Mark 5:1-20 is the story of Jesus healing a demoniac. This man had withdrawn from the society. He was living in a graveyard. Graveyards are always away from where people live, usually outside the village or the town. Under the demonic oppression he ‘was always crying out and bruising himself with stones.’
The story goes on to say how Jesus healed him. Jesus commanded the multitude of demons that has possessed him to come out. The came out and entered the pigs and perished as the pigs frantically ran to the lake and drowned. According to popular beliefs of the day, the demons would perish if they touch the water. So, Jesus cleansed the land of the multitude of demons.
A legion is a unit of Roman soldiers. We are not sure how many people are there in a legion of Roman soldiers. But according to some scholars, five to six thousand members formed a legion. However, it is not the number that matters here. The demoniac says, ‘My name is Legion, for we are many.’
The word ‘legion’ is symbolic. The man is occupied by a legion of demons like the land is occupied by the legions of Roman soldiers under various army commanders. The story thus has a message beyond merely healing a sick person. It has another level of meaning. If Jesus can handle a legion of supernatural forces tormenting one man, then he has the power over legions of soldiers who are just men of flesh!
The situation of this man is pitiful. He is occupied by demons the size of a legion that is required to command and control a whole region. They have been oppressing him and was not willing not to leave. However, at the command of Jesus, they finally had to leave.
The story ends with a commission to this man. He wanted to follow Jesus in his forward journey. However, Jesus denied his request. Jesus said, ‘Go home to your friends and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.’
This command of Jesus is a total reversal of the condition of this man. He was living in a place where there are no living. He was in a graveyard. He had shunned people. Jesus thus sends him back to people from whom he has withdrawn. He will go to the people from whom he has withdrawn with a new message. That message is that Jesus has overcome a legion of demons. It is a message of hope for his region under Roman occupation. He is a walking symbol of liberation, once occupied now liberated. Once oppressed by violent forces but now free. The legion had taken over his mental processes, but now he is in control of his mind.
He is an apostle because he is sent by Jesus with a message. That message has to do with the mercy of God on his oppressed people. He will be a lonely apostle among his own people. That was his commission from Jesus.