Since Satan was thrown out of Heaven by the triune God, he has been on a mission to oppose the Lord and thwart His purposes. We know from Scripture that he fell because he resented his place as a creature and wished to take the throne and authority of God (Isaiah 14:13-14; it is also possible this passage describes the Antichrist, the ultimate human expression of Satanic rebellion). It is noteworthy that after the sixth day of the creation week, the entire universe was considered unfallen even though Satan and his demons had already rebelled. It was only when Adam and Even listened to Satanic counsel that their authority as rulers of the earth plunged their whole domain into the wickedness we have all known for thousands of years. Satan wished to damn men and the inhabited world because both were essential to God’s plan. God desired a race of human image bearer-worshipers who would cultivate His world into a beautiful paradise of glorious culture and sculpted natural beauty—a wonderful divine-human effort to glorify Him and bring them joy as they obeyed and worshiped Him. But now, humanity has fallen so they rebel against and hate God, and the inhabited earth (human culture and all its endeavors) is used to express that rebellion and hatred. Satan is very pleased. But God from the beginning (from before the foundation of the world, really) promised a Redeemer who would redeem humanity and the inhabited earth. This would mean infiltrating Satan’s very domain and binding him, then taking all that was rightfully God’s (Matthew 12:29). It would mean transforming hardened, blind rebels into surrendered, glad worshipers. It would mean ultimately redeeming the very inhabited earth itself into an eternal paradise, the home of God’s glory, out of which Satan and his human and demonic followers would be shut forever.
In His First Advent, our Lord came to lay the all-important foundation for world redemption: He was to live a sinless life and die and rise on behalf of sinners, within the very world they had corrupted. Having risen to rule the world, He is now using His redeemed people to extend His kingdom rule over the earth (Matthew 13:21-22) before His return at His Second Advent to complete the job—first for a thousand years, then forever.
We see the demonstration of our Lord’s power over the demonic forces that have corrupted His world in today’s text. We’ve seen His divine, kingly authority over nature, and today look at His power over the heart of the fallenness of the world: the evil spirits that made it possible.
Because this week’s message did not have an outline, I have adopted John MacArthur’s from his sermons on this passage.
A. The Destructive Power of Demons (vv. 1-7)
The Lord has just stilled the sea on the way to this region. Fresh off of this magnificent display of His authority, the 12 follow Him off the boat to the little town of Gerasa, which is approximately six miles from Capernaum. The town and the region (the region being named after a larger sister town, Gadarea) were both thoroughly Gentile. Recall that our Lord wanted to go to this more rural, less-populated part of Israel as a way of recuperating and gaining rest from the Jewish crowds that are constantly following Him. But sometime during the night the Father has changed His plan, and our Lord is resolute to obey.
For out of the tombs, running toward them at great speed, is a pair of men who are demon-possessed.
Mark emphasizes the man that spoke; evidently he was the leader (and perhaps possessed by more demons). He has been living among the tombs because only dead people would want to be near him. Indeed, this man is doubly unclean—he is a Gentile, and he has had extensive contact with the dead! He was so frightful and such a threat that the local men had tried binding him physically with leg irons and restraints, but the supernatural strength of his demonic inhabitants made that an impossibility. The text says no one was strong enough to subdue him (vv. 4)—until now.
What is worse is this man has spent his days screaming in the hilly part of the country where the tombs are—the Greek text is lit. “shrieking,” picturing a bloodcurdling, intense, animal-like howling—and gashing himself with sharp rocks, likely in an attempt to commit suicide. Luke adds that the man has been naked for a long time (8:27), which was not only shameful in Jewish culture, but also mean he would have been extremely filthy and stinking. Picture a bloodied, hoarse-voiced, stark naked, filthy, unkempt man coming towards you screaming with great intensity and anger.
It was not exactly the most welcoming impression of Gadarea.
The man has his sights on Jesus, of course—but he does not try to harm Him. No, the man falls to his face before Jesus (the Greek word for “bowed” is the word for “prostrate” and in religious contexts refers to worship) and shouts, “What business do we have with each other, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I implore You by God, do not torment me” (v. 7). This is not the first time demons have said this through their host’s vocal cords (Mark 1:24). The demons know that there is a wide chasm between them and the Lord. They are in two very different categories—both because of Christ’s holiness and because they are creatures while He is the Creator.
But more, they know Jesus is the just Judge of heaven and earth—God the Father has put the God-Man in that position of authority (Matthew 25:31-46; John 5:22; Acts 17:31; Romans 2:1-16, 14:10-12; 2 Cor. 5:10; 2 Tim. 4:8; Rev. 20:11-15). They know from the Old Testament that there will come a time when Jesus will judge the “gods” of the world system—powerful fallen angels that have led the nations astray into idolatry and ungodliness (Psa. 82), who are led by Satan and who will be all bound, from Satan himself to the lowest demon, in the pit when Christ “punish[es] the host of heaven…[who will] be confined in prison [for] many days” (Isaiah 24:21-22; cf. Revelation 20:2-3). Matthew adds “before the time” (v. 29). They know there will come a future time when this One will throw them into the pit, but their eschatology is good enough that they know it isn’t now. They are rightly terrified of Him. Why is He here?
Of course, our Lord inaugurated His kingdom in His First Advent, and with it His divine authority over the demonic realm. He is acting as King and God in coming against these demons, and they know it.
Note one other thing: The demons’ response to Jesus is due to His repeatedly telling them to come out of the man (v. 8). To leave the man, in their minds, is to go to the pit, and they cannot bear that. They know the pit means torment, so that prompts their fearful question to Jesus.
We now turn to His delivering power.
B. The Delivering Power of Deity (vv. 8-16)
Jesus ignores the man’s pleas and continues telling the spirits to leave him (v. 8); this implies Jesus has already been doing this as the man approached Him. He then asks what the demon’s name is; and he (they?) respond, “My name is Legion, for we are many” (v. 9). A legion was a squadron of 6,000 Roman soldiers. This does not necessitate the man literally had 6,000 demons in him, but it certainly means he had many, several hundred or thousand. To cast out one demon is one thing. But thousands? Who has that authority?
The demons know. They ask Him permission—if they’re going to leave the man, can we at least stay in the region? (Remember it was a Gentile stronghold, so the demons had much currency in paganisms and likely various forms of immorality.) Then, the man notices the pig herds grazing on the hillside. “Please, please—send us into the swine!”
What seems odd at first is Jesus acquiesces, so as they come out of the man they enter the pigs. What is going on here? Simply that our Lord is allowing them to demonstrate graphically the destructive nature of demonic influence—for as the demons enter the pigs they charge headlong off the mountain and collide into the sea below, drowning instantly. (MacArthur quips that the pig herders are silent about the deaths because the pigs were being raised for food anyway, so they just had an earlier pork sale!) Demons are evil: They want nothing but death, terror, destruction, and carnage. If they cannot hurt the man and kill him, they have to destroy something.
What an object lesson for the wreckage of sin and demonic corruption! We are often tempted to make peace with our sin, but that is precisely what Satan and his hosts want. Besides giving them a beachhead of operation in our lives (Eph. 4:27), it results in the destruction, both earthly and eternal, that they so love.
Now, hearing the commotion with the pigs, the townspeople come running and find the man (and his companion) clothed, presumably clean, calm, and in his right mind, sitting with Jesus and talking with Him. This is terrifying in itself, given the sudden contrast, but what is worse is the greatness of the power that would have made the man—this untamable, evil, wretched man—this way. Just as the demonized man sensed our Lord’s holiness and was threatened by it, so these Gentiles see this unassuming Jewish rabbi and are immediately terrified by the sheer power He wields.
The people want nothing to do with Him, and beg Him to leave their region. How utterly tragic! Ungodly people are not warmed to the things of God nor to His power expressed in creation, redemption, and sustaining the world. It threatens them in their sin and wickedness. It attacks their autonomy. Most of all, it reminds them they are not in control and are at the mercy of this power, which (if they are perceptive enough) they intuit is arrayed against them. Imagine: Sheer, holy omnipotence set against you! Against you, not for you! Surely this is the most tragic thing in the world!
But this does not bring them to repentance or beg for mercy. No, they just want this Man and His omnipotence to leave. And that is how it is for all outside of Christ unless they are being drawn to salvation.
The man with thousands of demons is saved; the respectable people are lost. O God, it has always been this way. May You have mercy on this nation by awaking many to their sin, and use Your holy power to make them willing subjects of the reigning King (Psa. 110:2-3)!