Why Did Jesus Cast Demons Into a Herd of Pigs/Swine? Why Did He Do What They Asked Him? #183
Hello friends, and happy Lord’s Day to you! Wherever you fellowship, allow me to urge you to join with your brothers and sisters in worship, prayer and Bible intake today. Minister to the Body of Christ and encourage the people that you know in your church. Hear the Word of God and follow it. Pray for the people in your church, the leaders, your pastor, and for an end to the pandemic. Worship God loudly with all of your heart whether you are gathered together in a sanctuary or watching a livestream from home. As always, I invite you to join and participate in our livestream that will be at 11am at VBC Salinas on Facebook. Today we are seeing how Jesus enables us to shine His joy during this awful season, even when our flesh wants to do nothing but brood, complain and be afraid.
Our Bible passages for today see us finishing the book of Deuteronomy by reading chapters 33 and 34, as well as more of Psalms 119 (verses 145-176), Isaiah 60 and Matthew 8, which is the home to our focus question, and one of the most perplexing incidents in the entire Bible.
In Matthew 8, Jesus is confronted by two violent, loud and supernaturally empowered demoniacs who begin shouting at Jesus, channeling the demons that are in control of them. What happens next will surprise and mystify you, if you’ve never read the text, and rather than me spoiling it, let’s go read it!
28 When he had come to the other side, to the region of the Gadarenes, two demon-possessed men met him as they came out of the tombs. They were so violent that no one could pass that way. 29 Suddenly they shouted, “What do you have to do with us, Son of God? Have you come here to torment us before the time?” 30 A long way off from them, a large herd of pigs was feeding. 31 “If you drive us out,” the demons begged him, “send us into the herd of pigs.” 32 “Go!” he told them. So when they had come out, they entered the pigs, and the whole herd rushed down the steep bank into the sea and perished in the water. 33 Then the men who tended them fled. They went into the city and reported everything, especially what had happened to those who were demon-possessed. 34 At that, the whole town went out to meet Jesus. When they saw him, they begged him to leave their region.
We learn from Mark 5 that one of these demoniacs – demon possessed men – is so strong that he has broken every chain and shackle that has ever bound him, and that no one person has ever been able to subdue him. (By the way, Mark only mentions one of these guys, which is not a textual problem, but a feature of eyewitness testimony.) That people demonized can be supernaturally strong can also be seen in the almost amusing misadventures of the seven sons of Sceva when they are beaten naked by a demon possessed man when the boys tried to cast out a demon by emulating Paul, rather than by knowing Paul’s savior and Lord. (Their mistake was thinking the power came from Paul, rather than Jesus.)
Upon sighting Jesus, these demons acost him with a most curious question: was Jesus there to destroy or torment them BEFORE THE TIME? In reply, Jesus either asks the man, or the demon for its name, according to Luke 8:
30 Jesus asked him, “What is your name?” “Legion,” he replied, because many demons had gone into him. 31 And they begged Jesus repeatedly not to order them to go into the Abyss.32 A large herd of pigs was feeding there on the hillside. The demons begged Jesus to let them go into the pigs, and he gave them permission.
And then they BEG Jesus for two favors. Favor #1 is to NOT be sent into the abyss and favor #2 is to be sent into a herd of pigs grazing nearby. This is a most fascinating conversation. We learn from this that these demons – powerful though they are – have enormous respect for Jesus and a deep understanding of His authority. They know He has the power to torment them, banish them or outright destroy them, and they BEG for mercy.
Perhaps most astonishingly of all, Jesus ANSWERS their request. WHY, WHY, WHY?! This has been, for many years, one of my top Bible questions. Yes, Jesus was merciful, gentle and kind, but it simply defies everything I thought I understood about demons for Jesus to express mercy to them…is that what is going on here? And the simple answer is: we can’t be sure, because Jesus does not explain His rationale in the text, so the best we can do is speculate. BUT WAIT – don’t be too disappointed. I have a theory for you. I think it is a solid theory, and I think I can make a biblical case for it, and I think the text of Matthew even points us in this direction, but do realize that this is still conjecture, which is fancy way of saying guessing. Maybe an educated guess, if you’ll allow it.
Here’s the big clue in the text: When Jesus encounters the demons, they ask Him a question, “What do you have to do with us, Son of God? Have you come here to torment us before the time?” Before WHAT time? And I believe the answer refers to the appointed time of their destruction. Just as they knew instantly who Jesus was…they seem to also know that their fate is sealed, and they are doomed in the distant future when Jesus comes again to establish His rule and reign. We see this doom – at least the doom of the devil – portrayed in Revelation 20:
Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven holding the key to the abyss and a great chain in his hand. 2 He seized the dragon, that ancient serpent who is the devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years. 3 He threw him into the abyss, closed it, and put a seal on it so that he would no longer deceive the nations until the thousand years were completed. After that, he must be released for a short time.
Notice the mention of the abyss in this passage. It seems that there is an appointed time – during the events of the Second Coming – in which Satan will be cast into the abyss. The text doesn’t tell us about the demons, but it is very possible they suffer the same deserved fate, and possibly the Legion demons here are aware of this, and aware that Jesus is confronting them ‘early.’
One more clue. Jesus is very, very explicit that He does not do what He wants, but He follows the lead of His Heavenly Father:
John 5:19, “Jesus gave them this answer: “Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does.”
John 8:28, “28 So Jesus said to them, “When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am he, and that I do nothing on my own.“
John 12:49, “For I did not speak on my own, but the Father who sent me commanded me to say all that I have spoken.”
Now – let’s put our clues together, remembering that this is CONJECTURE and not THEOLOGY. The demons speak of an appointed time for their judgment/destruction, and that time might be spoken of in the far future and written about in Revelation 20, during the judgment of Satan. Jesus clearly indicates that He ONLY says and does what His father commands and does. How do these clues fit together? In the wisdom of God the Father, it wasn’t the TIME for these beings to be judged and destroyed. That time was set and appointed for the future – the demons knew it, and Jesus certainly knew it, so He did not change the foreordained timetable set in place by His Father, because “He did NOTHING on His own.”
Does that solve our mystery? Maybe not, but I believe it is a good and biblical guess. Let me close with an important spiritual exhortation from pastor David Platt:
in this story, I can’t help but see a contrast. Think about this with me. These demons have fear because of their belief. They know who Jesus is and they are scared out of their minds. Demons believe in, know the authority of Jesus, and that’s why they’re afraid here in Matthew 8.
But we are just the opposite. We oftentimes have fear because of our unbelief. We struggle with fear oftentimes because we lack the faith of demons. Does that make sense? Are you following with me here? These demons knew. If we realized what they realize about Jesus, we would have no reason to fear. He’s the Son of God with authority over disease, demons, disaster. And nothing, nothing, absolutely nothing can touch us apart from His sovereign power in His sovereign will.
We are the most secure people in the world, and our security is not based on how big our house is or how good our job is or how stable our economy is, or who in the world our president is, or anything else. We are secure simply because we’re in the hands of the one who has all authority in all the world and He cares for us. And He is committed to providing everything you and I need in a world full of evil and suffering, sickness and pain. We have no reason to fear. So why do you fear, you of little faith?
David Platt, “The King’s Authority, Part 1,” in David Platt Sermon Archive (Birmingham, AL: David Platt, 2012), 3339–3340.