When Jesus took a boat across the water he came to the district of the Gadarenes where he met the demoniacs living amongst the tombs. When these demoniacs saw him it is evident that the demons in the two men recognised who Jesus was and understood his power over them, for they were subject to him.
There were many demons afflicting these men. In the other gospel versions of this section the demons called themselves “Legion” indicating not so much a name but a number. The structure of the ancient Roman army was made up of a number of legions of soldiers. A legion was essentially a complete army which included cooks, armour bearers, smiths and tradesmen to maintain and repair equipment as well as soldiers. It was effectively and army in its own right along with all the necessary service and support personnel necessary to wage war. Typically a legion comprised of up to about six thousand men. So when the demons possessing the men Jesus met called themselves “Legion” they were most likely referring to the number of demons possessing the men, which may have been as many as six thousand evil spirits.
These demons recognised Jesus as the Son of God and were afraid. It is evident also from other scriptures that when a demon is cast out of a man it is most unpleasant for them. Matthew 12:43 says, “When the unclean spirit has gone out of a man, he passes through waterless places seeking rest…” So when the demon is cast out it is like wandering through a hot, dry and hostile desert for them and they suffer much torment as a result.
Now the demons in this case, having been commanded to depart from the men, did not wish to be tormented and so they begged Jesus to be allowed to enter the herd of swine. Jesus gave them leave to do so, but their wish was short-lived as the herd immediately rushed down to the sea and drowned and the demons would have to wander the waterless places anyway.
James wrote in his epistle that, “You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe–and shudder.” (James 2:19) We see here in Matthew that they had good reason to believe and shudder for they knew they would receive no mercy for their evil ways and would be cast into a place of despair. Nor should they receive mercy as in this case they had tormented these men they possessed and caused them much suffering and harm. The end judgement of these demons was a just punishment for their actions.
The last few verses are interesting too. The people who came out to see him from the town nearby were greatly afraid at what they heard and saw. They were so afraid that they asked him to go away. Jesus did not attempt to force himself on them and nor does he force himself on anyone today. He did as they asked and got into the boat and left. It is interesting that even though a great sign had been performed among them, they did not want any part of what he was doing. There are many people today who say, “Show me a sign and then I’ll believe.” In reality if the do not believe without the sign, the sign may not make much impact. Jesus showed this same principle in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31). For after the rich man died and went to Hades he asked that Lazarus be sent back to warn his brothers. But he was told that the brothers had the teachings of Moses and the prophets that they needed to listen to. But the rich man said, “…if some one goes to them from the dead, they will repent.'” Then he was told that, “‘If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced if some one should rise from the dead.'”
A miracle means nothing to one who has no belief. The miracles Jesus did confirmed the truth of the message he taught, but it is the message that is most important, not the miracle. We must listen to the message and not get dazzled by the miracle for the message of Christ is what will lead us to life.
In the whole of Matthew chapter 8 we see that Jesus has power over all things. He healed the sick, calmed the storms and cast out demons all to show that his is the power from God. We who believe in him should take comfort from the knowledge that he cares for and protects us. And he also showed that no issue was too small or too great for him to handle if we only have faith and believe in Jesus.