The Gadarene Parable
In Luke 8:22-25 Jesus and His disciples crossed the stormy Sea of Galilee, going to the southern tip of the lake. The storm provided a lesson in faith for the disciples, not only showing them that faith and fear do not mix well, but also exposing their weak faith. Luke 8:26 then says,
26 And they sailed to the country of the Gerasenes, which is opposite Galilee.
In the NASB of Matt. 8:28, which tells the same story, it reads:
28 And when He had come to the other side into the country of the Gadarenes…
However, Matt. 8:28, KJV, reads:
28 And when he was come to the other side into the country of the Gergesenes…
The place is given three different names, making this confusing for some people. To make matters worse, there are differences in the Greek text of Matthew’s account, which explains why the NASB differs from the KJV. We may settle this difference by referring to Dr. Ivan Panin’s Numeric English New Testament, whereby he uses the mathematical patterns of the text itself to show that the NASB is correct in translating it Gadarenes. This also agrees with Mark’s account in Mark 5:1.
Therefore, we can eliminate one of the three discrepancies and focus on the other two names, Gerasenes and Gadarenes.
There were two cities known as Gadara. The one is located north of the Sea of Galilee. But it is the city south of the Sea on the east side of the Jordan River that Jesus visited on this ministry trip. It was some distance from the Sea of Galilee, and while the group was walking to the city, they were met by “two men who were demon-possessed” (Matt. 8:28) or by “a certain man from the city who was possessed with demons” (Luke 8:27). Mark 5:2 agrees with Luke, saying that it was “a man from the tombs with an unclean spirit.”
Dr. Bullinger, in his usual manner, insists that these accounts record different incidents, but the details are so similar that his explanation seems unlikely. On the other hand, it would appear that the two demoniacs were not companions, but that one man met Jesus first, and then the other (perhaps his son) a short time later.
The Encounter with Legion
In Matthew’s account of the “two men,” the unclean spirits do not identify themselves by name, but in the accounts of Mark and Luke, they call themselves “Legion.” All three accounts, however, tell us that they were cast into the herd of swine.
With this in mind, let us focus upon Luke’s account, beginning in Luke 8:27,
27 And when He had come out onto the land, He was met by a certain man from the city who was possessed with demons; and who had not put on any clothing for a long time, and was not living in a house, but in the tombs.
Matthew adds that “they were so exceedingly violent that no one could pass by that road.” It appears that these demoniacs would attack travelers on the road to Gadara as they passed the cemetery. We may infer also that no one had recently been buried in that cemetery, for fear of being attacked!
But Jesus and His disciples passed by, and immediately a demoniac came out from one of the tombs (which he was using as a shelter, or “house”). Normally, he would have attacked the group, but on seeing Jesus, the spirit in him recognized Jesus immediately and submitted to Him. A second demoniac, living in another tomb in another part of the cemetery, heard voices and came running to Jesus as well.
Luke 8:28 then says,
28 And seeing Jesus, he cried out and fell before Him, and said in a loud voice, “What do I have to do with You, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg You, do not torment me.” 29 For He had been commanding the unclean spirit to come out of the man…
The unclean spirit uses a Hebraic expression, “What do I have to do with You?” In English today, we mean the same when we say, “Get outa here!” or “What are YOU doing here?” We can see the expression used in Scripture for the first time in 2 Sam. 16:10, when David’s general wanted to cut off the head of Shimei for cursing David as he left town.
10 But the king said, “What have I to do with you, O sons of Zeruiah? If he curses, and if the Lord has told him, ‘Curse David,’ then who shall say, ‘Why have you done so?’”
The demoniac was obviously upset that Jesus was commanding him “to come out of the man.” But then he makes a strange request: “I beg You, do not torment me.” Seriously? Was he afraid that Jesus would torment him?
The Fear of Torment
Many have assumed that he was asking Jesus not to send him to hell quite yet. But the demoniac was simply using another common expression of the day (basanizo) that means to imprison. In other words, the spirit was asking that Jesus not imprison him yet.
In the parable of the man who owed ten thousand talents, we read in Matt. 18:34,
34 And his lord, moved with anger, handed him over to the torturers [basanistes] until he should repay all that was owed him.
Gesenius Lexicon gives the meaning of basanistes as, “an inquisitor, torturer, also used of a jailer, doubtless because the business of torturing was also assigned to him.”
The Greek and Roman jails were overseen by the prison warden, the jailer, who, if necessary, was assigned to put people on the rack and torture them to extract information or confessions of guilt. For this reason, they were called “torturers” or “tormentors.” But we must also keep in mind that under God’s law there is no torture, nor are there even prisons as such. God’s law demands restitution, not torture, unless by chance a man has tortured someone else—in which case, if a settlement could not be reached—he could receive “burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise” (Exodus 21:25).
Under biblical law, the judgment always fit the crime, and no form of torture was permitted unless the guilty party had done the same to other people. But even so, such torture was never unending. No man is capable of torturing others forever, and so he himself cannot be tortured forever. At some point, his sin was paid in kind and in full. For a more complete study on this topic, see my book, The Judgments of the Divine Law.
So the Gadarene’s request was not about torture, but about imprisonment at the hands of the divine “jailer.” As long as these unclean spirits were able to possess the man (or men), they were not yet bound in chains (seira) of darkness (2 Peter 2:4).
Matt. 8:29 says that the spirit asked Jesus, “Have you come here to torment us before the time?” Matthew uses the same word basanizo as seen in Luke’s account. Hence, they recognized that there was a specific time for their imprisonment.
Legion and the Swine
Luke 8:29 says,
29 For He had been commanding the unclean spirit to come out of the man. For it had seized him many times; and he was bound with chains and shackles and kept under guard; and yet he would burst his fetters and be driven by the demon in to the desert.
Such supernatural strength is common with demoniacs. Matt. 8:30 says,
30 And Jesus asked him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Legion”; for many demons had entered him.
Mark 5:9 says it with only a slight difference,
9 And He was asking him, “What is your name?” And he said to Him, “My name is Legion; for we are many.”
In the 1980’s I knew a man named Bob who had done deliverance ministry for more than twenty years when he was a leader in the Full Gospel Businessmen’s Association. He told me how he once encountered a situation where the demons identified themselves as “Legion.” Bob answered, “I thought those demons were killed when the swine drowned in the lake.” The demon answered, “Those were the swine, stupid, not us.” Luke 8:31 continues,
31 And they were entreating Him not to command them to depart into the abyss.
In the natural, the “abyss” was a term that usually meant in the depths of the sea. In this case it is where the demons were trying to avoid when they asked not to be “tormented,” that is, imprisoned.
32 Now there was a herd of many swine feeding there on the mountain; and the demons entreated Him to permit them to enter the swine. And He gave them permission. 33 And the demons came out from the man and entered the swine; and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake, and were drowned.
It appears that the violent and self-destructive nature of Legion was transferred from the two men to the herd of swine. Some believe that demon possession is just a euphemism for mental illness. However, it is not likely that mental illness could be passed on to a herd of swine, nor is it contagious in any way.
Clothed and in His Right Mind
Luke 8:34-36 continues,
34 And when the herdsmen saw what had happened, they ran away and reported it in the city and out in the country. 35 And the people went to see what had happened; and they came to Jesus, and found the man from whom the demons had gone out, sitting down at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind; and they became frightened. 36 And those who had seen it reported to them how the man who was demon-possessed had been made well.
The herd of swine were obviously near the Sea of Galilee, for that was the only nearby lake in the area large enough to drown such a large herd. Mark 5:13 tells us that there were “about two thousand of them.”
Because the city of Gadara was a few miles away, it took the people some time to hear the news and to come and see for themselves what had happened. When they arrived, however, they saw the demoniac “clothed and in his right mind.”
The prophetic meaning of this story is shown, not only by the details of the story, but also by the name of the city itself. Gesenius Lexicon tells us that Gadarene means “reward at the end.” From a prophetic standpoint, we must ask, “What reward?” The story gives the answer. It is the reward of the clothing and being in a “right mind.”
The clothing theme goes back to Adam, who lost the original clothing of the glorified body and was given fleshly clothing as a substitute. The purpose of the feast of Tabernacles was to restore this glorified body. In 2 Cor. 5:1-4 Paul says,
1 For we know that if the earthly tent which is our house is torn down, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. 2 For indeed in this house we groan, longing to be clothed with our dwelling from heaven; 3 inasmuch as we, having put it on, shall not be found naked. 4 For indeed while we are in this tent, we groan, being burdened, because we do not want to be unclothed, but to be clothed, in order that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life.
Here Paul compares the fleshly body, which we have received from Adam, as a “house” and a “tent” in which we dwell in our mortal state. Dressed in this clothing, “we groan, being burdened.” But we long for another set of clothing, which is an immortal body that is reserved for us in heaven.
All of this is pictured in the two sets of clothing that the priests had as well. Their linen garments were reserved for them (yet kept locked up) in the side room of the temple. They were to minister to God in the Holy Place in these linen garments, but when they went out to minister to the people, they were to set aside those garments and put on other garments (normally, wool). We read of this also in Ezekiel 44:17, 19.
The demoniac is therefore a prophetic type of all mankind that is not in its right mind. Sin has made men violent and “naked,” being deprived of their glorified, immortal bodies. So also the setting of this story is in a cemetery, the place of the dead. But as believers, our minds are being restored, for Paul says in 2 Tim. 2:7,
7 For God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline [sophronismos, “soundness of mind, moderation, self-control”].
It is interesting that the people of the district, when they saw this wonderful result, “the reward at the end,” became frightened.” They did not understand the prophetic significance of the name of their own city. The journey from the Sea of Galilee to Gadara was a parable of the journey of life and death and of history itself since Adam. The history of mortal man takes place in a great cemetery called Earth. Only the coming of Christ (both comings, actually) can change these self-destructive conditions and restore us to our right mind. Only Christ can clothe us in linen garments so that death is swallowed up by life.
The People’s Reaction
Luke 8:37 continues,
37 And all the people of the country of the Gerasenes and the surrounding district asked Him to depart from them; for they were gripped with great fear; and He got into a boat and returned.
The word Gerasenes is a Hebrew word that means “a stranger drawing near.” In the prophetic story, Jesus was the “Stranger” drawing near to Gadara. It seems that Jesus never made it to Gadara, although some of the people from the city came to Him somewhere near the cemetery. The people of the city were not moved by faith but were gripped by fear. It is as if the unclean spirit had taken possession of the entire city and not just one or two men. Although they may not have been “possessed,” as it were, they were still in bondage to those unclean spirits. As such, they were represented by the unclean swine.
The Nature of Swine
Lev. 11:7 tells us that swine were unclean animals:
7 and the pig, for though it divides the hoof, thus making a split hoof, it does not chew cud, it is unclean to you.
This is one of the laws showing us how to eat clean spiritual food. It is more than a health law. It is about spiritual health, for “the law is spiritual” (Rom. 7:14). Chewing the cud is meditating on the word which we have heard (“eaten”), in order to move it from one stomach to another—that is, from head knowledge to heart revelation as the Spirit bears witness.
Those who do not “chew cud” when they eat the meat of the Word are like swine, which are incapable of divine revelation, and they remain ruled by fear until the day they descend into the abyss.
That is not the end of the story, of course, because in the end, the great Jubilee will cancel all debt to sin and set all men free by grace alone.
38 But the man from whom the demons had gone out was begging Him that he might accompany Him; but He sent him away, saying, 39 “Return to your house and describe what great things God has done for you.” And he went away, proclaiming throughout the whole city what great things Jesus had done for him.
The Gadarene represents all who have faith in Jesus Christ. Though we have been clothed and have received the sound mind of Christ, we are instructed to remain in the earth to bear witness of Him. So ends the sequence of events that teach us to hear, so that we may have true faith without fear.
Two Prophetic Perspectives
Luke 8:37 says the demoniac came from “the country of the Gerasenes,” whereas Matt. 8:28 says he came from “the country of the Gadarenes.”
There is a prophetic reason that stems from the two different purposes and perspectives of the gospel writers. If you look at the flow of Matthew’s account, it is clear that he was recording a series of Jesus’ miracles wherein the people of faith were coming to Jesus for healing. Hence, they were all “rewarded in the end”—which is the meaning of the Gadarene.
These were people who were motivated by faith in Jesus, and so Matthew’s key verse is in Matt. 8:17,
17 in order that what was spoken through Isaiah the prophet might be fulfilled, saying, “He Himself took our infirmities, and carried away our diseases.”
On the other hand, Luke was focusing upon men’s lack of faith, beginning with Simon the Pharisee and even including the disciples themselves. His account climaxes with the Gerasenes, which comes from the Hebrew word ger, “alien, stranger, foreigner.” Gesenius Lexicon says that the word Gerasene means “a stranger drawing near.”
In other words, Luke’s terminology reveals the heart of the people in their perspective of Jesus, for they treated Jesus like an alien or foreigner. They were afraid of Him and wanted Him to leave their district. Prophetically speaking, Jesus came to cleanse them, but they preferred their unclean “swine” nature. They had opportunity to hear the Word and to reap the reward of faith, but they chose to reject the Word which alone could cleanse their hearts. In John 15:3 Jesus says,
3 You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you.
Only the Word can cleanse our hearts. When men reject the Word, they remain as swine. In refusing to “chew the cud,” they eat the word but do not meditate upon it in order to transform it from physical to spiritual food. The grass remains in the first stomach (one’s head) but is not chewed again in order to be brought to the second stomach (one’s heart), where it can then be assimilated into the body.
So whereas Matthew portrays the story from the heavenly perspective of faith, Luke shows the reality that many on earth treat Jesus as a stranger or alien and thereby do not receive the reward of faith in this life time. I believe that this is why God inspired Matthew and Luke to give different names to the district in this story.
No doubt the region was called by both names. The older name was Gerasene, which appears to be a shortened form of Gergasene. The people inhabiting that area are called Gergashites, first mentioned in Gen. 10:16 and again in Gen. 15:21. Joshua conquered the Gergashites in Joshua 24:11. Hence, Gergasene or Gerasene is the Greek spelling of the ancient Hebrew name. Yet the name of the later city was Gadara, and so the people were also called Gadarenes.
The two names thus supply us with two perspectives from a prophetic standpoint, each according to the gospel writer’s purpose.