The Apostle Matthew, shortly before the destruction of Herod’s temple in AD 70, retells the story of the Jewish Messiah to a largely Jewish-Christian audience, announcing that Jesus of Nazareth is the “Christ,” the promised anointed king from the royal line of David (“the son of David,” 1:1). This God-sent ruler—“‘Immanuel’ (which means, God with us)” (1:23)—came to earth to establish the kingdom of heaven, the everlasting reign promised to David and his offspring (2Sam 7). This Davidic kingdom, however, has Abrahamic roots that spread throughout the world and offer God’s abundant blessing to Jew and Gentile alike.
Jesus, who is the “Christ” and “the son of David,” is also “the son of Abraham” (1:1), and as such he brings God’s promised blessing of salvation to all “nations” (Gen 17:4; Matt 24:14; 28:19). After Jesus’s birth, “wise men from the east” (2:1) travel to Bethlehem to bow before the king, and after Jesus’s death, a Roman soldier announces, “Truly this was the Son of God!” (27:54). At his death, the temple curtain tears in two, and before that climactic event, both Jewish and Gentile sinners (e.g., Jewish tax collectors and a Canaanite woman) are given access to God through faith in Jesus. To the Apostle Matthew, as it was for the Apostle Paul, “the gospel of God” is “the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek [non-Jew],” Rom 1:1, 16). Moreover, he views saving faith as active faith (“the obedience of faith . . . among all the nations,” Rom 1:5).
If the First Gospel was a symphony, the three defining notes of its melodic line would be all authority, all nations, and observe all. “Jesus has all authority so that all nations might obey all he has commanded.”1
|All authority||Jesus is king over all authorities both in heaven and on earth.|
|All nations||Thus, Jews and Gentiles are to bow before him, and|
|Observe all||demonstrate allegiance both to Jesus’s ethical commands and his command to evangelize all people everywhere.|
Regarding the theme of allegiance, Christian disciples are called to put Jesus first (“Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me”), follow his teachings on adultery and idolatry, alms and anxiety, anger and evangelism, fasting and forgiveness, luxury and love, money and marriage, purity and prayer, and suffer the consequences of following Jesus (“Whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me”) with an eye on the eternal reward (“Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it,” 10:37–39).
The Gospel of Matthew was written to introduce people from all nations to King Jesus, who has been granted all authority in heaven and on earth and who calls those called by God to pick up their crosses and follow him.
“And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.’”
— Matthew 28:18–20 ESV
I. The “Genesis” of Jesus (1:1–1:25)
II. This Was to Fulfill What the Lord Had Spoken (2:1–2:23)
III. Baptisms in the Wilderness (3:1–17)
IV. Tempted in the Wilderness (4:1–11)
V. Light in Galilee (4:12–25)
VI. The Sermon on the Mount (5:1–7:29)
a. The Beatitudes (5:1–12)
b. Salt and Light (5:13–48)
c. Seen and Rewarded by God (6:1–18)
d. Treasure and Trust (6:19–34)
e. Warnings (7:1–29)
VII. The Son of God Bore Our Diseases (8:1–9:34)
a. The Cleansing of the Leper (8:1–4)
b. The Healing of the Centurion’s Servant (8:5–13)
c. Cooling a Fever (8:14–17)
d. The Cost of Discipleship (8:18–22)
e. Two Exorcisms (8:23–34)
f. The Healing of the Paralytic (9:1–8)
g. The Calling of Matthew (9:9–17)
h. Two Daughters (9:18–26)
i. The Blind See (9:27–31)
j. The Mute Speak (9:32–34)
VIII. The Harvest is Plentiful (9:35–10:42)
IX. Responding to His Mighty Works (11:1–30)
X. Lord of the Sabbath (12:1–50)
XI. The Parables of Jesus (13:1–53)
XII. The Rejection of Jesus and the Beheading of John (13:54–14:12)
XIII. Worshipping I AM (14:13–36)
XIV. No Faith, Little Faith, and Great Faith (15:1–16:28)
a. The Canaanite Woman’s “Great Faith” (15:21–28)
b. The Feeding of the 4,000 (15:29–39)
c. “In Vain Do They Worship Me” (16:1–12, with 15:1–20)
d. “You Are the Christ” (16:13–28)
XV. Who Went to the Cross (17:1–23)
XVI. Lessons on Discipleship (17:24–20:34)
a. Paying the Temple Tax (17:24–27)
b. Who is the Greatest? (18:1–6)
c. Cutting Off Sin (18:7–9)
d. The Parable of the Lost Sheep (18:10–14)
e. Church Discipline (18:15–20)
f. The Parable of the Unforgiving Servant (18:21–35)
g. Divorce (19:1–12)
h. The Last Shall Be First (19:13–20:19)
i. Kingdom Greatness (20:20–28)
j. “Lord . . . Son of David!” (20:29–34)
XVII. O Jerusalem! (21:1–46)
a. The Triumphal Entry (21:1–11)
b. Jesus Cleanses the Temple (21:12–16)
c. Jesus Curses a Fruitless Fig Tree (21:17–22)
d. By What Authority? (21:23–27)
e. The Parable of the Two Sons (21:28–32)
f. The Parable of the Tenants (21:33–46)
XVIII. Further Questioning Jesus (22:1–46)
a. The Parable of the Wedding Feast (22:1–14)
b. Render to God (22:15–21)
c. Marriage and the Resurrection (22:22–33)
d. The Great Commandment (22:34–40)
e. “The Lord Said to My Lord” (22:41–46)
XIX. Woes to the Scribes and Pharisees (23:1–39)
XX. The Olivet Discourse (24:1–25:46)
a. The Fall of Jerusalem (24:1–26, 32–35)
b. The Return of Christ (24:27–31, 36–51)
c. The Parable of the Ten Virgins (25:1–13)
d. The Parable of the Talents (25:14–30)
e. The Parable of the Sheep and the Goats (25:31–46)
XXI. “The Son of Man is Betrayed into the Hands of Sinners” (26:1–56)
a. Jesus Anointed at Bethany (26:1–16)
b. The Last Supper (26:17–29)
c. Go to Gethsemane (26:30–56)
XXII. Jesus Arrested and Tried (26:57–27:26)
XXIII. The Passion and Death of the Christ (27:27–54)
a. Mocked as King (27:27–31)
b. The Crucifixion of the Son of God (27:32–44)
c. Life in His Death (27:45–54)
XXIV. “Him that was Crucified” (27:55–28:20)
a. Jesus’s Burial (27:57–61)
b. The Guards at the Tomb (27:62–66)
c. The Resurrection: The Believing Women’s Reaction (28:1–10)
d. The Resurrection: The Unbelieving Men’s Reaction (28:11–15)
e. The Great Commission (28:16–20)
The “Genesis” of Jesus (1:1–1:25)
The four Gospels focus on the same person (Jesus as the divine Son who came to save sinners), tell the same basic story (of Jesus’s teachings and miracles, followed by his passion, death, and resurrection), and share the same overall purpose (to invite people to believe in Christ Jesus). Matthew’s opening two chapters, however, uniquely feature Jesus’s genealogy, the birth announcement to Joseph, the visit of the magi, and the pattern of Jesus’s earliest movements fulfilling Old Testament prophecy. While Mark, Luke, and John also use many quotations, echoes, and allusions to the Hebrew Scriptures and Israel’s story, Matthew frontloads his gospel with such.
Matthew begins with a genealogy. The Greek word for “genealogy” transliterated into English is genesis. With this new genesis in Jesus, Matthew introduces not only the plotline of his Gospel narrative but a theological emphasis, namely, that God in Jesus offers his creation a re-creation in the form of salvation from sin.
Moreover, with the next three titles for Jesus—“the book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham”—Matthew highlights that the promised Jewish Messiah (the “Christ”) is Jesus of Nazareth and he has come to fulfill the promises given to David and Abraham (“the son of David, the son of Abraham,” 1:1). Although chronologically, Abraham came before David, David is likely mentioned first to emphasize the theme of kingship. Jesus is more than a Jew (a son of Abraham, 1:2) from the tribe of Judah (1:2–3; cf. 2:6), he is—through Joseph (“Joseph, son of David,” 1:20)—a royal descendant of King David (1:6). He “has been born king of the Jews” (2:2) and commissioned to fulfill God’s promise of an everlasting reign (“the kingdom of heaven,” 4:17; cf. “And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end,” Luke 1:32–33; 2Sam 7).
The birth narrative (Matt 1:18–25) is perhaps better relabeled “the conception of Christ” because the focus falls not on Mary’s labor and delivery but on the work of the Spirit in conception (“that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit,” 1:20; “she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit,” 1:18) and Joseph’s conception of the identity of the child in Mary’s womb. Through an angelic encounter, Joseph goes from resolving to divorce Mary for what he deemed fornication to marrying her (he “took [Mary as] his wife,” 1:24) and naming the child (Joseph “called his name Jesus,” 1:25), thus granting Mary’s son the status of a descendant of David. All of this, the reader (or listening audience) is told in verse 23, was to fulfill Isaiah 7:14: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel.” This prophecy, given to the “house of David” (Isa 7:13), is ultimately fulfilled in Jesus, who establishes “the throne of David” and continues to this day to “uphold it with justice and with righteousness . . . forevermore” (Isa 9:6–7).
Beyond introducing his readers to Jesus as the “Christ” and “Son of David,” Matthew next speaks of him as “the son of Abraham” (Matt 1:1), linking the arrival of Jesus to the Abrahamic covenant. “The gospel of the kingdom” (4:23; 9:35; 24:14) will be a blessing to all nations (Gen 12:1–3; 17:4; 18:18; 22:18). This blessing, which occurred in part during redemptive history under the old covenant (at least three Gentiles are mentioned in Jesus’s genealogy), now comes to its climax in the coming of Jesus Christ. The first characters to bow before him and acknowledge him as king are Gentile “wise men from the east” (Matt 2:1). Jesus begins his ministry in “Galilee of the Gentiles” (4:15), and a host of other Gentiles experience the light of the blessing of God’s kingdom (“the people dwelling in darkness have seen a great light,” 4:16), including a Canaanite woman and a Roman centurion.
In Matthew 1:1 (“Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham”), the Evangelist highlights Jesus’s connection to both the proper messianic pedigree and two of the Old Testament’s most significant promises. With the structure of the genealogy (“So all the generations from Abraham to David were fourteen generations, and from David to the deportation to Babylon fourteen generations, and from the deportation to Babylon to the Christ fourteen generations,” 1:17) he likely connects the timing of Jesus’s birth symbolically with David (in Hebrew every letter has a numerical value—the three letters of David’s name equal fourteen), and he certainly connects the arrival of Jesus with the end of the exile. The wise men were Gentiles from Arabia, Persia, or Babylon. If Babylon—a place we know had “wise men” (magos, Dan 2:2, 10 LXX)—then the Babylonian exile is undoubtedly over.
This exilic deliverance, however, will not be from a military power like Babylon or Rome, but from the far stronger power of sin. Joseph is to call his son the name “Jesus” because “he will save his people from their sins” (Matt 1:21). “His people” will include even notorious sinners listed in the genealogy (like Rahab, the prostitute) and all those who come to him in faith throughout the gospel narrative (like Matthew, the tax collector). The name “Jesus,” means “Yahweh saves,” and Jesus’s mission is simply but profoundly “to call . . . sinners” (9:13) unto salvation.
This Was to Fulfill What the Lord Had Spoken (2:1–2:23)
2:1–3 Following Matthew’s emphasis on the connection between Jesus’s birth and the Old Testament, Matthew 2 continues the theme of Scriptural continuity by highlighting how Jesus’s infancy fulfills five prophecies. The first two happen in the narrative of the visit of the magi (2:1–12). When “wise men from the east” arrive in Jerusalem, they inquire around town, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews?” (2:1–2). This question is raised because they have been following a star that has led them to the holy city (“For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him,” 2:2). Mention of the star as “his star” is a reference to Balaam’s oracle (“a star shall come out of Jacob, and a scepter shall rise out of Israel,” Num 24:17), the prophecy of an ideal king from the Jews for the world. Herod receives word of the magi’s inquiry, and he is “troubled” (Matt 2:3). He is unsettled because an ideal Jewish king would not be ideal for his unholy rule. Matthew calls the tetrarch Herod “the king” three times. His readers note the irony and understand the newborn child from the line of “David the king” (1:6) is the true king of Israel, the one to soon overthrow all unrighteous reigns.
2:4–6 It is also ironic how Matthew introduces the second fulfillment. After ignorant Herod gathers “all the chief priests and scribes of the people” to answer his question as to “where the Christ was to be born” (2:4), the indifferent religious hierarchy announces: “In Bethlehem of Judah, for so it is written by the prophet: ‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel’” (2:5–6; quoting Mic 5:2, 4). From the town of David will come another “shepherd king” who will lovingly rule over God’s people (2Sam 5:2; Ezek 34).
Inside the grotto of the Church of the Nativity, a 4th century church built over a cave in Bethlehem, which marks the traditional location of the birthplace of Jesus
2:7–18 Herod is certainly not that king, as he next demonstrates by seeking to destroy the Christ child through massacring infants and toddlers in and around Bethlehem. After the magi find the location of Jesus (“they saw the star” and went “into the house”) where “they saw the child” and offered their adoration (“they fell down and worshipped” and “offered him gifts,” 2:11), Herod realizes that he has been fooled. The wise men have not reported back to Herod as to the location of the child. So, he ordered that “all the male children in Bethlehem in all that region who were two years old or under” be killed (2:16). That “Murder of the Innocents,” as it is often called, happened, Matthew claims, to “fulfill what was spoken by the prophet Jeremiah: ‘A voice was heard in Ramah, weeping and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be comforted, because they are no more.’” In Jeremiah 31:15, Rachel, who symbolizes the mother of all Israel, is depicted as weeping from her grave in Ramah when the children of Israel marched north to Babylon into exile. Now once again, she cries out with the mothers of Bethlehem over their great loss. That expression of sorrow in the original context, however, is followed by this admonition: “Keep your voice from weeping, and your eyes from tears” (Jer 31:16). The reason they can dry their eyes is that the exile is soon to be over. God’s people “shall come back from the land of the enemy” (Jer 31:16), and they shall “serve the Lord their God and David their king” (Jer 30:9). The point Matthew is making, with this allusion to the situation in Jeremiah’s time, is that in King Jesus the exile is over, and a new covenant is being inaugurated (Jer 31:33–34; cf. Matt 26:28).
Matthew tells of Jesus’s escape from King Herod’s plan. His life is spared because Joseph obeyed the warning he received in a dream: “‘Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.’ And he rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed to Egypt and remained there until the death of Herod.” Matthew then quotes from Hosea 11:1, stating that Jesus’s exodus to Egypt, and return from it, is a fulfillment of the statement: “Out of Egypt I called my son.” Here Jesus is both the embodiment of Israel (he is the Father’s “beloved son” (Matt 3:17; 17:5) and a personal recapitulation of Israel’s exodus journey. Jesus goes down to Egypt and comes out of Egypt. Here an important pattern emerges. As newly formed Israel suffered outside the Promised Land under hard-hearted Pharaoh, so baby Jesus was an evacuee in Egypt due to the despotic dominion of Herod Antipas.
2:19–23 Matthew 2 concludes with the holy family’s return to the Promised Land, which fulfills the fifth and final prophecy of the chapter. Once again, Joseph listens to the Lord and leads his family to safety and to the divinely designated destination. An angel comes to him in a dream, informs him of Herod’s death, and commands him to “go to the land of Israel” (2:20). On the way, once again, an angelic announcement is made in his sleep, informing him to avoid Judea due to the hostility of Herod’s son Archelaus. They arrive in the region of Galilee and the town of Nazareth. This stationing for Jesus’s childhood, Matthew’s audience is informed, is “so that what was spoken by the prophets might be fulfilled, that he would be called a Nazarene” (2:23). Nazareth was named after the promise of Isaiah 11:1, “There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse [David’s father], and a branch [neser] from his roots shall bear fruit.” Jesus would be born in the city of David and raised in the town named after the promise of his eternal kingdom (neser/eth). Jesus is the branch, a long limb that extends out to the nations (“of him shall the nations inquire,” Isa 11:10). What Isaiah is communicating is precisely Matthew’s point! And it is a point supported by an amalgamation of inspired ideas. “The prophets”—as a group—blend together the ideas of the fulfillment of the Davidic covenant (all authority for all times) and the Abrahamic covenant (for all nations who trust in Israel’s Messiah).
Baptisms in the Wilderness (3:1–17)
In the opening two chapters, Matthew highlights how the birth and earliest years of Jesus’s life connect with many of the key events and promises of the Old Testament: the call of and covenant with Abraham, David’s authority and the Davidic covenant, the exodus, the exile and the return from the exile. In 3:1–17, he continues with this theme of Jesus as the continuity between the testaments. The ministry of John the Baptist—as he prepares “the way of the Lord”—fulfills Isaiah 40:3, and the baptism of Jesus, in Jesus’s own words, “fulfill[s] all righteousness” (Matt 3:15). Moreover, the section ends with the heavenly declaration that Jesus is not only “the son of David” and “the son of Abraham” (1:1), but he is also the beloved son of the Father (“This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,” 3:17).
The two major themes covered in 3:1–17 are Jesus’s identity and Israel’s initial response to the announcement of the coming kingdom. As noted above, the beginning and end of the text focus on Jesus’s identity as divine (“the Lord”//the “beloved Son” of God, 3:3, 17). John the Baptist, who announced the coming kingdom in Jesus by “preaching in the wilderness of Judea” the message “repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand,” is described as “the voice of one crying in the wilderness” and who is preparing “the way of the Lord” (3:1–3; quoting Isa 40:3). The Greek word for “Lord” is kurios, the usual designation for YHWH in the Septuagint. John’s testimony is further confirmed when he compares himself and his baptism to the person and work of Jesus. John, who Jesus will later label “among those born of women there has arisen no one greater” (Matt 11:11), speaks of himself as not being “worthy to carry” Jesus’s sandals. Later, when Jesus desires to be baptized, he responds, “I need to be baptized by you” (3:14).
John views Jesus as absolutely holy, and thus John is wholly unworthy compared with the incomparable righteousness of Christ. John also views Jesus as mighty. John’s baptism is a water baptism (“I baptize you with water for repentance”) while Jesus’s baptism entails a spiritual conversion (“He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit,” see John 3:5–8; Acts 2:2–3, 38). For some people, this baptism “with fire” means regeneration; for others, it represents judgment. The Jesus who is mighty to save (“he who is coming after me,” John says, “is mightier than I,” Matt 3:11), is also the almighty judge: “His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire” (3:12).
The Father and Spirit further confirm John’s testimony of Jesus’s person and mission after Jesus’s baptism. After “Jesus was baptized” (3:16), Matthew wants his audience to “behold” (2x) the heavenly testimony: “Behold, the heavens were open to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.’” The Father’s voice is a fusion of Psalm 2:7 and Isaiah 42:1. Psalm 2 centers on God’s Son, who is the Davidic King of God’s eternal kingdom. Isaiah 42 begins, “Behold my servant . . . in whom my soul delights; I have put my Spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations” (Isa 42:1). Later in Isaiah, the prophet states that this beloved servant is also a suffering servant, and that through his suffering, transgressions will be atoned for: “Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied; by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities” (Isa 53:11).
In the wilderness, Jesus’s baptism foreshadows the cross. Jesus convinces John to baptize him because he claims that “it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness” (Matt 3:15). Jesus not only fulfills some of the covenants and prophecies of the Old Testament, but he also fulfills all of the righteous requirements written in the Law in that he identifies in his baptism, the first of his substitutionary acts of salvation, with the deepest needs of the sinners he was born to save. This identification is the means by which God saves “his people from their sins” (1:21) through Jesus’s incarnational sacrifice. As I have written elsewhere,
This idea moves us beyond the prominent theme of a second exodus in Matthew 1–4—i.e., just as Israel was brought out of Egypt through the Red Sea and into the desert, so Jesus is brought out of Egypt, baptized in the waters, and led into the desert. Unlike unrighteous Israel, Jesus as “true Israel” does fulfill all righteousness in this three-part act (out of Egypt, through the water, into the desert). However and moreover, through his baptism, he takes his unrighteous but repentant people through the new, final, and ultimate exodus—one out from the slavery of sin! Put plainly, Jesus was baptized not for his sake but ours (cf. Galatians 3:13; 2 Corinthians 5:21). When we “go down into” the waters of baptism, it is a symbol of the cleansing of our sins—as the water pours over our heads, we are made clean in the sight of God. When Jesus went down into the water of the Jordan River, the opposite happened—he began to take on our sin, our dirt, all the scum of all the baptized. Whatever drop of water might have entered into his mouth was his first taste of the cup of God’s wrath, which he would drink in full measure on the cross. Jesus, the Son and the Servant, was baptized to “fulfill all righteousness”—to carry out God’s plan of sin substitution.2
Thus, in Jesus’s baptism, he “fills to the full” the righteous requirements of God in “the OT pattern and prediction about the Messiah.”3 As the Suffering Servant, he pleases the Father by perfectly obeying his will (Isa 53:11) and also identifying with the need for repentance for God’s people and their need for a perfectly righteous Savior (Isa 53:12). In his baptism, Jesus is declared to be the Spirit-coronated Davidic Messiah, beloved Son, and Suffering Servant.
Jesus not only fulfills some of the covenants and prophecies of the Old Testament, but he also fulfills all of the righteous requirements written in the Law in that he identifies in his baptism, the first of his substitutionary acts of salvation, with the deepest needs of the sinners he was born to save.
The theme of Israel’s initial response to the announcement of the coming kingdom comes before Jesus’s baptism, yet it foreshadows the response found throughout the gospel. Cut from the same cloth as Elijah (see Matt 11:14; cf. 2Kgs 1:8; Mal 4:5), John’s wardrobe (“a garment of camel’s hair and a leather belt around his waist”), location (“in the wilderness”), diet (“his food was locusts and wild honey”), and message (“repent,” Matt 3:1–2, 4) identify him as a prophet. The response to his message of the coming kingdom is met with unprecedented success (“Then Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan were going to him, and they were being baptized by him in the Jordan River, confessing their sins,” 3:5–6). Even the religious leaders came to him (“many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism,” 3:7). John’s rebuke of them (“You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit in keeping with repentance,” 3:8), however, introduces the theme of the hypocrisy of the religious establishment. Their presumption blinds them to God’s coming judgment, as well as his gracious invitation to outsiders (“And do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father,’ for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham. Even now the ax is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire,” 3:9–10). Matthew’s readers, in the following chapters, will witness the crowd’s growing disinterest in Jesus, the religious leaders’ hostility toward Jesus, and the genuine openness of Jewish outsiders and Gentile sinners to Jesus.
Tempted in the Wilderness (4:1–11)
If there was any doubt that Jesus is the Father’s well-pleasing “beloved Son,” the temptation narrative—wherein Jesus resists the devil’s allure time after time—proves that he is indeed “the Son of God” (4:3, 5) who will continue to please God by holding to God’s mission by means of adhering to God’s written Word. The announcement of the mighty, holy, righteous, obedient Son in 3:1–17 is followed by a sure demonstration of that divine sonship through his triumph over evil. Unlike Adam in the Garden and Israel throughout its history, Jesus emerges from severe challenges victorious.
Unlike Adam in the Garden and Israel throughout its history, Jesus emerges from severe challenges victorious.
Jesus’s temptation was God-ordained (“led up by the Spirit into the wilderness,” 4:1; “the Spirit drove him out,” Mark 1:12). The Father and Spirit, however, do not tempt the Son; Satan does (“to be tempted by the devil,” Matt 4:1b). That said, the Lord remains sovereign over the testing of his servant, and he uses Satan for his purposes.
Similar to Matthew 1–3, 4:1–11 is tied tightly to the Old Testament. Echoes and allusions include the setting (“in the wilderness,” 4:1; where Israel was tested, see Deut 6–8), the timing (“forty days,” Matt 4:2, an allusion to Israel’s forty-year wilderness wanderings, Deut 8:2), and the type of temptations. The point of these connections is to show that Jesus, as the ultimate embodiment of God’s people (“my son,” Matt 2:15), succeeds where Israel failed.
The temptations are both “tests” and “temptations” in that Jesus is tested to see if he is the faithful Son of God who will hold fast to the Father’s plan of salvation, and he is tempted to give in to cravings of the flesh, entitlement, and pride in power (see 1Jn 2:16) and take the crown without first enduring the cross.
4:3–4 The first temptation centers on enticing Jesus to use his divine status (as God’s Son) and might (the ability to turn stones into bread) to serve himself rather than the mission. The tempter’s temptation must have been extremely alluring to a man who “was hungry” after surviving the desert’s deadly temperatures and creatures without any food for about as long as anyone can survive (“after forty days and forty nights,” 4:2). But to the devil’s words, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves for bread,” Jesus resisted by reminding himself of the priorities of his mission found in the primacy of God’s written revelation: “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God’” (4:4). His answer comes from Deuteronomy 8:3. Whereas Israel in the wilderness failed to remember God’s daily provision, Jesus remembers an even greater provision—the very Word of God. Humans need bread to survive, but our deepest needs come from digesting the commands and promises of God.
4:5–7 The first round goes to Jesus. But the fight is not over. “Then the devil took him to the holy city [Jerusalem] and set him on the pinnacle of the temple [possibly the southeast corner that looks down into the Kidron Valley],” and again focusing on Jesus’s divine sonship (“If you are the Son of God”) he asks him to test his Father’s loving protection of him (“throw yourself down,” 4:5–6). He adds Psalm 91:11–12, twisting Scripture to tempt the Son: “He will command his angels concerning you . . . on their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.” The image is awesome: Jesus jumping from the highest point of the temple and as he is about to crack his head against a stone in the deep valley, a myriad of heavenly hosts swoop down, grasps his body, and whisks him back to safety. To this second temptation, Jesus replies to the tempter’s eisegesis with his simple and proper exegesis from Deuteronomy 6:16: “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test’” (Matt 4:7). Unlike Israel who “put . . . God to the test” at Massah by demanding water from him to see if he was or was not among them, Jesus refuses to take the bait. The Son wins Round Two.
4:8–11 With the third temptation, Satan recoups from his defeat. He flies Jesus perhaps to Mount Hermon in the north (“took him to a very high mountain”) to show him that the power and glory of his earthly rule could be Jesus’s (“showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory”) if Jesus bowed before him (“if you will fall down and worship me,” 4:9). Jesus refuses this bold, brazen, and blasphemous offer. Instead, he chooses the lasting glory of the promised Davidic covenant (see Ps 2:8): the “Son of Man” who will be given “all authority in heaven and on earth” (Dan 7:13–14; Matt 28:18). Jesus is not an idolater, as Israel was in the wilderness, or even as King Solomon was in all his glory. Instead, he is the Suffering Servant, and the mighty, holy, righteous, obedient Son.
The devil is done (for now) and done for (soon and very soon). Jesus takes the lead with his exorcism-like command (“Be gone, Satan!” 4:10a), followed by a third and final quote from the fifth book of the Bible (“You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve,” 4:10b, Deut 6:13). The snake slithers away (“then the devil left” Jesus), and God’s army of angels finally swoop down for rescue (“angels came and were ministering to him,” Matt 4:11).
The church father Jerome says of Jesus’s threefold response to Satan’s tripartite attack: “He breaks the false arrows of the devil drawn from the Scriptures upon the true shields of the Scriptures.”4 Or, in Paul’s language, Jesus holds up “the shield of faith” to extinguish “the flaming darts of the evil one” (Eph 6:16). When tempted to eat of God’s good creation, jump from atop God’s holy place, and hear a twisted application from God’s Holy Word, the Son shields himself with Scripture (“It is written,” 4:4, 7, 10) from each Satanic strike. Jesus, who has fulfilled Scripture after Scripture (Matt 1–3), leans on Scripture to secure him in his Father’s love and set him on course for fulfilling his Father’s plan.
Light in Galilee (4:12–25)
4:12–17 The preparations for Jesus’s earthly ministry are over (1:1–4:11). Next, he moves to Galilee, a place of great importance. The geographical structure of the Gospel is Jesus’s Galilean ministry (4:12–16:21), Jesus’s journey to (16:21–20:34) and ministry in Jerusalem (21:1–28:10), and Jesus’s return to Galilee (28:16–20). The Gospel of Matthew ends in Galilee! “Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee . . . . And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations’” (28:16–19). And the first glimpse we get of the fulfillment of that Great Commission is found in Jesus’s first public ministry to others. After John’s arrest, Jesus withdraws into the region of Galilee (4:12) and stations his ministry headquarters “in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali” (4:13). This was not a shrewd military or political move. It was, once again, a divinely orchestrated positing that accomplished God’s prophesied plan. As Isaiah wrote of the ancient tribes of people of Nazareth and Capernaum, so Jesus did:
The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali,
the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles—
the people dwelling in darkness
have seen a great light,
and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death,
on them a light has dawned.” (4:15–16; quoting Isa 9:1–2)
Jesus may have fled to the Northern regions of Palestine to escape from danger (John was just killed for telling the truth and announcing the kingdom) or because he thought his message would be better received in that region than in the capital city. The ultimate reason he settled in the seemingly inconsequential city of Capernaum, however, was to inaugurate the fulfillment of the Abrahamic covenant—to bring the long-awaited light of God to the once-darkened nations (see Isa 42:6; 49:6; 52:10; 60:3). He was also there to preach what John preached (“From that time5 Jesus began to preach, saying, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand,’” Matt 4:17) and bring the light of the good news of his reign to his first disciples.
Ruins of Capernaum
4:18–22 Jesus gives a sovereign call to two sets of brothers: Simon and Andrew, James and John. Although Matthew has been clear thus far, and he will clarify further still (Matt 8:5–13, 28–34; 15:21–31, 24:14; 28:19), that the Messiah’s mission is for the Jews and the Gentiles (“Galilee of the Gentiles,” 4:15), he first calls four Jewish fishermen to join his mission in fishing for men. The two short calling narratives of these four fishermen follow a similar pattern.
|Jesus sees two brothers fishing||“he saw two brothers, Simon (who is called Peter) and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea” (4:18)
“he saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, in the boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets” (4:21)
|Jesus calls them||“Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men” (4:19)
“he called them” (4:21)
|They respond positively and without hesitation||“Immediately they left their nets and followed him” (4:20)
“Immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him” (4:22)
The only detail that is different in the responses is that James and John “left . . . their father” (4:22), a reply that points out the radical financial and familial commitment that they all made. Because Jesus chose them, they chose him over mother and father (10:37) and the monetary security of their middle-class occupation (6:24). And, in doing so, they model discipleship. They give their absolute allegiance to Jesus. In their act of leaving their livelong trade of fishing (killing life so others might live), they signed up to be apostles who would evangelize (saving lives by proclaiming the kingdom of heaven).
4:23–25 This section concludes by highlighting the twofold pattern of Jesus’s pre-passion itinerant ministry: “And he went throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction among the people” (4:23); and “all the sick” and all “those afflicted with various diseases and pains” and all “those oppressed by demons” and all “those having seizures” and all the “paralytics” brought to him, “he healed” (4:24). All in all, it was a good day. The kingdom of heaven on earth was not just near; it was here!
The response to Jesus’s amazing power—his heaven-now-on-earth day of ministry—was his rising popularity (“his fame spread throughout all Syria,” 4:24; “And great crowds followed him from Galilee and the Decapolis [regions featuring Gentiles], and from Jerusalem and Judea [the Jewish epicenters], and from beyond the Jordan [to all the world!],” 4:25).
The Sermon on the Mount (5:1–7:29)
Matthew 1–4 is saturated with connections between the early life and ministry of Jesus and the Old Testament. For example, as John Stott summarizes, “as Israel was oppressed in Egypt under the despotic rule of Pharaoh, so the infant Jesus became a refugee in Egypt under the despotic rule of Herod. As Israel passed through the waters of the Red Sea, so Jesus passed through the waters of John’s baptism in the River Jordan. As Israel was tested in the wilderness of Zin for forty years, so Jesus was tested in the wilderness of Judea for forty days.” Another obvious connection is between Moses and Jesus, the new and greater lawgiver and deliverer: “As Moses from Mount Sinai gave Israel the law, so Jesus from the Mount of Beatitudes gave his disciples the true interpretation and amplification of the law.”6
Aerial view of The Beatitude Monastery, traditional location of Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount
Similar to the bookends of the Gospel of Matthew, where Jesus is introduced as the king of the Jews (1:17; 2:2) and then enthroned with divine authority over all the nations (28:18), the theme of authority is especially prevalent at the beginning and end of the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus speaks with a posture of authority (“he sat down”) and at a location associated in Scripture with authority (“he went up on the mountain,” 5:1). Seven times in Matthew, key moments in Jesus’s ministry occur atop a mountain (4:8; 5:1; 14:23; 15:29; 17:1; 24:3; 28:16). The response to Jesus’s mountaintop message, moreover, reinforces this key theme of authority: “the crowds were astonished at his teaching, for he was teaching them as one who had authority” (7:28–29a).
The Beatitudes (5:1–12)
This theme of authority is found throughout the Sermon—e.g., “I have come . . . to fulfill” the Law and the Prophets (5:17); “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven” (7:21). That same theme, especially as it relates to kingdom entrance, is found in the Beatitudes. For example, in the first beatitude (“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven,” 5:3) Jesus determines the requirement for kingdom entrance; and, in the final beatitude he promises future reward for those who suffer in his name (“Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven,” 5:11–12a).
The eight beatitudes have an already/not yet structure. Jesus declares that a person who is “blessed” by God now (“Blessed are the meek”) will be blessed in the eschaton (“for they shall inherit the earth,” 5:5). The promises for those who recognize their spiritual impoverishment (“the poor in spirit,” 5:3) with humility of heart (“the meek,” 5:5), mourning over their sins and the sins of the fallen world (“those who mourn,” 5:4) and long for God’s will to be done on earth and soon to experience it in heaven (“who hunger and thirst for righteousness,” 5:5) are granted kingdom entrance (“theirs is the kingdom of heaven”), relief (“they shall be comforted”), dominion (“they shall inherit the earth”), and satisfaction (“they shall be satisfied,” 5:4–6). Indeed, those who love others (“the merciful . . . the peacemakers”), while some people mercilessly war against them (“persecuted for righteousness’ sake”), shall receive from God “mercy,” sonship (“called sons of God”), kingdom entrance (“theirs is the kingdom of heaven”), and experience the beatific vision (“see God,” 5:7–12).
The promises for those who recognize their spiritual impoverishment with humility of heart, mourning over their sins and the sins of the fallen world and long for God’s will to be done on earth and soon to experience it in heaven are granted kingdom entrance, relief, dominion, and satisfaction.
Salt and Light (5:13–48)
From stating the present attitudes and actions Jesus’s disciples have toward God and others (the Beatitudes), Jesus next makes clear that his followers will have a visible presence in relation to the whole world. Using two domestic metaphors, Jesus calls them “the salt of the earth” and “the light of the world” (5:13–14). Through their “good works” (the many attitudes and actions commanded throughout the Sermon), Jesus’s disciples are called to make visible the kingdom so that others might be drawn into it (“give glory to your Father who is in heaven,” 5:16).
Next, Jesus returns to the theme of authority and Scriptural fulfillment, saying, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets [the OT]; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them” (5:17). Unlike the scribes and Pharisees, who break God’s commands, Jesus’s followers embody a righteousness (“unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven,” 5:20) that holds to the Word (that do not relax “the least of these commandments,” 5:19) and understands that Jesus alone is the final and infallible interpreter of God’s revelation and that he personifies its promises.
In 5:17–20, and throughout 5:18–48, Jesus uses the phrase “I say to you” (5:18, 22, 26, 28, 32, 34, 39, 44), a phrase that reinforces the theme of authority. Jesus does not teach like the Jewish religious leaders (who would have cited their oral tradition to make a point of scriptural interpretation—“you have heard that it was said to those of old,” 5:21; cf. 5:27, 31, 33, 38, 43). He speaks with his divine authority, calling disciples to model perfect love (“You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect,” 5:48). Perfection here does not mean absolute moral perfection, but indiscriminate love for all people. Just as God cares for both “the just and the unjust” (“he makes his sun rise on the evil and the good,” 5:45), so disciples are called to love both “those who love you” (5:46, cf. “love your neighbor” 5:43) and those who do not (“love your enemies,” 5:44).
In 5:21–42, Jesus gives five examples of such love in action. To hate someone while you worship God is unloving (5:21–26). To have a sexual relationship with someone other than your spouse is unloving (5:27–30). To get a quick and easy divorce because it is to your advantage alone is unloving (5:31–32). To make false oaths is unloving (5:33–37). To return evil for evil is unloving (5:38–42).
Instead of getting angry and blurting out some hell-bent profanity (“You fool!” 5:22) at the very person you stand side by side in the temple with, Jesus commands: leave the worship service (“leave your gift there before the altar,” 5:24) and “go” and “be reconciled to your brother” (5:24–25). True disciples can only love God by loving others. Such love is further shown in sexual purity, taking the severest measures (“if your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out,” 5:29) so as not to look at “a woman with lustful intent,” an inward adultery (he “has already committed adultery,” 5:28) with damning consequences (“thrown into hell,” 5:29, 30). Adultery can also be committed through an unlawful divorce when a man (for whatever reason) gives his wife “a certificate of divorce” (5:31). For him to do so for illegitimate reasons (something other than “sexual immorality”) forces her to become an adulterer if she remarries (“makes her commit adultery”) and him if he remarries (“whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery,” 5:32). In the kingdom of heaven, Jesus bans such unethical actions.
He also bans unlawful oaths and unnecessary retaliations. Christians are truthtellers who do not swear by God’s throne on earth, his footstool (5:34–35). When they say “yes” about something or that they will do something, one can be assured that their word is good (5:36). Moreover, they are peacemakers (“blessed are the peacemakers,” 5:9) who live by countercultural commitments. Instead of equaling revenge (“an eye for an eye,” 5:38), they “do not resist the one who is evil” (5:39). If their “right cheek” is slapped, they offer “the other [cheek] also” (5:39); if asked for their undergarment (“tunic”), they offer all that is on them (their “cloak as well,” 5:40); if forced to walk “one mile,” they go two (5:41). They give to the beggar and lend to the needy (5:41). They are salt and light. Their righteousness easily exceeds that of their religious contemporaries. They demonstrate God-like perfect love to others.
Seen and Rewarded by God (6:1–18)
In the second half of Matthew 5, Jesus’s six antitheses (“You have heard that it was said. . . . But I say to you”) both highlight the scribes’ and Pharisees’ disloyalty to Old Testament ethics and showcase Jesus’s focus on “the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness” (23:23). In the first half of Matthew 6, he further demonstrates their hypocrisy through his godly corrections. He begins with a warning: “Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them” (6:1). Using what the scribes and Pharisees deemed the most important pious actions—almsgiving, prayer, and fasting—Jesus teaches that the practices of perfect love are done to be seen and rewarded by God, not by people.
The type of almsgiving that God sees and rewards is not self-serving and self-justifying showmanship (the hypocrites who give money to the needy in public places to be praised by people for their generosity, 6:2). What glorifies him (5:16) is self-forgetful giving, where the givers forget the moment after they gave. Selfless giving is part of their spiritual DNA. They cannot do otherwise. It comes as naturally as a concert pianist touching the keys without thinking about the notes.
After almsgiving, Jesus next focuses on prayer and fasting. Like his teaching pattern on almsgiving, he starts with a short lesson on “How Not to Pray” and “How Not to Fast.” Disciples are not to pray like the scribes and Pharisees, who play-act in their piety by standing center stage in holy places (“in the synagogues”) and amid the bustling marketplace (“at the street corners”) seeking “their reward,” namely, the admiration of others (“they love to stand and pray . . . that they may be seen by others,” 6:5). Moreover, disciples are not to “fast . . . like the hypocrites” who intentionally change their outward appearance (“disfigure their faces,” 6:16) so others might be in awe of their piety. Instead of desiring the esteem of man, disciples strive to please the heavenly Father so as to humbly receive his praise (“and your Father who sees you in secret will reward you,” 6:18). Thus, fasting, like almsgiving, is done secretly. Only God knows the sacrifices made.
Similarly, prayer should not be done to receive the reward of people’s praise (“when you pray, you must not” pray to “be seen by others,” 6:5). Thus, it is best to find a place of solitude where God alone can see (“go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father,” 6:6). Moreover, the way a disciple of Jesus should pray should in no way resemble pagan prayer, which is undergirded by the theology that the longer one prays, the more likely a god will listen. Instead of offering up vain repetition (heaping up “empty phrases as the Gentiles do,” 6:7), Christians pray long or short prayers (the Lord’s Prayer is quite short!) because they know that God is a step ahead (“your Father knows what you need before you ask him,” 6:8). Jesus’s instruction on prayer (the only express instruction on prayer in the Bible!—“Pray then like this,” 6:9) follows:
Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
and forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.
For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. (6:9–15).
The six petitions above can be summarized with seven observations.
- Matthew places the Lord’s Prayer at the structural center of the Sermon on the Mount.
- The six petitions can be divided into two parts: the first three focus on God (“hallowed be your name,” “your kingdom come,” “your will be done”) and the second three on human needs (“give us this day our daily bread,” “forgive us our debts,” and “lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil”).
- The words “our” and “us,” and the plural “you,” highlight that this is a corporate prayer.
- Jesus bestows sonship on all his followers that pray to his Father. His Father (“my Father,” 7:21, a phrase used 15x by Jesus) is also “our Father” (6:9; cf. “your Father,” 6:8, 14–15, 32; 7:11).
- The God who is intimate with Jesus’s disciples (“our Father”) is also infinitely righteous and transcendent (“in heaven,” 6:9).
- The invisible God of the high heavens cares for the tangible needs of humans on earth. Thus, to Jesus, it is proper to pray for both the grandest spiritual interests (about God’s name, kingdom, and will) and everyday physical and spiritual needs (for ongoing provision, forgiveness, and protection).
- The postscript about forgiving others (6:14–15; cf. 6:12) once again showcases the connectedness between the necessity of loving others and loving God. Those who have had their astronomical debt forgiven by God (see 18:24) because Jesus gave “his life as a ransom”—a full payment (20:28)—naturally forgive the debt of others. The forgiven are forgiving (see 18:21–35; Eph 4:32).
Treasure and Trust (6:19–34)
Next, in Matthew 6:19–34, Jesus links the themes of treasure and trust, as he expands upon the petition for daily provision (“give us this day our daily bread,” 6:11). Those who call upon God as “heavenly Father” (6:26, 32) will trust him more than anyone or anything else, especially money (6:19–24), to provide for their bodily necessities (6:25–34). Thus, disciples heed here Jesus’s two corrective commands. First, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, . . . but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven” (6:19–20). God, not money, is to be master because God alone is lasting and dependable. Second, “do not be anxious about your life” (6:25, cf. 6:31, 34), but instead “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness” (6:33). The three reasons given not to be anxious are that anxiety is unproductive (“And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?” 6:27), unnecessary (“look at the lilies, behold the birds!—how God cares for them” 6:26), and unworthy (“life is more than food, and the body more than clothing,” 6:25). Why worry about what God will surely provide? The concerned Christian focuses first and foremost on spreading the reign of Christ on earth.
In chapter 7, Jesus concludes with several commands, including “judge not” (7:1), “first take the log out of your own eye” (7:5), “do not give dogs what is holy” (7:6), “ask, and it will be given to you” (7:7), “whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them” (7:12), “enter by the narrow gate” (7:13), “beware of false prophets” (7:15), followed by a final admonition to hear and act upon his words (“everyone who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock,” 7:24).
7:1–12 At first, the topics of 7:1–12 might appear disjointed. Upon closer examination, however, a thematic connection of relationships appears between disciples and other disciples (7:1–5), disciples and hostile unbelievers (7:6), and disciples and God (7:7–11), followed by a summary statement, which is often called the Golden Rule (7:12). These thematic threads make better sense if we walk backward through the text. Matthew 7:7–11 focuses on prayer. Because Christ-followers believe that the “Father who is in heaven” will “give good gifts . . . to [his] children” (7:11), his children should “ask” (5x, or put metaphorically, “knock” [2x] on heaven’s door) for help. The reasons for these urgent and continuous movements toward God in prayer relates directly to the issues raised in the preceding context. The “good things” that God gives “to those who ask him” (7:11) must include a loving heart for others (7:12) and proper discernment toward others (7:1–6).
The Golden Rule (Jesus’s summary of Old Testament law—“So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets,” 7:12) especially applies to the loving art of speck-removal. The first part of that command centers on self. Who truly wants the actions of verses 3–4—for some self-righteous and condemning hypocrite, a person with a major sin problem (a “log” in his eye), to judge from a distance (logs are long) some small sin (a “speck that is in [his] brother’s eye”)—done to them? No one would appreciate that kind of unloving treatment. The loving thing to do would be to ask God for self-knowledge to, first, see the log and, second, to notice the speck. It is not that the judgment of another believer (a “brother”) cannot be made, but it is how it should be made: “Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you” (7:1). Put differently: do not criticize others until you have first carefully evaluated your faults.
In a chapter where Jesus emphasizes the judgment of God (specifically—Jesus himself as the judge, see 7:19, 21–23, 24–27), here, at the start of it, Jesus teaches his followers to keep Judgment Day in mind each time they seek to pass judgment on a fellow brother or sister. He also wants his disciples to keep kingdom priorities in mind (“seek first the kingdom of God,” 6:33) when they encounter hostile opposition. The command recorded in 7:6 can be confusing: “Do not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before pigs, lest they trample them underfoot and turn to attack you.” But again, the issue is loving discernment. Disciples must discern who is a “brother” (a fellow believer) and who is a “dog” or “pig” (an antagonistic and unclean unbeliever who adamantly rejects the “pearl” of the priceless gospel). The point is plain. Disciples are not to waste their time presenting the precious gospel to hard-hearted enemies of Christ’s kingdom. They are, as the apostles later modeled, to “shake off the dust” (10:14; Acts 13:46; 18:6) from their feet when people remain “stubborn . . . in unbelief” (Acts 19:9). They are to “judge with right judgment” (John 7:24).
7:13–28 This theme of proper judgment continues into the second half of Matthew 7. The focus shifts, though, from Jesus’s disciples’ judgment of others (the sinful believer and the antagonistic unbeliever) to Jesus’s judgment of all people. He issues three warnings.
First, to those who want to live a life of ease, he issues a strong rebuke against such a view. “Enter by the narrow way” (7:13). The way into the kingdom is reserved for “the poor in spirit” and those willing to be reviled for promoting and practicing kingdom values (5:3, 10–11), not the arrogant who are unwilling to pick up their crosses and follow Jesus.
The second warning is against deceitful teachers (“beware of false prophets”), leaders within the church (“who come to you in sheep’s clothing”) who are both dangerous (“inwardly are ravenous wolves,” 7:15) and ungodly (“you will recognize them by their fruits,” 7:16, 20)—namely their “bad fruit” that comes from a “diseased” heart (7:17). Orthodoxy and orthopraxis must go together. Even those who offer both a Christological confession and their charismatic credentials (“we . . . cast out demons in your name” and did “many mighty works in your name,” 7:22) are not guaranteed entrance into the kingdom: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven” (7:21).
The third warning builds on the second. Instead of listening to false teachers and following their lives of ease and immorality (choosing the “way [that] is easy,” 7:13 and lawless, 7:23) true Christians listen to Jesus and obey his commandments (“hears these words of mine and does them,” 7:24), which is the only sure foundation on Judgment Day.
The Sermon on the Mount, as it relates to the theme of judgment, concludes on a negative note. The person who listens and obeys is “like a wise man who built his house on the rock,” so that when a storm arose (“the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house”) it survived the storm (“it did not fall”) because its foundation was sure—built upon the teachings of Jesus (“it had been founded on the rock,” 7:25). Not so the fool, who understood what Jesus taught but failed to heed his commands. He was “like a foolish man who built his house on the sand.” When the storm came, his house “fell, and great was the fall of it” (7:27).
That Jesus ended his sermon on the theme of judgment is one reason “the crowds were astonished with his [authoritative] teaching” (7:28); a second reason is that he makes the staggering claim that one’s reception or rejection of his lordship and teachings determine one’s final destiny. In Isaiah 33:22, the prophet writes, “For the LORD is our judge; the LORD is our lawgiver; the LORD is our king; he will save us.” That prophecy is fulfilled in Jesus, who is the judge (“I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me,’” Matt 7:23), the lawgiver (“I say to you”), the king (“Lord” is the correct title for him), and the savior (the house was saved from the storm, 7:25; cf. 1:21; 8:17).
The Son of God Bore Our Diseases (8:1–9:34)
After Jesus’s mountain discourse (“Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain,” 5:1),7 Jesus descends (“he came down from the mountain”) as once again, “great crowds followed him” (8:1). Matthew’s focus, however, is not on the crowds but a few faces from the crowds—those who are miraculously healed by Jesus. In Matthew 8:1–9:34, the Evangelist strings together ten miracle stories. The stories emphasize the continued motif of Jesus’s authority. The one who teaches in the synagogues and proclaims the gospel of the kingdom also heals “every disease and every affliction” (4:23; 9:35). What the crowds said after Jesus healed the mute, the final miracle story, summarizes well what could be told of the miracle stories in toto, “Never was anything like this seen in Israel” (9:33). They also showcase Jesus’s identity and mission, along with the nature of discipleship. Jesus’s identity is further revealed: He is “Lord” (7x), “Son of God” (8:29), “the Son of Man” (8:20; 9:6), and “the Bridegroom” (9:15). His mission is to destroy the work of the devil (8:29–32) by taking in his own body humanity’s “illnesses” and “diseases” (8:17) so as to save people from death (8:25–26; 9:25) and to forgive and cleanse them from their sins (9:6; 8:3). This exclusive offer of salvation is inclusive. As demonstrated through these chapters, Jesus “came . . . to call . . . sinners” (9:13)—ranging from Jewish outcasts to a Roman soldier, a synagogue ruler to a Canaanite woman, rich tax collectors to blind beggars. These disciples all demonstrate the nature of discipleship: faith in Jesus, along with a willingness to follow him and participate in his ongoing mission.
The Cleansing of the Leper (8:1–4)
In 8:1–17, Matthew records three noteworthy miracles that occurred on one day—the cleansing of the leper, the healing of the centurion’s servant, and the cooling of Simon Peter’s mother-in-law’s fever. At the end of that day, he also records that Jesus performed miracles all day: “That evening they brought to him many who were oppressed by demons, and he cast out the spirits with a word and healed all who were sick” (8:16). The purpose, Matthew claims in 8:17, for those many miracles, was to fulfill Isaiah 53:4, “He took our illnesses and bore our diseases.” To Matthew, these miracles point to the cross where Jesus will bear in his own body all the sickness of his people’s sin (see 1Pet 2:24).
The first miracle that points perfectly to that symbolic value is Jesus’s cleansing of the leper. According to Numbers 5:2, lepers were to be separate from others, and according to Leviticus 13:45–46, if they came in contact with people, they were to cry out, “Unclean! Unclean!” Perhaps the leper who approached Jesus said this, or perhaps he was not schooled in Old Testament law. Whatever the case, he boldly came to Jesus, “knelt before him,” called him “Lord,” and humbly asked, “If you will, you can make me clean” (Matt 8:2). Notice the expression of absolute confidence in Jesus’s ability. He does not say, “if you can, make me clean,” but “if you will, you can make me clean.” Jesus responds with his healing touch. “And Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, ‘I will; be clean.’ And immediately his leprosy was cleansed” (8:3). That touch embodies the gospel’s message both in demonstrating Jesus’s compassion and his substitution for sin. According to Leviticus 5:3, that touch rendered Jesus unclean. Yet, Jesus, who came to fulfill the law, transcends the law without abolishing it. That is, Jesus’s touch does not make him unclean; instead, it cleanses the unclean. And in this way, it foreshadows his work on the cross, where he will take on all his people’s impurities and render them perfectly clean in God’s sight. Since, however, Jesus’s atoning death has not taken place yet, and since he desires both to keep the law and not to be understood in the wrong way, the narrative concludes with Jesus commanding silence (“See that you say nothing to anyone”) and obedience (“but go, show yourself to the priest and offer the gift that Moses commanded, for a proof to them,” Matt 8:4).
The Healing of the Centurion’s Servant (8:5–13)
The second miracle is as extraordinary as the first. As Jesus enters Capernaum, another outsider approaches him. A Roman centurion! The story is full of surprises. It is surprising that a powerful man who oversees a hundred soldiers and is under Caesar’s authority would come to Jesus for help and call him “Lord.” It is surprising that this man appeals to Jesus on behalf of his young servant. Such selflessness on behalf of a household slave is unexpected because most masters in the Greco-Roman world had little regard for their forced laborers. Moreover, it is surprising that Jesus, a Jew, is willing to help two Gentiles. Jesus replies, “I will come and heal him” (8:7). Notice both Jesus’s confidence in his abilities (“I will . . . heal him”) and his willingness to cross social barriers. To this, the centurion replies with similar confidence in Jesus’s abilities and a recognition that he, as a Gentile sinner, is not worthy to have a pious rabbi into his house: “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof, but only say the word, and my servant will be healed” (8:8). What absolute confidence in Jesus’s authority! Just as the centurion orders his soldiers to heed his commands (“I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes, and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it,” 8:9), so he believes that Jesus has the power to cure his servant with a word from a distance.
No wonder this incredible faith impresses Jesus: “When Jesus heard this, he marveled and said to those who followed him, ‘Truly, I tell you, with no one in Israel have I found such faith’” (8:10). We might say that this man’s faith surprised even Jesus! And what follows—Jesus’s amazing announcement about believing Gentiles who receive Jesus and unbelieving Jews (“sons”) who reject Jesus surely would have surprised his original audience: “I tell you, many will come from east and west and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (8:11–12). Of course, the reader of Matthew’s Gospel already understands the importance of the inclusion of the Gentiles in Jesus’s ministry; and the reader schooled in the sacred Scripture once again realizes that the Messiah is merely fulfilling his mission.
After all these surprises, perhaps the least surprising detail is the miracle itself. “And to the centurion Jesus said, ‘Go; let it be done for you as you have believed.’ And the servant was healed at that very moment” (8:13). Matthew gives only one verse to cover one of the greatest miracles in world history!
Cooling a Fever (8:14–17)
The final of the first three miracles features another outsider. Jesus arrives at Peter’s house and sees that Peter’s mother-in-law is so ill that she cannot greet him and offer hospitality (she was “lying sick with a fever,” 8:14). He quickly provides a remedy (“He touched her hand, and the fever left her”), and the healing was so immediate and invigorating that “she rose and began to serve him” (8:15). This miracle is important in that, once again, it showcases Jesus’s amazing authority. Moreover, it showcases an important aspect of his mission, namely, that he has come to gather “the outcasts of Israel” (Ps 147:2) into his kingdom—a leper, a woman, and soon a tax collector, a bleeding woman, and blind and mute men. While Peter’s mother-in-law was not an outsider to Israel’s promises, in Jesus’s day, many men would have thought of her as a second-class citizen. In some Jewish traditions, touching a woman’s hand, as Jesus did here, would render a man unclean. One of the Eighteen Benedictions prayed each day by devout Jewish men was “Lord, I thank Thee that I was not born a slave, a Gentile, or a woman.” In the kingdom of heaven, as Paul would later state and Matthew here pictures, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal 3:28).
Traditional location of Peter’s house in Capernaum
The Cost of Discipleship (8:18–22)
In Matthew 8:18–22, the Evangelist interjects the theme of discipleship into the ten miracle stories. He does this twice. In 9:9–13, a less-than-eager person (Matthew the tax collector who is sitting at his tax booth) encounters the sovereign call of Christ (“Follow me”), and he expresses absolutely no obstacles to his immediate obedience (“And he rose and followed him,” 9:9). While the tax collector was willing to leave everything (see Luke 5:28) to follow Jesus, the two men who encounter Jesus in chapter 8 have major obstacles to overcome.
The first disciple, a scribe, whose issue is only understood when Jesus replies to his strong vow (“Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go,” Matt 8:19), must rid himself of a life of ease. Jesus, who is not merely an earthly “teacher” (8:19) but “the Son of Man” (8:20, or “Lord”—see what the leper and centurion call him!) instructs him with a strange analogy: “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head” (8:20). The point is that if one wants to follow Jesus, the road will not be easy. It might require temporary homelessness, a stormy night at sea (Matt 8:23–24a), and verbal and physical persecution. Read the Beatitudes again. Read the Acts of the Apostles afresh. “Whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me” (10:38).
The second man, who is labeled “another of the disciples” (8:21), also needs to learn a lesson on discipleship. He too desired to follow Jesus wherever he might next go, but he first asked a favor, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father” (8:21). The title “Lord” is correct, but this man’s priorities are misplaced. Thus, Jesus gives a strong rebuke: “Follow me, and leave the dead to bury their own dead” (8:22). The idiom “bury my father” relates to the issue of family responsibilities and financial security. This man needs to continue to help his father run the family business so he might not forfeit his inheritance when his father dies. The word “first” in the man’s statement (“let me first” take care of some money issues) hits precisely on the theme Jesus raised in the Sermon on the Mount: “You cannot serve God and money” (6:24). Moreover, and as Jesus will later teach (10:37), it hits on another theme: God first; family second. The spiritually dead will make sure the bequeath is drawn up and rendered to the offspring (“let the dead bury their own dead,” 8:22). Choose life now. The Christ and his kingdom must be first.
Two Exorcisms (8:23–34)
The next two scenes—where Jesus calms the storm (8:23–27) and exorcizes demons from two men (8:28–34)—beautifully blurs the themes of Jesus’s identity and discipleship. By saving his disciples on the boat by calming a seismic storm at sea and also saving two men by tossing the demons that plagued them into the sea, Jesus’s exorcisms of the Satanic-like sea and Satan-led creatures validates his divine sonship. At the end of the first nature miracle, the question asked—“What sort of man is this, that even the winds and sea obey him?” (8:27)—is answered by the demons themselves: Jesus is the “Son of God” (8:29). He is the “Lord” who both saves sinners (8:25) and judges evil (8:29–32).
As it relates to the theme of discipleship, the main lesson relates to the nature of faith. The pig herdsmen react to Jesus’s exorcism by leaving him, going into the city, and announcing all that happened (8:33). Then, the people of the city reply by begging Jesus “to leave their region” (8:34), likely because he threatened their financial security. In contrast, the disciples on the boat who left everything to follow Jesus continued to follow him on his journey from Capernaum to the country of the Gadarenes (“when he got into a boat, his disciples followed him,” 8:23). Although they trusted him with their daily provisions (they left everything to follow him), he wanted to teach them another lesson on discipleship, namely, that they can trust him with their very lives.
That same day on the sea “arose a great storm . . . so that the boat was being swamped by the waves” (8:24). As Jesus slept through the storm (“but he was asleep,” 8:24), exhausted from the day and resting in God’s sovereign care, “they went and woke him, saying, ‘Save us, Lord; we are perishing’” (8:25). They thought they were going to die. They trusted that he alone could help. But he rebuked their incomplete faith, “Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?” (8:26). Notice that Jesus, amidst this life-threatening storm, addresses their anxiety before he settles the troubled sea. Notice also that faith is the opposite of fear (“little faith” parallels “afraid”). Here Jesus will calm the storm at sea (“Then he rose and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm,” 8:26), and they will rightly marvel over Jesus’s amazing control of creation (“And the men marveled, saying, ‘What sort of man is this, that even winds and the sea obey him?’” 8:27), but first Jesus teaches them a lesson on discipleship. Christians who sit under “one instructor, the Christ” (23:10) must learn the lessons that the Christ will save those who cry out to him in faith (“Save us, Lord; we are perishing,” 8:26) but that he also calls disciples to have courageous confidence in him, believing that even while he sleeps, creation is under his control.
The Healing of the Paralytic (9:1–8)
After the exorcism among the Gentiles, Jesus and his closest disciples cross over the Sea of Galilee to Capernaum, the ministry center that Matthew labels Jesus’s “own city” (9:1). Once again, the pattern of a miracle story, followed by a narrative on discipleship, follows.
Matthew’s retelling of the healing of the paralytic (9:2–8) does not include the familiar details found in Mark—while Jesus is in a house preaching to a standing room only crowd, four men take their paralyzed friend on to the rooftop, remove the roof, and lower the man (Mark 2:1–4). Matthew gets right to his theological emphasis—the forgiveness of sins through Jesus. Because these men, like the leper and centurion, believed that Jesus could heal (“And when Jesus saw their faith”), he offered to meet this man’s deepest need: “He said to the paralytic, ‘Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven’” (Matt 9:2). This seemingly outrageous pronouncement, carefully calculated to create controversy, does just that. Some of the scribes mumble among themselves, “This man is blaspheming” (9:3). To them, only God can forgive sins through his own ordained means—a sin offering in the temple offered by the priest. To them, Jesus was a man, not God. To them, his claim was thus blasphemous, and it was the same capital offense (see Lev 24:10–16) for which he would receive the death sentence from the Sanhedrin (“‘You have now heard his blasphemy. What is your judgment?’ They answered, ‘He deserves death,’” Matt 26:65–66).
To Jesus, however, his statement both at his trial and in this house in Capernaum is not blasphemous because of who he is and what he can do. After Jesus reproves the spiritually paralyzed for their wrong thinking (“Why do you think evil in your hearts?” 9:4), he demonstrates that he, as “the Son of Man,” has been granted “authority on earth to forgive sins” (9:6a) by healing the man: “he then said to the paralytic—‘Rise, pick up your bed and go home.’ And he rose and went home” (9:6b–7). As will be made clear in the Olivet Discourse and at Calvary, there will be no more need for a temple on earth. Forgiveness now comes through Jesus—the ultimate embodiment of the sacrifice, the priest, and the temple.
The Calling of Matthew (9:9–17)
Jesus further demonstrates his divine authority (contra the crowd’s response: “they glorified God, who had given such authority to men,” 9:8) to forgive sins by calling a notorious sinner and his friends. As Jesus passed by Matthew’s tax booth he called this disinterested traitor to follow him. The Lord’s call “Follow me” is met with another miracle—a resurrection of the spiritually dead! (“And he rose and followed him,” 9:9). Matthew’s conversion leads to his evangelism. He served Jesus “a great feast in his house” (Luke 6:29) and invited the scum of first-century Capernaum to meet his new Savior. But “as Jesus reclined at table” with “many tax collectors and sinners” (Matt 9:10), the purity police protested (“Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” 9:11). Their objection was met with Jesus’s instruction. Quoting Hosea 6:6, he says, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners” (Matt 9:12–13). Jesus’s mission, embodied in Matthew’s calling, was to save sinners (1Tim 1:15).
Presumably, during that same meal at Matthew’s house, John the Baptist’s disciples approached him. The Pharisees questioned the character of Jesus’s company; John’s followers question the act of eating itself: “Why do we and the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?” (Matt 9:14). The fasting they ask about was not based on a biblical command, but first-century rabbinic tradition. Pious Jews fasted on Mondays and Thursdays. Jesus is not against fasting (6:16–18), and he offers no direct refutation of their tradition (“You have heard it said, but I say”). Instead, he declares that his disciples’ feasting on a fast day is more than appropriate because of who he is. Jesus answers their question with a question (“Can the wedding guests mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them?”) followed by an affirmation of the appropriate time for future fasting (“The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them [likely an allusion to Jesus’s ascension], and then they will fast,” 9:15). Put simply, just as no one fasts at a wedding celebration, so it is inappropriate to fast during Jesus’s ministry.
Twice Jesus alludes to himself as “the bridegroom,” which was a title John used for Jesus (“The friend of the bridegroom [John], who stands and hears him [Jesus], rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice,” John 3:29) and a title reserved for YHWH in the Old Testament (Ezek 16:7–8; Jer 2:2; Isa 54:5–8; cf. Hos 2:14–20) and used of Christ in the New Testament (Eph 5:23; 2 Cor 11:2; Rev 19:7; 22:17). This is quite the Christological claim! Once again, miracle by miracle and discourse by discourse, Jesus is revealing his identity.
Shifting analogies, Jesus continues his answer, saying, “No one puts a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment, for the patch tears away from the garment, and a worse tear is made. Neither is new wine put into old wineskins. If it is, the skins burst and the wine is spilled and the skins are destroyed. But new wine is put into fresh wineskins, and so both are preserved” (9:16–17). The “new wine” symbolizes the gospel of the kingdom that has arrived in Jesus. The “old wineskins” represent the traditions of Pharisaical Judaism that contradict or supersede biblical teachings and the coming kingdom. The new wine of the gospel when it touches the old wineskins of human-made religious customs will only expose the weakness of the old wineskins and eventually stretch and crack the skins, rendering them useless and setting the gospel free to flow into receptive vessels.
Two Daughters (9:18–26)
Matthew 9:18–31 features the final four miracle stories of chapters 8–9: two women and three men. In verses 18–26, the Evangelist intertwines the story of two daughters (“daughter” used of the dead girl, 9:18, and of the dying woman, 9:22). The girl’s father, who is a synagogue ruler, approaches Jesus with the posture and plea of amazing faith: “My daughter has just died, but come and lay your hand on her, and she will live” (9:18). He believes Jesus can raise the dead with the touch of his hand! Jesus accepts the challenge. With his disciples, he journeys to the girl.
His mission, however, is interrupted: “And behold, a woman” (9:20). Matthew makes known her issue (she “suffered from a discharge of blood for twelve years”) and her faith-filled expectation of a miracle through her unorthodox means (she “came up behind him and touched the fringe of his garment,” because she believed, “If I only touch his garment, I will be made well,” 9:20–21). While some scholars label her tassel-touching scheme superstitious, Jesus commends her courageous trust in his power (“Take heart, daughter; your faith has made you well”) directly linking her faith with her healing (“And instantly the woman was made well,” 9:22). Notice he does not say, “I have made you well.” Rather, he praises her faith, “Your faith has made you well,” or saved you, as the word can be translated. She is saved from ritual uncleanness (see Lev 15:19–33) and also a slow death. Her faith seems childish, but Jesus views it childlike (Matt 19:14).
The story next shifts back to the synagogue ruler’s house and the bleak realities of his daughter’s fatality. This woman was given new life (9:22), but the girl is still dead. To Jesus, however, the situation is not hopeless. He tells the professional mourners to “Go away,” because, as he announces, “the girl is not dead but sleeping” (9:24). She is really dead, but to him, her death is like deep sleep. While the crowd scorned his statement (“And they laughed at him,” 9:25), he performed one of the greatest miracles recorded in sacred writ. “He . . . took her by the hand,” and with that life-giving touch, “the girl arose” (9:25). Jesus would have been rendered doubly unclean from the bleeding woman’s touch and his touch of the dead girl, yet once again he transcends the law. He cleanses the unclean. He conquers the curse. He raises the dead.
The Blind See (9:27–31)
The ninth miracle is another marvelous and unprecedented one. Jesus heals two blind men. Matthew describes them as persistent. As Jesus passed them on the road, they “followed him” (9:27a). Next, they shouted over the noise, “Have mercy on us, Son of David” (9:27b). Jesus still did not stop. Finally, once he returned to Peter’s house, “the blind men came to him” (9:28a). They were modeling what Jesus taught on prayer: “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you” (7:7). Jesus focused on such trusting prayer and his question, “Do you believe that I am able to do this?” was quickly met with their faithful reply, “Yes, Lord” (9:28). They sincerely believed that he was “Lord” (“the LORD opens the eyes of the blind,” Ps 146:8) and they were the first in the First Gospel to acknowledge him also as the promised king from David’s royal line (“Son of David,” see Matt 1:1). As Jesus, once again, touches the untouchables (“then he touched their eyes,” 9:29a) which immediately cured their blindness (“and their eyes were opened,” 9:30), he also praises their faith (“According to your faith be it done to you,” 9:29b). The narrative ends with a stern warning to them (“See that no one knows about it,” 9:30), followed by their act of disobedience (“But they went away and spread his fame through all that district,” 9:31). While sympathetic to their sharing the good news, Jesus was serious about his caution because the last thing he wanted was for the populace to misunderstand the nature of his rule. He came as the sacrificial lamb, not a military warrior. He is the “Son of David,” but also the Suffering Servant.
The Mute Speak (9:32–34)
The final miracle—the healing of the deaf-mute (“behold, a demon-oppressed man who was mute was brought to him. And when the demon had been cast out, the mute man spoke,” 9:32–33)—focuses more on reactions to the miracle than the miracle itself. First, “the crowds marveled, saying, ‘Never was anything like this seen in Israel’” (9:33). Was their amazement over this last miracle or all the miracles? Likely the last. But their awe represents well what Matthew probably intends for his audience after reading or hearing read these two chapters.
The Pharisees, however, offer no awe. They are outraged, claiming that Jesus “casts out demons by the prince of demons” (9:34). That is their response! They accuse Jesus of working for Satan! The poor blind see, but these religious elites are blind. Perhaps the apostle John, later dwelling on Matthew’s testimony, summarized well this scene, Jesus’s later woes to the scribes and Pharisees (“Woe to you, blind fools,” Matt 23:17, cf. 23:16, 19, 24, 26), and his own narrative about the hardhearted religious leaders, with Jesus’s words, “For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind” (John 9:39).
The Harvest is Plentiful (9:35–10:42)
Matthew 9:35–38 both summarizes the focus of chapters 8–9 and introduces Jesus’s mission for the twelve. And as “Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction” (9:35), so he next grants his chosen apostles “authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every disease and every affliction” (10:1). They are to follow their Lord in his twofold ministry of preaching (“And proclaim as you go, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand,’” 10:7) and healing (“Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons,” 10:8); his motive for mission (“When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them,” 9:36); and his dependence on God. Their dependence will be demonstrated through prayer (“The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest,” 9:37–38) and providence through the means of God’s people (“You received without paying; give without pay. Acquire no gold or silver or copper for your belts, no bag for your journey, or two tunics or sandals or a staff, for the laborer deserves his food. And whatever town or village you enter, find out who is worthy in it and stay there until you depart,” 9:8b–11).
Because Israel’s religious leaders have failed to shepherd God’s people (“they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd,” 9:36; cf. 23:4; Ezek 34:4), Peter, Andrew, James, John, Philip, Bartholomew, Thomas, Matthew, James the son of Alphaeus, Thaddaeus, Simon the Zealot, and Judas Iscariot (Matt 10:2–3) are commissioned to “go . . . to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (10:6; from Jer 50:6) offering them rest in Jesus (Matt 11:28). At that moment in salvation history, the scope of their mission was limited (“Go nowhere among the Gentiles and enter no town of the Samaritans,” 10:5). Later, eleven of these men (minus Judas, “who betrayed” Jesus, 10:4) would be commissioned to take the gospel to “all nations” (28:19).
This mission to the many towns throughout Israel before Jesus’s death (10:23) will be met with reception and rejection. Some will receive the messengers and their message (10:12–13), others will not. The judgment upon those who will not is severe (“And if anyone will not receive you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet when you leave that house or town. Truly, I say to you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah than for that town,” 10:14–15).
The mission is dangerous (“Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves”), and thus disciples must be smart (“so be wise as serpents”) and harmless (“and innocent as doves,” 10:16). The persecution will be severe (“they will deliver you over to courts and flog you in their synagogues,” 10:17), but preaching followed by persecution will lead to unique opportunities to testify to the truth (“you will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them and the Gentiles,” 10:18), testimonies that God himself will inspire and grant (“When they deliver you over, do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say, for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour. For it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you,” 10:19–20).
The mission will be both dangerous and divisive (“you will be hated by all for my name’s sake,” 10:22; “they persecute you in one town,” 10:23), even within families: “Brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death” (10:21); “a person’s enemies will be those of his own household” (10:36). But it is all part of the plan. Jesus came not “to bring peace, but a sword” and “to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law” (10:34–35). Israel must decide between their true messiah and their own family allegiances (“Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me,” 10:37). Disciples must decide to devote themselves to Christ’s kingdom which requires the cross before the crown (“whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me,” 10:38) but promises everlasting life (“Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it,” 10:39). Christ calls his followers to a life of cruciformity (“A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master,” 10:24): as he was defamed so will they (“If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household,” 10:25b).
Disciples must decide to devote themselves to Christ’s kingdom which requires the cross before the crown but promises everlasting life.
Although the mission of the twelve will be dangerous and divisive, Jesus reminds them that they should not be afraid of the enemies of the gospel (“have no fear of them,” 10:26; “do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul,” 10:28), for their evil opposition will be revealed (10:26). They should fear God (“fear him,” 10:28), especially in the sense of trusting in his providential care. If “two sparrows” who are “sold for a penny” do not “fall to the ground apart” from God’s will, and if Christ’s disciples “are of more value than many sparrows” (10:31—“even the hairs of your head are all numbered” by the Father, 10:30), then “fear not” (10:31) what might happen. A reward awaits those who acknowledge Jesus before others (“I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven,” 10:32). Moreover, this work of harvesting is linked with the Father and the Son (“whoever receives me receives him who sent me”), the Son and his apostles (“whoever receives you receives me,” 10:40), and the twelve and those who receive them (“the one who receives” them “will by no means lose his reward,” 10:41–42).
Responding to His Mighty Works (11:1–30)
11:1–6 After “Jesus had finished instructing his twelve disciples,” he continued his own itinerant teaching ministry (“he went on from there to teach and preach in their cities,” 11:1). Meanwhile, John the Baptist, who is imprisoned, gets word about the “deeds” (11:2) of Jesus and sends word to Jesus, asking him, “Are you the one who is to come [“the Christ,” 11:2], or shall we look for another?” (11:3). On the one hand, it is surprising that John has misgivings about Jesus’s messiahship because of what he said about Jesus before Jesus’s baptism (“he who is coming after me is mightier than I”) and possibly heard about Jesus after the baptism (“This is my beloved Son,” 3:11, 17). On the other hand, it is not surprising because John expected the messiah to judge evildoers (“He will baptize . . . with fire,” and “His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear the threshing floor” and “the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire,” 3:12; cf. 3:7–10). This is why John calls the Christ “the one who is to come,” a reference to Isaiah 35:4 and God’s coming judgment (“Behold, your God will come with vengeance”).
Jesus’s reply stays in Isaiah 35. God says to the prophet, “Say to those who have an anxious heart, ‘Be strong; fear not! Behold, your God will come with vengeance. . . . He will come and save you.’” As the Son of God, Jesus will judge and he will save. But salvation comes first, and Jesus shares the symbols of such salvation: “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised, and the poor have good news preached to them” (Matt 11:4–5, quoting Isa 35:5–6a).
11:7–19 As John’s disciples return to communicate Jesus’s answer to John’s honest doubts and reservations, Jesus judges “this generation” of Jews, some of whom were presumably baptized by John (“What did you go out into the wilderness to see?” Matt 11:7). These people took John to be a prophet, and rightly so (“What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes,” 11:9a). Jesus speaks, however, of John as “more than a prophet” (11:9b) in that, as the forerunner of the messiah, he was the object of a prophecy: “This is he of whom it is written, ‘Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way before you,’” 11:10, quoting Mal 3:1). Moreover, John who has come in the “spirit and power” of Elijah (Luke 1:17; “he is Elijah who is to come,” Matt 11:14; 17:12; John 1:21; Mal 4:5) and who is greater than Moses and Elijah (“Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist,” Matt 11:11) has teamed up with Jesus to usher in a new and greater era in salvation history (“the kingdom of heaven,” 11:11, 12). And yet, this generation will reject both John and Jesus: “For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon.’ The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’” (11:18–19).
11:20–24 Both John and Jesus preached repentance. And even after witnessing the “mighty works” Jesus “had done” in Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum, the crowds from these cities “did not repent” (11:20). For this, Jesus denounces these people and places, claiming that even the wicked people of Tyre and Sidon (if they witnessed Jesus’s miracles) “would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes” (11:21); and, for this reason “it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for Tyre and Sidon than for you” (11:22, cf. 11:24). The prophets pronounced oracles of judgment against the nations (Isa 13–20; Jer 46–51; Ezek 25–32); Jesus announces coming woe on God’s holy people (the Jews) in God’s Holy Land (Israel).
The ruins of Chorazin
11:25–30 Jesus next (“at that time,” Matt 11:25) moves from his denunciation to an invitation. The invitation to “come to him” for “rest” (11:28) is offered to the listening crowds (11:7), along with Matthew’s readers. The paradox is twofold. The only people who will come to Jesus are those to whom the sovereign God (“Father, Lord of heaven and earth,” 11:25), by his “gracious will” (11:26), gives understanding, a revelation that alone comes through Jesus (“All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him,” 11:27). The invitation is inclusive (“all who labor and are heavy laden”) and human responsibility is necessary (one must “come,” 11:28). The Father and the Son, however, alone take the initiative in election. The second paradox is that those who are sovereignly drawn, seeking rest, are given work to do! Rest comes by coming to Jesus and taking upon his “yoke” (11:29). The yoke relates to the teachings (“take my yoke upon you, and learn from me”) of this “gentle and lowly in heart” teacher (11:29). Unlike the “heavy burdens” (23:4) of the scribes and the Pharisees, keeping all that Jesus has commanded (28:20) is not burdensome (1Jn 5:3). His commands are “easy” and “light” (Matt 11:30).
Lord of the Sabbath (12:1–50)
12:1–2 Chapter 11 ends with Jesus’s invitation to come to him for rest. Chapter 12 begins with an instruction and an announcement that Jesus is the Lord of the Sabbath. On Saturday, as Jesus and his disciples were traveling “through the grainfields” to the local synagogue, the disciples satiated their hunger by plucking and eating “heads of grain” (12:1). This was lawful to do, for according to Leviticus 19:9 and Deuteronomy 23:25, a farmer is to leave the edges of his field unharvested so the poor and travelers could find sustenance. To the Pharisees, however, such behavior was prohibited, and they spoke their mind, “Look, your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath” (12:2). The Fourth Commandment (Exod 20:8–11) forbids “work,” and other passages define that work as not kindling fires (35:3), carrying burdens (Jer 17:21–27), and buying and selling (Neh 10:31; 13:15–17). By the time of Jesus, Jewish rabbis added thirty-nine classes of work that would profane the Sabbath, including tying or loosing knots, sewing more than one stitch, and reaping, winnowing, threshing, and preparing a meal (see m. Sabb. 7.2).
12:3–8 Jesus answers their accusation using four Old Testament texts (“Have you not read,” Matt 12:3, 5), examples from the Law and Prophets. He defends his disciples’ actions with an illustration from King David’s life (when David and his men “entered the house of God and ate the bread of the Presence,” 12:4, they ate the showbread because they were starving, 1Sam 21:1–6), followed by a reminder that work in the temple trumps Sabbath rest (“on the Sabbath the priests in the temple” do not “profane the Sabbath,” Matt 12:5, when they do their work of ministry). Jesus’s argument only works if he is both a king greater than David and, as Jesus himself says next, he is “something greater than the temple” (12:6). “If what King David did trumps the temple, and if the temple trumps Sabbath rest, then it follows logically that if someone greater than David (cf. 1:1) and greater than the temple is here—embodied in the person of Jesus—then Jesus’ disciples can have a little wheat snack on the Sabbath.”8 Jesus can say what he says not only because the spirit of the Sabbath law is that of bringing mercy to men (“if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice’ [Hos 6:6], you would not have condemned the guiltless,” Matt 12:7) but because Jesus, as “the Son of Man” is the self-proclaimed “lord of the Sabbath” (12:8). The one whom God bestows a glorious and eternal rule (“And to him [the Son of Man] was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is . . . everlasting,” Dan 7:14) has the authority to both denounce pharisaic teaching on the Sabbath as poisonous and render his disciples’ actions permissible.
12:9–14 Jesus goes on to practice what he preached. He enters the synagogue. A man “with a withered hand” is presented to him: “Is it lawful,” the Pharisees ask, “to heal on the Sabbath?” (12:10a). This is a calculated test. They ask “so that they might accuse him” of breaking their Sabbath law (12:10b). Jesus who knows, focuses on, and obeys the weightier matters of the law, speaks of mercy: “He said to them, ‘Which one of you who has a sheep, if it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will not [work!] take hold of it and lift it out? Of how much more value is a man than a sheep! So it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath’” (12:11–12). Because the love of a fellow creature trumps all man-made Sabbath laws, Jesus gladly falls into their theological trap. He invites the poor man to believe in him: “Stretch out your hand” (12:13a). The man did. He “stretched it out,” and in doing so, his right hand was as good as his left (“it was restored, healthy like the other,” 12:13). This man’s condition was not life-threatening. Jesus could have waited to heal him privately after the service. He could have waited a day. This man did not even ask to be healed. Thus, here Jesus deliberately provokes the Pharisees. They respond to his incredible act of authority (he only speaks!) and mercy with outrage: “But the Pharisees went out and conspired against him, how to destroy him” (12:14). Their response is outrageous and unmerciful, for the only “work” that Jesus did on the Sabbath was to speak four words.
12:15–21 “Jesus, aware of” their malice against him, “withdrew from there” (12:15a). His time to be destroyed is not now. So, next, and once again, he demonstrates mercy (“And many followed him, and he healed them all,” 12:15b) followed by caution to his cause (“and ordered them not to make him known,” 12:16). Also, and once again,9 Jesus’s actions remind Matthew of what was penned in Isaiah 42:1–4, 9:
This was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah:
“Behold, my servant whom I have chosen,
my beloved with whom my soul is well pleased.
I will put my Spirit upon him,
and he will proclaim justice to the Gentiles.
He will not quarrel or cry aloud,
nor will anyone hear his voice in the streets;
a bruised reed he will not break,
and a smoldering wick he will not quench,
until he brings justice to victory;
and in his name the Gentiles will hope.”
This is the longest Old Testament quotation in Matthew, and it serves as an excellent summary of Matthew’s theology. Jesus is the Suffering Servant (“my servant”), yet the Father’s “beloved” Son (Matt 3:17; 17:5). The Holy Spirit (“I will put my Spirit upon him,” 12:18), who descended upon Jesus at his baptism, helps him press on in his mission. That mission is not merely for “the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (10:6; 15:24), it is for the nations (“he will proclaim justice to the Gentiles,” 12:18). Matthew 12:18 is a shocking statement for those not steeped in the promises given to Abraham, as shocking as the final line: “and in his name the Gentiles will hope” (12:21). Yes, Jesus highlights the theme of Gentile inclusion after the Sabbath controversy in the synagogue.
That said, Jesus came not as a political revolutionary (“He will not quarrel or cry aloud, nor will anyone hear his voice in the streets,” 12:19), but to round up the utterly useless into his kingdom. The Servant will serve the marginalized. Those whose lives are like “a bruised reed” or a “smoldering wick,” he will bring to life. He will bring “justice to victory.” This son of King David rules in humility and for the humble. He brings rest and justice.
12:22–24 In the next pericope, Jesus continues to further correct the Pharisees and condemn unbelief. After Jesus gave voice and vision to “a demon-oppressed man who was blind and mute” (12:22), two reactions follow. The crowd (“all the people”) were so stunned by this spectacular sight that they entertained the idea that Jesus was the messiah, “Can this be the Son of David?” (12:23). The answer to their question is, “Yes.” The outcasts understand: the blind men know this (9:27; 20:30, 31), as does the Canaanite woman (15:22)! The Jewish religious insiders, however, are blind: “But when the Pharisees heard it, they said, ‘It is only by Beelzebul, the prince of demons, that this man casts out demons’” (12:24). Because Jesus was doing the opposite of what they expected of the messiah (e.g., he did not promote national liberation from Rome and even welcomed Roman soldiers into the kingdom!), they surmised that such supernatural powers were satanic.
12:25–29 Jesus replies with a logical rebuttal. Using what is called a reduction ad absurdum he refutes their claim: “Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and no city or house divided against itself will stand. And if Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then will his kingdom stand?” (12:25–26). Their logic is absurd. Do they think that their own disciples “cast out demons by Beelzebul” (12:27)? Of course not. How, then, could Jesus? Instead, like plundering the house of a strong man by binding him to a chair (12:29), Jesus casts out demons “by the Spirit of God” (12:28). Thus “the kingdom of God” has arrived (12:28). The Son of David is here!
12:30–37 It follows, then, that anyone who is not with Jesus, opposes him (“Anyone who isn’t working with me is actually working against me,” 12:30 NLT). And those, like the Pharisees, who attribute to Satan what the Father has accomplished in Jesus through the Spirit, commit the unforgivable sin (“the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven . . . . whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come,” 12:31–32). Although such condemnation will happen on “the day of judgment” (12:36), Jesus predicts their future fate in advance. He names Satan’s offspring (“You brood of vipers,” 12:34) and renders them damnable based on the bad “fruit” (12:33) that comes out their mouths but stems from the depths of their hearts (12:35). Their “evil” (12:35) and “careless” words will be enough to convict them of eternal condemnation (“by your words you will be condemned,” 12:37).
12:38–45 Jesus’s rebuke did not go over well with the Jewish religious elites. “Then some of the scribes and Pharisees” interrupted with a request for further credentials to verify what Jesus is teaching, “Teacher, we wish to see a sign from you” (12:38). They demand more than an exorcism, the healing of a withered hand, and the cleansing of a leper. They want a sign from the sky, a heaven-sent miracle like a pillar of fire in the wilderness. The only sure sign that Jesus will offer to confirm his messiahship is “the sign of the prophet Jonah” (12:39), namely Jesus’s death and resurrection: “For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish,” and then vomited up on the shore, “so will” Jesus (“the Son of Man”!) be buried for a short time (“three days and three nights in the heart of the earth”) before he comes again to life (12:40). Only “an evil and adulterous generation seeks for” (12:39) more than that perpetual and sufficient sign.
Jesus continues by condemning this “evil generation” (12:45) with the damning testimony of proper responses to the work of God by Gentiles. The evil Assyrians (“the men of Nineveh”) who “repented at the preaching of Jonah” (12:41) and the Queen of Sheba who journeyed to visit King Solomon and bask in his wisdom (“she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon”) will together “rise up at the judgment” and “condemn” the “generation” who rejected Jesus—the prophet (“and behold, something greater than Jonah is here,”), king (“and behold, something greater than Solomon is here,” 12:42), and priest (earlier, using the phrase “greater than,” he claimed to be “greater than the temple,” 12:6). Jesus is also judge, and he concludes his conflict with the scribes and Pharisees with a judgment. He compares this generation to a demon-possessed man whose demon leaves him for a short season only to return with “seven other spirits more evil than itself” (12:45). They enter the empty abode, making it their permanent dwelling, “and the last state of that person is worse than the first” (12:45).
12:46–50 This chapter concludes with another illustration of Jesus’s statement “whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters” (12:30). Even his own family, at this moment in his ministry, stand against him: “While he was still speaking to the people, behold, his mother and his brothers stood outside, asking to speak to him” (12:46). Mark’s and John’s accounts (Mark 3:20–21; John 7:1–5) make it clear that Jesus’s family misunderstands his mission (“not even his brothers believed in him,” John 7:5). They want to speak with him to deter him from clashing with the authorities. This is why he replied, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” (Matt 12:48). He is not denying Mary and his siblings (13:55–56). He is redefining relationships and making clear that a relationship with God through him takes priority over any other relationship: “And stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother’” (12:49–50). In the immediate context of chapters 8–12, the will of God means to follow Jesus, believe in him, listen to him, rest in him, and acknowledge his authority.
At the end of chapter 12, Matthew brings to his readers, as Michael Green summarizes, “the importance of decision about Jesus to a climax. It is possible to be religious like the Pharisees, and still not be part of the kingdom of God. It is possible to be physically related to the messiah himself and still not be part of the kingdom of God. Religious practices and religious pedigree are utterly inadequate to bring anybody into the kingdom. There needs to be an acknowledgment of who Jesus is, and a determined decision to follow him.”10
The Parables of Jesus (13:1–53)
On “that same day” Jesus shifted locations (he “went out of the house and sat beside the sea,” 13:1). The crowds that “gathered about him” were so great that he got on a boat and pushed offshore (13:2). As he sat on the boat, he taught the people onshore, preaching in parables. The first parable was “the parable of the sower” (13:18). A farmer sowed seed on four surfaces: “along the path . . . on rocky ground . . . among thorns . . . [and] on good soil” (13:4–7). Only the last soil was fruitful—the seeds “produced grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty” (13:8). The other seeds failed because “the birds came and devoured them” (13:4), the lack of the “depth of soil” to develop roots (13:5), and the thorns that “grew” around the seeds and “choked them” (13:7).
Before Jesus interprets this parable, he first calls people to listen (“He who has ears, let him hear,” 13:9). His disciples are confused. So, they come close to the boat and ask, perhaps in a whisper, “Why do you speak to them in parables?” (13:10). He answers, perhaps in a whisper as well (as his voice would carry over the waters), saying, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. For to the one who has, more will be given, and he will have an abundance, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand” (13:11–13). He supports that claim with a prophecy from Isaiah, which he claims is being fulfilled now (see 13:14–15; Isa 6:9–10). Later, Matthew will interpret Jesus’s method of teaching, saying that “all these things Jesus said to the crowds in parables; indeed, he said nothing to them without a parable” (13:34) as a fulfillment of Psalm 78:2: “This was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet: ‘I will open my mouth in parables; I will utter what has been hidden since the foundation of the world’” (Matt 13:35).
For the disciples, however, parables serve a different purpose. Parables conceal and reveal. To those who persist in unbelief, the mystery of the gospel of the kingdom is not seen, but, to those receptive to what God is doing in Jesus, parables are like looking at stained-glass windows on the inside of a church while the sun pours through. For the twelve, Jesus affirms their unique spiritual privilege: “But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear. For truly, I say to you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it” (13:16–17).
To those who persist in unbelief, the mystery of the gospel of the kingdom is not seen, but, to those receptive to what God is doing in Jesus, parables are like looking at stained-glass windows on the inside of a church while the sun pours through.
“Hear then” (13:18), Jesus says to those disciples who by God’s sovereign grace can “see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their heart” (13:15). Indeed, when Jesus finished his teaching from the boat, he turns to the twelve and asks, “Have you understood all these things?” and they reply, “Yes” (13:51). They have been chosen to be scribes who are being “trained” by Jesus to grasp and give to others the “treasure” of “the kingdom of heaven” (13:52).
In verses 18–23, Jesus explains the parable of the sower. When the gospel preacher (“the sower”) preaches “the word of the kingdom” (sows “seed,” 13:18–19), people respond in four different ways. The first three groups of people (represented by three surfaces) have an immediate or ultimately negative response to the gospel. Inwardly, the seed does not take root because they are hard, shallow, or self-indulgent; outwardly, it does not grow because of Satan, persecutions, trials, and temptations.
The Pharisees would well represent the first surface (the seed “sown along the path”), where the word is clearly taught and demonstrated, yet “the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart,” 13:19). Many from the crowd are like the second surface (“rocky ground,” 13:20) in that they gladly hear the word until the cost of discipleship becomes too great (“yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately he falls away,” 13:21). Judas well represents the third surface (“sown among thorns”), in that he heard the word (and even preached it himself!) and yet “the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful” (13:22).
Jesus’s parable concludes, however, on an incredibly optimistic note. In fact, it could be argued that the final surface (“good soil”) is the pinnacle of the parable and intended to encourage the twelve in their missions both to Israel and eventually to all nations. There will be some people who hear and understand the word, and they will be superabundantly fruitful (“bears fruit,” some yielding “a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty,” 13:23). “The good hearer, who is neither hard nor shallow nor self-indulgent, welcomes the word immediately so it cannot be snatched away by Satan, welcomes it deeply so it is not withered by persecution, and welcomes it exclusively so other concerns do not strangle it.”11
As Jesus continues to teach in parables, now both to the disciples and the crowd (“them,” 13:24; cf. 13:10, 34), he offers six more parables that focus on three themes: gospel growth, gospel judgment, and gospel gain.
The gospel growth theme is found in verses 8, 12, 23, and likely 47–48, where the kingdom is compared to an enormous net tossed into the sea for a “full” catch. The parables of the Mustard Seed and the Leaven (13:31–33) clearly address this theme. “The kingdom of heaven” will start small (be like “the smallest of all seeds” planted in a field) that “when it has grown it is larger than all the garden plants” (13:32). On this “tree,” people from among the nations will gather together with Israel (“the birds of the air [will] come and make nests in its branches,” 13:32). Moreover, like a little leaven hidden within a large amount of flour (“three measures,” 13:33), the kingdom will expand and grow far beyond its initial projections. Despite rejection, heresies, apostasies, and opposition, the gospel will spread from Jerusalem to Judea to Samaria to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8). What the sower sows in the good soil will produce “a great multitude that no one could number” (Rev 7:9).
The second theme of the six parables is gospel judgment. Jesus said that he came to bring a sword (Matt 10:34), and that sword shows itself in his parables where he divides the joy that comes to those who believe the gospel and the sorrow that comes to those who do not. Both the parables of the Weeds and the Net end with Jesus’s pronouncement: “and throw them [‘the sons of the evil one,’ 13:38, ‘law-breakers,’ 13:41] into the fiery furnace. In that place, there will be weeping [sorrow] and gnashing of teeth [regret]” (13:42, 50). In the first parable, the “reapers” (angels) will “gather the weeds,” bind them together, and burn them; in the second, just as good fish are preserved (put “into containers”), and the rotten fish tossed back into the sea or the bin (“threw away the bad,” 13:48), so at the last judgment (“at the end of the age,” 13:39, 40, 49) angels will “separate the evil from the righteous,” throwing the evil “into the fiery furnace” (13:49–50). When the Son of Man returns with his angels (16:27; 24:30; 26:64), his judgment of the wicked will be good news for the righteous, who will, on that day and forever, “shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father” (13:43).
The third theme—gospel gain—is found in the parables of the Hidden Treasure and the Pearl of Great Value. They both begin with the phrase “the kingdom of heaven is like” (13:44, 45) and end with two radical actions related to the gospel’s inestimable worth. To the man who in discovering the gospel is like finding a “treasure hidden in a field” and to the merchant who finds “one pearl of great value” (13:44–45), sacrificing everything to take hold of this joyous discovery is the natural reaction (“in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field,” 13:44, “went and sold all that he had and bought it,” 13:45). Grasping the gospel is far more valuable than the cost of discipleship.
The Rejection of Jesus and the Beheading of John (13:54–14:12)
13:54–58 Here, Matthew records Jesus’s rejection in Nazareth, what Witherington labels “Disowned at Home.”12 After Jesus spoke in their synagogue, his hometown was “astonished.” With five rhetorical questions, that Matthew forms into a chiasm, they express their astonishment (13:54–56 NASB):
Where did this man get this wisdom and these miraculous powers?
Is not this the carpenter’s son?
Is not his mother called Mary, and his brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Judas?
And his sisters, are they not all with us?
Where then did this man get all these things?
While their questions confirm historical realities and openly acknowledge Jesus’s extraordinary knowledge and mighty powers, they also reveal their skepticism. They refuse to believe that a man they know to be Mary’s son biologically and Joseph’s son legally (Matt 1:18–25) could be the messiah. Of course, Matthew’s audience understands Jesus is far more than some “carpenter’s son” born of a woman. He is the “beloved Son” (3:17; 17:5) of the heavenly Father. From where Jesus came really matters.
The seeds sown in the synagogue were quickly snatched away, as their astonishment rapidly evolved into offense: “And they took offense at him” (13:57a). They not only refused to acknowledge Jesus’s true identity revealed in his words and works, but their familiarity with him also bred contempt.
Jesus responded to their hostile “unbelief” with a judgment: “And he did not do many mighty works there” (13:58). This is the first time and place where he limits his powers. Faith is not merely the human response to Jesus that untaps his divine authority; it is that unbelief is a damnable offense to him. In 11:20–24, Jesus denounced Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum and predicted their future judgment: those unbelieving cities will be “brought down to Hades” (11:23) on “the day of judgment” (11:22, 24). Nazareth experiences a present judgment—his refusal to heal. In context, “the centurion’s ‘I am not worthy’ and ‘only say the word’ (8:8) are worlds away from Nazareth’s collective dishonor and disbelief. And,” as will be seen, “the Canaanite woman’s sure confession to Jesus (as ‘Son of David’ and ‘Lord’) compared to Nazareth’s rhetorical question about Jesus (‘Is not this the carpenter’s son?’) seems as far removed as heaven is from hell.”13
Faith is not merely the human response to Jesus that untaps his divine authority; it is that unbelief is a damnable offense to him.
14:1–12 In chapter 14, Matthew transitions from Jesus’s rejection by his hometown to Herod’s beheading of John the Baptist. “Herod had seized John . . . and put him in prison for the sake of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, because John had been saying to him, ‘It is not lawful for you to have her’” (14:3–4). John boldly told the tetrarch that he was violating Leviticus 18:16 and 20:21, as well as other Old Testament laws. The crimes could include incest (she was his sister-in-law and niece) and polygamy (he already had a wife). For some time now Herod “wanted to put him to death,” but because the Jewish populace “held him to be a prophet” (14:5), he held off until his hand was forced to do so.
After a seductive dance at his birthday party (“the daughter of Herodias danced before the company”), she so “pleased Herod” that he made a rash vow: “he promised with an oath to give her whatever she might ask” (14:6–7). “Prompted by her mother”—the mastermind behind the plot to kill John that night—she, without hesitation, answered with a gruesome demand, “Give me the head of John the Baptist here on a platter” (14:8). This made Herod “sorry” (14:9). He was sorry because, as Mark states in his retelling of the story, Herod knew that John was “a righteous and holy man,” someone he “kept . . . safe” so that he might listen to him preach (“heard him gladly,” Mark 6:20). Yet, because he feared man more than he feared God (“because of his oaths and his guests”), he sinned against his better judgment: he gave the command to have “John beheaded in the prison” and watched as John’s “head” was brought in “on a platter and given to the girl,” who in turn “brought it to her mother” (Matt 14:9–11). Choked by the cares of the world, Herod chooses to keep his worldly power rather than to submit to the prophet’s message of the kingdom.
Machaerus, the mountain fortress of Herod, and location of the dance before Herod Antipas, imprisonment of John the Baptist, and John’s execution
Worshipping I AM (14:13–36)
14:13–21 In this flashback to John’s death, Matthew gives us a window into Herod’s troubled conscience, or, at least, his less than lucid mind: “At that time Herod the tetrarch heard about the fame of Jesus, and he said to his servants, ‘This is John the Baptist. He has been raised from the dead; that is why these miraculous powers are at work in him’” (14:1–2). Matthew also takes us into the heart of Christ: “Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a desolate place by himself” (14:13a). Perhaps “heart” represents more than Matthew states. Yet, there is a human moment here. After hearing of John’s horrific death (14:12), Jesus wants to be alone. And one wonders when he finally arrives at the “desolate place by himself,” if he cries over the death of a beloved friend (John 11:35) and if he contemplates the horrific death that awaits him (Matt 26:36–46). Certainly, Matthew intends his listening audience to see the details of the flashback of John’s humiliating murder to foreshadow the degrading passion of the Christ: as John was seized, bound, and sentenced to death by a ruler who lacked moral courage, the same story will play out in Jesus’s life.
And that same compassion that led Jesus to the cross is showcased in the feeding of the 5,000. While Jesus is seeking time alone, he is once again interrupted. “When the crowds” (the word “crowd/s” is repeated 7x in 14:13–23) learn where Jesus is (on the northwestern shore of the Sea of Galilee—“Bethsaida,” Luke 9:10), “they followed him on foot from the towns” (Matt 14:13). It appears that the only solitude he received was on the boat! Yet, he denied himself and sacrificed his own needs. For “when he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them and healed their sick” (14:14). Not only did his heart go out to them (“he had compassion,” cf. 9:36; 15:32; 20:34), his loving hands healed their sick bodies and then fed their hungry stomachs.
In this wilderness (“a desolate place,” 14:15), Jesus takes “five loaves and the two fish” and somehow created enough food for “five thousand men, besides women and children” to stuff their stomachs (“they all ate and were satisfied”), and take home even more (“And they took up twelve baskets full of the broken pieces left over,” 14:17–21). This miracle, of course, especially echoes the divine provision of manna and meat in the wilderness (Exod 16; Num 11; cf. Elisha’s feeding of the one hundred men with twenty loaves with “some [bread] left,” 2Kgs 4:42–44). Matthew’s point, however, is not merely to say Jesus is greater than Moses and Elisha. This edible attestation of Jesus’s identity points to Jesus as the sovereign Lord over creation.
This edible attestation of Jesus’s identity points to Jesus as the sovereign Lord over creation.
So too does the next miracle. There have been many miracles in Matthew thus far. For example, Jesus cleansed a leper (8:3), cured a Roman centurion’s servant (8:13), stilled a storm at sea (8:26), restored a paralytic (9:7–8), resurrected a person from the dead (9:25), opened the eyes of a demon-possessed blind mute (12:22), and fed 5,000 plus people with five loaves and two fishes (14:19). These miracles—how, when, where, and to whom they are done—reveal something about the nature of the kingdom of heaven, such as everyone—Jew or Gentile, religious outcast or insider, rich or poor, male or female, adult or child—who recognizes their poverty of spirit and comes in faith to Christ for salvation from disease, demons, and death will find the rest they desire.
These miracles reveal something about the nature of the kingdom of heaven, such as everyone who recognizes their poverty of spirit and comes in faith to Christ for salvation from disease, demons, and death will find the rest they desire.
These miracles also reveal Jesus’s identity as promised messiah (11:4–5) who has the divine authority over every disease and every affliction (Matt 4:23–24; 8:16; 9:35; 14:34–36; 15:29–31) and the power to forgive sins (9:2, 6), a forgiveness ultimately obtained on the cross (“He took our illnesses and bore our diseases,” Isa 53:4 quoted in Matt 8:17). Furthermore, these miracles—especially the miracle of the feeding of the 5,000 and the walking on water—point to Jesus’s divine nature.
14:22–33 Jesus both shows and says he is God in the flesh. Matthew’s retelling of the miracle of Jesus walking on water is told in two parts with both parts ending with high Christological confessions (Jesus’s “it is I [am],” 14:27; the disciples’ “Truly you are the Son of God,’” 14:33b) and adoration (“those in the boat worshiped him,” 14:33a).
After Jesus comes down the mountain, where he finally got the prayerful solitude he desired, “in the fourth watch of the night he came” to the wave-battered boat “walking on the sea” (14:23–25). The disciples were “terrified,” and they “cried out in fear,” thinking Jesus to be “a ghost!” (14:26). Jesus, presumably yelling through the roaring waves, shouts, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid” (14:27). “It is I” (ego eimi) could be translated “It is I AM,” an intentional allusion to YHWH’s declaration to Moses at the burning bush (Exod 3:14 LXX), and also a likely allusion to YHWH’s statement in the first Servant section in Isaiah 43:1–3, where “I am the LORD your God” tells Israel to “fear not” because he has saved them (“I have redeemed you . . . When you pass through the waters, I will be with you”). Also, and of great interest, Jesus’s “I am” self-identification is literally made in the dead center of this narrative.
Jesus does more than say he is the divine Son of God; he shows it in four ways. First, while he is up on a mountain half the day, he knows the precise location of the storm-tossed disciples who are “a long way from the land” (14:24; “about three or four miles” offshore, John 6:19). That is supernatural sight and navigation! Second, he walks on water to get to them (“walking on the sea,” Matt 14:25, 26). The sea, which often symbolizes in Scripture the diabolic chaos of this fallen world, can only be controlled by God (“You rule the raging of the sea; when its waves rise, you still them,” Ps 89:9; “who alone stretched out the heavens and trampled [walked upon!] the waves of the sea,” Job 9:8). Third, Jesus enabled Peter to join him in wave-walking: “And Peter [with short-lived, but courageous faith] answered him, ‘Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.’ He said, ‘Come.’ So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus” (Matt 14:28–29). Fourth, Jesus shows his divine power both in saving a drowning man and settling the stormy sea. Once Peter turned his eyes from Jesus (“when he saw the wind”), he feared death (“he was afraid,” 14:30). And rightly so! He began to sink. He cried out, “Lord, save me” (14:30), and Jesus graciously and quickly did: “Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, ‘O you of little faith, why did you doubt?’ And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased” (14:31–32).14
These twelve verses are the story of salvation in miniature. In communion with his heavenly Father, Jesus responds to the need of his dying people by descending from the highest heights to journey into the deepest darkness, so that when the morning light prevails (“while it was still [partly] dark”—like Easter morning, John 20:1), he might rescue sinners who cry out, “Lord, save me” (Matt 14:30).
14:34–36 This brilliant chapter’s ending might seem to end on an anticlimactic moment. But this is the Matthean (spiritual) climax!
And when they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret. And when the men of that place recognized him, they sent around to all that region and brought to him all who were sick and implored him that they might only touch the fringe of his garment. And as many as touched it were made well. (14:34–36)
Look at the faith of this region. Such faith. Great faith! Faith in action. The patriarchs of that place (“the men”) knew Jesus for who he was (they “recognized him”), and so they reacted by loving their neighbors, and likely even their enemies. The verbs of these leading men are awe-inspiring: “They sent around to all that region and brought to him [they did the work, like the paralytic’s friends] all who were sick and [once they labored and finally reached Jesus] implored him that they might only touch the fringe of his garment.” Is this superstitious faith? No! This is real faith—the touch of a twelve-year bleeding woman faith. Why? Jesus says so. Shows so. “And as many as touched it were made well.”
No Faith, Little Faith, and Great Faith (15:1–16:28)
The next section features more miracles and diverse reactions to Jesus in various regions. The reactions can be summarized as expressions of no faith, little faith, and great faith. The scribes and Pharisees demonstrate a complete lack of faith in Jesus. They once again question Jesus’s ministry and ask for a sign. The twelve continue to show aspects of genuine faith (they follow Jesus, learn from him, and Peter confesses correctly Jesus’s identity—“You are the Christ, the Son of the living God,” 16:16). The disciples, however, still misunderstand Jesus’s mission (to go to the cross) and theirs (to pick up their own crosses). In contrast, people from the crowds—especially a Canaanite woman—demonstrate an amazing amount of faith.
The Canaanite Woman’s “Great Faith” (15:21–28)
In 15:21–28, Matthew writes of the “great faith” of a Canaanite woman from the district of Tyre and Sidon.15 Her faith is “great” in four ways. First, she rightly acknowledges Jesus as “Son of David” (15:22) and “Lord” (15:22, 25, 27). Second, she has complete confidence in Jesus’s power to heal her daughter, who is “severely oppressed by a demon” (15:22). She believes that Jesus can conquer the forces of evil and bestow mercy on those who trust in him. Third, she believes that the mission of the Jewish messiah is to extend to Gentiles. Thus, and fourth, she is persistent. She is neither deterred by the disciples’ annoyance (“send her away,” 15:23) nor Jesus’s initial hesitancy. To Jesus’s silence (“But he did not answer her a word,” 15:23), she persists in her prayer (“But she came [closer] and knelt before him, saying, ‘Lord, help me,’ 15:25), and to his statements “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (15:24) and “It is not right to take the children’s bread [Israel] and throw it to the dogs [Gentiles]” (15:26), she demands that the Great Commission start now: “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table” (15:27). Jesus agrees. After he commends this Gentile woman (whom Matthew labels with the archaic term of Israel’s ancient enemy—“Canaanite”), “O woman, great is your faith!” he answers her plea (“‘Be it done for you as you desire.’ And her daughter was healed instantly,” 15:28). She receives some impressive “crumbs”!
The Roman city of Tyre
The Feeding of the 4,000 (15:29–39)
In the next scene—the healing of the sick and the feeding of the 4,000—Matthew ties together both the bread motif and the theme of Gentile inclusion. After Jesus hiked up a mountain near the Sea of Galilee (15:29–31) and “sat down,” a crowd who made the journey with him, brought to “his feet” those in need of healing—“the lame, the blind, the crippled, the mute, and many others”—all of whom “he healed” (15:30). The people’s reaction was more than appropriate. Their astonishment (“the crowd wondered”) was followed by their praise (“And they glorified the God of Israel,” 15:31).
Next, and once again, Jesus’s heart goes out to them due to their hunger: “Then Jesus called his disciples to him and said, ‘I have compassion on the crowd because they have been with me now three days and have nothing to eat. And I am unwilling to send them away hungry, lest they faint on the way’” (15:32). The disciples doubt that “in such a desolate place” their rations (“seven [loaves], and a few small fish”), and the rations of others, would be enough “to feed so great a crowd” (15:33–34), a group of “four thousand men, besides women and children” (15:38). Jesus takes matters into his own hand. He seats the crowd, takes the food, and has the disciples distribute it. Miraculously, they do not run out of food. The crowd is full (“they all ate and were satisfied”), and, like the feeding of the 5,000, there are leftovers (“seven baskets full of the broken pieces left over,” 15:37).
Most commentators see this crowd to be comprised of mostly Gentiles due to the location of the miracle (“the region of the Decapolis,” Mark 7:31), the literary context (Jesus just “fed” the Canaanite woman and her daughter), the unique statement (“And they glorified the God of Israel,” Matt 15:31), and the numerology (as the twelve baskets of leftovers for the 5,000 Jews was emblematic of God’s full provision for the tribes of Israel, so the seven baskets of leftovers for the 4,000 Gentiles symbolized the broad scope of Christ’s mission). As the Canaanite woman acknowledges, Jesus is the messiah (“Son of David”) whose mission is to fulfill the promise to Abraham (“Son of Abraham,” 1:1).
“In Vain Do They Worship Me” (16:1–12, with 15:1–20)
After Jesus sent “away the crowds, he got into the boat and went to the region of Magadan” (15:39). There he encounters the Pharisees and the Sadducees (16:1–12). Both here and 15:1–20, where Jesus is confronted by the Jewish religious leaders, he reprimands their lack of faith and he warns his disciples about them.
15:1–20 Pharisees and scribes from Jerusalem question Jesus, “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat” (15:2). In context, this question is ridiculous. Instead of asking Jesus about the source of his wisdom and works (fully on display throughout Matthew 8–14), or in humility inquiring, “Who are you?” or “What must I do to become part of your kingdom?” they ask about handwashing. Mark provides the details of their tradition: “the Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they wash their hands properly, . . . and when they come from the marketplace, they do not eat unless they wash. And there are many other traditions that they observe, such as the washing of cups and pots and copper vessels and dining couches” (Mark 7:3–4). Jesus is aware of their man-made traditions, and he is disgusted by it. He answers their question with a question: “And why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition?” (Matt 15:3).
Next, Jesus speaks of handwashing as an example of their lawlessness. He could have said something about how only the Levitical priests were commanded to cleanse themselves before their service (Lev 22), not everyone before every meal. Instead, he turns to Exodus and Isaiah. In Exodus 20:12, “God commanded, ‘Honor your father and your mother,’” and in Exodus 21:17 he said, “Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die” (Matt 15:4). In contrast, Jesus claims that they make “void the word of God” by teaching, “If anyone tells his father or his mother, ‘What you would have gained from me is given to God,’ he need not honor his father’” (15:5–6). Here Jesus refers to the tradition of Corban, wherein someone pledges money to the temple that cannot be used for personal uses (e.g., supporting one’s parents in their old age). Because Jesus hated how they broke the law of God and the law to love one’s neighbor (even their own parents), Jesus railed against them: “You hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy of you, when he said: ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men’” (Matt 15:7–9, quoting Isa 29:13).
Jesus continues by turning his attention from the hypocritical lawbreaking teachers of tradition to “the people” (Matt 15:10), notably “his disciples” (15:12), whom he teaches a lesson on true uncleanness. Using some of the commandments from the second half of the Ten Commandments, Jesus teaches that “it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth; this defiles a person” (15:11). He interjects a judgment against the Pharisees and scribes, saying that “they are blind guides,” and as such both they and those they lead will soon meet their destruction (“if the blind lead the blind, both will fall into a pit,” 15:14). The disciples are told to “let them alone” for God will soon judge them: “Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be rooted up” (15:13–14). Next, Jesus further explains “the parable” of the Dirty Mouth, saying that “to eat with unwashed hands does not defile anyone” (15:20). Defilement comes from the heart and out of the mouth. The hands and stomach are not the places to look for uncleanness; the heart and mouth are: “what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander” (15:18–19).
16:1–12 16:1–4 features another round of battles between Jesus and the Jewish religious leaders. The Pharisees and Sadducees produce an incongruous alliance (as the two groups held a number of different theological views) to tempt Jesus. “To test him they asked him to show them a sign from heaven” (16:1). To them, turning bread into more bread on earth is insufficient. They want his God-like claims for himself (see Matt 7:21–23; 9:2; 11:4–6, 27; 12:28) supported by some miracle from the sky—like manna falling from heaven or a cloud descending upon them as they speak. Of course, what they ask is satanic in that it flies in the face of Jesus’s mission—the cross.
Jesus’s response is remarkable. While they know how to predict the weather (“When it is evening, you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red.’ And in the morning, ‘It will be stormy today, for the sky is red and threatening’”), they fail to “interpret the signs of the times” (16:2–3). Such sign-seeking is Satanic! “An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a [heavenly] sign, but no sign will be given to it except the [earthly] sign of Jonah” (16:4; cf. 12:39). The pattern of the prophet is the pattern they should be looking for in the messiah. The heavenly sign is the Son of the heavenly Father come to earth. The sign of Jonah certainly features Jesus’s death, burial, and resurrection (Jonah was buried in the deep sea, as good as dead, until the big fish delivered him from death). It might also feature self-sacrifice (Jonah’s willingness to be thrown overboard so all on the boat might be saved) and mission to the Gentiles (reluctant as he was, Jonah preached to the Assyrians and they repented). Disciples of Jesus are completely satisfied with the provision of the Bread from Heaven—the sacrificial death and amazing resurrection of the Son of David who came to fulfill the Abrahamic covenant.
In Matthew 15–16, the Evangelist narrates various reactions to Jesus. The crowds and the Canaanite woman demonstrate faith in Jesus. They believe he can save, and he does. The religious leaders demonstrate no faith. Thus, they question Jesus’s person and power. The disciples, at times, show genuine faith, and at other times, show what Jesus labels “little faith.” The nature of such “little faith” in these chapters centers on three misunderstandings.
First, they fail to understand Jesus’s power. “When the disciples reached the other side,” it dawned on them that they forgot food (“we brought no bread,” 16:7; “they had forgotten . . . bread,” 16:5; they were “discussing among” themselves “the fact that [they had] no bread,” 16:8). This discussion is laughable, as Jesus who is “aware” of the conversation, points out, “O you of little faith, why are you discussing among yourselves the fact that you have no bread? Do you not yet perceive? Do you not remember the five loaves for the five thousand, and how many baskets you gathered? Or the seven loaves for the four thousand, and how many baskets you gathered?” (16:8–10). What faithless forgetfulness! Did they actually forget what happened twice a few days ago when they were in a desolate place without enough food for themselves and the crowds? Jesus fed over 5,000 people, and there were twelve baskets full of leftovers (14:13–21) and over 4,000 people, and there were seven baskets of leftovers (15:32–38). To Jesus, their concern (“they had forgotten . . . bread,” 16:5) should be no problem. If he fed 4,000 with seven loaves and 5,000 with five loaves, imagine what he could do with zero loaves.
Second, they fail to see the dangers of false teaching (15:12). This point is especially evident in 16:5–12, where Jesus thrice warns: “Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees” (16:6, 11, 12). Like leaven, their teaching might be difficult to notice, but its effects are apparent: it nullifies God’s Word and places unbearable burdens on people’s backs. Their leaven-like lessons might include adding to Scripture (the scribes’ and Pharisees’ handwashing rituals, 15:2) or subtracting from Scripture (the Sadducees’ denial of the resurrection, 22:23).
Third, they fail to understand the Christ’s mission. Earlier, they misunderstood the scope of Jesus’s mission. This is, in part, why they “begged” Jesus to send the Canaanite woman away (15:23). In 16:13–28, they misunderstand the necessity of Christ’s crucifixion and their own cruciformity.
“You Are the Christ” (16:13–28)
16:13–16 This pericope, set in “the district of Caesarea Philippi,” begins with Jesus’s question about his identity, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” (16:13). The disciples’ reply, “Some say John, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets” (16:14). Knowing that he is more than a mere prophet—whether it be the expected Elijah, the executed John the Baptist, or esteemed Jeremiah alive from the dead—he asks a follow-up question directly to his disciples, “But who do you say that I am?” (16:15). Simon Peter correctly replies, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (16:16). Jesus labels himself “the Son of Man,” the heavenly ruler whose dominion will extend over all nations and be without end. Peter calls him “the Christ,” namely, the promised anointed king from the house of David who will rule over God’s people (2Sam 7).
16:17–20 At this high point (the great confession!) and turning point (Jesus now turns toward Jerusalem) in the Gospel, Jesus replies by revealing to Peter God’s gracious revelation to him: “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven” (Matt 16:17). Next, he bestows upon Peter another amazing gift: “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (16:18–19).
The “Gates of Hell” in Caesarea Philippi
The referent to “this rock” could be Peter’s confession, Peter himself, or Jesus. Linguistically, it makes sense that, as Jesus is the subject of the sentence (“I will build”), “my church” the object, and “on this rock” the location of the building activity, that Peter is the rock. Upon his apostolic leadership, the church will be built (see Acts 1–15, where he is mentioned 56x). Also, Jesus’s play on words supports this view (“rock” [petra] and “Peter” [Petros]). It is more likely, however, that Jesus is the rock. This is due to the language within Matthew (Jesus compares his “words” to building on a “rock,” 7:24, 25; and he labels himself “the stone the builders rejected,” 21:42) and elsewhere in the New Testament. For example, the words “rock” and “stone” are used only in reference to one person: Jesus (e.g., “and the Rock was Christ,” 1Cor 10:4; “a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense,” Rom 9:33). While the apostles are part of the “foundation” of Jesus’s building project, “Christ Jesus himself” alone is “the cornerstone” (Eph 2:19–22).
While Peter might not be given the designation “rock,” he (along with the other disciples, the “you” is plural, cf. 18:18) is given a unique role within the kingdom. The twelve are given “the keys of the kingdom of heaven,” so that whatever they “bind on earth shall be bound in heaven” and whatever they “loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (16:19). “The keys,” as Zwingli put it, “are the preaching . . . of the gospel,” and the binding and loosing means that “whoever believes this [gospel] will be free of his sins and be saved” and “whoever does not believe . . . will be damned.”16 Only through the apostolic testimony concerning Jesus will anyone enter the kingdom.
16:21–28 Returning to the theme of the disciples’ misunderstanding of Christ’s mission and their own, Matthew concludes this important chapter with Jesus foretelling his passion, death, and resurrection and the need for his disciples to follow him in the path of suffering. After Peter’s confession and Jesus’s commission (to bind and loose), “From that time” (this is the first of eleven times Jesus would speak of his mission in Jerusalem)17 Matthew writes, “Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised” (16:21). Here is where the misunderstanding comes into play. When Peter thinks “Christ” he thinks “conquering Christ” not “Christ crucified.” He envisions a holy war and holy victory in the holy city. So, Peter takes Jesus aside and rebukes him, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you” (16:22), which receives an even stronger rebuke from Jesus, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man” (16:23). Like Satan, Peter was tempting Jesus to forgo Gethsemane and Golgotha and skip straight to Glory. But Jesus refused to take the crown before the cross. He also made clear to his disciples that his passion pattern was theirs: “Then Jesus told his disciples, ‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?’” (16:24–26).
To gain the final victory, Christians embrace the paradox of losing their lives, so they might find eternal life.
In his excellent commentary, Frederick Dale Bruner answers the question, “What are the characteristics of a Christian?” with two qualifications: (1) Confessing Jesus as Christ (Christo-centricity) and (2) following Jesus as the suffering Christ (Crucio-christocentricity).18 To gain the final victory, Christians embrace the paradox of losing their lives (self-denial/cross-bearing), so they might find eternal life. The motive for embracing the cross-centered life is that in the end those who have joined with Christ in this life will celebrate victory with him when he comes to judge (“For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father and then he will repay each person according to what he has done,” 16:27). Those who have sacrificed time, money, convenience, comfort, and safety to selflessly serve the cause of Christ and his suffering people—e.g., by feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, receiving the stranger, clothing the naked, caring for the sick, and visiting the imprisoned (see 25:31–46)—will receive eternal glory, a glory manifested when Christ returns but also at the transfiguration (“Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here [Peter, James, and John] who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom [glory],” 16:28).
Those who have sacrificed time, money, convenience, comfort, and safety to selflessly serve the cause of Christ and his suffering people will receive eternal glory.
Who Went to the Cross (17:1–23)
This next section ends with the disciples’ distress (“And they were greatly distressed,” 17:23b). They were troubled because Jesus spoke of his impending death (“The Son of Man is about to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him, and he will be raised on the third day,” 17:22–23a). Notice the title Jesus, once again, uses for himself. He calls himself “Son of Man” thirty times in Matthew, by far his favorite self-designation. It is a title that fits well with his Davidic heritage, but also the transfiguration.
17:1–8 “After six days” (an allusion both to the creation account, Gen 1:31, and Moses’s encounter of God’s glory on a mountain where after six days the Lord called out to him, Exod 24:16), Jesus takes his apostolic inner circle (Peter, James, and John) “up a high mountain” (Matt 17:1), to show these future pillars of the church the cornerstone they are to build upon. The Son of Man is the beloved Son of God.
This point is first made with the light show: “And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light” (17:2). The Greek word metemorphōthē can speak of a change in constitution. Here, however, the emphasis lies not in a change of form (Jesus does not change into his preincarnate invisibility), but of complexion. Jesus shines “like the sun shining in full strength” (Rev 1:16). The poetic parallelism and alliteration in Matthew 17:2 make this point:
|and his face||shone||[as] the sun [hōs ho heliōs]|
|and his clothes||became white||as [the] light [hōs to phōs]|
The brightness points plainly to Jesus’s divine glory—the Shekinah glory that led Israel into the wilderness (Exod 13:21), descended upon Moses at Sinai (24:15–18), filled the tabernacle and temple (40:34–35; 2Chr 7:1–3), and on that day the “bright cloud [that] overshadowed them” while Jesus was reprimanding Peter. Jesus is as bright as his Father who said from that cloud, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him” (Matt 17:5).
The phrase from that theophany—“listen to him”—especially stands out as the three disciples just witnessed “Moses and Elijah, talking with him” (17:3). Peter was so in awe of the revelation of the two greatest prophets of his Scriptures standing before him, that he missed the fact that “the Law” (Moses) and “the Prophets” (Elijah) point to Jesus and are fulfilled in him. In fact, to Matthew’s observant audience, 17:3 is just a visual confirmation of Jesus’s pronouncement in 5:17. Peter, using the right title for Jesus but failing to see that Jesus is the LORD of Moses and Elijah, responds, “Lord, it is good that we are here. If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah” (17:4). The Father makes sure that Peter’s misunderstanding (Immanuel does not need a mini-temple on the high mountain next to two of his servants) is met with a heavenly sign—a loud voice from a bright cloud: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him” (17:5). The Father’s voice, featured only here and at Jesus’s baptism, is an amalgamation of Psalm 2:7 (“You are my son,” said in reference to the anointed king) and Isaiah 42:1 (said about the Suffering Servant, “in whom my soul delights”). The heavenly corrective, which rightly frightened Peter, James, and John (“they fell on their faces and were terrified,” Matt 17:6) is followed by Jesus’s gracious posture toward them (“Jesus came and touched them”) and word to them (“Rise, and have no fear,” 17:7) and a visible corrective (“And when they lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only,” 17:8). Jesus only! He is not one of the prophets, he is “the prophet” (Deut 18:15), and more than a human mouthpiece (he is the beloved Son of the Father), and as such he is God’s final word: “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son” (Heb 1:1–2a).
17:9–13 As they descended, Jesus ordered the trio to keep what they witnessed to themselves (“Tell no one the vision”) until they witness the full story of salvation (“the Son of Man is raised from the dead,” Matt 17:9). Later, in verse 23, the twelve will be distressed when Jesus talks about his death, but here in verse 9, Peter, James, and John are confused by it—“The Son of Man . . . dead?” So, they ask Jesus a point of clarification, “Then why do the scribes say that first Elijah must come?” (17:10), which is a reference to Malachi 4:5–6, where God speaks of sending Elijah to bring restoration before “the great and awesome day of the LORD.” Jesus replied by speaking of “John the Baptist” (Matt 17:13), saying that John was this Elijah-like figure (“I tell you that Elijah has already come,” 17:12, cf. Luke 1:17) who brought restoration through his preaching of repentance. Yet, those who “did not recognize him” as such, completely rejected him (“but did to him whatever they pleased,” Matt 17:12). John was beheaded (14:1–11), a cruel death that served to foreshadow Jesus’s fate (“So also the Son of Man will certainly suffer at their hands,” 17:12).
The lesson Jesus teaches on the mountain to Peter, James, and John is the foundational paradox of the Christian faith:
The exalted Jesus, with garments glistening, standing on a high mountain, flanked by two religious giants from the past, where all is light is also the humiliated Jesus whose clothes have been torn from him and divided, the one lifted upon the cross, flanked by two common, convicted criminals as darkness settles over the land. What paradoxical parallels between the transfiguration (17:1–8) and the crucifixion (27:33–54)! We have light and darkness, two saints and two sinners, and between all this is him—“This is my beloved Son” (17:5) (God’s voice from Heaven) and “Truly this was the Son of God” (27:54) (that pagan soldier’s voice moments after the crucifixion).19
17:14–23 Once Jesus, Peter, James, and John made it to the mountain valley, a man from the crowd approached Jesus and implored him, “Lord, have mercy on my son, for he has seizures and he suffers terribly. For often he falls into the fire, and often into the water” (17:15). The reason Jesus is approached is that nine out of nine apostles failed (“I brought him to your disciples, and they could not heal him,” 17:16; they “could . . . not cast it out,” 17:19). Their failure, and the demon-infested world Jesus enters into afresh, exasperates him. Mixing ideas and expressions uttered by YHWH (Deut 31:19; 32:5, 20; Num 14:11, 26-27; Isa 46:12a), Jesus says, “O faithless and twisted generation, how long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you? Bring him here to me” (17:17). Jesus solves the problem. The exorcism took him less than a second: “And Jesus rebuked the demon, and it came out of him, and the boy was healed instantly” (17:18).
Next, the disciples are aghast, not by the miracle, but by their impotence. So, the disciples come “privately” to Jesus and ask, “Why could we [they believe in themselves!] not cast it out?” (17:19). Once again Jesus names “little faith” as the problem. “Because of your little faith. For truly, I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you” (17:20). The difference between little faith and mustard-seed faith is the difference between the disciples’ failure and the father’s success. While Jesus bestowed upon the twelve the authority and ability to cast out demons (10:1, 8), here they must have relied on their own strength. In Mark’s version of this story, Jesus says, “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer” (Mark 9:29). No power because no prayer! Conversely, the father of the boy prays to Jesus: he comes to him, kneels before him, calls Jesus “Lord,” and begs for mercy. It is through such prayer—humble dependence on Jesus and complete trust in his fully sufficient power—that this man moves a mountain.
Lessons on Discipleship (17:24–20:34)
As Jesus and his disciples continue their journey to Jerusalem, Jesus teaches and illustrates ten lessons on discipleship.
Paying the Temple Tax (17:24–27)
The first lesson is that children of the kingdom should use their freedom to love others. This is illustrated in Matthew 17:24–27, where paying the temple tax is called into question. When Jesus and the disciples returned to Capernaum, “the collectors of the two-drachma tax went up to Peter and said, ‘Does your teacher not pay the tax?’ He said, ‘Yes’” (17:24–25a). This was an annual tax for the upkeep and services of Herod’s temple and based on the command in Exodus 30:12–14: “each shall give a ransom for his life” by giving “half a shekel according to the shekel of the sanctuary . . . as an offering to the LORD.”
When in private, Jesus taught Peter the above lesson. “What do you think, Simon? From whom do kings of the earth take toll or tax? From their sons or from others?” (17:25). Peter replied, “From others,” to which Jesus replied, “Then the sons are free” (17:26). That is, children of the king are tax exempt. Jesus makes a subtle point here (surely missed by Peter), namely, that there is no need to pay a temple tax if Jesus is greater than the temple in that he will replace the temple (Matt 12:6; 21:12–23; 24:2). Why pay for priests, sacrificial materials, and stone walls when Jesus with his own blood paid it all (“the Son of Man [came] to give his life as a ransom,” 20:28)?
That said, Jesus is aware that the temple still stands, and he is still alive. Therefore, so as “not to give offense” (17:27) to those supporting the current system, Jesus provides a miraculous provision so they might pay the tax. He orders Peter to “go to the sea and cast a hook and take the first fish that comes up” (17:27). He predicts that when Peter opens the fish’s mouth he will “find a shekel” to cover their costs (17:27). Presumably, all that happens. The lesson Jesus is teaching here is reflected well in 1 Corinthians 9:12 where Paul writes of enduring “anything rather than put an obstacle in the way of the gospel of Christ.”
Who is the Greatest? (18:1–6)
The second lesson focuses on humility. The disciples approach Jesus and ask, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” (18:1). Jesus answers their question about elevation with a visual and verbal rebuke about entrance: “And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them and said, ‘Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven’” (18:2–4). He calls his presumptuous disciples to repent (“turn”) and return to their original disposition of childlike trust (“become like children”). Becoming childlike means humility—“whoever humbles himself like this child” (18:4), the child who trusted Jesus when he called him (“calling to him a child”) and listened to what he asked him to do (“put him in the midst of them”). The only way to get into the kingdom is that way, and the only way to “move up” in it, so to speak, is to move down. Christians descend into greatness.
Christians descend into greatness.
Cutting Off Sin (18:7–9)
Humility, which is the basis of a right relationship with God, is also necessary for healthy relationships within the kingdom. As Jesus continues teaching about proper attitudes and actions toward both “children” (literally) and “little ones” (a metaphorical term for the marginalized within the kingdom, who could be literally children but not limited to children), he calls the spiritually mature (those truly great in the kingdom) to mortify their own flesh so as not to cause “one of these little ones who believe in me to sin” (18:6). This is the third lesson.
Jesus is aware that his followers live in a tempting world (“it is necessary that temptations come”), but the last thing he wants is for mature disciples to tempt immature ones to sin (“woe to the one by whom the temptation comes!” 18:7) by not guarding their own purity.
And if your hand or your foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life crippled or lame than with two hands or two feet to be thrown into the eternal fire. And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into the hell of fire (18:8–9).
Notice that Jesus’s call to cut off sin is urgent, decisive, total, and painful. Notice also the judgments are direr than the mortification. Being “thrown into the eternal fire” (18:8) or “the hell of fire” (18:9) are two similar images of God’s wrath; the other is having “a great millstone [a two-ton circular slab] fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea” (18:6). Both horrific images are intended to rouse disciples from spiritual slack.
The Parable of the Lost Sheep (18:10–14)
In verses 7–9, Jesus addresses actions as they relate to the “little ones.” Now, in verses 10–14, he addresses attitudes. He begins, “See that you do not despise one of these little ones” (18:10a). Put more positively: value the weak. Why? They matter to God. His care is shown in his angelic watchfulness (“For I tell you that in heaven their angels always see the face of my Father who is in heaven,” 18:10). The very angels that see God’s face serve and protect them.
God’s value is further demonstrated in Jesus’s parable of the Lost Sheep, which fits both with the last lesson and adds the idea of assurance to it. The fourth lesson is that God will not let his people perish.
What do you think? If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray? And if he finds it, truly, I say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray. So it is not the will of my Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish. (18:12–14)
God is committed to finding the strayed sheep and rejoicing over its restoration.
Church Discipline (18:15–20)
The fifth lesson is Jesus’s teaching on how the church properly confronts the church. Because Christians, like their heavenly Father, value even one straying sheep and believe that reproof is a loving thing (Lev 19:17–18), Jesus offers four clear steps for church discipline.
- First, “if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone” (18:15a). Have an honest and private conversation about the issue. “If he listens to you [agrees with you, asks for forgiveness, and repents], you have gained your brother” (18:15b). The relationship is restored.
- Second, “if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses” (18:16; cf. Deut 19:15).
- Third, “if he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the [whole] church” (Matt 18:17).
- Fourth, “and if he refuses to listen even to the church,” treat him like an unbeliever (“let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector,” 18:17).If he refused to “listen” (4x), the church has the authority to excommunicate him.
When the church gathers to judge a case of church discipline, Christ is especially present (“For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them,” 18:20). And if the church agrees to censure a sinner (“if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask”), that censure is declared God’s will (“it will be done for them by my Father in heaven,” 18:19). The church on earth, under Christ’s authority, can forgive the repentant and condemn the unrepentant (“Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven,” 18:18).
The Parable of the Unforgiving Servant (18:21–35)
The sixth lesson follows. Jesus teaches that those who are forgiven by God must forgive others. This lesson is taught because Peter asks Jesus a question, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” (18:21). While Peter properly addresses Jesus (“Lord”) and is open to his Lord’s teaching on forgiveness, he foolishly wants to set a limit. Jesus answers with a direct statement on the limitless nature of forgiveness (“I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times,” 18:22) in “the kingdom of heaven” (18:23) followed by a parable to illustrate his point.
The parable of the Unforgiving Servant is divided into three scenes. In the first scene, a king seeks to have his servants pay their debts to him (“settle accounts with his servants,” 18:23). A man “was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents” (18:24). “Ten thousand talents” represents the largest imaginable amount of debt, as a talent was the highest unit of currency and ten thousand the highest Greek numeral. This servant obviously “could not pay” (18:25a) this astronomical amount. So, the king decides to sell his family and possessions (“his wife and children and all that he had,” 18:25) to get some of the money owed. When the servant learns about this, he falls “on his knees,” and begs him to give him time, and offers this irrational request, “Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything” (18:26). The king has a change of mind “and out of pity for him, . . . released him and forgave him the debt” (18:27). Motivated by compassion (the word for “pity” here is translated “compassion” and used for Jesus’s emotions and actions in 9:36, 14:14, 15:32, and 20:34), the king grants complete forgiveness of his debt.
Scene two describes the forgiven servant’s unexpected, irrational, and evil behavior. No word of gratitude is mentioned. Instead, the first thing he does is find “one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii,” and violently squeezed him for cash (“and seizing him, he began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay what you owe,’” 18:28). The king forgave his ten thousand talents (60,000,000 denarii) debt; his fellow servant owes him a mere hundred denarii, about four months’ wages for the average laborer. That indebted servant then does and says precisely what the forgiven servant did and said: “So his fellow servant fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you’” (18:29). Yet, instead of jogging his memory of the mercy he just experienced, “he refused” to forgive him and “put him in prison until he should pay the debt” (18:30).
The point of the first two scenes can be summarized as “be merciful, even as your Father is merciful” (Luke 6:36), and those forgiven by God forgive others. The third scene details the king’s reaction to what transpired between his two subjects. He summoned the forgiven man and condemned him: “‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt” (Matt 18:32–34). Paying off his debt might mean that once he forgives then he will once again be forgiven (6:14–15). Or, more likely, since the debt was unpayable, it symbolizes the “eternal punishment” of “hell” (18:9; 25:46). He is sentenced to debtors’ prison forever! The warning is serious and the point plain: “So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart” (18:35).
As Jesus shifts locations (“he went away from Galilee and entered the region of Judea beyond the Jordan,” 19:1—this marks the end of his Galilean ministry which began in 4:12), he shifts momentarily from his teaching ministry (“Now when Jesus had finished these sayings,” 19:1) to his healing ministry: “And large crowds followed him, and he healed them there” (19:2). He also, once the Pharisees prompt him to teach, introduces the seventh lesson of this larger section, covering the topics of marriage, divorce, and singleness.
Trying to tempt him to fall into their theological trap (they “tested him”), they asked, “Is it lawful to divorce one’s wife for any cause?” (19:3). In context—after Jesus healing “large crowds” (19:2)—their question further reveals their spiritual blindness and devilish intentions. Instead of asking about his miraculous powers, they ask about divorce. They did so because they wanted to see what side of the debate he would side with. The conservative school, represented by Rabbi Shammai, took the phrase “some indecency” mentioned in Deuteronomy 24:1 (“When a man takes a wife and marries her, if then she finds no favor in his eyes because he has found some indecency in her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce”) to mean “sexual infidelity,” while the liberal school, represented by Rabbi Hillel, took the word “some” to reference any offense, including something as trivial as burning a meal. The Pharisees’ hope, very likely, was that Jesus would side with the conservatives because that would put him in a precarious position. Remember what Herod did to the man who preached to him, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife” (Mark 6:18)?
Jesus sides with the conservatives (Matt 19:9) and now that Jerusalem is before his eyes, he knows that the fate of the Baptist soon awaits him. He answered their question by chiding their knowledge of Scripture (“Have you not read”) in regard to God’s first and foundational word on marriage (“that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’?” 19:4–5). According to Genesis 1:27, which he alludes to, and Genesis 2:24, which he quotes, there was no provision for divorce in paradise because God intends marriage between a man and a woman to be for life. Continuing his answer, and gloss of Genesis, he centers on the nature of God-ordained unity and warns against severing it (“So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate,” Matt 19:6).
The Pharisees quickly retort with a second question based directly on Deuteronomy 24:1, “Why then did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce and to send her away?” Jesus offers two corrections in reply: “He said to them, ‘Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so’” (Matt 19:8). First, he corrects their language. Moses did not command divorce, he allowed for it. In Deuteronomy 24:1–4, he states that if a man divorces his wife and then she marries again and that second husband divorces her, she cannot return to and remarry her first husband. The whole intention of the law is a corrective to the first husband, admonishing him not to get a hasty divorce. Second, although true that Moses allowed for divorce, it was only in response to human sinfulness. Divorce was never the original intention. Disciples should consider Genesis 2 before they implement Deuteronomy 24.
Jesus ends the debate with his authoritative declaration (the Scripture says, 19:4, 5, 8; now his “I say to you,” 19:9a): “whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery” (19:9b). That answer prompts the disciples’ honest reply, “If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry” (19:10). Jesus does not correct them and give a seminar on maintaining a healthy marriage. Instead, he builds on the topic they raise—singleness. He gives a call/commendation to single-minded singles: “Not everyone can receive this saying, but only those to whom it is given. For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth [a sexual organ birth defect], and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by men [e.g., castration to oversee a king’s harem], and there are eunuchs who have made themselves [spiritually not physically] eunuchs [a willful decision to stay single—e.g., Paul] for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let the one who is able to receive this receive it” (19:11–12). Singleness for the kingdom is a gift from God and can only be received by the one to whom God bestows the gift.
The Last Shall Be First (19:13–20:19)
The eighth lesson, which covers 19:13–20:19, Jesus summarizes in 20:16: “So the last will be first, and the first last” (also in 19:30, “But many who are first will be last, and the last first,” and 20:27, “whoever would be first among you must be your slave”). As Jesus foretells his death for a third time (“See, we are going up to Jerusalem. And the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified, and he will be raised on the third day.” 20:18–19), he provides lessons and pictures on the theme of humility, especially as it relates to kingdom entrance.
19:13–30 He begins, as recorded in Matthew 19:13–30, with the juxtaposition of the little children who come to him (19:13–15) and the rich man who refused to follow him (19:22). Jesus welcomes the children because they represent what is necessary for kingdom entrance (“Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven,” 19:14). Earlier Jesus defines in what way children coming to him represent kingdom entrance, and he speaks of divine gifting (“I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children,” 11:25) and humility (“Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven,” 18:2–4).
The rich man is set in direct contrast with the children. Although he too comes to Christ (which is good) and recognizes a need (“Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” 19:16), he fails to acknowledge Jesus as “Lord” and grasp that God alone is good and that there is no “good deed” that he could “do” that would grant him “eternal life.” One must “receive the kingdom of God like a child” (Mark 10:15). Moreover, he fails to repent of his idolatry and love of money.
Although he too comes to Christ and recognizes a need, he fails to acknowledge Jesus as “Lord” and grasp that God alone is good and that there is no “good deed” that he could “do” that would grant him “eternal life.”
After Jesus reminds him that God alone is good (“Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good,” Matt 19:17a), he tests this man’s goodness with the law. Jesus lists a few of the Ten Commandments (“You shall not murder, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother”) and his summary of the second half of the law, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (19:18–19; quoting Lev 19:18). Without hesitation, the “young man” replies, “All these I have kept. What do I still lack?” (Matt 19:20). What ignorant pride. He is ignorant, for example, of what Jesus taught in the Sermon on the Mount about lustful thoughts, a hateful heart, and inability to serve both God and money. He has not perfectly kept the law.
Jesus next brings the first and tenth commandments to bear: “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me” (19:21). This man does not comply (“when the young man heard this he went away sorrowful”) because he loved his “great possessions” (19:22) more than he loved God and his neighbor.
The rich man knew he lacked something. That is why he asked Jesus what he asked. But he thought whatever it was he lacked could simply be added to his life. But the one thing he lacked was a childlike dependence on Christ. So, our Lord seeking to bring this man to the point of such dependence, challenged this rich man to cut off his riches (“sell all that you have and give to the poor”) and challenged this rich ruler to cut off his self-rule (“come, follow me”). Here our Lord demands not almsgiving (give something to someone) but everything (give everything to others and everything to me).20
As the man walks away, Jesus instructs his disciples on the dangers of wealth and the necessity of seeking first the kingdom of God: “Truly, I say to you, only with difficulty will a rich person enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God” (19:23–24). The disciples are taken aback by this. “When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished, saying, ‘Who then can be saved?’” (19:25). They reasoned that if a good (faithful to the law) and rich (blessed by God) man cannot enter the kingdom, who then could? Jesus replies in absolute terms that salvation is monergistic: “With man this [entering the kingdom via doing good deeds] is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (19:26). That possibility of the impossible is, of course, spelled out in 20:18–19. Here is how a camel gets through the eye of the needle: “the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified, and he will be raised on the third day.” Jesus dies for the forgiveness of sins. Jesus rises and is granted all authority. And sinners, through repentance and faith, receive forgiveness of sin in his name.
When Peter replies to Jesus’s “with man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (19:26), with his “See, we have left everything and followed you. What then will we have?” it is both a childish and childlike reply. It is childish in that the point of Jesus’s teachings above is not about gaining something by loyalty to the Lord. It is childlike, however, in that what Peter said is true. The apostles left their jobs forever and their homes and families for a season to completely show allegiance to Jesus and be totally dependent on him. And it is this childlike faith that Jesus commends with a word of comfort: “Truly, I say to you, in the new world, when the Son of Man will sit on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold and will inherit eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first” (19:28–30). Because the apostles put Jesus first, when Jesus ascends to heaven to rule his kingdom on the new earth, the twelve apostles will rule with him by judging Israel’s faithful remnant.
20:1–19 Jesus expounds on the theme of the first being last and the last being first in the parable of the Laborers in the Vineyard (20:1–16), which concludes with the words: “So the last will be first, and the first last.” The parable, in short, teaches two proper reactions to the gift of God’s salvation. First, disciples should not grumble about undeserved grace. Second, disciples should not begrudge God’s unequal generosity.
In this parable, the “master of a house” is God, and “the laborers for his vineyard” are Jesus’s followers (20:1). Laborers are promised “a denarius a day” (20:2). He hires workhands at five different times: in the early morning, the third hour (9am), the sixth hour (noon), the ninth hour (3pm), and the eleventh hour (5pm). He put the idle to work, presumably the work of the gospel harvest. Jesus continues, “And when evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the laborers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last, up to the first.’ And when those hired about the eleventh hour came, each of them received a denarius. Now when those hired first came, they thought they would receive more, but each of them also received a denarius” (20:8–10). Their begrudging attitude led to their action. When they received their wages, “they grumbled at the master of the house, saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat’” (20:11–12).
This is the wrong reply to grace! The first workers did not deserve to be selected by the master any more than the last. Jesus goes on to explain to one of them that the master has done no injustice: “Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius? Take what belongs to you and go. I choose to give to this last worker as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?” (20:13b–15). God’s gift of salvation is just (he will do “whatever is right,” 20:4; and “no wrong,” 20:13). As R. T. France summarizes: “No one receives less than they deserve, but some receive far more.”21
Kingdom Greatness (20:20–28)
The ninth lesson builds on this theme of first and last, and it specifically has to do with kingdom greatness. The lesson is that in God’s kingdom “whoever would be first among you must be your slave,” i.e., “last” (20:27). This lesson comes in the context of “the mother of the sons of Zebedee” respectfully asking Jesus to promise her James and John the highest honor of sitting “one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom” (20:20–21).
“Jesus answered, ‘You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am to drink?’ They said to him, ‘We are able’” (20:22). While it is not commendable that they get their mother to ask their question and that they surely display here prideful ambition, still they do believe that Jesus’s kingdom will win, and they are willing to suffer for it. Indeed, Jesus admits that they will share in his suffering (“You will drink my cup”), but he will not grant their request, for to sit at his right hand and left hand is not his “to grant” (20:23a). It is the Father’s prerogative (“it is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father,” 20:23b).
When the remaining ten apostles heard about James’s and John’s request, “they were indignant at the two brothers” (20:24). Their anger arose from their own aspiration for preference and promotion. This is why Jesus rebuked and instructed them all. They are not to act like pagan leaders: “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you” (20:25–26a). Instead, they are to emulate Jesus’s self-sacrifice. The focusing parallelism lays out his leadership paradox:
Whoever would be great among you
must be your servant
Whoever would be first among you
must be your slave
Greatness, to Jesus, is service to others. This paradox is as radically countercultural as Jesus’s own sacrifice for others is profoundly counterintuitive: “even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (20:28). That the Son of Man, the royal figure described in Daniel 7:13–14, “came . . . to serve” is striking; so too that the Son of Man, who will rule an everlasting kingdom, “came . . . to give his life” (to die! cf. “death,” 20:18; “crucified,” 20:19). To Matthew, the mystery of the cross is the paradox of the Son of Man and the Suffering Servant as one person.
Greatness, to Jesus, is service to others.
Jesus’s identity (who Jesus is) is as important as Jesus’s mission (what Jesus accomplished). His mission can be summarized in three small words from the phrase “a ransom for many” (20:28). The term “ransom” depicts Jesus’s death as a payment to set sinners free. That payment is a substitution. The preposition “for” can be translated “in the place of.” In his disciples’ place Jesus drank the cup of God’s wrath (“the cup that I am to drink,” 20:22; “my cup,” 20:23; “let this cup pass from me,” 26:39; cf. Ps 75:8; Isa 51:17). This atonement is made for “the many,” a reference to God’s elect (the Servant was “stricken for the transgression of my people,” he “bore the sin of many,” Isa 53:8, 12; cf. Matt 1:21).
“Lord . . . Son of David!” (20:29–34)
The tenth lesson focuses on Christology—how disciples should view Jesus. Throughout Matthew 17:24–20:34, Jesus’s identity is revealed. Who but the divine Son can know that a fish swallowed a shekel (the precise amount needed to pay the temple tax) and that it would be the first fish that Peter catches (17:27)? Who but the divine Son can be the means by which humanity’s zillion-dollar debt is canceled (see 18:27; 20:28)? Who but the divine Son will come to judge the world and reign over it (19:28)?
The section concludes with an exclamation point on Jesus’s identity. Two blind men see Jesus for who he is. As Jesus journeys from Jericho to Jerusalem “two blind men sitting by the roadside . . . cried out, ‘Lord, have mercy on us, Son of David!’” (20:29–30). The crowd rebukes them and seeks to silence them. Instead of acquiescing to the masses, they persevere in prayer, “Lord, have mercy on us, Son of David!” (20:31). Jesus stops (“and stopping”—see Ps 146:8), calls them, listens (“What do you want me to do for you?”/“Lord, let our eyes be opened”), and heals (“And Jesus in pity touched their eyes, and immediately they recovered their sight and followed him,” Matt 20:33–34).
These blind men model three critical aspects of discipleship. First, they properly acknowledge Jesus as the promised messiah (“Son of David,” 2x) and compassionate “Lord” (3x), a connection shared by Jesus himself (22:41–45). Without an ounce of shame, they confess Jesus before others (Matt 10:32). Second, they cry out for mercy. Third, they follow Jesus. Mark adds “on the way” (Mark 10:52), namely, on the way to the cross (Matt 20:18, 19, 28).
O Jerusalem! (21:1–46)
The Triumphal Entry (21:1–11)
That journey to the cross (“they drew near to Jerusalem”) takes a temporary recess in “Bethphage” (21:1), where two predictions are fulfilled. First is Jesus’s prediction. He sends two of the twelve into town and guarantees that as soon as they arrive in town (“immediately”), they “will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her” (21:2a). Their mission is to “untie them and bring them” to him (21:2b). Second, that present command (which is fulfilled, Matt 21:6–7) is the precise fulfillment of a past prophecy:
This took place to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet, saying,
“Say to the daughter of Zion,
‘Behold, your king is coming to you,
humble, and mounted on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.’” (21:4–5)
The quote above comes from Zechariah 9:9. In Zechariah 9:9–10, the prophet urges God’s people to celebrate the promise of a coming righteous king who will bring deliverance. What is unusual is that this king comes not on a glorious warhorse but straddled over a slow and unpretentious colt. This peculiar promise is fulfilled in Jesus! The unbroken beast (“a young donkey,” John 12:14) is mounted and steadied (like the wind and the waves!) as Jesus rides up to the holy city.
In the Kidron Valley looking toward the Temple Mount. The Dome of the Rock is visible above the walls of Jerusalem, and the Mount of Olives is to the rear.
Jesus Cleanses the Temple (21:12–16)
As Jesus does so, “most of the crowd” (Matt 21:8a) journeying to Jerusalem for the Passover offers a spontaneous celebration of Jesus’s messiahship. They “spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road,” and they shouted, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” (21:8–9; quoting Ps 118:25–26). This celebration likely lasted over a mile and the volume of excitement about Jesus rose with the altitude. For “when he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred up, saying, ‘Who is this?’ And the crowds said, ‘This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth of Galilee’” (Matt 21:10–11). They are correct. Jesus was raised in Nazareth and he is indeed “the prophet” (Deut 18:15). But he is more than the long-awaited voice from God (“listen to him,” Matt 17:5) and the promised sovereign sent from God (“the Son of David”). He is, as I have stated elsewhere, “the Son of God on the child of a donkey [a colt], the one who came to save us (1:21),” or as Bruner beautifully phrased it, “the lowly Lord, the human God. . . . Emmanuel . . . the true God-with-us in a truly human way, at our level: God on a donkey.”22 Jesus has come to save—“Hosanna.”
But before he saves his humble people, he judges the proud pretenders. Jesus enters the temple, and as he walked through the Court of the Gentiles, he “drove out all who sold and bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons” (21:12). Jesus did this because people were breaking God’s law. According to Deuteronomy 12:5–7, people were to bring animals for sacrifice from their own flocks, not buy them in the temple. The temple is not a marketplace. The Court of the Gentiles is not the place for Jews and Gentile proselytes to buy an “authorized” but overpriced animal. Rather, as Jesus announces, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer,’ but you make it a den of robbers’” (21:13). Jesus cites Isaiah 56:7, in part. That verse ends, as quoted in Mark 11:17, “for all the nations.” Jesus did not come to purge the holy temple from the unclean Gentiles. Rather, in fulfillment of the Abrahamic covenant, he cleared the temple for Gentiles not of Gentiles. The temple is not to be a place where hypocrites can hide (“a den of robbers,” see Jer 7:1–11) in their false religious security. Those who are right with God have come to the temple to pray. Those who are right with God will bear fruit with repentance. And those who recognize what God is now doing in Jesus will come to Jesus. This is precisely what “the blind and lame” do—they “came to him in the temple, and he healed them” (Matt 21:14). Moreover, they will praise Jesus, as the children in the temple did, who cried out, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” (21:15).
The Western Wall is a retaining wall for Herod’s Second Temple
Such behavior, of course, does not resonate with “the chief priests and the scribes” (21:15), who in anger (“they were indignant,” 21:15) ask Jesus, “Do you hear what these are saying?” (21:16a). Jesus hears. He agrees. Quoting Psalm 8:2, he replies, “Yes; have you never read, ‘Out of the mouth of infants and nursing babies you have prepared praise’?” Remarkable. Jesus not only accepts of himself the messianic title (“Son of David”) and praise (“Hosanna”), but he quotes a Psalm that speaks of children praising YHWH and applies such praise to himself.
Jesus Curses a Fruitless Fig Tree (21:17–22)
After Jesus leaves the temple, lodges a few miles away in Bethany, and returns the next morning to Jerusalem, Matthew relays that Jesus was hungry (Matt 21:17–18). What happens next is as unexpected as the clearing of the temple. Jesus eyes a fig tree by the side of the road, approaches it, and finds that it has no fruit (“he . . . found nothing on it but only leaves,” 21:19a). Then, to this fruitless fig tree, he cursed it (“May no fruit ever come from you again!”), a curse that killed it (“And the fig tree withered at once,” 21:19b). The withered fig tree was an object lesson of the barren temple. Just as the temple was alive with religious activity, it was spiritually dead. The leaves were green. There should be fruit! But there was none. And as Jesus destroyed the fruitless fig tree, so too Israel and their temple worship will be destroyed.
Related to temple worship—in the sense that Paul and other New Testament authors will expand upon—Jesus turns the withering tree into a lesson on discipleship. “When the disciples saw it,” Matthew writes, “they marveled, saying, ‘How did the fig tree wither at once?’” (21:20). Jesus’s answer focuses on faith: “Truly, I say to you, if you have faith and do not doubt, you will not only do what has been done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ it will happen. And whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith” (21:21–22). Elsewhere I have labeled verses 12–20 “The Worship in the Temple: Faithless and Fruitless” and verses 21–22 “The Worship of the Temple: Faithful and Fruitful,”23 and I have asked and answered three questions regarding the final two verses
Q. Faith in whom?
A. Follow the children’s lead! Jesus the Son of David.
Q. Where is the place of worship?
A. Not in the temple (it will soon be destroyed, 23:38), but in the person of Jesus who, through his death and resurrection (27:51; 28:20), becomes the new and everlasting temple. He is indeed “greater than the temple” (12:6). He is the high priest, the atoning sacrifice, and the glorious presence of God.
Q. Faith for what?
A. For “whatever” (21:22). If believers pray confidently and expectantly to God through Jesus, God will grant even the impossible. Even the temple mount might be thrown into the sea.
By What Authority? (21:23–27)
Once again, as verse 23 features Jesus’s return to the temple, the theme of Jesus and the temple is the focus. Moreover, the theme of Jesus’s authority and the religious leaders’ opposition to it comes into play: “the chief priests and the elders of the people came up to him as he was teaching, and said, ‘By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?’” They do not ask about the content of his teaching, but about his actions (“doing these things”). The “things” Jesus did the day before include overturning tables, driving out religious racketeers, welcoming the poor into the Court of the Gentiles to experience his healing touch, and receiving the praise of children.
The temple authorities’ (“the chief priests and the elders”) accusatory question, the first of four questions issued against Jesus by four different interrogators (21:23–22:46), is answered with a question: “I also will ask you one question, and if you tell me the answer, then I also will tell you by what authority I do these things. The baptism of John, from where did it come? From heaven or from man?” (21:24–25). The answer should be easy, but it was not so easy for them. They debated among themselves. On the one hand, if they admit that John was sent from God (“If we say, ‘From heaven’”), then Jesus will respond, “Why then did you not believe him?” (21:25); on the other hand, if they state that John was not sent from God (but merely sent “from man”), then they fear losing the popular support (“for they all hold that John was a prophet,” 21:26). They played it safe. They bit their lips (“they answered Jesus, ‘We do not know’”), as did Jesus (“Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things,” 21:27). To Jesus, if they were incapable of a simple judgment—that John was heaven-sent—then they were certainly unqualified to judge his identity and the source of his authority.
The Parable of the Two Sons (21:28–32)
Jesus next extends his evasive answer with two parables that illustrate an actual answer to the question, “By what authority?” Jesus is the God-sent Son (as featured in the parable of the Tenants, 21:33–46) for whom John prepared the way (as featured in the parable of the Two Sons, 21:28–32).
In the first short parable, Jesus tells the story of a father who had two sons. The father “went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today’” (21:28). The son replied, “‘I will not,’ but afterward he changed his mind and went” (21:29). The second son did the opposite. He answered in the affirmative (“I go, sir”), but he disobeyed (“did not go,” 21:30). Jesus asks, “Which of the two did the will of his father?” (21:31a). The answer is obvious: “They said, ‘The first’” (21:31a). To that obvious answer, Jesus offers an unexpected rebuke, followed by an interpretation of the parable: “Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes go into the kingdom of God before you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him. And even when you saw it, you did not afterward change your minds and believe him” (21:31–32). Thus, in the above parable, the father of the two sons symbolizes God, the first son the tax collectors and prostitutes, and the second son Israel’s leaders. While the tax collectors and prostitutes at first refused to obey God’s Word, in time, they heeded John’s voice, turned from their sin, and followed Jesus. The scribes and the Pharisees, on the other hand, gave lip service to God, claiming to be zealous in their obedience, and yet failed to listen to John and Jesus, who were God’s authorized emissaries.
The Parable of the Tenants (21:33–46)
In the second parable (the parable of the Tenants, Matt 21:33–41), Jesus gives a condensed and emblematic account of salvation history. “The master of a house” is God (“There was a master . . . who planted a vineyard,” 21:33). That “vineyard” symbolizes, as it does elsewhere (Isa 5:1–2), Israel. The “tenants” to whom the master leased the land are Israel’s leaders. Their job was to make sure the land was protected and the crops were ready for harvest. The “fruit” (Matt 21:34b, 41b, 43) represents the fruit of repentance (3:8, 10). The “servants” the master sent represent the prophets, perhaps the former (“he sent his servants,” 21:34) and the latter prophets (“again he sent other servants,” 21:36). The tenants’ brutalities toward the servants (they “beat one, killed another, and stoned another,” 21:35) signify persecutions against the prophets. The “son” whom the master sent is Jesus, the Son of God, who instead of receiving respect from the tenants (“They will respect my son,” 21:37), “took him and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him” (21:39)—a representation of Jesus’s passion and crucifixion. Israel’s leaders plotted (21:38), arrested (21:46), and killed (21:39) him outside the vineyard, or as Hebrews 13:12 puts it “outside the [city] gate.” The “other tenants” (Matt 22:41) mentioned in the leaders’ reply symbolize “a people producing its fruits” (21:43), that is, the elect of “the kingdom of God” (21:43), a new community which is not defined ethnically but spiritually as those whose faith produces fruit.
The parable ends with Jesus’s question (“When therefore the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?” 21:40), and his hearers’ response, “He will put those wretches to a miserable death and let out the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the fruits in their seasons” (21:41). That response is correct, and it well summarizes and symbolizes God’s coming judgment, both in the final judgment at the end of history and his judgment of the temple in AD 70.
And in the place of that man-made temple is the divine Son, as Jesus states, “Have you never read in the Scriptures: ‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes’”? (21:42, quoting Ps 118:22–23). He continues, “Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people producing its fruits. And the one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him” (21:43–44). Jesus, as the stone, either saves or crushes. Those, like “the chief priests and the Pharisees” who “heard his parables . . . perceived that he was speaking about them” and would have arrested him if not for the crowds (“they feared the crowds, because they held him to be a prophet,” 21:45–46), will soon feel the full weight of God’s judgment.
Further Questioning Jesus (22:1–46)
Above Jesus answers perhaps the critical question of Matthew’s Gospel (“By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?” 21:23) with two parables in which he makes clear that he is the sent Son and the cornerstone that God has put in place to build the church.
Matthew 22 records four more rounds of questions and answers with Jesus. The structure of 21:23–22:46 looks like this:
|21:23–22:14||The chief priests and the elders of the people (21:23), with the Pharisees listening (21:45)||“By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?” (21:23)||The parables of the Two Sons, Tenants, and Wedding Feast|
|22:15–22||The Pharisees (22:15)||“Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?” (22:17)||“Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and God the things that are God’s” (22:21)|
|22:23–33||The Sadducees (22:23)||“In the resurrection . . . whose wife will she be?” (22:28)||“You are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God” (22:29)|
|22:34–40||The Pharisees (22:34)||“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” (22:36)||The double love command (22:37–40), followed by a question of his own (22:41–46)|
The Parable of the Wedding Feast (22:1–14)
Thus, in 22:1–14, Jesus continues to answer the temple authorities by offering a third parable to denounce them, and the Pharisees as well. These religious leaders resemble a disobedient son (who says he will obey but does not), murderous leaseholders (who will kill even the owner’s son), and now, in the parable of the Wedding Feast, invited wedding guests (who refused to join the king’s celebration of his son’s marriage).
22:1–7 The parable is structured in two parts, and in the parable, Jesus addresses two groups of people during two distinct epochs. The first part of the parable is a prophecy to and about Israel, particularly to the Jewish religious leaders of Jesus’s day. The epoch is between AD 33 and AD 70. The characters (“king” = God, “his son” = Jesus, the “wedding feast” = the messianic banquet, 8:11; 26:29; “servants” [5x!] = gospel preachers, “those who were invited,” 22:3, 4 = Israel in general and their leaders in particular, “troops” = the Roman army lead by Titus but under God’s sovereign orders [“his” troops]), rising action (the king’s subjects dismissed the invitation to the son’s wedding and acted violently towards his messengers), and climax (“the king was angry, and he sent his troops and destroyed those murderers and burned their city,” 22:7) tells the story of the spread of the gospel from the beginning of Jesus’s ministry until the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem. God patiently and persistently bade his people join him in celebrating the messianic banquet of his Son (“Come to the wedding feast,” 22:4). Most Israelites of Jesus’s day rejected this invitation (“they would not”)—some with busy indifference (“they paid no attention and went off, one to his farm, another to his business,” 22:5), others with violent indignation (“the rest seized his servants, treated them shamefully, and killed them,” 22:6). God responded to this inexplicably atrocious response by sending “his troops” to level “their city” (22:7).
22:8–14 The second part of the parable is a prophecy about what will happen in “the last days” (Acts 2:17), the days from the destruction of the temple until the return of Christ and the final judgment. Like the first half of the parable, the structure is identical:
Invitations (22:2–3a, 4 // 22:8–9, 11–12a)
Responses (22:3b // 22:10, 12c)
Judgments (22:7 // 22:13b)
Moreover, some of the same characters are featured (the king, servants) along with the setting of the invitation (a wedding feast). What is new are two characters—“the attendants” and the “guests.” “The attendants” represent angels, who bind the guilty for judgment (22:13; cf. Matt 13:41–42) and the “guests” represent the church. Matthew 22:8–13, then, serves as a “short symbolic story of the long history of world missions—the gathering of the church, but also the judgment of the church.”24
Verses 8–10 depict the successful ingathering of the mixed church. The king’s gracious offer, repeatedly rejected in verses 5–6, is now accepted.
Then he [God the king] said to his servants [heralds of the gospel], “The wedding feast [the messianic banquet] is ready, but those invited [Israel] were not worthy [Acts 13:46]. Go therefore [the Great Commission] to the main roads and invite to the wedding feast as many as you find.” And those servants went out into the roads and gathered all they found, both bad and good. So the wedding hall was filled with guests. (Matt 22:8–10)
Matthew 22:11–13 depicts the judgment of this mixed congregation, as Jesus earlier compared to wheat and weeds (13:24–25) and later compares to sheep and goats (25:31–46). Jesus ends on this somber note.
But when the king [God] came in to look at the guests [the gathered church on judgment day], he saw a man who had no wedding garment. And he said to him, “Friend [the next time this word is used of Judas, ‘Friend, do what you came to do,’ 26:50], how did you get in here without a wedding garment [faith demonstrated in ‘righteous deeds’ or ‘the evidential works of righteousness,’25 see 25:31–46]?’ And he was speechless. Then the king said to the attendants [angels], ‘Bind him hand and foot and cast him into the outer darkness. In that place [hell] there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth [expressions of shame, regret, and anger].” (Matt 22:11–13)
The fault lies solely on the sinner, who is exposed and then eternally exiled. Yet, the parable’s end, in the form of an antithetical parallel—“For many are called, but few are chosen” (22:14)—stresses divine sovereignty. The word “called” in context (used in 22:3, 8, 9, 14) means to accept God’s invitation to his Son’s wedding feast through his servants. The word “chosen,” however, certainly does not imply the idea of idleness. To Jesus, the chosen act in faith. They love, obey, do good works, and persevere to the end.
Render to God (22:15–21)
The Pharisees, who heard Jesus’s parables and grasped that “he was speaking about them” (21:45), responded to the parable of the Wedding Feast by gathering to conspire “how to entangle him in his words” (22:15). Once a plan was made, “they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians” (22:16a). The Pharisees and Herodians formed an unlikely alliance, for the Pharisees were zealous nationalists opposed to Roman rule, while the Herodians supported and helped sustain Roman rule in Herod’s Judea. A common enemy brought them together. Moreover, they represented the two sides of the debate raised in their question: “Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?” (22:17). The Pharisees would answer “no” (even though they pay the tax) and the Herodians “yes.” Together they wanted Jesus to say “no” so the Herodians can charge him with tax evasion (a form of treason), or for him to say “yes” and anger those in Jerusalem (i.e., the Pharisees’ and their base) who were resentful of Roman rule. “They were seeking to arrest him” (21:46).
Jesus, who is aware of their evil intentions against him (“their malice,” 22:18a), is not fooled by their flattery (22:16b) and play-acting in piety (their hypocrisy, 22:18). He answers: “Why put me to the test, you hypocrites? Show me the coin for the tax” (22:18–19a). They are trying to “test,” him, but he also tests them by asking for a pagan coin while in the holy “temple” (21:23; 24:1). They bring him “a denarius” (22:19). Jesus had no pagan coins in his possession. In fact, he “overturned the money-changers” the day before (21:12). Yet, these Jewish leaders have a Roman coin on them, a coin that features on one side an image of a seated woman (likely symbolizing the Pax Romana) and on the other an image of Tiberius, with the inscriptions “God and High Priest” and “Tiberius Caesar Augustus, son of the divine Augustus.”
In the temple, looking at these idolatrous images and blasphemous inscriptions, Jesus asked, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” (22:20), to which they promptly replied, “Caesar’s” (22:21a). His reply to their reply was simple and logical, an answer that both stunned and silenced them (“When they heard it, they marveled. And they left him and went away,” 22:22). Then he said to them, “Therefore render [or ‘give back,’ apodote] to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” They ask, “Is it lawful to pay” or literally “give” (dounai) to the Emperor?” Jesus says, in essence, “Go ahead a pay that tax because if Caesar owns the coin and wants it back, give it back.” Jesus is not anti-government, and he has not come to overthrow Roman rule. Moreover, Jesus is pro-God, and he is establishing through his words and works the kingdom of heaven on earth. And members of that kingdom “render to God the things that are God’s” (22:21), such as love from the heart and obedience of his commandments. If disciples should pay the poll tax (which was just a few denarii) to Caesar, the son of the so-called ‘divine’ Augustus when he asks, they should give their heart, soul, mind, and strength to the Most High God.
Marriage and the Resurrection (22:22–33)
Jesus has won, but the day is not done. The interrogation continues, when on “that same day” the Sadducees, “who say there is no resurrection” (22:23, cf. Acts 23:8), asked him a question about the resurrection state.
Their riddle is based on the levirate law: “If brothers dwell together, and one of them dies and has no son, the wife of the dead man shall not be married outside the family to a stranger. Her husband’s brother shall go in to her and take her as his wife and perform the duty of a husband’s brother to her. And the first son whom she bears shall succeed to the name of his dead brother, that his name may not be blotted out of Israel” (Deut 25:5–6). This law sought to preserve the family name and offer social and economic protection for the widow. To the Sadducees, however, this law was the unquestionable proof-text that the notion of a resurrection, under certain circumstances, was implausible, even preposterous.
To this biblically based, logically tight, and cleverly complex question, Jesus gave a blunt reply (“You are wrong”), followed by a twofold rebuke (“because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God,” 22:29). First, Jesus dispelled the notion, the basic premise of their view, that human marriage is a part of heavenly existence: “For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven” (22:30). “Singleness will be the social structure of heaven, and single-minded devotion its everyday reality.”26 Elect humans will join the elect angels in perfectly serving and communing with God, worshiping him without wavering, fatigue, and sin. Second, Jesus rebukes their superficial reading of the Torah and offers a brief but conclusive commentary on Exodus 3:16: “But about the resurrection of the dead—have you not read what God said to you, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? [Commentary:] He is not the God of the dead but of the living’” (Matt 22:31–32).
Instead of building his case on a pile of proof texts [e.g., Job 19:25–26; Isa 26:19; Dan 12:2], through this one verse, Jesus reminded the Sadducees, in the simplest terms, that at the heart of the covenant is the promise of a real and living and lasting relationship between YHWH and his people. With words easy enough for a one-year-old to memorize, Jesus re-enrolls the teachers of Israel in Old Testament 101, Lesson 1: Since the Torah teaches that God is a covenantal God, it is therefore inconceivable that God’s promises and blessings cease when his people die. The Sadducees’ understanding of death as extinction, without any hope of resurrection, implies that God is a “God of the dead” (cf. 22:32). Jesus reminded them that it would be foolish for God to undertake the task of protecting his people from calamity during their lives, but to fail in delivering them from the supreme calamity of death. What kind of protection is that? If death has the final word, then God’s covenant has been breached or broken.27
The Great Commandment (22:34–40)
When “the crowd heard” Jesus’s masterful rebuttal, “they were astonished at his teaching” (22:33). Matthew records no reaction from the Sadducees, other than in his transition sentence: “But when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together” (22:34).
Jesus’s two-part, rapid-fire silencing of the Sadducees sets the religious leaders back to regroup. Regroup they did. Finally, from the Pharisees emerges an expert in the Scripture (“one of the scribes,” Mark 12:28): “And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. ‘Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?’” (Matt 22:35–36). This scribe is not asking, “which laws from the Scriptures need to be obeyed and which can safely be ignored,” but “what is the fundamental premise of the Law on which all the individual commands depend?”28
In Jesus’s reply, he quotes from Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (22:37–39). The double-love commandments—the total devotion to God (“all your heart . . . all your soul . . . all your mind”) and the selfless love of neighbor that reaches the natural level of self-love—are the inseparable twin pegs on which all the other Old Testament commands hang (“On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets,” 22:40). The vertical dimension (the command to love God) connects with the horizontal dimension (the command to love others) and flows from it (cf. 1Jn 4:20–21). To Jesus, “the Shema must be complemented and completed by a love for one’s neighbor. So there is a distinction between the two love commandments, but not a division. The first command is greater than the second, yet the first cannot be met unless the second is accomplished (and vice versa).”29
“The Lord Said to My Lord” (22:41–46)
As the Pharisees regrouped (“while the Pharisees were gathered together,” 22:41), Jesus seized the opportunity to ask them a question of his own: “What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is he?” (22:42a). They provide the expected orthodox response, “The son of David” (22:42b). The Messiah will come from David’s royal lineage (2Sam 7; Isa 11:1–10; Jer 23:5). Jesus wants them to think more deeply. Thus, he employs Psalm 110 to raise a second question: “How is it then that David, in the Spirit, calls him Lord, saying, ‘The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet?” If then David calls him Lord, how is he his son?” (22:43–45).
The Pharisees asked about the poll tax, the Sadducees about the resurrected state, and the scribe about the law. Jesus the Christ questions his questioners about Christology! The Messiah is a man, but is he more than a mere man? Might David’s human son also be God’s divine Son (3:17; 17:5)?
In Psalm 110:1 there is an apparent incongruity: How can David, inspired by the Spirit, write about YHWH (the first “Lord” mentioned) inviting another “Lord” (the second “Lord,” the messianic “Son of David”) to sit at his right hand? In the Greek Old Testament, the Hebrew words for LORD (YHWH) and Lord (Adoni) are both rendered kyrios. If there should be “no other gods besides” YHWH (Exod 20:3), who is this sitting on level with him? The only answer, one that the Pharisees did not have (“no one was able to answer him a word,” Matt 22:46) is that Jesus is David’s son and David’s Lord and that only Jesus is both David’s son and God’s Son. The answer to Jesus’s conundrum was standing in their midst. The one who “was descended from David according to the flesh” was also the one “declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom 1:3–4).
Woes to the Scribes and Pharisees (23:1–39)
Next, Jesus turns his attention from the questions of the Jewish religious leaders to his public denouncement of them. He begins his exposé by exhorting “the crowds and . . . his disciples” (Matt 23:1) to beware of hypocrisy as it relates to their teaching. They do not practice what they preach (23:3; cf. Rom 2:21–23), and add unbearable burdens (e.g., cleaning cups, swearing various oaths, tithing “mint and dill and cumin,” Matt 23:23) and regulations that they offer no support to bear (“They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they are not willing to move them with their finger,” 23:4).
What they do is perform “all their deeds to be seen by others,” such as making “their phylacteries broad and their fringes long,” sitting in the places of honor “at feasts . . . and in the synagogues,” and welcoming special “greetings in the marketplaces” (they love “being called rabbi,” 23:5–7). Jesus’s disciples, on the contrary, are not to let their pride blossom into such pious theatrics. To help tame the beast, disciples should accept no impressive titles (“you are not to be called rabbi” or “father”) because Christ is their sole tutor (“for you have one teacher,” “for you have one instructor”), and in the kingdom of heaven no one is more important than another (“and you are all brothers” and “you have one Father, who is in heaven,” 23:7–10). Those who are united under one God (the Father) and one schoolmaster (Jesus) are called to live by countercultural ethics (“the greatest among you shall be your servant,” 23:11) and receive in due time one’s reward (“whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted,” 23:12).
Those who are united under one God (the Father) and one schoolmaster (Jesus) are called to live by countercultural ethics and receive in due time one’s reward.
In Matthew 22:13–36, Jesus turns his attention directly to the scribes and Pharisees (“woe to you,” repeated seven times). Alfred Plummer compared these seven woes as being “like thunder in their unanswerable severity, and like lightning in their unsparing exposure. . . . They illuminate while they strike.”30 That is an excellent analogy, for in these verses Jesus rolls like thunder and strikes like lightning. And yet, the only image that Jesus provides of himself is not that of a violent storm, but a tender mother: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings” (23:37a). As there is tenderness in Jesus’s healing touch in the miracle stories, so there is compassionate care here for God’s people—both those who refuse to submit to his rule and those blinded by blind guides.
Jesus’s seven woes can be grouped into three divine decrees of judgment against the scribes and the Pharisees and loving warnings for his disciples. Stated from the disciples’ perspective, the first warning (Matt 23:15–15) focuses on religious zeal without kingdom knowledge.
Jesus’s second warning (Matt 23:16–22) is against majoring in the minors. The first five examples Jesus gives relate to their teaching on oaths (the word “swears” is used ten times in 23:16–22—swearing by the temple, the gold of the temple, the altar, the gift on the altar, and by heaven).
All of the actions above, along with Jesus’s corrections and reproofs, can be summarized by the word “blind.” Four times Jesus calls these religious leaders “blind,” and twice “blind guides.” That is not a good combination. They are blind because the logs in their eyes are so large that they cannot see that what God values most are straight talk and truth-telling (let your “yes” be “yes” and your “no” be “no,” Matt 5:33–37).
In Matthew 23:23–24, Jesus offers two further examples of majoring in the minors. The hypocritical scribes and Pharisees “tithe down to the last mint leaf in your garden” (TLB; tithe “on every nickel and dime you get,” MSG), but neglect what matters most (“the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness,” 23:23). Their behavior is like sitting down to a meal and making sure before they drink their wine it has been strained through a thin cloth to assure that a small bug is not in it (“straining out a gnat”) but then “swallowing a camel!” (23:24), a large and unclean beast (Lev 11:4, 23–24, 41). It is a humorous picture of the disproportion of their values.
In the next set of woes (Matt 23:25–28), Jesus further exposes their inward hypocrisy (“within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness,” 23:28) by pointing out their overvaluing of outward appearances. They “clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence” (23:25). Jesus compares them to “whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness” (23:27). “Outwardly,” Jesus states, they “appear righteous to others, but within [they] are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness” (23:28).
The seventh woe, and the final section surrounding it (23:29–36), is a judgment against their rejection of God’s messengers. While they “build the tombs of the prophets and decorate the monuments of the righteous” and claim that they would never have acted like their forefathers (“If we had lived in the days of our fathers, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets,” 23:29–30), Jesus labels them liars. With their present rejection both of John and Jesus and their future persecution of Jesus’s evangelists (“I send you prophets and wise men and scribes, some of whom you will kill and crucify, and some you will flog in your synagogues and persecute from town to town,” 23:34), they are acting like the “sons of those who murdered the prophets” and the devil himself (“you serpents, you brood of vipers,” 23:31, 33). And for this generation’s violent rejection of Jesus (“you were not willing” to come to him) and his messengers (“the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it!” 23:37) they will receive both temporary judgments (the temple will be destroyed—“your house is left to you desolate,” 23:38; cf. 24:2) and eternal judgment (“how are you to escape being sentenced to hell?” 23:33). They will “fill up . . . the measure of your fathers” (23:32) and be held responsible for all the blood of all the martyrs in Israel’s long history (“so that on you may come all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah the son of Barachiah, whom you murdered between the sanctuary and the altar,” 23:35).
The Olivet Discourse (24:1–25:46)
After Jesus leaves the temple (24:1), “he sat on the Mount of Olives” (24:3) and predicted the destruction of the temple (“You see all these, do you not? Truly, I say to you, there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down,” 24:2). To the disciples, for the magnificent temple—“wonderful buildings” (Mark 13:1) that took “forty-six years to build” (John 2:20)—to be leveled indicates the end of the world, as foretold by the prophets (Jer 9:11; Mic 3:12). Therefore, they ask, “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” (Matt 24:3).
Jesus answers their questions—“when” (on the timing) and “what” (on the sign of it)—stating that the temple’s destruction is not the end of the world, but a significant local judgment that will foreshadow the final worldwide judgment on the last day, often called “the day of the Lord.” What the disciples take to be one event, Jesus reveals as two.
In what follows, Jesus describes events before and during the destruction of the temple in AD 70, along with what will happen before and during his return and the last judgment. For example, in verses 15–26, Jesus speaks primarily but not exclusively about what will occur before AD 70 and in verses 27–31 about what will occur before and during his second coming. This intertwining of eras is called prophetic foreshortening, “the idea being that events in the near future and those much further ahead, are spoken of as if they are very close together, because they have common characteristics.”31 Dan Doriani provides this chart as a helpful summary of the concept.32
|Predictions and Texts||Fulfillment by AD 70||Final Fulfillment|
|False “Christs” will come (24:5, 23–24).||Jewish prophets predict God will deliver Jews from Rome.||The great antichrist deceives many by his words, deeds.|
|Wars, famines, and earthquakes will strike (24:7–8).||Rome is often at war; there is famine in the reign of Claudius (AD 41–54).||The troubles of this life intensify near the end.|
|The gospel will be preached in the whole world (24:14).||The gospel is proclaimed through the known world.||The gospel is preached to every people.|
|The abomination that causes desolation will stand in the holy place (24:15).||Idolatrous Roman armies invade Jerusalem, fight and kill many, even in the temple.||Final rebellion against God brings religious abomination and desolation.|
|The sun and moon will be darkened when Jesus comes (24:29–31).||Jerusalem’s fall foreshadows the end of earth’s powers.||This world order ends when Christ returns.|
|The sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven (24:30).||Fulfillment of prophecy shows Jesus reigns in heaven.||Jesus returns on clouds of the sky with angels.|
The Fall of Jerusalem (24:1–26, 32–35)
In verses 4–14, Jesus gives a long history, covering what are not the signs of the end of the world, but what will happen before it. He begins with an imperative (“See that no one leads you astray,” 24:4), the first of twelve commands in chapter 24. Whatever disagreements scholars might have on the chronology of events, they should agree that confusion over eschatology should not blur the clear commands for discernment, readiness, and endurance. And that first command (“See that no one leads you astray,” 24:4) is a call for such responses, for Jesus teaches that when false Christs and prophets, great apostasy, and wars and rumor of wars, famines and earthquakes occur (24:5–8), “the end” of the world “is not yet” at hand (24:6). In fact, “these are the beginnings of the birth pains” (24:8). Jesus does not say when the temple will be destroyed, only that it will be, and that that cataclysmic event in Israel’s history is the sign that Christ can return at any moment (“when you see all these things” taking place, know that the Son of Man “is near,” 24:33).
In the meantime—between Pentecost and the Parousia—disciples are commissioned to “endure suffering” and “do the work of an evangelist” (2Tim 4:5), namely, to take on the Great Commission—to proclaim “throughout the whole world” the “gospel of the kingdom . . . to all nations” (Matt 24:14). “The end will come” (24:14) only after tremendous gospel growth. Through persecutions, the church will not only survive but thrive. There will be many false teachers and many who fall away (“many false prophets will arise and lead many astray,” 24:11; “many will fall away,” 24:10a) and many who then betray and hate Christians (“many will . . . betray one another and hate one another,” 24:10b, “they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name’s sake,” 24:9), but there will also be many who come to embrace the good news about Jesus.
While “no one knows” (24:36) the day when Christ will return, Matthew’s readers know that he will return suddenly, publicly, unmistakably, and the sign that the world is coming to an end will be obvious (Matt 24:27–31). His return will be loud (“he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call,” 24:31), universal (“all the tribes” will see Jesus arriving on “the clouds of heaven,” 24:30), and glorious (“those days the sun will be darkened . . . and then will appear in heaven . . . the Son of Man on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory,” 24:29–30; “for as the lightning comes from the east and shines as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man,” 24:27).
In verses 15–26, Jesus instructs his disciples then (“this generation,” 24:34) how to respond to “the tribulation of those days” (24:29), the time before and during the Roman siege of Jerusalem (Matt 22:7; Luke 21:20) and the desecration and destruction of the temple (“the abomination of desolation,” 24:15).33 Matthew 24:21 summarizes well the magnitude of this horrific event, “For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be.” According to Josephus, the Romans’ brutality included enslaving nearly 100,000 Jews and slaughtering or starving another 1.1 million. This was truly “Israel’s darkest hour,” “a time of tribulation unsurpassed in Israel’s history.”34
Facing such horrors, Jesus issues six imperatives—“flee” (24:16), do “not go down” (24:17), do “not turn back” (24:18), “pray” (24:20), “do not believe” (24:23, 26b), and “do not go out” (24:26a). They are to run for their lives! Those residing in Judea are to “flee to the mountains” (24:16) for safety and to do so quickly (24:17–18). As they flee, they are to care for the least among them (“women who are pregnant and for those who are nursing infants,” 24:19) and “pray” that, in God’s providence, their “flight may not be in winter or on a Sabbath” (24:20). While in hiding, or on the way out of the city, they are not to be duped by false teachers (24:23–26).
The Return of Christ (24:27–31, 36–51)
In verses 37–51, Jesus instructs his disciples who live after the destruction of the temple to respond to Jesus’s obvious but unexpected second coming. The theme of unexpectedness is featured in three statements (the people of Noah’s generation “were unaware until the flood came,” 24:39, “the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect,” 24:44, “the master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he does not know,” 24:50) and four illustrations (the flood, working men and women, the thief in the night, and the two servants or two types of servants, 24:38–51).
These illustrations on unexpectedness are intended to rouse professing disciples to the attitudes and actions of faithful attentiveness. Disciples, who rest in Jesus’s sure word about the future (24:34–35), are commissioned in the present to “stay awake” (24:42, 43), “be ready” (24:44), and do what Jesus calls them to do (24:45–25:46). It is a matter of life (eternal salvation, 24:13) and death (eternal judgment, 24:39, 40, 41, 51; 25:12, 28–30, 33, 41–46). Those who use the delay of Jesus’s return as an excuse for indifference (going about their daily lives, “they were unaware until the flood came,” 24:39) or immorality (“‘My master is delayed’ . . . so he “drinks with drunkards,” 24:48–49), will be severely judged (24:51). True disciples of Jesus are prepared, use their gifts for kingdom work, and love others. “Blessed is that servant,” Jesus says in 24:46 “whom his master will find so doing [such works] when he returns.” The “faithful and wise” (24:45) disciple takes Jesus at his word, does good not evil, and waits eagerly for Jesus’s coming and his reward (“Truly, I say to you, he [the master, symbolic for God] will set him [the good servant] over all his possessions,” 24:47).
The Parable of the Ten Virgins (25:1–13)
As Jesus continues teaching his disciples on Mount Olivet, he next answers the question, “What does readiness for the second coming resemble?” Prepared waiting is the answer Jesus provides in the parable of the Ten Virgins.
Jesus tells the story of a wedding day, where ten bridesmaids (“virgins”) take “their lamps” and go “to meet the bridegroom” (25:1). “The bridegroom was delayed” (25:5a). He arrived “at midnight” (25:6)! By then, all ten virgins were asleep (25:5b). A cry wakes them, “Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him” (25:6). They all quickly readied their oil lamps to see him (“then all those virgins rose and trimmed their lamps,” 25:7). However, five of them “took no oil with them” (25:3) and five of them did (“the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps,” 25:4). “Five of them were foolish, and five were wise” (25:2). As the foolish virgins saw that their lamps were “going out,” they begged the wise virgins, “Give us some of your oil” (25:8). The wise offered a practical answer, “Since there will not be enough for us and for you [we will all be in the dark when he comes!], go rather to the dealers and buy for yourselves” (25:9). Off they went. In the meantime, the bridegroom arrived. He invited the five wise virgins to join him in the celebration (“those who were ready went in with him to the marriage feast,” 25:10b). When the foolish virgins returned, they found that “the door was shut” to the wedding banquet. So, they cried out, “Lord, lord, open to us” (25:11). The emphatic reply is shocking: “he answered, ‘Truly, I say to you, I do not know you’” (25:12), but Jesus’s point of the parable is plain: “Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour” (25:13). The whole story can be reduced to that one warning.
In this parable, “the bridegroom” represents Christ, the “ten virgins” his mixed church, the “wise virgins” true believers, the “oil” their preparedness (cf. Luke 12:35, where “stay dressed for action” [i.e., be prepared] parallels “keep your lamps burning” [i.e., be prepared]), the “foolish virgins” ill-prepared and overly presumptuous professing Christians (“Lord, Lord,” Matt 25:11; cf. 7:21), and the groom’s judgments rendered on the two groups the final judgment—the joys of heaven (being let into the wedding feast to be “with the Lord,” 1Thess 4:17) and torments of hell (being barred from it, “shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power on the day he comes to be glorified in his holy people,” 2Thess 1:9–10, NIV).
The Parable of the Talents (25:14–30)
In Matthew 25:14–30, Jesus offers a second parable that answers the question, “What does readiness for the second coming resemble?” It involves a faith that works. Between Jesus’s resurrection and return, the church readies herself for that return by investing in the talents God has given to each member. J. C. Ryle summarizes well the parable of the Talents by comparing and contrasting it with the previous parable.
The parable of the talents is very like that of the ten virgins. Both direct our minds to the same significant event: the second coming of Jesus Christ. Both bring before us the same people: the members of the professing church of Christ. The virgins and the servants are the same people—but the same people are regarded from different points and viewed on different sides. The practical lesson of each parable is the main point of difference: vigilance is the keynote of the first parable, diligence that of the second. The story of the virgins calls on the church to watch; the story of the talents calls on the church to work.35
Jesus covers this theme in three scenes. In the first scene, he compares the coming kingdom to “a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted to them his property. To one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away” (25:14–15). This “man,” also called the “master” nine times throughout the rest of the parable, represents the Lord Jesus. The “servants” symbolize professing Christians. The talents, a high unit of currency (one talent might equal a million dollars today), represents more than the monetary provisions Christ gives, but also the gifts of intelligence, health, time, vocations, family, and natural abilities (“talents” as the English word is used today).
The second scene depicts what the three servants did with their talents: “He who had received the five talents went at once and traded with them, and he made five talents more. So also he who had the two talents made two talents more. But he who had received the one talent went and dug in the ground and hid his master’s money” (25:16–18). The first two servants, who went to work immediately, doubled their master’s money. The opposite industry, immediacy, and effect are seen in the third servant. When he eventually got around to doing something with the gift he was given, he dug a hole and buried the talent.36
The third scene depicts Jesus’s judgment of what his self-professed disciples did with what they were given (“Now after a long time the master of those servants came and settled accounts with them,” 25:19). With the phrase “after a long time,” Jesus teaches that his return might take much longer than expected, and with the phrase “settle accounts” he highlights that he will return as the judge of all people from every place (“before him will be gathered all the nations,” 25:32). Verses 20–30 describe his judgment of the faithful and the unfaithful.
First, the faithful are rewarded.
And he who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five talents more, saying, “Master, you delivered to me five talents; here, I have made five talents more.” His master said to him, “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.” And he also who had the two talents came forward, saying, “Master, you delivered to me two talents; here, I have made two talents more.” His master said to him, “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.” (25:20–23)
With extensive parallelisms, highlighted above, Jesus bestows three rewards for his faithful workers: commendation (“well done, good and faithful servant”), greater responsibilities (“you have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much”), and the shared joy of Immanuel’s personal presence (“enter into the joy of your master”).
Second, the unfaithful are punished (25:24–30). Once again (25:12–13), and not for the last time (25:41–46a), the parable’s end stresses a warning to the spiritually complacent. The so-called servant “who had received the one talent came forward” (25:24a). He is ashamed, but full of excuses and accusations against his provider: “Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed, so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here, you have what is yours” (25:24b–25). He views his Lord, who is merciful, as merciless. He views the just judge as unjust. He does not understand who Jesus is and what he came to do. “He has cloaked his laziness behind his solemn God-talk excuses. . . . He has the audacity to blame generous Jesus for his own apathy and inactivity.”37
This servant’s judgment of the Savior and Judge does not sit well with the Lord (25:26–27). Jesus judges the man. Notice that Jesus calls him a “wicked and slothful servant” (25:26). The good servants are labeled “good” and “faithful.” So, “slothful” is the opposite of “faithful,” and such slothfulness is a severe offense. This sin of omission is perhaps more awful than the sins of commission, for Judge Jesus renders the opposite threefold verdict. This so-called servant receives the fair sentence of no commendation, no further responsibilities, and no celebration in the Lord’s presence (25:28–30). He is sentenced to see no one and nothing (“darkness”) and to be eternally unemployed (to do nothing forever), and yet to feel something sad, to linger forever with spiritual and physical manifestations (“weeping and gnashing of teeth”) about “the regrets of lost opportunities, misspent chances, stupid choices.”38
The Parable of the Sheep and the Goats (25:31–46)
In Matthew 25:31–46, Jesus offers a final parable, or parable-like teaching, that answers the question, “What does readiness for the second coming resemble?” It involves vigilant hope (25:1–13), diligent faith (25:14–30), and sacrificial love (25:31–46). It involves demonstrating allegiance to Jesus by caring for “the least of these” (25:40).
The “revelatory discourse,”39 as Schnackenburg calls it, begins with a picture of Jesus as the coming divine judge (“when the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne,” 25:31; Dan 7:9–10). Sitting as judge, all people will stand before him (“before him will be gathered all the nations”) and he will render a judgment that separates the righteous from the unrighteous (“and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left,” Matt 25:32–33; Dan 7:18, 26). What a picture of power! He comes with “all the angels” to judge “all the nations” (Matt 25:31, 32).
What a picture of power! He comes with “all the angels” to judge “all the nations.”
As stated in Matthew 16:27, here, Jesus’s judgment is based on works. Those who are blessed (“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world,’” 25:34) demonstrate their union with the king through loving his persecuted church40 in six tangible ways: “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me’” (25:35–36).
The righteous are surprised that their seemingly insignificant actions to the marginalized were noticed and applauded by Jesus: “Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’” (25:37–39). They forgot that the glorious Son of Man has a spiritual solidarity with the neediest and most persecuted among his people (“And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me,’” 25:40).
The unrighteous meet the opposite fate: “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels’” (25:41). The righteous “come” to Jesus (25:34) and the unrighteous “depart” from him (25:41); the righteous are “blessed” (25:34) and the unrighteous “cursed” (25:41); the righteous are granted “eternal life” (25:46b) and the unrighteous “eternal punishment” (25:46a); the righteous “inherit . . . the kingdom” (25:34) and the unrighteous “eternal fire” (25:41). Echoing the parable of the Talents, “the sin of neglect leads to the damnation of the do-nothings.”41 As Jesus says, “For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me’” (25:42–43). The unrighteous are as surprised as the righteous, but their surprise is that their professed faith (they call Jesus “Lord”) was not enough and that works of love were both necessary (“Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’” 25:44) and intimately connected with Immanuel (“Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me,’” 25:45). The lesson here reflects what Jesus said earlier in the Sermon on the Mount: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven” (7:21).
“The Son of Man is Betrayed into the Hands of Sinners” (26:1–56)
Matthew 26:1–27:61 records the passion of the Christ. While it is an overstatement to say that Matthew’s Gospel is “a Passion Story with a long introduction,”42 it is no overstatement to state that the sufferings and death of Jesus is the climactic moment in Matthew’s grand narrative.
After Jesus finishes the Olivet Discourse (“When Jesus had finished all these sayings,” 26:1),43 a discourse that focuses on the distant future (the destruction of the temple and the second coming), he turns his attention to the near future by saying to his disciples, “You know that after two days the Passover is coming, and the Son of Man will be delivered up to be crucified” (26:2). As Jesus speaks those prophetic words, his prophecy begins to be fulfilled: “Then the chief priests and the elders of the people gathered in the palace of the high priest, whose name was Caiaphas, and plotted together in order to arrest Jesus by stealth and kill him. But they said, ‘Not during the feast, lest there be an uproar among the people’” (26:3–5). He said that he would die during the Passover, and the religious leaders after it. Jesus’s word, not theirs, will come true. Indeed, the irony is that “in Jesus’s own Passover story, God’s people will be saved [during the Passover] . . . when the Lord does not Passover his own firstborn Son.”44
Jesus Anointed at Bethany (26:1–16)
As the temple aristocracy plot in “the palace of the high priest” (26:3), Matthew shifts the scene and shows Jesus arriving in Bethany and entering “the house of Simon the leper” (26:6). The juxtaposition between the pure place (where purification rites before the Passover were taking place, see John 11:55), and the unclean leper’s house is striking, and it foreshadows what Jesus is about to do. He will finally “cleanse [his people] . . . from all sin” (1Jn 1:7) by being “delivered up to be crucified” (Matt 26:2).
“Set between two scenes of hatred—the plot of the priests (26:3–5) and Judas’s betrayal (26:14–16)—is a love story. It is one of the greatest love stories in the Greatest Love Story ever told.”45 The story is short, but spectacular: “a woman came up to him with an alabaster flask of very expensive ointment, and she poured it on his head as he reclined at table” (26:7). Three reactions follow this extravagant act of love. First, the twelve “were indignant,” and they questioned her seemingly irrational, impractical, and impious action: “Why this waste? For this could have been sold for a large sum and given to the poor,” 26:8b–9). Mark records that the ointment was made of “pure nard” and that it would have sold for “more than three hundred denarii” (Mark 14:3, 5), a full year’s wages for a common laborer.
Second, Jesus reacts by defending her. What they take as “wasteful,” he labels “a beautiful” work: “Why do you trouble the woman? For she has done a beautiful thing to me” (Matt 26:10). He also corrects their poor theology about the poor: “For you always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me” (26:11). He reminds them of what he earlier taught (Matt 10:37). Jesus is her first and greatest love. She loves him more than even her prized possession. She loves him with a costly love.
Moreover, she loves him for who he said he was. When Jesus says, “In pouring this ointment on my body, she has done it to prepare me for burial” (26:12), he might mean that she acts better than she knows, namely, that as a dead body would be drenched in perfume to cover the smell of a decaying corpse, so here she prefigures Jesus’s own burial rite. Or, he might mean that she acted on her informed faith. If this woman is Mary of Bethany (likely so), then she knew firsthand or heard secondhand about Jesus’s predictions of his death and resurrection (16:21; 17:22–23; 20:17–19; 26:2). If the Canaanite woman understood Jesus as “Lord” and “Son of David” (15:22), why did this Jewish disciple, a close friend of Jesus, fail to understand that there must be a burial between death and resurrection?
Maybe she gets Matthew 1—that Jesus is King and Savior. Maybe the object of her love is Jesus as the Christ and as Christ crucified. Maybe contra to the Jewish leaders . . . she believes that Jesus is the Son of Man (thus she christens him as the divine King of an everlasting kingdom) and believes that Jesus’s coronation will somehow mysteriously come upon Calvary’s cross. Maybe she gets the crown and the cross.46
If the above reading reads too much into her motives, it matters not. For what is clear is that Jesus praises her actions with one of the highest commendations in all of the Bible: “Truly, I say to you, wherever this gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will also be told in memory of her” (26:13). “And whether the phrase ‘this gospel’ refers to the Gospel of Matthew (unlikely), or just ‘the passion drama itself’ (more likely), or ‘the good news about the Messiah—news which must include this story and so his passion’ (most likely), her sweet perfume that filled this leper’s house now fills the four corners and seven continents of the world.”47
The third reaction to the woman’s anointing of Jesus comes from Judas. “Then one of the twelve, whose name was Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests and said, ‘What will you give me if I deliver him over to you?’ And they paid him thirty pieces of silver. And from that moment he sought an opportunity to betray him” (26:14–16). Judas, who just rebuked this woman for not caring about the poor (as she poured out a year’s wages on Jesus), agrees to give Jesus over for “thirty pieces of silver,” about four month’s wages. She gives generously, while he, in his greed, takes what he can to reveal Jesus’s location. While the greedy men in the palace plot to kill Jesus, one of Jesus’s own apostles makes part of that plot possible. How devilish!
The Last Supper (26:17–29)
In Matthew 26:17–30, the Evangelist shifts the scene to the first day of a seven-day celebration of the Passover: “Now on the first day of Unleavened Bread the disciples came to Jesus, saying, ‘Where will you have us prepare for you to eat the Passover?’” (Matt 26:17). Matthew highlights, with his threefold repetition of the word “Passover” (26:17, 18, 19), that Jesus’s prediction of his passion (26:2) is set into motion. His “time is at hand” (26:18b).
After a place is secured, the meal prepared (26:18–19), and the sun was setting (“when it was evening”), Jesus “reclined at table with the twelve” (26:20). With the same phrase “as they were eating” (26:21, 26), two main topics are discussed.
First, Jesus predicts his betrayal: “Truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me” (26:21). As Jesus predicts the timing of his death (26:2, 18) and his bodily resurrection (26:29), so he predicts that one of the twelve will betray him (26:21) and he knows that man’s identity (26:25). For as eleven of the apostles ask, “Is it I, Lord?” (26:22), Jesus’s betrayer gives himself away in both word (“Is it I, Rabbi?” He said to him, “You have said so,” 26:25) and deed (“He who has dipped his hand in the dish with me will betray me,” 26:23) and connects his prediction with Old Testament prophecy (Isa 53:7–9; Dan 9:26): “The Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that man if he had not been born” (Matt 26:24). And while the plan of Jesus’s betrayal is part of God’s sovereign plan, Judas is personally held responsible for his wicked actions, as is made clear by Jesus’s denouncement (“woe to that man,” 26:24; cf. Acts 2:23).
Second, Jesus celebrates the Passover meal with his disciples. Together they prayed (Jesus blessed the bread and gave thanks [eucharistēas] for the cup, Matt 26:26, 27), ate bread (26:26), drank red wine (26:27–28), and sang “a hymn” (26:30, likely one of the Hallel Psalms, Pss 113–118, perhaps Psalm 118, which features “the stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone,” Ps 118:22).
Here are five observations on Jesus’s unique celebration of the Passover meal. First, Jesus may be celebrating some version of the Passover Seder, which took its present shape thirty years after the Lord’s Supper. Matthew, however, focuses little on the details of the meal and more on the man presiding over it and his extraordinary innovations to the Exodus feast (Exod 12:14–27; Lev 23:4–6; Deut 16:3–4).
Besides turning this family meal into a church community meal (that’s innovative—who are his brothers and sisters but his disciples, Matt 12:46–50), Jesus also turns the focus of the whole celebration on himself. Instead of focusing on the lamb—the focus of the Passover meal [Exod 12:3–11, 21–23, 43–49; Deut 16:2, 5–7]—Jesus speaks of his body and blood: “My body” (26:26) and “my blood” (26:28). Your body? Your blood? What about the lamb and its body and blood? That lamb is nowhere on our Lord’s lips and nowhere found in Matthew’s account.48
With these surprising innovations and shifts in focus, Matthew makes the theological point that, in Jesus’s death, there is a new Passover and a new Exodus. Moreover, this meal is the last Passover meal in that there is no need to celebrate the Passover because the Lamb of God (John 1:29, 36; 1Cor 5:7), to whom that meal pointed, has shed his blood to free his people from their slavery to sin.
Second, Jesus’s words above clearly indicate that he understands what his death will accomplish (“the forgiveness of sins,” Matt 26:28) and that his passion is not “a tragedy or error, but the crowning act of his ministry in which he pours out his blood as the once-for-all sacrifice which secures redemption ‘for many’ and insures a glorious consummation in the future.”49
Third, when Jesus speaks of eating his body and drinking his blood, he is using figurative language, in that the bread symbolizes the sacrifice of his body and the wine his blood shed on the cross. This sacrifice for the “many” likely denotes that Jesus’s substitutionary death directly benefits the elect (the Servant “bore the sins of many,” Isa 53:12), who are earlier called “my people” (Isa 53:8, i.e., God’s covenant people; cf. “he will save his people from their sins,” Matt 1:21).
Fourth, while there is no precise command in Matthew’s record of the Last Supper that Jesus is instituting a sacrament for the church to perpetually celebrate (unless we take the commands to his first disciples “take, eat,” and “drink” as perpetual commands), we do know from other inspired accounts (e.g., Luke 22:19; 1Cor 11:24) that the early church regularly celebrated this meal based on Christ’s clear command to do so. And in this case, it is interesting to note that the one recurring commemorative drama that Jesus gives his church is the act of celebrating his “death until he comes” (1Cor 11:26).
Fifth, this commemoration of Jesus’s death has an eschatological element to it, as Paul states above. Jesus expresses it this way: “I tell you I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom” (Matt 26:29). When Christians today eat the bread and drink the cup, they anticipate their future fellowship with Jesus and the “many” he has saved.50
Go to Gethsemane (26:30–56)
26:30–35 After the Passover meal, Jesus and his disciples returned “to the Mount of Olives” (26:30). And on their way to Gethsemane, Jesus informed them, “You will all fall away because of me this night. For it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’ But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee” (26:31–32). Jesus prophesies that,
- The twelve will all apostatize during his passion (when Jesus, “the shepherd,” is struck, “the sheep . . . will be scattered,” quoting Zech 13:7).
- He will rise from the dead.
- He will appear to them (assuming they, or all but one of them, are reinstated as apostles) in Galilee.
These predictions play out in the remaining chapters of Matthew:
- Judas falls away (“the betrayer” arrived, Matt 26:48), then ten more (“all the disciples left him and fled,” 26:56), and finally Peter (“he went out [left Jesus] and wept bitterly” after his denials, 26:75).
- Jesus rises from the dead (28:1–10).
- Jesus recommissions the eleven (“tell my brothers to go to Galilee, and there they will see me,” 28:10) and newly commissions them in “Galilee of the Gentiles” (4:15) to take the gospel to “all nations” (28:19).
Peter protests against Jesus’s Scripture-supported prophecy of the twelve’s apostasy: “Though they all fall away because of you, I will never fall away” (26:33). He cuts his brothers down (“though they all fall away”) and then props himself up (“I will never fall away”)—a wrong and hurtful move on Peter’s part. As Bruner notes, Peter’s response fails in three ways: “(1) in his condescension toward the other disciples, (2) in his confidence in himself as an exception, and (3) in his contradiction of his Lord’s word.”51 Jesus emphatically rebukes Peter’s rebuke: “Truly, I tell you, this very night, before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times” (26:34). That prophecy, too, will soon come true (26:69–75). But Peter is too proud and self-confident to admit defeat. He actually reproves Jesus again! “Peter said to him, ‘Even if I must die with you, I will not deny you!’” (26:35a), as the others echo his courageous cocksureness (“and all the disciples said the same,” 26:35b).
26:36–46 If, at this point, Jesus did not feel utterly alone in his mission, he soon would. When they arrive, late at night, at the garden of Gethsemane, “he said to his disciples, ‘Sit here, while I go over there and pray’” (26:36). Taking Peter, James, and John with him, he did what he just said: “he fell on his face and prayed” (26:39); “again, for the second time, he went away and prayed” (26:42); “So leaving them again, he went away and prayed for the third time” (26:44). And between his personal prayer sessions, he admonishes the tired trio to “watch and pray” (26:41).
Olive trees from the time of Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane
His hours of prayer, which cause him deep sorrow (“he began to be sorrowful and troubled,” 26:37; “my soul is very sorrowful, even to death,” 26:38; Luke 22:44) focused on the “cup” he was about to drink: “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me” (Matt 26:39); “My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done” (26:42). While the drinking of this cup symbolizes his physical sufferings, it also speaks of his spiritual separation from the Father (as expressed on the cross with his cry, “My God, my God, why have your forsaken me?” 27:46). This God-forsakenness, hinted at in Matthew 8:17 and directly stated in Matthew 20:28, is the act of salvation. The irony is thick: the cup of God’s wrath, usually drunk by the nations for their sins (Isa 51:17, 22; Jer 25:15–28), is consumed whole by “the Son of Man” (Matt 26:45), the divine figure who would come to judge and rule the nations. The Son of Man and Son of God drinks the wrath due the nations! Charles Spurgeon summarizes the beauty of the moment so beautifully:
The whole of the punishment of his people was distilled into one cup; no [mere] mortal lip might give it so much as a solitary sip. When he put it to his own lips, it was so bitter, he well nigh spurned it: “Let this cup pass from me.” But his love for his people was so strong [and we add: his commitment to the Father’s will was so steadfast], that he took the cup in both his hands, and “At one tremendous draught of love, He drank damnation dry.”52
26:47–56 As Jesus ends his prayer time with his Father, and once again finds his three future generals asleep on their night watch, he wakes them from their slumber before the noise of Judas’s newly formed army does. And “while he was still speaking” (26:47), saying, “Sleep and take your rest later on. See, the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Rise, let us be going; see, my betrayer is at hand” (26:45–46), Judas approaches him. Arriving with “a great crowd with swords and clubs, from the chief priests and the elders of the people” (26:47), Judas offers Jesus a salutation (“Greetings, Rabbi!” 26:49) and uses a kiss to signal to this crowd the man they are to arrest. “Judas twists a greeting of friendship . . . into a death sign.”53 “One of the twelve” (26:47) betrays Jesus!
After Jesus allowed Judas to arrest him (“Friend, do what you came to do”), he was arrested (“then they came up and laid hands on Jesus and seized him,” 26:50). One of the disciples (“Peter,” John 18:10), however, sought to put up a fight. He “drew his sword and struck the servant of the high priest and cut off his ear” (Matt 26:51). Perhaps he thought this might entice Jesus and the others to join him. This was also perhaps in fulfillment of his bold oath: “Even if I must die with you, I will not deny you!” (26:35).
After Jesus healed the man’s ear (as recorded in Luke 22:51), he rebuked both Peter and the crowd (Matt 26:52–54). Once again, Peter fails to understand Jesus’s mission and the nature of his own apostolic mission. Jesus’s mission, as defined by himself and as a fulfillment of Scripture, is to be arrested, beaten, and crucified; Peter’s mission is to preach Christ and him crucified and to use the sword of the Spirit to slay souls. Peter also underestimates Jesus’s divine power. If Jesus wanted, he could summon an enormous angelic army to his rescue (a “legion” was comprised of 5,000 to 6,000 soldiers). Who needs Peter’s sword when you have immediate access to some 70,000 angels from the Lord? Or, to paraphrase Jerome, “Who needs defense from twelve apostles on earth when one has twelve legions of angels in heaven?”54
Jesus rebukes the crowd for treating him like he is a dangerous criminal: “Have you come out as against a robber, with swords and clubs to capture me?” (26:55). Is violence necessary, especially since they regularly saw him unarmed as he taught? “Day after day I sat in the temple teaching, and you did not seize me” (26:55). Yet, as Jesus put it to Peter (26:54), “all this has taken place that the Scriptures of the prophets might be fulfilled” (26:56). Jesus, who is “the Son of Man” of Daniel (Dan 7:13–14), will prove to be the Suffering Servant of Isaiah (Isa 52:13–53:12) and the forsaken and mocked king of Psalm 22, who ushers in the new covenant of Jeremiah (Jer 31:31) through his sacrifice on the cross.
Jesus, who is “the Son of Man” of Daniel, will prove to be the Suffering Servant of Isaiah and the forsaken and mocked king of Psalm 22, who ushers in the new covenant of Jeremiah through his sacrifice on the cross.
The scene at Gethsemane ends with the phrase “then all the disciples left him and fled” (Matt 26:56). Near the beginning of the Gospel, “they left their nets and followed him” (4:20); now near the end they leave (aphentes, the same verb) Jesus in search for safety. Jesus, who will soon be forsaken by his loving Father, here is forsaken by his closest friends. “Like the scapegoat on the Day of Atonement, Jesus will have to go to his destiny alone.”55
Jesus Arrested and Tried (26:57–27:26)
26:57–68 The crowd who arrested Jesus brought him to the palace of “Caiaphas the high priest,” where members of the Sanhedrin (“the scribes and the elders,” 26:57, “the chief priests,” “the council,” 26:59) gathered for Jesus’s trial. And as Jesus’s trial begins, Peter’s trial does as well (“And Peter was following him at a distance, as far as the courtyard of the high priest, and going inside he sat with the guards to see the end,” 26:58). The Sanhedrin’s intent is obvious and insidious (they “were seeking false testimony against Jesus that they might put him to death,” 26:59). The problem with their plan is that “though many false witnesses came forward” (26:60), they could not find consensus. For example, two witnesses claimed that Jesus said, “I am able to destroy the temple of God, and to rebuild it in three days” (26:61). They indeed might have witnessed Jesus overturn the tables in the temple (21:12–13) and then declare, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up” (John 2:19). They misunderstood that he was speaking metaphorically “about the temple of his body” (John 2:21). Their charge, if true (and if able for one man to do!), would be viewed as a capital offense (desecrating a holy place).
Jesus does not respond to their claims: “And the high priest stood up and said, ‘Have you no answer to make? What is it that these men testify against you?’ But Jesus remained silent,” Matt 26:62–63a). Perhaps he remained silent because he did not want to assent to their misunderstanding of his metaphor, or he found the whole proceeding a miscarriage of justice that violates God’s law (Exod 20:16). Whatever his motive, the allusion to the Suffering Servant is obvious (Isa 53:7).
Caiaphas breaks the silence: “And the high priest said to him, ‘I adjure you by the living God, tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God?’” (Matt 26:63). Jesus answers in the affirmative: “You have said so” (26:64). Yet, as he continues his answer, he makes clear that his messiahship is not merely messianic (“the Christ” is synonymous with “the Son of God”). He takes “the Christ” to mean messiah, and “the Son of God” to mean the divine Son (cf. “My Father,” 26:39, 42, 44, 53; “Power,” 26:64) who is also the exalted figure of Daniel 7 (“the Son of Man”). Jesus says, “But I tell you, from now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven” (26:64). Caiaphas understands Jesus’s statement, and as a symbol of outrage (see 2Kgs 18:37) he “tore his robes” and pronounced: “He has uttered blasphemy. What further witnesses do we need? You have now heard his blasphemy. What is your judgment?” (26:65–66a). Their verdict was swift (“he deserves death,” 26:66b; Lev 24:16), violent (“then they spit in his face and struck him. And some slapped him,” 26:67), and misguided (“Prophesy to us, you Christ! Who is it that struck you?” 26:68).56
It is misguided because Jesus is thus fulfilling prophecy (his own and that of the prophets, notably Isa 50:6) and will fulfill, at his second coming, the answer he gave in Matthew 26:64. At his return, the man who was condemned would come to condemn, and the subjugated would subjugate.
What the Sanhedrin declares to be blasphemy, Jesus declares to be true. Jesus is the Christ and Son of God, who, in accordance with 2 Samuel 7:14, builds the temple; Jesus is the king of Psalm 110:1 who sits at God’s right hand; Jesus is the suffering servant of Isaiah 50:6 whose face is spat upon, and Jesus is the Son of Man of Daniel 7:14 who will come on the clouds of heaven.57
26:69–75 As Jesus is on trial before the Sanhedrin for his messiahship (“Tell us if you are the Christ” 26:63), Peter is on trial before a few servants for his discipleship. The “now” of verse 69 means “at the same time” (the “now” of Jesus’s trial in verse 59). Matthew’s literary artistry is astounding! As Jesus stands on trial inside the high priest’s house before the high-ranking religious authorities in Jerusalem and tells the truth, Peter sits outside and repeatedly lies as lowly servant girls question him. He thrice denies Jesus.
The first denial comes in verses 69–70: “Now Peter was sitting outside in the courtyard. And a servant girl came up to him and said, ‘You also were with Jesus the Galilean.’ But he denied it before them all, saying, ‘I do not know what you mean.’” As he claims ignorance—“I don’t know what you’re talking about” (26:70, NIV)—he adds to his guilt.
The second denial, recorded in verses 71–72, comes after he moves farther away from Jesus. Peter’s body movement (“when he went out to the entrance”) paints a picture of the state of his soul. His mouth also tells the tale: “And when he went out to the entrance, another servant girl saw him, and she said to the bystanders, ‘This man was with Jesus of Nazareth.’ And again he denied it with an oath: I do not know the man.’” Notice that the second witness against him was “another servant girl.” Note also her accusation: that he was “with Jesus.” Indeed, he was—for three years! He is there that night because he wants to be “with Jesus.” Now he fears for his life. He will not even place the name “Jesus” on his lips. With an oath, he calls Jesus “that man.” He swears to God he does not know “the Son of the living God” (Matt 16:16). The servant girls say, “Jesus the Galilean” and “Jesus of Nazareth.” He calls Jesus “that man,” not “the Son of Man.” Peter is seeking to save his life instead of losing his life for Jesus (Matt 16:25). And to save his life that night, he moves from fabricated ignorance to flagrant repudiation. He grows in his guilt, now adding the crime of being a false witness under oath.
The third denial features not only the same response (“I do not know the man”) but a self-curse (“he began to invoke a curse on himself and to swear,” 26:74—the sense being, “If I am lying, let me be damned”) that he does not know Jesus. That response happened after one of “the bystanders” accused him of knowing and being with Jesus: “Certainly you too are one of them, for your accent betrays you” (26:73). His distinct Galilean accent “betrays” him!
And the rooster next pronounces his failure. As he is adamantly announcing, “I do not know the man,” Matthew writes, “And immediately the rooster crowed” (26:74). That is Peter’s last line, as recorded by Matthew. His last action will be to meet Jesus, after the resurrection, and to hear his new charge (as a restored leader), and the kind and needed words, “I am with you always” (28:20). But here in 26:75, Peter’s actions are immediate recollection (“And Peter remembered the saying of Jesus, ‘Before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times’”), retreat (“and he went out”), and tearful remorse (“and [he] wept bitterly”). The morning dawns, exposing his darkness. The first among the twelve, like everyone, needs a Savior.
27:1–10 Matthew 27:1–23 records how the Sanhedrin (27:1–10), Pontus Pilate (27:11–14), and the Jewish crowd (27:15–26) all played a part in sentencing Jesus to death. In the morning, “all the chief priests and the elders of the people took counsel against Jesus to put him to death” (27:1). After they took counsel against God’s anointed (Ps 2:1–3), next “they bound him and led him away and delivered him over to Pilate the governor” (Matt 27:2).
As the movement occurs, the scene shifts to Judas’s movement toward the Sanhedrin: “Then when Judas, his betrayer, saw that Jesus was condemned, he changed his mind and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders, saying, ‘I have sinned by betraying innocent blood’” (27:3–4a). Judas might have literally seen Jesus (“Judas . . . saw”) in chains being led to Pilate, which signaled to him Jesus’s certain death. This pierced his conscience. He understood the law (“Cursed be anyone who takes a bribe to shed innocent blood,” Deut 27:25). He repented (“he changed his mind”), returned the money, and confessed his specific sin to the chief priests in the temple. They alone, in his mind, could help atone for his sin.58 Their response was anything but merciful: “What do we care? That’s your problem,” Matt 27:4, NLT).
Completely disheartened, he threw “down the pieces of silver into the temple, he departed, and he went and hanged himself” (27:5). The chief priests respond, as religious people often do, by holding another counsel (“so they took counsel,” 27:7) and creating a major decree on a minor doctrine. In their hypocrisy, they take their own money back (“taking the pieces of silver”!), declare that dirty money unclean (“It is not lawful to put them into the treasury, since it is blood money”), and use the money to buy “the potter’s field as a burial place for strangers,” a cemetery they labeled “the Field of Blood” (27:6–8). Their actions, while unjust and unmerciful, prove “faithful to the sovereign script of Scripture.”59 “Then was fulfilled what had been spoken by the prophet Jeremiah, saying, ‘And they took the thirty pieces of silver, the price of him on whom a price had been set by some of the sons of Israel, and they gave them for the potter’s field, as the Lord directed me’” (27:9–10). While much of the prophecy above comes from Zechariah 11:12–13, “Jeremiah” is named because he is a major prophet and because he speaks of a purchase of a field, the Valley Hinnom (where “the Field of Blood” is located, Jer 19:1–2), the shedding of “innocent blood” (Jer 19:4), and renaming the field for burial (Jer 19:6, 11).
27:11–14 After the excursion about the fate of Judas, Matthew returns his listening audience to Pilate’s headquarters (Jesus was “delivered . . . over to Pilate the governor,” Matt 27:2). As Jesus “stood before the governor,” Pilate asked, “Are you the King of the Jews?” (27:11). Here Pilate introduces an important theme for Matthew throughout his Gospel, but especially in the passion narrative. Jesus is “the King” (27:11, 28, 29, 37; “Christ,” 27:17, 22). Jesus’s enigmatic answer to Pilate (“You have said so,” 27:11b) should not be mysterious to Matthew’s Jewish Christian audience. Jesus is the King of both the Jews and Creation (28:18).
As Jesus’s trial before Pilate continues, the Sanhedrin accuse him of crimes, perhaps of blasphemy and sedition. Once again, Jesus remains silent before them (“he gave no answer,” 27:12). He will remain silent throughout the trial: “Then Pilate said to him, ‘Do you not hear how many things they testify against you?’ But he gave him no answer, not even to a single charge, so that the governor was greatly amazed” (27:13–14; cf. Isa 53:7). In fact, his next and final line before he dies will be when he cries out, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matt 27:46).
27:15–26 An idea came to Pilate, a possible way to save an innocent man. “Now at the feast the governor was accustomed to release for the crowd any one prisoner whom they wanted” (27:15). He wanted to release Jesus because (a) he knew the Jewish religious leaders’ motives were impure (“For he knew that it was out of envy that they had delivered him up,” 27:18), and (b) he wanted to honor his wife’s dream-induced concerns (“Besides, while he was sitting on the judgment seat, his wife sent word to him, ‘Have nothing to do with that righteous man, for I have suffered much because of him today in a dream,’” 27:19).
Perhaps Pilate thought, as Jesus was a popular preacher and miracle-worker, that the crowd would select him above the “notorious prisoner . . . [Jesus]60 Barabbas” (27:16). Mark and Luke name the crimes. Barabbas “committed murder in the insurrection” (Mark 15:7; Luke 23:19). So, when Pilate asked the crowd, “Whom do you want me to release for you: Barabbas, or Jesus who is called Christ?” (27:17), he had in mind that they would select the respected rabbi over the violent terrorist. He, however, underestimated Jewish nationalistic fervor against Rome and the persuasive plotting of “the chief priests and the elders” who “persuaded the crowd to ask for Barabbas and destroy Jesus” (27:20).
As he asked the question again, “Which of the two do you want me to release for you?” the unexpected answer came in unison, “Barabbas” (27:21). Surprised by their answer, “Pilate said to them, ‘Then what shall I do with Jesus who is called Christ?’” (27:22a). The greater surprise came next: “They all said, ‘Let him be crucified!’” (27:22b). Pilate disputed their decision: “Why? What evil has he done?” (27:23a), but he could not change their minds: “But they shouted all the more, ‘Let him be crucified!’” (27:23b). Finally, as “Pilate saw that he was gaining nothing, but rather that a riot was beginning” (27:24a), he gave into the crowd’s horrific double verdict. Instead of ruling with justice and courage, the weak-willed governor seeks to save his own skin: “he took water and washed his hands before the crowd, saying, ‘I am innocent of this man’s blood; see to it yourselves’” (27:24b).61 The Jewish crowd saw to it that Jesus received the death sentence. In the high point in the trial narrative, Matthew records the lowest point in Israel’s history: “And all the people answered, ‘His blood be on us and on our children!’” (27:25). Their collective condemnation marks the fifth of six ironies of this trial scene:
(1) Jesus, the judge of the world, stands before Pilate, who sits in judgment on him (John 19:13; cf. Matthew 25:31). (2) While the Jewish leaders do everything in their power to get Pilate to sentence Jesus to death, a Gentile woman (Pilate’s wife no less) does her best to have him released. (3) The crowd chooses Barabbas—the man’s name means “son (Bar) of a father (Abbas)”—over Jesus, the self-attested “Son of the Father,” the heavenly Father (cf. 11:27; 24:36). (4) Pilate’s washing of his hands only confirms the verdict that he has governed unjustly. And (5) the crowd, who willingly takes responsibility—“His blood be on us and our children” (27:25)—unwittingly prophesies their own destruction, as Rome massacred thousands from that generation during the revolt of A. D. 66–70.62
The trial concludes with Pilate’s verdict. He touts his innocence and yet surely Jesus’s innocent blood is on his hands. Note the verbs: “Then he released for them Barabbas, and having scourged Jesus, delivered him to be crucified” (27:26). The sixth irony is now introduced. The cross intended for guilty Jesus Barabbas is occupied by innocent Jesus of Nazareth. “The wrong Jesus was released, the wrong Jesus scourged, the wrong Jesus crucified, but God used all these wrongs to make everything right.”63 That Jesus of Nazareth was nailed to the cross initially envisioned for Jesus Barabbas tells the story of salvation. Because of Jesus’s substitution, the guilty are released—the ultimate Passover amnesty!
The Passion and Death of the Christ (27:27–54)
Derek Tidball writes, “The cross stands at the very heart of the Christian faith, manifesting the love of God, effecting salvation from sin, conquering the hostile forces of evil and inviting reconciliation with God.”64 Since Jesus’s first prediction of his death (16:21), Matthew has moved his readers to this climactic moment.
Mocked as King (27:27–31)
Roman soldiers (“the soldiers of the governor”) prepare Jesus for crucifixion by taking him inside (“took Jesus into the governor’s headquarters,” 27:27) to undress him. They have already brutally beaten him (they “scourged Jesus,” 27:26).65 Here, as throughout the crucifixion narrative, Matthew focuses more on mockery than the violence done to Jesus. The mockery begins with “the whole battalion” (600 men!) gathering before Jesus (27:27) to watch or join in the scorn. Again, Matthew introduces another irony, and he does so with literary flair. In the chiasm below, I have highlighted the complementary words or actions.
27 Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the governor’s headquarters, and they gathered the whole battalion before him.
28 And they stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him,
29a and twisting together a crown of thorns, they put it on his head and put a reed in his right hand.
29bAnd kneeling before him, they mocked him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!”
30 And they spit on him and took the reed and struck him on the head.
31a And when they had mocked him, they stripped him of the robe and put his own clothes on him
31b and [the soldiers] led him away to crucify him.
The point of the chiasm, which stands alone structurally and literarily, is that this battalion worships Jesus as king (27:29b), but mockingly so. The theological lesson is that their acknowledgment of Jesus as king and their adoration of him as a suffering sovereign is precisely how disciples should react to the passion and death of Jesus. If the soldiers’ appalling attitudes are removed from their actual actions—“the parody of the wreath of thorns as golden garland, a soldier’s cloak as royal robe, a reed as scepter, and the adulation due Caesar conferred upon Christ”66—they model the proper reaction to King Jesus.
The Crucifixion of the Son of God (27:32–44)
As Matthew’s passion narrative continues, a bruised and battered Jesus emerges from the governor’s headquarters. And “as they went out” from there, traveling to the place of crucifixion, the soldiers’ “compelled” Simon the Cyrene “to carry his [Jesus’s wooden] cross” beam for him (27:32–33). This action demonstrates how physically weak Jesus was. Yet, Simon and his feat might also serve symbolically both as a foil to Simon Peter (this new Simon will walk with Jesus to the cross) and an image of cross-shaped Christian discipleship (Matt 16:24).
Simon the Cyrene carried the cross “to a place called Golgotha (which means Place of a Skull)” (27:33). “Golgotha” is Calvarium in Latin, and Calvary in English. It was named “Place of a Skull” because the shape of the hill resembled a human skull and because it was the place men went outside Jerusalem to be crucified by the Romans. Some early and medieval Christian commentators believed it was the place where Adam’s body was buried. While archeologists cannot be certain of that, theologians can be certain that in Jesus’s death Adam’s curse is lifted!
Initial view facing Gordon’s Calvary with the Garden Tomb to the rear
Matthew notes, at this point, that Jesus was “crucified” (27:35) and lifted up on the cross (“come down from the cross,” 27:40), but his focus is not on the physical details of crucifixion (there is no direct mention of blood or the nailing of hands and feet). Instead, mockery remains his main motif. The Roman soldiers continued their scorn (27:27–31). First, they reproached him by “offering him wine to drink, mixed with gall” (27:34a; Ps 69:19–21). What he thought was their pity was their scorn, for “when he tasted it, he would not drink it” (Matt 27:34b). One can imagine them laughing the moment he tried to spit out the sour wine. Second, they placed over his head his crime (“the charge against him”), but to them, this eyewitness view of the charge above the seemingly powerless man must have been laughable: “This is Jesus, the King of the Jews” (27:37). Third, after they nailed him to one beam of the cross, secured him to the other, and lifted him above the ground to die a slow and painful death (“when they had crucified him”), they “sat down” beneath him, and—as they watched him writhe in agony (“they . . . kept watch over him,” 27:36)—they gambled for his clothing (“they divided his garments among them by casting lots,” 27:35). Fourth, that Jesus does not have clothes on (or, perhaps only a loincloth), tells us that he died naked, or nearly nude, an absolutely shameful death.
The casino at the foot of the cross was not the end of the mockeries he had to endure. His own countrymen mocked him. The crowds, who once loved him and hailed him as the messiah, walked by him and “derided him, wagging their heads and saying, ‘You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save yourself! If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross’” (27:39b–40). They tempt him as Satan did in the wilderness. Yet, Jesus refuses this last and great temptation. The religious leaders also add their stinging sarcasm about Jesus’s ability to save, his messianic identity, and his intimate relationship with his Father: “So also the chief priests, with the scribes and elders, mocked him, saying, ‘He saved others; he cannot save himself. He is the King of Israel; let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him. He trusts in God; let God deliver him now, if he desires him. For he said, “I am the Son of God”” (27:41–43). If that is not enough, even the “two robbers” who “were crucified with him, one on the right and one on the left” (27:38), they “also reviled him in the same way” (27:44).
At the heart of their scorn are his claims to be King of Israel and the Son of God. They cannot fathom how God’s anointed could be annihilated, the mighty Messiah murdered, the conquering Christ crucified. They stumbled over this stumbling stone. They failed to see that by losing his life, Jesus saves ours (cf. 16:25). But we should not fail to see this. He is the King of Israel. He is the Son of God. He does trust in God and God will vindicate him. He is now saving others. Every jest they say is true. The greatest truths of the gospel come from the mouths of these fools!6
Life in His Death (27:45–54)
Matthew 27:45–54 records the death of Jesus (“Jesus yielded up his spirit,” 27:50). Matthew’s focus, however, is not on that moment, but on what happens before and after Jesus’s death. He does this to show the awesome effects of the crucifixion of Christ.
Before Jesus dies, God provides four supernatural signs, and Jesus offers two loud cries. The first sign is darkness: “Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land until the ninth hour” (27:45). When the sun was at its zenith (noon, “the sixth hour”), God paints the sky black to express his judgment (Exod 10:22) and grief (Amos 8:9–10). That outer darkness is matched by Jesus’s inner turmoil and dark cry of dereliction. Three hours later “Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, ‘Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?’ that is, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’” (Matt 27:46, quoting Ps 22:1a). Jesus’s last recorded words in Matthew before he dies are God’s Word, the start of the psalm that perfectly expresses Matthew’s theology of the cross. The final quote from Psalm 22 (cf. Ps 22:7 in Matt 27:39; Psalm 22:8 in Matt 27:43, Ps 22:18 in Matt 27:35) focuses on Jesus’s God-forsakenness. Although Matthew does not state, as Paul does, that God made sinless Jesus “to be sin” so believers might be forgiven (see 2Cor 5:18–21), he shows that Jesus is an innocent (Matt 27:4) substitute (27:15–26) and that, by giving his life as a ransom (20:28) and pouring out his blood (26:27–28), he saves his people from their sins (1:21; 26:28).
Although Matthew does not state, as Paul does, that God made sinless Jesus “to be sin” so believers might be forgiven, he shows that Jesus is an innocent substitute and that, by giving his life as a ransom and pouring out his blood, he saves his people from their sins.
Jesus’s final cry from the cross comes after “some of the bystanders” misunderstand Jesus’s quote from Psalm 22 (they take the Aramaic word “Eli” to signal that Jesus is calling out to Elijah for help, Matt 27:47–49). As they wait to “see whether Elijah will come to save him” (27:49), Jesus dies: “And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice and yielded up his spirit” (27:50). The phrase “Jesus . . . yielded up his spirit” once again portrays him as sovereign over his sufferings. “It’s as if the fully obedient Son—the moment his heart is to rupture or his lungs asphyxiate or he loses too much blood to live (whatever physical ailment finally did him in)—hands his Father his last breath as a gift (cf. Luke 23:46).”68 John tells us the content of that final cry: “It is finished” (John 19:30). Matthew shares the view that Jesus dies victoriously through his record of three post-crucifixion supernatural signs.
- The rending of the temple curtain: “And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom” (27:51a).
- The tomb-opening earthquake: “And the earth shook, and the rocks were split. The tombs also were opened” (27:51b–52a).
- Resurrected bodies: “And many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised, and coming out of the tombs after his resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many” (27:52b–53).69
As I have summarized elsewhere,
After Jesus gives up “the spirit,” the Spirit of God gets to work on the world (27:50). Heaven showers down its signs of vindication and victory. The justification of God outshouts the voice of scorn and confusion. The Father has not abandoned his righteous suffering Son, and he throws an earth-shaking, tomb-breaking, curtain-tearing ceremony to celebrate! He unmistakably affirms that Jesus’s sacrifice was accepted. . . . After all Jesus’s sufferings—physical (the scourging, the crown of thorns, the weight of his own body on the cross, the thirst, the loss of blood), mental (the mockeries and desertion of his followers), and spiritual (the “desertion” of the Father)—Jesus dies victorious. . . . Christ conquers the world (the darkness and the earthquake). Christ conquers sin (the torn veil). Christ conquers death (the resurrected bodies).70
Following these four supernatural signs is perhaps a fifth: “When the centurion and those who were with him, keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were filled with awe and said, ‘Truly this was the Son of God!’” (27:54). If not a sign, this response is surely a miracle! Just as Jesus’s death brings resurrection life to the physically dead (“the dead are revived by his dying”71), so it brings life to the spiritually dead. Not only was the 80-foot or 24-meter curtain veil that separated the Court of the Jews from the Court of the Gentile torn “from top to bottom” (27:51) when Jesus died,72 but a group of Roman soldiers was ripped to the heart. Matthew depicts in narrative form what Paul writes in propositional form: those “who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ” (Eph 2:13).
To be “filled with awe” and to confess, “Truly this was the Son of God!” (Matt 27:54) after witnessing both the cataclysmic heavenly signs and the first half of the sign of Jonah (Jesus’s death) is remarkable. It is remarkable that Gentiles would be the first to offer a post-crucifixion confession. It is more remarkable that those Gentiles would be Roman soldiers. It is most remarkable that such a confession came from the very men who nailed him to the cross (27:35), and before that stripped him, spit on him, and mocked him as king (27:28–31).73 Indeed, it is most miraculously remarkable that those who “mocked him, saying, ‘Hail, King of the Jews!” (27:29; cf. 27:37), now hail him as God’s Son. Psalm 22:7, which prophesied that the nations would worship the righteous suffering King, is fulfilled. Through the cross of Christ, the enemies of God draw near to God (Rom 5:10). Martin Luther puts it this way: “The blood of Christ not only wakens dead bodies, but also sinners’ souls.”74
“Him that was Crucified” (27:55–28:20)
The crucifixion scene ends with a picture of “many women” who were longtime disciples (“had followed Jesus from Galilee”) coming to the foot of the cross to care for his body (they were “ministering to him”) after they witnessed the crucifixion “from a distance” (27:55). Matthew singles out three women (“Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James and Joseph and the mother of the sons of Zebedee,” 27:56), two of whom will witness both the burial (“Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were there, sitting opposite the tomb,” 27:61) and the resurrection (“Now after the Sabbath, toward the dawn of the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb,” 28:1). This, too, is remarkable, for while their culture did not view women as credible witnesses,75 they alone become the star witnesses to the full gospel story, lending their “credibility . . . to the kerygmatic triad: Jesus died, was buried, was raised.”76
Jesus’s Burial (27:57–61)
After the women cared for Christ’s corpse, that “evening” Joseph from Arimathea secured the body (27:57). He is described as being “a disciple of Jesus” and “a rich man” (27:57; Isa 53:9). Joseph’s wealth gave him clout with Pilate, for when “he went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus . . . Pilate ordered it to be given to him” (27:58). Once the body was secured, “Joseph took the body and wrapped it in a clean linen shroud and laid it in his own new tomb, which he had cut in the rock. And he rolled a great stone to the entrance of the tomb and went away” (27:59–60).
The Garden Tomb
Luke states that Joseph was a member of the Sanhedrin (Luke 23:50) and that he did not consent with the Council’s condemnation of Jesus (Luke 23:51). John writes that he was “a disciple of Jesus, but secretly for fear of the Jews” (John 19:38). Well, now his secret is out! By going to Pilate, he moves from bashful to brave, as he risks both his reputation with his peers and perhaps his life with Pilate. Moreover, he identifies with Jesus by serving the Servant of Servants. The six verbs—took, wrapped, laid, cut, rolled, and went away (Matt 27:59–60)—showed that he learned Jesus’s lessons on obeying the weightier matters of the law, ritual purity, and love. Furthermore, if anyone could confess the line from the Apostles’ Creed—Jesus “suffered under Pontus Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried”—it was Joseph, an incredibly credible witness to both the Jewish and Roman establishment of his day.
The historical significance of Matthew’s account cannot be underemphasized. But so too the theological significance, so well summarized by Herman Ridderbos:
Although the account of Jesus’ burial is extremely terse and sober, we must never forget that here, as through the whole gospel, the Evangelist is telling the story of the Christ. The absence of biographical details focuses all attention on the main point, namely, that the path of humiliation walked by God’s Anointed descended all the way to the grave, the place where death reigns supreme and mercilessly imposes its curse (see Gen. 3:19). Christ was dragged down to the place of deepest human humiliation and defilement and imprisoned behind a heavy stone. Even His closest friends thought He was gone for good, a figure from the past who now would be forgotten. Thus Jesus endured not only pain and suffering and the curse of death but even the terror of the grave, so that He could save His people from this forever.77
The Guards at the Tomb (27:62–66)
The day after Jesus’s burial “the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered before Pilate” (27:62). This day is Saturday, the Sabbath (the day before was “the day of Preparation,” 27:62; 28:1 starts, “Now after the Sabbath”). Matthew highlights the hypocrisy of the Jewish religious leaders gathering not in the synagogue for worship but with the Roman governor. They “gathered before Pilate” to ask his help in securing the tomb: “Sir, we remember how that impostor said, while he was still alive, ‘After three days I will rise.’ Therefore order the tomb to be made secure until the third day, lest his disciples go and steal him away and tell the people, ‘He has risen from the dead,’ and the last fraud will be worse than the first’” (27:63–64). Pilate responded to their request, “You have a guard of soldiers. Go, make it as secure as you can” (27:65). Since they are named as the governor’s soldiers in 28:12, 14, the sense is, “Go ahead and take some of my men and make the tomb as secure as possible” (see 27:65, NIV, NET). “So,” the leaders, along with the soldiers, “went and made the tomb secure by sealing the stone and setting a guard” (27:66). As Hagner points out, the irony is that Jesus’s “opponents took Jesus’s words about rising from the dead more seriously than did the disciples.”78 Also, the irony is that these guards now join the women and Joseph as official witnesses to the reality of Jesus’s death and the whereabouts of Jesus’s tomb.
The Resurrection: The Believing Women’s Reaction (28:1–10)
Their security measures (“secure,” 27:64, 65, 66) were no match for the power of God! John Chrysostom masterfully phrased it: “Behold . . . a seal, a stone, and a watch, and they were not able to hold Him.”79 Five features of Matthew’s resurrection account are worthy of note.
First, Matthew uses the word “behold” four times: “And behold, there was a great earthquake” (28:2); “and behold, he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him. See [literally, ‘behold’], I told you” (28:7); “And behold, Jesus met them [the women]” (28:9). With the word “behold,” he invites his audience to take a good look at the massive earthquake, the angel and his announcement, and the resurrected Jesus himself.
Second, the day of the resurrection is Sunday (“Now after the Sabbath, toward the dawn of the first day of the week,” 28:1). By God selecting Sunday, instead of Israel’s holy day, “perhaps he chose a new day because a new era was breaking into world history; a permanent cavity was torn in the cosmos to create an eternal eighth day of rest and rejoicing for all those who rest and rejoice in Christ.”80
Third, while there is a “great earthquake,” it is the angel not the earthquake that “rolled back the stone” (28:2). And it was this angel, with his holy manifestation (“his appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow,” 28:3; cf. 17:2), not the earthquake that made all the witnesses to the empty tomb shake: the guards “for fear of him . . . trembled and became like dead men” (28:4) and to the frightened women he started the conversation, “Do not be afraid” (28:5).
Fourth, the angel’s message was threefold. After he tried to calm their nerves, he announced Jesus’s bodily resurrection (“Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for he has risen, as he said,” 28:5–6),81 invited them to “come, see the place where he lay” (28:6), and commissioned them to share the news (“then go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead, and behold, he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him,” 28:7). In Greek, the phrase “he has risen” is one word (ēgerthē, 28:6, 7), a word in which “the whole of gospel truth rests like an inverted pyramid.”82
Fifth, as the women are obeying the angel (“So they departed quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples,” 28:8; Rom 10:15), they encounter Jesus midstride (“And behold, Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” Matt 28:9a), who also calms their nerves (“Do not be afraid”) and personally reiterates their commission (“Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee, and there they will see me,” 28:10). Their response to this theophany-in-the-flesh is to approach him, place their hands around his feet, and bow before him (“they came up and took hold of his feet, and worshiped him,” 28:9b).
The Resurrection: The Unbelieving Men’s Reaction (28:11–15)
How do unbelievers who have witnessed the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus react? Unbelievably! As the women go on their great commission, the guards and chief priests respond to “the supreme intervention of God in human existence”83 by lying and bribing.
As the women seek to find the eleven apostles to share with them the angel’s message about the empty tomb and Jesus’s resurrection (“He is not here, for he has risen,” 28:6), that same message is shared by some of the soldiers with “the chief priests” (28:11). Yet, instead of rejoicing in Easter, they assembled again with “the elders” and devised a deceitful plan (28:12). They had paid Judas to share what he knew; now, they agreed to pay the guards to not share what they know. And like their earlier security measures, their new attempt to silence the truth only gives voice to it. Doriani calls it “a delicious irony” that by the authorities trying to “cover up the resurrection,” they only help to further “spread the story of the empty tomb.”84
The Great Commission (28:16–20)
Matthew does not detail the women’s encounter with the disciples, though Jesus’s message to “go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee, and there they will see me” (28:10) was surely received by them, as recorded in verse 16: “Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them.” Their obedience and Jesus’s term of relationship restoration (“my brothers”) is a picture of his forgiveness for their temporary apostasy. Moreover, the setting of their encounter with him—on a mountain in Galilee—can be taken as a reset on their apostolic calling. The last time “Galilee” and a “mountain” where mentioned was in 4:12–5:1, a text that features the calling of Jesus’s first disciples and his early instructions to them (the Sermon on the Mount). Furthermore, once they encounter Jesus, their worship of him, while imperfect (“when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted,” 28:17) also highlights both a restored relationship and their acknowledgment of Jesus’s true identity (cf. 14:33).85 Even the doubt can be viewed as a temporary hesitation in the sense of asking themselves (a) “Is this really Jesus?” and (b) “Is it right as monotheistic Jews to worship Jesus?”
As they are being remade as disciples, their resurrected Lord calls them to make disciples. In Jesus’s Great Commission the key themes of Matthew’s Gospel come together: Jesus’s absolute authority, the mission to Jews and Gentiles, the need for allegiance to Jesus’s teachings, and the promise of Christ’s presence. Jesus’s repetition of the word “all” divides these themes nicely: all (pasa) authority, all (panta) nations, all (panta) that he commanded, and with you all (pasas) the days.
In Jesus’s Great Commission the key themes of Matthew’s Gospel come together: Jesus’s absolute authority, the mission to Jews and Gentiles, the need for allegiance to Jesus’s teachings, and the promise of Christ’s presence.
Before Jesus gives the commission (“Go”), he establishes why his command will be heeded: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” (28:18). Jesus is more than the King of the Jews; he is King of Creation, as his “all-embracing authority”86 rules over all the “earth” and extends to all created matter beyond it (“the heavens”).87
The commission itself, to which Jesus moves to next, features four verbs—go, make disciples, baptizing, and teaching: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (28:19–20). The verb “go” is a subordinate verb (a circumstantial participle) to the main aorist imperative “make disciples,” but “go” and “make” go together: there must be movement to this mission (Acts 1:8)! And the scope of the main mission of making disciples is “all nations” (Rev 5:9; 14:6), and the content centers on baptizing and teaching. Those who embrace Jesus as Savior and Lord are to be baptized “in” or “into” that triune name of God (“the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” Matt 28:19), and they are to be taught to embrace Jesus’s vast and varied commands imbedded in his imperatives, but also his proverbs, parables, prophecies, woes, and warnings.
And the reason disciples then, and throughout history, reap the rewards of gospel growth (that is, make new disciples) is due to Jesus’s absolute power and ongoing presence: “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (28:20b). Jesus, who is “Immanuel (which means, God with us)” (1:23), will be with his church—mobilizing her for mission—until he returns. Think of it this way: the Lord Jesus’s “first-person-pronoun assurances”—“I have all authority and I am with you always”—enables his church to keep his “second-person-pronoun commands”: you all make disciples by going, baptizing, and teaching.88
Bruner, Frederick Dale. Matthew: A Commentary. Volume 1: The Christbook, Matthew 1–12. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2007.
—————————. Matthew: A Commentary. Volume 2: The Churchbook, Matthew 13–28. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2007.
Nolland, John. The Gospel of Matthew. NIGTC. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2005.
O’Donnell, Douglas Sean. Matthew: All Authority in Heaven and on Earth. Preaching the Word. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2013.
Osborne, Grant R. Matthew. ZECNT 1. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2010.
Quarles, Charles L. A Theology of Matthew: Jesus Revealed as Deliverer, King, and Incarnate Creator. Explorations in Biblical Theology. Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2013.
Endnotes and Permissions
1. Douglas Sean O’Donnell, Matthew: All Authority in Heaven and on Earth, Preaching the Word (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2013), 19. A possible fourth key note would be the theme of Jesus as “Immanuel” (“God with us”), Matt 1:23; cf. “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matt 28:20).
2. Ibid., 74.
3. David L. Turner, “Matthew,” Cornerstone Biblical Commentary (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale, 2006), 62.
4. O’Donnell, Matthew, 88.
5. The phrase “from that time” is repeated three times (Matt 4:17; 16:21; 26:16), and some scholars argue that it is the key structural indicator of the Gospel.
6. John Stott, Through the Bible, Through the Year (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2006), 154.
7. Matthew 4:12–25, followed by the Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5:1–7:29), is the first of five narrative and discourse sections (Matt 8:1–11:1; 11:2–13:53; 13:54–18:54; 19:1–25:46). These discourses share similar settings and key words, such as “saying” and “disciples.”
8. O’Donnell, Matthew, 316.
9. Thus far, Matthew has quoted from Isaiah in Matthew 1:23; 3:3; 4:15–16; 8:17.
10. Michael Green, The Message of Matthew, The Bible Speaks Today (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2000), 151.
11. O’Donnell, Matthew, 370. These are Robert Gundry’s terms in Mark: A Commentary on His Apology for the Cross (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1993), 206.
12. Ben Witherington, Matthew, Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary (Macon, GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2006), 277.
13. Douglas Sean O’Donnell, O Woman, Great is Your Faith: An Exploration into the Nature of Faith in Matthew (Eugene, OR: Pickwick, forthcoming).
14. Of course, his rebuke mid-rescue (“O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” Matt 14:31b) demonstrates that Jesus does not separate high Christology from discipleship and the constant need for poverty of spirit. To Matthew, faith requires both confidence in Christ and courage through Christ.
15. For my study on this theme, see O’Donnell, O Woman, Great is Your Faith.
16. From O’Donnell, Matthew, 452.
17. Matthew 17:9, 12, 22, 23; 20:17–19, 28; 26:2, 12, 20–32, 54.
18. From O’Donnell, Matthew, 461.
19. Ibid., 474.
20. Ibid., 548–49.
21. R. T. France, Gospel according to Matthew, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1985), 289.
22. O’Donnell, Matthew, 597; Frederick Dale Bruner, The Churchbook: Matthew 13–28, 2nd and rev. ed. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2004), 353, 355.
23. O’Donnell, Matthew, 607.
24. Ibid., 626.
25. Ibid., 629, quoting Gundry, Matthew, 439. Calvin notes (A Harmony of the Gospels, 2:109): “There is no point in arguing about the marriage garment, whether it is faith or a holy and godly life; for faith cannot be separated from good works and good works proceed only from faith.”
26. O’Donnell, Matthew, 648.
27. Ibid., 649.
28. David E. Garland, Mark, The NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996), 476.
29. O’Donnell, Matthew, 659.
30. Robertson and Plummer, quoted in William Barclay, The Gospel of Matthew, 2 vols. rev. ed. (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1975), 2:288.
31. For example, “We can understand this in terms of looking at a mountain range. From a distance, mountains which may be very many miles apart seem to be close together; but as you get nearer to them, so your perspective changes and you begin to see the real distances which separate peak from peak. That is what often happens in Old Testament prophecy. Take, for example, the classic example of Isaiah. He sees the destruction of Babylon and the final day of the Lord as if it was one day of divine judgment. The same pattern emerges in both, but we now know that there are many centuries between those two events, that the two peaks, as it were, having a huge distance separating them. But because of their similarities, they are both called ‘the day of the Lord’ in the closing chapters of Isaiah’s prophecy.” David Jackman and William Philip, Teaching Matthew: Unlocking the Gospel of Matthew for the Expositor (Fearn, Ross-shire: Christian Focus, 2003), 203.
32. Daniel M. Doriani, Matthew, Reformed Expository Commentary, 2 vols. (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2008), 2:353–54.
33. Daniel prophesied that after Israel’s captivity there would be seventy “weeks” (symbolic of groups of seven years) before the Christ (an “anointed one,” Dan 9:25) would die (be “cut off,’ Dan 9:26). In the middle of the final week, an “abomination” in the temple would cause the sacrifices to cease. This “abomination of desolation” (Matt 24:15) occurred after Jesus’s death when idolatrous Roman soldiers leveled the temple in AD 70.
34. Riddlebarger, A Case for Amillennialism: Understanding the End Times (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2003), 171, 178.
35. J. C. Ryle, Matthew: Expository Thoughts on the Gospels, Crossway Classic Commentaries (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 1993), 242.
36. Note the contrast between the “aggressive” and “recessive verbs.” Bruner, Churchbook, 554, 556. Instead of forward-moving verbs like “traded” and “made” (used of the first two servants), the third servant “dug” and “hid.”
37. O’Donnell, Matthew, 744.
38. Bruner, Churchbook, 563.
39. Rudolf Schnackenburg, The Gospel of Matthew, trans. Robert R. Barr (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002), 255.
40. I hold that “the least of these my brothers” (Matt 25:40) are Christians for three reasons. First, Jesus’s original audience was his disciples (Matt 24:3–4; cf. 26:2), a group he just taught would suffer for the gospel (Matt 24:14), sufferings, as detailed elsewhere in the New Testament, that included imprisonment, poverty, homelessness, sickness, thirst, hunger, and inadequate clothing. Second, the word “brothers” is used for Christians throughout the New Testament, including in Matthew (e.g., Matt 23:8, 28:10). In the Gospels, the term “my brothers” is only used by Jesus for his followers. Third, the word “least” is the superlative form of the adjective “little,” and Jesus called his disciples “little ones” in Matt 10:42; 18:6, 10, 14). Thus, in Matthew 25:40, 45, as in Acts 9:3–5, Jesus is spiritually united with his suffering church.
41. O’Donnell, Matthew, 752.
42. Martin Kaähler, quoted in Bruner, Churchbook, 586.
43. With this transition phrase, Matthew moves his readers into the fifth and final section of his Gospel (Matt 7:28; 11:1; 13:53; 19:1; 26:1).
44. O’Donnell, Matthew, 762.
45. Ibid., 764.
46. Ibid., 769.
47. Ibid., 770, quoting Donald Senior, The Passion of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1985), 55, and W. D. Davies and Dale C. Allison Jr., A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Gospel according to Saint Matthew, International Critical Commentary, 3 vols (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1988–1997), 3:448.
48. O’Donnell, Matthew, 772.
49. Robert Stein, “Last Supper,” DJG (1992), 449.
50. Jesus has not left the Mount of Olives behind (in fact, he returns to it, “they went out to the Mount of Olives,” Matt 26:30) or the Olivet Discourse he gave on it. He is a mountain man who lives and breathes eschatology.
51. Bruner, Churchbook, 642.
52. Charles Haddon Spurgeon, Sermons of the Rev. C. H. Spurgeon of London, third series (New York: Sheldon, Blakeman, & Company, 1858), 298.
53. Senior, The Passion of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew, 84.
54. St. Jerome, Commentary on Matthew, Fathers of the Church, vol. 117, trans. Thomas P. Scheck (Washington, DC: Catholic University of America, 2008), 304.
55. Grant R. Osborne, Matthew, Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2010), 987.
56. Other ironic elements include: “The Deliverer in bonds; the Judge attainted; the Prince of Glory scorned; the Holy One condemned for sin; the Son of God as a blasphemer; the Resurrection and the Life sentenced to die!” Stier, quoted in Bengel, 1:298, in Bruner, Churchbook, 691.
57. O’Donnell, Matthew, 822. Most of the words in this sentence are from Davies and Allison. They add an excellent summary: “Obviously the passage is, like 16.13–20, a climactic confluence of the main christological streams which run throughout the text” (Matthew, 3:520).
58. “He went to the chief priests in the temple but not to the High Priest who is the temple. Judas should have gone to Jesus who is sympathetic to our weaknesses and ready to forgive all our transgressions. He should have run to the tree of Calvary for life. Instead, he ran to another tree for death.” O’Donnell, Matthew, 833.
59. Ibid., 829.
60. “A majority of the Committee was of the opinion that the original text of Matthew had the double name in both verses and that [the name Jesus before Barabbas] was deliberately suppressed in most witnesses for reverential considerations.” Bruce M. Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, 2nd ed. (Stuttgart: German Bible Society, 1994), 56.
61. Pilate speaks seven sentences, six of which are questions (Matt 27:11, 13, 17, 21, 22, 23). Only his final line is a twofold statement. This literary structure is perhaps for theological emphasis.
62. See Davies and Allison’s observations of these ironies (Matthew, 3:593–94).
63. Bruner, Churchbook, 726.
64. Derek Tidball, The Message of the Cross, The Bible Speaks Today (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2001), 20.
65. Jesus would have been tied to a post and repeatedly whipped with a whip that had a series of long leather straps, some of which contained pieces of metal or bone. With the loss of blood, combined with the tearing of muscles and tendons, a scourging sometimes proved fatal.
66. O’Donnell, Matthew, 852.
67. Ibid., 868–69.
68. Ibid., 875.
69. “Matthew’s post-crucifixion scene is as spectacular (more spectacular?) as Ezekiel’s rising and marching bones. The holy ones in the holy city after the holiest event in the whole of history—that is wholly awesome! Matthew believes in the resurrection of the body! He can’t even wait till Easter to tell us about it.” Ibid., 879.
70. Ibid., 876, 880. “Not only is Jesus’ death strong enough to split the veil of the Holy of Holies and so cancel sin; it is also strong enough to open tombs and so cancel death. Sin and death are humanity’s two greatest problems, and Jesus’ death conquers both.” Bruner, Churchbook, 760.
71. Davies and Allison, Matthew, 3:633.
72. The veil mentioned could also be the inside veil that separates the Holy Place from the Most Holy Place (the book of Hebrews serves as a commentary on this reality, see esp. Heb 10:19–22). If so, then J. C. Ryle (Mathew, 284) is right to state that once “the true High Priest had at length appeared; the true Lamb of God had been slain; the true mercy-seat was at length revealed,” there is “no more need of an earthly high priest, a mercy-seat, a sprinkling of blood, an offering of incense and a day of atonement.”
73. In context, it is clear that those who tortured Jesus at Pilate’s headquarters were also the men who led Jesus to Golgotha, crucified him, and kept watch over him until he died. They are the “they” of Matthew 27:32–37. Those who “kept watch over him” (Matt 27:36) were those who confessed alongside the centurion (“those who were with him, keeping watch over Jesus,” Matt 27:54).
74. Luther, quoted in Bruner, Churchbook, 764.
75. See m. Roš Haš. 1:8; Josephus, Antiquities 4.219.
76. Davies and Allison, Matthew, 3:637.
77. H. N. Ridderbos, Matthew (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1987), 540–41.
78. Donald A. Hagner, Matthew 14-28, Word Biblical Commentary, vol. 33b (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1993), 864.
79. Chrysostom, quoted in Bruner, Churchbook, 777, emphasis mine.
80. O’Donnell, Matthew, 899.
81. With the phrase “as he said,” the angel references Jesus’s six predictions of his resurrection (Matt 12:40; 16:21; 17:9, 23; 20:19; 26:32).
82. Bruner, Churchbook, 789.
83. R. E. Brown, “The Resurrection of Jesus,” in The New Jerome Biblical Commentary (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1990), 1373.
84. Doriani, Matthew, 2:517.
85. Ten times in Matthew Jesus is “worshipped” (Matt 2:2, 8, 11; 8:2; 9:18; 14:33; 15:25; 20:20; 28:9, 17), twice after the resurrection (Matt 28:9, 17), and such worship always involves adoration. On this theme, see pages 198–99 in Douglas Sean O’Donnell, “Insisting on Easter: Matthew’s Use of the Theologically Provocative Vocative (κύριε) in the Suppliant Narratives,” in The Earliest Perceptions of Jesus in Context: Essays in Honour of John Nolland, eds. Aaron W. White, David Wenham, and Craig Evans (Edinburgh: Bloomsbury T&T Clark, 2018).
86. Schnackenburg, Matthew, 298.
87. For Paul’s commentary on Jesus’s cosmic authority, read Ephesians 1:20–23, Philippians 2:9–11, and Colossians 1:17–20.
88. Bruner, Churchbook, 830.
All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. Copyright © 2000; 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
The Genealogy of Jesus Christ
1:1 The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.
2 Abraham was the father of Isaac, and Isaac the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers, 3 and Judah the father of Perez and Zerah by Tamar, and Perez the father of Hezron, and Hezron the father of Ram,1 4 and Ram the father of Amminadab, and Amminadab the father of Nahshon, and Nahshon the father of Salmon, 5 and Salmon the father of Boaz by Rahab, and Boaz the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed the father of Jesse, 6 and Jesse the father of David the king.
And David was the father of Solomon by the wife of Uriah, 7 and Solomon the father of Rehoboam, and Rehoboam the father of Abijah, and Abijah the father of Asaph,2 8 and Asaph the father of Jehoshaphat, and Jehoshaphat the father of Joram, and Joram the father of Uzziah, 9 and Uzziah the father of Jotham, and Jotham the father of Ahaz, and Ahaz the father of Hezekiah, 10 and Hezekiah the father of Manasseh, and Manasseh the father of Amos,3 and Amos the father of Josiah, 11 and Josiah the father of Jechoniah and his brothers, at the time of the deportation to Babylon.
12 And after the deportation to Babylon: Jechoniah was the father of Shealtiel,4 and Shealtiel the father of Zerubbabel, 13 and Zerubbabel the father of Abiud, and Abiud the father of Eliakim, and Eliakim the father of Azor, 14 and Azor the father of Zadok, and Zadok the father of Achim, and Achim the father of Eliud, 15 and Eliud the father of Eleazar, and Eleazar the father of Matthan, and Matthan the father of Jacob, 16 and Jacob the father of Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who is called Christ.
17 So all the generations from Abraham to David were fourteen generations, and from David to the deportation to Babylon fourteen generations, and from the deportation to Babylon to the Christ fourteen generations.
The Birth of Jesus Christ
18 Now the birth of Jesus Christ5 took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed6 to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. 19 And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. 20 But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” 22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet:
23 “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and they shall call his name Immanuel”
(which means, God with us). 24 When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, 25 but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus.