“When [Jesus] had come to the other side, to the country of the Gergesenes, there met Him two demon-possessed men, coming out of the tombs, exceedingly fierce, so that no one could pass that way” (Matthew 8:28).
During the course of the Church year, we consider this episode a second time in the Fall from the Gospel of Luke (8:26-39; Sixth Sunday of Luke, “jumping” form Matthew to Luke the Monday following the Sunday after the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross). The interaction and confrontation of the Lord Jesus with demons forms an integral part of the Gospel message, first manifested after Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan River when He was tempted by the devil in the wilderness (Matt. 4:1-11).
In summary of Jesus’ ministry, He healed all the sick and afflicted who were brought to Him, including the demon-possessed (Matt. 4:24); “When evening had come, they brought to Him many who were demon-possessed. And He cast out the spirits with a word, and healed all who were sick” (Matt. 8:16). Jesus’ religious opponents accused Him of casting out demons in league with Beelzebub, that is, Satan himself, the ruler of the demons. Jesus responded: “If Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then will his kingdom stand?...But if I cast out demons by the Spirit of God, surely the kingdom of God has come upon you. Or how can one enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man? And then he will plunder his house” (Matt. 12:26, 28-29).
Demons (Gk., daimones) are evil spirits, angelic creatures fallen into sin and destruction in concert with their leader, the devil, or Satan (see Lk. 10:18-20; Rev. 12:7-9). Devil (Gk., diabolos) means “slanderer”; Satan (Heb.) means “adversary.” Jesus describes the devil (and his demons) as a “murderer” and a “liar” (John 8:44).
Just as there are many holy angels obeying God and assisting human beings toward salvation, there are many demons disobeying God and corrupting human beings toward damnation. Thus our life is conducted not only on a sensible, visible plane, but it necessarily includes an intelligible, or spiritual, invisible plane. St. Paul writes: “Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Eph. 6:11-12).
Jesus came to save us completely, and thus He exposed the activity of the devil and his demons. The devil has become the de facto “ruler of this world” (Jn. 12:31) because we human beings have surrendered our desires, reason, and will to his evil promptings, “whose minds the god of this age has blinded, who do not believe, lest the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine on them’ (2 Cor. 4:4). Jesus told the Jews who rejected Him, “You are of your father the devil, and the desires of your father you want to do” (Jn. 8:44).
The episode of the Gergesene demoniacs demonstrates both the demons’ ferocity against us human beings, and Jesus’ absolute power over them who would destroy us and His world. The demon-possessed men lived in the tombs cloaking the demons’ activities under the deception that death and the ghosts of people somehow have supernatural power (Matt. 8:28). The demons knew their infernal destination yet have no plan to turn from it; rather, they preferred a temporary home in pigs and proceeded to violently destroy that home when given permission to enter the swine (Matt. 8:29-32).
Jesus, the Creator and Lord of the angels (including fallen angels, the demons), listened to the demons inhabiting the men. Jesus is also the Judge of men and angels, the Creator of the swine, and all things serve Him. With a word – “Go” – Jesus granted the demons’ request and clearly showed through the pigs’ death in the water the invisible, spiritual landscape of life. “Then those who kept [the swine] fled; and they went away into the city and told everything, including what had happened to the demon-possessed men” (Matt. 8:33).
After this episode, “the whole city came out to meet Jesus. And when they saw Him, they begged Him to depart from their region. So He got into a boat, crossed over, and came to His own city” (Matt. 8:34-9:1).
Most people want to return to their material, sensible existence, despite the revelation of the true and most important aspects of life: seeking the kingdom of God beyond physical well-being, protection from evil in keeping the good by the grace of God, and following Christ the Savior and Lord who has come to deliver us from all the personal forces of evil powerfully and murderously arrayed against us.
Jesus doesn’t argue or try to force Himself on the people who witnessed His power. Only the demon-possessed man wanted to go with Christ (see Mark 5:18). The rest begged Jesus to leave, and He left them. Ironically, by asking Jesus to leave them, the Gergesenes opened themselves up once again to the possession of the demons. “When an unclean spirit goes out of a man, he goes through dry places, seeking rest, and finds none. Then he says, ‘I will return to my house form which I came.’ And when he comes, he finds it empty, swept, and put in order. Then he goes and takes with him seven other spirits more wicked than himself, and they enter and dwell there; and the last state of that man is worse than the first. So shall it also be with this wicked generation” (Matt. 12:43-45).
So now we know the spiritual landscape of our lives. “You are of God, little children, and have overcome them, because He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world” (1 John 4:4). Having been delivered from the power of the demons, let us strive forward in everything godly for our salvation and for the life of the world.