My Favorite Demon Story In The Bible

There's a story I've always loved at the beginning of Mark 5 about Jesus and a demons-possessed man. Not a typo. Dude had real problems. You can find this story in Mark 5:1-20 if you want to read it later. It's a wild ride.

Most scary movies are kind of silly, right? Jason is kind of a joke. Most of us think we could take him, given the chance. Viewers can almost predict who will die and when. But movies about demon-possession? That's a different story. Even though the special effects are a bit dated now, The Exorcist... yikes. The Exorcism of Emily Rose... double yikes. And Frailty? Don't get me started on Frailty.

One of my favorite shows ever was a show called Millennium. This image is from my favorite episode, "Somehow, Satan Got Behind Me." Of course old demons meet for coffee and read the sports page at a donut shop.

Whenever I finish a movie like those I've mentioned, I follow it up immediately by turning on every light in the house and watching multiple episodes of a quality sitcom. It doesn't matter if the ending of the film has a happy ending: the victim is free of possession, living a normal life, and all is well. Doesn't matter. I need lights and laughter.

Also, those movies never end that way.

In Mark 5, Jesus and his followers have made their way across the Sea of Galilee into a Gentile region. If you don't know what the word Gentile means, let me clear it up for you: not Jewish. Mark doesn't exactly say it's a Gentile region, but there are some clues, not the least of which is the presence of a herd of swine. If you weren't aware, Judaism and pigs don't mix.

There is significance in the fact that it is a Gentile region. Check out Acts 10:28 (way after the events found in Mark), when Peter visits with Gentiles and tells them, "You yourselves know that it is unlawful for a Jew to associate with or to visit a Gentile..." (NRSV). Jesus didn't seem to care about such things and docked his boat, even though the scent of hog manure was blowing in the wind.

As soon as he gets out of the boat, some guy "from the tombs" comes out to meet him. From the tombs? Oh this is not good. If I'm visiting a cemetery (which I won't be), I sure don't want anyone to come out of the cemetery and strike up a conversation with me. But there is significance in this detail too. You see, the tombs were considered ritually unclean. So a man who lives in a non-Jewish region comes out of unclean tombs. And then Mark let's us know, "Oh by the way, he also has an unclean spirit inside of him." That means the guy had demon issues.

Seriously? A Gentile? Coming out of unclean tombs? With an unclean spirit? By Jewish standards, this guy is filthy.

For all you fans of The League.

Turns out he lives in the tombs. The locals had tried to restrain the weird guy living in the tombs with an unclean spirit by using chains and shackles, but he always broke them. He also liked to howl night and day and cut himself with stones. Quite a picture Mark paints for us. Believe it or not, he leaves out an important detail that Luke includes, "For a long time, he had not put on clothes" (Luke 8:27). Excuse me? Naked guy living among the tombs with broken shackles and chains hanging off his body, strolls out of the cemetery, howling, to see Jesus? Mark even says that this guy ran toward Jesus. Get back in the boat, Jesus. Get outta there.

Peter: Who's that guy coming toward us? Is he running?

John: Yeah, I think so. Isn't it wonderful? People can't get enough of Jesus.

Peter: Are those chains?

John: Our Jesus is a chain breaker, Pete.

Peter: Why is he howling?

John: Judge not lest ye be judged. Jesus always tells us that, Pete.

Peter: Dude, he's freaking naked.

John: Ok, that is a little weird.

As the guy runs toward Jesus, Jesus commands the unclean spirit to come out of the him. This initiates a fascinating conversation. He says back to Jesus, "What do you want with me, Jesus, son of the most high God?" Mark wants us to know that a demon recognized Jesus for who he truly was. More on that here.

Jesus replies by asking his name. Nice one, Jesus. Keep it casual.

But the guy wants nothing to do with casual, and replies to Jesus' question with, "Legion is my name, for we are many." What a terrifying response. That's too much like some of the movies I've seen. Ask the demon his name. and he uses 1st person singular and 1st person plural in the same sentence. Which is it, dude? I or we? Oh. It's both, isn't it? Depending on who's in control. Yeah, I'm out. Too weird.

You should know that legion is a transliteration of a Greek word that represented a LARGE group of soldiers. Specifically, during the time of Augustus, it referred to a group of 6000 soldiers (Augustus ruled Rome when Jesus was born). So yeah, I guess he was "many."

Long story short (or not so short), the unclean spirits ask to be sent into a nearby herd of swine. Jesus obliges, and the demon-possessed swine (I can't decide if that would be scary or funny) run off a cliff into the Sea of Galilee and drown.

The owners of the pigs go into town and tell everyone what happened, so the locals come to see for themselves. When they arrive, they find the tomb dweller, the one who was many, sitting next to Jesus in his right mind and clothed. And Mark tells us this scared them.

The guy lived in tombs, was possessed by innumerable demons, howled at the moon, cut himself with stones, broke chains and shackles, and did it all buck naked. But when they find him at peace, dressed and seated next to Jesus, that scares them.

I think this story teaches itself, but in case it doesn't: 

It's not an accident that Mark emphasizes so many things that would lead a lot of folks in Jesus' usual circles to have concerns about his ritual purity. And it's not an accident that Jesus doesn't care. Fixing terribly broken people is kind of Jesus' M.O. And it shouldn't surprise us that the locals are scared when a terribly broken person is fixed. That's kind of our M.O.


  1. John: Ok that is a little weird. Lol
    That is definitely a majority of societies M.O.

  2. The Exorcism of Emily Rose scares the heck out of me and if you look up Annalise Michaels that's the true story. Ah heck no!

    1. Yeah it was intense, and yet only PG-13. Thanks for reading.

  3. Another biblical example of just how absurd the narrative is.

    Of course, in our more enlightened times, we recognise ''demon possession'' for what it is.
    Odd then that, Yahweh in his Jesus disguise, pandered to the nonsense of belief in demons. But then , this was the times he lived in, right?
    Bit mean though, don't you think, that he likely ruined some poor sods livelihood by destroying all those pigs?
    Being a god ... sorry ... God ... surely all he had to do was wave his hands and say ''Begone!''

    Amazing how credulous people are, even today.


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