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. “What do you want with us, Son of God?” they shouted. “Have you come here to torture us before the appointed time?”
Some distance from them a large herd of pigs was feeding. The demons begged Jesus, “If you drive us out, send us into the herd of pigs.”
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. Those tending the pigs ran off, went into the town and reported all this, including what had happened to the demon-possessed men. Then the whole town went out to meet Jesus. And when they saw him, they pleaded with him to leave their region.
I’ve often thought of this episode as a New Testament horror story, not so much for the creepiness of demons and tombs, but for the two pleading requests made of Jesus, both answered in the affirmative. The demons plead to be sent into the pigs and the townspeople plead with Jesus to leave town. The demons remain and Jesus goes. There’s horror in that reality.
Meanwhile, we get a clearer sighting of Jesus himself. There is, of course, the experience of the formerly possessed men (Matthew tells us there are two, while both Luke and Mark simply focus attention on one), who are miraculously released from unending demonic oppression. What joy! But Matthew doesn’t linger there. Both Mark and Luke talk about the striking transformation, as the formerly crazed man is subsequently seen “clothed and in his right mind.” But Matthew leaves all that out, focusing instead on the confrontation between Jesus and the demons, because he wants us to see more clearly who Jesus is.
Eyes on Jesus – that’s the point.
The previous passage ended with the stunned disciples shaking their heads and questioning each other: “What kind of man is this?”They’ve failed to grasp the fullness of Jesus’ identity. Not so with the demons. They immediately name him “Son of God,”recognizing his full authority and realizing he is the one who will exact judgement upon them in that future day (“the appointed time”). Indeed, you can sense them cringing, readying for the blow to fall, with no doubt that Jesus has every right and authority to deal with them as he pleases. Hence their questions, “What do you want with us?”, “Have you come here to torture us?”,followed by their pitiful request, “Send us into the herd of pigs.” Jesus is the authority, and the demons know it full well.
Jesus demonstrates that authority with a single word: “Go!” The demons have no choice. Cast out, but having been given permission, they infest the pigs (Mark tells us there were some two-thousand of them), sending them crashing over a steep bank to their deaths in the lake waters below.
It’s a stunning sight that displays the magnitude of the demonic presence. But Jesus is greater. We’d already seen his full authority in the natural realm, while on Galilee he stilled the storm. Now, on this side of the lake, among the tombs, we see the extent of his authority in the supernatural realm, driving out the demons with a word.
Paul will later tell us that our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the unseen forces of evil active throughout the world. Such a realization could take our breath away, immobilizing us, causing us to cower and cringe. But then we think back to these pig-infesting demons, cowering in their own right. They saw things clearly. Jesus is indeed Son of God. All authority in heaven and on earth is truly his.
Journeying with him, we can walk into whatever’s ahead, on whichever side of the lake we find ourselves. Simply trusting.
Lord Jesus, you are the Son of God. Praise you. All power and authority is yours. I trust you. Amen.
Reflect: Where in your own life do you most need Jesus’ power and authority right now? Put it fully into his hands. Trust.