Comments on the Gospel of Matthew
Though written about four hundred years after Malachi, the Gospel by Matthew admirably preserves the continuity of God's dealings with Israel, for it is written plainly from a Jewish viewpoint, its message particularly suited to Israelites, though the wisdom of God has so declared the truth as to make it also of vital importance to Gentiles. Christ is presented here as the King of Israel, His title to this being carefully established. As such He of course has a kingdom, but in Matthew alone this is called "the kingdom of heaven," and here 33 times, though he also calls it "the kingdom of God' a few times. Israel expected the kingdom with its headquarters in Jerusalem, that is, with they themselves in control. The Lord Jesus therefore speaks of "the kingdom of heaven," a kingdom having its headquarters in heaven, though of course the kingdom itself is on earth, a sphere over which Christ has supreme authority. Other Gospels speak of the same kingdom as "the kingdom of God;" but Israel must learn that God's kingdom is ruled from heaven, with no earthly center of authority.
The genealogy of the King of Israel must be clearly established as from Abraham, the original father of the nation, and from David, the first king of God's choice, who is in many ways a type of Christ. This would be of vital importance to every orthodox Jew. Therefore Matthew begins with the genealogy, and as it descends from Abraham to Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom Christ Was born. This is the official genealogy.
Luke, on the other hand, after describing the events leading to and connected with the birth of the Lord Jesus, then gives a genealogy from the reverse viewpoint (Ch.3:23-38), from Jesus back to Adam and God. In this case the genealogy is totally different as dating from David to Christ, for the line is through Nathan, David's son, rather than through Solomon. But it appears evident that, though Joseph is mentioned in verse 23, the line is that of Mary, of whom Jesus Was actually born. For Luke emphasizes the reality of the Manhood of Christ, therefore the actual line is important in this case. Luke also, a Gentile, wrote to a Gentile, and therefore: shows the Lord's connection with all mankind, not only Israel.
Verses 3, 5 and 6 are most striking as introducing the names of women into the genealogy; and more striking still is the fact that these four women were not of Israel. In the first case the history of Tamar and Judah (Gen.38) is a blot of sinful shame in the genealogy, which the Jews would rather have forgotten. But God reveals it fully. In the case of Rachab (Rabab), she was saved only by pure grace from a life of shame (Josh.6:25), then has her place of the genealogy of the King of Israel. The third is Ruth, a Moabitess, who had no right to any part in Israel (Deut.23:3), but by a Kinsman redeemer (Boaz) was brought also by grace into this favored place. The fourth (Bathsheba) is spoken of as "her that had been the wife of Urias," a plain reminder of David's dreadful sin in taking her and having Urias killed.
Certainly the King of Israel did not come from a sinless nation! Nor did He come to enforce the law. He came in marvelous grace, linking Himself in lowly humiliation with a sinful notion. The insertion of these four names is certainly intended to bring down Israel's pride as well as to emphasize the greatness of the grace of God.
In verse 8 three kings are omitted, after Joram, evidently because Ahaziah's mother was Athaliah, the wicked daughter of Ahab, and God expunges her seed from the genealogy to the third generation (2 Kings 8:16-24)
There are several cases in Scripture in which people are deleted, or time deleted from the history, in order to show God's thoughts as to refusing recognition when His rights have been violated. Jehoiakim, son of Josiah is omitted in verse 11. He was the immediate father of Jeconiah (Jer.24:1). Jeconiah's brethren are mentioned because several of his close relatives were briefly put on the throne of Judah about the time of the captivity (2 Chron.36:1-4-10). Jeconiah himself Was later liberated and treated kindly by the king of Babylon (2 Kings 25:27-30), a picture of the fact that Judah's royalty would be revived. Yet Jeremiah 22:30 prophesies of him, "Write ye this man childless, a man that shell not prosper in his days: for no man of his seed shell prosper sitting upon the throne of David, and ruling any more in Judah." Not that Jeconish (or Coniah) had no child, for he "beget Solothiel" but no child of his could succeed him on the throne, and none of his seed could ever rule in Judah.
How then could it be accomplished that the Messiah must be of this line? Only by a man of this line (Joseph) marrying a virgin of another line from David, and that virgin bearing the Messiah, who was conceived in her by the Spirit of God. Officially therefore Christ came from the line of Jeconiah, but not actually. He was actually the child of Mary, who descended from Nathan, son of David. Wonderful is the wisdom of God, so high above all that men could have conceived.
When Joseph, before marriage, found that Mary was pregnant, his natural thoughts inclined him to quietly terminate his betrothal to her. But an angel appeared in a dream to him, bidding him not to fear to take Mary as his wife, assuring him that Mary's conception has been by the Spirit of God. The angel Gabriel had appeared personally to Mary, not in a dream (Luke 1:26-38); but in every case mentioned of an angelic message to Joseph, it is in a dream (Ch.2:13, 19-22). This implies greater distance, for Joseph was not the actual father.
The name of Mary's child has been decided beforehand by God. Jesus means "Jehovah Savior," for, it is added, "He shell save His people from their sins." How much more important was this than His saving Israel from Roman bondage! He is King, for He has "his people"; but He is more than this: He is Savior: and yet more, He is Jehovah.
We are told that all of this was done in view of the fulfilling of God's prophecy. Matthew uses expressions of this kind often, for it was imperative that the advent of the Messiah should be seen to correspond perfectly with Israel's Old Testament Scriptures. Also, just as certainly as His name is Jesus, so also it is Emanuel, "God with us." Indeed, Jehovah must come in saving character ("Jehovah Savior") if He is to be with us at all; and it is pressed upon us that He is Jehovah: He is God.
Joseph, obedient to the heavenly vision, took Mary as his wife, yet they refrained from all sexual intercourse until after the birth of her divine child, her firstborn, for she later had at least seven others (Ps.69:8; Mt.13:55,56).
The deeply interesting account of Gabriel's announcement to Mary that she would be the mother of her Lord, the details as to His birth in Bethlehem, the visit of the shepherds to the manger in which He lay (Lk.1 & 2) are not found at all in Matthew; for these, though of engrossing personal interest, are not of importance in an official way. We shell see in chapter 2 however that the visit of the wise men from the east was of a much different character, that affected the authorities in the land.The wise men from the East, very likely students of astronomy, had been amazingly moved by a star they had seen, which they had no doubt bore witness to the birth of the King of Israel. This had been so impressed upon them, no doubt by God Himself, that they set out on a journey that must have taken them well over a year's time. Their question to Herod the king was most striking too, "Where is He that is born King of the Jews." Kings are not born as such, but become kings later. He has this unique dignity of actually being born King. Though the wise men were Gentiles, far removed from Israel, they were made to feel the great importance of this event, and the matter becomes public by their appeal to Herod. This is most suitable to Matthew's purpose in writing.
Herod (and all Jerusalem with him) takes the matter seriously; but instead of rejoicing in such marvelous news, he is troubled. At the time of the Lord's birth the shepherds had spread abroad this blessed news, but it evidently made little impression on the authorities. Now Herod has to inquire of the chief priests and Pharisees where the Messiah should be born. They knew the answer (from Micah 5:2), but seemed to have no more desire for Christ then did Herod. Surely any honest reality of faith would have gladly desired to join the wise men in such a quest.
Herod carefully inquired of them what time the star appeared, his motives in this being thoroughly evil, as verse 16 proves. He wanted to know the age of the child, with the object of murdering him. Yet in cunning hypocrisy he asked them to find the child and report to him in order that he also might worship Him.
Leaving to go to Bethlehem they were filled with great joy in seeing the same star which they had seen in the east, going before them. Astronomers tell us that there is no record of any special star or comet appearing in the heavens at that time; and it seems likely that God sent this simply for their own observation. It could not have been a huge star, but more like a meteor, for it was close enough to earth to come to stand directly over the house in which the Lord was. It seems therefore that it was exclusively intended for the wise men. No longer was He in the manger, but in a house.
It is the young child whom first it is said they see, and with Mary His mother. They fell down and worshipped only Him, not her. Their gifts too were given to Him only; gold, symbolizing the magnificence of His Godhead glory; frankincense, the fragrant purity of His manhood perfection; and myrrh, the bitter taste of the voluntary sufferings He must bear together with its odor of sweet fragrance arising to God. They may not have realized anything of this, but they were clearly directed by God.
This history in Chapter 2 is marked beautifully in all its details by the supernatural guidance of God. The wise men were warned of God in a dream not to return to Herod, so that they take another route homeward. This great journey was taken only for a brief sight of the young child born King Of Israel. What a lesson for Jews in the land, who had no interest in seeing Him! But the wisdom and faith of these wise men is enshrined in Scripture for eternity!
Again Joseph receives angelic instruction in a dream, being told to take the young child to Egypt until further notice from God. God would not put forth supernatural power to defeat Herod's wicked scheming, but would do so by the humbling experience of Joseph and Mary in fleeing to another country. It was lack of faith that led Abram to Egypt (Gen.12:10); and stubborn rebellion against God's word that led the remnant of Judah there in Jeremiah's day (Jer.43:1-7); but in Gen.46:2-4 God told Jacob to go there, and here Joseph goes by the word of God. This is our one safe guide at all times.
Joseph and Mary remained in Egypt with the young child until the death of Herod, and we are told that this time in Egypt was intended to fulfill Hosea 11:1: "Out of Egypt have I called my Son." This is a striking example of a double application of the word of God, for the verse in Hosea reads, "When Israel Was a child, then I loved him, and called my son out of Egypt." Any Jew in reading this would suppose it referred strictly to Israel's release from the bondage of Egypt by the hand of Moses. But the most important fulfillment of this is in the person of the Son of God, who is Himself the true representative of Israel.
Herod, however, angry because the wise men did not return to him, gave orders for the murder of every boy up to two years of age in Bethlehem and the surrounding area. This accorded with the time the wise men had told him the star appeared. One might question why he included even new-born babies; but no doubt he was determined to allow no possibility of any margin of error; in Case, for instance, that the star appeared earlier than the child's birth, so as to bring the wise men to Bethlehem about the time of his birth. On the other hand, if it were over a year since the child had been born, then he would make it two years, to be sure that his evil plan should work. How foolishly ignorant and vain is the enmity of man against God! Contemporary history also reports that Herod was a dying man at this time. Yet his self-centered pride could tolerate no thought of a rival, though only a child!
Another Scripture (Jer.31:15) is here fulfilled in the pathetic weeping and great mourning of Rachel. She is used of course as symbolical of the many mothers of Israel's children. Herod's wicked cruelty does not succeed in its purpose, but inflicts suffering and sorrow on large numbers.
But he dies; called away to face the righteous tribunal of the God he has defied. Then again Joseph is supernaturally directed by an angel to return to Israel. The calm, measured control of God's hand is beautifully seen in every step. Joseph accordingly takes the young child and his mother (notice the child again first mentioned), and returns to the land. He no doubt had in mind to live again in Judea; but is troubled by news that the son of Herod, Archelaus (whose character was no better than his father's), had succeeded to the throne; so that he feared to dwell anywhere in Judea. Again God directly intervened by means of a dream, with a warning that coincided with Joseph's fears; and they go to Galilee instead.
They return to the city in which Mary had first been informed by Gabriel that she would be the virgin mother of the Messiah (Luke 1:26-37). From that time they remained in Nazareth until the time of the Lord's public ministry. This is said to be a fulfillment of what was spoken by the prophets. It is not therefore confined to one specific prophecy, but seems to refer to the general consensus of the ministry of the prophets. Nazareth being a place despised by the Jews (John 1:46), this may be intended to indicate what the prophets generally affirmed, that the Messiah would be despised and rejected of men.The scene changes: the boyhood of the Lord Jesus is here passed over in silence, for this Gospel has an official character, as we have seen. Nothing is said either about the birth or youth of John the Baptist (an important matter in Luke's Gospel--ch.1); so that about 28 years have elapsed before we are introduced to John's preaching in the wilderness of Judea.
Though John was of a priestly family, this too is not mentioned. He does not preach in the temple, but in the wilderness of the river Jordan, at least thirteen miles from Jerusalem.
For a priest to preach in the wilderness is totally out of character, and nothing but the sovereign power of the Spirit of God can account for his large audience coming from Jerusalem and all Judea out into the wilderness to hear the unusual messenger of God. But the formal religion of the Jews, though established by God, had deteriorated so badly that God's testimony must now be in complete separation from this, to bear solemn witness against the sin of elders, priests, scribes and people; for their state was desolate as the wilderness.
Fittingly, John's preaching stresses repentance, but in view of the kingdom of heaven being at hand. 0ld Testament prophecy had taught Israel to look for the kingdom of their promised Messiah, a kingdom of magnificent glory. They assumed that this would be strictly Israel's possession, with its head quarters in Jerusalem, just as the former kings of Israel had their thrones established there. But John speaks of this kingdom of God as "the kingdom of heaven." Only in Matthew is this latter expression Used (about 33 times); for here it was necessary to intimate to the Jews that they were not the possessors of the headquarters Of this kingdom: its center of authority is in the heavens. Indeed, the King Himself had come from heaven; and He would return to heaven, where all authority is vested (Dan.4:26).
John was the forerunner of the King, come to prepare the way of the Lord, and spoken of as a voice crying in the wilderness, in fulfillment Of Isaiah 40:3. No fanfare, no public celebration, no great rejoicing is seen at all, in view of the presentation of Him who is King of kings and Lord of lords. His herald is the very epitome of lowly self-denial, wearing a rough garment of camel's hair. Camel means "a bearer," symbolizing John's bearing the burden of Israel's sad condition of quilt. The leather girdle speaks of the self-discipline that leaves no loose ends. His diet of locusts (which appear in times of drought) reminds us of Israel's desolate spiritual condition; and the wild honey, of the sweetness of the truth gathered independently of men's institutions.
All of this is in great contrast to the way in which kings are usually presented; yet great numbers were gathered from the city of Jerusalem and all the surrounding areas to hear this austere preacher of repentance. Only the sovereign (and unusual) work of God can account for this. Confessing their sins, they were baptized in the river Jordan. Having broken God's law, how could Israel rightly face their promised Messiah? They deserved the sentence of death, and in being baptized they were publicly submitting to this sentence, for baptism speaks of burial (Rom.6:4). Israel had once victoriously passed through Jordan (Josh.3:14-17); but now, in shameful defeat, they are buried in it.
Many of the Pharisees and Sadducees, however, though they come to witness John's baptism, had no intention of honestly admitting their own defeat. They could not ignore this great work of God through His prophet, but religious pride forbid them to frankly confess their sins, as others were doing. John's words to them were solemn and unsparing. They were a generation of vipers, their influence tending to poison the people rather than to help. If they had been warned to flee from the wrath to come, then let them produce fruits that were evidence of repentance on their part.
Nor will John allow them to take shelter behind the claim of their natural relationship to Abraham. God could, and would, dispense with those who were merely related by nature, and raise up children to Abraham "of these stones." Does he not refer to those being baptized, who confessed themselves as dead in sins, lifeless as stones? God could give life on the simple principle of faith: only those who are of faith are true children of Abraham (Gal.3:29; Rom.4:16).
John's ministry was that which laid the ax to the root of the trees, to bring down the haughty pride of man. If the tree did not bear good fruit, then it was to be cut down and consigned to the fire of God's judgment. Of course one must have the proper life to bear proper fruit, but it is John's Gospel that speaks of the life, and Matthew emphasizes its fruit.
Though John's call to repentance and his baptism with this in view was deeply important, yet far more important was the glory of Him to whom John bore witness, whose shoes John was not worthy to carry, or as he says elsewhere, not worthy to even loose His shoelaces. He would accomplish a far more mighty work than John. He would baptize with the Holy Spirit, as He did in the book of Acts 3, uniting believers, Jews and Gentiles, into one body (1Cor.12:13) by the gift of the Spirit of God. But also He would baptize with fire, which refers to His own solemn judgment of those who refuse His grace, as verse 12 shows.
The figure of the threshing floor is used here to illustrate the sovereign work of the Lord Jesus in grace and in judgment. For not a grain of wheat will be lost, but gathered into His granary; while the chaff, all unbelievers, will be burned with unquenchable fire. This blessed, holy One will have total authority in these maters of stupendous import .
For the express purpose of being baptized by John, the Lord Jesus come all the way from Galilee to the Jordan. Well may we understand John's astonishment at this, for John's baptism was one of repentance, of which John felt himself in need, but not the Lord Jesus. We know "He did no sin" (1Peter 2:21-22); yet He insists to John, "Suffer it to be so now, for thus it becometh us to fulfill all righteousness." His use of the word "us" is significant. For in being baptized He was identifying Himself with the many who were repenting of their sins; and He was virtually accepting the sentence of death for them, for He was not Himself under that sentence. In joining Himself with sinners, the claims of righteousness could only be fulfilled by His taking upon Himself the full responsibility for their sins. So that by His baptism He was pledging Himself to go to the cross, where the claims of righteousness would be perfectly fulfilled on their behalf. Marvelous condescension of grace!
As He came up out of the water, the heavens were opened. Only once before do we read of this, in Ezekiel 1:1, which is prophetic of the great revelation of God in the person of His Son. Upon that blessed person here the Spirit of God descends, in the form of a dove. Heaven is opened to manifest the fact that the trinity--Father, Son and Holy Spirit--are united in regard to the wonder of this lowly Man taking His place in grace among His wayward people. The dove, the bird of love and sorrow, also indicates the Father's complacency in the Son, while the Father's voice from heaven publicly approves Him as the One in whom He finds delight. As well as this being true personally, it surely also seals the Father's approval of the Lord's willing acceptance of responsibility for the guilt of His people.
There could be no doubt therefore that He would fulfill this virtual pledge to bear their sins on Calvary. Notice too that the Father approves Him in this unqualified way before His being tested by Satan in the wilderness (Ch.4). Certainly God could not speak in this way to anyone else before the time of his testing; but could do so with absolute fullness of approval to His beloved Son. Therefore, He could not fail. This public anointing by the Spirit would correspond to the anointing of David in 1Samuel 16:13, for David, after his anointing, suffered long before reigning, being in this a lovely type of Christ.Before this King of lowly character begins His public ministry, He is proven, through the cunning opposition of Satan, to be just what God the Father has said of Him, His beloved Son, worthy of His full delight. The Spirit of God "carried" Him into the wilderness for the express purpose of His being tempted by the devil. He was to be in circumstances totally contrary to the pleasant conditions that surrounded Adam when he was tempted. More than this, He fasted forty days and forty nights, therefore being in a physically weakened condition. If there had been in Him any inclination to succumb to temptation, then in such circumstances this would have been manifested. But, as He said later, "The prince of this world cometh, and both nothing in Me" (Jn.14:30).
Satan's first temptation is to urge Him to relieve His hunger by using His divine power as Son of God to turn stones into breed. This in itself would not be an evil thing, for it was an appeal as regards human need. But the Lord was the Man of faith, who received His instructions from God, not from Satan. He answered as the perfectly dependent Man, using Deut.8:3 to express the fact that He lived by the word of God, which is infinitely superior to natural food. If we too, in simplicity of faith, depend honestly upon God's word, He will take care of our material needs (Mt.6:33).
It may seem strange that the devil had the power to take the Lord, in bodily form, to the pinnacle of the temple, and that the Lord would allow him to do so. But certainly, if the devil had such power, then there is no question of the power of angels to preserve the Lord, even in being thrown from that height. The devil was allowed to bring the Lord there in order that the Lord's: superiority to all temptation might be proven. Satan suggested that He prove He was Son of God by throwing Himself down. But He proved it by refusing the temptation completely, again quoting Scripture. Satan had partially quoted Psalm 91:11-12, but left out "to keep thee in all thy ways"' for this would not suit Satan's purpose. The Lord's quotation had to do with Man's responsibility to God, Which is to the point. His Ways were always to please God.
This second temptation was an appeal to human pride, a thing Satan fully understands, but in the Lord there was no response to this whatever, as would be the tendency in every other man.
The third temptation Was from the viewpoint of an exceptionally high mountain. This is again miraculous that Satan was able to show the Lord all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them. We must not forget that he is able to work miracles, but always his purpose is evil. His appeal this time Was to human desire for power and wealth, a strong motivating influence in men generally. The subtlety Of Satan's offer of all these things is apparent. These had been delivered to Satan, a cruel Usurper, by means Of Man's sin. He promised all to the Lord if he would worship him. Satan wanted this worship in order to make the Lord subservient to him, in which case the Lord would not receive the kingdoms at all, despite this fair appearing promise.
The Lord's answer is once more from Scripture (Deut.6:13), again a simple declaration of man's responsibility to God. Thank God that Christ will take all Of this by means Of paying a great purchase price, the sacrifice of Himself, in which the name of God is eternally glorified, and Satan destroyed. He had not the least inclination to yield to Satan's temptations. As Man He, could not fail, for He is more than man: He is God.
He has told Satan to leave, and Satan does so. Faith at all times will accomplish this result: "Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you" (James 4:7).
For a time the Lord Jesus remained in Judes, baptizing (that is, his disciples doing so), as is seen in John 3:22-23 and John 4:1-2; and this at the same time as John was baptizing in Judea also. This ministry of baptizing evidently come to an end when John was put in prison. No longer do either John or the Lord Jesus continue to baptize, so for as the record goes. Hearing of John's imprisonment, He did nothing to intervene, but left Judea for Galilee, where this Gospel views him until chapter 19. His brief visit to Nazareth is implied here, but nothing said of it, as in Luke 4:1-30. To fulfil Isaiah's prophecy, however, He came to live in Capernaum on the sea-coast of Lake Galilee, the tribes of Zebulon and Naphtaii being specially favored by the presence of the Messiah of Israel.
It is called "Galilee of the Gentiles" because Gentiles had been largely mixed with the Jewish population. For this reason Galilee was despised by the Jews of Judea, who prided themselves on the purity of their lineage. The Lord did not cater to this pride. His ministry in GaliIee, and His choosing Galilean apostles emphasizes both His grace to those who had failed under law and His faithfulness in humbling the pride of those who boosted in their purity.
The Jews of Jerusalem considered themselves enlightened in contrast to the Galileans, of whom Scripture itself speaks as sitting in darkness. The Jews' darkness was certainly as great, if not greater, but since they did not admit it, they lost the privilege of the Lord's gracious presence. His occasional visits to Jerusalem drew out the Jews opposition to the light rather than to awaken their response in appreciation of it.
As John had preached at Jordan, so now does the Lord Himself preach in Galilee, "Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." This was a necessary preparation for the gospel of the grace of God, for if one does not recognize the guilt of his sins he will have no interest in having them forgiven. At least in Galilee there seemed more concern to listen to this message than in Judea.
He begins to gather His disciples at the sea-side. Andrew and Simon had before (in Judea) been introduced to Him (John 1:35-42), the Lord then giving Simon the name Peter. Their occupation appropriately illustrates the work for which the Lord called them. Casting the net into the sea speaks of evangelization. Peter was suited for this work in a public way, as we see in Acts 2:14-41, and no doubt Andrew fitted for personal evangelization (Jn.1:40-41). At the Lord's call they immediately left their nets and followed Him, to become fishers of men.
James and John, however, also brothers, were in a boat with their father, mending nets. A family relationship is specially noted here; while "mending" has the meaning of "restoring." Does this not imply the work of building up the saints for their use in the work of the Lord, rather than evangelization? This involves teaching and shepherding, which was no doubt the special work of James and John. In this case too the call of the Lord Jesus brings an immediate response. They leave the ship and their father. Faith enables them to give up the very means of their material support for the Lord's sake, and more then this, their dependence on a natural relationship. There was no disregard for their father's needs in this matter, however, for Mark 1:20 tells us that there were hired servants; also in the boat.
Throughout Galilee He taught in the synagogues and preached the gospel of the kingdom. The kingdom emphasizes the authority of the king, and this gospel was first preached before the preaching of the gospel of the grace of God, which Paul emphatically preached (Acts 20:24) after Christ had died and risen again.
The Lord's healing of every variety of sick and disease was a great testimony to the glory of His person, and Intended to draw souls to recognize the authority of His teaching. All of this proves Him, worthy to be King. Never before nor since has there been so great a concentration of miracles as in His brief ministry of three and a half years.
As well as Galilee, all Syria heard of His fame and it seems that many of those coming for healing were from Syria. Those with every type of infirmity or disease were brought to Him; not only those physically diseased, but mentally and spiritually also. Those Possessed with demons are distinguished from lunatics: they are not the same. Paralytics are also added, for even though not in pain, they were hindered from normal activity. None went away disappointed: He healed them all, in contrast to the well-known failure of modern professed "healers" to accomplish the results they would like to claim.
From every direction He attracted followers, Galilee mentioned first, but also Decapolis beyond the sea of Galilee, Jerusalem and Judea, and east of Jordan. No doubt their motives for following Him were various, some good, others selfish, but they heard the word of God, which challenges men's motives as veil as their actions, as is plainly seen in Chapter 5.Because of the crowds He took a position on a mountain from which to speak. His disciples came to Him, so that they were in close proximity to Him, though the crowd was evidently present also. Chapters 5, 6 & 7 deal with the moral and spiritual principles of the kingdom of heaven. Israel was looking for the kingdom to be manifested in power and glory as it will be in the millennial age, but from the beginning of this discourse it is clear that the Lord does not promise such blessing, though He speaks of the kingdom of heaven. The disciples must learn that the kingdom is to be first presented in a mystery form, in the midst of a condition of things totally contrary to the established peace and blessing of the age to come, the millennium. The King Him self has come, but is not recognized by His own people. Still, He has a kingdom, not in public display, but composed of those who in spite of His rejection, acknowledge His rightful authority.
First, it is "the poor in spirit" who are called "blessed." They possess the kingdom of heaven. These are those who realize the poverty of Israel's barren condition, and do not seek great things for themselves: they stand In contrast to "those who went to get rich" (1Tim.6:9). In a vital, spiritual way the kingdom of heaven is theirs.
The millennial kingdom will have no place for mourners: all will rejoice then; but those who mourn now, feeling the ruin of outward conditions, will be blessed in the sweetness of being comforted of God.
Meekness too is proven In adverse circumstances: In this there is no forcing of one's convictions, no insistence on one's rights, but the faith that depends upon the promise of God, and can wait for the time of inheriting the earth. Israel will eventually inherit the land God has promised her, but only the meek will be so blessed, that is, the godly remnant who will be brought through the tribulation. Yet the heavenly saints, in overcoming, will inherit all things (Rev.21:7). This involves the earth, though earth will not be their dwelling place: they will reign over it with Christ.
Hungering and thirsting after righteousness Is another blessed character Unrighteousness is notoriously prospering today, which moves the believer to desire more ardently the righteous reign of the Lord of glory.
If the heart is filled in hungering and thirsting after righteousness, then the showing of mercy will be a normal result. This is another character most important when conditions of Misery and confusion prevail. Certainly only when we show mercy can we expect to obtain it. The governing hand of God will order it so.
To show mercy, however, one does not have to sacrifice purity of heart. Such purity means a true moral separation from evil. In this we truly represent God (Jer.15:19), and those who rightly represent Him will see Him, to know in experience the approval of His countenance. David made the Mistake of allowing Absalom to see him when In a morally corrupted state, and the consequences were dreadful (2 Sam.14:33 to 18:33). God makes no such Mistakes.
Peacemakers are blessed in their being called sons of God, for in this they are following the example of God, who knows how to make peace without compromising righteousness. They are therefore sons of God In practical character.
Notice that in the first four beatitudes a concern for righteousness is emphasized, while the second three emphasize the activity of the grace of God in the heart. Verse 10 then connects with the first four, and verse 11 with the second three. Persecution for righteousness sake has to do with one simply doing right. He may refuse to lie for an employer, or to engage with others in shady practices, because he is subject to God's King. The kingdom of heaven is therefore his in a vital way.
Suffering for Christ's sake is of a different character. The blind man whom the Lord healed was reviled by the Pharisees when he firmly stood for the Lord and invited them also to be His disciples (Jhn.9:22-29). Peter and John were imprisoned and beaten for preaching in the name of Jesus, and rejoiced that they were counted worthy to suffer for His name (Acts 5:16,40,41). This brings deeper rejoicing then does suffering for righteousness sake. If we a re privileged to bear such persecution we are told to rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for the reward in heaven is great. This also gives us the honor of being identified with prophets of old who prophesied of Christ and suffered for it.
Verse 13 connects with verse 10, and verse 14 with verses 11 & 12. Salt is a preservative. It crystallizes at right angles, which makes it a fit symbol of righteousness. As believers maintain this character they are the salt of the earth, that which preserves the world from sinking into a total state of corruption. If righteousness is not a vital part of our lives (not merely of our doctrine), we become virtually good for nothing.
On the other hand, as the light of the world we are the reflection of Christ (Jn.8:12). Our testimony to Him is not to be hid. As a city set on a hill, the disciples formed a company above the common level of the world, and as such will necessarily draw the attention of the world. A lamp too is not to be put under a bushel measure, that is, obscured by that which speaks of man's work. Let us not allow our work to get in the way of the light of Christ, who is the only source of light for darkened men. The lamp set in its proper place will give light to all who are in its Vicinity.
In verse 16 the light is distinct from good works, but both are closely connected. The light speaks of moral and spiritual testimony to Christ. The good works are works that back up this testimony as being real. Apparent good works by themselves would draw attention to the person who does them, that he might be honored; but if the light of testimony for Christ accompanies the good works, this influences others to recognize that God our Father is the source of the works and therefore to glorify Him in heaven, the place of highest authority.
While Christ has certainly introduced a new dispensation of God, He is emphatic in declaring that He in no way destroys the truth of the Old Testament, the law and the prophets. Rather, He fulfills or completes the truth of these in no uncertain way. Not one jot, the smallest letter in the Hebrew language; nor one tittle, the tiniest point that would distinguish one letter from another, will fail. The original Scriptures therefore, as God gave them in the Hebrew language, are absolute perfection. We may say the same of the new Testament in the Greek language.
Notice however that Christ did not merely say He came to keep the law, but to complete it. This required His accepting the law's sentence of death on behalf of others. All had broken the law; and this true King of Israel had come to save His people from their sins (Ch.1:21). In order to fulfil the law's claims against them, He Himself must bear the sentence of their guilt, as indeed we know He did by His great sacrifice at Calvary, the redeeming every believer from the curse of the law (Gal.3:13).
Therefore, He will allow not the least relaxing of the law's claims. A Jew who would break even the least of the commandments and would teach that this was permissible, would be least in the kingdom of heaven, while one who would do and teach them would be great in the kingdom. This very attitude would of course lead one to recognize his own need of the saving grace of the Lord Jesus, for he would realize that he comes short when measured by the rule of law.
The righteous need of the scribes and Pharisees was mere self-righteousness, an attempted cover-up of their true character. We must have a righteousness that exceeds this. This is not explained for us here, but Romans 4:5 makes this far more clear: "To him that worketh not, but believeth on Him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness." Without faith no-one could enter the kingdom of heaven in any vital way.
The remainder of the chapter shows that God accepts from man no righteousness apart from faith; for it will be seen that the Lord strikes not only at wrong actions, but at wrong motives. The law of Moses had said, "Thou shalt not kill." But Christ's authority is higher than that of Moses, and He affirms that causeless anger against one's brother puts him in the same danger of judgment as does murder. He judges men's inner thoughts; but if one expressed such thoughts despisingly toward another, branding him as "Raca" (vain or empty), he was in danger of being rightly called before the Jewish council to answer to this serious charge. Worse still, he might express those thoughts hatefully, calling one a fool: if so he was in danger of hell fire. A basically hateful character has no faith: "whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer: and ye know that no murderer both eternal life abiding in him" (1Jn.3:15).
If a Jew therefore were to bring an offering to the altar, then remembers that his brother has something against him, he is told not to offer his gift before he has made an honest effort to be reconciled to his brother. On his part, he is to allow no hard feeling to remain if his gift to the Lord is to be acceptable. It is clear that faith must be at work if one is to act on this, faith in fact that works by love.
To apply this to ourselves, we cannot expect to be in a proper condition to worship God if we allow bad feeling to remain between ourselves and others. It has been questioned if this means that if one now comes to remember the Lord in the breaking of bread, and remembers that another has something against him, should he not break bread until the matter is settled? Scripture does not put it this way; but rather "let a man examine (or judge) himself, and so let him eat of that breed, and drink of that cup" (1Cor.11:28).
The principle of desire for reconciliation is continued in verse 25. The Jew might not like to admit it, but Moses (the lawgiver) was his adversary. Israel had greatly offended by breaking the law. Would they admit it or not? Would they agree that the law was right and they had been wrong? While they had opportunity was the time to do so; for the law of Moses had power to deliver one up to God as a righteous Judge, who would deliver to the officer, the executor of God's judgment (Cf.Mt.13:41-42). In this case prison would be the lake of fire, from which there is no release, for who can fully pay the debt of his own sins? This emphasizes the unbending, inflexible justice of the law. If one does not face God concerning his sins and have them forgiven by virtue of the sacrifice of Christ before he is summoned to God's judgment bar, he can expect no mercy then.
The question of inner thoughts is again solemnly pressed in verses 27 to 29. Though the act of adultery may not be outwardly perpetrated, yet a lusting heart is guilty Of this. This is of course a question of God's judgment, not men's, for men's public government con only judge when evil becomes manifest through action. The Lord is here seeking to reach individual consciences, that men may judge themselves. The right eye is ideally the eye of faith, typically speaking, as the left eye is that of reason. If faith fails in any way, let us judge this unsparingly, for what one sees can easily do damage to his faith if he does not honestly judge it. In fact, One who never judges himself does not have faith at all (Mk.9:43-46), in Which Case he can expect only the fire of hell.
In Mark however the hand, the foot and the eye are mentioned in that order, for there the matter is considered from the viewpoint of service, what one does, where he goes, and last, what he sees. In Matthew 5 the Lord is emphasizing what is behind the action, and therefore it is the right eye and the right hand mentioned, but not the foot. The right speaks of what is positive, the left negative, therefore positive works of faith are rightly involved in the right hand. If one's conscience is smitten by the abuse of this, then let him cut off his hand, that is, judge the action unsparingly. Again, refusal to judge oneself in any way will lead him to the judgment of hell. The believer will judge himself, in whatever measure: let him be concerned to do so thoroughly.
In verse 31 the Lord refers to Deut.24:1. Under law one who put away his wife was required to give her a letter of divorcement, in order that she might be free to marry another man. But the Lord's words go further then law, to give marriage its proper place. If a man puts away his wife he virtually makes her to commit adultery (unless she has first been guilty of fornication, in which case it is her guilt, not his--ch.19:9). If the women has not been guilty of fornication, and the man marries another before his wife remarries, then it is he who is committing adultery. If the woman remarried first, however, she would be committing adultery, and so would the man who married her. Marriage is a most serious matter, and must not be regarded lightly.
Deuteronomy 23:21-23 plainly warned Israel that once a vow was made it was binding. They were not required to make such oaths, but If they did, no excuse could be allowed for failure to fulfill it. But the Lord Jesus forbids the making of oaths. Swearing an oath involved a vow to do a certain thing in the future. Often God's name Was invoked in these oaths (1Sam.30:15; 1Kings 17:1); but reticence as to using God's name had led to the use of heaven, earth, Jerusalem, and even one's head; and this in turn led to swearing in vain with no intention of keeping a promise.
Christianity has no place for 0aths, whether sworn seriously or in vain. Israel's law had proven man in the flesh to be untrustworthy: they had vowed to keep the law, but had consistently broken it; therefore we must not dare to emphasize the dependability of our word: rather we should depend utterly on the truth of the word of God. This is the effect of grace.
The simplicity of speaking facts - "yea" or "nay" - without the emphasis of oaths of any kind is only normal for those who have been delivered from the bondage of law and saved by pure grace. More than this comes from the evil of man's natural pride.
In verse 38 the Lord quotes from Exodus 21:24. "An eye for an eye" is fully righteous recompense, expressing the firm inflexibility of the law. Of course the sentence must be passed by a judge, not by the offended party. If one takes the law into his own hands, he will practically in every case inflict worse treatment than he received.
But in verse 39 it is no question of how a judge should settle a case, but of how one should handle his own case. Only faith can respond to this. What unbeliever would meekly turn the left cheek after his right cheek had been struck? But when a believer thinks of the Lord Jesus bearing the cruel, shameful treatment of men "as a lamb led to the slaughter and a sheep dumb before her shearers," it is not so difficult for him to meekly accept insult and injury.
The same principle applies if one deliberately determines to sue a believer in a court of justice. Let him settle out of court by allowing the complainant to take what he wants. A coat is rather necessary clothing at certain times, and the loss of a cloak would cause further discomfort, but faith in a living God can willingly suffer what little inconvenience this may cause, for the Lord's sake, and will be the happier for it.
Going the extra mile has a wide application. One may be most inconsiderate of our welfare or feelings: how good if we can respond by being specially considerate of him! This is grace, in contrast to legality. In this we rightly represent the character of our blessed Lord.
The same generous attitude is seen in verse 42. Of course, indiscriminate giving is not scriptural: the verse must be modified by other scriptures. When the Jews wanted the Lord to give them the loaves and fishes the second time, He did not accede (Jn.6:26-35), though He offered them the true bread from heaven. But if one is in need we are responsible to help him (1Jn.3:17).
Loving one's neighbor applied to Israelites in Lev.19:18, but as regards enemies in the land of Canaan Israel was commended to destroy them. Ammonites and Moabites were refused acceptance into Israel to the tenth generation; and Jews were told, "Thou shalt not seek their peace nor their prosperity all thy days forever" (Lev.23:3-6). But the authority of the Lord Jesus is above that of law; and in introducing a new dispensation He says, "Love your enemies." This is contrary to our corrupted human nature, but it is a character perfectly seen in Him personally, who has while on earth blessed His enemies, has done good to them, and prayed for them (Mt.26:47-50; Lk.22:50-51; Lk.23:34) and has died to reconcile His enemies to Himself (Rom.5:10). In showing such kindness we shall be, in practical character, Sons of our Father who is in heaven. Believers are to be an exception to the common rule of loving those who love them. Love, respect, consideration of unbelievers as well as believers is the normal fruit of being partakers of the divine nature. The perfection of verse 48 implies maturity with no element lacking. In our Father this standard is fully seen: we are certainly allowed no lower standard.Verse 1 warns against practicing righteousness (margin) before men to attract their attention. This is self-righteousness, a mere show. How can we expect the Father to reward what we do merely to impress men? Again, the Lord searches our motives. This is applied in verse 2 specifically to the giving of alms, though verse 1 is of wider application. Hypocrites sounding a trumpet is a graphic expression, indicating their advertising the good they do in order to secure men's adulation. This is the reward they want, and all they will get.
If God has given us an abundance, then certainly it is to be used for the help of others; but the left hand is not to know what the right does in this case. The thing is to be done, and nothing said, no attention drawn to it. For giving is to be done as to the Lord, only for God's approval, not men's, though it is done for the welfare of others.
If this is true in reference to righteousness manward, how much more important in regard to prayer, which is exclusively for God. It is hypocrisy to stand in the synagogues or on a street corner to pray personal prayers to God, as some did in order to advertise their spirituality. Of course there are prayers that must be public, when a man speaks to God on behalf of a gathered company (I Tim.2:8; Acts 27:35). But let personal prayer be in secret. If we do not practice secret prayer consistently, we shall be in no state to engage in public prayer.
As to repeating over and over again some formal prayer, this is forbidden. It is tragic error to think that the more often one says his prayers (using different beads, etc. for each different expression), the greater favor he will draw from God. Would any parent want to hear merely this from his child? If unbelievers in their ignorance do this, let us not be in anyway like them. God is concerned about prayers that come from the heart, and desires to see that faith that fully believes that He knows what is good for us. As a Father He knows what we need before we ask, so that our asking should be in a spirit of dependence and confidence. Certainly, repeating empty words will not persuade God to our point of view!
The prayer of verses 9 to 13 is not therefore merely to be repeated word for word. The Lord gives this as an outline of prayer from the viewpoint of the kingdom. He does not say "pray these words," but "after this manner therefore pray ye." This is further confirmed too by the fact that the expression added at the end ("for thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory forever and ever Amen") is not found in the Most Greek Manuscripts, but has evidently been interjected by some copyist who thought this would be a good ending for a prayer.
The prayer has three sections. The first is connected with Gods glory, the second with Gods authority, the last with God's Mercy. In our prayers it is wise to keep this in mind: our blessing is not the most important thing, but God's glory. Secondly, let our prayers be always subject to His authority; then His mercy to us has its proper and precious place.
Each of these sections has three subjects; first, "Our Father." indicating the dignity of His prime place, get at the same time His tender care. "Who art in heaven" shows His supremacy, high above all creation. "Hallowed be thy name" is the reminder of His sublime holiness, as set apart from all others.
"Thy kingdom come" refers, not to the millennial kingdom, but to Christ's delivering up the kingdom to God the father (1Cor.15:24), therefore an eternal kingdom. If we truly desire this, with everything perfectly in subjection to the Father, then our present desires will be subject to His will.
Only when the Father's kingdom comes (an eternal kingdom) will His will be perfectly done on earth as in heaven. Praying for this will prompt our obedience to His will now. "Give us this day our daily bread" is connected also with His authority, for good government Ministers to the necessity of its subjects; but an insubject attitude has no title to benefit by God's just administration.
The forgiveness of verse 12 is connected with the daily life of the believer: he can ask the Father's forgiveness in regard to his debts or failures only if his attitude is one of forgiveness toward others: otherwise his prayer is hypocritical. "Lead us not into temptation" involves our realizing our own sad propensity for failure, and therefore the desire to be kept from the danger of it. Finally "deliver us from evil" is the desire for positive mercy from God in taking us out of those situations where evil threatens us.
Verses 14 and 15 show us that He is not speaking of eternal forgiveness, but governmental. If a believer forgives others, he may count on the Father's forgiveness in regard to restoring him to the joy of communion with Himself when he honestly confesses his failure. If he does not forgive others, he cannot properly enjoy communion with the Father: his very attitude forbids it.
In verses 1 to 4 we have seen righteousness menward (including giving); in verses 5 to 15 prayer Godward; now in verses 16 to 18 fasting is the subject. This is selfward, personal self denial; for true self-denial is totally personal, not for display at all. Sometimes fasting is practiced for the sake of one's health, which is of course personal. However, it might be done in order that one can give his time and energy individually to some particular service for the Lord. If so, why should I want any one else to know it beside the Lord?
At least, it should not make me miserable looking, as though it was a burden to miss a meal! If fasting is willingly done, it should certainly be cheer-fully done. If done honestly for the Father's glory, the Father will reward it.
The first 18 verses of this chapter have dealt with three matters (giving, praying and fasting) that are to be kept personal as before the Father's face verses 19 to 34 have to do with our attitude in view of the strong influences of the world. First the Lord warns against earthly-mindedness, the temptation of accumulating on earth what will tend to make us feel secure here and therefore to settle down as though earth were our home. What is merely stored, not used, is subject to "moth and rust"' and where thieves know there is wealth, they are ready to steal it.
The believer's eyes are to be far above the world's level: his true treasure is not material, but of eternal value, nor can it be corrupted or stolen. Today we know that treasure to be vitally connected with Christ Himself raised from the dead and seated in the heavenlies. Is not our heart there too? As we value those things that are eternal, and live and act in view of this, we shall be laying up treasure in heaven.
This gives a single eye, not the duplicity of seeking two contrary things. The eye is the lamp of the body, that is, the receptacle of the light. The light is altogether of God, and to receive that light with singleness of heart, having the one object of rightly sustaining the light, will result in our whole body being full of light, light for our walk, our works, our words, indeed for every department of our existence. This implies simplicity of faith (not duplicity).
But if the eye is evil, perverting what light it receives, there will be no light whatever in the body. In this case the light received is adroitly turned into darkness, a darkness that is "how great!" God's truth must not be trifled with: if perverted, it can plunge one into a state worse than that of ignorance.
It is impossible to serve God and mammon at the same time. Mammon is simply material possessions: these are given to be of service to us, not that we should serve them. If we profess to serve God while really serving mammon, we shell actually despise God and His claims, whether or not we would think of this as hatred. On the one hand, there may be strong feelings of love toward one master and hatred toward the other; or on the other hand, the feeling may not be so strong, but the fact of holding to one and belittling the other will be evident.
It is an arresting word, "take no thought for your life," whether in regard to daily food or necessary clothing. Though necessary, these things must not be allowed to occupy time and thought as though they were vital matters. We have far more than this to live for. The birds are a pointed object lesson for us. They make no preparations for obtaining meals, yet God the Father has provided this necessity for them in such a way that they simply obtain their food as they need it. True it is that we could not exist in the same way, but faith may nevertheless count upon God to provide through giving employment, health, strength, or whatever is required to take care of these things. Faith in a living God is the vital matter here, faith that does not degenerate into anxiety. Man, who is capable of a conscious knowledge of, and communion with, his Creator, is of much more value to God than the birds.
Again, if one has disturbed thoughts because his stature is short, will his thoughts change this so much as one cubit (18 inches)? Worrying therefore is senseless, for it causes confusion and changes nothing.
Similarly as regards clothing: no doubt many in the world are extremely clothes conscious. But faith will thank God for providing what is necessary, and trust Him consistently. The lilies grow spontaneously by the power of God, and are clothed with a beauty surpassing the magnificence of King Solomon's attire, without labor on their part. If God clothes the grass with such beauty, certainly He is able to clothe His own people. Of course faith would not ask Him to give us clothing that would draw attention to ourselves, for faith honors Him, not self. 1Timothy 2:9 exhorts "that women in decent deportment and dress adorn themselves with modesty and discretion," and certainly men are to be no less discreet. But faith can fully trust God for these essentials.
To "take no thought" as regards our food, drink or clothing does not of course mean to never think of these things, but not to make them the objects of our thoughts as though they were the most important things of life. Gentile nations do this, emphasizing these things of merely minor importance. Our Father knows we need such things, and can be depended on to furnish them in proper time.
"But seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness" This is the matter of real importance. God's interests in that sphere of subjection to His authority (His kingdom) should hold the greatest attraction for us. "His righteousness" is added to this, for everything in the world is contaminated by man's unrighteousness, and it requires purpose of heart to seek the purity of God's righteousness in such contrary circumstances. This does take time and thought. All of these instructions of the Lord in the sermon on the mount are basic in regard to what God's righteousness really is. They are worthy of diligently applied thought and study.
But providing for tomorrow requires such thought as this: this may be left for that day to take care of itself. Let us leave with God those things in which He does the ordering. The problems of each day are sufficient for that day: there is no need to import tomorrow's problems into today's program.Simple honesty will understand these first five verses without difficulty. The word "judge" is used in various different ways in Scripture. Believers are told to "judge" what Paul says (1Cor.10:15), that is, to discern for themselves what is right. The assembly is told to "judge them that are within" (1Cor.5:12), which involves administering righteously and maintaining proper order in the church. In certain cases therefore we are responsible to judge. But here the Lord speaks of a censorious attitude of hard criticism of others. In this we would take the place of a judge, which is only God's right. If we treat others this way, we can expect the some treatment, for they can certainly find plenty to criticize in us too.
The Most critical are in fact commonly more deserving of criticism then are their Victims. They will see the trifling mote in another's eye, while ignoring a huge "boom" in their own eye. Let me at least honestly judge and turn from the serious evil in my own life, before rebuking a trivial thing in another. In fact, rather than judging, if one is overtaken in a fault, "ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness, considering thyself lest thou also be tempted" (Col.6:1). Such work requires previous self-judgment, without which we are bound to be guilty of hypocrisy.
On the other hand, we must be careful also of our words in speaking to the ungodly, for they are no more to be pandered to than they are to be judged. Dogs and swine are unclean animals, typical of unclean men (though they may have at one time professed Christianity--2 Pet.3:22). The precious truths of Scripture applying to Christians (holy things and pearls) will be both misunderstood and treated with contempt by ungodly men. Christians have too frequently attempted to import Christian principles into the world's religion and the world's government. These do not mix, for Christianity is heavenly, not earthly. Men of the world need simply the elementary gospel of the grace of God. This will require first the facing of the guilt of their own sins and their need of mercy. If this is absent, it is senseless to try to persuade them of the preciousness of the great blessings found in Christ Jesus that are the portion of believers. We shall suffer for such indiscretion, as well as the truth suffering.
If in verse 6 the ungodly are seen to be in no state to receive the things of God, for they do not ask; we, on the other hand, are encouraged to ask and receive. This dependent, concerned state of soul is that which the Father delights to answer. Each of these stages becomes more insistent, "ask," "seek" and "knock"' Such reality of exercise is precious to God, and there is no doubt of a favorable answer: "it shall be given," "ye shall find," "it shall be opened. Let us remember however that it is the "holy things" and "pearls" that are to be our prime desire.
Verse 8 insists that everyone who asks receives, etc. This is manifestly seen in the prospering of souls who are in earnest. The Lord does not say or infer that we shall get everything that our fleshly nature desires. James 4:3 effectively reproves that suggestion. Still, earthly fathers are concerned for their children's needs, usually. If a child asks bread, will he be given a stone? or if a fish, will he be given a serpent? No father is likely to be so callous as this. The stone is useless, but the serpent is dangerous. On the other hand, if a child asked for a serpent, what father would give it to him? Why would we ever think of asking for what is useless or harmful?
Though our own very nature is contaminated by sin, yet we know enough to give good things to our children. How much more should we expect our Father, who loves us perfectly and who knows perfectly what is good for us, to give good things to those who ask Him.
How fitting it is, since the Father gives good things to those who ask Him, that this should have practical effect in our own lives. So verse 12 Indicates that, if we appreciate our Father's character, we shall show such kindness to others. How good to remember that we should act toward others in the way we desire them to act toward us. It will require serious exercise to watch that we are thoroughly fair in this matter, for we are too easily taken off guard by others acting wrongly toward us. This is no excuse for our doing the same. T he Lord was telling them nothing new, for the law and prophets spoke similarly yet only faith would respond to it.
This leads on now to the Lord's showing the path of such faith to be narrow or confined, not appreciated by the majority. Many choose the wide gate and the broad way because man in the flesh seeks his own advantage and is not concerned with treating others as he desires to be treated. but it leads to destruction following the crowd is popular, but full of danger.
The strait gate is constricted by narrow limits, and not attractive to the flesh. The entire way is narrow too, but it leads to life, in which there is no limiting confinement. In the world the way may seem irksome, but faith can bear this in view of what is infinitely better, even in spite of the added trial of being accused of personal narrowness and bigotry. If only few find it, still it is God's way.
However, this must be guarded too, for there is a narrowness that is false and evil, a specious counterfeit of what is true. False prophets have abounded throughout history, and because of the wonder of the pure reality of truth revealed in the person of Christ, they have increased in number, for they, see opportunity of greater personal advantage in counterfeiting Christianity. They come in sheep's clothing, pretending to be believers, in some measure acting like it, but inwardly wolves, intent on doing harm.
But the believer may discern them by their fruits. They bear the character of thorns and thistles, harmful rather then productive, not ministering food for the need of souls. No child of God should be deceived by them. They tickle men's ears, usually appealing to the pride of intellect, but ignorant of the truth that reaches consciences and hearts. Grapes and figs are healthy foods, but not available from thorns or thistles.
Too frequently they influence people by some apparently good points they appear to have, but actually, being a corrupt tree, they cannot bring forth any good fruit. Counterfeit money may be a very good imitation of what is genuine, but it is totally false. When it is found to be false, then it is nonsense to spend any time in evaluating its good points. If good is used in the interests of falsehood, then the good becomes particularly bad.
A good tree (a genuine believer) produces good fruit. Its quality may differ in different cases, but the fruit from the tree is not corrupt. As to the corrupt tree, it will be cut down and consigned to the fire of eternal torment, for it bears no good fruit whatever.
Many of these profess even a knowledge of the Lordship of Christ: their lips are able to form the words, "Lord, Lord," but they shall not in reality enter the kingdom of heaven: this is only for those who do the will of the Father, which can be true of none but the redeemed.
They say they have prophesied in His name. If it is true that by the power of His name they have cast out demons (as Judas was given authority to do), this is not proof that their hearts are right before God. The doing of wonderful works cannot substitute for the reality of faith in the Son of God.
To many who claim to have done wonderful works in the Lord's name, the answer of the Lord will be most solemn, "I never knew you." At no time had they ever been believers, for there is no possibility of one being born a new and yet afterwards lost. In answer to their claim of wonderful works, they are called "workers of iniquity."
The Lord sums up all of this instruction now with the simile of two houses, one built on the rock, the other on sand. These sayings of His are of more emphatic importance than those of law; therefore disobedience to them brings a more severe judgment then did disobedience to the law (Cf.Heb.2:2-3). As the wise men's house, built on a rock, withstands the floods and storms, so the believer, obedient to the words of the Lord Jesus, who is Himself "the rock of ages," will be preserved from destruction by means of the rain from above, the floods from beneath and the winds from around. For every professor of the name of Christ will be put to the proof by all these things. The genuine believer, resting on Christ Himself, will withstand every such adversity.
On the other hand, one building on sand is one who, after hearing the words of the Lord Jesus, fails to take them to heart in such a way as to obey them. He is still considered to be building, but merely on sand, the shifting uncertainty of men's thoughts, with no solid basis of fact. This will be swept away in judgment, the fall of the house being great in proportion to the greatness of the pride and effort put into its building. How well it is for men to wisely consider the basis on which they are building now, for this will have eternal results of most vital character.
This early ministry of the Lord Jesus astonished the people, for it contrasted with the teaching of the scribes, who had no vital conviction as to the truth of their own teaching. They could not speak as from God, while all that He spoke had in it the living power and authority of God. For He had not merely pressed the law's claims upon men, but had declared the inner spirit and significance of the law as striking at the inner motives of man's hearts. What words of power indeed to lay our hearts bare before God!Now the King comes down among the people from the height from which He had given them wise instruction. For He is not only their teacher: He will experience their sorrows, and show His heart of compassion in the midst of adverse circumstances. The real condition of His people was sinful, and this was illustrated in the leper (typical of men's being sadly corrupted by sin), who is nevertheless drawn to worship Him, as a small remnant of Israel did in the beginning of the day of grace. Faith has been awakened at least in recognizing the power of the Lord Jesus to heal this dread disease that no other could heal. The man seems not so sure of the Lord's willingness to do this, but the grace of the Lord Jesus is always greater than our faith. "I will" are His words, as He in grace identifies Himself with the man by His touch, and healing is immediate. The law declared one unclean who touched a leper, but His blessed touch healed the leper.
This is not to be publicly declared, however, and the man is to show himself to the priest, offering a gift in conformity to the law's command, as a testimony to the nation. All of this seems to specially typify the work of His grace in the few in Israel as the dispensation of grace was introduced. The demonstrated fact was a clear testimony to the rest of the nation, though it was not the time for the widespread blessing of the kingdom and glory of the Messiah. Neither the leaders nor Israel generally were ready to respond to such grace.
In Capernaum, a city by the sea of Galilee, Jesus is approached by a centurion, a Gentile officer, who intercedes for his servant who was suffering badly from a case of paralysis. This strikingly illustrates the case of Gentiles in the helplessness of their sin, without hope, without God in the world. The Lord assures him that He will come and heal his servant.
However, this serves to bring out a beautiful picture of Gentile faith in the present day of grace. The centurion feels himself unworthy to even have the Lord enter his home, and asks that the Lord may only speak the word that will heal his servant. For in reality of faith he reasons that if he, being a man under authority, is able to give orders that are promptly obeyed by those under him, how much more will creation itself (being under the hand of the Lord Jesus, the Son of God) obey the words of its Creator. Sickness, though resulting from the sin that had corrupted the world, was still subject to Him. Of this the centurian had no doubt. He simply believed that Jesus is the Son of God.
At the man's words Jesus Himself marveled, for this was greatest faith compared to Israel's dullness of discernment as to the glory of this blessed Person. But He affirms also that many would evidence such faith, coming from the east and west to sit down with Israel's fathers of faith, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven. On the other hand, the children of the kingdom (in this case Israelites who considered themselves entitled to the blessings of the kingdom) would be cast into the outer darkness of eternal torment. It is to be noted that when Matthew 13:38 speaks of the children of the kingdom, they are the good seed. But in Ch.8 the mere natural children of Israel are first set aside before (in Ch.13:1) the Lord goes forth as the Sower to begin a new crop in the field (the world), not simply in Israel. This good seed therefore of the new crop is the same as those coming from the east and the west to have part in the kingdom with Israel's fathers.
The faith of the Gentile centurion is immediately rewarded by the healing of the servant a part from the Lord's immediate presence. Today also Gentiles who have not seen Him and yet have believed are the special objects of His great favor. This is an outstanding character of the church of God.
Verses 14 and 15 however are typical of the Lord's returning to the house of Israel, as He will do in a coming day. For Peter's ministry was specially to the circumcision, and the healing of his wife's mother emphasizes the blessing connected with a natural relationship (Cf.Romans 11:24). Israel has long been in a state of feverish unrest, reduced to a state unfit for service, though boasting in a law that demanded service. How simply the power of the Lord Jesus reserves this great affliction! Her debilitating fever is exchanged for the calm energy of ministering to the Lord Himself and to His own, just as Israel will be delighted to take the place of genuine service when the Messiah touches her fevered hand.
The blessing is enlarged in verses 16 and 17, with many being brought to Him to have demons cast out and sickness healed. Nothing is said of who these people were, for the purpose is to emphasize that they were blessed apart from the question of who they were: none were turned away. It is a picture of millennial blessing spreading out from Israel to all people. As verses 14 and 15 imply that the Lord Jesus is Israel's Messiah, 16 and 17 show Him as Son of Man in relationship with all mankind.
Verse 17 was fulfilled in some real way at the time of His healing these crowds. On the cross He bore our sins, and He bore sin, which was the underlying cause of sickness. But at the very time that He healed, He was bearing their sicknesses, feeling their suffering as though it were His own.
The excitement occasioned by the many miracles among the people was such as to gather great crowds. But rather than being influenced by this to remain, the Lord commanded that He and His disciples would depart to the other side of Lake Galilee. A scribe, no doubt moved by the great evidence of power in the Lord Jesus, and by its wonderful outward results, promised the Lord that he would follow him wherever He went. But the Lord had not called him: this was merely natural enthusiasm. the Lord discouraged him from his proposal by telling him that though foxes and birds have a shelter they can regard as their own, yet He on earth had no such place. If one is to really follow Him, he cannot expect any fleshly comfort or advantage. The scribe was not prepared to continue in a path of true discipleship: the Lord could therefore not encourage him.
On the other hand, one of His disciples (who was responsible to follow Him) seeks to excuse himself from following Him for the time being on the ground of what he considered a natural obligation, that of burying his father. He apparently felt some obligation of caring for his father until he died, but the Lord does not allow natural relationships to take precedence over His work. "Let the dead bury their dead" implies that there are plenty of those who are yet dead in sins to take care of merely natural things. One who is alive in Christ has more important business than this.
In verses 18 to 22 we have seen the activity of the flesh, first in its self-assertive character, and secondly in its self-indulgent character. Over this the King shows His firm authority. Now in verses 23 to 27 He demonstrates His authority over the outward elements, the heaving sea, which symbolizes the surrounding world. The boat is typical of Israel tossed on the waves of Gentile turbulence. It may seem to Israel that the Lord is unaware of their plight, and we too, when tried by a world in upheaval, may feel deserted.
In weakness of faith they cry to Him, for He Was asleep. Of course with Him on board they could never sink. But in tender grace He simply calms the sea with a rebuke of absolute authority, the wind subsiding so that there was a great calm. So it will be when He speaks in power to a tumultuous, world racked by the winds of the great tribulation.
Such authority amazes His disciples, for this is more than kingly authority: it is that of the Creator Himself, God manifest in flesh. The faith of the centurion (vs.8-9) recognized this with no difficulty: why then should the disciples be amazed?
Arriving at the other side He is met by two demon-Possessed men. Mark speaks only of one man, and supplies many more details. Matthew is not so interested in the details of men's condition as in the authority of the Lord over demons; though he affirms their excessive ferocity which hindered men from passing that way. If the Lord has shown His authority over the flesh in verses 18 to 22, and His authority over the world in verses 23 to 27, now He is shown to have no less authority over Satan's power.
The demons within the man acknowledge what Israel did not, that Jesus is the Son of God. They knew there is a day of judgment for them too, and feared that the Son of God would act in tormenting authority before the time. His very presence cannot but trouble them. But they were guilty of dreadfully tormenting men. They expect the Son of God to expel them from the men, but plead to be allowed to infest a herd of swine. God's angels evidently have no such inclination, but evil spirits seem anxious to possess a body in which to express their evil proclivities.
The Lord allows the request of the demons whom He dismisses from the two possessed men to enter the heard of swine, which results in the immediate death of the swine. What the demons did then we do not know. Of course, Israelites had no right to keep swine, which they were forbidden to eat (though possibly they raised them in order to sell the meat to Gentiles). The terrified swine were not in control of their senses, get this occasion also proves that evil spirits do not hold complete control of their victims, whatever may be the measure of control they exercise.
The keepers of the swine bring the report to the city, not only of the death of the swine, but of the deliverance of the men from demon power. For this the whole City seems not even to be thankful: they would rather live in constant fear of demon-possessed men than to lose their swine! Sad is the state of those who urge the gracious, faithful Lord of glory to leave their vicinity!Though mercy is not appreciated by some, this will not stop its precious exercise for the sake of others. Returning to His own city, Capernaum, He has brought to Him a man totally helpless, lying on a bed. This case of palsy is indicative of the complete debilitating effects of sin: man is left without strength through its ravages. Nothing is said of his being let down by others from the roof of the house, or other details (as in Mark and Luke), for again the purpose of Matthew is simply to emphasize the King's authority over the disease. That authority has been seen over the flesh, the world and the devil: now it is as clearly seen over disease, typical of sin's effects.
The Lord takes account of "their faith," for those who brought him had confidence in the grace of the Lord Jesus, as evidently did the man himself. But He first gives him assurance of far greater blessing that bodily healing. With tender encouragement He tells him his sins are forgiven. Certain scribes present consider this to be blasphemy, for He is manifestly speaking as representing God, for which they think He has no authority. They do not, however, express their thoughts, for they know His moral power is more than they can withstand; but He answers their thoughts. This itself shows Him to have, not only authority, but divine knowledge. He is not only King; He is God.
He questions them as to which is easier, to tell the palsied man his sins are forgiven, or to tell him to rise and walk. Of course neither would be effective by means of anyone but the Lord: now He would accomplish the latter to prove that the former Was as Positively true. In response to His word the man rose, took up his bed and went to his house. If the Lord has such manifest authority over sin's results, then He has authority over sin itself also, and as Son of Man has authority to forgive sins. This is instructive, for He has proven He is God in His discerning men's thoughts: nevertheless it is in Manhood that He has authority from God to forgive sins, for as Man He has come in pure grace to take man's place in making atonement for sins. More than this, the term "Son of Man" has a wider application than His connection with Israel, for it refers to His relationship to all mankind: He can forgive Gentiles too.
The crowds marvel and glorify God for His giving such authority "to men," but they fall far short of realizing that He is the unique Son of God, therefore in the highest, sense "the Son of Man."
In verse 9 however we see the authority of His word finding a willing response in the heart of one man. The writer of this Gospel, a tax-collector, is sitting to receive dues from the people. Only the words, "Follow Me" are sufficient to cause him to leave his lucrative business immediately and follow Him.
Matthew speaks in verse 10 of Jesus sitting at meat in the house. He omits what Luke tells us, that this was a great feast that Matthew (Levi) made in his own house (Lk.5:29). He was indeed following the Lord, for he had invited a great company of tax-gatherers and sinners, no doubt in desire for their hearing the word of God. The Pharisees were offended by the fact that this noted Teacher would lower Himself to eat with such people. But which of the Pharisees was not a sinner? Perhaps their fear of having themselves exposed led them to question the disciples rather than the Lord Himself. He does not however reprove their hypocrisy in considering themselves righteous and despising others. Rather, He justifies His work as divine Physician come to have mercy on the sick, those who realized their need of Him. Sadly, the Pharisees were blinded to the seriousness of their own sins, and felt themselves above the need of His merciful ministrations. Well might He tell them to go and learn what Scripture means, "I will have mercy and not sacrifice" (a quotation from Hosea 6:6). The formal sacrifices of religious Jews had become a matter of spiritual pride to them, which moved them to despise those in need instead of having compassion toward them. The Lord at least will have mercy, for He had come to call sinners to repentance, not the righteous. Wonderful mission of divine love and grace!
The disciples of John the Baptist now come to the Lord directly with a serious question, not with a caviling question such as the Pharisees addressed to His disciples. Why did both they and the Pharisees fast often, but Christ's disciples not at all? As to Pharisees, their fasting was generally a matter of spiritual pride, that is, of doing something they thought to be of human merit. John and his disciples had different motives, for they felt the sad desolation of Israel's spiritual condition, and this sorrow led to fasting.
But the Lord answers for His own disciples that His personal presence among them left them no cause for fasting. The very Source and Center of all blessing was with them, as the bridegroom present among the sons of the bride chamber (those identified with Him before the day of marriage celebration). It was becoming for them to rejoice, not to mourn. However, the days would come when the bridegroom would be taken from them (and in fact by the cruel violence of men's rejection); then they would fast. Such is the character of our present day: we have reason to mourn the absence of our Lord, and the discipline of self-denial is only consistent. Fasting is therefore often seen in the book of Acts, but always linked with prayer, for prayer is of positive character, fasting a negative accompaniment, but not to be ignored.
But the bridegroom was not merely introducing some corrections into the Jews' religion, as though patching an old garment with a new piece of cloth. What He introduced was a totally new garment, for the grace of Christianity completely transcends the system of Judaism. A mixture of the new with the old would make worse the rent in the old. Israel had thoroughly broken the law. To mix grace with that which was totally in ruins would actually only add to the tragedy of the ruin. Rather than being of any help, it would more glaringly expose their failure.
More than this, the new wine of the Gospel of the grace of God can only be contained in new vessels. The law was given for man in the flesh, that is, the old vessel or wineskin. But if one is to take in and hold the new truth of the Gospel, he must be a new vessel, that is, be born again: if not, the Gospel will be virtually wasted on him, and he will perish. One who is not born again can neither appropriate or appreciate the preciousness of the grace of God in Christ.
From verse 18 two cases are considered together, beginning with the anxious intercession of a ruler of the: synagogue for his daughter, who he says may have by this time died. On his way to the house, the Lord pauses to take time with a woman who had for twelve years been diseased with an issue of blood.
The little girl pictures the virgin daughter of Zion, that is, Israel in he state of virtual death, all hope gone, for which the mercy of the Messiah alone is a resource. However, her recovery is delayed because of the need of the woman. Does this not teach Us that grace is at the present time obtained by Gentiles as the Lord is an His way to recover Israel ?
The woman timidly touches only the hem of His garment. If this was not the great faith of the centurion (Ch.8:10), yet it was faith, the confidence that the least contact with Him would heal her. His garments speak of His character as displayed in the world: this itself is enough to fulfill her need, though she may have had little realization of His glory personally.
He does not allow her, however, to go away without the assurance of His own word that her faith had healed her. Nothing but the simplicity of her trust in the right Person had accomplished this marvelous result. He would have her understand this well, that her faith might be all the more implicit in the fullness of His grace.
Little detail is given as to the case of this women or that of the daughter of Jairus, as is given in Mark's Gospel; for again the emphasis in Matthew is particularly on the authority by which He subdues every adverse thing. In the ruler's house, his daughter having died, the Lord rebukes the mourners for their noise making. To Him death was no more then sleep. When He speaks this way, however, they respond with scornful laughter, and find themselves put out of the house. Then His action confirms His word, as He takes the girl by the hand and raises her up alive. This is the picture of Israel's virtual resurrection from a state of death: the fame of this is spread abroad, as indeed all the earth will marvel at the wonder of Israel's revival in the age to come.
Though Matthew's Gospel begins with the declaration of Jesus Christ as "the Son of David," yet not until now (verse 27) do we hear Him addressed as such, as the two blind men (not the same as at Jericho later--ch.20:30) cry to Him for mercy. The wise men had spoken of Him as King of Israel, when He was an infant. But in His going forth to preach the word, He is not first presented in this way. Rather, the Father declares Him to be Hi s beloved Son (Ch.3:17). Even Satan (though questioningly) uses this name Son of God (Ch.4:3-6), while demons fully acknowledged Him as this (Ch.8:29). This truth as to His person must be first established, then it is precious to see individuals by faith recognizing His Messiahship.
He questions the two blind men, do they believe in His ability to answer their request? No doubt He does this to draw out the decision of their faith. In answer to their affirmative response, He speaks and acts according to their faith: their eyes are opened. He is indeed the Son of David, fulfilling the prophecy of Isaiah 42:7.
His forbidding them to tell the matter is evidently connected with their recognizing Him the be Son of David; for though He is King, He had not come to reign, and He desires no advertising in such a way as to incline people to think the kingdom had arrived. But the men did not have that implicit faith that simply obeys if His word, though they admired Him for what He had done. They spread abroad His fame as though He had come to reign, which He had not. May we remember not only to admire our Lord, but to fully obey Him.
We have seen Israel's long blind condition pictured in the two blind men; now her mute state of bearing no witness for God is illustrated in the dumb man brought to Him. Evidentially the demon who had taken possession of him had caused his dumbness, just as Israel's allowance of demon influence has closed her mouth as regards all witness for God. (This does not at all indicate that all illness results from demon possession, as some have dared to insist.) When the Lord comes in power and glory and casts out the evil spirit that has long held Israel in bondage, then in submission to Him they will speak His praises.
The Pharisees accuse Him (not to His face, however) of using demon power to cast out demons. Later, when the evident falsehood of this smoldering animosity kindles into a stronger flame (Ch.12:24), He exposes and solemnly reprimands their wickedness. In this case He answers their folly by traveling to all the cities and villages, teaching and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every sickness and every disease among the people. After so great a manifestation of miracles of grace, the later malignance of the Pharisees becomes the more reprehensible. The gospel of the kingdom emphasizes God's authority rather than His grace. The gospel of the grace of God is more peculiarly appropriate following the death and resurrection of Christ (Acts 20:24).
The heart of the blessed Lord is moved with compassion in seeing the crowd milling in aimless confusion as sheep without a shepherd. Have we not often felt similarly in observing the crowds on today's city streets? Let us then take to heart His urging His disciples to pray that the Lord of the harvest will send forth laborers into His harvest. There is no lack of work for them, yet they are few, which is as true today as it was then.When He instructs us to pray, He fully intends to answer such prayer, as we see now in His sending forth His twelve disciples. It is precious to see Him exercising authority to communicate authority to them over evil spirits, sickness and disease; for He is far more than God's servant: He is Lord. In fact, He sends forth the very servants whom He had instructed to pray that He would send laborers into His harvest. The names are given here in groups of two. Simon Peter is called "the first"' being particularly gifted as a public evangelist and a leader. Andrew follows, though it was he who brought Peter to the Lord (Jn.1:41-42). James and John were brothers. Bartholomew is evidently Nathanael, who was brought by Philip to the Lord (Jn.1:46-47). Thomas is linked with Matthew, who writes this Gospel. Lebbacus (surnamed Thaddeus) is evidently Jude the brother of James (Lk.6:16; Jude 1). Of most of these we have very little history, in contrast to the somber history of Judas Iscariot. But they are chosen from the lowly classes of men, to emphasize the power and grace of the King Himself in empowering them. (Paul, introduced later as apostle to the Gentiles, and to reveal the truth of the assembly, was in contrast a man of outstanding intellect and learning.)
These are commissioned to go neither to Gentiles nor to any city of the Samaritans, but only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. Such a commission is plainly not applicable today. The Lord specifically changed this in Luke 22:35-37, in speaking to the same disciples; and in Matthew 28:19-20 the change is emphasized, for all nations are now to hear. The cross has made this great change, for there Israel is seen as rejecting the mercy offered to her, and Samaritans and Gentiles have the door of mercy opened to them, as is so beautifully seen historically in Philip's evangelization of Samaria (Acts 8) and in Peter's being sent to the Gentile, Cornelius (Acts 10).
The twelve were sent to preach the kingdom of heaven as being at hand. This is not the kingdom as come in manifest power, as Israel expected, yet it is a kingdom in which the authority of the King is paramount even in a day that He is rejected by His Own nation Israel. Israel's rejection of Him, which shows itself defiantly by the end of Ch.12, will not deprive Him of this present kingdom. But first, Israel is to be given fullest opportunity to have part In this, though its headquarters are not in Jerusalem: rather it is the kingdom of heaven, its center outside of the world entirely.
The truth of what they proclaim as to the kingdom is confirmed by the power given them to heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead and to cast out demons. This power came from the King Himself: they had received it freely, and they were to freely give, not to use it as de present-day self-styled healers, for their own gain.
More then this, they were to carry no money with them, not a scrip for holding food, and no extra coat, shoes, or staff. This is because the Israelites to whom they went were responsible to care for the needs of the servants of their own Messiah. This would be totally changed when they were sent to Gentiles (Lk.22:36). In whatever city or town they entered they were to inquire for any whose character was of moral worth, and were to partake of their hospitality until they left. Any household that responded favorably to them would be blessed: otherwise be left without blessing. In fact, the disciples were to shake off the dust of their feet, In disclaiming all Identification with such a house or such a city. If it were a city thus opposed, its judgment would be more severe then that of Sodom and Gomorra, for as Israelites they were more responsible.
However, verses 16 to 23 involve, far more than the commission in effect while the Lord was on earth; for this goes on to the testimony seen in Acts, then further still, to that which will be revived in the tribulation period, as verse 23 clearly shows. They were sent as sheep in the midst of wolves, therefore to be always on guard, wise as serpents, yet in contrast to serpents, guileless as doves; for wisdom and transparent honesty are a true protection for the servant of the Lord.
While the Lord was on earth, there is no record of His disciples enduring the opposition of verses 17 and 18 (though John the Baptist suffered imprisonment and death); but in the book of Acts they were delivered up to the Jews' councils and scourged for their testimony to Christ, some of them also brought before governors and kings for His sake. This is first for a testimony against the Jews, but also the Gentiles are added, showing that these words go beyond the commission of verses 5 and 6.
When these things occurred they would need no speech-writer, nor even to study first what would be most wise or appropriate to answer when accused. Rather, they were to depend entirely on God to give them the words to speak at the time they were needed. In this they would allow the Spirit of their Father the freedom to speak without hindrance. We see this beautifully carried out in the cases of Peter and John in Acts 4:8-12 and 5:27-32; Stephen in Acts 7; and Paul in Acts 24:10-21 and 26:1-29.
The same will no doubt be true in the tribulation period, and verse 21 will have special application to that time, when even close natural relationships will be ignored because of the intensity of hatred toward the name of Christ, the true Messiah; brothers betraying brothers, fathers their children, children their parents, to be put to death. How dreadfully abnormal! Yet this Will be the exposure of what is the real character of the unbelieving heart of men.
At the time of the tribulation only a small remnant of Israel will bear Witness to Israel's Messiah, and they may expect the hatred of virtually all men. The period of tribulation will not be long, but intense: he that endures to the end of it will be saved for blessing in the millennial earth. Their being persecuted will have the effect of spreading the witness from city to city, for they are instructed, if persecuted In one city, to flee to another. The shortness of the time is then indicated in the fact that, in spite of this rapid dissemination of the testimony, they will not have covered all the cities of Israel before the coming of the Son of Man. Of course, the coming of the Lord to take His saints to glory will take place seven years before this, but the Christian dispensation is passed over here because it is from the viewpoint of a Jewish remnant that the Lord speaks. Such a remnant suffered when the Lord was on earth, then also in Acts (though there they formed the nucleus of the church), and the remnant will suffer in the tribulation too.
They may expect this because the disciple is not above his master nor the servant above his Lord. As their Lord was treated by men, so they could expect to be. The disciple should be content then to be called by hateful names, as his Lord was: indeed, even in this it is an honor to be identified with Him (See Ch.12:24). In suffering such reproach, Peter says "happy are ye" (1Pet.4:14).
They may well trust the strength of His own word, "fear them not therefore." Though their falsehood may seem to triumph for the time being, it will get be fully exposed to their own shame. Truth will eventually gain its complete victory. What the Lord spoke to them in darkness (that is, privately) they were to speak in the light, for it was the truth that men needed. Just so, what we today learn in the quietness of communion with the Lord we are to declare In the boldness of honest faith. These things Must not be merely our opinions, but what the Lord speaks.
Fear of man is to have no place where the word of God is faithfully proclaimed. If, as in the case Of Stephen (Acts 7), men kill the body out of antagonism against the word of God, they cannot kill the soul, as Stephen's triumphant faith bore witness at the very time of his martyrdom. God is able to destroy both soul and body in hell: He then is the One whom men should fear. To destroy however does not mean to annihilate, but to render unfit for any intended use.
The Lord uses the sparrow as the picture of virtual worthlessness, yet it is the social bird, always found in inhabited places, desiring fellowship. How apt an illustration of believers, who are more valuable then many sparrows! (Compare Ps.102:7) Not one of them falls to the ground without the Father's concern; and that concern is such toward Us as to number the very hairs of our head. If this is true of the smallest details physically, what of all the other details of our needs, whether of spirit or soul?
To be valued so greatly by the Father surely calls for a fitting response on our part, that response of fearlessly Confessing Christ before men. He is far more then worthy of this. But this too will elicit a response on the part of the Lord Jesus in confessing before His Father the one who confessed Him before men. Wonderful honor indeed given to the wholehearted believer!
But the reverse is true for one who dares to deny Him before men. To be denied by the Son of God will involve for him the greatest dishonor and humiliation. Men do not stop to consider the solemn horror and dishonesty denying the Son of God those rights that are His alone. This is not only an insult to Him, but also to His Father, to whom the name of His beloved Son is precious beyond all we can imagine.
Christ Himself is the test of men's condition. He did not come to send peace on earth, that is, to make men comfortable with one another while still In a state of quilt. Rather His presence is as a sharp, dividing sword, bringing into focus the reality of some and the rebellion of others. By this touchstone the variance between father and son is manifested, and between mother and daughter, etc. So it has proven in history: many households have been divided because Christ is received by some and refused by other members of a family.
There must be a decision as regards Christ. If one loves father or mother, son or daughter more than Him, he is not worthy of Him. He cannot take a secondary place to any natural relationship. For any mere man to require this would be wickedness; but this Man is the eternal God, worthy of unconditional worship, and entitled to the absolute obedience of every creature. It is added also that if one does not take his cross and follow Christ, he is not worthy of Him. For Christ has willingly accepted the cross of the rejection of mankind for our sake. Every disciple of His therefore is to take his own cross, that is, to voluntarily identify himself with the rejected Christ of God, and to follow Him in this path of rejection, not expecting any recognition by the world, but rather reproach. This is of course inseparably connected with a confession of Christ, as in verse 32.
One who found his life, that is, chose a life of ease and comfort on earth, would only lose it, for man cannot retain what be seeks so ardently to hold, a fact that Ecclesiastes 12 so graphically portrays. But if one would lose his life for Christ's sake, that is, make Christ his object, though this might mean sacrificing life's natural pleasures and objects, he would actually find his life in its satisfying character of lasting value and blessing, a life with eternal good In view.
Verse 40 is a wonderful assurance for the sake of one who receives the Lord's servant. Since Christ has sent him, then receiving him is receiving Christ Himself, and this involves receiving the Father also, a steadying, precious reminder for us, for there are many indeed who do not stop to consider the seriousness of this principle. We know it is true among unbelievers, who think nothing of treating the Lord's servant with contempt. On the other hand, even believers are sometimes most unwise in the way in which they criticize the message or the person of one whom the Lord Himself has sent to bring the truth of His word to bear upon consciences and hearts. While it is unbecoming to flatter one because he is the Lord's servant, get it is also most unbecoming to treat him with disrespect, for in this we express our disrespect for the Lord.
Also, if one receives a prophet in the name of a prophet, that is, as a prophet, he will receive a prophet's reward. Since he takes to heart God's Message sent by a prophet, then he will receive a similar reward to that of the prophet who faithfully speaks for God. If he receives a righteous man as a righteous man, this puts him in the class of righteous man, and as such he will receive a reward. If he receives him with ulterior motives, this would be totally different, of course. Simon the Pharisee received the Lord into his house (Lk.7:36), but not as a prophet (v3,34), though he admitted He was a teacher (v.40).
Finally, even the smallest recognition of Christ would not be unrewarded. One who gave a cup of cold water to a little child, only in the name of a disciple, that is, as identified with a disciple of the Lord, would certainly be rewarded. For, in doing this one is evidencing the fact that he doe at least have some respect for Christ.Throughout Israel now the Lord carries on an intensive teaching and preaching in their cities. John the Baptist hears of this in the prison, but he is deeply puzzled, for he sends two of his disciples to Him to ask, "Art Thou He that should come, or do we look for another?" Yet this same John had said of Him, "I saw and bear record that this is the Son of God" (Jn.1:34). No doubt John expected Him to very soon take His place of royal dignity as Messiah of Israel. Yet John's testimony to His glory had been silenced, and He to whom John bore witness was now traveling as a loving teacher through the land. This does not seem to be consistent with the great glory that John had (rightly) ascribed to Him.
Yet John had heard, not only of His teaching and preaching, but of His works, which of course none other had ever done. The Lord therefore instructed the disciples to show John again the things they saw and heard, works of marvelous grace and power as well as words such as had never before been spoken observe that all the miracles of verse 5 are significant of that which is spiritual. First, the blind received their sight, this itself being an evidence of His Messiahship (Isa.42:5-7), and typical of the totally ignorant being enlightened. The lame are the impotent, healed in order to walk before God. Lepers are typically those corrupt, cleansed from this loathsome state. The deaf are those indifferent to the voice of God, now made to hear. The dead are the dormant, with no life toward God, but quickened by divine power. Finally, the poor are these desolate spiritually, but enriched by the Gospel of grace preached to them.
It is precious to see the gentleness with which the Lord encourages John, rather then to reprove His questioning: "Blessed is he , whosoever shall not be offended in Me." He leaves no question as to who He is, though He does not explain why He continues to take a lowly place.
Before the crowds, however, He speaks highly of John; asking first, did they go into the wilderness to see a reed shaken with the wind? Was John merely a weakling moved by the forces of nature? They know this could not be so: nothing natural could explain either the penetrating Message he brought nor the fact of crowds going to the wilderness to hear him.
Or, on the other hand, was he a man clothed in soft clothing? But they knew that men of this kind, popular celebrities, were found in circumstances of luxury, not in the desolate wilderness.
What then? was he a prophet? The Lord affirms it to be absolutely true; and more then this, for he had a place that no other prophet was ever given, the unique privilege of announcing the Messiah of Israel. Malachi 3:1 had prophesied specifically of him as the messenger sent before the Lord to prepare His way. The Lord strongly affirms that among all mankind there had not arisen a greater then John the Baptist. He certainly does not speak of any public display of greatness as in the eyes of the world, for John had none of this. Nor does He speak of moral greatness, though his moral character was exemplary, no doubt. He speaks rather of the greatness of the place John was given as the forerunner of the Messiah. This explains also His last statement, that a lesser one in the kingdom of heaven was greater than John. He is speaking of the greatness of the position believers are given today in contrast to any position possible previous to the presentation of Christ Israel in grace.
John had announced the kingdom of heaven to be at hand. In the person of Christ, the King, it had come. But the King was not recognized, in fact was rejected. In this way the kingdom of heaven: suffered violence, and those who entered it would have to do so by virtually forcing themselves in over the determined opposition of the religious leaders Of Israel. Compare Mt.23:13.
Verse 13 is a plain statement that the dispensation of law, with its witness of all the prophets, was effective until John. Jerusalem was the center of this system of things, that is, an earthly center of an earthly administration. The kingdom of heaven was introduced by the Lord from heaven, the headquarters of this being in heaven, not on earth. In John was the culmination of prophetic ministry, all of which pointed to Christ.
John Was the Elijah promised in Malachi 4:5; not literally the same man (Jn.1:21), but a prophet of the same character (Lk.1:17). The expression "if ye will receive it" indicates this spiritual explanation, as does the following verse, "He that both ears to hear, let him hear."
But where was the fitting response to either John's ministry calling men to repentance, or that of the Lord Jesus introducing the precious dispensation of grace? Instead of recognizing God's voice in both cases, "this generation" were like children sitting in the markets, that is, they were childish and also idle, though surrounded by the serious realities Of life. Calling to others they complained that they had not danced to their music, and on the other hand had not lamented when they mourned.
The application is clear. John did not dance to their music: he came neither eating nor drinking, that is, not partaking in their festivities, for he had a solemn message of repentance to proclaim. They resented this. On the other hand, the Son of Man had come among men in grace, eating and drinking with them, and they resented the fact that He was not mourning; daring to accuse Him of being a gluttonous man and a wine bibber, a friend of publicans and sinners. They treated His grace with scorn and dishonest abuse. Their attitude was that of claiming that Israel was not really corrupt, as John declared; and Jesus was wrong In showing grace to corrupt Israelites!
But wisdom was justified of her own children. These (children of wisdom) at least recognized God's distinct and different means of dealing as being in perfect order, recognizing God's righteousness in John's Ministry and His great grace in that of the Lord Jesus.
The works of His grace had been most marked in the cities on the shares of Galilee, yet they had been no more receptive than Jerusalem. His censure of these cities is most solemn because they did not repent. He affirms that if Tyre and Sidon (Gentile cities) had witnessed there the mighty works He had done in Chorazin and Bethsaide, the Gentiles would have repeated in sackcloth and ashes long before. Why then did He not do these works there? Because He was sent to the lost sheep of the house of Israel, and would give them every opportunity to repent. Tyre and Sidon's judgment therefore would be more tolerable then theirs.
Capernaum, where He had mainly dwelt, therefore being exalted to heaven as regards the magnitude of this privilege, would be brought down to the desolation of hades If the mighty works done there had been done in Sodom, the Lord says it would have remained to that day. In verse 24 the Lord must be referring to eternal judgment, for Sodom was totally destroyed, thereby receiving a complete temporal judgment. It will be more tolerable for her in the day of judgment then for Capernaum. Luke 12:47-48 shows that though all unbelievers will be consigned to hell, yet there will be different degrees of punishment for them, depending on the measure of responsibility.
In all of these pronunciations of judgment there is every indication that the heart of the Lord Jesus was deeply moved and burdened; for judgment is His strange work, a work in which His heart can have no pleasure.
"At that time" of His having to foretell the judgment of these guilty cities, the Lord Jesus found precious comfort in the wisdom and grace of His Father, thanking Him who is Lord of heaven and earth that He had hidden from the wise and prudent the knowledge of those things that manifest the glory of His Son, and had revealed them to babes. For the matter of greatest importance was what seemed good in the Father's sight. The wise and prudent prided themselves on their knowledge, and dismissed the thought of the lowly Son of Man being any more then man in spite of His mighty works and His words of unequaled grace.
But in these verses He speaks, not as Men, but as the Son of the Father, who had delivered all things into the hand of His Son. For though Matthew presents Him as King, yet he must make it fully clear that the King can be no less than God (as John specially presents Him). Compare Ps.47:2,6,7,8.
In the inscrutability of His great Godhead only the Father could know the Son. John the Baptist had to fully admit "I knew Him not" (Jn.1:31,33). Similarly, only the Son could possibly know the great glory of Him who is God of the universe. Only God can know God in the essential reality of His being. Yet, since He is the Son of God, He is fully capable of revealing God as He deems fitting to do so. He reveals Him, not to the wise and prudent, but to babes, those who take the place Of submission to Him, realizing their own dependence.
Verse 28 is therefore most beautiful in this connection. His heart of great love goes out to those weary and oppressed, to invite them to find rest, not simply in His teaching, but in Himself personally. Many false prophets today foist themselves on the public with doctrines that appeal to Men's fleshly appetites, and they give such men great honor; but being more sinful creatures like themselves. they can give no rest to a troubled heart. Indeed, they could never utter words like these of our Lord, "Come unto me,----- and I will give you rest."
Those who labor are those honestly concerned about pleasing God, as law taught men to be. Laboring to keep the law, they found it too hard because of the sinfulness of their flesh. This caused a sense of a heavy load laid on their shoulders which they were unable to bear. All men's labor can never relieve this: the best of man's works can never give rest to a troubled conscience. He Must have this burden taken by Another, that is, the Lord Jesus, whose work alone can totally remove this load, and give rest. He tenderly invites every such troubled conscience to simply come to Him: this is enough. He requires no good works from the person, for He it is alone who lifts the load.
Verse 28 then is the way of rest for a troubled conscience. But verse 29 goes further. In place of an unbearable yoke, He invites us to take His yoke upon us. This yoke certainly implies submission to Him, with its necessary restraint, but its sure result will be rest, not simply for the conscience, but for the soul. The first rest is connected with salvation from the guilt of sin, but the second is a practical, daily tranquillity of soul just in the measure that a believer submits to the yoke of Christ and learns of Him.
His yoke is easy in contrast to that of law (Acts 15:10). But He must have the authority. It is not, as some have suggested, that both the Lord and the believer are sharing the same yoke, pulling together; for Christ is "the red heifer without spot, wherein is no blemish, and upon which never come yoke" (Num.19:2). His yoke therefore is that which He rightly puts upon us, the restraint of which we need, as He did not, and which we willingly accept. The burden would speak Of spiritual responsibility also willingly assumed. But it is light: indeed the more wholeheartedly we accept it, the more light it Will seem.We have seen that Matthew groups events with a dispensational end in view, and chapter 12 shows a building up on Israel's part to a state of utter rejection of their Messiah. The expression "at that time" does not mean that this event took place at the some time chronologically, but "is a general term embracing connected events" (William Kelly). For the event actually took place some time earlier (Mk.2:23). But this is chosen by God to be recorded here in order to show that Israel's hostility was gradually growing against their true King, to culminate in the sin that could not be forgiven (vs.31-32).
Hunger leads the disciples to eat of the grain as they passed through. Deuteronomy 23:25 gave them this permission. But the Pharisees had decided to append their own law to this Scripture by restraining this to six days of the week. They speak strongly to the Lord for His allowing His disciples to do this on the sabbath day. But the Lord did not merely denounce their human additions to God's word, as He did on another occasion (Mt.15:3), but takes higher ground than this, reminding them that David and those with him, because they were hungry, were allowed to eat the shew bread that had been replaced by fresh broad in the tabernacle (1Sam.21:1-6). The law had forbidden this, but the hunger of Israel's suffering king was an exceptional case. Now Israel's greater King was rejected by His Own nation, and His disciples were hungry. How vain then was the Pharisees insistence on an outward conformity to their traditions!
Or, did they not also consider that the priests on the sabbath days actually accomplished their designated work in the temple? In fact, their work was typical of that of Christ Himself, God's great high Priest. Their ignorance of Him and of His truth and grace was really without excuse. For One had come among them whom they should have recognized as being, not only greater then the sabbath, but greater than the temple. This is a tremendous statement., for the temple was designated as the dwelling of God. Only God Himself is greater then His dwelling.
Moreover, if they had honestly considered Hosea 6:6 they would not have condemned the disciples for a matter that had no guilt whatever attached to it. An attitude of mercy, rather then of pride in outward self-denial, is that which God approves. For the Son of Man had come in mercy, not as a meticulous law enforcer, and the Son of Men was Lord of the sabbath day, for indeed He is Lord of all. Notice that the precious fact of His being truly the Son of Man does not do away with His absolute Lordship.
Now another matter concerning the sabbath brings out even more glaringly the bitter animosity of the Pharisees against Him. Though He had reminded them that the priests carried out their duties for the help of Israelites on the sabbath day, yet the Pharisees were adamant in their opposition to His healing on the sabbath. They raise the question as to whether it is lawful to heal on the sabbath days, since a man with a withered hand is present. But their object is to accuse Him. He answers by referring to their own practice. For them to rescue a sheep out of a pit was certainly harder physical work then for Him to heal, yet they would do this on a sabbath day. If a sheep should be shown such consideration, how much more so should a man, who is of far more value! He finalizes this with the emphatic announcement, "it is lawful to do well on the sabbath days." What honest man could dare to object to this?
His words are followed by suitable action. Before them all He tells the man to stretch forth his hand, and it is immediately healed. God's own rights of showing mercy on the sabbath day had been challenged for He was healing by the power of God. Therefore He confronts the Pharisees with their own folly, no matter how greatly it will increase their hostility.
The Pharisees can of course do nothing to make the Lord Jesus conform to their harsh decrees, but in inflamed anger they go out and plot together (contrary to their own law) as to how they might destroy Him. Why did they not rather counsel together as to whether their own legal thoughts were unlawful?
Jesus, knowing their purpose, withdrew from the area, certainly not from fear, but He would not rally public support in His favor against this evil. The common people, however, followed Him, for they had not yet been pressured by the influence of the Pharisees. All who came for healing were healed. This was certainly evidence of His being the Messiah of Israel, yet He charged them that they should not publish this, for it was not the time of His great manifestation rather, in lowly grace He was fulfilling Isaiah 42:1-3, taking the place of God's Servant rather then that of the Messiah; but the one chosen Servant, beloved of God, in whom God found pure delight, and upon whom God had put His Spirit. These are precious words to be said of a servant, for a servant's place is one of comparative obscurity and of little outward importance in the eyes of men; but God's approval is the vital matter.
"He shall not strive nor cry," that is, He instituted no public movement for reform, nor in any way advertised Himself. His was not the spirit of the opportunist, taking advantage of the large crowds in order to exalt Himself as a champion of whatever cause. Hearing His voice in the streets of course implies His voice being raised in public protest against wrongs (evident or imagined), as has been a popular political ploy through history, and no less today. He avoided every such thing.
Verse 20 however shows His tender consideration for the weak in contrast to the ruthless cruelty of those striving for power. The bruised reed, the very symbol of weakness reduced by oppression, He would not break. On the other hand He would not quench the pollution of the smoking flax. Does this not speak of the smoldering opposition of Israel that was tending to destroy the material from which fine linen is made, that is, practical righteousness? (Cf.Rev.19:8) This in fact will not be changed until the day of His power, when He sends forth judgment unto victory. Only then will the inhabitants of the world learn righteousness (Isa.26:9). Some religious leaders are trying to quench the smoking flax today, but are only adding to the pollution: the smoke intensifies and righteousness still suffers.
But the quotation twice mentions Gentiles: "He shall show judgment to the Gentiles," and "in His name shall the Gentiles trust." How clearly this indicates the great dispensational change that was about to take place. Israel is not even mentioned, for in Mt.12 she is seen as being more and more manifested as in smoking antagonism against this blessed Servant of God, and she is to be set aside while Gentiles are to be favored with the blessings Israel might have had, but refused.
However, though the Lord claimed no rights as the Messiah, yet the proof of His Missiahship is then clearly demonstrated in verse 22. The man with the threefold affliction, demon Possession, blindness, and dumbness, is a picture of Israel's actual spiritual condition, and his complete healing a picture of her full recovery at the end of the tribulation period, through the grace and power of her Messiah. We have before remarked that the opening of blind eyes was indicated in the prophecies of the Old Testament to be a definite evidence of the Messiah's power (Isa.42:6-7); and the common people were discerning enough to ask the question, "is not this the Son of David?" How sad was the state of the Pharisees that they could not confirm to the people this precious fact!
The clear testimony to the Messiahship of the Lord Jesus, which so affected the common people, and the force of which the Pharisees cannot ignore, only serves to bring out their more adamant and deceitful enmity. They have not sense enough to be fearful of the enormity of their vicious charge that He was casting out demons by the power of the prince of demons. They make the fact transparently clear that they are guilty of the gross wickedness of rejecting the Christ of God.
Of course Jesus knew their thoughts, though they had not dared to speak to Him in this way. But His answering their thoughts ought to have impressed them with the fact of His divine knowledge. He answers them that every kingdom or city or house divided against itself cannot continue. But Satan's kingdom had existed for centuries and was still militant. Satan did not gain his advantages by casting himself out. The very suggestion of his doing this was nonsense. Of course the Pharisees knew that there was supernatural power in Christ's casting out demons, and since they wanted to deny it was God's power, then their only alternative was this foolish subterfuge.
But the Pharisees also knew that their sons cast out demons, how frequently of course we are not told; but Luke 9:49 records the fact of one doing so in the name of Jesus. Would the Pharisees denounce this as Satan's work? Indeed, the power in that case was the name of Jesus. Therefore their sons would be their judges. But since the Lord cast out demons by the Spirit of God, it was clear that the kingdom of God had come to Israel, unprepared as they were for it. Certainly nothing like this had ever before happened on so great a scale.
The strong man of verse 29 is of course Satan, who had wielded dreadful power over men even in Israel. How could Christ enter into Satan's domain and spoil his goods if He had not first rendered Satan powerless to hinder Him? It was evident that Satan's power was being nullified in all these cases of casting out demons: therefore a stronger then Satan was at work.
In regard to one casting out demons in His name, He had said "he that is not against Us is for us (Lk.9:50). Now He solemnly tells the Pharisee, "He that is not with me is against me." The stand they were taking was one of ominous, dreadful danger, and He will not minimize it. He also adds, "and he that gathereth not with Me scattereth." This may not be the case only with an unbeliever, sad to say; for even a believer, not exercised in concern for gathering souls to the person of Christ, will tend to scatter them.
However, He goes on to speak directly of the awesome consequences of the charge of the Pharisees to the effect that He was casting out demons by Satan's power. This was blasphemy against the Spirit of God, by whom the Lord accomplished such work. Other forms of sin and blasphemy might be forgiven (of course where there was true repentance), even in cases where Men spoke against the Son of Man. In fact, both thieves crucified with the Lord were guilty of mocking Him, get one was forgiven (Mt.24:44; Lk.23:40-43). But the Pharisees were taking a position of positive antagonism against the manifest work of the Spirit of God in the many miracles of grace wrought by the Lord Jesus. This was deliberate, premeditated wickedness; and neither in the age of grace being introduced, nor in the age to come (the millennium) could this be forgiven. For in taking this attitude men had determined not to repent.
There has been question raised as to whether this sin is possible to commit today, since Christ is not here doing His great works of power. But if one would today dare to assume the same attitude toward the works of the Lord, despising God's clear witness, is he not courting the some judgment warned of here?
The tree (Israel) had manifested itself by its evil fruit. If the tree had been good, the fruit would have been the same; but since the fruit was corrupt is evident that the tree was corrupt. Therefore the indictment the Lord brings against Israel is most solemn, calling them a generation of vipers. He knew their hearts, which, being evil, could not produce good words. What they were speaking come from what most abounded in the thoughts of their hearts. It is a simple principle He insists upon: a good man would speak good things, an evil man evil things.
But that is not the end of the matter. Every idle word that men speak they will be called upon to account for in the day of judgment. This is true even of idle (that is, worthless or unfruitful) words. How much more so when the words are positively wicked! For by one's words (good words) he would be justified. and by his words (idle words) he would be judged. The world's government does not act an this principle: freedom of speech allows a shameful excess of evil words. Sometimes people are sued for libel of others; but the most repulsive language against God is considered of no consequence. God's judgment will specially expose all this, as Jude 15 & 16 bears strong witness, with swift, unsparing vengeance against men's hard words, no less than against their evil actions.
After all the many miraculous signs of grace the Lord had shown (various healing on the sabbath days, for instance), the Pharisees ask for a sign from Him, ostensibly as witness to influence them to believe Him; but they have no heart whatever to believe. He responds that an evil and adulterous generation seeks a sign. Their evil was that of malignant enmity, as already seen; as adulterous they were guilty of introducing a corrupting mixture into their professed service for God. He would therefore add no sign to that long ago given them in Jonah the prophet, the significance of which had a direct application to Himself. They had already plotted His death. He would accept their rejection of Himself. He would die and be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth (the grave), just as Jonah spent such a time in the belly of the great fish. Jonah's release alive was a great miracle, but significant of a greater, that is, Christ's resurrection from among the dead. This surely was a sign of tremendous import, but we know the Pharisees still refused to believe Him.
The men of Nineveh, on the other hand, Gentiles though they were, would be a remarkable witness against Isreal's unbelieving treatment of the Lord Jesus, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah; while here among them a far greater than Jonah was preaching as no other man had ever preached, and their hearts remained adamant and cold.
Similarly, the queen of Sheba would witness against them in the judgment, a Gentile coming from a long distance to hear the wisdom of Solomon (not to see a sign); get here among them was One infinitely wiser than Solomon, and their religious pride blinded them into unreasonable prejudice against Him. In the case of the men of Nineveh, repentance is foremost: in the case of the queen of Sheba, faith stands out beautifully. In Israel both repentance and faith were glaringly absent, in spite of the pure grace and truth manifested among them in Him who had all the credentials of the Messiah.
The handwriting was therefore on the wall. A solemn judgment would overtake the guilty nation. Though only a man is mentioned in verse 43 as having been relieved of the possession of on unclean spirit, it is evident that this represents the state of the nation itself. They were outwardly reformed, having given up the idolatry in which they had once indulged.
The unclean spirit of idolatry had for the time withdrawn from Israel, but not because of any real change in the nation's character. In fact, religious pride in their reformation kept them from realizing their need of Christ Himself, so that the house was left empty, though having been swept and decorated. The rightful occupant (their Messiah) had been refused.
This would give ideal opportunity for the evil spirit to return, but not alone, for he would bring with him seven other spirits more wicked than himself, an infestation more dreadful than Israel has ever before known. This will take place during the last of Daniel's seventy weeks, which begins after the church is raptured to heaven, continuing until the Lord Comes in power and great glory. The number seven, which is that of completeness, indicates a total subjection of the nation to Satanic deception, described graphically in Revelation 9:1-11. It will be introduced by the anti-christ, the star fallen from heaven, and the smoke of his poisonous doctrine. Certainly God will preserve a small remnant from this dreadful demon-possession, but it will infest the nation generally.
This leads to the last section of this chapter, in which the Lord indicates that He is completely setting aside His merely natural relationship to Israel. He is told that His mother and His brethren were standing outside, desiring to speak with Him. Of course His mother is typical of Israel, the nation of whom Christ was born; while His brethren typify the people of the nation to whom He is naturally related.
But He makes it emphatically clear that this relationship is nothing compared to that with His Father, and those who did the will of His Father. Those who merely knew Christ after the flesh have no claim on Him whatever. Believers no longer know Him in this way (2 Cor.5:16), but as having died and risen again, the Head of a new creation. Of course, while He disclaimed the mere natural relationship, it is clear that Mary had a far nearer relationship then this, the same relationship that every believer has; and His care for His mother is seen beautifully at the cross (John 19:26,27).
These verses, however (46 to 50), are a fitting conclusion to the subject of Chapter 12, the Lord declaring in effect His rejection of those ties with Israel that were merely natural, Israel having demonstrated her rejection of Him.
This chapter begins a new division of the book. Israel is looked at as set aside because of unbelief: the Lord went out of the house (typically Israel's house), and set by the seaside. The sea is typical of the Gentile nations (Rev17:15). Therefore we can expect in Chapter 13 the teaching of a new dispensation, that of the Gospel going out to all the world. Because of great crowds gathered to hear Him, He preaches from a boat to His audience on the shore of the lake.
There are seven parables in the chapter, and the first is a fundamental basis for all. Possibly a sower might be seen at the time scattering his seed on a nearby field. In verses 37 and 38 we read that the Sower is the Son of Man and the field is the world. Israel had been the vineyard (Isa.5:7), with Its separating and protective enclosure (v. 2); but now the open field of the world is the sphere of the testimony of the kingdom of heaven.
The sowing is broadcast, with the result that the seed falls on various types of ground. Mark 4:14 declares that the sower sows the word. The word of God today is not withheld from anyone: it is available for all. The seed also is all good seed: if it does not produce, the fault is in the ground, not in the seed.
The seed that falls on the hard trodden ground of the wayside of course does not even take root, and the birds devour It. Verse 19 explains this as Satanic activity in stealing the word from one's heart. There has been no plowing up of the heart in repentance: the heart has remained hard, and Satan takes advantage of this to steel away the word so that it can leave no impression.
What seed fell on rocky soil was just as unproductive, though at first appearing most promising. For some people seem receptive to begin with, but underneath are as hard as the first, allowing no place for any proper root system; therefore there is no reserve moisture in the plant, and the warmth of the sun withers it rather than developing it. Verses 20 and 21 explain this as the case of one who at first has joy in receiving the word, but it is a joy that fails when tribulation or persecution test him. Having no real root, he gives up what he seemed to Possess. How many are in this sad condition!
The third class of ground, thorn infested, gives the seed no proper welcome either. Perhaps the seed makes a feeble attempt to grow, but the thorns crowd out the grain: it does not continue. This is explained in verse 22 as referring to those who, though hearing the word, do not give it a more important place than the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches. Present material concerns and desire for this world's goods choke out the more vital, valuable blessing of the word of God. Too many today prefer thorns!
Verse 4 we have seen no impression, and in this the devil works effectively: in verse 6 no root, for in this Case the flesh is more particularly working; and in verse 7 no room for the world is seen there to exert its influence.
Only in the last case is the soil said to be good ground. This is of course ground prepared by plowing up the soil to receive the seed into itself. With out this preparation of repentance there can be no receiving the word of God into the heart in such a way as to produce fruit. Verse 23 speaks of this good ground as referring to one who hears and understands the word, and therefore brings forth fruit. This class alone describes true believers, and all bear fruit, though three differing measures are mentioned. Thirty-fold is not large, but it is fruit; sixty-fold is more fruit, and one hundred-fold is much fruit (John 15:2- 5).
Verse 9 shows that not all would be willing to hear what was involved in this parable. The disciples question why the Lord should use this means of addressing the crowds: no doubt they felt it pointless if the crowd saw no spiritual application. But He answered that His disciples are intended to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but unbelieving Israel was to be left in the ignorance they really preferred.
The principle of verse 12 may appear to be startling: the one who already had would be given more: he who had nothing would only lose what he appeared to have. By speaking in parables the Lord was giving in such a way that only faith could receive it. Unbelievers could understand easily the literal things of which He spoke, yet they did not really understand: though seeing, they did not perceive. Honesty would certainly recognize that the Lord was saying more than appeared on the surface, and true concern of faith would desire to understand, and therefore inquire. But inquiring would be an admission of ignorance, and the blindness of men's pride kept them from this.
The heart of the people had grown fat, encased in a thick insulation against the receiving of any impression of the precious truth of God. Their ears had become dullened so as not to hear properly, and they themselves had closed their eyes. This was willful blindness, because they did not want the truth.
If we have been told of the willful blindness Of the Many in Israel, how wonderful is the contrast of the blessedness of the eyes and ears of true disciples: they see, they hear, taking in the truth that is refused by the ungodly. The Lord seeks to impress on them the wonder of the privilege that was theirs, for many prophets and righteous men had desired to see the things that they saw, but had passed off the scene without this great blessing, and without hearing what the disciples heard. To the crowd these things were a matter of indifference; but to many 0ld Testament prophets and saints they would have been of Unspeakable delight.
From verse 18 to 23 He explains the parable of the sower, and this we have already commented on when considering the parable itself.
The second parable has a manifest connection with the first. Again it is a parable of the kingdom of heaven. The good seed has been sown in His field (the world--v.38) by the Son of Man (v.37). But an enemy (the devil, v.39) came while men slept and over sowed the field with tares, or darnel, which is said to be a poisonous type of grain resembling wheat. The people of God have not watched, and Satan has worked effectively among Christians to introduce his own false followers ("children of the wicked one"--v.38) into the kingdom of heaven. Certainly he could not bring them into the body of Christ, the Church, for this is exclusively God's workmanship. But they have infiltrated the kingdom, the outward profession of Christianity in such a way as to make it impossible to root them out without affecting the wheat also.
At first the tares seem to be wheat, arising and becoming manifest however for what they are when the blade and fruit appear on the wheat. Then the servants recognize the imitation, and ask the householder if they ought to gather the tares out from the wheat. The answer is negative, because they might also root up some wheat in their efforts. In fact, the professing church has sometimes tried this, that is, getting rid of those they consider heretics, and many true Christians have been put to death in these ambitious enterprises, while the tares have continued just as vigorously.
Both are to grow together In the field (that is, in the world--not in the church, as some have liked to imagine) until time of harvest, which is the summing up of God's dealings with men. The reapers then will be told to gather the tares together in bundles for burning, but to gather the wheat into the householder's barn. Gathering the wheat into the barn is the rapture, all true believers on earth being caught up to be forever with the Lord. But the tares are first gathered in bundles ready for burning. The actual burning is not mentioned until the explanation in verse 42. For they are left in the field in bundles until the wheat is gathered into the barn. This appears to correspond to the large number of false and wicked cults that are virtual bundles such as attract false professors of Christianity, and which multiply just as the Lord is about to rapture His church to glory.
A third parable presents another aspect of the kingdom of heaven. In each of these cases the expression "the kingdom of heaven is like" refers to the entire parable. It is not that the kingdom is simply "a man" (v.24) or "a grain of Mustard seed" (v.31) or "leaven" (v.33): the term rather embraces the entire parable in each case. It is again the field in which the mustard seed is sown. The least of all seeds, it yet develops amazingly until becoming a tree in which the birds of the air find lodging. Properly speaking it is an herb, and is said to usually be no more than a shrub, but in some cases continues to grow into a tree.
The kingdom of heaven began in a very small, insignificant way, like the mustard seed, with the Lord Jesus is lowly Manhood doing the work of God with no fanfare, no advertising, and in fact falling Into the ground and dying. Then the kingdom began in Acts to grow marvelously, and has today spread in every direction throughout the whole world, so that Christendom has became a great tree in the world.
This extensive growth however has attracted the birds of the air, which have been seen to represent Satan's spiritual powers of wickedness (v.4 & v.19). Evil spirits have taken advantage of this external grandeur, and the once pure kingdom has been greatly infiltrated by Satanic influence. As being the work of Satan, this of course corresponds to the tares of the previous parable. These birds are clearly seen today in the multiplied false cults that claim to be Christian. Examples of a similar thing are found in the Old Testament, as in Ez.31:3-6 the great Assyrian empire is likened to a tall cedar tree with fowls of the heaven lodging in its branches; and Dan.4:20-22 shows Nebuchadnezzar's kingdom to be of the same character. To reign and become great may be attractive, but to do so in a world that rejects the blessed Lord of glory is opening the door for Satan's activity.
The fourth parable (v.33) speaks of the intensive (rather then extensive) character that would develop (and has developed) in the kingdom of heaven. The women is no doubt typical of the professing church, who should be at all times subject to the Man Christ Jesus, for He is the teacher, and her place is to be taught. But she introduces the leaven (typical of evil as a corrupting agent) into three measures of meal, hiding it there. Three measures of meal are found in Gen.18:6; 1Sam.1:24; and Judges 6:19, all in connection with offerings to the Lord; for all speak of the pure Manhood of the person of Christ, and leaven was forbidden in the meal offering (Lev.2:11). But underhandedly there has been wicked doctrine introduced in the professing church to corrupt the doctrine of Christ, so that now all Christendom is permeated with this corruption so offensive to the blessed Lord whom they profess to serve.
Those four parables have given us a full picture of the condition of the kingdom of heaven publicly in this dispensation and up to the present time. In verse 35 these are said to be "things which have been kept secret from the foundation of the world." Prophecy had not foretold a dispensation in which the kingdom of God (called here the kingdom of heaven) would fall into a corrupted condition, but the Lord declared it in such parables, and history has proven Him perfectly right. Old Testament prophecy had rather spoken of a kingdom of great glory, shining in the splendor of truth and righteousness, which will of course be fulfilled in the millenniums
However, this new declaration of the Lord concerning a corrupted kingdom forms a dark background for the new revelation that Paul was to give concerning the church of God, the body of Christ, a jewel of exquisite beauty that shines Out with brighter luster because of the dark corruption of the kingdom. In all of this the great and wisdom of God ;Is seen; for it is totally impossible that man could either have conceived or executed such things.
In verse 36 the crowd was sent away, and the Lord returned to the house (Cf.v.1). For in those four parables He has completed His treatment of the public character of the present kingdom. What follows (the explanation of the parable of the wheat and tares and the last three parables) is instruction for disciples, concerning which the world can knew nothing today; for it deals with God's counsels as to the kingdom, not what is seen in the present dispensation.
Though the parable of the wheat and the tares has to do with this age, the Lord's explanation to the disciples shows what was at work behind the scenes, Of which the world is fully ignorant. The Son of Man has sown the good seed in the field (the world). The good seed are the children of the kingdom. Mark 4:14 says the Sower sows the word, which shows how fully the believer is identified with the word of God he receives. The tares are Satan's seed sown by him among the wheat. The harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are the angels. They would purge out what was offensive from the kingdom at the end of the age. Of course, casting them into a furnace of fire refers to a much later time, after the millennium is completed, and the judgment of the great white throne has taken place (Rev.20:11-15); but the connection is not to be lost, despite the time that intervenes.
These verses (37-43) form one of the many keys in Scripture by which to understand much of prophecy. Verse 43 speaks then of the righteous shining forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. It does not say that then they are gathered into the barn, which is of course the paradise of God. The parable itself speaks of this, so that this indicates the rapture before the tribulation; but the explanation goes beyond this to the display of God's grace in the church during the age to come, the millennium. This then will be called, not the kingdom of heaven, but the kingdom of their Father, in which there is no slightest admixture of evil. The Lord adds a last serious word here to emphasize that only these who truly have a hearing ear will take in what He says.
The fifth parable (the first Of the series inside the house) is found in verse 44. Nothing corrupting is seen here at all, but great joy. When, as in the first four parables, the kingdom of heaven is seen to refer to God's present dealings on earth, which are connected With the seaside, the Gentiles, rather than the house of Israel, the question naturally arises, as it does in Romans 9,10, and 11, what then becomes of the Old Testament promises given to Israel? This fourth parable beautifully answers the question.
"Treasure hid in a field" is not by any means the same as seed sown in the field. The treasure had been there before, but hidden. So when the "man," which is the Lord Jesus, come to earth, in His omniscient (wisdom) He found that treasure. This has to do with God's divine counsels, discerning where Israel had been "hidden" in the world for centuries, for only a small part of the nation was in the land. As to "treasure," Exodus 19:4 contains a promise to Israel that on the basis of keeping the law they would be "a peculiar treasure" to the Lord. Then, in spite of Israel's failure under law, Psalm 135:4 declares God's counsel concerning her, "The Lord both chosen Jacob unto Himself, and Israel for His peculiar treasure."
But the men again hides the treasure, goes and sells all that he has to buy the field. This is the great sacrifice of the Lord Jesus by which He has purchased the entire world, therefore the treasure in it (Israel) is His by purchase. Does this not remind us of Abraham's buying a field from Ephron the Hittite in which to bury Sarah? (Gen.23:16-20). Sarah is a type of Israel according to God's counsels, now buried out of sight, but to be (spiritually speaking) raised again and manifested as Jehovah's "peculiar treasure." Therefore the kingdom of heaven, in God's counsels, includes Israel, though in its present condition Israel does not have part in it. The Lord Jesus, when He came and paid the price for the field itself, did not then display the treasure, Israel, as His own possession, but has virtually hidden her again until the day when He will make up His jewels (Mal.3:17).
The second parable of this series has marked differences from the first, though with similarities. The merchant man, in seeking goodly pearls, found one pearl of great price. The pearl comes from the sea, which speaks of the nations of the world (Rev.17:15), appropriately symbolizing the church of God taken out from the nations, to be to the praise of the glory of God's grace for eternity. No impurity is seen here, for man's responsibility is not involved, as in the first four parables, but the great workmanship and grace of God.
Others have well observed that the pearl is the result of a foreign object (often a grain of sand) coming between an oyster and its shell, causing injury or irritation, so that the oyster deposits its nacre, or mother of pearl, around the offending object, layer by layer. The more layers, of course the larger the pearl. If the pearl is perfectly round, it is more valuable.
How beautifully this illustrates the formation of the church of God! She herself is only the offending object that caused the sufferings and death of the Lord of glory; but she is clothed with radiant beauty, the work of God's sovereign grace and wisdom, accomplished in perfect symmetry. As the best pearls take long to manufacture, so God's grace has wrought for long centuries (during the longest of all dispensations) to accomplish His great work in the assembly, which will eventually be presented to the Lord Jesus as an adornment to be worn near to His heart forever. It is said the pearl retains its luster by being worn. Israel, on the other hand, will not have this closeness, but will still be a peculiar treasure to the Lord, kept in a treasure house, the land of promise, where she will be displayed in her beauty during the millennial age. The unity of the assembly is emphasized here also, for it is "one pearl of great price." On the other hand, "treasure" is no doubt composed of various parts, as there are twelve tribes in Israel. Other symbols of unity designate the assembly also, as one body (Eph.2:16) and one flock (Jo.10:16).
Greater differences are seen in the last parable. A net is Cast into the sea, and fish of every kind gathered. If the sea speaks of the nations (Rev.17:15), then the fish speak of the individuals in them. The kingdom of heaven, in God's counsels, has not only to do with Israel and the assembly, but also with Gentile nations. Their part in this will be seen only at the end of the tribulation period. Matthew 25:31-46 gives a different view of this selective judgment of nations, when the Son of Man comes in His glory. This is plainly not what is taking place now, as similar to the wheat and tares, for these last three parables were spoken in the house, and refer to what has God's future counsels in view.
At the end of the age the good will be gathered into Vessels, the bad separated from them and Cast into the furnace of fire. The work of angels is specially mentioned as involved in this. The eventual end of the "bad" is seen as their being cast into the furnace of fire, just as is the case in Mt.25:41-46, though the execution of this judgment is much later then the gathering of the good into Vessels. The end in view for "the good" is not like that of the wheat, gathered into His barn, that is heaven; but "gathered into vessels" (v.30).
The vessels are evidently the various Gentile nations. It is striking here that nothing indicates such unity as is seen in the church, the "one pearl of great price;" nor even such a measure of unity as is seen in "treasure hid in a field"' For the church is vitally "one," not even composed of various tribes, but members of one body. Israel is "one nation," but formed of twelve distinct tribes, all to maintain their identity in the age to come. But there is no unity even of this kind among the Gentile nations: all will be distinct, as fish gathered in various vessels, but subject to the great King of kings.
In the seven parables of this chapter the Lord has given a most full and admirable view of the whole subject of the kingdom of heaven in its various aspects, beginning with the first seed sown, and continuing till the kingdom is established in millennial glory over all peoples, Jews and Gentiles as well as the church of God.
To the Lord's question if they understood all these things, the disciples answer "Yes," though their understanding could only have been small indeed compared to what they would later discern. But He encourages them to be well instructed scribes, declaring that there is great treasure in the knowledge of the truth of the kingdom of heaven, and one so instructed is like a householder who makes well-balanced provision for his house, things both new and old. The new, which Christ Himself has revealed, are filled with greatest blessing, but also they make far clearer many truths of the Old Testament Which had no doubt for centuries been virtually a "dead letter" even to believing Jews.
Now leaving the shores of Galilee, He goes to the area of Nazareth, His Own country, where it is emphasized that His kingdom is in reproach and rejection. In this return we learn in the blessed Lord Himself, how to accept this. The wisdom of His teaching is undisputed: people are astonished at this and at hearing of His mighty works. But instead of seeing by faith the reality of God's power in this, they dispute His right to possess such power! Where did He get this? they ask. Was He not only a carpenters son? Did they not know His mother, His four brothers and all of His sisters? Formal religion has claimed that Mary had no other children then the Lord Himself, therefore assuming that these were nephews or nieces; but Psalm 69:8 is conclusive, "I am become a stranger unto my brethren, and an alien unto my mother's children." Mary had at least seven children after the Lord was born, for "all" His sisters implies at least three.
Faith sees marvelous grace in the lowly place He took in regard to natural relationships, but the world's pride is offended by this. The Lord however does not strike back with the same type of offended pride; but calmly remarks that a prophet is not without honor except in his own country and in his own house. Can this be because, in knowing him well, people's consciences fear that he will also know them well? But it is tragically sad that this common rule should apply to Him who is God manifest in flesh! Because of their unbelief, He left them without the privilege of their seeing many mighty works from His hand.Now authority in high places is seen to reject Him too, by the deliberate rejection of His forerunner and servant John the Baptist. When King Herod hears of His fame, his conscience is troubled, fearing that Christ is John risen from the dead. Yet John had done no miracle. His moral and spiritual power had however left a solemn impression on Herod. Again, it was common knowledge that John and the Lord Jesus had been contemporaries, the Lord having been baptized by John (Mt.3:13-17); but ignorant of this, the gnawing discomfort of Herod's conscience gave him no little misery!
The history of his having murdered John is now recounted. He had first imprisoned him because John had faithfully told him it was unlawful for him to have taken his brother's wife. Clearly, it was she who was applying the pressure while Herod's fear of the people (not of God) delayed him from putting John to death. Mark tells us also that he feared John, and when hearing him "did many things, and heard him gladly" (Mk.6:20). Apparently John's, stirring ministry prompted him to do good things by which to solve his conscience.
Herodias only needed an occasion to appeal to the pleasure and pride of Herod In order to accomplish her purpose of murdering John the Baptist. Herod's birthday furnished this, the daughter of Herodias dancing for his amusement. Before his guests he made a foolish oath to give the girl whatever she wanted. Through her mother's coaching, the girl asked for the head of John. Though the king was sorry, yet the pride of keeping his word outweighed the moral outrage of his conscience in murdering the servant of God. In fact, he could have easily spared John without breaking his oath, by acknowledging honestly that John's life was not his to give, but he chose to ignore his responsibility to God.
The foul deed being done, it is appalling to think of the girl carrying John's head in a dish to her mother. Certainly the sight of that head would so burn into their consciences that the torment of this, no less than in the case of Herod, would continue through their miserable lives. What can be worse than the insistent torment of an accusing conscience ?
John's disciples are however allowed to take his body and bury it. The faithful ministry of this man of God was short-lived indeed; but he had done the work for which God had sent him. His disciples then bring the news to the Lord Jesus. But just as the Lord had accepted rejection by His own city, so He quietly accepts this cruel injustice and rejection by the ruler of the land. He left by boat to go to a deserted place apart from the crowds. This took place at the same time that the apostles gathered to tell the Lord of their labors in the cities of Israel. For both of these reasons, the quietness of the presence of God was necessary, both for Himself and for them. Compare Mark 6:29-32.
Yet the interlude was brief, for the crowds followed Him out of their cities. Still, having been In quietness before God, He was moved with compassion toward the people, and healed those who were sick. For it is beautifully precious that the day of His rejection is the day of His grace: rather then being discouraged by the world's refusal, He will virtually increase the efforts of pure grace in desire for the true blessing of mankind.
The beauty of this expands into a lovely picture of the abundant grace of the present dispensation, grace available for all., and denied to none who will receive it. The disciples urged the Lord to send the crowd away, so as to find provision for themselves. How little do our hearts enter into the sufficiency of the grace that is in the heart of the Lord Jesus! Where shall men find satisfactory bread if they are sent away from Him? In fact, He tells them, "Give ye them to eat." This is what the Lord is telling us today. He has supplied us with His grace, and He Himself is in glory: therefore it is our privilege to dispense that which He supplies and blesses.
They feel (and so should we) the poverty of their resources for such a crowd, only five loaves and two fishes. But we look in the wrong direction. If we look to Him we are lightened and our faces are not ashamed (Ps.34:5). Though we feel how little we have, yet having Christ, in Him there is more than sufficient for all mankind. The loaves speak of Him as the bread of life, the way it is made implying suffering and death in various ways; the grain of wheat falling into the ground and dying, growing up, then cut down, threshed, then ground in the mill, mixed with other ingredients, kneaded, and finally exposed to the heat of the fire. The fishes too speak of Him as the 0ne who has passed through the waters of judgment for us. When these are brought to Him and He blesses them, their sufficiency is miraculously abundant. The crowd simply sits down in the attitude of receiving: nothing must infer their work.
The disciples had the privilege of taking the loaves and fishes from the hand of the Lord Jesus to dispense them to the crowd, a function that has Its counterpart today in believers dispensing to others the spiritual food that they themselves receive from the Lord. When all five thousand, plus women and children, had eaten their fill, the remainder was greater than the original amount. For the abundant grace of God in the present day will issue in a full supply (twelve baskets) remaining for the blessing of the twelve tribes of Israel after the church is raptured to heaven.
Jesus then instructed His disciples to go by boat to the other side of Galilee, while He sent the crowds away, and went up into a mountain to pray. The typical picture here is simple to understand. Following the dispensing of grace in His coming into the world, the Lord has returned to the high elevation of heaven itself, there interceding for His people.
The boat in the midst of a turbulent sea however carries us on (in type) to the time of great tribulation, when the little remnant of the Jewish nation will be tossed on the sea of the Gentiles, in imminent fear of being overwhelmed. The fourth watch of the night is the morning watch, when the day breaks. Luke 12:35 to 38 refer to the Lord's coming for the church, and suggests only that He may come "in the second watch or come in the third watch." The second is the midnight watch, the third the cock crowing (Mk.13:35). The midnight watch is past now, therefore it appears clear that the Lord's coming for the church will be in the third watch, then of course His coming to Israel will be in the fourth watch.
In this watch therefore Jesus walked on the sea to meet His disciples. The sight was of course astounding, and they cried out for fear, thinking Him to be a spirit. The miraculous character of this is intended to impress us with the greatness of His power over the Gentile sea Of nations, He being in sovereign control even while they are still raging, and eventually subduing all under Him, as Son of Man. For He is Man, not a spirit, and His voice calms their troubled hearts.
Peter was in fact emboldened to request that the Lord should invite him to walk on the water to meet his Lord. In response to the Lord's "Come" he does walk on the water toward Him. No doubt we are intended to observe that the Lord is said to walk on the sea, all of it being under His dominion, while Peter is said to walk on the water, only a trifling part of the sea. Of course, it is by the power of his Lord that he is sustained, but Peter's eyes were turned from the Lord to the boisterous wind and waves, and of course he was afraid. It was not his fear that caused him to begin to sink: this was caused by his eyes being turned from the Lord; and his fear was caused by his eyes being on the troubled waves. If the sea had been perfectly calm, and Peter not afraid at all, he would still have begun to sink if his eyes had turned from the Lord. In this case he would likely have been so impressed with his being able to walk on the water that he would have looked around him with enthusiastic self-satisfaction, with the same result.
He did not cry out to the other disciples in the boat, but to the Lord, "Lord, save me." He was a swimmer (Jn.21:7), but the rough sea was too much for him: he needed the Lord. His right hand of power was immediately extended to lift Peter up, and together they entered the boat, the wind ceasing at this moment.
Peter provides a graphic picture of the faith of some godly Israelites when the security of the nation (the boat) is threatened by the raging of the Gentile nations. Some will realize that their safety is not dependent on the nation, but on their Messiah alone. Faith. depending on Him, will be sustained in spite of its weakness. He will bring them through, as He will bring the nation through.
The faith of the godly in Israel (typified by Peter's walking on the water to meet the Lord) reminds us that this is the very character of the present-day church of God. She is not given a vessel in which to surmount the waves, but is called upon to go forth to her Lord, who sustains her without the help of an organization like that of Israel. Sad to say, many have felt insecure with only the Lord to depend upon, and have for this reason formed organizations that they think are necessary to sustain a testimony for God. Why is our confidence not simply in the Lord alone?
Verse 32 however is typical of the hope of Israel being realized, the Lord's presence calming all the waves of adversity, and giving peace. This draws forth the clear confession of the disciples that He is truly the Son of God, just as Israel will fully confess when He is revealed to them in power and glory. Coming into the land of Gennesaret (which means "harp") He is welcomed, and the pleasant music of great blessing breaks forth, a picture of the precious work of the healing hand of the Lord in His introducing the peace and prosperity of the age to come, the millennium. From all the country around large numbers are brought to be healed, many only touching the hem of His garment and being perfectly restored. So all the world will share in the blessing of that glorious dispensation.After the power and grace of the Lord Jesus has wrought so great, refreshing blessing, the cold, barren criticism of scribes and Pharisees of Jerusalem is an example of how the deadening principle of legality is always active in strongly opposing the pure work of the grace of God. They challenge the Lord Himself directly, not simply disciples, but being incensed against Him because He did not require His disciples to conform to Jewish tradition by the washing of their hands before eating. This they considered a binding religious tradition, whether men's hands were clean or not.
For they transgressed the commandment of God by their tradition. He does not refer to the washing of hands, however, for this was a mere empty decree hardly worth speaking of: but He does reprove a tradition of theirs that boldly made void the commandment of God. To honor father and mother was one of the initial ten commandments. Yet the Jews had concocted a tradition that allowed a son or daughter to say that some resource he had by which he could relieve the need of his parents was "Corban," that is, a gift devoted to God, and by this subterfuge to avoid helping his parents. Eidersheim says that this was commonly done though the money was not actually given to the temple service at all, and that the Jewish elders had officials ruled that a declaration of this kind nullified one's obligation to his parents.
This was plain despising of the word of God, and the Lord does not hesitate to call the Pharisees hypocrites, quoting from Isaiah 29:13 as to men's mouths and lips outwardly honoring God while their hearts were far from Him. Their warship was vain, for their doctrines were merely the commandments of men. Their insensibility to the seriousness of this condition makes this the more painful.
Yet not only the Pharisees, but the crowd is in need of the word that He now declares. Calling them to Him, He urges them to hear and understand that it is not what goes into a man's mouth that defiles him, but what proceeds out of his mouth. By eating material things, no-one is defiled spiritually. If something is not good for one's physical health, that is a different matter. But the things that come from one's mouth indicate what is actually in the heart: if things morally corrupt come from the mouth, these certainly defile the man.
The disciples report to the Lord that the Pharisees had taken offense at what He had said. But the solemn truth of it is not to be in any way watered down. If the truth offends, it is because one prefers falsehood to truth. The Lord's reply is most decisive and incisive. Every plant which His heavenly Father had not planted would be rooted up. Enemies of the truth are not the planting of the Father. They may be very meticulous about religious tradition, get in heart thoroughly Opposed to God.
"Lot them alone." He says,--terrible sentence from the lips of the Son of God! Yet if men want this haughty independence, God may let them alone to indulge the folly of their choice, with no restraining of His wise and loving hand, of which the believer feels the need, and appreciates. "Blind leaders of the blind" is a striking and appropriate designation. They will fall into the ditch, and those who blindly follow them will do the same. This is warning enough not to follow such men. The leaders of course are the most solemnly responsible. but others are responsible for allowing themselves to be led.
Peter however thinks of verse 11 as a parable, and asks for an explanation. This is painful ignorance, as the Lord tells him, but he is not alone, for there are many Christians who consider only externals, and forget that the real index of what is defiling is that which one allows to proceed out of his mouth. For these come from the heart., which is the source of evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies. It may not be that every one of these is always expressed from the mouth before the act takes place; but every one proceeds from the heart, which commonly expresses itself in the words of the mouth. If the mouth expresses hatred, this is the principle of murder (1Jn.3:15). One who is adulterous will usually betray it by corrupt language. A thief will likely express himself covetously. Wisely indeed does Proverbs 4:23 tell us, "Keep thy heart more then anything that is guarded, for out of it are the issues of life" (J.N.D.trans). The Lord then closes the subject with the declaration that to eat with unwashed hands does not defile a man.
Coming to Tyre and Sidon He meets with hypocrisy of a different kind in a Gentile woman of Canaan. Which of us is not afflicted with that terrible disease in some measure? She cries to Him on behalf of her daughter who was oppressed by demon power. But she uses His title as King of Israel, "Son of David," as though she was Jewish. On this basis the Lord could not even listen to her. He will allow no-one to slip in on false ground. Her continual crying induces the disciples to ask Him to send her away, no doubt implying that He should answer her request, for they knew the grace of His heart.
As the Son of David He answers (not the women, but) His disciples that He had been sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. The women then gave up her use of His Jewish title, and worshipping Him, said, "Lord, help me." On this ground He could speak to her, for He was her Lord. Yet He must impress on her that, being a Gentile, she was not entitled to Jewish blessing. Still, He does it in a way that not only humbles her, but encourages her. For while He speaks of its being not fitting to take the bread from the children (Israel) and to throw it to dogs (Gentiles), the dogs He speaks of are not the roaming dogs of the street, but he use dogs used as pets. She is willing immediately to take her place as a Gentile dog, for she sees the opening He gave her to request the crumbs that dogs are commonly given from their master's table. This is exquisitely beautiful, and the Lord warmly commends her great faith, assuring her that she is blessed with what she desires. Her daughter is immediately released from her oppression.
Making a lengthy journey to the vicinity of the sea of Galilee, the Lord Jesus ascended a mountain and set down. This is followed by abundance of grace in healing the lame, blind, dumb and maimed, and many others. This dispensational picture is different than in Ch.14:13-21, where the feeding of the five thousand is typical of the present dispensation of grace. For Matthew 15:29-38 follows grace shown to the Gentile (v.27,28), and emphasizes in v.31, "they glorified the God Of Israel." Therefore it pictures the coming blessing of Israel as the world to come is introduced. The great healing of the nation is first indicated, and then the great provision made for them in the feeding of four thousand. For the number four is the number of earth (as its four directions remind us), so that this shows the blessing of God's earthly people Israel.
The similarity of the circumstances between this and the feeding of the five thousand is evident, but the differences are therefore more accentuated. Here He does not say, "Give ye them to eat," for this seems specially the work of disciples in the dispensation of the grace of God. The number of loaves and fishes differs also (seven rather than five, and a few rather than two), while the seven baskets of fragments are larger baskets than the twelve hand-baskets of the former miracle. Do these seven baskets speak of the fullness of blessing remaining for the Gentile nations after Israel is satisfied? This seems consistent, just as the twelve previous baskets spoke of the remaining grace for the twelve tribes of Israel after the church was blessed.
Verse 39 seems to be typical of His leaving Israel again after having established them in millennial blessing, as we know He will personally do, while leaving a representative ("the prince"-- Ez.46:1-18) in charge of the nation. For personally He will have taken His own throne, the church being associated with Him in heavenly glory, reigning with Him over the earth.The enmity against the true Messiah increases now to the point of Pharisee's and Sadducee's (usually hostile to each other) conspiring together to tempt Him, in an effort to trap Him in some way. Both saw their hold over the people weakening through the transparent honesty of His teaching. They demand that He would show them a sign from heaven; for they had blinded themselves to the fact of His multiplying the loaves and fishes on two occasions, and to what was involved in His many other miracles, for every healing was a sign also.
He therefore speaks to them of what they observed naturally day by day, in order to expose to them their hypocrisy. They had no difficulty in forecasting the next day's weather when they observed the evening sky. As to natural things they read the signs easily. Yet, though they professed to be 1srael's spiritual leaders, and were surrounded by many spiritual signs of the times, they still asked Him for a sign! As well as His miracles of grace and power being signs, the moral condition of the people was a sign; and a most striking sign was the spiritual stagnation and enmity of Israel's leaders! The state of their hearts would certainly not be changed if, for instance, He brought sudden fire from heaven and consumed their synagogue!
He tells them rather that a wicked and adulterous generation sought a sign. Sadducees were specially characterized by wickedness in their doctrine; Pharisees by adulterous unfaithfulness to the truth they professed. The only sign that would be given them was that of Jonah the prophet, his three days and three nights in the belly of the fish typifying the death and resurrection of Christ. What a sign indeed! Yet Pharisees and Sadducees even then united in fighting against it. He leaves them to their empty thoughts.
If in Pharisees and Sadducees we have seen gross unbelief, now we see that the disciples themselves are afflicted by some measure Of this same disease. Having forgotten to take bread with them, they felt that the Lord's reference to leaven is an indirect hint that He was displeased by their neglect. While He was concerned for their spiritual welfare, they virtually accused Him of complaining because of lack of materiel food! How important it s for us at all times to take deeply to heart the truth of God's word, rather than to suspect the motives of the servant through whom God sends it to us.
The leaven of the Pharisees was hypocrisy, which stems from their not taking vitally to heart what they professed to believe, but the disciples show evidence of this very thing by their response. The leaven of the Sadducees was the false doctrine of rationalistic thoughts. The disciples, by their rationalizing, Missed the truth the Lord sought to impress on them. Their very response to Him showed how deeply they needed the warning of His words. Is our need any less than theirs?
His reminder then is necessary as to the simplicity with which He multiplied the loaves and fishes on two occasions, and the abundance left over. Had they forgotten this so soon? Necessary food was a simple thing for Him to care for; but it was no simple matter for them to rightly discern and beware of the corrupting influence of the doctrine of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees.
Verse 13 now initiates a deeply important subject, based upon a mere important foundation. In the far north of the land the Lord Jesus asks His disciples of men's opinion as to who He, the Son of Man, was. This is the foundation of all blessing, whether in the assembly or in the kingdom. The answers show the mere fleshly speculation that influenced men generally. They only reason that a great prophet like this must be the re-incarnation of a former prophet, as though God must resort to duplication, as man does. But how pathetic was the ignorance of those who said He was John the Baptist, for John had been contemporary with the Lord Jesus for many years, and both had been seen together (Mt.3:13-17). Also when God spoke in Mal.45 of sending Elijah the prophet, there was no reason to suppose that this must be literally the same man, as though God would return him to earth to suffer again after having rewarded him with the joys of heaven. Luke 1:17 explains the sense in Which this is to be understood, when speaking of John the Baptist going before the Lord Jesus "In the spirit and power of Elias." John was the same type of prophet as was Elijah.
A question of real importance, however, is now addressed to the disciples, "Whom say ye that I am?" There is no hesitation in the precious answer of Peter, "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God." Both the Messiahship and the deity of Christ are clearly confessed by one who can speak for every true child of faith. "Son of the living God" implies that God is not a mere duplicator, but characterized by living power in all His works, and in Christ this living power is perfectly manifested. The Lord's response to this is precious too. Peter was deeply blessed because he had received this truth as a revelation from the Father, not from any human source. The unquestioning conviction with which he spoke was evidence of this. Indeed, no-one lays hold of this truth in reality apart from the Father's revealing it to him (Ch.11:25-27).
Yet, though He first called him "Simon-BarJona" (son of Jonah), which is his name by natural birth, He adds, "thou art Peter," his name by new birth (Jn.1:42), which means "a stone." Peter had confessed Christ's name. The Lord Jesus in turn Confessed Peter's name as being linked with Him. Christ is the Rock, but Peter is a stone, small indeed, but of the some character as the rock.
In verse 18 the Lord communicates to Peter a marvelous revelation. "an this Rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it." The rock is the truth of Christ's eternal deity, which Peter confessed; for "God--is the Rock" (Deut.32:3,4). Christ is the only foundation of the church, the assembly (1Cor.3:11), for He is Son of God. Clearly, the assembly was future when He spoke this, "I will build my assembly." The beginning of this building is seen in the book of Acts (See Ch.2:47). Peter himself was a stone built upon the rock (Christ), and he speak of all believers as "living stones--built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood" (1Pet.2:5).
"The gates of hades shall not prevail against it." Hades is the unseen condition of the soul and spirit when separated from the body. Throughout history, no matter how many were to die (martyred or otherwise) this would not prevail over the continuance of the assembly. As a testimony on earth she will remain until the coming of the Lord to rapture her to glory. Nor will believers who die be deprived of their place in the assembly: at the time they will be raised and be caught up together with the living saints to be forever with the Lord.
Verse18 is therefore totally the words of the Son of God in building and maintaining His church. Verse 19 adds a matter that is committed to Peter. The Lord would give to him the keys of the kingdom of heaven. These are certainly not the keys of heaven itself, nor the keys of the assembly. The kingdom of heaven is the sphere of Christian profession on earth, a kingdom on earth but with its headquarters in heaven. The keys of course are used to allow entry Luke 12:52 shows one of these keys to be that of knowledge, that is, the teaching of the truth of God. In Matthew 28:19, 20 baptism is connected with teaching, and it appears clear that these two are the keys to which the Lord refers, specially since Peter and the other apostles were sent to baptize, though Paul was not (1Cor.1:17), and in fact Jesus Himself did not baptize (Jn.4:2). In Acts 3:14-41 Peter used both of these keys in declaring the truth to the Jews, and insisting on baptism, with three thousand baptized on the day of Pentecost. He used the same keys with Gentiles in Acts 10:34-48. However, though Peter was prominent in these cases, there is no doubt that others also were entrusted with the same keys (See Acts 8:12; 9:17-18).
As to binding and losing; losing is seen in baptizing, for this involves the public governmental forgiveness of sins (Act 2:38), but binding is seen in Acts 8:18-23, when the forgiveness of Simon the sorcerer was rescinded by Peter when Simon exposed his actual unrepentant condition. Peter told him then that he had neither part nor lot in this matter, for he had manifested his own hypocrisy. Such righteous action by Peter and other apostles was ratified in heaven.
In verse 20 He charged His disciples to tell no-one that He was the Christ. For He had not come to establish His kingdom as the Messiah of Israel: He was leaving His kingdom rather (in a mystery form) in the hands of men for the time, He Himself accepting the Place of suffering and rejection, as He insists in verse 21. He Must at Jerusalem suffer many things from the elders (man's authority), the chief priests (man's religion), and the scribes (man's wisdom), and be killed. But he does not leave matters there: He adds, "and be raised again the third day."
Peter evidently totally missed hearing His last words as to His resurrection. The marvel of this ought to have deeply impressed him; but instead he dared to rebuke the Lord of glory, telling Him that He would surely not experience anything like this. We speak too easily Without thinking!
Peter's ill-advised rebuke of the Lord Jesus required the stern, solemn rebuke of the Lord to him, "Get thee behind me, Satan: thou art an offense unto me: for thou severest not the things that be of God, but those that be of men." Peter, through a false effort to flatter the Lord, allowed Satan to speak through him. Why did he not rather believe the words of Him who cannot lie? Our only real protection from Satanic deception is in the implicit faith that believes the word of God. But Peter had missed God's thoughts entirely, and expressed the mere natural thoughts of unregenerate men. To deny that Christ would die is to deny that He would rise again, yet both were clearly declared in the Old Testament, emphatically so in Isaiah 53.
Verse 24 then is specially significant for Peter and every follower of the Lord. To be a true disciple one must deny himself (including his mere natural thoughts), take up his cross, and follow the Lord Jesus. The denial here is not merely denying oneself certain things, but denying himself. Self is set aside by the application of the cross, which cuts out by the roots all that is merely of the natural man. Only this is true devotedness: Christ must take the place of Self.
If one would save his life (that is, if he would give his life in this world a prime place), he would only lose it: such a pursuit is futile. But one who will lose his life for Christ's sake will find it. If he puts Christ first, it may seem that he is forfeiting his life so far as natural advantage is concerned, but his life will issue in lasting fruitfulness. Selfishness will defeat its own ends, while unselfishness for Christ's sake will gain far more than is given up.
Many have gained tremendous wealth, yet where is the eternal profit? In fact, many of these have been left in abject misery at the end of their lives, to reflect on the sad folly of a life of self-seeking with no regard for the eternal welfare of the soul. Can one then give all his wealth in exchange for his soul? In this matter, his wealth is nothing, though he had gained the whole world.
For the Son of Man will come in the glory of His Father to take rightful possession of all the earth, to dispossess those who think it belongs to them, and to reward every man (saved or unsaved) according to his works. This of course is not His coming for the church, but His coming in power at the end of the tribulation. To impress upon them the reality of the fact of the coming kingdom, He adds that some standing there would not taste of death till having seen the Son of Man coming in His kingdom.
Only "some" were to be given this privilege, that is, Peter, James and John, who were given a precious preview of the kingdom in Ch.17:13. For though the Lord insists that suffering must come first, He wants none to be discouraged, but all to have utter confidence in the prospect of His coming in majestic glory.Only six days intervened before the three disciples witnessed the transfiguration of the Lord Jesus. Luke says, "about eight days after these things," for no doubt he counts the day the Lord spoke, and the day of the transfiguration, while Matthew counts only the intervening days. We are not told what mountain was the scene of this wondrous event, but the high mountain apart reminds us of the majestic greatness of the coming kingdom, high above and apart from the institutions of men. He alone is transfigured, His face shining as the sun, His clothing as white as the light. The shining of His face emphasizes His deity, for the sun is too bright to look upon, significant of the radiance of the glory of God. The pure whiteness of His clothing teaches the apostles perfection of all His attributes. The vision is too dazzling for the natural man to take in or understand, and even Peter fails to discern its great significance.
While the Lord alone is here transfigured in majestic beauty and glory, yet Moses and Elijah miraculously appear with Him. This gives us a brief, fleeting picture of the coming kingdom -- Christ in the place of supreme glory; Moses, typical of saints who have before died and been buried; Elijah representing those who will be. caught up to heaven without dying. This is the heavenly side of the kingdom; while Peter, James and John represent the earthly aspect of it.
But Peter has little learned his lesson from the Lord's words of Ch.16:33. Instead of quietly listening, he is ready to speak without sober reflection. Rather than simply deeply admiring the Lord Himself, he says, "Lord, it is good for us to be here," and adds his own personal proposal, "if thou wilt, let us make three tabernacles." Are we not also often too forward in proposing what should be done for the Lord? In such a case, man's natural desires will come to the fore, for a present kingdom with man exalted. The Lord had before spoken of His death, not of dwelling in tabernacles. But more solemnly still, Peter would give a place of preeminence to Moses and Elijah, as well as to the Lord.
These things must be solemnly reproved by the intervention of God the Father Himself in a miraculous way. A bright cloud over shadowed them, which Luke tells us caused them to fear (Lk.9:34). The Father's voice from the cloud draws all attention exclusively to the person of His beloved Son in whom He finds His delight; and pointedly adds, "hear ye Him." It is He who will give instructions, not Peter. The voice itself caused them further fear, and they rightly fell on their faces. But when the work of serious soul-searching had been accomplished in this way, the Lord Jesus in tender compassion touched them, hiding them to rise and dismiss their fear. However, He was no longer transfigured, and Moses and Elijah had disappeared. They saw no man save Jesus only. The vision was brief, now He is again seen in lowly humiliation, yet the one worthy of undivided attention.
However, though the vision was intended for their present encouragement and instruction, the Lord charges them not to speak of it to anyone until He was raised from the dead. He uses the term also, "the Son of Man," little as they understood that this involved His relationship toward all mankind, not only toward Israel. They evidently obeyed His charge: it was not until much later that Peter wrote of it (2 Pet.1:16-18). His suffering must come before His glory.
Again they miss entirely His words as to His resurrection, but ask about the teaching of the scribes that Elias (Elijah) must first come. Malachi 4:5-6 is very plain that Elijah would come before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord. The Lord Jesus answered that this was true, but that Elijah had already come, and men had done what they pleased wit h him, and would similarly inflict suffering on the Son of Man. Then they rightly understood that He spoke to them of John the Baptist. John was certainly not personally Elijah, but was the same type of prophet as Elijah, one who stood apart from the people, pressing upon them the claims of God's righteousness. This is seen in Luke 1:17: "He shall go before Him in the spirit and power of Elias." No doubt however this is only a partial fulfillment of Malachi's prophecy, for another prophet of the same character will arise when Israel is about to face the horror of the great tribulation. This seems to be one of the two witnesses of Rev.11:3.
Now in striking contrast to the vision on the mount, a man brings to the Lord his son who is tormented by a demon. The man apparently thought he Was both a lunatic and demon Possessed (Cf.Mk.9:17), though Matthew 4:24 makes a distinction between the two conditions. His falling often into fire or water indicates his inability to control his susceptibility to strange temptations.
The disturbed man had brought his son to the disciples, but they could not cure him. It is this that draws out the Lord's lamenting words, "O faithless and perverse generation." For the disciples had been sent for the purpose of costing out demons (Ch.10:1). Their inability then proved both their lack of faith and their perversity, which implies their using wrongly what they were entrusted with. The power given them to cast out demons was not only neglected; it must have been misused, just as we too may misuse abilities given us. Gift is given us to be of help to others, yet we may use it for our own self-gratification, as the Corinthians used the gift of tongues (1Cor.14).
But whatever the failure, the Lord is still the resource: He rebuked the demon, causing it to leave the boy. In Matthew His authority is emphasized, so that there is no mention here of the details of His patient labor, as in Mark, the gospel of the Servant (Mk.9:20-27): the child is cured from that hour.
In answer to the disciples' question, the Lord tells them that their unbelief was the reason for their inability to cast out the demon. "This mountain" of which the Lord speaks then is the obstacle of their own weak spiritual condition. Genuine simplicity of faith would banish the obstacle, and make nothing impossible. Certainly this implies that nothing consistent with the will of God would be impossible, for faith sees the will of God as predominant. It is impossible to have faith for anything that is contrary to His will. He has laid down the path for faith in His word: if we do not follow it, the obstacle is in ourselves.
Verse 21 however shows that there are different kinds of evil spirits, and this kind required prayer and fasting to expel. This does not deny what He has already said, but further explains it; for prayer is the very expression of dependent faith: in fact it is the positive side of faith; while fasting emphasizes its negative side. That is, faith, while depending on God, also judges every selfish motive. These two things connect with verse 17, for "faithless" indicates lack of confidence in God's Positive power, while "perverse" implies the negative attitude of lack of self-judgment. Indulging ourselves is not the real energy of faith, for it perverts the use of God's gifts merely for personal benefit.
Gain (in verse 22) the Lord declares to His disciples the serious facts concerning His imminent rejection, death and resurrection, as He had clearly done in Ch.16:21. In hearing this they were exceedingly sorry, but again missed the wonder of the counsel of God in His promised resurrection.
Back in Caperneum Peter is approached by the collectors of the temple tax and asked if his Master did not pay this tribute. Exodus 30:12-16 had required one half shekel of every Israelite over twenty years. This was only a one-time matter, but the Jews had established the custom of requiring it every year. In Exodus it was called "atonement money," and certainly nothing like this could rightly be asked of the Lord of glory. Yet the Lord does not use this basis in speaking to Peter, but asks him if the king of the earth take tribute from their own sons or from strangers. Peter can only answer, "Of strangers." "Then," the Lord says, "are the sons free." God does not take tribute from His own Son; and in fact the Lord identifies Peter with Himself (though at the time Peter did not understand the truth of sonship) by intimating that neither He nor Peter should be required to pay this tribute.
Beautifully however He shows His kind consideration of men's thoughts in not desiring to offend them, as well as His sovereign power over circumstances. Peter finds in the mouth of the first fish he brings up the money to pay the tax for both his Lord and himself. What a lesson for us not to be insistent on our financial rights: God will care for this, even if a miracle is required for it.Though the Lord Jesus has been seen to forego His own rights, He who is by right infinitely great, the disciples show the opposite attitude in desiring some rights above those of others in the kingdom. This is evident (though perhaps thinly veiled) in their question as to who is greater in the kingdom. They all need the object lesson the Lord gives them. Calling a little child (who obediently comes), He virtually tells them that one who desired greatness would not even enter the kingdom, let alone be great in it. They must be converted, their attitude changed from one of self-seeking to one of lowly dependence as a little child depends upon its parents, rather then seeking to rule its parents.
An attitude of voluntary humbling of oneself as a little child therefore would constitute one greater in the kingdom of heaven. This is not the kind of greatness they were thinking of, but it is what God considers greatness in spiritual character. He adds to this that whoever received such a little child in His name would be receiving Him. This consideration of the weak and dependent is an indication of what one's true thoughts are toward Christ Himself.
On the other hand, one who is guilty of offending a little one who believes in Him is offending the Lord Himself. It would be better for him to be thrown in the sea with a millstone tied to his neck than to be guilty of such an offense. No doubt not everyone would agree that death is preferable to sin against God, but it is true.
The Lord pronounces a woe against the world because of offenses. These are things that tend to make souls think less of the truth of God, and the world is full of such deceitful efforts. It is inevitable that offenses will come, and souls are tested by such causes of stumbling. Of course if one stumbles it is his own fault if he remains lying on the ground: it is foolish to put his confidence in one who stumbles him. But the man who is guilty of this offense comes under a sentence of a solemn woe.
Therefore verse 8 brings the matter home to the individual conscience. If one's hand or foot offends him, let him cut off the offending member. This is swift, summary judgment. It is not here a question of offending God or another, but personal conscience being offended by personal actions or walk. Unsparing self-judgment is the only way of dealing with this, not of course a literal cutting off, but a spiritual refusal of the evil in myself. An unbeliever never does honestly judge himself; therefore he will be cast with all his members into everlasting fire.
Nor is it only the actions of the hand or the walk of the foot that must be judged, but also the sight of the eye. Men know it when they see something that bothers their own conscience. Ignoring conscience is dangerous, and may lead to a searing of it that leaves one almost insensible to its protests. But again if one never judges the evil that his eye sees, he is not a believer: he will be cast with two eyes into hell fire.
It may be that in only looking at a little one men will despise the child, but verse 10 is a serious warning. That child, if dying in childhood, would not be cast into hell fire, but his spirit in heaven would always behold the face of the Father. "For," He adds, "the Son of Man is come to save that which was lost." Children too are lost, just as are adults, but where adults are concerned, Luke 19:10 shows that they need to be sought in order to be saved. As regards little ones, their wills have not been turned against God as is the case of those in older years. Certainly for them too it was just as necessary that Christ should suffer and die as for the most wicked adult, but he has not as yet formed the character of rebellious self-will that afflicts those older.
The parable of the lost sheep is however applied even to little ones, and the shepherd mentioned as going after and seeking that which had gone astray. It is not that this is primarily applicable to little ones, but the fact that the Lord Jesus would show such concern for any individual lost sheep shows His concern for little too. The joy in one being found is greater that in ninety-nine who had never gone astray. Of course this ninety-nine represents those who self-righteously consider themselves as never having been lost, while "the lost" are those who recognize their lost condition. Of course all are by nature and practice lost, but many refuse to admit it. However, the Father's tender care for little ones is a most important feature of the kingdom of heaven: it is not His will that one of these should perish.
Verse 15 calls upon us to have genuine consideration for our brethren too, as well as for little children. The case in point will seriously test the reality of our own faith and love. This is a case of a specific sin of serious character, not a small thing that should be forgotten, nor one in which there can be any question of doubt, but a fact of sin that is clearly established, so that the offender cannot dispute the fact. How good if this matter may be kept entirely from the knowledge of others! True faith and love would lead one to go alone to the offender in genuine concern for his true blessing. Certainly he should go in the spirit of Gal.6:1: "in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted." "if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother." The brother has accepted the gentle reproof and has been restored in his soul. Precious result indeed! James 5:19, 20 adds to this that such good work will "hide a multitude of sins." For it will nip in the bud what otherwise might be spread so widely as to badly affect many others.
If, however, the offender high-handedly refuses to listen, then the matter must be communicated to one or two more, so that two or three going together will emphasize the seriousness of the sin that has not been judged. This should so impress the offender that he ought at least now to consider that his sin must be faced. When it is said, "that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established," this does not mean there is any question of establishing the person's guilt, for this has already been established, but rather it is to be clearly established what response the offender makes to this genuine effort to restore him. If this bears good fruit, then at least only two or three have been aware of the matter beside the offender. If honestly judged, it is to be dismissed and forgotten.
If the man still refuses to listen, the matter is to be told to the gathered assembly, -- not gossiped about from one saint to another, but told solemnly with all humility, so that the assembly will delegate some to speak again to the guilty person, on behalf of the assembly. The necessity of this is a most serious matter, for if he refuses to listen to the assembly, this is arrogance that calls for decided action. The individual now is to regard him "as a heathen man and a publican," that is, as though not even a believer.
Assembly action is not here directly spoken of, but it is nevertheless implied in verse 18, where the word, "thee" is no longer used, but "ye." In a case such as this, what the assembly binds on earth is bound in heaven. God fully backs up the action of the assembly in binding upon the offender the guilt of his arrogance, which involves their putting him away from their fellowship. 0n the other hand, losing is just as important a matter, for if putting away serves to drive the soul in self-judgment to the Lord to find restoration, then the assembly is to be ready to restore publicly also, and this will be ratified in heaven.
Even after one has had to be put away from fellowship, the Lord offers another recourse: if two of you shall agree." Intercessory prayer on the part of only "two of you" brings the promise of the Father's answer. Even if the assembly does not engage in such prayer (possibly because not as concerned as they should be as to the restoration of the offender), the prayers of only two untidily gathered to the Lord's name will have special effect.
"For," He adds, "where two or three are gathered together unto my name, there am I in the midst of them." This promise is deeply precious. The only true Christian gathering is to the name of the Lord Jesus, and when this is true, He promises His presence in the midst. "To His name" implies subjection to His authority. If gathered to a denominational name, this involves denominational authority: in such a case, how can we possibly expect the presence of the Lord?
Our verse shows, however, that not only can we expect His presence in the midst of the assembly when gathered to His name, but even in the midst of two or three when it is honestly to His name they are gathered, though it is not a gathering of the assembly. This is appreciated encouragement to engage in fellowship prayer with only one or two others who may be exercised as to matters of serious importance before the Lord.
Peter however now raises another question. Is there to be a limit to our forgiving one who sins against us? In the previous case the brother had not acknowledged his wrong. If the brother will bear, however, there is virtually no limit to the number of times he may be forgiven; for who would be inclined to keep track of the "seventy times seven?"
The Lord's illustration as to the kingdom of heaven is most pointed. The king's servant who owed ten thousand talents is typical of everyone of us by nature and practice, for our debt of sin has been tremendously beyond our ability to pay. Righteousness demands satisfaction, and the man faces the tragedy of losing everything, including, his wife and children and his own freedom. He pleads for mercy and time to pay, so that his lord compassionately forgave him the debt. This illustrates the fact that anyone whom God forgives has been forgiven a debt that is for beyond the possibility of our ever paying it.
Certainly we should therefore have the same forgiving spirit toward others. Yet this servant, though entreated by his fellow servant to have patience with him, is adamant in demanding payment of a debt of a hundred pence, and has him imprisoned till he should pay the debt. He himself had owed 700,000 times as much, yet forgets how he has been shown such great mercy.
Other fellow servants have observed this painful action, however, and it is good to see that they were not merely angry or bitter, but "very sorry." They tell their Lord, who calls the offending servant to account. Calling him a wicked servant, he reminds him that had received mercy when helped for it, and asks if he ought not to have shown similar compassion toward his fellow servant. The man's forgiveness was rescinded, and he was delivered to the tormenters, evidently confined to the rigors of prison until he should pay all his debt. This was a righteous recompense for his having done this to his fellow servant.
This case is one of governmental forgiveness, for it is dependent on some fitting response on the part of the one forgiven. Many have been baptized, professing some acceptance of the faith of Christianity, and thereby entering the kingdom. But later they expose the emptiness of their profession by their evident despising of grace. Simon the sorcerer is a case in point. Though publicly forgiven through baptism, he had not been born again, and later exposed his actual unbelief. Peter then publicly rescinded his forgiveness (Acts 8:9-24).The setting now is changed from Galilee to Judea, with great crowds following Him, finding healing from their illnesses. But since the Lord Jesus has been announcing a kingdom of a different character than anything preceding it, then matters of fundamental character arise. He has frequently said, "But I say unto you," thereby setting aside what others have said or inferred. What of the question of marriage? The Pharisees raise this with ulterior motives, for they think they can trap Him. They ask, "Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife for every cause?" Evidently this was a matter of controversy between Israel's religious leaders, some even considering it permissible to divorce a wife if she spoiled a meal.
But the Lord makes it transparently clear that the basic, original order in creation is not to be changed, but affirmed by the truth of the kingdom of heaven. God, in creating both male and female, made a marked distinction between them, but in marriage indicated a unity of vital character. Because of God's manifest order in creation it was right that a man should leave his father and mother and cleave to his wife. This verse settles many questions. First, when marriage takes place, the man (or woman) is no longer in the place of subjection to parents. Secondly, he cleaves to his wife:--only one wife, so that bigamy and polygamy are absolutely unscriptural. Cleaving to his wife involves genuine love for her, and faithfulness and devotedness.
The two are then recognized before God as being "one flesh." It is God Himself who has joined the two together. Therefore man has no authority to divorce them. Governments today of course ignore God's decree in this matter, but the word of God will not change to accommodate men's preferences. Marriage was from the beginning intended to be a binding agreement so long as both individuals remain alive.
Yet we know that throughout the Old Testament these things were ignored. Many (even believers) had more then one wife. The Pharisees too thought they could prove the Lord wrong by referring to Deut.24:1, which speaks of Moses, the lawgiver, instructing that if a man had found some uncleanness in his wife, he could give her a bill of divorcement and send her away. This bill of divorce was to guard against a man's cruel treatment of a wife by discarding her while not leaving her free to be married to any other.
However, the Lord's answer to this is most penetrating. Moses had allowed this because of the hardness of their hearts, but from the beginning it was not so. How clearly this shows that the law itself was not at all the manifestation of God's heart! In this case law was more permissive than is the grace of God! For grace enables one to surmount difficulties in a way that law could never do.
Therefore, confirming what was implicit in creation, the Lord adds, "And I say unto you, Whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and who so marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery." The one exception allowed here is because the marriage bond has been so violated as to be virtually broken already. If the one party is guilty of fornication, then it would not be adultery for the other party to divorce the first and marry another. But the one who married the party put away for fornication would be guilty of adultery.
Today many other complications have arisen because of careless ignoring of the word of God, but the Lord leaves the matter with only this basic declaration. 1Corinthians 7 adds somewhat more that is intended for the serious consideration of believers, and since it is written to the church of God, also gives helpful principles as to maintaining assembly order in regard to such questions.
Verse 10 seems to indicate that Jewish custom had so obscured the sanctity of marriage that the disciples felt the Lord's instructions to be so exacting that to remain single would be preferable. But they had not stopped to consider the most important matter of the guidance of God in marriage. If this were sought and submitted to by both parties, how much ensuing difficulty would be avoided!
The Lord's answer is perhaps more accurately translated in the Numerical Bible, "Not all have capacity for this, but those to whom it hath been given," that is, not all have capacity to remain unmarried, though some do. Some were by nature eunuchs, being born as such. Others had been made eunuchs through the cruelty of men, as slaves deprived of their sexual powers. Other still, however, had voluntarily made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven's sake. Then He adds that this is only for those able to receive it. Therefore, as to the third class, there is a spiritual explanation. Rather than one being a literal eunuch in this case, he willingly denies himself the privileges connected with marriage in order to devote himself entirely to the service of the Lord.
The kingdom of heaven then calls for faithfulness and honor in the marriage bond. No less does it call for proper respect for the family relationship, the becoming consideration of children, as is seen now in verses 13 to 15. When young children were brought to the Lord, the disciples evidently thought that the kingdom was too advanced a matter for their tender age, and they rebuked those who brought them. Many believers still have virtually the same attitude.
But the Lord corrects them with firm, decided words. They must not hinder, but willingly permit little children to come to Him, "for of such is the kingdom of heaven." For, if the church of God includes only those who are born again, the kingdom includes families of those who own the Lordship of Christ. In fact we have before seen (Mt.18:3) that anyone who enters the kingdom must do so in the spirit of a little child. Now it is made clear that little children are fully welcome there. He laid His hands on them.
Verse 16 speaks of one who comes to the Lord, but not as a little child. He is in earnest, no doubt, but his words show confidence in his own ability to do something to earn eternal life. In this case the translation should read, "Teacher, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life?" This is not the simplicity of a little child, and the Lord asks why the man inquires concerning good, for only one is good, that is, God. Since the man is not good in himself , how can he expect to do a good thing ?
The Lord does not give him the Gospel , for he is not ready for it, but rather refers him to the standard God had given by Moses as regards doing good. To enter into life (life on earth, not eternal life) let him keep the commandments. The man asks, "Which?" Did he think any of them could be ignored? But the Lord lists only those that have to do with men's responsibility toward others, not including those God ward. Why? Because the men was not thinking of God, but of goodness in himself. Was he really satisfied with his measure of keeping these commandments ? He said he had observed all these things from his youth but he was not satisfied. How could he be? For he had actually ignored the vital question of his relationship toward God. He knew he lacked something, and it was a matter far more serious than he realized: he lacked the knowledge of God. What a shock must have been the Lord's answer to him! If he desires perfection, let him sell what he has, give to the poor, exchanging his riches for treasure in heaven, and follow the Lord. If he had by faith only known the Lord, and really loved his neighbor as himself, should this have been so unthinkable? He went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.
Such works as those of verse 21 require implicit faith in the Lord Jesus. This was what the rich man lacked. We do not know whether these words of the Lord might have had such effect on him that he would later realize his need of the pure grace of God. No doubt the Lord's words were designed to this end. But at the time the Lord speaks of the extreme difficulty of a rich man's entering the kingdom of heaven. In fact, He goes farther in verse 24, for it is impossible for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, as the Lord indicates in verse 26. The tendency of rich men is to trust in their riches, so that the Lord has proposed a rigid test: would he choose to trust his riches or trust the Lord? The amazement of the disciples was due to the fact that under law God had promised great increase to those who obeyed it, and too often riches were considered a sign that the possessor of them must be keeping the law. This was not by any means always the case, for in fact all were guilty of breaking the law. But if his riches only strengthened him in his claim to be keeping the law, then the riches were a hindrance to his realizing any need of the grace of God. On the other hand, the Lord adds that with God all things are possible. He alone is able to break down the pride of the rich, to no longer trust in themselves, but in the living God. Some rich have indeed been brought to God, though as Paul says of the wise and mighty and noble, "not many" (1Cor.1:26).
Peter's answer to the Lord however (v.27) shows even in a true disciple some lack of that implicit faith that fully trusts the Lord. It was true that the disciples had left their own means of livelihood to follow Him, though Peter himself had not been rich. But he asks, "What shall we have therefore? Was it not enough to him to have the Lord's own presence and approval?
Yet the Lord assures them of reward far greater than they would have imagined, that in the regeneration, which is the total change of things in the millennial age, the twelve would sit on twelve thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel. Of course this did not include Judas, for twelve is simply a represent active number. Judas had not in heart followed the Lord, so another would take his place.
Not only would the apostles be rewarded, but everyone who had forsaken houses or brethren or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands for His name's sake would receive an hundredfold, and also inherit everlasting life. This forsaking does not mean giving up any sense of responsibility in regard to these relationships; but it does mean giving Christ supreme place, so that none of these things hinder our prime responsibility to Him.
Receiving one hundredfold does not only speak of reward in heaven, but even in this life the spiritual reward will be great. Compare Mark 10:30, which speaks of receiving, "now in this time, houses and brethren and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions." This of course is spiritual recompense; then it speaks of eternal life as connected with "the world to come." Certainly the believer has eternal life now, and eternal life goes beyond the world to come; but that life will be enjoyed more fully then than it can be in present circumstances.
"But many that are first shall be last; and the last first." If we desire a first place, we shall likely find ourselves last: if we are now content with a last place, we may find the Lord giving us the first. Paul found no difficulty whatever in these matters. For the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus his Lord he willingly suffered the loss of all things, counting them only refuse, not something to be regretted, but gladly given up for something infinitely better (Phil.3:7-8).The principle of the first and the last is now illustrated in a most penetrating parable of the kingdom of heaven. The householder goes out early in the morning to hire laborers to work in his vineyard. God does not actually hire men in this way, but men think so, and Israel particularly, under law, considered themselves so hired. Those hired early in the morning agreed together with the householder to work for a denarius a day. Others hired at the third, sixth, ninth and eleventh hours made no agreement as to their wages, but simply depended on the honesty of their employer.
At the time of reckoning, however, the last hired were called first to receive their wages, each receiving a denarius for their work, though some worked only an hour. The first hired were last paid; and since the others had received a much as they, they complained that they had borne the burden and heat of the entire day, yet received no more that those only working one hour.
No doubt our first reaction as to the matter would be similar to theirs. Why? Because of the natural selfishness of our hearts. The employer pointed out that those hired first had agreed to a denarius for the day's work. They were treated perfectly rightly. The others were treated with remarkable grace. To them he had shown exceptional goodness. Should the others then have been resentful, because they had not received more? No: actually they should be thankful that others had received as much as they. The agreement had been on the legal principle of a just recompense for work done. Israel, if they had obeyed the law, could expect no more then they had bargained for. If God would deal with others in grace, as He has done with Gentiles today, then they ought to be glad, if indeed they loved their neighbors as themselves, as the law required.
The others had made no agreement, but simply depended on the goodness of the householder, and found him to be most gracious. Israel had preferred the legal principle, therefore could not expected to be treated with grace, but with justice. Then why complain at the outcome? What a lesson for us all! Let us take to heart the fact that God does not merely hire men for wages, but delights rather in those who willingly serve Him because they trust Him to do right. These will find Him to be not only just and fair, but abundantly gracious. The last therefore are those who do not bargain for t heir own rights, but in genuine faith depend on the grace of God: in their case, God will see to it that they become first. The first are those who put themselves first, exercising the legal principle of demanding justice. Therefore they receive justice: they are made last. This verse of course connects with Ch.19:30; but the Lord adds "for many be called, but few chosen." Compare also Ch.22:14. The few chosen are those who depend solely on the grace of God.
Now the time has come for His last journey to Jerusalem, and He takes His disciples privately apart from all others, to forewarn them of what must transpire there. In serious, plain language He tells them that He, the Son of Man, would at Jerusalem be betrayed into the hands of the chief priests and scribes, to be condemned to death. More than this, they would deliver Him to the Gentiles to be subjected to mockery and scourging and the cruel death of crucifixion. Of course such words ought to have profoundly affected them; but He adds what is more striking still: the third day He would rise again. They knew Him to be absolutely dependable, always speaking pure truth, get in spite of His words being so explicit, it seems they entirely missed the force of them. Have we also not too frequently missed the force of His plain words in Scripture ? Perhaps they thought it impossible that what He said could be literally true, and considered there was some spiritual explanation that they did not understand.
The precious character of the Lord Jesus in submitting to suffering and death has been seen in verses 18 and 19. How sadly contrary to this is the selfish request of the mother of James and John. She does worship Him (at least outwardly) before making it. Do we similarly think that our worshipping will influence Him to give us our own way? She asks that her two sons might sit, one on each side of Him in, in His kingdom. May the Lord keep us from having any such aspirations for our children or for ourselves.
It may be that her sons had asked her to intercede for them in this matter, for it is them (not simply her) the Lord answers. He tells them they are ignorant of what they ask; and questions if they are able to drink of the cup of which He will drink, and to be baptized with the baptism with which He was to be baptized. In self-confidence they answer, "We are able." though they did not realize the significance of what He said, for He was speaking of suffering and death, not of exaltation such as they desired.
As to their identification with Him in suffering and death, He tells them, yes, they will have this in serious reality (not because they were able, but because divine grace would enable them). As to their being exalted to His right hand and His left, He, as the lowly Man of sorrows, seeking no glory even for Himself, had not come to communicate such rights to men: that was in the Father's hand. Just as He left His own vindication and exaltation in the hands of the Father, so He left in His hands all that concerned the eventual exaltation of believers-
However, the other ten disciples, on hearing of the selfish request of James and John, were moved with indignation toward them. Why? It is evident they would have liked some such position for themselves. Would faith not have left that matter calmly to the Father's own wisdom? For faith certainly would recognize that the Father would do what was perfectly right and good apart from the selfish desires of men. The grace of the Lord Jesus is most precious how ever, as He first calls them to Himself before He gently reproves and corrects their unbecoming attitude. He speaks of Gentile policies in government, that men are put in places of prominence to exercise authority over the people. It is natural for men to want this right to give orders. But the Lord reverses this: He tells them, "It shall not be so among you." He who desires to be great should rather take the place of a ministering servant. Or further, if one wanted the first place, let him rather be a bondsman, a virtual slave. This surely reduces the pride of men to nothing .
But He himself is the supreme example. Though entitled to the highest place, He has come in lowly grace to minister to the need of mankind, and as the totally devoted Bond men has gone to the extent of giving His life a ransom for many. For how many? 1Timothy 2:6 answers, "for all." The ransom is available for all, but its value applicable only to those who receive this blessed Redeemer. He who is Lord of all has taken the lowest place of Servant of all.
He leaves Jericho on the last journey to Jerusalem, with great crowds following Him. Mark and Luke mention only one blind man at this time, no doubt to draw attention to individual personal faith; but Matthew speaks of two, a witness becoming to the gospel of the kingly glory of the Lord Jesus. Likely one was the chief spokes men, but on hearing that Jesus passed by, they plead for His mercy, using His royal title, "Lord, thou Son of David." The crowd, irritated by their crying, want to silence them. But this only induces them to increase their crying out. Faith will not be silenced by popular opinion. In fact, the Lord waited to answer until they showed this evidence of serious concern.
"And Jesus stood still." Such is His heart of tender care for those in need He asks them, what do they specifically desire? They have no doubt as to what is their most pressing need, as Israel in a coming day will realize the seriousness of their spiritual blindness and cry out for mercy. At present the nation is sadly blinded, but determined not to admit it, so she has found no relief. Immediately the lowly appeals made to Israel's true Messiah, the men find Him full of compassion. He touches their eyes and they receive sight without delay. This is then a lovely picture of what will be true for the nation Israel when eventually they acknowledge Jesus as both Lord and Son of David. The men spontaneously follow the Lord.It is a moment of most serious significance as the Lord is now about to enter Jerusalem. He is to be publicly presented to Israel, yet in lowly grace, not in power and majesty. Two of His disciples are sent to the village (perhaps Bethphage, "the house of unripe figs") in which they are immediately to find an ass tied and a colt with her. Only Matthew mentions the mother: Mark, Luke and John speak only of the colt. For the mother speaks of Israel's long history of rebellion and in subjection, while the colt (though unbroken) is typical of the new spirit of obedience that will eventually be found in Israel when she is turned back to the Lord and willingly gives Him control. The disciples are told, if they are questioned, to reply that the Lord has need of them, for this supersedes all man's rights of ownership.
In keeping with the character of his Gospel, Matthew tells Us that all this was done to fulfill prophecy, quoting Zechariah 9:9. How arresting a scripture for any who had ears to learn its meaning! For kings invariably were presented In great pomp and dignity, at least riding a superbly beautiful horse. To come in meekness, rather then in authority, and riding a colt of an ass rather then a war horse, is so totally contrary to a king's usual presentation that Israel should have been awakened by such a prophecy, so as to recognize this occasion as its clear fulfillment.
The disciples willingly give Him their own clothing as a saddle. Verse 7 seems to imply that He set on both animals. Of course He could have done this by turn, but the other gospels speak only of the colt. Perhaps however the thought is intended to be conveyed that His riding the colt infers a similar burden being felt by its mother.
A very great crowd is impelled by the sovereign power of God to lay their garments on the road that He travels, others cutting down branches from the trees to spread them in the way. Spontaneously they are prompted to proclaim Him as the Son of David, coming in the name of Jehovah, this declared by all the crowds going before and those following. The Jewish leaders had certainly not arranged any such thing, as would be expected in the advent of their Messiah, but without arrangement God worked in men's hearts so that there would be a public presentation of the Messiah such as could not be ignored by the leaders, however strongly they disapproved (Cf.Luke 19:39).
All the City was moved, yet with such ignorance as to have to ask, "Who is this?" The answer of the crowd, however, does not go back to His birth in Bethlehem, but only to His having dwelt in Nazareth of Galilee, which would not encourage the favor of the proud city of Jerusalem. In announcing Him they had acclaimed Him as Son of David: why then was there not more emphatic conviction in their answer? Perhaps they had been impelled at first to proclaim more than they realized the significance of.
In perfect consistency with His rightful dignity as King, He purged the temple from the pollution of those who bought and sold in it. Earlier in His ministry He had done the same (John 2:13-17). but the greed of man is determined even to corrupt the sanctuary of God for personal gain or advantage. He quotes from Isaiah 56:7 to fasten on these men the shameful quilt of what they were doing. God's house was a house of prayer, but they had made it a den of thieves, He tells them. This was scathing, solemn language, but they could not resist Him, for their own consciences bore witness that He was right. In lovely contrast to their grasping character, He heals the blind and the lame in the temple, a beautiful picture of how things will change in the temple when this blessed Messiah is manifested to Israel at the end of the great tribulation compare Malachi 3:1-4.
His works of grace are so striking as to move even children in the temple (not only on the road into the city) to cry out, "Hosanna to the Son of David." The word hosanna means, "O, save," thus giving honor to Him as the 0ne able to save the nation Israel. This offends the chief priests and scribes, but their protest to Him is moved by nothing but envy. They apparently want Him to silence the children. But they themselves are silenced; for He does not assume any defensive attitude, but quotes the positive words of scripture, "Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings host Thou perfected praise." Though the leaders of Israel refused to give their true Messiah the praises of which He is worthy, God would see to it that even babes would do so. God Himself was rebuking the pride of these self-centered rulers by means of babes and sucklings! He returned outside the to Bethany (the house of affliction) to lodge for the night. Though announced with great enthusiasm in entering Jerusalem, there was really no more room for Him there then there had been at the inn of Bethiehem. Affliction remained His portion until death.
Again returning to the city in the morning, He was hungry, just as He hungers for some response to His love on the part of Israel. A fig tree was in the way, but He found nothing but leaves on it. The fruit appears before the leaves on the fig, but in this case there was no fruit at all, an abnormal condition. What a picture of Israel's state of having borne no fruit for God in spite of the many leaves of profession of godliness! Mark tells us, "the time of figs was not yet" (Mk.11:13), indicating that it was not yet time to harvest the figs, therefore this was not the reason for their absence. He pronounces a curse on the tree, to the effect that no fruit would ever again grow on it. Very soon afterward the fig tree withered away.
This is typical of Israel's condition today. Originally she had been a vine brought out of Egypt and planted in a pleasant vineyard, but had brought forth wild grapes. The result was the total desolation of the land (Isa.5:1-7), and the nation carried away captive. Luke 13:6 however speaks of a fig tree planted in a vineyard, which pictures the remnant of Israel returned from the captivity. In this case, no fruit resulting after three seasons, the owner of the vine yard proposed cutting it down, yet in patience waited for another season before carrying out the suggestion. God too has been most patient with Israel before eventually pronouncing (by the lips of the Lord Jesus) the curse upon that nation, under which she has suffered since the rejection of the Messiah.
The disciples marvel at how quickly the fig tree withered away. Just so, it is most amazing how quickly after the crucifixion of Christ Israel was reduced to nothing, scattered from her land, and losing all national status, her hope virtually dried up.
In answer to the disciples' marveling at how quickly the fig tree withered away, the Lord tells them that if they have unquestioning faith, they themselves could not only do what was done to the fig tree, but could, by speaking to a certain mountain, cause it to remove and be cast into the sea. It is certainly not that faith decides what it wants to do. Faith rather depends on the will of God had decided that the fig tree (Israel) would wither: faith therefore could act upon God's will in the matter. Just so, the specific mountain, the obstacle of Israel's opposition to the truth, would very soon be set aside by God, in fact cast into the sea of the Gentile nations. The faith of dependent confidence in God could discern this, and therefore speak prophetically about the matter. For faith makes no independent decisions: it confides simply in the word and will of God; and His will in this matter could have been found in His word (the Old Testament). Consider for instance Deut.28:15-68, specially verses 64 and 65.
On the same basis we may fully expect answers to prayer. Faith, believing God's word, asks in accordance with this (1John 5:14): it does not ask because of personal preference, but because it believes God whose will is paramount returning to the temple He is challenged by the chief priests and elders as to His authority for what He was doing, no doubt including His purging the temple, and who gave Him this authority. Manifestly they have mind only man's authority, and are not prepared for His simple, discerning response to their question. Was the baptism of John from heaven or of men? These two sources of authority are put in clear contrast, and He will test them as to whether they were willing to recognize heaven's authority if it was presented to them.
But they are trapped by their own dishonesty. For honesty would have admitted John's authority to be from heaven; yet they had not accepted his testimony, and to admit the truth would have greatly embarrassed them. On the other hand, to say John's baptism was of men would have incurred the displeasure of the common people whom they wanted as followers, for the people knew that John was a prophet. Of course too, what men could they point to who had given John such authority? No Jewish authorities had done this (Cf.John 1:19-27). They answer, "We cannot tell."
Appropriately therefore He replies that He will not answer their question. For they had confessed themselves incompetent to judge as to the question of authority. Of course the Lord's authority come from the same source as did John's, from heaven: if they would not face this in John's case, neither would they acknowledge it in the Lord, whether He told them or not.
The illustration He then gives them emphasizes the seriousness of deceitfulness. Whether or not it is intentional at first, yet a promise without performance is not honesty. The first son refused at first to work, but afterwards repented and obeyed. The second promised to obey, then coolly disobeyed. He asks the chief priests and elders which of these did the will of his father. Of course they can only answer, "the first." The application of this whole matter is then so transparent that they themselves could not dispute it.
Tax gatherers and harlots, though rebellious at first, could enter the kingdom of heaven because they repented; while these religious leaders of Israel remained outside because their promise to serve God was false. John the Baptist had come "in the way of righteousness," to call for repentance on the part of all, but the leaders disbelieved him: they considered themselves without need of repentance, for they had very respectfully told God that they would obey Him. But tax gatherers and harlots took to heart John's message of repentance. The leaders saw this, get would not repent of their own dishonesty.
Another parable now goes further in illustrating the fact that evil defended will not stand still, but will progress in more deter mined, hateful form . The vineyard of verse 33 is clearly the same as seen in Isaiah 5:1-2, though it is not here a question of the fruit of the vine, but of the caretakers of the vine yard. The owner did everything in regard to establishing the vineyard, providing for its preservation (a fence to separate Israel from the nations); its producing of wine (that which, through pressure, could bring joy to the heart of God); and its protection through watchfulness (a tower). His going into a far country implies God's withdrawing from direct intervention in Israel's government, in order to leave this in the hand of Jewish authorities (the husbandmen).
Of course, the husbandmen, being renters, were responsible a to give some return of the fruits to the owner; but when servants were sent to receive this, they were viciously treated, being beaten, stoned, or killed on more than one occasion. This is a plain reference to Israel's treatment of the prophets sent by God, many of whom had been murdered, including John the Baptist only recently.
Finally the owner sent his son, as God has, in infinite goodness sent His own Son. It was only right, and to be expected, that the husbandman would show some respect for the son of the owner, but recognizing him as the heir, they see an opportunity of securing the vineyard for themselves by killing him. This accurately portrays the avarice of Jewish rulers in their determination to have complete control of the nation, therefore rejecting the Son of God.
The Lord then asks the chief priests and rulers their opinion as to what the lord of the vineyard should do as regards the husbandmen. Unaware that they are passing sentence on themselves, they speak strongly to the effect that the lord of the vineyard would be expected to "miserably destroy those wicked men," and let the vineyard out to others who will render the fruits in season.
This opens the way fully for the Lord to quote a scripture (Ps.118:22-23) that they had totally ignored, yet which speaks so pointedly, "The stone which the builders rejected, the same is become the head of the corner: this is the Lord's doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes." How clear is the prophecy that the true Messiah of Israel would be rejected by Israel's leaders, yet be made eventually head of the corner, the most important of all the stones in reference to God's building up of Israel. After the great tribulation Israel will be brought to use this verse, their hearts and minds being deeply affected, for they will see it to be the doing of Jehovah in great wisdom, and they will marvel.
Yet the Lord presses the truth of it solemnly upon the chief priests and elders at the time, so that they had not slightest excuse. He insists that the kingdom of God would be taken from them (for this would result from their rejection and murder of the Son of God), and given to a nation bringing forth the proper fruits. The Jews assumed they would have the kingdom, but they were allowing it to slip out of their fingers. The authority they did have in Israel would be totally taken from them. The nation bringing forth the fruits thereof appears to be the nation Israel restored to blessing in the age to come, when eventually receiving Jesus as their promised Messiah.
Meanwhile also the builders who rejected this Stone (that is, fell on it in opposition) would be broken, as indeed took place in Israel's rapid breaking up following the death of Christ. Yet this was not the end. This Stone would yet in terrible judgment fall upon His enemies and grind them to powder. The chief priests and Pharisees recognize the plain reference to their callous apposition, but only confirm the truth of His words by seeking to lay hands on Him.Jesus now answers the chief priests and Pharisees with a parable of a very different nature, a parable of the kingdom of heaven. The parable of Chapter 21 has shown Israel as under law, responsible to return to God some results of the blessing with which He had entrusted them. Under responsibility they had not only failed, but had proven themselves rebellious against proper authority. The kingdom of heaven takes on therefore a different character in the present dispensation, no longer that of demanding of men that they give to God what they ought to, but that of God's gracious giving to man what man does not deserve.
However, this is beautifully intermingled with the honor of the Son of God. For the king here is seen to provide a wedding feast for his son, not primarily for the guests. God is above all honoring His Son; yet guests are invited to share with Him in giving their honor to Him also, though they are the recipients of the feast that is given altogether freely. Those who were invited are plainly the Jewish nation, who had been foretold In Old Testament scriptures of this great blessing of God to be brought to them by the advent of their Messiah, the Son of God.
The first servants sent to call them are those who companied with the Lord Himself, bearing witness of His own truth and grace. But these who had refused to respond to God's rights in requiring obedience to law were just as callous in refusing His great kindness in dealing toward them in grace. They would not come.
After verse 3 the cross intervenes, for the "other servants" are those sent to Israel in the first seven chapters of Acts, their message being that the dinner is already prepared, the oxen and fatlings killed, which infers the sacrifice of Christ having totally prepared salvation for His people, so they need only to receive it, and are urged to do so. But despising the second message of grace, one goes to his farm, just as Jews have chasen the works of their own hands rather than God's provision of grace. Another Chooses his merchandise, a means of earthly gain rather then heavenly riches. These things have characterized Israel from that day. The rest bitterly persecuted God's servants, even to the point of killing them. This is plainly fulfilled in the book of Acts.
In anger the king metes out a just recompense. It was the Roman armies that God sent against the land, destroying Israel's murderous authorities and burning up the city of Jerusalem in the year 70A.D.
The message then goes out to all who may be found. Israel's rejection gives occasion to the gospel being proclaimed world-wide, with its unlimited invitation the servants respond, however, not with simply giving the invitation, but by gathering together all they could find. Many have found it more palatable to form a denominational organization and gather people into this, rather than to present the gospel invitation that will bring souls directly to the Lord . Of course, this is not actual obedience to the Lord's commission, the result being a mixture of believers and unbelievers. Such is the condition of the kingdom of heaven today.
The king therefore in his coming sees a man without a wedding garment. This was an actual insult to the king, for a wedding garment was furnished by the host when the invitation was given. One's neglecting to wear it was an affront to the best. The garment speaks of Christ our righteousness, for only "in Christ" is anyone acceptable in God's presence. The man, being questioned, has no answer. When the Lord judges, no one will dare to open his mouth in self-defense.
The sentence is dreadfully solemn: bound hand and foot, he is cast into outer darkness. His callous attitude toward the King determines his banishment from the King's presence, Which must be total darkness, for in Christ only is true light. Weeping indicates the remorse of this deserved torment; while gnashing Of tooth shows a rebellious will that stubbornly refuses to yield.
Though the parable the Lord but spoken at the beginning of this chapter was one of manifest grace, the opposition of the Pharisees only smolders more strongly against Him. They plot together to entangle Him in His speaking, but succeed only in entangling themselves. Though usually not friendly with the Herodians, they will enlist their help against the Lord. Both were opposed to Him, yet t hey bear witness to the fact that He is true, teaching the way of God in truth, and not influenced by the persons of men nor by their Mere opinions. Of course they say this because they want to ensnare Him by flattery, and He certainly knew well their wickedness. No doubt they wanted Him to declare that it was not lawful to give tribute to Caesar, so that this would give them occasion to accuse Him before the Roman authorities. Yet they themselves hated the thought of giving tribute to Caesar.
He does not hesitate to call them hypocrites, and asks them to show Him the tribute money. They have to acknowledge that it bears Caesar's image and superscription, an evidence that Israel was under bondage to Rome. Of course it was for their own sin that God had allowed this, though their pride resented it. But they must learn to bow to their own shame. His answer is as simple as it is wise: "Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's," but He adds what strikes hard at their calloused consciences, "and to God the things which are God's." They were guilty of ignoring this, and God had allowed Caesar's oppression with the object of awakening their consciences as to God's claims.
Pharisees and Herodians being put to silence (and marveling), the Sadducees come in childish self-confidence with a question they are sure will prove the Lord's teaching to be false, and establish their own evil contention that there is no resurrection. They propose a most unlikely case, using as a basis the provision in the law for one's marrying his brother's wife (if his brother had died) to raise up children in his brother's name (Deut.25:5). If seven brothers in succession had married a woman, all dying without children, then they think the Lord is in a hopeless predicament as to which brother would have the woman in the resurrection.
His answer is most simple, but He presses on them first the error of their own thoughts, due to their ignorance of the word of God and of the power of God. They were limiting God to the confines of their own narrow conceptions, as though in resurrection God must return man to conditions identical with such as prevail at present. Among other Old Testament scriptures, Isaiah 64:4 would have at least reproved their narrow thoughts. He tells them that in the resurrection marriage has no Place. Just as among the angels there is no question of difference in sex, so it will be in resurrection life. For resurrection introduces a totally new condition of things.
Then He refers them to the words of God in scripture as clear, Positive proof that there must be a resurrection of the dead. After Abraham, Isaac and Jacob had died God spoke of Himself as their God, not that He was their God, but "I am" (Ex.3:6). God is not the God of the dead, but of the living: therefore these men are living,--not their bodies, of course, but their spirits and souls. This being so, then it is imperative that their bodies will be raised again, for man is not complete unless spirit and soul and body are united (1Thess.5:23).
The argument of the Sadducees then is totally refuted, and their doctrines exposed as guilty ignorance. The crowd in hearing these things were astonished at the Lord's teachings. The simplicity and force of these could not be avoided, and the crowd generally were more fair-minded than the leaders, recognizing the rightness of what He said, whether or not it had vital effect on their hearts.
The Pharisees, hearing of the defeat of the Sadducees, again gather together in hope of finding some occasion to trap the Lord Jesus, and one of their lawyers takes the lead by asking Him which is the great commandment in the law. The answer is more simple than they had expected, for their blind religious prejudice was such that they did not even think of God's glory as being of first importance. The Lord quotes from Deut.6:5, which sums up the first four commandments in insisting on love toward the Lord God with all the heart, soul and mind. But He adds, that the second is similar in its importance, summing up the last six commandments, "thou shall love thy neighbor as thyself." He leaves nothing out, for as James tells us, "whosoever shall keep the whole law, and get offend in one point, he is guilty of all" (Jas.2:10). He will not allow them to argue that any one law is unimportant. But these two are basic to the entire law with all of its ordinances, and to all that is written by the prophets. Of course the Pharisees knew it would be folly for them to take issue with His answer, however uncomfortable this made them feel.
While they are still gathered together, He, having answered all their subtle questions to their own discomfiture, asks them a question of the greatest possible importance, "What think ye of Christ? whose son is He?" This is a matter that ought to have engaged their most profound interest and concern, for Old Testament scriptures were full of prophecies concerning Israel's expected Messiah. Yet in pathetic ignorance all they can answer is, "the son of David."
Certainly this was true, but how far was it from the full truth! Had they never considered such scriptures as that which the Lord Jesus now quotes? David himself called the Messiah "Lord" in Ps.110:1, for only of the Messiah could this verse be true, "The Lord said unto my Lord, Sit thou on my right hand, till I make thine enemies thy footstool."
If Christ is therefore David's Lord, how is He his son? Observe that He does not deny He is David's son., but asks "How?" Sadly, they are dumb with silence. For they resisted the truth of His greater glory which scripture declared, that He is Son of God. Both are true: He is first the root of David, as Son of God, and secondly, the offspring of David as Son of Man (Rev.22:16). His question puts an end to their caviling questions. Before such a person every mouth is stopped.The Lord now turns to speak to the entire crowd, His disciples being mentioned as included. He warns them against the hypocrisy of scribes and Pharisees, for they sat in Moses' seat as enforcers of the law, but considered themselves exempt from its responsibilities. Yet he does not excuse the people on account of the hypocrisy of leaders. So far as they propounded the law of Moses, He tells the people to obey, but not to follow their example. For they laid heavy burdens on the people's shoulders, but would not ever lend a finger to help them. How empty and cruel is the prejudice of legal - minded men!
Their own works were not those of lowly submission to God, but such things as they thought would impress men. They made broad phylacteries, which were head-bands with the law inscribed in them, taking Exodus 13:9 literally "a memorial between thine eyes"), rather then having their eyes opened to see its moral significance. Numbers 15:38-39 had spoken of a ribbon of blue in the borders of the Jews' garments (not only of leaders), and those they enlarged so that others would notice them. But the true reason for them was that, in seeing the ribbon, the wearer would be reminded of heaven's authority, and therefore to obey the commandments of God.
With the intention of impressing Men, the scribes and Pharisees loved to have the prominent Places at feasts and chief seats in the synagogue. Of course this is nothing but immature vanity, a childish desire to be noticed. It is the same as regards their love for being greeted in places of concourse and of being called "Rabbi," which is 'Teacher.' Well might Romans 2:21 remind such men, "Thou therefore which teachest another, teachest thou not thyself?" The teaching of the law should deeply humble those who are taught, but Pharisees used it for their own self exaltation.
Such titles as Rabbi (Teacher) or Father or Master (Leader) are neither to be given to men, nor are men to accept them. The Lord is plainly speaking in a spiritual sense, for of course a natural father is entitled to be called such by his children. But designations which put one in any place of spiritual prominence are to be totally refused. Men may invent variations of these such as "reverend," which is worse, for the title means "worthy of reverence."
On the other hand, scripture is clear that there are those who are in a spiritual way "fathers" (1Cor.4:15), "teachers", "Pastors," "evangelists" (Ephesians 4:11), and "leaders" (Heb.13:17--J.N.D.trans.), but to give or to accept a title as such is strictly forbidden by the Lord. Only Christ has a right to the title "Teacher" or "Leader," and only God the Father in heaven is entitled to being designated "Father." "All ye are brethren," He insists; that is, none are above others, but on the same plane.
In God's eyes therefore the one who takes the lowly place of servant is greater, if comparisons are to be made. If one were to exalt himself, he should be abased; but he who humbles himself shall be exalted. This is a purely divine principle, pre-eminently seen in the Lord Jesus, who humbled Himself to the lowest place of ignominy and suffering, now exalted to the highest place over all the universe.
In total contrast to this, seven solemn woes are now pronounced against scribes and Pharisees (for verse 14 is not found in authentic manuscripts). The Lord does not hesitate to call them "hypocrites," for theirs was a mere pretense of spirituality. First, they were against the truth, deliberately hindering men from entering the kingdom of heaven, refusing it themselves and depriving others of receiving its blessings. To defend their own pride they were willing to make others suffer.
Secondly, they sought by every means to make even one proselyte, for they desired their own authority over men, and if they could proselytize a Gentile to the Jewish religion, this was a great triumph for their pride. Then they made hi m double the son of hell than they were themselves, bolstering men's unseemly pride in their religious zeal and dignity. Pride is the very thing that drags men down to Gehenna.
The third woe (v.16) calls them blind guides, dealing with their perverting the truth to suit their own whims. They gave permission to men to swear by the temple, though forbidding to swear by the gold of the temple. But the temple was the dwelling of God. The gold was sanctified by the temple: it received its importance because connected with the temple. Similarly, the fundamental truth of the altar they degraded, while the gift upon it they considered too sacred to swear by. Yet the altar speaks of the person of Christ, which sanctifies the gift, which speaks of His sacrifice. Certainly His sacrifice is precious, but He Himself is greater than His sacrifice. Therefore one who swore by the altar was thereby swearing by it and by whatever was offered upon it. He was virtually swearing by Christ and by everything connected with him.
If one were to swear by the temple, he was actually swearing by the living God who dwelt in the temple. Men think lightly too of swearing by heaven, and many use the words, "heavens" as an ejaculation, but heaven is God's throne, and such swearing involves swearing by Him who sits upon the throne. All of these things indicate a deficient recognition of the supreme honor to which God is entitled.
The fourth woe is a denunciation of their show of being meticulous in trivial matters while ignoring for more serious matters which the law required, judgment, mercy and faith. Fairness of judgment in discerning between good and evil was to them a matter of no Importance compared to tithing the smallest, most insignificant items of income. Mercy toward others in need was also ignored; and faith, the one principle of any true relationship with God, was forgotten. They ought to have put for more emphasis on these things, while of course not neglecting the small things, but not making them the matter of prime attention. It is evident that blind guides are worse than none at all. But the Pharisees had no excuse, for they were able to find the gnat and strain it out of their diet, but oblivious to the Camel, they swallowed it.
The fifth woe reproves the mere exterior purity the Pharisees assumed, with correct formal observance of religion, while they were inwardly full of extortion and excess, given to dishonest dealings with others and to lustful self indulgence. They are told therefore to cleanse first the inside of the cup and platter, which is by all means the most important; but He adds, "that the outside of them may be clean also." Clearly He does not mean that the mere literal cleansing of the inside of a cup will result in the outside being clean, but rather that this will be the result of one's cleansing of his inner motives. True spiritual cleansing inwardly will have a proper outward result.
The sixth woe is similar, but emphasizes their effort to make themselves attractive to men while inwardly there was only the corruption of death. White washed graves appeared beautiful, but this only concealed the bones of dead men similarly, their show of righteousness was a more cover-up of hypocrisy and wickedness.
The seventh woe now denounces the hypocrisy of their professed regard for prophets and righteous men who had died. They would build memorials to them and decorate their graves, avowing that they, if they had been living when these were, would not have participated in rejecting or murdering the prophets. But they were the sons of these murderers: they had precisely the same attitude, for they still refused their word while pretending to honor them. Their animosity against the Lord Himself was the same as that of their fathers against the prophets. Their own attitude was a clear witness against them. They would fill up the measure of their fathers by their rejection and murder of the Lord Jesus .
His scathing words, "Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers" ought to, and may have, awakened: some of them to the dreadful seriousness of their being identified with the scribes and Pharisees as a class. At least Nicodemus was delivered from them (Jn.7:50-51; 19:39), and later Paul (Phil.3:5-7), so that they escaped the damnation of hell; though the Lord's question was a gravely serious one for those who clung to the pride of their religious prestige.
These very men would prove themselves sons of the murderers of the prophets, for the Lord Jesus Himself would send to them prophets and wise men and scribes, who would suffer at their hands crucifixion and death in some cases; in others scourging and persecution from city to city. Whether they thought themselves capable of this cruelty or not, they fulfilled these words later.
In verse 35 the Lord declares a Most solemn principle, fastening Upon the Jews the guilt of the blood shedding of all righteous men from Abel to Zacharias. This evidently embraces the whole Old Testament, for it seems clearly to refer to Zechariah the prophet, son of Barachias (Zech.1:1). Another Zechariah, son of Jehoiada, was martyred in the court of the temple (2 Chron.24:20-21), but the son of Berachias prophesied much later than this, to the returned remnant. It seems an Unusual coincidence that both would be killed in the court. In this case the martyr was apparently engaged in actual priestly service, being the grandson of Iddo, of the priestly family (Zech.1:1; Neh.12:1-4), and killed between the temple and the altar. This emphasizes the cold-blooded ruthlessness of his attackers, with no regard for God's glory symbolized in the temple and the altar.
Because "this generation" was still in practical character identified with their guilty fathers, they partook of the same guilt. We cannot escape this principle, that we bear the responsibility of that with which we are identified, though much may have occurred before our day. So today the church of God on earth bears the shame of many disobediences in the past. We cannot lightly ignore this.
However, the Lord's words are not all solemn, stern denunciation. He heart expands in tenderest concern in verse 37, while declaring the fact of Jerusalem's stoning and killing the prophets. His Godhead glory again shines out in His words, "How often would I have gathered thy children together as a hen doth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!" As the glory of God departed from the temple in Ezekiel's day (Ez.11:23), so that glory would now depart in the person of their true Messiah, for He was about to be crucified. This would leave their house ( not now called God's house) desolate.
That desolation too would remain far longer than anyone would then have imagined. Over 1950 years have passed, and the temple has not even been rebuilt.
The blessed Messiah of Israel, rejected then, will not be revealed to Israel until, coming in great power and glory, He will draw forth their adoring ejaculation, "Blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord."He leaves the temple, and in Matthew is not seen there again. What can it be now without its proper Inhabitant? But the disciples draw His attention to the ornate buildings that were really only the work of men's hands. He tells them solemnly that of all this grandeur not one stone would be left upon another. Not many years later (in 70A.D.) the Romans destroyed the city and burned the temple. It remained in a ruined state for many years; but it is reported that the Emperor Julian "the apostate," who had once embraced Christianity, then turned scornfully against Christ, ordered the Jews to return to build up the temple again, having the object of proving the Lord's prophecy false. However, the Jews, in finding the building so badly damaged, decided to take it all away and to build anew. It was fully demolished then, but they were hindered from even beginning to build again. Thus the effort to prove the prophecy of the Lord false was the very means by which it was proven true!
The mount of Olives now is the site of the Lord's enlightening discourse on prophetic events. It was from there He ascended., and will return there at the end of Israel's tribulation (Mk.11:1; Lk.24:50; Zech.14:4). This is a private conversation with His disciples, not intended for the world, but for those who profess faith in Christ. Their first question is "when shall these things be?" He does not enlighten them as to the time, however. It is the facts that were of importance then, not merely the chronology, which they would be unable to recognize until. they knew their own place (as the body of Christ) in the counsels of God.
We have seen that Matthew writes from a Jewish point of view, and this must be remembered in this chapter. The Lord was speaking to Jewish disciples, who of course thought only of the Jewish age, in their questioning Him. In this chapter therefore, up to verse 44 the present dispensation of grace is not considered at all, for the subject is really the end of the Jewish age. From verse 45 to Ch.25:31 however, the present age is in view, though in veiled, parabolic form. Then Chapter 25:21-46 considers the Gentile nations.
He warns them not to be deceived by the falsehood of many who would come claiming to be Christ. While these verses 5-8 apply specifically to the first three and one half years of Daniel's seventieth week, yet of course similar things have been seen during our present age. As to wars and rumors of wars they were not to be troubled about this, or nations in conflict. Famines, pestilences and earthquakes would occur in many places. These things would be only the beginning of sorrows, signs of things more serious to come.
The persecution and martyrdom of believers will be prevalent then, though we knew this has been anticipated during the entire history of the church on earth. Christians have been hated too, even though not being of the godly remnant of Israel. False prophets also have arisen during this age, as they will at the end. "As ye have heard that anti-christ shall come, even now are there many antichrists" (1John 2:18), by whom many have been deceived. After the church is taken, lawlessness will abound, causing the love of many to wax cold. This is the great apostasy: what appeared to be love on the part of many will issue only in cold indifference to the claims of God. Even now we see the portents of this before the rapture. Mere profession is being tested, and will prove empty.
However, at that time those who endure to the end, particularly Jews who in vitally awakened faith maintain simple confidence in the living God through all the tribulation, will be saved for earthly blessing in the millennium. During the tribulation the gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world for a witness to the nations: then the end will come. This Witness will be to the effect that Christ is about to come and establish His kingdom on earth. In the present church age, it is the Gospel of the grace of God that is emphasized, not the gospel of the kingdom.
It is plain from verse 15 that the Lord addresses the disciples as being representative of the remnant of Israel, for the erection of "the abomination of desolation" is even now still future, yet He says "when ye therefore shall see this standing in the holy place, let those in Judea flee to the mountains. Daniel 9:27 and 12:11 are to be compared here, and connected with Rev.13:14-15. The abomination that results in desolation is idolatry introduced by the anti-christ into the holy place, the temple in Jerusalem, which will take place at the middle of Daniel's seventieth week, and which will result immediately in the three and a half years of "great tribulation." This image to the beast (the head of the revived Roman empire) will be a direct challenge to God, for it gives Rome God's place of Protector of Israel. God will therefore send "a desolator," the king of the north, to overflow the land of Israel with a sudden thrust as of a whirlwind (Dan.11:40).
One on a housetop is warned not to try to save anything from his house, but to escape immediately. If in the field, one ought not to return to his home even for necessary clothing. Such will be the rapidity of the attack. Pregnant women or mothers With nursing babies, unable to travel quickly, will be exposed to great suffering. They are told to pray that they should not be compelled to flee in the winter, nor on the Sabbath day, when travel was limited to a few miles. Of course the cities of Judah, particularly Jerusalem, will be the object of attack.
The "great tribulation" will be the most dreadful the world has ever seen or ever will see. It is called in Jeremiah 30:7 "the time of Jacob's trouble," for Israel will be the center of it; get Revelation 3:10 speaks of this as "the hour of temptation which shall come upon all the world, to try them that dwell upon the earth." All the world therefore will have its share in this unparalleled time of suffering. But this same verse shows that the church, having been raptured to heaven, will have no part in that hour. Except for the mercy of God in shortening those days, no flesh should be saved. For the Lord will appear in less than the full three and one half years, when many nations, gathered in Israel, will be determined to exterminate one another. While the day of grace has been lengthened far beyond any indication that Old Testament prophecy gave concerning it (now over 1950 years), the day of judgment will be shortened. This appears to be indicated in Rev.12:6, where the remnant of Israel, fleeing out of Jerusalem to the wilderness, will be sustained of God for 1260 days, 18 days short of the three and a half years. When the Lord appears to deliver her, she will no longer need this refuge.
Verses 23-26 need not be confined to the last three and a half years, however. No doubt through the entire seven years men claiming to be Christ will foist themselves upon the public, some showing great signs and wonders, as will be true of the anti-christ, the man of sin (2 Thess.3:12). In fact, even today there are many antichrists (1John 2:16). Even the elect must be on their guard, for the deceptions of such men are most plausible. The elect here are of course the godly elect of Israel. But the Lord has forewarned them, so that they have no proper excuse for being deceived.
There would be reports that Christ was in the desert (as though another John the Baptist): they were to refuse such reports. Others would claim that He was "in the secret chambers," that is, that He had come secretly, invisibly So-called Jehovah's Witnesses have made this wicked claim; for they had prophesied that Christ would come in 1918, then when this did not take place, they invented the contemptible deception that He had come invisibly. Other such foolish claims will yet be made, but the Lord speaks emphatically: the coming of the Son of Man in power and glory will be as the lightning shining from east to west, sudden, bright, and evident to all the world. He does not here speak of His previous coming for His saints, but that will be just as evident to all who have part in its great blessing.
This coming of verse 27 is plainly in judgment, as verse 26 confirms. "The carcass," the corrupt condition of both Israel and the nations, will draw "the eagles.," the executors of a well deserved judgment.
The immediate result of the tribulation would be the darkening of the sun and the light of the moon failing, stars failing from heaven, and the powers of the heavens being shaken. Whatever may be the precise physical disturbances indicated by these, their spiritual significance is of more importance. The light of the sun being darkened speaks of men's total ignorance of God, the supreme source of light. The moon speaks of Israel as responsible to reflect the light, but having failed utterly in this. The stars falling implies apostasy of those once professing heavenly light, but failing to the level of earthly-mindedness. "The powers of the heavens" remind us that "the heavens do rule" (Dan.4:26); but these powers will be shaken by the most determined rebellion against God that history has seen; yet only "shaken," not disposed of; and only shaken in men's eyes, for "He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh: the Lord shall have them in derision" (Ps.2:4).
This terrible tribulation will culminate with the sign of the most tremendous magnitude, that of which the Lord spoke to the high priest when He was a r rested, "the Son of Man sitting an the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven" ( Mt.26:64). The tribes of the land (of Israel ) will mourn (Cf.Zech.12:9-14; Rev.1:7). This is the event toward which all history has looked forward, of which Enoch prophesied early in the world's history (Jude 14-15), the prophets also declaring it with one concerted voice. Observe however that this is totally distinct from the rapture, the truth of which was a mystery (not a subject of prophecy) before Paul was inspired to reveal it (1Thess.4:15-18); and which will take place a full seven years before this awe-inspiring revelation in power and great glory.
Verse 31 has sometimes been wrongly applied to the rapture. At the rapture the Lord will not: send His angels: He will come Himself for believers (1Thess.4:16). The trumpet will sound, but this clarion call at the rapture is intended only for the saints of God, dead and living. In contrast, angels with a great voice of a trumpet are sent to gather the elect of Israel from every direction back to their promised land, which will be at the end of the tribulation. Compare Isaiah 27:13. The feast of trumpets (Lev.23:23-25) symbolizes this.
The parable of the fig tree connects directly with this, for the fig tree speaks of Israel returned to her land after the captivity. When brought out of Egypt, Israel was seen as a vineyard in a fruitful hill (Isa.5:1-7), but after the captivity is called "a fig tree planted in His vineyard" (Lk.13:6-9), for it was only a remnant that returned, and then only of Judah and Benjamin. Not bearing fruit after patient labor (of the Lord Himself on earth and of Hi s disciples in the early history of the book of Acts-- up to Chapter 7), the fig tree was cut down, and Israel has for centuries been reduced to nothing. Yet "there is hope of a tree, if it be cut down, that it will sprout again" (Job 14:7). In fact, we have already seen Israel sprouting, returning to her land, becoming a nation again. She is at least very close to putting forth leaves, so that we know that the summer of millennial blessing is not far away. The generation that sees the leaves break out on the fig tree will see the fulfilment of this blessing.
The truth of this is emphasized in verse 35. Though heaven and earth pass away, not so with the Lord's words. We have every evidence today that the time is near. Yet the day and the hour of it are reserved for divine intelligence. Many have defied this declaration by setting dates, which efforts have proven only their own folly. Though faith is watchful, expecting His coming very soon, it would be unbelief to suggest any date or time for this.
The days of Noah are likened to conditions which will exist at the time of Christ's coming as Son of Man. Before the flood men lived in indifference to what the word of God had warned, continuing eating and drinking, marrying, etc., with no attention paid to the testimony of God. Noah had warned them, but they "knew not until the flood came and took them all away." So at the coming of the Son of Man in judgment men will be taken by surprise in spite of the fact that many previous warnings have been given them.
Verses 40 and 41 show that the judgment will not be sessional, though selective. This is not the rapture, for it speaks rather of one being taken in judgment, the other left living. In each case the one is taken evidently by death. Whatever may be the means of death, the power and wisdom of the Lord is in sovereign control of this, allowing those only to die who are His enemies, while preserving the others alive, except in the case of these who will be killed as martyrs, who will inherit greater blessing in heaven (Rev.20:4).
As the period of awesome tribulation judgment draws to its close the Lord will come, but in an hour not previously known by anyone. Therefore men are told to watch. At that time He will come as a thief , unexpected and unwelcome, so at least let men be ready. At the rapture (which is earlier) He will not come as a thief (1Thess.5:4), but for expectant believers. Verse 44 ends the Lord's consideration of Israel in this prophetic discourse, pressing the fact of His coming then as Son of Man.
From verse 45 to Ch.25:30 the subject is that of a separative judgment in connection with the professing church, no longer with Israel. The servant in verse 45 is seen therefore to be given a special trust in being set over his Lord's household, with the object of his providing food in due season. Is this not the proper character of every believer today? For all in the assembly are given gift by which to nourish one another (Eph.4:7). If the Lord in coming (at the rapture) finds one carrying this out faithfully, He will reward him with the blessing of setting him over all His goods. This compares with the precious dignity of reigning with Christ (Rev.5:9-10).
On the other hand, if the servant is merely a professor of Christianity, with no heart for the Lord, he is an evil servant, who has no real faith as to the coming of the Lord. He will therefore expose his hardness of heart by ill treatment of his fellow servants (others who serve the Lord), and careless association with self-indulgent worldlings. In his case the Lord will come in judgment, not the rapture, but at a later time, unexpected nevertheless, for he will have learned nothing by the fact of believers having been taken to glory when the Lord comes at the rapture. He may have mocked at those he called hypocrites, but will be consigned to weeping and gnashing of teeth together with hypocrites, for eternity! Weeping indicates remorse, but gnashing of teeth shows there will be no repentance, but a miserable attitude of stubborn rebel lion which will find no opportunity to express itself."Then," that is, at the time when things must be brought to their proper conclusion, "shall the kingdom of heaven be likened unto ten virgins." These take lamps to go forth to meet the bridegroom. The church is not looked at as the bride here, but from the viewpoint of responsibility to bear a light, a witness for the One who will yet come. The five wise are true believers, the five foolish not so, and got outwardly claiming to be, for they also "go forth to meet the bridegroom," and they carry lamps. But their lamps have no means of shining, since they take no oil (typical of the Holy Spirit) in their vessels, the vessel signifying one's body. For in this present dispensation, "if any one has not the Spirit of Christ, he is not of Him" (Romans 8:9). The wise have oil in their vessels, together with their lamps.
In waiting for the bridegroom, however, they all grew heavy and slept. For years the church became insensible to the truth of the Lord's coming, until in the 1800's there was a great awakening as regards this matter of vital importance. No doubt this was the cry at midnight, "Behold the bridegroom; go forth to meet Him." Since that time this has been kept prominently before the eyes of men, whether or not they take it to heart. The virgins have trimmed their lamps, with the object of allowing the light to shine brightly as a witness to their faith in the Lord Jesus.
But it is not enough to have trimmed lamps. The lamp may even look very attractive, but the reason for its existence is that it may produce light; and to do so it requires proper fuel.
The foolish virgins, having no faith, appeal to the wise for oil, for their lamps were going out. Some have claimed because of this that the foolish must have had the Spirit at one time, then lost the Spirit. Of course this is not true, for they took no oil in their vessels. It is possible to light a dry wick, which will flicker briefly with an unpleasant smell, and go out. The unbeliever cannot be a real testimony for Christ.
But the child of God cannot give the Spirit to others: they refer them to the proper sources. As to "buying" the Spirit, the terms are clearly expressed in Isa.55:1: "without money and without price." The foolish going to buy oil does not indicate any real turning to God in their need: to them it evidently seems a mere formality: they procrastinate too long.
The coming of the bridegroom (v.10) is plainly not His coming in judgment, but His coming to rapture Home to His presence His redeemed saints. Being ready, they go in with Him to the marriage. As to this occasion we read of "a door opened in heaven" (Rev.4:1), and in our present chapter, "the door was shut." No true believer will be missing, but others will be shut out.
Then the foolish pray, but too late: their demand for admittance is denied: He tells them simply, "I know you not." They had no claim of relationship to Him whatever. Verse 13 concludes with the serious warning, "Watch therefore, for ye know not the day nor the hour." The last phrase in the King James Version "wherein the Son of man cometh" does not have authority in the original manuscripts: this coming for the church is not His coming as Son of Man.
The parable following also indicates the absence of the Lord for some time in view of a future coming, but adds the aspect of His leaving His servants in charge of His goods. The far country is of course heaven, where He ascended following His resurrection. He has given talents varying according to the ability of each individual. This differs from the pounds of Luke 19:13, each there being given the same.
The measure of gift is different in different cases (Eph.4:7; 1Cor.12:4) God knows the ability of each individual, and distributes gift according to this. Ability itself is not gift, but gift is given only as one has ability to use it, though certainly all have ability of some kind.
Of course there are other measures beside the five, two, and one talents, but these are mentioned to illustrate the truth as to all . The five and two are given to true believers, the one talent given to a man who proves to be not saved at all, for he conceals his Lord's talent in the earth, indicative of a mind set on earthly things. Both of the others gain 100% in trading.
The Lord's coming involves a day of reckoning. The re ports of the first two are similar, and the words of the Lord to each are the same, "Well done, good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful in a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy Lord." What believer does not deeply desire to hear these words from the Lord's lips? This is the proper portion of those who have walked by faith, whatever differences there may have been as regards gift and ability. Here, though the gift is different, the reward is the same. In Luke, where the trust is the same, the reward is different because there are different measures of gain (Ch.19:16-18). There the one pound given to each servant appears to correspond to "the faith which was once delivered to the saints" (Jude 3), that is, the precious truth of the word of God, which is the same communicated to all, by which believers gain, but each in differing measure. The reward is an incentive, but it is not the motive of service: the motive the Lord rewards is that of love toward Himself.
The servant who had received the one talent comes last to give account. He excuses himself from any responsibility by claiming to know that the Lord was hard and demanding, on which ground he said he was afraid and therefore hid the talent in the earth. He is a more professor of Christianity, who, though responsible to act for the Lord, does nothing because of his fear of men. The Lord's answer is solemn and to the point, calling the man a wicked and slothful servant. If he had been persuaded of the Lord's hardness, why did he not at least invest the money where he could receive interest? His excuse was totally inconsistent. Who indeed will have any valid excuse for treating the Lord's goods with indifference?
The talent is taken from him and given to the servant who had ten talents. Observe that the servant had gained these ten talents for his Lord, yet the Lord had allowed him to keep them; for it is said, he "both ten talents." How contrary was this to the wicked servant's claim that his Lord was "a hard man!"
The principle is then emphatically laid down that to one who has shall more be given, and one who has not shall be deprived of what he first received. This is the clear distinction between one who has faith and one does not. The latter has no intention of pleasing the Lord, and can expect the consequences Of this. This man's being cast into outer darkness is the awesome end In eternal punishment. Weeping indicates remorse, but gnashing of teeth shows there is no repentance, but the bitterness of stubborn rebellion, yet restrained so that it cannot be expressed in action.
Verse 31 now introduces the subject of the Lord's coming in reference to Gentiles. Therefore it is said, "When the Son of Man shall come in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him." It is certainly not the Lord's coming for His saints, as in verse 10, but His coming at the end of the tribulation period, when He will assert His title of authority over all the earth. Whether His sitting on the throne of His glory indicates a literal sessional judgment may be a question Daniel 7:9 -14 and Joel 3:12 seem to indicate that His sitting in judgment will embrace the various conflicts in which the nations are involved, over which He will, in sovereign authority, accomplish His own discerning judgment in every case. Of course Gentile nations will be gathered in hordes to the land of Israel at that time, some against the nation Israel, others intending to defend them.
At least, whatever the case, He will separate between the sheep and the goats, the sheep being at the right hand of His approval, the goats at the left hand of His refusal. He knows how to express His approval to the sheep and to welcome them to the earthly kingdom prepared for them from the foundation of the world. This is a contrast to the portion of the church, God's heavenly people, who have been chosen in Christ "before the foundation of the world" (Eph.1:4).
He speaks to them of their showing Him many kindness in times of special need. For He forgets nothing that is done for His sake, though they have no recollection of what He speaks of. Faith does those things that are right and considerate without expecting any recognition for it, so that, as the hymn reads, "Little things we had forgotten He will tell us were for Him."
The King answers their question by telling them. "Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto Me." There seems to be no doubt that He is referring to the godly remnant of Israel as His brethren, those who have, during the tribulation, borne some witness for Him, however feeble, and have been shown kindly consideration by these Gentiles, though suffering greatly even from their own natural brethren, the proud leaders in Israel. But the Lord so delights in them as to consider that, as they are treated, so is He treated. This is no less true today (See Acts 9:4).
How tremendous is the contrast between verses 34 and 41! Instead of "Come," His word is "depart:" instead of "ye blessed of my Father," it is "ye cursed:" instead of "the kingdom prepared for you," it is "everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels." That fire was not prepared for them, but they chose this by the very fact of their negative attitude toward the Lord Jesus.
He does not refer to their works of positive evil, but to their ignoring Him as expressed in their ignoring the needs of His brethren. This is their serious sin of emission. Nothing is said of the positive guilt of the rich man in Luke 16, though he lived in ease and luxury. But he ignored the poor man Lazarus, who was laid at his gate only desiring crumbs from his table. But the rich man died, and lifted up his eyes in torment (v.22-23).
The solemn issue as regards these "goats" of the nations is that of eternal punishment. At the time of this judgment death takes place, of course, and already they will be in torment, though the judgment of the great white throne will be a thousand years later, and only then will they be actually cast into the lake of fire (Rev.20:11-15). The righteous go into life eternal. They will be blessed in the millennial earth, but this is only the beginning of their portion of eternal blessing. Notice that, though nations are gathered here, the judgment is not national, but individual.The Lord Jesus has now "finished all these sayings." Only when His prophetic word, with its every dispensational bearing, is complete does the King, in calm, conscious authority, declare to His disciples that the time has arrived for His being betrayed to be crucified, and on the day of the Passover.
The chief priests, scribes and elders assemble together in the high priest's palace, plotting His death, but with other plans than what the Lord has declared.
Having no sense of honor, they plot to take Him by subtlety, but not on the pass over day, because of their fear of the people. Such is the Counsel of men! But "the counsel of the Lord, that shall stand" (Prov.19:21).
How precious is the gathering in the house of Simon the leper in contrast to that in the palace of the high priest! Here at Bethany (the house of affliction) the Lord had raised Lazarus from the dead only a few days before. Matthew does not mention (as does John 12:2) that in Simon's house "they made Him a supper" nor that it was Mary who brought the alabaster box of ointment. For Matthew's Gospel is that of the official glory of the King, and the name of the woman is not important. As the Son of God in John, however, His personal interest in her is precious to see.
Again, it is said she poured the ointment on His feet, wiping them with the hair of her head. Matthew and Mark only speak of her pouring the ointment on His head. Of course she did both, but in John the adoration of her heart in worship of the Son of God is emphasized, while in Matthew the anointing of the King is foremost. In Mark His being anointed for service is the important matter.
The indignation of the disciples is a sad comment on their lack of discernment. It was evidently Judas who began this agitation (Jn.12:4) because of his own greed, but the others too speak of this action of Mary as a waste. The Lord's defense of her stands in precious contrast to their unholy criticism. What she had done was a good work. All the ointment, expensive as it was, was expended on the Lord Himself, not on others, nor even on the Lord's work. He valued such affection for Him. This was virtually her last opportunity of anointing Him, for within two days He would be crucified, and the women who came afterward with their anointing spices and ointments were too late (Lk.23:56; 24:1-3).
The Lord credits the women who had anointed Him with her doing this in view of His burial, whether she fully understood this or not. The disciples could do good to the poor at any time; but they missed the blessing that was hers in giving Him the comfort of true affection at the time of His deepest suffering. In verse 13 He adds a most striking prophecy that wherever the Gospel would be preached in all the world this would be told for a memorial of her. Its importance is impressed on us by the fact that all four Gospel writers record it, and this record is eternal.
Judas learned nothing from His words. If he could not get money by one dishonorable means, he would try another, though it involved treachery to his Master, the direct contrast to the devotion of Mary. She had given freely to the Lord: Judas asks the chief priests, "What will ye give me?"--little realizing that the thirty pieces of silver would only cause his conscience to burn with awful remorse. Sadly, his record is eternal too! He watches for the first opportunity to procure this sordid gain.
The feast of unleavened bread arrives, the day the Passover must be kill (Lk.22:7), the most momentous and awesome day of history. Matthew says little as to the Lord's instructions to the disciples in regard to preparing the Passover but indicates simply that the King is in perfect control, as they obey His word and make ready the Passover feast. Of course the Jewish day began at 6.00 p.m.: the Passover was kept that evening, and in the morning by 9:00 o'clock the Lord was on the cross.
As they are eating the Passover the Lord uses an indirect means first to awaken exercise in the conscience of Judas, "Verily I say unto you, that one of you shall betray me." How good to see that the disciples were "exceeding sorrowful" to bear this, rather than indignant against the guilty man. In fact, in wise distrust of themselves, they ask in turn, "Lord, is it I?" His answer to this was that the betrayer would dip his hand in the dish with the Lord Himself. This act would show a brazen attitude of resisting his own conscience. God's counsels would be fulfilled as regards the Son of Man going to the cross; but He pronounces such a woe upon the betrayer as to indicate it would have been good for him not to have been born.
Since the others have asked the question, Judas can hardly remain silent, but asks, "Master (not Lord), is it I?" For he is stubbornly determined to do his own will, therefore can hardly use the word "Lord." The Lord answers with an emphatic "Thou hast said," implying, "as you suggest, so it stands." The unhappy man., in spite of the Lord's showing him that He knew his plans, would not turn from the folly of his headlong course. Evidently at this point Judas went out (John 13:26-30). Of course, even if he did not, we today are clearly commanded not to break bread with one known to be a covetous deceiver (1Cor.5:11).
In the midst of all the sorrow pressing upon Him now, the Lord takes ti me to introduce the most precious, simple memorial of Himself in reference to the great sacrifice He was about to make. The Passover feast had been observed, for it pointed forward to the death of Christ. Now the Lord's supper is to take a place of greater importance, for it is to be a memorial of His great sacrifice. The simplicity of it is beautiful. The bread and the cup, for each of which He gave thanks, are the simplest staples of man's sustenance, but how eloquently they speak of the body and blood of Christ. Simple as it is, this observance has proven for more precious to the saints of God than any Passover could ever have been, for its spiritual significance can be well understood by the saints of God since the Lord Jesus has died and risen again.
If the Lord's supper were observed merely as a formal ordinance, this is no better than the Passover. Men may be so blind as to insist that by some strange miracle the bread and the wine are transformed into the actual body and blood of the Lord, but on this grossly literal and material level they miss entirely the spiritual truth and sweetness of this observance. The loaf reminds us of the sufferings He endured in His blessed body; the cup, of His blood shed for many, and Matthew adds, "for the remission of sins." The truth of the trespass offering is not to be forgotten in the remembrance of the Lord, though the peace offering and burnt offering speak of yet higher aspects of the sacrifice of Christ, which have their place of real importance too, as does the sin offering.
Verse 29 shows that He Himself would be absent during the time they would keep this remembrance feast. The wine no doubt speaks of Israel, from whom the Lord Jesus would have no joy until the time of the kingdom. Then He will drink wine "new with you" in the Father's kingdom. The kingdom of the Father is the heavenly side of its character (Mt.13:43). He will share with His saints in glory the new joy He will have in Israel when she is restored to her place of earthly blessing.
But it is precious that He can sing a hymn with them when the sorrow of His imminent suffering weighs heavily on His heart. Joy and sorrow mingle here, for there was joy set before Him (Heb.12:2). Going to the Mount of Olives He tells them they would all (not only Peter) be offended in Him that very night, in accordance with Scripture prophecy that the smiting of the Shepherd would lead to the scattering of the sheep; but He adds that He will rise again and go before them into Galilee. The Shepherd would regather and lead His sheep, not leaving them in Judea, however, for they would find that Judaism was no longer to bind them. Galilee is connected with a remnant testimony.
Peter protests that though all others should be offended, he would not. Both his own self- confidence and his comparing himself with others were clear indications that he had not learned what his own heart was. The Lord again referred to these things in John 21:15, though gently and in measure indirectly. At this time He positively tells him that he would deny Him three times before the cock crew. Yet Peter emphatically insists that he would die with the Lord rather than deny Him. Observe however that all the disciples said the same.
Matthew says nothing of the words of the Lord Jesus spoken at this time, recorded in John 15 and 16, nor of His prayer of John 17, but describes the scene in Gethsemane, as John does not. Leaving the other disciples, He takes with Him Peter and James and John, previously witnesses of His glory (Ch.17:1-3), now to be witnesses of His profound sorrow. Separated from t hem only a short distance, having told them to watch with Him, He is prostrate with exceeding sorrow. Knowing well that He would be subjected to the agony of being forsaken of God in bearing the judgment of the cross, He pleads with His Father, "if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt." As a true Man He had a will of His own, a will that was in every respect perfectly right. It was right that He should desire to avoid the dreadful suffering of the cross. Yet He asks for the Father's will to be done, rather than His own. How this adds to the blessedness of His great sacrifice!
Later, at the cross, the disciples could have no part whatever in the sufferings of the Lord Jesus; but here He expects some fellowship from them in watching with Him, and finds them sleeping. In times of most pressing need our hearts may be dull and insensitive because we are not concerned to enter into the Lord's thoughts. Is one hour too long to spend in sympathy with His sorrow?
The Lord Urges upon the three disciples that they must watch and pray in order to be kept from entering into temptation. He adds that their spirit was willing, as no doubt was expressed in their declaration that they would not be offended because of Him; but the flesh was weak: they were not able to carry out what they intended. Twice more He leaves them and prays, both times returning to find them asleep. His "saying the some words" is instructive for us. It was certainly not mere repetition, which He forbids (Ch.6:7), but His soul so affected that these were the words that expressed His deepest thoughts.
Now having finished His vigil of holy, dependent preparation for the cross, He can tell the disciples, "Sleep on now and take your rest." For their true rest was not dependent on their watching or work, but on His faithfulness even unto death, the death of the cross. He goes forth in the calm consciousness that He has conquered: no possibility of doubt remains that the work will be done.
Verse 46 may seem contradictory, for now they are told to rise and be going, but they may still rest in the fact that He is purposefully going to the cross on their behalf. He knows that Judas is coming, but makes no suggestion of going elsewhere.
Judas appears with a large crowd armed with swords and staves. Having pre-arranged with them the signal that he would kiss the Lord, he goes before in carrying out his dastardly plan. Though he had before seen the Lord reading the very thoughts of men, being utterly without faith, he thinks he can deceive Him in this repulsive way, as though the Lord would not know that his kiss was a kiss of betrayal. Yet the Lord does not speak despitefully, but calls him, "Friend," asking the reason for his coming. Luke tells us that He also said, "Betrayest thou the Son of Man with a kiss?" (Lk.22:48). Precious testimony to His own unchanging grace and faithfulness!
As the Lord is taken by the crowd, one of His disciples (John tells us it was Peter-- Jn.10:10) used his sword to cut off the ear of the high priest's servant. But this did not issue in a fight, for the Lord Jesus, in perfect control of the circumstances, gives the royal command to put up the sword, adding that by taking the sword one is exposing himself to perishing with the sword. His faithful mercy in restoring the ear is not mentioned here, for His authority is more emphasized in Matthew, rather than His grace as in Luke (ch.22:51).
He could have asked the Father for twelve legions of angels. If one angel was able to destroy 185,000 troops in one night (2 Kings 19:35), what could twelve legions do? The Roman legion was 6000 footmen, plus horsemen. However, He was not concerned as to His own defense, but as to fulfilling scripture.
In verse 55 He addresses a searching word to the consciences of the crowd He had taught publicly in the temple in their presence every day, and they did not arrest Him. Now they come to search for Him in the dark of night, as though He had been a thief trying to evade the law. Thus He exposes the unrighteousness of their cause, which they were afraid to engineer in the light of day. However, as v.56 again reminds us, scripture must be fulfilled. Moreover, all the disciples forsook the Lord and dispersed. His word as to this was fulfilled also In spite of their vigorous protests that they would not prove unfaithful.
Though this was late at night, the high priest, Caiaphas, and scribes and elders were gathered together to await the arrival of their victim. They were determined to accomplish their evil ends as quickly as possible, so that no calm, judicious process of law could catch up with them before getting rid of Him. The kind of people who would gather there at night would be the most excitable and most likely to be influenced by the inflamed leaders.
The Lord being taken to the high priest's palace, Peter followed Him there., though following "afar off," and went in and set with the servants, not his customary company, fearful in being present there, but anxious as to the outcome.
The Jewish council, (the Sanhedrin) having decided that the Lord Jesus should be put to death, only lack witnesses of any crime of which they might accuse Him. They seek false witnesses. Many came, but none could offer a concrete charge that could satisfy even men who were trying to find a charge. Of course they wanted a charge with some semblance of truth, and two false witnesses claim that He said He was able to destroy the temple and build it in three days. These were not His words (see John 2:19); but even if they were, no court of law would consider such a charge, and certainly not as a criminal offense.
The high priest, angered because of the Lord's silence, demands that He answer such charges; but there was nothing to answer: He remains silent. Caiaphas, knowing that no charge of evil could possibly stand against Him, changed his tactics and adjured Him by the living God that He declare whether He is the Son of God. Could He be silent then? No; for Leviticus 5:1 is decisive that if one is a witness to a certain fact and hears the voice of adjuration, he must utter what he knows or be guilty. He is required to tell the truth, and He does so "Thou best said", He answers: it is absolute truth that He is the Son of God.
He does not however stop with this, for they needed the truth as to how they themselves would be eventually brought to a place of utter subjection to Him, not only as Son of God, but as Son of Man. They would see Him sitting on the right hand of power, at rest because His great work of redemption had been approved by God; and coming in the clouds of heaven, in supreme victory over all creation. Wonderful declaration of the glory to be given Him as Son of Men. The high priest then makes Christ's true confession the one issue. He rends his clothes, in disobedience to the plain injunction of Leviticus 21:10, and accuses the Lord of blasphemy for answering the question truthfully as to who He is. The scribes and elders agree with him in condemning the Lord as being worthy of death, not for anything He had done, but because of who He is. Of course they had determined before that He must be put to death. now they feel it necessary at least to put on a show of religious zeal
They treat Him then worse than they would a criminal, spitting in His face, striking and mocking Him. Such is the revolting character of men's religious prejudice when they know nothing of the grace of God in Christ Jesus. Little do they consider that their treatment of Christ is their treatment of their Creator!
Peter, sitting with the servants, has been observing from a distance. The words, only of a girl, frighten him when she simply affirms what was true, that he had been with Jesus. Can he now be bold in confessing his identification with one who is condemned by all ? His accustomed courage forsook him as he denied before them all that he knew anything of this man Jesus. Going out into the porch he is seen by another girl, who tells others that he had been with Jesus of Nazareth. But having once lied about the matter, it was too hard for human pride to stand for truth now: he denied again, adding an oath for emphasis, no doubt hoping that this would end the questioning.
Time is left him before the third attack, but he is not yet humbled by the fact of his failure, and this time begins to curse and to swear in denying that he knew the Man. Then the cock crew, the sound of which stunned his inmost soul. He remembered the word of Jesus, nor could he find any strength now to apologize to the Lord's enemies for having lied to them. He went out and wept bitterly. How many of us believers have reason to sympathize with his sorrow?All night the Lord Jesus had been subjected to the persecution of the Jewish council. Now early in the morning, determined that He might be put to death as soon as possible, they bring Him bound to the Roman governor, Pilate. Roman law did not allow the Jews to pass a death sentence (John 19:6-7), so they were urgent in their demand that Pilate should take this responsibility.
It seems that Judas had thought that the Lord would have no difficulty in delivering Himself from the power of the Sanhedrin, whether by supernatural power (as in Luke 4:30) or by the fact that no charge of evil against Him could possibly be sustained. The unhappy man sees that Jesus is condemned, and power is all on the side of the chief priests and elders. He is smitten with remorse at the thought of how awful his guilt has been. Taking the thirty pieces of silver back to the chief priests and elders, he confessed to them his sin in having betrayed innocent blood. But they show only contempt for him: they have used him: what do they care for him now ?
However, the despairing man shows no repentance of faith. He does not go to the Lord Himself , but evidently going unlawfully into the temple, he threw his money down, then went out to commit suicide by hanging. Peter adds to this (Acts 1:18) that he fell headlong and all his bowels gushed out. The rope by which he hung himself must have broken. Act 1:25 further tells us, "Judas by transgression fell, that he might go to his own place." Solemn end of one who chose to be a deceiver and traitor!
The chief priests, though in moral character unscrupulous, can be most scrupulous in regard to the use of this blood-money. They buy with it the potter's field in which to bury strangers. This refers no doubt to Gentile proselytes, whom the chief priests considered on a lower level than Jews, even though they compassed sea and land to make one proselyte (Ch.23:15). But there is a more ominous prophetic meaning here then they realize. Since that time the Gentile world itself has become a potter's field in which to bury Jews scattered as strangers to the ends of the earth. Jews themselves have virtually purchased it with the price of the blood of Christ. God is the great Potter, who is accomplishing His own work in His people by this means, Israel being figuratively dead and buried during the present age, yet in view of a national resurrection.
The field was then called "the field of blood," a solemn testimony to the blood-guiltiness of Israel in reference to their Messiah! As to this, Jeremiah's prophecy is said to be fulfilled, which speaks, not only of Judas, but of Israel estimating their Messiah's value at thirty pieces of silver. But in exchange they have themselves received the potter's field, the field of blood! This was by the appointment of Jehovah, in sovereign, righteous government.
Before the governor the Lord answers the question as to who He is, the King of the Jews; but to the many accusations of the chief priests and elders He answered nothing. There was no reason to do so, for they could sustain no charge, and Pilate himself recognized all their charges as not worth considering. Yet he does not understand the Lord's remaining silent, for he knew that the first natural impulse of men is to defend themselves. He cannot but be deeply impressed by the calm dignity of one so viciously accused: he marvelled greatly.
Thinking to find a way out, Pilate introduced another element at this point. The Romans had adopted a custom of releasing a prisoner of the people's choice at the Passover feast, no doubt with the object of currying the people's favor He proposes then a choice between Christ and a notorious prisoner named Barabbas, whom Mark says was a rebel and a murderer (Mk.15:7). The suggestion of course was unjust, for Christ should have been released apart from this.
Pilate was convinced in his own mind and conscience that the Jews demanded judgment against Jesus because of their own envy. Besides this, a most unlikely witness adds a solemn warning to Pilate. His own wife sends a message to him, urging him to refrain from having any part in judgment as regards "that just Man." God had sent her a deeply disturbing dream because of Him. Actually this only confirmed what he knew already. Why did he not then silence the unjust accusations of the Jews, and dismiss the case? The answer appears to be that he feared that his own position might be threatened if he did so (John 19:12-16).
The unprincipled chief priests and elders use their influence to persuade the crowd to ask for the release of a man who was a danger to all society and demand the death of One whose grace had been a marvelous blessing to their nation! No doubt Pilate was surprised at this grossly perverted sense of justice, and asked them what Jesus had done to call for His crucifixion. They have no answer to this, but cry our unreasoningly, clamoring for his blood.
Now the unjust judge, unable to control the tumult, washes his hands in water publicly, pronouncing himself to be innocent of the blood of the Man he acknowledges to be just. The people respond with an answer of terrible import, which has since haunted the nation for centuries: "His blood be upon us, and on our children."
Yet how can Pilate think this releases him from responsibility? Utterly weakened by the strength of popular opinion, he is guilty of passing the sentence of crucifixion. Can a man do evil and absolve himself by declaring that he does not accept the responsibility for doing it? He released Barabbas, but also added to his guilt in scourging Jesus before His crucifixion. This may have been an effort to satisfy the Jews without condemning Him to death (Cf.John 19:1-4), but Matthew only states the fact. Pilate's temporizing only involved him in greater guilt.
However, we are now to see added to this the cold-hearted wickedness of the Roman soldiers (the whole band) venting its spite against their Creator. They would not have done the same to a guilty criminal, but One who is manifestly innocent and just they take advantage of in the most hateful way. This expresses just what is in the heart of man toward God.
In mockery they clothe Him as a king, but His crown woven of thorns, the symbol of the curse, little as they understood His own willing bearing of the curse of God on account of man's sins (Galatians 3:13). Their mockery too is accompanied by contempt, as they dare to spit upon the blessed Lord of glory; and violence also as they strike Him on the head. Can we imagine what dread dismay will be theirs when they see this same Man of sorrows sitting in judgment upon them?
Part of the way He had borne His own cross (John 19:17), but Simon, a man of Cyrene, was then commandeered to do so. Yet we must not trust the assumption of some who have imagined that Jesus fainted beneath the load: this is merely imagination. However, Simon illustrates the fact that there is a sense in which believers may bear the cross of Jesus. The world virtually forces it on us; for if we take our stand with Him, we shall feel the keen edge of the world's rejection (Galatians 2:20; 6:14).
At Golgotha, before raising Him up on the cross, they give Him vinegar to drink, but mingled with gall. He tasted it first before refusing it. Of course He know what it was before tasting it, but by tasting it He let His enemies know that He was not merely defiantly refusing something to drink, but was refusing it because of the stupefying gall added to it. He would bear His sufferings without this, and in full consciousness of all that was involved, not only in what men inflicted, but of the far deeper sufferings of being made a curse of God.
The soldiers crucify Him and part His garments among them by lottery. While the world hates Him personally, it will gladly make merchandise of His pure character and habits, of which His garments speak: indeed, most false religions do this. This fulfils Psalm 22:18.
Sitting down to gloat over their deed of horrible iniquity, they watch Him, taking morbid pleasure in His sufferings and no doubt hoping in vain to see some sign of moral weakening on the part of this unusually patient Sufferer.
The superscription over the cross was written by Pilate in Hebrew, Greek and Latin (John 19:19-21). The words are reported a little differently in each language, or it may be that each writer quoted only that part of the words that specially suited the theme of his Gospel. In this case the entire message would be, "This is Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews." He is crucified between two guilty men, "numbered with the transgressors."
Not content with all that has been done to Him, the people add the venom of abusive tongues. At the very time they are destroying the temple of His body (John 2:19-21) they mock at this prophecy of His, though He would certainly raise it up in three days. If He had come down from the cross when they spoke, the prophecy could not have been fulfilled. Chief priests, scribes and elders continue their vicious abuse also. They do publicly admit, "He saved others," which was something they had not done, but they are totally blind to the fact of why He would not save Himself from dying.
Their mockery is directed against the two vital truths of His being King of Israel and Son of God. But because of these very facts, He was the only one who could, by His death of sacrifice, accomplish the redemption which Israel and all mankind needed. Giving Himself, in the greatest, most gracious sacrifice of love imaginable, He had no-one there to admire the wonder of His pure, amazing love, for even believers were only crushed and saddened by His sufferings and death, while unbelievers heaped upon Him mockery, scorn and contempt. The robbers crucified with him, in spite of their own imminent death, join the sour chorus. In Luke 2 3 we read that even here the grace of God intervened to awaken and lead one robber to repentance and faith, but Matthew does not record this.
From the sixth hour (noon) God brings darkness over all the land for three hours. It is reported that the Jews afterward smugly spoke of this as God's expressing His displeasure with Christ personally, thereby justifying their unholy rejection of Him. How far from the truth they were! Indeed, no-one, not even His most devoted disciples, understood what this awesome darkness involved. At the end of this, how piercing and heart-rending is His cry of utter abandonment, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" In those hours of darkness He had borne in solitary anguish the full weight of the terrible wrath of God in judgment against sin and against our sins. This was for deeper, for greater than natural thought can estimate, for only this could atone for the awful scourge of sin and the guilt of men's sins. In lowly, wondrous submission He had gone to the cross, a willing sacrifice, moved by pure love and grace, yet understood by no-one at the time.
Likely it was Romans who thought He called for Elias (Elijah), for Jews would know their own language better then that. Neither Luke nor John mention His cry of abandonment, but John records His saying, "I thirst" (Jn.19:20), at which time the vinegar was given to Him, so that He must have said this immediately after His loud cry. After all His suffering they will still not give Him water, but the bitter vinegar. What they had witnessed already ought to have been enough to subdue men's hearts in wonder at the way in which He had borne their cruelty, and at His truth and grace so shining out at such a time.
Contrary to what might be expected from an exhausted victim of crucifixion, the Lord again cried out with a loud voice. John tells us His words at this time, "It is finished," which is said to be only one triumphant word in the Greek language His two loud cries were intended for all the universe to hear, the last declaring the perfect completion of His work of redeeming grace. He did not die of exhaustion therefore: He laid down His life. Luke tells us that He said, "Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit," with which words He yielded up His spirit (Lk.23:46).
Immediately there are signs undeniably from God. The veil of the temple being torn in two from the top to the bottom is most significant. The veil is typical of "His flesh" (Heb.10:20). As soon as His flesh was rent in death, God bore witness of the value of this matchless death, the rending being from above. While still living, His flesh, as the veil, barred the way into the holiest for anyone else. Only His death could make the way into the holiest manifest. Through that veil, as being rent, believers are invited to enter with boldness today (Heb.10:19-20). Apart from its being rent, they could not dare to do this. Wonderful testimony to the ritualistic Jews!--for their ritual was certainly interrupted by this miraculous intervention of God. We are not told what the chief priests did about this.
A severe earthquake also caused rocks to be broken and graves to be opened. At the very time when the Lord's body was taken to be buried and sealed in a closed tomb, there were many graves that had been opened. Was this not a forewarning to the effect that the grave could not retain the body of the Lord? These graves remained open until the third day, when, after the Lord's resurrection many bodies of the saints a rose and came out of their graves, going into Jerusalem to appear to many. They must have been those of that present generation, who had been known, and therefore this was a striking testimony to the value of the death of Christ. His death and resurrection lays a foundation that assures the resurrection of all the dead, whether to eternal blessing or to eternal judgment. These raised at this time were saints, not unbelievers. They appeared unto many. What happened to them after that Is not stated, but the language does not sound as if they remained.
The earthquake and other occurrences so impress the centurion in charge of the execution, and others with him, that they feared greatly, saying, "Truly this was the Son of God." If this confession came from their hearts, then they will be welcomed in heaven by this same sufferers In spite of their involvement In His crucifixion.
Particularly mentioned by the Spirit of God here are the "many women" who come with Him from Galilee. Watching from a distance, whose devoted affections are no doubt precious to God, three of them specifically singled out.
God had already wrought in the heart of a rich man, Joseph of Arimathea, of whom we do not read before, to stir him to request the body of Jesus. Evidently the apostles were so stunned and weakened that the remained no energy of faith in them to do anything. The faith of Joseph is most refreshing, specially since we read in Mark and Luke that he was a member of the Jewish Sanhedrin (Mk.15:43; Lk.23:50), an honorable man who had not consented to the council's condemnation of Christ. Of course he would expose himself to the censure and contempt of the chief priests and elders, for this was a bold step to identify himself with Christ crucified, which would bring him into their permanent disfavor. Nicodemus, who came also, is mentioned only in John. The body, wrapped in a clean linen cloth, is laid in a new tomb prepared for Joseph himself, cut out in the rock. A great stone, evidently also previously prepared, was rolled over the entrance. No mention is made of any of the apostles being near, but two devoted women, both named Mary, were watching near by.
The day following the crucifixion the chief priests and Pharisees, remembering the Lord's words that He would rise again the third day, approached Pilate, urging that the grave should be sealed to prevent the disciples of the Lord Jesus from stealing His body and claiming that He was raised from the dead. This of course was the Sabbath, but they conveniently forget their zeal for keeping it holy. The Lord had told them that they would kill Him: that prophecy came true. He had also told them He would rise again the third day. They were afraid that prophecy also might come true, so they were determined to prevent it! As to the disciples' stealing His body away, they themselves had totally forgotten His words that He would rise again, and they had no slightest inclination to take away His body: they were at the time utterly weak and defeated.
Pilate tells the chief priests and elders to take care of the matter themselves. Is there not the ring of irony and doubt in his words when he tells them, "make it as sure as ye can?" For he had seen such spiritual power in the Lord Jesus in contrast to the chief priests that he evidently despised their precautions. They however seal the stone and set a watch, that is, four soldiers of the Sanhedrin in turn, around the clock. They defeat their own ends in doing so, for the watch was there to witness the startling events attending His resurrection.The Sabbath coming to an end, the two Mary's arrive at the grave early in the morning. Some have thought that Mary Magdalene came twice, though this does not seem clear, except that she evidently returned after she told Peter and John of the absence of the Lord's body (John 20:1-11). It is difficult to determine how the four accounts of the Gospel writers fit together in place, and the writer is not aware of any satisfactory explanation of this. But we know that each account is inspired of God and perfectly true: to value each in its place is our wisdom.
Another earthquake, a great one, takes place at this time, and accompanied by it the descent of an angel from heaven, who rolled the stone from the entrance to the grave and sat on it. The resurrection of the Lord is not to be a secret, but a plainly demonstrated matter. The dazzling appearance of the angel caused the soldiers to shake with fright, and to be paralyzed into utter inaction, as dead men.
But his message brings great joy to the women. Jesus who was crucified is not there: He is risen, according to His own previous words. They are invited to see for themselves where His body had been laid, and told to go quickly with information for His disciples. The angel repeats what the Lord had told them before, that He would go before them into Galilee after His resurrection (Ch.26:32), indicating that Jerusalem would still not receive Him, and in resurrection the testimony of Christ would be that of a remnant character, rather than His great glory as Messiah manifested; for this must await a future day.
As they go they are given the greater joy of being met by the Lord Jesus Himself. Holding Him by the feet, they worship Him. Calming their fears, He instructs them to tell His brethren to go into Galilee, where they will see Him. The Gospel of Matthew emphasizes this matter.
Now some of the watch, who had witnessed the angel's descent and the rolling away of the stone, inform the chief priests of these startling events, including the absence of the body of the Lord Jesus. Rather than fearing before God, however, they assemble with the elders and brazenly concoct the deceitful plan to highly bribe the soldiers to lie about the matter. Was it likely that all four soldiers would be so soundly sleeping that none would be aware of the disciples breaking a seal and rolling a heavy stone away? Also, if they were asleep, how did they know that the disciples had come at all, or how His body was removed from the grave?
Of course the chief priests were well aware that if a guard slept at the post of duty, this was an offense punishable by death. For this reason they promised that they would intercede with the governor if he heard that they were sleeping. Such was the sense of honor among these highly religious men! The guards, forgetful of their previous fear of the angel , are influenced by their greed for money to brazenly lie, so that to the day of Matthew's writing, this falsehood was accepted commonly among the people. Yet any honest person could certainly have seen through this whole fabrication of lies. Still, if a man likes a lie he will gladly accept it without question.
More than a week intervenes before verse 16. Matthew says nothing of the personal appearances of the Lord to Mary Magdalene (John 20:11-17), the two Emmaus disciples (Luke 24:13-31 ), or Peter ( Luke 24:34) ; nor of His appearing in the upper room that same day, nor a week later (John 20:19,26). Though writing from a Jewish point of view, Matthew does not flatter the pride of the Jews, but again speaks of the disciples going into Galilee, where they met the Lord Jesus. John 21:1-22 speaks of this. 1Corinthians 15:6 may also refer to this time when five hundred brethren saw Him at once. Seeing Him there the eleven worshiped Him, but some doubted, evidently of other Galilean disciples; for there were certainly no doubts remaining on the part of the eleven after seeing Him at least twice in the upper room in Jerusalem, where He appeared to them.
His words in Matthew are different then in the other Gospels in commissioning them for service. Here He speaks of all authority being given Him in heaven and earth, consistent with His kingly dignity. Having taken the lowliest place in suffering and death, He is rewarded with absolute authority over the universe. He therefore authorizes them to make disciples (see margin) of all nations. This is not the Gospel from Luke's point of view, where repentance and remission of sins is emphasized (Luke24:47, nor as Mark speaks of it (Mark 16:15-18; but from the viewpoint of the kingdom.
Connected with this viewpoint is, first baptism, the outward sign of discipleship into the kingdom; and secondly, teaching. The Lord speaks in Matthew l6:19 of giving Peter the key of the kingdom of heaven; and in Luke11:52 He refers to" the key of knowledge" which the Pharisees had taken away from the people. The teaching of the truth of the word of God then is one of the. keys, while baptism appears plainly to be the other key. Both of these Peter used in opening the door of the kingdom to Jews (Acts 2) and to Gentiles (Acts 10). The Lord clearly gives the formula for baptism here as being" in the name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit." This is not set aside by the fact of the disciples' baptizing "unto the name of the Lord Jesus" (Acts 2:38; 19:5), for this latter expression, though it emphasizes the importance of the name of the Lord Jesus, does not necessarily imply the formula that was used while the Lord's formula ("in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit") would by all means include what is expressed in Acts.
To make disciples then involves baptizing and teaching them to observe all things that the Lord has commanded. Now the Lord Jesus finally accompanies this authorization with the assurance of His presence with His disciples always, to the end of the age. This implies His authoritative power among His people in the present form of the kingdom of heaven, and it remains a precious encouragement for ourselves, in spite of the degenerated state of the kingdom today. In bodily form of course the King is absent, yet faith is to recognize the reality of His wisely directing authority just as though He were visibly present. By the power of the Spirit of God who indwells the saints of God since Pentecost, it is a very real sense in which the Lord Jesus is present with us always; but only faith realizes and responds to this.