Jesus’ exorcisms were more than individual acts of compassion. They were enacted prophecies that pointed to the inbreaking of God’s kingdom and his ultimate defeat of the powers that hold God’s people captive.
The deliverance of the Gadarene demoniac is a prime example (Matthew 8:28-34; Mark 5:1-19; Luke 8:26-29) and has a dual function. First, the demoniac is set free. Second, the exorcism points beyond itself to the day when Israel is set free.
When the man from the tombs meets Jesus on the seashore, the demon inside him cries out, “What have I to do with You, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I implore You by God that You do not torment me” (Mark 5:7). As the Gospel writer notes, these words are a response to a command given by Jesus— “For He [Jesus] said to him, ‘Come out of the man, unclean spirit!’ Then He asked him, ‘What is your name?’” (v. 8).
The first clue this passage should be read at two levels is found in the following verse. “And he answered, saying, ‘My name is Legion; for we are many’” (v. 9). On a literal plane, the demoniac’s response means that he possessed by a myriad of demons. To the readers of the Gospels, however, the “Legion” had political connotations as well. The term “Legion” was commonly used to refer to a contingent of 6000 Roman foot soldiers. Jews rubbed shoulders everyday with Roman occupation troops.
The second clue is the mention of pigs. After begging Jesus not to “send them out of the country,” a multitude of the demons request that he send them into the swine. Jesus grants permission (vv. 11-13). According to Josephus, a pig or boar’s head was the symbol of the Roman Tenth Legion (Fretensis) that besieged Jerusalem (Jewish War 5.71-97).
The final clue is found in these words: “Then the unclean spirits went out and entered the swine (there were about two thousand); and the herd ran violently down the steep place into the sea, and drowned in the sea” (v. 14). Does this account jog your memory about another army drowning in a sea? The wording is nearly identical to that of the Exodus scene at the Red Sea (Exodus 15:1, 10). When God delivers Israel from Egyptian domination, Pharaoh’s army perishes in the sea.
The exorcism at Gadara points to something beyond one man’s deliverance. The driving of the “Legion” into the sea can be viewed as an enacted prophecy, announcing Rome’s ultimate defeat and the imminent coming of God’s kingdom. A new Exodus has begun. God’s people will be set free from social, economic and political oppression just as much as the demoniac has been freed of his demons.