‘You are holding in your hands a tiny book which has changed more human lives than ‘The Communist Manifesto’ or Freud’s ‘Interpretation of Dreams’; a book which has shaped whole civilisations, a book which for many people has not been a gospel but THE GOSPEL. …(if you reject it) you will reject one of the most disturbing and extraordinary books ever written.’
A N Wilson (Introduction to Matthew’s Gospel in the ‘Pocket Canons’ Series; October 1998)
Click on the link above to hear an audio version of Matthew.
Listen to the Podcasts of Nick reading and commentating on Matthew in the Starter Course.
Download a Bible App for your smart phone and listen when you’re at the gym, travelling in the car, etc …
Read the whole of Matthew’s gospel through in one sitting, with a few others. Read a chapter each in rotation.
Read the sections one by one (see the Structure of Matthew in the ‘Essentials’ part of the Starter Course).
Read through Matthew, all the time being conscious that you are an apprentice of Jesus in the family business of the Kingdom.
Study the Bible for Life material and answer the ‘Meal Course’ questions.
Study how Matthew reveals Jesus’ identity from chapters 1-2, 3-4, 8-9, 11:25-27, 13:53-16:20, 26-28.
Study the Kingdom of Heaven from the following passages: 4:17, chapters 5-7, chapters 8-10, chapter 13, chapter 24-25.
Study Discipleship from the following passages: 4:17-22, chapters 5-7, 8:18-22, 9:9-17, chapter 10, 11:25-30, chapters 18-20, 28:16-20.
Read ‘The Divine Conspiracy’ by Dallas Willard – a classic of our time, and the finest exposition of the Kingdom and Discipleship.
Suggested verses for meditation …
6:33 ‘Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness …’
10:7 ‘As you go proclaim this message: “The Kingdom of heaven is near. Heal the sick, …”‘
13:11-12 ‘The knowledge of the Kingdom of Heaven has been given to you …’
22:29 ‘You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God.’
26:64 ‘In the future you will see the Son of Man sitting on the clouds of heaven’
28:19-20 ‘Go, therefore and make disciples’
Excellent verses to learn:
6:19-34 A longer passage about seeking the Kingdom and righteousness first before the needs of food, drink and clothes.
7:24 ‘Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house upon a rock’.
11:28-30 ‘Come to me all who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.’
28:19-20 ‘Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.’
The Gospel of Matthew not only opens the New Testament, but being profoundly Jewish in culture, tone and literary genre, it bridges the Old and New Testament. The 28 chapters are written by an author immersed in Jewish religious thinking. He describes the life and ministry of Jesus as a Jewish man, to Jewish believers who are committed to proclaiming their faith in Messiah Jesus to the non-Jewish world.
The document, which includes almost every parallel verse of the Gospel of Mark, was probably written to Christians in the region of Antioch in Syria. And since it refers to the existing Temple, it seems likely to have been written in the late CE60s before the Temple’s destruction in 70CE.
Matthew’s gospel, which has been structured with quite exceptional care and skill, shows most affinity to the literary genre referred to as ‘Ancient Biography’, a unique type of biography used for the founding figure of a philosophical school.
Matthew’s three main themes are:
Not only does Matthew repeatedly demonstrate that Jesus is the fulfilment of Old Testament prophecy, but he presents Jesus as the new Moses who teaches from the ‘Mount’ (just as Moses brought the law to the people on Mount Sinai).
Matthew presents Jesus’ teaching in five main discourses. The first, chapters 5-7, describes the lifestyle of the disciple in the kingdom. The second, chapter 10, teaches the mission of the disciple. In the third, chapter 13, Jesus explains and illustrates through parables the new age of the Kingdom. The fourth section which runs from chapter 18-20 describes and addresses the issues that the community of disciples will have to address. In the last discourse, chapter 24, Jesus teaches about the end of this age.
The imperative that drives the entire thrust of the gospel is the very first statement Jesus makes: ‘Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near’ (4:17). Jesus then calls a succession of individuals with the simple invitation, ‘Come, follow me’ (4:19). Matthew has written his gospel to demonstrate that Jesus is ‘the Messiah, the Son of God’ (26:63), and then to galvanise men and women to turn every part of their lives in the direction of the kingdom of heaven and follow Jesus; ‘Therefore whoever hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on a rock’ (7:24).
Question 1 -
In ‘The Divine Conspiracy’, Dallas Willard uses the idea of the ‘Kingdom of Electricity’ to illustrate how electricity has changed almost every aspect of our lives since its discovery and development. In the past twenty years the ‘Kingdom of Wifi and the Internet’ has similarly changed our lives. What are some of the changes Jesus states will happen when a person turns and engages with the 'Kingdom of Heaven'?
Question 2 -
Have you ever been an apprentice learning a trade? What exactly does Jesus want his ‘apprentices’ to learn?
Question 3 -
'But I tell you: Love your enemies' (5:44). Who are your enemies? How can you love them today?
Matthew: Jesus is the Messiah
Matthew: The Kingdom of Heaven
Nature: The Gospel of Matthew is distinctly Jewish in nature and tone. The author frequently quotes from the Old Testament and states that Jesus understood his ministry specifically as the fulfilment of Old Testament prophecy. As such, this gospel serves as an important bridge linking the Old and New Testament.
Destination: The Jewish tone of this Gospel, with its focus on the mission to the non-Jews and with the apparent separation of church from synagogue indicate it was probably written for Jewish Christians committed to evangelising Non-Jews, quite possibly in the region of Antioch in Syria.
Author: Papias writing around 125AD stated that ‘Matthew’ wrote the first gospel. Some scholars see the work of different authors in the final edition.
Date: As Matthew constructs his gospel around the earlier gospel of Mark (which was written around the early CE60s,) and since the gospel proceeds on the understanding that the Temple still operated, we should understand that this gospel was written before the Jewish War that led to the Temple’s destruction in the mid-to-late CE60s.
This gospel shows most affinity to the literary genre referred to as ‘Ancient Biography’, a unique type of biography used for the founding figure of a philosophical school. Ancient Biographies began with the person’s teaching, which is the case with Matthew 5-7. This Gospel is very carefully constructed and ordered.
Building on the narrative of Mark’s gospel, the author has woven five significant blocks of Jesus’ teaching on the Kingdom of Heaven and then explained and applied it for disciples.
|1-2||The King is born|
|3-4||Preparation for the King’s work|
|5-7||The King teaches: the disciple’s life in the Kingdom|
|8-10||The power of the Kingdom in mission|
|11-13||The King explains the Kingdom|
|13:53 - 16:20||The King’s identity: Messiah|
|16:21 - 20:34||The King teaches his disciples about community|
|21 - 25||The King challenges the religious leaders and teaches about the end of the age and the final judgement|
|26 - 27||The King is executed|
Within this structure Matthew includes five sections of Jesus’ teaching, each of which is introduced with narrative:
|5 - 7||The lifestyle of a disciple in the Kingdom|
|13||Parables describing the nature of the Kingdom|
|18||Community relations in the Kingdom|
|24 - 25||The end of the age|
Question 1 -
In Matthew, a number of titles are used about Jesus including: ‘Son of Man’, ‘Messiah’, ‘Son of God’, ‘Emmanuel’. Without discrediting these, how would you describe the meaning of these titles to a British adult who knew absolutely nothing about Jesus?
Question 2 -
In 23:13 Jesus states his leading charge against the 'teachers of the law and Pharisees'. Who are the people who shut the Kingdom of heaven in people's faces today? Does the video portray these people and if so, why?
Question 3 -
'Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.' (last part of 18:1-4) Should disciples be celebrities or not, and why?
Chapter by Chapter
The key to approaching Matthew’s gospel:
The key to the heart of the Gospel of Matthew is first to understand the full-blooded Jewishness of what is going on. A Jew steeped in Jewish culture and religion is writing the biography of the Jewish Messiah to a community of believing Jews.
Matthew chooses to describe the life of Messiah Jesus as the direct fulfilment of two dominant Old Testament prophetic voices. Firstly, through the repeated quotation and reference to Isaiah’s prophecies, Matthew demonstrates that Jesus is the ‘anointed servant king’. Secondly, he indicates that Jesus fulfils Daniel’s prophecies that Jesus is the ‘Son of Man’ bringing in the Kingdom of Heaven (Matt 24:30/Daniel 7:13).
Matthew’s point is clear: Jesus is the Messiah, the King of the Jews, and He has come to bring in the Kingdom of Heaven!
Another key perspective that unlocks the dynamic of Matthew is to understand the structure of this gospel. Matthew’s first decision is to very faithfully follow Mark’s gospel (indeed he only omits nine verses from Mark.) Mark is Peter’s account of Jesus recorded by his assistant (Mark) around the time of Peter’s execution. From 13:53 to 28:10, Matthew very carefully follows Mark’s order from Mark 6:6 – 16:8, but Matthew does make two significant changes:
When we look at the structure it all makes very clear sense …
1. The King is born (1-2)
2. Preparation and early ministry (3-4)
3. The King teaches: the Kingdom & discipleship (5-7)
3a. Collection 1: The Sermon on the Mount. As the new Moses, Messiah Jesus teaches how a person can enter and engage with the Kingdom of Heaven.
4. The power of the Kingdom in mission (8-10)
*4a. Collection 2: Matthew records a rising crescendo of miracle stories culminating in Jesus’ power over death and the fulfilment of Isaiah’s Messianic prophecies.
5. The King explains the Kingdom (11-13)
5a. Collection 3: In contrast to the reactions of confusion, indifference, outright hostility and concern, Jesus teaches the secrets and the operating principles of the Kingdom of Heaven.
6. The King’s identity: Messiah (13:53-16:20)
7. The King teaches his disciples about community and his coming death (16:21-20:34)
8. The King challenges the religious leaders and teaches about the end of the age and the final judgement (21 – 25)
9. The King is executed (26-27)
10. The Resurrection (28)
1 – 2 The King is born
The genealogy of Jesus Christ (1:1-17)
Matthew, by using a deliberate literary structure, presents the genealogy in three sections of fourteen generations. Here’s how it works:
This seems to be the genealogy of Joseph, whereas the Lukan genealogy seems to follow Mary’s line.
1:3,5,6,16 The deliberate (and strictly unnecessary) inclusion of four ‘mothers’, where in each case there was ‘moral disorder’ in the history and conception of the birth, strongly implies some ‘disorder’ about the conception of Jesus. We are of course told this explicitly in the chapter (1:18).
1:9 When compared to 1 Chronicles 3:10-16 there is a ‘three generation’ omission which appears to be accounted for by a three-generation curse (1 Kings 21:21-24, 29).
The birth of Jesus Christ (1:18-25)
In this short, ‘economic’ narrative of Jesus’ birth, Joseph is the leading character in the sense that he is one shaping the account. This is consistent with the male nature of the chapter, seen in the emphasis on men in the genealogy.
1:23 This quotation is the first of many from the OT that occur throughout Matthew. Isaiah 7:14 was originally a prophetic message about a king that would come, although the extremely general nature of the prophecy (a young girl will have a baby called Immanuel) meant that it was almost impossible to locate in history. Indeed it could have applied to almost every Jewish king!
1:24 In our wonder and devotion we rightly focus on Jesus and Mary, but sometimes overlook the impressive example of this young man. Almost certainly only in his late teens, he is godly, kind, righteous, charismatically anointed, brave and obedient. God the Father committed the oversight of his own baby Son and the care of the child’s mother to Joseph – an astonishingly high calling.
The visit of the Magi (2:1-12)
This is surely one of the most surprising stories in the Bible and although tradition paints them as ‘three wise men’, this is a distortion from pious tradition.
There may have been three, or possibly more. There is no evidence that they were kings, or that they were necessarily ‘wise’, in the sense that ‘Proverbs’ teaches wisdom. The only hard evidence is that they were astrologers – a practice strictly prohibited in Scripture.
The story parallels that of Balaam in Numbers 22-24. In both cases, God allows and uses pagan astrologers/sorcerers to affirm and bless His work as it is birthed.
In the visit of the Magi we see the nations of the earth welcoming the King of Israel at the beginning of his work of salvation. God is so concerned to speak to us that he will use even the wrong things we do to make his voice heard.
The story parallels the Lukan account of Anna and Simeon in the Temple, (representing both the Jewish people and also Adam and Eve) welcoming Jesus the King.
The escape to Egypt (2:13-18)
2:16 Although there is no historical account in extra-Biblical material of this truly horrible slaughter, the story is entirely consistent with other exceptionally violent and capricious acts that Herod committed (he had a number of his own family murdered because he feared they wanted his throne).
The family go to Nazareth (2:19-23)
2:23 Nazareth was the town of the Nazarites – the monks of the Old Covenant (a contemporary parallel would be ‘Monktown’).
Joseph made an excellent decision in choosing a place of great spiritual heritage to bring up his God-anointed son. However, the residue of hundreds of years of monastic living was regrettably to prove the place of the greatest indifference to Jesus: ‘Can anything good come out of Nazareth?’ (John 1:46), ‘He could do no mighty work there because of their unbelief ‘ (Matt 13:58). At one time they even tried to kill him because he refused to give them favoured accreditation (Luke 4:16-30).
3 – 4 Preparation and early ministry
John the Baptist prepares people for Jesus (3:1-12)
3:2 John the Baptist preached ‘Repent for the Kingdom of Heaven is near’. Jesus preached exactly the same message (4:17), Jesus instructed his apostles to preach exactly this message (10:7), and we must do the very same today. It is astonishing how simple this axiomatic statement of the gospel is, and it is astonishing how many people preach anything and everything except this gospel!
3:10 There is a strong element of warning in John’s message. This verse parallels John 15:6.
3:12 Don’t miss the contrast with v11: a person either gets the Holy Spirit and fire, or burns in the fire! Not exactly what a safe middle class Briton wants to hear.
Jesus is baptised (3:13-17)
3:15 Jesus identifies with his nation which went through the Jordan into the promised land. The King embodies the sin of his people.
3:17 Although Jesus has identified with the sin of Israel, the divine intervention announces him sinless. The King embodies both sinlessness, and the sin of his people.
Jesus is tested by temptation (4:1-11)
Now that Jesus’ identity has been revealed by divine intervention at his Baptism, the King must immediately set about his work. As he plans this work during a time of intense focus, prayer, discernment and planning, Jesus resists several possible strategies which are essentially to do the right thing in the wrong way. It is a mistake to trivialise temptation. Real temptation is actually quite rare and probably occurs only a few times in a person’s life. Temptation is the opportunity to do good, but good that is secondary to the very best. In the desert Jesus understood even more clearly that humanity must be saved righteously, and the only righteous way to save humanity was through the cross. Only through the cross would humans’ hearts be won in love.
Jesus announces the Kingdom (4:12-17)
4:17 This short sentence expresses the heart of Jesus’ ministry, and the key for understanding Matthew’s gospel.
Jesus calls his first disciples (4:18-22)
These two simple short stories touch the essence of Jesus’ second strategy (the first, as expressed in v17, was the preaching that the Kingdom of heaven is near). Jesus ministers at two levels: he makes disciples (apprentices), and teaches and preaches to the crowds. Matthew’s Gospel is the handbook for discipleship, and discipleship begins with a personal invitation from the King.
Jesus teaches, preaches and heals many (4:23-25)
This summary verse describes Jesus’ strategy with the crowds. He preaches the Kingdom ‘in church’ (the synagogue) and ‘out of church’, but always within the area prophesied by Isaiah (Galilee), although large crowds come from outside the region to hear him. He teaches about the Kingdom (through what is preached) and he demonstrates the kingdom (through the healings). It is interesting to reflect that although Matthew only mentions this in summary form, these verses in all likeliness describe the whole first year of Jesus’ ministry.
5 – 7 The King teaches: the Kingdom and discipleship
Those well-placed to enter the Kingdom (5:1-12)
The eight sentences commonly referred to as ‘the Beatitudes’ are a description of those people who are well-placed to enter and engage with the Kingdom of Heaven. It is a wide list that includes many (but not everyone, for example not the wicked, the violent, thieves, liars etc), although the first category could be understood to include all people because we are all ‘spiritually bankrupt’.
The Kingdom and the Law (5:13-20)
Before describing the essence of the kingdom lifestyle, Jesus makes two important assertions. Firstly, all who live the kingdom life will have a similar effect on society as a tiny pinch of salt has on a plate of food – the entire meal is changed, for the better! Secondly, no one should be under any doubt that Jesus’ Kingdom teaching is absolutely consistent with what the Mosaic Law always demanded. Indeed, the righteousness of the kingdom apprentice is greater than the Pharisaic righteousness because it is deeper; it is not a righteousness of words and deeds and outward behaviour, but of the thoughts and motives of the heart.
The Kingdom life (5:21-48)
Jesus addresses six issues at the very heart of the Kingdom disciple’s lifestyle:
5:21-26 Anger must be dealt with quickly as a matter of the highest priority.
5:27-30 Lust must be handled and dismissed with the greatest strictness.
5:31-32 Divorce (which is often a result of anger and lust being out of control) must be avoided since it leads directly to adultery.
5:33-37 Disciples must speak the truth clearly and honestly and without manipulation.
5:38-42 Kingdom disciples must never take revenge.
5:43-48 Kingdom disciples must ‘love their enemies’.
Kingdom lifestyle patterns (6:1-18)
In a carefully structured pattern, Jesus corrects bad religious practice in the areas of three central religious activities: giving money, prayer and fasting. These three are chosen to represent all Holy Habits, or spiritual disciplines. The second (central) issue is enlarged with the inclusion of the Lord’s Prayer which petitions for the Kingdom to come.
The Kingdom before worry and money (6:19-34)
The fear of poverty, the drive for survival and the subsequent pursuit of wealth as a haven against these tyrants must be made subservient to the pursuit of the Kingdom and right-standing before God. Every disciple who pursues ‘his Kingdom and his righteousness’ first will find that everything else in life falls into place.
Kingdom relationships (7:1-12)
This final section addresses personal and community relations and the way human beings relate to each other. Instead of using pressure, judgment and manipulation, a disciple should learn the simple power of asking, and do to others as s/he would want them to do for him/her.
Beware of false prophets/Obey the King (7:13-29)
False teachers are identified by the result, or ‘fruit’, of their teachings. The disciple who obeys the King’s teaching will find that this lifestyle stands firm when everything else collapses.
Chapters 8 – 10 The power of the Kingdom in mission
Jesus’ healing ministry (8:1-17)
Matthew has collected the majority of his healing stories into chapters 8 and 9, prior to the mission instructions in chapter 10. He starts with three ‘simple’ healing stories:
8:2-4 In a moving demonstration of God’s love, the first detailed healing is of a skin disease that compelled the victim to cry out ‘unclean’ wherever he was. Here is the lonely outcast now brought inside the community.
8:5-13 Matthew’s second detailed account concerns a Gentile soldier – another outcast. The relatively long comment in verses 11-12 demonstrates Matthew’s emphasis that the ministry of Jesus will effect the nations of the world, and there will be many surprises.
8:14-17 This beautiful simple healing leads to the healing of many. Matthew has taken this story from Jesus’ first day of ministry in Capernaum, as described by Peter in Mark 1.
The real cost of being apprentices (8:18-22)
The call to be disciples (or apprentices), and the reality of that calling, are leading themes in this gospel. Matthew specifically intercalates these brief stories, along with 9:9-17, to punctuate the three miracle sections in chapters 8 and 9.
8:20,22 An apprentice of Jesus responds to an invitation that will require an immediate and costly response.
The power and authority of Jesus (8:23-9:8)
In recording this second succession of miracles, Matthew is demonstrating Jesus’ power and authority; first his power over nature (the storm), second his power over evil (the demon possessed men), and third his authority to forgive sins.
Discipleship, the call and the Holy Habits (9:9-17)
Within the rising crescendo of miracle stories in these two chapters, Matthew now places two further incidents concerning apprenticeship under Jesus. The first, being more personal, may indicate that Matthew is making a personal challenge to the reader.
9:14-17 The Holy Habit of fasting is the foundation of all Holy Habits and is therefore the one Matthew chooses to place at this summary point. Jesus is making the point that within His Kingdom, all Holy Habits (spiritual disciplines) are reworked, and this is exactly demonstrated in the practice of fasting itself. In the Old Covenant, fasting, although used in different ways, always has to do with repairing damage. In contrast, each of the four examples of fasting in the New Testament (excluding Saul’s immediate post-conversion fast which was essentially an OT fast because he knew no better at that point) are each fasts that establish bridgeheads for the Kingdom in new places. Christians fast to take the victory of the Cross and Kingdom forward.
Jesus’ power over death shows he is the Messiah (9:18-34)
These two stories are the crescendo of all the healing accounts Matthew has listed in these two chapters. Jesus brings the young girl back to life demonstrating his power over death, but this story is recorded before the healing of the blind and mute men because Matthew has the Isaiah prophecies of Isaiah 35:5-6 in mind, prophecies that point directly to Jesus being the anointed servant king, the Messiah.
9:34 The crescendo is immediately followed by the Pharisees’ rejection of Jesus as demonic. Matthew will respond to this at length in chapter 12 where he has collected a number of ‘opposition’ narratives.
Jesus commissions his apostles into mission (9:35-10:4)
This short section operates as a link narrative into the second main teaching discourse on mission (10:5-42). It is a summary section and because it reads in very similar terms to 4:23-25, Matthew is probably indicating that many of the events he has recorded here happened in the same time period.
Jesus teaches about mission in persecution (10:5-42)
This section is as much about mission as it is about standing firm in persecution. The commission to ‘preach this message; the kingdom of heaven is near’ (v7) is a direct continuation of the message of John the Baptist (3:2,) and Jesus (4:17) and leads directly to 2 Timothy 4:2.
Chapters 11 – 13:52 The King explains the Kingdom
In this third collection before the main narrative (13:53 onwards), Matthew presents different reactions to Jesus and the Kingdom. Once again, Matthew typically intercalates the material with a short section addressed to Jesus’ apprentices (11:25-30), where the revelation given to the Jesus’ apprentices contrasts with the opposite reactions of others.
Doubt: John the Baptist (11:1-19)
After the flint-like statements from John in chapter 3, this wobble comes as a surprise. Jesus’ reply to John focuses not on what he (Jesus) is saying, but on what he is doing, which is the exact fulfilment of the Isaiah 35 prophecy about the coming Anointed King; in other words, Jesus is demonstrating to John that he is the Messiah. Matthew then uses this incident to record further sayings by Jesus about his cousin John, but he does this in terms of, and for the benefit and assurance of, his disciples. Jesus affirms John very highly, but adds that the ‘least’ Kingdom disciple is greater than John. He also affirms that from John’s early proclamation of the Kingdom, the Kingdom is advancing strongly, and forceful people are championing it. Jesus is speaking beyond John himself, he is addressing all who have doubts about him. He points to the miracles, and to the fruit of his ministry (v19) as evidence to persuade the doubter to believe in him.
Indifference: the Galilean villages (11:20-24)
The second reaction to Jesus is indifference. The Galilean villagers living where Jesus had based his ministry loved the miracles (at least four are specifically mentioned as occurring in this village), but they did not love the demand to ‘Repent’ (4:17). It is a chilling fact that the visitor to Capernaum today finds only ruins! Just as the ruins of Babylon witness the specific fulfilment of the OT prophecies predicting that outcome, so the ruins of Capernaum bear out these very words of Jesus. Indifference to Jesus brings ruin, and Capernaum today is visible proof that Jesus was neither lying nor exaggerating.
Revelation: the apprentices (11:25-30)
Just as the disciple passages (8:18-22, 9:9-17) are intercalated between the rising crescendo of miracle stories in chapters 8 and 9, so here Matthew inserts three brief affirmations for the apprentices who are faithful to him. Using recognisable Johannine phraseology and in moving and beautiful words, Jesus affirms his loyal apprentices. The truths about his identity and his kingdom are actually only revealed by the Father (John 3:27).
Opposition and accusation: the Pharisees (12:1-45)
Up to this point, Matthew has given only the briefest indication (9:34) that the Pharisees strongly oppose Jesus, but in this chapter he lists four clear accounts of their forthright opposition to him:
We should, once again, note that Matthew has intercalated this material with a beautiful description and explanation for his disciples of Jesus’ healing ministry (12:15-21).
12:32 In rejecting as ‘demonic’ the only means of salvation that God has provided, a person is directly rejecting God’s provision of forgiveness and so there is no means of their sins being forgiven!
12:43-45 Jesus’ final comment is usually always very badly misunderstood. Verses 43-45 are absolutely not to be understood as a final curious tangential aphorism about the deliverance ministry. Jesus is making here a summary comment on the main subject of the chapter – the Pharisees. His point is that, far from improving themselves and making themselves godly, their religious zeal has made them seven times more demonic than they were before they became believers! In a gospel that directly teaches about discipleship, this is a chilling warning of what happens when religious zeal is driven without revelation (11:25). To put it differently, the convert who drives out from his life the demons of ‘wine, women and song’ (Hosea 4:11) only to let in the demons of criticism, aggression, pride, envy, jealousy, violence and spiritual blindness is in a far worse spiritual condition than he was before his ‘conversion’. The person who turns from drunkenness, immorality and a godless lifestyle only to become self-righteous and then strap a bomb to his chest and blow up twenty random people has exchanged one demon for seven, and is in a truly terrifying spiritual state. Matthew reserves Jesus’ final warning to these zealots until chapter 23.
Confusion: Jesus’ family (12:46-50)
Matthew tones down the force and difficulty of Mark’s account of this incident*. But the force of Jesus’ rebuttal stands; his family are those who do the will of his Father in heaven! Jesus’ relations with his own family were complicated, and never properly resolved until the resurrection appearance to James (1 Corinthians 15:7). So this incident marks a decisive and difficult turning point in his relations with them. It is an example to all apprentices that Jesus must come before father and mother, sisters and brothers. As usual, Matthew recounts the story in order to strengthen the apprentice in his/her discipleship.
*where they are introduced in Mark’s gospel as questioning Jesus’ sanity: ‘He is out of his mind’ (Mark 3:21).
Explaining the Kingdom (13:1-52)
All the narrative from 11:2 to this point has been collected and ordered by Matthew in order to introduce the second main teaching section. Where, in contrast to the doubt, indifference, opposition and confusion reactions to Jesus’ teaching, Jesus now explains the Kingdom through the literary medium of parables. Matthew lists seven at this point:
1) The Sower and the Four Soils – four different receptions to ‘the message about the kingdom‘ (v19). This is Jesus’ leading parable because it addresses the process of reception, and therefore holds the key to understanding all the parables.
13:12 This is an axiomatic operating principle of the Kingdom.
2) The Weeds – Jesus explains and makes apparent the curious imperfections in the Kingdom.
3 & 4) The Mustard Seed & The Woman and The Yeast – the effect of the Kingdom is pervasive and extremely extensive.
13:33 This sentence is the very middle of Matthew’s gospel and this parable completely sums up the message of Matthew: the Kingdom of Heaven is coming into every part of humanity.
5 & 6) The Hidden Treasure & The Pearl – the Kingdom is the greatest treasure and it is worth giving up everything for.
7) The Net – the summary judgement at the end of this age.
13:53 – 16:20 The King’s identity as Messiah
Up to this point, Matthew has carefully collected and ordered his material into three distinct sections (Chapters 5-7, 8-10 and 11-13:52). From 13:53 onwards, Matthew (up until 27:61) now follows Mark’s chronology of Jesus’ ministry throughout Mark 6-15, economically rephrasing Mark’s writing, omitting only very occasional sentences (in addition to those stories he has already brought forward into the chapters 8-13), but inserting large sections of Jesus’ teaching.
Rejection of the movement: rejection by Nazareth (13:53-58)
Matthew begins his formal narrative of Jesus’ ministry with this record of Jesus visiting his home town. Their dismissal should probably be understood as originating from two issues. Firstly, ‘familiarity breeds contempt’; “how can you be special? We know you too well, you are one of us!” The second point, that Luke brings out clearly in his gospel, is the sense of “how dare you put yourself above us and choose others? We’re your own community, we expect special treatment!” (Luke 4:22-30). But in terms of the bigger picture of discipleship, the story speaks of the reality of the separation from one’s own community that loyalty to Jesus entails. This story is Jesus’ own personal example to his community of disciples of his very own teachings in Matthew 10. Jesus’ relationship with his own family is complicated, and his apprentices come of age when they identify with him over their own families.
Rejection of the movement: rejection by Herod (14:1-12)
Although Herod is reluctant to have John executed, we should not overlook that this was a significant blow to the movement. Herod takes out the man who pioneered the movement (chapter 3) and was currently the second most important political figure in it. The incident itself was a horribly dangerous mixture of sex, power, fear and violence. In such a culture, the event foretold the violence that the movement’s leaders should expect: Jesus’ death, Stephen’s death, Saul’s persecution, James’ execution, etc…
Jesus’ Galilean ministry: The feeding of the 5,000 (14:13-21)
Matthew has already described most of the key events in Jesus’ Galilean ministry (from chapters 4 to 13), so in this narrative section he chooses only to describe the final banquet – an astonishing miracle where the multitude of thousands of men, women and children are all fed. This is the only event (in Jesus’ three years of ministry) that is mentioned by every one of the four gospels. It demonstrates that Jesus is ‘the bread of life’, he is the ‘manna’ that every person needs each day of their lives. He is the provider of all that humanity needs, he is the final answer. It is also a foretaste of the final banquet in heaven. In John’s gospel, he records this event in terms of the Eucharist (John 6).
Jesus’ Galilean ministry: Jesus walks on the water (14:22-36)
This is an immediate sequel to the ‘end of ministry banquet’ in Galilee (14:13-21) and must be understood in this context. In John’s gospel, he records that at the end of the banquet, the crowd tried to make him king. Jesus’ dismissal of the crowd and his sending of the disciples to exhaust themselves all night on the sea immediately deflates any such enthusiasm. But the event is engineered by Jesus in order to force his apostles to reconsider his identity. While they do this instinctively in the crisis, ‘you are the son of God’ (v33), this process does not come to fruition until Peter’s forthright statement in 16:16 – ‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.’
Jesus’ Galilean ministry: opposition by the Pharisees (15:1-20)
This conflict event is described at length and in detail and therefore must be understood as a public challenge by the Pharisees. Jesus’ imperative to his apprentices is typically economic: ‘leave them’ (15:14), i.e., don’t have a massive theological punch-up, simply leave them. Again, very typically, Jesus answers the root question and issue which here is about right-standing before God, not the superficial issue of bodily cleanness. What a disciple chooses to eat is utterly irrelevant in terms of the kingdom, but the disciple’s words and actions are utterly crucial because they demonstrate to the world the person’s spiritual state.
15:16 This statement appears provocative, but Jesus is deliberately pushing his disciples to think properly! This leads to 16:11 and then to the ultimately important 16:16!
15:19 Jesus articulates the sins of the heart which follow the order of the 10 commandments.
Jesus’ Gentile ministry: the believing Gentile (15:21-28)
An exceptional example of faith and answered prayer. A story that in many ways is similar to that of the Centurion (8:5-13).
Jesus’ Gentile ministry: the feeding of the 4,000 (15:29-39)
This is the banquet at the close of Jesus’ Gentile ministry, and it deliberately parallels the banquet at the end of his Galilean ministry (14:13-21).
Jesus’ Gentile ministry: opposition by the Pharisees (16:1-12)
Matthew recorded the Pharisees’ opposition to Jesus at the end of the Galilean ministry (15:1-20) and here he records that their opposition was the turning point for Jesus. Jesus uses the incident to give a severe warning about the Pharisees’ teaching.
Peter states that Jesus is the Messiah (16:13-20)
The entire section from 13:53 has built to this point.
16:17-18 The word ‘revealed’ is important: it picks up directly on 11:25. Note the interplay between the two men; ‘You are the Messiah’, reply: ‘And you are Petros (Peter)’. After the apparent failures of the recent stories (15:16, 16:8, 9, 11) these verses contain strong statements affirming the disciples’ progress.
16:20 Since the concept of Messiahship had been twisted and distorted with political baggage, Jesus tells his apostles not to use the term. Instead he chooses the title prophesied by Daniel, ‘Son of Man’ – the one bringing in the Kingdom of God. Jesus himself delays his public assertion that he is the Messiah until it is put to him under oath at his trial by the High Priest (26:64).
16:21 – 20:34 The journey to Jerusalem: the king teaches his disciples about community and his coming death
1. Jesus predicts his death (first time) (16:21-29)
2. The transfiguration (17:1-13)
3. Healing of boy with demon (17:14-21)
4. Jesus predicts his death (second time) (17:22-23)
5. Temple tax (17:24-27)
Community discipleship issues
6. Community Issue 1: Greatness in the Kingdom (18:1-9)
6a. Parable of the lost sheep (18:10-14)
7. Community Issue 2: Handling conflict in the Kingdom (18:15-20)
7a. Parable of the unmerciful servant (18:21-35)
8. Community Issue 3: Marriage, divorce, sex and the Kingdom (19:1-12)
8a. The little children (19:13-15)
9. Community Issue 4: Handling wealth and the Kingdom (19:16-30)
9a. Parable of the workers in the vineyard (20:1-16)
10. Jesus predicts his death a third time (20:17-19)
11. Community Issue 5: Handling power and authority in the Kingdom (20:20-27)
12. Two blind men receive their sight (20:29-34)
Now that Peter has stated that Jesus is the Messiah, Jesus immediately introduces the second phase of his ministry, which is to go to Jerusalem and be crucified. Jesus uses the journey to teach and instruct his disciples about two things: first that he is going to die, and second, how his apprentices in the Kingdom are to handle the leading challenges of community life (after his death and resurrection).
Jesus predicts his death (first time) (16:21-29)
This is a crucial incident in the gospel. Peter’s attempt to rebuke Jesus comes from the very heart of every unredeemed apprentice. Jesus publicly exposes the mistake to all the apostles, and then immediately teaches the heart of discipleship which is to take up your cross and identify fully with Christ accepting whatever consequences may come. But it is a serious mistake to see all discipleship as pain and suffering; Jesus carefully articulates that the reward for those who identify with him in this obedience is that ‘they will see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom’ (16:28). This is the glorious motivation for all discipleship – we will see Jesus and his Kingdom coming (with power) in our lives. The apostle Paul articulates this so brilliantly in all his teaching about the Spirit in his letters.
The transfiguration (17:1-13)
In this wonderful (but in some ways strange and unexpected) incident, God the Father affirms to Peter, James and John (again by revelation, but this time revelation of a different kind) a greater depth of the truth in Peter’s confession ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God’ (16:16, 17:5). The Father gives affirmation from Moses and Elijah (representing the Law and the Prophets) to Jesus that his coming death will be the exodus of humanity (from their slavery to sin). So the incident confirms the answers to the two great questions of the gospel:
The divine voice first intervened at Jesus’ baptism as he began the process of revealing his identity. This second intervention comes as Jesus begins the journey to fulfil atonement for humanity.
Healing of a boy with a demon and the second death prediction (17:14-23)
Matthew follows Mark’s recording of the failure of the remaining nine apprentices to deal with this demon. Jesus’ frustration is seen (as with 15:16, and 16:9) in his apprentices’ slowness to grasp the authority of faith. The incident is recorded as a clear rebuke to the disciples, and leads directly into Jesus’ second prediction of his death. Throughout these series of events from v1 onwards, Matthew demonstrates not only the true identity and calling of Jesus, but the essence and call of Jesus’ apprentices.
Temple tax (17:24-27)
This incident is only recorded by Matthew, and because it involves tax collecting, points towards this ex-tax-collector apostle’s authorship of this gospel. Also, in mentioning the Temple, it indicates a pre-AD70 dating, since there would be little point in recording the instruction to pay the temple tax if there was no temple! Its significance lies in the example Jesus gives in complying with a secondary issue, even though he need not have done so, in order not to cause unnecessary offence. It also addresses the issue of the church as a community in the non-believing world and therefore serves as a bridge into the next section which addresses the leading issues that his community of apprentices will face after he has left them.
Community Issue 1: Greatness in the Kingdom (18:1-9)
Chapter 18 is Matthew’s fourth main block of teaching, in which Jesus completely inverts the world’s concept of greatness in His Kingdom. The greatest celebrities of the Kingdom are the powerless children, the weak, the vulnerable, the unsophisticated, the inarticulate, the outsiders, etc. Following his usual practice, Matthew follows this incident by adding collected aphorisms by Jesus on this discipleship issue. In doing so, Matthew is applying the Kingdom teaching of Jesus for the apprentice.
Parable of the lost sheep (18:10-14)
Jesus’ teaching that humility is the evidence of true greatness in the Kingdom immediately leads into this delightful and popular parable about the lost sheep. It speaks of God’s love and searching for the very weakest, and is a direct example of how the community of his apprentices should live out their humble service and love for each other – which is true greatness.
Community Issue 2: Handling conflict in the Kingdom (18:15-20)
Conflict between church members is not only common, but is certainly one of the most damaging issues the community of Jesus’ apprentices face. Jesus has already identified the handling of anger as the first leading issue that the apprentice will face (5:21-26) and of course we all know only too well that we have to deal with it almost every day of our lives. So it is unsurprising that the issue is addressed here in terms of the community. In these crucial verses, Jesus establishes a clear process (involving three stages) for the resolution of disputes.
Parable of the unmerciful servant (18:21-35)
This powerful and disturbing parable ends with both servants bound in the prison of hatred and unforgiveness. It is a chilling illustration that uncontrolled anger without forgiveness binds every man and woman until the very last penny is paid, the opponent has suffered, and forgiveness is granted ‘from your heart’ (v35).
Community Issue 3: Marriage, divorce, sex and the Kingdom (19:1-12)
With characteristic economy and clarity, Jesus steers his apprentices through the complicated and sensitive questions of divorce, marriage and sex by simply affirming his Father’s commandment from the beginning. But the way he does this is significant, because (again, very characteristically) he places the onus for obedience on the one who reads scripture; ‘Haven’t you read?’ (v4) – is it really possible that you haven’t meditated long and in depth over some of the very first words God ever spoke and on the most central issue of the human life? He then affirms God’s will by warning that we should obey God: ‘That which God has joined together let not man divide’ (v6). Kingdom apprentices of Jesus have no freedom to change what the Father has ordained. Contemporary humanity is keenly aware of the difficulties many face to obey these callings. We should rightly be compassionate and understanding, but Jesus’ teaching about lust and divorce marriage and sex sets an exceptionally high bar (5:27-32), and we are called to live and affirm what he himself affirms.
19:11 Jesus has affirmed his Father’s purpose that humanity lives in heterosexual monogamous covenant. Here he affirms the place and calling of the single, celibate person in the Kingdom. Isaiah 56 prophesies a special place of privilege in the Temple courts for the eunuch in the Kingdom.
The little children (19:13-15)
Jesus has just affirmed the place of the married couple and the celibate apprentice in His Kingdom. This incident is included here because it affirms the full place of children alongside them in the Kingdom.
Community Issue 4: Handling wealth and the Kingdom (19:16-30)
The incident with the ‘rich young man’ provides a springboard for Matthew to extend Jesus’ teaching about money to the individual (6:19-34) into the wider context of the believing community. Jesus again emphasises the expectation that his apprentices should prioritise the kingdom by selling their possessions and giving to the poor and thereby gain treasure in heaven. This leads Peter to ask what benefits the apostles and the apprentices will have since they have already ‘left everything to follow you’ (v27). Jesus assures them that such dedication and sacrifice will be rewarded astronomically, but states that the final outcome will be extremely different from what is expected here and now.
19:21 This is the seventh (and last) time that Matthew records Jesus specifically calling a person to ‘follow me’. This demonstrates the immense care Matthew has shown in recording the narrative. Significantly, riches thwart obedience (6:24).
Parable of the workers in the vineyard (20:1-16)
Once again, in order to illustrate this point, Jesus teaches a parable demonstrating God’s amazing generosity to outsiders. It is never too late to join the Kingdom, and no one is too bad (or from the content of the parable, ‘too useless’); a full place is offered to all late-comers or outsiders. Note that the principle of v16 is demonstrated in the contrasting outcomes of the rich man (19:22) and the disciples (19:28).
20:14 The leading imperative in Matthew 5-7 is ‘seek first his kingdom and his righteousness’ (6:33). The righteousness of God is imputed through faith in Christ and is binary; a person is either in or out, as is the case with this parable. But participation in the Kingdom is a matter of degree: ‘the measure you use is measured to you’, with the result that the rewards in the Kingdom are directly proportional to one’s faithful engagement with it, as per the parable of the talents (25:14-31, note especially v29.)
Jesus predicts his death a third time (20:17-19)
This is stated clearly and without ambiguity for a third time. It is illustrated by the final community issue addressed on the journey to Jerusalem (20:27).
Community Issue 5: Power and authority in the Kingdom (20:20-27)
If it wasn’t such an appalling mistake, the manipulation attempted by John, James and their mother would be comical. But the only possible way to have genuine executive authority in the Kingdom is by faithfully going through crucifixion. Instead, those in authority and power in the church must serve the community of apprentices as slaves and follow Jesus giving their lives away.
Two blind men receive their sight (20:29-34)
The majority of Jesus’ healing miracles take place in the lead up to the moment when Peter states he is the Messiah (16:16). From then on, the miracles seem to be more occasional, deliberate and strategic, as is the case here. Jesus the Messiah is going to Jerusalem to ransom humankind (20:28); the blind men can see, but can you see? Do you really understand what is happening?
21 – 25 Jesus challenges the religious leaders and teaches about the end of the age and the final judgement
1. The King enters Jerusalem and the Temple (21:1-17)
1a. The cursing of the fig tree (21:18-22)
2. Confrontation and response (21:23 – 23:40)
2a. Challenge 1: the priests: Jesus’ authority (21:23-27)
Parable of two sons (21:28-32)
Parable of the tenants (21:33-46)
Parable of the wedding banquet (22:1-14)
2b. Challenge 2: Pharisees: paying taxes to Caesar (22:15-22)
2c. Challenge 3: Sadducees: marriage in heaven (22:23-33)
2d. Challenge 4: A legal expert: the greatest commandment (22:34-40)
3. Response: Jesus’ identity: who’s son is the Messiah? (22:41-46)
3a. Jesus’ severe warning to the Pharisees (23:1-39)
4. The end of the age (24:1-44)
5. The final judgement (24:45 – 25:41)
The King enters Jerusalem and the Temple (21:1-17)
Throughout the different phases of Jesus’ ministry, he has been challenged by those with both secular and religious power, and Matthew has recorded that at several points ‘he withdrew’ (14:3, 15:21, 16:5). On Jesus’ part this was not cowardice, but strategy. He deliberately held back in order to build the ministry elsewhere. But now he consciously takes the initiative and in a carefully (but privately) arranged strategy, boldly enters Jerusalem and the Temple and with literal physical force challenges the blatant ungodliness at the heart of the religious system. He then heals the blind and the lame in a public demonstration of the fulfilment of the Messianic prophecies of Isaiah 35. Professor Tom Wright argues that it was this event that led directly to his crucifixion. From this point on, Jesus was far too dangerous a political and religious figure to have the freedom of Jerusalem.
The cursing of the fig tree (21:18-22)
This event (which often perplexes people) makes complete sense in the light of the context of Jesus’ deliberate, highly planned, confrontation in the Temple. The fig tree is the symbol of the Jewish nation, but spiritually it is barren and fruitless! What Jesus did to the fig tree is about to happen to their entire religious system. It is utterly fruitless and barren and is about to be dismissed! Even more astonishing is the New Testament theology that understands that when God’s curse fell on the fig tree symbolic of the Jewish nation, that coming Friday it was God himself in Christ who bore the full force of that curse in himself (Galatians 3:13).
21:21 Jesus’ reply is typical of the way that Matthew has consistently used both the narrative and Jesus’ teaching about the Kingdom to then teach about discipleship. In this case, here is another opportunity for Jesus to teach and exhort ‘you of little faith’ (8:26) to have faith in Him. There is a terrible seriousness to the story at this point.
Challenge 1: Jesus’ authority (21:23-27)
Unsurprisingly, those in authority in the Temple who could not deny either the scriptural challenge (Jeremiah 7:11), nor the Messianic nature of his healings, challenge Jesus to present his credentials once they have the chance. What authority do you have to do these things? But since they refuse to answer Jesus’ question about John the Baptist, he refuses to answer them directly. Instead, he teaches three parables against them. Note the interplay here: they began by challenging him, now he has every right to ask them leading questions! And since they refuse to answer his direct questions (v27), Jesus instead gets them to answer indirect questions through parables.
Parable of two sons (21:28-32)
The first son represents the multitudes of Israel; sinners who then repented and turned to God through the ministry of John the Baptist. The second son represents those religious leaders who nominally represented the things of God, but in practice rejected God’s minister John the Baptist. Jesus frames the parable and the question (v31) so that through their own answer they both condemn themselves out of their own mouths, and show that they know the answer to their own question to Jesus in v23.
Parable of the tenants (21:33-46)
Jesus then deliberately takes the Isaianic illustration of the nation of Israel, the vineyard (Isaiah 5), and in a violent, grossly unjust story he makes them once again condemn themselves out of their own mouths (v41). While describing himself as ‘the son’ under direct commission from his father, in answer to their question in v23, the Pharisees admit that ‘the vineyard’ should be given to others and they themselves deserve ‘a wretched end’ (21:41). Jesus’ statement in v43 is unambiguous – he even uses the name of God! But the chief priests are cowards afraid of the crowds (v46).
Parable of the wedding banquet (22:1-14)
This is one of the strangest parables because is seems to have two parts. The guest’s refusal to accept the banquet describes the religious authorities’ refusal to engage with Jesus’ kingdom movement. But the ejection of the unprepared outsider from the feast underlines the need to engage with the kingdom on the terms set by Jesus. Since ‘many are invited, but few are chosen’ (22:14), the apprentice must seek first his kingdom and his righteousness (6:33).
Challenge 2: Pharisees: paying taxes to Caesar (22:15-22)
Jesus’ discernment, wisdom and the sheer brilliance with which he dismisses the Pharisees’ challenge, exposing them as hypocrites, makes this one of the best-loved incidents in the gospels. Even his opponents are amazed by him.
Challenge 3: Sadducees: marriage in heaven (22:23-33)
Both religious groups try to trick Jesus with an issue they themselves struggle with. This one (from the Sadducees, the ‘high-church liberals’) is equivalent to the ‘how many angels can you get on a pin head’ question. Jesus’ reply stabs to the heart of genuine religion; those who do not know the word of God and the power of God are doomed to triviality, error and religious nonsense. His statement about angels being celibate is an important revelation that leads directly to the high value of celibacy in Christianity (1 Corinthians 7:25-28). He then quotes Exodus 3:6 back to the Sadducees showing that they have not even understood their own foundational text (quoting Exodus 3:6 to a Sadducee is like quoting John 3:16 to an Evangelical!).
Challenge 4: the greatest commandment (22:34-40)
Although this fourth challenge is introduced as another challenge from his opponents (in this case an expert in the law, or the Torah), both the question and Jesus’ answer are straightforward; both the law, and by implication, the Kingdom that Jesus preaches, call for a response of love that involve the whole person (just as in v21).
Challenge 5: Jesus’ challenge to the religious leaders (22:41-46)
Having answered and silenced their hostile challenges, the legal onus is with Jesus to return the challenge, and he does so with one question which goes to the heart of his identity, and to which they give no answer. In quoting from the royal Psalm 110, he leads the Pharisees through his questioning to the point where they are logically forced to admit that the Messiah is not merely the son of David, but the son of God. Since the popular opinion in Jerusalem was that Jesus was the Messiah, and his entry into Jerusalem and his miracles in the Temple a few days earlier were the clear fulfilment of OT prophecy about the Messiah, Jesus is by implication looking them in the face and forcing them to admit that he is God’s son. Jesus’ approach to this issue is consistent throughout the gospels; he leads people to the point where they have to choose to make a response. So they give no answer, and having been defeated in five consecutive arguments, are terrified of any further humiliation and frightened by the implications of his final question to them. Jesus’ answer here leads directly to the charge under oath from the High Priest at the key point in his trial (26:63-64).
Jesus’ severe warning to the Pharisees (23:1-39)
Throughout the gospel, Matthew has recorded both the Pharisees’ opposition to Jesus and Jesus’ teaching against them (5:20, 6:16, chapter 12, 16:1-12, 22:15-22). This religious sect who were zealous for holiness in ways that addressed the outward form of religion and not the heart are the foil that contrast with Jesus’ apprentices of the Kingdom. Their similarity to the Kingdom movement, and also their strong rejection of him, single them out as dangerous and to be exposed. In terms of structure, this chapter follows their deliberate challenges to Jesus in the temple courts (21:23-22:39.) So, it is in these temple courts that Jesus responds to them in a warning that is unparalleled elsewhere in his teaching. This speech is a severe warning of judgement against them for their hypocrisy and wickedness (23:28), and for the only time in the gospel, this group alone is specifically identified and warned that they are on the trajectory to hell itself (23:33)! Following immediately after Jesus’ implied claims of divinity in 22:41-46, and containing the divine voice of 23:34-39, the effect must have been frightening. This address sealed Jesus’ fate following his actions in the Temple at the beginning of the week. The authorities were in a corner; they had to silence Jesus, and quickly.
23:13 Jesus deliberately picks up on the OT pattern of seven ‘woes’ (Isaiah 6, Isaiah 29-32). Jesus’ leading charge against the Pharisees is that ‘You shut the kingdom of heaven in men’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to enter.’ This is the direct opposite of 3:2, 4:17 and 10:7, and the reason for the exceptional warning in v33.
23:33 Even this severe warning is framed as a question. Jesus tries with all he can to get them to think for themselves and choose to turn from their blind madness.
The end of the age (24:1-44)
From the beginning, the King has proclaimed the coming of the new age, the Kingdom of Heaven (4:17). Now, sitting opposite the Temple, Jesus teaches the leading features of the end of the present age and his return, in answer to the specific questions ‘when’ and ‘what’ in v3.
First, in a context of wars, famines, earthquakes, spiritual deception and persecution, the gospel (and the Kingdom) will be proclaimed throughout the whole earth (v4-14.)
Then, when some form of extreme spiritual blasphemy and evil is established ‘in the holy place’ (v15), a time of exceptional persecution will begin. This will be accompanied by a time of extreme spiritual deception (v15-25). Some understand that in these verses Jesus is giving specific instructions to his apprentices to flee from Jerusalem before the Romans sieged and sacked the city in AD70. Perhaps the principles he teaches apply to both scenarios.
Then Jesus will return to gather his apprentices (v26-35).
Lastly, Jesus gives his apprentices instructions about preparing for his return (v36-44).
The final judgement (24:45 – 25:41)
Since a final judgement follows the end of the age, Jesus immediately explains the process and (Kingdom) criteria that will be applied at the judgement. As with the order of judgement in the OT, Jesus begins with those in authority in ‘the house of God’.
Verses 45-51 describe the criteria of judgement for those stewards in his house, (church leaders.) Those who have demonstrated faithfulness and wisdom will be rewarded with a general license to manage ‘all (the master’s) possessions’ (v47.) Those (church leaders) who have behaved wickedly will weep in profound regret as they are cast out with the hypocrites.
Jesus then uses two parables in order to describe the second phase which is the judgement of all his apprentices who have believed in him. In the first, only those who have ‘kept watch’ (25:13) for the long haul are rewarded with entry to the feast. In the second, the faithful and good servants who have invested their gifts in the kingdom are rewarded with greater gifts and opportunities. The judgement is an elaboration of the kingdom operating principle ‘everyone who has will be given more, and he will have an abundance’ (13:12).
The final phase is the judgement of all remaining humanity throughout all time; ‘all the nations’ (25:32) – those who have never heard the gospel or even the name Jesus. Jesus directly uses the title ‘king’ in this teaching (which is not strictly speaking a parable.) In this case, the criteria for judgement is the individual’s active concern for the poor, weak and deprived. Those who have been kind to the ‘least’ of the king’s brothers and sisters are deemed to have been kind to him and are accepted into the kingdom of heaven on the grounds that their character is like his. This principle seems similar to that described by Paul in Romans 2:14-16.
In each of these judgement scenarios, the king rewards those who are ‘wise’, ‘faithful’ and ‘good’ and throws out those who are ‘wicked’, ‘foolish’, ‘lazy’, and uncaring.
Matthew 26-28 The King’s death and resurrection
26:7 It was a woman who first properly understood that Jesus was going to be killed, and women were the first witnesses of the resurrection.
26:30 This is the only reference to Jesus singing a hymn, and he does so before his greatest work. An insight into the way worship prepares us to serve God.
26:32 Jesus gives the detailed instructions just before the disciples need to know them.
26:39 The temptation Jesus faced was to run away and hide in the crowd so that Judas would not find him. It took great courage to simply stay in Gethsemane, even more so with the disciples all deeply asleep.
26:56 Matthew repeatedly makes the point that the events of Jesus’ death happened in line with what scripture had always indicated.
26:64 Jesus delays his open confession of being the Messiah until this crucial point in his (religious) trial. But even at this point, and even though he lets the high priest speak the title, he chooses to direct the attention to Daniel’s prophecy about the Son of Man (who initiated and led God’s Kingdom).
26:75 In court, two confessions is sufficient, but three puts the matter beyond any doubt.
27:11 In a similar way to his first trial, Jesus uses his civil trial before Pilate to make a clear affirmation of who he is, the King of the Jews; the theme that has underlined the gospel from the beginning.
27:19 Details from this brief incident along with other descriptions of events in Pilate’s household in these final two chapters indicate that Matthew has either direct or third party evidence from individuals there at the time.
27:40 This is the fourth time that Jesus is tempted to avoid the cross – the other three being in the desert (4:1-11).
27:43 Once again (26:63), it is the religious leaders who verbalise the title.
27:46 Jesus quotes the first line of the OT Psalm that describes a person being crucified, and ends with vindication and global honour. The phrase expresses the experience of apparent rejection by God, but it is also a mighty statement of faith by an utterly weak and exhausted man, who believes as that Psalmist does, that vindication is just about to happen. This is Jesus’ theology of atonement.
27:51 Matthew records the details and events of the crucifixion, which demonstrate that it is the final judgement: darkness, an earthquake, the rocks splitting, the dead being raised.
The Resurrection (28:1-20)
Matthew’s gospel has been strongly Jewish in culture, literary style and concept throughout, and this is the case with his short narration of the resurrection. Apart from the obvious central fact that Jesus is alive again, Matthew gives high profile to the guards, who are mentioned in each of the three stories (27:66, 28:4 and 28:11-15). The reason appears to be that Matthew is specifically shaping the narrative to expose and counter the false account created by the religious leaders that Jesus’ body was stolen by the disciples (28:13). This highlights the importance of the details in Matthew’s trial narratives that demonstrate he is using a source from within Pilate’s household (27:19).
28:7 This is the second time the disciples are instructed to go to Galilee. They are in such disarray that they actually disobey him.
28:9 Such is the greatness of Jesus’ victory that he has no need show off in front of his enemies; such action would simply credit them with honour. As always, Jesus ‘shows himself’ to his friends (John 14:21).
28:16 Although Matthew describes the great commission being given to the eleven disciples, I follow John Wenham who argues that in addition the 500 were also present (1 Corinthians 15:6), since this was the heartland of Jesus’ discipling ministry.
28:18-19 This great commission begins with Jesus’ authority in the kingdom of heaven and leads directly to discipleship. It is the logical conclusion and extension of the two themes that have driven the entire argument throughout Matthew’s gospel; Jesus’ identity, and the importance of discipleship. Matthew does not record the ascension, in order to emphasise that Jesus is here with you and me now.
The overall message of the Gospel of Matthew:
The main message of the Gospel of Matthew is that Jesus is the Messiah; he is the Son of Man who is bringing and establishing the Kingdom of Heaven on earth, and he is calling men and women to follow him as his disciples.
The leading imperatives:
3:8 Produce fruit in keeping with repentance.
4:7 Do not put the Lord your God to the test.
4:10 Worship the Lord and serve him only.
4:17 Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near.
Sermon on the Mount
5:16 Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works and glorify your father …
5:17 Do not think I have come to abolish the law and the prophets.
5:25 (Re: Anger and Conflict) Settle matters quickly with your adversary who is taking you to court. Do it while you are still with him on the way …
5:30 Deal ruthlessly with any area of your life prone to sin.
5:34 Do not swear (take oaths) at all.
5:37 Simply let your Yes be Yes and your No be No.
5:39 Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also…
5:40 …and if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well.
5:41 If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.
5:42 Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.
5:44 But I tell you: love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your father who is in heaven.
5:48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
Spiritual Disciplines (Holy Habits)
6:1 Be careful not to do your acts of righteousness before men to be seen by them.
6:3 When you give to the needy, do not let your right hand know what your left hand is doing.
6:6 When you pray go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father…
6:7 …and when you pray do not keep babbling like the pagans.
6:17 When you fast do not look sombre like the hypocrites do.
Wealth and Anxiety
6:19 Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth…
6:20 …but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven.
6:25 Do not worry about your life.
6:31 Do not worry saying ‘what shall we eat?’, ‘what shall we drink?’, ‘what shall we wear?’ …
6:33 Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness …
6:34 Do not worry about tomorrow.
7:1 Do not judge.
7:6 Do not give dogs what is sacred.
7:13 Enter through the narrow gate.
7:15 Watch out for false prophets.
7:24 Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house upon a rock.
9:38 Ask the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into his harvest…
10:7 …as you go preach this message: “The Kingdom of Heaven is near”.
10:8 Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons.
10:17 Be on your guard against men.
10:14 When they arrest you do not worry about what to say.
10:26 Do not be afraid of them.
10:27 What I tell you in the dark, speak in the daylight.
10:28 Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather be afraid of the one who can kill both body and soul in hell.
10:31 So do not be afraid.
11:28 Come to me all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart and you will find rest for your souls.
15:14 Leave them (the Pharisees); they are blind guides.
16:24 If anyone would come after me he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.
18:10 See that you do not look down on one of these little ones (children).
18:15 If your brother sins against you, go and show him your fault …
18:16 …if he will not listen take one or two others along…
18:17 …if he refuses to listen to them tell it to the church.
19:14 Let the children come to me and do not hinder them.
19:21 If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come follow me.
20:21 Whoever wants to be great among you must be your servant.
22:21 Give to Caesar what is Caesars and give to God what is God’s.
22:37 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.
23:3 You must obey them (teachers of the law) and do everything they tell you to do. But do not do what they do …
23:9 Do not call anyone on earth ‘father’ …
23:10 …nor are you to be called ‘teacher’.
24:4 Watch out that no one deceives you.
24:42 Therefore keep watch.
24:44 So you also must be ready.
25:13 Therefore, keep watch.
26:41 Watch and pray that you enter not into temptation.
28:19-20 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations baptising them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.
Holy Habits: (Holy Habits are patterns of living and lifestyle practices which we choose to do in our lives. These can be in order to either withdraw from the dominion of the world, such as silence, secrecy, submission, fasting, watching, simple living, or, practices that plunge us into the life of the Kingdom, such as prayer, worship, celebration, study, serving the poor and deprived, etc. They can be as simple as kneeling by your bed and thanking God at the end of the day, or as substantial as attending an annual Christian festival.)
The Sermon on the Mount and specifically Matthew 6:1-18 is the place in the New Testament where the practice of Holy Habits is addressed most clearly by Jesus. We should construct and review all our Holy Habits in the light of these teachings.
Question 1 -
A man whose work is professional mentoring in secular businesses once told me, as we played golf together, that he was wary of the word ‘disciple’ because he found it frightening. What do you think? Should we use the phrase ‘apprentice of the Kingdom’?
Question 2 -
If the one we follow was a refugee (2:13-15, 19-23), how should we respond to the hundreds of thousands being driven from their homes in the Middle East, and the many migrants fleeing into Europe?
Question 3 -
Jesus addresses anger (5:21-27) as the first issue that the individual disciple has to face, and conflict (18:15-35) as the second issue that the community of disciples has to face. On a scale of 1 – 10 where would you put your ability to handle anger (Ephesians 4:26,27), and where on the scale would you rate your church’s ability to handle conflict? This light-hearted video explores two perspectives about the source of anger …
Question 4 -
When Jesus wanted to describe the pervasive influence and growth of the Kingdom of Heaven, he spoke about the effect of yeast in bread. When he wanted to communicate the value of the Kingdom, he described treasure hidden in the ground. Think about your own experience of the Kingdom of Heaven and describe it in terms of something in everyday 21st Century life.
Question 5 -
Your Jewish friend Ben asks why you believe Jesus is the Messiah. What do you say?