One miracle of Jesus’ that shows the struggle between God and Satan is the miracle of driving the demons out of two men and having them enter a herd of pigs. This is one of those narratives that fascinates people and invites intense discussion on the power of the darkness and how it can be handled.
The narrative can be found in three of the four Gospels. Matthew 8:28–34, Mark 5:1–20, and Luke 8:26–39 relate how Jesus travelled into an area called Gadarenes where Gentiles (non-Jews) lived. Just stopping right there we can begin to see how Jesus and the disciples could have some issues in this land. To the Jews these were “unclean” people because they were not Jewish and did not practice the Mosaic Law in their daily lives. It was forbidden for Jews to socialize with “such” people. Things are already setting themselves up against the newcomers and there has been no interaction yet.
Matthew 8:28–34 (from Biblegateway):
28 When he arrived at the other side in the region of the Gadarenes, two demon-possessed men coming from the tombs met him. They were so violent that no one could pass that way. 29 “What do you want with us, Son of God?” they shouted. “Have you come here to torture us before the appointed time?”
30 Some distance from them a large herd of pigs was feeding. 31 The demons begged Jesus, “If you drive us out, send us into the herd of pigs.”
32 He said to them, “Go!” So they came out and went into the pigs, and the whole herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and died in the water. 33 Those tending the pigs ran off, went into the town and reported all this, including what had happened to the demon-possessed men.34 Then the whole town went out to meet Jesus. And when they saw him, they pleaded with him to leave their region.
A Strange Encounter
Apparently, the men landed somewhere near a graveyard. This is another thing that Jesus does that goes against Jewish tradition. Moving among the dead was another “unclean” act that He commenced to do. Two men rush out at him in apparent demon possession. Now, many will point out that only Matthew mentions two men while Mark and Luke only mention one. Here is where an understanding of the writing of the time period is very important. Every era has a unique writing style. In this era and culture, sometimes portions of a story are not left out but rather not mentioned because they are not important. Mark and Luke both mention a man who after the miracle occurs begs to go with Jesus. Obviously the other man did not speak, therefore he was not relevant to the narrative. Relevance is vital. In our current day we like detail. Our novels have more adjectives than the dictionary has words. In Biblical times the details were not important. The message was. Who cared if it was two men or one? The demons were driven out and one man came forward asking to go with Jesus. That was all that was needed.
These men rush out charging Jesus and the disciples and stop short. The whole countryside knew of them because the path was usually avoided. The men accosted people and were so crazed that people would walk out of their way to avoid the tombs. What is notable here is that they stopped short of attacking the men. In fact, the first words are, “What do you want from us, Son of God?” Wow! No introductions were needed. The demons knew the person at a level no one possibly understand. They knew Him better than any of those that knew Him for the past 30 years did. They wanted to know why He bothered to come to an area they thought they had total control of and the freedom to do whatever they wanted. They were discovering differently.
The demons continued to shout, “Have you come here to torture us before the appointed time?” According to Revelation 20:10 Satan and the demons will be cast into a lake of burning sulfur at the end of time. These demons are acknowledging that they know what is in store for them. They know what will become of them and who will be in charge of the whole sentencing. They are worried that they’ll be getting a taste of it a little sooner than expected.
It Gets Personal
Mark and Luke make an interesting observation. In response, Jesus does not explain His presence. He demands to know their name. What is so important about knowing their name? Names have been scared throughout many cultures over the centuries. Some native tribes believed that if you know a person’s intimate name then you had control over their soul. A name gives someone a little bit of a hold on you. They have something that is yours and yours alone. By demanding their name, Jesus was letting them know that He was in control. They could have lied to Him, but remember that they knew exactly who they were dealing with. He did not need their names to send them away. He was putting them on the spot in front of many people so that everyone would be clear as to what was going on. Jesus did not do anything in the dark. He works in the light for all to see. It is the devil who is secretive and hides in the shadows.
They give Him the name of Legion. This might not have been their name in heaven long ago, but it tells Jesus and everyone else around them how many demons are terrorizing these men. A legion is 100 Roman soldiers. 100 demons were possessing these two men. No wonder they were crazed and avoided. These demonic beings knew that their time was up. They had tried destroying these men and those around them, but had not quite succeeded. Demons feed on destruction. It is what they long for. Their time was up yet they craved destruction. How could they get a slight victory out of this?
Looking nearby they saw a herd of pigs. Jews could not care less for pigs as they were considered unclean. Why not possess them and everyone wins? They beg Jesus to send them into the pigs, and He acquiesced. Why? Because the townspeople could then see how the destructive beings literally left the two men and finished their destructive course. Once again, it all had to be plainly displayed so that there was no doubt what happened. The demons did not just quiet themselves in the men until Jesus left. They very visibly left them and found other hosts to help them in their task.
Once entering the pigs who have no willpower, no control, and no way to fight them, the demons drive them so crazy in a matter of seconds that the pigs kill themselves by running off a ledge into a lake. They could not fight back like the men. They were easy prey for the destructive demons. When the owners of the pigs saw this, they were in shock. Who wouldn’t be! They ran into the village and brought out more people to see the dead pigs and the men who were now calm and sane. Mouths could not stop going on and on about what had been witnessed.
What were the villagers’ responses? They begged Jesus to leave. It was unanimous that He had to go. He just saved these two men and the ungrateful people were more concerned about their livestock. Alright, fear probably had a lot to do with it, but a miracle was performed and they missed the wonder of it. They took it in fear instead of amazement. God gave them back these men, and they turned God away.
Jesus did not argue with them or point out their rudeness. He turned to leave. He knew where He was not wanted and He left them to their darkness. They were not going to listen to Him. Yet, one person saw it for what it was and wanted to get closer to that power. One of the men that had been released from the demons rushed forward this time of his own accord and not that of a demonic presence. He pleaded to go with Jesus. He wanted to be close to God. But Jesus threw a curve ball. He did not allow the man to come. This grateful man was turned away. Why? Because He was being honored with a special job from the Almighty that only he could perform. He was to go back and tell others what happened and be a witness for God’s glory. Here was one of the very first missionaries of the Christian church. He did not try to renegotiate. He did not try to change Jesus’ mind. He turned and did what he was told to do. What an example for all of God’s children!
The Message to Us
Jesus went to the outcasts, and He faced the demonic hold head on. By these actions, He is telling us several things. First of all, if the Lord Himself goes against society’s rules to reach those that have been banned, pushed aside, considered outcasts, or not up to par for the culture, why do we stop short in going to them ourselves? What prevents us from crossing over that lake that we have placed between us and them and show them some of God’s mercy and grace?
Secondly, He is showing us who is the boss and who the demons answer to. Should we be afraid of them? No. We should be respectful of the power they possess and humble in knowing that we do not have the power in ourselves to defeat them. But the Boss does! Through the Holy Spirit, the name of Jesus, and the presence of God no demonic force can stand against a believer. When they are totally immersed in these three things, there is no power on earth or beyond that stands a chance.
Thirdly, do not force yourself where you are not wanted. So many believers try to force God on people. Jesus never did that. The only people that He was up in their faces was the ones who should have known better — the pew shining, attend every Sabbath, large tithers, religious white-washed walls. To everyone else, He showed love, mercy, and miracles and then left it for them to decide to accept Him or not. He did not pick up a scroll and beat religion into people. He showed them love and allowed them to decide which road to take.
Lastly, He showed us how to respond as servants. When we accept Him as our Lord and Savior, we are telling Him that we belong to Him. We are at His command, part of His army, and ready to answer the call when it comes. Unfortunately, what generally happens is that we find excuses not to go, choose to ignore Him, or do everything in our power to show how that job is not for us. The Commander has called us to certain field positions, yet we pull back. This “unclean” Gentile did not hesitate. He wanted to go with God, but was willing to put it off a little longer to do the job requested. How do we compare to this man?