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Bible Commentaries
Matthew 8

Coffman's Commentaries on the BibleCoffman's Commentaries

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Verse 1

And when he was come down from the mountain, great multitudes followed him. (Matthew 8:1)

The first result of the Sermon on the Mount was to establish the popularity of Jesus on a vast scale. To be sure, it did not occur to the great multitudes that followed him that the strict principles he advocated would, in fact, be rejected by the vast majority of them who so eagerly followed.

Verse 2

And behold, there came to him a leper and worshipped him, saying, Lord, if thou wilt, thou canst make me clean.

Leprosy was, and is, a dreadful disease and was considered as a type of sin under the law of Moses; not that lepers were considered sinners, but the disease itself in its destructive course through the body bore remarkable suggestions of the similar ravages of sin in the soul. Elaborate rules were set up to isolate the leper and guard against his association with the community. Leviticus 13:49 and Leviticus 14:2 ff show the dread and revulsion associated with this malady. The leper believed in Christ but appeared to be uncertain of our Lord’s willingness to heal him.

Verse 3

And he stretched forth his hand, and touched him, saying, I will; be thou made clean. And straightway his leprosy was cleansed.

Touching the leper, Jesus again showed his power and authority over and beyond the law of Moses which forbade touching a leper (Leviticus 13:44-46). All who touched a leper were considered unclean themselves; and anyone, except Christ, touching a leper would have been defiled; but not only did Jesus’ touch fail to defile him, it cleansed the leper! Christ often defied the "touch not" directives of the Law, as, for example, in the case of the bier of the widow’s Son (Luke 7:14). The miracles of Jesus were usually instantaneous, complete, unquestionable, and attested by countless witnesses. The "lying miracles" (2 Thessalonians 2:9) of later times are never comparable in any of these particulars to the miracles of Christ.

Verse 4

And Jesus saith unto him, See thou tell no man; but go, show thyself to the priest, and offer the gift that Moses commanded, for a testimony unto them.

Mark’s account reveals that the leper disobeyed the Lord’s command not to publish the matter (Mark 1:44-45). Christ, on several occasions, made similar requests to conceal such miracles. Examples of this are: the blind men (Matthew 9:30), many who were healed (Matthew 12:16), the disciples to whom he was revealed as the Messiah (Matthew 16:20), those healed by the seaside (Mark 3:12), those who saw the healing of the deaf-mute (Mark 7:36), those witnesses of the healing of the blind man of Bethsaida (Mark 8:26), and others. It may border on speculation to inquire why our Lord thus prohibited certain ones from telling it abroad, and yet on other occasions he even encouraged it. Trench has this:

The injunction to one, that he should proclaim, to another that he should conceal, the great things which God had wrought for him, had far more probably a deeper motive, and grounded itself on the different moral conditions of the persons healed.(F1)

Trench also noted a practical reason in the case at hand. For the miracle to be properly attested, it was necessary that the appropriate gifts should be offered after Moses’ commandment and that the priests should certify it.

Until this was accomplished, he should hold his peace; lest, if a rumor of these things went before him, the priests at Jerusalem, out of envy, out of a desire to depreciate what the Lord had done, might deny that the man had ever been a leper, or else that he was now truly cleansed.(F2)

Verse 5

And when he was entered into Capernaum, there came unto him a centurion, beseeching him.

This wonder is mentioned at greater length by Luke (Luke 7:1-10); and, of the so-called discrepancies, it may be said that there are none when proper allowance is made for the common practice of ascribing to one person the deeds he actually did through an agent, or the omission of details, or addition of details, by one narrator as compared with another. Such things are the only sure evidences of independent witnesses, casting no suspicion of inaccuracy, but rather corroborating and proving the validity of the account.

Here, quite early in the New Testament, we are confronted with one of those persons called a CENTURION, who appear in such a favorable light throughout the New Testament. A centurion was an officer in the Roman legions, having command of one hundred men, hence his title. Other centurions besides the honorable example before us include: (1) the one who said, "Truly, this was the Son of God" (Matthew 27:54), (2) the centurions who rescued Paul from the mob (Acts 21:32), (3) the centurion who bore Paul’s message to the chiliarch (Acts 22:25), (4) Cornelius, the first Gentile convert (Acts 10:1), (5) Julius, who courteously treated Paul and saved his life on the voyage to Rome (Acts 27:3; Acts 27:43), and (6) the centurion who brought Paul’s nephew to the chiliarch (Acts 23:17-18). Trench observed, "Probably, in the general wreck of the moral institutions of the heathen world, the Roman army was one of the few in which some of the old virtues survived."(F3)

Many of the Lord’s most wonderful deeds were done in Capernaum. The miracle before us, the raising of the daughter of Jairus, ruler of the synagogue, and other outstanding demonstrations of his power and Godhead were exhibited there; and yet, in the final analysis, that city rejected him!

Verse 6

And saying, Lord, my servant lieth in the house sick of the palsy, grievously tormented.

From Luke, it is plain that this officer came to Christ through the use of intermediaries who also brought testimony of the Jews in regard to the general favor in which this centurion was held by the citizens of Capernaum. This presents no difficulty, for every court of law still holds that what a man does through a duly-constituted agency, he himself actually and legally does. Thus, Christ himself was said to have made and baptized more people than John the Baptist, though he did not do so PERSONALLY! (John 4:1-2). The good character of this man is further certified by the fact that he was deeply concerned for the welfare of a slave, here called a servant.

Verses 7-8

And he saith unto him, I will come and heal him. And the centurion answered and said, Lord, I am not worthy that thou shouldest come under my roof; but only say the word, and may servant shall be healed.

The term "servant" in this narrative actually means "bondservant," or slave. See the margin of the English Revised Version (1885). When word was relayed again to the centurion that Jesus would come and heal his servant, he took quick appraisal of the situation, and in a marvelous demonstration of true humility, confessed his own unworthiness that the Holy One should come into his house. Augustine said of the centurion that "Counting himself unworthy that Christ should enter his doors, he was counted worthy that Christ should enter into his heart."(F4) The terminology of the King James Version still remains desirable in the case of "the word only," rather than "only say the word." It must be allowed that here indeed was great faith. Even today, there are those who suppose that Christ could do more on earth if he were personally present as in some millennial reign; but the centurion properly understood that the physical presence of the Lord was not necessary for the accomplishments of any of his wise designs.

Verse 9

For I also am a man under authority, having under myself soldiers: and I say to this one, Go, and he goeth; and to another, Come, and he cometh; and to my servant, Do this, and he doeth it.

This magnificent argument from the less to the greater is as fresh and original as it is grand. By implication, he recognized Christ as the Great Commander, the chief authority, not merely of earth but of heaven also, and having under his authority all things, even the things of the unseen creation.

Verse 10

And when Jesus heard it, he marveled, and said to them that followed, Verily I say unto you, I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel.

The centurion’s faith contrasted sharply with the lack of it in the Jewish leaders who, although they should have been the first to recognize Christ and believe on him, were nevertheless his carping critics and sworn enemies. Jesus’ first comment was directed toward that shameful and tragic condition. It was, then and there, announced by Jesus that the Gentiles would be received into the kingdom of God and that many "sons of the kingdom," that is, Jews, would not enter.

Verse 11

And I say unto you that many shall come from the east and the west, and shall sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven.

In addition to the interest provoked by the projected entry of the Gentiles into Christ’s kingdom, there is also the obvious intention of Jesus to declare that the patriarchs mentioned here are truly saved and that they make up a part of the great family of the redeemed. In view of the sins and shortcomings of those particular men, it seems that none in our own day should despair of winning the crown. This takes no light view of either their sins or ours, but is an overwhelming argument to the effect that "his grace is sufficient" (2 Corinthians 12:9). The fact that Luke does not record these words is no problem. All of the divine accounts are supplementary, each to the others. An example of this will be noted in detail on Matthew 27:37, which see.

Verse 12

But the sons of the kingdom shall be cast forth into the outer darkness: there shall be the weeping and the gnashing of teeth.

This has the same prophetic import as Paul’s words concerning the breaking off of the natural olive branches and the grafting in of the wild olive branches (Romans 11:17-24). The "outer darkness" is a reference to hell, or the place of final disposal of the wicked. It is interesting that Christ used various expressions descriptive of the final place of destiny for the wicked, referring to "unquenchable fire" (Matthew 3:12) in one place, and to "outer darkness" in another, The sons of the kingdom mentioned are the leaders of the Jewish nation who rejected Christ.

Verse 13

And Jesus said unto the centurion, Go thy way; as thou hast believed, so be it done unto thee. And the servant was healed in that hour.

Quite properly, there is no detailed account of the servant’s illness. The only diagnosis is that given by the centurion; but the fact of the cure is emphatically declared. The details, which might have been very interesting, are overshadowed by the faith of the centurion and the resultant teachings of the Lord.

Verses 14-15

And when Jesus was come into Peter’s house, he saw his wife’s mother lying sick of a fever. And he touched her hand, and the fever left her; and she arose and ministered unto him.

Matthew’s status as an eye-witness of these wonderful deeds is unintentionally evident in his detailing of the very part of her body which the Master touched. No fabricator would have included a detail of this kind. Peter’s being a married man is proof that celibacy was not a requirement of either disciples or apostles. Peter’s mother-in-law attested the completeness of her healing by rising at once to minister to the Lord. No blessing of any kind, physical or spiritual, is intended solely for the benefit of the recipient. People are saved to save others. Those who were healed were healed to serve others!

Verse 16

And when even was come, they brought unto him many possessed with demons: and he cast out the spirits with a word, and healed all that were sick.

Demon possession is a problem for some. The sophisticated mind of this scientific age, as a usual thing, simply does not believe in such things as demon possession. It seems quite obvious that Christ did. It is the view here that Christ is divine, that his judgments were altogether true and accurate, and that, whether any such things exist today or not, they certainly EXISTED THEN. The fair and ordinary interpretation of many New Testament passages on this question leaves absolutely no alternative except to believe it. It is possible that Satan may have ceased this type of activity for the specific purpose of casting doubt upon the New Testament. However, if Satan has ceased such activity, a far more plausible reason is that there is sufficient knowledge of Christ among people today to make it impossible for Satan to operate unhampered. If one may believe the testimony of returning missionaries from the darker corners of the planet, even now there is much evidence that the same phenomena still exist. Until medical knowledge is much more complete than it is at present, it is far too early to write off the plain words of the New Testament and the overwhelming traditions of the whole human race reaching back to the dawn of history. John Pitt, in a remarkably perceptive book, Faith Healing, Fact or Fiction, quotes an eminent British scholar, R. J. Campbell, as follows: "If there is one thing almost beyond question to those who know the evidence in these days, it is that demon possession is not only a fact, but a fact of our times, as well as New Testament times."(F5) Pitt also said, "The evidence is thus clear; our Lord did believe in demons as causative agents in some forms of sickness; he did not believe in a devil-infested world."(F6)

The verse before us inspired the following lines whose author is unknown:

At even, when the sun was set, The sick, O Lord, around thee lay. O, in what divers pains they met, O, in what joy they went away!

Verse 17

That it might be fulfilled which was spoken through the prophet Isaiah, saying, Himself took our infirmities, and bare our diseases.

The passage quoted by Matthew is Isaiah 53:4. Matthew constantly appealed to the prophetic writers of the Old Testament, citing their long established and widely-known words as proof of Jesus’ claim to be the Messiah.

Verses 18-19

Now when Jesus saw great multitudes about him, he gave commandment to depart unto the other side. And there came a scribe, and said unto him, Teacher, I will follow thee whithersoever thou goest.

Christ decided to go to the other side of Lake Galilee to escape the press of the multitudes; and, at this juncture in his ministry, there presented himself this scribe, probably the very first person of any importance, socially, to offer to become a disciple of Jesus. The Lord did not rush to accept him, recognizing, no doubt, that the scribe was carried away by our Lord’s current popularity, and having utterly no understanding of the eventual sacrifices involved in becoming his disciple. The Saviour’s very next words were pointed to the fact that Christ had no substantial emoluments available, either for himself or for any of his followers.

Verse 20

And Jesus saith unto him, The foxes have holes, and the birds of the heaven have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head.

This shows the poverty of Jesus, from an earthly viewpoint; and yet we through his poverty are made rich (2 Corinthians 8:9). We are not told if the scribe followed Jesus after this, or not; but the strong implication is that he did not. Perhaps, like the rich young ruler, he found the conditions too rigorous.

The title "Son of man," as applied by Jesus to himself, is one of deep interest. It was his favorite designation of himself, and he used it no less than forty times; but only once (in Acts 7:56) is it ever found on anyone’s lips except his own. Some believe our Lord took this title from Psalms 8:4, "What is man, that thou art mindful of him; And the son of man, that thou visitest him?" In the New Testament, Christ is called:

The Son of DavidMatthew 1:1
The Son of AbrahamMatthew 1:1
The Son of GodMatthew 16:16
The Son of AdamLuke 3:38
The Son of JosephLuke 3:23
The Son of MaryMatthew 13:55
The Son of ManMatthew 8:20

Each one of these seven designations is true and proper in its own frame of reference. Why, then, did Jesus lean so heavily upon "Son of man" as a title for himself? First, it served to conceal his true identity during the period when he did not want it generally known that he was the Messiah, for there is every indication that the title was not recognized as a proper name for the Messiah until much later. Also, there is a universality in the title that does not pertain to any of the others. Thus, "the Son of David" indicated a legal relationship; "the Son of Abraham" had a racial limitation; "the Son of Joseph" and "the Son of Mary" stressed a family relationship; the Son of Adam identified him with the one who had brought ruin upon mankind; the Son of God during the early part of his ministry was premature. The choice of Son of man as his title removed all the limitations implicit in other titles and identified Jesus Christ, not as belonging to any race, family, nation, or kingdom exclusively, but to all the human race.

Verses 21-22

And another of the disciples said unto him, Lord, suffer me first to go and bury my father. But Jesus saith unto him, Follow me; and leave the dead to bury their own dead.

The proposition set forth by the disciple mentioned here was not that his father was dead and that he desired to be excused to hold the funeral. Far from it. He was one of the group known as "wait a little" Pharisees who always proposed something else to do first. He meant that he was not free to be a disciple until after the death of his father but that he would be glad to follow Jesus after his father died.

In a rejoinder which seems harsh if not understood in its true meaning, Jesus allowed no delay, encouraged no procrastination, and commanded that those spiritually dead should be left to bury their own dead. Furthermore, even if Christ had demanded that the disciple miss the funeral of his own father, such an urgency is fully in accord with the utmost importance of immediate, final, irrevocable and constant adherence to Christ as one’s Lord and Master, regardless of cost or inconvenience. After all, in Sir Walter Scott’s stirring lines from "Lady of the Lake," Roderick summoned his warriors to a far less noble rendezvous: "Leave the bride at the altar, the corpse uninterred!"

Well did Jesus know that if this disciple returned home to the old ways, the old viewpoint, and the old habits, he would never more wish to follow his Lord. The admonition of Jesus, seen in this light, is therefore full of the utmost love and consideration for that unknown disciple’s eternal welfare. Dr. Lotus Delta Coffman, president of the University of Minnesota until 1938, wrote many years ago in a syndicated column, "These words of Jesus, far from being unkind, were prompted by unbounded love and grounded in his infinite knowledge of what is best for man."

Verse 23

And when he was entered into a boat, his disciples followed him.

Why did not Matthew write merely that "they boarded a ship"? The significance is that the apostles observed the same protocol which from the most ancient times, and until this day, is observed by every ship on earth, especially the naval ships of all nations — those of highest rank enter and leave FIRST. Thus, the disciples already recognized Christ as Lord.

Verse 24

And behold, there arose a great tempest in the sea, insomuch that the boat was covered with the waves: but he was asleep.

Many travelers to Palestine have commented on the violent storms which so often lash the Sea of Galilee, their intensity augmented by the steep mountain gorges that rim its shores, and by the greater density of the atmosphere so far below sea-level. Such storms are common, still; but that this was no ordinary storm is evident from the terror it struck into the hearts of these bold men who were so familiar with the usual character and intensity of such disturbances.

Verse 25

And they came to him, and awoke him, saying, Save, Lord; we perish.

The contrast between Jesus asleep in this storm and Jonah asleep in another is notable. Jonah’s conscience was dead through sin and rebellion; Jesus’ conscience was calm through innocence. Jonah was the source of danger on his vessel; Christ was the source of safety on his. The apostles’ turning to Christ in this extremity is exactly what they should have done; but the lack of faith that prompted it is deplorable and was rebuked by the Master.

Verse 26

And he saith unto them, Why are ye fearful, O ye of little faith? Then he arose, and rebuked the winds and the sea; and there was a great calm.

It is important to note the significance of the word "rebuked." Trench discussed this as follows:

To regard this as mere oratorical personification would be absurd; rather there is here, a distinct tracing up of all the discords and disharmonies in the outward world to their source in a person, a referring them back to him, as to their ultimate ground; even as this person can be no other than Satan, the author of all disorders alike in the natural and in the physical world.(F7)

The great calm was matched only by the marvelous rest and confidence that came into the hearts of the disciples. Like the instantaneous miracles of healing, this wonder exhibits immediacy and completeness. The winds did not merely falter and die down; they ceased!

Verse 27

And the men marveled, saying, What manner of man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey him?

It was then plain that every area of existence was totally under our Lord’s authority. The spiritual world, the physical world, time, life, and death were, and are, utterly subject to his will. The force of this incident is multiplied when it is recalled that the rugged Galilean fishermen were perfectly capable of handling any ordinary turbulence with skill and efficiency.

Verse 28

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, exceeding fierce, so that no man could pass by that way.

Gadara was one of the ten cities of Decapolis ("ten-cities"), all but one of which were east of the Jordan river. The ensuing wonder about to be performed upon the city’s most notorious derelict was well calculated to provide a sensational witness of Christ’s glory throughout the entire section. Mark and Luke mention only one of these persons, the principal one. Note that neither Mark nor Luke states that there was "only one" of these men. The fact of demon possession is plain here. These were possessed not merely with one, but with many, demons. The conversation the demons carried on with Christ, their entry into the swine, and many other factors make it impossible to reconcile this situation with one in which the victim was merely "sick." Given writes thus:

When the Lord Jesus Christ had taken to himself a true body and a reasonable soul, when the word was made flesh and dwelt among men, Satan, by himself or by his servants, took possession of the bodies of men, cruelly torturing their flesh and agonizing their spirits. Nor are we prepared to say that demoniac possession has altogether ceased. We have seen men so act and heard men so speak and have been informed of such fiendish atrocity on their part, that we could account for their violent and outrageous conduct, or for their mischievous and diabolical acts, or for their horrid and blasphemous expressions, in no other way than that some demon, or the devil himself, had been permitted to take temporary possession of them.(F8)

Verse 29

And, behold, they cried out, saying, What have we to do with thee, thou Son of God? art thou come hither to torment us before the time?

The kingdom of evil, at this point, was fully aware of WHO Christ was (and is). If Satan had any doubt prior to this, Christ’s rebuke of the winds and the sea removed it. These demons freely admitted and, in a sense, confessed Jesus as the Son of God, admitting that he had the power to torment them "before the time." This shows that the time of ultimate judgment and punishment of the condemned is set for future fulfillment and that the whole demonic world is fully aware of it.

Verse 30

Now there was far off from them a herd of swine feeding.

The unbelieving world, in a vain effort to fault the Son of God, has shown the desperate nature of its case by seizing on this incident as grounds for reproach of the Saviour. Will Durant

wondered what the English wool-growers would have done to Jesus if he had sent a flock of their sheep to death as he had done with the Gadarene swine; they "would have made him swing for it," for English law made such an action a capital crime.(F9)

Over against English law, of the period mentioned by Durant, was the prior law of God which forbade swine to the Jews; and the implication is overwhelming that these swine were owned by Jews contrary to God’s law; however, this cannot be proved. The true justification of Christ’s actions here turns upon other principles. He did not destroy the swine; THE DEMONS DID! The argument that he permitted it may be applied with equal force to every disaster, physical or otherwise, that ever happened on earth. See more under Matthew 8:32. Note that Mark places the number of these animals at "about two thousand" (Mark 5:13).

Verse 31

And the demons besought him, saying, If thou cast us out, send us away into the herd of swine.

This shows that the emissaries of Satan are restricted and may not enter even a herd of swine without the Lord’s permission. Other restrictions of Satan are given in 1 Corinthians 10:13 and Matthew 13:25. This request of the demons is a prayer of sorts and indicates that God may indeed answer any prayer that is in harmony with His will, regardless of the wickedness of the petitioner. Thus, he permitted Satan to "sift" Peter. Also, Satan’s request with reference to Job was also granted. This is a warning that it is surely a mistake to make the answer to someone’s prayer "prima facie" evidence of pardon or forgiveness of sins. How unhappy must be the state of demons which cannot rest except when engaged in tormenting or destroying other beings in God’s creation; and, even then, there is no suggestion that they are in any true sense actually happy, except in a relative or accommodative sense.

Verse 32

And he said unto 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.

Note the quick and destructive results which followed the entry of the demons into the swine. Perhaps it was precisely for the purpose of showing what always follows when Satan has control that Jesus permitted this incident to happen. Satan entered the heart of Judas; and one has merely to turn a few pages to read the total destruction of Judas, physically and spiritually. Satan’s character as the destroyer is revealed by the action here; and, in view of the overriding importance of this knowledge to all mankind, the loss of the herd of swine was a trifling incidental. As soon as the demons had their way, the swine perished. This is always the case when Satan has his way. Judas permitted Satan in his heart (Luke 22:3), and very soon afterwards, he went out and hanged himself (Matthew 27:5). If God is to be charged with all that is permitted, He would then be guilty in the case of floods, earthquakes, wars, pestilence, and indeed for all the unfortunate and destructive things that ever happened on earth. There is another weighty consideration, namely, the relative value of the two whose lives were saved by Jesus as a result of casting out the demons and permitting them to enter the swine. We do not know if this was the only way in which Jesus could have saved those lives, but we may surely believe that it was the best way. Would Mr. Durant, and other atheists, have preferred that two human sufferers should have been left in their awful state rather than permit the loss of an illegal herd of hogs? Our society today does not flinch at any cost, however great, if a life can be saved. When a child contracts poliomyelitis, a $25,000.00 iron lung is made available at once if needed. Who would spare the cost? Let infidels champion the economic interests of swineherds if they will, Jesus gave the verdict in favor of human life!

Verse 33

And they that fed them fled, and went away into the city, and told everything, and what was befallen to them that were possessed with demons.

From the other synoptics, it is learned that the demoniacs were clothed, in their right minds, and sitting at the feet of the Master. How strange it is that such a scene did not endear the people to Jesus. Surely, for such a wonderful recovery, the city fathers of Gadara should have been happy to make up the loss to the owners of the swine, if, indeed, they were legally held. But no, there had been a property loss, and every human value was lost in that consideration. For men of a materialistic and secular nature, a question of property overrides all others. There was the business of those 2,000 missing swine!

Verse 34

And behold, all the city came out to meet Jesus: and when they saw him, they besought him that he would depart from their borders.

What about all the sick, infirmed, diseased, bedridden sufferers of Gadara? What about all the other demon-possessed in that city? Was no thought whatever given to the advantage that had come to the miserable sufferers of Gadara in the sudden appearance before their gates of the Great Physician? All, no! They judged themselves by their reaction to this marvelous opportunity. It was punishment enough for that wicked and unfortunate city that Jesus honored their request. All of their ill, their blind, deaf, mute, palsied, and lepers were disinherited forever by the rash request that the Light of all nations should depart from their borders, and this says nothing of those immeasurably greater benefits of the gift of eternal life which were all renounced by this tragic rejection of the Son of God. There is no record that Jesus ever went near the place again, which shows how far-reaching are the consequences flowing out of one wrong decision.

Bibliographical Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Matthew 8". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bcc/matthew-8.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.
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