And He came down to Capernaum, a city of Galilee. And He was teaching them on Sabbath days; and they were continually amazed at His teaching, for His message was with authority. And there was a man in the synagogue possessed by the spirit of an unclean demon, and he cried out with a loud voice, “Ha! What do we have to do with You, Jesus of Nazareth? Have You come to destroy us? I know who You are—the Holy One of God!” And Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be quiet and come out of him!” And when the demon had thrown him down in their midst, he went out of him without doing him any harm. And amazement came upon them all and they began discussing with one another, and 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 getting out into every locality in the surrounding district.
And He arose and left the synagogue, and entered Simon’s home. Now Simon’s mother-in-law was suffering from a high fever; and they made request of Him on her behalf. And standing over her, He rebuked the fever, and it left her; and she immediately arose and began to wait on them. And while the sun was setting, all who had any sick with various diseases brought them to Him; and laying His hands on every one of them, He was healing them. And demons also were coming out of many, crying out and saying, “You are the Son of God!” And rebuking them, He would not allow them to speak, because they knew Him to be the Christ.
And when day came, he departed and went to a lonely place; and the multitudes were searching for Him, and came to Him, and tried to keep Him from going away from them. But He said to them, “I must preach the kingdom of God to the other cities also, for I was sent for this purpose.” And He kept on preaching in the synagogues of Judea (Luke 4:31-44).
Several (actually more than that!) years ago, when I was a student in seminary, I went outside late in the night to be revived by the cool breezes of the evening. Our apartment was located next to the seminary parking lot, and I observed a car parked outside the library, with four people in it. The license plate was from out of state and the situation was questionable enough that I called the police and asked if a squad car might check out the car and its occupants. There had been some recent burglaries at the seminary and it seemed the prudent thing to do. I did play the matter down and ask for someone to cruise by in the course of their patrol.
It didn’t work out quite that way, however. Within five minutes, four squad cars were on the scene, two coming from each side of the parking lot. One of the squad cars stayed behind a good while. I began to get an uneasy feeling about what I had done. Who was it in that car, and what were they doing? A friend of mine happened to be a roommate of one of the seminary students who was in the car. He told me that two or three seminary men were in the car, attempt to exorcise a young man of a demon.
What would these men have told the police, when they inquired as to what was going on? What would you have said? “Oh, no problem, officer. You see we were merely trying to cast a demon out of this fellow here.” Right. That would have brought on a whole new crew, wearing white coats and carrying strait jackets.
When I told a professor friend of mine, he said, “I’d lie!” I know just how he felt. One would surely attempt to avoid telling those policemen what you were really doing. In our day, demon possession is not something which our culture is accustomed to seeing, nor are they eager to admit that demons even exist. Scott Peck, psychiatrist and author of the well-known book The Road Less Traveled, has also written a book which is a study of human evil, entitled, People of the Lie. In this book he professes to be a Christian, and he also testifies to at least two experiences of exorcism in his career. He points to another author who pursues the matter much more fully. Demon possession, according to Peck, is a reality, even in the United States.
The passage of Scripture which we are going to study in this lesson is not only relevant to us because demons do exist today and still possess people. It is relevant to us for a number of other points of application as well. My initial impression was to view the people of Capernaum as vastly superior to those at Nazareth. Our text ends with the people begging Jesus not to leave them, while the people at Nazareth drove Jesus from their synagogue and sought to kill Him. In this case, however, the differences between the people of these two are really superficial, and the similarities are disturbing. Even more distressing is the realization that the demons have something in common with the people of both cities. Let us look to our text to discern the differences and the similarities between the three major groups which are described: the Nazarethites, the Capernaumites, and the demons.
The accounts of the births of Jesus and John the Baptist, His forerunner introduced Luke’s gospel. Then, Luke tells us of the commencement of John’s ministry and that of our Lord. John began to preach that Messiah was coming and that men should repent in preparation for His arrival. He denied that He was Messiah and immediately pointed to Jesus as God’s appointed King when He was divinely indicated as such at His baptism. Jesus was then led of the Spirit into the wilderness, where He was tempted.
Luke passes by the first year of Jesus’ public ministry, with but a two verse summation of the impact of His ministry in Galilee (4:14-15). The reputation of the Lord reached Nazareth, the place where He grew up, long before His return to this city. When He arrived on the Sabbath and read the passage from Isaiah, messianic expectation was exceedingly great. Nazareth was not merely an obscure town in Galilee, it was a town with a poor reputation, such that Nathaniel could say, “Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?” (John 1:46)
Since Jesus referred to Nathaniel as “a man in whom there was no guile” (John 1:47), we must believe that these words did not just reflect prejudice and bias.
When Jesus informed the people of Nazareth that the words of Isaiah, the promise of Messiah’s coming, were fulfilled in their hearing, the people were delighted:
And all were speaking well of Him, and wondering at the gracious words which were falling from His lips; and they were saying, “Is this not Joseph’s son?” (Luke 4:22).
Knowing that no prophet was ever honored by his home town, Jesus brushed aside the people’s praise, and informed them further of His messianic ministry, which was to include the salvation of the Gentiles. At this the people’s praise turned to anger. Jesus was thrust unceremoniously from the synagogue—they would have no more of His teaching—and the people were about to force Him over a precipice, which would have brought about His death (or a mighty deliverance by a band of angels—remember Satan’s temptation using Psalm 91). Jesus passed through the hostile crowd, much like Moses and the Israelites walked through the Red Sea. His own people had rejected Him. He, like all the other prophets of Israel, was no hero, for His message and ministry did not conform to the desires and expectations of the people.
Leaving Nazareth, Jesus arrived at Capernaum.81 Capernaum was a small city, located on the western shores of the Sea of Galilee, about 25 miles from Nazareth. Jesus moved here upon hearing of John the Baptist’s arrest (Matt. 4:12-13). It thus become known as Jesus’ home (Mk. 2:1; Matt. 9:1). This is where Simon and Andrew, James and John lived (Mk. 1:21, 29).
Verses 31 and 32 begin with a summary of Jesus’ teaching ministry in the synagogue on the Sabbath days. His teaching resulted in amazement on the part of His audience, not unlike the initial response of the people of Nazareth. Luke sums up the cause for the amazement of the audience with these words:
His message was with authority (Luke 4:32).
This is a similar statement to that found in Matthew’s gospel, immediately after Jesus had delivered the “Sermon on the Mount”:
The result was that when Jesus had finished these words, the multitudes were amazed at His teaching; for He was teaching them as one having authority, and not as their scribes (Matt. 7:28-29).
What is it that distinguished our Lord’s teaching from that of the scribes and Pharisees, and made His teaching authoritative, when their teaching was not? The gospels do not really tell us what it was about Jesus’ teaching that caused it to stand apart, vastly superior to that of others. It does not seem that Jesus method of delivery was that much different from His contemporaries. Jesus taught sitting, as they did, for example. The difference does not seem to be a matter of style, so much as of substance. In my personal opinion, there were at least two things which distinguished Jesus’ teaching from that of the others of His day:
First, I believe that Jesus’ teaching was simple and straightforward, while that of scribes and Pharisees was academic, scholarly, and obscure. Have you ever heard a scholar teach in such scholarly terms that you left having no grasp of what he was saying? You go away feeling that that man knew much more than you, but you have no idea of what it was he said. Obscurity often passes for depth. When Jesus taught, He spoke very simply, using earthly stories, parables, and illustrations. People heard Him, knowing what He had said, and grasping that this was what the Bible had taught in the first place. Jesus, as the Master Teacher, made the text of Scripture clear and simple.
Second, Jesus taught as the author of Scripture, while the scribes and Pharisees taught as mere students, and not good students at that! The difference between Jesus’ teaching and the rest was the same as hearing the author of a book speak about his book and hearing another person speak about the same book. Jesus taught Scripture as God, from God’s point of view. The scribes and Pharisees taught as mere men, with their biases and prejudices obscuring the text of Scripture. Indeed, the matter was even worse, for the scribes and Pharisees were known for quoting their knowledge and use of rabbi’s material, and not for their knowledge of the Scriptures. Morris informs us that,
Originality was not highly prized among the rabbis and it was usual to accredit one’s words by citing illustrious predecessors. For example, R. Eliezer piously disavowed novelty: “nor have I ever in my life said a thing which I did not hear from my teachers” (Sukkah 28a; a similar statement is made about R. Johanan b. Zakkai, and the attitude was common). Jesus did no such thing and the authority with which He spoke impressed men.82
From a general statement about the authority, Luke moves to a specific incident which illustrates his point. On one particular Sabbath Jesus may have been in the midst of His teaching when He was rudely interrupted by the piercing scream of a demoniac. I can almost imagine watching the person ahead of me jump when the man screamed (that it not to say that I would not have done likewise). The satanic and demonic evil of this man, controlled by the demon, would have been frightening. His voice would have sent chills down your spine. What would Jesus do now? No doubt the demon thought that he would create chaos and confusion. He was up to no good. According to Luke’s account, however, the incident simply served to demonstrate the power of our Lord’s words and to further His reputation throughout the region. Let us see what this incident reveals about the man, the demon, the people, and our Lord. Remember that this is the first instance of demonic possession in Luke’s gospel. It is also the first report of a miracle being performed on the Sabbath, which receives no protest—surely all were glad to have the demoniac cured, especially those setting near him.
At Nazareth, Jesus had been put out of the synagogue. Now, at Capernaum, a demonized man had come into the synagogue, and the demon must be put out of the man. The man was utterly dominated by the demon. The demon so fully controlled the man that the voice was the demon’s, as well as the spirit. The man was utterly overshadowed. To use a contemporary expression, the demon wanted only the man’s body, and he had it.
The demon was dominant, and thus from the words and action which characterized the demoniac we can learn much about demons. The demon was unclean, in contrast to the Lord, who was recognized by the demon as “the Holy One of God” (4:34). The demon was loud and disruptive. He cried out with a loud voice (4:33). His intent seems to have been to interrupt and disrupt the teaching of Jesus. The demon, in my opinion, was not only hostile and angry, it was perplexed. The demon was something like a wild animal that has been cornered. His question, “Have You come to destroy us?” (4:34), could just as easily have been a statement, “You have come to destroy us!”83 This raised the question, verbalized by the demon, “What do we have to do with You,84 Jesus of Nazareth?” (4:34).
Satan had been told at the time of the fall of Adam and Eve (in which Satan was instrumental) that his head would be crushed by the heel of the seed of the woman (Gen. 3:15). He knew, in other words, that when Messiah came, it would spell his destruction, his demise. That is why the demon so quickly raised the question of what Jesus was doing there in the synagogue. Had He not come to destroy Satan? What was the purpose of Jesus’ teaching in the synagogue? What was going on? Satan could not figure out the game plan of our Lord. Not realizing that Jesus would “crush his head” by means of His substitutionary death on the cross, Satan could not fathom what was taking place. The demon was demanding to know what was going on.
Jesus would not carry on a conversation with this demon. He would not dignify the demon by giving it further occasion to manifest its diabolical nature. Thus, Jesus rebuked85 the demon and commanded it to be silent and to come out of the man. The demon obeyed, but only after one final rebellious act. He cast the man to the ground in a way that was so violent, it seemed certain that the man would have been seriously injured. Luke, the doctor, informs us further of our Lord’s great power by indicating that the man incurred no injury from this final fit. Jesus was Lord.
We can see that the man was utterly overshadowed, dominated and controlled by this unclean and evil spirit. We can see that the demon was seeking to resist the purposes of Messiah, rebellious to the end. We can also see that our Lord was in complete control. While exorcisms typically were long, drawn out processes, with formulas and the like, Jesus cast the demon out with one short sentence. The demon obeyed, reluctantly, by immediately, and there was no injury done to the man. What a Saviour!
The incident had a profound impact on those who watched. I would suspect that the whole ordeal took very little time, but even the brevity of the event was significant. At the word of Jesus, demons obeyed. The word of Jesus had great power and authority. If Jesus’ teaching was authoritative, so were His words spoken to the members of the satanic hoard.
And amazement came upon them all, and they began discussing with one another, and saying, “What is this message [literally “word”]? For with authority and power He commands the unclean spirits, and they come out” (Luke 4:36).
Jesus’ words were powerful, whether in teaching, or in commanding the demon to be silent and to depart from the demoniac. The authority of our Lord was to be seen by the power of His words. When Jesus spoke, even the demons listened, and obeyed.
As a result of this incident in the synagogue Jesus reputation was spread abroad. Reports of this event and many others preceded Jesus to other parts of the land. They also brought many to Him for healing, which is described in the next section.
Jesus left the synagogue, and went to the home of Peter (or so it would seem), where his mother-in-law was suffering from a high86 fever. On her behalf, “they” (which seems to include Peter and other family members) appealed to Jesus to heal her. While the other accounts (Matt. 8:14-15; Mark 1:29-31) focus on the physical “touching” or “taking the hand” of this woman, Luke emphasizes the word of rebuke spoken to the fever. Once again, it is the word of the Lord which is powerful. Not only does this high fever leave the woman instantly, but the residual consequences of the fever were remedied. Just as the waves of the sea would take considerable time to be calmed after the winds ceased, so the weakness resulting from the fever of this woman would have taken time to overcome. Yet her healing was instantaneous and complete. Thus, she immediately got up and began to minister to the Lord.
It was still the Sabbath day, and thus there was not the normal activity. As sunset approached, the Sabbath ended, which immediately brought many to the door of the house, hoping for healing. These were not people with minor ailments, various aches and pains, but people with serious maladies of various types, people who had to be brought by others87. Until the Sabbath ended, the people could not labor by carrying the ill to Jesus. At sunset, the people arrived en masse. Every type of illness was healed, instantly and completely. Demons, too, were being cast out, like the exorcism which Luke reported in the synagogue earlier that day. Here, too, the demons identified Jesus as the “Son of God,” but were rebuked and silenced, and commanded to come out (Luke 4:41). Jesus did not desire or permit the praise of these unclean enemies.
It would seem that Jesus performed healings throughout the night. The people began to arrive at sundown, and Jesus is now said to “depart to a lonely place” when the day came. Thus, early on the next morning, when He had healed all who were present, Jesus slipped away to a lonely place to pray. Luke does not specifically mention prayer here, but Mark does (Mark 1:35). Later, in chapter 5, Luke does describe the prayer life of our Lord:
But He Himself would often slip away to the wilderness and pray (Luke 5:16).
It was not long before the crowds found the Lord. When they realized that He was leaving them, they, unlike the people of Nazareth, sought to keep Him in their midst. The reasons, I think, are fairly obvious, and not all that commendable. Who would want such a healer and teacher to leave?
Jesus responded to their appeals to stay by referring to His calling, to His priorities:
But He said to them, “I must preach the kingdom of God to the other cities also, for I was sent for this purpose” (Luke 4:43).
Jesus knew what He had been called to do. Just as Isaiah’s prophecy, read by our Lord in the synagogue at Nazareth, emphasized the importance of proclamation, so Jesus stresses the priority of proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom to practicing miraculous healings. There is a missionary mandate here as well. Not only does Jesus view preaching as having priority to miracle-working, He also views it as necessary for Him to preach throughout Israel, and not just in a few places. Thus, the final verse (4:44) informs us that Jesus kept on preaching in Judea, and not just in Galilee.
Our text contains a number of valuable lessons. Let us consider of few of them. First, the text gives us much insight into the realm of the demonic. The demoniac was so controlled by the demon spirit that he utterly lost his personhood. Satan offers men freedom, but he delivers bondage, slavery. We do not even know the name of this demonized man. What a pathetic picture of a man filled with the spirit of Satan. How great the contrast with the Christian who is filled with the Spirit of God. That person is free from the dominion of sin and death, free to exercise all of their God-given talents and potential, to be the unique person God meant them to be, to fulfill their unique role in the church and in the world. The demonized man was just a body to be possessed, a mouth through whom Satan could speak. Only in Christ are men made free. Only filled by His Spirit can we experience freedom and individuality.
As I have considered the demon exorcisms of this text and compared them with the others described in the New Testament I have come to the conclusion that Jesus never diagnosed any case of demon possession, to the surprise of his audience. That is, every time Jesus dealt with a demonized person the people already knew the problem was demonic. The New Testament never describes any occasion when a person was brought to Jesus and He diagnosed the problem as demonic, to their surprise. Demon possession was evident to everyone. I say this because today there are many who are crediting demons with illnesses, ailments, and vices, for which they should not receive credit. Alcoholism, smoking, child abuse, and countless other symptoms are now said to be the result of demonization. I never see this in the New Testament. When men are demon-possessed, everyone knows it. It may require God’s matchless power to rid the demonized of the spirit which possesses him, but it does not take divine insight to recognize the demonized as possessed by a demon. Let us not give demons more credit than they deserve. Let us not seek to see them where they are not. And let us not cast our guilt and weakness on them.
Our text also provides us with insight into the priorities which guided our Lord. In short, His priorities were prayer and the preaching of the Word. Miracles played a minor role in His ministry, but prayer and preaching were His priority. Thus, He knew He must leave Capernaum and preach elsewhere, even though the people begged Him to stay. Prayer and proclamation were also the priority of the apostles (cf. Acts 6:1-7).
Finally, this passage points out a very sad reality—the hardness of the heart of man. In one sense the people of Capernaum seem to stand head and shoulders above the people of Nazareth. The Nazarethites drove Jesus from their synagogue, and would have killed Him if they could. The people of Capernaum begged Jesus not to leave their presence. Were not the Capernaumites better than the Nazarethites? Not really.
Had these two groups of people been interchanged, I think that each would have acted exactly as the other, given the same situation. Both the Nazarethites and the Capernaumites initially responded to Jesus’ teaching with awe and wonder. Both would have urged Him to stay in their midst, except for the fact that Jesus revealed some of the unpleasant realities of His messianic ministry to the people of His home town—namely the hardness of heart of the Jews and the divinely purposed blessing of the Gentiles through the unbelief of Israel. Had the events which occurred at the Capernaum taken place in Nazareth (which was precisely what the Nazarethites hoped, Luke 4:23), the people would have loved Jesus, and begged Him to stay. Had the events which happened at Nazareth occurred at Capernaum, I believe that the Capernaumites would have thrown Jesus from their synagogue and sought to kill Him, just as the people of Jerusalem would later do. The only thing which was different in Nazareth from Capernaum was what Jesus did and said. The people were the same.
There is one thing which the demons, the Nazarethites, and the Capernaumites all shared in common: wonder, curiosity, amazement, and unbelief. Lest we bristle at the thought of the unbelief of the people of Capernaum, let me remind you of these words of our Lord concerning Capernaum:
Then He began to reproach the cities in which most of His miracles were done, because they did not repent. “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the miracles had occurred in Tyre and Sidon which occurred in you, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. Nevertheless I say to you, it shall be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon in the day of judgment, than for you. And you, Capernaum, will not be exalted to heaven, will you? You shall DESCEND TO HADES; for if the miracles had occurred in Sodom which occurred in you, it would have remained to this day. Nevertheless I say to you that it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment than for you” (Matt. 11:20-24).
The message which both John the Baptist and Jesus proclaimed was this: “Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand.” The message and the miracles of Jesus were simply His claim to be Messiah. Yet while people initially responded with wonder and praise, they did not repent. And when Jesus refused to fulfill their expectations of Messiah, they rejected Him and sought to put Him to death. The greater the number of miracles Jesus performed, the greater the evidence of His Messiahship, and the greater the responsibility for rejecting Him. Jesus was popular whenever He utilized His power to enhance and enrich the lives of the people and to remove their pain and suffering. Jesus was unpopular whenever the greater purposes of God for His life were unveiled.
The people of Capernaum are really no better than the people of Nazareth. Both wanted a miracle-working Messiah who would do their bidding. Neither sensed their own sin and the need for repentance. And so it is today. There are many in churches today who know that Jesus is the Son of God, yet have not submitted to Him. There are many in churches today who believe in Jesus as a miracle worker or as a great teacher, but not as Savior and Lord. Such people are no better than those who immediately and openly reject Jesus for who He is. Indeed, the judgment of those who know more is greater, for their level of responsibility is greater. To whom much is given, much is required. This is why Jesus held Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum more culpable than Tyre, Sidon, or Sodom. Knowledge brings responsibility. Jesus Christ is God’s Messiah, and our response to Him is to be repentance and belief. What we need much more desperately than physical healing and mighty miracles is the forgiveness of our sins. This is the primary task for which our Lord came to the earth, and it is God’s primary gift to men, which we are to receive. To receive God’s other gifts, and to reject His gift of salvation, is a damnable offense. Let us not be like the Nazarethites, the Capernaumites, or the demonized. Let us repent and believe in Jesus as our Savior.
81 Capernaum “… was the chief Jewish town, as Tiberias was the chief Roman town, of the neighbourhood. It was therefore a good centre, especially as traders from all parts frequently met there (Mk. ii. 15, iii. 20, 32, etc.).” Alfred Plummer, The Gospel According to S. Luke, The International Critical Commentary Series, (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1969), p. 131.
84 “‘What have we in common?’ Comp. viii. 28; Mt. viii. 29;; Mk. i. 24; Jn. ii. 4; Judg. xi. 12; I Kings xvii. 18; 2 Kings iii. 13; 2 Sam. xvi. 10; I Esdr. i. 26; Epict. Diss.i. I. 16, i. 27. 13, ii. 9. 16.” Plummer, p. 133.
85 The rebuke of our Lord showed His disapproval of its unclean nature and of its diabolical associations, and of its work. Jesus also “rebuked” the winds (Matt. 8:26; Luke 8:24) and the fever of Peter’s mother-in-law (Luke 4:39). I believe that this is due to the fact that both the winds and the fever were destructive and detrimental to man. Sickness (fever) and storms are not in accord with the original creation of the earth, but are the unpleasant result of the fall, thus the rebuke from the Creator.