Mark 1:21-28; Luke 4:31-37 – Demons Confess Yeshua as the Holy One of God



“They went into Capernaum; and immediately on the Sabbath He entered the synagogue and began to teach. They were amazed at His teaching; for He was teaching them as one having authority, and not as the scribes. Just then there was a man in their synagogue with an unclean spirit; and he cried out, saying, ‘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!’ And Yeshua rebuked him, saying, ‘Be quiet, and come out of him!’ Throwing him into convulsions, the unclean spirit cried out with a loud voice and came out of him. They were all amazed, so that they debated among themselves, saying, ‘What is this? A new teaching with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey Him.’ Immediately the news about Him spread everywhere into all the surrounding district of Galilee” (Mark 1:21-28).

“And He came down to Capernaum, a city of Galilee, and He was teaching them on the Sabbath; and they were amazed at His teaching, for His message was with authority. In the synagogue there was a man possessed by the spirit of an unclean demon, and he cried out with a loud voice, ‘Let us alone! 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!’ But Yeshua rebuked him, saying, ‘Be quiet and come out of him!’ And when the demon had thrown him down in the midst of the people, he came out of him without doing him any harm. And amazement came upon them all, and they began talking with one another saying, ‘What is this message? For with authority and power He commands the unclean spirits and they come out.’ And the report about Him was spreading into every locality in the surrounding district” (Luke 4:31-37).

reproduced from Salvation on the Line, Volume I

Any reader of the Synoptic Gospels can easily recognize how Yeshua the Messiah has distinct supernatural powers. This is especially true when He encounters human beings who were demon possessed. At a particular Sabbath, while teaching in the synagogue at Capernaum, a person who was demon possessed identified something unique about this Yeshua who had been speaking (Mark 1:23; Luke 4:33), which went beyond His teaching abilities. Speaking in the plural, the demonic entities possessing the man ask the Messiah, “Have you come to destroy us?” (Mark 1:24a; Luke 4:34a) or “Are you here to get rid of us?” (Contemporary English Version). If Yeshua were just a standard mortal, it seems most improbable that when encountering demonic entities, that they would ask a question involving some dimension of the final judgment of the forces of darkness (cf. Matthew 25:41).

The further statement that the demons make, necessarily begs some inquiry into the nature of Yeshua, as the demons state in unison, “I know who You are—the Holy One of God!” (Mark 1:23b; Luke 4:34b), oida se tis ei, ho hagios tou Theou. Commentators of both Mark and Luke have had to deliberate over the title ho hagios tou Theou or “the Holy One of God.” Advocates of a low Christology, of Yeshua the Messiah being a created agent of God, would conclude that the title “Holy One of God” is exactly the kind of title that a supernatural agent of God would be expected to be called. Advocates of a high Christology, of Yeshua the Messiah being integrated into the Divine Identity, would argue that the title “Holy One of God” indicates that He is unique, in contrast to any human being who would encounter the demons, and that a further case will be built as more information is revealed in the Gospel narratives.

For the Gospel of Mark, C.E.B. Cranfield states something that those of both sides should recognize: the title “Holy One of God” is used “to designate Jesus as from beyond this world and belong[ing] to God.”[1] Yeshua is not some standard, mortal being. William L. Lane goes a little further, detailing, “The demoniacs…address Jesus as ‘the Holy One of God’ (Ch. 1:24), ‘the Son of God’ (Ch. 3:11) or ‘the Son of of the Most High God’ (Ch. 5:7), formulations which identify Jesus as the divine Son of God.”[2] Ben Witherington III makes the important point of how in this scene, the demons immediately identify Yeshua as supernatural via the title “Holy One of God,” versus how others, namely various humans, can only immediately identify Yeshua along the lines of titles such as “teacher” or “sir”:

“In Mark ordinarily sick individuals call Jesus names like teacher (9:17) or Son of David (10:47-48) or master (10:51) or good sir (‘lord’ as with a little l), while by contrast the demons address Jesus as the Holy One of God (here cf. John 6:69) or the Son of God (3:11) or the Son of the Most High God (5:7)…[T]hey identify Jesus as more than a teacher, indeed as a unique and even supernatural figure who is recognizably part of their world and capable of doing battle with them.”[3]

For the Gospel of Luke, I. Howard Marshall notes that “The address of [ho hagios tou Theou] suggests a contrast with the unclean demon, but its roots lie in the idea of Jesus as the Son of God (1:35), separated to his service (Jdg. 13:7; 16:17 with Num. 6:5, 8).”[4] The title “Holy One of God” indicating someone unique, consecrated for Divine Service, is a fair conclusion to draw. Morris moves to a more firm position of Divinity with Luke 4:34, asserting, “The demon recognized the opposition between Jesus and all of his kind. The Holy One of God (elsewhere only Mk. 1:24; Jn. 6:69) is an unusual title, stressing the thought of consecration to God’s service. In this place we should see it as an example of what James had in mind when he wrote ‘the demons believe—and shudder’ (Jas. 2:19).”[5]

Wellum goes further than the Mark and Luke commentators just quoted, as He takes “Holy One of God” coupled with the title “Son of God,” as explicit references to the Divinity of Yeshua, as He is to be strictly identified as God:

“Jesus is portrayed in exalted terms…and his heavenly origin is evident when he is identified as the ‘Holy One of God’ and the ‘Son of God.’ Jesus’ coming in order to destroy the demons is presented as a visit from the heavenly realm, and, as such, it presupposes not only his preexistence but also that he transcends the human realm and is identified with God.”[6]

While Wellum’s commitment to a high Christology is to be appreciated, Yeshua simply being called “the Holy One of God” or even “the Son of God,” by demonic entities, is insufficient to prove His Divinity, without a consideration of further data. Important clues are given by Mark 1:21-28 and Luke 4:31-38 about the nature of Yeshua, beyond those of His supernatural origins from Heaven. A created, supernatural agent of God would probably not be asked, “Have you come to destroy us?”, with some degree of finality associated with the final judgment in view.[7] More important to consider, is how Mark 1:21-28 and Luke 4:31-38 are not the only passages where Yeshua’s authority and supernatural abilities will be on display, as this is only an early scene of Yeshua being identified by an entity other than God the Father, as supernatural.

In their book Putting Jesus in His Place, Bowman and Komoszewski appropriately summarize how Yeshua’s ability, to be immediately obeyed by the demons, needs to be catalogued along with other, with a number of more significant supernatural acts, which will have more of a direct bearing on whether Yeshua the Messiah is indeed God:

“The complete and total command that Christ exhibits over the natural realm in his miracles reveals his deity. On two separate occasions—once before his resurrection and once after it—Jesus tells his disciples precisely where to lower their nets in order to catch a large haul of fish (Luke 5:1-11; John 21:1-11). Jesus commands unclean spirits, and they immediately obey and come out of their host (Mark 1:21-28; Luke 4:31-37). He rebukes a fever and it immediately leaves (Matt. 8:14-15; Mark 1:29-31; Luke 4:38-39). Even more astonishing, he rebukes the winds and the waters during a dangerous storm on the sea, and they immediately become calm (Matt. 8:23-27; Mark 4:35-41; Luke 8:22-25). The Gospels conclude this particular episode with the disciples’ question, ‘Who then is this?’ showing that the miracle points to Jesus’ unique (and, from a human point of view, hidden) identity”[8] (emphasis mine).


[1] C.E.B. Cranfield, Cambridge Greek Testament Commentary: The Gospel According to St. Mark (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1972), 77.

[2] William L. Lane, New International Commentary on the New Testament: The Gospel According to Mark (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1974), 74.

[3] Ben Witherington III, The Gospel of Mark: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2001), 91; also R.T. France, New International Greek Testament Commentary: The Gospel of Mark (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002), 104.

[4] I. Howard Marshall, New International Greek Testament Commentary: The Gospel of Luke (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1978), 193.

[5] Morris, Luke, 120.

[6] Wellum, “The Deity of Christ in the Synoptic Gospels,” in The Deity of Christ, 86.

[7] For the record, the author is not a supporter of the theological concept of annihilationism, or the belief that the unrighteous condemned suffer extinction from existence. Consult his article “Why Hell Must Be Eternal.”

[8] Bowman and Komoszewski, 201.