The account we will study begins with Jesus and His disciples crossing the Sea of Galilee. On the way they experienced Jesus’ authority over a violent storm. Landing in Gadara, they encountered two men possessed with devils. This account is recorded in Matthew 8:18-34, Mark 4:33-5:20, and Luke 8:22-39.
Mark prefaced this story by calling to our attention the fact that Jesus used parables to teach the people and then explained their meaning to the disciples when they were alone. “And with many such parables spake he the word unto them, as they were able to hear it. But without a parable spake he not unto them: and when they were alone, he expounded all things to his disciples. And the same day, when the even was come, he saith unto them, Let us pass over unto the other side.” (Mark 4:33-35) Mark wanted this point riveted in the mind of the reader when he introduced this event. It was a teaching event for Jesus’ disciples, and for those who would follow Jesus down through the ages.
1. The Command
“Now when Jesus saw great multitudes about him, he gave commandment to depart unto the other side.” (Matthew 8:18)
The action began to unfold when Jesus gave orders to leave Galilee, get into a boat, and cross to the other side, to the country of Gadara (or country of the Gergesenes). We know from history that the other side of the Sea of Galilee was settled by both Jews and pagans. Prior to the New Testament era, it was a Greek city. During the time of Jesus’ ministry, it was a Roman city. The Gospel accounts mention that some people there kept pigs. Those Gadarenes would have been heathen as the Jews considered pigs unclean. The city would have been familiar with both Jewish and heathen cultures. So on this side of the Sea was Galilee with a larger Jewish population; the other side would have been predominantly heathen with some Jewish settlers. The other side was close enough to the Jewish faith to be familiar with it; but the people primarily practiced their heathen culture.
On this side, Jesus had plenty of opportunity for ministry. People were coming to Him and He was healing them (Matthew 8:16,17; Luke 8:19). Jesus stopped the ministry when it seemed fruitful—when there were numerous opportunities—and said, “Let us pass over to the other side.” There were multitudes on this side seeking Him, but there were two bound souls on the other side who needed Him. Jesus and His disciples entered the ship. While the disciples sailed, Jesus slept.
2. The Storm of Preparation
“And, behold, there arose a great tempest in the sea, insomuch that the ship was covered with the waves: but he was asleep.” (Matthew 8:24)
Several of the disciples were seasoned fishermen. They were in their element. The Sea of Galilee, also known as the Sea of Gennesaret or Tiberias, was where they fished. No ordinary storm would daunt these men. They most likely had experience with strong storms, for it was known that storms could arise suddenly on this sea. They knew the risks of sailing. In that time sailors and fishermen were known to be some of the most fearless of all men because danger was their constant companion.
The tempest that came upon these sailors was fierce beyond their experience. The waves were slamming into the ship. The violence of the wind threatened to break it apart. The Greek word for “tempest” here means “a swirling wind of hurricane or tornado proportions.” This storm, according to Luke, “came down” upon them. It was a divine storm, not a natural storm. It was like the ones that came upon the ships of Jonah and Paul.
The storm had not yet capsized their ship, but the disciples saw that in spite of their best efforts they were going down. There was no way they could save the foundering ship. It sunk lower with each wave that washed over it. Luke’s Gospel says they were in jeopardy—all was about to be lost. Finally they realized it was futile; they were going down unless Jesus came to their rescue. The sailors asked for help from the sleeping carpenter: “Lord, save us: we perish.”
We have noticed this storm “came down” upon them and was divinely sent. It is a picture of God taking us to the point of extremity where we know any more human effort is futile. If perhaps you think that God does not at times take His people to the extremity of their faith, please consider these few of many possible examples:
Peter — “And the Lord said, Simon, Simon, behold, Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat: But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not: and when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren.” (Luke 22:31-32)
Paul — “For we would not, brethren, have you ignorant of our trouble which came to us in Asia, that we were pressed out of measure, above strength, insomuch that we despaired even of life.” (2 Corinthians 1:8)
When God brings us low under His mighty hand, we are to humble ourselves and cast all our care on Him. It may seem that He is asleep in the ship, oblivious to the storm and to our danger. We know the storm does not frighten Him, even though it brings us to our knees and makes us cry, “Lord save us, we perish!” When God wishes to increase our faith, He shows us how small it presently is, and how greatly we fear the storm, and our need to trust Him completely.
Before Jesus rebuked the wind (and while still lying down according to Matthew’s Gospel), He asked why they were so fearful and had such little faith. He spoke to their hearts before He spoke to the wind and the sea. Then He “arose” (got up from His sleeping posture) and rebuked the winds and the sea. God brings us low under His mighty hand that we might stand in awe of Him and fear. “And they feared exceedingly, and said one to another, What manner of man is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” (Mark 4:41)
Notice that all this took place on a journey. The storm seemed about to end their lives; yet the storm was God’s plan for their lives. His plan was for them to go through this storm and to be on the other side. In the storms of life, we can lose all sense of direction or purpose and just try to survive; but Christ is still saying, “Let us go over to the other side.” He was preparing His disciples for their meeting with two men who were possessed of devils.
3. The Great Conflict
“And when he was come to the other side into the country of the Gergesenes, there met him two possessed with devils, coming out of the tombs, exceeding fierce, so that no man might pass by that way. And, behold, they cried out, saying, What have we to do with thee, Jesus, thou Son of God? art thou come hither to torment us before the time?” (Matthew 8:28-29)
Only one man is mentioned in the other Gospels, and he was most likely the spokesman for the two referenced in Matthew’s account. These men were demon possessed and show an extreme picture of depravity. In this extreme picture we can clearly see the Devil’s ultimate desire for those whom he traps in sin. They fell into bondage so far that they became spokesmen for demons. They were taken captive by the Devil.
Let’s notice some of the descriptive details concerning these two fierce men:
1. They were bound with many Satanic strongholds (as indicated by the name Legion—Luke 8:30). With so many strongholds their case appeared beyond help; hopeless. Perhaps the one man spoken of in Mark’s and Luke’s Gospels was the worse case. Many had tried to help by attempting to restrain him and his wild behavior, but they were unsuccessful. The freedom offered by the Devil proves to be the greatest bondage of all. These men represent people in bondage who resist all attempts to help them, and try to protect what they believe is their “freedom.”
2. They were exceedingly fierce. This is a picture of people who are very touchy, defensive, and volatile in their emotional response to others. They are controlled by their wild passions of bitterness and anger.
3. They had their turf. No one could trespass into their territory or privacy. Such people don’t want any outsider intruding into their life or getting too close to them. They defend their privacy fiercely. But the area over which they wield control becomes a domain from which they cannot escape. The walls they set up in their lives to keep people out are the same walls that define their bondage.
4. They wanted left alone until Judgment Day. Likewise, there are those who don’t want anyone in their life to address their bondage to sin. They say, “This is my life; the issues are between me and God, and I’ll answer to God when that time comes. Leave me alone.”
5. They had withdrawn from others. Luke 8:27 says the man who met them was from the city, but he lived among the tombs. He had removed himself from others.
Isaiah 65:1-9 gives us an Old Testament prophecy which helps explain this New Testament event. There are people which must be sought out by others because they have withdrawn themselves (Isaiah 65:1). God actively pursues them (spreads out His hands) in their sinful state (Isaiah 65:2). They openly defile themselves before God with rebellion against God’s ways (Isaiah 65:3,4). They are described as living among the tombs and eating swine’s flesh. Yet God reaches out to a remnant of them and saves them, and makes them His chosen people (Isaiah 65:8,9). This prophecy shows us what is happening in this account.
These men were bound in sin, withdrew from others, and resisted all help; yet God pursued them through Jesus Christ. He is come to seek and to save that which was lost. That is just as true today as it was two thousand years ago.
4. Satan’s Ultimate Goal
“And there was a good way off from them an herd of many swine feeding. So the devils besought him, saying, If thou cast us out, suffer us to go away into the herd of swine. And he said unto them, Go. And when they were come out, they went into the herd of swine: and, behold, the whole herd of swine ran violently down a steep place into the sea, and perished in the waters.” (Matthew 8:30-32)
Before we consider the meaning of the swine in relation to this event, let’s notice the representations of swine in the Bible. Under the Mosaic Law, swine were unclean. Anyone who touched their flesh was defiled. The Israelites were not to eat of their flesh nor touch their dead carcasses (Deuteronomy 14:8). In the New Testament, people who know the truth and deliberately reject it, and mock and attack believers, are pictured as swine. “Neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you.” (Matthew 7:6) Likewise, false teachers who were once enlightened but turned away and despised the way of righteousness are compared to a sow that was washed but returned to the mire (2 Peter 2:22). The prodigal son reached the lowest depth of depravity when “he would fain have filled his belly with the husks that the swine did eat” (Luke 15:16).
What do the pigs have to do with this event? Consider this verse: “Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonour their own bodies between themselves.” (Romans 1:24) The swine are a picture of people which God has given over to defilement with no further restraint. The demons knew they had a right to the swine because they were unclean and reprobate, and Jesus allowed the demons to enter them. Now this was done in the presence of the disciples. Perhaps Jesus wanted to show the disciples what happens when God removes His saving grace and allows Satan to have full control—they rush headlong down a slope to destruction.
Should God remove His Spirit from us when we err, we would all rush headlong down the slope and perish in the sea as swine. The disciples, most likely including Judas, saw that day what happens when Satan enters and possesses a person. Yet Judas would later open his life to Satan and come to a violent end like the pigs. The men in the tombs demonstrated lives in bondage to Satan. When the demons entered the swine, the disciples saw the ultimate end of those who are given over to the will of the Devil: they head down a slope to their destruction.
In the storm, Jesus demonstrated His power to save the disciples from death when it seemed inevitable. On the other side, He showed them that Satan’s ultimate goal for everyone is misery and death.
Jesus brought His disciples through a great storm that taught them to rely completely on Him for their salvation, that they might recognize the power of God to save to the uttermost when they reached the other side.
5. The Challenge
“And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd.” (John 10:16)
Jesus crossed over to the other side to rescue His sheep from the bondage of Satan. He took the disciples with Him. They left a multitude to seek out two lost souls. Jesus is Lord of the harvest, and prompts us with His Spirit to seek out those whom He intends to save. The disciples realized that, in the storm, they were only saved by the grace of God. When they got to the other side, they saw that others are only saved by the grace of God. God may take us through storms of life that, except for the grace of God, would overwhelm our faith. He wants us to learn that God can save hopeless cases. Those who are saved by God’s grace have a testimony.
“Return to thine own house, and shew how great things God hath done unto thee. And he went his way, and published throughout the whole city how great things Jesus had done unto him.” (Luke 8:39)
Jesus not only saved the two men and restored their relationships to their homes, but He made evangelists out of them.
Are you facing severe storms that threaten to overwhelm and drown you? Have you lost all your bearings on the sea of life? Does it seem that Jesus sleeps while you toil and labor, to no avail? Does it seem like He is oblivious to your fears? Cry out, “Lord save me, I perish.” He has brought you into this storm to increase your faith. He will save you. He is preparing you for the other side. The storm is a part of His plan, though unseen by us. It’s only in the storms of life that threaten to overwhelm our faith that we glimpse what manner of Man this is, that even winds and sea obey Him.
What manner of Man is this? John, who was on this boat, saw this Man in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day (Revelation 1:10-20). What did he see in his vision of Jesus, the same Man who was on the boat sleeping? Jesus was clothed with a garment of purity and righteousness—He only thinks of our ultimate good. His eyes were like a flame of fire—seeing everything. His feet were like fine brass in a furnace—directing and leading our lives with clarity and purpose as we walk through the fire. His voice was like the sound of many waters—one that the storms of life obey. He walks among the candlesticks—the churches of His people (Revelation 2:1). He holds the stars (or the leaders) in His hands to keep them from falling.
What manner of Man is this? He is the Alpha and Omega; and He says, “Fear not.” He is in the boat with us, and He will be with us on the other side. He will rescue His lost sheep, and they will tell others of the great things Christ has done for them. He goes to seek and to save the lost which no one else can recover. He will cross over to the other side to find them. But He looks at us and says, “Let us go over to the other side.” Perhaps others there are in bondage and need the mighty power of Jesus. Will we go over with Jesus? He may take us into a storm that threatens to overwhelm us. Let us not fear the storm which threatens us, or be defeated by the hopelessness of hard cases. Rather, let us remember what manner of Man is with us.