Friday, June 2nd, 2023
the Week of Proper 3 / Ordinary 8
the Week of Proper 3 / Ordinary 8
Pett's Commentary on the Bible Pett's Commentary
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Matthew 8". "Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://studylight.org/
commentaries/ eng/ pet/ matthew-8.html. 2013.
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Matthew 8". "Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://studylight.org/
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Introductory Words (8:1).
These words set the scene for what follows, and together with Matthew 9:35 form an inclusio for the passage. In them His ministry is seen to be a public ministry, and His mission is to the people.
‘And when he was come down from the mountain, great crowds followed him.’
Having finished His teaching to His disciples, and those who had joined them, Jesus came down from the mountain back into the world. And the consequence was that great crowds gathered and followed Him around. We are intended to distinguish between the ‘disciples’ who followed Him and the ‘great crowds’. The disciples followed as those who had submitted to His Kingly Rule, the others followed in order to see His wonders and to listen to His parables. The specific purpose that Matthew has in this passage comes out in that throughout the whole passage until verse 35 there is no mention of Jesus preaching. It is of course assumed. But Matthew wants our concentration to be on what Jesus is revealed to be in what happens. And He will again re-emphasise that Jesus is here as the fulfilment of Isaiah’s prophecies (Matthew 3:3; Matthew 4:14 and now in Matthew 8:17; compare also Matthew 12:17; Matthew 20:28) This connection with Isaiah also comes out in the whole picture of His role as proclaimer of the Good News, teacher and healer, and deliverer from demons, for which compare Isaiah 61:1-3 (specifically cited in Luke 4:18-19) and Isaiah 35:5-6.
Note also how in Matthew 8:18 the great crowds cause Him to leave Galilee and ‘go to the other side’, thus confirming that Matthew 8:1-18 form a subsection in themselves as He ministers in Galilee. We may analyse it as follows:
a And when He was come down from the mountain, great crowds followed Him (Matthew 8:1).
b And behold, there came to Him a leper and worshipped Him, saying, “Lord, if You will, You can make me clean” (Matthew 8:2).
c And He stretched forth his hand, and touched him, saying, I will, be you made clean. And immediately his leprosy was cleansed. And Jesus says to him, “See you tell no man, but go your way, show yourself to the priest, and offer the gift that Moses commanded, for a testimony to them (Matthew 8:3-4).
d And when He was entered into Capernaum, there came to Him a centurion, beseeching Him, and saying, “Lord, my servant lies in the house sick of the palsy, grievously tormented” (Matthew 8:5-6).
e And He says to him, “I will come and heal him” (Matthew 8:7).
f And the centurion answered and said, “Lord, I am not worthy that You should come under my roof, but only say the word, and my servant will be healed” (Matthew 8:8).
g For I also am a man under authority, having under myself soldiers, and I say to this one, Go, and he goes; and to another, Come, and he comes; and to my servant, Do this, and he does it” (Matthew 8:9).
h And when Jesus heard it, He marvelled, and said to them that followed, “Truly I say to you, I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel” (Matthew 8:10).
g “And I say to you, that many will come from the east and the west, and will sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the Kingly Rule of heaven, but the sons of the Kingly Rule will be cast forth into the outer darkness. There will be the weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 8:11-12).
f And Jesus said to the centurion, “Go your way; as you have believed, so be it done to you (Matthew 8:13 a).
e And the servant was healed in that hour (Matthew 8:13 b).
d And when Jesus was come into Peter’s house, He saw his wife’s mother lying sick of a fever (Matthew 8:14).
c And He touched her hand, and the fever left her, and she arose, and ministered to Him (Matthew 8:15).
b And when evening was come, they brought to Him many possessed with devils, and He cast out the spirits with a word, and healed all that were sick, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Isaiah the prophet, saying, Himself took our infirmities, and bore our diseases (Matthew 8:16-17).
a Now when Jesus saw great crowds about Him, He gave commandment to depart to the other side (Matthew 8:18)
Note that in ‘a’ great crowds followed Jesus, and in the parallel He seeks to move away from the great crowds. In ‘b’ the leper says, ‘If you will you can make me clean’, and in the parallel we learn that it was so, whatever condition men were in, because He Himself had come to bear our uncleannesses. In ‘c’ He stretched forth his hand, and touched the leper, saying, I will, be you made clean. And immediately his leprosy was cleansed. And in the parallel He touched the woman’s hand and the fever left her. In the first case the man then ministered to God by his offering. In the second case the woman ministered to Jesus by offering herself to serve Him (compare Romans 12:1-2). In ‘d’ we have what happened when He ‘came to Capernaum’ and heard of the servant’s condition, and in the parallel what happened when He ‘came into Peter’s house’ and saw her condition. Notice how much closer and personal is both the woman’s service, she served Him, and Jesus’ regard for the woman’s need (He saw), because she is connected with His own. In ‘e’ Jesus said He would go and heal the man and in the parallel He does heal him. In ‘f’ the centurion says that he is not worthy of Jesus’ response, and in the parallel is told that what matters is that he believe. In ‘g’ the centurion declares that men obey him, coming and going and doing as he pleases, and in the parallel Jesus in effect points out that men come, and do what He wants, and are also cast out, in accordance also with His will, in the heavenly kingdom. Centrally in ‘h’ Jesus expresses wonder at the faith of the centurion, a faith greater than any in Israel.
Jesus Reveals Himself As The Coming One By His Acts of Power and Proclamation Of The Good News (8:1-9).
In Matthew 11:4-5 Jesus sends to a doubting John in prison these words, ‘Tell John the things which you hear and see, the blind receive their sight, and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed and the deaf (kowphos) hear, and the dead are raised up and the poor have the Good News preached to them.’ By these words He answers the question, ‘Are You the Coming One?’ (Matthew 11:3). It cannot be doubted therefore that one of the purposes of this section is to provide the material from which Jesus can say this. For in it:
The blind receive their sight (Matthew 9:27-31).
The lame walk (Matthew 9:1-8).
Lepers are cleansed (Matthew 8:1-4).
The ‘deaf’ (kowphos) hear - the dumb (kowphos) man in Matthew 9:32-34 is described using the same Greek word. The dumb were often deaf as well, compare Mark 7:32; Mark 7:37; Mark 9:25. .
The dead are raised up (Matthew 9:18-26).
The poor have the Good News proclaimed to them (Matthew 9:35).
Both the order of incidents and the fact that Matthew does not bring out the possible deafness of the dumb man in Matthew 9:32-34 demonstrates that this was not the primary determiner of the contents of this section, but it was clearly very influential in deciding those contents. Besides it may be that the dumb man was not deaf as well, but that that incident was the closest that Matthew could come to a healing of the deaf with the material at hand. This would then serve to demonstrate how accurate he was being historically. However the parallels are otherwise quite striking.
So it cannot really be doubted that one main purpose in this section is to demonstrate, not only to John but also to Matthew’s readers, that Jesus is the Coming One. This is also emphasised by the titles applied to Jesus in the passage, ‘Lord’, ‘Son of Man’, ‘Son of God’, ‘Son of David’.
That being so it also has a second purpose related to this first. It is in order to demonstrate that ‘the Kingly Rule of Heaven is at hand’, for that has been the burden of all His preaching, teaching and miracles (Matthew 4:17; Matthew 4:23; Matthew 5:3; Matthew 5:10; Matthew 5:19-20; Matthew 6:10; Matthew 6:33; Matthew 7:21), and will continue to be so (see Matthew 9:35; Matthew 10:7-8). Note especially the inclusion formed by Matthew 4:23 and Matthew 9:35. Indeed the ideas of the Coming One and of the Kingly Rule of Heaven go together, for John had gone ahead to prepare the way for the Coming One in the same way as the way was prepared for royalty (Matthew 3:3), and the light that was to shine in Galilee (Matthew 4:16) was that of the Coming King (Isaiah 9:2-7). While it is His very power as given to Him through the Holy Spirit (Matthew 3:11; Matthew 3:16), where God declared ‘This is My Son’ (compare Psalms 2:7), that evidences that the Kingly Rule of God among them is present among them (Matthew 12:28). Thus His purpose from Matthew 8:1 onwards must also be seen as to demonstrate the presence of the Kingly Rule of Heaven. In the prophets it was the coming of the King that would manifest the Kingly Rule of Heaven on earth (Isaiah 11:1-4; Isaiah 32:1-4; Ezekiel 37:22-28).
However, all that being said it is immediately apparent that the aim described in Matthew 11:3, while helping to determine the content, has not determined the order in which this information is presented, as can be clearly seen above. So that is a matter that we must now consider further in order to understand the full significance of the passage.
There is little doubt that Matthew has gathered these accounts together for a purpose. While much of the material is found in Mark, and some in Luke (although it is probable that what Matthew calls on is not Luke but the tradition on which Luke also calls) Matthew has deliberately put it in a different order, and while retaining its essential content, shapes it in order to present certain truths. It soon becomes apparent that he is not so much interested in a chronological history, except in general outline where he follows the same pattern as Mark, as in seeking to present Jesus as the Christ (Matthew 1:1) from that history.
Thus He makes no pretence of trying to follow a chronological order, except in general outline. Rather His interest is thematic, and He is seeking to present Jesus by means of a number of vignettes loosely combined together. In doing this he tends to leave out of the stories the padding that he does not consider necessary for his purpose, as a comparison with Mark will quite clearly bring out (one reason, of course, being the lack of space on his recording medium), while ensuring that he retains its central core truth. And he does this so regularly that we must beware of making too much of what he omits, for his reason for the omissions are regularly simply due to an awareness of lack of space.
One further factor that has to be taken into account in deciding the significance of the section, is, as we have seen earlier, that the section is included within two parallel statements, Matthew 4:23 and Matthew 9:35. The previous passage up to Matthew 4:23-25 ended with a descriptive passage including the words,
‘And Jesus went about in all Galilee,
teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the Good News of the Kingly Rule,
and healing all manner of diseases and all manner of sicknesses among the people.’
This section up to Matthew 9:35 ends with the words,
‘And Jesus went all about the cities and the villages,
teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the Good News of the Kingly Rule,
and healing all manner of disease and all manner of sickness.’
The parallel between these two verses, with slight variations, is quite apparent. And this is even more emphasised by the fact that in between these two passages Matthew has first given us an example of Jesus ‘teaching’ (Matthew 5:3 to Matthew 7:12), and then an example of His ‘preaching of the Kingly Rule’ (Matthew 7:13-27), and now follows that by providing examples of the ‘healing of all manner of disease and sickness’ under that Kingly Rule (Matthew 8:2 to Matthew 9:34; with Matthew 12:28). This also confirms the central purpose in the section of presenting the arrival of the Kingly Rule of Heaven (compare Matthew 12:28).
Further, when the Apostles are sent out to proclaim the Kingly Rule of Heaven as ‘at hand’, Jesus expects them to ‘heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out devils’ (Matthew 10:8). Combined with Matthew 11:5 this emphasises again that the healing of the sick, the cleansing of lepers, the raising of the dead and the casting out of demons are in Jesus’ eyes evidences that should be acceptable to others (and especially to John) that the Coming One has arrived and that the Kingly Rule of Heaven is being revealed, as is specifically stated in Matthew 12:28.
Various attempts have been made to determine Matthew’s thinking in his presentation of Matthew 8:2 to Matthew 9:34. These include:
1) The idea that he is seeking to parallel the ten wonders of Exodus with a view to continuing the portrayal of Jesus’ coming as the new Exodus (Matthew 2:15, and see introduction). Thus ten healings are delineated: the leper; the centurion’s servant; Peter’s mother-in-law; quieting the storm; exorcising demons; the paralytic; the woman with the issue of blood; the raising of the ruler’s daughter; two blind men; the dumb demoniac. But this parallel fails because of the very limited connection between the plagues and these healings. Matthew in fact gives no indication of a connection with the plagues, or with Moses, nor do the miracles themselves in any way parallel them.
Nor also does the dividing up of the account encourage us to think that Matthew wanted us to see all the healings together as a series, for he puts within the series two narratives that divide the miracles up into subsections (Matthew 8:18-22; Matthew 9:9-17).
Furthermore the number ten is far too prominent in itself for it necessarily to indicate the ten plagues. It could equally indicate connection with the ten patriarchs (found in Genesis twice over); the ten commandments; the ten tribes of Northern Israel; the later ten virgins, and so on. Thus ten is too common a number to be able by itself to indicate a connection between two series of ten. So while there may be some significance in the fact that there are ten healings (although there are only nine healing stories, for the woman with the issue is an integral part of the account of the raising of the ruler’s daughter), namely the idea of a complete set, it must be seen as doubtful whether it connects with the plagues which were of a very different kind, even though they were equally miracles. Indeed as ‘ten’ regularly simply indicates ‘many’ (Genesis 31:7) we could thus argue that Matthew is simply stressing here that there were many healings, of which he is describing ten.
2). That the healing stories are in three sets of three (with the woman with the issue being an integral part of the raising of the ruler’s daughter, as it undoubtedly is). There appears to be a good deal to be said for this as our analysis will make clear. For in each case the sets of three are separated from each other by intervening narrative, and each set of three has other criteria which unite them. What is slightly more problematic is determining why the miracles were presented as they are, for to quite some extent they ignore chronological considerations.
One pattern suggested has been - Three miracles of healing (Matthew 8:1-15), three miracles of power (Matthew 8:23 to Matthew 9:8), and three miracles of restoration (Matthew 9:18-34). But this really falls down on the fact that all are miracles of healing (in terms of the summaries above), all are acts of power, and all involve restoration. We could therefore switch the miracles round and still have used the same headings and division. The distinctions in this regard are on the whole more apparent than real. All are wonderful, but all are equally wonderful. And the same thing can be said to scupper other similar schemes. The differences of opinion indicate that there is no obvious explanation in this regard that has gained a consensus.
Nevertheless that there is such a pattern an examination of the section brings out. So in order to consider the matter further, we will seek to analyse the passage in summary, while trying at the same time to bring out salient points (although these will be seen differently by different people.
Analysis of Matthew 8:1 to Matthew 9:35 .
a Introduction. Jesus comes down from the mountain and great crowds follow Him (Matthew 8:1).
b The healing of the leper by a TOUCH and by a WORD. He addresses Jesus as ‘LORD’. He is to show himself to the priests in accordance with the Law (Matthew 8:2-4).
c The healing of the (Gentile) centurion’s servant at a distance. The centurion addresses Jesus as ‘LORD’. He says that He can heal by a WORD. The centurion’s FAITH is commended, and he is ‘rewarded’ because he BELIEVED. He is evidence of the future reception of Gentiles (Matthew 8:5-13).
d The healing of Peter’s mother-in-law by a TOUCH. She rises and serves them. (Matthew 8:14-15).
e A general description of exorcisms and healing. The demons cast out by a WORD. This all fulfils the Isaianic prophecy, ‘He took our infirmities and bore our diseases’ (Matthew 8:16-17).
f Jesus warns one disciple about the cost of following Him wherever He goes because He is the SON OF MAN, and calls a second to follow Him by His WORD of authority. The second calls Jesus ‘LORD’ but wants first to bury his father. He is told to let the dead bury their dead and follow Him (Matthew 8:18-22).
g They are caught in a storm. Jesus calls them ‘men of little FAITH’. Jesus stills the storm with a WORD. All present marvel and call Him LORD and say, ‘What sort of a man is this that even the winds and the sea obey Him?’ (Matthew 8:23-27).
h Jesus heals two fierce demoniacs. The demons call Him ‘the SON OF GOD’. The demons are by His WORD cast into the swine standing by, who run into the sea and perish. ‘All the city’ come to meet Jesus and beg Him to leave their neighbourhood (Matthew 8:28-34).
g Jesus heals a paralytic with a WORD, and forgives his sins. He calls Himself ‘THE SON OF MAN’ with authority to forgive sins on earth. The crowds were afraid and glorified God Who had given such authority to men (Matthew 9:1-8).
f Jesus calls Matthew to follow Him with a WORD. And he follows Him. He sits at table in his house with the tax-collectors and sinners (Matthew 9:9-10).
e He reveals Himself as the Great Physician Who has come to call sinners to repentance. God desires mercy and not sacrifice. He has come as the Bridegroom bringing joy, for He has come to bring the new in replacement for the old (Matthew 9:11-17).
d He heals two women, first a woman with permanent bleeding from the womb, who TOUCHES Him, in response to her FAITH, and then He raises the ruler’s daughter from the dead, taking her BY THE HAND. The report of this goes throughout the whole district (Matthew 9:18-26).
c He heals two blind men who call on Him as SON OF DAVID, asking if they BELIEVE, and responding to their FAITH. He TOUCHES their eyes. They go away and spread His fame throughout all that district (Matthew 9:27-31).
b He casts out a dumb spirit from a dumb demoniac and the dumb speaks. The crowds marvel saying ‘Never was anything like this seen in Israel.’ The Pharisees say, ‘He casts out demons by the prince of demons.’ (Matthew 9:32-34).
a Jesus goes out teaching, proclaiming the Good News of the Kingly Rule and healing every disease and every infirmity (Matthew 9:35).
There are a number of factors to be kept in kind here. The first is the chiasmus. Note that in ‘a’ He is followed by great crowds, and in the parallel He goes through their villages teaching, proclaiming the Kingly Rule and healing. In ‘b’ a leper is healed and is to show himself to the priest, and offer the required ‘gift’ as a proof to ‘them’ (the people), and in the parallel the dumb man is healed, the healing impresses the people, but the Pharisees reject it, imputing it to the Prince of demons. In ‘c’ the believing and faith of the centurion are emphasised and in the parallel the believing and faith of the blind men are stressed. In ‘d’ a woman is healed by a touch to the hand and she rose up, and in the parallel two women are healed, one of whom touches Him and the other is taken by the hand by Him and she rose up. In ‘e’ He has come as the bearer of infirmities and diseases, and in the parallel He is the Great Physician. In ‘f’ two disciples are considering following Jesus and in the parallel Matthew does follow Him without question. In ‘g’ Jesus stills the storm with a word and all men marvel, and in the parallel He heals the paralytic with a word, the crowds saw it and were afraid and glorified God. Centrally in ‘h’ He heals the two demoniacs who call Him the Son of God. And He is asked to leave the territory. (It is not yet time for Gentile response).
Further points may be seen as emphasised in this passage which do help to stress its essential unity.
1). FAITH is stressed in the cases of the centurion (Matthew 8:5-13); the woman with the issue of blood (Matthew 9:20-22); and the two blind men (Matthew 9:27-31).
2). Healings through His WORD of power are emphasised in the cases of the leper, the centurion’s servant, the paralytic, the woman with the issue of blood, and the blind men, and to these can be added the casting out of demons by a word in the case of the crowds and the two demoniacs, and the stilling of the storm by His word.
3). His TOUCH is emphasised in the cases of the leper, Peter’s mother-in-law, the woman with the issue (who touches Him), the ruler’s daughter (He takes her by the hand), and the blind men. Note that He never uses touch in the casting out of demons. There He always uses His word.
There is thus throughout an emphasis on His word of power and His touch of power, and this is all a part of the demonstration of His authority (Matthew 8:3; Matthew 8:9; Matthew 8:22; Matthew 8:26; Matthew 8:32; Matthew 9:6; Matthew 9:9). He exerts His own authority by word and touch rather than calling even on the authority and power of God. This is especially brought out in Matthew 9:6. And even in the case of the dumb demoniac we are probably to understand that He cast it out with a word, for this story certainly reveals His authority, as the words of the people make clear (and so indirectly do the words of the Pharisees). Nevertheless the fact that Matthew does not draw attention to His word in this last example might be seen as demonstrating that while an important aspect of the passage it is not the overall controlling theme.
There are, however, on top of these, other discernible patterns. It has been pointed out that the first three miracles involve what might be seen as people of less religious importance, people not regarded as important in Judaism. There may also be an emphasis on uncleanness. Thus the first is a leper, and therefore ceremonially unclean and an outcast excluded from society. The second is the servant of a centurion, and therefore probably a Gentile and a bondslave, and certainly living in ceremonially unclean conditions (which is why the centurion recognises that Jesus might not wish to come to his house). Furthermore the emphasis is on the Gentile centurion and his faith. As a Gentile he is unclean and a ‘stranger’. The third is a woman who would be regularly unclean each month (which is one reason why the Pharisees prayed, ‘I thank You, O God that You have not made me a woman’). She is a member of an underclass (she is a woman). Furthermore her fever may well have been seen as making her unclean. Jewish Halakah forbade the touching of people with certain kinds of fever. Compare in this case how in parallel in the chiasmus are two women who could be seen as perpetually ‘unclean’, one because of her issue of blood and the other because she was dead.
Thus one lesson from the first three incidents is that Jesus has come for the outcasts, for the Gentiles, and for women, and for the ‘unclean’. However another overall emphasis in this passage (Matthew 8:2-17) is unquestionably on Jesus as the bearer of our infirmities and diseases (Matthew 8:17). For these three healings lead up to a summary verse referring to many healings, and end with the quotation of Isaiah 53:4, ‘Himself took our infirmities and bore our diseases’. Matthew is indicating that in what He is doing the Isaianic prophecies are being fulfilled, and that Jesus is therefore the Servant of YHWH. For this see also Matthew 3:17 (compare Matthew 12:17 and Isaiah 42:1); Matthew 12:17 (compare Isaiah 42:1-25); Matthew 20:28 (compare Isaiah 53:10). He has come as the Sun of righteousness with healing in His wings (Malachi 4:2) following the arrival of ‘Elijah the prophet’ (Malachi 4:5), the latter being late specifically identified with John the Baptist (Matthew 11:14). We should, however, note that this particular emphasis on His healings undoubtedly continues throughout the whole section, and we soon learn that forgiveness of sins is what lies at the root of His healings (Matthew 9:2; Matthew 9:5-6; Matthew 9:12-13) and that He has come bringing something totally new (Matthew 9:16-17).
The second set of three miracles in the section are deliberately connected by reference to the Sea of Galilee. In Matthew 8:23 ‘He entered into a boat’, in Matthew 8:28 we have ‘when He was come to the other side’, and in Matthew 9:1 He once again ‘entered into a boat’. And these are enclosed within two short passages referring to the calling of disciples, the first of which commences with ‘‘He gave commandment to depart to the other side’ (Matthew 8:18) and the second of which commences with ‘and as Jesus passed by from that place’ (Matthew 9:9). This demonstrates that they are a unity. And this is confirmed by the fact that each of these three miracle stories then end with three striking reactions, precisely because they are so remarkable: men marvelling at His authority (Matthew 8:27); men begging Him to leave their vicinity (Matthew 8:34); and men glorifying God Who had given such authority to men (Matthew 9:8). We thus have both positive and negative reactions.
Furthermore they also reveal Him as having unique authority. By His word He has authority over storm and sea (Matthew 8:26), by His word He has authority over the demon world mustered in large numbers (Matthew 8:32), and by His word He has authority over sin (Matthew 9:2; Matthew 9:6), three things seen in Israel as the great enemies of men, and as the things from which men needed most to be delivered.
The third set of three miracles end in His fame going all over ‘into all the land’ (Matthew 9:26), His fame spreading abroad ‘into all the land’ (Matthew 9:31), and the crowds marvelling and saying, ‘it was never so seen in Israel’, while the Pharisees declared that He was in league with the Devil (Matthew 9:33-34). But in what further way are they connected?
These last three in fact follow an interesting sequence in another way. First we have the raising from the dead (a Messianic act, and connected in Isaiah with the Messianic Banquet - Isaiah 25:6-8). Then the eyes of the blind are opened (again a Messianic act - Isaiah 35:5). And then the tongue of the dumb speaks, something which is noticeably emphasised (a further Messianic act - Isaiah 35:5). See here ‘the eyes of the blind will be opened -- and the tongue of the dumb will sing’ (Isaiah 35:5-6) which follows Isaiah’s prophecies of the resurrection in Matthew 25:8; Matthew 26:19). Here there is a picture of the future, when through the power of His resurrection to life He will open the eyes of those who cannot see (see Matthew 13:14-15), so that they speak out in His Name. (We can compare with this how Mark undoubtedly uses the narratives of the deaf and dumb man and the blind man who was healed in two stages as illustrations of the deafness and dumbness, and the blindness, of people in matters concerning Himself. Compare Mark 7:32-37 with Mark 8:16, and Mark 8:22-26 with both what follows and also Mark 8:16).
We may thus see in this whole section a gradual build up (note how he omits mention in the case of the leper about His fame being spread abroad) from healing and removal of uncleanness, to acts of great authority, to fulfilment of the Messianic dream, all resulting in His Name being finally spread abroad. The first three end in individual but blessed results: the leper goes to the priests to be declared clean, and to be accepted by God and man (Matthew 8:4); Gentiles will in future be accepted by Abraham, and under God’s Kingly Rule (Matthew 8:11-12); the woman rises to have the privilege of serving Jesus (Matthew 8:15). The second three have a powerful effect on men’s attitudes towards Him. The first of these ends with awe at His power over nature, the second ends with awe at His power over demons, the third ends with awe at His ability to forgive sins and His power to make a man walk at His word. The third three specifically result in an increase of His impact, with His fame going everywhere (Matthew 9:26; Matthew 9:31; Matthew 9:33). And thus does ‘the good news of the Kingly Rule of Heaven’, as promised by Isaiah, spread abroad (Isaiah 40:9 with Isaiah 52:7. See also Isaiah 61:1-3). By this it is demonstrated that ‘the Kingly Rule is the Lord’s’ (Psalms 22:28), and this last in connection with the suffering of His chosen King (Psalms 22:12-21).
The Titles of Jesus.
Finally we can consider the titles of Jesus. In the cases of the leper (Matthew 8:2), the centurion (Matthew 8:6-8), the would-be disciple (Matthew 8:21) and the disciples in the boat (Matthew 8:25) He is called ‘Lord’, and then after that not until Matthew 9:28 when it is by the two blind men who also call Him the Son of David. The address ‘Lord’ can indicate simple respect (like our ‘sir’), an address by a wife to her husband, an address by a student to a ‘Teacher’ (as to a Rabbi), an acknowledgement of superior authority, reverence as to a prophet, and it can finally signify the Lord of glory, with LORD (kurios) translating YHWH. But in Matthew it is only ever used outside parables by those who are favourably disposed towards Jesus, such as the leper (Matthew 8:2); the believing centurion (Matthew 8:6; Matthew 8:8); the unknown disciple (Matthew 8:21); all the disciples (Matthew 8:25; Matthew 13:51; Matthew 26:22); the blind men (Matthew 9:28; Matthew 20:30-31; Matthew 20:33); Peter (Matthew 14:28; Matthew 14:30; Matthew 16:22; Matthew 17:4; Matthew 18:21); the Canaanite woman (Matthew 15:22; Matthew 15:25; Matthew 15:27).
In these particular cases in Matthew 8:0 the term probably mainly points to Him as a revered prophet, or even more, for apart from the case of the would-be disciple they are all anticipating great miracles. And it is reasonable also to conclude that the constant repetition here is intended to be suggestive, so that Matthew, while using the term correctly to translate what was said, also probably intends us to gather the inference that He is the Lord of glory.
In this section also the demons call Him ‘the Son of God’ (Matthew 8:29). This must be seen as having its full force, for they were in such force that they would have obeyed none less. (Exorcisers, if they had even attempted it, would have had to try to deal with them a few at a time, Jesus casts them all out with a word of command). Jesus also describes Himself twice as the authoritative Son of Man; once as the Son of Man come in humility and yet expecting obedience (Matthew 8:20), and once as the One Who on earth has the authority to forgive sins (Matthew 9:6). To the two blind men He is the ‘Son of David’ (Matthew 9:27). He is also the Physician (Matthew 9:12) and the Bridegroom (Matthew 9:15), the latter specifically being a title that indicates that the Messianic age is on the brink. For more on these titles see in the commentary, and especially in the introduction under Titles of Jesus.
‘And behold, there came to him a leper and worshipped him, saying, “Lord, if you will, you can make me clean”.’
‘Behold.’ This is probably to be seen as opening the whole series of incidents. Matthew is saying, ‘look now at the kinds of things that He did’. He wants to bring out that what now happens is significant (compare Matthew 1:20). But it also introduces the main character in this story (apart of course from Jesus).
Jesus is approached by a skin-diseased man (not necessarily Hansen’s disease, that is, what we call leprosy). We can almost feel the shock that ran through those who were there. Such men were not supposed to approach a crowd of people. They were seen as dead men, ‘the living dead’, and banished from human society. For the Law declared, ‘All the days in which the plague shall be in him he shall be defiled. He is unclean. He will dwell alone. Outside the camp will his dwellingplace be’ (Leviticus 13:46). His clothes had to be torn, his hair dishevelled, his upper lip covered, and as he moved around he had to cry, ‘Unclean, unclean’ (Leviticus 13:45). The medical necessity for this was clear, but for the person himself it was devastating.
In Jesus’ day they were not allowed to enter walled towns, and in the synagogues a small chamber would be set aside for their use, approached from the outside. They were, however, allowed to live in unwalled towns as long as they lived in their own houses. Most Scribes and Pharisees, if they saw a skin-diseased man would hasten off in the other direction, lest his uncleanness affect their ritual purity. He was not allowed to approach within two metres/yards (four cubits) of ordinary people, and they would keep to his windward side, otherwise when there was a wind he had to keep fifty metres/yards (one hundred cubits) away. If he entered a house it would be rendered instantly unclean.
To approach a group of people in this way the man must have been desperate. And yet he must have had great faith in this prophet. It says much for Jesus’ reputation for compassion that he felt that he could approach Him at all, for a prophet might well curse such a man as he, for daring to approach Him. And, no doubt keeping the regular two metres/yards distant, he fell on his face and ‘made obeisance’ to Jesus. The word can mean ‘worship’ in the fullest sense, but can also signify the payment of homage and respect. The latter was probably the attitude of the skin-diseased man, although homage of the deepest kind, but the former was probably in the back of Matthew’s mind. The difference between homage and worship is very often clouded, and regularly homage includes a certain level of worship.
The words of the skin-diseased man are powerful. ‘LORD, if you will, you can make me clean’. In his isolated world he had had much time to think, and word would have reached him and his fellow-lepers, through relatives and friends who brought them food, of this amazing prophet and what he was doing for people. Possibly he had even heard Him speak in the synagogue. And he had become convinced that here was One with unusual powers, who had the power to remove this dreadful scourge. But he had also recognised that it would all depend on His willingness and His will. He was a great Prophet. Would He even want to bother Himself about the living dead? Would He exercise His will on his behalf? The way that he phrases it demonstrates the uniqueness that he saw in Jesus. ‘If you will.’ This is as decisive a claim to Jesus authority as we will find anywhere. By His will He has the power to make clean.
‘Clean.’ The word conveys the depths of his despair. He was not only permanently diseased, he was unclean. He was a total outcast. His condition was one despised by men, it rendered him unfit for society, it prevented more than a limited approach to God, for it barred him from the Temple. To be made clean would be such a transformation of his life as was indescribable.
But what does he mean by ‘Lord’? The word is especially significant here as it is not found in Mark’s account (although included in Luke). It is probably a recognition of His greatness as a true prophet with amazing powers, as so often in this section. He recognises in Jesus someone Who is outstanding and has unusual supernatural power (compare Matthew 8:25). People in desperate circumstances are often made to face up to what powers are necessary in order to save them in a way that others are not. And this man knew how deep his need was. Matthew, however, wants his readers to recognise the implication behind the word, that this One is LORD indeed, in the fullest sense.
The Healing of The Leper (8:2-4).
Matthew abbreviates this story of the healing of the ‘Leper’, bringing out only the essential detail (compare Mark 1:40-45). For it is that essential detail that he wants to get over. And we will soon learn that Jesus sees the healing of lepers as part of the Messianic ministry and the ministry of the Kingly Rule of Heaven (Matthew 10:7-8; Matthew 11:5). It is these things that make quite clear that ‘at hand’ means ‘about to break in on all who will hear His word’.
But note how Matthew omits the fact that after this healing His fame spread abroad. For he wants us to recognise that that process only happened gradually, and thus leaves drawing attention to it until Matthew 9:26 onwards. This must also be seen as confirming that he sees Matthew 8:1 to Matthew 9:35 as one whole.
Leprosy is one of the things that the Coming One will remove from the Messianic Kingly Rule (Matthew 11:5). Thus we are justified in seeing in this leper a picture of the world defiled and unclean and waiting to be delivered. ‘He has torn and He will heal us, He has smitten and He will bind us up’ (Hosea 6:1; compare Jeremiah 8:22; Jeremiah 46:11). Sin and its consequences are depicted in the Scriptures in terms of disfiguring disease, illness and uncleanness (Isaiah 1:4-6; compare Psalms 38:3-8. Consider also Isaiah 64:6). This healing is therefore a reminder that Jesus can heal each one of us of the leprosy of sin if only we will come and beseech Him to do His will and make us clean.
a And behold, there came to him a leper and worshipped him (Matthew 8:2 a).
b Saying, “Lord, if you will, you can make me clean” (Matthew 8:2 b).
c And he stretched forth his hand, and touched him (Matthew 8:3 a).
b Saying, “I will, be you made clean.” And immediately his leprosy was cleansed (Matthew 8:3 b).
a And Jesus says to him, “See you tell no man; but go, show yourself to the priest, and offer the gift that Moses commanded, for a testimony to them” (Matthew 8:4).
Note how in ‘a’ the leper comes to Jesus, and worships Him, and in the parallel he is told to go to the priest and offer his gift to God. In ‘b’ is the confidence of the leper that by His will Jesus can make him clean, and in the parallel Jesus confirms that he is right and heals him. In ‘c’ and centrally He reaches out and touches the leper. The Coming One reaches out to the lowest of the low.
‘And he stretched forth his hand, and touched him, saying, “I will. Be you made clean.” And immediately his leprosy was cleansed.’
We too should pause and worship as we consider this sentence and weigh up its significance. For in it we see compassion, and mercy, and thoughtfulness, and willingness to consider the most lowly of men, and on top of that power beyond expression. It summarises in its brief scope a manifestation of unique tenderness, together with a miracle of outstanding proportions.
‘He stretched forth His hand and touched him.’ We can be sure that everyone else was backing off and keeping well away from this grotesque man, and they were no doubt waiting for Jesus to draw back and bid the man remember Who and what He was. No doubt the man was expecting it as well. And then the unbelievable happened. To the amazement of all present the Prophet actually stepped towards him and touched him. Apart from fellow-lepers no one had touched him since the day that his skin-disease had been confirmed. He must have been simply astounded. And no doubt all who followed Jesus were horrified. Not being aware of the depth of feeling about such cases we cannot appreciate how horrified they would have been. They would be as turned to stone.
Here we have the first reference in Matthew to Jesus’ touch of power. It will be repeated a number of times in this passage. But in no other case will it produce the shock that it produced here. It was just not done to touch an obviously skin-diseased person. It was almost like touching the dead, and totally destructive of ritual purity.
And then Jesus said, “I will. Be clean.’ We note that Jesus did not reply in the way that others would have expected. He did not say, ‘You mean if God wills.’ He accepted that the man had seen what others had not seen, that all depended on His will. And so He spoke His will, and said ‘Be clean.’ The voice that had once said, “Let light be” (Genesis 1:2), now said ‘Be clean’. It was the voice of the Creator, Who alone could restore a man from such a condition. Following the touch of power came the word of power, His powerful creative word (Hebrews 1:3).
A healing like this had happened once before to a man who had been in such a condition for a long time, but there the prophet had kept away from the skin-diseased man and had not touched him. And he had bid him go and wash in the Jordan, leaving the cure in God’s hands (2 Kings 5:1-19). But a greater than Elisha was here, One Who could Himself directly remove uncleanness. It is a reminder that Jesus can make all men clean when they come to Him (John 13:10; 1 John 1:7).
‘And immediately his leprosy was cleansed.’ The change was apparent to all, and none moreso than the man himself. We will not try to put into words what he thought. It was beyond words. The whole of his awful past had rolled away. The pain of years had fallen away. He was clean. All traces of his dreadful disease had gone. Once more he would be able to live and associate with other people, because of the One Who ‘Himself took our infirmities and bore our diseases’ (Matthew 8:17). For he was cleansed and healed. But notice the word, ‘cleansed’. He was also clean through and through. The great barrier that had been between him and the rest of mankind was gone, and for the first time for many years he would once more be able to enter the house of God and mingle with other worshippers.
The question may arise as to why Jesus was able to touch the leper and not Himself become unclean. The answer lies within the result of the act itself. The Cleanser could not be rendered clean by the uncleanness, for by His touch the uncleanness was removed. You did not argue about cleanness with the Cleanser. He removed uncleanness. As a result of His touch and His word it no longer existed. That is why in Jesus all things were rendered clean to those who are His.
‘And Jesus says to him, “See you tell no man; but go, show yourself to the priest, and offer the gift that Moses commanded, for a testimony to them.”
But one more thing was required before the man could fulfil his dream and mix with other people. He must be certified as clean by the priests, in accordance with the Law. That was essential. In Jewish society until that had happened he would still be isolated and forbidden to approach men and women. He would still be a social pariah, whether healed or not. And so Jesus bids him to go and show himself to the priest, and then once he has been examined and pronounced clean he must offer the offering commanded by Moses, as a testimony to ‘them’ (see Leviticus 14:2-32 for the full details). ‘Them’ is probably to be seen as signifying ‘the congregation of Israel’, that is, the whole people, as represented by the priests who acted on behalf of the congregation of Israel. None would want to come in contact with such a man until he had been certified as clean. In fact it was forbidden. Thus it had to be certified to all.
Why does Matthew tell us this? One reason was because it was one further indication that Jesus had not come to destroy the Law but to fulfil it, as He has just been making clear at great length in His sermon (Matthew 5:17). Jesus was not replacing the teaching of the Scriptures, He was fulfilling it to the full. And this is one good reason why this account is placed immediately after the Sermon on the Mount. It illustrates Jesus’ obedience to the Law of God. On top of this it was also drawing out gratitude from the man to the One Who had healed him, and reminding him that from now on he had a duty to worship God truly.
‘See you tell no man.’ Jesus calls on him to say nothing of his healing. This probably indicated keeping silent before the priest as well. There was no need for anyone to know. All that the priest had to do was the necessary tests. It was in that sense irrelevant how the healing had taken place. Possibly Jesus did not want every leper in the land coming to Him, for it would deeply have affected His ministry. Possibly He was wanting to prevent an even greater accumulation of ‘great crowds’ coming to see wonders. Possibly He did not want to draw the attention of the priesthood in the Temple on Himself. Possibly He did not want to arouse the crowds to fever-pitch so that they sought to make Him a king (compare John 6:15). But it is important to note that in the end it was because Jesus did not want men to believe in Him simply because of the miracles that He did (see also Matthew 9:30; Matthew 12:16; Matthew 17:9; Mark 1:34; Mark 5:43; Mark 7:36; Mark 8:26; John 2:23-25). He wanted them to believe in Him because He brought the truth. It was only to those who already believed that His miracles were cited as a testimony, evidencing Who He was (Matthew 11:4-5).
‘Moses.’ Surprisingly Moses is mentioned less by Matthew than in any other Gospel (only in five passages - Matthew 17:3-4; Matthew 19:7-8; Matthew 22:24; Matthew 23:2 - thus seven times, and apart from at the Transfiguration only ever as the source of the Law). Apart from at the Transfiguration when it is made clear that both the law and the prophets point to Him Matthew makes no attempt to compare or contrast Moses with Jesus. (This would be very surprising if he was trying to present Him as another Moses).
‘And when he was entered into Capernaum, there came to him a centurion, beseeching him, and saying, “Lord, my servant lies in the house sick of the palsy, grievously tormented.” ’
Jesus now entered Capernaum, where He had ministered from the start (Luke 4:23), a town at the top western end of the Sea of Galilee, on one of the major trade routes through Palestine, and a port for shipping coming across the Sea of Galilee. And there he was approached by an officer, probably of the local auxiliaries, a centurion. This centurion had not, however, come to command, but to plead. He ‘beseeched’ Jesus. He acknowledged in Him a higher authority.
In Luke 7:1-10 we are informed that in fact his approach was through a number of intermediaries. But it is typical of Matthew to personalise the approach of intermediaries in terms of the sender (compare Matthew 9:18). It is in fact quite common to speak in such terms. We may say a general did this or that, while all the time we know that it was done by his troops, and he may not even have been involved. We say Wellington defeated Napoleon. But what we mean is that he did it, not personally, but by issuing his orders. (Compare how Nebuchadnezzar had said in his records, ‘Forty six cities of Judah I besieged and took,’ even though he probably approached few, if any, of them). The same principle applies here. But Matthew wants to bring out the distinctiveness and personal nature of the centurion’s faith and therefore emphasises the one who was actually responsible for the orders, rather than the messengers who carried them out and articulated them to Jesus.
The centurion addressed Him as ‘Lord’. There is in this at least the same deference as he would have shown to a superior officer, only for a different reason, and possibly even a sense of his awe in speaking to a prophet of God. He had recognised that this Man had the might of God behind Him. Being a Gentile it might even indicate a recognition of at least semi-divinity, as what he goes on to say suggests. (When this term is used we always have to consider its implications, which can vary from ‘Sir’, through a number of alternatives, to LORD as translating the name of YHWH). But Matthew, in this subsection regularly uses ‘Lord’ (kurios) on the lips of different people in the face of great wonders. Consider the confident hope of the leper which results in his cleansing, the less confident hope of the disciples which results in the stilling of the tempest, and the hope of the two blind men who believe that He can heal them. There was more in these approaches than just a polite ‘sir’. In each case they attributed to Him a certain level of supernatural power, and their address must be read accordingly. It was not a full blown declaration of His divinity, but it did recognise that He was above and beyond ordinary men. They recognised a certain uniqueness about Him that set Him above ordinary men, even important men. Matthew therefore probably intends us also to see in it the unconscious submission of this Gentile to Jesus as the LORD of glory, even though recognising that the Gentile might not yet have realised that full significance (compare another such centurion in Matthew 27:54, a pagan, who speaks of Him as ‘the Son of God’). In Luke also Jesus is called ‘Lord’ by the centurion’s representatives.
The centurion (through his representatives) lays out the position without more ado (in Luke more detail are given. As usual Matthew leaves out extraneous material so as to stress the main points). “Lord, my servant (pais) lies in the house sick of the palsy, grievously tormented.” This sums up the whole position neatly. Note the threefold ‘lies in the house’, ‘sick of the palsy’, ‘grievously tormented’. The idea is to emphasise how ill the servant is. He cannot rise to his feet, he has this dreadful disease, and he is suffering greatly. (We do not know the identity of the disease). The compassion of the centurion comes out in this description. His concern is not in the fact that the slave is now useless to him. He is genuinely concerned about the details of his state.
The word ‘pais’ can mean servant or son. In its use in the New Testament it is sometimes ambiguous, but it regularly means ‘servant’ (compare Matthew 14:2; Luke 1:54; Luke 1:69; Luke 12:45; Luke 15:26 and regularly in LXX. Note especially its use in Acts 3:13; Acts 3:26; Acts 4:30). Luke uses doulos (slave) in Luke 7:2-10 which makes it unambiguous. Thus there are no grounds for suggesting otherwise. Nor are there any real grounds for connecting this healing with that of the nobleman’s son (John 4:46-54) simply because in both Jesus healed at a distance. Other than that fact the details are all very different, and the ability of Jesus to exercise such authority at a distance also comes out both in His giving of that authority to His Apostles when He sends them out (Matthew 10:1), and in the case of the Canaanite woman (Matthew 15:28). It was thus a regular feature of His ministry, and not unique to here. What was unique to here was the centurion’s recognition of the significance of it.
Note the great emphasis on the suffering of the servant. In the chiasmus this parallels the sufferings of the damned (Matthew 8:12). It is a reminder that the One Who can deliver from the one, can also inflict the other. The point is being made that Jesus has come to heal men, but if they will not be healed then there is no hope for them.
The Centurion’s Servant (8:5-13).
Jesus’ first miracle had been on one who was skin-diseased, an outcast from society, one who was unclean and rendered all who came in contact with him as unclean. And he was made clean by Jesus’ word of authority and power combined with His touch. The second will be on one living in an unclean household, the servant of a Gentile who was a centurion. Centurions, who were theoretically in charge of one hundred men, although more realistically around sixty, were important and respected figures. There would be about sixty centurions to a Roman legion. They were hardened fighters and formed the backbone of the Roman armies, which held the Empire under their control. And they were therefore in positions of considerable authority. That authority would be unquestioned by their men. It would also be held in awe by others. You did not mess around with a centurion. They could demand obedience in the name of Caesar, and one word from him could have devastating consequences for those involved. There was no better living example of a kind of authority which was in direct contact with the people. He did not hide in palaces. He met the people face too face.
There were, however, no permanent Roman legions in Galilee, but a kind of standing army set up by Herod Antipas made up of local auxiliaries, recruited mainly from the Gentile areas around. They were auxiliary legions. The centurion may have been a member of one of these auxiliary legions, or he might even have been a delegate from the emperor (through one of his generals) sent to assist in the control of the area. But this one believed in the God of Israel (Luke tells us that he had actually from his own pocket built a synagogue for the Jews), and the fact that he was a good and moral man (which had probably been what attracted him to Judaism and its Law) comes out in his concern for his slave. For slaves were seen as no more important than cattle or tools. They were ‘chattels’. But this good man was concerned about the suffering of his slave.
One thing especially we should note about this story. In it the centurion passes his verdict on Jesus. He declares Him to have supreme authority over disease as One Who is under God. He is declaring his recognition that they Kingly Rule of Heaven was present in Jesus. The irony of this lies in the fact that at the end of this section the Pharisees, who were supposed to be serving God, will declare Jesus’ authority as coming from the prince of demons. The eyes of a blind Gentile have been opened, and the eyes of those who are supposed to see are revealed as blind.
(This account is paralleled in Luke. Thus it appears in the material common to Matthew and Luke, which is rare for narrative material. It therefore does not fit in with the idea that that source, if it was one source, was a ‘sayings’ source. As that source, often called Q, is doubtful on other grounds its whole existence as a single source is thus thrown into question).
Analysis of Matthew 8:5-13 .
a And when he was entered into Capernaum, there came to him a centurion, beseeching him, and saying, “Lord, my servant lies in the house sick of the palsy, grievously tormented” And he says to him, “I will come and heal him” (Matthew 8:5-7).
b And the centurion answered and said, “Lord, I am not worthy that you should come under my roof, but only say the word, and my servant shall be healed” (Matthew 8:8).
c “For I also am a man under authority, having under myself soldiers, and I say to this one, “Go,” and he goes, and to another, “Come,” and he comes, and to my servant, “Do this,” and he does it (Matthew 8:9).
d And when Jesus heard it, he marvelled, and said to them those who followed, “Truly I say to you, I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel” (Matthew 8:10).
c And I say to you, that many shall come from the east and the west, and shall sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the Kingly Rule of heaven, but the sons of the Kingly Rule will be cast forth into the outer darkness. There will be the weeping and the gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 8:11-12).
b And Jesus said to the centurion, “Go your way. As you have believed, so be it done to you (Matthew 8:13 a).
a And the servant was healed in that hour (Matthew 8:13 b).
Note that in ‘a’ comes the circumstances and the request for healing, while in the parallel we learn that he was accordingly healed. In ‘b’ the centurion reveals his faith, and in the parallel Jesus answers according to his faith. In ‘c’ we have the commands to ‘come’ and ‘go’ and ‘do this’ within the centurion’s sphere of authority, and in the parallel many ‘come’, and many are ‘sent away’, and many ‘sit down’ (do this) with Abraham and the patriarchs within the sphere of God’s authority, His Kingly Rule. Finally and centrally in ‘d’ is the stress on the greatness of the centurion’s faith that made even Jesus marvel.
‘And he says to him, “I will come and heal him.” ’
The ‘I’ is emphatic and we should probably translate as a question, ‘Shall I come and heal him?’ (New Testament Greek had no way of indicating a positive question. It had to be gathered from the context or the tone of voice). This gives the emphatic ‘I’ its full force. It may thus be intended as a deliberate attempt to discover what was in the centurion’s mind. What does he really expect of a Jewish prophet? Has he really considered what he is asking? We can compare this with His treatment of the Canaanite woman in Matthew 15:21-28. There also He was concerned that she recognise that she was dealing with the God of Israel. Or it may simply be a simple statement agreeing that He will indeed go, the emphasised ‘I’ then being a hint that the centurion should recognise what a great privilege is his.
‘And the centurion answered and said, “Lord, I am not worthy that you should come under my roof, but only say the word, and my servant will be healed.”
The centurion takes the point. He possibly recognises that a Jewish prophet would be hesitant about entering an ‘unclean’ Gentile house where proper rituals of cleanliness have not been observed. He is not, of course, yet aware that Jesus rises above all such things, making clean by His presence. But that does not explain why he applies the idea of unworthiness only to himself. His words indicate that he is even more aware of his own undeserving. ‘I am not worthy’ is a recognition of personal undeserving. Religiously he is ‘poor in spirit’ and ‘mourning’ over sin, and ‘meek’. In other words he is open to blessing (Matthew 5:3; Matthew 5:5). He may be a God-fearer but he recognises his unworthiness to welcome this awesome Jewish prophet under his roof. His huge faith in, and admiration of, Jesus is thus revealed. For he has no doubt that Jesus has but to speak the word and his servant will be healed, whether He comes under his roof or not. We can compare the same sense of unworthiness in John the Baptiser when Jesus went to him for baptism (Matthew 3:14). The purity of Jesus was such that He made good men feel unworthy. But along with this sense of unworthiness went great faith. And that was all that the centurion needed.
“For I also am a man under authority, having under myself soldiers, and I say to this one, ‘Go’, and he goes, and to another, ‘Come’, and he comes, and to my servant, ‘Do this’, and he does it.”
The centurion gives a simple explanation for his faith in Jesus, and points out that he knows what it is to be ‘under authority’. He also is under authority. He has his authority from Caesar. Thus men dare not disobey him, for if they did they would be disobeying Caesar. In the same way he recognises that Jesus has His authority directly from God. Thus even disease has to obey Him, and that even at a distance. Note how the threefold examples ‘go’, ‘come’, ‘do this’, are paralleled in Matthew 8:11-12 in a different order in the ‘coming’, ‘sitting down’ and casting forth’. Matthew is bringing out that Jesus has in fact the same power in eternal matters (compare Revelation 6:1).
‘And when Jesus heard it, he marvelled, and said to those who followed, “Truly I say to you, I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel.” ’
Jesus was impressed by the man’s open statement of faith. Others had believed that He could heal at a distance, but always at His instigation (John 4:46-54). But this man was so confident in Him, and so believed in Him that he not only accepted the idea without question, but actually proposed it. He had complete confidence in Jesus’ ability. And it arose from his understanding of the basis of Jesus’ powers. He recognised that Jesus had a unique authority because He was under the greatest Authority of all. So here was a Gentile who had more faith in Jesus, and a deeper understanding of His high authority, than all the Israelites whom He had come across, even his Jewish disciples, with their growing, but still tentative, faith.
Nevertheless having said that we must not overlook the emphasis also on the faith of the woman with the issue of blood (Matthew 9:22) and the faith of the blind men (Matthew 9:28-29). Faith is an important part of this subsection, and there were many Jews who had faith. But the centurion was outstanding because he understood the basis on which he could believe. There was nothing waffly about his faith. This remarkable narrative demonstrated quite clearly that when it came to attitude towards God a Gentile could be just as acceptable to God as a Jew, and perhaps even moreso. Instinctively we know that after this Jesus must shortly open up His ministry, and the Kingly Rule of Heaven, to Gentiles, although not until the Jews had had their full opportunity. Nevertheless in this case Jesus leaves the seed sown to prosper. He does not, as far as we know, seek to follow it up. But we cannot really doubt that the centurion would come to hear Him preach, as soldiers had also gone to hear John the Baptist (Luke 3:14 - he may have been one of them)
‘Jesus -- marvelled.’ We have here a reminder that while walking on earth as man Jesus had ceased to call on His own omniscience. Thus in certain things He could be taken by surprise. But He was, of course, perfectly attuned to His Father and to the Holy Spirit, the source of all truth, in all things pertaining to God and His purposes.
“And I say to you, that many will come from the east and the west, and will recline (at table) with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the Kingly Rule of heaven,”
The incident brought home to Jesus that in the future many Gentiles would be found in the eternal Kingly Rule of Heaven. We are left to recognise at this stage that it will be as a result of His activity (Matthew 28:20). While at present His ministry must be aimed at the lost sheep of the house of Israel (those in Israel who were open to His message because they were like sheep without a shepherd - Matthew 9:36) there was still to be an opening for Gentiles, and in the future that would become a wide open door. ‘East’ included Arabia, Assyria, Babylon and Persia, ‘West’ included the coastlands and the lands across the Great Sea (the Mediterranean). All these had been included in Old Testament promises. See Matthew 12:18; Matthew 12:21; Isaiah 2:2-4; Isaiah 42:4; Isaiah 42:6; Isaiah 42:11; Isaiah 49:6-7; Isaiah 49:12; Isaiah 60:6-7; Isaiah 19:23-25; Isaiah 43:14; etc. But the description is deliberately general.
The future life was regularly depicted in terms of Abraham (compare Luke 16:22-30), for all who come there will do so as a result of the promises to Abraham. Here the other patriarchs are also included. Thus in mind here is the coming eternal Kingly Rule, when His present Kingly Rule over the hearts of believers will merge with that in the eternal kingdom. For ‘recline’ (the equivalent of our ‘sitting down at table’) with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob’ compare ‘in Abraham’s bosom’ (Luke 16:22), signifying reclining at table next to him. The idea is to present the eternal kingdom in terms of the great future Messianic feast (e.g. Isaiah 25:6-9; Isaiah 65:13; and regularly in Jewish literature) of which the Lord’s Table is a foretaste, a feast which in this case pictures the everlasting kingdom, when God has finally triumphed on behalf of His people. The idea therefore is of large scale participation in God’s future blessings by the Gentiles. (As with the Kingly Rule of Heaven, the Messianic feast could signify spiritual blessing here as found in Christ, and also the future spiritual blessing which will be ours eternally).
Even the Scribes and Pharisees were content for Gentiles to be converted to Judaism and become proselytes by being circumcised and purified. Thus the idea that Gentiles could enjoy the future blessing of God was not new. But they did not tend to think in large numbers like this, and they did not actually seek to evangelise them. They simply accepted them because the Law had said that they must (Exodus 12:48; Deuteronomy 23:3-8). Nor did Jewish concepts of the Messianic banquet tend to include Gentiles.
However, undoubtedly being powerfully expressed here was the thought that those who were ‘sons of Abraham’ (Matthew 3:9), and who therefore thought of themselves as heirs to God’s Kingly Rule, and expected their part in the coming Kingly Rule, would discover that they, in the end, had no part with Abraham, while those whom they dismissed as not having any connection with Abraham would find themselves sharing the table with Abraham (compare Matthew 22:43).
“But the sons of the Kingly Rule will be cast forth into the outer darkness. There will be the weeping and the gnashing of teeth.”
This contrast confirms that Gentiles were in mind in the previous verses. For here the ‘sons of the Kingly Rule’, that is those who outwardly appeared to have a right to the enjoyment of that Kingly Rule and indeed laid a claim to it, signifies the Jews. (Compare ‘sons of Belial’ which meant those who connected themselves with Belial, ‘sons of the bridechamber’ which indicated those who connected themselves with the bridegroom). Outer darkness signifies being away from the inner circle of the light of God, having been cast from His presence into the outer darkness. (Compare Psalms 88:6; Isaiah 47:5; Isaiah 60:2). Darkness was regularly a picture of the Lord’s judgments (Isaiah 47:5; Joel 2:31; Amos 5:18; Amos 5:20; Nahum 1:8; Zephaniah 1:15). It was from the darkness that Jesus had come to deliver His people (Matthew 4:16). But now He informs them that while many Gentiles will come to His light (compare Isaiah 42:6; Isaiah 49:6), many Jews who thought themselves secure will be cast from it. The weeping and gnashing of teeth indicates the shock, horror and anguish that they will suffer as a result. It is a picture of despair, anger, incredulity and hopelessness all rolled into one (compare Matthew 13:42; Matthew 13:50; Matthew 22:13; Matthew 24:51; Matthew 25:30; Psalms 112:10). For it will be the opposite of what in their view was supposed to happen (Isaiah 60:2). Darkness was intended for the Gentiles, not for the Jews (Wisdom of Solomon Matthew 17:17; Matthew 17:21). But now being children of Abraham will have done them no good as John had warned them (Matthew 3:9), because they had turned from their Messiah. A similar idea is found in John 3:18-21.
Note the threefold, ‘cast into outer darkness’, ‘weeping’, ‘gnashing of teeth’ and compare it with ‘lies in the house’, ‘sick of the palsy’, ‘grievously tormented’. The one is delivered by the powerful word of Jesus from misery, the others are sentenced by that same word to misery (John 12:48).
Some see the picture as illustrating their being kept out of the brilliantly lit banqueting hall of the Messianic Banquet, and thrown out into the darkness outside. But that is probably to limit too much its deliberately universal and eschatological scope.
‘And Jesus said to the centurion, “Go your way. As you have believed, so be it done to you.” And the servant was healed in that hour.’
Notice the emphasis that Jesus places on the centurion’s believing. Faith triumphed as it always must when it is faith in the trustworthiness of God to His promises, and faith in His mercy. But he still had to go back believing in Jesus and what He had promised. And he was rewarded in accordance with what he was expecting. ‘In that hour’ simply signifies, ‘around that time’.
We may note here that even the centurion had not garnered the full truth. For Jesus did not heal the servant by a word, He did it simply by a thought. His words were all addressed to the centurion. All that was needed for the actual healing was His will in that direction.
The Multiplicity of Healings.
This subsection now finishes off with a final example of healing, followed by an emphasis on the fact that Jesus has come to bear men’s suffering on Himself, with the result that men and women can be healed. Once again we see Jesus’ touch of power, followed by His word of power. Here is the One with complete authority. We have already noted the parallels with the leper. But this time there is a greater sense of Jesus’ more personal involvement. For here He is among His own. So He ‘sees’ the fever rather than just hearing of it (there is a different emphasis in Mark. Matthew is not disagreeing with that. But he wants to bring out Jesus’ personal concern). In this case it is He Who takes the initiative. And in return He receives personal service. Overall Matthew wants us to see the relationship as much closer because He is among His own (compare Matthew 12:49).
a And when Jesus was come into Peter’s house, he saw his wife’s mother lying sick of a fever (14.).
b And he touched her hand, and the fever left her (Matthew 8:15 a).
c And she arose, and ministered to him (Matthew 8:15 b).
b And when evening was come, they brought to him many possessed with demons, and he cast out the spirits with a word, and healed all who were sick (Matthew 8:16).
a That it might be fulfilled which was spoken through Isaiah the prophet, saying, “Himself took our infirmities, and bore our diseases” (Matthew 8:17).
Note that in ‘a’ Peter’s mother-in-law is sick with a fever, and in the parallel we are reminded that Jesus bore all such sicknesses. In ‘b’ He therefore touched her hand and the fever left her, and in the parallel He also healed a great many others. And centrally she, and she alone, rose up and served Him. Many experience the greatness of His power, but few are they who really go on to serve Him as they should.
‘And when Jesus was come into Peter’s house, he saw his wife’s mother lying sick of a fever.’
This incident occurs in all three synoptic Gospels. It gains in importance to Matthew because she is one of the inner group of believers who welcome Jesus to their homes. But she was not welcoming Him this time. She was tossing and turning on her mattress. Matthew points out that Jesus ‘saw’ her. Thus he sees Jesus as taking personal direct note of her. It is a reminder to us that He knows also about our needs. He ‘sees’ us too. In Mark we learn that they first tell Him about her, just as others may tell Him about our needs in prayer. But Matthew as usual cuts out the frills and goes to the essential point. Here we learn that He had a personal interest in her need, just as, if we are His, He ever sees our need (compare Matthew 6:32). The Father always knows (Matthew 6:32), and Jesus always knows. What then have we to fear?
‘And he touched her hand, and the fever left her, and she arose, and ministered to him.’
Note how this parallels what Jesus did with the leper. He touched both the leper and the fevered woman and they were both healed, and both would have been seen as ‘unclean’. Jewish Halakah forbade the touching of people with certain kinds of fever. But the One Who makes clean did not concern Himself about that. Once He had touched someone they were clean. We too can recognise that ‘His touch has still its ancient power’. Once we come for His touch we are made clean. He can touch us too at the point of our need. But how many of us then arise and serve Him? (The leper actually went away and disobeyed Him (Mark 1:45), although he may well have followed Him later).
‘And she arose, and ministered to him.’ Such was His healing power that she was immediately able to arise and minister to Jesus’ needs. When Jesus healed someone they did not feel weak afterwards. The healing was total. And by her act she demonstrated her love, gratitude and devotion. (There was one case where Jesus healing was only partial (Mark 8:24), but that was because He had an important message to teach through it about the slow enlightenment of His disciples).
‘And when evening was come, they brought to him many possessed with demons, and he cast out the spirits with a word, and healed all who were sick.’
Having given three remarkable examples of healing; of a leper, a Gentile and a fevered woman, Matthew now goes on to emphasise how Jesus also healed many. It was a special time of healing because of the reason for His coming. He was demonstrating the presence of the Coming One and of the Kingly Rule of Heaven. Notice first that His power over the spirit world was revealed. He had come to destroy the works of the Devil (1 John 3:8). As a result of His coming the powers of evil were in turmoil and revealing themselves as never before. And His own authority was revealed in that He cast them out with a word. And He also healed all who were sick. For He wanted to make clear that He had come to introduce a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17; Galatians 6:15).
‘The spirits.’ These were also called ‘evil spirits’, ‘demons’ and ‘devils’. They were powers of evil which often possessed men’s lives when they indulged in idol worship or the occult.
‘That it might be fulfilled which was spoken through Isaiah the prophet, saying, “Himself took our infirmities, and bore our diseases”.’
It can hardly be doubted that this quotation from Isaiah is intended to cover at least the whole of the final summary of exorcism and healing, although it is probably also intended to cover the whole passage from Matthew 8:1, and being in the inclusio from Matthew 4:23 to Matthew 9:35, in both of which verses there is specific reference to His healing of both ‘sickness and disease’, it is probably intended to cover the whole inclusio. The point being made is that the One Who had come to save His people from their sins (Matthew 1:21) was thus also here to deliver them from the sufferings which resulted from that sin, because He was bearing it all for them. And that included being delivered from the power of the Evil One (Matthew 8:16). And He was able to do it because He would bear their necessary sufferings on Himself. As the original context makes clear (and see also Matthew 20:28) He was here as our representative and substitute to bear in Himself what the world deserved because of sin (Isaiah 53:3-5). Among other things He would take on Himself the groaning of the world (Romans 8:18-25). Thus these acts of healing were a part of His larger work as the suffering Servant Who would lay down His life as a guilt offering on behalf of many, with all its positive results (Isaiah 53:10), the Servant Who was also the coming King (Isaiah 52:13; Isaiah 42:1; Isaiah 42:4). And this offering would result in healing and forgiveness (Matthew 9:12-13). We must again draw attention to the fact that we are in the part of Matthew where the quotations from Isaiah specifically predominate, referring to both King and Servant. Jesus is revealed as having come here as the suffering Servant, and as in fulfilment of all the Isaianic promises (Matthew 3:3; Matthew 4:16; Matthew 8:17; Matthew 12:17; Matthew 13:14-15).
The word for ‘infirmities’ is used only here in Matthew. Luke, however, uses it regularly for diseases. The dual idea, but with a different term for infirmities, is again found in Matthew 4:23; Matthew 9:35; Matthew 10:1. If we consider the probability that Matthew uses ‘infirmities’ (astheneias) here simply because it was in the text from which he took the saying, while himself preferring ‘sicknesses’ (malakian) as in Matthew 4:23; Matthew 9:35; Matthew 10:1, then we might see Matthew 8:17 as central to the inclusio from Matthew 4:23 to Matthew 9:35 (both of which mention the dual ‘sickness and disease’), demonstrating that what lies between is to be connected with Matthew 8:17. In that case Matthew 10:1, where ‘sicknesses and diseases’ are again mentioned, can then be seen as also carrying the implication forward into the future work of His disciples. They too are in a sense God’s Servant (compare Acts 13:47).
‘Now when Jesus saw great crowds about him, he gave commandment to depart to the other side.’
Jesus’ ministry had begun with ‘great crowds’ (Matthew 4:25) from which He had entered the mountain in order to teach His disciples. But when He had descended from the mountain it was again to be met by ‘great crowds’ (Matthew 8:1). Now He determines once more to avoid them (as He had in Matthew 5:1). He considers that they have seen and heard enough to be going on with, and is probably exhausted. But having already learned that the refuge of a mountain had proved not to be sufficient to totally avoid the crowds, He determined this time that He would cross the sea of Galilee in order to avoid them. It is quite probable that Jesus was physically exhausted. His healings were physically draining as ‘power went out of Him’ (Mark 5:30), and the continual preaching and attention of the crowds would have added to the strain. That is presumably why He would shortly fall into a deep sleep in a boat in circumstances which were far from congenial. There was a limit to what even His body would take. And this period apart from the great crowds would also give some of the inner group of His disciples time to speak with Him, and would lead to further revelations which were meant for them, before He once more took up His ministry in Galilee. For consideration had to be given to all.
‘He gave commandment to depart to the other side.’ This introduces a new subsection, and this indication of His imminent departure is depicted as sparking off moments of decision for two particular men who were possible additions to His growing band. It may well be that neither Jesus nor they knew at this stage how long it would be before they returned to Galilee. Thus this had become a crisis point for all as to whether they would return home, or follow Him.
These two men are probably intended to be seen as two out of a number who would have to make rapid decisions as a result of His departure, for the response to this situation would separate the ‘followers’ from the less committed. There would in fact be quite a number of such followers for other boats went with Him (Mark 4:36), but neither Mark nor Matthew tell us what happened to them, for theirs is a selective history. The concentration is on Jesus and His acts, not on the detail.
Two Disciples Are Faced Up With The Cost Of following Jesus (8:18-22).
Jesus’ command to His disciples to prepare to go to the other side of the Sea of Galilee (Matthew 8:18) sparks off the need for some of His followers to face up to the question of discipleship. The question now is, are they going to follow Him all the way? We are given two as an example. The first is a Scribe, an interpreter of the Law (although not necessarily a Pharisee), and the second is one on whom Jesus has His eye, but who is wavering. Luke tells us of the same incidents but without putting them in a particular context.
a Now when Jesus saw great crowds about Him, he gave commandment to depart to the other side (Matthew 8:18).
b And there came a scribe, and said to Him, “Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go’ (Matthew 8:19).
c And Jesus says to him, “The foxes have holes, and the birds of the heaven have nests” (Matthew 8:20 a).
d “But the Son of man has not where to lay His head” (Matthew 8:20 b).
c And another of the disciples said to Him, “Lord, allow me first to go and bury my father” (Matthew 8:21).
b But Jesus says to him, “Follow me” (Matthew 8:22 a).
a “And leave the dead to bury their own dead” (Matthew 8:22 b).
Note that in ‘a’ Jesus is leaving the country, and in the parallel He tells the disciple to leave the country with Him, and leave the dead to bury their own dead. In ‘b’ the Scribe declares that he will follow Jesus wherever He goes (even into Gentile territory) and in the parallel Jesus calls another to follow Him. In ‘c’ the foxes have holes and the birds of the air nests, each has its home, and in the parallel the disciple wants to cling on to his home. Centrally in ‘d’ is the fact that the Son of Man has come in humility and suffering.
Jesus Is Revealed As Lord Over Nature, Lord Over The Spirit World, and Lord Over Sin and Forgiveness (8:18-9:9).
This subsection from Matthew 8:18 to Matthew 9:9 can be seen as united around a series of travel descriptions deliberately used in order to unite them together:
a It commences with Jesus command to go to the other side (Matthew 8:18)
b That is followed by their entering into a boat and setting sail (Matthew 8:23).
c They arrive at the other side (Matthew 8:28).
b They cross back over to His own city (Matthew 9:1).
a The subsection then ends with His ‘passing from there’ (Matthew 9:9).
The whole subsection is probably brought together by Matthew in order to vividly portray the future for the followers of Christ. What follows will depict the problems and encouragements of discipleship. Having depicted how as the Suffering Servant Jesus has brought deliverance and healing for all who are unclean (Matthew 8:1-17), He now goes on to depict the future for those who will follow Him.
First we have the calling of disciples to follow Him with a warning of what the future holds for them of discomfort, sacrifice and self-dedication as they seek the way of eternal life through the Suffering Servant.
That is then followed by His entering a boat and their ‘following Him’, which results in their experiencing the greatest storm that they had ever faced in their lives. This may be seen as an indication of the storms that lie ahead for the followers of Jesus, but with the promise that He will protect them from them. (It was only they who could expect special protection).
This is then followed by the recognition of the powerful spiritual forces that they will have to face in the future. They learn that not only will He keep them from the depths of the sea and from ‘perishing’ (Matthew 8:25-26), but that through Him they need fear no forces of evil (Matthew 8:28-34). The authority of Jesus is more than sufficient to deal with all. Their spiritual adversaries, however, will not be so fortunate (Matthew 8:32). They will be driven into the sea from which Jesus had delivered His disciples, and will perish.
And then finally comes the indication of what the benefit is of following Him. He grants forgiveness of sins, and this is linked with the healings that He performs. He Who bore their sicknesses and carried their diseases (Matthew 8:17) has also come to bring the forgiveness of sins, a forgiveness linked with and demonstrated by those healings and His bearing of their afflictions and diseases, as well as their sins (Matthew 9:1-8).
And all this also reveals to the disciples their own future mission, that facing storms and spiritual forces of darkness, they too are to take out to men in His Name the forgiveness of sins (Matthew 9:6; compare Luke 24:47; John 20:23).
However, in the story of the paralytic another idea emerges, and that is the idea that while the men of faith (the paralytic and his bearers) experience forgiveness and healing, those deceived by Satan will arise in opposition to Jesus. The former will be thus be delivered, as the disciples had been, while the latter will finally perish along with the demons. We have here the first indication in Matthew of the opposition of the religious authorities of Judaism. This opposition must have come as something of a shock to the disciples. They had always been taught how godly these men were. And now they were learning differently, something which will come out further in Matthew 9:10-17. And meanwhile all this is finally sealed by the calling of Matthew (Matthew 9:9) so that he might have his part in it.
There are interesting connections between the initial account of the approach of the would be disciples, and the events that immediately followed. The Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head, and so when He snatches sleep it will be in the stern of a boat at sea. The dead are to be left to bury their dead, while the living who follow Him are to be delivered from death at sea, so as to be brought to recognise that they have eternal life.
Note that central to all these incidents is their arrival in Decapolis. It may be that we are to see from this sequence that Jesus had a specific aim in going to the other side, quite apart from just to avoid the crowds, namely to pin down a particularly dreadful manifestation of the power of the Devil, and to establish a preparatory witness in the area with the future in mind. (We can compare how He had previously established a preparatory ministry among the Samaritans - John 4:3-45). It is quite possible that news about these two demon-possessed people who were in such a dreadful condition had been brought to Jesus by Jews from Decapolis who had come to hear Him. The incident will also indicate that the Gentiles are not yet ready to receive Him. They cannot yet cope with His extraordinary powers. For originally it may well be that Jesus’ aim had been to stay there much longer, ministering among the many Jews who were there.
A more in depth analysis of this subsection is as follows:
a Two would be disciples are challenged concerning the cost of following Him and He reveals Himself as the suffering SON OF MAN (Matthew 8:18-22).
b Jesus calms the Tempest and reveals His power over nature, resulting in His disciples marvelling, and calling Him ‘LORD’, and saying ‘What manner of man is this?’ They are delivered from the sea and from ‘perishing’ even though their FAITH is little (Matthew 8:23-27).
c A host of devils who call Him THE SON OF GOD are cast out of two demoniacs, at which all the inhabitants in concert beg Him to leave. These demons are driven into the sea and do ‘perish’ (Matthew 8:28-34).
b Jesus forgives the sins of a paralytic because of their FAITH and then heals him revealing that as the SON OF MAN He has the power on earth to forgive sins. This results in the crowds being filled with awe and glorifying God Who had given such power to men (Matthew 9:1-8)
a Jesus calls Matthew to follow Him, and Matthew immediately does so. (Matthew 9:9).
Note that in ‘a’ two disciples are challenged to follow Jesus, and in the parallel one disciple is called and does follow Him. In ‘b’ Jesus acts in such demonstrative power that His disciples marvel and ask what manner of MAN He is, and in the parallel He acts in such demonstrative power that the crowds give glory to God because He has given such power to MEN. Centrally in ‘c’ we find the great expulsion of the demoniacs, and Jesus’ own expulsion from Gentile territory.
‘And there came a scribe, and said to him, “Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.’
Matthew in his Jewishness takes particular note of the fact that this would-be close disciple was a Scribe. (For the fact that he was already seen as a disciple, compare ‘another’ in Matthew 8:21). That he was a Scribe was not important to Luke. He wanted his Gentile readers to apply the story to themselves. But Matthew was very much aware of the Scribe’s status in the eyes of the Jews, so he draws attention to what he was (although he could have been a Scribe of the Pharisees, a Scribe of the Sadducees, or a more general ‘unattached’ Scribe. Matthew is stressing status rather than a particular viewpoint).
He then points out that in spite of the fact that Jesus has given the command to go over to Gentile territory, the Scribe says that he will follow Him wherever He goes. It was a promise of full commitment in the face of a choice which was probably not to the Scribe’s liking, that of going into Gentile territory, but he was willing to make it. Matthew wanted his Jewish readers to realise that not all Scribes rejected Jesus.
‘Teacher.’ This was an address used a umber of times to Jesus by both Scribes and Pharisees (Matthew 9:11; Matthew 12:38; Matthew 22:15-16; Matthew 22:35, compare the Sadducees in Matthew 22:23-24). The rich young man also addresses Him as ‘Teacher’ (Matthew 19:16). It denoted respect, sometimes genuine and sometimes feigned, and is regularly on the lips of the critical. But there is absolutely no reason to think that it is feigned here. It was a natural address for a Scribe, and coming from a Scribe could be seen as ultra respectful. He is acknowledging that Jesus is an outstanding teacher, and worthy of being followed, even by a trained Scribe. (It should be noted that when Jesus wants to identify Himself to others in Matthew with Whom He was on friendly enough terms to use their possessions that He once uses ‘the Lord’ (Matthew 21:3), and once ‘the Teacher’ (Matthew 26:18). This confirms that ‘Teacher’ can be used in Matthew by believers).
‘And Jesus says to him, “The foxes have holes, and the birds of the heaven have nesting places, but the Son of man has not where to lay his head.” ’
Jesus’ reply is to point out that while even the lowest of God’s creatures have their own homes and places of security, He Himself has no home, and nowhere to lay His head. To follow Him will involve putting aside all luxury, and even losing an average level of prosperity and security. It will involve facing roughness and hardship. It will be to sacrifice prestige. While such a life might not have caused a fisherman, who was used to hardship, to quail, it might well have made a scholar think twice. If the Scribe was hesitant about entering Gentile territory this would also confirm to him that to follow Jesus meant being willing to go anywhere, for he was being informed that those who followed Jesus had nowhere to call home, and therefore had no ties.
There is probably also behind the idea a recognition that to follow Him will soon result in even greater lack of security, and rejection from many places. He had Himself already experienced rejection by His own home town of Nazareth (Luke 4:29-30), which may well have been why His family later moved to Capernaum (Matthew 4:13). And He will later make clear that in serving Him people may lose both family and friends (Matthew 10:21-22; Matthew 10:35-36). Thus the warning of coming hardship was necessary.
‘Nesting places.’ The word signifies a dwellingplace. Jesus might well have had in mind the holes in the mountains where the birds made their nests (Jeremiah 48:28; Song of Solomon 2:14), which would parallel the holes of the foxes, the idea including the fact that Jesus and His disciples had no hole to crawl into, and no place of security to hide in. They were therefore totally vulnerable.
‘The Son of Man.’ This is the first instance of the use of this term in Matthew. Shortly Jesus will point out that as the Son of Man He has the authority on earth to forgive sins (Matthew 9:6). There He clearly sees the term as giving Him special status. It is a term which in the Gospels is only found on the lips of Jesus, apart from two examples where His use of the term is being cited by others. Thus it was not a term taken up by the early church, the only exception being Acts 7:56 where it was used by Stephen of the glorious and enthroned Son of Man whom he saw during his martyrdom, and this exception is strong evidence that it was a term that otherwise only Jesus applied to Himself. The Son of Man Whom Stephen saw was the enthroned and glorified Christ.
In the Old Testament the term is used in order to indicate man in his lordship over creation (Psalms 8:4), and man in his uniqueness as a law keeping being over against the wild beasts which represented ‘lawless’ man (Daniel 7:13). Both result in the exaltation of the son of man over creation (Psalms 8:5; Daniel 7:14, compare Psalms 80:17). It is used of Ezekiel as the chosen of YHWH, while emphasising his human weakness (e.g. Ezekiel 2:1; and often, compare Psalms 144:3; Psalms 146:3; Isaiah 51:12). None of these references, however, in LXX exactly parallel Jesus’ use as depicted in the Gospels where it is with the definite article. This last fact should warn us against too glibly stating what the Aramaic was that lay behind it (in Revelation also it is used without the article).
Certainly one central aspect of its use by Jesus was as the son of man who came out from among the suffering of his people to the throne of God to receive glory and kingship (Matthew 26:64; Daniel 7:14), having come out of suffering (Daniel 7:25; Daniel 7:27). In this passage the son of man represents both the King and God’s righteous people, who because they are righteous thus behave like human beings should in obeying God’s Instruction, rather than behaving like wild beasts (who also represent both kings and nations).
The title thus includes both the thought of Jesus’ suffering and humiliation as man, and His final exaltation and enthronement as God’s chosen King. It will later be used of Jesus as the final great Judge of all (Matthew 24:30-31).
(The only way in which all these aspects of the Son of Man can be avoided is either by altering the texts in a way which satisfies few, or by claiming that some of them were invented by the early church. But I have never yet come across a satisfactory explanation as to why, if the early church played with the text in this way and thought it useful to introduce such sayings, they showed the term as unused apart from on the lips of Jesus. If it was so useful we would have expected other references to abound. The truth is that the early church did not appreciate the term Son of Man and preferred rather to think of Jesus as the Christ. But that is fatal to any arguments that suggest that they introduced it into the text).
‘And another of the disciples said to him, “Lord, allow me first to go and bury my father.” ’
This disciple recognises that to become a truly dedicated disciple will involve leaving his home behind. He acknowledges that while even God’s creatures have their own homes, the disciples of Jesus are different. And he is ready for that, but not just yet. He is not quite ready now. He wants first to achieve his independence. It is an open question whether the disciple means that he wants to go back for a short while because his father is dying, or because he has just received news that his father is already dead, or whether he is referring to his filial duty to remain at home until his father dies, whenever that may be. But the principle is the same. He is seeking to avoid going with Jesus immediately.
We can compare here the case of Elisha who also went home to say farewell before following Elijah. But at that point Elisha cut himself off completely from his past life (1 Kings 19:19-21), and then did follow Elijah. But in that case Elijah was not moving on out of range. And there is certainly no indication that his father was dying. Here then it is probable that the man was in fact wanting to delay full discipleship until he was freed from family ties and filial duty.
That being so it might well be that Jesus here detects that there is behind the disciple’s statement an evident reluctance to follow all the way (as with the rich young man later - Matthew 19:22), and that He is challenging him precisely on that point. He is telling him to sort out his priorities. Thus what seems at first a harsh reply then becomes perfectly understandable, and in line with other references to the relationship of disciples of Jesus to relatives (Matthew 10:37; Matthew 19:29; Luke 14:26). On the other hand it may be that Jesus, not being sure when He would return to Galilee, is stressing that at such moments as this crucial decisions must be made which must not be affected by anything, even the death of a father. The final lesson is undoubted. Nothing must be allowed to interfere with the decision to follow Jesus.
‘But Jesus says to him, “Follow me, and leave the dead to bury their own dead.”
Jesus’ reply is that the man must be willing to immediately turn his back on his family life and follow Jesus. The dead can be left to look after their own dead. Here ‘the dead’ is unquestionably figurative in at least one of its uses, for the dead could not literally bury the dead. It therefore refers at least partly, to the dead in soul. What Jesus therefore probably means is that in following Him the man will find life, and he must therefore leave those who are not seeking that life to look after each other. He must put obtaining eternal life before all else, for being a disciple of Jesus means becoming part of another sphere where human death loses its significance. In Jesus life has transcended death.
There is something very solemn about Jesus describing those who did not seek Him as ‘dead’. Jesus was by this bringing out the stark difference between those who had found life by believing in Him (Matthew 19:29) and those who chose to remain in ‘death’ (John 3:16; John 5:24). In the words of Paul they were ‘dead in trespasses and sins’ (Ephesians 2:1). They were thus spiritually dead and without eternal life. But His point is that those who are His must leave ‘the dead’ behind to carry on their own affairs, and must themselves engage in the ministry of ‘life’ to all who will receive it. It was this ministry that these disciples would engage in by following Jesus, and nothing must deter them from it, not even the death of someone close to them.
The responsibility for burying a father fell on the eldest son, and it could be quite a performance. Even a priest was allowed to forsake his duties in order that he might fulfil this obligation. But it should be noted that a Nazirite who was under an oath of dedication to God was also not allowed to bury his father (Numbers 6:7), nor was a High Priest (Leviticus 21:11). Thus it may be that Jesus is bringing out the extraordinary level of dedication required of His disciples, which was to be seen as on a level with that of a lifelong Nazirite or a High Priest. It could hardly have been less.
We are not told whether or not these two did follow Jesus, that was not Matthew’s purpose. His purpose was to bring out the cost and demands of discipleship, and the fact that Jesus Himself fulfilled them. But there are really no grounds for saying that they did not. Normally when He said ‘Follow Me’ specifically, men did follow Him (Matthew 4:18-22; Matthew 9:9; John 1:43). The rich young man is a stated exception (Matthew 19:21-22). On the other hand it may be that there is a contrast with the fact that, while the respectable Scribe was hesitant, in Matthew 9:9 the unrespectable Matthew was not. (This would be especially significant if Matthew then became the ‘scribe’ of the band of Apostles as some have suggested).
‘And when he was entered into a boat, his disciples followed him.’
As had previously been pointed out to the would be disciples, those who followed Him must be ready to put all other considerations to one side. And this is now exemplified. Jesus enters the boat and the disciples follow Him (while others accompany them in other boats). He is master of the situation and in total control (in spite of the fact that those who are with Him include experts when it came to boating on the Sea of Galilee). For all recognise His supreme authority. Shortly they would be recognising even more.
An example of the kind of boat used here has been found at the bottom of the Sea of Galilee. It was about twenty six feet (eight metres) in length and probably held about fourteen people, having oars and a mast, and a small platform at the rear which covered a ballast bag, which was probably where Jesus would have laid His head to sleep, because He had nothing else (Matthew 8:20).
Jesus Stills The Storm (8:23-27).
The issue of would be followers having been settled Jesus now prepares to go to Decapolis by boat across the Sea of Galilee. Decapolis was a semi-independent confederation of ten Gentile towns which ran their own affairs, loosely watched over by the governor of Syria. But their territory contained many Jews. His disciples probably thought that He was intending to preach to these Jews, although anyone would be welcome to listen. It is very possible that Jesus did have in view the precise problems that He would have to face when He arrived in Decapolis, a combination of evil that was beyond the ordinary which would be found in two people who were demoniacs, one of whom at least was a demoniac of an extraordinary kind. This may well suggest that Matthew saw the storm (or cataclysm) that immediately preceded the visit as Satan’s attempt to prevent Jesus arriving in Decapolis. For a parallel example of Satan being permitted to cause a destructive tempest see Job 1:12; Job 1:19. But what Jesus probably did not anticipate was the final reaction of the people to His success.
First, however, we are called on to consider His journey across the sea, which was to prove eventful because of the violent storm, and even possibly an earthquake. It may well be that Matthew saw in this incident a picture of the disciples following Jesus, the One Who had no place in which to lay His head, and as a result launching forth into the deep. He may have seen it as in direct contrast to the wavering disciples illustrated in the previous verses. Jesus’ own disciples followed (Matthew 8:23) where the others had not. And through their choice they found life and not death, although for a while it would not seem like it. And through it they would learn that His Father would always protect them, and that they must therefore have confidence in Him under all circumstances
a And when He was entered into a boat, His disciples followed Him (Matthew 8:23).
b And behold, there arose a great tempest in the sea, in so much that the boat was covered with the waves, but He was asleep (Matthew 8:24).
c And they came to Him, and awoke Him, saying, “Save, Lord, we perish” (Matthew 8:25).
b And he says to them, “Why are you fearful, O you of little faith?” Then He arose, and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm” (Matthew 8:26).
a And the men marvelled, saying, “What manner of man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey him?” (Matthew 8:27).
Note that in ‘a’ the disciples follow Jesus into the boat at His command, unaware of what lies before them, and in the parallel they finish up marvelling, and questioning as to Who or what Jesus really is. In ‘b’ the tempest arises and the boat is covered by huge waves, and in the parallel the winds and the waves are calmed. Centrally in ‘c’ is the call to ‘the Lord’ to save them from perishing.
‘And behold, there arose a great tempest in the sea, in so much that the boat was covered with the waves, but he was asleep.’
Once in the boat the experts took over and Jesus went to the rear of the boat where He could lie down. And there, probably totally exhausted, He fell asleep, even though the trip would not last long. The journey was in His Father’s hands and so He had no fear.
But as will often happen for those who follow Jesus a huge storm arose, at least partly caused by the winds that regularly funnelled down through the surrounding mountain ranges. These winds were due to the very hot atmosphere around the Sea, which was over six hundred feet (two hundred metres) below sea level, which caused a vacuum that sucked in the winds. For it was fed from the source of the River Jordan, a River which flowed through the deep Jordan Rift valley and ended in the self-contained Dead Sea with no outlet to any other Sea. That the Dead Sea did not overflow its banks was due to the rapid evaporation of the water due to the powerful heat, which was what also left the Dead Sea highly saline. But that did not affect the Sea of Galilee which was a fresh water sea, full of fish.
These sudden storms could be very fierce, and very deadly. But they were commonplace on the Sea of Galilee, small though it was. All aboard had memories of friends who had perished in such storms. But this one is described as a cataclysm (earthquake). And as the winds tore their sail to shreds, and the huge waves began to pour over and fill the boat, even these hardened fishermen began to panic. It may even be that the storm was literally accompanied by an earthquake, for here that is the literal meaning of the word translated ‘tempest (Matthew 24:7; Matthew 27:54; Matthew 28:2). It would help to explain the particular severity of the waves. Thus there was, in Matthew’s words, the idea of a great cataclysm. Perhaps, like Peter later, he had in mind another boat which in Genesis 7:11 had also faced such storms and tempests in bringing God’s chosen ones through to deliverance, for Peter will later use that as a picture of salvation (1 Peter 3:20) and there too they had entered the boat at God’s command, and there too there is a connection with a testimony made to evil spirits which follows after (1 Peter 3:19). Compare the contrasting lesson in Matthew 24:37-39. Certainly there is here a beautiful picture of what it means to be in Christ (Matthew 18:5; Matthew 25:40), and to have Him with us whatever life may bring (Matthew 28:20).
It was the fiercest storm that any there could remember, and they had experienced many. It seemed to them that hope had gone. Its battering was tearing their boat to pieces and totally swamping it. And yet, as the water poured in over the sides, their Master lay in the stern of the boat, fast asleep and seemingly unaware of what was happening. He was doing nothing to help them save the boat, and themselves.
‘Covered with waves.’ The vivid testimony of an eyewitness. It was as though they were being buried alive.
‘And they came to him, and awoke him, saying, “Save, Lord, we perish”.’
They would have fought on as long as they could (pride was at stake), but in the end, with hope gone (literally ‘we have perished’), they fought their way through the water that was filling the boat, clinging on for dear life as the howling winds swept continually around them, and made their way to where Jesus was lying unconscious in the stern of the boat. Once there they no doubt shook Him vigorously, and then they cried, ‘Lord, save us. We are perishing.’ (Compare the cry of the leper in Matthew 8:2). They were experienced enough to know that the boat could not last much longer. It was their last despairing and rather hopeless cry. They were doomed. So in their terror they had turned to their last hope, although it must be considered probable that they were not even sure that He could do anything, for the storm was relentless and even possibly getting worse.
But how easily we do not stop to think when reading these well known narrative. We forget that this is conveying the idea of what happened. But there were a number of terrified men in that boat and as one they had fought their way to Jesus. And now they surrounded Him. And there would have been a number of desperate voices, not just one, and all panicking. And they would all be yelling different words. This is just the gist of it. ‘Save us, Lord, we’re going down.’ ‘Don’t you care that we are perishing?’ ‘Master, master, we’re lost.’ ‘Lord, do something!’
‘And he says to them, “Why are you fearful, O you of little faith?” Then he arose, and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm.”
Jesus awoke, unmoved by the situation, and first turned to them and rebuked them for their fears. He pointed out to them that their problem lay in that fact that they did not have sufficient faith. For if they had really recognised Him for what He was they would have recognised that no boat that carried Him would be allowed to sink. He was safe in His Father’s hands. And the inference is that they should also have realised that they were safe with Him, for they were His chosen followers. This would undoubtedly later give them assurance in the future that they were in God’s hands (even when one of them was martyred - Acts 12:2).
Then having initially rebuked the disciples, He rebuked the winds and the sea (compare Psalms 104:7; Psalms 106:9; Nahum 1:4). Only pedantic minds will argue here that this means that He saw the storm as a living thing. Rather it is simply vivid language which brings out the force of what happened, as the quotations demonstrate (compare Psalms 18:15 where His rebuke is compared with the blast of the breath of His nostrils) . It is simply saying somewhat poetically that by the power of His word the storm was stilled. And immediately there was a great calm, indeed such a sudden calm after a storm that it was beyond the experience of even these hardened fishermen. In that moment they knew that they had seen the Master of wind and wave at work. And they were filled with awe.
For ‘O you of little faith’ compare Matthew 6:30; Matthew 14:31; Matthew 16:8. It seems that He then re-emphasised the lesson about faith (Luke 8:25), which is what we would expect once the immediate ‘danger’ was over. For it was an important lesson for them to learn. There is encouragement for us in this. It tells us that they had enough faith to come to Jesus when things were at the worst, and in the end that was all that was required, even though it was so small.
Mark’s alternative, ‘’Do you still have no faith?’ is actually asking the same question. ‘Why is your faith so small?’ He knew that they had a little faith. He was simply bemoaning the lack of quality in their faith. They had no faith of the right kind (compare Matthew 17:19-20).
One important thing about this expression was that it brought out that Jesus was not using His miraculous powers to protect Himself. He was willing to rely on His Father. His concern was rather for the desperate men who had appealed to Him.
‘And the men marvelled, saying, “What manner of man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey him?” ’
Note that they did not begin exchanging reminiscences of how past storms had ceased suddenly, for they all knew that this had been different. They knew the lake and its idiosyncrasies, but never before had they seen a storm like this or an instant cessation like this. And all they could do was look at each other and marvel. Before this moment they had seen Jesus as One sent from God Whose power seemed great. But they had never expected it to be as immense as this. Other men had performed various kinds of healings, but what manner of man was this that that even the winds and waves obeyed Him, and were immediately stilled at His words? The answer, of course, was that He was the Creator, Whose bidding nature obeyed. They were learning their next lesson.
What they would finally recognise, and what Matthew wanted his readers to recognise, was that here was One Who on His own authority had commanded wind and wave, and that He did it because He was the One Who was ‘girded with might, Who stills the roaring of the seas, the roaring of the waves’ (Psalms 65:6-7), Who ‘rules the raging of the sea, and when its waves rise, He stills them’ (Psalms 89:9). And Biblically there was only One Who could do that. We should note also that in Psalms 65:0. He also stills ‘the tumult of the peoples’. The Kingly Rule of God was at work in both.
It is possible that the description ‘the men’ included others who had learned of the incident from the breathless disciples after they had landed, even including some who had survived in the other boats mentioned by Mark. But it may simply be a vivid contrast of the disciples with the One Who was clearly not just a man.
We should note that in a sense their whole experience had been recorded long before in the vivid description of men in a storm in Psalms 107:23-30, except that here it had been heightened;
‘Those who go down to the sea in ships,
Who do business in great waters,
These see the works of the LORD,
And His wonders in the deep.
For He commands, and raises the stormy wind,
Which lifts up the waves thereof.
They mount up to the heaven, they go down again to the depths,
Their soul melts away because of trouble.
They reel to and fro, and stagger like a drunken man,
And are at their wits’ end.
Then they cry to the LORD in their trouble,
And He brings them out of their distresses.
He makes the storm a calm,
So that the waves thereof are still.
Then are they glad because they are quiet,
So He brings them to the haven where they would be.’
The message behind the Psalm, which mirrors their experience, was that it was God who so controlled the waves, and quietens the storm. The question would be, therefore, how long it would be before they recognised the implications for their understanding of Him of what had happened? Certainly they would soon learn from the demons something more of His nature, when they declared, ‘You are the Son of God’ (Matthew 8:29).
‘And when he was come to the other side into the country of the Gadarenes, there met him two possessed with demons, coming forth out of the tombs, extremely fierce, so that no man could pass by that way.’
When they landed on the shore of the country of the Gadarenes they were met by two wild and fierce demoniacs who ran to meet them out of the tombs, which were in caves in the rocks. Matthew tells us that they were possessed with demons. It would seem that Matthew wants us to know that Jesus deliberately went that way, for he tells us that men did not usually pass that way because these demoniacs were so fierce and uncontrolled. Their very behaviour demonstrated the amount of evil forces within them. This dreadful fierceness caused by possession has to be experienced to be believed. It regularly causes self-harm, and a lust for blood. I knew a woman in such a state, who had to be held down all through the night, desperate to see the sight of blood, until at four in the morning, after prayer in the name of Jesus, she suddenly subsided and the blood lust left her. And it genuinely was followed by a remarkable and very noticeable calm. The storm at sea was as nothing compared with these two raging demoniacs.
‘The country of the Gadarenes.’ Gadara was an inland town whose territories reached down to the shore of the sea. The other synoptics in the better manuscripts read Gerasa, which probably refers, not to the city of Gerasa, but the small town of Kersa on the shoreline. Near that town is a fairly steep slope within forty metres of the shore, and the cave tombs can still be seen there.
The Two Demoniacs of Decapolis (8:28-34).
Having experienced their amazing deliverance the disciples were no doubt pleased to reach a safe haven. Little did they realise that they were going to see even greater things than this. They had learned the lesson that as Jesus’ disciples they did not need to fear the storms and the seas, because He would watch over them, but now they would be faced with an even greater foe, and would see Jesus’ power exercised over him and his minions. It would reveal to them that both violent nature and the awesome powers of the supernatural were under Jesus’ control. And they would also learn that the very sea from which He had rescued them was to be the destiny of these evil spirits. There was no deliverance for them. There is a delightful irony in the thought that Satan had sought to destroy Jesus in the sea, only to find his own minions destroyed there instead. But once again Matthew abbreviates the account in Mark. As so often he streamlines it and reduces it to the points that he wants to get over.
Yet as against Mark he introduces us to two demoniacs. This suggests that he is remembering what he saw, not just sticking with hearsay. In many of his abbreviations of Mark he adds these extra small points from his memory. And in all cases they make added sense. This is especially true when he introduces twos. There would have been a number of demoniacs scattered among the tombs, with men and women having relationships. A mother ass would regularly follow her young unbroken colt. There would always be numbers of blind men begging by the wayside. And so on. Matthew vividly remembers those two people and their fierceness. It is precisely because he remembers the two people that, unlike Mark, he gives us little detail of the conversations, for he wants to include both. Thus we do not even learn here of the multitude of demons. We are left to gather it from what Matthew does say.
Some try to suggest that Matthew enhances stories by doubling up. But a little thought will bring out that there would almost certainly be at least two such people. For there were many demon possessed men and women in those days, and many of them would make for the tombs, where they would be left alone and could find shelter in the rocky caves without interference. And because even people like that are social creatures, they would form their own companionships, even possibly here being a man and a woman. Mark concentrates on the one of greatest interest, and the fiercest, possibly the male. Matthew possibly remembers also the wild woman, possibly with her hair hanging raggedly down her back, and gives us the full true background which he so vividly remembered.
Such poor, naked (Luke 8:27, compare Mark 5:15) men and women were not only there in Jesus’ day. Thompson in his travels in the 19th century describes similar experiences. ‘There are some very similar cases at the present day -- furious and dangerous maniacs who wander about the mountains and sleep in caves and tombs. In their worst paroxysms they are quite unmanageable, and prodigiously strong. -- And it is one of the common traits of this madness that the victims refuse to wear clothes. I have often seen them absolutely naked in the crowded streets of Beirut and Sidon. There are also cases in which they run wildly about the country, and frighten the whole neighbourhood.’ Indeed the desire to strip naked is a symptom of certain types of clinical depression today, with the result that all thoughts of decency are gone and even what are normally respectable men and women parade themselves in the nude in the most unseemly places without even giving it a thought.
a And when He was come to the other side into the country of the Gadarenes (Matthew 8:28 a).
b There met Him two possessed with demons, coming forth out of the tombs, extremely fierce, so that no man could pass by that way (Matthew 8:28 b).
c And behold, they cried out, saying, “What have we to do with You, You Son of God? Are You come here to torment us before the time?” (Matthew 8:29).
d Now there was afar off from them a herd of many swine feeding, and the demons besought Him, saying, “If You cast us out, send us away into the herd of swine” (Matthew 8:30-31).
c And He said to them, “Go.” And they came out, and went into the swine, and behold, the whole herd rushed down the steep into the sea, and perished in the waters” (Matthew 8:32).
b And those who fed them fled, and went away into the city, and told everything, and what had happened to those who were possessed with demons (Matthew 8:33).
a And behold, all the city came out to meet Jesus, and when they saw Him, they pleaded with Him that He would depart from their borders (Matthew 8:34).
Note than in ‘a’ He arrives in the country of the Gadarenes, and in the parallel He is asked to depart from the country of the Gadarenes. In ‘b’ we have mention of the two who were possessed with demons, and in the parallel the witnesses tell of what has happened to the two who were possessed with demons. In ‘c’ we are told of the plea of the demons to Jesus, and in the parallel of His response. Centrally in ‘d’ they ask to be sent into the herd of swine.
‘And behold, they cried out, saying, “What have we to do with you, you Son of God? Are you come here to torment us before the time?” ’
And on seeing Jesus they had no alternative but to react with horror. Men might not know that He was One who was close to God, but they were conscious of it immediately. They recognised the power of His Kingly Rule and His very holiness tormented them because of the demons within them. Notice how they and the demons are seen as one and yet many. And they called out to Him as the ‘Son of God’. Yet even they probably did not realise quite how right they were. For in Mark’s account they tried to outface Jesus, something that they would not have done had they been aware of the full truth. (Calling themselves ‘a legion’ was probably with the hope of frightening Jesus off, as they had no doubt frightened off exorcisers before Him). Matthew gives us the Jewish title ‘Son of God’, Mark the title as it would be used among Gentiles, ‘Son of the Most High God’ (compare Genesis 24:19-20; Genesis 24:22; Daniel 3:26).
‘And behold.’ The phrase brings out the unexpectedness of what follows. It was not the normal way in which they approached people.
‘What have you and we in common, you Son of God?’ Suddenly recognising what they were unexpectedly up against, they tried to go into retreat and withdraw. This was not what they had wanted at all. They recognised a heavenly quality about the One Whom they were addressing, which they did not like. They now recognised that here was no ordinary man that they could frighten off at will. Here was One from Heaven, something that they had not expected that they would have to encounter for a long time to come.
Their purpose in questioning Jesus may also have been in order to try to involve Him with themselves. By such questions their hope may have been that their adversary would become involved with them, thus lessening His ability to act against them. Those who have had experience of dealing in such matters in a sensible way know that it is dangerous to be drawn in by the questions of evil spirits spoken through the mouths of their victims, often in awesome voices, or to be drawn into a two way relationship with them. Rather the questioning must be kept under the control of the exorciser, so that he can demonstrate God’s authority over them (compare Jude 1:9). It was with the same aim of avoiding direct involvement that Jesus never touched a demon possessed person, but dealt with them by a word of command. It is a reminder to us not to get involved in the occult or in spiritism in any way. By doing so we too could become possessed.
Their questioning was illuminating. It revealed that, like men, they recognised that they had a limited time span before the time came for their judgment. ‘Are you come here to torment us before the time?’ This revealed that they were aware of what fate lay in store for them, the awful and tormenting judgment of God, but that they were not anticipating it at that time (compare 2 Peter 2:4; Jude 1:6; and Jewish apocalyptic literature). They knew that that final judgment awaited the future and they had thought that they had at least ‘a little time’ before that. It also revealed that this encounter had shaken them. Why had this Heavenly One come to earth (‘here’) out of His normal sphere? Being confident that they still had quite some time before God stepped in to judge them, it was outside their reckoning to have to suddenly face up to the Son of God. It was not what they had been given to expect at all.
So while Matthew does not give us the same details as are found in Mark, he does tell us enough to recognise something of what Jesus was dealing with. On the whole men think that spiritually speaking they are alone on this planet, just as Adam and Eve had thought that they were alone in the Garden. But Scripture reveals that often unknown to us events are taking place which are outside our knowledge. Forces are at work of which we know little, and it is only occasionally that we are made cognisant of them (Genesis 3:0; Genesis 6:1-4; Job 1-2; 2 Kings 6:17; Daniel 3:25; Daniel 10:1-21; Zechariah 3; 1 Corinthians 11:10; Ephesians 6:10-18; and especially in Revelation). Evil spirits cannot directly interfere with us unless we open ourselves to them through indulging in the occult or the worship of idols. And in Jesus Christ, and especially under the protection of His death on our behalf, we can find full protection against them. But the arrival of Jesus on earth had thrown them into confusion, for He interfered in their world as none other did. They recognised His authority as God’s beloved Son (Matthew 1:17). This was something new to them and they did not know how to deal with it. They did not know what God was now planning to do. Suddenly they knew that they could remain undetected no longer.
Indeed Satan later thought that if he could only get men to crucify Jesus it might solve the problem (Luke 22:3; John 13:2). He was unaware that he was unsuspectingly carrying forward God’s plan to his own destruction. For it was at the cross that he would suffer the crucial defeat that would guarantee his final end (Colossians 2:15). From then on things have gone backward for him and he is now on the retreat although still powerful, especially in deceiving mankind. But he will fight on to the end. And it is only through God’s truth, and God’s word, and through prayer that we can overcome him (Ephesians 6:10-18). Meanwhile the world unconsciously sleeps in his arms (1 John 5:19), and by him many so-called ‘Christians’ are led off into spurious ideas and activities (2 Corinthians 2:11; 2 Corinthians 11:3; 2Co 11:14 ; 1 Timothy 4:1; etc).
‘Now there was afar off from them a herd of many swine feeding.’
Had this been Jewish territory there would have been no herd of pigs, for to Jews pigs were ritually unclean. But this was Gentile territory, and here the keeping of herds of pigs was commonplace. That there were many pigs is important, for it brings out that there were many demons. ‘There was afar off’. We have here clear evidence of an eyewitness who remembered the herd in the distance. This description is against the idea that the herd were disturbed in any way by the behaviour of the demoniacs.
‘And the demons besought him, saying, “If you cast us out, send us away into the herd of swine.” ’.
The demons, recognising His authority and His mastery, pleaded to be allowed to go into those distant pigs. They did not want to be totally disembodied for that would have meant that if they could not soon find a body to possess they would have to go to meet their final fate. Jesus also knew how important it would be for the two men to be sure that the demons had left them, so He gave permission. To Him these two poor possessed people and their sanity were worth more than a herd of pigs.
‘And he said to them, “Go.” And they came out, and went into the swine, and behold, the whole herd rushed down the steep into the sea, and perished in the waters.”
With a word of power Jesus told them to do what they had asked and go, and enter the swine, and, unable to resist, they left the two persons involved and entered the pigs, with the result that the whole herd ran down a slope into the sea. Jesus may well not have expected this outcome. He would be aware of the evil spirits’ desire for self-preservation. Alternately He may have wanted His disciples to recognise that what they had been saved from (the raging sea), was the destiny of those demons instead. It was their rightful place. For the disciples life, for the demons destruction. In Heaven and earth there will be no more sea (Revelation 21:21). This is because the sea in its ferocity was seen as an enemy of man, and there all enemies will have ceased. Perhaps, indeed, these demons were so desperate to get away from Jesus that they thought that they could hide from Jesus at the bottom of the sea (Amos 9:3).
As we consider these pigs we are thus reminded that ‘dumb animals’ are far more sensitive to evil and to strange forces than we often are (compare Balaam’s ass). Dogs will often cower and whine in houses where there are known to be strange phenomena. This sudden inrush of evil clearly terrified the pigs who were fully aware of it, and they ran in panic down the slope, perishing in the waters of the sea. By this event the one time demoniacs would see for themselves that they really had been freed from the demons, while the demons themselves went to their destiny. I have heard many people react against this and ask how Jesus could do such a thing. And then without giving the matter a moment’s thought they would go away and buy their bacon and pork simply for their own enjoyment. What hypocrites we are. It is fine to destroy a herd of pigs for our own enjoyment, but not in order to help two, poor, demented people. Next time you eat bacon, think of this herd of pigs.
‘Go.’ By this Jesus’ supreme authority over demons was revealed. While He was there they could do nothing without His approval. They had to submit to the Kingly Rule of God even though they could not come to enjoy it.
‘And those who fed them fled, and went away into the city, and told everything, and what had happened to those who were possessed with demons.’
Naturally those who guarded the pigs were terrified and extremely upset. They fled to the nearby city and described what had happened in full detail, and especially what had happened to the two demon possessed people who were now healed. They did not want to have to bear the blame for what had happened.
‘And behold, all the city came out to meet Jesus, and when they saw him, they pleaded with him that he would depart from their borders.’
And the consequence was that ‘all the city’ (both Jews and Gentiles) consulted together through their elders and then came to Jesus in a large deputation on behalf of the whole city, and begged Him to leave their borders. They knew what a Jewish prophet would think about pigs, and they did not want any further attacks on their herds. It may also be that they were afraid to have such a powerful Jewish prophet among them. Who could know what might happen next? Every Jew would read out of this that they preferred their uncleanness to the purity of God.