Matthew 8

Structure

Cycle 1: Three Healing Miracles and Two Would-Be Disciples (Mt. 8:1–22)

Verse 1-4 The leper

Verse 5-13 The centurion’s servant

Verse 14-15 Peter’s mother-in-law

Verse 16-17 Summary and biblical fulfillment

Mt. 8:18-22 Following Jesus: Two Contrasting Case Studies

Verse 18-20 The enthusiastic legal expert

Verse 21-22 The hesitant disciple

Cycle 2: More Miracles with a Focus on Discipleship (Mt. 8:23–9:17)

Verse 23-27 Calming of the storm

Verse 28-34 Exorcism of the Gadarene demoniacs

Verse 9:1-8 Healing of a paralytic next lecture

 

Theme

Jesus exercises three different forms of authority. One is the authority over the physical realm, as a Divine Healer. The second form of authority is His teaching on morality and discipleship, and the third form of authority is over demons and Satan. Jesus shows both His divinity and humanity here, just before the coming chapters in which He will send out followers to bring forth His Kingdom.
 

Exposition of the verses

Cycle 1: Three Healing Miracles and Two Would-Be Disciples (Mt. 8:1–22)

Three miracles are mentioned in the following section. According to France, there is a reason why these three are mentioned, all three rejected from a Jewish point of view: the leper was by virtue of his illness an outcast from normal society, the centurion (and presumably also his servant) was a Gentile, and the third patient was a woman—though in this latter case the issue of social status is not explicitly raised. So the “weaknesses” (v. 17) which Jesus is here portrayed as responding to involve social as well as physical dimensions. The leper is healed, and the Gentile and the woman are embraced by the Messiah.
 

Verse 1-4 The Leper (Healing One)

In verse 1, Jesus comes from the mountain on which He had climbed (Mt. 5:1). Matthew speaks often of mountains, possibly in reference to Moses (see also Mt. 4:8; 5:1; 8:1; 14:23; 15:29; 17:1, 9, 20; 21:21; 24:3, 16; 26:30; 28:16). Matthew also often mentions the crowed, some accepting Him and some rejecting His message.
Leprosy was mentioned in Lev 13–14, a person with this illness was considered unclean and banned from normal life and worship. OT accounts of “leprosy” indicate that it was incurable (Exod 4:6–8; Num 12:9–15; 2 Kgs 5:1–27; 2 Chr 26:16–21); for lepers to be made clean is a mark of the Messiah’s coming (Mt. 11:5). This horrible human condition is met with Jesus’ compassion, and thus Matthew lays here the foundation of Jesus ministry of power and compassion, and Him challenging the taboos of society. In verse 2 we see how the man bows, not just as respect but begging Jesus to heal. Perhaps unexpected since Jewish teachers would stay far from interfering with an unclean man. There is boldness and faith in the request of this unclean leper.
In verse 3-4, the healing occurs. The cure of leprosy in the Old Testament has always been seen as an act of God, but here Jesus touches the unclean man, healing him with physical contact. Instead making Jesus unclean Himself, the purity of Jesus transforms the man to health. Jesus cleans the man as a sign of the Kingdom, as He will also send out the disciples later to cleanse lepers (Mt. 10:8).
It is unclear why Jesus told the man to remain silent. Perhaps to keep the crowd calm, as Jesus more often withdrew Himself from the crowd (Mt. 4:23–5:1; 8:18; 13:2; 21:11). Jesus silence is mentioned in the Old Testament, Isa 42:1–4, that the Messiah will keep low profile in His Messianic ministry. Mark 1:45 speaks of the aim of Christ’s low-profile ministry especially in the beginning, as the time would come soon enough that the leaders would be increasingly fierce in persecuting Christ, due to the attention His ministry is given.
 

Verse 5-13 The Centurion’s Servant (Healing Two)

Also the centurion (man over hundred) addresses Jesus with “Lord.” There was no great Roman legion stationed in the area, but Herod Antipas had some soldiers at his command. Likely this centurion was the most significant status here. Capernaum had been mentioned as Jesus’s hometown in Matt. 4:13 (cf. Mt. 9:1; 17:24), and for its unbelief (Mt. 11:23). There is only one other instance in Matthew where Jesus answers the request of a Gentile for healing (Mt. 15:21–28), and these are the only stories where Jesus heals on distance, and where their faith overcomes the barrier which Christ seems to throw before them.
Matthew shares the story with Luke, (Luke 7:3–5), where the centurion seeks the council of the Jewish elders. Apparently the connection between the Gentile Romans and the Jewish leaders was decent. Matthew left this out. According to France this is because the inclusion of the Jewish elders would distract attention from the direct confrontation between the Gentile officer and the Jewish healer which is important for Matthew’s version of the story. Also the response of Christ in Matthew and Luke differs. Luke: “Not even in Israel have I found such faith” (Luke 7:9) suggests that there may be great faith in Israel but that this man’s is even greater, “I have not found anyone in Israel with faith like this” (Matt 8:10) is far less complimentary to Israel.” All this indicates that what for Luke was a story of a good and humble man whose extraordinary request was granted is in Matthew more a paradigm for the extension of the gospel of Israel’s Messiah to include also those who had no natural claim on him.
Verse 6 contains the Greek word παῖς, which is often translated as servant but can also mean son (John 4:46-54), but the NT does not use it regularly for “son.” Most likely it was a referring to the servant of the man. Jesus never went into the building of a Gentile, until He was forced right before His death. Acts 10–11 gives some insight to this Jewish reluctance to interfere with a Gentile. The fact that the centurion doesn’t ask Jesus to come into His house shows that the man might have known and respected this custom. Luke speaks of the man’s “goodness” and good relationship with the Jews (Luke 7:2-5). The man compares Jesus’ authority with his own, acknowledges his own weakness and gives Jesus the respect He is due. The authority which the centurion has on human level he now acknowledges Jesus to have on a Spiritual level.
Verse 10 and 11 speaks of Jesus’ amazement of the man’s faith. Before, it was the crowd who was amazed at Jesus, and now Jesus is the subject of amazement. Here there is a clear contrast between the Gentile’s faith that was “great” (Mt. 9:2, 22, 29; 15:28; 17:20; 21:21; 23:23) and the “little faith” of the Jews (Mt. 6:30; 8:26; 14:31; 16:8). According to France, the remarkable “faith” of this centurion, then, is to be understood not in the Pauline sense of a soteriological commitment, but as the practical conviction that Jesus has the authority to heal. Jesus takes this opportunity to teach of the Kingdom which is to come (Mt. 8:11; cf. 22:1–14; 25:10; Luke 14:15–16; Rev. 19:9), and where Jews and Gentiles will feast together as one.
Verse 12 speaks of the “Sons of the kingdom” (Mt. 13:38; cf. 9:15; 23:15; Luke 16:8; 1QM 17.8), which is a Semitic idiom that refers to the people wo were supposed to heir God’s blessing. “Outer darkness” (cf. Matt. 22:13; 25:30; Jac. 5.9) refers to the place far from God’s presence where there is “weeping and the gnashing of teeth” (cf. Mt. 13:42, 50; 22:13; 24:51; 25:30; Luke 6:25;1), a horrible separation from God. Many commentators see this as a referral to the Jews who will not inherit the Kingdom of God, and the believing Gentiles who will. It connects to Acts 11:18: “Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance leading to life.” This saying of Jesus was hurtful to the Jews, who were convinced that the “sons of the kingdom” would inherit the blessing unconditionally while the Gentiles were cast out.
In verse 13, the narrative closes. Jesus’ words “let it be done for you” is called a “performative utterance,” not wishing that something will happen, but making it happen. Jesus makes it happen by a word, showing His power and compassion to the first Gentile to come to Him.

Verse 14-15 Peter’s Mother-in-Law (Healing Three)

The chiastic structure of these verses:
 

A Jesus sees Peter’s mother-in-law

B She is sick in bed

C She has a fever

D Jesus touches her

C′ The fever stops

B′ She gets up

A′ She serves Jesus

This healing story is very short, and also mentioned in Mark 1:29–31; Luke 4:38–39. The story does not show that in any way his mother-in-law was an excluded person, like the leper and the Gentile. In fact, Peter was such a dominant figure in the early church that this might be the reason that all apostles speak of her healing. This story shows that Peter’s home was in Capernaum, and that when he followed Jesus, he did not just leave his nets like Simon and Andrew but his extended family.
 

Verse 16-17 Conclusion

The leper was healed after Jesus had spoken on the mountain, before entering Capernaum. The centurion’s servant was healed at Capernaum, and Peter’s mother-in-law in the home. Now later at night, after sundown, people flood in greater extend towards Jesus. Though Matthew doesn’t speak of this, the fact that people came after sunset might indicate that Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, which ended with the sunset of the Saturday.
There is a clear link to the Old Testament, Isaiah 53 here, which speaks of the “suffering servant” who bears the affliction of His people. Matthew uses the words ἀσθένεια for disease and νόσος for illness, which usually refers to physical illness and pain but can also serve as metaphors for sin. Matthew obviously takes them in the physical sense here. Though some interpreters might say that Jesus Himself became sick in order to heal, that is not what Matthew means. Jesus bore the sin and the burdens of this world, and as pain, illness, and death were originally rooted in sin (Gen. 3), He carried the sin and the infirmities it caused. Scripture teaches that redemption from sin will ultimately result in the redemption of the body (Rom. 8:23) and the end of pain (Rev. 21:4), and this is what Christ came to bear. Jesus did not just come to show the presence of God’s reign, but also to present a future reality (Matt. 11:2-6; 12:28-29; 19:28).
Matthew shows the reader that Jesus came for those who were excluded from the temple of God, and therefore from His presence. A Gentile, a leper and a woman. The questionable moral of the women in the genealogy of Christ, the astrologers, and now these outsiders were brought into close communion with God to worship Him together with the Jews.
 

Verse 18-22 Following Jesus: Two Contrasting Case Studies

Verse 18-20 The Enthusiastic Legal Expert

The crowd is pressing and Jesus sets the stage for a metaphor of discipleship: the great storm on the lake. It speaks of discipleship by separating a small group from the big crowd to join Jesus in danger and trial. Later this group will be distinguished as the Twelve (Mt. 10:1–4). The other side of the lake was a large non-Jewish area (that explains the pigs) that was known as Decapolis. It was outside the control of the Herodian rulers, so Jesus seems to deliberately withdraw from the Jewish area here.
Verse 19 is the first verse that speaks quite positively of a scribe, one who desires to follow Jesus. Matthew had said that not all those who call Jesus “teacher” are true disciples, and this scribe seems to promise loyalty on his own initiative, provoking a strong response of Jesus. Turner sees as reason that “Matthew’s readers can only conclude that the legal expert’s enthusiasm is superficial and that he has not counted the cost of discipleship. Perhaps his enthusiasm is due to witnessing the many miracles Jesus is performing. Be that as it may, his promise is hasty and unreliable.”
In Matthew 20, the first “Son of Man” occurs instead of the usual “I.” Daniel 7:13-14 had spoken of the Son of Man, and this expression will be repeated in Matt. 9:6; 19:28; 25:31; 26:64.
 

Verse 21-22 The Hesitant Disciple

Another “disciple” with a similar zeal comes to Jesus. He even uses “Lord” instead of “Teacher” to address Jesus. Matthew (as well as Luke) use the word “disciple” as someone committed to follow Jesus, and doesn’t necessary relate to the twelve disciples. Matthew mentions the word “disciple” 75 times. This second person does what is scriptural, he honors his parents (Exod. 20:12; Deut. 5:16; Matt. 15:4; cf. 1 Kings 19:19–21).
Jesus’ response sounds harsh, but He demands immediate loyalty to the kingdom. Jesus’s pun that the dead can bury their own dead means that those who will bury the would-be disciple’s father are dead to the kingdom. So the two men that have come to Jesus with a similar request have opposite problems:

1. The first is so enthusiastic that he doesn’t rationally considers the cost.

2. The second realizes the sacrifice, and his reason to postpone the following seems legitimate, but Jesus teaches that the Kingdom’s goal supersedes the notion of family (Mt. 10:37; 12:46–50).

 

Cycle 2: More Miracles with a Focus on Discipleship (Mt. 8:23–9:17)

The second group of miracles are all around the crossing of the lake (v. 18). The first is during the crossing, the second on the opposite side and the third on the return back to Capernaum. Jesus authority is made visible in different ways, not just over the body but also the elements, demonic spirits and the forgiveness of sins.
 

Verse 23-27 The Storm on the Lake

Verse 23 starts the story of the calming of the storm, also mentioned in Mark 4:35–41; Luke 8:22–25. This miracle will also be a test of discipleship, and Jesus authority over nature will become visible (OT references in Job 38:8–11; Ps 65:5–8; 89:8–9). This miracle on the lake will also show that discipleship comes with both danger and glory, and testing in very trying circumstances. Suddenly a storm (σεισμός) comes up. This word σεισμός is usually referred to earth quakes, here a sudden and heavy storm. Jesus sleeps, certain of God’s protection (Job 11:18–19; Ps. 3:5–6; Prov. 3:24–26; Acts 12:6). The disciples who were fishermen were used to the sudden storms on the lake, yet this storm seemed to have frightened them all in great extent.
Verse 26 reminds of Jesus words in Mt. 6:30, Him calling the disciples “faithless.” The disciples struggle to rest in the fatherly care of God, the essence of their faith. In verse 27, Matthew uses “the men” instead of “the disciples.” For this reason, some might believe that there were other people in the boat, perhaps a crew (like the crew of Jonah’s boat, whose awed reaction is related at Jonah 1:16) who as outsiders recognize something unique about Jesus. France believes that the use of “human beings,” underlines the contrast between them and Jesus, who is thus seen as more than human. Jesus’ reaction to the storm is also found in Jon. 1–2; Pss. 65:7; 89:8–9; 104:7; 107:23–32; Isa. 51:9–10, where He rebukes the wind in a similar way of rebuking unclean spirits. This may imply that this nature miracle is at the same time a victory over evil supernatural forces.
The disciples are amazed by Jesus’ power, just like the crowd in Mt. 7:29 were amazed by the miracles. Christ showed Himself to be “lord of nature. The disciples have faith in Him, but their faith is small. In Mt. 8:25 they had cried out to Jesus as being “Lord,” knowing that He had power and authority beyond human ability, but trust goes further than knowledge alone, and trust is what they lack.
 

Verse 28-34 Exorcism of the Gadarene Demoniacs

Jesus comes across two men who are demon possessed, living in dark places like cemeteries. Exorcism was known by both Jewish and pagan traditions, who knew that demon-possession was not a strange phenomenon. They recognize Jesus immediately (Mt. 1:23; 2:15; 3:17; 4:3, 6; 14:33; 16:16; 17:5; 27:54; cf. James 2:19). They fear for torturing before the final judgment, knowing that they will be cursed (Mt. 25:41; cf. 1 Cor. 4:5). Jesus doesn’t speak with the men, but with the demons, and we do not know what happened to the men after the demons left them. The demons are fearful of Jesus’ authority, as their question reflects Matthew’s “inaugurated” eschatology, in which the future reign of God is already encroaching on Satan’s domain. An encounter of a group of demons versus one man; Jesus.
The difference between Matthew’s account and that to Luke and Mark, is that Matthew speaks of two men, while the other accounts speak of one. The same thing happens in Mt. 20:30–34, where one blind man in the other gospels become two blind men in Matthew. An arguably similar case is Mt. 12:22, where a deaf demoniac in Luke 11:14 is parallel to a blind and deaf demoniac in Matthew; in that case the person remains single, but the complaint is doubled. Though there are several possible reasons for this happening, it remains speculation.
Verse 30-32 speaks of the homes of the demons, who apparently need a place to dwell in. The behavior of the pigs is a proof that the demons have left the man, even though demons cannot drown. The drowning of the pigs is probably the reason why the people in Decapolis ask this Jewish magician to leave. Though the men see the power of Jesus, they are not persuaded that His power is for their good, just like many Jews did not question Jesus’ power but the source of His power (Mt. 9:34; 12:24).