Wow! What a story! Did this event actually take place in history? Who ever heard of hundreds of pigs stampeding into a lake and drowning? Is this an exaggerated account made up by the early Christians to "remake" Jesus into a miracle worker? No! We believe that this event actually did occur--just like every other event recorded in the Bible! However, many Bible-believing Christians have questions about this rather confusing miracle.
The "How did it happen?" questions about this miracle are easy to answer. On the east side of the Sea of Galilee there are many steep slopes where a stampeding herd of pigs could easily rush headlong down into the sea and be drowned. If these pigs were actually demon-possessed, as the Bible says, there is no problem with the "mechanics" of a herd of pigs stampeding to their deaths. It's the "Why did it happen?" questions that are much harder to answer. Why did the Lord grant the demons their request? Why did the Lord allow a whole herd of pigs to perish? Doesn't God love pigs as well as people? And what about the ethics of destroying a private business enterprise?
Refuting the CriticsKnowing the background and appreciating the teaching of this miracle will provide some answers to these questions. Critics of the Bible doubt that this miracle took place, because they question the historical accuracy of Scripture. They propose that all the miracles of Jesus were invented by the early Christians to make their new religion more "supernatural"! We, however, believe that the Lord Jesus healed this 1st century demon-possessed man exactly as the text describes. Actually, the part about the pigs lends authenticity to the account. It's not likely that the early Christians would invent a story about their "hero," Jesus, causing a large herd of innocent pigs to drown, if this miracle hadn't really happened! And if the demoniac's problems were really only psychological, but described as demon-possession by the medically ignorant early Christians (as the skeptics say), then why would they ever come up with the idea of hundreds of pigs running into the sea? Such stories could easily be shown to be false. But there is not even a shred of evidence available which questions or challenges the historicity of this miracle. In fact, even the 1st century rabbinic literature (which obviously was not "pro-Jesus") did not question the authenticity of the record of Jesus' miracles--including the drowning of the pigs.
So the miracle actually happened, and maybe "stumping the skeptics" was one of God's reasons for ordaining that this miracle of our Lord would take place. God is not opposed to seeing critics of His Word struggle unsuccessfully in their attempts to explain away the miracles of the Bible! Another reason for the "why" of this miracle certainly has to do with the fact that pigs and people were not a happy mix in Jewish culture. God's Law had clearly declared that swine were unclean animals. The herdsmen in the account may have been Jewish people who were involved in some kind of unlawful, black market pig farming.This miracle took place in a less-populated, out-of-the-way area on the east side of the Sea of Galilee. The land of the Gadarenes was essentially a Gentile area which was part of the Decapolis, a confederation of ten Greco-Roman cities of the time. What were these people doing raising pigs in this region, anyway? We may not know all the details about the background of this hog operation, but the Lord may have been telling these pig farmers--in no uncertain terms!--that they were wrongly involved in an unlawful occupation. And God, who "owns the cattle on a thousand hills," can do as He pleases with the livestock He owns--pig business or no pig business! It's interesting to note that the owners of the hog business did not find fault with what the Lord did. Perhaps they realized their guilt in running an illegal enterprise.
Teaching about DemonsAnother reason why God planned this seemingly bizarre miracle was to teach us a number of truths about the unpleasant, but real, world of demonic activity. Regardless of what skeptics may say, demons are not figments of first century imaginations. They are unseen, but no less real. They are fallen and evil spirit beings. We see from this miracle that they desire to be embodied, and can possess the bodies of people or animals. In fact, we learn from this miracle that more than one demon at a time can possess the body of a person. This account is the worst case of demon-possession described in the Bible, because a legion of demons possessed one individual person. In the Roman army, a legion was comprised of as many as six thousand men! Furthermore, we see that a person possessed by demons is capable of supernatural destructive strength and can exhibit extreme social dysfunction and severe mental problems--including suicidal tendencies. This man lived in the cave-like tombs cut into the rocky hillside, and did physical harm to himself. Demons can influence and control the thoughts and actions and even the vocal chords of the person they possess. It is quite possible that some cases of schizophrenia and multiple personalities today are caused by demonic activity.
In the case of this man in Mark 5, the demons are called "unclean." This means that these particular demons caused unusually impure talk and action. In Mark 9:14-29 we read of a "deaf and dumb" spirit which caused a boy to be mute and exhibit epileptic-like seizures. In Luke 13:11-13 there is the account of a woman who had a sickness involving a physical handicap caused by an evil spirit. So demons can differ in character and can cause different physical and psychological problems. Furthermore, verse 10 would imply that demons inhabit certain geographical areas, either by assignment or desire, so such things as "haunted houses" and occult locations are not just fairy tale inventions of the imagination.
The good news is that demons, although fallen, are still subject to their Creator. As spirit beings created by God, demons are under God's control, and only allowed to be involved in limited evil activities. It appears that some demons are already confined to the "Abyss" (see Luke 8:31 and Jude 6), and that the demonic world knows that it is only a matter of time before their ultimate destiny of doom is carried out. (See Matthew 25:41 and Revelation 12:12.) Because demons are part of God's creation, even in their fallen state they recognized Jesus for who He is--"the Son of the Most High God" (v7). Not only did they recognize Jesus as God, but they had to respond to His authority by answering His questions and obeying His commands.
The Worth of MankindIn addition to the wealth of information on the unpleasant subject of demons in this miracle, we also have the wonderful teaching about the great worth of mankind. This miracle clearly teaches that, in God's eyes, people are more important than animals! It's not that God doesn't appreciate or care about the animals He has created, but the value of people is far greater! Why? Because mankind was "created in the image of God" (Genesis 1:26). We see from this miracle that one dysfunctional, demon-possessed social outcast was more important to the Lord than a large herd of pigs. So don't ever think that you or someone else is "too far gone" for salvation! The great value of every fallen and far-off human soul is certainly taught in this miracle. Look at the wonderful change that the Lord, in His grace, brought about in this man's life. Here was a human being who lived in the most extreme degradation, sleeping in tomb caves, running around naked and wild, his mind and speech filled with impurities, and his behavior dominated by lewd and violent actions. Now, suddenly he is sitting quietly, clothed and in his right mind! What a change! Only God can bring about such a cure. And God can bring that kind of change today for any person--because He loves people, and every soul is of great worth in His sight. 2 Peter 3:9 says that God "is not willing that anyone should perish, but that all should come to repentance."
At this point, there are a few questions we all need to ask ourselves. Would my concern for this poor man have been the same as our Lord's--or would I have bypassed that cemetery as quickly as possible because of the violent homeless man living in the tombs? Would I have been willing to see the money I had invested in agricultural stock "go down the drain" if it meant the salvation and restoration of a social misfit--or would I have protected my investment and the pigs instead?Our honest answers to these questions may be an indication of how far short we come in our concern for the salvation of every human being. Oh, sure, we interact and witness to "nice" people--people like ourselves--and even give some money towards foreign missions. But we shy away from getting too involved with "social misfits and undesirable types." If we were completely honest, we would have to admit that it's hard to believe that "those people" are really as valuable to God as we are! If that's our mindset, how wrong we are! This miracle teaches us how much we need to acknowledge and confess our unbiblical bias in this area.
Dismissing the LordAnother clear teaching of this miracle is that the Lord will not stay where He's not wanted. In verse 17 we read that the people of the area "entreated Him to depart from their region"--and He did! Imagine the situation. The Lord had subdued and completely changed a man that they couldn't even control with shackles and chains! You would think that these people would have thanked Jesus and welcomed Him into their city. But the Lord had disrupted their way of life. They couldn't handle it, and they didn't want His intrusion. The Lord left when they asked Him to leave, because God will not force Himself into anyone's life where He's rejected. The same is true today. The Lord loves people, and can bring healing and happiness to anyone who responds to His grace, but He will not force people to come to Him. This lesson applies not only to unbelievers who don't want God intruding into their lives--it applies to Christians as well. There are many believers who are thankful for their salvation and the fact that they are going to heaven when they die, but right now they don't appreciate the Lord's interference in their lives. Unfortunately, these people would rather have the Lord leave them alone than have Him disrupt their self-serving and self-indulgent lifestyle. Guess what? The Lord doestake "NO" for an answer! Be warned about asking the Lord to leave you alone. The consequences for you--and your family--may be no less disastrous than if you removed the steering wheel from your car because it was getting in the way of your comfort in the driver's seat!
Lessons for EvangelismFinally, we learn something about evangelism from this miracle. When the restored man wanted to accompany Jesus back to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, the Lord did not let him come along. He told His new follower to remain at home and tell his own people about the great things the Lord had done for him. And God says the same to us today. Do we want to follow the Lord and serve him? Then we must be willing to start at home and share what the Lord has done in our lives. No, it's not as exciting to evangelize in our own little corner of the world. Our human natures are not naturally humble. We want to be noticed, we like the idea of evangelizing in a prominent position, and some of us may even seek out an important role and glitzy locale for serving God! But Jesus asks us to follow Him on the path of humility, and start by serving Him right where we are!
Furthermore, isn't it interesting that the Lord wasn't worried about the theological mistakes this man might make in his witness? Think of the "seminary training" this man would have received if he had been allowed to join the Lord's company! The lesson here is obvious. Theological training is good, but it is not required to be a good witness. After all, what is a witness asked to do in a court of law? A good witness simply tells what he or she has seen or experienced. So let's just follow the Lord's directions and tell people about the great things God has done in our own lives!
The healed man's testimony was effective. When Jesus returned again to the area of the Decapolis, He was readily received. In Mark 7:31, upon the Lord's return to this region, the people brought a deaf and dumb man to Him for healing. And in response to the Lord's miracle they even said, "He has done all things well"! Were some of them the same people who had asked Him to leave? Perhaps. If so, what a change in attitude! We, too, can confidently expect to see real change in people when we share the great things the Lord has done for us!