What Does Legion Mean? A Biblical Definition Of Legion

What Does Legion Mean? A Biblical Definition Of Legion August 18, 2015

What does the Bible refer to as a legion? What is the biblical definition of legion?

A Legion is…

There is the Foreign Legion and the American Legion but a legion can be a large group of people, soldiers, a national or local organization, a military force, a very large force of any kind, a national association of veterans or a Roman Legion which can be anywhere between 3,000 and 6,000 troops, depending upon what century it was. A Roman Legion was the basic military unit of the ancient Roman army. For our intents and purposes in the Bible, we will look at what was commonly understood to be a legion in the times in which Jesus had His earthly ministry or about A.D. 30-33 so that we can get a precise biblical definition of a legion.

A Legion of Angels

When Jesus was about to be arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane, Peter drew his sword in trying to defend Jesus’ from the authorities but “Then Jesus said to him, “Put your sword back into its place. For all who take the sword will perish by the sword. Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels? But how then should the Scriptures be fulfilled, that it must be so” (Matt 26:52-54)? Here is a fact about Jesus that He is fully God as He has at His command and disposal, as many angels as He would request for even the angels are under His authority. In this case, Jesus gives an example of how many angels He might be able to dispense at any given time and that is at minimum, a legion of angels which could be anywhere from between 3,000 to 6,000. This is what the typical size of a Roman legion was at the time. Besides, as powerful as angels are, one would be more than enough. The Jewish authorities brought with them a Roman cohort or some translations say “a band” plus “some officers from the chief priests and the Pharisees” (John 18:3) so we could be looking at between 300 to 600 specially trained Roman soldiers as well as the officers from the chief priests and Pharisees which might be around 100 or more. This could mean that almost 700 soldiers in all came to arrest one Man, Jesus Christ. Was it that they feared encountering Jesus who they knew had the power of God and it would take a considerable force to arrest Him? It is at least possible.


A Legion of Demons

Jesus once encountered a legion but not a Roman legion. This legion was a legion of demons. This legion of demons was more powerful than all of the Roman legions put together. This event is recorded in Mark chapter five when “They came to the other side of the sea, to the country of the Gerasenes. And when Jesus had stepped out of the boat, immediately there met him out of the tombs a man with an unclean spirit” (Mark 5:1-2). This demon possessed man “lived among the tombs. And no one could bind him anymore, not even with a chain, for he had often been bound with shackles and chains, but he wrenched the chains apart, and he broke the shackles in pieces. No one had the strength to subdue him” (Mark 5:3-4). Then “Jesus asked him, “What is your name?” He replied, “My name is Legion, for we are many” (Mark 5:9). Imagine that! This man had 2,000 demons in him, a small legion but still a very powerful one at that! No wonder he could break chains and no man could restrain him (Mark 5:4). At Jesus command “the unclean spirits came out and entered the pigs; and the herd, numbering about two thousand, rushed down the steep bank into the sea and drowned in the sea” (Mark 5:13) showing again the divinity of Christ as even the demons are subject to Him. At this, “The herdsmen fled and told it in the city and in the country. And people came to see what it was that had happened. And they came to Jesus and saw the demon-possessed man, the one who had had the legion, sitting there, clothed and in his right mind, and they were afraid” (Mark 5:14-15). Why were they afraid? Remember when Peter and the other disciples witnessed Jesus calming the storm just before this “And they were filled with great fear and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him” (Mark 4:41)? The residents of the country of the Gerasenes must have realized that this was God in the flesh and they feared him because they were apparently unwilling to repent “And they began to beg Jesus to depart from their region” just as the demons begged Jesus that they might enter the pigs (Mark 5:17).


Apparently believers have angels too because the author of Hebrews asks a rhetorical question “Are they not all ministering spirits sent out to serve for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation” (Heb 1:14) indicating that it must have been common knowledge at the time. No, we probably don’t have a legion of angels at our disposal like Jesus did but there are angels all around us and so we are admonished to “not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares” (Heb 13:2).

Article by Jack Wellman

Jack Wellman is Pastor of the Mulvane Brethren church in Mulvane Kansas. Jack is also the Senior Writer at What Christians Want To Know whose mission is to equip, encourage, and energize Christians and to address questions about the believer’s daily walk with God and the Bible. You can follow Jack on Google Plus or check out his book Blind Chance or Intelligent Design available on Amazon.

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