For he was saying to him, “Come out of the man, you unclean spirit!” (Mark 5:8)
These brief vignettes of Christ’s life and ministry in the gospel reveal to us his power and authority. He had both. His power was not usurped illegally or unjustly. He is the Lord. Christ taught in John:
Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door but climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber. But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep…The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. (John 10:1-2,10-11)
Christ on earth was the rightful Ruler come to claim back that which was his own, that which sin and Satan had stolen. He restored to health the sick. He cast out demons. He came to bring life, and he still brings life today to those who trust in him.
The conversation with the demons: Christ did not try to persuade the demons to leave – he commanded them to. The demons said that they were “Legion.” A legion was a certain group of Roman soldiers, numbering from 500 to 12,000. The expression reveals both the number of demons and their basic militant attitude and organization. The Bible describes Satan’s kingdom as having “rulers and authorities” among them (Eph. 6:12), and they do wage spiritual warfare against the purposes of God, against the people of God, and against the human race in general.
They called him, “Jesus, Son of the Most High God,” and this reveals knowledge in the demonic realm of who Jesus was. The demons know they stood condemned and that there would be no mercy for them, but they still insisted that their work to destroy this man had not intruded on Christ’s mission. “What have I to do with you?” (KJV) or “What have you to do with me?” (ESV), both have the same idea. This man was in Gadara, not in Jewish Galilee, but on the other side in Gentile territory. This was actually Jewish territory still, originally promised to the tribes of Israel, but even then, Christ came to save the whole world. Any demonic activity in any life on the planet came directly into conflict with the plan and design of God, and the authority of Christ.
They pleaded with him to not disturb them. The word used is translated “adjure” and it means to require someone to take a solemn oath and to maintain a certain action. It hints to some ancient agreement between God and the demons, which they interpreted to their favor. God had given them some time and territory, but it was done in his forbearance, not in approval of their work. God’s plan of redemption has certain stages and steps which must be accomplished, and in those stages Satan has had minimal space to operate.
The limitations of Satan’s influence: The Bible says plainly enough that God, by his omnipotence, has limited the power and domain of Satan in time and places and power. For example, in the interchange between Jesus and Pilate, we read this:
So Pilate said to him, “You will not speak to me? Do you not know that I have authority to release you and authority to crucify you?” Jesus answered him, “You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above. (John 19:10-11)
Many have sought to understand the exact limitations of Satan that God has set, and some have gone so far as to make fighting territorial spirits a central factor in world evangelization. Some spend more time in their “prayers” rebuking Satan than asking God for his strength – something entirely contrary to the actions of the Apostles in the New Testament. But, in my opinion, the information is simply not there in the Bible to build a detailed theology about these things. All we can say is that the matter is in God’s hands.
The demons in Gadara begged not to be sent out of the territory. Christ sent them into a large herd of swine, each of which was driven mad at once. The swine all ran violently downhill and drowned in the waters of Galilee. It is clear that Christ did not engage in a long conversation, but only a short one, and it was all done from his position of unyielding authority. They were no match for him, and they knew it.
Christ came to destroy the work of the devil and he has been doing so ever since (1 John 3:8). There can be no agreement between light and darkness, between God and the devil, nor between Christians and Satan. There is absolutely no room for compromise. Satan has a short time and his end is prophesied in scripture:
Now have come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God, and the authority of his Messiah. For the accuser of our brothers and sisters, who accuses them before our God day and night, has been hurled down. They triumphed over him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony; they did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death. Therefore rejoice, you heavens and you who dwell in them! But woe to the earth and the sea, because the devil has gone down to you! He is filled with fury, because he knows that his time is short. (Revelation 12:10-12)
The faith of the man: From the beginning of Christ’s encounter with the man, we learn that the man worshiped Christ (Mark 5:6). There was some faith in the man, despite the demons. We see here the hand of God in this man – for only God can draw a person to Christ. The demoniac had made others fear him – had done violence to himself and to others and was general menace. But God touched his heart and he ran to worship Jesus. There is something in Christ, and in the work of God, that draws even the wildest and most ungodly of people to him.
The man was healed instantly – he was clothed and in his right mind. The greatness of the miracle frightened the townspeople. Some people are, unfortunately, more comfortable with their maniacs and livestock than with the presence of Christ.
The man begged to go with Christ as a disciple, but this was not God’s plan. Instead Christ sent him back to his own people. “Go home to your friends and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you” (Mark 5:20). A missionary to a foreign land is not greater in the work of God than the one who obeys the Lord’s command to be an evangelist among his own people. It all eventually comes down to the individual plan of God for each life.
The meaning of this passage to us: Satan’s work is all around us, but God is also working and his work is greater, more powerful, and eternal. Satan’s kingdom is being over thrown and will not stand, but the work of God is eternal. Power and authority over evil spirits is found in Christ. We cannot use his name as some magic formula, rather it is he himself who through the gospel and by his Spirit demonstrates his power. We are to follow the Lord where he leads us and be obedient to the personal call that he gives to each of us. We ought not to aspire for anything more (there is nothing more or greater than this) or anything less than obedience.
We may resist him in the name of Christ and Satan will flee for a season (James 4:7). But we cannot use Christ’s name like some magic formula to cast out demons. The sons of Sceva tried this in Acts 19:11-20, by saying, “In the name of Jesus, whom Paul preaches, I command you to come out.” One demon responded, “Jesus I know, and Paul I have heard about, but who are you?” And he then turned on them and “gave them such a beating that they ran out of the house naked and bleeding.”