We knew of His arrival. We all knew. Whatever His intent, it did not bode well.
Why was He even here at all? To create such weak, insipid, worthless little beings in His own image was bad enough. To provide them with the capacity to reproduce was an outrage. To actually take the likeness of these pathetic little creatures was beyond stupidity.
To willingly subject Himself to the myriad of indignities that marked their existence confirmed everything we ever suspected about Him. It demonstrated a pattern of questionable behavior that undoubtedly flowed from a deeply flawed thought process and completely validated our decision to distance ourselves from Him in favor of a new leader, one who commanded (and enforced) authority and respect.
These insignificant little creatures were fit for one purpose: to serve as our personal marionettes and provide for our accommodation, entertainment, and/or destructive pleasure. Most of them were completely uninterested in hearing what He had to say anyway. They spent their lives alternating between trivialities and crises (both real and imagined). They attended to the concerns and details of their worthless lives in oblivion to what was actually taking place around them.
They were so easily led, always willing to act on whatever irrational concept, suggestion, idea, or opinion we cared to whisper to them as though it represented the brilliant product of their own superior intellect. Pathetic. Worthless. Ignorant. No better than the dirt from which they came.
He should have known better than to bring forth such miserable creatures. He should have known how easy it would be to convince them to turn against Him. Anyone who would imprint His image upon such worthless beings was surely a fool. He deserved to be defeated. He deserved to be punished. No, He deserved to die for such an unadulterated act of idiocy. In fact, one of them was already being prepared for that very purpose.
But right now He was dangerous. He had proven to be completely inflexible; there was little possibility of compromise in dealing with Him. He had already evicted numerous others and taken it upon Himself to reverse many of the afflictions we has inflicted upon these worthless creatures, thus depriving us of the pleasure we enjoyed in observing their suffering. As long as He remained on the other side of the lake, He posed little immediate concern or threat. But somehow He and His pathetic little band of followers had survived the crossing.
And now He was here.
“Then they came to the other side of the sea, to the country of the Gadarenes. And when He had come out of the boat, immediately there met Him out of the tombs a man with an unclean spirit” (Mark 5:1-2).
The opening verses of Mark chapter five present us with what is perhaps the New Testament’s most graphic depiction of malevolent spiritual activity. You see, these verses detail the account of a demonic spiritual entity (or entities, as we’ll see) whose control over another human being was so complete that it not only influenced his behavior, but actually dictated it. Today, we might refer to such a condition as a case of “demonic possession.”
While the term “demonic possession” is a phrase that often tends to summon up a variety of late night horror show images, the Biblical concept of demonic possession is actually pretty straight forward. It simply refers to a demonic being that resides within a person and causes that person to do things that he or she ordinarily would not (or could not) do. While there may be many who believe that such things don’t occur in our world today, we might find such examples in those who claim to “channel” the spirits of the dead or in those religions that encourage communication with the spirit world.
So after calming the intense storm detailed at the end of the previous chapter, we’re told that Jesus arrived with His disciples in the Gadarene area, also known as “…the country of the Gerasenes” depending on the translation you may be reading. The Gadarene region was located near the southeastern shore of the Sea of Galilee and in the days of the Old Testament, this area had been populated by the Israelite tribes of Gad, Reuben, and half the tribe of Manasseh. By Jesus’ time, this area featured a sizable non-Jewish population that was primarily influenced by Greek manners and customs. This small detail is something that will become helpful in understanding Jesus’ response later on in this passage.
The “tombs” referenced in verse two referred to the cave-like burial chambers of the dead that were typically cut along the slopes of a hillside. These verses paint the image of a solitary individual who made his dwelling in an area that we would refer to as a cemetery today. It appears that this man was compelled both internally and externally to seek out this dwelling place- and we’ll see why next.
“And when He had come out of the boat, immediately there met Him out of the tombs a man with an unclean spirit, who had his dwelling among the tombs; and no one could bind him, not even with chains, because he had often been bound with shackles and chains. And the chains had been pulled apart by him, and the shackles broken in pieces; neither could anyone tame him. And always, night and day, he was in the mountains and in the tombs, crying out and cutting himself with stones” (Mark 5:2-5).
This passage depicts a homeless man who from all outward appearances might be legitimately categorized as insane. He lived in the caves where people would customarily bury their dead. He possessed unusual (and likely supernatural) strength. Luke’s report of this encounter tells us that this man wore no clothes (Luke 8:27) and Matthew’s Gospel informs us that this situation posed such a great danger to the travelers of that area that no one could journey safely through that region (Matthew 8:28).
This man was apparently well-known to the residents of that area for they had repeatedly attempted to restrain him with chains and shackles as one might do to a dangerous animal. Yet no restraint was strong enough to contain him. Mark 5:4 suggests that others may have made an attempt to rehabilitate him but, “No one could do anything with him” (Phillips).
So these verses depict a violent, emotionally unstable, self-destructive individual; a person who had been restrained from human contact and possessed of an unclean spirit- and Mark 5:6 tells us that he ran directly to Jesus upon His arrival: “When he saw Jesus from afar, he ran and worshiped Him.”
Having already been told that this man had “…an unclean spirit” it may be difficult to reconcile the fact that he came and worshipped Jesus. After all, the word “worship” is usually reserved for those who love, admire, and revere God and possess a genuine appreciation for His blessings. The problem is that there is certainly no love or admiration for Jesus within the demonic realm, a reality that can make this response difficult to explain.
The answer is found in the fact that the word used in the original language to describe this response carries the idea of paying homage to one of a superior rank. (1) So this reaction had nothing to do with the type of worship that we might ordinarily see within a church service- this demonic entity had come face-to-face with Someone who held a vastly superior position.
(1) NT:4352 proskuneoo Thayer’s Greek Lexicon, Electronic Database. Copyright © 2000, 2003, 2006 by Biblesoft, Inc. All rights reserved.
“When he saw Jesus from afar, he ran and worshiped Him. And he cried out with a loud voice and said, ‘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.’ For He said to him, ‘Come out of the man, unclean spirit!'” (Mark 5:6-8).
In the New Testament book of James we’re told,“You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe — and tremble!” (James 2:19). Jesus’ encounter with this demonic being in Mark chapter five provides an illustration of that verse in action, for even the most casual glance at this passage reveals that the unclean spirit interacting with Jesus was not operating from a position of strength.
This demonic entity began by saying, “What do you want with me…” (NIV), “Why are you bothering me now…” (GW) or, “Leave me alone, Jesus, Son of the Most High God!” (NET). One source explains the subtle implication behind this statement…
“The equivalent Hebrew expression in the OT had two basic meanings: (1) When one person was unjustly bothering another, the injured party could say “What to me and to you?” meaning, “What have I done to you that you should do this to me?”…(2) When someone was asked to get involved in a matter he felt was no business of his own, he could say to the one asking him, “What to me and to you?” meaning, “That is your business, how am I involved?”
…These nuances were apparently expanded in Greek, but the basic notions of defensive hostility (option 1) and indifference or disengagement (option 2) are still present… Hostility between Jesus and the demons is certainly to be understood in this context, hence the translation: “Leave me alone….” (1)
As noted during the earlier confrontation that took place between Jesus and another demonic being within the synagogue at Capernaum, we can verify the fact that this man was not suffering from a delusion, psychosis, or some other form of mental illness by observing that he positively identified Jesus for who He really was: “Son of the Most High God.” This was information that was not yet commonly available and once again, the speaker’s rhetorical question (“What have I to do with You…”) indicates that Jesus and His opponent had absolutely nothing in common.
(1) Scripture quoted by permission. Quotations designated (NET) are from the NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2006 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://bible.org All rights reserved. http://classic.net.bible.org/verse.php?book=Mar&chapter=5&verse=7
“…’What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? Swear to God that you won’t torture me!'” (Mark 5:7 CEB).
It seems highly unusual that a demonic being would implore Jesus to “swear to God,” doesn’t it? It seems that while this demonic entity surely had little respect for God’s character and supremacy, he apparently recognized that Jesus did. This may explain why this demonic being sought to invoke God’s authority in attempting to secure this promise from Jesus; he recognized that Jesus would absolutely subject Himself to His Father as the highest authority if sworn to do so.
This unclean spirit’s reluctance to leave this man seems to have been driven by two factors, one that is fairly obvious from Mark’s account and a second that is reported within another Gospel account. The first and primary motivation appears to have been a desire to avoid torture, torment (ASV), or punishment (ESV) as seen in the passage quoted above.
Matthew’s Gospel also tells us that this malevolent being posed another question to Jesus: “Have You come here to torment us before the time?” (Matthew 8:29 NASB). This question implies that this unclean spirit recognized that a time of punishment was approaching, a reality that generated a sense of dread anticipation. This demonic being clearly recognized Jesus as his ultimate judge and begged for his impending sentence to be delayed.
However, there is another factor that might explain this response. You see, Luke’s Gospel provides us with an additional regarding this account: “And they begged him repeatedly not to order them to go into the Abyss” (Luke 8:31 NIV). The “Abyss” is generally recognized as “the abode of demons” and it is a place so deep that it can’t be measured. In the original language used to write the New Testament, the word for Abyss (abussos) means “bottomless.” (1) The Abyss appears to be a place of incarceration for some especially wicked demonic beings until the time of their release as seen within the book of Revelation.
In Revelation chapter nine, the Abyss is identified as the departure point for a group of demonic locust creatures that tortured those who had rejected God. Revelation chapter eleven prophetically relates how “…the beast that comes up from the Abyss…” (NIV) will attack and kill God’s two specially chosen spokespeople. (2) Revelation 9:2 tells us that when the Abyss was opened, “…smoke rose from it like the smoke from a gigantic furnace.” Clearly the Abyss is a terrifyingly bad place and the demonic spirit inhabiting this man recognized that Jesus had the ability to send him there.
(1) Abyss, The International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia, Electronic Database Copyright © 1996, 2003, 2006 by Biblesoft, Inc. All rights reserved
(2) But not for long
“For He said to him, ‘Come out of the man, unclean spirit!’ Then He asked him, ‘What is your name?’ And he answered, saying, ‘My name is Legion; for we are many.’ Also he begged Him earnestly that He would not send them out of the country” (Mark 5:8-10).
It’s interesting to notice the subtle change in the way that Jesus addressed the man who came to meet Him upon His arrival in the Gadarene region. Although Jesus addressed this man, notice that He did not speak to him directly. Instead, Jesus spoke specifically to the demonic entity that resided within him. This seems to indicate that the demonic control over this man’s personality was so complete that he no longer had the ability to answer for himself.
So Jesus questioned this demonic being directly by asking, “What is your name?” But why would Jesus even bother to ask this question at all? For example, it’s not as if Jesus had to ask this question because He didn’t know (or even needed to know) the answer. For instance, the account of His earlier exorcism of a demonic being at the synagogue in Capernaum tells us that Jesus did not require this information in order to expel demonic entities. So if Jesus didn’t need to ask this question for His own benefit, then why would He ask? Well, the answer is that Jesus probably asked this question for the benefit and/or instruction of others.
You see, this demonic being answered Jesus’ inquiry by saying, “My name is Legion; for we are many.” A legion was a unit of the Roman armed forces and consisted of 3000-6000 soldiers and up to 200 mounted troops. Interestingly, this demon used both singular and plural self-references in responding to this question: “My name is legion for we are many.” This perhaps indicates that many demonic entities were acting in concert as one.
So this question revealed two things to those who accompanied Jesus…
- Jesus was dealing with a substantial number of demonic entities numbering in the thousands
- These demonic beings self-identified by using a name that was both militant and combative in nature
Perhaps these unclean spirits were hopeful that Jesus would be scared off by the sheer number of demonic beings that He was dealing with. Or perhaps they believed that their response indicated their willingness to go to war against Jesus, a fight that He might elect to walk away from. If either of those possibilities were true, then this group was greatly mistaken.
“Now a large herd of swine was feeding there near the mountains. So all the demons begged Him, saying, ‘Send us to the swine, that we may enter them'” (Mark 5:11-12).
A person who is familiar with Jewish culture may quickly identify something unusual regarding the passage quoted above. You see, pigs are considered to be unclean animals according to the Jewish dietary ordinances found within the Old Testament books of the Law. Since no observant Jewish person would ever be associated with such animals, the question becomes, “why were there any pigs in this area to begin with?”
One possibility is that those who were raising these pigs were people with a Jewish background who had adopted the customs and cultural beliefs of the surrounding non-Jewish areas. Another explanation might be found in the fact that Gadara and the adjoining regions had a sizable Gentile population. These pigs may have been raised there to serve the needs of those who did not observe the same dietary restrictions as their Jewish neighbors.
Whatever the exact reason, we can say that these animals were in a place where they didn’t belong- and whenever something is somewhere where it doesn’t belong, there is always the potential for bad things to happen…
“And at once Jesus gave them permission. 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” (Mark 5:13).
While Jesus was under no obligation to honor this request, it apparently suited His purposes to do so. We’ll look at some reasons that might explain why Jesus allowed these demonic beings to enter this herd of pigs next, but for now we can say that it was apparently preferable for these demonic entities to take up residence in a herd of swine than to face immediate punishment or relegation to the Abyss.
However, there may have been another motive behind this request. You see, the loss of such a great amount of livestock was sure to result in a financial disaster for those who were associated with this herd. Such people were not likely to look kindly upon anyone involved with such a loss. That would effectively limit further ministry opportunities for Jesus in that region, an aspiration that was summed up by a commentator from another generation…
“If we must quit our hold of this man, suffer us to continue our work of mischief in another form, that by entering these swine, and thus destroying the people’s property, we may steel their hearts against Thee!” (1)
(1) A Commentary on the Old and New Testaments by Robert Jamieson, A. R. Fausset and David Brown
“So he gave them permission. And the unclean spirits came out, and entered the pigs, and the herd, numbering about two thousand, rushed down the steep bank into the sea and were drowned in the sea” (Mark 5:13 ESV).
There are a few reasons that may help to explain why Jesus permitted these unclean spirits to act on this request to relocate to a nearby herd of swine. The first is associated with the fact that this entire herd responded with an act of destruction once they came under demonic influence. This provided a graphic illustration for those who witnessed this event and for those who read this account today. You see, these demonic entities ultimately desired to destroy this man just as they destroyed these animals. Unlike a pig, a human being created in the image of God might not be so easily (or immediately) corrupted, but the desired end result still remained the same.
This inclination for destruction finds it’s origin in nature and character of Satan, the chief spiritual adversary of God’s people. For example, Jesus offered this observation regarding Satan’s overall strategy: “…He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own resources, for he is a liar and the father of it” (John 8:44). As one commentator states, “If people desire to know what Satan is and what he will do to them who permit his evil domination, let them behold the example of these swine.” (1)
So the sight of thousands of unclean animals descending to their deaths under the influence of these demonic beings helps to provide us with a glimpse of the murderous intent associated with demonic control in general and this case in particular. In this respect, Jesus’ words from John 10:10 have particular relevance: “The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.”
But there is another aspect to consider as well. You see, this event would also serve to benefit the man who had previously been demon possessed. These deaths would visually support the spiritual reality that had taken place and assure this man that he was no longer under the threat of demonic influence. This was great news for the man who had been afflicted, but how would the others of area respond? We’ll get that answer next.
(1) Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament http://www.studylight.org/com/bcc/print.cgi?book=mr&chapter=005
“So those who fed the swine fled, and they told it in the city and in the country. And they went out to see what it was that had happened. Then they came to Jesus, and saw the one who had been demon-possessed and had the legion, sitting and clothed and in his right mind. And they were afraid” (Mark 5:14-15).
The citizens of that area were right to be fearful of anyone who had the power to deliver this formerly demon-possessed man. After all, anyone who had the ability to restore a naked, hostile, self-destructive, demonically influenced individual with superhuman strength was someone who was certainly worthy of invoking a healthy sense of fear. Yet, the sight of this previously uncontrollable person now “…seated, clothed and with full use of his senses” (BBE) was something that should have generated a sense of admiration, respect, and appreciation as well. These elements were conspicuously missing from the reaction of those who came to investigate what had occurred.
Just as the response of the individual listeners to Jesus’ parables told those listeners much about themselves, the reaction of the local townspeople to this event revealed a great deal regarding their own character and priorities…
“And those who saw it told them how it happened to him who had been demon-possessed, and about the swine. Then they began to plead with Him to depart from their region” (Mark 5:16-17).
It seems that these individuals were much less frightened and concerned about a demon-possessed maniac living next door than they were about the Man who had rescued him. Its also possible that the financial setback associated with the loss of 2000 pigs was something that contributed to this decision to ask Jesus to leave. These residents may have been more concerned with making a profit than in meeting a prophet- and economic interests apparently outweighed any desire to get to know the One who had been responsible for this miraculous deliverance.
Perhaps these local citizens were also concerned with how Jesus might deal with any unclean aspects of their own lives after seeing how effectively He destroyed the work of these unclean spirits. If this is the case, then these individuals serve to illustrate a spiritual truth that God would inspire another New Testament author to record…
“And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed” (John 3:19-20).
“Then the people started begging Jesus to leave their part of the country (Mark 5:17 CEV).
Its interesting to consider the varying responses to Jesus’ ministry as He encountered different groups and individuals throughout the Gospels. For example, the people of the Gadarene area were anxious to rid themselves of Jesus after He delivered a local resident from demonic possession. Whether their decision to ask Jesus to leave was motivated by fear over how He might respond to any unclean aspects within their own lives or fear of further financial loss, these townspeople preferred to rid themselves of Jesus’ presence rather than learn about the One who was responsible for saving someone who once appeared to be irredeemable.
However, this is not to say that every region was inhabited by those who were uninterested in seeing Jesus or hearing His message. For instance, John chapter four relates the account of a woman who responded to Jesus’ request for something to drink. In the course of His conversation with her, Jesus revealed a number of truths regarding her personal life and also discussed some relevant truths about Himself as well. That encounter ultimately led to this response among the local residents…
“And many of the Samaritans of that city believed in Him because of the word of the woman who testified, ‘He told me all that I ever did.’ So when the Samaritans had come to Him, they urged Him to stay with them; and He stayed there two days. And many more believed because of His own word. Then they said to the woman, ‘Now we believe, not because of what you said, for we ourselves have heard Him and we know that this is indeed the Christ, the Savior of the world'” (John 4:39-42).
The response of this woman and the people of that area helps illustrate the different reactions among the people who were exposed to Jesus and His message. For example, some people (like those of the Gadarene region) were uncomfortable with Jesus and wanted Him to leave. Other people (like those within this Samaritan village) eagerly came to hear what Jesus had to say. While times have changed, we can still see these very same responses to Jesus today.
For the 21st century readers of these Biblical accounts, it helps to remember that we make real choices in real time on a daily basis. These choices lead to real consequences that have a real eternal impact. This question is, will we follow the example of the people of the Gadarene region or this Samaritan village in responding to Jesus?
“And when He got into the boat, he who had been demon-possessed begged Him that he might be with Him. However, Jesus did not permit him, but said to him, ‘Go home to your friends, and tell them what great things the Lord has done for you, and how He has had compassion on you.’ And he departed and began to proclaim in Decapolis all that Jesus had done for him; and all marveled” (Mark 5:18-20).
In Mark 4:10, the demonic entities inhabiting the man who met Jesus upon His arrival in the Gararene region asked for permission to enter a herd of swine, a request that Jesus granted. Later on, we’re told that the people of that area, “…began to beg Jesus to depart from their region” (ESV). Jesus granted that request as well. Yet somewhat surprisingly, Jesus denied the request from this formerly demon-possessed man to accompany Him and instead instructed him to go and tell others about what had occurred.
This raises two questions: why wouldn’t Jesus let this man come and follow Him and why would He tell him to broadcast the news of this healing when He previously instructed another person to remain silent? (see Mark 1:44).
To answer these questions, we should first remember that the Jewish people of Jesus’ day were were awaiting a leader who would end the Roman governmental control over the nation of Israel. If Jesus was perceived to be that leader as a result of His miraculous healings, it might limit His ability to effectively communicate God’s Word. In fact, Mark’s Gospel has already mentioned how the crowds were pressing upon Jesus, the fact that His own family had to stand outside and ask to see Him, and how He didn’t even have time to take a meal. Later on we’ll find that the people “…were ready to take him by force and make him their king…” (John 6:15). These details help explain why Jesus told the people living in predominantly Jewish areas not to make the news of His miracles known.
However, Gadara was largely inhabited by non-Jewish people who had had few expectations regarding a “Messiah.” The Decapolis area spoken of in the passage quoted above was a ten city region with a large Greek population, an area that Jesus will later go on to tour in Mark chapter seven. So the act of dispatching this man to communicate what Jesus had done for him helped “set the stage” for His future ministry in these non-Jewish areas. This advance work helped prepare those area residents so they were ready to come and meet Jesus upon His arrival.
“And when He had come out of the boat, immediately there met Him out of the tombs a man with an unclean spirit, who had his dwelling among the tombs; and no one could bind him, not even with chains” (Mark 5:2-3).
Before we leave this portion of Scripture we should take a moment to take a closer look at the various Biblical accounts of this event in Jesus’ life. Besides the passage from the Gospel of Mark quoted above, the Gospels of Matthew (in 8:28-9:1) and Luke (in 8:26-39) also offer reports of this incident as well. While Luke and Mark offer virtually identical accounts of what transpired when Jesus and His disciples arrived in this region, Matthew’s Gospel tells us this…
“When He had come to the other side, to the country of the Gergesenes, there met Him two demon-possessed men, coming out of the tombs, exceedingly fierce, so that no one could pass that way. And suddenly they cried out, saying, ‘What have we to do with You, Jesus, You Son of God? Have You come here to torment us before the time?'” (Matthew 8:28-29).
A comparison of these Biblical accounts should generate an important question: how many demon possessed individuals actually came to meet Jesus upon His arrival in that area? Was it one (as both Mark and Luke report) or was it two (as found within Matthew’s Gospel)? Well, here’s how one commentator addresses this apparent contradiction…
PROBLEM: Matthew reports that two demoniacs came to Jesus, while Mark and Luke say that only one demoniac approached Him. This appears to be a contradiction.
SOLUTION: There is a very fundamental mathematical law that reconciles this apparent contradiction—wherever there are two, there is always one. There are no exceptions! There were actually two demoniacs that came to Jesus. Perhaps Mark and Luke mentioned the one because he was more noticeable or prominent for some reason.
However, the fact that Mark and Luke only mention one does not negate the fact that there were two as Matthew said. For wherever there is two, there is always one. It never fails. If Mark or Luke had said there was only one, then that would be a contradiction. But, the word “only” is not in the text. The critic has to change the text to make it contradict, in which case the problem is not with the Bible, but with the critic. (1)
(1) Geisler, N. L., & Howe, T. A. (1992). When Critics Ask : A popular handbook on Bible difficulties (371). Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books.
While the people of the Gadarene region were eager to see Jesus depart, another group was seemingly just as eager to see Him return…
“Now when Jesus had crossed over again by boat to the other side, a great multitude gathered to Him; and He was by the sea” (Mark 5:21).
This trip across the Sea of Galilee placed Jesus back on the western shore of the sea- and the following verses will go on to demonstrate just how quickly and easily Jesus could adapt to meet the needs of those who approached Him seeking help…
“And behold, one of the rulers of the synagogue came, Jairus by name. And when he saw Him, he fell at His feet and begged Him earnestly, saying, ‘My little daughter lies at the point of death. Come and lay Your hands on her, that she may be healed, and she will live.’ So Jesus went with him, and a great multitude followed Him and thronged Him” (Mark 5:22-24).
The “ruler of the synagogue” was the individual who served as the director of services at the synagogue, the local place of worship where people met to pray and hear God’s Word. This synagogue ruler was responsible for ensuring that each service was conducted according to the accepted standards and practices of that time. He was also in charge of selecting those who would be given the honor of reading the Scriptures during each worship service and arranged for the various rabbinical leaders to teach and speak. The person who served in this capacity was someone who held an important position within the local community and was recognized as a man of both honor and respect.
While many religious leaders of that time showed open hostility towards Jesus (see John 5:17-18), it seems that Jairus was different from these others. It appears that Jairus clearly understood that Jesus had the ability to save his daughter from death and this desperate need must have compelled him to break away from the rest of the religious leadership and humbly ask for Jesus’ help. However we should recognize that in doing so, Jairus probably jeopardized the position he held among the religious leadership of that time and likely placed his job as synagogue ruler at risk in seeking Jesus’ help.
In any event, Jesus graciously agreed to answer his request but while He was on the way, He was suddenly detoured by a mysterious “someone” in the crowd…
“Now a certain woman had a flow of blood for twelve years, and had suffered many things from many physicians. She had spent all that she had and was no better, but rather grew worse. When she heard about Jesus, she came behind Him in the crowd and touched His garment. For she said, ‘If only I may touch His clothes, I shall be made well.’
Immediately the fountain of her blood was dried up, and she felt in her body that she was healed of the affliction. And Jesus, immediately knowing in Himself that power had gone out of Him, turned around in the crowd and said, ‘Who touched My clothes?'” (Mark 5:25-30).
The Old Testament listed a number of different circumstances and conditions that would cause someone to become “unclean.” For example, a person who came into contact with a dead body was responsible for carrying out certain purification rules before that person could be considered “clean” again. Another unclean condition had to do with the type of discharge that this anonymous woman suffered from. (1)
While this alone was bad enough, her condition also meant that everyone who was serious about keeping the Law had to avoid contact with her in order to keep from becoming unclean as well. So this condition was more than just a physical issue for this woman; it was something that prevented her from enjoying normal social relationships with others.
Perhaps this explains why she “…came up behind (Jesus) and touched the edge of his cloak…” in the manner in which she did. One commentator explains what likely took place between Jesus and this woman:“Probably what she touched was His prayer shawl, used by men for covering their heads during worship. It was called the Tallith (cf. Num. 15:38-40; Deut. 22:12). For a ceremonially unclean woman to touch a rabbi was an inappropriate act. This woman was desperate!” (2)
Now before we continue, we should consider something important regarding this encounter. You see, it’s possible to look at this account and conclude that Jesus is someone who simply serves as a kind of “spiritual power outlet” or that power involuntarily flows from Jesus whenever someone approaches Him as this woman did. While these verses certainly demonstrate Jesus’ power and ability to help others, there are some important things to keep in mind before we attempt to take this experience and apply it in light of our own circumstances. We’ll look at some of those considerations next.
(1) See Numbers 5:2
(2) Dr. Bob Utley Free Bible Commentary Mark 5 (verse 27) http://www.freebiblecommentary.org/new_testament_studies/VOL02/VOL02A_05.html
“The woman had heard about Jesus, so she came up behind him in the crowd and barely touched his clothes. She had said to herself, ‘If I can just touch his clothes, I will get well.’
As soon as she touched them, her bleeding stopped, and she knew she was well. At that moment Jesus felt power go out from him. He turned to the crowd and asked, ‘Who touched my clothes?'” (Mark 5:27-30 CEV).
There are some important things to consider when looking at this account especially if we seek to apply this woman’s actions to our own circumstances.
For example, we should first be careful to avoid focusing more on what Jesus is able to do for us than on Jesus Himself. Instead of concentrating on Jesus’ ability to remove the problems in our lives, we should first center our attention on knowing Christ better, deepening our relationship with Him, and then entrusting Him to take care of our problems in His own time and manner (see Philippians 3:8).
Its also important to remember the idea of context in looking at Biblical events like this. “Context” refers to “the part of a text or statement that surrounds a particular word or passage and determines its meaning.” (1) In other words, the surrounding chapters and verses of the Scriptures help determine what each individual passage really means. This is important because even though it may appear as if this woman simply walked up to Jesus, touched His clothing and received a healing, the Scriptures -when taken in context- tell us that certain conditions apply before we might expect to receive anything from God.
For instance, anyone who wishes to receive something from God must first believe that He actually exists (see Hebrews 11:6). The Scriptures also tell us that we must approach God in faith. Faith is, “a belief in or confident attitude toward God, involving commitment to His will for one’s life.” (2) The Biblical book of Hebrews tells us that “…faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see” (Hebrews 11:1 NIV).
It’s also important to approach God with the right motivation in requesting something from Him. The New Testament book of James talks about this when it says, “When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures…” (James 4:3 NIV). If our motivation in asking for something from God is wrong then we shouldn’t expect to see a positive answer. If we desire to receive something from God, we should first ensure that our motivations line up with what He has already said in His Word.
(1) American Heritage Dictionary Of The English Language 3rd Edition
“She had heard the reports about Jesus and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his garment. For she said, ‘If I touch even his garments, I will be made well.’ And immediately the flow of blood dried up, and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease.
And Jesus, perceiving in himself that power had gone out from him, immediately turned about in the crowd and said, ‘Who touched my garments?'” (Mark 5:27-30 ESV).
So if faith, proper motivation, and an acknowledgement of God’s existence are all factors that impact our ability to receive from God, then how do these conditions apply to the woman who touched Jesus’ clothing in this passage?
Well as we’ll see, Jesus will later refer to this woman as “daughter,” a cultural term that clearly identified her as a believer in the God of the Scriptures. Next, her motivation in seeking to relieve twelve years of physical and emotional suffering was certainly not wrong. Finally, it’s important to understand that while many people may have come into contact with Jesus, this woman was apparently the only person who knowingly and consciously made contact with Him in faith. In fact, this woman’s faith was so great that she believed that Jesus could heal her if she only touched His clothes.
Unfortunately, this was not something that Jesus’ disciples might have been expected to know- and that led to their apparently exasperated response…
“But His disciples said to Him, ‘You see the multitude thronging You, and You say, ‘Who touched Me?” And He looked around to see her who had done this thing” (Mark 5:31-32).
It might be easy to assume that Jesus did not know the identity of the woman who approached Him and touched His clothing but there is a subtle clue within the text to indicate that Jesus knew exactly who He was dealing with. Notice that Jesus did not seek to identify an unknown individual among the multitudes who crowded around Him. Instead, “…he looked round about to see her that had done this thing” (ASV emphasis added).
You see, Jesus not only knew the gender of the person who had approached Him, He surely knew of her identity, her physical condition, and the faith that brought her to Him as well. So this was not a question of determining who touched His garment, but where that person was. We’ll see why this was important next.
“And Jesus, immediately knowing in Himself that power had gone out of Him, turned around in the crowd and said, ‘Who touched My clothes?’ But His disciples said to Him, ‘You see the multitude thronging You, and You say, ‘Who touched Me?”
And He looked around to see her who had done this thing. But the woman, fearing and trembling, knowing what had happened to her, came and fell down before Him and told Him the whole truth. And He said to her, ‘Daughter, your faith has made you well. Go in peace, and be healed of your affliction'” (Mark 5:30-34).
Why would Jesus seek to publicly identify this woman after curing her of this ailment? Well, there are a few possible explanations that might help us understand Jesus’ response in this passage.
For instance, even though we’re told that this woman “…felt in her body that she was healed” of this affliction, feelings can change over time. It was possible that this woman might begin to doubt that she really had been healed at some future point and start to wonder if her ailment might return. However, an authoritative statement from Jesus such as, “…go in peace, and be healed of your disease” (ESV) would leave little room for future doubt regarding the reality of what He had done for her.
This act would also serve to verify her return to health for everyone who witnessed this event. This would be especially important for those who might be tempted to believe that this woman had simply claimed to be cured of her ailment in order to regain the ability to enjoy a normal social life once more. Jesus’ response to her public testimony also demonstrated that this woman had not “stolen” or taken anything from Him in securing this healing. Instead, she approached Jesus and Jesus freely granted her desire to be cured of her condition.
Finally, this action represented the final test of this woman’s faith. Despite the possibility that Jesus might criticize her, reprimand her, or embarrass her in front of the crowd, He did not do any of those things. He simply said to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace” (NIV). Her faith, placed in Jesus, led to the action that resulted in her healing.
So while this passage ends on a happy note for this woman, Jairus’ daughter still remained near death- and things were suddenly about to get much worse.
“…He said to her, ‘Daughter, your faith has made you well. Go in peace, and be healed of your affliction.’ While He was still speaking, some came from the ruler of the synagogue’s house who said, ‘Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the Teacher any further?'” (Mark 5:34-35).
Before we continue with this account from Mark chapter five, let’s take a moment to consider this sequence of events from Jairus’ perspective.
First, his little daughter was near death and Jairus clearly recognized that Jesus represented his last and only hope for her survival. He had fought his way through the crowd that surrounded Jesus in order to finally get close enough to plead with Him to save the life of his little girl. Imagine the relief he must have felt when Jesus agreed to go and to save the life of his child.
But while they were on the way to the home where his little girl was near death, Jesus suddenly decided to change direction and go off to look for one particular individual in a great crowd of people -all while his daughter’s life was slipping away. After Jesus finally located this person -but before He even finished His conversation with her- a message arrived with the worst possible news: “Thy daughter is dead: why troublest thou the Master any further?” (KJV).
Knowing these things, how do you think you would you respond to this news if you were in Jairus’ position? Would you be tempted to respond angrily to Jesus? Would you break down in despair? Would you be inclined to say, “I knew this was taking too long. This was a matter of life and death- now my little girl is dead because you thought that it was more important to look for someone within this great multitude of people and have a conversation with her instead of racing to save my daughter’s life.” After all, there was certainly an air of finality about this report; in fact, the messengers who brought this news certainly seemed to think that her condition was irreversible.
That’s when Jesus stepped in to take control of this situation…
“As soon as Jesus heard the word that was spoken, He said to the ruler of the synagogue, ‘Do not be afraid; only believe'” (Mark 5:36).
These words have application whenever Jesus’ followers encounter circumstances that seem too big to handle today: “Don’t be afraid, just believe…” (NIV). But what does it mean to “only believe”? We’ll examine that statement next.
“While he was still speaking, there came from the ruler’s house some who said, ‘Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the Teacher any further?’ But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the ruler of the synagogue, ‘Do not fear, only believe'” (Mark 5:35-36 ESV).
To some, Jesus’ counsel to “…only believe” may sound like a fairy tale that one might read to a child or an irrational response to the harsh realities of life and death. At worst, this statement may sound like a substitute for intelligent, objective thought that exchanges reason and intellect for wishing and hoping. But what did Jesus really ask Jairus to do in advising him to “only believe”?
Let’s first establish that Jesus was not advising Jairus to engage in what we might refer to as “blind faith.” You see, there’s a difference between faith and blind faith. Blind faith is faith without any basis in reality. On the other hand, Biblical faith represents the confident expectation that God is who He said He is and will do what He said He’ll do even when we don’t necessarily understand why things are happening the way they are in our lives.
Genuine Biblical faith is different from blind faith because there is a reasonable basis for Biblical faith. For example, we have the opportunity to examine the Scriptures and see the number of Biblical prophecies that have come to pass. We can read through the Scriptures and see examples of the way that God worked in the lives of those who placed their confidence in Him. These things help to provide a reasonable basis for faith in the God of the Scriptures. Real Biblical faith is not blind faith- it involves a belief in a God who has already proven Himself.
Authentic Biblical faith is also not ” belief in belief” or faith in the belief we may possess. As author and apologist Josh McDowell one said, “The value of the Christian faith is not in the one believing, but in the One being believed in… it doesn’t matter how much faith you have, but rather who is the object of your faith.”
So rather than ask Jairus to abandon his intellect, Jesus simply asked him to continue to exercise the faith and belief that originally brought him to Jesus in the first place despite this change in circumstances. From Jesus’ perspective, the fact that this little girl was now dead had no impact on His ability to answer her father’s request.
“And He permitted no one to follow Him except Peter, James, and John the brother of James. Then He came to the house of the ruler of the synagogue, and saw a tumult and those who wept and wailed loudly” (Mark 5:37-38).
So Jesus arrived to find a great commotion at Jairus’ home following the death of his daughter. Since Jairus held an important position within the community, its not surprising to find that people had gathered at his home to mourn her passing. In fact, Luke’s account of this incident tells us that “all the people” were wailing and mourning over this little girl’s death which seems to indicate that a large crowd had gathered at this home (see Luke 8:52).
Now its certainly understandable to read that these mourners had become emotional and greatly upset at the news of this child’s death. However, there may be another explanation for this scene that goes beyond the kind of sorrow, grief, and bereavement that might normally be associated with such a loss. You see, the people of that society would sometimes hire professional mourners to grieve over the death of a loved one. These professional mourners wore black colored garments (as is the custom today) and would sing or chant funeral songs when the death of a family member occurred.
For a price, these “specialists” would arrive at the home of the deceased wearing sackcloth. “Sackcloth’ was a rough, coarse, bag-like material that looked and felt just like it’s name implied. In Biblical times, sackcloth was made out of camel or goat hair and the closest modern-day equivalent to this material would probably be something like a burlap bag or a coarse brown sack. Sackcloth was worn to demonstrate the fact that these mourners felt such great emotional sorrow that the normal comforts of life seemed unimportant.
In addition, these professionals would cover themselves with ashes or earth, throw dust into the air to symbolize their grief, tear their clothing, and weep and wail loudly. These actions were all recognized in those days as culturally appropriate expressions of sorrow, grief, and deep emotional pain. Depending on how much money a family was willing to pay for these services, these mourners would continue from as few as seven days to as many as seventy-seven days following the death of a loved one.
However, Jesus did not join in with those who mourned this little girl’s death upon His arrival. Instead, He asked a question that provoked an immediate (and uncomplimentary) response from those who were in attendance.
“Then He came to the house of the ruler of the synagogue, and saw a tumult and those who wept and wailed loudly. When He came in, He said to them, ‘Why make this commotion and weep? The child is not dead, but sleeping'” (Mark 5:38-39).
In stating that this child was merely sleeping, Jesus made use of a metaphor, or a figure of speech that utilizes one thing to represent something else. Just as sleep represents a temporary state that ends when one awakens, Jesus informed the assembled mourners that this little girl’s condition was also temporary as well. That idea brought an immediate reaction from the crowd that had gathered to mourn this child’s death: “And they ridiculed Him…” (Mark 5:40a). The King James Version of Mark 5:40 describes this crowd’s response to Jesus in a somewhat more descriptive manner when it tells us that they, “…laughed Him to scorn.”
This indicates that the weeping and crying among this assembly of mourners quickly turned to mockery and derision as they ridiculed Jesus and scoffed at Him in a laughing manner. The remainder of Mark 5:40 then goes on to provide us with Jesus’ response: “…But when He had put them all outside, He took the father and the mother of the child, and those who were with Him, and entered where the child was lying.”
There is much we can learn from the way that Jesus responded to those who ridiculed Him in these verses. For instance, notice that Jesus didn’t get angry with those who mocked Him. He didn’t raise His voice and He didn’t insult them in return. Instead, we’re told that Jesus “…sent them all out of the house” (CEV).
This doesn’t mean that Jesus issued a polite request for these detractors to leave. You see, the word used to describe Jesus’ response in this verse indicates that He ejected them from Jairus’ home. (1) Other definitions to describe Jesus’ response include “to cast out,” “to drive out,” or “to expel.” (2) In the words of one commentator, “This was an emphatic, forceful expulsion which showed Christ’s authority and was done because the disbelieving mourners had disqualified themselves from witnessing the girl’s resurrection.” (3)
Once He cleared the house, Jesus then moved forward exclusively with those who were committed to following Him (Peter, James, and John) and those who had faith in Him (Jairus and [presumably] Mrs. Jairus). Those without faith -the ones who ridiculed, scoffed, and laughed at Jesus scornfully- were put outside and missed out on what happened next…
(1) NT:1544 ekballo (ek-bal’-lo); from NT:1537 and NT:906; to eject (literally or figuratively): (Biblesoft’s New Exhaustive Strong’s Numbers and Concordance with Expanded Greek-Hebrew Dictionary. Copyright © 1994, 2003, 2006 Biblesoft, Inc. and International Bible Translators, Inc.)
(2) NT:1544 to cast out; to drive out; to send out Thayer’s Greek Lexicon, Electronic Database. Copyright © 2000, 2003, 2006 by Biblesoft, Inc. All rights reserved.)
(3) MacArthur, J. (2006; 2008). MacArthur Study Bible NASB (Mk 5:40). Thomas Nelson Publishers; Nashville, TN.
“And they ridiculed Him. But when He had put them all outside, He took the father and the mother of the child, and those who were with Him, and entered where the child was lying.
Then He took the child by the hand, and said to her, ‘Talitha, cumi,’ which is translated, ‘Little girl, I say to you, arise.’ Immediately the girl arose and walked, for she was twelve years of age. And they were overcome with great amazement. But He commanded them strictly that no one should know it, and said that something should be given her to eat” (Mark 5:40-43).
As mentioned earlier, it is generally believed that Mark made use of the Apostle Peter’s account of his time with Jesus in authoring the Gospel that bears his name. If this is assumed to be the case, then it’s likely that Mark’s record of this little girl’s resurrection came directly from Peter’s eyewitness experience of this event. In fact, the resurrection of this little girl was something that must have made a significant impact on Peter because through him, Mark provides us with the very words that Jesus used in the language that He spoke: “’Talitha, cumi,’ which is translated, ‘Little girl, I say to you, arise.'”
So Jesus took this little girl by the hand, restored her life, and then said, “Give her something to eat.” This suggests that Jairus’ daughter had immediately been returned to good health because someone who is in the process of recovering from a life-threatening illness would not normally be expected to eat very much. And to help keep from being further crushed by the crowds that had gathered to see Him, Jesus made sure to tell her parents, “Don’t talk about this with other people.”
While it would certainly prove to be impossible to keep the news of this little girl’s resurrection a secret for long, a short “communication blackout” would provide Jesus with an opportunity to quietly leave that area to continue His ministry. It would also help Him avoid any unnecessary attention from those within the religious leadership who were already seeking to end His life (see Mark 3:6).
So what lesson can we take from our look at this episode of Jesus’ life and ministry? Well, those who scorned, mocked, ridiculed, and laughed at Jesus lost their chance to be a part of what He was doing and witness this event. On the other hand, those who trusted Jesus and committed themselves to Him in faith were the ones who received the opportunity to see Him do something miraculous.