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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible
Mark 5



Verse 1

‘And they came to the other side of the sea, into the country of the Gerasenes.’

‘The country of the Gerasenes.’ Differing manuscripts and versions have different names for the area in mind, probably mainly because of the later difficulty of identification - Gerasenes, Gergesenes, Gadarenes, Gergustenes. Gerasa was a well known city thirty miles inland, (and must thus be ruled out, although its inhabitants may have owned land by the sea) and Gadara was six miles inland, although the land between Gadara and the sea was known as ‘the country of the Gadarenes’. Both Gerasa and Gadara were included among ‘The Ten Towns’ (Decapolis), and Matthew actually identifies the place as ‘the country of the Gadarenes’ because that was relatively well known and the incident took place in the area around Gadara. Mark however was more precise and may well have had in mind the small coastal town now known as Kersa or Koursi which is in that area (thus ‘the land of the Kerasenes’ pronounced with a guttural). Near that town is a fairly steep slope within forty metres of the shore, and the cave tombs can still be seen there.

The whole region was known as the Ten Towns (Decapolis) because it was originally a place where ten major towns formed an alliance for mutual protection. It was semi-independent and ruled itself, although loosely connected to the Province of Syria. It was predominantly Gentile but had been at one time conquered by the Macabbees and thus now also contained a (relatively small) Jewish population. It may have been Jesus’ intention to proclaim the coming Kingly Rule of God to the Jews in the area, although in the event He did not do so, but it is more likely that His intention was mainly to take a respite from the huge crowds that He could not avoid on Jewish territory.

Verses 1-20

Jesus Demonstrates His Power and Authority over a Regiment of Evil Spirits (5:1-20).

The incident we are now about to examine raises the question as to the existence of evil spirits. But this is something never doubted anywhere in the Bible. It is not constantly stressed, but there is the clear indication of evil power at work behind the scenes from Genesis 3 onwards, right through to Revelation. And that Jesus Himself believed in Satan the Adversary (the Devil, the Accuser) there can be no doubt (Matthew 4:10; Matthew 12:26; Matthew 13:39; Matthew 25:41; Mark 3:23; Mark 3:26; Mark 4:15; Luke 10:18; Luke 13:16; Luke 22:31; John 8:44). Indeed it was to destroy the works of the Devil that Jesus came (1 John 3:8). And He constantly overcame him. And if Satan exists then we can be sure that other evil spirits exist also.

The growth of monotheism hindered the ability of these evil spirits to affect mankind for when men ceased seeking to worship them through the worship of the gods, or to seek to influence them or to contact them through the occult, their effectiveness was largely nullified. But their readiness, when given the opportunity, to enter and control men is evidenced throughout history. The twentieth century saw a rise of spirit possession in Western countries precisely because men had once more opened themselves to such evil influences through the occult, and the twenty first century may well see further growth as people indulge in the occult more and more in various ways, but in Africa and the East such possession has always been well known. There they do not scoff at the idea of evil spirits.

The idea must not be over-exaggerated. The Gospels distinguish sickness and lunacy from spirit possession (Matthew 4:23-24; Matthew 8:16; Matthew 10:8; Mark 6:13; Luke 4:40; Luke 7:21-22), and Jesus only casts out evil spirits in clear cut cases. He did not believe that they affected every man, or even most men, by entry and possession, nor did He see them as the prime cause of disease, although we know that Christians do ‘wrestle’ with evil powers in heavenly places, often without knowing it because they triumph through Christ (Ephesians 6:12) There did appear to be a rise in spirit possession in the days of Jesus, but this may well be because His presence drew them out and brought them to the fore. At other times they could carry on undisturbed, preferring not to be brought to notice. It is noteworthy that Jesus did not lay hands on spirit possessed men. He dealt with them by a word of command. (A lesson to be well learned by any who deal in such things).

Men possessed by evil spirits may behave in strange, extreme ways and the spirits can to some extent control their actions and even speak through them in different voices. But not all who behave in strange ways do so because they are demon possessed. Mental problems can produce what appear to be similar reactions (a distinction was in fact made between the ‘lunatic’ and ‘the spirit-possessed’ (Matthew 4:24). Nor do all demon possessed people obviously behave in strange ways.

The fact that such evil spirits were personal comes out in that they recognised Jesus for Whom He was, showed fear, were aware of God’s purpose for them, and spoke and cried out. They can probably, however, only enter people when they in some way open themselves to them. This can especially occur when people dabble in fortune telling, astrological influences, seeking the spirit world, witchcraft, idol worship, blanking the mind, attending gatherings where spirits are to be engaged and so on. These things are constantly condemned in the Bible. See for example Exodus 22:18; Leviticus 19:26; Leviticus 19:31; Leviticus 20:27; Deuteronomy 18:10-12; Isaiah 8:19. While large numbers who indulge in such things do not become possessed, it is an ever present danger for those who do. Medical science cannot deal with such cases, which require exorcism through the power of Christ.

Having this in view we now move on to look at an extreme case of spirit possession of huge significance which was dealt with by Jesus and revealed His total mastery over the spirit world gathered in force, and revealed Him as ‘the Son of the Most High God’, a description which certainly pointed beyond simple Messiahship.


a And they came to the other side of the sea, into the country of the Gerasenes.

b And when He was come out of the boat, straightway there met Him out of the tombs a man with an unclean spirit, who had his dwelling in the tombs

c And no man could any more bind him, no, not with a chain, because that he had been often bound with fetters and chains, and the chains had been rent asunder by him, and the fetters broken in pieces, and no man had strength to tame him, and always, night and day, in the tombs and in the mountains, he was crying out, and cutting himself with stones.

d And when he saw Jesus from a distance, he ran and paid Him homage, and crying out with a loud voice, he says, “What have we in common, Jesus, you Son of the Most High God? I adjure you by God, do not torment me”.

e For He said to him, “Come forth, you unclean spirit, out of the man”.

f And He asked him, What is your name? And he says to Him, “My name is Legion; for we are many”.

g And he begged Him fervently that He would not send them away out of the country.

h Now there was there on the mountain side a great herd of swine feeding, and they begged him, saying, “Send us into the swine, that we may enter into them”.

i And He gave them permission.

h And the unclean spirits came out, and entered into the swine, and the herd rushed down the steep into the sea, in number about two thousand; and they were choked in the sea.

g And those who fed them fled, and told it in the city, and in the country. And they came to see what it was that had come about.

f And they come to Jesus, and see him who was possessed with devils sitting, clothed and in his right mind, even him who had had the legion, and they were afraid.

e And those who saw it declared to them how it befell him who was possessed with devils, and concerning the swine.

d And they began to beseech Him to depart from their borders.

c And as He was entering into the boat, he who had been possessed with devils besought him that he might be with Him. And He would not allow him, but says to him, “Go to your house to your friends, and tell them how great things the Lord has done for you, and how He had mercy on you”.

b And he went his way, and began to publish in Decapolis what great things Jesus had done for him, and all men marvelled

a And when Jesus had crossed over again in the boat to the other side, a great crowd was gathered to Him, and He was by the sea

Note that in ‘a’ they come to the other side of the sea, and in the parallel they take the reverse journey. In ‘b’ we have described the demoniac who lived among the tombs, and in the parallel the same man roaming the country and speaking out about his deliverance. In ‘c’ we have a picture of the terrible condition of the demoniac, shrieking and crying out, a witness to his terrible condition, and in the parallel a picture of his sanity as he seeks to follow Jesus but is rather sent out as a witness to how he has been delivered. In ‘d’ the possessed man wants nothing to do with Jesus, although he cannot help himself, and in the parallel the people want nothing to do with Jesus. In their own way their minds are as dark as the demoniacs. In ‘e’ Jesus commands the unclean spirit to come out of the man, and in the parallel those who saw it bear witness of the final result. In ‘f’ he reveals himself as ‘legion’ because he is possessed by many spirits and is afraid, and in the parallel those who arrive see ‘him who had the legion’ no longer possessed, but clothed and in his right mind. In ‘g’ the spirits do not want to go out of the country, and in the parallel the pigherds flee to the city and the country. In ‘h’ the evil spirits ask that they may enter the swine, and in the parallel they enter the swine. Centrally in ‘i’ it is Jesus alone Who can give them permission.

Verses 2-5

‘And when he was 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 man could any more bind him, no, not with a chain. For he had often been bound with fetters and chains, and the chains had been torn apart by him, and the fetters broken in pieces. And no man had strength to tame him. And always night and day in the tombs and in the mountains he was crying out and cutting himself with stones.’

Jesus had come over for a rest and now He faced something the like of which He and His disciples had never seen before. This was not just a possessed man, but a man terribly possessed, living a life of misery and torment. Firstly we should note that he lived among the graves. The belief of the time was that graveyards were places where evil spirits lived, which may have been one thing that prompted his distorted mind to take up his dwelling there, but it was also likely that he did so because many tombs were caves which could provide adequate, if unpleasant, shelter (compare Job 30:6), and were generally avoided by men. It was somewhere where he could avoid the human beings who tormented him.

Secondly he had superhuman strength. All attempts to restrain him had failed. Fetters and chains were torn apart like string. And no one was willing, even as part of a group, to try to restrain him. He was a terror to all. (Such uncanny strength has often been noted of people in a similar state).

And thirdly he wandered among the tombs and went up into the mountains, crying out and cutting himself with stones. He was often no doubt seen from afar, a wild and desolate figure, and he would undoubtedly have been a person of wide renown. The cutting of himself with stones may simply have represented self-hatred, a not uncommon feature of such possessed people, or it may have been connected with demon rites (1 Kings 18:28; Leviticus 19:28; Deuteronomy 14:1). The fact that he is later described as ‘clothed’ may suggest that he ran around naked. Nakedness is often a feature and consequence of severe clinical depression.

‘A man with an unclean spirit.’ The spirit was ‘unclean’ in contrast with the ‘cleanness’ or purity of the Spirit of God. It was a spirit that hated God and all things to do with God, and shrank from His presence, and wanted nothing to do with Him. And it rendered the man ‘unclean’ in Jewish eyes by his dwelling among the tombs. The man is specifically identified as demon possessed. It is probable that he was a Gentile (Consider Mark 5:20 and his close proximity to pig farms, abhorrent to orthodox Jews).

‘Immediately.’ This does not necessarily mean on landing, but signifies that it was before He had time to do much else. It is a typical Marcan hurrying along of the narrative. On the other hand it was probably still dark on landing, so the man may have been engaged on his nightly wanderings, unwittingly drawn there by God.

Verse 6

‘And when he saw Jesus from afar he ran and fell on his knees before Him.’

This amplifies ‘met Him’ in Mark 5:2 (after the diversion in Mark 5:3-5). Compare on this Mark 3:11. It may be that his original intention was to attack the party, but that when they did not turn and flee as other men did, he suddenly recognised with Whom he was dealing. Alternately we may gain the impression that the man was drawn by an irresistible impulse, possibly because the man himself was reacting against the evil spirits within him. Another alternative is that we may see in this that the evil spirits within him recognised the Master of the Universe and in desperation sought to stave Him off, because they feared what He would do. It is clear that they were in panic.

But whichever way it was, even this distressed, powerful and unrestrainable man had to fall before Jesus, because something within him recognised with Whom He was dealing. We can imagine the feelings of the disciples as they saw this terrible figure running towards Him. Peter clearly remembered it well. But Jesus, unmoved, awaited his submission. What the Doctors of the Law would not do these evil spirits felt compelled to do. Fall down before Jesus. For they were wiser and more discerning than the Doctors of the Law.

Matthew lets us know that the man had a companion, also spirit possessed, and that together they were so fierce that no one dared to pass by when they were there. Even such people seek companionship, so that there is nothing unlikely in this. They may well have been a couple. But Mark is selective. He wanted to focus on this man because of what followed, for this man’s condition accentuates the supreme power and authority of Jesus. So he concentrates on the one man.

Verse 7-8

‘And crying out with a loud voice, he says, “What have I to do with you, Jesus, you Son of the Most High God. I adjure you by God do not torment me”, for he was saying to him, “come forth, you unclean spirit out of the man”.’

The order of the words illustrates Mark’s emphasis. This man had almost certainly never had any contact with Jesus, and there was no way by which he could know Him, and yet he recognised Him for what He was. This was not just a deeply disturbed, mentally ill man. There was that within him which recognised, and acknowledged with fear, ‘Jesus, the Son of the Most High God’. The words, however, were forced out of him by Jesus’ constant demand (imperfect) saying repeatedly, ‘come forth you unclean spirit’.

Note the attempt to bind Jesus by an oath while at the same time recognising His complete mastery. They are using desperate measures, for they recognise that His holiness is contrary to all that they are. The tormenting seemingly consists in His demand that they leave the man. They are only too well aware of what the consequences for them might be if they are left with no body to possess. They may be ‘tormented before the time’ (Matthew 8:29). They were therefore desperate to retain control of some kind of physical body.

There was no immediate release, for Jesus had yet to learn how greatly the man was possessed. His initial seeming ‘failure’ arose from the fact that He was not yet aware of how many spirits possessed the man (some were no doubt deliberately keeping quiet and trying to evade recognition) and was therefore not addressing the whole group of evil spirits. They were thus able to evade His words for a while, not being themselves addressed, and the result was that there had to be a continuing exorcising. (Similar situations, although not quite as serious, have been testified to by genuine exorcisers in these present days).

The title ‘the Most High God’ appears to be a Gentile designation for the God of the Jews. Compare Daniel 3:26; Daniel 4:2. It was also used in Jewish-Hellenistic syncretistic religion. This tends to confirm that the man was a Gentile. We can contrast here Mark 1:24 where a similar admission was made of Jesus, but as ‘the Holy One of God’ (a typically Jewish description), and a similar fear of a destructive end was expressed, although there described as ‘are you come to destroy us’. But there the unclean spirit left at once, for it appears that there was only one.

Matthew 8:29 might appear at first sight to expand ‘do not torment me’ to ‘have you come here to torment us before the time?’ while Luke 8:28 is similar to Mark, although later adding their plea not to be sent into the abyss (Mark 5:31). But this is probably because Matthew is actually recording a further statement made in a more protracted interview, an interview which Mark mentions (Mark 5:10), while Mark has briefly summarised, for we should note that what Matthew records is spoken in the plural. Until they were forced to reveal themselves the man spoke in the singular, but once they were exposed they argued in the plural. This attempt to conceal that they were there is typical of multiple exorcisms, as is the indulging in declaration and argument. When the godly minister and experienced exorciser who exorcised the twentieth century witch Doreen Irvine pleaded the power of the cross against the spirits possessing her, a terrible voice cried out, “Do not speak to me about Calvary. I was there!” And another claimed to have known Mary Magdalene. But in the end they had to yield to the power of the Name of Jesus Christ. (I heard this on a tape from his own lips, and he was no fanatic). However, her release from multiple evil spirits took some time, for some kept themselves hidden and were not immediately apparent.

But the idea of the comment is the same. They were aware of the torment and anguish that awaited them if they left this human body in which they had felt so safely ensconced, and they wanted to avoid it for as long as possible. They knew that their final judgment was approaching and were afraid of the Abyss, the abode of departed spirits, where one ‘section’ comprised their prison.

Jesus descent into the Abyss is mentioned in Romans 10:7, but there it simply refers to the world of the departed, while in Revelation the Abyss is that part of the world of the departed which is the prison of evil spirits (compare 2 Peter 2:4; Jude 1:6). ‘Abyss’ is also related to Sumerian apsu, the sea. This is confirmed by the fact that the Septuagint (LXX) translated ‘the deep’ (tehom) of Genesis 1:2; Genesis 7:11; Genesis 8:2 as the ‘Abyss’, paralleling the two (compare also Job 38:16; Psalms 33:7; Psalms 42:7; Psalms 77:16; Isaiah 51:10; Ezekiel 26:19; Jonah 2:5). Ironically therefore it may be that we are to see that the final end of these particular evil spirits was the Abyss after all, for they were later swallowed up by the sea.

‘He was saying.’ The response of the unclean spirit was not immediate and He was therefore repeating His demand.

Verse 9

‘And he says to him, “My name is legion, for we are many”.

Knowing, in the face of His authority, that they were forced to speak, they replied evasively and probably with the aim of intimidating Jesus into leaving them alone. They were aware that His exertions of power were exhausting to His human frame (Mark 5:30; Luke 6:19), and they wanted Him to realise that this particular exorcism would require much power. Godly men who have engaged in exorcism have testified to the fact that it was very exhausting, and they had never had to face anything like this. But the spirits were underestimating Jesus.

‘My name is legion.’ Was the man giving Legion as a name because he was in a state of confusion, aware of the forces possessing him, or was he simply indicating the multiplicity of names of the evil spirits (Mark 5:15), hinting that they could not give them all for they were so many, and at the same time indicating how long it would take to deal with them. For we must recognise that the evil spirits were not omniscient, and probably thought that they could somehow forestall Jesus. Possibly they could see He was still exhausted. The word ‘legion’ was the name given to a Roman regiment of between four thousand and six thousand men. Strictly it indicated six thousand, but it was unusual for a legion to have its full complement. Thus the indication here is of possession by a great number of evil spirits.

Verse 10

‘And he besought him much that he would not send them away out of the country.’

Once they had admitted that there were many of them they recognised that Jesus did not require their names in order to cast them out. He could command them all at a word. So the man, still controlled by the evil spirits, now pleaded that they might be allowed to enter some other physical bodies and not be sent out of the country to their terrible end, for they felt their need of a body and were aware that Gentile Decapolis presented their greatest hope. Surely the God of the Jews would not mind that? They possibly felt that Jesus would not mind them possessing Gentiles, and besides, comparatively few Jews were open to possession because of their beliefs. The evil spirits were still evasive and desperate. The words were the words of the man but the ideas were the ideas of the evil spirits.

‘Besought Him much’ suggests that a rare verbal battle was now ensuing. It is probably here that the words expressed in Matthew in the plural are spoken. Each would want to be represented, and they were fighting for their very existence on earth. Note the order. First ‘what have we in common?’, then their evasive declaration of their joint power, ‘my name is legion’, then their plea not to be tormented before their time, then their plea to be allowed to stay in Decapolis, and finally their reluctant willingness to enter the pigs. Even now they had to recognise that they had failed in their attempts to intimidate Him.

Verses 11-13

‘Now there was there on the mountainside a great herd of pigs feeding, and they begged him, saying, “Send us into the pigs that we may enter them.” And he gave them permission.’

This was their last desperate throw. Surely He would not mind them entering into the pigs? After all the God of the Jews had declared pigs to be unclean. Even now their subtle minds were busily at work. Possibly they hoped that once He had gone they would be able to make the leap up higher and find some suitable humans to dwell in. (The fact that pigs were being kept there emphasises the Gentile nature of the territory).

‘He gave them permission.’ Did He smile to Himself as He did so, aware that they were sealing their own doom? It was a good idea. Their entry into the pigs would convince the man that he was free at last, an important visible confirmation that he would need, and He almost certainly knew what the pigs would do. While God valued pigs as He values all His creation, their value was little compared with the health of this man and his assurance of freedom. The incident demonstrates the order of priority in the eyes of God. If Jesus was willing to sacrifice the pigs for the man’s sake, and for the sake of those who might later have been possessed by the same spirits, who will deny Him, as the Creator, the right?

There may partly have been the idea behind the possession of the pigs that it would prove that the multitude of spirits had left the man. Actually seeing the pigs flee would be seen as adequate proof. It would give certainty to both the man and to the watchers. We can compare how an exorcist called Eliezer ‘placed a cup or foot-basin full of water a little way off and commanded the evil spirit as it went out of the man to overturn it, and make known to the spectators that he had left the man.’ (Josephus Antiquities 8:48)

Verse 13

‘And the unclean spirits came out and entered into the pigs, and the herd rushed down the slope into the sea, in number about two thousand. And they were choked in the sea.’

The number of pigs confirmed the multiplicity of the evil spirits, and their behaviour confirmed to the watchers, including the man, (and how important psychologically that was), that the evil spirits had really gone. Now he could begin his life again. And the evil spirits were no longer there to trouble man nor beast. They had disappeared into the sea, into ‘the deeps’. We are possibly to see by this that they had gone to the Abyss. Alternately they might have seen the deeps as their home.

On the other hand it is possible that Mark 9:22 is suggesting that the evil spirits could have themselves been responsible for the demise of the pigs, possibly in order to be free to menace others. We can compare here Luke 11:24. However, their departure into the sea might suggest otherwise. It would be foolish to dogmatise.

The question may finally be asked, why did Jesus pander to them at all? While again it would be foolish to dogmatise it is probable that He wanted the man to recognise that he was getting a complete deliverance, while at the same time wanting His followers to recognise His supreme authority, even over thousands of evil spirits at one time, and that Satan was truly bound. And, to accomplish that, all that happened was necessary.

Verses 14-17

‘And they that fed them fled and told it in the city and in the country, and they came to see what it was that had happened. And they come to Jesus and see the one who was possessed with devils sitting, clothed and in his right mind, even he who had the legion, and they were afraid. And those who saw it declared to them how it befell him who was possessed with devils and concerning the pigs. And they began to beg him to depart from their borders.’

We can compare this with John 4 when the Samaritans were in a similar position. Someone arrived telling them strange things about this man. But what a contrast in response. They too went out to see for themselves. But the Samaritans had welcomed Him with open arms. They had pleaded with Him to stay.

But when these heard the strange story, and came to find what had happened, they saw the infamous madman, of whom they were probably in some awe, sitting there wholly well and in his right mind and they were afraid. Who was this Jewish prophet who could do such things? Possibly they actually believed what the Doctors of the Law had pretended to believe, that He must be satanically possessed (for they had no Scriptures to show them otherwise). For clearly He had strange unearthly powers, and He might well use them to their harm. They knew that Jews had no love for the Gentiles, especially Jewish religious teachers.

Then they learned what had happened, and how the pigs had been destroyed. This was surely proof that He meant them no good. So they pleaded with Him to leave them alone and go. They wanted no Jewish exorcists here, especially those who used their gifts to destroy their livelihood. It was a mixture of suspicion and fear, tinged with anger and upset at what they had lost.

We commentators can easily write off the loss for it was not ours. But for the man or community who lost the pigs it was a grave loss, and an expensive one. In theory one man might be said to be worth a few thousand pigs, (although in those days that might have been questionable), but practise was a different matter. Yet they did not dare do anything for they were not sure what else Jesus could do. That is why, in the end, they wanted Him to go. They could not risk the consequences of Him staying. But nor dare they use violence against Him. Thus they pleaded with Him instead. And so for the sake of a herd of pigs they lost their chance of the word of life.

The large number of pigs suggests either that their owner was very wealthy or that the herd was a joint one having a number of different owners. It may even have been one being maintained so as to provision the Roman soldiers in the area. We may presume that Jesus knew that its loss would not devastate lives.

‘Clothed and in his right mind.’ This may mean ‘decently clothed’ rather than in dirty rags, or it may even mean he had gone about almost naked (compare Luke 8:27, and see above).

Verse 18

‘And as he was entering the boat he who had been possessed with devils begged him that he might be with him. But he did not allow him, but says to him, “Go to your house, to your friends, and tell them what great things the Lord has done for you, and how he had mercy on you.”

The healed man wished to go with Jesus. But Jesus would not allow him. For what reason we can never know. Perhaps because he was a Gentile. Perhaps because he was not seen as having the background which would enable him to be a teacher. The preparation by Jesus of His disciples demanded a certain amount of pre-knowledge gained from Jewish teaching. And besides the man had had a few blank years in his life. It would take time for him to make them up. Perhaps also he could do better work for God at home. And perhaps Jesus had in mind preparation of Decapolis for when the Gospel came to them. We do not know the answer but we can be sure that Jesus had a good reason for His decision.

But He did give him a ministry. He was to go back to his home in Decapolis and tell men about ‘the Lord’, and what He had done for him and how He had had compassion on him. To this man ‘the Lord’ would in general be a neutral word speaking of his Lord and God (compare the designation of the Emperor), or alternately he may have known that it was the Greek Old Testament term for the God of Israel. Either way his message would be that this Lord had come from the Jews and was merciful and all-powerful. He was Lord over all the Powers of Evil. So when Jewish preachers later arrived with the message of the Gospel they would no doubt find a welcome from this man and his hearers, and ready ground prepared for their message. (Unlike the other Gospel writers, Mark does not elsewhere use ‘Lord’ of Jesus).

He could allow this man to speak freely because there was no danger here in his spreading the message, for no Messiah was looked for here who could be wrongly interpreted. Nor would he draw crowds around Jesus seeking the spectacular, for Jesus was moving on.

Later, before the siege of Jerusalem, the Christians in Jerusalem would flee to Pella. This was one of the Ten Towns (Decapolis). And perhaps they too would find a more welcome reception because of this man’s words.

Verses 21-23

‘And when Jesus had crossed over again in the boat to the other side, a great crowd was gathered to him, and he was by the sea, and there comes one of the rulers of the synagogue, Jairus by name, and seeing him he falls at his feet, and pleads with him, saying, “My little daughter is at the point of death. I beg you that you will come and lay your hands on her that she may be made whole and live.” ’

Again the source of this information remembers where they were when Jairus came with his request. Having crossed the lake they had landed and found themselves quickly surrounded by a great crowd on the seashore.

Jairus was ‘one of the rulers of the synagogue’. Strictly ‘ruler of the synagogue’ would refer to the single ‘ruler’ who controlled the administration and especially the organisation of the service at the synagogue, but there were others who helped in the general administration and running of the synagogue, a council of elders, and these were also called rulers, men of standing in the community. Jairus was probably one of these, ‘one of the rulers’. The emphasis on it would seem to infer that Jairus was an important man in the community. For ‘ruler of the synagogue’ see Luke 8:49; Luke 13:14; Acts 13:15; Acts 18:8; Acts 18:17. See also Matthew 9:18; Matthew 9:23; Luke 8:41; Luke 18:18.

‘Named Jairus’. Omitted in a few manuscripts but probably by accident. It has huge support. The name Jair occurs in the Old Testament (Numbers 32:41; Judges 10:3), and in LXX of Esther 2:5 we have Jair translated as a similar form to here, ‘Jairus’. The mention of the name confirms the authenticity of the account, for names are rarely given in Mark.

‘There comes.’ What was Jairus doing leaving his sick child? Why did he not send someone else? The answer can only be that things were so bad that he was desperate and was determined to act himself as a last resort. He wanted to exercise his personal authority and make a personal appeal. We can almost see him turning to to his wife and saying, ‘No. I will go myself’. He had watched by that bedside in tears. But hope had now gone. He had not thought of going to Jesus earlier, and perhaps someone had mentioned helpfully that ‘the prophet’ was back. So in desperation this outwardly important man submerged his pride as a synagogue elder and sought the help of Jesus. He had enough faith in what He was able to do to seek Him out. Had he not done so his daughter would have died and gone to her grave unhelped. (Jesus would have been able to do no healing because of his unbelief). The lesson was clear. If the Synagogue would submit to Jesus then life would be made available to its offspring.

It is no accident that this story comes just before Mark’s comment that Jesus ‘could do no mighty work’ in ‘His own country’, with a few exceptions (Mark 6:5). There few were willing to do what Jairus did, few sought Him out, for there He was seen as just a local boy and not as a mighty prophet.

‘He falls at His feet.’ This important man was in such distress and despair that he forgot his dignity and came as a suppliant. He wanted Jesus to realise how concerned he was and how strongly he felt. Now any prejudices against Jesus had been thrown aside. Behind his action Mark probably saw the need for all Jewish rulers to fall at the feet of Jesus.

‘My little daughter is at the point of death.’ The situation was very serious. The young girl was close to death. It was only that that had moved him to his present action. The emphasis on ‘little daughter’ adds to the pathos. We learn later that she was twelve years old (Mark 5:42), almost at the point of womanhood. But she was his pet.

‘I beg you that you will come and lay your hands on her.’ ‘I beg you’ is read in, although the Greek assumes some such thing. Literally it is ‘in order that having come you would lay hands on her’, signifying ‘please, having come, lay your hands on her’ (the imperative use of ‘ina). Jairus had clearly seen Jesus in action and knew His healing method (see Mark 6:5; Mark 7:32; Mark 8:23; Mark 8:25).

‘That she may be made whole (‘be saved’ - regularly used of healing) and she shall live.’ Her life was in the balance. All depended on Jesus restoring her before it was too late, and he had faith enough to believe that He could.

Verses 21-43

Jesus Demonstrates His Power and Authority Over Life and Death (5:21-43).

Having demonstrated His power over nature, and then over the world of evil spirits, Jesus will now demonstrate His power over life and death by the raising of Jairus’ daughter. That she was truly dead is quite clear, and she was said to be twelve years old. In conjunction with the fact that the woman with permanent bleeding had suffered it for twelve years the number is probably significant. Twelve is the number of the tribes of Israel. They were both therefore pictures of Israel in its need.

Quite apart from the certainty of all the people involved, including the family, all of whom knew that she was dead, if Jesus had known that she was still alive He would not have taken His three favoured disciples in with Him in secret, for He only called on them in this way when something very special was involved (e.g. His transfiguration and His prayer in Gethesemane). The fact that He said that she was only sleeping is not significant, for Jesus used the same expression of Lazarus before bluntly stating that he was dead (compare John 11:11-14). But although she was dead, when He left her she was no longer dead. She was gloriously alive.

However, the account does not stand on its own but is interwoven with another occurrence, the healing of the unclean woman. She too was dying, and she had been dying for twelve years. Indeed we could have headed this section Two Desperate People At The End of Twelve Years. Both were connected with the number twelve, the number of Israel. The daughter had lived from conception for twelve years and was now dying. The woman had had a blood flow for twelve years and she was cut off from the Temple and the people by uncleanness. Both were in their own way representative of the people of God, dying in sin and unclean before God.

But in order to confirm the lesson lying behind this we need to go to a passage in Ezekiel 16. There Jerusalem was likened to a baby, cast out at birth covered in the blood flow of its mother, whom God had commanded ‘in her blood’ to live (Mark 5:6). He then betrothed her to Himself, but she remained naked (it is not a natural picture). And when she came to an age for love (i.e. about twelve years of age) He wiped the blood from her (Mark 5:9). So either the idea is that for twelve years she had been covered in vaginal blood, or it is that she was once again covered in blood because of her menstruation, seen as connecting back to her first condition. And now she was His to be restored to full glory. It would seem that this is the lesson behind both the child whom God will make to live, and the woman with a flow of blood for twelve years who will be made clean. The two together, alongside Ezekiel 16, reveal that Jesus (the Bridegroom - Mark 2:19) has come to make clean and give life to His people so as to betroth them to Himself.

The fact that the two stories are intertwined in all the Synoptics demonstrates that it was so from the beginning because the two incidents did happen together, but Mark concentrates first on one and then on the other. This comes out in the analysis.

Analysis of 5:21-34.

a And when Jesus had crossed over again in the boat to the other side, a great crowd was gathered to Him, and He was by the sea, and there comes one of the rulers of the synagogue, Jairus by name, and seeing Him he falls at His feet, and pleads with Him, saying, “My little daughter is at the point of death. I beg you that you will come and lay your hands on her that she may be made whole and live” (Mark 5:21-23).

b And He went with him, and a great crowd followed Him, and they pressed in on Him (Mark 5:24).

c And a woman who had had emissions of blood for twelve years, and had suffered many things under many doctors, and had spent all that she had, and was not any better but rather grew worse, having heard things about Jesus, came in the crowd behind and touched His clothing, for she said, “If I touch but His clothing I will be made whole” (Mark 5:25-28).

d And immediately the gushing of blood dried up and she felt in her body that she was healed of her curse (Mark 5:29).

c And Jesus, immediately perceiving in Himself that power had left Him, turned Himself about in the crowd and said, “Who touched my clothes?” ’

b And His disciples said to Him, “You see the crowd pressing in on you. Do you ask, ‘who touched me?’ ” (Mark 5:31).

a And He looked around to see her who had done this thing. And the woman, fearing and trembling, knowing what had been done to her, came and fell down before Him and told Him all the truth, and He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you whole. Go in peace and be whole from your curse” (Mark 5:32-34).

Note that in ‘a’ Jairus falls at Jesus’ feet, pleads on behalf of his daughter so that she might be made whole, and in the parallel the woman falls at His feet, is called ‘daughter’, and is made whole. In ‘b’ the crowds press in on Him and in the parallel it is pointed out to Him that the crowds press in on Him. In ‘c’ the woman touches Him, and in the parallel He asks, ‘Who touched me?’ Centrally in ‘d’ she is fully restored.

Verse 24

‘And he went with him, and a great crowd followed him, and they pressed in on him.’

Jesus responded to his request, and the crowd naturally followed in order to see another miracle. Indeed He was surrounded by them as they moved along with Him, and they were pressing in close on Him not wanting to miss anything. Jairus was probably considerably upset, for the crowd were slowing down their progress. He was soon to become even more upset.

Verses 25-28

‘And a woman who had had emissions of blood for twelve years, and had suffered many things under many doctors, and had spent all that she had, and was not any better but rather grew worse, having heard things about Jesus, came in the crowd behind and touched his clothing, for she said, “If I touch but his clothing I will be made whole.” ’

This long complicated sentence is unusual in Mark, but was necessary in order to present the position succintly. It sums up the sad medical situation of the woman. Strictly she should not have been in the crowd. Her continual emissions of blood rendered her ritually ‘unclean’ (Leviticus 15:25-27). She would not have been welcomed in the synagogue nor among her friends. She could not touch people or have relations with her husband. She was supposed to keep apart until she was whole.

Her history was equally sad. She had been under many doctors. God alone knew what humiliations she must have suffered, for there was a huge variety of doctors and many practised outlandish ‘cures’. When much of medicine was trial and error, with genuine cures mixed with old wives’ tales, it was inevitable. They had so few effective medicines. A passage in the Mishnah says, when discussing men’s occupations, ‘the best among doctors is destined for Hell’, (the writer had no doubt suffered under them), although not all were as pessimistic as that. And their ministrations had all been to no avail, for it had only made her worse. And it had made her financial security worse too for she had spent all that she had on the attempts to find a cure. ‘All that she had’. She had probably been a wealthy woman. (We note that Doctor Luke softens down this criticism of doctors - Luke 8:43).

And now she had heard about this prophet Jesus, Who could do wonderful things, and how people had been healed of scourges by touching Him (Mark 3:10). And how unclean lepers had been cleansed (Mark 1:40-45).

But as a haemorrhaging woman, as one who was ritually unclean, she knew she dared not approach Him openly, and seemingly there was no one to act on her behalf. Penniless she was friendless. So she devised a plan. She would approach Him secretly in the crowds and touch His clothing. From what she had heard about Him and His power there was a good chance that that might be enough.

So this woman had faith in Jesus. It was a strange faith, almost a superstitious faith, but it drew her to Him. And that would prove enough. For joining the bustling crowd and forcing her way through them by the fierce strength of her desperation she reached out tentatively and touched the tassels of Jesus’ robe (Matthew 9:20; Luke 8:44). There were many jostling Jesus in that crowd. But only she ‘touched’ Him. This tassel was one of the tassels or ‘fringes’ required by Law (Number Mark 15:38-39). They were required as a reminder to God’s people of the commandments by which they were bound. Now two desperate people were depending on Him at the same time.

Verse 29

‘And immediately the gushing of blood dried up and she felt in her body that she was healed of her curse.’

The unbelievable happened. After all those long years she was healed. She knew it instantly. Who better than her? And she knew that the long years of torment were over. She was whole. She was a new woman. She was cleansed. She would equally now have crept away, grateful though she was, but it could not be. No one ever called in faith on Jesus and was ignored.

Verse 30

‘And Jesus, immediately perceiving in himself that power had left him, turned himself about in the crowd and said, “Who touched my clothes?” ’

Jesus knew instantly what had happened. Someone had come to Him in their need and had touched Him for healing. And He could not leave it at that. We learn here two things. Firstly that healing was a costly process for Him. Power left Him. It drew on His strength. And secondly that He was intimately concerned about people. He could not ignore a plea for His help, even in the present urgent situation. He turned round and asked, “Who touched my clothes?” The woman, one moment delirious with joy must have frozen where she stood. He knew! What was He going to do?

Verse 31

‘And his disciples said to him, “You see the crowd pressing in on you. Do you ask, ‘who touched me?’ ”

The disciples wondered what He was talking about. The crowds were constantly touching them, and pressing in on them. He had been touched a hundred times and more. The whole world was touching Him. What on earth was He getting at? Instead of waiting expectantly to see what He meant they dismissed His words casually. They themselves were not sensitive and they had not yet realised His sensitivity towards a cry for help. In the other Gospels this comment is softened or omitted as a sign of respect for the Apostles, but Peter is not too proud to be honest.

Verse 32-33

‘And he looked around to see her who had done this thing. And the woman, fearing and trembling, knowing what had been done to her, came and fell down before him and told him all the truth.’

Jesus ignored their facile comment and continued to look searchingly, and the woman knew that she had no choice but to admit the truth. But it was with much fear and trembling. She knew she should not have touched a holy prophet, for she had been unclean. (Not time enough to work out that if He had the power to remove her uncleanness He might see things differently). She must have wondered what He would do. Would He chastise her? Would He restore the curse to her? She fell at his feet and poured out her life story, hoping for mercy. We must not hide from ourselves the fact that she had done wrong, and knew it. She knew only too well that she was seen as an ‘unclean’ woman, and should not have touched Him.

Verse 34

‘And he said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you whole. Go in peace and be whole from your curse”.’

But Jesus was not angry. He wanted to help her. He did not want to leave her with some superstitious beliefs about His clothing. He wanted her to know that she had been healed, not just because of power leaving Him but because her faith had reached out to God through Him. Many would touch Him and it would make no difference. What made the difference was the heart reaching out in faith to God and to Him. And He wanted her to know it. It is important that we realise when God is at work.

He also wanted the world to know openly that she was now clean. That they need avoid her no more.

‘Daughter.’ A sign that He was not angry. She would recognise the tenderness in the word.

‘Go in peace.’ A recognised way of giving assurance (e.g. Exodus 4:18; 1 Samuel 1:17; 1 Samuel 29:7; 2 Samuel 15:9; Luke 7:50; Acts 16:36).

‘Your faith has made you whole.’ As she had reached out to God through Him in faith she had been made whole. He wanted her to know that He was not just like some relic that was seen as containing special superstitious powers. God had reached out to her personally through Him because her faith had reached out to Him. That is indeed how all men can be made whole. Then He assured her that her curse had been removed once for all. Once again Jesus has demonstrated that He has power to cleanse the ‘unclean’ without Himself being rendered unclean (compare on Mark 1:42). He is the Holy One of God.

So in this woman we have a picture of God’s people, rendered unclean because of their sins (‘we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy (menstrual) rags’ - Isaiah 64:6), but now in a position to be made clean if they will reach out to Jesus. Like the woman in Ezekiel 16 cleansing and restoration is available for all if like the woman with the flow of blood they will only reach out to Him.

Verse 35

‘While he yet spoke they come from the ruler of the synagogue’s house, saying, “Your daughter is dead. Why do you trouble the Master any further?” ’

Jairus’ feelings at the delay were probably indescribable. He knew how vital every second was. But now, impatiently restraining himself, what he feared would happen did happen. Messengers arrived to tell him that it was too late. His daughter was dead. She was beyond help. There was nothing that even the Master could do. He need not be troubled any further. His heart must have sunk within him. He was too late to save his beloved daughter. All he could do was just thank Jesus and return home. We do not know how far Jairus was from the house by this time. It may have been some considerable distance.

‘Trouble.’ A very strong word meaning originally to ‘flay’ or ‘mangle’ but by this time toned down. Yet it evidences that they expected Him to have been very concerned.

Verses 35-43

Analysis of 5:35-43.

a While He yet spoke they come from the ruler of the synagogue’s house, saying, “Your daughter is dead. Why do you trouble the Master any further?” (Mark 5:35).

b But Jesus, overhearing the word spoken, says to the ruler of the synagogue, “Don’t be afraid. Just go on believing’ (Mark 5:36).

c And He allowed no one to follow with Him except Peter, and James and John, the brother of James (Mark 5:37).

d And they come to the house of the ruler of the synagogue and He sees a tumult, and great weeping and wailing (Mark 5:38).

e And when He was entered in He says to them (Mark 5:39 a).

d “Why do you make a tumult and weep? The child is not dead, but sleeping.” And they laughed him to scorn (Mark 5:39-40 a).

c But he, having put them all out, takes the father of the child, and her mother, and those who were with him, and goes in where the child was (Mark 5:40 b).

b And taking the child by the hand he says to her “Talitha cumi”, which is being interpreted, ‘Young woman, I say to you, arise’. And immediately the young woman rose up and walked, for she was twelve years old, and they were immediately filled with great amazement (or ‘were amazed with a great amazement’) (Mark 5:41-42).

a And He gave them strict instructions (charged them much) that no man should know this, and he commanded that something should be given her to eat (Mark 5:43).

Note that in ‘a’ they are assured that the girl is dead, and in the parallel Jesus commands that she be given something to eat. In ‘b’ Jesus encourages the ruler to believe, and in the parallel his faith is rewarded. In ‘c’ only the favoured three are allowed in, and in the parallel the same applies along with the father and mother of the child. In ‘d’ there is great tumult, and weeping and wailing, and in the parallel Jesus asks why the tumult and why they are weeping. Centrally in ‘e’ the difference is that Jesus has entered in.

Verse 36

‘But Jesus, overhearing the word spoken, says to the ruler of the synagogue, “Don’t be afraid. Just go on believing.’

Jesus overhears what is said. The verb parakousas means ‘to hear beside’ and so could mean overhear or hear carelessly (and thus to disregard). The former is more likely here, although He does of course not ‘regard’ what was said. He simply turns to the important man and tells him not to be afraid. He has already shown some faith, he must ‘continue to believe’ (present tense).

This is not an indication that Jesus knew that the messengers were wrong. He accepted that the daughter was dead. But He was not disquieted by the way events had turned out. He was quietly confident. Death presented no problem to Him for He is the Lord of Life.

Verse 37

‘And he allowed no one to follow with him except Peter, and James and John, the brother of James.’

The crowds were dismissed, and no doubt departed willingly. They recognised the respect due to the dead and it was now clear that there would be no miracle. But Jesus also left most of His disciples behind. Possibly so that they could ensure that no one disobeyed His requirement for privacy.

‘Except Peter, James, and John, the brother of James.’ These three are regularly singled out to attend Him at His most sacred moments, both as helpers and as witnesses (Mark 9:2; Mark 14:33), and He did not want to further distress the household by crowding the house out. But the fact that He took them demonstrates that while it was to be kept quiet for the present, He wanted witnesses for the future. He wanted them to learn. It is probably significant that these three were also called to be witnesses to His transfiguration (Mark 9:2-8). He would not have done this just for an ordinary healing. There what had happened was not to be revealed until after His resurrection. Perhaps it was also so here.

This is a Marcan note slightly in advance describing the instructions that He gave. Once they arrived at the house only the three must go in with Him.

Verse 38

‘And they come to the house of the ruler of the synagogue and he sees a tumult, and great weeping and wailing.’

The funeral preparations had already begun, and that required loud and public mourning. This would include the presence of paid professional mourners to ensure that the dead were mourned adequately. Their purpose was in order to demonstrate the deep concern of the family about the death, wailing and demonstrating loudly and enabling the family to mourn more quietly. That there had been time to call in professional mourners indicated that the death had been expected and preparations had already been made. Jairus’ steward would have arranged for them. It is possible that Jairus had left not saying where he was going, and besides his attempt would probably only seen as a desperate chance. Most were probably resigned to the death.

‘A tumult and great weeping and wailing.’ More than just private grief. This is not just the numbed grief of those close to the girl as they await the father’s return. This readiness for the girl’s death indicates how desperate had been her father’s last vain effort, a last desperate hope when all hope was really gone.

Verse 39-40

‘And when he was entered in he says to them, “Why do you make a tumult and weep? The child is not dead, but sleeping.” And they laughed him to scorn.’

‘When He was entered in.’ He said nothing to those who wept outside. They were just doing their job. But He wanted to give assurance to the family and servants. There was no need to arrange all this show of mourning, for the child would once more arise.

‘The child is not dead, but sleeping.’ It is strange how some who argue that Jesus did not really raise a dead girl are quite ready to say that He could diagnose the situation at a distance without seeing the girl. Everyone was saying that the child was dead. Why should He think otherwise? And He does not usually give a diagnosis. No, His point was that although the child was dead He was about to raise her. This description of ‘sleep’ as softening the idea of death when He intended to do something about it also occurs in John 11:11-15 where there can be no doubt that His words indicated that death was involved from the start (compare also 1 Corinthians 11:30; 1 Corinthians 15:6; 1 Corinthians 15:18; 1 Corinthians 15:51; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-15; 1 Thessalonians 5:10; 2 Peter 3:4). The general idea is also found in Pharisaic teaching. ‘You will sleep, but you will not die’ (Genesis Rabba on Genesis 47:30). They believed in the resurrection from the dead.

It is also possible that He wanted to sow the idea in their minds so that when He had raised the daughter they would remember what He had said and doubts would arise in their minds so that they would not immediately tell everyone what had happened (compare Mark 5:43). He did not want all to know that He was about to raise the dead.

‘They laughed Him to scorn.’ In their grief they showed their amazement at His insensitivity and foolishness. Did He think that they did not know the difference between sleep and death? It had been coming for a long time and she had ceased breathing and was growing cold. He was talking nonsense. They all knew that she was dead.

Verses 40-42

‘But he, having put them all out, takes the father of the child, and her mother, and those who were with him, and goes in where the child was. And taking the child by the hand he says to her “Talitha cumi”, which is being interpreted, ‘Young woman, I say to you, arise’. And immediately the young woman rose up and walked, for she was twelve years old.’

Jesus knew that He was about to perform what would seem to others as the miracle of miracles. He did not want witnesses who would spread the news like wildfire. So He only allowed into the bedroom the parents and His three disciples.

Then He took the child by the hand and called on her to arise. And she arose and walked. So easily under His hand do the dead come to life again. The description is very similar to the healing of Peter’s mother-in-law (Mark 1:31). Healing the sick and raising the dead were all one to Him. But there can be no question how Mark sees this, and indeed also Peter who was there. Jesus has revealed Himself as the Lord of life. The dead had risen!

Furthermore we should recognise that this was not an isolated incident He also raised the widow’s son at Nain (Luke 7:11-17) and both Matthew 11:4-6 and Luke 7:22-23 mention Him as raising the dead generally, to say nothing of the raising of Lazarus (John 11). But the taking apart of the favoured three emphasises that in the case of Jairus’ daughter a lesson was meant to be learned, perhaps as a preparation for them to believe in His own resurrection.

‘Talitha coumi’. The manuscripts differ slightly (some have ‘coum’) but the meaning is clear. Mark regularly cites Aramaic words (Mark 3:17; Mark 7:11; Mark 7:34; Mark 11:9 following; Mark 14:36; Mark 15:22; Mark 15:34) and only on one other occasion is it connected with a miracle (Mark 7:34). Clearly the source liked to remember Jesus’ exact words so as to emphasise the vividness of the scene, and was there in the room.

Verse 42-43

‘And they were immediately filled with great amazement (amazed with a great amazement), and He gave them strict instructions (charged them much) that no man should know this.’

This counters all arguments that Jesus knew that the girl had not really been dead. Jesus did not try to explain to them that really she had not been dead at all. He told them very firmly that no one must be told that He had raised her from the dead. There is not even a hint that He tried to explain otherwise, and Peter was there, so he knew. Jesus did not want the news spreading because he knew what the effects would be. He could not go around restoring everyone who was dead. Had the girl only been healed there would not have been so much cause for their remaining quiet. All knew that He performed healings.

The extreme amazement was to be expected, evidence that they certainly thought the girl was dead. The remainder not so expected, although it fits in with Jesus general attitude elsewhere. He did not want to excite the easily excitable populace.

Verse 43

‘And he commanded that something should be given her to eat.’

Almost an anticlimax. Ever thoughtful and compassionate Jesus suggested that she might be hungry and needed food. She had been ill for some time. This was a practical detail which stuck in the mind of an eyewitness. It adds nothing to the story except to illustrate Jesus’ thoughtfulness. But perhaps to the writer there was also the thought that when men were raised from spiritual death they needed to be fed continually on the bread of life (John 6:35).


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Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Mark 5:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". 2013.

Lectionary Calendar
Saturday, October 31st, 2020
the Week of Proper 25 / Ordinary 30
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