Jesus then asked him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Legion,” for many demons had entered him. And they begged Him not to command them to depart into the abyss.
In last Sunday’s sermon on Luke 8:26–39, we discussed the miracle Jesus accomplished for the sad man on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee who was bound by demons that tormented him and made him a fright to his family and friends. We noted that there was a "legion" of demons (6,000) with which he had to contend. And there were many more demons in the gospel accounts particularly in Matthew, Mark, and Luke.
I asked the question why there appeared to be so many more demons in the New Testament than there are driving along Central Expressway (although some would way there are plenty of demonic forces on Central!) I didn’t answer that question and said we’d take a crack at it in this column. There may be more than one answer, but I believe we are on safe ground to say that the following is the most important.
With the coming of Jesus, and particularly the beginning of His ministry, the Kingdom of God decisively came. The Kingdom is the rule and reign of God. It is a central theme to Jesus ministry that, in Himself, the rule and reign of God was dramatically revealed. Certainly the Kingdom had been forecast in the history of Israel’s kingdom, but as of the baptism of Christ by John the Baptist, the Kingdom of God was decisively on the move.
Yet the Kingdom did not fully come in Jesus ministry. There is yet to be the fulfillment, sometimes called the consummation of the Kingdom that will happen when Jesus returns. We now labor for and with the Lord for the advancement of that Kingdom, knowing that He will complete the church’s work on that great day. Sometimes it is said that we live “between the times” or in “the already and the not yet,” as ways to explain this tension between the Kingdom’s coming and its yet future realization.
Now we can say more about the huge number of demons that accompanied Jesus in His ministry in Judea (the south of what we now call Israel) and Galilee (the north of what we now call Israel). The demons not only hated Jesus, they hated the Kingdom He was bringing. They knew that it meant the beginning of the end of their power. So they resisted the Kingdom and sought, by every means they could (sickness, temptation, politics, death, even religion—and yes—demonic possession) to stop it. From our vantage point in history, we know that Jesus was victorious, but that was not a foregone conclusion when He was countering the demons’ wickedness. From the demons’ point of view, they could possibly defeat Jesus and the Kingdom before it could get started. We must take seriously that a real battle was on for the heads, hearts, and souls of humankind. It was a real war, with real attempts to deter Jesus (like at His temptation in the wilderness) and with real blood (even Jesus’ blood).
So the battle was on—the real battle between the Kingdom of Light and the kingdom of darkness. With the Incarnation of Christ where the second person of the Trinity became a true man, the evil forces did two things.
First, they stepped up their level of activity so that, at no other time in history, including today, have they been so determined, so intensely at work, in order to undermine the coming of the Kingdom. This is why we see more demonic activity in the New Testament than the Old, and more in the gospels than we do in Acts or the epistles. And this is why we see far less the direct work of present demons today: the success of the first coming of the Kingdom in Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection means they are now quieter, biding their time. It must be said, however, that we do see demonic activity today, usually in places where the Gospel of the Kingdom is breaking in for the first time, such as in remote tribal cultures.
Second, since God had incarnated Himself as a man, the demons’ particular strategy was to incarnate themselves in men, so that they might seek to oppose Christ, The Man, and His work of redemption, which necessarily had to be worked out in the flesh (Jesus could not die for our sins unless He became flesh, because only flesh can die). So the demons sought to demonstrate to Jesus that they could deface the image of God in so many humans that His rescue efforts would be in vain and that they could thereby prevent the coming of the rule and reign of God over mankind.
When Jesus ordered the legion of demons out of the man and into the pigs, and then over the cliff into the abyss (darkness, chaos, death), He was demonstrating what He would accomplish by the death of His own flesh and the triumph of the resurrection of His own flesh. And in this way, the demons and the kingdom of darkness are vanquished, and the Kingdom of God comes to men and women.