Jesus and the Gerasene Demoniac
- Main text: Mark 5:1-20
- Accompanying text: Psalm 89:1-4
What this passage means to us
“It is a great source of encouragement for followers of Jesus to remember who they serve: the triune Creator of this universe. The power of the eternal Son protects and guides with utter reliability, even in great distress. Since Jesus has paid the price for our sinful rebellion and has overcome the powers of Satan and the grip of death, his followers are in good hands… For in the gospel we know that because Christ has died and risen, and we are united to him, all that happens to us comes to us from the hand of a loving Father” .
Good and evil are often presented as two equal and opposite forces, yet this week’s passage paints a different picture. While previously Jesus had expelled individual demons, this time we see him encounter a whole legion of demons who have driven a man insane. Yet Mark does not present this encounter as a battle – there is no contest. Even over the forces of evil Jesus’ authority is absolute and the demons can only cry out for leniency. “The great showdown between Jesus and lots of demons isn’t the closely matched battle some pseudo-Christian sci-fi books might lead you to expect. It’s a walkover. The demons foresee their impending defeat and immediately raise the white flag” .
Like the other miracles we have encountered in Mark, one of the hallmarks of this encounter is Jesus’ compassion. “Jesus encounters a man who is the epitome of uncleanness; he is a gentile, demon possessed, living among tombs, and in proximity to a herd of pigs… his conditions can be described ‘as the most dehumanised and wretched individual whom Jesus has yet encountered'” . “According to the Talmud there were four characteristics of madness: walking abroad at night; spending the night on a grave; tearing one’s clothes and destroying what one was given”  and in this passage Mark makes a point of mentioning all four characteristics. In this man’s healing and and his restoration we see that there is nothing that can defile us that cannot be cleansed by Jesus Christ. While the man had seemed beyond help to the villagers (they had been unable even to keep him locked up) he is not beyond help for Jesus and after his healing the man seems like a completely different person. Jesus not only heals him but he also clothes him – restoring to him the dignity and humanity which had been taken from him during his possession and madness.
To our modern sensibility the death of the pigs at the end of this story can seem tragic. Yet the death of the pigs is not caused by Jesus but by the demons. Death is the end result of sin and evil and it was not coincidental that the possessed man lived amongst the dead and was self-harming. Had the demons remained in him, he would have died instead of the pigs. Sadly, in the passage “the people seem to be more bothered by the loss of the pigs than happy over the reclaiming of the man” . It is likewise a sad reflection of the evil of our world that people often treat their pets better than they treat their neighbours.
One of the unique characteristics of this passage compared to the other miracles we have seen so far in Mark is that it does not occur in Judea. While the exact location of this miracle is subject to some debate most scholars agree it takes place in Gentile territory. Furthermore at the end of our passage, Jesus sends the man who had been possessed to be a witness to Jesus in the Gentile cities of Decapolis and in doing so we have our first clear indication in Mark’s gospel account that Jesus’ mission extends beyond Judea. Jesus has come not just to rescue the Jews from sin and evil, but to rescue the whole world.
Storyline and context
Mark intentionally links this passage with the preceding miracle. In Mark 4:35-41 Jesus calms the storm as they cross to the other side of the lake, demonstrating his authority over the sea at its most violent. The contrast between the wildness of the storm to the calm after Jesus rebuked the weather matches the contrast between the madness of the man possessed by demons to his calm demeanour after being healed. Likewise, the disciples question ‘who is Jesus’ in 4:41 is answered in the demons declaration that Jesus is the ‘Son of the Most High God’ in 5:7.
Mark’s account of these two miracles stress that just as Jesus has complete authority over the forces of nature, he likewise has complete authority over even the forces of evil arrayed against him.
- Luke 8:26-39
- Psalm 106:9-12
- Ephesians 2:1-5
Other GCI resources
Footnotes and References
- Gospel Transformation Study Bible, (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2019). Digital edition.
- Andrew Sach & Tim Hiorns, Dig Deeper into the Gospels: Coming Face to Face with Jesus in Mark, (Nottingham, UK: Inter-varsity Press, 2015). 61.
- Ben C. Blackwell et al, Reading Mark in Context: Jesus and Second Temple Judaism, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2019). 80.
- William Lane, The New International Commenary on the New Testament: the Gospel of Mark, (Grand Rapids, MI: William B Eerdmans, 1995). Digital edition.
- Larry Hurtado, Understanding the Bible Commentary: Mark, (Ada, MI: Baker Books, 1989). Digital edition.