And Jesus asked him, “What is your name?” He replied, “My name is legion, for we are many (Mark 5:9).”
At first glance, this story looks like another deliverence that Jesus performed for a very nasty bunch of demons… and this is true; but there is a lot more to this story than lies on the surface.
Jesus had already demonstrated to his disciples that he had authority over several realms, and he just got through showing them that he had power over the spirits and powers of the storms and seas. All three of the Synoptic Gospels connect the “Calming of the Sea” with the “Calming of the Demon Possessed Man.”
Immediately after Jesus calmed the storm and seas, he and his disciples landed their boat in the land of the Gadarenes, which was a most unfortunate place for anyone to land because there happened to be a naked mad man who lived in the tombs of the area who made a spectacle of himself by scaring people and forbidding them to travel past him. However, when Jesus went near him with his disciples, he recognized that Jesus was the Son of God and begged not to be cast out into the abyss. Jesus asked the man what his name was and the demons told Jesus their name was Legion because there were so many of them. Now legion was the name of a large group of Roman soldiers – about 3,000 to 6,000 men. Jesus allowed them to enter into a large herd of pigs upon after entering, they ran into the seas and drowned.
THE ROMAN CONNECTIONS
It seems unusual to have thousands of pigs together like this; most likely they were herded together for the purpose of feeding the Roman soldiers (possibly the entire 10th Legion) that lived nearby and who liked pig meat.
Rome’s 10th Legion was the group that destroyed Jerusalem and put an end to Judah for almost 2,000 years. Little is known about where the 10th legion lived until decades during and shortly after Jesus, but it is highly likely that groups from that legion were stationed in Judah during those years. We know for sure that by the time the Gospels were written, the 10th Legion was very present in Judah. Soldiers put down revolts, and tried to keep the peace in Roman’s empire. Some among them were trained in combat, but many joined because they had no land and no where else to go – these were not as trained as the mercenaries and professional soldiers.
People’s reaction to the Roman legion in Judah varied. Some like radical Muslims of today resorted to violence by murdering soldiers, and others looked for leaders or messiahs with spiritual, political, and warrior-like attributes who could deliver them from Rome’s power. Like Donald Trump of 2016, these leaders and messiahs connected with people’s fears and frustrations more than the established leadership of the country could. Through those fear and hate connections leaders and messiahs were able to lead groups of followers into the wilderness or gather people together with promises of God’s victory over Rome. In the end, every leader and many of their followers were killed or crucified by the Roman soldiers.
The fact that these leaders and messiahs could find so many people willing to go into battle against such a formidable enemy reveals the frustration and anger people felt in those days. The Jewish rebel leaders who rose up promised God’s protection and a new government that would begin a new millennium through their group, but every one of these hopes and dreams failed and died with the death of every leader. Only the group that followed Jesus survived past the First Century, and because it survived, we have an insight into how this particular group lived and what they learned from their leader.
The disciples were much like followers of any other leader who promised the world. They believed that Jesus was the one to take Judah to the top by overthrowing the Roman invaders. They were willing to die for that dream, but in the end, when their leader was crucified, they were left with the disappointment felt by so many other followers of other leaders who promised the world but only led the group into destruction. Once again, we are given a glimpse into the disappointment and the reaction of Jesus’ disciples as they talked to Jesus on the road to Emmaus, not realizing they were talking to the risen Christ when they told him, “We had hoped that he was the one who would deliver Israel.”
The Possessed Man
By the time the Gospels were written, the Possessed man was like a figure-head who represented the Romans. He was crazy, strong, self-destructive, unclean, and living in the most vial of places. No one could withstand his unnatural strength or get by his unnatural power. He was the home to many defiled and unholy demons. Notwithstanding, when he saw Jesus, he surrendered and confessed that Jesus was the Son of God – a title that was reserved for the soldiers’ commander in chief Caesar.
Not only was the pig a favorite meat for the soldiers, the wild boar was the 10th Legion’s symbol.
When Jesus cast out the demons, they entered into the pigs (symbolizing of the 10th Legion), and the pigs ran into the sea and drowned.
The city was probably under an amazing amount of stress being so close to a large group of soldiers who both protected and terrified the city. The citizens lived in a constant balance, keeping out of the army’s way and not upsetting the apple cart.
It is generally believed that this area was dominated by Gentiles, but even if they were all Gentiles, the soldiers came from different countries, they were powerful, and they were unpredictable. Even for Gentiles, a legion of soldiers living nearby was stressful, so when a Jewish Rabbi came into their area and destroyed the legion’s food storage, the city would want to get rid of Jesus as fast as possible. The Bible tells us that the city did indeed come out and they did ask Jesus to leave right away, which was an expected response considering the danger Jesus put them in.
The Original Readers
Most of this story is lost to us today, so we generally see this as another miracle in a long list of miracles that Jesus performed; but to someone living in Judah, it would be a fantastic demonstration of Jesus’ power over Rome. On the one hand he single-handedly cut off a major supply of food for the hated legion. On the other hand, he symbolically brought the legion to his feet, calming them and sending them to destruction.