Moving on to Revelation and PDF of blog posts on Matthew

After I completed my study of Matthew last week, I moved on to a study of Revelation. I don’t intend to publish regular blog posts out of this study, because Revelation is too contentious and I have never wanted to be in a position of leading anyone else in a study of it. I’m sure there will be some posts about it as time goes on.

One thing that has dawned on me already (in the first eleven verses of Revelation) is that endurance has a component of resistance, especially when it comes to false teaching. False teaching and the ineffectiveness of the church is what you might call a hobby of mine, so I’m sure I will have some things to say.

Meanwhile, I compiled my Matthew blog posts into a single PDF file. I certainly wouldn’t consider it to be any kind of commentary, but it might be useful to people teaching a class or a group studying Matthew. I would think of it more as a set of teaching points than anything else. So help yourself with the link below:

Matthew blog posts.pdf

Matthew 28:16-20; Mission

Jesus’ earthly ministry comes to a halt. He passes the job on to his disciples.

This location may be the same place where the Sermon on the Mount took place. The Greek is a little ambiguous, but it could be translated something like, “to the mountain where Jesus had taught them.” That is not a sure thing, of course, but Matthew loves to have important meetings take place on mountains.

Jesus reiterates his authority, given by God. Perhaps reflecting Daniel 7, truly he proclaiming that his kingdom is already underway. That would probably carry more weight with the disciples after the resurrection. We must continue to deal with the already-not yet nature of the kingdom, but it has been instituted.

Going, Make Disciples

The disciples are not told to preach the gospel. I suppose that is understood. They are told to make disciples. These guys know what disciples are and they know discipleship is a deep level of commitment. They are hunting for good soil of the fourth kind.

Their mission is to all the nations. They are not turning from Israel, but they are turning toward the gentiles.This is a big change and must have been a surprise to the disciples.

Baptize

Since John, baptism has not played a big role in Jesus’ ministry, so this one is kind of a surprise. Also surprising is the placing of the name of Jesus on a level with the Father and the Spirit. We should not read into this a full trinitarian understanding, but that is where it is heading.

There is not mention of faith here, but again, it seems we are to understand that faith in Jesus must precede baptism.

Teach

The disciples are not to teach a philosophy or a pattern of beliefs. Matthew has been at pains throughout this gospel to show us that following Jesus is a way of life. The teaching is to be about obedience. Jesus left a deposit of teaching and most of it is about how to live, which of course includes how to think but a lot more.

If our teaching is limited to doctrine and philosophy, we are missing the boat. If our aims are not at making true disciples, we are not even trying to fulfill the mission.

Jesus leaves his final word with the disciples and with the church. He will be with us. Always.

Matthew 28:1-15; Resurrection

And the two Marys witnessed the raised Jesus and carried the message to to men.

If the story had ended at the cross, it wouldn’t have been the gospel, the good news. If the story had ended at the cross, the cross would be seen as a symbol of defeat instead of the turning point of human history. If the story had ended at the cross, we would have never heard that story.

It didn’t end with the cross. It didn’t end in a grave. Jesus was raised from the dead.

The angel tells the women to verify the empty tomb and then to tell the disciples to meet Jesus in Galilee.

On the way, experiencing both fear and great joy, they meet Jesus. Jesus is alive. They worship him in a way that reminds us of the anointing of Jesus for burial.

Jesus also tells them to deliver the message to the disciples, but he calls them “my brothers”. Can you imagine how sweet that would have sounded to the ten who abandoned him and the one who had denied him? Resurrection is the start of restoration.

Meanwhile, the guards, who fainted at the earthquake and the opening of the tomb and the angel, tell the truth to the priests. They call another council and hatch another plot. They pay the guards to lie about what happened. Even an angel cannot get these leaders to see the truth.

Jesus is alive. Hope is alive. The disciples are restored. The story is not over.

Matthew 27:57-66; Burial

Within twenty-four hours of saying, “This is my body…”, that body is buried in the tomb of Joseph, wrapped in linen. Jesus is really and truly dead, just as he predicted.

Joseph was a disciple of Jesus. He was rich (with God all things are possible), and he had enough influence for Pilate to grant him to the right to bury the body. The main disciples have fled, but Joseph and some of the women have stayed.

And the two Marys witnessed the burial and stood vigil.

The Jerusalem leaders had heard of Jesus’ prediction of his resurrection, and they want to avoid any hanky panky with the body by posting a guard. Notice the reappearance of the Pharisees, who have been quiescent during the proceedings leading to Jesus’ death. The leaders seal the grave and post a guard.

These rube Galileans won’t be able to pull anything over on them, the sophisticated Temple leaders.

Matthew 27:27-56; Crucifixion

Pilate weakly condemned Jesus to death, though convinced of his innocence. Go along to get along. The governor and the Temple authorities had a strange alliance, held together but the avoidance of trouble.

Matthew’s account of the crucifixion focuses more on the mockery Jesus endured than on the execution itself. There are a number of oblique and more obvious reflection of material from the Psalms throughout the description. The Roman mockery focuses on the supposed royal claims of Jesus put forward by the priests to bring about his execution. The Jewish mockery focuses more on the power that a messiah should have.

There is also more focus on those who were near Jesus than on Jesus himself. The soldiers, Simon, the mockers, the robbers, the women. The scene is built with Jesus in the background of all this activity. There is little in the way of theology. Jesus said in chapter 20 that “the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many”, but we are not reminded of that here.

The two thieves stand in for James and John, who wanted to be at Jesus right and left hands when he came into his kingdom. And their mother, who pushed them to ask, watches. James and John have abandoned Jesus along with the rest of the men. Only the women are left to watch. Their discipleship proved more steadfast than that of the men. Even the thieves mock Jesus, along with the passersby, the priests, and the soldiers.

The soldiers guard against a rescue attempt. Jesus cries out, seeming to say that even God has abandoned him. There will be no rescue.

Matthew even downplays the death of Jesus. He cried out and died.

But there are apocalyptic, eschatological signs accompanying his death. God had not abandoned Jesus, because we now see his hand in the tearing of the Temple curtain, an earthquake, and some kind of resurrection of saints that must prefigure the resurrection of Jesus, yet to come. I suppose these signs also prefigure the coming destruction of Jerusalem to come in 35 years or so.

The soldiers are impressed enough by these signs to proclaim that he is indeed God’s Son. They may not know what they are saying, but Matthew does and so do we.

And the women watch it all. Their value as witnesses in immense.

Matthew 27:11-26; Pilate

Apparently the strategy for Pilate’s trial was to present Jesus as a wannabe king. This is a loose and inaccurate description of a messiah, I suppose, but it certainly does not fit Jesus. But when in Rome …

Throughout this account Pilate is skeptical. He can see through the subterfuge and understands that these leaders just don’t like Jesus because he could upset their status quo. He is no threat to Rome.

For Jesus’ part, he kind of admits to being the messiah, but is cagy about it. His answer is definitely more like yes than no. But he refuses to answer the charges of the council. If he had aspirations to be king he would fight for his life. But he doesn’t. Since Gethsemane he is resigned to death.

Who is responsible for the death of Jesus?

Pilate

Obviously Pilate did not want to condemn Jesus. He saw through the council’s thin charges. His wife warned him to steer clear of Jesus, which reminds us of the dreams of the Magi way back at the beginning of Matthew. He offers to release Jesus and condemn another criminal. He wants to avoid guilt, although he cannot do so. The Coptic church has canonized Pilate and his wife, but I think that is a mistake.

The Chief Priests and Elders

They arrest Jesus away from the crowds. They condemn him in the night, away from the crowds. They strategize about how to get Pilate to condemn him. They incite the crowds—probably in terms of anti-Roman nationalism—to compel Pilate to condemn him.

The Jewish People

Here I am referring to the crowd referenced in this story. They are easily manipulated by the council leaders. They accept guilt.

Need for Great Care

Matthew 27:25 has been the source of great sin and great evil. Whole systems of anti-Semitism are built on this verse. Or, actually, and incorrect interpretations of this verse.

First, the crowd was manipulated by the leaders. Second, the part about “and on our children” does not accept guilt on future generations. It is simply an amplifier of intensity to let Pilate know they are serious. Third, this is only a small segment of the Jewish people. Most of them had no idea who Jesus was or what was going on.

What Matthew is telling us is that the Jewish people in general did not accept Jesus as the messiah. He is telling his church that this is the reason the mission moved on to the gentiles, while not ignoring the Jews. The Jews are still the people of God. Ask Paul about that.

Anti-Semitism is a grave sin against God and his people. It takes many forms and it has tried to wipe them from the face of the earth. The Christian church is responsible for much of the carnage. Anti-Semitism in any form is distinctly un-Christian.

Matthew 27:1-10; Judas the Betrayer

Thursday night turns to Friday morning. The hours of darkness have been spent with the Lord’s supper, the prayers in Gethsemane, the arrest of Jesus, and his trial before the council. They arrested him in order to kill him, so they spent the night gathering the evidence they needed and strategizing about how to present the case to Pilate, the Roman governor. In the morning, they restrained him and sent him over.

Now the scene focuses on Judas the Betrayer. That has almost become his name in the latter parts of Matthew. Judas changed his mind and brought back the money he was paid to betray Jesus.

There are two ways of looking at this.

  1. Judas expresses regret but not repentance. His suicide shows that he has no hope of restoration. Judas is lost for all eternity.
  2. Or, even though the word used for “changed his mind” here is different from the normal word for repentance, Judas does show true repentance and even tries to give back the money. Thus, Judas is not restored in life, but is restored in the kingdom.

I’m not sure what to think. I’m not sure what Matthew intends for me to think. A case can certainly be made for Matthew seeing this as true repentance. As you think about this matter, ask yourself whether you are relying on your reading of scripture or on the tradition you have heard from the pulpit.

Either way, Judas executes his own death penalty, having been told by the priests that he is on his own. In a way, he transfers the guilt back to them with the money. It’s interesting that they are careful about the use of the blood money but callously send an innocent man to death. It reminds me of church leaders today who fiddle while Rome burns.

The council serve as Judas’ representatives in fulfilling scripture. Matthew quotes from Zechariah (though he says Jeremiah) in another case of the life and death of Jesus fulfilling scripture. Matthew may also have in mind the story of the potter in Jeremiah.

Next the scene will move into the governor’s court.

Matthew 26:69-75; Peter Denies Jesus

The number three makes for good storytelling. There are lots of threes in this sequence.

In Gethsemane, Jesus prayed three times while Peter slept three times. Jesus had told Peter to watch and pray so that he would be able to stand in temptation. Peter slept instead.

Now he denied Jesus three times.

There seems to have been no threat against the disciples, but I suppose Peter did not know that. And he was following Jesus, if at a distance. He at least wanted to know what happened. Probably at this time he would have been resigned to Jesus dying.

Matthew’s original audience knew plenty of informal persecution for being Christians. And that’s what Peter is experiencing here. I mean, he is only dealing with recognition by a couple servant girls and some bystanders.

His denials increase in amplitude. The first is almost more of a misdirection. In the second he uses an oath, contrary to the instructions of his master. In the third, he calls down a curse. He may have even been cursing Jesus. Matthew isn’t specific, and most English translations are reluctant to go there.

He said he did not know Jesus. Imagine Jesus saying, “I never knew you.” Ouch.

Then the rooster crowed and Peter realized what he had done. He remembered Jesus’ words even if he denied knowing him. He left that place and wept bitterly. I’ve wept bitterly before and so have you. This was the right thing for Peter to do.

Peter was repentant for what he had done. It is implied that he was forgiven by Jesus and restored to his relationship with him.

Judas is a different case.

Matthew 26:57-68; Before Caiaphas

Those who arrested Jesus took him to Caiaphas, the high priest. Caiaphas had assembled a group of elders and scribe for the expressed purpose of finding a legal reason to put Jesus to death. There is no western thought of “innocent until proven guilty” here. They already know they want Jesus dead, but they need to build a case.

For the chief priests, Jesus is inconvenient. They go along by getting along with the Romans. Anyone who might incite a popular uprising is dangerous to them. That’s why they wanted to snatch Jesus out of the public eye. And if we are to see this meeting taking place in the courtyard of Caiaphas’ house, they are still keeping it on the down low.

We don’t know much about how this kind of council led by the high priest worked at the time. I think they best way to view it is as a group of guys who provide the high priest with council in important matters.

It takes a while, but they are finally able to find some witnesses who heard something they can use. They take the discussion about the Temple as Jesus claiming to have the authority of God himself. Jesus will not answer the trumped up charges. So the high priest asks Jesus plainly if he is the messiah.

Jesus answers indirectly, but positively. But he adds references to Daniel 7 and Psalm 110. No surprise—it ticks the high priest off and sends him into melodramatic paroxysms of robe tearing. The council agrees that Jesus deserves death.

As we know, the Romans do not allow the Jerusalem leaders to execute anyone, so there is more to come Meanwhile, they mistreat Jesus in the way that a discredited prophet would be handled. If they only knew what they were doing.

Meanwhile, Peter has followed at a distance and is sitting with the guards at the gate. That sounds promising. The others have all fled. Peter fled too, but apparently not far. One might have hope that he will prove true to his master. That hope is about to be dashed.

Matthew 26:47-56; Betrayal and Arrest

After his time of prayer, Jesus is set on doing God’s will. His own will and God’s will are in alignment. He is going to allow this scheme of the chief priests and elders to play out. The disciples are not on board.

This is a typical snatch-and-grab operation, complete with secret sign. The schemers have sent out a posse to effect the removal of Jesus to bring him to the high priest. They have come armed. The disciples are also armed, it seems.

The secret sign is a kiss. The Judas kiss is now shorthand for the type of betrayal we see here. Now the thugs know who Jesus is.

One of the disciples uses a sword to minor effect. If it had been the high priest himself who had lost an ear, it would have disqualified him for office. Jesus admonishes the disciples and reminds them of the truth that violence may be exciting, but in the end it leads to death.

If Jesus had wanted to fight back, he had more than 72,000 angels at his disposal. I expect this little knot of thugs would have been overpowered by them, if that had been the plan. But Jesus was sticking to God’s plan. The plan of death rather than the plan of a conquering king. In the end, the disciples can’t take it and they abandon Jesus. The thugs don’t seem to be interested in the disciples, hence the secret sign. Without Jesus, they think, the rest will just dissipate.

Although Jesus is not fighting his arrest, he does chide the arrestors about the necessity of all this subterfuge. He had been in the Temple teaching all week. They could have easily arrested him at any time. But as we know, the priests were concerned about popular reaction. So Jesus was treated as if he were a common robber.

Jesus talks about scripture being fulfilled. What all scriptures he is referring to I would love to know. But I do know that he was totally convinced he was doing the will of his Father.

God help us when we flee and abandon Jesus.