Matthew didn’t make this up. It was his eyewitness account, which is why he says, “at a distance.’ How many swine were nearby? About 2000, according to Mark’s gospel. And as you know, pigs epitomize uncleanness to the Jew, but swine were important to Gentiles – for a lot of reasons – beside tasty meat. But to the Jewish disciples, they are in trouble!
Ready to learn a couple things about pigs? OK. They forage for seeds and nuts that are inedible to humans, and turn them into fat and meat faster and more efficiently than any other animal in creation. Their hair was used to make combs and bristles, and their skins could be made into leather. Their bones were turned into tools. In other words, they’re pretty useful creatures, right?
But to the Jew they were always the symbol of uncleanness. They eat filth as well as good, and so they came to represent the picture of a person who plays in sin.
Like a person who claims to be a Christian but plays in sin:
“A sow, after washing, returns to wallowing in the mire.”
(2 Pet. 2:22)
“Do not give what is holy to dogs, and do not throw your pearls before swine, or they will trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.
When Antiochus Epiphanes wanted to insult the Jews as much as possible, he had a pig sacrificed on the temple altar in Jerusalem, and later, when Jews refused to eat pork, they were killed on this point alone.
Pigs, demons, and disciples. The Jewish disciples are in over their heads. In Mark’s gospel Jesus asks the demons their name… the response of the demons: “Legion” – a Roman military term. A legion was 6000 Roman soldiers, so, there was likely 6000 demons in the two men. Otherwise the term is meaningless.
Picture the hillside next to the sea of Galilee: 6000 demons in 2 men, and 2000 pigs feeding at distance. Can you say, ‘creepy?’ Twelve disciples, maybe a few more, and one guy, Jesus, standing out front of them. They are vastly outnumbered in this world. And here’s the request:
“The demons began to entreat Him, saying, “If You are going to cast us out, send us into the herd of swine.”
6000 demons meet one man, and they offer immediate submission to him? Yep, moreover, “entreat” means ‘to beg.’ The demons beg Jesus to grant their choice of exit strategy from the danger they’re in with him around. Amazingly, and unexpectedly, He doesn’t send them to the abyss:
“And He said to them, “Go!” And they came out and went into the swine, and the whole herd rushed down the steep bank into the sea and perished in the waters.”
He answers their request. He is in Gentile territory. Because after all, all these demons had been kicked out of Israel:
“When evening came, they brought to Him many who were demon-possessed; and He cast out the spirits with a word, and healed all who were ill.”
Once cast out, where did you think they went?
And once cast out today – from your church, from your home – where do you think the demons go now?