28 And when he came to the other side, to the country of the Gadarenes, two demon-possessed men met him, coming out of the tombs, so fierce that no one could pass that way. 29 And behold, they cried out, “What have you to do with us, O Son of God? Have you come here to torment us before the time?” 30 Now a herd of many pigs was feeding at some distance from them. 31 And the demons begged him, saying, “If you cast us out, send us away into the herd of pigs.” 32 And he said to them, “Go.” So they came out and went into the pigs, and behold, the whole herd rushed down the steep bank into the sea and drowned in the waters. 33 The herdsmen fled, and going into the city they told everything, especially what had happened to the demon-possessed men. 34 And behold, all the city came out to meet Jesus, and when they saw him, they begged him to leave their region. – Matthew 8:14-27 ESV
Matthew has already mentioned Jesus’ power to cast out demons.
So his fame spread throughout all Syria, and they brought him all the sick, those afflicted with various diseases and pains, those oppressed by demons, those having seizures, and paralytics, and he healed them. – Matthew 4:24 ESV
That evening they brought to him many who were oppressed by demons, and he cast out the spirits with a word and healed all who were sick. – Matthew 8:16 ESV
But in this case, he provides us with a first-hand description of one such case. This one involved two men who were both possessed by demons. Jesus and His disciples encountered these two demoniacs in the country of the Gadarenes, which was located on the southeastern side of the Sea of Galilee. This was a region populated primarily by Gentiles, which would explain the herd of swine mentioned in the story. Swine were considered unclean by the Jews and they were forbidden by the Mosaic law from not only eating them, but coming into contact with them.
In contrast to the accounts of Mark and Luke, Matthew mentions that there were two men who were demon possessed. In their Gospels, Mark and Luke describe there being only one man. But rather than writing this off as a contradiction or proof that the Bible is full of errors, it is more likely that Matthew and Mark concentrated their attention on the one man whose demon did all the talking. The important thing is that all three synoptic Gospels include the story, thus validating its authenticity.
The truly significant aspect of this story is that all three of the Gospel authors took seriously the spiritual warfare portrayed by this encounter between Jesus and the demonic spirits. Mark and Luke both describe the demon as falling down before Jesus in fear, displaying a recognition of Jesus’ divinity. And all three Gospel accounts carry the verbal reaction of the demon(s), as they lie prostrate before Jesus.
“What have you to do with us, O Son of God? Have you come here to torment us before the time?” – Matthew 8:29 ESV
Reflecting their awareness of Jesus’ divinity, the demons address Jesus with His messianic title, “Son of God.” They knew exactly who He was. Which provides an interesting contrast to the reaction of the disciples when Jesus had calmed the storm.
“What sort of man is this, that even winds and sea obey him?” – Matthew 8:27 ESV
The demons had no doubt as to Jesus’ identity, but their use of His messianic title does not reflect any sense of worship or reverence for Him. They simply recognized that He was the Son of God and had the power to do with them as He wished. At this point in Jesus’ earthly ministry, these demons had a better awareness of Jesus’ true identity than the disciples did. And James makes it clear that demons have a belief in God, but that is not a mark of saving faith.
You say you have faith, for you believe that there is one God. Good for you! Even the demons believe this, and they tremble in terror. – James 2:19 NLT
Even as the disciples would eventually grow in their awareness of Jesus’ identity, their belief in His deity would not be enough to secure their salvation. It was going to be their faith in His death, burial and resurrection that marked them as true believers.
Later on in his Gospel, Matthew records a conversation between Jesus and His disciples in which He asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” (Matthew 16:15 ESV). And Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16 ESV). And Jesus replied in return, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 16:17 ESV). Peter correctly described Jesus as the Son of God and was blessed by Jesus for his answer. But just a few verses later in the same chapter, Matthew reveals another exchange between Jesus and Peter. Jesus “began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised” (Matthew 16:21 ESV).
And Peter took exception to Jesus’ announcement, rebuking Him for even saying it.
“Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.” – Matthew 16:22 ESV
Peter had known Jesus’ true identity, but he was totally unaware of Jesus’ earthly mission. He was fully convinced of Jesus’ role as Messiah, but had no idea that death was part of the divine plan for salvation to be possible. Peter’s refusal to accept the reality and necessity of Jesus’ death and resurrection caused Jesus to identify him with Satan himself.
“Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” – Matthew 16:23 ESV
Like the demons, Peter was willing to recognize Jesus’ deity, but was unable to accept the need for Jesus to die in order that men might have eternal life. The demons wanted salvation from the eternal torment they knew was inevitable. But they were not looking for salvation that resulted in eternal life. Their question, “Have you come here to torment us before the time?,” seems to indicate that they knew there was future judgment awaiting them. They were aware of their fate, but were afraid that their encounter with Jesus was going to bring about a premature end to their existence. The book of Revelation records the ultimate destination of Satan and his demons.
…and the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever. – Revelation 20:2 ESV
Fearing that Jesus was going to relegate them to the lake of fire, the demons begged Jesus to cast them into a herd of swine. And with a word, Jesus did just that. The result was that the entire herd of swine “rushed down the steep bank into the sea and drowned in the waters” (Matthew 8:33 ESV). Matthew does not tell us what happened to the demons after the swine were killed. That doesn’t seem to be of relevant interest to him. He also doesn’t provide us with an explanation as to why Jesus cast the demons into the swine, thereby destroying someone’s form of livelihood. The real issue for Matthew was the power of Jesus over the spiritual realm. And it’s interesting to note that, upon seeing what Jesus had done to their swine, the herdsmen fled in terror, returning to town and telling their neighbors what had happened. And the townspeople, rather than worshiping Jesus, begged Him to leave their region. They saw Jesus as a threat, not a Savior. They were more interested in the loss of the swine than they were the miraculous deliverance of the two men. Salvation had come to the region of the Gadarenes in the form of the exorcism of the demons from these two men. But rather than worship Jesus as the Messiah, they begged Him to leave. Rather than rejoice over the deliverance of these two men, they mourned the loss of a herd of swine. And the very next chapter begins with the rather sad statement, “And getting into a boat he crossed over and came to his own city” (Matthew 9:1 ESV).
Jesus left. He exhibited His power and proved His claim to be the Messiah. But He had been rejected. He delivered two demon-possessed men, but was forced to leave behind an entire community of people who, while not possessed, were just as equally under the control of the enemy. They remained enslaved to Satan and captive to sin and death. The Messiah had come and they had turned Him away. And that pattern would repeat itself over and over again in the weeks, months and years to come.
English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.