Jesus—His Life and Message: Coming on the Scene

May 19, 2015

by Peter Amsterdam

(You can read about the intent for and overview of this series in this introductory article.)

The Gospel of John ends with the words:

Now there are also many other things that Jesus did. Were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.1

In this hyperbolic language, we are told that John’s Gospel only contains a selection of the things Jesus did and said. This holds true for the three Synoptic Gospels as well, since Jesus clearly said and did much more during the years of His ministry than what is contained within the limited pages of the Gospels. Since every action taken, word spoken, miracle performed, and lesson taught by Jesus could not be recorded in the Gospels, the authors recorded general summaries and specific examples that best represented the scope of His ministry

Each of the Synoptic Gospel writers gives a summary and examples of Jesus’ teaching and miracles very early in their gospels. In doing so, they made clear from the onset the power and authority of His teaching and actions, the positive response people initially had toward Him, and the popularity He had among the people at the beginning of His ministry. Mark and Luke give three examples, which together act as such a summary.

The first example, told by both writers, is an incident in the synagogue in Capernaum. Luke tells us:

He was teaching them on the Sabbath, and they were astonished at his teaching, for his word possessed authority. And in the synagogue there was a man who had the spirit of an unclean demon, and he cried out with a loud voice, Ha! What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you arethe Holy One of God. But Jesus rebuked him, saying, Be silent and come out of him! And when the demon had thrown him down in their midst, he came out of him, having done him no harm. And they were all amazed and said to one another, What is this word? For with authority and power he commands the unclean spirits, and they come out! And reports about him went out into every place in the surrounding region.2

Mark tells the same story and ends with:

And they were all amazed, so that they questioned among themselves, saying, What is this? A new teaching with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him. And at once his fame spread everywhere throughout all the surrounding region of Galilee.3

In this first example, we see a confrontation between Jesus and the forces of evil, and the power and authority He has over them.4 The unclean spirit within the man strongly reacted against Jesus’ presence, challenging Him by naming Him as the Holy One of God. Such a reaction from demons was common when Jesus confronted them. In other similar situations, we read:

And crying out with a loud voice, he said, What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I adjure you by God, do not torment me, 5 and behold, they cried out, What have you to do with us, O Son of God? Have you come here to torment us before the time?6

In these instances, the demons identified Jesus as the Son of God/Holy One of God. In every case where demons proclaimed who Jesus was, Jesus silenced them. There are different reasons given by commentators as to why Jesus didn’t want the demons proclaiming the truth about Him, but the main reason given is well expressed by Bock:

He didnt want to have such a positive testimony from such an inglorious figure. Such a confession might lead to the wrong conclusion about the source of Jesus power.7

Another reason might have been a concern that if it became known among the populace that Jesus was the Messiah too early in His ministry, it may have brought about political expectations and repercussions which might have been problematic. While Jesus delivered people from unclean spirits many times, not all of them proclaimed who He was.8

The Greek word translated as Ha! is also translated as “let us alone” in some versions. The origin of the word is unknown, but the word is used to show surprise and/or displeasure. The spirit expressing this felt opposed and threatened. The basis of his fear was the knowledge that Jesus was the Holy One of God. Jesus immediately commanded him to be silent and to leave the man. Significantly, Jesus used only His own words to drive out the demon. Stein comments:

What makes Jesus unique is not just that he exorcised demons but also how he did this. He did not use special incantations or adjurations. He did not scream or yell. He made no special physical manipulation or appeal to God. His exorcisms were based not on technique or knowledge but on who he is  Jesus, because of who he is, not only proclaimed the arrival of the kingdom of God but in his ministry also manifested its arrival by plundering the household of Satan through his exorcisms of demons.9

The demon departed, leaving the man unharmed. God’s power was seen in Jesus’ action, and those present were amazed and discussed what this meant:

What is this word? For with authority and power he commands the unclean spirits, and they come out!10 What is this? A new teaching with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.11

Jesus is seen as having authority both in His teaching and actions. We read here and throughout the Gospels that Jesus taught with authority and that His teaching caused people to be astonished,12 amazed,13 and to marvel.14 His teaching and His actions were unique and powerful and brought Him popularity.

The second example given in Mark and Luke,15 which is also included in Matthew,16 is that of Jesus healing Peter’s mother-in-law. Mark tells us:

He left the synagogue and entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. Now Simons mother-in-law lay ill with a fever, and immediately they told him about her. And he came and took her by the hand and lifted her up, and the fever left her, and she began to serve them.17

Jesus enters the family home of the brothers Simon (aka Peter) and Andrew. Peter’s mother-in-law lives in the home as well, which tells us that Peter is married, and presumably his wife abides there.18 It’s likely that the mother-in-law’s husband had already died, as in those days Jewish husbands were generally older than their wives and died early in their children’s adulthood.19 Tradition says that Peter’s wife was actively involved in women’s ministry and that Peter had children.20

Peter’s mother-in-law was ill “with a fever,” which at the time was often considered the illness itself rather than a symptom of another illness. Many commentators consider the Greek word used as an ancient medical term for a high-grade fever.21 The fact that she was lying down shows that she was ill enough to be in bed and warranted Jesus being told of her illness. Jesus took her hand and helped her to her feet, and the fever left her. Luke tells us that Jesus rebuked the fever, and Matthew says that He touched her hand. Jesus touching her to cure her may be seen as an indication of how He valued people over traditions, given the prejudice at the time against touching people with fevers.22 All descriptions of this event say that the healing was instantaneous, as evidenced by her serving them. The Greek word used for “serve” refers to preparing food or offering food and drink to guests, which most likely means that immediately after being healed, she served food to Jesus and those who were with Him.

The third example, as told in Luke, says:

When the sun was setting, all those who had any who were sick with various diseases brought them to him, and he laid his hands on every one of them and healed them. And demons also came out of many, crying, You are the Son of God! But he rebuked them and would not allow them to speak, because they knew that he was the Christ.23 

This third example takes us to the next step in these summaries. First, Jesus casts out a demon in a limited public place, the synagogue; second, He heals a friend’s family member in a private home; and last, He publicly heals numerous people with various diseases.

We’re told that at sunset, Jesus laid hands on the sick who had been brought to Him, and they were healed. Jesus often, though not always, showed His concern and compassion for the sick by laying His hands on each one individually.24 The significance of laying His hands on them is seen differently by various commentators. Some see it as a representing a touch of personal care, others as a sign of blessing, and others as picturing a connection between Jesus and the one healed.25 It could include all of these. Besides healing people that evening, Jesus also exorcised demons out of many—which He regularly did during His ministry.26

Mark’s gospel ends this summary section with:

And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed. And Simon and those who were with him searched for him, and they found him and said to him, Everyone is looking for you. And he said to them, Let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also, for that is why I came out. And he went throughout all Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and casting out demons.27

Luke added that the people would have kept him from leaving them.28

After healing all the sick brought to Him and bringing deliverance from demons throughout the evening, Jesus rose early and took time away to commune with His Father in prayer. The people of Capernaum understandably wanted Him to stay there, but doing so would have worked against His overall mission, and thus He moved on to other towns throughout Galilee.

Matthew gives a brief summary of the result of His moving beyond Capernaum:

He went throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction among the people. So his fame spread throughout all Syria, and they brought him all the sick, those afflicted with various diseases and pains, those oppressed by demons, epileptics, and paralytics, and he healed them. And great crowds followed him from Galilee and the Decapolis, and from Jerusalem and Judea, and from beyond the Jordan.29

Clearly, Jesus was hard at work—regularly teaching in synagogues, preaching the kingdom of God, and healing throughout Galilee. A summary statement such as this doesn’t bring to the fore details of what Jesus’ daily life would have been like. He walked all throughout the area of Galilee. People were constantly brought to Him for healing of diverse diseases. He was face to face with those oppressed by demons on a regular basis. Crowds of people came to hear Him and to see Him perform miracles. He would have had little privacy, while being faced with the constant needs of others. He not only laid His life down on the cross, but He did so day in and day out during the years of His ministry.

Mark and Luke give three examples of Jesus’ miracles and power as an introduction to His ministry. Through these examples, the writers portray an overall picture of Jesus’ power and authority. First, we see Him stand up against and defeat evil by casting out a demon; second, there is the private healing of Peter’s mother-in-law; which is then followed by public healings and deliverances of a large number of people from Capernaum. These events launched His ministry throughout all of Galilee. His fame grew throughout Israel—but fame doesn’t always translate into wide acceptance, belief, and discipleship. His popularity would later bring scrutiny from the religious leaders of Israel, leading to confrontation. However, at this point in the story, the gospel writers wanted to convey the scope of Jesus’ ministry, the authority His teaching possesses, His power over demonic forces, and His ability to heal all manner of sickness.

The gospel writers were building upon what they had revealed thus far: the amazement caused by the deep understanding possessed by 12-year-old Jesus;30 John the Baptist’s statement that the coming one would be “mightier than I;”31 the voice from heaven proclaiming “You are my beloved Son;”32 and Jesus returning to Galilee “in the power of the Spirit.”33 We now begin to see examples of His power and authority, which gradually bring His disciples (as well as the readers) along the path to fully understanding who Jesus is—the Messiah and Savior.

We who are familiar with the Gospels can easily read the accounts of Jesus’ life in the context of already knowing the outcome and having experienced the effects of His death and resurrection. This hindsight can cause us to overlook the journey of discovery that is presented in the Gospels, describing what the early believers experienced. The Gospels were written as a means of helping others discover who Jesus is and the purpose of His life. As readers, we are meant to experience the wonder of it all—the unfolding of understanding about who Jesus is, the awesomeness of His miracles, the deep truth of His teachings. We can interject ourselves into the story—and imagine ourselves, for example, in the synagogue listening to Jesus teach and seeing Him being interrupted by a man saying “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth?”

The Gospels bring us the stories and teachings of Jesus. They provide the foundational basis for what we believe about Him, and reveal what He accomplished through His sacrifice for humanity. They also offer the opportunity for us to “time travel” back to that era, to participate in the lives of those who followed Jesus during His earthly ministry. We can gain a new perspective on the Gospel stories if we put ourselves in the shoes of those who were there and think about what they experienced and how they saw things. We can imagine the lives of the early disciples—walking with Him from town to town, staying with Him, hearing His teachings, listening to the parables, and experiencing the wonder of watching Him do miracles.

We know from what the disciples preserved for us in the Gospels that Jesus came to lay His life down for each of us. How thankful we can be for those who took the time and made the effort to write these accounts of His life. How grateful we should be for those who personally introduced us to Him and His words. And how committed we each should be to sharing Him and His message with others, so that they too can experience His life and His life-changing message.


Unless otherwise indicated, all scriptures are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

General Bibliography

Bailey, Kenneth E. Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2008.

Biven, David. New Light on the Difficult Words of Jesus. Holland: En-Gedi Resource Center, 2007.

Bock, Darrell L. Jesus According to Scripture. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2002.

Bock, Darrell L. Luke Volume 1: 1:19:50. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1994.

Bock, Darrell L. Luke Volume 2: 9:5124:53. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1996.

Brown, Raymond E. The Birth of the Messiah. New York: Doubleday, 1993.

Brown, Raymond E. The Death of the Messiah. 2 vols. New York: Doubleday, 1994.

Carson, D. A. Jesus Sermon on the Mount and His Confrontation with the Word. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1987.

Charlesworth, James H., ed. Jesus Jewishness, Exploring the Place of Jesus Within Early Judaism. New York: The Crossroad Publishing Company, 1997.

Chilton, Bruce, and Craig A. Evans, eds. Authenticating the Activities of Jesus. Boston: Koninklijke Brill, 1999.

Edersheim, Alfred. The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah. Updated Edition. Hendrickson Publishers, 1993.

Elwell, Walter A., and Robert W. Yarbrough. Encountering the New Testament. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2005.

Evans, Craig A. World Biblical Commentary: Mark 8:2716:20. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2000.

Evans, Craig A. and N. T. Wright. Jesus, the Final Days: What Really Happened. Westminster John Knox Press, 2009.

Flusser, David. Jesus. Jerusalem: The Magnes Press, 1998.

Flusser, David, and R. Steven Notely. The Sage from Galilee: Rediscovering Jesus Genius. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2007.

France, R. T. The Gospel of Matthew. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2007.

Gnilka, Joachim. Jesus of Nazareth: Message and History. Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers, 1997.

Green, Joel B. The Gospel of Luke. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1997.

Green, Joel B., and Scot McKnight, eds. Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1992.

Grudem, Wayne. Systematic Theology, An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine. Grand Rapids: InterVarsity Press, 2000.

Guelich, Robert A. World Biblical Commentary: Mark 18:26. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1989.

Jeremias, Joachim. The Eucharistic Words of Jesus. Philadelphia: Trinity Press International, 1990.

Jeremias, Joachim. Jerusalem in the Time of Jesus. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1996.

Jeremias, Joachim. Jesus and the Message of the New Testament. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2002.

Jeremias, Joachim. New Testament Theology. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1971.

Keener, Craig S. The Gospel of John: A Commentary, Volume 1. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003.

Keener, Craig S. The Gospel of John: A Commentary, Volume 2. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003.

Keener, Craig S. The Gospel of Matthew: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2009.

Lewis, Gordon R., and Bruce A. Demarest. Integrative Theology. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996.

Lloyd-Jones, D. Martyn. Studies in the Sermon on the Mount. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1976.

Manson, T. W. The Sayings of Jesus. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1957.

Manson, T. W. The Teaching of Jesus. Cambridge: University Press, 1967.

Michaels, J. Ramsey. The Gospel of John. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2010.

Milne, Bruce. The Message of John. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1993.

Morris, Leon. The Gospel According to Matthew. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1992.

Ott, Ludwig. Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma. Rockford: Tan Books and Publishers, Inc., 1960.

Pentecost, J. Dwight. The Words & Works of Jesus Christ. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1981.

Sanders, E. P. Jesus and Judaism. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1985.

Sheen, Fulton J. Life of Christ. New York: Doubleday, 1958.

Spangler, Ann, and Lois Tverberg. Sitting at the Feet of Rabbi Jesus. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2009.

Stein, Robert H. Jesus the Messiah, Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1996.

Stein, Robert H. Mark. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2008.

Stein, Robert H. The Method and Message of Jesus Teachings, Revised Edition. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1994.

Stott, John R. W. The Message of the Sermon on the Mount. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1978.

Witherington III, Ben. The Christology of Jesus. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1990.

Witherington III, Ben. The Gospel of Mark: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2001.

Wood, D. R. W., I. H. Marshall, A. R. Millard, J. I. Packer, and D. J. Wiseman, eds. New Bible Dictionary. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1996.

Wright, N. T. Jesus and the Victory of God. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1996.

Wright, N. T. Matthew for Everyone, Part 1. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2004.

Wright, N. T. The Resurrection of the Son of God. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2003.

Yancey, Philip. The Jesus I Never Knew. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1995.

Young, Brad H. Jesus the Jewish Theologian. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1995.

1 John 21:25.

2 Luke 4:31–37. See also Mark 1:21–28.

3 Mark 1:27–28.

4 Spirit possession is seen as a reality within the Gospels, as it is in other ancient literature. While Western thinking generally rejects the possibility of spirit possession (along with the supernatural in general), due to the effects of the Enlightenment, these things are accepted as true, even today, within much of the world.)

See Craig S. Keener. Miracles (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2011), Keener’s two-volume book on belief and disbelief regarding the question of miracles, including exorcism, throughout history and into the 21st century.

5 Mark 5:7.

6 Matthew 8:29. See also Mark 3:11; Luke 4:41, 8:28.

7 Bock, Luke 1:19:50, 434.

8 Matthew 9:3233; 12:22; 17:18.

9 Stein, Mark, 90.

10 Luke 4:36.

11 Mark 1:27.

12 Matthew 7:28; 13:54; 22:33; Mark 1:22; 6:2; 11:18; Luke 4:32.

13 Mark 1:27; 10:24; Luke 4:36.

14 Matthew 22:22; Mark 12:17; Luke 4:22; John 7:15.

15 Luke 4:38–39.

16 Matthew 8:14–15.

17 Mark 1:29–31.

18 See 1 Corinthians 9:5 regarding Peter being married.

19 Keener, The Gospel of Matthew, 271.

20 Bock, Luke 1:19:50, 436; makes reference to Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 3.30.1.

21 Ibid., 436.

22 Keener, The Gospel of Matthew, 271.

23 Luke 4:40–41.

24 Luke 13:13; Mark 5:23; 6:5; 7:32; 8:23,25. See Luke 7:1–10 for a healing without the laying on of hands.

25 Stein, Mark, 438.

26 Luke 4:33–35; 8:2; 9:42; Mark 1:34; 3:10–11; Matthew 9:32–33; 12:22; 17:18.

27 Mark 1:35–39.

28 Luke 4:42.

29 Matthew 4:23–25.

30 Luke 2:47.

31 Matthew 3:11.

32 Mark 1:11.

33 Luke 4:14.