1. Now when He concluded all His sayings in the hearing of the people, He entered Capernaum.
This verse continues on from chapter 6, where he had just completed a long discourse we have recorded there. Now, having finished this teaching, He enters the Galilean town of Capernaum. We learn elsewhere that the Lord owned a house in this city of Capernaum.
2. And a certain centurion’s servant, who was dear to him, was sick and ready to die.
A centurion was a man who commanded a hundred soldiers in the Roman army, so this man was no unimportant person. This centurion has a servant, though actually in Greek this is doulos, which more accurately means “slave.” Slaves were common in the Roman Empire. They made up a large portion of the work force, and were necessary to the Roman economy. We tend to think of slave owners as being merciless and cruel, but that was not always the case. In fact, slave owners were probably as varied in their management styles as our bosses are today. This centurion apparently was a good master, and was particularly close to this slave. This slave probably held great importance in his household. Thus his grief over his slave’s illness was genuine, as this man was dear to him.
3. So when he heard about Jesus, he sent elders of the Jews to Him, pleading with Him to come and heal his servant.
The word for “sent” here is the Greek apostello. These elders became the centurion’s apostles, having his permission to speak to the Lord on his behalf.
The fact that this centurion could “send” leaders of the Jews to Jesus Christ shows the kind of relationship he had with them. The Israelites tended to view the Romans as unlawful usurpers, and would often hate those Roman officials unlucky enough to be set over them. Remember, Rome had control over Israel at that time, and were an occupying force in the land. When we consider how many in places like France or Norway felt about their German occupiers in World War II, we will start to get some picture of how the Israelites generally felt about anyone who was a Roman soldier. And this man was no mere soldier, but was high up in the chain of command. That this centurion could ask for and receive their aid shows the kind of attitude and actions he must have shown toward the Jews in kindness and love. It is likely that he treated them much as he treated this beloved slave. Their attitude toward him shows that his kindness had resulted in a reciprocating affection on their part. How much power love and kindness can have over even long-standing hatred!
4. And when they came to Jesus, they begged Him earnestly, saying that the one for whom He should do this was deserving,
These elders of the Jews are worthy of more honor than most of their kind we read about in the gospels, for they seem to have complete faith in the fact that the Lord can perform the healing that they have come to Him to procure. Yet they come to the Lord ready to plead on this centurion’s behalf. They were probably expecting a very cool reaction from the Lord to the idea of helping such a man. Thus, they have persuasive arguments already worked out to demonstrate to the Lord that this man was actually deserving of such favor.
5. “for he loves our nation, and has built us a synagogue.”
They demonstrate this man’s worthiness by attesting to the fact that he loved their nation. This love must have been genuine indeed for this man to win over the Jews in this way. It seems an unlikely thing, for the Israelites were a stubborn people, and were extremely discontent with the idea of being ruled over by polytheists. They generally took every opportunity they could get to make life difficult for their Roman occupiers. Most of the Romans who were there, therefore, probably looked on the land and its people with little affection. That this centurion would act the way he did, and do so with enough commitment to win these elders over, shows that he must have loved them indeed. Not only so, but he had actually spent his own money to build these Jews a synagogue. Since building projects are expensive, this was no small gift. When we remember how poor the nation of Israel was in general, we can begin to see why these Jews would have been so grateful for such an act of kindness. Thus, we cannot doubt that this centurion was, indeed, just as these elders represented him, and was a very worthy man indeed.
6. Then Jesus went with them. And when He was already not far from the house, the centurion sent friends to Him, saying to Him, “Lord, do not trouble Yourself, for I am not worthy that You should enter under my roof.
The Lord knew about this centurion, and knew that he was a worthy man. Remember that the Lord had promised Abraham in Genesis 12:3, “I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse him who curses you.” This promise had been extended to all of Israel in places like Numbers 24:9. Now, this centurion had blessed the nation of Israel, and as such, he was worthy to receive blessings from the Lord.
Yet it seems that the centurion realized, even as the Lord was coming to see him at his house, that he had asked too much. In spite of the fact that these elders of the Jews were on his side, this man was still a centurion, a member of the occupying army in Israel. For the Lord to enter his house and come under his roof would be symbolic in their culture of the closest fellowship and identification. If the Lord did this, then from this point on, His enemies could accuse Him of being a collaborationist, and of supporting the hated army of the Romans. This would be such a despicable thing to most patriots in this occupied land that it would seem that no one but the Lord would have been able to overcome such a thing. Yet it is certain that many would have turned even from Him at finding such a report to be true. Thus, the centurion does not want the Lord to trouble Himself to such an extent on his behalf. For this reason, he sends his friends to the Lord to tell Him that he was not worthy for the Lord to enter under his roof.
The centurion sent friends here. This is not apostello, as we had in verse 3, but the Greek pempo, which is just a simple sending, not with authority. The centurion did not send these as his official representatives, but just to speak to the Lord as his friends.
7. “Therefore I did not even think myself worthy to come to You. But say the word, and my servant will be healed.
The centurion now reveals that it was because of his own perception of his unworthiness that he had not come to the Lord himself in the first place. Yet how much less worthy was he of the sacrifice the Lord would be making if He came under his roof? So, he asks Him to do this instead. He asks Him to merely say the word, and he believes that then his servant will be healed.
8. “For I also am a man placed under authority, having soldiers under me. And I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes; and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”
The centurion explains why it is that he believes that the Lord can do this. He also is a man under authority, he reveals. He knows what it is to take and obey orders. He also has soldiers under him. When he commands these to come or go or to do anything, they do it. By this, he indicates that he recognizes the Lord’s authority. The Lord has God’s authority over sickness. As such, He is able to use that authority over sickness in order to heal, even if that healing is done at a distance. He does not need to be present under the centurion’s roof in order to heal this servant. All He has to do is speak the word and it will be done. The centurion too was a man with authority, and so he understood this.
9. When Jesus heard these things, He marveled at him, and turned around and said to the crowd that followed Him, “I say to you, I have not found such great faith, not even in Israel!”
This response of the centurion causes the Lord Jesus to marvel. This is not a fact that we should overlook. Our Lord was the Creator of all. There are many, many things that would cause us to marvel that would seem just commonplace to Him. When the Lord marveled about something, then that thing was significant indeed. There are only two things that we read caused the Lord Jesus to marvel. One was great faith, such as we read of here. The other was lack of faith and unbelief, as we read in Mark 6:6. It seems that faith, or lack of it, was the one thing which could cause Him to marvel.
What was it about this centurion’s faith that caused the Lord to marvel? It could not be that he came to the Lord for healing for his servant, for many in Israel had done exactly that, either for themselves or for others. No, what was so unusual about his faith was that he believed that the Lord could heal at a distance.
Many seem to think that the Lord needs to be present in order for Him to do His mighty works. They do not believe that the Lord can just speak things at a distance, and they will be done. Even today, many reject the idea that God’s kingdom could ever come with God ruling from heaven, as Psalm 103:19 declares, “The LORD has established His throne in heaven, And His kingdom rules over all.” Instead, they insist that the Lord must return to earth before He can ever rule over it. Yet the Bible tells us that the Lord is able to bring in His kingdom from heaven. He can just speak the word, and it will be done. He does not have to be present upon the earth. We too should have the kind of faith that the centurion did. We too should believe that God is able to act at a distance. He has the authority to rule over this earth and bring about His complete will upon it, even from a great distance.
10. And those who were sent, returning to the house, found the servant well who had been sick.
Now the messengers sent by the centurion return to the house. When they get there, the find the servant well who had been sick. Thus, the Lord showed that the centurion was quite right. He was very capable of healing at a distance. He had the authority of God, just as the centurion believed He did.
Before we leave the account of this centurion and his faith in Luke, it is worth noting that there are several details in this account which seem to be in contradiction with the account of the healing of the centurion’s servant that we see in the book of Matthew. If we try to make these two accounts to be the same account, we will have great difficulty. The differences between the two accounts may be seen as follows:
1.) In Matthew 8, the Greek word for “servant” is pais, which means “young man.” Thus this man could have been the centurion’s son, his slave, or one of the hundred soldiers under his command. In Luke 7:2, however, the word for “servant” is doulos, which means “slave.” In Luke 7:7, the word pais is used.
2.) In Matthew 8:6, the centurion says that his servant is “paralyzed” and “dreadfully tormented.” In Luke 7:2, we read that the slave was “sick, and ready to die.”
3.) In Matthew 8, the centurion himself comes to the Lord Jesus and begs His aid. In Luke 7, however, he does not come himself, but sends the leaders of the Jews to plead on his behalf. This, of course, is a direct contradiction.
4.) In Matthew there is no mention of any good the centurion had done, nor of the building of a synagogue. In Luke, both are mentioned by the Jewish leaders.
5.) In Matthew 8:7-8 we learn that the Lord Jesus offered to accompany the centurion, but he wouldn’t allow Him to do so. In Luke 7:6, however, we learn that the Lord Jesus not only went with them, but also was near to the house before the centurion’s servants came out to speak with Him and tell Him not to come in.
6.) In Matthew 8:8, the centurion himself comes to Christ and tells Him that he is not worthy that the Lord should come under his roof. In Luke 7:6-7, however, he sends friends instead, and adds that the Lord should not “trouble Yourself,” and that “I did not even think myself worthy to come to You.”
7.) In Matthew 8:11-13, the Lord adds more thoughts on certain sons of the kingdom being cast out of it while common people are allowed in. He also tells the centurion to return home and find his servant healed. In Luke, however, He only marvels at the man’s faith, not giving any command about the servant that is recorded for us. All we know is that the sent ones, returning home, found the sick slave to be well.
Thus we see from the conflicting details that these two gospels cannot possibly speak of the same event. The event in Matthew took place before the event in Luke. We can well imagine that the centurion, if this is indeed the same man, would have been grateful to Christ for His aid the first time, and would have extended even more kindness to the Jews than he had previously, building a synagogue for them, among other things. He might well have come to love the nation of Israel, once he had come to love the Lord. The hated Roman occupiers would have little enough reason to love this people otherwise, who hated the Romans with such passion and were constantly trying to throw off their rule. Yet once he saw the Lord as being a part of them, we can see how his love for them might grow. How is it that today so many who claim to love the Lord yet can show great hatred for the people with whom He always identified Himself? Can we love the Lord, and yet hate those whom He loves? This centurion had more sense, and we should as well. Those of us who love God should love His chosen people as well, even when they don’t act very lovable.
We also can imagine that the centurion, if this is the same one, would have gained in humility since his previous encounter with Jesus Christ, now not even wishing to trouble Him or counting himself worthy to speak to Him. When these two passages are viewed thus, the clouds are cleared away from the supposed discrepancy and we see, quite logically, that this centurion enlisted Christ’s aid twice, not once, and this is the cause of the apparent contradictions between the two accounts.
God’s Word will always be justified when we come to it with open minds and open hearts. There is nothing more likely but that a centurion, in charge of a hundred soldiers and perhaps many more servants and slaves, would have seen two of them fall ill in a short period of time. There is also nothing more natural than that, having been helped by the Lord the first time, he would have sent to him once again the second time in hopes that he would again receive the Lord’s aid. This makes perfect sense, yet those who want to see contradictions in the Bible will not see it. Many suppose that these events should be the same, and then are troubled when they find that they are not. Yet, as the Lord said, wisdom is justified by all her children. If we are wise, we will see that the Word is always right, and it is our job, not to criticize it, but to allow it to order our thinking until we see the truth.
11. Now it happened, the day after, that He went into a city called Nain; and many of His disciples went with Him, and a large crowd.
Now another significant event occurs the day after the healing of the centurion’s slave. On this day, He went into a city called Nain. He was accompanied, as we read here, both by many of His disciples, and by a large crowd. Those in this crowd had not dedicated themselves to be His disciples, yet they were willingly following Him at this time. This was often the case wherever the Lord went.
12. And when He came near the gate of the city, behold, a dead man was being carried out, the only son of his mother; and she was a widow. And a large crowd from the city was with her.
As He approaches the city, He comes upon this funeral procession. In that time and in that area of the world, a dead body was not kept for any length of time before it was buried. In their hot climate and with no way of preserving the body, it was imperative that any corpses be buried immediately. Thus, since this young man was just being carried out of the city, he must have just died very recently, a few hours before at most. This in itself was a tragedy, yet we read that there was a second tragedy connected with it, for he was the only son of a widow woman. In our society we would tend to miss the full extent of the terrible reality of such a person dying. In those days, no woman could work or hold a job outside of her husband’s or father’s business. A woman who had lost both father and husband would be entirely dependent upon her sons to care for her. For the only son of a widow woman to die doomed her to a life of complete poverty and beggarhood. The only escape from this would be prostitution, and that was an option that many could not or would not be able to pursue. Thus this woman’s life was in shambles, and she was in exceptional need. There was little anyone could do for her at this point. Only the Lord Jesus could offer her the aid that she most needed.
13. When the Lord saw her, He had compassion on her and said to her, “Do not weep.”
The Lord well knew what was going on in this woman’s mind and heart. He looks upon her, and He feels compassion for her. We too should respond with compassion to those in extreme need around us. Too often we have a tendency to close our hearts to the deep needs of those we come in contact with.
Remember that the book of Luke is all about the Lord as God’s perfect Man. It is not that His Godhood is denied in Luke, but that Luke is presenting Him to us as the pinnacle of what God wants humanity to be. As such, we see the Lord acting as God’s example of compassion here. He has compassion on this poor, destitute woman in her grief, and He gives us an example for the kind of compassion we should have as well.
14. Then He came and touched the open coffin, and those who carried him stood still. And He said, “Young man, I say to you, arise.”
No one but the pallbearers would have been likely to touch the bier of a dead man, for to do so made a person unclean according to the law. Thus what the Lord did was most unusual. Yet even death was not able to defile Him, and so He was not concerned by it. Yet this unusual action so shocked the pallbearers that they stopped and stood still, as no doubt did the whole procession. Then, the Lord speaks to the young man, and orders him to arise.
15. So he who was dead sat up and began to speak. And He presented him to his mother.
The Lord spoke to the dead, and the dead responded. This makes no sense from a human perspective, for the dead cannot hear nor respond. Yet the Lord was God, and none could refuse to answer His call when He spoke with authority. In the same way, He will someday speak, and all who are in the graves will come forth, though some will come forth to life, and some to judgment.
Then the Lord took this young man, now alive again, and presented him to his mother. Thus this woman was saved from the terrible fate that would have been hers as a woman with no man to look after her. Notice interestingly that the resurrection seems to have been performed by the Lord more for the mother’s benefit than for the son’s. The Lord was compassionate upon her indeed.
There are those who claim to be able to heal as the Lord was able to heal today. Let them, then, perform a work like this one! Men had power like this in the Acts period. Yet no one has such power today. We do not live in a time when God is giving such power to men. Instead, we live in the dispensation of grace, when all God’s works are gracious, and all God’s works are done in secret. He simply does not act in this manner at this time. Someday, however, He will act again in resurrection, and then there are many indeed who will arise!
16. Then fear came upon all, and they glorified God, saying, “A great prophet has risen up among us”; and, “God has visited His people.”
Not surprisingly, these people were filled with awe and respect, and probably not a little fear, to see what had taken place before them. To heal the sick is one thing, but to raise the dead is a miracle that seems to take on a much greater significance even than this. Therefore this resurrection that the Lord had performed caused these people to glorify God. They had no choice but to conclude that the Lord must be a great prophet risen up among them. Of course, while they were right about this, their conclusion did not go far enough. The Lord was the Prophet like unto Moses that had been promised to Israel, yet He was also far more than this, for He was God Himself. They came nearer to the truth when they proclaimed that God had visited His people. Yet it still seems unlikely that they meant this in quite the literal sense that we might proclaim it today. They meant that God had visited them through an intermediary. They had no idea as of yet that the One Who had healed this dead man was actually God Himself.
17. And this report about Him went throughout all Judea and all the surrounding region.
A rumor of Him went out now throughout all Judea and all the surrounding region. Certainly this resurrection caused even more of a sensation than His previous miracles had done. We know that this was not the Lord Jesus’ only miracle of resurrection. Yet it is interesting to note that this sort of resurrection would not have been viewed by the people of that day with as much amazement as that of Lazarus. The people of Israel had a superstition that a person’s spirit hovers around his body seeking entrance back inside for two days or 48 hours after that person dies. I am not saying that this was a true belief, or that this is what actually happens. The Bible says no such thing, and so we must remain suspicious. Yet this is what these people believed.
This idea is how they justified the resurrections performed by Elijah and Elisha. They thought that if one with the power to heal were able to heal a dead body of whatever had caused it to die, the spirit would naturally enter into the body and the person would recover. Once 48 hours had passed, however, they thought that the spirit left the body and returned to God, and after that only God could send it back. Thus they assumed that even if one healed the dead body of a person after 48 hours he could not call back the spirit unless he were God Himself. So this resurrection, taking place only a few hours after the son’s death, could be viewed as the mere healing of the illness in his body that had caused his death, similar to what Elijah and Elisha had done. The resurrection of Lazarus, however, taking place after the 48 hour deadline, was a sure sign to the people that Jesus was God, since they believed that no man could call a spirit back to a body after 48 hours had elapsed.
18. Then the disciples of John reported to him concerning all these things.
The disciples of John come to him at this point and report to him all the things that the Lord was doing. Perhaps some of these disciples had temporarily been following the Lord instead of John, but now choose to return to their master. Perhaps they had been hoping the Lord would work to free their teacher from the prison, and had been disappointed. Now this incident of the raising of the corpse of this young man is spectacular enough that they think it worth returning to their teacher and reporting it. It was an amazing report indeed that they brought back to the Lord’s earthly cousin.
19. And John, calling two of his disciples to him, sent them to Jesus, saying, “Are You the Coming One, or do we look for another?”
This lapse in faith on the part of John seems strange to us after John’s prophetic statements about the Lord saying that he was not worthy to unloose the straps of His shoes, and that He would baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire, and so forth. John had spoken these things by inspiration, however, and this does not mean that he really understood all that he was saying.
An important factor that may well have influenced John’s question here is that there was a popular theology in that day that taught that there would be two Messiahs rather than one. These Messiahs were dubbed Messiah Ben-David and Messiah Ben-Joseph. Ben means “Son of” in Hebrew. Remember that a son was one who represented his father, in authority or in character. Messiah Ben-David was thought to be the conquering, victorious Messiah, whereas Messiah Ben-Joseph was thought to be the suffering, rejected Messiah. This was their way of trying to harmonize the supposed contradiction of these two different views of the Messiah taken by the prophets, and the sets of prophecies that showed a suffering Messiah versus the prophecies that showed a conquering Messiah. In view of this teaching, then, we can see why John, seeing that the Lord showed no signs of establishing the kingdom that John had been proclaiming was “at hand,” might have wondered if the Lord could be the Messiah Ben-Joseph, and if perhaps they should not look for another Messiah to be the conquering hero they were all hoping and praying for.
20. When the men had come to Him, they said, “John the Baptist has sent us to You, saying, ‘Are You the Coming One, or do we look for another?’”
These men came to the Lord, and revealed that they had been sent by John the Baptizer. “Sent” here is the Greek word apostello, and means that he had sent them with the authority to ask this question on His behalf. The question John sent to Christ was simple, and his messengers repeated it word-for-word to Him.
21. And that very hour He cured many of infirmities, afflictions, and evil spirits; and to many blind He gave sight.
The Lord’s answer to John was not in words but in actions. The proof of His Messiahship was not in His claims to be the Messiah but in His actions that He did that were the very actions the Scriptures had predicted the Messiah would do. He was demonstrating those words in Isaiah 61:1-2, which He had quoted earlier in Nazareth.
“The Spirit of the LORD is upon Me,
Because He has anointed Me
To preach the gospel to the poor;
He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted,
To proclaim liberty to the captives
And recovery of sight to the blind,
To set at liberty those who are oppressed;
To proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD.”
Now the Lord was demonstrating many of these very same things. There was no doubt but that the Spirit of the LORD was upon Him. He was preaching the gospel to the poor. He was healing the brokenhearted. He was giving recovery of sight to the blind, and proclaiming the acceptable year of the LORD. All this was made plain by the actions He performed before these messengers sent from John.
22. Jesus answered and said to them, “Go and tell John the things you have seen and heard: that the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have the gospel preached to them.
Now, having demonstrated to John’s disciples this work, the Lord answers them and tells them the message they should give to John. His answer was not some long, complicated argument proving His position. Instead, it was simply for John’s disciples to tell him what they had seen and heard. The Lord points out these things to them. The blind now see, as Isaiah had said. The lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, and the dead are raised. All these were amazing and very revealing miracles, and they demonstrated that the Lord did indeed have the power that was needed to be the One to bring in God’s kingdom to this earth.
Yet also significant was the fact that the poor have the gospel preached to them, and not just because Isaiah had predicted it. This might not seem very unusual to us, but the fact was that in Israel at that time no one paid much attention to the poor. Those who were privileged, who were rich, who had positions and authority, and who were in a place to be able to help the poor did not care about them, and did nothing for them. The poor were left to fend for themselves, and to take care of each other if they could. Yet now, the Lord had come, and He was acting on behalf of the poor. He was not reserving His gospel only for the wealthy and powerful. He was preaching it to the poor, and was giving all these wonderful blessings of health, healing, and deliverance to them as well as to the rich. This, as much as anything else, marked out the character of Christ’s ministry.
23. “And blessed is he who is not offended because of Me.”
This word for “offended” is skandalizo in Greek, similar to our word scandalize. The word means to place a stumblingblock in another’s way whereby he may trip and fall. By figure, it means to offend. This doubt caused by the false idea of two Messiahs was causing some to stumble. John had indeed stumbled, if not through this false idea, then at least through discouragement. But these actions of the Lord Jesus should have allayed his doubts. The Lord’s words seem to almost be a warning to John not to be offended in Him. The Lord might not have been living up to John’s expectations. He might not have been going about His mission for God as John would have liked to see Him do so. Yet such was the case with many in Israel who hoped for great things from the Lord at this time. They wanted Him to act in ways that He was just not acting. The Lord knew this, but this was no excuse for people to stumble because of Him. He was the One God had sent, and so they all needed to accept Him and His mission, whether it fit with their expectations or not.
Indeed, we find nothing to stumble at in our Lord Jesus. He is our perfect Lord and Savior, and every word of His we take by faith. Thus we qualify as the blessed or “how happy” people that the Lord mentions here.