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Matthew 8:14-17 “Authority to Atone”

And entering into Peter’s house, Jesus saw that his mother-in-law had been struck down and was fevering. And He grasped her hand, and the fever released her, and she got up and ministered to Him. So, after evening came, they brought to Him many who were demon possessed and He cast out the spirits with a word and all those having illness He healed. That what was spoken through Isaiah the prophet might be fulfilled, saying: He Himself took our sicknesses and the diseases He bore.

As this first block of miracles concludes, Matthew finally reveals the purpose behind Jesus’ works of healing. The leper was cleansed and restored (vv. 1-4). The centurion’s faith was credited to him as righteousness (vv. 5-13). Now Peter’s mother-in-law as well as others are brought into view to advance the argument of Jesus’ authority. As with the cleansing of the leper, the term “authority” (ἐξουσία) is not used in these verses. Yet, the implications and assumption of authority is unavoidable. While hinting at it all the while, Matthew now makes clear the purpose of Jesus’ authority on earth: to cleanse, restore, heal and in all other ways to make atonement for His people. Matthew records a third account of a personal restoration (vv. 14-15), followed by a summary example of Jesus’ authority in action (v. 16), capped off with a biblical and theological purpose statement (v. 17).

Personal Restoration (vv. 14-15)

Matthew records this miraculous healing as a series of events occurring one after the other. The καὶ conjunction appears no less than five times in these two verses to link the actions as a long chain of events unfolding. Yet, if we follow the objects of the verbs, it appears that these verses are arranged chiastically to emphasize (1) Jesus’ initiative, (2) the reaction of the fever to His touch, and (3) the response of Peter’s mother-in-law. This structure is illustrated below.

Jesus’ Initiative (vv. 14-15a)

And entering into Peter’s house, Jesus saw that his mother-in-law had been struck down and was fevering. And He grasped her hand…

In a few simple words, Matthew moves the scene from the streets of Capernaum to the home of Peter, the first of Jesus’ elected disciples with his brother Andrew (4:18-20). Matthew reveals nothing regarding the reason Jesus came home with Peter, nor does he state who else was there. In fact, we only infer from this text that even Peter was present. The only persons mentioned in this text are Jesus, the fever (personified), and Peter’s mother-in-law.

After entering[1] Peter’s home, Jesus saw (εἶδεν) Peter’s mother-in-law, who had been struck down (βεβλημένην) and was suffering a fever (πυρέσσουσαν). The same verbal root (from βἀλλω) used to describe the centurion’s servant (v. 6) is used again with the same force (to be struck down). Because the emphasis is presently on Jesus rather than the mother-in-law, it seems best to understand these participles in an adverbial manner (describing what Jesus saw: He saw that she had been struck down and was suffering a fever) rather than adjectively, describing the mother-in-law (He saw the mother-in-law who had been struck down and suffered a fever). Upon seeing this woman in her state of infirmity, Jesus took action.

Matthew uses the same verb of Jesus touching or grasping her hand (ἅπτω) as he described Jesus’ physical interaction with the leper (v. 3). He did not simply touch her but took her hand in His own. This is the only healing recorded in Matthew where Jesus acts without any form of prior request or solicitation. No words are spoken. No one comes to Jesus on her behalf. Jesus saw her plight and held her hand. Not only is this a beautiful touch of kindness, gentleness, and compassion, but it reinforces another point from Jesus’ interaction with the leper.

Fever was not considered a symptom of illness but was considered a disease in and of itself. Fever is mentioned as one of the many plagues and judgments that God would send upon Israel for disobedience and unbelief (Lev. 26:16; Deut. 28:22). As such, the Halakah (rabbinic commentary on Torah, later codified in the Mishnah) forbade the touching of anyone suffering from a fever. Yet Jesus remains untainted, unpolluted, and blemished as evidenced by the fever’s reaction.

The Fever’s Reaction (v. 15b)

And the fever released her.

Matthew writes as if the fever were a personal object who obeys the Lord’s touch (καὶ ἀφῆκεν αὐτὴν ὁ πυρετός). The fever released (ἀφίημι) Peter’s mother-in-law from its hold and left her, never to return. In this statement, Matthew does not so much record the woman’s reaction to Jesus’ touch but the fever’s. Illness flees the very touch of Jesus as if the two cannot co-exist. It is almost as if Jesus need not do anything but simply show up and the effects of the curse immediately depart. As the chiasm rounds off, Matthew records the complete and total restoration of Peter’s mother-in-law.

The Mother-in-law’s Restoration (v. 15c)

And she got up and ministered to Him.

Just as Matthew used two verbs to record Jesus’ initiative (He saw, He grasped), two more are used to describe the woman’s restoration. To use ἠγέρθη (from ἐγείρω – she got up) is common enough (1:24; 2:13, 14, 20, 21), yet the passive voice leaves room for the idea that she was raised up.Perhaps there is some foreshadowing on Matthew’s part. She did not need to remain in bed to regain her strength. The fever and all its effects have been banished from her body. She was immediately and instantaneously restored to perfect health. That she began[2] to minister (διηκόνει) to Jesus is worthy of notice.

The verb from διακονέω (where we get our term deacon from) literally means to serve, usually in the context of waiting tables or similar domestic duties (Lk. 10:40; Jn. 12:2; Acts 6:2). Yet the New Testament uses this term in a broader sense of Christian service (Acts 19:22; Rom. 15:25; 2 Cor. 3:3; 2 Tim. 1:18; 1 Pet. 1:12; 4:10, 11) and Matthew particularly uses it of special attention given to Jesus (4:11; 20:28; 25:44; 27:55). Surely this is more than a description of a woman going about her normal duties in the kitchen! She did not solicit Jesus’ attention, and yet it was given. Upon restoration, her first inclination is to minister or serve Jesus. This is the mark of one who has been restored in more than simply a physical manner.

Public Restoration (vv. 16-17)

These verses form a summary statement regarding this first block of miracles (8:1-15). The healing of the leper, the centurion’s servant, and Peter’s mother-in-law were only three of many healings that occurred that day. In this summary, Matthew tells the whole story regarding when, what, how, and why these miracles took place.

When (v. 16a)

So, after evening came.

The natural progression of Matthew’s narrative marks this evening as the same day as the SM. While there were certainly more stops than Matthew records, his gospel begins the day on the mount, transitions to Capernaum, takes Jesus to Peter’s home, and now evening has arrived. This is significant for two reasons. First, with the coming of evening, the day has concluded, and a new day has begun. Rather than keeping time in western fashion where the new day begins and midnight, Israel considered sundown the end of one day and the beginning of the next. That evening had arrived marks this transition. It is a new day.

Second, the fact that many who were demon possessed were brought to Jesus after[3] evening had come implies that people were waiting for sundown before they brought these needy people to Jesus. This would only be necessary if the day in question were the Sabbath, a point that is supported by comparing the other gospels accounts (Lk. 4:31-41; Mk. 1:21-34). At sundown the first day of the week had commenced. The first day (Sunday) begins with Jesus exercising authority over the realm of Satan.

What & How (v. 16b)

They brought to Him many who were demon possessed and He cast out the spirits with a word and all those having illness He healed.

With the conclusion of the Sabbath, the Jews of Capernaum were free from the oppressive regulations their sages have placed upon them and are now able to bring their suffering members to Jesus. It is difficult to know which is more shocking to the senses, that Jesus cast these spirits out with a word or that there were many who were possessed by demons. Matthew is not a superstitious writer who sees a demon behind every runny nose and sore throat. He does not attribute demon possession to every malady mentioned. Peter’s mother-in-law was struck down by a fever (v. 14). The centurion’s servant was tormented by some unknown illness that reduced him to paralysis (v. 6). The leper was, of course, afflicted with leprosy (v. 2). It is therefore prudent to take the text at face value and understand these individuals as being truly possessed by demons.

Much could be said regarding these fallen angels, fellow rebels with Satan, but these few comments will suffice at this time. First, demonic activity is a reality that marked the time of Jesus’ first advent (Matt. 4:23; 8:16, 28; 9:32; 12:22; 15:22; 17:18; Mk. 1:32; 5:15; 7:26; 16:9; Lk. 4:33; 8:2, 36; 9:1, 42; 10:17; 11:14) as well as the early apostolic period of the church, but to an apparently lesser degree (Acts 16:16; 19:15). Second, these observations appear to have this obvious increase in demonic activity on earth correspond with Jesus’ first advent. Ever since Messiah, the beloved Son of God was publicly revealed (3:16-17) and stood victoriously after His showdown with Satan (4:1-11), the uptick of demonic activity becomes palpable. Finally, in a most ironic way, the increase of demonic activity testifies to Jesus’ authenticity. That demons plague Israel in a way never before mentioned shows that the forces of darkness have recognized a threat and are working harder than ever against that threat. The presence of so many demoniacs affirms that Messiah has arrived and provides the ultimate proof of His authority.

Matthew records this climatic scene with his typical simplistic beauty, arranging these two lines in mirrored symmetry. Following the Greek word order, the text reads something like this:

Just as Jesus cleansed the leper, restored the centurion’s servant, and irradicated the fever, so He healed all who were present. With a word, He commanded the demons to depart, and they obeyed Him! Jesus’ authority extends to even the spiritual realm. The first day of the week begins with Jesus exercising His authority over the prince of darkness and his horde, proving they are no match for the Prince of Peace.

Why (v. 17)

That what was spoken through Isaiah the prophet might be fulfilled, saying: He Himself took our sicknesses and the diseases He bore.

This block of miracles has been coming to this precise point. This is the purpose (ὅπως) of Jesus’ miracles: to fulfill what was spoken through Isaiah the prophet. This is the sixth of Matthew’s ten fulfillment formulas (1:22; 2:15, 17, 23; 4:14; 8:17; 12:7; 13:35; 21:4; 27:9), the first after Matthew lengthy prologue (1:1-4:22) and the only one within his first major division of the King’s Authority (4:23-9:35). Simply stated, this fulfillment formula carries weight.

The quotation comes from Is. 53:4a, a text that is dripping with Messianic insight. That Matthew does not quote from the LXX is obvious once the two are compared. He seems to offer his own accurate Greek translation of the MT. This is illustrated below with the original text as well as a wooden translation of each:

Some think that because Matthew (1) mentions only sickness and diseases rather than quoting a larger portion of Isaiah’s fourth Servant Song[4] that would make a connection to the atonement more obvious and (2) delivers this fulfillment formula at the conclusion of various healing texts that Matthew’s point is only to shed light on Jesus’ healing ministry. Rather than seeing any connection to the atonement and the cross, Jesus is only here portrayed as a comforter and compassionate healer. This simplistic interpretation fails to take several things into consideration.

First, when the writers of the New Testament allude to or quote a small portion of the Old Testament, they maintain the entire context of that Old Testament passage. It would be ridiculous to consider that Matthew neglected the surrounding context of Yhwh’s Suffering Servant.

Second, both Scripture and first century Israelite culture understand that sin is at the root of all physical illness. That is not to say that it was taught and understood that all illness was due to personal sin but that the curse had a real and tangible impact on physical life. Therefore, the discussion of sin and illness is one and the same.

Third, Isaiah’s Suffering Servant takes on the illness of the many through His suffering (Is. 53:5). It is impossible to connect Jesus’ activity here with Isaiah 53 without also having Jesus’ suffering in view. Because Jesus is not suffering from these illnesses here, His suffering is yet to come. Clearly, Matthew is setting up the suffering of Jesus on the cross.

Fourth, the fact that Matthew purposefully does not quote the LXX (which interprets the illness and disease simply as “sins”) demonstrates Matthew’s connection between these physical maladies and the root problem of sin.

Fifth, Jesus is introduced to the reader as the One who will save His people from their sin (1:21). One way or another, the entirety of Matthew’s gospel is pointing toward the cross.

Sixth, the context of Jesus’ authority recorded here corresponds perfectly with the suffering of Isaiah’s Suffering Servant. Jesus never executed His authority for His own benefit, but for the benefit of others. Likewise, Isaiah’s Suffering Servant does not suffer for His own sake, but for the sake of the many.

To these we must add a final point. If one bothers to look at the near context, these miracles have much less to do with physical healing as much as they point to Jesus’ authority to undo and reverse the curse of sin and thus make disciples. The leper was cleansed. The centurion’s faith was credited to him as righteousness. Jesus’ touch produced faithful service. The demon’s plaguing the local populace have been sent packing. Jesus has been making the unclean clean.

The reason Matthew summarizes this first block of miraculous healings by quoting Is. 53:4 is to specifically define the purpose of Jesus’ authority. He has not come to establish His kingdom but to take on the sin of His people so that He might atone for them through personal suffering. He has come into personal and physical contact with uncleanliness and vanquished it. By His word He commanded restoration. By His touch He raised the infirm. And with a word He dismissed the hosts of darkness. This is the One who will take on the infirmities of us all and make atonement on our behalf.

[1] The aorist participle ἐλθὼν (from ἔρχομαι – to come, arrive) conveys the antecedent time of the aorist indicative εἶδεν (from ὁρὰω – to see).

[2] Ingressive imperfect, which stresses the beginning of an action that continues on for some time.

[3] The aorist participle γενομένης (from γίνομαι – to become, come about) shows antecedent time to the aorist indicative προσήνεγκαν (from προσφέρω – to bring, to offer).

[4] (1) 42:1-4, (2) 49:1-7, (3) 50:4-11, (4) 52:13-53:12

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