λέγων· τί ἡμῖν καὶ σοί, Ἰησοῦ Ναζαρηνέ; ἦλθες ἀπολέσαι ἡμᾶς; οἶδά σε τίς εἶ, ὁ ἅγιος τοῦ θεοῦ.
One of the themes of Mark’s Gospel is that people cannot figure out who Jesus actually is. The reader knows from the first verse who he is – “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the son of God.” (1:1) But throughout the book, those with whom Jesus interacts are perplexed. Well, there are some who know exactly who Jesus is: the demons.
In Mark 1:21-28, Jesus travels to Capernaum and, on the sabbath, goes into the synagogue to preach. The people there are astonished “for he taught them as one who had authority [ἐξουσίαν], and not as the scribes.” (1:22) As he is teaching, “a man with an unclean spirit [ἄνθρωπος ἐν πνεύματι ἀκαθάρτῳ]” appears in the synagogue who yells to Jesus, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are – the Holy One of God!” Jesus rebukes the man and tells the unclean spirit, “Be silent, and come out of him!” The man begins to convulse and, after he cries out loudly, the man is free of the spirit. (1:23-26)
Mark 1:21-28 is the first time in the Gospel of Mark we read of him dealing with unclean spirits and so this sets the stage for what it is to come with regards to his dealings with demonic forces. The response of the crowd at the synagogue is amazement. Not only does this young man teach with ἐξουσία but he can command unclean spirits “and they obey him.” (1:27) His ministry featured more casting out of demons (1:32-34; 5:1-20, 7:24-30, and 9:14-29) and he would even grant his disciples the authority (ἐξουσίαν) to cast them out. (3:15)
What is striking, though, about Jesus’ exchange with demons is that they know who he is even when no one else does. The man with the unclean spirit calls him “the Holy One of God.” (1:24) The man possessed by Legion comes before him and calls him “Jesus, Son of the Most High God.” (5:7) But despite the fact that these demonic forces recognize him, the human characters in the story do not. The scribes say that “he is possessed by Beelzebul” and that “by the prince of demons he casts out the demons.” (3:22) Though Jesus points out the frivolity of such a claim, it is not entirely convincing to those in ear-shot.
Yet the reader knows that Jesus is not demon-possessed and that the demons are the only ones who understand the Messianic secret, as it were. Through his teaching, healing, and exorcising of demons, Jesus was making known that he is “the Holy One of God.”