The popularity of Jesus

Jesus withdrew with his disciples to the lake, and a large crowd from Galilee followed. When they heard all he was doing, many people came to him from Judea, Jerusalem, Idumea, and the regions across the Jordan and around Tyre and Sidon. Because of the crowd he told his disciples to have a small boat ready for him, to keep the people from crowding him. For he had healed many, so that those with diseases were pushing forward to touch him. Whenever the evil spirits saw him, they fell down before him and cried out, 'You are the Son of God.' But he gave them strict orders not to tell who he was.' (Mar 3:7–12)

Mark's Gospel records some of the opposition Jesus received from the Pharisees and teachers of the law, but far more emphasis is placed on his popularity with the people.

Twenty-seven times Mark uses the word 'crowd' to describe the numbers that came to see Jesus. With only sixteen chapters in his Gospel, that means he uses the word, on average, almost twice per chapter.

From every direction

V7 tells us that Jesus withdrew with his disciples to the lake, and a large crowd from Galilee followed him. Galilee was the region immediately west of the Sea of Galilee (also known as 'the lake').

V8 tells us that many people came to him from Judea, Jerusalem, Idumea, and the regions across the Jordan and around Tyre and Sidon. Tyre and Sidon were situated to the north-west of the Sea of Galilee; the regions across the Jordan were to the east; and Judea, Jerusalem, and Idumea were to the south.

That means that people were coming to Jesus from almost every point on the compass. Idumea, in particular, was situated one hundred miles south of the lake, so people were coming to him from a radius of up to one hundred miles—most of them, probably, on foot. But why were such large crowds coming to our Lord? V8 provides the answer:

When they heard all he was doing, many people came to him….

You would have thought people would have come to listen to his teaching, but that was not the case. They came, primarily, to have their needs met: to be healed of their sicknesses and diseases and to be delivered from demons.

Followers of Christ

However to be healed by God doesn't make a person a Christian. Even if they've had demons driven out of them or been raised from the dead it doesn't make them a Christian. A Christian is a follower of Jesus Christ: someone who has given their life to the Lord and wants to follow him and obey his teaching.

Jesus must have ministered to thousands of people during his earthly ministry, but only a few became his disciples. Most of them got what they wanted and went home. They wanted the benefits God was willing to give them without the commitment, and how typical that is of human nature.

Jesus said that God causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous (Mat 5:45). In other words, he provides the means for man to live and prosper on earth, and yet how many want to serve him?

Even today, how many follow the Lord because of the blessings they receive rather than from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ? God alone knows. Yes, God is generous. Yes, he blesses those who come to him in faith. And yet he wants something from us—that we give our lives completely to him.

You are the Son of God

Evil spirits are invisible; you cannot see them with the human eye, but they indwell people and they manifest their personalities through the people they indwell. They also have knowledge and they knew who Jesus was.

As soon as the evil spirits saw Jesus, they took control of the people they indwelt. They fell on the ground before him crying out, 'You are the Son of God (v11).' It must have been an amazing sight—people falling prostrate before the Lord as he walked towards them; but something similar had happened in the Old Testament.

God's dwelling place

In 1Sa 5 we are told that the Philistines had captured the Ark of God and had placed it in the temple of their god, Dagon, but when they went back the next morning the statue of Dagon was lying on its face before the Ark of the Lord. They put it back in its place, but the following morning Dagon was again lying prostrate before the Ark of God. Why was that?

God had told Moses to build an ark (a wooden chest) and to cover it with gold. He'd also told him to make a gold cover for it with cherubim at either end of the cover. God said he would meet with Moses, between the cherubim, on the gold cover that was over the Ark (Exo 25:10–22).

God sat enthroned between the wings of those cherubim (Psa 80:1); that was his dwelling place on earth. So, wherever the Ark of God went, God also went—even into the temple of Dagon! When Dagon (a demonic deity) saw God enter his temple, his statue prostrated itself before him.

That was in the Old Testament, but in the New Testament things had changed. In John's Gospel we read:

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. (Joh 1:14)

The Greek word translated 'made his dwelling' is skenoo. It means to spread a tent. It comes from a noun meaning tabernacle or tent. So that verse could be translated as:

The Word [Jesus Christ, ie God] became flesh and spread his tent [tabernacled] among us.

God was no longer dwelling among his people between the wings of the cherubim in the Tabernacle in the desert, he was now dwelling among his people in the body of his Son. No wonder demons fell prostrate before him!

Forbidden to tell

But he gave them [the evil spirits] strict orders not to tell who he was. (v12)

Even though the evil spirits knew that Jesus was the Son of God, he would not allow them to reveal that truth to the people (we came across two similar incidents in Mar 1:23–25; 33–34). That may sound strange until we realize that God has not given evil spirits the task of teaching spiritual truth on earth: that is the prerogative of the Holy Spirit (Joh 16:13).

Evil spirits are under the control of Satan who is a liar, the father of lies (Joh 8:44) and a deceiver (Gen 3:13; Rev 20:1–3). And even though Satan knows and can quote spiritual truth (Mat 4:5–7), his ultimate aim is to deceive, so Jesus commanded the evil spirits to be silent.

Michael Graham
February 2003

Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version ®. NIV ®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society.

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