Lessons from the Healing of the Centurion's Servant

by Spiros Zodhiates

(Editor's note: Dr. Zodhiates continues his exegetical study of the Gospel of Matthew.)

Spiros Zodhiates [Matt. 8:5-6] Capernaum was the Galilean city Jesus adopted as His hometown (Matt. 9:1). He may have lived at Peter's house. A Roman centurion had built a synagogue for the Jews there (Luke 7:5).

This Roman centurion (an officer over one hundred men) that now appears on the scene had been influenced by Jesus' miraculous works (Matt. 7:28, 29). When the officer's servant became sick with "palsy" (paralutiks [3885], paralytic) and in great torment (possibly polio), the centurion asked Jesus for help.

[7-8] It is interesting that the Lord's confident response to the centurion's inquiry was not "I will come and try to heal him," but rather, "I will come and heal him."

The centurion's faith in the superiority of Christ's person and power were reflected in verse 8: "Lord, I am not worthy...but speak the word only, and my servant shall be healed." His faith in the healing power of Jesus was complete.

[9] The centurion apparently had heard about and perhaps seen Jesus' extraordinary power. In an insightful analogy, he compared the Lord's power to his own authority to order soldiers under his command: "For I am a man under authority [exousa, moral and physical right], "having soldiers under me: and I say to this man, Go, and he goeth; and to another, Come, and he cometh; and to my servant, Do this, and he doeth it."

[10] "When Jesus heard these words, He marveled [from thaumzo {2296}, to admire-see thama {2295}, a wonder, miracle, marvel] and said to them that followed, Verily I say unto you, I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel."

What was different "in Israel" about this faith was that this Roman centurion believed Jesus could "tenderly heal" (from therapeo  [2323]) his paralyzed servant from a distance by commanding His healing angels to invade-"Come, and he comes"-or Satan's destructive demons to depart-"Go, and he goes." This confidence was indeed a marvel, and no Jew had advanced to such a level of faith in Christ's sovereignty over the invisible realm.

[11,12] The Lord now hinted prophetically at the oncoming expansion of His Kingdom among Gentiles at the expense of the apostatizing nation of Israel: "And I say unto you, That many shall come from the east and west, and shall sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven. But the children [from huis {5207}] of the kingdom shall be cast out [from ekbllo  {1544}, to be cast out; from ek {1537}, out of from within or among; and bllo  {906}, to throw; "to throw out"] into outer darkness [sktos {4655}]: there shall be weeping [klauthms {2805}] and gnashing [brugms {1030}, grinding] of teeth."

As we have shown, the word translated "children" in the King James Version is actually "sons," referring to those born of Hebrew ancestry. Although "sons of the kingdom," most Jews rejected their Messiah and were supplanted by Gentiles (see Rom. 11). Many Gentiles, like this centurion, become adopted children of God, and one day they will enter the Kingdom of Heaven, while the unconverted, physical children of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob will be cast into outer darkness.

This centurion and other Gentiles from the ends of the earth, however, will participate in the great banquet at which only believers from among both Jews and Gentiles will be present (Matt. 22:1-14). Faith is the password to the heavenly Kingdom.

What is the "outer darkness" where unbelievers "will be cast out"? The place where these unbelieving Jews will be thrown is called sktos, "darkness," a symbol of spiritual darkness (John 3:19; Rom. 2:19) and eternal misery (Matt. 4:16; Luke 1:79; Acts 26:18; 1 Thess. 5:4; 1 Pet. 2:9). The expression "outer darkness" is found only here and in Matthew 22:13; 25:30, although Luke 16:19-31 actually pictures the condition of a person who dies in his sins and exists in Hades. Though in darkness himself, the rich man can see Abraham and Lazarus far off.

The noun klauthms is associated with the verb klao  (2799), to weep, to cry. The first time this noun occurs is in Matthew 2:18 which reads, "In Rama was there a voice heard, lamentation, and weeping, and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children, and would not be comforted, because they are not" (cf. Jer. 31:15). While the historical backdrop is the Babylonian Captivity, Jeremiah's prophecy predicted the slaughter of innocent children in Bethlehem, one mile from Ramah, after Jesus was born (Matt. 2:17-18).

"Gnashing of teeth" depicts extreme frustration. Here Jesus predicted the transfer of the Kingdom from the Jews to their Gentile enemies-represented by a centurion from Rome, the very nation that held Israel in bondage. Nothing could be more frustrating to Jewish leaders than this prophecy of the Church Age. As a nation, Israel has been in outer darkness from the time they rejected Christ to the present day. While individual Jews have been saved throughout history, the nation itself will remain in outer darkness until it repents (Rom. 11:25-27).

[13] The centurion's unique faith was amply rewarded: "And Jesus said [from epon, the aorist tense of légo  {3004}, to say intelligibly] to the centurion, Go [from hupgo  {5217}, to go; from hup {5259}, under, therefore stealthily; and go  {71}, to lead away], and as you have believed [from pisteo  {4100}, to believe], be it done [from gnomai {1096}, to become] to you. And his servant was healed in that very hour" (a.t.)"

The belief in the specific healing presupposes faith in Christ's sovereignty (lordship) in general. In other words, the centurion had a saving faith in Christ when he believed that the Lord could heal his servant.

Dr. Zodhiates is president emeritus of AMG International and publisher emeritus of Pulpit Helps.

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