January 1, 2018
General Remarks on Matthew’s Gospel
You are preparing to study a book that came directly from the hand of a student and Apostle of Jesus Christ, and an eyewitness of the events and teaching he records. It is the very first written account of the life and ministry of Christ; and, possibly, the very first book inspired by the Holy Spirit as New Testament Scripture. In its pages, we touch holy things, therefore, as with all Scripture, let us proceed with reverence and faith.
Matthew, also known as Levi, was one of the twelve called to be an Apostle by Christ Himself (Mt. 10:2-5). A publican, or, tax collector, by trade, and a resident of Capernaum in Galilee, he was “sitting at the receipt of custom” when our Lord “saith unto him, Follow me” (Mt. 9:9). Matthew immediately “arose and followed Him.” Thus began the life work of the author of the book known as The Gospel According to Matthew. It has always been believed that he ministered to the Jewish people, and his Gospel seems to have been written to a Jewish audience.
Originally written in a Hebrew dialect known as Aramaic, Matthew's primary intent is to show Jesus as the long awaited Messiah and hope of Israel. This, along with its Aramaic language, suggest it was originally written to the Jewish people in the hope of turning their hearts to Christ. It also suggests a very early date for its writing, much earlier than the date of A.D. 58 commonly ascribed to it today. It was translated into Greek, to make it accessible to Greek speaking Jews, and the growing number of Gentile Christians. It is always listed first in lists of New Testament Books, which also attests to its position as the first Gospel.
The early Church was united in the belief that the Gospel of Matthew came from the pen of the Apostle Matthew, and that it was the first of the four Gospels. Papias (A.D. 60-130), Irenaeus (130-202 A.D.), and Eusebius (260-340 A.D.) all bear witness to this very ancient belief.
Matthew, also known as Levi, was one of the twelve called to be an Apostle by Christ Himself (Mt. 10:2-5). A tax collector (publican) by trade, and a resident of Capernaum in Galilee, he was “sitting at the receipt of custom” when our Lord “saith unto him, Follow me” (Mt. 9:9). Matthew immediately “arose and followed Him.” Thus began the life work of the author of the book known as The Gospel According to Matthew. It has always been believed that he ministered to the Jewish people, and his Gospel seems to have been written to a Jewish audience.
Jesus of Nazareth is the Son of David. This, seemingly innocuous statement, is critically important to the meaning and message of Matthew's Gospel. Therefore, he goes to great lengths to demonstrate its truth. Verses 1-17 trace the generations, or, genealogy, to David and to Abraham to show that Jesus truly is the son of David and of Abraham. In Him God’s promise to establish the throne of the house of David forever (2. Sam. 7:13) is fulfilled. Both Joseph and Mary are of the house of David (Lk.1:27). Thus, though Joseph is not the earthly father of Jesus, our Lord is truly and legally of the house of David on both sides of His childhood home.
Verses 18-25 state the dual purpose and intent of Matthew’s Gospel. First, He shows that all the things he says of Christ are done in fulfillment of the Old Testament. Moses “wrote of me” said the Lord in John 5:46. Indeed, the entire Old Testament is about Jesus. Thus, on the Emmaus road, Christ expounded “in all the scriptures the things concerning himself” (Lk. 24:27). Making this same point, Matthew quotes the well-known words of Isaiah 7:14, “Behold, a virgin shall be with child.” Jesus of Nazareth is that child, and the Messiah promised in the Old Testament and long awaited by the Jewish people. That is the first point, of this Gospel, and it will be reiterated many times in the following pages.
Second, “he shall save his people from their sins” (Mt. 1:21). The cross is found here in the very first chapter of this Gospel to the Jews. The Messiah comes not to establish an earthly kingdom for anyone’s worldly security and prosperity. He comes to save His people from their sins by sacrificing Himself on the cross. Living without sin, He fulfills the Law on their behalf. Taking the sins of His people on Himself, He suffers and dies for them. Giving His righteousness to them, He restores them to fellowship with God, now and forever.
The origin of the wise men is unknown. Many have concluded they are Babylonians, whose forefathers learned about the expected Messiah while the Jews were in captivity there in 586-536 B.C. It is certainly true that the Babylonian wise men had ample opportunity to learn about God during the life and ministry of the prophet Daniel, and the wise men who visit the infant Christ probably are Babylonians. But the wise men are not the real point of Matthew’s Gospel. The real point is the question asked by the wise men, “Where is he that is born King of the Jews? (Mt. 2:2). This question is an affirmation of the primary point of Matthew’s Gospel; Jesus Christ is King of the Jews. This Jesus, born in Bethlehem, resident of Nazareth, and killed on the cross, is the Messiah. He is the fulfillment of the Old Testament Scriptures, and He is the Saviour of all who believe in Him in Biblical faith. The wise men’s question is used by Matthew to make a theological statement. It is what Matthew wants to say to the Jews. But, instead of saying it himself, Matthew lets the wise men say it for him. Jesus is King of the Jews.
But Jesus is no mere human being, and the wise men did not come to Bethlehem to do homage to a Jewish empire builder. They came to worship God. The Greek word for worship means to prostrate oneself and kiss the feet of a person, the hem of his garment, or even the ground he stands on. The Babylonians worshiped their gods in this way. The Persians, who took over the Babylonian Empire, worshiped their gods in this way. The Greeks, who took over the Persian Empire, worshiped their gods in this way. The wise men are from somewhere in the area once ruled by the Babylonians, Persians, and Greeks, so their worshiping Christ in this way is a clear statement of Christ’s deity. These wise men recognize and worship Christ as God.
This point is reiterated in the words of the prophet Micah. Asked where the Christ should be born, the scribes quote Micah 5:2 which states that the Governor, or, Ruler, of Israel will be born in Bethlehem. But this ruler is unlike all others. His “goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting.” This Ruler is from the everlasting realm. He Himself is everlasting. He is God.
The scribes’ answer also recalls the words of Isaiah, which explains the nature and work of this Governor. He is called “Wonderful, Counselor, The Mighty God, The Everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.” These are attributes of God, indicating again the Divine nature of the Ruler born in Bethlehem. “Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and justice from henceforth even forever” (Is. 9:7).
All of this is written to prove Jesus is the fulfillment of the Old Testament. Therefore, Jesus is the Messiah. The worship and words of the wise men prove this. The Scriptures testify to its truth. Therefore, let us believe in Him.
Remember that a major point of Matthew’s Gospel is to show that Jesus is the Christ by showing Him as the fulfillment of Old Testament Scripture. The first chapter, and the first half of chapter two, give two very obvious examples of how Christ accomplishes this. Matthew 2:23-33 gives references that are not so obvious. 2:18 quotes Jeremiah 31:15. Why is Ramah weeping for her children? Because they are “not.” They no longer exist as a family. They have been murdered and scattered and taken captive. The verse refers to the conquest of Jerusalem by the Babylonians in 586 B.C. How can this apply to Christ? It applies because Judea is weeping for her children again. An enemy, Herod, has killed them, and terrible mourning has engulfed the people again, just as in the days of Jeremiah. It is as though Jeremiah 31 is happening all over again.
Bishop J. C. Ryle wrote that the flight to Egypt and the opposition of Herod show two things. First, they show the general opposition of worldly rulers to the cause of Christ. Christ’s Divinity gives Him authority over kings and governments of men. Thus, He is a threat to them. His Law forbids theft and abuse of all kinds. His Law establishes the natural, or, God-given, rights of all people. The right to life, own property, enjoy the fruits of one’s labour, even the right to worship God, or not, are given to all people in God’s law. Such rights often interfere with the desires and agendas of rulers and governments, so they oppose the Law of God, and God Himself.
Second, they show Jesus as a “man of sorrows” from the very beginning of His earthly life and ministry. The persecution of Herod and the flight to Egypt are examples of what will be a continuous part of Christ’s earthly life. “The waves of humiliation began to beat over Him, even when He was a suckling child.” They continued to beat upon Him until they had killed Him. But, says Bishop Ryle in Expository Thoughts on the Gospel of Matthew;
“The Lord Jesus is just the Saviour that the suffering and sorrowful need. He knows well what we mean, when we tell him in prayer of our troubles. He can sympathise with us, when we cry to Him under cruel persecution. Let us keep nothing back from Him. Let us make Him our bosom friend. Let us pour out our hearts before Him. He has had great experience of affliction.”
Matthew 3 provides yet another example of how Jesus fulfills the Old Testament. Even His forerunner, John the Baptist, fulfills prophecy, for he is the one “spoken of by the prophet Esias” (Isaiah) in Isaiah 40:3. We need to remember John’s baptism is not Christian baptism. He baptizes as a symbol of repentance in preparation for the advent of the Messiah. Christian baptism is done as a symbol of faith in Jesus as the Messiah who has come and who has completed His work. This is why the people in Acts 19:1-5, who have been baptized by John, have to believe in Christ and be baptized in His name. Christ’s own baptism is a sign that the Messiah has come. The way has been prepared, the time has been fulfilled. Christ is here being baptized by John. The era of fulfillment of the Old Testament promises has begun. Even the Father announces this. “This is my beloved Son” (vs 17) means this is the One. This is the Messiah. You are baptized in preparation for His advent. Here He is, follow Him.
Most of us have probably read or heard how the temptations of Christ urge Him to reject the mission of the Messiah and take up easier methods of pleasing the people and uniting Israel. In short, they all tempt Him to reject the cross and become a popular folk hero and king. The temptation to turn the stones to bread is really about trusting His own power rather than trusting God. It tempts Jesus to break the rules and make supernatural exemptions for Himself rather than depend on the Father for His daily bread as ordinary humans have to do.
The temptation to cast Himself down from the Temple pinnacle is a temptation to force God to protect Him and openly show Him as the Messiah. In the last temptation, the devil says He will give the kingdoms of the world to Christ if He will worship Satan. As ruler of the world, Jesus could end wars, promote justice and prosperity, and accomplish great good on earth; all without having to go to the cross. But Jesus recognizes the devil’s tricks, and banishes him from His presence.
Many of us may not realize that Jesus had to participate fully in the human condition to be our Saviour. He had to empty Himself of His special knowledge and privileges, and He had to live like we live. He had to be subject to parents who made mistakes, and whose mistakes caused Him sorrow. He had to be potty trained, learn to talk, and face the frustrations and temptations of life, just like the rest of us. Otherwise the crucifixion would have been a farce, like Otis locking himself in the Mayberry jail with the keys in easy reach. Christ had to learn to live by faith. He had to learn to trust God in every situation, just like we do. The temptations urged Jesus to use His power to exempt Himself from real humanity, from the sufferings and problems and fears real people face every day. When Jesus refused to yield to the temptations, He chose to experience life as we experience it. Having lived as we live, by faith, He remained our perfect guide in our troubles. He faced the same ones, in faith, and overcame them. Having lived as we live, by faith, and having overcome temptation, He was uniquely qualified to be the sacrifice for our sins.
Thus, the temptations were absolutely necessary to the ministry of Christ the Messiah. To exempt Himself from them would have been to rely on His own Divine power, rather than to live by faith like a man. Had He used His divine power to exempt Himself from the human condition, He would have been unfit to be the Saviour.
John has committed no crime. He simply preaches the message of hope in God. He simply wants people to enjoy the privileges and blessings of the new era of the Kingdom of God. Many follow John, outwardly. Most are unmoved inwardly. Ultimately, his message is soundly rejected by the people, and he, like his Master, is arrested and murdered by the corrupt leaders of church and state. Yet his passing works to the glory of God, for as John himself has said, “He must increase, but I must decrease” (Jn. 3:30).
Our Lord now returns to Galilee, where most of His ministry and teaching take place. Note again how Matthew relates this to fulfilled prophecy. Quoting Isaiah 9:1-2, he shows that the Light seen in Galilee is Christ, the Light of men (Jn.1:4). The journey takes Christ from Bethany, near Jerusalem, to Nazareth, about seventy miles north if He travels through Samaria. From Nazareth He walks to Capernaum on the northwest shore of the Sea of Galilee, about twenty miles. It is in Capernaum that He begins His public ministry.
His message is strikingly similar to John’s. “Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Mt. 4:17). Jesus is telling people the time of fulfillment is here. The Old Testament prophecies and promises regarding the Messiah and His Kingdom are being fulfilled right before their eyes. The era of Promise is over. The Era of the Kingdom has begun. The Light is come.
Matthew 5 begins the beloved passage known as the Sermon on the Mount. Verses 3-12 are known as the Beatitudes, from a Latin word meaning “happy.” It is difficult for some to understand how a person should consider himself happy while enduring the conditions named in these verses. How can one be happy and mourn? How can one be happy when persecuted and reviled? At first it seems impossible. But if we notice that the conditions expressed in the Beatitudes are conditions endured for the sake of Christ and His Kingdom, we begin to understand why enduring them is in fact, a great blessing.
To become poor in spirit is to give up all pretenses of self-sufficiency before God. It is to recognize personal sin and the need of grace in all areas of life. It is to become contrite and humble before God, trusting His grace to restore us to a right relationship with Him. Such people are considered by the world to be weak and sad, yet Christ says, “theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
It is the same with every affliction named in these verses. Those who mourn, whether over the loss of things sacrificed in the service of Christ, the normal sorrows of life, the wickedness of the world and the sorrows reaped by that wickedness, or the weakness and sin in their own lives, are the ones who shall be comforted. Those who revel in ungodliness, who gladly embrace spiritual darkness, and rejoice in sin; those who are “happy” in the current condition of the world, will mourn with perpetual sorrow.
The meek are those who humbly give preference to the will and commandments of God rather than pushing and fighting for their own status and rights. They live lives of humble obedience, rather than boastful self-assertion. The world says such people will never get ahead, but Christ says they shall inherit the earth.
Those who hunger and thirst after righteousness shall be filled. Those who hunger for wealth and fame are never satisfied. The trinkets they value today loose their luster tomorrow. What seems incredible wealth today seems inadequate poverty tomorrow.
The merciful shall receive mercy. The world considers mercy weakness. The strong show no mercy, thus, they teach people not to cross them. But the merciful forgive their trespassers as God has forgiven them. They are the ones who receive mercy from God.
The pure in heart are those who first bear no malice. Their hearts are free of evil desires, greed, pride, and aggression. Second, their hearts are pure because God has forgiven their sins and counted them just and pure in His sight, through faith in Christ. These are the ones who shall “see God.”
Peacemakers shall be called the children of God. There is only one real way to make peace; that is by making peace with God through the atoning sacrifice of Christ. Real peacemakers, then, are those who help others find this peace with God. They may also help people live in peace with one another, but even that peace is built upon peace with God through Christ. The reconciliation purchased by Christ reconciles us to God and one another.
Finally, “Blessed are ye when men shall revile you and persecute you… for my sake.” How can this be happiness? First, you are sharing the fate of faithful people from the earliest times. Prophets were killed and rejected by their own people. Even Christ was killed. It is enough for the servant to be like his Master. More importantly, the persecuted share the reward of others who were persecuted. “Great is your reward.” In Revelation 6:7 the martyrs of the persecution of the early Church are given white robes and rest. Their trials are over. To share their trials is to share their reward, and such is happiness indeed.
Many today vex God’s people with artificial divisions between law and grace. The Old Testament people, they say, were under law, and were regarded as just by God through their keeping of the law. Law, in this sense does not refer to the moral law, such as found in the Ten Commandments. It refers to the ceremonial law of fasts and sacrifices. New Testament people, the argument goes, are under grace. Therefore, we are regarded as just because Christ died for our sins. The Old Testament people trusted the law; we trust Christ. They were under law; we are under grace.
This view is openly unbiblical. No person has ever been regarded as righteous by God on the basis of performing religious rituals. No person has ever been justified by his own works. All are justified in one way only, by grace through faith. God regards New Testament saints as righteous because Christ died for our sins. That is grace. God regarded Old Testament saints as righteous because Christ would die for their sins. That is grace. The only difference is that the Old Testament looked forward to the sacrifice of Christ, while we in the New Testament era look back to the sacrifice of Christ. All of the Old Testament sacrifices and rituals pointed forward to the cross. That is why, on the Emmaus road, our Lord began at Moses and all the prophets and expounded unto His disciples in all the scriptures “the things concerning himself” (Lk. 24:27). He was not simply telling how the Old Testament foretold His death and resurrection. He was telling them how the Old Testament foreshadowed His life and ministry. He told them He is the real sacrificial Lamb, that takes away their sins. He is the real High Priest, who offers the sacrifice and intercedes for His people. The cross is the altar on which the sacrifice was made. All of these things point to Christ. He is their fulfillment. They are shadows, He is the substance. The Old Testament people did not understand this completely, but they knew that the Temple and the sacrifices pointed to something God was doing that would be the real atonement for their sins. Thus, like Abraham before the law was given, the Old Testament saints were saved, just like the New Testament saints, by grace through faith in what God has done to atone for their sins.
Thus, Jesus says in verse 17, “Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets.” He did not come to destroy them by introducing a new way of being “saved.” He came to fulfill the law and prophets. He came to complete what God had begun in the law and prophets. He came to accomplish the atonement they foretold and symbolized.
It is critically important to understand that our Lord’s words, “But I say unto you,” do not negate or change the moral law. Instead, they actually affirm the truth of the law as the standard of righteousness and the word and will of God. At the same time, they show that a mere outward conformity to the law is the same as disregarding and breaking the commandments of God altogether. As Bishop J. C. Ryle wrote in his Expository Thoughts on the Gospels, the Lord is explaining what He meant when He said, “I came not to destroy the law, but to fulfill.” “He teaches us that His Gospel magnifies the law and exalts its authority. He shows us that the law… was a far more spiritual and heart-searching rule than most of the Jews supposed. And he proves this by selecting three commandments out of the ten as examples of what he means.”
The seventh commandment is addressed in verses 27-32. According to Christ it requires much more than simply not committing the act of adultery. It requires a lifestyle of chastity in thought and deed, including the way we dress, talk, and conduct ourselves. It requires thinking of, and treating people with respect rather than as toys and playgrounds for sexual pleasure. Thus, any unchaste thought or look is a breach of the intent of the commandment and the will of God.
The ninth commandment is addressed in verses 33-37. It, in part, reserves oaths and vows for the most important of events. Especially it requires great caution in calling God as the witness of vows. Quoting Bishop Ryle again:
“Many fancied that they kept this part of God’s law, so long as they did not swear falsely, and performed their oaths. [But] the Lord forbids all vain and light swearing altogether. All swearing by created things…, all calling upon God to witness, excepting on the most solemn occasions is great sin.”
This commandment also requires the strictest honesty and integrity in all our dealings. It is not enough to keep our promises. We must be true and honest people at all times. Let our yeas mean yea, and our nays mean nay.
Our Lord, still in the Sermon on the Mount, continues to teach about the full meaning of the Law of God. His point is that an outward conformity is not enough. God requires a clean heart and a right spirit (Ps. 51:10), not mere mechanical avoidance of wicked deeds. In other words, God requires holiness, and Jesus is showing that the point of the Commandments of God is holiness.
He turns to the words of Exodus 21:24, which requires punishment for a man who injures a pregnant woman. The words occur again in Deuteronomy 19:21, where they address those who intentionally cause financial or physical injury, or attempt to use the power of the government and courts to cause financial or physical injury to innocent people. The meaning in these verses is that the same injury a person causes or intends to cause, is to be inflicted upon him by the court. “[L]ife shall go for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot.” That is the court’s job. That is the government’s job. It is God’s servant, ordained by Him to protect the rights and property of innocent people by punishing those who would injure them. But the individual person is not bound to do as the government and courts. The individual person is free to have mercy, to pardon, even to love his enemies. The intent of God’s law, as it applies to interpersonal relationships, requires mercy, pardon, and love, even for enemies.
No person, then, has met the requirements of the law simply by not causing harm to another. The full “spirit of the law” requires him to cultivate generous, forgiving, and loving actions and attitudes, even toward those who do him evil. Christ illustrates this with real life examples. Turn the other cheek, “let him have thy cloke also.” Go the second mile. “Love your enemies.” This is the real meaning of the law.
It is obvious, then, that no mere human has ever fully kept the law. Our best efforts have come far short of its real demands and meaning. Therefore, no mere human being can ever claim to deserve a place in Heaven, or fellowship with God on the basis of his works. Rather than being commended to God’s favour by obeying the law, all are condemned by our lack of obedience. The standard, “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect,” is for us an impossible standard.
If Bishop Ryle is correct in his statement that the words of Christ, in Matthew 5, show that the law of God “was a far more spiritual and heart-searching rule than most of the Jews supposed,” then we may be sure our Lord intends to show the same about prayer in the verses in Matthew 6.
The chapter begins with our Lord’s words about alms, and may properly be applied to all Christian giving in support of the Church and its mission. The point of alms is not to gain admiration for generosity. The point of alms is first, to please God, and second to support the good work of the Church. This may be evangelism, disaster relief, care for the truly poor, and supporting the clergy of the Church. Rather than making a show of giving, let it be done quietly. God knows what you give, and He will reward you openly.
Many good words have been written about the Lord’s Prayer. Augustine’s Our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount, and John Chrysostom’s “Homily XIX in his commentary on Mathew should be consulted regularly. Athanasius’ remarks on Matthew 6:9 in his Defense of the Nicene Definition will be very helpful. J. C. Ryle’s remarks in his commentary on Matthew are highly recommended. These works are fully mindful of something that is often left out of contemporary ideas about the Lord’s Prayer: the Lord’s Prayer is a liturgical prayer. It was given to be memorized and prayed aloud and in unison in public worship. This fact is evident in Luke11:1-4, where our Lord, responds to a request from the disciples, “Lord teach us to pray.” The rabbis of Christ’s time taught their students and congregations to memorise prayers to be said in public worship. The Jewish people even have a written collection of these prayers, and their order for use in public worship. John the Baptizer taught his disciples to pray, probably a prayer looking for the immediate advent of the Messiah. Since the Messiah, the greatest of all prophets and teachers, stands before them, Christ’s disciples want a prayer given by Him. This prayer has been carefully preserved, and is still prayed daily in many nations and languages around the world.
Perhaps we also need to be reminded that, as the rabbis expected the prayers to be memorized and prayed, word-for-word, the Lord expected His Church to do the same with this prayer. Those who dismiss the Lord’s Prayer as simply a pattern for prayer, or an example after which we are to model our own prayers, miss the point. Jesus did not say, “make up your own prayers, but follow this outline.” He did not say, “Use this prayer as a pattern for your own.” He said, “After this manner therefore pray ye.” He is saying, “pray in these words.” As He said in Luke 11:2, “When ye pray, say….”
This does not negate extemporaneous prayer in public or private worship. Such prayer can be good, if it is Biblical in content and intent. It does mean we should pray this prayer in public and in private worship, for our Lord clearly intends for His Church to pray this prayer together through the generations, until His Kingdom comes in fulness, and His will is done, on earth as it is in heaven.
Let us be honest in religion. Let our faith be true. This great thought rings throughout Scripture. Isaiah 29:13 rebukes Israel for honouring God with their lips while removing their hearts far from Him. James 1:8 warns against double mindedness. The prophet Elijah asked, “How long halt ye between two opinions? If the Lord be God, follow Him: but if Baal, then follow him” (1 Kings 18:21).
In a very real sense, this is the same subject addressed by Christ in the Sermon on the Mount. He is speaking to the Jewish people, who outwardly claim to be the chosen people of God and the keepers of His law. But Christ knows most of them are deceiving themselves. They are also insulting God by assuming He, who calls and preserves them, will be satisfied with the crumbs and leftovers of their time and love, a few thoughtless minutes of prayer, a mindless, mechanical self-righteousness, or an equally mindless emotionalism. Real mercy and forgiveness, rather than revenge; love and blessing rather than hate and cursing, inward faith and obedience rather than an outward show of religion is the point made time after time in this sermon.
Our Lord continues to make this point in verse 21; “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” If your treasure consists of the praise of men and the trinkets of earth, your heart will be with them on earth. They will be the focus of your life. Your dreams and actions will be about them. If God is your treasure, if you value Him above all else, even above your own life, your heart will be with Him.
But your heart cannot be in both places. This is because both demand your all. The world demands unthinking acceptance of its maxims. It demands unthinking execution of them. It may camouflage its maxims in words like “freedom,” “tolerance,” and, “the common good,” but it allows no freedom of thought and no questioning of its authority. God also demands all. The difference is, He is honest about it. He tells us the way of the world is the way of death. He demands complete and willing obedience. He requires you to love Him more than you love your possessions, even more than you love yourself and your life.
Obviously, we cannot give both God and mammon first place in our lives. Attempts to serve both equally only lead us to hate one or the other of them. Thus, our Lord invites us to “Consider the lilies.” The point is that He cares for them and He cares for His people also. His care for us may not always be what we want. He may allow sorrow or sickness to oppress us. He will, one day allow death take us from this world. But in all these things; maybe, especially in all these things, “seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness.”
The words, judge not” do not forbid recognizing wrong behavior, attitudes, and ideas. Such a command would leave the Church in the same relativistic confusion that is currently destroying the cultures and nations of our “global village.” On the contrary, the Bible often commands us to judge others. 1 John 4:1-6 tells us not to believe every spirit, or, person who claims to teach the word and way of God. We are to “try” (test) the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world.” The Bereans (Acts 17:11) responded to the Apostle Paul by searching the Scriptures to see if his words were true. They tested his spirit. Christ Himself, speaking through John to the bishop and church of Ephesus said they had “tried them which say they are apostles, and are not, and hast found them liars” (Rev. 2:2). Obviously, the Lord expects us to judge people and doctrines by the Scriptures. It is not the recognition of sin and error that is forbidden by our Lord, then. It is an attitude and habit of fault-finding. It is the kind of judgment that always criticizes and belittles the minor flaws of others, while refusing to see the major sins in one’s own life. The Lord’s word for such people is, “hypocrite” and He tells them to work on their own sins before trying to work on someone else’s. Get the large beam out of your own eye before you worry about the tiny speck in someone else’s.
Verse 6 tells us to be sensitive to the proper time and place of Christian discourse. It is wrong to give that which is holy to the dogs, but it is right to give proper food and nourishment to those God has placed into our care, in the hope that they may one day be prepared to receive that which is holy.
Verses 7-11 teach us to trust God when we pray. The old adage, “be careful what you pray for, because you might get it,” is misleading. It seems to make God into a capricious imp who delights in playing tricks on us; as though if we pray for rain He will send a hurricane. Christ’s point is that even human parents don’t do that. If ye then, being evil know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?
Our Lord makes three enormous points before beginning His conclusion in verses 24-29. The magnitude of the points is almost hidden by the scarcity of words used to make them. In short, simple language, our Lord says, first, few will find the way of life, while many will take the road to destruction. Second, false teachers and false gospels abound, and many are found inside the Church disguised as Christians. Don’t follow them. Third, many who think they are going to Heaven – are not. Please read these verses carefully. You will also do a good thing for your soul if you read the comments on these verses by Bishop J. C. Ryle in his Expository Thoughts on the Gospels.
In the conclusion of the Sermon on the Mount, our Lord says there are two kinds of people. The first are the wise. They are not necessarily the people the world calls wise. In fact the world usually calls them fools. The world excludes them from its places of privilege and power. The world calls them backward, obsolete, haters, and bigots. The world blames its problems on them and their religion. The world persecutes them because they see that the wisdom of the world is the real foolishness, and the fear of God is the beginning of real wisdom. The people of the world have created gods in their own image, which bless and conform to their values and ideas. Therefore they hate those who follow The God who testifies that their gods are false and their deeds are evil.
The wise people are wise because they hear the word of Christ and build their lives upon it. They are content to walk the narrow way and ignore the teachings of the false prophets, both religious and secular. Their trust is not in man, not even in their own selves. Their trust is in Christ, and they are devoted to Him and His will.
Christ says they are like a man who builds his house upon a rock. It is very easy to see that the house is the person’s life and soul. It is everything that he is, and everything that shapes him. He builds it all on the rock. The rock, of course is Christ. It is also all the things of Christ. It is the faith once delivered to the saints, the Bible, the means of grace, and the Church. It is all the things Christ has given to lead us to Him and keep us in Him, now and forever.
The rain, floods, and winds are the sorrows and temptations of life. But they are also more than just ordinary problems. They are the attacks of the world, the flesh, and the devil. They are persecutions and temptations and doubts. They are the attempts of Satan to tear the faith out of you, to beat it out of you, to beat you into submission to him, the false prophets, and the secular values of the world. But the one who builds his life upon the rock will stand. His house will stand not because the house is strong, but because the Rock protects it. The Christian stands in the face of all trials only because the Rock protects him.
The foolish man builds his house upon the sand. He walks the broad way to destruction. He listens to the false prophets. He presumes that his actions are good enough to make him acceptable to God, if there is a God. This person is the real fool. The storms wash the ground out from under his house. The conflicting values of the world, and their demand for total and unthinking obedience are like winds beating on his house from different directions, each ripping the house apart while promising to make it strong. The house finally and eternally falls. It could do no other. The sand does not, and cannot protect it.
Our Lord’s words cause us to look over His sermon again. They prompt us to ask ourselves if ours is a religion of the letter, or the religion of the spirit. Are we trying to get by with just an outward appearance of godliness? Or are we truly dedicated to Christ in our hearts? Finally, have we realized that our efforts are not what makes us right with God? Have we realized that only grace makes people like us acceptable to Him? If we have realized this, and have cast ourselves upon the mercy of God, and have trusted in the sacrificial death of Christ to bear our sins away, then we have understood the message of the Sermon on the Mount, and we have built our houses on the Rock. Give us understanding, O Lord Christ. Amen.
Jesus is still in Capernaum beside the Sea of Galilee. The people who heard the Sermon on the Mount are shocked because He speaks as though He has authority to give the true meaning of Scripture and to define what it means to have real, Biblical faith. He does not speak as a man trying to comprehend the word of God; He speaks as God explaining His word to humanity. Thus, His words are a demonstration of His Divine authority.
Immediately following the Sermon Christ begins to demonstrate His authority in a series of Divine acts, and words. He heals the leper (1-4). Leprosy, in the time of Christ, is a spiritual condition as much as it is a physical illness. It makes a person “unclean,” meaning, unfit and unable to participate in the life and worship of God’s people. It symbolises the true condition of the souls of all people who are not made clean by the grace of God. The words of Christ , “be thou clean,” show that He has the power to heal the flesh, and that He has the power to heal the soul. He makes the sin sick soul as well and clean and healthy as He makes the leper’s body. This is a revelation that Jesus is God and that He has come to save His people from their sins.
Next, Christ heals the centurion’s servant. The centurion is a Roman, a Gentile. He is outside of the Covenant people, and, therefore, outside of the redeeming grace of God. Yet Christ welcomes him and heals his servant. This shows that all who come to Christ in true faith are welcomed into the salvation purchased by Christ on the cross. His new Israel is not limited to one ethnic group; it is open to all who believe. In verse 15 we see Him healing Peter’s mother-in-law. “He touched her hand and the fever left her.” Word of this healing spreads throughout Capernaum, and by evening a large crowd of sick and demon possessed people gathers at Peter’s mother-in-law’s house. Jesus then “cast out the spirits with His word, and healed all that were sick.”
Matthew, returning to his intention to show Jesus as the fulfillment of the Old Testament, says the healings were done, “That it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Isaiah the prophet, saying, Himself took out infirmities, and bare our sicknesses.”
Verses 18-22 recount the conversation between Christ and a scribe. Jesus is preparing to go to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, to the country of the Gergesea, also called Gadarenes by Mark. He intends to leave Capernaum because of the press of the people, and because, by now, people are coming to Him simply to be healed of physical illnesses instead of to receive the Kingdom of Heaven. Our Lord has another reason to go to Gergesea. A man has a Divine appointment with the Master, that will change his life.
Before Christ enters the boat, a scribe comes to Him saying, “Master, I will follow thee whithersoever thou goest.” Christ tells the man He is homeless and offers none of the comforts the scribe could purchase for himself with his lucrative income. Christ is saying His followers must be willing to suffer hardship and deprivation. Those unwilling to do so should not attempt to follow Him.
After the scribe, another man, one of the disciples asks to be allowed to bury his father before following Christ further. But Christ says, “Let the dead bury the dead.” In other words, let those who have not the life of Christ in them carry on the things of the world. Let those who have, or desire the life of Christ in them (we would call it “salvation”) follow Christ. It is important to note that Christ is not allowing us to neglect our normal duties to family and others. He is talking to a man who says he wants to be a student of Christ, sharing His hardships and learning of Him. The man is saying he will give up everything to follow Christ on His journeys and ministry, only, “suffer me first to go and bury my father.” Christ’s answer is really a question; do you really intend to leave everything and come with me? Then leave the other things to those who do not know Me or want to follow. But decide what you will do, then do it.
Verses 23-27 relate the well-known calming of the sea. The story has two messages. First, Christ has power only God can have; therefore, He is God. Second, trust God. If it is in God’s plan to see them safely to the shores of Gergesea, He will do so, storm or no storm. If it is His intention to take them to Heaven by drowning them in the sea, then even the calmest weather and a smoothest sea could claim them. Therefore, “why are ye fearful?” The answer is in the second part of the Lord’s question, we are “ye of little faith.”
Verse 28 brings us to the man with the Divine appointment. He lives among the graves in such torment he often causes serious harm to himself. He is so wild with torment, even chains and shackles cannot hold him. Jesus knows the source of his torment is demonic oppression. He is so controlled by the demons his condition is called demonic possession. How sad his life is. How much he misses of the normal joys of life. How he must agonize in the night, consumed in an inner anguish we cannot even imagine and he can neither understand nor assuage. We can picture him crying out in the night, gashing himself in desperate attempts to distract his mind and soul from the horrible inner pain they feel. Yet nothing can relieve his pain, until Jesus comes to him. Jesus knows the problem, and has the power to make the man whole. Jesus can drive the demons out, and restore the man to mental, physical, and spiritual health, and He does.
Now the story changes. The man is whole. He is clean right down to his soul. We would say he is saved. The agony, the fear, the uncontrollable horror is gone forever. But the people in the village are unhappy. Perhaps it is because their hogs drowned in the sea. Whatever the reason, they do not bow to Christ and worship Him as they ought. They do not give thanks, or rejoice that the man is now well and whole. Instead, they demand that Christ leave their land. What an opportunity they are missing. They could receive the same peace and wholeness the demoniac has. Instead they choose to remain in sin.
We can easily apply this to modern people. The story of Jesus dying for our sins is almost universally known in the world. Yet the vast majority of people ignore it. Bibles abound, but lay unread, even in Christian homes. Christians are woefully ignorant of the basic teachings of the Bible. The heavens and all creation bear witness to the presence and grace of God. Yet people ignore their message, and the Gospel of Christ becomes just another part of the world’s background noise. The word has gone out. Jesus stands before us all, as surely as if He stood before us in the flesh, but people implore Him to leave. And He does.
Jesus has returned to Capernaum, where He finds a paralysed man, which, in the Bible is called “palsy.” Jesus immediately heals the man, but instead of saying, “arise and walk,” He says, “thy sins be forgiven thee.” It is important to know the healings Jesus did were not just physical, they healed the soul as well as the flesh. So the palsied man is no longer paralysed in his flesh or in his soul. He is forgiven of sins and restored to God.
Some of the scribes in Capernaum respond in a way that is similar to that of the people of the Gergesene village. They scoff at Him. They call Him a blasphemer because only God can forgive sin. Of course it is true that only God can forgive sin. Therefore, if Jesus can forgive sin (and that He can forgive sin is shown by a mighty sign in the physical healing of the man) then… Jesus is God. But the people of Capernaum marvel and glorify God. It is true that they do not understand much about Jesus at this point in the Gospel. They probably think He is nothing more than a great prophet. But they know God is with Him in some way that is different from the way He is normally present on this earth. And they rejoice that He has come among them.
As the Pharisees speak to Jesus, a ruler comes to ask Him to heal his daughter. The man is Jairus according to Mark and Luke, rabbi of the local synagogue. This man is supposed to be on the Pharisees’ side, but he is defecting. “[L]ay thine hand upon her, and she shall live,” he says to our Lord. Jesus leaves Matthew’s house immediately, followed by his disciples, including Matthew. On the way to Jairus’ house a woman with an issue of blood touches His garment and is healed.
Note the spiritual words used throughout Matthew’s Gospel. The man with the palsy is “forgiven.” The sick are made “whole.” Jairus’ daughter is “dead” but will “live” when Jesus touches her. The woman with an issue of blood wants to be made “whole.” She is “unclean” according to Old Testament law, and is forbidden from participating in public and religious life until her issue is over. But this woman’s issue has continued for twelve years and no one is able to help her, except Jesus. One touch of even the hem of His garment makes her not just healed, but “whole.” Jairus’ daughter rises. Her body rises to die again in later years. But her soul rises to die no more. She lives.
In verse 27 two blind men come to Jesus crying, “son of David, have mercy on us.” This is significant because “son of David” is a Messianic title. People are beginning to realize the Messiah has come, and He is Jesus of Nazareth. These men know Jesus has the power to have mercy on them and relive them of their blindness. Their spiritual blindness is healed also.
The demoniac in 32-34 is almost secondary to the charge of the Pharisees, “He casteth out devils through the prince of devils.” Notice they do not accuse Jesus of fake healings and exorcisms. Instead, they say His power comes from Satan instead of God. This presents the reader with a question; where does Jesus’ power come from? Is it from Satan? If so, what does that mean to us? Is His power from God? If so, what does that mean to us?
The Apostle Matthew, like the other Gospel writers, is more concerned about theological order than chronological order. So we are not quite sure when Christ sends out the apostles ( still only disciples at this point). Mt. 9:35 tells us Jesus went into the cities and villages preaching the Gospel, and it seems that He would not send out the disciples until He had first taken them with Him on the kind of mission on which He is sending them. So, after Christ completes His first trip through Galilee, He sends out the disciples.
They are to be entirely dependent upon God. No money or food is allowed to go with them. They must take what is offered and provided for them in the places they visit.
Our Lord’s commission to the disciples is not the kind of speech leaders generally use to inspire and encourage people. Our Lord speaks of persecution, scourging, imprisonment, and death in His service. Obviously His words look beyond the ministry on which He is sending the disciples in Galilee. His words look on to the time after His own execution when His Church will be persecuted in Israel and the world. Yet, the Lord clearly warns the disciples to expect opposition, often violent opposition. They should expect to be treated as the Lord Himself is treated, and it should be enough for them to be like their Master in this sense (25). Therefore they should not fear their enemies or the ordeal before them. They should fear only God. This means they will endure the sufferings, and will not stop ministering as Christ directs them.
Verses 29-31 remind us that God sees and watches over the disciples in their service. The sparrow has never been considered a valuable bird. Most people think it is not beautiful to look at or pleasant to hear. In the time of Christ, sparrows are often captured and eaten. They could be purchased very cheaply. So the sparrow is considered a lowly bird, even a nusiance.
To the world, the Church is a sparrow. Yet God’s eye is on the sparrow. Not one of them falls without His knowledge. If He knows about the sparrows, He knows about His servants, even down to the hairs on their heads. If He watches over the sparrows He watches over His servants, and they will be blessed.
Confession, as used in verse 32, is much more than saying you are a Christian. It is the entire tone and essence of your life. As spoken to the disciples to prepare them for their mission, it means to continue their ministry, even in the face of opposition and persecution. It means to refuse to allow opposition to silence their proclamation of the Gospel they are sent to preach. It means to refuse to allow opposition to stop their faithful obedience to Jesus Christ. It is to refuse to deny Christ. Thus, it is closely tied to verse 39, which tells us losing your life for Christ’s sake is actually finding It. It is closely tied to verse 38, “he that taketh not his cross and followeth after me, is not worthy of me.” Jesus demands that the disciples, and all disciples, be willing to give up their lives rather than turn away from Christ. Verses 34-37 are things a person might love above God. The Gospel will divide even the closest of human relationships, if one is a Christian and the other is not.
Verses 40-42 are about the blessings of those who receive the disciples’ message and support them in their mission. To receive Christ’s messenger is to receive Christ, the same as receiving a prophet was in the Old Testament. Those who give a cup of water, that is, support the disciples’ mission, will be blessed.
In the disciples’ absence, our Lord also undertakes a preaching journey through Galilee. During this mission, He receives a message from John the Baptist. John is in prison because he told Herod it is against the law of God for Herod to be married to his brother’s wife, Herodias. Herod will not repent of his sin. So, typical of tyrants and despots, and sinners in all walks of life, he strikes out at the the person who cares enough about him to warn him about a terrible sin in his life (see Galatians 4:16). He arrests an innocent man. He will kill him later. The Lord’s warnings about persecution and death for serving Him are very accurate.
John’s question is one of the most important questions anyone can ask; “Art thou he that should come, or do we look for another?” Rather than simply saying, “I am He,” our Lord shows that His work and ministry are the fulfillment of Scripture. Read Isaiah 61:1-3 and compare it with Christ’s response to John. Jesus is saying He is the fulfillment of this, and all Scripture. Therefore, He is the One Israel and the world has been looking for. John was correct when he identified Jesus as the Messiah. Everything John said about Him was true. This is terribly important for John to hear. In prison with his life dependent upon a corrupt tyrant, John’s life could be ended at any moment. He wants to know he is not throwing his life away on a lie. He needs to know Jesus is who He says He is, and that he will die in the Lord and be with Him in Paradise forever. John’s disciples return to him with this message, and John gives his life in the service of Christ.
After many commendatory words about John (7-15) Christ compares Israel to children complaining because neither He nor John joined their games. In fact, both Christ and John are very much not joined to the game of religious sham and hypocrisy that characterises most of Israel’s “faith.” Consequently, both are despised and rejected. They call John a demoniac and Jesus a drunk. Both are ultimately killed by the reigning powers, not for crimes, but for not joining and endorsing the status quo; for criticizing the faith, values, and actions of the culture and its rulers. “He that hath ears to hear, let him hear” is a warning to those who would follow Christ. It can happen to you.
The reaction of the people to the ministry of Jesus and the disciples is tremendous. People flock to Him, traveling long distances at great expense. They listen to His teaching and say that a prophet has come to them. They see His miracles and say the power of God has come among them. We are told many times that great multitudes follow Him. Sometimes, they even attempt to make Him king. Great crowds come with great excitement and great rejoicing. But few come with great repentance or faith. They come to be healed, or entertained, but not to be saved.
Jesus rebukes the cities in which He has done much of His preaching and ministry. Chorazin and Bethsaida are near Capernaum on the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee. They are Jewish cities, which Jesus probably went to after He sent His disciples on their mission. Tyre and Sidon are Gentile cities northwest of Israel on the Mediterranean coast. Jesus is saying that if He had done his preaching and miracles in Tyre and Sidon “they would have repented long ago in sack-cloth and ashes” (21). Even Sodom would have repented and been spared (23). Perhaps you are thinking now of Nineveh, which, at the very reluctant preaching of Jonah, believed God and proclaimed a fast in repentance of sin. They, Gentiles, put on sack-cloth and ashes, “from the greatest to the least of them” (Jonah 3:5). Even the king of Nineveh repented publicly. And God had mercy on that Gentile city whose people had more faith than Jonah. It will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon than for Chorazin and Bethsaida on Judgment Day. Capernaum, where Jesus does so much, will go down to hell, for they have seen and heard the Messiah. The Gentiles have not.
The corn (grain) the disciples are eating is lawfully available to them, else the Pharisees would have quickly accused them of theft. It is not taking the corn, it is harvesting it on the Sabbath that angers the Pharisees, who consider themselves experts in the Old Testament Law. Christ’s answer essentially accuses the Pharisees of not understanding the Law, or recognising the Messiah. He states that He is Lord even of the Sabbath day. It is He who instituted the Sabbath, and it is He who decides how it is to be observed. He defines it. This is an overt claim to be God, for only God has such authority.
The same point is made in verses 9-13. But something else is added here. He reminds the people that He created the Sabbath for their good, to be a blessing, not a burden. Therefore it is right and good to do good on the Sabbath. It is important to note that Christ is not negating or canceling the Sabbath. He is simply making two points. First, as God He is Lord of the Sabbath. Second, it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.
Our Lord had warned the disciples that His followers would face persecution and danger. But it is enough for the servant to be as his Lord, and in verse14 we see opposition rising against Jesus. This is not the beginning of opposition. The Pharisees murmured against Him in the early verses of chapter 12, and verses 10-13 show them in a deliberate attempt to make Him heal a man so they can accuse Him of breaking the Sabbath (12:10). Opposition to Jesus is also seen in the imprisonment of John the Baptist, for he was the forerunner sent to prepare the way of Christ. Going back to chapter 10, our Lord warned the disciples that they would be scourged, hated and delivered up to death for His sake. When He said “It is enough for the disciple to be as his master” He was hinting at His own rejection and crucifixion and telling the disciples to expect the same treatment.
In 12:14 the opposition to Christ moves from murmuring and verbal traps to an actual plan to kill Him. This verse shows the vicious cruelty of the opposition, for the Pharisees intend to see His teaching and influence disgraced, and Him executed and consigned to eternal hell. That is their hope for Jesus, and it is all summarized in the word, “destroy.” In Greek it is the same word used in 1 Corinthians 10:10, which refers back to the way the Hebrews murmured against Moses in the wilderness and were not allowed into the Promised Land, but died in the wilderness. It also recalls the rebellion of Korah and the way the earth opened and took the dissenters alive into hell (Num 16:32). They were destroyed by the destroyer, and we know who that is. We see him identified in Revelation 9:11, the angel of the bottomless pit “whose name in the Hebrew tongue is Abaddon, but in the Greek tongue hath his name Apollyon.” Apollyon is a derivative of the Greek word used in Matthew 12:14, apolesosin. It means they want Christ to burn in hell.
The healing of the multitudes is another opportunity for Matthew to identify Christ as the Messiah and the fulfillment of the Old Testament. Verses 17-19 refer to Isaiah 11, 61, and 40.
The Pharisees accuse Christ of casting out demons by the power of the prince of demons. Christ replies that He is not of Satan, else that house would be divided and fall. Instead, He is the One who enters the house of Satan and spoils his goods (12:29). Christ is saying Satan is like a strong man with much wealth, but He, Jesus, has broken into Satan’s house and taken his goods. The goods are the souls of people once in slavery to Satan, but now free in Christ.
Christ’s words about the unforgivable sin have been the subject of discussion and question since He uttered them on the shores of Galilee over 2,000 years ago. Naturally, many have taken pen or pulpit to expound upon the sin of blasphemy against the Holy Ghost (Mt. 12:31). Irenaeus (130-202) Bishop of Lyons, said it means to destroy the form of the Gospel, meaning to preach or believe in justification and forgiveness of sins in some way other than that taught in Scripture. The Didache, written near the turn of the second century, said it is to teach another Gospel. Archbishop of Constantinople, John Chrysostom (347-407) said it is the denial of what the Pharisees knew to be the work of the Holy Spirit. Anglican Bishop J.C. Ryle (1816-1900) agrees, adding, “The brighter the light, the greater the guilt of him who rejects it. The clearer a man’s knowledge of the nature of the Gospel, the greater his sin if he willfully refuses to repent and believe.”
It is important to note that each of the writers cited notes that blasphemy against the Holy Ghost has something to do with the Pharisees words against Jesus. The Pharisees say Jesus receives His power from the prince of devils, and hint that He uses that power to deceive people. In short, they are saying Jesus is not who He claims to be, therefore, He and His works are Satanic and evil. This requires the Pharisees to account as false the clear testimony that Christ is God and is doing the work of God. The Holy Spirit is the agency by which God speaks to the soul of man, and reveals the truth about Christ and the way of forgiveness. Thus, to reject Christ is to reject the testimony and work of the Spirit. That is the very essences of the sin of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit.
Unmoved, the Pharisees ask for a sign (12:38). They have already seen many. Untold numbers of people have been healed, and the Gospel has been proclaimed. If this is enough of a sign for John the Baptist, who would give his very life for Christ, it should be enough of a sign for the Pharisees. But they want more, probably something like turning stones into bread or jumping unharmed into gathered crowds from the pinnacle of the Temple. But Jesus says they will only have the sign of Jonah. His three days in the fish symbolise Christ’s three days in the grave. Jonah’s emergence from the fish is a symbol of Christ’s resurrection from the dead. The Pharisees will do well to remember this after Christ is raised. It will make sense to them then. But they will reject it.
In the midst of this confrontation, Mary and some of her children come and request to speak with Jesus. The message comes to Him as “thy mother and thy brethren stand without desiring to speak with thee.” Jesus indicates the disciples and says, “Behold my mother and my brethren! For whosoever shall do the will of my Father which is in heaven, the same is my brother, and sister, and mother.” The family of Christ is not built upon human familial relations. It is based upon faith in Christ.
Often called “The Parable of the Sower” this story is actually a parable of the soils. The Sower is Christ; the Seed is the Gospel. The hearers of the Gospel are the soils. As there are different types of soils, there are different types of hearers. Verses 4-8 describe the soils. There is the wayside, meaning beside the pathway. There is the stony soil, more stone than soil. There is soil that appears to be good soil, but is overgrown with thorns that choke the seed as it sprouts. There is good soil where the seed takes root and brings forth fruit.
Sowing, in the parable, is done by the broadcast method. The sower carries a bag of seed and casts handfuls of it across the soil. A good sower can broadcast the seed evenly, so it produces a good stand of wheat. So the picture presented is of Christ sowing the seed of the Gospel, dispensing it, pouring it out on the souls of people.
In verse 10, the disciples, who do not understand the parable anymore than the Pharisees and multitudes, ask Christ why He speaks in parables. His answer is shocking. “Because it is given unto you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given.” Did Jesus just say understanding the Gospel is given to some people and not given to others? Our Lord quotes the Old Testament, showing again that He and His work are the fulfillment of the law and prophets. “Hearing ye shall hear and not understand; and seeing ye shall see and not perceive.” It certainly sounds like Jesus is saying the reason some believe and others do not has something to do with God choosing to enable some to hear and believe. At the very least, we see that God knows who will and will not believe. If He has this knowledge and does nothing to change the outcome, then is it correct to say some are predestined to believe and be saved while others are not? Verse 15 seems to indicate that God will not change the hearts or open the eyes and ears of all people, but verse 16 seems to indicate that He is opening the eyes and ears of the disciples, “for they hear.” Thus, our Lord, speaking to the disciples in private tells them the meaning of the parable (Mt 13:18-23). The point is that only the few who constitute the good ground hear and understand the Gospel, which brings forth in them the abundant fruit of salvation.
Our Lord continues to preach to the masses in parables. This is a very common way of teaching in those days, and it still persists in the East today. We are not to presume that none of the hearers understand Christ’s words. Surely many understand and believe. But others just hear stories, interesting, maybe, but unintelligible to them. Christ tells the Parable of the Tares of the Field, followed by the parables of the Mustard Seed and of the Leaven. It is not until He sends away the crowds that, at the disciples’ request, Christ declares unto them the meaning of the parable of the tares of the field (Mt. 13:36-43). Again, Christ is the Sower and the field is the world. Christ sows the good seed. This time the seed represent people who believe the Gospel, and are saved. The devil also sows his seed, the tares, which are the people who reject the Gospel and Christ. The two grow together in the current age. But at harvest the two will be separated. The angels will “gather out of his kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity; and shall cast them into a furnace of fire; there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
The harvest is the time when Christ returns and the earth is restored to its original goodness. In the new earth those who followed Christ in the old era, will live in Godliness, as man lived before the Fall. In this restored earth God’s people shall shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father, and Christ shall reign in perfect peace, forever.
The people of Nazareth are offended at Christ (53-58). To them He is just the carpenter’s son. They know His family. He is nobody from nowhere and they resent His apparent success. How often we find that the people closest to us offer the greatest opposition. It is as though holding us to their level of underachievement somehow justifies their own mediocrity in their minds. This is as true in spiritual things as it is in worldly things. The one who seeks to live by the Gospel, rather than go along with the crowd, will be ridiculed for his “holier than thou” attitude. How sad. Even on a merely human level the people of Nazareth should have a proper joy because a “local boy makes good.” Instead they resent Him. Their attitude is like that expressed in the words, “Who do you think you are? I knew you when you were nobody, and to me, you still are.”
Some have thought their lack of faith prevents Christ from doing great works in Nazareth, as He had done in other places. Mark 6:5 seems to support this view. But it is not that Christ was unable, as though their lack of faith arrested His Divine power and ability. It is that they refuse to accept mighty works from Him. They refuse to receive anything from Him because they do not believe He is the Messiah. In exactly this way, those who will not believe in Christ today cannot be saved. It is not that their unbelief binds the power of God. It is that their unbelief binds their ability to receive anything from Him.
Verses 1-12 tell of the tragic execution of John the Baptist. The opposition Jesus has spoken of in earlier chapters is clearly happening here. Remember that in 12:14 the Pharisees held a meeting to plan a way to kill Jesus. In 13:53-58 the people of Nazareth shouted Him down and rejected His teaching. Now John the Baptist pays the ultimate price for following Christ. There has always been a price for following Christ. There always will be. Matthew is chronicling a growing opposition to Christ here, opposition that will eventually lead Him to the cross.
Herod is doubly condemned in this passage. His foolish promise to the dancing girl clearly is not meant to include murder, yet he lacks the courage to release himself from the evil request. But a promise to do evil is not a valid promise. To turn from such a promise is not called breaking a promise, it is called repentance from sin. Rather than execute John, Herod should rebuke the girl and release John. But, like Pilate, he simply goes along with the crowd, and another innocent man dies.
Bishop Ryle’s comments on the feeding of the five thousand (31-21) express their meaning so clearly and accurately they are presented here without further comment.
“What does this hungry multitude in a desert place represent to us It is an emblem of all mankind. The children of men are a large assembly of perishing sinners, famishing in the midst of a wilderness world,- helpless, hopeless, and on the way to ruin. We have all gone astray like lost sheep. We are by nature far away from God. Our eyes may not be fully opened to the danger. But in reality we are wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked. There is but a step between us and everlasting death.
“What do these loaves and fishes represent, apparently inadequate to meet the necessities of the case, but by miracle made sufficient to feed ten thousand people? They are an emblem of Christ crucified for sinners, as their vicarious substitute, and making atonement by His death for the sins of the world. That doctrine seems, to the natural man, weakness itself. Christ crucified was to the Jews a stumbling block, and to the Greeks foolishness. And yet Christ crucified has proved the bread of God which cometh down from heaven, and giveth life to the world. The story of the cross has amply met the spiritual wants of mankind wherever it has been preached. Thousands of every rank, age, and nation, are witnesses that it is ‘the wisdom of God, and the power of God.’ They have eaten of it and been ‘filled.’ They have found it ‘meat indeed and drink indeed.’”
~J. C. Ryle, Expository Thoughts on the Gospels
If, as John Chrysostom asserted around 388 A.D., the purpose of the feeding of the five thousand was to teach us to seek the heavenly bread, surely the stilling of the sea teaches us more than simply to rely upon Christ in the storms of our lives. Rather, as Tertullian wrote in De Baptismo more than 1,800 years ago, “That little ship did present a figure of the Church, in that she is disquieted ‘in the sea,’ that is, in the world, ‘by the waves, that is, by persecutions and temptations.” The trials and storm will continue until the Lord’s Return, When, ‘He checks the storm and restores tranquility to His own.’”
Stilling the sea brings a confession from the disciples in verse 33. They are moved with gratitude for their physical safety, but they are also moved with a holy awe for this One whose word the wind and sea obey. They worship Him. They accord Him equality and unity with the Father. “Of a truth,” they cry, “thou art the Son of God.” So the stilling of the sea, in one sense, is a sign to the disciples. These men will become the Apostles soon. It will be their job to establish and organize the Church according to the teachings of Christ. Like Him, they will face severe persecution. Most will die a martyr’s death. They, like us, need to know why they should follow Christ. They have seen that He can heal the sick and drive away evil spirits. They have seen that He can multiply the fish and bread as He desires. They have even seen that He claims authority to declare the true meaning of Scripture and to forgive sins. Now they see He has power over the wind and the sea. Who can do these things but God alone? If Jesus can do them, He must be who He says He is; God in the flesh. This is why they, and we, should follow Him.
If Christ can still the sea, then He can be relied on in times of danger. If He can deliver the disciples from the waves, He can deliver the Apostles and His Church from the prisons and swords of their oppressors. That doesn’t mean He will always deliver every individual believer from danger and oppression, or even sickness. At some point He will allow them to die in the flesh that they may rest from their labours and be with Him in Paradise. But these men have seen enough to know that nothing can ultimately harm them. Christ is able to protect them, and He will. In other words, if He controls the winds and sea, He can get them to Heaven. So it is with us. The storm continues, terrible and frightening. But He is with us. Sometimes He delivers us from the storm; sometime He delivers us through the storm. But He will deliver us to Heaven.
Tertullian’s statement that the “little ship did present a figure [symbol] of the Church” is absolutely correct, and reminds us that the meaning of this passage looks far beyond our own personal trials, and even beyond our own lives. It looks to the Church God has established in this world. Like this boat in the Sea of Galilee, storms and waves come against it. It often looks like it will sink. But God is Master of the Sea, and He is bringing His Church through the storm to its safe harbour The Church is tossed and tried, often afraid, and weak in faith. The waves [the world, the flesh, and the devil] are large and powerful. Yet this small Ship has Christ within it, and He will preserve it until the day He returns to still the waves forever.
As members of Christ’s Church, we are the “crew” of God’s fishing boat, not passengers on a luxury cruise. As long as the ship is in the world, it is in a perpetual storm. If you expect an easy passage to Heaven, you are mistaken. Even in peaceful times, the world, the flesh and the devil (the storm) try to discourage and defeat us. In many eras the sea runs red with the blood of the saints. But let us be faithful even unto death, knowing that the Master of the sea will conquer the storm and we will dwell with Him in Paradise forever.
It is the dirt on your soul, not the dirt on your hands, that makes you unclean to God. We humans have a problem with that sometimes. We see external dirt. Sometimes, we are even forced to smell it, much to our distaste. Odious as a really filthy body is to us, a filthy soul is infinitely more odious to God. The Pharisees do not believe they have dirt on their souls. They are sure they are pure because they keep the ceremonial law, and the ceremonies of that law cleanses their souls. But the ceremonies, and even the blood sacrifices of the Old Testament ceremonial law, never could and never did atone for sin. They covered symbolic uncleanness, but they never atoned for idolatry, theft, or any of the sins committed in breaking the Moral Law as it is summarized in the Ten Commandments. This is part of the point Christ is making in verses 3-9. Only God can cleanse the soul of that kind of dirt.
This brings up an important point. The Bible does not teach two ways of being “saved.” Some erroneously teach that Old Testament people were saved by keeping the ceremonial law and sacrifices, while New Testament people are saved by the atoning sacrifice of Christ. Actually, all who are saved, whether they live in Old Testament or New Testament times, are saved through the sacrifice of Christ. Those in the Old Testament era were saved by faith in what God would do to forgive them; those in the New Testament era are saved by faith in what God has done to forgive them. Thus, all are saved by Christ, not their own works. They are saved by grace, not law.
The woman of Canaan is an important element in the Gospel of Christ. At one time the Hebrews were told to destroy the Canaanites. The hatred between the two peoples still exists in the time of Christ. Yet Christ receives this woman and delivers her daughter from the devil. In Him, the animosity and differences between people disappear. All are shown to be sinners. All are shown to be dogs, unworthy to even gather the crumbs under His table. Yet His mercy is for Jews and Gentiles alike. Canaanites, Roman Centurions, Babylonian wise men, and Samaritans are all welcomed into His Church. His blood covers the sins of all who will believe, and unites them in one Family of Faith for all time.
Verses 29-39 record more of the miraculous power and grace of Christ. He has compassion on the multitudes (32). This compassion leads Him to give them their daily bread. It also leads Him to lay down His life for them that they may eat of the Bread of Heaven.
The Pharisees can discern the signs of the weather, but not the signs of the Messiah. His signs are plentiful. Healings, miracles, the testimony of John the Baptist, and Scripture all point to Christ. But the Pharisees do not accept them, so they ask for a different sign. Christ says they will only have the sign of Jonas (Jonah). Simply stated, the sign of Jonas is the resurrection of Christ. Jonah was in the fish for three days. On the third he was freed. Christ was in the grave three days. On the third, He rose again. The resurrection is the sign Jesus will give the Pharisees, and they will even reject it.
It is the same today. People reject the signs given and ask for new signs. Some want miracles. Some want audible and visible appearances. Some want religious feelings and experiences. “Give me these,” they say, “and I will believe in Jesus.” But Jesus says the sign, Christ’s resurrection, has already been given to us. So we do not need new and more signs; we need faith to believe the signs we have, especially the resurrection of Christ.
Thus, Jesus warns the disciples to beware of the doctrine of the Pharisees. Theirs is the doctrine of unbelief. Theirs is the doctrine of self-righteousness rather than forgiveness of sins. Theirs is the doctrine of works rather than grace. Their entire understanding of the Bible is wrong. They have distorted it to make it appear to say things it doesn’t really say.
People still distort the Bible. TV, radio, and local congregations have many “teachers” who distort the Bible, usually to draw larger crowds and make more money. They are often very adept at quoting the Bible. But, the fact that the words they quote are in the Bible does not prove that the Bible means what they say it means. This is why it is important to have a basic understanding of the whole Bible, and to understand a verse or book in the context of the whole Biblical message. Like the disciples, the Church today needs to beware, for the leaven of the Pharisees is with us still.
The question posed to the disciples is the most important question that can be asked of a human being. “But whom say ye that I am?” Peter’s answer is the only correct one, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.” It is doubtful that Peter understood the full meaning of his words, but they did express the truth about Jesus’ being and identity.
“Son” does not mean Jesus began to exist at some point, or that He was born or created in some mysterious way at a distinct moment in time. Nor does it mean Jesus is a God, similar to, but entirely distinct from the Father. It means there is unity and harmony within God, who is one God in three Persons. It is impossible for human intelligence to understand this, and attempts to clarify it usually cause more problems than they solve. Our Anglican Articles of Religion state it as clearly as can be done.
“There is but one living and true God, everlasting, without body, parts, or passions; of infinite power, wisdom, and goodness; the Maker and Preserver of all things both visible and invisible. And in unity of this Godhead there be three Persons, of one substance, power, and eternity; the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.”
Many will recognise the ideas of the Nicene Creed in the words of the Article above. Regarding the one God, it asserts the Biblical truth that the Lord Jesus Christ is “God of God, Light of Light, Very God of very God; Begotten, not made; being of one substance with the Father.”
Christ’s response to Peter has caused much conversation through the centuries. Some claim Christ made Peter the human head of the Church, the pope. But the Bible does not seem to give Peter the treatment due to a person in such a position. Neither does the Apostolic and post Apostolic Church. More than 200 years must pass before the Bishop of Rome begins to claim to be head of the entire Church. Even then, his claim is quickly refuted by men like Cyprian. In the latter half of the fourth century, Jerome refers to Peter as “Peter upon whom the Church was founded,” but John Chrysostom, Bishop of Constantinople and Jerome’s contemporary, states that the “rock” of Matthew 16:18 is the faith of Peter’s confession, not Peter himself. Doubtless, the Lord’s words also contain some reference to the men who will become His Apostles and founders of His Church, but they in no way establish a pope, or subjugate the other Apostles to Peter.
The keys to the Kingdom are two. First is the Gospel of Christ, second is Biblical faith. These alone open the door of the Kingdom to any person. The authority to bind and loose is the authority to preach the Gospel and proclaim that those who believe it are loosed from their sins, while those who reject it remain bound in their sins. This authority is delegated, rather than personal authority. It is given to the Apostles as ambassadors of Christ.
Verses 22-28 show Jesus telling the disciples about His forthcoming death. It is interesting that Peter now is called Satan and an offense to Christ. This is because he insists on telling Jesus how to be the Messiah. He is instructing God how to be God. Christ uses this to instruct His followers how to be disciples. They must take up their crosses and follow Him. The world, which they wanted Him to give to them in a miraculous display of Messianic power, is worthless in comparison to their souls. And it is the life of the soul Jesus came to give, not the life of worldly indulgence.
Seeing “the Son of man coming in his Kingdom” (28) refers to the beginning of the New Testament Church. It is the era of fulfillment leading to, and including, the Return of Christ to reward every man according to his works. Some of the disciples, though not Judas Iscariot, will live to see the inauguration of that Kingdom.
Six days after Peter’s statement about Christ, our Lord leads him, along with James and John, to the top of a high mountain. There the veil of flesh is partly removed, and they are allowed to see the Lord “transfigured before them: and his face did shine as the sun, and his raiment was white as the light.”
It is worth noting that the transfiguration reveals a small part of Christ’s own glory. As the sun gives light, rather than reflects it, Christ’s glory shines from His face and raiment. The significance is that the One standing before the three men is the source of glory and power, not a reflection or apparition of it. He does not reflect the glory of God, He possesses the glory of God.
Moses and Elijah confirm this. There to honour Him as God, Moses, the great lawgiver, and Elijah, the great prophet, are symbolic of the Law and the Prophets. What are they doing on the mount? They are talking with Jesus, talking about “his decease which he should accomplish at Jerusalem” (Lk.9:31). They speak with Christ about what the Law and the Prophets could never do, but what they point to and wait for, the atonement for sin through the cross of Christ. Their presence signifies their inferiority to Christ. They represent the Law and the Prophets, which testify of Him. He is come to fulfill the Law and the Prophets by His death and resurrection.
The confusion of the disciples is understandable, under the circumstances. They think they are honouring Christ with Peter’s offer to build three tabernacles. In reality they are giving Moses and Elijah equality with Christ. Thus the voice from Heaven in verse 5 identifies Jesus as far, far above even Moses and Elijah. Moses and Elijah are great gifts of God to humanity. Through the Law comes the knowledge of God’s will, and the knowledge of our sin. Through the prophets comes the hope of a Redeemer, a “Lamb of God which taketh away the sins of the world.” Yet, Moses and Elijah are mere men. Christ is God. He is the Law Maker. He is the Redeemer. He is the Son of God. This revelation is followed by the commandment, “hear ye him.” As you have sought the law and prophets for the ways of God and the guide for life and salvation, now “hear ye him.” It will be helpful to read Hebrews 1:1-3, and Hebrews 3:1-6 in conjunction with this passage.
Coming down from the mountain, Peter, James and John immediately see a multitude gathered around the other disciples, who are unsuccessfully attempting to cast out a demon. Jesus quickly and easily dispatches the demon and rebukes the disciples, saying it is their lack of faith that prevents them from casting it out. Their lack of faith is shown by their lack of prayer and fasting, for Christ Himself says that kind of demon is only cast out by prayer and fasting.
Our Lord is not invoking prayer and fasting as magic charms or spells to manipulate demons or God. He is pointing out that the disciples do not have the faith to be faithful in the small things of prayer and fasting, thus, they should not expect to be able to do the great things.
The same kind of thing continues to happen today. Christians neglect what we consider the small and mundane things, like prayer, and fasting, and seeking God in the Scriptures, and worshiping God in a Biblical church. We crave the mountain top experiences rather than the daily routine of faithfulness. Therefore, we are weak when we face the demons. Should we be surprised at this?
It is the same with what some call “serving God.” People want euphoric feelings, admiration, and high profile positions in the local church. They don’t want the daily routine of changing diapers, mowing lawns, taking out the trash, and doing the things required of a being a Godly person in the home and at work. How can we expect to accomplish great things if we will not be faithful in small things?
Our Lord’s teaching here answers the question, who is the greatest? The unspoken meaning of the question can be stated simply; “I want to be the greatest.” In more contemporary terms we might say, “I want my greatness to be recognized in the Church. I want my giving, my knowledge, my wisdom, and my talents to bring honour to me, especially from those who are younger and weaker in the faith (meaning, everyone).” But Jesus turns greatness around. In His Kingdom greatness is not measured by accomplishments and fame. In His Kingdom greatness is measured by service, and the lowliest servant is greater than the mightiest warrior. In His Kingdom greatness is measured by dependence and trust, not by independence and accomplishments. A little child is completely dependent. It cannot provide for itself, feed itself, or defend itself from the elements or enemies. Yet Christ tells us to become like a little child in His Kingdom. This means we do not claim great status in the Kingdom of God. We do not even claim to have any right to be in it. We come to it more dependent upon God than a child is upon his parents. In the ultimate sense, we cannot really give anything to God or contribute anything to His Kingdom. We can only receive, like a child.
Lest we think we are great in the Kingdom, Christ reminds us to not only receive it as a child receives the necessities of life from his parents, but also to be careful not to harm those we view as little ones in the Kingdom (6). It is common for those who believe they are mature in the faith to deal roughly with those of smaller, newer, weaker faith. It is as though we forget that it took time and much help to bring us to our level of maturity, which is usually not as great in reality as it is in our imaginations. It is as though we forget our many failures and lapses, and the sinfulness that even now clings to us.
Thus, Christ reminds us to deal gently with others. This is so important He tells us to drown ourselves in the sea, cut off our hands and feet, and pluck out our eyes, if through them we cause offense to the weak. It is better to enter Heaven halt, maimed, and blind, than to be cast whole into hell fire.
There seems to be an implication here that if we are not able to be gentle to those we consider weaker in faith, then we are not really in Christ. Something is preventing us from coming to Him in genuine faith, and it will be good for us to expunge it from our lives rather than cling to it and suffer in hell. That something is not really a hand, or foot, or eye, and our Lord is not literally telling us to cut them off. None of us would have any left. It is pride that our Lord speaks of. It is self-righteousness. It is the self-deceit that convinces us we are great in the Kingdom of Heaven. Pride, self-righteousness, and self-deceit are what we must cut away if we are to return to Christ as a needy child.
This truth is illustrated by the story of the Shepherd and the sheep in the wilderness. Do we think we are valuable to God? He will leave us to go into the mountains for one of these little, weak ones gone astray. That’s how much He values the small and weak.
The Church is much more than a group of people. It is the Body of Christ, and every member of it is a member of Christ and a member of one another. Our relationship to, and dependence upon each other is much closer and deeper than that of the members of our own physical bodies. For just as our bodies are one, organic being, we who are in Christ are no longer just individuals, we are one, organic, spiritual body, animated by the Spirit and living with and under the direction of Christ, our head. A drop of water may exist in isolation, but pour it into a lake and it is no longer a drop. Its nature and identity has been transformed. It is no longer Drop, it is Lake. Likewise, the Christian is no longer Individual, he is Body. Understanding this spiritual and organic unity of the Church is critical to understanding the words of Christ in Matthew 18, and, indeed, all of Scripture. As with the first 14 verses of this chapter, verses15-35 are about Christ’s people functioning together as the Body of Christ. It is about us having one identity, one Spirit, one Mind, and functioning together as one. We could put it this way; the Church is the body of the Redeemed, therefore the Redeemed must act as the Body. There is no Biblical warrant for independent churches or independent believers. All are part of the one Body.
With that in mind we turn to Christ’s teaching on dealing with a member who trespasses against the Body. The Greek word for “trespass” is very graphic. It means to “sin into you” and it shows we are not talking here about small and silly things. We are talking about things that cause real harm. We are talking about gross immorality, mean and ill intentioned actions and remarks, and serious doctrinal error with no intention of correction or repentance. Such a member must be lovingly dealt with for his good, and the good of the Body.
The first step in this is to personally meet with the person, honestly sharing your own concerns, and openly listening to his. You may find out you were mistaken. You may even find yourself needing to ask forgiveness. If no agreement is reached, and the matter still appears to be worthy of further action, you return to the person, with one or two neutral members of the Body, re-state your concern, and re-hear his. If no agreement is reached, the matter goes to the Church. This means you bring it to the minister for help. If the person is found to be in error, serious error, and unrepentant, and if he continues in this condition, he is to be considered as belonging to the world instead of the Body. The point is that those who are part of the Body will seriously view and conduct themselves as such. Those who do not are showing that they are indeed not part of the Body, and cannot be regarded as such by the Church.
The binding, loosing, and agreement in verses 18 and 19 refer to the judgment of the Church. They mean that the judgment of the Church, if in agreement with the facts of the case, and if in agreement with the teachings of Scripture, pronounce God’s judgment on the case. This does not mean God simply affirms the Church’s judgment, for the pronouncements of mere men do not bind God. It means the Church has affirmed God’s judgment as reveled in Scripture. The Church, obeying Scripture, has pronounced what God has bound or loosed.
Seventy times seven is considered an enormous number by the disciples. Seven, representing perfection, probably meant to Peter that he has taken enough offenses from a person and is free to withhold further forgiveness. Christ does not agree, and the seventy times seven probably refers to a never ending river of forgiveness intended to flow out of the heart of the Redeemed. It is perfection times perfection times ten.
The parable of the unjust servant is meant to illustrate this. The servant has been offered forgiveness, but will not forgive others. He represents a person claiming to be a part of the Body, who wants God to forgive his sins, but does not want to forgive others for their offenses against him. In this way he shows that he is really not part of the Body, and, unless he repents, God will deliver him to the prison of hell, where he will pay all that is due for his sin. This meaning is made clear in verse 35, “So likewise shall my heavenly Father do also unto you, if ye from your hearts forgive not everyone his brother their trespasses.”
The Pharisees continue their opposition to Christ.. Part of their plan is to kill Him; part of their plan is to discredit Him. Of course, discrediting comes first, for that will turn the crowds against Him, and give the Pharisees the pretext of having Him executed for heresy and blasphemy. So they attempt to make Him alienate the people by asking Him about divorce. Then, as now, people were self-centered, and had a difficult time making themselves love their spouses after the first excitement of hormones wore off. So divorce was common, and people went from marriage to marriage. If Jesus speaks against it, He will certainly alienate many people. If He does not speak against it He will be guilty of breaking the teachings of Scripture.
Undeterred, our Lord gives the truth about marriage; one man and one woman for life. That is God’s view of marriage, and it is as immutable as God Himself. Furthermore, He declares that marrying a divorced woman is adultery. In other words, in God’s eyes, she is still married to her first husband. The same is true of a divorced man, though our Lord deals here only with the woman due to the nature of the question He is answering.
There are circumstances that make divorce allowable, though not required. Christ here mentions fornication. That frees the spouse from the marriage.
Jesus blessing the children teaches an important lesson; children are never too young to learn of the Saviour’s love, never too young to learn to love and worship Him, never too young to be counted as part of the family of God. “Suffer little children” means to allow them to come to Jesus.
Verses16-22 record the story of a young man who is called a ruler in Luke 18:18. He is probably a member of the Sanhedrin, which directs the practice of Jewish faith during the time of Christ. Nicodemus is a member of that body, and is called a ruler of the Jews in John 3:1. It would be natural for such people to seek out Jesus at this point in Matthew, for He is teaching and ministering on the east side of the Jordan River, very near Judea and Jerusalem. Though a Pharisee, the young ruler does not seem to oppose Jesus, yet he has the Pharisaical self-righteous attitude about him, and his words could be viewed as a challenge to Jesus.
Jesus’ words in verse 17, “there is none good but one; that is, God,” are a direct challenge to the Pharisaical view of righteousness by law keeping. Yet the man states boldly, “All these things have I kept from my youth up.” So Jesus shows him that his perceived righteousness is imaginary. The true test of righteousness is what Jesus calls the first and great commandment, to love God with all thy heart, soul, and mind. But this man loves his wealth and possessions far more than he loves God. Thus, when told to sell all “he went away sorrowful” (22). Thus the man is shown to be a sinner after all, for he loves his possessions and comforts more than he loves God.
Verses 23-26 reveal the stronghold earthly possessions often have over people. The rich young ruler probably considers them proof of God’s acceptance of him. But Jesus says they are heavy burdens that literally keep people from entering the Kingdom of God. Like this man, we are prone to value our possessions over God.
It seems to Peter, then, that no one can be saved, and Christ makes the very profound statement, “With men this is impossible; but with God all things are possible.” In other words, it is impossible for any of us to save ourselves. Not only can we not atone for our sins, but we cannot make ourselves want to love God more than our possessions or ourselves. Only God can save us. Only God can change our hearts and cause us to seek Him in Biblical faith. The reassurance Christ gives to the disciples is that they will be saved. They have given up family, home, possessions, and all else to follow Jesus. Their faith is in Him. And Jesus promises that He will give them eternal life (25-30).
Chapter 20 continues the discourse between Christ and the disciples begun after the departure of the rich young ruler in 19:22 Our Lord is still on the east side of the Jordan, but close enough to Judea to make excursions into it, and for the Judean people to come to Him. And they do come to Him. 19:2 tells us great multitudes followed Him, and 19:3 says Pharisees also came attempting to trick and discredit (tempting) Him.
In this parable the Householder is God. The vineyard is the Kingdom of God, which on earth is Israel in the Old Testament, and the Church in the New Testament. The “work” is believing in Christ through Biblical faith. Heaven, grace, and all the things we often express in the word. “salvation,” are symbolised as payment to the workers, though we all understand salvation is given to us as the free gift of God, not earned by our works. That is precisely the point Christ is making in the parable. The Householder, God, doesn’t owe these men jobs, and God doesn’t need us to work His vineyard. He allows us in because He is merciful. So, those who come to the vineyard at the first call are receiving God’s grace, just as much as those who come at the eleventh hour. Beyond this, the parable has two primary meanings.
First, most of the Pharisees and Jewish religious leaders will not enter the Kingdom of Heaven. They consider themselves to be those who come to the vineyard at the first call. In their minds, they have worked hard and faithfully in the vineyard all of their lives. Therefore, they have earned all the blessings God can give them. But Jesus is saying something is lacking in their service. Most of them aren’t even in the right vineyard, as our Lord will make clear by pronouncing the woes on the Pharisees in Mathew 23. But, even if some of them are in the right vineyard, and even if some are are working hard, their work doesn’t count because they are doing the wrong work. They are doing things they believe will earn a place for themselves in the Kingdom of Heaven. In other words, they are trying to save themselves by their works. But their labours are in vain. Why? Because they are sinners, just like the rest of us, and the only way sinners can have any of the good things of God is if God, somehow atones for our sins and gives us His blessings as the free gifts of His grace. Those, who, like most of the Pharisees, trust their good works, rather than the grace of God, will be found missing the mark on Judgment Day. In other words, they will not measure up to God’s standard of perfect holiness, therefore they will have no place in Heaven.
Second, full salvation is given to all who have true, Biblical faith. You do not have to be first in the vineyard, as the Pharisees considered themselves to be. Even the last one to come to the vineyard will receive the full grace and pardon of Christ. Even the last to come to Christ will receive the Spirit, the Church, the means of grace, the Bible, and Heaven at last. Why? because salvation is completely and entirely a gift from God, not payment for good works. No matter how long your list of good works may be, it is not enough to earn a place in Heaven, and, it is not significantly longer than anyone else's list. If we think of our good works as gold, and we measure them on the scales of God’s righteousness, none of us has enough gold to register on the scale. It may seem to you that you have much gold, but when it is all placed on the scale, it is no bigger than a speck of dust. But, fear not. God does not give Heaven on the basis of your ability to earn it. He gives it on His ability to earn it for you through the cross of Christ.
Someone you know may be late in life, and still not in the vineyard. Continue to pray for him; there is yet hope. You may be late in life yet not in the vineyard You wonder if God will accept you after your decades of living like a Pharisee, or even like a pagan. The answer is, yes. “Come unto me” Jesus says in Matthew 11:28. “[H]im that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out,” He says in John 6:37. “[W]hosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (Jn 3:16).
This is not an excuse to put off God. You may not live to see tomorrow on this earth. You may be called before the throne of God this very moment. “Today if ye will hear his voice, harden not you hearts” (Heb. 3:15). Be ready, for Jesus may come for you “at an hour when ye think not” (Lk. 11:40).
The religious leaders of Israel have corrupted the Jewish faith so completely it is doubtful that Moses would recognise it. Even Aaron, brother of Moses and first High Priest of Israel, though he would recognise the ritual and liturgy of the Temple, would not recognise the attitude or doctrine of the priests and people. They act and believe as though it is only important that the liturgy be done, not meant. Thus, they allow the Court of the Gentiles to be transformed from a place for Gentiles to pray and seek God, to a place for Jews to buy and sell animals for the sacrifices. It is probable that the chief priests and Pharisees receive a comfortable fee from the vendors, for the Temple court is bound to be a lucrative business location, for which the vendors would pay gladly. We can imagine the bribery and scheming involved in getting and giving the choice locations.
So, rather than being a quiet place where Gentiles can pray and talk to the priests about the faith, the Court of the Gentiles has become a noisy, smelly market and den of thieves. This says something important about Israel. She has lost her vision. She has lost her understanding of her calling, and of the purpose of God in calling her. She thinks her calling is only to offer the sacrifices and receive blessings, rather than to love God. She thinks God wants only the actions, not the actions and the heart.
Jesus, like the prophets before Him, considers this a distortion of the very essence of Israel, and a heretical perversion of the true nature and purpose of God. The religious leaders realise the wide gulf between their views and the views of Jesus. They know He wants to take them back to the original meaning of the Old Testament, the sacrifices, and the liturgies of the Temple and Synagogue. To allow that would ruin the priests and Pharisees financially and socially, and it would require them to become Biblical believers and servants of God, rather than mammon. For them facing Jesus is like facing a choice. Will they choose to remain in their sin, or will they choose Christ? They choose sin. Consequently, they oppose Christ at every opportunity. They argue with Him. They attempt to justify their actions and views, and discredit His. They form a conspiracy to murder Him, and, in a few short days they will put Christ in His grave.
In Matthew 21 Jesus enters Jerusalem as the Messiah coming to His people. He comes to judge and set right the leaders and the people. He comes as the Son of David ascending His throne and receiving the adoration of His people. Yet He goes not to the palace, but to the Temple where He casts out the vendors and moneychangers. He does not stop or condemn the lawful sacrifices and liturgies of the Temple. He does show their true purpose, which is to express the faith and love of the people, and to proclaim the grace and promises of God. He even spends some time teaching and healing in the Temple, so that, once again it becomes a place where the Word of God is proclaimed and souls are healed. But the chief priests, scribes, Pharisees, and religious leaders, are “sore displeased” (16). Christ’s entrance into Jerusalem happens on the Sunday before Passover. By Friday evening the rulers of the Jews will have accomplished their goal: Jesus will be dead.
The village of Bethany is an easy walk from the city of Jerusalem. Our Lord returns to it Sunday night. He probably spends the night sleeping on the ground on the Mount of Olives (Lk. 21:37). Walking back to Jerusalem on Monday, probably without breakfast, He seeks fruit from a fig tree, but the tree has no fruit. It is very much like Israel at that time, like the priests and the Pharisees and the Temple and the Synagogues. Their abundant people and activity make them look vibrant and healthy, but they bear no fruit of holiness. In a similar manner, many contemporary denominations, churches, and lives are filled with religious activity, but bear no fruit of holiness, love, obedience, or Biblical wisdom. On the outside they appear to honour God, but on the inside they are far away from Him. Their religious activity makes no difference in their social, business, or home lives. They do not become “Christ-like,” they simply remain in the same ungodly ideas and lifestyles that characterise the unbelievers around them.
The disciples “marvelled, saying, “How soon is the fig tree withered away!” Israel, too, will soon wither. Even the Holy City will fall to the very Romans the Pharisees convince to kill Jesus. Matthew 24 and 25 give our Lord’s prediction of this event. Revelation 5-11 gives a fuller account.
The primary point in the second half of chapter 21 is the question of authority (23-32). Jesus returns to the Temple, to be met by an angry and confrontational crowd of religious leaders, who, in verse 23, demand, “By what authority doest thou these things?” They probably refer to His driving the moneychangers and vendors out of the Temple, but their question could encompass the whole of Christ’s ministry. It is significant that they do not question that He has healed the sick, raised the dead, correctly interpreted Scripture, and cleared the Temple of its ring of thieves. Their question is, where does He get the authority to do these things?
Jesus refers them back to John the Baptist. Was his baptism, meaning his authority to preach and baptize, from Heaven (God) or man? Remember that when John was in prison he sent messengers to Jesus asking Him if He was the Messiah or not (Mt. 11:2-6). Jesus’ reply was that He does that which the Messiah does. Through His ministry the spiritually blind see God. The spiritually lame walk with God. The spiritually unclean are restored to God. The spiritually poor have the Gospel preached to them. Jesus considered that enough to convince John. And if it was enough to convince one who was soon to give his life for Christ, it should certainly be enough to convince the scholars and wise men and religious leaders of Israel. But it is not.
So Jesus tells two parables, which His opponents quickly see are about them (45). The son who repents and goes to work in the vineyard represents those who have openly failed to seek God, and those who outwardly seem to seek God, but in reality do not. This son, repents, signifying that these people realize their sin and turn to God in true faith. The second son says he will work, but does not. He represents the religious leaders who say they are living for God, but are really not. Nor do they repent. They remain in their disobedience. Thus Jesus makes His point in verse 31: publicans and harlots who repent will go into the Kingdom of Heaven, but the unrepentant, no matter how religious, will not.
This passage records two attempts entangle our Lord in His talk. The attempts are part of the religious leaders’ plan to destroy Jesus. They hope to make Him say something that will cause the people to turn away from Him. Once the people leave Him, He will be easy to kill, and they, so they think, will be rid of their problem.
The flattery of verse 16 is meant to put Christ off guard, but does not fool Him for a moment. The question is meant to make the people believe He is not the Messiah. The popular view of the Messiah is that of a warrior king, who, filled with power from God, will lead the people of Israel into a war that will crush the Romans and Gentiles, and establish Israel as the capitol of the world, with all Gentile nations subservient to her. If Jesus says it is right to give tribute (taxes) to Caesar, the people will think He is not the Messiah, and will abandon Him. If He says it is not right, they will brand Him as an enemy of Rome, and possibly convince the Romans to kill Him. He spoils their plans with His words in verse 21; “Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things which are God’s.”
Next, the Saducees attempt to trick Christ. These men are the chief priests, and do not believe in any form of resurrection. Their question, regarding the woman’s marital status in the resurrection, is intended to confuse Christ and make the people laugh at Him. In their minds, He will have to say the woman will be married to one of the men in Heaven. No matter which one He says, they can confound Him with reasons why she might be married to another. If He does not know the answer to their question, He must not be the Messiah, so the people will leave Him and they can kill Him.
Again, He easily spoils their plan. In the resurrection people are not married. All of the ties of kinship are different in Heaven. Our relationships with one another will be similar to the relationship of angels to other angels.
He pointedly shows the reality of the resurrection, saying God is God of the living, not the dead. If He is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, then they live even though they have died, and their bodies will be raised in the resurrection.
Hearing the questions and the answers of Christ, the people are more convinced than ever that He is the Messiah. They are astonished, meaning, surprised, overwhelmed, and awed, by His doctrine. They go away with greater respect for Him.
In verses 34-40 a lawyer continues the barrage of questions designed to trick Jesus. He is not a lawyer as we think of them today. He is a theologian who specializes in the massive body of regulations which had largely replaced the Scriptures as the rule of life in Israel. Again, no matter which single law Jesus chooses the theologian can offer many arguments against it and for others. But Christ dismisses the man-made regulations and goes straight to the words of Scripture. The first commandment, to love God, summarises the first four of what we know as the Ten Commandments. The second commandment to love one’s neighbor as one’s self summarises the meaning of the next six of the Ten Commandments. Together, they express the true meaning and purpose of all the commandments and all the words of the prophets. This is what all the law and all the messages of the prophets are about. The lawyer cannot argue with that.
In verses 41-46, Jesus asks a question. The religious leaders have tried to confound and discredit him. Now He will confound and discredit them. He asks them one question in two parts. The first part, “What think ye of Christ?” has captured the imagination of preachers and commentators since the day Christ spoke the words. But it is actually the second part that is the essence of the question; “whose son is he.” Jesus asks this question knowing the Pharisees will answer as they do in verse 42, “The son of David.” And, according to the flesh, that is the correct answer. The Messiah was to be a descendant of David. That’s why Matthew goes to such great lengths to trace Jesus’ lineage back to David in chapter 1, and to call Him the son of David in the very first verse of his Gospel. Son of David is a Messianic title. That is why the blind men called Jesus by that name near Jericho (Mt. 20:30).
Jesus catches the Pharisees and scribes in His trap easily. If Christ is David’s son, why does David refer to Him as his Lord in Psalm 110:1? Jesus is making an important point about the Messiah; He is David’s Lord, meaning, God. If this is true, the Messiah is not the son of David in the same way Solomon was. Whose son is He then? He is the Son of God.
This ends the questions and the verbal traps being set for Jesus. The religious rulers find Him more adept at logic than they, and more knowledgeable of Scripture than they. Rather than confounding Him, He has confounded them (vs. 46).
“Then spake Jesus unto the multitude, and to his disciples.” Having confounded the religious leaders, Jesus addresses the people gathered around Him in the Temple. The multitude includes people who have come to Jerusalem for Passover, His disciples, and the religious leaders. There has always been some question about the exact nature of the status and ministry of the Pharisees. Therefore, we don’t know exactly what our Lord meant when He said they “sit in Moses’ seat” (2). But, whatever their position may be, Jesus tells the people that, if what they say is in accordance with the teaching of Scripture, do it. He also warns people not to take the scribes and Pharisees as role models; “do ye not after their works” (3). The reason for this warning is that their words do not match their actions: “they say, and do not.”
“[H]heavy burdens and grievous to be borne” (4) refers to the Pharisees’ extensive regulations and traditions, which they want people to follow in place of the law of God. Christ says the Pharisees are happy to lay these regulations on the people, but offer no help in keeping them, nor do they keep them themselves. Yet they love to be considered intensely stringent law keepers. Phylacteries (5) are fringes or pockets in their apparel containing verses of Scripture or passages from their books of regulations. They like to make these pockets very large and very visible to other Jews to make it appear that they are completely faithful and diligent about keeping them. They also love the respect their apparent dedication to the law garners from the rest of the Jews. They are like people who prominently display large Bibles in their homes, but never read them or intend to live by Biblical teachings. The Pharisees love to be given preference in social arrangements and in the synagogues, and they love to be called “teacher” and “father” by the Jews.
Our Lord warns the people, many of whom are and will be His people in the New Testament Church, not to follow their example. He is especially talking to His disciples when He says “be not ye called Rabbi (8), and “call no man your father upon earth” (9). The reason for this is that Christ is their Master, or, Teacher (Rabbi), and God is their Father. This does not mean no titles are used in the Church. It does mean all Christians are brothers in Christ, and are equally servants of God and one another (11). Titles in the Church, therefore, are more like job descriptions than ascriptions of honour, and no man should assume or accept titles that belong to God.
In verse 13 our Lord begins to address the Pharisees again. His words are scalding pronouncements of Divine wrath upon them. Their woes will be the deepest of sorrows, the kind that can only be known by those under God’s wrath in eternity. This woe will be known by these Pharisees in spite of their loud profession of righteousness and Godliness.
The first woe is found in verse 13. Here Christ says the Pharisees tell others they are not in the Kingdom of Heaven because they do not keep the Pharisees’ regulations. But, according to Jesus, it is the Pharisees who are not in the Kingdom. They may attempt to shut others out, but they are not going in themselves.
The second woe is in verse 14. Jesus says they “devour widows’ houses,” yet make long prayers. In other words, though they make long prayers and seem to be deeply devout, they plot evil against the innocent. They will swindle a widow out of her home and possessions, and leave her without shelter to face starvation and death. Then they make long prayers to show how Godly they are. Jesus does not call them Godly. He calls them hypocrites.
Woe three is in verse 15. Here Jesus says people who convert to the Pharisees’ way of thinking are being converted to hell. Amazing! There are actually people trying to win you to their religion, but their religion will take you to hell. The Bible has many warnings about following false teachers and false Gospels, yet they abound today.
Woe four, in verses 16-22, calls the Pharisees “blind guides” (16) because they miss the law of God and follow their own foolish regulations. Jesus uses the example of their false distinction between swearing (making a promise) by the Temple and swearing by the gold in the Temple. The Pharisees say that if you make a promise, saying something like, “I swear by the Temple,” the promise means nothing. But if you swear by the gold in the Temple the promise is binding. Jesus’ point is that their distinction is wrong. After all, the Temple is greater than the gold. More importantly, to swear by the Temple, altar, or anything in it is to swear by God.
Part of what Jesus is condemning is deception, or, false swearing. The Pharisees’ promises are like those of a child promising to do something while crossing his fingers, as though the crossed fingers make his promise invalid. In reality he promises to do something, but his promise is a lie.
Woe five is in verse 23. Here Christ condemns the Pharisees for being meticulous in the small things while ignoring the big things. He does not say the small things are unimportant. He simply means that doing them while neglecting the bigger things is foolish and hypocritical. It is like a man who prays every night, but cheats widows during the day in business.
Verse 24 is still part of the fifth woe which began in verse 23. It completes the point that the Pharisees’ concern with small matters makes them blind to great matters. Here, however, our Lord seems to make the small points of God’s law a matter of difficulty. They strain at them, like someone trying to get a gnat out of his mouth. Yet they have no problem with the massive code of rabbinic regulations. Compared to the small points of God’s law, which gives them so much trouble, their own regulations are like a camel. But, though they strain at the gnat, they gladly swallow the camel.
Woe six is found in verses 25 and 26. It concerns the Pharisees’ excessive worries about appearing outwardly pure, while remaining impure on the inside. They would, for example, never think of not washing their hands before eating, according to their standard ceremony (Lk. 11:37-42). Yet their hearts are filled with plans for extortion and excessive self indulgence. Christ says they (and we) should be much more concerned about being clean on the inside. We should desire hands that are spiritually clean.
Woe seven, in verses 27 and 28, continues the same idea of pursuing real, inward purity rather than a false outward appearance of purity. For this reason it is often considered as part of the sixth woe. This would reduce the number of woes from eight to seven, making for the seven woes against the Pharisees. Whether there are seven woes or eight really does not matter. What does matter is that the Pharisees appear righteous to other people, but their hearts are full of hypocrisy.
Woe eight, verses 29-35 demolishes a favourite pretense of the Pharisees. They love to say they would have been faithful in times when their forefathers forsook God. They say they would not have killed the prophets, they would have stood with them for the truth of God (30). Many today say they would have stood with Christ, the Apostles, and the martyrs, if they had lived during those times. Maybe so, but perhaps we should ask for faith sufficient for life today, rather than boast about how great our faith would have been then.
Jesus counters this with two points. First He says this is an admission that they are “children of them which killed the prophets.” Second, He says they will continue the very same sin. They will persecute the prophets and wise men and scribes Christ will send to them with His Gospel. They will kill and crucify them; scourge them in their synagogues, and persecute them from city to city (34). He even reminds them of a man named Zacharias, slain near the altar of the Temple. We know they crucified Christ. We also know they followed Christians from city to city, hunting them down for the “crime” of believing in Christ. Many died horrible deaths for Christ, literally fulfilling His words to the Pharisees.
Verse 35 marks a turning point in this confrontation. Here Christ begins to include all of Jerusalem in the sins of the Pharisees. He is saying the entire Jerusalem religious machine is corrupt. Outward show has replaced inward Godliness. Therefore, “all these things will come upon this generation” (36).
There is no joy in Christ’s remarks. He speaks with a broken heart. “[H]ow often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings” (37). Under their mother’s wings is the safest place a chick can be. Any danger or predator will get the mother hen first. Jesus would gladly take the danger and the wrath of God for Jerusalem. He would have the people come to Him, but they would not. They persist in their sin. Therefore, He says, “your house is left unto you desolate.” He means first, they will be left in their desolate, empty corruption of the word of God, and in that corruption, they will die. Second, He refers to the coming destruction of Jerusalem. He will give more details about this in chapter 24.
Verse 39 does not refer to seeing Christ with their eyes. It refers to seeing Him in faith. Obviously the Pharisees continue to see Him with their eyes as the week continues. They see Him before Pilate, see Him on the cross, see His lifeless body removed from the cross, and probably see it laid in the tomb. But most of them will never see Him in faith. Some will, but most will die in their sins and remain under His wrath forever. Let us ensure that we see Him in faith, lest we also hear Him say, “Woe unto you.”
Having completed His denunciation of the self-righteous religion of the Pharisees, our Lord leaves the Temple heading for Bethany and the Mount of Olives. His disciples have just heard some of the most astonishing words they have ever heard Him speak. Jerusalem, desolate? It cannot be. So, passing through the Temple, they venture to call the Lord’s attention to the beauty of the building. Jesus is unimpressed. The Temple and its sacrifices are symbols of His one great sacrifice on the cross. But the Temple organisation has become a self perpetuating sheep selling business with very little regard for the real meaning of the sacrifices. Jesus says to the disciples, “There shall not be left here one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down” (2).
The disciples are even more shocked at these words. Is Jesus actually saying the Temple will be destroyed? This is the House of God. If the Temple is destroyed, where will the sacrifices be made? If the Temple falls, they surmise, the current age of history will end with it. They keep silent until they reach the Mount of Olives. There they ask, “when shall these things be? And what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world?” (3).
It is important to understand the disciples’ question. They are not asking about the Second Coming, nor are they asking about a “rapture” of the Church. They do not even know there is going to be a Second Coming of Christ, and they have no concept of a “rapture.” They still think Christ has come to drive the Romans out and give the world to Israel. Their question is about how they will know when He is going back to Jerusalem to begin the war with Rome. They seem to think the fall of the Temple has something to do with that war. Nor are they asking about the end of planet earth. The Greek word translated, “world” in verse 3 actually means “age.” They are asking when the current age of Roman/Gentile domination will end, and the new age, or the new “world” of Jewish domination will begin. These are the issues that trouble them, and they are the issues Christ addresses in the following verses.
He warns them against false Messiahs (5). Many will come claiming to be the Messiah and urging the people to take up arms against the Romans, and other enemies down through history. Don’t follow them. Wars and rumours of wars (6) means the disciples will hear of uprisings and revolts against Rome, led by men claiming to be the Messiah. They are not to be troubled by such reports, nor are they to join the revolts. These things will happen, but the end of the age is not yet. In other words, such wars are not signs of the end, they are just wars.
Nor are the wars limited to Israel. “For nation shall rise up against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in diverse places” (8). These are not signs of anything except the fallenness of man and the natural course of history in a world that is infected with sin. They are the “beginning of sorrows,” not the end.
There will be persecution, and hate will be poured out on those who follow Christ (9-10). Family members who are not Christians will turn against relatives who are. False prophets will arise and deceive many (11). Some “Christians” will leave the faith, and only those who persevere in it will be saved (13). But even these things are not signs of the end of the age of Gentile domination. When the Gospel is preached in all the world and unto all nations, “then shall the end come” (14). “All the world” and “all nations” are popular terms used to describe the Roman Empire, and that is the Lord’s meaning here. The Gospel will be preached to the Jews first, but many of them will reject Christ and persecute the Christians with torture and death When the Jews have heard and rejected the Gospel, the Lord will allow Jerusalem to be attacked and conquered, and the Temple to be destroyed.
Our Lord uses the destruction of Jerusalem by Antiochus Epiphanes, written about in Daniel 9, as a warning to the Jews of His time. Antiochus conquered Jerusalem and offered a pig on the altar of the Holy of Holies. Christ is saying that when the disciples see the Romans preparing to attack and desolate Jerusalem, as the Greeks did under Antiochus, they are to leave the city (see Mt. 23:38, “your house is left unto you desolate). The danger is so great they should not even stop to gather belongings (17-18). The flight will be especially hard on women and children (19), and they are to pray that it will not happen in winter or on a Sabbath (20). The tribulation of verse 21 is not a period of intense trouble after the “rapture.” It is the trouble experienced in Jerusalem during the time of the siege and conquest of Jerusalem. This occurred in 70 A.D.
Our Lord again warns against false christs and prophets claiming to be sent from God to fight the Romans. The disciples are not to believe their reports. When Christ returns, it will be in a way they do not understand yet. He will not come as a man to fight the Romans; He will come as God to judge the world. He will not return to a secret place in the desert. He will come as the lightning flashing across the sky (27). Everyone will see Him.
Verse 28 is another reference to the devastation of Jerusalem, One of the Roman symbols was an eagle. When our Lord says, “wheresoever the carrion is, there will the eagles be gathered together,” He is saying Jerusalem is spiritual carrion and the Roman eagles will devour it.
Before we attempt to discern the meaning of verses 29-41, let us look at two landmark verses within it. First is verse 29, “Immediately after the tribulation of those days.” Second is verse 34, “this generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled.” From these verses we learn two things. First, whatever our Lord is speaking about in these verses will happen immediately after the tribulation He has just described in verses1-28. Since that tribulation describes the Roman conquest of Jerusalem in A.D. 70, the events of verses 29-41 follow immediately after. Jerusalem’s fall. Second, the generation of the Apostles will not pass (die) until all these things be fulfilled. This means the darkening of the sun and moon, stars falling from heaven, and the Lord’s coming in the clouds happens before the Apostles’ generation dies.
Obviously, then, these events are not about the Second Coming, and they are certainly not about the “rapture.” Remember, the Apostles didn’t even know there will be a Second Coming. What, then is described in these verses, especially in verses 29-30? Fortunately, the Bible explains its own symbolism here. Isaiah 19:1 describes the Lord coming to judge Egypt, riding “upon a swift cloud.” Revelation 1:7, “Behold, he cometh with clouds; and every eye shall see him,” refers to Christ coming in judgment to Israel and Rome. Revelation 1:7 is particularly relevant to Matthew 24, because both passages report the same event. In Revelation 1:7, the coming of Christ is a spiritual coming to judge Israel and Rome, just as His coming in the clouds in Isaiah 19:1 was a spiritual coming to judge Egypt. Coming in the clouds, then, is not a reference to the Second Coming. It refers to Christ spiritually coming to judge Jerusalem by means of the Roman army.
Verse 31 refers specifically to the advance of the Gospel in the world. The spiritual coming of Christ in judgement does not end with Rome. It continues as long as the world exists in this present age. Christ continuously comes in the clouds to judge His, and His people’s enemies. The primary means of this judgement is the preaching of the Gospel. Through the Gospel, Christ judges people by distinguishing between those who belong to Christ through faith, and those who do not. Certainly the angels gathering God’s elect from the earth is accomplished through the preaching of the Gospel.
The time of the Roman advance on Jerusalem is not revealed by Christ (36), and it will catch most people unaware, as the Flood did in the days of Noe (Noah). Two in the field (40) refers to one taken in the battle and one escaping, as does the two women of verse 41. The ones who escape are the ones who heed the Lord’s warning to leave Jerusalem as the Roman army approaches, just as those who heed to Gospel will be ready for Christ’s return.
We are still looking at Christ’s words to His disciples on the Mount of Olives given on the Tuesday before Good Friday. Time is short for Christ, and He wants His disciples to be as prepared as possible for the coming events. We recall that this discourse began as the answer to the disciples’ question regarding the denunciation of the Pharisees in chapter 23, and His prediction of the destruction of Jerusalem, found in 24:37-39. Even the Temple will be destroyed, according to the Lord’s words (2). The disciples want to know when this will happen and what will be the sign that it is about to begin (3).
Our Lord has patiently answered their question, but they still don’t understand. They will not understand until after Christ returns to the Father and sends the Holy Spirit to them. Only then will they understand who Christ really is, and what His crucifixion and resurrection really accomplished for His people.
The goodman of the house (43) is the one in charge of a house that belongs to another. Christ is telling the Apostles, and other clergy after them, they will have charge of the Saviour’s house, which is the Church. The Apostles will basically reside in Jerusalem until its destruction. They will be responsible for telling the Church when to leave that city to avoid the massive death and destruction the Romans will visit upon it. Since they don’t know when this will happen, they are to “Watch therefore” (42).
Many have noticed that this same counsel applies to the ministers of God’s Church through history. As the Lord’s judgment came upon Jerusalem, it will also come upon all the earth. As the disciples did not know the day or hour when the Lord would “return” to judge Jerusalem, the Church also does not know when He will return to judge the earth. It is the clergy’s task, therefore, to continually watch and warn His people to be constantly ready. Thus, our Lord’s words to the disciples are as relevant to us today as they were to them; “Therefore be ye also ready: for in such an hour as ye think not the Son of Man [Christ] cometh” (44).
Verses 45-51 address the disciples in their new role as Apostles in the New Testament Church. They are to be faithful servants, preaching the Gospel and establishing the Church in the doctrine and practice He gives unto them. His goods (47), therefore are the people, faith, worship, Scriptures, baptism, communion, and all the means by which our Lord call us to Himself and strengthens us in the life of faith. This faithful service and oversight of the Lord’s Church is also required of the bishops and clergy that come after the Apostles. They must keep the Church in the Apostolic/Biblical faith and practice. All Christians in all times and in all places share this responsibility. It is the task and duty of each of us to keep the Church faithful, keep ourselves faithful, and proclaim the faith given to us by Christ through the Apostles and preserved in the Bible. Evil servants, those who do not keep the Apostolic faith and practice, who lead others into sin, who no longer exhort people to believe the Gospel and watch for the coming of our Lord, shall be cut asunder (cut out of the Church) and have their portion with the hypocrites (Pharisees) where “there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth (51).
Our Lord continues to warn the Apostles to watch, but there is a broadening in His focus here. The parable uses the destruction of Jerusalem to illustrate something about the Kingdom of Heaven. The disciples are to watch for it in the same way they are to watch for the attack on Jerusalem.
The parable is very straightforward. Some of the virgins are prepared for the groom’s arrival, some are not. Those who are not are shut out of the wedding, meaning, shut out of the Kingdom of Heaven. The conclusion is the same as the one previously, given, “Watch therefore, for ye know neither the day nor the hour wherein the Son of man cometh.”
Verses 14-30 have been called the parable of the talents, or, the parable of the unprofitable servant. The story is very easy to follow. A man intends to travel to “a far country,” leaving his goods in the care of his faithful servants during his absence. Quite obviously Christ is beginning to talk about things beyond the disciples’ question about the destruction of Jerusalem. Yes, the destruction of Jerusalem is in this parable. Christ, the owner of the house is going away, leaving the care of His “goods” in the hands of the Apostles. It will be their task to teach and guide the Church, and get it out of Jerusalem before the Romans attack. Yet the parable seems to look beyond this, as though Christ is using the judgment of Jerusalem to illustrate a far greater time and event as the Old Testament prophets often did.
Christ is not just going into the desert for a while to pray, as the disciples probably think. He is returning to the right hand of the Father in Heaven. While He is gone, He will leave His “goods” in the care of the Apostles, and the clergy who follow them, until the time of His return. His “goods” are the Church. His goods are the people who trust in Christ as Saviour and love Him as Lord and God. His goods are the Gospel, the Scriptures, and all the means of grace. It is the task of the Apostles to organize the Church into congregations and dioceses, and to teach and ordain clergy to carry on the work of the ministry. It is their task to faithfully teach the Scriptures to the Church, and to share and impart to it all the means of grace.
The talents are great measures of wealth, far beyond what even wealthy people could accumulate in a life-time. Here they represent the Gospel and all the blessings of God on His people. The Apostles are stewards of this wealth (see 1 Cor. 4:1). A major part of the Apostles’ task is to “invest” this wealth in such a way that it brings a return to the Owner. The return is the growth in faith and Godliness in the Church. It is also the addition of souls to the Church as the Apostles spread the Gospel and receive believers into the Church.
The faithful Apostles are those who bring a return to Christ. The faithful ministers are those who continue the faith they learn from the Apostles, and teach it to the succeeding generations. But this is not the domain of clergy alone. It is the task of the entire body, and every member of the Church. Just as a ship has many people doing different jobs, but all are united in the primary task of getting the ship to its port, so the Church has people in different callings and jobs, but all are united in the task of being the Church and proclaiming the Gospel.
The unfaithful servant probably refers first to Judas the betrayer of Christ. He will renounce his Apostolic calling, showing that he has no real faith in Christ. His fate is the same as that of the unbelieving Pharisees; to be cast into the outer darkness where “there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Mt. 25:20. See also Mt. 24:51, Mt. 21:45, Mt. 22:13). It refers also to the clergy who renounce Christ by preaching another gospel and another Christ, thus, leaving the faith given by Christ to the Apostles. No matter how noble their intentions, there is only one faith once delivered unto the saints: no man is authorized to change that faith. Finally, it refers to every person who believes himself to be a member of Christ’s Church, yet has buried the Gospel by changing or ignoring the Faith. Such people show themselves to be unprofitable servants, and theirs is the fate of 25:30.
“When the Son of man shall come in his glory” (31). While these words certainly foreshadow the Second Coming, they refer, first, to Christ’s “coming” to Jerusalem in judgment (see 24:27, 30). Separating the sheep from the goats refers to distinguishing between believers and unbelievers to save the Christians from the coming devastation of the city. Inheriting the kingdom (34) refers as much to being in Christ and having eternal life now as to being in Heaven or in the Kingdom in its full revelation in the new heaven and earth.
Yet our Lord continues to look to something beyond Jerusalem, and even beyond this world. It is as though the destruction of Jerusalem is a precursor to, and symbol of, His Second Coming, and the language of these verses applies to both. Certainly the Kingdom prepared for God’s people from the foundation of the world includes God’s people in this world and in Heaven. Israel was the earthly manifestation of that Kingdom in the Old Testament; the Church is its earthly manifestation in the era between the First and Second Advents of Christ. Yet neither Israel nor the Church is the Kingdom in its fullest sense. The fullest sense of the Kingdom will not appear on earth until Christ returns and brings in the new Heaven and new earth. Only then will all things be fully gathered together in Christ, and the purpose of God for His creation be accomplished (Eph. 1:9-10).
Meanwhile, we are to care for one another, and ministering to those in the Church/Body of Christ is spoken of as ministering to Christ Himself; “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me” (40). Those who refuse to care for God’s people show themselves to be goats and cursed rather than sheep; “Inasmuch as ye did it not unto one of the least of these, ye did it not unto me” (45).
Caring for the hungry, thirsty, stranger, naked, sick, and imprisoned also has a direct reference to the Church’s ministry in the world. There is a spiritual sense to the word, “hungry,” which refers to a deep hunger in the soul that can only be fed with the Bread of Life (Jn. 6:35). There is a thirst in the soul that can only be quenched by Living Water (Jn. 4:10). There is a nakedness that can only be covered by putting on Christ (Gal. 3:27). There is a prison that can only be opened by Christ Himself (Lk. 4:18). The Gospel of Christ is the means by which the Church gives this spiritual food, drink and clothing to the hungry, thirsty and naked. The Church must proclaim the Gospel of Christ. Those who do not proclaim it are goats, not sheep.
This chapter has great meaning to the Apostles, for they are waiting eagerly for Christ to come to Jerusalem in full Messianic glory to begin the war with Rome. But Jesus is telling them they have other things to do before He comes in glory. There is a Gospel to be proclaimed. There is a Church to be built. There is truth to be taught and followed. When the Lord comes in His final glory, it will not be to lead the people in war against Rome, but to judge the whole world, including the Church on its faithfulness.
Our Lord turns to a new subject. The disciples’ confused view of the Kingdom of God and the role of the Messiah required Him to speak in very general terms about Jerusalem and the real return of the Messiah. Now He broaches a subject in which they are equally ignorant, and will not understand until His resurrection. That subject is His crucifixion. Our Lord apparently does not spend much time on this. He simply tells the disciples it will happen. After saying this, He takes His disciples to the home of Simon the leper.
Everything we know about Simon is found in verse 6. His name is Simon. He is called “the leper” apparently for having had leprosy, which, we presume to have been graciously cured by Christ. He lives in Bethany, near the Mount of Olives, and Jesus and the disciples, along with Mary, the sister of Martha and Lazarus, have come to his house in the afternoon or evening on the Tuesday or Wednesday before the crucifixion.
The ointment has two meanings. First, it recognizes the Lordship of Christ. It is an act of worship, and only God is to be worshiped. Second, it points to Christ’s crucifixion (12). The indignation of the disciples is misplaced for several reasons. First, they are not really concerned about the poor, else they would be doing something to help them. Second, they will have many opportunities to help the poor. Third, Christ is far more concerned about the poor that they, and this small amount of oil is nothing compared to the mighty work of salvation He is about to accomplish for them. Fourth, Christ will soon be taken from them, therefore, they should give their attention to worshiping Him, and learning as much as possible about Him and His Kingdom in the brief time they have left with Him. The crucifixion was not a surprise to Jesus. He knew He was going to Jerusalem to go to the cross. He willingly laid down His life, and He laid it down to pay the price for our sins and this woman has chosen the right way, to honour Christ.
Surely Matthew 26 is one of the most heart wrenching chapters in all of Scripture. Beginning with the Lord’s prediction of His crucifixion, it moves to the conspiracy to capture Jesus ‘by subtilty, and kill him.” The kindest thing that happens to Christ in this chapter is His anointment with costly oil, and even this, He says, is for His burial. Next, Judas joins the conspiracy against Jesus, and begins to seek an opportunity to betray Him. The Passover meal and Lord’s Supper, in verses 17-30 are about His death and its meaning. In Gethsemane the disciples sleep while He faces His remaining hours alone, after which Judas leads the conspirators to Him and betrays Him with a kiss. He is taken to a phony trial, in which many false witnesses testify against Him, and, finally, Peter denies Him three times.
Verses 17-30 recount the events in the Upper Room, the Passover, which our Lord turns into what is commonly called, “The Lord’s Supper.” It is Thursday evening when they gather for the meal, which follows a well known and much honoured liturgy. In the Passover ceremony, the head of the family brakes the unleavened bread and places it on a plate. But part of the bread is placed on another plate, which is laid aside to be eaten after the meal. The head of the household now raises the bread and says, “This is the bread of misery which our fathers ate in the land of Egypt. All that are hungry, come and eat; all that are needy, come, keep the Passover.” After the bread is passed and eaten, the cup is raised and the liturgical prayers are said. The cup is raised a second time and Psalms 113-118 are sung. The cup is raised a third time, another liturgical prayer is said, and the cup is passed to each person for a drink. After this comes the meal itself, ending with the bread that had been set aside at the beginning of the ceremony. This is followed by the final cup of wine, the cup after the supper (Luke 22:20). A fuller explanation of the Passover meal can be found in Alfred Edersheim’s The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah.
Thus, our Lord uses the liturgy of the remembrance of the deliverance from Egypt to inaugurate the liturgy of the remembrance of our deliverance from the eternal slavery of sin. Taking the bread and the cup at the end of the Passover meal, He tells His people they represent His body and blood, and are to be taken in remembrance of Him.
The confidence of Peter in verse 33 is typical of people. The Pharisees thought they would not have killed the prophets if they had lived in their time (Mt. 23:31) yet they had already formed a conspiracy against Christ that would end in His death (Mt. 21:46, 22:15, 26:4). Today many boldly affirm that they would never have consented to Jesus’ crucifixion if they had been Pharisees or Jews at that time. Peter’s confidence is shattered when he denies Christ three times because he is afraid he will be arrested and killed with Christ. He loves his life more than he loves Christ. “Though I should die with thee, yet I will not deny thee,” he says in verse 35. But in verse 74, identified as one of Christ’s disciples, Peter begins “to curse and to swear, saying, I know not the man.” Our faith is much more fragile than we know or think; and our sinfulness is much stronger than we know or think. Therefore, “Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation” (41).
We may never know or understand the tremendous battle taking place in the heart of Christ as He kneels in prayer in Gethsemane. The sorrow that makes this One, who has resolutely set His face toward the cross, say, “My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even unto death,” must be a sorrow we cannot imagine. Is this the sorrow of God over all the destruction and death caused by human sin? That is probably part of it. Is it grief for the vast numbers of humanity, who will continue in sin and blindly follow blind guides into the pit of hell? That, too, is probably part of it. Is it the human side of the GODMAN recoiling in fear and horror at the cross and death He faces? That is probably part of it. Christ, like the rest of us, lived by faith, and His faith is being tested in the garden, even as it was in the wilderness temptations. We can be sure the devil is at work here, tempting Him to forgo the cross, appealing to the human side of the GODMAN in an attempt to prevent the atonement for sin and destroy the Son of God. What a victory it would be for evil to turn the Second Person of the Trinity to sin.
Most of Christ’s sorrow is probably founded on the knowledge that He will face the wrath of God for the sins of humanity. He, the sinless One will take our sins on Himself, as if they are His own. What degradation and humiliation that is for Him. He will suffer the wrath of God for those sins. He who is God, who lives in the closest fellowship with the Father and the Spirit, is to be treated as a common sinner, a criminal against God. His fellowship with God is being severed. Truly, as He said from the cross, God is forsaking Him (Mt. 27:46). Surely this is the greatest reason for His sorrow; a cup He would have pass from Him, but accepts because He loves the Father and He loves us. “Thy will be done” He prays as His enemies approach (42).
The soldiers, who come to arrest Christ are the Temple guards, not Roman soldiers. This means they have no legal authority to arrest Christ. But they are armed and ready to take Him by force to His “trial.” Our Lord’s words are note worthy. He says “the hour is at hand,” meaning the time has come. And He says the Son of man (Christ, the Messiah) is betrayed into the hand of sinners. He is given over to evil people to suffer at their hands. But note that He does not flee. He goes to His enemies. “Rise, let us be going: behold, he is at hand that doth betray me” (46).
The betrayal by Judas is tragic (47-55). Many have speculated about his reason. Some theorise he is a zealot who wants to force Jesus to reveal and use His power as the Messiah to begin a war with the Romans. But Judas is probably not that lofty or idealistic. He is called a thief in John 12:6, which gives a clue about why he betrays Christ; money. He simply wants the money, which was a considerable sum in those days. Though he has followed Jesus for three years, his loyalty and love belong to Judas, not Jesus.
Peter, who promised to die with Christ rather than deny Him (35), now prepares to fight for the Messiah. He may think this is the beginning of the war to drive the Romans out of Israel. Whatever he believes about the Messiah, he draws a sword and attempts to kill one of the enemy men. His stroke does not kill, but the glancing blow cuts the man’s ear off. Now Jesus does an amazing thing. He heals the man’s ear and allows Himself to be taken captive by the soldiers. This is too much for the disciples. They desert Christ and flee for their lives, including Peter.
Two points stand out in these verses. First, Jesus allows the soldiers to take Him. He could call twelve legions of angels to destroy His enemies. According to some historians, that would be 72,000 angels. Certainly this One who stilled the storm and raised the dead can strike His enemies dead without the help of angels. Surely the commander of 72,000 angels can deliver Himself from the hand of a few armed men. That is the point. He can blast these men with fire from Heaven. He could call 72,000 angels to stand between them and Himself. Instead, He gives Himself to the soldiers, knowing He is giving Himself to the cross.
Second, His suffering and crucifixion fulfill the Scripture. The fifty-third chapter of Isaiah is clearly fulfilled in the crucifixion, but Christ fulfills the entire Old Testament. He is the Lamb of God, sacrificed on the cross. He is the great High Priest who offers the sacrifice and intercedes for His people. He is the atonement, the scapegoat, and the Son of David. Even the law of God is a tutor to lead us to Christ. All of the Old Testament points to Him, and He is its fulfillment.
What is the main point of Matthew 26:57-75? It is that the trial of Jesus by the high priest and Sanhedrin is illegal and a moral perversion. It is never intended to seek truth or do justice. It is a farce enacted with one purpose, to find a way to get the Romans to crucify Christ. It is held at night. It is held in secret. It is held in the high priest’s house. Only selected members of the council are present, for there is no mention of Nicodemus, who would certainly vocally oppose their actions. False witnesses tell lies about Christ’s words and actions. All of these things are against the legal and moral methods of dealing with religious and civil disputes in Israel. In the end they kill the Son of God for saying He is the Son of God.
There is a second point in this passage. Peter, who so bravely said he would die with Christ, denies knowing Him three times. When Peter said he would die with Christ he had visions of a glorious war that would drive away the Romans and establish Israel as a free and independent nation. When he drew his sword in the garden, and cut off the ear of the high priest’s servant, he probably expected the Lord to begin the battle there, and he probably was ready to die in battle, if that would bring about a free Israel. But when Christ allowed Himself to be taken captive, Peter’s resolve fled with the rest of the disciples. Fear overcame him, and he ran away from the soldiers like the other disciples. Now, standing outside of the high priest’s house where the “trial” is taking place, he denies knowing Christ out of fear that he, too, might be crucified.
Hypocrisy and false repentance are the outstanding features of verses 1-10. Hypocrisy is seen in the priests and elders. They have gone to great lengths to capture Jesus and get Him to the Romans for execution. This is not justice; it is pure, pre-meditated murder and they are murderers. Yet they will not take the money from Judas. This is the money they paid him to betray Christ. They even admit their guilt when they call the money “the price of blood” in verse 6. Truly they strain at a gnat (the money) and swallow a camel (murder).
In verse 3, Judas “repented himself.” The Greek word used in this verse means to have a change of mind or to have sorrow over something. Judas is sorry about betraying Christ, and his soul is tormented over the wickedness of turning Christ over to those who will kill Him. He wishes he could undo what he has done, and the reality of it has cast his soul into deep depression. But his is not the sorrow unto life. According to Scripture, there are two kinds of sorrow. 2 Corinthians 7:10 tells of a Godly sorrow, “that worketh repentance unto salvation.” This begins with the realization that we are sinners, and that our sins are heinous crimes against God and humanity. It goes on to beseech God’s mercy through Christ, and to turn from sin to Godliness as a way of thinking and living.
But there is also a sorrow of the world which ends in despair. It does not lead a person to God. It does not lead a person to turn from sin to God. It does not lead to Heaven. It simply leaves a person in that deep, deep soul sickness and depression. This is the kind of sorrow most people have. They regret that they have done, and do, certain things. They see the self-destruction they cause to themselves, and the hurt and grief they cause to others. But they do not come to God for forgiveness and help. They remain in their sin. The Bible says this kind of sorrow “worketh death” (2 Cor. 7:10). Judas is a sad example. Unwilling to truly repent, his is merely the sorrow of the world. Finding no relief from his sorrows, he finally hangs himself (5).
Jesus’ lack of defense before Pilate further emphasizes His clear intent to go to the cross (14). Jesus intentionally embraces the cross. That much is evident in this passage.
The choice of Barabbas is the choice of a worldly revolutionary over the Heavenly Saviour. Barabbas claims to be the Messiah, and has killed people in an attempt to gather a following to fight against the Romans. Rather than delivering Israel, Barabbas goes to jail and is scheduled for crucifixion. Pilate offers Israel a choice, Pilate or Jesus.
The choice is Barabbas. The logic in this choice is easily discerned. Men like Barabbas were common in Israel. Claiming to be the Messiah they gathered crowds of followers and killed a few Romans. The Romans responded by crucifying Jews. This continuing battle did not interrupt the position or prosperity of the religious leaders in Jerusalem. But Jesus was different. His target did not seem to be the Romans. The religious leaders were His target, and they hated Him for that. So they chose the revolutionary man over the Heavenly Saviour.
Lest we judge them too harshly let us ask ourselves if we do not make the same choice regularly. Do we not often follow those who promise (usually falsely) worldly peace and affluence over the One who promises spiritual blessings? Do we not choose the promise of indulgence over the demand for self control? Do we not choose those who offer a crown over the One who offers a cross? And in so doing, aren’t we, spiritually saying, with the enemies of Christ, “Let him be crucified”?
The death of Christ is accomplished by means of intense torture. The scourge is a whip of many thongs, and many victims died under its lash alone. Jesus is beaten with such severity He is unable to carry His cross (32). After the scourging, the soldiers continue to beat Him with their hands. But the soldiers do not beat Him to death. They save Him to suffer the additional torture of the cross.
According to Roman custom Jesus is paraded through the city. This is done to humiliate the victim and His people. Normally the victim carried his cross, but Jesus is too weak to carry His. Simon (32) is probably a Jew who came to Jerusalem for the Passover. He is forced by the Romans to carry the cross for Jesus.
At Golgotha, they give our Lord a mixture of vinegar (spoiled wine) and myrrh to drink. The purpose of the drink is a subject of much speculation. Myrrh reportedly has the effect of reducing pain, and some have thought offering it to Christ is an act of kindness. But reducing the pain for a while might have the effect of prolonging the suffering on the cross. Therefore, it could be an additional act of cruelty. Whatever the reason for offering it, Jesus refuses the drink. He will not go to the cross in a medicated state. He will be fully aware of His suffering.
The sign above His head (37) is the accusation, or, reason for His crucifixion. It is intended to insult the Jewish people, as though the Romans are saying, “This is what we do to your Messiah, and you are powerless to stop it.” But the religious leaders are not insulted. They are overjoyed at the plight of Jesus. They revel in His suffering. They even begin to mock Him, thinking to add to His pain (41). Even one of the thieves reviles Him. Truly it is as though all of humanity has turned against Him, and He is left to die alone.
The pain of the cross must be excruciating. The spikes have been driven into His flesh and bones, and only by holding Himself up on the spikes is He able to breathe. Yet He bears a pain far worse than any caused by lash or nails. He bears the wrath of God for our sins. We have nothing to compare this too, except a fire that burns forever. Jesus bears that wrath for us. He is made to be sin for us, that we may be made the righteousness of God in Him (2 Cor. 5:21). Thus, He cries in verse 46, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” Bishop Ryle’s comments express the essence of these words.
They were meant to express the real pressure on his soul of the enormous burden of a world’s sin. They were meant to show how truly and literally He was our substitute, was made sin, and a curse for us, and endured God’s righteous anger against a world’s sin in His own person. At that awful moment, the iniquity of us all was laid upon Him to the uttermost. It pleased the Lord to bruise Him, and put Him to grief (Isaiah liii.10) He bore our sins. He carried our transgressions. Heavy must have been that burden, real and literal must have been our Lord’s substitution for us, when He, the eternal Son of God, could speak of Himself as for a time “forsaken.”
Let the expression sink down into our hearts, and not be forgotten. We can have no stronger proof of the sinfulness of sin, or of the vicarious nature of Christ’s suffering, than His cry, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” It is a cry that should stir us up to hate sin, and encourage us to trust in Christ.
Expository Thoughts on Matthew
The rending of the veil in verse 51 refers to the curtain that separated the Holy of Holies from the rest of the Temple. Only the High Priest was allowed to enter this symbol of God’s presence, and he entered with a rope tied around his waist, which enabled his body to be pulled out if he died in the Holy Place. As Jesus died on the cross this curtain was miraculously torn from top to bottom. Let us again let Bishop Ryle explain the significance of this miracle.
The rending of the veil proclaimed the termination and passing away of the ceremonial law. It was a sign that the old dispensation of sacrifices and ordinances was no longer needed. Its work was done. Its occupation was gone from the moment that Christ died. There was no more need of an earthly high priest, and a mercy seat, and a sprinkling of blood, and an offering up of incense, and a day of atonement. The true High Priest had at length appeared. The true Lamb of God had been slain. The true mercy seat was at length revealed. The figures and shadows were no longer needed.
That rending of the veil proclaimed the opening of the way of salvation to all mankind. The way into the presence of God was unknown to the Gentile, and only seen dimly by the Jew, until Christ died. But Christ having now offered up a perfect sacrifice, and obtained eternal redemption, the darkness and mystery were to pass away. All were to be invited now to draw near to God with boldness, and approach Him with confidence, by faith in Jesus. A door was thrown open, and a way of life set before the whole world.
Let us turn from the story of the crucifixion, every time we read it, with hearts full of praise. Let us praise God for the confidence it gives us as to the ground of our hope of pardon. Our sins may be many and great, but the payment made by our Great Substitute far outweighs them all. – Let us praise God for the view it gives us of the love of our Father in heaven. He that spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, will surely give us all things. – Not least, let us praise God for the view it gives us of the sympathy of Jesus with all His believing people. He can be touched with the feeling of our infirmities. He knows what suffering is. He is just the Saviour that an infirm body, with a weak heart, in an evil world, requires.
Expository Thoughts on Matthew
The resurrection of many of the saints which slept (52) is yet another miracle that occurs at the moment of Christ’s death. We do not know who they are. We know only that they had lived their lives under the Old Testament sacrifices and ceremonies that were shadowy signs of the death of Christ. Now they are permitted to see, with their own eyes, the fulfillment of those signs They are resurrected when Christ dies. They go into Jerusalem, the holy city, at the time of His resurrection. It is not said what happens to them after this.
Christ really and truly died. He really and truly became flesh, as John tells us in John 1:14. He really and truly suffered and died, and He was really and truly dead and buried. These points are important, because if any one of them is shown to be false, the entire Gospel of Christ is false, the Christian faith is false, and Christians are guilty of the sin of idolatry. But we need not fear. The entire Bible is written to announce Christ. The Old Testament proclaims Him in the feasts, sacrifices, the Temple, and the priests. All of these things are shadowy signs of the One who fulfills the meaning and intent of the Old Testament. Christ is the Scapegoat, the sacrificial Lamb, the High Priest, the Sabbath, the Passover, the Son of David, and the fulfillment of prophecy. He is Immanuel (Is. 7:14), Wonderful, Counselor, The Mighty God, the everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace (Is. 9:6). He is the destination to which all Scripture takes us.
In the New Testament He said many times that He would die. Two days before Passover He told His disciples He was going to be betrayed and crucified (Mt. 26:2). Many other places in Scripture record predictions of His coming death.
In Matthew 27:57-66, we see the dead body of Christ removed from the cross and taken to the tomb of Joseph of Arimathaea. In the presence of Mary Magdalene and “the other Mary,” identified by Mark as the mother of James, Christ’s body is placed in the tomb and a heavy, carved stone is moved into place to seal it. It is nearly sunset on Friday evening, and the Sabbath is rapidly approaching. Thus, the mourners have to leave the body as it is until after the Sabbath. Sunday morning will be the earliest they can give Him a proper burial.
The disciples and followers of Christ seem to have no confidence in our Lord’s promise to rise again after three days. Even on Sunday morning the women go to His grave to anoint His body, meaning to clean it and prepare it for permanent burial. But the Sadducees and Pharisees remember His prediction. While they do not believe He will actually rise again, they want Pilate to place Roman guards around the tomb for fear that the disciples will steal the body and fake His resurrection (63 and 64). Pilate agrees to this, and the soldiers are sent. The stone, which serves as the door of the tomb, is sealed with an official Roman seal, and the soldiers stand guard. No one will challenge these soldiers who take pleasure in crucifying a man. The grave is secure.
O glorious Day, Christ is risen. It is Sunday morning, and the Jewish Sabbath is over. It is probably still dark when Mary Magdalene and the other Mary leave for the cemetery to clean and prepare the body of Jesus for the customary burial. They are concerned about the stone that seals the tomb, yet they press on, arriving at the tomb a little before sunrise. They think Jesus is dead, but this Man of Miracles has more miracles to work. As they approach the tomb, the angel of the Lord descends from Heaven. His appearance has a three-fold effect. First he causes an earthquake which rolls the stone away from the sepulcher. Second, the battle-hardened soldiers are frightened to the point of fainting. They will not stop the women from entering the tomb now. Third, the women are frightened. But, not as weak as the soldiers, they neither faint nor flee. Now the angel addresses the women. His words make it clear that the women do not believe Jesus has risen from the dead. “I know ye seek Jesus, which was crucified. He is not here: for He is risen, as He said.” He now invites the women to see the tomb, where a second angel appears and both repeat this most singular and important announcement, “He is not here, but is risen” (see Luke 24:6).
These women are shocked and amazed. Three days ago they saw their loved one tortured to death. They had believed in Him as the Messiah. They didn’t understand very much of what He said, but they saw His works and they believed in Him. When He died, their faith died with Him, but not their love. They still grieve over Him, and they still perform their customary duties for Him. It is love that leads them to do this. Now an angel appears to them. He must be an apparition of great power, for the soldiers, who could fight and kill and conquer in hand to hand combat, faint dead away. This is yet another shock to these grieving women. No wonder his first words to them are, “Fear not” (5).
Note what the women see. They see the soldiers standing guard, and they see them fall to the ground in fear. They see the earth quake. They see the stone roll away from the tomb. They see the angel descend. They see another angel in the tomb. They see that the body of Christ is gone.
Note what they do not see. They do not see Jesus. They do not see Him in the tomb, nor do they see Him leave the tomb after the stone is rolled away. Why? Because Jesus is already risen when they arrive. He rose from the dead and left the tomb alive before the stone was rolled away. He did not need to stone moved to get out of the tomb. He passed through the stone walls as easily as He stilled the storm and walked on water before His crucifixion. He did not need man or angel to get Him out of the tomb. Why, then, is the stone rolled away while they look on in fear? To let the women, and later, the disciples, see into the tomb. To let them see that Christ is not there, not dead, not finished. He is alive.
Verse 12 begins the rapid ascent to the Great Commission. The Gospels were not written to give a chronological biography of the life and ministry of Christ. They were written to present the Saviour to us, to introduce Him in a way that invites us to believe in Him and be reconciled to God through Him. They are written in theological order not chronological order, using events and teachings in the life of Christ to illustrate His power, Divinity, and teachings. Thus, Matthew leaves out several events after the resurrection of Christ. He leaves out the appearance of Christ on the Emmaus Road. He skips over His appearance in the upper room, doubting Thomas, and His appearance to Peter by the Sea of Galilee. Rather than dwelling on these appearances, Matthew moves rapidly to what has been called “The Great Commission” in 28:19 and 20. Let us, however, consider the chronology for a moment.
Finding the tomb empty, the women hurry to tell the disciples what they have seen. As the women run to tell the disciples, Christ appears to them, telling them to send the disciples to meet Him in Galilee (10). Hearing the news, Peter and John run to the tomb. John, reaching it first and stopping at the entrance to look in, is passed by Peter, who unhesitatingly enters. They find only the linen cloth in which Joseph had wrapped the body. Jesus is not there. Bewildered, not understanding that Jesus has risen (Jn. 20:9), they return to the upper room. Mary Magdalene is now alone at the tomb weeping when Christ appears to her again. This is His second appearance, both to women, neither to the disciples. After this He appears to the disciples in the upper room and on the Emmaus Road.
Matthew 28:10 is an important verse, commanding the disciples to meet Him in Galilee. It is probably Galilee, where He conducted most of His earlier ministry, that He also conducted the majority of His post resurrection ministry, teaching the disciples how to understand the Old Testament and how to organize and establish the New Testament Church. The mountain appointed as the meeting place is very likely the place where Christ preached the Sermon on the Mount; the same mount on which He had ordained the twelve, “that they should be with him, and that he might send them forth to preach” (Mk. 3:13 and 14). It is a place filled with sacred memories in the minds of the disciples.
Many believe the meeting in Galilee is the one Paul records in 1 Corinthians 15:6, when our Lord “was seen of above five hundred brethren.” Whether this is correct or not, there may be more people present than just the eleven disciples. We can easily think of several who would hear of this meeting and might make plans to go to Galilee and see again their Saviour, who was dead but now is alive. Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, Mary and Martha, Lazarus, Nicodemus, and Joseph of Arimathaea would probably not remain in Jerusalem knowing the risen Lord will appear in Galilee.
Wherever this mount may be, and whoever was or was not there, our Lord makes a shocking announcement. These eleven doubting and fearful men are no longer disciples, they are the Apostles. Our Lord Himself commissions them to build His Church. He calls them to teach all nations to observe “all things whatsoever I have commanded you.” Our Lord refers not only to the maxims of the moral law, which are always in effect. He refers also to the entire faith He has taught, and will continue to teach them until His ascension into Heaven. He refers to the Gospel and the doctrinal content of Christianity. He refers to the Holy Trinity, the incarnation, the substitutionary atonement for sin, justification by grace through faith, the organisation and worship of the Church, and all the teachings recorded and preserved in the New Testament. This is the faith given to them by Christ. This is the faith once delivered to the saints (Jude 3). This is the faith they are called to proclaim and establish in the Church.
New disciples are to be baptized into the Church. It is worth noting that people are not baptized into isolation. They are baptized into the people, the congregation, the Body and Kingdom of Christ on earth, which is the Church. They are also baptized into local churches, which the Apostles quickly organize. The Apostles educate and ordain clergy in the churches, and give them the liturgy and order Christ gave to them. The clergy, and the congregations committed to their charge, are not independent. They answer to the Apostles, who ensure that they teach and live according to all things Christ commanded.
Christ gives the Apostles two assurances, which are foundational to their calling. First, “All power is given unto me in heaven and earth.” He is telling the Apostles He has the power and authority to commission them, and to charge them with this ministry. He has the power and authority to give the Christian Faith to them, and to require them to pass it on to others. He has the power and authority to establish the Church, which is both the continuation and the fulfillment of the Old Testament Israel. The Apostles go in His authority, and He has all authority.
Second, He will be with them. They do not yet understand that He will be physically returning to the Father. They must return to Jerusalem, go with Him to the Mount of Olives, and see Him physically ascend before they understand that. But after His ascension they will need to know He is still with them. His physical presence has been replaced by His spiritual presence through the Holy Spirit. Through the Spirit He will dwell in them, and they will dwell in Him. They will not be alone when they face unbelievers. They will not be left to their own devices and persuasive abilities to win converts. He will be with them. He will guide them. He will empower them. He will reach people through them.
He will be with them when they encounter opposition. He, who knows when a sparrow falls, watches over them. He, who was a man of sorrows, will be with them in their sorrows. And when their earthly work is over, He, who died to open the gates of Heaven to them, will receive them unto Himself, and they shall be with Him forever. “I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen.”