There is so much to be said about Mark 5:1-20. This short study examines the motif of how the testimony of a changed life can be more impactful than signs and miracles.
Mark’s theme of “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand” (1:15) is highlighted in Mark 5. The invasion of the kingdom against the forces of darkness collides with the kingdom’s redemptive power in the narrative of the exorcism of the Gadarene Demoniac. A primary motif of the story is that while the miraculous power of Jesus over Legion is impressive, it is the restored man’s visible testimony of redemption that is more effective in pointing others to Christ.
The Man. 1-5
[Mar 5:1-5 ESV]  They came to the other side of the sea, to the country of the Gerasenes.  And when Jesus had stepped out of the boat, immediately there met him out of the tombs a man with an unclean spirit.  He lived among the tombs. And no one could bind him anymore, not even with a chain,  for he had often been bound with shackles and chains, but he wrenched the chains apart, and he broke the shackles in pieces. No one had the strength to subdue him.  Night and day among the tombs and on the mountains he was always crying out and cutting himself with stones.
The people of the Gadarenes had most likely given the demoniac a diagnosis of insanity since they had tried the then common practice of binding such a one up with chains—likely for their own protection. When that didn’t work the man was seemingly driven into the caves, a place used for tombs and a habitation by certain of the poor. His self-mutilation practices showed that he loathed his miserable state yet did not have the courage to end it. Or possibly, deep down, there remained a spark of hope, a seed of faith yet to be drawn out.
The Demons. 6-10
[Mar 5:6-10 ESV]  And when he saw Jesus from afar, he ran and fell down before him.  And crying out with a loud voice, he said, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I adjure you by God, do not torment me.”  For he was saying to him, “Come out of the man, you unclean spirit!”  And Jesus asked him, “What is your name?” He replied, “My name is Legion, for we are many.”  And he begged him earnestly not to send them out of the country.
Those who truly know God cannot help but prostrate themselves before his presence. Nevertheless, the demons proceed to engage in a futile battle. The demons address the Lord as “Jesus, Son of the Most High God”. This is not a just messianic title, but one showing his divinity. Some suggest that by calling out Jesus’ true identity, they thought they could somehow gain power against him (a common mystical assumption of that period). Jesus in return demands the demons’ name. Why is not clear, but it’s possible that Jesus wanted to bring to light the seriousness of the condition (Legion) so that the demoniac could begin to distinguish his true identify from the alien possession and also for the testimony of the man himself.
The Pigs. 11-13
[Mar 5:11-13 ESV]  Now a great herd of pigs was feeding there on the hillside,  and they begged him, saying, “Send us to the pigs; let us enter them.”  So he gave them permission. And the unclean spirits came out and entered the pigs; and the herd, numbering about two thousand, rushed down the steep bank into the sea and drowned in the sea.
Jesus, probably foreseeing the fate of the swine, suffers the demons to enter and be cast into the sea, the sea being symbolically equivalent to the “abyss”, or Sheol, the home of demons. Jesus in no way compromised judgment nor gave ground to the enemy. The physical manifestation of the pigs drowning also showed all witnesses that the man was delivered from more than just a mental disposition or madness.
The People. 14-17
[Mar 5:14-17 ESV]  The herdsmen fled and told it in the city and in the country. And people came to see what it was that had happened.  And they came to Jesus and saw the demon-possessed man, the one who had had the legion, sitting there, clothed and in his right mind, and they were afraid.  And those who had seen it described to them what had happened to the demon-possessed man and to the pigs.  And they began to beg Jesus to depart from their region.
Once terrified of the superhuman power of the demoniac, the locals are now terrified of the superhuman power of Jesus. The once oppressed man now visible in his right mind is not enough to ease their own minds at this point.
The Restored Man and Jesus. 18-10
[Mar 5:18-20 ESV]  As he was getting into the boat, the man who had been possessed with demons begged him that he might be with him.  And he did not permit him but said to him, “Go home to your friends and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.”  And he went away and began to proclaim in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him, and everyone marveled.
The delivered man possesses none of the fear and speculation of the locals. “And everyone marveled” (5:20), not at the powerful miracle, “but to the proclamation of the former demoniac.”
The mighty exorcism itself was not what caused the former demoniac’s neighbors to awe, but the testimony of a simple man who was a product of the redemptive power of Jesus, a man who probably still bore the bodily scars of his previous state. The most powerful testimony is a changed life—the greater the transformation, the greater the testimony. The man’s desire to follow Jesus was noble, but “true missionary work begins at home”. This can be difficult for believers, especially when the very people who might have been coldhearted to them in their previous state are now those they are required to speak to.
It was the restorative portion of God’s kingdom power that motivated this man to do above and beyond what Jesus asked (verse 20 indicates that he witnessed to not just his friends, but the surrounding region). He was motivated by gratitude, not the fear of a mystical Jew who exorcised the demonic and administered judgment. Furthermore, Jesus displayed his love towards those who had just begged him to depart by leaving the man behind to share with them. Although the man had very little teachings on the mysteries of the kingdom, his testimony could prepare the hearts of the people for a time of further proclamation.
. William L. Lane. The Gospel According to Mark: The English Text with Introduction, Exposition, and Notes (The New International Commentary on the New Testament) (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1974), 182.
. Ibid. 182
. Lane, 184.
. William Hendriksen. New Testament Commentary: Exposition of the Gospel According to Mark (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1975), 192.
. Adela Yarbro Collines and Harold W. Attridge. Hermeneia: Mark: A Commentary (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2007), 271.
. Collines, 273
. Hendriksen, 197.