John the Baptist – Matthew 3:1-6

Matthew writes in a manner that packs a ton of information and references in just a few sentences. Remember, he’s writing to people who would have probably either met, or would have heard from second hand sources about this John the baptist fellow. First, we find that this man is in the wilderness of Judea preaching. This is important for two reasons.

We can notice verse 3, that Matthew quotes Isaiah 40. What do you find when you go back to Isaiah 40? This is the first chapter after speaking about Hezekiah being threatened by Assyria, becoming sick, getting well, and then entertaining Babylon. Isaiah prophesied to Hezekiah in chapter 39 that during the time of his children the Babylonians would come into Judah and ransack the land, the palace, and the Temple. Because this man showed them everything, they will come and devastate in order to take everything. Isaiah 40 starts by prophesying, “Comfort, yes, comfort my people…”

When we read the context of Isaiah 40, we find another one of those Matthew moments when he is saying that something is being fulfilled, but then the context of Isaiah 40 doesn’t grant this. We continue through Isaiah 40 to find that God redeems Israel, and that God comes and rules over Israel Himself. We find that the glory of God is revealed, and the nations are counted as nothing.

This is not a passage about Jesus’ first coming. This is a passage about the second coming. Yet, Matthew is saying that John the Baptist is the one preparing the way…

How can we explain this?

I would like to use timelines, charts, and other drawings to employ, but for this kind of revelation, it must be revealed by the Holy Spirit. It almost seems diminished to attempt another way of expressing it.

Time in the prophetic and apostolic mind is not linear. It cycles, and each cycle results in a deeper progression of God’s plan of cosmic redemption. So, for example, you have from the beginning the Kingdom established. When Adam and Eve took of the forbidden fruit, they were exiled from Eden, which we can liken unto that Kingdom. However, God didn’t cast them away without hope. There are progressions throughout history of how it is that God is bringing it all back together. You have two seeds spoken of in Genesis 3:15. Cain builds a city, but there is no mention of such a thing with the sons of Seth. It is with Seth’s birth that men started to call upon the name of the LORD. With Noah and the flood, we begin a new cycle, with an ‘everlasting covenant’. It is Shem who is most highly blessed at the end of Genesis 9, and Canaan/Ham that is least. Yet, when we read Genesis 10, it is the descendants of Japheth that brought about the second city mentioned in the Bible: Babel.

From Babel comes Babylon. Notice the peoples associated with this in Genesis 10:10-12. We have Assyria also mentioned, which is why in Isaiah the Assyrian often sounds like the Antichrist. As we progress in the narrative, we find Abraham being chosen. From Abraham we find Isaac is chosen. It continues to narrow down who this “seed of the woman” is, until you  have twelve chosen – the twelve sons of Jacob. Israel is the firstborn son of God (Exodus 4:22), and is the seed of the woman. Egypt in Exodus represents the kingdom of darkness in flesh. Israel represents the Kingdom of God. God delivers Israel, thus establishing His Kingdom upon the earth with the conquest of Canaan.

There is the same story repeating over and over again. Enoch (the city) is destroyed through the flood, when God delivers a people for Himself (Noah and his sons). Babel is destroyed, and God chooses a people for Himself (Abraham and descendants). Egypt collapses, and God chooses a people for Himself (Israel). Canaan is conquered, and God establishes Israel and the Land as His physical Kingdom on this earth. Jerusalem is conquered, and God chooses David to rule from there. Here it is another step in the progression. Each time the Kingdom of God is revealed more deeply and exactly.

It is no longer a foreshadowing that is spoken of here. Now we have Christ Jesus, the physical incarnate God. With John the baptist, he is preparing the way for the Kingdom of God, because the actual, physical, real, tangible Kingdom is to be established through Jesus. Now, what many commentators miss is that this is not the final progression. There still will come a deeper expression of the Kingdom with the return of Jesus, and therefore another moment when this verse in Isaiah is applicable. The establishment of the Kingdom of God is progressing in deeper and deeper expressions, until you finally come to the end of the age, with the Millennial Kingdom, and God’s glory is beheld unto all the earth, the nations themselves are coming up to Jerusalem to behold that glory, and Jesus rules – God in the flesh – over all peoples.

Many times the New Testament writers show how with Jesus’ first coming there is a fulfillment of these Old Testament prophecies. But that doesn’t mean that those prophecies are now done away with and thrown to the side. There is a pattern in the Bible, which the prophecies are reiterating and expecting to continue. These patterns are not just there for us to call “dispensations”, but are instead cycles to help express the ultimate climax. There shall be an ultimate climax where history comes to a pinnacle. It won’t always be that  we’ll find cycle after cycle, world without end. Time will come to a close, and there is “an age to come”. Matthew is pointing out that with Jesus’ first coming, we do have the actual Kingdom of God being manifest, a deeper expression than before, and yet at the same time it is the exact same expression as before.

Which brings me to another point.

There is this idea that what we have in the ‘new covenant’ (New Testament) is better than what they had in the ‘old covenant’ (Old Testament), and therefore the old is obsolete. What is not understood is that the old is an expression of the eternal, one progression further than where Abraham was, but not to the point where God Himself ruled over Israel and all nations. Here is why that is important: The same Spirit that has been poured out upon us is the same Spirit that the prophets had. What you see expressed throughout the Old Testament in the saints is the exact same thing that you and I have. Saul was converted after leaving Samuel to go back home, and it says that he “became another person”. That is the exact same conversion that Paul speaks of in 2 Corinthians 5:17. The prophets did say that the Spirit came upon them, but it also says that the Spirit was in them (Daniel 4:8, Genesis 41:38, Numbers 27:18, etc).

The second reason that the wilderness is important in verse 1 is for the sake of verse 4. To many Christians who are not familiar with their Old Testament, this seems like just an abnormal description of John the Baptist. However, when you cross reference 2 Kings 1:8, you find that this was the exact dress of Elijah. Why is that important? Malachi 3:1 says that before the Messiah comes, God shall send Elijah as the forerunner. Once again, this is the pattern being revealed, and Matthew is showing John the baptist to be Elijah. We don’t find Malachi 3:1 quoted here (unlike in Mark 1:2-3), but we do find Jesus insert this later in Matthew 11:10.

In Matthew’s Gospel, John’s message was, “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand!” Matthew stresses the issue of repentance to enter the Kingdom of Heaven, where Mark stresses repentance for the remission of sins. Both Mark and Luke speak of that remission, but in Matthew’s Gospel, such words are strangely absent. Later in the passage, Matthew explains to us what “entering the Kingdom” is, by revealing that all Jerusalem (go back again to Matt 2:3), all Judea, and all the region around the Jordan went out to John, confessing their sins. We then progress from that into verse 7, to speak on the unrepentant Pharisees, and verse 10 signifying the uprooting (casting off – Matt 2:6, Micah 5:2-3) of the of those without repentance.

This “all the region around the Jordan” practically quotes the same phrase from Genesis 13:10-11. This is the region that Sodom and Gomorrah was in. This only shows one more time the pattern of redemption, not only for individuals, nor even for nations, but for the land itself. The place that was inhabited by wickedness, and was left desolate through judgment, is the very place God chooses, and the very place of whose inhabitants come out in repentance before God through confession and the baptism of John the baptist. All the strings tie together somehow – even the strings we weren’t looking for.

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He Shall Be A Nazarene – Matthew 2:19-23

Within this passage of Scripture, we have the word coming that Herod has passed away, and therefore it is safe to return to Judea. We also have what seems to be the human decision to go to Nazareth, where Luke claims that Jesus was for His whole life, and yet it is according to the word of God, for the prophets declared that He shall be a Nazarene. This last part has caused a lot of confusion, because you won’t find that verse anywhere in the Old Testament. It isn’t even prophesied in the apocrypha or pseudepigrapha (books outside the canon). Let’s look at the text as a whole, and then we’ll address the confusion at the end.

In the time of Herod (the one who slaughtered the children at Bethlehem), taxes were an average of about 80-90% of your income. Between Herod, Rome, and the Temple, you payed from a quarter to almost a third of your wages to each one. The Temple demanded a tithe, which was 10%, plus the money required for sacrifices, plus your first fruits, plus whatever else that you have vowed or that the feasts require. Ultimately, this would result in about 30-35% of your annual income. Herod sent out telones, which is translated ‘tax collector’, to bring in the political tax to ‘King’ Herod. As a worker for Herod, you were also allowed to take whatever allotment for yourself. So, between the Herod tax and ‘telones’ tax, you would be giving somewhere around 25-30% of your annual income to your government. Yet, remember that you government (Judea) was ruled by Rome. Therefore, there is a Roman tribute tax that you are required to give, as well as incense  when it is periodically demanded throughout the year. Whether they were Roman or under Herod, the marketplaces also would require payment to buy, sell, or trade in.

Because there was so much taxation under Herod (according to Roman historians, this wasn’t the average case in all of the Roman Empire), many of the Jews were losing their land and homes. The property inherited with Joshua was being stripped from families and given to the workers of Herod. You can’t pay your taxes, and therefore you owe the government what is rightfully yours (after all, they didn’t give you that land…). It is here that we find something interesting. What do you do if you’re one of the people during this time who loses your family land? You can’t live off of your inheritance anymore, so how do you feed your family?

In our modern society, we find the answer. You get a job somewhere. Jobs in this period of time were much different than now, but the idea is still the same. You know that in a larger city, there will be people who need to buy metal products, there will be people who need to buy clothing, need their shoes repaired, buy food for their families, etc. All of the normal everyday things that people spend their money on today was also applicable for that day and age. There are only slight differences (mostly within technology).

So, in order to feed your family, you would move to the city to find your place as a blacksmith, a carpenter, a butcher, a tailor, or some other occupation/trade that you could make income with. Joseph doesn’t take his family back to Bethlehem, which is quite obviously where he was born because that is where he went for the census and where Jesus was born (see Luke 1 and previous verses in Matthew 1-2). Joseph doesn’t go back to his family land. Instead, he dwells in Nazareth as a carpenter.

Can you see how immediately the Gospel is bringing hope to the poor?

Herod claimed to be king of the Jews, but the Magi asked where the one to be born King of the Jews had been born. This means something very important: Herod isn’t the true king. Herod’s kingdom, which has up to this point brought poverty and oppression, is going down. Maybe for the rich living in Jerusalem Herod’s kingdom is security, but for the guy who moves to Nazareth in order to become a carpenter and feed his family – the blue collar guy, or maybe even less – Herod’s kingdom resembles oppression and guilt.

Imagine what you would feel if you lost your family land… It has been in your family for millennia, over 150 generations by this point, and now that you’ve inherited it, you’ve lost it. That is a kingdom of guilt, and not freedom.

Matthew is setting the stage quite quickly as to what His Gospel is about. I said at the beginning of this study that it is about Kingdom. Yet, it is important to note that with it being about Kingdom, there are very political statements being made. Someone in the first century who would have been found with this Gospel probably would have been murdered. That kind of political outcry, of speaking that there is a Kingdom and King who has come and has been established that surpasses Herod in glory and in righteousness is impossible to tolerate if you are ascribing to Herod and the system is working for you.

And so now let us deal with the prophecy regarding Nazareth.

It is true what the Jews say. They are right in pointing out that Matthew makes a massive blunder – at least, if we give them that this is a quotation of something. If we put these words in quotes, as my NKJV has done, but which the original Greek did not have, then it is true that Matthew is absolutely deceived or a deceiver. Nowhere does it say anything about the Messiah being a Nazarene. Such words aren’t ever spoken. At best you have the prophecy of Isaiah 9:1-2, when it speaks of Galilee receiving a great light (which Matthew will quote in the next chapter of his Gospel).

So, what is going on here? Matthew is not putting something in quotes. He is exercising a hermeneutic principle that the rabbis are familiar with, which our Christian exegetes are very uncomfortable with. One of the talmudic principles of interpretation is to find other words in Hebrew that are similar, and to interpret the passage according to what it would say if we used other Hebrew words. For example, the word for ‘man’ is ish (pronounced EESH), and the word for ‘woman’ is ishah (pronounced ish-UH). Ish has a yod, and ishah has a hey. Ishah does not have a yod, and ish does not have a hey. Yod and hey together is yah, the condensed form of God’s name. When man and woman come together, the man donates his yod, and the woman donates her hey, and together they worship/represent Yah. But, if the man and/or woman does not have their yod or hey, then you have esh (pronounced AYSH). Esh means fire. When the man and/or woman has forsaken God, they bring fire into the relationship. Therefore, when it says that they shall be one flesh, it is speaking of the man or woman who bear the image of God.

Matthew uses this same kind of principle in his Gospel. Matthew is not saying that the Old Testament strictly declares the Messiah is supposed to be a Nazarene. He is using a word play. Over and over again, the Messiah is called “the branch” in the prophets. This “branch” is the Hebrew word netser (pronounced net-SEHR). The word Nazareth comes from this root. What Matthew is pointing out is that to be a “Nazarene” could have two meanings. First, it meant that you are from Nazareth. This is actually the only usage of the word. Second, and this is where the word play comes in, it could be used in the sense of calling someone “of the branch”.

I think it is this secondary usage that Matthew is striking at. He is pointing out that Nazareth is from the root netser, which is over and over again a term given to the Messiah. What does it mean for Jesus to be “Nazarene”, or (extremely loosely translated) “of the branch”? It stems from Isaiah 11:1 and other similar passages: “A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.” This points back to the first verse of Matthew, that Jesus descended from David, and is therefore “the branch” of David.

For other verses about the branch to consider:
Isaiah 11:10
Jeremiah 23:5
Jeremiah 33:15
Zechariah 3:8
Zechariah 6:12
Luke 1:32-33
Revelation 5:5

Slaughtering Children – Matthew 2:16-18

When I spend time in prayer, it is a time of silence. I sit still before God, and I wait for His words, for His heart. His heart is almost always something that I’m not even considering.  I’ll be thinking upon whatever Scripture I’ve been reading/wrestling, or I’ll be considering a life circumstance, or a theological question, but this is never what God seems to be considering…

He speaks to me about things that seem absolutely out of left field for everything that I would like to hear Him say. One of those times regarded this passage of Scripture. My mind went from Exodus 1, when Pharaoh slaughters the Hebrew children, to this passage, where Herod kills the children of Bethlehem, and unto Revelation 12, when Satan desires to devour the male-child. In that same instant, I hear the words of God, “Why does he always go after the children?”

In God’s eyes, children are not ‘mere’ necessities to perpetuate the human race. They aren’t annoyances that suffocate the patience of adults. Children are the innocent. They are the ultimate representation of the needy. God’s heart for those who are unable to speak for themselves, unable to take care of themselves, unable to fend for and protect themselves, unable to bring justice, etc is so juicing with compassion that if you glimpse it you’ll burst. God loves those who are unbearable and unlovable.

We find it a nuisance to have to take care of the elderly, infants, or the sick. I confess that I say “we”, because I am not altogether different. My grandmother who is wheelchair bound, and often gets hurt because she doesn’t want to use the wheelchair, I haven’t seen in months. The heck of it is that I don’t want to go see her. Of course, it should be said that the reason is more than just that she needs someone else to take care of her. It isn’t that I’m unwilling to help. Instead, it is because of the lifestyle and mentality that she has. It is at enmity with everything that I stand for.

Even so, this is often true of those who are in need. The point remains, though. Children are often spoken of as these ‘beasts’ who throw temper tantrums and drive their parents berserk. Too often I hear parents who speak about how much their children are annoying, or worse. My wife and I have both said, to each other and to parents, “If you don’t like your kids, then why did you have them?”

The point is that in God’s eyes, children are the pristine example of those who are unable to take care of themselves. God’s heart toward the poor, the oppressed, the helpless, and those who have no voice is one of compassion. He cannot tolerate when there is injustice against those who have no ability to defend themselves. I’m not sure there is anything that makes Him more angry…

Can you feel the sadness? When you see someone who is defenseless being persecuted or mistreated, can your heart break for them? These children, not even old enough to understand what is happening, are being slaughtered.

Why does Satan always go after the children?

It is interesting to me that when we think of biblical Egypt, we often think of the place of oppression and slavery. Yet, in the previous passage, the place where Joseph, Mary, and Jesus all found safety and freedom was in Egypt…

Behold Israel under Herod:
The New Egypt.

But how can this be? The City of God, the Holy City, the Place with God’s Name, where all nations shall one day come unto to find God, and to hear God, and to be atoned before God has become a place of every evil spirit and wicked practice.

Oh how the mighty have fallen! He has cast down from heaven to earth the beauty of Israel! She was once the princess of all the nations, the very apple of God’s eye, the very place of all that is perfect and true! But now, behold, now God has made her a public spectacle, and a shame and a curse! Why, O Israel, have you gone so astray? What has the LORD ever done that makes you wayward? Did He not find you as a youth, seeing you mistreated and naked before your adversaries, only to take you in, and cleanse your wounds, and heal them fully? Has He not clothed you with splendor and honor? Why, then, O Israel, do you now seek to reject Him, and to mourn at His coming, and to slay His children in the streets, until the blood runs, and the sound of lamentation and woe is all that is heard?

You are not Israel, though you call yourself Israel! You are not Jerusalem, though you claim that title and name! You are Egypt and Sodom! You are Babylon, playing the harlot with all nations, getting drunk from the blood of the saints, killing until there is none other to kill! Which of the prophets have you not slain, O Jerusalem? And which of the righteous saints have you not murdered, O Israel? You are Cain, and his prime city Enoch, O Israel and Jerusalem.

But let us not forget:
“A voice was heard in Ramah,
Lamentation, weeping, and great mourning,
Rachel weeping for her children,
Refusing to be comforted,
Because they are no more…”

When we turn back to Jeremiah 31, where this statement is made, we find the context to be quite interesting. In fact, with both places, I’ve often asked why it is mentioned that Rachel weeps. Why not Leah? Why Rachel? The previous verses were just expressing how those who survive the sword shall find grace in the wilderness (verse 2), and how God will bring redemption unto Israel, so that there will be no more weeping, but instead rejoicing. It speaks of how the young men and old together will comfort one another, and will dance, and will rejoice rather than sorrow. It speaks of how the souls of the priests will satiate with abundance, and all of God’s people Israel will be satisfied with His goodness.

And then, after all this is said, we find “a voice was heard in Ramah, lamentation and bitter weeping…” Why is there bitter tears? Why this lamentation? Why such sobs that are causing convulsions, and making it impossible to even stand? Notice the next verse in Jeremiah 31: “Thus says the LORD: Refrain your voice from weeping, and your eyes from tears; for your work shall be rewarded, says the LORD, and they shall come back from the land of the enemy…”

This is altogether a bizarre passage for Matthew to be quoting. It’s like when Matthew quoted Micah 5:2, to remind the readers of a time when the natural branches would be cast off for a season, but shall be grafted back in after “she who is in labor gives birth”. Interjected straight into the heart of the story, Matthew almost seems to change focus altogether in referencing Jeremiah.

Why does this segment end with this quotation? It is my opinion that we must comprehend something a bit more ethereal, which does translate into the physical. Follow me to Genesis 37:9.

“Then [Joseph] dreamed still another dream and told it to his brothers, and said, ‘Look, I have dreamed another dream. And this time, the sun, the moon, and the eleven stars bowed down to me.’ So he told it to his father and his brothers; and his father rebuked him and said to him, ‘What is this dream that you have dreamed? Shall  your mother and I and your brothers indeed come to bow down to the earth before you?'”

Question:
When did that take place? When did it happen?

You cannot tell me that it took place at the time when Jacob and his sons came into Egypt. First of all, Joseph’s brothers bowed down to him before this. Second of all, there is no mention of Jacob/Israel bowing before Joseph. Instead, they embrace and weep upon one another’s neck. Third of all, Rachel had died while giving birth to Benjamin, so this dream seems somewhat absurd to begin with.

Then, when we come to Jeremiah 31:15, why is Rachel mentioned? We can see the context is for Ephraim, so it makes sense that it is Rachel and not Leah. However, I want to ask the question of possibility. Is it possible that Jeremiah was perceiving something beyond in Joseph’s dream? We can go to Revelation 12:1, and find the woman standing upon the sun, clothed with the moon, and having twelve stars upon her head. I believe this to be Israel, connecting it back to Joseph’s dream.

Move to Judges 5:7, “Villagers in Israel would not fight; they held back until I, Deborah, arose, until I arose, a mother in Israel.” Deborah was called “a mother in Israel”, or “the mother of Israel”. What is this? Go to Galatians 4:26, “But the Jerusalem that is above is free, and she is our mother.” Now go to Hebrews 12:22, “But you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem…”

Notice this. Deborah is called the mother of Israel. Then, the “Jerusalem that is above” is called our mother. Then, we collect from Hebrews 12:24 that Zion is another name for “the Jerusalem that is above”. Go to Isaiah 49:14, “But Zion said, “The Lord has forsaken me, the Lord has forgotten me. Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you! See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands; your walls are ever before me. Your children hasten back, and those who laid you waste depart from you. Lift up your eyes and look around; all your children gather and come to you. As surely as I live,” declares the Lord, “you will wear them all as ornaments; you will put them on, like a bride.”

Do you see how similar this passage in Isaiah is with Jeremiah 31?

I think that there is a nuance here. There is something beyond just the obvious interpretation. Rachel was to come and bow before Joseph, along with Jacob. But, Jacob never bowed, and Rachel wasn’t alive to bow. So, there waits a future fulfillment of this, even if not with the exact people. Instead, there are ‘types’ (I truly hate that word, but I have no better alternative). Rachel is patterning Zion, just like Deborah was a type of Zion, the mother of us all.

Look at Isaiah 62:4-5, “No longer will they call you Deserted, or name your land Desolate. But you will be called Hephzibah, and your land Beulah; for the LORD will take delight in you, and your land will be married. As a young man marries a young woman, so will your Builder marry you; as a bridegroom rejoices over his bride, so will your God rejoice over you.”

God says that the land itself will be married at the marriage supper. This is the end of the age, when the Bride has made herself ready, and the wedding of the Lamb is at hand. We then come to Revelation 21, and the City is described, being called the Bride of the Lamb. But, why is it a City? I thought the Bride was the people…

We find the twelve foundations represent the apostles, which would represent “the Church” (I hesitate to say such a thing). Then, the twelve gates of pearl represent the twelve tribes of Israel. This is not two separate entities, or two separate “peoples of God”. This is one Body, unified by one Spirit, culminating together as one Bride of the Lamb, in one City called “New Jerusalem” and “Zion”.

What am I getting at?

There is a Jerusalem that is distressed at the coming of her King, who is ruled by men like Herod, who will slaughter children in order to destroy the threat of the true King. We find this to be the Babylon of Revelation, that the Antichrist finds his rule and epicenter in Jerusalem (see Revelation 11). Somehow, there is a Jerusalem that is ruled by the principalities and powers, a Jerusalem that looks more like Sodom, Egypt, and Babylon, where the Lord was crucified. But there is another Jerusalem, the eternal City, the heavenly City, the City whose builder and maker is God.  That Jerusalem, which is above, is our true dwelling, and it is the true Jerusalem of God. But that heavenly dwelling is not the fullness, for the earthly Jerusalem is the physical counterpart. Just like the soul has the physical body as its counterpart, so too does the true inheritance of God have the physical land of Canaan, the true Holy City have the physical Jerusalem, the true heavenly Temple have the physical tabernacle and temple, and etc.

Rachel is weeping, even from beyond the grave, because Rachel is not simply a character in the Bible. She is an eternal reality, just like Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are not dead, but living. God is not the God of the dead, but of the living. Therefore, Rachel weeps, for her children are no more. They who are defenseless, who are the people of God, who are the eternal people, who are the very representation of the heaven upon the earth are being slaughtered.

Rachel weeps. Can you hear it?

Out of Egypt I Call – Matthew 2:13-15

This passage is one of those passages that we need to be careful with. It is in vitriolic opposition that the Jews mock such a quotation of the prophet Hosea. For many Christians, we don’t know the prophecy being mentioned, and often don’t even know it is from Hosea. When we go back and look at the passage, like I did when I was young in Christ, we’re often baffled by what Matthew is saying. “Out of Egypt I call my son.” In Hosea 11:1, the context is quite obvious and explicit. It means nothing in relation to the messiah, and is explicitly in regard to Israel.

How could there be such a blunder on behalf of Matthew?

There are a couple things that we need to note. I’ve already gone through the first one to mention (see here). Matthew parallels the life of Jesus with the ‘birth’ of Israel. There are multiple aspects of Jesus’ life that reflect Isaac’s birth, Israel being in Egypt, the exodus, crossing the Red Sea, the forty days journey across the desert, the three temptations in the wilderness, coming to Sinai, and then receiving the Law. The whole point is that just as Israel must go through these circumstances, so too does/must Messiah go through them. It’s a pattern, and we need to be mindful of that. Just as Messiah went through these circumstances, so too shall Israel go through them – yes, even Calvary.

The other aspect that we need to notice is that the Old Testament has a pattern of saints who go down to Egypt. Under various circumstances, we find that none other than Abraham, Joseph, and subsequently Jacob, Israel, Moses (told to return to Egypt), throughout Leviticus through Deuteronomy the emphasis is upon how God brought Israel out of Egypt, Balaam prophesies that because Israel has been brought out of Egypt that God shall consume the nations, Solomon was an ally of Egypt, even had his chariots sent from Egypt, the enemies of Solomon flee to Egypt (1 King 11), and even Jeremiah was taken away into Egypt, where tradition says that he eventually went to be with his fathers.

My point is this:
God has established a pattern throughout Scripture regarding Israel and Egypt. We think of Babylon being the big enemy, or even Assyria, or the Philistines. Yet, somehow this enemy, the Egyptians who persecute and oppress God’s people, also have a positive affinity with God’s people. There is a conundrum here that Jesus was taken into Egypt for protection, just like Abraham, just like Joseph found favor in Egypt, just like Jacob and all his sons found favor, and just like Israel was often an ally with Egypt. Why would God desire that it is to Egypt that Joseph and Mary would flee with Jesus? Why not some other land nearby, like Asia Minor (which I know isn’t extremely close, but neither is Egypt), or even into Samaria? Why not stay within the Israel/Palestine region, and just go outside the jurisdiction of Herod? Why flee all the way to Egypt?

There is something within the mystery of God regarding Egypt, which is intertwined with Israel. When you read the prophets, there is mixed opinion concerning Egypt. Even within the same prophet, you might find one statement of judgment and condemnation toward Egypt, only to find later a blessing. For example, within the same chapter, Isaiah 19, we find statements of judgment upon Egypt that would make you to assume they will be wiped off the map. Yet, the chapter ends with asserting that Israel, Egypt, and Assyria together will have a highway between them, and the three together will be a blessing in the land. It even ends with God saying, “Blessed is Egypt my people, and Assyria the work of my hands, and Israel my inheritance.”

This makes me uncomfortable.

We, as Christians, often like to think of God as being the one who comes in judgment in the last days, rectifying the oppression, and condemning the wicked. We like to view God as the guy in the sky who damns. We see the Old Testament God as a God of judgment and wrath and anger. Yet, the God of the New Testament is a God of love, of compassion, and of hope. However, here we have in the Old Testament a text regarding judgment and mercy, working hand-in-hand together, in a manner that is offensive to our religiosity.

I got to sit down with a man a couple days ago. While talking, he mentioned that he has been reading the Gospels recently. His words are something that I’ve also often felt. “I don’t think I know Jesus…” You read the words of this guy, and you have immensely practical statements about flesh and blood tangible things. Yet, at the same time, these tremendously practical statements about tangible things are also very spiritually focused. Somehow they are interwoven. You have these statements that need little or no interpretation, and then sandwiched in the middle between these statements are small statements that are elusive in our understanding. He makes statements that are full of love and compassion, and then sometimes in the very next statement speaks such harsh words that  you wonder how this guy can be the epitome of “love”.

Do you know this God? Better yet, do you love this God? The one who can barely be comprehended, this God who often says something that boggles the mind, is that your God? Is that who you rejoice in? Or, are you left reading this and scratching your head?

I don’t think I can sufficiently answer to why God would have Jesus taken to Egypt. That is beyond my understanding, and yet it fits perfectly with all that I know God’s wisdom to be. I love this God. It’s so contrary to everything that I’ve expected, and yet so entirely exactly what I expect and desire for God to be.

Within Herod’s Courts – Matthew 2:1-12

In the days of the Roman Empire, there was a conundrum. The Empire stretched from Britain to India. How do you, as Caesar, rule a people that are thousands of miles away? If someone in modern day Pakistan rebelled, what do you do? It takes weeks just to get there… Here is where Caesar established authorities over the various regions of his empire. Over Judea was Herod, who was half Edomite and half ‘Jew’ (some debate this).

In the recent history of the Jews, they would have Antiochus Epiphanes oppressing them, and the Maccabees rising up in rebellion during this time. God was with the Maccabees, and they were victorious to throw off the oppression of Antiochus. This was when Greece ruled the world. After Greece came Rome, and with Rome came more oppression upon Israel and the Jews. This time, there is no deliverer… yet. The people are wondering if there would be a messiah, the promised one like Moses, who would rescue the people from their oppression and rule as King of the Jews, as all the prophets declared should come.

When we enter Matthew 2, we read of these “wise men” or “magi” who come up to Herod and ask, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him.” At this time, Herod was ‘king of the Jews’. Rome had put him in that authority. As any good psychopathic and paranoid ruler would think (name me one ruler who wasn’t…), I’m certain that the question running through Herod’s mind was, “Who is this person that is now on the top of my death list?”

For this reason, you have the very next verse speaking of Herod being troubled. But, here is the kicker: so is all of Jerusalem with him. Jerusalem, the city of God, where God put His name, chosen out of all of the world for the Tabernacle and Temple to dwell, where the King of the Jews rules, and where God sends forth His light into all the world, and all the nations are around about this one central place… THAT Jerusalem is now “troubled” or “vexed” at the coming of her king? How can this be? What kind of Jerusalem is it that so identifies with Herod that it despises the day of her true King’s coming?

In this day, Herod taxed the people about 80-90% of their income. I blanket Herod as the one who taxes the people so harshly, but be assured, Jerusalem has a lot to do with it. You’re either rich in Jerusalem, or you’re homeless. Only the religious elite could afford to be there, who were at the Temple, and who were getting wealthy off of the severe taxes that the Temple now began to enforce on the people. Herod taxed you. Herod’s workers taxed you. You had to tithe to the Temple. You had to buy your offerings. You then had to pay tax on those offerings. You had to pay taxes to Caesar. You had to pay taxes because Caesar is God, and Herod is his authority over you. By the time that you get through the dozens of taxes each person and family had to pay, you end up with almost nothing for yourself and your family. People were losing their family homes. They were taking up occupation that they had never known in towns they had never known.

While the people continue to get poorer and poorer, they in Jerusalem are getting richer and richer. The Pharisees were getting rich off of all of the taxes, but what might surprise you is that the Pharisees were not the ones who were employed by the State. You see, every year, the High Priest was chosen by Herod or some other Roman official, and every time it was given to a Sadducee. The Sadducees were Roman officials, paying tribute and homage to Rome above and beyond anyone else. This is why you find mention of the Pharisees at the trial of Jesus before the Sanhedrin, but not before Pilate. The Pharisees were too pious, and wouldn’t have ever entered into the court of a Gentile.

These peoples were things that at the time of Matthew being written would have been understood. 2000 years later, we think that Jesus despised the Pharisees, because they were religious bigots who crucified Him. This is not entirely true. The Pharisees were devout to God, and desired to see the coming of Messiah, but what caused their downfall (mostly) was their tedious and meticulous analysis of the Scripture, and their unbearable weight that they put upon the people to follow that Scripture. It says in Deuteronomy that we should not boil a kid in its mother’s milk. Therefore, don’t eat cheese with meat. No cheeseburgers. No pizza. No salad with meat and cheese. No chili cheese dogs.

Jesus comes and begins to speak a message entirely contrary to this. You see, it is interesting to me that it isn’t just the words of Jesus, but even His birth that is at utter enmity with the world and its kingdoms. We find here that everything that Herod’s kingdom represents is being cast aside. Herod is known for his great monuments and accomplishments. He rebuilt the mountains in the desert so that when a rain occurs, the water would flow directly to his house on top of the mountain that he built for it to sit upon. Within this house, archaeologists in the 60’s discovered some canned dates. They opened the can and ate them… and then visited the royal bathroom. (That last part was a joke.)

Everything that Herod did was massive and incredibly technologically advanced. He built a stadium that has over 500,000 seats in it, and more of it is still being dug up. And here is the whole point. What is it that you’re world revolves around? Are you the people in Jerusalem making it rich, because you’re the elite of your field, and you work for the guy who is doing everything huge and in massive ways? Is your world revolving around the monuments and money that can be achieved? What is your king? Is it money? Prestige? Monuments? Palaces with pools so big that you have to take a boat across? Who rules you?

For the people outside of Jerusalem, who aren’t making the big bucks, they are being taxed more and more and more. They are being robbed of their family homes, inherited from Joshua. Generations have lived on this family land, and now it comes to you, or your father, and suddenly you can’t keep the land. Can you imagine the shame? Can you imagine the hurt? Does that sound like “the Gospel” to you? Does that sound like freedom? Does that sound like peace, hope, and love?

With the coming of Jesus, and the magi even mentioning that His star has risen, we find that what God is proclaiming is an end to Herod’s system. This kingdom that builds its empire off of oppression and slavery, is about to collapse. The real King has come, which means that Herod is not.

In Numbers 24:17, Balaam prophesied of a “star” that is “not now” and “not near”, but shall come from Judah, and a scepter shall rise out of Israel. It is possible that this is what Matthew is alluding to, and also possible that this is an actual occurrence (a star moving across the sky in an abnormal way, which is actually what caused for people to believe that Julius Caesar was ‘ascending to the gods’). It doesn’t have to be either or, by the way.

Thus, Herod seeks counsel from they who are supposed to know where the “King of the Jews” is to be born. The answer is a quotation of Micah 5:2, which says specifically that the Messiah shall come from Bethlehem. Yet, notice that when you go back to Micah 5, you have this statement continuing in verse 3: “Therefore he (messiah) shall give them (Israel) up, until the time that she who is in labor has given birth (Isa 66:8, Rev 12:1-5); then the remnant of his brethren (Israel that has been cast off) shall return to the children of Israel.” If you have a different way of interpreting Micah 5:1-3, please let me know, but it seems like this is the most plain translation that I can give.

Matthew is using this verse specifically. It might have been that the religious leaders used this verse, but what Matthew is pointing out to us is that there is something going on beyond just that verse. It isn’t merely that Jesus was born in Bethlehem. No, Matthew wants us to catch the context, because it answers for us a lot of questions we’re going to be faced with later. Why is it that Jesus would say that “the kingdom shall be taken from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit”? Because the tax collectors and prostitutes are believing, but the Pharisees and Sadducees are not. But, the point needs to be remembered, they who are believing in Matthew’s Gospel are all ‘Jews’, and the quotation here of Micah 5:2 should remind us that they shall not be cast off forever, but ‘until’.

It is interesting to note that Matthew, most likely writing to Jews, mentions the Gentiles coming to honor Jesus’ birth. Yet, Luke, most likely writing to Gentiles, mentions the Jewish shepherds coming. What they bring before Jesus has been prophesied in Psalm 72:10-12, 15, and in Isaiah 60:6. I don’t believe that Isaiah 49:23 is fulfilled here, because there are a couple things not mentioned by Matthew, and the context of Isaiah 49 doesn’t permit it. However, there is no reason to doubt the allusion to the psalm and Isaiah 60:6 mentioned above.

Birth of Jesus – Matthew 1:18-25

Within the context of Matthew’s Gospel, we have information that we don’t find anywhere else. Luke focuses around Mary’s story, and so here I won’t look at putting the pieces together. Others have, but I haven’t really seen much of a simple expounding of what is found here in Matthew for the sake of understanding Matthew. Overall, the passage itself is pretty simple and straight to the point. Mary was impregnated, and Joseph didn’t do it. Like all men, Joseph would expect that she must have cheated on him, but because he was righteous, he didn’t want to disgrace her. Therefore, he decided to divorce her quietly. Instead, an angel tells Joseph that the child was given of the Holy Spirit, and to take it as his own. Joseph does so, and proves in this action that it is true: he was a righteous man.

To get into the more specific parts of the passage, we can begin with verse 18. The word “genesis” is used for Jesus’ birth. While it can mean birth, the more common word to choose would have been “gennasis”. Why would Matthew choose this word instead of that one? The whole point of Matthew’s Gospel revolves around kingdom. He just finished the genealogy, laying out how Jesus is connected to David and Abraham. David represents the messianic King that was promised. Abraham was called out of all nations to be established as God’s nation. In both of these men, there was a “genesis” that took place. There was a beginning of God’s Kingdom through Abraham, and a beginning of God’s theocratic rule through David. It isn’t as though these things were absent before Abraham and David, but that through them it was manifest incarnate.

And here we have the point. Jesus is God incarnate, bringing forth the flesh and blood Kingdom of God with Him, ruling that Kingdom as the son of David. The reason this is “genesis” instead of “gennasis” is because Matthew is perceiving something new transacting here. It is more than a birth. It is more than even the promised messiah, as many Jews would have been hoping and expecting. Matthew deliberately quotes the Old Testament verses that he does, at the times that he does. So, when we read later from Isaiah (Mat 1:23), “Behold, the virgin shall be with child”, we can be assured that it is here for a reason. And, again, in Mat 2:6, when Micah 5:2 is quoted, we can know that this also revolves around the point.

Isaiah 7:14 has a context. When you go back to the passage, you find that the king of Syria and the king of Israel (northern country) came against Judah (southern country) in attack. God speaks to Isaiah, and tells him to prophesy to the king. God begins to say that this plot will be fruitless. God then asks the king what he desires as a sign for evidence that this will take place, but the king says, “I shall not test the LORD”. This is pious, but a false righteousness at best. God then speaks to the king what sign He will give, saying that there will be a child born unto a bethoolah (young woman), and his name shall be Emmanuel.

When you continue the passage, it goes on for another few chapters. In chapter 8, Isaiah has a son, which some have considered that this is the “sign” unto Ahaz. God speaks about how the armies will not invade, only to then talk about how Rezin (king of Syria) will invade, and will “fill the breadth of your land, O Emmanuel”. We then come to chapter 9 when Isaiah beings to prophesy of this kingdom that will be established, and how there will be “a child born to us”, obviously continuing the Emmanuel prophecy, but showing that it couldn’t be Isaiah’s son.

Within this whole passage, when we’re dealing specifically with Isaiah 7:14 as quoted by Matthew, the whole point is that this child is a sign that pertains to end time significance. There is something happening here. Matthew is hinting at the establishment of a kingdom, which is altogether the same as what God established through Abraham and David, and yet at the same time altogether different. The two manifestations through Abraham and David are only reflections – unable to compare with the reality. What Abraham signifies, and all of the glory that we can express through this great call to be a nation that will bless all nations falls flat on its face when the reality comes forth in this male child. All of what David signifies, and the beautiful rule by which David is known, to rule in righteousness, justice, and equity, which all of our hearts pant and yearn for, is anemic in comparison to what Jesus represents.

This is a hard thing. If the first came with glory, then how much more glorious must this be? Does it cause for you to rejoice? Does it bring a tear to your eye?

The significance of Isaiah 7:14, and the significance of Matthew 1:18 stems from Genesis 3:15. The seed of the woman is at enmity with the seed of the serpent, and yet it isn’t said that this “seed” shall crush that “seed”. No, the woman’s seed shall crush the head of the serpent itself. The serpent’s seed shall be destroyed along with the serpent itself. This is altogether important, because it says that Joseph did not daigmatisai Mary. Daigmatisai is used only one other time in the New Testament. We find it in Colossians 2:15, that Jesus made of the principalities and powers a “public spectacle”, or a “public disgrace”, or a “public shame”. What Joseph did not do unto Mary, Jesus does unto “the principalities and powers” – those demonic unseen forces that usurp and rule the peoples, societies, and nations.

I also find it interesting that the word “onar” (dream) occurs five times in these first couple chapters of Matthew, but never again until Matthew 27:19 when Pilate’s wife sends council to her husband to have nothing to do with Jesus. I’m not sure what to do with that, but it seems there is some sort of significance, both in the amount of times Matthew uses the word, who it is that has these dreams (Joseph and Pilate’s wife), and that it occurs nowhere else in the New Testament…

The name Jesus even signifies this. Jesus is the English transliteration of the Latin transliteration of the Greek transliteration of the Hebrew Yehoshua or Yeshua. Confused? Let’s break it down… We read in our English Bibles “Joshua”. The actual name from the Hebrew was “Yehoshua” or “Yoshua/Yeshua” (I’ve heard some claim either of these). When you transliterate, you take the letters and their sounds, and you just use the English letter equivalent. So, they used the yod to begin with, and the Latin equivalent was J. When you go from the Latin into English, the J no longer has the Y sound. In our text, Iesous was the Greek form of Yeshua, which in Latin is Jesus (pronounced Yesus).

Back to the point, the name of Jesus is the name of God. Matthew tells us what Jesus means – Jehovah is salvation – “for He will save His people from their sins.” For this reason, Matthew quotes Isaiah 7:14, and tells us that Emmanuel means “God with us”. Do you get it? Matthew is telling us that this man is named Jesus, which means “Jehovah is salvation”, because He (Jesus/Jehovah) shall save us from our sins. Jesus and God/Jehovah are being paralleled here. Matthew is claiming that Jesus is God with us, Yahweh.

It is with this statement, concluding that Joseph woke up and did as the angel told him, that we conclude our first chapter of Matthew. Next we will begin with the scene at Herod’s palace. What is interesting is that when we compare the sweep of Isaiah 7-9 with Micah 5:1-3, we find that Matthew is putting pieces together for us. As I showed, we have Rezin, the King of Syria, being prophesied that he shall not enter Israel. Then, Isaiah talks about he will enter Israel. Did God change His mind? No, there is a separate event at the end of the age, where this “king of Syria” – a pattern of the Antichrist – will come in and devastate Israel. There is a mention of this “child” Emmanuel in chapter 7, and then after his birth in chapter 8 there is prophecy of an invasion. Then, in chapter 9, there is the “child born to us” who has the government of God upon his shoulders. In Micah 5:2-3, we have the messiah born, and then part of Israel being cast off temporarily, until “she who has travailed gives birth”, and then all of Israel’s brothers will come back to knowing God, being a part of Israel again, and being under their messiah and shepherd. Do you see how these are parallel statements being said, but yet hidden within the references of Matthew? It’s interesting to say the least….

 

Israel or Messiah – Matthew 1-4

There is a specific verse in Matthew 2 that gets a lot of scoffing. It is his usage of Hosea 12:1, that “out of Egypt I call my son”. When you go back to Hosea, you find that this verse cannot be employed in such a manner. It is so far removed from the original context that many have labeled Matthew as a deceiver. Of course, they who have done so are either non-believers or utterly unorthodox. However, the remark needs to be tenderly attended to.

While Matthew 2:15 is not the subject of this blog post, it does do great justice to the point that I want to make. There is a continuum that is unbroken. Israel is the nation of priests, and is called to go out into all nations and be God’s nation. It is unto Israel that the call was given to be a witness unto all nations. Yet, when we come to the New Testament, these sorts of statements and role is given unto Christ Jesus. Many have used this to then claim that everything is fulfilled in Christ, and therefore Israel is no longer held unto that place of honor. It is no longer the Jew that has God’s mandate to witness unto the world, but the Christian.

We read in the letter to the Romans a fascinating statement: “The gifts and callings of God are irrevocable”. The statement is within a context that tells us this is specific to Israel. Therefore, such a conclusion that all of what Israel was called to be is fulfilled in Christ is absurd. However, there is indeed a connection and correlation. Let us begin this in the book of Isaiah, among the servant songs.

We read in Isaiah 41-49 a servant being addressed. This continued over into Isaiah 52-53, which is why many Jews debate the Christian interpretation of Isaiah 53. Let us note a few of these references to the servant of Isaiah 41-49:

“But you, Israel, are my servant,
Jacob whom I have chosen,
T
he descendants of Abraham My friend,” Isaiah 41:8 (Israel)

Behold! My Servant whom I uphold,
My Elect One in whom My soul delights!
I have put My Spirit upon Him;
He will bring forth justice to the Gentiles,” Isaiah 42:1 (Messiah)

Who is blind but My servant,
Or deaf as My messenger whom I send?
Who is blind as he who is perfect,
And blind as the Lord’s servant?” Isaiah 42:19 (Israel)

You are My witnesses,” says the Lord,
“And My servant whom I have chosen,
That you may know and believe Me,
And understand that I am He.
Before Me there was no God formed,
Nor shall there be after Me,” Isaiah 43:10 (Israel)

Yet hear now, O Jacob My servant,
And Israel whom I have chosen.
Thus says the Lord who made you
And formed you from the womb, who will help you:
‘Fear not, O Jacob My servant;
And you, Jeshurun, whom I have chosen,” Isaiah 44:1 (Israel)

Remember these, O Jacob,
And Israel, for you are My servant;
I have formed you, you are My servant;
O Israel, you will not be forgotten by Me!” Isaiah 44:21 (Israel)

“Who confirms the word of His servant,
And performs the counsel of His messengers;
Who says to Jerusalem, ‘You shall be inhabited,’
To the cities of Judah, ‘You shall be built,’
And I will raise up her waste places,” Isaiah 44:26 (Messiah)

For Jacob My servant’s sake,
And Israel My elect,
I have even called you by your name;
I have named you, though you have not known Me,” Isaiah 45:4 (Israel)

And He said to me,
‘You are My servant, O Israel,
In whom I will be glorified.’ Isaiah 49:3 (Isaiah)

“And now the Lord says,
Who formed Me from the womb to be His Servant,
To bring Jacob back to Him,
So that Israel is gathered to Him
(For I shall be glorious in the eyes of the Lord,
And My God shall be My strength),
Indeed He says,
‘It is too small a thing that You should be My Servant
To raise up the tribes of Jacob,
And to restore the preserved ones of Israel;
I will also give You as a light to the Gentiles,
That You should be My salvation to the ends of the earth.’” Isaiah 49:5-6 (Messiah)

 

What you can note from these verses is that there seems to be a back and forth to the “servant”. Sometimes it is explicitly stated as Israel, and then other times, this “servant” is the very deliverer of Israel! In fact, when you read the context of Isaiah 42 and 49, the servant cannot be Israel, because this servant is the one who is made as a covenant for Israel, and the deliverer of Israel.

How do you answer this?

Matthew saw a principle here that we have missed. As with Israel, so with Messiah. As with Messiah, so with Israel. The two are interwoven. Sometimes the servant is explicitly Israel, but other times it is impossible to be Israel. Think of it like the Olympics. When a runner wins the gold, they don’t mention that runner’s name. Instead, they say that America won the gold, or Germany won the gold, or whoever the person is running for. They are a representative of the whole nation. So it is with Messiah.

When we take this to the Gospel of Matthew, we find something fascinating. The birth of Jesus was a miraculous birth, just as the miraculous birth of Isaac. Just as Pharaoh killed the Hebrew male children, so do we find Herod slaying the male children of Bethlehem. Thus, Jesus is taken into Egypt to flee Herod, so just as Israel came out of Egypt, so now God calls His (other) Son, Jesus, out of Egypt. Just as Israel must cross the Red Sea after coming out of Egypt, now we find in the narrative that Jesus gets baptized in the River Jordan. Just as Israel then roams 40 days unto Sinai, so we find Jesus being in led into the wilderness for 40 days. Just as Israel suffered three temptations in that wilderness to come unto Sinai, so does Jesus face three temptations. Just as Israel comes unto Sinai to receive the Law, now Jesus comes out of the wilderness and up on a mountain and expounds the Law to the multitudes of Israel.

Matthew is brilliantly putting together pieces that most people I’ve talked to have never even considered. It eventually comes to a point where we begin to wonder if a man wrote this, or if God wrote it… We eventually come to a place where we wonder if Jesus’ life was happenstance at all, or if every moment of Jesus’ life was an eternal moment that reflected a pattern already established, and continued that pattern to reveal unto us the eschatological scheme. Every detail matters.

With this, we will begin next time examining the birth of Christ and the scene that Matthew records around Joseph and Mary during this time. Grace and peace to you all.

Jesus’ Genealogy – Matt 1:1-1-17

The Gospel of Matthew opens up to a genealogy. Quite frankly, often we skim this section because of our lack of interest in a bunch of names. There are two questions pushed into our faces straightway from the scoffers, though. First, why is the genealogy of Matthew different than Luke? Second, why does Matthew leave out various generations so that he can establish three sets of “14”?

Within this section, there are much deeper things to recognize than the answer to those two questions. For example, within the first verse, the Greek Iesou Christou is used. That title is given to Jesus only three times in all of the synoptic Gospels: Matthew 1:1, 16:21, and Mark 1:1. He is the son of David, the son of Abraham. Why is this important? When we trace the “seed of the woman” (Gen 3:15) through Genesis, we find that the messiah must come through Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Then, as we continue through the Scripture, we find that the messiah must come through David.

But there is a deeper sense in what it means to be a “son”. In the books of Kings and Chronicles, over and over again it is said that the king is like his father David, or not like his father David. To be the son of David is more than a biological statement. It reveals to us a certain character, a certain disposition of heart, and a certain quality. Davidicness is the essence of the Kingdom itself. When David and Jonathan said their final goodbyes, they wept upon one another’s shoulders, but David wept more. When Saul is handed into David’s hand, David doesn’t kill him, and then feel conviction for ever even raising his blade to cut off the tassel of Saul’s robe! What manner of a man is this? The very nuisance and persecutor of you and your men is delivered into your hand, and yet he repents for even cutting off the tassel…

To be a son of Abraham, as Jesus tells the people in John 8, is to act like Abraham. Abraham was circumcised in Genesis 17, and the very next chapter is about these three men who he doesn’t even know wandering around. He sees them on the horizon, and he leaps up and RUNS to them. Now, for those of you who don’t know, circumcision is when the man gets a part of the flesh of his genitals cut off. You mean to tell me that this old man not only ran, which itself is baffling in that culture, but did so after a surgical procedure in such a sensitive place? What manner of a man is this?

Why would Abraham run to meet these strangers? Abraham’s heart could not tolerate the consideration of these three men being marginalized and without hope. How is it that they are not with their loved ones? What must be taking place that these men are away from their families? Have they been excommunicated? Have they been sent on a mission? Are they marginalized without a family? Such thoughts were unbearable, and so Abraham ran to them. He invited them into his own home, which is a deeper statement than just a friendly visit. Abraham shall provide for them; he shall be their family. And, when he finds out they will come under his roof, he runs back to camp to tell Sarah to bake 3 measures of bread, which in our society would be about 70 pounds. He baked enough bread to last them a month!

And now, with the introduction of Jesus Christ, which when translated is Yeshua HaMeshiach, we have the statement that this man was the son of David, the son of Abraham.

Does your mouth drool yet? Does your heart leap with hope? The mere statement from the very onset – the first verse of Matthew’s Gospel – is enough to peak the interest of any Jew. You mean there is one who shall not stand in the manner of Herod, with his bureaucracy and high taxes? There is a new king, the promised Messiah, who shall rule with righteousness and equity? No more do we have to live under the system of a Jerusalem that weeps at the coming of her own King? Now we can rejoice at the coming?

The next 15 verses are tracing the lineage from Abraham through to David, and from David unto Joseph, Jesus’ father. But, wait a minute. Wasn’t Jesus’ born of a virgin? So, then Joseph means nothing, right? When Ruth and Boaz have a child, it is said that Naomi has a son. But, Naomi didn’t bear the son, and Ruth was not Naomi’s daughter. However, you might reason that Joseph’s inheritance goes to the firstborn, and Jesus wasn’t his firstborn. Since we know that James was the brother of Jesus, it would imply that inheritance would go to James, if not one of the other brothers – whoever is oldest.

This is where Luke’s Gospel is so necessary. There are two different traces of the genealogy. Two thoughts have been suggested, both of which I find plausible. First, notice 1 Chronicles 3:19. The sons of Pedaiah were Zerubbabel and Shimei. Yet, jump to Haggai 2:2, “Speak to Zerubbabel son of Shialtiel…” We find this also in Ezra, “Zerubbabel son of Shialtiel…” Now, how is it that you have Zerubbabel being called the son of Shialtiel in Ezra and Haggai, but Pedaiah in 1 Chronicles? It’s a levirate marriage. What is a levirate marriage? It is when a man has a wife, but dies, and so his brother takes the wife to have children for his brother.

Now, if there is one example of a levirate marriage within Jesus’ genealogy, then why can’t there be a second or more?

Also, notice Matthew 1-2 focus around Joseph quite heavily. In fact, Mary is barely mentioned. Yet, in Luke 1-2, Joseph is barely mentioned, whereas it revolves around Mary predominately. Is it possible that Matthew records the genealogy from Abraham to Joseph, but Luke records the genealogy of Mary?

Notice some of the names that Matthew has. He mentions Tamar (1:3), who bore sons unto Judah as a prostitute. He mentions Ruth (1:5), who was Maobite instead of Israelite. He mentions Rahab (1:5), who was not Israelite either. He mentions “her of Uriah”, who is obviously Bathsheba, both Uriah and Bathsheba being Hittite. These women that are mentioned are not Israelite, and yet are mentioned deliberately. What is Matthew’s point? Matthew is mentioning the women to establish firmly the inheritance of Jesus through Mary. Though he might be tracing the genealogy of Joseph (this being debated in many theological circles), what I believe that Matthew is doing is settling the argument before it even comes up. Just like Moses permitted the daughters of Zelophehad to inherit, since Zelophehad didn’t have any sons, so too shall Jesus inherit through Mary, and so too shall Mary have that inheritance right.

Finally, we’ve come unto the last verse of our section. We see three sets of 14 – 14 generations from Abraham to David, 14 from David to the exile, and 14 from the exile to Jesus. In Hebrew, there is a numbering system of the letters. Daleth, waw, daleth (David) adds up to 14. It could be that Matthew is again emphasizing “son of David”. Throughout Matthew’s Gospel are sets of 3. There are three childhood experiences, three temptations, three initial disciples called, three expositions on ‘do not murder’ (Matt 5:22-26), three teachings on righteousness (Matt 6), three healings (Matt 8), three mentions of Beelzebub (9:34, 10:25, 12:24), etc.

My last statement regarding the genealogy is another scoff from the anti-missionary Jews. Thumbing through some of my old notes, I realize I’ve forgotten to expand upon Jeconiah. Notice Jeremiah 22:30, “Thus says the Lord‘Write this man down as childless, A man who shall not prosper in his days; For none of his descendants shall prosper, Sitting on the throne of David, And ruling anymore in Judah.’” The context of this statement is to say that Jeconiah shall not be the father of the messiah; God has rejected him, and therefore the messiah must come through another son of David. 

Matthew, however, uses Jeconiah in Jesus’ genealogy. So, how can we account for this?

Go to Zechariah 4, and notice that God is speaking about using Zerubbabel (a son of Jeconiah) in rebuilding the Temple, which the messiah was to do. Zerubbabel is being likened unto the messiah. Now, go back a couple more pages to Haggai 2:23: In that day, says the LORD of hosts, I will take you, Zerubbabel My servant, the son of Shealtiel, says the LORD, and will make you like a signet ring; for I have chosen you, says the LORD of hosts.” Apparently, according to the prophets after the exile, while God might have rejected Jeconiah, God embraced Zerubbabel.

Thus, I think we’ve fully dealt with the genealogy of Jesus, as it is found within the Gospel of Matthew.

The Kingdom of Heaven – Matthew Overview

It seems as though the commentaries often are examining the differences between the four Gospels. Often they are taken up with the discussion of whether Mark was the primary source of Matthew and Luke, or whether there was some source “Q” that was the source of all three. It is noted that almost the entirety of the Gospel of Mark shows up in the Gospel of Matthew, with the exception of only the healing of the demoniac (Mk 1:22-28), preaching in the synagogues of Galilee (Mk 1:35-39), the parable of the seed growing secretly (Mk 4:26-29), healing of the deaf man (Mk 7:32-37), healing of a blind man (Mk 8:22-26), the exorcist (Mk 9:38-40), and the widow and her alms (Mk 12:41-44). There is much more distinction between Matthew and Luke, but when we consider the amount that is “out of order” between Matthew and Mark, the same level of inconsistency is found.

Here is my biggest struggle with this:
The Gospel writers were not interested in telling us a story of events in chronological order, nor about telling us everything that Jesus did. The Gospels are not for our understanding of Jesus’ life in a biographical manner. Instead, the Gospels are written to give us a bigger picture. There is something being communicated in the words, both in the order of events, and in the reason for choosing these stories, but not those stories, these parables, but not those parables, and so on. What should be our focus is why the Gospel author is telling us this at that time, and why is it that they leave this or that story out that we know also happens…

There is also importance in the placement of this book. The Hebrew Bible ends with the book of Chronicles, instead of having the prophets at the end. You had the Torah, the prophets, and then the writings. Part of the prophets were the books of Joshua through Kings, and the writings began with the Psalms. The Old Testament in the first century would have ended with the book of Chronicles, which was not divided into “two”. So, the last book of the Old Testament began with a genealogy – the only book of the Old Testament to do so. Likewise, Matthew begins with a genealogy – the only book of the New Testament to do so. Here we find the continuation of the Tanakh. Where the Old Testament seems to end on a rather melancholy tone, admitting that the hope of Messiah has not yet come, here Matthew is expressing that this is not the end of the story.

For our current order of books, we can see the connection of the last chapter of Malachi prophesying of the “Elijah” who is to come, and the Gospel of Matthew recording that John the Baptist did indeed come, and he was indeed the Elijah. Even the description of John the Baptist is a reference back to Elijah (compare Matthew 3:4 and 2 Kings 1:8). Yet, in my own estimation, it would make more sense to put Mark first if this is the reasoning behind the placement of order…

The word “kingdom” shows up in Matthew more than any other book of the Bible (55 times). The closest book after this is tied between Daniel and Luke with 44 times. Out of those 55 times, 32 times we read the phrase “kingdom of heaven”, and 5 times we read “kingdom of God”. It is no stretch of the mind to determine what exactly Matthew is trying to communicate; his whole book is emanating with the Gospel of the Kingdom. Matthew’s Gospel is a Gospel of the Kingdom, and nothing else. No other word juices from the pages like this. No other phrase is as critical.

So, we can ask why the phrase “kingdom of heaven” is used instead of “kingdom of God”…

Unlike the various dispensationalists who claim so, it is my belief that the kingdom of heaven is the same thing as the kingdom of God. You have the exact same statements recurring in Luke, but using the kingdom of God instead of the kingdom of heaven in those statements. The difference is between audience. It is said that Matthew was written to the Jews, which very well could be. In the Jewish world, just like you have today, there was solemnity in regard to writing “God”. Even now we read of “G-d” in many Jewish sources. The change over to “heaven” is simply to be courteous. It is not as though the kingdom of heaven is some other realm, or some other thing than the kingdom of God.

And what exactly is the kingdom of God? What exactly is it that Matthew is attempting to convey? We find the answer within the first verses of his book. He gives us a genealogy of Jesus, which ties Him back to Abraham and David. The Kingdom is not ethereal, or something that has now been made in the sky, but is a very physical and tangible reality. The Kingdom of God is something that is expected within a certain land, and unto a certain people, for Jesus Himself declares, “It is not right to give the children’s bread unto dogs” (Matt 15:26). This statement needs to be weighed in the words Jesus spoke earlier, “Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs…” (Matt 7:6).

In the context of Matthew 15, we read that this is a Canaanite woman asking for a miracle. Jesus’ response is to declare, as John would put it, “Salvation is of the Jews” (John 4:22). Therefore, to believe and emphasize that Matthew is an advocate of some sort of replacement theology, or that the land of Israel is not important, or that the Jews are not important, is to both miss the whole breadth of Matthew’s Gospels, as well as to slander the apostle. The Kingdom is intricately woven together with the land and the specific people that God has chosen in the Old Testament. Any other kind of interpretation of Matthew is a farce.

We have the pinnacle of all of the synoptic Gospels revolving around the Olivet Discourse, as it is called. Matthew 24-25, interestingly, is the fulcrum around which the whole Gospel pivots. We have here the magnanimous statement of Jesus’ glorious return, the establishment of God’s Kingdom upon the earth, they who shall be selected as God’s people to rule with Christ in resurrected splendor, and the rest are cast away into everlasting shame. The statements of “outer darkness” where there shall be “weeping and gnashing of teeth” are not reflections of what the world can expect, but of what they who are to know better – the believers/Israel – can expect. Over and over again, the statements of Jesus are not pointed toward the “unsaved”, or the pagans. They are pointed directly at the religious leaders, and the ones who are considered the righteous and holy people of God.

We find the significance of Jesus’ life and teaching in the Gospel of Matthew revolving in around the notion of Jesus returning and establishing the Kingdom, and the Wedding of God with that Kingdom. We find over and over again that the teachings and parables are not to instruct us how to have a happy time and enjoy life, but how to survive the apocalypse that is soon to come upon the whole earth, and what is required in order to be the people of God in our own generation. The whole crux of Jesus’ condemnation upon the Pharisees is not that “this generation” shall be judged, but the Greek word “genean” (generation) more frequently means a certain people with a disposition. For example, you read of the “wicked and adulterous generation” that craves a sign. In fact, more times in Matthew than not, the word “genea” does not mean a period of time, a generation being 20-40 years. Instead, it is a generic word to lump sum together a whole group of people that all have a certain disposition or tendancy, from the foundation of the world unto the end of the age. Why shall the Pharisees be judged for the righteous blood of Abel when they did not kill Abel? It is because they are the same “generation”, or people with that same wickedness, as Cain.

 

Indeed, while we have assumed the cross and resurrection to be the zenith of all four Gospels, Matthew doesn’t leave this as the last and final word. What is it that is given as the last statement of Matthew?

“And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, ‘All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.’ Amen.”

We simply need to ask what this text means. Throughout the Gospel, the teachings of Jesus revolve around the Kingdom of God. We even find in Matthew 24:14 that the Gospel of the Kingdom shall be preached in all the world. Here, the great commission is not to simply go to the nations and tell them about Jesus so that certain people within those nations might make it heaven. There is a witness unto the nations themselves, for attached to that verse in Matthew 24:14 is what Jesus says in Matthew 25:31, “When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory. All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them one from another, as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.”

Notice there is nothing stated here about Jesus separating His disciples. What Jesus is talking about is the separation of nations, just as Joel prophesied: “I will also gather all nations, and bring them down to the Valley of Jehoshaphat; and there I will enter into judgment with them there on account of My people, My heritage Israel, whom they have scattered among the nations; they have also divided up My land.”

That last statement of Matthew 28:20 comes from Deuteronomy 5:32 and 12:32. God being with them stems from texts like Exodus 3:2, Joshua 1:5, Psalm 46:7, and Isaiah 41:10. There is rich significance given to Yahweh telling us that He shall go with us, and that He shall be the one to guide us. The final statement, “unto the end of the age”, is strictly used in Matthew’s Gospel as the climax of the age. It is strictly in conjunction to the judgment of Israel, the apocalyptic finale, and the coming of Jesus.

With this general synopsis, I think we’re ready to begin our trek into one of the most difficult books of the Bible. It is so often misunderstood, even while at the same time being such a book of simplicity. Jesus’ words are not difficult. In fact, they were the saving grace when my wife was fed up with Christianity. She went back to the words of Jesus, and found in them the necessary joy and reality that her soul had longed for, but was starving because everyone quotes Paul – and does so incorrectly at that! With this overview, let us begin to chew upon the very words of our Savior, and the life that He lived. May grace be upon you all, as it was upon those first saints who listened to the apostle’s teaching, and who obeyed that selfsame teaching. Amen.