Summary: It is those who know what it is to tremble before Jesus who are those who learn the real peace that he gives.
Why do we like to be scared? Why are we fascinated with evil? I mean real evil. Our adventure movies today don’t simply feature good guys battling bad guys; they take on the forces of evil – demons, vampires, spiritual forces of wickedness. Moviemakers do their best, with all their special effects, to convey the terror of evil beings. Whatever the reason, they are certainly cashing in on our attraction to terror. So are the theme parks. They spend millions coming up with rides that will terrify the riders and make them want to come back again. Terror is fun.
If so, the characters in our passage were having a lot of fun. We have the townspeople terrified of the demon possessed man; the man himself is in terror of his demons; the demons are terrified of Jesus; the pigs are terrified of the demons; and, finally, the townspeople become terrified of Jesus. Maybe the moviemakers ought to film this scene. Why is it so charged with fear? Let’s take a look.
First, consider the man:
3 This man lived in the tombs, and no one could bind him any more, not even with a chain. 4 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. 5 Night and day among the tombs and in the hills he would cry out and cut himself with stones.
He is a violently disturbed man. The tombs were caves in the hillside and he no doubt lived among them because he could not be tolerated in a town, or, rather, could not tolerate living peacefully among people. They had tried to bind him for protection from his wild fits. But the impression we are given is not that he attacked other people, but instead, he harmed himself. He is not filled with hate; he is filled with agony, and the suffering is so great that he screams and cuts himself. Indeed, the agony is so awful that it fills him with a superhuman strength to break iron chains and manacles, a phenomenon that has been seen in people whose body systems are charged with fear. This is the terror with which his possessors have inflicted him.
Next, consider his possessors, the demons. 9 Then Jesus asked him, “What is your name?” “My name is Legion,” he replied, “for we are many.” The man is literally possessed by inner demons, and they are many, thus the name Legion. Jesus made mention of this phenomena in Matthew 12:45 where he spoke of eight evil spirits inhabiting a man.
What are they doing to the man? Is the infliction a game for them, like bullies who think it is fun to pick on the defenseless? Do they enter their victims for the purpose of torture?
Just what is the torture?
We certainly must be careful trying to analyze the motives and minds of demons, but scripture and this passage give us some glimpse of the evil world. Note, again, the response to Jesus’ question: “My name is Legion,” he replied, “for we are many.” Who is talking: the man or the demon, or demons? Is it the demon? Then where is the man? Where is he in that physical body? What have they done with him?
Somehow they have taken over his very mind, that part of him that makes him a unique individual. (By the way, don’t try to apply my remark to ethical issues about what constitutes a human being. I’m not that smart enough to delineate precisely all my terms. The point I’m making is that these demons have somehow taken over this man and suppressed his identity.) Why? Because they are bad and they like doing bad things? They are bad, all right; but we get the impression that they somehow need this man.
Look at their reaction to Jesus and their plea:
6 When he saw Jesus from a distance, he ran and fell on his knees in front of him. 7 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!” 8 For Jesus had said to him, “Come out of this man, you evil spirit!”
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.”
Stopping with verse 6, we would think that the man has come to Jesus in hope that he would rescue him from his demons. He is emotionally moved by the sight of Jesus and recognizes him to be someone to pay homage to. But if we were present, no doubt the hairs on the backs of our necks would have risen and our whole bodies quiver at the sound of the man who gives an agonizing cry at the top of his voice in front of Jesus. But it is not the man who is filled with terror; the cry is that of a demon within. The demons are filled with fear.