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We read at Mk 5:14-17 (NRSVCE), the immediate after-effects of the driving out of evil spirits by Jesus at Gerasene by allowing them to enter pigs:

The swineherds ran off and told it in the city and in the country. Then people came to see what it was that had happened. They came to Jesus and saw the demoniac sitting there, clothed and in his right mind, the very man who had had the legion; and they were afraid. Those who had seen what had happened to the demoniac and to the swine reported it. Then they began to beg Jesus to leave their neighborhood.

We see people in other places where he worked miracles, endeavoring to make him their king (Jn 6:15) . In contrast, the people of Gerasene are asking him to leave their place. Why were the people of Gerasene afraid of the presence of Jesus among them?

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  • 1
    Please edit this to fix your formatting. Quotes start with ">" not spaces.
    – curiousdannii
    Feb 23, 2021 at 6:03
  • They valued their pigs more than they valued salvation.
    – Adam
    Feb 23, 2021 at 11:13
  • This makes sense, I couldn't believe they asked Jesus to leave. Jesus has lead me away from my old life. I will not look for a reason to return to it. I will not ask him to leave. Oct 5, 2022 at 12:27
  • Similar appears in Matthew 8:34. Jan 18, 2023 at 20:43

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Why were the people of Gerasene afraid of the presence of Jesus?

First let us see what the Sacred Texts says:

The swineherds ran off and told it in the city and in the country. Then people came to see what it was that had happened. They came to Jesus and saw the demoniac sitting there, clothed and in his right mind, the very man who had had the legion; and they were afraid. Those who had seen what had happened to the demoniac and to the swine reported it. Then they began to beg Jesus to leave their neighbourhood.

First of all the Scriptures do not say that the local Pagans were afraid of Jesus, but that they merely begged him to leave their neighbourhood.

Why would that be?

There are a few reasons.

  • The lose of the pigs meant loose of partial income in the area. Thus an economic lose of revenue was involved.
  • A Jewish exorcist with such authority in the region, risked to damage the beliefs and reputation of the local pagan inhabitants.
  • Jesus showed to the local population the inferiority of pagan life. Pigs were seen as unclean animals in the eyes of the people of Israel. That would be a strong message, by allowing them to be possessed and then drowned.
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Mark 5:16 says the thoughts of the people were on the swine. It hit them hard in the pocketbook.

Another reason could be as Dr. R.C. Sproul says in his commentary on Mark, “When the Holy One is manifest in the midst of unholy people, the only appropriate human response is dread.”

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The people were afraid when they saw the possessed man healed. But, the pigs were a part of their economic wealth. When the pigs were sent into the sea, the people of Gadara lost money.

If we put ourselves in their place, and use empathy to feel how we might have reacted if we were confronted with the loss of our next year's source of feeding our families, it will be easier to understand that they were afraid to suffer any other loss that might result if Jesus stayed in their area. So, they asked Him to leave.

The people were gentiles who had not yet any interest in the Messiah. The time of this event was before Jesus' crucifixion, and before the gentiles were grafted in to the promise (Acts 10). There probably were not many who had been told yet of the Messiah, and so were not yet believers.

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This incident in the Gerasene’s requires some entry understanding. And, it can not be understood properly out of this context. But, the context is not going to be comfortable (accepted by) to some traditional understandings.

Nevertheless, for consideration. To understand this event, you need consider the incident at Babel, and Deuteronomy. The people (nations) were divided up, and boundaries allocated' and the sons of god were put over these nations.

DEUT 32:8 When the Most High gave to the nations their inheritance, when he divided mankind, he fixed the borders of the peoples, according to the number of the sons of God.

The ‘sons of god’ ended up becoming the ‘gods’ of these nations. And, Gerasene was one. Jesus had been performing miracles in Gods nation - Israel. Exercising authority in the land allocated to Abraham, for Israel, the land set aside for God and his people.

Here in Mark, he purposely set out to travel into another land. A land that was essentially under another god (lower case ‘g’). We see the first reaction to this in the storm ...

MARK 4:7 And a great windstorm arose [snip]

The word translated windstorm here, and storm in the KJ, is the word lailaps, which is more than ‘just’ a storm. It is a violent tempest, that is, outside of ‘the natural’. Similar to the ‘storm’ we see in the book of Job that killed Job’s sons - and Satan was the instigator of that as well.

The exercising of authority over demons, in the land ‘under’ another god, was a message. Jesus was saying, (demonstrating) that He had all authority, in any land. And the people there were scared, they recognised this, but more, they realised the significance of this.

It’s important to note that this was the first demonstration of Jesus’s authority outside of Canaan. It was significant.

Now' as to the ‘pigs’ (an unclean animal, so you know Jesus wasn’t in Israel!), you also need to understand the significance of this - to the people in Gerasene. Pigs were specifically set aside as the animal used in sacrifices to their god. They were sacrificed by being thrown off a cliff.

Now appreciate the reaction - another God was ‘messing’ with their god - and demonstrating authority! It had nothing to do the farmers losing revenue - at all. That’s just ‘westernised interpretation’ which simply doesn’t ‘work’ when interpretating a Jewish book.

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I am wondering if the demoniac was pagan or an Israelite. If an Israelite, why was he in Gerasene in the first place and why was he living so near a large herd of swine? Swine were unclean animals according to the Torah. If he was a pagan, why did Jesus cast out his demons? He said he had come to the house of Israel, not to the gentiles. It's a curious passage with many unanswered questions. However, the point was clearly made; Jesus, the Son of God, has power over all things, including the powers of darkness. Those demons were terrified of Him! He could just as easily commanded them to return to the deepest, darkest pit of Hell. But notice, even though Jesus permitted them to enter the swine, they were unable to overcome their evil impulses and drove the swine over the cliff to their death. Evil is self-defeating in the end.

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The presence of holiness and, moreover, the most intense divine holiness is undesirable; I mean, unless you are an angel or a saintly recluse in his ascetic toils in a cave or a top of a pillar. Just imagine, a man in a cinema, having bought popcorn and cola and watching an action movie, with a lot of violence and harsh language in it, and then he sees suddenly that a saintly bishop is sitting just next to his seat, not watching the movie, but reading silently psalms with a countenance radiating a deep contemplation; will not the first man be upset and lose all pleasure of watching the movie?

But here we speak not about a bishop, but about Christ who made His Godhead revealed through devils beseeching Him not to cast them to hell but enter the swine. Can devils entreat in such a manner any highest of angels, be he Michael, Gabriel or Raphael, or any greatest cherub or seraph? No! Then any greatest of men, like any prophet, hero or king? No! Such an entreaty can be addressed by them to only God. Therefore, Jesus Christ for demons is God and thus even demons inadvertently reveal themselves as being better theologians than Arians and their modern day heirs - Jehovawitnesians and all different breeds of Unitarians - their name being legion!

But let us return to the gist of the matter: if Christ showed them His Divinity through the reason given above, is it easy to be in the presence of God? No! Holiness hurts! That’s why also Peter having realized who Christ was, was dreaded and asked Him to leave him for he said to be “a sinful man” (Luke 5:8). How much more sinful than Peter were the Geraseneans, who because of love of money did not shun even to engage in a non-Jew business of herding swine; how much more unbearable and dreadful must have been for them the Lord’s presence!

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