In this passage the cruel purposes of Satan are contrasted with the redemptive purpose of the Savior. Christ holds absolute, sovereign authority of the devil. Christ alone has the power and the willingness to heal the harm caused by the enemy. While this passage teaches the reality of Satan and his demons, the primary focus of the passage is on a sinner saved by the grace of the Savior, and that sinner turned saint being sent to “go and tell” others about Christ’s mercy and power to save.
Working our way through this passage we are first confronted with this man’s condition.
The Man’s Condition before Christ – vv. 1-7
“A man…Who had [his] dwelling among the tombs.” The man lived in the tombs, not the town. He was isolated from every relationship, except for the fellow who, according to Matthew 8:28, suffered from the identical affliction. While people may not have seen much of this guy; they avoided him at all costs, they no doubt heard him. “Always, night and day, he was in the mountains, and in the tombs, crying.” This crying does not imply gentle weeping but the manic howls of a lunatic, or, in this case, a demoniac.
This man would not and could not be restrained. “He had been often bound with fetters and chains, and the chains had been plucked asunder by him, and the fetters broken in pieces: neither could any [man] tame him.” He was a self-mutilator, “always, night and day, he was…cutting himself with stones.”
What kind of man live amidst the tombs, screams into the night, runs around naked, cuts himself, and is beyond restraint, physical or otherwise? How may such a one be helped? Reasoning with him was impossible. Society’s attempts at rehabilitation, or at least containment, were largely ineffective. Isolation and restriction were only partially successful. What hope, if any, does such a one have?
It is far too easy for us to sit back in our comfort and sanity and say within ourselves, “This man’s condition and mine are not at all alike. I am clothed and in my right mind. I’m relatively reasonable. No one has seen fit to chain me to the wall. I don’t cut myself or howl at the moon. I am not at all like this man. I am not demon-possessed.”
While it is true that behind this isolated, mutilated, lewd, wicked, unrestrainable, howling, and troubling behavior was an evil spirit; in fact, a legion of evil spirits, it is untrue to suggest that we are far removed from this man’s condition.
And you [hath he quickened], who were dead in trespasses and sins; Wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience: Among whom also we all had our conversation in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others…having no hope, and without God in the world: (Ephesians 2:1-3, 12b)
This is the description of being outside Christ as opposed to being inside Christ. All men are born in this sinful condition, and all men are in desperate need of the rebirth which is possible only in and through Christ. Apart from Christ all humanity are dead-men walking, and only the power of the gospel is able to bring the dead to life; to call you out of darkness into Christ’s marvelous light.
By nature, all men are the living dead. All men are not necessarily held in the personal grip of a demon or legion of demons, but men are naturally under the control of that, which is dark and evil; that which is completely counter to the life, freedom, and joy that is provided in Jesus Christ. The only question is the extent to which that darkness has dominion over the unbeliever. Therefore, you may have a comfortable home, be educated, well groomed, fully dressed, articulate, and polite, but outside of Christ, you are “dead in trespasses and sins…by nature the children of wrath.”
Obviously then, the message of the Gospel is not:
- Turn over a new leaf.
- Try Jesus.
- Get a little religion.
- You need a purpose.
The message of the Gospel is that you are a dead man, and a dead man is incapable of coming alive on his own. You are a blind man, and you cannot make yourself see. That is why you must turn and repent today. Trust in Christ now, because you don’t know what the day may bring forth. Tomorrow is not guaranteed. The time for repentance and faith is now.
This man’s condition, as it relates to his demon-possession, may be very different from our own experience, but it is not so dramatically different from ours in terms of our nature outside of Christ. These are not nice and comforting thoughts, but they are true. That is why they must be declared and believed.