The Lunatic in the Cemetery
This is one of the most horrifying stories in all the gospel record.
One of the most important aspects of reading and studying the Bible is to read carefully, trying in our minds to picture exactly what is meant, what is taking place, and where it is happening. In doing this, we get a far greater lesson from God’s Word than we might if we casually read it.
This is often called “reading between the lines.” In other words, we must use our imagination to try to discover the hidden meaning, and sometimes this involves a bit of speculation. This speculation allows us to come to conclusions that may or may not be fully accurate. Our goal will be that at least they can be good and logical assumptions based on what we know from the Scriptures.
Why is this story here?
The story for this article is the lunatic in the cemetery. It is one of the most horrifying stories in all the gospel record. The first question we might ask is, “Why is this story here?” We can be certain it is there for a reason, so let’s now try to identify the purpose.
We find the account in Mark 5:1-20, Matthew 8:28-34, and Luke 8:26-39; however, we will mostly stay focused on Mark for this article.
The first thing to determine is where this event took place. In both Mark and Luke, it is called “the country of the Gadarenes.” However, in Matthew, it is called “the country of the Gergesenes.” The area of Gergesa is also known as Gerasa. It is the only place that fits the description of the three gospel accounts. This city is on the northeast shore of the Sea of Galilee.
Today there is a Jewish kibbutz at this location, known as Ein Gev. When I visited this kibbutz, residents told me this was the site where Jesus healed the lunatic. Indeed, there is a hill there with a steep incline, where it is possible the swine could have rushed into the Sea of Galilee and drowned.
After crossing the Sea of Galilee by ship, Jesus arrived at the area of Gergesa, and immediately a man ran toward him. This was no ordinary man. He was insane, a lunatic, demon-possessed, or with an unclean spirit in the language of the day.
The record states, “He had his dwelling among the tombs.” (Mark 5:3). The Revised Version is more accurate when it says, “He had his dwelling In the tombs.” Therefore, he lived in caves with stones in front of most of them. Perhaps he stayed in a different cave each night, sleeping among the dead bodies.
The next thing stated is that “no man could bind him, no, not with chains.” (v. 3). Why? Because he broke both the fetters and chains that bound him. Fetters are shackles. So he was bound hand and foot. But even then, he could break these bindings with his enormous strength. Most likely, he was a severely injured man, with blood running down his arms and legs. Another thing to ponder is how did they get these chains and fetters on him in the first place? We were told no man could bind him, so we might assume they must have knocked him out to accomplish this.
He must have been in excruciating pain. No wonder it says, “Night and day, he was in the mountains, and in the tombs, crying, and cutting himself with stones.” (v. 5). Surely, he was in extreme agony, with his body covered by injuries and infection. Remember, he dwelt with dead bodies. In other words, he was dead while he lived. When we read an account like this, we rarely take time to imagine the scene fully. To make it worse, he was naked. Just how do you think he smelled?
When he sees Jesus, he runs and falls at his feet, saying, “What have I to do with thee, Jesus, thou Son of the most high God? I adjure thee by God, that thou torment me not.” (v. 7).
It was as if this insane man were prophesying
There are two items of importance expressed here. The first is an acknowledgment that Jesus was the Son of God. To know this, he must have overheard talk among the people around Gergesa. Few of them believed it; however, this insane man did. The second point is his statement, “I adjure thee by God.” Where have we heard that phrase before?
It was as if this insane man were prophesying what the High Priest would say at the trial of Jesus.
Jesus then heals the man. Why do you suppose, right here at the beginning of his ministry, we have this story? Perhaps the answer is given just before this event but in the Matthew account.
Jesus was talking about the sad spiritual condition of the nation of Israel. In Matthew, Jesus referred to the scribes and Pharisees, the religious leaders of Israel, as “hypocrites.”
The real reason for this story comes from the Old Testament in the Book of Isaiah.
Do you see in this prophecy the story of the insane man in the cemetery?
- “The whole head is sick.” Head wounds from banging his head on the walls within the tombs, from being knocked out so they could apply fetters.
- “The whole heart is faint.” The lunatic had lost hope of ever being normal again until he saw Jesus step out of the ship.
- “From the sole of the foot even unto the head there is no soundness in it, but wounds, and bruises, and putrifying sores.” Is this not an accurate picture of the bruised and battered body of the insane man?
- “They have not been closed, neither bound up, neither mollified with ointment.” Just as nothing had been done to make this man’s life any better and no one could treat him, so Israel had done nothing to heal their spiritual wickedness.
This insane man was Israel. The chains were the Law of Moses which Israel had repeatedly broken. God put chains on Israel by His laws and commandments, but Israel could not be bound.
All these chains and fetters were broken repeatedly. The people were crying out to God, but God was not listening because of their wickedness. The lunatic was crying out and cutting himself. Where have we heard this before? Remember the prophets of Baal in the days of Elijah?
Now, going back to Mark 5, when Jesus healed the insane man, what did he say to him?
Even though this sounds simply like dialog between Jesus and the lunatic, look how much of it relates to the nation of Israel’s ungodly position. They were unclean spiritually. It was not only a few of them but many. The word “country” in verse 10 is the Greek word “chora,” which is often translated as land. Once again, let’s go back to the prophets.
This insane man is talking as if he is the fulfillment of this prophecy of Ezekiel. Compare these passages:
- Mark 5:9 “My name is Legion: for we are many.”
- Ezekiel 33:24 “But we are many.”
- Mark 5:10 “And he besought him much that he would not send them away out of the country.”
- Ezekiel 33:24 “The land is given us for an inheritance.”
This is our land, don’t send us away out of it. Today, the Tel Aviv Airport has “Erets Israel” written on the entrance wall. This wording means “The land of Israel.” What they intend to represent is “This is our land.” When did we hear these words during Christ’s day? “If we let him thus alone, all men will believe on him: and the Romans shall come and take away both our place and nation.” (John 11:48). The lunatic is representative of Israel in its diseased, insane state.
We should also consider the subject of the pigs. The Jews should not have been tending a herd of swine in the first place. “Now there was there nigh unto the mountains a great herd of swine feeding. And all the devils besought him, saying, Send us into the swine, that we may enter into them.” (Mark 5:11-12). Perhaps these swine were the lunatic’s source of food. If he had eaten the pig’s meat, the Jews certainly would have avoided him and considered him unclean.
Let’s return to the prophets.
Do you think that this is just a coincidence? Look at the similarities in just verses 4-5.
“Which remain among the graves and lodge in the monuments.” That’s exactly what Legion was doing, living in the tombs of dead people.
“Which eat swine’s flesh” It seems likely this may have been at least part of his diet.
“Which eat the broth of abominable things.” What could be more abominable than eating human flesh? The lunatic probably did this if he was unable to catch a pig to eat.
“Which say, Stand here by thyself, come not near to me; for I am holier than thou.” (v. 5.) This would certainly be the attitude of the people of Gergesa. They had tried to subdue him but were unable to.
After Jesus healed the man, the people of the city came out to see what had happened. “And they come to Jesus, and see him that was possessed with the devil, and had the legion, sitting, and clothed, and in his right mind: and they were afraid.” (Mark 5:15).
Rather than seeing a man in a wild frenzy, he was calm and sitting with Jesus. Now he was clothed. You certainly wouldn’t clothe someone in his filthy condition without washing him first. This would have been done in the Sea of Galilee, representing baptism. He was now in his “right mind” and fully understood that Jesus was the Son of God. He believed in him because he wanted to follow Jesus. Jesus tells him instead to go home and tell his friends about him. That’s what we must do too.
What did Legion do to save himself? Nothing. What could he do? What can we do to save ourselves? Nothing. We must believe in Jesus and follow his commandments.
As this pitiful man was healed, so too God will heal the nation of Israel when they turn to Him and follow His commandments, believing that His Son is the true Messiah, Jesus Christ, their Lord.
(Houston West Ecclesia, TX)