The men from the Gerasenes

They went across the lake to the region of the Gerasenes. When Jesus got out of the boat, a man with an evil spirit came from the tombs to meet him. This man lived in the tombs, and no one could bind him any more, not even with a chain. For he had often been chained hand and foot, but he tore the chains apart and broke the irons on his feet. No one was strong enough to subdue him. Night and day among the tombs and in the hills he would cry out and cut himself with stones. (Mar 5:1–5)

The Gerasenes was a region east of the Sea of Galilee peopled mainly by Gentiles, which explains the herd of pigs we read about later. As soon as Jesus got out of the boat a man with an evil spirit came to meet him.

Matthew's Gospel tells us that two demon-possessed men came to meet Jesus (Mat 8:28). Mark and Luke's Gospels mention only one, but their omission does not affect the teaching of the passage.

The first thing we are told about these men is that they were demon-possessed and so, by looking at what the Gospels say about them, we can see the effect demons can have on people.

Satan is a robber

Luke tells us that for a long time they had not worn clothes (Luk 8:27). Before God drove Adam and Eve out of the Garden of Eden he made garments of skin for them and clothed them (Gen 3:21). We can learn two things from that:

One of the reasons we wear clothes is to keep ourselves warm. Temperatures in the Middle East can drop to freezing point at night and Luke tells us that for a long time these men had not lived in a house, but had lived in the tombs. Living in a tomb without clothes—what a miserable existence!

Jesus said that the thief (Satan) comes only to steal and kill and destroy (Joh 10:10)—and so do the demons who do his bidding. Some people who live rough and refuse to be housed have a spirit that is driving them to do that—robbing them of what God wants them to have.

Mark informs us that the men used to roam the hills, crying out and cutting themselves with stones. Paul wrote that no one hates his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the Church (Eph 5:29).

To care for one's own body is normal and natural. People who mutilate their bodies are demonically inspired, as are those who murder—including murdering unborn children (abortion), and murdering themselves (suicide and euthanasia).

Jesus said that Satan was a murderer from the beginning (Gen 4:8; 1Jo 3:12), not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him (Joh 8:44). Those who commit murder are following the evil one.

Jesus Christ is Lord

When he saw Jesus from a distance, he ran and fell on his knees in front of him. He shouted at the top of his voice, 'What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? Swear to God that you won't torture me!' For Jesus had said to him, 'Come out of this man, you evil spirit!'

Then Jesus asked him, 'What is your name?' 'My name is Legion,' he replied, 'for we are many.' And he begged Jesus again and again not to send them out of the area.

A large herd of pigs was feeding on the nearby hillside. The demons begged Jesus, 'Send us among the pigs; allow us to go into them.' He gave them permission, and the evil spirits came out and went into the pigs. The herd, about two thousand in number, rushed down the steep bank into the lake and were drowned. (Mar 5:6–13)

Both Mark and Luke emphasize the strength of these men, which was superhuman. Even though they'd often been bound with chains, they had snapped the chains and broken the irons on their feet.

Satan has the power to perform miracles, but to a limited extent (Exo 7:8 – 8:19). It was the Spirit of God who gave Samson superhuman strength (Jdg 14:19), but it was evil spirits who gave these men superhuman strength.

Matthew says they were so violent that no one could pass that way (Mat 8:28), and yet when Jesus stepped onto the shore they fell on their knees at his feet. Why was that? The Bible says that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (Phi 2:10–11). That includes evil spirits as well.

Even though many demons had entered these men, it was only one demon who spoke, using the man's voice. As there is a hierarchy in the angelic world (we read of angels and archangels) so there is a hierarchy in the demonic world. It would have been the leader of the demons who would have spoken in this instance.

Demons have knowledge and they know that one day they will be cast into the lake of fire that has been prepared for them (Mat 25:41); there they will be tormented (Greek: to torture or torment) day and night for ever and ever (Rev 20:10).

Matthew tells us that they asked Jesus whether he'd come to torture them before their appointed time (Mat 8:29). Jesus had not come to torture them, but to drive them out.

Territorial spirits

The demon begged Jesus not to send them out of the area. Demonic powers have been assigned by Satan to specific areas of the earth and they don't want to leave those areas.

The Book of Joshua describes Israel's conquest of Canaan—how they defeated the kings who lived there and occupied their land.

What Israel did in the physical, Christians do in the spiritual. We don't fight against flesh and blood as they did; we fight against evil powers in the heavenly realms that influence areas of the world (Eph 6:12).

Jos 12 gives a list of the kings that Israel defeated and whose territory they occupied. Each king had a territory he ruled over. Two such territories are described in detail.

One of them is that of Sihon, king of the Amorites, who ruled to the east of the Jordan. His territory ran from the rim of the Arnon Gorge, down the middle of the gorge to the Jabbok River; from the Sea of Galilee to the Dead Sea, and finally south to the slopes of Pisgah (v2–3)—a specific territory with specific boundaries.

And so it is with demon spirits: they are assigned to specific areas of the earth and don't want to leave those areas. There are spirits over nations that affect the behaviour of those nations: an obvious example is Germany.

There's a spirit of fascism over Germany that has risen to prominence in the past, and could do so again unless it is bound. And you will find satanic powers over every nation of the world—dominant spirits that influence the character and behaviour of the people of the nation (Eph 2:1–2).

Spiritual battles

While the prophet Daniel was in Babylon he had a revelation from God concerning the future. He fasted and prayed for twenty-one days for the understanding of the vision. At the end of that time an angel appeared to him.

The angel told him that from the first day he had started to pray he'd been sent to him, but the prince of the Persian kingdom (a satanic power) had resisted him for the twenty-one days.

He'd also been detained (held back) by the king of Persia (the chief satanic power of the nation that had recently conquered Babylon) until the angel Michael came to his aid (Dan 10:1–14). This reveals the spiritual battles that can take place against territorial spirits in the heavenly realms that try to resist God's will being done in a country or area.

Demons in animals

Jesus said that when an evil spirit comes out of a person it goes through arid places seeking rest and doesn't find it (Luk 11:24a). That's because an evil spirit can only manifest itself properly through a human body. However, it would rather enter an animal than have no body at all, hence the request the demons made to Jesus.

Jesus gave the demons permission to go into the pigs and, when they did so, the herd panicked, rushed down the slope and were drowned in the lake. Demons won't remain in dead bodies, but we're not told where they went to from there.

They may have tried to re-enter the men they'd come out from (Luk 11:24b–26). That is why, on one occasion, Jesus told a spirit to come out of a boy and to never enter him again (Mar 9:25).' Jesus knew what it would try to do.

Dressed and in their right minds

Those tending the pigs ran off and reported this in the town and countryside, and the people went out to see what had happened. When they came to Jesus, they saw the man who had been possessed by the legion of demons, sitting there, dressed and in his right mind; and they were afraid. Those who had seen it told the people what had happened to the demon-possessed man—and told about the pigs as well. Then the people began to plead with Jesus to leave their region. (Mar 5:14–17)

The people pleaded with Jesus to leave their region not, I believe, because of what had happened to the pigs (two thousand pigs would have been worth a lot of money) but because of what had happened to the men. Those who knew them would have seen the change that had taken place in their lives:

Strangely enough, instead of being pleased with what they saw, the people were afraid. When the disciples saw Jesus calm the storm they, too, had been afraid. 'Who is this?' they said. 'Even the wind and the waves obey him (Mar 4: 40–41)!' Perhaps, when the people saw what had happened to the men, they said, 'Who is this? Even evil spirits obey him!'

The power of testimony

As Jesus was getting into the boat, the man who had been demon-possessed begged to go with him. Jesus did not let him, but said, 'Go home to your family and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.' So the man went away and began to tell in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him. And all the people were amazed. (Mar 5:18–20)

After Jesus drove the demons out of the men, he got back into the boat and returned to the other side (Mar 5:21). God had sent him across the lake for one purpose—to set the men free. God had seen their suffering and had sent his Son to deliver them.

I said at the beginning that Satan is a robber who tries to rob people of what God wants them to have. Jesus had found two men, naked and homeless and living in tombs; and what did he say to them after he'd delivered them? He said: 'Go home to your families…'. 'Go to your homes and live with your families: that is God's will for you.'

For a long time these men had suffered from demon-possession—make no mistake about it, people who have demons do suffer terribly (Mat 15:22)—and when they were set free they were so pleased they wanted to follow Jesus.

But Jesus wouldn't allow it: instead he told them to go home and tell their families how he'd had mercy on them. But the men didn't stop at that: in their joy they went out into the Decapolis (an area of ten cities) and told people what Jesus had done for them.

We must never underestimate the effectiveness of personal testimony: Satan would not have wanted these men to tell others that Jesus had released them from his power.

Rev 12:11 says that they (the believers) overcame him (Satan) by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony. Anointed testimony—telling people what Jesus has done in your life—is a powerful tool of evangelism; and Jesus told these men to begin by telling their own families what he'd done for them.

By the testimony of two or three witnesses

Mark and Luke tell us that one man from the Gerasenes came to meet Jesus, whereas Matthew tells us there were two men. Who was right? All three were right. There were two men, but Mark and Luke only mention one of them—the one who was indwelt by the chief demon (the one who did the talking).

Even though they were living in a Gentile area these men were Jews (Jesus was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel). If they were Gentiles they would have had to have pleaded earnestly for their deliverance (Mat 15:21–28).

Matthew's Gospel was written primarily for Jews, whereas Mark and Luke's Gospels were written for Gentiles. Several things point to this:

So, having established that Matthew's Gospel was written for Jews, we can understand why two men met Jesus, and why Matthew records the fact.

In the Law it is written that one witness is not enough to convict a person of a crime or offence: every matter must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses (Deu 19:15).

When Jesus was speaking to the Jews, he said that if he testified about himself, his testimony would not be valid (Joh 5:31). That was because, under the Law, more than one witness was needed to establish the truth of a matter.

So, if only one man had said that Jesus had driven demons out of him, his testimony would not have been accepted by the Jews; whereas if two men had testified about it, their testimony would have been accepted.

God had allowed these two men to become demon-possessed so that his power would be demonstrated in them, and that their testimony would be accepted, by their fellow Jews, in accordance with their law.

Michael Graham
October 2006

Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version ®. NIV ®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society.

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