Matthew 8 – Jesus’ Galilean Ministry

Review

Last time we finished our review of Matthew 1-7 with an overview of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. Having completed our review and introduction to Matthew, let’s continue our study of Matthew’s Gospel with chapter 8 as Jesus comes down from the mountain followed by the crowd who listened to His sermon.


Matthew 8 – Jesus’ Galilean Ministry

Jesus Cleanses a Leper

1When he came down from the mountain, great crowds followed him. 2And behold, a leper came to him and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, if you will, you can make me clean.” 3And Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, “I will; be clean.” And immediately his leprosy was cleansed. 4And Jesus said to him, “See that you say nothing to anyone, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer the gift that Moses commanded, for a proof to them.”

Matthew 8:1-4 [ESV] (Mark 1:40–45; Luke 5:12–16 )

As with most of Jesus’ miracles, the point of Jesus’ healing here wasn’t just to provide relief for the leper himself from this devastating disease. In this case, we see that Jesus also intended it as a teaching opportunity.

Leviticus 13-14 gives detailed instructions for the management and treatment of leprosy among the Israelites, and for the ritual sacrifice of cleansing when someone was healed of leprosy. Of course, the cleansing ritual was rarely needed, because in the ancient world leprosy almost always resulted in the death of the sufferer after a prolonged life of agony and exile from society. So after Jesus cleansed this particular leper, He instructed him to report his healing to the priest.

Jesus’ purpose was multifaceted.

  1. For the leper himself and the crowd of onlookers – Jesus commanded the leper to fulfill the directions of the Law of Moses concerning his healing. Recall from the Sermon on the Mount that Jesus had just preached, He said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” (Matthew 5:17 [ESV]) Thus by commanding the leper to fulfill the requirements of the Law following his healing, Jesus was reinforcing this lesson, and leading by example.
  2. For the priests – It is highly unlikely that any of the priests alive and serving at the time had ever needed to perform the cleansing ritual for a leper. Probably any priest asked to do so would have needed to refresh his memory from the Scripture first. Thus when this healed leper showed up at the temple asking for this priestly service, it would have caused no little buzz among them concerning exactly how this man had been healed.
  3. For everyone – In Jesus’ day there was no effective treatment for leprosy. Clearly this healing by the power of God’s Spirit was miraculous – defying “natural” explanation. Leprosy is no longer the mysterious life-threatening menace it once was in society. We have effective treatments for it. Yet many diseases remain among us for which we have no technological solutions. Just as Jesus sending the leper to make his offering of thanksgiving was to remind the cleansed man of the source of his healing and inspire in him a heartfelt gratitude toward God, so in our own lives when God chooses to intervene with miraculous healing, we too should be moved to awe and gratitude. God does these things not only to benefit the healed person and close loved-ones, but also to inspire awe and gratitude among the community of caregivers and bystanders.

ASIDE – Both Mark and Luke report that the cleansed leper disobeyed Jesus’ admonition to tell no one how he had been healed. Thus from that point onward, Jesus was continually crowded by people seeking healing, and the “talk of the town” would have revolved around Jesus’ miracles. Naturally, this stirred up concern among the Jewish leadership and their Roman governors who saw Jesus’ popularity among the people as a threat to their power. Of course, this was exactly Jesus’ intent all along, but the culmination of this controversy at the cross was still several years away.


Jesus Heals a (Gentile) Centurion’s Servant

5When he had entered Capernaum, a centurion came forward to him, appealing to him, 6“Lord, my servant is lying paralyzed at home, suffering terribly.” 7And he said to him, “I will come and heal him.” 8But the centurion replied, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof, but only say the word, and my servant will be healed. 9For I too am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. And I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes, and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” 10When Jesus heard this, he marveled and said to those who followed him, “Truly, I tell you, with no one in Israel have I found such faith. 11I tell you, many will come from east and west and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, 12while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” 13And to the centurion Jesus said, “Go; let it be done for you as you have believed.” And the servant was healed at that very moment.

Matthew 8:5-13 [ESV] (Luke 7:1–10 )

For most modern readers, this story of yet another miraculous healing by Jesus is uncontroversial until we consider the political situation in Israel at the time. Jesus’ healing a Gentile, or even speaking to a Gentile would have been deeply offensive to not only the Jewish leadership, but also to the average Jew in Roman-occupied Israel. The Jewish people throughout history have isolated themselves from the Gentile societies surrounding them to a degree that makes racial, ethnic, and sectarian segregation in modern societies seem downright convivial. The Jews from long before Jesus’ day on down to modern times consider their status as God’s chosen people a point of pride – referring to themselves as “The Circumcision” and to Gentiles as “The Un-Circumcision.” (c.f. Ephesians 2:11-12)

But here in this episode reported by Matthew and Luke we see Jesus beginning to set about changing that attitude. Later on, speaking to some of the Pharisees, Jesus referred to Himself as the Good Shepherd saying

14I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. 16And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.

John 10:14-16 [ESV]

In Luke’s report, the Roman centurion (commander of one-hundred) wasn’t even willing to come to Jesus directly with his request. Instead, he sent emissaries from the local Jewish leaders to plead for his paralyzed servant. The centurion knew that a Jewish rabbi would become ceremonially “unclean” if he even spoke with a Gentile. But of course Jesus – the Creator and Savior of all mankind – had bigger plans than the political salvation of the Jewish people from the hated Roman occupation which the centurion symbolized.

Before we press on, consider the centurion’s intriguing statement in Matthew 8:9 (and Luke 7:8). He says that he “too” has both superiors and subordinates within a hierarchy of authority. It is significant to me that Jesus didn’t correct him. This is a reminder of what Paul said about Jesus in his letter to the Hebrews.

5For it was not to angels that God subjected the world to come, of which we are speaking.
6It has been testified somewhere,

“What is man, that you are mindful of him,
or the son of man,
[Jesus’ favorite way of referring to Himself] that you care for him?
7You made him for a little while lower than the angels;
you have crowned him with glory and honor,
8putting everything in subjection under his feet.” [Psalm 8:4-6]

Now in putting everything in subjection to him, he left nothing outside his control. At present, we do not yet see everything in subjection to him.
9But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.

Hebrews 2:5-9 [ESV]

Paul also wrote of this in his letter to the Philippians.

5Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

Philippians 2:5-8 [ESV]

The idea that the very God and Creator of the universe could somehow place Himself – albeit temporarily – under the authority of not only His Father, but also under the authority of sinful man, and that this eternal God could then even suffer death is a great mystery. Yet this centurion seemed to at least recognize these facts, if not completely understand them. Jesus Himself didn’t correct him on this point, but rather praised the centurion’s faith.


Jesus Heals Peter’s Mother-in-Law

14And when Jesus entered Peter’s house, he saw his mother-in-law lying sick with a fever. 15He touched her hand, and the fever left her, and she rose and began to serve him.

Matthew 8:14-15 [ESV] (Mark 1:29–31; Luke 4:38-39 )

This event is reported in all three synoptic gospels. Mark and Luke both report that when Jesus entered Simon Peter’s house, His disciples mentioned to Him that Peter’s mother-in-law was ill. No doubt this healing had a profound impact on Peter. We can almost hear Peter telling the gospel writers the story years later.


Jesus Heals Many

16That 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. 17This was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah: “He took our illnesses and bore our diseases.” [Isaiah 53:4]

Matthew 8:16-17 [ESV] (Mark 1:32–34; Luke 4:40, 41 )

Matthew emphasizes here that Jesus’ healing of the sick and casting out of demons among the citizens of Capernaum were fulfillment of prophecy – specifically Isaiah’s prophecy concerning the suffering Servant.

Surely he has borne our griefs [חֳלִי ḥŏlî]
and carried our sorrows;
[מַכְאֹב maḵ’ōḇ]
yet we esteemed him stricken,
smitten by God, and afflicted.

Isaiah 53:4 [ESV]

The astute reader will have noticed that Isaiah doesn’t seem to say anything about diseases or illnesses in this verse – at least not in our English translation. But the Hebrew word חֳלִי ḥŏlî translated as “griefs” in the ESV and most other English translations can also mean “diseases”, and the Hebrew מַכְאֹב maḵ’ōḇ translated “sorrows” can also mean “pain or pains.” So Matthew’s quote from Isaiah is reasonable in making his point about Jesus’ fulfillment of prophecy.

NOTE – The versions of this story from Matthew 8:16-17 reported by Mark and Luke both mention the fact that the demons Jesus cast out recognized Jesus as the Son of God, but Jesus would not allow them to speak. This is a cautionary tale for us. Remember that demons are really angels who were present with God in Heaven before Lucifer rebelled and led them out of Heaven to Earth, and to the Pit. Demons are neither stupid nor weaklings. They are incredibly powerful creatures. Praise God that they and their master must flee before the Name of Jesus, but we must nevertheless be wary of them, because they are crafty and deceitful just like their boss.


The Cost of Following Jesus

18Now when Jesus saw a crowd around him, he gave orders to go over to the other side. [of the Sea of Galilee] 19And a scribe came up and said to him, “Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.” 20And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” 21Another of the disciples said to him, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.” 22And Jesus said to him, “Follow me, and leave the dead to bury their own dead.”

Matthew 8:18-22 [ESV] (Luke 9:57–62 )

Over the years, I have struggled to understand this passage. Let’s analyze it. First, notice in Matthew 8:18 that Jesus told His disciples to prepare to go to the other side of the lake. Although the ESV doesn’t specifically say this, the NLT, NIV, CSB, and many other translations do. Jesus had a specific mission He intended to undertake on the opposite shore as we shall soon see, so He told His disciples to get ready to go. As they were making their way to the boat, several people came to Jesus expressing an interest in following Him. For a long time, Jesus’ response to the first of these in Matthew 8:20 seemed to me to be coming out of nowhere, and unrelated to the scribe’s declaration.

But Jesus isn’t whining to the man about His meager accommodations. He is warning Him (and us) that following Jesus isn’t an undertaking upon which we should embark impetuously, because following Him will most certainly involve suffering and sacrifice. The pastor at one church I attended once said that salvation in Christ is the only free gift that will cost all we have – rightly so, because it cost Jesus absolutely everything to obtain it for us. Paul gives us a succinct set of instructions regarding how we must be saved in his letter to the Romans.

if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.

Romans 10:9b [ESV]

Believing the Truth of Jesus’ resurrection, and making a commitment to offer up full control of our lives to Him as our LORD are two entirely separate things – both of which are necessary for our salvation. Furthermore merely mouthing the words “Jesus is Lord” aloud is insufficient. In this case, the NASB and ASV are closer to the mark in using the phrase “Jesus as Lord.” The KJV and NKJV render the phrase “the Lord Jesus.” The difference is subtle, but important.

The Greek word at the heart of the issue is κύριος kyrios. It means – he to whom a person or thing belongs, about which he has power of deciding; master, lord / the possessor and disposer of a thing / the owner; one who has control of the person, the master. In His admonition to the scribe so excited about following Him, Jesus was emphasizing that the man needed to fully understand the completeness of the commitment he would need to make to the mission.

At first blush, Jesus’ response to the one who wanted to wait until his father was buried seems harsh and uncaring. But we need to remember that Jesus knew the man’s heart. In saying he needed to first bury his father, he was actually just making an excuse to delay the time he would need to either commit fully to following Jesus or turn away back to his earthly life and focus. Jesus’ response was really distinguishing between those who are dead in sin, and those who have new life in Christ. Paul warned us that we must not put off the decision whether or not to follow Christ and commit our lives to Him because the stakes couldn’t be higher, and there is never a promise of tomorrow on which to make the choice.

Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation.

2 Corinthians 6:2b [NKJV]

Before moving on, let’s take a look at Luke’s report of these incidents.

61Yet another said, “I will follow you, Lord, but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” 62 Jesus said to him, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”

Luke 9:61-62 [ESV]

Matthew doesn’t mention this third person reported by Luke who wished to follow Jesus but was hesitant about making a commitment. It would be easy to take Jesus’ response as support for the idea that true believers can lose our salvation if we stumble back into sin. But I don’t believe that is what Jesus is talking about here. Jesus is warning this potential disciple (and us) that committing to follow Him will necessarily mean we will have to also commit to turn away from the things of the world. Sometimes that will be very painful – even potentially sundering family relationships. When we decide to follow Jesus, we must do so with our eyes opened and our hearts fully devoted to Him and Him alone. Jesus Himself spoke in this regard with words that are quite difficult to hear.

34“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. 36And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household. 37Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. 38And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.

Matthew 10:34-39 [ESV]

About the Sea of Galilee

To fully grasp the story of Jesus’ calming of the storm, and his casting out of the demons called Legion from the Gadarene man, it will be helpful to first take a look at the topography of the Sea of Galilee and the surrounding lands.

Satellite photo of Galilee with pertinent labels for the study of Matthew 8
Satellite View of Galilee

The Sea of Galilee is the lowest freshwater lake in the world. Its surface lies at some 600 feet below sea level.The Bible also refers to the lake as Chinnereth (Hebrew – כִּנְּרוֹת Kinnᵊrôṯ) in the Old Testament and Gennesaret (Greek – Γεννησαρέτ gennēsaret) in the New Testament. The Hebrew name כִּנְּרוֹת Kinnᵊrôṯ means “harp” and the Greek name is also derived from this Hebrew word. The lake is so-called, because its shape is reminiscent of ancient hand-held lyres such as the young David might have played for King Saul (1 Samuel 16). The lake is a little less than 150 feet deep. It stretches about 13 miles from the inflow of the Jordan River in the north to its outflow in the south, and about 7 miles from the town of Tiberias on its western shore to the base of the Golan heights on its eastern shore. The Golan Heights (called the land of Bashan in God’s Word) taken by Israel from the Syrians during the Six-day War in 1967 reach over 9,000 feet above sea level (nearly 10,000 feet above the lake’s surface, completely commanding the entire lake basin.

The Valley of Jezreel (called Armageddon in the book of Revelation) stretches from the eastern base of Mt. Carmel (where Elijah confronted the prophets of Baal – 1 Kings 18) past the steep cliffs of Nazareth, then past Mt. Tabor (where Deborah and Barak won a great victory against Sisera – commander of the army of the King of Canaan – Judges 4) to the Sea of Galilee near Mt. Arbel. The Valley of Jezreel has seen more battles throughout history than any other place on Earth. This is because it is situated along the great road connecting Egypt with Damasus, and is broad enough for great armies to gather. This valley is the only gap in the mountains between Egypt and Turkey where such great armies could gather. Today, there is a huge Israeli air base at the western end of the valley that may be clearly seen in this photo.

Map of the Sea of Galilee showing the way from Capernaum to Gadera

In ancient times, the “Way of the Sea” ran from Egypt along the eastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea to Carmel, and then turned eastward through the Valley of Jezreel past Nazareth and Mt. Tabor to the shore of the Sea of Galilee at Magdala (Mary Magdalene’s home) just north of Mt. Arbel. Turning along the northern shore, it passed through the fishing city Capernaum (home of Andrew, Peter, John, and James). After crossing the Jordan, the Way of the Sea connected with the Kings Highway that ran from Egypt along the Jordan Valley and along the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee. These two important roads met at Bethsaida (Phillip’s home) near the inflow of the Jordan, continuing northeastward to Damascus. It was somewhere along that road where Saul of Tarsus had his saving encounter with the risen LORD Jesus (Acts 9).

As this map shows, Jesus had purposed in Matthew 8:18 to go across the lake from Capernaum to Gadara near the mouth of the Yarmuk river gorge. The Gadarenes were Gentiles as we shall soon learn.

Mt. Arbel seen from boat off Tiberias
Mt. Arbel from Boat off Tiberias

The Valley of Jezreel also strongly influences the weather in the basin of the Sea of Galilee. Cold west winds from the Mediterranean flow from sea level at the port of Haifa northeast of Carmel down the valley to the surface of the lake 600 feet below sea level. The valley becomes very steep and narrow approaching Mt. Arbel, which concentrates the storms before they reach the lake. They are caught there by the great barrier of the Golan Heights, swirling around the bowl of the lake. This funneling effect causes sudden, often quite violent tempests on the lake.

View toward Capernaum from Mt. Arbel
View from Mt. Arbel Toward the Inflow of the Jordan (Mt. Hermon in the distance)

Jesus Calms a Storm

23And when he got into the boat, his disciples followed him. 24And behold, there arose a great storm on the sea, so that the boat was being swamped by the waves; but he was asleep. 25And they went and woke him, saying, “Save us, Lord; we are perishing.” 26And he said to them, “Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?” Then he rose and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm. 27And the men marveled, saying, “What sort of man is this, that even winds and sea obey him?”

Matthew 8:23-27 [ESV] (Mark 4:35–41; Luke 8:22–25 )

Of course, this storm which so terrified His disciples was no surprise to Jesus. In fact, part of His purpose in making the journey across the lake was to teach a lesson in faith to His disciples. Jesus’ response to His disciples’ fear might seem a little harsh. To understand it, we will find the wording of Mark’s version of the story helpful.

He said to them, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?”

Mark 4:40 [ESV]

Recall that these disciples had already witnessed a fair number of Jesus’ miracles – beginning with His turning water into wine at the wedding in Cana (John 2), and including His cleansing a leper, and healing many others including Simon Peter’s own mother-in-all, as well as His casting out of demons who called Him “…the Son of God” while these same disciples looked on. Certainly, Jesus had not yet revealed to any of them His full glory at the Mount of Transfiguration (Matthew 17 and Mark 9). Nor had He spoken to them yet about the true nature of His mission – sacrificing His own life on the cross to redeem all mankind out of death in our sins. Nor were these disciples likely present at Jesus’ baptism when those present heard the voice from heaven saying, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3:17) So we can surely see why they failed to understand the magnitude of Jesus’ divine power over creation. Without doubt, these fishermen had known family and friends who had lost their lives in the sudden, strong storms which frequently pass over the lake. So we can all empathize with their fears on this occasion.

Nevertheless, Jesus’ curt response to their fears is also justified. Jesus had called them to follow Him with the promise that He would make them “fishers of men.” (Matthew 4:19) Yet none of them had yet been sent by Him to preach His Gospel. So Jesus too was understandably disappointed that none of them seemed to have confidence in Him to accomplish His purposes for them. With all that said, there is no doubt that Jesus Himself had purposely brought about the dangerous storm in order to demonstrate His power to them, and instill confidence in their hearts regarding His purposes for them.

We to can take a lesson from this reminder. Jesus has called each of us to specific missions just as He did his first disciples who were with Him in this boat. He has warned us that we too will face trials along the way. Naturally, like the disciples in the boat, we will be afraid. Jesus knows this, and offers us consolation and encouragement in His Word.

I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”

John 16:33 [ESV]

For many, following Jesus will cost us our very lives. Nevertheless, Jesus promises us that He will guide our mission despite our fears.

16“Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. 17Beware of men, for they will deliver you over to courts and flog you in their synagogues, 18and you will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them and the Gentiles. 19When they deliver you over, do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say, for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour. 20For it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. 21Brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death, 22and you will be hated by all for my name’s sake.

Matthew 10:16-22 [ESV]

Above all, Jesus promises to be present with us through everything just as He was with the disciples in the boat.

…And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Matthew 28:20b [ESV]

Jesus Casts Demons from Two Men

28And 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. 29And 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?” 30Now a herd of many pigs was feeding at some distance from them. 31And the demons begged him, saying, “If you cast us out, send us away into the herd of pigs.” 32And 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. 33The herdsmen fled, and going into the city they told everything, especially what had happened to the demon-possessed men. 34And 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] (Mark 5:1–20; Luke 8:26–39 )

So we come at last to the main purpose for which Jesus traveled across the Sea of Galilee. The Gadarenes were either Gentiles or non-practicing Jews as evidenced by the fact that they raised pigs – unclean animals under the Law of Moses.

And the pig, because it parts the hoof and is cloven-footed but does not chew the cud, is unclean to you.

Leviticus 11:7 [ESV]

The exact location of this healing by Jesus has been the subject of considerable debate almost since the gospel accounts were first written. The city of Gadara (one of the Decapolis league of cities during the time of Jesus’ earthly ministry) is located near the outflow of the River Yarmuk (the largest tributary of the Jordan) from its deep gorge in northwestern Jordan some 10 KM southeast of the Sea of Galilee, yet the story clearly says that the herd of pigs into which Jesus cast the Legion of demons stampeded into the lake and were drowned. Thus it has been proposed that this casting out of the demons into the herd of pigs actually took place in the area occupied by the Gergesenes who dwelt along the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee at the base of the Golan Heights. There is indeed a place along this shoreline where the cliff of the Golan descends steeply right to the water’s edge, which may have been the location where Jesus cast out these demons.

In fact, the KJV and NKJV both translate the Greek name Γερασηνός gerasēnos found in Matthew 8:28 as “the country of the Gergesenes.” The issue is entirely unimportant, of course, except that we who are called to witness the Gospel may have this inconsistency pointed out to us by someone who is not a believer, but has some detailed knowledge of the Bible, so we need to be prepared with an answer if not an explanation regarding this alleged “error” in God’s Word.

What is important and noteworthy about this account is that all three of the synoptic gospel writers report that the demons recognized Jesus for who He truly is, calling Him Son of God.” Furthermore, they asked him a significant question – Have you come here to torment us before the time?” Clearly, the implication is that demons – at least these particular demons – recognize that they and their leader Lucifer have been defeated by Jesus’ victory on the cross, but that the time for their judgement and punishment in the Lake of Fire prepared for them has not yet come. Jesus spoke of this coming judgement in His parable of the sheep and the goats.

“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.

Matthew 25:41 [ESV]

Luke and Mark give us an intriguing additional detail of this event. The group of demons Jesus cast out called themselves “Legion” because many demons had possessed the young man. In the Roman army a legion consisted of several thousand foot soldiers and a few hundred cavalry – about the size of a modern heavy brigade. Possibly as many as thousands of demons had possessed this young man whom Jesus had come to set free. We can only imagine the degree of torture to which this Legion had subjected him.

This also brings up a point about the nature of demons which we would be well-advised to keep in mind. When the herd of pigs into which Jesus permitted the Legion to go drowned in the lake, the demons themselves didn’t die. Being originally God’s angels, demons are immortal spiritual beings whom God created to be His messengers and workers among mankind. Originally all of the demons including Lucifer himself were among the angels worshiping God in Heaven until satan rebelled and drew a third of the angels into his rebellion. Demons have no bodies of their own but are able to indwell their selected victims spiritually.

This shouldn’t alarm us. Those us who are indwelt by God’s Holy Spirit cannot be possessed by demons. God cannot dwell in the presence of evil. In fact, it is only the cleansing blood of Jesus on the cross that allows God’s Spirit to dwell within the hearts of (redeemed) sinful people in the first place. But this is also a dire warning for those who believe they have cleansed themselves of evil apart from the indwelling of God’s Spirit. As Jesus adamantly told Nicodemus – “…‘You must be born again.’ Jesus Himself warned us about this self-cleansing of our lives without the accompanying invitation of His Spirit to come and live within us.

24“When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, and finding none it says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ 25And when it comes, it finds the house swept and put in order. 26Then it goes and brings 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.”

Luke 11:24-26 [ESV]

Although two demon-possessed men were freed from bondage, the story as a whole is a tragic one because the Gadarene people failed to recognize the hour of their visitation by עִמָּנוּאֵל ʿimmānû’ēl – Jesus the very Son of God who had come into their midst. Thus they never had the opportunity to hear the Gospel of salvation in Him from His own mouth. We can only hope that the Good News of redemption and the offer of eternal life through belief in Him reached them later on after His death on the cross and His resurrection on the third day. If indeed some of those present when the Legion demons were cast into the swine heard did eventually come to saving faith in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, what a powerful testimony they would have had about the day the LORD Himself came to them in the flesh.

The accounts of the story from Luke and Mark offer some encouragement in this regard.

18As he was getting into the boat, the man who had been possessed with demons begged him that he might be with him. 19And he did not permit him but said to him, “Go home to your friends and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.” 20And he went away and began to proclaim in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him, and everyone marveled.

Mark 5:18-20 [ESV]

Looking Ahead

God willing, next time, we’ll continue our study of Matthews’s gospel with more stories of Jesus’ miraculous healings, and with the calling of Matthew himself to follow Jesus.

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