What does Matthew 8:11 mean?
ESV: I tell you, many will come from east and west and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven,
NIV: I say to you that many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven.
NASB: And I say to you that many will come from east and west, and recline at the table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven;
CSB: I tell you that many will come from east and west to share the banquet with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven.
NLT: And I tell you this, that many Gentiles will come from all over the world — from east and west — and sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob at the feast in the Kingdom of Heaven.
KJV: 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.
A Gentile Roman officer has just demonstrated great faith in Jesus' authority over the natural world. The centurion stated simply that he knew that distance was no obstacle to Jesus' ability to heal a person. He could do so with a word. Jesus has expressed His amazement at the man's faith, saying that he has not found that level of faith among the Israelites (Matthew 8:5–10).
Now Jesus adds what was likely a shocking statement to the overwhelmingly Jewish crowd of followers. He says that many people will come from both the east and the west to recline at the table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. Reclining around a low table to share a meal was the custom of Jesus' day. Jesus points forward to a time in eternity when all present will eat together in heaven, likely at what we now call the "marriage supper of the Lamb" (Revelation 19:9).
More specifically, Jesus is describing who will be present in the kingdom of heaven. Israel's great patriarchs will be there, but so will Gentiles from lands in every direction from Israel. In other words, the kingdom of heaven will not be populated by Israelites alone (Galatians 3:7–9). This should not have been surprising to Jesus' listeners because of God's promise to bless the families of the earth through Abraham (Genesis 12:3).
The essential thing to notice is that Jesus is connecting who will be in the kingdom of heaven to the Gentile centurion's faith in Him and His authority. Faith in Christ will be the deciding factor about who enters the kingdom of heaven, not nationality (Galatians 3:28–29). In the following verse, Jesus may well surprise His crowd by describing who will not be present at such a meal.
Matthew 8:5–13 describes Jesus' response to the request of a Roman centurion in Capernaum. The Gentile officer has a servant who is paralyzed and suffering greatly. The centurion says that Jesus does not even need to come to his home, but that He can heal the man with a word. As a man with authority, this soldier recognizes Christ's right to command, even with respect to healing. Jesus applauds this faith, and notes that many Gentiles will be in the kingdom of heaven, along with the Jewish patriarchs. Not all Israelites will be included, however. Jesus tells the Roman officer his servant has been healed.
Matthew begins a series of stories revealing Jesus' authority over sickness, demons, and even the weather. Jesus heals a humble man with leprosy and great faith. He then heals the servant of a Roman centurion who understands that Jesus does not need to come to his home; He can just speak a word. Jesus praises the Gentile man's amazing faith. After healing many more, Jesus and the disciples get caught in a deadly storm on the Sea of Galilee. Jesus stops the storm with a word. Later, He casts demons out of two men and into a huge herd of pigs.
Matthew 8 follows the conclusion of Jesus' Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:1–2). He turns to telling a series of dramatic stories to show Jesus' power and authority over every kind of disease, over demons, and even over the weather. Jesus also gives brief teachings about the hard road of following Him on earth. He calms a violent storm with a single command and casts demons from two violently possessed men. Matthew will focus mostly on miracles until shifting focus to Jesus' teachings and parables in chapter 11.
The Gospel of Matthew clearly shows the influence of its writer's background, and his effort to reach a specific audience. Matthew was one of Jesus' twelve disciples, a Jewish man, and a former tax collector. This profession would have required literacy, and Matthew may have transcribed some of Jesus' words as they were spoken. This book is filled with references to the Old Testament, demonstrating to Israel that Jesus is the Promised One. Matthew also includes many references to coins, likely due to his former profession. Matthew records extensive accounts of Jesus' teaching, more than the other three Gospels.
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