Although I have lived in some places where it was said that there were many people who had demons, I have never seen a situation such as this one. We sometimes speak of people as being possessed by demons, and even in many Bible versions, the word used is possession. It says that the man was possessed by the demons within him. From this translation, we get the idea that the demons had ownership over the man and that he had no independence at all, or any will of his own. But possession is a strong term to use in translating this. The word that is used is actually a primary root (in Greek) that means simply “to have.”
However, perhaps even more important than the translation of the word is how we think of this situation in terms of ownership. It was the man who had the demons, not the other way around. It was the man who was in possession of the demons, not the demons who possessed the man. Although in the case of the demoniac of Gerasenes, the man seems to have been almost completely under the control of the demons, he was still the one who had ownership over his body. He still was in control of an independent will, although, for so long had he given demons reign of his actions, he had all but forgotten how to exercise his own will. But even with this, a person will always retain his ability to choose or not to choose, as clouded as that distinction may appear.
In some ways, it is not unlike a chemical addiction that some people have. These addicted ones become so dependent upon the drug that it is actually difficult to tell whom or what is in control. Our bodies can become so addicted, that to not have the chemical would mean death. In cases such as this, it would seem that the drug is the one in control.
This is a terrible situation and I am not trying to pretend that it is not sometimes extremely difficult, but despite how it may seem, the person is still the person. It is not the chemical that is the person. Our free and independent will is something given to us by God and it cannot be taken away by a demon, or a drug, or anything else. (to continue press the READ MORE button below)
Jesus Speaks to the Demons
This man met Jesus, as Jesus and his disciples were nearing the city. Seeing the demoniac, Jesus spoke to the demons and commanded them to leave the man alone. Jesus told them to come out of the man.
This made the man fall down before Jesus and exclaim in a loud voice, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, do not torment me.”
It was the demons who were speaking. As the Apostle James says, “Even the demons believe and tremble” (2:19).
When Jesus asked the man what his name was, the demons answered, not that man. “Legion,” they said. The name indicated that the man had not only a single demon, but many demons had entered the man. In fact, the man had so many demons that even though I told you that perhaps possession is too strong of a term to describe the reality of the situation, one can see how the word would find its way into the story. The man seemingly was completely at the mercy of these demons, his own will being completely suppressed by them.
But when this legion of demons encountered Jesus, they knew that something was going to change. When Jesus commanded them to come out of the man, they begged Jesus not to send them to “the abyss.”
What we know of this place called the abyss is actually very little. I associate it with the location and the condition of an existence before God began his creative acts in the first verses of the book of Genesis. In the second sentence of this book, we learn that the condition of the earth at that time was that it was formless and void, and there was only darkness over the face of the deep. This darkness of the deep is the abyss. This place of deep confusion and darkness was the condition of existence before God created light and order. What is called the deep is the state of existence apart from the creative power and the presence of God.
In the New Testament, we learn the most about this abyss with what is written in the book of Revelation, although it really is not much. It is sometimes called the “bottomless pit.” One of the verses of Revelation says that when the door was opened to the abyss, “smoke went up out of the pit, like the smoke of a great furnace; and the sun and the air were darkened by the smoke of the pit.” Other things that emerge from the abyss when they are given permission in the end times are a whole host of hideous and demonic beings. We read also about this in Revelation.
In simple terms, the abyss, the bottomless pit, and other words that we may associate with this same place, such as hell, is the state of existence completely apart from the presence and influence of God. As a theological question, one may wonder that if in fact “the deep,” as it is called in Genesis, existed before creation, and this same deep or abyss is the dwelling place of demons; then did not demons exist before God began creation? It actually is somewhat of an important question, because if they did exist before God began his creation, it would make the demons creatures that also must have existed in eternity.
Where Did the Demons Come From?
But the answer to this question of whether the demons existed at that time is “no,” they did not exist before God began his creation. In Genesis, the deep was merely the state of existence apart from God before God created, and that state of existence was a void. There was nothing at all apart from God, only God alone. At that time, the deep contained absolutely nothing.
But if this is so, we may ask, then where did the demons come from?
When God created all that there is, this included creating the universe of stars and planets, it included creating the earth and all that it contains, it included creating plants and animals and men and women, and it included creating other beings of heaven.
To some in this creation, God endowed a special gift – a will that is free. We as people have this gift. It gives us the freedom to make choices that have consequences not only for today, but also for eternity. We can even choose to follow God or not. It is a gift for us, but it is also one of extreme consequence, because whatever we choose, it will affect us for eternity.
God also apparently endowed these heavenly creatures with the same ability and freedom to choose to love God. Many, it seems, chose not to love God but instead to go their own way. In fact, it not only seems so, but the Bible also tells us that this indeed did happen. These creatures of heaven chose to live apart from the presence and influence of God. Since they, at the time of their rebellion, could not conceive of existence completely apart from the influence of God, they did not realize the horrible consequence of their choice. The place of existence apart from the presence of God is the abyss. Imagine their horror when they saw what existence actually was apart from absolutely any influence of God.
It is no wonder, in the book of Revelation, when these beings are given permission by God to emerge from the abyss for a time, that they are eager to do so. Even they do not want to exist in a place absolutely apart from what God has created. With absolutely nothing of God in that place, with absolutely no influence of God, existence is horrible beyond what anyone can imagine.
That is why even in the very last days of the earth, the demons are still trying to do anything that they can to avoid existing in the abyss. That is also why Satan and the demons today are constantly trying to take the creation away from God by doing battle with him in the lives of men and women, trying to convince us to join in their rebellion and abandon God. Since we, as humans have been created in the image of God, they seem to think that we hold the key to a victory that they somehow hope to win. It will not happen.
Do Not Send Us to the Abyss!
Concerning the demons in the case of the demoniac living among the tombs of Gerasenes, it is no wonder that when Jesus commanded the demons to come out of the man, they begged Jesus not to send them to the abyss. At all costs, they did not want to go to that horrible place. There happened to be at that time, a large herd of pigs that was feeding on the hillside. The demons they begged Jesus that instead of sending them to the abyss, that he would allow them to enter these pigs. For reasons that I do not know, Jesus gave them permission to do this. The demons came out of the man and entered the pigs, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and drowned.
People sometimes question the ethics in Jesus doing this, seeing that these pigs may have been the livelihood of the people watching them. I have heard sermons on this in the past, or read about it in some book, and the speaker or writer focuses on defending the fact that Jesus did this because these pigs were considered unclean animals and the men should not have had them in the first place. I don’t know about any of this and frankly, it is not that important to me. I think that spending time dealing with this question takes away from what is truly important in the story.
What is important is the fact that the demons dreaded going to abyss so much, that they were willing for any other kind of existence, even entering the bodies of swine. Why the pigs immediately ran down the bank and drown themselves in the sea, I do not know. And what then happened to the demons, this also I do not know. I only see that the demons were willing to do anything to avoid going to the abyss.
If We Only Knew
The demons knew something that we do not know. They knew the terror and the agony found in the abyss. In some scriptures, hell is described as a fiery lake of burning sulfur (Revelation 21:8), a furnace of fire; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth (Matthew 13:42).
Again, the discussion concerning this often is whether or not these words and many others like them in Scripture should be taken literally, that is, if they are speaking of real fire, or if the words should be taken figuratively. To me, whether they are literal or figurative makes not much difference. I cannot imagine an existence as terrifying as being burned in an unquenchable fire, not even having the relief of being able to succumb to the blaze and pass into oblivion. If this is a literal fire or if Jesus was just trying to give us a picture of what it is like, we should understand the terror involved.
These demons in our story did. They would do anything to avoid going there. But unlike us, they do not have a choice. After their rebellion against the Lordship of the Creator God, we do not find in the teachings of Scripture that they have been offered a second chance.
But you and I have. For reasons that we do not know, God has offered us grace. He gives us the opportunity for a life that is eternal, rather than the agony of a death that also continues forever.
Frankly, it is astounding to me that we as people can be so cavalier about the abyss. We tell jokes about it, we tell people we are mad at to go there. Some people speak of it as if it won’t be so terrible if they are assigned to that place when they die here on earth. They imagine that if the people they hang out with are going there, it cannot be so bad.
I am not a person who uses fear to attempt to convince people to follow God. I would much rather have people respond to God’s great love for them. But it does not do any of us harm to consider what the demons of this story knew about the abyss. They, who struck terror on the people of Gerasenes, were themselves absolutely terrified by the prospect of going there.
We can have no idea of the extent of the horror it is to exist without any influence of God. Even in the most horrifying and dreadful situation in this present time, God is present to some degree. I do not know what the worst personal nightmare that you can imagine might be, but it does not even approach the terror of the abyss. By everything within me, I urge you to respond to the grace of Jesus and let him change your life. There is nothing on earth or even in your imagination that you should exchange for the grace of God.
Standing before Great Powers
Now we come to a part of the story that seems almost as strange as what had happened to the man with the demons. When the herdsmen of the pigs saw what happened, they ran and told everyone. The townspeople, who had previously tried to control this demoniac, came and saw him now sitting at the feet of Jesus, fully clothed and in his right mind.
One would expect that the people of the town would be overjoyed about what had happened and welcome Jesus, eager to hear what he had to say. That was not their reaction. They instead were “seized with great fear” and begged Jesus to leave.
We may criticize the people of the town because of their lack of reception for Jesus, but quite frankly, we may not have been much different. None of us like to stand before powers over which we have no control, even though that power (speaking of Jesus), may only work for our own benefit. We may appreciate the benefit, but we would just prefer to leave it at that.
Why was this? It is difficult to know how people will respond when they are faced with what they see is great power in the spiritual realms. It is a fearful thing to suddenly realize that there are spiritual powers over which we have no control. Most people do not want to think about such things and just go on with their daily lives.
This is willful ignorance, because sooner or later we will all need to confront these spiritual realities. Jesus came to explain some of these things to us, but most people today are like the townspeople of Gerasenes – they don’t want to think about them. “Just let me watch TV and go fishing,” they might say.
He Comes to Us in Humility
I think that God knows this about us. It is not his preference to confront us into submission by great demonstrations of power. He knows that this may drive us to submit, but this is not the relationship that he is seeking. As I said earlier, he is seeking a relationship based on love.
Jesus understood this about the people of Gerasenes. When the people begged him to leave their presence, he did not rebuke them. The text tells us that the people were already seized with great fear. He simply got back into the boat on which he had just arrived, and returned to where he had been.
But he did not leave the people without a testimony. The man from whom Jesus had cast the demons wanted to remain with Jesus. In fact, he begged Jesus that he might stay with him. But Jesus said to him, “Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.” And he went away, proclaiming throughout the whole city how much Jesus had done for him.
God also understands this about us. That is why he does not come to us with great demonstrations of power to drive us into obedience. He comes to us quietly and he comes to us in love. For a testimony to help us to learn about him, he came to us as a little baby born in the most humble of circumstances. He came to us as one of us, living the same as us and teaching us.
The people of the Old Testament saw great demonstrations of power from God, but those things did not make them love God. To us he has given Jesus. Jesus is our testimony of what the face of God looks like and how the heart of God is calling you today.
Don’t beg him to leave, as did the townspeople of Gerasenes. Beg him instead to dwell with you.