Exorcism in the Synagogue
(This teaching is adapted from the Jesus, My Rabbi lesson enjoyed by thousands of students in Torah Clubs around the world. A study in the Gospels from a Messianic Jewish perspective. Every week Club members encounter Yeshua of Nazareth in his Jewish, historical, and cultural context. Learn more about Torah Club and how you can join a club in your area.)
Rabbi Yeshua began His formal teaching career with an auspicious debut. As Yeshua brought His teaching to a conclusion, a shrieking voice ripped through the quiet Sabbath morning. A demonized man from the back of the synagogue began to wail, “What business do we have with each other, Yeshua of Nazareth? Have You come to destroy us? I know who You are—the Holy One of God!” (Mark 1:24). In rabbinic terminology, a demon is called an “unclean spirit (ruach tum’ah).” Just as contact with certain things (such as a corpse) can ceremonially defile a person, certain spiritual entities are spiritually unclean. Judaism in the days of the Master believed that these wicked spiritual entities vexed human beings. First-century Jews considered evil spirits responsible for physical ailments, maladies, sicknesses, mental disturbances, disabilities, seizures, madness, and so forth. According to Talmudic-era Jewish demonology, evil spirits lurk everywhere, especially in dirty and/or ritually impure places, and occasionally they may take power over a human being. Unclean spirits are not fond of synagogues; they despise hearing people pray and read the Scriptures, but those are things that a demon can tolerate if necessary. As the Master began to teach, however, the demon began to feel excessively uncomfortable, until at last it exploded in a rage and took control of his host’s voice. The evil spirit immediately identified the Master as “Yeshua of Nazareth” and the “Holy One of God.” The first title refers to His physical identity, the second refers to His spiritual identity. By naming Him, the spirit hoped to achieve a spiritual advantage of authority over Yeshua. The evil spirit asked rhetorically, “What business do we have with each other?” The question is a biblical Hebrew idiom for “What do you have against me?” The spirit asked, “Have you come to destroy us?” He was surprised to see the Messiah, the one destined to bring about the final judgment when the evil spirits will at last be banished. The spiritual tantrum did not impress the Master. He did not dignify the interruption by answering the demon’s questions or engaging it in conversation. He did not accept the demon’s appellations. He simply said, “Be quiet, and come out of him!” (Mark 1:25). The demonized man collapsed; the spirit left with a shriek. The man was unharmed. Jewish legend holds that King Solomon mastered the art of exorcism and commanding evil spirits. Demons feared King Solomon and bowed before his authority. The first-century Jewish writer Josephus describes Solomon’s techniques for exorcism, and he even describes a first-century exorcism performed in Solomon’s name. Yeshua showed Himself to be the true Son of David, the new Solomon, by taking authority over the evil spirits without the assistance of exorcism ceremonies and rituals. The people in the Capernaum synagogue asked, “Who is this man?” Apparently, the demons knew who He was.