Demon Possession (vv. 26-28)
Satan’s Agitation against Jesus Christ
A demon is a fallen, malevolent spirit who hates God, afflicts men, and like its father, the devil, does all it can to lie, deceive, injure, and kill. It is possible for a man to come under demonic influence. This sometimes happens because men want it to happen; Satan worshippers are few and far between, but they do exist, and in their madness, they sell their souls to do evil. Satan does not befriend them, but he will be happy to use them as a human host to carry out his foul schemes. Demonic possession may more often be unwilling, although as it cannot occur in a believer, it must be associated with some kind of personal rebellion against God or rejection of his truth. Where demon possession is real, it is ruinous, miserable, and inescapable, save by the power of Jesus Christ. The mind and body become clouded and troubled by dark thoughts and suggestions; beyond human strength is often associated with demon possession, as is reckless disregard for decency, dignity, and authority. Nothing worse in this life can happen to a human being than to come under the influence of a demon. All unbelievers are said to be taken captive by Satan to do his will, but demon possession takes that captivity to a new and horrible level.
And thus, our Lord crossed the lake (Sea of Galilee) and came to confront Satan and a horde of demons. The region of Gadara or Gerasa was located southeast of lake; modern consensus is that this event took place near the town of Gergesa, close by the eastern shore. According to Matthew (8:28-34), there were two of demon possessed men, but Luke (and Mark) mentions only one – perhaps the one who became personally attached to Jesus Christ. Demon possession was more common then, for Satan roused all his power to resist the coming of the Son of God into the world. This is what we are always to think of Satan and demons – that they left their original state of uprightness by rebelling against God’s authority (2 Pet. 2:4; Jud 6). Their evil head is called Satan or the devil. Jesus’ coming into the world and casting out demons was one of the great signs that the kingdom of God had indeed come – God’s great power to deliver men from slavery to sin and Satan. As our Lord went about his earthly ministry and moved closer to Calvary, he encountered many demon possessed men – not merely men and women with various neuroses or epileptic symptoms but under the real, personal, and destructive influence of a demon or fallen spirit. A person might be afflicted by more than one demon, as Mary Magdalene, out of whom the Lord cast seven demons, and the man before us now.
Demons Know, Fear, and Obey Jesus Christ
The B.C. world of gods and demons was a polytheistic hierarchy of deities and spirits, some good and others malevolent. Often they fought between themselves for supremacy. Even where one highest deity was recognized, this kind of theological opera was typical. But it has no basis in reality. There is but one, supreme God, who exists in three Persons, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. He made all things, including men and angels. The other gods to whom men offered sacrifices throughout antiquity the Holy Spirit says were “demons” who deceived and enslaved men in their superstitious darkness (1 Cor. 10:20). And even when the Son of God was incarnate, the demons recognized who he was, which should make us tremble with amazement at his glory and trust that he is able to save and secure us forever. This particular man had long been tormented by many devils. He was naked, unable to be bound by chains, and lived in the tombs. He took no delight in this state of affairs, but was tormented day and night, howling and crying out, being afflicted and begging for deliverance. When Jesus approached, the man ran to Jesus, fell before him, and cried out: “What have I to do with you, Jesus, Son of the God Most High?”
Who was speaking? In the case of demon possession, it is hard to say. For my part, I do not think that the man had prior knowledge of Jesus, and being in the tombs the whole time of Jesus’ earthly ministry to this point, he certainly would not have known such a close connection between Jesus Christ the man and Jesus Christ the Son of the Highest. This was the demon talking through the man. It is alarming that sin and demonic influences can so overtake a man that it is sin thinking and talking for him – not that he therefore has a justification for his wickedness. Each of us deserves for sin and Satan to take foul hold upon us. Sometimes, we see men who are so ungovernable that they will not listen to parents or policemen or judge, respect no other man and no other life, not even their own, and are much like this man – existing in a living death, throw off all restraint, and are truly Satan’s most miserable servants. And yet, although sin and Satan create this deadly havoc, they do so under the absolute authority of Jesus Christ. This demon, like all other demons, knows who Jesus Christ is, dread him, and yet must come and bow before him. And now that he is raised from the dead, he has proclaimed his triumph over them openly (Col. 2:15; 1 Pet. 3:19). Even in the days of his humiliation, the fallen spirits knew who Jesus was and had to obey him. How much more must they obey him now, since he crushed their leader with the cross of his suffering and now rules over all things as the exalted Mediator of the covenant? We must be wary of Satan’s devices and never go to sleep, but we have weapons and our Savior’s power to resist him. He must flee when faced with the mighty weapons of our Savior’s word and prayer.
A Plea to Escape the Abyss (vv. 28-31)
Jesus Christ the Tormentor of Satan
But let us not leave this scene too quickly! The reverent hearer will find much here to feed faith, wonder, and courage. Notice, first, that the demon – unlike some today – recognizes the great antithesis between Jesus Christ and the devil, righteousness and sin. “What have I to do with you?” The devil is no Pelagian, looking for good in men and shades of good in evil, when there is none. It is amazing that demons admit truth more clearly than men often will, especially when God has given us his word. But then, when the demon begs, “Do not torment me,” what lover of Jesus Christ can fail to tremble? Wait – Jesus Christ a tormentor? Yes, as the Son of the Highest, one and equal with his Father in eternity, power, and justice, he is the great Judge of the living and the dead. He is a tormentor of devils. He torments with his judgments – remember John’s “wrath of the Lamb” – his enemies: demons who rebelled soon after their creation and men who do not repent and believe the gospel.
And to think, this HOLY ONE took upon him the form of a servant and made himself less than nothing in order to bear our curse and heal us by his stripes. Do we not deserve to be tormented? Yes, many times over, and by the very One who was tormented in our place! How highly we should value the gospel of the crucified Son of God! Do not allow him to pass your way without running to him and begging him not to torment you but apply the torments he received at Calvary to you! Fear no demon but fear him who torments demons! And is not his longsuffering also astounding? This demon was filled with absolute dread at the approaching Son of God – and yet our leaders and peoples have rejected the Holy One we once professed. But he is slow to anger and of great mercy toward sinners, not yet imperious as he was to Legion, but willing for men to repent and have eternal life. And since he has such mastery over the unseen world of fallen spirits, we must listen more carefully than we have, use his provided armor more carefully than we do, and be more courageous against sin than we have been. Resist the devil, and he will flee – in faith, humbled before God, and clothed with his full armor.
A Command, a Plea, and a Question
Before the demons pled with Jesus not to torment them, he had commanded them to come out, likely as soon as the man fell at his feet. In an instant, Jesus saw this wreck of a man, caught in Satan’s snare, bound by men with chains that he kept breaking, and driven by the devil into the wilderness until he lived in a cemetery – alive but dead. The command was imperious, allowing for no refusal, but never do malignant spirits lose their audacity even when they lose their authority and place. Jesus stopped and asks a very strange question, at least for us who know so little about the unseen realm of principalities and powers – “What is your name?” Whether or not all demons have names, and as the Son of God, just like he knew the stars by name, so he knew all the fallen angels’ names, Jesus wanted this one to be identified for all time. The response came, “Legion; for we are many” (Mark 5:9). A Roman legion at full strength consisted of over 5,000 soldiers. Here, given the number of pigs that were about to be possessed and drowned, there were at least 2,000. The misery of this poor sinner! No wonder men gave up trying to tame and chain him, finally burying him above-ground in a wilderness graveyard. This is terrifying, and yet our Lord delays judgments and listens to their plea – do not, we beg you, send us yet into the abyss (v. 31), the place of the dead, hell. Remember that there are only two places after death. All go to the grave, but from death either heaven or hell.
Demons and Pigs (vv. 32-34)
Anywhere but Hell
And this legion of fallen spirits would rather live in a herd of pigs than go to hell. Let this sink in. Hell is not a place that the demons call “home” and in which they are comfortable. They would rather wallow in the mud with oinking hosts than be sent to hell to be tormented forever. Let their fear incite us never to go to hell by believing in Jesus Christ now, fleeing to him now, falling at his feet and asking him to deliver us from sin and judgment now! There is no other way to enter into life than for him to take our torment upon himself, otherwise we shall be tormented with these howling creatures in everlasting hell, where the “fire does not die” and there is weeping and gnashing of teeth. Let hell make you shudder into the safe arms of the Son of God and Savior of sinners. Never think that it is too late for you to be delivered or that you have sinned too much. If this man possessed by over a thousand devils could be delivered and transformed into Jesus’ devoted servant, then he is able to deliver you. Indeed, this is the great point of the encounter – that Jesus Christ is able and willing to deliver the most miserable and wretched of men and women. Surely this man was one of Satan’s castaways, but Jesus saved him. Demons had fed upon his soul, but they will now feed with pigs.
Irony, Judgment, and Death
These demons exercised such malicious control over this one man, but now they are sent into a herd of pigs. While we should never underestimate the conniving schemes and lies of the devil, we should also never forget that a pig is a fitter dwelling for him than a man. God made man as in his image, for his friendship, and to be his dwelling place, but sin had made us unfit for communion with God and fitter for demons. And if, as some think, the owners of this herd of pigs were Jewish, then our Lord also judged them for violating the laws of Moses, which were then still in force. If they were Gentile owners, perhaps no specific judgment is intended, but the broad point still remains – Satan and his demon hordes are an unclean enemy of men. When Legion entered the herd, the pigs flew into a blind frenzy, ran down a steep cliff, and all perished in the lake. Demons cannot drown, of course, but their hosts can. Steer clear of everything having to do with sin and Satan. This is the warning for us. We are safe and secure only when we are indwelled by the Holy Spirit of God. Without him, sin will drive us into the lake of fire.
A Surprising Witness (vv. 35-40)
Healed and Sitting at Jesus’ Feet
But let us come to the main point – what a powerful Savior is Jesus Christ, a compassionate Deliverer from sin and Satan. He is able to free us from sin’s chains and heal even the worst effects of our depravity. When he heals us definitively through regeneration, faith, and repentance, or progressively through sanctification, we sit tamely at his feet. The men of the region heard what happened to the pigs, and when they came out to see for themselves, there was the man whom they all knew as a wild monster sitting meekly at Jesus’ feet, clothed, and in his right mind. There were scared to death and vehemently urged Jesus to leave their land. Sinners would rather keep their herds of pigs than have the Son of God as their Friend and Savior. Their fear is perhaps understandable, but it is not laudable. It should have driven them to Jesus rather than driving him away. And admittedly, it should make us fearful what the Lord may do when he heals us – who knows what idols he may smash or sins expose or chastening apply? But this should be the fear of praise and thankfulness for his great mercy, the fear of amazing power that he is able to begin a good work in us in the first place, and then continue it unto perfection against all the forces of darkness and the laziness of our own hearts. What a powerful and faithful Savior! May we know him more as this man did – not dreading or pushing him away but sitting with adoration at his feet, learning of him and his gentleness and grace, and desiring only to be with him.
Can I Be with You?
The healed man wanted to stay with Jesus, to be with him. It can scarcely be exaggerated the love he must have felt toward our Lord. This was probably deepened when all his neighbors demanded that Jesus leave the area. This man’s response to Christ’s deliverance is our model – Lord, we want to be with you. We want to know more about you, serve you, and obey you. At the end of his course and after many glorious conquests and painful sufferings, Paul longed only “that I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings” (Phil. 3:10). Knowing Jesus always begets the desire to know more of Jesus. Once we get a taste for him, we see he is the only thing worth tasting! Christian sentimentality can become trite and a substitute for real discipleship, but if we would unite the two – personal love for Christ, the kind of love that constrains us to loving obedience (2 Cor. 5:14) – with Bible-guided zeal for our Lord, sentiment with knowledge, zeal with wisdom, this is the ideal Christian dynamic – not emotion without solid theology or sharp mind with a cold heart, but both, all drawn from him, consecrated to his cause, committed to his person.
It is astounding that this man would so quickly seize upon the essence of discipleship – personal connection to the Lord Jesus and desire to be with him and follow him. Some who have called themselves Christians for many years do not have nearly as much love for the Savior as this man did after an hour. There is something wrong here. It is likely that we undervalue his deliverance in our particular case, for we do not feel that we are all that bad. Or the passage of years has not been marked by growth in love for the Lord but a cold heart and a stuffed head, so that we forget the reason he called to us in the first place, the reason we began following him. Whatever your sins were or are, whether the Lord Jesus saved you from demons or called you out of the world of sin or delivered you from pleasant self-satisfaction and narcissism, endeavor to keep a sense of wonder at his grace and power, as well as personal love and connection to him who has done so much for you.
Go, Tell Your Friends and Family
Jesus rejected his request. On earth, we do not define what it means to serve him or the way he wants us to be with him. We must instead determine to serve him in the state in which he calls us and to follow his providences in our particular circumstances so that we carry our cross. In this man’s case, he was suddenly elevated from Satan’s slave to our Savior’s ambassador. He told him to go back to his home and show them the great things God had done unto him. This was not what the man desired, but our Lord directed him to go after all those who had rejected the Lord. Often he commanded healed men to be silent, but here he urges proclamation. That region was outside the spotlight of Jerusalem, so a personal, evangelistic campaign was safe and would not bring down the opposition of Jewish leadership or create furor among the people. It may also be that Jesus asked the man to do this because the man did not really want to – he wanted to sit at Jesus’ feet from now on. But such a great deliverance demanded a fitting response of great energy and zeal for the Deliver.
Friends, neighbors, family – these are the hardest ones to reach for Christ, for they are the ones who know us best. They are often cold to our pleas. Can we teach our family anything? Are we willing to humble ourselves, confess sins, perhaps make restoration for old sins, and all the while talk about our religion, about faith in Jesus Christ who saved us from our sins? We like to talk about things that interest us or happen to us, but somehow when God comes into the picture, we get cold feet to match our fearful hearts. Why, I just live in the suburbs; Jesus, well, I love him, but can I really say that he has done great things for me? And I think my parents already know more than I do, and my neighbors would only think I am weird or unhinged if I started telling them what God has done for me.
But what has he done for me? I have never been possessed by devils or been a drug dealer or prostitute. Are these the only great deliverances Jesus Christ works? Simple, persevering faith in a crucified Savior remains one of the greatest miracles in the history of the universe. A faith that prays, denies self, and loves others – this is so heavenly that I am sure the angels blush by how much we take these things for granted or ignore them or live as if they came out of us. If God has forgiven your sins, given you a love for the Savior, provided for you along your pilgrim path, answered your prayers, encouraged you with gospel promises, and made you part of a fellowshipping body of saints, he has done great things for you. The world knows nothing of them, and you must tell them. You do not need to go to Africa. Start with your unsaved family member. Humble yourself by telling how the Lord Jesus delivered you from sin and Satan. If this no longer moves you much, begin with yourself, examining your heart, repenting of coldness, and begging God to enflame your first love. Your witness will follow. “How can we but speak the things we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:20).