SYNOPSIS - Jesus delivered a demonized Gentile man while traveling through "hostile" territory – Mark 5:1-20

Photo by Anton Darius on Unsplash
The opening phrase of this passage links its story to the preceding one when Jesus calmed a storm on the Sea of Galilee - (“They came to the other side of the sea”). His plan to go to the other side of the Lake set in motion the events that followed. He had just calmed a violent storm. Now, he encounters a man with a violent “storm” raging within him. This is the third and most graphic exorcism recorded in the gospel of Mark.

Noteworthy was the extraordinary physical strength of the demonized man that 'Mark' attributed to demonic powers. Recording their number in the thousands emphasized their power - And the fact that they outnumbered Jesus, at least from a human perspective.

The calming of an exceptionally violent storm and the exorcism of a physically intimidating demonized man demonstrated the vastly superior power and authority of Jesus. Even the strongest efforts by Satan failed to defeat Jesus. Once more, the "Son of Man" demonstrated his authority over Satanic powers.
  • (Mark 5:1-20) - “And they came to the other side of the sea, into the country of the Gerasenes. And when He had come out of the boat, immediately a man from the tombs with an unclean spirit met Him, and he had his dwelling among the tombs. And no one was able to bind him anymore, even with a chain; because he had often been bound with shackles and chains, and the chains had been torn apart by him, and the shackles broken in pieces, and no one was strong enough to subdue him. And constantly night and day, among the tombs and in the mountains, he was crying out and gashing himself with stones. And seeing Jesus from a distance, he ran up and bowed down before Him; and crying out with a loud voice, he said, ‘What do I have to do with You, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I implore You by God, do not torment me!’ For He had been saying to him, ‘Come out of the man, you unclean spirit!’ And He was asking him, ‘What is your name?’ And he said to him, ‘My name is Legion; for we are many.’ And he began to entreat Him earnestly not to send them out of the country. Now there was a big herd of swine feeding there on the mountain. And the demons entreated Him, saying, ‘Send us into the swine so that we may enter them.’ And He gave them permission. And coming out, the unclean spirits entered the swine; and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the sea, about two thousand of them; and they were drowned in the sea. And their herdsmen ran away and reported it in the city and out in the country. And the people came to see what it was that had happened. And they came to Jesus and observed the man who had been demon-possessed sitting down, clothed and in his right mind, the very man who had had the legion; and they became frightened. And those who had seen it described to them how it had happened to the demon-possessed man, and all about the swine. And they began to entreat Him to depart from their region. And as He was getting into the boat, the man who had been demon-possessed was entreating Him that he might accompany Him. And He did not let him, but He said to him, ‘Go home to your people and report to them what great things the Lord has done for you, and how He had mercy on you.’ And he went away and began to proclaim in Decapolis what great things Jesus had done for him; and everyone marveled.”
There is some uncertainty about the precise location in Galilee where this incident occurred. Additionally, there is a dispute over the proper spelling of the city’s name. Matthew has “Gadarenes.” The King James Version reads “Gergesenes,” which reflects different spellings from several ancient Greek manuscripts, which probably stem from the attempts by later scribes to identify the city.

There are three possible locations for the town. However, all three proposed sites were some distance from the Sea of Galilee. But the passage states this event occurred in the “country of the Gerasenes,” not in the town itself. A city’s territory could extend for some distance from the town itself. What is clear is that this incident took place on the eastern side of the lake in what was considered Gentile territory at the time.

Graveyards were ceremonially or ritually unclean. Some Jews and not a few Gentiles believed them haunted by demons. That is to say, already in his life, this man was consigned to the land of the dead.  To a first-century Jew, Gentile graves were considered even more unclean than Jewish ones - (Numbers 19:11-14).

Deliverance of the Demoniac
The Demoniac
The man was "
cutting himself.” This suggests an attempt to destroy himself while under the influence of demonic powers. That “no one was able to bind him even with chains” emphasizes the supernatural strength involved in this man’s resistance to any attempt to restrain him.

The cry - “What have you to do with me” - parallels the cry of a previous demon exorcised by Jesus (Mark 1:24, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to torment us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God”). Demons in the gospel of Mark call Jesus by name, perhaps in an attempt to gain control over him.

The question of the demons about their possible torment "before our time" meant that they knew Jesus to be their Judge. In this gospel, only demons recognized him as the "Son of Man" during his ministry in Galilee - (Matthew 8:29).

It was a common belief at the time that knowing an entity’s name gave a person authority over it in magical rituals and mystical experiences. Perhaps in response to the demons, Jesus used their attempt sarcastically to control them by using their name, “Legion,” to command them. This began the process of their expulsion from the demonized mand (a Roman legion consisted of 6,000 men).

Mark switches between the singular and the plural when Jesus addresses the demons, probably because they spoke as one through the voice of their victim. Their reply explains their name and stresses their number - (“Legion, for we are many”).
The demons pleaded with Jesus not to “send them out of the country.” This indicates the event took place in a Gentile and, thus, an “unclean” area. Gentiles were not simply ceremonially “unclean” in Jewish eyes, but also idolaters who practiced magical arts. The demons did not wish to be expelled from an area so welcoming to their presence.
Mark does not tell us why the demons asked to enter the herd of swine. However, in the gospel of Luke, the narrative states that they did not want to go into “the abyss.” What they feared was the receipt of judgment before the designated time. The presence of swine was another indicator this was in Gentile territory. Pigs were ceremonially unclean animals avoided by devout Jews - (Leviticus 11:7, Deuteronomy 14:8).

Once again, we see Jesus, the one who was mightier than even John the Baptist - The "Son of Man" who overcame Satan in the Wilderness, the man anointed by God's Spirit who, consequently, was binding the "strong man," plundering his goods, and, otherwise, overcoming the powers of Satan. Note the interesting parallels from the book of Isaiah:
  • (Isaiah 65:4) - “I spread out my hands all the day to a rebellious people, who walk in a way that is not good, following their own devices; a people who provoke me to my face continually, sacrificing in gardens and burning incense upon bricks; who sit in tombs and spend the night in secret places; who eat swine's flesh, and broth of abominable things is in their vessels.”
Did Jesus grant the request of the demons? The destruction of the swine would leave them “homeless,” apparently, something they feared greatly. The rush of the herd into the sea manifested their self-destructive tendency. Its destruction was a visible sign that Satan’s domain was in the process of self-destruction in reaction to the presence of Jesus.

What about the economic cost to the swine herders? The question misses the larger picture. The local people were upset over the loss of pigs rather than being happy about the deliverance of the demonized man; presumably, an individual known to them - Their earlier attempts to restrain the man demonstrated their concern for him.
For Jesus, the restoration of one man was of far more worth than the economic value of livestock. The destruction of the herd manifested the reality of the exorcism and the destructive effects of demons on human beings.
Why did the inhabitants ask Jesus to leave? Most likely, they feared him because of the display of such extraordinary power. Note the comment from Luke:
  • (Luke 8:37) - “And all the people of the country of the Gerasenes and the surrounding district asked him to depart from them; for they were gripped with great fear, and he got into a boat and returned.”
In contrast to the villagers, the restored Demoniac begged to stay with Jesus. However, this request was refused. This was not from a hard-hearted rejection of the man. He sent him home to his family in order to restore the man to the wholeness of life.

The presence of the swine demonstrated that the demonized man was living in Gentile territory and, most likely, was himself a Gentile. Nevertheless, Jesus did not reject him and, instead, commanded him to tell everyone what the Lord had done for him.

The term “Decapolis” means “ten cities.” At the time, it was a confederation of ten Greek cities located east of the Jordan River and under the protection of the Roman governor of Syria. The culture was largely Greek and the population primarily Gentile. That the man went to the cities of the Decapolis after his deliverance is a further indication that he was Gentile.

At the start of the story, no man could tame or restrain the Demoniac, not even with chains. Without any use of force, Jesus caused his deliverance so that, instead of running naked and wild through a cemetery, he was found clothed, sane, and seated before Jesus.
The delivered man obeyed Jesus by proclaiming what he had done for him. In contrast, those who witnessed his miraculous deliverance begged Jesus to leave the area. Yet, those who heard the man’s testimony afterward responded in wonder to what Jesus had done for him.
Jesus had crossed into pagan territory where pig herding was acceptable, and where demons massed in “legions.” The earlier violent storm and the subsequent hostile reaction of the demonized man constituted attempts by demonic forces to prevent Jesus from entering their territory.

In quelling the storm, exorcising the demons, and vanquishing a legion of demons powerful enough to destroy a large herd of swine Jesus demonstrated his messianic and, thus, superior authority.



Language of the New Testament

Armageddon - Final Battle