In Mark 1:21-28, Jesus casts out a demon:

Then they went to Capernaum. When the Sabbath came, Jesus went into the synagogue and began to teach. The people there were amazed by his teaching, because he taught them like one who had authority, not like the experts in the law. Just then there was a man in their synagogue with an unclean spirit, and he cried out, “Leave us alone, Jesus the Nazarene! Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!” But Jesus rebuked him: “Silence! Come out of him!” After throwing him into convulsions, the unclean spirit cried out with a loud voice and came out of him. They were all amazed so that they asked each other, “What is this? A new teaching with authority! He even commands the unclean spirits and they obey him.” So the news about him spread quickly throughout all the region around Galilee.

The text does not give us an explicit motivation for Jesus' silencing. Why then did Jesus prevent demon from declaring He was the Son of God? Why didn't Jesus want the demon to declare this?

(This story is also recorded in Luke 4:31-37, and no motivation is given there either)


2 Answers 2


Mark 1:34 explains this

… and He did not allow the demons to speak, because they knew Him.

Jesus did not need or want the testimony of demons. I wouldn't either. He would have enough of the Pharisees accusing him of being in league with the devil in a short while. The reason given is that the demons "knew him". This is not a testimony of faith or love, but of fear and doom before the Lord who would soon cast them into hell. Their words might be true and correct, even so they were spoken to do the Lord harm.

Perhaps he recalled something like Psalm 28:3,

Do not take me away with the wicked and with the workers of iniquity, who speak peace to their neighbors, but evil is in their hearts.

He welcomed the testimony of those who had faith in him, though early in his ministry even these were told not to spread their story, e.g. later in the same chapter Mark 1:43-45, Jesus commands a man he had healed not to speak about him,

He strictly warned him and sent him away at once, and said to him, “See that you say nothing to anyone; but go your way, show yourself to the priest, and offer for your cleansing those things which Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.” However, he went out and began to proclaim it freely, and to spread the matter, so that Jesus could no longer openly enter the city…

A parallel in Matthew: Jesus warns others who were healed not to talk: Matthew 9:30-31

And their eyes were opened. And Jesus sternly warned them, “See that no one knows about it.”  But they went away and spread his fame through all that district.

I'm more interested in why he told THESE, who had received healing and must have believed on him, to keep silent. [Edit: I see this has been discussed here: In the gospels, why does Jesus sometimes tell the people not to tell ...]

  • C. Kelly's answer is excellent. I will add my own speculation of application to this question: I believe that the Truth must be proclaimed by the proper source in order for it to be of proper effect. It is the Holy Spirit that draws men unto God. Can an unclean spirit proclaim the Truth such that the Holy Spirit would move through them and their words? I do not believe so. In commanding silence of these demons, I believe Jesus was making a statement as to the requirements of the source of proclamation, especially since, when the source is questionable, the words proclaimed come into question. Commented Feb 2, 2016 at 14:15

In Mark's Gospel, there are three instances of Jesus ordering demons into silence, Mark 1:21-28, 1:29-34, and 3:7-12. They form part of the 'Messianic Secret', in which Jesus is portrayed as commanding silence about his Messianic mission. It is a motif primarily in the Gospel of Mark, but elements of this have been copied into the later synoptic gospels (Matthew and Luke).

Most explanations fall into two main categories - that Mark's reports of Jesus' commands to silence are historically true, or that they were a literary creation by Mark's author, perhaps being intended to draw attention to Jesus' Messianic mission by the repeated commands to silence on the issue.

The earliest discussion on the Messianic Secret came from William Wrede in 1901. Wrede suggested that this theme was not historical but was an addition by the author of Mark.

Oxbridge Notes (Is There A Messianic Secret In Mark Notes) discusses Wrede's thesis and also looks at whether they can be explained historically. It puts forward the contention that Jesus wished to conceal his messiahship from men and women during his ministry for fear that it would have been misunderstood as a claim to political kingship, thus choosing the title ‘Son of Man’. The historical explanation is then criticised, in part because it leaves unresolved the problems of how the bystanders could ignore the confessions of Jesus’s identity made by the men and women who were possessed by these spirits.

Brennan Reed Hamil discusses the commands to secrecy in a student dissertation written at the Lubbock Christian University. Firstly, he says, there have been historical explanations. In line with this approach, the motive of concealment has been seen as a facet of historical Jesus’ own behaviour and teaching, which is correctly reported by Mark. Secondly, there have been literary or theological explanations, the basic thrust of which is to view the secrecy motif as a literary or theological device. In his summary of the commands to the demons (page 7), Hamil looks at how the literary structure of the passages emphasises the possession over the secrecy, and says the commands to secrecy may be a particular literary device that utilises the demonic possessions to emphasise Jesus’ divine authority.

In the overall context of Mark's Gospel, it appears that the exorcisms and the commands to silence were intended to emphasise Jesus’ divine authority. In this earliest New Testament gospel, only outsiders such as demons, the high priest and the centurion could refer to Jesus in such terms. By having the demons recognise Jesus, then having Jesus command them to silence, Mark was demonstrating to its audience that Jesus was divine, without placing the Christian evangelists at risk of attacks regarding blasphemy.

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