Healing of two spiritually oppressed men
This is one example of Jesus' ministry to cast out demons. It happens in Gentile territory and the demons are seen to leave the men and enter the pigs. Jesus has the authority and power over forces of evil.
This is one example of Jesus' ministry to cast out demons. It happens in Gentile territory and the demons are seen to leave the men and enter the pigs. Jesus has the authority and power over forces of evil.
Hello and welcome to Series 5, Episode 15: ‘The Healing of Two Oppressed Men.’ We're going to be looking at Luke 8: 26 - 39; we'll also be referring to the parallel accounts in Matthew 8 and Mark 5.
Introduction and Recap
This is a very dramatic episode and it follows on from an equally dramatic episode that we looked at last time. If you were with us for Episode 14, you'll remember we looked at the remarkable storm that arose very suddenly on the Sea of Galilee while Jesus was crossing with his disciples. There were several boats together; they were going from the western side of the lake to the eastern side when this storm came. That was the topic of our last episode and, immediately before that, Jesus had been in a very intensive situation of public ministry in Galilee, on the western shore which was the Jewish area (the Galilee province) and the area that was really the heartland of Jesus' ministry; the area where many of his disciples came from; the area where his home base town of Capernaum, was situated. He'd been in a very intense ministry with some major confrontation with the Pharisees who denounced him as a false messiah (Matthew 12: 24) which was creating real difficulties and putting his life in danger, quite literally, because they might want to find a way of removing him or getting him executed. There were difficulties there. He was under a lot of pressure from crowds, which was always an issue for him. He had given some very important teaching (recorded in Matthew 13 in its fullest version) in the form of parables - seven parables which spoke about the growth of the Kingdom. Then there'd been a very tense and sad incident where his mother and his brothers were trying to get to meet him and see him - they couldn't get through the crowd - and Jesus spoke about who his mother and brothers were spiritually: those who obeyed him and his Father and followed the way of the Kingdom of God. It was a tense time, if we put all these ingredients together: we've got a lot of people; we've got a lot of themes; we've got a lot of issues going on; we've got an increasing sense of conflict with the religious establishment; and we've got high expectations of the crowd. On one occasion, when the Pharisees denounced Jesus, the crowd at the same time were saying, “Could this be the Son of David?” There was popular support for Jesus, maybe people were beginning to want to see him go to Jerusalem and take over the country, people would be talking in these terms. All sorts of complicated things were going on. In that context, he suddenly decided he was going to go across the lake. We discussed that last time. It takes quite a long time to do 10,12,13 kilometres to get from the western to the eastern side of the lake and, during that time, the storm arose which caused his disciples to be genuinely afraid for their lives, afraid of drowning right there in the middle of the lake. They woke Jesus up and he commanded the storm to cease. He challenged them about why they were afraid rather than exercising faith in his power. This is the broader context and it has the feel of a significant spiritual battle. He's had significant opposition to his ministry, even been denounced as a false messiah, which is really serious, and then a life-threatening event in the middle of the lake and he's now heading towards the territory of the Gentile towns and cities of a district known collectively as the Decapolis, on the eastern side of the Sea of Galilee. This is outside Jewish territory, as we shall see from the way the story unfolds. We're in a very different context, a place that, as far as we know, Jesus has never been to before; a place from which some people have definitely come to him to receive healing, and it looks as though he's going either to rest or maybe to extend the Kingdom by preaching over there. We don't know for certain, but we do have a sense that this is a time of an important spiritual barrier.
He's going over to a region which the Gospels describe either as the region of the Gerasenes or the region of the Gaderenes - these probably refer to the same area but Matthew uses, in his account in Matthew 8, the term the Gaderenes. This relates to a nearby town, one of the ten towns in this region called the Decapolis that was a coalition of independent city states. Many years ago, I had the opportunity to visit this particular town. It's now situated in the modern day country of Jordan and goes by the Arabic name Umm Qais and, whilst I was visiting Jordan, some years ago, I was taken by a guide with the group to Umm Qais and only when I got there did I discover that this is biblical Gaderer, which is the basis of the area the Gaderenes, which is the very place that Jesus came to. This town, Umm Qais or Gaderer, has a ruined area that goes back to Roman times and some of the archaeology would go back to the time of Jesus. It's raised up on the hillside and if you look north from there I can remember, vividly, you can see very clearly the hills - the Golan hills that come up from the eastern side of the Sea of Galilee. You can actually see the Sea of Galilee from there; it's about 10 kilometres away, and as I saw that I just imagined Jesus travelling across the lake from the other side (which is in modern-day Israel, the Jewish side, the province of Galilee in Jesus' time) crossing the lake and coming to this Gentile territory of the Gaderenes and this is the story that we're going to discuss today. Let's turn to Luke 8: 26 - 39:
‘26They sailed to the region of the Gerasenes(or the Gaderenes), which is across the lake from Galilee. 27When Jesus stepped ashore, he was met by a demon-possessed(or demonised)man from the town. For a long time this man had not worn clothes or lived in a house, but had lived in the tombs. 28When he saw Jesus, he cried out and fell at his feet, shouting at the top of his voice, “What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, don't torture me!” 29For Jesus had commanded the impure spirit to come out of the man. Many times it had seized him, and though he was chained hand and foot and kept under guard, he had broken his chains and had been driven by the demon into solitary places. 30Jesus asked him, “What is your name?” “Legion,” he replied, because many demons had gone into him. 31And they begged Jesus repeatedly not to order them to go into the Abyss. 32A large herd of pigs was feeding there on the hillside. The demons begged Jesus to let them go into the pigs, and he gave them permission. 33When the demons came out of the man, they went into the pigs, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and was drowned. 34When those tending the pigs saw what had happened, they ran off and reported this in the town and countryside, 35and the people went out to see what had happened. When they came to Jesus, they found the man from whom the demons had gone out, sitting at Jesus' feet, dressed and in his right mind; and they were afraid. 36Those who had seen it told the people how the demon-possessed man had been cured. 37Then all the people of the region of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave them, because they were overcome with fear. So he got into the boat and left. 38The man from whom the demons had gone out begged to go with him, but Jesus sent him away, saying, 39“Return home and tell how much God has done for you.” So the man went away and told all over town how much Jesus had done for him.’Luke 8:26-39, NIV
You don't get many stories as dramatic as that and they involve us understanding the spiritual world that Jesus was operating in, very clearly. We need to spend time thinking about some of the underlying realities that are referred to in this story. One of the first and obvious things to note is that pigs are mentioned here - and there's obviously a very dramatic circumstance concerning the herd of pigs. Pigs were forbidden in Israel. Pork was forbidden, it was against the Law of Moses, so there were no herds of pigs in Israel. This is an indication that we are in Gentile, non-Jewish, territory where pigs were used for food. The man in question in Luke, is described in Matthew as having a companion, as there was actually another man who was in a similar condition to the main person in this story. I'll focus on the particular man in Luke's account but there's a second man with a similar situation who receives healing and sometimes in the Gospel accounts we need to add the details together to get the fuller picture.
The situation here is that these men are in the circumstances of demonisation. The New International Version (the NIV) from which I'm reading, always tends to use the term demon-possessed; a slightly more accurate term would probably be demonised - having a demonic presence of some sort, small or large, within an individual person. The New Testament, throughout, acknowledges the existence of personal demonic forces and describes their activity. I'm going to use some of the details of this story to describe some of the circumstances and symptoms of the impact of demonic forces on the human person. In this particular case, these two men had a heavy evil influence. Their behaviour was extreme; they'd lost the ability to socialise - to function normally in society. They were obviously subject to erratic behaviour and it became impossible for their community to maintain their presence and so they had to live outside mainstream society - outside in the tombs, outside the villages. Their extreme behaviour was very problematical for other people but, more important than that, they were suffering in an extreme way. They have a sense of being oppressed and controlled by dark forces - a sense of self-destruction operating within their beings that they couldn't fully understand. The evil forces operating within them could even speak through them - as is the case in the story here, when the impure spirit is commanded to come out, and the main character of the two speaks,
‘“What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, don't torture me!”’Luke 8:28, NIV
This is, in fact, the voice of the demonic power speaking through the man and being afraid that its own power would be taken away by Jesus' power coming to bear.
Jesus' Power and Authority
We also hear a description of the casting out of demons; Jesus clearly had the power and authority - it's demonstrated here very decisively - and at the very beginning Jesus had commanded the impure spirit to come out of the man. Right from the very beginning of seeing him, he immediately knew what the situation was; he immediately knew it had a spiritual dimension - it wasn't just an emotional, social or physical problem and he commanded the main impure spirit to come out of the man. The authority of Jesus meant that the spirit obeyed. There were other spirits there too, as far as we can understand, and they begged Jesus, repeatedly, not to order them to go to the abyss. This seems to be a very mysterious comment. Let's think about this for a moment. Let's think about the destiny of demonic forces, demonic spirits, according to the Bible. Before we can explain this, we have to go back to remind ourselves that in prehistory, before the creation of mankind, there was a rebellion against God amongst angelic forces led by a spirit we generally call Satan, or the devil, that led to the formation of a group of fallen angels. That's what we would call demons: evil spirits intent on destroying the creation that God had made, challenging his authority. It's these demonic forces that have intruded upon the life of humans, right from the very beginning when the serpent - Satan disguised as a serpent - tempted Eve, and Adam and Eve fell into sin. All the way through the history of mankind, according to the biblical account, there is a conflict between satanic forces and humanity. That conflict can be stated, very clearly, by reference back to the very beginning of the Bible - to the third chapter of Genesis, where God brings about the curse for sin. One of the things that he states to Satan, to the serpent, in Genesis 3: 15 is,
‘“I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.”’Genesis 3:15, NIV
This is considered to be a prophecy about Jesus Christ, that the woman (Eve) would ultimately have offspring (a son) who will crush the head of the demonic forces - will take away their power - even though they will strike his heel; they'll injure him. This is generally understood by theologians as a long-range prophecy about the coming of Christ and the fact that he would disarm the powers of darkness and they would seek to strike him by injuring him and bringing death to him - but of course he rose again from death. The spiritual battle, of which this is an incident, is a much bigger event that really encompasses most of the biblical narrative from the Fall of Man right the way through to the final judgement and the bringing in of the eternal age, the New Heaven and the New Earth. In the time of Jesus, he brings in the Kingdom of God and he understands this to be a direct challenge to the activity of demons to deceive and disrupt human life and to destroy human life. We find one of the main events that happens in the life of Jesus, in terms of his ministry, is the casting out of evil spirits or demonic forces that have lodged in people's lives, in a small or bigger way, causing them distress, suffering and sickness. This process of casting out the demons is going on right from the beginning of Jesus' ministry; this is merely a very dramatic account of something that was taking place regularly. We know that some demonic forces, some evil spirits, operate here on the earth against humanity seeking to destroy them and undermine them and cause them difficulties. However, Jesus makes clear that all demonic forces are destined for eternal judgement. This is made abundantly clear in, for example, Matthew 25: 41, at the end of one of Jesus' parables when he speaks of judgement of the sheep and the goats. It says:
‘“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.”’‘“The eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.”’Matthew 25:41, NIV
This is an unambiguous statement that final judgement will finally remove these evil forces from the sphere of human existence and of divine activity, and in the New Heaven and the New Earth they won't be present.
In that context, the demonic forces here begged Jesus repeatedly not to order them to go into the 'abyss'. What is the 'abyss' and how does that fit into this overall picture? The 'abyss', biblically, is a place of confinement prior to eternal judgement. It's like the prison cell in the police station before you go to the judge and then you go to permanent prison. It's a place of confinement and that confinement was what they didn't want to have because that would take them out of the sphere of being able to influence human life and disrupt the purposes of God. This word ‘abyss’ is used in the book of Revelation with a similar meaning. For example, we have in Revelation 20: 1 - 3, a statement of judgement upon Satan, at a particular period in eschatological history, and it says
‘And I saw an angel coming down out of heaven, having the key to the Abyss and holding in his hand a great chain. 2He seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil, or Satan, and bound him for a thousand years. 3He threw him into the Abyss, and locked and sealed it over him, to keep him from deceiving the nations anymore until the thousand years were ended.’Revelation 20:1-3, NIV
The abyss, here, is a place of confinement prior to final judgement: like a prison cell, like a police cell, prior to the public judgement. The demonic forces were seeking to avoid going to the abyss and being taken out of the sphere of human activity.
Jesus allowed them to go into the herd of pigs. This is an interesting circumstance. Mark describes this herd of pigs as numbering 2000 - we're talking about a very large number of animals on the hillside just by the lake - and, as they came out, they went into the pigs and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and was drowned. Why did Jesus allow this to happen? Theologians have debated this; we don't have an absolute answer to that question but it appears to me that he allowed something visible and dramatic to take place to indicate the way that he had freed these two men from the oppression of dark spirits and taken their power away. It would be visible to those around that something positive has happened in these men and something negative happened in the pigs, which has caused them to suddenly, inexplicably, rush over the edge of the cliff and fall into the sea. It was a sign to the community of the power of Jesus - a very visible sign that they would never forget.
The response of the people was surprise, amazement and fear. They wondered what Jesus might do next. They wondered how to deal with someone with so much spiritual power - this is in a world where everybody believed in these types of spiritual realities. That's why some modern people find it very difficult to understand these stories because these spiritualities were accepted by Jewish people, but also Gentile nations around had a belief in personal evil, and good and evil forces, and they wanted to restrict their activity. Modern man is struggling with these concepts very often, especially in the Western world, but we need to go back to the Bible and get into not just the narrative but also the spiritual realities that the narrative represents - and realise that those spiritual realities still exist today. The two men (the one is mentioned in Luke but two in Matthew) go back to their homes and they tell of what Jesus has done. They are beginning to prepare the way for the Gospel and the good news to come to their territory. Meanwhile, the people, out of fear, ask Jesus to leave and he returns back to the other side of the lake and continues his ministry.
With all this in mind, let me draw the threads together with a few reflections. What can we learn? First of all, I notice here the extraordinary endurance, energy and capacity of Jesus. He's had a huge schedule; he's been incredibly busy and tired; he's had a very dramatic and traumatic experience on the lake - woken up from sleep in the middle of the night with a huge storm, having to calm the storm and calm his disciples down - but he's still full of power, compassion and care for these two terribly distressed men. He is able to set them free in a wonderful way. I think it's a beautiful story and it reminds us that the ministry of the Church will always have an element of setting people free from spiritual evil, the force of spiritual evil.
If we go right back to the beginning of Jesus' ministry to his return to Nazareth, in the very first days of his ministry when he was starting his first tour of Galilee, we find that when he stood up in the synagogue in Nazareth and he took the scroll of the prophet Isaiah. He read some very powerful words and he claimed that these words were being fulfilled right there and right then, and were going to be fulfilled in his ministry. He read the following words. I want you to think about these words in the light of the event that's just happened here for these two demonised men, in the region of Gaderer, on the eastern side of the Sea of Galilee. Luke 4: 18 and 19
‘“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because (he's) anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. (He's) ... sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners ... recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, 19to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.”’Luke 4:18-19, NIV
Here's an example of this scripture being fulfilled. He has proclaimed Good News to the poor - these men were poor. He has caused the oppressed to be set free and he is proclaiming the year of God's favour. It's a wonderful story and, as so often with things in the Gospel, it will pave the way for other events that will happen because this region, ultimately, is going to be evangelised more heavily and people are going to believe from here. Whilst Jesus, at this particular time, is focusing mostly on the Jewish community, on the Gentile side, we can be sure there's grace for Gentile communities that's going to be expressed in the future.
This is a prophetic sign of what that grace is going to look like and we can take great encouragement from that because that story, of course, is still being rolled out in the world today. There is grace for every single nation and some nations in the world, even today in the 21st century, haven't yet really had a full opportunity to receive the grace of God through the Gospel but that opportunity will surely come, as it did on that day to those two men right on the fringes of their society - outcasts, suffering alone. They were set free and that opened up the door for many in their communities to believe and to follow the Jewish Messiah, Jesus Christ of Nazareth. Thanks for following this study.
The following questions have been provided to facilitate discussion or further reflection. Please feel free to answer any, or all the questions. Each question has been assigned a category to help guide you.
- In the 21st century world, what do you understand about evil forces being at work? What evidence do you have?
- Pray for those known to you who need to be set free from the power of sin
- How important is it to realise that Jesus has both authority and power over evil forces? (It is not a battle between two equals).