26 Then they sailed to the country of the Gerasenes, which is opposite Galilee. 27 When Jesus had stepped out on land, there met him a man from the city who had demons. For a long time he had worn no clothes, and he had not lived in a house but among the tombs. 28 When he saw Jesus, he cried out and fell down before him and said with a loud voice, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, do not torment me.” 29 For he had commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man. (For many a time it had seized him. He was kept under guard and bound with chains and shackles, but he would break the bonds and be driven by the demon into the desert.) 30 Jesus then asked him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Legion,” for many demons had entered him. 31 And they begged him not to command them to depart into the abyss. 32 Now a large herd of pigs was feeding there on the hillside, and they begged him to let them enter these. So he gave them permission. 33 Then the demons came out of the man and entered the pigs, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and drowned.
34 When the herdsmen saw what had happened, they fled and told it in the city and in the country. 35 Then people went out to see what had happened, and they came to Jesus and found the man from whom the demons had gone, sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind, and they were afraid. 36 And those who had seen it told them how the demon-possessed man had been healed. 37 Then all the people of the surrounding country of the Gerasenes asked him to depart from them, for they were seized with great fear. So he got into the boat and returned. 38 The man from whom the demons had gone begged that he might be with him, but Jesus sent him away, saying, 39 “Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.” And he went away, proclaiming throughout the whole city how much Jesus had done for him. – Luke 8:26-39 ESV
After their harrowing night on the Sea of Galilee, the disciples sailed to the eastern shore, arriving at a region known as Gerasene. It seems unlikely that this would have been their original destination when they had set sail, but the storm must have blown them off course. Yet, in God’s sovereign will, He had orchestrated all that had happened, including their arrival at this desolate location.
The disciples, exhausted from all the rowing and bailing of water they had done during the storm, were probably glad to be on dry land. But before they had time to relax, they found themselves in yet another tense and potentially dangerous situation. Luke records that as soon as Jesus stepped out of the boat, “there met him a man from the city who had demons” (Luke 8:27 ESV). On this occasion, there are no crowds of people eager to watch Jesus perform yet another miracle. There are no scribes or Pharisees dogging His steps and anxiously seeking evidence to use against Him.
Jesus was welcomed by a greeting party of one. And this man was possessed by a demon. In his gospel account, Matthew describes a second demon-possessed man, while Mark and Luke only mention one. This seeming discrepancy is likely nothing more than Mark and Luke focusing their attention on the one man who exhibited the greatest transformation after his encounter with Jesus. While Matthew records Jesus casting out the demons from two men, he provides no details regarding what happened next. Yet, Mark and Luke recount that one of the men was dramatically impacted by his deliverance by Jesus.
Luke provides a rather brief description of the man whom Jesus and the disciples encountered upon their arrival in the country of the Gerasenes.
For a long time he had worn no clothes, and he had not lived in a house but among the tombs. – Luke 8:27 ESV
Mark describes the man in greater detail, in an effort to help his readers understand the violent nature of the situation.
This man lived in the burial caves and could no longer be restrained, even with a chain. Whenever he was put into chains and shackles—as he often was—he snapped the chains from his wrists and smashed the shackles. No one was strong enough to subdue him. Day and night he wandered among the burial caves and in the hills, howling and cutting himself with sharp stones. – Mark 5:3-5 NLT
His mention of chains and shackles reveals that this man had probably become a threat to the community. Their attempts to bind him had failed and this poor man spent all his time wandering among the dead and ostracised by the living. Mark wants us to understand the hopeless state of this man’s situation. He was out of control. His life was not his own. And yet, when the man saw Jesus, he ran and threw himself at Jesus’ feet.
As soon as he saw Jesus, he shrieked and fell down in front of him. – Luke 8:28 ESV
You can almost sense the battle going on within this man. He saw Jesus, and in his desperation, ran to him for help. Somehow, the man was able to recognize that Jesus could do something about his hopeless condition. Probably naked, filthy, and covered in scars, the man must have been a frightful sight to behold. His sudden appearance and shocking condition would have caused the disciples to step back in revulsion and fear.
But as the man kneeled before Jesus, a voice came from his body that was not his own. The demon who controlled him spoke in place of him.
“Why are you interfering with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? Please, I beg you, don’t torture me!” – Luke 8:287 ESV
Whatever spark of humanity remained in this man was overwhelmed by the presence and power of the demonic forces that had taken up residence within him. And Luke makes it clear that Jesus knew what was wrong as soon as He saw the man. He didn’t need to hear the demon speak to know that the man was possessed. In fact, according to Luke’s account, “Jesus had already commanded the evil spirit to come out of him.” (Luke 8:29 NLT). It seems that as soon as the man had kneeled before Him, Jesus had said, “Come out of the man, you unclean spirit!” (Mark 5:8 ESV). And it was this forceful command that had led the demon to speak up.
And just as Jesus had recognized the presence of a demon, the demon had recognized the presence of the Most High God. He addressed Jesus by His proper title and revealed his understanding that Jesus possessed power greater than his own. In Jesus, the demon had met his match. And when Jesus addressed the demon, demanding to know his name, the demon revealed that he was not alone.
Jesus demanded, “What is your name?”
“Legion,” he replied, for he was filled with many demons. – Luke 8:30 NLT
This poor man was being tormented by a host of demonic beings, which helps to explain the extreme nature of his condition. Jesus alluded to this very kind of situation in an address He gave to the scribes and Pharisees. In attempting to expose the unrepentant and adulterous condition of the people of Israel, Jesus compared them to a man possessed by a demon. Even if they could somehow have the demon removed, they would find themselves worse off than before. Their unrepentant hearts would leave them exposed and an easy target for the enemy.
“When an evil spirit leaves a person, it goes into the desert, seeking rest but finding none. Then it says, ‘I will return to the person I came from.’ So it returns and finds its former home empty, swept, and in order. Then the spirit finds seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they all enter the person and live there. And so that person is worse off than before. That will be the experience of this evil generation.” – Matthew 12:43-45 NLT
Neither Luke or Mark provide any details regarding this man’s past. We don’t know how he came to be possessed or how long he had suffered under this condition. But his circumstances were aggravated by the presence of many demons. Yet, as plentiful and powerful as these demonic forces may have been, they were no match for Jesus, and they knew it. They begged Jesus not to cast them out, and they allude to the fact that they knew a day would come when God would punish them. They were fully aware that their days were numbered, but had no desire to suffer their future fate prematurely.
The demons kept begging Jesus not to send them into the bottomless pit. – Luke 8:31 NLT
According to Peter, the bottomless pit is the place where those angels who followed Satan in his rebellion against God were confined.
For God did not spare even the angels who sinned. He threw them into hell, in gloomy pits of darkness… – 2 Peter 2:4 NLT
The Greek word that is translated as “hell” is actually tartarus and can be better translated as “abyss.” It is not hell, but a holding place for demons and the place where Satan will be confined during the 1,000-year reign of Christ on earth (Revelation 20:7-10). These demons, who have enjoyed the freedom to roam the earth, tormenting human beings, do not want to be confined in the abyss. And it’s interesting to note that, according to Mark, the demon(s) pleaded with Jesus not to send them there, and they did so by the name of God.
“In the name of God, I beg you, don’t torture me!” – Mark 5:7 NLT
The demons knew that God had a future judgment in store for them. And the apostle John was given a vision of what will happen to Satan and all those who aligned themselves with him. The day will come when Jesus, according to the will of God the Father, will deliver a final blow to Satan and his minions, casting them into hell where they will remain for eternity.
Then the devil, who had deceived them, was thrown into the fiery lake of burning sulfur, joining the beast and the false prophet. There they will be tormented day and night forever and ever. – Revelation 21:10 NLT
Fearing the worst, the demons beg Jesus to allow them to leave the man and possess a herd of swine. It seems that their greatest fear was that Jesus would consign them to their future fate too soon. Rather than having to face eternal torment, they begged that Jesus would let them take up residence in the pigs. And when Jesus agreed to their request, the results were immediate. The pigs, two thousand in number (Mark 5:13), suddenly possessed by demons, hurled themselves off a nearby cliff. As Jesus had alluded to in His address to the scribes and Pharisees, a dispossessed demon is left to wander until it can find another soul to possess. These demons would be forced to seek out another host to torment.
But Luke indicates that after Jesus cast the demons out of this men, he was “sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind” (Luke 8:35 ESV). He had been radically transformed. So much so, that when Jesus prepared to leave, the man begged that he might be allowed to go with Him. But Jesus had other plans.
“Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.” – Luke 8:39 ESV
And the man obeyed the words of Jesus, immediately setting off, “proclaiming throughout the whole city how much Jesus had done for him” (Luke 8:39 ESV). And he had his work cut out for him because the people from a nearby town were upset at what Jesus had done to their herd of swine. They even begged Jesus to leave, fearing that He might do more damage.
It’s interesting to note that Luke refers to several different times in this story where Jesus was approached by those who begged or pleaded with Him. The first instance was when the demons begged (parakaleō) Jesus not to torment them. The second is when they begged Jesus not to cast them out of the country, but allow them to possess the swine. The third was when the townspeople begged Jesus to leave the region. And the fourth and final instance was when the man begged Jesus to allow him to become His disciple. It’s interesting to note that everyone got exactly what they requested from Jesus, except the man. The demons were cast into the swine just as they had asked. Jesus ended up leaving the region, just as the townspeople had requested. But the man was not allowed to go with Jesus. Instead, he was given a commission to carry the news of what Jesus had done: “tell them everything God has done for you.” (Luke 8:39 ESV). This formerly demon-possessed man now possessed a calling from Jesus Himself. For the first time in years, he had a purpose for his life. He had a mission to spread the good news of all that Jesus had done for Him.
The demons were forced to wander until they found another victim. The townspeople could only talk about their loss. But the man who had been healed could use his restored voice to shout the praises of the One who had set him free.
English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.
The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson