Notes on


2024 Edition

Dr. Thomas L. Constable


The Synoptic Problem

The synoptic problem is intrinsic to all study of the Gospels, especially the first three.[1] The word "synoptic" comes from two Greek words, syn and opsesthai, meaning, "to see together." Essentially the synoptic problem involves all the difficulties that arise because of the similarities and differences between the Gospel accounts.[2] Matthew, Mark, and Luke have received the title "Synoptic Gospels" because they present the life and ministry of Jesus Christ similarly. The content and purpose of John's Gospel are sufficiently distinct to put it in a class by itself. It is not one of the so-called Synoptic Gospels.


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All four of the Gospels are selective accounts of the life and work of Jesus Christ, whose "career was destined to change the history of the world more profoundly than that of any other single individual who ever lived."[4]

"The Gospels are the most important part of Holy Scripture because all that preceded them led up to them, and all that follows emerges from them. If the revelation of the Gospels were to be removed, the Old Testament would be an enigma, and the remainder of the New Testament would never have been written. These two parts of the Bible, comprising sixty-two of its sixty-six Books, derive their value from the four which we call the Gospels."[5]

Part of the synoptic problem is determining the sources that the Holy Spirit led the evangelists to use in producing their Gospels. There is internal evidence (within the individual Gospels themselves) that the writers used source materials as they wrote. The most obvious example of this is the Old Testament passages to which each one referred directly or indirectly.

Since Matthew and John were disciples of Jesus Christ, many of their statements represent eyewitness accounts of what happened. Likewise, Mark had close connections with Peter, and Luke was an intimate associate of Paul as well as a careful historian (Luke 1:1-4). Information that the writers obtained verbally (oral tradition) and in writing (documents) undoubtedly played a part in what they wrote. Perhaps the evangelists also received special revelations from God before and/or when they wrote their Gospels.

Some scholars have devoted much time and attention to the study of the other sources the evangelists may have used. They are the "source critics" and their work constitutes "source criticism." Because source criticism and its development are so crucial to Gospel studies, a brief introduction to this subject follows.[6]

In 1776 and 1779, two posthumously published essays by A. E. Lessing became known, in which he argued for a single written source for the Synoptic Gospels. He called this source the Gospel of the Nazarenes, and he believed its writer had composed it in the Aramaic language. To him, one original source best explained the parallels and differences between the Synoptics. This idea of an original source or primal Gospel caught the interest of many other scholars. Some of them believed there was a written source, but others held that it was an oral source.

As one might expect, the idea of two or more sources occurred to some scholars as the best solution to the synoptic problem (e.g., H. J. Holtzmann and B. H. Streeter). Some favored the view that Mark was one of the primal sources because over 90 percent of the material in Mark also appears in Matthew and/or Luke. Some proposed another primary source, "Q," an abbreviation of the German word for source: quelle. It supposedly contained the material in Matthew and Luke that does not appear in Mark.

Gradually, source criticism gave way to "form criticism." The "form critics" concentrated on the process involved in transmitting what Jesus said and did to the primary sources. They assumed that the process of transmitting this information followed patterns of oral communication that are typical in primitive societies. Prominent New Testament form critics include K. L. Schmidt, Martin Dibelius, and Rudoph Bultmann. Typically, oral communication has certain characteristic effects on stories: It tends to shorten narratives, to retain names, to balance teaching, and to elaborate on stories about miracles, to name a few results.

The critics also adopted other criteria from secular philology (the study of language and languages) to assess the accuracy of statements in the Gospels. For example, they viewed as distinctive to Jesus only what was dissimilar to what Judean Jews or early Christians might have said. Given the critics' view of inspiration, it is easy to see how most of them concluded that the Gospels, in their present form, do not accurately represent what Jesus said and did. However, some conservative scholars have used the same literary method but held a much higher view of the Gospel: for example, Vincent Taylor, who wrote The Gospel According to St. Mark.

The next wave of critical opinion, "redaction criticism," began to influence the Christian world shortly after World War II. A redactor is an editor. The German scholar Gunther Bornkamm began this "school" of thought with an essay in 1948, which appeared in English in 1963.[7] Redaction critics generally accept the tenets of source and form criticism. However, they also believe that the Gospel evangelists altered the traditions that they received in order to make their own theological emphases. They viewed the writers not simply as compilers of the church's oral traditions, but as theologians who adapted the material for their own purposes. They viewed the present Gospels as containing both traditional material and edited material.

There is a good aspect and a bad aspect to this view. Positively, it recognizes the individual evangelist's distinctive purpose for writing. Negatively, it permits an interpretation of the Gospel that allows for historical error, and even deliberate distortion. Redaction scholars have been more or less liberal in their theology, depending on their view of Scripture generally. Redaction critics also characteristically show more interest in the early Christian community, out of which the Gospels came, and the beliefs of that community, than they do in Jesus' historical context. Their interpretations of the early Christian community vary greatly, as one would expect. In recent years, the trend in critical scholarship has been conservative: to recognize more rather than less Gospel material as having a historical basis.

Some knowledge of the history of Gospel criticism is helpful for the serious student who wants to understand the text. Questions of the historical background out of which the evangelists wrote, their individual purposes, and what they simply recorded or what they commented on—all affect interpretation. Consequently, the theologically conservative expositor can profit somewhat from the studies of scholars who concern themselves with these questions primarily.[8]

Most critics have concluded that one source that the writers used was one or more of the other Gospels. Currently most source critics believe that Matthew and Luke drew information from Mark's Gospel. Mark's accounts are generally longer than those of Matthew and Luke, suggesting that Matthew and Luke condensed Mark. To these critics, it seems more probable that they condensed him, than that he elaborated on them. There is no direct evidence, however, that one evangelist used another as a source. Since they were either personally disciples of Christ, or in close contact with eyewitnesses of His activities, they may not have needed to consult an earlier Gospel.

Most source critics also believe that the unique material in each Gospel goes back to Q. This may initially appear to be a document constructed out of thin air. However, the early church father Papias (A.D. 80-155) may have referred to the existence of such a source. Eusebius, the fourth-century church historian, wrote that Papias had written, "Matthew composed his history [Greek logia, lit. collection] in the Hebrew dialect, and every one translated it as he was able."[9] This is an important statement for several reasons, but here note that Papias referred to Matthew's logia. This may be a reference to Matthew's Gospel, but many source critics believe it refers to a primal document that became a source for one or more of our Gospels. Most of them do not believe that Matthew wrote Q. They see in Papias' statement support for the idea that primal documents such as Matthew's logia were available as sources, and they conclude that Q was the most important one.

Another major aspect of the synoptic problem is the order in which the Gospels appeared as finished products. This issue has obvious connections with the question of the sources that the Gospel writers may have used.

Until after the Reformation, almost all Christians believed that Matthew wrote his Gospel before Mark and Luke wrote theirs; they held Matthean priority. They did this largely because some of the early church fathers commented on Matthew's priority (e.g., Irenaeus, Eusebius, and Jerome).[10] From studying the similarities and differences between the Synoptics, some source critics also concluded that Matthew and Luke came into existence before Mark. They viewed Mark as a condensation of the other two. Some of the leaders in this movement were J. A. Eichorn, J. G. Herder, and J. J. Griesbach. The Tübingen school of scholars in Germany was also influential in promoting this view.

However, the majority of source critics today, as well as many evangelical scholars, believe that Mark was the first Gospel and that Matthew and Luke wrote later. As explained above, they hold this view because they believe it is more probable that Matthew and Luke drew from and expanded on Mark, than that Mark condensed Matthew and Luke. However, the number of scholars who hold Matthean priority is increasing.[11]

Since source criticism is highly speculative, many conservative Bible expositors (people who explain the Bible) today continue to lean toward Matthean priority. We—I put myself in this group—do so because there is no solid evidence to contradict this traditional view, which Christians held almost consistently for the church's first 17 centuries.

While the study of deducing which Gospel came first, and who drew from whom or what, appeals to many students of the Gospels, these issues are essentially academic ones. They have little to do with the meaning of the text. Consequently I do not plan to discuss them further, but refer interested students to the vast body of literature that is available. I will, however, deal with problems involving the harmonization of the Gospel accounts at the appropriate places in the exposition that follows. The Bible expositor's basic concern is not the history of the stories in the text, but their meaning and significance in their contexts. One conservative scholar spoke for many others when he wrote the following:

"… it is this writer's opinion that there is no evidence to postulate a tradition of literary dependence among the Gospels. The dependence is rather a parallel dependence on the actual events which occurred."[12]

A much more helpful critical approach to the study of the Bible is "literary criticism," which was the next wave of scholarly interest. This approach analyzes the text in terms of its literary structure, emphases, and unique features. It seeks to understand the canonical (final form) text as a piece of literature by examining how the writer wrote it. Related to this approach is "rhetorical criticism," which analyzes the text as a piece of rhetoric (persuasive speech). This approach is helpful because there are so many speeches in the Gospels.


"Genre" refers to the type of literature that a particular document fits within. Certain types of literature have features that affect their interpretation. For example, we interpret letters differently than poems. So it is important to identify the genre or genres of a book of the Bible.[13]

The Gospels are probably more like ancient Greco-Roman biographies than any other type of literature.[14] This category is quite broad and encompasses works of considerable diversity, including the Gospels. Even Luke, with its characteristic historiographic (written history) connections to Acts, qualifies as ancient biography. Unlike this genre, however, the Gospels "combine teaching and action in a preaching-oriented work that stands apart from anything else in the ancient world."[15] The Gospels also are anonymous, in the sense that the writers did not identify themselves as the writers—as Paul did in his epistles, for example. And they are not as pretentious as most ancient biographies. The word "gospel," by the way, comes from the old Saxon God's spell or word.[16]


External evidence strongly supports the Matthean authorship of the first Gospel. The earliest copies of the Gospel that we have begin: "KATA MATTHAION" ("according to Matthew"). Several early church fathers referred to Matthew (whose name means "Gift of God" or "Faithful") as the writer, including Clement of Rome, Polycarp, Justin Martyr, Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, and Origen.[17] Papias' use of the term logia to describe Matthew's work, cited above, is not clear evidence of Matthean authorship of the first Gospel.[18] Since Matthew was a disciple of Jesus and one of the 12 apostles, his work carried great influence and enjoyed much prestige from its first appearance. We might expect a more prominent disciple, such as Peter or James, to have written it. The fact that the early church accepted it as from Matthew further strengthens the likelihood that he indeed wrote it.

Internal evidence of Matthean authorship is also strong. As a tax collector for Rome, Matthew would have had to be able to write capably, he would have been a note-taker and preserver (unlike Jews of his time in general), and he probably knew shorthand.[19] His profession forced him to keep accurate and detailed records, which skill he put to good use in composing his Gospel. There are more references to money—and to more different kinds of money—in this Gospel, than in any of the others.[20] It has been estimated that about one-fifth of Jesus' teachings dealt with money matters.[21] Matthew humbly referred to himself as a tax collector, a profession with objectionable connotations in his culture, whereas the other Gospel writers simply called him "Matthew" (or "Levi"). Matthew modestly called his feast for Jesus "dining" (Matt. 9:9-10), but Luke referred to it as "a big reception" (Luke 5:29).[22] All these details confirm the testimony of the early church fathers.[23]

According to early church tradition, Matthew ministered in Palestine for several years after Jesus' ascension to heaven. He also made missionary journeys to the Jews who lived among the Gentiles outside Palestine: Diaspora Jews. There is evidence that he visited Persia, Ethiopia, Syria, and Greece.[24]

"It was no ordinary man who wrote a Gospel which Renan, the French critic, eighteen hundred years later, could call the most important book in the world. How many of our current best sellers will still be leading human thought in A.D. 3600?"[25]


Papias' statement, cited above, refers to a composition by Matthew in the hebraidi dialekto (the Hebrew or possibly Aramaic language or dialect, the same Greek word (hebraidi) referring to both cognate languages). This may not be a reference to Matthew's Gospel. Four other church fathers mentioned that Matthew wrote in Aramaic and that translations followed in Greek: Irenaeus (A.D. 130-202), Origen (A.D. 185-254), Eusebius (fourth century), and Jerome (fourth century).[26] However, they may have been referring to something other than our first Gospel. These references have led many scholars to conclude that Matthew composed his Gospel in Aramaic, and that someone else, or he himself, later translated it into Greek. However, no other book of any kind, written in Aramaic, has thus far been found.[27] Another possibility is that Matthew took extensive notes in Aramaic and then later composed his Gospel in Greek.[28]

If Matthew originally wrote his Gospel in Aramaic, it is difficult to explain why he sometimes, but not always, quoted from a Greek translation of the Old Testament, the Septuagint.[29] The Hebrew Bible (our Old Testament) would have been the normal text for a Hebrew or Aramaic author to use. A Greek translator might have used the Septuagint (abbreviated LXX) to save himself some work, but if he did so—why did he not use it consistently? Matthew's Greek Gospel contains many Aramaic words. This Aramaic original view also raises some questions concerning the reliability and inerrancy of the Greek Gospel that has come down to us.

There are several possible solutions to the problem of the language of Matthew's Gospel.[30] The best seems to be that Matthew wrote Aramaic notes—that God did not inspire—that are no longer extant (available to us). He also composed an inspired Greek Gospel, using these notes, that has come down to us in the New Testament. Many competent scholars believe that Matthew originally wrote his Gospel in Greek. They do so mainly because of his facility with the Greek language.[31] Most modern scholars do not believe that the Gospel of Matthew is a translation of an Aramaic document.[32]

"Archaeological evidence, as we see, does not support the view that the Gospels were written in Aramaic."[33]


Dating Matthew's Gospel is difficult for many reasons, even if one believes in Matthean priority. The first extra-biblical reference to it occurs in the writings of Ignatius (ca. A.D. 110-115).[34] However, Matthew's references to Jerusalem and the Sadducees point to dates of composition before A.D. 70, when the Romans destroyed Jerusalem. His references to Jerusalem assume its existence (e.g., 4:5; 27:53). Matthew recorded more warnings about the Sadducees than all the other New Testament writers combined, but after A.D. 70 they no longer existed as a significant authority in Israel.[35] Consequently, Matthew probably wrote before A.D. 70.[36]

References in the text to the customs of the Jews continuing "to this day" (27:8; 28:15) imply that some time had elapsed between the crucifixion of Jesus Christ and the composition of the Gospel. Since Jesus probably died in A.D. 33, Matthew may have composed his Gospel perhaps a decade or more later. A date between A.D. 40 and 70 is very probable. Some other dates proposed by reliable scholars include between A.D. 50 and 60,[37] or in the 60s,[38] though most scholars favor a date after A.D. 70.[39]

Place of Composition

Since Matthew lived and worked in Judea, we would assume that he wrote while living there. There is no evidence that excludes this possibility. Nevertheless, scholars love to speculate. Other sites that they have suggested include Antioch of Syria (Ignatius was bishop of Antioch), Alexandria, Edessa, Syria, Tyre, and Caesarea Marittima. These are all guesses.

Distinctive Features

"If a Bible reader were to jump from Malachi into Mark, or Acts, or Romans, he would be bewildered. Matthew's Gospel is the bridge that leads us out of the Old Testament and into the New Testament."[40]

Compared with the other Gospels, Matthew's is distinctively Jewish. He used parallelisms (successive verbal constructions that correspond in grammatical structure, sound, meter, meaning, or in other ways), as did many of the Old Testament writers, and his thought patterns and general style are typically Hebrew.[41] Matthew's vocabulary (e.g., kingdom of heaven, holy city, righteousness, etc.) and subject matter (e.g., the Law, defilement, the Sabbath, Messiah, etc.) are also distinctively Jewish.

Matthew referred to the Old Testament, especially Isaiah, more than any other evangelist.[42] The United Bible Society's Greek New Testament lists 54 direct citations of the Old Testament in Matthew, plus 262 widely recognized allusions and verbal parallels. W. Graham Scroggie counted 129 Old Testament references: 53 citations, and 76 allusions. He also claimed that there are more references to the Psalms (29), Deuteronomy (27), and Isaiah (26) than to any other Bible books—representing all three parts of the Hebrew Bible: the Law, the Prophets, and the Psalms (cf. Luke 24:44).[43] Usually Matthew referred to the Old Testament, or quoted someone doing so, in order to prove a point to his readers. The genealogy in chapter 1 traces Jesus' ancestry back to Abraham, the father of the Jewish race. Matthew gave prominent attention to Peter, the apostle to the Jews.[44] The writer also referred to many Jewish customs without explaining them, evidently because he believed most of his original readers would not need an explanation.

Another distinctive emphasis in Matthew is Jesus' teaching ministry. No other Gospel contains as many of Jesus' discourses and instructions. These include the Sermon on the Mount (chs. 5—7), the charge to the apostles (ch. 10), the parables of the kingdom (ch. 13), the lesson on forgiveness (ch. 18), the denunciation of Israel's leaders (ch. 23), and the Olivet Discourse (chs. 24—25).[45] About 60 percent of the book focuses on Jesus' teachings. However Matthew presented Jesus as a doer as well as a teacher. He referred to more than 20 miracles that Jesus performed.[46] Charles Ryrie counted 35 separate miracles of Christ recorded in the Gospels: 20 related in Matthew, 18 in Mark, 20 in Luke, and seven in John.[47] I have listed 39 references to His miracles in Appendix 6, at the end of these notes.

"A miracle … may be defined to be an event, in the external world, brought about by the immediate efficiency, or simple volition of God."[48]

The transitional nature of this Gospel is also evident in that Matthew alone, among the Gospel writers, referred to the church (16:18; 18:17). He recorded Jesus' prediction of the church, as well as instruction about how His disciples should conduct themselves in the church. God created the church in view of Israel's rejection of her Messiah (cf. 16:13-18; Rom. 11), though it was always in His eternal plan.

"Matthew reveals the King: then the Priest is seen in Mark: and the ultimate Prophet in Luke."[49]

Audience and Purposes

Several church fathers (i.e., Irenaeus, Origen, and Eusebius) stated what we might suppose from the distinctively Jewish emphases of this book, namely, that Matthew wrote his Gospel primarily for his fellow Jews.[50]

He wrote, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, for a specific purpose or, more accurately, specific purposes. He did not state these purposes concisely, as John did in his Gospel (John 20:30-31). Nevertheless they are clear from his content and his emphases.

"The author probably wrote primarily to persuade Jews that Jesus is the fulfillment of their Messianic hopes as pictured in the Old Testament."[51]

"Matthew has a twofold purpose in writing his Gospel. Primarily he penned this Gospel to prove Jesus is the Messiah, but he also wrote it to explain God's kingdom program to his readers. One goal directly involves the other. Nevertheless, they are distinct."[52]

"Matthew's purpose obviously was to demonstrate that Jesus Christ was the promised Messiah of the Old Testament, that He fulfilled the requirements of being the promised King who would be a descendant of David, and that His life and ministry fully support the conclusion that He is the prophesied Messiah of Israel. …

"As a whole, the gospel is not properly designated as only an apologetic for the Christian faith. Rather, it was designed to explain to the Jews, who had expected the Messiah when He came to be a conquering king, why instead Christ suffered and died, and why there was the resulting postponement of His triumph to His second coming."[53]

"This Gospel is in fact the history of His [Jesus'] rejection by the people, and consequently that of the condemnation of the people themselves, so far as their responsibility was concerned … and the substitution of that which God was going to bring in according to His purpose."[54]

Matthew presented three aspects to God's kingdom program: First, Jesus presented Himself to the Jews as the king that God had promised in the Old Testament. Second, Israel's leaders rejected Jesus as their king. This resulted in the postponement (or delay), not the cancellation, of the earthly messianic kingdom that God had promised Israel. Third, because of Israel's rejection, Jesus is now building His church in anticipation of His return to establish the promised messianic kingdom on the earth.[55]

There are at least three wider purposes that Matthew undoubtedly hoped to fulfill with his Gospel: First, he wanted to instruct Christians and non-Christians concerning the person and work of Jesus.[56] Second, he wanted to provide an apologetic (a defense and justification) to aid his Jewish brethren in witnessing to other Jews about Christ. Third, he wanted to encourage all Christians to witness for Christ boldly and faithfully. It is interesting that Matthew is the only Gospel writer to use the Greek verb matheteuo, "to disciple" (13:52; 27:57; 28:19; cf. Acts 14:21 for its only other occurrence in the New Testament). This fact shows his concern for making disciples of Christ.[57]

Arno Gaebelein observed seven prominent emphases in Matthew: (1) the King, (2) the kingdom, (3) the rejection of the King and the kingdom, (4) the [temporary] rejection of the Jews and their judgment, (5) the mysteries of the kingdom, (6) the church, and (7) the prophetic teaching concerning the end of the age.[58]

Donald Carson identified nine major themes in Matthew. They are: Christology, prophecy and fulfillment, law, church, eschatology (the end times), Jewish leaders, mission, miracles, and the disciples' understanding and faith.[59]

Plan and Structure

Matthew often grouped his material into sections so that three, five, six, or seven events, miracles, sayings, or parables appear together.[60] Jewish writers typically did this to help their readers remember what they had written. The presence of this technique reveals Matthew's didactic (instructional) intent. Furthermore, it indicates that his arrangement of material was somewhat topical, rather than strictly chronological. Generally, chapters 1 through 4 are in chronological order, chapters 5 through 13 are topical, and chapters 14 through 28 are again chronological.[61] Matthew is the least chronological of the Gospels.

Not only Matthew, but the other Gospel writers as well, present the life of Jesus Christ in three major stages. These stages are: His presentation to the Jewish people, their consideration of His claims, and their rejection and its consequences.

A key phrase in Matthew's Gospel enables us to note the major movements in the writer's thought. It is the phrase "when Jesus had finished" (7:28; 11:1; 13:53; 19:1; 26:1). This phrase always occurs at the end of one of Jesus' major addresses, except his criticism of Israel's leaders (ch. 23). A different address concludes each major section of the Gospel, and they are climactic. Matthew evidently used the narrative sections to introduce Jesus' discourses, which he regarded as especially important in his book. Mark, on the other hand, gave more detailed information concerning the narrative material (stories) in his Gospel. In addition to each major section, there is a prologue and an epilogue to Matthew's Gospel.


























Some commentators include chapter 23 with chapters 24 and 25, because chapter 23 is a discourse, as are chapters 24 and 25.[62] However, chapter 23 is a discourse directed to the scribes and Pharisees, whereas chapters 24 and 25, and the other teaching units identified in the chart above, are discourses addressed primarily to the apostles.

One writer believed that Matthew constructed his Gospel as an eleven-part chiasmus, with the center panel occurring in chapter 13.[63] He argued that this structure highlights the postponement (delay) of the earthly kingdom of Messiah:

"A.     Demonstration of Jesus' Qualifications as King (chaps. 1—4)

B.      Sermon on the Mount: Who Can Enter His Kingdom (chaps. 5—7)

C.      Miracles and Instruction (chaps 8—9)

D.      Instruction to the Twelve: Authority and Message for Israel (chap. 10)

E.      Opposition: The Nation's Rejection of the King (chaps. 11—12)

F.       Parables of the Kingdom: The Kingdom Postponed (chap. 13)

E.'      Opposition: The Nation's Rejection of the King (chaps. 14—17)

D.'     Instruction to the Twelve: Authority and Message for the Church (chap. 18)

C.'     Miracles and Instruction (chaps. 19—23)

B.        Olivet Discourse: When the Kingdom Will Come (chaps. 24—25)

A.'     Demonstration of Jesus' Qualifications as King (chaps. 26—28)"[64]


Matthew appears first among the four Gospels in our canon, because when the church established the canon, Matthew was believed to have been the first one written, and the one with the most developed connection to the Old Testament.[65]

"The forming of the fourfold Gospel canon probably took place around the middle of the second century. At about the same time, the apologist Justin Martyr was referring to these church scriptures as 'memoirs of the apostles.' He tells us that they were being read as scriptures in the worship services of the church."[66]


I.       The introduction of the King 1:1—4:11

A.      The King's genealogy 1:1-17

B.      The King's birth 1:18-25

C.      The King's childhood ch 2

1.      The prophecy about Bethlehem 2:1-12

2.      The prophecies about Egypt 2:13-18

3.      The prophecies about Nazareth 2:19-23

D.      The King's preparation 3:1—4:11

1.      Jesus' forerunner 3:1-12

2.      Jesus' baptism 3:13-17

3.      Jesus' temptation 4:1-11

II.       The authority of the King 4:12—7:29

A.      The beginning of Jesus' ministry 4:12-25

1.      The setting of Jesus' ministry 4:12-16

2.      Jesus' essential message 4:17

3.      The call of four disciples 4:18-22

4.      A summary of Jesus' ministry 4:23-25

B.      Jesus' revelations concerning participation in His kingdom 5:1—7:29

1.      The setting of the Sermon on the Mount 5:1-2

2.      The subjects of Jesus' kingdom 5:3-16

3.      The importance of true righteousness 5:17—7:12

4.      The false alternatives 7:13-27

5.      The response of the audience 7:28-29

III.      The manifestation of the King 8:1—11:1

A.      Demonstrations of the King's power 8:1—9:34

1.      Jesus' ability to heal 8:1-17

2.      Jesus' authority over His disciples 8:18-22

3.      Jesus' supernatural power 8:23—9:8

4.      Jesus' authority over His critics 9:9-17

5.      Jesus' ability to restore 9:18-34

B.      Declarations of the King's presence 9:35—11:1

1.      Jesus' compassion 9:35-38

2.      Jesus' commissioning of 12 disciples 10:1-4

3.      Jesus' charge concerning His apostles' mission 10:5-42

4.      Jesus' continuation of His work 11:1

IV.     The opposition to the King 11:2—13:53

A.      Evidences of Israel's opposition to Jesus 11:2-30

1.      Questions from the King's forerunner 11:2-19

2.      Indifference to the King's message 11:20-24

3.      The King's invitation to the repentant 11:25-30

B.      Specific instances of Israel's rejection of Jesus ch. 12

1.      Conflict over Sabbath observance 12:1-21

2.      Conflict over Jesus' power 12:22-37

3.      Conflict over Jesus' sign 12:38-45

4.      Conflict over Jesus' kin 12:46-50

C.      Adaptations because of Israel's rejection of Jesus 13:1-53

1.      The setting 13:1-3a

2.      Parables addressed to the multitudes 13:3b-33

3.      The function of these parables 13:34-43

4.      Parables addressed to the disciples 13:44-52

5.      The departure 13:53

V.      The reactions of the King 13:54—19:2

A.      Opposition, instruction, and healing 13:54—16:12

1.      The opposition of the Nazarenes and Romans 13:54—14:12

2.      The withdrawal to Bethsaida 14:13-33

3.      The public ministry at Gennesaret 14:34-36

4.      The opposition of the Pharisees and scribes 15:1-20

5.      The withdrawal to Tyre and Sidon 15:21-28

6.      The public ministry to Gentiles 15:29-39

7.      The opposition of the Pharisees and Sadducees 16:1-12

B.      Jesus' instruction of His disciples around Galilee 16:13—19:2

1.      Instruction about the King's person 16:13-17

2.      Instruction about the King's program 16:18—17:13

3.      Instruction about the King's principles 17:14-27

4.      Instruction about the King's personal representatives ch. 18

5.      The transition from Galilee to Judea 19:1-2

VI.     The official presentation and rejection of the King 19:3—25:46

A.      Jesus' instruction of His disciples around Judea 19:3—20:34

1.      Instruction about marriage 19:3-12

2.      Instruction about childlikeness 19:13-15

3.      Instruction about wealth 19:16—20:16

4.      Instruction about Jesus' passion 20:17-19

5.      Instruction about serving 20:20-28

6.      An illustration of illumination 20:29-34

B.      Jesus' presentation of Himself to Israel as her King 21:1-17

1.      Jesus' preparation for the presentation 21:1-7

2.      Jesus' entrance into Jerusalem 21:8-11

3.      Jesus' entrance into the temple 21:12-17

C.      Israel's rejection of her King 21:18—22:46

1.      The sign of Jesus' rejection of Israel 21:18-22

2.      Rejection by the chief priests and the elders 21:23—22:14

3.      Rejection by the Pharisees and the Herodians 22:15-22

4.      Rejection by the Sadducees 22:23-33

5.      Rejection by the Pharisees 22:34-46

D.      The King's rejection of Israel ch. 23

1.      Jesus' admonition of the multitudes and His disciples 23:1-12

2.      Jesus' indictment of the scribes and the Pharisees 23:13-36

3.      Jesus' lamentation over Jerusalem 23:37-39

E.      The King's revelations concerning the future chs. 24—25

1.      The setting of the Olivet Discourse 24:1-3

2.      Jesus' warning about deception 24:4-6

3.      Jesus' general description of the future 24:7-14

4.      The abomination of desolation 24:15-22

5.      The Second Coming of the King 24:23-31

6.      The responsibilities of disciples 24:32—25:30

7.      The King's judgment of the nations 25:31-46

VII.     The crucifixion and resurrection of the King chs. 26—28

A.      The King's crucifixion chs. 26—27

1.      Preparations for Jesus' crucifixion 26:1-46

2.      The arrest of Jesus 26:47-56

3.      The trials of Jesus 26:57—27:26

4.      The crucifixion of Jesus 27:27-56

5.      The burial of Jesus 27:57-66

B.      The King's resurrection ch. 28

1.      The empty tomb 28:1-7

2.      Jesus' appearance to the women 28:8-10

3.      The attempted cover-up 28:11-15

4.      The King's final instructions to His disciples 28:16-20


In the following section of these notes, I have provided a perspective on the major message that Matthew communicated in his Gospel. This is the task of "biblical theology."

"Biblical Theology is that discipline which sets forth the message of the books of the Bible in their historical setting."[67]

"Biblical Theology is that branch of theological science which deals systematically with the historically conditioned progress of the self-revelation of God as deposited in the Bible."[68]

The four Gospels are foundational to Christianity because they record the life of Jesus Christ and His teachings. Each of the four Gospels fulfills a unique purpose. They are not simply four versions of the life of Jesus. If one wants to study the life of Jesus Christ, the best way to do that is with a "Harmony of the Gospels" that correlates all the data chronologically.[69] However, if one wants to study only one of the Gospel accounts, then one needs to pay attention to the uniqueness of that Gospel. The unique material, what the writer included—and excluded (compared to the other Gospel writers)—reveals the purpose for which he wrote and the points that he wanted to stress. It also reveals the writer's distinctive message: what he wanted to say.

By the way, when referring to the four Gospels, or one or more of them, it is customary to capitalize the word "Gospel." When one refers to the gospel message, the good news, or the whole New Testament as the Christian gospel, most writers do not capitalize it.

What is the unique message of Matthew's Gospel? How does it differ from the other three Gospels? What specific emphasis did Matthew want his readers to gain as they read his record of Jesus' life and ministry?

Matthew wanted his readers to do what John the Baptist and Jesus called the people of their day to do, namely, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." This was the message of the King (Jesus) to His people, and the message of the King's herald, John the Baptist, as John called the King's people to prepare for the King's coming.

This is not the final message of Christianity, but it is the message that Matthew wanted his readers to understand. When John the Baptist and Jesus originally issued this call, they faced a situation that was different from the situation Christians face today. They called the people of their day to trust in and follow Jesus because Messiah's earthly kingdom was immediately at hand; it could have come soon. If the Jews had responded positively to Jesus, He would have established His kingdom immediately on the earth. He would have died on the cross, risen from the dead, ascended into heaven, ushered in the seven-year Tribulation, returned to the earth, and established His kingdom. All these things are the subjects of Old Testament messianic prophecy that had to be fulfilled.[70]

The messianic kingdom is at hand for Christians today in a different sense. Jesus Christ has died, risen from the dead, and ascended into heaven. The Tribulation is still future, but following those seven years of worldwide turmoil, Jesus will return and establish His messianic kingdom on earth.

The commission that Jesus has given Christians as His disciples is essentially to prepare people for the King's return. To do this we must go into all the world and herald the gospel to everyone. We must call them to trust in and follow the King as His disciples.

Essentially the message of Matthew is: "The kingdom of heaven is at hand." The proper response to this message is: "Repent." We will consider first the message, and then the proper response. Note three things about the message:

First, "the kingdom of heaven is at hand" is the statement of a fact. "At hand" means that it could be coming soon. The subject of this statement is the kingdom. The kingdom is a major theme of Matthew's Gospel. The word "kingdom" occurs about 50 times in Matthew. Since "kingdom" is such a prominent theme, it is not surprising to discover that this Gospel presents Jesus as the great King.

Matthew presents the kingship of Jesus. Kingship involves the fact that Jesus is the great King that the Old Testament prophets predicted would come and rule over all the earth in Israel's golden age. It points to the universal sovereignty of God's Son, who would rule over all people on earth. He was to be a "Son of David" who would also rule over Israel.

The word "kingdom" refers to the realm over which the King reigns. This is usually what we think of when we think of Jesus' messianic kingdom: the sphere over which He rules. However, it is important that we not stress the sphere to the detriment of the sovereignty with which He will rule. Both ideas are essential to the concept of the kingdom that Matthew presents: sphere and sovereignty.

The little-used phrase in Matthew's Gospel "kingdom of God" stresses the fact that it is God who rules. The King is God, and He will reign over all of His creation eventually. The kingdom belongs to God, and it will extend over all that God sovereignly controls.

Matthew, of all the Gospel evangelists, was the only one to use the phrase "kingdom of heaven." John the Baptist and Jesus never explained this phrase, but their audiences knew what they meant by it. Ever since God gave His great promises to Abraham, the Jews knew what the kingdom of heaven meant. It meant God's rule over His people who lived on the earth. As time passed, God gave the Israelites more information about His rule over them. He told them that He would provide a descendant of David who would be their King. This King would rule over the Israelites, who would live in the Promised Land. His rule would include the whole earth, however, and the Gentiles, too, would eventually live under His authority.

The "kingdom of heaven" that the Old Testament predicted included an earthly kingdom over which God would rule through His Son. It would not just be God's rule over His people from heaven. When the Jews in Jesus' day heard John the Baptist and Jesus calling them to "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand," what did they think? They understood that the earthly messianic kingdom predicted in the Old Testament was very near. They needed to get ready for it by making some changes (repenting).

The simple meaning of "kingdom of heaven," then, is God's establishment of heaven's order over all the earth. Every created being and every human authority would be in subjection to God. God would overturn everyone and everything that did not recognize His authority. It is the establishment of divine order on earth administered by a Davidic King. It is the supremacy of God's will over human affairs. The establishment of the kingdom of heaven on earth, then, is the hope of humanity. It is impossible for people to bring in this kingdom. Only God can bring it in. People just need to get ready, because it is coming.

Second, Matthew's Gospel interprets the kingdom. It does not just affirm the coming of the kingdom, but it also explains the order of the kingdom. Specifically, it reveals the principle of the kingdom, the practice of the kingdom, and the purpose of the kingdom.

The principle of the kingdom is righteousness. Righteousness is one of the major themes in Matthew. Righteousness in Matthew refers to righteous conduct, righteousness in practice—rather than positional righteousness, about which the Apostle Paul wrote much. Righteousness is necessary to enter the kingdom, and to serve in the kingdom, under the King. The words of the King in Matthew constitute the law of the kingdom. They proclaim the principle of righteousness (cf. 5:20).

The practice of the kingdom is peace. Peace is another major theme in Matthew. When we think of the Sermon on the Mount, we should think of these two major themes: righteousness and peace. The kingdom would come, not by going to war with Rome and defeating it. It would come by peaceful submission to the King: Jesus. These two approaches to inaugurating the kingdom contrast starkly, as we think of Jesus hanging on the cross between two insurrectionists. They tried to establish the kingdom the way most people in Israel thought it would come: by violence. Jesus, on the other hand, submitted to His Father's will, and even though He died, He rose again and will inaugurate the kingdom on earth one day. He secured the future establishment of the earthly kingdom.

Jesus' example of peaceful submission to God's will is to be the model for His disciples. Greatness in the kingdom does not come by self-assertion, but by self-sacrifice. The greatest in the kingdom will be the servant of all. The works of the King, in Matthew, demonstrate the powers of the kingdom moving toward peace (cf. 26:52).

The purpose of the kingdom is joy. God will establish His kingdom on earth to bring great joy to humankind. His kingdom rule will be the time of greatest fruitfulness and abundance in earth's history. God's will has always been to bless people. It is by rebelling against God that people lose their joy. The essence of joy is intimate fellowship with God. This intimate fellowship will be a reality during the kingdom to a greater extent than ever before in history. The will of the King in Matthew is to bless humankind.

Third, Matthew's Gospel stresses the method by which the King will administer the kingdom. It is a threefold method:

In the first five books of the Old Testament, the Law or Torah, God revealed the need for a high priest to offer a final sacrifice for humankind to God. The last part of Matthew's Gospel, the passion narrative, presents Jesus as the Great High Priest who offered that perfect sacrifice.

In the second part of the Old Testament, the Historical Books, the great need and expectation is a king who will rule over Israel and the nations in righteousness. The first part of Matthew's Gospel presents Jesus as that long expected King, Messiah, God's anointed ruler.

In the last part of the Old Testament, the Prophets, we see the great need for a prophet who could bring God's complete revelation to humankind. The middle part of Matthew's Gospel presents Jesus as the Prophet who would surpass Moses and bring God's final revelation to humankind (cf. Heb. 1:1).

God will administer His kingdom on earth through this Person who, as King, has all authority; as Prophet, reveals God's final word of truth; and as Priest, has dealt with sin finally. God's administration of His kingdom is in the hands of a King who is both the great High Priest and the completely faithful Prophet. Other Old Testament characters anticipated Jesus' threefold role as prophet, priest, and king: Adam, Melchizedek, Moses, and David.[71]

The central teaching of Matthew's Gospel then concerns the kingdom of heaven. The needed response to this Gospel is: "Repent."

In our day Christians differ in their understanding of the meaning of repentance. This difference arises because there are two Greek verbs, each of which means "to repent." One of these verbs is metamelomai. When it occurs, it usually describes an active change. The other word is metanoeo. When it occurs, it usually describes a contemplative change. Consequently, when we read "repent" or "repentance" in our English Bibles, we have to ask ourselves whether a change of behavior is in view primarily or a change of mind.

Historically, the Roman Catholic Church has favored an active interpretation of the nature of repentance, whereas Protestants have favored a contemplative interpretation. Generally speaking, Catholic teachers emphasize that repentance involves a change of behavior, while Protestant teachers emphasize that it involves a change of thinking essentially. One interpretation stresses the need for a sense of sorrow, and the other stresses the need for a sense of awareness. This confusion also surfaces in the "Lordship Salvation" controversy within evangelical Protestantism. That is why some critics of Lordship Salvation say advocates of Lordship Salvation are leading Protestants back to Rome.

According to Matthew, the word that John the Baptist and Jesus used, when they called their hearers to repentance, was metanoeo. We could translate it: "Think again." They were calling their hearers to consider the implications of the imminent arrival of the earthly messianic kingdom.

Consideration that the kingdom of heaven was at hand would result in a conviction of sin and a sense of sorrow. These are the inevitable consequences of considering these things. Conviction of a need to change is the consequence of genuine repentance. John the Baptist called for the fruits of repentance, a change of behavior that arose from a change of mind. But note that the fruits of repentance, a change of behavior, are not the same as repentance, a change of mind.

"According to Scripture repentance is wholly an inward act, and should not be confounded with the change of life that proceeds from it."[72]

Consideration leads to conviction, and conviction leads to conversion. "Conversion" describes turning from rebellion to submission, from self to the Savior. In relation to the coming kingdom, it involves becoming humble and childlike, rather than proud and independent. It involves placing confidence in Jesus rather than in self for salvation.

To summarize, we can think of the kind of repenting that John the Baptist, Jesus, and later Jesus' disciples, were calling on their hearers to demonstrate as involving consideration, conviction, and conversion. Repentance begins with consideration of the facts. Awareness of these facts brings conviction of personal need. Feeling these personal needs leads to conversion, or a turning from what is bad to what is good (cf. Peter's sermon in Acts).

Now let us combine "repent" with "the kingdom of heaven is at hand." Matthew's Gospel calls the reader to consider the King and the kingdom. This should produce the conviction that one is not ready for such a kingdom, nor is one ready to face such a King, because our righteousness is inadequate. Then we should submit our lives to the rule of the King and the standards of the kingdom. One of Jesus' objectives in giving the Sermon on the Mount was to convince His hearers that their righteousness was inadequate.

Matthew's Gospel proclaims the kingdom. It interprets the kingdom as righteousness, peace, and joy. It reveals that a perfect King who is a perfect Prophet and a perfect Priest will administer the kingdom. And it appeals to people to repent in view of these realities: to consider, to feel conviction, and to turn in conversion. As readers of this Gospel, we need to get ready, to think again, because the kingdom of heaven on earth is coming.

The Christian church now has the task of calling the world to "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." "The church," as I am using the term here, consists of Jesus' disciples collectively. The King is coming back to rule and to reign. People need to prepare for that event. The church's job is to spread the good news of the King and the kingdom to those who have very different ideas about the ultimate ruler and the real utopia. We face the same problem that Jesus did in His day. Therefore, Matthew's Gospel is a great resource for us as we seek to carry out the commission that the King has given us. Matthew 1:23 ("Immanuel … God with us") and 28:19 and 20 ("I am with you always") enclose the book like bookends. In the person of Jesus Christ, God has drawn near to abide forever with His people.

Individually, we have a responsibility to consider the King and the kingdom, to gain conviction by what we consider, and to change our behavior. Our repentance should involve submission to the King's authority, and preparation for kingdom service. We submit to the King's authority as we observe all that He has commanded us. We prepare for kingdom service as we faithfully persevere in the work that He has given us to do, rather than pursuing our own personal agendas. We can do God's will joyfully because we have the promise of the King's presence with us, and the enablement of His authority behind us (28:18, 20).[73]


I.      The introduction of the King 1:1—4:11

"Fundamentally, the purpose of this first part is to introduce the reader to Jesus on the one hand and to the religious leaders on the other."[74]

The first two chapters of this section prepare the reader for Jesus' ministry. Consequently they serve as a prologue to the Gospel.

A.     The King's genealogy 1:1-17 (cf. Luke 3:23-38)

Matthew began his Gospel with a record of Jesus' genealogy because the Christians claimed that Jesus was the Messiah promised in the Old Testament. To qualify as such He had to be a Jew from the royal line of David (Isa. 9:6-7). Matthew's genealogy proves that Jesus descended not only from Abraham, the father of the Israelite nation, but also from David, the founder of Israel's royal dynasty.

"The Old Testament begins with the book of the generation of the world, but the glory of the New Testament herein excelleth, that it begins with the book of the generation of him that made the world."[75]

1:1             This verse is obviously a title, but is it a title of the whole Gospel, a title for the prologue (chs. 1—2), or a title for the genealogy that follows (1:1-17)? Probably it refers to the genealogy. There is no other ancient Near Eastern book-length document extant that uses the expression biblos geneseos (book or record of the generation) as its title.[76] While the noun genesis (birth) occurs again in verse 18, there it introduces the birth narrative of Jesus.

In the Septuagint, the same phrase—biblos geneseos—occurs in Genesis 2:4 and 5:1, where in each case a narrative follows it, as here. Genealogies are quite common in the Old Testament, of course, and the presence of one here introduces a Jewish flavor to Matthew's Gospel immediately.

"Each use of the formula [in the Bible] introduces a new stage in the development of God's purpose in the propagation of the Seed through which He planned to effect redemption."[77]

The last Old Testament messianic use of this phrase is in Ruth 4:18, where the genealogy ends with David. Matthew reviewed David's genealogy and extended it to Jesus.

"The plan which God inaugurated in the creation of man is to be completed by the Man, Christ Jesus."[78]

This is "the genealogy of Jesus" Christ. The name "Jesus" is the Greek form of the Hebrew name "Joshua," and it means "Yahweh Is Salvation" (yehoshua, the long form) or "Yahweh Saves" (Yeshua, the short form).[79] The two major Joshuas in the Old Testament both anticipated Jesus Christ by providing salvation (cf. Heb. 3—4; Zech. 6:11-13).

The name "Jesus" occurs no fewer than 150 times in Matthew, but human characters never use it when addressing Jesus Himself in this book. Matthew evidently reserved the use of this name for himself, in order to establish the closest possible association between himself as the narrator, and Jesus, so that his point of view might coincide with that of Jesus.[80]

The name "Christ" is the rough equivalent of the Hebrew name "Messiah," or "Anointed One." In the Old Testament, it refers generally to people anointed for a special purpose, including priests, kings, the patriarchs (metaphorically), and even the pagan king Cyrus. It came to have particular reference to the King whom God would provide from David's line who would rule over Israel and the nations eventually (cf. 2 Sam. 7:12-16; Ps. 2:2: 105:15; et al.).

The early Christians believed that Jesus of Nazareth was the Christ of the Old Testament. Because they used both names together, "Christ" became a virtual name for Jesus, a titulary (title turned name). Paul, for example, used it this way frequently in his writings.

Matthew introduced Jesus Christ as the descendant of David and Abraham. Why did he select these two ancestors for special mention, and why did he name David before Abraham?

Abraham and David are important because God gave each of them a covenant. God vowed that He would unconditionally provide seed, land, and blessing to Abraham and his descendants (Gen. 12:1-3, 7; 15; et al.). Abraham would not only receive blessing from God, but he would also be a source of blessing to the whole world.

God's covenant with David guaranteed that his descendants would rule over the kingdom of Israel forever. The "house" or dynasty of David would always have the right to rule, symbolized by the throne of his kingdom (2 Sam. 7:12-16). Thus Matthew's reference to these two men should remind the reader of God's promises regarding a King who would rule over Israel and the universal blessing that He would bring (cf. Isa. 11:1).[81]

"What is emphasized is the fact that the Messiah has His historical roots in Abraham and that He has come as a Davidic king in response to the promises to the patriarchs."[82]

"He is the Son of Abraham both because it is in him that the entire history of Israel, which had its beginning in Abraham, attains its goal (1:17) and because he is the one through whom God will extend to the nations his blessing of salvation (8:11; 28:18-20). …

"Just as the title 'Son of Abraham' characterizes Jesus as the one in whom the Gentiles will find blessing, so the title 'Son of David' characterizes Jesus as the One in whom Israel will find blessing."[83]

The non-chronological order of "David" first, and then "Abraham," indicates that Matthew had more in mind than a simple chronological list of Jesus' ancestors. As this Gospel unfolds, it becomes clear that the Jews needed to accept Jesus as the promised Son of David before He would bring the blessings promised to Abraham (cf. 9:27; 12:23; 15:22; 20:30-31; 21:9, 15; 22:42, 45). Jesus presented Himself to the Jews first. When they rejected Him, He turned to the Gentiles. Yet He explained that the Jews' rejection was only temporary. When He returns, the Jews will acknowledge Him as their Messiah, and then He will rule on the earth and bless all humankind (cf. Zech. 12:10-14; 14:4, 9-11; Rom. 11:26).

"Christ came with all the reality of the kingdom promised to David's Son. But if He were refused as the Son of David, still, as the Son of Abraham, there was blessing not merely for the Jew, but for the Gentile. He is indeed the Messiah; but if Israel will not have Him, God will during their unbelief bring the nations to taste of His mercy."[84]

"By this brief superscription Matthew discloses the theme of his book. Jesus is the One who shall consummate God's program."[85]

"First He is Sovereign, then Savior [in Matthew]."[86]

"This introduction clearly demonstrates that Matthew's purpose in writing the gospel is to provide adequate proof for the investigator that the claims of Christ to be King and Saviour are justified. For this reason, the gospel of Matthew was considered by the early church one of the most important books of the New Testament and was given more prominence than the other three gospels."[87]

The Old Testament prophets predicted that the Messiah would be born of a woman (Gen. 3:15), of the seed of Abraham (Gen. 22:18), through the tribe of Judah (Gen. 49:10), and of the family of David (2 Sam. 7:12-13). Jesus qualified in every respect.

1:2             In tracing Jesus' genealogy, why did Matthew begin with Abraham rather than with Adam, as Luke did? Matthew wanted to show Jesus' Jewish heritage, and to do this he only needed to go back as far as Abraham, the father of the Jewish race. Significantly, Matthew called him "Abraham" rather than "Abram." The longer name connotes the covenant privileges that God made to Abraham when He changed his name.

The writer separated Judah from his brothers (v. 2), because the messianic promise of rulership went to Judah alone (Gen. 49:10). This allusion to the 12 tribes of Israel ("his brothers") provides another clue that Matthew's interests were strongly royal (cf. 8:11; 19:28).

1:3-6          Perez and Zerah (v. 3) were twin brothers. But Perez was the brother through whom the messianic line descended. He was a key figure in both the Old Testament genealogies (Ruth 4; 1 Chron. 4) and in Jewish tradition.[88]

"Jewish tradition traced the royal line to Perez (Ruth iv. 12, 18ff.), and 'son of Perez' is a Rabb[inic]. expression for the Messiah."[89]

The inclusion of Tamar (v. 3), Rahab (v.5), and Ruth (v. 5) as well as Bathsheba (v. 6b)—is unusual—because the Jews traced their heritage through their male ancestors (until the Middle Ages). Matthew's mention of each of these women reveals his emphases.

"Of the four mentioned two—Rahab and Ruth—are foreigners, and three—Tamar, Rahab and Bathsheba—were stained with sin."[90]

"Of these four, two (Tamar and Rahab) were Canaanites, one (Ruth) a Moabite, and one (Bathsheba) presumably a Hittite. Surely they exemplify the principle of the sovereign grace of God, who not only is able to use the foreign (and perhaps even the disreputable) to accomplish his eternal purposes, but even seems to delight in doing so."[91]

The writer had several purposes for including these women: First, he showed that Jesus came to include sinners in the family of God by seeking and saving the lost (cf. v. 21).[92] Second, their inclusion shows the universal character of Jesus' ministry and kingdom.[93] After the Jews rejected Jesus as their Messiah, God opened the doors of the church to Gentiles equally with Jews. Matthew's Gospel records the beginning of this change. Third, reference to these women prepares the reader for the significant role that Mary will play in the messianic line though, of course, she was neither a great sinner nor a foreigner.[94]

All five women became partakers in the messianic line through strange and unexpected divine providence. Matthew may have mentioned these women to disarm criticism, by showing that God countenanced irregular marital unions in Messiah's legal ancestry.[95]

"The word 'King' with 'David' [v. 6a] would evoke profound nostalgia and arouse eschatological hope in first-century Jews. Matthew thus makes the royal theme explicit: King Messiah has appeared. David's royal authority, lost at the Exile, has now been regained and surpassed by 'great David's greater son' …"[96]

"The addition of the title, the king [v. 6a], marks the end of this period of waiting, and points forward to Jesus, the Son of David, the Christ, the King of the Jews."[97]

A fourth reason was apparently to highlight four Old Testament stories that illustrate a common point. That point is that, in each case, a Gentile showed extraordinary faith in contrast to Jews, who were greatly lacking in their faith.[98]

"The allusions to these stories accomplish four theological purposes. First, they demonstrate God's providential hand in preserving Messiah's line, even in apostate times. This naturally led to Matthew's account of the virgin conception, through which God brought the Messiah into the world. Second, they demonstrate God's heart for godly Gentiles and the significant role of their faith at crucial times in Israel's history. Third, they demonstrate the importance of the Abrahamic and Davidic covenants in understanding Messiah's mission, with a focus on faith and obedience, not a racial line. Fourth, they call Matthew's readers to repentance and humility, and to accepting Gentiles into the body of Christ, thereby affirming an important theme of Matthew's Gospel."[99]

"Here at the very beginning of the gospel we are given a hint of the all-embracing width of the love of God."[100]

Matthew did not refer to Solomon or the other kings of Israel as kings. Probably he wanted to focus attention on David and on Jesus as the fulfillment of the promises that God gave to David.[101] Solomon did not fulfill these promises.

The writer's reference to Bathsheba as "her who had been the wife of Uriah" is unusual (v. 6b). It draws attention to the wickedness of David's sin. Perhaps he wanted to stress that Uriah was not an Israelite but a Hittite (2 Sam. 11:3; 23:39). Evidently Bathsheba was the daughter of an Israelite (cf. 1 Chron. 3:5), but the Jews would have regarded her as a Hittite since she married Uriah.

1:7-11        Five kings do not appear where we would expect to find them. Three are absent between Joram and Uzziah: Ahaziah, Joash, and Amaziah (v. 8), and two are lacking between Josiah and Jehoiachin: Jehoahaz and Jehoiakim. As we shall note below (v. 17), Matthew deliberately constructed his genealogy in three groups of 14 names. Why did he omit reference to these five kings? The first three were especially wicked. They all had connections with Ahab, Jezebel, and Athaliah. Moreover, all of them experienced violent deaths. The second two were also evil, and Jehoiakim's reign was very short—only three months. Matthew did not sanitize his genealogy completely, however, as his references to Tamar, Rahab, and David's sin indicate.

Jehoiachin's brothers (v. 11), Jehoiakim and Zedekiah, also ruled over Judah. Zedekiah's reign lasted 11 years, but he was a puppet of the Babylonians. The official royal line passed through Jehoiachin.

"There is pathos in this second allusion to brotherhood [cf. v. 2]. 'Judah and his brethren,' partakers in the promise (also in the sojourn in Egypt); 'Jeconiah and his brethren,' the generation of the promise eclipsed."[102]

1:12-16      Most of the names in this section occur nowhere else in the Bible. Matthew probably knew them from oral tradition and/or written sources.

"While no twentieth-century Jew could prove he was from the tribe of Judah, let alone from the house of David, that does not appear to have been a problem in the first century, when lineage was important in gaining access to temple worship."[103]

Jeremiah 22:30 predicted that none of Jehoiachin's descendants would sit on his throne. Jehoiachin had seven sons (1 Chron. 3:17-18), but none of them succeeded him on the throne, thus fulfilling this prophecy.[104] Zerubbabel, his grandson (1 Chron. 3:19), returned to the land as one of the foremost leaders of the restoration community (cf. Ezra 1—6), but he was not a king. This Zerubbabel may not have been the same man as the Zerubbabel mentioned in verse 12, who was the son (descendant) of Shealtiel, who was a son of Jehoiachin (1 Chron. 1:17). Another possibility is that Shealtiel was Zerubbabel's real father, and Pedaiah (1 Chron. 3:19) was his step-father, or vice versa.

"This man [Jehoiachin] is called Coniah in Jer. 22:24-30, where a curse is pronounced upon him. There it is predicted that none of his seed should prosper sitting upon David's throne. Had our Lord been the natural son of Joseph, who was descended from Jeconiah, He could never reign in power and righteousness because of the curse. But Christ came through Mary's line, not Joseph's. As the adopted son of Joseph, the curse upon Coniah's seed did not affect Him."[105]

Verse 16 contains careful and unusual wording. Matthew was preparing for what he later explained: the virgin birth of Jesus (v. 23). The phrase "who is called" (ho legomenos) does not imply doubt about Jesus' messiahship. It just identifies the Jesus whose genealogy preceded. This is one of Matthew's favorite expressions in this Gospel. It announces the names of persons or places 12 times (cf. 1:16; 2:23; 4:18; 10:2; 13:55; 26:3, 14, 36; 27:16, 17, 22, 33). As this verse shows, Jesus was legally Joseph's son, even though He was virgin-born by Mary.

1:17           Clearly, the three groups of 14 generations that Matthew recorded do not represent a complete genealogy from Abraham to Jesus (cf. v. 8). Luke recorded several names from the exile to Jesus' birth that Matthew omitted (Luke 3:23-27). "All the generations" then must mean all the generations that Matthew listed. The Greek text literally says "all the generations from Abraham to David … to Christ." Matthew's summary statement does not constitute an error in the Bible.

Jewish writers frequently arranged genealogies so their readers could remember them easily. Perhaps Matthew chose his arrangement because the numerical equivalent of the Hebrew consonants in David's name total 14. In Hebrew the letter equivalent to the letter d also stands for the number 4, and the letter v represents 6. Matthew did not need to present an unbroken genealogy in order to establish Jesus' right to the Davidic throne. Another view is that Matthew, the tax-collector who made many references to numbers in his Gospel, may have intended to portray Jesus as beginning a seventh perfect and final group—following six seven-person groups.[106]

Before leaving this genealogy, note that each of the three sections ends with a significant person or event connected with the Davidic dynasty.

"In the first group, the Davidic throne is established; in the second group, the throne is cast down and deported to Babylon; in the third group, the throne is confirmed in the coming of the Messiah. Further, a basic covenant is set forth in each of these three periods: the Abrahamic covenant in the first (vv. 2-5), the Davidic covenant in the second (vv. 6-11), and the New Covenant [anticipated] in the third (vv. 12-16)."[107]

All of these covenants came to fruition in the person and work of Jesus Christ.

"In David the family [of Abraham] rose to royal power … At the captivity it lost it again. In Christ it regained it."[108]

"The genealogy is divided into three periods, conformably [sic] to three great divisions of the history of the people: from Abraham to the establishment of royalty, in the person of David; from the establishment of royalty to the captivity; and from the captivity to Jesus."[109]

Generally, Matthew's genealogy shows that Jesus had the right to rule over Israel, since He was a descendant of David through Joseph. Legally, He was Joseph's son. Specifically, this section of the Gospel strongly implies that Jesus was the promised Messiah.

The differences with Jesus' genealogy in Luke 3:23 through 38 are a problem that no one has been able to solve adequately. The problem is that Joseph's ancestors in Matthew's genealogy are different from his ancestors in Luke's genealogy, especially from Joseph to King David. The theory that many scholars subscribe to now is this: Matthew gave the legal line of descent from David, stating who was the heir to the throne in each case, and Luke gave the actual physical descendants of David in the branch of David's family to which Joseph belonged.[110] Other scholars believe that Matthew contains Joseph's actual genealogy, and Luke contains Mary's actual genealogy.[111]

The reason for Matthew's genealogy is to show that Jesus of Nazareth was in the royal line of David and was qualified to be Israel's promised Messiah. This is, apparently, the genealogy of Jesus' earthly father, Joseph, that traces his legal ancestry. Luke's genealogy evidently traces Joseph's blood line. Joseph adopted Jesus as his son (1:25). This made Jesus legally eligible to serve as Israel's king. Matthew presented Joseph's ancestors because they were the former kings of Israel. This genealogy shows Jesus' right to rule as the King of the Jews and His genuine humanity.

B.     The King's birth 1:18-25

The birth narrative that follows shows Jesus' genuine deity. The first sentence in this pericope (section of verses) serves as a title for the section, as the sentence in verse 1 did for 1:1 through 17. Matthew recorded the supernatural birth of Jesus in order to demonstrate further His qualification as Israel's Messiah.[112] He wanted to show that Mary could not have become pregnant by another man. These verses show how Jesus came to be the heir of Joseph and thus qualified to be Israel's King.

"God has four ways of making a human body. He can create one without the agency of either man or woman as He did when He made Adam out of the dust of the ground. Then God can form a body through the agency of just a man as He did when He formed Eve from the rib taken from Adam's side. A third way is through the agency of both a man and a woman. This is the common way, the way we have received our bodies. But God can also form a body through the agency of just a woman, and that is the way our Lord received His body—born of a virgin."[113]

"Matthew ultimately is arguing that Jesus recapitulates the pattern of Israel's experience while also presenting him as Israel's hope."[114]

"Matthew tells the story of the birth of Jesus from the standpoint of Joseph as Luke gives it from the standpoint of Mary."[115]

Samuel Andrews wrote an extensive essay on the date of the Lord's birth and concluded that Jesus was born near the end of the Roman year 749, which is 5 B.C.[116]

1:18-19      Jewish law regarded an engaged couple as virtually married.[117] Usually women married at about 13 or 14 years of age,[118] and their husbands were often several years older. Normally a one-year period of waiting followed the betrothal before the consummation of the marriage. During that year, the couple could only break their engagement with a divorce.

"… a betrothed girl was a widow if her fiancé died (Kethub. i. 2), and this whether the man had 'taken' her into his house or not. After betrothal, therefore, but before marriage, the man was legally 'husband' (cf. Gen. xxix. 21, Dt. xxii. 23f.); hence an informal cancelling of betrothal was impossible …"[119]

Verse 18 is a clear testimony to the virgin conception of Jesus (cf. Luke 1:34-35).[120]

"When the Roman [Catholic] theologians speak of the virgin birth, they mean another miracle which they claim took place at the time of the birth of our Lord, not at the time of His conception: a miracle by which the birth occurred without affecting the virgin condition of the mother, so that she was as if she had never borne a child."[121]

Joseph, being a "righteous" (Gr. dikaios) man, could hardly let his fiancée's pregnancy pass without action, since it implied that she had been unfaithful and had violated the Mosaic Law. Joseph had three choices concerning how to proceed: First, he could expose Mary publicly as unfaithful. In this case she might suffer stoning, though that was rare in the first century.[122] Probably she would have suffered the shame of a public divorce (Deut. 22:23-24).

A second option was to grant her a private divorce, in which case Joseph needed only to hand her a written certificate in the presence of two witnesses (cf. Num. 5:11-31).[123] His third option was to remain engaged and not divorce Mary, but this alternative appeared to Joseph to require him to break the Mosaic Law (Lev. 20:10). He decided to divorce her privately. This preserved his righteousness (i.e., his conformity to the Law) and allowed him to demonstrate compassion.

1:20-21      The appearance of "an angel of the Lord" in a dream would have impressed Matthew's original Jewish readers that this revelation was indeed from God (cf. Gen. 16:7-14; 22:11-18; Exod. 3:2—4:16; et al.). The writer stressed the divine nature of this intervention four times in his prologue (1:20, 24; 2:13, 19).[124]

The angel's address, "Joseph, son of David" (v. 20), confirms Jesus' right to the Davidic throne. This address gave Joseph a clue concerning the significance of the announcement that he was about to receive. It connects with verse 1 and the genealogy in the narrative. The theme of the Davidic Messiah continues. Joseph was probably afraid of the consequences of his decision to divorce Mary.

The virgin birth is technically the virgin conception. Mary was a virgin—not only when she gave birth to Jesus, but also when the Holy Spirit conceived Him in her womb. But the idea that Mary remained a virgin for the rest of her life, the Roman Catholic doctrine of the perpetual virginity of Mary, has no support in the text. Nothing in Scripture suggests that Mary bore Jesus' half brothers and sisters supernaturally.[125] This doctrine has gained credence because it contributes to the veneration of Mary.

"Her child belonged to him [Joseph] according to the principle which lay at the foundation of marriage amongst the Jews, that what was born of the wife belonged to the husband. As it had no human father, and as he adopted it, it became in fact his, and inherited whatever rights or privileges belonged to Davidic descent."[126]

The angel announced God's sovereign prerogative in naming the child (v. 21). God named His Son. Joseph simply carried out the will of God by giving Jesus His name at the appropriate time (v. 25). As mentioned above, the name "Jesus" means "Yahweh Saves" or "Yahweh Is Salvation. The name "Jesus" was one of the most common names in Israel at this time, so Jesus was often described more specifically as "Jesus of Nazareth."[127] The angel explained the appropriateness of Jesus' name (cf. Ps. 130:8). The Jews anticipated a Messiah who would be both a political savior and a redeemer from sin.[128] However in Jesus' day the popular expectation was that Messiah would deliver the Jews from their Roman oppressors. So the angel's announcement that Jesus would save His people "from their sins" must have shocked Mary.

"There was much Jewish expectation of a Messiah who would 'redeem' Israel from Roman tyranny and even purify his people, whether by fiat or appeal to law (e.g., Pss Sol 17). But there was no expectation that the Davidic Messiah would give his own life as a ransom (20:28) to save his people from their sins. The verb 'save' can refer to deliverance from physical danger (8:25), disease (9:21-22), or even death (24:22); in the NT it commonly refers to the comprehensive salvation inaugurated by Jesus that will be consummated at his return. Here it focuses on what is central, viz., salvation from sins; for in the biblical perspective sin is the basic (if not always the immediate) cause of all other calamities. This verse therefore orients the reader to the fundamental purpose of Jesus' coming and the essential nature of the reign he inaugurates as King Messiah, heir of David's throne …"[129]

"The single most fundamental character trait ascribed to Jesus is the power to save …"[130]

1:22-25      The phrase plerothe to hrethen ("what was spoken by the Lord thought the prophet would be fulfilled" [cf. AV, NKJV, HCSB, NEB, cf. ESV] or "to fulfill what the Lord had said" [NIV, TNIV] or "to fulfill what the Lord had spoken" RSV, cf. NRSV, NET2) occurs often in Matthew's Gospel (2:15, 17, 23; 4:14; 8:17; 12:17; 13:35; 21:4; 27:9; cf. 26:56).[131] It indicates a fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy.

Matthew worded verse 22 very carefully. He distinguished the source of the prophecy—God—from the instrument through whom He gave it—the prophet. For Matthew, the prophecy of Isaiah was God's Word (cf. 2 Pet. 1:21). The New Testament writers consistently shared this high view of the inspiration of Scripture (cf. 2 Tim. 3:16).

The prophecy that Matthew said Jesus fulfilled comes from Isaiah 7:14 (v. 23). It is a difficult one to understand.[132]

The first problem concerns the meaning of the word "virgin" (Gr. parthenos). This noun usually refers to a literal virgin in the Greek Bible.[133] One exception occurs in Genesis 34:3 in the Septuagint. It always has this meaning in the Greek New Testament. That Matthew intended it to mean virgin appears clear for two reasons: First, "virgin" is the standard meaning of the word and, second, the context supports this meaning (vv. 18, 20, 25).

A second problem is the meaning of the Hebrew word translated "virgin" ('alma) in Isaiah 7:14. It means an unmarried young woman of marriageable age. Thus the Hebrew word has overtones of virginity without claiming literal virginity. Every use of this word in the Hebrew Bible (our Old Testament) either requires or permits the meaning "virgin" (Gen. 24:43; Exod. 2:8; Ps. 68:25 [26]; Prov. 30:19; Song of Sol. 1:3; 6:8; Isa. 7:14).[134] That is why the Septuagint translators rendered 'alma parthenos in Isaiah 7:14. Matthew's interpretation of this word as virgin harmonizes with the Septuagint translators' understanding of its meaning.

A third problem is, what did this prophecy mean in Isaiah's day? At the risk of oversimplification, there are three basic solutions to this problem:

First, Isaiah predicted that an unmarried woman of marriageable age, at the time of the prophecy, would bear a child whom she would name "Immanuel." This happened in Isaiah's day, according to this view. Jesus also fulfilled this prophecy in the sense that a real virgin bore Him, and He was "God with us." This is a typological interpretation, in which the child born in Isaiah's day was a sign or type (a divinely intended illustration) of the Child born in Joseph's day.[135] I prefer this view.

A second interpretation sees Isaiah predicting the virgin birth of a boy named "Immanuel" in his day. A virgin did bear a son named "Immanuel" in Isaiah's day, advocates of this view claim. Jesus also fulfilled the prophecy, since His mother was a virgin when she bore Him, and He was "God with us." This is a double fulfillment view. The problem with it is that it requires two virgin births, one in Isaiah's day and Jesus' birth.

A third view is that Isaiah predicted the birth of Jesus exclusively. He meant nothing about any woman in his day giving birth. Jesus alone fulfilled this prophecy. There was no fulfillment in Isaiah's day. This is a single fulfillment view. The main problem with it is that according to this view, King Ahaz received no sign—but only a prophecy. Signs in Scripture were fairly immediate, visible assurances that what God had predicted would indeed happen. Some advocates of this view believe that God did give Ahaz a sign, and that it was that before a boy in Isaiah's day (possibly his son Shear-jashub) became morally responsible, Israel and Aram would fall.[136]

Some question exists about the sense in which "Immanuel" was Jesus' name, since the New Testament writers never referred to Him as "Immanuel." There is also no record of a son born in Isaiah's day of that name. Even though it was not one of Jesus' proper names, "Immanuel" accurately described who He was (cf. John 1:14, 18; Matt. 28:20). The same may be true of the son born in Isaiah's day. Some believe this person was one of Isaiah's sons, or the son of King Ahaz, who could have been King Hezekiah, or someone else. I think that it refers to Jesus alone.

"He [Jesus] is Emmanuel, and as such Jehovah the Saviour, so that in reality both names have the same meaning."[137]

"Emmanuel = 'with us God,' implying that God's help will come through the child Jesus. It does not necessarily imply the idea of incarnation."[138]

"How can Jesus be a Savior? Because He is Emmanuel, God with us. How did He get with us? He was virgin born. I say again, He was called Jesus. He was never called Emmanuel. But you cannot call Him Jesus unless He is Emmanuel, God with us. He must be Emmanuel to be the Savior of the world. That is how important the Virgin Birth is."[139]

"The key passages 1:23 and 28:20 … stand in a reciprocal relationship to each other. … Strategically located at the beginning and the end of Matthew's story, these two passages 'enclose' it. In combination, they reveal the message of Matthew's story: In the person of Jesus Messiah, his Son, God has drawn near to abide to the end of time with his people, the church, thus inaugurating the eschatological age of salvation."[140]

The angel's instructions caused Joseph to change his mind. He decided not to divorce Mary privately, but to continue their engagement and eventually consummate it (v. 24).

"God has still ways of making known his mind in doubtful cases, by hints of providence, debates of conscience, and advice of faithful friends; by each of these, applying the general rules of the written word, we should take direction from God."[141]

Matthew left no doubt about the virginal conception of Jesus, by adding that Joseph did not have sexual relations with Mary until after Jesus' birth (v. 25).[142] When Joseph named the child, he was taking and acknowledging Jesus as his son.

"In other words, Jesus, born of Mary but not fathered by Joseph, is legitimately Son of David because Joseph son of David adopts him into his line."[143]

Adoption in Israel was informal rather than formal (cf. Gen. 15:2; 17:12-13; 48:5; Exod. 2:10; 1 Kings 11:20; Esth. 2:7; Luke 2:23). Joseph would by virtue of his marriage to Mary give Jesus His legal status.[144]

Was Jesus' virgin birth theologically necessary, or was it only a fulfillment of prophecy? If parents (specifically fathers) transmit sinfulness to their children in some literal, physical way (i.e., genetically, hereditarily, etc.), the virgin birth was necessary to guard Jesus from transmitted sin. However, there is no clear revelation that fathers pass down their sinfulness as they pass down other characteristics. Theologians debate the subject of whether God creates sin in every individual at birth, or if our parents pass it on to us (the theories of creationism or traducianism). My view is that everyone receives a sinful nature from his or her parents (traducianism). Human nature is not necessarily sinful—Adam and Eve were truly human before they sinned—though every descendant of Adam and Eve, except Jesus, has a sinful human nature.

J. Gresham Machen, who wrote one of the best books on the virgin birth of Christ, concluded as follows:

"But the human life [of Jesus Christ] would not be complete unless it began in the mother's womb. At no later time, therefore, should the incarnation be put, but at that moment when the babe was conceived. There, then, should be found the stupendous event when the eternal Son of God assumed our nature, so that from then on He was both God and man. Our knowledge of the virgin birth, therefore, is important because it fixes for us the time of the incarnation. …

"Moreover, the knowledge of the virgin birth is important because of its bearing upon our view of the solidarity of the race in the guilt and power of sin. If we hold a Pelagian view of sin, we shall be little interested in the virgin birth of our Lord; we shall have little difficulty in understanding how a sinless One could be born as other men are born. But if we believe, as the Bible teaches, that all mankind are under an awful curse, then we shall rejoice in knowing that there entered into the sinful race from the outside One upon whom the curse did not rest save as He bore it for those whom He redeemed by His blood."[145]

Matthew stressed the virgin birth of Jesus in this section of his Gospel. God, rather than Joseph, was Jesus' true father, making Him the literal Son of God (cf. 2 Sam. 7:14).

"As for the Virgin Birth … it was a favorite feature of Stoicism, for its heroes were usually believed to be sons of Zeus by special generation."[146]

In this first chapter, the writer stressed the person of Jesus Christ as being both human (vv. 1-17) and divine (vv. 18-25).

"If Matthew i:1-17 were all that could be said of His birth, He might then have had a legal right to the throne, but He could never have been He who was to redeem and save from sin. But the second half before us shows Him to be truly the long promised One, the One of whom Moses and the prophets spake [sic], to whom all the past manifestations of God in the earth and the types, pointed."[147]

Matthew presented three proofs that Jesus was the Christ in chapter 1: His genealogy, His virgin birth, and His fulfillment of prophecy.

C.     The King's childhood ch. 2

There is nothing in chapter 2 that describes Jesus Himself. Therefore Matthew's purpose was not simply to give the reader information about Jesus' childhood. Rather, he stressed the reception that the Messiah received having entered the world. The rulers were hostile, the Jewish religious leaders were indifferent, but the Gentiles welcomed and worshipped Him. These proved to be typical responses throughout Jesus' ministry, as Matthew's Gospel reveals. This literary device of presenting implication and then realization is common in the first Gospel.

Also in this chapter, there are several references to the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies (vv. 5-6, 15, 17-18, 23). Matthew wanted to continue to prove that Jesus was the promised Messiah who fulfilled what the prophets had predicted. In chapter 1, the emphasis is more on how Jesus' identity fulfilled prophecy, but in chapter 2, it is more on how Jesus' geographical movements fulfilled prophecy. To prove that Jesus was the Christ, Matthew had to show that Jesus was born where the Old Testament said Messiah would be born. Another purpose of this chapter was to show God's providential care of His Son.

1.     The prophecy about Bethlehem 2:1-12

The Old Testament not only predicted how Messiah would be born (1:18-25) but where He would be born (2:1-12).[148]

"It would appear that the aim of the evangelist in recording the story of the magi was to show that the child, who was born of the lineage of David to fulfill the ideal of kingship associated with the name of Israel's greatest king, was acknowledged even in His infancy, and by representatives of the non-Jewish world, to be, par excellence, the King of the Jews."[149]

"It [this chapter] gives us in a nutshell the story of the entire Gospel [of Matthew]."[150]

2:1-2                   "In the 708th year from the foundation of Rome (46 B.C. by Christian reckoning) Julius Caesar established the Julian Calendar, beginning the year with January 1st. But it was not until the sixth century A.D. that Dionysius Exiguus, a Scythian monk living in Rome, who was confirming the Easter cycle, originated the system of reckoning time from the birth of Christ. Gradually this usage spread, being adopted in England by the Synod of Whitby in 664, until it gained universal acceptance. In 1582 Pope Gregory XIII reformed the Julian calendar. However, more accurate knowledge shows that the earlier reckonings of the time of Christ's birth were in error by several years. Thus it is now agreed that the birth of Christ should be placed c. 6-4 B.C."[151]

When did the Magi visit Jesus in Bethlehem?[152]

"An early and current tradition placed the coming of the Magi on the 6th of January, or on the 13th day after His birth."[153]

There are several factors, however, that point to a time about a year after Jesus' birth. First, Matthew described Jesus as a "Child" (Gr. paidion, v. 11), not an infant (Gr. brephos, cf. Luke 2:27). Second, Jesus' family was residing in a house (v. 11), not beside a manger (cf. Luke 2:1-20). Third, Herod's edict to destroy all the male children two years old and under (v. 16) suggests that Jesus was within this age span. Fourth, Joseph and Mary brought the offering of poor people to the temple when they dedicated Jesus about 40 days after His birth (Luke 2:24). But after receiving the Magi's gifts, they could have presented the normal offering (cf. Lev. 12).

Matthew carefully identified "Bethlehem of Judea," in contrast to the Bethlehem in Zebulun (Josh. 19:15), as the birthplace of Jesus. This was important because the prophecy of Messiah's birthplace was specifically Bethlehem of Judah, the hometown of King David (v. 6; Mic. 5:2).[154]

"Herod the Great, as he is now called, was born in 73 B.C. and was named king of Judea by the Roman Senate in 40 B.C. By 37 B.C. he had crushed, with the help of Roman forces, all opposition to his rule. Son of the Idumean Antipater, he was wealthy, politically gifted, intensely loyal, an excellent administrator, and clever enough to remain in the good graces of successive Roman emperors. His famine relief was superb and his building projects (including the temple, begun 20 B.C.) admired even by his foes. But he loved power, inflicted incredibly heavy taxes on the people, and resented the fact that many Jews considered him a usurper. In his last years, suffering an illness that compounded his paranoia, he turned to cruelty and in fits of rage and jealousy killed close associates, his wife Mariamne (of Jewish descent from the Maccabeans), and at least two of his sons …"[155]

Andrew Steinmann and Rodger Young argued that the correct dates for Herod's reign are 31 to 1 B.C., placing the birth of Jesus in late 3 B.C. or early 2 B.C.[156] There is still some controversy over the exact year in which Jesus was born.

"Herod was not only an Idumaean [descendants of the Edomites] in race and a Jew in religion, but he was a heathen in practice and a monster in character."[157]

"… the Jews had borne more calamities from Herod, in a few years, than had their forefathers during all that interval of time that had passed since they had come out of Babylon, and returned home …"[158]

"Behold" (v. 1, Gr. idou) is a Hebraic expression that Matthew used to point out the wise men. They are the focus of his attention in this pericope.

It is not easy to identify the Magi (from the Gr. magoi) precisely. The Greek word from which we get the word "magi" comes from a Persian word that means experts regarding the stars: astrologers. Centuries before Christ's time, they were a priestly caste of Chaldeans who could interpret dreams (cf. Dan. 1:20; 2:2; 4:7; 5:7). Later the term broadened to include men interested in dreams, magic, astrology, and the future. Some of these were honest inquirers after the truth, but others were charlatans (cf. Acts 8:9; 13:6, 8). The Magi who came to Jerusalem came from the East. Jerusalem at this time covered about 300 acres, and its population at non-feast times was between 200,000 and 250,000 people.[159]

Probably the Magi came from Babylon, which for centuries had been a center for the study of the stars.[160] Babylon had also been the home of Daniel, who had been in command of former Magi in Babylonia (Dan. 2:48), and who had written of the death of Messiah (Dan. 9:24-27). The oldest opinion is that the Magi came from Arabia rather than Persia.[161] Magi had such a dubious reputation in Jewish and Christian circles, that it is unlikely that Matthew would have mentioned their testimony if it were not true.[162]

"Astrology was so potent a religious force in the first century that Tiberius spent the middle years of his life studying it on the island of Rhodes."[163]

"The tradition that the Magi were kings can be traced as far back as Tertullian (died c. 225). It probably developed under the influence of OT passages that say kings will come and worship Messiah (cf. Pss 68:29, 31; 72:10-11; Isa. 49:7; 60:1-6). The theory that there were three 'wise men' is probably a deduction from the three gifts (2:11). By the end of the sixth century, the wise men were named: Melkon (later Melchior), Balthasar, and Gasper. Matthew gives no names. His magoi come to Jerusalem (which, like Bethlehem, has strong Davidic connections [2 Sam 5:5-9]), arriving, apparently … from the east—possibly from Babylon, where a sizable Jewish settlement wielded considerable influence, but possibly from Persia or from the Arabian desert. The more distant Babylon may be supported by the travel time apparently required …"[164]

"Well, whatever sort of wise men they were before, now they began to be wise men indeed when they set themselves to enquire after Christ."[165]

The Magi's question (v. 2) was not, "Where is He who has been born to become King of the Jews?" but, "Where is He who has been born King of the Jews?" Jesus' status as Israel's king did not come to Him later in His life. He was born with it (cf. 27:37). In this respect, He was superior to Herod, who was not born a king and saw the young Child as a threat to his throne. The only other occurrences of the title "king of the Jews" in Matthew are in 27:11, 29, and 37 where Gentiles used these words to mock Jesus.

"… He [Jesus] is formally acknowledged King of the Jews by the Gentiles …"[166]

What Jesus' star (v. 2) was remains problematic. Some scholars have suggested a conjunction of the planets Jupiter and Saturn in the constellation Pisces.[167] Others believed it was a supernova (a star that explodes and emits unusual light for several weeks or months), a comet, a luminous meteor, or some other planetary conjunctions or groupings. Still others believed it was a supernatural creation.[168]

Whatever it was, it was this same star that guided the Magi to Jesus' house in Bethlehem, or at least to Bethlehem (v. 9). The presence of the definite Greek article "the" with "star" in verses 7 and 9 points to the same star mentioned in verse 2. It seems to me that it would be very unlikely that a planetary conjunction or other natural star could have given the wise men such specific guidance.

"Could it be that 'the star' which the Magi saw and which led them to a specific house was the Shekinah glory of God? That same glory had led the children of Israel through the wilderness for 40 years as a pillar of fire and cloud. Perhaps this was what they saw in the East, and for want of a better term they called it a 'star.'"[169]

"The birth of Christ was notified to the Jewish shepherds by an angel, to the Gentile philosophers by a star: to both God spoke in their own language, and in the way they were best acquainted with."[170]

Perhaps the Magi connected Balaam's messianic prophecy of a star that would rise out of Judah (Num. 24:17) with the Jewish King. Balaam evidently originated in the East (Num. 23:7). The Jews in Jesus' day regarded Balaam's oracle as messianic.[171] Interestingly, Balaam, like the wise men, experienced pressure from a king who was intent on destroying God's people, but he, and they, refused to cooperate.

Another explanation is that when the magi said, "We saw His star" (v. 2), they meant that they had seen a sign that He had been born or was soon to be born.[172]

The Magi's statement that they intended to worship the new King does not necessarily mean that they regarded Him as divine. They may have meant that they wanted to pay Him their respects. However, in view of chapter 1, we know that the new King was worthy of true worship. The word "worship" (Gr. proskyneo) occurs 13 times in Matthew and is something that the writer stressed. Apparently the Magi recognized the King as Israel's Messiah. "King of the Jews" was the Gentile way of saying "Messiah."[173] The Messiah was indeed the King of the Jews.

2:3             What the Magi told Herod troubled him, because he was very aware of the Jews' desire to throw off the Roman yoke, and his own rule in particular. Remember Pharaoh's fear for his throne that also led to infanticide. Herod was an Edomite, a descendant of Esau, and the prospect of a Jewish Messiah's appearance was one that he could not ignore. The rest of Jerusalem's citizens also became disturbed, because they realized that this news from the Magi might lead Herod to take further cruel action against them. This is exactly what happened (v. 16). Already we begin to see the opposition of the people of Jerusalem to Jesus that would eventually result in His crucifixion.

"The world is ruled not by truth but by opinion."[174]

2:4             Herod assembled Israel's leaders to investigate the Magi's announcement further. "The chief priests" were mainly Sadducees at this time, and most of "the scribes" ("teachers of the law," NIV) were Pharisees.

"The Pharisees were an ecclesiastical party, held together by their peculiar aims and views, whereas the scribes were a body of experts in the scholastic sense. Certainly a man might be both a Pharisee and a scribe; and the fact is, that practically all the scribes were Pharisees in outlook and association, hence their being so often mentioned along with the Pharisees; yet the two fraternities were different from each other."[175]

The chief priests included the high priest and his associates. The high priest obtained his position by appointment from Rome at this time in Israel's history. The scribes were the official interpreters and communicators of the Mosaic Law to the people: their lawyers. Since these two groups of leaders did not get along, Herod may have had meetings with each group separately.

"The scribes were so called because it was their office to make copies of the Scriptures, to classify and teach the precepts of the oral law … and to keep careful count of every letter in the O.T. writings. Such an office was necessary in a religion of law and precept, and was an O.T. function (2 Sam. 8:17; 20:25; 1 Ki. 4:3; Jer. 8:8; 36:10, 12, 26). To this legitimate work the scribes added a record of rabbinical decisions on questions of ritual (Halachoth); the new code resulting from those decisions (Mishna); the Hebrew sacred legends (Gemara, forming with the Mishna, the Talmud); commentaries on the O.T. (Midrashim); reasonings upon these (Hagada); and finally, mystical interpretations which found in Scripture meanings other than the grammatical, lexical, and obvious ones (the Kabbala), not unlike the allegorical method of Origen. In our Lord's time, the Pharisees considered it orthodox to receive this mass of writing which had been superimposed upon and had obscured the Scripture."[176]

The Jews of Jesus' day regarded the Halekhah ("The Rule of the Spiritual Road," from halakh, "to go") as having greater authority than the Hebrew Scriptures.[177]

Josephus wrote the following about the influence of the Pharisees during the Inter-testamental Period:

"… but they that were the worst disposed to him [John Hyrcanus] were the Pharisees, who are one of the sects of the Jews, as we have informed you already. These have so great power over the multitude, that when they say anything against the king or against the high priest, they are presently believed."[178]

Some of the Jews—particularly the Essenes, whom Herod did not consult, but not the Sadducees and Pharisees—were expecting a Messiah to appear soon because of Daniel 9:24 through 27.[179] Daniel had been a "wise man" in the East also.

2:5-6                   "Matthew adroitly answers Jewish unbelief concerning Jesus Christ by quoting their own official body to the effect that the prophecy of His birth in Bethlehem was literal, that the Messiah was to be an individual, not the entire Jewish nation, and that their Messiah was to be a King who would rule over them."[180]

"In the original context of Micah 5:2, the prophet is speaking prophetically and prophesying that whenever the Messiah is born, He will be born in Bethlehem of Judah. That is the literal meaning of Micah 5:2. When a literal prophecy is fulfilled in the New Testament, it is quoted as a literal fulfillment.  Many prophecies fall into this category …"[181]

Another writer called this: literal prophecy plus literal fulfillment.[182] Still another called the fulfillment: direct fulfillment.[183]

Matthew's rendering of the Micah 5:2 prophecy adds the fact that the Ruler would shepherd the Israelites. This statement, from 2 Samuel 5:2, originally referred to David. Thus Matthew again showed the connection between the prophecies of Messiah and the Davidic line, a connection that he also made in chapter 1. Perhaps the religious leaders put these passages together in their quotation.[184] Such seems to have been the case. The quotation is free, not verbatim, from either the Hebrew or the Greek (Septuagint) texts.

"… one verse in 22.5 of the New Testament is a quotation [from the Old Testament]. If clear allusions are taken into consideration, the figures are much higher. C. H Toy lists 613 such instances, Wilhelm Dittmar goes as high as 1640, while Eugen Huehn indicates 4105 passages reminiscent of Old Testament Scripture."[185]

"Exact, verbatim quotation was generally foreign to the spirit of the Graeco-Roman world of the first century A.D. … Careful and accurate copying of Scriptures was known, but did not carry over into the use of the Scriptures. … Today we attach very great importance to word -for-word accuracy in quotation. It is quite evident that this was not a real concern in the New Testament period."[186]

2:7             Evidently Herod summoned the Magi secretly in order to avoid arousing undue interest in their visit among Israel's religious leaders (v. 7). He wanted to know when the star had appeared, so that he could determine the age of the child King.

2:8             Under a pretext of desire to worship the new King, Herod sent the Magi to Bethlehem as his representatives, with orders to report what they found to him. His hypocritical humility deceived the wise men. He must have sensed this, since he sent no escort with them but trusted them to return to him.

It is remarkable that the chief priests and scribes apparently made no effort to check out Jesus' birth like the Magi did.

"It is strange how much the scribes knew, and what little use they made of it."[187]

Their apathy contrasts with the Magi's curiosity and with Herod's fear. It continued into Jesus' ministry until it turned into antagonism.

"… the conflict on which the plot of Matthew's story turns is that between Jesus and Israel, especially the religious leaders."[188]

"Except for Jesus himself, the religious leaders are the ones who influence most the development of the plot of Matthew's story."[189]

"No sooner was Jesus born into this world than we see them [these leaders] grouping themselves into these three groups in which men are always to be found in regard to Jesus Christ."[190]

2:9             Perhaps the star (v. 2), whatever it was, was so bright that the wise men could see it as they traveled in daylight. Travel at night was common to avoid the heat, so they may have made the five-mile trip south to Bethlehem at night. Nevertheless this would have been winter, so they probably traveled during daylight hours.[191]

The star may have identified Bethlehem as the town where Jesus was, and the Magi may have obtained His exact location from the residents. On the other hand, the star may have identified the very house where Joseph and Mary resided. This seems more likely in view of verse 11. Notice that the wise men came to a house, not a manger, as many Christmas cards picture them doing. God supernaturally guided the seekers so they found the Messiah. God's provision gave them great joy (v. 10; cf. Luke 2:10).

2:10-11      The reaction of the wise men to discovering the Child and His mother was to bow and worship Him. Notice that they did not worship Mary, nor did they worship Jesus through Mary.

It was customary in the ancient Near East to present gifts when approaching a superior (cf. Gen. 43:11; 1 Sam. 9:7-8; 1 Kings 10:2). The wise men produced these from their baggage. The expensive gifts reflected the great honor the Magi bestowed on the Christ Child. The gold probably financed Joseph and Mary's trip to Egypt (vv. 14-21). Frankincense is a gum obtained from the resin of certain trees that was particularly fragrant. Myrrh was also a sap-like substance that came from a tree that grew in Arabia. People used it as a spice, and as a perfume, often for embalming as well as for other applications.

Many commentators, ancient and modern, have seen symbolic significance in these three gifts. Some have said gold suggests royalty while others have seen deity or kingliness. Some say incense represents deity, while others believe it better represents perfect humanity or priestliness. Many expositors view myrrh as prefiguring Jesus' death and burial. It is unlikely that the Magi saw this significance, but Matthew may have intended his readers to see it. This act by Gentile leaders also prefigures the wealth that the Old Testament prophets said the Gentiles would one day present to Israel's Messiah (Ps. 72:10-11, 15; Isa. 60:5, 11; 61:6; 66:20; Zeph. 3:10; Hag. 2:7-8). This will occur in the fullest sense at the Second Coming of Christ.

2:12           God supernaturally intervened to keep the Magi from returning to Herod, who would have then been able, from what they told him, to target Jesus precisely.[192] Dreams were a common method of divine guidance during the Old Testament economy in which Jesus lived (cf. Num. 12:6).

Several contrasts in this section reveal Matthew's emphases. Herod, the wicked Idumean usurper king, contrasts with Jesus, the born righteous King of Israel. The great distance from which the Magi traveled to visit Jesus, contrasts with the short distance Israel's leaders would have had to travel in order to see Him. The genuine worship of the wise men contrasts with the pretended worship of Herod, and the total lack of worship from the chief priests and scribes. The Gentile Magi's sensitivity and responsiveness to divine guidance also contrast with the insensitivity and unresponsiveness of Israel's leaders.

"The first to worship the King in Matthew's Gospel are Gentiles, an implication of the last command of the Messiah [cf. 28:19-20]. The supernatural stellar manifestations attest the divine character of the person of Jesus. Matthew also notes the fact that the Magi who worship the Messiah of Israel are forced to take refuge from Bethlehem. This, too, is a hint of the future antagonism of Israel to their King."[193]

"… he [Matthew] contrasts the eagerness of the Magi to worship Jesus, despite their limited knowledge, with the apathy of the Jewish leaders and the hostility of Herod's court—all of whom had the Scriptures to inform them. Formal knowledge of the Scriptures, Matthew implies, does not in itself lead to knowing who Jesus is …"[194]

"Even though Israel is cognizant of the prophecies, they are blind to spiritual realities. The King of Israel is worshiped by Gentiles, while His own people do not bother to own Him as their King. The condition of Israel is clearly implied in the early verses of Matthew's Gospel. They are cold and indifferent."[195]

"The Gentile wise men worship the King of the Jews; the Jews are apathetic; and Herod is concerned only for his throne. Herod's interest in his own political well-being marks the attitude of the governmental authorities throughout the remainder of the Gospel."[196]

"The Kingdom was not ready for the King, so a reception for Him was not arranged and organized by those who should have been waiting for Him."[197]

2.     The prophecies about Egypt 2:13-18

Matthew continued to stress God's predictions about, and His protection of, His Messiah in order to help his readers recognize Jesus as the promised King.

2:13           For the second time in two chapters we read that an angel from the Lord appeared with a message for Joseph (cf. 1:20). This indicates that the message had unusual importance.

The order of the words "the Child and His mother" is unusual. Normally the parent would receive mention before the child. This order draws attention again to the importance of Jesus in the narrative.

Egypt was a natural place of refuge at this time. Its border was just 75 miles from Bethlehem, though the nearest town was about 150 miles away, and it provided escape from Herod's hatred. Herod had no authority there. Furthermore, there was a large Jewish population there, as well as a substitute for the Jerusalem temple.[198]

Joseph learned that he was to remain in Egypt until God directed him elsewhere, which happened when Herod died. Again the sovereignty of God stands out.

"In obeying at once this command from God and the other commands that follow, Joseph's righteousness (1:19) casts Herod's wickedness in ever sharper relief."[199]

Here we see a foreview of what Jesus would encounter for the rest of His earthly life: The leader of the Jews, Herod, sought to destroy Jesus.

In many respects, Jesus recapitulated Moses' life and experiences.[200] Moses had also been the target of the ruler of his day, who sought to destroy him and all the other male Hebrew babies by ordering them killed (Exod. 1:15-22). Matthew wanted his readers to see Jesus as a second Moses, as well as the fulfillment of all that the nation of Israel anticipated.

2:14           Herod died in 4 B.C.[201] Josephus recorded that he died a horrible death, his body rotting away and consumed by worms.[202] He was buried in the Herodium, one of the palace-fortresses that he had constructed not far from Bethlehem.[203] His grandson, Herod Agrippa, later suffered a similar fate (Acts 12:23).

2:15           As noted, Matthew frequently used the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies to show that Jesus was the Christ. This verse contains another fulfillment. This fulfillment is difficult to understand, however, because in Hosea 11:1 the prophet did not predict anything. He simply described the Israelites' Exodus from Egypt as the departure of God's "son" (cf. Exod. 4:22). Old Testament writers frequently used the term "son" to describe Israel in its relationship to God. What did Matthew mean when he wrote that Jesus' departure from Egypt "fulfilled" Hosea's words (Hos. 11:1)? Matthew's quotation is from the Hebrew text, not the Septuagint.

Matthew did not claim that Jesus was fulfilling a prophecy. A significant factor is the meaning of the word "fulfill" (Gr. pleroo). It has a broader meaning than simply "to make complete." It essentially means "to establish completely."[204] In the case of predictive prophecy, the complete establishment of what the prophet predicted occurred when what he predicted happened.

In the case of prophetic utterances that dealt with the past or present, the complete establishment of what the prophet said took place when another event that was similar happened. This is the sense in which Jesus' departure from Egypt "fulfilled" Hosea's prophecy (cf. James 2:21-23). Jesus was the "Son" of God (2:15; 3:17; 4:3, 6; 8:29; 11:27; 14:33; 16:16; 17:5; 26:63; 27:40, 43, 54). The history of Israel, the son of God in a different sense, Israel, anticipated the life of Messiah.[205]

To state the same thing another way, Jesus was the "typological recapitulation of Israel."[206] Another writer called this "literal [event] plus typical [fulfillment]."[207] Still another referred to it as "literal prophecy plus a typical import."[208]

"There were similarities between the nation and the Son. Israel was God's chosen 'son' by adoption (Ex. 4:22), and Jesus is the Messiah, God's Son. In both cases the descent into Egypt was to escape danger, and the return was important to the nation's providential history."[209]

"And, as Moses was called to go to Egypt and rescue Israel, God's son, His firstborn (see Ex. iv. 22) from physical bondage, so Jesus was called out of Egypt in His infancy, through the divine message given to Joseph, to save mankind from the bondage of sin."[210]

"… Matthew looked back and carefully drew analogies between the events of the nation's history and the historical incidents in the life of Jesus."[211]

2:16           Some critical scholars discounted Matthew's account of Herod's slaughter of the Bethlehem children because there is no extrabiblical confirmation of it. However Bethlehem was small, and many other biblically significant events have no secular confirmation, including Jesus' crucifixion. Some writers estimated that this purge would have affected only about 15 or 20 children.[212] He believed that the total population of Bethlehem at this time was under 1,000. Compared to some of Herod's other atrocities, this one was minor.[213]

"The New Testament account of the murder of all the little children at Bethlehem (Matt. ii. 16), in hope of destroying among them the royal scion [descendant] of David, is thoroughly in character with all that we know of Herod and his reign."[214]

"Emperor Augustus reportedly said it was better to be Herod's sow than his son, for his sow had a better chance of surviving in a Jewish community. In the Greek language, as in English, there is only one letter difference between the words 'sow' (hys) and 'son' (hyios)."[215]

"The selfsame character traits Herod exhibits in chapter 2, the [religious] leaders will exhibit later in the story. To enumerate the most obvious of these, Herod shows himself to be 'spiritually blind' (2:3), 'fearful' (2:3), 'conspiratorial' (2:7), 'guileful' and 'mendacious' [lying] (2:8), 'murderous' (2:13, 16), 'wrathful' (2:16; cf. 21:15), and 'apprehensive of the future' (2:16)."[216]

"Here is a terrible illustration of what men will do to get rid of Jesus Christ. If a man is set on his own way, if he sees in Christ someone who is liable to interfere with his ambitions and rebuke his ways, then his one desire is to eliminate Christ; and then he is driven to the most terrible things, for then, if he does not break men's bodies, he will break their hearts."[217]

"But we must look upon this murder of the infants under another character: it was their martyrdom. They shed their blood for him, who afterwards shed his for them. These were the infantry of the noble army of martyrs."[218]

2:17           Matthew again claimed that another event surrounding Jesus' birth fulfilled prophecy. Matthew is the only New Testament writer who quoted Jeremiah (31:15; cf. 16:14; 27:9). This quotation is evidently also from the Hebrew text. Incidentally, Matthew only quoted Isaiah and Jeremiah by name of all the prophets that he quoted.

"Matthew is not simply meditating on Old Testament texts, but claiming that in what has happened they find fulfillment. If the events are legendary [rather than historical], the argument is futile."[219]

2:18           It is not clear whether Jeremiah was referring to the deportation of the northern tribes in 722 B.C., or to the Babylonian Captivity in 586 B.C. in 31:15. Since he dealt primarily with the second of these events in his ministry, he probably did so here too. Poetically he presented Rachel as the idealized mother of the Jews, mourning from her grave because her children were going into captivity. Since Rachel died on the way to Bethlehem (Gen. 35:16, 19), mention of her ties in nicely with the events of Jesus' early childhood near Bethlehem.

"In the original context, Jeremiah is speaking of an event soon to come as the Babylonian Captivity begins. As the Jewish young men were being taken into captivity, they went by the town of Ramah. Not too far from Ramah is where Rachel was buried and she was the symbol of Jewish motherhood. As the young men were marched toward Babylon, the Jewish mothers of Ramah came out weeping for sons they will never see again. Jeremiah pictured the scene as Rachel weeping for her children. This is the literal meaning of Jeremiah 31:15. The New Testament cannot change or reinterpret what this verse means in that context, nor does it try to do so. In this category [of fulfilled prophecy], there is a New Testament event that has one point of similarity with the Old Testament event. The verse is quoted as an application. The one point of similarity between Ramah and Bethlehem is that once again Jewish mothers are weeping for sons they will never see again and so the Old Testament passage is applied to the New Testament event. Otherwise, everything else is different."[220]

David Cooper called this "literal prophecy plus an application."[221] Michael Rydelnik called it an applicational fulfillment.[222] Mark Bailey saw three points of comparison between the two situations: In both of them a Gentile king was threatening the future of Israel (cf. 2:13), children were involved, and the future restoration of Israel was nevertheless secure (cf. Jer. 31:31-37).[223]

Matthew evidently used Jeremiah 31:15 because it presented hope to the Israelites—that Israel would return to the land—even though they wept at the nation's departure. The context of Jeremiah's words is hope. Matthew used the Jeremiah passage to give his readers hope, that despite the tears of the Bethlehem mothers, Messiah had escaped from Herod and would return to reign ultimately.[224]

"Here Jesus does not, as in v. 15, recapitulate an event from Israel's history. The Exile sent Israel into captivity and thereby called forth tears. But here the tears are not for him who goes into 'exile' but because of the children who stay behind and are slaughtered. Why, then, refer to the Exile at all? Help comes from observing the broader context of both Jeremiah and Matthew. Jeremiah 31:9, 20 refers to Israel = Ephraim as God's dear son and also introduces the new covenant (31:31-34) the Lord will make with his people. Therefore the tears associated with Exile (31:15) will end. Matthew has already made the Exile a turning point in his thought (1:11-12), for at that time the Davidic line was dethroned. The tears of the Exile are now being 'fulfilled'—i.e., the tears begun in Jeremiah's day are climaxed and ended by the tears of the mothers of Bethlehem. The heir to David's throne has come, the Exile is over, the true Son of God has arrived, and he will introduce the new covenant (26:28) promised by Jeremiah."[225]

3.     The prophecies about Nazareth 2:19-23 (cf. Luke 2:39)

Matthew concluded his selective account of the events of Jesus' childhood, that demonstrated His messiahship and illustrated various reactions to Him, with Jesus' return to Israel.

2:19-20      As mentioned above, Herod the Great died in 4 B.C. Josephus wrote of his condition shortly before his death as follows:

"… Herod's distemper greatly increased upon him after a severe manner, and this by God's judgment upon him for his sins: for a fire glowed in him slowly, which did not so much appear to the touch outwardly as it augmented his pains inwardly; for it brought upon him a vehement appetite to eating, which he could not avoid to supply with one sort of food or other. His entrails were also exulcerated, and the chief violence of his pain lay on his colon; an aqueous and transparent liquor also settled itself about his feet, and a like matter afflicted him at the bottom of his belly. Nay, farther, his privy member was putrified [sic putrefied] , and produced worms; and when he sat upright he had a difficulty of breathing, which was very loathsome, on account of the stench of his breath, and the quickness of its returns; he had also convulsions in all parts of his body, which increased his strength to an insufferable degree."[226]

God's sovereign initiative is again the subject of Matthew's record. This is the fourth dream and the third mention of the angel of the Lord appearing to Joseph in the prologue. The phrase "the land of Israel" occurs only here in the New Testament. Evidently Matthew used it because it recalls the promises and blessings that God gave Jacob and his descendants.[227]

2:21-22a    Joseph obediently responded to the Lord's command. However, before he could do so, news reached him that Herod the Great's son, Archelaus, had begun to rule as ethnarch over Judea, Samaria, and Idumea.[228] The rest of Herod the Great's kingdom went to his sons Antipas, who ruled as tetrarch over Galilee and Perea (4 B.C. - A.D. 39), and Philip.[229] "Tetrarch" means that Philip ruled over one-fourth of the kingdom of his father, Herod the Great. Philip became tetrarch of Iturea, Trachonitis, and some other territories (4 B.C. - A.D. 34).[230] The title "ethnarch" was a more honorable title than "tetrarch." It meant ruler over a people. It was also a title inferior to "king."

"One of the first acts of Archelaus was to murder some three thousand people in the temple because some of their number had memorialized some martyrs put to death by Herod. Like father, like son."[231]

Archelaus proved to be a bad ruler. Caesar Augustus banished him for his poor record in A.D. 6.[232] Philip was the best ruler among Herod the Great's sons.

2:22b-23    Evidently God warned Joseph not to return to Archelaus' territory. Joseph chose to settle in Nazareth in Galilee instead, on the northern border of the tribal territory of Zebulun, undoubtedly guided there by God. This had been his and Mary's residence before Jesus' birth (13:53-58; Luke 1:26-27; 2:39).

Matthew noted that this move was another fulfillment of prophecy (v. 23). Nazareth stood 70 miles north of Bethlehem, and archaeological evidence points to a population of about 480 at the beginning of the first century A.D.[233] It was the location of the Roman garrison in northern Galilee.[234]

"… the ancient Via Maris [Sea Highway] led through Nazareth, and thence either by Cana, or else along the northern shoulder of Mount Tabor, to the Lake of Gennesaret [Galilee]—each of these roads soon uniting with the Upper Galilean. Hence, although the stream of commerce between Acco and the East was divided into three channels, yet, as one of these passed through Nazareth, the quiet little town was not a stagnant pool of rustic seclusion. … But, on the other hand, Nazareth was also one of the great centers of Jewish Temple-life. … The Priests of the 'course' which was to be on duty always gathered in certain towns, whence they went up in company to Jerusalem, while those of their number who were unable to go spent the week in fasting and prayer. … Thus, to take a wider view, a double symbolic significance attached to Nazareth, since through it passed alike those who carried on the traffic of the world, and those who ministered in the Temple."[235]

Careful attention to the terms that Matthew used to describe this fulfillment helps us understand how Jesus fulfilled Scripture. First, Matthew said the prophecy came through "the prophets," not a prophet. This is the only place in this Gospel that he said this. Second, Matthew did not say that the prophets said or wrote the prediction. He said "what was spoken" through them happened. In other words, Matthew was quoting indirectly, freely.[236]

There is no Old Testament passage that predicted that the Messiah would come from Nazareth or that people would call Him a Nazarene. How then could Matthew say that Jesus "fulfilled" Scripture by living there? The most probable explanation seems to be that Nazareth was an especially despised town—in a despised region: Galilee—in Jesus' day (John 1:46; 7:42, 52).[237] Several of the Old Testament prophets predicted that people would despise the Messiah (Ps. 22:6-8, 13; 69:8, 20-21; Isa. 11:1; 42:1-4; 49:7; 53:2-3, 8; Dan. 9:26).[238] Matthew often returned to this theme of Jesus being despised (8:20; 11:16-19; 15:7-8).

The writer appears to be giving the substance of several Old Testament passages here, rather than quoting any one of them. There may also be an allusion to the naser ("branch") in Isaiah 11:1 that the rabbis in Jesus' day regarded as messianic. In that passage, David's heir appears to be emerging from a lowly, obscure place. One writer gave evidence that the writers of the Targums, as well as the New Testament writers, exegeted the Old Testament messianically.[239]

"In the first century, Nazarenes were people despised and rejected and the term was used to reproach and to shame (John 1:46). The prophets did teach that the Messiah would be a despised and rejected individual (e.g. Isa 53:3) and this is summarized by the term, Nazarene."[240]

Arnold Fruchtenbaum called this type of prophetic fulfillment "summation."[241] Cooper preferred to call it "literal prophecy plus a summation."[242] Michael Rydelnik labeled it "summary fulfillment."[243]

"Jesus is King Messiah, Son of God, Son of David; but he was a branch from a royal line hacked down to a stump and reared in surroundings guaranteed to win him scorn. Jesus the Messiah, Matthew is telling us, did not introduce his kingdom with outward show or present himself with the pomp of an earthly monarch. In accord with prophecy he came as the despised Servant of the Lord."[244]

Less satisfying explanations of this prophecy and its fulfillment are the following: First, some connect "Nazarene" with "Nazirite" (cf. Judg. 13:5). However, Jesus was never a Nazirite (11:19). Furthermore the etymologies of these words do not connect.

Second, some believe that the Hebrew word translated "branch" (naser), in Isaiah 11:1, sounds enough like "Nazareth" to justify a connection.[245] Really the Hebrew root of both "branch" and "Nazareth" is the same. And the Hebrew suffix "eth" is used to identify names of places, so "Nazareth" could mean "the place of the branch." Also naser occurs in only one passage, but Matthew quoted "the prophets," plural.

"The city of Nazareth evidently took its name from this word Netzer, possibly because of some special tree or sprout found in that vicinity."[246]

Third, some writers have proposed a pre-Christian sect and suggested that Matthew referred to this here. But there is no evidence to support this theory.

Fourth, some believe Matthew was making a pun by connecting the names "Nazareth" and "Nazarene." If this were true, how could he claim a fulfillment of prophecy?

Fifth, some think the writer referred to prophecies not recorded in Scripture, but known to, and accepted by, his original readers. Matthew gave no clue that this unusual meaning is what he intended. Furthermore, later readers would not only reject such an authority, but would charge Matthew with fabricating such a source to support his argument.

Chapter 2 advances Matthew's argument that Jesus is the Messiah significantly by making three major points:

"The first relates to the Gentiles. The Magi come from the East and worship the King of the Jews. A glimmering foreview of all the nations of the earth being blessed in Abraham is seen in this act. … The second point Matthew makes concerns the Jews. They are shown to be unconcerned and indifferent to any report concerning Him. Finally, Matthew, by his use of the Old Testament, proves that Jesus is the promised Messiah. He is the fulfillment of all that is anticipated in their Scriptures. These three things form the basis of Matthew's Gospel. Jesus is presented as the Messiah prophesied and promised in the Old Testament. The Jews reject Him. Because of this rejection the King turns to the Gentiles and the earthly kingdom program for the Jews is postponed. Chapter one declares the theanthropic [both divine and human] character of the person of the Messiah. The reception which is to be given the claims of the Messiah is set forth in chapter two. Matthew three begins the narrative of the historical account of the presentation of Israel's Messiah to that nation."[247]

"Matthew 1—2 serves as a finely wrought prologue for every major theme in the Gospel."[248]

Chapters 1 and 2 show the reader who Jesus was, His identity, including the reactions of various groups of people. The rest of the book continues to clarify Jesus' identity and shows what Jesus said and did, and the reactions of various groups of people to Him. The reactions of these groups and individuals become instructive for us readers in knowing how to respond to Jesus and how not to respond to Him.

D.     The King's preparation 3:1—4:11

Matthew passed over Jesus' childhood quickly, in chapter 2, and proceeded to relate His preparation for presentation to Israel as her King in 3:1 through 4:11. He recorded three events that prepared Jesus for His ministry: the activity of Jesus' forerunner, John the Baptist (3:1-12), Jesus' baptism (3:13-17), and Jesus' temptation (4:1-11).

The major point in this whole section of Matthew (3:1—4:11) is that Jesus is the true Son of God. John the Baptist witnessed that Jesus was the prophesied coming Son of God. Matthew's account of Jesus' baptism emphasizes God's attestation of Jesus as His Son. The Spirit descended on Jesus to empower the King for service, and the voice from heaven validated Jesus as God's Son. The record of Jesus' temptation shows that He overcame temptation and so was qualified personally to be the perfect Son of God, not just a son of God in the traditional kingly sense. All the former "sons" of God (the Davidic kings of Israel) had fallen before temptation.

"The material of this section of the Gospel is particularly important since the baptism of Jesus serves as the occasion of his special anointing by the Holy Spirit for the ministry that follows, but it is also Christologically significant in that his divine Sonship is confirmed and the non-triumphalist nature of the present phase of that Sonship is indicated (3:17c and 4:1-11). Thus Matthew provides information that is vitally important to an understanding of the narrative that follows: what Jesus does in his ministry he does by the power of the Spirit; yet Jesus will not act in the manner of a triumphalist messiah [i.e., one who demonstrates excessive exultation over his success or achievements], in accordance with popular expectation, but in his own unique way, in obedience to the will of his Father."[249]

Matthew presented four witnesses to Jesus' messiahship in this section: John the Baptist (3:1-15), the Holy Spirit (3:16), God the Father (3:17), and Satan (4:1-11). A fifth witness follows in 4:12 through 15, namely, Jesus' ministry.

1.     Jesus' forerunner 3:1-12 (cf. Mark 1:2-8; Luke 3:3-18)

It was common, when Jesus lived, for forerunners to precede important individuals in order to prepare the way for their arrival. For example, when a king would visit a town in his realm, his servants would go before him to announce his visit. They would make sure that the town was in good condition to receive him. Sometimes his servants even had to do minor roadwork to smooth the highway that the king would be taking as he approached his destination.[250] John the Baptist not only prepared the way for Jesus, but he also announced Him as an important person and implied His royalty. John preceded Jesus in birth, in public appearance, and in death.

"As Jesus' forerunner, John foreshadows in his person and work the person and work of Jesus. Both John and Jesus are the agents of God sent by God (11:10; 10:40). Both belong to the time of fulfillment (3:3; 1:23). Both have the same message to proclaim (3:2; 4:17). Both enter into conflict with Israel: in the case of the crowds, a favorable reception ultimately gives way to repudiation; in the case of the leaders, the opposition is implacable from the outset (3:7-10; 9:3). Both John and Jesus are 'delivered up' to their enemies (4:12; 10:4). And both are made to die violently and shamefully (14:3-12; 27:37)."[251]

3:1             John appeared "in those days." This phrase is a general term that says little about specific time but identifies what follows as historical. It is a common transitional statement in Matthew's narrative.[252] John's ministry, as Matthew described it here, occurred just before the beginning of Jesus' public ministry, which was approximately 30 years after the events of chapter 2.

The name "John," which means "Gift of Yahweh," became popular among the Jews following the heroic career of John Hyrcanus (died 106 B.C.). There are four or five men named John in the New Testament. This one received the surname "the Baptist" because of his practice of baptizing repentant Jews (v. 6).

John was a herald with a message to proclaim. He appears on the scene suddenly and mysteriously, much like Elijah, whose ministry John mirrored (cf. 1 Kings 17:1).[253] "Preaching" is literally "heralding" (Gr. kerysso).

"In the New Testament the verb does not mean 'to give an informative or hortatory [exhorting] or edifying discourse expressed in beautifully arranged words with a melodious voice; it means to proclaim an event' …"[254]

The event that John proclaimed was the imminent arrival of God's earthly kingdom—it could begin very soon.

The scene of John's ministry was "the wilderness of Judea." This loosely defined area lay mainly to the west and somewhat north of the Dead Sea.[255] John evidently conducted his ministry there because of its rough conditions which were suitable to his appeal for repentance. In Israel's history, the wilderness forever reminded the Jews of their 40-year sojourn under extreme conditions, and of God giving them the Law of Moses. They associated it with a place of separation unto God, testing for refinement, and new beginnings. In John's day, the wilderness spawned many movements that challenged Israel's leadership.[256] All this may explain why John chose to minister there.

3:2             John called for people to "repent."

"Contrary to popular thinking, repent does not mean to be sorry. The Greek word metanoeo means '… to change one's mind or purpose …' In the New Testament it '… indicates a complete change of attitude, spiritual and moral, towards God.' The primary meaning involves a turning to God which may indeed make a person sorry for his sins, but that sorrow is a by-product and not the repentance itself … In a word, John's command to the people of Israel was for them to turn from their sins to God in anticipation of their Messiah."[257]

"Repentance is a change of thinking that causes a change in direction."[258]

"Faith means to turn to Christ, and when you turn to Christ, you must also turn from something. If you don't turn from something, then you aren't really turning to Christ. So repentance is really a part of believing, but the primary message that should be given to the lost today is that they should believe in the Lord Jesus Christ."[259]

The Jews needed to change their thinking, because most of them believed that they would enter the Messiah's kingdom simply because they were the children of Abraham (v. 9). John was attacking established religious concepts of his day and those who taught them. He demanded evidence of genuine repentance instead of mere complacency, hypocrisy, and superficiality (cf. v. 8).

John also announced that "the kingdom of heaven" (lit. "heavens") was at hand. What was this kingdom? Students of this question have offered four popular answers:

First, some believe that the kingdom in view is God's sovereign rule over all things from Creation to the end of the world (cf. Ps. 103:19)—and nothing more.[260] The problem with this view is that John and Jesus spoke of the kingdom as about to begin. They called on their hearers to prepare for its arrival. Richard Lenski translated eggiken ("at hand") "has drawn near," which is a legitimate translation.[261]

Second, some believe that, in addition to the universal kingdom, there is a spiritual kingdom, and that this is the kingdom in view in John's and Jesus' preaching. They believe that all believers throughout history make up this spiritual kingdom. So there are believers and unbelievers: people in this spiritual kingdom and people not in it. The problem with this view is the same as the one already cited for view one: John and Jesus announced that the kingdom was about to begin. If all believers, including Old Testament believers, were in it, how could it be about to begin? Advocates of this view respond: What Jesus inaugurated was a new phase of this kingdom. This is the typical amillennial understanding of the kingdom.[262] Advocates typically view Israel and the church as two historical groups of "the people of God" and believe that God will fulfill the promises that He gave to Israel in the church—in a spiritual, or non-literal, way. They believe that Israel has no future as Israel. Some premillennialists also hold this "replacement theology," namely, "historic premillennialists." Though they hold to a literal 1,000-year reign of Christ on earth.[263]

Third, some interpreters—who also recognize the universal kingdom of God—have concluded that the kingdom that John and Jesus announced was both already present, in one form, and not yet present in another form. The present form of the kingdom is Christ's rule over believers from heaven. The future form of the kingdom is Christ's rule over the whole earth when He returns to earth and rules on earth for 1,000 years. The kingdom of heaven began with Jesus' ministry, it continues in the present age, and it will culminate in the earthly rule of Christ on the earth following His second coming. This is the view of many premillennialists including "progressive dispensationalists."[264] This is the explanation that makes most sense to me.

Fourth, some—who also recognize the universal kingdom of God—believe that the kingdom that John and Jesus heralded is an entirely earthly kingdom.[265] Advocates hold that it is only the resumption of the earthly Davidic kingdom, which ended temporarily with the Babylonian exile and will resume when Jesus returns to earth at His second coming. Then He will establish this kingdom, which will continue for 1,000 years (the Millennium). In this view, the present inter-advent age is not the kingdom that John and Jesus heralded, nor is that kingdom the Church Age. Some who hold this view believe that there is no present form of this kingdom—it is entirely future.[266] Others who hold this view believe that the inter-advent age, or the Church age (which are not identical), is a "mystery form of the kingdom."[267] The kingdom that John and Jesus preached is completely future from our perspective in history. This is the view of many premillennialists, including some dispensationalists.[268]

Historically many dispensationalists have been uncomfortable with the idea that the kingdom is already and not yet, in view of how they interpret kingdom passages. Specifically, they are uncomfortable with the idea that the church is the "already" stage of the kingdom. They prefer to view the church as an entity distinct from the kingdom, an intercalation or something inserted in the divine timeline between the Old Testament kingdom of David and the messianic kingdom. They make much of the terminology used to distinguish the church and the kingdom. Most in this group of interpreters see some form of God's kingdom in existence now, however: the universal rule of God and/or a mystery form of the coming kingdom.

Among dispensationalists, some have held that there were two kingdoms that Jesus preached: the "kingdom of God" and the "kingdom of heaven."[269] The former term, they say, refers to a smaller kingdom that includes only genuine believers, and is cosmic and universal in scope. The latter term, they say, refers to a larger kingdom that includes all who profess to be believers, and is limited to the earth. This distinction has been shown to be invalid. One cannot make this distinction on the basis of how the New Testament writers used these terms.

"Most recent advocates of a distinction acknowledge that the two expressions are 'often used synonymously,' yet are to be distinguished in certain contexts. Others who would generally be identified with dispensationalism agree with most non-dispensationalists that no distinction between these expressions is intended by the biblical writers. Matthew's use of 'the kingdom of heaven' is to be explained as a Semitic idiom probably resulting from the Jewish reverence for the name of God and the tendency to use 'heaven' or 'heavens' as a substitute. So, although some dispensationalists still distinguish the two terms in some passages, we agree with Ryrie that this issue is not a determinative feature of dispensationalism."[270]

Most dispensationalists believe that the kingdom that John, Jesus (4:17), and His disciples (10:7) announced and offered the Jews was exactly the same kingdom that the Old Testament prophets predicted. Because the Jews rejected their King and His kingdom, God postponed (or delayed) the earthly kingdom until a future time when Israel will accept her Messiah, namely, at His second advent (cf. Zech. 12:10-14). The word "postponed" does not imply that Jewish rejection of the Messiah took God by surprise. It views the coming of the kingdom from man's perspective, not God's.

"With God, all contingencies and seeming changes of direction are known from eternity past, and there is no change in God's central purpose"[271]

This postponement (or delay) view, I believe, best harmonizes the normal meaning of the Old Testament kingdom prophecies and Jesus' teachings.[272] Similarly, because the generation of Jews that left Egypt in the Exodus refused to trust and obey God at Kadesh Barnea, God postponed the nation's entrance into the Promised Land for 38 years. As God delayed Israel's entrance into the Promised Land because of Jewish unbelief, so He delayed Israel's entrance into the earthly kingdom of Messiah because of Jewish unbelief.

There is good evidence that the kingdom that John and Jesus spoke about was the earthly eschatological (end times) kingdom that the Old Testament prophets foretold:

First, the fact that John, Jesus, and Jesus' disciples did not explain what it was, but simply announced that it was "at hand," indicates that they referred to a kingdom known to their hearers.[273]

Second, Jesus restricted the proclamation about the kingdom to Jews (10:5-6). If the kingdom was spiritual, why was this necessary?

Third, the inauguration of the kingdom predicted in the Old Testament depended on the Jews receiving it (Zech. 12:1-14; 13:7-9; Mal. 4:5-6).

Fourth, Jesus' disciples expected the beginning of an earthly kingdom (20:20-21; Acts 1:6; cf. Dan. 2:44; 4:26; 7:14). They did so after they had listened to Jesus' teaching about the kingdom for a long time.

Fifth, this kingdom cannot be exactly the same as the church, since God had not yet revealed the existence of the church, let alone established it (16:18). It cannot be God's universal reign over the hearts of people, since that had existed since Creation.

"… if the Kingdom, announced as 'at hand' by the Lord, had been exclusively a 'spiritual kingdom,' or as some have defined it, 'the rule of God in the heart,' such an announcement would have had no special significance whatever to Israel, for such a rule of God had always been recognized among the people of God [cf. Ps. 37:31; 103:19]."[274]

I believe that when John, Jesus, and Jesus' disciples spoke of "the kingdom of heaven" they meant the kingdom of Messiah. Jesus' reign began with His earthly ministry, but the earthly aspect of His reign (the earthy kingdom) has been postponed and will not begin until Jesus returns to the earth. In these notes I have usually described kingdom references as relating either to the messianic kingdom in general or to the earthly kingdom of Messiah (the Millennium).

"Only the premillennial interpretation of the concept of the kingdom allows a literal interpretation of both Old Testament and New Testament prophecies relating to the future kingdom"[275]

It is important to distinguish the church from the kingdom. The church plays a part in the kingdom, but they are separate entities. Progressive dispensationalists argue that the church is the first phase of the messianic kingdom, the "already" phase, in contrast to the eschatological, "not yet," earthly phase. Matthew maintained the distinction between the kingdom and the church throughout his Gospel, as did the other New Testament writers. I believe that the whole inter-advent age, including the church age, is the first phase of the messianic kingdom, and the second phase will be the earthly millennial reign of Christ.

What did John mean when he announced that the kingdom was "at hand" (v. 2)? The Greek verb eggizo means "to draw near," not "to be here" (cf. 21:1).[276] All that was necessary for the earthly kingdom to begin was Israel's acceptance of her King (11:14). The messianic kingdom was near because the King was present.[277] Amillennialists, historic premillennialists, and progressive dispensationalists believe John meant that the messianic kingdom was about to begin, which it did when Jesus began to minister.

"If Israel had accepted its Messiah, the earthly kingdom would have been inaugurated by the King."[278]

The statement just quoted may seem to some to make Christ's work on the cross unnecessary, but this is incorrect. Had the Jews accepted their Messiah when He offered the kingdom to them, He still would have died on the cross and experienced resurrection and ascension. He could not have been the Messiah without doing so, in fulfillment of many Old Testament prophecies (Ps. 22; Isa. 53; Dan. 9; Zech. 13). Then the prophecies concerning the seven years of Jacob's trouble would have been fulfilled (Jer. 30:7; Dan. 12:1; 9:26-27). Next, Messiah would have returned to set up His earthly kingdom (Isa. 60:1-3; 66:18; Hab. 2:14; cf. Zech. 12:10; 13:6).

Since the Jews rejected Jesus' offer of the kingdom, was His offer genuine? Had God not already determined that Israel would reject her Messiah? Jesus' offer of the kingdom was just as genuine as any gospel offer of salvation is to someone who rejects it.

"Those who cavil [make petty or unnecessary objections] at the idea of an offer which is certain to be rejected betray an ignorance, not only of Biblical history (cf. Isa. 6:8-10 and Ezek. 2:3-7), but also of the important place of the legal proffer [offer] in the realm of jurisprudence."[279]

3:3                      "This is the one OT citation of Matthew's own eleven direct OT quotations that is not introduced by a fulfillment formula … Instead he introduces it with a Pesher formula (e.g., Acts 2:16 …) that can only be understood as identifying the Baptist in an eschatological, prophecy-and-fulfillment framework with the one of whom Isaiah (40:3) spoke."[280]

In Isaiah 40:3, "the voice" exhorts the people to prepare for God's coming while He is bringing Israel back from her dispersion. The prophet then proceeded to describe the blessings that would follow her return. Matthew identified Yahweh ("the LORD") in Isaiah 40:3 with Jesus in Matthew 3:3. This equates "the kingdom of God" with "the kingdom of Jesus." While this is not an implicit statement of Jesus' deity, it certainly presents Jesus as more than just Yahweh's representative.

"John as the voice, roused men, and then Christ, as the Word, taught them."[281]

3:4             In his dress and in his food, as well as in his habitat and in his message, John associated himself with the poor and the prophets—particularly Elijah (cf. 2 Kings 1:8; Zech. 13:4; Mal. 4:5).

"In view of the considerable Jewish interest in the eschatological role of Elijah (see on 11:14 and 17:10-11) it is likely that John's clothing was deliberately adopted to promote this image."[282]

Likewise, John may have selected his venue for ministry because of its associations with Elijah. Poor people ate locusts (Lev. 11:22), and such a diet was compatible with that of a Nazirite. John called for the people to get right with God, because the appearing of their Messiah was imminent.[283] Elijah had called the Israelites back to God at the time of their most serious apostasy (departure from God). John called them back to God on the eve of their greatest opportunity. He was the first prophet from God in approximately 400 years.

3:5             Many people responded to John because they perceived that he was a genuine prophet with a message from God.

3:6             Baptism represented purification to the Jews. Ceremonial washings were part of the Mosaic system of worship (Exod. 19; Lev. 15; Num. 19). When a Gentile became a proselyte to Judaism, he or she underwent baptism. (There is some question whether proselyte baptism existed among the Jews at this time.[284]) But John baptized Jews. John's baptism carried these connotations of cleansing with it, but it was different. In the other types of ceremonial cleansing, the person washed himself or herself. John, on the other hand, baptized other people. He probably received the name "John the Baptist" or "John the Baptizer" for this reason.[285]

John's baptism did not make a person a member of the church, the body of Christ, since the church had not yet come into existence (16:18). It simply gave public testimony to that Jewish person's repentance and commitment to live a holy life. Lenski, a Lutheran commentator, argued that John did not baptize Jesus by immersion.[286] Lutherans traditionally baptize by effusion (sprinkling or pouring). However, many Bible scholars and church historians believe that immersion was the method used.

It is impossible to identify the method of baptism that John used from what the Gospels tell us. However extrabiblical sources indicate that Jewish proselyte baptism took place in large tanks (Heb. mikvah) in which the person undergoing baptism stood.[287] The issue boils down to whether one takes the word "baptism" in its primary sense of submersion or in its secondary sense of initiation.[288] Likewise, it is unclear whether the confession involved public or private acts.

"This confession of sins by individuals was a new thing in Israel. There was a collective confession on the great day of atonement, and individual confession in certain specified cases (Numb. v. 7), but no great spontaneous self-unburdenment of penitent souls—every man apart."[289]

3:7             Verse 7 contains Matthew's first reference to the "Pharisees" ("Separate Ones") and the "Sadducees" ("Righteous Ones"). Significantly, John was antagonistic toward them because they were hypocritical, a trait that marks them throughout the Gospels. Matthew lumped them together here because they were Israel's leaders.

"After the ministry of the postexilic prophets ceased, godly men called Chasidim (saints) arose who sought to keep alive reverence for the law among the descendants of the Jews who returned from the Babylonian captivity. This movement degenerated into the Pharisaism of our Lord's day—a letter-strictness which overlaid the law with traditional interpretations held to have been communicated by the LORD to Moses as oral explanations of equal authority with the law itself (cp. Mt. 15:2-3; Mk. 7:8-13; Gal. 1:14). …

"The Sadducees were a Jewish sect that denied the existence of angels or other spirits, and all miracles, especially the resurrection of the body. They were the religious rationalists of the time (Mk. 12:18-23; Acts 23:8), and were strongly entrenched in the Sanhedrin and priesthood (Acts 4:1-2; 5:17). The Sadducees are identified with no affirmative doctrine, but were mere deniers of the supernatural."[290]

"The course of our investigations has shown, that neither Pharisees nor Sadducees were a sect, in the sense of separating from Temple or Synagogue; and also that the Jewish people as such were not divided between Pharisees and Sadducees. The small number of professed Pharisees (six thousand) at the time of Herod [Josephus, Antiquities of … 17:2:4], the representations of the New Testament, and even the curious circumstance that Philo never once mentions the name of Pharisee, confirm the result of our historical inquiries, that the Pharisees were first an 'order,' then gave the name to a party, and finally represented a direction of theological thought."[291]

"Vipers" is a word that Isaiah used to describe God's enemies (Isa. 14:29; 30:6). John's use of it associates him with the former prophets and reflects his prophetic authority.

"The first major appearance of the religious leaders in Matthew's story occurs in conjunction with the ministry of John the Baptist (3:7-10). The importance of their appearance here has to do with the fact that John is the forerunner of Jesus. As such, the attitude that John assumes toward the leaders is predictive of the attitude that Jesus will assume toward them."[292]

John's question ("who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?") amounted to, "Who suggested to you that you would escape the coming wrath?"[293] The behavior of the Pharisees and Sadducees should have demonstrated the genuineness of their professed repentance, but it did not.

3:8             "Fruit" is what people produce—and what other people see—that indicates their spiritual condition (13:21; cf. Mark 4:19; Luke 8:14; John 15:1-6). The "fruit consistent with repentance" was absent in the case of these leaders. There was no external evidence that they desired to draw near to God in anticipation of Messiah's appearance.

3:9             Many of the Jews in the inter-testamental period believed that if one was a descendant of Abraham, he or she would automatically enter Messiah's kingdom.[294] They counted on the patriarch's righteousness as sufficient for themselves (cf. Rom. 4). However, God had often pruned back the unrighteous in Israel and preserved a remnant in its history. As Matthew continued to point out in his Gospel, many of the Jews refused to humble themselves before God and instead trusted in their own righteousness. The Pharisees and Sadducees were doing that. Josephus, himself a Pharisee,[295] placed the origin of both of these groups in the time of Jonathan, the son of Judas Maccabee (160-143 B.C.).[296]

John's reference to "stones" was a play on words with "children" in both the Hebrew and Aramaic languages. If stones could become God's children, certainly Gentiles could.

3:10           This verse gives the reason the Jews needed to repent: Divine judgment would precede the establishment of Messiah's earthly kingdom (cf. Isa. 1:27; 4:4; 5:16; 13:6-19; 42:1; Jer. 33:14-16; Dan. 7:26-27). The Jews connected the concepts of repentance and the messianic age closely in their thinking.[297] John announced that this judgment was imminent (vv. 10-12). "Any tree [better than "every" tree] that does not bear good fruit," regardless of its roots, will suffer destruction. Probably John had both individuals and the nation of Israel in mind.

The reference to "fire" pictures the judgment and destruction of those who fail to repent (cf. "wrath," v. 7, and "winnowing fork," v. 12). For individuals, this judgment would involve eternal destruction (v. 12), assuming there was no later repentance. For the nation, it would involve the postponement (delay) of Messiah's earthly kingdom and its attendant blessings.

"If not fit for fruit, they are fit for fuel."[298]

3:11           John baptized in "water" in connection with repentance.[299] However, the One coming after him, the King, would baptize with "the Holy Spirit" (cf. Joel 2:28-29) "and fire" (cf. Mal. 3:2-5). The Malachi prophecy speaks of fire as a refining or purifying agent, not as an instrument of destruction. Both prophecies involve the nation of Israel as a whole primarily.

Are the baptism with the Holy Spirit and the baptism with fire two different baptisms or one? This is a very difficult question to answer because the arguments on both sides are strong.[300] In both interpretations, baptism connotes both immersion, in the metaphorical sense of placing into something, and initiation. Some interpreters believe that Jesus baptized with the Holy Spirit at His first coming (at Pentecost, cf. Acts 2:38), and that He will baptize with fire at His second coming.[301] Others believe that both baptisms occurred at His first coming:

"The fire destroys what the wind [Spirit] leaves."[302]

The construction of the statement in the Greek text favors one baptism. Usually one entity is in view when one article precedes two nouns joined by a conjunction.[303] This would mean that the one baptism that Jesus would perform would be with the Holy Spirit and fire together. Some interpreters believe that this prophecy was fulfilled on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:3-4, 38).[304] However, since the church was a mystery announced first by our Lord (Matt. 16:18), and then explained more fully by subsequent apostles and prophets (Eph. 3:5; Col. 1:25-26), it seems to me that the baptism that John referred to was the one that will take place in the future day of the Lord. There is no indication that John the Baptist knew anything about the church.

The fire in Malachi's prophecy probably refers to purification and judgment. The purification emphasis is in harmony with Malachi's use. This has led many scholars to conclude that the fire baptism that John predicted is not the one at Pentecost.[305] They, and I, believe that the time when Jesus will baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire, in order to fulfill these prophecies concerning Israel, is yet future from our viewpoint in history. It will happen at His second advent. It would have happened at His first advent if Israel had accepted Him. Jesus' baptism of His disciples on the day of Pentecost was a similar baptism, but it was not the fulfillment of these prophecies, since they involved the day of the Lord specifically (cf. John 14:17; Acts 2; 1 Cor. 12:13).[306]

The context, which speaks of blessing for the repentant, but judgment for the unrepentant, tends to favor two baptisms (vv. 8-10, 12; cf. Acts 1:5; 11:16). In this case, the fire would refer primarily, if not exclusively, to judgment.[307] The baptism with the Holy Spirit would refer to Spirit baptism that will happen when Israel accepts her Messiah, which the prophets predicted (Isa. 44:3; Joel 2:28-32). A foretaste of that baptism occurred on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:4, 16, 33, 38). The baptism with fire would refer to Jesus' judgment of unrepentant Israel (cf. v. 12). After Israel's rejection of Jesus, it became clear that this national judgment will happen primarily at His second coming. This fiery judgment might also refer to unrepentant individuals when they reach the end of their lives.

All things considered, it seems probable that John was referring to one baptism that will find complete fulfillment at Jesus' second coming. What happened on the day of Pentecost was similar to what was prophesied, but did not fulfill it completely.

The rabbis taught that, even if one was a slave, loosening another person's sandal was beneath the dignity of a Jew.[308] So by saying he was unworthy to remove Jesus' sandals, John meant that he was unworthy of even the most humiliating service of Jesus.

3:12           John metaphorically described God separating the true and the false, the repentant and the unrepentant, in a future judgment. This thorough judgment will result in the preservation of the believing Israelites and the destruction of the unbelieving (cf. 25:31-46). "The barn" probably refers to the kingdom, and the "unquenchable fire" to the endless duration and the agonizing nature of this punishment.

"'Unquenchable fire' is not just metaphor: fearful reality underlies Messiah's separation of grain from chaff. The 'nearness' of the kingdom therefore calls for repentance (v. 2)."[309]

What then was the essential message of Messiah's forerunner?

"John preached both a personal salvation, involving the remission of sins (Mark 1:4), and a national salvation, involving the establishment of the millennial kingdom with Israel delivered out of the hand of their enemies (Matt. 3:2; Luke 1:71-75)."[310]

2.     Jesus' baptism 3:13-17 (cf. Mark 1:9-11; Luke 3:21-23)

Jesus' baptism was the occasion at which His messiahship became obvious publicly. Matthew recorded this event as he did in order to convince his readers further of Jesus' messianic qualifications. Thus John's baptism had two purposes: to prepare Israel for her Messiah (3:1-12) and to prepare the Messiah for Israel (3:13-17; cf. John 1:31). In the fourth century, Eusebius wrote that Jesus was baptized by John "in his thirtieth year."[311]

"The first Passover after the Lord's baptism was that of 780 [Roman year, or A.D. 27], and fell upon the 9th [of] April. The baptism preceded this Passover some two or three months, and so probably fell in the month of January of that year."[312]


3:13-14      John hesitated to baptize Jesus because he believed that Jesus did not need to repent. John evidently suggested that it was more appropriate that Jesus baptize him than that he baptize Jesus, because he knew that Jesus was more righteous than he was. It is unlikely that John meant that he wanted the Spirit and fire baptism of Jesus. John did not know that Jesus was the Messiah until after he had baptized Him (John 1:31-34).

3:15           John agreed to baptize Jesus only after Jesus convinced him that by baptizing Him, both of them would "fulfill all righteousness." What did Jesus mean?

An important prerequisite to understanding Jesus' words is an understanding of the meaning of "righteousness." Matthew's use of this word is different from Paul's. Paul used it mainly to describe a right standing before God: positional righteousness. Matthew used it to describe conformity to God's will: ethical righteousness.[313] Ethical righteousness is the display of conduct in one's actions that is right in God's eyes. It does not deal with getting saved but responding to God's grace. In Matthew, a righteous person is one who lives in harmony with the will of God (cf. 1:19). Ethical righteousness is a major theme of the Old Testament, and it was a matter that concerned the Jews in Jesus' day, especially the Pharisees.

Jesus understood that it was God's will for John to baptize Him. There is no Old Testament prophecy that states that Messiah would undergo water baptism, but there is prophecy that Messiah would submit Himself to God (Isa. 42:1; 53; et al.). That spirit of submissiveness to God's will is primarily what John's baptism identified in those who submitted to it. Consequently it was appropriate for Jesus to undergo John's baptism, and John consented to baptize Him. In doing so, Jesus put His stamp of approval on John's ministry and identified Himself with the godly remnant within Israel who were responding submissively to God's prophet.

"By thus joining himself to all these instances of John's baptism he [Jesus] signifies that he is now ready to take upon himself the load of all these sinners, i.e., to assume his redemptive office."[314]

"The King, because of His baptism, is now bound up with His subjects."[315]

"Jesus' baptism in the Jordan stands as a counterpart of Israel's crossing of the Red Sea at the onset of the Exodus. Thus Jesus transversed [crossed] the Jordan and then, like Israel, spent a period of time in the wilderness. Jesus, another Moses, on whom the Spirit had been placed (Isa. 63:10-14), would lead the way."[316]

"Jesus fulfilled the Scripture by replicating in His own life the patterns of God's historical relations with Israel and by accomplishing in His own history the predicted events of prophecy."[317]

It is significant that Matthew did not describe the mechanics of Jesus' baptism. His emphasis was on the two revelatory events that followed it (cf. 2:1-23).

3:16           The Greek text stresses the fact that Jesus' departure from the water and God's attestation of Him as the Messiah occurred at the same time.

The person who saw the Spirit of God descending was evidently Jesus. Jesus is the person in the immediately preceding context. John the Evangelist recorded that John the Baptist also saw this (John 1:32), but evidently no one but Jesus heard the Father's voice. In fact, the baptism of Jesus appears to have been a private affair with no one present but John and Jesus.

The phrase "the heavens were opened" or "heaven was opened" recalls instances of people receiving visions from God. In them they saw things unseen by other mortals (e.g., Isa. 64:1; Ezek. 1:1; cf. Acts 7:56; Rev. 4:1; 19:11). The phrase implies that new revelation will follow to and through Jesus. What Jesus saw was the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove, not in a dove-like fashion, descending on Him (cf. Luke 3:22). This is the first explicit identification of the Holy Spirit with a dove in Scripture. It was an appropriate symbol because of its beauty, heavenly origin, freedom, sensitivity, purity, and peaceful nature. The dove was also an animal used for Israel's sin offerings, so its appearance here may have anticipated Christ's death.[318]

"The descent of the Spirit upon Jesus denotes the divine act whereby God empowers him to accomplish the messianic ministry he is shortly to begin (4:17). Such empowerment, of course, is not to be construed as Jesus' initial endowment with the Spirit, for he was conceived by the Spirit. Instead, it specifies in what way Jesus proves to be the mightier One John had said he would be (3:11). It also serves as the reference point for understanding the 'authority' with which Jesus discharges his public ministry. Empowered by God's Spirit, Jesus speaks as the mouthpiece of God (7:28-29) and acts as the instrument of God (12:28)."[319]

In Isaiah 42:1, the prophet predicted that God would put His Spirit on His Servant (cf. Ps. 45:7). That happened at Jesus' baptism. Matthew's account shows fulfillment, though the writer did not draw attention to it as such here. When God's Spirit came on individuals in the Old Testament, He empowered them for divine service. That was the purpose of Jesus' anointing as well (Luke 4:14; 5:17; cf. Luke 24:49).

"It is a great paradox that upon the Messiah, who was to baptize with fire, the Spirit should have descended at His baptism like a dove, a symbol of gentleness and meekness. In Jesus we are in fact confronted with both 'the goodness and severity of God' (Rom. xi. 22); and this double truth runs right through the New Testament, and not least through the Gospel of Matthew (contrast, for example, xi. 29 and xxv. 41)."[320]

3:17           An audible revelation followed the visual one. The voice from heaven could be none other than God's. After 400 years without prophetic revelation, God broke the silence. He spoke from heaven to humankind again. Matthew recorded God's words as a general announcement (cf. 17:5). The other evangelists wrote that God said, "You are My beloved Son" (Mark 1:11; Luke 3:22).

Evidently the accounts in Mark and Luke contain the actual words God used, often referred to as the ipisissima verba, whereas Matthew gave a free quotation of God's words, the so-called ipisissima vox. These Latin terms mean essentially "own words" and "own voice" respectively. As used in New Testament studies, the former phrase indicates a verbatim quotation and the latter a free quotation. The former refers to the words the speaker in the narrative used, and the latter to the words of the writer who interpreted the speaker's words. Matthew probably gave a free quotation because he used what happened at Jesus' baptism as evidence of His messiahship.

"Had the crowds heard the voice from heaven, it is inexplicable why one segment of the public does not at least entertain the idea that Jesus is the Son of God. And had John heard the voice from heaven, it is odd that his question of 11:2-3 contains no hint of this. On the contrary, it reflects the selfsame view of Jesus that John had expressed prior to the baptism, namely, that Jesus is the Coming One (3:11-12)."[321]

The words that God spoke identified Jesus as the Messiah promised in the Old Testament. The term "Son" (of God) was one that God used of David's descendant who would follow him on Israel's throne (2 Sam. 7:13-14; Ps. 2:7; 89:26-29; cf. Matt. 1:20; 2:15; 4:3, 6). God's commendation also linked Jesus with the Suffering Servant at the commencement of His ministry (Isa. 42:1; 53). The "beloved Son" is equivalent to the Son with whom the Father was well pleased (Isa. 42:1). Genesis 22:2 may also be behind this announcement, since that verse describes Isaac as Abraham's beloved only son (cf. Ps. 2:7; Isa. 42:1). Consequently, "Son of God" is a messianic title.[322] Notice the involvement of all three members of the Trinity in Jesus' baptism. This indicates its importance.

"For the first time the Trinity, foreshadowed in many ways in the O.T., is clearly manifested."[323]

In this one statement at the beginning of Jesus' ministry, God presented Him as the Davidic Messiah, the Son of God, the representative of the people, and the Suffering Servant. Matthew had presented Jesus in all of these roles previously, but now God the Father confirmed His identity.

"… God's baptismal declaration at 3:17 reveals itself to be climactic within the context of 1:1—4:16 because this is the place where God's understanding of Jesus as his Son ceases to be of the nature of private information available only to the reader and becomes instead an element within the story that henceforth influences the shape of events. To illustrate this, notice how the words Satan speaks in 4:3, 6 ('If you are the Son of God …') pick up directly on the declaration God makes in the baptismal pericope ('This is my beloved Son …')."[324]

"Because Matthew so constructs his story that God's evaluative point of view is normative, the reader knows that in hearing God enunciate his understanding of Jesus, he or she has heard the normative understanding of Jesus, the one in terms of which all other understandings are to be judged. In Matthew's story, God himself dictates that Jesus is preeminently the Son of God."[325]

"He did not become Son of God at His baptism, as certain heretical teachers in the early Church maintained; but it was then that He was appointed to a work which He alone could perform, because of His unique relationship with His Father."[326]

Matthew passed over all the incidents of Jesus' childhood, including His appearance at the temple (Luke 2:41-50), because his interests were selective and apologetic rather than merely historical. He introduced Jesus as the messianic King of Israel who fulfilled Old Testament prophecy and received divine confirmation from God with an audible pronouncement from heaven (cf. Exod. 20:1).[327]

In chapter 1, Matthew stressed the glories of the King's person. In chapter 2, he gave a preview of the reception that He would receive as Israel's Messiah. In chapter 3, he introduced the beginning of His ministry with accounts of His earthly forerunner's heralding and His heavenly Father's approval.

3.     Jesus' temptation 4:1-11 (cf. Mark 1:12-13; Luke 4:1-13)

"… Jesus' testing in the wilderness of Judea is one of the most significant indicators of His uniqueness. In fact it may not be stretching the point to say that the very purpose of the temptation narratives is to underscore His uniqueness."[328]

"Just as metal has to be tested far beyond any stress and strain that it will ever be called upon to bear, before it can be used for any useful purpose, so a man has to be tested before God can use him for His purposes."[329]

"In a similar way, the Lord Jesus Christ was tested to demonstrate that He was exactly who He claimed to be."[330]

Jesus' genealogy and virgin birth prove His legal human qualification as Israel's King. His baptism was the occasion of His divine approval. His temptation demonstrated His moral fitness to reign. The natural question a thoughtful reader of Matthew's Gospel might ask after reading God's attestation of His Son (3:17) is: Was He really that good? Jesus' three temptations prove that He was.

"By the end of the baptismal pericope, the Jesus of Matthew's story stands before the reader preeminently as the Son of God who has been empowered with the Spirit of God. So identified, Jesus is led by the Spirit into the desert to engage the devil, or Satan, in conflict in the place of his abode (4:1-11). … Ultimately, the substance of each test has to do with Jesus' devotion, or obedience, to God. The intent of Satan in each test is to entice Jesus to break faith with God, his Father, and thus disavow his divine sonship. Should Satan succeed at this, he succeeds in effect in destroying Jesus. In testing Jesus, Satan cunningly adopts God's evaluative point of view according to which Jesus is his Son (4:3, 6)."[331]

4:1             The same Spirit who brought Jesus into the world (1:20), and demonstrated God's approval of Him (3:16), now led Him into the wilderness for tempting by Satan.

"like Job, Jesus was placed into Satan's power so that the latter might tempt him to the uttermost."[332]

"The [Greek] word [peirazo] means 'to try' or 'to make proof of,' and when ascribed to God in His dealings with people, it means no more than this (see Gen. 22:1). But for the most part in Scripture, the word is used in a negative sense, and means to entice, solicit, or provoke to sin. Hence the name given to the wicked one in this passage is 'the tempter' (4:3). Accordingly 'to be tempted' here is to be understood both ways. The Spirit conducted Jesus into the wilderness to try His faith, but the agent in this trial was the wicked one, whose object was to seduce Jesus away from His allegiance to God. This was temptation in the bad sense of the term. Yet Jesus did not give in to temptation; He passed the test (see 2 Cor. 5:21; 1 Pet. 2:22; 1 John 3:5; Heb. 7:26)."[333]

"Just as God led Israel out of Egypt and through the waters and into the desert (Num 20.5; 1 Bas 12.6; Ps 80.1 LXX; etc., all using anagein ['to lead up']), so does the Spirit of God lead Jesus into the desert after he is baptized."[334]

"According to Hosea 2:14-23, the wilderness was the place of Israel's original sonship, where God had loved His people. Yet because they had forsaken Yahweh their Father, a 'renewal' of the exodus into the desert was necessary for the restoration of Israel's status as the 'son' of God. In this new exodus, God's power and help would be experienced again in a renewed trek into the wilderness."[335]

The Greek word translated "tempted" (peirazo) means "to test" in either a good or bad sense, as noted above. Here God's objective was to demonstrate the character of His Son by exposing Him to Satan's tests (cf. 2 Sam. 24:1; Job 1:6—2:7). Scripture consistently teaches that God does not "tempt" (Gr. peirazo) anyone in order to seduce him or her to sin (James 1:13). Nevertheless He does allow people to experience testing that comes from the world, the flesh, and the devil (1 John 2:15-17; Rom. 7:18-24; 1 Pet. 5:8).[336] God evidently led Jesus into the wilderness to demonstrate the obedience of this Son compared with the disobedience of His son Israel (2:15; cf. Exod. 4:22; Deut. 8:3, 5). God allowed both His sons to be tested "to prove their obedience and loyalty in preparation for their appointed work."[337]

"After great honours put upon us, we must expect something that is humbling."[338]

4:2             Fasting in Scripture was for a spiritual reason, namely, to forego a physical need in order to give attention to a more important spiritual need.[339] During this fast Jesus ate nothing, but He presumably drank water (cf. Luke 4:2). Moses and Elijah, two of God's most significant servants in the Old Testament, likewise fasted for 40 days and nights (Exod. 34:28; Deut. 9:9; 1 Kings 19:8). Jesus' fast would have connected Him with these servants of Yahweh in the minds of Matthew's Jewish readers, as it does in ours.

"He [Jesus] did not go away from man, and from all intercourse with man and the things of man, in order (like Moses and Elias) to be with God. Being already fully with God, He is separate from men by the power of the Holy Ghost to be alone in His conflict with the enemy."[340]

The wilderness of Judea (3:1) is the traditional site of Jesus' temptations. Israel had, of course, experienced temptation in another wilderness for 40 years. The number "40" frequently has connections with sin and testing in the Old Testament (cf. Gen. 7:4, 12; Num. 14:33; 32:13; Deut. 9:25; 25:3; Ps. 95:10; Jon. 3:4). Jesus experienced temptation in the wilderness at the end of 40 days and nights.

4:3             Satan attacked Jesus when He was vulnerable physically. The form of Satan's question in the Greek text indicates that Satan was assuming that Jesus was the Son of God (3:17). It is a first class conditional clause in Greek.

"The temptation, to have force, must be assumed as true. The devil knew it to be true. He accepts that fact as a working hypothesis in the temptation."[341]

This temptation was not for Jesus to doubt that He was God's Son. It was to suggest that, as the Son of God, Jesus surely had the power and right to satisfy His own needs independent of His Father (cf. 2 Sam. 7:14; Ps. 2:7). Satan urged Jesus to use His Sonship in a way that was inconsistent with His mission (cf. 26:53-54; 27:40). God had intended Israel's hunger in the wilderness to teach her that hearing and obeying God's Word is the most important thing in life (Deut. 8:2-3). Israel demanded bread in the wilderness but died. Jesus forewent bread in submission to His Father's will and lived.

"The impact of Satan's temptation is that Jesus, like Adam first and Israel later, had a justifiable grievance against God and therefore ought to voice His complaint by 'murmuring' (Exod. 16; Num. 11) and ought to provide for Himself the basic necessity of life, namely, bread. Satan, in other words, sought to make Jesus groundlessly anxious about His physical needs and thus to provoke Him to demand the food He craved (cf. Ps. 78:18). In short, the devil's aim was to persuade Jesus to repeat the apostasy of Adam and Israel. Satan wanted to break Jesus' perfect trust in His Father's good care and thereby to alter the course of salvation-history."[342]

The wilderness of Judea contains many limestone rocks of all sizes and shapes. Many of them look like the loaves and rolls of bread that the Jews prepared and ate daily.

4:4             Jesus' response to Satan's suggestion reflected His total commitment to follow God's will as revealed in His Word. He quoted the Septuagint translation of Deuteronomy 8:3. Its application originally was to Israel, but Jesus applied it to everyone, and particularly Himself. By applying this passage to Himself, Jesus put Himself in the category of a true "man" (Gr. anthropos).

Jesus faced Satan as a man, not as God. He did not use His own divine powers to overcome the enemy, which is just what Satan tempted Him to do. Rather, He used the spiritual resources that are available to all people, including us, namely, the Word of God and the power of the Holy Spirit (v. 1).[343] It is for this reason that He is an example for us of one who successfully endured temptation, and it is this victory that qualified Him to become our great high priest (Heb. 2:10; 3:1-2).

"Matthew here shows that Jesus is not God only, but an unique theanthropic [both God and man] person, personally qualified to be King of Israel."[344]

Everyone needs to recognize and acknowledge his or her total dependence on God and His Word. Jesus' real food, what sustained Him above all else, was His commitment to do the will of His Father (John 4:34).

In this first temptation, Satan's aim was to seduce Jesus into using His God-given power and authority independently of His Father's will. Jesus had subjected Himself to His Father's will because of His mission (cf. Phil. 2:8). It was uniquely a personal temptation: It tested Jesus' person.

"Obedience to God's will takes priority over self-gratification, even over the apparently essential provision of food."[345]

Notice in all of these instances of temptation that Satan is presented as a person—having an intellect, emotions, and a will—not merely an impersonal influence: the personification of evil.

4:5             The setting for the second temptation was Jerusalem, perhaps in a vision that Satan gave Jesus, or perhaps Jesus was tempted to imagine Himself there.[346] Matthew referred to Jerusalem with a favorite Jewish term: "the holy city" (cf. Neh. 11:1; Isa. 48:2; Dan. 9:24; Matt. 4:5; 27:53). This hints that the temptation would have national rather than solely individual implications.

Satan took Jesus to a high point of the temple complex (Gr. hieron), not necessarily the topmost peak of the sanctuary. The Greek word translated "pinnacle" is pterygion, which can be translated "little wing" or "high corner." The temple complex towered over the Kidron Valley 170 feet below.[347] Some of the Jewish rabbis taught that when Messiah came to deliver Israel, He would appear on the temple roof (cf. Mal. 3:1; John 6:30).[348]

"Jerusalem was considered the 'center of the nations, with lands around her,' the 'center of the world,' whose inhabitants 'dwell at the center of the earth' (Ezek. 5:5; 38:12; …). Thus when Jesus stood on the pinnacle of the temple, He was, theologically speaking, at the center of the world. From that vantage point the Messiah most naturally could claim the nations as His own and rule them with a rod of iron …"[349]

4:6             Again the devil granted that Jesus was the Son of God. Satan's words replicate the Septuagint version of Psalm 91:11 and 12, appealing to the authority that Jesus used, namely, God's Word (cf. v. 4). Satan omitted the psalmist's words "to protect you in all your ways." Many expositors have assumed that Satan wanted to trick Jesus with this omission, but his free method of quoting was very common. Many New Testament writers quoted the Old Testament in the same loose way.

Probably Satan wanted Jesus to demonstrate His trust in God in a spectacular way in order to challenge God's faithfulness. He misapplied the Scripture he quoted. The Psalms passage refers to anyone who trusts in God. That certainly applied to Jesus. The verses promise that the angels will uphold such a person like a nurse holds a baby (cf. Num. 11:12; Deut. 1:31; Isa. 49:22; Heb. 1:14). God had revealed Himself most particularly at the temple throughout Israel's history. Therefore what better place could there have been to demonstrate the Son of God's confidence in His Father's promise? Temptation can come even in a holy setting.

"When Satan quotes Scripture, look closely at the text and be sure nothing vital is omitted, for it is possible to back up the gravest error with a text from the Bible used out of its connection or only partly expressed."[350]

4:7             Jesus refused Satan's suggestion because the Scriptures prohibited putting God to a test, not because He questioned God's faithfulness to His promise. Satan tempted Jesus to test God. Satan was tempting Jesus to act as if God was there to serve Him, rather than the other way around. Israel had faced the same test and had failed (Exod. 17:2-7; cf. Num. 20:1-13). It is wrong to demand that God prove Himself faithful to His promises by giving us what He has promised on our terms. The proper procedure is simply to trust and obey God (Deut. 6:16-17).

"Testing is not trusting."[351]

Jesus refused to allow Satan to apply a valid promise so that it contradicted another teaching in God's Word. "On the other hand" or "also" (Gr. palin) has the sense of "not contradicting but qualifying."[352] Jesus, as a man, voluntarily under the authority of God's Word, proved to be faithful to its spirit as well as to its letter.

4:8             The "very high mountain" to which Satan took Jesus next is traditionally near Jericho, but its exact location is not important. It simply provided a vantage point from which Satan could point out other kingdoms that surrounded Israel.

"The placement of Jesus on the mountain of temptation, where He refused to acknowledge the devil's 'authority,' is deliberately juxtaposed to the mountain (Matt. 28:16) of 'the great commission,' on which He later affirmed that all 'authority' in heaven and on earth had been granted to Him (28:18)."[353]

Luke's wording suggests that Satan presented all the kingdoms of the world to Jesus in a vision (Luke 4:5). It is hard to tell if Jesus' temptations involved physical transportation or visionary transportation, but my guess is visionary transportation. This temptation would have universal significance, not just personal and national significance, as the first and second temptations did.

4:9             Satan offered to give Jesus immediate dominion and control over all the kingdoms of the world and the glory connected with reigning over them—something that God would give Him eventually as the Messiah.[354] In the will of God, Jesus would achieve universal rule (Ps. 2), but only as the Suffering Servant who would have to endure the Cross first.

God's divine authentication of His Son (3:16-17) drew attention to both Jesus' Davidic messiahship and His Suffering Servant role. This temptation consisted of an opportunity for Jesus to obtain the benefits of messiahship without having to experience its unpleasant elements. To get this, however, Jesus would have to change His allegiance from God to Satan. This involved idolatry, which is putting someone or something in the place that God deserves. Later, Peter suggested the same shortcut to Jesus, and received a sharp rebuke as Satan's spokesman for doing so (16:23).

This was a legitimate offer. Satan had the ability, under the sovereign authority of God, to give Jesus what he promised, namely, power and glory (cf. 12:25-28; Luke 10:18; Eph. 2:2). Israel, God's other son, had formerly faced the same temptation, to avoid God's uncomfortable will by departing from it, and had failed (Num. 13—14). This third temptation, like the other two, tested Jesus' total loyalty to His Father and His Father's will. Had Jesus taken Satan's bait, He would have been Satan's slave, albeit, perhaps, a world ruler.

"Jesus was in effect tempted to subscribe to the diabolical doctrine that the end justifies the means; that, so long as He obtained universal sovereignty in the end, it mattered not how that sovereignty was reached …"[355]

4:10           For a third time, Jesus responded by quoting Scripture to His adversary (cf. Ps. 17:4). He banished Satan with the divine command to worship and serve God alone (Deut. 6:13).

"It is not by debate the victory is won, but by the Word itself."[356]

When Satan tempts us to doubt, deny, disobey, or disregard God's Word, we should do what Jesus did. Instead of listening to Satan, we should speak to him, reiterating what God has said (cf. James 4:7; 1 Pet. 5:9).

4:11           Having resisted Satan's attacks successfully, the enemy departed temporarily (cf. James 4:7). God sent messengers ("angels") to assist His faithful Son (cf. 1 Kings 19:4-8). The Father rewarded the Son with divine assistance and further opportunity for service, because Jesus had remained faithful to Him. This is God's normal method.

Luke recorded the same three temptations as Matthew did, but he reversed the order of the second and third temptations. Apparently Luke rearranged the temptations in order to stress Jesus' victory in Jerusalem. Luke viewed Jerusalem as the center toward which Jesus moved in his Gospel, and the center from which the gospel radiated to the uttermost part of the earth in Acts (Acts 1:8). Matthew, on the other hand, concluded his account of the temptation with a reference to the kingdom, which was his particular interest. Which order is the historical one? Possibly Matthew's is, since at the end of the third temptation in Matthew, Jesus sent Satan away (v. 10).[357] On the other hand, Luke usually described events in chronological sequence more often than Matthew did.

"What we call temptation is not meant to make us sin; it is meant to enable us to conquer sin. It is not meant to make us bad, it is meant to make us good. It is not meant to weaken us, it is meant to make us emerge stronger and finer and purer from the ordeal. Temptation is not the penalty of being a man, temptation is the glory of being a man."[358]

Many have observed that Satan followed the same pattern of temptation with Jesus that he had used with Eve (Gen. 3). First, he appealed to the lust of the flesh, the desire to do something apart from God's will. Second, he appealed to the lust of the eyes, the desire to have something apart from God's will. Third, he appealed to the pride of life, the desire to be something apart from God's will (cf. 1 John 2:16). Leander Keyser described Satan's three appeals as to appetite (the desire to enjoy things), to ambition (the desire to achieve things), and to avarice (the desire to obtain things).[359] McGee believed that Jesus' first temptation was physical, the second spiritual, and the third psychological.[360]

"Approaching Jesus three times in Matthew's story, Satan urges him to place concern for self above allegiance to God."[361]

"The first was the temptation to satisfy a legitimate appetite by illegitimate means. The second was the temptation to produce spiritual results by unspiritual means. The third was the temptation to obtain a lawful heritage by unlawful means."[362]

"Each temptation challenges Jesus' faithfulness. Will he provide for himself independently of God's direction and draw on his power in self-interest (bread)? Will he insist that God protect him by putting God to the test of his protection of the Son (temple)? Will the Son defect from the Father and worship someone else for his own gain (kingdoms)? In each text [sic test] Jesus stresses his loyalty to the Father as he cites Deuteronomy."[363]

"The triumph of Jesus was perfect in the realm of His physical life, in that of His spiritual nature, and in that of His appointed work."[364]

"All three of the tests are variations of the one great temptation to remove His Messianic vocation from the guidance of His Father and make it simply a political calling."[365]

Each of Jesus' three temptations related to His messiahship: the first to Him personally, the second to the Jews, and the third to all the nations (cf. 1:1). The twin themes of Jesus' royal kingship and His suffering servanthood, which combined in the name "Immanuel," "God with us" (1:23), were in tension in the temptation. They remained in tension and created conflict in Jesus' ministry as it unfolded.

"In the first temptation Jesus does not deny that He is hungry and able to make bread; in the second, He does not deny that He is the Son of God, and under special protection; and in the third, He does not deny the Kingdom or dominion which is to be given to Him, but only rejects the mode by which it is to be obtained. As observed, if such a Kingdom is not covenanted, predicted, and intended, the temptation would not have any force."[366]

"In this pericope [4:1-11] we encounter a theme that is vital in the theology of the Gospels. The goal of obedience to the Father is accomplished, not by triumphant self-assertion, not by the exercise of power and authority, but paradoxically by the way of humility, service, and suffering. Therein lies true greatness (cf. 20:26-28). In fulfilling his commission by obedience to the will of the Father, Jesus demonstrates the rightness of the great commandment (Deut 6:5) as well as his own submission to it."[367]

"Just as the first Adam met Satan, so the Last Adam met the enemy (1 Cor. 15:45). Adam met Satan in a beautiful Garden, but Jesus met him in a terrible wilderness. Adam had everything he needed, but Jesus was hungry after forty days of fasting. Adam lost the battle and plunged humanity into sin and death. But Jesus won the battle and went on to defeat Satan in more battles, culminating in His final victory on the cross (John 12:31; Co. 2:15)."[368]

Since Jesus was both God and man, was it possible for Him to sin? Most evangelical theologians have concluded that He could not, because God cannot sin. They believe that He was impeccable (incapable of sinning). If so, was His temptation genuine? Most have responded: yes.[369]

"If we would be clear in our thinking as to this, we must remember that while our Lord was, and is, both Human and Divine, He is not two persons, but one. Personally He is God the Eternal Son who took Humanity into union with His Deity in order to redeem sinful men. He has therefore two natures, the Divine and the Human, but He remains just one Person. Therefore as Man here on earth He could not act apart from His Deity. Those who maintain that He might have sinned may well ask themselves, 'What then would have been the result?' To say that as Man He might have failed in His mission is to admit the amazing and blasphemous suggestion that His holy divine nature could become separated from a defiled human nature and so the incarnation prove a farce and a mockery. But if we realize that He who was both God and Man in one Person was tempted, not to see if He would (or could) sin, but to prove that He was the sinless One, all is clear."[370]

"It is objected to the doctrine of Christ's impeccability that it is inconsistent with his temptability. A person who cannot sin, it is said, cannot be tempted to sin. This is not correct; any more than it would be correct to say that because an army cannot be conquered, it cannot be attacked."[371]

Earl Radmacher illustrated how Jesus could not have sinned this way: Suppose you had a thick iron bar and a thin wire. The bar represents Christ's divine nature and the wire His human nature. The bar cannot be bent, but the wire can. Yet, if the wire is fused to the bar, the wire cannot be bent either. Thus the fusing of Christ's divine and human natures meant that He could not sin.[372]

"To think of Jesus as going serenely through life's way with never a ripple of real temptation to disturb His even course is to empty His moral life of real worth, and to prevent us from seeing in Him our Example. His sinlessness did not result from some automatic necessity of His nature as much as from His moment-by-moment committal of Himself to the Father."[373]

Henri Nouwen helpfully discussed Jesus' three temptations in relation to leadership in ministry. He saw them as temptations to relevance, popularity, and power, and he suggested prayer, ministry, and being led as antidotes.[374]

In the first major section of his Gospel, Matthew showed that Jesus had all the qualifications to be Israel's Messiah—legally, scripturally, and morally. He was now ready to relate Jesus' presentation of Himself to Israel as her King.

II.     The authority of the King 4:12—7:29

Having introduced the King, Matthew next demonstrated the authority of the King. This section includes a narrative introduction to Jesus' teaching and then His teaching on the subject of His kingdom.

J. Sidlow Baxter divided Matthew's account of Jesus' Galilean ministry (4:12—18:35) into three sections: Jesus' tenfold message (chs. 5—7), Jesus' ten miracles (chs. 8—10), and the ten reactions (chs. 11—18).

"What is it that any new reader [of Matthew's Gospel] wants to know? Why, of course, first what Jesus said; then what Jesus did; then what were the results. In other words, we want to know what Jesus taught; what Jesus wrought; what people thought; and that is the order Matthew follows."[375]

A.     The beginning of Jesus' ministry 4:12-25

Matthew gave much prominence to Jesus' teachings in his Gospel. The first of these is the so-called "Sermon on the Mount" (chs. 5—7). To prepare the reader for this discourse, the writer gave a brief introduction to Jesus' ministry (4:12-25). In it, Matthew provided a résumé of His work, highlighting the authority of Israel's King. This résumé includes the setting of Jesus' ministry (Capernaum), Jesus' essential message ("Repent …"), Jesus' call of four disciples, and a summary of Jesus' ministry.

1.     The setting of Jesus' ministry 4:12-16

Comparison of John's Gospel and Matthew's shows that Jesus ministered for about a year before John the Baptist's arrest. John had criticized Herod Antipas for having an adulterous relationship with his brother Philip's wife (14:3-4; Mark 1:14; Luke 3:19-20). Jesus ministered first in Galilee (John 1:19—2:12) and then in Judea (John 2:13—3:21). Then He returned to Galilee by way of Samaria (John 3:22—4:42). Why did Matthew begin his account of Jesus' ministry with John's arrest? John's arrest by Herod signaled the beginning of a new phase of Jesus' ministry. The forerunner's work was now complete. It was time for the King to appear publicly.

"In royal protocol the King does not make His appearance in public until the forerunner has finished his work. Matthew, emphasizing the official and regal character of Jesus, follows this procedure exactly."[376]

4:12           The word "withdrew" or "returned" (NIV; Gr. anachoreo) is significant. Evidently Jesus wanted to get away from Israel's religious leaders in Jerusalem who opposed John (John 4:1-3; 5:1-16). It is unlikely that Herod Antipas would have imprisoned John if the religious authorities had supported John. Matthew used the same Greek word, paredothe ("taken into custody"), that he used here, later when he described Jesus' arrest (26:15, 16, 21, 23, 25; 27:3, 4). The religious leaders evidently played a significant role in both arrests.

To Matthew, Galilee had great significance for two reasons: First, it was the place where Isaiah had predicted that Messiah would minister (Isa. 9:1). Second, since it was an area where many Gentiles lived, it enabled Messiah to have an influence over the nations as well as Israel.

"Matthew's analysis of Christ's ministry is built upon four clearly noted geographical areas: Galilee (4:12), Perea (19:1), Judea (20:17), and Jerusalem (21:1). With the other Synoptists he omits the early Judean ministry, which occurs chronologically between 4:11 and 4:12 (cf. Jn 1—4)."[377]

4:13           Jesus moved the base of His ministry from Nazareth to Capernaum. Capernaum stood on the northwest shore of the Sea of Galilee (14:34). It was the town where Peter, Andrew, James, and John (the fishermen) and Matthew (the tax collector) worked (8:14; 9:9). Estimates of its population in the first century range from 1,000 to 15,000.[378]

"If Joseph settled in Nazareth after the return from Egypt (2:22-23), Jesus now leaves Nazareth and moves to Capernaum (4:12-13), which becomes 'his own city' (9:1). He is thus poised to begin his public ministry."[379]

4:14-16      Jesus' move to Capernaum fulfilled Isaiah 9:1, part of a section of Isaiah's prophecy that describes Immanuel's coming. Matthew's quotation of this passage was a free one. Its point was that "light" had dawned in a dark part of Palestine. By New Testament times, the old tribal divisions had little actual relevance.[380] When Isaiah prophesied, Galilee was under the oppressive threat of the Assyrians. He predicted that Messiah would liberate the people living there. When Matthew wrote, Galilee was under Roman oppression. The "darkness" was also symbolic of the absence of religious, political, and cultural advantages that were available to Jews who lived in Jerusalem. "Dawned" (Gr. aneteilen) suggests that the light of Messiah's ministry would first shine brightly in Galilee (cf. John 1:9; 12:46).[381]

"… From of old the Messiah was promised to 'Galilee of the Gentiles' (ton ethnon), a foreshadowing of the commission to 'all nations' (panta ta ethne, 28:19). Moreover, if the messianic light dawns on the darkest places, then Messiah's salvation can only be a bestowal of grace—namely, that Jesus came to call, not the righteous, but sinners (9:13)."[382]

"The natural characteristics of the Galileans, and the preparation of history had made Galilee the one place in all Palestine where a new teacher with a new message had any real chance of being heard, and it was there that Jesus began His mission and first announced His message."[383]

Whereas Galilee was a dark place in one sense, in another sense Jerusalem was even darker. There, hostility to Jesus was much greater, but in Galilee the people heard Jesus gladly.

"Matthew's story of Jesus' life and ministry possesses a clearly defined beginning, middle, and end and hence falls into three parts: (I) The Presentation of Jesus (1:1—4:16); (II) The Ministry of Jesus to Israel and Israel's Repudiation of Jesus (4:17—16:20); and (III) The Journey of Jesus to Jerusalem and His Suffering, Death, and Resurrection (16:21—28:20). In the first part, Matthew presents Jesus as the Davidic Messiah-King, the royal Son of God (1:1—4:16). To show that Jesus is preeminently the Son of God, Matthew depicts God as announcing within the world of the story that Jesus is his Son (3:17). As the Son of God, Jesus stands forth as the supreme agent of God who authoritatively espouses God's evaluative point of view."[384]

The divisions of the Gospel that I have used in these notes are theological more than narrative.

2.     Jesus' essential message 4:17 (cf. Mark 1:14-15; Luke 4:14-15)

The clause "From that time Jesus began" (Gr. apo tote erxato ho Iesous) is very significant in Matthew's Gospel. The writer used it only twice, here and in 16:21, and in both instances it indicates a major change in Jesus' ministry.[385] Here it signals the beginning of Jesus' public preaching that the kingdom was at hand. Until now, His ministry had been to selected individuals and groups, which John's Gospel records. Jesus "went public" after John had ended his ministry of preparing Israel for her Messiah.

"Modern scholarship is quite unanimous in the opinion that the Kingdom of God was the central message of Jesus."[386]

This fact must be remembered by all students of the life of Christ, because, in our day, the tendency is to emphasize other things that Jesus taught and did, such as showing compassion, healing the sick, feeding needy people, etc.

Here Jesus took up exactly the same message that John had been preaching (cf. 3:2). It is exactly the same statement in the Greek text. The better translations have also rendered these sentences identically. In 16:21, having been rejected by Israel, Jesus announced His approaching passion and resurrection. The verb "began" (erxato) indicates the beginning of an action that continues, or it describes a new phase in the narrative, wherever it occurs.[387]

Jesus used the same words as John the Baptist, and He, too, offered no explanation of their meaning. Clearly, Jesus' concept of "the kingdom" was the same as that of the Old Testament prophets and John. Some commentators claim that John's concept of the kingdom was eschatological (futuristic) but Jesus' was soteriological (present).[388] However, there is no basis for this distinction in the text. Both John and Jesus viewed the kingdom as having both soteriological and eschatological elements.

Alva McClain listed and explained five different answers that Bible scholars have given to the questions: Was this Kingdom identical with the Kingdom of Old Testament prophecy?  Or was it something different?

"First, the Liberal-Social view: that Christ took over from the Old Testament prophets their ethical and social ideals of the kingdom, excluding almost wholly the eschatological element, and made these ideals the program of a present kingdom which it is the responsibility of His followers to establish in human society on earth here and now. …

"Second, the Critical-Eschatological view: that Jesus at first embraced fully the eschatological ideas of the Old Testament prophets regarding the Kingdom, and to some extent the current Jewish ideas; but later in the face of opposition He changed His message; or, at least, there are conflicting elements in the gospel records. …

"Third, the Spiritualizing-Anti-millennial view: that our Lord appropriated certain spiritual elements from the Old Testament prophetical picture, either omitted or spiritualized the physical elements (excepting the physical details involved in the Messiah's first coming!), and then added some original ideas of His own. …

"Fourth, the Dual-Kingdom view: that Christ at His first coming offered to Israel and established on earth a purely spiritual kingdom; and that at His second coming He will establish on earth a literal Millennial Kingdom. …

"Fifth, the One-Kingdom Millennial view: that the Kingdom announced by our Lord and offered to the nation of Israel at His first coming was identical with the Mediatorial Kingdom of Old Testament prophecy, and will be established on earth at the Second Coming of the King."[389]

McClain then proceeded to show from Scripture that view five above is the correct one.[390]

Now the King began announcing the imminence of the earthly kingdom of Messiah, and He urged His subjects to prepare themselves spiritually.

"The kingdom being at hand meant that it was being offered in the person of the prophesied King, but it did not mean that it would be immediately fulfilled."[391]

"… it could be set up only on a foundation of national repentance; and for this the people were not prepared. They would not receive the King; consequently, they lost the kingdom, as the sequel shows."[392]

"Christ came to found a Kingdom, not a School; to institute a fellowship, not to propound a system."[393]

Normative (traditional) dispensationalists believe that the whole messianic kingdom was postponed (delayed) due to Jewish rejection of the Messiah. Some of them believe that the present age is a "mystery form" of the messianic kingdom, and others believe that there is no present manifestation of the messianic kingdom, the church being distinct from the kingdom. Progressive dispensationalists believe that the messianic kingdom began with Jesus' earthly ministry, but the earthly aspect of the messianic kingdom was postponed due to Jewish rejection of the Messiah. Both groups believe that the earthly messianic kingdom will take place in the Millennium.[394]

"If a majority of scholars have approached a consensus, it is that the Kingdom is in some real sense both present and future."[395]

Most amillennialists believe that the kingdom in view  is God's present rule over the hearts of His people and that there will be no earthly kingdom.[396]

"… throughout all Judaism, the coming of God's Kingdom was expected to be an act of God—perhaps using the agency of men—to defeat the wicked enemies of Israel and to gather Israel together, victorious over her enemies, in her promised land, under the rule of God alone."[397]

Matthew wrote "kingdom of heaven," whereas Mark and Luke usually wrote "kingdom of God" in the parallel passages. This was probably because Matthew wrote to Jews who used the word "heaven" instead of "God" to avoid unduly familiarizing the ear with the sacred name.[398] The phrase "of heaven" does not mean that it is a mystical or spiritual kingdom, as opposed to a physical, earthly kingdom. It means that this kingdom is God's and that it is administered by Him who is in heaven.

3.     The call of four disciples 4:18-22 (cf. Mark 1:16-20; Luke 5:1-11)

The calling of these four men shows Jesus' authority over people. The response of these disciples was appropriate in view of their summons by the King. They obeyed His call "immediately" (vv. 20, 22). From here on in the Gospel of Matthew, we will not read stories about Jesus alone; He is always with His disciples, until they desert Him in the garden of Gethsemane (26:56).

4:18           The Hebrews referred to lakes as seas. The Sea of Galilee got its name from its district.[399] Its other name, the Sea of Gennesaret, came from the plain to the northwest of the lake (Luke 5:1) and from a town on that plain: Gennesaret. The name "Gennesaret" connects to the Hebrew word kinnor, meaning "harp." In the Old Testament, this body of water was called the Sea of Chinnereth because of its harp-like shape.[400]

Sometimes, in Jesus' day, people referred to this lake as the Sea of Tiberias. Tiberias was the Hellenistic city that Herod the Great built on its west-southwest shore. This sea was approximately 12 miles long and 9 miles wide at its longest and broadest points. It supported a thriving fishing industry in Jesus' day, with nine towns on its western shore, plus others elsewhere. Simon and Andrew had moved from their hometown of Bethsaida (lit. Fishtown, John 1:44) to Capernaum (Mark 1:21, 29).

Simon's nickname was "Peter" ("Rocky"). "Simon" was one of the most common names in first-century Palestine.[401] The "net" (Gr. amphibleston, used only here in the New Testament) that Simon and Andrew were casting into the lake was a circular one. It was a common tool of Galilean fishermen. Fishing was a major industry in Galilee.

4:19           Jesus' command (not invitation), "Follow Me," was a summons to leave their occupations and literally follow Jesus wherever He would take them as His disciples (cf. 1 Kings 19:19-21).

"The expression 'Follow Me' would be readily understood, as implying a call to become the permanent disciple of a teacher. (Talmudic tractate Erubhin 30 a) Similarly, it was not only the practice of the Rabbis, but regarded as one of the most sacred duties, for a Master to gather around him a circle of disciples. (Talmudic tractates Pirqey Abhoth 1. 1; and Sanhedrin 91 b) Thus, neither Peter and Andrew, nor the sons of Zebedee, could have misunderstood the call of Christ, or even regarded it as strange."[402]

The phrase "fishers of men" recalls Jeremiah 16:16. There Yahweh sent "fishermen" to gather Israelites for the Exile. Here Jesus called fishermen to announce the end of Israel's spiritual exile (cf. 1:11-12; 2:17-18) and to prepare for His messianic reign. Later, after experiencing rejection by Israel, Jesus re-commissioned these men for duty in the inter-advent age (28:18-20; John 21:15-23).

This message appeared on a church marquee: "Be fishers of men. You catch 'em. He'll clean 'em." That is the proper order.

4:20           Etiquette required a rabbi's disciples to walk behind him.[403] Evidently Jesus had called Simon, Andrew, Philip, and Nathanael earlier (John 1:35-51). Probably they had returned to Galilee and resumed their former work.[404] This would partially explain their quick response to Jesus here. Furthermore, Jesus had changed water into wine in Cana, which was not far away (John 2:1-11). If the miracle of Luke 5:1 through 11 occurred the night before this calling, we have another reason to understand why they followed Jesus "immediately." Matthew's interest was not in why these men responded as they did, but how authoritatively Jesus called them, and how they responded. They recognized Jesus' authority and left all to follow Him.

Disciples of other rabbis normally continued their trades, but Jesus wanted His disciples to be with Him fulltime (Luke 9:61). Also, in contrast to the rabbinic model, Jesus chose His disciples; typically the disciple chose the rabbi he would follow. Furthermore, Jesus called His disciples to follow Him, not to follow the Law, or some unspecified teaching.

4:21           James and John were evidently repairing ("mending," Gr. katartizo) their nets after a night of fishing (cf. 1 Cor. 1:10; 2 Cor. 13:11).

"In the Synoptics, unlike Paul's epistles, Jesus' call is not necessarily effectual [successful in producing the desired result]. But in this instance it was immediately obeyed."[405]

4:22           The disciples left their father as well as their fishing.

"The twelve arrived at their final intimate relation to Jesus only by degrees, three stages in the history of their fellowship with Him being distinguishable. In the first stage they were simply believers in Him as the Christ, and His occasional companions at convenient, particularly festive, seasons [e.g., John 2:1-11]. In the second stage, fellowship with Christ assumed the form of an uninterrupted attendance on His person, involving entire, or at least habitual abandonment of secular occupations [Matt. 4:22; Mark 1:20; Luke 5:11]. The twelve enter on the last and highest stage of discipleship when they were chosen by their Master from the mass of His followers, and formed into a select band, to be trained for the great work of the apostleship [Mark 3:13-15; Luke 6:12-13]."[406]

"The call of God through Jesus is sovereign and absolute in its authority; the response of those who are called is to be both immediate and absolute, involving a complete break with old loyalties. The actual shape of this break with the past will undoubtedly vary from individual to individual, but that there must be a fundamental, radical reorientation of a person's priorities is taken for granted."[407]

4.     A summary of Jesus' ministry 4:23-25 (cf. Mark 1:35-39; Luke 4:42-44)

This brief résumé (cf. 9:35-38) stresses the varied activities and the geographical and ethnic extent of Jesus' ministry at this time. It sets the stage for the discourse to follow (chs. 5—7) implying that this is only a sample of Jesus' teaching (cf. 9:35).

4:23           Galilee covered an area of about 2,800 square miles (roughly 70 by 40 miles), and contained approximately 3,000,000 people who lived in 204 cities and villages.[408] As an itinerant preacher, Jesus engaged in three primary activities: "teaching" His disciples, "proclaiming" good news to the multitudes, and "healing" many who were in need of it. This verse helps the reader identify Jesus' main activities during most of His earthly ministry. Matthew never used the verb didasko ("teach") of the disciples until after Jesus had departed from them. He presented Jesus as the Teacher during His earthly ministry. This is also Matthew's first of only four uses of euangelion ("gospel," "good news," cf. 9:35; 24:14; 26:13).

Jesus' ministry was primarily to the Jewish people. This is clear, first, since He preached in the Jewish synagogues of Galilee.

"The basic idea of the synagogue was instruction in the Scriptures, not worship, even though an elaborate liturgical service developed later, with public prayers read by appointed persons, and responses made by the congregation."[409]

Second, He preached a Jewish message, the good news about the messianic kingdom. Third, He practiced His healing among the Jews. The Greek word laos ("people") refers specifically to "the people," that is, the Jews.[410] (The English word "laity" comes from laos.) Matthew was hyperbolizing when he wrote that Jesus healed "all who were ill"; He could not have healed every single individual, though His healing ministry was extensive (cf. throughout "all Galilee").

"What is the difference between teaching and preaching? Preaching is the uncompromising proclamation of certainties; teaching is the explanation of the meaning and the significance of them."[411]

4:24           "Syria," to the Jews in Galilee, meant the area to the north. However, the Roman province of Syria covered all of Israel except Galilee, which was then under Herod Antipas' jurisdiction. Regardless of the way that Matthew intended us to understand "Syria," Jesus' popularity spread far north. Matthew described the painfully diseased people who sought Jesus out in three categories: There were those whom demons oppressed. Others had ailments that resulted in mental and physical imbalances that demons did not induce. Still others suffered paralyses of various kinds. Jesus' miracles dealt with "incurable" afflictions, not just trivial maladies (cf. Isa. 35:5-6).

"… both Scripture and Jewish tradition take sickness as resulting directly or indirectly from living in a fallen world. … The Messianic Age would end such grief (Isa. 11:1-5; 35:5-6). Therefore Jesus' miracles, dealing with every kind of ailment, not only herald the kingdom but show that God has pledged himself to deal with sin at a basic level (cf. 1:21; 8:17)."[412]

"I use the word Miracle to mean an interference with Nature by supernatural power."[413]

4:25           When Matthew wrote that large crowds followed Jesus, he did not mean that they were all thoroughly committed disciples, as the text will show. Some were undoubtedly ardent disciples, but others were simply needy or curious individuals who followed Jesus temporarily. These people came from all over Galilee, Decapolis (the area to the east of Galilee as far north as Damascus and as far south as Philadelphia[414]), Jerusalem, Judea, and east of ("beyond") the Jordan River. Many of these had to be Gentiles. Matthew made no reference to Jesus ministering in Samaria or to Samaritans, though we know that He did from the other Gospels.

"While Jesus begins His ministry with the Jews only, His fame becomes so widespread that both Jews and Gentiles respond. This is clearly a foreview of the kingdom. The King is present with both Jews and Gentiles being blessed, the Gentiles coming to the Jewish Messiah for blessing (Zechariah 2:10-12; 8:18-23; Isaiah 2:1-4)."[415]

Verses 12 through 25 constitute a fitting introduction to the discourse that follows. The King had summoned disciples to follow Him, and huge crowds were seeking Him out, anticipating great supernatural blessings from His hand. He had appealed mainly to the Jews, but multitudes of Gentiles were seeking Him and experiencing His blessing too. No case was too difficult for Him.

"The evangelist wants us quickly to sense the great excitement surrounding Jesus at the beginning of his ministry, where he began to preach 'the good news of the kingdom,' before presenting him in more detail as the master teacher (chaps. 5—7) and charismatic healer (chaps. 8—9)."[416]

B.     Jesus' revelations concerning participation in His kingdom Chs. 5—7

The Sermon on the Mount (also called The Teaching on the Hill[417]) is the first of five major discourses that Matthew included in his Gospel. Each one follows a narrative (story) section, and each one ends with the same formula statement concerning Jesus' authority (cf. 7:28-29).

There are four features of all five of Jesus' major discourses to His disciples, that Matthew recorded, that are worthy of note:

First, they did not provoke conflict between Jesus and the religious leaders.

Second, the reason for this is that Jesus gave them to His disciples and the crowds, not to the religious leaders.

By the way, the Gospels use the word "disciple" in a slightly different way than many Christians do today. We usually think of disciples of Jesus as people who have believed in Jesus and who are going on in their walk with Him. The Gospel evangelists used "disciple" to refer to people who were learning from Jesus, before they came to faith in Him, as well as after they did. In the process of increasing insight into who Jesus was, and increasing belief in Him, many of Jesus' disciples experienced regeneration. The Gospels do not focus on the moment of regeneration for disciples. Instead, they focus on the identity of Jesus, and they encourage increasing faith in Him. The emphasis is more linear than punctiliar. The Greek word translated "disciple" is mathetes, which means simply "learner" or "pupil." Clearly salvation and discipleship are two different things.[418]

Third, Matthew recorded Jesus' discourses in such a way that Jesus appears to be speaking to and past His original audience (cf. 5:11; 6:17-18; 10:18, 22, 42; 13:18-23, 38; 18:15-20; chs. 24—25). Matthew related Jesus' teaching to include future, as well as original, disciples. This draws the reader into Jesus' teaching. What He taught has relevance for us today as well as for the Twelve. Jesus was teaching all His disciples from then on when He taught these things.

Fourth, Matthew presented Jesus as the Prophet whom Moses predicted in Deuteronomy 18:18. As such, Jesus not only corrected some false teaching of His day, and clarified God's original intention in the Mosaic Law, but He also replaced the Old Covenant with the New Covenant. Some of Jesus' teaching contradicted and conflicted with Moses' teaching (cf. Heb. 1:1-2). For example, He declared all food clean.

The Sermon on the Mount has probably attracted more attention than any discourse in history. The amount of material in print on this sermon reflects its popularity and significance. It has resulted in the publication of thousands of books and articles as well as countless sermons.

"His [Jesus'] first great speech, the Sermon on the Mount (chaps. 5—7), is the example par excellence of his teaching."[419]

"… it were difficult to say which brings greater astonishment (though of opposite kind): a first reading of the 'Sermon on the Mount,' or that of any section of the Talmud."[420]

"He who has thirsted and quenched his thirst at the living fount of Christ's Teaching, can never again stoop to seek drink at the broken cisterns of Rabbinism."[421]

However there is still much debate about this sermon's interpretation. A brief review of the basic interpretations of this discourse follows.[422]

Especially in former years, many interpreters believed that the purpose of the sermon was to enable people to know what God required, so that by obeying they might obtain salvation. One writer articulated this soteriological interpretation this way:

"The Kingdom of God, like the Kingdom of Science, makes no other preliminary demand from those who would enter it than that it should be treated experimentally and practically as a working hypothesis. 'This do and thou shalt live.'"[423]

"The Faith of the Fellowship of the Kingdom would be expressed in its Creed-Prayer, the Lord's Prayer. No other affirmation of faith would be required. To pray that Creed-Prayer daily from the heart would be the prime expression of loyal membership. The duties of membership would be the daily striving to obey the Two Great Commandments and to realize in character and conduct the ideals of the Seven Beatitudes: the seeking of each member to be in his environment 'the salt of the earth' and 'the light of the world:' and the endeavour to promote by every means in his power the coming of the Kingdom of God among mankind. Membership of the Fellowship would be open to all men and women—whether Christians, Jews, Mohammedans, or members of any religion or of no religion at all—who desired to be loyal to the Kingdom of God and discharge its duties."[424]

There are two main reasons that most interpreters now reject this interpretation: First, it contradicts the many passages of Scripture that present salvation as something impossible to attain by good works (e.g., Eph. 2:8-9). Second, the extremely high standards that Jesus taught in the sermon make the attaining of these requirements impossible for anyone and everyone, except Jesus.

"If men are seeking salvation by human effort then this sermon can only condemn them, for it presents a standard of righteousness even higher than the law of Moses, and thus exposes the hopelessness of the sinner to attain to it. But he who confesses his sinfulness and in faith turns to Christ and obeys the instruction given here, builds upon a rock which cannot be shaken."[425]

A second approach to the sermon is the sociological view, which sees it not as a guide to personal salvation, but to the salvation of society.

"What would happen in the world if the element of fair play as enunciated in the Golden Rule—'Do unto others as you would that men should do unto you'—were put into practice in the various relationships of life? … What a difference all this would make, and how far we would be on the road to a new and better day in private, in public, in business, and in international relationships!"[426]

There are two main problems with this view: First, it assumes that people can improve their society simply by applying the principles that Jesus taught in this sermon. History has shown that this is impossible without someone to establish and administer such a society worldwide. Second, this view stresses the social dimension of Jesus' teaching to the exclusion of the personal dimension, which Jesus also emphasized.

Still others believe that Jesus gave the sermon primarily to convict His hearers about their sins. They believe His purpose was also to make them realize that their only hope of salvation and participation in His kingdom was God's grace. One might call this view the penitential approach.

"Thus what we have here in the Sermon on the Mount, is the climax of law, the completeness of the letter, the letter which killeth; and because it is so much more searching and thorough than the Ten Commandments, therefore does it kill all the more effectually … The hard demand of the letter is here in the closest possible connexion [sic] with the promise of the Spirit."[427]

The main problem with this view is that it fails to recognize that the primary listeners to this sermon were Jesus' disciples (5:1-2). While not all of them believed in Him, most of them did. This seems clear, since He called them the "salt of the earth" and the "light of the world" (5:13-14). Moreover, He taught them to address God in prayer as their Father (6:9; cf. 6:26). He also credited them with serving God already (6:24-34). Certainly the sermon convicted those who heard it of their sins, but it seems to have had a larger purpose than this.

A fourth view holds that the sermon contains Jesus' ethical teaching exclusively for the church. This is the ecclesiastical interpretation to the sermon.

"It is a religious system of living which portrays how transformed Christians ought to live in the world."[428]

The problem with this view is that Jesus referred to the kingdom of heaven in this sermon but not to the church. Nothing in the sermon warrants concluding that Jesus taught His disciples only in the Church Age here—between the day of Pentecost and the Rapture of the church. Everything points to Him teaching about the kingdom. Most students of the sermon see the church as contained in the kingdom of heaven in some way. Some call the church the "mystery form of the kingdom."[429] Others call it the first phase of the messianic kingdom. There are many parallels between Jesus' teaching here and the apostles' teaching in the epistles. This similarity confirms the overlapping nature of the church and the kingdom, but the kingdom is larger than the church. It encompasses the whole inter-advent era plus the Millennium.

A fifth view sees the sermon as applying to the earthly messianic kingdom exclusively. This is the millennial view.

"In our exegesis of the three chapters … we shall always in every part look upon the sermon on the mount as the proclamation of the King concerning the Kingdom. The Kingdom is not the church, nor is the state of the earth in righteousness, governed and possessed by the meek, brought about by the agency of the church. It is the millennial earth and the Kingdom to come, in which Jerusalem will be the city of a great King … While we have in the Old Testament the outward manifestations of the Kingdom of the heavens as it will be set up in the earth in a future day, we have here the inner manifestation, the principles of it. Yet this never excludes application to us who are His heavenly people, members of His body, who will share the heavenly throne in the heavenly Jerusalem with Him."[430]

The main problem with this view is Jesus' frequent references to conditions that are incongruous with the earthly messianic kingdom proclaimed by the Old Testament prophets. For example, Jesus said that His disciples will experience persecution for His sake (5:11-12). Wickedness abounds (5:13-16). The disciples should pray for the coming of the kingdom (6:10). False prophets pose a major threat to Jesus' disciples (7:15). Some who hold this view relegate these conditions to the seven-year Tribulation period.[431]

However, if the sermon is the constitution of the earthly messianic kingdom, as advocates of this view claim, it is very unusual that so much of it deals with conditions that will mark the Tribulation period, which will precede the beginning of the earthly kingdom. Some who hold this view also believe that Jesus taught that to enter the earthly kingdom, one must live up to the standards that Jesus presented in the sermon.[432] If this were the requirement, no one would be able to enter it. The standards of the Sermon on the Mount are even higher than those of the Ten Commandments.

The sixth view is that the sermon presents ethical instructions for Jesus' disciples that apply from the time Jesus gave them until the beginning of the earthly kingdom.[433] This is the interim approach to interpreting the sermon. I have called it "interim" because it views the primary period of time in view in the sermon as between the first and second advents of the Lord, which includes the Church Age.

"The sermon is primarily addressed to disciples exhorting them to a righteous life in view of the coming kingdom. Those who were not genuine disciples were warned concerning the danger of their hypocrisy and unbelief. They are enjoined to enter the narrow gate and to walk the narrow way. This is included in the discourse, but it is only the secondary application of the sermon."[434]

It seems to me, however, that Jesus' descriptions of His disciples fit disciples who will live during the earthly kingdom age (the Millennium) as well as those who live in the inter-advent age. I would call this seventh view the end times view. The New Testament writers spoke of their readers living in the end times (1 Tim. 4:1; 1Pet. 1:20), and these "end times" will continue until the end of the earth, at the end of the Millennium. They are "end" times in that they are the last times in God's dealings with human beings on the present earth.

Several factors commend this view: First, it fits best into the historical situation that provided the context for the giving of the sermon. John and then Jesus had announced that the kingdom was at hand. Jesus next instructed His disciples about preparing for its inauguration.

Second, the message of the sermon also anticipates the inauguration of the kingdom. This is obvious in the attitude that pervades the discourse (cf. 5:12, 19-20, 46; 6:1-2, 4-6, 10, 18; 7:19-23). Moreover there is prediction about persecution and false prophets arising (5:11-12; 7:15-18). The abundant use of the future tense also anticipates the coming of the kingdom (5:4-9, 19-20; 6:4, 6, 14-15, 18, 33; 7:2, 7, 11, 16, 20-22).

Third, this view recognizes that the primary recipients of the sermon were Jesus' disciples whom He taught (5:1-2, 19; 7:29). They were salt and light (5:13-16), God was their Father (5:9, 16, 45, 48; 6:1, 4, 6, 8-9, 14-15, 18, 26, 32; 7:11, 21), and righteousness was to characterize their lives (5:19—7:12). Jesus had much to say about service (5:10-12, 13-16, 19-20, 21-48; 6:1-18, 19-34; 7:1-12, 15-23, 24-27) and rewards (5:12, 19, 46; 6:1-2; 5, 16) in the sermon. Probably many of these disciples had been John's disciples who had left the forerunner to follow the King (cf. John 3:22-30; 4:1-2; 6:66). Jesus was instructing His disciples concerning their duties for the rest of their lives. However, Jesus also had words for the multitudes, especially toward the end of the sermon, the people that did not fall into the category of being His disciples (5:1-2; cf. 7:13, 21-23, 24-27).

Fourth, the subject matter of the sermon favors the end times interpretation. The sermon dealt with the good fruit resulting from repentance that Jesus' disciples should manifest (cf. 3:8, 10). The only thing Matthew recorded that John preached and that Jesus repeated in this sermon is, "Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire" (7:19). Jesus, too, wanted His hearers to bring forth fruit worthy of repentance, and He described that fruit in this address.

Fifth, Jesus was picturing how His disciples should live in the messianic kingdom as well as how they should live leading up to its establishment at His second coming.

Many students of the New Testament have noted the similarity between Jesus' teaching in the Sermon on the Mount and James' epistle.[435] James also stressed the importance of believers producing fruit, godly character, and good works (James 2:14-26). All the New Testament epistles present high standards for believers to maintain (cf. Phil. 3:12; Col. 3:13; 1 Pet. 1:15; 1 John 2:1). These standards flow naturally out of Jesus' instruction. Only with the Holy Spirit's enablement and the believer's dependence on the Lord can we live up to these standards.

1.     The setting of the Sermon on the Mount 5:1-2 (cf. Luke 6:17-19)

5:1             "The crowds" consisted of the people that Matthew just mentioned in 4:23 through 25. They comprised a larger group than the disciples.

The "disciples" were not just the Twelve, but many others who followed Jesus and sought to learn from Him. They did not all continue to follow Him (John 6:66). Not all of them were genuine believers, Judas Iscariot being the notable example. The term "disciples" in the Gospels is a large one that includes all who chose to follow Jesus, for some time, anyway (Luke 6:17). We should not equate "believer" in the New Testament sense with "disciple" in the Gospels, as some expositors have done.[436]

"To say that 'every Christian is a disciple' seems to contradict the teaching of the New Testament. In fact, one could be a disciple and not be a Christian at all! John describes men who were disciples first and who then placed their faith in Christ (Jn. 2:11). … This alone alerts us to the fact that Jesus did not always equate being a 'disciple' with being a Christian."[437]

Customarily rabbis (teachers) sat down to instruct their disciples (cf. 13:2; 23:2; 24:3; Luke 4:20).[438] This posture implied Jesus' authority.[439] The exact location of the mountain that Matthew referred to is unknown, though probably it was in Galilee, near the Sea of Galilee, and perhaps near Capernaum. There are no high mountains nearby, but plenty of hills.

"There is probably a deliberate attempt on the evangelist's part to liken Jesus to Moses, especially insofar as he is about to present the definitive interpretation of Torah, just as Moses, according to the Pharisees, had given the interpretation of Torah on Sinai to be handed on orally."[440]

"Christ preached this sermon, which was an exposition of the law, upon a mountain, because upon a mountain the law was given. But observe the difference: when the law was given, The Lord came down upon the mountain; now the Lord went up; then, he spoke in thunder and lightning; now, in a still small voice: then the people were ordered to keep their distance; now they are invited to draw near: a blessed change!"[441]

5:2             The phrase "opened His mouth and began to teach them" or "he began to teach them" (NIV) is a New Testament idiom (cf. 13:35; Acts 8:35; 10:34; 18:14). It has Old Testament roots (Job 3:1; 33:2; Dan. 10:16), and it introduces an important utterance wherever it occurs.

"In Greek the phrase has a double significance. (a) In Greek it is used of a solemn, grave and dignified utterance. It is used, for instance, of the saying of an oracle [a divine pronouncement]. It is the natural preface for a most weighty saying. (b) It is used of a person's utterance when he is really opening his heart and fully pouring out his mind. It is used of intimate teaching with no barriers between."[442]

There is some difference between preaching (Gr. kerysso; 4:17) and teaching (Gr. didasko; 5:2), as the Gospel writers used these terms (cf. Acts 28:23, 31). Generally, preaching involved a wider audience, and teaching was to a narrower, more committed one, in this case the disciples.

Comparison of this sermon with Jesus' teachings recorded in the other Gospels, especially Mark and Luke, reveals that Jesus said some of the things recorded in this sermon on other occasions. For example, 13 sayings in this sermon show up again, at various times in Jesus' ministry, according to Luke. This has raised the question: Is this sermon simply Matthew's compilation of Jesus' teachings, rather than a sermon that He delivered on one specific occasion? In view of the introduction and conclusion to the sermon that Matthew recorded, it seems that this was a sermon that Jesus delivered on one specific occasion, but Matthew may have selected and arranged the material to present a summary of Jesus' teachings.

Kingsbury identified the theme of this sermon as "greater righteousness" and divided it as follows: (I) On Those Who Practice the Greater Righteousness (5:3-16); (II) On Practicing the Greater Righteousness toward the Neighbor (5:17-45); (III) On Practicing the Greater Righteousness before God (6:1-18); (IV) On Practicing the Greater Righteousness in Other Areas of Life (6:19—7:12); and (V) Injunctions on Practicing the Greater Righteousness (7:13-27).[443] The Book of Romans deals with the theme of God's righteousness and how people can share in it.

2.     The subjects of Jesus' kingdom 5:3-16

Their condition 5:3-10 (cf. Luke 6:20-26)

This pericope describes the character of the kingdom's subjects and their rewards in the kingdom. McGee titles verses 1 through 16: "Relationship of the subjects of the kingdom to self."[444]

"Looked at as a whole … the Beatitudes become a moral sketch of the type of person who is ready to possess, or rule over, God's Kingdom in company with the Lord Jesus Christ."[445]

"It has been well said, 'The Beatitudes describe the attitudes that ought to be in the believer's life.'"[446]

Jesus described the character of those who will receive blessings in the kingdom as rewards from eight perspectives. He introduced each one of these with a pronouncement of blessedness. This form of expression goes back to the wisdom literature of the Old Testament, particularly the Psalms (cf. Ps. 1:1; 32:1-2; 84:4-5; 144:15; Prov. 3:13; Dan. 12:12). The Beatitudes (vv. 3-10) may describe the fulfillment of Isaiah 61:1 through 3.[447] They describe and commend the good life.[448]

"We could well call the Beatitudes, 'The Basis of a Happy Life.'"[449]

The English word "beatitude" comes from the Latin word for blessed: beatus. The Greek word translated "blessed," makarios, refers to a happy condition.

"The special feature of the group makarios, makarizein, makarismos in the NT is that it refers overwhelmingly to the distinctive religious joy which accrues to man from his share in the salvation of the kingdom of God."[450]

"It [makarios] describes a state not of inner feeling on the part of those to whom it is applied, but of blessedness from an ideal point of view in the judgment of others."[451]

"The beatitudes are not simple statements; they are exclamations: 'O the blessedness of the poor in spirit!'"[452]

"It is well to note that they are be-attitudes, not do-attitudes. They state what the subjects of the kingdom are—they are the type of person described in the Beatitudes."[453]

Blessedness is happiness because of divine favor.[454] The other Greek word translated "blessed," eulogetos, connotes the reception of praise, and it usually describes God.

"… the kingdom is presupposed as something given by God. The kingdom is declared as a reality apart from any human achievement. Thus the beatitudes are, above all, predicated upon the experience of the grace of God. The recipients are just that, those who receive the good news."[455]

The "for" (Gr. hoti) in each beatitude explains why the person is a blessed individual. "Because" would be a good translation. They are blessed now because they will participate in the kingdom. The basis for each blessing is the fulfillment of something about the kingdom that God promised in the Old Testament.[456]

The Beatitudes deal with four attitudes—toward ourselves (v. 3), toward our sins (vv. 4-6), toward God (vv. 7-9), and toward the world (v. 10, and vv. 11-16). They proceed from the inside out; they start with attitudes and move to actions that are opposed, which is the normal course of spirituality.

5:3             The poor in spirit are those who recognize their natural unworthiness to stand in God's presence, and who depend utterly on Him for His mercy and grace (cf. Ps. 34:6; 37:14; 40:17; 69:28-29, 32-33; Prov. 16:19; 29:23; Isa. 6:5; 57:15; 61:1). They do not trust in their own goodness or possessions, or anything of their own, for God's acceptance. The Jews regarded material prosperity as an indication of divine approval, since many of the blessings that God promised the righteous under the Old Covenant were material.

However the poor in spirit believer does not regard these things as signs of inborn righteousness, but confesses his or her total unworthiness. The poor in spirit acknowledges his or her lack of personal righteousness (cf. John 15:5). This is not the opposite of self-esteem but of spiritual pride. This condition, as all the others that the Beatitudes identify, describes those who have repented and are broken (3:2; 4:17). Perhaps the best commentary on this beatitude is the parable of the Pharisee and the publican (Luke 18:10-14).

"[The Greek word] penes describes the man who has nothing superfluous; ptochos [used here] describes the man who has nothing at all."[457]

"'Poverty in spirit' is not speaking of weakness of character ('mean-spiritedness') but rather of a person's relationship with God. It is a positive spiritual orientation, the converse of the arrogant self-confidence which not only rides roughshod over the interests of other people but more importantly causes a person to treat God as irrelevant."[458]

"You are a truly humble man when you are truly despised in your own eyes."[459]

Such a person can have joy in his or her humility, because an attitude of personal unworthiness is necessary to enter the kingdom. This kingdom does not go primarily to the materially wealthy, but to those who admit their spiritual bankruptcy. One cannot purchase citizenship in this kingdom with money, as people could purchase Roman citizenship, for example. What qualifies a person for citizenship is that person's attitude toward his or her intrinsic righteousness.

One writer believed that Jesus was not talking about entering the kingdom but possessing it (i.e., it will be theirs in the sense that the poor in spirit will reign over it with Jesus [cf. Rev. 3:21]).[460] I think Jesus meant that being poor in spirit is the most basic attitude of those who enter the kingdom and of those in it—both and, not either or.

The first and last beatitudes give the reason for blessedness: "for theirs is the kingdom of heaven" (cf. v. 10). This phrase forms an inclusio or envelope that surrounds the remaining beatitudes. The inclusio is a literary device that provides unity. Speakers and writers used it, and still use it, to indicate that everything within the two uses of this term refers to the entity mentioned. Here that entity is the kingdom of heaven. In other words, this literary form shows that all the beatitudes deal with the kingdom of heaven.

5:4             Those who mourn do so because they sense their spiritual bankruptcy. The Old Testament revealed that spiritual poverty results from sin. True repentance produces contrite tears—more than jubilant rejoicing—because the kingdom is near. The godly remnant in Jesus' day, that responded to the call of John and of Jesus, wept because of Israel's national humiliation, as well as because of personal sin (cf. Ezra 10:6; Ps. 51:4; 119:136; Ezek. 9:4; Dan. 9:19-20). It is this mourning over sin that resulted in the personal and national humiliation that Jesus referred to here (cf. Rom. 7:24).

"… the Greek word for to mourn, used here, is the strongest word for mourning in the Greek language. It is the word which is used for mourning for the dead, for the passionate lament for one who was loved."[461]

"Evidently it is that entire feeling which the sense of our spiritual poverty begets; and so the second beatitude is but the complement of the first. The one is the intellectual, the other the emotional aspect of the same thing. … Religion, according to the Bible, is neither a set of intellectual convictions nor a bundle of emotional feelings, but a compound of both, the former giving birth to the latter. Thus closely do the first two beatitudes cohere."[462]

The promised blessing in this beatitude is future comfort for those who now mourn. The prophets connected Messiah's appearing with the comfort of His people (Isa. 40:1; 66:1-3, 13). All sorrow over personal and national humiliation because of sin will end when the earthly kingdom begins and the repentant enter into it. Though disciples of Christ now mourn over sin and its consequences, both in their personal lives and in the world, they will be comforted by the complete removal of sin in the future.

5:5             A gentle or meek person is not only gentle in his or her dealings with others (11:29; 21:5; James 3:13). Such a person is also unpretentious (1 Pet. 3:4, 14-15), self-controlled, and free from malice and vengefulness (cf. Ps. 37:11).

"How can you and I tell whether or not we are meek? Perhaps the simplest answer is a question: are we exercising self-control?"[463]

This quality looks at a person's dealings with other people. A person might acknowledge his or her spiritual bankruptcy and mourn because of sin, but to respond meekly when other people regard us as sinful is something else. Meekness then is the natural and appropriate expression of genuine humility toward others (cf. Gen. 13:9; Gal. 5:23; Phil. 2:5-8; 1 Pet. 2:23). Only Matthew mentioned it among the Gospel writers.

"The man who is truly meek is the one who is amazed that God and man can think of him as well as they do and treat him as well as they do."[464]

Inheriting the Promised Land was the hope of the godly in Israel during the wilderness wanderings (Deut. 4:1; 16:20; cf. Isa. 57:13; 60:21). Inheriting is the privilege of faithful heirs (cf. 25:34). He or she can inherit because of who that person is, due to the relationship with the one bestowing the inheritance. Inheriting is a concept that the apostles wrote about and clarified (e.g., 1 Cor. 6:9; 15:50; Gal. 5:21; Eph. 5:5; Col. 3:23-24; Heb. 9:15; 12:23; 1 Pet. 1:3-4; et al.).

Inheriting is not always the same as entering. A person can enter another's house, for example, without inheriting it. The Old Testament concept of inheriting involved not only entering, but also becoming an owner of what one entered. In this beatitude Jesus was saying more than that the meek will enter the kingdom. They will also enter into it as an inheritance and possess it (cf. Rom. 8:16-17).[465] A major theme in the Sermon on the Mount is the believing disciple's rewards (cf. v. 12; 6:2, 4-6, 18).[466]

The earth is what the meek can joyfully anticipate inheriting. The Old Testament concept of the messianic kingdom was earthly. Messiah would rule over Israel and the nations on the earth (Ps. 2:8-9; 37:9, 11, 29). Eventually the kingdom of Messiah will move to a new earth (Rev. 21:1). This means that Jesus' meek disciples can anticipate receiving possession of some of the earth during His messianic reign (cf. 25:14-30; Luke 19:11-27). They will, of course, be subject to the King then.

5:6             As mentioned previously, Matthew always used the term "righteousness" in the sense of personal fidelity to God and His will (3:15; cf. Ps. 42:1-2; 63:1; Amos 8:11-14). He never used it of imputed righteousness: justification. Therefore, the righteousness that the blessed hunger and thirst for is not salvation. It is personal holiness and, extending this desire more broadly, it is the desire that holiness may characterize all people (cf. 6:10). When believers bewail their own, and society's, sinfulness, and pray that God will send a revival to clean things up, they demonstrate a hunger and thirst for righteousness.

The encouraging promise of Jesus is that such people will eventually receive the answer to their prayers. Messiah will establish righteousness in the world when He sets up His earthly kingdom (Isa. 45:8; 61:10-11; 62:1-2; Jer. 23:16; 33:14-16; Dan. 9:24). Unsaved people, and often believers, look for satisfaction in all the wrong places.[467] Real satisfaction comes by pursuing righteousness.

5:7                      "The foregoing beatitudes—the first four—represent the saints rather as conscious of their need of salvation, and acting suitably to that character, than as possessed of it. The next three are of a different kind—representing the saints as having now found salvation, and conducting themselves accordingly."[468]

A merciful person forgives the guilty and has compassion on the needy and the suffering. A meek person acknowledges to others that he or she is sinful, but a merciful person has compassion on others because they are sinful.[469] Notice that Jesus did not specify a situation or situations in which the merciful person displays mercy because he or she is characteristically merciful. The promise applies in many different situations. See the parable of the good Samaritan (Luke 10:30-37) and the parable of the unmerciful servant (Matt. 18:23-35) for illustrations of this beatitude.

"To extend mercy means to withhold judgment."[470]

"Grace is especially associated with men in their sins; mercy is especially associated with men in their misery."[471]

The blessing of the merciful is that they will receive mercy from God. Jesus did not mean that people can earn God's mercy for salvation by being merciful to others. He meant that God will deal mercifully with people who have dealt mercifully with their fellowmen (cf. 6:12-15; 9:13; 12:7; 18:33-34). There are many Old Testament texts that speak of Messiah dealing mercifully with the merciful (e.g., Ps. 18:25-26; Isa. 49:10, 13; 54:8, 10; 60:10; Zech. 10:6).

5:8             The pure in heart are those who are single-minded in their devotion to God, and therefore morally pure inwardly. Inner moral purity is an important theme in Matthew and in the Old Testament (cf. Deut. 10:16; 30:6; 1 Sam. 15:22; Ps. 24:3-4; 51:6, 10; Isa. 1:10-17; Jer. 4:4; 7:3-7; 9:25-26). Likewise, freedom from hypocrisy is also prominent (cf. Ps. 24:4; 51:4-17; Prov. 22:11; Matt. 6:22, 33). Jesus probably implied both ideas here. In our present lives, the Holy Spirit leads us in purifying our hearts in many ways, and we should cooperate with Him in this process (Heb. 12:14). This is progressive sanctification. But in the future, when we are with the Lord, we shall be completely pure in our hearts (1 John 3:2), and we shall see Him. This is glorification.

The pure in heart can look forward to seeing God in the person of Messiah when He reigns on the earth (Ps. 24:3-4; Isa. 33:17; 35:2; 40:5). Messiah would be single-minded in His devotion to God and morally pure. Thus there will be a correspondence and fellowship between the King and those of His subjects who share His character. No one has seen God in His pure essence without some type of filter. The body of Jesus was such a filter. "Seeing God" is a synonym for having intimate knowledge of and acquaintance with Him (John 14; 1 John 1:1-4).

"The pure in heart see God in creation and circumstances and also in His Word."[472]

5:9             Peacemakers likewise replicate the work of the Prince of Peace (Isa. 9:6-7; cf. Rom. 15:33; 16:20; Eph. 2:14; Phil. 4:9; 1 Thess. 5:23; Heb. 13:20). Jesus, through His life and ministry, made peace between God and man, and between man and man. Isaiah predicted this of Messiah (Isa. 52:7). True disciples of Jesus make peace as they herald the gospel that brings people into a peaceful relationship with God and with one another.

People who seek to make peace behave as true sons of God. God called Israel His son (Deut. 14:1; Hos. 1:10), and He charged the Israelites with bringing their Gentile neighbors into a peaceful relationship with Himself (Exod. 19:5-6). Whereas Israel failed largely in her calling, the Son of God, Messiah, succeeded completely. Those who follow Christ faithfully will demonstrate concern for the peace of humanity by leading people to Him and by fostering peace.

Lloyd-Jones suggested four things to do to foster peace: First, don't talk so much (James 1:19). Second, think about the implications of your action in the light of the gospel. Third, go out of your way to make peace (Rom. 12:20; Heb. 12:14). Fourth, spread peace where you are by being selfless, lovable, approachable, and by not standing on your dignity.[473]

J. B. Philips contrasted Jesus' first seven beatitudes with what most people think:

"Happy are the pushers: for they get on in the world. Happy are the hard-boiled: for they never let life hurt them. Happy are they who complain: for they get their own way in the end. Happy are the blasé: for they never worry over their sins. Happy are the slave-drivers: for they get results. Happy are the knowledgeable men of the world: for they know their way around. Happy are the trouble-makers: for people have to take notice of them."[474]

5:10                    "In now coming to the eighth, or supplementary beatitude, it will be seen that all that the saints are in themselves has been already described, in seven features of character; that number indicating completeness of delineation. The last feature, accordingly, is a passive one, representing the treatment that the characters already described may expect from the world."[475]

Persecution is as much a mark of discipleship as peacemaking. The world does not give up its hates and self-centered living easily. This brings opposition on disciples of Christ. Righteous people, those whose conduct is right in God's eyes, those who are Christ-like, become targets of the unrighteous (cf. John 15:18-25; Acts 14:22; Phil. 1:29; 2 Tim. 3:12; 1 Pet. 4:13-14). Jesus, the perfectly righteous One, suffered more than any other righteous person has suffered. The Old Testament prophets foretold this, calling Him the Suffering Servant of the Lord (cf. Isa. 52:13—53:12).

Even though Jesus' disciples suffer as they anticipate the earthly kingdom, they can find joy in knowing that that kingdom will eventually be theirs. It will provide release from the persecution of God-haters when the "Man of Sorrows" reigns. This second explicit reference to the kingdom of heaven concludes the inclusio begun in verse 3 and signals an end to the Beatitudes (vv. 3-10).

"The ordinary Jew of Christ's day looked only at the physical benefits of the kingdom which he thought would naturally be bestowed on every Israelite. The amillennialist of today, on the other hand, denies the physical existence of the promised Jewish kingdom by 'spiritualizing' its material blessings. The beatitudes of the King indicate that it is not an either-or proposition, but the kingdom includes both physical and spiritual blessings. A careful study of the beatitudes displays the fact that the kingdom is a physical earthly kingdom with spiritual blessings founded on divine principles."[476]

Lloyd-Jones suggested four general lessons that the Beatitudes teach:[477]

1.      All Christians are to be like this, not just some.

2.      All Christians are meant to manifest all of these characteristics, not just some.

3.      None of these characteristics refers to one's natural tendencies; they are all produced by the Holy Spirit in the Christian.

4.      These characteristics indicate clearly the essential difference between the Christian and the non-Christian.

Their calling 5:11-16

Jesus proceeded to clarify His disciples' calling and ministry in the world to encourage them to endure persecution and to fulfill God's purpose for them.

"Some might think that verses 11-12 constitute the concluding Beatitude, since these verses begin with the words 'blessed are you'. But it is noteworthy that only here in the Beatitudes do we meet a verb in the second person (i.e., 'blessed are you'). In addition there are 36 (Greek) words in this Beatitude compared to a maximum of 12 words (verse 10) in the preceding eight Beatitudes. It is reasonable to conclude that verses 3-10 are a self-contained introduction to the Sermon, while verses 11-12 commence the body of the Sermon."[478]

Verses 11 and 12 expand and clarify the last beatitude (v. 10; cf. 6:12, 14-15), and they provide a transition to what follows.

5:11           Verse 11 broadens the form of persecution to include insult and slander. It also identifies Jesus with righteousness.

"This confirms that the righteousness of life that is in view is in imitation of Jesus. Simultaneously, it so identifies the disciple of Jesus with the practice of Jesus' righteousness that there is no place for professed allegiance to Jesus that is not full of righteousness."[479]

The prophets experienced persecution because they followed God faithfully (cf. Jer. 20:2; 2 Chron. 24:21). Now Jesus said that His disciples would suffer similar persecution because they followed Him (cf. Dan. 9:24-27). His hearers could not help but conclude that He was putting Himself on a par with God. They also realized that they themselves would be the objects of persecution because of their righteousness.

5:12           This persecution should cause the disciples to rejoice rather than despair (cf. James 1:2-4). Their reward for faithfully enduring would be great when the earthly kingdom began. This fact also shows the greatness of Jesus. These are the first claims to messiahship that Jesus made that Matthew recorded in his Gospel.

The phrase "in heaven" probably means throughout eternity. Kingdom reward (v. 10) would continue forever. Some believe it means that God prepares the reward in heaven now for future manifestation.[480] This promise should be an incentive for Christ's disciples to view their opposition by the ungodly as temporary and to realize that their reward for persevering faithfully will be eternal (cf. 1 Pet. 1:3-9). Jesus' words about eternal rewards open and close the New Testament (cf. Rev. 22:12).

"Unlike many modern Christians, Matthew is not coy about the 'reward' that awaits those who are faithful to their calling."[481]

"… because the eye of our mind is too blind to be moved solely by the beauty of the good, our most merciful Father out of his great kindness has willed to attract us by sweetness of rewards to love and seek after him.[482]

"One of the curious features of Jesus' great speeches is that they contain sayings that seemingly are without relevance for the characters in the story to whom they are addressed. Time and again, Jesus touches on matters that are alien to the immediate situation of the crowds or the disciples. This peculiar phenomenon—that Jesus speaks past his stipulated audience at places in his speeches—compels one to ask whether Jesus is not to be construed as addressing some person(s) other than simply the crowds or the disciples in the story. …

"If in his great speeches Jesus periodically speaks past his story-audience of crowds or disciples, whom in addition to the latter is he addressing in these instances? From a literary-critical standpoint, he is addressing the implied reader(s)."[483]

In summary, Jesus was saying that our outlook on everything that happens to us should be determined by three things: my realization of who I am, where I am going, and what awaits me when I get there.[484]

Verses 13 through 16 have been called the epilogue to the Beatitudes, and have been compared to the prologue to the Ten Commandments (Exod. 20:3-6).[485] Jesus now moved from explaining what a disciple of His is to what he or she must do.

5:13           By placing "you" (Gr. hymeis) in the emphatic position in the Greek text, Jesus was stressing the unique calling of His disciples (cf. v. 14).

"The most obvious general characteristic of salt is that it is essentially different from the medium into which it is put. Its power lies precisely in this difference. So it is, says Jesus, with His disciples. Their power in the world lies in their difference from it."[486]

Salt was important in the ancient Near East because it represented purity, it flavored food, it retarded decay in food, and, in small doses, it fertilized land.[487] Jesus implied by this metaphor that His disciples could positively affect the world (Gr. kosmos, the inhabited "earth," i.e., humankind).[488] They had the opportunity through their lives and witness to bring blessing to others and to retard the natural corruption and decay that sin produces in life. As salt thrown out on the earth, they could also produce fruit to God. Jesus' main point, however, seems to be that if His disciples do not fulfill their essential function, they are good for nothing.

Some critics have wondered how salt could lose its saltiness ("become tasteless"), since sodium chloride is a stable compound that does not break down.

"But most salt in the ancient world derived from salt marshes or the like, rather than by evaporation of salt water, and therefore contained many impurities. The actual salt, being more soluble than the impurities, could be leached out, leaving a residue so dilute it was of little worth."[489]

The most obvious characteristic of salt is that it is different from the medium into which its user places it. Jesus' disciples likewise are to be different from the world. As salt is an antiseptic, so the disciples are to be a moral disinfectant in a sin-infested world. This requires virtue, however, that comes only through divine grace and self-discipline.[490]

In modern Israel, weak salt still often ends up scattered on the soil that tops flat-roofed houses, which the residents sometimes use as patios. There it hardens the soil and so prevents leaks.[491] In biblical times, salt that had leached out, and lost its saltiness, was used for coating pathways.[492] God will use disciples, either as vessels unto honor or as vessels unto dishonor (cf. Rom. 9:21; 2 Tim. 2:20).

Lloyd-Jones argued that the Christian functions as salt by exercising his or her personal influence, in contrast to political influence, though Christians can and should exercise their personal influence in the political arena, as Lord Shaftesbury and William Wilberforce did in England. The apostles and early Christians, as recorded in the New Testament, never sought to affect change by political means: by advocating for legislative changes by bringing pressure on government leaders. They sought to produce change by changing the hearts of people by preaching the gospel to them.[493]

5:14           As disciples of Jesus exercise their influence as salt, they will have opportunity to exercise their influence as light. The order is significant. Light is a common symbol in the Bible. It represents purity, truth, knowledge (enlightenment), divine revelation, and God's presence—all in contrast to their opposites. The Israelites thought of themselves as lights in a dark world (Isa. 42:6; Rom. 2:19). However, the Old Testament spoke of Messiah as the true light of the world (Isa. 42:6; 49:6; cf. Matt. 4:16; John 8:12; 9:5; 12:35; 1 John 1:7). Jesus' disciples are lights in the derived sense, since Christ dwells within every believer (cf. Eph. 5:8-9; Phil. 2:15). As light-bearers, we represent Christ to unbelievers, and should bring them the light of the gospel.

"Salt operates internally, in the mass with which it comes in contact; the sunlight operates externally, irradiating all that it reaches. Hence Christians are warily styled 'the salt of the earth'—with reference to the masses of mankind with whom they are expected to mix; but 'the light of the world'—with reference to the vast and variegated surface which feels its fructifying [making fruitful] and gladdening radiance."[494]

The "city set on a hill" may refer to messianic prophecy concerning God lifting up Zion and causing the nations to stream to it (Isa. 2:2-5; et al.). Since God will make the capital of the earthly messianic kingdom prominent, it is inappropriate for the citizens of that city to assume a low profile in the world before its inauguration (cf. Luke 11:33).

5:15           This verse is an early example of Jesus teaching with parables in Matthew's Gospel.[495]

The disciples must therefore manifest good works, the outward demonstration or testimony to the righteousness that is within them (v. 16). Even though the light may provoke persecution (vv. 10-12), they must let the indwelling God, who is Light, shine through them. For the first time in Matthew, Jesus referred to God as the Father of His disciples (cf. vv. 45, 48; 6:1, 4, 6, 8-9, 14-15, 18, 26, 32; 7:11, 21).

"It was not so easy to rekindle a lamp in the days before matches existed. Normally the lamp stood on the lampstand which would be no more than a roughly shaped branch of wood; but when people went out, for safety's sake, they took the lamp from its stand, and put it under a[n] earthen bushel measure, so that it might burn without risk until they came back."[496]

5:16                    "If salt (v. 13) exercises the negative function of delaying decay and warns disciples of the danger of compromise and conformity to the world, then light (vv. 14-16) speaks positively of illuminating a sin-darkened world and warns against a withdrawal from the world that does not lead others to glorify the Father in heaven."[497]

"Salt and light balance each other. Salt is hidden: it works secretly and slowly. Light is seen: it works openly and quickly. The influence of Christian character is quiet and penetrating. The Influence of Christian conduct is obvious and attracting. The two go together and reinforce each other."[498]

"Christians exist in order to make the contrast of their own lives apparent to the world."[499]

"Flight into the invisible is a denial of the call. A community of Jesus which seeks to hide itself has ceased to follow him."[500]

"The Company of Jesus is not people streaming to a shrine; and it is not people making up an audience for a speaker; it is laborers engaged in the harvesting task of reaching their perplexed and seeking brethren with something so vital that, if it is received, it will change their lives."[501]

"It is the Christian's duty to take the stand which the weaker brother will support, to give the lead which those with less courage will follow. The world needs its guiding lights; there are people waiting and longing for a lead to take the stand and to do the thing which they do not dare to take and to do by themselves."[502]

The introduction of good works (righteousness, v. 16) leads on to further exposition of that theme in 5:17 through 7:12.

3.     The importance of true righteousness 5:17—7:12

The Beatitudes (vv. 1-10) explain what a disciple of Jesus is, and what follows that (vv. 11-16) explains what a disciple of Jesus does. The next question is: How do we do what we should do? This section of the sermon answers that question. Jesus had just been speaking about the importance of His disciples demonstrating their righteousness publicly with their good works (v. 16). Now He dealt with the more fundamental question of what true righteousness is and what it looks like. This was important to clarify, since the religious leaders of His day misinterpreted righteousness and good works.

"The kinds of good deeds that enable light to be seen as light are now to be elaborated in the course of the sermon that follows. They are shown to be nothing other than the faithful living out of the commandments, the righteousness of the Torah as interpreted by Jesus."[503]

Righteousness and the Scriptures 5:17-48

In His discussion of righteousness (character and conduct that conforms to the will of God), Jesus went back to the revelation of God's will, namely, God's Word, the Old Testament. We might call this section the disciple's relationship to God's Word.

Jesus' view of the Old Testament 5:17-20

It was natural for Jesus to explain His view of the Old Testament, since He would shortly proceed to interpret their Scriptures to His hearers.

5:17           Some of the Jews may have already concluded that Jesus was a radical who was discarding the teachings of the Hebrew Bible. Many others would begin to do so soon. Jesus prepared them for the incongruity between His teaching, and their leaders' interpretations of the law, by explaining the relationship of His teaching to the Old Testament.

"It seems likely that here Jesus is dealing with the charge of being antinomian since his controversies suggested an approach to the law that was different from traditional thinking. His reply shows that he seeks a standard that looks at the law from an internal, not an external, perspective."[504]

The terms "the Law" and "the Prophets" refer to two of the three major divisions of the Hebrew Bible, the third being "the Psalms" (Luke 24:44). "The Law and the Prophets" was evidently the most common way that Jews referred to the Old Testament in Jesus' day (cf. 7:12; 11:13; 22:40; Luke 16:16; John 1:45; Acts 13:15; 28:23; Rom. 3:21). He was not referring only to the Mosaic Law here. Jesus introduced the subject of Scripture interpretation in this verse with this phrase. In 7:12 He concluded the subject with the same phrase. Thus the phrase "the Law and the Prophets" forms another inclusio within the body of the Sermon on the Mount and identifies the main subject that it encloses.

Much debate has centered on what Jesus meant when He said that He came "to fulfill" the Old Testament.[505] The first question is: Was Jesus referring to Himself when He said that He came to fulfill the Law and the Prophets, or was He referring to His teaching? Did He fulfill the law, or did His teaching fulfill it? Since the contrast is "to abolish" the law, it seems probable that Jesus meant that His teaching fulfilled the law. He did not intend that what He taught the people would replace the teaching of the Old Testament, but that it would "fulfill" (Gr. pleroo) or establish it completely. Of course, Jesus did fulfill Old Testament prophecy about Messiah (cf. 2 Cor. 1:20), but that does not appear to be the primary subject in view here. The issue seems to be His teaching.

Some interpreters conclude that Jesus meant that He came to fulfill (by keeping) the moral law (the Ten Commandments), but that He abolished Israel's civil and ceremonial laws.[506] From verse 21 onward, the Lord was referring to the moral law, but in this verse He was referring to the whole Old Testament. Others believe that He meant He came to fill out its meaning, to expound its full significance that until then remained obscure.[507] This view rests on an unusual meaning of pleroo, and it seems inconsistent with Jesus' comment about the jot and tittle in verse 18.

Still others believe Jesus meant that He came to extend the demands of the Old Testament law to new lengths.[508] This interpretation is improbable because Jesus did not change the meaning of the law but expounded its originally intended meaning. Another view is that Jesus meant that He was introducing what the Law pointed toward, either by direct prediction or by typology.[509] While He did clarify the meaning of the law, He did not introduce a different meaning into the law.

Probably Jesus meant that He came to establish the Old Testament fully, to add His authoritative approval to it. This view harmonizes with Matthew's use of pleroo elsewhere (cf. 2:15). This does not mean He taught that the Mosaic Law remained in force for His disciples. He taught that it did not (Mark 7:19).[510] Rather, here, Jesus authenticated the Old Testament as the inspired Word of God.[511] He wanted His hearers to understand that what He taught them in no way contradicted Old Testament revelation. It was important for Him to say this at this point in the sermon, because He then proceeded to contrast the teaching of the scribes and Pharisees with the true meaning of the Old Testament.

(The purpose of the Mosaic Law was revelatory and regulatory, but not redemptive. That is, it revealed what God wanted people to know, and it regulated the life of the Israelites. But God never intended that people should view it as a way to earn salvation, namely, by keeping it perfectly. He gave it to an already redeemed people: to Israelites who had been redeemed from bondage in Egypt.)

"He [Jesus] disregarded the oral tradition, which they [the Pharisees] held to be equal in authority to the written Law [i.e., the Old Testament, the Hebrew Bible]; and He interpreted the written Law according to its spirit, and not, as they did, according to the rigid letter. He did not keep the weekly fasts, nor observe the elaborated distinctions between clean and unclean, and He consorted with outcasts and sinners. He neglected the traditional modes of teaching, and preached in a way of His own. Above all, He spoke as if He Himself were an authority, independent of the Law."[512]

"Many, alas, seem to object in these days to negative teaching. 'Let us have positive teaching', they say. 'You need not criticize other views.' But our Lord definitely did criticize the teaching of the Pharisees and scribes. He exposed and denounced it frequently."[513]

There is good evidence that the Jewish leaders regarded the traditional laws, as not just having equal authority with the Old Testament, but having greater authority.[514]

"It is not obvious at first sight what Christ means by 'fulfilling (plerosai) the Law.' He does not mean taking the written Law as it stands, and literally obeying it. That is what he condemns, not as wrong, but as wholly inadequate. He means rather starting with it as it stands, and bringing it on to completeness; working out the spirit of it; getting at the comprehensive principles which underlie the narrowness of the letter. These Messiah sets forth as the essence of the revelation made by God through the Law and Prophets."[515]

5:18           The phrase "truly I say to you," or "I tell you the truth" (NIV), indicates that what follows is extremely important. This is the first occurrence in Matthew of this phrase, which appears 30 times in this Gospel, 13 times in Mark, six times in Luke, and 25 times in John. It always conveys the personal authority of the person who utters it.[516] "Until heaven and earth pass away" is a vivid way of saying as long as this world lasts.

The "smallest letter" (NASB, NIV, TNIV, HCSB, NET2), also translated "jot" (AV, NKJV), "iota" (RSV, ESV), and "letter" (NRSV, NEB)  refers to yod, the smallest letter of the Hebrew alphabet. The "tittle" (AV, NKJV), "stroke" (NRSV, NEB), "stroke of a letter" (NCSB, NET2), "smallest … stroke" (NASB), "least stroke" (NIV, TNIV), or "dot" (RSV, ESV) is not as easy to identify. The best possibility seems to be that it refers to a small stroke on one Hebrew letter (called a serif) that distinguished it from a similarly shaped letter. Another possibility is that it refers to a stroke that was sometimes placed over certain words in the Hebrew Bible.[517] In any case, Jesus meant that He upheld the entire Old Testament, down to the smallest features of the Hebrew letters that the writers used as they composed the original documents.

"The words of our Lord, as reported both by St. Matthew (Matt. v. 18) and by St. Luke (Luke xvi. 17), also prove that the copy of the Old Testament from which He had drawn was not only in the original Hebrew, but written, like our modern copies, in the so-called Assyrian, and not in the ancient Hebrew-Phoenician characters."[518]

This verse is a strong testimony to the verbal inspiration of Scripture. That is, divine inspiration extends to the words, even the letters, in the original documents. Verses 17 through 19 also argue for the plenary inspiration of Scripture, the view that inspiration extends to all parts of the Old Testament. God inspired all of it, down to the very words that the writers used. In verse 18, "the Law" refers to the whole Old Testament, not just the Mosaic Law or the Pentateuch (Torah; cf. v. 17). This is clear from the context.

God will preserve His Law until everything in it has happened as prophesied. It is as permanent as heaven and earth (cf. 24:35).

5:19           The Jewish rabbis had graded the Old Testament commands according to which ones they believed were more authoritative and which ones less: the heavy and the light.[519] Jesus corrected this view. He taught that all were equally authoritative. He warned His hearers against following their leaders' practice. Greatness in His kingdom depended on maintaining a high view of Scripture and treating all of it as the Word of God.

This verse distinguishes different ranks within the messianic kingdom. Some individuals will have a higher standing than others. Everyone will not be equal. Notice that there will be people in the kingdom whose view of Scripture will not be the same as before they entered the kingdom. All will be righteous, but their obedience to and attitude toward Scripture will vary. In other words, a correct view of Scripture is not what saves a person, though it is important to have a correct view of Scripture.

5:20           Many interpreters regard this verse as the key verse in the Sermon on the Mount. "I say to you" is a claim to having authority (cf. 7:29). The relativistic view of the scribes and Pharisees led them to accept some Scriptural injunctions and to reject others (cf. 15:5-6).[520] This resulted in selective obedience that produced only superficial righteousness (only external conformity to the revealed will of God). That type of righteousness, Jesus declared, would not be adequate for admission into the kingdom.

The phrase "enter the kingdom" occurs seven other times in the New Testament (7:21; 18:3; 19:23, 24; Mark 9:47; John 3:5; Acts 14:22). The condition for entering—in every case—is faith alone. Selective obedience does not demonstrate a proper faith attitude to God, the attitude that John and Jesus called for when they said, "Repent."

"I have always felt that Matthew 5:20 was the key to this important sermon … The main theme is true righteousness. The religious leaders had an artificial, external righteousness based on Law. But the righteousness Jesus described is a true and vital righteousness that begins internally, in the heart. The Pharisees were concerned about the minute details of conduct, but they neglected the major matter of character. Conduct flows out of character."[521]

The rest of this sermon elaborates on this fundamental proposition.[522]

This pericope deals with various attitudes toward the Law: destroying it or fulfilling it (v. 17), and doing it and teaching it (v. 19).

Jesus proceeded to clarify exactly what the law did require in verses 21 through 48.[523] He selected six subjects. He was not contrasting His interpretation with Moses' teaching, but with the interpretation of the scribes and Pharisees. He was expounding the meaning of the text that God originally intended. He was doing good Bible exposition.

"For many generations … the oral law … was handed down in the memory of generations of Scribes. In the middle of the third century A.D. a summary of it was made and codified. That summary is known as the Mishnah; it contains sixty-three tractates on various subjects of the Law, and in English makes a book of almost eight hundred pages. Later Jewish scholarship busied itself with making commentaries to explain the Mishnah. These commentaries are known as the Talmuds. Of the Jerusalem Talmud there are twelve printed volumes; and of the Babylonian Talmud there are sixty printed volumes."[524]

This was the final form of the "law" that the scribes and Pharisees gave preeminence to.

God's will concerning murder 5:21-26

5:21           In each of the six cases that follow, Jesus first related the popular understanding of the Old Testament, the view advocated by the religious teachers of His day. In this verse He introduced it by saying, "You have heard that the ancients were told." This was an expression that the rabbis of Jesus' day used when they referred to the teachings of the Old Testament.[525]

Jesus quoted the sixth commandment and combined it with Leviticus 19:17. The court in view was the civil court in Israel, and the result of that court trial would be physical death (Num. 35:30-31). The Pharisees were teaching that people should not commit murder, because if you did, you would die for it.

5:22           Jesus contrasted His correct interpretation with the false common understanding of this command. His, "But I say to you" (vv. 22, 28, 32, 34, 39, 44) was not a common rabbinic saying, though it did have some parallels in rabbinic Judaism.[526] It expressed an authority that surprised His hearers (cf. 7:29).[527] Thus Jesus fulfilled or established the meaning of the passages to which He referred (v. 17).[528]

"Jesus implicitly claimed deity in at least twelve ways. He claimed three divine rights: (1) to judge mankind, (2) to forgive sins, and (3) to grant eternal life. He declared that (4) his presence was God's presence as well as the presence of God's kingdom and that (5) the attitude people took toward him would determine their eternal destiny. He (6) identified his actions with God's actions, (7) taught the truth on his own authority, and (8) performed miracles on his own authority. He (9) appeared to receive worship or obeisance. He (10) assumed that his life was a pattern for others, a 'divinely authoritative form of life.' He (11) applied to himself OT texts that describe God and (12) in several parables indirectly identified himself with a father or king who represents God."[529]

When God gave the sixth commandment, He did not just want people to refrain from murdering one another. He also wanted them to refrain from the hatred that leads to murder. Murder is the external manifestation of an internal problem. The scribes and Pharisees dealt only with the external act. Jesus showed that God's concern ran much deeper. Refraining from homicide does not make a person righteous in God's sight. Inappropriate anger makes one subject to judgment at God's heavenly court "since no human court is competent to try a case of inward anger."[530]

Jesus often used the term "brother" in the sense of a brother disciple. The term usually occurs on Jesus' lips in the first Gospel, and Matthew recorded Him using it extensively. The relationship is an extension of the fact that God is the Father of believing disciples. Thus all believers are brothers in the spiritual sense. The early church's use of the term reflects that of Jesus.

"Good-for-nothing" or "Raca" (NIV) translates the Greek word racha, which is the transliteration of the Aramaic equivalent. It means imbecile, numbskull, or blockhead.[531] The "court" or "Sanhedrin" (NIV; Gr. synedrion) probably refers to God's highest court in view of the context, not the Jewish Sanhedrin of Jesus' day.[532] The scribes and Pharisees taught that a person who referred to someone as a "Raca" was in danger of being sued for libel before the Sanhedrin.[533] "Fool" (Gr. mores) is a similar term that a person who felt hatred—even for his brother—might use. He, too, would be in danger of divine judgment, assuming his hatred was unjustified (cf. 23:17).

"Raca expresses contempt for a man's head = you stupid! More expresses contempt for his heart and character = you scoundrel."[534]

Jesus said that the offender is guilty enough to suffer eternal judgment, not that he will. Whether he will suffer eternal judgment or not depends on his basic relationship to God. There does not seem to be any gradation or progression in these three instances of anger. Jesus simply presented three possible instances with an assortment of terms, and assured His hearers that in all these cases, there was a violation of God's will that could incur severe divine torment (cf. 3:12).

The word "hell" translates the Greek geenna, which is a transliteration of the Hebrew ge hinnom or "Valley of Hinnom." This was the valley south of Jerusalem, where a fire burned continually, consuming the city's refuse. This place became an illustration of the place where the wicked will suffer eternal torment.[535] Matthew recorded 11 references to it.

Jesus' demonstrations of anger were appropriate for Him since He was God, and God gets angry. His anger was always righteous, unlike the anger that arises from unjustified hatred. It is possible for humans to be angry and not sin (Eph. 4:26). Here Jesus was addressing unjustifiable anger that can lead to murder (cf. Col. 3:8).

"Life is always a conflict between the demands of the passions and the control of the reason."[536]

5:23-24      Jesus gave two illustrations of anger, one involving temple worship (vv. 23-24), and the other, legal action (vv. 25-26). Both deal with situations in which the hearer is the cause of another person's anger rather than the offended party. Why did Jesus construct the illustrations this way? Perhaps He did so because we are more likely to remember situations in which we have had some grievance against another person than those in which we have simply offended another person. Moreover, Jesus' disciples should be as sensitive about not making other people hate them as they are about potentially hating others.

The offerer would present his offering at the brazen altar in the temple courtyard. It is more important to lift the load of hate from another brother's heart than to engage in a formal act of worship. Ritual worship was very important to the scribes and Pharisees, and to all the Jews, but Jesus put internal purity first—even the internal purity of another person (cf. 1 Sam. 16:7). Reconciliation, also, is more important than worship, in that it must come first.

"The danger is that of making certain ceremonial sacrifices to cover up moral failure."[537]

"The most prominent object in the Court of the Priests [in the Jerusalem temple] was the immense altar of unhewn stones, a square of not less than 48 feet, and, inclusive of 'the horns,' 15 feet high. All around it a 'circuit' ran for the use of the ministering priests, who, as a rule, always passed round by the right, and retired by the left. As this 'circuit' was raised 9 feet from the ground, and 1½ feet high, while the 'horns' measured 1½ feet in height, the priests would have only to reach 3 feet to the top of the altar, and 4½ feet to that of each 'horn.' An inclined plane, 48 feet long by 24 wide, into which about the middle two smaller 'descents' merged, led up to the 'circuit' from the south."[538]

5:25-26      The second illustration stresses the importance of making things right quickly. Two men walking together to the court, where their disagreement would receive judicial arbitration, should try to settle their grievance out of court (cf. 1 Cor. 6:1-11). The offender should remove the occasion for the other man's anger and hatred quickly. Otherwise the judge might make things difficult for both of them. The mention of going from judge to officer into prison pictures the red tape and complications involved in not settling out of court.

God will make it difficult for haters, and those who provoke hate in others, if they come before Him with unresolved interpersonal disagreements. Malicious anger is evil, and God's judgment of inappropriate anger is certain. Therefore, disciples must do everything they can to end unjustified anger quickly (cf. Eph. 4:26). A "quadrans" was a small Roman copper coin, worth about 1/64 of a laborer's daily wage.

God's will concerning adultery 5:27-30

5:27-28      Jesus proceeded to clarify God's intended meaning in the seventh commandment (Exod. 20:14; Deut. 5:18). The rabbis in Jesus' day tended to look at adultery as wrong because it involved stealing another man's wife. They viewed it as an external act.[539] Jesus, on the other hand, saw it as wrong because it made the lustful individual impure morally, which is an internal condition.

The Greek word gyn can mean either "wife" or "woman." Certainly the spirit of the command would prohibit lusting after any woman, not just a married woman. Fantasized immorality, with or without the use of pornographic material, is just as sinful to God as physical immorality (cf. Exod. 20:17). The fact that fornication that takes place in the brain has fewer bad consequences than fornication that takes place on a bed does not made this truth less serious.

"A man who gazes at a woman with the purpose of wanting her sexually has mentally committed adultery."[540]

"The man who is condemned is the man who deliberately uses his eyes to awaken his lust, the man who looks in such a way that passion is awakened and desire deliberately stimulated."[541]

5:29           As before (vv. 23-26), two illustrations aid our understanding of what Jesus meant. The eye is the member of the body initially responsible for luring us into an immoral thought or act (cf. Num. 15:39; Prov. 21:4; Ezek. 6:9; 18:12; 20:8). The "right eye" is the best eye, applying the common metaphorical use of the right anything as being superior to the left.

A literal interpretation of this verse would have Jesus crippling every member of the human race. Should not one pluck out his left eye as well, following this literal line of interpretation? Furthermore, disposing of the eye would not remove the real cause of the offense, which is a lustful heart. Clearly this is a hyperbolic statement, not to be taken literally, designed to make a point by overstatement. Unfortunately, the early church father Origen took this command literally and castrated himself. Jesus' point was that His disciples must deal radically with sin. We must avoid temptation at all costs. This is not a condition for salvation but for discipleship.[542]

"Imagination is a God-given gift; but if it is fed dirt by the eye, it will be dirty. All sin, not least sexual sin, begins with the imagination. Therefore what feeds the imagination is of maximum importance in the pursuit of kingdom righteousness (compare Phil 4:8). Not everyone reacts the same way to all objects. But if (vv. 28-29) your eye is causing you to sin, gouge it out; or at very least, don't look …"[543]

"If any man is harassed by thoughts of the forbidden and unclean things, he will certainly never defeat the evil things by withdrawing from life and saying, I will not think of these things. He can only do so by plunging into Christian action and Christian thought."[544]

It is extremely important for us to monitor our thoughts carefully because of the depth, and power, and subtlety, and perverting nature, and effect, and danger, and pollution of sin (cf. Rom. 8:13-14; 1 Cor. 9:29; Col. 3:5).

5:30           The reference to cutting off the "right hand" is also metaphorical, but how symbolic is it? Some take the right hand as a euphemism for the penis (cf. Isa. 57:8).[545] This view has the context in its favor. Others take the "right hand" literally and view it as the instrument of stealing another man's wife.

"Hell" is Gehenna, the final place of punishment for all the wicked.[546] Its mention here does not imply that believers can go there. It represents the worst possible destiny. It, too, is hyperbole here, though hell is a real place. The loss of any body part is preferable to the loss of the whole person, is the point.

God's will concerning divorce 5:31-32

Not only is lust the moral equivalent of adultery, but so is divorce.

5:31           The Greek connective de ("Now"), that begins this verse, ties this section in very closely with the one that precedes (vv. 27-30). In Israel, a man divorced his wife simply by giving her a written statement indicating that he divorced her (cf. Deut. 24:1-4). It was a domestic matter, not something that went through the courts, and it was quite common. In most cases, a divorced woman would remarry, to another man, often for her own security. The Pharisees, by focusing on the command to give the wife a certificate of divorce, emphasized that divorce was legal, provided a man gave his wife the required certificate.

5:32           Jesus said that divorcing a woman virtually amounted to causing her to commit adultery, since she would normally remarry—while still married in the sight of God, regardless of the divorce. Likewise, any man who married a divorced woman committed adultery with her, because in God's eyes she was still married to her first husband. Under the Mosaic Law, the penalty for adultery was stoning. Jesus' explanation would have helped His hearers to realize the ramifications of a decision that many of them viewed as insignificant, namely, divorcing one's wife. Women did not have the right to divorce their husbands in ancient Israel. Josephus, writing about the divorce of Salome, Herod the Great's sister, and her husband, Costobarus, commented on the Jewish divorce custom:

"But some time afterward, when Salome happened to quarrel with Costobarus, she sent him a bill of divorce, and dissolved her marriage with him, though this was not according to the Jewish laws; for with us it is lawful for a husband to do so; but a wife, if she departs from her husband, cannot of herself be married to another, unless her former husband put her away."[547]

We could add the exception clause to the last part of this verse, since that seems to have been Jesus' intention (cf. Mark 10:12). He probably did not repeat it because He did not want to stress the exceptional case but to focus on the seriousness of the husband's decision to divorce his wife. Jesus had more to say about divorce in 19:3 through 9 (cf. Mark 10:11-12; Luke16:18). In contrast to the Pharisees, He discouraged divorce.

"… Jesus introduces the new and shocking idea that even properly divorced people who marry a second time may be thought of as committing adultery. The OT, allowing divorce, does not regard those who remarry as committing adultery. … Marriage was meant to establish a permanent relationship between a man and a woman [cf. Gen. 2:24], and divorce should therefore not be considered an option for the disciples of the kingdom."[548]

Some interpreters limit "sexual immorality" ("unfaithfulness" NIV, "fornication" AV, Gr. porneia) to unfaithfulness during the betrothal period, the year between a Jewish couple's engagement and the consummation of their marriage.[549] The problem with this view is that porneia has a broader range of meaning than this.[550] Another explanation is that porneia refers to invalid marriage (cf. Lev. 18).[551] But the same criticism applies to this view. Probably porneia includes all physical sexual connections with someone other than his or her spouse of the opposite sex.

God's will concerning oaths 5:33-37

Jesus next gave a condensation of several commands in the Old Testament that prohibited making vows to God and then breaking them (Exod. 20:7; Lev. 19:12; Num. 30:2; Deut. 5:11; 6:3; 23:21-23). Making a vow and supporting it with an oath is in view. God has always intended integrity in speech, as well as lifelong marriage.

5:33           The rabbis had developed an elaborate stratification of oaths. They taught that swearing by God's name was binding, but swearing by heaven and earth was not binding. Swearing toward Jerusalem was binding, but swearing by Jerusalem was not. In some cases they even tried to deceive others by appealing to various authorities in their oaths.[552] Jesus was not talking about cursing here, but using oaths to affirm that what one said was true or that one would indeed do what he said he would do.

5:34-36      Jesus cut through all the rabbis' clever reasoning by saying that if oaths that God intended to guarantee truthfulness in speech become the instruments of deceit, His disciples should avoid them. Again, Jesus got below the external act to the real issue at stake, which had been God's concern from the beginning. His point was that people should not lie under any circumstances.

Jesus explained that whatever a person may appeal to in an oath has some connection with God. Therefore any oath is an appeal to God indirectly if not directly. To say that one could swear by one's own head, for example, and then break his vow, because he did not mention God's name, was shortsighted.

"… what is called 'promise' among men is called 'vow' with respect to God."[553]

Calvin noted that several passages of Scripture indicate that calling on God as witness, to confirm the truth of one's word, was a sort of divine worship (e.g., Isa. 19:18; 65:16; Jer. 12:16). Curses that contain manifest insults to God should not be regarded as oaths. It was wrong to swear falsely by His name (Lev. 19:12), to use His name in needless oaths, and to substitute God's servants in place of Him, thus transferring His glory to them (Exod. 23:13). God not only permitted the use of oaths under the Law, but He commanded their use in case of necessity (Exod. 22:10-11).[554] But these oaths were to be affirmations of the truth, not veils to conceal lies.

"To men of sound judgment there can then be no doubt that the Lord in that passage [i.e., Matt. 5:33-37] disapproved only of those oaths forbidden by the law [cf. James 5:12]. For he, who in his life gave an example of the perfection that he taught, did not shrink from oaths whenever circumstances required. And the disciples, who we may be sure obeyed their Master in all things, followed the same example. Who would dare say that Paul would have sworn if the taking of oaths had been utterly forbidden? But when circumstances demanded it, he swore without any hesitation, sometimes even adding a curse [Rom. 1:9; II Cor. 1:23]."[555]

5:37           Jesus' "yes, yes," or "No, no," is not the exact terminology He wanted His disciple to use. Rather, it means "a simple yes" or "a simple no." The NIV translation gives the sense: "Simply let your 'Yes' be 'Yes,' and your 'No,' 'No.'"

"By adding oaths to our statements, we either admit that our usual speech cannot be trusted, or else we lower ourselves to the level of a lying world, that follows the evil one (ASV)."[556]

The "evil" at the end of this verse may either be a reference to the devil, or it may mean that to go beyond Jesus' teaching on this point involves evil.

Some very conscientious believers, and many Quakers, for example, have taken Jesus' words literally and have refused to take an oath of any kind, even in court. However, Jesus' point was the importance of truthfulness. He probably would not have objected to the use of oaths as a formality in legal proceedings (cf. Matt. 26:63).

"They [oaths in court or oaths of political allegiance] should not be needed, but in practice they serve a remedial purpose in a world where the ethics of the kingdom of heaven are not always followed. Refusal to take a required oath can in such circumstances convey quite the wrong impression."[557]

The Bible records that God Himself swore oaths, not because He sometimes lies or could possibly lie, but to impress His truthfulness on people (Gen. 9:9-11; Luke 1:73; Heb. 6:16). Jesus testified under oath (26:63-64), as did Paul (Rom. 1:9; 2 Cor. 1:23; 1 Thess. 2:5, 10).

"It must be frankly admitted that here Jesus formally contravenes OT law: what it permits or commands (Deut. 6:13), he forbids. But if his interpretation of the direction in which the law points is authoritative, then his teaching fulfills it."[558]

"What Jesus is saying is this—the truly good man will never need to take an oath; the truth of his sayings and the reality of his promises need no such guarantee. But the fact that oaths are still sometimes necessary is the proof that men are not good men and that this is not a good world."[559]

"So, then, this saying of Jesus leaves two obligations upon us. It leaves upon us the obligation to make ourselves such that men will so see our transparent goodness that they will never ask an oath from us; and it leaves upon us the obligation to seek to make this world such a world that falsehood and infidelity will be so eliminated from it that the necessity for oaths will be abolished."[560]

God's will concerning retaliation 5:38-42

5:38           Retaliation was common in the ancient Near East. Frequently it led to vendettas in which escalating vengeance continued for generations. Israel's law of retaliation (Lat. lex talionis) limited retaliation to no more than equal retribution (Exod. 21:24; Lev. 24:19-20; Deut. 19:21). The Jews, through Pharisaic teaching, tended to view the law of retaliation as God's permission to take vengeance. That was never God's intention (cf. Lev. 19:18). He simply wanted to protect them from excessive vengeance and to curb vendettas.

In some situations the Jews could pay to avoid the vengeance of their brethren (Exod. 21:26-27). By the first century, monetary reparations had replaced physical maiming as the penalty for physical injury.[561] As God had permitted divorce because of the hardness of man's hearts, so He permitted a certain amount of retaliation under the Mosaic Law. It made the administration of justice a domestic matter in many cases, carried out usually by members of the offended member's family, rather than a civil matter. However, God's intention was that His people would avoid divorce and retaliation entirely. He wanted us to love one another and to put the welfare of others before our own.

5:39a          Jesus first expounded God's intention regarding retaliation. Essentially He said: When evil people do you wrong, do not resist them. "Show opposition" (oppose, Gr. anthistemi) means to defend oneself, even to take aggressive action against someone, as the following verses illustrate. When evil people do bad things to us, Jesus' disciples should accept the injustice without taking revenge.[562]

Implicit in this view are Old Testament promises that God will take care of the righteous. Therefore to accept injustice without retaliating expresses the disciple's trust that God will faithfully care for His own. The Old Testament taught that the Jews were to leave vengeance to God (Lev. 19:17-18; Deut. 32:35; Ps. 94:1; Prov. 20:22; 24:29). Discerning Jews realized this in Jesus' day.[563] Paul "opposed" (Gr. anthistemi) Peter (Gal. 2:11) out of love for the gospel and his fellow believers, not out of selfishness. We should stand up for what is right and for the rights of others, but we should trust God to stand up for us.

Jesus' purpose in the Sermon on the Mount was threefold: to reinforce the Law's (Old Testament's) timeless revelatory authority (e.g., 5:18-19), to refocus its original meaning (e.g., 5:21-22), and to replace its temporary regulatory provisions (e.g., 5:38-39). By doing these things, Jesus fulfilled (established) the Law.

5:39b         Jesus gave four illustrations to clarify what He meant. In the first one (v. 39b), a disciple suffers an unjustified physical attack on his or her person. What is that one to do? He or she should not injure the aggressor in return, but should absorb the injury and the insult. He should even be ready to accept the same attack again.

In Jesus' illustration, the disciple gets slapped on the right cheek. Under normal conditions this would come from the back of a right-handed person's right hand. Such a slap was an insult more than an injury. However, we should probably not make too much of that distinction. The point is that disciples should accept insult and/or injury without retaliating: getting even. In Jesus' honor-shame culture, such a sacrifice was perhaps greater than it is for us today in the West.[564] As previously (e.g. vv. 29-30), Jesus was probably speaking somewhat hyperbolically.

"The true Christian has forgotten what it is to be insulted; he has learned from his Master to accept any insult and never to resent it, and never to seek to retaliate."[565]

5:40           Second, if someone wanted to take as much as the disciple's undergarment ("tunic," Gr. chiton), for some real or imagined offense, the disciple was to part with it willingly. The disciple should not resist the evil antagonist's action. Moreover, he or she should be ready and willing to part with his or her outer garment ("cloak," Gr. himation) as well. Under Mosaic Law, a person's outer cloak was something that he or she had an almost inalienable right to retain (Exod. 22:26-27; Deut. 24:13). This is another example of hyperbole. Jesus did not intend His disciples to walk around naked, but to be generous—even toward enemies—even if it meant parting with essential possessions.

"… what Jesus is saying is this: 'The Christian never stands upon his rights; he never disputes about his legal rights; he does not consider himself to have any legal rights at all.'"[566]

5:41           The third illustration requires some background knowledge of customs in New Testament times in order to appreciate it (v. 41). The Romans sometimes commandeered civilians to carry the luggage of military personnel, but the civilian was not legally bound to carry the luggage for more than one Roman mile.[567] This imposition exasperated and infuriated many a proud Jew. Again, the disciple is not only to refrain from retaliating, but even to refrain from resisting this personal injustice. Jesus advocated going an extra mile. The disciple is to respond to unjustified demands by giving even more than the adversary asks, and he or she is to return good for evil.

"… what Jesus is saying is: 'Suppose your masters come to you and compel you to be a guide or a porter for a mile, don't go a mile with bitter and obvious resentment; go two miles with cheerfulness and with a good grace.' What Jesus is saying is: 'Don't be always thinking of your liberty to do as you like; be always thinking of your duty and your privilege to be of service to others. When a task is laid on you, even if the task is unreasonable and hateful, don't do it as a grim duty to be resented; do it as a service to be gladly rendered.'"[568]

"The Rabbis had a proverb to match, lively and piquant enough, but certainly lacking the gravity of this, and which never could have fallen from the same lips: If thy neighbor call thee an ass, put a packsaddle on thy back; do not, that is, withdraw thyself from the wrong, but rather go forward to meet it."[569]

5:42           Fourth, Jesus told His disciples to give what others request of them, assuming it is within their power to do so (v. 41). This applies to loans as well as gifts (cf. Exod. 22:25; Lev. 25:37; Deut. 23:19). A willing and generous spirit is implicit in this command (cf. Deut. 15:7-11; Ps. 37:26; 112:5). This does not mean that we should give all our money away to individuals and institutions that ask for our financial assistance (cf. Prov. 11:15; 17:18; 22:26).

"Indiscriminate charity is not enjoined, but a self-sacrificing generosity is."[570]

"Giving must never be such as to encourage him [the receiver] in laziness and in shiftlessness, for such giving can only hurt. … And it must also be remembered that it is better to help a score of fraudulent beggars than to risk turning away the one man in real need."[571]

The scene in view in all these illustrations, and in all of this teaching, is one individual dealing with another individual. Personal wrongs are in view, not social or governmental crimes.[572]

"… Jesus is here talking to his disciples, and speaking of personal relations: he is not laying down moral directives for states and nations, and such issues as the work of police or the question of a defensive war are simply not in his mind."[573]

There is a progression in these illustrations, from simply not resisting, to giving generously to people who make demands that tempt us to retaliate against them. Love must be the disciple's governing principle, not selfishness (cf. Matt. 16:24; 1 Cor. 4:3).[574]

Some conscientious believers have taken Jesus' instructions about resisting aggression literally and refuse to defend themselves in any situation, either as pacifists or as advocates of non-resistance. However, the spirit of the law, which Jesus clarified, did not advocate turning oneself into a doormat. It stressed meeting hatred with positive love rather than hatred. Though Jesus allowed His enemies to lead Him as a lamb to the slaughter, He did not cave in to every hostile attack from the scribes and Pharisees. Likewise, Paul claimed his Roman citizenship rather than suffering prolonged attack by the Jews. Disciples may stand up for their rights, but when they are taken advantage of, they should always respond in love.[575]

God's will concerning love 5:43-47 (cf. Luke 6:27-36)

The previous verses (vv. 38-42) present various ways in which a disciple of Jesus should demonstrate love. But Jesus had more to say about love.

5:43           Jesus quoted the Old Testament again (Lev. 19:18), but this time He added a corollary that the rabbis, not Moses, provided. Nowhere does the Old Testament advocate hating one's enemies. However, this seemed to many of the Jewish religious teachers to be the natural opposite of loving one's neighbors.[576] After all, had not God commanded the Israelites to annihilate the Canaanites and the Amalekites, and to not treat the Moabites, Ammonites, and Edomites kindly? Do the imprecatory psalms not call down God's wrath on the psalmist's enemies? Did not Jesus Himself pronounce woes on the Pharisees and scribes (Matt. 23)?

5:44           Jesus answered the popular teaching by going back to the Old Testament which commanded love for enemies (Exod. 23:4-5). "Love" (Gr. agapao) here probably includes emotion, as well as action, in view of Jesus' previous emphasis on motives. The parable of the Good Samaritan provides a good illustration of what it means to love (Luke 10:30-37).

"To love one's enemies, though it must result in doing them good (Luke 6:32-33) and praying for them (Matt. 5:44), cannot justly be restricted to activities devoid of any concern, sentiment, or emotion. Like the English verb 'to love,' agapao ranges widely from debased and selfish actions to generous, warm, costly self-sacrifice for another's good. There is no reason to think the verb here in Matthew does not include emotion as well as action."[577]

The word "enemies" (Gr. echthrous) also has a wide meaning, and includes any individuals who elicit anger, hatred, and retaliation from the disciple. Jesus seems to have been correcting the common interpretation of the command to love one's neighbor as an implicit license to hate one's enemies.[578]

"Once more we are dealing with exactly the same principle as we had in verses 38-42. It is a definition of what the attitude of the Christian should be towards other people. In the previous paragraph we had that in a negative form, here we have it positively."[579]

Was the imprecatory psalmist violating Jesus' teaching here? I do not think so. He was appealing to God to judge the wicked. Such an appeal need not involve personal hatred. What about the Israelites' attitude to foreigners who opposed them (the Canaanites, et al.)? Undoubtedly some Israelites hated these enemies, which was wrong, but God's command to deal with them as He directed did not necessitate their feeling personal hatred toward them. Probably some Israelites felt pity for these enemies. Jesus' harsh statements to the Pharisees and scribes should not be interpreted has expressing personal hatred; they were announcements of coming divine judgment on them.

Prayer for someone's welfare is one specific manifestation of love for that person.

"Jesus seems to have prayed for his tormentors actually while the iron spikes were being driven through his hands and feet; indeed the imperfect tense suggests that he kept praying, kept repeating his entreaty, 'Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do' (Luke 23:34). If the cruel torture of crucifixion could not silence our Lord's prayer for his enemies, what pain, pride, prejudice or sloth could justify the silencing of ours?"[580]

"The surest way of killing bitterness is to pray for the man we are tempted to hate."[581]

"Christ said: 'Love your enemies,' not 'Like your enemies'. Now liking is something which is more natural than loving. We are not called upon to like everybody. We cannot do so. But we can be commanded to love [i.e., to do what is best for them]."[582]

5:45           Some liberal interpreters have concluded that Jesus meant that we become God's sons by loving and praying for friend and foe alike. However, consistent with other Scriptural revelation, Jesus did not mean that His disciples can earn their salvation. Rather, by loving and praying for our enemies, we show that we are God's sons because we do what He does.

"They show their parentage by their moral resemblance to the God who is Love …"[583]

Theologians refer to the blessings that God bestows on His enemies, as well as on His children, as "common grace." Disciples, as their Father, should do good to all people as well as to their brethren (Gal. 6:10).

"… our treatment of others must never depend upon what they are, or upon what they do to us. It must be entirely controlled and governed by our view of them and of their condition."[584]

5:46           Loving one's enemies is something that God will reward. This should be an added incentive to love those who are antagonistic to us. "Tax collectors" were local Jews who collected taxes from their countrymen for the Romans. Matthew was one of them. The whole Roman system of collecting taxes was very corrupt, and strict Jews viewed these tax collectors as both traitors and unclean, because of their close association with Gentiles. They were among the most despised people in the land. However, even they, Jesus said, loved those who loved them.

5:47           Proper salutations were an evidence of courtesy and respect.[585] However, if Jesus' disciples only gave them to their brethren, they did no more than the Gentiles, most of whom were pagans.

"Christ commends being superior, not thinking oneself superior, the Pharisaic characteristic."[586]

Jesus' summary of His disciples' duty 5:48

This verse summarizes all of Jesus' teaching about the Old Testament's demands (vv. 21-47). It puts in concise form the essential nature of the greater righteousness that Jesus mentioned in verse 20 and illustrated in verses 21 through 47. "Therefore" identifies a conclusion.

"It can be concluded therefore from this section that the moral law of the Old Testament is recognized by Jesus as possessing divine authority, but that as Messiah He claims authority to supplement it, to draw out principles that lie latent within it, and to disclaim the false deductions that had been made from it. This is what He seems to have meant when He said I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill (17)."[587]

The word "perfect" (Gr. teleios) often occurs in a relative sense in the New Testament, and translators sometimes render it "mature" (e.g., 1 Cor. 14:20; Eph. 4:13; Heb. 5:14; 6:1). However it also means entirely perfect. In this context it refers to perfect regarding conformity to God's requirements, which Jesus just clarified. He wanted His disciples to press on to perfect righteousness, a goal that no sinful human can attain but toward which all should move (cf. v. 3; 6:12). They should not view righteousness as simply external, as the scribes and Pharisees did, but they should pursue inner moral purity, integrity, and love. This is only appropriate since their heavenly Father is indeed perfect.

"Perfection here refers to uprightness and sincerity of character with the thought of maturity in godliness or attaining the goal of conformity to the character of God. While sinless perfection is impossible, godliness, in its biblical concept, is attainable."[588]

"… the Greek idea of perfection is functional. … A thing is teleios ["perfect"] if it realizes the purpose for which it was planned; a man is perfect if he realizes the purpose for which he was created and sent into the world."[589]

"Man was created to be like God. The characteristic of God is this universal benevolence, this unconquerable goodwill, this constant seeking of the highest good of every man. The great characteristic of God is love to saint and to sinner alike. No matter what men do to Him, God seeks nothing but their highest good."[590]

Good children in the ancient East normally imitated their fathers. Jesus advocated the same of His disciples in relation to their heavenly Father. In giving this summary command, Jesus was alluding to Leviticus 19:2, which He modified slightly in view of Deuteronomy 18:13.

"In Jesus' perspective, the debates concerning law and tradition are all to be resolved by the proper application of one basic principle, or better, of a single attitude of the heart, namely, utter devotion to God and radical love of the neighbor (5:48; 22:37-40)."[591]

While we are definitely to strive for perfection in our conformity to the will of God (cf. 1 Pet. 1:15-16), we must beware of the perils associated with perfectionism. Striving for an unattainable goal is difficult for anyone, but it is particularly frustrating for people with obsessive-compulsive personalities: people who tend to be perfectionists.[592] In one sense a perfectionist is someone who strives for perfection, but in another sense it is someone who is obsessed with perfection. Such a person, for example, constantly cleans up his or her environment, straightens things that are not exactly straight, and corrects people for even minor mistakes.

This type of striving for perfection can become an obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and is not godly. God is not constantly "on the backs" of people who are less than perfect, and we should not be either—whether other people or ourselves. In fact, He gives us a great deal of "space" and is patient with us, allowing us to correct our own mistakes before He steps in to do so (cf. 1 Cor. 11:31). It is possible for us, as disciples of Jesus, to become so obsessed with our own holiness that we shift our focus from Christ to ourselves. Rather, we should keep our eyes on Jesus (Heb. 12:1-3) more than on ourselves and on being perfect.

"The Sermon on the Mount, rightly interpreted, then, makes man a seeker after some divine means of salvation by which entrance into the Kingdom can be obtained. Even Moses was too high for us; but before this higher law of Jesus who shall stand without being condemned? The Sermon on the Mount, like all the rest of the New Testament, really leads a man straight to the foot of the Cross."[593]

Righteousness and the Father 6:1-18

Jesus moved from correcting popular misinterpretations of selected Old Testament texts that speak of righteous conduct (5:17-48) to correcting popular misconceptions about righteous conduct. He moved from ethical distinctions to the practice of religion. Throughout this entire section, proper motivation for actions is a constant emphasis. The shift in emphasis from the Law to God continues through all of chapter 6.

"In this section [6:1—7:12] the King deals with matters of conduct which should epitomize citizens of the kingdom. These matters apply whether the kingdom is about to be established or already established."[594]

A basic principle 6:1

"Righteousness" means what is in harmony with the will of God, and righteous deeds are those that are pleasing to Him. Jesus warned His disciples about the possibility of doing good deeds for the wrong reason, as He began His teaching about righteous behavior. If one does what God approves to obtain human approval, that one will not receive a reward for his good deed from God. Notice again that disciples' rewards will vary. Some disciples will receive more reward from God than others. Disciples should practice good works publicly (5:16), but they should not draw special attention to them for selfish reasons.

The rabbis considered almsgiving, prayer, and fasting as the three chief acts of Jewish piety.[595] Jesus dealt with each of these aspects of worship similarly: He first warned His disciples not to do the act for man's praise. Then He assured them that if they disregarded His warning, they would get human praise but nothing more. Third, He taught them how to do the act for God alone: secretly (not for public applause). Finally, He assured them that the Father who sees in secret would reward their righteous act openly.

Alms-giving 6:2-4

6:2             Alms were gifts of money to the needy. The Jews used the same word—tzedakah—both for "righteousness" and "almsgiving."[596] What Jesus said on this subject is applicable to all types of giving to help others: charitable giving.

Interpreters have understood the practice of sounding "a trumpet" to announce alms-giving metaphorically and literally. Metaphorically it would mean that Jesus was using a figure of speech to picture showy giving—publicizing one's giving, something like "blowing your own horn." However, His description seems to have had a custom behind it. There is historic evidence that, during this period of history, the Jewish priests blew trumpets in the Temple when they collected funds for some special need.[597] Alternatively, this may be a reference to the metal horn-shaped collection receptacles in the Temple that noisily announced contributions that people tossed into them.[598] However Jesus mentioned the synagogues and streets, not the Temple. Perhaps Jesus referred to the blowing of trumpets in the streets that announced fasts that included alms-giving.[599]

"Some Pharisee, intending to distribute gifts, would come to a conspicuous place in the city, and blow a small silver trumpet, at which there would gather round him the maimed, the halt, the blind. Then, with a great show of generosity, he would scatter gifts upon them."[600]

Whatever the original practice may have been, the point of Jesus' teaching is clear: One should not draw attention to oneself when practicing self-sacrificing generosity.

"The hypocrites are not identified here, but Matthew 23 clearly indicates that they are the scribes and Pharisees (Matthew 23:13, 14, 15, 23, 25, 27, 29). A clearer illustration of a facet of Matthew's style can hardly be found. First he intimates a fact, then he builds on it, and finally he establishes it. Here the intimation concerns the hypocrisy of the scribes and Pharisees."[601]

"As 'leaders,' the religious leaders evince their evilness most prominently by showing themselves to be 'hypocritical.' Hypocrisy in Matthew's story is the opposite of being 'perfect.' To be perfect is to be wholehearted, or single-hearted, in the devotion with which one serves God (5:48; Deut. 18:13). To be hypocritical is to be 'divided' in one's fealty [loyalty] to God. Hypocrisy, then, is a form of inner incongruity, to wit: paying honor to God with the lips while the heart is far from him (15:7-8); making pronouncements about what is right while not practicing them (23:3c); and appearing outwardly to be righteous while being inwardly full of lawlessness (23:28)."[602]

6:3             The idea of not letting the "left hand" know what the "right hand" does pictures secrecy (cf. 25:35-40). The way to avoid hypocrisy is to let no other people know when or how much we give. It even involves not keeping a record of what we give so that we may take pride in it.[603] We can carry this to the extreme, of course, but Jesus' point was that we should not draw attention to ourselves when we give—in the eyes of others and in our own eyes. Hypocrisy does not just involve giving an impression that is incorrect, such as that one gives alms when he really does not. It also involves deceiving oneself even if one deceives no one else.[604] A third kind of hypocrisy involves deceiving oneself and others into thinking that what one does is for a certain purpose when it is really for a different purpose. This seems to be the type of hypocrisy in view here.

"They were not giving, but buying. They wanted the praise of men, they paid for it."[605]

6:4             Concern about rewards is encouraged as an auxiliary motivation for doing the will of God, but it should never be the primary motive, which should be love for God.

"The contrast is not between the secrecy of the Father's seeing and the openness of His rewarding, but between the wonderful reward that the Father gives and the comparatively miserable 'reward' of human approval."[606]

"Concern about rewards is legitimate and is even encouraged by the New Testament [cf. Matt. 5:12, 46; 6:1-2, 5, 16, 41-42; Mark 9:41; Luke 6:23, 35; 1 Cor. 3:8, 14; 9:17-18; Col. 3:24; Heb. 10:35; 11:26; 2 John 8; Rev. 11:18; 22:12]."[607]

"When we take least notice of our good deeds ourselves, God takes most notice of them."[608]

Praying 6:5-15 (cf. Luke 11:1-13)

6:5             Jesus assumed that His disciples would pray, as He assumed that they would give alms (v. 2) and fast (v. 16). Again, He warned against showy, self-glorifying worship. The synagogues and streets were public places where people could practice their righteousness with an audience. The emphasis is not on standing, as opposed to some other posture, but on praying in a conspicuous place.[609]

"Anything that is unusual ultimately calls attention to itself."[610]

The motive is what matters most. Obviously, Jesus was not condemning public prayer in itself (cf. 15:36; 18:19-20; 1 Tim. 2:8). He Himself sometimes prayed publicly (Luke 10:21-22; John 11:41-42). Praying out loud was common among the Jews, though one could still pray out loud in a private place.[611]

"The public versus private antithesis is a good test of one's motives; the person who prays more in public than in private reveals that he is less interested in God's approval than in human praise."[612]

"When a man begins to think more of how he is praying than of what he is praying, his prayer dies upon his lips."[613]

6:6             Jesus alluded to the Septuagint version of Isaiah 26:20, where the "inner room" is a bedroom (cf. 2 Kings 4:33). Any private setting will do. A person may pray privately as he or she walks along the street, or is in a room full of people. Jesus was not discouraging public praying, but praying in order to be seen and admired for doing it.

6:7             Jesus digressed briefly to give a further warning about repetitious praying (vv. 7-8) and a positive example of proper prayer (vv. 9-15). Jesus' disciples can fall into prayer practices that characterize the pagans. Jesus Himself prayed long prayers (Luke 6:12), and He repeated Himself in prayer (26:44). These practices were not the objects of His criticism. He was attacking the idea that the length of a prayer makes it effective. Pagan prayer commonly relies on length and repetition for effectiveness: the sheer quantity of words.

"It is heathen folly to measure prayer by the yard."[614]

"There were those of the Pharisees who looked upon prayer (even as Mohammedans, Romanists, and others do now) as having a certain degree of merit in itself."[615]

"… Christ does not forbid us to persist in prayers, long, often, or with much feeling, but requires that we should not be confident in our ability to wrest something from God by beating upon his ears with a garrulous [long-winded] flow of talk, as if he could be persuaded as men are."[616]

6:8             Jesus' disciples do not need to inform their omniscient Father of their needs in prayer, since He already knows what they are. Why pray then? Jesus did not answer that question here, probably because the Jews took the necessity of prayer for granted. Essentially we pray for the same reasons children speak to their parents: to share concerns, to have fellowship, to obtain help, and to express gratitude, among other reasons. Even though God does not need us to inform Him of our needs, He wants us to do so, partially to remind ourselves that we are needy and that He is the supplier of our needs.

6:9             Jesus gave His disciples a model prayer commonly known as "The Lord's Prayer."[617] It was not His prayer in the sense that He prayed it, but in the sense that He taught it. He introduced this prayer as a model or example. Here is a way to pray that is neither too long, pretentious, nor unnecessarily repetitious. Some Christians believe that Jesus gave this prayer for the use of His disciples only before He sent the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost.[618] However, I see no good reason for this limitation of its use. As with the rest of the Sermon on the Mount, this teaching also was intended for all inter-advent disciples of Christ.

One of Jesus' unique emphases, as I have already mentioned, was that His disciples should think of God as their heavenly "Father." It was not characteristic of believers to address God as their Father until Jesus taught them to do so.[619]

"Only fifteen times was God referred to as the Father in the Old Testament. Where it does occur, it is used of the nation Israel or to the king of Israel. Never was God called the Father of an individual or of human beings in general (though isolated instances occur in second temple Judaism, Sirach 51:10). In the New Testament numerous references to God as Father can be found."[620]

However, the concept of God as the Father of the believer does occur in the Old Testament (cf. Ps. 68:5; 103:13).

"The overwhelming tendency in Jewish circles was to multiply titles ascribing sovereignty, lordship, glory, grace, and the like to God …"[621]

"Our" Father indicates that Jesus expected His disciples to pray this prayer, fully aware of their group context, as being a part of a company of disciples.[622] Private use of this prayer is not ruled out by the plural "our," but the context in which Jesus taught it was corporate, so He gave a corporate address. That is, He was speaking to a group of disciples when He gave this teaching, so it was natural for Him to use the plural "our." The "our" does not include Himself, since it is part of Jesus' teaching of His followers how to pray.

"From this fact [i.e., that Jesus said "our" Father] we are warned how great a feeling of brotherly love ought to be among us, since by the same right of mercy and free liberality we are equally children of such a father."[623]

The way we think of God as we pray to Him is very important. In prayer, we should remember that He is a loving Father who will respond as such to His children. Some modern individuals advocate thinking of God as our Mother. However, this runs contrary to what Jesus taught, and to the thousands of references to Himself that God has given us in the masculine gender, in both Testaments.

God is not a sexual being; He is a Spirit. Nevertheless He is more like a father to us than a mother. However, sometimes God described His relationship to people in motherly language. Thinking of Him primarily as a mother will result in some distortion in our concept of God. It will also result in some confusion in our thinking about how God relates to us and how we should relate to Him.[624] Thinking of God as our Father will also remind us of our privileged access into His presence, and of our need to treat Him respectfully.

"In heaven" reminds us of our Father's transcendence and sovereignty. Our address to God in prayer does more to prepare us for proper praying than it does to secure the desired response from Him.[625]

The first three petitions in the Lord's Prayer deal with God, and the last three with us. This pattern indicates that disciples should have more concern for God than we do for ourselves. We should put His interests first in our praying, as in all our living. All the petitions have some connection with the kingdom. The first three deal with the coming of the kingdom, and the last three are appeals in view of the coming kingdom.[626]

The first petition (v. 9c) is that everyone would hold God's name (His reputation, everything about Him) in reverence. He is already holy. We do not need to pray that He will become more holy. What is necessary is that His creatures everywhere recognize and acknowledge His holiness.

This petition focuses on God's reputation. People need to hallow it: to treat it as special. By praying these words from our hearts we affirm God's holiness.

"The 'name', in other words, means all that is true of God, and all that has been revealed concerning God. It means God in all His attributes, God in all that He is in and of Himself, and God in all that He has done and all that He is doing."[627]

"Therefore, when we pray 'Hallowed be Thy name,' it means, 'Enable us to give to Thee the unique place which Thy nature and character deserve and demand.'"[628]

"To know that God is, to know what kind of a God God is, to be constantly aware of God, and to be constantly obedient to Him—that is reverence, that is what we pray for when we pray: 'Hallowed be Thy name.'"[629]

God's reputation and the kingdom had close connections in the Old Testament (Isa. 29:23; Ezek. 36:23).

"In one respect His name is profaned when His people are ill-treated. The sin of the nation which brought about the captivity had caused a profanation of the Name, Is. 43:25; 49:11; Ezk. 36:20-23. By their restoration His name was to be sanctified. But this sanctification was only a foreshadowing of a still future consummation. Only when the 'kingdom' came would God's name be wholly sanctified in the final redemption of His people from reproach."[630]

6:10           The second petition (v. 10a) is that the earthly messianic kingdom will indeed come quickly (cf. Mark 15:43; 1 Cor. 16:22; Rev. 11:17). It was appropriate for Jesus' first disciples to pray this petition, since the establishment of the earthly kingdom was imminent. It is also appropriate for modern disciples to pray it, since the inauguration of the earthly kingdom will begin the righteous rule of Messiah on the earth, which every believer should anticipate eagerly. This earthly kingdom had not yet begun when Jesus gave this teaching. If it had, Jesus' disciples would not need to pray for it to come. Christ will rule over His kingdom, the Davidic kingdom, from the earth, and He is now in heaven.[631] This petition focuses on God's kingdom. People need to prepare for it.

"Those who maintain that for Jesus himself the kingdom of God had already come in his own person and ministry inevitably treat this second petition of the Lord's prayer in a rather cavalier fashion. It must be interpreted, they say, in line with other sayings of Jesus. Why? And what other sayings? When all the evidence in the sayings of Jesus for 'realized eschatology' is thoroughly tested, it boils down to the ephthasen eph humas ['has come upon you'] of Matt. 12:28 and Luke 11:20. Why should that determine the interpretation of Matt. 6:10 and Luke 11:2? Why should a difficult, obscure saying establish the meaning of one that is clear and unambiguous? Why not interpret the ephthasen ['has come,' 12:28] by the elthato ['come,' 6:10]; or rather, since neither can be eliminated on valid critical grounds, why not seek an interpretation that does equal justice to both?"[632]

"Jesus' conception of God's kingdom is not simply that of the universal sovereignty of God, which may or may not be accepted by men but is always there. That is the basis of his conception, but he combines with it the eschatological idea of the kingdom which is still to come. In other words, what Jesus means by the kingdom of God includes what the rabbinic literature calls the coming age."[633]

These are accurate and interesting conclusions coming from a non-dispensationalist, because they support the dispensational understanding of this command.

The third petition (v. 10b-c) is a request that what God wants to happen on earth will indeed transpire on earth, as it now does in heaven. That condition will take place most fully when Christ sets up His kingdom on the earth. However, this should be the desire of every disciple in the inter-advent age while Jesus is still in heaven. Nothing better can happen than whatever God's will involves (Rom. 12:1). God's "will" (Gr. thelema) includes His righteous demands (7:21; 12:50; cf. Ps. 40:8), as well as His determination to cause and permit certain events in history (18:14; 26:42; cf. Acts 21:14). This petition focuses on God's will. People need to do it.

"This difference [between God's heavenly universal rule and His earthly millennial rule] arises out of the fact that rebellion and sin exist upon the earth, sin which is to be dealt with in a way not known in any other spot in the universe, not even among the angels which sinned. It is here that the great purpose of what I have named the Mediatorial Kingdom appears: On the basis of mediatorial redemption it must 'come' to put down at last all rebellion with its evil results, thus finally bringing the Kingdom and will of God on earth as it is in heaven."[634]

There may be a hint at the Trinity in these first three petitions that deal with God: The Father is to be honored. The Son is to be glorified when He comes to establish His kingdom on the earth. And the Spirit is the executor of God's will in the world now; He makes God's will take place.

The remaining three petitions (vv. 11-13a) focus on the disciples' needs. Notice the "Your," " Your," and " Your" in verses 9 and 10, and the "us," "us," and "us" in verses 11 through 13.

"The first three petitions have to do exclusively with God … And they occur in a descending scale—from Himself down to the manifestation of Himself in His kingdom, and from His kingdom to the entire subjection of its subjects, or the complete doing of His will. The remaining four petitions have to do with OURSELVES: … But these latter petitions occur in an ascending scale—from the bodily wants of every day up to our final deliverance from all evil."[635]

6:11           Some believers have concluded that prayer should not include anything selfish, so they do not make personal petitions. However, Jesus here commanded His disciples to bring their personal needs to their heavenly Father in prayer. The first three petitions stand alone, but the last three have connecting "ands" that bind them together. We need all three of these things equally; we cannot get along without any of them.

The "bread" in view probably refers to all our food, and even all our physical needs.[636] Bread has this larger significance in the Bible (cf. Prov. 30:8; Mark 3:20; Acts 6:1; 2 Thess. 3:12; James 2:15), and it is a common metaphor for physical needs. Even today we speak of bread as "the staff of life." "Daily bread" refers to the necessities of life, in contrast to its luxuries. This is a prayer for our needs, not our greeds. We often view our needs differently than God does. The request is for God to supply our needs, what is necessary for us, day by day (cf. Exod. 16:4-5; Ps. 104:14-15, 27-28; Prov. 30:8). The expression "this day [or today] our daily bread" reflects first-century life—in which workers received their pay daily. It also reminds disciples that we live only one day at a time, and each day we are dependent on God to sustain us. Even though God knows what we need, He delights in our coming to him daily to ask Him for what we need. This keeps us in a close relationship with Him.

Asking God to provide our needs does not free us from the responsibility of working, however (cf. vv. 25-34; 2 Thess. 3:10). God satisfies our needs partially by giving us the ability and the opportunity to earn a living. But ultimately everything comes from Him. Having to live from hand to mouth, and one day at a time, can be a blessing if it reminds us of our total dependence on God. This is especially true since we live in a world that glorifies self-sufficiency.

6:12           The fifth petition requests forgiveness from debts. "Debts" (Gr. opheilemata) probably translates the Aramaic word hoba that was a common synonym for sins.[637] This is why some versions of the Lord's Prayer have "trespasses" in place of "debts." The Greek word means "a failure to pay that which is due, a failure in duty."[638] Viewing sins as debts was thoroughly Jewish (cf. Ps. 51:4).[639]

"He calls sins 'debts' because we owe penalty for them, and we could in no way satisfy it [the penalty] unless we were released by this forgiveness."[640]

The second clause in this sentence does not mean that we must earn God's forgiveness by forgiving other people. When we forgive others, we demonstrate our felt need of forgiveness. The person who does not forgive another person's offenses does not truly appreciate how much he himself needs forgiveness.

"Once our eyes have been opened to see the enormity of our offense against God, the injuries which others have done to us appear by comparison extremely trifling. If, on the other hand, we have an exaggerated view of the offenses of others, it proves that we have minimized our own."[641]

Some Christians have wondered why we should ask for God's forgiveness, since the New Testament clearly reveals that God forgives all sins—past, present, and future—when He justifies us (declares us righteous on the basis of Christ's payment for our sins; Acts 10:43; Eph. 1:7; Col. 1:14). That is judicial or forensic forgiveness. However, as forgiven believers we need to ask for forgiveness to restore fellowship with God (cf. 1 John 1:9). Judicial forgiveness removes God's condemnation and inaugurates us into His family (Rom. 8:1). Parental forgiveness restores our fellowship with God within His family.

"Personal fellowship with God is in view in these verses (not salvation from sin). One cannot walk in fellowship with God if he refuses to forgive others."[642]

6:13           Some interpreters view verse 13 as containing one petition, while others believe that Jesus intended two. In one sense, one petition is correct, in view of the close connection of the two ideas. They are really two sides of one coin. If there were two, the argument goes, the connection would normally be "and" rather than "but." However, Matthew may have intended seven petitions, since seven was a number indicating completeness to the Jews. Because this verse contains two parts, there really are seven petitions.

"Temptation" translates the Greek peirasmos, and in this case it means "testing." It refers not so much to solicitation to evil, here, as to trials that test the character. God does not test (peirasmos) anyone (i.e., He does not seduce people to sin; James 1:13-14). Why then do we need to pray that He will not lead us into testing? Even though God is not the instrumental cause of our testing, He does permit us to experience temptation from the world, the flesh, and the devil (cf. 4:1; Gen. 22:1; Deut. 8:2). Therefore, this petition is a request that He would minimize the occasions of our testing that could result in our sinning (cf. 26:41). It expresses the humble disciple's felt weakness to stand up under severe trials, in view of his or her weakness and sinfulness (cf. Prov. 30:7-9).[643]

"But" introduces the alternative. "Deliver us" could mean either "spare us from" or "deliver us out of." The meaning depends on what "evil" means. Is this a reference to evil generally or to the evil one, Satan? When the Greek preposition apo ("from") follows "deliver" elsewhere in the New Testament, it usually refers to deliverance from people. When ek ("from") follows it, it always refers to deliverance from things.[644] Here apo occurs. Also, the adjective "evil" has an article modifying it in the Greek text (tou), which indicates that it is to be taken as a substantive: "the evil one." God does not always deliver us from evil, but He does deliver us from the evil one.[645] However, the evil one is part of evil, so probably all evil was intended.

"It makes very little difference whether we understand by the word 'evil' the devil or sin."[646]

"Why should we ask that we may be kept from evil? For the great and wonderful reason that our fellowship with God may never be broken."[647]

The Old Testament predicted that a time of great evil would precede the establishment of the earthly kingdom (Jer. 30). Some commentators, including amillennialists, have understood the evil in this petition as a reference to Satanic opposition that will come to its full force before the establishment of the kingdom—however one may define it, earthly or heavenly—begins.[648] God later revealed through Paul that Christians will not go through the Tribulation that will precede Jesus' return at His second coming (1 Thess. 1:10; 4:13-18; 5:9-10; et al.). Consequently, we do not need to pray for deliverance from that Tribulation, but from other occasions of testing.

A final doxology—"For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen."—appears in many ancient manuscripts, but there is so much variation in it that it was probably not originally a part of Matthew's Gospel. Evidently, pious scribes added it later to make the prayer more suitable for use in public worship. They apparently adapted the wording of David's prayer in 1 Chronicles 29:11.

"In the Temple [in Jesus' day] the people never responded to the prayers by an Amen, but always with this benediction, 'Blessed be the name of the glory of His kingdom for ever!' [Footnote 4:] Thus the words in our Authorised [sic] Version, Matt. vi. 13, 'For Thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen,' which are wanting in all the most ancient MSS., are only the common Temple-formula of response, and as such may have found their way into the text. The word 'Amen' was in reality a solemn asseveration or a mode of oath."[649]

Following are some general observations on this prayer.

"The sample prayer, it can be concluded, is given in the context of the coming kingdom. The first three requests are petitions for the coming of the kingdom. The last three are for the needs of the disciples in the interim preceding the establishment of the kingdom."[650]

"The second part of the prayer, the part of it which deals with our needs and our necessities, is a marvelously wrought unity. It deals with the three essential needs of man, and the three spheres of time within which man moves. First, it asks for bread, thereby asking for that which is necessary for the maintenance of life, and thereby bringing the needs of the present to the throne of God. Second, it asks for forgiveness, thereby bringing the past into the presence of God, and of God's forgiving grace. Third, it asks for help in temptation, thereby committing all the future into the hands of God. In these three brief petitions, we are taught to lay the present, the past, and the future, all before the footstool of the grace of God.[651]

"But not only is this carefully wrought prayer a prayer which lays the whole of life in the presence of God; it is also a prayer which brings the whole of God to our lives. When we ask for bread to sustain our earthly lives, that request immediately directs our thoughts to God the Father, the Creator and the Sustainer of all life. When we ask for forgiveness, that request immediately directs our thoughts to God the Son, Jesus Christ our Saviour and Redeemer. When we ask for help for future temptation, that request immediately directs our thought to God the Holy Spirit, the Comforter, the Strengthener, the Illuminator, the Guide and the Guardian of our way."[652]

"The sum of it all is that ultimately there is nothing in the whole realm of Scripture which so plainly shows us our entire dependence upon God as does this prayer, and especially these three petitions."[653]

"The Lord's Prayer clears the way for a healthy theology of self-esteem, for it deals with the classic negative emotions that destroy our self-dignity. The Lord's Prayer offers Christ's positive solution from these six basic, negative emotions that infect and affect our self-worth: (1) Inferiority: 'Our Father who art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name.' (2) Depression: 'Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, On earth as it is in heaven.' (3) Anxiety: 'Give us this day our daily bread;' (4) Guilt: 'And forgive us our debts,' (5) Resentment: 'As we also have forgiven our debtors;' (6) Fear: 'And lead is not into temptation, But deliver us from evil.'"[654]

6:14-15      These verses explain the thought of the fifth petition (v. 12) more fully. Repetition stresses the importance of forgiving one another if we want God's forgiveness (cf. 18:23-35). Our horizontal relationships with other people must be correct before our vertical relationship with God can be.

"Prayer is straightforward and simple for those who have experienced the grace of the kingdom in Christ. In prayer the disciple does not try to coerce or manipulate God. There are no magical words or formulae, nor does an abundance of words count with God. Short, direct, and sincere prayers are adequate."[655]

Fasting 6:16-18

Jesus' third illustration of true righteousness in this section of the Sermon on the Mount focused on personal discipline in the disciple's life. The illustration of giving alms focused on other people (helping others), and the illustration of prayer focused on one's dealings with God.[656] The order of these illustrations is significant: Jesus placed the most important relationship, with God, in the middle of the three, and He placed the second most important one first, before the third, which is the least important relationship. This results in a chiastic or crossing structure that focuses on the central element, which also contains the largest amount of His teaching.

6:16           Fasting in Israel involved going without food to engage in a spiritual exercise, usually prayer, with greater concentration. Fasting fostered and indicated self-humiliation before God, and confession often accompanied it (Neh. 9:1-2; Ps. 35:13; Isa. 58:3, 5; Dan. 9:2-20; 10:2-3; Jon. 3:5; Acts 9:9). People who felt anguish, danger, or desperation, gave up eating temporarily in order to present some special petition to God in prayer (Exod. 24:18; Judg. 20:26; 2 Sam. 1:12; 2 Chron. 20:3; Ezra 8:21-23; Esth. 4:16; Matt. 4:1-2; Acts 13:1-3; 14:23). Some pious believers fasted regularly in Jesus' day (Luke 2:37).

The Pharisees fasted twice a week (Luke 18:12). God only commanded the Israelites to fast on one day of the year: the Day of Atonement (Lev. 16:29-31; 23:27-32; Num. 29:7). However, during the Babylonian Exile the Israelites instituted additional regular fasts (Zech. 7:3-5; 8:19). Fasting occurred in the early church and seems to have been a normal part of Christian self-discipline (1 Cor. 9:24-27; Phil. 3:19; 1 Pet. 4:3). While not a precept—it is not commanded—it certainly was a practice. Hypocritical fasting occurred in Israel long before Jesus' day (Isa. 58:1-7; Jer. 14:12; Zech. 7:5-6), but the Pharisees were notorious for it.

"… fasting lasted from dawn to sunset; outside that time normal meals could be eaten."[657]

"Fasting emphasized the denial of the flesh, but the Pharisees were glorifying their flesh by drawing attention to themselves."[658]

"In Jewish fasting there were really three main ideas in the minds of men. (i) Fasting was a deliberate attempt to draw the attention of God to the person who fasted. … (ii) Fasting was a deliberate attempt to prove that penitence was real. … (iii) A great deal of fasting was vicarious. It was not designed to save a man's own soul so much as to move God to liberate the nation [or the individual] from its distresses."[659]

Jesus' point in this verse was that His disciples should avoid drawing attention to themselves when they fasted (cf. vv. 2-4). He did not question the genuine contrition of some who fasted, but He pointed out that "the hypocrites" (cf. v. 2)  wanted the admiration of other people even more than they wanted God's attention. Since that is what they really wanted, that is all that they would get.

6:17-18      Jesus assumed His disciples would fast like He assumed they would give alms and pray. He said nothing to discourage them from fasting (cf. 9:14-17). He only condemned showy fasting. To avoid any temptation to draw the admiration of onlookers, Jesus counseled His disciples to do nothing that would attract attention to the fact that they were fasting when they fasted. Again, Jesus promised that the Father who sees the worship that His children offer in secret will reward them (cf. vv. 3-4).

Fasting to concentrate on some spiritually worthy purpose seems perfectly legitimate today. It is optional for a disciple of Christ, and it may be helpful if done as Jesus taught. Abstinence from anything that is legitimate in and of itself for the sake of some special purpose also seems reasonable and commendable.[660]

The three major acts of Jewish worship—alms-giving, prayer, and fasting—were only representative of many other acts of worship that Jesus' disciples performed. His teaching in this section of the Sermon (6:1-18) stressed lessons that they should apply more broadly. In His teaching about each of these three practices, Jesus first warned His disciples not to do the act for man's praise. Then He assured them that if they disregarded His warning, they would get human praise but nothing more from God. Third, He taught them how to do the act secretly. Finally, He assured them that the Father who sees in secret would reward their righteous act openly. He thereby explained what it means to seek first the kingdom and its righteousness (6:33).

Righteousness and the world 6:19—7:12

Thus far in the Sermon Jesus urged His disciples to base their understanding of the righteousness that God requires on the revelation of Scripture, not the traditional interpretations of their leaders (5:17-48). Then He clarified that true righteousness involved genuine worship of the Father, not hypocritical, ostentatious (showy) worship (6:1-18). Next, He revealed what true righteousness involves as the disciple lives in the world. He dealt with four key relationships: the disciple's relationship to wealth (6:19-34), to his or her brethren (7:1-5), to his or her antagonists (7:6), and to God (7:7-12).

"From cautions against the hypocrisy of formalists, the discourse naturally passes to the entire dedication of the heart to God, from which all duties of the Christian should be performed."[661]

The disciple's relationship to wealth 6:19-34 (cf. Luke 12:13-34)

Having made several references to a reward in heaven (5:12, 46; 6:1, 2, 5, 16), Jesus now turned to focus on wealth. In the first part of chapter 6, His main emphasis was on sincerity. In this part of the chapter, it is on single-mindedness.

6:19           In view of the imminence of the earthly messianic kingdom, Jesus' disciples should stop laying up "treasures on earth."[662] Jesus called for a break with their former practice. Money is not intrinsically evil. The wise person works hard and makes financial provision for lean times (Prov. 6:6-8). Believers have a responsibility to provide for their needy relatives (1 Tim. 5:8) and to be generous with others in need (Prov. 13:22; 2 Cor. 12:14). We can enjoy what God has given us (1 Tim. 4:3-4; 6:17). What Jesus forbade here was selfishness. Misers hoard more than they need (James 5:2-3). Materialists always want more than they have. It is the love of money that is a root of all kinds of evil (1 Tim. 6:10).

"What Jesus precludes here is the accumulation of massive amounts of treasure as a life goal."[663]

It is foolish to accumulate great quantities of goods because they are perishable. This is an argument from common sense. Moths eat clothing, which was a major form of wealth in the ancient Near East.

"All purely physical pleasures have a way of wearing out. At each successive enjoyment of them the thrill becomes less thrilling. It requires more of them to produce the same effect. They are like a drug which loses its initial potency and which becomes increasingly less effective."[664]

"Rust" (Gr. brosis) refers to the destructive forces of rodents and mildew, not just the corrosion that eats metal.[665]

"There are certain pleasures which inevitably lose their attraction as a man grows older. It may be that he is physically less able to enjoy them; it may be that as his mind matures they cease in any sense to satisfy him."[666]

Thieves can carry off just about anything in one way or another.

"Suppose a man arranges his life in such a way that his happiness depends on his possession of money; then suppose a crash comes and he wakes up to find his money gone; then with his wealth his happiness has gone."[667]

6:20           The "treasures in heaven" that Jesus spoke of were the rewards that God will give His faithful followers (5:12, 30, 46; 6:6, 15; cf. 10:42; 18:5; 25:40; 2 Cor. 4:17; 1 Tim. 6:13-19). They are the product of truly good works. These are secure in heaven, and God will dispense them to the faithful at His appointed time (cf. 2 Cor. 4:18; 1 Pet. 1:4).

"What does it mean to lay up treasures in heaven? It means to use all that we have for the glory of God. It means to 'hang loose' when it comes to the material things of life. It also means measuring life by the true riches of the kingdom and not by the false riches of this world."[668]

6:21           The thing that a person values most highly ("treasure") inevitably occupies the center of his or her heart. This is an argument from danger. The heart is the center of the personality, and it controls the intellect, emotions, and will.[669]

"If honour is reckoned the supreme good, the minds of men must be wholly occupied with ambition: if money, covetousness will immediately predominate: if pleasure, it will be impossible to prevent men from sinking into brutal indulgence."[670]

Other things can be our earthly treasure: husband, wife, children, one's house, honor or respect, position, status, awards, some gift, one's work, etc.

"We think that idols are bad things, but that is almost never the case. The greater the good, the more likely we are to expect that it can satisfy our deepest needs and hopes. Anything can serve as a counterfeit god, especially the very best thins in life."[671]

"Any man whose treasure is in things is bound to lose his treasure, for in things there is no permanence, and there is no thing which lasts forever."[672]

On the other hand, if a person values eternal riches most highly, he or she will pursue kingdom values (cf. Col. 3:1-2; Rev. 14:13). Some Christians believe that it is always carnal to desire and to work for eternal rewards, but Jesus commanded us to do precisely that (cf. 1 Cor. 3:11-15; 2 Cor. 5:10). Serving the Lord to obtain a reward to glorify oneself is obviously wrong, but to serve Him to obtain a reward that one may lay at His feet as an act of worship is not (cf. Rev. 4:10).

6:22-23      The body finds its way through life with the aid of the eye. In that sense, "the eye is the lamp of the body" (cf. Luke 11:34-36). A "clear" (healthy) or good eye admits light into the body, but a "bad" (evil) eye leaves the body in darkness. Evidently Jesus meant that the eye is similar to the heart (v. 21). The heart fixed on God (Ps. 199:10) is similar to the eye fixed on God's law (Ps. 119:18, 148).

"Eyes are the expression of the soul, not its intake, although certainly the two ideas are related. What Jesus stresses in this saying is that a good eye acts in a healthy way.  It is the sign of a healthy soul."[673]

A bad eye is a miserly, grudging, jealous eye (Prov. 28:22). Jesus was obviously speaking metaphorically. He probably meant that the person who is stingy and selfish cannot really see where he is going but is morally and spiritually blind (cf. vv. 19-21).[674] However, He may have meant that the person who is double-minded, dividing his loyalties between God and money, will have no clear vision but will lack direction (cf. v. 24).[675] Metaphorically, "the body" represents the whole person. The lack of light within is the dark vision that the bad eye with divided loyalties, a selfish attitude, provides.

"These earthly treasures are so powerful that they grip the entire personality. They grip a man's heart [v. 21], his mind [vv. 22-23] and his will [v. 24]; they tend to affect his spirit, his soul and his whole being."[676]

6:24           The choice between two masters is what is depicted by the choice between two treasures and the choice between two visions. "Mammon" (AV) is the transliteration of the emphatic form of the Aramaic word mamona, meaning "wealth" or "property." The root word mn, in both Hebrew and Aramaic, indicates something in which one places confidence. Here Jesus personified wealth and set it over against God as a competing object of service. Jesus presented God and Wealth as two slave owners, masters. This is an argument from fellowship.

"… single ownership and fulltime service are of the essence of slavery."[677]

A person might be able to work for two different employers at the same time. However, God and Wealth are not employers but slave owners. Each demands single-minded devotion. To give either anything less is to provide no true service at all.

"Attempts at divided loyalty betray, not partial commitment to discipleship, but deep-seated commitment to idolatry."[678]

"The principle of materialism is in inevitable conflict with the kingship of God."[679]

"A man will not go far wrong, if he uses his possessions to see how much happiness he can bring to others."[680]

Verses 19 through 24 deal with love of the world, and verses 25 through 34 deal with anxiety because of the world. Jesus taught that anxiety is, first, unnecessary (vv. 25-30), second, unworthy (vv. 31-33), and third, unfruitful (v. 34).[681]

6:25           "For this reason" draws a conclusion from what has preceded (vv. 19-24). Since God has given us life and a body, He will certainly also provide what we need to maintain them (cf. Luke 12:22-31; Phil. 4:6-7; Heb. 13:5; 1 Pet. 5:7). (This argument is a fortiori, or qal wahomer, "How much more …?") It is wrong, therefore, for a disciple to fret ("be worried") about such things. He or she should simply trust and obey God, and get on with fulfilling one's divinely revealed calling in life, namely, following God single-mindedly.

"There may be greater sins than worry, but very certainly there is no more disabling sin."[682]

"You may think you have won this great battle against Satan because you conquered him when he came in at the front door and talked to you about laying up treasures on earth. But before you are aware of it, you will find he has come in through the back door and is causing you to have anxious concern about these things."[683]

6:26           If we fret constantly about having enough food and clothing, we show that we have not yet learned a very basic lesson that nature teaches us: God provides for His creatures' needs. Furthermore, God is the heavenly Father of believers. Consequently He will take special care of them. (This argument is a minori ad maius, "From the lesser to the greater.") This does not mean that we can disregard work, any more than birds can disregard scavenging for their food, but it does mean that we should not worry.

What about the fact that some believers have starved to death? I believe that Jesus meant that as long as it is God's will for a person to live, He will sustain him or her. The birds that God provides for faithfully also die. This promise is no guarantee that a disciple of Christ will live forever on earth, or even that he will never suffer need. It guarantees God's provision as long as it is His will for him or her to live.

6:27           Fretting cannot lengthen "his life's span" (or better: "his height") any more than it can put food on one's table or clothes on one's back. Many people today spend large amounts of time and money to get in the best possible physical condition so that they will live as long as possible. Physical exercise is important, and good stewardship of one's body requires self-discipline, but giving it too much attention is wrong (1 Tim. 4:8).

"We can go further. Medical knowledge and skill cannot extend life. We think they can, but that is because we do not know. These things are all determined by God, and thus even medical men are often bewildered and frustrated. Two patients who appear to be in the same condition are given identical treatment. One recovers; the other dies."[684]

Worry can actually make a person sick and shorten life, though the time of a person's death is something that the sovereign God determines—even in the case of a suicide.

6:28           The "lilies of the field" were probably the wild crocuses that still bloom so abundantly in Galilee during the spring. However, Jesus probably intended them to represent all the wildflowers. His point was that God is so good that He covers the ground with beautiful wildflowers that have relatively little value and only last a short time.

"Once dried, grass became an important fuel source in wood-poor Palestine."[685]

God's providential grace should not make the disciple lazy but rather confident that He will similarly provide for His children's needs.

6:29           God often dresses the simplest field more beautifully than Israel's wealthiest king could adorn himself. Therefore, anxiety about the essentials of life really demonstrates little faith (trust) in God.

6:30           The believing disciple has trusted God for his or her salvation and has God as his or her "heavenly Father" (v. 26). Such a one has exercised some trust in God, but the believer who worries about the necessities of life needs to trust Him for these things as well. Failure to do so demonstrates lack of appreciation for the Father's love and power.

"The primary idea of faith is trust."[686]

"The man who feeds his heart on the record of what God has done in the past will never worry about the future."[687]

6:31-32      Since God provides so bountifully, it is not only foolish but pagan to fret about the basic necessities of life. The fretting disciple lives like an unbeliever (typically a "Gentile") who disbelieves and disregards God. Such a person devotes too much of his or her attention to the accumulation of material goods and excludes more important things in life.

6:33           Rather than pursuing material things, the disciple should replace this pursuit with one that has much greater significance. Seeking God's kingdom involves pursuing the things about the kingdom for which Jesus taught His disciples to pray, namely, God's honor, His reign, and His will (vv. 9-10).

"The key to avoiding anxiety is to make the kingdom one's priority (v 33)."[688]

This is one of only five places in Matthew where we read "His [God's] kingdom" rather than "kingdom of heaven" (cf. 12:28; 19:24; 21:31, 43). Wherever the kingdom is described as God's kingdom, the context requires a more direct reference to and emphasis on God, rather than a more oblique reference, namely, to "heaven." Here the kingdom in view is God's reign over His own children (believers). Even though the name "God" does not appear in the NABS rendering of verse 33, it is He that is clearly in view (see v. 32: "your heavenly Father").

"The premillennial concept of the kingdom does not deny the fact that in some places the word kingdom is used of a universal, timeless, and eternal kingdom (Matt. 6:33)."[689]

Seeking God's righteousness means pursuing righteousness in life by submitting to God's will (cf. 5:6, 10, 20; 6:1). It does not mean seeking justification, in view of Jesus' use of "righteousness" in the context.

"In the end, just as there are only two kinds of piety, the self-centered and the God-centered, so there are only two kinds of ambition: one can be ambitious either for oneself or for God. There is no third alternative."[690]

The "things" that God will add are the necessities of life that He provides providentially (through divine foresight and intervention), about which Jesus warned His disciples not to fret (5:45; 6:11). Here, God promises to meet the needs of those who commit themselves to seeking the furtherance of His kingdom and righteousness.

There is a wider sphere of context in which this promise operates. We all live in a fallen world, where the effects of sin pervade every aspect of life. Sometimes the godly, through no fault of their own, get caught up in the consequences of sin and perish. Jesus did not elaborate on this dimension of life, here, but assumed it as something His hearers would have known and understood.

6:34           Since we have such a promise (v. 33), backed up by the testimony of God's faithful provision in nature (vv. 26-30), we should not fret about tomorrow. Today has enough trouble (or "evil," AV) for us to deal with. Moreover, the trouble we anticipate tomorrow may never materialize. God provides only enough grace so that we can deal with life one day at a time. Tomorrow He will provide enough grace (help) for what we will face then (cf. Phil. 4:6-7). "Tomorrow will worry about itself" means that it "will bring its own worries" (NLT).[691]

"God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes."[692]

To summarize, the disciple's relationship to wealth should be one of trust in God rather than trust in money. Disciples should have a single-minded commitment to the affairs of His kingdom and righteousness. Jesus' disciples should not be hoarding or pursuing wealth for its own sake. God, not Wealth, should be the magnet of the disciple's life. The fruit of such an attitude will be freedom from anxiety about daily material needs.

"It is impossible to be a partially committed or part-time disciple; it is impossible to serve two masters, whether one of them be wealth or anything else, when the other master is meant to be God."[693]

The disciple's relationship to brethren 7:1-5 (cf. Luke 6:37-42)

All of chapter 7 deals with the disciple's relationship to others, and with judgment, but this first section of it focuses on the disciple's relationship to spiritual brethren. Jesus first laid down a principle (v. 1). Then He justified this principle theologically (v. 2). Finally, He provided an illustration (vv. 3-5).

7:1             Jesus taught His disciples not to be judgmental or hypercritical of other people, in view of the high standards that He was clarifying (cf. Rom. 14:10-13; James 4:11-12). He did not mean that they should accept everything and everyone uncritically (cf. vv. 5-6, 15-20; John 7:24; 1 Cor. 5:5; Gal. 1:8-9; 6:1; Phil. 3:2; 1 John 4:1). Neither did He mean, obviously, that parents, church leaders, and civil authorities are wrong if they pass judgment on those under their care. He meant that if they judged others, God would judge them—not as unbelievers, but as His children who need discipline, and possibly at the judgment seat of Christ (cf. Rom. 14:10; 2 Cor. 5:10). There seems to be no good reason to limit Jesus' command to passing judgment on fellow disciples only, as some interpreters do.[694]

Jesus meant that His disciples should not do God's job of passing judgment—on His behalf—when He has not authorized them to do so. They really could not do so accurately, since no one but God knows all the facts that motivate people to do what they do. The disciple who usurps God's place will have to answer to Him for doing so.

"… it is the habit of censorious and carping criticism that Jesus is condemning, and not the exercise of the critical faculty, by which men are able and expected on specific occasions to make value-judgments and to choose between different policies and plans of action."[695]

"This spirit really manifests itself in the tendency to pronounce final judgment upon people as such. This means that it is not a judgment so much on what they do, or believe, or say, as upon the persons themselves."[696]

One public opinion poll indicated that this is currently the most popularly quoted verse from the Bible, and it is popularly misunderstood.

"Clarification on the matter of judgment is needed today because Matt 7:1 is often used against Christians to intimidate them from engaging in scriptural judging. The verse is used to promote tolerance of erroneous and destructive beliefs and practices by associating their critics with mean-spiritedness and arrogance. Those who say 'Judge not' are often among the first to judge the Bible for what they say are its 'politically incorrect' affirmations, examples, prescriptions, and prohibitions."[697]

7:2             The thought here is similar to that in 6:14 and 15. The person who judges others very critically will experience a similarly rigorous examination from God (cf. 18:23-35). We set the standard by which God judges us by the way in which we judge others. There is a word play in the verse in the Greek text that suggests that Jesus may have been quoting a popular proverb.[698]

7:3-4          The "speck" (Gr. karphos) could be a speck of any foreign matter. The "log" or plank (Gr. dokos) refers to a large piece of wood. Jesus again used hyperbole to stress the folly of criticizing someone else. This act reveals a much greater problem in the critic's life, namely, a censorious, hypercritical spirit. Imagine a blind eye doctor operating to remove a cataract from his patient's eye. It is really impossible for him to do it.

7:5             Such a person is a hypocrite in that by condemning another person he really condemns himself (cf. Luke 18:9-14). He does not deceive others as much as he deceives himself. Other people may realize that his criticism is unjustifiable, but he does not. A proper attitude is important in judging oneself and other people (1 Cor. 11:31; Gal. 6:1). Overcritical critics are not helpful or loving. That is what Jesus warned against here (cf. Luke 6:39-42).

"The disciples of the King are to be critical of self but not of their brethren. The group is to be noted for their bond of unity, which is indicated by a lack of criticism. This is fitting, since the kingdom is characterized by peace. (Isaiah 9:7)."[699]

The disciple's relationship to antagonists 7:6

Jesus' disciples had a responsibility to pass their knowledge of the messianic kingdom on to others so that they, too, could prepare for it. Jesus gave his disciples directions about this responsibility in this verse. This exhortation balances the one that He just gave (vv. 1-5). The disciples could be too naive and fail to be discerning (cf. 5:43-47). Jesus condemned fault-finding, but He encouraged His disciples to be discriminating when evaluating the character of other people.

Pigs were typically unclean, wild, vicious animals. Likewise, most dogs were not domestic pets but unclean, wild, despised creatures in Jesus' culture. This verse contains a chiastic construction: The dogs turn and tear to pieces those who give them special gifts, and the pigs trample underfoot the pearls thrown before them (cf. Prov. 11:22). "What is holy" and the pearls in this illustration evidently represent the good news announcing the messianic kingdom.

The pigs and dogs probably do not represent all Gentiles but people of any race who react to the good news by rejecting and turning against those who bring it to them (cf. 10:14; 15:14).[700] One example of this type of person is Herod Antipas, who heard John the Baptist gladly (Mark 6:20), but then beheaded him (14:1-12; Mark 6:14-28; Luke 9:7-9). Later when Christ stood before Herod, He said nothing to him (Luke 23:8-9). Such enemies should be left alone (cf. 2 Cor. 6:14-18). However, Jesus answered Pilate when Pilate questioned him. This verse urges wisdom in dealing with people; we need to know how to deal with each individual in each situation.[701]

"As with other parts of Jesus' teaching, the point is not an absolute prohibition, because then the disciple could not share the gospel with those who are not responsive. Rather, the point is that the disciple is not obligated to share with those who are hard-hearted."[702]

The disciple's relationship to God 7:7-12

This section of verses brings the main body of the Sermon to a climactic conclusion.

"I cannot imagine a better, more cheering or a more comforting statement with which to face all the uncertainties and hazards of our life in this world of time than that contained in verses 7-11. It is one of those great comprehensive and gracious promises which are to be found only in the Bible."[703]

7:7             In view of such rigorous demands and hard opposition, Jesus' disciples need to pray for God's help. He will always respond positively to their words, though others may reject them (v. 6). Still, their petitions must be for His glory rather than for selfish ends (cf. James 4:2-3). All that the disciple needs to serve Jesus Christ successfully is available for the asking.

"Jesus' disciples will pray ('ask') with earnest sincerity ('seek') and active, diligent pursuit of God's way ('knock'). Like a human father, the heavenly Father uses these means to teach his children courtesy, persistence, and diligence. If the child prevails with a thoughtful father, it is because the father has molded the child to his way."[704]

The force of each present imperative verb in Greek is iterative (repetitive).[705] We could translate them: "Keep on asking," "keep on seeking," "keep on knocking" (cf. Luke 11:9-10).

7:8             However, no matter the level of intensity with which we seek God's help, He will respond to every one of His disciples who calls to Him, like a loving Father who never makes a mistake.

"If you should ask me to state in one phrase what I regard as the greatest defect in most Christian lives I would say that it is our failure to know God as our Father as we should know Him."[706]

7:9-10        In these verses, Jesus put the point of verses 7 and 8 in two other ways. Even though parents are evil (i.e., self-centered sinners), they do not typically give their children disappointing or dangerous counterfeits in response to requests for what is wholesome and nutritious.

7:11           Much more will the heavenly Father, who is pure goodness, give gifts that are truly good to His children who request them (cf. Jer. 29:13; Luke 11:11-13; James 1:5-8). In the parallel passage in Luke 11:13, what is good is identified as "the Holy Spirit"—the best gift that God could give a person at that time in history.

"Ask for any one of these things that is good for you, that is for the salvation of your soul, your ultimate perfection, anything that brings you nearer to God and enlarges your life and is thoroughly good for you, and He will give it you."[707]

This is another a fortiori argument (cf. 6:26). Jesus' disciples are in view as the "children" praying here (cf. 5:45). The "good things" that they request have direct connection with the messianic kingdom—things such as ability to follow God faithfully in spite of opposition (cf. Acts 4:29). God has ordained that we ask for the good gifts we need, because this is the way He trains us, not because He is unaware or unconcerned about our needs (cf. 6:8).

"What is fundamentally at stake is man's picture of God. God must not be thought of as a reluctant stranger who can be cajoled or bullied into bestowing his gifts (6:7-8), as a malicious tyrant who takes vicious glee in the tricks he plays (vv. 9-10), or even as an indulgent grandfather who provides everything requested of him. He is the heavenly Father, the God of the kingdom, who graciously and willingly bestows the good gifts of the kingdom in answer to prayer."[708]

There are 14 references to rewards in the Sermon on the Mount (5:12, 46; 6:1, 2, 4, 5, 6, 16, 18, 19, 20, 21, 33; 7:11), here "good gifts." While the desire for an eternal reward may not be the highest motivation for serving Christ, Jesus held it out as one motivation, as did other New Testament writers.[709]

I think of motivation for living for and serving the Lord this way: My wife does most of the meal preparation in our household. Because I love her and want to share that burden, I have chosen to do the clean up after meals. This makes her more favorable toward me and possibly love me more than if I did not make this sacrifice for her. However, I do not wash the dishes to earn her love but because I love her and want to help her. The fact that my service will earn me this reward is an added incentive for me, but my primary motivation is love.

7:12           The recurrence of the phrase "the Law and the Prophets" here takes us back to 5:17. As pointed out previously, this phrase forms an inclusio. Everything Jesus said between 5:17 and 7:12 was essentially an exposition of Old Testament revelation. Consequently the "therefore" in this verse probably summarizes the entire section (5:17—7:12).

"The golden rule" sums up the teaching of the Old Testament (cf. Exod. 23:4; Lev. 19:18; Deut. 15:7-8; Prov. 24:17; 25:21; Luke 6:31). The title "golden rule" traditionally comes from "the Roman Emperor Alexander Severus (A.D. 222-35), who, though not a Christian, was reputedly so impressed by the comprehensiveness of this maxim of Jesus … that he had it inscribed in gold on the wall of his chamber."[710]

Rather than giving scores of specific commands to govern individual behavior during the present age and the age to come, as the Old Covenant did for the Mosaic age, Jesus gave this principle. It provides a rule that we can apply in thousands of specific cases in order to determine what righteousness looks like. Doing to others what we would want them to do to us is what the Law and the Prophets taught (Lev. 19:18; cf. Matt. 22:39). This behavior is the will of God, and that is why Jesus' disciples should do it.

"When the rule is put in its negative form, when we are told that we must refrain from doing to others that which we would not wish them to do to us, it is not an essentially religious rule at all. It is simply a common-sense statement without which no social intercourse at all would be possible."[711]

"It is perfectly possible for a man of the world to observe the negative form of the golden rule. He could without very serious difficulty so discipline his life that he would not do to others what he did not wish them to do to him; but the only man who can even begin to satisfy the positive form of the rule is the man who has the love of Christ within his heart. He will try to forgive as he would wish to be forgiven, to help as he would wish to be helped, to praise as he would wish to be praised, to understand as he would wish to be understood. He will never seek to avoid doing things; he will always look for things to do."[712]

"The attitude which says, 'I must do no harm to people,' is quite different from the attitude which says, 'I must do my best to help people.'"[713]

Commenting on the ethical teachings of Confucius (born 551 B.C.) one writer wrote:

"He taught the Golden Rule, though expressed in negative form, sometimes called the Silver Rule: 'What you do not want others to do unto you, do not do unto them.'"[714]

4.     The false alternatives 7:13-27

To clarify the essential choices that His disciples needed to make, Jesus laid out four pairs of alternatives. Their choices would prepare them to continue to get ready for the coming kingdom. Each of the four alternatives is a warning of catastrophic proportions. They all focus on future judgment and the kingdom. This section constitutes the conclusion to the Sermon on the Mount.

"Here we can safely say that our Lord really has finished the Sermon as such, and that from here on He is rounding it off, and applying it, and urging upon His listeners the importance and necessity of practicing it and implementing it in their daily lives."[715]

The two paths 7:13-14

The Old Testament contains several references to diverging paths that force the traveler to choose between them (e.g., Deut. 30:15, 19; Ps. 1; Jer. 21:8).

The Greek word stene means "narrow," as contrasted with broad. The word "constricted" (made narrow, v. 14, Gr. tethlimmene) relates closely to the Greek word thlipsis, meaning "tribulation." Thus, Jesus was saying that the narrow gate has connections with persecution, which is a major theme in Matthew's Gospel (cf. 5:10-12, 44; 10:16-39; 11:11-12; 24:4-13; Acts 14:22).[716]

The narrow gate and the constricted way (path) lead to life, namely, life in the messianic kingdom (cf. vv. 21-22), not just heaven. It is the narrow way of salvation that involves faith in Jesus Christ as the only Savior (cf. John 14:6). The wide gate and the broad way lead to destruction, namely, death and hell (cf. 25:34, 46; John 17:12; Rom. 9:22: 1 Cor. 1:18; Phil. 1:28; 3:19; 1 Tim. 6:9; Heb. 10:39; 2 Pet. 2:1, 3; 3:16; Rev. 17:8, 11). Few will enter the messianic kingdom compared with the many who will perish ("there are few who find it ["life"]"). Jesus clearly did not believe in the doctrine of universalism that is growing in popularity today: the belief that everyone will eventually end up in heaven (cf. John 14:6). Entrance through the narrow gate onto the narrow path will eventually lead a person into the kingdom (and eventually to heaven). The beginning of a life of discipleship (the gate) and the process of discipleship (the way) are both restrictive and both involve rejection by others and persecution.[717]

"Gate is mentioned for the benefit of those who were not true followers; way is mentioned as a definition of the life of the disciples of Jesus. This is why Matthew uses the word 'gate' (pule) while Luke employs the word 'door' (thura, Luke 13:24). Luke is concerned primarily with salvation. Here the King desires subjects for His kingdom, so He uses a word which implies a path is to be followed after entrance into life."[718]

Only a comparatively few people will find the way to life. As we noted earlier, Israel's leaders were lethargic about seeking the Messiah (2:7-8). Many of the ordinary Jews were evidently not seeking the messianic kingdom either.

The two trees 7:15-20 (cf. Luke 6:43-44)

7:15           Jesus here sounded a warning, which the Old Testament prophets also gave, about false prophets (cf. Deut. 13; 18; Jer. 6:13-15; 8:8-12; Ezek. 13; 22:27; Zeph. 3:4). He did not explain exactly what they would teach, only that they would deceptively misrepresent divine revelation. This covers a wide spectrum of false teachers. Their motive would be ultimately self-serving, and the end of their victims would be destruction. These characteristics are implicit in Jesus' description of them. The scribes and Pharisees manned a narrow gate, but it was not the gate that led to the narrow way leading to life. It was a gate leading into a life of legalism.

7:16           Fruit in the natural world, as well as metaphorically, represents what the plant or person produces. It is what other people see (or sample or taste) that leads them to conclude something about the nature and identity of the tree that bears the fruit. Pieces of fruit are the best indicator of this nature. In false teachers, their fruit represents their doctrines and deeds (cf. 12:33-37; Jer. 23:9-15). Jesus said that His disciples would be able to recognize false prophets by their fruits: their teachings and their actions. What usually motivates a false teacher's teachings and actions is self-seeking.[719] Sometimes the true character of a person remains hidden for some time. People regard their good works as an indication of righteous character. However eventually the true nature of the person becomes apparent, and it becomes clear that one's seemingly good fruits were not good after all.

Note that the phrase "You will know them by their fruits" brackets this section (vv. 16, 20). This was obviously Jesus' main point. He was warning His disciples about being misled by appearances (cf. 12:33). He later clarified that fruit refers primarily to a person's words (12:33-37). Here the meaning is more general.

7:17           Prophets true to God's Word produce righteous conduct, but false prophets who disregard God's Word produce unrighteous conduct.

7:18           A poisonous plant will yield poisonous fruit. It cannot produce healthful fruit. Likewise a good tree, such as an apple tree, bears good, nutritious fruit. The bad fruit may look good, but it is bad nonetheless. A false prophet can only produce bad works, as God sees them, even though his works may appear good, superficially or temporarily, to people.

Some interpreters of this passage take Jesus' teaching further than He went with it. They say that it is impossible for a genuine believer to do bad works. This cannot be true in view of the hundreds of commands, exhortations, and warnings that Jesus and the prophets and apostles gave to believers in both Testaments. It is possible for a believer to do bad works (e.g., 16:23; Tit. 2:11-13; 3:8; 1 John 1:9). That they will not is the teaching of sinless perfection.

Other interpreters say that some bad works are inevitable for the believer, but bad works will not habitually characterize the life of a true believer. This quickly turns into a question of: How many bad works would prove someone is unsaved?—which the New Testament does not answer. Rather, the New Testament writers present some people who have departed from God's will for a long time as believers (e.g., 1 Tim. 1:20; 2 Tim. 2:17-18). The point that Jesus was making, in this verse, was simply that false prophets do what is bad, and people who follow God faithfully typically do what is good. How disciples of Jesus live was very important to Him.

7:19           The end of every tree that does not bear good fruit is "the fire." Likewise the false prophet who does bad works, even though they look good, suffers destructive judgment (cf. 3:10).

7:20           The words and works of a prophet eventually reveal his true character, just as surely as the fruit of a tree reveals its identity. Of these two criteria, words and works, works are the more reliable indicator of character. Given a choice between believing what we see a person doing and what that person claims he did, almost everyone will believe what he saw him doing.

Jesus was evidently dealing with typical false prophets in this section. He did not go into the case of a disciple who deliberately or accidentally distorts God's Word. Typically a false prophet rejects God's Word because he is an unbeliever. However, even in the Old Testament, there were a few true prophets who lied about God's Word (e.g., 1 Kings 13:18).

Verses 16 through 20 have led some people to judge the reality of a person's salvation from his or her works. All that Jesus said before (vv. 1-5), and following those verses, should discourage us from doing that. False prophets eventually give evidence that they are not faithful prophets. However it is impossible for onlookers to determine the salvation of professing believers (vv. 21-23) and those who simply receive the gospel without making any public response to it (vv. 24-27). Their real condition will only become clear when Jesus judges them. He is their Judge, and we must leave their judgment in His hands (v. 1).

The two claims 7:21-23 (cf. Luke 6:46)

Verses 15 through 20 deal with false prophets, but verses 21 through 23 deal with false followers.

7:21           The repeated cry of these false disciples reveals their fervency: "Lord, Lord."

"In Jesus' day it is doubtful whether 'Lord' when used to address him meant more than 'teacher' or 'sir.' But in the postresurrection period, it becomes an appellation of worship and a confession of Jesus' deity."[720]

Obedience to the Father's will determines entrance into the messianic kingdom, not professed admiration for Jesus. Taking this verse by itself, out of its context, some interpreters have concluded that we are saved by good works. But doing the will of God does not mean just doing good works. It means believing that Jesus is the Messiah and relying upon Him alone for salvation (cf. John 6:29).[721]

"It does not just mean saying the right words, it indicates that we mean those things when we say them."[722]

This is the first occurrence of the phrase "My Father" in Matthew. By using it, Jesus was implicitly claiming to be the authoritative revealer of God.

7:22           Jesus also claimed to be the eschatological Judge (cf. John 6). This was one of Messiah's functions (e.g., Ps. 2). "That day" is the day that Jesus will judge false professors. It is almost a technical term for the day of judgment in the messianic age (cf. Isa. 2:11, 17; 4:2; 10:20; Jer. 49:22; Zech. 14:6, 20-21). Note that entrance into the earthly kingdom was still future. Judgment will precede entrance into that kingdom.

"In your name" means as your representatives and claiming your authority. Obviously it was possible for unbelieving disciples (e.g., Judas Iscariot) to prophesy, exorcise (cast out) demons, and perform miracles in Jesus' name. The authority of His name (His person) enabled them to do so, not their own righteousness or their relationship to Him. Many onlookers undoubtedly viewed these works as good fruit and evidence of righteous character. However, these were cases of tares that looked like wheat (cf. 13:24-30).

7:23           Jesus Himself would sentence the self-deceived hypocrites to depart from His presence.[723] Thus Jesus claimed again that He is the Judge who will determine who would enter the messianic kingdom and who would not. This was a decidedly messianic function. The quotation from Psalm 6:8 puts Jesus in the place of the sufferer whom God has vindicated, and He now tells those who have done Him evil to depart from His presence. Moreover, He will say He never knew these false professors.

"To none will He say in that day, 'I used to know you, but I know you no more.' His word to the lost will be, 'I never knew you.'"[724]

Obviously Jesus knows who everyone is, but here He meant that He would not know these false professors in the sense of knowing them with favor or acknowledging them (cf. Ps. 1:6; Amos 3:2). Many people deal with holy things daily yet have no personal acquaintance with God because they are hypocrites, people who claim to have a relationship with God that they do not have. It is their failure to bow before divine law, the will of God regarding faith in Jesus, that renders them practitioners of lawlessness—and guilty.

The two builders 7:24-27 (cf. Luke 6:47-49)

Verses 21 through 23 contrast those who say one thing but do another. Verses 24 through 27 contrast hearing and doing (cf. James 1:22-25; 2:14-20).[725] The will of Jesus' Father (v. 21) now becomes "these words of Mine" (v. 24). It is important to recognize that throughout this section (vv. 13-27) Jesus was looking at a life in its entirety.

"The two ways illustrate the start of the life of faith; the two trees illustrate the growth and results of the life of faith here and now; and the two houses illustrate the end of this life of faith, when God shall call everything to judgment."[726]

Each house in Jesus' illustration looks secure. However, severe testing reveals the true quality of the builders' work (cf. 13:21; Prov. 10:25; 12:7; 14:11; Isa. 28:16-17).

Torrential downpours were and are common in Israel. Wise men then and now build to withstand anything. The wise person is a theme in Matthew (cf. 10:16; 24:45; 25:2, 4, 8-9). The wise person is one who puts Jesus' words into practice. Thus the final reckoning will expose the true convictions of the pseudo-disciple.

"He [Jesus] was the craftsman who knew all about the building of houses, and when He spoke about the foundations of a house He knew what He was talking about. This is no illustration formed by a scholar in his study; this is the illustration of a practical man."[727]

Jesus later compared Himself to foundation rock (16:18; cf. Isa. 28:16; 1 Cor. 3:11; 1 Pet. 2:6-8). That idea was probably implicit here. He is the foundation in view, though that is not the major point of the illustration.

Jesus' point in verses 13 through 27 was that entrance into the messianic kingdom and discipleship as a follower of the King are both unpopular, and they involve persecution. Many more people will profess to be disciples than really are such. The acid test is obedience to the revealed will of God.

"So the sermon ends with a challenge not to ignore responding to Jesus and his teaching. Jesus is a figure who is not placing his teaching forward because it is a recommended way of life. He represents far more than that. His teaching is a call to an allegiance that means the difference between life and death, between blessing and woe. Jesus is more than a prophet."[728]

"Hearing sermons is a dangerous business if one does not put them into practice."[729]

5.     The response of the audience 7:28-29

Each conclusion to each of the five major discourses in Matthew begins with the same formula statement: literally "and it happened" (Gr. kai egeneto) followed by a finite verb. It is, therefore, "a self-conscious stylistic device that establishes a structural turning point."[730] Each conclusion is also transitional and prepares for the next section.

7:28           We learn for the first time that, even though Jesus was teaching His disciples (5:1-2), multitudes ("the crowds") were listening in to what He taught them. Probably it is for this reason that the end of the Sermon contains more material that is suitable for a general audience. R. T. France believed that all the discourses in Matthew are anthologies of Jesus' teachings on various occasions, which Matthew compiled into discourses, rather than single discourses that Jesus delivered on individual occasions.[731] This is a minority opinion, but it is probably true that the Gospel writers edited Jesus' teachings to some extent.

7:29           Jesus' "teaching" included both His content and His delivery. What impressed the crowds was Jesus' "authority" when He taught. This is the first occurrence of another theme that Matthew stressed (8:9; 9:6, 8; 10:1; 21:23-24, 27; 28:18). Jesus' authority was essentially different in that He claimed to be the Messiah. He not only claimed to interpret the Word of God, as other contemporary teachers did, but He claimed to fulfill it as well (5:17, 21-22). He would be the One who would determine entrance into the messianic kingdom (7:21), and He would judge humankind eventually (7:23).

Jesus also claimed that His teaching amounted to God's Word (7:24, 26). Therefore the authoritative note in His teaching was not primarily His sincerity, or His oratorical style, or His lack of reference to earlier authorities. It was who He was. He claimed to be the authoritative Interpreter of the Word of God (i.e., with the authority of the predicted Prophet, the Messiah).

"In the final analysis … what Jesus says about the law applies to it as something being authoritatively reinterpreted by his teaching. It is not the Mosaic law in and of itself that has normative and abiding character for disciples, but the Mosaic law as it has passed through the crucible of Jesus' teaching."[732]

To summarize this sermon, Jesus began by describing the character of the messianic kingdom's subjects (5:1-10). He then explained their calling (5:11-16). Next, He specified their conduct (5:17—7:12). Finally, He clarified their choices and commitments (7:13-27).

Scholars have noted many parallels between Jesus' teaching in the Sermon on the Mount and Rabbinic instruction, probably more than in any other part of the New Testament. The similarities, however, lie in form of expression, subject matter, and turn of words, but definitely not in spirit.[733] The authority and power of Jesus' teaching, as Matthew ironically pointed out, was not like the scribes' (v. 29).

"Throughout the rest of his story, Matthew makes it exceedingly plain that, whether directly or indirectly, the issue of authority underlies all the controversies Jesus has with the religious leaders and that it is therefore pivotal to his entire conflict with them."[734]

"The King has proclaimed the nearness of the kingdom and has authenticated that message with great signs. With people flocking to Him He instructs His disciples concerning the character of those who shall inherit the kingdom. The kingdom, though earthly, is founded on righteousness. Thus the theme of His message is righteousness."[735]

"… the Gospels never praise Jesus. I do not think there is one word of praise for the Master in any one of the four Gospels from start to finish. The evangelists simply record what happened, and let it go at that."[736]

III.     The manifestation of the King 8:1—11:1

Jesus proceeded to demonstrate His authority (7:29) by performing powerful miracles that liberated captives from their bondage. These were signs (acts that signified something) that the Old Testament prophets said that Messiah would perform.

"Matthew has laid the foundational structure for his argument in chapters one through seven. The genealogy and birth have attested to the legal qualifications of the Messiah as they are stated in the Old Testament. Not only so, but in His birth great and fundamental prophecies have been fulfilled. The King, according to protocol, has a forerunner preceding Him in His appearance on the scene of Israel's history. The moral qualities of Jesus have been authenticated by His baptism and temptation. The King Himself then commences His ministry of proclaiming the nearness of the kingdom and authenticates it with great miracles. To instruct His disciples as to the true character of righteousness which is to distinguish Him, He draws them apart on the mountain. After Matthew has recorded the Sermon on the Mount, he goes on to relate the King's presentation to Israel (Matthew 8:1—11:1)."[737]

"These five chapters, from the eighth to the twelfth, contain therefore the full manifestation of Jehovah-Jesus among His people and the rejection of the King."[738]

A.     Demonstrations of the King's power 8:1—9:34

Matthew described Jesus' ministry as consisting of teaching, preaching (proclaiming), and healing in 4:23. Chapters 5 through 7 record what He taught His disciples: principles of the messianic kingdom. We have the essence of His preaching ministry in 4:17. Now in 8:1 through 9:34 we see His healing ministry, which confirmed the authority that He claimed in His teaching. He demonstrated authority over human beings, unseen spiritual powers, and the world of nature. Matthew showed that Jesus' ability proves that He is the divine Messiah. He possessed the "power to banish from the earth the consequences of sin and to control the elements of nature."[739] The King authenticated His claims by performing messianic signs. In view of these things, the Jews should have acknowledged Him as their Messiah. Matthew's purpose was far more than simply to reveal the love of God, as some commentators have proposed.[740]

"The purpose of Matthew in these two chapters [8 and 9] is to offer the credentials of the Messiah as predicted in the Old Testament."[741]

Matthew did not record Jesus' miracles in strict chronological order. The harmonies of the Gospels make this clear.[742] Matthew's order is more thematic. He also selected miracles that highlight the gracious character of Jesus' signs. As Moses' plagues authenticated his ministry to the Israelites of his day, so Jesus' miracles should have convinced the Israelites of His day that He was the Messiah: the Prophet whom Moses predicted would follow him (Deut. 18:18). Moses' plagues were primarily destructive, whereas Jesus' miracles were primarily constructive. Jesus' miracles were more like Elisha's than Moses' in this respect.

Matthew recorded 10 instances of Jesus healing in this section of his book (cf. the 10 plagues in Egypt), half of all the miracles that Matthew recorded. Some regard 8:16 and 17 as a miracle distinct from the previous healings in chapter 8, resulting in 10 miracles. Others regard 8:16 and 17 as a summary of the preceding miracles, resulting in 9 miracles. Both explanations have merit, since 8:16 and 17 record that Jesus did other miracles, but it does not narrate one specific miraculous healing.

Matthew presented these miracles in three groups and broke the three groups up with discussions (narrative sections) concerning Jesus' authority. The first group of miracles involves healings (8:1-17), the second, demonstrations of power (8:23—9:8), and the third, acts of restoration (9:18-34). At the end of each group of miracles Matthew recorded a reaction (8:19; 9:8; 9:33).[743] Together the section presents a slice of life out of Jesus' overall ministry.[744]


Miracles of healing



Demonstrations of power



Acts of Restoration



Jesus' authority over His disciples


Jesus' authority over His critics


Jesus' authority over the masses 9:35-38


"The provision of interludes on discipleship in order to divide the nine stories into three groups of three is also closely parallel to the arrangement of the parables of ch. 13 into groups of three with intervening explanatory material, an arrangement which is equally peculiar to Matthew [among the Gospel writers]."[745]

1.     Jesus' ability to heal 8:1-17

This first group of miracle events apparently all happened on the same day (v. 16).[746] At least that is the impression that Matthew gave.

The cleansing of a leprous Jew 8:1-4 (cf. Mark 1:40-45; Luke 5:12-16)

8:1             This verse is transitional (cf. 5:1). Great crowds continued to follow Jesus after He delivered the Sermon on the Mount, as they had before (4:24-25).

8:2             Matthew typically used the phrase kai idou ("and behold")—"behold" is not translated in the NASB and some other translations—to mark the beginning of a new section in his book, not necessarily to indicate the next event chronologically.

The exact nature of biblical leprosy is unknown. Apparently it included what we call leprosy today, Hansen's disease, but it involved other skin diseases as well (cf. Lev. 13—14).[747] A leper not only had some loathsome skin disease that made him repulsive to others, but he also was ritually unclean, according to the Mosaic Law, because of his condition. This precluded contact with other people and participation in temple worship. The Jews regarded leprosy as a curse from God (Num. 12:10, 12; Job 18:13), and healings were rare, though not unknown (Num. 12:10-15; 2 Kings 5:9-14). The Jews thought that healing a leper was as difficult as raising the dead (2 Kings 5:7, 14).

"The Jews, from the prophecy Isa. liii. 4, had a tradition that the Messiah should be a leper."[748]

"Leprosy is viewed in the Old Testament not so much as a type of sin as of the uncleanness and separation that sin produces."[749]

The leper in this story knelt (Gr. prosekynei, "bowed down") before Jesus. The same Greek word describes worshippers in the New Testament. However, Matthew probably simply described him as kneeling, in order to leave his readers to draw their own conclusions about Jesus' worthiness to receive worship (cf. 7:22-23).

The man had great faith in Jesus' ability to heal him. Evidently he had heard about, and perhaps seen, others whom Jesus had healed (4:24). His only reservation was Jesus' willingness to use His power to heal him. The leper probably supposed that a Jewish teacher like Jesus would probably not want to have anything to do with him, since to do so would make Jesus ritually unclean.

"The phrase if You are willing is important because it indicates genuine faith. It does not necessarily mean that if one simply believes, God will do something, but that He can do it (see Dan. 3:17)."[750]

"In most cases … the purpose of the minor characters [in Matthew's story] is to function as foils for the disciples."[751]

8:3             Probably the crowd gasped when Jesus graciously extended His hand and touched the unclean leper. Lepers had to avoid all contact with other people, but Jesus compassionately reached out to him in his helpless condition. Jesus expressed His willingness with His word, and He expressed His power with His touch.

"Jesus allowed the constraint of divine love to take precedence over the injunction against touching a leper …"[752]

"Whatever remedies, medical, magical, or sympathetic, Rabbinic writings may indicate for various kinds of disease, leprosy is not included in the catalogue. They left aside what even the Old Testament marked as moral death, by enjoining those so stricken to avoid all contact with the living, and even to bear the appearance of mourners.[753]

"In truth, the possibility of any cure through human agency was never contemplated by the Jews."[754]

"There is a sense in which leprosy is an archetypal fruit of the original fall of humanity. It leaves its victims in a most pitiable state: ostracized, helpless, hopeless, despairing. The cursed leper, like fallen humanity, has no options until he encounters the messianic king who will make all things new. … As Jesus reached out to the leper, God in Jesus has reached out to all victims of sin."[755]

"When Jesus touched the leper, He contracted the leper's defilement; but He also conveyed His health! Is this not what He did for us on the cross when He was made sin for us? (2 Cor. 5:21)"[756]

Homer Kent Jr. believed that Jesus touched the leper and cleansed him simultaneously, so that the man's leprosy did not defile Jesus.[757]

8:4             Why did Jesus tell the cleansed leper to tell no one about his cleansing? Probably Jesus did not want the news of this cleansing broadcast widely because it would have attracted multitudes whose sole interest would have been to obtain physical healing.[758] In other words, He wanted to limit His physical ministry's appeal, since He came to provide much more than just physical healing.[759] A corollary of this view is that, by keeping quiet, the leper would have retarded the opposition of Jesus' enemies.

More significant is why Jesus told the man to present himself to the priests at the temple in Jerusalem. Jesus was encouraging the man to obey the Mosaic Law concerning the cleansing of lepers (Lev. 14:2; cf. Talmudic tractate Negaim 14). By sending him there to do that, Jesus was notifying the religious authorities in Jerusalem that someone with divine power was ministering in Galilee. Since no leper had received cleansing since Elisha had cleansed Naaman the Aramean, as far as the Bible records, the priests should have wanted to investigate Jesus. (Moses had previously cleansed Miriam's leprosy [Num. 12:10-15].)

"Jesus in effect was presenting His 'calling card' to the priests, for they would have to investigate His claims."[760]

This investigation by Israel's leaders—who, we have observed, were surprisingly uninterested in their King's birth—was something that Jesus initiated by sending the leper to the temple with his offering. When the priests examined the cleansed leper closely, they would have had to certify that Jesus had genuinely healed the man. Their certification should have convinced everyone else in Israel of Jesus' power and made them wonder, at least, if a divine healer like Moses and Elisha had arisen in Israel.

"… Jesus desired the benefit to be complete, socially, which depended on the priest, as well as physically. If the man did not go at once, he would not go at all."[761]

Matthew evidently recorded this miracle to show that Jesus' ability to heal leprosy marked Him as the Messiah to all who would pay attention in Israel.

"By recounting Jesus' response to the most feared and ostracized medical condition of his day, Matthew has thus laid an impressive foundation for this collection of stories which demonstrate both Jesus' unique healing power and his willingness to challenge the taboos of society in the interests of human compassion."[762]

The healing of a centurion's servant 8:5-13 (cf. Luke 7:1-10)

8:5             Centurions were Roman military officers, each of whom controlled 100 soldiers, therefore the name "centurion" (i.e., commander of a century: 100 men). Centurions were the military backbone of the Roman Empire. This centurion was probably under Herod Antipas' authority, since Herod was the authorized Roman governor of Galilee.[763] Interestingly, every reference to a centurion in the New Testament is a positive one. These centurions were, according to the biblical record, fair-minded men whom the Jews respected. Capernaum was an important Roman garrison town in Jesus' day. Probably most of the soldiers under this centurion's command were Phoenician and Syrian Gentiles.[764]

8:6             Matthew recorded that the centurion's address to Jesus (lit. "Lord") was polite, though he probably did not intend it as a title of deity.[765] The Greek word that the centurion used to describe his "servant," pais, usually means "servant," though it can mean "son" (cf. John 4:51). This servant could have been the centurion's personal aide. He was quite clearly beloved by his commander. Matthew did not record the cause of the servant's paralysis. Perhaps reports of Jesus' healing of another official's son led this centurion to approach Jesus (cf. John 4:46-54).

Here was one Gentile asking Jesus to come and heal another Gentile. Evidently the centurion sent his request through messengers (Luke 7:3). This is one of only two miracles in which Jesus healed someone from a distance in Matthew's Gospel (cf. 15:21-28). Both involved Jesus healing Gentiles, whom He initially rebuffed, but later commended for their unusually great faith in Him.

8:7             It is possible to translate Jesus' response as a question: "Shall I come and heal him?" This translation has the advantage of providing a reason for Jesus emphasizing "I" (in the Greek text), namely, to focus attention on Jesus' person. However, "I will come and heal him" is a legitimate translation.

Jesus would not have hesitated to go to the centurion because of ritual uncleanness, as Peter later did (Acts 10); He was willing to touch a leper (v. 3). Jesus' lack of concern about remaining ritually clean shows that He was replacing some laws in the Mosaic Code (cf. Deut. 18:18; Mark 7:19). It also shows that His holiness overpowered the effects of sin.

8:8             The centurion confessed that he felt unfit to entertain Jesus in his home (cf. 5:3). John the Baptist had also expressed a similar feeling of unworthiness (3:14). The basis for the centurion's feeling of unworthiness (Gr. hikanos, "not worthy") was his own perception of how Jews regarded Gentile dwellings, plus the authority that he believed Jesus possessed. He believed that Jesus had sufficient authority to simply speak and so heal his servant (cf. John 4:46-53).

8:9             All authority in the Roman Empire belonged to the emperor, who delegated authority to others under his command. The Roman Republic ended about 30 B.C., and from then on, beginning with Caesar Augustus, the emperors enjoyed more authority in the Roman Empire. When the centurion gave a command, it carried all the authority of the emperor, and people obeyed him. A soldier who might disobey an order that a centurion gave was really disobeying the emperor.

The centurion realized that Jesus also operated under a similar system. Jesus was under God's authority, but He also wielded God's authority. When Jesus spoke, God spoke. To defy Jesus was to defy God. Jesus' word, therefore, must carry God's authority to heal sickness. The centurion confessed that Jesus' authority was God's authority, and Jesus' word was God's word. The centurion believed that Jesus could heal his servant, not that He would heal him. We cannot know God's will in such matters, but we must believe that He is able to do anything.

8:10           Jesus expressed astonishment at this Gentile's great faith in Him. The Greek verb thaumazo, "to be amazed," usually describes the reaction of people to Jesus in Matthew (cf. 8:27; 9:33; 15:31; 21:20; 22:22; 27:14). This is the only time it describes Jesus' reaction to an individual, though Jesus also "was amazed" (the same Greek word) at the unbelief of the Jews (Mark 6:6). These two instances are the only ones where Jesus is said to have been amazed.

"'Wonder' cannot apply to God, for it arises out of what is new and unexpected: but it might exist in Christ, for he had clothed himself with our flesh, and with human affections."[766]

The introductory clause "Truly I say to you" alerted Jesus' disciples that He was about to say something very important on His personal authority (cf. 5:22). The greatness of the centurion's faith was due to his perception of Jesus' relationship to God (v. 9). It was not that he believed Jesus could heal from a remote distance, though he did believe that. Moreover the centurion was a Gentile who probably lacked the knowledge of Old Testament revelation about Messiah. No Jew that Jesus had met had shown such insight into His person and authority.

Evidently one of the reasons Matthew stressed the uniqueness of the centurion's faith so strongly was that he wanted to show that Jesus' ministered to all people, not just the Jews, though His ministry was focused mainly on the Jews (cf. 1:1, 3-5; 2:1-12; 3:9-10; 4:15-16; 28:18-20).

"This incident is a preview of the great insight which came later through another centurion's faith, 'Then to the Gentiles God has granted repentance unto life' (Acts 11:18)."[767]

8:11           Again Jesus introduced a solemn truth: "I say to you" (cf. v. 10). He then referred to the messianic banquet prophesied in Isaiah 25:6 through 9 (cf. Isa. 65:13-14). In that passage God revealed that Gentiles from all parts of the world will join the Jewish patriarchs in the earthly messianic kingdom. The Old Testament has much to say about the participants in that kingdom. God would gather Israel from all parts of the earth (Ps. 107:3; Isa. 43:5-6; 49:12), but Gentiles from all quarters of the world would also worship God in that kingdom (Isa. 45:6; 59:19; Mal. 1:11). The Gentiles would come specifically to Jerusalem (Isa. 2:2-3; 60:3-4; Mic. 4:1-2; Zech. 8:20-23). As mentioned previously, in Jesus' day the Jews had chosen to view themselves as uniquely privileged because of the patriarchs. This led them to write the Gentiles out of the kingdom, despite these prophecies.

"The Jew expected that the Gentile would be put to shame by the sight of the Jews in bliss."[768]

8:12           "The sons of the kingdom" are the Jews who saw themselves as the patriarchs' descendants. They thought that they had a right to the messianic kingdom because of their ancestors' righteousness (cf. 3:9-10). Jesus turned the tables by announcing that many of these "sons of the kingdom" would not participate in it, but many Gentiles would. Many Jewish "sons of the kingdom" would find themselves outside the banquet ("out into the outer darkness").

The terms "weeping" and "gnashing of teeth" (cf. 13:42, 50; 22:13; 24:51; 25:30; Luke 13:28) were common descriptions of Gehenna, hell (4 Ezra 7:93; 1 Enoch 63:10; Psalms of Solomon 14:9; Wisdom of Solomon 17:21).[769] This interpretation finds confirmation in the expression "outer darkness," another image of rejection (cf. 22:13; 25:30).[770]

"The idea of the Messianic Banquet as at once the seal and the symbol of the new era was a common feature in apocalyptic [violent, end-of-the-world] writings and an extremely popular subject of discussion, thought, and expectation."[771]

The Greek text has the definite article "the" before "weeping" and before "gnashing." This stresses the horror of the scene.[772] The terms in later Rabbinic usage picture sorrow and anger respectively (cf. 13:42, 50; 22:13; 24:51; 25:30; Luke 13:28).[773]

"These two passages [13:42 and 50], together with 22:13; 24:51; 25:30; Luke 13:28, make the words a standard description of the place of torment."[774]

Another view of the "outer darkness," "weeping," and "gnashing of teeth" is that these terms refer to exclusion from the messianic banquet and regret at the Judgment Seat of Christ, not eternal punishment.[775] Still another view is that these terms describe an extremely terrible place, not but not a place of ceaseless physical torment.[776]

With His statement (vv. 11-12) Jesus shocked His hearers by announcing three facts about the messianic kingdom: First, not all Jews would participate in it. Second, many Gentiles would. Third, entrance depended on faith in Jesus—the faith that the centurion demonstrated—not on ancestry.

"… the locus of the people of God would not always be the Jewish race. If these verses do not quite authorize the Gentile mission, they open the door to it and prepare for the Great Commission (28:18-20) and Ephesians 3."[777]

8:13           A similar statement by Jesus helps us understand what He meant when He said here that He would do for the centurion "as" (Gr. hos) he had believed (cf. 15:28). Jesus did not grant his request because the centurion had "great faith" (v. 10), or in proportion to his amount of faith. He did so in harmony with what the centurion expected. Jesus did for him what he expected Jesus would do for him.

This healing marked Jesus as the Messiah who was under God's authority. "… the word of the king is authoritative …" (Eccles. 8:4).

"It is … interesting to observe that the Gentile follows the Jew in the sequence of healing events. This is in accord with Matthew's plan of presenting Jesus first as Son of David and then as Son of Abraham."[778]

The healing of Peter's mother-in-law 8:14-15 (cf. Mark 1:29-31; Luke 4:38-39)

Peter and his family were evidently living in Capernaum when Jesus performed this miracle (4:13).

"Claims that the house of Peter has been found at Capernaum, based on the find in it of a fish-hook, must be regarded with some skepticism."[779]

8:14           People considered "fever" a disease in Jesus' day, rather than a symptom of a disease (cf. John 4:52; Acts 28:8).

"The Talmud gives this disease precisely the same name (Eshatha Tsemirta), 'burning fever,' and prescribes for it a magical remedy, of which the principal part is to tie a knife wholly of iron by a braid of hair to a thornbush, and to repeat on successive days Exod. iii. 2, 3, then ver. 4, and finally ver. 5, after which the bush is to be cut down, while a certain magical formula is pronounced. (Tractate Shabbath 37 a)"[780]

8:15           Jesus healed Peter's mother-in-law with a touch. His touch did not defile the healer, but it healed the defiled (cf. v. 3). Matthew consistently stressed Jesus' authority in this brief pericope (vv. 1-17). He probably mentioned the fact that, when Jesus healed the woman she immediately began to serve Him, in order to illustrate the instantaneous effectiveness of Jesus' power (cf. v. 26). Usually a fever leaves the body weak, but Jesus overcame the weakness as well as the fever and whatever caused the fever.[781]

"Peter's wife's mother used the gift of her health restored to serve Jesus and to serve others. That is the way in which we should use every gift of God."[782]

This miracle shows Jesus' power to heal people fully, instantaneously, and completely. It also showcases His compassion, since the object of His grace was a woman. The Pharisees considered lepers, Gentiles, and women as outcasts, but Jesus showed mercy to them all. By healing a leper who was a social outcast, a Gentile, and finally a woman, Jesus was extending His grace to people the Jews either excluded or ignored as unimportant. Jewish narrowness did not bind Jesus any more than disease and uncleanness contaminated Him.[783]

"He began with the unfit persons for whom there was no provision in the economy of the nation."[784]

The healing of many Galileans 8:16-17 (cf. Mark 1:32-34; Luke 4:40-41)

8:16           That evening many other people brought their afflicted friends and relatives to Jesus for healing.

"Officially the Sabbath ended when two stars could be seen in the sky, for there were no clocks to tell the time in those days. That is why the crowd in Capernaum waited until the evening time to come to Jesus for the healing which they knew that He could give."[785]

In the Jewish inter-testamental literature, the writers spoke of demons as responsible for making people ill.[786] Jesus cast out many demonic spirits, and healed all who were ill. He had power over every affliction ("all who were ill").

8:17           Matthew noted that Jesus' healings fulfilled messianic prophecy (Isa. 53:4). Matthew's citation from Isaiah actually summarized all the healings in this chapter so far. He interpreted Isaiah freely as predicting the vicarious sufferings of Messiah. This was in accord with Isaiah's prophecy concerning Messiah that appears in Isaiah 53. The Old Testament taught that all sickness is the direct or indirect result of sin (cf. 9:5). Messiah would remove infirmities and diseases by dying as a substitute sacrifice for sin. He would deal with the fruit manifestation by dealing with the root problem. Jesus' healing ministry laid the foundation for His destroying (triumphing over, conquering) sickness by His death. Therefore it was appropriate for Matthew to quote Isaiah 53:4 here. Jesus' healing ministry also previewed earthly millennial kingdom conditions (cf. Isa. 33:24; 57:19).

"Thus the healings during Jesus' ministry can be understood not only as the foretaste of the kingdom [in which there will be little sickness] but also as the fruit of Jesus' death."[787]

"Human suffering originates from a combination of the natural consequence of living in a fallen world, the effects of demonic attacks, the work of a sovereign God accomplishing the purposes of his wisdom and desires, and the invitation of Jesus for his followers to identify with him in suffering for his cause."[788]

For Matthew, Jesus' healing ministry pointed to the Cross. The healings were signs that signified more than the average observer might have understood. Matthew recorded that Jesus healed all types of people. Likewise when He died, Jesus gave His life as a ransom for many (20:28). Jesus' ministry of destroying sin, in death, was an extension of the authority that He demonstrated in His ministry of destroying sickness during His life. Many scholars believe that the Jews of Jesus' day did not understand Isaiah 53 as messianic prophecy. Joachim Jeremias is one exception. Whether they did or not, they should have.

"… it is to cast Jesus' activity of healing in the mold of 'serving' that Matthew informs the reader in a formula-quotation that Jesus, through healing, fulfills the words of the Servant Song of Isaiah: 'He took our infirmities and bore our diseases' (8:16-17; Isa. 53:4). In healing, Jesus Son of God assumes the role of the servant of God and ministers to Israel by restoring persons to health or freeing them from their afflictions (11:5). Through serving in this fashion, Jesus 'saves' (9:22)."[789]

Some Christians believe that Isaiah 53:4 and Matthew 8:16 and 17 teach that Jesus' death made it possible for people today to experience physical healing immediately by placing faith in Jesus. Most students of these and similar passages have concluded that the healing which Jesus' death provides believers today will come when they receive their resurrection bodies, not necessarily before then.[790] This conclusion finds support in the revelation about the purpose of periods of healing that the Bible records. Many Christians today fall into the same trap the Corinthian believers fell into when they demanded future blessings now (cf. 1 Cor. 4:6-13).[791]

This summary pericope (vv. 16-17) stresses Jesus' power over every human affliction.

Jesus' therapeutic miracles, involving physical healings, presented Jesus to the crowds as the compassionate Servant of the Lord—and illustrated His Messiahship (18:17; 9:22). His non-therapeutic miracles, involving nature, presented Jesus to the disciples as having all authority—and illustrated His deity. Belief in Jesus' Messiahship was normally preliminary to belief in His deity. His disciples needed to learn this so that they would rely on His authority for their ministries in the future.

"Some see great significance in Matthew's deliberate rearrangement of these miracles. Since Matthew did not follow the chronological order, it seems he intended to illustrate the plan of his Gospel. Accordingly, the first miracle shows Christ ministering to the Jews. His mighty works bore testimony to His person, but His testimony was rejected. Consequently, He turns to the Gentiles, who manifest great faith in Him. Later, He returns to the Jews, represented by the mother-in-law of the apostle to the Jews. He heals her and all who come to Him. This third picture is that of the millennium, when the King restores Israel and blesses all the nations."[792]

2.     Jesus' authority over His disciples 8:18-22 (cf. Luke 9:57-62)

Matthew evidently inserted these teachings about Jesus' authority because they show the nature of Jesus' ministry and the kind of disciples He requires. The King has authority over people, not just sickness. He can direct others as His servants, and they need to respond to Him as their King.

Jesus' demands regarding possessions 8:18-20

8:18           This verse gives the occasion for the scribe's statement in verse 19 (cf. Mark 4:35).

"… our Lord discounted the value of His miracles. That is to say, He never appealed to men by miracle, save as a secondary method. … Jesus did not work miracles in order to convince men; and when men, impressed by works of wonder wrought in the material realm, wanted to see what other thing He could do, He took ship and left them, with a larger intention in His mind [i.e., "teaching in their synagogues, and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom" (4:23)]."[793]

The "other side" of the lake (from Capernaum) would have been the eastern side.

8:19           There was only so much room in the boat, and a scribe wanted to get in with the other disciples. At this time in Jesus' ministry there were many more than just 12 disciples, though the Twelve were an inner circle. As mentioned above, the word "disciple" does not necessarily identify fully committed followers or even believers (cf. 5:1; 8:21). This scribe, a teacher of the law, looked to Jesus as his teacher. He wanted to learn from Him. He said that he was willing to follow Him anywhere to do so.

"… the designations 'rabbi' and 'teacher' attribute to the person so addressed human respect but nothing more. Hence, in addressing Jesus as 'teacher,' the religious leaders accord Jesus the honor they would accord any teacher, but this is the extent of it. To their mind Jesus' station is not that of the Messiah Son of God, his authority is not divine, and they in no sense follow him or have faith in him."[794]

Some scholars believe that Matthew consistently belittled the scribes in his Gospel.[795] I do not believe that he did this (cf. 13:52; 23:34), but Matthew's references to the scribes are usually negative. Matthew seems to present everyone who came to Jesus as doing so without prejudice. The issue to Matthew was how various people responded to Jesus.

8:20           Jesus' reply did not encourage or discourage the scribe. It simply helped him count the cost of following Him as a disciple. Jesus was very busy traveling from one place to another as an itinerant preacher and teacher. His healing ministry complicated His life because it attracted crowds that placed additional demands on Him. He had no regular home, as most people did, but traveled all over the region. The scribe needed to understand this if he wanted to keep up with Jesus. We should not interpret Jesus' statement "the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head" to mean that He was penniless and could not afford shelter at night (cf. Luke 8:1-3). His ministry simply kept Him on the move.

"When the object of faith left the earth [when Jesus ascended into heaven], and His presence became spiritual, all occasion for such nomadic discipleship was done away."[796]

Jesus called Himself "the Son of Man." This expression occurs 81 times in the Gospels, 69 times in the Synoptics, and 30 times in Matthew.[797] In every instance except two, it was a term that Jesus used of Himself. In those two instances, it is a term used by others who were quoting Jesus (Luke 24:7; John 12:34). Though it occurs in several Old Testament passages, as well as in apocryphal Jewish literature, its use in Daniel 7:13 and 14 is messianic.[798] There, "one like a son of man" approaches "the Ancient of Days" and receives "dominion, honor, and a kingdom … which will not be destroyed." He receives "an everlasting dominion which will not pass away," in which "all the peoples, nations, and populations of all languages might serve Him." By using this title, "Son of Man," Jesus was claiming to be the divine Messiah.

"It is His name as the representative Man, in the sense of 1 Cor. 15:45-47, as Son of David is distinctively His Jewish name, and Son of God His divine name. Our Lord constantly uses this term as implying that His mission (e.g. Mt. 11:19; Lk. 19:10), His death and resurrection (e.g. Mt. 12:40; 20:18; 26:2), and His second coming (e.g. Mt. 24:37-44; Lk. 12:40) transcend in scope and result all merely Jewish limitations."[799]

However most of Jesus' hearers probably did not associate this title with a messianic claim when they first heard it. Many of them were probably not well enough acquainted with Daniel 7:13 and 14 to understand its meaning, or they just did not draw an obvious conclusion. Many who may have understand its significance probably held a concept of Messiah that their rabbis had distorted. Furthermore, other Old Testament references to the "son of man" were not messianic. For example, David used the term to refer to man generically (Ps. 8:4). Asaph used it to describe Israel (Ps. 80:17). In the Book of Ezekiel, it is a favorite term that God used when He addressed Ezekiel personally, in order to stress the prophet's frail humanity.

God used this term many times in the Old Testament to stress the difference between frail mortal human beings and God Himself.[800] Jesus' use of the title combined both the messianic and mortal aspects. He was both the Messiah King and the Suffering Servant of the LORD (Yahweh). Some who heard Him use this title probably did not know what it meant. Others understood Jesus' claim to messiahship, and others thought He was simply referring to Himself in a humble way.

"… 'the Son of man' is not of the nature of a Christological title the purpose of which is to inform the reader of 'who Jesus is.' Instead, it is a self-designation that is also a technical term, and it describes Jesus as 'the man,' or 'the human being' ('this man,' or 'this human being') (earthly, suffering, vindicated). It is 'in public' or with a view to the 'public,' or 'world' (Jews and Gentiles but especially opponents), that Jesus refers to himself as 'the Son of man' ('this man'). Through his use of this self-reference, Jesus calls attention, for one thing, to the divine authority that he ('this man') exercises now and will also exercise in the future and, for another thing, to the opposition that he ('this man') must face. And should the question be raised as to who 'this man' Jesus is, the answer is, as Peter correctly confesses, that he is the Son of God (16:13, 16)."[801]

"It seems that the reason why Jesus found this title convenient is that, having no ready-made titular [as a title] connotations in current usage, it could be applied across the whole range of his uniquely paradoxical mission of humiliation and vindication, of death and glory, which could not be fitted into any preexisting model. Like his parables, the title 'the Son of Man' came with an air of enigma, challenging the hearer to think new thoughts rather than to slot Jesus into a ready-made pigeonhole."[802]

In this verse "the Son of Man" occurs in a context that stresses Jesus' humanity. The scribe would have understood Jesus to mean that if he followed Jesus, he could anticipate a humble, even uncomfortable, existence. He should also have understood, since he was a teacher of the Old Testament, that Jesus was claiming to be Israel's Messiah.

Anyone who wants to follow Jesus closely as a disciple must be willing to give up many of the normal comforts of life. Following Him involves embarking on a God-given mission in life. Going where He directs, and doing what He commands, must take precedence over enjoying the normal comforts of life whenever these conflict. Discipleship is difficult.

Jesus' demands regarding parents 8:21-22

The first potential disciple was too quick and presumptuous when he promised wholehearted allegiance. This second potential disciple was too hesitant in committing to wholehearted allegiance.

8:21           Evidently this disciple made his request as Jesus prepared to depart for the next place of ministry (v. 18). He apparently meant that he wanted some time off from following Jesus in order to attend to family matters. Some students of this passage have concluded that the disciple's father had not yet died, and that he was asking for an indefinite leave of absence from Jesus' company.[803] In other words, he was saying that he could not follow Jesus because he was responsible to take care of his father for the rest of his father's life.[804] Others believe that the man's father had just died recently, and the potential disciple had to make the funeral arrangements.[805] In either case, the man was offering an excuse for not following Jesus as His disciple based on his legitimate family responsibilities.

8:22           Jesus' reply urged the disciple to keep following Him, and not to suspend his commitment to Jesus. He should put his commitment to Jesus even before his commitment to honor his parents (Exod. 20:12). When following Jesus and other commitments conflict, the disciple must always follow Jesus even though his or her other commitments are legitimate and even honorable. Jesus was testing this man's priorities. Which was more important to him: following Jesus and participating in whatever Jesus' will for him might involve, or abandoning Jesus—even temporarily—for some less important purpose? His was not a choice between something good and something evil, but between something good and something better (cf. 10:37).

Jesus continued by encouraging the disciple to "let the dead bury their own dead." Apparently He meant: let the spiritually dead (i.e., those who have no interest in following Jesus) bury the physically dead. There are many worthy activities in life that a true disciple of Jesus must forgo because he or she has a higher calling and higher demands on him or her. Forgoing these activities may bring criticism on the disciple from the spiritually insensitive, but that is part of the price of discipleship (cf. 7:13-27). Jesus called for commitment to Himself without reservation. The person and mission of the King deserve nothing less.

"It is better to preach the Gospel and give life to the spiritually dead than to wait for your father to die and bury him."[806]

"A disciple's business is with life, not with death."[807]

Christians must be willing to forsake all things and all people to follow Jesus faithfully. Jesus did not mean that we must give away all our possessions and break contact with our families. He meant that when we have to choose between following Him, and retaining our possessions or putting our families first, our allegiance to Him and His will must be primary. When these conflict, we must put Him first.

3.     Jesus' supernatural power 8:23—9:8

Matthew's first group of miracles (vv. 1-17) demonstrated that Jesus possessed the messianic power (authority) to heal physical ailments. His second group of miracles (8:23—9:8) shows even greater powers over the fallen creation, namely, over nature, demons, and sin. All the beneficiaries of these miracles needed peace, and Jesus met their need.

"The miracles Jesus performs in Matthew's story divide themselves rather neatly into two groups: (a) therapeutic miracles (miracles of healing), in which the sick are returned to health or the possessed are freed of demons (cf. esp. chaps. 8—9); and (b) nontherapeutic miracles, which have to do with exercising power over the forces of nature. …

"The nontherapeutic miracles are less uniform in structure and differ in thematic [purpose from the therapeutic miracles]. Here the focus is on Jesus and the disciples, and the characteristic feature is that Jesus reveals, in the midst of situations in which the disciples exhibit 'little faith,' his awesome authority. … The reason Jesus gives the disciples these startling revelations is to bring them to realize that such authority as he exercises he makes available to them through the avenue of faith. In the later situation of their worldwide mission, failure on the part of the disciples to avail themselves of the authority Jesus would impart to them will be to run the risk of failing at their tasks (28:18-20; chaps. 24—25)."[808]

Jesus' stilling of a storm 8:23-27 (cf. Mark 4:36-41; Luke 8:22-25)

Even though Jesus sometimes enjoyed less shelter than the animals and birds (v. 20), He was not subject to nature. It was subject to Him.

8:23           It is difficult to know how much Matthew may have intended to convey with his comment that the disciples followed Jesus "into the boat." Perhaps he just described their physical movements. Perhaps he meant that it symbolizes the disciples' proper response to Jesus, in view of verses 18-22.

8:24           The Sea of Galilee was, and still is, infamous for its sudden and violent storms (Gr. seismos). They occur because of geographical conditions. The water is 600 feet below sea level, and the land to the east is considerably higher. As warm air rises from the lake it creates a vacuum that the air on the west side rushes in to fill. This brings strong winds on the lake with little warning.

On the occasion Matthew described, the waves were so high that they kept spilling over into the boat. Evidently Jesus was asleep from weariness and because He realized that the time for His death had not yet arrived. He apparently lay in a part of the boat where the disciples had given Him some privacy.

"He slept at this time, to try the faith of his disciples, whether they could trust him when he seemed to slight them."[809]

The word Matthew used to describe the "boat" (ploion) could fit a boat of many different sizes. However, it is probable that this was a fishing boat that carried at least a dozen or more people, plus fish, across the lake. Matthew probably would have used a different Greek word if it was a larger boat.

"If the first-century-A.D. boat recovered from the mud of the northwest shore of the lake of Galilee in 1986 (now preserved in the Yigal Allon Center at Ginosar) is typical of the normal working boats of the period, its dimensions (8.20 meters long by 2.35 wide [about 26 and a half feet by 7 and a half feet]) would suggest that the boat might be overcrowded with more than thirteen people."[810]

In spite of the storm, Jesus continued to sleep.

8:25           Finally, the disciples realized their inability to cope with their situation and called on Jesus to save them from drowning. They obviously thought He could do something to help—at least bail, or at most perform a miracle. They had seen Him perform many miracles. However, their reaction to His help reveals that they did not really appreciate who He was or the extent of His authority.

8:26           Jesus did not rebuke His disciples for disturbing Him but for failing to trust Him as they should have. He said they had "little faith" (Gr. oligopistos). Wherever Matthew used this word in his Gospel, it always reflects a failure to see below the surface of things.[811] Faith in Messiah and fear are mutually exclusive. Therefore the disciples should not have been afraid. Even though the disciples believed that Jesus could help them, they did not grasp that He was the Messiah who would die a sacrificial death for their sins. How could the divine Messiah whom God had sent die in a storm before He had finished His messianic work? It was impossible.

"The life of discipleship is susceptible to bouts of little faith. Such little faith is not to be condoned. Nevertheless, Jesus does not abandon his disciples at such times but stands ever ready with his saving power to sustain them so they can in fact discharge the mission he has entrusted to them."[812]

The sea became "perfectly calm."

"His disciples who were seasoned fishermen had been through storms on this sea that had suddenly ceased. But after the wind would pass, the waves would continue to chop for a while."[813]

Compare the story of Jonah, who also had to be awakened during a storm at sea. However, rather than praying for God's help, as the sailors called on Jonah to do, Jesus used His own authority to still the sea. A person greater than Jonah was here (12:41).

8:27           The disciples expected help, but they were unprepared for the kind of deliverance that Jesus provided. It was a much greater salvation than they hoped for.

Jesus' ability to calm the wind and water with a word made it clear that He had greater powers than these disciples had witnessed previously. This is the first nature miracle that Matthew recorded Jesus doing. "What kind of a man is this?" they asked. Who was He? The reader of Matthew's Gospel knows better than the disciples did. He is the virgin-born Messiah, God with us, come to provide salvation and to rule as King. While the disciples were men, Jesus was a different type of man, the God-man.[814] Psalms 65:5 and 6; 89:8 and 9; 104:7; and 107:23 through 30 attribute the stilling of seas to God (cf. Jon. 1—2). And Psalm 89:25 predicted that the ideal king would be able to do this.

The Israelites viewed the sea as an enemy that human beings could not control. Throughout the Old Testament it epitomizes what is wild, hostile, and foreboding. It stood for their enemies in some of their literature. Jesus' miracle also taught this secondary lesson. Here was a man exercising dominion over the sea, which dominion God had appointed to man (Adam) before the Fall (Gen. 1:28). Jesus must be the Second Adam (cf. Rom. 5:12-17).

"The incident is related, not primarily for the sake of recording a miracle, but as an instance of the subduing of the power of evil, which was one of the signs of the nearness of the Kingdom; see xii. 28."[815]

"The symbolic application of this occurrence is too striking to have escaped general notice. The Saviour with the company of His disciples in the ship tossed on the waves, seemed a typical reproduction of the Ark bearing mankind on the flood, and a foreshadowing of the Church tossed by the tempests of this world, but having Him with Her always."[816]

In this incident Matthew again presented Jesus as both man and God. As man, He slept in the boat. As God, He calmed the sea (cf. 4:1-4; 12:22-32). As man, He suffered; but as God, He ruled. This pericope indicates Jesus' power to fulfill the prophecies of Isaiah 30:23-24; 35:1-7; 41:17-18; 51:3; 55:13; Joel 3:18; Ezekiel 36:29-38; and Zechariah 10:1. The King has all power over nature as well as over people.

Jesus' deliverance of a demoniac in Gadara 8:28-34 (cf. Mark 5:1-20; Luke 8:26-39)

The central theme of this incident is Jesus' authority over evil spirits. Though Matthew previously mentioned Jesus' reputation as an exorcist (4:24; 8:16), this is the first of five exorcisms that he narrated (cf. 9:32-33; 12:22; 15:21-28; 17:14-20).[817]

8:28           Gadara was the regional capital of the Decapolis area that lay southeast of the Sea of Galilee. Its population was strongly Gentile. This may account for the presence of many pigs there (v. 30). The Gadara region stretched west to the Sea of Galilee. This was "the country of the Gadarenes." Other, less probable locations are the village of Kheras, near the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee, and Gerasa, about 30 miles southeast of the Sea.[818]

Mark and Luke mentioned only one man who was "demon-possessed," but Matthew said there were two (Mark 5:2; Luke 8:27). Mark and Luke evidently mentioned the more prominent one. Perhaps Matthew mentioned both of them because the testimony of two witnesses was valid in Jewish courts, and he wrote for Jews originally.

The Jews believed that demonic spirits could and did take over the bodies and personalities of certain individuals. Matthew reflected this view of the spirit world.[819] A literal reading of Scripture leads to the same conclusion.[820] Demons are fallen angels who are Satan's agents.[821]

These demoniacs lived lives of terror among tombs, away from other people, in a place (a graveyard) that rendered them ritually unclean in Judaism—which meant that they could not participate in the corporate worship of the Israelites. They were so violent that other people stayed away from them.

8:29           The demons within these men hated and feared Jesus. They recognized Him as Messiah, calling Him by the messianic title "Son of God" (cf. 3:17; 16:16; Luke 4:41). The disciples in the boat did not appreciate who He was, but the demons taught them. The demoniacs may have known Jesus from some previous contact (cf. Acts 19:15), but probably the demons had asked the first question through the demoniacs (cf. v. 31).

Their second question revealed their knowledge that Jesus would judge them one day. This was a messianic function. Evidently Jesus will cast them into the lake of fire when He sends Satan there (Rev. 20:10).[822] When Jesus cast out demons, He was exercising this end times prerogative early. These demons asked if He planned to judge ("torment") them right then and there. He had cast out other demons recently (4:24; 8:16). "Here" probably refers to the earth, where demons have a measure of freedom to operate, rather than to that particular locale.

"… they who struck terror into the hearts of others were now the victims of fear themselves; as James had occasion to remark, 'the devils also believe, and tremble' (Jas. ii. 19)."[823]

8:30           The presence of many pigs may have been due to Jewish disobedience to the Mosaic Law, since for Jews pigs where unclean.[824] However, this is unlikely, since the Jewish leaders were very particular about such flagrant violations of the Law. Probably the pigs belonged to Gentiles, who lived in large numbers in the Decapolis where this story takes place.

8:31           The demons may have requested asylum in the swine because they hated the creatures and/or because they wanted to stir up trouble for Jesus.

"If they might not be suffered to hurt men in their bodies, they would hurt them in their goods, and in that too they intend hurt to their souls, by making Christ a burthen [i.e., burden] to them."[825]

Perhaps they wanted to grasp at one last chance to avoid confinement in the abyss (Luke 8:31; Rev. 20:1-3).[826] Demons do not like to be homeless (12:43-45).

"We can construct a 'statement of faith' from the words of the demons. (Demons do have faith; see James 2:19.) They believed in the existence of God and the deity of Christ, as well as the reality of future judgment. They also believed in prayer. They knew Christ had the power to send them into the swine."[827]

8:32           Why did Jesus allow the demons to enter the swine, destroy the herd, and cause the owners considerable loss? Some commentators solve this puzzle by saying that the owners were disobedient Jews whom Jesus judged. That is possible, but the answers to these questions were outside Matthew's field of interest. They are probably part of the larger scheme of things involving why God allows evil. As God, Jesus owned everything and could do with His own as He pleased. These details do, however, clarify the reality of the exorcism and the destructive effect of the demons.

"… if God has appointed so many animals daily to be slaughtered for the sustenance of men's bodies, He may also be pleased to destroy animal life when He sees fit for the liberation or instruction of their souls."[828]

"… Jesus was ready to sacrifice the less important of God's creatures in the interests of the highest. He came to save men and women, and only men and women …"[829]

The pigs' stampede testified to Jesus' deliverance of the demoniacs. We can observe from the reaction of the citizens that "they preferred pigs to persons, swine to the Savior."[830] They valued the material above the spiritual.

"But the swine, by stampeding into the waters, thwarted whatever purpose the demons may have entertained."[831]

What happened to the demons? Matthew did not tell us. Probably he wanted to impress us with Jesus' power over them and not detract us by making them the central feature of the incident. Perhaps they went into the Abyss (cf. Luke 8:31).

8:33           For the first time Matthew mentioned that other people were observing what was going on. The herdsmen of the pigs saw it all and proceeded to hurry into "the city" and reported everything that had happened, including the fate of their pigs and the exorcising of the demons from the demoniacs.

8:34           Their report drew "the whole city" out in order to meet Jesus. On an earlier occasion the testimony of a Samaritan woman drew the people of a Samaritan city (Sychar) out to meet Jesus (John 4:5, 28-30). The result was that "many of the Samaritans believed in Him" (John 4:39), they asked Him "to stay with them; and He stayed there two days" (John 4:40), and "many more believed because of His word" (John 4:41). But the response to Jesus in this "country of the Gadarenes" (v. 28) was negative: "they pleaded with Him to leave their region."

"All down the ages the world has been refusing Jesus because it prefers the pigs!"[832]

This is the first instance in Matthew of open opposition to the Messiah. Matthew will show it building from here to the Cross. Charles Ryrie listed 12 more instances of Jesus being repudiated that Matthew recorded (cf. 9:3, 11; 11:2-19, 20-30; 12:1-50; 13:53-58; 14:1-14; 15:1-20; 19:16-26; 21:23—22:14; 22:15-46; 26:1—27:50).[833]

"This dramatic incident is most revealing. It shows what Satan does for a man: robs him of sanity and self-control; fills him with fears; robs him of the joys of home and friends; and (if possible) condemns him to an eternity of judgment. It also reveals what society does for a man in need: restrains him, isolates him, threatens him, but society is unable to change him. See, then, what Jesus Christ can do for a man whose whole life—within and without—is bondage and battle. What Jesus did for these two demoniacs, He will do for anyone else who needs Him."[834]

This incident shows Jesus fulfilling such kingdom prophecies as Daniel 7:25 through 27; 8:23 through 25; 11:36 through12:3; and Zechariah 3:1 and 2. As Messiah, He is the Judge of the spirit world as well as humankind, and the supernatural world as well as the natural world. He has all power over demons as well as nature (vv. 23-27). This is a story about power, not about mission.

Jesus' healing and forgiveness of a paralytic 9:1-8 (cf. Mark 2:1-12; Luke 5:17-26)

The incident that follows occurred before the one in 8:28 through 34. Matthew placed it in his Gospel here for thematic reasons. It is another evidence of Jesus' supernatural power, but in a different realm.

9:1             Jesus arrived back in Capernaum, "His own city," having traveled there by boat.[835] This is another transitional verse that sets the stage for what follows.

9:2             Jesus saw the faith of the men who were carrying their paralyzed friend.

"The reason the reader is provided with inside views of characters is to shape his or her attitude toward them."[836]

The evidence of their faith was that they brought their friend to Jesus for healing. However, Jesus spoke only to the paralytic. The term "son" (Gr. teknon) is an affectionate one that older people often used when speaking to the younger. Perhaps this paralytic was some years younger than Jesus.

What Jesus said implied a close connection between this man's sin and his sickness (cf. 8:17; Ps. 103:3; Isa. 33:24; James 5:14-15), and He implied that sin was the worse condition. Forgiveness of sins is basic to healing, because sickness is ultimately the result of sin. Jesus told the paralyzed man that his sins were "forgiven"—right at that moment—not previously. He used the present tense ("are") that here has punctiliar force.[837] Punctiliar action is action that is regarded as happening at a particular point in time.

"Probably to all intelligent men who watched Him that day there was a clear consciousness of the connection between the man's physical disability and his sin; and that instead of touching the surface, Jesus went right to the root of the matter, when He pronounced forgiveness."[838]

Perhaps the people present associated the man's paralysis with some sin that often caused paralysis, like people today often connect AIDS, rightly or wrongly, with a sinful lifestyle. Another interpretation follows:

"It is not necessary to conclude that this man's ailment was the direct product of his sinful life. … As regards the paralytic, it is sufficient to assume that his paralysis brought all his sinfulness to mind just as every sickness and misfortune tells us that we are, indeed, nothing but sinners. To assume more in this case would require a plain intimation in the text."[839]

9:3             Some of the teachers of the law ("the scribes") who were standing by took offense at what Jesus said. He was claiming to forgive sins, but God alone can forgive sins, since every sin is against God (Ps. 51:4; Isa. 43:25; 44:22). They called Jesus' words blasphemy because they viewed them as a slanderous affront to God. This is the first instance of the charge of blasphemy in Matthew, but it will become a prominent theme in later chapters.

9:4             Jesus probably knew what the scribes were thinking simply because He knew them, though some interpret this statement as expressing unique divine insight. Jesus did not need supernatural power to perceive the typical attitude of the scribes. What they were thinking was "evil" because it involved a denial of His messiahship, the very thing that His words were claiming.

9:5             Jesus' question was rhetorical; He did not expect a verbal response. His critics believed that it was easier to say, "Get up and walk," because only God can forgive sins. Jesus had claimed to do the more difficult thing from their viewpoint, namely, to forgive sins.

9:6             Jesus responded ironically. He would do the easier thing. From the scribes' perspective, since Jesus had blasphemed God, He could not heal the paralytic, since God does not respond to sinners (John 9:31). By healing the paralytic, Jesus showed that He had not blasphemed God. He could indeed forgive sins.

Jesus again used the title "Son of Man" of Himself. His critics should have sensed the messianic claim that Jesus' use of this title implied, since they knew the Old Testament well. The Judge had come to earth with authority to forgive sins (cf. 1:21, 23).[840]

Finally, Jesus not only healed the paralytic, but also assured him that God had forgiven his sins. He also refuted the scribes' charge of blasphemy.

9:7             The paralytic proceeded to get up and go home. He not only experienced healing, but he also obeyed his Healer. He provided a good example for everyone present, and for us readers, of the proper response to directions from the Son of Man.

9:8             The response of the observing crowds was also appropriate in view of Jesus' action. People should respect and admire the One who can forgive sins. Here was a manifestation of God before their very eyes. They glorified God because they saw a man exercising divine authority. Their response does not necessarily mean, however, that they believed that Jesus was their divine Messiah. They glorified God, not Jesus.

Readers of Matthew's Gospel should perceive that this was the promised King come to rule "on earth" (cf. v. 6). The King had come to save His people from their sins. The kingdom of David's Son was at hand.

"This is one of the most significant signs Jesus performs relative to the kingdom program. It shows that He is capable of forgiving sins on earth."[841]

This miracle proves that Jesus could forgive sins and so produce the conditions prophesied in Isaiah 33:24; 40:1 and 2; 44:21 and 22; and 60:20 and 21. He has power over the spiritual world, as well as the supernatural world and the natural world. The three miracles in this section (8:23—9:8) show that Jesus could establish the kingdom, because He had the power and authority to do so. He demonstrated authority over nature, the angelic world, and sin.

4.     Jesus' authority over His critics 9:9-17

Matthew returned to the subject of Jesus' authority over people (cf. 8:18-22). In 8:18-22, Jesus directed those who came to Him voluntarily as disciples. Here He explained the basis for His conduct to those who criticized Him. This is another section that contains discipleship lessons. In the former section (8:18-22), Jesus dealt with disciples' persons, but in this one He dealt with disciples' work.

The question of company 9:9-13 (cf. Mark 2:13-17; Luke 5:27-32)

The main subject of this pericope is Jesus' response to the Pharisees' criticism that He and His disciples kept company with tax collectors and sinners. Tax-collectors did public duty, the Latin term for such a person being publicanus, from which we get the old English word "publican."[842]

9:9             This incident probably took place in or near Capernaum. The tax collector's office would have been a room close to the border between the territories of Philip and Herod Antipas. There Matthew sat to collect customs and excise taxes.

"The people of this country sit at all kinds of work. The carpenter saws, planes, and hews with his hand-adze sitting on the ground or upon the plank he is planing. The washer-woman sits by the tub; and, in a word, no one stands where it is possible to sit. Shopkeepers always sit; and Levi sitting at the receipt of custom is the exact way to state the case."[843]

Capernaum stood on a caravan route between Egypt and the East. Matthew thus occupied a lucrative post.

"It was the very busiest road in Palestine, on which the publican Levi Matthew sat at the receipt of 'custom,' when our Lord called him to the fellowship of the Gospel …"[844]

As mentioned before, the Jews despised tax collectors because they were notoriously corrupt, and they worked for the occupying Romans—extracting money from their own countrymen (cf. 5:46).[845]

Jesus proceeded to do the unthinkable: He called a social outcast to become one of His disciples. Matthew was a bad sinner and an associate of bad sinners in the eyes of the Jews.

"The pericope on the call of Matthew (9:9) illustrates yet another aspect of discipleship, to wit: the broad spectrum of those whom Jesus summons to follow him. … Matthew … is a toll-collector. As such, he is looked upon by the Jewish society of Matthew's story as no better than a robber and one whose testimony would not be honored in a Jewish court of law. … Not only the upright are called by Jesus, but also the despised."[846]

"The eye of Jesus was single as well as omniscient [all-knowing]: He looked on the heart, and had respect solely to spiritual fitness."[847]

"Since Jesus' mission is predicated upon mercy and not merit, no one is despicable enough by the standards of society to be outside his concern and invitation."[848]

As a tax-collector, Matthew would have been able to read and write, to take notes quickly, possibly in shorthand, and to keep detailed, accurate records. So, in calling Matthew to be His disciple, Jesus gained a secretary capable of recording His words and works accurately for later publication (as a Gospel).[849] Perhaps Matthew's significance is the reason that this is the only individual call of one disciple that has been recorded in the Synoptics.

Everyone whom Jesus called to follow Him for discipleship in the Gospels responded positively to that call (including Judas Iscariot). This is an indication of irresistible grace. Jesus' calling was efficacious: it was successful in obtaining the desired and intended result—effective. Likewise, all whom He calls to Himself for salvation will be saved (cf. John 15:16; Rom. 8:30; Eph. 1:4-5).

Jews frequently had two names, and Matthew's other name was "Levi" (Mark 2:14; Luke 5:27). The name "Matthew" may derive from "Mattaniah" (1 Chron. 9:15), meaning "Gift of God," or it may come from the Hebrew emet meaning "faithful." Perhaps because of its meaning, Matthew preferred to use the name "Matthew" in his Gospel rather than "Levi." Matthew's response to Jesus' call to follow Him was immediate.

9:10           Matthew's own account of the feast that he hosted for Jesus, which followed his calling, is brief, and it focuses on the controversy with the Pharisees that occurred on that occasion. Matthew had friends who were also tax collectors (cf. 5:46). "Sinners" is a term that the Pharisees used to describe people who broke their severe rules of conduct (known as Pharisaic Halakoth). Today they might be called "non-religious." Eating with these people put Jesus and His disciples in danger of ceremonial defilement, but the spiritual needs of these people were more important to Jesus than ritual cleanliness.

"In the ancient world generally a shared meal was a clear sign of identification, and for a Jewish religious teacher to share a meal with such people was scandalous, let alone to do so in the 'unclean' house of a tax collector."[850]

9:11           The Pharisees' question, addressed to Jesus' disciples, was really a subtle accusation against Him. A teacher would normally keep all the religious traditions, as well as the Mosaic Law, in order to provide the best example for his disciples. The Pharisees despised Jesus for the company that He kept, which implied that He had a lax view of the Law and their traditions. Note that the Pharisees now become critics of Jesus, like the scribes had become earlier (v. 3). Opposition mounts.

9:12           Jesus Himself responded to the Pharisees' question. He said that He went to the tax collectors and sinners because they were sinners. They had a spiritual illness and needed spiritual healing. Note that Jesus did not go to these people because they received Him warmly, but because they needed Him greatly. In the Old Testament, God taught His people that He was their Physician who could heal their diseases (e.g., Exod. 15:26; Deut. 32:39; 2 Kings 20:5; Ps. 103:3). The prophets also predicted that Messiah would bring healing to the nation (Isa. 19:22; 30:26; Jer. 30:17). This included spiritual as well as physical healing.

9:13           The phrase "go and learn" was a rabbinic one that indicated that the Pharisees needed to study the Law further.[851] Jesus referred them to Hosea 6:6. God had revealed through Hosea that the apostates of his day had lost the heart of temple worship, even though they continued to practice its rituals.[852] Jesus implied that the Pharisees had done the same thing. They were preserving the external practices of worship carefully, but they had failed to maintain its essential heart. Their attitude toward the tax collectors and sinners showed this. God, on the other hand, cares more for the spiritual wholeness of people than He does about flawless worship of Himself.

Jesus did not mean that the tax collectors and sinners needed Him but the Pharisees did not. His quotation put the Pharisees in the same category as the apostates of Hosea's day. They needed Him, too, even though they believed that they were righteous enough (cf. Phil. 3:6).

The last part of this verse defines Jesus' ministry of preparing people for the messianic kingdom. "Compassion," or "mercy" (NIV, Heb. hesed), was what characterized His mission. He came to "call" (Gr. kalesai) or invite people to repentance and salvation. Paul used this Greek word in the sense of efficacious calling, but that is not how Jesus used it. If someone does not see himself or herself as a sinner, that person will have no part in the messianic kingdom, because he or she will not respond to God's "call."

Disciples of Jesus should be need-oriented, as Jesus was. Meeting the needs of needy individuals, regardless of who they may be, was very important to Jesus. Christians should give priority to the needs of people over forms of worship. However, spiritual needs are more important than physical needs.

The question of fasting 9:14-17 (cf. Mark 2:18-22; Luke 5:33-39)

The Pharisees criticized Jesus' conduct in the previous pericope. Now John's disciples criticized the conduct of Jesus' disciples and, by implication, Jesus.

9:14           The people who questioned Jesus here were disciples of John the Baptist who had not left John to follow Jesus. They, as well as the Pharisees, observed the regular fasts that the Mosaic Law did not require. During the Babylonian Exile—and thereafter—the Jews had made several of these fasts customary (cf. Zech. 7). The strict Pharisees even fasted twice a week—on Thursdays and Mondays—during the weeks between Passover and Pentecost, and between the Feast of Tabernacles and the Feast of Dedication. They believed that on a Thursday Moses had gone up into Mount Sinai, and that on a Monday he had come down, after receiving the Law the second time.[853] These fasts memorialized those events.

9:15           Jesus responded with three illustrations (vv. 15-17). John the Baptist had described himself as the best man ("the friend of the groom") and Jesus as the "groom" (John 3:29). Jesus extended John's figure and described His disciples as "the attendants of the groom." They were so joyful that they could not fast because they were with Him.[854]

The Old Testament used the bridegroom figure to describe God (Ps. 45; Isa. 54:5-6; 62:4-5; Hos. 2:16-20). The Jews also used the marriage celebration as a figure of Messiah's coming and the messianic banquet (22:2; 25:1; 2 Cor. 11:2; Eph. 5:23-32; Rev. 19:7, 9; 21:2). When Jesus applied this figure to Himself, He was claiming to be the Messiah, and He was claiming that the messianic banquet was imminent.

"As the Physician, He came to bring spiritual health to sick sinners. As the Bridegroom, He came to give spiritual joy."[855]

"A Jewish wedding was a time of special festivity. The unique feature of it was that the couple who were married did not go away for a honeymoon; they stayed at home for a honeymoon. For a week after the wedding open house was kept; the bride and bridegroom were treated as, and even addressed as, a king and queen. And during that week their closest friends shared all the joy and all the festivities with them; these closest friends were called the children of the bridechamber. On such an occasion there came into the lives of poor and simple people a joy, a rejoicing, a festivity, a plenty that might come only once in a lifetime."[856]

When Jesus returned to heaven following His ascension, His friends did indeed fast (Acts 13:3; 14:23; 27:9). This is the first hint that Jesus would be taken away—the Greek wording suggests a violent and unwanted removal—from His disciples. But that theme will become more dominant later (cf. 16:21).

9:16           The meaning of the second illustration is clear enough.

9:17           The third illustration may need some comment. Old wine containers made out of animal skins eventually became hard and brittle. New wine, that continued to expand as it fermented, would burst the inflexible old wineskins. New (fresh) wineskins were still elastic enough to stretch with the expanding new wine.

The point of these two illustrations (vv. 16-17) was that Jesus could not patch or pour His new ministry into old Judaism. The Greek word translated "old" in these illustrations is palaios and means not only old but worn out by use. Judaism had become inflexible due to its accumulation of centuries of non-biblical traditions. Jesus was going to bring in a kingdom that did not fit the preconceptions of most of His contemporaries. They misunderstood and misapplied the Old Testament, and particularly the messianic and Davidic kingdom prophecies.

Jesus' ministry did not fit into the traditional ideas of Judaism. And it was wrong to expect that His disciples would fit into these molds. Jesus used two different Aramaic words for "new" in verse 17. Neos means "recent in time," and kainos means "a new kind." The messianic kingdom would be new both in time and in kind.

In the second and third illustrations, which advance the revelation of the first, the old cloth and wineskins perish. This signified that Jesus' kingdom would terminate the old form of religion, which had served its purpose.

"The garment was something outward; this wine is poured in, is something inward, the spirit of the system. The former parable respected the outward freedom and simple truthfulness of the New Covenant; this [latter parable] regards its inner spirit, its pervading principle."[857]

John the Baptist belonged to the old order. His disciples, therefore, should have left him and joined the bridegroom: Jesus. Unless they did, they would not participate in the messianic kingdom (cf. Acts 19:1-7).

"In his characteristic style Matthew here hints that another new age will be brought in if the kingdom comes or not. This may be the first intimation of the church age in Matthew's Gospel."[858]

The point of this incident in Matthew's story seems to be this: Disciples of Jesus need to recognize that following Him will involve new methods of serving God. The old Jewish forms passed away with the coming of Jesus, and His disciples now serve under a new covenant with new structures and styles of ministry, compared to the old order. This is a dispensational distinction that even non-dispensationalists recognize.[859]

5.     Jesus' ability to restore 9:18-34

The two groups of miracles that Matthew presented so far demonstrated Jesus' ability to heal (8:1-17), and His authority to perform miracles with supernatural power (8:23—9:8). This last cluster demonstrates His ability to restore. These miracles show that Jesus can restore all things, as the prophets predicted the Son of David would do. Furthermore, He can do this in spite of opposition.

The raising of Jairus' daughter and the healing of a woman with a hemorrhage 9:18-26 (cf. Mark 5:21-43; Luke 8:40-56)

9:18           This incident evidently happened shortly after Jesus and His disciples returned from Gadara on the east side of the Sea of Galilee (cf. Mark 5:21-22; Luke 8:40-41). The name of this Capernaum synagogue ruler was "Jairus" (Mark 5:22). He was a Jew who enjoyed considerable prestige in his community because of his position as synagogue ruler.

"The ruler of the synagogue was a very important person. He was elected from among the elders. He was not a teaching or a preaching official; he had 'the care of the external order in public worship, and the supervision of the concerns of the synagogue in general.' He appointed those who were to read and to pray in the service, and invited those who were to preach. It was his duty to see that nothing unfitting took place within the synagogue; and the care of the synagogue buildings were [sic was] in his oversight. The whole practical administration of the synagogue was in his hands."[860]

It is noteworthy that someone of Jairus' standing believed in Jesus. This ruler humbly knelt before Jesus with a request (cf. 2:2; 8:2). According to Matthew, he announced that his daughter had just died. Mark and Luke record him saying that she was near death. Since she died before Jesus reached her, Matthew evidently condensed the story to present at the outset what was true before Jesus reached Jairus' house.[861]

The ruler had probably seen or heard of Jesus' acts of healing with a touch (e.g., 8:2, 15). However, his faith was not as strong as the centurion's, who believed that Jesus could heal simply with a word (8:5-13).

9:19           Jesus arose from reclining at the table and proceeded to follow the ruler to his house. Here is another instance where the verb akoloutheo, "to follow," does not imply discipleship (cf. 8:23). Context determines its meaning, not the word itself.

9:20           A hemorrhage is an uncontrolled bleeding. The woman who had the hemorrhage had suffered with it somewhere in her body for 12 years. Many commentators assume that it had some connection with her reproductive system, but this is only an assumption. In any case, bleeding rendered a Jewish person ritually unclean (cf. Lev. 15:19-33). She should have kept away from other people and not touched them, since by touching them she made them unclean. However hope of being healed led her to push her way through the crowd so that she might touch Jesus' garment. She apparently believed that since Jesus' touch healed people, if she touched Him she would be healed.

The border of Jesus' cloak ("the hem of His garment," AV) was probably one of the four tassels that the Jews wore on the four corners of their outer garments in order to remind them to obey God's commands (Num. 15:37-41; Deut. 22:12; cf. Matt. 23:5). The woman may have touched this part of Jesus' garment because she believed that it was particularly sacred.[862] Or perhaps she thought that this was the best way that she could touch Jesus without being seen.

9:21           Perhaps Matthew learned what the woman had said to herself because she told him later on. What she said to herself reveals her faith that Jesus could heal her. "I will get well" is literally "I will be saved" (Gr. sothesomoi). But clearly what she wanted was physical deliverance.

9:22           Jesus encouraged the woman and commended her faith (i.e., her trust in Him). When she touched Jesus' garment she expressed her faith. It was her faith that was significant; it, not Jesus' garment or her touch of it, made her well. Faith in Jesus is one of the themes Matthew stressed in his Gospel. It is not the strength of one's faith that saves a person, but the object of one's faith, namely, a strong Savior.

The Greek word translated "made you well," or healed you, is sozo, which the translators often rendered as "save." The context here clarifies that Jesus was talking about the woman's faith resulting in her physical deliverance, not necessarily in her eternal salvation. Salvation is a broad concept in the Old and New Testaments. The context determines what aspect of deliverance is in view in every use of the verb sozo and the noun soteria, "salvation."[863]

"The association of the language of 'salvation' with faith perhaps also allows Matthew's readers, if so inclined, to find in this story a parable of spiritual salvation."[864]

Why did Matthew include this miracle within the account of the healing of Jairus' daughter? I suspect that the answer is the common theme of life. The woman's life was gradually ebbing away. Her hemorrhage symbolized this, since blood represents life (cf. Lev. 17:11). Jesus stopped her dying and restored her life. His instantaneous healing contrasts with her long-term illness. In the case of Jairus' daughter, who was already dead, Jesus restored her, as well, to life. Both incidents show His power over death.

9:23           Perhaps Matthew, of all the Gospel writers who recorded this incident, mentioned the flute players, because he wanted to stress Jesus' complete reversal of this situation. Even the poorest Jews hired flute players to play at funerals.[865] Their funerals were also occasions of almost unrestrained wailing and despair ("noisy disorder"), which this verse reflects.

"The garments would be being rent; the wailing women would be uttering their shrieks in an abandonment of synthetic grief; the flutes would be shrilling their eerie sound. In that house there would be all the pandemonium of eastern grief."[866]

9:24           The assembled crowd ridiculed Jesus by laughing at His statement that Jairus' daughter was "asleep." They thought that He was both wrong and too late in arriving. They apparently thought that He was trying to cover up His mistake, of taking time to heal the woman with the hemorrhage, and would soon make a fool of Himself by exposing His only limited healing power. However, "sleep" is a common euphemism for death (Dan. 12:2; John 11:11; Acts 7:60; 1 Cor. 15:6, 18; 1 Thess. 4:13-15; 2 Pet. 3:4), and it was such in Jesus' day.[867] By using the word asleep to describe this girl, Jesus was using Daniel's word, "sleep," for death in Daniel 12:2. Daniel predicted that God would raise "many of those who sleep in the dust of the ground," and Jesus proceeded to do just that, thereby showing that He was God.

9:25           Jesus touched another unclean person, this time a dead one. His touch, rather than defiling Him, restored life to the girl. Other prophets and apostles also raised the dead (1 Kings 17:17-24; 2 Kings 4:17-37; Acts 9:36-42). However Jesus claimed to be more than a prophet. This miracle showed that He had supernatural power over man's last enemy: Death. The Old Testament prophets predicted that Messiah would restore life (Isa. 65:17-20; Dan. 12:2).

"The raising of the dead to life is a basic symbolism of the gospel (e.g., Rom 4:17; Eph 2:1, 5; Col 2:13). What Jesus did for the dead girl he has done for all in the Church who have experienced new life.  There is too, beyond this life, the Church's confidence that Jesus will literally raise the dead (cf. 1 Thess 4:16; 1 Cor 15:22-23)."[868]

9:26           Matthew recorded that everyone "throughout the land" heard about this incident. Consequently many people faced the choice of believing that Jesus was the divine Messiah or rejecting Him.

"We must learn to trust Christ and His promises no matter how we feel, no matter what others say, and no matter how the circumstances may look."[869]

Jesus' power to bring life where there was death stands out in this double instance of restoration—two witnesses—for the benefit of the original Jewish readers especially.

"It is interesting that Jairus and this woman—two opposite people—met at the feet of Jesus. Jairus was a leading Jewish man; she was an anonymous woman with no prestige or resources. He was a synagogue leader, while her affliction kept her from worship. Jairus came pleading for his daughter; the woman came with a need of her own. The girl had been healthy for 12 years, and then died; the woman had been ill for 12 years and was now made whole. Jairus' need was public—all knew it; but the woman's need was private—only Jesus understood. Both Jairus and the woman trusted Christ, and He met their needs."[870]

The implication of the story of these polar opposite individuals is that Jesus could restore anyone.

The healing of two blind men 9:27-31

Another instance of double restoration shows Jesus' ability to restore sight where there had been blindness.

9:27           This is the first time in Matthew's Gospel that someone called Jesus "Son of David" (cf. 1:1; 12:23; 15:22; 20:30, 31; 21:9, 15). This was a messianic title, and the blind men's use of it undoubtedly expressed their belief that Jesus was the Messiah. The Gospel writers recorded that Jesus healed at least six blind men, and each case was different (John 9; Mark 8:22-26; Matt. 20:29-34, Mark 10:46-52, and Luke 18:35-43; cf. Matt. 11:5; Luke 7:21; Ps. 35:5). Blindness was a common ailment in Jesus' day, but the Gospel evangelists also used physical blindness to illustrate lack of spiritual perception.

"Blindness was a distressingly common disease in Palestine. It came partly from the glare of the eastern sun on unprotected eyes, and partly because people knew nothing of the importance of cleanliness and hygiene. In particular the swarms and clouds of unclean flies carried the infections which led to loss of sight."[871]

"The use of the Davidic title in address to Jesus is less extraordinary than some think: in Palestine, in the time of Jesus, there was an intense messianic expectation."[872]

Ironically, these two physically blind men saw who Jesus was more clearly than most of their sighted contemporaries. Isaiah had prophesied that Messiah would open the eyes of the blind (Isa. 29:18; 35:5-6). Frequently in the Synoptics, the desperately needy individuals cried out to Jesus, calling Him "Son of David."[873] There seems to be a relationship between the depth of a person's felt need and his or her willingness to believe in Jesus.

9:28           Probably Jesus did not heal these men outdoors for at least two reasons: One, He had already done two miracles outdoors, before many witnesses, evidently on the same day, and He may have wanted to keep the crowd under control (cf. v. 30). Two, by bringing the blind men indoors, He heightened their faith, since it involved waiting longer for a cure. Jesus' question furthered this aim: "Do you believe that I am able to do this?" It also clarified that their cries for help came from confidence in Him, rather than just out of desperation ("Yes, Lord"), and it focused their faith on Jesus specifically, and not just on God generally.

9:29           Perhaps Jesus touched the eyes of the blind men in order to help them associate Him with their healing—as well as because He was compassionate. However, it was primarily Jesus' word, not just His touch, that resulted in their healing (cf. Gen. 1). "According to your faith" does not mean in proportion to your faith but because you believed (cf. v. 22). This is the only time in the first Gospel that Matthew presented faith as a condition for healing.

9:30           After their sight was restored Jesus sternly warned the men against telling anyone about the miracle, probably because they had identified Jesus as the Son of David. The verb embrimaomai, translated "sternly warned," occurs only five times in the New Testament (Mark 1:43; 14:5; John 11:33, 38). Jesus wanted to avoid the masses of people that would have dogged His steps and hindered Him from fulfilling His mission (cf. 8:4). He wanted people to hear about Him and face the issue of His messiahship, but too much publicity would be counterproductive to His mission.

9:31           Unfortunately, but understandably, these beneficiaries of Messiah's grace disobeyed Him, and broadcast what He had done for them widely, "throughout that land" (cf. v. 26). They should have simply joined the band of disciples and continued to follow Jesus faithfully.

This incident shows that some people in Galilee, besides the Twelve, were concluding that Jesus was the Messiah.[874] The emphasis in this incident is on Jesus' ability to restore sight where there once was blindness.

The casting out of a spirit that caused dumbness 9:32-34

Not only could Jesus restore life out of death, and sight out of blindness, but He could also enable people to speak who could not previously do so. Each of these physical healings has metaphorical implications, including eternal spiritual life, understanding and insight, and witness.

9:32           The Greek word translated "unable to speak," kophos, is used in other places to describe deaf people, mutes, and people who were both deaf and dumb. The condition of the man in this story was the result of demonic influence, though that was not the cause in all such cases (cf. Mark 7:32-33).

9:33           The crowd's reaction here climaxes their reaction in this entire section of the text. Here was Someone with more power than anyone who had ever appeared before. "Nothing like this has ever been seen in Israel." Messiah was prophesied to heal the dumb (Isa. 35:5-6). The natural conclusion that observers should have reached was that Jesus was the Messiah.

9:34           The reaction of the Pharisees contrasts with that of the crowd in the sharpest possible terms. The Pharisees attributed Jesus' power to Satan, "the ruler of the demons," not God. And they concluded that Jesus came from Satan rather than from God. Instead of being the Messiah, they thought that He must be a satanic counterfeit. Notice that the Pharisees did not deny the authenticity of Jesus' miracles. They could not do that. They accepted them as supernatural acts. But they ascribed them to demonic rather than divine power.

This testimony to Jesus' authority comes at the end of a collection of stories about demonstrations of Jesus' power (8:1—9:34). Matthew probably intended the reader to understand that this was the common reaction to all these miracles.[875] This reaction continued, and it culminated in the Pharisees' accusation in 12:24: "This man cast out demons only by Beelzebul the ruler of the demons."

The Pharisees' testimony contrasts, too, with the opinion of the Gentile centurion (8:5-13), who saw that Jesus operated under God's authority. This is one evidence of a chiastic structure in chapters 8 and 9, which I shall comment on further below.

This incident illustrates Jesus' ability to enable people to speak who could not formerly do so. This was important in people confessing Jesus as the Son of God and the disciples bearing witness to Jesus. It also illustrates Jesus' compassion for needy people.

One of the main themes in this section of the Gospel (8:1—9:34) is the spreading of Jesus' fame. This resulted in an increasing number to people concluding that Jesus was the Messiah. It also resulted in increasing opposition from Jesus' enemies, Israel's religious leaders, and even some of John the Baptist's disciples. However, some religious leaders believed in Jesus, Jairus being one. Opposition to Jesus was mounting among those who suffered economically because of His ministry, as well as those who suffered religiously. Matthew's primary purpose, however, was to present Jesus as the prophesied Messiah who could establish God's prophesied kingdom on earth.

All of this material also prepares the reader for the next event that Matthew recorded: Jesus' self-disclosure to His disciples in His second major discourse (ch. 10).

Chapters 8—9 seem to be a chiasm focusing the reader's attention on Jesus' power to overcome Satan (8:28-34).

A       Jesus' power to heal (8:1-17; three incidents and a summary [8:16-17])

B       Jesus' authority over His disciples' persons (8:18-22; two lessons)

C       Jesus' supernatural power (8:23—9:8; three incidents with victory over Satan in the middle)

B'      Jesus' authority over His disciples' work (9:9-17; two lessons)

A'      Jesus' power to restore (9:18-38; three incidents and a summary [9:35-38])

B.     Declarations of the King's presence 9:35—11:1

The heart of the next section of the Gospel contains Jesus' charge to His disciples to proclaim the nearness of the messianic kingdom (ch. 10): Jesus' Mission Discourse. Matthew prefaced this charge with a demonstration of the King's power, like he prefaced the Sermon on the Mount by authenticating the King's qualifications (cf. 4:23; 9:35). However there are also some significant dissimilarities between these sections of the Gospel: Before the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus separated from the multitudes (5:1), but here He has compassion on them (9:36). Then He ministered to His disciples, but now He sends His disciples to minister to the multitudes throughout Israel. The Sermon on the Mount was basic to the disciples' understanding of the messianic kingdom. This discourse is foundational to their proclaiming the kingdom. Jesus had already begun to deal with discipleship issues (chs. 5—7; 8:18-22; 9:9-17). Now He gave them more attention.

1.     Jesus' compassion 9:35-38 (cf. Mark 6:6)

This section summarizes the previous incidents that deal primarily with healing and prepares for Jesus' second discourse to His disciples. It is transitional, providing a bridge from the condition of the people that chapter 9 revealed, to what the King determined to do about that condition (cf. 4:23-25). Jesus' work of calling Israel to repentance was so extensive that He needed many more workers to assist Him.

9:35           This verse summarizes again Jesus' ministry in Galilee. It also provides the rationale for the new phase of His ministry through the Twelve. At this time, there were about 240 cities and villages in Galilee.[876] Notice the repetition of Jesus' activities from 4:23: "Jesus was going about in all of Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every disease and every sickness among the people."

9:36           Until now, Matthew presented "the crowds" as those Galileans who listened to and observed Jesus with wonder. Now they become the objects of Jesus' concern. His compassion for the multitudes recalls Ezekiel's description of God's compassion for Israel (Ezek. 34). "Distressed" really means "harassed" (NIV). It pictures the Jews bullied and oppressed by their religious leaders. Whereas the Romans bullied and oppressed the people physically, the religious leaders bullied and oppressed them spiritually. They were "downcast" because they were "helpless" (NIV). No one was able to deliver them. They lacked effective leadership, like sheep without a shepherd (cf. Num. 27:17; 1 Kings 22:17; 2 Chron. 18:16; Isa. 53:6; Ezek. 34:23-24; 37:24). The Old Testament describes both God and Messiah as Shepherds of their people (cf. 2:6; 10:6, 16; 15:24; 25:31-46; 26:31).

9:37           Jesus' figure of speech in addressing His disciples, however, was an agricultural one. He wanted to infuse His compassion for the multitudes into them. Jesus viewed Israel as a field composed of numerous stalks of grain. They needed gathering for safe-keeping in the barns of the messianic kingdom. They would die where they were, and the nation would suffer ruin if workers did not bring them in soon.

9:38           Unfortunately there were not enough workers to do this massive task. Consequently Jesus commanded His disciples to beseech God, the Lord of the harvest, to provide additional laborers for His harvest.

"It is the dream of Christ that every man should be a missionary and a reaper. There are those who cannot do other than pray, for life has laid them helpless, and their prayers are indeed the strength of the labourers. But that is not the way for most of us, for those of us who have strength of body and health of mind. Not even the giving of our money is enough. If the harvest of men is ever to be reaped, then every one of us must be a reaper, for there is someone whom each one of us could—and must—bring to God."[877]

"How seldom do we hear prayers for more preachers. Sometimes God literally has to push or force a man [or woman] into the ministry who resists his known duty [like Jonah did]."[878]

The picture is of imminent change. A change was coming, whether or not the Israelites accepted their Messiah. It would either be beneficial or detrimental to the nation depending on Israel's response to her Messiah. An adequate number of workers was one factor that would determine the way the change would go. Evidently Matthew expected his readers to understand "disciples" as all who were in a learning relationship to Jesus at that point in time, rather than just the Twelve. That is the way he used the term so far in this Gospel (cf. 10:1).

"In the early period of their discipleship hearing and seeing seem to have been the main occupation of the twelve."[879]

2.     Jesus' commissioning of 12 disciples 10:1-4 (cf. Mark 6:7; Luke 9:1-2)

"So far in the propaganda of the King we have considered His enunciation of ethics; and have observed His exhibition of benefits. Now we see Him about to enter upon the great work of enforcing His claims; and first He sends forth these disciples."[880]

10:1           This is Matthew's first reference to Jesus' 12 disciples, though here he implied their previous identity as a group. He "summoned" (Gr. proskaleo) these men like a king commands his subjects. He who had all authority now delegated some of it to this select group of disciples. Perhaps Jesus chose 12 close disciples because Israel consisted of 12 tribes (cf. 19:28).

"As soon as he [Jesus] remarked that number, every Jew of any spiritual penetration must have scented 'a Messianic programme.'"[881]

If Israel had accepted Jesus, these 12 disciples probably would have become Israel's leaders in the messianic kingdom. As it turned out, they became leaders of the church (cf. Acts 1).

Until now, there is no evidence that Jesus' disciples could cast out demons and heal the sick.[882] This was new power that He delegated to them for the mission on which He would shortly send them. This ability is a clear demonstration of Jesus' unique greatness.

"This was without a precedent in Jewish history. Not even Moses or Elijah had given miraculous powers to their disciples. Elijah had been allowed to transmit his powers to Elisha, but only when he himself was removed from the earth."[883]

10:2-4        The 12 special disciples now received the title "apostles." The Greek noun, apostolos, comes from the verb apostello meaning "to send." This was not a technical term until Jesus made it such. It continued to refer generally to people sent out with the Christian message, such as Barnabas (Acts 14:4, 14; Rom. 16:7; 1 Cor. 12:28-29; 2 Cor. 8:23; Phil. 2:25). It referred to any messenger (John 13:16) and even to Jesus (Heb. 3:1). Paul became an apostle who received his commission directly from the Lord, as the 12 special disciples had. This is the only place where Matthew used the word "apostle." He probably used it here because Jesus proceeded to prepare to send these 12 men on a special mission to the Israelites (vv. 5-42).

Lists of the 12 apostles occur in Mark 3:16 through 19; Luke 6:13 through 16; and Acts 1:13, as well as here. Comparing the four lists, we note that there appear to have been three groups of four disciples each. Peter, Philip, and James the son of Alphaeus seem to have been the leaders of these groups.



Matt. 10:2-4


Mark 3:16-19


Luke 6:14-16


Acts 1:13


Simon Peter

Simon Peter

Simon Peter






































James, son of Alphaeus

James, son of Alphaeus

James, son of Alphaeus

James, son of Alphaeus




Judas, son or brother of James

Judas, son or brother of James


Simon the Cananaean

Simon the Cananaean

Simon the Zealot

Simon the Zealot


Judas Iscariot

Judas Iscariot

Judas Iscariot



Peter's name occurs first in Matthew's list, as it does in all the other lists, probably because he was the "first among equals." Matthew may also have listed him first because he became the leading apostle to the Jews.[884] James' name occurs before his brother John's, probably because James was older. Matthew described himself humbly as "the tax collector."

"Thaddaeus" ("Warm-Hearted") and "Judas the son [or brother] of James," seem to be two names for the same man, and "Simon the Cananaean" seems to have been the same person as "Simon the Zealot." The Zealots constituted a political party in Israel, centered in Galilee. They sought independence from the Roman occupation of Israel.[885] However, the name "Zealot" did not become a technical term for a member of this revolutionary group until the time of the Jewish Wars with the Romans (A.D. 68-70).[886] So "Zealot" here probably refers to Simon's reputation for religious zeal.[887] "Cananaean" is the Aramaic form of "Zealot" and does not refer to the land of Canaan.

"Iscariot" may mean "of Kerioth," the name of two Palestinian villages, or "the dyer," his possible occupation. It may be a transliteration of the Latin sicarius, another Zealot-like movement.[888] Some scholars believe that "Iscariot" means "false one" and comes from the Aramaic seqar meaning "falsehood."[889] The names "Andrew" and "Philip" are Greek and probably reflect the more Hellenistic flavor of their hometown, Bethsaida, which was on the east bank of the Jordan River (John 1:44).

These men became Jesus' main agents in carrying out His mission, though Judas Iscariot, of course, proved to be a hypocritical disciple. Probably Matthew described the Twelve in pairs because they went out in pairs (Mark 6:7).[890]

3.     Jesus' charge concerning His apostles' mission 10:5-42

Matthew proceeded to record Jesus' second major discourse in his Gospel: the Mission Discourse. It contains the instructions that Jesus gave the 12 apostles before He sent them out to proclaim the imminence of the messianic kingdom.

"If the Sermon on the Mount was appropriately delivered on the occasion when the apostolic company was formed, this discourse on the apostolic vocation was not less appropriate when the members of that company first put their hands to the work unto which they had been called."[891]

Kingsbury saw the theme of this speech as "the mission of the disciples to Israel" and outlined it as follows: (I) On Being Sent to the Lost Sheep of the House of Israel (10:5b-15); (II) On Responding to Persecution (10:16-23); and (III) On Bearing Witness Fearlessly (10:34-42).[892] Whereas there is much instruction on serving Jesus here, there is also quite a bit of emphasis on persecution.

"Before Jesus sent His ambassadors out to minister, He preached an 'ordination sermon' to encourage and prepare them. In this sermon, the King had something to say to all of His servants—past, present, and future. Unless we recognize this fact, the message of this chapter will seem hopelessly confused."[893]

"It is evidential of its authenticity, and deserves special notice, that this Discourse, while so un-Jewish in spirit, is more than any other, even more than that on the Mount, Jewish in its forms of thought and modes of expression."[894]

This observation suggests that this mission was uniquely Jewish. Yet, like in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus spoke beyond His immediate audience with later disciples also in mind. This seems clear as we compare this instruction with later Scriptural teaching on the conduct of Christ's disciples in the present age.

The scope of their mission 10:5-8

Jesus first explained the scope and nature of the apostles' temporary ministry to Israel.

10:5           The apostles were to limit their ministry to the Jews living in Galilee. They were not to go north or east into Gentile territory, or south where the Samaritans predominated (cf. Acts 1:8). The Samaritans were only partially Jewish by race. They were the descendants of the poorest of the Jews, whom the Assyrians left in the Promised Land when they took the Northern Kingdom into captivity, and the Gentiles whom the Assyrians imported. In matters of religion, they only accepted the Pentateuch (Genesis through Deuteronomy) as authoritative. This is Matthew's only reference to the Samaritans. Jesus did not need the additional opposition that would come from Gentiles and Samaritans. He would have to deal with enough of that from the Jews.

10:6           The apostles were to go specifically to "the lost sheep of the house of Israel," a term that described all the Jews (Isa. 53:6; Jer. 50:6; Ezek. 34). This designation highlights the needy character of the Jews. His kingdom would be a universal one, but at this stage of His ministry, Jesus wanted to offer it to the Jews first. We have already noted that Jesus had restricted His ministry primarily, but not exclusively, to Jews (8:1-13). He was the King of the Jews and was presenting Himself to them as their prophesied Messiah.

10:7           The apostles were to herald the same message that John (3:2) and Jesus proclaimed (4:17, 23; 9:35). They were to be itinerant preachers, as these men had been.[895] The kingdom of heaven was at hand, namely, imminent (overhanging). It had "come near." Jesus was speaking here of the prophesied earthly reign of Messiah. If the Jews had accepted their Messiah, it would have begun immediately. Since they rejected Him, it has been postponed. It will begin when the Jews accept Him when He come the second time.

"If the Jewish nation could be brought to repentance, the new age would dawn; see Ac. iii. 19f., Jo. iv. 22."[896]

The absence of the call to repent here is not a problem since, as we have pointed out, repentance was not a separate step in preparation but a way of describing adequate preparation.

10:8           The powers that the apostles had would impress their Jewish hearers with God's authentication of their message (cf. 12:28). That was the purpose of signs throughout the Old and New Testaments.[897] Matthew had not mentioned raising the dead and cleansing lepers previously (v. 1), but the Twelve had these powers as well. They were to offer their services free of charge, because the good news that they announced was free.

Jesus sent them to the Jews exclusively to do three things: They were to announce the appearance of a Jewish Messiah, announce a Jewish kingdom, and provide signs—to Jews who required them—as proof of their divine authority.

The provisions for their mission 10:9-15 (cf. Mark 6:8-11; Luke 9:3-5)

Jesus explained further how the 12 apostles were to conduct themselves on their mission.

10:9-10      They were not to take enough money with them to sustain them while they ministered. "Acquire" (Gr. ktesesthe) can mean "take along" (NIV, Mark 6:9) or "receive" (Acts 1:18; 8:20; 22:28). Probably Jesus did not want them to accumulate money as they ministered, or to take along enough money to sustain them. They were not to take an extra tunic either. In other words, they were to travel lightly and to remain unencumbered by material possessions.

"At this day [when Thomson toured the Promised Land in the late 19th century] the farmer sets out on excursions quite as extensive, without a para in his purse; and the modern Moslem prophet of Tarshîha thus sends forth his apostles over this identical region. Neither do they encumber themselves with two coats. They are accustomed to sleep in the garments they have on during the day, and in this climate such plain people experience no inconvenience from it. They wear a coarse shoe, answering to the sandal of the ancients, but never take two pair of them; and although the staff is an invariable companion of all wayfarers, they are content with one."[898]

As a general principle, those who minister spiritual things have a right to expect physical payment in return (Deut. 25:4; 1 Cor. 9:4-18; 1 Tim. 5:17-18). That is the principle Jesus wanted to teach His disciples. Itinerant philosophers and teachers typically expected board, room, and a fee from their hearers.[899]

10:11         They were to stay with worthy hosts, not necessarily in the most convenient or luxurious accommodations. A "worthy" person would be one who welcomed a representative of Jesus and the kingdom message. He or she would be the opposite of the "dogs" and "pigs" Jesus earlier told His disciples to avoid (7:6). By this time, there were probably people in most Galilean villages who had been in the crowds and observed Jesus, or who had at least heard of Him. His sympathizers would have been the most willing hosts for His disciples.

10:12         The greeting that the disciple was to give his host was the normal greeting of the day: "Shalom" ("Peace").

10:13         If his host proved to be unworthy by not continuing to welcome the disciple, he was to leave that house and move somewhere else. By withdrawing personally, the disciple would withdraw a blessing from that house, namely, his presence as a representative of Jesus.

10:14         The apostles were to do to towns as they did to households.

"A pious Jew, on leaving Gentile territory, might remove from his feet and clothes all dust of the pagan land now being left behind … thus dissociating himself from the pollution of those lands and the judgment in store for them. For the disciples to do this to Jewish homes and towns would be a symbolic way of saying that the emissaries of Messiah now view those places as pagan, polluted, and liable to judgment (cf. Acts 13:51; 18:6)."[900]

10:15         More awful judgment awaited the inhabitants of the Jewish towns that rejected Messiah than the judgment coming on the wicked residents of Sodom and Gomorrah, which had already experienced divine destruction (Gen. 19). This statement implies a resurrection of the wicked, not their annihilation, and that there will be degrees of judgment and torment for the lost (cf. 11:22, 24; Heb. 10:28-29). The unbelievers of Sodom and Gomorrah will receive their sentence at the Great White Throne judgment (Rev. 20:11-15).

The unbelieving Jews of Jesus' day will also stand before Jesus at that judgment. One's eternal destiny then, as now, depended on his or her relationship to Jesus, and that was evident in that person's attitude toward one of His representatives (cf. v. 40; 25:40, 45). In that culture, people customarily treated a person's official representative as they would treat the one he represented. The apostles could anticipate opposition and rejection, as Jesus experienced, and as the Old Testament prophets had experienced as well.

The perils of their mission 10:16-25

Jesus proceeded to elaborate on the dangers that the apostles would face and how they should deal with them.

In His descriptions of the opposition that His disciples would experience, Jesus looked beyond His death to the time of tribulation that would follow. At that time, His disciples would have the same message—and the same power—as they did when He sent them out here. The narrow path leading to the earthly kingdom led through a period of tribulation and persecution for the disciples. They did not understand that Jesus would have to die and experience resurrection before the earthly kingdom began, even though this is what the Old Testament revealed. Jesus was beginning to prepare them, and their successors, for these events and the persecution that they would experience as His followers. If Israel had accepted her Messiah, He still would have had to die, rise from the grave, and ascend into heaven. Seven years of tribulation would have followed. Then Jesus would have returned to the earth and set up His earthly kingdom. As it happened, Israel rejected Jesus, so the period of Tribulation, His return, and the earthly kingdom are all still future.

"The King performed His ministry according to the Old Testament Messianic calendar of events. According to the Hebrew Scriptures the Messiah, after He appeared, was to suffer, die, and be raised again (Daniel 9:26; Psalm 22; Isaiah 53:1-11; Psalm 16:10). Following the death and resurrection of Christ there was to be a time of trouble (Daniel 9:26-27; Jeremiah 30:4-6). The Messiah was then to return to the earth to end this tribulation and to judge the world (Daniel 7:9-13, 16-26; 9:27; 12:1; Zechariah 14:1-5). Finally, the Messiah as King would establish His kingdom with Israel as the head nation (Daniel 7:11-27; 12:1-2; Isaiah 53:11-12; Zechariah 14:6-11, 20-21)."[901]

Part of the tribulation that Jesus prepared His disciples for took place when the Romans destroyed Jerusalem and scattered the Jews all over the world, in A.D. 70. Yet the destruction of Jerusalem then was not the full extent of the tribulation that the prophets foretold for Israel. This becomes clear as one compares the prophesied tribulation for the Jews with the events that surrounded the destruction of Jerusalem.

10:16         Jesus pictured His defenseless disciples in a dangerous environment. The Shepherd was sending His "sheep" into a wolf pack. They needed, therefore, to be "as wary as serpents," which was a proverbial way of saying "prudent" (wise, sensible). People sometimes think of snakes as shrewd because they are silent, dangerous, and because of how they move. The disciples' wariness must not be cunning (sinister or dishonest) though, for they needed to be "innocent" as well. Either characteristic without the other is dangerous. Innocence without prudence becomes naiveté.

The disciples were to be both wary and innocent toward the objects of their ministry. "Doves" are peaceful, retiring birds; they leave when other birds challenge or oppose them rather than fighting. This is how the disciples were to behave. They needed to be wise by avoiding conflicts and attacks where possible, but when these came they were to withdraw to other households and other towns (v. 14). These figures of wolves, serpents, and doves were common in Rabbinic teaching. But the rabbis normally used sheep and doves as figures of Israel, and the wolves and serpents as representing the Gentiles.[902]

10:17         "But" (Gr. de) does not introduce a contrast here; it shows how the disciples should apply the warning that Jesus just gave them. Opposition would come from the Jews. "The courts" in view could be either civil or religious. This is the only occurrence of the plural "courts," or "local councils" (Gr. synedria), in the New Testament. The responsibility of these courts was to preserve the peace. The scourging in view would normally be the result of judicial action, not mob violence.[903]

10:18         The prediction in this verse has caused problems for many interpreters, since there is no indication that the disciples appeared before governors and kings during the mission that followed. The solution seems to be, as mentioned above, that Jesus was evidently looking beyond the immediate mission of the Twelve to what His disciples would experience after His death, resurrection, and ascension.[904] Some of these appearance are recorded in the Book of Acts.

10:19         Some lazy preachers have misappropriated this promise, but it applies to disciples who must answer charges leveled against them for their testimonies.

10:20         Jesus promised that the Holy Spirit, called here "the Spirit of your Father," would enable the disciples to respond to their accusers. Jesus had not yet revealed what the Holy Spirit's relationship to these men would be after He departed into heaven (John 14—16). Here He simply assured them of the Spirit's help. Several of the apostles' speeches in Acts reflect this divine provision of the Spirit.

"Some of the greatest, most inspired utterances have been speeches made by men on trial for religious convictions."[905]

10:21         The disciples would find themselves opposed by everyone without distinction because of their identification with Jesus, including their own family members, not just rulers. Some of them would even be put to death. Of course none of the Twelve died before their present mission was over. This is another evidence that Jesus was speaking about future disciples of His and not just the Twelve.

10:22         In spite of such widespread and malicious persecution, the disciple must endure patiently to the end. "The end" refers to the end of this period of intense persecution, including the Tribulation (cf. 24:13). The Second Coming of the Son of Man will end the Tribulation (v. 23). The promise of salvation ("will be saved," v. 22) for the one who remains faithful (endures "to the end"), does not refer to eternal salvation, since that depends on faith in Jesus alone. It is deliverance from the intense persecution that is in view. Entrance into the earthly millennial kingdom would constitute salvation for future persecuted disciples in the Tribulation.

This verse does not say that all genuine believers will inevitably persevere in their faith and good works, as some have believed.[906] Rather, it says that those who do, during the Tribulation, can expect God to deliver them at its end. Jesus was not speaking about eternal salvation but temporal deliverance. Temporal deliverance depended on faithful perseverance. Whereas "the end" has specific reference to the end of the Tribulation in 24:13, here it probably has the more general meaning of "as long as may be necessary."

If the Jews had accepted Jesus, these 12 disciples would undoubtedly have taken the message of the messianic kingdom throughout Israel during the Tribulation period that would have followed Jesus' death, resurrection, and ascension. Before they would have finished their task, Jesus would have returned from heaven. Those of them who persevered faithfully would have experienced deliverance from further persecution by entering the earthly kingdom following His return. But since the Jews rejected Jesus, God postponed the earthly kingdom—for more than 2,000 years.

During the Tribulation period yet future, the 144,000 Jewish disciples of Jesus living in the Promised Land—and perhaps elsewhere in the world—will be preparing people for Jesus' return to set up His earthly kingdom (Rev. 7:1-8; 14:1-5). Those Tribulation saints who remain faithful, and withstand persecution, will be saved from further persecution by Jesus' return to the earth.

"If those who fight under earthly commanders, and are uncertain as to the issue of the battle, are carried forward even to death by steadiness of purpose, shall those who are certain of victory hesitate to abide by the cause of Christ to the very last?"[907]

10:23         Jesus promised that He would return for His disciples before they had finished preaching the messianic kingdom throughout the cities of Israel. If Israel had accepted Jesus as her Messiah, this would have happened at the end of seven years of persecution following Jesus' death, resurrection, and ascension. Since Israel rejected her Messiah, it will happen at the end of the Tribulation, which is yet future from our perspective in history (Dan. 7:13). Obviously it did not happen after the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70.

Commentators have offered many other explanations of this verse. There is great diversity of opinion concerning what Jesus meant, mainly because people have failed to take Jesus' offer of Himself—and the messianic kingdom—literally. Some interpreters believe that Jesus simply meant that He would return to the Twelve before they completed the mission He sent them on in this passage. The problem with this view is that there is no indication in the text that that happened.

Others interpret the coming of the Son of Man as a reference to the public identification of Jesus as the Messiah. However, that is not what Jesus said, and it is not what happened. Some even believe that Jesus made a mistake, and what He predicted did not happen. Obviously this view reflects a low view of Jesus' person. Still others believe that Jesus was predicting the destruction of Jerusalem, but this hardly fits the Old Testament prophecies or the context of this verse. Carson summarized seven views, and preferred one that equates the coming of the Son of Man with the coming of the messianic kingdom. He viewed "the end" as the destruction of Jerusalem.[908]

"What was proclaimed here was more fully demonstrated in the apostles' lives after the day of Pentecost (Acts 2) in the spread of the gospel in the church (e.g., Acts 4:1-13; 5:17-18, 40; 7:54-60). But these words will find their fullest manifestation in the days of the Tribulation when the gospel will be carried throughout the entire world before Jesus Christ returns in power and glory to establish His kingdom on the earth (Matt. 24:14)."[909]

10:24-25a  Jesus' point in these verses was that persecution should not surprise His disciples. They had seen the scribes and Pharisees, and even John's disciples, oppose Jesus, and they could expect the same treatment.

10:25b       "Beelzebul" was Satan, the head of the household of demons (12:24-27). The name "Beelzebul" probably came from the Hebrew baal zebul, meaning "Prince Baal." Baal was the chief Canaanite deity, and the Jews regarded him as the personification of all that was evil and satanic. "The house" in view is Israel. Jesus as Messiah was the head of that "household." However His critics charged Him with being Satan's agent (cf. 9:34). Therefore the disciples could expect similar slander from their enemies.

"We believe, that the expression 'Master of the house' looked back to the claims which Jesus had made on His first purification of the Temple [John 2:16]. We almost seem to hear the coarse Rabbinic witticism in its play on the word Beelzebul. For, Zebhul, … means in Rabbinic language, not any ordinary dwelling, but specifically the Temple, and Beel-Zebul would be the Master of the Temple.' On the other hand, Zibbul … means sacrificing to idols; and hence Beel-zebul would, in that sense, be equivalent to 'lord' or 'chief of idolatrous sacrificing'—the worst and chiefest of demons, who presided over, and incited to, idolatry. 'The Lord of the Temple' … was to them 'the chief of idolatrous worship,' the Representative of God that of the worst of demons: Beelzebul was Beelzibbul!"[910]

The attitudes of the disciples 10:26-39 (cf. Luke 12:1-12)

Even though Jesus' disciples would encounter hostile opposition, they should fear God more than their antagonists.

10:26         The basis for confidence, in the face of persecution, is an understanding that whatever is presently hidden will eventually come out into the open. This proverbial statement applies to the truth about Jesus (the gospel message) that the fearful disciple might seek to keep hidden for fear of persecution. It also applies to the disciple who might himself want to hide instead of letting his light shine (cf. 5:16). It applies also to the preceding teaching about persecution.

10:27         What Jesus told His disciples privately would eventually become public knowledge, so they should declare it publicly. In the land of Israel, common flat-roofed houses were good places from which to make public addresses.

"Good news is not meant to be kept under wraps, however little some people may wish to hear it."[911]

10:28         Good news also helps to conquer fear, if the disciple will remember that the worst that a human adversary can do does not compare with the worst that God can do. Jesus was not implying that true believers might go to hell if they do not remain faithful to God. His point was that God has power over the disciple after he dies, whereas human adversaries can do nothing beyond killing the disciple's body. The believer needs to remember that he or she will stand before God one day to give an account of his or her stewardship. "Destroy" here does not mean annihilate, but ruin. The same Greek verb appears in 9:17, and there it describes ruined wineskins. Note that the body can die, but the soul cannot. Walvoord took "Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell" as a reference to Satan.[912] Most interpreters take this as a description of God.

"… the torment that awaits the lost will have elements of suffering adapted to the material [the body] as well as the spiritual part of our nature [the soul], both of which, we are assured, will exist for ever."[913]

10:29         The same God who will not permit a sparrow to fall to the ground, will certainly take care of His faithful servants. The Jews were very familiar with this illustration.[914] The poor in Israel ate many sparrows, since they cost only one sixteenth of a laborer's daily wage (Gr. assarion, a small-value coin).[915] The mention of the disciples' heavenly "Father" stresses His loving care.

"It is not that God marks the sparrow when the sparrow falls dead; it is far more; it is that God marks the sparrow every time it lights and hops upon the ground."[916]

10:30         God not only cares for the animals, but He also cares for people. His personal attention extends as far as numbering our hairs.

"God loves you! The Lord Jesus loves you more than your mother loved you. Did your mother ever count the hairs on your head? But God knows the number!"[917]

10:31         Often people think that God cares only for the big things in life and is unconcerned about the details. Jesus corrected that false notion. God's concern with details should give us confidence that He controls the larger affairs of life. "So do not fear."

"Indeed, the principal purpose of Biblical history is to teach that the Lord watches over the ways of the saints with such great diligence that they do not even stumble over a stone [cf. Ps. 91:12]."[918]

"To hold a conception of God as a mere magnified human being is to run the risk of thinking of Him as simply the Commander-in-Chief who cannot possibly spare the time to attend to the details of His subordinates' lives. Yet to have a god who is so far beyond personality and so far removed from the human context in which we alone can appreciate 'values', is to have a god who is a mere bunch of perfect qualities—which means an Idea and nothing more. We need a God with the capacity to hold, so to speak, both Big and Small in His mind at the same time. This, the Christian religion holds, is the true and satisfying conception of God revealed by Jesus Christ …"[919]

10:32-33    Disciples of Jesus must acknowledge Him publicly. One cannot fulfill the basic requirements of being a disciple privately (cf. 5:13-16). Again, the terms "believer" and "disciple" are not synonymous. In the context, confessing Jesus means acknowledging Him faithfully in spite of pressure to do otherwise. Jesus will acknowledge faithful disciples as such to His Father. He will not give this reward to unfaithful disciples who cave in to pressure to deny Him. Obviously, He believed it is possible for believers to be unfaithful. It is possible to deny Jesus with our words, our silence, or our actions.[920]

Notice that the blessing of Jesus' commendation will go to anyone ("everyone," i.e., any disciple) who confesses Him publicly. Jesus probably looked at the whole course of the disciple's life as He made this statement. One act of unfaithfulness does not disqualify a disciple from Jesus' commendation (e.g., Peter's failure in the courtyard of the high priest). An example of Jesus confessing a faithful disciple before others is His testimony concerning John the Baptist's greatness (11:11; Luke 7:28).

"What a prospect to hear Jesus calling my name and confessing me as his very own before the Father, the hosts of angels, and men! Shall any persecution by men during these brief days make me forget that prospect?"[921]

The view that this passage teaches that a believer may lose his or her salvation—if he or she fails to confess, or denies Jesus—cannot be correct. Elsewhere Jesus taught that believers will never lose their salvation (cf. John 10:28-29). This is the consistent revelation of the rest of the New Testament (e.g., Rom. 8:31-39; et al.). Jesus was speaking here of rewards for the faithful, not salvation for the lost.[922]

10:34         In this verse Jesus meant that His immediate purpose would generate conflict (even though He would ultimately bring peace; Isa. 11; Luke 2:14). People would divide over the question of whether Jesus was the Messiah or not. "The sword" here is a symbol of conflict.

10:35-36    Micah 7:6 refers to a rebellion that happened during King Ahaz's reign. It pointed to a greater division in Jesus' day. In both cases, the root of the conflict involved righteousness and unrighteousness ultimately.

"Feud between members of a family is also mentioned in the Talmud as a sign of the coming of the Messianic age."[923]

Jesus spoke of the consequences of His first coming in terms that sounded like they were His main purpose in coming: creating conflicts. But He came to bring this kind of conflict only in an indirect sense. By expressing Himself in this way, Jesus demonstrated His Christological and eschatological awareness. These conditions will prevail before Jesus' second coming, too.

"Consequences are often expressed in the Bible as though they were intentions. So here the divisive result of Jesus' coming, particularly in the sphere of family relationships, is described as though He had deliberately come to bring it about."[924]

10:37         Jesus taught that people must love one another, but that they must love Him more. This is a remarkable claim that shows what great importance Jesus' placed on the supreme allegiance of His disciples to Himself. In Judaism, no human relationship was more important than the one to family.[925]

"As we must not be deterred from Christ by the hatred of our relations which he spoke of (v. 21, 35, 36), so we must not be drawn from him, by their love."[926]

10:38         Taking one's cross does not just mean tolerating some unpleasant situation in one's life for Jesus' sake; for example, accepting ridicule, rejection, or persecution for being a follower of Christ. It means dying to self, namely, putting Jesus first. In this sense every disciple bears the same cross. Jesus' reference to crucifixion, His first in Matthew, would have helped His disciples realize that their calling would involve pain and shame.

"In the ancient days the criminal did actually carry the cross-beam of his cross to the place of crucifixion, and the men to whom Jesus spoke had seen people staggering under the weight of their crosses and dying in agony upon them."[927]

10:39         Those who find (i.e., preserve) their lives now will forfeit them later. Conversely, the disciple who loses his or her "life" (Gr. psyche) by martyrdom or by self-denial now, will find (preserve) it in the next stage of his or her existence. This is true in a twofold sense: The person who lives for the present loses the real purpose of life.[928] And he or she also loses God's reward for faithful living.

"The Christian may have to sacrifice his personal ambitions, the ease and the comfort that he may have enjoyed, the career that he might have achieved; he may have to lay aside his dreams, to realize that shining things of which he caught a glimpse are not for him. He will certainly have to sacrifice his will, for no Christian can ever again do what he likes; he must do what Chris