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 8:28-34 ESV
The first question we must address is why Matthew included two demon-possessed men in his account of this event, while Mark and Luke mention only one. The simple and honest answer is that we don’t know. It could be that Mark and Luke were describing the more radical and intimidating one of the two men. They both provide detailed descriptions of the man’s demon-possessed state.
…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 ESV
For a long time he had worn no clothes, and he had not lived in a house but among the tombs.…He was kept under guard and bound with chains and shackles, but he would break the bonds and be driven by the demon into the desert. – Luke 8:27, 29 ESV
The fact that Luke and Mark mention only one demoniac does not invalidate or contradict Matthew’s account that there were actually two. Each of these men compiled their gospel accounts with a particular audience in mind, with a singular focus intended, and from their own personal perspectives. So, while there appears to be some discrepancy between their accounts, each of the gospel writers provides a unique take on a shared experience.
It is important to recall the immediate context that accompanies this story. The disciples have just experienced a life-threatening storm at sea and had been eye-witnesses to Jesus’ miraculous calming of the wind and the waves with nothing more than a command. This had left the disciples in a state of joyful relief, but also confused disbelief, as they asked, “What sort of man is this, that even winds and sea obey him?” (Matthew 8:27 ESV). With each passing day and every miraculous display of His power, the disciples were receiving more insight into Jesus’ identity, but much of it left them increasingly more confused as to who He was and what He had come to do.
Upon reaching the eastern side of the Sea of Galilee, the disciples must have been relieved to be back on dry land. After their harrowing experience in the storm, the beaches and hills of Gadara were a welcome sight. But their relief was to be short-lived because as soon as they disembarked from their boats, they discovered that they had landed in the vicinity of Gentile burial ground. And to make matters worse, from among the tombs appeared two naked, wild-eyed, demon-possessed men.
Gadara, the regional capital of the Decapolis, was located on the southeastern side of the Sea of Galilee. It was a predominantly Gentile region and would not have been a common destination for the Jewish disciples of Jesus. The presence of the graveyard and the arrival of demoniacs made their landing in this particular location that much more uncomfortable and unattractive. This was the last place any of these men wanted to be.
But this encounter, like all the others the disciples of Jesus would experience, was God-ordained. Everything that had taken place over the preceding hours had resulted in this every scene taking place. The storm had driven them southeast, far from their original destination. The disciples would never have intended to land at a place like Gadara. But that was exactly what God had sovereignly ordained. This encounter with the demoniacs was not a case of chance or bad luck but was all part of a divine plan to display the true identity of Jesus. Remember the question the disciples asked immediately after the calming of the storm: “What sort of man is this, that even winds and sea obey him?” Mark recorded their question this way: “Who then is this…?” (Mark 4:41 ESV). And God was about to give them an answer to their question from a very unexpected and unlikely source.
…two demon-possessed men met him, coming out of the tombs, so fierce that no one could pass that way. And behold, they cried out, “What have you to do with us, O Son of God?” – Matthew 8:28-29 ESV
The demons which possessed these men addressed Jesus as the Son of God. They spoke to Him, fully cognizant of His identity and authority. They even ask Him, “Have you come here to torment us before the time?” (Matthew 8:29 ESV). These demons were fallen angels, agents of Satan whose sole responsibility was to torment men and women. At one time, they had been part of the heavenly host who worshiped God Almighty, but they had joined in Satan’s attempted coup against God and been cast out of God’s presence. They were now relegated to seeking out refuge in the bodies of helpless humans, tormenting and slowly destroying them.
It’s important to stop and consider how all of this was impacting the disciples of Jesus. Remember, they are Jews, and they have suddenly found themselves on Gentile soil, in close proximity to a graveyard, and accosted by two demon-possessed men. Everything about this scene shouts, “unclean!” They were not to associate with Gentiles. To do so would render them unclean. They were forbidden to come into contact with anything dead. If they did, they would be considered unclean. And to have anything to do with demons was unthinkable. Yet, here they were.
And they were hearing these demons address their rabbi and teacher as the Son of God. If you recall, this is exactly how God addressed Jesus at His baptism.
“This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” – Matthew 3:17 ESV
God had confirmed the identity of Jesus. But now, He was providing further evidence by allowing the disciples to witness the proof of Jesus’ divine power and authority through the wind and waves, and even the words of demons.
And as if the location and the unexpected company were not bad enough, Matthew is about to reveal that the disciples were in eye-shot of a herd of pigs. This would have been one more proof to these men that they were not where they were meant to be. Pigs were considered unclean to Jews, and they were to have nothing to do with them. Yet, here they were, in a Gentile land, in the company of two demon-possessed Gentiles, in close proximity to a Gentile cemetery, and with a herd of pigs nearby. Could it get any worse?
But all of this was pre-ordained by God. There is nothing about this story that should be viewed as happenstance or coincidence. This was all meant to be. And the overwhelming sense of uncleanness and impurity is intended. Jesus, the Son of God and the Savior of the world, is right where He is supposed to be, surrounded by darkness and confronted by the impurity that pervades and permeates the world. John records in His gospel:
In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. – John 1:4-5 ESV
The disciples would have sensed the darkness of their surroundings. They would have longed to enter their boats and sail away, risking another storm at sea rather than spending another moment in that God-forsaken, sin-infested region. But Jesus was right where He was supposed to be. He was the light of God shining amid the darkness. He was the Son of God, confronting sin and casting out the demons of darkness and destruction. And even the demons recognized that they were no match for Jesus. They also knew that their reign of terror on this earth was going to be short-lived because God had a plan in place for their ultimate defeat. That is why they asked Jesus, “Have you come here to torment us before the time?”
The Book of Revelation reveals that there is a future judgment for Satan and all of his demonic followers. John describes it in graphic terms.
Then the devil, who had deceived them, was thrown into the fiery lake of burning sulfur, joining the beast and the false prophet. There they will be tormented day and night forever and ever. – Revelation 20:10 ESV
These demons inherently know that they have met their match in Jesus. And all they can do is beg to be cast into a herd of swine. Later on in his gospel, Matthew records the words of Jesus concerning the need for demons to have a host to possess. Their entire existence is based on possession and manipulation.
“When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, but finds none. Then it says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ And when it comes, it finds the house empty, swept, and put in order. Then it goes and brings with it seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and dwell there, and the last state of that person is worse than the first.” – Matthew 12:43-45 ESV
These demons knew what Jesus was about to do, so they request that He allow them to possess the herd of pigs. And this request speaks volumes when it comes to Satan’s outlook on humanity. We are little better than swine to Satan and his demons.
And when Jesus cast the demons into the swine, the entire herd “rushed down the steep bank into the sea and drowned in the waters” (Matthew 8:32 ESV). These soul-less animals proved to be poor hosts for the demons, ending their lives and leaving the demons to pass through waterless places seeking rest, but finding none.
But the reaction of the helpless pigs stands in stark contrast to that of the herdsman. Matthew tells us that they “fled, and going into the city they told everything, especially what had happened to the demon-possessed men” (Matthew 8:33 ESV). And Mark provides us with additional insight, describing them returning to find the formerly possessed men in a dramatically altered state.
…the one who had had the legion, sitting there, clothed and in his right mind, and they were afraid… – Mark 5:14-15 ESV
The herdsman returned with their neighbors and friends, but rather than reacting with amazement and wonder at the amazing transformation of these two men who used to terrorize their community, they respond in fear. And Matthew records that “they begged him [Jesus] to leave their region” (Matthew 8:34 ESV). They wanted nothing to do with Jesus.
Consider all the responses recorded in this story. The demons begged to be spared. The pigs plunged to their deaths. The herdsman ran in terror. The townspeople returned in curiosity. But they all begged Jesus to leave. There was no revival in Gadara that day. But the lives of two men were dramatically changed. And Jesus sent them back into their community with a charge to tell what He had done for them.
“Go home to your friends and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.” And he went away and began to proclaim in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him, and everyone marveled. – Mark 5:19-20 ESV
The only reaction that Matthew fails to record is that of the disciples. We’re left to wonder what they thought about all of this. But just imagine the sheer volume of questions that must have been running through their minds as they considered all that they had just witnessed. This entire scenario must have left them dumbfounded and confused. But God was slowly and methodically answering their question: What sort of man is this?
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.