When Harrison Ford was thrown into a pit full of venomous snakes in a Raiders of the Lost Ark movie, I almost had to turn it off. For me, that has to be listed among the ultimate horrors. I heard a true story about someone falling out of a boat into the middle of a gang of water moccasins. The fury of the snakes churned the water. There was no hope for survival. The anger of the snakes and the poison of their venom is horrifying.
I imagine the fury of the demons taking residence in the two men in Matthew 8 to be something like that. The Bible describes them as so violent that no one wanted to pass their direction. And when Jesus did, they ran out to oppose him.
“‘What do you want with us, Son of God?’” they shouted. ‘Have you come to torture us before the appointed time?’” (v.29) There is a time appointed for their eventual destruction, and they seem to know that. That time will be when God brings his kingdom in power and destroys all evil. What bothers them is that Jesus has come now, before they perceive the end time to be here.
The demons seem to assume that until the end of time when they will be subdued, they have free reign to wreck havoc and destruction. Thomas Long wrote, “They mistakenly believe that, until that last day, they have unfettered license to wreck destruction. They can torment as many souls as they can inhabit, wreck as many institutions as they can infiltrate, cause as much pain and sorry as they can imagine.” (Matthew, 97)
How surprised they are that Jesus shows up before the expected time. “What do you want with us, Son of God?” they shouted. They didn’t just ask. They shouted. They are in rebellion. They are disrespectful. They recognize Jesus as the Son of God, but they don’t honor him for it. They yell at him. Jesus casts the demons into a herd of pigs who rush into the water and drown. The shocked pig herders run into town and report what Jesus has done to the pigs and the demon-possessed men. The towns people come out to get a look for themselves, and then they ask Jesus to leave.
Three things stand out in this story as particularly significant. One, very little detail is spent on the demon-possessed men. Mark describes only one demon-possessed man, but explains how he used to cut himself and break the chains that had been used to bind him. He was a crazy man totally out of control. He had no peace. But after the demons were cast out, the man was calm, he got dressed, and he conversed calmly with Jesus (Mark 5). No such details are given in this story about the men. The focus is not on what Jesus can do for them or us. The focus is on the incredible power of Jesus to conquer even demonic forces.
Two, the story shows Jesus power over the dark realms. We have seen Jesus’ miraculous power at work all through this chapter. He heals a man with leprosy, so he has power over physical ailments. He heals bodies. Secondly, he healed the servant of centurion, showing his interest in and concern for those outside of Israel. Next, he healed Peter’s mother-in-law and a host of others who came to him for care. After the healings, Jesus’ miraculous powers are turned upon nature when he stills the watery tempest. Then, lest anyone think the span of Jesus authority and power has been exhausted, he shows his complete mastery over the demonic. He casts out the innumerable demons.
Three, the people of the region reject Jesus. They don’t really even know who he is. This is Gentile territory so there is no way they can really know him. But, even in Israel the people are uncertain about Jesus. Interestingly, the evil spirits know who Jesus is! The Son of God! The identity of Jesus was revealed first by demonic forces. But, sadly, instead of getting to know Christ, the people cast him out. “Like many communities before and since, this town prefers the demons they know to the power of God they do not know.” (Long, Matthew, 98)
Four, the time of God’s defeat of evil is NOW! The Kingdom of God has already been revealed in power. We can take comfort and confidence in knowing that the kingdom is with us already.