Mark 1


Who wrote Mark’s Gospel?

It was John whose surname was Mark.

‘When this had dawned on him, he went to the house of Mary the mother of John, also called Mark, where many people had gathered and were praying.’ Acts 12:12

‘When Barnabas and Saul had finished their mission, they returned from Jerusalem, taking with them John, also called Mark.’ Acts 12:25

Mark or Marcus, was his Roman name, which gradually came to supersede his Jewish name John. He is called John in Acts 13:5

‘When they arrived at Salamis, they proclaimed the word of God in the Jewish synagogues. John was with them as their helper.’

‘From Paphos, Paul and his companions sailed to Perga in Pamphylia, where John left them to return to Jerusalem.’ Acts 13:13

But he is called Mark in Acts 15:39

‘They had such a sharp disagreement that they parted company. Barnabas took Mark and sailed for Cyprus’.

‘Get Mark and bring him with you, because he is helpful to me in my ministry.’ 2 Timothy 4:11

He was the son of Mary, a woman apparently of some means and influence, and was probably born in Jerusalem, where his mother resided.

‘When this had dawned on him, he went to the house of Mary the mother of John, also called Mark, where many people had gathered and were praying.’ Acts 12:12

Of his father, we know nothing, but we know he was cousin of Barnabas.

‘My fellow prisoner Aristarchus sends you his greetings, as does Mark, the cousin of Barnabas.’ Colossians 4:10

It was in his mother’s house that Peter found

‘many gathered together praying’

when he was released from prison and it is probable that it was here that he was converted by Peter, who calls him his ‘son’.

‘She who is in Babylon, chosen together with you, sends you her greetings, and so does my son Mark.’ 1 Peter 5:13

It is probable that the ‘young man’ spoken of in Mark 14:51-52 was Mark himself.

‘A young man, wearing nothing but a linen garment, was following Jesus. When they seized him, he fled naked, leaving his garment behind’.

He is first mentioned in Acts 12:25

‘When Barnabas and Saul had finished their mission, they returned from Jerusalem, taking with them John, also called Mark.’

He went with Paul and Barnabas on their first journey, about A.D. 47 as their ‘minister’, but from some cause turned back when they reached Perga in Pamphylia.

‘When Barnabas and Saul had finished their mission, they returned from Jerusalem, taking with them John, also called Mark.’ Acts 12:25

‘From Paphos, Paul and his companions sailed to Perga in Pamphylia, where John left them to return to Jerusalem.’ Acts 13:13

Three years afterwards a ‘sharp dispute’ arose between Paul and Barnabas because Paul would not take Mark with him.

‘Some time later Paul said to Barnabas, ‘Let us go back and visit the believers in all the towns where we preached the word of the Lord and see how they are doing.’ Barnabas wanted to take John, also called Mark, with them, but Paul did not think it wise to take him, because he had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not continued with them in the work. They had such a sharp disagreement that they parted company. Barnabas took Mark and sailed for Cyprus, but Paul chose Silas and left, commended by the believers to the grace of the Lord.’ Acts 15:36-40

He, however, was evidently at length reconciled to the apostle, for he was with him in his first imprisonment at Rome.

‘My fellow prisoner Aristarchus sends you his greetings, as does Mark, the cousin of Barnabas.’ Colossians 4:10

‘Epaphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus, sends you greetings. And so do Mark, Aristarchus, Demas and Luke, my fellow workers.’ Philemon 23-24

At a later period, he was with Peter in Babylon

‘She who is in Babylon, chosen together with you, sends you her greetings, and so does my son Mark.’ 1 Peter 5:13

Then, and for some centuries afterwards, one of the chief seats of Jewish learning; and he was with Timothy in Ephesus when Paul wrote him during his second imprisonment.

‘Get Mark and bring him with you, because he is helpful to me in my ministry.’ 2 Timothy 4:11

He then disappears from view.


History says Mark went to Egypt and was the

‘Founder of the Coptic Church’,

for which Rome made him a ‘saint’. The name ‘Copts’ denotes the native Egyptians, ‘Christians’ as distinct from Moslems and other invaders and settlers, who entered the land.

There are many stories and traditions concerning Mark one example is that he was martyred in 68 A.D., having been dragged through the streets of Alexandria, where his body was preserved until 828 A.D. In that year, it was smuggled out of the city by merchants from Venice, to protect it from the Moslems who had captured Alexandria.

The merchants successfully hid the body under a layer of pork, which, of course, no Moslem would touch, and it is still kept in a Venetian Cathedral, which is said to have been built on the site of the house in which the bones were originally kept. Mark’s head is still revered in Alexandria.

To whom was it written?

‘Each of the four had the face of a human being, and on the right side each had the face of a lion, and on the left the face of an ox; each also had the face of an eagle.’ Ezekiel 4:10

‘The first living creature was like a lion, the second was like an ox, the third had a face like a man, the fourth was like a flying eagle’. Revelation 4:7

Some suggest that these four faces represent Jesus in the four Gospels

Matthew, represents the face of the lion which implies Jesus’ kingship, Jesus is from the line of Judah.

Luke, represents the face of the man, which implies humanity, Jesus is the Son of Man.

John, represents the face of the eagle, which molies Jesus’ deity, Jesus is the Son of God.

Mark, represents the face of the ox, which implies the servant, service, the serving Jesus.

Matthew was written for Jews and he uses the words

‘as it is written’

throughout his Gospel. Note the genealogy goes back to Abraham, the father of the Jewish nation. Matthew 1:1-17. His point is to remind the Jews that Jesus is the Messiah in fulfilment of the Jewish Law.

Luke is written for the Greeks and he uses the term,

‘Son of Man’

throughout his Gospel. Notice his genealogy goes back to Adam, his point is that Jesus is for the whole world. Luke 3:23-38.

John is writing to those in Asia and he uses the term ‘Son of God’ throughout his Gospel. His point is to demonstrate that Jesus is the Christ through signs, 8 miracles and 8 ‘I AM’ statements.

Mark is writing to Romans and he simply talks about what Jesus is doing and how busy He is, which is exactly what the Romans were doing building roads etc., they were busy people. It was intended primarily for Romans. This appears probable when it is considered that it makes no reference to the Jewish law, and that the writer takes care to interpret words which a Gentile would be likely to misunderstand.

1. Mark 3:17

‘James son of Zebedee and his brother John (to them he gave the name Boanerges, which means ‘sons of thunder’)’

2. Mark 5:41

‘He took her by the hand and said to her, ‘Talitha koum!’ (which means ‘Little girl, I say to you, get up!’).

3. Mark 7:11

‘But you say that if anyone declares that what might have been used to help their father or mother is Corban (that is, devoted to God)’.

4. Mark 10:46

‘As Jesus and his disciples, together with a large crowd, were leaving the city, a blind man, Bartimaeus (which means ‘son of Timaeus’), was sitting by the roadside begging.’

5. Mark 14:36

‘Abba, Father,’ he said, ‘everything is possible for you.’

6. Mark 15:34

‘And at three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, ‘Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?’ (which means ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’).’

Jewish usages are also explained

1. Mark 7:3

‘The Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they give their hands a ceremonial washing, holding to the tradition of the elders.’

2. Mark 14:3

‘While he was in Bethany, reclining at the table in the home of Simon the Leper, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, made of pure nard. She broke the jar and poured the perfume on his head.’

3. Mark 14:12

‘On the first day of the Festival of Unleavened Bread, when it was customary to sacrifice the Passover lamb, Jesus’ disciples asked him, ‘Where do you want us to go and make preparations for you to eat the Passover?’

4. Mark 15:42

‘It was Preparation Day (that is, the day before the Sabbath).’

Mark also uses certain Latin words not found in any of the other Gospels

1. Mark 6:27

‘So he immediately sent an executioner with orders to bring John’s head.’

2. Mark 7:4

‘They don’t eat when they come from the marketplace, unless they bathe themselves, and there are many other things, which they have received to hold to: washings of cups, pitchers, bronze vessels, and couches.’

‘For you set aside the commandment of God, and hold tightly to the tradition of men—the washing of pitchers and cups, and you do many other such things.’ Mark 7:8

3. Mark 12:42

‘But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents.’

4. Mark 15:39

‘And when the centurion, who stood there in front of Jesus, saw how he died, he said, “Surely this man was the Son of God!’

‘Pilate was surprised to hear that he was already dead. Summoning the centurion, he asked him if Jesus had already died. When he learned from the centurion that it was so, he gave the body to Joseph.’ Mark 15:44-45

He only quotes from the Old Testament twice

1. Mark 1:2

‘As it is written in Isaiah the prophet: ‘I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way.’

2. Mark 15:28

‘The Scripture was fulfilled, which says, ‘He was numbered with transgressors.’

The characteristics of Mark’s Gospel

1. The absence of the genealogy of our Lord.

2. Whom he represents as clothed with power, the ‘lion of the tribe of Judah.’

3. Mark also records with wonderful precision.

1. The explanation of words.

‘James son of Zebedee and his brother John (to them he gave the name Boanerges, which means ‘sons of thunder’) Mark 3:17

‘He took her by the hand and said to her, ‘Talitha koum!’ (which means ‘Little girl, I say to you, get up!’) Mark 5:41

‘But you say that if anyone declares that what might have been used to help their father or mother is Corban (that is, devoted to God)’. Mark 7:11

‘He looked up to heaven and with a deep sigh said to him, ‘Ephphatha!’ (which means ‘Be opened!’) Mark 7:34

‘Abba, Father,’ he said, ‘everything is possible for you.’ Mark 14:36

2. The position.

‘Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, ‘Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.’ Mark 9:35

3. The gestures of our Lord.

‘He looked around at them in anger and, deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts, said to the man, ‘Stretch out your hand.’ He stretched it out, and his hand was completely restored.’ Mark 3:5

‘Then he looked at those seated in a circle around him and said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers!’ Mark 3:34

‘But Jesus kept looking around to see who had done it.’ Mark 5:32

‘He took a little child whom he placed among them.’ Mark 9:36

‘And he took the children in his arms, placed his hands on them and blessed them’. Mark 10:16

He is also careful to record the following

1. Facts of people.

‘As soon as they left the synagogue, they went with James and John to the home of Simon and Andrew.’ Mark 1:29

‘Simon and his companions went to look for him’. Mark 1:36

‘Then the Pharisees went out and began to plot with the Herodians how they might kill Jesus.’ Mark 3:6

‘And the teachers of the law who came down from Jerusalem said, ‘He is possessed by Beelzebul! By the prince of demons he is driving out demons.’ Mark 3:22

2. Numbers.

‘He gave them permission, and the impure spirits came out and went into the pigs. The herd, about two thousand in number, rushed down the steep bank into the lake and were drowned.’ Mark 5:13

‘Calling the Twelve to him, he began to send them out two by two and gave them authority over impure spirits.’ Mark 6:7

3. Places.

‘Once again Jesus went out beside the lake.’ Mark 2:13

‘Again Jesus began to teach by the lake.’ Mark 4:1 

‘Then Jesus left the vicinity of Tyre and went through Sidon, down to the Sea of Galilee and into the region of the Decapolis.’ Mark 7:31

4. Times which the other evangelists omit.

‘Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.’ Mark 1:35

‘A few days later, when Jesus again entered Capernaum, the people heard that he had come home.’ Mark 2:1

‘That day when evening came, he said to his disciples, ‘Let us go over to the other side.’ Mark 4:35

The phrase ‘at once’ or ‘straightway’ as the KJV translates it occurs nearly forty times in Mark’s Gospel, while in Luke’s Gospel, which is much longer, it is used only seven times, and in John only four times. The word ‘immediately’ is used 12 times.

The leading principle running through this Gospel may be expressed in the motto, ‘Jesus came, preaching the Gospel of the kingdom’ Mark 1:14 ‘Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God.’

Out of a total of 662 verses, Mark has 406 in common with Matthew and Luke, 145 with Matthew, 60 with Luke, and at most 51 peculiars to itself.

When was it written?

As to the time when it was written, the Gospel furnishes us with no definite information. Mark makes no mention of the destruction of Jerusalem; hence it must have been written before that event, and probably about A.D. 63 The place where it was written was probably Rome.

‘The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God, as it is written in Isaiah the prophet: ‘I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way’— ‘a voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.’ Mark 1:1-3

In the very first verse, Mark announced that he would write about

Jesus Christ, the Son of God

It’s surprising, therefore, that he did not start out by telling about Jesus Himself; instead, he described the work of John the Baptist.

This was because John was to prepare the way for Jesus. John fulfilled this mission by preaching to get people ready for the coming of the Lord.

Referring to the coming of the Messiah, the prophet Isaiah had also said,

‘The Lord, who you seek, will suddenly come to His Temple’. Isaiah 40:3

And look who it is whose coming, is to be announced! 400 years had passed since Malachi made that prediction, 400 years during which the Jews had been waiting for and looked for, the coming of the Messiah. But there had been 400 years of silence. It was even longer, 700 years, since Isaiah had spoken about the coming of ‘The Messenger’, but the time had now come.

Jesus is preaching the kingdom of God, what does that mean? By the way, unless you look closely at Malachi’s prophecy you will miss something which is most important.

‘I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come,’ says the LORD Almighty.’ Malachi 3:1

The prophecy speaks pf someone called ‘my messenger’ that is, God’s Messenger. It also speaks of ‘the messenger of the covenant’.

Two People

One, is the Messenger who prepares the way; that is, John. In Matthew 11:14 Jesus tells us

‘HE (John) is Elijah who was to come!’

The other is the messenger for whom the way is prepared, who is the
bearer of the New Covenant is Jesus.

Mark sums up the mission of John in one word, the word ‘prepare!’ and he wants us to know that when John was unable to preach, Jesus moved into Galilee, John’s territory, and took up the preaching of the message Himself.

The message of the kingdom of God

Now what does that mean?

‘And so, John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River. John wore clothing made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. And this was his message: ‘After me comes the one more powerful than I, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.’ Mark 1:4-8

John came to prepare a people. But not for the purpose that the people imagined! For centuries, they had prayed for His Coming. They believed that when Messiah came, he would drive out the unclean Gentile Romans who were walking the holy streets of Jerusalem, and establish a Kingdom that would bring back the glorious Days of Solomon.

The result was, that when Jesus came they failed to recognize Him, and they rejected Him. I know this shocks us. but perhaps we should not be too shocked because, after all, John himself did not recognise Jesus at first! Only, when, at His baptism, the Holy Spirit descended on Jesus did John realise who it was whom he had baptised!

And even then, when he was in prison, he expresses a troublesome doubt when he sends two messengers to Jesus with a question,

‘are you truly the one who was to come or should we look for someone else?’ Luke 7:20

John’s message focused on two themes that will help us get ready to receive Christ.

1. He preached about repentance.

To repent means to decide to change. John was telling his hearers that they had to reverse their life’s direction to get ready for Christ; those unwilling to change could not come to Him.

2. John declared the greatness of Jesus.

He said Jesus was so great that he himself was not even worthy to stoop down and untie His shoes.

This was an amazing declaration because one does not have to have much worth to untie somebody’s shoes. In fact, in John’s day, untying shoes was considered to be a slave’s lowest duty; John wasn’t worthy to be Jesus’ humblest slave!

So, for us to be ready to receive Jesus, we must repent, change our lives, and recognise His awesome greatness.

Early Events in Jesus’ Mission

‘At that time, Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. Just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” At once the Spirit sent him out into the wilderness, and he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him. Mark 1:9-13

Distances in the life of Jesus

Bethlehem to Jerusalem was 6 miles.
Bethlehem to Nazareth was 91 miles.
Nazareth to Jerusalem was 65-miles.
Jerusalem to Capernaum was 85 miles.
Nazareth to Capernaum was 20 miles.

Consider the places where Jesus had lived

1. Joseph and Mary were both of the lineage of David’ therefore’ when the Romans called for a census, requiring citizens to return to ‘their own city’ to register, they travelled to Bethlehem, ‘The City of David’ where Jesus was born. Luke 2:4.

Bethlehem is only 6 miles south of Jerusalem, and therefore it was easy for the parents to take the child to the Temple in Jerusalem to fulfil the requirement of the Mosaic Law concerning circumcision.

2. They appear to have remained in Bethlehem for a short time, until they were commanded by a heavenly messenger to take the child farther South into Egypt because Herod sought to kill Him. Matthew 2:13-14.

Herod’s edict called for the deaths of all boys under two years of age, obviously thinking that the child whose death he south would be
included in this period.

3. How long the Family remained in Egypt cannot be calculated but what we do know is that Joseph received another divine command to return because Herod had died. Matthew 20:20-23. No specific instruction was given to Joseph relating to their destination.

He was simply told to return to the land of Israel so, when he learned that the cruel Archelaus ruled in Judah in the place of his father, Joseph decided to avoid the Jerusalem area and travelled to Nazareth, an obscure and insignificant little village 91 miles from Bethlehem and 65 miles from Jerusalem.

Here, Jesus lived in obscurity until John the Baptizer began his ministry, we know virtually nothing about this period in the life of in Nazareth, but it is most likely that, since Joseph was a carpenter, and the Mosaic raw said that a father must teach his son a trade, Jesus worked at his father’s bench in Nazareth.

Luke 2:42 records the only occasion when the veil is drawn aside to allow us to see Jesus at 12 years of age going up to Jerusalem for what I believe was ‘Bar Mitzvah’.

It was about 30 years later that He began His own ministry, and almost immediately left Nazareth and went to live in Capernaum which the scriptures describe as ‘His own city’ Matthew 9:2.

The question needs to be asked, why did He move? To fulfil prophecy, Matthew 4:13-17. Just like thousands of others, Jesus came to John to be baptized. But as He emerged from the water, something startling occurred.

The Holy Spirit came down upon Him in the form of a dove and a voice from heaven said,

‘This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.’

God was showing His approval of Jesus in a dramatic way. Then Jesus entered the wilderness where the devil tempted Him. While Matthew and Luke provide more specific information about the temptations (Matthew 4 and Luke 4),

Mark’s brief account shows two things

1. Jesus experienced temptation as all men do.

2. Doing what pleases God, as Jesus did when He was baptized, does not exempt one from temptation. Satan often intensifies his efforts when a person begins to serve God.

‘After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. ‘The time has come,’ he said. ‘The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!’ Mark 1:14-15

The time was fulfilled to redeem those who lived under the curse of the law, Galatians 4:4-5. This was the time of the fulfilment of all prophecies concerning God’s work to bring the Redeemer into the world, Luke 24:44 / Daniel 9:24-27.

This was the time for the establishment of the new covenant, Jeremiah 31:31-34. It was the end of national Israel, for Israel had accomplished her purpose. The purpose for the existence of national Israel was to preserve the seed line of woman in order to bring the Seed of woman, the Christ, into the world for the redemption of all men, Genesis 3:15 / Galatians 3:16.

The phrase

‘Kingdom of God’

is one of Mark’s key phrases in reference to the kingdom reign. It emphasizes the sovereignty of God that originates out of heaven. Matthew uses the phrase

‘kingdom of heaven’

whereas Mark emphasizes the original source of the kingdom reign. He thus uses the phrase

‘kingdom of God’

Throughout His ministry, Jesus used both phrases interchangeably in reference to the sovereignty of God that originates out of heaven. Repent and believe in the gospel: Israel was to turn to the message that Jesus preached. All men were to prepare their hearts for His ascension to the throne of God, Matthew 3:2.

Jesus’ call was that people turn to Him in order to believe that He was the Christ and Son of God. Unless one so repents he will not respond to the death of Jesus on the cross, nor will he believe the good news of the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, 1 Corinthians 15:1-4.

These messages of repentance by Jesus and the early disciples, we must always keep in mind the coming destruction of national Israel in A.D. 70.

The Jews’ repentance not only meant that they would be delivered from their condemnation in sin, but also from the national calamity that was about to befall Israel. Since Jesus was the Messiah, then the fulfilment of the prophecies concerning the consummation of Israel was ‘at hand’.

The Jews, therefore, must turn to Jesus as the Messiah, and thus turn away from that which was coming to an end. Their acceptance of Jesus as the Messiah, therefore, in many cases meant the saving of their own lives as they stayed away from Jerusalem in A.D. 70, when over one million Jews were killed in the destruction of Jerusalem.

‘As Jesus walked beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. ‘Come, follow me,’ Jesus said, ‘and I will send you out to fish for people.’ At once they left their nets and followed him. When he had gone a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John in a boat, preparing their nets. Without delay he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men and followed him.’ Mark 1:16-20

As Jesus walked along, He saw two of His friends, Peter and Andrew, who were professional fishermen. He asked them to follow Him and become fishers of men. At once, they quit their jobs and began following Christ. He next found James and John, and requested that they do the same. With no hesitation, they left not only their occupation but also their father, and began to accompany the Lord.

Clearly, these men recognised Jesus’ greatness. He was the one whose shoes John was unworthy to untie. God had specially acknowledged Him by His own voice from heaven. So, when Jesus demanded radical action, to drop everything and follow Him, they responded immediately.

Note the characteristics of followers of Jesus, these fishermen demonstrated the meaning of discipleship. When Jesus called, they:

1. Acted immediately.

2. Left both job and family.

3. Started following Him.

Christ calls today through His Word. When we perceive His greatness, we too will:

1. Obey immediately all He says.

2. Put Him ahead of everything, including our job and family.

3. Follow Him, allowing His example to direct every step.

People, who know that Jesus wants them to change, but put it off, are not like these four fishermen.

The Twelve

Matthew 4:18-22 / Mark 1:14-20 / Luke 5:1-11 / John 1:35-42

1. Simon Peter
Peter was a Galilean fisherman who lived on the shores of the Sea of Galilee with his wife, his brother Andrew and his mother-in-law. People at the time worked as a family unit, so the men and women of Peter’s family worked together to catch and preserve, dry fish for export to the surrounding towns. This particular family was probably in partnership with Zebedee and his sons, James and John. Matthew 4:21.

Like his father and brother Andrew, Simon Peter was a fisherman by trade, working on the Lake of Galilee. His family seems to have been caught up in the revival movement led by John the Baptist. Peter met Jesus at Bethany through his brother Andrew, and was immediately impressed. Jesus called him ‘Peter’, the rock, an odd choice of name since Peter seems to have been passionate and impulsive rather than rock-like. Jesus actually called Peter ‘Cephas’, which is the Aramaic equivalent of ‘Petros’, a rock. John 1:40-42.

2. Andrew
The name Andrew is a Greek name which means ‘manly’ or ‘of valour.’ Andrew was the brother of Simon Peter and son of Jonah. He was born in Bethsaida in the province of Galilee and was a fisherman like his brother Peter. Before he met Jesus, Andrew was a disciple of John the Baptist. However, when John pointed to Jesus as the Lamb of God he realized that Jesus was greater and immediately left John, found his brother Peter and became a disciple of Jesus John 1:25-42.

After this Andrew and Peter continued to be fishermen and lived at home until being called permanently by Jesus to be ‘fishers of men.’ Matthew 4:18-20.

Later Jesus is teaching the multitudes on the mountainside and he asks Philip where they could find food to feed the crowd and Philip says,

‘eight months’ wages could not buy enough bread’

to feed them. It was Andrew who brought the boy with five barley loaves and two fish to Jesus which Jesus miraculously multiplies into enough food to feed everyone. John 6:8-9.

And it was Andrew who during the Passover Feast brought a group of Greeks, Gentiles, to meet Jesus which prompts Jesus to remark

‘when I am lifted up from the earth I will draw all men to myself.’ John 12:20-32

Andrew knew that Jesus came not only to save Israel but everyone on the earth. The last time Andrew is mentioned in the Bible is in Acts chapter one where he is listed as one of the witnesses of Jesus’ resurrection and His ascension into Heaven. Acts 1:13.

3. James son of Zebedee
The apostle James was honoured with a favoured position by Jesus Christ, as one of three men in his inner circle. The others were James’ brother John and Simon Peter. When Jesus called the brothers, James and John were fishermen with their father Zebedee on the Sea of Galilee. They immediately left their father and their business to follow the young rabbi. James was probably the older of the two brothers because he is always mentioned first.

Three times James, John, and Peter were invited by Jesus to witness events no one else saw, the raising of the daughter of Jairus from the dead, Mark 5:37-47, the transfiguration, Matthew 17:1-3, and Jesus’ agony in the Garden of Gethsemane, Matthew 26:36+-37.

But James wasn’t above making mistakes, when a Samaritan village rejected Jesus, he and John wanted to call down fire from heaven upon the place, this earned them the nickname

‘Boanerges,’ or ‘sons of thunder.’ Mark 3:17.

The mother of James and John also overstepped her bounds, asking Jesus to grant her sons special positions in his kingdom. Matthew 20:20. James’ zeal for Jesus resulted in his being the first of the 12 apostles to be martyred. He was killed with the sword on order of King Herod Agrippa I of Judea, about 44 A.D., in a general persecution of the early church. Acts 12:1+2.

4. John son of Zebedee
John was the brother of the apostle James, he was also the son of Zebedee, a fisherman of Galilee. His mother’s name was Salome who is believed to be a sister of Jesus’ moter Mary. John, his brother James and the apostles Peter and Andrew were all partners in a fishing business prior to their calls by Jesus to follow Him, Zebedee was also a partner.

It is said that John owned a home in Jerusalem and that it’s possible that the interview Nicodemus had with Jesus was held there. John with his brother James wanted to call down fire from heaven upon the place, this earned them the nickname

‘Boanerges,’ or ‘sons of thunder.’ Mark 3:17

The apostle John rose to a position of influence within world-wide Christianity and shortly before the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in 70 A.D., he moved to Ephesus. He became the elder of the church in Ephesus and had a special relationship with other churches in the area, as we know from the letters to the Seven Churches in Asia, in the Book of Revelation.

John’s brother, James, was the first of the apostles to die, on the other hand, John was the last. All of the apostles met a violent death, however, John died peacefully in Ephesus, at an advanced age, around the year 100 AD.

There is a church tradition, which says, that while John was living in Ephesus, John had with him Mary, the mother of Jesus, for a few years. While in Ephesus, by order of the Roman emperor Domitian, John was exiled to an island called Patmos. In what is known as the cave of the Apocalypse, located on this island, the sacred text of the Book of Revelation was given to the apostle John by Jesus, it’s here that John recorded what is written in the New Testament Book of Revelation.

Other New Testament books accredited to John are the Gospel of John, along with 1st, 2nd and 3rd John. When he was released from exile, he returned to Ephesus and lived till the time of the Roman emperor Trajan. It’s said that John, founded and built churches throughout all Asia, and worn out by old age, died in the sixty-eight year after our Lord’s passion and was buried near the same city, Ephesus.

What does Jesus choosing of Peter, Andrew, James and John tell us about the character of a person who can take Jesus to the world? They all had their strengths and weakness, they were ordinary people who weren’t highly educated people.

Jesus Calls Philip and Nathanael John 1:43-51

5. Philip
Philip, the apostle, not to be confused with the evangelist Philip in Acts. Like Peter and Andrew, Philip was from Bethsaida John 1:44. Philip whose name means ‘lover of horses’ is named in all three lists of apostles, Matthew 10:4 / Mark 3:16 / Luke. 6:14-16 and in each he is the 5th apostle listed. He isn’t mentioned again in Matthew, Mark, or Luke. Everything else we know of him comes from the Gospel of John.

In John, Philip told Nathanael that they had found the Messiah and that he was from Nazareth. When Nathanael replied,

‘can anything good come from Nazareth?’ Philip simply said, ‘Come and see.’ John 1:43-46

Shortly after Nathanael became one of Jesus’ disciples. Later, before the miraculous feeding of the multitude, Jesus tested Philip by asking,

‘Where will we buy bread for these people to eat?’ Philip failed the test by replying, ‘Eight months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each one to have a bite!’ John 6:5-7

Later shortly before Jesus is arrested he tells his disciples that

‘If you really knew me you would know my Father as well. From now on you do know him and have seen him.’ John 14:7

But Philip’s response again shows a lack of faith when he asks,

‘Lord show us the Father and that will be enough for us.’ Jesus sternly rebukes him and says, ‘Philip, don’t you know me, even after I have been with you for such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.’ John 14:8-9

Philip isn’t mentioned again in the New Testament except in the list of apostles waiting in the upper room shortly after Christ’s ascension. Acts 1:13.

What lesson can we learn from Philip when it comes to sharing the good news with others? Philip was convicted about who Jesus was as we must be. He was convicted enough to tell someone else about Jesus.

6. Nathanael also named Bartholomew
His name means ‘given’ or ‘gift of God’, he was one of our Lord’s disciples, ‘of Cana in Galilee’. John 21:2. Jesus says he was

‘truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit.’ John 1:47-48

His name occurs only in the Gospel of John, who in his list of the disciples never mentions Bartholomew, with whom he has consequently been identified. He was one of those to whom the Lord showed himself alive after His resurrection, at the Sea of Tiberius. John 21:1+2.

Bartholomew’s name appears with every list of the disciples, Matthew 10:3 / Mark 3:18 / Luke 6:14 / Acts 1:13. This wasn’t a first name, however. it was his second name. His first name probably was Nathanael, whom Jesus called ‘an Israelite in whom there is no deceit.’ John 1:47.

The New Testament gives us very little information about him, tradition indicates he was a great searcher of the Scripture and a scholar in the law and the prophets. He developed into a man of complete surrender to the Carpenter of Nazareth, and one of the church’s most adventurous missionaries. He is said to have preached with Philip in Phrygia and Hierapolis, also in Armenia. The Armenian church claims him as its founder and martyr.

However, tradition says that he preached in India, and his death seems to have taken place there, he died as a martyr for his Lord. He was lashed alive with knives.

If we’re taking the good news to people, how important is it to be truthful with them? No deceit means don’t do what Jacob did with his brother Esau. No alternative motives. Genesis 27:1-46.

The Calling of Matthew

Matthew 9:9-13 / Mark 2:14-17 / Luke 5:27-32

7. Matthew also named Levi
Matthew was named Levi before his call by Jesus. We don’t know whether Jesus gave him the name Matthew or whether he changed it himself, but it is a shortening of the name Mattathias, which means ‘gift of Yahweh,’ or simply ‘the gift of God.’

On the same day, Jesus invited Matthew to follow him, Matthew threw a great farewell feast in his home in Capernaum, inviting his friends so they could meet Jesus too. Matthew 9:10-13. From that time on, instead of collecting tax money, Matthew collected souls for Christ.

Despite his sinful past, Matthew was uniquely qualified to be a disciple, he was an accurate record keeper and keen observer of people, he captured the smallest details. Those traits served him well when he wrote the Gospel of Matthew some 20 years later.

By surface appearances, it was scandalous and offensive for Jesus to pick a tax collector as one of his closest followers, since they were widely hated by the Jews. Yet of the four Gospel writers, Matthew presented Jesus to the Jews as their hoped-for Messiah, tailoring his account to answer their questions.

Matthew displayed one of the most radically changed lives in the Bible in response to an invitation from Jesus. He didn’t hesitate, he didn’t look back. He left behind a life of wealth and security for poverty and uncertainty. He abandoned the pleasures of this world for the promise of eternal life.

The remainder of Matthew’s life is uncertain. Tradition says he preached for 15 years in Jerusalem following the death and resurrection of Jesus, then went out on the mission field to other countries.

Why would Matthew be a good example for evangelism today? He’s been there and done that, he knows people and how they think. He never forgot where he came from, he was a sinner and since following Jesus he knew where he was going. We need people who can relate and sympathise with other people. He basically threw a party and invited his old friends and his new Christ following friends and let them mix.

Appointing of the Twelve Apostles

Mark 3:16-19 / Luke 6:13-16

8. Thomas
Thomas Didymus lived in Galilee. Tradition says he laboured in Parthia, Persia, and India, suffering martyrdom in India. Thomas was his Hebrew name and Didymus was his Greek name. Matthew, Mark and Luke tell us nothing about Thomas except his name.

However, John defines him more clearly in his Gospel. Thomas appeared in the raising of Lazarus, John 11:2-16, in the Upper Room, John 14:1-6 where he wanted to know how to know the way where Jesus was going. In John 20:25, we see him saying unless he sees the nail prints in Jesus’ hand and the gash of the spear in His side he will not believe. That’s why Thomas became known as Doubting Thomas.

By nature, Thomas was a pessimist, he was a bewildered man. Yet, he was a man of courage, he was a man who couldn’t believe until he had seen. He was a man of devotion and of faith. When Jesus rose, he came back and invited Thomas to put his finger in the nail prints in his hands and in his side. Here, we see Thomas making the greatest confession of faith,

‘My Lord and my God.’ John 20:28

Thomas’ doubts were transformed into faith. By this very fact, Thomas’ faith became great, intense and convincing. Remember Thomas although he may not have fully understood, was the only one who wanted to go with Jesus to Bethany in order for Jesus to raise Lazarus from the dead.

‘Let us also go, that we may die with him.’ John 11:16

Do we ever have doubts about our ability to share God’s Word with others? We have to remember that the power is in the Word not the speaker.

‘For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes’. Romans 1:16

9. James son of Alphaeus
The title ‘James the Lesser’ or ‘the Little,’ helps to distinguish him from the apostle James, son of Zebedee, who was part of Jesus’ inner circle of three and the first disciple to be martyred. James the Lesser may have been younger or smaller in stature than Zebedee’s son, as the Greek word for ‘the less’, ‘mikros’, conveys both meanings.

Although it’s argued by scholars, some believe James the Lesser was the disciple who first witnessed the risen Christ in 1 Corinthians 15:7

‘Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles.’

Beyond this, Scripture reveals nothing more about James the Lesser.

10. Thaddaeus or possibly named Jude.
Little is known about Thaddeus, but Bible scholars generally agree, however, that the four names used for him all refer to the same person. In lists of the twelve, he is called ‘Thaddeus’ or ‘Thaddaeus’, a surname for the name ‘Lebbaeus’ Matthew 10:3, which means ‘heart’ or ‘courageous.’ The picture is confused further when he is called ‘Judas’ but is distinguished from Judas Iscariot.

Church tradition holds that Thaddeus founded a church at Edessa and was crucified there as a martyr. Thaddeus preached the Gospel as a missionary following Jesus’ resurrection. Thaddeus learned the Gospel directly from Jesus and loyally served Christ despite hardship and persecution. Like most of the other apostles, Thaddeus abandoned Jesus during His trial and crucifixion. Mark 14:43-52.

How can we encourage someone to study the Bible if they already claim they are Christians?

‘Meanwhile a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, came to Ephesus. He was a learned man, with a thorough knowledge of the Scriptures. He had been instructed in the way of the Lord, and he spoke with great fervour and taught about Jesus accurately, though he knew only the baptism of John. He began to speak boldly in the synagogue. When Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they invited him to their home and explained to him the way of God more adequately.’ Acts 18:24-26

11. Simon the Zealot
Simon, the Zealot, one of the little-known followers called the Canaanite or Zelotes, lived in Galilee. Tradition says he was crucified. In two places in the King James Version he is called a Canaanite, Matthew 10:4 / Mark 3:18.

However in the other two places he is called Simon Zelotes, Luke 6:15 / Acts 1:13. The New Testament gives us practically nothing on him personally except that it says he was a Zealot.

The Zealots were fanatical Jewish Nationalists who had heroic disregard for the suffering involved and the struggle for what they regarded as the purity of their faith. The Zealots were crazed with hatred for the Romans. It was this hate for Rome that destroyed the city of Jerusalem. Josephus says the Zealots were reckless persons, zealous in good practices and extravagant and reckless in the worst kind of actions.

From this background, we see that Simon was a fanatical Nationalist, a man devoted to the Law, a man with bitter hatred for anyone who dared to compromise with Rome. Yet, Simon clearly emerged as a man of faith. He abandoned all his hatred for the faith that he showed toward his Master and the love that he was willing to share with the rest of the disciples and especially Matthew, the Roman tax collector.

Simon, the Zealot, the man who once would have killed in loyalty to Israel, became the man who saw that God will have no forced service. Tradition says he died as a martyr. His apostolic symbol is a fish lying on a Bible, which indicates he was a former fisherman who became a fisher of men through preaching. Simon left everything in his previous life to follow Jesus.

Are we zealous to take Jesus to the world?

‘Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.’ Galatians 6:9

If someone desires to become a Christian, how do teach them that there is a cost involved?

‘If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple. And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. ‘Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it? For if you lay the foundation and are not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule you, saying, ‘This person began to build and wasn’t able to finish.’ ‘Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Won’t he first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace. In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples.’ Luke 14:25-33

12. Judas Iscariot
Judas Iscariot is remembered for one thing, his betrayal of Jesus Christ. Matthew 26:13-15. Even though Judas showed remorse later, his name became a symbol for traitors and turncoats throughout history. Matthew 27:3-5. His motive seemed to be greed, but some scholars speculate political desires lurked beneath his treachery.

Judas Iscariot travelled with Jesus and studied under him for three years. He apparently went with the other 11 when Jesus sent them to preach the Gospel, cast out demons, and heal the sick. Judas was a thief, he was in charge of the group’s money bag and sometimes stole from it. John 12:4-6.

He was disloyal. Even though the other apostles deserted Jesus and Peter denied him, Judas went so far as to lead the temple guard to Jesus at Gethsemane, and then identified Jesus by kissing him. Luke: 22:47-48. Some would say Judas Iscariot made the greatest error in history. Matthew 27:5 / Acts 1:18.

If Jesus chose Judas despite Him knowing what Judas would eventually do, what can we learn about anyone who comes to Christ?

‘A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.’ John 13:34-35

When we reflect upon the apostles, what kind of people do we need to remember that Jesus can use?

‘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.’ Mark 1:21-28


For most of Jesus’ ministry He lived among fishermen and went back and forth from Capernaum. The Sea of Galilee wants a sea but a lake and also called Gennesaret, Chinoreth Tiberius, because it was shaped like a harp, it was one of several fishing towns, villages.

Capernaum’s population believed to have been less than 2000, and had one long street on the shoreline of the sea of Galilee. It had a fish-market, the location of which has been discovered. Josephus records that, at one time 230 fishing boats worked on the Sea of Galilee.

Though small it was important because of its location near the main highway running from Egypt in the South, to the northern provinces of the Roman Empire. It also had a tax-office, Matthew 9:9, where taxes were collected for both the occupying Romans and Herod, who ruled over Galilee.

You might imagine that Capernaum was a famous, large, ancient city but it was not. Even though the name, Capernaum, means, ‘city of Nahum’, it had nothing to do with the prophet Nahum, who lived about 740 BC, because it was only established about 200 years before the birth of Jesus, and, consequently. it is never mentioned in the Old Testament.

However, even in these troubled times Capernaum remains one of the most popular tourist attractions in Israel, because of its many associations with Jesus, who made His home there.

‘Leaving Nazareth, he went and lived in Capernaum’. Matthew 4:13

Mathew also tells us that it was

‘His home town’ Matthew 9:1

and points out that this was the fulfilment of the prophecy made by the prophet Isaiah in Isaiah 9:1-2

‘Nevertheless, there will be no more gloom for those who were in distress. In the past, he humbled the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the future, he will honour Galilee of the nations, by the Way of the Sea, beyond the Jordan—The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.’

There are too many things that happened in and around Capernaum to mention them all, because, the most of the events concerning the Lord’s ministry, recorded in the first 9 chapters of Mark’s account occurred in and around Capernaum.

Not only is it where Jesus made His home, it is also

1. Where He called His first four disciples. Peter, James, John, Andrew. Mark 1:16-20.

2. Where He called Matthew, the tax-collector. Mark 2:14.

3. Where Peter’s House was situated. Mark 1:29-31.

4. Where He called His Twelve Apostles. Mark 3:13-19.

5. Where He healed Peter’s mother-in-Law. Mark 1:29-31.

6. Where He taught in the Synagogue. Mark 1:21

7. Nearby, is where it is believed that He delivered the Sermon on the Mount. Matthew 5-7.

8. Where He fed the 5000. Mark 6:30-44.

9. And also where many miracles occurred. Mark 1:21-28.

The synagogue

Notice that it is described as ‘the Synagogue’, indicating that at this time, Capernaum, had only one synagogue, so we may be quite sure which synagogue is meant. In Luke 7:5 we hear the people of the Capernaum, speaking about

‘our synagogue.’

They state that it had been built for them by a Roman Centurion, and it seems reasonable to conclude, that the revelation in Mark’s account that the synagogue was given to the town be a benevolent Roman soldier, reveals that it was originally written for Roman readers.

Archaeologists are fairly certain that the ruins which may still be seen in the town, are not those of the original synagogue in which Jesus entered and preached, but are the remains of a 2nd century building which had later been built on the same spot.

Not found in the Old Testament

It’s necessary to first consider how and why the Synagogue came into existence, and the first thing that must be noted is that there is no mention of it in the Old Testament and nothing which suggests that God commanded its institution.

The only verse in the Old Testament in which the English word ‘synagogue’ occurs is Psalm 74:8, in the ‘Authorized Version’ 1611, where it is the rendering of the Hebrew word ‘moed’, and simply means ‘meeting place’ or ‘assembly’.

‘They said in their hearts, let us destroy them together: they have burned up all the synagogues of God in the land.’ Psalm 74:8

Later versions invariably and correctly translate it that way, because it’s absolutely certain that its use in the Psalm doesn’t relate to the ‘synagogue’ which appeared in later times. After all, the word ‘synagogue’ is a transliteration of the Greek word ‘sunagogee’.

However, it shouldn’t surprise us, when we consider how important the Synagogue system became to Judaism, that later Jewish historians such as Josephus and Philo claimed to trace the Synagogue’s origin back to the time of Moses. But there is no evidence whatsoever to support this idea and scholars outside of Judaism give it no credence.

The Origin of the Synagogue

Was the synagogue ‘an expedient’ to meet a particular need?

The period in Jewish history, over 500 years before the birth of Christ, when the Kingdom of Judah was conquered by Nebuchadnezzar, because it was the Babylonian captivity which gave rise to the synagogue. The policy frequently adopted by empires such as those of Assyria and Babylon, in their treatment of the nations whom they defeated, was one of ‘assimilation’. It was a policy designed to destroy the national identity of the captives by dispersing them throughout the empire.

The Jews in Babylon, however, effectively countered this move by establishing assemblies, which later developed into the institution known as the Synagogue. Since they could no longer meet the requirements of the Mosaic law, which decreed that priestly worship should be carried out in the Temple in Jerusalem, a temple which, in any case, had been destroyed, it became necessary to devise some other means of keeping both their race and religion pure and alive whilst they were in captivity. For that purpose, these assemblies were established.

Its Purpose

This means that we may accurately describe the Synagogue

‘a man- made expedient’,

for that is exactly what it was. But it served several significant purposes.

1. The Synagogue maintained the Jewish national consciousness and became the social centre for the life of the captives, so that even in captivity they never forgot that they were Jews.

2. It promoted a renewed interest in, and respect for the Scriptures and became the place where the collective study of the word of God was conducted.

3. Because it was no longer possible to observe the feasts, fasts and sacrifices prescribed by the Law, there being neither priesthood nor temple, the synagogue also became a place for communal prayer.

So effectively did this ‘expedient’ work, that when the people returned to their homeland they took it with them and developed it, so that with the passing of time, the Synagogue was accepted as a uniquely Jewish ‘institution’, and the Synagogue services became more formal and ritualistic.

As for the buildings in which the services were held, these varied in grandeur and style according to the congregation’s size and affluence. Externally, the buildings weren’t usually impressive, because in the Middle Ages the height of synagogues was restricted by law; a manifestation of the anti-Semitism which was fairly common at those days.

But, whatever physical differences there may have been between the buildings themselves, there were contained certain items of furniture which came to be common to all of them and which can be identified to this day.

Since the Middle Ages, the sacred scrolls containing the Law have been housed in the ‘Ark’, a kind of cupboard or chest, which is always located on the wall, which faces Jerusalem. In front of this ‘Ark’, there is the ‘Perpetual Light’, symbolising the constant Presence of God, and which is said to remind the congregation of the fire on the altar which, in the days of the tabernacle and the temple, was never allowed to go out.

There is, also, the ‘Bimah’, a raised platform on which stands a reading desk from which prayers are led, the Scriptures read, and announcements are made. This used to be situated at one end of the Synagogue, but in these days, is usually placed in the centre of the building.

Incidentally, one may be forgiven for supposing that those who attend the Synagogue have no problem in allowing their left hand to know what their right had does! According to one rabbi, the Bimah is also the place where,

‘acts of benevolence are made, in the form of donations, which those who are called up to the Reading of the Law want to make’!

The Modern Synagogue

If anything, therefore, over the centuries the Synagogue has become even more important in Jewish life. Modern Jewish leaders teach that it is surpassed in importance only by the home, and, like the home, it serves as

‘a training ground in Holiness’.

Regardless of what changes it has undergone since the days of the Babylonian captivity, the purposes it serves are still essentially the same. It remains:

1. A place for the study of the Scriptures.

2. A place for Worship.

3. A Centre of Social Life.

These three functions have come to be described as:

1. Torah, the study of the Law of God.

I think that it is a fact not generally understood by Christians, amongst whom private study of the Word is encouraged, that Judaism actually discourages private or individual study. It prefers communal study and regards knowledge gained in the synagogue, where different views and opinions are expressed, as the proper method of arriving at a true understanding of the Scriptures.

2. Abodah or Worship.

Here, again, Judaism stresses the communal nature of worship, and displays what can only be described as a ‘negative attitude’ towards private worship, or, what it calls ‘worship in isolation’.

3. Gemiluth Chasidim.

This is the term which describes the practice of Benevolence and good deeds, and for this aspect of Jewish life also, the synagogue is considered to be the ideal place. The Jews describe this as ‘social service’, because the Synagogue has become the place where their leaders meet together to make decisions affecting the life of their community and where benevolence is dispensed.

So, we see that an ‘expedient’ which was devised in a time of national distress, eventually became an important institution in Judaism.

An ‘Expedient’

Let us now think about that word, ‘expedient’. We must remember that although the word doesn’t occur in the Scripture, we shouldn’t confuse it with such words as ‘un-scriptural’ or ‘anti-scriptural’.

‘Expedient’ simply means ‘beneficial, advantageous or useful’, and, for this reason, there is nothing wrong with the proper use of an ‘expedient’. If anything is adopted which isn’t in harmony with the Scriptures it cannot be said to be ‘beneficial’ or ‘advantageous’, and therefore it cannot properly be called an ‘expedient’.

Jesus and the Synagogue

As for the Lord Himself ‘endorsing by presence, in the Synagogue, a man-made expedient’, and there is no doubt that he did so regularly.

‘He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom.’ Luke 4:16

We have to remember that nothing that was done in the Synagogue could be condemned as a violation of the Law of God. Since the Law commanded worship, benevolence and obedience to God’s Word, it could be argued that the Synagogue encouraged and assisted the Jews to understand and obey the Law. For this reason, the Lord Jesus would have no objection to it.

Our Own ‘Expedients’

Come to think about it, there are many things, which we have adopted and use in the life of the church today which are, in fact, ‘expedients’.

The ‘time’ at which the local congregation decides to meet for worship on the Lord’s Day, is determined on the basis of ‘expediency’, that is, on the basis of appropriateness and convenience.

The ‘Activities’, which congregations arrange for themselves, in order to promote growth and encourage fellowship, are also ‘expedients’.

Where do we find the passage of Scripture which explicitly commands the setting up of ‘Lord’s Day Bible Classes, Men’s Training Classes, Ladies’ Meetings’ and similar activities? Where, indeed, are we commanded to publish and use a hymn book?

All of these are useful arrangements ‘expedients’, designed to help us to do what we are commanded to do, namely study the Word, in order to be able to teach and preach, and sing God’s praises. No doubt we could do all of these things without the use of these ‘expedients’. For instance, we could sing without the use of hymnbooks, though I doubt if we could do so as conveniently.

Yes! The Synagogue was a ‘man-made expedient’, used and, by inference, approved, by the Lord, and I suggest that we should do well to adopt His wisdom and follow His example when proposals are put forward which are designed to help us to work and worship more effectively.

A method is neither right nor wrong merely because it is new. The question, which we should always ask,

is what is suggested in harmony with the Word of God, or does it violate, or conflict with, what the Scriptures reveal to be His will?

The answer to this question will settle whether a thing is truly ‘expedient’ or not.

Notice also the language which Mark uses in verse 21. Notice, particularly, the number of times He uses the word


It occurs 10 times. Mark aims to show Jesus to be a man of action; a man who acted decisively and positively.

As soon as He arrived in Capernaum He entered the synagogue and began to teach, and, furthermore, His discourse was of some length It was not a friendly chat or comment, or a casual exchange of views. It was a full-length discourse! This is shown by the words of His teaching and the description of its effect on the people, recorded in verse 23.

‘His teaching’ is accurately rendered ‘His doctrine’, which reveals that it was a formal presentation. We are not told precisely what His teaching was. Mark is more concerned that we should know its effect on the people who heard it.

They were


The word ‘explesso’ tells us that the listeners were not just temporarily filled with amazement which quickly passed away. It did not leave merely a fleeting impression.

What Jesus said had a deep and lasting effect on them. Why? Because His teaching was with authority, ‘exousio’. That word means ‘to be out’. It describes authority that has been given to the speaker, by someone else. The one who GIVES the authority, is, so to speak.

‘Out of himself’,

and is speaking through the messenger, to whom he has given authority to speak on his behalf.

Bear in mind the fact that, at this stage, the people were unaware of the identity of the one speaking to them, or that it was because of His identity that He possessed the authority to speak as He did! All that the felt, at that time, was that what he said had a ring of authority which was lacking in what they heard from their scribes.

Let me emphasize this!

The authority with which He taught struck them with amazement. They received a shock! The word is in the ‘imperfect tense’ which means the shock stayed with them!

Their Rabbis and other teachers just quoted the scriptures and then quoted each other’s opinions or referred to ‘tradition’. A Rabbi would say,

‘Rabbi Ben so and so says that this verse means whatever he believes but Rabbi Ben so and so says and believes this.’

These men never spoke with authority. Jesus was different. He did not collect different views and opinions and traditions and offer them to the people as possible alternatives for them to consider and sort out for themselves, He had authority.

Therefore, to hear Jesus speak was an entirely new experience and they said,

‘never has a man spoke like this Man’

and His contrast was so stark that they even said,

‘He speaks as one who has authority, and not as the scribes!’ Matthew 7:28-29

1. What new thing is this? Referring to both the coming and the Ministry of Jesus.

2. What new doctrine? I.e. the teaching they had just heard.

The word ‘new’ is significant. There are two Greek words for ‘new’, one is ‘kainos’ which means new in the sense of ‘different’. The other is ‘neos’ which mean new but ‘of the same kind’. Here, the word is ‘kainos’.

The people recognised that the teaching of Jesus was not ‘neos’ ‘of the same kind’ as that of the Scribes. It was ‘kainos’ ‘new in the sense of different!’ it was a different kind of doctrine! Verse 27 shows that they recognised that His doctrine was not just a new sort of teaching, it was teaching with power.

Jesus’ teaching astounded the multitude in the synagogue, a synagogue was like a church among the Jews. He taught with authority. He issued His commands as if He had the right to tell others exactly what to do!

Jesus’ actions showed that He really had the authority that He claimed. In this paragraph, He cast out a demon. How? By His words! Nothing more. When Jesus merely said,

‘Be quiet and come out of him,’

The demon left the man. His words had authority even over demons. The calmness with which Jesus expelled demons reflected His power, He never argued or struggled or created a scene. He simply ordered the demons to leave and they left. No wonder people were amazed. He had demonstrated the credentials to prove His authority.

Need for authority

In every area, authority is essential. To determine distance, it is necessary to have a yardstick or standard of measure by which to calculate length. Thus, if someone wishes to know how long a room is, he measures it. There is no other way to know for sure. God has provided a yardstick in religion: Jesus and His words.

When we wish to know whether something is right or wrong, we should evaluate it by the standard of the Scriptures. This should be done with every teacher and teaching. Therefore, you need to have a Bible at your side while you are studying, and continually refer to it to be sure that what is taught in these lessons is true. The Bible is our measuring rod.

Demon Possession

Why do we read of so many cases of demon possession in the New Testament?

Well, consider for a moment. Let me ask another question, what, since the Fall of Man, has been the greatest and most important event in human history?

The answer must surely be, the coming into the world, of the Lord Jesus Christ. His birth marked the culmination of God’s plan of redemption, first hinted at in Genesis 3:15, when, after the Fall, He promised that the seed of the women would bruise the head of the serpent.

‘And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.’

In Ephesians 1:10, Paul writes about that plan, which, he says, God

‘put into effect in Christ’.

It was to be a plan intended,

‘in the fullness of time’

that is, when the right moment, ‘chronos’ came

‘to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ’.

The phrase

‘in the fullness of time’

is the rendering found in the Authorized Version, of the word ‘unakephalaioo’, a word which literally means ‘to head up’, or, ‘to gather together under one head’. In his definition of this word, Thayer states that, ‘In Ephesians l:10 God is said to bring together for Himself, all things and beings hitherto disunited by sin, into one combined state of fellowship in Christ, the universal bond’.

In other words, God’s plan, in sending His Son into the world, was that the unity and harmony destroyed by the first temptation, and constantly opposed by Satan, should be fully restored.

In Galatians 4:4 Paul reveals that, when the fullness of time came, God sent His Son into our world, ‘born of woman’ thus, becoming truly human, born ‘under the law’ thus, Himself subject to law, in order that He might redeem those who are also under law.

To accomplish this restoration, Satan and his works had to be defeated, and this is why the brief period of the life and ministry of Jesus was marked by a greater demonstration of miraculous activity than any other period in human history.

The Gospels tell us that, as He presented Himself as God’s Champion sent to overthrow Satan, Jesus performed no fewer than 40 miracles, the details of which are recorded for us by the Gospel writers.

Furthermore, John explains in John 20:30-31 and John 21:25, that the recorded miracles of the Lord, represent only a small selection of His

‘many other signs’ which are not written in this book.’

These miracles both fulfilled prophecy and established His Messiahship and constituted a proof of His Deity.

The Conflict with Satan

Since, therefore, Satan, who had made himself, the prince of this world, John 12:31 and John 14:30, was being challenged and was to be defeated, should it surprise us, that the period of the life and ministry of Jesus witnessed an increase of Satanic activity?

The aim of Satan has always been to oppose God’s plan. He had established a kingdom for himself, Matthew 12:26, and had demons who served him, Luke 11:13.

Is it surprising that he should do anything within his power to attempt to defend his kingdom?

Satan defeated by One stronger than he

2 Corinthians 4:4 even describes Satan as

‘the god of this world’

and 1 John 5:19 the apostle states that,

‘the whole world lies in the evil one’.

Jesus Himself figuratively refers to Satan in Luke 11:13, as a

‘strong man, fully armed, guarding his own house’

but also in that chapter, Jesus is presented as the ‘one stronger’ than satin who has come into the world to defeat Satan and strip him of his possessions.

Furthermore. the Lord said,

‘Now is the judgment of this world; now shall the ruler of this world be, cast out’ John 12:31+32

That sentence has already been passed,

‘the prince of this world has been judged’. John 16:11

Hebrews 2:14 tells us that, it was by means of His death that Jesus destroyed the one who had the power of death, ‘that is, the devil’. Satan saw this defeat coming, and therefore we read, in Revelation 12:12, of Satan having

‘great wrath, because he knows that his time is short’.

In fact, Jesus revealed that the final punishment of Satan is already prepared for him, when, in Mathew 25:41, He speaks of

‘the everlasting fire, prepared for the Devil and his angels’.

An intense but foregone outcome! For this reason, I regard the increased instances of demon-possession and satanic activity about which we read in the Gospels, as Satan’s greatest and most futile attempt to prevent the Lord Jesus from accomplishing His great purpose.

It was a resistance that was destined to fail, because of God’s promise in Genesis 3:15, even though a defeated and weakened Satan continues to seek to do as much harm as he possibly can, before he is eternally destroyed. Revelation 20:10.

In his book, familiarly referred to as ‘the Pilgrim’s Progress’, John Bunyan likens Satan to a defeated, toothless giant, who sits in a cave, impotently gnashing his teeth at the pilgrims to whom he can no longer do any harm!

Satan may still be roaring! But he can no longer harm those who have been

‘delivered from the dominion of darkness, and translated to the Kingdom of His beloved son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins’. Colossians 1:13

The topic of ‘demon possession’ is an interesting subject to say the least and I know most people have their own thoughts and ideas about it. Some believe it still happens today and other say there’s no way it can happen today and still others are not sure.

I remember many years ago a friend of mine witnessed someone who was a member of a certain ‘church’ being literally beat up by the ‘pastor’, as he says this was the only way to drive out this ‘evil spirit’ from the young boy.

Anyone who knows anything about the Scriptures will know that ‘beating’ someone up to drive out some ‘demon’ is nowhere found in the Bible.

There was a documentary on TV a few years ago where certain ‘churches’ were being investigated for this very subject. Their pastors were claiming they some members were ‘possessed’ because they stole something from a shop, some were claiming that members were ‘witches’ because since those individuals joined the ‘church’ nothing but ‘bad luck’ has happened to other members.

Our television is filled with programmes which speak about demon possession, films have been made about demon possession, someone heard about someone else in the middle of some far-off country, in the middle of some village, of someone who possessed.

You can go on YouTube and see a video of people who are supposedly possessed and you can see videos of people having those demons driven out. I mean, it’s everywhere and people’s minds are slowly being filled with all kinds of wonderful ideas about the subject.

However, whether we like or not these practises are still rampant within some religious circles today. Possibly because of ignorance, possibly because some so called ‘pastors’ have a desire for power and financial gain.

The whole purpose of this part of our study is to try compare what people believe is demon possession today with the Scriptures and then you can make your own mind up about the subject in hand.

We can either believe ‘people’s testimonies’ or the Word of God. And please know that I’m not disputing what people are claiming they have seen and witnessed but I am disputing if what they saw and witnessed was genuine.

Some people claim that they have been possessed by a demon or they at least, claim they know someone who has been possessed.

Do demons exist?

We can’t deny that demons or ‘evil spirits’ exist because the Bible tells us so.

‘You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.’ James 2:19

We know that demons were under the power of Satan, who is the commander of all evil spirits. This is what the Jewish leaders were accusing Jesus of in Matthew 12:24

‘It is only by Beelzebul, the prince of demons, that this fellow drives out demons.’

How did demons operate?

We know from the Scriptures that these demons entered into people’s bodies and controlled their lives.

‘When he arrived at the other side in the region of the Gadarenes, two demon-possessed men coming from the tombs met him. They were so violent that no one could pass that way. ‘What do you want with us, Son of God?’ they shouted. ‘Have you come here to torture us before the appointed time?’ Some distance from them a large herd of pigs was feeding. The demons begged Jesus, ‘If you drive us out, send us into the herd of pigs.’ He said to them, ‘Go!’ So, they came out and went into the pigs, and the whole herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and died in the water. Those tending the pigs ran off, went into the town and reported all this, including what had happened to the demon-possessed men. Then the whole town went out to meet Jesus. And when they saw him, they pleaded with him to leave their region.’ Matthew 8:28-34

They often caused sickness in the people they entered such as not being able to speak or see.

‘Then they brought him a demon-possessed man who was blind and mute, and Jesus healed him, so that he could both talk and see.’ Matthew 12:22

They caused people to become insane and mad.

‘They sailed to the region of the Gerasenes, which is across the lake from Galilee. When Jesus stepped ashore, he was met by a demon-possessed man from the town. For a long time this man had not worn clothes or lived in a house, but had lived in the tombs. When he saw Jesus, he cried out and fell at his feet, shouting at the top of his voice, ‘What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, don’t torture me!’ For Jesus had commanded the impure spirit to come out of the man. Many times it had seized him, and though he was chained hand and foot and kept under guard, he had broken his chains and had been driven by the demon into solitary places. Jesus asked him, ‘What is your name?’ ‘Legion,’ he replied, because many demons had gone into him. And they begged Jesus repeatedly not to order them to go into the Abyss. A large herd of pigs was feeding there on the hillside. The demons begged Jesus to let them go into the pigs, and he gave them permission. When the demons came out of the man, they went into the pigs, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and was drowned. When those tending the pigs saw what had happened, they ran off and reported this in the town and countryside, and the people went out to see what had happened. When they came to Jesus, they found the man from whom the demons had gone out, sitting at Jesus’ feet, dressed and in his right mind; and they were afraid. Those who had seen it told the people how the demon-possessed man had been cured.’ Luke 8:26-36

They often caused people to conduct personal injuries on themselves.

‘When they came to the other disciples, they saw a large crowd around them and the teachers of the law arguing with them. As soon as all the people saw Jesus, they were overwhelmed with wonder and ran to greet him. ‘What are you arguing with them about?’ he asked. A man in the crowd answered, ‘Teacher, I brought you my son, who is possessed by a spirit that has robbed him of speech. Whenever it seizes him, it throws him to the ground. He foams at the mouth, gnashes his teeth and becomes rigid. I asked your disciples to drive out the spirit, but they could not.’ ‘You unbelieving generation,’ Jesus replied, ‘how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring the boy to me.’ So, they brought him. When the spirit saw Jesus, it immediately threw the boy into a convulsion. He fell to the ground and rolled around, foaming at the mouth. Jesus asked the boy’s father, ‘How long has he been like this?’ ‘From childhood,’ he answered. ‘It has often thrown him into fire or water to kill him. But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.’ ‘If you can’?’ said Jesus. ‘Everything is possible for one who believes.’ Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, ‘I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!’ When Jesus saw that a crowd was running to the scene, he rebuked the impure spirit. ‘You deaf and mute spirit,’ he said, ‘I command you, come out of him and never enter him again.’ The spirit shrieked, convulsed him violently and came out. The boy looked so much like a corpse that many said, ‘He’s dead.’ But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him to his feet, and he stood up.’ Mark 9:14-27

They often caused other kinds of bodily infirmities.

‘On a Sabbath Jesus was teaching in one of the synagogues, and a woman was there who had been crippled by a spirit for eighteen years. She was bent over and could not straighten up at all. When Jesus saw her, he called her forward and said to her, ‘Woman, you are set free from your infirmity.’ Then he put his hands on her, and immediately she straightened up and praised God.’ Luke 13:10-17

What do demons know?

Well, unlike most of the people in Jesus’ day, they certainly knew who Jesus was and they understood why He came into the world in the first place.

‘Moreover, demons came out of many people, shouting, ‘You are the Son of God!’ But he rebuked them and would not allow them to speak, because they knew he was the Messiah.’ Luke 4:41

There’s no doubts that they actually believe in God too.

‘You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.’ James 2:19

They are well aware about the coming Judgement and they fear the Judgment and their eternal punishment.

‘When he arrived at the other side in the region of the Gadarenes, two demon-possessed men coming from the tombs met him. They were so violent that no one could pass that way. ‘What do you want with us, Son of God?’ they shouted. ‘Have you come here to torture us before the appointed time?’ Matthew 8:28-29

All of the above text shows us that demons are not some kind of diseases like some people have claimed but these demons or evil spirits are just that, they are spirit beings who think, speak, and act.

Who was capable of casting out demons?

Now this is an important question which we’ll get back to later but for now, we see in clearly Scripture that Jesus often cast demons out of people.

‘When evening came, many who were demon-possessed were brought to him, and he drove out the spirits with a word and healed all the sick.’ Matthew 8:16

Jesus also gave the ability to cast out demons to His early disciples.

‘The seventy-two returned with joy and said, ‘Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name.’ Luke 10:17

Jesus also gave the ability to cast out demons to His apostles.

‘And these signs will accompany those who believe: In my name they will drive out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all; they will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well.’ Mark 16:17-18

‘Crowds gathered also from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing their sick and those tormented by impure spirits, and all of them were healed.’ Acts 5:16

‘For with shrieks, impure spirits came out of many, and many who were paralyzed or lame were healed.’ Acts 8:7

‘Once when we were going to the place of prayer, we were met by a female slave who had a spirit by which she predicted the future. She earned a great deal of money for her owners by fortune-telling. She followed Paul and the rest of us, shouting, ‘These men are servants of the Most High God, who are telling you the way to be saved.’ She kept this up for many days. Finally, Paul became so annoyed that he turned around and said to the spirit, ‘In the name of Jesus Christ I command you to come out of her!’ At that moment, the spirit left her.’ Acts 16:16-18

‘God did extraordinary miracles through Paul, so that even handkerchiefs and aprons that had touched him were taken to the sick, and their illnesses were cured and the evil spirits left them.’ Acts 19:11-12

The apostles were able to give miraculous gifts to others by laying their hands on them.

‘They presented these men to the apostles, who prayed and laid their hands on them. So, the word of God spread. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly, and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith. Now Stephen, a man full of God’s grace and power, performed great wonders and signs among the people.’ Acts 6:6-8

‘When the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to Samaria. When they arrived, they prayed for the new believers there that they might receive the Holy Spirit, because the Holy Spirit had not yet come on any of them; they had simply been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then Peter and John placed their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit. When Simon saw that the Spirit was given at the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money and said, ‘Give me also this ability so that everyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.’ Peter answered: ‘May your money perish with you, because you thought you could buy the gift of God with money! You have no part or share in this ministry, because your heart is not right before God.’ Acts 8:14-21

‘While Apollos was at Corinth, Paul took the road through the interior and arrived at Ephesus. There he found some disciples and asked them, ‘Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?’ They answered, ‘No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.’ So, Paul asked, ‘Then what baptism did you receive?’ ‘John’s baptism,’ they replied. Paul said, ‘John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance. He told the people to believe in the one coming after him, that is, in Jesus.’ On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. When Paul placed his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied.’ Acts 19:1-6

Please remember that these miraculous powers would have included the power to cast out demons.

‘Philip went down to a city in Samaria and proclaimed the Messiah there. When the crowds heard Philip, and saw the signs he performed, they all paid close attention to what he said. For with shrieks, impure spirits came out of many, and many who were paralyzed or lame were healed. So, there was great joy in that city.’ Acts 8:4-8

Do demons still possess people even today?

1. There is no indication that demon possession occurred before the ministry of Jesus and His apostles.

We have no references to it in the Old Testament, Saul was not demon possessed, 1 Samuel 18:10. And the first we hear of this is in the Gospels during the ministry of Jesus. The last we hear of it is during the ministry of the apostles.

This suggests that demon possession was something God allowed for a short time in order to demonstrate the power and authority of the Lord Jesus and of His apostles.

2. There is no instruction in the epistles on how to cast out demons.

If demon possession is a problem for the church today, then surely believers need to be able to cast out demons and to do so we must know how. Because there is no such instruction, suggests this isn’t a problem now.

If demon possession continued today, Satan would have more power than God, for he could send his demons into people, but God’s people couldn’t cast them out.

3. What is sometimes called demon possession today doesn’t match up with the accounts we find in Scripture.

We don’t find people, for example, who break the strongest of chains, as the possessed man of Gadara did.

‘This man lived in the tombs, and no one could bind him anymore, not even with a chain. For he had often been chained hand and foot, but he tore the chains apart and broke the irons on his feet. No one was strong enough to subdue him.’ Mark 5:3-4

‘For Jesus had commanded the impure spirit to come out of the man. Many times it had seized him, and though he was chained hand and foot and kept under guard, he had broken his chains and had been driven by the demon into solitary places.’ Luke 8:29

4. Most alleged demon ‘exorcisms’ today are secluded, back-room affairs that are only later publicised.

Yet when Jesus expelled evil spirits, his miracles were publicly viewed, by astonished multitudes.

‘All the people were amazed and said to each other, ‘What words these are! With authority and power he gives orders to impure spirits and they come out!’ Luke 4:36

When did demon possession end?

Zechariah, an Old Testament prophet, spoke of the time when Christ would come.

‘On that day a fountain will be opened to the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, to cleanse them from sin and impurity.’ Zechariah 13:1

This fountain was opened when Jesus shed His blood on the cross for the sins of the world.

‘And also on that day,’ says the LORD who rules over all, ‘I will remove the names of the idols from the land and they will never again be remembered. Moreover, I will remove the prophets and the unclean spirit from the land.’ Zechariah 13:2

Following the time when the Lord would die for our sins, prophets, men who spoke by the Holy Spirit, and unclean spirits, demons, would no longer be in the land, earth.

So, I guess the question is, when did this happen?

Like we saw earlier, only the early disciples and just before Jesus ascended back to the Father, only the apostles could drive out demons. Later it was only those whom the apostles laid their hands on had the ability to drive our demons and perform other miracles.

In other words, since no early disciples are still alive today, since no apostles are still alive today and since no Christians of whom the apostle’s laid their hands on to bestow upon the gift of casting out demons are still alive today, we can safely say that demon possession can’t exist today because no one has the power to drive them out today.

We understand that the purpose of these miracles was to confirm or prove that what they were saying was God’s Word.

‘Then the disciples went out and preached everywhere, and the Lord worked with them and confirmed his word by the signs that accompanied it.’ Mark 16:20

‘For since the message spoken through angels was binding, and every violation and disobedience received its just punishment, how shall we escape if we ignore so great a salvation? This salvation, which was first announced by the Lord, was confirmed to us by those who heard him. God also testified to it by signs, wonders and various miracles, and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.’ Hebrews 2:2-4

One the nine spiritual miraculous gifts in the first century according to 1 Corinthians 12:8-11 was

‘the discerning of Spirits’.

We must remember to try to understand these gifts in the context of the historical period during which they were exercised. This verse, which seem so strange to us, would be perfectly understood by the people alive at the time of the writing of Paul’s letter.

For example, his readers would understand that, when he writes in 1 Corinthians 14:37 about those whom he describes as ‘spiritual’.

‘If anyone thinks they are a prophet or otherwise gifted by the Spirit, let them acknowledge that what I am writing to you is the Lord’s command.’

Paul was referring to those who were believed to be possessed by a spirit, because this was the name by which such people were known. Also, Christians weren’t the only ones who believed in ‘spirit-possession’ i.e. individuals who were regarded as being under the influence of spirits which used them as their ‘instruments’.

Both Jewish and Pagan religions also had their prophets, whom they believed were under spirit-control. Paul hints at this in 1 Corinthians 12:1-2

‘Now about the gifts of the Spirit, brothers and sisters, I do not want you to be uninformed. You know that when you were pagans, somehow or other you were influenced and led astray to mute idols.’

But, because men recognised the existence of both good and evil spirits, it was essential to determine by which spirit a person was being ‘possessed’ and ‘controlled’.

We know that during the ministry of the Lord Himself, there were times when He encountered and dealt with people who were possessed by evil spirits. The man at Gadara, and the spirit-controlled son of the man who came to Jesus because he said, the disciples couldn’t cure the lad.

‘When they came to the crowd, a man approached Jesus and knelt before him. ‘Lord, have mercy on my son,’ he said. ‘He has seizures and is suffering greatly. He often falls into the fire or into the water. I brought him to your disciples, but they could not heal him.’ ‘You unbelieving and perverse generation,’ Jesus replied, ‘how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring the boy here to me.’ Jesus rebuked the demon, and it came out of the boy, and he was healed at that moment. Then the disciples came to Jesus in private and asked, ‘Why couldn’t we drive it out?’ He replied, ‘Because you have so little faith. Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.’ Matthew 17:14-20

‘Once when we were going to the place of prayer, we were met by a female slave who had a spirit by which she predicted the future. She earned a great deal of money for her owners by fortune-telling. She followed Paul and the rest of us, shouting, ‘These men are servants of the Most High God, who are telling you the way to be saved.’ She kept this up for many days. Finally, Paul became so annoyed that he turned around and said to the spirit, ‘In the name of Jesus Christ I command you to come out of her!’ At that moment, the spirit left her. When her owners realized that their hope of making money was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace to face the authorities.’ Acts 16:16-19

Luke records the experience of Paul at Philippi, in dealing with a spirit possessed girl. With this in mind, Paul lays down two criteria that must be used in making this judgment.

1. ‘Sanity’.

For centuries about 500 B.C., in fact, the Greeks had flocked to temples where priests or priestesses were believed to contact and be controlled by the gods, for who they acted as ‘mouthpieces’, as the gods spoke through them to deliver messages.

Whether it was real or fake, when these people were under the control of their gods they foamed at the mouth, their hair streaming out, and their limbs wildly flailing, as in an epileptic fit, all of which was taken to prove that they were being ‘moved’ by the spirit of the god whom they served.

Not so the prophets of the church, they did not scream or foam at the mouth, or roll on the ground! The Holy Spirit enlightened their minds and sharpened their vision. They didn’t claim that they were the mouthpiece of God, but the messengers of God.

2. The credit of honour to Christ.

The well-used Christian confession of faith in New Testament times was ‘Jesus is Lord’, and as Paul reveals in 1 Corinthians 12:3, this was the formula by which the prophets were to be judged either true or false.

‘Therefore, I want you to know that no one who is speaking by the Spirit of God says, ‘Jesus be cursed,’ and no one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ except by the Holy Spirit.’

Bear in mind that, beginning with Caesar Augustus, Roman Emperors had begun to regard themselves ‘gods’, and everyone in the Empire was required to recognize and acknowledge this!

Citizens had to declare their loyalty to Caesar as a god by saying the words, ‘Caesarea Kyrios’, ‘Caesar is Lord’. In fact, at the entrance to every Roman Camp there was an altar onto which the soldiers were expected to throw a pinch of incense in the worship of the Emperor, whilst saying those words, ‘Caesar is Lord’, and, woe betide any man who failed to do so!

But when the favour with which Rome had originally looked on Christians turned into persecution, this affirmation of loyalty to Caesar was something that the Christians also were required to make, and failure to make it usually meant death. At the same time, there was a quite different affirmation that was being freely made by both Jewish and Pagan enemies of the church.

They were saying, as Paul records in 1 Corinthians 12:3,

‘Jesus is accursed’,

and obviously, only the enemies of Christ would utter those words!

Furthermore, when a Christian refused to speak those words which were taken as an acknowledgment of Caesar’s deity, their refusal was taken as a denial of his deity and that was treason which brought the death-sentence.

Thus, the distinction between the prophet inspired by the Holy Spirit, and the false prophet was, in this way, easily made. The one was happy to say,

‘Jesus is Lord’,

whilst the other, because he was under the influence of an evil spirit said, ‘Jesus is accursed’.

John also writes about the importance of making this distinction in 1 John 4:1-3

‘Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world.’

One needs little imagination to understand that in a pagan world, there were many who pretended to be possessed and controlled by the gods, so that they might claim to be speaking in their names.

The significant contrast between these frenzied fakers, and the calmness of the Spirit-led Christian prophets are, as Paul states in 1 Corinthians 14:26-33

‘What then shall we say, brothers and sisters? When you come together, each of you has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. Everything must be done so that the church may be built up. If anyone speaks in a tongue, two—or at the most three—should speak, one at a time, and someone must interpret. If there is no interpreter, the speaker should keep quiet in the church and speak to himself and to God. Two or three prophets should speak, and the others should weigh carefully what is said. And if a revelation comes to someone who is sitting down, the first speaker should stop. For you can all prophesy in turn so that everyone may be instructed and encouraged. The spirits of prophets are subject to the control of prophets. For God is not a God of disorder but of peace—as in all the congregations of the Lord’s people.’


‘The spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets’.

In other words, there was no wild abandonment in the manner in which they delivered their message. Everything was done in an orderly manner, because

‘God is not the author of confusion, but of peace’.

A final observation, the exercise of the

‘gift of discerning of spirits’

was to be used when several prophets spoke in the service.

‘Two or three prophets should speak, and the others should weigh carefully what is said.’ 1 Corinthians 14:29

Now Paul said these spiritual miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit would fail, cease, and vanish away.

‘Love never ends. But if there are prophecies, they will be set aside; if there are tongues, they will cease; if there is knowledge, it will be set aside. For we know in part, and we prophesy in part, but when what is perfect comes, the partial will be set aside.’ 1 Corinthians 13:8-10

These miraculous gifts would cease when that which is perfect is come. This refers to the New Testament, which is called the perfect law of liberty.

‘But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do.’ James 1:25

Like we noted a moment ago, one of these miraculous gifts was the power to cast out demons. Therefore, evil spirits possessing men, along with the power to cast them out, ceased when the New Testament was completed and confirmed.

Some people often go to Matthew where Jesus says in Mathew 7:21-23

‘Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’

Notice that Jesus didn’t say they did prophecy or drive out demons in His name, He was simply saying what they would claim. And the very fact that He says, He didn’t know them and called them evildoers, suggests that what they were doing was fake.

‘The coming of the lawless one will be in accordance with how Satan works. He will use all sorts of displays of power through signs and wonders that serve the lie, and all the ways that wickedness deceives those who are perishing. They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. For this reason, God sends them a powerful delusion so that they will believe the lie and so that all will be condemned who have not believed the truth but have delighted in wickedness.’ 2 Thessalonians 2:9-12

Why demon possession in the New Testament?

The New Testament clearly indicates that demons were under the control of divine authority. Jesus, for example, could command them to leave a person, Matthew 8:16, or even to keep quiet, Mark 1:34. The demons that tormented the man in the country of the Gerasenes couldn’t enter the nearby swine herd except by the Lord’s concession.

‘He gave them permission, and the impure spirits came out and went into the pigs. The herd, about two thousand in number, rushed down the steep bank into the lake and were drowned. Those tending the pigs ran off and reported this in the town and countryside, and the people went out to see what had happened.’ Mark 5:13-14

Since it’s the case that demons could do nothing except by divine permission, the intriguing question is, why did God allow these spirits to enter into people?

The truth of the matter is, the Bible doesn’t give a specific answer to this question. I personally believe that God permitted demons to possess certain people in the time of Christ and the apostles so that His power could be seen. Not only did Christ have power over nature, disease, and death, but He also had power over the spirit world.

The Devil and his demons were proved to be powerless before the Son of God.

‘And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.’ Colossians 2:15

‘The one who does what is sinful is of the devil, because the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work.’ 1 John 3:8

And we do know that the ability to cast out demons in the first century was given in order to confirm the truth of the Gospel message.

‘And these signs will accompany those who believe: In my name they will drive out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all; they will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well.’ After the Lord Jesus had spoken to them, he was taken up into heaven and he sat at the right hand of God. Then the disciples went out and preached everywhere, and the Lord worked with them and confirmed his word by the signs that accompanied it.’ Mark 16+17-20

Demons still exist, but they don’t possess people today. Today, we need to be concerned about Satan, the Devil, who tempts us to sin. We know that the devil is still working today but he doesn’t have the power he once had and so he can only work through lying and deceit.

Lying and deceit

Note the following passages which speak about how the devil operates today.

‘You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies.’ John 8:44

‘But I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent’s cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ.’ 2 Corinthians 11:3

‘For such people are false apostles, deceitful workers, masquerading as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. It is not surprising, then, if his servants also masquerade as servants of righteousness. Their end will be what their actions deserve.’ 2 Corinthians 11:13-15

‘Put on the full armour of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.’ Ephesians 6:11

‘The coming of the lawless one will be in accordance with how Satan works. He will use all sorts of displays of power through signs and wonders that serve the lie, and all the ways that wickedness deceives those who are perishing. They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. For this reason, God sends them a powerful delusion so that they will believe the lie and so that all will be condemned who have not believed the truth but have delighted in wickedness.’ 2 Thessalonians 2:9-12

‘The great dragon was hurled down—that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him.’ Revelation 12:9

‘It exercised all the authority of the first beast on its behalf, and made the earth and its inhabitants worship the first beast, whose fatal wound had been healed. And it performed great signs, even causing fire to come down from heaven to the earth in full view of the people. Because of the signs it was given power to perform on behalf of the first beast, it deceived the inhabitants of the earth. It ordered them to set up an image in honour of the beast who was wounded by the sword and yet lived.’ Revelation 13:12-14

‘But the beast was captured, and with it the false prophet who had performed the signs on its behalf. With these signs, he had deluded those who had received the mark of the beast and worshiped its image. The two of them were thrown alive into the fiery lake of burning sulphur.’ Revelation 19:20

The purpose of the church, especially the duties of elders, preachers, and teachers, is to teach people so that they are not as vulnerable to such deceit. These were all in place

‘to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming.’ Ephesians 4:12-14

Like I said at the start of this subject, the whole purpose of this is to try compare what people claim is demon possession today with the Scriptures, in order for you to make your own mind up about the subject in hand. And to know that I’m not disputing what people are claiming they have seen and witnessed but I am disputing if what they saw and witnessed was genuine.

‘As soon as they left the synagogue, they went with James and John to the home of Simon and Andrew. Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they immediately told Jesus about her. So, he went to her, took her hand and helped her up. The fever left her, and she began to wait on them. That evening after sunset the people brought to Jesus all the sick and demon-possessed. The whole town gathered at the door, and Jesus healed many who had various diseases. He also drove out many demons, but he would not let the demons speak because they knew who he was.’ Mark 1:29-34

Jesus came into Simon Peter’s house and found his mother-in-law sick in bed with a high fever, Luke 4:38. He spoke to her, raised her up, and the fever left her. She then began waiting on Jesus and the disciples. He also healed many others who were brought to Him.

Several features of Jesus’ healings are noteworthy:

1. He healed immediately, with no delay.

2. He healed everyone who came to Him regardless of their disease. Matthew 8:16-17 / Luke 4:40-41.

3. He healed so completely that Simon’s mother-in-law was able to get up and start waiting on them.

After a fever breaks, it normally takes a few days for a person to recover his strength. Jesus’ healings put people back as if they had never had their disabilities in the first place!

4. Jesus sought to avoid publicity.

He ordered the demons not to announce who He was. Why sunset? They were confined to their homes and weren’t allowed out until sunset, 6:00 am.

‘Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. Simon and his companions went to look for him, and when they found him, they exclaimed: ‘Everyone is looking for you!” Jesus replied, ‘Let us go somewhere else—to the nearby villages—so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.’ So, he travelled throughout Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and driving out demons. Mark 1:35-39

Jesus frequently sought solitude for prayer. Prayer during the daytime was nearly impossible since the crowds continually pressed on Him, so He skipped sleep to be able to talk with His Father that He missed so much. After finally finding Him that morning, the disciples reported that everybody in the town where He had been, were seeking Him.

Nevertheless, since He wanted to be able to get the message to as many people as possible, He insisted on moving on to other towns.

‘A man with leprosy came to him and begged him on his knees, ‘If you are willing, you can make me clean.’ Jesus was indignant. He reached out his hand and touched the man. ‘I am willing,’ he said. ‘Be clean!’ Immediately the leprosy left him and he was cleansed. Jesus sent him away at once with a strong warning: ‘See that you don’t tell this to anyone. But go, show yourself to the priest and offer the sacrifices that Moses commanded for your cleansing, as a testimony to them.’ Instead he went out and began to talk freely, spreading the news. As a result, Jesus could no longer enter a town openly but stayed outside in lonely places. Yet the people still came to him from everywhere.’ Mark 1:40-45

Painful open sores caused everyone to dread leprosy. Those who contracted it were quarantined because the disease was highly contagious. In this story, Jesus did what no one else dared do, He touched a leper. When He did so, the man was healed immediately.

His sores were instantly transformed into smooth skin. The Lord then instructed the cleansed leper to report his healing to the priest, a requirement of the Law of Moses, Leviticus 13-14, but to tell no one else. The man, however, went out and told everyone, the exact opposite of what Jesus had said.

Undoubtedly, he was thrilled that he had been healed and probably imagined that spreading the news about Jesus would honour Him. But the fact remains that he did just what Jesus had said not to do. As a result, the Lord was thronged by such large crowds that He could no longer publicly enter into cities, but had to remain in unpopulated areas.

We should learn a lesson. All disobedience, even well-intentioned, hurts Jesus’ work.


This chapter shows the greatness of Jesus John was unworthy to untie His shoes;

God spoke from heaven endorsing Him;

He expelled demons by a mere word;

He healed the sick immediately regardless of the nature of their infirmity.

This chapter also indicates how we should respond to His greatness Immediately obey everything He says no matter what sacrifice is required; respect the authority of His message; and obey Him even when His command seems unreasonable.

Go To Mark 2



"For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline."

2 Timothy 1:7