Jesus the Strong Man
As I believe I have mentioned before, at FBC Parker we are working through the Gospel of Mark for Sunday School. I was planning on, and hoping, to teach Mark 3:20-35 but that Sunday fell this weekend while I am away at SBL. In lieu of teaching the pericope, I figured I would chat about it here.
What Has Been Going On
With the allusion of Isaiah in the introduction, Mark is framing this gospel with the idea that God is going to come and renew his people. Watts would call it Isaiah’s New Exodus. Wright would call it a return from exile. Whether or not you think that second-temple Judaism considered itself in exile is not necessary; Mark quite clearly saw what was happening in Jesus’ ministry as a fulfillment of the promises of Isaiah (et al.).
Once you get into the meat of Mark (which I put at 1:21) you get story after story with quite positive themes: Teaching with authority buttressed with exorcism (1:21-28); Healing of Simon’s mother-in-law and the healing and exorcism of the masses (1:29-34); Jesus came to preach, and he did so throughout Galilee and exorcised demons as he did so (1:35-39); Jesus heals a leper (1:40-45); Jesus forgives a man’s sins and proves his authority to do so by healing him (2:1-12); Jesus came to help sinners (2:13-17); Jesus’ renewal movement is a joyful thing so fasting is inappropriate (2:18-22); Jesus has the authority to redefine what is appropriate on the Sabbath (2:23-28); Jesus juxtaposes his ideas with those of the Pharisees and heals on the Sabbath (3:1-6); Jesus had to teach from a boat, because he had healed so many and cast out so many demons that the people were thronging to him (3:7-12); summary of who Jesus had called to be his disciples (3:8-19).
So up to this point the discussion is pretty positive. Jesus is healing, he is casting out demons and he is forgiving and restoring sinners. This fits very well with much you see in Isaiah 40-66.
Family, Scribes and a Strong Man Play into This
I agree with Watts (Isaiah’s New Exodus, 145) when he breaks Mark 3:20-35 down into the following structure using his famous sandwich technique: a. The crowds gather to Jesus; b. Jesus’ family things he is crazy; c: the scribes accuse and Jesus responds; b’. Jesus’ family shows up, presumably to do something out their crazy relative; a. those who do the will of God, i.e. the crowd that follows him, is Jesus’ true family. What this means is that Jesus and his followers are in contrast both to his earthly family and the religious leaders of the day. This Jesus movement transcends what would be considered normal ties and normal authority structures; God is renewing the people through Jesus and not through the normal patterns and people that they were used to.
Now on to the parable of the strong man. How does this fit in? First, it is a very clear and conscious allusion to John the Baptist’s statement in the prologue. John states one is coming who is "mightier than I" (1:7). The word used there for mightier is ἰσχυρότερος. This is the same word for "strong" used in 3:27. That these are the same word may not be obvious in your English translation, but this is one of the benefits of being able to read Greek. So if there is a strong man that needs to be defeated (Satan), you need a stronger man (Jesus) to come and tie him up before his house can be plundered. Well that makes sense, but how does it fit in with the beginning of Mark? This is the climax of the beginning section. Mark puts what comes before it and this after it to say that the exorcising primarily are all acts meant to bind Satan and bring about God’s renewal. Oh, and this says a lot about the healings, forgiveness of sins and the renewal of sinners as well. Jesus came not to just do some good but to defeat evil and the evil one.
There is quite a bit of ideological linkage with Isaiah in this passage but I need to get going soon, so I will limit it to one short discussion. Watts (148-149) sees an allusion to the oracle of Isaiah 49:14-26 here, and I agree. Here is a portion (ESV): Can the prey be taken from the mighty, or the captives of a tyrant be rescued? For thus says the LORD: "Even the captives of the mighty shall be taken, and the prey of the tyrant be rescued, for I will contend with those who contend with you, and I will save your children. I will make your oppressors eat their own flesh, and they shall be drunk with their own blood as with wine. Then all flesh shall know that I am the LORD your Savior, and your Redeemer, the Mighty One of Jacob" (24-26). First of all, the ideas here are clearly parallel, are they not? Second of all, the verb form of ἰσχυρός in the Septuagint shows up in both 25 and 26; indeed, the LORD is the ἰσχύος Ἰακωβ, the mighty/strong one of Jacob.
So why the parable of the strong man? Jesus is the strong man, who through his ministry is binding Satan and defeating evil. Grand literature, isn’t it?