Who is this?
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, 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.’ Mark 1.21-25
As we approach this second Sunday of advent, we must continue to address the nature of Jesus again. Throughout the gospel of Mark the crowd wonders, ‘Who is this?’ With attentiveness to the scriptures, the crowd may have realized who this Jesus is, yet even the disciples close to Jesus, although they follow him and leave everything behind, don’t fully confess who he is until chapter 8 where Peter confesses, ‘You are the Christ.’ And then even still, they didn’t fully understand what this meant for their lives.
Here at the beginning of the gospel, though, we as readers can come to see Jesus as he truly is. Mark doesn’t hem and haw at the beginning of the gospel as though Jesus may or may not have been the Messiah and the Son of God. He begins his story of the work of Jesus with these words: The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Messiah, the Son of God.’ We as readers know who Jesus is, and one of Mark’s goals is for us to realize the import of this confession. It was at the greatest cost that we can become disciples: Jesus offered himself as sacrifice to make atonement for our sins. The temple is doomed to be destroyed as Jesus through his work established a new temple. The disciples stumble forward into their roles as followers of Jesus as they come to realize this great and grave work of Christ.
One of the things Mark shows us and develops through chapter 1 (and beyond) is the identity of Jesus. The crowds wonder at his authority. Where does it come from? How can a man from Nazareth teach with such authority? But we see that the demonic forces recognize him immediately. They are like the Balaam’s donkey in that they recognize the spiritual world when men are blind. These demons know the son of God and his authority. From the passage above, the demon identifies Jesus as the Holy One of God. Now this is quite the phrase. What does the demon mean? Throughout the Old Testament, this phrase means only one thing. The holy one isn’t a prophet, it isn’t a priest, it isn’t a king. Instead, whenever we see this phrase, it is identifying God himself. The holy one is God alone. So the demon recognizes Jesus as God, but then he says it in a curious way that makes us think Jesus is someone other than God. The Holy One of God. So which is it? Is he God or only ‘of God?’ I would suggest that this saying is parallel to what John says in John 1.14, ‘And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.’ Jesus is the word become flesh, the only begotten of the father. He is the holy one of God. James reminds us that the demons believe that God is one, but they shudder. Here, they shudder at the only begotten of God. As Christians we affirm that God is one: there is one divine nature and there are three persons. The demon in his own way expresses this even though he knows his lot is destruction and not salvation.
So we see here in the first chapter of Mark an advent truth concerning the nature of Jesus from an enemy, but it is true: Jesus is God and yet he is of God. Put in another way, God took on human for to reveal himself to humanity anew and to redeem man from sin and death. In the Old Testament, the visitation of God was a terrible thing. When Amos says, ‘Prepare to meet your God,’ this was a word of judgment, but here in Mark, Jesus the holy one of God visits humanity with compassion and salvation which is offered to all who repent and believe. May we glory in the visitation of the Son of God and may we even now rejoice in the presence of his Holy Spirit in his Church, the body of Christ, as we wait for the day when we will see him face to face.