Demonic but Accurate but Incomplete

I know who you are–the Holy One of God. (Mark 1:24)

Mark 1:21-28

In this passage from Mark, Jesus seizes and retains the initiative in his encounter with a demonic power. The demon recognizes but does not submit to Jesus’ authority. It tells the truth when it says, “You have come to destroy us … you are the Holy One of God” (1:24). Jesus tells the demonic voice to be quiet and leave his victim. The demon’s response is immediate, involuntary and unpleasant. Convulsing his victim and crying out, the demon is expelled by Jesus’ word. We look in vain for a life lesson in this story. There is no answer to the question, “What should we do?” other than to be amazed. This is a true sola gratia passage.

The reader must understand this episode in the Gospel of Mark in relation to the rest of Mark’s narrative. Jesus teaches and acts with absolute authority. His acts of dominion over demonic powers represent the plundering of Satan’s household (3:27). The demon here announces that Jesus is the Holy One of God (1:24), but Jesus doesn’t welcome this announcement. On the contrary, he silences the demon (1:25). Instead of engendering true faith in the people, this act of power bring mere astonishment with confusion (1:27). Mark repeats these themes in various form throughout the first half of the gospel in order to set the stage for the second half of his narrative. The picture of Jesus as a man of divine power and authority is accurate but incomplete. Mark’s portrayal of Jesus as the suffering servant of God in the passion narrative (8:31ff) is required to complete the picture. In fact, the way of the cross is the controlling image. Jesus’ acts of power are to be understood in light of his suffering, and not the other way around. What is true about Jesus is also true about his disciples. They have authority to cast out demons (6:7), but they are also called to deny themselves and take up their crosses as they follow Jesus (8:34).

Our Lord is plundering the dominion of Satan, to be sure, though acts of power that bring localized, temporary and imperfect experiences of God’s perfect kingdom – but more so by his giving of himself for us. The consummation of his kingdom awaits the appearing of the Son of Man (13:26-27). In this world, it is the experience of the cross which is essential.

Chiasmus in Mark 1:21-28