Mark 1:21-28 tells us that Jesus taught, but it doesn’t tell us what he taught, at least not in the same way that the other gospels do. By Donald English’s count in The Message of Mark, the evangelist uses the verb “to teach” of Jesus 16 times, and identifies Jesus as a “teacher” 11 times. Anyone familiar with the four gospels, however, will know that Mark’s volume focuses on deeds, not words.
Instead of telling what Jesus taught, Mark 1:21-28 tells us how he taught: as one with authority. Mark 1:21-28 is a chiasm, an x-shaped rhetorical structure that begins and ends with the same affirmation: the people were amazed because Jesus taught with authority.
The central part of the passage makes it clear what Mark means by “authority.” He’s not referring to a winsome personality or gifted speech-making. He’s not telling us that Jesus gave more interesting talks or compelling speeches than did the scribes, to whom Jesus is compared in verse 22. He’s not even telling us that the scribes were purveyors of legalistic minutiae while Jesus expounded the great themes of the law, or that Jesus had a greater intimate, personal or social connection with his audience.
Rather, the authority that Jesus exhibited was inextricably related to the message he proclaimed: the time is fulfilled – the kingdom of God is at hand (Mark 1:15).
Jesus told an unclean spirit to come out of a man, and it did, rather dramatically.
Jesus’ word is effective in the same that that God’s word is effective in creation. God speaks, and it is so. Jesus speaks, and stuff happens. Jesus speaks, and the kingdom shows its face.
If this is the case in Mark 1:21-28, perhaps it is also true in Mark 1:16-20, the calling of Simon, Andrew, James and John. When Jesus says to them, “Follow me,” is he not speaking with the same effective authority?
In other words, do Jesus’ first disciples follow him because he is such a terrific guy, a relevant teacher, an inspiring community organizer, an amazing life coach or a gifted orator, or do they follow because they are responding to the kingdom authority present in Jesus’ words?
When Mark tells us that Jesus teaches with authority, he’s not telling us that there was something special about Jesus’ personality. Rather, he’s telling us something about his Being and the Kingdom that he proclaimed.
Also on Mark 1:21-28: