Search This Blog

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


Brian Jonson said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Brian Jonson said...

I love the fact that despite His ministry being "to the Jew first", Jesus nonetheless honors the Canaanite woman of Matthew 15. She considers herself a "dog" going after crumbs under a table. He saw her faith and healed her daughter even though He had declared His ministry wasn't for her.

His compassion crossed all boundaries when He saw faith like hers.

Can't wait for this book to get started!