I think there are some obvious reasons why American evangelicals have essentially ignored the politically subversive nature of the New Testament. If it weren’t being done in our churches, there would be no way to continue the quest for politics and also to follow the Jesus revealed in the Gospels.
In Luke 8:26-39, we read the Lucan account of the demonized man by the seashore. Like the temptations of Christ in Matthew 4:1-11, I believe this is yet another episode of Jesus’ encounter with evil that is typically read without any concern for its political ramifications.
Let’s look at the account again.
They sailed to the region of the Gerasenes, which is across the lake from Galilee. When Jesus stepped ashore, he was met by a demon-possessed man from the town. For a long time this man had not worn clothes or lived in a house, but had lived in the tombs. When he saw Jesus, he cried out and fell at his feet, shouting at the top of his voice, “What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, don’t torture me!” For Jesus had commanded the evil spirit to come out of the man. Many times it had seized him, and though he was chained hand and foot and kept under guard, he had broken his chains and had been driven by the demon into solitary places. Jesus asked him, “What is your name?” “Legion,” he replied, because many demons had gone into him. And they begged him repeatedly not to order them to go into the Abyss. A large herd of pigs was feeding there on the hillside. The demons begged Jesus to let them go into them, and he gave them permission. When the demons came out of the man, they went into the pigs, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and was drowned.
The demons intentionally reveal themselves to be like 6,000 Roman soldiers (a “legion” at full-strength). “Legion” isn’t merely used to say, “There are lots of us, Jesus.” Instead, I’m persuaded to believe that Jesus casting out “Legion” is an indirect attack on Roman imperial power.
I’m not satisfied with the idea that this was just some random name this naked, demonized man came up with during his stay in the nearby tombs. The gospel writers either inserted “Legion” for literary effect, or it really happened this way. Think about it.
What happens after this exorcism? Jesus casts “Legion” into the pigs, an unclean animal according to the Hebrew Scriptures. Every Jewish reader would have picked up on this. The pigs then run into the sea. This reminds me of Pharaoh and his legions. They too were swallowed up in the sea.
In the book of Revelation, John alludes to OT verses and imagery throughout his vision. And it appears that he might even have in mind the episode with Jesus and “Legion” as he writes Revelation 19:19-21:
“Then I saw the beast and the kings of the earth and their armies gathered together to make war against the rider on the horse and his army. But the beast was captured, and with him the false prophet who had performed the miraculous signs on his behalf. With these signs he had deluded those who had received the mark of the beast and worshiped his image. The two of them were thrown alive into the fiery lake of burning sulfur. The rest of them were killed with the sword that came out of the mouth of the rider on the horse, and all the birds gorged themselves on their flesh.”
John was exiled to the island of Patmos due to his radical views. And the only way to write a final word of encouragement to Christians with the vision he received was to write in code.
It was very appropriately done in apocalyptic fashion.
In the context of the first century, the “Beast” or “Babylon” is clearly a reference to Rome. I think further application has Rome representing the power of the kingdoms of the world in every generation. This “Beast” is cast into a sea of fire along with the rest of those who worship him.
“Fallen! Fallen is Babylon the Great! She has become a home for demons… for all the nations have drunk the maddening wine of her adulteries… Come out of her, my people, so that you will not share in her sins, so that you will not receive any of her plagues; for her sins are piled up to heaven, and God has remembered her crimes.” Revelation 18:2-5
I encourage you to read all of Revelation 18. It has to be one of the most sobering chapters in all of Scripture. It stands as a warning to all empires, and to the church that lives in them during the present evil age.
Finally, let’s look at the rest of the story and find application for our own situation. Luke 8:34-39 reads as follows:
When those tending the pigs saw what had happened, they ran off, reported this in the town and countryside, and the people went out to see what had happened. When they came to Jesus, they found the man from whom the demons had gone out, sitting at Jesus’ feet, dressed and in his right mind; they were afraid. Those who had seen it told the people how the demon-possessed man had been cured. Then all the people of the region of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave them, because they were overcome with fear.
I think those who were fearful of Jesus’ actions were disturbed by the implications of this exorcism. This was not the work of a traveling magician. This is the rumored Messiah from Nazareth performing “signs and wonders” that rebuked the powers that be.
Jesus has given us the meaning behind his excorisms.
“But if I drive out demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.” Matthew 12:28
The casting out of “Legion” is a clear expression of Messianic opposition to all worldly kingdoms, especially that of empire. The Kingdom of God is arriving on the earth. Not even demonized men in caves can hide from it.
It’s time to connect the dots here.
Everyone in this account of the demoniac man understood the actions of Jesus. Have evangelicals embraced this story for what it might say to the American empire? Have we fully embraced the Kingdom of God with all of its meaning for our lives? I honestly don’t think we have.
Ask yourself, “What kind of people would fear Messiah Jesus?”
I submit to you that it’s those who have made their home in an empire intoxicated with the maddening wine of demons. It’s the lovers of empire that fear when they see that the Kingdom of God has come to town.
They are the ones who fear the loss of imperial comfort and prosperity—built on the backs of slaves, and maintained through lies, idolatry, greed, and violence. They scramble to hold onto this demonic deception.
Those who identify with Caesar are troubled. But we who belong to Christ ought not fear. For we have a better and lasting possession. King Jesus has promised to cast out empire from the earth—those kingdoms which are merely a demonic parody of the radical Kingdom of God.
Only then will the world know true justice, peace, and freedom.
This is a Kingdom that comes—indeed is already coming—which overcomes in Calvary-like living. It wins by dying, not by killing. It is not advanced through political agendas and power-over methods of coercion. Instead, it calls us to trust in power-under, not power-over.
Brothers and sisters, cast out the demons of empire by embracing the way of the cross. Christ calls us to live, love, bleed, bear, and forgive. And be willing to die for the beauty of the upside-down Kingdom.
Because resurrection belongs to those who choose the way of the Kingdom.
D.D. Flowers, 2012.