Week of August 27, 2017
The Point: You don’t have to go far to share your transformed life in Christ.
Jesus – Lord of Demons: Mark 5:1-20.
 They came to the other side of the sea, to the country of the Gerasenes.  And when Jesus had stepped out of the boat, immediately there met him out of the tombs a man with an unclean spirit.  He lived among the tombs. And no one could bind him anymore, not even with a chain,  for he had often been bound with shackles and chains, but he wrenched the chains apart, and he broke the shackles in pieces. No one had the strength to subdue him.  Night and day among the tombs and on the mountains he was always crying out and cutting himself with stones.  And when he saw Jesus from afar, he ran and fell down before him.  And crying out with a loud voice, he said, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I adjure you by God, do not torment me.”  For he was saying to him, “Come out of the man, you unclean spirit!”  And Jesus asked him, “What is your name?” He replied, “My name is Legion, for we are many.”  And he begged him earnestly not to send them out of the country.  Now a great herd of pigs was feeding there on the hillside,  and they begged him, saying, “Send us to the pigs; let us enter them.”  So he gave them permission. And the unclean spirits came out, and entered the pigs, and the herd, numbering about two thousand, rushed down the steep bank into the sea and were drowned in the sea.  The herdsmen fled and told it in the city and in the country. And people came to see what it was that had happened.  And they came to Jesus and saw the demon-possessed man, the one who had had the legion, sitting there, clothed and in his right mind, and they were afraid.  And those who had seen it described to them what had happened to the demon-possessed man and to the pigs.  And they began to beg Jesus to depart from their region.  As he was getting into the boat, the man who had been possessed with demons begged him that he might be with him.  And he did not permit him but said to him, “Go home to your friends and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.”  And he went away and began to proclaim in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him, and everyone marveled. [ESV]
“Literary Context. The healing of the Gerasene demoniac represents the second in a series of four powerful miracles demonstrating Jesus’ messianic authority – including authority over nature [4:35-41], demons [5:1-20], chronic disease [5:25-34], and death [5:21-24,35-41]. Earlier exorcisms confirmed the authority of the kingdom of God over individual agents of Satan’s realm [1:21-28,34; 3:10-12,23-27]. This one goes even further, as Jesus confronts and easily overcomes a Legion of demons in a hostile environment. The episode is linked to the previous one as the disciples now arrive on the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee on the boat that passed through the storm [4:35-41].
Explanation of the Text.  This statement connects the present narrative to the previous one about the storm at sea. The other side is the southeastern shore, in the region of the Decapolis, a predominantly Gentile region. The presence of pigs confirms the Gentile nature of this place. Mark may be hinting in this episode that the gospel will eventually go to the Gentiles.  As Jesus disembarks, He is confronted by a demon-possessed man. The man is said to have a defiling or impure spirit. Traditionally translated unclean, the term has nothing to do with hygiene or cleanliness but rather ceremonial defilement. In the Old Testament, things that were ceremonially impure could not enter the tabernacle/temple or stand in God’s presence. The demonic presence renders a person ceremonially defiled and so unable to relate properly to God. The present account is full of terms of ceremonial defilement. Tombs are unclean because touching a corpse rendered a person ceremonially defiled. Pigs are unclean animals according to the Old Testament law [Lev. 11:1-8; Deut. 14:8]. Isaiah 65:4 describes apostate Israel as a people who sit in tombs and spend the night in secret places; who eat pig’s flesh, and broth of tainted meat is in their vessels. The theme of impurity will carry over into the next episode, where Jesus will encounter a woman with a menstrual disorder and the body of a girl who has died. In each case, Jesus is not rendered impure by such contact, but rather He turns defilement into purity and wholeness. [3-4] The phrase among the tombs could mean either “in” or “among.” Since caves were often used for tombs, the former is certainly possible. In rabbinic literature, demons are sometimes said to inhabit tombs. Mark’s detailed description of the attempts to subdue the man is typical of his dramatic and colorful style. The detailed description emphasizes the hopelessness of the man’s situation. He is beyond human help and so in need of divine intervention. Similarly, Mark’s comment that no one had the strength to subdue him magnifies Jesus’ incomparable power to deliver.  If the previous statement described the violent danger that the demons posed to others, this one points to the man’s own desperate and pitiable condition. The term mountains can mean any raised elevation (hills, foothills, mountains); here it likely refers to the hills or hillsides around the lake and its villages rather than “in the mountains.” Self-destructive behavior is often associated with demonic oppression. [6-7] Is the man’s approach to Jesus an attack or a cry for help? That is, is the demon fully in control and its purpose is to drive Jesus away, or does the man have enough willpower and presence of mind to seek help from the one place he could still find it? The fact that the man fell down before Jesus might suggest the latter, but since the words that follow clearly come from the demon, the former seems more likely. The verb used here (fell down) does not always mean “worship” but can also mean “bow down, do obeisance to, fall prostrate before.” Since Jesus demonstrates complete mastery over the demons throughout this scene, the sense here seems to be “fell on his face.” Though rushing out to challenge Jesus, the demoniac instead collapses in a heap of submission before Him. As elsewhere in Mark’s gospel, the demon recognizes Jesus’ identity [1:24,34; 3:11,12], here calling Him Son of the Most High God. This is part of Mark’s revelation of Jesus’ messianic identity. Although human characters in the narrative struggle to comprehend who Jesus is [4:41], the reader knows through God’s own testimony [1:11; 9:7] and the terrified response of demons [1:24,34; 3:11]. Undeniable proof that Jesus is the Son of God and inaugurator of the kingdom of God comes from those whose evil empire is under assault. Strangely, in appealing to Jesus not to torment him, the demon swears by God. Similar formulas are sometimes used by exorcists against demons, but the reverse is strange indeed. Likely, Mark presupposes the eschatological interpretation of Matthew’s parallel [8:29], where the demons call on Jesus not to torment them “before the time”, that is, before the eschatological judgment. The demon knows its ultimate fate, which God has decreed. In the face of immediate expulsion by Jesus, it seeks to delay by appealing to God’s decree of future judgment. The demon accuses Jesus of jumping the gun. This would also explain why Jesus seems willing to negotiate the demon’s fate [5:10-14].  Mark now explains the reason for the demon’s panic. Jesus had already commanded it to come out of the man. The imperfect he was saying is functioning in a pluperfective sense, “to indicate a time prior to the action occurring in the narrative.” This is a brief parenthetic flashback.  Story time slows, as Jesus carries on a conversation with the demon. The question, What is your name, is unlikely to be Jesus’ attempt to gain mastery over the demon by learning its secret name. Jesus is already in total control. Rather, from a narrative perspective the revelation of the name demonstrated the massive nature of the demonic oppression and so emphasizes the greatness of the miracle. Although the demon has been referred to in the singular up to this point, a multiple possession is now revealed. A legion was a Roman military unit made up of approximately six thousand troops. This doesn’t mean there were six thousand demons, but only that we are many. Multiple possessions appear elsewhere in the gospel tradition. The militaristic connotations of Legion fits well with Mark’s emphasis on the reality of spiritual warfare. Jesus has already described His ministry as a clash of kingdoms, with the kingdom of God attacking and overwhelming the strong man’s house – the kingdom of Satan [3:23-27]. [10-12] Out of the country likely means the region of Gerasa, though the reason for this request is uncertain. The implication seems to be that evil spirits are territorial beings, who seek to retain control over certain locales. This also helps to explain the strange request to enter the pigs. If they could not remain in the man, they hope at lease to be allowed to stay in the region. The presence of the pigs confirms that we are in Gentile territory, since Jews were forbidden to raise or eat pigs.  A herd of two thousand pigs was huge at that time and would have been worth a fortune. The size confirms the magnitude of the miracle and the power of Jesus to cast out so many demons. The tangible manifestation of the demons through the pigs also confirms the reality of the exorcism and the fact that Jesus is not simply dealing with a man who has a severe psychological disorder. Modern readers are often bothered by Jesus’ apparent disregard for the welfare of the pigs or for the financial loss to the herders. Mark does not address such ethical concerns. The losses must be seen as casualties in the war being waged between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of Satan. While God is out to save, Satan is bent on destruction. In this battle scene, Jesus delivers the man from oppression, while the demons destroy the pigs. The relative value of human and animal life must also be considered. People, Jesus says in Matthew 12:12, are more valuable than sheep. In the end, the financial loss is also irrelevant. Disciples of Jesus must be willing to give up all for the kingdom, including homes, land, and family [10:17-31]. Another puzzling question is what happened to the demons after the destruction of the pigs? Were they destroyed? Were they banished to wander aimlessly [Matt. 12:43-45]? The irony of the narrative would suggest that their desperate attempt to stay in the region has failed, and their worst fears are realized. Since the depths of the sea are often associated with the netherworld, perhaps Mark envisions them as now banished to hell and committed them to chains of gloomy darkness to be kept until the judgment [2 Peter 2:4]. This would seem to agree with the parallels in Matthew and Luke, where the greatest fear of the demons is to be tormented and banished to the Abyss before the eschatological judgment [Matt. 8:29; Luke 8:31]. [14-15] The narrative now shifts to the response to the miracle, as the herdsmen report in the town and countryside what has occurred. The city here is probably not Gerasa, since the distance is too great, but rather the town or village where the pig herders lived. City can refer to any municipality, even a small village. The description of the man as sitting calmly, clothed and in his right mind, stands in stark contrast to the detailed description of the demoniac’s uncontrollable violence in verses 3-5. The reaction of the townspeople is fear, the same response the disciples had in the previous episode when Jesus calmed the sea [4:41]. This is a normal response when witnessing the awesome power of God. The only question is what will they do with that fear: fall down before God to worship Him and offer their service to Him, or seek to escape His presence? While the disciples stay with Jesus, the townspeople beg Him to leave . [16-17] Two opposite reactions to the miracle are reported by Mark, a negative one by the townspeople and a positive one by the man. Just as the demons begged Jesus not to send them out of the area  and to send them into the pigs , so now the townspeople beg Him to leave . The reason is fear, but fear of what? Some have said they are afraid of greater financial loss. They cared more for the pigs than for the welfare of the man. This is possible, though Mark does not say so. More likely, Jesus is seen as a dangerous disruption to their peaceful lives. The inbreaking power of the kingdom of God does not bring a comfortable life and the status quo but rather a radical transformation of individuals and societies.  In striking contrast to the negative reaction of the townspeople is the positive response of the man. Again Mark uses the same word for beg [see 10,12,17]. The townspeople beg Jesus to leave, fearful of His amazing power and what it might do to their peaceful lives. But the man begs to be with Jesus. He has experienced the healing and wholeness brought by the kingdom of God.  Why does Jesus not allow the man to go with Him? Mark does not say. Perhaps it is because he is a Gentile, or because the Twelve had already been appointed [2:13-18], or because Jesus always took the initiative in choosing His disciples. Or maybe there is no room in the boat! In any case, Jesus provides a positive reason for the man to stay: to announce to others what the Lord has done for him. The Lord here is probably a reference to God the Father, who is at work through Jesus. The command is surprising, since elsewhere Jesus commands those healed to silence [1:44; 5:43; 7:36; 8:26]. The likely reason is that Jesus is in Gentile rather than Jewish territory. This would confirm our earlier conclusion that Jesus wants to define His messiahship on His own terms, not on the basis of traditional messianic expectations. He is also concerned to quell overzealous messianic ambitions among the crowds. Neither of these would be a concern in a Gentile region.  While the herders had announced to the townspeople about what had happened , this man now proclaims to everyone what Jesus had done for him. Though the terms can be synonymous, the latter is more commonly used of the proclamation of the message of salvation. The content of the proclamation is how much Jesus had done for him. The close parallel in verse 19, how much the Lord has done for you, shows how closely Jesus is identified with God in Mark’s gospel. The work of Jesus is the work of God. The Decapolis (meaning “Ten Cities”) was a region to the east and southeast of the Sea of Galilee made up of a confederation of cities with defense and trade ties. Of the cities, only Scythopolis lay west of the Jordan River. The Decapolis refers more to a region than to the cities themselves. The inhabitants were primarily Gentile. Jesus will return to the Decapolis in 7:31-8:10, where He will heal a deaf man and feed the four thousand. Mark likely intends the present episode to represent a foreshadowing and preview of the proclamation of the gospel to the Gentiles, a mission in full swing in Mark’s day. The response to the man’s message is amazement, a common response throughout Mark’s gospel [1:22,27; 2:12; 5:15,20,42; 6:51; 12:17]. While it is true that amazement doesn’t necessarily mean full belief, this is too negative a spin. The theme in Mark does not emphasize a lack of faith, but rather that everyone who comes in contact with Jesus – whether friend or foe – cannot help but be amazed at the power of God evident in His words and deeds.
Theology in Application. The Authority of the Son of God. As elsewhere throughout the first half of Mark’s gospel, the primary theme of this episode is the authority of Jesus as God’s agent inaugurating the kingdom of God. While the previous episode demonstrated His authority over the forces of nature, this one reveals that same authority over the demonic realm. Jesus has cast out demons before, but this is a legion of demons – a major battle in the spiritual war. Yet despite the magnitude of the opposition, Jesus shows no strain or fear of failure in this fight. He has complete mastery of the situation. He simply speaks and the demons obey. The reality of spiritual warfare is an important theme elsewhere in the New Testament. Peter affirms that Satan is alive and well on planet earth, prowling like a lion, seeking someone to devour [1 Peter 5:8]. Paul likewise asserts that we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places [Eph. 6:12]. Yet we need not fear, since Christ has achieved complete victory over spiritual forces through His death and resurrection. He has disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them on the cross [Col. 2:15]. Believers today need to find a healthy balance on the issue of spiritual warfare, recognizing its reality but not living in fear of its destructive power. There are two negative extremes. Some Christians function as practical atheists, with little or no awareness of the supernatural struggle raging in their world. Others see a demon behind every bush, attributing every challenge, setback, or illness to the work of Satan. The former do not recognize how much Satan’s purposes are impacting society’s values, and so they are oblivious to its effect on their thought and behavior. The latter often live in fear and depression, unable to experience the freedom found in Christ. The balanced solution is to acknowledge both the reality of the war and the certainty of its outcome and to claim the victory available through Jesus Christ.
Responding to Jesus. An important secondary theme concerns the contrasting responses to the miracle by the townspeople and the man who was healed. As in the parable of the sower, we see various responses to the gospel message. Some respond positively and bear fruit; others are distracted or deceived. The seed sown among thorns, Jesus says, was choked out by the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches and the desires for other things [4:19]. Whether the townspeople were concerned about greater financial loss or a disruption to their peaceful lives, they allow such distractions to blind them to their own desperate position and the solution found in Jesus’ proclamation of the good news. Radical evil and complete brokenness – as epitomized by the man’s condition – demand a radical solution, the awesome transforming power of the kingdom of God. In contrast to the townspeople is the healed man, who has experienced this transforming power and so begs to join Jesus in the work of the kingdom. As Paul says in Romans 1:16, I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. Paul experienced that transforming power on the Damascus road. The man in Mark 5 experiences it on the shores of Galilee. To those who have never had this transforming encounter with God, the message of the gospel is a stumbling block and foolishness, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God [1 Cor. 1:24]. The man in his desperate situation may also be seen to epitomize fallen humanity, dead in its trespasses and sins and enslaved to the power of Satan [Eph. 2:1]. He is as good as dead (living in tombs) and beyond human help. Yet through Christ, he is made alive and whole, raised up with Christ to the state of true humanity [Eph. 2:4-5]. His task now was simply to proclaim to others what Jesus had done for him, that is, to bear testimony to the grace of God and the transforming power of His kingdom. This is the essence of what it means to be a Christian witness. It is not about learning the right words or developing the most persuasive method. It is bearing simple testimony to what God has done for you.” [Strauss, pp. 231-243].
Questions for Discussion:
- Why do the townspeople react to Jesus in fear after His healing of the demoniac? What are they afraid of? How does their fear cause them to treat Jesus?
- Contrast the townspeople’s reaction to Jesus with the demoniac. How does the man react towards Jesus and His exercise of divine power? What does he beg Jesus to do for him? What does Jesus tell him to do instead? What is he to tell his friends? How is this the essence of what it means to be a Christian witness?
- What is the primary theme of this episode? How do we see Jesus exercising his authority? What do we learn about Jesus from this passage?
The Gospel According to Mark, James Edwards, Eerdmans.
Mark, Robert Stein, BENT, Baker.
Mark, Mark Strauss, Zondervan.