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 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.
Mark 5:1-20 ESV
Earlier this week, my daughter and I read the story of Samson for the first time. It was the story that she was most looking forward to because in her children’s Bible there is a drawing of Samson pushing down the pillars of the temple of Dagon. Like the loving father that I am, I only told her that the man’s name was Samson but she would have to wait until we got to that part of the Bible to find out what was happening in the picture. However, once we finished the life of Samson, she said, “I don’t like that story.” I asked why, and she replied that it was too sad. I answered that the stories in the Bible were not written for us to like them. They were written because they are what happened.
Today’s text reminds me of Samson, for the demoniac man is rather like him. Supernaturally strengthened by the Spirit of God, Samson perpetually evaded the bindings of his enemies, the Philistines. In the end, however, the strongman was conquered, blinded, and humiliated. Yet his life ended in cruciform freedom as God granted him strength one last time to demolish the temple of Dagon. Like Samson, the demoniac displayed supernatural strength to avoid being bound, yet he would be liberated from his torment by the greater Samson, the One who with arms outstretched would not merely destroy an idol’s temple but would disarm “the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, triumphing over them” by the cross (Colossians 2:15).
FEAR OF HELL; FEAR OF HEAVEN // VERSES 1-17
Chapter 5 begins where the previous chapter ended. We left Jesus and His disciples as they were sitting in their boat on a supernaturally calm sea with the disciples having truly glimpsed the divine reality of Jesus. Now ‘they came to the other side of the sea, to the country of the Gerasenes.’ Interestingly, Matthew calls this the country of the Gadarenes. These two names are used because Jesus likely got off His boat somewhere between the towns of Gerasa and Gadara. A significant fact is that this region had a higher population of Gentiles than Galilee did on the other side of the sea, as evidenced by the herd of pigs in these verses.
Verse 2 sets the scene for the main conflict of this story: ‘And when Jesus had stepped out of the boat, immediately there met him out of the tombs a man with an unclean spirit.’ We should remember that since Jesus and His disciples set out across the sea during the evening, there is a strong possibility that this verse took place in the dead of night. One commentator notes that this “part of the lake-side where there were many caves in the limestone rock, and many of these caves were used as tombs in which bodies were laid. At the best of times it was an eerie place; as night fell it must have been grim indeed.” The horror movie vibe was only enhanced by the demonized man who immediately came running to meet them.
What was his intention for running directly upon Jesus? Like a good storyteller, Mark does not answer the question right away but instead gives us some further information about this demoniac that only increases our suspense.
In verses 3-5, we learn the severity of this man’s torment. First, he lived isolated, only with another demoniac as Matthew tells us, among the tombs. He was insufferable to the living, so though he was still alive, he was cast away to spend his life with the dead. His ferocity was apparently so great that some people from the nearby towns had attempted to bind him, even with chains. Yet like a demonic twisting of Samson, he snapped every rope or chain. ’No one had the strength to subdue him.’ Without sleep, he screamed night and day and cut himself with stones. He was a terror to all who passed by the area, but most of all he was a terror to himself. Given the amount of control that the demons exercised over this man, we can easily assume that they could have killed him or, rather, made him kill himself. Yet like a cat that has caught a mouse, they clearly delighted in the torment. They believed that this man’s soul was securely damned, and they were playing with their prey. R. C. Sproul remarks about this man’s circumstance:
In all of Scripture, I can think of only one person whose misery rivals that of this man–Job. This narrative in Mark is brief; the book of Job gives us forty-two chapters about the misery of Job as he lost his wealth, his family, and his health, and then had to deal with the ungodly counsel of his wife and his friends. Even today we speak of the suffering of Job in our day-to-day speech. Yet, I wonder whether Job’s misery, as terrible as it was, really approached the misery of this poor soul, who was tormented every moment by the focused power of hell.
Indeed, many people flippantly comment about situations being hell or a hell on earth, yet this man was perhaps as near to that reality as anyone has ever been. And of course, we must keep in mind that it is the longing of all demons to see as many of God’s image-bearers as possible in such a state and worse.
Thus, as this tragic and terrifying man runs up to Jesus, we wonder again: what will happen?
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!”
Although no one could bind the demoniac, the very sight of Jesus sent him lying prostrate on the ground. Just as Jesus stated in 3:27, “no one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his good, unless he first binds the strong man.” Although the demons may have believed that they had made this man as unable to be bound as Samson, the greater Samson was now on the scene, whose very presence brought the hordes of hell to their knees.
Notice two things. First, again the demons are the only ones so far who have a crystal-clear vision of who Jesus is. Second, consider the audacity of them begging Jesus not to torment them, whenever they have been happily tormenting this man for who knows how long! This, of course, reveals that the demons knew that torment was coming. In Matthew 25:41, Jesus said that hell was “prepared for the devil and his angels.” We should cast aside worldly notions of hell as a place where Satan reigns as king and unbelievers are cast into his hand for all eternity. No, the lake of fire is a place of divine justice for tormenting Satan, his angels, and all people who follow his lie. And the time of that torment is coming soon.
Verses 9-10 are maybe some of the most unsettling in the Bible. Jesus asks the demon directly for his name, and it responds, “My name is Legion, for we are many.” Although a Roman legion was around six thousand soldiers, we should not assume that there were exactly that many demons in the man; rather, the demons collectively took the name Legion as an indication of their united strength. This, of course, also further reveals the man’s dire situation. He was not being oppressed by one or even a few demons; instead, an entire horde of hell had chosen to destroy him.
Yet even though this man was tormented by an entire host of hell, they still begged Christ to be merciful to them, asking Him not to send them away but only into a herd of pigs nearby. Jesus granted their request, and as they entered the pigs, two thousand pigs ran off a cliff and into the sea.
This portion of the account raises some of the biggest perplexities. Why did they want to enter the pigs so badly? Why did Jesus permit them to do it? Did Jesus knowingly destroy two thousand of someone’s pigs?
We obviously know only as much as the text tells us. Sproul thinks that Jesus knew the destruction that would come to the pigs was a small thing in comparison to the torment of an image-bearer of God. He takes this though largely from Matthew’s account of Legion’s begging, where he reminds Jesus that the time of his torment had not yet come. He further sees the destruction of the pigs as a petty act of chaos caused by the demons. Piper, however, thinks that the demonic legion did not know that their possession of the pigs would drive them into the sea. Instead, it seems as though they dreaded being without some sort of host, and Jesus appeared to be placating them. Yet their fall into the sea, the deep, was a symbol of their coming time of being cast into the abyss.
I tend to agree more with Piper since this fits the ironic reversals that Jesus is so known for. Although He appears to yield to the demons’ request, He knew that their new host would only lead them straight into a reminder of their future end (and perhaps of God’s former watery judgment upon the world that left them without playthings for at least a year).
Seeing this, 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.
Given the terror that the demoniac was to the region, we would expect the people to be delighted at seeing the man clothed and sane. Yet they were not. Instead, the sight elicited in them a deep fear. Do you notice the parallels between this passage and the previous one? Just as the disciples were afraid of the storm, the people of the area had been afraid of the demoniac. Yet just as the disciples’ possessed an even greater fear after Jesus calmed the storm, so did the people now have a fear of Jesus upon seeing the great calm that he had brought to the man. They too knew that someone greater than hell had entered their country, ‘and they began to beg Jesus to depart from their region.’
Some think that the people were angry at Jesus for the destruction of the pigs, which was certainly a large monetary hit. Yet they did not angrily chase Jesus back into His boat. They begged Him to leave. They knew that they could not force Christ to do anything, for they had seen something of His power, yet they did not want to be near Him. Calvin comments on this tragedy, saying,
We have here a striking proof that not all who perceive the hand of God profit as they ought to do by yielding themselves to him in sincere godliness. Having seen the miracle, the Gadarenes were afraid, because the majesty of God shone brightly in Christ…They too were scattered, and here is a shepherd to collect them or rather, it is God who stretches out his arms, through his Son, to embrace and carry to heaven those who were overwhelmed by the darkness of death. They choose rather to be deprived of the salvation which is offered to them, than to endure any longer the presence of Christ.
THAT YOU MAY PROCLAIM // VERSES 18-20
In contrast to the Gerasenes, the former demoniac desired to be near Christ.
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.”
Again, consider the words of Calvin:
The Gadarenes cannot endure to have Christ among them but he who has been delivered from the devil is desirous to leave his own country and follow him. Hence we learn how wide is the difference between the knowledge of the goodness, and the knowledge of the power, of God. Power strikes men with terror, makes them fly from the presence of God, and drives them to a distance from him: but goodness draws them gently, and makes them feel that nothing is more desirable than to be united to God.
This newly freed man had experienced firsthand both the power and the goodness of God, which stood out all the brighter after being for so long in the clutches of hell. He longed to be with Christ, yet Jesus turned him away. Why would Christ do this? Why would He not permit this man to be near Him when that was clearly his desire? We, of course, can never know the depths of Christ’s plans and purposes, but the passage does give us a few hints.
Although Jesus has been quite guarded with His identity in Mark’s Gospel (silencing demons and charging lepers not to speak of who healed them), here He explicitly tells the man to tell his friends what happened, to tell them how much the Lord had done for him. Now that the people of the region did not welcome Jesus’ presence, His mission would need to spread through someone else. Who better than the very man whom everyone had once feared? In this particular circumstance, the man could better serve Christ by returning home and sharing his salvation than by leaving with Jesus. As Ryle said, “Our Lord saw better than he did in what way he could glorify God most.”
We read in verse 20 that the man did exactly that: And he went away and began to proclaim in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him, and everyone marveled. The Decapolis (which means ten cities) included both towns of Gerasa and Gadara, as well as Damascus. In 7:31-32, we find evidence that this man’s ministry was effective:
Then he returned from the region of Tyre and went through Sidon to the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis. And they brought to him a man who was deaf and had a speech impediment, and they begged him to lay his hand upon him.
Upon this return to the Decapolis, Jesus was immediately met with an opportunity to heal and, as 8:1-9 shows, a crowd of about four thousand people listened to Him for three days. Evidently, the healing of the man had helped to spread the news of Jesus through the region, so that Jesus was met with enthusiasm instead of apathy or fear.
Although few in the church will have as dramatic of a testimony as this former demoniac, 1 Peter 2:9-10 makes it clear that our experience with the gospel is not entirely different:
But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.
Whether we knew it or not, we were each as lost in the darkness as this man was. Didn’t Paul say that we were each “following the prince of the power of the air” (Ephesians 2:2), which is Satan, before we were redeemed in Christ? This man was different only in how blatantly the unclean spirits were. For nearly everyone else, they are content to go unnoticed. As the demon Screwtape once counseled his nephew, “the safest road to Hell is the gradual one—the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts.” Upon this path, we were securely damned, fast in demonic claws as they drag as many into the abyss with them as they are able.
Yet God did not leave us to die endlessly; instead, He ransomed, rescued, and redeemed us. The strong man who held our soul’s captive was overthrown on the cross, and our Lord reconciled us to the Father by His own blood. And like this man, we too have been brought into the light of Christ that we may proclaim His excellencies, that we may tell the world all that Jesus had done for us. Indeed, a lack of zeal for evangelism almost always derives from a failure to properly view the wonder our of own salvation. We do not meditate upon what Christ has done for us, and we then lament that have no burning fire to proclaim what He has done. Deeply gazing upon the gospel stirs up our desire to declare the gospel.
We should also take comfort from this man’s charge by Christ that not every Christian is called to cross the sea in order to make Christ known. He sends most home to their own friends and family to proclaim the gospel. We must avoid the lie that views missionaries and evangelists as the church’s designated gospel-sharers. Some people are particularly gifted as evangelists for making the gospel known, and some will be called to do so in places where the gospel has not yet been heard. And we should gladly support such brothers and sisters. Our support for them, however, does not exclude us from personally being charged to make the good news of the kingdom of God known.
We can begin simply by doing two things. First, pray for a clearer vision to see the gospel, to see the wonders of your own salvation. Then once your wonder has been renewed, pray for an opportunity to share what God has done for you. If that sounds simplistic, remember the words of Revelation 12:11 that the saints conquer Satan “by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death.” Just as our King conquered by the humiliation of the cross, so too does His kingdom advance by the humble means of testimonies, simply sharing what God has done for us.
 William Barclay, The Gospel of Mark, 118.
 R. C. Sproul, Mark: An Expositional Commentary, 90-91.
 John Calvin, Calvin’s Commentaries, Vol. XVI, 434.
 Ibid, 435.
 J. C. Ryle, Expository Thoughts on Mark, 74.
 C. S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters, 61.