Notes Matthew chapter 8
© copyright 1997 drs Gijs van den Brink
The Cleansing of a Leper 8:1-4
1. Matthew describes ten miracles in chapters 8 and 9. Chapters 5-7 give us the teaching of the Kingdom of God, while the following two chapters (8-9) show how the power of the Kingdom is revealed (cf. Matt 4:23-25).
Large crowds followed him. The people that had marvelled at Jesus’ teaching (7:28-29) now also followed Him. Now they would have much more to see and marvel at (8:27; 9:33).
2. A man with leprosy came and knelt before him. A leper falls down at Jesus’ feet. There is a contrast between vv. 1 and 2, between the great crowds that follow on the one hand and the single kneeling leper on the other. The Greek word for ’to kneel’ (proskunein) is only used in the case of worship or giving honour (2:2,8,11; 4:9,10; 9:18).
If you are willing you can make me clean. The Greek word always used of healing leprosy is katharizein, to cleanse, because a cultic uncleanness was involved. It is certain that Jesus had the power to heal. The question is whether He wants to (‘if you are willing’); cf. John 5:21; 17:24.
3. Reached out his hand. Jesus stretches out His hand in the way God stretches out His hand to do mighty deeds (Exod 6:6; 14:16; 15:12; Acts 4:30). Others have avoided the leper because he was unclean, but Jesus touches him. A reversal has taken place. No longer do the clean become unclean by touching them (as in Judaism, on the basis of Lev 13:46 and Num 5:2, see SB, IV, 751-752), but the Messiah’s words and deeds clean what is unclean. The healing and power received by man at the touch of Jesus’ hands is made clear many times in the Gospel (Matt 8:15; 9:18; 25:29; 17:7; 20:34).
I am willing … Be clean! The words ‘I am willing’ are words of grace; but ‘Be clean!’ are creative words carrying authority.
4. See that you don’t tell anyone. The reason Jesus forbids the man to tell of the miracle is apparently that He does not want to attract attention. Jesus often forbids the disclosure of His actions (Matt 9:30; 12:16; 17:9; Mark 5:43; 7:36; 8:26). Perhaps He wants to avoid whole crowds coming to Him to be healed (cf. Luke 5:15-16; John 6:26-27). In any case He wants to avoid giving the impression that He has come to reign as king (also see commentary on Matt 9:30; 12:16; 17:9).
Show yourself to the priest. The man is required to go to the priest for examination and to make the sacrifice prescribed by Moses (Lev 14:1-32). He may not bear witness of his healing to everybody, which was ready for him to do, but he first had to go to the priest for a clean bill of health and to make a sacrifice to God (Lev 14:4,10,21). Jesus says that this examination will be a witness to the priest and the people (pl. ’them’) of the fact that He who cleanses lepers has come, the Messiah, for the cleansing of lepers is a sign of the Kingdom of God (Matt 11:5).
Jesus Heals the Centurion’s Servant 8:5-13
5. A centurion came to him. The centurion in Capernaum was in charge of a hundred men. He must have belonged to the army of Herod Antipas, for there were no Roman armies in Galilee before 44 A.D. He was indeed a Gentile (v.10) but he loved the Jewish people, and therefore had himself paid for the building of the synagogue in Capernaum (Luke 7:5). He now sends several elders of the Jews to Jesus with a request (Luke 7:3). It seems from Matthew’s account that the centurion himself went to Jesus, but this is because Matthew has abridged the story. The change from acting through intermediaries to acting for oneself is to be found in many written and oral traditions.
Asking for help. The Greek word parakalein means in the first place ’to call for help,’ but also ’to beg’ (Bauer, s.v.).
6. The centurion addresses Jesus in a very humble manner. The words in themselves are not a prayer, but there is no doubt but that he is begging for something, as Matthew tells us.
The Greek word pais, that Matthew uses, can mean both child and servant. We know from Luke that servant is meant (doulos; Luke 7:2). The servant is paralysed and in great pain. Luke says that he was on the point of death (Luke 7:2). This is apparently the reason that the centurion does not bring him to Jesus.
7. I will go and heal him. The Greek text can be taken in two ways, as different translations show; firstly as a question: Shall I come and heal him? The force then is that of a counter-question with the stress on ‘I.’ So: Do I have to come into an impure Gentile house and heal him (cf. Matt 15:21-28)? Secondly as an engagement: I shall come and heal him, I shall come to heal him. Considering the centurion’s reaction in v.8 and the parallel passage in Luke 7:6, this seems the most likely. Whichever is the case, Jesus did heal the centurion’s servant. That He did not enter his house is apparently due to the course of the conversation (or is there more to it? Cf. Matt15:26-37).
8. I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. Jesus, being a Jew, would have become unclean, said the rabbis, by entering the centurion’s (Gentile) house (cf. Acts 10:28; John 18:28; Acts 11:3; Gal 2:12) and the centurion did not want to bring that about. But his humility is certainly not only to be explained from the fact that he is a Gentile and Jesus a Jew. Doubtless he has felt personally unworthy that such a thing should happen to him. Pay attention to the character of this man, of whom Jesus will say he has great faith. While he declares himself unworthy, he is a worthy man in the eyes of others. The elders of the Jews who spoke on his behalf said: ‘This man deserves to have you do this’ (Luke 7:4, cf. Prov 27:2).
9. I myself am a man under authority. The centurion now declares why he believes that the simple speaking of a word (v.8) is enough: as my men obey me, so shall the sickness obey you, you who have all power. He sees Jesus as the Great Authority, who had authority that even the Roman Emperor did not have.
10. He was astonished. We read twice in the New Testament that Jesus marvelled. This is one of those occasions on which he marvelled at the great faith of the Gentile centurion. The other occasion had to do with the Jews’ unbelief (Mark 6:6). Jesus did not so much as marvel at the healing that had taken place; it was not unusual to Him. On the contrary, it was unusual to meet someone who had such great faith in Him.
I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith. The centurion had great faith, i.e., a great trust in Jesus’ power. He believed that Jesus would be willing to help a Gentile; he believed that He could heal, even though He was not physically at the scene; he believed it could happen if Jesus spoke just one word.
11. Many will come from the east and the west. Jesus saw in the centurion one of the first fruits of the Great Harvest which would be reaped among the gentiles in the future. He repeats the Old Testament prophecies when He speaks of many Gentiles streaming in from the whole world (east and west) to the Kingdom of Heaven (Isa 2:2 ff; Micah 4:1 ff; Isa 25:6-9, and others).
The Kingdom of Heaven here means the world to come, where the risen patriarchs and the righteous who had died under the Old Covenant will partake in the heavenly feast together with the many believers among the Gentiles (Mark 14:25; Rev 19:9).
12. The subjects of the kingdom will be thrown outside. The glorious picture painted in v. 11 obtains a dark background in v. 12. While the Old Testament believers are present in the Kingdom of Heaven, Jesus’ Jewish contemporaries, the subjects or children of the Kingdom, who have rejected Him (cf. John 1:11) will be thrown out. This will occur at the Resurrection and the Judgement.
Into the darkness. Literally in Greek we read ‘outer darkness’ (KJV). It is the ultimate place of condemnation, Gehenna (SB IV, 2, 1075 ff). Everything outside the Kingdom of God is darkness, for God is light (1 John 1:5). As a term for the place of judgment, darkness has a literal meaning in the first place (cf. Jude 13 and 2 Peter 2:17).
Weeping and gnashing of teeth express extreme suffering. The Greek term klauthmos expresses sadness at the thought of loss (Matt 2:18; Acts 20:37). Gnashing the teeth indicated powerlessness and despair, but at the same time the idea of anger and wrath. This suffering will never end, Dan 12:2; Matt 3:12; 18:8; 25:46 and others).
13. Jesus did not go home with the centurion; it was not necessary. He spoke the word the centurion wanted, and immediately the servant was healed. Jesus’ words appear to have force and power. He speaks and it comes to be.
Just as. The Greek Hs, ‘just as’, does not mean here ‘according to its measure’, but ‘according to its contents’ (see vv.8-9). It can even express reason: ‘on account of, because’ (Bauer, s.v.). Jesus’ word, as an answer to the centurion’s faith, brought about the servant’s healing.
The Healing of Peter’s Mother-in-law 8:14-15
14. Peter’s mother-in-law lay ill in bed with a fever. Peter’s house was apparently a simple fisherman’s house, of a single room, because Jesus sees the mother lying when He comes in. At the same time Matthew, in contrast to Luke (4:38) stresses Jesus’ taking the initiative in this healing with the words ‘he saw Peter’s mother-in-law’. Jesus also cares for the home front which in the case of Peter’s wife brought with it no small sacrifice (cf. Matt 19:27). We read in 1 Cor 9:5 that Peter was married and that his wife later accompanied him on his missionary journeys.
15. She got up and began to wait on him. Anyone who has had a fever is usually weak for some time after, but Peter’s mother-in-law was immediately able to serve her guest(s) (Mark 1:31; Luke 4:39). This proved that by touching her hand (cf. 8:3), Jesus had completely healed the mother-in-law and had not only taken away the illness but also its effects. The serving must also be seen as a sign of thankfulness (Luke 8:2,3).
Jesus Heals the Sick in the Evening 8:16-17
16. When evening came. All this took place on a sabbath (Luke 4:31). Obviously they would have waited until evening, until the sun had set (Mark 1:32). It was not permitted to carry a burden on the sabbath (SB,II, 455ff).
He drove out the spirits … and healed all the sick. Matthew makes a distinction between those from whom spirits have been expelled and other sick people, who were healed. That possessed men are specially brought to Jesus is possibly connected to the fact of the deliverance of a possessed man earlier in the day, in the synagogue in Capernaum (Mark 1:23-27).
According to modern science, miracles are extraordinary and unnatural, even impossible, but Jesus regards a miracle as completely ordinary and natural. It is emphasised that He cured them all.
17. “He took up our infirmities and carried our diseases.” Isa 53:4a is quoted here in Matthew’s own Greek translation of the Hebrew text, i.e., one that is not connected with the LXX (which spiritualises the verse and speaks of sins instead of sickness). Isa 53 speaks of the Suffering Servant of the Lord, the Guiltless One, who must suffer to bring peace (shalom = general wellbeing, health in body, mind and soul) to the guilty (Isa 53:5). We see this prophecy fulfilled in Jesus. It is a foretaste of the times to come when the Saviour will settle accounts with all illnesses, even with death itself (cf. Rev 21:4; 22:1-2). The Greek word for ’to take up’ (lambanein) means ’to take; to take on oneself,’ and also ’to take away.’ Jesus has taken away our sin and sicknesses by taking them on Himself (in His substitutionary suffering and death).
Following Jesus 8:18-22
18-19. We must not form a connection between this journey and the healings in vv. 14-17. The ‘great multitudes’ are not ‘all the sick’ of v.16, because in Greek the article is missing, but a certain crowd on a certain day. The other side means the eastern side of the lake, as appears from v. 28.
Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go. A scribe addresses Jesus as didaskale, in Hebrew ‘rabbi’, translated as ’teacher.’ A teacher was addressed in this way. Follow is not used here metaphorically, which we gather from the words ‘wherever you go.’ The scribe is not speaking about entering the Kingdom of God (for which no literal following was required), but about wanting to belong to the most trusted group of disciples which accompanied Jesus on His travels. He comes to Jesus as a Jewish pupil comes to his rabbi (and that as a scribe!). It was usual for pupils to follow their master everywhere to be instructed in the law.
20. The scribe, who has made such a clear confession, was confronted with the consequences by Jesus (cf. Luke 14:25 ff). To follow Him means to share His conditions of life, His cares and His persecutions. Jesus, and hence those who follow Him, have no home in this world and their fate here is uncertain.
Son of Man. This is the first time the term ‘Son of Man’ occurs in the New Testament. This title had been used as an indication of the Messiah before Jesus’ time by a small group which expected the end to come soon (on account of Dan 7:13-14 and Ps 8), but it was unknown by the great mass of the people (SB, I, 485-486). The title is used by Jesus 32 times in the Gospel according to Matthew. In this verse Jesus bears witness of Himself that He is the Son of man who must suffer privation and rejection.
21. We must understand ‘disciple’ here in the wider sense of those who accompanied Jesus more or less continuously.
First let me go and bury my father. This man too, like the scribe, (v. 19) wants to follow Jesus faithfully, but asks permission to bury his father first. The dead were buried on the same day (Acts 5:6,10). This was a religious duty in Israel, which must take precedence over everything else, and which was even more important than studying the Law! Helping to bury someone who was not a member of one’s family was a work of love which brought with it a great reward from God, both in this life and in the life to come (SB I, 487-489). It is obvious that burying his father was a religious duty of the greatest importance for this man. It is to be noted that Elisha was allowed to go home to say farewell before following Elijah (I Kings 19:20).
22. Let the dead bury their own dead. Jesus’ answer can be explained in only one way: let those who are spiritually dead bury those who are physically dead. By spiritually dead is meant those who do not obey the words of Jesus (and thus have not part in the Kingdom of God). Jesus answer is very radical and implies that the duty of obeying Him is more important than the most important earthly duty (including religious duties). He calls the man: Follow Me (cf. Luke 9:59). This also implies that working in the Kingdom of God and preaching the Gospel take priority over all human work. For this conversation, like that with the scribe (19-20), is not concerned with entering the Kingdom of God (physically following Jesus is not a requirement for this), but with going along with Jesus, to stand with Him in His work of preaching the gospel (Luke 9:60). With this answer the Lord Jesus makes the incomparable meaning of His Person and Work clear in an impressive way.
Jesus Stills the Storm on the Lake 8:23-27
23. Matthew again takes up the thread of v. 18. But in the light of vv. 19-22 (on true following) the following by the disciples and the ensuing storm on the lake (vv. 24-27) acquire an exceptional tone. The storm on the lake is concerned with discipleship.
We know from Mark 4:36 that other ships had gone out too.
24. Without warning (Greek kai idou) indicates the suddenness of the occurrence.
A furious storm came up on the lake. The Greek word for ‘furious storm’ is seismos, i.e. a trembling, a shock, especially an earthquake. But this ’tempest in the sea’ was coupled with a violent gale (Mark 4;37; Luke 8:23) and was apparently caused by it. Violent squalls can affect the low-lying Sea of Galilee (208 m below sea-level). The wind traverses the hill slopes with great force and causes a serious storm on the lake. While the storm was raging, Jesus was sleeping on the afterdeck (Mark 4:38). Here we see that Jesus was truly man. He was exhausted after a tiring day.
25. “Lord, save us! In their confusion and fear they still showed some trust in Jesus and realised that He could help them. They called: ‘Lord, save us! We’re going to drown!.’ But Jesus does rebuke them for their fear (v.26).
26. Jesus rebukes them and calls them ‘ye of little faith’ because fear had replaced their trust. But then He rebukes the wind and the sea. We see from this that this storm is Satan’s work. Possibly it is an attempt by the demons to delay Jesus from coming on land and freeing the possessed men (vv. 28-34).
He … rebuked the winds and the waves. The power revealed by God on certain occasions in the Old Testament is here present in Jesus (see. Ps 89:9ff; 93:4ff; 106:8ff; 107:23-30 and Isa 51:9ff). In this miraculous mastery of nature we see a first fulfilment of the promise regarding the Kingdom of Peace, where the nature of things is basically changed (Isa 11:6ff). The followers of Jesus too may even share in this gift of controlling nature by faith, i.e., trusting in the power of God (Mark 16:18).
27. The men were amazed. It is not only meant the disciples but also those who had come with them in other boats (Mark 4:36). The people have been given no clear answer to the question ‘What kind of man is this?’ but those who knew the the OT must have known: what God did then, this ‘man’ does now.
The Healing of Two Possessed Men 8:28-34
28. The region of the Gadarenes. [Some manuscripts read Gergesenes, others Gerasenes]. A number of larger and smaller towns were situated along the south eastern shores of the Sea of Galilee in Jesus’ time, including Gadara, Gerasa and Gergesa (on the shore itself). The area was principally inhabited by non-Jews. Gadara and Gerasa were two of the ten Hellenistic towns comprising the ‘Decapolis’ (see Matt 4:25).
Two demon-possessed men coming from the tombs. While Mark and Luke mention one possessed man, Matthew speaks of two. Perhaps two were freed, but the experiences of one were so extraordinary and made such a deep impression on the people that Mark and Luke tell about him only.
The possessed men lived in graves. As servants of the Great Destroyer, demons love the dead (see commentary on Matt 12:43). These graves consisted of caves or holes hewn out of solid rock and so lent themselves excellently as dwellings.
29. What do you want with us, Son of God? Suddenly (‘behold’, KJV) the possessed men begin to cry out. The demons acknowledge that Jesus is the Son of God, the Messiah (Luke 4:41), just as their master the devil had indeed also done (Matt 4:1 ff).
To torture us before the appointed time. Evil spirits also know that they will be thrown into the pit at the coming of the Messiah and the dawning of the Kingdom of God (Luke 8:31; Rev 20:2, 3). Their pain reminds them of the eternal judgement awaiting them (see Rev 20:10). But although the demons are convinced of their defeat beforehand they resist. They try to save what they can. They try to distract Him (‘What have we to do with thee?’; Mark 1:24), try to gain power over Him by using His name, indeed they try to conjure Him in the name of God (!) that the time for judgement has not yet come (Mark 5:7).
30. Pigs were considered unclean by the Jews (Lev 11:7). The trade of swineherd was also forbidden them (SB I,492). The owners of the pigs would have belonged to the non-Jewish population of the district. Mark says that the herd was two thousand strong (Mark 5:13).
31-32. Send us into the herd of pigs. When their attempt at distraction and conjuration (cf. Mark 5:7) has shown them their utter powerlessness towards the Son of God, the demons begin to beg. They beg Jesus to be allowed to enter the pigs, and for the present to be saved from the torments of eternal judgement in the pit (Luke 8:31). This was allowed. It is not only remarkable that the unclean spirits wanted to enter the unclean swine, it is extremely remarkable that they were permitted to do so. We see here clearly that evil spirits have no power to do what they want in the presence of the Son of God. Demons must give way before the power of God, the Holy Spirit (Matt 12:28).
The reason that Jesus permitted the demons to enter the pigs may be that its effect on the two men, who were deeply under possession, would serve as a proof of the genuineness of their freedom.
33-34. The herdsmen were afraid and fled to the town to tell what had happened to the pigs and the possessed men.
The town emptied; everybody came to see what had happened. They too are extremely frightened, and when they see Jesus, beg Him to leave the district. They are afraid of the supernatural and further loss. They prefer the pigs to Jesus; they also prefer illness, evil and the devil to Him who has power over illness (vv. 2-16), nature (vv.24-26) and evil spirits (vv. 28-32). Jesus was rejected by them and left; but two freed men were left behind as evangelists (Luke 8:39)!