Jesus’ encounter with the demonic forces on the Lake Gennesaret (Sea of Galilee) occurs as he is trying to get to the region of Gedara. The name of the city itself means “border country” and it is essentially the eastern edge of Jewish influence.
Beyond Gedara was the Decapolis, an entirely new municipality founded by the Greek rulers who followed Alexander the Great and then rebuilt and expanded by Pompey, the Roman consul. The Decapolis had no historical precedence, and as such was not tied to the ancient traditions of the region.
No self-respecting Jew or Galilean went to the Decapolis even though it bordered Galilee to the east and the north. It was a wholly Greek region and therefore, in the minds of Jews and Galileans alike, was a pagan place. They welcomed the Romans and as a result, the Empire invested heavily in the development of the region. Throughout the Decapolis, local deities had been fused with the Greek pantheon and even the Roman reverence of the emperor as a god.
Invading the Pagan Stronghold
According to Luke, Jesus sailed for the Decapolis. He was intentionally headed for enemy territory.
Luke is the only writer to refer to Jesus as epistatē, a Greek title for a military commander. There are only two reasons a commander heads for enemy territory – to surrender or to invade. In this case, Jesus was headed to the Decapolis to invade it.
Standing on the shores, the demoniac saw Jesus coming his way and the demons called Legion (which means there were thousands of demons) is set to stop him from invading their turf. They send a raging windstorm that Luke calls lailaps.
In Greek mythology, Lailaps was the name of a dog that hunted the Teumessian Fox. The name came to be used as a metaphor for something inescapable, an inevitable disaster. It was sent by the gods.
In the same sense, Luke sees this windstorm as inescapable and supernatural. It is opposed to Jesus coming to the Decapolis and has been sent to prevent Him – to destroy Him.
When Jesus stands and rebukes the wind, he literally puts it in its place. The Greek word is epetimaō, which is again a military term. In this case, Jesus the epistatē tells the wind to get back in line. The demons of Legion have attempted to overstep their bounds against the commander of all, and at his command, the lailaps cowers.
According to the Greeks, not even Zeus could command the lailaps. Instead, he had to turn Lailaps and the Teumessian Fox into stone – freezing their struggle for all eternity. But Jesus can simply command and lailaps must obey.
This is why the demoniac comes to Jesus asking, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, do not torment me!” (Luke 8:28) The demoniac knows the tortures that the demons have put him through and he assumes that Jesus must then be the demons’ master and assumes he is just as cruel as the demons. He is commanding the demons, silencing the lailaps. Nothing the supernatural powers of the land throw at Jesus has any effect on Him.
Jesus is YHWH
I have to be honest. This entire scene gives me goosebumps.
This is one of Jesus’ most powerful moments in the entire gospel of Luke. This moment reveals true power and absolute sovereignty. He is, in this moment, revealed to be something OTHER – absolutely and entirely. He is greater than the natural and supernatural forces, greater than the pagan gods, greater than the demonic forces.
And that is Luke’s intention. Throughout his gospel, he has been revealing Jesus as Savior of all mankind. Now, he reveals Him as Master as well. He is the master of all the gods and forces of any culture or religion and again asserted as YHWH, the God of Israel (Psalm 95:3).