Legion Destroys Some Swine
“Now a great herd of pigs was feeding there on the hillside, and they begged [Jesus], saying, ‘Send us to the pigs; let us enter them.’ So he gave them permission. And the unclean spirits came out and entered the pigs; and the herd, numbering about two thousand, rushed down the steep bank into the sea and drowned in the sea.”- Mark 5:11–13
Christ’s journey into “the country of the Gerasenes” (Mark 5:1) was somewhat unusual. The Gospels tell us that Jesus did most of His work among the Jewish people. Although He encountered and ministered to Gentiles such as the centurion who had a paralyzed servant (Matt. 8:5–13) and the Syrophoenician woman whose daughter was possessed (Mark 7:24–30), the Jews received the bulk of His attention, and He spent most of His time in the predominantly Jewish regions of Galilee and Judea.
The Gerasenes, however, was located in the territory of the Decapolis, a group of ten cities with a majority population of Gentiles. Thus, we are not surprised that there was “a great herd of pigs” feeding near the tombs where the Gerasene demoniac was living (5:11). Pigs, of course, were unclean for the Jews (Lev. 11:7–8). No Jewish farmer would keep swine, and no Jewish region would tolerate the presence of pigs, let alone two thousand of them (Mark 5:13).
In light of these facts, Jesus’ ministry in the Gerasenes reveals the Lord’s remarkable concern not only for the Jews but also for the Gentiles. Christ’s primary focus was on “the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matt. 15:24), but He was concerned for all peoples. The story of the Gerasene demoniac thereby foreshadows the mission to the Gentiles that would begin in full force with the conversion of the Apostle Paul and Peter’s ministry to Cornelius (Acts 9–10).
When Jesus healed the possessed man, He allowed Legion to possess the nearby herd of swine. The demons sent the pigs off the banks of the sea and into the water, where they drowned (Mark 5:12–13). From the start, the evil spirits wanted to bring death and destruction, and they finally got their chance. It seems Jesus allowed the demons to destroy the pigs so that the people could see just what demons are up to when they assault people. They are out to steal, kill, and destroy, so we dare not trifle with evil spirits.
Jesus’ action also shows the importance of human beings relative to animals. Two thousand pigs dead for one person to live is not an even trade—and that is the point. Being made in God’s image, we are more important to the Lord than any animal. Dr. R.C. Sproul writes in his commentary Mark that the compassion of Jesus “drove Him to destroy the pigs for the sake of one human life. That is how valuable human life is.” For our Creator, one lost person saved is worth the death of many animals.
Scripture exhorts us to care for animals and not to be cruel to them. Even so, the Bible never puts the worth of animals on the same level as the worth of humanity. We “are of more value than many sparrows” (Matt. 10:31). That fact must be kept in mind in our ethical discussions. When people start putting a value on animal life equal to or higher than the value they put on human life, something is seriously wrong with the culture.
Passages for Further Study