And if you have, will you just discuss it and argue about it, or will you live by it?”
And that’s His question to us today, too.
Will You Submit to HIS Authority?
There are two responses to Jesus’ authority in this text. First, that of a demon and a possessed man. They recognize that they are unworthy to be in Jesus’ presence. Jesus is holy, and He cannot be in the presence of sin. They also understand that destruction is coming for people who remain n a place of sin. Not only that, but they acknowledge that Jesus will be the one to send people to destruction. This is a terrifying thought. Have you understood this truth?
Second, the synagogue-worshippers are frozen in amazement. They talk about Jesus, and they propagate stories and rumors about Him that end up drawing crowds to Jesus’ door (1:32) as soon as it is “legal” (according to Jewish Sabbath Laws) to do so.
Neither of these responses is a safe place to be. Though if i had to pick one, I’d pick the man’s response. “I am unworthy. I shouldn’t be near You. I sin. You are holy.” Talking about Jesus doesn’t save a person. And knowing that Jesus is holy doesn’t save a person either. Jesus demands what He called for in Mark 1:15, “Repent and believe the Gospel!”
The Gospel begins with a recognition of our unworthiness. We are sinners. We are under the domain of Satan. If given a choice, we will choose sin and selfishness every single time. However, we cannot stay there. We must remember that Jesus put on human flesh to walk amongst us as a man—fully human and fully divine—veiling His holy hatred of sin in compassion for those who are trapped in sin. And then, after living a perfectly holy life for 33 years, He was crucified on a cross. After 3 days He rose again, proving beyond a doubt that He is the Son of God.
Have you placed your faith in Him?
I pray that you have. And if you have not, yet, i pray that you do it today. Trust Jesus today!
It’s not enough to know about Him. You must trust Him!
There is one with true authority. Let’s bow before Him and give Him the honor and glory HE is due.
In this with you.
Soli Deo Gloria
The next post can be found here.
Thanks for reading.
 Guido de Brès, The Belgic Confession, WORDsearch CROSS e-book, Under: “Article XXIX. The Marks of the True Church, and Wherein It Differs from the False Church” (emphasis added).
 According to the NASB. See list of occurrences here: https://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?Strongs=G1849&t=NASB
 Foerster, “[Exestin, exousia, exousiazo, katexousiazo],” Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, vol. 2 (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmanns Publishing Co, 1964), 562, 568.
 R. C. Sproul. Mark (Kindle Locations 640-643). Reformation Trust Publishing.
 John MacArthur, Mark 1-8 (Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2015), 61.