Mark 3:13-34 describes two very connected themes: the calling of the twelve, and the casting out of demons. When discussing His ability to perform exorcisms, our Lord says “a kingdom divided against itself cannot stand.” This is, in part, an explanation for the calling of the twelve apostles: as Brant Pitre has discussed, after Solomon’s reign, the Israelites were a divided kingdom, with Israel in the North, and Judah in the south. After the Assyrian exile, the Northern kingdom (10 tribes) were lost among the Gentile nations, leaving only the southern kingdom (Judah). By calling the twelve apostles, our Lord was demonstrating His purpose to re-create the twelve tribes of Israel, and thus reunite the divided kingdom of God in Himself, because otherwise it “could not stand” (and the Gentiles are included in this kingdom per their identification with the northern ten tribes). And the discussion of casting out demons ends with an image of what this new kingdom will look like: the “strong man” is “tied up” or “bound” and his house is “plundered.”
This theme gets picked up again when the Kingdom of God is further explained. Mark 4 picks up the theme of the kingdom by Jesus giving four parables. Interestingly, the first parable begins with “birds of the air devouring the seed,” and the last parable ends with “the seed” being planted, growing to where its “branches” are larger than all plants, and “birds of the air dwelling under its shade.” This, taken with the fact that the imagery of gardening and harvesting is used so frequently throughout these parables, should immediately call our minds back to the book of Genesis. The very first prophecy given in Scripture is about “the seed of the woman” that crushes the head of the Serpent! This is why the Messiah is referred to as “the seed” and “the branch” throughout the prophets (especially Isaiah). Moreover, Adam is a “tiller of the field,” as are Cain and Noah, and throughout the Patriarchal narratives, “harvest” is a central theme, especially when we get to the story of Joseph’s harvest feeding the nations (see here for more on that). All of this to say: these parables are using all of this imagery so we have it in our minds that this coming kingdom is a new Genesis, a new creation.
The chapter then ends with a story of Jesus and the twelve on a boat during a storm. Jesus is asleep in the bottom of the boat, and the apostles are freaking out that this storm is happening and so they wake up Jesus, who then commands the seas to be still. First, this story is significant because it parallels the story of Jonah. Jonah was asleep at the bottom of a boat during a raging storm, and the Gentile sailors on board came rushing down to try and get him to pray to his God and make the storm go away. However, rather than being thrown overboard to still the storm as Jonah was, Jesus simply commands the wind and the seas to be still. This is a confirmation of Jesus’ divine identity, as we know from Job 26:11-12 that it is God who “stills the sea” by his “rebuke,” and Psalm 104:1-7 tells us that it is God who has “power” over the winds, and “rebuked the waters,” and Psalm 107 beautifully describes the Lord doing exactly what Jesus did:
“Some went out on the sea in ships; they were merchants on the mighty waters. Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble, and he brought them out of their distress. He stilled the storm to a whisper; the waves of the sea were hushed. They were glad when it grew calm, and he guided them to their desired haven.” (Psalm 107:23, 28-30)
[Also if you’re still not convinced that St. Mark is portraying Jesus as God, consider Mark 5:19-20 where Jesus says “Go home to your own people and tell them how much the Lord has done for you,” after which point the man “began to tell in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him,” thereby directly identifying Jesus as the Lord.]
This is why the apostles stood in awe before the Lord saying “who is this that even the winds and seas obey Him!” This story of Jesus and the sea, however, isn’t just there to prove His divine identity (as if St. Mark just randomly threw that in there), but rather it serves as a bridge between chapters 3 and 5.
Recall that chapter 3 ended with Jesus describing “a strong man being bound” in the context of the kingdom of God binding Satan’s power. We see an explicit example of what this looks like in chapter 5:
“This man lived in the tombs, and no one could bind him anymore, not even with a chain. For he had often been chained hand and foot, but he tore the chains apart and broke the irons on his feet. No one was strong enough to subdue him.” (Mark 5:3-4)
Here we have a “strong man” who “lives in the tombs” (think grave/death/Hades/Sheol—all synonyms) and needs to be “bound by chains.” It’s no surprise that this man is demonically possessed (as all of this imagery was previously being used to describe Satan), and so how does Jesus “bind the strong man”? He does it by allowing the demons to enter into pigs, and where do they immediately run after doing this? They go to the sea, and they drown.
It’s important to recall that, throughout the Old Testament, the sea is not only the place of demons (think Leviathan in the waters, Jonah in the belly of a sea monster—the grave), but it’s also symbolically representative of the Gentiles (four Gentile kingdoms rise out of the sea in Daniel 7, Jonah travels through the sea to the Gentile city of Nineveh, Jeremiah 47 describes the Philistines as “waters rising in the north,” and the list goes on). Once this symbolism is understood, we can get a better picture of what Jesus was doing here: He had just got done showing Himself to be the Lord of the sea, and so what happened when the demons tried to run back to their own territory? They drowned! This shows that Jesus is going to destroy the power that the forces of Satan have over the Gentile nations; and this is exactly what we see happening in the book of Revelation:
And I saw an angel coming down out of heaven, having the key to the Abyss and holding in his hand a great chain. He seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil, or Satan, and bound him for a thousand years. He threw him into the Abyss, and locked and sealed it over him, to keep him from deceiving the nations anymore until the thousand years were ended. After that, he must be set free for a short time. (Revelation 20:1-3)
As I’ve explained elsewhere, the “thousand year reign of Christ” described here is symbolic of the Church Age, and what we see is that, during this time, Jesus uses the keys to bind Satan in order to prevent him from deceiving the nations. Now, what are the keys? As Seraphim Hamilton explains, we see these keys show up in Revelation 3:7, where Jesus is said to “hold the key to the house of David.” This calls our attention back to Isaiah 22, where we learn about Eliakim receiving these keys, and it’s said “what he shuts none shall open, and what he opens none shall shut.” This language, connected with the imagery of keys, is directly paralleled in the word of the Lord to Simon Peter:
And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell will not overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. (Matthew 16:18-19)
Notice that the “keys of the kingdom of heaven,” those which “bind and loose,” are given in the context of “the gates of hell” not prevailing over the Church. At this point, the imagery should be obvious: the keys by which Jesus binds Satan during the millennium are given to the Church. Thus, Jesus works through the ministry of the Church to limit the power of Satan, and bring the nations to conversion. How does this concretely happen? Well, there’s one more important piece of information that we learn about these keys from the Chronicler:
But the four principal gatekeepers, who were Levites, were entrusted with the responsibility for the rooms and treasuries in the house of God. They would spend the night stationed around the house of God, because they had to guard it; and they had charge of the key for opening it each morning. (1 Chronicles 9:26-27)
Who has the keys to the Temple (which is the same word as Palace in Hebrew)? It’s the Levitical priests! They are the “gatekeepers” who “guard” the Temple. Thus, the ministry of the keys is primarily liturgical in nature. So too under the New Covenant. The Church fathers all identified Peter as the archetypical bishop, because the bishops are the ones who liturgically serve by divine right at the Eucharistic Liturgy. Thus, it is through the liturgy that each bishop inherits the ministry of Peter in “binding and loosing” the power of Satan with the keys of the kingdom. And this is how Jesus works through His Church!
We get an image of this (and indeed, the whole Gospel story) in Mark 6: after binding the demonic strong man, Jesus is then rejected by His relatives (symbolic of the Jews’ rejection of Him), after which point He “gives authority over unclean spirits” to the apostles, and commands them to continue the work that He had began to do:
“They went out and preached that people should repent. They drove out many demons and anointed many sick people with oil and healed them.” (Mark 6:12-13)
And this is, essentially, the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry, and we see that it begins with a microcosm of the whole story: Jesus will bind the strong man (Satan) in His death, resurrection, and ascension, then He will be rejected by His relatives (the Jews denouncing the apostles throughout Acts), after which point the apostles will continue to carry out the work, of binding the strong man, that Jesus began. This is why St. Luke begins the book of Acts by saying “In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach.” Notice that St. Luke describes his “former book” (i.e. the Gospel of Luke) as only the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, meaning that the Lord’s death, resurrection, and ascension are only the beginning; because the Acts of the Apostles are really the Acts of Jesus, for it is the Lord Himself who acts through His Body the Church; and the purpose of all of this is to plunder Satan’s house (the nations) by baptizing it, and binding his powers through liturgical and sacramental warfare (the ministry of the keys), and carrying His creation from glory to glory to glory. Thanks for reading!