A friend of mine asked me today about the story in the book of Matthew in which Jesus drives the demons out of two men and into a herd of pigs who all go over a cliff and die. In the end, the townspeople all tell Jesus to leave. In Matthew 8:34 we read, “And behold, all the city came out to meet Jesus, and when they saw him, they begged him to leave their region.” Interestingly enough, in many of the other stories recounting the miracles that Jesus performed, people praised Him, and begged him to stay. So, what is actually being said here? Why do these people beg Jesus to leave their region after witnessing such a miracle? Let’s look at this difficulty and discover the rest of the story.
My friend emailed me and asked, “I was reading the book of Matthew and came across verse 8:34 and wanted to see what you make of the towns people reaction to Jesus. Interesting that they did not embrace him but rather pushed him away. Would love to hear your thoughts.”
First, we should look at the context of this verse. This story can be found recounted by two different authors in Scripture. The first is in the Gospel of Matthew and the second is in the Gospel of Mark. Let’s look and see:
Matthew 8:28-34 (TNIV)
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.
Mark 5:1-20 (TNIV)
1 They went across the lake to the region of the Gerasenes. 2 When Jesus got out of the boat, a man with an evil spirit came from the tombs to meet him. 3 This man lived in the tombs, and no one could bind him anymore, not even with a chain. 4 For he had often been chained hand and foot, but he tore the chains apart and broke the irons on his feet. No one was strong enough to subdue him. 5 Night and day among the tombs and in the hills he would cry out and cut himself with stones.
6 When he saw Jesus from a distance, he ran and fell on his knees in front of him. 7 He shouted at the top of his voice, “What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? In God’s name don’t torture me!” 8 For Jesus had said to him, “Come out of this man, you evil spirit!” 9 Then Jesus asked him, “What is your name?” “My name is Legion,” he replied, “for we are many.” 10 And he begged Jesus again and again not to send them out of the area.
11 A large herd of pigs was feeding on the nearby hillside. 12 The demons begged Jesus, “Send us among the pigs; allow us to go into them.” 13 He gave them permission, and the evil spirits came out and went into the pigs. The herd, about two thousand in number, rushed down the steep bank into the lake and were drowned. 14 Those tending the pigs ran off and reported this in the town and countryside, and the people went out to see what had happened. 15 When they came to Jesus, they saw the man who had been possessed by the legion of demons, sitting there, dressed and in his right mind; and they were afraid. 16 Those who had seen it told the people what had happened to the demon-possessed man–and told about the pigs as well. 17 Then the people began to plead with Jesus to leave their region. 18 As Jesus was getting into the boat, the man who had been demon-possessed begged to go with him. 19 Jesus did not let him, but said, “Go home to your own people and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.” 20 So the man went away and began to tell in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him. And all the people were amazed.
I have italicized the verse in question above. When I first read this verse, and especially this story I was also a little perplexed. However, as I read it again and again a few things stood out.
First, let me explain why, I believe, one witness (Matthew) mentions two demon possessed men and the other witness (Mark) mentions one.
Matthew 8:28 (TNIV)
….two demon-possessed men coming from the tombs met him.
Mark 5:2 & 9 (TNIV)
2 ….a man with an evil spirit came from the tombs to meet him. & 9 Then Jesus asked him, “What is your name?” “My name is Legion,” he replied, “for we are many.”
Please note two things, one……….whether it is one or two men, it has no real bearing on the story. Also, note that Mark does not say that there was only one man, only that one man came out of the tombs to meet Jesus. There really is no contradiction. Evidently, one of the two was the leader and spokesman, the other only his companion.
Okay, let’s get to the heart of the question asked, why do these people beg Jesus to leave their region after witnessing such a miracle?
The first thing that may escape our thought process is that the people in this miracle story from Gadarenes (or Gadarenes) are gentiles, meaning that they were not Jews (followers of the one God) which I believe shows that they had very different spiritual values. The practice of idolatry was characteristic of gentile nations. We deduce this from the fact that the herdsmen are herding pigs. Pigs were considered unclean. If the area was Jewish, pig farming would be forbidden.
We also see when we look closely to the witness of Mark in verse 15 that “they were afraid”. I believe that it was a combination of both fear from seeing the supernatural power of Jesus in healing these men as well as the fear of that Jesus would be bad for their economy . Indeed, let’s look at the sight before these townspeople……..200 pigs floating dead in the water. At today’s prices, if one pig was worth $200, that wold mean that there was a sudden loss of $400,000.
Two questions to ponder: What is the cost of evil? What is the worth of a human being?
Jesus granted the demons’ request to enter the pigs and destroy the herd, but he stopped their destructive work in people, particularly the men they had possessed.
“Whenever demons were confronted by Jesus, they lost their power. These demons recognized Jesus as God’s Son (Matthew 8:29), but they protested against the power that made them submit and would one day destroy them. Just believing is not enough (see James 2:19 for a discussion of belief and devils). Faith is more than belief. By faith, you must accept what Jesus has done for you, receive him as the only one who can save you from sin, and live out your faith by obeying his commands.”