Great Questions about Demon Possession
I got a couple of great follow-up questions from some folks after the sermon about Jesus delivering the demonized man in Matthew 8:28-34. Here’s my best attempt at giving an answer.
The first question was asked by more than one person. It basically went like this: “Where did the demons go after the pigs died? Did they die too, or just disappear, or did they go to their eternal torment after that?” In addition to that, there are a couple of related questions about the events themselves.
The easiest way to answer is the first question is, “I don’t know where the demons went, because the Bible doesn’t tell us.” Unfortunately, I don’t really have a better answer than that. It doesn’t make sense why the demons would ask to go into the swine, and then promptly destroy their new “home.” I do not believe they went to their eternal torment, because their request mentions that it was “before the time” (8:29) to enter into that torment. Where did they go? We don’t know, but we can safely conclude that they went off to the next place to wreak their cruel, destructive, devilish havoc on their next victims.
Someone else asked about the dynamic of a demon inhabiting an animal. I can only conclude that this is possible, because the text says that they “went into the swine” (8:32). There have been a number of suggestions about why the demons wanted to go into the swine in the first place. Some say that the demons were just evil and destructive, and wanted to possess the pigs for the express purpose of destroying them. Some have added to that the theory that Jesus wanted the swine killed too, because they were unclean animals, and therefore it was against Old Testament regulations to be raising them. Their death was an instant judgment, consistent with Old Testament civil law. While I am sure the deliverance of the two men was a higher priority than keeping the animals alive, I don’t think it is fair to conclude Jesus would desire random and wanton destruction of property. The account is about the power of Jesus to deliver from demons, not the authority of Jesus to punish men for compromising behavior. We are missing the point if we get hung up on that detail. In fact, the townspeople DID seem to get hung up on that detail, and it was to their shame that they did so.
A final question I got was related to the statement I made in my sermon, that in the New Testament there was never any confusion or doubt about identifying who was, and who was not, demon possessed. I commented that a demon possessed person exhibited certain kinds of uncontrolled behavior, either physcially or morally, that made them easy to identify. They asked about the man who was “sitting quietly by in the synagogue, listening to all that was going on, and seeminly no one knew he was there” (the man in Mark 1:23-26 and Luke 4:33-37). After reading the accounts in both gospels, there is actually no indication that he had been sitting there for weeks or months, quietly participating undetected. Mark says his appearance was sudden (“Just then,” a word that indicates some kind of immediacy). We don’t know how sudden it was, but it does not appear his presence was not the norm. In both accounts, however, the man bursts out screaming at Jesus in the synagogue — not exactly normal, every day, conduct at the local worship center. It seems his boisterous actions, and the subsequent violent convulsions when the demon comes out, serve more to illustrate my assertion that demon possessions were readily and easily identifiable. Granted, it is possible that they guy had been quietly sitting by for a weeks. But we are not told that specifically. Mark’s language seems to indicate that his presence was as a sudden, and new arrival.
The question is a good one though, and the silence of the text may serve as a good challenge for me to think though that principle. I was first pointed to that principle through observations made by Alex Konya, in his book, “Demons: A Biblically Based Perspective.” I highly recommend the book as having a balanced, and very biblical approach to understanding a very difficult subject.
With all that said, please recognize how difficult it is to sort through some of these issues. A lot of it is shrouded in mystery because it relates to things that take place in the spiritual realm, which we have very little knowledge of. There are a lot of things said and written about demons that is nothing more than conjecture or “best guesses” on people’s part. When you hear people speaking very confidently about knowing when, how, and where demons are operating, I suggest that you be very cautious and discerning about listening to them. There is definitely more we don’t know, than what we do know.
Thanks for your questions! See you next time.
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