Category Archives: Matthew

Matthew 26:1-13 – Jesus Anointed at Bethany: Women in Jesus’ Life

Now we come to the recounting of the last couple days of Jesus’ life in the longest chapter in Matthew. It starts with him predicting his death yet again, and his enemies plotting for a way to kill him. But they can’t be too obvious about it because they’re afraid of a riot. Despite all their efforts, they have not been able to discredit Jesus before the people.

Next, Matthew inserts a story that according to John 12 happened six days before the Passover, and just prior to his triumphal entry. If you didn’t know this you’d think it was just prior to the Passover and his arrest, but Matthew doesn’t say when it happened. He just introduces it by saying, “While Jesus was in Bethany . . .” This little village was just outside of Jerusalem, and the home of his friend Lazarus, whom he raised from the dead, and his sisters Martha and Mary. He always stayed there when he went to Jerusalem.

He was at the home of someone called “Simon the Leper.” Simon was a very common name then, and since there were no last names people had to be differentiated in some way (the study of names in the Bible is a fascinating one in itself). This Simon may have been healed by Jesus himself because he certainly wasn’t a leper anymore. While there “a woman,” whom we know from John was Mary, pours very expensive perfume on Jesus’ head that he says is to prepare him for his burial. We don’t know why Matthew doesn’t identify her, other than it’s not important who she is for the purpose of his telling of the story, but it is to John in his telling.

Then we come to another criterion of embarrassment moment. The disciples completely miss what’s really happening:

When the disciples saw this, they were indignant. “Why this waste?” they asked. “This perfume could have been sold at a high price and the money given to the poor.”

Indignant is a strong word, and Jesus’ reply implies that they were giving the woman a hard time. Like many people who come to the Bible, and the stories of Jesus, they don’t realize that everything is about Jesus. It’s not about the poor. Or us. Or morality. Or religious observance. It’s about Jesus! Everything is relatively important, but only one thing, or person, is ultimately important, and that he came to save us from the guilt, penalty, and ultimate consequences of our sin.

We’ve just gone through the parable of the sheep and the goats in chapter 25, where Jesus seems to make service to the needy the key to our eternal destiny. But Jesus is saying here, in effect, don’t absolutize poverty. In fact he says, “The poor you will always have with you . . .” Progressives in America in their hubris actually thought through government policies we could eradicate poverty from the human condition. One of our presidents even declared a “war on poverty.” But we will always have poor people because fallen human nature cannot be changed. Yes, service to the needy is a fundamental part of the Church’s mission, but when it looses site that Christianity is all about Jesus, and our relationship to a holy God through him, it distorts the faith and inevitably becomes another thing.

You may remember a story told by Luke of another time Jesus was in Bethany at the home of Martha and Mary. There Martha is busy about preparations that had to be made for her guests, but Mary “sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said.” Again we see that Mary gets that it’s all about Jesus, so her anointing him with oil this time doesn’t surprise us. Skeptics tell us that the Bible is a misogynistic book, as is the Christianity that springs from it, but in fact the New Testament, and especially the gospels, show us a revolutionary treatment of women for the time. They come off looking intelligent, heroic,  and faithful, while the men often come off as feckless and self-centered. Mary was the only one in this story who realized that, as Jesus says, “you will not always have me.” And he predicts:

13 Truly I tell you, wherever this gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.”

And indeed it has.

 

Advertisements

Matthew 25:31-46 – The Eternal Nature of Sheep and Goats

In my last post I argued that this passage is not primarily about service to the poor and needy, and that it must be understood in the context of Jesus’ entire message since he entered Jerusalem. In fact, it’s meaning can can only be fully understood in light of the entirety of redemptive history. He starts with how this history will end:

31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.

Jesus is referring to himself in the third person, and every Jew listening and reading knows the backdrop for his words is Daniel 7. Nowhere else in early Jewish literature is a last judgment found, and in Daniel it is clearly Messianic and related to a kingdom to come that will “wage war against the saints.” Think about this parable in light of these words:

21 As I looked, this horn made war with the saints and prevailed over them, 22 until the Ancient of Days came, and judgment was given for the saints of the Most High, and the time came when the saints possessed the kingdom.

Those who think this parable is all about the poor and needy completely ignore the context of Jesus’ words demanded by his introduction to the parable. They also ignore the history of the Church from the stoning of Steven to the persecution under Diocletian almost 300 years later. Read Eusebius like I mentioned in my last post, and his narrative of the persecution Christians endured under various emperors, and you’ll see how much a parable like the sheep and the goats would have meant to them. They could go to their deaths knowing ultimate justice will be done.

Jesus then again refers to himself in the third person, but this time as “the King.” I’m not sure why, but he tells the sheep these very important words that the people who focus on service miss:

“Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.”

It is the indicative (the blessing of his Father) that Jesus says leads to the sheep serving others as if they were serving Jesus himself. Jesus doesn’t say since you serve others, the Father will bless you. Contrast this with what he says, chillingly, about the goats:

41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.

Again, it is an indicative (you who are cursed) that leads goats to not serve others as if they were Jesus himself. So not only do these people who use this passage to guilt others into service miss the point because they take it out of context, they also completely ignore that the service that leads to eternal life or punishment flows out of the state of their relationship to the Father. And it’s black or white, blessed or cursed. And remember in Matthew 24 that Jesus called his chosen ones the “elect” three times, and that he will gather them “from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other” when “The Son of Man” comes “on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory.” We know from all of Scripture that God chooses whom he will save not because of who they are or what they have done, but in spite of it. That’s why Paul tells us we’re saved by grace, which is un-merited favor, so that no one may boast.

This biblical fact emphasized over and over again contradicts any claim that the blessing or curse depends on the service. Jesus could be implying that the sheep and the goats are blessed or cursed because of what they did, “For I was hungry . . . ” The only way you could come to that conclusion, though, is if you ignore the rest of Scripture. As James tells us, faith without deeds is dead, and wherever there is true faith (trust in God’s provision of righteousness) works will follow.

As I’ve been arguing, Jesus isn’t saying the the most important work is service to the poor and needy. Every work loving God and neighbor is just as important as every other. You can find the most selfless person pouring out their lives day and night for the needy, and having pride in their service and going to eternal punishment with the goats. Or doing this and ignoring the needs of their family. We ought never to absolutize one of a few aspects of the Christian life. Rather, it’s the state of one’s heart and relationship to a holy God that is the issue, saved or not, reconciled or not, peace established through faith, or not. Who we are vis-a-vis God, our ontology, will inevitably be reflected in what we do; it cannot be helped.

Jesus ends this parable, and his Olivet Discourse, with these sobering words:

46 “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”

There is no way around these words. They are too blunt, too absolute. If we accept any words of Jesus, we must accept these as well. It’s unpleasant to contemplate, to say the least. Maybe not for the worst, most vile and evil people, but there are some very fine and honorable people who do not follow Jesus. It’s something I’d rather not think about, but when I do I always go back to the character of God, and these words of Moses prior to his death just short of the Promised Land (Deut. 32):

I will proclaim the name of the Lord.
    Oh, praise the greatness of our God!
He is the Rock, his works are perfect,
    and all his ways are just.
A faithful God who does no wrong,
    upright and just is he.

 

Matthew 25:31-46 – The Importance of Context in Understanding Sheep and Goats

If there was any doubt about what Jesus thinks about heaven and hell, and the eternal nature of the human soul, his parable of the sheep and the goats puts that to rest. It is also an extremely uncomfortable parable because Jesus seems to be basing the separation of the sheep and the goats upon service to the poor and needy and prisoners. You do these things, you’re in, you don’t, your out. When reading the commentaries it’s amazing to read how many people think that because Jesus’ words are so stark they trump all other words in the Bible. Put another way, because Jesus says these things, and that heaven and hell seem to ride on it, then everything else in Scripture is subordinated to these words.

One commentator even goes so far as to name his website Jesus Words Only, and concludes that we’re only to use those words to understand the Christian life, as if the whole of the Bible is not God’s (i.e., Jesus’) word. That would make the Church’s understanding of the biblical canon (what is the authoritative, God-breathed words of Scripture) for the last 2000 years wrong. I’ll side with the Church over those who thinks Jesus’ words in the gospels (which are not his actual words because he spoke in Aramaic) are the only words of God relevant for us.

Which brings up, for me, the second most important biblical hermeneutic: we must let Scripture interpret Scripture. That’s why I get nervous when anyone teaches that any verse or series of verses or passage is more important and authoritative than any other. But the most important biblical hermeneutic, the one that informs and trumps all others is spoken of by Jesus himself in Luke 24 as he is rebuking a couple disciples on the road to Emmaus:

25 He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” 27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.

A little later in the same chapter Jesus suddenly appears among the disciples, freaking them out, as they are discussing what happened on the road, and he reiterates the same hermeneutic:

44 He said to them, “This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.”

So one thing we do know for sure about this parable is that it’s not about us! In fact what I notice about those who make what Jesus says here the sin qua non of the Christian life, is that they rip the passage out of it’s context. As if all Jesus was saying was, hey, you go serve the poor or you’re going to hell! If we’re not spending every night in a soup kitchen we’re goats!

But what about what Paul says in 2 Thess. 3:10: “If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat.” That person could turn out to be poor and needy, and Paul says, let him starve. There is much more to those in need than the need itself. And life in the ancient world before industrial capitalism exploded into human history in the 19th century was very different in terms of the number of truly needy people. I would argue that capitalism is much better at getting people out of poverty than charity or government programs. And an obsession about material needs always tends to externalize the gospel, just as happened in the early 20th century, ending up giving us a liberal Christianity that ended up rejecting Christianity itself.

This is not to say that helping the poor and needy, or visiting prisoners, isn’t important. It’s a theme in the Old Testament, and a feature of life among God’s people, but this passage is not about that. To say it is means that everything that came before has nothing to do with this parable, but that goes against everything Matthew is trying to accomplish in his gospel, which is proving that Jesus is he Messiah. In just the previous chapter Jesus gave a long discourse on the “signs of the end of the age,” and remember he started that by saying:  “Truly I tell you, not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.” And his disciples reply:  “when will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?”

Then Jesus goes right into parables about keeping watch because we do not know “the day or the hour,” and finishes with this one about sheep and goats. Further, all of Jesus’ teaching since his triumphal entry into Jerusalem is in the context of his battle with the Jewish religious leaders. Finally, one phrase Jesus uses clarifies that this is not about the poor and needy in general. He says twice, once to the sheep, and once to the goats, that “whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers (and sisters) of mine, you did for me.” These are Jesus’ followers who are undergoing persecution from his enemies, especially in the run up to the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70, but also in the first three hundred years of the Church when persecution was a fairly common occurrence.

These words of Jesus must have been deeply meaningful for his people during those times. I’m currently reading Eusebius-The Church History, and about the brutal persecution of the Church under Diocletian (d. 311). It’s horrific to read about the sadistic tortured followers of Jesus endured, and for those who suffered and those who comforted them, that Jesus will return one day to set things right, and justice will be done.

Since I didn’t get to any of the actual text, I’ll do that in my next post.

Matthew 25:1-30 – Virgins and Talents Teach Us to “Keep Watch”

Matthew 25 recounts the last of Jesus’ parables before his suffering and death. The theme of each builds on what he taught in the previous chapter about his (second) coming, and not knowing the day or the hour. We are to live our entire lives faithfully on watch for his coming. That means we do not live a taken-for-granted life, or a life in which temporal, mundane concerns consume us. We are to live in light of eternity so that we don’t fall into the trap of turning good things into ultimate things (idolatry). Our perspective should be informed by what these parables are about, the “kingdom of heaven.”

The first is about ten virgins waiting for the bridegroom to come. This was an ancient middle eastern custom where the bride waited for the final step in the marriage process, along with her young female friends, for the bridegroom to come and consummate the marriage. Five are wise and take jars of oil to make sure their lamps don’t go out in case the bridegroom takes his time in coming, and five are foolish because they assume they’ll have enough. One commentator saw the oil symbolic of the Holy Spirit, and oil did play an important role in the Old Testament in God’s relationship to his people, but maybe the meaning is more simple than that.

Maybe the ending gives us a clue. The foolish virgins had to run off to buy oil when the bridegroom finally showed up, but the five wise ones were invited into the banquet, and Jesus says: “And the door was shut.” We’ve noticed that Jesus is pretty black and white, either you’re in or out, either you’re for him or not, either you’re a follower or not (as we’ll see). There is no wishy-washy middle when it comes to Jesus of Nazareth. When the foolish ones return with their oil and knock on the door, Jesus as the bridegroom says, “I tell you the truth, I don’t know you.” So we need to “keep watch because we don’t know the day or the hour.” Knowing Jesus is “keeping watch,” and he’s given us his word, our Bible, that we might do that. More important, though, is him knowing us in Christ.

The next parable tells us that watching is not passive, that it requires the active investment of our lives into something. It’s called the parable of the talents (a form of money) because a man goes on a journey and gives talents to three of his servants to watch over his property while he is gone. Jesus said he did this, “each according to his ability.” The men who got five and two talents invested it, and doubled the money, while the servant who got one buried it in the ground. Thus the phrase, don’t bury your talents, meaning you don’t do anything with them. When the man returns he’s not happy with the lazy man, not only because he didn’t do anything with his talent, but because he was motivated by a lack of trust in the character of his master. In fact, he says he was “afraid” so hid his talent.

What this man forgets is that if his master had not given him the talent he wouldn’t have had anything in the first place. A realization that everything we have comes from our master, God, is motivation to do something with it. Nothing is ultimately “ours” so we are responsible to be good stewards with whatever it is we have, what God has given us. Jesus concludes this parable with these counter intuitive (what’s new) and sobering (what’s also new) words:

29 For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. 30 And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

We naturally think that those who have lots should have that taken away from them and given to those who don’t have much, or they should want to give those things away. Typically we see this in material terms, but it doesn’t just have to be those.

The point again, as I said about the previous parable, is that we are not to live a taken-for-granted life. We are to be, in modern terms, proactive, to be about multiplying whatever it is, big or little, God has given us. And every single thing we have, be they talents as we understand the word, or wealth and material possessions, or health or friends or family, or time, all of it has been given to us to use and multiply, that we might live a life of “investing” and not hording or burying. In other words, the life of God in Christ, the kingdom life, is fecund, which means “producing or capable of producing an abundance of offspring or new growth; fertile.” And this is all the more important because of its contrast. We live in a fallen world, in which gravity and time and decay all slowly but surely take their toll. We are to live our lives fighting against the fall, of pushing back against the forces that sin long ago unleashed.

Finally, Jesus remind us, as he’s done over and over, that there are eternal consequences to life, and that that life without him will be horrifically painful. Nobody else in all of the Bible, in all of redemptive history, speaks to these consequences, or hell, as much as Jesus does. We ought to pay attention. Even though it’s very unpopular to speak of hell in our enlightened 21st century secular West, we ought to remind those who refuse to submit to and follow Jesus that it exists, and will be their destiny if they refuse to submit to Jesus’ claim on their lives.

Matthew 24 – We Do Not Know the Day or the Hour, So Watch Faithfully

Matthew chapter 24 is a confusing one that Christians throughout the history of the Church have tried to interpret amid much disagreement. My NIV titles it, “Signs of the End of the Age,” and includes Jesus’ predictions that the temple will be destroyed, which happened in AD 70, and the coming of the Son of Man. I have no interest in speculating about the meaning of all this prophecy because I think Jesus is teaching that we’re not to do speculation, although many Christians do it anyway. Rather, we’re to obey Jesus exhortation when he declares that “No one knows that day or hour . . . “:42 “Therefore keep watch . . . because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.” Then what follows are parables about waiting faithfully for his (second) coming.

What gets Jesus going is the disciples pointing out the grandeur of the temple, and he tells them something that must have shocked them: it’s going to be destroyed, “not one stone here will be left on another . . . ” When they are on the Mount of Olives outside the city, the disciples ask him when all this will happen, and “what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age.” I think they must have had an image in their minds of the conquering Davidic Messiah, not the suffering servant (Is. 53) who died for their sins, who leaves and then comes back a second time in judgment. Then Jesus describes the horrible suffering to come. He doesn’t answer their first question because only the Father knows when Jesus’ (second) coming will happen.

As for all the horrible things coming, when the Romans laid siege to the city leading up to the temple’s destruction in AD 70, the Jewish Christians must have thought of these words of Jesus through Matthew and fled the city as he warned them to do. The Jewish people were not so fortunate. The temple area would have seemed like safety to them, but it was not to be. This event changed the nature of both religions because for the Jews the temple and Israel itself could no longer be the center of their religion. As for Christianity, it was no longer to be associated with Judaism as a Jewish sect, and became the universalized faith it was always intended to be. God had already started the process through the Apostle Paul, but the destruction of the temple sealed the deal.

A couple things stand out to me, one of which I don’t think get’s much or any attention. Those who reject a Reformed (Augustianian-Calvinistic) understanding of the faith are not fond of the concept of election, of God choosing whom he will save. They claim it’s a Pauline gloss on the religion that Jesus never intended. But right here in Matthew 24 Jesus uses the word “elect” three times (from the Greek ἐκλεκτός or eklektos). Here are the three:

22 “If those days had not been cut short, no one would survive, but for the sake of the elect those days will be shortened.

24 For false messiahs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect.

31 And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other.

Clearly the idea of election, of called out ones, is central to his mission on earth. As Matthew starts his gospel, Jesus is named, as the angel says, because “he will save his people from their sins.” God never makes salvation for people possible, but makes salvation for his people actual!

Notice the context of each instance. First, God is providentially ordaining events for his elect. Then we see the ability of false religious people do such powerful signs and wonders that if it were possible, even the elect would be deceived. But they can’t be because they are God’s elect! Finally, God in his sovereign power will command his angels to gather them from literally everywhere at his coming. We don’t know what this means, but the implication seems to be that every single believer living and dead, of all time, will be gathered together at this his (second) coming. Oh what a day that will be! At least for his elect; not so much for others. And that he rose from the dead guarantees that it will indeed happen.

Before telling them that no one knows the day or the hour but the Father, he ends with these words that speak of his claim to divinity:

35 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.

That’s quite a claim! What he is saying, I think, is that his words are more real than the physical reality we think is so real. People delude themselves into thinking that the “natural” world just is (as if there could even be such a thing, natural always implying without or separate from God, apart from his constant energizing power—”He is before all things, and in him all things hold together”). Either Darwin or Jesus is right; I’ll stake my eternal destiny on the one who conquered death!

For those who choose, consciously or not, Darwin, Jesus ends this chapter with the judgment of the wicked servant who is not waiting for the day of the Lord’s coming. He will be cut to pieces and assigned to “a place with the hypocrites, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” People who think the world is “natural,” are also deluded into thinking there are no consequences for living their lives ignoring the claims of Jesus. He tells us here and elsewhere that there are eternal consequences for such ignoring, or outright rejection. Sobering and scary words for those of us who take them seriously.

 

Matthew 23 – Woe To You Teachers of the Law and Pharisees: Jesus Lets Loose

Chapter 23 is the culmination of Jesus’ war with the religious professionals, at least from Jesus’ side; for them it will be Jesus on the cross. And boy does he pull no punches. When I read this I can’t get out of my mind the images from this scene as portrayed in the 1970s TV mini-series Jesus of Nazareth. Maybe we’ll learn one day how it actually went down, but the message couldn’t be more clear: Israel’s religious leaders have completely perverted the religion of their forefathers. Jesus says they “sit in Moses’ seat,” so their words should be obeyed, but their lives not imitated.

For some reason Matthew writes that Jesus says these things “to the crowds and to his disciples,” but not directly to the “teachers of the law and Pharisees,” although he addresses them directly with each woe. Maybe like in the mini-series he shouts it throughout the temple area so as many people hear it as possible. The people of Israel’s eternal destiny is on the line, so this is very serious business, of which Jesus leaves no doubt.

Jesus calls them hypocrites a perfect seven biblical times. The word in Greek means a performer acting under a mask (i.e., a theater-actor). Everything they do is outward and false, primarily “for men to see.” You might say they love all the perks that come with this office, which completely misses the point of what God was communicating through the law and the prophets. They love titles like Rabbi, and teacher, and father, but the most important title a religious leader can have (or any follower of Jesus) is servant. The true path to greatness is this upside-down kingdom Jesus testifies to is something he’s told his disciples previously:

 11 The greatest among you will be your servant. 12 For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.

Then come the woes, and they are brutal. Here is a group of men who have led Israel in their religious duties for several hundred years, and not only does Jesus say they “shut the kingdom of heaven in men’s faces,” but they make them “twice as much” sons of hell as they are. They are so focused on outside observance that they neglect the inward realities of true faith. Jesus says it isn’t that the outward things unimportant, only that they can’t take precedent over “the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy, and faithfulness.”

To this point he calls them “blind guides!” And then uses a play on words that I’ve learned would have sounded comical to those listening to Jesus in the Aramaic in which he spoke: they sound similar but mean very different things. In English it goes like this:  “You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.” They are so very intensely focused on the littlest things that they completely mist the very huge things. And we notice that the huge things are all relational, having nothing to do with religious observance. Our relationship to God and others (our neighbors) is the point, not us! The reason Jesus had said previously that we’re to “Love our neighbor as ourself” is because we naturally live our lives in reference to us, to ourselves. But the nature of a servant is to look to the needs of those served first, then themselves.

Think of how much misery and pain is caused by the obsession with the self in our age; we live in the iEverything culture, and depression, suicide, addiction, murder, and other dysfunctions are everywhere. I read recently that Charles Taylor coined the term, “the mailaise of modernity.” We have everything we could ever need or want, yet . . . ennui (a feeling of listlessness and dissatisfaction arising from a lack of occupation or excitement).

Jesus expands on this malady by saying of his enemies that they “clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence.” The irony is that the obsession with the self leads to focus on external and relatively trivial things. The answer, Jesus says, is to “First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean.” His kingdom, and the reason he came to earth, the purpose of him as Messiah is inward transformation first, then outward observance follows. He doesn’t say, notice, that they have the ability to clean the inside first, only that it must be cleaned first, then everything else (justice, mercy, faithfulness) follows. He piles on the emphasis by calling them “whitewashed tombs” that look great on the outside, but inside “are full of dead men’s bones and everything unclean.” Ouch!

I try to imagine the teachers of the law and Pharisees listening to this. They are of course offended, but they also think that Jesus is a charlatan, and a false prophet. His words are meaningless to them, but not us. They are motivation for them to have him killed, but for us, and his followers then, to get the point. Matthew’s readers were probably confronted daily with the choice between the Jewish religious leaders and Jesus. The choice, Jesus makes clear, could not be any more stark. Not unlike for us, will we choose religion (contrary to popular secular opinion, all human beings are “religious” and tend to seek self-aggrandizement over relationship), or God’s provision of Christ’s righteousness.

Jesus caps of the seven woes calling them snakes and a brood of vipers, and this: “How will you escape being condemned to hell?” There are eternal consequences here, and Jesus isn’t willing to give up on them because he says he’ll send them “prophets and wise men and teachers.” Of course they won’t listen because like the prophets before, the leaders of Israel will torture and kill them. But Jesus is more heartbroken than angry as he says:

37 “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing.

This metaphor would have been familiar to those listening and reading; Yahweh said something similar of Israel numerous times in the Old Testament. Jesus finishes the confrontation with an unequivocal claim to Messiah-hood, a quote from the most Messianic of Psalms, 118:

39 For I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’

At some point whoever Jesus is speaking of will get it. Thanks be to God we get it now!

 

Matthew 22:41-46 – Jesus the Messiah, The God-Man

To end chapter 23, Jesus deals the final blow to the religious professionals by asking them a question about the Messiah. It is important when reading Matthew to remember the apologetic purpose of his gospel, especially to the Jewish people of his day to whom he was writing. The early growing Church’s main struggle was with the Jews and their religion defined at the time by the very religious professionals Jesus contends with. Remember that the Apostle Paul always went to the synagogue first to share the gospel with the Jews, and only then to the Gentiles (see Romans 1:16). So Matthew is defending Christ’s followers for accepting him as Israel’s true Messiah, the exact thing the religious professionals reject. Jesus finally shutting them up caps Matthew’s defense, as if he was saying, Touche!

The way Matthew sets up the scene is almost funny.

41 While the Pharisees were gathered together . . .

You can imagine them engaged in a passionate befuddled discussion about Jesus and what to do about him, and he walks right up to them and startles them with a question:

42 “What do you think about the Messiah? Whose son is he?”

Boom! In your face! Both they and Jesus know that he claims to be the Messiah, the very Messiah the Jews have been waiting for for over 400 years! Because of their Scripture, every Jew believed that the Messiah whenever he came would be the physical descendant of David (see 2 Samuel 7, and God’s promise to David, among many other verses), so there is only one answer they can give, and Jesus has set a more effective trap for them than they were able to do to him:

“The son of David,” they replied.

Remember how Matthew starts his gospel:

This is the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah the son of David, the son of Abraham

Jesus, Matthew is claiming, is the direct descendant of David, which is one requirement (the miracles being the other) of establishing Jesus’ bona fides as Messiah. But if what the Pharisees say is true, then they have a problem, the problem of the one standing right in front of them asking this question. Jesus responds by quoting from the most used Messianic Psalm (110) in the New Testament:

43 He said to them, “How is it then that David, speaking by the Spirit, calls him ‘Lord’? For he says,

44 “‘The Lord said to my Lord:
    “Sit at my right hand
until I put your enemies
    under your feet.”’

45 If then David calls him ‘Lord,’ how can he be his son?”

Good question. That is, how can he be a descendant of David, and yet pre-exist David? David’s Lord already exists or David would not refer to him as “my Lord.” And when Jesus says that David is “speaking by the Spirit,” he is emphasizing that this is direct revelation from Almighty God. This was not something David thought up on his own.

Reading Psalm 110 in English you miss the amazing implications of what God is saying through David because the word Lord in the Psalm is actually two words in Hebrew. In the verse quoted by Matthew, the first instance is Yahweh, while the second is Adonay. Whenever it is used in Scripture it is only as a proper name for God. There are numerous examples, but take Genesis 15:2. Abraham addresses God as, Yahweh Adonay, or Lord God. This Lord, or Adonay, that the Psalm talks about is already at Yahweh’s right hand, and will judge the nations “on the day of his wrath.”

Yet this same Adonay will be a “son” or descendant of David. It seems that none of the Jews of Jesus’ time, including the leaders, thought through the implications of David’s words “by the Spirit.” They were so immersed in the Shema they would recite every day: Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one, that a divine Messiah never crossed their minds. He would be the son of David, a human, end of story; because God could never be human, and God could never be more than one. Their silence in response is testimony to the effectiveness of Jesus’ question:

46 No one could say a word in reply, and from that day on no one dared to ask him any more questions.

Matthew’s readers in the early Church knew that their silence was tacit admission that Jesus was correct. That he was both Adonay, and David’s son, and Israel’s long-awaited Messiah.