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Mar 9, 2015

The Gospel of Mark and Spiritual Warfare

Michael Ruszala

From the first page to the last, the Gospel of Mark immerses us into the immediacy of Christ’s war against the forces of evil. Mark wastes no time in proclaiming God’s victory in “the gospel of Jesus Christ [the Son of God]” (Mk. 1:1). Emerging victorious from the first battle with Satan during the temptation in the desert in Mark 1, Jesus continues his campaign against the Devil throughout Galilee, waging a war of words joined with mighty deeds.

He loosened the people of Galilee from Satan’s domain with this message: “This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel” (Mk. 1:15).

temptations_of_christ_san_marco The forces of evil lurk in the background throughout the whole Gospel of Mark, unmasked and cast out by Jesus at every turn. Jesus’ first supernatural intervention is none other than an exorcism in Mark 1. While Jesus was preaching in the synagogue at Capernaum, a demon in a possessed man cries out – the first entity, besides the author himself, to testify to Jesus’ divine origin. But before casting the demon out, Jesus commands it to silence since nothing good can come from dialogue with the enemy.

After calming a storm on the Sea of Galilee, Jesus faces an even greater tempest in Mark 5 after disembarking in the land of the Geserenes. Mark, here, presents the Jewish Christian mind with the epitome of uncleanliness – a fearsome man of superhuman strength dwelling not only in Gentile territory, but in the defilement of the tombs; he bears the sinister shame of public nakedness, and is possessed by unclean spirits of such large number that they compare themselves to a Roman Legion – a unit made up of 5,000 fierce and hardened pagan warriors. Still, this was no match for the Son of God, who cast them into a herd of swine, which retreated into the sea – the traditional domain of evil.

Having commanded many of those he healed to silence about his true identity, Jesus asks Simon Peter in Mark 8:29, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter’s confession of Jesus as the Messiah brings about a climax and turning point in the Gospel of Mark.

The secret of Jesus’ identity begins to be unraveled as Jesus begins the journey towards the cross. Thrice predicting his immanent passion in Jerusalem, Jesus startles his disciples with the urgency and determination of his march to the Holy City. There he would be proclaimed by pilgrims as the royal Son of David, and he would not silence them as before, even as Jewish and Roman authorities look on. He likewise had little concern for their reaction to his judgment of the Temple, in overthrowing the moneychangers’ tables in Mark 11. The events of Christ’s passion proceed quickly in Mark’s Gospel after the Devil’s poison plays out in the hearts of the religious authorities and Jesus submits obediently to his death.

A second climax is seen in which the centurion standing at the cross, representing Gentile and sinful humanity, confesses, “Truly this man was the Son of God!” (Mk. 15:39). But Mark hurries on to the proclamation by the angel to the women on the third day: “You seek Jesus of Nazareth, the crucified. He has been raised; he is not here” (Mk. 16:6). When the resurrected Jesus emerges, he first appears to none other than “Mary Magdalene, out of whom he had driven seven demons,” underscoring the victory over evil won by his death and Resurrection (Mk. 16:9). Finally, before ascending to Heaven, Jesus lists driving out demons as one of the signs that will accompany believers (Mk. 16:17). The persecuted Christian community at Rome to whom Mark was likely addressed must have taken a particular courage in Jesus’ victory over the forces of evil.

This Lent, let us too remember with St. Paul that “our struggle is not with flesh and blood but with the principalities, with the powers, with the world rulers of this present darkness, with the evil spirits in the heavens” and claim the victory of Christ over evil in our lives (Eph. 6:12).


Painting by anonymous artist, sourced from Wikimedia Commons.
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