PassageIn this passage, Jesus and his disciples sail to the country of the Gerasenes—I’m not sure if this is the destination we were just reading about when Jesus calmed the storm, or if this is another story from later on in Jesus’ life—and meet a demon-possessed man, who has been living naked among the tombs. In fact, people have attempted to keep him chained up, but any time they’ve tried he’s simply broken the chains and gone back out to the desert. Jesus commands the spirit to come out of the man, but when he sees Jesus, he falls down before him, and shouts, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, do not torment me” (verse 28 (ESV)). Jesus asks him his name, and he responds that his name is “Legion,” because there are actually many demons inside this man. (According to a quick Google search, a “legion” in the Roman army would have been about 5,000 men. That doesn’t necessarily mean that there were 5,000 demons in the man, but the point is that there were a lot.) The demons beg Jesus not to command them to go into the abyss, but instead they ask him to send them into a nearby herd of pigs. So he gives them permission to go into the pigs, they do so, and the entire herd of pigs rushes into the lake where they drown.
At this point, the herdsmen flee the scene, and go around the countryside telling everyone what’s happened. The people come to see for themselves, and find the man sitting at Jesus’ feet, in his right mind, wearing clothes like everyone else, and hear about how the healing had happened. Being afraid of Jesus, the people ask him to leave, so he and the disciples get back in the boat to leave the region. The demon-possessed man (whose name we are never told!) begs to go with Jesus and the rest of the disciples, but instead Jesus commands him to go home, and tell everyone how much God has done for him. So that’s exactly what he does, proclaiming throughout the city how much Jesus did for him.
ThoughtsThe main point of the story of the “legion” of demons coming out of the demon-possessed man is easy to see: Jesus is master even over the demons; he tells them what to do, and they do it. But there are also some interesting nuances that it’s hard for me to get my head around:
- Read verses 28–29 (ESV) again, closely. The order is this: 1) Jesus commands the demons to come out of the man; 2) They don’t do it, but instead start a conversation with him; 3) The story plays out, and eventually the demons come out. The fact that Jesus gave a command, to anyone—even a “legion” of demons—that isn’t immediately obeyed is fascinating to me.
- The demons beg Jesus not to send them into the abyss. They clearly understand Jesus’ authority—probably better than we do—and the fact that Jesus can send them wherever he wants.
- The fact that he doesn’t send them to the abyss, but lets them go into the herd of pigs instead, either shows his compassion (even on demons!), or simply that it’s not time for them to go to the abyss yet. I don’t know which it is, frankly.
- So Jesus lets the demons go into the pigs, instead of into the abyss, and then… the herd of pigs immediately rushes into the lake and drowns. Was this Jesus’ doing? Was it the demons’ choice? Why did the herd rush into the lake and drown? I have no answer for this.
I’m pretty sure that the man “sitting at Jesus’ feet” is a figure of speech, meaning that he’s become a disciple, rather than that he was literally sitting at Jesus’ feet. One reason I say that is that the herdsmen had been spreading the word “in the city and in the country” (verse 34 (ESV))—they’re telling everyone, everywhere. When people came out to find him “sitting at Jesus’ feet,” they wouldn’t have come at one time, in one big group, they would have come at different times. As they heard about what had happened, some would go out to see for themselves, and find the man “sitting at Jesus’ feet.” Similarly, when they ask Jesus to leave, it wouldn’t have been as one big group, it would have been a general consensus from all of these visiting people.