Jesus and his disciples again crossed the Lake of Galilee for Jesus' next demonstration of power, this time over demonic spirits.
Matthew 8:28–34 tells the story of their visit to the Gergesenes on the eastern shore of the Lake of Galilee. There, Jesus and his companions met two men possessed by “fierce devils” who lived in a cave. Jesus cast out the demons, who asked permission to go into a herd of swine that was feeding nearby. Jesus granted their request, but the swine leapt off a cliff into the lake, and drowned. The people in the city who came out to meet him were more angry than impressed. It was the economic effect of losing the swine, not the personal salvation or the healing of mental disease or demon possession, that mattered most to the Gergesenes, and their feelings led them to reject Jesus and his miraculous works. Swine were unclean to Jewish people, but keeping the animals was without doubt a livelihood to their gentile keepers. What effect the death of the swine had on the demons isn't specified, but it seems apparent that they were no longer able to work in that locale.
Power of God, or Power of Satan?
Matthew 12:22–29 gives another account of Jesus casting out a demon, this time from a blind and mute man. The people witnessing the miracle were amazed, but Matthew says that when “the Pharisees” heard of it, they accused Jesus of casting out demons by the power of “Beelzebub the prince of the devils.” Jesus replies with the logical syllogism that a house divided against itself cannot stand, so how could the prince of devils be interested in casting out devils?
Luke relates that after appointing the twelve disciples (which is discussed in more detail in Chapter 5), Jesus had appointed a second level of disciples, “the seventy,” whom he commissioned to go out and preach, heal, and cast out demons in his name (see Luke 10:17–22). When they return rejoicing in their power over demons, Jesus tells them that he witnessed Satan being cast out of heaven “like lightning,” and that it would be better for them to rejoice that they are accounted worthy of the kingdom of heaven rather than in their power over evil spirits, and that they can withstand scorpion stings and venomous snakebites without harm. Literal-minded snake handlers have interpreted the previous passage as suggesting that the faithful should take up venomous snakes to prove they have received the power of the Holy Spirit. But such demonstrations seem counter to the spirit in which Jesus performed his miracles, and also seem to contradict the statement “rejoice not in your power but in having your names being written down in heaven.”
What is the unforgivable sin?
Jesus gave a solemn warning in Matthew 12: “blasphemy against the Holy Spirit shall not be forgiven” In the story of Jesus casting out a demon from a blind and mute man, the “offense against the Holy Spirit” is attributing the Spirit's works to Satan, which Jesus is saying is what these Pharisees have done.
Miracles vs. Stunts
Jesus' works of power or miracles are not publicity stunts, as shown by his frequent injunctions that the recipients of healing not broadcast that he has healed them. Moreover, any attempt to demonstrate God's power would seem to prove more vanity and pride on the claimant's part, rather than holiness and power. Though later disciples and holy followers of Christ are able to survive venomous snakebites (as in Acts 28:3–7), the metaphor here is that despite the tremendous power of Satan and his minions, Jesus' followers have greater power to overcome them.