Who Are Those From 'East and West'?

A Question of Identity

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; but the sons of the kingdom will be cast out into the outer darkness; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Matthew 8:11, 12 (NASU)

This section of the Gospel of Matthew is part of a larger series on the demonstration of Christ’s power through miracles.

In Chapter 8 Christ demonstrates this power with five separate miracles, each encompassing a mastery of a different realm (e.g. time and space, the weather, the human body, etc.). The miracle focused upon in the immediate context is the healing of a centurion’s servant, accomplished with the mere word of Christ and not His physical presence.

The statement referenced above gives hint, however, to the overreaching plan of God through Christ for the world. Although the thrust of Chapter 8 is to demonstrate Christ;s power through miracles, these words seem unusual and probably raised several eyebrows with Christ’s disciples.

A Demonstration of Faith

The statement is triggered by the demonstration of the centurion’s faith, shown as an absolute trust in Christ’s ability to heal. The centurion (a Roman and a Gentile) understands that Christ was not limited by physical considerations, but on His very word alone a miracle could take place. This seemingly simple statement and acceptance of Christ’s ability and authority was greater than anything the Jewish people had offered Christ up until this point.

It is because of this demonstration of faith by this centurion that Christ chooses to grant a glimpse into the coming Church Age. It was common Jewish thinking to believe that they were the only ones approved of God and would always be the only ones approved with God. By describing those from “east and west,” Christ uses a common Jewish metaphor to describe Gentiles. By using the term “sons of the kingdom,” He describes Jews.

A New Standard of Approval

The reality of the coming age was that approval was not going to be based upon nationality or birth, but upon obedience through faith. The Gentile people were going to become a part of the family of God (and did starting with a centurion’s household (Acts 10, 11)). In this story, one would expect the Jewish people who had waited literally hundreds of years for their Messiah to demonstrate such great faith. Is it possible for us to ever put our “religious place” before God before simple believing faith?

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