A Lesson About Authority (Mark 1:21-28)

Jesus teaching on a hill side

Jesus said simply, "I say to you..."


They went to Capernaum, and when the Sabbath came, Jesus went into the synagogue and began to teach. The people were amazed at his teaching, because he taught them as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law. Just then a man in their synagogue who was possessed by an impure spirit cried out, “What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!”

“Be quiet!” said Jesus sternly. “Come out of him!” The impure spirit shook the man violently and came out of him with a shriek.

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.” News about him spread quickly over the whole region of Galilee.

The teachers of the law didn’t speak with their own authority. They necessarily prefaced their comments with something like “There is a saying that...” or “Rabbi Such-and-Such said...” Even the prophets rightly attributed their pronouncements to “Thus says the Lord...” But Jesus said simply, “I say to you...”

Here was a man who spoke with his own authority, not in the name of another. That alone was amazing. But if that were not amazing enough, Jesus demonstrated his authority when he told an evil spirit what to do, and the evil spirit obeyed.

In Jesus’ day, evil spirits were considered, even by many Jewish teachers, to be numerous and powerful, hanging around everywhere and doing whatever they could to inflict trouble and suffering. When someone seemed to be possessed of a demon, the exorcists, whether Jewish or pagan, used complicated magical rites and spells to compel the demon to leave. The power was in the magic, it was believed, so whoever knew the right incantations and ingredients and methods could use them to bring about the unseen conditions that would manipulate the spirit world.

But Jesus was astonishingly different. When the demon-possessed man disrupted the meeting, Jesus simply ordered the demon to leave, and it left. The people in the synagogue had never seen anything like it. Who could have such authority that even the evil spirits have to obey his straightforward word?

Not authoritarian

Jesus, the Son of God, had all the authority in the world—in the universe. God created all things through him and put all things under him. So even these spirits that turned evil, though he allowed them to exist, were completely subject to him (see Colossians 1:16; Ephesians 1:20-21).

Yet Jesus did not use his incomparable authority the way we humans tend to use our little sprigs of authority. Man, proud man, drest in a little brief authority, wrote Shakespeare. For many humans, authority becomes merely a means of enriching oneself, of getting one’s own way, of suppressing the truth, and of getting and holding the power to keep doing those things. Witness the parade of totalitarian regimes, corporate executive, government and ecclesiastical scandals, tyrannical parents, bosses, teachers, government officials and the like.

Not so with Jesus. He has all the authority there is, yet he uses it entirely differently from the way many people would. Let’s look at a few examples:

  1. He took action when necessary. Jesus did not stifle normal living by trying to prevent all possibility of something going wrong. He didn’t post sentries at the doors to keep all potential demon-possessed-looking people from coming in. He simply dealt with the problem decisively when it arose.

  2. He didn’t overreact. Jesus didn’t make a Broadway production out of making the demon leave. He didn’t knock the demon around for a while, tell it off for 10 minutes, scream at it, kill it or declare war on all demons. He just made it go.

  3. He didn’t crow about it. Jesus didn’t use the incident to further his image. He didn’t print up flyers and bill himself as the one who tossed out the demon.

Servant authority

Jesus uses authority to serve, not to be served. And that is how he wants us to use whatever authority we might have. Whether our authority is at home, at work, or somewhere else, he wants us to use it to help others, not to make ourselves into big shots.

Later in Mark’s Gospel, Jesus explained it to his disciples like this, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:42-45).

What a difference it makes when the authority we’re subject to is a blessing instead of a curse. “When the wicked rule, the people groan,” says Proverbs 29:2. It is when authority is used to help, not to overpower, that those under it can rejoice.

Jesus doesn’t overpower us to make us knuckle under. He serves us with patience and mercy, helping us grow to see how much we need him. Sin is a cruel, harsh, manipulative, unforgiving taskmaster. Jesus is compassionate, gracious, patient, loving and merciful. The authority of sin is fraudulent, but the authority of Jesus is absolute.

Walk with Jesus

Why not take your needs to Jesus? Give your problems to him and trust him to see you through them.

When it comes to Jesus’ authority in our lives, how do you think he uses it? To help us, or to lord it over us? Many of us live as though we think Jesus uses his authority to lord it over us. We assume his love for us is conditioned on how well we behave. We feel discouraged and fearful that God no longer loves us when we fail to measure up in our obedience.

But Jesus uses his authority to help us, not to destroy us. He drives out the demons, not us. And literal evil spirits are not the only kind of demons Jesus has authority over and drives out for us. Sin itself is an enemy that does us damage and lords it over us. So are our fears and our doubts.

When our sins and fears start a commotion, it’s time for us to take them to the one who knows how to handle them. We can take them to Jesus in prayer and trust him to know what to do.

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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV®. Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™  Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.com

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This article was written by Mike Feazell in 2003 and was updated in 2012.

What’s your enemy? What habit, what sin, what fear plagues you, saps your courage and energy? What has you beaten down, enslaved? Whatever it is, it cannot withstand the authority of Jesus. When you give these battles to him, the complexion of the war changes — the enemy is on the run. When you stand close to Jesus, these enemies can’t have the last word and can’t push you around. When your attention is on Jesus, they don’t seem so fearsome, so strong, because Jesus puts them into perspective as the puny weaklings they really are. In Jesus, you are bold and strong, and these bullying, fast-talking fears and sinful habits are weak and insignificant.

Why not take your needs to Jesus? Give your problems to him and trust him to see you through them. He’s there for you, now and always.

For reflection:

  • Why were those at the synagogue amazed at Jesus’ teaching?

  • Why did the evil spirits have to obey Jesus?

  • How did Jesus use authority?

  • How can Jesus help you?

For further reading:

God Is for Us by C. Baxter Kruger, Perichoresis Press, 1995.

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