The exact location mentioned in this passage is unknown though it is certainly east of the Sea of Galilee. Mark indicates that "a man with an unclean spirit" approached Jesus. Matthew, however, records that there were "two demon-possessed men" (8:28). Is this a contradiction? No, because to mention one demoniac does not exclude the possibility of there actually being two present. If Mark had explicitly stated that there was only one demon-possessed man, then there would be a contradiction, but such is not the case here. Evidently Mark (and Luke) chose only to report the more significant demoniac of the two.
According to Mark 5:3 - "No one could bind him, not even with chains." Truly, this is the most terrible case of demon-possession recorded in the Scriptures. Evidently some had endeavored to bind the man before, but it was futile since he could pull the chains apart and break the shackles in pieces. All attempts to persuade or influence him also failed; no one could "tame him" (5:4). He ran wild in that territory and dwelt among the tombs. He was so fierce that no one could pass that way (cf. Matt. 8:28). It should be noted that the power able to be exerted by the human body depends largely upon the force of that individual's will. This man possessed super-human strength due to the exceedingly strong will of the demons inside him.
He was known for "crying out and cutting himself with stones" (Mark 5:5) and for the fact that he wore no clothes (Luke 8:27). Violent, uncontrollable behavior of this sort was not unusual for one in such a condition (e.g., Matt. 17:15; Luke 9:42). It is likely the case that the man's own spirit cried out in agony as he sought to throw off the dominion of the demons.
"When he saw Jesus from afar, he ran and worshiped Him" (Mark 5:6). Clearly the man is acting under the influence of the demons here. The demons recognize the divinity of Jesus by their actions and words (cf. 5:7). They believe and tremble (James 2:19)! Their actions clearly illustrate the supremacy of Jesus in that they did not try to escape from Him. They ran to Him and begged for mercy, knowing that doing otherwise would have been hopeless.
"What have I to do with You, Jesus, Son of the Most High God?" (Mark 5:7). It's as if the demon is saying, "Let me act as I please; leave me alone." The demons then beg Jesus not to torment them. I find it intriguing that they desire to be spared from torment so they can continue to torment others! How hypocritical!
According to Matthew 8:29, the demons then ask - "Have you come here to torment us before the time?" This question reveals quite a bit about the knowledge of unclean spirits: (1) they understood they would eventually be tormented, (2) they understood Jesus would be involved in administering this tormenting, and (3) they understood that it wasn't time for this torment to begin yet.
Jesus replied to their inquiry with a simple question - "What is your name?" (Mark 5:9). It is difficult to know for sure if Jesus is asking for the man's name or the demon's name. The reply would have likely been shocking to the disciples - "My name is Legion; for we are many" (Mark 5:9). Since one mouth is speaking for many, Mark uses both singular and plural pronouns. The word "legion" was used to describe a division of the Roman army composed of 6000 men. It later came to be a word commonly used to refer to any great multitude. Thus, it is impossible to determine exactly how many demons possessed this man. However, it is likely that there were at least 2000 of them (cf. 5:13). No wonder the man was in such a deplorable condition when Jesus found him!
We will continue this study in our next lesson.