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Thursday, July 21, 2011

Overview of Matthew, Pt4

(If you have not read the previous posts in this series, you can find them here: Part 1   Part 2   Part 3)
A fourth theme to look for in the book of Matthew is the “kingdom.”  Matthew is the only one of the Gospel writers who uses the phrase “kingdom of heaven”, and he does so 32 times.  Thirteen times he uses the word “kingdom” by itself, and five times he uses the phrase “kingdom of God.” 
So what does Matthew mean when he uses these phrases?
First, the kingdom refers to the kingship, rule, or authority of God.  The primary meaning of both the Hebrew and Greek words for kingdom is “the rank, authority and sovereignty exercised by a king.”[1]  When we use the word “kingdom” in our modern context, we may mean the realm over which a king exercises authority or the people who belong to that realm, but in biblical usage, these meanings are secondary.  Kingdom refers first and foremost to the authority to rule.
When Jesus taught the disciples to pray in Matthew 6:7-13, one of the petitions is “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”  What is being sought in the request for His kingdom to come?  The answer is the following phrase, “your will be done.”  The petition seeks that the Lord’s rulership would extend to earth as it does heaven, since now the ruler of this world is the devil (John 12:31, 14:30, 16:8-11). 
This kingship of God is a rule that will be bestowed upon Christ.  Jesus predicts in 16:28, “Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom."  This makes only makes sense if we think of kingdom as kingship.  This rule of Christ is also why we find so many references in the book to Christ’s authority.  He taught with uncommon authority (7:29).  He had authority to forgive sins (9:6).  He was able to give authority to his disciples to preach, heal, and cast out demons (10:1).  And finally, after His resurrection, He said to His disciples, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” (28:18). 
That being said, any meaningful reign does have a realm.  The second way “kingdom” is used in Matthew refers to the realm in which God’s reign may be experienced.  So is this a future kingdom or present kingdom?
Several references indicate that the kingdom is present or, at the very least, imminent.  The very first message of the kingdom comes from John the Baptist in ch3, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”  Jesus echoes this message in 4:17 and commands His disciples to do the same in 10:7.  Most of Jesus’ parables in Matthew place the kingdom in the present, each being introduced by the words, “The kingdom of heaven is like…” (13:31, 44, 45, 47; 20:1).
There is also evidence that the kingdom of heaven represents a present blessing of true disciples.  The Beatitudes (5:2-10) tell us of such blessings, with the kingdom of heaven being the only one not spoken of as a future blessing.  This section of text begins and ends with “…for theirs is the kingdom of heaven,” while all the others use future tense verbs: “…they shall be comforted…they shall inherit the earth…they shall be satisfied…they shall receive mercy…they shall see God…they shall be called sons of God.”
Further, Jesus declares in 12:28, “…the kingdom of God has come upon you.”  So the kingdom should rightly be understood as a present reality.  But…
There are numerous references in Matthew that would indicate that the kingdom of heaven is a distant future reality, a reality that comes at the end of the age.  For example, in 8:11, Jesus says that in the kingdom of heaven, many will come from the east and west and recline at the table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  Clearly, this must be a heavenly gathering since Jesus was saying this almost two millennia after the patriarchs’ deaths.  
One parable, the parable of the ten virginss, in 25:1-13 puts the sets the kingdom in the future: “For the kingdom of heaven will be like…”  In Christ’s prediction of the judgment of the nations in 25:31-46, He states that the inheritance of the kingdom will come after the Son of Man comes in His glory.
So what are we to make of all this?  George Eldon Ladd is helpful here: “Fundamentally, as we have seen, the Kingdom of God is God’s sovereign reign; but God’s reign expresses itself in different stages throughout redemptive history.  Therefore, men may enter into the realm of God’s reign in its several stages of manifestation and experience the blessings of His reign in differing degrees.  God’s Kingdom is the realm of the Age to Come, popularly called heaven; then we shall realize the blessings of His Kingdom (reign) in the perfection of their fullness.  But the Kingdom is here now.  There is a realm of spiritual blessing into which we may enter today and enjoy in part but in reality the blessings of God’s Kingdom (reign).”[2]
So the kingdom is a reality that we look forward to in the second coming of Christ, but it is also a reality now in the blessings of Christ’s rule over our lives.  Christ is a king.  He came to rule in the hearts of men. 
We will spend time looking at this wonderful theme in our text for this Sunday’s message, 3:1-12. 

Posted by Greg Birdwell

[1]George Eldon Ladd, The Gospel of the Kingdom (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1959), 19.
[2]Ladd, 22-23.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Overview of Matthew, Pt3

(If you have not read the first two posts in this series, you can find them here and here.)

A third theme that we find in the book of Matthew could best be described by a phrase in Romans 1:16: …to the Jew first and also to the Greek.
Matthew has the distinction of being the most Jewish of the Gospels while at the same time showing the most overt references to Gentile inclusion in the Kingdom of God.  There almost seems to be a contradiction between the two facets, with some texts indicating that the gospel of the kingdom is exclusive to the Jews and others showing that this hope extends to the Gentiles, too. 
In this post, first we’ll identify some of these conflicting features, then attempt to show how these things fit together.
That the book was written with the Jew in mind is clear.  As noted in the last post in this series, the very first chapter seeks to demonstrate that Jesus is the Jewish Messiah.  The genealogy in ch1 shows that Christ is a direct descendant of Abraham and David.  Vv22-23 claim that His birth fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah 7:14.  In all, there are twenty times that Matthew shows Christ fulfilling portions of the Hebrew Scriptures.  Such citations would not be nearly as meaningful to a Gentile audience.
But there are two passages in the book that explicitly show that the Gospel of the Kingdom is an exclusive blessing for the Jews.  The first of these is Matthew 10:5-6:  These twelve Jesus sent out, instructing them, "Go nowhere among the Gentiles and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel…”  Earlier in the chapter, Jesus gave His disciples authority over unclean spirit and power to heal every disease and affliction, authority and power that Jesus then reserves for the benefit of the Jews.
In ch15, we find this account:  21 And Jesus went away from there and withdrew to the district of Tyre and Sidon.  22 And behold, a Canaanite woman from that region came out and was crying, "Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon.”
 23 But he did not answer her a word. And his disciples came and begged him, saying, "Send her away, for she is crying out after us."  24 He answered, "I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel."
So here a second time, Jesus makes it clear that the blessings of the kingdom belong to the Jews.  However, elsewhere in the book there are both hints and strong statements about Gentile inclusion.
First of all, the genealogy at the beginning of the book includes two Gentile women, Rahab and Ruth.  The inclusion of these two is not necessary, as these genealogies typically only included men.  Second, in ch2, the only people who come to worship the young Christ are the wise men from the east, Gentiles.  All the rest of the people in the chapter are Jews, and their responses range from indifference to murderous intent.
Third, there is an explicit reference to Christ offering hope to the Gentiles in 12:18-21 as a fulfillment of a prophecy of Isaiah:
  18 "Behold, my servant whom I have chosen, my beloved with whom my soul is well pleased. I will put my Spirit upon him, and he will proclaim justice to the Gentiles.  19 He will not quarrel or cry aloud, nor will anyone hear his voice in the streets; 20 a bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not quench, until he brings justice to victory;
 21 and in his name the Gentiles will hope."
Further, in 21:18-22:14, Matthew includes a triad of parables predicting the demise of the Jewish leadership.  A theme verse for this section is found in the parable of the tenants in 21:41, “He will put those wretches to a miserable death and let out the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the fruits in their season.”  Also, in ch25, it is shown that the Son of Man will separate the sheep and the goats among “all the nations.”
So how are we to understand this?  Is the gospel of the kingdom only for the Jews or for the Gentiles as well?  Romans 1:16, which I mentioned earlier, is a good help here.  The whole verse reads, For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.  In Jesus' earthly ministry, His first priority was to take the gospel of the kingdom to God’s covenant people, Israel.  That is the reason for the exclusive language in Matthew, particularly in the first part of the book.
There is a turning point in ch12 that sheds light on this.  Prior to ch12, all of Jesus teaching is very clear.  He uses no mysterious language, just straightforward instruction.  However, neither this teaching nor Jesus’ many miracles convinced the Jews of their need to repent and come to Him.  In ch12, after a series of hostile encounters between Jesus and the Jewish leaders, the Jews decide they have had enough: But the Pharisees went out and conspired against him, how to destroy him (12:14).  It is in the very next chapter, that Jesus begins to speak in parables.  When His disciples ask Him for the reason for the change in His teaching, He replies, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given…This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand…” (13:12-14).
The Jews had rejected Jesus and His subsequent teaching was intentionally hidden from them.  This explains the later parables that describe the downfall of the Jewish leaders.   The Kingdom would be given to others.  All of this prepares for the Great Commission after Christ’s resurrection in Matt 28, in which He commands the disciples to make disciples of “all nations.”
Paul describes this dynamic in Romans 11, describing the Jews as the original branches of the olive tree.  These original branches were broken off because of their unbelief, so that the wild branches (Gentiles) might be grafted in.  However, if those original branches do not continue in unbelief, they will be grafted back in.
So Matthew reflects this plan of taking the gospel of the kingdom to the Jew first, and after the Jews rejected Christ, the gospel was to be taken to the Gentiles.  What a blessing that though we are not biologically descended from Abraham, though we are not ethnic Jews, we have become fellow partakers of the promise through faith in Christ (Eph 3:1-6).

In the wisdom of God, the Jewish rejection of the Christ was the catalyst that the Father used to propel the Son to the cross, that He might become the propitiation for the sins not of the Jew only, but also of the Greek.  Oh, the depths of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God… (Rom 11:33-36).

Posted by Greg Birdwell

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Overview of Matthew, Pt 2

Have you ever discovered a word that you had never heard before, and then suddenly you seem to hear it all the time?  I’ve had that experience numerous times and each time I recognize that it can’t possibly be the case that the word was just invented.  It must have been around all along, but I hadn’t noticed it.
You may have had that experience with the Bible.  There are themes there that we can pass by unknowingly for years.  Then when our attention is called to it, we seem to see it all over the Bible.
There are several such themes in the book of Matthew that would be beneficial for us to recognize now before we begin our study of the book toward the end of this month.  If we go into the study aware of these themes, we will recognize them more readily and be able to see how Matthew is weaving the narrative together to accomplish the purpose of his Gospel.  
 Any list of the “most important” themes is going to be somewhat subjective, so I cannot claim that my list is in any way inspired.  I will just note that in my opinion these are the most obvious and most important.
1. The Identity of Christ – Matthew will take great care in establishing who Jesus is.  The first several chapters serve to demonstrate Christ’s credentials before we ever hear Him speak.  However, this demonstration does not stop after these initial chapters, but precedes through the rest of the book. 
The author accomplishes this in at least two ways.  First, he establishes who Jesus is through the titles assigned to Him.  In the very first verse of the book, He is called Jesus Christ, which is the Greek word for “messiah.”  A Jewish audience would have recognized right away that a major claim was being made about this Jesus – He is the Messiah of the Old Testament, the fulfillment of the promised restoration and salvation of God’s people.  Later in the first chapter, He is called Immanuel, the “with us God.”  In 2:2, the wise men identify Him as the king of the Jews.  Eight times, He is identified as the Son of God.[1]  This designation is verified by God Himself both at Jesus’ baptism (3:17, “This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased”) and the Transfiguration (17:5, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him”).  He is called the Son of Man 30 times.[2] 
Second, Matthew establishes who Jesus is through what He does.  Jesus fulfills all righteousness (3:15), defeats the devil (4:1-11), fulfills the Law (5:17), teaches with authority (7:29), cleanses lepers (8:1-4), heals the sick (8:14-17), calms the sea (8:18-22), casts out demons (8:28-34), forgives sin (9:1-8), grants authority (10:1), heals on the Sabbath (12:1-14), feeds the crowds (14:13-21), walks on water (14:22-33), challenges legalism (15:1-9), builds the Church (16:13-20), foretells His own death (16:21-23), cleanses the temple (21:12-17), condemns the hypocrites (23:1-36), predicts the eschaton (24-25), institutes a new covenant (26:26-29), suffers silently (27:11-14), dies on the cross (27:50), rises from the dead (28:1-10), and commission the spread of the gospel to all nations (28:18-20).
All of these titles and actions proclaim the same message.  This is the Son of God. 
2. Fulfillment of the Old Testament – Matthew vigorously quotes the Old Testament, presenting Jesus as the fulfillment of the hopes and promises of the Old Testament.  He does this in at least three ways.  First, He is the fulfillment of Old Testament messianic prophecy.  Twenty times, Matthew cites specific OT references as being fulfilled in the life of Jesus.  Ten of these are unique to Matthew’s Gospel.  Five are in the first two chapters alone.   These fulfillments took place all the way from His conception (1:22-23) to His Passion (27:9).
Second, Jesus fulfills the Law.  The most explicit reference to this is found in the Sermon on the Mount in 5:17-19: “ Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.”
In the section that follows, Jesus corrects various misinterpretations of the Law and calls His disciples to obey the spirit of the Law.  He also condemns the Pharisees for elevating the traditions of the elders to the same level as Scripture (15:1-9).
Third, He serves as the anti-type of Israel, succeeding where Israel failed.  For example, from the end of ch2 through ch4, Jesus follows the same path as the Jews, coming out of Egypt, going through a body of water, and entering the wilderness for testing.  In the temptation narrative in particular, Jesus is tempted in the same ways Israel was, yet He obeys where they did not.   
This theme demonstrates that Christ is the fulfillment of God’s grand plan, the culmination of salvation history.  He has brought salvation to God’s people.
We will look at the other major themes next time.  If you are reading through Matthew yourself, look for these two themes as you go.