When you finish this session, you should be able to:
- Understand what Jesus taught about marriage
- Comprehend the concept of rich and poor in the kingdom
- Discover what ambition causes
- Know the kingdom concept of darkness and light
- Understand the concept of a prophetic parable
- See a model for handling disputes
- Comprehend the historical movements of religious groups
- Understand what Jesus believed about the future
Book Five of Matthew takes us to the conclusion of his five-book presentation. First, in the narrative section, he speaks about kingdom life in the present, with topics like marriage, children, the rich and poor, ambition, authority, and rejection. Then, in the instruction section, Jesus speaks about the kingdom’s future in what is often called the Olivet Discourse.
| Overview |
Narrative – Kingdom Coming: Matthew 19.1-23.29
- Marriage and Celibacy
- The Rich
- The Poor
Movement Toward Jerusalem: 20.17-34
- A Mother’s Ambition
- The Blind See and Follow
Jesus and Jerusalem: 21.1-27
- Entering Jerusalem
- Overturning the Old Order
- The Fig Tree – An Action Parable
- Disputing Authority
Jesus and Judgment: 21.28-23.39
- Four Disputes with Jewish Leaders
- Judgment on Judaism
- Seven Woes Against Scribes and Pharisees
- Jesus and Jerusalem – Mutual Rejection
Instruction – Kingdom Future: Matthew 24-25
- The First Half: Matt. 24.1-36
- The Second half: Matt. 24.37-25.46
We now enter the fifth and the final of Matthew’s internal books. Remember, each of his books has a narrative and an instruction section. In Book Five, Matthew shares with believers the information that they need about the coming of the kingdom.
The sections of Book Five (19.1-25.46) are as follows:
- Narrative: Matthew 19.1-23.29: In this section, Jesus shows the evil of the old age with glimpses of the new.
- Instruction: Matthew 24-25: In this section, Jesus tells about the age to come.
Narrative: Kingdom Coming: Matthew 19.1-23.29
Life in the Kingdom – Four Different Areas: Matthew 19.1-20.26
| Marriage and Celibacy: Matthew 19.1-12
Matthew begins this section with a reminder of the positive teaching on marriage found in Genesis. He then explains the reason for the permission given by Moses for divorce as recorded in Deuteronomy. He concludes by giving a statement from the casuistic law about divorce and adultery. Then, Matthew adds separate teaching on celibacy.
The ancient code that follows the Ten Commandments is often called the Book of the Covenant (Ex. 21-23). This section, as well as other parts of the Pentateuch, contains both casuistic and apodictic laws. They are general statements and exemplary cases to serve as a guide for those charged with implementing them.
Casuistic Law: This is case law (if…then). The text in Exodus 21.1-22.33 serves as an example of such a law. Here are case studies, which serve as guides for determining the outcome of other similar cases. They do not state every kind of case which could occur. They are illustrations of the right way to respond or the right target to shoot at.
Apodictic Law: An illustration of this can be seen in Exodus 23.1ff. One can see that these commands begin with “do” and “do not.” They are direct commands which told the Israelites the kind of things they are supposed to do to fulfill their part of the covenant with God. They are not exhaustive! Leviticus 19.9-14 is an illustration: only wheat or barley, etc., are mentioned implicitly, while grapes are mentioned explicitly. One should not assume that only these kinds of crops are regulated by this command. The law gives a standard by stating an example. It does not mention every possible situation that could arise. These statements of law were meant to be viewed as reliable guides, not technical descriptions of all possible conditions, which could ever take place.
The Positive Reason For Marriage. The Pharisees certainly knew the attitude, which Jesus had demonstrated concerning the Law (Matt. 5.31-32). Here they were trying to force him into an open break with the Torah.
Jesus replied with a question in the form of a rebuke to the ones who should know the Law better. Jesus appealed to the original will of God as expressed in Genesis (Gen. 1.26ff.). God had made human beings male and female for the precise purpose of a lasting union. The phrase one flesh certainly indicates the closest union which is possible for mankind. The implication for Jesus is that no human can undo the bond which God himself had cemented.
The Reason For Moses’ Concession. When faced with this reality, i.e., that God was not in favor of divorce, they turn to the allocation that Moses had given their forefathers an out by allowing them to have a document of divorce (Deut. 24.1ff.).
Jesus turned to the reason for Moses conceding to this. It was because of their forefathers’ hardness of heart. This means that the Israelites had an unwillingness to be taught and guided by God. The divorce provisions of the Torah reflect the rebellious will of fallen man, not the will of God.
Jesus adds to his apodictic prohibition of verse six, a casuistic law in verse nine.
The real sin of verse 9 is the disruption of the marriage, which is caused by sending away the wife. The man’s marrying another is only the aggravating circumstance. The man who put his wife away is made adulterous by his remarriage. The exception clause suggests that a man who releases his fornicatious wife and then remarries another is not rendered adulterous. The sin of destroying marriage is in the heart and action of the husband or wife. Denial of marriage to the innocent is not what Jesus is condemning. He is condemning the disruption of marriage, no matter what the cause may have been. As regards the guilty one who causes the disruption, the way of repentance is open for him or her as it is for any other person who has caused an irreparable wrong to another.
This teaching comes as a shock to the disciples. Based on this teaching, no one should get married. Jesus replied that remaining unmarried is better, but only for some people.
Celibacy. Matthew ends the section with teaching on celibacy. Some are celibate because God grants them this gift. Others are celibate because of their own choice.
| The Children: Matthew 19.13-15
Coming to Jesus is equivalent to entering into the kingdom. This invitation is extended to children who were without rights or status in the ancient world. The characteristic of dependence is still foremost in Matthew’s mind. People, like children who understand their need to depend on God, are welcome in the kingdom.
| The Rich: Matthew 19.16-26
This man who came to Jesus could have been between twenty-four and forty years of age. His approach to Jesus was strictly from a Jewish legalistic perspective, i.e., the doing of good deeds to be accepted.
When the young man flatters Jesus by calling him good, Jesus takes the opportunity to raise the mind of the young man to a higher level of consciousness. Jesus cites five stipulations from the covenant: the fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth, and the fourth.
In a half-proud, half-disillusioned state, the young man protested that he had kept all these commandments. There is no reason to believe that the young man is lying in his response. He had observed all including the law of love.
He realized that he still lacked something as posed by the question he asked. Jesus responded that if he wanted to be perfect, he should sell everything he has and give it to the poor. The word perfect does not mean perfect in the form of morality; it means a whole-hearted dedication to living for God.
In the case of this particular man, God’s will was for him to sell everything and express his love for his neighbor by giving the proceeds to the poor and then following Jesus.
To be perfect according to this passage is to be a sacrificial follower of Jesus. The young man had difficulty in measuring up to this standard because he possessed great earthly riches. In actuality, his possessions possessed him.
Jesus used the failure of the crowd to illustrate to his disciples about how difficult it is for a rich man to be saved. He used a hyperbole (an exaggeration for effect) that suggested how impossible it is for a rich man to be saved.
You may have heard many sermons about the difficulty of entering into salvation. You may have been told that it is just as difficult as the camel trying to enter the eye of a needle. You may have been told that there was a gate in Jerusalem called the eye of a needle, which camels would go through by kneeling and only with a great amount of difficulty.
The point of this interpretation is to assure the hearers that it is impossible to enter into the kingdom. This whole line of interpretation is built on the supposed eye of a needle gate in Jerusalem. It may come as a surprise to you, but there was never a gate in the history of Jerusalem by this name.
The “eye of a needle” has been claimed by preachers over the centuries to be a gate in Jerusalem that opened after the main gate was closed at night. A camel could only pass through this smaller gate if it was stooped and had its baggage removed.
The story of a small gate in Jerusalem known as “The Needle’s Eye” has been widely circulated and may go back as far as the middle ages, there is no evidence that such a gate ever existed. [ref]NET Bible Matthew https://netbible.org/bible/Matthew+19[/ref] The earliest known comment about such a gate comes in a commentary by an eleventh-century commentator named Theophylact. [ref]Portraits of Jesus: An Inductive Approach to the Gospels. Westminster John Knox Press. 41.[/ref] He may have had the same difficulty with the passage as we have when we read it, namely that it is impossible for a camel to go through the eye of a needle.[ref] David A. Croteau. Urban Legends of the New Testament. 40 Common Misconceptions. B&H Academic. Nashville, TN. 2015). 62.[/ref] It is altogether possible that Theophylact invented a “gate” that didn’t exist to soften the words of Jesus.
Leon Morris in his commentary also suggests that this story is “wrong-headed” and misses the humor and the serious point that Jesus is trying to drive home.[ref]Morris, Leon (1992). The Gospel according to Matthew. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. 493.[/ref]
The precise point of the story that Jesus is sharing with his disciples: it is impossible for one who trusts in his riches to enter the kingdom of God. When riches rule, God does not!
| The Poor: Matthew 19.27-20.16
Over against the rich young man and all his possessions is set a story about disciples who give up all they have to follow Jesus. Peter wanted to know what the disciples would receive for their sacrifice in Matthew 19.27.
The answer Jesus gave was given in futuristic terms. In the world to come—which they were tasting in the ministry of Jesus—they would receive what the young man had sought but did not possess.
There is a different value system in God’s economy. Many, who are first in this world, (the rich young ruler, the powerful, etc.), will be last (rejected from entering the fullness of the kingdom) in the world to come; while the no-accounts according to this world’s system will be first (will be admitted).
The Parable Of The Vineyard. This parable should be understood in close relationship to the rewards about which Jesus was speaking. The emphasis of the parable is the equal treatment, which God gives to all, regardless of their time of entry into the kingdom.
The owner of the vineyard hires workers at 6 am, 9 am, noon, and
3 pm. Finally, at 5 pm the last workers are hired. He had agreed with the first group on a specific wage—a usual day’s wage. The wages of the others are left to the owner’s discretion. At the end of the day, the owner orders that all be paid equally the same wage. The reversal theme of the first being last and the last being first is acted out in this parable.
The last group must have been surprised by the generosity of the owner of the vineyard. That last group’s surprise becomes a painful disappointment to the first group. They had endured the hardship of working for the whole day while the latter ones had not had to work as long or in the heat as the first group did.
Complaints arose. The owner of the vineyard had fulfilled his promised obligation to the first crew, and he can choose to do what he wants with the latter group. In other words, God can spend his property in any way he wishes to do so. The late John Wimber, the founder of the Vineyard movement, use to say often, “I’m spare change in his pocket, he can spend me any way he wants. —John Wimber”[ref]Mark Crosby. “John Wimber. Understanding John’s ministry and his legacy to us.” https://www.vineyardchurches.org.uk/about/john-wimber/[/ref]
God simply does things differently than man does. He has a different set of calculations to run his kingdom by than humankind would have. Those who think that they can calculate with exactness how God is going to act are in for a big surprise!
Movement Toward Jerusalem: 20.17-34
| The Third Announcement: Matthew 20.17-19
Jesus now tells his disciples for the third time that he must go to Jerusalem and die. The first two times are met with despair and depression. Jesus then provides another reminder of the kind of suffering that a follower of Jesus can encounter. Suffering and reward are seen in a bitter-sweet mix. The disciples must understand that they will also live in a suffering-and-reward pattern in their lives.
| A Mother’s Ambition: Matthew 20.20-28
The disciples had just been given the most detailed prediction of the death and resurrection of Jesus. Immediately, as if they had not heard anything, they began to look for short-cuts for being honored in the kingdom.
James and John must have suffered some embarrassment for the action of their mother. The mother was not satisfied with the fact that her two sons were among the disciples of Jesus; that they had seen some of the most wonderful events ever recorded in the history of mankind; that they were apart of the inner circle of Jesus. None of this was good enough for her two boys. She wanted the two best seats in the house!
She, as well as they, are met with the rude awakening that they must enter the kingdom by the same process that the king did, i.e., through suffering. However, we must not let the other ten disciples off the hook. They are filled with as much ambition as James, John, and their mother. Their indignation demonstrates this point.
Jesus again used an occasion, which looked beyond salvage, to teach his followers about his idea of service. Jesus did not reject the desire for greatness and leadership in the kingdom; he simply showed the manner in which that greatness can be obtained. It comes through service! Only this startling denial of self for the sake of others, and not the politics of power, can effectively win men and women to the good news of the kingdom.
Jesus is the model of servitude. He had come into the slave market of the world and salvaged men and women from their slavery, set them free and longed for their service in return.
| The Blind See and Follow: Matthew 20.29-34
Here is a miracle with a message to those who saw it occur. Jesus brings light to the darkness. The stories, which have preceded, have demonstrated without a doubt the blindness of his disciples concerning his mission in the world. Jesus had told them about service in the kingdom, and now he demonstrates it. In short, he practiced what he preached.
The two blind men were given the opportunity to express their faith by being asked what they wanted. He healed them with a word, and they followed him. They also became disciples. Just as Jesus can make blind men see, he hopes to bring light into the darkened view of his disciples. Here is a living healing with a message attached. The words and works of Jesus in action!
Jesus and Jerusalem: 21.1-27
| Entering Jerusalem: Matthew 21.1-11
Matthew has a flair for seeing prophecy fulfilled in the lives of Jesus. As a Hebrew, he simply misreads the quotation from Zechariah 9.9. He speaks of two animals when, in fact, there was just one. The quotation is set in Hebrew parallelism.
The act of riding on the ass was a symbolic prophetic gesture. Jesus was the true Messiah for whom Israel hoped. He had now arrived to lay claim to his capital, even though the capital will run true to form and kill him. He does not come to win by military means, but by cosmic means. His death on the cross was an otherworldly event: the age to come invading the present evil age.
Jesus received the red carpet treatment as he entered Jerusalem. The crowds were in a festive mood. They created a path of garments and branches. They shouted “Hosanna,” which by the time of Jesus had become a general shout of jubilation and welcome. Appearances can be deceiving. While it looked like Jesus was well received, in the final analysis, the crowd would reject him.
| Overturning the Old Order: Matthew 21.12-17
The conception, which Matthew is sharing with his readers, is that of overturning an old order, i.e., the corruption that was living in Judaism. The judgment of the Temple is the first step toward its final destruction. Buying and selling were conducted in the outer court of the Temple. Jesus was unhappy with what he found there. However, “The Temple itself, instead of being regarded as the place where Israel could come to God in prayer, had come to stand for the violent longings of the ‘brigands’ for a great revolution in which the kingdom of God would come by force.”[ref]Wright, N.T. Matthew for Everyone, Part 2: Chapters 16-28 (The New Testament for Everyone) (p. 72). Westminster John Knox Press. Kindle Edition.[/ref] The Temple had turned into something, which it was not designed to be.
He could best demonstrate his displeasure with a “powerful symbolic protest.”[ref]Wright, Matthew for Everyone, Part 2: Chapters 16-28 (p. 72). Westminster Kindle Edition.[/ref] He stopped the sacrificial system.
After cleaning house in the Temple, Jesus turned and demonstrated what was supposed to happen therein. He began to heal the blind and lame. The religious rulers were not impressed by this open display of Jesus. They were indignant! He entered into a short discussion with the leaders and then left the temple to go to Bethany to spend the night.
| The Fig Tree – An Action Parable: Matthew 21.18-22
Here is a prophetic parable in action. What seems to be spiteful and destructive is not. The plan of Jesus has long been in operation. He is now demonstrating what was already occurring: the dying of the old and the birthing of the new.
The Jews had rejected Jesus in his ministry among them. Their indignant response was the capstone. He had turned from their rejection and would produce another group of people who would be his people. In Mark’s Gospel, we find the same storyline.
Faith (Matthew 21.21). One of the most important emphases in the institutional church today, especially among Charismatics, is the teaching concerning the faith. There is a movement, which has been designated as the faith movement, which popularized teaching concerning the faith. The teachers are doing an important and essential task of stirring the institutional church concerning the faith. However, let’s question their hermeneutical procedures.
Matthew 21.21 is used to support the idea in this movement of positive confession. If one will claim what s/he has asked God for, God will surely give it. The assumption is that faith is supported and illustrated by the activity of claiming now what is not yet fulfilled during the same dimension of time. This often puts us in a position of being foolish by stating in present language something which is not yet fulfilled. Kenneth Hagin is fond of saying, “God works through us by His Word as we speak it forth.”[ref]Kenneth Hagin. How to Turn Your Faith Loose. Faith Library Publications (January 1, 1980). 18.[/ref] Does Matthew 21.21 teach that we are to speak and by the saying or claiming of an item or issue that we will receive?
Verse 21 is an allusion to the coming of the Messiah to set up his rule. Matthew used Apocalyptic or symbolic language from Zechariah 14.4, 10. Verse 21 is a prayer for God to set up his rule. It is like the prayer he taught his disciples in Matthew Chapter Six (see Mark 11.20-24). What is being affirmed is God’s readiness to respond because of his faithfulness to bring about the kingdom rule here and now.
In Romans 4.13-25, there is a clear example of the teaching of Jesus on this subject. Abraham believed in the faithfulness of God versus some kind of faith, which he had to muster up (4.21). The text nowhere states that Abraham claimed what God had promised to him. He did not run right out and start telling everyone he was a daddy or that Sarah was pregnant when neither was true. He considered his own body and the body of Sarah as being dead but believed in the faithfulness of God to do what he had promised. When the whole story of Abraham unfolds in the First Testament, we find out that he tried on one occasion to help God fulfill the promise. When that did not work, he allowed Sarah to try to help God’s promise come to pass. Finally, when it was beyond their ability to help, God delivered his promise—Isaac was born.
In teaching on faith, this movement puts a heavy emphasis on the belief that one can muster faith by quoting the word of God. The Romans 10.17 passage is used to support this teaching. The difficulty is that this passage is translated poorly in the KJV. Good News Bible has the best translation of this passage: “So then, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message comes through preaching Christ.”[ref]Good News Bible. https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Romans10.17&version=GNT[/ref]
This passage does not teach that one can get faith from knowing the word of God. It does, however, explain that one may become a believer through the preaching of Jesus. That my friends is a distinction with a difference.
Again, Jesus demonstrated that faith is an important commodity in the economy of God.
| Disputing Authority: 21.23-27
The adversaries of Jesus are now called “the chief priests and the elders of the people.” The struggle, which occurred over the question of authority and who really has it—will send Jesus to the cross. As you can see in the graphic to the right, a cross in Biblical times was not the plus (✝) symbol, but was more like a capital T. That statement will mess up hundreds of years of interior church architecture and jewelry!
The Jewish authorities ask about the nature and origin of the authority Jesus claimed to have. When they ask about these things, they are most likely referring to the events, which had led to this moment, i.e., the overturning of the money changers in the Temple, the healings, and even his teaching in the Temple.
Jesus answers in a true rabbinic way. He answers a question with another question. He wanted to know if they knew the origin of John the Baptist’s baptism. As Shakespeare suggested in Hamlet, “They were hoisted on their own petard.”
For them to say that John’s baptism came from God would be to convict themselves of a refusal to believe in something, which came from God. To claim that John’s baptism was done from a merely human perspective would invite the wrath of the common people.
Like many time-serving bureaucrats, the leaders refused to take a clear stand in public. They gave up their authority by default. They would not forget this incident nor forgive it. They would have their revenge!
Jesus and Judgment: Matthew 21.28-23.39
| The Judgment of Israel – Three Parables: Matthew 21.28-22.14
At this point in the narrative, Matthew shares three parables concerning judgment.
- Parable #1 – The Two Sons, Saying and Doing: Matthew 21.28-32: The thrust of this parable is that there were two sons who were asked to work. The first said he would not, but had a change of mind and did. The second said he would, and had a change of mind and did not. The first did what the father wanted. The implication is that the rulers were like the second son, because they would not repent, and believed they would be rejected.
- Parable #2 – The Evil Tenants, The Transfer of the kingdom: Matthew 21.33-46: In this parable, the landowner plants a vineyard and sends his servants whom the renters kill. Then he sends others and they receive the same treatment. Finally, he sends his son. They kill him as well. Jesus interpreted the parable and told the religious rulers that they have had the kingdom of God taken from them and given to people who will produce fruit.
- Parable #3 – The Wedding Feast, Judgment on Israel: Matthew 22.1-14: In this parable, the king prepares a banquet and sends for those who had been invited, but they refused to come. They paid no attention to his offer. When they would not respond, he destroyed them and told his servants to go and invite those in the streets and others. These people responded and filled the wedding hall. When the king appeared, he found someone not properly attired. He threw him out. We are left to interpret this one for ourselves. Taking the others as starting points, it appears that the religious rulers were, again, being told that they had been rejected based on their rejection of Jesus.
| Four Disputes with Jewish Leaders: Matthew 22.15-46
Again, the religious/political leaders of the day were testing Jesus. They wished to trip him up. All of Jesus’ enemies were moving toward final rejection.
- Dispute #1 – The Coin of Tribute: Matthew 22.15-22: The first dispute was the presentation of a dilemma. Either Jesus accepted Roman taxation, which would lead to his loss of appeal to the masses, or he could reject Roman taxation and make himself liable to be arrested and tried for being a rebel. The Herodians would have wanted an answer favoring taxation, while the Pharisees would have wanted an answer which rejected taxation. While they both wanted different things, their common desire was to discredit Jesus. Politics and religion often make strange bedfellows. When given a coin, Jesus declared that these rulers should give to Caesar what was his and give to God what was his, namely themselves. They should worry less about what is due to Caesar and pay more attention to giving God his due!
- Dispute #2 – The Resurrection of the Dead: Matthew 22.23-33: First, the Pharisees failed in their attempt to entrap Jesus. Now it was the Sadducees’ turn. Both groups wanted to make Jesus look ridiculous in front of the common people. The Pharisees and Sadducees had different theological tracts on which they were running. The Sadducees question demonstrated a presupposition they held. They rejected the Pharisees’ placement of oral tradition on an equal par with written Scripture. For them, written Scripture was the Pentateuch—the five books of Moses. They rejected the idea of the resurrection because they did not find this idea supported in the Pentateuch. On the basis of this approach, they believed that the levirate law was a clear indication that there was no afterlife. The immortality of the Israelites would come in their offspring—it was a vital concern that a man’s name survives him in his descendants. The answer which Jesus supplies strikes a blow to the erroneous presupposition of the Sadducees. They did not understand the Scripture, i.e., their interpretation of the Pentateuch, nor the power of God. Jesus then treats both ideas in reverse order. First, he dealt with what the resurrection was like. It was not a coming back to earthly life, it was a movement forward to a new life in the presence of God. The physical relationships of this age would be transcended. Second, he corrected the Sadducees’ interpretation of Scripture. He argued in an Eastern rabbinic fashion, which may not sound correct to the Western mind. Jesus chooses a passage from the Pentateuch (Ex. 3) where God identified himself in terms of his relationship with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. One must remember that in the ancient world a name expressed essence. The present tense of I am points out that God was continuing to be the God of Abraham, which demonstrates that Abraham was still alive.
- Dispute #3 – The Dispute on the Great Commandment: Matthew 22.34-40: Now the Pharisees take another shot at Jesus. This time they used a lawyer to ask a question. A lawyer in that timeframe was a professional theologian. His main sourcebook was the Law of Moses. The word test may mean attack! The lawyer wanted to know which of the commandments was the greatest. Jesus replied by citing the heart of the Shema—an ancient Hebrew prayer taken from Deuteronomy 6.4-5. The love of God entails one’s whole being: heart (the center of knowing, willing and feeling), mind and soul (one’s whole life and energies). Love is not a matter of feeling as much as a matter of doing. To this Jesus gave a perfect balance. One must also love his neighbor. God may come first, but there is no true love of him, which does not work itself out in the love of a neighbor. In short, this is a summary of what Scripture teaches. Jesus has been on the defense with the above three conflicts; now he goes on the offense.
In today’s world, feelings have replaced thinking about one’s gender. The common word for this idea is “transgender,” which is used for people who feel a gender identity or gender expression that differs from their physical created sex.
This clearly runs counter to the story in Genesis and the words of Jesus in Mark 10, “However, from the beginning of creation, God made them male and female.” The keyword in this Jesus saying is “made.” which has the root definition of “manufacture or construct. This leaves no room in God’s vocabulary for one deciding that he or she is different than the gender with which the person is born. Of course, there are oddities, (morphodite/hermaphrodite) but those oddities can be laid at the feet of Satan whose primary goal is to undercut everything that God created, not at the feet of modern scientific belief.
- Dispute #4 – David’s Son and David’s Lord: Matthew 22.41-46: After being asked several questions, Jesus turned the table and asked the Pharisees a question. There were different conceptions about the coming of the Messiah. This was not a trick question by Jesus. The Pharisees claimed to be the authentic interpreters of Scripture—especially texts which talked about the coming of the Messiah. If so, how was it that they had missed this key text. This silenced the enemies of Jesus from risking any further verbal confrontation in public. The rest of their involvement was the final confrontation of the crucifixion of Jesus. The problem with the Pharisees was that they would not rethink their position on the coming of the Messiah in spite of the reality of Jesus standing in their midst.
| Judgment on Judaism: Matthew 23.1-39
The verbal fighting is over. Matthew uses this section of his book as a bridge to get his readers to the discourse of Jesus about the future. Chapter 23 speaks of the judgment of Jesus on the Pharisees and, thus, it works as an introduction to the cosmic judgments of Chapters 24-25.
Disciples Are to Avoid Rabbinic Style: Matthew 23.1-12: There is a hint here that the Law of Moses was still in effect in the mind of Jesus. What he was opposed to were those who told people what to do without doing it themselves (23.1-3). This is an ongoing dilemma in today’s institutional church as well as other groups who are anti-institutional in their character. This would certainly be good advice for all Jesus followers. The implication of verse 4 is that the Pharisaic interpretations have become heavy burdens, which ordinary people cannot bear. The Pharisees have become heavy taskmasters, not even offering those who are weak the help of bearing the burdens which they have created. In verse 5, there is a second form of hypocrisy, which they do.
First, they wore phylacteries and lengthened the tassels which pious Jews wore at the four corners of their cloaks to remind them of the Law. Second, they loved to be the guest of honor and sit at an honored place at a feast, or sit on raised podiums in their synagogues. Third, they loved titles, which were bestowed on them in public. Jesus suggested that his disciples not do such things as the Pharisees did.
| Seven Woes Against Scribes And Pharisees: Matthew 23.13-36
Woes were well-known in the Prophetic and Apocalyptic literature. A woe usually denoted the threat of punishment. These seven woes were being pronounced against the Pharisees. The Pharisees had produced good and holy men through the centuries. However, as history demonstrates, the more zealous and puritanical a religious movement is, the more it produces hypocrites and legalists as a by-product. Jesus was not an alarmist, but a realist. What was demonstrated in the Pharisees of his time has been demonstrated throughout Church History?
- Woe #1 (Matthew 23.13): The Pharisees were guides who hindered entrance into the Kingdom, instead of facilitating entrance into the Kingdom.[ref]Some manuscripts include Mark 23.14 here words similar to Mark 12.40 and Luke 20.47.[/ref]
- Woe #2 (Matthew 23.15): The Pharisees were willing to go to any lengths to gain converts. The converts they gained were worse off than the ones who converted them. This may suggest that each generation continues to harden what the previous generation began. They, in fact, become more strict.
- Woe #3 (Matthew 23.16-22): Jesus demonstrated that their priorities are reversed from reality and that their teaching is illogical. Their inversion of values was a significant symptom of their inability to focus on the important things, which the Law did contribute. While they thought of themselves as wise and understanding, they were blind!
- Woe #4 (Matthew 23.23-24): They used their giving as a show of their piety. They were extremely legalistic, to the point of providing a public demonstration of their piety.
- Woe #5 (Matthew 23.25-26): While the Pharisees may look respectable by all appearances, their hearts were filled with a desire to rob people and to be intemperate—which could refer to drink or sex. True purity is not a matter of an outward show, but inward cleansing.
- Woe #6 (Matthew 23.27-28): This is a sharpening of the fifth woe. The Pharisees were likened to tombs, which had been white-washed before the Passover to prevent contamination. They were beautiful on the outside, but the very essence of uncleanness was on the inside.
- Woe #7 (Matthew 23.29-32): To use the word son of was a Semitic way of saying that one belonged to and shared the characteristics of a group. Jesus told the Pharisees that they were physical sons of those who murdered the prophets as well as spiritual heirs. Using Apocalyptic Language, he affirmed that God had appointed a set measure of suffering and martyrdom before the final judgment.
- Condemnation of the Pharisees (Matthew 23.33-36): The accusations against the Pharisees by Jesus could be compared to a house that looked good on the outside but inside was barren. Those who viewed them saw them as honorable, top-notched folks with who God was really pleased. This group of leaders as teachers of the Law surely knew what to do but failed to do it! Jesus saw these teachers of the Law as just like those of previous generations. They killed the prophets and the truly righteous ones from their past and were ready and in their near future to hand over the greatest prophet of all time to meet his death. What an indictment!
| Jesus And Jerusalem – Mutual Rejection: Matthew 23.37-39
In this passage, Jesus uses a very vivid word picture about the actions of a hen and her small chickens in the midst of a fire to discuss his thoughts about Israel. As Tom Wright points out:
There have been recorded instances of a mother hen, faced with a fire, collecting her young chickens under her wings to keep them safe. Sometimes she is successful: when the fire has done its worst and died down, you may find a dead hen with live chicks underneath its wings.” [ref]Wright, N.T. Matthew for Everyone, Part 2: Chapters 16-28 (The New Testament for Everyone) (pp. 108-109). Westminster John Knox Press. Kindle Edition.[/ref]
While individual Jews may continue to enter the new ecclesia, Israel as a whole was abandoned to its own fate. This was a mutual rejection. Jesus had rejected Jerusalem (Israel) as Jerusalem had rejected him. Once Jesus departed from Jerusalem, Israel would not see their Messiah until he comes on the last day—then he will not come as King but as Judge.
Instruction: Kingdom Future: Matthew 24-25
The First Half: Matthew 24.1-36
| Introduction – The Destruction Of The Temple: Matthew 24.1-2
This section of Matthew is often called the Little Apocalypse. Apocalyptic Literature of the first century was a genre, which allowed the authors to give people hope in a troubled time while keeping the aggressors from knowing what was occurring. It was code language.
It is now Tuesday afternoon in the last week of the ministry of Jesus. The conflict with the Pharisees was over. The material in Chapters 24-25 are the bridge from Conflict to Passion.
- General Background: The task of anyone who reads Scripture is to determine what it means for the reader today. In order to do so, one must understand what it meant to the first hearers, i.e., here, the disciples and, then, finally, to us today? Prophecy is sometimes like viewing two mountains; one can not see the space between them. The original author only saw the historical meaning, i.e., the first mountaintop, but there remains some further fulfillment in the future of the author, i.e., the second mountaintop.
- Form Background: These are exhortations regulating the conduct of the disciples in the period when the Master will no longer be with them. This is characteristic of farewell discourses (see Acts 20.17-35).
| Jesus Cares
With a profound concern for his disciples, Jesus prepares them and others who will follow in a future timeframe that would entail both persecution and mission. This had a profound significance for Christians in Rome who were being harassed by persecution encouraging them to endure the crisis of the ‘60s in the first century. One of the issues, which Jesus stressed was don’t be disturbed by preliminary signs and don’t confuse them with the end.
| The Temple
There were many buildings, enclosures, and porches, which made up the Temple in the day of Jesus. It comprised one-sixth of the city of Jerusalem. Josephus, a first-century historian says that the stones which made up the Temple were 36 feet and 6 inches by 17 feet and 3 inches[ref]Joachim Jeremias. Jerusalem in the Time of Jesus. Fortress Press. 1961. 11[/ref] and could have weighed over one hundred tons. The Temple was an architectural wonder. The Jews had little respect for Herod but loved his Temple construction which he had begun in 20-19 BC. It was still under construction during Jesus’ lifetime (John 2.20), and it was finished AD 64, only a few years before it was destroyed in AD 70. Verse 2 demonstrates an emphatic definiteness of Jesus. Here Jesus’ prophecy is a continuation of First Testament prophecy of Micah 3.12 and Jeremiah 26.18 concerning the destruction of the Temple as the judgment of God.
| The Question Of The Disciples: Matthew 24.3
The disciples asked one question in two parts. When (Greek: pote) is the first part of the question. The disciples were asking about the time this event would occur. The answer to when is given beginning with verse 15. The last part of the question is answered first and the first part of the question is answered last.
| Warnings Against Deception: Matthew 24.4-8
This section is the beginning of the answer to the what part of the disciples’ question. There were warnings about false Messiahs. No different than today, anyone with inside information on the Second Coming can get a crowd! Palestine was plagued with those claiming that they were the Messiah prior to the Jewish war AD 66-70. It was one of the principal factors, which caused war. Jesus warns that there will be disturbances in society and nature, but that his disciples should not be alarmed. This is the key to understanding this passage.
- In society, there will be wars. Three Roman Emperors threatened war against the Jews: Caligula, Claudius, and Nero. Jesus told his disciples not to get anxious because the end is not yet!
- In nature, there will be earthquakes and famines. Between AD 30-70 there were four major earthquakes; Crete AD 46/7; Rome AD 51; Apamea in Phrygia AD 60; and Campania ad 63. There were also four famines during the reign of Claudius AD 41-54; one in Judea AD 44 as recorded in Acts 11.28. Don’t get led astray! This is the beginning of birth pangs when we think it is the end of our suffering, it is the beginning of something new and great in God’s plan for us.
| Jesus Followers Suffering: Matthew 24.9-14
Strife among the nations along with natural disasters is matched by the persecution and harassment of Jesus followers. The hostile world will treat the successors to Jesus in the same way they treated Jesus. Some followers of Jesus may have to share the same violent fate. Jesus followers from all ages will be hated because of the person and teaching of Jesus that they follow.
| The Beginning of the End: Matthew 24.15-28
The what part of the question has now been completely answered. Now the when part will be answered. The dominant note of Matthew 24.15-22 is the command to flee. The desolation of sacrilege was not the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70, for then it would be too late to flee. It was a time when the Zealots won an impressive victory over Cestius Gallus in November ‘66 and many realized the Zealots would finally lose and began to leave Jerusalem in droves. Josephus tells us in his history that the Temple was laid waste by Jewish hands. Zealots occupied the Temple and allowed criminals to roam freely in the Holy of Holies. There were murders within the Temple. All of this was climaxed with a mockery of the High Priest as a town clown in AD 67-68. Jesus told his disciples that when they see these things occurring, they should flee. Then, he tells them the following:
- There should be an urgency of flight—that concern for life takes precedence over possessions.
- There were circumstances, which would hinder their flight—pregnancy, young children, winter, and a swollen Jordan River.
- There were reasons for flight—it will be a time unlike any in history. The vagueness of this Apocalyptic manner of speaking allows the past historical event to act as a model and forewarning of the greater future time of persecution.
- There will be a deterrence to flight—the claims that the Messiah is here or there.
| The Coming of the Son of Man: Matthew 24.29-31
There is a contrast between the preceding verses which deal with the destruction of Jerusalem and foreshadows the end, which could be expressed as follows: “There will be false messianic figures when Jerusalem is ripped apart. Do not be misled by them. When the Messiah actually appears, his coming will be like this…”—as compared to false Messiahs. The phrase those days is an expression which was distinctly future of the context into which they fell (Joel 2.28; Jer. 3.16,18, 31.29, 33.15ff; Zech. 8.23). The poetry of verse 29 is embedded in the language of the First Testament, which suggested that God was making an appearance into the history of the world. The imagery indicates an important turn in history. It was a picturesque way of saying that God’s judgment would occur (cf. Jude 14ff.). The elect, i.e., the followers of Jesus would be collected from the whole world (see 1 Thess. 4.16, 17). Note that all this happens after a time of persecution and harassment of Jesus followers.
| The Fig Tree Lesson: Matthew 24.32-36
In this section of Matthew’s story, Jesus responds to the original question of the disciples. He takes up the when part of the question. Most trees in Palestine (oak, olive, and fig, etc.) lose their leaves in the winter; branches become tender with sap flowing. When the leaves begin to appear, one knows that summer is near and that winter is gone. The application: The catastrophe of sacrilege that will profane the Temple will enable the disciples to know that the destruction of the Temple is close at hand. Just as one knows summer is here when he sees the leaves, the generation of Matthew will not pass away before the destruction of Jerusalem occurs. What Jesus has said will surely come to pass. Some of those reading and hearing Matthew’s gospel would be alive for these events, i.e., Matthew most likely wrote his story of Jesus in the mid-’60s of the first century while the information given by Matthew occurred at the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem in A.D. 70.
The Second Half: Matthew 24.37-25.44
| Introduction – Three Parables of Vigilance: Matthew 24.37-41
The theme of the remaining part of the discourse is to stir up an attitude of watchfulness among believers during the delay. There are three reminders to induce watchfulness, then the three parables:
| Reminder #1 – The Days of Noah
While Christian tradition emphasized the wickedness of the contemporaries of Noah, this is not the point of Matthew. The problem with the generation of the flood was its immersion in ordinary, everyday pursuits, to the point that it was blinded to the imminent disaster of the flood.
| Reminder #2 – Two Pairs of Workers
An illustration of life continuing as usual right up to the last moment and families will be divided, i.e., one worker will be taken while the other will be left.
| Reminder #3 – The Thief in the Night
A thief does not send a timetable for his robbery. The only protection against a theft is to be watching throughout the night, i.e., this present evil age.
| Parable #1 – The Wise and Wicked Servant: Matthew 24.42-51
The words keep watch means to fulfill one’s obligations at a proper time and not at one’s own convenience. The faithful servant, which takes his/her obligations to heart, will be a happy servant. If, however, one loses a proper sense of self and lapses into excessive eating and drinking with bad companions, s/he will be severely punished. One has to remain diligent to his/her duties regardless of the delay in time.
| Parable #2 – The Prudent And Thoughtless Virgins: Matthew 25.1-13
The delay in the coming of the bridegroom, which was customarily at night, causes the virgins to nod and sleep. With an announcement that the bridegroom is approaching, they ready their lamps. Five of the virgins do not reckon with the possibility of a delay, fail to anticipate the delay, and are judged for their lack of preparedness. The idea communicated by this parable is that one should live soberly in the present, and be prepared for the announced arrival of the bridegroom.
| Parable #3 – The Talents: 25.14-30
The parable of the talents suggests that Jesus followers should work during the delay to gain what they can for their master. The one who does not work within the kingdom will be judged severely.
The Great Scene of the Last Judgment: Matthew 25.31-46
This scene is found only in Matthew. It is the unveiling of the truth, which lies behind all the parables of the preceding chapter. There will be a separation of those who have been faithful till the coming and those who have been unfaithful. The good and the bad will be separated by a final judgment of God. Jesus fully identifies himself during the delay with humankind who has been left. Showing acts of mercy will receive a final act of mercy from the judge. In reality, we are all responsible for our free decisions and will be judged accordingly. The life we live is not practicing shots before the big game—it is the big game itself.
Some Basic Affirmations
God’s concept of marriage was a lasting union. Those who are other-focused have a difficult time making the choice to have God’s rule in their life. God does things differently than a human does. Ambition will cause grief in your ecclesia family. The purpose of the life of Jesus was to bring light into the darkness of the world. Crowds swayed by emotion are fickled. Making change is difficult. Judgment is a sure thing for the unrepentant. Disputes will occur among leaders. Jesus is coming back, but not the way you may expect. Being prepared is more important than knowing when.
What can Jesus Followers Learn?
- Good marriages are often difficult to produce, but they are necessary for community stability.
- You can continually grow in the faith if your focus in on Jesus.
- Expect the unexpected from God. He works differently than we do.
- The light will defuse darkness when God produces it through us.
- Change is inevitable and necessary for growth.
- Don’t be frightened by disputes. They will occur.
- Continue to prepare for the coming of Jesus.
Catalog your ideas about the following thoughts.
- Marriage and Celibacy: State the positive and negative areas of your marriage. When should you be celibate?
- The Rich: What may be standing in your way of gaining a better focus in your life?
- The Poor: What happens when equal treatment occurs in your community of faith when you have worked long and hard and have been faithful to the local mission of the ecclesia?
- Overturning the Old Order: Write down the things you like and dislike about change. What happens when you go through a change in your life or your community of faith? Can you see any harmful patterns that you could ask God’s help to grow?
- The Coming of Jesus: What do you spend most of your time thinking about in relation to this topic: when he is coming, or, what can I do to be better prepared when he comes? How does either one affect your lifestyle?
Community Discussion Questions
➡ |CDQ Info|
- How has disruption of marriages in our culture caused deterioration of family values?
- What would be your response if Jesus asked you to give up all that you owned materially and give it away to the poor?
- What would be your response if he asked you to give up anything so that your focus could be more on him?
- How does God’s value system and your value system differ?
- How do you feel when others who are newer in the faith receive the same blessings from God like you do, though you have been around the faith for several years?
- In what ways does ambition cause grief in the life of the ecclesial family?
- SUGGESTION: Make a list of the things that you practiced in your previous lifestyle of darkness, and how those things have changed in the lifestyle of light.
- How difficult is a radical change in your life?
- How do you view judgment?
- How have you been the recipient of judgment?
- What techniques can you observe that Jesus used when having a dispute with leadership, and how could that model work in your life?
- In what ways has your ecclesia progressed on being zealous for the faith to puritanical? How does that affect the mission of the ecclesia?
- How does the knowledge of the events of the course of this present evil age keep us from being deceived?
- In what way does the historical event of the Second Comming give us a picture of the future?
- How does Matthew’s view of the Second Coming differ from today’s popular view of the same event? Which would be a better preference to choose?
- In what ways can you become more watchful than you presently are?
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