Matthew: Outlines and Commentary
By Derek Leman
© 2016 Derek Leman
Table of Contents
Davies, W.D. and Allison, Dale C. Matthew: A Shorter Commentary. New York: T&T Clark International, 2004.
Book of the genesis, Son of David, Son of Abraham.
The book of the Genesis of Jesus the Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.
(Matthew 1:1, in the translation of Davies and Allison).
NOTES: It is possible that the usual translation of Matthew 1:1 is correct (“The book of the genealogy of Yeshua the Messiah, the Son of David, the Son of Abraham”). Yet the opening words in Greek (biblos geneseos) could also be rendered “book of the birth of” or “book of the beginning of” or, as Dale Allison argues, “the book of the genesis of.” The meaning of this last option could be “the book of the new genesis wrought by Yeshua,” and would form an introduction to the entire book of Matthew. The author (whose identity is unknown, see below, “Excursus: Matthew as Author”) writes with a Jewish theology, seeing Torah and Messiah in harmony, and some elements familiar from Jewish apocalyptic literature are evident in the book. The book of Genesis is vital in Jewish apocalyptic writing (especially Enoch and Jubilees) the elements from “the beginning” end up being related to eschatology (the end times). Likewise, Matthew has much to say about eschatology and fittingly begins with Genesis (Allison). The “genesis” that seems to be in view is new creation, a reference to a new genesis in Messiah of all things (the whole cosmos). Son of David as a title is a declaration by the author that Yeshua is the Messianic king, bringing to fruition the promises that started with David and expanded through the Hebrew Bible and into Second Temple Judaism. Son of Abraham as a title likely means more than having Jewish lineage, but suggests that Yeshua is the One through whom the Abrahamic promises will be realized (Allison). Reading Matthew 1:1 as an introduction to the whole book, a prefiguring of the themes of the Gospel, fits much better than seeing it merely as an introduction to the genealogy or merely to the first few chapters. All of Matthew will be about the One who makes a new creation, is revealed to be the Messianic king, and who at last causes the promises to Abraham to come to life.
EXCURSUS: MATTHEW AS AUTHOR.
We can be absolutely certain that the author of the book known traditionally as Matthew is not the well-known member of Yeshua’s Twelve disciples. How can this claim be made with such certainty? First, it is well-established and easy to argue that Mark was the earliest of the four gospels to be written and to circulate. Second, Mark, whoever he was, certainly was not as close to Yeshua and the disciples as the Matthew who was of the Twelve. Third, the book of Matthew often uses sections of Mark’s outline and even in numerous places simply uses the words of Mark. It is easy to see that Matthew uses Mark as a source and, thus, apparently, did not know Yeshua personally. Furthermore, nowhere does the book of Matthew name its author. Calling this gospel Matthew is simply a tradition based on the sayings of the church fathers. One thing that has become a standard view in historical scholarship is that Matthew was written by someone who practiced Judaism and saw Messiah and Judaism in a harmonistic manner.
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The line up to David (2-6a), the line up to the Exile (6b-11), the line up to Messiah (12-16), the three fourteens (17).
This genealogy of Messiah is a work of poetry and theology, not really claiming there were fourteen generations times three. The author skips generations and does so quite obviously, since some parts can be compared to the genealogies in Chronicles. He wasn’t trying to fool anyone. A few observations about the genealogy will show what the author’s intent really was. The genealogy has 14, 15, and 14 generations if you count inclusively (repeating David and Jeconiah) or 14, 14, and 13 if you do not. It is quite different than Luke’s genealogy. And most of the names in the final section are unknown from any other source. Why three sections and the pattern of fourteens? As many commentators have noted, the name David has three Hebrew letters with a total numeric value of fourteen (dalet = 4, vav = 6, and dalet = 4). Allison adds that the name David is fourteenth on the list, that his name is mentioned twice at the beginning (vss. 1, 6) and twice at the end (vs. 17), and David alone is called king in this genealogy. This sort of poetic device with numbers is a feature of ancient literature and occurs in the Bible in a number of places such as Genesis 1 (with its use of sevens) and many places in Revelation. Furthermore, the genealogy has long puzzled readers with its use of four women in the list (Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, Bathsheba). Some have claimed this is because all four were sinners. Others have said this hints at Gentile salvation (Tamar may have been a Gentile, Bathsheba was married to a Hittite, and Ruth and Rahab definitely were Gentiles). Yet there is something about these four women that strikes closer to home in the narrative of Yeshua’s birth: all of them were married and/or had children under questionable circumstances (like Mary, Yeshua’s mother). Note that there is no biblical support for the idea that Rahab married Salmon and we have no idea what Matthew’s source might be. Considering all of these features, Allison adds one more observation: the first part takes us to David and the second to the exile. Should we not infer, he asks, that Yeshua is the one who will get back the kingdom whose beginning was David and which was lost at the Exile? This poetic genealogy is numerically patterned for David’s name, is divided first at David’s kingdom, is divided second at the Exile, and culminates with the Davidic Messiah who will restore the kingdom.
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The origin of Messiah and Mary’s virginal conception (18), Joseph’s dilemma and the angel of the Lord (19-21), midrashic connection of these events to Isaiah 7:1-14 (22-23), fulfillment of the angel’s words (24-25).
Only Matthew and Luke record the virgin birth. Their accounts have some differences not easily reconciled. In Matthew’s version, Joseph and Mary are simply in Bethlehem (2:1) with no statement that they had traveled down from Nazareth. When they go to Nazareth later, there is no notice that they had ever lived in Nazareth before (2:22-23). For reasons like these, historians are skeptical about the virginal conception of Mary. No apostles report anything about a virginal conception (it is relatively easy to see that the author of Matthew is not the apostle by that name). “What would the source of these stories be?” a historian asks. Joseph died early, counting him out as a possible source. It is unlikely that Mary is a source for Matthew’s account as the events center on Joseph. Yet, against all of these problems, we have theological reasons for finding the virginal conception to ring true and there does exist one solid historical piece of evidence as well. Theologically, knowing Yeshua to be the divine Messiah and understanding why something like the incarnation would be likely to happen (see my book, Divine Messiah), something like the virginal conception story is necessary. Historically, the early adoption of the phrase “conceived by the Holy Spirit” suggests an early community acknowledgement that Yeshua’s origins were supernatural. When it comes to Matthew’s use of Isaiah 7:14, most readers misunderstand, being unfamiliar with midrashic usage of scripture. Being used to notions of prediction and fulfillment, readers mistake Matthew’s use of the Hebrew Bible as “messianic prophecy.” Careful reading of Matthew 1:20-23 will reveal that Matthew did not say Yeshua’s virginal conception fulfilled a prophetic prediction. He said, rather, that the unusual circumstances of the announcement of Yeshua’s birth “made full” (i.e., brought out additional meanings from) the words of Isaiah 7:14. Midrash is based on secondary meanings and creative interpretations which do not nullify the plain meaning of a text. Isaiah 7:14 invites secondary interpretations beyond its plain meaning (a baby born in Ahaz’s day to a maiden as a sign for Ahaz’s generation). The midrashic connection between Isaiah 7:14 and Yeshua’s conception and birth is multiple: in Isaiah 7, a prophetic messenger uses the birth of an infant with a salvific name as a sign of Israel’s deliverance from Syria. In Matthew 1, an angelic messenger announces the birth of an infant with a salvific name as a sign of Israel’s deliverance from sin and exile. Modern readers should appreciate the literary depth of ancient Jewish readings of the sacred story. God’s saving acts in history often repeat in patterns which bring joy and increased faith to those who observe them.
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Magi come seeking the king of the Jews (1-2), Herod in fear for his dynasty seeks information about the birthplace of Israel’s king (3-6), Herod seeks to use the magi to find and kill the king-to-be (7-9), the magi find Yeshua, give gifts, and return without reporting to Herod (10-12).
Only Matthew 2:1-12 and Luke 2:1-15 mention Bethlehem as the place of Yeshua’s birth (John 7:42 is not an exception to this). The Bethlehem birth is not mentioned in any other apostolic writing and does not come up again in the gospels either. Some historians regard the idea of a Bethlehem birth as a later addition added because of the prophecy in Micah. On the other hand, Matthew and Luke show us in their birth narratives a willingness to diverge on details and yet both contain this prominent idea of a Bethlehem birth. Furthermore, the requirement of a Bethlehem birthplace for Messiah was not a standard feature of Second Temple Jewish writing. Thus, we could say Matthew was not compelled to include this story by tradition. Had Yeshua been born elsewhere, he could have explained it another way. As for the message of this section, in Matthew’s literary shaping, the magi are like Balaam the prophet. The star is like the prophecy in Numbers 24:17, uttered by Balaam. Yeshua is the king who is “son of the star.” That Numbers 24:17 was taken to be about Messiah is affirmed by the later story of Akiba, who in 132 CE named Bar Kosiba “son of the star” (Bar Kochba). Matthew’s literary goal in the entire infancy narrative is to show Yeshua’s story as patterned on the ways of God with people and prophets from the holy history of Israel. Yeshua’s life is filled with echoes of the Hebrew Bible. The plan and purpose of God is concentrated in Yeshua’s story, so that prophecies in Micah and events in Numbers return and show the meaning of his life. The Bethlehem story also validates Yeshua’s qualification as a Davidic heir, the Messiah born in the birthplace of David.
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Being warned in a dream, Joseph brings his family into Egypt (13-14), the midrashic connection to Hosea 11:1 (15).
The Midrashim (the plural word for Midrash) of the sages of Judaism involved looking at the Bible in ways other than the plain meaning of the text. These sermon-like interpretations arose in the land of Israel in the first century and continued for centuries to go out from the land of Israel. The gospel of Matthew uses some ways of comparing Yeshua’s life to the Hebrew Bible that are similar to the midrashic approach of the rabbis. The journey of Yeshua’s family into Egypt, for example, connects with the scriptures in several ways. It is implied that Yeshua is a New Moses and even more so the ideal Son of Israel. Moses fled from Egypt so the king would not take his life and many years later was able to return because “the men who were seeking your life are dead” (compare Matt 2:20). There are many connections in the gospel of Matthew between Yeshua and Moses (see Allison, The New Moses). More clearly, and directly related to Hosea 11:1, Yeshua is Ideal Israel. God sent his son, Israel, into Egypt in the days of Joseph the Patriarch, and brought him out in the days of Moses. So Yeshua, God’s Son, is brought for safety into Egypt and led back out by God, to return to the land. This type of midrashic connection, which finds echoes of Israel’s story in Yeshua’s story, is quite different from the prophecy-fulfillment concept often referred to as Messianic prophecy. The echoes of Israel’s story in Yeshua’s life are not a kind of proof, but are signs for those already disposed to look for them. God’s saving acts display patterns and history leaves traces of his design. Hosea 11:1 has a plain meaning which Matthew would not deny if pressed. It is about God bringing Israel out of Egypt. A quick look at Hosea 11:2 should convince anyone that Hosea 11:1 is not a messianic prophecy. Matthew is deriving a secondary meaning from Hosea 11:1, noting that the pattern of God’s loving care for Israel is repeated and summed up in the life of Israel’s Messiah.
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Herod has the infants near Bethlehem slaughtered in his paranoid manner (16-17), the midrashic connection with Rachel weeping in Jeremiah (18).
The source-text for this midrash (see comment on 2:13-15 for a definition of midrash) is Jeremiah 31:15 about Rachel weeping. Rachel was buried in the Bethlehem area. The Jeremiah text is about the events leading up to the destruction and deportation of Judah by the Babylonians. Ramah is near Bethlehem (thus the poetic figure of Rachel, whose body was nearby and whose motherhood is proverbial) and was a place where the Judeans about to be exiled to Babylon were gathered before the deportation (see Jeremiah 40:1). Rachel was weeping, poetically, as her descendants’ shame was made full. Having departed from God, they were now being killed and taken as exiles to a distant land. In the infancy of Yeshua a similar tragedy is occurring in the Bethlehem region. Rachel’s children, the infants two and under, are being killed by a hostile king, Herod. It is a midrashic way of reading to compare significant events in later times to the great spiritual events of scripture and Matthew uses this method often. This historical event would have involved a small number of infants (Bethlehem was a small town and the number of infants would be small). Meanwhile, Yeshua was far away and safe in Egypt.
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God speaks to Joseph (19-21), avoiding Archelaus because of a dream (22), midrashic connection to Nazareth (23).
Yeshua has been portrayed as a sort of new Moses and also a person who sums up in his life many of the historic experiences of Israel from the scriptures (the ideal son of Israel). Now Matthew 2:19-21 makes a connection with Exodus 4:19, in which Moses heard that “the men who were seeking your life are dead.” Although it is only one man who was seeking Yeshua’s life (Herod), the evangelist uses the plural “those,” deliberately evoking the Moses story (R.T. France). Vs. 22 presents us with a problem that should not be lightly dismissed. In Luke’s version, Joseph and Mary lived in Nazareth before Yeshua’s birth but they came to Bethlehem because of a census. In Matthew 2:22, the evangelist does not mention that they had lived in Nazareth, but that the couple came upon Nazareth while seeking a place in Galilee hidden from Herod Archelaus. The simplest explanation, one that may seem troubling but which realistically considers the human side of the gospels’ origins, is that Matthew did not know Joseph and Mary were from Nazareth. Mark, his main source, did not include the infancy narratives. Luke wrote after Matthew and seems to have had more extensive sources for the infancy narratives. Vs. 23 also presents some with a problem (those who assume the references to the Hebrew Bible in Matthew are prophecy-fulfillment statements). There is no passage in the Hebrew Bible that mentions Nazareth, much less one that says “he shall be called a Nazarene.” But in keeping with Matthew’s midrashic style, finding creative echoes of the Hebrew Bible in Yeshua’s story, the answer is not difficult. Messiah is to be called the Branch (Isa 11:1, netzer) and Nazareth (Netzeret) is “branch town.” That is, Matthew found it compelling that the Netzer David lived as a child in Netzeret.
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John’s message (1-2), John’s location in the salvation history foretold in the prophets (3), John as an Elijah-figure (4), the movement of repentance through John’s teaching (5-6).
John’s message is the same that Yeshua will proclaim: the silence is over, the exile near an end, and God’s rule will soon commence. Matthew’s use of Isaiah 40 (which he picked up from Mark and it may have been a common tradition before Mark) is also loose and midrashic. In Isaiah there was a poetic image of a desert highway on which the exiles would return and John is a desert prophet proclaiming the end of exile. The Qumran community also used the verse because of the desert theme and the similar emphasis on future hope. John’s description (“a garment of camel’s hair, and a leather girdle around his waist”) is a bit like Elijah’s (2 Kgs 1:8, “a garment of haircloth, with a girdle of leather about his loins”). His revival movement was well-known and is recorded in Josephus, who said: “He was a good man and had exhorted the Jews to lead righteous lives, to practice justice toward their fellows and piety toward God, and so doing to join in baptism. In his view this was a necessary preliminary if baptism was to be accepted by God. They must not use it to gain pardon for whatever sins they had committed, but as a consecration of the body implying that the soul was already thoroughly cleansed by right behavior” (Ant. 18:116-119). All four gospels are at pains to emphasize John as the preparer for Yeshua, the voice in the wilderness who prepares the way of the Lord, with Yeshua being the way and John the voice.
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The coming of Jerusalem leaders to John’s place of teaching (7), John’s message of repentance and of building a Faithful Israel (8-10), the mightier one and the promises of spiritual renewal (11-12).
Immersions in water were practiced in Judaism for purification from uncleanness, before entering Temple courts, gentiles beings converted, and by the Essene communities daily. John’s immersion was different: it was a one-time ritual, administered by another in contrast with the usual practice of self-immersion, and it was for repentance with a view to the last days. The Pharisees and Sadducees were not likely coming to be baptized (vs. 7 should be translated “coming to his baptism,” not “coming for baptism,” France). They were coming to check out what John was doing. John interprets their coming as hostile and lambasts them with prophetic zeal. The theology of John’s statement is that a movement of repentance is revealing the true children of Abraham. The concept of a remnant within Israel (faithful Israel) already exists from the Hebrew Bible and particularly Isaiah. The later Christian interpretation that this idea cancels God’s covenants with larger Israel misses the point. God’s blessing comes first to the whole nation and motivates people to live up to the ideals of the covenant (blessing precedes becoming). John’s message also hints that God may raise up children for Abraham from outside of the Israelite people (whether John himself meant the words as a reference to gentiles, certainly Matthew saw them as a hint of what was to come). John sees his day as the eschaton (the generation of judgment) and that Israel’s waywardness is about to be judged. John was aware of a mightier one coming after him, one who would give Spirit baptism. For a Jewish understanding of Spirit baptism, see Isaiah 32:15; 44:3; Ezekiel 36:26-27; 39:29; and Joel 3:1-2 (2:28-29 in Christian Bibles). “Coming after me” has a double meaning, being in one sense about a disciple (Yeshua was John’s disciple) and in another about one whose work is yet future (Yeshua’s work followed John’s and eclipsed it). John also uses a common image from the Hebrew Bible of chaff being separated in the usual agricultural process on thethreshing floor. John’s age is the time of separation and the building of a fruitful movement which will emerge from the judgment and bring glory to God in the power of the Spirit.
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Yeshua comes for baptism (13), John seeks to prevent him (14), Yeshua submits (15), the public and visible appearance of the Spirit and the voice of heaven calling Yeshua the Son (16-17).
This event is certainly one that could be embarrassing for the Yeshua movement. Yeshua, the master, was a disciple of John (note in vs. 11, “the one coming after me” as a reference to Yeshua as a disciple, but one who will be greater). The fact that Yeshua submitted to John’s baptism could cast doubts on Yeshua’s superiority. Matthew is the first evangelist to tell the fuller version of the story (Mark 1:9-11 is very short). He is at pains to emphasize John’s message that Yeshua is greater than he (vs. 11) and John’s attempt to prevent Yeshua from submitting to baptism by him (vs. 14). John himself needs Yeshua to baptize him with fire and the Spirit (vs. 11, 14). But on the other hand, Yeshua needs John as well and says he must be baptized “to fulfill all righteousness.” This reason which Yeshua gives for submitting is vague and we are left to clues in the narrative to fill in its meaning. It seems that Yeshua must identify with this righteousness movement of John. A prophet must recognize a prophet. And John’s authority is from God (the Father), to whom Yeshua must submit. For Yeshua (whom we know in later theology to be the Son) to fail to identify with the authority of the Father’s renewal of his people, Israel, would not be right. The Father clearly takes pleasure in the Son’s obedience and publicly bestows a sign of his identity here. The baptism reveals Yeshua at the very least as the Son of David, God’s son by virtue of his messianic office (2 Samuel 7:14 gives the Davidic heirs the title Son of God). Yet Yeshua’s sonship is more than David’s, and the heavenly voice and visible manifestation of the Spirit elevate Yeshua’s sonship beyond what came before. The depth of relationship of Son and Father is hinted at here in an incomplete mystery. Yeshua is exalted by the Father, submits to the Father, is greater than a prophet, and is greater than David. Matthew’s presentation of the lofty identity of Messiah grows in mystery.
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The testing of the Son by the Spirit through the instrument of Satan.
Yeshua’s first answer to Satan is Deuteronomy 8:3, “Man shall not live on bread alone.” The first just before that, Deuteronomy 8:2, gives a rationale for this entire incident of testing: “Remember the long way that the Lord your God has made you travel in the wilderness these past forty years, that He might test you by hardships to learn what was in your hearts: whether you would keep His commandments or not.” God tested his son Israel forty years and now tests his Son Ideal Israel, for forty days — both in the desert wilderness. Israel is God’s son in numerous texts, especially in Deuteronomy (1:31; 14:1; 32:5-6, 18-20). Yeshua is God’s Son, as just declared in Matthew 3:17. Whereas Israel fell repeatedly to temptation, Yeshua maintains absolute fidelity to his Father. Scot McKnight (A Community Called Atonement, pg. 57) says, “He rolls back history to become what Israel was so he can undo what Israel did.” A major aspect of Messiah’s work is recapitulating (reliving, summing up) humanity’s condition to rescue and elevate us (he became what we are so we can become what he is). The conditions of the testing have to do with the relation of the Son to the Father (R.T. France). The Father’s mission is hard. Will Yeshua exploit his role as the Son of God? Will he put an early end to the time of testing by making bread from stones? Will he require the Father to save him from a fall, pridefully asserting his right as the Son? Will he skip the hard road to kingdom decreed by the Father and take a transfer of kingship directly from Satan? Similar temptations will occur when Yeshua is on the cross. If he is the Son of God, why doesn’t he just come down from the cross and rule? The answer is that the Father has given the Son a mission of redemption through sacrifice. The obedience of the Son is his love for the Father and trust in the Father’s plan.
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At John’s arrest, Yeshua withdraws to Galilee (12), from Nazareth to Capernaum (13), midrashic connection to the Zebulon and Naphtali prophecy (14-16), Yeshua’s kingdom message (17).
All four gospels record that Yeshua went to Galilee from Judea after John’s work declined. Mark and Luke agree it was after John’s arrest (Mark 1:14; Luke 3:19-21). The fourth gospel says it was when Yeshua’s disciples were baptizing more than John’s (John 4:1-4). Capernaum, a town large enough to have a centurion (8:5) and a tax collection post (9:9), is on the north shore of the lake. It is the place from which Yeshua’s work was based and is in the tribal territory of Naphtali (Nazareth is in Zebulon). “Galilee” gets its name from the word for circle. Isaiah 9:2 calls the area galil hagoyim, which literally means “circle of the nations.” It is not that Galilee is gentile, but that it is ringed all around by gentile cities. The prophecy in Isaiah 8:23-9:1 (9:1-2 in Chr Bibles) is about people who reject the message of Isaiah and his disciples, seeking instead mediums for their information. They will dwell in gloom. But light is coming to even the distant lands of Israel, even to Naphtali and Zebulon, Isaiah says, because a king is coming (Isa 9:5-6, vss. 6-7 in Chr Bibles). Matthew sees once again a connection between Yeshua’s life and holy history. His midrash is more than a hint that Yeshua is the king of Isaiah 9. Into Galilee Yeshua brings his message of the kingdom. Matthew, using Mark as a source, has abbreviated the message, omitting reference to the time being fulfilled and the call to believe the good news. Matthew’s “kingdom of heaven” instead of “kingdom of God” is a synonymous expression, with “heaven” being a common Jewish way of referring to God and his authority (as people do today in an expression such as, “in the eyes of heaven”). The kingdom is not equated with heaven, but is the reign of the king (God and his Messiah). Yeshua says it is “at hand” (about to happen) because the healing work he will be doing is a sign of the kingdom’s arrival, a preview of the world to come.
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The call of Simon (Peter) and Andrew (18-20), the call of James and John (21-22).
As Abraham left his home and family to go where God showed him, so the Twelve walked away from their homes to be with Yeshua. Matthew gives no hint, though we know it from the fourth gospel, that Yeshua already had a relationship with these men who had been John’s disciples (John 1:35-51). These disciples were already with Yeshua before he withdrew into Galilee and were baptizing as John had done (John 4:1-4). Either Mark and Matthew are unaware of the fuller story (they wrote before the fourth gospel) or the sudden aspect of becoming disciples fit with their desire to show the urgency of Yeshua’s kingdom mission. Yeshua’s discipleship mission is different than rabbinic discipleship in which students joined a school and devoted themselves to a master. Rather, these men will travel with Yeshua and be active (fishing for people). This looks more like prophetic discipleship, as with Elijah and Elisha and the sons of the prophets.
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Yeshua’s mission in Galilee (23), his fame in the whole Roman province of Syria and the healings and exorcisms he worked (24), crowds seek him out from all the districts (25).
Yeshua came to herald the arrival of God’s kingdom. In the time when God’s rule replaces all human governments, there will be no illness or infirmity any longer. Yeshua’s presence was a foretaste of the kingdom, so all in his presence found healing. As the demonic powers will be defeated in the age to come, so the demons spoke up to Yeshua (this had never happened before in any biblical text) and were defeated. The common people are looking for blessings and rewards and so they are drawn through shallow longings to Yeshua’s appearances. Yeshua’s career begins with these signs and this brief popularity, not only a necessary sign of his messiahship, but also demonstrating in person what the kingdom will be like. Yeshua will have to correct the misunderstandings his power and fame will bring. But for now, his growing fame is part of the process. To understand the ways of God, the kingdom, we often need to experience the promise before we take on the hard mission. So Yeshua’s generation experienced the reward and then heard the hard details of kingdom living. Many would fall away when the kingdom’s coming would not happen as they desired. So too with us, we often respond to God based on the promise of rescue and wholeness and then falter when asked to be a rescue and source of wholeness for others.
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Yeshua speaks to his disciples with a crowd in the background (1-2), the Beatitudes (3-12), disciples as salt and light (13-16).
Yeshua has been through the wilderness, has returned from Egypt, passed through the waters, and now is giving a teaching, a Torah like the one from Sinai. The New Moses theme is evident in the first part of Matthew’s gospel (see Dale Allison, The New Moses). No mountain is specified where this teaching event occurred, a deliberate literary technique so that the mountain of the sermon symbolizes Sinai, with Yeshua as the New Moses. The Sermon on the Mount is likely a collection of Yeshua’s teachings made by Matthew or an earlier source, not a single sermon delivered on one occasion (see Hans Dieter-Betz, Essays on the Sermon on the Mount). The Beatitudes, then, are not simply any sayings of Yeshua. They are sayings the apostles felt were central, foundational. Each Beatitude is five things: promise of the coming kingdom, wisdom while we wait, the sad reality of the present age, antithesis to common thinking, and the essence of Yeshua’s way for his disciples (see my Yeshua in Context, chapter 10). The essential application of the Beatitudes is to join Yeshua and God in making these blessings, as much as possible, reality now while we wait for the kingdom. We follow in discipleship as we love the unimportant, comfort mourners, see God with pure hearts, make peace, and accept persecution as the response of evil to love. Such people are salt in a world desperately needing it, light in the darkness.
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Torah commandments are eternal (17-19), Yeshua’s kind of righteousness (20), antitheses on murder, adultery, divorce, vows, revenge, and loving neighbor (21-48).
Who supposed that Yeshua was relaxing or abolishing the Torah of Moses? Some have argued that this must be Matthew’s community dealing with debates between the law-keeping church and the Pauline (allegedly) anti-Torah church. But there is enough evidence of a clash between Yeshua and the scribes and Pharisees to suppose that he might have been accused in his lifetime of relaxing the Torah. What does Yeshua mean by “I have come to fill up the Torah”? The best answer comes from the context. In 5:21-47 we have six examples of Yeshua filling up the Torah. He interprets Torah in its fullest sense, as requiring total righteousness (as opposed to a loophole or evasive approach to Torah, looking for ways to excuse unrighteous motives). The idea that Yeshua meant “I did not come to abolish Torah by calling it obsolete but to bring an end to Torah observance by declaring a new era of law-free gospel” is the common reading, but one which does not integrate with biblical theology or the life and culture of Yeshua at all. It would seem rather that Yeshua is saying, “I did not come to oppose the Torah, but to fill it to its full meaning and to reveal that meaning to you.” Vs. 19 gives the lie to the idea that only a universal moral law derived from the Torah has ongoing authority. Vs. 20 is Yeshua’s major point. It should be understood in this sense, “I expect of my disciples a complete observance of the Torah according to my teaching and not the evasive, lax practice of the scribes and Pharisees.” Much of Christianity’s confusion about this passage could be clarified by realizing Matthew assumes, without saying it, that the apostolic teaching of Acts 15 is in force. The full Torah is being required by Yeshua from his Jewish disciples, but gentiles are not bound by the covenantal signs such as circumcision, Sabbath, and dietary law. So the freedom of non-Jewish disciples with regard to things like the Sabbath is not because Torah has been annulled, but because within Torah Sabbath was only required of Israel. Vss. 21-47 go on to give examples of Yeshua filling the Torah with its deepest meaning, which he said in vs. 17 was his way.
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The main principle (1), alms for the Father alone (2-4), prayer for the Father alone (5-6), Messiah’s prayer (7-15), fasting for the Father alone (16-18).
Just as Yeshua filled up Torah by interpreting it in a thoroughgoing manner which removes all selfishness, evasion, and false motives, he applies this now to acts of devotion. The principle is that we do our deeds for the Father alone. They are relational, not to attain status with people. This powerful principle views life as lived before God in intimate connection to God in his Direct Being. It is a mystical awareness of the Holy One and the belief that serving others, worshipping, and being involved in healing the world is our way of loving him. Messiah’s prayer (minus the “for yours is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever, amen,” which was added later by Christians scribes) is intended, based on the use of prayer liturgically in Yeshua’s practice, to be prayed verbatim. The version in Luke is slightly different, shorter (Luke 11:2-4). Messiah’s prayer (the Lord’s Prayer) resembles the Kaddish and Kedushah, existing Jewish prayers. Its theology is one of intimate relation with the Father, the need for his reign, a belief in his providence for our needs, and reconciliation through forgiveness. It is possible, though we cannot know for certain, that a custom already existed in which teachers would give their disciples a prayer which identified them as disciples of that teacher. This was certainly a custom which developed in the rabbinic movement that was in its very small stages in Yeshua’s time. Messiah’s prayer is our way of identifying with him, designating him as our teacher.
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Treasure on earth and in heaven (19-21), the good and bad eye (22-23), serve God and not wealth (24).
The saying about treasure in heaven is easy to understand and memorable. Yet it is subject to misunderstanding due to the popular treatment of heaven as a place of afterlife (“save up your treasure for the afterlife”). This is not the meaning. Heaven is foremost the place of God’s dwelling, his throne. So saving treasure up in heaven means doing good deeds and storing merit with God. This merit may bring reward in this life and the life to come. The point is that being on good terms with God is more important than having wealth. The saying about the eye as the lamp of the body is hard for moderns to grasp. It is evident that Yeshua, and the ancients, are thinking of the eye as giving light and not just receiving it. Yeshua combines the idea of bright eyes (a sign of goodness) with the opposing idea of an evil eye, one that curses and does not bless others (the evil eye is an idiom for a curse). Yeshua teaches his disciples that their eyes should be filled with generosity and devotion to good deeds. A person with shining eyes has an interior light, their whole being is good. So with the eyes we see the needs of others and bless, but with bad eyes, darkness issues from the body and continues the world’s curse. Finally, the saying about mammon (Aramaic for wealth) is simple. Mammon is not a pagan deity or demon, as some have suggested. Yeshua simply personifies wealth in this saying. Also, it is going too far to say that wealthy people are always against God. Yeshua’s sayings are deliberate exaggeration and intensification. His point is that the motive of wealth usually entails choices that clash with a desire to serve God and bless others.
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The principle of simplicity (25), the example of birds and grass (26-30), simplicity restated (31), the futility of the nations seeking wealth (32), seek God’s kingdom and charity (33), a proverb about simplicity (34).
The principle of simplicity is that life is more than food and clothing yet we tend to elevate possession, enjoyment, and excess. We think security is in storing for the future. It is wise to store in times of abundance, but Yeshua challenges the unbalanced accumulation of wealth as a sort of deity to protect us in trouble. He points to the realm of nature as a wisdom example. If people are the only creatures who store wealth in excess, perhaps we should question the necessity. God’s provision is day to day and our needs are less than we imagine them to be. Yeshua uses an argument from Jewish wisdom: the gentiles worry about conquering and kingdoms, but a good Jew knows that having God and Torah is enough. 6:33 is a major statement of purpose. “Righteousness” already by Yeshua’s time had the connotation of giving alms or charity (see 6:1-2). If, in 6:1, “righteousness” includes all of the examples in 6:2-24, then charity is part of what righteousness meant (together with prayer and fasting). So perhaps 6:33 means both “seek to do the righteousness that God requires for his kingdom” and also “seek the blessings of God’s rule and his charity toward us.” The idea of seeking God’s blessings fits with the section which enjoins us to trust God for our needs. The more common interpretation also fits, in that we should be more concerned for doing good deeds than accumulating excess goods.
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Avoiding an overcritical spirit (1-5), avoiding a naive spirit (6), trusting God for good things (7-11), the Golden Rule (12).
Yeshua’s time is one of expected apocalypse, war with Rome. Many think Israel needs to be purified and ready for the messianic era. Yeshua himself has preached repentance for the coming kingdom. But a danger in spiritual renewal is an overcritical spirit. Yeshua is not counseling that disciples forego analytical reasoning or commonsense ethical judgments (Allison). But he is teaching his disciples not to be condemning of others, for all are liable to condemnation at the final judgment. Disciples are to hold out hope for a person’s repentance and renewal. Meanwhile, the best place for criticism and renewal is with the self. We cannot change others, but to a limited degree we can reform and change ourselves. Renewal for Israel will come as people repent and turn to the light, but along the way, condemning others and hoping for the condemnation of others will not bring revival. But, as is often the case, there is a converse side to this wisdom: neither should disciples be naive in assuming that all are ready to receive the kingdom teaching. Some people are rightly caught in their own web of lies and desires. The holy no more belongs with them than pearls with swine. Disciples may discern that a person needs rebuke and not instruction. Vss. 7-11 are an encouragement in the face of all this hard teaching (Allison), much as 6:25-33 relieved the hard teachings with refreshing faith in providence. The kingdom work may be hard and sad at times, but through it all God gives good things to his own. The section ends with the Golden Rule, which in light of the high calling of the Sermon on the Mount, is not just about being polite to others, but outrageously generous. What we want from others is generosity.
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The narrow and wide roads (13-14), good and bad fruit (15-20), the claimers and the knowers (21-23), the house on sand and the house on bedrock (24-27), the crowds amazed (28-29).
Vss. 13-14 need not be interpreted as referring to final destinies (where people will live in eternity). Elsewhere we read that Yeshua’s life is a ransom for the many (Matt 20:28), not the few. We also read that many will come for salvation (Matt 8:11). Would Yeshua say, effectively, “God’s love will be effective for only a few?” The point of the Sermon and this section is to call people to a life of kingdom reality now. The road of discipleship is hard and few find it. Its way is life now, abundant and powerful. Furthermore, exhortation passages typically express the difficulty in exaggerated terms, a difficult calling. A common reading of 7:13 is that few are redeemed in the end and the majority will be finally destroyed (or tormented without ever being destroyed, which is an odd reading of this verse for sure since the word means destruction). Many, wishing to express an alternative to the common reading, suggest Yeshua means few find the road of total discipleship. His warning of destruction is regarded as an exaggeration. Even poor disciples, this alternative view says, will be transformed (perhaps after death) into perfect disciples, so that no one really needs to worry about being destroyed because of poor obedience. But what if neither view is correct? What if Yeshua is talking about his nation and people’s present circumstances and the upcoming destruction of Jerusalem and slaughter of many Jews by Rome? What if Matthew 7:13 is not about eternal destinies at all? It is, instead, the king, telling his unbelieving subjects how they might bring the kingdom of God and avoid the fate of the first Jewish war. Many readings of Yeshua (Jesus) fail to consider that he is often being a prophet to his generation and not speaking about ultimate theology. As for lesser disciples, there are plenty of examples in the Gospels of Yeshua offering hope to them. As for the few vs. many concept, the Gospels declare that Yeshua’s actions result in many being ransomed, not few. This verse is not about who will be ultimately redeemed, but what will happen to Yeshua’s generation when many go to destruction at the hands of Rome. Continuing his vision for his nation to become the kingdom of God instead of the doomed people of God, Yeshua explains right and wrong ways forward starting in vs. 15. The ones whose fruit is greed, power-mongering, and self-aggrandizement are not voices for God. Furthermore, Yeshua was aware (vss. 21-23) movements would arise in his name after him and yet many would be false. The sign of kingdom reality is knowing and identifying with Yeshua, not miracles or acts of power. The way to best identify with Yeshua is simple (vss. 24-29): do according to his teaching. Interestingly, the teaching found in many places of religion, including churches, emphasizes completely different ideas about righteousness than those Yeshua taught. Many churches have not paid much attention to Matthew 7:24-29.
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A leper comes to Yeshua (1-4), a centurion at Capernaum (5-9), many will come to the banquet (10-12), the centurion’s servant is healed (13), healings in Peter’s house in Capernaum (14-17).
Yeshua has already demonstrated healings (4:23-25), so the leper knows Yeshua can. The question is whether he would be willing to touch a leper. Mark 1:40-45 and Luke 5:12-16 have more detailed accounts of this incident. In Torah (Lev 13-14) it is an oddity that no guidelines are given about the severity and duration of impurity one will contract by touching a leper (actually it is scale disease, not leprosy). The rabbis derive the consequences of touching a leper from the parallel example of the tzav (person with a genital discharge). Thus, Yeshua would have had to wash his clothes, bathe, and be impure until sundown (Lev 15:7). We should not assume that Yeshua failed to follow these procedures. The gospels record few such details, but their omission is not to deny that Yeshua kept Torah. The story of the Roman centurion at Capernaum is also found in Luke 7:1-10 (some think it is the same story as in John 4:46-54, noting that the words for son and servant can be confused). This story is more than a hint that Yeshua’s movement will reach gentiles. Yeshua’s parable of the banquet has a simple point of irony: some in Israel will miss the banquet while many from the nations will come and dine with Abraham. Peter’s house was in Capernaum (and a possible site can be visited today at Capernaum), though perhaps he had previously lived at Bethsaida (John 1:44). Matthew finds a midrash-like connection with the many healings and Isaiah 53:4. This does not limit the meaning of Isaiah 53:4 to physical healing, but is an example of the creative connections possible in the ancient Jewish way of applying the Bible to explain the acts of God. The healings of Yeshua are demonstrations of the presence of the kingdom. Where Yeshua is, the kingdom is present.
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Yeshua decides to leave the crowds for the other side (18), a challenge to a scribe and a disciple (19-20), a challenge to another would-be disciple (21-22).
Yeshua is in Capernaum on the north shore of the lake. The other side must be the east side, the region of the Decapolis (modern Jordan), as they end up in the region of the Gadarenes (uncertain location with contradictory information about its name in the three synoptic gospels). The story suggests that Yeshua desires to be alone with his disciples and a number of would-be disciples consider coming with Yeshua, but must face the test of discipleship. Allison points out the contrast in the two stories, which form a sort of antithetical parallelism. In the first a scribe, not identified as a disciple, calls Yeshua teacher and indicates a commitment to follow. In the second a disciple, one already called by Yeshua, indicates a reason not to follow at that moment. Yeshua discourages the would-be-disciple who is a scribe and commands greater commitment from the disciple. To the one who has not been given a place as disciple (the scribe), Yeshua lays a stumbling block before him: is he willing to leave his comfortable position and become itinerant like the band of disciples? To the one who has already been granted a place (the disciple) Yeshua makes a demand that few would accept: leave off burying your father and follow me now. In both cases, the demand of discipleship calls the person to a more difficult position, to leave prosperity behind and even to leave one’s parents behind. Yeshua’s interactions with the band of disciples in his time bears the mark of lessons for later disciples. Later disciples would be less likely to face homeless wandering as a condition of discipleship. Yet the story of the scribe and his question stands as a challenge to all disciples: would we choose to follow if this were required of us? In the same way, the refusal to let the disciple bury his father is an example to future disciples. Many try to soften Yeshua’s refusal to let his disciple bury his father (some say the father was not yet dead and the disciple is asking to wait for years before following). Yeshua as a teacher engaged in hyperbole (deliberate exaggeration) in order to illustrate in specific situations broad ideas. The broad idea here, which Yeshua speaks about in other places, is that living for Messiah and kingdom will sometimes put people at odds with family and parents. Any who love parents more than Yeshua are unworthy as disciples. Perhaps Yeshua’s exaggerated requirement is symbolic of the choice many would need to make, to follow the kingdom over the demands of parents. Meanwhile, the “dead” who have time to bury their own dead are those who refuse the call to discipleship. They are dead to God and oblivious to the kingdom, a hard teaching. Whether discipleship will call on any one of us for such difficult choices depends on the time in which we live. Those who follow Yeshua in the key moment of kingdom proclamation live in a time when urgency overrides all normal concerns of living in this world. Would we follow in such a hard time, when the demand was equally as urgent?
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MATTHEW 8:23 – 9:8
The stilling of the storm (23-27), the Gadarene demoniacs (8:24-28), the paralyzed man (9:1-8).
Matthew tends to group miracles into triads and does so with the stilling of the storm, the freeing of the demoniacs, and the account of the paralyzed man (compare 8:1-17). In the stilling of the storm account Matthew deliberately evokes Jonah 1:14. Both Jonah and Yeshua were asleep and the prayer of the sailors resembles the disciples call to Yeshua: “Lord, do not let us perish for this man’s life” (Jonah 1:14) compare Matthew 8:25, “Save us, Lord; we are perishing.” This nature miracle, as many others, reveals Yeshua as more than a prophet or holy man (he does not pray, but commands). Yeshua acts as if his disciples should realize his identity as the divine man. The story of the demoniacs is a strange case in which Mark’s version is the better known one. Mark has one demoniac in the region of the Gerasenes while Matthew has two in the region of the Gadarenes. Luke also has one demoniac and most manuscripts of Luke agree with Mark about the region being of the Gerasenes (though some manuscripts of Luke say Gergesenes). This is not the only case in which Matthew’s version of a story doubles the number of people involved. These stories came into the gospels originally from oral accounts by eyewitnesses (see Richard Bauckham’s Jesus and the Eyewitnesses). We would expect some differences in eyewitness versions. A harmonizing speculation might be that there were two demoniacs but only one went on to a continued life of health in which he remained familiar to the earliest disciples. Yeshua is stronger than the demonic powers and defeats them. It is doubtful that the drowning of the swine is accidental, as Yeshua’s power over nature seems too thorough for an accident to occur. Pigs can swim and would be able to get out of the water, but they must be crazed by the presence of the demons. The region is likely the countryside of the Decapolis on the east side of the lake, which is primarily a gentile area. The third story in this triad, the healing of the paralyzed man, is used by Yeshua to mysteriously declare his identity. His statement, “Your sins are forgiven,” could mean “by God” or “by me.” In the first case, how would Yeshua know unless he is a prophet? In the second case, who is Yeshua to forgive sins? The scribes’ “this man is blaspheming” could be assuming either interpretation. But vs. 6 clarifies, and must have seemed even more blasphemous, as Yeshua declares the Son of Man’s authority to forgive sins on earth. This triad of miracles is joined together to make a powerful statement about Yeshua’s identity: the divine man with power over nature, demons, and even the forgiveness of sins.
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The call of Matthew (9), questioned about dining with tax collectors (10-13), questioned about fasting (14-15), the new patch and new wine (16-17).
In this version of the calling of the tax collector, he is called Matthew, but in Mark 2:14 and Luke 5:27 he is called Levi. It should be noted that Levi is never named in the list of the Twelve (but Matthew is). It has long been thought that Matthew was also called Levi. Yet this solution and harmonization does not work based on all our knowledge of Jewish naming: though many have given names in Greek and Hebrew, or have a nickname as well as a given name, the idea that someone would have two Hebrew given names is unprecedented. It seems that the gospel of Matthew has a discrepancy here, confusing one tax collector (Levi) with another (Matthew). Following the calling scene, Yeshua deliberately brings his gospel to an unlikely group of recipients. This is not, as E.P. Sanders has argued, to indicate that the kingdom will include sinners without repentance. Yeshua again and again says that no one loves God more than a repentant transgressor. Citing Hosea 6:6, Yeshua condemns his accusers: they have forgotten lovingkindness, the priority of love for needy people, and have excluded people in cold self-justification. Further, they are emphasizing form (adherence to ritual standards) and not substance (love, redemption, justice). Even John’s disciples question the Master, for they were used to more strict discipline. Yeshua calls himself the bridegroom. Whether Yeshua is hinting at his divinity (the Lord as Israel’s groom) is uncertain. Yet in calling himself the bridegroom, Yeshua is claiming a high identity. He is one people rejoice over. God is doing something new and insisting on old ways (old cloth, old wineskin) will cause people to miss the new revelation of God. Far better than assuming this parable is about old Judaism versus new “Christianity,” it is a fitting story about how religious people are not open to change. But God’s grace breaks through and it is good to be open and receptive.
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Raising a daughter and healing a woman (18-26), healing two blind men (27-31), exorcising a mute demon and mixed reactions (32-34).
This is another series of three miracles linked together by Matthew (Allison). In 8:1-23 we have the healing of the leper, of the centurion’s servant, and of Peter’s mother in law and others in Capernaum. In 8:23-9:17 we have the stilling of the storm, the Gadarene demoniacs, and the paralyzed man. Now in 9:18-34 we find the combined healing of Jairus’s daughter and the woman with bleeding, the two blind men, and the mute demoniac. The theme in this triad is faith in Yeshua as the one who brings God’s messianic promises to Israel. Jairus’s faith in Yeshua is amazing, which Matthew highlights by a slight difference in wording. Whereas in Matthew’s source (Mark 5:23) Jairus requests that a daughter near death be healed, Matthew changes the request: the daughter is already dead and Jairus expects a raising. The woman with bleeding has a remarkable faith, believing that merely touching Yeshua will bring her salvation as in messianic times to come. Yeshua tells her she is “saved,” which is not a code word for admission into the afterlife, but a holistic term for rescue from death and suffering. The messianic blessings are coming now on those who believe Yeshua is the one. The blind men and the deaf/mute possessed person are part of the promise of healing in the messianic days to come (see Isa 35:5-7). Again the vehicle by which the blessings come is faith (vs. 29, “according to your faith”). The reference by the blind men to Yeshua as Son of David could be taken more than one way. Is Yeshua a new Solomon (legends have him healing and exorcising)? Matthew sees the title as messianic. Finally the issue of faith or rejection of Yeshua comes to a high-water mark in the third miracle story, in which Yeshua heals a mute demoniac. His opponents among the Pharisees cannot deny his power, but ascribe it to sorcery in league with Satan. Has the messianic era begun to dawn in Yeshua, as the early disciples thought, or is Yeshua a fraud and a trickster? Those who desire the salvation of Israel and the nations, the coming of the Age of Messiah, know that it will happen when the many believe with saving faith.
EXCURSUS: Jairus as a witness to Yeshua. Mark and Luke name the synagogue ruler as Jairus, but Matthew does not. According to Richard Bauckham (Jesus and the Eyewitnesses), the most logical explanation for a gospel writer leaving a character unnamed, though the name is in his sources, is that names are generally only used for people whose stories were known personally by the writer. In other words, Jairus was almost certainly an eyewitness who attested in the early congregations about his encounter with Yeshua. Mark and Luke knew Jairus’s story personally, either by having heard him themselves or someone who reported his testimony secondhand. Matthew, on the other hand, did not include Jairus’s name, suggesting that he did not have personal knowledge of Jairus’ testimony. Even though Matthew had the name before him in Mark’s account, he did not use it in his account for this reason.
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MATTHEW 9:35 – 10:15
Yeshua as compassionate shepherd healing and teaching in Galilee (9:35-38), the sending of the Twelve (10:1-15).
Like the Sermon on the Mount, the discourse on mission in chapter 10 follows Matthew’s approach of gathering many sayings into one long discourse (the parallels in Mark and Luke are scattered). 9:35-38 is the prelude to the discourse on mission, explaining why Yeshua sent the Twelve. If we are looking to understand Yeshua’s aims, this prelude is very important. Yeshua raised up disciples to do what he has done: to teach about the kingdom and to bring healing and help to those in need. The work of the kingdom is clearly more than a religious message. It is tikkun olam (the repair of the world), in which the community of Yeshua addresses the problems of suffering and want in addition to separation from God. Matthew shows Yeshua’s attitude to the people as compassion, not anger, and evokes the shepherd theme from the prophets. Ezekiel’s “one shepherd” from the line of David (34:23; 37:24), Zechariah’s people lacking a shepherd (10:2), and Zechariah’s stricken shepherd whose sheep are scattered (13:7) are all in view as connections with Yeshua. By Matthew’s time, the workers Yeshua prayed for were coming and the movement was spreading both within the Jewish people and in the multi-national Church. In chapter 10, the list of the Twelve is unique compared to other lists in Mark, Luke, and Acts in several respects (there is no list in John). Only Matthew calls them “the Twelve disciples” (10:1; 11:1; 20:17; 26:20) and only Matthew calls them apostles. Mark and Luke simply use “the twelve.” Peter is first (in importance) and Judas is last. The four lists are essenially the same except Mark and Matthew list Thaddaeus while Luke and Acts list Judas, son of James. Yeshua’s mission was first to Israel, not gentiles or Samaritans. Matthew agrees with Luke in Acts, who presents a three-stage progress of the kingdom and Yeshua message from Judah and Galilee, to Samaria, and then to the nations. Israel needed to hear the message first and become the forerunner of the messianic community and larger Israel’s rejection needed to play out. God has purposes in the reactions of his people in different eras to his redemptive revelation. God is shown to be just in his deeds. Yeshua’s method is that the teachers will go without provisions and find hospitality from those to whom they are teaching. Later, in Luke 22:35-36, Yeshua will tell them that after his death they will need to take provisions, because their journeys will be longer and rejection more prominent.
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Warnings of persecution and the need for wisdom (16-23), a disciple is like the master (24-25), proclaim from the housetops (26-27), do not fear people (28-31), the one who acknowledges the Son (32-33), a sword on the earth (34-36), losing your life to gain (37-39), those who receive the disciple receive the master (40-42).
Not all that is said in this discourse refers to the immediate mission of the Twelve. Matthew has included in this discourse sayings (keeping with his tendency to gather sayings into collections) related to the persecutions that will come after Yeshua has left (the threat of ejection from synagogues is for the time after Yeshua departs). The most pressing issues in this discourse are the urgency of the mission, the strength of Yeshua’s claim about his identity, and the idea that the Son of Man’s time is soon. Vs. 23 is crucial. Is Yeshua mistaken (does he think the end will come while the Twelve are preaching)? The inclusion of material that is for later generations helps us understand. The mission to Israel is not yet complete (even in our time). When it is, Yeshua will come. Vss. 26-27 bring the issues of persecution into the light of the final judgment: the truth, hidden here, will prevail then. Vss. 32-33 reinforce the interpretation of Yeshua as aware of his divinity. At the very least, he sees himself here as having the authority to justify his followers at the judgment. Vss. 34-36 show that Yeshua was not naive about how soon the end would come: it will come only after suffering. Yeshua’s followers, especially the Twelve, might be called on to lose their lives, but greater gain follows. Again anticipating the situation after Yeshua’s lifetime, the discourse closes with a promise that anyone who serves a servant of Yeshua will be rewarded. Teachers and leaders in the Yeshua movement represent Yeshua and serving them is serving Yeshua (but much is said about false teachers who are not worthy in other places).
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Yeshua goes to the cities (1), John’s disciples ask if Yeshua is the one (2-6), Yeshua comments on John and on the people’s expectations (7-19).
John’s arrest by Herod Antipas is not detailed in Matthew, but is noted in 4:12. John’s disappointment or doubt is clear in the passage. Vs. 6 should dispel any interpretation of John’s motive other than doubt and disappointment. Yeshua’s actions and message do not seem to fulfill the prophecies which John had delivered (3:10-12). Where is the fire, the axe laid to the roots? Yeshua answers with a different messianic mission than the one John expected: the mission of Isaiah 35 and 61, healing and liberation. Yeshua does not explain to John that the fire will come later (something the reader must infer). Rather, Yeshua trumps John’s authority (another indication of the high view Yeshua had of his identity) in vs. 6. Yeshua explains John as a hard man with a hard message (not a bendable reed). John represents the last prophet of the old era, before the kingdom was revealed. The blessings of the kingdom, partially realized in Yeshua’s healing and teaching, bring the disciples into a greater age. This is not Judaism vs. Christianity (an anachronism read into this and other texts with no regard for history and context), but a statement about the blessing of living in the age of the kingdom’s unveiling. Likewise, Hebrews 8:6 speaks of the better promises of the New Covenant age. None of this should be read in a replacement (either-or) paradigm, but a consummation (both-and) paradigm. In other words, what the law and prophets foretold is coming to pass. Yeshua denounces those who take a violent approach (war with Rome) or who would assume that John’s fire is about a Jewish war. He rebukes his generation for failing to respond to God’s revelation and instead judging prophets (judging both John and Yeshua as if the word of God can be put on trial).
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Woes on Galilean towns (20-24), the Great Thanksgiving (25-27), the easy yoke of Yeshua (28-30).
Exhortative material usually exaggerates the threat of judgment. The purpose of much indictment preaching is to bring people to repentance, not to deny that there is any hope. Biblical prophets often declared judgment with the unspoken assumption that repentance would change the decree. Yeshua’s message did not find large acceptance in Galilee. His movement was made up of a small number of followers. The masses were not convinced (likely because Yeshua did not do what was expected, i.e., act as a triumphant messiah). Those who have seen much of God’s presence and power have much expected of them. Yeshua’s woes also prefigure the turning of many gentiles to the kingdom message which will come soon after his lifetime. Yeshua’s message is for people who believe like children and is not accepted by people who have their own theories and demand that God fulfill their plan. Instead of accepting what is revealed, the Galileans had their own philosophy and Yeshua did not fit. Still, even a child would wonder, how can such miracles be possible if this is not of God? Yeshua’s message is based on all authority being given by the Father to him and vss. 25-27 are often called the Great Thanksgiving. This is one of a very few high statements of Yeshua’s identity in the synoptics, as high as statements in the Fourth Gospel. The rejection of Yeshua’s message is not due to failure on Yeshua’s part. The message is from above, and in light of widespread rejection, Yeshua affirms that those open to illumination in their souls from heaven can receive his good news. The message of Yeshua is demanding, but it is also filled with hope and easing of burdens. The response of Yeshua to his unbelieving generation is a warning and an invitation, that those with openness might still be invited even when the hour is getting late. One use of “yoke” language in Jewish writing can be seen in the Wisdom of Sirach (c. 200 BCE) where the yoke a person should accept is a life of wisdom, living according to the wisdom that comes from Torah. Yeshua describes himself as Wisdom incarnate, claiming that his yoke liberates rather than enslaving. Yeshua’s description is not simply about people adopting a certain belief (creed) which will liberate them (e.g., “Jesus saves”), but a way of life — discipleship — which includes belief, but also much more (joining Messiah in repairing the world).
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Dispute over the Sabbath and grain in the fields (1-8), Sabbath and healing in the synagogue (9-14), Yeshua the Isaianic Servant (15-21).
Yeshua’s answer to the dispute over some of his disciples plucking grain as they walked through a field on Shabbat is usually misunderstood (see parallels in Mark 2:23-28; Luke 6:1-5). Yeshua did not make the valid halakhic (Jewish legal) point that plucking for immediate use is not the same as harvesting for future use (and thus was not work), but rather, told a story about David. On the surface it seems like Yeshua is saying, “David violated a purity law in service of a human need and so are my disciples.” But there are several problems with this. First, David was not authorized to give sacred bread to his men. Second, the disciples are not starving. Yeshua’s point is more about his identity and less about halakha. Yeshua is David and his disciples are David’s men (N.T. Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God). The Pharisees in this pointed retelling are now the persecutors of David, the servants of Saul and collaborators with Doeg the Edomite. Yeshua claims an authority like David (combining Son of David talk with Son of Man language). More importantly, he puts his critics in an unfavorable light as those who oppose divinely ordained authority. Yeshua’s Sabbath healings are purposeful attacks on a false halakha of the Sabbath. Yeshua’s intensification of the Torah (which we saw in the Sermon on the Mount) suggests that Sabbath is all the more appropriate for healing. It is a day for deeds of lovingkindness. Matthew’s rendering of Isaiah 42:1-4 in vss. 18-21 does not exactly match the Hebrew, Greek, or Aramaic versions we know of. But the differences in Matthew’s version are not substantial. Isaiah 42:1-4 emphasizes that the mission of the Servant (Israel and most specifically one person who is Ideal Israel) is to the nations (gentiles). Matthew slightly enhances this by rending the last part of vs. 4 “in his name the gentiles will hope.” The end of vs. 4 in the Hebrew text is the same in substance, “the coastlands (gentiles) wait for his teaching.” Yeshua does not use his fame to start conflict, but is gentle. Furthermore, by withdrawing from regions where he is rejected, Matthew sees more than a hint of the situation after Yeshua’s ascension, in which gentiles turn to Yeshua in much greater numbers than Yeshua’s own people.
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Yeshua exorcises a demon from a blind and mute person (22-23), Yeshua answers the charge that he is using the power of Beelzebul (24-32), an indictment against the bad fruit of Yeshua’s opponents (33-37), Yeshua refuses to give a sign to his opponents (38-42), the returning evil spirit (43-45), Yeshua’s mother and brothers (46-50).
The crowd’s question, “Can this be the Son of David?” has a double meaning. Is Yeshua Solomon returned? Solomon is renowned in legends of the time as an exorcist. Yet Son of David is also a messianic title. One of the objections to Yeshua is that he was a sorcerer. Beelzebul is an ancient name for Baal and in Israel became the name of a powerful demon, perhaps Satan himself. Yeshua makes an important and misunderstood statement: doubts about the Son of Man can be forgiven, but not witnessing and denouncing the work of the Spirit. Many have wondered if this is a sin a disciple can commit and be consigned to eternal damnation. In context, this is a statement to those who are witnessing the in-breaking of the kingdom in person and yet are making insincere lies to avoid submitting to the king. Those who experience the kingdom and refuse to submit are not to be forgiven. The converse is interesting to ponder: those who do not experience such a display of the kingdom and therefore reject the Son can be forgiven (a concept not usually incorporated into strict theologies of salvation). But does Yeshua mean there is no hope for restoration in the afterlife ever for such people? First, the fact that a sin is unforgivable does not mean its punishment is eternal. Instead of being forgiven, they may serve their sentence for this crime. Second, Yeshua was known to use deliberate exaggeration and not to balance his statements. This was a prophetic style of warning. In many cases, God’s harsh warnings did not mention a way for people or nations to find restoration, but we see that God did restore people. I am reminded of Isaiah 40:2, “her time service has ended . . . she has paid double for all her sins.” Yeshua argues that the difference between himself and his opponents is obvious: look at the fruit. Yeshua’s fruit is love and healing. The fruit of Israel’s wayward leaders is self-glorification and enrichment. When asked for a sign, Yeshua rightly denounces his opponents. He has given signs and they have refused to submit. Yeshua refers cryptically to his entombment and resurrection with the image of Jonah as the only sign anyone will need. Yeshua is the strong man forcing out the demonic powers, but the leaders of Israel are inviting them back in. Yeshua warns that they return with a vengeance, an ominous warning about Israel’s near future. And Yeshua’s own family then comes, but Yeshua says that family should be redefined. Those who do the will of the Infinite One are family. Yeshua’s family in that sense, those who are submitted to the kingdom, stands in apposition to the hard-hearted generation seeking signs and power, but missing the kingdom completely.
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Yeshua addresses a crowd (1-2), the seed fallen off the path and eaten by birds (3-4), the seed lost to rocky ground (5-6), the seed choked out by weeds (7), the seed that bears fruit for the kingdom (8-9).
This parable has been subtly misunderstood. By interpreting its images in generic theological categories, much of the power of Yeshua’s parable has been lost. Specifically the meaning of the “seed” has been under-represented. In light of Yeshua calling the seed the “word of God,” interpreters have assumed he meant by this “the entire collection of the Bible” or “the message of how to be saved.” Israelites in Yeshua’s time did not have Bibles, a concept that would be foreign to them. They did know of many divine words (plural) in the Israelite scriptures. Yeshua is talking about a specific word when he uses “seed” and not a general term for the whole collection of inspired writings. Which word is he thinking of? He will go on to quote from Isaiah 6:9-10. In midrashic teaching, quoting one portion of a scripture brings to mind the larger context of that scripture. Isaiah 6:13 should be our clue (see N.T. Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God, p. 232, or my Yeshua in Context, chapter 11). It is the holy seed of Israel which will grow into a renewed Israel, ending the exile. Yeshua’s parable addresses the mistaken expectations of his generation. They expected the messianic leader to come and bring a war with Rome and a quick end to the exile. Yeshua teaches that the word (see also Isaiah 55) of the end of exile will not come to pass suddenly, but over a long period of delay. And the word of how that end to exile can come will be missed by most. The seed has fallen off the path. The demonic powers snatch it up and keep people from seeing the truth. Worldly and selfish concerns keep people from following it. But the things that make for the coming of the kingdom and the end of exile can be had by Yeshua’s disciples in bearing the kind of fruit Yeshua bears. More detail will come to this picture in the commentary that follows on the next section.
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To the crowds in parables (10-15), blessed are disciples who see the inner meaning (16-17), insider explanation of the seeds parable (18-23).
Some have doubted that Yeshua’s parables really were intended to disguise his message before the crowds. This would seem unjust and don’t the crowds need to hear the words as much as disciples? Because of this apparent difficulty, many clever means of explaining away the words of Yeshua about parables preventing understanding have been devised. Yeshua means what he said. To the crowds has not been given the blessing of hearing the message in full. The parables of Yeshua are not, as some have represented them, homey illustrations understandable by the masses (like illustrations in a modern sermon). The parables are evocative riddles. Their images tease with meaning seeming so simply at hand, but which are elusive and mysterious when their specific meaning is sought. Yeshua cites the preaching of Isaiah and the message of Isaiah 6:9-10. God commissioned Isaiah to preach knowing that the crowds would not hear and find salvation. Judah in Isaiah’s day was headed unstoppably toward exile. Isaiah’s prophecies, like Yeshua’s parables, were riddles that would not save the crowds, but only insiders who drew near, who sought the meaning, and who became disciples (Isaiah refers to disciples in many places). Yeshua’s dual audience approach (see chapter 11 of my Yeshua in Context) drew crowds with vivid and expressive images of hope and warning, but confused and obfuscated meaning unless a person drew near for more explanation or followed to hear teachings repeated in new forms that revealed meaning. Yeshua gives his inner circle clues to the meaning of the different fates of the seed. The seed is the word of Isaiah 6:13 that the exile will come to an end, but many will not let the seed take root. And the requirement for the end of exile is abundant fruit from the people of Israel.
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Parable of weeds (tares) among the wheat (24-30), parable of the mustard seed (31-32), parable of leaven (33), the weeds among wheat explained (37-43), parable of hidden treasure (44), parable of the pearl (45-46), parable of the net (47-50).
Tares or darnel are a kind of rye grass. Roman law addresses the crime of sowing darnel in an enemy’s wheat field (France). Darnel grains are noxious and a significant amount of darnel in a field can render the crop unusable. The devil is a sower also, like the Son of Man, but whereas Yeshua’s seed is liberation from exile, the devil’s seed is people in bondage and opposition to the kingdom. In this age, the people in the world who are opposed to the kingdom cannot be separated (just as darnel is too hard to separate before harvest). At the end of the age (when the harvest is ready), the angels will separate the weeds for burning, the people who oppose the kingdom for judgment in hell. This is a parable about the people in Yeshua’s audience, the people of Israel, and in general, the people of this present world. There are some people whose hope is fixed on liberation and whatever the divine kingdom may bring while other people are trapped in self-absorption with its natural opposition to divine kingship. Christian teachers have often assumed that the Weeds Parable is about “the church.” In this interpretation, Jesus told us the church would have sincere and insincere people in it at the same time. This reading ignores the context of Yeshua’s (Jesus’) life. He was not speaking about groups who would come in the future (churches) but about his generation (the people of Israel). The general meaning of the parable is that it is impossible for human beings to make accurate judgments about people in this age. But it will become clearer who is good, which is to say humble and open to whatever transformation God has for us, when the age comes to an end. Those who refuse the good, who cling to evil motives of various kinds, will face divine wrath, perhaps in an earthly judgment. This saying does not preclude the possibility of human “weeds” undergoing further revelation and change after judgment. Scripture is full of examples of people restored after facing the consequences of transformative judgment. Yeshua’s use of the mustard seed and its growth into a plant is deliberate exaggeration (birds do not nest in it). Yeshua is saying that the impossible will happen and a tiny group will become a massive people bound for redemption. The leaven parable is also exaggeration. The woman mixes the leaven into sixty pounds (a measure or saton is about 13 liters according to information in Josephus, says France). A pinch of the kingdom’s leaven will produce a feast of bread! The hidden treasure and pearl parables tell disciples what to do while waiting for the kingdom: devote themselves, all their possessions, to the kingdom. The more we realize the blessing of all things being united in Messiah Yeshua, the less we will cling to our possessions. The parable of the net reminds that judgment for the evil will come at the end of the age. The scale of Yeshua’s kingdom parables is cosmic with God’s versus demonic powers language, a vision of final judgment on the last day, and a kingdom impossibly large from such a small start.
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Every scribe of the kingdom (51-53), rejected in Nazareth (54-58).
After the long discourse on parables, Yeshua addresses his disciples. Will they be scribes for the kingdom? Along with Matthew 13:53, so also 23:34 further suggests that Yeshua intends some leaders of his movement to be like the scribes, except that they will be bringing out old (Torah and tradition) and new (kingdom realities made plain in Yeshua). Note that Yeshua’s model is both-and (old and new) and not replacement (new supersedes old). Yeshua seems to be speaking of people who learn from him how to read the scriptures, seeing both the plain meaning and being open to new trajectories when God reveals more. The story of Yeshua’s rejection at Nazareth brings up some interesting issues and questions. Is this the same event as Luke 4:16-30? It most likely is the same event and the different ways of telling the story are due to different sources. We see evidence here of Joseph’s trade as a carpenter, which is mentioned only here (in Mark 6:3 it is Yeshua who is called the carpenter). Only here are Yeshua’s four brothers all named (parallel Mark 6:3). The brothers all became part of the Yeshua community (Acts 1:14; 1 Cor 9:5) and Judas (Jude) and James (Jacob is his actual name and James is a longtime English misnomer) wrote books in the New Testament. James (Jacob) was the first leader of the Jerusalem congregation. We find that Yeshua had sisters, though they are never named. What is the reason the townspeople find it hard to believe Yeshua is a prophet? The answer must be that as a child, Yeshua showed no signs of divine power or prophetic office. Further, though Yeshua probably learned either in his home or a synagogue school (probably a house used as a synagogue), his education was not beyond other Galilean boys. Matthew finishes by saying Yeshua did not do miracles because of the unbelief (Mark says could not).
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Herod Antipas thinks Yeshua is John returned (1-2), the story of John’s execution (3-11), John’s disciples report to Yeshua (12).
The connection between John and Yeshua is important for understanding how people thought of Yeshua. John was not a miracle worker, but a prophet whose message was divinely effective. As Elisha was to Elijah, so Yeshua is to John. Many thought Yeshua had John’s spirit (Matt 16:14). He was the disciple who outdid his master. Antipas, the son of Herod the Great and ruler in Galilee from 4 BCE to 39 CE, may even literally think that John’s spirit has returned and possessed Yeshua (vs. 2). John’s execution is verified in Josephus. John’s disciples continued with their work separately from Yeshua and even in the time of the book of Acts the disciples of John are still working. Some see antagonism between Yeshua’s disciples and John’s, and it is possible there was tension during the period covered by Acts. Yet in this story in Matthew, the relation between John’s disciples and Yeshua is not opposition. They report to Yeshua (vs. 12), seeming to recognize him as the one John said would come after.
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Yeshua tries to withdraw but has compassion when the crowds follow him (13-14), Yeshua tells his disciples to feed the crowds (15-16), the disciples note their small resources (17), 5,000 are fed with five loaves and two fish (18-21).
The feeding of the five thousand occurs in the countryside somewhere on the north side of the lake. Yeshua has withdrawn because of the danger from Herod Antipas. Yet when crowds follow, Yeshua cannot resist helping and serving them. The one who will bring the kingdom despises death and suffering. The present evil and lack of the world pains Messiah greatly. When he orders the disciples to feed the crowd, this is a deliberate challenge intended to become a lesson to them on his identity. They should respond, “You can feed them, Lord.” But they still do not understand (see 16:9). Yeshua is the New Moses and gives manna in the wilderness and the New Elisha (2 Kgs 4:42-44). Many commentators feel that the description of Yeshua’s blessing and breaking bread (compare the verbs in 14:13-21 with 26:20-29) is evoking the eucharist (the later Christian custom of bread and wine as a memorial). But blessing bread is a Jewish custom and the similarities are better seen from Yeshua’s time and not reading into the practices of the second century. Yeshua’s blessing brings miracles. Evidence for the number 5,000 being symbolic of Torah’s five books is lacking.
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Yeshua prays at night (22-24), Yeshua walks on the water (25-27), Peter tries his faith walking on water (28-33), coming to Genessaret people seek healing from Yeshua (34-36).
Praying on the mountain evokes the New Moses theme again in Matthew. Walking on water brings to mind the hundreds of verses in the Hebrew Bible in which water represents chaos and is mastered by divine power. This too evokes Moses parting the sea. The stormy waters of the lake hold up their master. Peter tries his faith and ends up like the writer of Psalm 69, “Deliver me, O God, for the waters have reached my neck; I am sinking into the slimy deep and find no foothold; I have come into the watery depths; the flood sweeps me away” (Allison). Yeshua uses the incident to teach about faith. Divine power does amazing things and the greatness or smallness of the one being acted upon is irrelevant. The story is, no doubt, about the messianic mission of the Yeshua community which is to be based on divine power and not merely human qualifications. Faith and expectancy will carry the later generations of disciples into triumphs over the demonic powers and see many rescued from the slimy deep.
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Some Pharisees and scribes question Yeshua about his disciples and handwashing (1-2), Yeshua denounces them for putting tradition ahead of commandment (3-6), he denounces them for misplaced priority (7-9), Yeshua’s teaching on defilement (10-11), discussion about Pharisees and blindness (12-15), further explanation of Yeshua’s defilement principle (16-20).
This passage and its parallel in Mark 7 has been misunderstood as an overturning of Leviticus 11. Yet the passage is not about kashrut (dietary law) or Leviticus 11, but about handwashing before eating. Ritual handwashing was practiced before prayer for some time prior to Yeshua and perhaps the custom before eating was already becoming standard in some segments of Judaism. Yeshua likely practiced it himself since in Matthew the opponents say only that the disciples did not do it (Mark says some of the disciples). Yeshua uses the dispute to emphasize three points: (1) traditions must support the commandments and not contradict them, (2) worship without deeds of justice and obedience are worthless, and (3) ethical defilement is a greater concern than secondary ritual defilement. Handwashing is about secondary defilement: contracting ritual impurity through unknown contact with others in the marketplace. Handwashing is not a Torah command (defilement requiring washing is of the whole body). It is an innovation based on building a fence around Torah. Yeshua does not oppose the practice, but the idea of judging others for not following it. And by criticizing others over this innovation, these Pharisees and scribes have revealed the poverty of their system: scrupulousness about less important ceremonies while lacking zeal for greater matters of mercy, justice, and loving deeds. Yeshua’s defilement principle is an ethic worth living: we need to see the ethical and spiritual impurity within us and conquer it by faith and devotion to God. It is the impurity inside which comes out and commits deeds of hatred and selfishness. Our first attention in piety should be to these matters and not worries about secondary ritual defilement.
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In Tyre a Canaanite woman begs help of the Son of David (21-23), Yeshua’s dialogue with the woman (24-27), Yeshua praises her faith and heals her daughter (28).
Given Yeshua’s proclivity to modeling truths with his actions, we should read this story as a lesson for the disciples on their coming mission to the nations. Yeshua at first repels the gentile, truthfully explaining that his mission is to Israel. But the story is also part of a larger theme, strongly followed in Matthew, to the effect that gentiles often have greater faith than Israelites. Yeshua demonstrates that the blessings of the kingdom are not Israel’s private possession, but belong to people who respond to God in faith. The woman is called a Canaanite, a term outdated by Yeshua’s time, indicating her origin as a descendant of Israel’s ancient enemies. Yet she refers to Yeshua with Israelite language (Son of David). She represents a gentile who looks to Israel’s Son for salvation. She finds it through her faith. Later, as the disciples are sent to the nations, they will remember that their master found and blessed faith, even from Israel’s former enemies.
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Yeshua, on a mountain by the lake, heals and delivers crowds (29-31), Yeshua feeds the 4,000 (32-39).
Matthew is very non-specific about the location. The parallel in Mark says more, noting that Yeshua passed through the Decapolis region (Jordan). Even in the Markan parallel (7:31 – 8:9) the route Yeshua took from Tyre back to the lake in Galilee is unclear. The mountain which Yeshua ascends is unnamed and there are several possibilities. The conclusion from this is that any interpretation which depends on geography (or whether the crowd was Jewish or gentile) is faulty. Allison more likely captures the essence by noting that the unnamed mountain is deliberately vague, because it symbolizes Mt. Sinai and Mt. Zion together, the place of the Feast to Come from Isaiah and the time of healing from Isaiah 35. Yeshua, the New Moses, has given his sermon from a mount and now brings a sign of the Age to Come from a mount as well. Why, then, a second notice of general healing and a feeding almost identical to the feeding of the 5,000? A long-held guess has been in the possible symbolism of the numbers (five loaves and 5,000 equals the five books of Torah and a Jewish audience while seven loaves and 4,000 speak of seventy nations and four corners of the earth). But no such Jewish-gentile distinction is emphasized. Since the evangelists do not develop a symbolic meaning for the two feedings, it seems simply that Yeshua worked two feeding miracles, a tradition so important, they felt compelled to include them both.
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Pharisees and Sadducees ask for a messianic sign (1-2a), note: 2b-3 are not in the oldest manuscripts, no sign but the sign of Jonah (4), beware the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees (5-6), the disciples misunderstand (7), Yeshua’s rebuke (8-11), the disciples understand (12).
Yeshua has a following of people who are making messianic claims for him. He himself has made a number of statements hinting at an exalted identity (though not clear messianic statements). The leaders of Israel (Sadducees have the power at the time, but Pharisees are a second power and exert influence) ask for evidence in a messianic sign. Yeshua says, cryptically, that they will only see the sign of Jonah. The statement is ambiguous and has two meanings (at least): (1) Jonah told Ninevah repent or be destroyed and Jerusalem is about the be destroyed for rejecting the prophet Yeshua and (2) Jonah was in the whale’s belly three days and Yeshua will be in the tomb for the same period. The three days statement has been made explicitly in Matthew 12:40 already. After this, Yeshua warns of the leaven of these leaders. His disciples think he is rebuking them for not bringing bread. Yeshua denounces their lack of faith. Why would they need bread when they have Yeshua with them? Didn’t he feed the crowds? They then realize he is talking about the teaching of the Sadducees and Pharisees. Yeshua calls it leaven, dangerous ideas spreading to all Israel and leading to disaster. There is more than one issue at stake here in the meaning of leaven. The kinds of false teachings coming from the Sadducees and Pharisees are multiple: collusion with Rome, rebellion against Rome, false security in Israelite identity, distorted priorities preventing righteousness, and so on. The way to avoid this leaven, as implied by Yeshua, is to cling to his teaching which rightly interprets the intent of Torah.
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Yeshua questions his disciples about his identity (13-16), Yeshua praises the good confession and foretells the community to come from it (17-19), Yeshua commands secrecy (20).
The dangerous nature of misunderstanding Yeshua’s messianic mission is the theme here. In the narrative which follows this good confession of Yeshua as Messiah, we find the contrasting truth: Messiah is not exactly what people think (see vs. 21). Thus, after the good confession that Yeshua is Messiah, he praises Peter and then orders secrecy. The guesses of the people make sense: maybe Yeshua is the Elisha (successor and one with a double portion of power) to John the Baptist’s Elijah. But the inner circle of Yeshua should see deeper. Isn’t Yeshua more than a prophet? Yeshua affirms the messianic confession. He foretells a community to be built based on his messianic identity. And Peter will lead the movement. This movement will be stronger than the power of Satan. But Yeshua’s identity as Messiah is not what the disciples think. So, for now, they need to know who he is, but they must be open to receive what comes. Faith will be tried. The proclamation of the good confession will not be easy. For now, they must be silent about it until they learn fully its meaning.
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Yeshua’s teaching that the Son of Man must suffer and die (21), Peter rebukes him (22), Yeshua rebukes Peter (23), Yeshua teaches that disciples must choose the path of redemptive suffering (24-26), the Son of Man as final judge of the age (27), those standing here will see the kingdom (28).
Yeshua mixes categories in ways that were bewildering to his students. The Son of Man is the figure who receives an unending kingdom (Daniel 7). His destiny is to rule. Yet Yeshua says he must suffer and die. It is repeatedly apparent that Yeshua means himself by the Son of Man. Peter is caught up in ideas about Yeshua ruling and being victorious. He mistakes Yeshua’s teaching as some sort of self-doubt. He judges Yeshua as needing confidence and himself as one who can help Yeshua. His lack of submission to the teaching of his master leads Peter to a stinging humiliation. Man’s ways are strangely aligned with those of Satan, but God has ways which people must simply behold and accept without understanding. Truth is received, not deliberated. Reason is faith seeking understanding and reason alone is doomed to fail since truth is too great for our minds to comprehend. Yeshua reveals to his disciples that their path also will be suffering. This is not necessarily a universal calling for all of Yeshua’s followers, but is the specific calling of the Twelve and of others who have since followed Yeshua. The path of redemptive suffering will find great reward in the coming of Yeshua as Judge. We must all be willing to give up reward in this age for better things in the age to come. The fact that some Yeshua is talking to will see the kingdom of God is immediately revealed by the narrative to refer to the Transfiguration.
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Yeshua takes three disciples on a high mountain where his appearance is transformed (1-2), Moses and Elijah appear with Yeshua (3), Peter intends to build sukkahs (4), the heavenly voice affirms Yeshua as Son (5-6), Yeshua is returned to normal and alone again (7-8), Yeshua commands secrecy until the resurrection (9), the disciples ask about Elijah and the timing of the kingdom (10-13).
This scene, known as the Transfiguration of Yeshua, is referred to in 2 Peter 1:16-18. The apostles considered this an important revelation of Yeshua’s identity because of the heavenly voice calling Yeshua the Son. Dale Allison argues that the story is told with echoes of Exodus 24 and 34, Moses’ ascent to the high mountain to speak with God. The note that this happens “after six days” is odd in a gospel with so little chronological information but fits perfectly as an allusion to Exodus 24:16. Moses and Elijah are the only two biblical figures who spoke with God on Sinai. Moses’ face shone with God’s radiance in Exodus 34, but Yeshua outdoes the glory of Moses, since the radiance is from him. The Transfiguration shows Yeshua as the New and Better Moses, but also indicates more. He is the Son and the glory that proceeds from him is his own. Peter misunderstands and thinks the end of the age is occurring, an event he associates with Sukkot and tabernacles, but he is interrupted by the divine voice. Yeshua is not a third, together with Moses and Elijah, but the unique Son. In Exodus 24:16, God speaks from a cloud as he does here. The Sonship of Yeshua is not defined here. Does it mean in the same sense that David was God’s son? Or is this Sonship something more? No answers are yet given. The disciples fall on their faces at the sound of majesty and when Yeshua calms them, the vision is gone. They are not to tell anyone, a continuation of the theme of messianic secrecy. They won’t be prepared to understand what it all means until after the resurrection. The disciples are confused about the coming of the kingdom and the timing of all these things. If Elijah appeared, why is Yeshua waiting to reveal himself to others and why this talk of death? Yeshua says that John is the prophet who came in Elijah’s spirit and that like John he will die. The glory of the Transfiguration, they will later understand, was a prefiguring and not yet the coming of the Son of Man in glory to establish his kingdom.
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The disciples fail in an exorcism (14-18), Yeshua uses the incident as a lesson on faith (19-20), note that vs. 21 is missing in early manuscripts, Yeshua explains his coming death (22-23), the miracle of the Temple tax coin (24-27).
Matthew’s version of the failed exorcism story perfectly illustrates how different evangelists can use the same story for different purposes. The main differences between Mark’s version and Matthew’s are: (1) Matthew’s is much shorter and (2) Mark’s includes a saying missing from Matthew about prayer and fasting. This difference bothered early scribes who inserted in vs. 21 (missing in early manuscripts and therefore omitted in many modern translations) the saying from Mark. Mark uses the story as part of his program to reveal through action who Yeshua is (one who does not need to pray to heal and exorcise). Matthew uses the story as a lesson on faith. Yeshua’s power proceeds from his identity and authority. The disciples’ power is in their union with God and Yeshua by faith. Faith is often a theme in Matthew related to miracles. Usually the one needing healing must have faith, but here the ones doing the miracle need it. The lesson on faith continues in the next two stories: Yeshua tells them of his coming death, which will require faith on their part to cling to Yeshua, and Yeshua shows that by faith governmental oppressions are overcome. The identity-of-Yeshua mystery in Mark is not the issue at all in Matthew’s telling of the same story. Stories have multiple meanings and the gospel is richer for multiple perspectives. The lesson from Matthew is that faith uniting us with Messiah is the key to overcoming the powers of darkness and oppression.
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Be like children (1-5), on stumbling blocks (6-9), lost sheep (10-14), offenses and community (15-17).
Matthew collects a number of sayings into a discourse with special relevance to relationships in the community (in a congregation). In the ranks of the disciples there was a clamoring to be the closest to Yeshua, the highest in stature. Yeshua teaches that people should become humble like children, occupying the lowest status, not clamoring for the highest. And disciples should welcome lowly, humble people (children) and not base relationships on acclaim and status. The faith and well-being of everyone, even lowly people, is to be protected. Woe to the one who puts a stumbling block in front of them, a stone that makes them fall from faith or well-being. Such a one will have a block placed around his or her neck and be weighed down to fiery judgment. Our task is to help people find faith and to protect and guard the faith of others, working to help people remain close to God. To bring offenses which embitter people against God is a great sin. The lost sheep parable indicates the importance of bringing each person to reconciliation with God. It is our mission for God to help every person be reconciled. One of the great dangers to faith is when an offense occurs in the community creating ill will or a grudge. To promote forgiveness and reconciliation between people, disciples are required to work through offenses following a procedure to protect the reputation of others as much as possible. The collective pressure of the community can be brought to bear on someone in hard cases. The overall picture of these teachings is of a community of disciples living in humility, avoiding offenses that would make anyone stumble away from God, seeking out lost people to add to the community, and protecting relationships in the community by deliberate reconciliation.
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Binding and loosing (18-20), forgiveness (21-22), the parable of the unforgiving servant (23-35).
Continuing his discourse on the principles of relationships in the community, Yeshua adds a strong note of authority to the principle of vs. 17. The apostles (and presumably later leaders of Yeshua communities) have, together with the congregation, authority on earth mirrored in heaven. Binding and loosing is an idiom for permitting and prohibiting, a term used in later rabbinic writings for the authority of halakhah (decisions about how to live the principles of Torah). Here it seems to refer to judicial renderings about the cases of individuals. God honors the decisions of leaders who judge in his name. This, of course, does not mean God approves of unjust judgments. It is assumed that the judges work in Yeshua’s name. Why is the presence of Yeshua declared to be with groups of two or three, as opposed to more or less? The authority of the Yeshua community is corporate, not individual. Thus, while Yeshua is present with one, authority for judging cases is for a minimum of two or three. The number is not larger because Yeshua is emphasizing that large numbers are not required. And how should judges who follow Yeshua judge? Forgiveness should be the radical goal. God has forgiven much. How can judges working with God’s authority fail to be like him?
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Toward Jerusalem (1-2), the question about divorce (3-9), eunuchs for the kingdom (10-12), children (13-15).
Following Mark’s simple outline (not the more detailed one in John), Matthew has Yeshua leaving Galilee until after the resurrection and going down to Jerusalem for the first time since the arrest of John the Baptist. Along the way, a string of teachings shows the disciples the way of Yeshua and the kingdom. In the divorce passage, Yeshua’s halakhic genius is shown (his wisdom at penetrating the intent of the Torah). He always locates the halakhah (practical way of keeping commandments) in the highest demand of righteousness found in Torah. The Pharisees have been discussing divorce in light of Deuteronomy 24:1-4 (if a man divorces a woman he must give her a certificate). Their halakhic issue is “when does God give a man permission to divorce?”. As France notes, “hard cases make bad law.” Good laws are not based on legislation about what to do when things go wrong. Yeshua reveals the good law in Torah. It is not the hard case in Deuteronomy but the ideal in Genesis they should be looking to. Divorce may happen and God legislates justice for the woman in such cases. But the righteous look to the highest, not the lowest, standard: which is man and woman joined and inseparable. The genius of Yeshua’s insight is to realize that Torah has levels of commandment including the ideal and legislation to deal with breaks, conflicts, and the social realities of injustice. Good halakhah is based on the ideal. The Torah should not be used for excuses to wrong others. Marriage is a commitment of permanent love and requires forgiveness and reconciliation. The idea of voluntary, lifelong celibacy comes up in the discussion. Yeshua points out that the choice not to marry is valid if the intent is to work for the kingdom. Yeshua welcomes children because the lowly take precedence in kingdom work.
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The rich man comes to Yeshua (16-22), wealth and salvation (23-26), reward in Yeshua’s kingdom (27-30).
Dale Allison’s comment on this passage is apt: “Matthew 19:16-30 is a narrative illustration of the important portions of the Sermon on the Mount.” We find here that it is not possible to devote one’s life to wealth (mammon) and the kingdom, that our treasure is in heaven, there is a reversal coming for rich and poor in the next age, we should be perfect as God is perfect. A rich man has not found a teacher who can show him the right way to God and hopes the miracle-worker Yeshua may do so. He thinks perhaps there is some great way of doing deeds that could guarantee him a place in the kingdom. Yeshua’s method is to hint at the truth, play along with the presuppositions of the questioner, and then prove his point with a challenging demand. The hint is that God alone is good. Our seeking must amount to a desire for God and belief in what God says. The good deeds God desires of us are well-known and Yeshua cites some of them, adding the neighbor-love command to some of the Ten Commandments. The rich man’s claim to have kept them all is clearly untrue, revealing a lack of depth in his understanding of perfection. So Yeshua now throws in the barb, the pointed challenge: if you are perfect, give up your wealth to do good in the world, prefer treasure in heaven, and follow me. Yeshua chooses the thing he will not do: give up his wealth. The lie is that the man so desires the kingdom he will do anything. The truth is no deed brings sufficient merit, but even if it did, this man is not willing to radically attempt such merit. Something transcendent, from above, more than merit, is needed. After the unwilling man leaves disappointed, Yeshua explains mysteriously that the rich have a harder time coming into the kingdom. The camel saying is literal (the idea of a gate called the “camel gate” is a myth). This causes the disciples to wonder if they are going to be justified in the judgment. Yeshua says that following him is the true condition and that all who do so will inherit eternal life. Following Yeshua may seem a simple condition, but it means more than believing a doctrine (“Yeshua saves”) and more than joining a group. It means following by imitating and obeying and being in the community of Messiah. This rich man was not actually willing to do this, but wanted a good deed to perform which would guarantee success. His love of wealth prevented him from seeing more deeply what love of neighbor means, what the kingdom is truly about, and that Yeshua is more than a teacher, but actually the king bringing the kingdom. Yeshua is the king and all who serve him will be received into the kingdom and find reward there. What is needed is not merit, but union with the king.
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Parable of laborers in a vineyard (1-16).
Allison rightly observes that this parable is an explanation of 19:30, about rewards in the age to come. Of many possible options, two are most likely for this parable: do not presume you will be first in the kingdom or you disciples who came along last will be ahead of the Jewish leaders who came to work first in the vineyard. Allison shows that it is the first meaning that comes from the context. All the workers are rewarded, so there is no exclusion of the Jewish leaders from the kingdom in this parable as there is in many others. The point here is different. Disciples who come to work in God’s vineyard cannot presume what their place will be. God is generous and merciful. We cannot look at someone else’s service and decide that we will be ahead of them. God’s judgment is mysterious in view of our limited knowledge. The complaining laborer casts an evil eye on the vineyard owner (vs. 15). Allison explains this not as a curse, but as lack of generosity (see Matt 6:23). The meaning is, “Do you begrudge my generosity?” God will be generous to whom he will be generous and the idea of merit is unworthy for disciples who should know that none of us merit such generosity.
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Yeshua foretells his passion (17-19), the mother of James and John asks for a primary place for them in the kingdom of Yeshua (20-27), Yeshua the ransom (28), two blind men healed at Jericho (29-34).
Yeshua, who is to be handed over and crucified, is the ultimate example of “the last will be first” from the preceding parable of laborers in the vineyard (20:16, Allison). Yeshua answers the mother of the Zebedees by asking if her sons can take the cup which will be Yeshua’s (i.e., the destiny of suffering). The disciples are still worrying about primacy issues. Their lot will be suffering and then exaltation in Yeshua’s kingdom. James and John will encounter suffering like Yeshua (but the prediction need not mean martyrdom and need not contradict traditions about John the son of Zebedee who was not martyred). Yeshua says that his Father grants places in the world to come and has prepared those who will sit on thrones, a note of God’s foreknowledge, election of people to special callings, and some could read this as predestination. Yeshua chastises his disciples for having the priorities of pagans instead of following their master who takes the lowest place to ransom others. Allison takes the ransom comment as reflecting the theology of Isaiah 53:10-13 (bearing the iniquities of others, making intercession for transgressors). Also, Matthew has a theme regarding sin as a debt owed to God and acts of mercy as payments to God to reduce our debt. The selfless act of a righteous martyr would be a payment even for the debts of others, so that Yeshua’s death will pay heavenly rewards to all his followers. The blind men at Jericho repeatedly call Yeshua Son of David, a testimony to his identity while on the road to suffering. The irony is that he is proclaimed Messiah while going toward humiliation which will cause many to doubt that he is Messiah.
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Yeshua sends the disciples to obtain a donkey (1-3), to fulfill prophecy (4-5), Yeshua rides down the mountain and is acclaimed by the crowd (6-11).
Zechariah’s prophecy of the king coming on a donkey is a critical view of kingship looking ahead to the messianic age when the ideas of dominion change into peace. In the early part of Zechariah 9, the warring peoples of the Mediterranean coast will become peaceful and submit to God’s authority in the messianic era. Then, in 9:9, Daughter Zion’s king (Jerusalem in the age when promises are fulfilled) comes not as a war-maker, but bringing peace, not on a warhorse, but a donkey like the Davidic kings of old. Yeshua deliberately evokes this scene, so those who say this is about a prophecy fulfilled miss the point. Yeshua acts out the scene, proclaiming by his action that he is this different kind of king. The scene creates excitement and tension in Jerusalem. Yeshua is not a Judean, so the people in Jerusalem thinking about the triumphal entry limit their understanding to the idea of a prophet from Galilee. They do not entertain the idea of a messiah from Galilee. But the crowds who are in the know, those who have followed Yeshua around, they proclaim him in clear messianic terms as Son of David. Yet the fact remains that not one in the crowd truly understood. Yeshua is not to be the vanquisher of Rome, but Rome’s redeemer. The theme of Zechariah 9 stands as a witness against revolutionary notions. Yeshua is the one who makes Philistines as if they are part of the people of Israel (Zech 9:7). Yeshua declares here exactly the sort of kingship he is bringing and until the resurrection, none comprehend it.
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Yeshua’s protest action at the Temple (12-17), the enactment sign of the fig tree (18-22), dispute with Temple authorities (23-27).
Yeshua, like Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel has zeal for the Temple as God’s house. In his protest action he cites Isaiah 56:7 and Jeremiah 7:11. Also, according to Adela Yarbro Collins (her commentary on Mark), the event takes place not in the court of the gentiles, but in the Royal Portico, an outer court. Herod had built up the Temple Mount to resemble Roman temples, which had an agora (a covered, public market) on every acropolis (royal hills on which the temples were built in every city). Yeshua, says Collins, is like Ezekiel who in the later chapters of his book declares the sanctity of the entire Temple Mount and forbids any common activity there. The money-changers, she says, used coins that had on them an image of Tyrian Heracles (Baal Melqart). Yeshua’s protest is not economic, as if these sellers and changers were exploiting the poor, but religious: they were making his Father’s house a common marketplace and destroying the sanctity of the place. Yeshua’s action is symbolic, not a full revolt. This action is most likely what led to his soon arrest. The healing of blind and lame may have been a separate incident from earlier which Matthew conflates with the Temple protest to add more to his picture of Yeshua as the true Messiah coming to assert his authority. Yeshua’s action with the fig tree is clearly about Jerusalem’s judgment, but unclear in its final meaning. A good reading is that the fig tree represents the current leadership, who have not borne fruit for God, and thus who have been judged with an end to their authority. Vss. 23-27 bring their authority versus Yeshua’s sharply into consideration. Yeshua hints that his authority, like John’s, is from God.
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The parable of two sons (28-32), the parable of the wicked tenants (33-46).
The first son represents the sinners who came to John the Baptist and became followers of Torah and the faithful looking for God’s salvation. The second son represents the Jewish leaders who said they would follow Torah and wait for God’s salvation, but who are insincere, corrupt, and blind. Their insincerity is proven by their failure to respond to John, the prophet of God. The wicked tenants are the Jewish leaders. The prophets of Israel, up to and including John, have not softened their hardened hearts set on elitism and power. They have kept the usufruct of the vineyard (see Isaiah 5) for themselves and failed to serve the vineyard owner. They will even kill the beloved son. This is a strong statement by Yeshua about his identity as God’s beloved Son. It is not a parable explaining the meaning of the cross. In fact, the story stops with the senseless and ineffective death of the Son. One wonders why a father would send a son to certain death when this will gain nothing. Yeshua does not soften or explain, leading some to think he is protesting the Father’s sending. Yet in other texts, Yeshua accepts his destined role and explains his death as a ransom. Yeshua reinterprets the rejected stone of Psalm 118 and Isaiah 28 to be himself. The rights to the kingdom are taken away from the Jewish leaders and given to the repentant sinners, the movement Yeshua is building. Yeshua’s disciples will govern true Israel after the Son is killed. The leaders understand perfectly what Yeshua is saying and his arrest is assured even further. EXCURSUS: In the parable of the two sons, the young son disrespected his father, but had a change of heart. Yeshua compares him to publicly known sinners, people whose misdeeds are visible as opposed to the hidden evil that is in all people. This young man openly said, “I will not.” He did not hide his lack of devotion to his father. He is like, Yeshua tells us, those publicly known sinners who came to John to become clean. His “change of heart” (metamelaetheis, μεταμεληθεὶς) brought him forgiveness while the quiet evil of others reputed to be righteous continues to keep them from the kingdom of God. Most importantly for our purposes, we are assured that God accepts a change of heart.
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The parable of the wedding feast (1-13), few are chosen (14).
The basic meaning of vss. 1-3 is clear enough. The king is God and the son is Yeshua. The wedding feast is the messianic banquet, such as in Isaiah 25:6, also referred to in Matthew 8:11. It is the time to come when Messiah is revealed and the people are supposed to celebrate his coming and the turning over of history from the previous age into the age to come. But Messiah has come and the people as a whole have not received him (vss. 4-6). Vs. 7 says the king burned “their city.” How can Yeshua put it this way when Jerusalem is God’s city? This is similar to critiques in the Hebrew Bible where God’s city and temple have been coopted by others (Jer 7; Isa 66:1-2). Jerusalem has not been functioning as God’s city, but has become the seat of pride, power, and corruption. Yeshua foretells coming destruction, which of course happened forty years after his death. After two calls for the people of Israel to come to the messianic banquet, the city is destroyed and there is a third invitation to everyone, good and bad. The mixed group, both evil and good, who are invited as replacements, fill the banquet. But not all belong there. The parable then has a second part. The king looks over this mixed group of guests and finds one who does not have a wedding garment. What is this garment: good deeds, a baptismal robe? Allison suggests it is a resurrection body, which will feature garments that shine like the sun (Matt 13:43). This second parable exhorts hearers not to become presumptuous like the Jerusalem leaders. A person’s status with God is not based on election alone (it’s not merely about belonging to the chosen group). Personal transformation must happen. We must be changed by our encounter with God and Messiah. It must become part of us, like a garment that we cannot remove. When and if this happens, we will be found by God and remain at his feast. The overall effect of Yeshua’s double parable is to criticize those who presume they have right standing with God because of their group affiliation. Those who will be found right instead have been changed at their core, having become something other than they were at the beginning. This becomes an inseparable part of their being, so that God can look at them and immediately see it like a garment. The group of Yeshua’s disciples are an example of a group within Israel that will be transformed by Yeshua’s person and power. The parable’s reference to an invitation going out to everyone, good and evil, suggests that this group will grow and expand. The message of the king’s son will go out everywhere, so that many will be called. But not all who hear the invitation will attain to the resurrection in time for the messianic banquet.
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Confrontation and wise answer to the Pharisees on the poll tax (15-22), confrontation and wise answer to the Sadducees on resurrection (23-33).
Yeshua gives two wise answers in a confusing world of Second Temple Judaism. The Pharisees are powerful and influential, but not nearly so much as the Sadducees. The Sadducees control the Temple procedures and essentially govern as Rome’s puppets. The Pharisees also have representation on the council (Sanhedrin) and have a more revolutionary edge about them. In keeping with their known proclivity to political wrangling, the Pharisees ask about the poll tax, a fee of a denarius imposed on Judeans by the Romans (France notes that Yeshua, as a Galilean, need not pay this tax). Yeshua could attract the ire of Rome by speaking against the tax and the dismissal of Judeans for supporting it. His answer is somewhat in the middle: you can serve God and obey the government too. But remember, serving God is of the highest consequence and the obligation to government will seem minor by comparison. France suggests another dynamic is here too. The Judeans supposedly object to the tax because the coin required is pagan (it shows Caesar and calls him “son of God”). Yet, when Yeshua asks, the Judeans (standing on the Temple Mount) produce the coin. Their idolatry objection is exposed as a mere excuse. The Sadducees, as we determine from Josephus, have a rationalist tendency and doubt angels and afterlife. Yeshua aligns more with the Pharisees on these matters. His proof of resurrection from the Torah of Moses is brilliant and wins him points with the Pharisees observing.
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The Pharisees question Yeshua about the greatest commandment (34-40), the Pharisees question Yeshua about the Messiah (41-46).
Compared to Mark, Matthew in this section emphasizes more the controversy aspect of the series of question discourses (on the poll tax, on the resurrection, on the greatest commandment, and on Messiah). Mark 12:28-34, parallel to Matthew 22:34-40, includes some agreement between the Pharisee and Yeshua and a statement that the Pharisee is not far from the kingdom. Matthew omits these and focuses on the issue of Yeshua’s rivals asking a series of questions to test him. Yeshua’s wise answers should commend him to these leaders of Jerusalem, but they will not admit that this Galilean teacher and wonder worker. has any wisdom. On the question about Messiah, Yeshua challenges his questioners with a series of puzzles based on Psalm 110. He challenges their simple equation of Messiah as David’s son, which they take to mean Messiah is less than David. Yeshua insists that Messiah is greater than David and hints that they do not understand the messianic concept. The four scenes in chapter 22 add up, in Matthew’s presentation, to Yeshua outdoing the leaders and wise men of Israel in wisdom and understanding. The irony of the chapter is that the lesser men will hand over the greater to be crucified instead of learning from him. For the disciples of Yeshua, this chapter is a lesson in listening to him and finding wisdom and truth. Give the best to God. Believe in the resurrection. Love. Know that Messiah is David’s Lord.
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Scribes, Pharisees, and Moses’ seat (1-3), Yeshua criticizes the scribes and Pharisees for uncaring halakhah, showy displays of false piety, and obsession with being honored (4-7), Yeshua teaches a different way for his disciples (8-12).
There is not enough evidence to say for sure that synagogues had a chair in them known as “the seat of Moses.” The exact meaning of Yeshua’s terminology is unknown. Vss. 1-3 are seemingly at odds with the rest of the chapter. France is so struck by the contrast between Yeshua’s confirmation of the authority of the scribes and Pharisees and the rest of the chapter that he assumes Yeshua’s intent to be sarcasm. It also seems odd that a Galilean would affirm the authority of Judean scribes and Pharisees as there is strong evidence of Galilean resistance to Judean imposition of rules on the worship and practice of the people (see Richard Horsley, Archaeology, History, and Society in Galilee). Still, the understanding of Yeshua’s affirmation as sarcasm seems unlikely. Thus, if Yeshua affirmed the authority of the scribes and Pharisees, we must attempt to understand what he was affirming. Realistic possibilities include: their interpretation of the Torah but not their halakhah (as they teach, but not as they do), their halakhah but not their actions, or their authority but not their infallibility. Since Yeshua disagreed with and taught against some scribal and Pharisaic traditions, the third option seems best. Yeshua affirms the scribes and Pharisees as Israel’s teachers, but shows his disciples they will have to selectively obey or resist this authority based on Yeshua’s teaching (they are your teachers, but be careful not to follow them when they undermine the Torah and my teaching). For his community of disciples, Yeshua gives a different model of authority: humility, submission to the heavenly Father, and teaching the words of Messiah in his authority. The passage is remarkable in that nowhere else in Matthew does Yeshua call himself Messiah directly (many see this wording as coming from Matthew’s time and doubt that Yeshua would have worded it this way).
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First woe: shutting people out (13-14), second woe: proselytizing falsehood (15), third woe: legalizing deceit (16-22), fourth woe: ignoring majors and emphasizing minors (23-24).
Allison notes that the woes have two purposes: exposing the problems with scribal, Pharisaical religion and showing the Yeshua movement what not to become. The reader should also be aware that two time settings are in view in thinking about Yeshua’s meaning: what Yeshua meant at the time and the additional significance his words might have taken in the second generation when Matthew was written. In the first woe, Yeshua does not indicate how the Judean scribes and Pharisees shut people out of the kingdom. The rest of the woes fill in the answer. The way they teach people to relate to God is a dead end. This is, of course, hyperbole (deliberate exaggeration) and does not mean Yeshua thought no scribe or Pharisee could know God (some counter-examples in the gospels affirm this). Yet the true path to God is a righteousness that exceeds that of the scribes (Matt 5:20). The second woe has led to debates about how common proselytism by the Judean scribes and Pharisees would have been (as opposed to diaspora movements). Proselytism need not have been common for Yeshua’s point to stand. From Yeshua’s perspective, their proselytism taught a false way to God, a Judaism of misplaced priorities. From Matthew’s perspective, there was likely an added dimension of falseness: conversion of Gentiles as a requirement (this assumes Matthew would agree with Paul and the apostles in Acts 15). The third woe is the epitome of emphasizing details of observance over true obedience to the covenant (so that a system of religion could actually overturn the laws of the covenant!). The fourth woe is about how their teaching caused people to miss God: focusing on deeds of self-glorification instead of the central commands of the Torah covenant. It is not that the Pharisees and scribes are too zealous for Torah. Yeshua, the Galilean, is typical in viewing these Judean teachers as ignorant of Torah’s true meaning. Principles for disciples from these first four woes include the following. The way of life we live and teach others must first be about true knowledge of God. The Torah must not become a system of minutiae or self-glorifying stringencies. The Torah must serve its larger goal: making people good, increasing justice, binding people in love to God, and creating a community of servants. Only applying the Torah according to this essence is really following Torah. It is the “spirit” of Torah that must guide us in keeping Torah. That this was the essence of Yeshua’s Torah teaching is confirmed by reading the letter of James, Yeshua’s brother and the greatest interpreter of his ethic.
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Fifth woe: doing piety to be seen (25-26), sixth woe: doing piety to be seen (27-28), seventh woe: killing God’s servants (29-36).
The fifth and sixth woes address in general the tendency in scribal and Pharisaic tradition to emphasize purity rituals and other costless acts of piety in place of more costly and beneficial forms of righteousness such as justice, acts of covenant devotion, and faithful obedience to God’s commands. Far from an indictment of rabbinic Judaism, as these words have often been read, this is an indictment of shallow religion in every age — the sort which prefers easy performances over costly acts which honor God, heal people, and build true community. The seventh woe concerns the rejection by the Judean scribes and Pharisees of both Yeshua and John the Baptist. They decorate tombs to honor saints of the past and claim they would not have followed the apostasy of ancient Israel, but they are doing the same things in their day. This statement has meaning for Yeshua’s time and even more so for the time Matthew was written, when hostility between the synagogue and Yeshua’s followers within them was increasing.
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Jerusalem, how I longed to gather you (37), your house is desolate (38), you will not see me again until you call (39).
Allison comments that these verses put a different spin on the whole chapter. The woes that Yeshua has pronounced are not pure invective. They are a sad judgment by a king who wants the leadership of his nation and people to find God’s righteousness. Yeshua longs to gather in the exiles and initiate the messianic age. But the people resist God’s plan, preferring their own righteousness. Jerusalem will experience God’s forsaking in coming days. Yeshua will go away and not return until the city calls out to him in the very language the crowds hailed Yeshua with in the triumphal entry (Matt 21:9), the quintessential words of welcome for one coming into Jerusalem (Psa 118:26). Yeshua’s statement is conditional: I will come again to you, Jerusalem, when you call for me with welcome. This is a positive note, indicating that such a call will surely come in the last days.
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The disciples praise the Temple and Yeshua foretells its destruction (1-2), the disciples’ three questions (3), Yeshua describes the beginning of messianic woes (4-8).
It is not clear what motivated the comment by the disciples about the Temple. Yeshua foretells what will happen forty years later when the Romans destroy the Temple in 70 CE. Josephus reports in Jewish War 7.1, “Caesar ordered that the whole city and the Temple be razed to the ground.” The disciples ask three questions, which Yeshua does not exactly answer (leading to much confusion about this chapter in subsequent history): when will the Temple destruction be, what will be the signs of your coming as King, and what will be the signs of the end of the age? Yeshua focuses on dismantling their messianic-victory hopes and refocusing them on the coming suffering in the time of messianic woes. They think the kingdom will come without the woes, but Yeshua has sad news for them. Many false messiahs will come. People will always be looking for messianic victory. The onset of wars does not mean the end is yet to come. The woes must come first. It is likely that Isaiah 26:17-19 is in view. There Judah and Israel writhe in labor pain, suffering in history waiting for God’s promise. The message is that Israel must wait through labor pains before the promise “your dead shall live, their bodies shall rise” is fulfilled. So Yeshua lets his disciples on the Mount of Olives know that they are in for a coming time of pain and suffering with all Israel that will be terrible to endure. There is no quick victory coming and their pursuit of triumph without travail is not going to be accomplished. The way of Messiah is sad and life will only come out of suffering. The disciples are looking for a happy ending without a struggle. Yeshua tells them in foreboding terms of the contest ahead, a long time in which they will need to keep hope alive.
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Persecution for disciples during the time of delay (9-13), the gospel will spread before the end comes (14), when the Abomination comes, flee quickly (15-20), great tribulation which God has shortened (21-22), do not be fooled by false messiahs (23-26), the Son of Man’s coming will be obvious (27-28).
The disciples have asked what the signs will be for the destruction of the Temple, of Yeshua’s coming to reign, and of the end. Yeshua’s answer is far from straightforward and has frustrated interpreters for millennia. Yeshua dispels the notion that the coming to reign will happen right away. There will be a time of delay. In that time there will be persecution and suffering for many disciples. On the positive side, the message of Yeshua’s life and kingship will spread throughout the world. This note about the good news coming to the gentiles is a strong progression from the Judean and Galilean focus of Yeshua’s personal career. Skeptical interpreters might doubt that the Jewish Yeshua would have spoken in this way and assume instead that this is the evangelist’s community putting words in his mouth. It should be noted, however, that hints of a broader mission to the nations are woven throughout the gospels. The section about the Abomination is confusing. Does this refer to the 70 CE destruction? Does it refer to the last days and an anti-Christ figure? It is difficult to understand how the 70 CE war required disciples to note the sign of an Abomination and then flee quickly. The Roman war did not begin with a sacrilege in the Temple (the intent of Caligula in 40 CE to put an image in the Temple never came to pass). As attractive a theory as it might be to refer vss. 15-20 to the 70 CE events, it just may be that these verses refer to a last days drama that has yet to unfold. If Matthew is writing after 70 CE, as most think, then what sudden need to flee is he thinking of? The reference to God shortening the time of tribulation also is difficult to reconcile with the events of 70 CE. It is possible that Yeshua is telescoping, mixing in images of the more immediate destruction to come with the great destruction of the last days. It may be that Yeshua’s knowledge of coming events was vague. Prophets (and we mustn’t forget that Yeshua did not possess omniscience according the gospel portrait) often saw vaguely. The main point of vss. 27-28 is that false messiahs can be resisted because the true coming reign of Messiah will be obvious and at a time of terrible judgment when vultures circle the bodies of the dead. If we step back from being too specific in our interpretation of this section, we can say the following: the end will come after delay and suffering, the gospel will spread before the end, faithfulness through suffering is vital, the Abomination will be sudden and devastating, and the coming reign of Messiah will not require guess-work to recognize.
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After tribulation, the Son of Man comes (29-31), fig trees and the end of the age (32-33), the generation that will see the end (34-35).
Yeshua’s answers remain vague and hard to interpret. Some are content to read into these verses only Yeshua’s foretelling of the events of 70 CE and the Roman destruction of the Temple. In this view, espoused for example by N.T. Wright, the Son of Man comes to the Father’s throne, not to earth (as per one interpretation of the Son of Man in Daniel 7). This reading makes light of such eschatological (end-times) language as “gather his elect” and so on. Others insist that Yeshua did not know when the end would come and made a mistake by saying “this generation will not pass away until all these things take place.” If Matthew is truly written after 70 CE, it is hard to understand how this saying did not trouble him (as most of the disciples were by then dead). Vss. 29-31 seem to be talking about the return of Messiah, the eschatological event and not merely the 70 CE events: (1) the language of the tribes mourning brings Zechariah 12 to mind which is part of a long end-times prophecy concluding in Zechariah 14, (2) people will see the Son of Man coming, an event which Yeshua said would be as obvious as lightning, (3) the trumpet call is eschatological language as used in 1 Thessalonians 4 for the resurrection of those alive and dead, (4) gathering the elect signals many other texts about the end of Israel’s exile and no doubt is intended to include the gathering of the faithful from the nations as well. We are best off leaving the tension unresolved about “this generation” enduring until these events take place. Is it possible for Yeshua to have been mistaken in light of his saying in vs. 36 that he does not know the day or hour? Is it possible that Yeshua is deliberately entangling the events of 70 CE with the second coming?
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No one knows the day (36), as the days of Noah (37-41), as a thief in the night (42-44), the faithful servant (45-51).
Vs. 36 is one of four verses in Matthew that use the Father-Son terminology to describe Yeshua’s relation to God (11:27; 16:27; 28:19). This language is part of the complex theology of Yeshua’s identity. He is the agent of the Father, is uniquely related to the Father, is the only one who knows the Father, and reveals the Father’s glory. Matthew’s Father-Son language fits with the larger picture of Apostolic teaching on Yeshua’s identity: he is divine and yet he is not the Father; he is one with the Father and sent by him; he is the Glory and the Word, the Image and Radiance. The Jewish mystical concept of Sefirot (all the emanations of God) and Ein Sof (the Direct Being of God) is a good model for understanding the Son’s divinity in relation to the Father (the Son is the sum of all of the Sefirot; the Father is Ein Sof). Another good expression, based on Hebrews 1:3: Yeshua is the Light and Heat of Divinity and the Father is the Source, the Sun itself. The limitation of the Son’s knowledge in vs. 36 seems scandalous to some. It is part of the lowering of the Son into humanity (see Philippians 2:4-11). The way Matthew expands Mark’s material (see Mark 13:32-37) to some degree “solves” the famous problem: how Yeshua could say the Second Coming would happen in “this generation” (Matt 24:34). Looking at Matthew’s method of arranging the sayings, we can see that it is the evangelists who are struggling to put Yeshua’s teachings together systematically. Mark, writing before the Temple’s destruction, leaves the two sides of the question (Delay, Immediacy) in tension, still thinking the Second Coming might happen when Rome destroys Jerusalem. Matthew, writing after the Temple destruction, knows the Second Coming is not yet. Therefore he expands on the theme of Delay (the “watch” command). He does this by drawing on some parables which he has in common with Luke (Days of Noah, Luke 17:26-27, 34-35; Thief in the Night, Luke 12:39-40; Faithful Servant, Luke 12:41-46). The “this generation” part, then, was the Temple destruction and the war with Rome. The “watch” part is the Second Coming. Yeshua gave up knowledge in joining with humanity, but as a good prophet he still had a word from the Father about the Delay of the final end but the nearness of crisis in Israel.
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Kingdom compared to bridesmaids (1), five wise and prepared and five foolish and unprepared (2-4), the bridegroom is delayed (5), the sudden arrival of the bridegroom (6), the wise are ready and the foolish end up shut out (7-10), the bridegroom refuses to open to the foolish bridesmaids (11-12), the moral of the parable (13).
What we know of ancient wedding customs comes mostly from the Mishnah, a text reflecting later customs than those in Yeshua’s time. We cannot be sure of details such as the reason for bridesmaids meeting the bridegroom along the way, the reason for the bridegroom’s delay, and the reason the bridegroom will not open the door at the end. We cannot assume that all these features are merely part of the culture of weddings. For example, if the five foolish women are bridesmaids, it is a deliberate exaggeration at the end for the bridegroom to say he does not know them (then how did they become bridesmaids?). It is better to suggest that the parable relates to a common custom of a procession at night with either lamps or torches (the word can mean either) and that some features of the story may be deliberately extreme, not the normal events of a wedding procession. The point is that the wise women were prepared for a delay and also for the sudden coming of the bridegroom. Yeshua tells his disciples and us to be ready to wait and yet be expectant of a sudden coming. Two things are called for: patience and preparedness. Yeshua will recognize his own, those who wait for him and whose lives reflect their constant readiness for the promises of the end of the age to happen.
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A lord entrusts large sums of money to his slaves (14-15), the slaves variously treat their bequeathments (16-18), the lord returns and inquires after his money (19-25), the lord takes away the bequeathment from the third slave (26-28), the kingdom principles (29-30).
A talent is a large sum of money, about 6,000 denarii. The actions of the lazy servant are not so scandalous. Investment in the ancient world was more difficult than in modern markets. Deposits were lost more readily. To an ancient, preserving the lord’s money safely might seem prudent. If the other servants had lost the bequeathments with their risk, some would have regarded them as foolish. Yet the parable tells us that God is the kind of lord who bequeaths knowledge of the kingdom specifically to increase good in the world. Risk is not at all averse to God. God’s slaves receive differing levels of responsibility. Yet each is to increase the kinds of things God’s kingdom stands for (spelled out in the teaching and actions of Yeshua, things like healing, comfort, justice, love, and so on). Rewards in the final judgment will be based on how we, as slaves of the Father, used our bequeathments. Knowledge of the kingdom carries responsibility. Many of the parables reflect this requirement, not least the Sower and its insistence that a good crop is the desired result. Thus, Yeshua is saying, we who know of the kingdom have a great gift, which must be used to heal and redeem others, and when we do, even more is given to us. Fruitfulness is a spiral upwards, increasing as it goes with rewards greater than we can imagine. But those who show up at the final judgment with unused riches will be severely punished. Yeshua’s teaching about the ungiving servants is compelling and usual doctrines of salvation are strained by it. Those who are given gifts by God and who do not give in turn will be punished in outer darkness, so that the idea of belief without deeds is shown by Yeshua to be a lie. Faith without works is dead. The next parable makes the verdict even more clear.
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The Son of Man comes and separates the nations (31-33), the king blesses the sheep based on deeds of love (34-36), the sheep question their merit (37-39), the king answers that as they served the little ones, they served him directly (40), the king punishes the goats based on their failure to do deeds of love (41-43), the goats question their reprobation (44), the king answers that when they ignored the little ones, they ignored him (45), the two ways in the age to come (46).
Allison notes a number of Second Temple period writings which describe the final judgment in terms of the King, the presence of angels, separation of people into two groups, and reward and punishment of the righteous and wicked. For example, the classic Daniel 7:9-10, 18-26 involves the Son of Man receiving a kingdom and the saints receiving an inheritance with the king. Similar scenes occur in 1 Enoch 62 and 90, Revelation 20, 2 Baruch 73, Testament of Abraham 11-13, and Sibylline Oracles 2. The remarkable parable in Matthew tells us a great deal. First, it describes the glory of the Second Coming of Yeshua in power (see also Matt 16:27; 19:28; and 24:30). Second, it places Yeshua’s Second Coming in the context of God coming to Zion in Zechariah 14 (parallel between Zech 14:5 and Matt 25:31, the “holy ones” come with God and LXX even says “angels”). Third, it shows the enthronement of Yeshua as King alongside the Father. Fourth, it shows Yeshua as the Final Judge of all nations. There is an argument that the “least of these” means Yeshua-followers (Christians) and the parable is about the judgment of those outside the Yeshua-community (Church). Those outside, according to this interpretation, are judged based on how they treat disciples of Yeshua. Allison painstakingly demonstrates the problems with this interpretation. The least of these means even the least “important” person. The final judgment is based on works (see N.T. Wright, Justification, for an explanation of how such a final judgment is consistent with the New Testament’s insistence on grace and forgiveness). In the end, it will be our love, revealed in actions, that decides how we are judged. The harshness of the parable should be taken as prophetic overstatement. God’s judgments have historically been milder than they were proclaimed and Messiah’s mercy at the final judgment will be revealed. Nonetheless, we, his followers, have here one of the clearest depictions of Yeshua’s expectation: we are to heal the world with hospitality, kindness, and compassion for people in difficult circumstances. It is resoundingly obvious that Yeshua’s charge is about meeting physical and emotional needs and is not satisfied with mere preaching of salvation. The religion that follows Yeshua has been too guilty of preaching instead of caring for needs, according to Yeshua’s clear parable. James reflects this emphasis when he says, “If a brother or sister is ill-clad and in lack of daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled,’ without giving them the things needed for the body, what does it profit?” (2:15-16).
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Passover in two days (1-2), chief priests plot to kill Yeshua (3-5), a woman anoints Yeshua (6-13), Judas colludes with the chief priests (14-16).
The first few verses set the scene as Passover (compare Mark 14:1 and it is evident Matthew has simply expanded on his source). Matthew notes the reasons for the chief priests’ plotting: their fear of starting trouble with the crowds or with Rome. The anointing of Jesus by a woman is one of the troublesome stories, hard to nail down. All four gospels have a version, with Luke’s being the most different. Are these different incidents or the same one? Luke and John have the anointer as Mary of Bethany (sister of Martha). Did she anoint his head or feet? Did she use her hair or a towel? Were there originally two anointing stories and one or more of the gospels got some details confused? Matthew, as does Mark, has a simple emphasis: Yeshua deflects the intention of the woman and refocuses it. She is anointing him in faith as Messiah (remember, messiah means anointed). But he reinterprets her act of devotion in a direction that no doubt would terrify her and which she would deny. This is anointing for burial, Yeshua says. Mary does not believe Yeshua will die. She, like the other women, will not understand his death (evident in that they will go to anoint his corpse for long-term burial after the cross). Her anointing is high irony. The anointed one, Yeshua, is anointed first to die and then, for those who see it, his death is part of his messianic mission (contrary to all expectations of the time and of the disciples). He is the messiah-destined-to-die, not yet the ruling messiah. The plotting scene is resolved with Judas providing the solution for the chief priests.
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Preparing the Passover (17-19), the Passover Seder (20-30).
Matthew, following Mark, indicates that the Last Supper was on the night of the Passover Seder. Yet the gospel of John indicates Yeshua was killed on Passover. Attempts to harmonize this discrepancy have been unsuccessful. No one has convincingly demonstrated that there were two effective calendars in operation. It seems best to say that Yeshua had a Passover-like meal the night before the time for the Seder. McKnight discusses evidence that Passover pilgrims, arriving early for the feast, would have Seders before the eve of Passover out of zeal for the holy day (The Death of Jesus). Yeshua sends the disciples to a specific person and a specific house, though the evangelists say “so-and-so” rather than naming the person. Richard Bauckham calls this “protective anonymity,” meaning that when Mark was written, it would have been dangerous to expose the name of this man in Jerusalem who hosted Yeshua (Jesus and the Eyewitnesses). When Yeshua speaks of his betrayer, the disciples ask, “You don’t mean me, do you, Lord?” Yet Judas’ question is slightly different, saying “rabbi” instead of “Lord.” This is Matthew indicating that Judas is effectively not part of the group of disciples who unite in recognizing Yeshua as Lord (France). Yeshua calls the cup of wine the “blood of the covenant” (it is not specified which cup of the Seder meal is being used in this way, though the four cups were likely already the custom and the third cup best fits the symbolism). Luke calls it the New Covenant (22:20) as does Paul (1 Cor 11:25). Yeshua saw his death as ratifying a new stage in God’s covenant with Israel and the nations. What is clear from Yeshua’s wording is that his death enacts forgiveness for sins as a new provision of God’s covenant. Meanwhile, Yeshua more than hints that the disciples will enjoy wine at the great banquet of God in the age to come with him. Yeshua’s death brings inclusion in the age to come and its joys. The singing of hymns in vs. 30 is one of the clearest signs that this meal is either a Passover or an anticipation of Passover held a night early. The hymns are the Hallel psalms (113-118).
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Yeshua foretells the failure of the disciples (31-35), the Gethsemane prayer and the disciples sleep (36-46).
Yeshua foretells his abandonment by the disciples and Peter disbelieves the warning. Yet, when Yeshua takes the three main disciples to an olive grove on the Mount of Olives, they sleep while he fervently prays and trembles at the coming agony. Their abandonment is already happening and their good intentions are not enough. They have not embraced the messianic mission yet. They will embrace it, however, after the resurrection opens their eyes. And they will suffer like Messiah gladly once infused with resurrection power, the living presence of Yeshua. The transformation of the disciples which happens as a result of the resurrection event will be a drastic one and is a model for the change we can experience if our vision of the kingdom is clear and single. What is it about the events in Gethsemane that changed the disciples? The verb does not actually say “you will fall away,” but rather “you will be scandalized” (from the verb σκανδαλίζω skandalizo). Something about what they discover on this night will scandalize them, offend them, cause them to lose their motivation to be disciples. It is the same verb used in Matthew 11:6, “Take no offense at me” (i.e., do not be scandalized by me). Some events offend us, violating a deeply held belief or disappointing a treasured hope. The disciples believed Yeshua to be untouchable, above the power of the leaders in Jerusalem and the iron grip of Rome. When we was arrested, their presumption about Yeshua was shattered. He became suddenly very human. The shock of this revelation destroyed their faith, so that we read in Mark 14:50, “they all left him and fled.” The resurrection, though, had the reverse effect and the scandalized disciples became powerful believers.
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The arrest (47-56), the Sanhedrin trial (57-68).
Matthew’s arrest narrative, similar in some ways to that in the Fourth Gospel, goes out of the way to observe that Yeshua could have defeated his enemies: “Do you think I cannot appeal to my Father and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels?” The willingness of the Son of Man to submit to the Father is vital to the meaning of the story. Matthew also emphasizes that this all was required to happen as foretold in the prophets. In the Sanhedrin trial, no evidence can be found against Yeshua. Matthew, as other evangelists, emphasizes that Yeshua is the innocent sufferer as well as the willing sufferer. In Matthew’s version, unlike Mark’s, Yeshua’s answer to the high priest’s question is vague. Several commentators refer to Yeshua’s answer (the complexity of which Mark simply passed over) as a qualified affirmative (“you have said so”). Two main reasons suggest themselves for the qualification Yeshua places on his answer: he does not choose to simply give his accusers a clear case for blasphemy (but rather to let them state his identity) and he does not affirm what they mean by the term. France suggests it is as if Yeshua said, “Yes, but I don’t mean by that what you mean,” since their accusation is that Yeshua is starting a revolt against the Temple and Roman authority. By killing Yeshua, these chief priests will initiate events that lead to Yeshua’s ascension and the long wait for his return in power to bring the kingdom of God to earth.
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MATTHEW 26:69 – 27:26
Peter’s denials (26:69-75), the transfer to Pilate (27:1-2), Judas’ remorse (3-10), the Roman trial (11-26).
While Yeshua is being the faithful witness, Peter is outside denying him just as Yeshua foretold. It is not easy to follow in Yeshua’s footsteps, but a word against the Son of Man is forgivable. Peter’s story gives hope to all who have failed Yeshua. Meanwhile, Judas’ story is more severe than Peter’s. He will not recover from his betrayal of faith, but be destroyed by it. Matthew says the incident in which Judas throws back the money and the chief priests buy a field with it fulfills a word of Jeremiah. Many have suggested Matthew got his reference wrong and meant Zechariah. Actually Matthew’s midrash is brilliants, once again, and likely there was a fuller form of it including a chain of scriptures: Jeremiah 18-19 (the potter), Jeremiah 32 (purchase of a field), and Zechariah 11 (wages of thirty pieces of silver). In Jeremiah 32, the purchase of a field right before Babylon destroys Judah is an ironic sign of hope that the land will be restored. Likewise the chief priests engage in an unwitting act of hope, buying a field just before the Romans destroy the land and evict the Jewish residents. Matthew sees that the death of Yeshua and the sin of the leaders of Jerusalem is not the end of God’s promises to Jerusalem, but as in Jeremiah 32, there will be restoration in the time to come. The Sanhedrin needed Rome to execute Yeshua and so brought him to Pilate where they made the case he was dangerous, a case which Pilate did not believe true. Pilate’s actual reason for executing Yeshua is political, because it is convenient for him to appease the Jerusalem leadership. His stated reason is because Yeshua has been proclaimed King of the Jews. The evangelists emphasize again the innocence theme. Even the vile, cruel Pilate wanted Yeshua released. But the powerful man is powerless in the pressure of Jerusalem politics and must execute this man who seemed innocent to him. Yeshua dies ultimately at the hands of the Jerusalem leaders, not Rome. The Son of David has been rejected.
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Mocked by Romans (27-31), crucified (32-38), mocked by Jewish leaders (39-44), Yeshua’s death (45-54), witnessed by women (55-56), buried (57-61), guarded at the tomb (62-66).
Craig Evans, in Jesus, the Final Days, relates similar incidents of Roman mocking of would-be kings. The account of Yeshua’s execution is historically realistic. Richard Bauckham, in Jesus and the Eyewitnesses, makes a case that Simon of Cyrene is named because he was a known eyewitness after the resurrection. Bauckham shows that Simon is likely a source for the events leading up to the cross (Peter has dropped out and the women do not appear until later). The practice of the evangelists to name some characters and not others is one of the signs that they were consciously writing history. Matthew picks up from Mark’s account, his main source, the irony that Yeshua’s opponents challenge him to prove he is Messiah by saving himself. This has been precisely Yeshua’s point: if he does not suffer, he is no Messiah. The Jerusalem leadership’s notions of messiah are shallow, dogmatic, uninterested in divine revelation and mystery. The tearing of the veil in the Temple has been subject to many readings, but is likely a sign of the Father’s grief at what has happened to the Son (tearing clothes is an ancient sign of grief). Matthew also picks up from Mark the irony of a Roman centurion recognizing Yeshua’s sonship as the Jewish leaders are busy rejecting the notion. The women who are named are likely eyewitnesses, along with Simon of Cyrene, whose testimony was known to the evangelist (the list of women named differs between the gospels, suggesting evangelists listed those whose testimony they personally knew about first or secondhand). Matthew’s primary addition to the story is the conspiracy between the chief priests and the Romans to prevent a faked resurrection. The idea that the disciples, much less the chief priests, anticipated the resurrection is unlikely. Yet the account may be accurate and Matthew’s understanding of the motive of the chief priests is by hindsight. They wanted the body guarded and no chance for Yeshua to become a martyr and his body used to rally a revolution.
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The women come to the tomb at dawn (1), earthquake and angel of the Lord (2-3), the Roman guard frightened (4), the angel speaks to the women about Yeshua’s raising (5-7), running to tell the others, the women encounter the risen Yeshua (8-10).
28:1 could be translated “at the end of the Sabbath,” but the next phrase clarifies the time in question was dawn on Sunday. The four resurrection accounts have similarities and differences. All four include: the coming of the women at dawn on Sunday, the rolling of the stone, Mary Magdalene’s presence, and the sighting of one or two men/angels. There are problems. Mark 16:4 says the stone was already rolled away when the women arrived. It may be that Matthew’s account intends us to understand the stone was rolled away before the women came. Only Matthew mentions a guard stationed at the tomb and the conspiracy between the Romans and chief priests. Matthew’s account is dramatic. The presence of the angel of the Lord quakes the earth and his appearance in bright light terrifies even Roman soldiers. Only Matthew and John report an appearance of Yeshua to the women before the other disciples. Mark’s and Luke’s accounts almost seem to make such an appearance impossible. Harmonizing every detail of the resurrection accounts is impossible, an important realization in the debate about whether scripture or the gospels must be perfect in details of narrating events. Yet the accounts have a very high degree of eyewitness probability, all the more so for the differences. Richard Bauckham (Jesus and the Eyewitnesses) correlates the differences with the different named characters in the accounts. Those named were the eyewitnesses whose testimony was specifically related to the evangelists either first or secondhand. The message of Matthew account is that the resurrection of Yeshua is a work of God’s mighty power on earth and that it’s meaning will culminate in the mission of the disciples to be given in Galilee.
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The tomb guards report to the chief priests (11), the chief priests and elders bribe the guards to tell a false story (12-14), the false story becomes common in Judea (15).
Matthew is alone in reporting the posting of guards at the tomb (27:62-66) and this conspiracy between the chief priests and the Roman guards. Historians reading this story might wonder about Matthew’s source for the story. One possibility is simply the fact that in Matthew’s time, as vs. 20 claims, there was a false claim that Yeshua’s body had been stolen by his own disciples. Did Matthew have an eyewitness source for his account of the conspiracy? He doesn’t name an eyewitness. Could this story be his own conjecture about how the false tale might have come about? Still, though it may be hard to verify this story historically, it does raise the important point that alternative explanations of the empty tomb started early. The Yeshua community found resistance to their message that Yeshua was raised and had inaugurated the age to come. The majority in Israel disbelieved in Yeshua, continued as if Messiah had not come, and within forty years of his resurrection pursued a messiah-less war against Rome. The preaching of the Yeshua community could not be ignored and had to be explained away. If Yeshua is risen, people cannot remain the same. One must either join the Yeshua community or deny the truth of Yeshua’s identity and aims.
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The eleven come to Galilee (16), the eleven worship but some are hesitant (17), Yeshua assures them he has all authority (18), Yeshua sends them on the broadest of missions, to the nations, with the knowledge of his permanent presence (19-20).
Several things are new in this transforming final encounter. Some interpreters have suggested that the last paragraph of Matthew is the key to its message, that clues have been laid all along for the final themes: the idea that Yeshua is the Son to be worshipped, the idea that Messiah’s mission is to the nations and not merely Israel, the idea of Yeshua’s transcendent authority and abiding Presence, and the idea that discipleship to the Son should spread to the world. Throughout Matthew these themes have been hinted. Yeshua is more than he appears. He spoke of the time after he was gone and his presence with the disciples, though the words were incomprehensible before his death and resurrection. The theme of gentile inclusion has been major for Matthew. At the key moment, some of the disciples are unsure if they should worship Yeshua. The conflict between the very new information of God’s Presence revealed in the world as Yeshua and the strong monotheism of Israel must be dealt with. It is against the instinct of a Galilean Israelite to be devoted to any visible figure or man, even though persuaded this man is a heavenly figure of divine authority. We should not assume that this paradigm change was easy for the disciples and it has not been easy for theology over the past two thousand years. The divinity of the Son and his relation to the Father was (in some ways) a new concept. The ending of Matthew marks a revolutionary change in mission and theology. God has been revealed in person and the mission of Israel to the world has been passed on to the disciples in Yeshua’s name. EXCURSUS on Trinity in Matthew 28:19: There is a suggestion that the clause “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” clause is missing in some manuscripts of the New Testament. This is untrue. The clause is in all the manuscripts. It is missing, rather, in some of Eusebius’ citations of the text. A few scholars did propose that the formula was not original, but was added by the church sometime later. Yet scholarship has not accepted this theory as the formula is in all the numerous existing manuscripts of Matthew that we possess.
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