Jesus is bad for business, Mark 5:1-20
Is there demonic activity today? There is little biblical justification for the idea that demonic activity has ceased since the resurrection of Christ. Paul referenced that Satan operates as god of this world and roams the earth seeking whom he may devour. Modern scientific rationalism has attempted to explain all manifestation of evil as a result of natural processes, so even Christians tend to ignore the possibility of demonic activity. C.S. Lewis’ Screwtape Letters is probably the best extra-biblical portrayal of how demonic activity works.
When studying historical accounts in the gospels we must dispose of our own pre-conceived notions and biases. We must ask, “why” things are said and done in an attempt to understand the reality of what occurred. We lack a familiarity with the culture and circumstances that the gospel writers took for granted. Modern commentators (within the past millennia) may have imposed a false understanding, so we shouldn’t automatically accept traditional explanations. Modern understandings of old English may have distorted the true meaning. For example, many moderns understand the term, “possessed of” as meaning that a person was controlled or owned by a demon, when in reality the old English meaning of that term is really that the person owned the item. In other words, the Gadarene owned his demons and not the reverse in spite of the powerful influence the demons had on his behavior. In fact, in scripture, there is little evidence of demonic powers completely owning anyone except for the person of the anti-Christ. What we see in scripture and experience is that God, in His grace, preserves the free will of individuals and that by the grace of God, people are able to find deliverance.
Consider the historical background of the area where this incident occurs. Gadarea was part of an area known as the Decapolis (ten cities) which were part of the larger area of Samaria. Samaria, from the time of the Assyrian conquest (@ 700 BC) of the northern kingdom of Israel was re-populated with non-Israelites as the Israelites were deported and dispersed. Over time some of these people came to adopt a bastardized form of Judaism. They were not what would be considered orthodox Jews. Their mores, values and religious practices were very different from the Jews of the southern kingdom of Judah. After the return of the Jews from the Babylonian captivity, the area was gradually infiltrated with practicing Jews, such as the families of Jesus and his friends John and Peter. So the area was a diverse area. A large commercial hog operation such as we see in this account would be unwelcome and probably be unprofitable in orthodox Judea, but not in the Decapolis.
The account begins with Jesus arriving in Gadarea and immediately being met by a demonized man. What unusual behavior for a man supposedly controlled by demons. You would think that demons would want to avoid Jesus. But, apparently the grace and sovereignty of God was sufficient to draw this man to Jesus and he had enough reserve of will to obey the call of God. Further, we see from verses 6 and 7 that the man worshipped Jesus. Demons don’t worship Jesus. It was the man who worshipped. Moreover, he had a revelation of Jesus’ true identity, referring to Jesus as the Son of God. Whether this was a divine revelation or from the demons who knew Jesus’ identity is unknown.
In verses 3 -5 we have a description of the man’s plight. He made the cemetery his dwelling place, which would be unusual for anyone unless they were unwelcome in normal company. Apparently, the people of the village, probably the pig farmers, often tried to bind the man. We must ask “why”. Was he a threat to them? There is no mention of him harming anyone. Instead, he would inflict pain upon himself. Were they attempting to bind him out of compassion? There is no evidence of any compassion among these pig farmers.
We see in verse 7 that in the process of worship (the man did so, not the demons) and referring to Jesus as the Son of God he expresses fear that Jesus would torment him. Was this expression of fear coming from the demons or from the man? Did the man have a wrong understanding of Jesus’ mission? Was he aware of his sin and supposing that Jesus would punish him?
Jesus commands the demons to leave the man and asks them to identify themselves. Why does Jesus ask the demons to identify themselves, after all He knows? I believe Jesus does this so that the man would understand the depravity of his situation. Strangely, in verse 10 we see that the man asks Jesus not to send the demons away. Here is proof that demonized people own their demons and in fact, they enjoy them just as they enjoy their sin. And this is the main stumbling block that prevents people from finding freedom. It was the grace and sovereignty of God that enabled this man to be free.
The demons beg to be sent into the pigs. They were perfectly willing to destroy the pigs and the pig farmers, knowing that physical death would leave them, as spirit beings, unharmed. Jesus showed more concern for the man than for the animals or the business.
The village people and pig farmers come and find the man in his right mind. The normal reaction of most people would be to rejoice. They clearly had no compassion for the man and probably were guilty of abusing the man. Perhaps the man was bad for business. Maybe he was scaring the pigs. Their response to the mercy of God is fear. They beg Jesus to leave. Why? They presumed that Jesus would be a detriment to their business.
The man for his part was grateful for his deliverance, loved Jesus and wanted to go with Him. But, Jesus had a different plan which the man was willing to follow as he went out to preach the good news throughout the area. And thus we see the purpose of Jesus’ trip to the area and the purpose for extending His grace to the man.