Is there still such a thing as demon possession? A lot of Christians will give an automatic “nope!” And is this answer the result of solid theology or does it have more to do with fear? Is there anything in the Bible that tells us that demons have, for some inexplicable reason, decided to give up on the whole controlling people thing? Now, I could be wrong, but I cannot find any evidence that would support the whole demon possession thing has ended at some magical point. And here’s the thing, evil spirits are scary. And the thought that someone could be possessed by a demon is absolutely terrifying. Maybe our reticence is due to a misunderstanding of how demons work. All of the evidence suggests that demons are invited in. They cannot just swoop down and take over a person. If that were the case, the whole world would be possessed. No, they take over people who have enlisted the help of demons for often nefarious reasons. The truth we need to understand is that there is a spiritual battle raging complete with good and evil spiritual beings.
Luke 8:26-39 is the amazing story of the confrontation of Jesus with a whole battalion of demons. After Jesus calmed the wind and the waves, they sailed down to the country of the Gerasenes. And here, we have a slight problem: The city of Gerasa is south of the Sea of Galilee and its region most likely didn’t reach the shores of the lake. It has been discovered that there was a small city near the eastern cliffs of the Sea of Galilee named Khersa (possibly Gersa in Greek). There is no way to be certain, but this is as likely as any other suggestion. Anyway, as they land, a naked, demon possessed, man meets them. And this meeting may just be the very reason Jesus said, “Hey, let’s get ourselves over to the other side of the lake.”
Try to imagine this encounter. The man had been living in tombs. For the Jewish people this was absolute proof that he was a crazy person. And most cultures would agree. So, he is naked; he most likely smells awful; he is cut up (Mark 5:5); he is extremely strong; and he is wild looking. The disciples are probably thinking, “I knew we should have never come over to this accursed land.” The man falls down – most likely in fear – and cries out, “Jesus! Son of the Most High God! What to us and to you (we don’t expect anything good to come from this meeting)? I beg you, don’t torment us.” The word “torment” probably refers to judicial punishment. Because they are spiritual beings; because Jesus had already bound their master the Strong Man (Luke 4:1-13); they know who he is and they know they are in trouble.
Jesus asked them their name. There is no evidence that this about gaining control of these demons. The Greeks believed that learning a spiritual beings name gave you authority over that being. Which is how they got themselves possessed. No, this is about Jesus emphasizing his authority. They are Legion. A legion was about 6,000 Roman soldiers; a force to be reckoned with. This group of demons is shaking in their spiritual boots; begging Jesus not to send them to the abyss. The abyss may represent the region where they came from; a shadowy realm devoid of corporeal bodies. They ask to be sent into a herd of pigs and surprisingly Jesus allows it. Why? Everything in the story points to his absolute authority over this gang of evil spirits. Some have suggested that it is not time for the final and complete judgment upon the demons. Jesus was not going to send them to the Abyss yet anyway. That comes later. But why the pigs? This herd represents somebody’s livelihood. I am not sure, but maybe the idea is to illustrate to everyone who is a witness that you cannot play with evil. Evil destroys; evil consumes; evil ruins.
The herdsmen, who did witness the whole thing, run off and inform everyone they come into contact with. A group forms and they, with superstitious fear bubbling up out of the lot of them, ask Jesus to leave. This kind of power is frightening. The freed man begs to go with Jesus and Jesus sends him home with a mission. “Tell them what God has done for you.” Jesus is still asking us to do this. Go and tell.
There are spiritual powers out there. A battle is raging. And that would be terrifying except for one thing: The one who is in us is more powerful than the one who is in the world. Jesus has absolute authority; he has bound the Strong Man; evil spirits cower before him – even a legion of demons. I believe that demons still roam this world with evil intentions. I believe they are still tricking humans into inviting them to help them with their nefarious intentions. But don’t despair. Jesus has already won the battle. Make sure you are on his side of the battle. And, for goodness sake, don’t play with evil. Grace and peace. Walter.