Jesus delivered a demonized Gentile while traveling through hostile territory, demonstrating his authority over Satan – Mark 5:1-20.
The declaration that Jesus had come to the “other side of the sea” links this next story to the preceding incident when he calmed the storm. His plan to crossover the Sea of Galilee set in motion the series of events that followed. Having calmed the storm, he next encountered the demonized man who had a violent “storm” raging within – (Mark 5:1-20).
This is the third and most graphic exorcism recorded in Mark, and one noteworthy for the extraordinary physical strength of the demonized man attributed to demonic powers. The calming of an exceptionally violent storm and the exorcism of a physically intimidating man demonstrated the vastly superior power and authority of Jesus. Even the strongest efforts by Satan failed to defeat him.
There is some uncertainty about the precise location 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 that probably were caused by the attempts of ancient scribes to identify the city.
There are three possible locations for the town. However, all three 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 the incident took place on the eastern side of the lake in what was considered Gentile territory.
In Judaism, graveyards were ritually unclean. And some Jews and many Gentiles believed they were haunted by demons. Thus, already in his life, the demoniac was consigned to the land of the dead. To a first-century Jew, Gentile graves were considered especially unclean – (Numbers 19:11-14).
The demoniac was “cutting himself,” which 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 his resistance to every attempt to restrain him.
The cry, “What have you to do with me,” parallels the cry of the demon in the first exorcism story in Mark (“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”). In Mark, demons addressed Jesus by name, and until his crucifixion, only demons recognized him. They questioned him about their possible torment “before our time,” indicating they also recognized him as their Judge.
The common belief was that knowing an entity’s name gave one 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 to command them (“Legion”). Regardless, this began the process of their expulsion from the demonized man (a Roman legion was comprised of 6,000 men).
Mark switches between the singular and the plural whenever Jesus addresses the demons, probably because they spoke as one through their victim. Their reply explains their name and stresses their number – (“Legion, for we are many”).
The demons pleaded not to be “sent out of the country.” This suggests this incident occurred in a Gentile, and thus, in an “unclean” area. In Jewish eyes, Gentiles were not simply ceremonially “unclean,” 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 Luke’s account, they feared being cast into “the abyss,” where they would receive their judgment before the designated time. The presence of swine was another indicator this occurred in Gentile territory. Pigs were ceremonially unclean animals avoided by devout Jews – (Leviticus 11:7, Deuteronomy 14:8).
Once again, Jesus is seen as the one mightier than even John the Baptist. The “Son of Man” who overcame Satan in the wilderness, the man anointed by God’s Spirit who was binding the “strong man,” plundering his goods, and otherwise, overcoming his powers.
Did Jesus grant their request? The destruction of the herd of swine would leave the demons “homeless,” apparently, something they dreaded. But the rush of the herd into the sea manifested the self-destructive nature of the demonic horde, and the herd’s destruction was a visible sign that Satan’s domain was itself in the process of self-destruction as the result of Jesus and his ministry.
What about the economic cost to the herd’s owners? That question misses the larger picture. The local people were upset over the loss of pigs rather than being happy about the deliverance of the (now formerly) demonized man, presumably, an individual known to them. Their earlier attempts to restrain him demonstrated their concern for and familiarity with him.
For Jesus, the restoration of this one man was of far more worth than the economic value of livestock. The destruction of the herd manifested the reality of this man’s 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. This is indicated in Luke’s account:
- (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 man begged to stay with Jesus, but his request was refused. Instead, he sent him home to his family to restore him to the wholeness of life.
The presence of the herd of pigs demonstrated that the demonized man had been living in Gentile territory, and most likely, he was himself a Gentile. Nevertheless, Jesus did not reject him. Instead, he commanded him to tell everyone what the Lord had done for him.
The term “Decapolis” means “ten cities.” At the time, it referred to a confederation of ten Hellenized cities located east of the Jordan River. Its culture was largely Greek and the population was primarily Gentile and Greek-speaking. That the man went to the cities of the Decapolis after his deliverance indicates further that he was a Gentile.
At the start of the story, no man could restrain the demoniac, not even with chains. Without any use of force, Jesus delivered him. Instead of running naked through the cemetery, now, he was found clothed, sane, and seated before the Lord.
Jesus 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 were attempts by satanic forces to prevent him from entering their territory. And in quelling the storm and vanquishing the legion of demons powerful enough to destroy the herd of swine, he demonstrated his vastly superior authority.