Jesus moved about regularly during His earthly ministry. While He based His operations out of Capernaum, He frequently worked throughout greater Judea. It’s interesting how many gospel stories are set along the highways of that region. If I didn’t know better, I would think He moved around haphazardly and just ministered to people wherever He happened to encounter them. But Jesus spoke extensively in John 5:19-36 about how His works were directed by His Father. Jesus’ movement was not by chance; He moved from divine appointment to divine appointment, healing and delivering many whom He passed along the way. His steps, like those of the good man in Psalm 37:23, were ordered by the Lord.
We see the story of one such divine appointment in Mark 5:1-20, where Jesus and His disciples took a boat across the sea, healed one man, and immediately got in the boat and left. While Jesus was only there briefly for this appointment, His encounter with this demon-possessed man reveals some things and raises some questions. Let’s take a look at what happened.
Down, but Not Out
In Mark 5:6, we learn that the man runs to worship Jesus. This seems to be an act of great faith on the part of the human spirit which still animated the man. The demons had kept him violently living among the tombs. However, the inner man still recognized Jesus’ lordship and responded by worshipping Him. Literally, the demoniac ran to Jesus, and fell to his knees prostrate before Him as a demonstration of humility and honor for Jesus’ deity. This should give us hope that, even in the darkest of circumstances, temptations, or possessions, God has given our human spirits the strength to overcome. And we should be filled with compassion, knowing that this same hope extends to the most broken among us. No matter how far gone people may seem, their spirits still have the ability to connect with Jesus to overcome the demons in their lives.
This does not mean that the demons weren’t there, exercising their power over the man. While his spirit may have temporarily outwilled the demons to gain control of his body, they reasserted themselves through the man’s voice in Mark 5:7, saying, “What have I to do with you, Jesus, Son of the Most High God?”. Their question is loaded and communicates more than what we read on the surface.
First, there used to be a widespread concept called “name magic,” where people (and apparently these demons) erroneously believed that if they said a spirit’s full name, then they could control it. This is why the demons used Jesus’ “full name.” They thought that that might give them power over Him, but that didn’t work.
Interestingly, when Jesus cast the demons out, He asked their name. They answered “Legion,” a singular name for a group of demons. In other words, rather than give their individual names, they tried to protect themselves through the anonymity of being part of a group. However, Jesus exorcised them anyway. In doing so, He demonstrated that saying their names was not the source of His power.
Judgment and Torment
Another element in this exchange is the demons’ fear of judgment. This is why they asked what business they had with Jesus and begged Him not to torment them in Mark 5:7. They know that Jesus will one day judge and punish them with everlasting torment for the wrong they have done. Since they cannot escape His righteous judgment, they want to delay it as much as possible.
Demons have been kicked out of heaven. Jude 6 tells us that some of them are “reserved in everlasting chains under darkness for the judgment of the great day.” But what about the other demons? It seems that they need a place to stay on the earth. Jesus described their plight in Matthew 12:43, saying that an unclean spirit without a place to stay “goes through dry places, seeking rest, and finds none.” In this case, Jesus grants the demons’ request to enter into a herd of swine rather than be sent out of the country.
There are several questions that this passage does not immediately answer. In fact, it may generate more questions than answers. Here are some things I don’t know.
First, why did the demons try to use God’s authority to keep Jesus from tormenting them in Mark 5:7? Was it an act of deception or a legitimate defense? Second, did it work? After all, Jesus agreed to their request to enter the herd of swine.
It sounds at first like the demons successfully avoided the torment which they so dreaded by entering the herd of swine. However, this leads to another series of questions. Did the demons deliberately drive the pigs into the sea? If so, why did they never drown the man? Did they want to and his spirit just resisted the temptation of suicide for that long? Maybe they found more pleasure in tormenting him than in killing him. On the other hand, perhaps the pigs, not valuing their lives like the man valued his, responded to the agony of possession by jumping into the sea.
Regardless of what caused the pigs to drown, there remain questions about how it affected the demons which inhabited them. Were they released into the sea? Did they inhabit sea creatures? Did they return to land to find another location to rest? Were they returned to the chains which Jude described? What is the difference between the sea and the dry places for demons?
There are also a lot of implications regarding the geography of this region. These were Gentile cities, which the Jews understood to be unclean. If their beliefs didn’t defile them enough, the pigs would have. The man living among the tombs and inhabited by unclean spirits only puts the cherry on top of the uncleanliness sundae.
Did the demons want to stay in this country because they found its uncleanliness welcoming? Furthermore, why were the people afraid of Jesus? Perhaps they were also possessed and the other demons feared torment like Legion did. Or maybe they were just angry over the loss of their livelihood.
These questions may lead to an update once I have some more answers. In the meantime, I appreciate the insight this healing appointment provides. It shows us the resilient power of the human spirit. It demonstrates that Jesus’ power is not derived from secret tactics, but from His Father. Finally, it reminds us that the enemy is defeated, and that we can use the same power that Jesus did to triumph over the powers of darkness working against us today. We are more than conquerors!