Battle with the ‘strong man’


“May your Kingdom come soon.
May your will be done on earth,
    as it is in heaven.” – Matthew 6:10

The kingdom of God is something that the NT authors pray for, not something they consider already accomplished.  They understand that the only way the kingdom of God comes about is by overthrowing the illegitimate kingdom now in place.

This is precisely the reason healing and exorcisms played such a central role in Jesus’ ministry —

“But if I am casting out demons by the power of God, then the Kingdom of God has arrived among you”. – Luke 11:20

To do the one was to do the other.

Some examples of this recurring phenomenon pertain to the thematic beginnings of Jesus’ ministry in Mark and Luke and make the point clear.  In the opening of Mark’s Gospel, Jesus begins His ministry by announcing —

“The time promised by God has come at last!” he announced. “The Kingdom of God is near! Repent of your sins and believe the Good News!” – Mark 1:15

This is the complete content of what Mark tells us about Jesus’ preaching.

After calling His disciples, Jesus amazes the people with the authority of His teaching.  Immediately a man demonized by an unclean spirit cries out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth?  The first person plural here perhaps indicates that the demon is speaking on behalf of the entire army of which he is a part.  But the demon continues in the singular —

“Suddenly, a man in the synagogue who was possessed by an evil spirit began shouting, “Why are you interfering with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!” – Mark 1:23-24

In contrast to all earthly players in Mark’s narrative, those in the demonic kingdom know who Jesus is and have suspicions about what it is he has come to earth to do.

Jesus has in fact come to —

 “But when people keep on sinning, it shows that they belong to the devil, who has been sinning since the beginning. But the Son of God came to destroy the works of the devil.”         1 John 3:8

The demons know this means their destruction.  He rebukes the demon, telling him to silent, literally, “be strangled” (phimoo). After Jesus strangles the demon  with His divine authority, the demon throws the man to the ground and leaves him with a shriek.  Mark notes that the people were again —

” Amazement gripped the audience, and they began to discuss what had happened. “What sort of new teaching is this?” they asked excitedly. “It has such authority! Even evil spirits obey his orders!” – Mark 1:27

The two, we see, go hand in hand.

Mark follows this with a record of Jesus’ healing of Peter’s mother-in-law’s fever.  Jesus takes authority as if this was demonically induced as descried in the Lukan parallel account —

“That evening after sunset, many sick and demon-possessed people were brought to Jesus.  The whole town gathered at the door to watch.  So Jesus healed many people who were sick with various diseases, and he cast out many demons. But because the demons knew who he was, he did not allow them to speak” – Mark 1:32-34

The kingdom of God was near indeed.

Next in Mark’s account, Jesus tells His disciples that He wants to go into other villages and  —

“But Jesus replied, “We must go on to other towns as well, and I will preach to them, too. That is why I came.”      Mark 1:38

This He proceeds to do, and mark summarizes His activity by noting —

 “So he traveled throughout the region of Galilee, preaching in the synagogues and casting out demons”. – Mark 1:39

Jesus then heals a man of leprosy, followed by an account of Jesus healing a paralytic on the Sabbath. After a brief interlude, we find Jesus again healing people —

“He had healed many people that day, so all the sick people eagerly pushed forward to touch him.  And whenever those possessed by evil spirits caught sight of him, the spirits would throw them to the ground in front of him shrieking, “You are the Son of God!”  But Jesus sternly commanded the spirits not to reveal who he was.” – Mark 3:10-12

Several verses later we have Mark’s account of the Beelzebub controversy, Jesus presents Himself as the one who has come to tie up the strong man by the power of God.  And we are not yet out of Mark’s third chapter.

Remember Jesus’ temptations – He withstands each one, including Satan’s offer to all the kingdoms of the world, and defeated, the devil finally leaves Him.  Unlike all other humans, Jesus did not become a slave to sin and thus come under Satan’s power.  He declares in John —

 “I don’t have much more time to talk to you, because the ruler of this world approaches. He has no power over me,  but I will do what the Father requires of me, so that the world will know that I love the Father. Come, let’s be going.” – John 14:30-31

One stronger than the “strong man” has finally arrived.

Jesus begins to announce that the kingdom of God has arrived in His own person.  He stands up in the synagogue and reads from Isaiah that —

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
    for he has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released,
    that the blind will see,
that the oppressed will be set free,
   and that the time of the Lord’s favor has come.’           Luke 4:18-19

After an awkward silence, Jesus adds —

“The Scripture you’ve just heard has been fulfilled this very day!” – Luke 4:21

When He’s driven out-of-town, we begin to see concretely what this proclamation of the kingdom means.  As in Mark, Jesus immediately confronts a demon-possessed man in a Capernaum synagogue —

“Go away! Why are you interfering with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!” – Luke 4:34

Jesus strangles the demon, setting the prisoner of Satan free.  With this exorcism, Jesus shows His application of the Isaiah passage to Himself and clearly demonstrates the freedom prophesied.

Jesus then proceeds to rebuke a demonic fever, heal multitudes of sick people and cast out multitudes of shrieking demons.  Shortly afterwards, He heals a man of leprosy, a paralytic and a man with a withered hand.  As Clinton Arnold argues, the point is that the prisoners who are to be set free are trapped in the bondage and oppression of Satan’s kingdom.

Battling the Strong Man in Prayer: Mark 3:27


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