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The Madman of Gadara

by Stephen Davey Scripture Reference: Matthew 8:28–34; Mark 5:1–20; Luke 8:26–39

Jesus never encounters a hopeless case. Even a deranged, demon-possessed man can be delivered, saved, and used in God’s service. That is something we should remember with regard to both ourselves and every other seemingly hopeless person we meet.


Talk to people on the street today about demons and demon possession, and you will probably hear various viewpoints, and most will land somewhere between fiction and fear. People typically make one of two errors in regard to the devil and his demons: they either disregard them or become obsessed with them.

Scripture clearly tells us to focus our attention, not on the devil, but on Christ, keeping our eyes on Him (Hebrews 12:1-2).

It also tells us how to resist the devil so he will flee from us; and it is not by coming up with some special incantation or sprinkling holy water around our room but by drawing near to God (James 4:7-8). We are also told to get dressed every day in the armor of God—the helmet of salvation, the shield of faith, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God (Ephesians 6:16-17).

The apostle John wrote in 1 John 4:4, “He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.” We are about to watch a demonstration of that promise here in Luke 8. After Jesus miraculously calmed the storm on the Sea of Galilee, we read this:

Then they sailed to the country of the Gerasenes, which is opposite Galilee. When Jesus had stepped out on land, there met him a man from the city who had demons. (verses 26-27)

This phrase “had demons” refers to demon possession; that is when an unbeliever comes under the mastery of a demon and the person’s thinking, emotions, and even body are uniquely dominated by the demon.[1]

What Satan is doing by demon possession is making someone a counterfeit temple of an unholy spirit. He is counterfeiting the indwelling Holy Spirit. So, demon possession is the devil playing God.

Now as Christians we can be oppressed by demons, but we cannot be possessed by them since we are indwelt by the Holy Spirit. Our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19), and the Spirit of God is not going to share a room with a demon.

Now, as we work through this encounter, I want to make some observations about this demonized man. And by the way, Matthew’s Gospel reveals there are two demonized men. Remember, the Gospels together provide the fullest account. The Gospels of Mark and Luke focus only on one of these men, and I believe that is because he is the man who will become a follower of Christ and a missionary back in his hometown, which would have been Gadara.

Luke 8:27 tells us, “For a long time he had worn no clothes, and he had not lived in a house, but among the tombs.” In other words, he is mentally deranged and essentially homeless.

He is also physically dangerous, as verse 29 explains:

For many a time it [demons] had seized him. He was kept under guard and bound with chains and shackles, but he would break the bonds and be driven by the demon into the desert.

He is a self-destructive wild man under the raving power of demons. This man would be what we would call today a hopeless case. Everybody knew about this Madman of Gadara.

This man sees Jesus and the disciples come ashore and runs down to meet them. Verse 28 describes what happens:

When he saw Jesus, he cried out and fell down before him and said with a loud voice, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God?”

This is a staggering statement. Just think about what it reveals about the demonic world.

First, it reveals that demons believe in the reality of the incarnation. He calls Jesus, “Son of the Most High God.” This man is not falling down at the feet of a Jewish rabbi or prophet but before God in the flesh, God the Son!

Matthew’s Gospel adds that the demons cry out, “Have you come here to torment us before the time?” (Matthew 8:29). In other words, this reveals that demons believe in future prophetic events. The demons assume Jesus has shown up to judge them before the final judgment recorded in Revelation 20, when the demons will be cast into the fires of hell.

Back in Luke’s account, they beg Jesus “not to command them to depart into the abyss” (verse 31). “Abyss” literally means “without bottom.” It is a reference to their final place of torment in hell, the bottomless pit. Our world might try to deny the reality of hell, but the demons have no doubt at all about their future judgment!

Jesus asks a question in verse 30: “What is your name?” And the demonic spokesman answers, “Legion,” for many demons had entered the man. That is a chilling answer. A Roman legion had over 5,000 soldiers; so, this demon is simply saying there are thousands of them involved in controlling this man’s body and mind.

With that, Jesus demonstrates the power of His single command—no matter how many demons are involved:

Now a large herd of pigs was feeding there on the hillside, and they begged him to let them enter these. So he gave them permission. Then the demons came out of the man and entered the pigs, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and drowned. (verses 32-33)

Mark 5:13 informs us that there were about 2,000 pigs in this herd. This was a Gentile region; some Bible scholars believe they were running a black market for Jews—evidently not-so-faithful Jewish people, since they should not have been involved in eating pork. Others believe the farmers were Jews themselves, running a rather booming business providing ham for that region.[2] Either way, the Lord not only frees this man but also judges this region for their unfaithfulness to the law of Moses.

The herdsmen flee to the city to tell everybody what happened, and a crowd returns to see the man who just ruined their business:

They came to Jesus and found the man from whom the demons had gone, sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind, and they were afraid. And those who had seen it told them how the demon-possessed man had been healed. Then all the people of the surrounding country of the Gerasenes asked him to depart from them. (Luke 8:35-37)

Here is this madman whose life has been redeemed by the power of Jesus, and all the people can think about is the damage Jesus had done to their business. The deeper issue here is this: they consider 2,000 pigs to be more valuable than one man’s life. And that’s insanity!

Verses 38-39 continue:

The man from whom the demons had gone begged that he might be with him, but Jesus sent him away, saying, “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.

The Madman of Gadara is now a messenger of the King.

Let me offer one final principle that comes to mind in relation to the demonic kingdom: Jesus can do His best in someone’s life even after Satan has done his worst.

Can you imagine Jesus telling His disciples, “Listen, men, I want to pull ashore here near that cemetery up on that hill; there’s someone I want to appoint as a new missionary”? And about then, here comes this madman, screaming and running down the hill toward them. And Jesus says, “Well, there he comes now!”

Listen beloved, this man—like you and me—was once a trophy in the hand of Satan. Now, like each of us, he is a trophy of grace in the hand of Christ. And he has the same commission as you—to tell everyone that Jesus is the Son of the Most High God, that He reached you, a hopeless case, and delivered you and set you free.

[2] Ivor Powell, Luke’s Thrilling Gospel (Kregel, 1984), 201; R. Kent Hughes, Luke: Volume 1 (Crossway, 1998), 307.

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