Skip to content

Lessons from a Former Demoniac — Extraordinary Encounters with Jesus

  • by

The Bible is a book about Jesus. While we certainly should read our Bibles with personal application in mind, we must ultimately ask, “Where is Jesus in this passage?” And where the Old Testament anticipates Christ, the New Testament presents Him. The four Gospels document Jesus’ earthly ministry, revealing the various encounters He had with men and women of His day. These accounts remind us that Jesus is pleased to work mightily in our lives, by the transforming power of His Spirit, much like He did among those living in earlier times.

One such encounter is in Luke 8, where Jesus meets a demon-possessed man living among the tombs in Gerasene. At first reading, it may seem the story of an unhinged graveyard dweller is as far removed from our circumstances as any biblical story. But further consideration shows that we have more in common with him than many are prepared to admit. We’ll see the parallels between this story and ours as we work through the narrative.

The Location

Luke includes the location of Jesus’ encounter with the Gerasene demoniac purposefully. More than a simple geographical note, it represents Jesus’ first foray into gentile country (Luke 8:26). The opening verses of the chapter confirm that Jesus had come to gather men and women from every tribe, nation, people, and language into God’s worshipping company (Rev. 7:9–10). On mission, Jesus was about to enter what was for the Jew an unclean environment: beyond Israel’s borders, into the tombs, and among demons and pigs.

Earlier in chapter 8, Luke records the parable of the sower, in which Jesus describes the varying responses to God’s word proclaimed (vv. 4–15). When we read these accounts together, we can discern what Luke has in mind: he’s demonstrating how the parable will be worked out in the gentile world. Though Jesus is in a different location, the “country of the Gerasenes” (v. 26), His message involves the same good news (v. 39). And as the narrative unfolds, we discover that good soil—a heart that is receptive to the Gospel—sometimes is found in the most unlikely of places.

The Man’s Condition

Luke 8:27 paints a tragic picture of the man’s condition:

When Jesus had stepped out on land, there met him a man from the city who had demons. For a long time he had worn no clothes, and he had not lived in a house but among the tombs.

The man Jesus met was naked, homeless, and living in the local cemetery. He had crossed the boundaries of human decency and was presumably regarded as a public nuisance. He was uncontrollable, the townspeople having attempted many times to restrain him, though without any long-term success (v. 29). If you saw someone like this in the streets, you would likely walk the long way around just to avoid him.

This man’s condition is analogous to the human condition apart from God. That is, what was true for him both physically and mentally is true for us spiritually. We’re not all possessed by demons, but we are by nature under the power of darkness. Writing to the Ephesians, Paul describes humanity’s condition before conversion as follows:

You were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. (Eph. 2:1–3)

And to the Colossians Paul says,

You, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him. (Col. 1:21–22)

These texts reveal a profound truth: there is no area of our lives left intact by sin. It affects our emotions, wills, and minds. There is in all of us an anti-God bias, so that even our presuppositions and thought processes are hostile toward Him. Tainted by sin, we’re alienated from God until He reconciles us. And so with the man in Luke 8: suffering alienation, he was estranged from God, others, and himself.

The Confrontation

The narrative continues with Jesus confronting the man. We should notice several features of this confrontation.

First, the forces of evil within this man clearly knew Christian doctrine, acknowledging Jesus as the “Son of the Most High God” (8:28). They knew the answer to the disciples’ question in verse 25: “Who then is this,” they asked of Jesus, “that he commands even winds and water, and they obey him?” To the demons, it was clear: He’s the authoritative, eternal Son of God.

Jesus came to gather men and women from every tribe, nation, people, and language into God’s worshipping company.

Further, the demons knew that to be in Jesus’ presence was to have death as their only prospect—and so they “begged” Him not to be sent into the Abyss, or the realm of the dead (v. 31). The demon world is aware that one day, in the judgment, their freedom will be gone and their doom sealed. Thus in Luke 8, face-to-face with the Judge Himself, they were fearful that Jesus might have chosen that moment to cast them to where they were destined eventually to go.

And in response to their request we read of another surprising detail: the destruction of the pigs (vv. 32–33). It’s a strange scene, one that we have to be content treating at the level it’s offered, not answering questions it doesn’t address. Aiming to interpret the unclear in light of the clear, however, we could ask: What has the Gospel writer purposed to do in his account? Jesus’ words in Luke 4, a pivotal point in the book’s unfolding drama, help us:

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
 because he has anointed me
 to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives
 and recovering of sight to the blind,
 to set at liberty to those who are oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. (Luke 4:18–19)

In other words, the dramatic confrontation between Jesus and the oppressed man was a preview of the messianic power over evil that one day will be consummated when the lion lies down with the lamb (Isa. 11:6). Encountering a man held captive by dark forces, Jesus deemed his life to be of greater value than that of a herd of pigs. So, in fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy, Jesus liberated the captive.

The People’s Reaction and the Man’s Commission

“When the herdsmen saw what had happened,” we’re told, “they fled and told it in the city and in the country” (Luke 8:34). But rather than rejoicing over the man’s deliverance and in Jesus’ power, “they were seized with great fear” and asked Jesus to leave (v. 37).

In delivering the oppressed man, Jesus deemed him immensely valuable.

Their reaction should surprise us. The man who was possessed was now the one from whom demons had departed. Once naked and out of his mind, he was now “clothed and in his right mind” (v. 35). Yet despite the clear evidence of God’s power in Jesus, the townspeople cared only to send Jesus on His way.

Tragically, the impact of the Gospel on a life isn’t always met with enthusiasm. These events remind us that men and women by nature do not seek God; instead, they run from Him. The narrative of religion is one in which man seeks after God. Conversely, the story of the Gospel is that of God seeking for man. A true encounter with God turns our lives upside down, as it did with the demoniac.

The narrative concludes with Jesus commissioning the man. Although he wanted to remain with the Lord, “Jesus sent him away” (v. 38). God’s providences are seldom self-interpreting. It made perfect sense to the man that he should stay with Jesus. But in God’s providence, he was sent out as the region’s first missionary. Leaving the area, Jesus left behind one whose transformation was obvious to all.

But Jesus didn’t leave him unequipped. We can well imagine there were times after Jesus’ departure in which the Evil One reared his ugly head, accusing the man as he does all the saints (Rev. 12:10). “Maybe you are still demon possessed,” Satan might have said. “Legion, Legion….” “No!” the man could have then responded; “Jesus drowned all the demons. He drowned them all.”

And just as Jesus left the man a visible reminder of his deliverance, so He leaves a reminder for all His children:

Upon the cross of Jesus
Mine eye at times can see
The very dying form of one
Who suffered there for me;
And from my stricken heart with tears
Two wonders I confess:
The wonders of redeeming love
And my unworthiness.1

This article was adapted from the sermon “A Man in the Tombs” by Alistair Begg.

Elizabeth Cecilia Clephane, “Beneath the Cross of Jesus” (1868). ↩︎

Associate AI Pastor
Spiritual Support