Following the pronouncement of the principles of the kingdom in chapters 5-7, chapters 8-9 present the supporting mighty works of Jesus as credentials of the Messiah King.
Three groups of miracles may be observed. In Matthew 8:1-17, the healing of the leper (vv. 1-4), the healing of the servant (vv. 5-13), and the healing of Peter’s wife’s mother (vv. 14-15), are followed by an evening of many miraculous healings (vv. 16-17).
A second group of miracles is found in 8:23-9:8 with the stilling of the storm (vv. 23-27), the casting out of demons (vv. 28-34), and the healing of the paralytic and the forgiveness of his sins (9:1-8).
The third group of miracles is found in 9:18-38 with the healing of the ruler’s daughter (vv. 18-19, 23-26), the healing of the woman with the issue of blood (vv. 20-22), the healing of two blind men (vv. 27-31), the healing of the demoniac (vv. 32-34), followed by a general statement of many instances of healing (v. 35).
In between these accounts of miracles, which are not necessarily in chronological order, are other instances of significant events which took place in Christ’s ministry. The purpose of Matthew in these two chapters is to offer the credentials of the Messiah as predicted in the Old Testament. The order of the presentation deals with Christ’s power over disease in the first group; His power over nature, demons, and authority to forgive sins in the second group; with His power over death and other miscellaneous human needs in the third group. In 8:17, the whole picture is related to Isaiah’s prophecy of a suffering Messiah who would bear the sickness and the sins of Israel.
Coming down from the mountain with great multitudes following Him, Jesus was confronted suddenly by a leper (cf. Mk 1:40-45; Lk 5:12-14). The crowd undoubtedly surrounded the leper at a safe distance, afraid of his terrible disease. The leper addressed Jesus, “Lord, if thou wilt, thou canst make me clean” (Mt 8:2). This is the first instance in Matthew where Christ is addressed as Lord (Gr. kyrios). The word means “master,” but as used of Jesus, it is a recognition of His authority and deity. The leper had confidence in the power of Jesus; he was not sure whether Jesus was willing to heal.
Jesus first touched the leper, which amazed the crowd, for lepers were not touched (cf. Lev 13). With this loving gesture, Jesus said, “I will,” and immediately the leper was healed. The leper was instructed not to tell anyone but to go to the priest, fulfilling the procedure of Leviticus 14 in regard to the cleansing of a leper. Commentators like Wrede and R. H. Lightfoot have strained at the command not to tell others and questioned the purpose of going to the priest. The command not to tell others was probably to avoid gathering ever greater crowds, which by their size were getting out of hand, as Tasker has observed.47 The command to tell the priest was first of all an act of obedience to the law, but Jesus probably wanted to have a genuine case of healing certified in a formal way. Telling the priests would not increase the problem of the large crowds and did not contradict Christ’s instructions to “tell no man.” The effect on the priests must have been electrifying, as they had never before in their memory had a leper healed. Significantly, in Acts, many of the priests are recorded to have believed in Jesus.
As Jesus was entering into Capernaum, a centurion, a Roman soldier, besought Him to heal a servant, sick with palsy and in great suffering (cf. Lk 7:1-10). The servant is called in Greek, a pais, meaning a child, but the word is sometimes used of adult servants. Jesus immediately responded to the centurion with a promise that He would come and heal him. In reply, the centurion declared himself unworthy for Jesus to come into his house, and besought Him to speak the word only, saying that he too was a man in authority who could command and have instant obedience. Jesus marveled at his faith, greater than any He had found in Israel, and commented that in the future kingdom, the children of the kingdom would be cast out and others, that is, Gentiles, would be admitted instead. Jesus then brought the encounter to a close, saying to the centurion, “Go thy way; and as thou hast believed, so be it done unto thee. And his servant was healed in the selfsame hour” (Mt 8:13).
In Capernaum, Jesus went to Peter’s house, which was located there, and finding his wife’s mother sick of fever, He healed her. Then she rose and ministered to them (cf. Mk 1:29-31; Lk 4:38-39). The best texts indicate that she ministered to Him (singular) rather than to “them,” although she probably ministered to the others also. In healing first the leper—an outcast—then a Gentile centurion, and finally a woman, Jesus was dealing with those either excluded or unimportant in Jewish thinking. As Morgan expresses it, “He began with the unfit persons for whom there was no provision in the economy of the nation.”48 Jesus was uncontaminated by contact with leprosy and disease, and He was not bound by Jewish narrowness from those whom the world despised.
Matthew brings to a close this group of miracles by stating that that evening, many afflicted with demons and all others who were sick were healed, in fulfillment of Isaiah 53:4-5 (cf. Mk 1:32-34; Lk 4:40-41). Matthew, having made his point that Jesus fulfilled the Old Testament prophecies of these miraculous works, is content to summarize many incidents in one short statement.
Two instances of would-be followers of Jesus are mentioned, typical of the multitude, attracted by the miracles, who wanted to be disciples (cf. Lk 9:57-62). The first to be introduced is a scribe who promised to follow Jesus wherever He went. Jesus replied by pointing out that while foxes have dens and birds have nests, the Son of man did not have a home. Following Jesus would be difficult. Another person is described in Matthew 8:21-22 as desiring to follow Jesus but wanting first to bury his father. Evidently, he meant that he wanted to live with his father until he died. Jesus replied by showing the priority of His claims.
Beginning a second group of miracles, the account is given of the stilling of the storm on Galilee, also given in Mark 4:35-41 and Luke 8:22-25. While Jesus and the disciples were in the boat on Galilee, a sudden storm overtook them and was filling the boat with water, while Jesus Himself was asleep. The disciples awoke Him with the urgent petition, literally translated, “Lord, save, we are perishing.” Jesus, thus awakened, first rebuked them for being fearful and of little faith; then, He rebuked the winds and the sea, and suddenly there was a great calm. The disciples, accustomed to miracles, were amazed at the suddenness of the change and the evidence of the power of Christ, and, speaking in awe, said, “Even the winds and the sea obey him.”
After the instance of stilling the storm on Galilee, as they arrived on the other side of the lake, they were met by two men who were demon possessed and lived in a graveyard, which, because of their presence, was considered so dangerous that others avoided passing that way (cf. Mk 5:1-21; Lk 8:26-40). The demons, speaking through the men, recognized Jesus as the Son of God, and expressed the fear that He had come to torment them before their time. The King James translation “devils” is better rendered “demons” and refers to fallen angels who are Satan’s agents. Their ultimate judgment is assured and is apparently simultaneous with Satan being cast into the lake of fire (Rev 20:10).
As an alternative to being cast out completely, the demons requested permission to enter the herd of swine feeding nearby. Jesus gave the simple, abrupt command, “Go.” The demons, entering the herd of swine, caused them to run violently down a steep cliff into the sea, where they perished. The demons’ foolish request demonstrated their limited knowledge, as they were just as much cast out after the swine perished as if they had been cast out of the demoniac without entering any other being.
The report of the keepers of the swine brought out the whole city of Gadara, about six miles from Galilee, a preferred reading to Gergesenes, a town some thirty miles south and east of Galilee.49 When the people of the town saw Jesus, they urged Him to leave their country. Keeping swine was, of course, forbidden to Israel, and their destruction was a justifiable judgment from God, which should have shown the people their spiritual need. Their choice of swine, rather than Christ, dramatically illustrated their blindness. They preferred pigs and money to Christ and spiritual riches. As the next chapter reveals (Mt 9:1), Jesus obliged them and left. The creature is able to reject the Creator in time, but will render account in eternity for his lost opportunity.
While Matthew does not record it, in the parallel account in Mark 5:1-20, the man delivered from demons is instructed to go to his home and testify to his friends, the only instance where Jesus told one healed to testify to his own people (cf. vv. 19-20).
47 On this whole matter, see R. V. G. Tasker, The Gospel According to Matthew, p. 87.
48 G. Campbell Morgan, The Gospel According to Matthew, p. 82.
49 Cf. Tasker, p. 95.