Dr. Thomas L. Constable
The synoptic problem is intrinsic to all study of the Gospels, especially the first three. ("Gospel" capitalized in these notes refers to a book of the Bible, whereas "gospel" lowercased refers to the good news, the gospel message.) The word "synoptic" comes from two Greek words, syn and opsesthai, meaning, "to see together." Essentially the synoptic problem involves all the difficulties that arise because of the similarities and differences between the Gospel accounts. Matthew, Mark, and Luke have received the title "Synoptic Gospels" because they present the life and ministry of Jesus Christ similarly. The content and purpose of John's Gospel are sufficiently distinct to put it in a class by itself. It is not one of the so-called Synoptic Gospels.
All four of the Gospels are selective accounts of the life and work of Jesus Christ, whose "career was destined to change the history of the world more profoundly than that of any other single individual who ever lived."
"The Gospels are the most important part of Holy Scripture because all that preceded them led up to them, and all that follows emerges from them. If the revelation of the Gospels were to be removed, the Old Testament would be an enigma, and the remainder of the New Testament would never have been written. These two parts of the Bible, comprising sixty-two of its sixty-six Books, derive their value from the four which we call the Gospels."
Part of the synoptic problem is determining the sources the Holy Spirit led the evangelists to use in producing their Gospels. There is internal evidence (within the individual Gospels themselves) that the writers used source materials as they wrote. The most obvious example of this is the Old Testament passages to which each one referred directly or indirectly. Since Matthew and John were disciples of Jesus Christ, many of their statements represent eyewitness accounts of what happened. Likewise, Mark had close connections with Peter, and Luke was an intimate associate of Paul as well as a careful historian (Luke 1:1-4). Information that the writers obtained verbally (oral tradition) and in writing (documents) undoubtedly played a part in what they wrote. Perhaps the evangelists also received special revelations from the Lord before and or when they wrote their Gospels.
Some scholars have devoted much time and attention to the study of the other sources the evangelists may have used. They are the "source critics" and their work constitutes "source criticism." Because source criticism and its development are so crucial to Gospel studies, a brief introduction to this subject follows.
In 1776 and 1779, two posthumously published essays by A. E. Lessing became known, in which he argued for a single written source for the Synoptic Gospels. He called this source the Gospel of the Nazarenes, and he believed its writer had composed it in the Aramaic language. To him, one original source best explained the parallels and differences between the Synoptics. This idea of an original source or primal Gospel caught the interest of many other scholars. Some of them believed there was a written source, but others held it was an oral source.
As one might expect, the idea of two or more sources occurred to some scholars as the best solution to the synoptic problem (e.g., H. J. Holtzmann and B. H. Streeter). Some favored the view that Mark was one of the primal sources, because over 90 percent of the material in Mark also appears in Matthew and or Luke. Some posited another primary source, "Q," an abbreviation of the German word for source, quelle. It supposedly contained the material in Matthew and Luke that does not appear in Mark.
Gradually, source criticism gave way to "form criticism." The "form critics" concentrated on the process involved in transmitting what Jesus said and did to the primary sources. They assumed that the process of transmitting this information followed patterns of oral communication that are typical in primitive societies. Prominent New Testament form critics include K. L. Schmidt, Martin Dibelius, and Rudoph Bultmann. Typically, oral communication has certain characteristic effects on stories. It tends to shorten narratives, to retain names, to balance teaching, and to elaborate on stories about miracles, to name a few results. The critics also adopted other criteria from secular philology to assess the accuracy of statements in the Gospels. For example, they viewed as distinctive to Jesus only what was dissimilar to what Palestinian Jews or early Christians might have said. Given the critics' view of inspiration it is easy to see how most of them concluded that the Gospels in their present form do not accurately represent what Jesus said and did. However, some conservative scholars used the same literary method but held a much higher view of the Gospel: for example, Vincent Taylor, who wrote The Gospel According to St. Mark.
The next wave of critical opinion, "redaction criticism," began to influence the Christian world shortly after World War II. A redactor is an editor. The German scholar Gunther Bornkamm began this "school" with an essay in 1948, which appeared in English in 1963. Redaction critics generally accept the tenets of source and form criticism. However, they also believe that the Gospel evangelists altered the traditions they received in order to make their own theological emphases. They viewed the writers not simply as compilers of the church's oral traditions, but as theologians who adapted the material for their own purposes. They viewed the present Gospels as containing both traditional material and edited material. There is a good aspect and a bad aspect to this view. Positively, it recognizes the individual evangelist's distinctive purpose for writing. Negatively, it permits an interpretation of the Gospel that allows for historical error, and even deliberate distortion. Redaction scholars have been more or less liberal, depending on their view of Scripture generally. Redaction critics also characteristically show more interest in the early Christian community, out of which the Gospels came, and the beliefs of that community, than they do in Jesus' historical context. Their interpretations of the early Christian community vary greatly, as one would expect. In recent years the trend in critical scholarship has been conservative, to recognize more rather than less Gospel material as having a historical basis.
Some knowledge of the history of Gospel criticism is helpful to the serious student who wants to understand the text. Questions of the historical background out of which the evangelists wrote, their individual purposes, and what they simply recorded or what they commented on—all affect interpretation. Consequently, the conservative expositor can profit somewhat from the studies of scholars who concern themselves with these questions primarily.
Most critics have concluded that one source the writers used was one or more of the other Gospels. Currently most source critics believe that Matthew and Luke drew information from Mark's Gospel. Mark's accounts are generally longer than those of Matthew and Luke, suggesting that Matthew and Luke condensed Mark. To them, it seems more probable that they condensed him, than that he elaborated on them. There is no direct evidence, however, that one evangelist used another as a source. Since they were either personally disciples of Christ, in close contact with eyewitnesses of His activities, they may not have needed to consult an earlier Gospel.
Most source critics also believe that the unique material in each Gospel goes back to Q. This may initially appear to be a document constructed out of thin air. However, the early church father Papias (A.D. 80-155) may have referred to the existence of such a source. Eusebius, the fourth-century church historian, wrote that Papias had written, "Matthew composed the logia [sayings? Gospel?] in the hebraidi [Hebrew? Aramaic?] dialekto [dialect? language? style?]." This is an important statement for several reasons, but here note that Papias referred to Matthew's logia. This may be a reference to Matthew's Gospel, but many source critics believe it refers to a primal document that became a source for one or more of our Gospels. Most of them do not believe Matthew wrote Q. They see in Papias' statement support for the idea that primal documents such as Matthew's logia were available as sources, and they conclude that Q was the most important one.
Another major aspect of the synoptic problem is the order in which the Gospels appeared as finished products. This issue has obvious connections with the question of the sources the Gospel writers may have used.
Until after the Reformation, almost all Christians believed that Matthew wrote his Gospel before Mark and Luke wrote theirs; they held Matthean priority. They did this largely because some of the early church fathers commented on Matthew's priority (e.g., Irenaeus, Eusebius, and Jerome). From studying the similarities and differences between the Synoptics, some source critics also concluded that Matthew and Luke came into existence before Mark. They viewed Mark as a condensation of the other two. Some of the leaders in this movement were J. A. Eichorn, J. G. Herder, and J. J. Griesbach. The Tübingen school in Germany was also influential. However, the majority of source critics today, as well as many evangelical scholars, believe that Mark was the first Gospel and that Matthew and Luke wrote later. As explained above, they hold this view because they believe it is more probable that Matthew and Luke drew from and condensed Mark, than that Mark expanded on Matthew and Luke. However, the number of scholars who hold Matthean priority is increasing.
Since source criticism is highly speculative, many conservative expositors today continue to lean toward Matthean priority. We do so because there is no solid evidence to contradict this traditional view—that Christians held almost consistently for the church's first 17 centuries.
While the game of deducing which Gospel came first, and who drew from whom, appeals to many students, these issues are essentially academic ones. They have little to do with the meaning of the text. Consequently I do not plan to discuss them further, but will refer interested students to the vast body of literature that is available. I will, however, deal with problems involving the harmonization of the Gospel accounts at the appropriate places in the exposition that follows. The Bible expositor's basic concern is not the nature and history of the stories in the text, but their primary significance in their contexts. One conservative scholar spoke for many others when he wrote the following.
". . . it is this writer's opinion that there is no evidence to postulate a tradition of literary dependence among the Gospels. The dependence is rather a parallel dependence on the actual events which occurred."
A much more helpful critical approach to the study of the Bible is "literary criticism," the current wave of interest. This approach analyzes the text in terms of its literary structure, emphases, and unique features. It seeks to understand the canonical text as a piece of literature by examining how the writer wrote it. Related to this approach is "rhetorical criticism," which analyzes the text as a piece of rhetoric. This approach is helpful because there are so many speeches in the Gospels.
Genre refers to the type of literature that a particular document fits within. Certain types of literature have features that affect their interpretation. For example, we interpret letters differently than poems. So it is important to identify the genre or genres of a book of the Bible.
The Gospels are probably more like ancient Greco-Roman biographies than any other type of literature. This category is quite broad and encompasses works of considerable diversity, including the Gospels. Even Luke, with its characteristic historiographic connections to Acts, qualifies as ancient biography. Unlike this genre, however, the Gospels "combine teaching and action in a preaching-oriented work that stands apart from anything else in the ancient world." They also are anonymous, in the sense that the writers did not identify themselves as the writers, as Paul did in his epistles, for example, and they are not as pretentious as most ancient biographies.
External evidence strongly supports the Matthean authorship of the first Gospel. The earliest copies of the Gospel we have begin "KATA MATTHAION" ("according to Matthew"). Several early church fathers referred to Matthew (lit. "gift of God" or "faithful") as the writer, including: Clement of Rome, Polycarp, Justin Martyr, Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, and Origen. Papias' use of the term logia to describe Matthew's work, cited above, is not a clear attestation to Matthean authorship of the first Gospel. Since Matthew was a disciple of Jesus and one of the 12 Apostles, his work carried great influence and enjoyed much prestige from its first appearance. We might expect a more prominent disciple such as Peter or James to have written it. The fact that the early church accepted it as from Matthew further strengthens the likelihood that he indeed wrote it.
Internal evidence of Matthean authorship is also strong. As a tax collector for Rome, Matthew would have had to be able to write capably. His profession forced him to keep accurate and detailed records, which skill he put to good use in composing his Gospel. There are more references to money—and to more different kinds of money—in this Gospel, than in any of the others. It has been estimated that about one-fifth of Jesus' teachings was about money matters. Matthew humbly referred to himself as a tax collector, a profession with objectionable connotations in his culture, whereas the other Gospel writers simply called him Matthew (or Levi). Matthew called his feast for Jesus "a dinner" (Matt. 9:9-10), but Luke referred to it as "a great banquet" (Luke 5:29). All these details confirm the testimony of the early church fathers.
According to tradition, Matthew ministered in Palestine for several years after Jesus' ascension to heaven. He also made missionary journeys to the Jews who lived among the Gentiles outside Palestine, Diaspora Jews. There is evidence that he visited Persia, Ethiopia, Syria, and Greece.
Papias' statement, cited above, refers to a composition by Matthew in the hebraidi dialekto (the Hebrew or possibly Aramaic language or dialect, the same Greek word referring to both cognate languages). This may not be a reference to Matthew's Gospel. Four other church fathers mentioned that Matthew wrote in Aramaic and that translations followed in Greek: Irenaeus (A.D. 130-202), Origen (A.D. 185-254), Eusebius (4th century), and Jerome (6th century). However, they may have been referring to something other than our first Gospel. These references have led many scholars to conclude that Matthew composed his Gospel in Aramaic, and that someone else, or he himself, later translated it into Greek. This is the normal meaning of the fathers' statements. If Matthew originally wrote his Gospel in Aramaic, it is difficult to explain why he sometimes, but not always, quoted from a Greek translation of the Old Testament, the Septuagint. The Hebrew Old Testament would have been the normal text for a Hebrew or Aramaic author to use. A Greek translator might have used the Septuagint (abbreviated LXX) to save himself some work, but if he did so—why did he not use it consistently? Matthew's Greek Gospel contains many Aramaic words. This solution also raises some questions concerning the reliability and inerrancy of the Greek Gospel that has come down to us.
There are several possible solutions to the problem of the language of Matthew's Gospel. The best seems to be that Matthew wrote a Hebrew document—that God did not inspire—that is no longer extant. He also composed an inspired Greek Gospel that has come down to us in the New Testament. Many competent scholars believe that Matthew originally wrote his Gospel in Greek. They do so mainly because of his facility with the Greek language. Most modern scholars do not believe that the Gospel of Matthew is a translation of an Aramaic document.
Dating Matthew's Gospel is difficult for many reasons, even if one believes in Matthean priority. The first extra-biblical reference to it occurs in the writings of Ignatius (ca. A.D. 110-115). However, Matthew's references to Jerusalem and the Sadducees point to dates of composition (for both the Hebrew and Greek Gospels) before A.D. 70, when the Romans destroyed Jerusalem. His references to Jerusalem assume its existence (e.g., 4:5; 27:53). Matthew recorded more warnings about the Sadducees than all the other New Testament writers combined, but after A.D. 70 they no longer existed as a significant authority in Israel. Consequently, Matthew probably wrote before A.D. 70.
References in the text to the customs of the Jews continuing "to this day" (27:8; 28:15) imply that some time had elapsed between the crucifixion of Jesus Christ and the composition of the Gospel. Since Jesus probably died in A.D. 33, Matthew may have composed his Gospel perhaps a decade or more later. A date between A.D. 40 and 70 is very probable. Some other dates proposed by reliable scholars include between A.D. 50 and 60, or in the 60s, though most scholars favor a date after A.D. 70.
Matthew appears first among the four Gospels in our canon, because when the church established the canon, Matthew was believed to have been the first one written, and the one with the most developed connection to the Old Testament.
Since Matthew lived and worked in Palestine, we would assume that he wrote while living there. There is no evidence that excludes this possibility. Nevertheless, scholars love to speculate. Other sites they have suggested include Antioch of Syria (Ignatius was bishop of Antioch), Alexandria, Edessa, Syria, Tyre, and Caesarea Maratima. These are all guesses.
Compared with the other Gospels, Matthew's is distinctively Jewish. He used parallelisms, as did many of the Old Testament writers, and his thought patterns and general style are typically Hebrew. Matthew's vocabulary (e.g., kingdom of heaven, holy city, righteousness, etc.) and subject matter (e.g., the Law, defilement, the Sabbath, Messiah, etc.) are also distinctively Jewish. Matthew referred to the Old Testament more than any other evangelist. The United Bible Society's Greek New Testament lists 54 direct citations of the Old Testament in Matthew, plus 262 widely recognized allusions and verbal parallels. Usually Matthew referred to the Old Testament, or quoted someone doing so, to prove a point to his readers. The genealogy in chapter 1 traces Jesus' ancestry back to Abraham, the father of the Jewish race. Matthew gave prominent attention to Peter, the apostle to the Jews. The writer also referred to many Jewish customs without explaining them, evidently because he believed most of his original readers would not need an explanation.
Another distinctive emphasis in Matthew is Jesus' teaching ministry. No other Gospel contains as many of Jesus' discourses and instructions. These include the Sermon on the Mount (chs. 5—7), the charge to the apostles (ch. 10), the parables of the kingdom (ch. 13), the lesson on forgiveness (ch. 18), the denunciation of Israel's leaders (ch. 23), and the Olivet Discourse (chs. 24—25). About 60 percent of the book focuses on Jesus' teachings. However, Matthew presented Jesus as a doer as well as a teacher. He referred to more than 20 miracles that Jesus performed. Ryrie counted 35 separate miracles of Christ recorded in the Gospels: 20 related in Matthew, 18 in Mark, 20 in Luke, and seven in John. I have listed 39 references to His miracles in Appendix 6, at the end of these notes.
The transitional nature of this Gospel is also evident in that Matthew alone, among the Gospel writers, referred to the church (16:18; 18:17). He recorded Jesus' prediction of the church, as well as instruction about how His disciples should conduct themselves in the church. The Lord created the church in view of Israel's rejection of her Messiah (cf. 16:13-18; Rom. 11), though it was always in the eternal plan of God.
Several church fathers (i.e., Irenaeus, Origen, and Eusebius) stated what we might suppose from the distinctively Jewish emphases of this book, namely: that Matthew wrote his Gospel primarily for his fellow Jews.
He wrote, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, for a specific purpose or, more accurately, specific purposes. He did not state these purposes concisely, as John did in his Gospel (John 20:30-31). Nevertheless they are clear from his content and his emphases.
"Matthew has a twofold purpose in writing his Gospel. Primarily he penned this Gospel to prove Jesus is the Messiah, but he also wrote it to explain God's kingdom program to his readers. One goal directly involves the other. Nevertheless, they are distinct."
"Matthew's purpose obviously was to demonstrate that Jesus Christ was the promised Messiah of the Old Testament, that He fulfilled the requirements of being the promised King who would be a descendant of David, and that His life and ministry fully support the conclusion that He is the prophesied Messiah of Israel. . . .
"As a whole, the gospel is not properly designated as only an apologetic for the Christian faith. Rather, it was designed to explain to the Jews, who had expected the Messiah when He came to be a conquering king, why instead Christ suffered and died, and why there was the resulting postponement of His triumph to His second coming."
Matthew presented three aspects to God's kingdom program. First, Jesus presented Himself to the Jews as the king that God had promised in the Old Testament. Second, Israel's leaders rejected Jesus as their king. This resulted in the postponement, not the cancellation, of the messianic kingdom that God had promised Israel. Third, because of Israel's rejection, Jesus is now building His church in anticipation of His return to establish the promised messianic kingdom on the earth.
There are at least three wider purposes that Matthew undoubtedly hoped to fulfill with his Gospel. First, he wanted to instruct Christians and non-Christians concerning the person and work of Jesus. Second, he wanted to provide an apologetic to aid his Jewish brethren in witnessing to other Jews about Christ. Third, he wanted to encourage all Christians to witness for Christ boldly and faithfully. It is interesting that Matthew is the only Gospel writer to use the Greek verb matheteuo, "to disciple" (13:52; 27:57; 28:19; cf. Acts 14:21 for its only other occurrence in the New Testament). This fact shows his concern for making disciples of Christ.
Carson identified nine major themes in Matthew. They are: Christology, prophecy and fulfillment, law, church, eschatology, Jewish leaders, mission, miracles, and the disciples' understanding and faith.
Matthew often grouped his material into sections: so that three, five, six, or seven events, miracles, sayings, or parables appear together. Jewish writers typically did this to help their readers remember what they had written. The presence of this technique reveals Matthew's didactic (instructional) intent. Furthermore, it indicates that his arrangement of material was somewhat topical, rather than strictly chronological. Generally, chapters 1—4 are in chronological order, chapters 5—13 are topical, and chapters 14—28 are again chronological. Matthew is the least chronological of the Gospels.
Not only Matthew, but the other Gospel writers as well, present the life of Jesus Christ in three major stages. These stages are: His presentation to the people, their consideration of His claims, and their rejection and its consequences.
A key phrase in Matthew's Gospel enables us to note the major movements in the writer's thought. It is the phrase "and it came about that when Jesus had finished" (7:28; 11:1; 13:53; 19:1; 26:1). This phrase always occurs at the end of one of Jesus' major addresses. A different address, therefore, concludes each major section of the Gospel, and they are climactic. Matthew evidently used the narrative sections to introduce Jesus' discourses, which he regarded as especially important in his book. Mark, on the other hand, gave more detailed information concerning the narrative material in his Gospel. In addition to each major section, there is a prologue and an epilogue to the Gospel according to Matthew.
One writer believed Matthew constructed his Gospel as an eleven-part chiasm, with the center panel occurring in chapter 13. He argued that this structure highlights the postponement of the kingdom.
"A. Demonstration of Jesus' Qualifications as King (chaps. 1—4)
B. Sermon on the Mount: Who Can Enter His Kingdom (chaps. 5—7)
C. Miracles and Instruction (chaps 8—9)
D. Instruction to the Twelve: Authority and Message for Israel (chap. 10)
E. Opposition: The Nation's Rejection of the King (chaps. 11—12)
F. Parables of the Kingdom: The Kingdom Postponed (chap. 13)
E.' Opposition: The Nation's Rejection of the King (chaps. 14—17)
D.' Instruction to the Twelve: Authority and Message for the Church (chap. 18)
C.' Miracles and Instruction (chaps. 19—23)
B.' Olivet Discourse: When the Kingdom Will Come (chaps. 24—25)
I. The introduction of the King 1:1—4:11
A. The King's genealogy 1:1-17
B. The King's birth 1:18-25
C. The King's childhood ch 2
1. The prophecy about Bethlehem 2:1-12
2. The prophecies about Egypt 2:13-18
3. The prophecies about Nazareth 2:19-23
D. The King's preparation 3:1—4:11
1. Jesus' forerunner 3:1-12
2. Jesus' baptism 3:13-17
3. Jesus' temptation 4:1-11
II. The authority of the King 4:12—7:29
A. The beginning of Jesus' ministry 4:12-25
1. The setting of Jesus' ministry 4:12-16
2. Jesus' essential message 4:17
3. The call of four disciples 4:18-22
4. A summary of Jesus' ministry 4:23-25
B. Jesus' revelations concerning participation in His kingdom chs. 5—7
1. The setting of the Sermon on the Mount 5:1-2
2. The subjects of Jesus' kingdom 5:3-16
3. The importance of true righteousness 5:17—7:12
4. The false alternatives 7:13-27
5. The response of the audience 7:28-29
III. The manifestation of the King 8:1—11:1
A. Demonstrations of the King's power 8:1—9:34
1. Jesus' ability to heal 8:1-17
2. Jesus' authority over His disciples 8:18-22
3. Jesus' supernatural power 8:23—9:8
4. Jesus' authority over His critics 9:9-17
5. Jesus' ability to restore 9:18-34
B. Declarations of the King's presence 9:35—11:1
1. Jesus' compassion 9:35-38
2. Jesus' commissioning of 12 disciples 10:1-4
3. Jesus' charge concerning His apostles' mission 10:5-42
4. Jesus' continuation of His work 11:1
IV. The opposition to the King 11:2—13:53
A. Evidences of Israel's opposition to Jesus 11:2-30
1. Questions from the King's forerunner 11:2-19
2. Indifference to the King's message 11:20-24
3. The King's invitation to the repentant 11:25-30
B. Specific instances of Israel's rejection of Jesus ch. 12
1. Conflict over Sabbath observance 12:1-21
2. Conflict over Jesus' power 12:22-37
3. Conflict over Jesus' sign 12:38-45
4. Conflict over Jesus' kin 12:46-50
C. Adaptations because of Israel's rejection of Jesus 13:1-53
1. The setting 13:1-3a
2. Parables addressed to the multitudes 13:3b-33
3. The function of these parables 13:34-43
4. Parables addressed to the disciples 13:44-52
5. The departure 13:53
V. The reactions of the King 13:54—19:2
A. Opposition, instruction, and healing 13:54—16:12
1. The opposition of the Nazarenes and Romans 13:54—14:12
2. The withdrawal to Bethsaida 14:13-33
3. The public ministry at Gennesaret 14:34-36
4. The opposition of the Pharisees and scribes 15:1-20
5. The withdrawal to Tyre and Sidon 15:21-28
6. The public ministry to Gentiles 15:29-39
7. The opposition of the Pharisees and Sadducees 16:1-12
B. Jesus' instruction of His disciples around Galilee 16:13—19:2
1. Instruction about the King's person 16:13-17
2. Instruction about the King's program 16:18—17:13
3. Instruction about the King's principles 17:14-27
4. Instruction about the King's personal representatives ch. 18
5. The transition from Galilee to Judea 19:1-2
VI. The official presentation and rejection of the King 19:3—25:46
A. Jesus' instruction of His disciples around Judea 19:3—20:34
1. Instruction about marriage 19:3-12
2. Instruction about childlikeness 19:13-15
3. Instruction about wealth 19:16—20:16
4. Instruction about Jesus' passion 20:17-19
5. Instruction about serving 20:20-28
6. An illustration of illumination 20:29-34
B. Jesus' presentation of Himself to Israel as her King 21:1-17
1. Jesus' preparation for the presentation 21:1-7
2. Jesus' entrance into Jerusalem 21:8-11
3. Jesus' entrance into the temple 21:12-17
C. Israel's rejection of her King 21:18—22:46
1. The sign of Jesus' rejection of Israel 21:18-22
2. Rejection by the chief priests and the elders 21:23—22:14
3. Rejection by the Pharisees and the Herodians 22:15-22
4. Rejection by the Sadducees 22:23-33
5. Rejection by the Pharisees 22:34-46
D. The King's rejection of Israel ch. 23
1. Jesus' admonition of the multitudes and His disciples 23:1-12
2. Jesus' indictment of the scribes and the Pharisees 23:13-36
3. Jesus' lamentation over Jerusalem 23:37-39
E. The King's revelations concerning the future chs. 24—25
1. The setting of the Olivet Discourse 24:1-3
2. Jesus' warning about deception 24:4-6
3. Jesus' general description of the future 24:7-14
4. The abomination of desolation 24:15-22
5. The second coming of the King 24:23-31
6. The responsibilities of disciples 24:32—25:30
7. The King's judgment of the nations 25:31-46
VII. The crucifixion and resurrection of the King chs. 26—28
A. The King's crucifixion chs. 26—27
1. Preparations for Jesus' crucifixion 26:1-46
2. The arrest of Jesus 26:47-56
3. The trials of Jesus 26:57—27:26
4. The crucifixion of Jesus 27:27-56
5. The burial of Jesus 27:57-66
B. The King's resurrection ch. 28
1. The empty tomb 28:1-7
2. Jesus' appearance to the women 28:8-10
3. The attempted cover-up 28:11-15
4. The King's final instructions to His disciples 28:16-20
The four Gospels are foundational to Christianity because they record the life of Jesus Christ and His teachings. Each of the four Gospels fulfills a unique purpose. They are not simply four versions of the life of Jesus. If one wants to study the life of Jesus Christ, the best way to do that is with a "Harmony of the Gospels" that correlates all the data chronologically. However, if one wants to study only one of the Gospel accounts, then one needs to pay attention to the uniqueness of that Gospel. The unique material, what the writer included and excluded, reveals the purpose for which he wrote and the points he wanted to stress. It also reveals the writer's distinctive message: what he wanted to say.
By the way, when referring to the four Gospels, or one or more of them, it is customary to capitalize the word "Gospel." When one refers to the gospel message, the good news, or the whole New Testament as the Christian gospel, most writers do not capitalize it.
What is the unique message of Matthew's Gospel? How does it differ from the other three Gospels? What specific emphasis did Matthew want his readers to gain as they read his record of Jesus' life and ministry?
Matthew wanted his readers to do what John the Baptist and Jesus called the people of their day to do, namely: "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." This was the message of the King to His people, and the message of the King's herald, John the Baptist, as John called the King's people to prepare for the King's coming.
This is not the final message of Christianity, but it is the message that Matthew wanted his readers to understand. When John the Baptist and Jesus originally issued this call, they faced a situation that was different from the situation we face today. They called the people of their day to trust in and follow Jesus because the messianic kingdom was immediately at hand, coming soon. If the Jews had responded positively to Jesus, He would have established His kingdom immediately. He would have died on the cross, risen from the dead, ascended into heaven, ushered in the Tribulation, returned to the earth, and established His kingdom. All these things are the subjects of Old Testament messianic prophecy that had to be fulfilled.
The messianic kingdom is at hand for us today in a different sense. Jesus Christ has died, risen from the dead, and ascended into heaven. The Tribulation is still future, but following those seven years Jesus will return and establish His messianic kingdom on earth.
The commission that Jesus has given us as His disciples is essentially to prepare people for the King's return. To do this we must go into all the world and herald the gospel to everyone. We must call them to trust in and follow the King as His disciples.
Essentially the message of Matthew is: "The kingdom of heaven is at hand." The proper response to this message is: "Repent." We will consider first the message, and then the proper response. Note three things about the message.
First, "the kingdom of heaven is at hand" is the statement of a fact. "At hand" means that it is coming soon. The subject of this statement is the kingdom. The kingdom is the theme of Matthew's Gospel. The word "kingdom" occurs about 50 times in Matthew. Since "kingdom" is such a prominent theme, it is not surprising to discover that this Gospel presents Jesus as the great King.
Matthew presents the kingship of Jesus. Kingship involves the fact that Jesus is the great King that the Old Testament prophets predicted would come and rule over all the earth in Israel's golden age. It points to the universal sovereignty of God's Son, who would rule over all people on earth. He was to be a "Son of David" who would also rule over Israel.
The word "kingdom" refers to the realm over which the King reigns. This is usually what we think of when we think of Jesus' messianic kingdom: the sphere over which He will rule. However, it is important that we not stress the sphere to the detriment of the sovereignty with which He will rule. Both ideas are essential to the concept of the kingdom that Matthew presents: sphere and sovereignty.
The little-used phrase in Matthew's Gospel "kingdom of God" stresses the fact that it is God who rules. The King is God, and He will reign over all of His creation eventually. The kingdom belongs to God, and it will extend over all that God sovereignly controls.
Matthew, of all the Gospel evangelists, was the only one to use the phrase "kingdom of heaven." John the Baptist and Jesus never explained this phrase, but their audiences knew what they meant by it. Ever since God gave His great promises to Abraham, the Jews knew what the kingdom of heaven meant. It meant God's rule over His people who lived on the earth. As time passed, God gave the Israelites more information about His rule over them. He told them that He would provide a descendant of David who would be their King. This king would rule over the Israelites, who would live in the Promised Land. His rule would include the whole earth, however, and the Gentiles, too, would live under His authority. The kingdom of heaven that the Old Testament predicted was an earthly kingdom over which God would rule through His Son. It would not just be God's rule over His people from heaven. When the Jews in Jesus' day heard John the Baptist and Jesus calling them to "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand," what did they think? They understood that the earthly messianic kingdom predicted in the Old Testament was very near. They needed to get ready for it by making some changes.
The simple meaning of "kingdom of heaven," then, is God's establishment of heaven's order over all the earth. Every created being and every human authority would be in subjection to God. God would overturn everyone and everything that did not recognize His authority. It is the establishment of divine order on earth administered by a Davidic King. It is the supremacy of God's will over human affairs. The establishment of the kingdom of heaven on earth, then, is the hope of humanity. It is impossible for people to bring in this kingdom. Only God can bring it in. People just need to get ready, because it is coming.
Second, Matthew's Gospel interprets the kingdom. It does not just affirm the coming of the kingdom, but it also explains the order of the kingdom. Specifically, it reveals the principle of the kingdom, the practice of the kingdom, and the purpose of the kingdom.
The principle of the kingdom is righteousness. Righteousness is one of the major themes in Matthew. Righteousness in Matthew refers to righteous conduct, righteousness in practice—rather than positional righteousness, about which the Apostle Paul wrote much. Righteousness is necessary to enter the kingdom, and to serve in the kingdom, under the King. The words of the King in Matthew constitute the law of the kingdom. They proclaim the principle of righteousness (cf. 5:20).
The practice of the kingdom is peace. Peace is another major theme in Matthew. When we think of the Sermon on the Mount, we should think of these two major themes: righteousness and peace. The kingdom would come, not by going to war with Rome and defeating it. It would come by peaceful submission to the King: Jesus. These two approaches to inaugurating the kingdom contrast starkly, as we think of Jesus hanging on the cross between two insurrectionists. They tried to establish the kingdom the way most people in Israel thought it would come: by violence. Jesus, on the other hand, submitted to His Father's will, and even though He died, He rose again and will inaugurate the kingdom one day. He secured the future establishment of the kingdom. Jesus' example of peaceful submission to God's will is to be the model for His disciples. Greatness in the kingdom does not come by self-assertion, but by self-sacrifice. The greatest in the kingdom will be the servant of all. The works of the King, in Matthew, demonstrate the powers of the kingdom moving toward peace (cf. 26:52).
The purpose of the kingdom is joy. God will establish His kingdom on earth to bring great joy to humankind. His kingdom rule will be the time of greatest fruitfulness and abundance in earth's history. God's will has always been to bless people. It is by rebelling against God that people lose their joy. The essence of joy is intimate fellowship with God. This intimate fellowship will be a reality during the kingdom to a greater extent than ever before in history. The will of the King in Matthew is to bless humankind.
Third, Matthew's Gospel stresses the method by which the King will administer the kingdom. It is a threefold method.
In the first five books of the Old Testament, the Law or Torah, God revealed the need for a high priest to offer a final sacrifice for humankind to God. The last part of Matthew's Gospel, the passion narrative, presents Jesus as the Great High Priest who offered that perfect sacrifice.
In the second part of the Old Testament, the Historical Books, the great need and expectation is a king who will rule over Israel and the nations in righteousness. The first part of Matthew's Gospel presents Jesus as that long expected King, Messiah, God's anointed ruler.
In the last part of the Old Testament, the Prophets, we see the great need for a prophet who could bring God's complete revelation to mankind. The middle part of Matthew's Gospel presents Jesus as the Prophet who would surpass Moses and bring God's final revelation to mankind (cf. Heb. 1:1).
God will administer His kingdom on earth through this Person who, as King, has all authority; as Prophet, reveals God's final word of truth; and as Priest, has dealt with sin finally. God's administration of His kingdom is in the hands of a King who is both the great High Priest and the completely faithful Prophet.
The central teaching of Matthew's Gospel then concerns the kingdom of heaven. The needed response to this Gospel is: "Repent."
In our day Christians differ in their understanding of the meaning of repentance. This difference arises because there are two Greek verbs, each of which means "to repent." One of these verbs is metamelomai. When it occurs, it usually describes an active change. The other word is metanoeo. When it occurs, it usually describes a contemplative change. Consequently, when we read "repent" or "repentance" in our English Bibles, we have to ask ourselves whether a change of behavior is in view primarily or a change of mind. Historically the Roman Catholic Church has favored an active interpretation of the nature of repentance, whereas Protestants have favored a contemplative interpretation. Catholics emphasize that repentance involves a change of behavior, while Protestants emphasize that it involves a change of thinking essentially. One interpretation stresses the need for a sense of sorrow, and the other stresses the need for a sense of awareness. This confusion also surfaces in the "Lordship Salvation" controversy within evangelical Protestantism. That is why some critics of Lordship Salvation say advocates of Lordship Salvation are leading Protestants back to Rome.
According to Matthew, the word that John the Baptist and Jesus used, when they called their hearers to repentance, was metanoeo. We could translate it, "Think again." They were calling their hearers to consider the implications of the imminent messianic kingdom.
Consideration that the kingdom of heaven was at hand would result in a conviction of sin and a sense of sorrow. These are the inevitable consequences of considering these things. Conviction of a need to change is the consequence of genuine repentance. John the Baptist called for the fruits of repentance, a change of behavior that arose from a change of mind. But note that the fruits of repentance, a change of behavior, are not the same as repentance, a change of mind.
Consideration leads to conviction, and conviction leads to conversion. "Conversion" describes turning from rebellion to submission, from self to the Savior. In relation to the coming kingdom, it involves becoming humble and childlike, rather than proud and independent. It involves placing confidence in Jesus rather than in self for salvation.
To summarize, we can think of the kind of repenting that John the Baptist, Jesus, and later Jesus' disciples, were calling on their hearers to demonstrate as involving consideration, conviction, and conversion. Repentance begins with consideration of the facts. Awareness of these facts brings conviction of personal need. Feeling these personal needs leads to conversion, or a turning from what is bad to what is good (cf. Peter's sermon in Acts).
Now let us combine "repent" with "the kingdom of heaven is at hand." Matthew's Gospel calls the reader to consider the King and the kingdom. This should produce the conviction that one is not ready for such a kingdom, nor is one ready to face such a King, because our righteousness is inadequate. Then we should submit our lives to the rule of the King and the standards of the kingdom.
Matthew's Gospel proclaims the kingdom. It interprets the kingdom as righteousness, peace, and joy. It reveals that a perfect King who is a perfect Prophet and a perfect Priest will administer the kingdom. It finally appeals to people to repent in view of these realities: to consider, to feel conviction, and to turn in conversion. As readers of this Gospel, we need to get ready, to think again, because the kingdom of heaven is coming.
The Christian church now has the task of calling the world to "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." The church, as I am using the term here, consists of Jesus' disciples collectively. The King is coming back to rule and to reign. People need to prepare for that event. The church's job is to spread the good news of the King and the kingdom to those who have very different ideas about the ultimate ruler and the real utopia. We face the same problem that Jesus did in His day. Therefore, Matthew's Gospel is a great resource for us as we seek to carry out the commission that the King has given us. Matthew 1:23 ("Immanuel, God with us") and 28:19-20 ("Lo, I am with you always") enclose the book like bookends. In the person of Jesus Christ, God has drawn near to abide forever with His people.
Individually, we have a responsibility to consider the King and the kingdom, to gain conviction by what we consider, and to change our behavior. Our repentance should involve submission to the King's authority, and preparation for kingdom service. We submit to the King's authority as we observe all that He has commanded us. We prepare for kingdom service as we faithfully persevere in the work that He has given us to do, rather than pursuing our own personal agendas. We can do God's will joyfully because we have the promise of the King's presence with us, and the enablement of His authority behind us (28:18, 20).
The first two chapters of this section prepare the reader for Jesus' ministry. Consequently they serve as a prologue to the Gospel.
Matthew began his Gospel with a record of Jesus' genealogy because the Christians claimed that Jesus was the Messiah promised in the Old Testament. To qualify as such He had to be a Jew from the royal line of David (Isa. 9:6-7). Matthew's genealogy proves that Jesus descended not only from Abraham, the father of the Israelite nation, but also from David, the founder of Israel's royal dynasty.
1:1 This verse is obviously a title, but is it a title of the whole Gospel, a title for the prologue (chs. 1—2), or a title for the genealogy that follows (1:1-17)? Probably it refers to the genealogy. There is no other ancient Near Eastern book-length document extant that uses the expression biblos geneseos (book or record of the generation) as its title. While the noun genesis (birth) occurs again in verse 18, there it introduces the birth narrative of Jesus. In the Septuagint, the same phrase—biblos geneseos—occurs in Genesis 2:4 and 5:1, where in each case a narrative follows it, as here. Genealogies are quite common in the Old Testament, of course, and the presence of one here introduces a Jewish flavor to Matthew's Gospel immediately.
The last Old Testament messianic use of this phrase is in Ruth 4:18, where the genealogy ends with David. Matthew reviewed David's genealogy and extended it to Jesus.
This is "the genealogy of Jesus" Christ. The name "Jesus" is the Greek form of the Hebrew name "Joshua," and it means "Yahweh is salvation" (yehoshua, the long form) or "Yahweh saves" (Yeshua, the short form). The two major Joshuas in the Old Testament both anticipated Jesus Christ by providing salvation (cf. Heb. 3—4; Zech. 6:11-13).
"Jesus" occurs no fewer than 150 times in Matthew, but human characters never use it when addressing Jesus Himself in this book. Matthew evidently reserved the use of this name for himself, in order to establish the closest possible association between himself as the narrator, and Jesus, so that his point of view might coincide with that of Jesus.
The name "Christ" is the rough equivalent of the Hebrew "Messiah," or "Anointed One." In the Old Testament, it refers generally to people anointed for a special purpose, including: priests, kings, the patriarchs (metaphorically), and even the pagan king Cyrus. It came to have particular reference to the King whom God would provide from David's line who would rule over Israel and the nations eventually (cf. 2 Sam. 7:12-16; Ps. 2:2: 105:15; et al.). The early Christians believed that Jesus of Nazareth was the Christ of the Old Testament. Because they used both names together, "Christ" became a virtual name for Jesus, a titulary (title turned name). Paul, for example, used it this way frequently in his writings.
Matthew introduced Jesus Christ as the descendant of "David" and "Abraham." Why did he select these two ancestors for special mention, and why did he name David before Abraham?
Abraham and David are important because God gave each of them a covenant. God vowed that He would unconditionally provide seed, land, and blessing to Abraham and his descendants (Gen. 12:1-3, 7; 15; et al.). Abraham would not only receive blessing from God, but he would also be a source of blessing to the whole world. God's covenant with David guaranteed that his descendants would rule over the kingdom of Israel forever. The house or dynasty of David would always have the right to rule, symbolized by the throne (2 Sam. 7:12-16). Thus Matthew's reference to these two men should remind the reader of God's promises regarding a King who would rule over Israel and the universal blessing that He would bring (cf. Isa. 11:1).
"He is the Son of Abraham both because it is in him that the entire history of Israel, which had its beginning in Abraham, attains its goal (1:17) and because he is the one through whom God will extend to the nations his blessing of salvation (8:11; 28:18-20). . . .
"Just as the title 'Son of Abraham' characterizes Jesus as the one in whom the Gentiles will find blessing, so the title 'Son of David' characterizes Jesus as the One in whom Israel will find blessing."
The non-chronological order of David first, and then Abraham, indicates that Matthew had more in mind than a simple chronological list of Jesus' ancestors. As the Gospel unfolds, it becomes clear that the Jews needed to accept Jesus as the promised Son of David before He would bring the blessings promised to Abraham (cf. 9:27; 12:23; 15:22; 20:30-31; 21:9, 15; 22:42, 45). Jesus presented Himself to the Jews first. When they rejected Him, He turned to the Gentiles. Yet He explained that their rejection was only temporary. When He returns, the Jews will acknowledge Him as their Messiah, and then He will rule on the earth and bless all humankind (cf. Zech. 12:10-14; 14:4, 9-11; Rom. 11:26).
"Christ came with all the reality of the kingdom promised to David's Son. But if He were refused as the Son of David, still, as the Son of Abraham, there was blessing not merely for the Jew, but for the Gentile. He is indeed the Messiah; but if Israel will not have Him, God will during their unbelief bring the nations to taste of His mercy."
"This introduction clearly demonstrates that Matthew's purpose in writing the gospel is to provide adequate proof for the investigator that the claims of Christ to be King and Saviour are justified. For this reason, the gospel of Matthew was considered by the early church one of the most important books of the New Testament and was given more prominence than the other three gospels."
The Old Testament prophets predicted that the Messiah would be born of a woman (Gen. 3:15), of the seed of Abraham (Gen. 22:18), through the tribe of Judah (Gen. 49:10), and of the family of David (2 Sam. 7:12-13). Jesus qualified in every respect.
1:2-6a In tracing Jesus' genealogy, why did Matthew begin with Abraham rather than with Adam, as Luke did? Matthew wanted to show Jesus' Jewish heritage, and to do this he only needed to go back as far as Abraham, the father of the Jewish race. Significantly, Matthew called him "Abraham" rather than "Abram." The longer name connotes the covenant privileges that God made to Abraham when He changed his name.
The writer separated "Judah and his brothers" (v. 2), because the messianic promise of rulership went to Judah alone (Gen. 49:10). This allusion to the 12 tribes of Israel provides another clue that Matthew's interests were strongly royal (cf. 8:11; 19:28).
Matthew also mentioned Perez's brother ("Zerah," v. 3), perhaps because he was his twin. But he probably did so because "Perez" was a key figure in both the Old Testament genealogies (Ruth 4; 1 Chron. 4) and in Jewish tradition.
The inclusion of Tamar (v. 3), Rahab (v.5), and Ruth (v. 5) as well as Bathsheba (v. 6b)—is unusual—because the Jews traced their heritage through their male ancestors (until the Middle Ages). Matthew's mention of each of these women reveals his emphases.
"Of these four, two (Tamar and Rahab) were Canaanites, one (Ruth) a Moabite, and one (Bathsheba) presumably a Hittite. Surely they exemplify the principle of the sovereign grace of God, who not only is able to use the foreign (and perhaps even the disreputable) to accomplish his eternal purposes, but even seems to delight in doing so."
The writer had several purposes for including these women. First, he showed that Jesus came to include sinners in the family of God by seeking and saving the lost (cf. v. 21). Second, their inclusion shows the universal character of Jesus' ministry and kingdom. After the Jews rejected Jesus as their Messiah, God opened the doors of the church to Gentiles equally with Jews. Matthew's Gospel records the beginning of this change. Third, reference to these women prepares the reader for the significant role Mary will play in the messianic line though, of course, she was neither a great sinner nor a foreigner. All five women became partakers in the messianic line through strange and unexpected divine providence. Matthew may have mentioned these women to disarm criticism by showing that God countenanced irregular marital unions in Messiah's legal ancestry.
"The word 'King' with 'David' [v. 6a] would evoke profound nostalgia and arouse eschatological hope in first-century Jews. Matthew thus makes the royal theme explicit: King Messiah has appeared. David's royal authority, lost at the Exile, has now been regained and surpassed by 'great David's greater son' . . ."
A fourth reason was apparently to highlight four Old Testament stories that illustrate a common point. That point is that, in each case, a Gentile showed extraordinary faith in contrast to Jews, who were greatly lacking in their faith.
"The allusions to these stories accomplish four theological purposes.
"First, they demonstrate God's providential hand in preserving Messiah's line, even in apostate times. This naturally led to Matthew's account of the virgin conception, through which God brought the Messiah into the world.
"Second, they demonstrate God's heart for godly Gentiles and the significant role of their faith at crucial times in Israel's history.
"Third, they demonstrate the importance of the Abrahamic and Davidic covenants in understanding Messiah's mission, with a focus on faith and obedience, not a racial line.
1:6b-11 Matthew did not refer to Solomon or the other kings of Israel as kings. Probably he wanted to focus attention on David and on Jesus as the fulfillment of the promises God gave to David. Solomon did not fulfill these promises.
The writer's reference to "Bathsheba" is unusual (v. 6b). It draws attention to the heinousness of David's sin. Perhaps he wanted to stress that "Uriah" was not an Israelite but a "Hittite" (2 Sam. 11:3; 23:39). Evidently Bathsheba was the daughter of an Israelite (cf. 1 Chron. 3:5), but the Jews would have regarded her as a Hittite since she married Uriah.
Five kings do not appear where we would expect to find them. Three are absent between Joram and Uzziah: Ahaziah, Joash, and Amaziah (v. 8), and two are lacking between Josiah and Jehoiachin, namely, Jehoahaz and Jehoiakim. As we shall note below (v. 17), Matthew deliberately constructed his genealogy in three groups of 14 names. Why did he omit reference to these five kings? The first three were especially wicked. They all had connections with Ahab, Jezebel, and Athaliah. Moreover, all of them experienced violent deaths. The second two were also evil, and Jehoiakim's reign was very short—only three months. Matthew did not sanitize his genealogy completely, however, as his references to Tamar, Rahab, and David's sin indicate.
"This man [Jehoiachin] is called Coniah in Jer. 22:24-30, where a curse is pronounced upon him. There it is predicted that none of his seed should prosper sitting upon David's throne. Had our Lord been the natural son of Joseph, who was descended from Jeconiah, He could never reign in power and righteousness because of the curse. But Christ came through Mary's line, not Joseph's. As the adopted son of Joseph, the curse upon Coniah's seed did not affect Him."
Jehoiachin's brothers (v. 11), Jehoiakim and Zedekiah, also ruled over Judah. Zedekiah's reign lasted 11 years, but he was a puppet of the Babylonians. The royal line passed through Jehoiachin.
"There is pathos in this second allusion to brotherhood [cf. v. 2]. 'Judah and his brethren,' partakers in the promise (also in the sojourn in Egypt); 'Jeconiah and his brethren,' the generation of the promise eclipsed."
1:12-16 Most of the names in this section occur nowhere else in the Bible. Matthew probably knew them from oral tradition and or written sources.
"While no twentieth-century Jew could prove he was from the tribe of Judah, let alone from the house of David, that does not appear to have been a problem in the first century, when lineage was important in gaining access to temple worship."
Verse 16 contains careful and unusual wording. Matthew was preparing for what he later explained, the virgin birth of Jesus (v. 23). The phrase "who is called" (ho legomenos) does not imply doubt about Jesus' messiahship. It just identifies the Jesus whose genealogy preceded. This is one of Matthew's favorite expressions in this Gospel. It announces the names of persons or places 12 times (cf. 1:16; 2:23; 4:18; 10:2; 13:55; 26:3, 14, 36; 27:16, 17, 22, 33). As this verse shows, Jesus was legally Joseph's son, even though He was virgin-born by Mary.
1:17 Clearly, the three groups of 14 generations Matthew recorded do not represent a complete genealogy from Abraham to Jesus (cf. v. 8). Luke recorded several names from the exile to Jesus' birth that Matthew omitted (Luke 3:23-27). "All the generations" (NASB) then must mean all the generations that Matthew listed. The Greek text literally says "all the generations from Abraham to David . . . to Christ." Matthew's summary statement does not constitute an error in the Bible. Jewish writers frequently arranged genealogies so their readers could remember them easily. Perhaps Matthew chose his arrangement because the numerical equivalent of the Hebrew consonants in David's name total 14. In Hebrew the letter equivalent to "d" also stands for the number "4," and "v" represents "6." Matthew did not need to present an unbroken genealogy to establish Jesus' right to the Davidic throne.
Before leaving this genealogy, note that each of the three sections ends with a significant person or event connected with the Davidic dynasty.
"In the first group, the Davidic throne is established; in the second group, the throne is cast down and deported to Babylon; in the third group, the throne is confirmed in the coming of the Messiah. Further, a basic covenant is set forth in each of these three periods: the Abrahamic covenant in the first (vv. 2-5), the Davidic covenant in the second (vv. 6-11), and the New Covenant [anticipated] in the third (vv. 12-16)."
Moreover, in each period covered by each section, God gave Israel an important covenant: the Abrahamic (Gen. 15), the Davidic (2 Sam. 7), and the New (Jer. 31). All came to fruition in the person and work of Jesus Christ.
Generally, Matthew's genealogy shows that Jesus had the right to rule over Israel, since He was a descendant of David through Joseph. Legally, He was Joseph's son. Specifically, this section of the Gospel strongly implies that Jesus was the promised Messiah.
The differences with Jesus' genealogy in Luke 3:23-38 are a problem that no one has been able to solve adequately. The problem is that Joseph's ancestors in Matthew's genealogy are different from his ancestors in Luke's genealogy, especially from Joseph to King David. The theory that many scholars subscribe to now is this: Matthew gave the legal line of descent from David, stating who was the heir to the throne in each case, and Luke gave the actual descendants of David in the branch of David's family to which Joseph belonged. Other scholars believe that Matthew contains Joseph's actual genealogy, and Luke contains Mary's actual genealogy.
The reason for Matthew's genealogy is to show that Jesus of Nazareth was in the royal line of David and was qualified to be Israel's promised Messiah. This is, apparently, the genealogy of Jesus' earthly father, Joseph, that traces his legal ancestry. Luke's genealogy evidently traces Joseph's blood line. Joseph adopted Jesus as his son (1:25). This made Jesus legally eligible to serve as Israel's king. Matthew presented Joseph's ancestors because they were the former kings of Israel. This genealogy shows Jesus' right to rule as the King of the Jews and His genuine humanity.
The birth narrative that follows shows Jesus' genuine deity. The first sentence in this pericope (section) serves as a title for the section, as the sentence in verse 1 did for 1:1-17. Matthew recorded the supernatural birth of Jesus to demonstrate further His qualification as Israel's Messiah. He wanted to show that Mary could not have become pregnant by another man. These verses show how Jesus came to be the heir of Joseph and thus qualified to be Israel's King.
1:18-19 Jewish law regarded an engaged couple as virtually married. Usually women married at about 13 or 14 years of age, and their husbands were often several years older. Normally a one-year period of waiting followed the betrothal before the consummation of the marriage. During that year, the couple could only break their engagement with a divorce.
". . . a betrothed girl was a widow if her fiancé died (Kethub. i. 2), and this whether the man had 'taken' her into his house or not. After betrothal, therefore, but before marriage, the man was legally 'husband' (cf. Gen. xxix. 21, Dt. xxii. 23f.); hence an informal cancelling of betrothal was impossible . . ."
Joseph, being a "righteous" (Gr. dikaios) man, could hardly let his fiancée's pregnancy pass without action, since it implied that she had been unfaithful and had violated the Mosaic Law. Joseph had three choices concerning how to proceed. First, he could expose Mary publicly as unfaithful. In this case she might suffer stoning, though that was rare in the first century. Probably she would have suffered the shame of a public divorce (Deut. 22:23-24). A second option was to grant her a private divorce, in which case Joseph needed only to hand her a written certificate in the presence of two witnesses (cf. Num. 5:11-31). His third option was to remain engaged and not divorce Mary, but this alternative appeared to Joseph to require him to break the Mosaic Law (Lev. 20:10). He decided to divorce her privately. This preserved his righteousness (i.e., his conformity to the Law) and allowed him to demonstrate compassion.
1:20-21 The appearance of an "angel of the Lord" . . . "in a dream" would have impressed Matthew's original Jewish readers that this revelation was indeed from God (cf. Gen. 16:7-14; 22:11-18; Exod. 3:2—4:16; et al.). The writer stressed the divine nature of this intervention four times in the prologue (1:20, 24; 2:13, 19).
The angel's address, "Joseph, son of David" (v. 20), gave Joseph a clue concerning the significance of the announcement he was about to receive. It connects with verse 1 and the genealogy in the narrative. The theme of the Davidic Messiah continues. Joseph was probably afraid of the consequences of his decision to divorce Mary.
The virgin birth is technically the virgin conception. Mary was a virgin—not only when she gave birth to Jesus, but also when the Holy Spirit conceived Him in her womb. But the idea that Mary remained a virgin for the rest of her life, the Roman Catholic doctrine of the perpetual virginity of Mary, has no support in the text. Nothing in Scripture suggests that Mary bore Jesus' half brothers and sisters supernaturally. This doctrine has gained credence because it contributes to the veneration of Mary.
The angel announced God's sovereign prerogative in naming the child (v. 21). God named His "Son." Joseph simply carried out the will of God by giving Jesus "His name" at the appropriate time (v. 25). As mentioned above, the name "Jesus" means "Yahweh saves" or "Yahweh is salvation." "Jesus" was one of the most common names in Israel at this time, so Jesus was often described more specifically as "Jesus of Nazareth." The angel explained the appropriateness of this name: JESUS (cf. Ps. 130:8). The Jews anticipated a Messiah who would be both a political savior and a redeemer from sin.
"There was much Jewish expectation of a Messiah who would 'redeem' Israel from Roman tyranny and even purify his people, whether by fiat or appeal to law (e.g., Pss Sol 17). But there was no expectation that the Davidic Messiah would give his own life as a ransom (20:28) to save his people from their sins. The verb 'save' can refer to deliverance from physical danger (8:25), disease (9:21-22), or even death (24:22); in the NT it commonly refers to the comprehensive salvation inaugurated by Jesus that will be consummated at his return. Here it focuses on what is central, viz., salvation from sins; for in the biblical perspective sin is the basic (if not always the immediate) cause of all other calamities. This verse therefore orients the reader to the fundamental purpose of Jesus' coming and the essential nature of the reign he inaugurates as King Messiah, heir of David's throne . . ."
1:22-25 The phrase plerothe to hrethen ("what was spoken . . . fulfilled" [NASB] or "to fulfill what . . . had said" [NIV]) occurs often in Matthew's Gospel (2:15, 17, 23; 4:14; 8:17; 12:17; 13:35; 21:4; 27:9; cf. 26:56). It indicates a fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy.
Matthew worded this verse very carefully. He distinguished the source of the prophecy—God—from the instrument through whom He gave it—the prophet. For Matthew, the prophecy of Isaiah was God's Word (cf. 2 Pet. 1:21). The New Testament writers consistently shared this high view of inspiration (cf. 2 Tim. 3:16).
The first problem concerns the meaning of "virgin" (Gr. parthenos). This noun usually refers to a literal virgin in the Greek Bible. One exception occurs in Genesis 34:3 in the Septuagint. It always has this meaning in the Greek New Testament. That Matthew intended it to mean virgin appears clear for two reasons. First, virgin is the standard meaning of the word and, second, the context supports this meaning (vv. 18, 20, 25).
A second problem is the meaning of the Hebrew word translated "virgin" ('alma) in Isaiah 7:14. It means an unmarried young woman of marriageable age. Thus the Hebrew word has overtones of virginity. Every use of this word in the Hebrew Old Testament either requires or permits the meaning "virgin" (Gen. 24:43; Exod. 2:8; Ps. 68:25 ; Prov. 30:19; Song of Sol. 1:3; 6:8; Isa. 7:14). That is why the Septuagint translators rendered 'alma "virgin" in Isaiah 7:14. Matthew's interpretation of this word as virgin harmonizes with the Septuagint translators' understanding.
A third problem is, what did this prophecy mean in Isaiah's day? At the risk of oversimplification, there are three basic solutions to this problem.
First, Isaiah predicted that an unmarried woman of marriageable age, at the time of the prophecy, would "bear" a "child" whom she would "name Immanuel." This happened in Isaiah's day. Jesus also fulfilled this prophecy, in the sense that a real virgin bore Him, and He was "God with us." This is a typological view, in which the child born in Isaiah's day was a sign or type (a divinely intended illustration) of the Child born in Joseph's day. I prefer this view.
A second interpretation sees Isaiah predicting the virgin birth of a boy named Immanuel in his day. A virgin did bear a son named Immanuel in Isaiah's day, advocates of this view claim. Jesus also fulfilled the prophecy, since His mother was a virgin when she bore Him, and He was "God with us." This is a double fulfillment view. The problem with it is that it requires two virgin births, one in Isaiah's day and Jesus' birth.
A third view is that Isaiah predicted the birth of Jesus exclusively. He meant nothing about any woman in his day giving birth. Jesus alone fulfilled this prophecy. There was no fulfillment in Isaiah's day. This is a single fulfillment view. The main problem with it is that according to this view, Ahaz received no sign—but only a prophecy. Signs in Scripture were fairly immediate visible assurances that what God had predicted would indeed happen.
Some question exists about the sense in which "Immanuel" was Jesus' name (and the name of a son born in Isaiah's day), since the New Testament writers never referred to Him as Immanuel. There is also no record of a son born in Isaiah's day of that name. Even though it was not one of Jesus' proper names, it accurately described who He was (cf. John 1:14, 18; Matt. 28:20). The same may be true of the son born in Isaiah's day. Some believe this person was one of Isaiah's sons, or the son of King Ahaz, who could have been King Hezekiah, or someone else. My guess is that Isaiah's son Maher-shalal-hash-baz was the initial fulfillment and that "Immanuel" may have been his secondary name.
"The key passages 1:23 and 28:20 . . . stand in a reciprocal relationship to each other . . . . Strategically located at the beginning and the end of Matthew's story, these two passages 'enclose' it. In combination, they reveal the message of Matthew's story: In the person of Jesus Messiah, his Son, God has drawn near to abide to the end of time with his people, the church, thus inaugurating the eschatological age of salvation."
The angel's instructions caused Joseph to change his mind. He decided not to divorce Mary privately, but to continue their engagement and eventually consummate it (v. 24). Matthew left no doubt about the virginal conception of Jesus, by adding that Joseph did not have sexual relations with Mary until after Jesus' birth (v. 25). When Joseph named the child, he was taking "Jesus," which was a common name, Jesus as his son.
Adoption in Israel was informal rather than formal (cf. Gen. 15:2; 17:12-13; 48:5; Exod. 2:10; 1 Kings 11:20; Esth. 2:7; Luke 2:23). Joseph would by virtue of his marriage to Mary give Jesus His legal status.
Was Jesus' virgin birth theologically necessary, or was it only a fulfillment of prophecy? If parents (specifically fathers) transmit sinfulness to their children in some literal, physical way (i.e., genetically, hereditarily, etc.), the virgin birth was necessary to guard Jesus from transmitted sin. However, there is no clear revelation that fathers pass down their sinfulness as they pass down other characteristics. Theologians debate the subject of whether God imputes sin to every individual at birth, or if our parents pass it on to us (creationism vs. traducianism). My view is that fathers do not pass down sinfulness physically. Human nature is not necessarily sinful, though every human—except Jesus—has a sinful human nature, that in some way connects to our parents.
Matthew stressed the virgin birth of Jesus in this section. God, rather than Joseph, was Jesus' true father, making Him the literal Son of God (cf. 2 Sam. 7:14).
In this first chapter, the writer stressed the person of Jesus Christ as being both human (vv. 1-17) and divine (vv. 18-25).
"If Matthew i:1-17 were all that could be said of His birth, He might then have had a legal right to the throne, but He could never have been He who was to redeem and save from sin. But the second half before us shows Him to be truly the long promised One, the One of whom Moses and the prophets spake, to whom all the past manifestations of God in the earth and the types, pointed."
Matthew presented three proofs that Jesus was the Christ in chapter 1: His genealogy, His virgin birth, and His fulfillment of prophecy.
There is nothing in chapter 2 that describes Jesus Himself. Therefore Matthew's purpose was not simply to give the reader information about Jesus' childhood. Rather, he stressed the reception that the Messiah received having entered the world. The rulers were hostile, the Jewish religious leaders were indifferent, but the Gentiles welcomed and worshipped Him. These proved to be typical responses throughout Jesus' ministry, as Matthew's Gospel reveals. This literary device of presenting implication and then realization is common in the first Gospel. Also in this chapter there are several references to the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies (vv. 5-6, 15, 17-18, 23). Matthew wanted to continue to prove that Jesus was the promised Messiah who fulfilled what the prophets had predicted. In chapter 1, the emphasis is more on how Jesus' identity fulfilled prophecy, but in chapter 2, it is more on how Jesus' geographical connections fulfilled prophecy. To prove that Jesus was the Christ, Matthew had to show that Jesus was born where the Old Testament said Messiah would be born. Another purpose of this chapter was to show God's providential care of His Son.
The Old Testament not only predicted how Messiah would be born (1:18-25) but where He would be born (2:1-12).
"It would appear that the aim of the evangelist in recording the story of the magi was to show that the child, who was born of the lineage of David to fulfill the ideal of kingship associated with the name of Israel's greatest king, was acknowledged even in His infancy, and by representatives of the non-Jewish world, to be, par excellance, the King of the Jews."
2:1-2 "In the 708th year from the foundation of Rome (46 B.C. by Christian reckoning) Julius Caesar established the Julian Calendar, beginning the year with January 1st. But it was not until the sixth century A.D. that Dionysius Exiguus, a Scythian monk living in Rome, who was confirming the Easter cycle, originated the system of reckoning time from the birth of Christ. Gradually this usage spread, being adopted in England by the Synod of Whitby in 664, until it gained universal acceptance. In 1582 Pope Gregory XIII reformed the Julian calendar. However, more accurate knowledge shows that the earlier reckonings of the time of Christ's birth were in error by several years. Thus it is now agreed that the birth of Christ should be placed c. 6-4 B.C."
When did the Magi visit Jesus in Bethlehem? There are several factors that point to a time about a year after Jesus' birth. First, Matthew described Jesus as a "child" (Gr. paidion, v. 11), not an "infant" (Gr. brephos, cf. Luke 2:27). Second, Jesus' family was residing in a house (v. 11), not beside a manger (cf. Luke 2:1-20). Third, Herod's edict to destroy all the male children two years old and under (v. 16) suggests that Jesus fell within this age span. Fourth, Joseph and Mary brought the offering of poor people to the temple when they dedicated Jesus about 40 days after His birth (Luke 2:24). After receiving the Magi's gifts, they could have presented the normal offering (cf. Lev. 12). Fifth, Joseph and Mary's decision to return to Judea from Egypt (v. 22) implies that Judea is where they had lived before they took refuge in Egypt.
Matthew carefully identified the "Bethlehem of Judea," in contrast to the Bethlehem in Zebulun (Josh. 19:15), as the birthplace of Jesus. This was important because the prophecy of Messiah's birthplace was specifically Bethlehem of Judah, the hometown of King David (v. 6; Mic. 5:2).
"Herod the Great, as he is now called, was born in 73 B.C. and was named king of Judea by the Roman Senate in 40 B.C. By 37 B.C. he had crushed, with the help of Roman forces, all opposition to his rule. Son of the Idumean Antipater, he was wealthy, politically gifted, intensely loyal, an excellent administrator, and clever enough to remain in the good graces of successive Roman emperors. His famine relief was superb and his building projects (including the temple, begun 20 B.C.) admired even by his foes. But he loved power, inflicted incredibly heavy taxes on the people, and resented the fact that many Jews considered him a usurper. In his last years, suffering an illness that compounded his paranoia, he turned to cruelty and in fits of rage and jealousy killed close associates, his wife Mariamne (of Jewish descent from the Maccabeans), and at least two of his sons . . ."
". . . the Jews had borne more calamities from Herod, in a few years, than had their forefathers during all that interval of time that had passed since they had come out of Babylon, and returned home . . ."
"Behold" (Gr. idou) is a Hebraic expression that Matthew used to point out the wise men. They are the focus of his attention in this pericope.
It is not easy to identify the Magi (from the Gr. magoi) precisely. The Greek word from which we get "magi" comes from a Persian word that means experts regarding the stars: astrologers. Centuries before Christ's time, they were a priestly caste of Chaldeans who could interpret dreams (cf. Dan. 1:20; 2:2; 4:7; 5:7). Later the term broadened to include men interested in dreams, magic, astrology, and the future. Some of these were honest inquirers after the truth, but others were charlatans (cf. Acts 8:9; 13:6, 8). The Magi who came to Jerusalem came from the East. Jerusalem at this time covered about 300 acres, and its population at non-feast times was between 200,000 and 250,000 people. Probably the Magi came from Babylon, which for centuries had been a center for the study of the stars. Babylon had also been the home of Daniel, who had been in command of former Magi in Babylonia (Dan. 2:48), and who had written of the death of Messiah (Dan. 9:24-27). The oldest opinion is that the Magi came from Arabia rather than Persia. Magi had such a dubious reputation in Jewish and Christian circles, that it is unlikely that Matthew would have mentioned their testimony if it were not true.
"The tradition that the Magi were kings can be traced as far back as Tertullian (died c. 225). It probably developed under the influence of OT passages that say kings will come and worship Messiah (cf. Pss 68:29, 31; 72:10-11; Isa. 49:7; 60:1-6). The theory that there were three 'wise men' is probably a deduction from the three gifts (2:11). By the end of the sixth century, the wise men were named: Melkon (later Melchior), Balthasar, and Gasper. Matthew gives no names. His magoi come to Jerusalem (which, like Bethlehem, has strong Davidic connections [2 Sam 5:5-9]), arriving, apparently . . ., from the east—possibly from Babylon, where a sizable Jewish settlement wielded considerable influence, but possibly from Persia or from the Arabian desert. The more distant Babylon may be supported by the travel time apparently required . . ."
The Magi's question (v. 2) was not, "Where is He who has been born to become King of the Jews?" but, "Where is He who has been born King of the Jews?" Jesus' status as Israel's king did not come to Him later in His life. He was born with it (cf. 27:37). In this respect, He was superior to Herod, who was not born a king and saw the young Child as a threat to his throne. The only other occurrences of the title "king of the Jews" in Matthew are in 27:11, 29, and 37 where Gentiles used these words to mock Jesus.
What Jesus' "star" was remains problematic. Some scholars have suggested a conjunction of the planets Jupiter and Saturn in the constellation of Pisces. Others believed it was a supernova (a star that explodes and emits unusual light for several weeks or months), a comet, or some other planetary conjunctions or groupings. Still others believed it was a supernatural creation. Whatever it was, it was this same "star" that guided the Magi to Jesus' house in Bethlehem, or at least to Bethlehem (v. 9). The presence of the definite Greek article with "star" in verse 9 points to the same star mentioned in verse 2. It seems to me that it would be very unlikely that a planetary conjunction or other natural "star" could have given the wise men such specific guidance.
"Could it be that 'the star' which the Magi saw and which led them to a specific house was the Shekinah glory of God? That same glory had led the children of Israel through the wilderness for 40 years as a pillar of fire and cloud. Perhaps this was what they saw in the East, and for want of a better term they called it a 'star.'"
Perhaps the Magi connected Balaam's messianic prophecy of a star that would rise out of Judah (Num. 24:17) with the Jewish King. Balaam evidently originated in the East (Num. 23:7). The Jews in Jesus' day regarded Balaam's oracle as messianic. Interestingly, Balaam, like the wise men, experienced pressure from a king who was intent on destroying God's people, but he, and they, refused to cooperate.
The Magi's statement that they intended to "worship" the new King does not necessarily mean that they regarded Him as divine. They may have meant that they wanted to pay Him their respects. However, in view of chapter 1, we know that the new King was worthy of true worship. "Worship" (Gr. proskyneo) occurs 13 times in Matthew and is something the writer stressed. Apparently the Magi recognized the King as Israel's Messiah. "King of the Jews" was the Gentile way of saying "Messiah." The Messiah was indeed the King of the Jews.
2:3-6 This news "troubled" Herod, because he was very aware of the Jews' desire to throw off the Roman yoke, and his own rule in particular. Remember Pharaoh's fear for his throne that also led to infanticide. Herod was an Edomite, a descendant of Esau, and the prospect of a Jewish Messiah's appearance was one he could not ignore. The rest of Jerusalem's citizens also became disturbed, because they realized that this news from the Magi might lead Herod to take further cruel action against them. This is exactly what happened (v. 16). Already we begin to see the opposition of the people of Jerusalem to Jesus that would eventually result in His crucifixion.
Herod assembled Israel's leaders to investigate the Magi's announcement further (v. 4). The chief priests were mainly Sadducees at this time, and most of the scribes ("teachers of the law," NIV) were Pharisees. The chief priests included the high priest and his associates. The high priest obtained his position by appointment from Rome. The scribes were the official interpreters and communicators of the law to the people, their "lawyers." Since these two groups of leaders did not get along, Herod may have had meetings with each group separately.
"The scribes were so called because it was their office to make copies of the Scriptures, to classify and teach the precepts of the oral law . . ., and to keep careful count of every letter in the O.T. writings. Such an office was necessary in a religion of law and precept, and was an O.T. function (2 Sam. 8:17; 20:25; 1 Ki. 4:3; Jer. 8:8; 36:10, 12, 26). To this legitimate work the scribes added a record of rabbinical decisions on questions of ritual (Halachoth); the new code resulting from those decisions (Mishna); the Hebrew sacred legends (Gemara, forming with the Mishna, the Talmud); commentaries on the O.T. (Midrashim); reasonings upon these (Hagada); and finally, mystical interpretations which found in Scripture meanings other than the grammatical, lexical, and obvious ones (the Kabbala), not unlike the allegorical method of Origen. In our Lord's time, the Pharisees considered it orthodox to receive this mass of writing which had been superimposed upon and had obscured the Scripture."
Josephus wrote the following about influence of the Pharisees during the Inter-testamental Period:
". . . but they that were the worst disposed to him [John Hyrcanus] were the Pharisees, who are one of the sects of the Jews, as we have informed you already. These have so great power over the multitude, that when they say anything against the king or against the high priest, they are presently believed."
Notice that Herod perceived the King, whom the Magi had spoken of, as "the Messiah" (v. 4). Some of the Jews—particularly the Essenes, whom Herod did not consult, but not the Sadducees and Pharisees—were expecting a Messiah to appear soon because of Daniel 9:24-27. Daniel had been a "wise man" in the East also.
"Matthew adroitly answers Jewish unbelief concerning Jesus Christ by quoting their own official body to the effect that the prophecy of His birth in Bethlehem was literal, that the Messiah was to be an individual, not the entire Jewish nation, and that their Messiah was to be a King who would rule over them."
"In the original context of Micah 5:2, the prophet is speaking prophetically and prophesying that whenever the Messiah is born, He will be born in Bethlehem of Judah. That is the literal meaning of Micah 5:2. When a literal prophecy is fulfilled in the New Testament, it is quoted as a literal fulfillment. Many prophecies fall into this category . . ."
Matthew's rendering of the Micah 5:2 prophecy adds the fact that the "Ruler" would "shepherd" the Israelites. This statement, from 2 Samuel 5:2, originally referred to David. Thus Matthew again showed the connection between the prophecies of Messiah and the Davidic line, a connection he also made in chapter 1. Perhaps the religious leaders put these passages together in their quotation. Such seems to have been the case. The quotation is free, not verbatim from either the Hebrew or the Greek (Septuagint) texts.
2:7-8 Evidently Herod summoned the Magi "secretly" to avoid arousing undue interest in their visit among Israel's religious leaders (v. 7). He wanted to know when "the star" had "appeared," so he could determine the age of the child King.
Under a pretext of desire to "worship" the new King, Herod sent the Magi to Bethlehem as his representatives, with orders to report what they found to him. His hypocritical humility deceived the wise men. He must have sensed this, since he sent no escort with them but trusted them to return to him.
It is remarkable that the chief priests and scribes apparently made no effort to check out Jesus' birth as the Magi did.
Their apathy contrasts with the Magi's curiosity and with Herod's fear. It continued into Jesus' ministry until it turned into antagonism.
2:9-12 Perhaps "the" star (v. 2), whatever it was, was so bright that the wise men could see it as they traveled in daylight. Travel at night was common to avoid the heat, so they may have made the five-mile trip south to Bethlehem at night. Nevertheless this would have been winter, so they probably traveled during daylight hours.
The star may have identified Bethlehem as the town where Jesus abode, and the Magi may have obtained His exact location from the residents. On the other hand, the star may have identified "the" very "house" where Joseph and Mary dwelt. This seems more likely in view of verse 11. God supernaturally guided the seekers so they found the Messiah. God's provision gave them "great joy" (v. 10; cf. Luke 2:10).
The reaction of the wise men to discovering "the Child" and "His mother" was to bow and worship Him. Notice that they did not worship Mary, nor did they worship Jesus through Mary.
It was customary in the ancient Near East to present gifts when approaching a superior (cf. Gen. 43:11; 1 Sam. 9:7-8; 1 Kings 10:2). The wise men produced these from their "treasures" or coffers. The expensive gifts reflected the great honor the Magi bestowed on the Christ Child. The "gold" probably financed Joseph and Mary's trip to Egypt (vv. 14-21). "Frankincense" is a gum obtained from the resin of certain trees that was particularly fragrant. "Myrrh" was also a sap-like substance that came from a tree that grew in Arabia. People used it as a spice, and as a perfume, often for embalming as well as for other applications. Many commentators, ancient and modern, have seen symbolic significance in these three gifts. Some have said "gold" suggests royalty while others have seen deity, or kingliness. Some say "incense" represents deity, while others believe it better represents perfect humanity, or priestliness. Most expositors view "myrrh" as prefiguring Jesus' death and burial. It is unlikely that the Magi saw this significance, but Matthew may have intended his readers to see it. This act by Gentile leaders also prefigures the wealth that the Old Testament prophets said the Gentiles would one day present to Israel's Messiah (Ps. 72:10-11, 15; Isa. 60:5, 11; 61:6; 66:20; Zeph. 3:10; Hag. 2:7-8). This will occur in the fullest sense at the Second Coming of Christ.
God supernaturally intervened to keep the Magi from returning to Herod, who would have then been able, from them, to target Jesus precisely. Dreams were a common method of divine guidance during the Old Testament economy in which Jesus lived (cf. Num. 12:6).
Several contrasts in this section reveal Matthew's emphases. Herod, the wicked Idumean usurper king, contrasts with Jesus, the born righteous King of Israel. The great distance from which the Magi traveled to visit Jesus, contrasts with the short distance Israel's leaders would have had to travel to see Him. The genuine worship of the wise men contrasts with the feigned worship of Herod, and the total lack of worship from the chief priests and scribes. The Gentile Magi's sensitivity and responsiveness to divine guidance also contrast with the insensitivity and unresponsiveness of Israel's leaders.
"The first to worship the King in Matthew's Gospel are Gentiles, an implication of the last command of the Messiah. The supernatural stellar manifestations attest the divine character of the person of Jesus. Matthew also notes the fact that the Magi who worship the Messiah of Israel are forced to take refuge from Bethlehem. This, too, is a hint of the future antagonism of Israel to their King."
". . . he [Matthew] contrasts the eagerness of the Magi to worship Jesus, despite their limited knowledge, with the apathy of the Jewish leaders and the hostility of Herod's court—all of whom had the Scriptures to inform them. Formal knowledge of the Scriptures, Matthew implies, does not in itself lead to knowing who Jesus is . . ."
"Even though Israel is cognizant of the prophecies, they are blind to spiritual realities. The King of Israel is worshiped by Gentiles, while His own people do not bother to own Him as their King. The condition of Israel is clearly implied in the early verses of Matthew's Gospel. They are cold and indifferent."
"The Gentile wise men worship the King of the Jews; the Jews are apathetic; and Herod is concerned only for his throne. Herod's interest in his own political well-being marks the attitude of the governmental authorities throughout the remainder of the Gospel."
Matthew continued to stress God's predictions about, and His protection of, His Messiah—to help his readers recognize Jesus as the promised King.
2:13 For the second time in two chapters, we read that "an angel" from "the Lord appeared" with a message for "Joseph" (cf. 1:20). This indicates that the message had unusual importance.
The order of the words "the Child and His mother" is unusual. Normally the parent would receive mention before the child. This order draws attention again to the centrality of Jesus in the narrative.
"Egypt" was a natural place of refuge at this time. Its border was just 75 miles from Bethlehem, though the nearest town was about 150 miles, and it provided escape from Herod's hatred. Herod had no authority there. Furthermore, there was a large Jewish population there, as well as a substitute for the Jerusalem temple.
Joseph learned that he was to remain in Egypt until God directed him elsewhere, which happened when Herod died. Again the sovereignty of God stands out.
In many respects, Jesus recapitulated Moses' life and experiences. Moses had also been the target of the ruler of his day, who sought to destroy him and all the other male Hebrew babies by ordering them slain (Exod. 1:15-22). Matthew wanted his readers to see Jesus as a "second Moses," as well as the "true Israel."
2:14-15 Herod died in 4 B.C. Josephus recorded that he died a horrible death, his body rotting away and consumed by worms. He was buried in the Herodium, one of the palace fortresses that he had constructed not far from Bethlehem. His grandson, Herod Agrippa, later suffered a similar fate (Acts 12:23).
As noted, Matthew frequently used the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies to show that Jesus was the Christ. Verse 15 contains another fulfillment. This one is difficult to understand, however, because in Hosea 11:1 the prophet did not predict anything. He simply described the Israelites' Exodus from Egypt as the departure of God's son (cf. Exod. 4:22). Old Testament writers frequently used the term "son" to describe Israel in its relationship to God. What did Matthew mean when he wrote that Jesus' departure from Egypt fulfilled Hosea's words (Hos. 11:1)? Matthew's quotation is from the Hebrew text.
Matthew did not say that Jesus was fulfilling a prophecy. Another significant factor is the meaning of the word "fulfill" (Gr. pleroo). It has a broader meaning than simply "to make complete." It essentially means "to establish completely." In the case of predictive prophecy, the complete establishment of what the prophet predicted occurred when what he predicted happened. In the case of prophetic utterances that dealt with the past or present, the complete establishment of what the prophet said took place when another event that was similar happened. This is the sense in which Jesus' departure from Egypt fulfilled Hosea's prophecy (cf. James 2:21-23). Jesus was the Son of God (2:15; 3:17; 4:3, 6; 8:29; 11:27; 14:33; 16:16; 17:5; 26:63; 27:40, 43, 54). The history of "Israel," the "son of God" in a different sense, anticipated the life of Messiah. To state the same thing another way, Jesus was the "typological recapitulation of Israel " Another writer called this "literal [event] plus typical [fulfillment]." Still another referred to it as "literal prophecy plus a typical import."
"There were similarities between the nation and the Son. Israel was God's chosen 'son' by adoption (Ex. 4:22), and Jesus is the Messiah, God's Son. In both cases the descent into Egypt was to escape danger, and the return was important to the nation's providential history."
"And, as Moses was called to go to Egypt and rescue Israel, God's son, His firstborn (see Ex. iv. 22) from physical bondage, so Jesus was called out of Egypt in His infancy, through the divine message given to Joseph, to save mankind from the bondage of sin."
2:16-18 Some critical scholars discounted Matthew's account of Herod's slaughter of the Bethlehem children because there is no extrabiblical confirmation of it. However, Bethlehem was small, and many other biblically significant events have no secular confirmation, including Jesus' crucifixion. Some writers estimated that this purge would have affected only about 15 or 20 children. He believed that the total population of Bethlehem at this time was under 1,000. Compared to some of Herod's other atrocities this one was minor.
"The New Testament account of the murder of all the little children at Bethlehem (Matt. ii. 16), in hope of destroying among them the royal scion of David, is thoroughly in character with all that we know of Herod and his reign."
"Emperor Augustus reportedly said it was better to be Herod's sow than his son, for his sow had a better chance of surviving in a Jewish community. In the Greek language, as in English, there is only one letter difference between the words 'sow' (hys) and 'son' (hyios)."
"The selfsame character traits Herod exhibits in chapter 2, the [religious] leaders will exhibit later in the story. To enumerate the most obvious of these, Herod shows himself to be 'spiritually blind' (2:3), 'fearful' (2:3), 'conspiratorial' (2:7), 'guileful' and 'mendacious' (2:8), 'murderous' (2:13, 16), 'wrathful' (2:16; cf. 21:15), and 'apprehensive of the future' (2:16)."
"Here is a terrible illustration of what men will do to get rid of Jesus Christ. If a man is set on his own way, if he sees in Christ someone who is liable to interfere with his ambitions and rebuke his ways, then his one desire is to eliminate Christ; and then he is driven to the most terrible things, for then, if he does not break men's bodies, he will break their hearts."
Matthew again claimed that another event surrounding Jesus' birth fulfilled prophecy (v. 17). Matthew is the only New Testament writer who quoted "Jeremiah" (31:15; cf. 16:14; 27:9). This quotation is evidently also from the Hebrew text. Incidentally, Matthew only quoted Isaiah and Jeremiah by name of all the prophets he quoted.
It is not clear whether Jeremiah was referring to the deportation of the northern tribes in 722 B.C., or to the Babylonian Captivity in 586 B.C. Since he dealt primarily with the second of these events in his ministry, he probably did so here too. Poetically, he presented "Rachel" as the idealized "mother" of the Jews, "mourning" from her grave because "her children" were going into captivity. Since Rachel died on the way to Bethlehem (Gen. 35:16, 19), mention of her ties in nicely with the events of Jesus' early childhood near Bethlehem.
"In the original context, Jeremiah is speaking of an event soon to come as the Babylonian Captivity begins. As the Jewish young men were being taken into captivity, they went by the town of Ramah. Not too far from Ramah is where Rachel was buried and she was the symbol of Jewish motherhood. As the young men were marched toward Babylon, the Jewish mothers of Ramah came out weeping for sons they will never see again. Jeremiah pictured the scene as Rachel weeping for her children. This is the literal meaning of Jeremiah 31:15. The New Testament cannot change or reinterpret what this verse means in that context, nor does it try to do so. In this category [of fulfilled prophecy], there is a New Testament event that has one point of similarity with the Old Testament event. The verse is quoted as an application. The one point of similarity between Ramah and Bethlehem is that once again Jewish mothers are weeping for sons they will never see again and so the Old Testament passage is applied to the New Testament event. Otherwise, everything else is different."
Cooper called this "literal prophecy plus an application." Bailey saw three points of comparison between the two situations: in both of them a Gentile king was threatening the future of Israel (cf. 2:13), children were involved, and the future restoration of Israel was nevertheless secure (cf. Jer. 31:31-37).
Matthew evidently used Jeremiah 31:15, because it presented hope to the Israelites, that Israel would return to the land—even though they wept at the nation's departure. The context of Jeremiah's words is hope. Matthew used the Jeremiah passage to give his readers hope, that despite the tears of the Bethlehem mothers, Messiah had escaped from Herod and would return to reign ultimately.
"Here Jesus does not, as in v. 15, recapitulate an event from Israel's history. The Exile sent Israel into captivity and thereby called forth tears. But here the tears are not for him who goes into 'exile' but because of the children who stay behind and are slaughtered. Why, then, refer to the Exile at all? Help comes from observing the broader context of both Jeremiah and Matthew. Jeremiah 31:9, 20 refers to Israel = Ephraim as God's dear son and also introduces the new covenant (31:31-34) the Lord will make with his people. Therefore the tears associated with Exile (31:15) will end. Matthew has already made the Exile a turning point in his thought (1:11-12), for at that time the Davidic line was dethroned. The tears of the Exile are now being 'fulfilled'—i.e., the tears begun in Jeremiah's day are climaxed and ended by the tears of the mothers of Bethlehem. The heir to David's throne has come, the Exile is over, the true Son of God has arrived, and he will introduce the new covenant (26:28) promised by Jeremiah."
Matthew concluded his selective account of the events in Jesus' childhood, that demonstrated His messiahship, and illustrated various reactions to Him with Jesus' return to Israel.
2:19-20 Herod the Great died in 4 B.C. Josephus wrote of his condition shortly before his death as follows:
". . . Herod's distemper greatly increased upon him after a severe manner, and this by God's judgment upon him for his sins: for a fire glowed in him slowly, which did not so much appear to the touch outwardly as it augmented his pains inwardly; for it brought upon him a vehement appetite to eating, which he could not avoid to supply with one sort of food or other. His entrails were also exulcerated, and the chief violence of his pain lay on his colon; an aqueous and transparent liquor also settled itself about his feet, and a like matter afflicted him at the bottom of his belly. Nay, farther, his privy member was putrified, and produced worms; and when he sat upright he had a difficulty of breathing, which was very loathsome, on account of the stench of his breath, and the quickness of its returns; he had also convulsions in all parts of his body, which increased his strength to an insufferable degree."
God's sovereign initiative is again the subject of Matthew's record. This is the fourth "dream" and the third mention of the "angel of the Lord" appearing "to Joseph" in the prologue. The phrase "the land of Israel" occurs only here in the New Testament. Evidently Matthew used it since it recalls the promises and blessings God gave Jacob and his descendants.
2:21-23 Joseph obediently responded to the Lord's command. However, before he could do so, news reached him that Herod the Great's son, "Archelaus," had begun to rule as ethnarch "over Judea," Samaria, and Idumea. The rest of Herod the Great's kingdom went to his sons Antipas, who ruled as tetrarch over Galilee and Perea (4 B.C. - A.D. 39), and Philip. "Tetrarch" means Philip ruled over one-fourth of the kingdom of his father, Herod the Great. Philip became tetrarch of Iturea, Trachonitis, and some other territories (4 B.C. - A.D. 34). The title "ethnarch" was a more honorable title than "tetrarch." It meant ruler over a people. It was also a title inferior to "king," however.
Evidently God "warned" Joseph not to return to Archelaus' territory. Joseph chose to settle in "Nazareth" in "Galilee" instead, on the northern border of Zebulun, undoubtedly guided there by God. This had been his and Mary's residence before Jesus' birth (13:53-58; Luke 1:26-27; 2:39). Matthew noted that this move was another fulfillment of prophecy (v. 23). Nazareth stood 70 miles north of Bethlehem, and archaeological evidence points to a population of about 480 at the beginning of the first century A.D. It was the location of the Roman garrison in northern Galilee.
". . . the ancient Via Maris [Sea Highway] led through Nazareth, and thence either by Cana, or else along the northern shoulder of Mount Tabor, to the Lake of Gennesaret—each of these roads soon uniting with the Upper Galilean. Hence, although the stream of commerce between Acco and the East was divided into three channels, yet, as one of these passed through Nazareth, the quiet little town was not a stagnant pool of rustic seclusion. . . . But, on the other hand, Nazareth was also one of the great centers of Jewish Temple-life. . . . The Priests of the 'course' which was to be on duty always gathered in certain towns, whence they went up in company to Jerusalem, while those of their number who were unable to go spent the week in fasting and prayer. . . . Thus, to take a wider view, a double symbolic significance attached to Nazareth, since through it passed alike those who carried on the traffic of the world, and those who ministered in the Temple."
Careful attention to the terms Matthew used to describe this fulfillment helps us understand how Jesus fulfilled Scripture. First, Matthew said the prophecy came through "prophets," not a prophet. This is the only place in the first Gospel that he said this. Second, Matthew did not say that the prophets "said" or "wrote" the prediction. He said "what was said or spoken" through them happened. In other words, Matthew was quoting indirectly, freely.
There is no Old Testament passage that predicted that the Messiah would come from Nazareth or that people would call Him "a Nazarene." How then could Matthew say that Jesus fulfilled Scripture by living there? The most probable explanation seems to be that Nazareth was an especially despised town—in the despised region of Galilee—in Jesus' day (John 1:46; 7:42, 52). Several of the Old Testament prophets predicted that people would "despise" the Messiah (Ps. 22:6-8, 13; 69:8, 20-21; Isa. 11:1; 42:1-4; 49:7; 53:2-3, 8; Dan. 9:26). Matthew often returned to this theme of Jesus being despised (8:20; 11:16-19; 15:7-8). The writer appears to be giving the substance of several Old Testament passages here, rather than quoting any one of them. There may also be an allusion to the naser ("branch") in Isaiah 11:1 that the rabbis in Jesus' day regarded as messianic. In that passage, David's heir appears to be emerging from a lowly, obscure place. One writer gave evidence that the Targums, as well as the New Testament writers, exegeted the Old Testament messianically.
"In the first century, Nazarenes were people despised and rejected and the term was used to reproach and to shame (John 1:46). The prophets did teach that the Messiah would be a despised and rejected individual (e.g. Isa 53:3) and this is summarized by the term, Nazarene."
"Jesus is King Messiah, Son of God, Son of David; but he was a branch from a royal line hacked down to a stump and reared in surroundings guaranteed to win him scorn. Jesus the Messiah, Matthew is telling us, did not introduce his kingdom with outward show or present himself with the pomp of an earthly monarch. In accord with prophecy he came as the despised Servant of the Lord."
Less satisfying explanations of this prophecy and its fulfillment are the following. First, some connect "Nazarene" with "Nazirite" (cf. Judg. 13:5). However, Jesus was never a Nazirite (11:19). Furthermore the etymologies of these words do not connect. Second, some believe that the Hebrew word translated "branch" (naser), in Isaiah 11:1, sounds enough like "Nazareth" to justify a connection. The problem with this view is that the Hebrew word and the town of Nazareth have nothing in common except similar sounding names. Also naser occurs in only one passage, but Matthew quoted the "prophets." Third, some writers have posited a pre-Christian sect and suggested that Matthew referred to this. There is no evidence to support this theory. Fourth, some believe Matthew was making a pun by connecting the names Nazareth and Nazarene. If this were true, how could he claim a fulfillment of prophecy? Fifth, some think the writer referred to prophecies not recorded in Scripture, but known to, and accepted by, his original readers. Matthew gave no clue that this unusual meaning is what he intended. Furthermore, later readers would not only reject such an authority, but would charge Matthew with fabricating such a source to support his argument.
Matthew chapter 2 advances the writer's argument significantly by making three major points.
"The first relates to the Gentiles. The Magi come from the East and worship the King of the Jews. A glimmering foreview of all the nations of the earth being blessed in Abraham is seen in this act. . . . The second point Matthew makes concerns the Jews. They are shown to be unconcerned and indifferent to any report concerning Him. Finally, Matthew, by his use of the Old Testament, proves that Jesus is the promised Messiah. He is the fulfillment of all that is anticipated in their Scriptures. These three things form the basis of Matthew's Gospel. Jesus is presented as the Messiah prophesied and promised in the Old Testament. The Jews reject Him. Because of this rejection the King turns to the Gentiles and the kingdom program for the Jews is postponed.
"Chapter one declares the theanthropic character of the person of the Messiah. The reception which is to be given the claims of the Messiah is set forth in chapter two. Matthew three begins the narrative of the historical account of the presentation of Israel's Messiah to that nation."
Chapters 1 and 2 show the reader who Jesus was, His identity, including the reactions of various groups of people. The rest of the book continues to clarify Jesus' identity and shows what Jesus said and did, and the reactions of various groups of people. The reactions of these groups and individuals become instructive for us in knowing how to respond to Jesus and how not to respond to Him.
Matthew passed over Jesus' childhood quickly to relate His preparation for presentation to Israel as her King. He recorded three events that prepared Jesus for His ministry: the ministry of Jesus' forerunner, John the Baptist (3:1-12), Jesus' baptism (3:13-17), and Jesus' temptation (4:1-11). The major point is that Jesus is the true Son of God. John the Baptist witnessed that Jesus was the prophesied coming Son of God. Matthew's account of Jesus' baptism emphasizes heaven's (God's) attestation of Jesus as God's Son. The Spirit descended on Jesus to empower the King for service, and the voice from heaven validated Jesus as God's Son. The record of Jesus' temptation shows that He overcame temptation and so was qualified personally to be the perfect Son of God, not just a son of God in the traditional kingly sense. All the former "sons" of God (kings of Israel) had fallen before temptation.
"The material of this section of the Gospel is particularly important since the baptism of Jesus serves as the occasion of his special anointing by the Holy Spirit for the ministry that follows, but it is also Christologically significant in that his divine Sonship is confirmed and the non-triumphalist nature of the present phase of that Sonship is indicated (3:17c and 4:1-11). Thus Matthew provides information that is vitally important to an understanding of the narrative that follows: what Jesus does in his ministry he does by the power of the Spirit; yet Jesus will not act in the manner of a triumphalist messiah, in accordance with popular expectation, but in his own unique way, in obedience to the will of his Father."
Matthew presented four witnesses to Jesus' messiahship in this section: John the Baptist (3:1-15), the Holy Spirit (3:16), the Father (3:17), and Satan (4:1-11). A fifth witness follows in 4:12-15, namely, Jesus' ministry.
It was common when Jesus lived, for forerunners to precede important individuals, in order to prepare the way for their arrival. For example, when a king would visit a town in his realm, his emissaries would go before him to announce his visit. They would make sure the town was in good condition to receive him. Sometimes his servants even had to do minor roadwork to smooth the highway the king would be taking as he approached his destination. John not only prepared the way for Jesus, but also announced Him as an important person and implied His royalty. John preceded Jesus in birth, in public appearance, and in death.
"As Jesus' forerunner, John foreshadows in his person and work the person and work of Jesus. Both John and Jesus are the agents of God sent by God (11:10; 10:40). Both belong to the time of fulfillment (3:3; 1:23). Both have the same message to proclaim (3:2; 4:17). Both enter into conflict with Israel: in the case of the crowds, a favorable reception ultimately gives way to repudiation; in the case of the leaders, the opposition is implacable from the outset (3:7-10; 9:3). Both John and Jesus are 'delivered up' to their enemies (4:12; 10:4). And both are made to die violently and shamefully (14:3-12; 27:37)."
3:1-2 John appeared "in those days" (v. 1). This phrase is a general term that says little about specific time but identifies what follows as historical. It is a common transitional statement in Matthew's narrative. John's ministry, as Matthew described it here, occurred just before the beginning of Jesus' public ministry, approximately 30 years after the events of chapter 2.
"John" ("Gift of Yahweh") became a popular name among the Jews following the heroic career of John Hyrcanus (died 106 B.C.). There are four or five Johns in the New Testament. This one received the surname "the Baptist" because of his practice of baptizing repentant Jews (v. 6).
John was a herald with a message to proclaim. He appears on the scene suddenly and mysteriously, much like Elijah, whose ministry John mirrored (cf. 1 Kings 17:1). "Preaching" is literally heralding (Gr. kerysso).
"In the New Testament the verb does not mean 'to give an informative or hortatory or edifying discourse expressed in beautifully arranged words with a melodious voice; it means to proclaim an event' . . ."
The event John proclaimed was the imminent arrival of God's kingdom.
The scene of John's ministry was "the wilderness of Judea." This loosely defined area lay mainly to the west and somewhat north of the Dead Sea. John evidently conducted his ministry there because of its rough conditions that were suitable to his appeal for repentance. In Israel's history, the wilderness forever reminded the Jews of their 40-year sojourn under extreme conditions and God giving them the Law of Moses. They associated it with a place of separation unto God, testing for refinement, and new beginnings. In John's day, the wilderness spawned many movements that challenged Israel's leadership. This may explain why John chose to minister there.
John called for the people to "repent" (v. 2).
"Contrary to popular thinking, repent does not mean to be sorry. The Greek word metanoeo means '. . . to change one's mind or purpose . . .' In the New Testament it '. . . indicates a complete change of attitude, spiritual and moral, towards God.' The primary meaning involves a turning to God which may indeed make a person sorry for his sins, but that sorrow is a by-product and not the repentance itself. . . . In a word, John's command to the people of Israel was for them to turn from their sins to God in anticipation of their Messiah."
The Jews needed to change their thinking, because most of them believed that they would enter the Messiah's kingdom, simply because they were the children of Abraham (v. 9). John was attacking established religious concepts of his day and those who taught them. He demanded evidence of genuine repentance instead of mere complacency, hypocrisy, and superficiality (cf. v. 8).
John also announced that "the kingdom of heaven" (lit. the heavens) was "at hand." What was this kingdom? Students of this question have offered three basic answers.
First, some believe that "the kingdom" began with Jesus' ministry, and will continue until His second coming, which will mean the end of the world, in their view. They view the kingdom as spiritual, namely, as God's rule over the hearts and lives of believers in Jesus. This kingdom is spiritual in contrast to physical and earthly. Advocates do not believe Jesus will return to earth to set up an earthly, physical kingdom that will resume the Davidic kingdom of the Old Testament. They believe that the promises in the Old Testament—of Israel's restoration under Messiah—are being fulfilled in a spiritual sense in the experience of Christians. For example, promises of Israel's return to her land will find fulfillment in the church's entrance into heaven. Most advocates of this view believe that the church has replaced Israel, and that God has no special future for Israel as Israel. The kingdom that Jesus inaugurated, they believe, is already present. This is the typical amillennial (no millennium) understanding of the kingdom.
Second, some believe that "the kingdom" that Jesus preached will be entirely earthly. They hold that it is the resumption of the Davidic kingdom, which ended with the Babylonian exile and will resume when Jesus returns to earth at His second coming. Then He will establish this kingdom, which will continue for 1,000 years (the Millennium). The present inter-advent age is not the kingdom, nor is the kingdom the Church Age. There is no present form of this kingdom, according to this view. The kingdom Jesus preached is not yet from our perspective in history. This is the view of some premillennialists, mainly some dispensationalists.
Many who hold this second view acknowledge that though the kingdom Jesus announced will be an earthly kingdom, there is another kingdom that has existed throughout history. It is God's sovereign rule over all. Since He has ruled, is ruling, and will forever reign over all, we can speak of this universal rule as His kingdom. However, it is not the restored Davidic kingdom that Jesus announced as being at hand.
Third, some interpreters have concluded that the kingdom Jesus announced was both already present, in one form, and not yet present in another form. They believe there is a present spiritual form of the kingdom now (as in view one above), and a future physical form of the kingdom (as in view two above). Some advocates of this view believe that God has a future for Israel as Israel (the physical descendants of Jacob). The church has not replaced Israel in God's plans. This is the view of "progressive dispensationalists." Other advocates of this view believe that the church does replace Israel. God's promises to Israel will find fulfillment in the church. These are mainly "historic premillennialists" (or "replacement theologians"). This group believes in a physical, earthly kingdom but for the church, not Israel.
Many dispensationalists are uncomfortable with the idea that the kingdom is already and not yet, in view of how they interpret kingdom passages. Specifically, they are uncomfortable with the idea that the church is the "already" stage of the kingdom. They prefer to view the church as an entity distinct from the kingdom, an intercalation or something inserted in the divine timeline between the Old Testament kingdom of David and the messianic kingdom. They make much of the terminology used to distinguish the church and the kingdom. Most in this group of interpreters see some form of God's kingdom in existence now, however, whether the universal rule of God or a mystery form of the coming kingdom.
Among dispensationalists, some hold that there were two kingdoms that Jesus preached: the "kingdom of God" and the "kingdom of heaven." The former term, they say, refers to a smaller kingdom that includes only genuine believers, and is cosmic and universal in scope. The latter term, they say, refers to a larger kingdom that includes all who profess to be believers, and is limited to the earth. This distinction has been shown to be invalid. One cannot make this distinction on the basis of how the New Testament writers used these terms.
"Most recent advocates of a distinction acknowledge that the two expressions are 'often used synonymously,' yet are to be distinguished in certain contexts. Others who would generally be identified with dispensationalism agree with most non-dispensationalists that no distinction between these expressions is intended by the biblical writers. Matthew's use of 'the kingdom of heaven' is to be explained as a Semitic idiom probably resulting from the Jewish reverence for the name of God and the tendency to use 'heaven' or 'heavens' as a substitute. So, although some dispensationalists still distinguish the two terms in some passages, we agree with Ryrie that this issue is not a determinative feature of dispensationalism."
Dispensationalists who are not "progressives" believe that the kingdom that John, Jesus (4:17), and His disciples (10:7) announced and offered the Jews was exactly the same kingdom that the Old Testament prophets predicted. Because the Jews rejected their King and His kingdom, God "postponed" the kingdom until a future time when Israel will accept her Messiah, namely, at His second advent (cf. Zech. 12:10-14). The word "postponed" does not imply that Jewish rejection of the Messiah took God by surprise. It views the coming of the kingdom from man's perspective. This view, I believe, best harmonizes the normal meaning of the Old Testament kingdom prophecies and Jesus' teachings. Similarly, because the generation of Jews that left Egypt in the Exodus refused to trust and obey God at Kadesh Barnea, God postponed the nation's entrance into the Promised Land for 38 years. As God postponed Israel's entrance into the Promised Land because of Jewish unbelief, so He postponed Israel's entrance into the messianic kingdom because of Jewish unbelief.
There is good evidence that the kingdom that John and Jesus spoke about was the earthly eschatological kingdom that the Old Testament prophets foretold. First, the fact that John, Jesus, and Jesus' disciples did not explain what it was, but simply announced that it was near, indicates that they referred to a kingdom known to their hearers. Second, Jesus restricted the proclamation about the kingdom to Jews (10:5-6). If the kingdom was spiritual, why was this necessary? Moreover, the inauguration of the kingdom predicted in the Old Testament depended on the Jews receiving it (Zech. 12:1-14; 13:7-9; Mal. 4:5-6). Third, Jesus' disciples expected the beginning of an earthly kingdom (20:20-21; Acts 1:6). They did so after they had listened to Jesus' teaching about the kingdom for a long time. Fourth, this kingdom cannot be the church, since God had not yet revealed the existence of the church, let alone established it (16:18). It cannot be God's universal reign over the hearts of mankind, since that had existed since creation.
". . . if the Kingdom, announced as 'at hand' by the Lord, had been exclusively a 'spiritual kingdom,' or as some have defined it, 'the rule of God in the heart,' such an announcement would have had no special significance whatever to Israel, for such a rule of God had always been recognized among the people of God [cf. Ps. 37:31; 103:19]."
Therefore, we conclude that when John spoke of "the kingdom of heaven" (v. 2), he meant the earthly kingdom over which Messiah would rule, which the Old Testament prophets predicted.
It is particularly important to distinguish "the church" from "the kingdom." The kingdom, whether described as "of heaven" or "of God," always refers to the earthly reign of Messiah as predicted in the Old Testament. The church will play a part in the kingdom, but they are separate entities. Progressive dispensationalists argue that the church is the first phase of the messianic kingdom, the "already" phase, in contrast to the eschatological, "not yet," phase. Matthew maintained the distinction between "the kingdom" and "the church" throughout his Gospel, as did the other New Testament writers.
What did John mean when he announced that the kingdom was "at hand" (v. 2)? The Greek verb eggizo means "to draw near," not "to be here" (cf. 21:1). All that was necessary for the kingdom to be there was Israel's acceptance of her King (11:14). The kingdom was near because the King was present. Amillennialists, historic premillennialists, and progressive dispensationalists believe John meant that the kingdom was about to begin, which, they say, it did when Jesus began to minister.
This statement may seem to some to render Christ's work on the cross unnecessary, but this is incorrect. Had the Jews accepted their Messiah when He offered the kingdom to them, He still would have died on the cross and experienced resurrection and ascension. He could not have been the Messiah without doing so, in fulfillment of many Old Testament prophecies (Ps. 22; Isa. 53; Dan. 9; Zech. 13). Then the prophecies concerning the seven years of Jacob's trouble would have been fulfilled (Jer. 30:7; Dan. 12:1; 9:26-27). Next, Messiah would have returned to set up His kingdom (Isa. 60:1-3; 66:18; Hab. 2:14; cf. Zech. 12:10; 13:6).
Since the Jews rejected Jesus' offer of the kingdom—was His offer genuine? Had God not already determined that Israel would reject her Messiah? Jesus' offer of the kingdom was just as genuine as any gospel offer of salvation to someone who rejects it.
"Those who cavil at the idea of an offer which is certain to be rejected betray an ignorance, not only of Biblical history (cf. Isa. 6:8-10 and Ezek. 2:3-7), but also of the important place of the legal proffer in the realm of jurisprudence."
3:3 "This is the one OT citation of Matthew's own eleven direct OT quotations that is not introduced by a fulfillment formula . . . Instead he introduces it with a Pesher formula (e.g., Acts 2:16 . . .) that can only be understood as identifying the Baptist in an eschatological, prophecy-and-fulfillment framework with the one of whom Isaiah (40:3) spoke."
In Isaiah 40:3, "the voice" exhorts the people to prepare for God's coming while He is bringing Israel back from her dispersion. The prophet then proceeded to describe the blessings that would follow her return. Matthew identified Yahweh in Isaiah 40:3 with Jesus in Matthew 3:3. This equates "the kingdom of God" to "the kingdom of Jesus." While this is not an implicit statement of Jesus' deity, it certainly presents Jesus as more than just Yahweh's representative.
3:4-6 In his dress and in "his food," as well as in his habitat and in his message, "John" associated himself with the poor and the prophets—particularly Elijah (cf. 2 Kings 1:8; Zech. 13:4; Mal. 4:5).
Likewise, John may have selected his venue for ministry because of its associations with Elijah. Poor people ate "locusts" (Lev. 11:22), and such a diet was compatible with that of a Nazirite. John called for the people to get right with God, because the appearing of their Messiah was imminent. Elijah had called the Israelites back to God at the time of their most serious apostasy. John called them back to God on the eve of their greatest opportunity. He was the first prophet from God in approximately 400 years.
Many people responded to John because they perceived that he was a genuine prophet with a message from God (v. 5).
Baptism represented purification to the Jews. Ceremonial washings were part of the Mosaic system of worship (Exod. 19; Lev. 15; Num. 19). When a Gentile became a proselyte to Judaism, he or she underwent baptism. But John "baptized" Jews. John's baptism carried these connotations of cleansing with it, but it was different. In the other types of ceremonial cleansing, the person washed himself or herself. John, on the other hand, baptized other people. He probably received the name "John the Baptist" or "Baptizer" for this reason.
John's baptism did not make a person a member of the church, the body of Christ, since the church had not yet come into existence (16:18). It simply gave public testimony to that Jewish person's repentance and commitment to live a holy life. Lenski, a Lutheran commentator, argued that John did not baptize Jesus by immersion. Lutherans traditionally baptize by effusion (sprinkling or pouring). It is impossible to identify the method of baptism John used from what the Gospels tell us. However, extrabiblical sources indicate that Jewish proselyte baptism took place in large tanks (Heb. mikvah) in which the person undergoing baptism stood. The issue boils down to whether one takes the word "baptism" in its primary sense of submersion, or in its secondary sense of initiation. Likewise, it is unclear whether the confession involved public or private acts.
3:7-10 This verse contains Matthew's first reference to the "Pharisees" ("separate ones") and the "Sadducees" ("righteous ones"). Significantly, John was antagonistic toward them because they were hypocritical, a trait that marks them throughout the Gospels. Matthew lumped them together here because they were Israel's leaders.
"After the ministry of the postexilic prophets ceased, godly men called Chasidim (saints) arose who sought to keep alive reverence for the law among the descendants of the Jews who returned from the Babylonian captivity. This movement degenerated into the Pharisaism of our Lord's day—a letter-strictness which overlaid the law with traditional interpretations held to have been communicated by the LORD to Moses as oral explanations of equal authority with the law itself (cp. Mt. 15:2-3; Mk. 7:8-13; Gal. 1:14). . . .
"The Sadducees were a Jewish sect that denied the existence of angels or other spirits, and all miracles, especially the resurrection of the body. They were the religious rationalists of the time (Mk. 12:18-23; Acts 23:8), and were strongly entrenched in the Sanhedrin and priesthood (Acts 4:1-2; 5:17). The Sadducees are identified with no affirmative doctrine, but were mere deniers of the supernatural."
"The course of our investigations has shown, that neither Pharisees nor Sadducees were a sect, in the sense of separating from Temple or Synagogue; and also that the Jewish people as such were not divided between Pharisees and Sadducees. The small number of professed Pharisees (six thousand) at the time of Herod [Josephus, Antiquities of . . . 17:2:4], the representations of the New Testament, and even the curious circumstance that Philo never once mentions the name of Pharisee, confirm the result of our historical inquiries, that the Pharisees were first an 'order,' then gave the name to a party, and finally represented a direction of theological thought."
"Vipers" is a word Isaiah used to describe God's enemies (Isa. 14:29; 30:6). John's use of it associates him with the former prophets and reflects his prophetic authority.
"The first major appearance of the religious leaders in Matthew's story occurs in conjunction with the ministry of John the Baptist (3:7-10). The importance of their appearance here has to do with the fact that John is the forerunner of Jesus. As such, the attitude that John assumes toward the leaders is predictive of the attitude that Jesus will assume toward them."
John's question (v. 7) amounted to, "Who suggested to you that you would escape the coming wrath?" The behavior of the Pharisees and Sadducees should have demonstrated the genuineness of their professed repentance, but it did not. "Fruit" is what people produce—that other people see—that indicates their spiritual condition (13:21; cf. Mark 4:19; Luke 8:14; John 15:1-6). The fruits of "repentance" were absent in the case of these leaders. There was no external evidence that they desired to draw near to God in anticipation of Messiah's appearance.
Many of the Jews in the inter-testamental period believed that if one was a descendant of "Abraham," he would automatically enter Messiah's kingdom. They counted on the patriarch's righteousness as sufficient for themselves (cf. Rom. 4). However, God had often pruned back the unrighteous in Israel and preserved a remnant in its history. As Matthew continued to point out in his Gospel, many of the Jews refused to humble themselves before God and instead trusted in their own righteousness. The Pharisees and Sadducees were doing that here. Josephus, himself a Pharisee, placed the origin of both of these groups in the time of Jonathan, the son of Judas Maccabee (160-143 B.C.).
John's reference to "stones" (v. 9) was a play on words with "children" in both the Hebrew and Aramaic languages. If stones could become God's children, certainly Gentiles could.
Verse 10 gives the reason the Jews needed to repent. Divine judgment would precede the establishment of Messiah's kingdom (cf. Isa. 1:27; 4:4; 5:16; 13:6-19; 42:1; Jer. 33:14-16; Dan. 7:26-27). The Jews connected the concepts of repentance and the messianic age closely in their thinking. John announced that this judgment was imminent (vv. 10-12). Any "tree (better than "every" tree) that does not bear good fruit," regardless of its roots, will suffer destruction. Probably John had individuals and the nation of Israel in mind.
The reference to "fire" in verse 10 pictures the judgment and destruction of those who fail to repent (cf. "wrath," v. 7, and "winnowing fork," v. 13). For individuals, this judgment would involve eternal destruction (v. 12), assuming there was no later repentance. For the nation, it would involve the postponement of the kingdom and its attendant blessings.
3:11 John baptized in water "in connection with" repentance. However, the One coming after him, the King, would "baptize . . . with the Holy Spirit (cf. Joel 2:28-29) and fire" (cf. Mal. 3:2-5). The Malachi prophecy speaks of fire as a refining or purifying agent, not as an instrument of destruction. Both prophecies involve the nation of Israel as a whole primarily.
Are these two different baptisms or one? This is a very difficult question to answer because the arguments on both sides are strong. In both interpretations, baptism connotes both immersion, in the metaphorical sense of placing into something, and initiation.
The construction of the statement in the Greek text favors one baptism. Usually one entity is in view when one article precedes two nouns joined by a conjunction. This would mean that the one baptism Jesus would perform would be with the Holy Spirit and fire together. Some interpreters believe that this prophecy was fulfilled on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:3-4). However, since the church was a mystery announced first by our Lord (Matt. 16:18), and then explained more fully by subsequent apostles and prophets (Eph. 3:5; Col. 1:25-26), it seems to me that the baptism that John referred to was the one that will take place in the future day of the Lord. There is no indication that John the Baptist knew anything about the church.
The fire in Malachi's prophecy probably refers to purification and judgment. The purification emphasis is in harmony with Malachi's use. This has led many scholars to conclude that the fire baptism that John predicted is not the one at Pentecost. They, and I, believe that the time when Jesus will baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire to fulfill these prophecies concerning Israel is yet future from our viewpoint in history. It will happen at His second advent. It would have happened at His first advent if Israel had accepted Him. Jesus' baptism of His disciples on the day of Pentecost was a similar baptism, but it was not the fulfillment of these prophecies, since they involved Israel and "the day of the Lord" specifically (cf. John 14:17; Acts 2; 1 Cor. 12:13).
The context, which speaks of blessing for the repentant but judgment for the unrepentant, tends to favor two baptisms (vv. 8-10, 12; cf. Acts 1:5; 11:16). In this case, the "fire" would refer primarily, if not exclusively, to judgment. The baptism "with the Holy Spirit" would refer to Spirit baptism that will happen when Israel accepts her Messiah (Isa. 44:3; Joel 2:28-32). A foretaste of that baptism occurred on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2). The baptism "with fire" would refer to Jesus' judgment of unrepentant Israel (cf. v. 12). After Israel's rejection of Jesus, it became clear that this national judgment will happen primarily at His second coming. This fiery judgment might also refer to unrepentant individuals when they reach the end of their lives.
All things considered, it seems probable that John was referring to one baptism that will find complete fulfillment at Jesus' second coming.
The rabbis taught that, even if one was a slave, loosening another person's sandal was beneath the dignity of a Jew. So by saying he was unworthy to unloose ("remove") Jesus' "sandals," John meant that he was unworthy of even the most humiliating service of Jesus.
3:12 John metaphorically described God separating the true and the false, the repentant and the unrepentant, in a future judgment. This thorough judgment will result in the preservation of the believing Israelites and the destruction of the unbelieving (cf. 25:31-46). The "barn" probably refers to the kingdom, and the "unquenchable fire" to the endless duration and the agonizing nature of this punishment.
What then was the essential message of Messiah's forerunner?
"John preached both a personal salvation, involving the remission of sins (Mark 1:4), and a national salvation, involving the establishment of the millennial kingdom with Israel delivered out of the hand of their enemies (Matt. 3:2; Luke 1:71-75)."
Jesus' baptism was the occasion at which His messiahship became obvious publicly. Matthew recorded this event as he did to convince his readers further of Jesus' messianic qualifications. Thus John's baptism had two purposes: to prepare Israel for her Messiah (3:1-12) and to prepare the Messiah for Israel (3:13-17; cf. John 1:31).
3:13-14 John hesitated to baptize Jesus because he believed that Jesus did not need to repent. John evidently suggested that it was more appropriate that Jesus baptize him, than that he baptize Jesus, because he knew that Jesus was more righteous than he was. It is unlikely that John meant that he wanted the Spirit and fire baptism of Jesus. John did not know that Jesus was the Messiah until after he had baptized Him (John 1:31-34).
3:15 John agreed to baptize Jesus, only after Jesus convinced him that by baptizing Him, both of them would "fulfill all righteousness." What did Jesus mean?
An important prerequisite to understanding Jesus' words is an understanding of the meaning of "righteousness." Matthew's use of this word is different from Paul's. Paul used it mainly to describe a right standing before God, positional righteousness. Matthew used it to describe conformity to God's will, ethical righteousness. Ethical righteousness is the display of conduct in one's actions that is right in God's eyes. It does not deal with getting saved but responding to God's grace. In Matthew, a righteous person is one who lives in harmony with the will of God (cf. 1:19). Ethical righteousness is a major theme of the Old Testament, and it was a matter that concerned the Jews in Jesus' day, especially the Pharisees.
Jesus understood that it was God's will for John to baptize Him. There is no Old Testament prophecy that states that Messiah would undergo water baptism, but there is prophecy that Messiah would submit Himself to God (Isa. 42:1; 53; et al.). That spirit of submissiveness to God's will is primarily what John's baptism identified in those who submitted to it. Consequently it was appropriate for Jesus to undergo John's baptism, and John consented to baptize Him. In doing so, Jesus authenticated John's ministry and identified Himself with the godly remnant within Israel.
"Jesus' baptism in the Jordan stands as a counterpart of Israel's crossing of the Red Sea at the onset of the Exodus. Thus Jesus transversed the Jordan and then, like Israel, spent a period of time in the wilderness. Jesus, another Moses, on whom the Spirit had been placed (Isa. 63:10-14), would lead the way."
It is significant that Matthew did not describe Jesus' baptism. His emphasis was on the two revelatory events that followed it (cf. 2:1-23).
3:16-17 The Greek text stresses the fact that Jesus' departure from the water and God's attestation of Him as the Messiah occurred at the same time. The NIV translation gives this sense better than the NASB.
The person who "saw the Spirit of God descending" was evidently Jesus. Jesus is the person in the immediately preceding context. John the Evangelist recorded that John the Baptist also saw this (John 1:32), but evidently no one but Jesus heard the Father's voice. In fact, the baptism of Jesus appears to have been a private affair with no one present but John and Jesus. The phrase "the heavens were opened" or "heaven was opened" recalls instances of people receiving visions from God. In them they saw things unseen by other mortals (e.g., Isa. 64:1; Ezek. 1:1; cf. Acts 7:56; Rev. 4:1; 19:11). The phrase implies that new revelation will follow to and through Jesus. What Jesus saw was the Holy Spirit in the form of "a dove," not in a dove-like fashion, descending on Him (cf. Luke 3:22). This is the first explicit identification of the Holy Spirit with a dove in Scripture. It was an appropriate symbol because of its beauty, heavenly origin, freedom, sensitivity, purity, and peaceful nature.
"The descent of the Spirit upon Jesus denotes the divine act whereby God empowers him to accomplish the messianic ministry he is shortly to begin (4:17). Such empowerment, of course, is not to be construed as Jesus' initial endowment with the Spirit, for he was conceived by the Spirit. Instead, it specifies in what way Jesus proves to be the mightier One John had said he would be (3:11). It also serves as the reference point for understanding the 'authority' with which Jesus discharges his public ministry. Empowered by God's Spirit, Jesus speaks as the mouthpiece of God (7:28-29) and acts as the instrument of God (12:28)."
In Isaiah 42:1, the prophet predicted that God would put His Spirit on His Servant. That happened at Jesus' baptism. Matthew's account shows fulfillment, though the writer did not draw attention to it as such here. When God's Spirit came on individuals in the Old Testament, He empowered them for divine service. That was the purpose of Jesus' anointing as well (Luke 4:14; 5:17; cf. Luke 24:49).
"It is a great paradox that upon the Messiah, who was to baptize with fire, the Spirit should have descended at His baptism like a dove, a symbol of gentleness and meekness. In Jesus we are in fact confronted with both 'the goodness and severity of God' (Rom. xi. 22); and this double truth runs right through the New Testament, and not least through the Gospel of Matthew (contrast, for example, xi. 29 and xxv. 41)."
An audible revelation followed the visual one (v. 17). The "voice" from heaven could be none other than God's. After 400 years without prophetic revelation, God broke the silence. He spoke from heaven to humankind again. Matthew recorded God's words as a general announcement (cf. 17:5). The other evangelists wrote that God said, "You are my beloved Son" (Mark 1:11; Luke 3:22). Evidently the accounts in Mark and Luke contain the actual words God used, the ipisissima verba, whereas Matthew gave a free quotation of God's words, the ipisissima vox. These Latin terms mean essentially "own words" and "own voice" respectively. As used in New Testament studies, the former phrase indicates a verbatim quotation and the latter a free quotation. The former refers to the words the speaker in the narrative used and the latter to the words of the writer who interpreted the speaker's words. Matthew probably gave a free quotation because he used what happened at Jesus' baptism as evidence of His messiahship.
"Had the crowds heard the voice from heaven, it is inexplicable why one segment of the public does not at least entertain the idea that Jesus is the Son of God. And had John heard the voice from heaven, it is odd that his question of 11:2-3 contains no hint of this. On the contrary, it reflects the selfsame view of Jesus that John had expressed prior to the baptism, namely, that Jesus is the Coming One (3:11-12)."
The words God spoke identified Jesus as the Messiah promised in the Old Testament. The term "Son of God" was one that God used of David's descendant who would follow him on Israel's throne (2 Sam. 7:13-14; Ps. 2:7; 89:26-29; cf. Matt. 1:20; 2:15; 4:3, 6). God's commendation also linked Jesus with the Suffering Servant at the commencement of His ministry (Isa. 42:1; 53). The Beloved One is equivalent to the One with whom the Father was "well pleased" (Isa. 42:1). Genesis 22:2 may also be behind this announcement since that verse describes Isaac as Abraham's beloved only son (cf. Ps. 2:7; Isa. 42:1). Consequently, "Son of God" is a messianic title. Notice the involvement of all three members of the Trinity in Jesus' baptism. This indicates its importance.
In this one statement at the beginning of Jesus' ministry, God presented Him as the Davidic Messiah, the Son of God, the representative of the people, and the Suffering Servant. Matthew had presented Jesus in all of these roles previously, but now God the Father confirmed His identity.
". . . God's baptismal declaration at 3:17 reveals itself to be climactic within the context of 1:1—4:16 because this is the place where God's understanding of Jesus as his Son ceases to be of the nature of private information available only to the reader and becomes instead an element within the story that henceforth influences the shape of events. To illustrate this, notice how the words Satan speaks in 4:3, 6 ('If you are the Son of God . . .') pick up directly on the declaration God makes in the baptismal pericope ('This is my beloved Son . . .')."
"Because Matthew so constructs his story that God's evaluative point of view is normative, the reader knows that in hearing God enunciate his understanding of Jesus, he or she has heard the normative understanding of Jesus, the one in terms of which all other understandings are to be judged. In Matthew's story, God himself dictates that Jesus is preeminently the Son of God."
"He did not become Son of God at His baptism, as certain heretical teachers in the early Church maintained; but it was then that He was appointed to a work which He alone could perform, because of His unique relationship with His Father."
Matthew passed over all the incidents of Jesus' childhood, including His appearance at the temple (Luke 2:41-50), because his interests were selective and apologetic rather than merely historical. He introduced Jesus as the messianic King of Israel who fulfilled Old Testament prophecy and received divine confirmation from God with an audible pronouncement from heaven (cf. Exod. 20:1).
In chapter 1, Matthew stressed the glories of Messiah's person. In chapter 2, he gave a preview of the reception He would receive as Israel's Messiah. In chapter 3, he introduced the beginning of His ministry with accounts of His earthly forerunner's heralding and His heavenly Father's approbation.
". . . Jesus' testing in the wilderness of Judea is one of the most significant indicators of His uniqueness. In fact it may not be stretching the point to say that the very purpose of the temptation narratives is to underscore His uniqueness."
"Just as metal has to be tested far beyond any stress and strain that it will ever be called upon to bear, before it can be used for any useful purpose, so a man has to be tested before God can use him for His purposes."
Jesus' genealogy and virgin birth prove His legal human qualification as Israel's King. His baptism was the occasion of His divine approval. His temptation demonstrated His moral fitness to reign. The natural question a thoughtful reader of Matthew's Gospel might ask after reading God's attestation of His Son (3:17) is: Was He really that good? Jesus' three temptations prove that He was.
"By the end of the baptismal pericope, the Jesus of Matthew's story stands before the reader preeminently as the Son of God who has been empowered with the Spirit of God. So identified, Jesus is led by the Spirit into the desert to engage the devil, or Satan, in conflict in the place of his abode (4:1-11). . . . Ultimately, the substance of each test has to do with Jesus' devotion, or obedience, to God. The intent of Satan in each test is to entice Jesus to break faith with God, his Father, and thus disavow his divine sonship. Should Satan succeed at this, he succeeds in effect in destroying Jesus. In testing Jesus, Satan cunningly adopts God's evaluative point of view according to which Jesus is his Son (4:3, 6)."
4:1-2 The same "Spirit" who brought Jesus into the world (1:20), and demonstrated God's approval of Him (3:16), now "led" Him "into the wilderness" for tempting by Satan.
"The [Greek word peirazo] means 'to try' or 'to make proof of,' and when ascribed to God in His dealings with people, it means no more than this (see Gen. 22:1). But for the most part in Scripture, the word is used in a negative sense, and means to entice, solicit, or provoke to sin. Hence the name given to the wicked one in this passage is 'the tempter' (4:3). Accordingly 'to be tempted' here is to be understood both ways. The Spirit conducted Jesus into the wilderness to try His faith, but the agent in this trial was the wicked one, whose object was to seduce Jesus away from His allegiance to God. This was temptation in the bad sense of the term. Yet Jesus did not give in to temptation; He passed the test (see 2 Cor. 5:21; Heb. 7:26)."
"Just as God led Israel out of Egypt and through the waters and into the desert (Num 20.5; 1 Bas 12.6; Ps 80.1 LXX; etc., all using anagein ['to lead up']), so does the Spirit of God lead Jesus into the desert after he is baptized."
"According to Hosea 2:14-23, the wilderness was the place of Israel's original sonship, where God had loved His people. Yet because they had forsaken Yahweh their Father, a 'renewal' of the exodus into the desert was necessary for the restoration of Israel's status as the 'son' of God. In this new exodus, God's power and help would be experienced again in a renewed trek into the wilderness."
The wilderness of Judea (3:1) is the traditional site. Israel had, of course, experienced temptation in another wilderness for 40 years. The number 40 frequently has connections with sin and testing in the Old Testament (cf. Gen. 7:4, 12; Num. 14:33; 32:13; Deut. 9:25; 25:3; Ps. 95:10; Jon. 3:4). Jesus experienced temptation in the wilderness at the end of 40 days and nights.
The Greek word translated "tempted" (peirazo) means "to test" in either a good or bad sense. Here God's objective was to demonstrate the character of His Son by exposing Him to Satan's tests (cf. 2 Sam. 24:1; Job 1:6—2:7). Scripture consistently teaches that God does not test (Gr. peirazo) anyone (James 1:13). Nevertheless He does allow people to experience testing that comes from the world, the flesh, and the devil (1 John 2:15-17; Rom. 7:18-24; 1 Pet. 5:8). God evidently led Jesus into the wilderness to demonstrate the obedience of this Son compared with the disobedience of His son Israel (2:15; cf. Exod. 4:22; Deut. 8:3, 5). God allowed both His sons to be tested "to prove their obedience and loyalty in preparation for their appointed work."
Fasting in Scripture was for a spiritual reason, namely, to forego a physical need to give attention to a more important spiritual need. During this fast Jesus ate nothing but presumably drank water (cf. Luke 4:2). Moses and Elijah, two of God's most significant servants in the Old Testament, likewise fasted for 40 days and nights (Exod. 34:28; Deut. 9:9; 1 Kings 19:8). Jesus' fast would have connected Him with these servants of the Lord in the minds of Matthew's Jewish readers, as it does in ours.
4:3-4 Satan attacked Jesus when He was vulnerable physically. The form of Satan's question in the Greek text indicates that Satan was assuming that Jesus was "the Son of God" (3:17). It is a first class conditional clause.
This temptation was not for Jesus to doubt that He was God's Son. It was to suggest that, as the Son of God, Jesus surely had the power and right to satisfy His own needs independent of His Father. Satan urged Jesus to use His Sonship in a way that was inconsistent with His mission (cf. 26:53-54; 27:40). God had intended Israel's hunger in the wilderness to teach her that hearing and obeying God's Word is the most important thing in life (Deut. 8:2-3). Israel demanded bread in the wilderness but died. Jesus forewent bread in submission to His Father's will and lived.
"The impact of Satan's temptation is that Jesus, like Adam first and Israel later, had a justifiable grievance against God and therefore ought to voice His complaint by 'murmuring' (Exod. 16; Num. 11) and ought to provide for Himself the basic necessity of life, namely, bread. Satan, in other words, sought to make Jesus groundlessly anxious about His physical needs and thus to provoke Him to demand the food He craved (cf. Ps. 78:18). In short, the devil's aim was to persuade Jesus to repeat the apostasy of Adam and Israel. Satan wanted to break Jesus' perfect trust in His Father's good care and thereby to alter the course of salvation-history."
The wilderness of Judea contains many limestone rocks of all sizes and shapes. Many of them look like the loaves and rolls of bread that the Jews prepared and ate daily.
Jesus' response to Satan's suggestion (v. 4) reflected His total commitment to follow God's will as revealed in His Word. He quoted the Septuagint translation of Deuteronomy 8:3. Its application originally was to Israel, but Jesus applied it to everyone and particularly Himself. By applying this passage to Himself, Jesus put Himself in the category of a true "man" (Gr. anthropos).
Jesus faced Satan as a man, not as God. He did not use His own divine powers to overcome the enemy, which is just what Satan tempted Him to do. Rather, He used the spiritual resources that are available to all people, including us, namely: the Word of God and the power of the Holy Spirit (v. 1). It is for this reason that He is an example for us of one who successfully endured temptation, and it is this victory that qualified Him to become our high priest (Heb. 2:10; 3:1-2).
Everyone needs to recognize and acknowledge his or her total dependence on God and His Word. Jesus' real food, what sustained Him above all else, was His commitment to do the will of His Father (John 4:34).
In this first temptation, Satan's aim was to seduce Jesus into using His God-given power and authority independently of His Father's will. Jesus had subjected Himself to His Father's will because of His mission (cf. Phil. 2:8). It was uniquely a personal temptation: it tested Jesus' person.
4:5-7 The setting for the second temptation was Jerusalem, perhaps in a vision that Satan gave Jesus, or perhaps Jesus was tempted to imagine Himself there. Matthew referred to Jerusalem with a favorite Jewish term, "the holy city" (cf. Neh. 11:1; Isa. 48:2; Dan. 9:24; Matt. 4:5; 27:53). This suggests that the temptation would have national rather than solely individual implications. Satan took Him to a high point of the temple complex (Gr. hieron), not necessarily the topmost peak of the sanctuary. The Greek word is pterygion, which can be translated "little wing" or "high corner." The temple complex towered over the Kidron Valley 170 feet below. Some of the Jewish rabbis taught that when Messiah came to deliver Israel, He would appear on the temple roof (cf. Mal. 3:1; John 6:30).
"Jerusalem was considered the 'center of the nations, with lands around her,' the 'center of the world,' whose inhabitants 'dwell at the center of the earth' (Ezek. 5:5; 38:12; . . .). Thus when Jesus stood on the pinnacle of the temple, He was, theologically speaking, at the center of the world. From that vantage point the Messiah most naturally could claim the nations as His own and rule them with a rod of iron . . ."
Again the devil granted that Jesus was the Son of God. Satan's words replicate the Septuagint version of Psalm 91:11-12, appealing to the authority that Jesus used, namely: God's Word (v. 4). He omitted the words "to guard you in all your ways." Many expositors have assumed that Satan wanted to trick Jesus with this omission, but his free method of quoting was very common. Many New Testament writers quoted the Old Testament in the same loose way.
Probably Satan wanted Jesus to demonstrate His trust in God in a spectacular way to challenge God's faithfulness. He misapplied the Scripture he quoted. The Psalms passage refers to anyone who trusts in God. That certainly applied to Jesus. The verses promise that the angels will uphold such a person as a nurse does a baby (cf. Num. 11:12; Deut. 1:31; Isa. 49:22; Heb. 1:14). God had revealed Himself most particularly at the temple throughout Israel's history. Therefore what better place could there have been to demonstrate the Son of God's confidence in His Father's promise?
Jesus refused Satan's suggestion (v. 7) because the Scriptures prohibited putting God to a test, not because He questioned God's faithfulness to His promise. Satan tempted Jesus to test God. Satan was tempting Jesus to act as if God was there to serve Him, rather than the other way around. Israel had faced the same test and had failed (Exod. 17:2-7; cf. Num. 20:1-13). It is wrong to demand that God prove Himself faithful to His promises by giving us what He has promised on our terms. The proper procedure is simply to trust and obey God (Deut. 6:16-17).
Jesus refused to allow Satan to apply a valid promise so it contradicted another teaching in God's Word. "On the other hand" or "also" (Gr. palin) has the sense of "not contradicting but qualifying." Jesus as a man, voluntarily under the authority of God's Word, proved to be faithful to its spirit as well as to its letter.
4:8-10 The "very high mountain" to which Satan took Jesus next is traditionally near Jericho, but its exact location is not important. It simply provided a vantage point from which Satan could point out other kingdoms that surrounded Israel.
"The placement of Jesus on the mountain of temptation, where He refused to acknowledge the devil's 'authority,' is deliberately juxtaposed to the mountain (Matt. 28:16) of 'the great commission,' on which He later affirmed that all 'authority' in heaven and on earth had been granted to Him (28:18)."
Luke's wording suggests that Satan presented "all the kingdoms of the world" to Jesus in a vision (Luke 4:5). It is hard to tell if Jesus' temptations involved physical transportation or visionary transportation, but my preference is visionary transportation. This temptation would have universal significance, not just personal and national significance, as the first and second temptations did.
Satan offered to "give" Jesus immediate dominion and control over all the kingdoms of the world, and the "glory" connected with reigning over them (v. 9)—something that God would give Him eventually as the Messiah. In the will of God, Jesus would achieve universal rule (Ps. 2), but only as the Suffering Servant who would have to endure the Cross first.
God's divine authentication of His Son (3:16-17) drew attention to both Jesus' Davidic messiahship and His Suffering Servant role. This temptation consisted of an opportunity for Jesus to obtain the benefits of messiahship without having to experience its unpleasant elements. To get this, however, Jesus would have to change His allegiance from God to Satan. This involved idolatry, putting someone or something in the place that God deserves. Later, Peter suggested the same shortcut to Jesus, and received a sharp rebuke as Satan's spokesman for doing so (16:23).
This was a legitimate offer. Satan had the ability, under the sovereign authority of God, to give Jesus what he promised, namely, power and glory (cf. 12:25-28; Luke 10:18; Eph. 2:2). Israel, God's other son, had formerly faced the same temptation to avoid God's uncomfortable will by departing from it, and had failed (Num. 13—14). This third temptation, like the other two, tested Jesus' total loyalty to His Father and His Father's will. Had Jesus taken Satan's bait, He would have been Satan's slave, albeit, perhaps, a world ruler.
"Jesus was in effect tempted to subscribe to the diabolical doctrine that the end justifies the means; that, so long as He obtained universal sovereignty in the end, it mattered not how that sovereignty was reached . . ."
For a third time, Jesus responded by quoting Scripture to His adversary (v. 10). He banished Satan with the divine command to worship and to serve God alone (Deut. 6:13).
When Satan tempts us to doubt, deny, disobey, or disregard God's Word, we should do what Jesus did. Instead of listening to Satan, we should speak to him, reiterating what God has said.
4:11 Having resisted Satan's attacks successfully, the enemy departed temporarily (cf. James 4:7). God sent messengers ("angels") to assist His faithful Son (cf. 1 Kings 19:4-8). The Father rewarded the Son with divine assistance and further opportunity for service, because Jesus had remained faithful to Him. This is God's normal method.
"What we call temptation is not meant to make us sin; it is meant to enable us to conquer sin. It is not meant to make us bad, it is meant to make us good. It is not meant to weaken us, it is meant to make us emerge stronger and finer and purer from the ordeal. Temptation is not the penalty of being a man, temptation is the glory of being a man."
Many have observed that Satan followed the same pattern of temptation with Jesus that he had used with Eve (Gen. 3). First, he appealed to the lust of the flesh, the desire to do something apart from God's will. Second, he appealed to the lust of the eyes, the desire to have something apart from God's will. Third, he appealed to the pride of life, the desire to be something apart from God's will (cf. 1 John 2:16).
"Each temptation challenges Jesus' faithfulness. Will he provide for himself independently of God's direction and draw on his power in self-interest (bread)? Will he insist that God protect him by putting God to the test of his protection of the Son (temple)? Will the Son defect from the Father and worship someone else for his own gain (kingdoms)? In each text [sic] Jesus stresses his loyalty to the Father as he cites Deuteronomy."
Each of Jesus' three temptations related to His messiahship: the first to Him personally, the second to the Jews, and the third to all the nations (cf. 1:1). The twin themes of Jesus' royal kingship and His suffering servanthood, which combined in the name Immanuel, "God with us" (1:23), were in tension in the temptation. They remained in tension and created conflict in Jesus' ministry as it unfolded.
"In the first temptation Jesus does not deny that He is hungry and able to make bread; in the second, He does not deny that He is the Son of God, and under special protection; and in the third, He does not deny the Kingdom or dominion which is to be given to Him, but only rejects the mode by which it is to be obtained. As observed, if such a Kingdom is not covenanted, predicted, and intended, the temptation would not have any force."
"In this pericope [4:1-11] we encounter a theme that is vital in the theology of the Gospels. The goal of obedience to the Father is accomplished, not by triumphant self-assertion, not by the exercise of power and authority, but paradoxically by the way of humility, service, and suffering. Therein lies true greatness (cf. 20:26-28). In fulfilling his commission by obedience to the will of the Father, Jesus demonstrates the rightness of the great commandment (Deut 6:5) as well as his own submission to it."
"Just as the first Adam met Satan, so the Last Adam met the enemy (1 Cor. 15:45). Adam met Satan in a beautiful Garden, but Jesus met him in a terrible wilderness. Adam had everything he needed, but Jesus was hungry after forty days of fasting. Adam lost the battle and plunged humanity into sin and death. But Jesus won the battle and went on to defeat Satan in more battles, culminating in His final victory on the cross (John 12:31; Co. 2:15)."
Since Jesus was both God and man, was it possible for Him to sin? Most evangelical theologians have concluded that He could not since God cannot sin. They believe He was impeccable (incapable of sinning). If so, was His temptation genuine? Most have responded yes.
Henri Nouwen helpfully discussed Jesus' three temptations in relation to leadership in ministry. He saw them as temptations to relevance, popularity, and power, and he suggested prayer, ministry, and being led as antidotes.
In the first major section of his Gospel, Matthew showed that Jesus had all the qualifications to be Israel's Messiah—legally, scripturally, and morally. He was now ready to relate Jesus' presentation of Himself to Israel as her King.
Having introduced the King, Matthew next demonstrated the authority of the King. This section includes a narrative introduction to Jesus' teaching and then His teaching on the subject of His kingdom.
Matthew gave much prominence to Jesus' teachings in his Gospel. The first of these is the so-called Sermon on the Mount (chs. 5—7). To prepare the reader for this discourse, the writer gave a brief introduction to Jesus' ministry (4:12-25). In it, Matthew provided a résumé of His work, highlighting the authority of Israel's King: the setting of Jesus' ministry (Capernaum), Jesus' essential message ("Repent . . ."), Jesus' call of four disciples, and a summary of Jesus' ministry.
Comparison of John's Gospel and Matthew's, shows that Jesus ministered for about a year before John the Baptist's arrest. John had criticized Herod Antipas for having an adulterous relationship with his brother Philip's wife (14:3-4; Mark 1:14; Luke 3:19-20). Jesus ministered first in Galilee (John 1:19—2:12) and then in Judea (John 2:13—3:21). Then He returned to Galilee by way of Samaria (John 3:22—4:42). Why did Matthew begin his account of Jesus' ministry with John's arrest? John's arrest by Herod signaled the beginning of a new phase of Jesus' ministry. The forerunner's work was now complete. It was time for the King to appear publicly.
"In royal protocol the King does not make His appearance in public until the forerunner has finished his work. Matthew, emphasizing the official and regal character of Jesus, follows this procedure exactly."
4:12-13 The word "withdrew" (NASB) or "returned" (NIV; Gr. anachoreo) is significant. Evidently Jesus wanted to get away from Israel's religious leaders in Jerusalem who opposed John (John 4:1-3; 5:1-16). It is unlikely that Herod Antipas would have imprisoned John if the religious authorities had supported John. Matthew used the same Greek word, paredothe ("to be taken into custody"), later when he described Jesus' arrest (26:15, 16, 21, 23, 25; 27:3, 4). The religious leaders evidently played a significant role in both arrests.
To Matthew, "Galilee" had great significance for two reasons. First, it was the place where Isaiah had predicted Messiah would minister (Isa. 9:1). Second, since it was an area where many Gentiles lived, it corroborated Messiah's influence over the nations as well as Israel.
Jesus moved the base of His ministry from "Nazareth" to "Capernaum" (v. 13). Matthew described it as he did in view of the prophecy that Jesus' residence there fulfilled (vv. 15-16). This town stood on the northwest shore of the Sea of Galilee (14:34). It was the town where Peter, Andrew, James, and John (the fishermen) and Matthew (the tax collector) worked (8:14; 9:9). Estimates of its population in the first century range from 1,000 to 15,000.
"If Joseph settled in Nazareth after the return from Egypt (2:22-23), Jesus now leaves Nazareth and moves to Capernaum (4:12-13), which becomes 'his own city' (9:1). He is thus poised to begin his public ministry."
4:14-16 Jesus' move to Capernaum fulfilled Isaiah 9:1, part of a section of Isaiah's prophecy that describes Immanuel's coming. Matthew's quotation of this passage was a free one. Its point was that "light" had "dawned" in a dark part of Palestine. By New Testament times, the old tribal divisions had little actual relevance. When Isaiah prophesied, Galilee was under the oppressive threat of the Assyrians. He predicted that Messiah would liberate the people living there. When Matthew wrote, Galilee was under Roman oppression. The "darkness" was also symbolic of the absence of religious, political, and cultural advantages available to Jews who lived in Jerusalem. "Dawned" (Gr. aneteilen) suggests that the light of Messiah's ministry would first shine brightly in Galilee (cf. John 1:9; 12:46).
". . . From of old the Messiah was promised to 'Galilee of the Gentiles' (ton ethnon), a foreshadowing of the commission to 'all nations' (panta ta ethne, 28:19). Moreover, if the messianic light dawns on the darkest places, then Messiah's salvation can only be a bestowal of grace—namely, that Jesus came to call, not the righteous, but sinners (9:13)."
"The natural characteristics of the Galileans, and the preparation of history had made Galilee the one place in all Palestine where a new teacher with a new message had any real chance of being heard, and it was there that Jesus began His mission and first announced His message."
Whereas Galilee was a dark place in one sense, in another sense Jerusalem was even darker. There, hostility to Jesus was much greater, but in Galilee the people heard Jesus gladly.
"Matthew's story of Jesus' life and ministry possesses a clearly defined beginning, middle, and end and hence falls into three parts: (I) The Presentation of Jesus (1:1—4:16); (II) The Ministry of Jesus to Israel and Israel's Repudiation of Jesus (4:17—16:20); and (III) The Journey of Jesus to Jerusalem and His Suffering, Death, and Resurrection (16:21—28:20). In the first part, Matthew presents Jesus as the Davidic Messiah-King, the royal Son of God (1:1—4:16). To show that Jesus is preeminently the Son of God, Matthew depicts God as announcing within the world of the story that Jesus is his Son (3:17). As the Son of God, Jesus stands forth as the supreme agent of God who authoritatively espouses God's evaluative point of view."
The divisions of the Gospel that I have used in these notes are theological more than narrative.
The clause "From that time Jesus began" (Gr. apo tote erxato ho Iesous) is very significant in Matthew's Gospel. The writer used it only twice, here and in 16:21, and in both instances it indicates a major change in Jesus' ministry. Here it signals the beginning of Jesus' public preaching that the kingdom was "at hand." Until now, His ministry had been to selected individuals and groups, which John's Gospel records. Jesus "went public" after John had ended his ministry of preparing Israel for her Messiah. Here Jesus took up exactly the same message that John had been preaching (cf. 3:2). It is exactly the same statement in the Greek text. The better translations have also rendered these sentences identically. In 16:21, having been rejected by Israel, Jesus announced His approaching passion and resurrection. The verb "began" (erxato) indicates the beginning of an action that continues, or it describes a new phase in the narrative, wherever it occurs.
Jesus used the same words as John, and He, too, offered no explanation of their meaning. Clearly, Jesus' concept of "the kingdom" was the same as that of the Old Testament prophets and John. Some commentators claim that John's concept of the kingdom was eschatological but Jesus' was soteriological. However, there is no basis for this distinction in the text. Both John and Jesus viewed the kingdom as having both soteriological and eschatological elements.
Alva McClain listed and explained five different answers that Bible scholars have given to the questions: "Was this Kingdom identical with the Kingdom of Old Testament prophecy? Or was it something different?"
"First, the Liberal-Social view: that Christ took over from the Old Testament prophets their ethical and social ideals of the kingdom, excluding almost wholly the eschatological element, and made these ideals the program of a present kingdom which it is the responsibility of His followers to establish in human society on earth here and now. . . .
"Second, the Critical-Eschatological view: that Jesus at first embraced fully the eschatological ideas of the Old Testament prophets regarding the Kingdom, and to some extent the current Jewish ideas; but later in the face of opposition He changed His message; or, at least, there are conflicting elements in the gospel records. . . .
"Third, the Spiritualizing-Anti-millennial view: that our Lord appropriated certain spiritual elements from the Old Testament prophetical picture, either omitted or spiritualized the physical elements (excepting the physical details involved in the Messiah's first coming!), and then added some original ideas of His own. . . .
"Fourth, the Dual-Kingdom view: that Christ at His first coming offered to Israel and established on earth a purely spiritual kingdom; and that at His second coming He will establish on earth a literal Millennial Kingdom. . . .
"Fifth, the One-Kingdom Millennial view: that the Kingdom announced by our Lord and offered to the nation of Israel at His first coming was identical with the Mediatorial Kingdom of Old Testament prophecy, and will be established on earth at the second coming of the King. . . ."
Now the King began announcing the nearness of the earthly kingdom of Messiah, and He urged His subjects to prepare themselves spiritually.
Normative (traditional) dispensationalists—such as Walvoord, Pentecost, Toussaint, Barbieri, Bailey, and myself—believe that the kingdom was postponed due to Jewish rejection of the Messiah. Progressive dispensationalists believe that it began with Jesus' earthly ministry, and continues through the church, but that it will also have a future manifestation in the Millennium.
Matthew wrote "kingdom of heaven," whereas Mark and Luke usually wrote "kingdom of God" in the parallel passages. This was probably because Matthew wrote to Jews who used the word "heaven" instead of "God" to avoid unduly familiarizing the ear with the sacred name. The phrase "of heaven" does not mean that it is a mystical or spiritual kingdom, as opposed to a physical, earthly kingdom. It means that this kingdom is sent from God who is in heaven.
The calling of these four men shows Jesus' authority over people. The response of these disciples was appropriate in view of their summons by the King. They obeyed "immediately" (vv. 20, 22). From here on in the Gospel of Matthew, we will not read stories about Jesus alone; He is always with His disciples, until they desert Him in the garden of Gethsemane (26:56).
4:18-20 The Hebrews referred to lakes as "seas." The "Sea of Galilee" got its name from its district. Its other name, the Sea of "Gennesaret," came from the plain to the northwest of the lake (Luke 5:1) and from a town on that plain: Gennesaret. The name "Gennesaret" connects to the Hebrew word kinnor, meaning "harp." In the Old Testament this body of water was called the Sea of Chinnereth because of its harp-like shape. Sometimes people referred to the lake as the Sea of Tiberias. Tiberias was the Hellenistic city that Herod built on its west-southwest shore. This sea was approximately 12 miles long and 9 miles wide at its longest and broadest points. It supported a thriving fishing industry in Jesus' day, with nine towns on its western shore, plus others elsewhere. Simon and Andrew had moved from their hometown of Bethsaida (lit. "Fishtown," John 1:44) to Capernaum (Mark 1:21, 29).
Simon's nickname was Peter ("Rocky"). "Simon" was one of the most common names in first-century Palestine. The "net" (Gr. amphibleston, used only here in the New Testament) that Simon and Andrew were "casting" into the lake was a circular one. It was a common tool of Galilean fishermen. Fishing was a major industry in Galilee.
Jesus' command (not invitation), "Follow Me" (v. 19), was a summons to leave their occupations, and literally follow Jesus wherever He would take them as His trainees (cf. 1 Kings 19:19-21).
"The expression 'Follow Me' would be readily understood, as implying a call to become the permanent disciple of a teacher. (Talmudic tractate Erubhin 30 a) Similarly, it was not only the practice of the Rabbis, but regarded as one of the most sacred duties, for a Master to gather around him a circle of disciples. (Talmudic tractates Pirqey Abhoth 1. 1; and Sanhedrin 91 b) Thus, neither Peter and Andrew, nor the sons of Zebedee, could have misunderstood the call of Christ, or even regarded it as strange."
Etiquette required a rabbi's disciples to walk behind him. The phrase "fishers of men" recalls Jeremiah 16:16. There Yahweh sent "fishermen" to gather Israelites for the Exile. Here Jesus called fishermen to announce the end of Israel's spiritual exile (cf. 1:11-12; 2:17-18) and to prepare for His messianic reign. Later, after experiencing rejection by Israel, Jesus re-commissioned these men for duty in the inter-advent age (28:18-20; John 21:15-23).
This message appeared on a church marquee: "Be fishers of men. You catch 'em. He'll clean 'em." That is the proper order.
Evidently Jesus had called Simon, Andrew, Philip, and Nathanael earlier (John 1:35-51). Probably they had returned to Galilee and resumed their former work. This would partially explain their quick response to Jesus here (v. 20). Furthermore, Jesus had changed water into wine in Cana, which was not far away (John 2:1-11). If the miracle of Luke 5:1-11 occurred the night before this calling, we have another reason they followed Jesus "immediately." Matthew's interest was not in why these men responded as they did, but how authoritatively Jesus called them, and how they responded. They recognized Jesus' authority and left all to follow Him.
Disciples of other rabbis normally continued their trades, but Jesus wanted His disciples to be with Him fulltime (Luke 9:61). Also, in contrast to the rabbinic model, Jesus chose His disciples; typically the disciple chose the rabbi he would follow. Furthermore, Jesus called His disciples to follow Him, not to follow the Law or teaching in abstraction.
4:21-22 "James" and "John" were evidently repairing (Gr. katartizo) their nets after a night of fishing (cf. 1 Cor. 1:10; 2 Cor. 13:11).
The disciples "left . . . their father" as well as their fishing (v. 22).
"The twelve arrived at their final intimate relation to Jesus only by degrees, three stages in the history of their fellowship with Him being distinguishable. In the first stage they were simply believers in Him as the Christ, and His occasional companions at convenient, particularly festive, seasons [e.g., John 2:1-11].
"In the second stage, fellowship with Christ assumed the form of an uninterrupted attendance on His person, involving entire, or at least habitual abandonment of secular occupations [Matt. 4:22; Mark 1:20; Luke 5:11].
"The twelve enter on the last and highest stage of discipleship when they were chosen by their Master from the mass of His followers, and formed into a select band, to be trained for the great work of the apostleship [Mark 3:13-15; Luke 6:12-13]."
"The call of God through Jesus is sovereign and absolute in its authority; the response of those who are called is to be both immediate and absolute, involving a complete break with old loyalties. The actual shape of this break with the past will undoubtedly vary from individual to individual, but that there must be a fundamental, radical reorientation of a person's priorities is taken for granted."
This brief résumé (cf. 9:35-38) stresses the varied activities and the geographical and ethnic extent of Jesus' ministry at this time. It sets the stage for the discourse to follow (chs. 5—7) implying that this is but a sample of Jesus' teaching (cf. 9:35).
"Galilee" (v. 23) covered an area of about 2,800 square miles (roughly 70 by 40 miles), and contained approximately 3,000,000 people who lived in 204 cities and villages. As an itinerant preacher, Jesus engaged in three primary activities: teaching His disciples, preaching good news to the multitudes, and healing many who were infirm. This verse helps the reader identify Jesus' main activities during most of His earthly ministry. Matthew never used the verb didasko ("teach") of the disciples until after Jesus had departed from them. He presented Jesus as the Teacher during His earthly ministry. This is also Matthew's first of only four uses of euangelion ("gospel," "good news," cf. 9:35; 24:14; 26:13). His ministry was to the Jewish people. This is clear, first, since He preached in the Jewish synagogues of Galilee. Second, He preached a Jewish message, the good news about the messianic kingdom. Third, He practiced His healing among the Jews. The Greek word laos ("people") refers specifically to "the people," that is, the Jews. (The English word "laity" comes from laos.) Matthew was hyperbolizing when he wrote that Jesus healed "all who were ill"; He could not have healed every single individual, though His healing ministry was extensive (cf. "all Galilee").
"Syria" (v. 24), to the Jews in Galilee, meant the area to the north. However, the Roman province of Syria covered all of Palestine except Galilee, which was then under Herod Antipas' administration. Regardless of the way Matthew intended us to understand "Syria," Jesus' popularity spread far north. Matthew described the painfully diseased people who sought Jesus out in three categories. There were those whom demons oppressed. Others had ailments that resulted in mental and physical imbalances that demons did not induce. Still others suffered paralyses of various kinds. Jesus' miracles dealt with "incurable" afflictions, not just trivial maladies (cf. Isa. 35:5-6).
". . . both Scripture and Jewish tradition take sickness as resulting directly or indirectly from living in a fallen world . . . . The Messianic Age would end such grief (Isa. 11:1-5; 35:5-6). Therefore Jesus' miracles, dealing with every kind of ailment, not only herald the kingdom but show that God has pledged himself to deal with sin at a basic level (cf. 1:21; 8:17)."
When Matthew wrote that multitudes "followed" Jesus, he did not mean that they were all thoroughly committed disciples, as the text will show. Some were undoubtedly ardent disciples, but others were simply needy or curious individuals who followed Jesus temporarily. These people came from all over "Galilee, Decapolis" (the area to the east of Galilee as far north as Damascus and as far south as Philadelphia), "Jerusalem, Judea," and east of ("beyond") "the Jordan" River. Many of these had to be Gentiles. Matthew made no reference to Jesus ministering in Samaria or to Samaritans.
"While Jesus begins His ministry with the Jews only, His fame becomes so widespread that both Jews and Gentiles respond. This is clearly a foreview of the kingdom. The King is present with both Jews and Gentiles being blessed, the Gentiles coming to the Jewish Messiah for blessing (Zechariah 2:10-12; 8:18-23; Isaiah 2:1-4)."
This section (vv. 12-25) constitutes a fitting introduction to the discourse that follows. The King had summoned disciples to follow Him, and huge crowds were seeking Him out, anticipating great supernatural blessings from His hand. He had appealed mainly to the Jews, but multitudes of Gentiles were seeking Him and experiencing His blessing, too. No case was too difficult for Him.
"The evangelist wants us quickly to sense the great excitement surrounding Jesus at the beginning of his ministry, where he began to preach 'the good news of the kingdom,' before presenting him in more detail as the master teacher (chaps. 5—7) and charismatic healer (chaps. 8—9)."
The Sermon on the Mount is the first of five major discourses that Matthew included in his Gospel. Each one follows a narrative section, and each ends with the same formula statement concerning Jesus' authority (cf. 7:28-29).
There are four features of all five of Jesus' major discourses to His disciples, that Matthew recorded, that are worthy of note.
First, they did not provoke conflict between Jesus and the religious leaders.
Second, the reason for this is that Jesus gave them to His disciples and the crowds, not to the religious leaders.
By the way, the Gospels use the word "disciple" in a slightly different way than many Christians do today. We usually think of disciples of Jesus as people who have believed in Jesus and who are going on in their walk with Him. The Gospel evangelists used "disciple" to refer to people who were learning from Jesus, before they came to faith in Him, as well as after they did. In the process of increasing insight into who Jesus was, and increasing belief in Him, many of Jesus' disciples experienced regeneration. The Gospels do not focus on the moment of regeneration for disciples. Instead, they focus on the identity of Jesus, and they encourage increasing faith in Him. The emphasis is more linear than punctiliar. The Greek word translated "disciple" is mathetes, which means simply "learner" or "pupil."
Third, Matthew recorded Jesus' discourses in such a way that Jesus appears to be speaking past His original audience (cf. 5:11; 6:17-18; 10:18, 22, 42; 13:18-23, 38; 18:15-20; chs. 24—25). Matthew related Jesus' teaching to include future, as well as original, disciples. This draws the reader into Jesus' teaching. What He taught has relevance for us as well as for the Twelve. Jesus was teaching all His disciples—of every era—when He taught these things.
Fourth, Matthew presented Jesus as the Prophet whom Moses predicted in Deuteronomy 18:18. As such, Jesus not only corrected some false teaching of His day, and clarified God's original intention in the Mosaic Law, but He also replaced the Old Covenant with the New Covenant. Some of Jesus' teaching contradicted and contravened Moses' teaching (cf. Heb. 1:1-2). For example, He declared all food clean.
The Sermon on the Mount has probably attracted more attention than any discourse in history. The amount of material in print on this sermon reflects its popularity and significance. It has resulted in the publication of thousands of books and articles.
". . . it were difficult to say which brings greater astonishment (though of opposite kind): a first reading of the 'Sermon on the Mount,' or that of any section of the Talmud.
Especially in former years, many interpreters believed that the purpose of the Sermon was to enable people to know what God required, so that by obeying they might obtain salvation. One writer articulated this soteriological interpretation this way.
"The Kingdom of God, like the Kingdom of Science, makes no other preliminary demand from those who would enter it than that it should be treated experimentally and practically as a working hypothesis. 'This do and thou shalt live.'"
"The Faith of the Fellowship of the Kingdom would be expressed in its Creed-Prayer, the Lord's Prayer. No other affirmation of faith would be required. To pray that Creed-Prayer daily from the heart would be the prime expression of loyal membership. The duties of membership would be the daily striving to obey the Two Great Commandments and to realize in character and conduct the ideals of the Seven Beatitudes: the seeking of each member to be in his environment 'the salt of the earth' and 'the light of the world:' and the endeavour to promote by every means in his power the coming of the Kingdom of God among mankind. Membership of the Fellowship would be open to all men and women—whether Christians, Jews, Mohammedans, or members of any religion or of no religion at all—who desired to be loyal to the Kingdom of God and discharge its duties."
There are two main reasons most interpreters now reject this interpretation. First, it contradicts the many passages of Scripture that present salvation as something impossible to attain by good works (e.g., Eph. 2:8-9). Second, the extremely high standards that Jesus taught in the Sermon make the attaining of these requirements impossible for anyone and everyone, except Jesus.
A second approach to the Sermon is the sociological view, that sees it not as a guide to personal salvation, but to the salvation of society.
"What would happen in the world if the element of fair play as enunciated in the Golden Rule—'Do unto others as you would that men should do unto you'—were put into practice in the various relationships of life? . . . What a difference all this would make, and how far we would be on the road to a new and better day in private, in public, in business, and in international relationships!"
There are two main problems with this view. First, it assumes that people can improve their society simply by applying the principles that Jesus taught in the Sermon. History has shown that this is impossible without someone to establish and administer such a society worldwide. Second, this view stresses the social dimension of Jesus' teaching to the exclusion of the personal dimension, which Jesus also emphasized.
Still others believe that Jesus gave the Sermon primarily to convict His hearers about their sins. They believe His purpose was also to make them realize that their only hope of salvation and participation in His kingdom was God's grace. One might call this view the penitential approach.
"Thus what we have here in the Sermon on the Mount, is the climax of law, the completeness of the letter, the letter which killeth; and because it is so much more searching and thorough than the Ten Commandments, therefore does it kill all the more effectually. . . . The hard demand of the letter is here in the closest possible connexion [sic] with the promise of the Spirit."
The main problem with this view is that it fails to recognize that the primary listeners to this sermon were Jesus' disciples (5:1-2). While not all of them believed in Him, most of them did. This seems clear, since He called them the "salt of the earth" and the "light of the world" (5:13-14). Moreover, He taught them to address God in prayer as their Father (6:9; cf. 6:26). He also credited them with serving God already (6:24-34). Certainly the Sermon convicted those who heard it of their sins, but it seems to have had a larger purpose than this.
A fourth view holds that the Sermon contains Jesus' ethical teaching for the church. This is the ecclesiastical interpretation to the Sermon.
The problem with this view is that the New Testament presents the church as an entity distinct from the kingdom. Nothing in the context warrants concluding that Jesus taught His disciples about the church here. Everything points to Him teaching about the kingdom. Even though there are some parallels between Jesus' teaching here and the apostles' teaching in the epistles, this similarity does not prove church teaching. There are also similarities between the Old Covenant and the New Covenant, nine of the Ten Commandments, for example. However, this similarity does not prove that the two covenants are the same.
A fifth view sees the Sermon as applying to the earthly messianic kingdom exclusively. This is the millennial view.
"In our exegesis of the three chapters, . . . we shall always in every part look upon the sermon on the mount as the proclamation of the King concerning the Kingdom. The Kingdom is not the church, nor is the state of the earth in righteousness, governed and possessed by the meek, brought about by the agency of the church. It is the millennial earth and the Kingdom to come, in which Jerusalem will be the city of a great King. . . . While we have in the Old Testament the outward manifestations of the Kingdom of the heavens as it will be set up in the earth in a future day, we have here the inner manifestation, the principles of it."
The main problem with this view is Jesus' frequent references to conditions that are incongruous with the messianic kingdom proclaimed by the Old Testament prophets. For example, Jesus said that His disciples will experience persecution for His sake (5:11-12). Wickedness abounds (5:13-16). The disciples should pray for the coming of the kingdom (6:10). False prophets pose a major threat to Jesus' disciples (7:15). Some who hold this view relegate these conditions to the Tribulation period. However, if the Sermon is the constitution of the messianic kingdom, as advocates of this view claim, it is very unusual that so much of it deals with conditions that will mark the Tribulation period. Some who hold this view also believe Jesus taught that to enter the kingdom, one must live up to the standards that Jesus presented in the Sermon. If this were the requirement, no one would be able to enter it. The standards of the Sermon on the Mount are even higher than those of the Ten Commandments.
The sixth view is that the Sermon presents ethical instructions for Jesus' disciples that apply from the time Jesus gave them until the beginning of the kingdom. This is the interim approach to interpreting the Sermon.
"The sermon is primarily addressed to disciples exhorting them to a righteous life in view of the coming kingdom. Those who were not genuine disciples were warned concerning the danger of their hypocrisy and unbelief. They are enjoined to enter the narrow gate and to walk the narrow way. This is included in the discourse, but it is only the secondary application of the sermon."
Several factors commend this view. First, it fits best into the historical situation that provided the context for the giving of the Sermon. John and then Jesus had announced that the kingdom was at hand. Jesus next instructed His disciples about preparing for its inauguration.
Second, the message of the Sermon also anticipates the inauguration of the kingdom. This is obvious in the attitude that pervades the discourse (cf. 5:12, 19-20, 46; 6:1-2, 4-6, 10, 18; 7:19-23). Moreover there is prediction about persecution and false prophets arising (5:11-12; 7:15-18). The abundant use of the future tense also anticipates the coming of the kingdom (5:4-9, 19-20; 6:4, 6, 14-15, 18, 33; 7:2, 7, 11, 16, 20-22).
Third, this view recognizes that the primary recipients of the Sermon were Jesus' disciples whom He taught (5:1-2, 19; 7:29). They were salt and light (5:13-16), God was their Father (5:9, 16, 45, 48; 6:1, 4, 6, 8-9, 14-15, 18, 26, 32; 7:11, 21), and righteousness was to characterize their lives (5:19—7:12). Jesus had much to say about service (5:10-12, 13-16, 19-20, 21-48; 6:1-18, 19-34; 7:1-12, 15-23, 24-27) and rewards (5:12, 19, 46; 6:1-2; 5, 16) in the Sermon. Probably many of these disciples had been John's disciples who had left the forerunner to follow the King (cf. John 3:22-30; 4:1-2; 6:66). Jesus was instructing His disciples concerning their duties for the rest of their lives. However, Jesus also had words for the multitudes, especially toward the end of the Sermon, the people that did not fall into the category of being His disciples (5:1-2; cf. 7:13, 21-23, 24-27).
Fourth, the subject matter of the Sermon favors the interim interpretation. The Sermon dealt with the good fruit resulting from repentance that Jesus' disciples should manifest (cf. 3:8, 10). The only thing Matthew recorded that John preached and that Jesus repeated in this Sermon is, "Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire" (7:19). Jesus, too, wanted His hearers to bring forth fruit worthy of repentance, and He described that fruit in this address.
Many students of the New Testament have noted the similarity between Jesus' teaching in the Sermon on the Mount and James' epistle. James also stressed the importance of believers producing fruit, godly character, and good works (James 2:14-26). All the New Testament epistles present high standards for believers to maintain (cf. Phil. 3:12; Col. 3:13; 1 Pet. 1:15; 1 John 2:1). These flow naturally out of Jesus' instruction. Only with the Holy Spirit's enablement and the believer's dependence on the Lord can we live up to these standards.
The "multitudes" or "crowds" consisted of the people Matthew just mentioned in 4:23-25. They comprised a larger group than the "disciples."
The disciples were not just the Twelve, but many others who followed Jesus and sought to learn from Him. Essentially "disciple" means learner. They did not all continue to follow Him (John 6:66). Not all of them were genuine believers, Judas Iscariot being the notable example. The term "disciples" in the Gospels is a large one that includes all who chose to follow Jesus, for some time, anyway (Luke 6:17). We should not equate "believer" in the New Testament sense with "disciple" in the Gospels, as some expositors have done.
"To say that 'every Christian is a disciple' seems to contradict the teaching of the New Testament. In fact, one could be a disciple and not be a Christian at all! John describes men who were disciples first and who then placed their faith in Christ (Jn. 2:11). . . . This alone alerts us to the fact that Jesus did not always equate being a 'disciple' with being a Christian."
Customarily rabbis (teachers) "sat down" to instruct their disciples (cf. 13:2; 23:2; 24:3; Luke 4:20). This posture implied Jesus' authority. The exact location of the "mountain" Matthew referred to is unknown, though probably it was in Galilee, near the Sea of Galilee, and perhaps near Capernaum. There are no real mountains nearby, but plenty of hills.
"There is probably a deliberate attempt on the evangelist's part to liken Jesus to Moses, especially insofar as he is about to present the definitive interpretation of Torah, just as Moses, according to the Pharisees, had given the interpretation of Torah on Sinai to be handed on orally."
The phrase "opening His mouth He began to teach them" (v. 2; NASB) or "He began to teach them" (NIV) is a New Testament idiom (cf. 13:35; Acts 8:35; 10:34; 18:14). It has Old Testament roots (Job 3:1; 33:2; Dan. 10:16) and introduces an important utterance wherever it occurs.
"In Greek the phrase has a double significance. (a) In Greek it is used of a solemn, grave and dignified utterance. It is used, for instance, of the saying of an oracle. It is the natural preface for a most weighty saying. (b) It is used of a person's utterance when he is really opening his heart and fully pouring out his mind. It is used of intimate teaching with no barriers between."
There is some difference between preaching (Gr. kerysso; 4:17) and teaching (Gr. didasko; 5:2) as the Gospel writers used these terms (cf. Acts 28:23, 31). Generally, preaching involved a wider audience, and teaching was to a narrower, more committed one, in this case the disciples.
Comparison of this Sermon with Jesus' teachings recorded in the other Gospels, especially the Synoptic Gospels, reveals that Jesus said some of the things recorded in this Sermon on other occasions. This has raised the question: "Is this Sermon simply Matthew's compilation of Jesus' teachings, rather than a sermon that He delivered on one specific occasion?" In view of the introduction and conclusion to the Sermon that Matthew recorded, it seems that this was a sermon that Jesus delivered on one specific occasion, but Matthew may have selected and arranged the material to present an epitome of Jesus' teachings.
Kingsbury identified the theme of this Sermon as "greater righteousness" and divided it as follows: (I) On Those Who Practice the Greater Righteousness (5:3-16); (II) On Practicing the Greater Righteousness toward the Neighbor (5:17-45); (III) On Practicing the Greater Righteousness before God (6:1-18); (IV) On Practicing the Greater Righteousness in Other Areas of Life (6:19—7:12); and (V) Injunctions on Practicing the Greater Righteousness (7:13-27). The Book of Romans deals with the theme of God's righteousness and how people can share in it.
This pericope describes the character of the kingdom's subjects and their rewards in the kingdom.
Jesus described the character of those who will receive blessings in the kingdom as rewards from eight perspectives. He introduced each one with a pronouncement of blessedness. This form of expression goes back to the wisdom literature of the Old Testament, particularly the Psalms (cf. Ps. 1:1; 32:1-2; 84:4-5; 144:15; Prov. 3:13; Dan. 12:12). The Beatitudes (vv. 3-10) may describe the fulfillment of Isaiah 61:1-3. They describe and commend the good life.
The English word "beatitude" comes from the Latin word for "blessed," beatus. The Greek word translated "blessed," makarios, refers to a happy condition.
"The special feature of the group makarios, makarizein, makarismos in the NT is that it refers overwhelmingly to the distinctive religious joy which accrues to man from his share in the salvation of the kingdom of God."
". . . the kingdom is presupposed as something given by God. The kingdom is declared as a reality apart from any human achievement. Thus the beatitudes are, above all, predicated upon the experience of the grace of God. The recipients are just that, those who receive the good news."
The "for" (Gr. hoti) in each beatitude explains why the person is a blessed individual. "Because" would be a good translation. They are blessed now because they will participate in the kingdom. The basis for each blessing is the fulfillment of something about the kingdom that God promised in the Old Testament.
The Beatitudes deal with four attitudes—toward ourselves (v. 3), toward our sins (vv. 4-6), toward God (vv. 7-9), and toward the world (v. 10, and vv. 11-16). They proceed from the inside out; they start with attitudes and move to actions that are opposed, the normal course of spirituality.
5:3 The "poor in spirit" are those who recognize their natural unworthiness to stand in God's presence, and who depend utterly on Him for His mercy and grace (cf. Ps. 37:14; 40:17; 69:28-29, 32-33; Prov. 16:19; 29:23; Isa. 61:1). They do not trust in their own goodness or possessions for God's acceptance. The Jews regarded material prosperity as an indication of divine approval, since many of the blessings God promised the righteous under the Old Covenant were material. However, the "poor in spirit" does not regard these things as signs of intrinsic righteousness, but confesses his or her total unworthiness. The "poor in spirit" acknowledges his or her lack of personal righteousness. This condition, as all the others the Beatitudes identify, describes those who have repented and are broken (3:2; 4:17). Perhaps the best commentary on this beatitude is the parable of the Pharisee and the publican (Luke 18:10-14).
"'Poverty in spirit' is not speaking of weakness of character ('mean-spiritedness') but rather of a person's relationship with God. It is a positive spiritual orientation, the converse of the arrogant self-confidence which not only rides roughshod over the interests of other people but more importantly causes a person to treat God as irrelevant."
Such a person can have joy in his or her humility because an attitude of personal unworthiness is necessary to enter the kingdom. This kingdom does not go primarily to the materially wealthy, but to those who admit their spiritual bankruptcy. One cannot purchase citizenship in this kingdom with money as people could purchase Roman citizenship, for example. What qualifies a person for citizenship is that person's attitude toward his or her intrinsic righteousness.
One writer believed that Jesus was not talking about entering the kingdom but possessing it (i.e., it will be theirs in the sense that the poor in spirit will reign over it with Jesus [cf. Rev. 3:21]).
The first and last beatitudes give the reason for blessedness: "for theirs is the kingdom of heaven" (cf. v. 10). This phrase forms an inclusio or envelope that surrounds the remaining beatitudes. The inclusio is a literary device that provides unity. Speakers and writers used it, and still use it, to indicate that everything within the two uses of this term refers to the entity mentioned. Here that entity is the kingdom of heaven. In other words, this literary form shows that all the beatitudes deal with the kingdom of heaven.
5:4 "Those who mourn" do so because they sense their spiritual bankruptcy (v. 4). The Old Testament revealed that spiritual poverty results from sin. True repentance produces contrite tears—more than jubilant rejoicing—because the kingdom is near. The godly remnant in Jesus' day, that responded to the call of John and of Jesus, wept because of Israel's national humiliation, as well as because of personal sin (cf. Ezra 10:6; Ps. 51:4; 119:136; Ezek. 9:4; Dan. 9:19-20). It is this mourning over sin that resulted in personal and national humiliation that Jesus referred to here.
". . . the Greek word for to mourn, used here, is the strongest word for mourning in the Greek language. It is the word which is used for mourning for the dead, for the passionate lament for one who was loved."
The promised blessing in this beatitude is future comfort for those who now mourn. The prophets connected Messiah's appearing with the comfort of His people (Isa. 40:1; 66:1-3, 13). All sorrow over personal and national humiliation because of sin will end when the King sets up His kingdom and the repentant enter into it.
5:5 A "gentle" or "meek" person is not only gentle in his or her dealings with others (11:29; 21:5; James 3:13). Such a person is unpretentious (1 Pet. 3:4, 14-15), self-controlled, and free from malice and vengefulness. This quality looks at a person's dealings with other people. A person might acknowledge his or her spiritual bankruptcy and mourn because of sin, but to respond meekly when other people regard us as sinful is something else. Meekness then is the natural and appropriate expression of genuine humility toward others.
Inheriting the Promised Land was the hope of the godly in Israel during the wilderness wanderings (Deut. 4:1; 16:20; cf. Isa. 57:13; 60:21). Inheriting is the privilege of faithful heirs (cf. 25:34). He or she can "inherit" because of who that person is, due to the relationship with the one bestowing the inheritance. Inheriting is a concept that the apostles wrote about and clarified (e.g., 1 Cor. 6:9; 15:50; Gal. 5:21; Eph. 5:5; Col. 3:23-24; Heb. 9:15; 12:23; 1 Pet. 1:3-4; et al.). Inheriting is not always the same as entering. A person can enter another's house, for example, without inheriting it. The Old Testament concept of inheriting involved not only entering, but also becoming an owner of, what one entered. In this beatitude Jesus was saying more than that the meek will enter the kingdom. They will also enter into it as an inheritance and possess it. A major theme in the Sermon on the Mount is the believing disciple's rewards (cf. v. 12; 6:2, 4-6, 18).
"The earth" is what the meek can joyfully anticipate inheriting. The Old Testament concept of the messianic kingdom was earthly. Messiah would rule over Israel and the nations on the earth (Ps. 2:8-9; 37:9, 11, 29). Eventually the kingdom of Messiah will move to the new earth (21:1). This means Jesus' meek disciples can anticipate receiving possession of some of the earth during His messianic reign (cf. 25:14-30; Luke 19:11-27). They will, of course, be subject to the King then.
5:6 As mentioned previously, Matthew always used the term "righteousness" in the sense of personal fidelity to God and His will (3:15; cf. Ps. 42:2; 63:1; Amos 8:11-14). He never used it of imputed righteousness: justification. Therefore, the righteousness that the blessed "hunger and thirst for" is not salvation. It is personal holiness and, extending this desire more broadly, the desire that holiness may prevail among all people (cf. 6:10). When believers bewail their own, and society's sinfulness, and pray that God will send a revival to clean things up, they demonstrate a hunger and thirst for righteousness.
The encouraging promise of Jesus is that such people will eventually receive the answer to their prayers. Messiah will establish righteousness in the world when He sets up His kingdom (Isa. 45:8; 61:10-11; 62:1-2; Jer. 23:16; 33:14-16; Dan. 9:24).
5:7 A "merciful" person forgives the guilty and has compassion on the needy and the suffering. A meek person acknowledges to others that he or she is sinful, but a merciful person has compassion on others because they are sinful. Notice that Jesus did not specify a situation or situations in which the merciful person displays mercy because he or she is characteristically merciful. The promise applies in many different situations. See the parable of the unmerciful servant for an illustration of this beatitude (18:23-35).
The blessing of "the merciful" is that they will "receive mercy" from God. Jesus did not mean that people can earn God's mercy for salvation by being merciful to others. He meant that God will deal mercifully with people who have dealt mercifully with their fellowmen (cf. 6:12-15; 9:13; 12:7; 18:33-34). There are many Old Testament texts that speak of Messiah dealing mercifully with the merciful (e.g., Isa. 49:10, 13; 54:8, 10; 60:10; Zech. 10:6).
5:8 The "pure in heart" are those who are single-minded in their devotion to God, and therefore morally pure inwardly. Inner moral purity is an important theme in Matthew and in the Old Testament (cf. Deut. 10:16; 30:6; 1 Sam. 15:22; Ps. 24:3-4; 51:6, 10; Isa. 1:10-17; Jer. 4:4; 7:3-7; 9:25-26). Likewise, freedom from hypocrisy is also prominent (cf. Ps. 24:4; 51:4-17; Prov. 22:11; Matt. 6:22, 33). Jesus probably implied both ideas here.
The "pure in heart" can look forward to seeing God in the person of Messiah when He reigns on the earth (Ps. 24:3-4; Isa. 33:17; 35:2; 40:5). Messiah would be single-minded in His devotion to God and morally pure. Thus there will be a correspondence and fellowship between the King and those of His subjects who share His character. No one has seen God in His pure essence without some type of filter. The body of Jesus was such a filter. Seeing God is a synonym for having intimate knowledge of and acquaintance with Him (John 14; 1 John 1:1-4).
5:9 "Peacemakers" likewise replicate the work of the Prince of Peace (Isa. 9:6-7). Jesus, through His life and ministry, made peace between God and man, and between man and man. Isaiah predicted this of Messiah (Isa. 52:7). True disciples of Jesus make peace as they herald the gospel that brings people into a peaceful relationship with God and with one another.
People who seek to make peace behave as true "sons of God." God called Israel His "son" (Deut. 14:1; Hos. 1:10), and He charged the Israelites with bringing their Gentile neighbors into a peaceful relationship with Himself (Exod. 19:5-6). Whereas Israel failed largely in her calling, the Son of God, Messiah, succeeded completely. Those who follow Christ faithfully will demonstrate concern for the peace of humanity by leading people to Him.
5:10 Persecution is as much a mark of discipleship as peacemaking. The world does not give up its hates and self-centered living easily. This brings opposition on disciples of Christ. Righteous people, those whose conduct is right in God's eyes, become targets of the unrighteous (cf. John 15:18-25; Acts 14:22; 2 Tim. 3:12; 1 Pet. 4:13-14). Jesus, the perfectly righteous One, suffered more than any other righteous person has suffered. The Old Testament prophets foretold this, calling Him the Suffering Servant of the Lord (cf. Isa. 52:13—53:12).
Even though Jesus' disciples suffer as they anticipate the kingdom, they can find joy in knowing that the kingdom will eventually be theirs. It will provide release from the persecution of God-haters when the "Man of Sorrows" reigns. This second explicit reference to "the kingdom of heaven" concludes the inclusio begun in verse 3 and signals an end to the Beatitudes (vv. 3-10).
"The ordinary Jew of Christ's day looked only at the physical benefits of the kingdom which he thought would naturally be bestowed on every Israelite. The amillennialist of today, on the other hand, denies the physical existence of the promised Jewish kingdom by 'spiritualizing' its material blessings. The beatitudes of the King indicate that it is not an either-or proposition, but the kingdom includes both physical and spiritual blessings. A careful study of the beatitudes displays the fact that the kingdom is a physical earthly kingdom with spiritual blessings founded on divine principles."
Jesus proceeded to clarify His disciples' calling and ministry in the world to encourage them to endure persecution and to fulfill God's purpose for them.
"Some might think that verses 11-12 constitute the concluding Beatitude, since these verses begin with the words 'blessed are you". But it is noteworthy that only here in the Beatitudes do we meet a verb in the second person (i.e., 'blessed are you'). In addition there are 36 (Greek) words in this Beatitude compared to a maximum of 12 words (verse 10) in the preceding eight Beatitudes. It is reasonable to conclude that verses 3-10 are a self-contained introduction to the Sermon, while verses 11-12 commence the body of the Sermon."
5:11-12 These two verses expand and clarify the last beatitude (v. 10; cf. 6:12, 14-15) and provide a transition to what follows.
Verse 11 broadens the persecution to include insult and slander. It also identifies Jesus with righteousness.
"This confirms that the righteousness of life that is in view is in imitation of Jesus. Simultaneously, it so identifies the disciple of Jesus with the practice of Jesus' righteousness that there is no place for professed allegiance to Jesus that is not full of righteousness."
The prophets experienced persecution because they followed God faithfully. Now Jesus said His disciples would suffer similar persecution because they followed Him (cf. Dan. 9:24-27). His hearers could not help concluding that He was putting Himself on a par with God. They also realized that they themselves would be the objects of persecution.
This persecution should cause the disciples to "rejoice" rather than despair (cf. James 1:2-4). Their "reward" for faithfully enduring would be great when the kingdom began. This fact also shows the greatness of Jesus. These are the first claims to messiahship that Jesus made that Matthew recorded in his Gospel.
The phrase "in heaven" (v. 12) probably means throughout eternity. Kingdom reward (v. 10) would continue forever. Some believe it means that God prepares the reward in heaven now for future manifestation. This promise should be an incentive for Christ's disciples to view their opposition by the ungodly as temporary and to realize that their reward for persevering faithfully will be eternal (cf. 1 Pet. 1:3-9). Jesus' words about eternal rewards open and close the New Testament (cf. Rev. 22:12).
". . . because the eye of our mind is too blind to be moved solely by the beauty of the good, our most merciful Father out of his great kindness has willed to attract us by sweetness of rewards to love and seek after him.
"One of the curious features of Jesus' great speeches is that they contain sayings that seemingly are without relevance for the characters in the story to whom they are addressed. Time and again, Jesus touches on matters that are alien to the immediate situation of the crowds or the disciples. This peculiar phenomenon—that Jesus speaks past his stipulated audience at places in his speeches—compels one to ask whether Jesus is not to be construed as addressing some person(s) other than simply the crowds or the disciples in the story. . . .
"If in his great speeches Jesus periodically speaks past his story-audience of crowds or disciples, whom in addition to the latter is he addressing in these instances? From a literary-critical standpoint, he is addressing the implied reader(s)."
By placing "you" (Gr. hymeis) in the emphatic position in the Greek text, Jesus was stressing the unique calling of His disciples (cf. v. 14).
"The most obvious general characteristic of salt is that it is essentially different from the medium into which it is put. Its power lies precisely in this difference. So it is, says Jesus, with His disciples. Their power in the world lies in their difference from it."
"Salt" was important in the ancient Near East because it represented purity, flavored food, retarded decay in food, and in small doses fertilized land. Jesus implied by this metaphor that His disciples could positively affect the world (Gr. kosmos, the inhabited earth, i.e., humankind). They had the opportunity through their lives and witness to bring blessing to others and to retard the natural decay that sin produces in life. As salt thrown out on the earth, they could also produce fruit to God. Some critics have wondered how salt could lose its saltiness ("become tasteless"), since sodium chloride is a stable compound that does not break down.
"But most salt in the ancient world derived from salt marshes or the like, rather than by evaporation of salt water, and therefore contained many impurities. The actual salt, being more soluble than the impurities, could be leached out, leaving a residue so dilute it was of little worth."
The most obvious characteristic of salt is that it is different from the medium into which its user places it. Jesus' disciples likewise are to be different from the world. As salt is an antiseptic, so the disciples are to be a moral disinfectant in a sin-infested world. This requires virtue, however, that comes only through divine grace and self-discipline.
In modern Israel, weak salt still often ends up scattered on the soil that tops flat-roofed houses, which the residents sometimes use as patios. There it hardens the soil and so prevents leaks. In biblical times, salt that had leached out, and lost its saltiness, was used for coating pathways. God will use disciples, either as vessels unto honor or as vessels unto dishonor (cf. Rom. 9:21; 2 Tim. 2:20).
5:14-16 "Light" is a common symbol in the Bible. It represents purity, truth, knowledge, divine revelation, and God's presence—all in contrast to their opposites. The Israelites thought of themselves as lights in a dark world (Isa. 42:6; Rom. 2:19). However, the Old Testament spoke of Messiah as the true light of the world (Isa. 42:6; 49:6; cf. Matt. 4:16; John 8:12; 9:5; 12:35; 1 John 1:7). Jesus' disciples are lights in the derived sense, as the moon is a light but only because it reflects the light of the sun (cf. Eph. 5:8-9; Phil. 2:15).
The "city set on a hill" (v. 14) may refer to messianic prophecy concerning God lifting up Zion and causing the nations to stream to it (Isa. 2:2-5; et al.). Since God will make the capital of the messianic kingdom prominent, it is inappropriate for the citizens of that city to assume a low profile in the world before its inauguration (cf. Luke 11:33). Verse 15 is an early example of Jesus teaching with parables in Matthew's Gospel.
The disciples must therefore manifest "good works," the outward demonstration or testimony to the righteousness that is within them (v. 16). Even though the light may provoke persecution (vv. 10-12), they must reflect the light of God. For the first time in Matthew, Jesus referred to God as the "Father" of His disciples (cf. vv. 45, 48; 6:1, 4, 6, 8-9, 14-15, 18, 26, 32; 7:11, 21).
"It was not so easy to rekindle a lamp in the days before matches existed. Normally the lamp stood on the lampstand which would be no more than a roughly shaped branch of wood; but when people went out, for safety's sake, they took the lamp from its stand, and put it under a[n] earthen bushel measure, so that it might burn without risk until they came back."
"If salt (v. 13) exercises the negative function of delaying decay and warns disciples of the danger of compromise and conformity to the world, then light (vv. 14-16) speaks positively of illuminating a sin-darkened world and warns against a withdrawal from the world that does not lead others to glorify the Father in heaven."
"It is the Christian's duty to take the stand which the weaker brother will support, to give the lead which those with less courage will follow. The world needs its guiding lights; there are people waiting and longing for a lead to take the stand and to do the thing which they do not dare to take and to do by themselves."
The introduction of "good works" (v. 16) leads on to further exposition of that theme in 5:17—7:12.
Jesus had just been speaking about the importance of His disciples demonstrating their righteousness publicly with their good works (v. 16). Now He dealt with the more fundamental question of what true righteousness is. This was important to clarify, since the religious leaders of His day misinterpreted righteousness and good works.
"The kinds of good deeds that enable light to be seen as light are now to be elaborated in the course of the sermon that follows. They are shown to be nothing other than the faithful living out of the commandments, the righteousness of the Torah as interpreted by Jesus."
In His discussion of righteousness (character and conduct that conforms to the will of God), Jesus went back to the revelation of God's will, namely: God's Word, the Old Testament.
It was natural for Jesus to explain His view of the Old Testament, since He would shortly proceed to interpret it to His hearers.
5:17 Some of the Jews may have already concluded that Jesus was a radical who was discarding the teachings of the Old Testament, their law. Many others would begin to do so soon. Jesus prepared them for the incongruity between His teaching, and their leaders' interpretations of the law, by explaining His relationship to the Old Testament.
"It seems likely that here Jesus is dealing with the charge of being antinomian since his controversies suggested an approach to the law that was different from traditional thinking. His reply shows that he seeks a standard that looks at the law from an internal, not an external, perspective."
The terms "the Law" and "the Prophets" refer to two of the three major divisions of the Hebrew Bible, the third being "the Psalms" (Luke 24:44). "The Law and the Prophets" was evidently the most common way Jews referred to the Old Testament in Jesus' day (cf. 7:12; 11:13; 22:40; Luke 16:16; John 1:45; Acts 13:15; 28:23; Rom. 3:21). Jesus introduced the subject of Scripture interpretation in this verse with this phrase. In 7:12 He concluded the subject with the same phrase. Thus the phrase "the Law and the Prophets" forms another inclusio within the body of the Sermon on the Mount and identifies the main subject that it encloses.
Much debate has centered on what Jesus meant when He said He came "to fulfill" the Old Testament. The first question is: Was Jesus referring to Himself when He said, "I came . . . to fulfill," or was He referring to His teaching? Did He fulfill the law, or did His teaching fulfill it? Since the contrast is "to abolish" the law, it seems probable that Jesus meant His teaching fulfilled the law. He did not intend that what He taught the people would replace the teaching of the Old Testament, but that it would fulfill (Gr. pleroo) or establish it completely. Of course, Jesus did fulfill Old Testament prophecy about Messiah, but that does not appear to be the primary subject in view here. The issue seems to be His teaching.
Some interpreters conclude that Jesus meant He came to fulfill (keep) the moral law (the Ten Commandments), but that He abolished Israel's civil and ceremonial laws. However, there is no basis for this distinction in this text or in any other New Testament text. Others believe that He meant He came to fill out its meaning, to expound its full significance that until then remained obscure. This view rests on an unusual meaning of pleroo, and it seems inconsistent with Jesus' comment about the jot and tittle in verse 18. Still others believe Jesus meant that He came to extend the demands of the Old Testament law to new lengths. This interpretation is improbable because the extension of law does not involve its abolition. Another view is that Jesus meant He was introducing what the Law pointed toward, either by direct prediction or by typology.
Probably Jesus meant that He came to establish the Old Testament fully, to add His authoritative approval to it. This view harmonizes with Matthew's use of pleroo elsewhere (cf. 2:15). This does not mean He taught that the Mosaic Law remained in force for His disciples. He taught that it did not (Mark 7:19). Rather, here, Jesus authenticated the Old Testament as the inspired Word of God. He wanted His hearers to understand that what He taught them in no way contradicted Old Testament revelation.
The purpose of the Mosaic Law was revelatory and regulatory, but not redemptive. That is, it revealed what God wanted people to know, and it regulated the life of the Israelites. But God never intended that people should view it as a way to earn salvation, namely: by keeping it perfectly. He gave it to a redeemed people: to Israelites who had been redeemed from bondage in Egypt.
"He [Jesus] disregarded the oral tradition, which they [the Pharisees] held to be equal in authority to the written Law; and He interpreted the written Law according to its spirit, and not, as they did, according to the rigid letter. He did not keep the weekly fasts, nor observe the elaborated distinctions between clean and unclean, and He consorted with outcasts and sinners. He neglected the traditional modes of teaching, and preached in a way of His own. Above all, He spoke as if He Himself were an authority, independent of the Law."
"It is not obvious at first sight what Christ means by 'fulfilling (plerosai) the Law.' He does not mean taking the written Law as it stands, and literally obeying it. That is what he condemns, not as wrong, but as wholly inadequate. He means rather starting with it as it stands, and bringing it on to completeness; working out the spirit of it; getting at the comprehensive principles which underlie the narrowness of the letter. These Messiah sets forth as the essence of the revelation made by God through the Law and Prophets."
5:18 The phrase "truly I say to you" (NASB) or "I tell you the truth" (NIV) indicates that what follows is extremely important. This is the first occurrence in Matthew of this phrase, which appears 30 times in this Gospel, 13 times in Mark, six times in Luke, and 25 times in John. It always conveys the personal authority of the person who utters it. "Until heaven and earth pass away" is a vivid way of saying as long as this world lasts. The AV "jot," also translated "smallest letter" (NASB, NIV), refers to yod, the smallest letter of the Hebrew alphabet. The "tittle" (AV) or "smallest stroke" (NASB) or "least stroke" (NIV) is not as easy to identify. The best possibility seems to be that it refers to a small stroke on one Hebrew letter (a serif) that distinguished it from a similarly shaped letter. Another possibility is that it refers to a stroke that was sometimes placed over certain words in the Hebrew Bible. In any case, Jesus meant that He upheld the entire Old Testament, down to the smallest features of the Hebrew letters that the writers used as they composed the original documents.
"The words of our Lord, as reported both by St. Matthew (Matt. v. 18) and by St. Luke (Luke xvi. 17), also prove that the copy of the Old Testament from which He had drawn was not only in the original Hebrew, but written, like our modern copies, in the so-called Assyrian, and not in the ancient Hebrew-Phoenician characters."
This verse is a strong testimony to the verbal inspiration of Scripture. That is, divine inspiration extends to the words, even the letters, in the original texts. Verses 17-19 also argue for the plenary inspiration of Scripture, the view that inspiration extends to all parts of the Old Testament. God inspired all of it, down to the very words the writers used. In verse 18, "the Law" refers to the whole Old Testament, not just the Mosaic Law or the Pentateuch (cf. v. 17). This is clear from the context.
God will preserve His Law until everything in it has happened as prophesied. It is as permanent as heaven and earth (cf. 24:35).
5:19 The Jewish rabbis had graded the Old Testament commands according to which ones they believed were more authoritative and which ones less, the heavy and the light. Jesus corrected this view. He taught that all were equally authoritative. He warned His hearers against following their leaders' practice. Greatness in His kingdom depended on maintaining a high view of Scripture. This verse distinguishes different ranks within the messianic kingdom. Some individuals will have a higher standing than others. Everyone will not be equal. Notice that there will be people in the kingdom whose view of Scripture will not be the same as before they entered the kingdom. All will be righteous, but their obedience to and attitude toward Scripture will vary.
5:20 Many interpreters regard this verse as the key verse in Sermon on the Mount. "I say to you" is a claim to having authority (cf. 7:29). The relativistic view of the "scribes and Pharisees" led them to accept some Scriptural injunctions and to reject others (cf. 15:5-6). This resulted in selective obedience that produced only superficial righteousness (only external conformity to the revealed will of God). That type of "righteousness," Jesus declared, would not be adequate for admission into the kingdom. The phrase "enter the kingdom" occurs seven other times in the New Testament (7:21; 18:3; 19:23, 24; Mark 9:47; John 3:5; Acts 14:22). The condition for entering—in every case—is faith alone. Selective obedience does not demonstrate a proper faith attitude to God, the attitude John and Jesus called for when they said, "Repent."
"I have always felt that Matthew 5:20 was the key to this important sermon . . . The main theme is true righteousness. The religious leaders had an artificial, external righteousness based on Law. But the righteousness Jesus described is a true and vital righteousness that begins internally, in the heart. The Pharisees were concerned about the minute details of conduct, but they neglected the major matter of character. Conduct flows out of character."
This pericope deals with various attitudes toward the Law: destroying it or fulfilling it (v. 17), and doing it and teaching it (v. 19).
Jesus proceeded to clarify exactly what the law did require in verses 21-48. He selected six subjects. He was not contrasting His interpretation with Moses' teaching, but with the interpretation of the scribes and Pharisees. He was expounding the meaning of the text that God originally intended. He was doing Bible exposition.
"For many generations . . . the oral law . . . was handed down in the memory of generations of Scribes. In the middle of the third century A.D. a summary of it was made and codified. That summary is known as the Mishnah; it contains sixty-three tractates on various subjects of the Law, and in English makes a book of almost eight hundred pages. Later Jewish scholarship busied itself with making commentaries to explain the Mishnah. These commentaries are known as the Talmuds. Of the Jerusalem Talmud there are twelve printed volumes; and of the Babylonian Talmud there are sixty printed volumes."
5:21 In each of these six cases, Jesus first related the popular understanding of the Old Testament, the view advocated by the religious teachers of His day. In this verse He introduced it by saying, "You have heard that the ancients were told" (NASB). This was an expression that the rabbis of Jesus' day used when they referred to the teachings of the Old Testament.
Jesus quoted the sixth commandment and combined it with Leviticus 19:17. The "court" in view was the civil court in Israel.
5:22 Jesus contrasted His correct interpretation with the false common understanding of this command. His, "But I say to you" (vv. 22, 28, 32, 34, 39, 44) was not a common rabbinic saying, though it did have some parallels in rabbinic Judaism. It expressed an authority that surprised His hearers (cf. 7:29). Thus Jesus "fulfilled" or established the meaning of the passages to which He referred (v. 17).
"Jesus implicitly claimed deity in at least twelve ways. He claimed three divine rights: (1) to judge mankind, (2) to forgive sins, and (3) to grant eternal life. He declared that (4) his presence was God's presence as well as the presence of God's kingdom and that (5) the attitude people took toward him would determine their eternal destiny. He (6) identified his actions with God's actions, (7) taught the truth on his own authority, and (8) performed miracles on his own authority. He (9) appeared to receive worship or obeisance. He (10) assumed that his life was a pattern for others, a 'divinely authoritative form of life.' He (11) applied to himself OT texts that describe God and (12) in several parables indirectly identified himself with a father or king who represents God."
When God gave the sixth commandment, He did not just want people to refrain from murdering one another. He wanted them to refrain from the hatred that leads to murder. Murder is only the external manifestation of the internal problem. The scribes and Pharisees dealt only with the external act. Jesus showed that God's concern ran much deeper. Refraining from homicide does not constitute a person righteous in God's sight. Inappropriate anger renders one subject to judgment at God's heavenly court "since no human court is competent to try a case of inward anger."
Jesus often used the term "brother" in the sense of a brother disciple. The term usually occurs on Jesus' lips in the first Gospel, and Matthew recorded Him using it extensively. The relationship is an extension of the fact that God is the Father of believing disciples. Thus all believers are brothers in the spiritual sense. The early church's use of the term reflects that of Jesus.
"Raca" is the transliteration of the Aramaic reka. It means "imbecile," "numbskull," or "blockhead." The "supreme court" (NASB) or "Sanhedrin" (NIV; Gr. synedrion) probably refers to God's highest court in view of the context, not the Jewish Sanhedrin of Jesus' day. The scribes and Pharisees taught that a person who referred to someone as a "Raca" was in danger of being sued for libel before the Sanhedrin. "Fool" (Gr. mores) is a similar term that a person who felt hatred—even for his brother—might use. He, too, would be in danger of divine judgment, assuming his hatred was unjustified (cf. 23:17). Jesus said the offender is "guilty" enough to suffer eternal judgment, not that he will. Whether he will suffer eternal judgment or not depends on his relationship to God. There does not seem to be any gradation or progression in these three instances of anger. Jesus simply presented three possible instances with an assortment of terms, and assured His hearers that in all these cases, there was a violation of God's will that could incur severe divine torment (cf. 3:12).
The word "hell" translates the Greek geenna, which is a transliteration of the Hebrew ge hinnom or "Valley of Hinnom." This was the valley south of Jerusalem, where a fire burned continually, consuming the city's refuse. This place became an illustration of the place where the wicked will suffer eternal torment. Matthew recorded 11 references to it.
Jesus' demonstrations of anger were appropriate for Him since He was God, and God gets angry. His anger was always righteous, unlike the anger that arises from unjustified hatred. It is possible for humans to be angry and not sin (Eph. 4:26). Here Jesus was addressing unjustifiable anger that can lead to murder (cf. Col. 3:8).
5:23-24 Jesus gave two illustrations of anger, one involving temple worship (vv. 23-24), and the other, legal action (vv. 25-26). Both deal with situations in which the hearer is the cause of another person's anger rather than the offended party. Why did Jesus construct the illustrations this way? Perhaps He did so because we are more likely to remember situations, in which we have had some grievance against another person, than those in which we have simply offended another. Moreover, Jesus' disciples should be as sensitive about not making other people hate them, as they are about potentially hating others.
The offerer would present his offering at the brazen altar in the temple courtyard. It is more important to lift the load of hate from another brother's heart than to engage in a formal act of worship. Ritual worship was very important to the scribes and Pharisees, and to all the Jews, but Jesus put internal purity first, even the internal purity of another person (cf. 1 Sam. 16:7). Reconciliation, also, is more important than worship, in that it must come first.
"The most prominent object in the Court of the Priests was the immense altar of unhewn stones, a square of not less than 48 feet, and, inclusive of 'the horns,' 15 feet high. All around it a 'circuit' ran for the use of the ministering priests, who, as a rule, always passed round by the right, and retired by the left. As this 'circuit' was raised 9 feet from the ground, and 1½ feet high, while the 'horns' measured 1½ feet in height, the priests would have only to reach 3 feet to the top of the altar, and 4½ feet to that of each 'horn.' An inclined plane, 48 feet long by 24 wide, into which about the middle two smaller 'descents' merged, led up to the 'circuit' from the south."
5:25-26 The second illustration stresses the importance of making things right quickly. Two men walking together to the court where their disagreement would receive judicial arbitration should try to settle their grievance out of court (cf. 1 Cor. 6:1-11). The offender should remove the occasion for the other man's anger and hatred quickly. Otherwise the judge might make things difficult for both of them. The mention of going from judge to officer to prison pictures the red tape and complications involved in not settling out of court. Likewise, God will make it difficult for haters, and those who provoke hate in others, if they come before Him with unresolved interpersonal disagreements. Malicious anger is evil, and God's judgment is certain. Therefore, disciples must do everything they can to end inappropriate anger quickly (cf. Eph. 4:26).
5:27-28 Jesus proceeded to clarify God's intended meaning in the seventh commandment (Exod. 20:14; Deut. 5:18). The rabbis in Jesus' day tended to look at "adultery" as wrong because it involved stealing another man's wife. They viewed it as an external act. Jesus, on the other hand, saw it as wrong because it made the lustful individual impure morally, an internal condition. The Greek word gyn can mean either wife or woman. Certainly the spirit of the command would prohibit lusting after any woman, not just a married woman. Fantasized immorality is just as sinful to God as physical immorality (cf. Exod. 20:17). The fact that fornication that takes place in the brain has fewer bad consequences than fornication that takes place on a bed does not mitigate this truth.
5:29-30 As before (vv. 23-26), two illustrations aid our understanding. The eye is the member of the body initially responsible for luring us into an immoral thought or deed (cf. Num. 15:39; Prov. 21:4; Ezek. 6:9; 18:12; 20:8). The "right eye" is the best eye, the common metaphorical use of the "right" anything. A literal interpretation of this verse would have Jesus crippling every member of the human race. Should not one pluck out his left eye as well? Furthermore, disposing of the eye would not remove the real cause of the offense, a lustful heart. Clearly this is a hyperbolic statement designed to make a point by overstatement. The early church father Origen took it literally and castrated himself. Jesus' point was that His disciples must deal radically with sin. We must avoid temptation at all costs. Clearly this is not a condition for salvation but for discipleship.
The reference to cutting off the "right hand" (v. 30) is also metaphorical, but how symbolic is it? Some take the "right hand" as a euphemism for the penis (cf. Isa. 57:8). This view has the context in its favor. Others take the right hand literally and view it as the instrument of stealing another man's wife. "Hell" is Gehenna, the final place of punishment for all the wicked. Its mention here does not imply that believers can go there. It represents the worst possible destiny. It, too, is hyperbole. The loss of any body part is preferable to the loss of the whole person, is the point.
"Imagination is a God-given gift; but if it is fed dirt by the eye, it will be dirty. All sin, not least sexual sin, begins with the imagination. Therefore what feeds the imagination is of maximum importance in the pursuit of kingdom righteousness (compare Phil 4:8). Not everyone reacts the same way to all objects. But if (vv. 28-29) your eye is causing you to sin, gouge it out; or at very least, don't look . . .!"
"If any man is harassed by thoughts of the forbidden and unclean things, he will certainly never defeat the evil things by withdrawing from life and saying, I will not think of these things. He can only do so by plunging into Christian action and Christian thought."
Not only is lust the moral equivalent of adultery, but so is divorce. The connective de ("and," NASB) that begins verse 31 ties this section in very closely with the one that precedes (vv. 27-30). In Israel, a man divorced his wife simply by giving her a written statement indicating that he divorced her (cf. Deut. 24:1-4). It was a domestic matter, not something that went through the courts, and it was quite common. In most cases, a divorced woman would remarry, to another man, often for her own security. Jesus said that divorcing a woman virtually amounted to causing her to commit adultery since she would normally remarry. Likewise, any man who married a divorced woman committed adultery with her, because in God's eyes she was still married to her first husband. Jesus' explanation would have helped His hearers realize the ramifications of a decision that many of them viewed as insignificant, namely, divorcing one's wife. Women did not have the right to divorce their husbands in ancient Israel. Josephus, writing about the divorce of Salome, Herod the Great's sister, and her husband, Costobarus, commented on the Jewish divorce custom:
"But some time afterward, when Salome happened to quarrel with Costobarus, she sent him a bill of divorce, and dissolved her marriage with him, though this was not according to the Jewish laws; for with us it is lawful for a husband to do so; but a wife, if she departs from her husband, cannot of herself be married to another, unless her former husband put her away."
We could add the exception clause to the last part of verse 32, since that seems to have been Jesus' intention (cf. Mark 10:12). He probably did not repeat it because He did not want to stress the exceptional case, but to focus on the seriousness of the husband's decision to divorce his wife. Jesus had more to say about divorce in 19:3-9 (cf. Mark 10:11-12; Luke16:18).
". . . Jesus introduces the new and shocking idea that even properly divorced people who marry a second time may be thought of as committing adultery. The OT, allowing divorce, does not regard those who remarry as committing adultery. . . . Marriage was meant to establish a permanent relationship between a man and a woman, and divorce should therefore not be considered an option for the disciples of the kingdom."
Some interpreters limit fornication ("unchastity," "immorality," Gr. porneia) to unfaithfulness during the betrothal period, the year between a Jewish couple's engagement and the consummation of their marriage. The problem with this view is that porneia has a broader range of meaning than this.
5:33 Jesus next gave a condensation of several commands in the Old Testament that prohibited taking an oath, invoking the Lord's name to guarantee the oath, and then breaking it (Exod. 20:7; Lev. 19:12; Num. 30:2; Deut. 5:11; 6:3; 23:21-23). God has always intended simple truthfulness in speech as well as lifelong marriage. The rabbis had developed an elaborate stratification of oaths. They taught that swearing by God's name was binding, but swearing by heaven and earth was not binding. Swearing toward Jerusalem was binding, but swearing by Jerusalem was not. In some cases they even tried to deceive others by appealing to various authorities in their oaths. Jesus was not talking about "cursing" here, but using oaths to affirm that what one said was true.
5:34-36 Jesus cut through all the casuistry by saying that if oaths that God intended to guarantee truthfulness in speech become the instruments of deceit, His disciples avoid them. Again, Jesus got below the external act to the real issue at stake, that had been God's concern from the beginning. His point was that people should not lie under any circumstances.
Jesus explained that whatever a person may appeal to in an oath has some connection with God. Therefore any oath is an appeal to God indirectly if not directly. To say that one could swear by one's own "head," for example, and then break his vow, because he did not mention God's name, was shortsighted.
Calvin noted that several passages of Scripture indicate that calling on God as witness, to confirm the truth of one's word, was a sort of divine worship (e.g., Isa. 19:18; 65:16; Jer. 12:16). Curses that contain manifest insults to God should not be regarded as oaths. It was wrong to swear falsely by (to "profane") His name (Lev. 19:12), to use His name in true but needless oaths, and to substitute God's servants in place of Him, thus transferring His glory to them (Exod. 23:13). God not only permitted the use of oaths under the Law, but He commanded their use in case of necessity (Exod. 22:10-11).
"To men of sound judgment there can then be no doubt that the Lord in that passage [i.e., Matt. 5:33-37] disapproved only of those oaths forbidden by the law [cf. James 5:12]. For he, who in his life gave an example of the perfection that he taught, did not shrink from oaths whenever circumstances required. And the disciples, who we may be sure obeyed their Master in all things, followed the same example. Who would dare say that Paul would have sworn if the taking of oaths had been utterly forbidden? But when circumstances demanded it, he swore without any hesitation, sometimes even adding a curse [Rom. 1:9; II Cor. 1:23]."
5:37 Jesus' "yes, yes," and "no, no," is not the exact terminology He wanted His disciple to use. If He meant that, He would be doing just what He was correcting the rabbis for doing. Rather, it means a simple "yes" or "no." The NIV translation gives the sense: "Simply let your 'Yes' be 'Yes,' and your 'No,' 'No.'" The "evil" at the end of the verse may either be a reference to the devil, or it may mean that to go beyond Jesus' teaching on this point involves evil.
Some very conscientious believers have taken Jesus' words literally and have refused to take an oath of any kind, even in court. However, Jesus' point was the importance of truthfulness. He probably would not have objected to the use of oaths as a formality in legal proceedings.
"They [oaths in court or oaths of political allegiance] should not be needed, but in practice they serve a remedial purpose in a world where the ethics of the kingdom of heaven are not always followed. Refusal to take a required oath can in such circumstances convey quite the wrong impression."
The Bible records that God Himself swore oaths, not because He sometimes lies or could possibly lie, but to impress His truthfulness on people (Gen. 9:9-11; Luke 1:73). Jesus testified under oath (26:63-64), as did Paul (Rom. 1:9; 2 Cor. 1:23; 1 Thess. 2:5, 10).
"It must be frankly admitted that here Jesus formally contravenes OT law: what it permits or commands (Deut. 6:13), he forbids. But if his interpretation of the direction in which the law points is authoritative, then his teaching fulfills it."
"What Jesus is saying is this—the truly good man will never need to take an oath; the truth of his sayings and the reality of his promises need no such guarantee. But the fact that oaths are still sometimes necessary is the proof that men are not good men and that this is not a good world.
"So, then, this saying of Jesus leaves two obligations upon us. It leaves upon us the obligation to make ourselves such that men will so see our transparent goodness that they will never ask an oath from us; and it leaves upon us the obligation to seek to make this world such a world that falsehood and infidelity will be so eliminated from it that the necessity for oaths will be abolished."
5:38 Retaliation was common in the ancient Near East. Frequently it led to vendettas in which escalating vengeance continued for generations. Israel's "law of retaliation" (Lat. lex talionis) limited retaliation to no more than equal compensation (Exod. 21:24; Lev. 24:19-20; Deut. 19:21). The Jews tended to view the law of retaliation as God's permission to take vengeance. That was never God's intention (cf. Lev. 19:18). He simply wanted to protect them from excessive vengeance and to curb vendettas. In some situations the Jews could pay to avoid the vengeance of their brethren (Exod. 21:26-27). By the first century, monetary reparations had replaced physical maiming as the penalty for physical injury. As God had permitted divorce because of the hardness of man's heart, so He permitted a certain amount of retaliation under the Mosaic Law. However, His intention was that His people would avoid divorce and retaliation entirely. He wanted us to love one another and to put the welfare of others before our own.
5:39a Jesus first expounded God's intention regarding retaliation. Essentially He said: When evil people do you wrong, do not resist them. "Resist" (Gr. anthistemi) means to defend oneself, to take aggressive action against someone, as the following verses illustrate. When evil people do bad things to us, Jesus' disciples should accept the injustice without taking revenge. Implicit in this view are Old Testament promises that God will take care of the righteous. Therefore, to accept injustice without retaliating expresses trust that God will faithfully care for His own. The Old Testament taught that the Jews were to leave vengeance to God (Lev. 19:17-18; Deut. 32:35; Ps. 94:1; Prov. 20:22; 24:29). Discerning Jews realized this in Jesus' day. Paul resisted (Gr. anthistemi) Peter (Gal. 2:11) out of love for the gospel and his fellow believers, not out of selfishness. We should stand up for what is right and for the rights of others, but we should trust God to stand up for us.
Jesus' purpose in the Sermon on the Mount was threefold: to reinforce the Law's timeless revelatory authority (e.g., 5:18-19), to refocus its original meaning (e.g., 5:21-22), and to replace its temporary regulatory provisions (e.g., 5:38-39). By doing these things, Jesus "fulfilled" (established) the Law.
5:39b-42 Jesus gave four illustrations to clarify what He meant. In the first (v. 39b), a disciple suffers an unjustified physical attack on his or her person. What is that one to do? He or she should not injure the aggressor in return but should absorb the injury and the insult. He should even be ready to accept the same attack again. In Jesus' illustration the disciple gets slapped on the right cheek. Under normal conditions this would come from the back of a right-handed person's right hand. Such a slap was an insult more than an injury. However, we should probably not make too much of that point. The point is that disciples should accept insult and injury without retaliating. In Jesus' "honor-shame" culture, such a sacrifice was perhaps greater than it is for us today in the West. As previously (e.g. vv. 29-30), Jesus was probably speaking somewhat hyperbolically.
Second, if someone wanted to extract as much as the disciple's undergarment for some real or imagined offense, the disciple was to part with it willingly (v. 40). The disciple should not resist the evil antagonist's action. Moreover, he or she should be ready and willing to part with his or her outer garment as well. Under Mosaic Law, a person's outer cloak was something he or she had an almost inalienable right to retain (Exod. 22:26-27; Deut. 24:13). This is another example of hyperbole. Jesus did not intend His disciples to walk around naked, but to be generous—even toward enemies—even if it meant parting with essential possessions.
The third illustration requires some background knowledge of customs in New Testament times to appreciate (v. 41). The Romans sometimes commandeered civilians to carry the luggage of military personnel, but the civilian did not have to carry the luggage for more than one Roman mile. This imposition exasperated and infuriated many a proud Jew. Again, the disciple is not only to refrain from retaliating, but even to refrain from resisting this personal injustice. Jesus advocated going an extra mile. The disciple is to respond to unjustified demands by giving even more than the adversary asks, and he or she is to return good for evil.
". . . what Jesus is saying is: 'Suppose your masters come to you and compel you to be a guide or a porter for a mile, don't go a mile with bitter and obvious resentment; go two miles with cheerfulness and with a good grace.' What Jesus is saying is: 'Don't be always thinking of your liberty to do as you like; be always thinking of your duty and your privilege to be of service to others. When a task is laid on you, even if the task is unreasonable and hateful, don't do it as a grim duty to be resented; do it as a service to be gladly rendered.'"
"The Rabbis had a proverb to match, lively and piquant enough, but certainly lacking the gravity of this, and which never could have fallen from the same lips: If thy neighbor call thee an ass, put a packsaddle on thy back; do not, that is, withdraw thyself from the wrong, but rather go forward to meet it."
Fourth, Jesus told His disciples to give what others request of them, assuming it is within their power to do so (v. 41). This applies to loans as well as gifts (cf. Exod. 22:25; Lev. 25:37; Deut. 23:19). A willing and generous spirit is implicit in this command (cf. Deut. 15:7-11; Ps. 37:26; 112:5). This does not mean we should give all our money away to individuals and institutions that ask for our financial assistance (cf. Prov. 11:15; 17:18; 22:26).
"Giving must never be such as to encourage him [the receiver] in laziness and in shiftlessness, for such giving can only hurt. . . . And it must also be remembered that it is better to help a score of fraudulent beggars than to risk turning away the one man in real need."
". . . Jesus is here talking to his disciples, and speaking of personal relations: he is not laying down moral directives for states and nations, and such issues as the work of police or the question of a defensive war are simply not in his mind."
There is a progression in these illustrations, from simply not resisting, to giving generously to people who make demands that tempt us to retaliate against them. Love must be the disciple's governing principle, not selfishness.
Some conscientious believers have taken Jesus' instructions about resisting aggression literally, and refuse to defend themselves in any situation, either as pacifists or as advocates of non-resistance. However, the spirit of the law, which Jesus clarified, did not advocate turning oneself into a doormat. It stressed meeting hatred with positive love rather than hatred. Though Jesus allowed His enemies to lead Him as a lamb to the slaughter, He did not cave in to every hostile attack from the scribes and Pharisees. Likewise, Paul claimed his Roman citizenship rather than suffering prolonged attack by the Jews. Disciples may stand up for their rights, but when they are taken advantage of, they should always respond in love.
5:43 Jesus quoted the Old Testament again (Lev. 19:18), but this time He added a corollary that the rabbis, not Moses, provided. Nowhere does the Old Testament advocate hating one's enemies. However, this seemed to many of the Jewish religious teachers to be the natural opposite of loving one's neighbors.
5:44-47 Jesus answered the popular teaching by going back to the Old Testament that commanded love for enemies (Exod. 23:4-5). "Love" (Gr. agapao) here probably includes emotion, as well as action, in view of Jesus' previous emphasis on motives. The parable of the Good Samaritan provides a good illustration of what it means to love (Luke 10:30-37).
"To love one's enemies, though it must result in doing them good (Luke 6:32-33) and praying for them (Matt. 5:44), cannot justly be restricted to activities devoid of any concern, sentiment, or emotion. Like the English verb 'to love,' agapao ranges widely from debased and selfish actions to generous, warm, costly self-sacrifice for another's good. There is no reason to think the verb here in Matthew does not include emotion as well as action."
The word "enemies" also has a wide meaning, and includes any individuals who elicit anger, hatred, and retaliation from the disciple. Jesus seems to have be correcting the common interpretation of the command to love one's neighbor as an implicit license to hate one's enemies.
Prayer for someone's welfare is one specific manifestation of love for that person.
"Jesus seems to have prayed for his tormentors actually while the iron spikes were being driven through his hands and feet; indeed the imperfect tense suggests that he kept praying, kept repeating his entreaty, 'Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do' (Luke 23:34). If the cruel torture of crucifixion could not silence our Lord's prayer for his enemies, what pain, pride, prejudice or sloth could justify the silencing of ours?"
Some liberal interpreters have concluded that Jesus meant that we become God's sons by loving and praying for friend and foe alike. However, consistent with other Scriptural revelation, Jesus did not mean His disciples can earn their salvation (v. 45). Rather, by loving and praying for our enemies, we show that we are God's sons because we do what He does.
Theologians refer to the blessings God bestows on His enemies, as well as on His children, as "common grace." Disciples, as their Father, should do good to all people as well as to their brethren (Gal. 6:10).
Loving one's enemies is something God will reward (v. 46). This should be an added inducement to love the antagonistic. Tax gatherers were local Jews who collected taxes from their countrymen for the Romans. Matthew was one of them. The whole Roman system of collecting taxes was very corrupt, and strict Jews viewed these "tax collectors" as both traitorous and unclean, because of their close association with Gentiles. They were among the most despised people in Palestine. However, even they, Jesus said, loved those who loved them.
This verse summarizes all of Jesus' teaching about the Old Testament's demands (vv. 21-47). It puts in epigrammatic form the essential nature of the "greater righteousness" of verse 20 that Jesus illustrated above. "Therefore" identifies a conclusion.
"It can be concluded therefore from this section that the moral law of the Old Testament is recognized by Jesus as possessing divine authority, but that as Messiah He claims authority to supplement it, to draw out principles that lie latent within it, and to disclaim the false deductions that had been made from it. This is what He seems to have meant when He said I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill (17)."
"Perfect" (Gr. teleios) often occurs in a relative sense in the New Testament, and translators sometimes render it "mature" (e.g., 1 Cor. 14:20; Eph. 4:13; Heb. 5:14; 6:1). However it also means perfect. In this context it refers to perfect regarding conformity to God's requirements, which Jesus just clarified. He wanted His disciples to press on to perfect righteousness, a goal that no sinful human can attain but toward which all should move (cf. v. 3; 6:12). They should not view righteousness as simply external, as the scribes and Pharisees did, but they should pursue inner moral purity and love. This is only appropriate since their heavenly Father is indeed perfect.
"Perfection here refers to uprightness and sincerity of character with the thought of maturity in godliness or attaining the goal of conformity to the character of God. While sinless perfection is impossible, godliness, in its biblical concept, is attainable."
". . . the Greek idea of perfection is functional. . . . A thing is teleios, if it realizes the purpose for which it was planned; a man is perfect if he realizes the purpose for which he was created and sent into the world.
"Man was created to be like God. The characteristic of God is this universal benevolence, this unconquerable goodwill, this constant seeking of the highest good of every man. The great characteristic of God is love to saint and to sinner alike. No matter what men do to Him, God seeks nothing but their highest good."
Good children in the ancient East normally imitated their fathers. Jesus advocated the same of His disciples. In giving this summary command, Jesus was alluding to Leviticus 19:2, which He modified slightly in view of Deuteronomy 18:13.
"In Jesus' perspective, the debates concerning law and tradition are all to be resolved by the proper application of one basic principle, or better, of a single attitude of the heart, namely, utter devotion to God and radical love of the neighbor (5:48; 22:37-40)."
While we are definitely to strive for perfection in our conformity to the will of God (cf. 1 Pet. 1:15-16), we must beware of the perils associated with perfectionism. Striving for an unattainable goal is difficult for anyone, but it is particularly frustrating for people with obsessive-compulsive personalities, people who tend to be perfectionists. In one sense a perfectionist is someone who strives for perfection, but in another sense it is someone who is obsessed with perfection. Such a person, for example, constantly cleans up his or her environment, straightens things that are not exactly straight, and corrects people for even minor mistakes. This type of striving for perfection is not godly. God is not constantly "on the backs" of people who are less than perfect, and we should not be either—whether on other people or on ourselves. In fact, He gives us a great deal of "space" and is patient with us, allowing us to correct our own mistakes before He steps in to do so (cf. 1 Cor. 11:31). It is possible for us, as disciples of Jesus, to become so obsessed with our own holiness that we shift our focus from Christ to ourselves. Rather, we should keep our eyes on Jesus (Heb. 12:1-3) more than on ourselves and on being perfect.
Jesus moved from correcting popular misinterpretations of selected Old Testament texts that speak of righteous conduct (5:17-48), to correcting popular misconceptions about righteous conduct. He moved from ethical distinctions to the practice of religion. Throughout this entire section, proper motivation for actions is a constant emphasis.
"Righteousness" means what is in harmony with the will of God, and righteous deeds are those that are pleasing to Him. Jesus warned His disciples about the possibility of doing good deeds for the wrong reason, as He began His teaching about righteous behavior. If one does what God approves to obtain human approval, that one will not receive a reward for his good deed from God. Notice again that disciples' rewards will vary. Some disciples will receive more reward from God than others. Disciples should practice good works publicly (5:16), but they should not draw special attention to them.
The rabbis considered almsgiving, prayer, and fasting as the three chief acts of Jewish piety. Jesus dealt with each of these aspects of worship similarly. He first warned His disciples not to do the act for man's praise. Then He assured them that if they disregarded His warning, they would get human praise but nothing more. Third, He taught them how to do the act for God alone, secretly (not for public applause). Finally, He assured them that the Father who sees in secret would reward their righteous act openly.
Interpreters have understood the practice of sounding a trumpet to announce alms-giving metaphorically and literally. Metaphorically it would mean that Jesus was using a figure of speech to picture showy giving, something like "blowing your own horn." However, His description seems to have had a custom behind it. There is historic evidence that during this period, the Jewish priests blew trumpets in the Temple when they collected funds for some special need. Alternatively, this may be a reference to the horn-shaped collection receptacles in the Temple that noisily announced contributions that people tossed into them. However, Jesus mentioned the synagogues and streets, not the Temple. Probably Jesus referred to the blowing of trumpets in the streets that announced fasts that included alms-giving.
The idea of not letting the "left hand" know what the "right hand" does pictures secrecy (cf. 25:35-40). The way to avoid hypocrisy is to let no other people know when we give. We can carry this to the extreme, of course, but Jesus' point was that we should not draw attention to ourselves when we give. Hypocrisy does not just involve giving an impression that is incorrect, such as that one gives alms when he really does not. It also involves deceiving oneself even if one deceives no one else. A third kind of hypocrisy involves deceiving oneself and others into thinking that what one does is for a certain purpose when it is really for a different purpose. This seems to be the type of hypocrisy in view here.
"The contrast is not between the secrecy of the Father's seeing and the openness of His rewarding, but between the wonderful reward that the Father gives and the comparatively miserable 'reward' of human approval."
"The hypocrites are not identified here, but Matthew 23 clearly indicates that they are the scribes and Pharisees (Matthew 23:13, 14, 15, 23, 25, 27, 29). A clearer illustration of a facet of Matthew's style can hardly be found. First he intimates a fact, then he builds on it, and finally he establishes it. Here the intimation concerns the hypocrisy of the scribes and Pharisees."
"As 'leaders,' the religious leaders evince their evilness most prominently by showing themselves to be 'hypocritical.' Hypocrisy in Matthew's story is the opposite of being 'perfect.' To be perfect is to be wholehearted, or single-hearted, in the devotion with which one serves God (5:48; Deut. 18:13). To be hypocritical is to be 'divided' in one's fealty to God. Hypocrisy, then, is a form of inner incongruity, to wit: paying honor to God with the lips while the heart is far from him (15:7-8); making pronouncements about what is right while not practicing them (23:3c); and appearing outwardly to be righteous while being inwardly full of lawlessness (23:28)."
6:5-6 Jesus assumed that His disciples would "pray," as He assumed they would give alms (v. 2) and fast (v. 16). Again He warned against ostentatious worship. The synagogues and streets were public places where people could practice their righteousness with an audience. The emphasis is not on standing, as opposed to some other posture, but on praying in a conspicuous place. The motive is what matters most. Obviously, Jesus was not condemning public prayer per se (cf. 15:36; 18:19-20; 1 Tim. 2:8). Praying out loud was common among the Jews, though one could still pray out loud in a private place.
Jesus alluded to the Septuagint version of Isaiah 26:20 where the private room is a bedroom (cf. 2 Kings 4:33). Any private setting will do. Jesus was not discouraging public praying, but praying in order to be admired for it.
6:7-8 Jesus digressed briefly to give a further warning about repetitious prayer (vv. 7-8) and a positive example of proper prayer (vv. 9-15). Jesus' disciples can fall into prayer practices that characterize the pagans. Jesus Himself prayed long prayers (Luke 6:12), and He repeated Himself in prayer (26:44). These practices were not the objects of His criticism. He was attacking the idea that the length of a prayer makes it efficacious. Pagan prayer commonly relies on length and "repetition" for effectiveness, the sheer quantity of "words."
". . . Christ does not forbid us to persist in prayers, long, often, or with much feeling, but requires that we should not be confident in our ability to wrest something from God by beating upon his ears with a garrulous flow of talk, as if he could be persuaded as men are."
Jesus' disciples do not need to inform their omniscient "Father" of their "need" in prayer. He already knows what they are. Why pray then? Jesus did not answer that question here. Essentially we pray for the same reasons children speak to their parents: to share concerns, to have fellowship, to obtain help, and to express gratitude, among other reasons.
6:9-13 Jesus gave His disciples a model prayer commonly known as "The Lord's Prayer." It was not His prayer in the sense that He prayed it, but it was His prayer in the sense that He taught it. He introduced the model as such. Here is a way to pray that is neither too long, ostentatious, nor unnecessarily repetitious.
One of Jesus' unique emphases, as I have already mentioned, was that His disciples should think of God as their heavenly "Father." It was not characteristic of believers to address God as their Father until Jesus taught them to do so.
"Only fifteen times was God referred to as the Father in the Old Testament. Where it does occur, it is used of the nation Israel or to the king of Israel. Never was God called the Father of an individual or of human beings in general (though isolated instances occur in second temple Judaism, Sirach 51:10). In the New Testament numerous references to God as Father can be found."
"Our" Father indicates that Jesus expected His disciples to pray this prayer, fully aware of their group context, as being a part of His disciples. Private use of this prayer is all right, but the context in which Jesus taught it was corporate, so He gave a corporate address. The "our" does not include Himself, since it is part of Jesus' teaching His followers concerning how to pray.
"From this fact [i.e., that Jesus said "our" Father] we are warned how great a feeling of brotherly love ought to be among us, since by the same right of mercy and free liberality we are equally children of such a father."
The way we think of God as we pray to Him is very important. In prayer, we should remember that He is a loving Father who will respond as such to His children. Some modern individuals advocate thinking of God as our Mother. However, this runs contrary to what Jesus taught, and to the thousands of references to God that God has given us in the masculine gender—in both Testaments. God is not a sexual being. Nevertheless He is more like a father to us than a mother. Thinking of Him primarily as a mother will result in some distortion in our concept of God. It will also result in some confusion in our thinking about how God relates to us and how we should relate to Him. Thinking of God as our Father will also remind us of our privileged access into His presence, and of our need to treat Him respectfully.
The first three petitions deal with God, and the last three with us. This pattern indicates that disciples should have more concern for God than we do for ourselves. We should put His interests first in our praying, as in all our living. All the petitions have some connection with the kingdom. The first three deal with the coming of the kingdom, and the last three are appeals in view of the coming kingdom.
"To know that God is, to know what kind of a God God is, to be constantly aware of God, and to be constantly obedient to Him—that is reverence, that is what we pray for when we pray: 'Hallowed by Thy name.'"
The first petition (v. 9c) is that everyone would hold God's name (His reputation, everything about Him) in reverence. He is already holy. We do not need to pray that He will become more holy. What is necessary is that His creatures everywhere recognize and acknowledge His holiness. This petition focuses on God's reputation. People need to hallow it, to treat it as special. By praying these words we affirm God's holiness.
God's reputation and the kingdom had close connections in the Old Testament (Isa. 29:23; Ezek. 36:23).
"In one respect His name is profaned when His people are ill-treated. The sin of the nation which brought about the captivity had caused a profanation of the Name, Is. 43:25; 49:11; Ezk. 36:20-23. By their restoration His name was to be sanctified. But this sanctification was only a foreshadowing of a still future consummation. Only when the 'kingdom' came would God's name be wholly sanctified in the final redemption of His people from reproach."
The second petition (v. 10a) is that the messianic "kingdom" will indeed "come" quickly (cf. Mark 15:43; 1 Cor. 16:22; Rev. 11:17). It was appropriate for Jesus' first disciples to pray this petition, since the establishment of the kingdom was imminent. It is also appropriate for modern disciples to pray it, since the inauguration of that kingdom will begin the righteous rule of Messiah on the earth, which every believer should anticipate eagerly. This kingdom has not yet begun. If it had, Jesus' disciples would not need to pray for it to come. Christ will rule over His kingdom, the Davidic kingdom, from the earth, and He is now in heaven. This petition focuses on God's kingdom. People need to prepare for it.
"Those who maintain that for Jesus himself the kingdom of God had already come in his own person and ministry inevitably treat this second petition of the Lord's prayer in a rather cavalier fashion. It must be interpreted, they say, in line with other sayings of Jesus. Why? And what other sayings? When all the evidence in the sayings of Jesus for 'realized eschatology' is thoroughly tested, it boils down to the ephthasen eph humas ['has come upon you'] of Matt. 12:28 and Luke 11:20. Why should that determine the interpretation of Matt. 6:10 and Luke 11:2? Why should a difficult, obscure saying establish the meaning of one that is clear and unambiguous? Why not interpret the ephthasen ['has come,' 12:28] by the elthato ['come,' 6:10]; or rather, since neither can be eliminated on valid critical grounds, why not seek an interpretation that does equal justice to both?"
"Jesus' conception of God's kingdom is not simply that of the universal sovereignty of God, which may or may not be accepted by men but is always there. That is the basis of his conception, but he combines with it the eschatological idea of the kingdom which is still to come. In other words, what Jesus means by the kingdom of God includes what the rabbinic literature calls the coming age."
These are accurate and interesting conclusions coming from a non-dispensationalist.
The third petition (v. 10b-c) is a request that what God wants to happen on earth will indeed transpire "on earth," as it now does "in heaven." That condition will take place most fully when Christ sets up His kingdom on the earth. However, this should be the desire of every disciple in the inter-advent age while Jesus is still in heaven. Nothing better can happen than whatever God's will involves (Rom. 12:1). God's "will" (Gr. thelema) includes His righteous demands (7:21; 12:50; cf. Ps. 40:8), as well as His determination to cause and permit certain events in history (18:14; 26:42; cf. Acts 21:14). This petition focuses on God's will. People need to do it.
"This difference [between God's heavenly universal rule and His earthly millennial rule] arises out of the fact that rebellion and sin exist upon the earth, sin which is to be dealt with in a way not known in any other spot in the universe, not even among the angels which sinned. It is here that the great purpose of what I have named the Mediatorial Kingdom appears: On the basis of mediatorial redemption it must 'come' to put down at last all rebellion with its evil results, thus finally bringing the Kingdom and will of God on earth as it is in heaven."
The remaining petitions (vv. 11-13) focus on the disciples' needs. Notice the "Thy," "Thy," "Thy," in verses 9 and 10 and the "us," "us," "us," in verses 11-13. Some believers have concluded that prayer should not include anything selfish, so they do not make personal petitions. However, Jesus commanded His disciples to bring their personal needs to God in prayer. The first three petitions stand alone, but the last three have connecting "ands" that bind them together. We need all three of these things equally; we cannot get along without any of them.
"The second part of the prayer, the part of it which deals with our needs and our necessities, is a marvelously wrought unity. It deals with the three essential needs of man, and the three spheres of time within which man moves. First, it asks for bread, thereby asking for that which is necessary for the maintenance of life, and thereby bringing the needs of the present to the throne of God. Second, it asks for forgiveness, thereby bringing the past into the presence of God, and of God's forgiving grace. Third, it asks for help in temptation, thereby committing all the future into the hands of God. In these three brief petitions, we are taught to lay the present, the past, and the future, all before the footstool of the grace of God.
"But not only is this carefully wrought prayer a prayer which lays the whole of life in the presence of God; it is also a prayer which brings the whole of God to our lives. When we ask for bread to sustain our earthly lives, that request immediately directs our thoughts to God the Father, the Creator and the Sustainer of all life. When we ask for forgiveness, that request immediately directs our thoughts to God the Son, Jesus Christ our Saviour and Redeemer. When we ask for help for future temptation, that request immediately directs our thought to God the Holy Spirit, the Comforter, the Strengthener, the Illuminator, the Guide and the Guardian of our way."
The "bread" in view (v. 11) probably refers to all our food, and even all our physical needs. Bread has this larger significance in the Bible (cf. Prov. 30:8; Mark 3:20; Acts 6:1; 2 Thess. 3:12; James 2:15). Even today we speak of bread as "the staff of life." "Daily bread" refers to the necessities of life, not its luxuries. This is a prayer for our needs, not our greeds. The request is for God to supply our needs day by day (cf. Exod. 16:4-5; Ps. 104:14-15, 27-28; Prov. 30:8). The expression "this day [or today] our daily bread" reflects first century life in which workers received their pay daily. It also reminds disciples that we only live one day at a time, and each day we are dependent on God to sustain us. Asking God to provide our needs does not free us from the responsibility of working, however (cf. vv. 25-34; 2 Thess 3:10). God satisfies our needs partially by giving us the ability and the opportunity to earn a living. Ultimately everything comes from Him. Having to live from hand to mouth, and one day at a time, can be a blessing if it reminds us of our total dependence on God. This is especially true since we live in a world that glorifies self-sufficiency.
The fifth petition requests forgiveness from debts (v. 12). "Debts" (Gr. opheilemata) probably translates the Aramaic word hoba that was a common synonym for sins. The Greek word means "a failure to pay that which is due, a failure in duty." Viewing sins as debts was thoroughly Jewish (cf. Ps. 51:4).
The second clause in the sentence does not mean that we must earn God's forgiveness with our own. Our forgiveness of others demonstrates our felt need of forgiveness. The person who does not forgive a brother's offenses does not appreciate how much he himself needs forgiveness.
"Once our eyes have been opened to see the enormity of our offense against God, the injuries which others have done to us appear by comparison extremely trifling. If, on the other hand, we have an exaggerated view of the offenses of others, it proves that we have minimized our own."
Some Christians have wondered why we should ask for God's forgiveness, since the New Testament clearly reveals that God forgives all sins—past, present, and future—when He justifies us (Acts 10:43; Eph. 1:7; Col. 1:14). That is judicial or forensic forgiveness. However, as forgiven believers we need to ask for forgiveness to restore fellowship with God (cf. 1 John 1:9). Forensic forgiveness brings us into God's family. Family forgiveness keeps our fellowship with God intimate within God's family.
Some interpreters view verse 13 as containing one petition, while others believe Jesus intended two. Probably one is correct, in view of the close connection of the ideas. They are really two sides of one coin.
"Temptation" is the Greek peirasmos and means "testing." It refers not so much to solicitation to evil, as to trials that test the character. God does not test (peirasmos) anyone (James 1:13-14). Why then do we need to pray that He will not lead us into testing? Even though God is not the instrumental cause of our testing, He does permit us to experience temptation from the world, the flesh, and the devil (cf. 4:1; Gen. 22:1; Deut. 8:2). Therefore, this petition is a request that He would minimize the occasions of our testing that could result in our sinning. It articulates the repentant disciple's felt weakness to stand up under severe trials, in view of his or her sinfulness (cf. Prov. 30:7-9).
"But" introduces the alternative. "Deliver us" could mean "spare us from" or "deliver us out of." The meaning depends on what "evil" means. Is this a reference to evil generally or to the evil one, Satan? When the Greek preposition apo ("from") follows "deliver," it usually refers to deliverance from people. When ek ("from") follows it, it always refers to deliverance from things. Here apo occurs. Also, the adjective "evil" has an article modifying it in the Greek text, which indicates that it is to be taken as a substantive: "the evil one." God does not always deliver us from evil, but He does deliver us from the evil one.
However, the Old Testament predicted that a time of great evil would precede the establishment of the kingdom (Jer. 30). Some commentators, including non-premillenarians, have understood the evil in this petition as a reference to Satanic opposition that will come to its full force before the kingdom begins. God later revealed through Paul that Christians will not go through this Tribulation (1 Thess. 1:10; 4:13-18; et al.). Consequently, we do not need to pray for deliverance from it, but from other occasions of testing.
Some have seen a veiled reference to the Trinity in these last three petitions. The Father provides our bread through His creation and providence, the Son's atonement secures our forgiveness, and the Spirit's enablement assures our spiritual victory.
The final doxology appears in many ancient manuscripts, but there is so much variation in it that it was probably not originally a part of Matthew's Gospel. Evidently, pious scribes added it later to make the prayer liturgically complete. They apparently adapted the wording of David's prayer in 1 Chronicles 29:11.
"In the Temple [in Jesus' day] the people never responded to the prayers by an Amen, but always with this benediction, 'Blessed be the name of the glory of His kingdom for ever!' [Footnote 4:] Thus the words in our Authorised [sic] Version, Matt. vi. 13, 'For Thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen,' which are wanting in all the most ancient MSS., are only the common Temple-formula of response, and as such may have found their way into the text. The word 'Amen' was in reality a solemn asseveration or a mode of oath."
6:14-15 These verses explain the thought of the fifth petition (v. 12) more fully. Repetition stresses the importance of forgiving one another if we want God's forgiveness (cf. 18:23-35). Our horizontal relationships with other people must be correct before our vertical relationship with God can be.
"Prayer is straightforward and simple for those who have experienced the grace of the kingdom in Christ. In prayer the disciple does not try to coerce or manipulate God. There are no magical words or formulae, nor does an abundance of words count with God. Short, direct, and sincere prayers are adequate."
"The sample prayer, it can be concluded, is given in the context of the coming kingdom. The first three requests are petitions for the coming of the kingdom. The last three are for the needs of the disciples in the interim preceding the establishment of the kingdom."
6:16 Fasting in Israel involved going without food to engage in a spiritual exercise, usually prayer, with greater concentration. Fasting fostered and indicated self-humiliation before God, and confession often accompanied it (Neh. 9:1-2; Ps. 35:13; Isa. 58:3, 5; Dan. 9:2-20; 10:2-3; Jon. 3:5; Acts 9:9). People who felt anguish, danger, or desperation, gave up eating temporarily in order to present some special petition to the Lord in prayer (Exod. 24:18; Judg. 20:26; 2 Sam. 1:12; 2 Chron. 20:3; Ezra 8:21-23; Esth. 4:16; Matt. 4:1-2; Acts 13:1-3; 14:23). Some pious believers fasted regularly (Luke 2:37). The Pharisees fasted twice a week (Luke 18:12). God only commanded the Israelites to fast on one day of the year, the Day of Atonement (Lev. 16:29-31; 23:27-32; Num. 29:7). However, during the Exile the Israelites instituted additional regular fasts (Zech. 7:3-5; 8:19). Fasting occurred in the early church and seems to have been a normal part of Christian self-discipline (1 Cor. 9:24-27; Phil. 3:19; 1 Pet. 4:3). Hypocritical fasting occurred in Israel long before Jesus' day (Isa. 58:1-7; Jer. 14:12; Zech. 7:5-6), but the Pharisees were notorious for it.
"In Jewish fasting there were really three main ideas in the minds of men. (i) Fasting was a deliberate attempt to draw the attention of God to the person who fasted. . . . (ii) Fasting was a deliberate attempt to prove that penitence was real. . . . (iii) A great deal of fasting was vicarious. It was not designed to save a man's own soul so much as to move God to liberate the nation [or the individual] from its distresses."
Jesus' point in this verse was that His disciples should avoid drawing attention to themselves when they fasted. He did not question the genuine contrition of some who fasted, but He pointed out that the hypocrites wanted the admiration of other people even more than they wanted God's attention. Since that is what they really wanted, that is all they would get.
6:17-18 Jesus assumed His disciples would fast as He assumed they would give alms and pray. He said nothing to discourage them from fasting (cf. 9:14-17). He only condemned ostentatious fasting. To avoid any temptation to pander to the adulation of onlookers, Jesus counseled His disciples to do nothing that would attract attention to the fact that they were fasting when they fasted. Again, the Father who sees the worship that His children offer "in secret" will "reward" them.
The three major acts of Jewish worship—alms-giving, prayer, and fasting—were only representative of many other acts of worship that Jesus' disciples performed. His teaching in this section of the Sermon (6:1-18) stressed lessons they should apply more broadly. In His teaching about each of these three practices, Jesus first warned His disciples not to do the act for man's praise. Then He assured them that if they disregarded His warning, they would get human praise, but nothing more. Third, He taught them how to do the act secretly. Finally, He assured them that the Father who sees in secret would reward their righteous act openly. He thereby explained what it means to seek first the kingdom and its righteousness (6:33).
Thus far in the Sermon, Jesus urged His disciples to base their understanding of the righteousness God requires on the revelation of Scripture, not the traditional interpretations of their leaders (5:17-48). Then He clarified that true righteousness involved genuine worship of the Father, not hypocritical, ostentatious worship (6:1-18). Next, He revealed what true righteousness involves as the disciple lives in the world. He dealt with four key relationships: the disciple's relationship to wealth (6:19-34), to his or her brethren (7:1-5), to his or her antagonists (7:6), and to God (7:7-12).
Having made several references to treasure in heaven, Jesus now turned to focus on wealth. In the first part of chapter 6, His main emphasis was on sincerity. In this part of the chapter, it is on single-mindedness.
6:19-21 In view of the imminence of the kingdom, Jesus' disciples should "stop laying up treasures on earth." Jesus called for a break with their former practice. Money is not intrinsically evil. The wise person works hard and makes financial provision for lean times (Prov. 6:6-8). Believers have a responsibility to provide for their needy relatives (1 Tim. 5:8) and to be generous with others in need (Prov. 13:22; 2 Cor. 12:14). We can enjoy what God has given us (1 Tim. 4:3-4; 6:17). What Jesus forbade here was selfishness. Misers hoard more than they need (James 5:2-3). Materialists always want more. It is the love of money that is a root of all kinds of evil (1 Tim. 6:10).
It is foolish to accumulate great quantities of goods because they are perishable. "Moth(s)" eat clothing, a major form of wealth in the ancient Near East.
"All purely physical pleasures have a way of wearing out. At each successive enjoyment of them the thrill becomes less thrilling. It requires more of them to produce the same effect. They are like a drug which loses its initial potency and which becomes increasingly less effective."
"There are certain pleasures which inevitably lose their attraction as a man grows older. It may be that he is physically less able to enjoy them; it may be that as his mind matures they cease in any sense to satisfy him."
"Thieves" can carry off just about anything in one way or another.
"Suppose a man arranges his life in such a way that his happiness depends on his possession of money; then suppose a crash comes and he wakes up to find his money gone; then with his wealth his happiness has gone."
The "treasures in heaven" Jesus spoke of were the rewards God will give His faithful followers (5:12, 30, 46; 6:6, 15; cf. 10:42; 18:5; 25:40; 2 Cor. 4:17; 1 Tim. 6:13-19). They are the product of truly good works. These are secure in heaven, and God will dispense them to the faithful at His appointed time (cf. 1 Pet. 1:4).
The thing that a person values most highly ("treasure") inevitably occupies the center of his or her "heart." The heart is the center of the personality, and it controls the intellect, emotions, and will.
"If honour is reckoned the supreme good, the minds of men must be wholly occupied with ambition: if money, covetousness will immediately predominate: if pleasure, it will be impossible to prevent men from sinking into brutal indulgence."
On the other hand, if a person values eternal riches most highly, he or she will pursue kingdom values (cf. Col. 3:1-2; Rev. 14:13). Some Christians believe that it is always carnal to desire and to work for eternal rewards, but Jesus commanded us to do precisely that (cf. 1 Cor. 3:11-15; 2 Cor. 5:10). Serving the Lord to obtain a reward to glorify oneself is obviously wrong, but to serve Him to obtain a reward that one may lay at His feet as an act of worship is not (cf. Rev. 4:10).
"What does it mean to lay up treasures in heaven? It means to use all that we have for the glory of God. It means to 'hang loose' when it comes to the material things of life. It also means measuring life by the true riches of the kingdom and not by the false riches of this world."
6:22-23 The body finds its way through life with the aid of the eye. In that sense, "the eye is the lamp of the body" (cf. Luke 11:34-36). A "clear" or good "eye" admits "light" into the body, but a "bad . . . eye" leaves the body in "darkness." Evidently Jesus meant the eye is similar to the heart (v. 21). The heart fixed on God (Ps. 199:10) is similar to the eye fixed on God's law (Ps. 119:18, 148).
"Eyes are the expression of the soul, not its intake, although certainly the two ideas are related. What Jesus stresses in this saying is that a good eye acts in a healthy way. It is the sign of a healthy soul."
A "bad eye" is a miserly, grudging, jealous eye (Prov. 28:22). Jesus was speaking metaphorically. He probably meant that the person who is stingy and selfish cannot really see where he is going but is morally and spiritually blind (cf. vv. 19-21). However, He may have meant that the person who is double-minded, dividing his loyalties between God and money, will have no clear vision but will lack direction (cf. v. 24). Metaphorically, the body represents the whole person. The lack of light within is the dark vision that the bad eye with divided loyalties, a selfish attitude, provides.
6:24 The choice between "two masters" is what is depicted by the choice between two treasures and the choice between two visions. "Mammon" is the transliteration of the emphatic form of the Aramaic word mamona, meaning "wealth" or "property." The root word mn, in both Hebrew and Aramaic, indicates something in which one places confidence. Here Jesus personified it and set it over against God as a competing object of confidence. Jesus presented God and Mammon as two slave owners, masters.
A person might be able to work for two different employers at the same time. However, God and Mammon are not employers but slave owners. Each demands single-minded devotion. To give either anything less is to provide no true service at all.
6:25 "Therefore" draws a conclusion from what has preceded (vv. 19-24). Since God has given us "life" and a "body," He will certainly also provide what we need to maintain them (cf. Luke 12:22-31; Phil. 4:6-7; Heb. 13:5; 1 Pet. 5:7). This argument is a fortiori, or qal wahomer, "How much more . . .?" It is wrong, therefore, for a disciple to fret (worry) about such things. He or she should simply trust and obey God, and get on with fulfilling one's divinely revealed calling in life (cf. 28:19-20).
6:26-27 If we fret constantly about having enough "food" and "clothing," we show that we have not yet learned a very basic lesson that nature teaches us: God provides for His creatures' needs. Furthermore, God is the heavenly Father of believers. Consequently He will take special care of them. This argument is a minori ad maius, "From the lesser to the greater." This does not mean we can disregard work, but it does mean we should disregard worry.
Fretting cannot lengthen life any more than it can put food on the table or clothes on the back (v. 27). Worry really shortens life.
6:28-30 The "lilies of the field" were probably the wild crocuses that bloom so abundantly in Galilee during the spring. However, Jesus probably intended them to represent all the wildflowers. His point was that God is so good that He covers the ground with beautiful wildflowers that have no productive value and only last a short time.
God's providential grace should not make the disciple lazy, but confident that He will similarly provide for His children's needs. God often dresses the simplest field more beautifully than Israel's wealthiest king could adorn himself. Therefore, anxiety about the essentials of life really demonstrates lack of ("little") "faith" in God.
6:31-32 Since God provides so bountifully for His own, it is not only foolish but pagan to fret about the basic necessities of life. The fretting disciple lives as an unbeliever (Gentile) who disbelieves and disregards God. Such a person devotes too much of his or her attention to the accumulation of material goods, and disregards the more important things in life.
6:33 Rather than pursuing material things, the disciple should replace this with a pursuit having much greater significance. Seeking the kingdom involves pursuing the things about the kingdom for which Jesus taught His disciples to pray, namely: God's honor, His reign, and His will (vv. 9-10). This is one of only five places in Matthew where we read "kingdom of God" rather than "kingdom of heaven" (cf. 12:28; 19:24; 21:31, 43). In each case, the context requires a more personal reference to "God," rather than a more oblique reference to "heaven." Seeking God's righteousness means pursuing righteousness in life in submission to God's will (cf. 5:6, 10, 20; 6:1). It does not mean seeking justification, in view of Jesus' use of "righteousness" in the context.
"In the end, just as there are only two kinds of piety, the self-centered and the God-centered, so there are only two kinds of ambition: one can be ambitious either for oneself or for God. There is no third alternative."
The "things" God will add are the necessities of life that He provides providentially, about which Jesus warned His disciples not to fret (5:45; 6:11). Here, God promises to meet the needs of those who commit themselves to seeking the furtherance of His "kingdom" and "righteousness."
In view of this promise, how can we explain the fact that some animals, plants, and committed believers have perished for lack of food? There is a wider sphere of context in which this promise operates. We all live in a fallen world where the effects of sin pervade every aspect of life. Sometimes the godly, through no fault of their own, get caught up in the consequences of sin and perish. Jesus did not elaborate this dimension of life, here, but assumed it as something His hearers would have known and understood.
6:34 Since we have such a promise, backed up by the testimony of divine providence, we should not fret "about tomorrow." Today has enough "trouble" or evil for us to deal with. Moreover, the trouble we anticipate tomorrow may never materialize. God provides only enough grace so we can deal with life one day at a time. Tomorrow He will provide enough grace (help) for what we will face then.
To summarize, the disciple's relationship to wealth should be one of trust in God and to have a single-minded commitment to the affairs of His kingdom and righteousness. It should not be hoarding or pursuing wealth for its own sake. God, not Mammon, should be the magnet of the believer's life. The fruit of such an attitude will be freedom from anxiety about daily material needs.
Jesus first laid down a principle (v. 1). Then He justified this principle theologically (v. 2). Finally, He provided an illustration (vv. 3-5).
7:1 Jesus taught His disciples not to be judgmental or censorious of one another, in view of the high standards He was clarifying (cf. Rom. 14:10-13; James 4:11-12). He did not mean that they should accept everything and everyone uncritically (cf. vv. 5-6, 15-20; John 7:24; 1 Cor. 5:5; Gal. 1:8-9; 6:1; Phil. 3:2; 1 John 4:1). Neither did He mean, obviously, that parents, church leaders, and civil authorities are wrong if they pass judgment on those under their care. He meant that His disciples should not do God's job of passing judgment—for Him—when He has not authorized them to do so. They really could not, since no one but God knows all the facts that motivate people to do as they do. The disciple who usurps God's place will have to answer to Him for doing so. One public opinion poll indicated that this is currently the most popularly quoted verse from the Bible.
". . . it is the habit of censorious and carping criticism that Jesus is condemning, and not the exercise of the critical faculty, by which men are able and expected on specific occasions to make value-judgments and to choose between different policies and plans of action."
7:2 The thought here is similar to that in 6:14-15. The person who judges others very critically will experience a similarly rigorous examination from God (cf. 18:23-35). There is a word play in the verse in the Greek text that suggests Jesus may have been quoting a popular proverb.
7:3-5 The "speck" (Gr. karphos) could be a speck of any foreign matter. The "log" or "plank" (Gr. dokos) refers to a large piece of wood. Jesus again used hyperbole to stress the folly of criticizing someone else. This act reveals a much greater problem in the critic's life, namely: a censorious spirit.
Such a person is a hypocrite and his actions carry him away. He does not deceive others as much as he deceives himself. Other people may realize that his criticism is unjustifiable, but he does not. A proper attitude is important in judging oneself and other people (1 Cor. 11:31; Gal. 6:1). Censorious critics are not helpful. That is what Jesus warned against here (cf. Luke 6:39-42).
"The disciples of the King are to be critical of self but not of their brethren. The group is to be noted for their bond of unity, which is indicated by a lack of criticism. This is fitting, since the kingdom is characterized by peace. (Isaiah 9:7)."
Jesus' disciples had a responsibility to pass their knowledge of the kingdom on to others so they, too, could prepare for it. Jesus gave them directions about this responsibility in this verse. This exhortation balances the one He just gave (vv. 1-5). The disciples could be too naive and fail to be discerning (cf. 5:43-47).
Pigs ("swine") were typically unclean, wild, vicious animals. Likewise, most "dogs" were not domestic pets but unclean, wild, despised creatures. This verse contains a chiastic construction. The dogs "turn and tear to pieces" those who give them special gifts, and the pigs "trample" under foot the "pearls" thrown before them (cf. Prov. 11:22). "What is holy" and the "pearls" in this illustration evidently represent the good news announcing the kingdom. The pigs and dogs probably do not represent all Gentiles, but people of any race who react to the good news by rejecting and turning against those who bring it to them (cf. 10:14; 15:14). One example of this type of person is Herod Antipas, who heard John the Baptist gladly (Mark 6:20), but then beheaded him (14:1-12; Mark 6:14-28; Luke 9:7-9). Later when Christ stood before Herod, He said nothing to him (Luke 23:8-9). Such enemies should be left alone (cf. 2 Cor. 6:14-18).
"As with other parts of Jesus' teaching, the point is not an absolute prohibition, because then the disciple could not share the gospel with those who are not responsive. Rather, the point is that the disciple is not obligated to share with those who are hard-hearted."
This section of verses brings the main body of the Sermon to a climactic conclusion.
7:7-8 In view of such hard opposition, Jesus' disciples need to pray for God's help. He will always respond positively to their words, though others may reject them (v. 6). Still, their petitions must be for His glory rather than for selfish ends (cf. James 4:2-3). All that the disciple needs to serve Jesus Christ successfully is available for the asking.
"Jesus' disciples will pray ('ask') with earnest sincerity ('seek') and active, diligent pursuit of God's way ('knock'). Like a human father, the heavenly Father uses these means to teach his children courtesy, persistence, and diligence. If the child prevails with a thoughtful father, it is because the father has molded the child to his way."
The force of each present imperative verb is iterative. We could translate them: "Keep on asking, keep on seeking, keep on knocking" (cf. Luke 11:9-10). However, no matter the level of intensity with which we seek God's help, He will respond to every one of His disciples who calls to Him.
7:9-11 In verses 9 and 10, Jesus put the matter of verses 7-8 in two other ways. Even though parents are "evil" (i.e., self-centered sinners), they do not typically give their children disappointing or dangerous counterfeits, in response to requests for what is wholesome and nutritious. Much more will the heavenly "Father," who is pure goodness, "give . . . gifts" that are truly "good" to His "children" who request them (cf. Jer. 29:13; Luke 11:11-13; James 1:5-8). This is another a fortiori argument (cf. 6:26). Jesus' disciples are in view as the "children" praying here (cf. 5:45). The good things they request have direct connection with the kingdom, things such as ability to follow God faithfully in spite of opposition (cf. Acts 4:29). God has ordained that we ask for the good gifts we need, because this is the way He trains us, not because He is unaware or unconcerned about our needs (cf. 6:8).
"What is fundamentally at stake is man's picture of God. God must not be thought of as a reluctant stranger who can be cajoled or bullied into bestowing his gifts (6:7-8), as a malicious tyrant who takes vicious glee in the tricks he plays (vv. 9-10), or even as an indulgent grandfather who provides everything requested of him. He is the heavenly Father, the God of the kingdom, who graciously and willingly bestows the good gifts of the kingdom in answer to prayer."
There are 14 references to rewards in the Sermon on the Mount (5:12, 46; 6:1, 2, 4, 5, 6, 16, 18, 19, 20, 21, 33; 7:11). While the desire for an eternal reward may not be the highest motivation for serving Christ, Jesus held it out as one motivation, as did other New Testament writers.
7:12 The recurrence of "the Law and the Prophets" here takes us back to 5:17, the beginning of the body of the Sermon. As pointed out previously, this phrase forms an inclusio. Everything Jesus said between 5:17 and 7:12 was essentially an exposition of Old Testament revelation. Consequently the "therefore" in this verse probably summarizes the entire section (5:17—7:12).
The "golden rule" sums up the teaching of the Old Testament (cf. Exod. 23:4; Lev. 19:18; Deut. 15:7-8; Prov. 24:17; 25:21; Luke 6:31). The title "golden rule" traditionally comes from "the Roman Emperor Alexander Severus (A.D. 222-35), who, though not a Christian, was reputedly so impressed by the comprehensiveness of this maxim of Jesus . . . that he had it inscribed in gold on the wall of his chamber."
Rather than giving scores of specific commands to govern individual behavior during the inter-advent era, as the Old Covenant did for the Mosaic era, Jesus gave this principle. It provides a rule we can use in thousands of specific cases to determine what righteousness looks like. Doing to others what we would want them to do to us is what "the Law and the Prophets" taught. This behavior fulfills them (cf. 5:17). This behavior is the will of God, and that is why Jesus' disciples should do it.
"When the rule is put in its negative form, when we are told that we must refrain from doing to others that which we would not wish them to do to us, it is not an essentially religious rule at all. It is simply a common-sense statement without which no social intercourse at all would be possible."
"It is perfectly possible for a man of the world to observe the negative form of the golden rule. He could without very serious difficulty so discipline his life that he would not do to others what he did not wish them to do to him; but the only man who can even begin to satisfy the positive form of the rule is the man who has the love of Christ within his heart. He will try to forgive as he would wish to be forgiven, to help as he would wish to be helped, to praise as he would wish to be praised, to understand as he would wish to be understood. He will never seek to avoid doing things; he will always look for things to do."
To clarify the essential choices that His disciples needed to make, Jesus laid out four pairs of alternatives. Their choices would prepare them to continue to get ready for the coming kingdom. Each of the four alternatives is a warning of catastrophic proportions. They all focus on future judgment and the kingdom. This section constitutes the conclusion to the Sermon on the Mount.
The Old Testament contains several references to diverging ways that force the traveler to choose between two paths (e.g., Deut. 30:15, 19; Ps. 1; Jer. 21:8). The AV translation "straight" is a bit misleading. That translation reflected the Latin strictum meaning narrow, and it probably contributed to the common idea of "the straight and narrow." However, the Greek word stene clearly means "narrow" as contrasted with broad. The word "small" (v. 14, Gr. tethlimmene) relates closely to the Greek word thlipsis, meaning "tribulation." Thus, Jesus was saying that the narrow restricting gate has connections with persecution, a major theme in Matthew's Gospel (cf. 5:10-12, 44; 10:16-39; 11:11-12; 24:4-13; Acts 14:22).
The "narrow" road "leads to life," namely, life in the kingdom (cf. vv. 21-22). The "broad" road "leads to destruction," namely, death and hell (cf. 25:34, 46; John 17:12; Rom. 9:22: 1 Cor. 1:18; Phil. 1:28; 3:19; 1 Tim. 6:9; Heb. 10:39; 2 Pet. 2:1, 3; 3:16; Rev. 17:8, 11). Few will enter the kingdom compared with the many who will perish. Jesus clearly did not believe in the doctrine of universalism that is growing in popularity today, the belief that everyone will eventually end up in heaven (cf. John 14:6). Entrance through the narrow gate onto the narrow way will eventually lead a person into the kingdom. The beginning of a life of discipleship (the gate) and the process of discipleship (the way) are both restrictive and both involve persecution.
"Gate is mentioned for the benefit of those who were not true followers; way is mentioned as a definition of the life of the disciples of Jesus. This is why Matthew uses the word 'gate' (pule) while Luke employs the word 'door' (thura, Luke 13:24). Luke is concerned primarily with salvation. Here the King desires subjects for His kingdom, so He uses a word which implies a path is to be followed after entrance into life."
Only a "few" people would find the way "to life" (v. 14). As we noted earlier, Israel's leaders were lethargic about seeking the Messiah (2:7-8). Many of the Jews were evidently not seeking the kingdom either.
7:15 Jesus here sounded a warning, that the Old Testament prophets also gave, about "false prophets" (cf. Deut. 13; 18; Jer. 6:13-15; 8:8-12; Ezek. 13; 22:27; Zeph 3:4). He did not explain exactly what they would teach, only that they would deceptively misrepresent divine revelation. This covers a wide spectrum of false teachers. Their motive was ultimately self-serving, and the end of their victims would be destruction. These characteristics are implicit in Jesus' description of them. The scribes and Pharisees manned a narrow gate, but it was not the gate that led to the narrow way leading to life.
7:16-20 "Fruit" in the natural world, as well as metaphorically, represents what the plant or person produces. It is what other people see (or sample or taste) that leads them to conclude something about the nature and identity of what bears the fruit. "Fruits" are the best indicator of this nature. In false teachers, "fruits" represent their doctrines and deeds (cf. Jer. 23:9-15). Jesus said His disciples would be able to recognize false prophets "by their fruits": their teachings and their actions. Sometimes the true character of a person remains hidden for some time. People regard their good works as an indication of righteous character. However, eventually the true nature of the person becomes apparent, and it becomes clear that one's seemingly good fruits were destructive.
Prophets true to God's Word produce righteous conduct, but false prophets who disregard God's Word produce unrighteous conduct (v. 17).
A poisonous plant will yield poisonous fruit. It cannot produce healthful fruit. Likewise a "good tree," such as an apple tree, bears "good," nutritious "fruit" (v. 18). The "bad fruit" may look good, but it is bad nonetheless (v. 16). A false prophet can only produce bad works, even though his works may appear good, superficially or temporarily.
Some interpreters of this passage take Jesus' teaching further than He went with it. They say it is impossible for a genuine believer to do bad works. This cannot be true in view of the hundreds of commands, exhortations, and warnings that Jesus and the prophets and apostles gave to believers in both Testaments. It is possible for a believer to do bad works (e.g., 16:23; Tit. 2:11-13; 3:8; 1 John 1:9). That they will not is the teaching of sinless perfection. Other interpreters say that some bad works are inevitable for the believer, but bad works will not habitually characterize the life of a true believer. This quickly turns into a question of how many bad works (would prove someone is unsaved)—which the New Testament does not answer. Rather, the New Testament writers present some people who have departed from God's will for a long time as believers (e.g., 1 Tim. 1:20; 2 Tim. 2:17-18). The point Jesus was making, in verse 18, was simply that false prophets do what is bad, and people who follow God faithfully typically do what is good. How disciples of Jesus live was very important to Him.
The end of "every tree that does not bear good fruit" is "the fire" (v. 19). Likewise the false prophet who does bad works, even though they look good, suffers destructive judgment (cf. 3:10).
The words and works of a prophet eventually reveal his true character, just as surely as the fruit of a tree reveals its identity (v. 20). Of these two criteria, words and works, works are the more reliable indicator of character.
Jesus was evidently dealing with typical false prophets in this section. He did not go into the case of a believer who deliberately distorts God's Word. Typically, a false prophet rejects God's Word because he is an unbeliever. However, even in the Old Testament, there were a few true prophets who lied about God's Word (e.g., 1 Kings 13:18).
Verses 15-20 deal with false prophets, but verses 21-23 deal with false followers. The repeated cry of these false disciples reveals their fervency.
"In Jesus' day it is doubtful whether 'Lord' when used to address him meant more than 'teacher' or 'sir.' But in the postresurrection period, it becomes an appellation of worship and a confession of Jesus' deity."
Obedience to the Father's will determines entrance into the millennial "kingdom," not professed admiration for Jesus. This is the first occurrence of the phrase "My Father" in Matthew. By using it, Jesus was implicitly claiming to be the authoritative revealer of God. During Jesus' ministry, doing the will of God boiled down to believing that Jesus was the Messiah and responding appropriately (John 6:29). Note that entrance into the kingdom was still future; the kingdom was not yet present. Judgment will precede entrance into the kingdom.
Jesus claimed to be the eschatological Judge (cf. John 6). This was one of Messiah's functions (e.g., Ps. 2). "That day" (v. 22) is the day Jesus will judge false professors. It is almost a technical term for the messianic age (cf. Isa. 2:11, 17; 4:2; 10:20; Jer. 49:22; Zech. 14:6, 20-21). "In your name" means as your representatives and claiming your authority. Obviously it was possible for false disciples to "prophesy," exorcise "demons," and "perform miracles" in Jesus' name (e.g., Judas Iscariot). The authority of His name (reputation) enabled them to do so, not their own righteousness or relationship to Him. Many onlookers undoubtedly viewed these works as good fruit and evidence of righteous character. However, these were cases of tares that looked like wheat (cf. 13:24-30).
Jesus Himself would sentence the hypocrites to depart from His presence (v. 23). Thus Jesus claimed again that He is the Judge who will determine who will enter the kingdom and who will not. This was a decidedly messianic function. The quotation from Psalm 6:8 puts Jesus in the place of the sufferer whom God has vindicated, and He now tells those who have done Him evil to depart from His presence. Moreover, He will say He never knew these false professors. Many people deal with holy things daily yet have no personal acquaintance with God because they are hypocrites. It is their failure to bow before divine law, the will of God, that renders them practitioners of lawlessness—and guilty.
Verses 21-23 contrast those who say one thing but do another. Verses 24-27 contrast hearing and doing (cf James 1:22-25; 2:14-20). The will of Jesus' Father (v. 21) now becomes "these words of mine" (v. 24). As throughout this section (vv. 13-27), Jesus was looking at a life in its entirety.
"The two ways illustrate the start of the life of faith; the two trees illustrate the growth and results of the life of faith here and now; and the two houses illustrate the end of this life of faith, when God shall call everything to judgment."
Each house in Jesus' illustration looks secure. However, severe testing reveals the true quality of the builders' work (cf. 13:21; Prov. 10:25; 12:7; 14:11; Isa. 28:16-17). Torrential downpours were and are common in Israel. Wise men build to withstand anything. The wise person is a theme in Matthew (cf. 10:16; 24:45; 25:2, 4, 8-9). The "wise" person is one who puts Jesus' "words" into practice. Thus the final reckoning will expose the true convictions of the pseudo-disciple.
"He [Jesus] was the craftsman who knew all about the building of houses, and when He spoke about the foundations of a house He knew what He was talking about. This is no illustration formed by a scholar in his study; this is the illustration of a practical man."
Jesus later compared Himself to foundation rock (16:18; cf. Isa. 28:16; 1 Cor. 3:11; 1 Pet. 2:6-8). That idea was probably implicit here.
Verses 16-20 have led some people to judge the reality of a person's salvation from his or her works. All that Jesus said before (vv. 1-5), and following those verses, should discourage us from doing this. False prophets eventually give evidence that they are not faithful prophets. However, it is impossible for onlookers to determine the salvation of professing believers (vv. 21-23) and those who simply receive the gospel without making any public response to it (vv. 24-27). Their real condition will only become clear when Jesus judges them. He is their Judge, and we must leave their judgment in His hands (v. 1).
Jesus' point in this section (vv. 13-27) was that entrance into the kingdom and discipleship as a follower of the King are unpopular, and they involve persecution. Many more people will profess to be disciples than really are. The acid test is obedience to the revealed will of God.
"So the sermon ends with a challenge not to ignore responding to Jesus and his teaching. Jesus is a figure who is not placing his teaching forward because it is a recommended way of life. He represents far more than that. His teaching is a call to an allegiance that means the difference between life and death, between blessing and woe. Jesus is more than a prophet."
Each conclusion to each of the five major discourses in Matthew begins with the same formula statement: literally "and it happened" (Gr. kai egeneto) followed by a finite verb. It is, therefore, "a self-conscious stylistic device that establishes a structural turning point." Each conclusion is also transitional and prepares for the next section.
We learn for the first time that, even though Jesus was teaching His disciples (5:1-2), multitudes were listening in to what He taught them. Probably for this reason, the end of the Sermon contains more material that is suitable for a general audience. France believed that all the discourses in Matthew are anthologies of Jesus' teachings on various occasions—that Matthew compiled into discourses—rather than single discourses that Jesus delivered on individual occasions. This is a minority opinion, but it is probably true that the Gospel writers edited Jesus' teachings to some extent.
Jesus' "teaching" included both His content and His delivery. What impressed the crowds was Jesus' "authority" when He taught. This is the first occurrence of another theme that Matthew stressed (8:9; 9:6, 8; 10:1; 21:23-24, 27; 28:18). Jesus' authority was essentially different in that He claimed to be the Messiah. He not only claimed to interpret the Word of God, as other contemporary teachers did, but He claimed to fulfill it as well (5:17). He would be the One who would determine entrance into the kingdom (v. 21), and He would judge humankind eventually (v. 23). He also claimed that His teaching amounted to God's Word (vv. 24, 26). Therefore the authoritative note in His teaching was not primarily His sincerity, or His oratorical style, or His lack of reference to earlier authorities. It was who He was. He claimed to be the authoritative Interpreter of the Word of God (i.e., with the authority of the predicted Prophet, the Messiah)!
"In the final analysis . . . what Jesus says about the law applies to it as something being authoritatively reinterpreted by his teaching. It is not the Mosaic law in and of itself that has normative and abiding character for disciples, but the Mosaic law as it has passed through the crucible of Jesus' teaching."
To summarize this sermon, Jesus began by describing the character of the kingdom's subjects (5:1-10). He then explained their calling (5:11-16). Next, He specified their conduct (5:17—7:12). Finally, He clarified their choices and commitments (7:13-27).
Scholars have noted many parallels between Jesus' teaching in the Sermon on the Mount and Rabbinic instruction, probably more than in any other part of the New Testament. The similarities, however, lie in form of expression, subject matter, and turn of words, but definitely not in spirit. The authority and power of His teaching, as Matthew ironically pointed out, was "not as their scribes."
"The King has proclaimed the nearness of the kingdom and has authenticated that message with great signs. With people flocking to Him He instructs His disciples concerning the character of those who shall inherit the kingdom. The kingdom, though earthly, is founded on righteousness. Thus the theme of His message is righteousness."
Jesus proceeded to demonstrate His authority by performing powerful miracles that liberated captives from their bondage, signs that the Old Testament prophets said Messiah would perform.
"Throughout the rest of his story, Matthew makes it exceedingly plain that, whether directly or indirectly, the issue of authority underlies all the controversies Jesus has with the religious leaders and that it is therefore pivotal to his entire conflict with them."
"Matthew has laid the foundational structure for his argument in chapters one through seven. The genealogy and birth have attested to the legal qualifications of the Messiah as they are stated in the Old Testament. Not only so, but in His birth great and fundamental prophecies have been fulfilled. The King, according to protocol, has a forerunner preceding Him in His appearance on the scene of Israel's history. The moral qualities of Jesus have been authenticated by His baptism and temptation. The King Himself then commences His ministry of proclaiming the nearness of the kingdom and authenticates it with great miracles. To instruct His disciples as to the true character of righteousness which is to distinguish Him, He draws them apart on the mountain. After Matthew has recorded the Sermon on the Mount, he goes on to relate the King's presentation to Israel (Matthew 8:1—11:1)."
Matthew described Jesus' ministry as consisting of teaching, preaching, and healing in 4:23. Chapters 5—7 record what He taught His disciples: principles of the kingdom. We have the essence of His preaching ministry in 4:17. Now in 8:1—9:34 we see His healing ministry. He demonstrated authority over human beings, unseen spiritual powers, and the world of nature. Matthew showed that Jesus' ability proves that He is the divine Messiah. He possessed the "power to banish from the earth the consequences of sin and to control the elements of nature". The King authenticated His claims by performing messianic signs. In view of these things, the Jews should have acknowledged Him as their Messiah. Matthew's purpose was far more than simply to reveal the love of God, as some commentators have proposed.
Matthew did not record Jesus' miracles in strict chronological order. The harmonies of the Gospels make this clear. His order is more thematic. He also selected miracles that highlight the gracious character of Jesus' signs. As Moses' plagues authenticated his ministry to the Israelites of his day, so Jesus' miracles should have convinced the Israelites of His day that He was the Messiah. Moses' plagues were primarily destructive, whereas Jesus' miracles were primarily constructive. Jesus' miracles were more like Elisha's than Moses' in this respect.
Matthew recorded 10 instances of Jesus healing in this section of his book (cf. the 10 plagues in Egypt), half of all the miracles that Matthew recorded. Some regard 8:16-17 as a miracle distinct from the previous healings in chapter 8, resulting in 10 miracles. Others regard 8:16-17 as a summary of the preceding miracles, resulting in 9 miracles. Both explanations have merit, since 8:16-17 records other miracles, but it does not narrate one specific miraculous healing.
Matthew presented these miracles in three groups and broke the three groups up with two discussions (narrative sections) concerning His authority. The first group of miracles involves healings (8:1-17), the second, demonstrations of power (8:23—9:8), and the third, acts of restoration (9:18-34). Together the section presents "a slice of life" out of Jesus' overall ministry.
authority over His disciples
authority over His critics
"The provision of interludes on discipleship in order to divide the nine stories into three groups of three is also closely parallel to the arrangement of the parables of ch. 13 into groups of three with intervening explanatory material, an arrangement which is equally peculiar to Matthew [among the Gospel writers]."
8:1 This verse is transitional (cf. 5:1). Great crowds continued to follow Jesus after He delivered the Sermon on the Mount, as they had before.
8:2-3 Matthew typically used the phrase kai idou ("and behold," not translated in the NIV) to mark the beginning of a new section, not to indicate the next event chronologically.
The exact nature of biblical leprosy is unknown. Apparently it included what we call leprosy today, Hansen's disease, but it involved other skin diseases too (cf. Lev. 13—14). A leper not only had some loathsome skin disease that made him repulsive to others, but he also was ritually unclean because of his illness. This precluded contact with other people and participation in temple worship. The Jews regarded leprosy as a curse from God (Num. 12:10, 12; Job 18:13), and healings were rare (Num. 12:10-15; 2 Kings 5:9-14). The Jews thought that healing a leper was as difficult as raising the dead (2 Kings 5:7, 14).
The "leper" in this story knelt (Gr. prosekynei) before Jesus. The same word describes worshippers in the New Testament. However, Matthew probably simply described him as kneeling, in order to leave his readers to draw their own conclusions about Jesus' worthiness to receive worship (cf. 7:22-23).
The man had great faith in Jesus' ability to heal him. Evidently he had heard about and perhaps seen others whom Jesus had healed (4:24). His only reservation was Jesus' willingness to use His power to heal him. The leper probably supposed that a Jewish teacher like Jesus would probably not want to have anything to do with him, since to do so would render Jesus ritually unclean.
"The phrase if You are willing is important because it indicates genuine faith. It does not necessarily mean that if one simply believes, God will do something, but that He can do it (see Dan. 3:17)."
Probably the crowd gasped when Jesus graciously extended His hand and touched the unclean leper. Lepers had to avoid all contact with other people, but Jesus compassionately reached out to him in his helpless condition. Jesus expressed His willingness with His word, and He expressed His power with His touch.
"Whatever remedies, medical, magical, or sympathetic, Rabbinic writings may indicate for various kinds of disease, leprosy is not included in the catalogue. They left aside what even the Old Testament marked as moral death, by enjoining those so stricken to avoid all contact with the living, and even to bear the appearance of mourners.
"There is a sense in which leprosy is an archetypal fruit of the original fall of humanity. It leaves its victims in a most pitiable state: ostracized, helpless, hopeless, despairing. The cursed leper, like fallen humanity, has no options until he encounters the messianic king who will make all things new. . . . As Jesus reached out to the leper, God in Jesus has reached out to all victims of sin."
8:4 Why did Jesus tell the cleansed leper to "tell no one" about his cleansing? Probably Jesus did not want the news of this cleansing broadcast widely because it would have attracted multitudes whose sole interest would have been to obtain physical healing. In other words, He wanted to limit His physical ministry's appeal, since He came to provide much more than just physical healing. A corollary of this view is that, by keeping quiet, the leper would have retarded the opposition of Jesus' enemies who were hostile to Him and who resented His popularity.
More significant is why Jesus told the man to present himself to the priests at the temple in Jerusalem. Jesus was encouraging the man to obey the Mosaic Law concerning the cleansing of lepers (Lev. 14:2; cf. Talmudic tractate Negaim 14). However, by sending him there to do that, Jesus was notifying the religious authorities in Israel that someone with messianic power was ministering in Galilee. Since no leper had received cleansing since Elisha had cleansed Naaman the Aramean, the priests should have wanted to investigate Jesus. (Moses had previously cleansed Miriam's leprosy [Num. 12:10-15].)
This investigation by Israel's leaders—who, we have observed, were surprisingly uninterested in Messiah's birth—was something Jesus initiated by sending the leper to the temple with his offering. When the priests examined the cleansed leper closely, they would have had to certify that Jesus had genuinely healed the man. Their certification should have convinced everyone in Israel of Jesus' power.
Matthew evidently recorded this miracle to show that Jesus' ability to heal leprosy marked Him as the Messiah to all who would pay attention in Israel.
"By recounting Jesus' response to the most feared and ostracized medical condition of his day, Matthew has thus laid an impressive foundation for this collection of stories which demonstrate both Jesus' unique healing power and his willingness to challenge the taboos of society in the interests of human compassion."
8:5 Centurions were Roman military officers, each of whom controlled 100 men, therefore the name "centurion." They were the military backbone of the Roman Empire. Interestingly, every reference to a centurion in the New Testament is a positive one. These centurions were, according to the biblical record, fair-minded men whom the Jews respected. "Capernaum" was an important garrison town in Jesus' day. Probably most of the soldiers under this centurion's command were Phoenician and Syrian Gentiles.
8:6-7 Matthew recorded that the centurion's address to Jesus (lit. "lord") was polite, though he probably did not intend it as a title of deity. The Greek word that the centurion used to describe his servant, pais, usually means "servant," though it can mean "son" (cf. John 4:51). This servant could have been the centurion's personal aide. Matthew did not record the cause of his paralysis. Perhaps reports of Jesus' healing of another official's son led this centurion to approach Jesus (John 4). Here was one Gentile asking Jesus to come and heal another Gentile. Evidently the centurion sent his request through messengers (Luke 7:3). This is one of only two miracles in which Jesus healed someone from a distance in Matthew's Gospel (cf. 15:21-28). Both involved Jesus healing Gentiles, whom He initially rebuffed, but later commended for their unusually great faith in Him.
It is possible to translate Jesus' response as a question: "Shall I [emphatic] come and heal him?" This translation has the advantage of providing a reason for Jesus emphasizing "I," namely, to focus attention on Jesus' person. Jesus would not have hesitated to go to the centurion because of ritual uncleanness, as Peter later did (Acts 10); He had already touched a leper (v. 3). Jesus' lack of concern about remaining ritually clean shows that He was replacing some laws in the Mosaic Code (cf. Deut. 18:18; Mark 7:19).
8:8-9 The centurion confessed that he felt unfit, Levitically speaking, to entertain Jesus in his home (cf. 5:3). John the Baptist had also expressed a similar feeling of unworthiness (3:14). The basis for the centurion's feeling of unworthiness (Gr. hikanos) was his own perception of how Jews regarded Gentile dwellings, plus the "authority" that he believed Jesus possessed. He believed Jesus had sufficient authority to simply speak and He could heal his servant (cf. John 4:46-53).
All authority in the Roman Empire belonged to the emperor, who delegated authority to others under his command. The Roman Republic ended about 30 B.C., and from then on, beginning with Caesar Augustus, the emperors enjoyed more authority under the Roman Empire. When the centurion gave a command it carried all the authority of the emperor, and people obeyed him. A soldier who might disobey an order the centurion gave was really disobeying the emperor. The centurion realized that Jesus also operated under a similar system. Jesus was under God's authority, but He also wielded God's authority. When Jesus spoke, God spoke. To defy Jesus was to defy God. Jesus' word, therefore, must carry God's authority to heal sickness. The centurion confessed that Jesus' authority was God's authority, and Jesus' word was God's word. The centurion believed that Jesus could heal his servant, not that He would heal him. We cannot know God's will in such matters, but we must believe that He is able to do anything.
8:10 Jesus expressed astonishment at this Gentile's great faith in Him. The Greek verb thaumazo, "to be amazed," usually describes the reaction of people to Jesus in Matthew (cf. 8:27; 9:33; 15:31; 21:20; 22:22; 27:14). This is the only time it describes Jesus' reaction to someone.
The introductory clause "I say to you" or "I tell you" alerted Jesus' disciples that He was about to say something very important on His personal authority (cf. 5:22). The greatness of the centurion's faith was due to his perception of Jesus' relationship to God. It was not that he believed Jesus could heal from a remote distance. Moreover the centurion was a Gentile who evidently lacked the knowledge of Old Testament revelation about Messiah. No Jew that Jesus had met had shown such insight into His person and authority.
Evidently, one of the reasons Matthew stressed the uniqueness of the centurion's faith so strongly, was that he wanted to show the shift in Jesus' ministry from Jews to all people (cf. 1:1, 3-5; 2:1-12; 3:9-10; 4:15-16; 28:18-20).
8:11-12 Again Jesus introduced a solemn truth (cf. v. 10). He then referred to the messianic banquet prophesied in Isaiah 25:6-9 (cf. Isa. 65:13-14). There God revealed that Gentiles from all parts of the world will join the Jewish patriarchs "in the kingdom." The Old Testament has much to say about the participants in the kingdom. God would gather Israel from all parts of the earth (Ps. 107:3; Isa. 43:5-6; 49:12), but Gentiles from all quarters of the world would also worship God in the kingdom (Isa. 45:6; 59:19; Mal. 1:11). The Gentiles would come specifically to Jerusalem (Isa. 2:2-3; 60:3-4; Mic. 4:1-2; Zech. 8:20-23). As mentioned previously, in Jesus' day the Jews had chosen to view themselves as uniquely privileged because of the patriarchs. This led them to write the Gentiles out of the kingdom, despite these prophecies.
The "sons [or subjects] of the kingdom" (v. 12) are the Jews who saw themselves as the patriarchs' descendants. They thought they had a right to the kingdom because of their ancestors' righteousness (cf. 3:9-10). Jesus turned the tables by announcing that many of the sons of the kingdom would not participate in it, but many Gentiles would. Many "sons of the kingdom" would find themselves outside the banquet ("into the outer darkness"). The terms "weeping" and "gnashing of teeth" (cf. 13:42, 50; 22:13; 24:51; 25:30; Luke 13:28) were common descriptions of Gehenna, hell (4 Ezra 7:93; 1 Enoch 63:10; Psalms of Solomon 14:9; Wisdom of Solomon 17:21). (The works just cited in parentheses were Old Testament apocryphal books that the Jews viewed as generally reliable and helpful but not inspired.) This interpretation finds confirmation in the expression "outer darkness," another image of rejection (cf. 22:13; 25:30).
"The idea of the Messianic Banquet as at once the seal and the symbol of the new era was a common feature in apocalyptic writings and an extremely popular subject of discussion, thought, and expectation."
Jesus shocked His hearers by announcing three facts about the kingdom. First, not all Jews would participate in it. Second, many Gentiles would. Third, entrance depended on faith in Jesus, not on ancestry, the faith that the centurion demonstrated.
". . . the locus of the people of God would not always be the Jewish race. If these verses do not quite authorize the Gentile mission, they open the door to it and prepare for the Great Commission (28:18-20) and Ephesians 3."
8:13 A similar statement by Jesus helps us understand what He meant, when He said here that He would do for the centurion "as" (Gr. hos) he had believed (cf. 15:28). Jesus did not grant his request because the centurion had great faith, or in proportion to his amount of faith. He did so in harmony with what the centurion expected. Jesus did for him what he expected Jesus would do for him.
"It is . . . interesting to observe that the Gentile follows the Jew in the sequence of healing events. This is in accord with Matthew's plan of presenting Jesus first as Son of David and then as Son of Abraham."
This healing marked Jesus as the Messiah who was under God's authority.
Peter and his family were evidently living in Capernaum when Jesus performed this miracle (4:13). People considered "fever" a disease in Jesus' day, rather than a symptom of a disease (cf. John 4:52; Acts 28:8).
"The Talmud gives this disease precisely the same name (Eshatha Tsemirta), 'burning fever,' and prescribes for it a magical remedy, of which the principal part is to tie a knife wholly of iron by a braid of hair to a thornbush, and to repeat on successive days Exod. iii. 2, 3, then ver. 4, and finally ver. 5, after which the bush is to be cut down, while a certain magical formula is pronounced. (Tractate Shabbath 37 a)"
Jesus healed "Peter's mother-in-law" with a touch. His touch did not defile the healer, but it healed the defiled (cf. v. 3). Matthew consistently stressed Jesus' authority in this brief pericope. He probably mentioned the fact that, when Jesus healed the woman she immediately began to serve Him, in order to illustrate the instantaneous effectiveness of Jesus' power (cf. v. 26). Usually a fever leaves the body weak, but Jesus overcame that here.
"Some see great significance in Matthew's deliberate rearrangement of these miracles. Since Matthew did not follow the chronological order, it seems he intended to illustrate the plan of his Gospel. Accordingly, the first miracle shows Christ ministering to the Jews. His mighty works bore testimony to His person, but His testimony was rejected. Consequently, He turns to the Gentiles, who manifest great faith in Him. Later, He returns to the Jews, represented by the mother-in-law of the apostle to the Jews. He heals her and all who come to Him. This third picture is that of the millennium, when the King restores Israel and blesses all the nations."
This miracle shows Jesus' power to heal people fully, instantaneously, and completely. It also showcases His compassion, since the object of His grace was a woman. The Pharisees considered lepers, Gentiles, and women as outcasts, but Jesus showed mercy to them all. By healing a leper who was a social outcast, a Gentile, and finally a woman, Jesus was extending His grace to people the Jews either excluded or ignored as unimportant. Jewish narrowness did not bind Jesus any more than disease and uncleanness contaminated Him.
That evening many other people brought their afflicted friends and relatives to Jesus for healing.
"Officially the Sabbath ended when two stars could be seen in the sky, for there were no clocks to tell the time in those days. That is why the crowd in Capernaum waited until the evening time to come to Jesus for the healing which they knew that He could give."
In the Jewish inter-testamental literature, the writers spoke of demons as responsible for making people ill. Jesus "cast out many" demonic "spirits," "and healed" many ("all") "who were ill." He had power over every affliction: "all who were ill" (v. 16).
Matthew noted that Jesus' healings fulfilled messianic prophecy (Isa. 53:4). Matthew's citation from Isaiah actually summarized all the healings in this chapter so far. He interpreted Isaiah freely as predicting the vicarious sufferings of Messiah. This was in accord with Isaiah's prophecy concerning Messiah that appears in Isaiah 53. The Old Testament taught that all sickness is the direct or indirect result of sin (cf. 9:5). Messiah would remove infirmities and diseases by dying as a substitute sacrifice for sin. He would deal with the fruit by dealing with the root. Jesus' healing ministry laid the foundation for His destroying (triumphing over, conquering) sickness by His death. Therefore it was appropriate for Matthew to quote Isaiah 53:4 here. Jesus' healing ministry also previewed kingdom conditions (cf. Isa. 33:24; 57:19).
"Human suffering originates from a combination of the natural consequence of living in a fallen world, the effects of demonic attacks, the work of a sovereign God accomplishing the purposes of his wisdom and desires, and the invitation of Jesus for his followers to identify with him in suffering for his cause."
For Matthew, Jesus' healing ministry pointed to the Cross. The healings were signs that signified more than the average observer might have understood. Matthew recorded that Jesus healed all types of people. Likewise when He died, Jesus gave His life as a ransom for many (20:28). Jesus' ministry of destroying sin, in death, was an extension of the authority that He demonstrated in His ministry of destroying (triumphing over, conquering) sickness during His life. Many scholars believe that the Jews of Jesus' day did not understand Isaiah 53 as messianic prophecy. Joachim Jeremias is one exception. Whether they did or not, they should have.
". . . it is to cast Jesus' activity of healing in the mold of 'serving' that Matthew informs the reader in a formula-quotation that Jesus, through healing, fulfills the words of the Servant Song of Isaiah: 'He took our infirmities and bore our diseases' (8:16-17; Isa. 53:4). In healing, Jesus Son of God assumes the role of the servant of God and ministers to Israel by restoring persons to health or freeing them from their afflictions (11:5). Through serving in this fashion, Jesus 'saves' (9:22)."
Some Christians believe that Isaiah 53:4 and Matthew 8:16-17 teach that Jesus' death made it possible for people today to experience physical healing now by placing faith in Jesus. Most students of these and similar passages have concluded that the healing which Jesus' death provides believers today will come when they receive their resurrection bodies, not necessarily before then. This conclusion finds support in the revelation about the purpose of periods of healing that the Bible records. Many Christians today fall into the same trap the Corinthian believers fell into when they demanded future blessings now (cf. 1 Cor. 4:6-13).
This summary pericope stresses Jesus' power over every human affliction.
Jesus' therapeutic miracles, involving physical healings, presented Jesus to the crowds as the compassionate Servant of the Lord—and illustrated His Messiahship (18:17; 9:22). His non-therapeutic miracles, involving nature, presented Jesus to the disciples as having all authority—and illustrated His deity. Belief in Jesus' Messiahship was normally preliminary to belief in His deity. His disciples needed to learn this so they would rely on His authority for their ministries in the future.
Matthew evidently inserted these teachings about Jesus' authority because they show the nature of Jesus' ministry and the kind of disciples He requires. The King has power over people, not just sickness. He can direct others as His servants, and they need to respond to Him as their King.
8:18-19 Verse 18 gives the occasion for the scribe's statement in verse 19 (cf. Mark 4:35). "The other side" of the lake (from Capernaum) would have been the eastern side. There was only so much room in the boat, and the "scribe" wanted to get in with other disciples. At this time in Jesus' ministry there were many more than just 12 disciples, though the Twelve were an inner circle. As mentioned above, the word "disciple" does not necessarily identify fully committed followers or even believers (cf. 5:1; 8:21). This scribe, a teacher of the law, looked to Jesus as his "teacher." He wanted to learn from Him. He said that he was willing to "follow" Him anywhere to do so.
". . . the designations 'rabbi' and 'teacher' attribute to the person so addressed human respect but nothing more. Hence, in addressing Jesus as 'teacher,' the religious leaders accord Jesus the honor they would accord any teacher, but this is the extent of it. To their mind Jesus' station is not that of the Messiah Son of God, his authority is not divine, and they in no sense follow him or have faith in him."
Some scholars believe that Matthew consistently denigrated the scribes in his Gospel. I do not believe he did this (cf. 13:52; 23:34), but Matthew's references to the scribes are usually negative. Matthew seems to present everyone who came to Jesus without prejudice. The issue to Matthew was how various people responded to Jesus.
8:20 Jesus' reply did not encourage or discourage the scribe. It simply helped him count the cost of following Him as a disciple. Jesus was very busy traveling from one place to another as an itinerant preacher and teacher. His healing ministry complicated His life because it attracted crowds that placed additional demands on Him. He had no regular home, as most people did, but traveled all over the region. The scribe needed to understand this if he wanted to keep up with Jesus. We should not interpret Jesus' statement to mean that He was penniless and could not afford shelter at night (cf. Luke 8:1-3). His ministry simply kept Him on the move.
Jesus called Himself "the Son of Man." This expression occurs 81 times in the Gospels, 69 times in the Synoptics, and 30 times in Matthew. In every instance except two, it was a term Jesus used of Himself. In those two instances, it is a term used by others who were quoting Jesus (Luke 24:7; John 12:34). Though it occurs in several Old Testament passages, as well as in apocryphal Jewish literature, its use in Daniel 7:13-14 is messianic. There, "one like a son of man" approaches the Ancient of Days and receives "authority, glory, and sovereign power." He also receives "an everlasting dominion that will not pass away," in which "all peoples, nations, and men of every language" worship Him. By using this title, Jesus was claiming to be the divine Messiah.
"It is His name as the representative Man, in the sense of 1 Cor. 15:45-47, as Son of David is distinctively His Jewish name, and Son of God His divine name. Our Lord constantly uses this term as implying that His mission (e.g. Mt. 11:19; Lk. 19:10), His death and resurrection (e.g. Mt. 12:40; 20:18; 26:2), and His second coming (e.g. Mt. 24:37-44; Lk. 12:40) transcend in scope and result all merely Jewish limitations."
However, most of Jesus' hearers probably did not associate this title with a messianic claim when they first heard it. Many of them were probably not well enough acquainted with Daniel 7:13-14 to understand its meaning. Many who did understand its significance held a concept of Messiah that the rabbis had distorted. Furthermore, other Old Testament references to the "son of man" were not messianic. For example, David used the term to refer to man generically (Ps. 8:4). Asaph used it to describe Israel (Ps. 80:17). In the Book of Ezekiel, it is a favorite term God used when He addressed Ezekiel personally, in order to stress the prophet's humanity.
God used this term many times in the Old Testament to stress the difference between frail mortal man and God Himself. Jesus' use of the title combined both the messianic and mortal aspects. He was both the Messiah King and the Suffering Servant of the Lord. Some who heard Him use this title probably did not know what it meant. Others understood Jesus' claim to messiahship, and others thought He was simply referring to Himself in a humble way.
". . . 'the Son of man' is not of the nature of a Christological title the purpose of which is to inform the reader of 'who Jesus is.' Instead, it is a self-designation that is also a technical term, and it describes Jesus as 'the man,' or 'the human being' ('this man,' or 'this human being') (earthly, suffering, vindicated). It is 'in public' or with a view to the 'public,' or 'world' (Jews and Gentiles but especially opponents), that Jesus refers to himself as 'the Son of man' ('this man'). Through his use of this self-reference, Jesus calls attention, for one thing, to the divine authority that he ('this man') exercises now and will also exercise in the future and, for another thing, to the opposition that he ('this man') must face. And should the question be raised as to who 'this man' Jesus is, the answer is, as Peter correctly confesses, that he is the Son of God (16:13, 16)."
"It seems that the reason why Jesus found this title convenient is that, having no ready-made titular connotations in current usage, it could be applied across the whole range of his uniquely paradoxical mission of humiliation and vindication, of death and glory, which could not be fitted into any preexisting model. Like his parables, the title 'the Son of Man' came with an air of enigma, challenging the hearer to think new thoughts rather than to slot Jesus into a ready-made pigeonhole."
In 8:20 "the Son of Man" occurs in a context that stresses Jesus' humanity. The scribe would have understood Jesus to mean that if he followed Jesus, he could anticipate a humble, even uncomfortable, existence. He should also have understood, since he was a teacher of the Old Testament, that Jesus was claiming to be Israel's Messiah.
Anyone who wants to follow Jesus closely as a disciple must be willing to give up many of the normal comforts of life. Following Him involves embarking on a God-given mission in life. Going where He directs, and doing what He commands, must take precedence over enjoying the normal comforts of life whenever these conflict. Discipleship is difficult.
The first potential disciple was too quick and presumptuous when he promised wholehearted allegiance. This second potential disciple was too hesitant in committing to wholehearted allegiance.
Evidently this disciple made his request as Jesus prepared to depart for the next place of ministry (v. 18). He apparently meant that he wanted some time off from following Jesus in order to attend to family matters. Some students of this passage have concluded that the disciple's father had not yet died, and that he was asking for an indefinite leave of absence from Jesus' company. Others believe that he had already died. In either case, the disciple wanted to drop out temporarily.
Jesus' reply urged the disciple to keep following Him, and not to suspend his commitment to Jesus. He should put his commitment to Jesus even before his commitment to honor his parents (Exod. 20:12). When following Jesus and other commitments conflict, the disciple must always follow Jesus even though his or her other commitments are legitimate. Jesus was testing this man's priorities. Which was more important to him: following Jesus and participating in whatever Jesus' will for him might involve, or abandoning Jesus—even temporarily—for some less important purpose? His was not a choice between something good and something evil, but between something good and something better (cf. 10:37).
Jesus continued by encouraging the disciple to let "the dead . . . bury their own dead." Apparently He meant, let the spiritually dead (i.e., those who have no interest in following Jesus) bury the physically dead. There are many worthy activities in life that a true disciple of Jesus must forgo because he or she has a higher calling and higher demands on him or her. Forgoing these activities may bring criticism on the disciple from the spiritually insensitive, but that is part of the price of discipleship (cf. 7:13-27). Jesus called for commitment to Himself without reservation. The person and mission of the King deserve nothing less.
Christians must be willing to forsake all things and all people to follow Jesus faithfully. Jesus did not mean that we must give away all our possessions and break contact with our families. He meant that when we have to choose between following Him, and retaining our possessions or putting our families first, our allegiance to Him and His will must be primary. When these conflict, we must put Him first.
Matthew's first group of miracles (vv. 1-17) demonstrated that Jesus possessed the messianic power (authority) to heal physical ailments. His second group (8:23—9:8) shows even greater powers over the fallen creation, namely, over nature, demons, and sin. All the beneficiaries of these miracles needed peace, and Jesus met their need.
"The miracles Jesus performs in Matthew's story divide themselves rather neatly into two groups: (a) therapeutic miracles (miracles of healing), in which the sick are returned to health or the possessed are freed of demons (cf. esp. chaps. 8—9); and (b) nontherapeutic miracles, which have to do with exercising power over the forces of nature. . . .
"The nontherapeutic miracles are less uniform in structure and differ in thematic [purpose from the therapeutic miracles]. Here the focus is on Jesus and the disciples, and the characteristic feature is that Jesus reveals, in the midst of situations in which the disciples exhibit 'little faith,' his awesome authority. . . . The reason Jesus gives the disciples these startling revelations is to bring them to realize that such authority as he exercises he makes available to them through the avenue of faith. In the later situation of their worldwide mission, failure on the part of the disciples to avail themselves of the authority Jesus would impart to them will be to run the risk of failing at their tasks (28:18-20; chaps. 24—25)."
Even though Jesus sometimes enjoyed less shelter than the animals and birds (v. 20), He was not subject to nature. It was subject to Him.
8:23-25 It is difficult to know how much Matthew may have intended to convey with his comment that the "disciples followed" Jesus "into the boat." Perhaps it just describes their physical movements. Perhaps he meant that it symbolizes the disciples' proper response to Jesus in view of verses 18-22.
The Sea of Galilee was, and still is, infamous for its sudden and violent storms (Gr. seismos). They occur because of geographical conditions. The water is 600 feet below sea level, and the land to the east is considerably higher. As warm air rises from the lake it creates a vacuum that the air on the west rushes in to fill. This brings strong winds on the lake with little warning.
On the occasion Matthew described, the waves were so high that they kept spilling over into the boat. Evidently Jesus was asleep from weariness and because He realized that the time for His death had not yet arrived. He apparently lay in an area of the boat where the disciples had given Him some privacy. The word Matthew used to describe the boat (ploion) could fit a boat of many different sizes. However, it is probable that this was a fishing boat that carried at least a dozen or more people, plus fish, across the lake. Matthew probably would have used a different word if it were a larger boat.
"If the first-century-A.D. boat recovered from the mud of the northwest shore of the lake of Galilee in 1986 (now preserved in the Yigal Allon Center at Ginosar) is typical of the normal working boats of the period, its dimensions (8.20 meters long by 2.35 wide [about 26 and a half feet by 7 and a half feet]) would suggest that the boat might be overcrowded with more than thirteen people."
In spite of the storm, Jesus continued to sleep. Finally, the disciples realized their inability to cope with their situation and called on Jesus to help ("save") them. They obviously thought He could do something to help, at least bail or at most perform a miracle. They had seen Him perform many miracles. However, their reaction to His help reveals that they did not really appreciate who He was.
Compare the story of Jonah, who also had to be awakened during a storm at sea. However, rather than praying for God's help, as the sailors called on Jonah to do, Jesus used His own authority to still the sea. A greater than Jonah was here (12:41).
8:26-27 Jesus did not rebuke His disciples for disturbing Him but for failing to trust Him as they should have. He said they had "little faith" (Gr. oligopistos). Wherever Matthew used this word in his Gospel, it always reflects a failure to see below the surface of things. Faith in Messiah and fear are mutually exclusive. Therefore the disciples should not have been "timid" (NASB) or "afraid" (NIV). Even though the disciples believed Jesus could help them, they did not grasp that He was the Messiah who would die a sacrificial death for their sins. How could the divine Messiah whom God had sent die in a storm before He had finished His messianic work? It was impossible.
"The life of discipleship is susceptible to bouts of little faith. Such little faith is not to be condoned. Nevertheless, Jesus does not abandon his disciples at such times but stands ever ready with his saving power to sustain them so they can in fact discharge the mission he has entrusted to them."
The disciples expected help, but they were unprepared for the kind of deliverance Jesus provided. It was a much greater salvation than they hoped for. "The sea . . . became perfectly calm."
Jesus' ability to calm the wind and water with a word made it clear that He had greater powers than these disciples had witnessed previously. This is the first nature miracle that Matthew recorded Jesus doing. "What kind of a man is this?" they asked." Who was He? The reader of Matthew's Gospel knows better than the disciples did. He is the virgin-born Messiah, God with us, come to provide salvation and to set up His kingdom. While the disciples were "men" (v. 27), Jesus was a different type of man, the God-man. Psalms 65:5-6; 89:8-9; 104:7; and 107:23-30 attribute the stilling of seas to God (cf. Jon. 1—2). Psalm 89:25 predicted that the ideal king would be able to do this.
The Israelites viewed the sea as an enemy they could not control. Throughout the Old Testament it epitomizes what is wild, hostile, and foreboding. It stood for their foes in some of their literature. Jesus' miracle also taught this secondary lesson. Here was a man exercising dominion over the sea, which God had appointed to man before the Fall (Gen. 1:28). Jesus must be the Second Adam (cf. Rom. 5:12-17).
"The incident is related, not primarily for the sake of recording a miracle, but as an instance of the subduing of the power of evil, which was one of the signs of the nearness of the Kingdom; see xii. 28."
In this incident, Matthew again presented Jesus as man and God. As man, He slept in the boat. As God, He calmed the sea (cf. 4:1-4; 12:22-32). As man, He suffers; but as God, He rules. The pericope indicates Jesus' power to fulfill the prophecies of Isaiah 30:23-24; 35:1-7; 41:17-18; 51:3; 55:13; Joel 3:18; Ezekiel 36:29-38; and Zechariah 10:1. He has all power over nature.
The central theme of this incident is Jesus' authority over evil spirits. Though Matthew previously mentioned Jesus' reputation as an exorcist (4:24; 8:16), this is the first of five exorcisms that he narrated (cf. 9:32-33; 12:22; 15:21-28; 17:14-20).
8:28 Gadara was the regional capital of the Decapolis area that lay southeast of the Sea of Galilee. Its population was strongly Gentile. This may account for the presence of "many swine" there (v. 30). The Gadara region stretched west to the Sea of Galilee. This was "the country of the Gadarenes." Other, less probable, locations are the village of "Kheras," near the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee, and "Gerasa," about 30 miles southeast of the Sea.
Mark and Luke mentioned only one man, but Matthew said there were "two" (Mark 5:2; Luke 8:27). Mark and Luke evidently mentioned the more prominent one. Perhaps Matthew mentioned both of them because the testimony of two witnesses was valid in Jewish courts, and he wrote for Jews originally.
The Jews believed that demonic spirits could and did take over the bodies and personalities of certain individuals. Matthew reflected this view of the spirit world. A literal reading of Scripture leads to the same conclusion. Demons are fallen angels who are Satan's agents.
These demoniacs lived lives of terror among tombs, away from other people, in a place that rendered them ritually unclean in Judaism.
8:29 The demoniacs hated and feared Jesus. They recognized Him as Messiah, calling Him by the messianic title "Son of God" (cf. 3:17; 16:16; Luke 4:41). The disciples in the boat did not know who He was, but the demoniacs taught them. The demoniacs may have known Jesus from some previous contact (cf. Acts 19:15), or perhaps the demons had asked the first question through the demoniacs (cf. v. 31).
Their second question revealed their knowledge that Jesus would judge them one day. This was a messianic function. Evidently Jesus will cast them into the lake of fire when He sends Satan there (Rev. 20:10). When Jesus cast out demons, He was exercising this eschatological prerogative early. These demons asked if He planned to judge ("torment") them right then and there. He had cast out other demons recently (4:24; 8:16). "Here" probably refers to the earth, where demons have a measure of freedom to operate, rather than to that particular locale.
8:30-31 The presence of so many pigs may have been due to Jewish disobedience to the Mosaic Law, since for Jews pigs where unclean. However, this is unlikely, since the Jewish leaders were very particular about such flagrant violations of the Law. Probably they belonged to Gentiles, who lived in large numbers in the Decapolis where this story took place.
The demons may have requested asylum in the swine because they hated the creatures and or because they wanted to stir up trouble for Jesus. Demons do not like to be homeless (12:43-45). Exorcized evil spirits sometimes expressed their rage with acts of violence and vengefulness (cf. 17:14-20). What happened to the demons? Matthew did not tell us. Probably he wanted to impress us with Jesus' power over them, not detract us by making them the central feature of the incident. Perhaps they went to the Abyss (cf. Luke 8:31).
"We can construct a 'statement of faith' from the words of the demons. (Demons do have faith; see James 2:19.) They believed in the existence of God and the deity of Christ, as well as the reality of future judgment. They also believed in prayer. They knew Christ had the power to send them into the swine."
8:32-34 Why did Jesus allow the demons to enter the swine, destroy the herd, and cause the owners considerable loss? Some commentators solve this puzzle by saying the owners were disobedient Jews whom Jesus judged. That is possible, but the answers to these questions were outside Matthew's field of interest. They are probably part of the larger scheme of things involving why God allows evil. As God, Jesus owned everything and could do with His own as He pleased. These details do, however, clarify the reality of the exorcism and the destructive effect of the demons.
This is the first instance in Matthew of open opposition to the Messiah. Matthew will show it building from here to the Cross. The pigs' stampede also testified to Jesus' deliverance of the demoniacs.
"This dramatic incident is most revealing. It shows what Satan does for a man: robs him of sanity and self-control; fills him with fears; robs him of the joys of home and friends; and (if possible) condemns him to an eternity of judgment. It also reveals what society does for a man in need: restrains him, isolates him, threatens him, but society is unable to change him. See, then, what Jesus Christ can do for a man whose whole life—within and without—is bondage and battle. What Jesus did for these two demoniacs, He will do for anyone else who needs Him."
This incident shows Jesus fulfilling such kingdom prophecies as Daniel 7:25-27; 8:23-25; 11:36—12:3; and Zechariah 3:1-2. As Messiah, He is the Judge of the spirit world as well as humankind, the supernatural world as well as the natural world. He has all power over demons as well as nature (vv. 23-27). This is a story about power, not about mission.
The incident that follows occurred before the one in 8:28-34. Matthew placed it in his Gospel here for thematic reasons. It is another evidence of Jesus' supernatural power, but in a different realm.
9:2 Jesus saw the faith of the men who were carrying their "paralytic" friend.
The evidence of their "faith" was that they "brought" him to Jesus for healing. However, Jesus spoke only to the paralytic. The term "son" (Gr. teknon) is an affectionate one that older people often used when speaking to the younger. What Jesus said implied a close connection between this man's sin and his sickness (cf. 8:17; Ps. 103:3; Isa. 33:24), and He implied that sin was the worse condition. Forgiveness of sins is basic to healing. Jesus told him that his sins were forgiven (right at that moment), not previously. He used the present tense that here has punctiliar force. Punctiliar action is action that is regarded as happening at a particular point in time.
9:3 Some of the teachers of the law ("scribes") who were standing by took offense at what Jesus said. He was claiming to forgive sins, but God alone can forgive sins, since He is the One people sin against (Ps. 51:4; Isa. 43:25; 44:22). They called Jesus' words blasphemy because they viewed them as a slanderous affront to God. This is the first instance of this charge in Matthew, but it will become a prominent theme.
9:4 Jesus probably knew what they were thinking simply because He knew them, though some interpret this statement as expressing divine insight. Jesus did not need supernatural power to perceive the typical attitude of the scribes. What they were "thinking" was "evil" because it involved a denial of His messiahship, the very thing His words were claiming.
9:5-7 Jesus' question in verse 5 was rhetorical. His critics believed it was easier to say, "Get up and walk," because only God can forgive sins. Jesus had claimed to do the more difficult thing from their viewpoint, namely, to forgive sins. Jesus responded ironically in verse 6. He would do the easier thing. From the scribes' perspective, since Jesus had blasphemed God, He could not heal the paralytic, since God does not respond to sinners (John 9:31). By healing the paralytic, Jesus showed that He had not blasphemed God. He could indeed forgive sins.
Jesus again used the term "Son of Man" for Himself (v. 6). His critics should have sensed the messianic claim that Jesus' use of this title implied, since they knew the Old Testament well. The Judge had come to earth with authority to forgive sins (cf. 1:21, 23).
Finally, Jesus not only healed the paralytic, but also assured him that God had forgiven his sins. He also refuted the scribes' charge of blasphemy.
9:8 The response of the observing crowd was appropriate in view of Jesus' action. People should respect and admire the One who can forgive sins. Here was a manifestation of God before them. They "glorified God" because they saw a man exercising divine authority. Unfortunately they failed to perceive that Jesus was their divine Messiah.
Readers of Matthew's Gospel, however, perceive that this was the promised King come to rule "on earth" (cf. v. 6). The King had come to save His people from their sins. The kingdom of David's Son was at hand.
This miracle proves that Jesus could forgive sins and so produce the conditions prophesied in Isaiah 33:24; 40:1-2; 44:21-22; and 60:20-21. He has power over the spiritual world, as well as the supernatural world and the natural world. The three miracles in this section (8:23—9:8) show that Jesus could establish the kingdom because He had the authority to do so. He demonstrated authority over nature, the angelic world, and sin.
Matthew returned to the subject of Jesus' authority over people (cf. 8:18-22). In 8:18-22, Jesus directed those who came to Him voluntarily as disciples. Here, He explained the basis for His conduct to those who criticized Him. This is another section that contains discipleship lessons. In the former section, Jesus dealt with their persons, but in this one He dealt with their work.
The main point of this pericope is: Jesus' response to the Pharisees' criticism that Jesus and His disciples kept company with tax collectors and sinners. "Tax-gatherers" did public duty, the Latin term for such a person being publicanus, from which we get the old English word "publican."
9:9 This incident probably took place in or near Capernaum. The tax office (NASB), or the "tax collector's booth" (NIV), would have been a room close to the border between the territories of Philip and Herod Antipas. There Matthew sat to collect customs and excise taxes. Capernaum stood on the caravan route between Egypt and the East. Matthew thus occupied a lucrative post.
Jesus proceeded to do the unthinkable. He called a social pariah to become one of His disciples. Matthew was a sinner and an associate of sinners in the eyes of the Jews.
"The pericope on the call of Matthew (9:9) illustrates yet another aspect of discipleship, to wit: the broad spectrum of those whom Jesus summons to follow him. . . . Matthew . . . is a toll-collector. As such, he is looked upon by the Jewish society of Matthew's story as no better than a robber and one whose testimony would not be honored in a Jewish court of law. . . . Not only the upright are called by Jesus, but also the despised."
Jews frequently had two names, and Matthew's other name was Levi (Mark 2:14; Luke 5:27). "Matthew" may derive from Mattaniah (1 Chron. 9:15), meaning "gift of God," or it may come from the Hebrew emet meaning "faithful." Perhaps because of its meaning Matthew preferred to use "Matthew" in his Gospel rather than "Levi." Matthew's response to Jesus' call to follow Him was immediate.
9:10-11 Matthew's own account of the feast that he threw for Jesus that followed his calling is brief, and it focuses on the controversy with the Pharisees that occurred then. Matthew had friends who were also "tax collectors" (cf. 5:46). "Sinners" is a term the Pharisees used to describe people who broke their severe rules of conduct (Pharisaic Halakoth). "Eating with" these people put "Jesus and His disciples" in danger of ceremonial defilement, but the spiritual need of these people was more important to Jesus than ritual cleanliness.
"In the ancient world generally a shared meal was a clear sign of identification, and for a Jewish religious teacher to share a meal with such people was scandalous, let alone to do so in the 'unclean' house of a tax collector."
The Pharisees' question, addressed to Jesus' disciples, was really a subtle accusation against Him (v. 11). A teacher would normally keep all the religious traditions, as well as the Mosaic Law, to provide the best example for his disciples. The Pharisees despised Jesus for the company He kept, which implied that He had a lax view of the Law. Note that the Pharisees now become critics of Jesus, as the scribes had earlier (v. 3). Opposition mounts.
9:12-13 Jesus Himself responded to the Pharisees' question. He said that He went to the tax collectors and sinners because they were sinners. They had a spiritual illness and needed spiritual healing. Note that Jesus did not go to these people because they received Him warmly, but because they needed Him greatly. In the Old Testament, God taught His people that He was their "Physician" who could heal their diseases (e.g., Exod. 15:26; Deut. 32:39; 2 Kings 20:5; Ps. 103:3). The prophets also predicted that Messiah would bring healing to the nation (Isa. 19:22; 30:26; Jer. 30:17).
The phrase "go and learn" was a rabbinic one that indicated that the Pharisees needed to study the text further. Jesus referred them to Hosea 6:6. God had revealed through Hosea, that the apostates of his day had lost the heart of temple worship, even though they continued to practice its rituals. Jesus implied that the Pharisees had done the same thing. They were preserving the external practices of worship carefully, but they had failed to maintain its essential heart. Their attitude toward the tax collectors and sinners showed this. God, on the other hand, cares more for the spiritual wholeness of people than He does about flawless worship.
Jesus did not mean that the tax collectors and sinners needed Him but the Pharisees did not. His quotation put the Pharisees in the same category as the apostates of Hosea's day. They needed Him, too, even though they believed they were righteous enough (cf. Phil 3:6).
The last part of verse 13 defines Jesus' ministry of preparing people for the coming kingdom. "Compassion" (NASB) or "mercy" (NIV, Heb. hesed) was what characterized His mission. He came to "call" (Gr. kalesai) or "invite" people to repentance and salvation. Paul used this Greek work in the sense of efficacious calling, but that is not how Jesus used it. If someone does not see himself or herself as a sinner, that person will have no part in the kingdom.
Disciples of Jesus should be need-oriented, as Jesus was. Meeting the needs of needy individuals, regardless of who they may be, was very important to Jesus. Christians should give priority to the needs of people over forms of worship.
The Pharisees criticized Jesus' conduct in the previous pericope. Now John's disciples criticized the conduct of Jesus' disciples and, by implication, Jesus.
9:14 The people who questioned Jesus here were "disciples of John" (the Baptist) who had not left John to follow Jesus. They, as well as the Pharisees, observed the regular fasts that the Mosaic Law did not require. During the Exile—and subsequently—the Jews had made several of these fasts customary (cf. Zech. 7). The strict Pharisees even fasted twice a week—on Thursdays and Mondays—during the weeks between Passover and Pentecost, and between the Feast of Tabernacles and the Feast of Dedication. They believed that on a Thursday Moses had gone up into Mount Sinai, and that on a Monday he had come down, after receiving the Law the second time.
9:15 Jesus responded with three illustrations. John the Baptist had described himself as the "best man" and Jesus as the "bridegroom" (John 3:29). Jesus extended John's figure and described His disciples as the "friends" (attendants, NASB) of the bridegroom." They were so joyful that they could not fast because they were with Him.
The Old Testament used the groom figure to describe God (Ps. 45; Isa. 54:5-6; 62:4-5; Hos. 2:16-20). The Jews also used it of Messiah's coming and the messianic banquet (22:2; 25:1; 2 Cor. 11:2; Eph. 5:23-32; Rev. 19:7, 9; 21:2). When Jesus applied this figure to Himself, He was claiming to be the Messiah, and He was claiming that the kingdom banquet was imminent.
"A Jewish wedding was a time of special festivity. The unique feature of it was that the couple who were married did not go away for a honeymoon they stayed at home for a honeymoon. For a week after the wedding open house was kept; the bride and bridegroom were treated as, and even addressed as, a king and queen. And during that week their closest friends shared all the joy and all the festivities with them; these closest friends were called the children of the bridechamber. On such an occasion there came into the lives of poor and simple people a joy, a rejoicing, a festivity, a plenty that might come only once in a lifetime."
When Jesus returned to heaven following His ascension, His friends did indeed "fast" (Acts 13:3; 14:23; 27:9). This is the first hint that Jesus would be "taken away" (a violent and unwanted removal) from His disciples, but that theme will become more dominant soon (cf. 16:21).
9:16-17 The meaning of the second illustration is clear enough (v. 16). The third may need some comment (v. 17). Old wine containers made out of animal skins eventually became hard and brittle. "New wine," that continued to expand as it fermented, would "burst" the inflexible "old wineskins." "New (fresh) wineskins" were still elastic enough to stretch with the expanding new wine.
The point of these two illustrations was that Jesus could not patch or pour His new ministry into old Judaism. The Greek word translated "old" (vv. 16, 17) is palaios and means not only old but worn out by use. Judaism had become inflexible due to the accumulation of centuries of non-biblical traditions. Jesus was going to bring in a kingdom that did not fit the preconceptions of most of His contemporaries. They misunderstood and misapplied the Old Testament, and particularly the messianic and kingdom prophecies. Jesus' ministry did not fit into the traditional ideas of Judaism. Moreover, it was wrong to expect that His disciples would fit into these molds. Jesus used two different Greek words for "new" in verse 17. Neos means recent in time, and kainos means a new kind. The messianic kingdom would be new both in time and in kind.
In the second and third illustrations, which advance the revelation of the first, the old cloth and wineskins perish. Jesus' kingdom would terminate Judaism, which had served its purpose.
John the Baptist belonged to the old order. His disciples, therefore, should have left him and joined the Groom. Unless they did, they would not participate in the kingdom (cf. Acts 19:1-7).
The point of this incident in Matthew's story seems to be: Disciples of Jesus need to recognize that following Him will involve new methods of serving God. The old Jewish forms passed away with the coming of Jesus, and His disciples now serve under a new covenant with new structures and styles of ministry, compared to the old order. This is a dispensational distinction that even non-dispensationalists recognize.
The two groups of miracles that Matthew presented so far demonstrated Jesus' ability to heal (8:1-17), and His authority to perform miracles with supernatural power (8:23—9:8). This last cluster demonstrates His ability to restore. These miracles show that Jesus can restore all things, as the prophets predicted the Son of David would do. Furthermore, He can do this in spite of opposition.
9:18-19 This incident evidently happened shortly after Jesus and His disciples returned from Gadara on the east side of the lake (cf. Mark 5:21-22; Luke 8:40-41). The name of this Capernaum synagogue ruler was Jairus (Mark 5:22). He was a Jew who enjoyed considerable prestige in his community.
"The ruler of the synagogue was a very important person. He was elected from among the elders. He was not a teaching or a preaching official; he had 'the care of the external order in public worship, and the supervision of the concerns of the synagogue in general.' He appointed those who were to read and to pray in the service, and invited those who were to preach. It was his duty to see that nothing unfitting took place within the synagogue; and the care of the synagogue buildings were [sic was] in his oversight. The whole practical administration of the synagogue was in his hands."
It is noteworthy that someone of his standing believed in Jesus. This ruler humbly knelt before Jesus with a request (cf. 2:2; 8:2). According to Matthew, he announced that his "daughter" had "just died." Mark and Luke have him saying that she was near death. Since she died before Jesus reached her, Matthew evidently condensed the story to present at the outset what was true before Jesus reached his house.
The ruler had probably seen or heard of Jesus' acts of healing with a touch (e.g., 8:2, 15). However, his faith was not as strong as the centurion's who believed that Jesus could heal with a word (8:5-13). Jesus arose from reclining at the table and proceeded to follow the ruler to his house. Here is another instance where the verb akoloutheo, "to follow," does not imply discipleship (cf. 8:23). Context must determine its meaning, not the word itself.
9:20-21 A "hemorrhage" is an uncontrolled bleeding. This woman had suffered with one somewhere in her body for 12 years. Many commentators assume it had some connection with her reproductive system. In any case, bleeding rendered a Jewish person ritually unclean (cf. Lev. 15:19-33). She should have kept away from other people, and not touched them, since by doing so she made them unclean. However, hope of healing led her to push her way through the crowd so that she might "touch" Jesus ("His garment"). She apparently believed that since Jesus' touch healed people, if she touched Him she would get the same result. "The fringe of" Jesus' "cloak" (v. 20) was probably one of the four tassels that the Jews wore on the four corners of their cloaks to remind them to obey God's commands (Num. 15:37-41; Deut. 22:12; cf. Matt. 23:5).
9:22 Jesus encouraged the woman and commended her "faith" (i.e., her trust in Him). It was her faith that was significant; it "made" her "well." Her touching Jesus' garment simply expressed her faith. Faith in Jesus is one of the themes Matthew stressed in his Gospel. It is not the strength of one's faith that saves him or her, but faith in a strong Savior.
The Greek word translated "made you well" or "healed you" is sozo, which the translators often rendered as "save." The context here clarifies that Jesus was talking about the woman's faith resulting in her physical deliverance, not necessarily in her eternal salvation. Salvation is a broad concept in the Old and New Testaments. The context determines what aspect of deliverance is in view in every use of the verb sozo and the noun soteria, "salvation."
Why did Matthew include this miracle within the account of the healing of Jairus' daughter? I suspect the answer is the common theme of life. The woman's life was gradually ebbing away. Her hemorrhage symbolized this, since blood represents life (cf. Lev. 17:11). Jesus stopped her dying and restored her life. His instantaneous healing contrasts with her long-term illness. In the case of Jairus' daughter, who was already dead, Jesus restored her, as well, to life. Both incidents show His power over death.
9:23-26 Perhaps Matthew, of all the Gospel writers who recorded this incident, mentioned the "flute players," because he wanted to stress Jesus' complete reversal of this situation. Even the poorest Jews hired flute players to play at funerals. Their funerals were also occasions of almost unrestrained wailing and despair ("noisy disorder"), which verse 23 reflects.
"The garments would be being rent; the wailing women would be uttering their shrieks in an abandonment of synthetic grief; the flutes would be shrilling their eerie sound. In that house there would be all the pandemonium of eastern grief."
The "crowd" ridiculed Jesus by "laughing" at His statement (v. 24). They thought He was both wrong and late in arriving, too late. They apparently thought He was trying to cover up His mistake and would soon make a fool of Himself by exposing His only limited healing power. However, "sleep" is a common euphemism for death (Dan. 12:2; John 11:11; Acts 7:60; 1 Cor. 15:6, 18; 1 Thess. 4:13-15; 2 Pet. 3:4), and it was also so in Jesus' day.
Jesus touched another unclean person. His touch, rather than defiling Him, restored life to the girl. Other prophets and apostles also raised the dead (1 Kings 17:17-24; 2 Kings 4:17-37; Acts 9:36-42). However, Jesus claimed to be more than a prophet. This miracle showed He had supernatural power over man's last enemy: Death. The Old Testament prophets predicted that Messiah would restore life (Isa. 65:17-20; Dan. 12:2).
"The raising of the dead to life is a basic symbolism of the gospel (e.g., Rom 4:17; Eph 2:1, 5; Col 2:13). What Jesus did for the dead girl he has done for all in the Church who have experienced new life. There is too, beyond this life, the Church's confidence that Jesus will literally raise the dead (cf. 1 Thess 4:16; 1 Cor 15:22-23)."
Matthew recorded that everyone heard about this incident (v. 26). Consequently many people faced the choice of believing that Jesus was the Messiah or rejecting Him.
Jesus' power to bring life where there was death stands out in this double instance of restoration—two witnesses—for the benefit of Jewish readers especially.
"It is interesting that Jairus and this woman—two opposite people—met at the feet of Jesus. Jairus was a leading Jewish man; she was an anonymous woman with no prestige or resources. He was a synagogue leader, while her affliction kept her from worship. Jairus came pleading for his daughter; the woman came with a need of her own. The girl had been healthy for 12 years, and then died; the woman had been ill for 12 years and was now made whole. Jairus' need was public—all knew it; but the woman's need was private—only Jesus understood. Both Jairus and the woman trusted Christ, and He met their needs."
Another instance of double restoration shows Jesus' ability to restore sight where there had been blindness.
9:27-28 This is the first time in Matthew's Gospel that someone called Jesus the "Son of David" (cf. 1:1; 12:23; 15:22; 20:30, 31; 21:9, 15). This was a messianic title, and the blind men's use of it undoubtedly expressed their belief that Jesus was the Messiah. The Gospel writers recorded that Jesus healed at least six blind men, and each case was different (cf. John 9; Mark 8:22-26; Matt. 20:29-34, Mark 10:46-52, and Luke 18:35-43). Blindness was a common ailment in Jesus' day, but the Gospel evangelists also used it to illustrate lack of spiritual perception.
"Blindness was a distressingly common disease in Palestine. It came partly from the glare of the eastern sun on unprotected eyes, and partly because people knew nothing of the importance of cleanliness and hygiene. In particular the swarms and clouds of unclean flies carried the infections which led to loss of sight."
Ironically, these "two" physically "blind men" saw who Jesus was more clearly than most of their seeing contemporaries. Isaiah had prophesied that Messiah would open the eyes of the blind (Isa. 29:18; 35:5-6). Frequently in the Synoptics, the desperately needy individuals cried out to Jesus, calling Him the "Son of David." There seems to be a relationship between the depth of a person's felt need and his or her willingness to believe in Jesus.
Probably Jesus did not heal these men outdoors for at least two reasons. He had already done two miracles outdoors, before many witnesses that day, and may have wanted to keep the crowd under control (cf. v. 30). Second, by bringing the blind men indoors, He heightened their faith, since it involved waiting longer for a cure. Jesus' question furthered this aim (v. 28). It also clarified that their cries for help came from confidence in Him, rather than just out of desperation, and it focused their faith on Jesus specifically, and not only God generally.
9:29-31 Perhaps Jesus "touched" the "eyes" of the blind men, in order to help them associate Him with their healing, as well as because He was compassionate. However, it was primarily Jesus' word, not just His touch, that resulted in their healing (cf. Gen. 1). "According to your faith" does not mean "in proportion to your faith" but "because you believed" (cf. v. 22). This is the only time in the first Gospel that Matthew presented faith as a condition for healing.
Jesus "sternly warned" them against telling anyone about the miracle, probably because these blind men had identified Jesus as the Son of David. The verb embrimaomai occurs only five times in the New Testament (Mark 1:43; 14:5; John 11:33, 38). Jesus wanted to avoid the masses of people that would have dogged His steps and hindered Him from fulfilling His mission (cf. 8:4). He wanted people to hear about Him and face the issue of His messiahship, but too much publicity would be counterproductive. Unfortunately, but understandably, these beneficiaries of Messiah's grace disobeyed Him, and broadcast what He had done for them widely, "throughout all that land." They should have simply joined the band of disciples and continued to follow Jesus faithfully.
This incident shows that some people in Galilee, besides the Twelve, were concluding that Jesus was the Messiah. The emphasis in the incident is on Jesus' ability to restore sight where once there was blindness.
Not only could Jesus bring life out of death, and sight out of blindness, but He could also enable people to speak who could not previously do so. Each of these physical healings has metaphorical implications: eternal spiritual life, understanding and insight, and witness.
9:32-33 The Greek word translated "dumb" (NASB, kophos) refers to deaf people, mutes, and people who were both deaf and dumb. This man's condition was the result of demonic influence, though that was not the cause in all such cases (cf. Mark 7:32-33). The crowd's reaction here climaxes their reaction in this entire section of the text. Here was Someone with more power than anyone who had ever appeared before. Messiah would heal the dumb (Isa. 35:5-6). The natural conclusion was that Jesus was the Messiah.
9:34 The reaction of the Pharisees contrasts with that of the crowd in the sharpest possible terms. They attributed Jesus' power to Satan, not God. They concluded that He came from Satan rather than from God. Instead of being the Messiah, He must be a satanic counterfeit. Notice that the Pharisees did not deny the authenticity of Jesus' miracles. They could not do that. They accepted them as supernatural acts. However, they ascribed them to demonic rather than divine power.
This testimony to Jesus' authority comes at the end of a collection of stories about demonstrations of Jesus' power (8:1—9:34). Matthew probably intended the reader to understand that this was the common reaction to all these miracles. This reaction continued, and culminated in the Pharisees' accusation in 12:24: "This man cast out demons only by Beelzebul the ruler of the demons."
This testimony contrasts, too, with the opinion of the Gentile centurion (8:5-13), who saw that Jesus' operated under God's authority. This is one evidence of a chiastic structure in chapters 8 and 9, which I shall comment on further below.
The incident illustrates Jesus' ability to enable people to speak who could not formerly do so. This was important in people confessing Jesus as the Son of God and the disciples bearing witness to Jesus. It also illustrates Jesus' compassion for needy people.
One of the main themes in this section (8:1—9:34) is the spreading of Jesus' fame. This resulted in an increasing number to people concluding that Jesus was the Messiah. It also resulted in increasing opposition from Jesus' enemies, Israel's religious leaders, and even some of John the Baptist's disciples. However, some religious leaders believed in Jesus, Jairus being one. Opposition to Jesus was mounting among those who suffered economically, because of His ministry, as well as those who suffered religiously. Matthew's primary purpose, however, was to present Jesus as the promised Messiah who could establish God's kingdom on earth.
All of this material also prepares the reader for the next events: Jesus' self-disclosure to His disciples in His second major discourse (ch. 10).
Chapters 8—9 seem to be a chiasm focusing the reader's attention on Jesus' power to overcome Satan (8:28-34).
A Jesus' power to heal (8:1-17; three incidents and a summary [8:16-17])
B Jesus' authority over His disciples' persons (8:18-22; two lessons)
C Jesus' supernatural power (8:23—9:8; three incidents with victory over Satan in the middle)
B' Jesus' authority over His disciples' work (9:9-17; two lessons)
A' Jesus' power to restore (9:18-38; three incidents and a summary [9:35-38])
The heart of this section contains Jesus' charge to His disciples to proclaim the nearness of the kingdom (ch. 10): Jesus' Mission Discourse. Matthew prefaced this charge with a demonstration of the King's power, as he prefaced the Sermon on the Mount by authenticating the King's qualifications (cf. 4:23; 9:35). However, there are also some significant dissimilarities between these sections of the Gospel. Before the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus separated from the multitudes (5:1), but here He has compassion on them (9:36). Then He ministered to His disciples, but now He sends His disciples to minister to the multitudes in Israel. The Sermon on the Mount was basic to the disciples' understanding of the kingdom. This discourse is foundational to their proclaiming the kingdom. Jesus had already begun to deal with discipleship issues (chs. 5—7; 8:18-22; 9:9-17). Now He gave them more attention.
This section summarizes the previous incidents that deal primarily with healing, and prepares for Jesus' second discourse to His disciples. It is transitional, providing a bridge from the condition of the people that chapter 9 revealed, to what the King determined to do about that condition (cf. 4:23-25). Jesus' work was so extensive that He needed many more workers to assist Him.
9:35 This verse summarizes the heart of Jesus' ministry in Galilee. It also provides the rationale for the new phase of His ministry through the Twelve. At this time, there were about 240 cities and villages in Galilee.
9:36 Until now, Matthew presented the crowds as those Galileans who listened to and observed Jesus with wonder. Now they become the objects of Jesus' concern. His "compassion for" the multitudes recalls Ezekiel's description of God's compassion for Israel (Ezek. 34). "Distressed" (NASB) really means "harassed" (NIV). It pictures the Jews bullied and oppressed by their religious leaders. They were "downcast" (NASB) because they were "helpless" (NIV). No one was able to deliver them. They lacked effective leadership, as "sheep without a shepherd" (cf. Num. 27:17; 1 Kings 22:17; 2 Chron. 18:16; Isa. 53:6; Ezek. 34:23-24; 37:24). The Old Testament describes both God and Messiah as Shepherds of their people (cf. 2:6; 10:6, 16; 15:24; 25:31-46; 26:31).
9:37-38 Jesus' figure of speech in addressing His disciples, however, was an agricultural one. He wanted to infuse His compassion for the multitudes into them. Jesus viewed Israel as a field composed of numerous stalks of grain. They needed gathering for safe-keeping in the barns of the kingdom. They would die where they were, and the nation would suffer ruin if "workers" did not bring them in soon. Unfortunately there were not enough workers to do this massive task. Consequently Jesus commanded His disciples to beseech God, the Lord of the harvest, to provide additional laborers for "His harvest."
"It is the dream of Christ that every man should be a missionary and a reaper. There are those who cannot do other than pray, for life has laid them helpless, and their prayers are indeed the strength of the labourers. But that is not the way for most of us, for those of us who have strength of body and health of mind. Not even the giving of our money is enough. If the harvest of men is ever to be reaped, then every one of us must be a reaper, for there is someone whom each one of us could—and must—bring to God."
The picture is of imminent change. A change was coming, whether or not the Israelites accepted their Messiah. It would either be beneficial or detrimental to the nation. An adequate number of workers was one factor that would determine the way the change would go. Evidently Matthew expected his readers to understand "disciples" as all who were in a learning relationship to Jesus, at that point in time, rather than just the Twelve. That is the way he used the term so far in this Gospel (cf. 10:1).
10:1 This is Matthew's first reference to Jesus' 12 disciples, though here he implied their previous identity as a group. He "summoned" (Gr. proskaleo) these men as a king commands his subjects. He who had all "authority" now delegated some of it to this select group of disciples. Perhaps Jesus chose 12 close disciples because Israel consisted of 12 tribes.
If Israel had accepted Jesus, these 12 disciples probably would have become Israel's leaders in the messianic kingdom. As it turned out, they became leaders of the church.
Until now, there is no evidence that Jesus' disciples could cast out demons and heal the sick. This was new power He delegated to them for the mission on which He would shortly send them. This ability is a clear demonstration of Jesus' unique greatness.
"This was without a precedent in Jewish history. Not even Moses or Elijah had given miraculous powers to their disciples. Elijah had been allowed to transmit his powers to Elisha, but only when he himself was removed from the earth."
10:2-4 The 12 special disciples now received the title "apostles." This noun, apostolos in Greek, comes from the verb apostello meaning "to send." This was not a technical term until Jesus made it such. It continued to refer generally to people sent out with the Christian message,, such as Barnabas (Acts 14:4, 14; Rom. 16:7; 1 Cor. 12:28-29; 2 Cor. 8:23; Phil. 2:25). It referred to any messenger (John 13:16) and even to Jesus (Heb. 3:1). Paul became an apostle who received his commission directly from the Lord, as the 12 special disciples had. This is the only place Matthew used the word "apostle." He probably used it here because Jesus proceeded to prepare to send these 12 men on a special mission to the Israelites (vv. 5-42).
Lists of the 12 Apostles occur in Mark 3:16-19; Luke 6:13-16; and Acts 1:13, as well as here. Comparing the four lists, we note that there appear to have been three groups of four disciples each. Peter, Philip, and James the son of Alphaeus seem to have been the leaders of these groups.
James, son of Alphaeus
James, son of Alphaeus
James, son of Alphaeus
James, son of Alphaeus
Judas, son or brother of James
Judas, son or brother of James
Simon the Cananaean
Simon the Cananaean
Simon the Zealot
Simon the Zealot
Peter's name occurs first, here, as in all the other lists, probably because he was the "first among equals." Matthew may also have listed him first because he became the leading apostle to the Jews. James' name occurs before his brother John's, probably because James was older. Matthew described himself humbly as "the tax-gatherer."
"Thaddaeus" ("Warm-hearted") and "Judas the son (or brother) of James," seem to be two names for the same man, and "Simon the Cananaean" seems to have been the same person as "Simon the Zealot." The Zealots constituted a political party in Israel, centered in Galilee, that sought to throw off the Roman yoke. However, "Zealot" did not become a technical term for a member of this revolutionary group until the time of the Jewish Wars (A.D. 68-70). So "Zealot" here probably refers to Simon's reputation for religious zeal. "Cananaean" is the Aramaic form of "Zealot" and does not refer to the land of Canaan.
"Iscariot" may mean "of Kerioth," the name of two Palestinian villages, or "the dyer," his possible occupation. It may be a transliteration of the Latin sicarius, a Zealot-like movement. Some scholars believe it means "false one" and comes from the Aramaic seqar meaning "falsehood." The names "Andrew" and "Philip" are Greek and probably reflect the more Hellenistic flavor of their hometown, Bethsaida, on the east side of the Jordan River (John 1:44).
These men became Jesus' main agents in carrying out His mission, though "Judas," of course, proved to be a hypocritical disciple. Probably Matthew described the Twelve in pairs because they went out in pairs (Mark 6:7).
Matthew proceeded to record Jesus' second major discourse in his Gospel: the Mission Discourse. It contains the instructions Jesus gave the 12 Apostles before He sent them out to proclaim the nearness of the messianic kingdom.
"If the Sermon on the Mount was appropriately delivered on the occasion when the apostolic company was formed, this discourse on the apostolic vocation was not less appropriate when the members of that company first put their hands to the work unto which they had been called."
Kingsbury saw the theme of this speech as "the mission of the disciples to Israel" and outlined it as follows: (I) On Being Sent to the Lost Sheep of the House of Israel (10:5b-15); (II) On Responding to Persecution (10:16-23); and (III) On Bearing Witness Fearlessly (10:34-42). Whereas there is much instruction on serving Jesus here, there is also quite a bit of emphasis on persecution.
"Before Jesus sent His ambassadors out to minister, He preached an 'ordination sermon' to encourage and prepare them. In this sermon, the King had something to say to all of His servants—past, present, and future. Unless we recognize this fact, the message of this chapter will seem hopelessly confused."
"It is evidential of its authenticity, and deserves special notice, that this Discourse, while so un-Jewish in spirit, is more than any other, even more than that on the Mount, Jewish in its forms of thought and modes of expression."
This observation suggests that this mission was uniquely Jewish. Yet, as in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus spoke beyond His immediate audience with later disciples also in mind. This seems clear as we compare this instruction with later teaching on the conduct of Christ's disciples in the present age.
Jesus first explained the sphere and nature of the apostles' temporary ministry to Israel.
10:5-6 The apostles were to limit their ministry to the Jews living in Galilee. They were not to go north or east into Gentile territory, or south where the Samaritans predominated. The "Samaritans" were only partially Jewish by race. They were the descendants of the poorest of the Jews, whom the Assyrians left in the Promised Land when they took the Northern Kingdom into captivity, and the Gentiles whom the Assyrians imported. On religion, they only accepted the Pentateuch as authoritative. This is Matthew's only reference to the Samaritans.
The apostles were to go specifically to "the lost sheep of the house of Israel," a term that described all the Jews (Isa. 53:6; Jer. 50:6; Ezek. 34). The designation highlights the needy character of the Jews. Jesus sent them to the Jews exclusively to do three things. They would announce the appearance of a Jewish Messiah, announce a Jewish kingdom, and provide signs—to Jews who required them—as proof of divine authorization. Jesus did not need the additional opposition that would come from Gentiles and Samaritans. He would have to deal with enough of that from the Jews. His kingdom would be a universal one, but at this stage of His ministry, Jesus wanted to offer it to the Jews first. We have already noted that Jesus had restricted His ministry primarily, but not exclusively, to Jews (8:1-13). He was the King of the Jews.
10:7-8 The apostles were to herald the same message that John (3:2) and Jesus proclaimed (4:17, 23; 9:35). They were to be itinerant preachers, as these men had been. The absence of "repent" here should not be a problem since, as we have pointed out, repentance was not a separate step in preparation but a way of describing adequate preparation.
"The kingdom of heaven" was "at hand," namely, imminent. It had not yet begun. The powers the apostles had would impress their Jewish hearers with God's authentication of their message (cf. 12:28). That was the purpose of signs throughout the Old and New Testaments.
Matthew had not mentioned raising the "dead" and cleansing "lepers" previously (v. 1). The disciples were to offer their services free of charge because the good news they had received had not cost them anything.
Jesus explained further how the 12 Apostles were to conduct themselves on their mission.
10:9-10 They were not to take enough money with them to sustain them while they ministered. "Acquire" (NASB, Gr. ktesesthe) can mean "take along" (NIV, Mark 6:9) or "procure" while they ministered (Acts 1:18; 8:20; 22:28). Probably Jesus did not want them to accumulate money as they ministered, or to take along enough money to sustain them. They were not to take an extra tunic ("two coats"), either. In other words, they were to travel lightly and to remain unencumbered by material possessions. As a general principle, those who minister spiritual things have a right to expect physical recompense in return (Deut. 25:4; 1 Cor. 9:4-18; 1 Tim. 5:17-18). That is the principle Jesus wanted to teach His disciples. Itinerant philosophers and teachers typically expected board, room, and a fee from their hearers.
10:11-15 They were to stay with "worthy" hosts, not necessarily in the most convenient or luxurious accommodations. A worthy person would be one who welcomed a representative of Jesus and the kingdom message. He or she would be the opposite of the "dogs" and "pigs" Jesus earlier told His disciples to avoid (7:6). By this time, there were probably people in most Galilean villages who had been in the crowds and observed Jesus. His sympathizers would have been the most willing hosts for His disciples.
The "greeting" the disciple was to give his host was the normal greeting of the day ("Peace"). If his host proved to be unworthy by not continuing to welcome the disciple, he was to leave that house and stay somewhere else. By withdrawing personally, the disciple would withdraw a blessing from that house, namely, his presence as a representative of Jesus. The apostles were to do to towns as they did to households.
"A pious Jew, on leaving Gentile territory, might remove from his feet and clothes all dust of the pagan land now being left behind . . . thus dissociating himself from the pollution of those lands and the judgment in store for them. For the disciples to do this to Jewish homes and towns would be a symbolic way of saying that the emissaries of Messiah now view those places as pagan, polluted, and liable to judgment (cf. Acts 13:51; 18:6)."
More awful "judgment" awaited the inhabitants of the Jewish towns that rejected Messiah, than the judgment coming on the wicked residents of "Sodom and Gomorrah," that had already experienced divine destruction (Gen. 19). This statement implies that there will be degrees of judgment and torment for the lost (cf. 11:22, 24; Heb. 10:28-29). The unbelievers of Sodom and Gomorrah will receive their sentence at the great white throne judgment (Rev. 20:11-15). The unbelieving Jews of Jesus' day would also stand before Jesus then. One's eternal destiny then, as now, depended on his or her relationship to Jesus, and that was evident in his attitude toward one of His emissaries (cf. v. 40; 25:40, 45). In that culture, people treated a person's official representative as they would treat the one he represented. The apostles could anticipate opposition and rejection, as Jesus experienced, and as the Old Testament prophets had as well.
Jesus proceeded to elaborate on the dangers the apostles would face and how they should deal with them.
In His descriptions of the opposition His disciples would experience, Jesus looked beyond His death to the time of tribulation that would follow. Then, the disciples would have the same message—and the same power—as they did when He sent them out here. The narrow road leading to the kingdom led through a period of tribulation and persecution for the disciples. They did not understand that Jesus would have to die and experience resurrection before the kingdom began, even though this is what the Old Testament revealed. Jesus was beginning to prepare them and their successors for these events and the persecution they would experience as His followers. If Israel had accepted her Messiah, He still would have had to die, rise from the grave, and ascend into heaven. Seven years of tribulation would have followed. Then Jesus would have returned to the earth and set up His kingdom. As it happened, Israel rejected Jesus, so the period of Tribulation, His return, and the kingdom are all still future.
"The King performed His ministry according to the Old Testament Messianic calendar of events. According to the Hebrew Scriptures the Messiah, after He appeared, was to suffer, die, and be raised again (Daniel 9:26; Psalm 22; Isaiah 53:1-11; Psalm 16:10). Following the death and resurrection of Christ there was to be a time of trouble (Daniel 9:26-27; Jeremiah 30:4-6). The Messiah was then to return to the earth to end this tribulation and to judge the world (Daniel 7:9-13, 16-26; 9:27; 12:1; Zechariah 14:1-5). Finally, the Messiah as King would establish His kingdom with Israel as the head nation (Daniel 7:11-27; 12:1-2; Isaiah 53:11-12; Zechariah 14:6-11, 20-21)."
Part of the tribulation that Jesus prepared His disciples for took place when the Romans destroyed Jerusalem and scattered the Jews all over the world, in A.D. 70. Yet the destruction of Jerusalem then was not the full extent of the tribulation the prophets foretold for Israel. This becomes clear as one compares the prophesied tribulation for the Jews with the events that surrounded the destruction of Jerusalem.
10:16 Jesus pictured His defenseless disciples in a dangerous environment. The Shepherd was sending His "sheep" into a wolf pack. They needed, therefore, to be as "shrewd as serpents," a proverbial way of saying prudent. People sometimes think of snakes as shrewd because they are silent, dangerous, and because of how they move. The disciples' shrewdness must not be cunning (sinister or dishonest) though, for they needed to be "innocent" as well. Either characteristic without the other is dangerous. Innocence without prudence becomes naiveté.
The disciples were to be both prudent and innocent toward the objects of their ministry. "Doves" are peaceful, retiring birds; they leave when other birds challenge or oppose them rather than fighting. This is how the disciples were to behave. They needed to be shrewd by avoiding conflicts and attacks where possible, but when these came they were to withdraw to other households and other towns. These figures were common in Rabbinic teaching. But the rabbis normally used the sheep and doves as figures of Israel, and the wolves and serpents as representing the Gentiles.
10:17 "But" (Gr. de) does not introduce a contrast here; it shows how the disciples should apply the warning Jesus just gave them. Opposition would come from the Jews. The courts in view could be either civil or religious. This is the only occurrence of the plural "courts" or "local councils" (Gr. synedria) in the New Testament. The responsibility of these courts was to preserve the peace. The scourging in view would be the result of judicial action, not mob violence.
10:18 This prediction has caused problems for many interpreters, since there is no indication that the disciples appeared before governors and kings during the mission that followed. As mentioned above, Jesus was evidently looking beyond their immediate mission, to what His disciples would experience after His death, resurrection, and ascension.
10:19-20 Jesus promised that the Holy Spirit, called here "the Spirit of your Father," would enable the disciples to respond to their accusers. Some lazy preachers have misappropriated this promise, but it applies to disciples who must answer charges leveled against them for their testimonies. Jesus had not yet revealed the Spirit's relationship to these men after His departure into heaven (John 14—16). Here He simply assured them of the Spirit's help. Several of the apostles' speeches in Acts reflect this divine provision.
10:21-22 The disciples would find themselves opposed by everyone without distinction, including their own family members, not just rulers. In spite of such widespread and malicious persecution, the disciple must endure patiently to the end. "The end" refers to the end of this period of intense persecution, namely, the Tribulation (cf. 24:13). The Second Coming of the Son of Man will end it (v. 23). The promise of salvation ("will be saved") for "the one" who remains faithful (endures "to the end"), does not refer to eternal salvation, here, since that depends on faith alone in Jesus. It is deliverance from the period of intense persecution that is in view. Entrance into the millennial kingdom would constitute salvation for these future persecuted disciples.
Thus, this verse does not say that all genuine believers will inevitably persevere in their faith and good works. Rather, it says that those who do during the Tribulation, can expect God to deliver them at its end. Jesus was not speaking about eternal salvation but temporal deliverance. Temporal deliverance depended on faithful perseverance. Whereas "the end" has specific reference to the end of the Tribulation in 24:13, here it probably has the more general meaning of "as long as may be necessary."
If the Jews had accepted Jesus, these 12 disciples would have taken the message of the kingdom throughout Israel during the Tribulation period that would have followed Jesus' death, resurrection, and ascension. Before they could finish their task, Jesus would have returned from heaven. Those of them who persevered faithfully would have experienced deliverance from further persecution by entering the kingdom following His return. But since the Jews rejected Jesus, God postponed the kingdom for at least 2,000 years. During the Tribulation period yet future, the 144,000 Jewish disciples of Jesus living in Palestine—and elsewhere in the world—will be preparing people for Jesus' return to set up His kingdom (Rev. 7:1-8; 14:1-5). Those who remain faithful, and withstand persecution, will be saved from further persecution by Jesus' return to the earth to set up His kingdom.
"If those who fight under earthly commanders, and are uncertain as to the issue of the battle, are carried forward even to death by steadiness of purpose, shall those who are certain of victory hesitate to abide by the cause of Christ to the very last?"
10:23 Jesus promised that He would return for His disciples before they had finished preaching the kingdom throughout "the cities of Israel." If Israel had accepted Jesus as her Messiah, this would have happened at the end of seven years of persecution following Jesus' death, resurrection, and ascension. Since Israel rejected her Messiah, it will happen at the end of the Tribulation, yet future from our perspective in history (Dan. 7:13). Obviously it did not happen after the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70.
Commentators have offered many other explanations of this verse. There is great diversity of opinion concerning what Jesus meant, mainly because people have failed to take Jesus' offer of Himself—and the messianic kingdom—literally. Some interpreters believe that Jesus simply meant He would return to the Twelve before they completed the mission He sent them on in this passage. The problem with this view is that there is no indication in the text that that happened. Others interpret the "Son of Man coming" as a reference to the public identification of Jesus as the Messiah. However, that is not what Jesus said, and it is not what happened. Some believe Jesus made a mistake, and what He predicted did not happen. Obviously this view reflects a low view of Jesus' person. Still others believe that Jesus was predicting the destruction of Jerusalem, but this hardly fits the Old Testament prophecies or the context of this verse. Carson summarized seven views, and preferred one that equates the coming of the Son of Man with the coming of the kingdom. He viewed "the end" as the destruction of Jerusalem.
"What was proclaimed here was more fully demonstrated in the apostles' lives after the day of Pentecost (Acts 2) in the spread of the gospel in the church (e.g., Acts 4:1-13; 5:17-18, 40; 7:54-60). But these words will find their fullest manifestation in the days of the Tribulation when the gospel will be carried throughout the entire world before Jesus Christ returns in power and glory to establish His kingdom on the earth (Matt. 24:14)."
10:24-25 Jesus' point was that persecution should not surprise His disciples. They had seen the scribes and Pharisees, and even John's disciples, oppose Jesus. They could expect the same treatment.
Beelzebul was Satan, the head of the household of demons (12:24-27). The word "Beelzebul" probably came from the Hebrew baal zebul, meaning "Prince Baal." Baal was the chief Canaanite deity, and the Jews regarded him as the personification of all that was evil and satanic. The "house" in view is Israel. Jesus as Messiah was "the head of" that "household." However, His critics charged Him with being Satan (cf. 9:34). Therefore, the disciples could expect similar slander from their enemies.
"We believe, that the expression 'Master of the house' looked back to the claims which Jesus had made on His first purification of the Temple [John 2:16]. We almost seem to hear the coarse Rabbinic witticism in its play on the word Beelzebul. For, Zebhul, . . . means in Rabbinic language, not any ordinary dwelling, but specifically the Temple, and Beel-Zebul would be the Master of the Temple.' On he other hand, Zibbul . . . means sacrificing to idols; and hence Beel-zebul would, in that sense, be equivalent to 'lord' or 'chief of idolatrous sacrificing'—the worst and chiefest of demons, who presided over, and incited to, idolatry. 'The Lord of the Temple' . . . was to them 'the chief of idolatrous worship,' the Representative of God that of the worst of demons: Beelzebul was Beelzibbul!"
Even though Jesus' disciples would encounter hostile opposition, they should fear God more than their antagonists.
10:26-27 The basis for confidence, in the face of persecution, is an understanding that whatever is presently "hidden" will eventually come out into the open. This proverbial statement applies to the truth about Jesus (the gospel) that the fearful disciple might seek to keep hidden for fear of opposition. It also applies to the disciple who might himself want to hide instead of letting his light shine. It applies also to the preceding teaching about persecution.
What Jesus told His disciples privately would eventually become public knowledge, so they should declare it publicly. In Palestine, common flat-roofed houses were good places from which to make public addresses.
10:28 It also helps to conquer "fear," if the disciple will remember that the worst a human adversary can do, does not compare with the worst God can do. Jesus was not implying that true believers might go to hell if they do not remain faithful to God. His point was, that God has power over the disciple after he dies, whereas human adversaries can do nothing beyond killing the disciple's body. The believer needs to remember that he or she will stand before God one day to give an account of his or her stewardship. "Destroy" here does not mean annihilation, but ruination. The same Greek verb appears in 9:17, and describes ruined wineskins. Walvoord took "him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell" as a reference to Satan.
10:29-31 Third, the same God who will not permit a sparrow to "fall to the ground," will certainly take care of His faithful servants. The Jews were very familiar of this illustration. The poor in Israel ate many "sparrows," since they only cost a fraction of a day's wage ("a cent"; Gr. assarion, a small-value coin). The mention of the disciples' heavenly "Father" (v. 29) stresses His care—that extends to the numbering of his or her "hairs." Often people think that God cares only for the big things in life and is unconcerned about the details. Jesus taught the opposite. God's concern with details should give us confidence that He controls the larger affairs of life.
10:32-33 Disciples of Jesus must acknowledge Him publicly. One cannot fulfill the basic requirements of a disciple privately (cf. 5:13-16). Again, the terms "believer" and "disciple" are not synonymous. In the context, confessing Jesus means acknowledging Him faithfully in spite of persecution to do otherwise. Jesus will acknowledge faithful disciples as such to His Father. He will not give this reward to unfaithful disciples who cave in to pressure to deny Him. Obviously, Jesus believed it is possible for believers to be unfaithful. It is possible to deny Jesus with our words, our silence, or our actions. Notice that the blessing of Jesus' commendation will go to anyone (i.e., any disciple) who confesses Him publicly. Jesus probably looked at the whole course of the disciple's life as He made this statement. One act of unfaithfulness does not disqualify a disciple from Jesus' commendation (e.g., Peter). An example of Jesus confessing a faithful disciple before others is His testimony concerning John the Baptist's greatness (11:11; Luke 7:28).
The view that this passage teaches that a believer may lose his or her salvation—if he or she fails to confess, or denies Jesus—cannot be correct. Elsewhere Jesus taught that believers will never lose their salvation (cf. John 10:28-29). This is the consistent revelation of the rest of the New Testament (e.g., John 10:28-29; Rom. 8:31-39; et al.). Jesus was speaking here of rewards, not salvation.
10:34-36 Jesus meant that His immediate purpose would entail conflict, even though Messiah would ultimately bring "peace" (Isa. 11; Luke 2:14). People would divide over whether Jesus was the Messiah.
Micah 7:6 refers to rebellion that happened during King Ahaz's reign. It pointed to a greater division in Jesus' day. In both cases, the root of the conflict involved righteousness and unrighteousness.
Jesus spoke of the consequences of His first coming in terms that sounded like they were His main purpose in coming. But He came to bring this kind of conflict only in an indirect sense. By expressing Himself in this way, Jesus demonstrated His Christological and eschatological awareness. These conditions will prevail before Jesus' second coming. too.
"Consequences are often expressed in the Bible as though they were intentions. So here the divisive result of Jesus' coming, particularly in the sphere of family relationships, is described as though He had deliberately come to bring it about."
10:37-39 Jesus taught that people must love one another, but they must love Him more. This is a remarkable claim that shows what great importance Jesus placed on the supreme allegiance of His disciples. Taking one's "cross" does not mean tolerating some unpleasant situation in one's life for Jesus' sake. It means dying to self, namely: putting Jesus first. In this sense every disciple bears the same cross. Jesus' reference to crucifixion, His first in Matthew, would have helped His disciples realize that their calling would involve pain and shame.
"In the ancient days the criminal did actually carry the cross-beam of his cross to the place of crucifixion, and the men to whom Jesus spoke had seen people staggering under the weight of their crosses and dying in agony upon them."
Those who find (i.e., preserve) their lives now will forfeit them later. Conversely, the disciple who loses his or her life (Gr. psyche) by martyrdom or by self-denial now, "will find (preserve) it" in the next stage of his or her existence. This is true in a twofold sense. The person who lives for the present loses the real purpose of life. He or she also loses the reward for faithful living.
"The Christian may have to sacrifice his personal ambitions, the ease and the comfort that he may have enjoyed, the career that he might have achieved; he may have to lay aside his dreams, to realize that shining things of which he caught a glimpse are not for him. He will certainly have to sacrifice his will, for no Christian can ever again do what he likes; he must do what Christ likes."
This entire section (vv. 26-39) contrasts the present with the future. For the 12 Apostles: their present ministry, self-denial, and consequential persecution, involved identifying themselves publicly as Jesus' disciples. It involved calling on the Jews to repent: because the kingdom was near at hand, and the King had arrived! For modern disciples: our present ministry, self-denial, and consequential persecution, likewise involve identifying ourselves publicly as Jesus' disciples. They also involve urging people to believe in Him. In both groups, those who are faithful to their calling will receive God's commendation when they stand before Him. Old Testament saints will stand before God when He judges Israel at Jesus' second coming (Dan. 12:1-2). Modern Christians will stand before the judgment seat of Christ (2 Cor. 5:10; 1 Cor. 3:10-15). Those who are unfaithful will not receive some of the commendation, joy, and reward that could have been theirs had they remained faithful.
This discourse (ch. 10) covers the whole period during which disciples of Jesus will minister, from Jesus' day until the establishment of the messianic kingdom. It begins with the duty of the 12 Apostles, but then broadens to include all subsequent disciples before the establishment of the kingdom. The scope of the Mission Discourse and the Sermon on the Mount are the same: the interim between Jesus' first and second advents.
These verses bring Jesus' teaching to a positive and encouraging conclusion. Jesus had given His disciples severe warnings. Now He gave them great encouragement.
10:40 By receiving His disciples, those to whom the disciples would go would show that they welcomed Jesus. Because they received Jesus, they would also receive God. How a person receives an agent shows his or her attitude toward the agent's master, and toward all that the agent represents.
10:41 "A prophet" is one who speaks for another. The disciples served as prophets when they announced Jesus' message. Jesus Himself was a prophet since He spoke for God. The one who received the disciple would "receive a prophet's reward" from God, suitable to the one who had entertained one of God's representatives. Likewise, the disciples were righteous men who represented another righteous Man: Jesus. God would give those who received the disciples, as ("in the name of") "righteous" men, a "reward" in keeping with what a righteous man deserves (cf. 5:20; John 13:20).
10:42 The "little ones," in view of the context, probably refer to the persecuted disciples who remain faithful to the Lord. Anyone who assists "one of" them—by giving him or her "even a cup of" refreshing "cold water"—will receive a reward from God. That person can even give the cup of cold water "in the name of" (on behalf of) a follower of Jesus, not in the name of Jesus Himself. The point is that no act of kindness for one of Jesus' suffering disciples will pass without (or "lose") God's "reward."
"Keep in mind that the theme of this last section is discipleship, not sonship. We become the children of God through faith in Christ; we are disciples as we faithfully follow Him and obey His will. Sonship does not change, but discipleship does change as we walk with Christ. There is great need today for faithful disciples, believers who will learn from Christ and live for Him."
This Mission Discourse (ch. 10) is instruction for Jesus' disciples in view of their ministry to call people to prepare for the kingdom. Jesus gave the 12 Apostles specific direction about where they should go and to whom they should minister. However, He broadened His instruction, in view of mounting opposition, by giving guidance to disciples who would succeed the Twelve. Their ministry was essentially the same as that of the apostles.
The scope of this discourse, as the scope of the Sermon on the Mount, is the entire inter-advent age, the time between the two advents of Christ to the earth, including the time of His earthly ministry, the Church Age, and the Tribulation period. Both discourses prepare Jesus' disciples during this period for service before His kingdom on the earth begins and when it does begin.
Jesus did not reveal here that Israel's rejection of Him would result in a long gap between His first and second advents. That gap is irrelevant to the instruction and its meaning. Christian disciples today need to do essentially what the Twelve were to do, but to a different audience and region (28:19-20). Jesus explained those changes after His firm rejection by the Jews.
Whereas some of what Jesus told the Twelve to do on this occasion applied only to them, many things that He told them apply to modern disciples as well. These lessons include: preach the gospel, help people, live simply, move on if you are rejected, use wisdom and discernment, expect persecution, do not be afraid, remain faithful to God, and remember your reward.
"These two words, Care not, Fear not, are the soul and marrow of all that was said by way of prelude to the first missionary enterprise, and we may add, to all which might follow. For here Jesus speaks to all ages and to all times, telling the Church in what spirit all her missionary enterprises must be undertaken and carried on, that they may have His blessing."
Here is another of Matthew's formulas that ended a discourse (cf. 7:28-29; 13:53; 19:1; 26:1). Matthew had no concern for recording what happened when the Twelve went out having received Jesus' "instructions." He passed over their ministry in silence and resumed narration of Jesus' ministry.
To review, Matthew introduced the King of the Jews, then demonstrated His authority, and then explained His manifestation in Israel. Matthew proceeded next to record Israel's opposition to Him and rejection of Him. Chapters 11—13 record Israel's rejection of her Messiah and its consequences. Opposition continued to build, but Jesus announced new revelation in view of hardened unbelief.
"The Evangelist has carefully presented the credentials of the king in relationship to His birth, His baptism, His temptation, His righteous doctrine, and His supernatural power. Israel has heard the message of the nearness of the kingdom from John the Baptist, the King Himself, and His disciples. Great miracles have authenticated the call to repentance. Now Israel must make a decision."
"Thematically the three chapters (11—13) are held together by the rising tide of disappointment in and opposition to the kingdom of God that was resulting from Jesus' ministry. He was not turning out to be the kind of Messiah the people had expected."
Matthew presented three evidences of opposition to Jesus that indicated rejection of Him: John the Baptist's questions about the King's identity, the Jews' indifference to the King's message, and their refusal to respond to the King's invitation.
This section illustrates how deeply seated Israel's disenchantment with Jesus was.
Even John the Baptist had doubts about whether Jesus was really the promised Messiah.
"Matthew includes the record of this interrogation for at least two reasons. First, the questioning of Jesus by John, a representative of the best in Israel, points up the misconception of Israel as to the program of the Messiah and His method. He had heard of the works of Jesus (Matthew 11:2), and they certainly appeared to be Messianic. However, Jesus did not suddenly assert His authority and judge the people as John probably had thought He would (Matthew 3:10-12). Because of this misconception he began to doubt. Perhaps his being in prison, a place which was certainly incongruous for the herald of the King, reinforced his doubts. . . .
"Herod Antipas of Galilee had paid a visit to his brother in Rome. During that visit he seduced his brother's wife. He came home again, and dismissed his own wife, and married the sister-in-law whom he had lured away from her husband. Publicly and sternly John rebuked Herod. It was never safe to rebuke an eastern despot; Herod took his revenge; and John was thrown into the dungeons of the fortress of Machaerus down in the mountains near the Dead Sea."
Matthew wrote that John "heard" about "the works" of "the Christ." This is the only place in Matthew where the name "Christ" standing alone refers to Jesus. Matthew evidently referred to Jesus this way here to underscore the fact that Jesus was the Christ, the Greek term for Messiah. John had doubts about that, but Matthew presented Jesus as the Messiah in unequivocal terms. The "works" of Jesus would include His teachings and all of His activities, not just His miracles.
John sent Jesus a question through some of John's disciples. This use of "disciples" is another proof that this word does not necessarily mean believers in Jesus. These disciples were still following John. They had not begun to follow Jesus. John questioned whether Jesus was "the Coming (Expected) One" after all (Ps. 40:7; 118:26; Isa. 59:20). "The Coming One" was a messianic title. John had previously announced Jesus as the Coming One (3:11), but Jesus did not quite fit John's ideas of what Messiah would do. He was bringing blessing to many but judgment to none (cf. 3:10-12).
"The prophetic infirmity of querulousness [complaining in a petulant or whining manner] and the prison air had got the better of his judgment and his heart, and he was in the truculent humor of Jonah, who was displeased with God, not because He was too stern, but rather because He was to gracious, too ready to forgive."
"The same questions of the ultimate triumph of God undoubtedly face everyone in suffering for Christ's sake. If our God is omnipotent, why does He permit the righteous to suffer? The answer, of course, is that the time of God's judgment has not yet come but that the final triumph is certain."
An old interpretation of John's question is that he asked it for his disciples' sake, but he himself never doubted Jesus' identity. There is nothing in the text to support this view. Rather John, like Elijah, seems to have become discouraged (cf. v. 14). Probably this happened because Jesus did not begin to judge sinners immediately.
11:4-6 Jesus sent a summary of His ministry back to John. He used the language of Isaiah's prophecies to assure His forerunner that He really was the Messiah (Isa. 35:5-6; 61:1; cf. Isa. 26:19; 29:18-19). It is interesting that all of these Isaiah passages contain some reference to judgment. Thus Jesus assured John that He was the Coming One, and He implied that He would fulfill the judgment prophecies, though He had not done so yet.
Verse 6 may contain an allusion to Isaiah 8:13-14. It is a gentle warning against allowing Jesus' ministry to become an obstacle to belief and a reason for rejecting Jesus. It assumes that John and his disciples began well, but it warned them against reading the evidence of Jesus' miracles incorrectly. The little beatitude in verse 6 commends those who believe God is working without demanding undue proof (cf. John 20:29).
John had borne witness to Jesus, and now Jesus bore witness to John. In doing so, Jesus pointed to Himself as the person who would bring in the kingdom.
11:7-8 As John's disciples were leaving, Jesus took the opportunity "to speak to the crowds about John." Reeds of cane grass grew abundantly along the Jordan River banks. "A reed" blown "by the wind" represents a person easily swayed by public opinion or circumstances. The multitudes certainly did not go into the Judean wilderness to view such a common sight. They did not "go out to see . . . a man dressed in soft," even effeminate clothes (Gr. malakos) either. Such people lived in "kings' palaces." Jesus probably alluded derogatorily to King Herod, who had imprisoned John. Herod wore soft garments, but John wore rough garments (cf. 3:4-6).
By replying this way, Jesus was allaying public suspicion that John's question might have arisen from a vacillating character or undisciplined weakness. John's question did not arise from a deficient character, but from misunderstanding concerning Messiah's ministry. Jesus was defending John.
11:9-11 The people had gone out into the wilderness to hear John because they believed he was "a prophet." Jesus affirmed that identification. He was the first true prophet who had appeared in hundreds of years. However, John was an unusual prophet. He was not only a spokesman from and for God, as the other prophets were, but he was also the fulfillment of prophecy himself. He was the one predicted to prepare for Messiah's appearing.
The passage Jesus quoted is Malachi 3:1, and His quotation reflects an allusion to Exodus 23:20. The changes Jesus made in His quotation had the effect of making Yahweh address Messiah (cf. Ps. 110:1). This harmonizes with the spirit of Malachi's context (cf. 4:5-6). By quoting this passage, Jesus was affirming His identity as Messiah. He viewed John as potentially fulfilling the prophecy about Elijah preparing the way for Yahweh and the day of the Lord. Whether John really would have fulfilled it depended on Israel's acceptance of her Messiah then (cf. v. 14). In either case, John fulfilled the spirit of the prophecy, because he came in the spirit and power of Elijah.
Jesus called "John the Baptist" the greatest human being because he served as the immediate forerunner of Messiah. This was a ministry no other prophet enjoyed. Yet, Jesus added, anyone in "the kingdom" will be "greater than" John. Perhaps Jesus supported John so strongly, too, because some of the Jews may have questioned John's commitment to the Messiah.
Scholars have offered many different explanations of the last part of verse 11. Some translate "the least" as "the younger," and believe Jesus was contrasting Himself, as younger than John, with John, who was older. However, this is an unusual and unnecessary translation. Others believe that even the least in the kingdom will be able to point unambiguously to Jesus as the Messiah, but John's testimony to Jesus' messiahship was not persuading many who heard it. The best explanation, I believe, is that John at that time only anticipated the kingdom, whereas participants will be in it, thus "greater."
Jesus did not mean that John would fail to participate in the kingdom. All true prophets will be in it (Luke 13:28). He was simply contrasting participants and announcers of the kingdom.
This section further explains John the Baptist's crucial place in God's kingdom program.
11:12-13 These verses record Jesus' description of the condition of the kingdom when He spoke these words. "From the days of John the Baptist until now" began when John began to minister, and extended to the time Jesus uttered the words Matthew recorded here. What does "suffers violence" mean? If the Greek verb biazetai is a deponent middle tense, it could mean that disciples must enter the kingdom through violent effort. This seems to introduce a foreign element into Jesus' teaching on discipleship. Entrance into the kingdom depends on faith in Jesus as the Messiah. The deponent middle could also mean that the kingdom has been forcefully advancing, but it had not swept away all opposition, as John had been expecting. However, the image of an irresistibly advancing kingdom seems foreign to Matthew's portrayal of Jesus' ministry thus far. Mounting opposition suggests that the kingdom was encountering severe resistance.
Probably the verb biazetai is in the passive tense. "The kingdom of heaven suffers violence" because evil men take it violently. Perhaps Jesus meant that men were snatching the kingdom from God and forcing its coming. This is impossible, since Israel was not forcing the kingdom to come. The Jews were unwilling to receive it when Jesus offered it. Perhaps Jesus meant that some Jews, such as Barabbas, where trying to bring in the kingdom by political revolution. This is unlikely, since Jesus made no other reference to this happening in the context. Probably Jesus meant that the religious leaders of His day were trying to bring in the kingdom in their own, carnal way, while refusing to accept God's way that John and Jesus announced.
This view explains satisfactorily Jesus' reference to the period from the beginning of John's ministry to when He spoke. Ever since John began his ministry of announcing Messiah, the Jewish religious leaders had opposed him. Moreover, in 23:13, Jesus accused the scribes and Pharisees of trying to seize the reins of kingdom power from Messiah, to lead the kingdom as they wanted it to go. They also snatched (took "by force") the kingdom from the people by rejecting, and eventually crucifying, the Messiah. The imprisonment of John was another evidence of violent antagonism against the kingdom, but that opposition came from Herod Antipas. John and Jesus both eventually died at the hands of these violent men.
Jesus described the imminent kingdom as in grave danger because of His enemies. The Old Testament ("all the") "prophets" had predicted the Messiah, "until John," but when John began his ministry, the time of fulfillment began. That was a unique time that the law and the prophets had foretold (v. 13).
11:14-15 In the previous two verses, Jesus spoke of the imminent kingdom. It was encountering severe opposition. In these two verses, He discussed the potential beginning of the kingdom.
The messianic kingdom would come if the Jews would accept it. In the Greek text, the conditional particle (ei) assumes for the sake of the argument that they would receive it. Assuming they would, John would fulfill Malachi's prophecy about Elijah being Messiah's forerunner (Mal. 4:5-6).
All amillenarians and some premillenarians, namely, covenant (historic) premillenarians and progressive dispensationalists, believe that the kingdom really began with Jesus' preaching. They interpret this conditional statement as follows. They say Jesus was acknowledging that it was difficult to accept the fact that John was the fulfillment of the prophecies about Elijah. They take "it" as referring to Jesus' statement about John rather than the kingdom. Since both antecedents are in the context, the interpretation hinges on one's conclusion about whether the kingdom really did begin with Jesus' preaching, or if it is still future. I favor the second alternative, in view of the Old Testament prophecies about the kingdom, and how Matthew presented Jesus' concept of the kingdom. Jesus viewed the messianic kingdom as future and earthly, not present and future. In saying this, I do not deny that in one sense, God rules over His own now. However, this is a heavenly rule, a rule from heaven. The Old Testament prophets predicted that Messiah would rule on the earth. This earthly rule of God over His own is still future. This is the kingdom that John announced, and Jesus offered, to Israel.
Jesus did not say that John was Elijah. That depended on Israel's repenting and accepting Jesus as the Messiah. John fulfilled Isaiah 40:3 and Malachi 3:1, prophecies about Messiah's forerunner, but not Malachi 4:5-6, the prophecy about the forerunner turning the people's hearts to God, since Israel rejected Jesus.
Who will fulfill Malachi 4:5-6, and when? Perhaps Elijah himself will be one of the two witnesses who will prepare the Israelites for Messiah's second coming (Rev. 11:1-14). Since John could have fulfilled the prophecy of Elijah, I tend to think that Elijah need not return to earth personally for this ministry. Probably the two witnesses will be two contemporary believers in the Tribulation, who will turn the people's hearts to God, as Elijah did in his day.
Verse 15 underlines the great significance of what Jesus had just stated.
Jesus proceeded to describe the Jews' reaction to John and Himself more fully to clarify their opposition.
11:16-17 The "generation" Jesus spoke of consisted of the Jews to whom He offered the kingdom (cf. vv. 20-24; 12:39, 41-42, 45; 16:4; 17:17; 23:36; 24:34). This use of "generation" refers to a group or circle of His countrymen (cf. Prov. 30:11-14). Jesus must have observed "children" playing the marriage and funeral games He referred to here, and He used them to illustrate the childish reaction of most of His adult contemporaries. The point was that the people found fault with whatever Jesus did. He did not behave or teach in harmony with what they wanted Him to do, or as they expected that Messiah would do. His concept of the kingdom was different from theirs. They wanted a King who would fit into and agree with their traditional understanding of the Messiah. Consequently they rejected Him.
11:18-19 Even though John lived as an ascetic, as some of the Old Testament prophets did, most of the Jews rejected him and even charged him with "demon" possession. Jesus ate and drank with "sinners," and many of the people criticized Him for lack of moderation, and concluded that He despised the Law. If they had understood John, they would have understood Jesus.
Jesus concluded with a proverb that justified John's and His lifestyles. The Jews had criticized both John and Jesus for the ways they lived. Jesus' point was: the good "deeds" that John and Jesus did "vindicated" their choices to live as they did. Who could justifiably criticize them, since they went about doing good? "Wisdom" in the Old Testament is almost a synonym for God in many places. Jesus claimed that He and John were living wisely, under God's control, by behaving as they did. The Jews could make childish criticisms, but the lifestyles of John and Jesus argued for their credibility.
In spite of John's doubts, Jesus supported and affirmed His forerunner to his disciples and his critics. John's message was correct—even if he had developed some misgivings about it.
". . . it seems there are three lessons to be derived from the passage—the need to respond to John's message with repentance, the importance of rejoicing with Jesus[,] and the vindication of God's plan through both men despite the many who reject it. . . .
"But the three points can be easily combined into a single big idea—that God's true will, despite the ways humans have so often perverted it, involves separation from sin but association with sinners."
One indication of Israel's opposition to her King was the antagonism she displayed toward John and Jesus' methods (vv. 2-19). Another was her indifference to Jesus' message. Jesus and His disciples had preached and healed throughout Galilee. However, most of the people did not repent. Therefore Jesus pronounced judgment on their cities that had witnessed many mighty miracles. Jesus had the residents of the cities in view when He spoke of the cities.
"Those who really wish to know their Bibles should see that we are in new country from this verse forward. Draw a thick black line between the nineteenth and the twentieth verses. There is a great divide here. Truth flows down to opposite oceans from this point. We are face to face with a new aspect of the work of Christ. The Lord Jesus was henceforth a different Man in His action and in His speech. The One Who was the meek and lowly Jesus was about to exhibit His strong wrath in no uncertain way."
11:20 The Greek word oneidizein, translated "reproach" (NASB) and "denounce" (NIV), is a strong word that conveys deep indignation (cf. 5:11; 27:44). Jesus did not denounce these cities because they actively opposed His ministry. He did so because the residents refused "to repent," in spite of the many "miracles" that Jesus and His disciples had performed there (cf. 3:2; 4:17). The verb "to be done" (Gr. egenonto) looks at Jesus' Galilean ministry as completed (cf. v. 21).
11:21-22 Ouai can mean "woe," a word announcing doom, or "alas," meaning "pity." Both ideas are appropriate here. Isaiah used the Hebrew equivalent 22 times. "Chorazin" stood about two miles northwest of Capernaum. This "Bethsaida" was probably the one on the northeast coast of the Sea of Galilee, on the east side of the Jordan River (cf. Mark 6:45; 8:22; Luke 9:10; John 1:44; 12:21). "Tyre and Sidon" lay on the Mediterranean coast to the north. The Old Testament prophets often denounced Tyre and Sidon for their Baal worship. "Sackcloth and ashes" were common ancient Near Eastern accouterments to mourning.
The Greek word dunamis ("miracle" or "power") is one of four that the Gospel writers used to describe Jesus' miracles (cf. Mark 6:2, 5, 14; 9:39; Acts 13:10). This one emphasizes the mighty power of God that His miracles displayed. The other three Greek words are teras, meaning "wonder," which underscores the extraordinary character of His miracles (cf. 24:24; Mark 13:22; John 4:48); ergon, meaning "works," which describes both Christ's miracles and His ordinary deeds of mercy (cf. John 5:20, 36; 7:3; 10:25); and semeion, meaning "sign," which indicates that His miracles were to teach spiritual truth (cf. John 2:11; 4:54; 6:2; 11:47).
Jesus' statement reveals that as God, He knew what the people of Tyre and Sidon would have done, had they received the amount of witness the Jewish cities had enjoyed. It also indicates that the reception of special revelation is a privilege, not a right. Furthermore when God judges, He will take into account the opportunity people have had. There are degrees of punishment in hell, as there are degrees of felicity in heaven (v. 24; Luke 12:47-48; Rom. 1:20—2:16; Heb. 10:28-29).
11:23-24 "Capernaum" was Jesus' base, and He performed many "miracles" there, half of the 10 recorded in this section of the Gospel (4:13; 8:5-17; 9:2-8, 18-33). It, like wicked Babylon, would suffer eternal damnation (Isa. 14:15). "Hades" is the place of the dead (cf. 5:22; 16:18). In view of the tower of Babel and the Exile, the Jews regarded Babylon as the worst of all cities. "Sodom" likewise was infamous for its wickedness (cf. 10:15). Jesus probably used the second person singular as a rhetorical device to address these cities. He addressed His audience with the plural "you" (vv. 22, 24).
"Anyone who visits the ruins of Capernaum today and sees the pitiful remains of what was once a beautiful city, can realize the literalness with which this prophecy has been fulfilled. Significantly, Tiberias, not far away, was not condemned and is not in ruins."
These towns had rejected Jesus and His ministry by their indifference. The citizens followed Him and appreciated His healing ministry, but they did not respond to His message.
This invitation is a sign of Israel's rejection of her King, since with it, Jesus invited those who had believed in Him, to separate from unbelieving Israel, and to follow Him. In verses 20-24, Jesus addressed the condemned; but in verses 25-30, He spoke to the accepted. This section is a Christological high point in the Gospel.
11:25-26 Matthew's connective "at that time" is loosely historical and tightly thematic. Jesus' titles for God are appropriate in view of His prayer. "Father" focuses on Jesus' sonship, and prepares for verse 27, whereas "Lord of heaven and earth" stresses God's sovereignty, and prepares for verses 25-26. "These things" refer to the significance of Jesus' miracles, the imminence of the messianic kingdom, and the implications of Jesus' teaching.
"As elaborated in the context, it [this revelation] concerns in greatest measure two matters. The one matter is the mysteries of the Kingdom of Heaven (13:11). And the other is insight into Jesus' identity as the Son of God (14:33; 16:16)."
The "wise and prudent [or learned]" are the self-sufficient Jews who rejected Jesus because they felt no need for what He offered. The "babes [or little children]" are the dependent who received Jesus' teaching as needy individuals. Israel was not humble but proud. Consequently she could not understand the things that Jesus revealed to her.
It was God's good pleasure to hide truth from some and reveal it to others. This may make God appear arbitrary and unfair. However, Scripture reveals that God owes man nothing. God is not unjust because He hides truth from some while revealing it to others. Hiding things from some is an evidence of God's judgment, not His justice. That He extends mercy to any is amazing. That He extends it to those who are inadequate and totally dependent is even more incredible. Furthermore, because He hides truth from those who reject it, means that He shows mercy to them because He will judge all people by their response to the truth they have.
Jesus delighted in the fact that His Father revealed and concealed truth as He did (v. 26). Jesus delighted in whatever God did. His disciples should do likewise.
"It is often in a person's prayers that his truest thoughts about himself come to the surface. For this reason the thanksgiving of Jesus here recorded is one of the most precious pieces of spiritual autobiography found in the Synoptic Gospels."
11:27 Here is another of Jesus' claims to being the Son of God. Jesus claimed to be the exclusive revealer of God's message that the "babes" received. Jesus has authority over those to whom He reveals God the Father. Reciprocal knowledge with God the Father assumes a special type of sonship. It reflects relationship more than intellectual attainment. The only way people can "know the Father" is through the Son (cf. John 14:6). Similarly, there are some things about the Son that only the Father knows (e.g., the date and hour of His return). Some of what the Son has chosen to reveal concerns the kingdom.
11:28 This invitation recalls Jeremiah 31:25, where Yahweh offered His people "rest" in the New Covenant. The "weary" are those who have struggled long and toiled hard. The "heavy-laden" are those who stagger under excessive burdens.
"The one [term] implies toil, the other endurance. The one refers to the weary search for truth and for relief from a troubled conscience; the other refers to the heavy load of observances that give no relief, and perhaps also the sorrow of life, which, apart from the consolations of a true faith, are so crushing."
Jesus, the revealer of God, invites those who feel their need for help that they cannot obtain by themselves, to "come to" Him (cf. 5:3; Rev. 22:17). Israel's spiritual leaders had loaded the people with unscriptural burdens that were too heavy to bear (cf. 23:4). The "rest" in view involves kingdom rest (cf. Heb. 4), but it is a present reality too.
Throughout Israel's history, God held out the promise of rest if His people would trust and obey Him. The Promised Land was to be the scene of this rest. However, when Israel entered Canaan under Joshua's leadership, she enjoyed rest there only partially due to limited trust and obedience. As her history progressed, she lost much rest through disobedience. Now Jesus, as her Messiah, promised that the rest she had longed for for centuries could be hers—if she humbly came to Him. He provided this rest for anyone in Israel who came to Him in humble trust. He will provide this rest for Israel—in the future—in the Promised Land. This will take place when He returns to earth to establish His kingdom.
11:29-30 The "yoke" that farmers put on their oxen is a metaphor for the discipline of discipleship. This is not the yoke of the Mosaic Law, but the yoke of discipleship to Jesus. Learning from Him involves assimilating what He reveals, not just imitating Him or learning from His experience.
Jesus is not only the authoritative revealer. He is also the humble Servant of the Lord. He deals gently with the weak (cf. 18:1-10; 19:13-15). Jesus quoted Jeremiah 6:16, a passage that pointed to Him. The yoke of discipleship may involve persecution, but it "is easy" (good and comfortable). His "burden is light" compared to the loads Israel's religious leaders imposed on their disciples.
Israel's unbelief is a strong theme in this chapter. We can see it in John's question (vv. 1-15), in Jesus' generation (vv. 16-19), in the cities of Galilee (vv. 20-24), and in the proud wise (vv. 25-30).
Matthew has shown that opposition to Jesus came from two main sources: the animosity of the religious leaders, and the indifference of the common Israelites. In this chapter he presented five instances in which opposition manifested itself and increased. In each situation the approach to Jesus was negative, but Jesus responded positively.
"Central to the plot of Matthew's story is the element of conflict. The principal conflict pits Israel against Jesus, and the death of Jesus constitutes the primary resolution of this conflict. On another level, Jesus also struggles with the disciples. Here the conflict is to bring them to understanding, or to enable them to overcome their 'little faith,' or to invite them to avail themselves of the great authority Jesus has given them, or, above all, to lead them to comprehend that the essence of discipleship is servanthood."
This chapter records where the tide turned in Jesus' ministry. Here opposition became rejection. Chapter 12 is the climax of the rejection motif so far in Matthew's Gospel.
The first two instances of conflict that Matthew recorded arose over Sabbath observance. Sabbath observance was very important to the Jews. The Sabbath was a uniquely Israelite institution that commemorated the creation of the cosmos and the creation of Israel. Jewish rules of conduct concerning the Sabbath had become very detailed by Jesus' day.
The immediate connection between this section and what precedes is twofold. The first is the theme of rising opposition (11:2—13:53), and the second is the heavy yoke of Pharisaic tradition that made the Israelites weary and heavy laden (11:28-30). The aim of the Sabbath was to provide rest, which Jesus said those who took His yoke upon themselves would find. It was not to provide a burden, which the Pharisees had made it by their traditions.
Matthew recorded that Pharisaic opposition began when Jesus forgave sins (9:1-8). It increased when Jesus associated with tax collectors and sinners (9:9-13). Now it boiled over because Jesus did not observe the Pharisees' legalistic traditions.
". . . the leaders (Pharisees), in charging the disciples with breaking the law by plucking grain on the sabbath and hence working, do what they heretofore have not done: they engage Jesus himself in direct debate (12:1-8)."
12:1 "At that time" does not mean immediately after that but at approximately that time (cf. 9:3, 11, 14, 34; 10:25; 11:19). The Mosaic Law permitted the Israelites to do what the disciples did, namely, pluck a few ears of grain "and eat" as they passed through a field (Deut. 23:25).
12:2 The Pharisees criticized Jesus' disciples for doing what was unlawful under Pharisaic tradition, namely, "reaping" on the Sabbath. The Mishnah listed 39 categories of activity that qualified as work on the Sabbath.
"By plucking the corn they were guilty of reaping; by rubbing it in their hands they were guilty of threshing; by separating the grain and the chaff they were guilty of winnowing; and by the whole process they were guilty of preparing a meal on the Sabbath day, for everything which was to be eaten on the Sabbath had to be prepared the day before."
12:3-4 Jesus responded to the Pharisees' question with another, in common rabbinic style (cf. v. 5; 19:4; 21:16, 42; 22:31). The record of the incident He cited is in 1 Samuel 21:1-6, and the law governing the use of consecrated bread is in Exodus 25:30 and Leviticus 24:5-9. "The house of God" that David "entered" was the tabernacle that then stood at Nob. "David" and his men "ate . . . consecrated bread" that only the priests had a right to eat.
The event to which Jesus referred may have occurred on a Sabbath day, though that is not certain (cf. 1 Sam. 21:5-6). That factor is inconsequential, as is the fact that David ate after lying to the priests. Jesus drew this illustration from a time in David's life when Israel's leadership was rejecting him. The Son of David was now experiencing similar rejection.
David ate even though it was unlawful, according to the Pharisees' understanding of the Sabbath law, for him to do so, yet the Old Testament did not condemn him for his act. Therefore the Pharisees should not condemn Jesus' disciples for doing something Scripture did not condemn David's men for doing. Jesus was arguing that His authority should override the Law more than their view of the Sabbath should.
Jesus' disciples were not breaking any Old Testament command concerning Sabbath observance. These laws aimed primarily at prohibiting regular work on the Sabbath. The Old Testament set aside a regulation in the Law for David and his men in the sense that it did not condemn them for what they did (cf. 2 Chron. 30:18-20). Could not Jesus then set aside a Pharisaic law that had no basis in the Old Testament for Himself and His men? By arguing this way, Jesus was claiming that He was at least as important as David was. The parallels between David and Jesus make Jesus' veiled claim to being the Son of David obvious.
12:5-6 Jesus' second argument came from Numbers 28:9-10. Technically, the priests broke the "Sabbath" every week, by changing the consecrated bread, and by offering the burnt offerings the Law specified for that day. However, "the Law" considered the priests guiltless ("innocent") for doing this "work" on the Sabbath.
Jesus claimed that "something greater than the temple" was present. He used the neuter, "something," to refer to His authority, because He wanted to stress a quality about the temple—its authority—that He as an individual shared with the temple. What is "greater" than the temple as a symbol of authority is Messiah, a superior authority. Another point of comparison was that God came to meet with His people, both in the temple and in Immanuel.
In Jesus' argument, the temple was greater than the Sabbath. However, now something greater than the temple was there, namely Messiah, and specifically, His authority. Consequently Messiah takes precedence over the Sabbath. The Pharisees not only mishandled the Law, but they also failed to perceive who Jesus was. As the temple's authority shielded the priests from guilt, so Jesus' authority as Messiah shielded His disciples from guilt. Jesus was not comparing but contrasting the priests' authority and His authority.
"In truth, the reason why David was blameless in eating the shew-bread was the same as that which made the Sabbath-labour of the priests lawful. The Sabbath-Law was not one merely of rest, but of rest for worship. The Service of the Lord was the object in view. The priests worked on the Sabbath, because this service was the object of the Sabbath; and David was allowed to eat of the shew-bread, not because there was danger to life from starvation, but because he pleaded that he was on the service of the Lord and needed this provision. The disciples, when following the Lord, were similarly on the service of the Lord; ministering to Him was more than ministering in the Temple, for He was greater than the Temple."
12:7-8 Jesus again criticized the Pharisees for failing to understand the Scriptures (cf. v. 3), and He quoted Hosea 6:6 again (cf. 9:13). Previously Jesus had cited this verse to show the Pharisees that they failed to recognize their own need. Now He used it to show them that they failed to recognize Him. The Jews in Hosea's day relied on mere ritual to satisfy God. The Pharisees were doing the same thing. They had not grasped the real significance of the Law, as their criticism of Jesus' disciples demonstrated. Jesus accused the accusers, and declared the disciples "innocent."
"Note that Jesus appealed to prophet [vv. 3-4], priest [vv. 5-6], and king [v. 7]; for He is Prophet, Priest, and King. Note too the three 'greater' statements that He made: as the Priest, He is 'greater than the temple' (Matt. 12:6); as Prophet, He is 'greater than Jonah' (Matt. 12:41); and as King, He is 'greater than Solomon' (Matt. 12:42)."
As "Son of Man," this man Jesus was "Lord of the Sabbath." That is, His authority was greater than the authority that God had granted the Sabbath to have over His people. Jesus had the authority to do anything He wished with the Sabbath. Significantly, He abolished its observance when He terminated the whole Mosaic Code—even as the temple effectively abolished it for the priests within the Mosaic system.
"We are free while we are doing anything for Christ; God loves mercy, and demands not sacrifice; His sacrifice is the service of Christ, in heart, and life, and work. We are not free to do anything we please; but we are free to do anything needful or helpful, while we are doing any service to Christ."
The Old Testament did not condemn David because he ate the priests' bread, even though David broke the law involving ritual worship. Therefore the Pharisees should not condemn Jesus because He violated their tradition. By comparing Himself to David, Jesus implied that He, too, was the Lord's Anointed. Like David, Jesus was the Lord's Anointed who was doing God's will while He was being opposed by Israel's leadership. By contrasting the Mosaic Law with the Pharisees' tradition, Jesus exposed their confusion of tradition with Law and their misplaced priorities. They taught that ritual law was as important as moral law. How people worship is never as important as that they worship. The Pharisees' hearts were not right with God, even though they were scrupulous about how they worshipped God.
This is the first of seven incidents, that the Gospel evangelists recorded, in which Jesus came into conflict with the Jewish religious leaders over Sabbath observance. The chart below lists them in probable chronological order.
The disciples plucked ears of grain in Galilee.
Jesus healed a paralytic at the Pool of Siloam in Jerusalem.
Jesus healed a man with a withered hand in Capernaum.
Jesus referred to the Jews circumcising on the Sabbath.
Jesus healed a man born blind in Jerusalem.
Jesus healed a woman bent over in Judea.
Jesus healed a man with dropsy in Perea.
In the previous encounter, Jesus appealed to Scripture, but in this one He did not. In that one, His disciples were the targets of Pharisaic criticism, but in this one He was.
12:9-10 The Pharisees believed that it was permissible to give medical assistance "on the Sabbath" only if a sick person's life was in danger. They also permitted midwifery and circumcision on the Sabbath.
12:11-13 This is the third time in Matthew that Jesus argued for the superiority of human life over animal life (cf. 6:26; 10:31). His argument presupposed the special creation of man (Gen. 1—2). Jesus assumed, apparently with good reason, that the Pharisees would "lift . . . a sheep" out of "a pit" on the Sabbath. His argument was again qal wahomer (from the light to the heavy, cf. vv. 5-6). Neither the sheep in the illustration, nor the man in the synagogue, was in mortal danger. Jesus cut through the Pharisaic distinctions—about how much help one could give—to the more basic issue of doing good.
Jesus again healed with a word (9:1-8). The healing confirmed the power of His word, a power that God demonstrated in creation and that marked Jesus as God's agent. This miracle confirmed again Jesus' lordship over the Sabbath (v. 8) and His authority to forgive sins (9:1-8). Notice that Matthew made no reference to the healed man's faith. It may have played no part in this miracle, or Matthew simply may have made no mention of it. Matthew wanted to focus attention on Jesus and the Pharisees, not on the man.
12:14 The Pharisees would not have put someone to death simply because he broke one of their traditional laws. They wanted to kill Jesus because they understood Him to be making messianic claims that they rejected. "Counseled together" (NASB) or "plotted" (NIV, Gr. sumboulion elabon) means the Pharisees had reached a definite decision.
Not only should human need take precedence over ritual worship (vv. 1-8), but human welfare should also take precedence over ritual worship (vv. 9-14).
Matthew concluded the two accounts of the Pharisees' conflict with Jesus over Sabbath observance. He did so with a summary of His ministry that shows He fulfilled messianic prophecy and was indeed the Messiah. Jesus' tranquility and gentleness in this pericope contrast with the Pharisees' hatred in the former one.
12:15-17 Jesus "withdrew" when opposition became intense, before His time to go to the cross had arrived (cf. 4:12; 14:13; 15:21).
He had instructed His disciples to follow a similar procedure (10:11-14, 23-24). He withdrew specifically to avoid open conflict with the Pharisees. His extensive ministry continued (cf. 4:23; 8:16; 9:35), as did His encouragements to those He healed to keep quiet about what had happened to them (cf. 8:4; 9:30). His conduct fulfilled Scripture.
12:18-21 Matthew recently selected material that presented Jesus as the Son of God, the Son of David, and God Himself. Now he pointed out again that Jesus' conduct proved Him to be the prophesied Suffering Servant of the Lord. The citation is from Isaiah 42:1-4. This is the longest Old Testament quotation in the first Gospel.
The Greek word pais translated "servant" can also mean "son." However, the Hebrew word that it translates means "servant." Matthew recorded "whom I have chosen" rather than "whom I uphold" in Isaiah 42:1, evidently to stress God's election and love of Jesus (cf. 3:16-17; 17:5). Jesus performed His miracles with the power of the "Spirit" whom the Father had poured out "upon Him." These miracles extended even to Gentiles. Note the presence of the Trinity in this Old Testament passage.
Isaiah predicted that Messiah would minister with gentleness and humility (v. 19). He would not present Himself arrogantly or brashly. He would be very compassionate (v. 20). He would not advance His own program by stepping on others. He would bring salvation, finally, to the harassed and helpless (9:36), as well as to the weary and burdened (11:28), without crushing the weak. This concept of Messiah was much more gentle than the one Jesus' contemporaries held. They expected Him to crush all opposition. He would, however, bring justice to pass. In Matthew, "justice" (Gr. krisis) means fast-approaching judgment, not simply justice as opposed to injustice. Justice in the kingdom is in view. Consequently the Gentiles would put their trust in Him (v. 21).
This Old Testament quotation helps the reader to see how many of the characteristics of Jesus and His ministry, that Matthew has presented, fit the pattern of messianic prophecy. It also sets the stage for other things that Matthew recorded that demonstrated Jesus' messiahship.
The Pharisees moved beyond debate to personal abuse and character assassination in this pericope.
12:22 "Then" (Gr. tote) does not demand a close chronological connection with what precedes (cf. 2:7; 11:20). The Greek text describes the man's afflictions in terms that show that his demon possession produced his blindness and dumbness. The miracle itself did not interest Matthew as much as the confrontation that it produced.
12:23-24 The astonishment of the crowd prompted their question. It expected a negative answer. Literally they said, "This cannot be the Son of David, can it?" They raised the faint possibility that Jesus might be the Messiah, but primarily their question reflected their amazed unbelief. The Jews expected Messiah to perform miracles (v. 38), but other things about Jesus, for example His servant characteristics, led them to conclude that He was not the "Son of David."
The Pharisees again attributed Jesus' power to Satan ("Beelzebul"; cf. 10:25; Isa. 5:20). This time their accusation created an open breach between themselves and Jesus.
"Three times before Matthew 12 the kingdom was said to be near (3:2; 4:17; 10:7). Then after Jesus' opponents accused Him of casting out demons by the power of Satan (12:24-32; Mark 3:22-30; Luke 11:14-26), the nearness of the kingdom is never mentioned again in the Gospels."
John's Gospel, by the way, makes no reference to the nearness of God's kingdom. By the time John wrote, probably late in the first century A.D., it was clear that the messianic kingdom had been postponed.
12:25-26 Probably Jesus' knew His critics' "thoughts" as anyone else who had suffered such an attack would (cf. 9:4). Alternatively, this may be a statement of Jesus' omniscience. Any "kingdom," "city," or "household" that experiences internal conflict, will destroy itself eventually if the strife continues. This holds true for the domain over which "Satan" rules, as well. For Satan to cast out demons would amount to his casting out himself, since the demons do his work.
12:27 The Pharisees' "sons" cast out demons occasionally. These "sons" were probably their disciples, or less likely, the Jews more generally. In either case, some Jews in Jesus' day could cast out demons (cf. Acts 19:13). If the Pharisees asserted that Jesus cast out demons by Satan's power, they would have to admit that their sons did so by the same power, something they would have denied.
12:28 The "Spirit of God" stands in stark contrast to Beelzebul. Matthew probably used "kingdom of God" here, rather than "kingdom of heaven," in order to connect the kingdom with the Spirit.
"References to the Spirit occur only twelve times altogether in Matthew's gospel, with one-third of them in chapter 12. As might be expected in a gospel concerned to interpret the significance of the life and ministry of Jesus, most of the references describe the work of the Spirit in relation to Him."
"Upon" you does not mean the kingdom had somehow entered the Jews or overtaken them, and they were now in it. Jesus was addressing the Pharisees, and He did not mean the kingdom had entered them, of all people, but that it had "suddenly arrived" and was "among" them with His Messianic presence. Moreover, Jesus' concept of the kingdom was an earthly physical one. Furthermore, everywhere else Jesus spoke of people entering the kingdom, not the kingdom entering them.
12:29 Jesus encouraged the Pharisees to look at the same issue another way. Only a stronger person can bind a homeowner and ransack his house (cf. Isa. 49:24-25). On a deeper level, Jesus was speaking of Himself binding Satan and spoiling his house by casting out demons (cf. Mark 3:27; Luke 11:21-22). Thus, Jesus was claiming a superior power to Satan, that could only be divine. Jesus will really bind Satan for 1,000 years when the kingdom begins (Rev. 20:2). Jewish pseudepigraphal literature predicted that Messiah would do this (Assumption of Moses 10:1). The pseudepigrapha (lit. false writings) is a large body of Jewish writings that are not in the Old Testatment, or in what Protestants refer to as the Apocrypha. These books date from ca. 200 B.C. to ca. A.D. 100.
12:30 Jesus' point in this statement was that there can be no neutrality in one's relationship to Him. Those who do not side with Jesus side with Satan. This put the Pharisees in undesirable company. The Old Testament viewed man's judgment as a harvest that God would conduct. Jesus claimed that He would be the harvesting Judge. Jesus' statement here would have rebuked the Pharisees and warned the undecided in the crowd. Apparently the Pharisees were not only refusing to come to Jesus themselves, but were even scattering the disciples that Jesus was gathering.
12:31-32 Jesus followed up His statement about the impossibility of being neutral (v. 30) with this further warning. The "therefore" (Gr. dia touto) indicates this relationship. "Blasphemy" involves extreme slander (cf. 9:3). God would forgive "any sin," including extreme slander of Jesus, when a person trusted in Jesus. However, He would not forgive "blasphemy against the Holy Spirit."
A better interpretation is that blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, in view of the context (vv. 24-28), involved attributing Jesus' works to Satan rather than to the Spirit. The sin was not a matter of speech; the words spoken simply reflected the attitude of the heart. God would not forgive this sin because the person who committed it in Jesus' day was thereby strongly rejecting Jesus as the Messiah. Even today, the only sin one can commit that God will not forgive, and that will result in his or her eternal damnation, is rejection of Jesus Christ (cf. John 3:18). Attributing Jesus' works to Satan was blasphemy of the Spirit in Jesus' day and this resulted in damnation.
Can a person commit this sin today? One can reject Jesus Christ, but one cannot blaspheme the Spirit in the same sense in which Jesus' contemporaries could. To do so, one would have to observe Jesus doing His works and at the same time attribute them to Satan. One could say, therefore, that blasphemy against the Spirit was an unforgivable sin during Jesus' earthly ministry. The unforgivable sin at any time since Jesus began His earthly ministry to the present day is rejection of Jesus Christ.
Speaking "a word against" is the same as blasphemy. Extreme slander of Jesus was forgivable in His day, provided it did not go as far as attributing His works to Satan. That constituted blasphemy of the Holy Spirit. Jesus gave this warning to the professedly neutral person who might attribute His works to Satan (v. 30). Such a person needed to realize that, even though he or she was not speaking against Jesus, that one could potentially be doing something with much graver consequences.
"Given Matthew's christological interests and the unique and central position held by Jesus throughout the Gospel, one may understandably be surprised that Matthew has not said the reverse of what stands in the text, i.e., that blasphemy against the Spirit is forgivable but not that against the Son of Man. The gravity of the blasphemy against the Spirit, however, depends upon the Holy Spirit as the fundamental dynamic that stands behind and makes possible the entire messianic ministry of Jesus itself . . ."
12:33 Jesus proceeded to point out that conduct typically reflects character (vv. 33-37; cf. 7:16-19). To have "good fruit" one must "make the tree good," for example by cultivating, grafting, fertilizing, etc. If one makes a tree rotten by neglect and abuse, for example, one will get "bad fruit." A good tree produces good fruit, and a bad tree yields bad fruit. Jesus' works were good, so He must be good.
12:34-35 Everywhere else in Matthew where the "brood of vipers" figure occurs, it refers to the Pharisees and other religious leaders (3:7; 23:33). That is undoubtedly whom Jesus addressed here, too. The figure pictures deadly antagonists. Jesus' point was that a person's character determines what he or she says and does. The mouth usually reveals what is in the heart. The Pharisees' extreme slander of Jesus revealed their rejection of Him. They needed a change of attitude toward Him, not just a change in their speech about Him.
It is going beyond what Jesus said, to interpret this statement as meaning that no true believer will ever say or do what is contrary to the nature of a believer to say or do. All good people say and do some things that are good and some things that are bad. Likewise, all bad people say and do some things that are good and some things that are bad. We are not exactly like the trees in this illustration.
12:36-37 Jesus did not want His critics to gain any satisfaction from what He had just said. Their externally righteous appearance did not excuse them from speaking as they did. Rather, people's "words" are what God will use to judge them eventually. The "careless" word is the word spoken without deliberation. One might think it insignificant, except that it reveals character. "Every word" spoken reflects the heart's overflow, and God knows about it. Therefore words are very important (cf. Eph. 5:3-4, 12; Col. 3:17; James 1:19; 3:1-12).
Verse 37 sounds as though it may have been proverbial, or perhaps Jesus made it a proverb here. The context clarifies that the justification and condemnation in view deal with God passing judgment on everyone. Obviously, Jesus did not mean that if a person was able to say all the right words, he or she could deceive God and win salvation by clever speech. The basis of justification and condemnation is character, but "words" reveal character, so they become the instruments by which God judges.
Jesus' critics thought they were assessing Him when they said He did His works by Satan's power (v. 24). Jesus pointed out that they were really assessing themselves. They thought they were judging Him with their words, but really God would judge them with their words.
The break between Jesus and the religious leaders was now final. They charged Jesus with doing miracles with Satan's power rather than God's power. Jesus refuted their charge and warned them about the seriousness of this sin, but they still rejected Him.
"This incident, then, marked the great turning point in the life of Christ. From this point on to the cross the nation is viewed in the Gospels as having rejected Christ as Messiah. The unofficial rejection by the leaders would become official when finalized at the cross."
The fourth incident, and the third type of conflict, concerned a sign that Jesus' critics requested.
"The Pharisees and teachers of the law knew full well that Jesus was claiming to be the heaven-sent Messiah. They were familiar with the multitude of miracles He had already performed to authenticate His person. But now they came to challenge Him and request a sign that would prove to them He was what He claimed to be."
12:38 Matthew's connective again was weak. This incident was not a continuation of the preceding controversy chronologically, but thematically. Some of the scribes and Pharisees asked Jesus to perform "a sign," not just a miracle. He had performed many miracles, and they had concluded that they were satanic (v. 24). A sign was an immediate tangible assurance that something prophesied would surely happen. They requested a particular type of miracle: "a sign from heaven" (16:1). Evidently they wanted a sign that Jesus Himself would not originate. They believed Jesus could not produce one and that His failure would discredit Him.
12:39-40 The "evil and adulterous generation" was the larger group of unbelieving Jews that the scribes and Pharisees represented. Adultery is a common Old Testament metaphor for spiritual apostasy, departure from God (Isa. 50:1; 57:3; Jer. 3:8; 13:27; 31:32; Ezek 16:15, 32, 35-42; Hos. 2:1-7; 3:1; 7:13-16). God had granted signs in the past to strengthen the weak faith of believers such as Abraham, Joshua, and Gideon. Jesus refused to give His critics one, since they wanted a sign to trap Him, rather than to bolster weak faith.
"The sign of Jonah" was not a sign for the scribes and Pharisees. It became a sign to believers in Him later. The sign of Jonah means the sign that Jonah himself was to the Ninevites. He signified one whom God had delivered from certain death. Jesus' use of "Son of Man" stressed His suffering role (cf. 8:20). The "heart" of the earth may recall Jonah 2:3 (cf. Ps. 46:2). This is a reference to Jesus' burial. Jesus was saying that His deliverance from death in the grave, which would be similar to Jonah's deliverance, only greater, would prove His claims. As the Jews reckoned time, three days and three nights meant three full days or any parts of three days. Jesus was in the grave for parts of three days. Some have mistakenly claimed that Matthew understood Jesus wrongly, since Jesus was literally in the grave only two nights.
His critics' condemnation would be greater than that of the Ninevites, because the Ninevites "repented" at Jonah's preaching, but the scribes and Pharisees would not repent at Jesus' preaching. Jesus did not mean that the believing Ninevites and the unbelieving Jews of Jesus' day would appear before God at the same time. That is clear because the Ninevites would not condemn the Jews, but God would. Jesus meant that the believing Ninevites could testify against the unbelieving Jews when each group appeared before God for "judgment."
The "something greater than Jonah" was, again, the authority of Messiah. The sign Jesus promised did not meet His critics' demand, since they did not need weak faith strengthened. It was a sign that He provided for His own disciples. By refusing to respond to Jesus' message, the scribes and Pharisees showed themselves to be worse sinners than the Gentile Ninevites.
"Jesus is greater than Jonah in many ways. He is greater in His person, for Jonah was a mere man. He was greater in His obedience, for Jonah disobeyed God and was chastened. Jesus actually died, while Jonah's 'grave' was in the belly of the great fish. Jesus arose from the dead under His own power. Jonah ministered only to one city [according to the Book of Jonah], while Jesus gave His life for the whole world. Certainly Jesus was greater in His love, for Jonah did not love the people of Nineveh—he wanted them to die. Jonah's message saved Nineveh from judgment; he was a messenger of the wrath of God. Jesus' message was that of grace and salvation."
12:42 By referring to "Jonah" the same way He referred to the "Queen of the South," Jesus strongly supported the view that Jonah was a historical person. The "Queen of the South" was the "Queen of Sheba" (1 Kings 10:1-13). She came from the southern end of the Arabian Peninsula, that for the Jews, was the "ends of the earth" (cf. Jer. 6:20; Joel 3:8). She visited Jerusalem because of reports about Solomon's great "wisdom" that had reached her ears. The "something greater than Solomon" was Messiah, the embodiment of divine wisdom. The queen would join the Ninevites in condemning the unbelievers of Jesus' day, because they failed to acknowledge One with greater wisdom than Solomon's, as well as One with a greater message than Jonah's. Jesus was greater than Solomon in His wisdom, wealth, and works.
In both of Jesus' comparisons: Gentiles responded, and Jews did not. Such had been the case in Jesus' ministry so far, and this would continue. The proud scribes and Pharisees undoubtedly resented Jesus comparing them unfavorably with Gentiles.
"It is a tragic feature in the history of Israel that the nation rejected their deliverers the first time, but accepted them the second time. This was true with Joseph, Moses, David, the prophets (Matt. 23:29), and Jesus Christ."
12:43-45 The point of these verses that describe demon possession goes back to Jesus' warning about the peril of being neutral toward Him (v. 30). A demon cast out of a person initially goes through arid "places seeking rest." This statement affirms the Jewish belief that demons prefer dry places (Tobit 8:3; cf. Rev. 18:2). Eventually they seek to inhabit human bodies, through which they can do more damage.
Jesus implied the possibility of demonic repossession (v. 44). The demon's "house" is a human body in Jesus' story. The demon returns to the person it had left, discovering that he or she is still receptive to the demon's presence, because no superior power occupies that person. Consequently the demon invites "seven other" demons—a full complement ("more wicked than itself")—and they take up residence in the person.
Jesus compared the unbelieving Jews of His day to the demon-possessed person. John the Baptist and Jesus had purified the lives of many in Galilee by calling them to repentance, but not all of them had embraced Jesus in faith. Jesus had cast demons out of many people, but they did not all believe that He was the Messiah. This neutral condition left them vulnerable to an even worse invasion from Satan, to say nothing about judgment from God. These neutral individuals represented the nation as a whole.
Many Christians believe that Jesus' teaching here gives evidence that demons cannot possess a true believer. That may be so, but demons can afflict believers greatly. Believers are no more immune against attack from Satan, and his demons, than they are against attacks from the world and the flesh. The line between demon possession and demon affliction is a thin one that is very hard to identify.
Jesus' critics already had plenty of evidence as to who He was. They did not need to see more miracles that proved Jesus' Messiahship. Instead, He gave them a different kind of sign, one that would vindicate His claims after He rose from the dead.
A very subtle form of opposition arose from Jesus' physical family members. It provided an opportunity for Jesus to explain true relationship to Messiah and to affirm His disciples.
12:46-47 Jesus' "brothers" were evidently His physical half-brothers, the sons of Mary. Some Roman Catholics, desiring to maintain their "perpetual virginity of Mary" doctrine, and some Protestants, have argued that they were Jesus' brothers but the sons of Joseph by a previous marriage. If they were, the oldest of these brothers would have been the legal heir to David's throne.
12:48-50 Jesus' question did not depreciate His physical "mother and brothers." His answer showed that He simply gave priority to His heavenly Father and doing His will (cf. 10:37). Spiritual relationship takes precedence over physical relationship (cf. 8:18-23). This underlines the importance of believing in Jesus and giving Him first place. Jesus' disciples become His adopted, spiritual family. Note that the word "whoever," referring to those who do the will of God by believing on His Son, left the possibility of salvation open to anyone (cf. 11:28-30).
These verses have strong Christological implications. They also reveal more about the spiritual family that was forming around Jesus. In spite of rising opposition, God's purposes through Messiah were advancing (cf. vv. 18, 20).
"The die is cast. The religious leaders have openly declared their opposition to their Messiah. The people of Israel are amazed at the power of Jesus and His speech, but they fail to recognize Him as their King. Not seeing the Messiahship of Jesus in His words and works, they have separated the fruit from the tree. Because of this opposition and spiritual apathy, the King adapts His teaching method and the doctrine concerning the coming of the kingdom to the situation."
Jesus had occasionally used parables to illustrate His teaching (e.g., 5:15; 7:3-5, 13-14, 15-20, 21-27, 35; 9:15-17; 11:16-17; 12:25, 29, 43-45). Rising opposition led Him to use them more. Now He began to use parables to reveal new truth about the kingdom. Chapter 13 contains Jesus' third major discourse in Matthew, His Parables about the Kingdom. Matthew presented the first two discourses as uninterrupted monologues by Jesus. He interrupted this third discourse frequently with narrative introductions.
John and Jesus had previously announced that the kingdom was at hand. Jesus stopped saying that when Israel's rejection of Him was firm (i.e., after chapter 12). Instead, He began to reveal new truth about the kingdom, because of Israel's rejection of Him and His rejection of the nation. This new truth, revelation not previously given, was a mystery. The term "mystery," as it occurs in the New Testament, refers to newly revealed truth. It has nothing to do with spookiness. God had previously not revealed it, but now He did.
Kingsbury perceived the theme of this speech as "instruction in the secrets of the Kingdom" and outlined it as follows: (I) On the Secrets of the Kingdom as Being Revealed to the Disciples But Not to Israel (13:3-35); and (II) On the Secrets of the Kingdom as Urging Disciples to Obey Without Reserve the Will of God (13:36-52).
As elsewhere in Matthew, references to the kingdom indicate the future messianic (millennial) kingdom. However, Jesus taught some things here about the unseen growth and development of the kingdom, in the inter-advent age, that precede the establishment of that kingdom. The scope of this discourse, as is true of the former two major discourses in Matthew, is the whole inter-advent age.
Matthew presented this discourse in a chiastic (crossing) structure. This structure is common in the Old Testament and in other Jewish writings. It enhances the unity of the discourse and focuses attention on the central element as what is most important. A diagram of this structure follows.
A The introduction vv. 1-2
B The first parable to the crowds vv. 3-9
C An explanatory interlude: purpose and explanation vv. 10-23
D Three more parables to the crowd vv. 24-33
E An explanatory interlude: fulfillment and explanation vv. 34-43
D' Three parables to the disciples vv. 44-48
C' An explanatory interlude: explanation and response vv. 49-51
B' The last parable to the disciples v. 52
A' The conclusion v. 53
This structural analysis reveals that the discourse consists of two sections of four parables each, the first four to the multitudes and the last four to the disciples. In each section, one parable stands out from the others. In the first group it is the first parable, and in the second group it is the last one. The central section between the two groups of parables explains the function of the parables and explains one of them.
"Modern readers are so used to thinking of parables as helpful illustrative stories that they find it hard to grasp the message of this chapter that parables do not explain. To some they may convey enlightenment, but for others they may only deepen confusion. The difference lies in the hearer's ability to rise to the challenge. Far from giving explanations, parables themselves need to be explained, and three are given detailed explanations in this chapter (vv. 18-23, 37-43, 49-50). But that explanation is not given to everyone, but only to the disciples (vv. 10 and 36), and Matthew not only makes the point explicit in v. 34 (only parables for the crowds, not explanations), but also confirms it by a formula quotation in v. 35: parables are 'hidden things.' In this way the medium (parables) is itself integral to the message it conveys (the secrets of the kingdom of heaven)."
"Perhaps no other mode of teaching was so common among the Jews as that by Parables. Only in their case, they were almost entirely illustrations of what had been said or taught; while, in the case of Christ, they served as the foundation for His teaching."
Matthew linked this parabolic teaching with the controversy in chapter 12 by using the phrase "on that day" (NASB) or "that same day" (NIV, Gr. en te hemera ekeine). These parables were a response to Israel's rejection of her King.
Jesus sat down by the Sea of Galilee to teach the people in typical rabbinic fashion (cf. 5:1-2). In response to the large "multitudes" that assembled to listen to Him, Jesus "sat" in a "boat" where more people could hear Him more easily. He proceeded to address this crowd, most of whom had rejected Him (cf. 11:16-24).
Jesus proceeded to tell four parables to the crowd assembled before Him (vv. 3b-9, 24-30, 31-32, 33). He did not interpret the meaning of these parables to the crowd. They would have to figure them out on their own, and disbelief in Jesus as the Messiah clouded their understanding.
Matthew prefaced Jesus' first parable by introducing what follows as parabolic teaching. The Greek word parabole is a noun, and paraballo is the verb, meaning "to throw beside." The noun means, "a placing of one thing by the side of another, juxtaposition, as of ships in battle." Metaphorically it means "a comparing, comparison of one thing with another, likeness, similitude." The Septuagint translates the Hebrew word masal with parabole 28 of its 33 occurrences in the Old Testament. The word masal refers to proverbs, maxims, similes, allegories, fables, comparisons, riddles, taunts, and stories embodying some truth. Thus it has a wide range of meanings. The New Testament uses of parabole likewise reflect a wide range of meanings, though essentially a parable involves a comparison. Most parables are extended similes or metaphors.
Jesus deliberately "spoke . . . in parables" to conceal truth from the unbelieving crowds (vv. 11-15; cf. 7:6). Why did He speak to them in parables if He did not want them to understand what He said? He did so because a parable might be the instrument God would use to enlighten some who had not yet firmly rejected Him, but were still open-minded (cf. 11:25-26). By concealing the truth from His unbelieving critics, Jesus was showing them grace.
Jesus also taught in parables because the Old Testament predicted that Messiah would speak in veiled language (v. 35; cf. Ps. 78:2).
As will become clear, Jesus was instructing His disciples about what would happen since Israel had rejected Him. God would postpone the messianic kingdom until a later time. If Jesus had told the multitudes that the kingdom would not begin immediately, the people would have turned against Him in even greater numbers. Most of the Jews could not bring themselves to believe that Jesus was the Messiah. It would be even more difficult for them to accept a postponement of the kingdom. Significantly, Jesus' teaching about the postponement of the kingdom followed Israel's rejection of Him as her King.
"The seven parables of ch. 13, called by our Lord 'mysteries of the kingdom of heaven' (v. 11), taken together describe the result of the presence of the Gospel in the world during the present age, that is, the time of seed-sowing which began with our Lord's personal ministry and will end with the 'harvest' (vv. 40-43). The result is the mingled tares and wheat, good fish and bad, in the sphere of Christian profession. It is Christendom."
Jesus spoke four parables to the multitudes, and provided some instruction to His disciples about how to interpret them.
"Modern interpretation of the parable has increasingly recognized this implication of the literary form of this particular parable, over against the dogmatic assertion of earlier NT scholarship, following Adolf Jülicher, that a parable has only a single point and that all the rest is mere narrative scenery, which must not be 'allegorized' to determine what each detail means. In this cast the way the story is constructed demands that the detail be noticed, and to interpret those details individually is not arbitrary 'allegorization' but a responsible recognition of the way Jesus constructed the story."
13:3b-7 The focus in the first parable is on the soils, rather than on "the sower." Some seeds fell beside the path that was hard from traffic (v. 4). They lay on the surface where birds saw them and devoured them before they could germinate. Other seeds fell where the topsoil was thin (vv. 5-6). Their roots could not penetrate the limestone underneath to obtain necessary moisture from the subsoil. When the hot weather set in, the seeds germinated quickly but did not have the necessary resources to sustain continued growth. Consequently they died. A third group of seeds fell among "the thorns" that grew along the edges of the field (v. 7). These thorn bushes robbed the young plants of light and nourishment, so they died too.
13:8-9 Some seed also fell on good ground and produced "a crop." Even "a hundredfold" return was not outstanding. The same sower and seed produced no crop, some crop, or much crop—depending on the soil.
This pericope falls into two parts: Jesus' explanation of why He taught with parables (vv. 10-17), and His explanation of the first parable (vv. 18-23).
13:10 The disciples wanted to know "why" Jesus was teaching "in parables." This was not the clearest form of communication. Evidently the disciples asked this question when Jesus had finished giving the parables to the crowd (cf. Mark 4:10). The plural "parables" suggests this. Matthew apparently rearranged the material Jesus presented, to help his readers understand the reasons for Jesus' use of parables at this point, since their enigmatic character raises questions in our minds.
13:11-12 Jesus explained that He was teaching in parables, because He wanted to give new revelation ("mysteries") concerning "the kingdom" to His disciples, but not to the multitudes (cf. 7:6). Therefore He presented this truth in a veiled way. The word "mysteries" (Gr. mysterion, secrets) comes from the Old Testament and the Hebrew word raz (Dan. 2:18, 19, 27, 28, 29, 30, 47 [twice]; 4:9). It refers to what God knows will happen in the future. "Mysteries" are "secrets," namely, divine plans for the future that He reveals to His elect. Paul defined a mystery in Colossians 1:26 where he wrote, "the mystery which has been hidden from the past ages and generations, but has now been manifested to His saints."
"A 'mystery' in Scripture is a previously hidden truth now divinely revealed. This chapter shows clearly for the first time, that there will be an interval between Christ's first and second advents (vv. 17, 35; cp. 1 Pet. 1:10-12)."
Jesus was revealing some of God's plans concerning the future of the messianic kingdom, but He was not allowing the unbelieving multitudes to understand these plans.
Some have interpreted these parables as revealing "the coming of the Kingdom into history in advance of its apocalyptic manifestation." This is the view of covenant premillenarians and progressive dispensationalists. Others believe Jesus revealed information about the kingdom in view of its postponement. This is the interpretation of normative dispensationalists.
". . . the very outskirts of the subject already force the conclusion that those mysteries refer not to the nature of the kingdom, but to the manner of its establishment, the means employed, the preparation for it, the time for its manifestation, and such related subjects."
The Bible student must determine which of these two views is correct, on the basis of the meaning of the parables, and from all that Matthew has recorded about the kingdom.
Some dispensational writers believe the parables in Matthew 13 deal with the period between the first and second advents of Messiah, exclusively. Some of these believe that there is no connection between these parables and Old Testament teaching. Other dispensationalists believe these parables describe the inter-advent period culminating in the messianic kingdom. This is the interpretation I prefer, and it is quite similar to the preceding view. It seems to me that since Jesus consistently used the same terms for the kingdom in chapter 13 that He did elsewhere in Matthew, He was referring to the same entity. Nothing in the chapter makes this interpretation unnatural. Another option is that these parables describe only the messianic (millennial) kingdom.
Verse 12 repeats a proverbial truth (cf. 25:29). It encourages gratitude for spiritual blessings and warns against taking these for granted. The believing disciples had access into the kingdom by faith in Jesus Christ. God would give them greater understanding that would result in abundance of blessing. However, the unbeliever would not only fail to receive further revelation, but God would remove the privilege of becoming a subject in the kingdom from him or her.
13:13 Jesus restated His reason for using parables, in terms of human perception, rather than divine intention (cf. vv. 11-12). The unbelievers were not able to understand what He had to reveal, since they had refused to accept more basic revelation, namely, about Jesus and the imminence of the kingdom. The parables do not just convey information. They challenge for a response. The unbelievers had not responded to the challenge Jesus had already given them. Until they did, they were in no condition to receive more truth.
13:14-15 Jesus quoted Isaiah 6:9-10, where God told His prophet that widespread unbelief, and consequent divine heart-hardening, would be what he would experience in his ministry. The context of the Isaiah passage explained that Israel's hardness would continue until the land lay in ruins. The Exile was not the complete fulfillment of this prophecy. The hardhearted condition was still present in Jesus' day and, we might add, even today. Most Jews will remain generally unresponsive until their land is desolate in the Tribulation, but they will turn to the Lord when He returns to earth at His Second Coming (Zech. 12:10-14; Rom. 11:25-26). The word "lest" (NASB) or "otherwise" (NIV), in the middle of verse 15, probably indicates God's judicial hardening of the Jews' hearts (cf. 2 Thess. 2:11).
13:16-17 The believing disciples were "blessed" for this reason. They saw not only what their unbelieving contemporaries could not see, but what many prophets and righteous people of bygone years longed to see—but could not. Jesus referred to Old Testament prophets and believers who wanted more revelation about the kingdom than they had. Jesus' claim, to being able to reveal more than the Old Testament prophets knew, was a claim to being more than a prophet. Only God could do what He claimed to be doing.
As the unbelievers in Jesus' day were the spiritual descendants of the unbelievers in Isaiah's day, so the disciples were the sons of the prophets. Likewise, Jesus was the Son of God.
Jesus interpreted His first parable to help His disciples understand both it and the others that followed (cf. Mark 4:13).
13:18 Since former prophets and righteous people wanted to know this revelation, and since the unbelieving could not understand it, the disciples needed to listen to it carefully.
13:19 Some people heard Jesus' preaching about the kingdom, but, like hard soil, the truth did not penetrate them. Satan ("the evil one") snatched the message away before they really understood it. The four soil types represent four kinds of reception people gave to the preaching about the kingdom.
13:20-21 The second type of soil stands for those whose initial response to the message Jesus preached was enthusiastic reception ("joy"). This reception gave hope for much fruit to follow. However, external pressures inhibit growth, and because they do not have an adequate rooting in the truth, they soon fade and wither (cf. 5:29). These people are disciples who begin well, but fail to continue to follow the Lord faithfully. Whether they are saved or lost is beside the point. However, some expositors have restricted the meaning to either saved or lost disciples.
"It is important to understand the explanation of the parable of the soils in its context and with the purpose of the original parable particularly in mind. The key issue is responsiveness or non-responsiveness to the message of the kingdom."
13:22 This disciple (soil "among thorns") allows the other concerns of life to crowd out his commitment to Jesus. He permits the competing concerns of life to take precedence over his spiritual development (cf. 19:16-22). The present life, rather than the life to come, and present treasure, rather than future treasure, capture his affections. They are deceitful because they can drain spiritual vitality before the person realizes what is happening to him or her.
13:23 The "good soil" stands for the person who understands the message about the kingdom, when he or she hears it, and responds appropriately to it. This would involve believing in Jesus. Such a person eventually becomes spiritually productive, though the degree of productivity varies (cf. 20:1-15). However, Jesus commended all who received the message of the kingdom, and believed it, regardless of their measure of productivity. The "fruit" in view probably represents increasing understanding of, and proper response to, divine revelation, in view of the context.
If the disciples understood this parable, they could understand the others that followed.
"Between these two parables [the parable of the soils, vv. 2-23, and the parable of the homeowner, v. 52] are six parables that reveal new truths about God's kingdom. Jesus called them 'the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven' (v. 11). These new truths revealed that a new age would intervene before the millennial kingdom would come; this new age is the present church-age dispensation. Because Israel refused to accept Jesus as their Messiah, a drastic change was made in God's prophetic program. Whereas the kingdom had been proclaimed as near, now a formerly unpredicted period of time would intervene before the kingdom would come. These parables contain truths not seen in the Old Testament."
"The parable of the sower shows that though the kingdom will now make its way amid hard hearts, competing pressures, and even failure, it will produce an abundant crop. But one might ask whether Messiah's people should immediately separate the crop from the weeds; and this next parable answers the question negatively: there will be a delay in separation until the harvest."
The second and seventh parables both deal with judgment.
13:24 Jesus told the crowds another parable. He literally said, "The kingdom of heaven has become like . . ." Matthew used the aorist passive tense, homoiothe. This is very significant because it indicates a change in the kingdom program. The change was a result of Israel's rejection of Jesus. In all these parables, Jesus did not mean that any single person or object in the parable symbolized the kingdom. The narrative itself communicated truth about the kingdom.
13:25-26 The farmer's "enemy" maliciously "sowed" weeds ("tares") that looked like the "wheat." This weed was evidently bearded darnel (Lat. lolium temulentum), a plant that looks very much like wheat when the plants are young. The roots would intertwine with those of the wheat, but when the two plants reached maturity it would be clear which was which. The enemy thoroughly distributed the darnel seed among the young wheat. As the plants grew, it "became evident" to the field owner's servants what the enemy had done.
13:27 The function of the slaves in the parable is simply to get information from the owner.
13:28-30 The farmer "landowner" recognized that "an enemy" was responsible for the weeds, but he instructed his servants to allow the weeds "to grow" among the wheat "until the harvest." Then he would separate them. Evidently there were many weeds. "The reapers" would "gather" the weeds first and "burn them." Then they would harvest "the wheat."
The new truth about the present age that this parable revealed is that good and evil people will co-exist in it (e.g., Judas Iscariot among Jesus' disciples; cf. vv. 47-49). In contrast, the Old Testament prophets said that in the coming messianic kingdom, righteousness will prevail and God will judge sin swiftly (cf. Isa. 11:1-5; 16:5; 32:1; 54:14; 60:17-18; Jer. 33:14-15).
Jesus interpreted this parable to His disciples later (vv. 36-43). He previously used the Old Testament figure of harvest to refer to judgment (9:37-38). In this case, the wheat and the weeds must both be people who face judgment in the future.
This third, and the fourth parable, both deal with the growth of the present form of the kingdom.
". . . wherever Jesus tells a pair of closely parallel parables, and he does so several times in the Gospels, without exception these parables make basically the same point, rather than opposite points. So we should almost certainly allow the parable of the mustard seed to govern our interpretation of the parable of the leaven here as well."
The "mustard seed" was so small that the Jews used it proverbially to represent a very small thing (cf. 17:20). When mature, the mustard plant stood 10 to 12 feet tall as "the largest of garden plants" (NIV). Consequently it became a perch for "birds." Several Old Testament passages use a tree with birds flocking to its branches to illustrate a kingdom that people perceive as great (Judg. 9:15; Ps. 104:12; Ezek. 17:22-24; 31:3-14; Dan. 4:7-23). The birds evidently represent those who seek shelter in the kingdom.
The Jews correctly believed that the messianic kingdom would be very large. Why did Jesus choose the mustard plant since it did not become as large as some other plants? Evidently He did so because of the small beginning of the mustard plant. The contrast between an unusually small beginning and a large mature plant is the point of this parable. Jesus' ministry began despicably small in the eyes of many Jews. Nevertheless, from this small beginning would come the worldwide kingdom predicted in the Old Testament.
This parable stresses the extensive ultimate condition and consequences, of the kingdom, that would be out of all proportion to its insignificant beginnings.
This parable stresses the hidden internal change taking place in the kingdom, between its inception in Jesus' ministry, and its final form when the kingdom will cover the earth in the Millennium (cf. 5:13).
The fact that "a woman" put the "leaven" in the meal is probably an insignificant detail of the parable, as is the amount of flour. Three satas of flour (about three-fifths of a bushel) is the amount of flour that a housewife baked into bread for an average family.
"Practical applications of this parable to present readers can include the following. First, believers should depend on what God is doing through His Spirit in the present age. Second, Christians should be suspicious of any man-made, externally influenced institutional structures that say they are the manifestation of God's kingdom. Third, believers must be cautious about setting dates and presuming the arrival of the kingdom since the parable gives no hint as to when the permeation ends. Fourth, Jesus' followers can be confident that regardless of any current perspectives, the kingdom of God has a glorious future."
This section, like the other two interludes in the discourse (vv. 10-23, 49-51), has two parts. The first is an explanation about parables generally (vv. 34-35), and the second is an explanation of one parable in particular (vv. 36-43).
13:34 Matthew stressed the importance of parables in Jesus' teaching. This verse is a chiasm in the Greek text with "parables" in the middle. Jesus constantly used parables in His spoken ministry to the multitudes following His rejection (cf. v. 3a).
"Jesus deliberately adopted the parabolic method of teaching at a particular stage in His ministry for the purpose of withholding further truth about Himself and the kingdom of heaven from the crowds, who had proved themselves to be deaf to His claims and irresponsive to His demands. Hitherto, He had used parables as illustrations, whose meaning was self-evident from the context in which they were spoken (e.g., vi. 24-27). From now onwards, when addressing the unbelieving multitude He speaks only in parables (34), which He interprets to His disciples in private."
13:35 The writer claimed that this portion of Jesus' ministry fulfilled Asaph's statement in Psalm 78:2. Asaph wrote that he would explain to his readers aspects of Israel's history that had been previously unknown. He then proceeded to use Israel's history to teach the Israelites how consistently rebellious they had been toward God, and how just and merciful God had been with them. He taught these lessons by using "parables," by comparing various things. By comparing various incidents in Israel's history, he revealed things previously unclear. Stephen used the same technique in Acts 7.
Jesus did the same thing when He taught the multitudes using parables. He revealed to the people some things that they had not previously understood. Jesus was not teaching entirely new things any more than Asaph was in Psalm 78. He put things together that taught the crowds new lessons. Jesus concealed some truth by using parables, but with them He also revealed some truth to the multitudes. This is the point of Matthew's quotation of Asaph here. Jesus was bringing together pieces of previous revelation about the kingdom, and by combining these, was teaching the people new things about the kingdom. He was throwing new light on the kingdom with His comparisons (parables). Thus, while these parables were mysteries, new revelations, they contained some elements that God has previously revealed.
Matthew separated the explanation of this parable from its telling in the text (vv. 24-30). He evidently did this to separate more clearly, for the reader, the parables Jesus spoke to the multitudes from the parables He told His disciples.
13:36 Jesus now removed Himself from "the crowds" by reentering "the house," evidently in Capernaum, from which He had departed to teach the multitudes (v. 1). There he explained three of the parables (vv. 10-23, 37-43, 49-50) and taught His disciples four more (vv. 44-48, 52). Jesus' disciples were not different from the crowd because they immediately understood the parables. They were different because they persisted in asking Jesus to help them understand the parables, whereas the crowds showed less interest. Why did Jesus continue to teach His believing disciples by parables rather than with straightforward explanations? Evidently so many people were following Jesus that whenever He spoke, except in private to His disciples, a mixed audience heard Him.
13:37-39 Jesus identified Himself as both the sower and the director of the harvest. He took these Old Testament figures for God and applied them to Himself. "The field" is "the world" where the sowing takes place, but the wheat (good seed) and "the tares" represent true and professing-only believers.
"This brief statement presupposes a mission beyond Israel (cf. 10:16-18; 28:18-20) and confirms that the narrower command of 10:5-6 is related exclusively to the mission of the Twelve during the period of Jesus' earthly ministry."
Notice particularly that the field is not the church. The identification of the field as the church was common in the writings of some early church fathers and in those of some Reformers, and it is quite popular with many modern critical, evangelical, and even dispensational scholars. I think it is incorrect, since the kingdom predicted in the Old Testament is distinctly different from the church. This parable does not teach that there will be a mixture of good and evil in the "true" church, true believers and professing-only believers. The terms "world," "church," and "kingdom" are all distinct in the New Testament.
The "good seed" represents the "sons of the kingdom," namely, those destined for the kingdom, not those presently in the kingdom. The messianic kingdom has not yet begun. Compare 8:12, where the sons of the kingdom are Jewish unbelievers, namely, Jews who should have been destined for the kingdom but were unbelievers of Jesus. The weeds are "sons of the evil one," i.e., sons of Satan (cf. John 8:44; 1 John 5:19).
The "devil" is the "enemy," the "harvest" is the "end of the age" (9:37; cf. Jer. 51:33; Hos. 6:11; Joel 3:13), and the harvesters ("reapers") are "angels" (24:30-31; 25:31; cf. 18:10; Luke 15:7; Heb. 1:14; 1 Pet. 1:12). Obviously several elements in this parable have significance. However, note that many others do not (e.g., the conversation between the man and his servants, the servants' sleep, the order of the sowing, etc.).
The "end of the age" refers to the end of the present age, that will culminate in Jesus' Second Coming and a judgment of living unbelievers (cf. vv. 40, 49; 24:3).
13:40-42 The unbelievers who are born in Jesus' messianic (millennial) kingdom, which will begin when He returns to earth at His Second Coming, will continue to live in that earthly kingdom. I put the word "millennial" in parentheses because God did not reveal the 1,000-year length of the kingdom until Revelation 20. However, at the end of the kingdom, at the end of the 1,000-year reign, Jesus will separate the unbelievers from the believers (cf. Zeph. 1:3). The unbelievers will then perish eternally (Rev. 20:15; cf. Matt. 3:11; 5:22; 8:12; 13:50; Jer. 29:22).
13:43 In contrast to the unbelievers, the believers ("the righteous") will continue to glorify God ("shine forth as the sun") forever (5:13-16; cf. Dan 12:3). "The kingdom of their Father" is probably a synonym for the kingdom of the Son (v. 41), in the sense that the kingdom belongs to both the Father and the Son. However, when the messianic (millennial) kingdom ends, the rule of the Son and the Father will continue forever in the new heaven and the new earth (Rev. 21—22). The Messiah's reign on this earth will be the first phase of His reign, that will continue on the new earth forever.
This parable describes an order of events that is the same as what Jesus presented elsewhere as occurring at His Second Coming (cf. 24:37-41; Luke 17:26-37). This order of events is the opposite of what He said would happen at the Rapture. At the Rapture, Christ will remove all believers from the earth and unbelievers will remain on the earth (John 14:2-3; cf. 1 Thess. 4:17). At the Second Coming, unbelievers will be removed from the earth in judgment, while believers will remain on the earth to enter the millennial kingdom. Thus, the Rapture does not take place at the same time as the Second Coming, which posttribulationists believe.
The first and second parables in this group are quite similar, as was true of the third and fourth parables in the preceding group. This is a further reflection of the chiastic structure of this section (vv. 1-53). These fifth and sixth parables, among the eight, both deal with the value of participating in the kingdom.
"Palestine is probably the most fought over country in the world; and, when the tide of war threatened to flow over them and engulf them, it was common practice for people to hide their valuables in the ground, before they took to flight, in the hope that the day would come when they could return and regain them."
"The kingdom" (of heaven on earth) lay concealed in history for hundreds of years, perhaps from the Exile to the time of Jesus. Toussaint believed Jesus meant from the time of Rehoboam to Jesus. When the Jews in Jesus' day stumbled on it, the believers among them recognized its worth and were eager to make any sacrifice necessary for it. The point of the parable to Jesus' disciples was that they should be willing to pay any price to have a significant part in the kingdom.
Some interpreters believe the person who "hid" and then paid a great price for the "treasure" was Jesus, the price being His own life. This seems unlikely to me, since in all these parables the focus seems to be on the disciples more than on Jesus. They should pay the price.
The same basic point recurs in this parable. The difference between this parable, and the last, is that here the person who finds the treasure is looking for it, whereas in the previous parable the discovery was accidental. In Jesus' day, there were Jews who were looking for the kingdom and Messiah (11:3), and those who were not (e.g., the religious leaders who did not accompany the wise men to Bethlehem). For both types of people, the ultimate price of complete discipleship was not too much to pay for participation in the kingdom. Jesus was not teaching that entrance into the kingdom depended on self-sacrifice; entrance depended on faith in Him. The amount and kind of one's inheritance in the kingdom, however, depended on commitment to Messiah (cf. 5:5; 8:18-22; 25:34).
Some people view "the pearl of great value," as well as the hidden treasure, as references to Jesus. Others believe they refer to the church. I think they refer primarily to the kingdom. Several dispensational interpreters believe the treasure in the field (or land) represents Israel—and that the pearl, taken from the sea, represents the Gentiles.
This parable has a meaning similar to the parable of the weeds (vv. 24-30), which is its opposite in the chiastic structure of the discourse. However, the focus here is on the judgment at the end of the kingdom, rather than the mixed citizens of the kingdom. In both parables there are "good" and "bad" elements, believers and unbelievers. Jesus will separate these individuals at the end of His messianic (millennial) reign. They will all fall into one of two categories: "the good" (believers) or "the bad" (unbelievers).
The Greek word for "dragnet," sagene, occurs only here in the New Testament. It describes a large net that fishermen drew to shore between two boats. Sometimes they tied one end to the shore and the other end to a boat. Then they would sweep an area of the lake with it, possibly a half mile long, drawing as many fish as possible to the shore with it. Then they would separate the fish that they could sell from those that they could not.
As with the previous interlude (13:10-23), in this interlude there is an explanation of one parable (vv. 49-50), and then a word about understanding all the parables (v. 51; cf. vv. 10-23, 34-43).
Jesus interpreted the meaning of the previous parable without waiting for His disciples to ask Him to do so. The picture seems to be of judgment at the end of the messianic (millennial) kingdom (cf. vv. 41-42). Many other premillennial interpreters believed the judgment in view is the one before the establishment of the kingdom. Later, Matthew recorded that Jesus told two more parables about this judgment at the beginning of the Millennium. The parable of the ten virgins (25:1-13) stressed the need for readiness for this judgment. The parable of the sheep and the goats (25:31-46) identified the basis for the judgment.
In the parable of the dragnet, the point was the sorting out of righteous and wicked individuals that will happen then. "The angels" will assist Jesus in this process. "The wicked" will go to eternal destruction (cf. v. 42), but "the righteous" will continue on in Messiah's kingdom, which will then move from the present earth to the new earth.
Jesus' question here marks the conclusion to His explanation of the parables that the disciples' question in verse 36 requested. "All these things" probably refers to everything that Jesus had said to the disciples. The disciples claimed to understand what Jesus had said, and presumably they did understand somewhat, at least superficially (cf. 15:16).
"Matthew contains a total of seven parables, the first and longest of which has to do with Jesus' parabolic method. The rest of the parables have to do with the kingdom of heaven. Every one of the six stresses the hiddenness of the kingdom. It is like treasure hidden in a field, like yeast hidden in dough, like good seed hidden in soil. But we have become bottom-line conscious in the institutional Church and in parachurch organizations. We cannot raise money to support our ministries unless we can quote statistics concerning how successful we are. We have to be able to measure results. We want to evaluate the harvest day after day after day so that we can use the information in our fund-raising endeavors. And we forget that the real impact of the Church of Jesus Christ in the world is immeasurable. We will only know what it is at the harvest, which is the end of the age."
Commentators often omit this verse from discussions of the parables in this discourse. Some do not consider it one of the parables of the kingdom. However, it contains a parable, as should be clear from the content of the verse itself, and from the literary structure of the discourse.
Jesus drew a comparison between a "scribe" instructed about the kingdom and the owner of a house ("head of a household"). In view of what follows, the "scribe" portrayed seems to be one who received instruction about the kingdom and believed it. He is a believing "disciple." As with the owner of a house, this type of scribe brings "new and old" things "out of his" storeroom or "treasure" (Gr. thesauros). The owner of the house in the parable brings things out of his storeroom to use them beneficially. The storeroom from which the disciple-scribe brings these things is evidently his heart or understanding (i.e., his very being). He brings out new understanding concerning the kingdom that Jesus had taught him, as well as old understanding about the kingdom, that the Old Testament taught him. The new did not displace the old but supplemented it.
Jesus was comparing His believing disciples to this believing scribe. They had just said they understood what Jesus had taught them (v. 51). Therefore they had a responsibility to teach others what they now understood. Every disciple must become a scribe, a teacher of the law, because he or she understands things that require communicating to others (cf. 10:27; 28:19; Heb. 5:12).
"The first two parables relate to planting. The parable of the sower speaks of different responses to the message of the kingdom. The parable of the tares explains the origins of the conflict between the sons of the kingdom and the sons of the enemy and announces that a final separation of the two groups will take place when Jesus, the Son of Man, will return at the end of the age. The second pair of parables utilizes the analogy of growth. The mustard seed reveals the extent of the rapid international growth of the kingdom of heaven, and the leavening process addresses the internal and invisible dynamic of that growth. The next two parables (the treasure and the pearl merchant) address the value of the kingdom. Whether one is looking or not looking, no sacrifice is too great for the kingdom. The final set of parables reveals the disciples' dual responsibilities. The dragnet teaches that evangelism without discrimination should be done in view of Jesus' discriminating judgment at the end of the age. The householder encourages the teaching of both the older and newer truths of the kingdom of heaven by the disciples of the kingdom."
The Lessons of Jesus' Kingdom Parables in Matthew 13
God's Word will be sown and predictable results will follow culminating in the earthly kingdom.
There will be counterfeit believers in the inter-advent kingdom whom God will judge eventually.
The kingdom will grow from a small beginning to become a large entity.
The present form of the kingdom will become increasingly influential.
Any price is worth paying for participation in the kingdom.
Those seeking the kingdom will find it worth any sacrifice.
The kingdom will include universal harvesting followed by judgment.
The kingdom will involve new revelation as well as old.
"As we survey the parables, then, we find that in view of Israel's rejection of the person of Christ, He foresaw the postponement of the millennial form of the kingdom. He announced the introduction of a new form of the kingdom, one that will span the period from Israel's rejection of Christ until Israel's future reception of Christ at the Second Advent."
Matthew leaves the reader with the impression, from this concluding transition, as well as from the structure of the discourse—that Jesus related all the preceding parables at one time. This was apparently the case, though He may have repeated some of them at various other times as well. Jesus now left Capernaum and traveled to Nazareth (v. 54).
The clause "and it came about that when Jesus had finished" signals the end of the discourse and the end of another major section of this Gospel. Matthew carefully traced the course of opposition to the King in this section. Israel's rejection of Jesus was so clear that the King began to tailor His teaching more specifically to unbelievers and to believers.
"Thematically the three chapters (11—13) are held together by the rising tide of disappointment in and opposition to the kingdom of God that was resulting from Jesus' ministry. He was not turning out to be the kind of Messiah the people had expected. Even John the Baptist had doubts (vv. 2-19), and the Galilean cities that were sites of most of Jesus' miracles hardened themselves in unbelief (vv. 20-24). The nature of Jesus' person and ministry were 'hidden' (an important word) from the wise, despite the most open and compassionate of invitations (vv. 28-30). Conflicts with Jewish leaders began to intensify (12:1-45), while people still misunderstood the most basic elements of Jesus' teaching and authority (12:46-50)."
However, Jesus' enemies had not checkmated Him. The kingdom would still come. Matthew 13 provides assurance of that fact. Jesus added new revelation to old, about the kingdom—in this chapter—to appeal further to the crowds, and to prepare His disciples for what lay ahead. He did not teach about the church in this chapter, though He did describe conditions that would exist in the Church Age, which is part of the inter-advent era. The new revelation that there would be a "church" did not come until chapter 16. He did give further revelation here concerning the coming messianic kingdom (ch. 13).
Matthew recorded increasing polarization in this section. Jesus expanded His ministry, but as He did so opposition became even more intense. The Jewish leaders became increasingly hostile. Consequently Jesus spent more time preparing His disciples. Jesus revealed Himself more clearly to His disciples, but they only understood some of what He told them. They strongly rejected other things He said. The inevitability of a final confrontation between Jesus and His critics became increasingly clear. The general movement in this section is Jesus withdrawing from Israel's leaders (13:54—16:12) and preparing His disciples for His passion (16:13—19:2).
This section records the course that Jesus' ministry took because of Israel's rejection of Him. Opposition from several quarters led Him to withdraw to safer places, where He continued to minister to Jews and Gentiles, and to prepare His disciples for what lay ahead.
The theme of opposition continues from the Parables about the Kingdom. Jesus' reaction to opposition by Israel's leaders was to withdraw (cf. 10:23). Matthew recorded Him doing this twice in this section. The first instance of opposition came from the people among whom Jesus had grown up in Nazareth (13:54-58). The second came from the Roman leadership of the area in which Jesus was ministering (14:1-12). Both sections show that opposition to Jesus was intense, from the Jewish common people to the Roman nobility.
13:54 Jesus' "hometown" was Nazareth (Luke 4:16). The local "synagogue" attendees wondered where Jesus obtained His authority. The "wisdom" in His teaching and the power ("powers") in His miracles demonstrated remarkable authority, but "where" did He get these? Did they come from God—or elsewhere (12:24)?
This is the last of Matthew's references to Jesus "teaching" in a "synagogue" (from the Greek meaning, "gathering together"). From now on, Jesus appears increasingly outside the structures of traditional Judaism.
13:55-57a The words of Jesus' critics reveal wounded pride. They did not like His having wisdom and power superior to theirs, since they had the same background. Their questions reveal denial of His Messiahship. By referring to Joseph as "the carpenter," and to Jesus as "the carpenter's son," they were implying that Jesus should have followed in His earthly father's footsteps. The definite article before "carpenter" suggests that there may have been only one carpenter in Nazareth. Carpenters did all types of work with wood and stone. Jesus was more of a builder, or construction worker, than a carpenter in the modern usage.
In one sense, these questions were legitimate. However, the people of Nazareth rejected Jesus' claim to being a prophet (v. 57b). They "took offense" at Him in the sense that His claim caused them to stumble. It was their reaction to His claim, however, not the claim itself, that stumbled them.
We must be careful not to confuse Jesus' half-"brothers"—"James," "Simon," and "Judas"—with the disciples who had the same names. There is no evidence that Jesus' half-brothers believed on Him until after His resurrection. His brother James eventually became the leader of the Jerusalem church (Acts 11).
13:57b-58 Usually a person enjoys a better reception at home than anywhere else, except if he has attained an exalted position, in which case the opposite is often true. Jesus could "not do many miracles there," because to do so would have been contrary to His mission. Another reason may be that people who did not believe on Him did not ask Him for help, and so He did not give it (cf. James 4:2). Jesus did miracles in order to create and to strengthen faith in Himself. When settled unbelief reigned, there was no point in doing miracles.
The point of this section is to show that even those who knew Jesus best refused to believe on Him.
14:1-2 "At that time" is again a loose connective not intended to communicate chronological sequence necessarily. Herod Antipas ("Herod the tetrarch") lived primarily at Tiberias on the west shore of Lake Galilee. However, if all the events described in this story happened on one day, as seems likely, they must have taken place at Herod's residence at the Machaerus fortress, in southern Perea east of the Jordan River. Antipas ruled over Galilee and Perea from 4 B.C. to A.D. 39, namely, during almost all of Jesus' earthly life (cf. 2:19-20).
Word about Jesus' ministry reached him easily there (cf. Luke 8:3). Herod had previously beheaded John for criticizing his morality (vv. 3-12). Herod could do this because John had ministered within Herod's jurisdiction of Perea (John 1:28). Public opinion evidently encouraged Herod to conclude that Jesus was "John the Baptist" who had come back to life (cf. Mark 6:14; Luke 9:7). He attributed Jesus' miracles to the supposedly resurrected John.
"The idea of a ghostly or even physical return of someone who has had a special influence, especially if that influence has been prematurely cut off by violent death, is found in various cultures (think of Elijah, Nero, King Arthur, Elvis)."
14:3-5 The Synoptic writers ascribed moral and religious motives to Herod for executing John (cf. Mark 6:16-29; Luke 3:19-20). Josephus wrote that Herod beheaded John for political reasons. Probably both reasons led Herod to act as he did.
Herod Antipas had two brothers named Philip. The one Matthew referred to here was Herod Philip I. The other brother named Philip was Herod Philip II, tetrarch of Iturea, Trachonitis, Gaulanitis, Batanea, and Panias (Paneas). Philip I was Herod Antipas' half-brother. Therefore, Antipas' marriage to Philip's wife "Herodias" was incestuous (cf. Lev. 18:16; 20:21). Evidently John had repeatedly rebuked Antipas since the verb in verse 4 can read, "he used to say [repeatedly]." Herodias was also Antipas' niece, but this would have been no problem for John since the law did not forbid uncles marrying their nieces. Combining the Synoptic accounts, Antipas appears to have been a weak man controlled by a wicked and ruthless wife, Herodias. Interestingly John, the latter-day Elijah, faced the modern counterparts of King Ahab and Queen Jezebel in Antipas and Herodias. Unfortunately Herodias succeeded where Jezebel had failed.
14:6-8 The day of celebration may have been "Herod's birthday" or the anniversary of his accession to the throne (Gr. genesia). Herodias' daughter, by her previous marriage to Philip I, was Salome, who was then between 12 and 14 years old. The popular idea that her dance was sensuous does not come from the text but from the reputation of the Herodians for low morals and from the low status of dancing girls. Antipas was only a petty monarch, but he acted like one of the powerful Persian kings (cf. Esth. 5:3, 6; 7:2).
14:9-11 Antipas was wrong to give his "oath," which he evidently repeated more than once (vv. 7, 9), and he was wrong to keep it. He feared losing face with "his dinner guests." The Romans practiced decapitation. That form of execution was not Jewish. Likewise, the Romans executed certain prisoners without a trial, whereas Jewish law required one. The gore of this scene testifies to the hardhearted condition of the Roman royal family and their courtiers. As the last of the Old Testament prophets, John suffered a martyr's death, as did many of his predecessors.
14:12 Matthew's notation that Jesus heard about John's death unites John and Jesus against this political enemy. It also suggests that John's disciples still had high regard for Jesus (cf. 11:2-6). As Herod had heard the news about Jesus (v. 1), now Jesus heard the news about John.
Herod's testimony to the supernatural character of Jesus' miracles is important in Matthew's unfolding theme of people's perceptions of the King. Likewise the forerunner's unjust execution at the hands of hardhearted Roman officials foreshadows the fate of the King. Matthew evidently recorded these verses to show how Roman political leaders viewed the King and His forerunner. Opposition against Him was intense, mainly for religious and moral reasons.
"Matthew so connected the ministries of these two men that what happened to one was viewed as having a direct effect on the other. Herod, by rejecting the King's forerunner, was rejecting the King who followed him."
Having experienced strong rejection from the common people and from the nation's political leaders, Jesus withdrew to train His disciples further. In view of the coming conflict, they needed stronger faith in Him. Jesus cultivated their faith with two miracles.
Matthew's record of this miracle, which all four Gospels contain, stresses Jesus' power to create, His compassion, and the disciples' responsibility to minister to multitudes as Jesus' representatives. It also previews the kingdom banquet (