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Matthew 8:5-13 “Authority to Restore”

The account of the centurion’s servant is also recorded by Luke in his gospel (ch. 7) with some different details added. While we fully trust that these accounts are harmonious, we will not endeavor to prove it here.[1] Such a discussion is appropriate in a commentary on Luke who, writing nearly 20 years after Matthew, may require explanation for his additional statements. While certainly known, these details were not yet in writing for Matthew’s audience and therefore do not require our attention at this point. The following discussion will exclusively follow Matthew’s account.

 

“So, after He entered Capernaum, a centurion approached Him exhorting Him and said, ‘Lord! My servant has been struck down in the house paralyzed, terribly tormented.’ And He said to him, “I will certainly come and heal him.’ And answering the centurion replied, ‘Lord! I am not worthy that You should come under my roof. But only say a word and my servant will be restored. For even I am a man under authority, having soldiers under me and I say to this one ‘Go!’ and he goes. And to another ‘Come!’ and he comes. And to my slave, ‘Do this!’ and he does it.’ So hearing, Jesus marveled and said to those following, ‘Truly I say to you I find such faith with no one in Israel. So, I say to you that many from the east and the west will be present and recline with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. Yet, the sons of the kingdom will be thrown out into the outer darkness where there will be the weeping and the gnashing of teeth.’ And Jesus said to the centurion, ‘Go! As you believe, let it be done to you.’ And his servant was restored that very hour.”

 

This second miracle in the first block advances both Matthew’s narrative in time and space as well as develops Matthew’s point that Jesus is the Messiah who has come to save His people from their sins (1:21). Implicit themes already alluded to are now made explicit. In this encounter with the centurion, Matthew clearly presents Jesus as the one who has the authority and ability to restore His people to the Father through faith in Him.

 

Authority Recognized (vv. 5-6)

These first few verses accomplish much to (1) temporally and geographically shift the scene from Jesus’ descent off the mountain to His base of operations in Capernaum and (2) set up the situation selected by Jesus and recorded by Matthew to emphasize Jesus’ authority to restore.

 

Temporal and Geographic Context (v. 5)

“So, after He entered Capernaum, a centurion approached Him exhorting Him.”


Matthew has now moved Jesus from the mountain (v. 1) to the road home (vv. 2-4) and has now delivered Him to Capernaum, the current abode of our Lord (4:13). If someone were looking for Jesus, one would naturally look for Him near His place of residence. That the centurion found Jesus in Capernaum betrays (1) that he was not present at the SM and (2) he was familiar with Jesus’ reputation and description. By reputation we mean that he has certainly heard that Jesus was one capable of healing the sick (4:23). By description we mean that he knew where to find Jesus. Though he may not have heard the preaching of Jesus on the mountain, this centurion has already heard much (4:24a) about what Jesus has said and done (4:17, 23-24). Certainly enough to form his own conclusions.


While it is nearly certain that this centurion was a Gentile, it would be a mistake to think of him as a Roman. In the reign of Tiberius (AD 14-37) Rome had 25 legions,[2] four of which were stationed in nearby Syria[3] none of which were station in or near Capernaum. The district of Galilee was not under direct Roman control at this time but was rule by the son of Herod the Great, Herod Antipas. That Antipas had an army is evident from the fact that he fought and lost a war with his ex-father in law, Aretas, king of the Nabateans.[4] That this army was drawn up along Roman lines is more than likely given Antipas’ relationship with Rome was one of benefactor-beneficiary (or suzerain-vassal).[5] That it was comprised of many Gentiles is hardly surprising given the example of Herod the Great’s use of foreign mercenaries.[6] This centurion is undoubtedly a veteran soldier and a commander of men. Far from the aristocracy of those who command legions and cohorts, he is nonetheless one of the many “non-commission officers” who made up the backbone of the army.[7] 


It is interesting that of the several references to centurions (ἑκατοντάρχης) in the gospels (Matt. 8:5-13; 27:54; Lk. 7:2-6; 23:47) all of them are presented in a positive light. This man was looking for Jesus and finding Him in Capernaum, he approaches.


Several similarities are noted between this centurion and the leper. Both of them are considered unclean by Jewish society. The leper by virtue of his illness yet the centurion by his birth. Both approach Jesus, apparently unconcerned by the judgment of others. And both come with statements rather than requests.

 

Situational Context (v. 6)

"and said, ‘Lord! My servant has been struck down in the house paralyzed, terribly tormented.’"


While there is certainly an implication of a request, the centurion asks nothing of Jesus at this point. To the list of similarities we should also add that both the leper and the centurion address Jesus as “Lord” (κύριος). That the leper meant more than “sir” is only obvious by examining the context of Matthew’s account and the content of all the leper said. That this centurion means much more than a polite “sir” is obvious on the surface. A commander of soldiers hardly needs to be polite to a local peasant. A civil use of “lord” implies that some level of social inferiority on the part of the supplicant. In no way, shape, or form is Jesus socially superior to this centurion. As he will later reveal himself, this centurion is accustomed to getting his way. He is fully capable of ordering Jesus to attend to his servant if he so chose. There is much more to this “Lord” than at first meets the eye.


The centurion comes to Jesus on behalf of his servant. The term used here by the centurion is παῖς (servant, child, boy) not δοῦλος (slave). While the term itself does nothing to inform us of the invalid’s vocation,[8] there is something here that betrays the status he holds in the heart of the centurion. As a servant (παῖς) the term indicates the centurion considers him more as a member of his household rather than simply his property. The malady is unknown, but the grammar indicates that the paralysis marks the severity of the illness (he cannot move) rather than the problem (he’s not a paralytic).[9] These words come in the form of a statement, not a request. As such, the centurion leaves the matter before Jesus to deal with according to His discretion.[10]

 

Authority Defined (vv. 7-12)

That the centurion believes Jesus has the ability to heal his servant is evident from the fact that he bothered to find Jesus. Through the conversation that follows, Matthew reveals that the centurion is convinced of Jesus’ ability through what he confesses about Jesus’ authority.

 

Convalescence Offered (v. 7)

“And He said to him, “I will certainly come and heal him.’”


This verse is by far the shortest in this account and yet there is much to be observed. First, because the verb “to heal” (θεραπεύω) was surprisingly and purposefully absent from the previous encounter with the leper, it is interesting that Jesus chose to use it here. The future indicative “θεραπεύσω” is a statement[11] made by Jesus of His intention to fix the physical problem. Whatever the cause of the servant’s torment and paralysis, Jesus states His willingness to solve the problem.


Second, the grammar indicates Jesus’ intention of healing the servant in person. The aorist participle from ἔρχομαι (to come) combined with the emphatic personal pronoun “I” (ἐγὼ) might be woodenly translated: I myself coming will heal him (ἐγὼ ἐλθὼν θεραπεύσω αὐτον). This brief statement makes it clear that Jesus promises to heal the servant Himself (ἐγὼ) and after He has arrived in person (ἐλθὼν θεραπεύσω).


At this point, there is nothing much to this account accept for the way the centurion addresses Jesus and the implication of his affection for this servant. Yet, the way Jesus chose to phrase His intentions sets the centurion up to make his bold confession. Jesus, God of very God and thus omniscient in every way, knows this man’s heart. This statement provides the context for the centurion’s confession. Jesus gave him a slow and straight pitch right down the middle.

 

The Centurion’s Confession (vv. 8-9)

Like the leper, this centurion makes a bold assertion regarding Jesus’ person, ability, and authority as well as an assertion about himself. Though the centurion uses many more words than the leper, their confessions all have the same basic components: (1) an admission of unworthiness, (2) an acknowledgment of a much bigger issue, and (3) confidence in Jesus’ ability.

 

Confession Stated (v. 8)

“And answering the centurion replied, ‘Lord! I am not worthy that You should come under my roof. But only say a word and my servant will be restored.”

 

Again, the centurion addresses Jesus as “Lord” (κύριε). For a professional soldier and commander of men to politely humble himself for an initial interview with a civilian miracle worker is one thing. But to continue the conversation in this manner betrays something far above mere courtesy. Addressing Jesus as “teacher” or “rabbi” would be easier to brush off than this now repeated “Lord”.


The first point brought up by the centurion is his personal unworthiness. The idea of Jesus personally coming to heal his servant, in his mind, is out of the question. This statement has much less to do with his being a Gentile[12] and more to do with his understanding of who Jesus is. To put it simply: Jesus is righteous, and the centurion is not. This is a confession of moral unworthiness, not social unworthiness.[13]


In contrast (ἀλλά) to a personal visit, the centurion exhorts Jesus to simply say a word. It was never his intention to have Jesus come in person but only to speak a command. This part of the centurion’s confession expresses his understanding of what Jesus is capable of. More than stating Jesus has only to “say the word” and the task will be complete, he says that Jesus has only to say a word (ἀλλὰ μόνον εἰπὲ λόγῳ). The centurion is convinced that a single word is sufficient to restore his servant.


The centurion’s use of restore (ἰάομαι) is significant because it alters from Jesus’ promise to heal (θεραπεύω). While both terms can be used of physical healing and cures for maladies, the word group ἰάομαι/ἴασις (to heal/healing) is often used of a healing or restoration that goes beyond the physical to indicate spiritual healing and even eternal restoration (Ex. 15:26; Deut. 32:29; 2 Chr. 7:14; 30:20; Hos. 6:1; 11:3; 14:4; Is. 19:22; 30:26; 53:5; 57: 19; 61:1; Jer. 3:22; 17:14; Ps. 38:3, 7; Prov. 3:22; 4:22; 15:4; 16:24).[14] That the centurion does not mimic Jesus’ choice of words indicates that he has something much greater in mind than physical healing. He states that Jesus has the authority to restore, and this authority can be exercised with a single word.

 

Confession Rationalized (v. 9)

“For even I am a man under authority, having soldiers under me and I say to this one ‘Go!’ and he goes. And to another ‘Come!’ and he comes. And to my slave, ‘Do this!’ and he does it.’”

 

Without waiting for a reply, the centurion launches into his rationale, the reason[15] he makes such a statement. While purposefully using a different verb than Jesus for his servant’s restoration, the centurion does mimic Jesus’ emphatic pronoun (ἐγὼ) to stress his personal and professional knowledge of authority. “Even[16] I am a man under authority” refers to his service as a centurion and the chain of command which he represents. Authority begins with the king/emperor and is bestowed upon the legate (legion commander), to the tribune (cohort commander), and on to the centurion (century commander). When the centurion speaks, his orders are obeyed as coming from the king. 

This authority is demonstrated among his soldiers, as well as his personal slaves.[17] The examples of ordering his soldiers and slaves vary in tenses.[18] Yet, each response is presented with the present indicative (καὶ ποερεύεται (and he goes), καὶ ἔρχεται (and he comes), καὶ ποιεῖ (and he does it)), describing the immediate and precise compliance with each command regardless of the nuance in which it was given. Point being, authority gets immediate and precise results.


Putting this together, the centurion makes a marvelous confession regarding who Jesus is (Lord), what He is capable of doing (restoring the servant), and why (because Jesus possesses authority).

 

Jesus’ Confirmation (vv. 10-12)

As with the leper, Jesus will confirm every word of the centurion’s confession. But as He does so, Jesus takes the opportunity to instruct those around Him of the significance of what just happened.

 

Jesus’ Praise (v. 10)

“So hearing, Jesus marveled and said to those following, ‘Truly I say to you I find such faith with no one in Israel.’”

 

When Matthew states that Jesus marveled (θαυμάζω) he is not drawing a parallel to the amazement (ἐκπλήσσω) of the crowds (7:28). In a positive context (as here) the verb expresses the response of being impressed. Jesus, knowing this man’s heart and mind, purposefully set him up to express a confession of faith in Jesus’ person and authority and the centurion hit it out of the park. This was the answer Jesus was looking for. If only He could find this answer among the Israelites.


Matthew records that these words are not spoken to the centurion, but to those who were following Jesus (τοῖς ἀκολουθοῦσιν). The statement “truly I say to you” (ἀμὴν λέγω ὑμῖν) harkens back to important statements made in the SM (5:18, 26). This is a key assertion that must not escape the attention of those following.


For the first time in Matthew’s gospel, Jesus mentions faith (πίστις). In all of Israel, Jesus has yet to find faith to match that of this centurion. This one gets it! This is not to say that Jesus has found no faith in Israel, but that the faith of this centurion exceeds all that Jesus has seen.[19] Faith requires an object, in this case the object is Jesus. “Faith” means to trust and to believe. This gentile centurion has confessed his knowledge of who Jesus is and his complete trust in Jesus’ ability to restore his servant based on Jesus’ absolute authority over the invisible and immaterial world. In short, the centurion believes that Jesus is Yhwh who heals (Deut. 32:39; Hos. 6:1; Is. 53:5). Rather than denying or correcting the centurion, Jesus confirms everything he said.

 

Jesus’ Explanation (vv. 11-12)

“So, I say to you that many from the east and the west will be present and recline with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. Yet, the sons of the kingdom will be thrown out into the outer darkness where there will be the weeping and the gnashing of teeth.’”

 

Jesus uses a similar formula as the SM (5:22, 28, 32, 34, 39, 44). The impressive statement initiated by “truly I say to you” (ἀμὴν λέγω ὑμῖν) is followed by the similar phrase “so, I say to you” (λέγω δὲ ὑμῖν). This is a connected thought to the statement that this confession surpasses every profession and demonstration of faith Jesus has yet seen in Israel. Jesus’ words go on to take on an eschatological note. 


Clearly, Jesus does not see the kingdom of heaven as a present reality, nor does He speak in terms of nebulous spiritual mysticism. Rather, Jesus speaks of an eschatological event, a time of celebration with the likes of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. If the people coming from east and west are real people, then common sense dictates that we should understand (a) the kingdom of heaven, (b) the banquet, and (c) Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the same sense.[20]


Regarding these verses, several observations should be made. First, the language of many coming from east and west reflects Old Testament passages that predict the regathering of Israel under the reign of Messiah (Is. 43:5-6; 49:12; 65:13-14). Jesus’ choice of words (ἀπὸ ἀνατολῶν καὶ δυσμῶν) is most similar to that of Ps. 107:3. As the first psalm in the final book of the psalter, Ps. 107 gives thanks to Yhwh for His lovingkindness, chiefly expressed in the fact that He gathers those whom He has redeemed from the ends of the earth. That Israel will be redeemed and regathered to the Promised Land during Messiah’s kingdom is a given (Obad. 15-21), but so is the fact that Israel will not be alone in Messiah’s global kingdom (Is. 2:2-3; 25:6-9; 45:6; 59:19; 60:3-4; Joel 2:32; Mic. 4:1-2; Zech. 8:20-23; Ps. 72:9-11).


Second, that these many will recline with (indicative of a shared meal or a banquet feast) Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob connects these many with the covenant given to these three individuals. These three men are considered Israel’s patriarchs because they each received the promise of land, seed, and blessing from Yhwh (Gen. 12:1-3; 15:1-21; 17:1-22; 26:1-5; 28:1-5, 10-17; 35:9-12). Jesus’ words are not a spiritualized euphemism for heavenly bliss. To recline with these men in the kingdom of heaven is to enjoy the blessing of the Abrahamic Covenant in its fullness.


Third, “sons of the kingdom” (οἱ υἱοὶ τῆς βασιλείας v. 12) cannot indicate Israel as a whole people group. If Israel’s patriarchs will recline in the kingdom of heaven with the remnant of Israel that Yhwh gathers, then there is no way to twist this statement into a support for replacement theology.[21] While Jesus certainly has Israelites in view (those natural sons who might fully expect to inherit the kingdom by virtue of their birth), that is not the same as saying all Israelites will be thrown out. The language here is nothing short of a description of hell. The weeping and gnashing of teeth is used by Matthew with some frequency (13:42, 50; 22:13; 24:41; 25:30) and is always used in reference to future and final judgment.[22] Unless one is prepared to state that Jesus condemns all of Israel to hell, this verse cannot teach replacement theology by any of its many guises and forms.


Finally, v. 10 is the foundation for this entire discussion; that is, the faith of the centurion. Faith is the string that ties these verses together. Those “sons of the kingdom” trust in their heritage yet those who are gathered from the east and the west are those who, like the centurion, trust in Jesus the Messiah, Seed of David, Seed of Abraham, Son of God. The many who will be saved, both Jew and Gentile, are those who, like this centurion, confess Jesus as Lord and trust Him to restore.

 

Authority Executed (v. 13)

In v. 13 Jesus turns His attention back to the centurion. One might say that he was left hanging while Jesus took this opportunity to drive home a significant point. Now Jesus will execute the authority that the centurion has trusted in.

 

Authority Proclaimed (v. 13a)

“And Jesus said to the centurion, ‘Go! As you believe, let it be done to you.’”


To the centurion Jesus issues the same command as He did to the leper, “go!” (ὕπαγε). He sends the centurion on his way. The following statement requires careful examination, for it is difficult to bring all of the nuances from the Greek into English. The comparative statement “as you believe” (ὡς ἐπίστευσας) marks the bar or the standard for what follows. Matthew’s first use of the noun “faith” (πίστις) was noted in v. 10. Here we see Matthew’s first use of the verb “to believe, to trust” (πιστεύω). The two statements are connected. The centurion’s faith, which surpasses anything Jesus has encountered thus far (to include the faith of Peter, Andrew, James, and John (4:18-22), as well as the leper (8:2-4)), is the standard for the command He is about to make.


Let it be done to you” translates a Greek imperative (γενηθήτω). This is a command, not a permissive statement or even a promise. Maybe a better translation is “it is done!”. While the centurion came on behalf of his servant, Jesus does not say that the centurion’s faith is the basis for the restoration of the servant. Rather, He says that it is done to you (σοι). If we read too quickly, thinking we know this account, we’re apt to miss the miracle. The miracle does not occur in v. 13b, but right here. By saying “it is done to you” Jesus points back to His statement in v. 10. There will be many who will be there with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, and this centurion will be one of them. On the basis of his great faith in Jesus as the Lord who heals (Deut. 32:39), Jesus pronounces this centurion as one of those “many”. Jesus just declared this centurion as one of His kingdom citizens. That’s the miracle. What follows is proof that this miracle can be trusted.

 

Authority Proven (v. 13b)

“And his servant was restored that very hour.”


The term restored (ἰάομαι) is again used rather than healed (θεραπεύω). Certainly, this includes the idea of physical restoration, but it would be a gross mistake to limit the sense to only the physical. The centurion came seeking restoration and restoration was received. The centurion’s faith (that Jesus has the authority to restore with a word) has been validated. In fact, Jesus used less than a word. By stating “as you believe, it is done to you” Jesus did not refer to the servant but to the centurion (to you). And yet, the servant was restored that very hour. Jesus does not need to speak for His authority to be executed. At His very will (v. 3) His authority is put into action. This One has the authority to make the unclean clean (vv. 1-4) as well as the authority to restore (vv. 5-13). Surely this One, who we esteemed not (Is. 53:3), is the very One who will heal us (Is. 53:5).



[1] That Matthew records this meeting as if it were face to face while Luke states that the centurion sent a delegation on his behalf is hardly contradictory, as nearly all conservative commentators agree. The danger in analyzing such differences is that one is apt to miss Matthew’s point. To discover the author’s intended meaning, one must consume the author’s provided context. 


[2] When fully staffed (which only exists in newly commissioned legions) a Roman legion consisted of approximately 6,000 men led by an imperial legate. The legion was made up of ten cohorts (600 men each), commanded by tribunes. Each cohort consisted of six centuries (80-100 men each), commanded by centurions. The centuries were further divided into ten contuberniums (8-10 men each) commanded by decurions (Josephus, The War of the Jews §5:503). This is a general idea of a legions organization as variations were introduced in the nearly 1000-year Roman Empire.


[3] Everett Ferguson, Backgrounds of Early Christianity, Third (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2003), p. 51.


[4] Josephus, Josephus: The Complete Works, trans. William Whiston (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1998), Antiquity of the Jews §18:109-15.


[5] Simon Montefiore, Jerusalem: The Biography (New York, NY: Vintage Books, 2011), p. 103.


[6] Josephus, Antiquity of the Jews, §17:196-99.


[7] Kenneth McKay, “Centurion,” in The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1975), p. 772-3.


[8] Παῖς has a wide range of meaning that can indicate a child (Matt. 2:16; 17:18; 21:14; Lk. 2:43; 8:51, 54; 9:42; Acts 20:12) or a personal servant (Matt. 12:18; 14:12; Lk. 1:54, 69; 7:7; 12:45; 15:26; Jn. 4:51; Acts 3:13, 26; 4:25, 27, 30). When modified with the genitive personal pronoun as it is here (παῖς μου 8:5; παῖς μου 8:8; παῖς αὐτοῦ 8:13) the sense is always of a personal servant.


[9] John Nolland, The Gospel of Matthew, The New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2005), p. 354.


[10] William Hendriksen, Exposition of the Gospel According to Matthew, New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1973), p. 395.


[11] Some suggest that Jesus’ words come in the form of a rhetorical question (Will I come and heal him?). Supposedly, the idea is to show Jesus’ awareness of the social faux pas of a Jew entering the home of a Gentile. The “evidence” for this rendering is dubious at best.


[12] There are some who suggest that the centurion’s hesitancy for Jesus to enter his home is to avoid the contemporary Jewish superstition that entering a Gentiles abode (which was considered “unclean”) would make the one entering unclean. This cannot be the centurion’s point and certainly would not have been a concern Jesus would have accepted for at least two reasons. First, Jesus has already demonstrated His ability to come into personal contact with the unclean and remain untainted. Second, this superstition grew out of tradition and has no scriptural basis. While an upholder of the Law and the Prophets (5:17; 8:4), Jesus cares nothing for man-made traditions and has already proven His willingness to correct and abolish them (5:21-48).


[13] John Broadus, Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew, An American Commentary on the New Testament (Forgotten Books, 2012), p. 178.


[14] While in the context of physical restoration, it is worth noting that the LXX uses the verb ἰάομαι twice in Lev. 14 (vv. 3, 48); the text used to prescribe the restoration of lepers. Also, the verb appears in Moses’ prayer for Miriam’s restoration when God struck her with leprosy (Num. 12:13).


[15] Epexegetical γὰρ.


[16] Καὶ is better understood in an ascensive manner (even I am under authority) rather than comparing his own situation with Jesus’ (I too am a man under authority).


[17] Here the centurion uses δούλος indicating that some kind of distinction exists in his mind between his other slaves and this particular servant.


[18] The order to his soldier “go!” (πορεύθητι) and for his servant to “do this!” (ποίησον) are phrased with aorist imperatives (strong, resolute commands) while the order to “come!” (ἔρχου) is in the present imperative (immediate obedience).


[19] Nolland, p. 356.


[20] All commentators take the first half of the verse literally: that many will come from east and west. It makes no sense to then transport into a spiritualized metaphor where the banquet enjoyed with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob means something other than a banquet enjoyed with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.


[21] Replacement Theology is the heresy that teaches the Church has in any way replaced or superseded Israel thus gaining the blessings promised to her.


[22] Broadus, p. 180.

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