17 And they began to beg Jesus to depart from their region. 18 As he was getting into the boat, the man who had been possessed with demons begged him that he might be with him. 19 And he did not permit him but said to him, “Go home to your friends and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.” 20 And he went away and began to proclaim in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him, and everyone marveled.
The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Mk 5:17–20). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.
The Damning Power of Depravity (5:17–20)
One would expect such a dramatic miracle to produce a spontaneous revival in that region. Instead, the response of the people was immediate rejection. Motivated by fear, they began to implore Him to leave their region. The word implore translates a form of the Greek verb parakaleō, meaning to entreat or beseech. In a tragic twist, the demons implored Jesus to let them stay in that country (v. 10) while the people implored Jesus to leave (v. 17). Their reaction revealed the calloused depravity of their lost condition (cf. John 3:19; 2 Cor. 4:4). They preferred the company of dangerous demons to that of the divine Deliverer.
In their rejection of the Lord Jesus, the people stand as an instructive illustration of the power of unbelief. The astonishing miracle Jesus performed did not lead them to faith in Him as Lord and Messiah. In fact, it had the opposite effect. No one could deny that He had displayed divine power. Nor did anyone doubt the transformation of the former demoniac. (Matt. 8:33 implies that his companion was also delivered.) Yet, in the face of such undeniable evidence, their hearts remained cold and impenetrable. Confronted with the presence of God the Son, and gripped with fear, they begged Him to leave their shores immediately. Earlier, Jesus had conceded the request of the terrified demons, allowing them to go into the pigs. Here He yielded to the wishes of the terrified residents, granting their wish for Him to depart.
Jesus and His disciples got back in their boats in order to return to Capernaum. As He was getting into the boat, the man who had been demon-possessed was imploring Him that he might accompany Him. In contrast to the unbelieving townspeople, the former demoniac did not want to live another day without Jesus. His tormented soul had been reborn, as clearly evidenced by his eagerness to leave everything behind to follow Christ. As a new believer, he begged the Lord to allow him to accompany Him. But Jesus had other plans for this man. Consequently, He did not let him, but He said to him, “Go home to your people and report to them what great things the Lord has done for you, and how He had mercy on you.” Instead of bringing him back to Capernaum, the Lord commissioned this man to be a missionary where he was. As the Lord had earlier explained to His disciples, “A lamp is not brought to be put under a basket, is it, or under a bed? Is it not brought to be put on the lampstand?” (Mark 4:21). With his life dramatically transformed, the former demoniac known to all in the region would radiate the transforming glory of the gospel simply by being there and declaring what Christ had done for him.
Though he initially and understandably wanted to accompany Christ, the man faithfully submitted to Jesus’ directive. And he went away and began to proclaim in Decapolis what great things Jesus had done for him; and everyone was amazed. Traveling throughout the Gentile region east of Galilee, the former demoniac spread the news about Jesus far and wide. It is important to recognize his impact. When Jesus again visited the region around Decapolis (Mark 7:31–8:9), a massive crowd came to hear Him teach—motivated, surely, by the reports from this man. The response to his testimony was that everyone was amazed. The word amazed (a form of the Greek verb thaumazo) means “to marvel” or “to admire with wonder.” Undoubtedly many, like the disciples, found themselves asking the question, “Who is this man, that even the demons obey Him?” (cf. Mark 4:41).
The main point of this account, like the storm on the Sea of Galilee, is to underscore the divine authority of Jesus Christ. As God incarnate, He rules over both the natural and the supernatural realms. No angelic power is any match for His absolute sovereignty (cf. Eph. 1:21). Thus, those who love the Lord Jesus have nothing to fear from demonic powers (cf. Rom. 8:38). Secondly, this account also teaches an important lesson about the requirements necessary for being a faithful evangelist. The former demoniac had no formal theological training, yet he still had everything he needed to fulfill Christ’s commission for him. Having been delivered and transformed by the Lord Jesus, he was given the simple responsibility of relating the wonder of his salvation transformation to others. That same responsibility is shared by all who belong to Jesus Christ. When believers tell others about how the Savior delivered them from sin and gave them eternal life, they similarly fulfill their God-given commission to the world (cf. Matt. 28:18–19).
18–19 Jesus had come to the eastern side of the lake by boat (v. 2). Now he was about to return the same way. Not surprisingly, the formerly possessed man wanted to go with him. He was eager for Jesus’ company, for no one had ever showed him such love and compassion. The man’s request stands in striking contrast to the reaction of the townspeople. While they plead for Jesus to leave them (v. 17), the man begs for the opportunity to stay with him. The kingdom either attracts or repels, depending on whether one has eyes to see and ears to hear (4:12).
Yet Jesus does not allow the man to come with him. Instead he gives him the much more difficult task of returning home to his family to bear testimony to what was done for him. The command to “go home to your family [or ‘your people’]” is particularly significant in the light of the solitary and self-destructive life the man had been leading. Jesus’ healing brought restoration of normal human relationships.
The further command, “Tell them how much the Lord has done for you” (v. 19), is in marked contrast to Jesus’ instructions to the cleansed leper in 1:44—“See that you don’t tell this to anyone.” A probable reason for the change is that in the case of the demoniac Jesus was in Gentile territory, where there would be little danger that popular messianic ideas about him might be circulated. It was in Jewish territory that this possibility was always present. Or perhaps in this man’s case, Jesus realized that the true nature of his person and mission was perceived; so the man could be trusted to convey to others the truth about Jesus.
20 The man obeyed without argument and “began to tell in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him.” The Decapolis was a league of ten originally free Greek cities located on the east of Lake Galilee and the Jordan River (except for Scythopolis). They had been organized on the Greek model during the Seleucid period, brought under Hasmonean control by John Hyrcanus, and liberated by the Roman general Pompey. These cities heard the testimony of the former demoniac and responded with amazement. Anderson, 150, suggests that Mark may regard this incident “as the inauguration of the mission to the Gentiles.” Whether or not this view is correct, Jesus’ ministry in the Gentile region “across the sea” (v. 1) certainly foreshadows the proclamation of the gospel to all nations.
Mark exhibits a very high Christology when Jesus’ command to “tell them how much the Lord has done for you” (v. 19) results in the man’s telling “how much Jesus had done for him” (v. 20). The work of Jesus is the work of God (cf. France, 233; Marcus, 354).
5:18–20. But the man knew the wonderful gift that he had received. He begged Jesus to take him with him. Jesus denied his request. Why? He left the man there as a witness to the region as well as a constant reminder of his judgment against them if they refused his gift. Jesus told the man to return to his family and tell everyone what God had done for him. The man did so. In his mind, God and Jesus were equal. This realization comes only through the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 12:3). Note this was a situation where Jesus did not tell the healed person to remain silent. Perhaps he did so because this was a Gentile region where messianic expectations did not exist among the people.
18. And as he [Jesus] was getting into the boat, the man who had been demon-possessedbegged to go with him. It was a very natural request. The man wishes to be in the company of his Benefactor, to whom he has become so heavily indebted. He wishes to render to him every service he may require. 19. But he refused and said to him, Go home to your people, and tell them what great things the Lord has done for you and how he had mercy on you. Several points should be noted:
- Is it not striking that the One who had granted the request of the demons, permitting them to enter the pigs, and of the people, that he leave their district, refuses to grant the request of a man who has become his own ardent follower? We learn from this that when God allows his people to get whatever it is they wish to have, this is not always an unmixed blessing. And when he refuses to say “Yes” in answer to their earnest petition, this is not necessarily a sign of his disfavor.
- True missionary activity begins at home … but does not end there. It does indeed begin at home (Acts 1:8; cf. Matt. 10:5, 6). Does this not also imply that a true church member is at least as concerned about providing a thorough Christian education for his own children as he is about sending missionaries to the heathen? The latter task is indeed very important and necessary, but the former should have the priority.
- The man is ordered to tell his people what great things “the Lord” has done for him. As verse 20 indicates, he understands this word “the Lord” to refer to Jesus. In Luke 8:39a the word “God” is substituted for “the Lord.” The man again interprets “God” to refer to Jesus (8:39b). This shows that, as the evangelists and the cured demoniac saw it, Jesus is the Lord. He is God.
- What may well be considered the main lesson is this: by ordering the man to go to his own “folks”—the term not to be taken too narrowly (see verse 20), and with the implied idea that neighbor will tell neighbor—, Jesus is showing a great kindness, and this not only to the former demoniac but also to the entire community that had so shamefully rejected him. They had asked him to leave, but he, in his great love, cannot completely separate himself from them. So he sends them a missionary, in fact the best kind of missionary, one who can speak from experience. See Ps. 34:6; 66:16; 116; John 9:25; 1 Cor. 15:9, 10; Gal. 1:15, 16; Phil. 3:7–14; 1 Tim. 1:15–17; 2 Peter 1:16; 1 John 1:1–4.
The man obeyed. 20. So he went away and began to proclaim in the Decapolis what great things Jesus had done for him; and everybody was amazed. The healed man did exactly what the Lord wanted him to do. He went home and there related what great things Jesus had done for him. But he did not stop then and there. So filled was he with joy and gratitude that he soon included the entire city where he was living in the sphere of his missionary activity (Luke 8:39). Even this did not satisfy his eagerness to ascribe the glory to God. Soon he was bearing testimony to God’s goodness in the Decapolis as a whole, as Mark states.
This “Decapolis” was a league of ten Hellenic cities: Scythopolis (located west of the Jordan River); east of the Jordan: Philadelphia, Gerasa, Pella, Damascus, Kanata, Dion, Abila, Gadara, and Hippos. See the sketch. These ten cities, at one time deprived of their freedom by the Maccabees, had by the Romans been delivered from their yoke and had even been given a considerable measure of home rule. Though required to render tribute and military service to Rome, they had been allowed to form an association for commercial progress and for mutual defense against any encroachment from the side of either Jews or Arabs. They had their own army, courts, and coinage. Throughout this region there was a scattering of Jews, but by and large this was definitely Gentile territory; a fact to which, for example, many Greek amphitheatres bore witness.
Everybody was amazed. The people who heard this man testify probably continued for some time to be filled with wonder and praise. No doubt some did more than merely marvel. In Decapolis, too, there must have been a “remnant” of people in whose hearts and lives the word of God was effective unto salvation, to his glory. See Isa. 55:11; Matt. 4:24, 25; Mark 7:31–37.
 MacArthur, J. (2015). Mark 1–8 (pp. 248–250). Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers.
 Wessel, W. W., & Strauss, M. L. (2010). Mark. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Matthew–Mark (Revised Edition) (Vol. 9, pp. 770–771). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
 Cooper, R. L. (2000). Mark (Vol. 2, p. 86). Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers.
 Hendriksen, W., & Kistemaker, S. J. (1953–2001). Exposition of the Gospel According to Mark (Vol. 10, pp. 196–198). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.