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Territorial spirits: D-day in Capernaum

Ruins of the Great Synagogue of Capernaum Credit: UNESCO/Wikipedia

Ruins of the Great Synagogue of Capernaum along the shores of the Sea of Galilee Credit: UNESCO/Wikipedia

In a previous article in this series, we discussed the Book of Daniel that talks about evil spirits over nations — Prince of Persia and the Prince of Greece.

But if satan has a hierarchy would it stop here. Could evil spirits be installed over states or provinces and even major cities within a country?

In Mark 1:21-27, Jesus entered a synagogue in Capernaum to teach. Located on the western edge of the sea of Galilee, the city was in the District of Galilee (v 28).

28 Immediately the news about Him spread everywhere into all the surrounding district of Galilee. (Mark 1:28 NASV)

Pontius Pilate was the fifth prefect of Palestine, a region the equivalent of modern Israel. He succeeded Herod the Great, a brutal man and the one who ordered the murder of all boys 2 years and younger around Nazareth in an effort to kill the Messiah.

Palestine in turn was divided into three regions each ruled by a Tetrarch. The word Tetrarch meant a division of four but referred to any number of political divisions and is today’s equivalent of the governor of an US state or the premier of a Canadian Province.

One of the Tetrarchs beneath Pilate was Herod Antipas, son of Herod the Great. He was the Tetrarch of Galilee and continued his father’s murderous legacy by beheading John the Baptist. This was also the Herod that Pilate sent Jesus to be judged.

Capernaum functioned as a major administrative center for the District of Galilee.  It had a tax collection force indicating its strong economic importance. One of the major sources of income for the Tetrarchs was the sale of fishing rights, which the tax collectors brokered to the fisherman of the area.

There was a large military base near Capernaum as a local centurion had his son healed by Jesus (Luke 7:6). There were different levels of Centurions with the lowest rank being a commander over 80 soldiers with a support staff of 20.

There is no indication of how high up this centurion was in the Roman army, but his ability to construct a local synagogue (Luke 7:5) suggests a senior ranking officer. This would make it a large military post, which reflected the importance of Capernaum in the natural and political realm.

When Jesus showed up in the Caperanuam synagogue, the presence of God was so strong that an unclean spirit was forced to reveal itself.

There are only a few instances in the gospels where evil spirits spoke to Jesus. This is one of them and it suggests that this evil spirit had a higher authority in the satanic realm:

“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.” (Mark 1:24 NASV)

Jesus immediately rebuked the spirit, telling it to be quiet and commanding it to leave the man (v 25). But even in this, you see the power-struggle taking place as the man convulsed and cried out when the unclean spirit departed.

The people in the synagogue were shocked by this display of  raw power. “He commands even the unclean spirits and they obey him,” they said (v 27).

Not only was Jesus demonstrating his power and authority, but he displayed it openly to the Jewish religious community. But was there more going on than delivering one man from an evil spirit?

Mark: The principle of the strongman

In order to explain what happened at Capernaum, Mark records the accusation that the scribes made against Jesus on the heels of this deliverance.

With people being increasingly awestruck by Christ’s deliverance ministry, the scribes, pharisees and Sadducees, were forced into the unenviable position of trying to defuse Christ’s growing popularity.

What better way of souring Christ’s image than by accusing Him with being in league with the devil. They theorized that Jesus cast out demons and evil spirits because he had authority from a more powerful evil spirit – Beelzebub (Mark 3:22-27).

This again reflects a hierarchy in the demonic realm.

Jesus answered this accusation by pointing out how silly that idea was. In the parallel account recorded in the Gospel of Luke, Jesus asks the obvious question, if satan cast out his own demons, how long would his kingdom stand (Luke 11:18)?

This clearly implies that the casting out of this evil spirit weakened the satanic realm in this area.

In Luke 11:20, Jesus added, “But if I cast out demons by the finger of God, then the Kingdom of God has come upon you.”

In simple military terms, Jesus was alluding that the Allied forces had landed — it was D-day as Jesus dealt with the spiritual strongman of the area.

“But no one can enter the strong man’s house and plunder his property unless he first binds the strong man, and then he will plunder his house.” (Mark 3:27 NASV)

There were two other major cities in the District of Galilee — Tiberias and Sepphoris. Herod Antipas built both cities that served as headquarters for Herodian officials. These cities are not mentioned in the gospels suggesting that Jesus avoided them

Because of this, I suspect that Jesus may have dealt with the evil spirit or strongman that ruled Capernaum, not necessarily the full district of Galilee.

Read more in this series:


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