Matthew 23 The Woes Of The Old Covenant Lawsuit.

Matthew 23 The Woes Of The Old Covenant Lawsuit.

Jesus upheld the authority of the Mosaic legislation. Therefore his disciples are told to follow what they tell people to observe, at least insofar as they are true to the canonical revelation through him. They were called to this, in spite of the reality that these teachers did not put it into practice themselves. What would set them apart from the apostate leadership was their commitment to put the Mosaic legislation into practice (vv. 1-3). Part of putting the law-word of the covenant into practice is to help those who find their burdens too heavy to bear (v. 4). Furthermore, we are to be doers of the word and not hearers only, not to brag or just to be seen, but to do so because it is right. On the borders of their garments they had the blue thread to signify their role as teachers or bearers of the word, which they made much of. They also enjoyed the attention of the people for this role which they played. They acted like the authors of the word, instead of humble servants administering it (vv. 5-9). Christ is to be our teacher (v. 10).

Here we see a very important hermeneutical principle as well, that we can only really comprehend the Mosaic legislation, indeed the whole of the Old Testament scriptures, through the lens of the Christ. Therefore, the great in the kingdom of the Christ, are those ministers who are servants of the word, those who humble themselves and exalt the Christ (vv. 11-12). This was not the way of the apostate religious leadership of Jesus’ day. The woes which Jesus spoke concerning them were the woes of covenantal infidelity (vv. 13ff. Cf. Dt. 28:15ff.). They were hypocrites, because as Jesus just said, they preached the law, but did not live it. However, their sin was greater even than this. Even with respect to Moses they had fallen short. For in the Mosaic legislation the gospel was revealed. In the law word of the covenant there was and remains an open invitation to enter the kingdom of the Christ (v. 13), to be redeemed by the blood of the Passover lamb, a hope that looked forward to the once and for all finished work of Jesus the Christ.

With each woe they are reminded of their hypocrisy. They justified devouring widows houses, by making a pretense through their long prayers. For sure offer prayer, but then offer help to the widow. This they did not do (v. 14). There is a greater condemnation for them, for they knew that assistance for widows was demanded of them, but they opted to hide behind their long prayers and ostentatious phylacteries. Their prayer ought to have been, “Father take away our hearts of stone and give us a heart of flesh, to help these poor widows.” It was not as though they didn’t exert themselves, but they did so for their own ends – travelling “land and sea to win one proselyte (v. 15),” all to make them “as much a son of hell” as themselves. In their twisted way of thinking they thought that what men brought to God was more important than what God, in sacrifice, had to do for them. The gold symbolized the best of what men could bring into God’s presence, but it was God’s presence which sanctified these gifts and not vice versa (vv. 16-19).

Swearing, or the bearing of covenantal witness, is no less serious if referred to anything one step away from the LORD himself, for all things are sanctified or set apart by him (vv. 20-22). Jesus didn’t discourage the keeping of the lesser matters of the law, like the paying of mint, anise, and cumin, but he did condemn the neglect of the weightier matters of the law like “justice and mercy and faith” (v. 23). Yes, these are the weighty matters of the law! They were blind guides who majored on the minor and minored on the major (v. 24). Another such example, which was symbolic of their own persons, was the washing of the outside of a cup and dish, while the inside was “full of extortion and self-indulgence” (v. 25). If they had focused on their own internal condition, and in faith looked for mercy to answer to the LORD’s justice, then their actions, or external acts, would also be clean (v. 26). They only sought to appear outwardly righteous, all the while being spiritually dead within, but it showed (vv. 27-28).

They also outwardly gave honor and homage to the prophets and the righteous whom their forefathers had killed (v. 29), but they were guilty of the very same things, thus being “partakers with them in the blood of the prophets” (v. 30). In fact, they were, by their very teaching and practice, then current witnesses to the crimes of their forbearers (v. 31). In so doing they were confirming to the full, the guilt of their fathers (v. 32). They were children of the devil, whose words and deeds would condemn them to hell (v. 33). Jesus had sent, and would continue to send ministers of the word to them, but their response would be no different than their father(s). This was to the end that all the blood of the righteous might come in judgment upon that generation (vv. 34-35). Jesus took no pleasure in this, instead he mourned over Jerusalem, for all along the invitation to mercy was given, but they were not willing. Blessing, including membership in the LORD’s house, comes only through acknowledgment of Jesus as the Blessed One (vv. 37-39).

Matthew 22:34-40 The First And Second Great Commandments.

Matthew 22:34-40 The First And Second Great Commandments.

First the Pharisees had been silenced in their attempt to trap Jesus (vv. 15-22), then the Sadducees (vv. 23-33). So now the Pharisees, through a presumably learned lawyer, take another run at Jesus, again to test him (vv. 34-35). The lawyer asked Jesus what was the great commandment in the law (v. 36). “Jesus said to him, ‘You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’” (v. 37) It all begins in the heart, by which the bible means a person’s core, the deepest part of a person’s being, the real person (Cf. Prov. 23:26). Then there is one’s soul, which is both our life, and that immaterial part of us that will survive with the dissolution of the body, and before we receive our resurrection bodies (Cf. Dt. 10:12; 30:6). Matthew then has ‘mind’, whereas Deuteronomy then has ‘strength’. “The Hebrew expresses totality. For this reason the New Testament sometimes renders it with ‘mind and strength’ (Mark 12:30 Cf. II Kgs 23:25).” (NGSB. 250) Luke 10:27 has both. The totality of all a person is, and thinks, is what is conveyed here.

“This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’” (vv. 38-39) This second commandment also comes from the law, namely Leviticus 19:18. In the law this command is sandwiched between two important ancillary truths directly related to the command. The first is that we are not to take vengeance ourselves, but instead we are to love our neighbour (Cf. Dt. 32:35). The other is, we are to love our neighbour as ourselves because it is our covenant LORD who commands us. Paul affirmed this also, and added that “therefore love is the fulfillment of the law” (Rom. 13:9-10). “On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets” (v. 40). With respect to the second commandment, Jesus made this point early on in his ministry (7:12). These commands not only summarize the whole of the law, but the law and the prophets, that is the whole of the scriptures. These commands do not replace everything else, they summarize, which gets back to the question asked. Jesus did not come to destroy, but to fulfill (5:17).

Matthew 22:23-33 The Hope Of The Resurrection.

Matthew 22:23-33 The Hope Of The Resurrection.

The same day as the Pharisees asked their question about paying taxes to Caesar (vv. 15-22), the Sadducees, who said there was no resurrection, came with their question (v. 23). If they were sincere students of the scriptures, and actually believed that he was a teacher who taught scripture truth, they could have asked him outright if he believed in the resurrection and why. However, they probably heard him teach enough to know that he did believe in the resurrection, especially teaching of his own resurrection on the third day. Instead they think themselves clever, and seeking to simply trap Jesus, they pose to him what they imagined was a question that he would not be able to answer. They posed the example of a woman who was married serially to seven brothers before she died, because of the obligation to further the line of the first husband (vv. 24-27). It is likely that they saw any future for themselves as being that which carries on through one’s children. In any case, they ask Jesus whose wife she would be in a resurrection (v. 28).

Jesus tells them that they were mistaken on two counts – their lack of understanding of the scriptures which teach resurrection, and their unbelief in the power of God to do it (v. 29). The answer to their direct question was a simple one, in that with the resurrection there is no marriage (v. 30). However, with respect to the scriptures on the subject, he directs them to the scriptures they valued the most, the five books of Moses, and states the obvious point that though the patriarchs were dead that nevertheless Moses said that God is the God of them, and not that he was the God of them (vv. 31-32a). “God is not the God of the dead, but of the living” (v. 32b). A simple and yet direct answer to their question was one thing to marvel at, but so was his answer to the larger question of the resurrection. No doubt the multitudes also marveled, for they were likely as much interested in the issue or more so than the Sadducees, and Jesus taught them that there is this hope of eternal life, not just through their descendants, but for themselves forever.

 

Matthew 22:15-22 Taxes, Teaching, And Truth.

Matthew 22:15-22 Taxes, Teaching, And Truth.

The context of this passage, it must be remembered, is the desire on the part of the Pharisees to trap Jesus in his answer to their question as to whether it was lawful to pay taxes to Caesar (v. 15). Secondly, their disciples, and the Herodians sent with them, were instructed to flatter Jesus before asking him this question. They do this first of all, in addressing him as ‘Teacher’. Then they suggest admiration for him as a teacher because of their presumed love of the truth. “We know that you are true” (v. 16a). This is an interesting claim. One could diverge here on the very question of how one knows anything at all, that is epistemology or the study of knowledge. Furthermore, this inevitably does raise the issue of what is truth, and just exactly how can one be sure that they know the truth? In short, they were coming to him because they claimed to know that Jesus was one who taught “the way of God in truth” (v. 16b).

Thirdly, they also suggest that they know him to be a man who is not influenced negatively by the pressure of others. We might infer that they were saying more than this, that Jesus really didn’t care about anyone, and if this were the case they would feel at home with him, since this describes everything we know about the Pharisees (v. 16c). Fourthly, from their question it is clear that they didn’t know what Jesus thought about their question. Finally, it must be noted that they were also conspiring with the Herodians. Very early on the Pharisees had “plotted with the Herodians against Him, how they might destroy Him” (Mk. 2:6). Jesus had warned his disciples to beware of the leaven of both (Mk. 8:15), that they had been trying to catch Jesus in his words for some time (Mk. 12:13). This was a political alliance, as the Herodians, as supporters of Herod, were allied with Rome. (NGSB. 1565)

All of the above is described by Matthew as wickedness on their part, which Jesus had perceived, and why he said, “Why do you test me, you hypocrites” (v. 18)? They were hypocrites, because they claimed to be desirous of knowing the truth all the while seeking to frame Jesus in some perceived lie. They were also hypocritical with their flattery, when their only intent was to destroy him. It was an interesting question given the two parties involved. “The hated pole tax symbolized submission to Rome. If Jesus simply advocated payment of the tax, He would alienate the people; if He encouraged nonpayment the Herodians would accuse Him of treason.” (NGSB. 1542) In other words, the former would be cause for the Pharisees against Jesus, whereas the latter scenario would be cause for the Herodians. So these two groups conspired together knowing that Jesus’ answer would soon cause them to part ways.

All of this makes the simplicity of Jesus’ answer all the more telling. Since it was Caesar’s image on the money, he clearly had the jurisdiction on its use (vv.19-21a). “Jesus answer turns the question to a deeper issue, ultimate allegiance to God. The coin bearing the image of Caesar belongs to him; human beings made in the image of God belong to God” (NGSB. 1542). Later on Paul and Peter would expound further on a Christian’s duty with respect to the civil authorities (Cf. Rom. 13:1-7; I Pet. 2:13-15). However, it is clear that there was nothing in Jesus answer that either party could use against him – they marveled and went their own way. This is what faces anyone with respect to Jesus, marvelling at his teaching is not enough. Either he does in fact teach the truth, and therefore should be followed, or one marvels but then goes their own way (v. 22). Some simply say with Pilate – “What is truth?” (Jn. 18:38)

Matthew 22:1-14 The Parable Of The Wedding Feast.

Matthew 22:1-14 The Parable Of The Wedding Feast.

This parable is meant in the first instance to apply to those among Jesus’ own people – Israel. However, as the parable indicates they did not think it worthwhile to accept his invitation, even after he told them of the great blessings to expect (vv. 1-5). Worse yet, there were those who abused and murdered the servants that the groom had sent to invite them (v. 6). The king was angry and destined these for judgment. They spurned the groom and his servants, but in their arrogant pride they showed themselves to be unworthy (vv. 7-8). In their place the servants were told to go to the highways to gather any they could find, that “the wedding hall may be filled with guests” (vv. 9-10). However, even though the wedding invitation went out to all, one still had to be clothed in wedding garments fit for the situation. All those not clothed by this Prince, will be cast into the same place as those who first rejected him. “For many are called, but few are chosen.” (v. 14). We must be clothed with the “garments of salvation” and “the robe of righteousness” of the groom himself (Is. 61:10 Cf. Rom. 13:14; II Cor. 5:21).

Matthew 21:33-46 The Parable Of The Wicked Vinedressers.

Matthew 21:33-46 The Parable Of The Wicked Vinedressers.

In yet another parable Jesus seeks to drive home the point that there is a lawsuit being brought upon the apostates of the old covenant administration. With the new covenant comes the renewal of the one covenant of grace through the son whom the Father has given. Israel was the vineyard, and the vinedressers were the apostate leadership in church and state. The LORD of the covenant had all along been establishing a relationship where the people would be His and He theirs. To this end there should have been some fruit borne out of this relationship, but there was not (vv. 33-36). The Father even sent his own Son at the time of the last days of the old covenant era, but the apostates were all the more vehement in their opposition.

They thought that killing him would be doing God a favour, and that they could somehow gain a covenantal inheritance of blessing, when all that awaited them was cursing (vv. 37-41). They also in ignorance testify to the justness of the judgment that should fall upon themselves (vv. 40-41). Jesus had to remind them that the stone that they were rejecting was destined to become the chief cornerstone of a new people of God. The kingdom would be taken from them and given to others who would bear fruit (vv. 42-43). The apostate leadership finally seemed to become aware that Jesus was speaking of them, but they did not pursue him at this time because “they feared the multitudes, because they took Him for a prophet” (v. 46).

Matthew 21:28-32 Actions Speak Loader Than Words.

Matthew 21:28-32 Actions Speak Loader Than Words.

Jesus taught this parable after he had entered and cleansed the temple, spoke of the apostates as a cursed fig tree, which led to the apostate religious leadership questioning his authority. Now he would teach that one of the things that characterized apostates was their having fine sounding words declaring obedience to the LORD of the covenant, but having actions that went contrary. At the same time, Jesus also highlighted those who initially said that they would not obey, but who had come to recognize the need for repentance. Just as they could not answer by what authority John and Jesus preached and acted, they consequently did not see their need to repent of their apostasy.

Matthew 21:23-27 A Question Of Authority.

Matthew 21:23-27 A Question Of Authority.

This passage is often focused on the questioning of Jesus’ authority by the chief priests and scribes. However, it is ultimately a question for them, a question which they could not answer. There are only two supposed sources for authority – either God or humans. The very question is a presumptuous one on their part, for one must have some authoritative source to ask the question of another. In their minds they had the authority, from God no less, by virtue of their office either as chief priests or their work as scribes. There were two questions posed to Jesus. The first was one of asking where he stood in relationship to them, namely did he speak and act because of the office he held such as a chief priest, or as one entrusted with the word such as the scribes.

The second question is intimately related to the first, namely who is it that gave him his office or entrusted to him the ministry of the word. These very same issues are what Jesus confronted them with. Either they believed that Jesus, like John, spoke simply by the authority of men, or they spoke by the authority given by God, and had their offices as prophets, and Jesus as also priest and king, from God. They were faced with the same dilemma with Jesus as with John. They wanted to say with regard to both, that they spoke and acted only through their own human authority, but in both cases they feared the crowd. They contemplated saying the authority came from God, but they realized that they would then have to answer why they did not obey.

Matthew 21:18-22 Kingdom Transfer.

Matthew 21:18-22 Kingdom Transfer.

What Mark separates by a day, with the clearing of the temple in between  (11:12-26), Matthew here groups together. This highlights two basic differences between the two. It is thought that Mark sought to write a strict chronological order, whereas Matthew was more thematic in his approach. “In Matt. 21:12-22, Jesus proceeds to cleanse the temple upon His arrival and curses the fig tree the next day. In Mark, Jesus returns to Bethany for the night, in the morning He curses the fig tree and then cleanses the temple. Probably Matthew treats the material topically (no specific reference for the cleansing is given in Matt. 21:12), while Mark, who places stories within stories (5:21-43; 6:7-30), treats it chronologically.” (NGSB 1585) Matthew condenses an incident that took place on two separate days (cf. Mark 11:12-14, 20-26).” (NGSB 1540)

The main point is this: “The linking of this incident with the cleansing of the temple hints at God’s immanent punishment of Israel in the destruction of the city and the temple (Jer. 24:1-8).” (NGSB 1540-1) A fig tree’s purpose is to obviously bear fruit. This was also to be the purpose of the LORD planting Israel in his land to bear fruit. Since Israel had not bore fruit the kingdom would be given to others. Mountains in the scriptures often refer to kingdoms, and it is more likely that Jesus is referring to mountains being moved through prayer in respect to a changing of the guard. Prayer must however be combined with belief, which necessitates a knowledge of the scriptures and God’s plans for the future. When our prayers are in harmony with God’s plans for his kingdom, we are promised success.

Matthew 21:12-17 Jesus Transforms The Temple.

Matthew 21:12-17 Jesus Transforms The Temple.

The temple, meant to be a house of prayer, became a den of thieves. These seized upon the need of the people to have a sacrifice to offer, but likely for an exorbitant price (vv. 12-13 Cf. Mk. 11:15-18; Lk. 19:45-47; Jn. 2:13-16; Dt. 14:24-25). This exchange of goods by those too far away to bring an actual tithe or offering of the fruits of one’s labour, was to take place at the market, and not in the temple precincts. Jesus entrance into the temple would fulfill the prophetic word of the last of the prophets, Malachi (3:1). Jesus is the Lord and Messenger of the covenant, sent by the LORD of hosts. For this cause John also records how the disciples were reminded of the words of Psalm 69:9, that zeal for the LORD’s house would consume him (Jn. 2:17).

Instead of being a house of merchandise, Jesus transformed it into a house of healing, for the blind and lame came to him and he healed them (v. 14). Again, the children cry out to Jesus, referring to him as “the Son of David” (v. 15). This continued the Hosannas of his triumphal entry (21:1-11), in fulfillment of the words of Psalm 118:26 (v. 9). The chief priests and scribes were indignant or angry at the sound of the children, but as Jesus said, this also happened as the scriptures predicted, and in making this point he was claiming divinity (v. 16; Ps. 8:2 Cf. Mt. 11:25). This entrance of Jesus into the temple is a momentous turning point in salvation history. This would be the start of a move away from this temple, to the true temple which is Jesus himself, a point stressed by John above.