I am reading a paper on Wednesday morning at the national Evangelical Theological Society meeting. Since the paper is at 8:30 AM on the first day of the conference, and no one has any idea who I am, my guess is that it will be lightly attended. I have put the paper up on Academia.edu, if you are interested in reading it: Who are the “Many Who Will Come From the East and West”? (Matthew 8:11).
Here is the introduction:
In this brief logion in Matt 8:11, Jesus states that “many will come from the east and west to recline at the table with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven.” That Jesus is alluding to a banquet or feast at the beginning of the eschatological age seems clear. The idea that Lord himself would prepare a banquet at the beginning of the eschatological age appears as early as Isa 25:6-8 and is found in several Second Temple Period texts. The saying appears in two different contexts in Matthew and Luke. In Matthew it is attached to a miracle story in which a Gentile demonstrates great faith in Jesus (Matt 8:5-13), but in Luke it is attached to s response to a question, “are only a few people going to be saved?” (Luke 13:22-23).
The problem this paper seeks to address is the identity of the “many who will come from the east and west.” The vast majority of interpreters understand this verse to refer to Gentiles. By the time the Gospel of Matthew was written many Gentiles were in fact coming to faith in Jesus the Messiah. The saying is therefore thought to be an allusion to the success of Gentile mission at the time the Gospel was written.
But this reading of the saying does not take into account the context of Jesus’ mission in Galilee. Jesus does not draw Gentiles into his table fellowship nor does he specifically target Gentiles at any point in his ministry. It is therefore the contention of this paper that the “many who will come” are Jews who are on the fringe of society, the very ones who do respond to Jesus’ message.