Mark 5:1-20 Demon Possessed Israel?

They went across the lake to the region of the Gerasenes.[a] When Jesus got out of the boat, a man with an impure spirit came from the tombs to meet him. This man lived in the tombs, and no one could bind him anymore, 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.

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? In God’s name don’t torture me!” For Jesus had said to him, “Come out of this man, you impure spirit!”

Then Jesus asked him, “What is your name?”

“My name is Legion,” he replied, “for we are many.” 10 And he begged Jesus again and again not to send them out of the area.

11 A large herd of pigs was feeding on the nearby hillside. 12 The demons begged Jesus, “Send us among the pigs; allow us to go into them.” 13 He gave them permission, and the impure 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.

14 Those tending the pigs ran off and reported this in the town and countryside, and the people went out to see what had happened. 15 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. 16 Those who had seen it told the people what had happened to the demon-possessed man—and told about the pigs as well. 17 Then the people began to plead with Jesus to leave their region.

18 As Jesus was getting into the boat, the man who had been demon-possessed begged to go with him. 19 Jesus did not let him, but said, “Go home to your own people and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.” 20 So the man went away and began to tell in the Decapolis[b] how much Jesus had done for him. And all the people were amazed.

Even though the demons in the story are called Legion, I had not entertained before that Mark is telling us something about the Roman Empire in this story.  The Roman occupation was ‘unclean’ and brought much ritual impurity into Israel.  Israel, in a figurative sense, were possessed by an unclean spirit of Rome.  They wished that Rome would be cast out of Israel and into the sea, so this story might be a reassuring analogy talking of their fate.

The more obvious interpretation is that Jesus is taking his healing authority into the unclean Gentile regions around Israel.  His message is not only for Israel but is for all people.  Jesus’ authority is not local but global.  It is not only of this world, but of the world of angels and demons, too.  Jesus commands and demons obey.  Jesus’ ritual purity overwhelms the unclean environments that he enters and they are cleansed by his presence and his authority.

One application of this is whether we are placing ourselves under Jesus’ authority.  Jesus will cleanse the environment at some point and if we are too attached, like the demons, to our host environment we will not experience new life. We also take Jesus’ authority wherever we go and we should clean things up where we are.  Is your neighbourhood doing better because you live there?

Prayer

I do not know how much of a cleansing influence I am.  In fact, I know that I only clean up an environment if I let you flow through me.  As you are in my words and my actions, so those around me will be changed.  Thank you for any work that you have done through me as a camp speaker.  Help me know that there will be opposition when I speak, rather than expecting everyone to respond positively.  There will be positive and negative responses as there were in this story.

Questions

  1. Where was Jesus?
  2. Is this an analogy for the Roman occupation?
  3. What was people’s response?
  4. How are you cleansing your environment?
  5. How have you been cleaned?
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About Plymothian

I teach at Moody Bible Institute in Chicago. My interests include education, biblical studies, and spiritual formation. I have been married to Kelli since 1998 and we have two children, Daryl and Amelia. For recreation I like to run, play soccer, play board games, read and travel.
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