by Peter & Vita Toon
Kingsway Bible Studies
Kingsway Publication, 1979
How to use the studies (New Testament)
Introduction to Matthew
Study 1: The Messiah of the kingdom 1:1–2:23
Study 2: Preparation for the kingdom 3:1–4:25
Study 3: The righteousness of the kingdom 5:1–48
Study 4: The life of the kingdom 6:1–34
Study 5: The way of the kingdom 7:1–29
Study 6: The healing of the kingdom 8:1–27
Study 7: The authority of the kingdom 8:28–9:34
Study 8: Preachers of the kingdom 9:35–10:42
Study 9: The importance of the kingdom 11:1–12:8
Study 10: The priority of the kingdom 12:9–12:50
How To Use The Studies
1. Ensure that the aim is first to understand the text and then to make it meaningful and relevant. (The questions at the end of each study are intended to bring out the relevance for today.)
2. Begin with a prayer for the help and guidance of the Holy Spirit.
3. Have various English versions of the Bible available. At least one translation – e.g. the Revised Version, Revised Standard Version or New International Version – and at least one paraphrase – e.g. the Living Bible or Good News Bible – should be on hand for the group to use.
4. Choose one person to lead the discussion, preferably a mature Christian.
5. Encourage everyone to participate in the reading or the discussion.
6. Try the following method of approach:
(i) Begin the study by reading the whole passage in translation.
(ii) Then read each section (as indicated in the notes) from a paraphrase.
(iii) Also read aloud the notes themselves after each section.
(iv) Discuss the meaning of the passage.
This activity will involve several members of the group as readers.
7. Spend about ten minutes on each question with as many members as possible making a contribution. At the end of each discussion the leader should summarize the main points that have arisen.
8. Matters of concern which arise in the reading of the Scripture or in answering the questions could be made topics for prayer.
9. A balance must be kept between ascertaining what the Bible teaches and what are the opinions of participants. So the leader should make sure that there is an understanding of the passage before questions are raised. On some occasions this will mean that only two of the questions can be answered.
INTRODUCTION TO MATTHEW
From the second century until modern times it has been held that Matthew, the apostle, wrote this gospel. He wrote it in Aramaic, the language of Palestine, and this was later translated into Greek, the language of the Roman empire. This view has now lost favour, for most scholars believe that in the composition of this gospel the author widely used the gospel of Mark. The only way in which Matthew’s name can be associated with the gospel is to claim that he was the author of a collection of material (mostly the teachings of Jesus) which the author of the gospel used along with the gospel of Mark. By this procedure the more famous name of Matthew, rather than the now unknown name of the author, was attached to the gospel from early times. If Matthew wrote his own material before AD 70 then the gospel was probably written by AD 95. The probable source of origin is Syria.
It was written for Jewish Christians and for use in a Jewish Christian church. This may be deduced from its tone and its careful arrangement. There are five long sections of teaching:
The sermon on the mount: 5–7
Instructions on mission: 10
Parables about the kingdom : 13
The end of the age: 24–25
These recall the five books of Moses. Jesus is presented as a second and greater Moses, the interpreter and giver of the divine law.
Also much emphasis is placed on the fulfillment of the prophecies of the Old Testament by Jesus, so as to convince the Jewish reader of the truth about Jesus the Messiah. And in deference to Jewish custom, the kingdom of God is called the “kingdom of heaven”, since Jews hesitated to pronounce the divine name.
Yet, with all its Jewish flavour, the gospel does recognize that the message and the Saviour belong to the whole world. So the gospel ends with the commission to go to all peoples to preach and baptize.
There are helpful commentaries by William Hendriksen (Banner of Truth), R. V. G. Tasker (IVP) and J. C. Ryle (James Clarke).
Study 1: The Messiah Of The Kingdom
Here the reader is introduced to Jesus whose birth and infancy occurred precisely according to the predictions of the prophets of the Old Testament. So Jesus is presented as the Messiah, the promised Saviour and Deliverer of Israel.
1. 1:1–17 The ancestry of Jesus
Based on 1 Chronicles 1–3 this genealogy is divided into three sections (2–6a, 6b–11, 12-16) each with fourteen names. The descent of Jesus is traced to Abraham, the father of the Jewish nation (Genesis 12:1–3), and to David, the greatest and the idealized king of the Jews (2 Samuel 7:16; Jeremiah 23:5). The aim of the genealogy is to show that the birth of Jesus was according to God’s purpose and that his birth inaugurated a new beginning in God’s relationship to the Jews.
If a comparison is made with Luke’s genealogy (3:23–38) it will be seen that Luke makes Nathan (2 Samuel 5:14) follow David whereas Matthew makes Solomon follow. Luke gives the actual descent whereas Matthew gives the succession of the throne. For Matthew Jesus is truly king of the Jews.
2. 1:18–25 The birth of Jesus
The birth of Jesus was a normal birth. What was different was his conception in which no human male played a part. In fact the role of the Holy Spirit here, which is the beginning of God’s new creation in and through the Messiah, is to be compared with his role in the old creation (Genesis 1:1–2).
Betrothal in Jewish law involved binding obligations which only divorce could invalidate. If the intending bridegroom died then his betrothed was treated as a widow. When she conceived, Mary was betrothed but not married, that is not living in her husband’s house. The name “Jesus” is the Greek form of the Hebrew “Joshua” and means “The LORD is salvation”.
The prophecy quoted in verse 23 is Isaiah 7:14 which Matthew sees as pointing forward to the virginal conception in Mary. The idea of fulfilling the Scriptures is very important to Matthew and in chapters 1 and 2 there are five quotations from the Old Testament. By these Matthew seeks to show that Jesus is both the end of the Old Testament revelation and the beginning of a new revelation. He completes the old and begins the new.
3. 2:1–12 The visit of the magi
Here Matthew tells us that the birth of the Messiah took place at Bethlehem, that his appearance provoked the hostility of the Jews and that representatives of the Gentiles recognized him.
Herod the Great was born in 73 BC, was made governor of Galilee in 47 BC and named “king of Judea” by the Roman senate in 40 BC. He rebuilt the Temple in Jerusalem.
The “magi” were seers or astrologers from Babylonia or Arabia. In the light of Isaiah 49:7 and 60:1–6 they have been called kings. The star fulfilled Numbers 24:17 (see also Numbers 23:7 for “east”) and their worship fulfilled Psalm 72:11. In church tradition the three gifts have been seen as symbols of royalty (gold), divinity (incense) and death and burial (myrrh).
Notice the fulfillment theme in verses 5–6, where Micah 5:2 and 2 Samuel 5:2 are quoted; cf. John 7:42.
4. 2:13–23 Egypt and Nazareth
The flight to Egypt, the massacre of children in Bethlehem and the settlement in Nazareth are all events which fulfill predictions in the Old Testament. The divine intervention is emphasized by means of the visits of the angel of the Lord and the giving of dreams.
The leaving of Egypt fulfills Hosea 11:1, the massacre of children fulfills Jeremiah 31:15, while the settlement in Nazareth appears to fulfill no single known Old Testament passage. Scholars cannot as yet agree on precisely what Matthew had in mind in verse 23. One reason why they settled in Galilee instead of Judea was that Archelaus, now king of Judea, was a ruthless and cruel king.
5. Questions for discussion
1. Why was the genealogy of Jesus so important for Matthew?
2. Is the doctrine of the virgin birth (virginal conception) necessary for Christianity?
3. Is there any strength in the point that the visits of the angels and the dreams give a sense of unreality to the incidents?
4. Why was the fulfillment of the Jewish Scriptures so vital for Matthew?
Study 2: Preparation For The Kingdom
While Luke described the birth of John (1 :5ff.) Matthew is content to describe only his ministry. However, both writers describe the baptism and temptation of Jesus.
1. 3:1–12 John the Baptist
The wilderness is that area from the highlands of Judea to the Dead Sea. John’s message was the same as that of Jesus was to be (4:17). To repent is to return with full commitment to the God of Israel. The establishment of God’s rule is soon to be a reality and his people need to be prepared. In fact God is always the Ruler, but this rule is not visible on earth. For Matthew “heaven” is a synonym for “God” (Mark 1:15) and follows the Jewish practice of not pronouncing the name of God.
In fulfilling Isaiah 40:3 (verse 3) John is dressed as Elijah was (2 Kings 1:8). His preaching attracted many people, including Pharisees (laymen deeply committed to the law of Moses) and Sadducees (priestly families). For the latter he had harsh words. John’s baptism was a preparation for the coming Messiah and his kingdom. The actual baptism of the Messiah would give much more; it would fulfill Joel 2:28 and Ezekiel 36:25–27, for the Messiah gives the Spirit to his people. The Messiah’s coming means cleansing, refining and renewal for the repentant (verse 11) but judgement for the unrepentant (verse 12).
2. 3:13–17 Jesus is baptized
Of the four gospel writers only Matthew mentions John’s attempt to prevent the baptism of Jesus. The reply of Jesus means that by submitting to John’s baptism he is acknowledging John’s standard of righteousness as valid and true and so appropriate for himself and all Israel. Jesus, however, is sinless and has no repentance.
The reference to “like a dove” may be based on Genesis 1:2 and have the idea of the Spirit brooding as a bird over creation. This then would emphasize the idea of a new creation through Jesus (see comments in the first study). The heavenly voice adapts the words of Isaiah 42:1; “my servant” is changed to “my Son” (Psalm 2:7). “Son of God” was a title of the Messiah in Judaism. By using this text the Messiah is portrayed as being “ordained” to his ministry as the servant of the Lord, a ministry ending in death and resurrection (Isaiah 53).
3. 4:1–11 Jesus is tested
Here the conviction of Jesus that he is the Messiah (Son of God) is severely tested in the sense that the type of ministry he should engage in is challenged. Matthew presents Jesus as being successful where ancient Israel under Moses had failed – see the context of the quotations from Deuteronomy 8:3 ; 6:16; 6:13. By not submitting to Satan’s suggestions Jesus triumphs. Also, Jesus is presented as a second and greater Moses – Deuteronomy 9:9–18 – who perfectly leads his people. Then on the basis of Psalm 91, also quoted here (verse 6), Jesus is seen as the One who is protected by God. In this long encounter with Satan, as he works out what ministry means for him as the Suffering Servant of God, Jesus rejects all the suggestions of Satan – to feed bodies only, to be a miracle worker and to compromise. He must follow God’s plan provided in the Old Testament.
4. 4:12–25 Jesus begins his Galilean ministry
As John is removed from the scene, Jesus, again fulfilling Old Testament predictions (Isaiah 9:1–2), continues where John has left off (3:2 and 4:17). As he preaches the kingdom he begins to gather disciples of the kingdom (Peter, Andrew, etc.) and to cause God’s power to remove manifestations of Satan, sin and imperfection in human bodies (disease, etc.).
5. Questions for discussion
1. If Jesus was without sin, why did he feel it so important that he submit to John’s baptism?
2. In terms of Matthew’s gospel, what is the most natural interpretation of the baptism “with the Holy Spirit and with fire”?
3. Is it important for Christians today to believe in a personal devil?
4. Did the calling and empowering of Jesus as God’s Messiah mean that he had no need to work out the right way to fulfill his calling on the basis of the Jewish Scriptures?
Study 3: The Righteousness Of The Kingdom
In the sermon on the mount Matthew presents Jesus the Messiah, giving his own interpretation of the law of the kingdom of heaven. Righteousness, as depicted in this chapter, means faithful obedience in heart and life to the will of God.
The setting for the sermon is probably the quiet hill country west of the Sea of Galilee. As was the custom of Jewish teachers in synagogues and schools, Jesus sat down to teach.
1. 5:3–12 The beatitudes
“Blessed” is the equivalent of “O, the blessedness of . . .”. In the Old Testament the blessedness or true happiness of man is related to his attitude of trust in God and obedience to his will – e.g. Psalm 1:1. Here blessedness is related to Christ and the kingdom he brings, the kingdom of God’s reign in human lives. The happiness of those in the kingdom is only partially realized in this world, and it will be completed at the end of the age when the Messiah returns to earth.
The truly blessed are characterized by their dependence on God (verse 3), their sorrow in bereavement and affliction (verse 4), their humility (verse 5), their longing for life that conforms to the will of God (verse 6), their compassion for one another (verse 7; cf. Matthew 9:13; 12:7; 18:33), their spiritual purity (verse 8), their active peacemaking (verse 9), their obedience to God’s will in the face of opposition (verse 10) and their allegiance to Christ (verse 11).
The “earth” of verse 5 refers to the new order of creation after the second coming of Christ.
2. 5:13–16 Salt and light
As salt purifies, preserves and penetrates, so must the disciples in the world. If they maintain the qualities depicted in the beatitudes they will be as effective as salt; if not, they will be useless to God and man.
As light penetrates darkness to bring illumination, so by their character, works and message disciples of the kingdom are to expose the spiritual darkness and bring the light of God’s good news.
3. 5:17–20 Jesus and the law of Moses
For Jews the law was of vital importance. Does the good news of the kingdom make the law obsolete or does the law have abiding validity? Jesus came to fulfill, but what does this mean? It can mean to confirm, or validate, or complete, or establish. By drawing out its meaning and exposing its original intention Jesus establishes the law. And it remains until the kingdom is established in all its fullness.
4. 5:21–48 A superior righteousness
The same pattern governs the five antitheses. “You have heard [that is, you have understood it to mean or have taken it literally to be] . . . but I say to you. . . .” As the Messiah, and as a second and greater Moses, Jesus exposes the true depth and meaning of the law.
The meaning of verse 22 will best be understood if it is borne in mind that here are references to the local court of the synagogue (judgement), to the supreme Jewish court (Sanhedrin or council) and to the valley of Hinnom near Jerusalem (hell of fire) used as a rubbish dump. The fires continually burning there symbolized God’s everlasting punishment.
5. Questions for discussions
1. In what kind of life-style should the qualities of genuine discipleship expressed in the beatitudes find expression today?
2. Are “salt” and “light” appropriate images to describe the role of the Christian community in the modern technological world? Can you think of better ones?
3. Is the righteousness of the kingdom described in chapter 5 a realistic ideal?
4. Are oaths in courts of law forbidden by verses 33–37?
Study 4: The Life Of The Kingdom
Jesus continues his teaching about righteousness and its expression in lives devoted to God.
1. 6:1–18 Three forms of piety
The basic principle governing all acts of piety is that they must not be performed for the sake of self-glorification. If they are done in order to gain the praise of human beings then that is the only reward they will receive. God’s approval and reward is given only when they are performed secretly or without publicity.
The word “piety” (verse 1) means righteousness and includes all duties done for God or to God. Almsgiving, prayer and fasting are singled out since for the orthodox Jew the practice of these was the chief means of obtaining merit with God.
Jesus condemns not the practices but the hypocritical performance of them – see also Matthew 15:7–9 and 22:18. Hypocrisy is playing at being pious without really being so. If the underlying motive is to glorify God then there will be no drawing of attention by blowing trumpets (as was done in the Temple when alms were given), no praying at street corners (Jews prayed at the set hours of prayer wherever they were) and no obvious sign of fasting. In fact attention should be directed away from fasting by making it appear that meals are still regular!
Luke 11:2–4 gives a shorter version of the Lord’s Prayer and probably represents the original version taught by Jesus, while Matthew has given us the longer form used in the worship of the church to which he was attached. In verses 7–8 a contrast is drawn between Gentile prayers, characterized by incantations and magical formulae listing the names of the gods, and the simple, childlike Christian approach, “Our Father . . .”. Although Jews did call God “Father” Jesus gave special emphasis to this way of thinking about God. However, the name of God is sacred (Exodus 3 :13–15; 20:7) and he must be approached with reverence.
Verses 14–15 echo the same idea of conditional forgiveness as is expressed in Matthew 18:23–35.
2. 6:19–34 Possessions and anxiety
In a series of varied pictures the theme of seeking God’s reward and not man’s is developed. God’s reward, the heavenly treasure which is lasting and secure, is to be preferred to earthly treasure, always subject to decay and loss. Since a man’s whole life is directed by that which he most values, to set his heart on heavenly treasures will be to enter into a deeper and richer spiritual life. It will be a life of undivided loyalty and commitment to God.
According to ancient physiology the eye was the source of light for the whole body and therefore gave direction to human life (verse 22). With the eye on heavenly treasure there will be singleness of mind and service. Also there will be an indifference towards mammon (wealth or any materialism which detracts from single-minded devotion to God).
The priority of the kingdom and commitment to it reaches its fullest expression in verse 33, “Seek first . . .”. Single-minded devotion to God brings the assurance that he will provide for all human need; therefore there is no place for worry or anxiety.
3. Questions for discussion
1. Does the hope of divine reward make any difference to our commitment to prayer, fasting and giving?
2. Should the Lord’s Prayer be recited, or is it meant to be a guide to prayer (the contents of prayer)?
3. How can a Christian render undivided allegiance to God today?
4. Does it follow that to increase our trust in God is to decrease our worries?
Study 5: The Way Of The Kingdom
Jesus concludes the sermon on the mount with more searching teaching about what citizenship of the kingdom of heaven means.
1. 7:1–5 Judging others
“Judging” here means condemning. To condemn others is to cloud our vision of our own faults. Our attention should be directed towards self-criticism, and since we are never perfect in this life we can never be in a position to condemn others.
2. 7:6 The need for discrimination
While the disciple must not judge his fellow disciples he must be discriminating and discerning in presenting the gospel. He must prevent the gospel from being abused by people who cannot appreciate it; this means he will take great care in the way he preaches it.
3. 7:7–11 Petitions
This is a call to pray with confidence to a loving, heavenly Father. The normal earthly father has a natural inclination to give to his child. God, who is wholly loving and just, must necessarily have a greater inclination to help his children. God is always ready to give. Cf. Luke 18:1–8.
4. 7:12 The golden rule
In a negative form this rule was well known in Judaism: “What is hateful to you, you shall not do to your neighbour; this word is the whole law and all else is commentary on it.” Jesus puts it in its positive, more helpful form.
The law and prophets cover the whole Old Testament, and those who keep the golden rule can be said to be doing what God requires of men in terms of human relationships.
5. 7:13–24 The two ways
The theme of a choice between life and destruction was familiar in Jewish teaching – see Deuteronomy 30:19 and Jeremiah 21: 8, and note that Jewish sects at this time (e.g. at Qumran) referred to the way of light and the way of darkness. Life (verse 14) means the life of the kingdom, which has both a present and future aspect. At the moment it is the rule of God in human lives; after Christ’s second coming it will be the new age. Few choose this life.
6. 7:15–23 False prophets
Prophecy was common in the primitive church – 1 Corinthians 12:10, 28; Ephesians 4:11; Acts 11:28; 21:10 – but not all prophets were genuine (see 1 John 4:1–3; Revelation 2:20). Jesus is emphasizing that with the message and the miracles must go obedience to the will of God.
7. 7:24–27 The two house-builders
The wise person listens to the word of God expounded by Jesus and puts it into practice. As a result he escapes God’s wrath, symbolized by the rain, floods and winds (cf. Ezekiel 13:10ff.). The foolish man ignores God’s word and is then unable to avoid the judgements of God. So only the life built upon the solid rock of faithful obedience to the teaching of Jesus will stand at the final judgement. Cf. Deuteronomy 28:15, 20.
Matthew’s summary in verse 28 contrasts the teaching of the professional lawyers, the scribes, with that of Jesus. Their teaching was not original and consisted of endless quotes from a variety of sources. That of Jesus had a ring of authority which challenged the hearers to ignore it at their peril.
8. Questions for discussion
1. Is there any circumstance in which Christians may condemn others?
2. What part should petitions have in prayer as part of worship?
3. If there are false prophets today, how do we recognize them?
4. How can we make people today acknowledge the authority of Jesus?
Study 6: The Healing Of The Kingdom
In the long section 8:1–9:34 ten miracles (nine healing and one involving a storm) are recorded. Here we examine briefly the first five and notice some teaching on discipleship.
1. 8:1–4 The leper
Leprosy was a common disease in Palestine. It was expected that the Messiah would cure lepers (Matthew 11:5). Jesus touched the leper and spoke the word of authority to heal him. The ritual purification was performed by the priest (Leviticus 14:1ff.).
2. 8:5–13 The servant of the centurion
The soldier was a pagan but not necessarily a Roman. He was in charge of a company of troops and had great confidence in the authoritative word of Jesus and in God, the source of the authority. Jesus found his faith exemplary and this led him (verses 11–12) to speak of the membership of the coming kingdom of the Messiah. Using ideas based on Isaiah 25:6, Jesus taught that Gentile believers would be admitted and descendants of Abraham excluded.
3. 8:14–15 Peter’s mother-in-law
Fever was regarded as a disease rather than a symptom. Jesus touched the woman’s hand (an action forbidden by the Pharisees) to heal her and she then served him at table. Probably Peter and his wife lived in this home.
4. 8:16–17 The sick people of Capernaum
Matthew emphasizes the authority of the word of Jesus again – “he cast out the spirits with a word”. Demons and evil spirits were often related to illness. The quotation from Isaiah 53:4 is a means of presenting Jesus as the Servant of the Lord, the One who will suffer, and of showing the fulfillment of prophecy.
Before the fifth miracle there is a section, verses 18–22, where discipleship is explained. The scribe expresses an intention to follow Jesus everywhere; in those days students of a rabbi literally went everywhere with him. But the man did not realize the difficulties, loneliness and hardship involved in such a following, and so Jesus told him. Jesus preferred to call himself “Son of man”, a little used title (Daniel 7:13), because the more general word “Messiah” in ordinary speech had come to mean a political deliverer, freeing Jews from Roman rule. Another person who had been listening to and following Jesus asked permission to leave the band of disciples in order to perform what was required of Jewish sons, the attendance at his father’s burial. The reply of Jesus seems harsh, but it was meant to emphasize the urgency and supreme importance of commitment to the kingdom of heaven.
5. 8:23–27 The storm is stilled
The sea is the Sea of Galilee which was and still is subject to short violent storms. Here Matthew presents Jesus as possessing authority in a new sphere, the ‘elements’. He has authority over sickness, evil spirits, and even over the meaning of the law of Moses, and now he is seen to have authority over the powers of nature. In the Old Testament the LORD is presented as ruling the raging seas – Psalm 89:9 and 104:7. Apart from the theme of authority over nature, Jesus is also presented as the one in whom the disciples can have complete trust as he protects them from danger.
6. Questions for discussion
1. Should we expect the many healings which Jesus performed as the Messiah, fulfilling Old Testament prophecy, to be continued in the church throughout history? Or is there something unique about the period of the Messiah on earth?
2. Do we present the following of Jesus Christ in sufficiently challenging terms?
3. What would be a good modern answer to the question, “What sort of man is this . . .?” (verse 27)?
4. Jesus is the man of authority. How did he exercise this authority?
Study 7: The Authority Of The Kingdom
Here we study the second five of the ten miracles in the section 8:1–9:34, and also read of the call of Matthew the apostle.
1. 8:28–34 Two demoniacs
There is a similar story in Mark 5:1–20 and Luke 8:26–39 in which only one demoniac is involved. The “country of the Gadarenes” is probably modern Kersa on the edge of the Sea of Galilee. It was Gentile territory, for only Gentiles would keep pigs. From within the demoniacs the evil spirits recognized Jesus as the Messiah, their major opponent (James 2:19). Jesus sacrificed the less important of God’s creatures to save the highest, for the spirits apparently had to live somewhere.
2. 9:1–8 The paralytic
Here the authority of Jesus is presented in terms of his power both to heal and to forgive sins. Only God could forgive sins and so Jesus was claiming a unique relationship to God.
Sickness and illness were interpreted as signs or proofs of sinful living. That Jesus accepted this simplistic relation is improbable. Even so he knew that all who are sick are also sinners. By calling himself “Son of man” he was using his favourite Messianic title (see Daniel 7:13ff.).
Before the next miracle the call of Matthew is described in verses 9–13. Near the city of Capernaum was a customs post where goods passed from the territory of Philip to that of Herod Antipas. Here sat Matthew, the customs officer. Such an occupation was regarded as sinful by the orthodox Jews, for it involved working on the sabbath and breaking other laws of Moses. At the feast after the call of Matthew to discipleship, Jesus referred to Hosea 6:6 as a way of explaining his association with “sinners”. He called such people into his table fellowship and band of disciples.
From controversy with the Pharisees Jesus turns to controversy with the disciples of John the Baptist in verses 14–17. Jesus presents himself as the true Messiah (the Bridegroom) whose message brings joy and new life. It also cannot be contained by Judaism.
3. 9:18–26 The woman with the haemorrhage and the dead girl
The authority of Jesus is further illustrated by his power to raise the dead and his ability to cure an incurable illness. A longer account is in Mark 5:21ff. The word “sleep” was used of the dead (see Daniel 12:2). The presence of flute players and mourners also suggests death. For similar miracles by the power of God see that by Elijah (1 Kings 17:17–24), Elisha (2 Kings 4:17–37) and Peter (Acts 9:36–42). What is impressive about the woman with the haemorrhage is her deep conviction and faith that Jesus alone can satisfy her need.
4. 9:27–31 Two blind men
Recognizing Jesus as the Messiah (“Son of David,” cf. Matthew 1:1) and demonstrating true faith in him, the men are given their sight. It is possible that the theme of Isaiah 35:4ff. (where blind, deaf and dumb are healed) lies behind the way this story and the next are told.
5. 9:32–34 A dumb demoniac
There is no mention of faith or of a conversation but the latter would have been impossible for a deaf and dumb man. The cure is a complete one, for the man not only makes noises, but he actually speaks the local language. The comments of the Pharisees are repeated at greater length in chapter 12:24ff.
6. Questions for discussion
1. Should a distinction be made between Jesus’ miracles of healing and his exorcisms? If so, what is being taught about Jesus himself through both types of miracle?
2. Are there some occupations which a Christian cannot truly pursue? If so, why?
3. What is the best way to explain the relation of the teaching and new approach of Jesus to the Judaism of his day? Does this have any bearing on the relation of Christianity to Judaism today?
4. What exactly do we mean by a “miracle”?
Study 8: Preachers Of The Kingdom
Here we reach the second of the five long sections of teaching given by Jesus and recorded in this gospel. Matthew carefully sets the context for it in the section 9:35-10:4.
1. 9:35–10:4 The need for workers
In his extensive ministry Jesus finds that everywhere people are in need. They are like sheep without a shepherd (Numbers 27:17; 1 Kings 22:17; Isaiah 53:6; Ezekiel 34:5). The crowds are like sheep who, worried by dogs and left lying on the ground, are unable to help themselves. The “harvest” (verse 37) to be reaped probably refers to the possibility of many disciples of the kingdom; in other places it refers to the end of the age (Matthew 13:30, 39). Jesus enlists the Twelve to work in this harvest. The names of the Twelve are listed also in Mark 3:16–19, Luke 6:13–16 and Acts 1:13. To them Jesus gives his own authority (described in previous chapters) to heal, and to cast out devils.
2. 10:5–16 Their task
They are to go only to Jews, for the order of God’s offer of salvation is “to the Jew first and then to the Gentile” (Romans 1:16). Their message (verse 7) is the same as that of John (3:2) and Jesus (4:17). They are to do what Jesus did in his ministry of healing (Matthew 8:1–9:34). As their authority and power had come to them by the gift of Jesus, the Messiah, so they are freely to give to those in need. They are to live by faith in God, knowing that he will provide their needs.
The greeting of peace is the peace and blessing of the kingdom of heaven. Once uttered this word is a word of power and, if received, carries with it the peace of God itself. It is an effectual word (cf. Isaiah 55:11).
They go out as defenseless preachers (sheep) amongst false teachers (wolves); they are to be wise and shrewd (serpents) with purity of intention in patience and faithfulness.
3. 10:17–25 Suffering for the kingdom
These words have relevance both to the immediate mission and their later mission after the ascension of Jesus. “Councils” (verse 17) refers to governing bodies of synagogues, while “governors and kings” refers to the Roman administrators of Palestine and the empire. When arrested for their work in Christ’s name, preachers of the kingdom are to rely upon the Holy Spirit to give them appropriate words. They are not to provoke people but move on from town to town when persecuted. Christ is their example and since he has been called Beelzebul (2 Kings 1:2, “Lord of flies” or “Satan”) so will they.
Verse 23 is difficult to interpret. It appears to mean that after his resurrection Jesus will come in triumph to the apostles and commission them to make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:18–20).
4. 10:26–42 Discipleship
Jesus begins by urging his disciples to confess him as Messiah without fear of what men can do to them (verses 26–33). Their heavenly Father is greater than all their opponents and he will care for them. Then he tells them that such are the demands of the kingdom that they bring divisions even in families (verses 34–39). When there is a choice between human relations and the kingdom then the choice must be the Messiah and his kingdom.
The conclusion of this whole section (verses 40–42) returns to the earlier theme of receiving heralds of the kingdom into the home (see verses 11–15).
5. Questions for discussion
1. If the harvest is always ripe, how do we become labourers in it? Do we need a commission?
2. Of all the instructions of Jesus to his preachers, which are the most relevant for today?
3. To what extent can we rely on the Holy Spirit in witness and preaching?
4. What are the costs of discipleship today?
Study 9: The Importance Of The Kingdom
Here in the actions, words and prayer of Jesus we see the supreme importance of the reign of God.
1. 11:1–19 Jesus and John
The arrest of John was mentioned in 4:12 and his death will be described in 14:3–12. Jesus does not directly answer John’s question as to whether or not he is the Messiah. Rather he takes up themes from Isaiah 35:5–6 and 61:1–3 and invites John to study the evidence and come to a conclusion. In verse 6 Jesus is saying that the kingdom is revealed in him and so to reject him is to reject the rule of God.
How Jesus saw John is given in verses 7–19. In terms of the Old Testament John fulfilled Malachi 3:1 and Exodus 23:20 in his role as herald. He stood at the entrance to the kingdom of God proclaiming its arrival in Jesus. So as herald of the kingdom no greater (i.e. more privileged) person has lived on earth. To proclaim it and to be in it are not the same. John represented the end of the Old Covenant as he announced the New; he was the promised Elijah (Malachi 4:5). Yet the simple believer who accepted the Messiah and entered the kingdom was greater than John, for the believer was actually in the kingdom. This is not, however, to pass comment on the salvation of those under the old covenant.
Verse 12 may mean that the social outcasts (e.g. tax collectors) grasp the opportunity to enter the kingdom (cf. Luke 16:16). Alternatively it could mean that orthodox Jews (zealots) sought to bring in the kingdom by force, attacking the Roman occupying forces.
The wisdom which is “justified by her deeds” (verse 19) means that God’s wisdom in the Messiah and his kingdom is proved right by the miracles which are being performed by Jesus.
2. 11:20–24 Unrepentant cities
Chorazin was two miles from Capernaum. Bethsaida was where the Jordan flowed into the Sea of Galilee. Tyre and Sidon were Phoenician cities (Amos 1:9–10; Isaiah 23). The rebuke of Capernaum is probably modelled on that of Babylon (Isaiah 14:13–15). Sodom was destroyed for its wickedness (Genesis 19).
The argument of Jesus here requires a resurrection of the dead before the judgement of verse 24.
3. 11:25–30 Jesus prays and addresses the people
Here is an important insight into the spiritual biography of Jesus. The truth and power of the kingdom has been rejected by Jewish orthodoxy but received by child-like, believing disciples. This revelation (truth and power) has come from the Father through the Son – verse 27 sounds like a verse from John’s gospel, e.g. 5:43; 6:27.
To those who find the teaching of the scribes and Pharisees on keeping the law a great burden (Matthew 23:4) Jesus offers a more direct access to the Father. In his relationship with them Jesus will fulfill the role of the Suffering Servant (Isaiah 42:1ff. and 53:1ff.).
4. 12:1–8 Jesus, Lord of the sabbath
For David and the shewbread, see 1 Samuel 21:1–6 (cf. Exodus 25: 30; Leviticus 24:5–10). Jesus claims that priests worked when they changed this shewbread (Leviticus 24:8) and offered the sacrifices of the sabbath (Numbers 28:9–10).
That which is greater than the Temple may be the new community of the new covenant, or it may be Jesus himself (see John 2 :20–21).
5. Questions for discussion
1. Who or what is the “least in the kingdom”?
2. To what extent can the message of verses 20–24 be applied to so-called Christian countries?
3. What are the burdens of today from which Jesus gives rest?
4. Does the lordship of Jesus over the sabbath have anything to tell us about our use of Sunday, the Lord’s Day?
Study 10: The Priority Of The Kingdom
Here Jesus is presented as God’s chosen servant, the creator of a new human family that lives in the kingdom of God.
1. 12:9–14 Healing on the sabbath
The Pharisees said that it was lawful to heal a man on Saturday if his life was in danger. But Jesus argues further that if a sheep in a pit can be helped, why can’t a man be helped? To do good cannot be contrary to God’s will. This straightforward interpretation of the law of Moses by Jesus made him a threat to the self-styled champions of the law.
2. 12:15–21 Jesus, the Suffering Servant
The quotation in verses 18–21 is from Isaiah 42:1–4, one of the four poems in Isaiah which describe the servant of the LORD (Messiah). In his attitude and actions Jesus perfectly fulfilled this prophetic prediction, claims Matthew. And through Jesus, the servant, salvation will be made available to the Gentiles. (See also Isaiah 49:1–6; 50:4–9; 52:13–53:12.)
3. 12:22–37 Jesus is not Beelzebul
“Son of David” was a title for the Messiah, but the Pharisees call Jesus “Beelzebul” instead (see also Matthew 10:25). To them he was in the employment of Satan, the enemy of the law of God. The reply of Jesus shows up their careless thinking (verses 25–27). Exorcisms either by Jesus or by disciples of the Pharisees were necessarily attacks on the kingdom of Satan.
In casting out evil spirits Jesus saw himself as bringing God’s loving rule into the inner lives of people. Jesus is as the strongest man overcoming a strong man (Satan), and neutrality where Jesus is concerned is impossible (verse 30).
“Blasphemy against the Spirit” (verse 31) appears to involve the assertion that the power by which Jesus did exorcisms was demonic. It is to call light darkness; it is the persistent, willful rejection of divine truth.
Examples of speaking against the Son of man (involving Peter) are found in Matthew 16:22–23 and 26:69–75.
The basic theme of verses 33–37 is that words reveal character.
4. 12:38–42 The sign of Jonah
In John’s gospel “signs” are miracles (John 2:23), but in Matthew a sign is a convincing display of supernatural power for wrong ends (cf. 1 Corinthians 1:22). The “sign” of Jonah is not really a sign of the type the Pharisees wish to see. Jonah was required to go to Nineveh, a Gentile city, with God’s message. He acted as a “light to the Gentiles”. By the death and resurrection of the Suffering Servant the salvation of God will go to the Gentiles (Matthew 12:17–21).
The Queen of Sheba came a long distance to hear Solomon’s wisdom (1 Kings 10:1–13), but the people of Jesus’ day refuse to pay heed to someone greater than Solomon!
5. 12:43–45 The unclean spirit returns
Two interpretations are possible. It may refer to the unsatisfactory methods of exorcism of the Pharisees; they do not bring the kingdom to the spiritual vacuum they create. Or it may refer to the future of the Jews of Palestine, predicting spiritual disaster after the Messiah has left the earth. Before he came there was expectancy, but after he leaves there will be judgement.
6. 12:46–50 The new family
What may appear as harsh words of Jesus teach a solemn truth. The kingdom of God, obedience to the Father’s will, must always take first place.
7. Questions for discussion
1. What would be a reasonable modern interpretation of verses 31–32?
2. Do the words of a religious person always reveal his or her character?
3. What guidelines for Christian service are to be gleaned from verses 43–45?
4. How suitable today is the image of a family to describe a community of Christians?
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