Mark 1:21-28, “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.”
“What is this?” asked the gathered crowd. They had just witnessed Jesus’ deliver an unclean spirit from a man. So, they “questioned among themselves” as they wondered as to the true identity of Jesus (Mark 1:27).
“Who is this?” “What is this?” are good questions to ask when it comes to the identify of Jesus Christ. A central purpose of the gospel accounts was to address these questions. Salvation itself hinges on a right understanding of such truths.
Paradoxically, in this account, the wrong group had the right answers. It was anything but a typical day at the synagogue. For one thing, Jesus came and taught in an altogether radical manner—he taught as one having authority. Unlike the Pharisees, who taught by citing authorities and demonstrated their own lack of heart for truth in their religious hypocrisy, Jesus cited no one. He spoke with the authority of the One who embodied truth. So the people were astonished as it His teaching, but that in itself did not convince them of His true identity.
If that wasn’t enough, perhaps because the demons could not possibly hide out in Jesus’ presence, a man with an unclean spirit 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” (Mark 1:24). Unlike the people, the demons were not confused as to the identity of Jesus. They knew immediately who He was (Cf. James 2:19). Another difference between the response of the people vs. that of the demons is that whereas the people were astonished, the demons were afraid. They understood that Jesus, the creator of all things, had authority over them. By Jesus’ mere words, the demons were exorcised from the man—suddenly, dramatically. We are reminded of Jesus’ response to the blasphemous leaders who accused Jesus of delivering demons by the power of Beelzebub, when He said, “Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and no city or house divided against itself will stand. And if Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then will his kingdom stand? And if I cast out demons by Beelzebub, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore, they will be your judges. But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you” (Matthew 12-25-28). Indeed, the Kingdom had come in the person of Jesus Christ, He spoke as a King and wielded power as the supreme authority.
John MacArthur commented on this matter: “The people didn’t know who He was, the demons did…the demons knew they had reason to be afraid…when sinners come to a true understanding of the authority of Christ as the Son of God, they are also terrified…the [demons]were terrified and could not be saved. The people were amazed and would not be saved…the amazed people and the terrified demons end up in the same hell.”
But, no doubt, there were some who heard what He taught and witnessed what He did and were later Spirit led to a discovery of the truth. Human rulers are human, they all have their flaws, some more than others. But what do we find in Jesus—One who knows of that which He speaks and One who has power and authority, to deal with our greatest foe. “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil” (1 John 3:8). Here we have an example of that, and it reminds us that Jesus has the power to “deliver us (any of us) from the domain of darkness” and bring us into His benevolent Kingdom (Colossians 1:13).