Matthew 8:10-12 When Jesus heard this, He marveled and said to those who followed Him, “Truly, I tell you, with no one in Israel have I found such faith. I tell you, many will come from east and west and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
Matthew the Tax Collector makes another stinging point in including this quotation from Jesus in his gospel which all other gospel writers left out. Luke includes another story with a similar quotation, but the occasion is clearly different and the quote reads differently as well, see Luke 13:23-30. It’s kind of ironic to me how some Bible commentators will state that Matthew’s gospel is strictly Jewish, or primarily directed toward the nation of Israel. My previous posts have explored the idea that Matthew includes a very Gentile element within his writings. This post here will drive the point home in a not so subtle way.
The story is a familiar one and is included without the end quote in Luke 7:1-10. The centurion has a servant who is most likely a Jew while the centurion himself is most likely a Roman. The centurion comes to Jesus for healing, not for himself, but for his servant who is close to death. Jesus responds that He would come and heal the servant. The centurion’s response has prompted many to understand the authority of Jesus Christ over sin, sickness, and even death in a more palpable way. His unworthiness is what prompts him to suggest to Jesus that He simply speak a command and the healing will be accomplished. The centurion understands authority being someone under authority, having to respond to his superiors, and yet he has soldiers under him who respond instantly to his own commands. The centurion’s reasoning is as follows: if I issue a command where I have authority, it is done and I do not have to accompany my soldier to ensure the outcome. Jesus also has authority and if He issues the command, it will be done without Jesus having to be present to ensure the outcome.
The response of Jesus touches on His humanity. It causes Jesus to marvel or wonder since He had been ministering for some time and had not observed this type of faith in any Israelite. Here was a Roman centurion understanding that Jesus had all authority over sickness. There was no attempt to get Jesus to go anywhere; just say the word and it will be done. After Jesus says the word, the centurion is ready to leave, fully trusting to see his completely restored servant when he got home. So Jesus makes a point of this Gentile’s faith to those listening to Him. Remember this is a Jewish audience that is following Him. He points to the centurion’s faith and states that He has not found any faith so great, no, not in all Israel. It’s almost like He is pining for His own nation to believe on His authority the way this Gentile does.
The further statement of Jesus is one of the more difficult sayings for at least two reasons. #1- While there is no direct quotation of the prophets here, all Bible commentators are in agreement that Jesus is alluding to one or more passages which speak of a gathering of some sort. Since the language reflects that of three different passages, it is difficult to determine which one He has in mind. #2- Since the language is not a direct quotation of an old testament passage, but perhaps a rephrasing, there is the tendency to think that Jesus could be reinterpreting the old testament through a new paradigm that He has just introduced with His preaching. The new paradigm would be the preaching of the kingdom of God as being at hand. If this is the case, many Bible teachers would feel the license to be able to reinterpret many old testament passages in light of the new testament. Let me give an example to explain what I mean. If the old testament passage that Jesus is referring to is Deuteronomy 30:1-5 which is prophesying of a second exodus of the nation of Israel (see also Jeremiah 23:3-8) and then Jesus rewords it including Gentiles among the many, we might have license to see old testament prophecies concerning the future of the nation of Israel as being fulfilled in the church. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Let’s examine what Jesus is saying, then look at the passages Jesus is most likely alluding to, then come to some conclusions.
The way Matthew includes this statement of Jesus is certainly a condemnation against his own nation. The supposed sons of the kingdom, the very posterity of Israel, will be thrown out into outer darkness. Meanwhile, there is the gathering of many from the east and west sitting down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. The people that no one thought would be included, like this unclean Gentile centurion, will be welcomed into the kingdom of heaven because of his faith. The actual descendents of Abraham through Israel will be thrown out while the foreigners are eating with the patriarchs in person. John the Baptist [and later Jesus] had been preaching for the nation of Israel to repent that they might participate in the kingdom of heaven which was at hand. This statement here goes to show that a lack of repentance would certainly guarantee their removal from any participation in this kingdom.
Since the statement of Jesus contains the language “east and west” (Luke contains north and south as well), instead of examining passages which contain a word like “gathering” which does not even appear here, we should narrow our search to prophetic passages which contain language as near to what Jesus is actually using than any other. Once we apply this principle, we narrow our search to just three passages. Psalm 107:3, Isaiah 43:5-6, and Isaiah 49:12 are the only passages that I can find that fit the theme and language of Christ in both the Matthew passage and the Luke passage. I believe Jesus was speaking of the same gathering in Luke 13:28-29 as He was in Matthew 8:11-12, but He was making a point of ethnic inclusion in Matthew that is absent from Luke. It is possible that Luke wanted to include the similar quote in Luke 13:23-30 and did not want to repeat himself. Luke will make a similar point in Luke 4:24-30.
Psalm 107:2-3 Let the redeemed of the LORD say so, whom He has redeemed from trouble and gathered in from the lands, from the east and from the west, from the north and from the south.
I include this verse as a matter of formality. While I believe Psalm 107 as a whole to be referring to the reign of God here on earth at some future point in time, I do not believe it gives us any insight into the issue that Jesus raises of Gentile inclusion within that future kingdom. The Psalm is prophetic apocalypse focusing more on the citizens of the kingdom rather than the King or His reign. Of course you can’t have one without the other. What would a kingdom be without anyone in it for a King to reign over? The gathering from the east, west, north, and south occurs by the direct intervention of God. He steps in when they cry out to Him providing deliverance, healing, and peace. Yet whether or not this is the nation of Israel or all nations would depend on a predetermined paradigm.
Isaiah 43:5-6 Fear not, for I am with you; I will bring your offspring from the east, and from the west I will gather you. I will say to the north, Give up, and to the south, Do not withhold; bring My sons from afar and my daughters from the end of the earth,
Here is where our study will get quite interesting. The thought flow in Isaiah 43 will be later picked up in Isaiah 49 making for continuity between the two passages. The entire passage of Isaiah 40-66 is one long oracle containing many threads which sometimes seem to get tangled around each other. If we focus on one thread at a time, we can follow the prophecy and see what was intended to give us light in relation to the future. Since we are studying a future gathering of either Israel or Gentiles, let’s look at Isaiah 43:1 to see that this passage is primarily directed at the nation of Israel. In fact, verse 2 promises supernatural protection for the nation of Israel and points to past supernatural deliverance in verse 3 as proof. So when we arrive at Isaiah 43:5-6, God is speaking directly to the nation of Israel in saying He would gather their seed from the east and the west. Then in verse 6 He states that He will command the north and south to give them over and stop holding them back. But here the language shifts to being the sons and daughters of the LORD Himself then further clarifies what is meant. Here I would like to post the passage which clarifies what is meant by sons and daughters of God.
Isaiah 43:7-11 everyone who is called by My name, whom I created for My glory, whom I formed and made.” Bring out the people who are blind, yet have eyes, who are deaf, yet have ears! All the nations gather together, and the peoples assemble. Who among them can declare this, and show us the former things? Let them bring their witnesses to prove them right, and let them hear and say, It is true. “You are My witnesses,” declares the LORD, “and My servant whom I have chosen, that you may know and believe Me and understand that I am He. Before Me no god was formed, nor shall there be any after Me. I, I am the LORD, and besides me there is no Savior.
So here it seems that God is expanding upon the definition of what it means to be a son or daughter of God. It is not simply a descendant of the nation of Israel. It is someone who is called by the name of the LORD, someone that He created for His glory. All nations are being gathered together in this passage. So here is the question, are all nations being gathered together for the purpose of possibly being included in the people of God? Or are there two different gatherings being spoken of, one gathering of Israel as His chosen people, then a separate gathering for Gentiles? The simpler view is that there is one gathering in view. The nation of Israel is being gathered from all directions, but Gentiles are also included if they are called by the name of the LORD having Him as their Father. To further explore this we need to examine what is meant by the description of those that are blind yet have eyes and deaf yet have ears. This is one of the threads which is woven throughout Isaiah over several chapters. It was first introduced back in Isaiah 42 when speaking of the salvation of the Gentiles. Let us examine that passage as well.
Isaiah 42:1-7 Behold My Servant, whom I uphold, My Chosen, in whom My soul delights; I have put My Spirit upon Him; He will bring forth justice to the nations. He will not cry aloud or lift up His voice, or make it heard in the street; a bruised reed He will not break, and a faintly burning wick He will not quench; He will faithfully bring forth justice. He will not grow faint or be discouraged till He has established justice in the earth; and the coastlands wait for His law. Thus says God, the LORD, who created the heavens and stretched them out, who spread out the earth and what comes from it, who gives breath to the people on it and spirit to those who walk in it: “I am the LORD; I have called you in righteousness; I will take you by the hand and keep you; I will give you as a covenant for the people, a light for the nations, to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness.
This very passage will be quoted by Matthew later in his gospel, see Matthew 12:15-21, so I will write on this subject at a later point in time. For our discussion here it is noteworthy that Matthew has another wording for the latter portion of Isaiah 42:4 which is “And in His name shall the Gentiles trust.” This is most likely because Matthew was quoting the Septuagint. What I want to point out is that Isaiah saw the salvation of the Gentiles as a part of the ministry of Isaiah’s Servant, known by many as Isaiah’s Suffering Servant. Isaiah’s Servant is identified as Jesus Christ by Matthew as mentioned above. The move in verse 5 from Gentiles to all people God has created then again mentioning a light to the Gentiles in verse 6 shows a development of thought. Actually, it’s a specific person being given in covenant as a light to the Gentiles, meaning a light to all people God has created. As if to answer how the light will come to the Gentiles, Isaiah further prophesies. The Servant-Messiah opening the eyes of the blind and bringing out from prison those who sit in darkness is the way that light will come to them. So these blind Gentiles, people in spiritual darkness all around the world, will experience the light of the Servant-Messiah in some type of covenant relationship.
Isaiah 42:16, 18-21 And I will lead the blind in a way that they do not know, in paths that they have not known I will guide them. I will turn the darkness before them into light, the rough places into level ground. These are the things I do, and I do not forsake them. Hear, you deaf, and look, you blind, that you may see! Who is blind but my Servant, or deaf as My Messenger whom I send? Who is blind as My Dedicated One, or blind as the Servant of the LORD? He sees many things, but does not observe them; His ears are open, but He does not hear. The LORD was pleased, for His righteousness’ sake, to magnify His law and make it glorious.
So far we have identified the blind as Gentiles to whom light will come through God’s plan and they will be brought forth out of prison. A little bit later in verse 16, the thread picks up again. The blind are brought forth by a way that they previously did not know. God will make darkness as light to them. God will lead them and not forsake them. Again, these blind Gentiles belong to God, but are now being brought forth out of their spiritual prisons. The thread continues in Isaiah 42:18-21. There are deaf people that can hear, and blind people that can see. Since God obviously delights in these deaf and blind (Gentiles of course), He points out that His Servant is also blind and deaf. This is an identification of the Servant with His people. He can see, but chooses not to see. He can hear all things, but does not take them to heart. Because of the righteousness of this Servant, the LORD is well pleased with Him. This points to the fact that the Servant is concomitant with His people.
When we arrive in Isaiah 43:8, we have already had three references to the blind. Now the LORD commands the blind to be brought forth. But now, the blind have eyes. In short, they have been made to see. The deaf as well have been made to hear. These are the blind Gentiles on whom the light of the Servant has shined. This is why they are mentioned in the same vein as all nations being gathered together. It is not because they are being gathered together separately from the nation of Israel, but rather they are a part of the people of God as well. Then collectively God says to all those that are His sons and daughters, to all who are called by the name of the LORD, whether Israelites brought through the fire or Gentiles brought forth from spiritual blindness, all of them are the witnesses of the LORD. He has chosen them all. They all testify together of what a great God and Savior He is.
Now we move onto Isaiah 49 and there are so many parallels with what we have previously seen it’s hard to keep track of it all. I’m going to simply summarize verses 1-5 to save space. A voice calls for the coastlands to listen, the coastlands being people from afar or Gentiles. This voice is the Servant and describes Himself as the chosen weapon in the hand of the LORD. The LORD identifies the Servant also as Israel. The voice objects that up until this point it seems that everything has been in vain. The LORD [that formed the ultimate weapon for the purpose of bringing Jacob (the nation of Israel) back to Himself] replies that even though Israel is not gathered, this does not mean that everything has been in vain.
Isaiah 49:6 He says: “It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to bring back the preserved of Israel; I will make you as a light for the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.”
Here is our key text to help us understand this whole passage with Paul and Barnabas joining in over in Acts 13:46-47. Raising up the nation of Israel was too small of a plan. Re-gathering Israel was simply not enough. Restoring the preserved of Israel was not a big enough plan for our great God. He is responding to the Servant that He will be a light for the Gentile nations that the salvation of God may reach to the end of the earth. In this context, verse 7 refers to the Servant as a Servant of Rulers. These Gentile Kings shall see and arise, princes worshiping because the LORD is faithful. Isaiah 49:8 parallels Isaiah 42:6; it is promised that this Servant will be given as a covenant for the people, in order that the day of salvation may come to all, see II Corinthians 6:2. Now, verse 9 continues that thought, in order that You (the Servant) may say to the prisoners, “Go forth”. Prisoners are being freed because of the ministry of the Servant to those in darkness. As they are freed, verse 10 shows they are cared for in such a way that they will not hunger or thirst, nor will they get too hot. The reason for this is that the One who had mercy on them by freeing them will ensure that they are cared for by leading them by springs of water. All those impassible mountains will be made into a way on which those that are freed from the prisons may travel, verse 11.
Isaiah 49:12 Behold, these shall come from afar, and behold, these from the north and from the west, and these from the land of Syene.”
We should briefly note that nowhere does God say that the plan to raise up, restore, and re-gather Israel will not happen. In response to the fact that Israel had not yet been raised up, restored, or re-gathered, the LORD’s response was simply that this was too light of a thing. The salvation of the Gentiles must be included with the restoration and re-gathering of the nation of Israel. So now we have the parallel passage of Isaiah 43:5-6 which is Isaiah 49:12. Immediately after this statement of many coming from all directions, north, west, and from Syene which is probably the far east, the heavens and earth are commanded to break forth with singing, see Isaiah 49:13. The LORD has comforted His people. This should be taken to mean all the people of God, including the Gentiles and the following verse explains why. In response to God comforting “His people”, Zion believes that the LORD has forgotten all about her, vs. 14. Because of the focus on salvation for the Gentiles, Israel feels as if God forgot about His covenant promises to her. God explains that He simply cannot forget, see verses 15-16. Then Isaiah sees Israel as a bride espoused to the LORD, a theme that will be repeated later, see Isaiah 49:18, 54:1-6, 62:1-5. As this bride is objecting to the salvation of the Gentiles, feeling as if she has been forgotten, the LORD presents the Gentiles to the bride as a part of her bridal attire, Isaiah 49:18. They are also seen as children of Israel in some way, but not to dwell in the same land, verse 19. They ask for another inheritance because the land is too small for them, verse 20. Israel now asks, as this long forgotten bride, where did all these children come from? I thought the LORD had forgotten all about me, verse 21. Then the Gentile rulers reverence the children of Israel by carrying them in their arms, verses 22-23. Those that oppressed the nation of Israel will have to contend with the LORD, see verses 24-26. So the restoration of Israel is accompanied by the salvation of the Gentiles.
Isaiah saw a plan for the Servant to restore Israel, but in the process to bring salvation to the blind Gentiles as well. As God’s people are being gathered from the east, west, north, and south, the formerly blind Gentiles are also gathered as a part of the people of God. They are brought forth to testify alongside the nation of Israel that there is only one God. So, yes, there will be a future re-gathering of the nation of Israel. But Gentiles who come into a covenant relationship with the LORD are not excluded from this. They also can be called the sons and daughters of God. All of this can be gleaned by studying Isaiah’s prophecy in depth.
Jesus was foretelling the establishment of the kingdom of heaven here on earth. As the Roman centurion put the entire nation of Israel to shame with his faith, it caused Jesus to marvel in such a way that He reminded His listeners that one day there would be a great ingathering into the kingdom of heaven. Many, meaning many peoples of all nations, from the east, west, north, and south would be gathered into the kingdom of heaven. All those who failed to repent at the coming of the Servant would be thrown out into outer darkness. Jesus does not reinterpret Isaiah. Jesus perhaps rephrases the prophecy in order that His listeners may better understand. The many who eat with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob will include Israelites and Gentiles just as Isaiah foretold and Jesus affirms this after proclaiming the faith of the centurion.
I believe Matthew included the story in this particular way as a statement against his nation. He, as a tax collector, was seen as an outcast. Yet Jesus is stating here that the very ones who cast Matthew out of their religious circle would be the ones cast out of the kingdom of heaven into outer darkness. So being an Israelite is not enough for inclusion in the kingdom of heaven, especially not when one Roman centurion can put the whole nation of Israel to shame for his faith in the authority of the Servant-Messiah. Immediately after this, many will come to Jesus personally for healing. Jesus will be sought and brought to sick folks to heal them. But only one man ever told Jesus not to personally come because He understood His great power. Did I mention that he is a Gentile?
Have fun and stay busy – Luke 19:13
-The Orange Mailman
P.S. Note that when we arrive at Matthew 24 which foretells the end of the age, there should be no problem with seeing the elect as the people of God. There should not be anything that would lead us to believe that this is only the nation of Israel being gathered as the elect of God in Matthew 24:31. The statement of Jesus, “Many are called, but few are chosen” (meaning “few are elected“) should point to a group of His chosen followers, both Jew and Gentile.