Today and tomorrow we study a longer story about Jesus’ victory over a “legion,” or large group of aggressive demons, that had driven a poor man to violent insanity. In the first half of this story, we read about the exorcism itself; tomorrow we will read about the exorcism’s differing effects on the liberated man and the inhabitants of his region.
The Text (Mark 5:1-13)
1 Then they came to the other side of the sea, to the country of the Gadarenes. 2 And when He had come out of the boat, immediately there met Him out of the tombs a man with an unclean spirit, 3 who had his dwelling among the tombs; and no one could bind him, not even with chains, 4 because he had often been bound with shackles and chains. And the chains had been pulled apart by him, and the shackles broken in pieces; neither could anyone tame him. 5 And always, night and day, he was in the mountains and in the tombs, crying out and cutting himself with stones.
6 When he saw Jesus from afar, he ran and worshiped Him. 7 And he cried out with a loud voice and said, “What have I to do with You, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I implore You by God that You do not torment me.”
8 For He said to him, “Come out of the man, unclean spirit!” 9 Then He asked him, “What is your name?”
And he answered, saying, “My name is Legion; for we are many.” 10 Also he begged Him earnestly that He would not send them out of the country.
11 Now a large herd of swine was feeding there near the mountains. 12 So all the demons begged Him, saying, “Send us to the swine, that we may enter them.” 13 And at once Jesus gave them permission. Then the unclean spirits went out and entered the swine (there were about two thousand); and the herd ran violently down the steep place into the sea, and drowned in the sea.
Jesus has just calmed a violent storm on the Sea of Galilee with a few words, and now he will again use His authority as God to calm a violent soul. As soon as they disembark from their boats onto the eastern shore of Galilee, a notoriously crazy man rushes at them from out of the tombs. This was a tormented man. He lived among the tombs, or the cave graves of this Gentile region. He cut himself, screamed, and broke all of the chains with which people had tried to restrain him. No one wanted or knew how to help him. Matthew tells us in his shorter version of this story in Matthew 8:28-34 that there were actually two demon-possessed men, but for some reason Mark focuses on just one of the men. Perhaps this man was the leader or the more violent of the two, or perhaps he was the only one who would later go forth and tell others of his salvation. We don’t know for sure. But the focus of this first half of the story is actually on the battle between Jesus and the source of the men’s affliction, the “legion” of demons controlling them. As we have already seen in previous exorcisms in Mark’s gospel, Jesus encountered a lot of demonic activity throughout His earthly ministry. Often, these demons were possessing lost souls, causing them physical and mental pain. And every time, Jesus defeated them with just the sound of His voice. This account shows us that not even a whole army of demons (a legion was technically about six thousand Roman soldiers; the demons may be exaggerating their numbers some but the point is that there are a lot of them) can resist the power of the Son of God. Jesus commands them to enter a herd of swine (pigs) but He does not command them to drive the swine off the edge of a cliff into the sea. The demons were clearly very evil and powerful, but they were not stronger than Jesus.
As I’ve said in previous posts, I believe that demons are still active in our world today, still opposing the work of Christ and His church. As Christians, we must be vigilant and diligent in our prayer life. We need to put on the armor of God every day (see Ephesians 6:10-20) and be aware that if we try to live and work for the kingdom of God, we will face spiritual warfare. We go too far if we say that every person suffering from mental illness is the victim of demonic activity. We know that chemical imbalances in the brain and body can sometimes cause physical and psychological problems. Many times such problems can also be related to our own sinful thoughts and choices. Yet we would be unwise to ignore how often people’s afflictions in the gospels and even in the book of Acts were caused at least in part by demonic possession or oppression. Satan’s demons cannot possess born again Christians because God’s Holy Spirit lives inside of us instead; they can only tempt us from the outside when we lose our focus on Christ. But I do think that demons can possess lost people. I can’t say for sure that I have ever seen a demon-possessed person, but I have met some people who gave off such a strong sense of evil that I suspected that demons were at least afflicting them from the outside. Our focus, though, should be on Satan and his demons but on Jesus Christ, the One who has already won the victory for us by His death and resurrection. Whenever we feel tempted to sin or oppressed with dark thoughts, we need to fix our eyes on Jesus. We need to call out to Him in prayer wherever we are. And we need to quote the Scriptures. The more Bible verses that you have studied and memorized, the more that the Holy Spirit has to work with when it comes to bringing Scripture to the front of your mind that you really need. Praying that we always remember God’s promise from 1 John 4:4 – “You are of God, little children, and have overcome them, because He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.”