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Bible Commentaries

Expository Notes of Dr. Thomas Constable
Matthew 8

 

 

Other Authors
Verse 1

III. THE MANIFESTATION OF THE KING8:1-11:1

"Matthew has laid the foundational structure for his argument in chapters one through seven. The genealogy and birth have attested to the legal qualifications of the Messiah as they are stated in the Old Testament. Not only Song of Solomon , but in His birth great and fundamental prophecies have been fulfilled. The King, according to protocol, has a forerunner preceding Him in His appearance on the scene of Israel"s history. The moral qualities of Jesus have been authenticated by His baptism and temptation. The King Himself then commences His ministry of proclaiming the nearness of the kingdom and authenticates it with great miracles. To instruct His disciples as to the true character of righteousness which is to distinguish Him, He draws them apart on the mountain. After Matthew has recorded the Sermon on the Mount, he goes on to relate the King"s presentation to Israel ( Matthew 8:1 to Matthew 11:1)." [Note: Toussaint, Behold the . . ., p121.]


Verses 1-4

The cleansing of a leprous Jew8:1-4 (cf. Mark 1:40-45; Luke 5:12-16)


Verses 1-17

1. Jesus" ability to heal8:1-17

This first group of four miracle events apparently all happened on the same day ( Matthew 8:16).


Verses 1-34

A. Demonstrations of the King"s power8:1-9:34

Matthew described Jesus" ministry as consisting of teaching, preaching, and healing in Matthew 4:23. Chapters5-7 record what He taught His disciples: principles of the kingdom. We have the essence of His preaching ministry in Matthew 4:17. Now in Matthew 8:1 to Matthew 9:34 we see His healing ministry. He demonstrated authority over human beings, unseen spiritual powers, and the world of nature. Matthew showed that Jesus" ability proves that He is the divine Messiah. He possessed the "power to banish from the earth the consequences of sin and to control the elements of nature". [Note: The New Scofield ..., p1003.] The King authenticated His claims by performing messianic signs. In view of this the Jews should have acknowledged Him as their Messiah.

"The purpose of Matthew in these two chapters 8,9] is to offer the credentials of the Messiah as predicted in the Old Testament." [Note: Walvoord, Matthew: . . ., p63.]

Matthew did not record Jesus" miracles in strict chronological order. The harmonies of the Gospels make this clear. [Note: See, for example, A. T. Robertson, A Harmony of the Gospels for Students of the Life of Christ; or, for the Greek text, E. Burton and E. J. Goodspeed, A Harmony of the Synoptic Gospels in Greek.] His order is more thematic. He also selected miracles that highlight the gracious character of Jesus" signs. As Moses" plagues authenticated his ministry to the Israelites of his day, so Jesus" miracles should have convinced the Israelites of His day that He was the Messiah. Moses" plagues were primarily destructive whereas Jesus" miracles were primarily constructive. Jesus" miracles were more like Elisha"s than Moses" in this respect.

Matthew recorded10 instances of Jesus healing in this section of his book (cf. the10 plagues in Egypt), half of all the miracles that Matthew recorded. Some regard Matthew 8:16-17 as a miracle distinct from the previous healings in chapter8 , resulting in10 miracles. Others regard Matthew 8:16-17 as a summary of the preceding miracles, resulting in9 miracles. Both explanations have merit since Matthew 8:16-17 records other miracles, but it does not narrate one specific miraculous healing.

Matthew presented these miracles in three groups and broke the three groups up with two discussions (narrative sections) concerning His authority. The first group of miracles involves healings ( Matthew 8:1-17), the second, demonstrations of power ( Matthew 8:23 to Matthew 9:8), and the third, acts of restoration ( Matthew 9:18-34). Together the section presents "a slice of life" out of Jesus" overall ministry. [Note: D. J. Weaver, Matthew"s Missionary Discourse, p67.]

Miracles of healing
Matthew 8:1-17

Demonstrations of power
Matthew 8:23 to Matthew 9:8

Acts of Restoration
Matthew 9:18-34

Jesus" authority over His disciples
Matthew 8:18-22

Jesus" authority over His critics
Matthew 9:9-17

"The provision of interludes on discipleship in order to divide the nine stories into three groups of three is also closely parallel to the arrangement of the parables of ch13into groups of three with intervening explanatory material, an arrangement which is equally peculiar to Matthew [among the Gospel writers]." [Note: France, The Gospel . . ., p302.]


Verse 2-3

Matthew typically used the phrase kai idou ("and behold," not translated in the NIV) to mark the beginning of a new section, not to indicate the next event chronologically.

The exact nature of biblical leprosy is unknown. Apparently it included what we call leprosy today, Hansen"s disease, but it involved other skin diseases too (cf. Leviticus 13-14). [Note: A Dictionary of New Testament Theology, s.v. "Leprosy," by R. K. Harrison, 2:363-66; Rebecca A. and E. Eugene Baillie, "Biblical Leprosy as Compared to Present-Day Leprosy," Christian Medical Society Journal14:3 (Fall1983):27-29.] A leper not only had some loathsome skin disease that made him repulsive to others, but he also was ritually unclean because of his illness. This precluded contact with other people and participation in temple worship. The Jews regarded leprosy as a curse from God ( Numbers 12:10; Numbers 12:12; Job 18:13), and healings were rare ( Numbers 12:10-15; 2 Kings 5:9-14). The Jews thought that healing a leper was as difficult as raising the dead ( 2 Kings 5:7; 2 Kings 5:14).

The leper in this story knelt (Gr. prosekynei) before Jesus. The same word describes worshippers in the New Testament. However, Matthew probably just described him kneeling leaving his readers to draw their own conclusions about Jesus" worthiness to receive worship (cf. Matthew 7:22-23).

The man had great faith in Jesus" ability to heal him. Evidently he had heard about and perhaps seen others whom Jesus had healed ( Matthew 4:24). His only reservation was Jesus" willingness to use His power to heal him. The leper probably supposed that a Jewish teacher like Jesus would probably not want to have anything to do with him since to do so would render Jesus ritually unclean.

"In most cases ... the purpose of the minor characters [in Matthew"s story] is to function as foils for the disciples." [Note: Kingsbury, Matthew as . . ., p27.]

Probably the crowd gasped when Jesus graciously extended His hand and touched the unclean leper. Lepers had to avoid all contact with other people, but Jesus compassionately reached out to him in his helpless condition. Jesus expressed His willingness with His word, and He expressed His power with His touch.

"Whatever remedies, medical, magical, or sympathetic, Rabbinic writings may indicate for various kinds of disease, leprosy is not included in the catalogue. They left aside what even the Old Testament marked as moral death, by enjoining those so stricken to avoid all contact with the living, and even to bear the appearance of mourners.

"In truth, the possibility of any cure through human agency was never contemplated by the Jews." [Note: Edersheim, The Life . . ., 1:491 , 492.]

"There is a sense in which leprosy is an archetypal fruit of the original fall of humanity. It leaves its victims in a most pitiable state: ostracized, helpless, hopeless, despairing. The cursed leper, like fallen humanity, has no options until he encounters the messianic king who will make all things new.... As Jesus reached out to the leper, God in Jesus has reached out to all victims of sin." [Note: Hagner, p200.]

"When Jesus touched the leper, He contracted the leper"s defilement; but He also conveyed His health! Is this not what He did for us on the cross when He was made sin for us? ( 2 Corinthians 5:21)" [Note: Wiersbe, 1:33.]


Verse 4

Why did Jesus tell the cleansed leper to tell no one about his cleansing? Probably Jesus did not want the news of this cleansing broadcast widely because it would have attracted multitudes whose sole interest would have been to obtain physical healing. [Note: Tasker, p87.] In other words, He wanted to limit His purely physical appeal since He came to provide much more than just physical healing. [Note: Ned B. Stonehouse, The Witness of Matthew and Mark to Christ, p62.] A corollary of this view is that by keeping quiet the leper would have retarded the opposition of Jesus" enemies who were hostile to Him and who resented His popularity.

More significant is why Jesus told the man to present himself to the priests at the temple in Jerusalem. Jesus was encouraging the man to obey the Mosaic Law concerning the cleansing of lepers ( Leviticus 14:2; cf. Talmudic tractate Negaim14). However by sending him there to do that Jesus was notifying the religious authorities in Israel that someone with messianic power was ministering in Galilee. Since no leper had received cleansing since Elisha had cleansed Naaman the Aramean, the priests should have wanted to investigate Jesus. (Moses had previously cleansed Miriam"s leprosy.)

"Jesus in effect was presenting His "calling card" to the priests, for they would have to investigate His claims." [Note: Barbieri, p37.]

This investigation by Israel"s leaders-who, we have observed, were surprisingly uninterested in Messiah"s birth-was something Jesus initiated by sending the leper to the temple with his offering. When the priests examined the cleansed leper closely, they would have had to certify that Jesus had genuinely healed the man. Their certification should have convinced everyone in Israel of Jesus" power.

Matthew evidently recorded this miracle to show that Jesus" ability to heal leprosy marked Him as the Messiah to all who would pay attention in Israel.

"By recounting Jesus" response to the most feared and ostracized medical condition of his day, Matthew has thus laid an impressive foundation for this collection of stories which demonstrate both Jesus" unique healing power and his willingness to challenge the taboos of society in the interests of human compassion." [Note: France, The Gospel . . ., p306.]


Verse 5

Centurions were Roman military officers each of whom controlled100 men, therefore the name "centurion." They were the military backbone of the Roman Empire. Interestingly every reference to a centurion in the New Testament is a positive one. These centurions were, according to the biblical record, fair-minded men whom the Jews respected. Capernaum was an important garrison town in Jesus" day. Probably most of the soldiers under this centurion"s command were Phoenician and Syrian Gentiles. [Note: Carson, " Matthew ," p200.]


Verses 5-13

The healing of a centurion"s servant8:5-13 (cf. Luke 7:1-10)


Verse 6-7

Matthew recorded that the centurion"s address to Jesus (lit. "lord") was polite, though he probably did not intend it as a title of deity. [Note: See my comment on "lord" at7:21.] The Greek word that the centurion used to describe his servant, pais, usually means "servant," though it can mean "son" (cf. John 4:51). This servant could have been the centurion"s personal aide. Matthew did not record the cause of his paralysis. Perhaps reports of Jesus" healing of another official"s son led this centurion to approach Jesus ( John 4). Here was one Gentile asking Jesus to come and heal another Gentile. Evidently the centurion sent his request through messengers ( Luke 7:3). This is one of only two miracles in which Jesus healed someone from a distance in Matthew"s Gospel (cf. Matthew 15:21-28). Both involved Jesus healing Gentiles whom He initially rebuffed but later commended for their unusually great faith in Him.

It is possible to translate Jesus" response as a question: "Shall I [emphatic] come and heal him?" This translation has the advantage of providing a reason for Jesus emphasizing "I," namely, to focus attention on Jesus" person. Jesus would not have hesitated to go to the centurion because of ritual uncleanness, as Peter later did ( Acts 10); He had already touched a leper ( Matthew 8:3). Jesus" lack of concern about remaining ritually clean shows that He was replacing some laws in the Mosaic Code (cf. Deuteronomy 18:18; Mark 7:19).


Verse 8-9

The centurion confessed that he felt unfit, Levitically speaking, to entertain Jesus in his home (cf. Matthew 5:3). John the Baptist had also expressed a similar feeling of unworthiness ( Matthew 3:14). The basis for the centurion"s feeling of unworthiness (Gr. hikanos) was his own perception of how Jews regarded Gentile dwellings and the authority that he believed Jesus possessed. He believed Jesus had sufficient authority to simply speak and He could heal his servant (cf. John 4:46-53).

All authority in the Roman Empire belonged to the emperor, who delegated authority to others under his command. The Roman Republic ended about30 B.C, and from then on, beginning with Caesar Augustus, the emperors enjoyed more authority under the Roman Empire. When the centurion gave a command it carried all the authority of the emperor, and people obeyed him. A soldier who might disobey an order the centurion gave was really disobeying the emperor. The centurion realized that Jesus also operated under a similar system. Jesus was under God"s authority, but He also wielded God"s authority. When Jesus spoke, God spoke. To defy Jesus was to defy God. Jesus" word, therefore, must carry God"s authority to heal sickness. The centurion confessed that Jesus" authority was God"s authority, and Jesus" word was God"s word. The centurion believed that Jesus could heal His servant, not that He would heal him. We cannot know God"s will in such matters, but we must believe that He is able to do anything.


Verse 10

Jesus expressed astonishment at this Gentile"s great faith in Him. The Greek verb thaumazo, "to be amazed," usually describes the reaction of people to Jesus in Matthew (cf. Matthew 8:27; Matthew 9:33; Matthew 15:31; Matthew 21:20; Matthew 22:22; Matthew 27:14). This is the only time it describes Jesus" reaction to someone.

""Wonder" cannot apply to God, for it arises out of what is new and unexpected: but it might exist in Christ, for he had clothed himself with our flesh, and with human affections." [Note: Calvin, 1:382.]

The introductory clause "I say to you" or "I tell you" alerted Jesus" disciples that He was about to say something very important on His personal authority (cf. Matthew 5:22). The greatness of the centurion"s faith was due to his perception of Jesus" relationship to God. It was not that he believed Jesus could heal from a remote distance. Moreover the centurion was a Gentile who evidently lacked the knowledge of Old Testament revelation about Messiah. No Jew that Jesus had met had shown such insight into His person and authority.

One of the reasons Matthew evidently stressed the uniqueness of the centurion"s faith so strongly was he wanted to show the movement in Jesus" ministry from Jews to all people (cf. Matthew 1:1; Matthew 1:3-5; Matthew 2:1-12; Matthew 3:9-10; Matthew 4:15-16; Matthew 28:18-20).

"This incident is a preview of the great insight which came later through another centurion"s faith, "Then to the Gentiles God has granted repentance unto life" ( Acts 11:18)." [Note: R. T. France, "Exegesis in Practice: Two Samples," in New Testament Interpretation, p260.]


Verse 11-12

Again Jesus introduced a solemn truth (cf. Matthew 8:10). He then referred to the messianic banquet prophesied in Isaiah 25:6-9 (cf. Isaiah 65:13-14). There God revealed that Gentiles from all parts of the world will join the Jewish patriarchs in the kingdom. The Old Testament has much to say about the participants in the kingdom. God would gather Israel from all parts of the earth ( Psalm 107:3; Isaiah 43:5-6; Isaiah 49:12), but Gentiles from all quarters of the world would also worship God in the kingdom ( Isaiah 45:6; Isaiah 59:19; Malachi 1:11). The Gentiles would come specifically to Jerusalem ( Isaiah 2:2-3; Isaiah 60:3-4; Micah 4:1-2; Zechariah 8:20-23). As mentioned previously, in Jesus" day the Jews had chosen to view themselves as uniquely privileged because of the patriarchs. This led them to write the Gentiles out of the kingdom despite these prophecies.

"The Jew expected that the Gentile would be put to shame by the sight of the Jews in bliss." [Note: Plummer, p127.]

The "sons [or subjects] of the kingdom" ( Matthew 8:12) are the Jews who saw themselves as the patriarchs" descendants. They thought they had a right to the kingdom because of their ancestors" righteousness (cf. Matthew 3:9-10). Jesus turned the tables by announcing that many of the sons of the kingdom would not participate in it, but many Gentiles would. Many "sons of the kingdom" would find themselves outside the banquet. The terms "weeping and gnashing of teeth" (cf. Matthew 13:42; Matthew 13:50; Matthew 22:13; Matthew 24:51; Matthew 25:30; Luke 13:28) were common descriptions of Gehenna, hell (4Ezra7:93; 1Enoch63:10; Psalm of Solomon14:9; Wisdom of Solomon 17:21). [Note: See Pagenkemper, pp183-86.] (The works just cited in parentheses were Old Testament apocraphal books that the Jews viewed as generally reliable and helpful but not inspired.) This interpretation finds confirmation in the expression "outer darkness," another image of rejection (cf. Matthew 22:13; Matthew 25:30). [Note: Ibid, pp186-88.]

"The idea of the Messianic Banquet as at once the seal and the symbol of the new era was a common feature in apocalyptic writings and an extremely popular subject of discussion, thought, and expectation." [Note: Bindley, p317. Cf. William Barclay, The Gospel of Matthew , 1:309.]

The Greek text has the definite article "the" before "weeping" and before "gnashing." This stresses the horror of the scene. [Note: Turner, p173.] The terms in Rabbinic usage picture sorrow and anger respectively. [Note: Edersheim, The Life . . ., 1:550-51.]

Jesus shocked His hearers by announcing three facts about the kingdom. First, not all Jews would participate in it. Second, many Gentiles would. Third, entrance depended on faith in Jesus, not on ancestry, the faith that the centurion demonstrated.

". . . the locus of the people of God would not always be the Jewish race. If these verses do not quite authorize the Gentile mission, they open the door to it and prepare for the Great Commission ( Matthew 28:18-20) and Ephesians 3." [Note: Carson, " Matthew ," p203.]


Verse 13

Other similar words of Jesus help us understand what He meant when He said that He would do for the centurion "as" (Gr. hos) he had believed (cf. Matthew 15:28). Jesus did not grant his request because the centurion had faith or in proportion to his faith. He did so in harmony with what the centurion expected. Jesus did for him what he expected Jesus would do for him.

"It is . . . interesting to observe that the Gentile follows the Jew in the sequence of healing events. This is in accord with Matthew"s plan of presenting Jesus first as Son of David and then as Son of Abraham." [Note: Toussaint, Behold the . . ., p124.]

This healing marked Jesus as the Messiah who was under God"s authority.

The healing of Peter"s mother-in-law8:14-15 (cf. Mark 1:29-31; Luke 4:38-39)

Peter and his family were evidently living in Capernaum when Jesus performed this miracle ( Matthew 4:13). People considered fever a disease in Jesus" day rather than a symptom of a disease (cf. John 4:52; Acts 28:8).

"The Talmud gives this disease precisely the same name (Eshatha Tsemirta), "burning fever," and prescribes for it a magical remedy, of which the principal part is to tie a knife wholly of iron by a braid of hair to a thornbush, and to repeat on successive days Exod. iii2 , 3 , then Matthew 8:4, and finally Matthew 8:5, after which the bush is to be cut down, while a certain magical formula is pronounced. (Tractate Shabbath 37 a)" [Note: Edersheim, The Life . . ., 1:486.]

Jesus healed Peter"s mother-in-law with a touch. His touch did not defile the healer, but it healed the defiled (cf. Matthew 8:3). Matthew consistently stressed Jesus" authority in this brief pericope. He probably mentioned the fact that when Jesus healed the woman she immediately began to serve Him to illustrate the instantaneous effectiveness of Jesus power (cf. Matthew 8:26). Usually a fever leaves the body weak, but Jesus overcame that here. [Note: Barbieri, p37.]

"Some see great significance in Matthew"s deliberate rearrangement of these miracles. Since Matthew did not follow the chronological order, it seems he intended to illustrate the plan of his Gospel. Accordingly, the first miracle shows Christ ministering to the Jews. His mighty works bore testimony to His person, but His testimony was rejected. Consequently, He turns to the Gentiles, who manifest great faith in Him. Later, He returns to the Jews, represented by the mother-in-law of the apostle to the Jews. He heals her and all who come to Him. This third picture is that of the millennium, when the King restores Israel and blesses all the nations." [Note: Toussaint, Behold the . . ., p125.]

This miracle shows Jesus" power to heal people fully, instantaneously, and completely. It also previews His compassion since the object of His grace was a woman. The Pharisees considered lepers, Gentiles, and women as outcasts, but Jesus showed mercy to them all. By healing a leper who was a social outcast, a Gentile, and finally a woman, Jesus was extending His grace to people the Jews either excluded or ignored as unimportant. Jewish narrowness did not bind Jesus any more than disease and uncleanness contaminated Him. [Note: Walvoord, Matthew: . . ., p65.]

"He began with the unfit persons for whom there was no provision in the economy of the nation." [Note: Morgan, p82.]


Verse 16-17

The healing of many Galileans8:16-17 (cf. Mark 1:32-34; Luke 4:40-41)

That evening many other people brought their afflicted friends and relatives to Jesus for healing. In the Jewish inter-testamental literature the writers spoke of demons as responsible for making people ill. [Note: Carson, " Matthew ," p205.] Jesus cast out many demonic spirits and healed many who were sick.

Matthew noted that Jesus" healings fulfilled messianic prophecy ( Isaiah 53:4). Matthew"s citation from Isaiah really summarized all the healings in this chapter so far. He interpreted Isaiah freely as predicting the vicarious sufferings of Messiah. This was in accord with Isaiah"s prophecy concerning Messiah that appears in Isaiah 53. The Old Testament taught that all sickness is the direct or indirect result of sin (cf. Matthew 9:5). Messiah would remove infirmities and diseases by dying as a substitute sacrifice for sin. He would deal with the fruit by dealing with the root. Jesus" healing ministry laid the foundation for His destroying sickness with His death. Therefore it was appropriate for Matthew to quote Isaiah 53:4 here. Jesus" healing ministry also previewed kingdom conditions (cf. Isaiah 33:24; Isaiah 57:19).

"Thus the healings during Jesus" ministry can be understood not only as the foretaste of the kingdom [in which there will be little sickness] but also as the fruit of Jesus" death." [Note: Ibid, p206.]

For Matthew , Jesus" healing ministry pointed to the Cross. The healings were signs that signified more than the average observer might have understood. Matthew recorded that Jesus healed all types of people. Likewise when He died, Jesus gave His life as a ransom for many ( Matthew 20:28). Jesus" ministry of destroying sin in death was an extension of the authority that He demonstrated in His ministry of destroying sickness during His life. Many scholars believe that the Jews of Jesus" day did not understand Isaiah 53as messianic prophecy. Jeremias is one exception. Whether they did or not, they should have.

". . . it is to cast Jesus" activity of healing in the mold of "serving" that Matthew informs the reader in a formula-quotation that Jesus, through healing, fulfills the words of the Servant Song of Isaiah: "He took our infirmities and bore our diseases" ( Matthew 8:16-17; Isaiah 53:4). In healing, Jesus Son of God assumes the role of the servant of God and ministers to Israel by restoring persons to health or freeing them from their afflictions ( Matthew 11:5). Through serving in this fashion, Jesus "saves" ( Matthew 9:22)." [Note: Kingsbury, Matthew as . . ., p68.]

Some Christians believe that Isaiah 53:4 and Matthew 8:16-17 teach that Jesus" death made it possible for people today to experience physical healing now by placing faith in Jesus. Most students of these and similar passages have concluded that the healing Jesus" death provides believers today will come when we receive our resurrection bodies, not necessarily before then. [Note: See Hagner, p211.] This conclusion finds support in the revelation about the purpose of periods of healing that the Bible records. Many Christians today fall into the same trap the Corinthian believers fell into when they demanded future blessings now (cf. 1 Corinthians 4:6-13). [Note: See. A. C. Thistleton, "Realized Eschatology at Corinth," New Testament Studies24 (1977):510-26.]

This summary pericope stresses Jesus" power over every human affliction.


Verse 18-19

Matthew 8:18 gives the occasion for the scribe"s statement in Matthew 8:19 (cf. Mark 4:35). The other side of the lake (from Capernaum) would have been the eastern side. There was only so much room in the boat, and the scribe wanted to get in with other disciples. At this time in Jesus" ministry there were many more than just12disciples, though the Twelve were an inner circle. As mentioned above, the word "disciple" does not necessarily identify fully committed followers or even believers (cf. Matthew 5:1; Matthew 8:21). This scribe, a teacher of the law, looked to Jesus as his "teacher." He wanted to learn from Him. He said that he was willing to follow Him anywhere to do so.

". . . the designations "rabbi" and "teacher" attribute to the person so addressed human respect but nothing more. Hence, in addressing Jesus as "teacher," the religious leaders accord Jesus the honor they would accord any teacher, but this is the extent of it. To their mind Jesus" station is not that of the Messiah Son of God, his authority is not divine, and they in no sense follow him or have faith in him." [Note: Kingsbury, Matthew as . . ., p64. Cf9:11; 12:38; 17:24; 19:16; 22:16 , 24 , 36; 26:25 , 49. See Gunther Bornkamm, "End-Expectation and Church in Matthew ," in Tradition and Interpretation in Matthew , pp41-43.]

Some scholars believe that Matthew consistently denigrated the scribes in his Gospel. [Note: E.g, W. F. Albright and C. S. Mann, Matthew.] I do not believe he did this (cf. Matthew 13:52; Matthew 23:34), but Matthew"s references to the scribes are usually negative. Matthew seems to present everyone who came to Jesus without prejudice. The issue to Matthew was how various people responded to Jesus.


Verses 18-20

Jesus" demands regarding possessions8:18-20


Verses 18-22

2. Jesus" authority over His disciples8:18-22 (cf. Luke 9:57-62)

Matthew evidently inserted these teachings about Jesus" authority because they show the nature of Jesus" ministry and the kind of disciples He requires. The King has power over people, not just sickness. He can direct others as His servants, and they need to respond to Him as their King.


Verse 20

Jesus" reply did not encourage or discourage the scribe. It simply helped him count the cost of following Him as a disciple. Jesus was very busy traveling from one place to another as an itinerant preacher and teacher. His healing ministry complicated His life because it attracted crowds that placed additional demands on Him. He had no regular home, as most people did, but traveled all over the region. The scribe needed to understand this if he wanted to keep up with Jesus. We should not interpret Jesus" statement to mean that He was penniless and could not afford shelter at night (cf. Luke 8:1-3). His ministry simply kept Him on the move.

Jesus called Himself "the Son of Man." This expression occurs81times in the Gospels, 69 times in the Synoptics, and30 times in Matthew. [Note: For a good introduction to the meaning of this term, see Hagner"s excursus, pp214-15 , or Carson"s excursus in " Matthew ," pp209-13.] In every instance except two it was a term Jesus used of Himself. In those two instances it is a term others who were quoting Jesus used ( Luke 24:7; John 12:34). Though it occurs in several Old Testament passages, as well as in apocryphal Jewish literature, its use in Daniel 7:13-14 is messianic. There "one like a son of man" approaches the Ancient of Days and receives "authority, glory, and sovereign power." He also receives "an everlasting dominion that will not pass away" in which "all peoples, nations, and men of every language" worship Him. By using this title Jesus was claiming to be the divine Messiah.

"It is His name as the representative Prayer of Manasseh , in the sense of 1 Corinthians 15:45-47, as Son of David is distinctively His Jewish name, and Son of God His divine name. Our Lord constantly uses this term as implying that His mission (e.g. Matthew 11:19; Luke 19:10), His death and resurrection (e.g. Matthew 12:40; Matthew 20:18; Matthew 26:2), and His second coming (e.g. Matthew 24:37-44; Luke 12:40) transcend in scope and result all merely Jewish limitations." [Note: The New Scofield ..., p1004.]

However most of Jesus" hearers probably did not associate this title with a messianic claim when they first heard it. Many of them were probably not well enough acquainted with Daniel 7:13-14 to understand its meaning. Many who did understand its significance held a concept of Messiah that the rabbis had distorted. Furthermore other Old Testament references to the son of man were not messianic. For example, David used the term to refer to man generically ( Psalm 8:4). Asaph used it to describe Israel ( Psalm 80:17). In the Book of Ezekiel it is a favorite term God used when He addressed Ezekiel to stress the prophet"s humanity.

God used this term many times in the Old Testament to stress the difference between frail mortal man and God Himself. [Note: John Bowker, "The Son of Prayer of Manasseh ," Journal of Theological Studies28 (1977):19-48.] Jesus" use of the title combined both the messianic and mortal ideas. He was both the Messiah King and the Suffering Servant of the Lord. Some who heard Him use this title probably did not know what it meant. Others understood Jesus" claim to messiahship, and others thought He was simply referring to Himself in a humble way.

". . . "the Son of man" is not of the nature of a Christological title the purpose of which is to inform the reader of "who Jesus is." Instead, it is a self-designation that is also a technical term, and it describes Jesus as "the Prayer of Manasseh ," or "the human being" ("this Prayer of Manasseh ," or "this human being") (earthly, suffering, vindicated). It is "in public" or with a view to the "public," or "world" (Jews and Gentiles but especially opponents), that Jesus refers to himself as "the Son of man" ("this man"). Through his use of this self-reference, Jesus calls attention, for one thing, to the divine authority that he ("this man") exercises now and will also exercise in the future and, for another thing, to the opposition that he ("this man") must face. And should the question be raised as to who "this man" Jesus Isaiah , the answer Isaiah , as Peter correctly confesses, that he is the Son of God ( Matthew 16:13; Matthew 16:16)." [Note: Kingsbury, Matthew as . . ., p103. This author wrote a lucid chapter on "Jesus" Use of "the Son of Prayer of Manasseh ,"" pp95-103.]

"It seems that the reason why Jesus found this title convenient is that, having no ready-made titular connotations in current usage, it could be applied across the whole range of his uniquely paradoxical mission of humiliation and vindication, of death and glory, which could not be fitted into any preexisting model. Like his parables, the title "the Son of Man" came with an air of enigma, challenging the hearer to think new thoughts rather than to slot Jesus into a ready-made pigeonhole." [Note: France, The Gospel . . ., p327.]

In Matthew 8:20 "the Son of Man" occurs in a context that stresses Jesus" humanity. The scribe would have understood Jesus to mean that if he followed Jesus he could anticipate a humble, even uncomfortable, existence. He should also have understood, since he was a teacher of the Old Testament, that Jesus was claiming to be Israel"s Messiah.

Anyone who wants to follow Jesus closely as a disciple must be willing to give up many of the normal comforts of life. Following Him involves embarking on a God-given mission in life. Going where He directs and doing what he commands must take precedence over enjoying the normal comforts of life when these conflict. Discipleship is difficult.


Verse 21-22

Jesus" demands regarding parents8:21-22

The first potential disciple was too quick when he promised wholehearted allegiance. This second potential disciple was too slow performing wholehearted allegiance.

Evidently this disciple made his request as Jesus prepared to depart for the next place of ministry ( Matthew 8:18). He apparently meant that he wanted some time off from being with Jesus to attend to family matters. Some students of this passage have concluded that the disciple"s father had not yet died and that he was asking for an indefinite leave of absence from Jesus" company. [Note: E.g, T. M. Donn, ""Let the Dead Bury Their Dead" (Mt. viii22 , Lk. ix60)," Expository Times61 (September1950):384; et al.] Others believe that he had already died. [Note: Edersheim, The Life . . ., 2:133.] In either case the disciple wanted to drop out temporarily.

Jesus" reply urged the disciple to keep following Him, not to suspend his commitment to Jesus. He should put his commitment to Jesus even before his commitment to honor his parents ( Exodus 20:12). When following Jesus and other commitments conflict, the disciple must always follow Jesus even though his or her other commitments are legitimate. Jesus was testing this man"s priorities. Which was more important to him, following Jesus and participating in whatever Jesus" will for him might involve or abandoning Jesus even temporarily for some less important purpose? His was not a choice between something good and something evil but between something good and something better (cf. Matthew 10:37).

Jesus continued by encouraging the disciple to let the dead bury the dead. Apparently He meant, let the spiritually dead (i.e, those who have no interest in following Jesus) bury the physically dead. There are many worthy activities in life that a true disciple of Jesus must forgo because he or she has a higher calling and higher demands on him or her. Forgoing these activities may bring criticism on the disciple from the spiritually insensitive, but that is part of the price of discipleship (cf. Matthew 7:13-27). Jesus called for commitment to Himself without reservation. The person and mission of the King deserve nothing less.

"It is better to preach the Gospel and give life to the spiritually dead than to wait for your father to die and bury him." [Note: Wiersbe, 1:34.]

"A disciple"s business is with life, not with death." [Note: France, The Gospel . . ., p330.]


Verse 23

3. Jesus" supernatural power8:23-9:8

Matthew"s first group of miracles ( Matthew 8:1-17) demonstrated that Jesus possessed the messianic power (authority) to heal physical ailments. His second group ( Matthew 8:23 to Matthew 9:8) shows even greater powers over the fallen creation, namely, over nature, demons, and sin. All the beneficiaries of these miracles needed peace, and Jesus met their need.

"The miracles Jesus performs in Matthew"s story divide themselves rather neatly into two groups: (a) therapeutic miracles (miracles of healing), in which the sick are returned to health or the possessed are freed of demons (cf. esp. chaps8-9); and (b) nontherapeutic miracles, which have to do with exercising power over the forces of nature....

"The nontherapeutic miracles are less uniform in structure and differ in thematic [purpose from the therapeutic miracles]. Here the focus is on Jesus and the disciples, and the characteristic feature is that Jesus reveals, in the midst of situations in which the disciples exhibit "little faith," his awesome authority.... The reason Jesus gives the disciples these startling revelations is to bring them to realize that such authority as he exercises he makes available to them through the avenue of faith. In the later situation of their worldwide mission, failure on the part of the disciples to avail themselves of the authority Jesus would impart to them will be to run the risk of failing at their tasks ( Matthew 28:18-20; chaps24-25)." [Note: Kingsbury, Matthew as . . ., p69.]


Verses 23-25

It is difficult to know how much Matthew may have intended with his comment that the disciples followed Jesus into the boat. Perhaps it just describes their physical movements. Perhaps he meant that it symbolizes the disciples" proper response to Jesus in view of Matthew 8:18-22.

The Sea of Galilee was and still is infamous for its sudden and violent storms (Gr. seismos). They occur because of geographical conditions. The water Isaiah 600 feet below sea level, and the land to the east is considerably higher. As warm air rises from the lake it creates a vacuum that the air on the west rushes in to fill. This brings strong winds on the lake with little warning.

On the occasion Matthew described, the waves were so high that they kept spilling over into the boat. Evidently Jesus was asleep from weariness and because He realized that the time for His death had not yet arrived. He apparently lay in an area of the boat where the disciples had given Him some privacy. The word Matthew used to describe the boat (ploion) could fit a boat of many different sizes. However it is probable that this was a fishing boat that carried at least a dozen or more people plus fish across the lake. Matthew probably would have used a different word if it were a larger boat.

"If the first-century-A.D. boat recovered from the mud of the northwest shore of the lake of Galilee in1986 (now preserved in the Yigal Allon Center at Ginosar) is typical of the normal working boats of the period, its dimensions (820 meters long by235 wide [about26 and a half feet by7 and a half feet]) would suggest that the boat might be overcrowded with more than thirteen people." [Note: France, The Gospel . . ., p336.]

In spite of the storm Jesus continued to sleep. Finally the disciples realized their inability to cope with their situation and called on Jesus to help them. They obviously thought He could do something to help, at least bail or at most perform a miracle. They had seen Him perform many miracles. However, their reaction to His help reveals that they did not really appreciate who He was.

Compare the story of Jonah , who also had to be awakened during a storm at sea. However, rather than praying for God"s help, as the sailors called on Jonah to do, Jesus used His own authority to still the sea. A greater than Jonah was here ( Matthew 12:41).


Verses 23-27

Jesus" stilling of a storm8:23-27 (cf. Mark 4:36-41; Luke 8:22-25)

Even though Jesus sometimes enjoyed less shelter than the animals and birds ( Matthew 8:20), He was not the subject of nature. It was subject to Him.


Verse 26-27

Jesus did not rebuke His disciples for disturbing Him but for failing to trust Him as they should have. He said they had "little faith" (Gr. oligopistos). Wherever Matthew used this word in His Gospel it always reflects a failure to see below the surface of things. [Note: Carson, " Matthew ," p216.] Faith in Messiah and fear are mutually exclusive. Therefore the disciples should not have been "timid" (NASB) or "afraid" (NIV). Even though the disciples believed Jesus could help them, they did not grasp that He was the Messiah who would die a sacrificial death for their sins. How could the divine Messiah whom God had sent die in a storm before He had finished His messianic work? It was impossible.

"The life of discipleship is susceptible to bouts of little faith. Such little faith is not to be condoned. Nevertheless, Jesus does not abandon his disciples at such times but stands ever ready with his saving power to sustain them so they can in fact discharge the mission he has entrusted to them." [Note: Kingsbury, Matthew as . . ., p135.]

The disciples expected help, but they were unprepared for the kind of deliverance Jesus provided. It was a much greater salvation than they hoped for. The sea became perfectly calm.

"His disciples who were seasoned fishermen had been through storms on this sea that had suddenly ceased. But after the wind would pass, the waves would continue to chop for a while." [Note: Barbieri, p39.]

Jesus" ability to calm the wind and water with a word made it clear that He had greater powers than these disciples had witnessed previously. This is the first nature miracle that Matthew recorded Jesus doing. Who was He? The reader of Matthew"s Gospel knows better than the disciples did. He is the virgin-born Messiah, God with us, come to provide salvation and to set up His kingdom. While the disciples were "men" ( Matthew 8:27), Jesus was a different type of Prayer of Manasseh , the God-man. [Note: Plummer, p131.] Psalm 65:5-6; Psalm 89:8-9; Psalm 104:7; and Psalm 107:23-30 attribute the stilling of seas to God (cf. Jonah 1-2). Psalm 89:25 predicted that the ideal king would be able to do this.

The Israelites viewed the sea as an enemy they could not control. Throughout the Old Testament it epitomizes what is wild, hostile, and foreboding. It stood for their foes in some of their literature. Jesus" miracle also taught this secondary lesson. Here was a man exercising dominion over the sea, which God had appointed to man before the Fall ( Genesis 1:28). Jesus must be the Second Adam (cf. Romans 5:12-17).

"The incident is related, not primarily for the sake of recording a miracle, but as an instance of the subduing of the power of evil, which was one of the signs of the nearness of the Kingdom; see xii28." [Note: M"Neile, p111.]

In this incident Matthew again presented Jesus as man and God. As Prayer of Manasseh , He slept in the boat. As God, he calmed the sea (cf. Matthew 4:1-4; Matthew 12:22-32). As Prayer of Manasseh , He suffers; but as God, He rules. The pericope indicates Jesus" power to fulfill the prophecies of Isaiah 30:23-24; Isaiah 35:1-7; Isaiah 41:17-18; Isaiah 51:3; Isaiah 55:13; Joel 3:18; Ezekiel 36:29-38; and Zechariah 10:1. He has all power over nature.


Verse 28

Gadara was the regional capital of the Decapolis area that lay southeast of the Sea of Galilee. Its population was strongly Gentile. This may account for the presence of many swine there ( Matthew 8:30). The Gadara region stretched west to the Sea of Galilee. This was the country of the Gadarenes.

Mark and Luke mentioned only one Prayer of Manasseh , but Matthew said there were two ( Mark 5:2; Luke 8:27). Mark and Luke evidently mentioned the more prominent one. Perhaps Matthew mentioned both of them because the testimony of two witnesses was valid in Jewish courts, and he wrote for Jews originally.

The Jews believed that demonic spirits could and did take over the bodies and personalities of certain individuals. Matthew reflected this view of the spirit world. A literal reading of Scripture leads to the same conclusion. [Note: See Edersheim, The Life . . ., appendix16 , for differences between Jewish and New Testament views of demon possession.] Demons are fallen angels who are Satan"s agents.

These demoniacs lived lives of terror among tombs away from other people in a place that rendered them ritually unclean in Judaism.


Verses 28-34

Jesus" deliverance of a demoniac in Gadara8:28-34 (cf. Mark 5:1-20; Luke 8:26-39)

The central theme of this incident is Jesus" authority over evil spirits. Though Matthew previously mentioned Jesus" reputation as an exorcist ( Matthew 4:24; Matthew 8:16), this is the first of five exorcisms that he narrated (cf. Matthew 9:32-33; Matthew 12:22; Matthew 15:21-28; Matthew 17:14-20).


Verse 29

The demoniacs hated and feared Jesus. They recognized Him as Messiah, calling Him by the messianic title "Son of God" (cf. Matthew 3:17; Matthew 16:16; Luke 4:41). The disciples in the boat did not know who He was, but the demoniacs taught them. The demoniacs may have known Jesus from some previous contact (cf. Acts 19:15), or perhaps the demons were already speaking through them (cf. Matthew 8:31).

Their second question revealed their knowledge that Jesus would judge them one day. This was a messianic function. Evidently Jesus will cast them into the lake of fire when He sends Satan there ( Revelation 20:10). [Note: Walvoord, Matthew: . . ., p67.] When Jesus cast out demons He was exercising this eschatological prerogative early. These demons asked if He planned to judge them then. He had cast out other demons recently ( Matthew 4:24; Matthew 8:16). "Here" probably refers to the earth, where demons have a measure of freedom to operate, rather than to that particular locale.


Verse 30-31

The presence of so many pigs may have been due to Jewish disobedience to the Mosaic Law since for Jews pigs where unclean. However this is unlikely since the Jewish leaders were very particular about such flagrant violations of the Law. Probably they belonged to Gentiles who lived in large numbers in the Decapolis where this story took place.

The demons may have requested asylum in the swine because they hated the creatures and or because they wanted to stir up trouble for Jesus. Demons do not like to be homeless ( Matthew 12:43-45). Exorcized evil spirits sometimes expressed their rage with acts of violence and vengefulness (cf. Matthew 17:14-20). What happened to the demons? Matthew did not tell us. Probably he wanted to impress us with Jesus" power over them, not detract us by making them the central feature of the incident. Perhaps they went to the lake of fire.

"We can construct a "statement of faith" from the words of the demons. (Demons do have faith; see James 2:19.) They believed in the existence of God and the deity of Christ, as well as the reality of future judgment. They also believed in prayer. They knew Christ had the power to send them into the swine." [Note: Wiersbe, 1:34.]


Verses 32-34

Why did Jesus allow the demons to enter the swine, destroy the herd, and cause the owners considerable loss? Some commentators solve this puzzle by saying the owners were disobedient Jews whom Jesus judged. That is possible, but the answers to these questions were outside Matthew"s field of interest. They are probably part to the larger scheme of things involving why God allows evil. As God, Jesus owned everything and could do with His own as He pleased. These details do, however, clarify the reality of the exorcism and the destructive effect of the demons.

We can observe from the reaction of the citizens that "they preferred pigs to persons, swine to the Savior." [Note: Carson, " Matthew ," p219.] They valued the material above the spiritual. This is the first instance in Matthew of open opposition to the Messiah. Matthew will show it building from here to the Cross. The pigs" stampede also testified to Jesus" deliverance of the demoniacs.

"This dramatic incident is most revealing. It shows what Satan does for a man: robs him of sanity and self-control; fills him with fears; robs him of the joys of home and friends; and (if possible) condemns him to an eternity of judgment. It also reveals what society does for a man in need: restrains him, isolates him, threatens him, but society is unable to change him. See, then, what Jesus Christ can do for a man whose whole life-within and without-is bondage and battle. What Jesus did for these two demoniacs, He will do for anyone else who needs Him." [Note: Wiersbe, 1:34.]

This incident shows Jesus fulfilling such kingdom prophecies as Daniel 7:25-27; Daniel 8:23-25; Daniel 11:36 to Daniel 12:3; and Zechariah 3:1-2. As Messiah, He is the Judge of the spirit world as well as humankind. He has all power over demons as well as nature ( Matthew 8:23-27). This is a story about power, not about mission.

 


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Bibliography Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Matthew 8:4". "Expository Notes of Dr. Thomas Constable". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/dcc/matthew-8.html. 2012.

Lectionary Calendar
Friday, July 3rd, 2020
the Week of Proper 8 / Ordinary 13
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