Resources » Matthew Henry's Commentary » Mark » Chapter 1 » Verses 23–28

Verses 23–28

As soon as Christ began to preach, he began to work miracles for the confirmation of his doctrine; and they were such as intimated the design and tendency of his doctrine, which were to conquer Satan, and cure sick souls.

In these verses, we have,

I. Christ’s casting the devil out of a man that was possessed, in the synagogue at Capernaum. This passage was not related in Matthew, but is afterward in Luke 4:33. There was in the synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, en pneumati akathartoin an unclean spirit; for the spirit had the man in his possession, and led him captive at his will. So the whole world is said to lie en to poneroin the wicked one. And some have thought it more proper to say, The body is in the soul, because it is governed by it, than the soul in the body. He was in the unclean spirit, as a man is said to be in a fever, or in a frenzy, quite overcome by it. Observe, The devil is here called an unclean spirit, because he has lost all the purity of his nature, because he acts in direct opposition to the Holy Spirit of God, and because with his suggestions he pollutes the spirits of men. This man was in the synagogue; he did not come either to be taught or to be healed, but, as some think, to confront Christ and oppose him, and hinder people from believing on him. Now here we have,

1. The rage which the unclean spirit expressed at Christ; He cried out, as one in an agony, at the presence of Christ, and afraid of being dislodged; thus the devils believe and tremble, have a horror of Christ, but no hope in him, nor reverence for him. We are told what he said, Mark 1:24; where he doth not go about to capitulate with him, or make terms (so far was he from being in league or compact with him), but speaks as one that knew his doom. (1.) He calls him Jesus of Nazareth; for aught that appears, he was the first that called him so, and he did it with design to possess the minds of the people with low thoughts of him, because no good thing was expected out of Nazareth; and with prejudices against him as a Deceiver, because every body knew the Messiah must be of Bethlehem. (2.) Yet a confession is extorted from him—that he is the holy One of God, as was from the damsel that had the spirit of divination concerning the apostles—that they were the servants of the most high God, Acts 16:16, 17. Those who have only a notion of Christ—that he is the holy One of God, and have no faith in him, or love to him, go no further than the devil doth. (3.) He in effect acknowledgeth that Christ was too hard for him, and that he could not stand before the power of Christ; “Let us alone; for if thou take us to task, we are undone, thou canst destroy us.” This is the misery of those wicked spirits, that they persist in their rebellion, and yet know it will end in their destruction. (4.) He desires to have nothing to do with Jesus Christ; for he despairs of being saved by him, and dreads being destroyed by him. “What have we to do with thee? If thou wilt let us alone, we will let thee alone.” See whose language they speak, that say to the Almighty, Depart from us. This, being an unclean spirit, therefore hated and dreaded Christ, because he knew him to be a holy One; for the carnal mind is enmity against God, especially against his holiness.

2. The victory which Jesus Christ obtained over the unclean spirit; for this purpose was the Son of God manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil, and so he makes it to appear; nor will he be turned back from prosecuting this war, either by his flatteries or by his menaces. It is in vain for Satan to beg and pray, Let us alone; his power must be broken, and the poor man must be relieved; and therefore, (1.) Jesus commands. As he taught, so he healed, with authority. Jesus rebuked him; he chid him and threatened him, imposed silence upon him; Hold thy peace; phimothetibe muzzled. Christ has a muzzle for that unclean spirit when he fawns as well as when he barks; such acknowledgments of him as this was, Christ disdains, so far is he from accepting them. Some confess Christ to be the holy One of God, that under the cloak of that profession they may carry on malicious mischievous designs; but their confession is doubly an abomination to the Lord Jesus, as it sues in his name for a license to sin, and shall therefore be put to silence and shame. But this is not all, he must not only hold his peace, but he must come out of the man; this was it he dreaded—his being restrained from doing further mischief. But, (2.) The unclean spirit yields, for there is no remedy (Mark 1:26); He tore him, put him into a strong convulsion; that one could have thought he had been pulled in pieces; when he would not touch Christ, in fury at him he grievously disturbed this poor creature. Thus, when Christ by his grace delivers poor souls out of the hands of Satan, it is not without a grievous toss and tumult in the soul; for that spiteful enemy will disquiet those whom he cannot destroy. He cried with a loud voice, to frighten the spectators, and make himself seem terrible, as if he would have it thought that though he was conquered, he was but just conquered, and that he hopes to rally again, and recover his ground.

II. The impression which this miracle made upon the minds of the people, Mark 1:27, 28.

1. It astonished them that saw it; They were all amazed. It was evident, beyond contradiction, that the man was possessed—witness the tearing of him, and the loud voice with which the spirit cried; it was evident that he was forced out by the authority of Christ; this was surprising to them, and put them upon considering with themselves, and enquiring of one another, “What is this new doctrine? For it must certainly be of God, which is thus confirmed. He hath certainly an authority to command us, who hath ability to command even the unclean spirits, and they cannot resist him, but are forced to obey him.” The Jewish exorcists pretended by charm or invocation to drive away evil spirits; but this was quite another thing, with authority he commands them. Surely it is our interest to make him our Friend, who has the control of infernal spirits.

2. It raised his reputation among all that heard it; Immediately his fame spread abroad into the whole adjacent region of Galilee, which was a third part of the land of Canaan. The story was presently got into every one’s mouth, and people wrote it to their friends all the country over, together with the remark made upon it, What new doctrine is this? So that it was universally concluded, that he was a Teacher come from God, and under that character he shone more bright than if he had appeared in all the external pomp and power which the Jews expected their Messiah to appear in; and thus he prepared his own way, now that John, who was his harbinger, was clapped up; and the fame of this miracle spread the further, because as yet the Pharisees, who envied his fame, and laboured to eclipse it, had not advanced their blasphemous suggestion, that he cast out devils by compact with the prince of the devils.