Matthew 26:36-46; Jesus Struggles in Gethsemane

I approach this passage with awe. I am almost afraid to talk about it. I cannot read it without shedding tears.

In the garden Jesus battled with his own desires. In the end, he submitted to the will of God.

The Gethsemane narrative makes a significant contribution to a sound Christology by reminding us that Jesus was a genuine human being. As Nicene Christians we affirm both the divinity and the humanity of Jesus, but our reverence tends to cloud the distinction and we “divinize” the human nature. There are Christians who refuse to believe that Jesus could be anxious or fearful, “because he was God.” This docetic tendency is theologically dangerous because it deprives Jesus’ death of its saving significance. If Jesus was not fully human, the cross was an empty pantomime.

Douglas R. A. Hare, Matthew, Interpretation, a Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching (Louisville, KY: John Knox Press, 1993), 300.

Jesus could have rebelled against God’s plan. He could have fled to the hills. As he prayed, he knew the power of God. Wasn’t there another way this could be done? Did he really have to die the death of a despised criminal? It is chilling to imagine how things might have gone if Jesus had decided to bug out.

This is a replay of the temptations in the wilderness. This is a replay of the temptation in the garden of Eden.

The words for how Jesus felt are strong, strong words. He was truly miserable. It took three periods of intense prayer for him to come to grips with the will of God.

I guess I give up too easily. And I am too much like the disciples.

Peter, James, and John were not able to stay awake even though Jesus implored them to be watchful and to pray.

Jesus knows that it is one thing to talk about what you are going to do and quite another to actually do it. Peter, James, and John exemplify that truth. The sons of Zebedee wanted to be at Jesus’ right and left hand when he came into his kingdom. Here is their chance. But Jesus was crucified between two common criminals instead.

Jesus is resolved to please God, his Father. He goes to face his betrayer and those who will cause his death.

Jesus is our model, once again. From him we learn to stand the test by frequent, earnest prayer. In a very real sense, we learn that the battle of the wills is an important thing. Jesus’ blood and sacrifice are the results of his obedience.

Obedience is all God wants from us.

Matthew 26-31-35; Prediction of Stumbling

After the supper, Jesus and the disciples went out to the Mount of Olives. This is where Jesus told them, just before his agonizing prayer in Gethsemane, that they would all stumble over him this very night.

The key to understanding this passage is the word the ESV translates as “fall away”. The word is skandalizo, and it is easy to see that we get some English words from this Greek word as well.

Well, skandalizo is a pretty strong word. Jesus is not saying that the disciples will get scared and run away. He is not saying that they will fear for their lives and go into hiding. They will do these things, but that is not what Jesus is talking about.

Matthew used the same word in the parable of the soils. As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy, yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately he falls away. (Matthew 13:20–21, ESV)

Sometimes I think the parable of the soils is key to understanding both the gospel of Matthew and the Christian mission in general.

Some of the translations are bold enough to use stronger language.

Then Jesus said to them, “You will all become deserters because of me this night; for it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’ (Matthew 26:31, NRSV)

Then Jesus said to them, ‘Tonight you will all lose faith because of me; for it is written: “I will strike the shepherd and the sheep of his flock will be scattered.” (Matthew 26:31, REB)

My point is that Jesus is saying that the disciples—all of them—will actually renounce their relationship with him on this night. They will no longer believe he is the messiah. They will deny him, not themselves.

Now, in this sad picture there is a measure of hope. Jesus says he will go before them to Galilee after he is raised. After saying his sheep will be scattered (from Zechariah), he seems to be saying he will resume being their shepherd after the resurrection. Thus, they will be restored. The story in Zechariah also ends with restoration.

Peter says, of course, “Not me.” Jesus responds with, “Especially you.” Not just Peter, but all the others said the same thing.

It should make us weep. Don’t we put ourselves in the place of the disciples when we read the gospel? We would probably like to think that it would have been different if we had been there. That’s what Peter said.

They all fell away.

But there was restoration for eleven out of twelve.

Matthew 26:17-30; The Lord’s Supper

Jesus gathered with the Twelve in a home in Jerusalem to share the Passover meal. Even the preparation for the meal was introduced with a reminder that Jesus’ time was at hand, and that mood will pervade the meal.

The thirteen mean reclined for the meal in the Greek fashion. There is no mention of a table in the Greek, nor is there any indication that all thirteen men reclined on one side of a table.

One must presume that the meal progressed as a normal Passover seder, although we must humbly say that we don’t know what all the customs were at the time Jesus and his disciples shared this meal.

An unusual item of business was introduced when Jesus announced that one of the Twelve would betray him. This announcement caused great consternation and self-examination. Perhaps eleven of the disciples were concerned that they might give Jesus away inadvertently. But one knew it was him. Jesus associated the dipping of bitter herbs in sauce with this betrayal.

When Jesus broke the bread, the disciples would have expected a reminder of how the children of Israel had to leave Egypt in a hurry and only had time to make flat bread. Instead, Jesus tells them they are eating of his body. This should not be taken literally, since Jesus was sitting with them, very much alive at the time. But in time, the church would understand this better. I imagine the disciples were confused.

When it was time for wine, the disciples would have expected to drink from their own cups, accompanied by another remembrance of the Exodus. Instead, Jesus tells them they are drinking his blood. He mentions the covenant. And he mentions forgiveness of sins.

The children of Israel had never really lived up to their requirement to keep the covenant. Eventually it led t the Exile. In a very tangible way, the Exile was still in place at the time these men were sharing the Passover meal. Jesus is instituting a new covent. One might call it the kingdom of God.

Jesus shed his blood—which is a euphemism for dying; there is nothing magical about the substance itself—for the forgiveness of sins. I have no idea how that transaction works, but I’m thankful for it.

I’ve heard preachers like the death of Jesus to the Temple sacrifices for sin. I get that, but the Passover lambs were not sacrificed for sins. They were sacrificed so their blood could be painted on the doorways and so they could be eaten before an arduous journey. Let’s not twist the Bible to say things it doesn’t say just because it makes a good story.

Jesus died for our sins. Forgiveness of sins is also the beginning of an arduous journey. Matthew makes no bones about it. To walk with Jesus is hard. It is an uphill climb and it is dangerous. If we soft sell that, we are not being true to the gospel.

One sidetone: those of us who are teetotalers will need to put aside our scruples when Jesus passes the cup around when he comes in glory.

The first Passover looked forward to God’s redemption of his people. Subsequent Passover celebrations remembered what God did.

The first Lord’s Supper looked forward to the death of Jesus at the hands of the Romans. He was establishing the kingdom. He was enabling the forgiveness of sins. Subsequent Lord’s Suppers look back at what God did in Jesus. Our hearts are filled with thanksgiving. Until he comes.

Matthew 26:1-16; The Plot to Kill Jesus

No more teaching from Jesus. From here on in it is action. Jesus is the obedient son of God as he prepares to go to his death. For us.

The chief priests, consisting of the high priest Caiaphas and other leaders among the priests, decide they need to get rid of Jesus. They know this could prove to be unpopular, so they see the necessity of doing so by treachery. Tensions are high at Passover due to a popular belief that the messiah will manifest himself during the festival. The Romans have extra soldiers at hand and the priests are watchful.

These are supposed to be the leaders of God’s people. Yet they are misleading. This still happens today. People who are supposed to be leading God’s people sometimes have their own agendas. Keep an eye out for that.

That evening, which is probably Wednesday evening by our calendar, Jesus is at the home of a Simon the leper. While he is there, a woman comes in and anoints him with a costly oil. This is upsetting to the disciples because the poor are a special project at Passover, and they see that this oil could have gone a long way to hep the poor.

But burial of the dead is a great “good work” than even almsgiving, and Jesus knows—even if the woman does not—that she is anointing him for burial. This is the only burial preparation he will get.

The people expect the messiah (the anointed) to be anointed as king. This messiah is anointed for death instead. For us.

At this point, Judas decides to collude with the chief priests and offers his services. They are happy to have his help so they will be able to grab Jesus when he is with his disciples and not among the people. They pay him a nice sum, but not a fortune, for his troubles. Some resources say that the price is about that one would expect to pay for a run of the mill slave.

Matthew doesn’t talk about Judas’ motivation. There are many theories, but they remain unproven. I guess we can say for sure that Judas wasn’t happy with how Jesus’ kingdom was progressing. Maybe he was following Jesus for what he thought would be his own benefit.

People still do that today, don’t they? They follow Jesus only for the benefit they see themselves receiving. Maybe it’s the promise of eternal life. But they aren’t committed to following their Lord even unto death. That’s what you call bad soil.

Matthew 25:31-46; Judgment of the Nations

Jesus comes to the climax of his teaching about the coming of the Son of Man with this account of the final judgment of the nations. This is not really a parable, but it certainly does employ some metaphors and similes.

The Son of Man will return, accompanied by angels, and will sit on his throne on earth. The nations will be gathered before him. Like a shepherd separating sheep from goats, he will separate the righteous (v. 37) from the unrighteous.

There are several things we can learn from this account.

  • Jesus is the judge on the day of judgment. In the Old Testament this role is filled by God himself. In the New Covenant, Jesus does this work and it really is about him
  • The kingdom has been prepared for the righteous from the very beginning. The whole story of God in the two testaments is about how we spoiled it, but God continued to work to see it through. We must persevere.
  • The nations will be judged based on how they responded to the messengers of the gospel. When we see “the least of these”, we can’t help but remember “the little ones” earlier in Matthew. There is more involved here than simply meeting the needs of the poor. Jesus’ brothers and sisters are those who represent him in the world.
  • The result is eternal. Eternal punishment or eternal life. Although the fire was prepared (not from the foundations of the earth, but because it was needed) for Satan and his rebellious angels, the Son of Man will not hesitated to use it for the recalcitrant nations.

To read this as a general judgment based on works is not particularly Christian. One must look at the overall message of Matthew and discern that a relationship with Jesus is involved in eternal life.

As we leave the teaching of Jesus here, we enter the part of Matthew’s Gospel I have been dreading from the beginning of this study.

Matthew 24:45-25:30; Ready for the Master’s Return

Jesus offers three parables to illustrate his statement in 24:44: Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect. (Matthew 24:44, ESV)

The Faithful and Wise Servant

This one seems to be directed at church leaders. As the return of Jesus is delayed, they must stay on course. They have been entrusted with the church. They have to feed the people and care for them.

If they are not faithful and wise, they begin to be more interested in their own well-being. They feed themselves and not the people. This can easily happen because of the delay. “Surely the master won’t return today”, they say. Big surprise in store.

The leader who gets the job done has a reward in store. The leader who gets diverted has a punishment in store.

The Ten Maidens

This one is directed to every church member. We also must remain ready.

These bridesmaids had a job to do. When the groom shows up, they are to escort him to the bride. They must have their lights burning, or the procession will not be very impressive.

It makes me think of meeting Jesus in the air when he comes. Our job will be to escort him to earth and enjoy the reestablishment of his rule. We will welcome the coming king. The bridegroom of the church.

The groom is delayed (sound familiar?) and they sleep. Nothing wrong with falling asleep. We are all human. But even asleep we must be ready. Half were and half weren’t

We don’t know when Jesus will return. We must be ready and not grow slack in our following.

The Investments

This parable is directed to those who have special abilities. With great power come great responsibility. The master goes away and leaves large sums of money in the hands of three servants. Two do a good job, but the other fails.

The question for me to ask myself is, How am I using the abilities God gave me? Am I using my stuff for the kingdom or for myself? Am I enriching the kingdom or myself? What will Jesus think about it when he comes?

Jesus is returning. The long delay can lull us into complacency. We dare not lose focus. We have a job to do. We have resources invested in us. We may have people to lead.

I’m hoping to hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant. Enter into the joy of your master.”

Matthew 24:32-44; Signs

Now we turn to the “when”, which is the question the disciples asked way back in verse 3, along with desiring to know some signs to precede his coming and the end of the age.

Jesus says there are signs to watch for, but also that life will go on as normal. Just as the victims of the flood did not know what was coming, neither will most people see the end coming. Life will just go on. People will do their work and one moment many will be swept away, while those who are prepared will be left to carry on with the new creation.

It certainly seems that Matthew expected the second coming to come in a short period of time. It had already been at least forty years when he wrote. I will not engage in the type of apologetics required to twist things around and make the words mean what they don’t mean. I think there are a couple things to learn here.

First, even Jesus himself did not know when he would return. He says only the Father knows.In case there was any doubt at all, Jesus was fully human. Jesus is fully human. When he walked the earth, he did not know everything, just like most of us. As I often say, people who think they know everything are a pain in the neck to those of us who do. I’m not sure what Jesus was expecting in terms of timing, but he was reading signs and not working from knowledge of the timing. If your picture of Jesus doesn’t have room for this, you may need to make some adjustments.

Second, there sure have been a lot of people through the ages who thought they could figure out the day and the hour of his coming. As you know from personal experience, these guesses have failed. His coming in glory and triumph is still being delayed.

Familiarity with OT prophecies tells us that things don’t always happen in quite the way the prophet said, or quite at the time the prophet said, but the results are recognizable and the hand of God is seen. The most I am will to say here is that judgment—and this the day of the Lord—began with the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple in AD 70. More to come.

The rest of the passage is about being ready. As I kid I learned that the waiting time is a fearful time and I must always be worried that I am not prepared. I doubt now that is what Jesus wants.

We know from Matthew that the delay is a time of grace. God has given us a job to do and he is waiting for us to do it. In some ways, the delay is our own fault, but it is a delay of grace for lost people.

Jesus wants us to prepare by looking to the lost people and helping them be saved. We are not to be hiding in fear, though this is still the time of persecution, but we are to boldly go where no man has gone before.

Your kingdom come!

Matthew 24:29-31; Parousia

This little paragraph is mostly about what will happen. After that, Jesus will talk more about when.

The disciples are told that the coming of the Son of Man will follow immediately upon the days of tribulation. Unless you are a full preterist who believes that Jesus already came, or that this refers to his coming into glory at his ascension, you’ll have to agree with me that he has not yet returned. Therefore we are still in the time of tribulation. Can I get an amen?

It will not be secret

It is difficult to imagine a more public spectacle than the coming of Jesus as described here. I suppose that the exact nature of what happens with the sun and moon and stars is highly symbolic, using “day of the Lord” language from Hebrew scripture, but the symbols surely point to an event that won’t be happening in secret.

Not everyone will be happy about it

The nations will mourn. For many, this is the time of judgment. The nations will be dissolved and the earth will come under the lordship of Christ himself. No more nationalism, no more racism, no more politics. Jesus is Lord.

The church will be gathered

We will meet our Lord and bow at his feet. He will welcome us as his brothers and sisters, children of his Father. From all over the earth and from all through the ages, we will be one.

Some of you know that I have a terminal illness. Nobody knows the day or the hour when I will breathe my last. For a while I was having dreams about the great resurrection, and in some of them I was the guy responsible to lead the raised Christians from my cemetery to meet with Jesus. Only I didn’t know where to go. Dreams are like that. At least for me, my abilities fail me in dreams at he worst time.

Praise the Lord. When the time comes, I’ll have angels to help. I don’t have to find Jesus on my own. He will find me and gather me in.

Christians should be looking forward to the great and glorious day of the Lord. Jesus will return and earth will be put back in shape. Life will be like God meant it to be in the first place. And we will be together with our Lord and with one another. Sounds pretty good to me.

Matthew 24:15-28; Tribulation

Jesus continues his teaching using eschatological, apocalyptic language. Preachers used to use passages like this to scare me to death and keep me from sleeping for a few nights. Jesus is teaching his disciples to trust God and persevere.

Let’s divide the passage in two.

15-22

Some would like to place this section totally into the future, but, in my view, that is untenable if you know history at all. There was a terrible war that lasted from AD 66 to 70 wherein the Romans put down all rebellion and reduced Jerusalem and the Temple to ruins. Can’t ignore that.

My view is that this situation is in the mind of Jesus as he teaches, but there may be more. What about the time between the destruction of the Temple and the second coming of Jesus? We could look that this passage and say there will be continued tribulation. God’s people among the Jews will suffer along with the rest, all because of the leaders who were misleaders. Christians through the ages will suffer for the name of Jesus.

In my view, the “abomination of desolation” probably refers to the misuse of the Temple apparatus by the priestly class, using it for power rather than worship. The prophets had warned about what God really wanted and the priests continued with the status quo. Judgment starts there. The destruction of the Temple is the beginning of the end. What Matthew did not know is that 2000 years later we would still be waiting for the end of the end.

23-28

In the meantime there are lots of false prophets and false messiahs to lead people the wrong way. They are everywhere.

Jesus says there are no secrets involved in this coming. It will be like a lightning flash that lights the whole sky. You won’t miss it.

So don’t look for esoteric secrets or hidden messiahs. Wait for Jesus with patience and persevere through whatever comes. It will be worth it.

Your kingdom come!

Matthew 24:1-14; Judgment

I enter this section with trepidation. Christians in the near past have taken passages like this and tried to make timelines—and lots of charts. If that’s what you are looking for, you won’t get it here.

These next couple chapters are the final teachings of Jesus to his disciples before his death.

As the group was leaving Jerusalem, Jesus predicted the destruction of the Temple. That prediction was seen to be fulfilled within forty years. The only stones left standing on one another are some in the substructure, the manufactured mountain that the Temple stood on. The destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple was total.

After this prediction, the disciples want to know more. We already know that they had not totally accepted the idea of his death, so the question seems a bit unnatural. We must assume that Matthew was also writing for the church. No doubt they had questions about the return of Jesus. They had seen the Temple destroyed and the Jerusalem leadership deposed. When would the rest of it happen?

Jesus says they should expect false messiahs and others who would lead them astray. Jerusalem had seen not shortage of messiahs before and after Jesus. In fact, Jesus was just another false messiah to most people. And church has had no shortage of false messiahs as well. Right down to the present time there are Christians looking for a political leader to restore the power and prestige of the church.

And we have had no shortage of false prophets. The church has been led astray in a hundred directions, mostly for the benefit of individuals, not Jesus.

Jesus said many would fall away. Remember the parable of the soils and see if it is not borne out. He said Christians would betray one another, and it is true. He said Christians will hate one another, and it is also true.

Christians will be persecuted. It still happens today, but not as much since the church became respectable under Constantine. There is a good example of a leader who led the church in the wrong direction and changed the focus. We have never recovered. Some are still looking for another Constantine instead of the return of Jesus.

The one who endures to the end will be saved. The implication is that some will not endure. That is also true. Jesus speaking here sounds a lot like the Jesus speaking to the seven churches in Revelation. Imagine that.

But the end will not come until “this gospel of the kingdom” is proclaimed throughout the whole world, to all the nations. Where are we in that process?