Ye Have Come to Zion

These are notes that I used in a video with the same title.

Genesis 1:1
The Bible cannot be about “salvation history”, as if all of the Bible describes only the means to redemption. God created in the beginning, and that creation was “good”. The degree to which creation was not fallen is the degree to which the Bible expresses something larger than salvation history alone.
Our Bible/Gospel doesn’t begin with Genesis 3 and end @ the cross
This verse expounds to us God’s purposes are larger than “salvation history” to envelop even the creation itself.
Revelation 21:1
To the degree Genesis 1:1 is about a physical heaven and earth, this is also about a physical new heaven and new earth (resurrected)

Genesis 1
1 Heaven and earth, light
2 Atmosphere and oceans (sea)
3 Land and vegetation
4 Sun, moon, and stars – separate light and dark as rulers
5 Birds and fish
6 Animals, reptiles/amphibians, humans
7 Rest
What God created on the first three days, He also made distinction and separation. What God created on the next set of three days, He used to fill what He made on the first three.

Genesis 2 – Revelation 21-22 comparison
2 trees (Gen 2:9)                       –          2 trees of life (Rev 22:2)
River (Gen 2:10)                        –          River (Rev 22:1-2)
Beauty (Gen 2:11-14)               –         Beauty (Reve 21:10-21)
Purpose (Gen 2:15)                   –         Purpose (Rev 22:5)
Marriage (Gen 2:18, 21-24)    –         Marriage (Rev 21:2, 9)
No shame (Gen 2:25)               –         No curse/shame (Rev 21:4, 22:3)
Sea (Gen 1:6-8)                          –        No sea (Rev 21:1)
Darkness (Gen 1:2-5)               –        No darkness (Rev 21:23-24, 22:5)
God’s presence (Gen 3:8, 10) –       God’s throne (Rev 21:22, 22:3)

The question is: How do we go from the Garden to the City? This gets at the heart of God’s purposes, the theme of the Bible, and eschatology.

2 Timelines:
Most people read the New Testament as the new covenant, and assume that we must look back at the Old Testament through our New Testament filter. The Old Testament is said to be looking forward to Jesus, and the New Testament looking backward to Jesus.
Hebrews 4:1-4 seems to indicate that the rest we enter into is not a New Testament thing, but established from the Garden. The Gospel itself is said to have been preached to they who came out of Egypt as well as to us. What Gospel is it that they heard, if Jesus had not yet been crucified to take away our sins?
The reality that God’s people of every generation live from is that eternal rest.
The earthly reflects the heavenly
Exodus 25:9
When we read the Old Testament, we need to understand that they were at a different part of God’s plan, but that God had still revealed to them His ultimate intention.

Garden compared to Tabernacle/Temple
Sea (Gen 1:6-8)                                –      Water from rock (Ex 17)
River (Gen 2:10)                               –      River (Eze 47:1)
Precious stones (Gen 2:11-12)     –      Breastplate of High Priest 12 stones (Ex 28:15)
Sun, moon, stars                             –      3 Types of light (outer, inner, Most Holy)
Stars                                                    –      Menorah (see Rev 1:20-21)
Mist (Gen 2:6)                                  –      Smoke (altar of incense)
Abad and samar (Gen 2:15) are the same words used for temple service (Num 3:7-8, 1 Chron 23:32)
I know some of these are a stretch, but notice the connection. The Old Testament sacrificial priesthood was about restoring unto Eden, which we’ve also seen is parallel to Zion, the New Jerusalem.

Tabernacle compared to Sinai
Washing basin                   –        Water from rock
Altar                                      –        Altar at base (Ex 24:4)
Menorah                              –        Lightning/fire (Ex 19:6/19)
Smoke of Incense             –        Smoke (Ex 19:16)
2 Trumpets (Num 10:2)   –         Trumpet blast (Ex 19:16, 19)
Showbread                          –         Manna
Ark of Covenant                –         God enthrones (Ex 24:11)
The Tabernacle was a traveling Sinai
Exodus 25:9, Hebrews 8:5
Moses goes up the mount and beholds the heavenly/eternal Tabernacle. That is the pattern the earthly is based off of. The entirety of the Old Testament priesthood and sacrifice is a reflection of something eternal.

Tabernacle/Temple compared to Rev 21-21
Ark of the Covenant                                 =   God’s throne (1 Sam 4:4, 2 Sam 6:2, Isa 37:16)
24 priestly families (1 Chron 24)         –   24 elders (Rev 4:4)
Menorah                                                       –   Seven lamps (Rev 4:5)
The Sea (1 King 7:23)                                 –   Sea of glass (Rev 4:6)
4 Cherubim (Ex 25:18, 1 King 6:23)       –   4 cherubim “in the midst of throne” (Rev 4:6)
4 Levites carry Ark (Ex 25:14, 37:4-5)  –   4 cherubim carry throne (Eze 1:22, 26-28)
Tablets of Testimony (Ex 32:15)             –   Scroll w/writing on 2 sides (Eze 2:9-10, Rev 5:1-2)
2 Altars (offering/incense)                      –   2 Altars (Rev 6:9, Rev 8:3-4)
Ex 19:16 compared to Rev 4:5
The tabernacle on earth reflected the tabernacle in heaven
Sinai was a manifestation of heaven on earth, and the tabernacle was a traveling Sinai. But God did not choose Sinai; He chose Zion.

Genesis 22
God tells Abraham to offer Isaac on a mountain in the land of Moriah. It doesn’t specify upon mount Moriah, but in the land of Moriah.
Abraham declares God will provide the lamb
God provides a ram
Exodus 12 – Passover requires a lamb, but God requires Israel to provide their own
John 1:29 – Jesus is called the Lamb of God (Gen 22:8)
Moriah has been identified as the area around Jerusalem
Notice Gen 22:14 – Mountain of the Lord
The Mountain of the Lord almost always refers to Zion, upon which the Temple sat (2 Sam 24:18-25, 2 Chron 3:1)
Ezekiel 28:13-14 – Eden was called the Mount of God
Would God be so specific to place Eden in a specific location upon the earth, which would later be called the region of Moriah, which would even later be called Jerusalem and Zion?

Hebrews 12:14-29
This isn’t replacement theology. This is the expression that we’re a part of the eternal reality, manifested in the earthly.
You have not come unto the reflection, finding the end in itself as the Tabernacle and priesthood of Aaron, but unto the eternal thing itself.

The whole Bible is attempting to explain and portray to us how God intends on making the eternal/heavenly unified and one with the earth. Eschatology (study of the end times) is the answer to that question.
If God chose Zion, then the physical Land is still important
If God chose Israel as His people, then they still matter
If God chose Jerusalem, then that Mountain is still the place where it shall be provided (Israel’s redemption, the Kingdom, nations’ redemption, judgment and mercy, etc).
God does not change His mind. Just because we don’t like it doesn’t mean that everything must now be ethereal and spiritual. The Kingdom is always spiritual and physical at the same time, ruled from one place, with one nation as God’s elect chosen people – Gentiles always having been grafted in.

Resting With Messiah

 

My wife and I had hopes of talking about “What Child is This” for the Christmas season. We were going to talk about the eternality of Jesus, and how we can find the roots of our messiah going back from Genesis 3:15 and then forward unto the final amen. Even John opens his Gospel by pointing out that “in the beginning” “God said let there be light, and there was light”. He couples this with Jesus being the light, and essentially is making the statement that just as God filled the darkened creation with light, so too does He now send the Son, the true Light, to fill the darkened creation.

When we started talking, we got caught on something else haha. We got caught on the fact that in the beginning, God rested, and He offers this rest for anyone and everyone who might believe. The Christmas message is about a savior who has been born, but so often we don’t understand what the statement even means. It’s like our thoughts have been reduced down to going to heaven after we die, and we don’t realize God has always been trying to get us to look up and see the reality already present.

So, instead of writing out everything we talked about, I thought I’d share our video. This is one of those subjects close to our heart, and it shows. I hope you enjoy, and hopefully I’ll be able to get back into writing on this blog during and after our advent season 🙂

A Brood of Vipers – Matthew 3:7-12

There are a few things going on here that are cultural references, and a few things that are Scriptural. So, first lets deal with this first section. When the Pharisees and Sadducees come to John, he calls them a brood of vipers and asks them who told them to flee from the wrath to come. What’s happening here?

Go back to Genesis 3:15. There are two seeds. There is the seed of the woman, who shall be the deliverer, later expressed in the term Messiah. Then there is the seed of the serpent. When you read through Genesis, you have two seeds presented at all times. There is Cain, and Abel/Seth. There is the wicked generation, and Noah. There is the nations at Babel, and Abraham. There is Ishmael, and Isaac. There is Esau, and Jacob. The seed of the serpent isn’t specific to a people group, but rather a concept. There are a people who consistently oppress and persecute the people of God, and it doesn’t matter if they are called Philistines, Egyptians, Assyrians, or Chaldeans.

Something begins to shift in the history of Israel, though. Solomon uses slave labor to build his palace and some military bases. But God said to not have slaves, because you were once a slave in Egypt. Here is the topsy-turvy kingdom: Israel, the new Egypt. Under Rehoboam it gets worse. The northern kingdom of Israel doesn’t ever have one good king. The southern kingdom of Judah has a handful. Over and over again in the prophets, what we read is that they are in outrage over the fact that the leaders are mistreating the people. In fact, such strong language is used in certain places (Jer 10:25, Mic 3:1-3, Zeph 3:3, etc) that it says the leaders of Israel are actually eating and devouring the people.

The leaders have become the seed of the serpent, at enmity with the seed of the woman and with God. Therefore, they are a “brood of vipers”.

But let’s not be hasty. It is easy to point fingers. What exactly were the Pharisees, anyway? In the first century, you could call the Pharisees the conservatives, and the Sadducees were the liberals. They were the leaders of the people. The Pharisees, in their great learning and understanding, were the ones who helped the people to understand the Law, so that Israel might follow it and obey. According to the Pharisees’ belief, if they could only reform the people of God back unto holiness and righteousness, then the Messiah would come. The Sadducees, on the other hand, were hired Roman officials – Jews who betrayed their own people. Therefore, the high priests, priests, and the scribes were often Sadducees hired by Rome to keep the people in check.

I’m not going to point out what I find to be obvious. In our Christianity today, there are Pharisees and Sadducees. There is no point in me putting names with those titles, because the truth is that if you can’t discern it, then you probably fall into one of those two camps. And John the Baptist calls them a brood of vipers. The difference between much of what is called Christianity today and the Sadducees/Pharisees is that at least the Pharisees/Sadducees understood that John and Jesus were talking about them…

What about this wrath to come?

Again, when you read the prophets, any “wrath to come” that is mentioned is associated with the Day of the Lord. There might be prophecies against certain nations (I’m thinking of Isaiah 37-39 currently) that had an immediate expectation, but the vast majority were beyond the immediate. It’s as though the prophet was beholding the seed of the serpent within these rebellious nations, and wasn’t merely prophesying concerning Assyria, Babylon, or Moab (or any other nation), but beyond them to an ultimate “seed of the serpent”, which is the mystery of iniquity, which the New Testament calls “Antichrist”. It is this one, the Antichrist/False Prophet, that we read Jesus will destroy with the brightness of His coming.

What is the coming wrath? It is the return of Jesus, and the outpoured fury upon the nations who have gathered against Israel at Har Meggido (Armegeddon). We read in passages like Ezekiel 38-39, Zechariah 14, and Revelation 19:11-21 about the destruction of this army that gathers. We read in other passages, such as Zechariah 14:16-17, Isaiah 19:21, and Daniel 7:11-14, about how there are nations who are judged, but not condemned and cast into the pits of hell with Jesus’ return.

Thus, to get back to what John is saying to the Pharisees, I think that we need to be keen on the understanding of the apostles in that first century. Peter calls Jerusalem “Babylon” at the end of his first epistle. When you read Revelation 17, the language used in regard to the 10 nations attacking the woman comes straight from the prophets in regard to Israel and Judah’s judgment. In Zechariah 14:14, there is a subtle hint that even Jerusalem/Judah itself will fight with the Antichrist against the coming of the Lord. God alone knows, but what we can be truly certain of is that God has consistently spoken that the wicked of Israel shall not endure unto the end, but shall taste of the wrath of God during that final expulsion and sifting through the nations.

We can ask the question of why this is being said here. It makes sense to say it if we’re dealing with the Day of the Lord, but this is Jesus’ first coming. I would challenge you to go to Malachi 3 and read it. Couple that with Matthew 21:33-43. Even though this isn’t the final last days dealing of God, it is quite clear that Jesus has indeed taken the Kingdom from the leaders of Israel and given it to they who will produce it’s fruit (the tax collectors and sinners of Israel, and later in Acts even the Gentiles).

“Therefore bear fruit to repentance…” Again, the concept of bearing fruit is not foreign in the consciousness of the Jewish people. John isn’t being clever and inventing something new. Even Isaiah the prophet calls Israel God’s “vineyard” (Isaiah 5) – the Hebrew word gan. God planted Israel, He cultivated Israel, and yet He only found bad fruit. Tell Me, O Israel, what I did wrong! The answer, of course, is that God did nothing wrong. Therefore, John is telling these people, “Bear fruit to repentance.” You who have consistently been that barren vineyard, or, even worse, been the ones producing bad fruit, repent of your wickedness, and turn unto the Lord. They know what tshuva means (Hebrew word/concept of repentance).

In the book of John, Jesus is speaking to the Jews round about Him. And in chapter 8, the Jews respond that they have Abraham as their father. It’s as if being genetically Jewish is all they think they need to inherit the Kingdom. They don’t even realize that Abraham was called to be the father of many nations because of his character, and not simply because of God’s sovereign choosing. Certainly God’s sovereign choosing played into it, but don’t think that God would have chosen Nimrod instead. There is a character, a certain mindset and lifestyle that reflects who God is, and it was that very thing that was being chosen.

God can raise children of Abraham from the stones.

Why?

It wouldn’t be too much for God to do so, but I think we should understand that John was pointing to that hill outside Jerusalem, where it says that the Messiah will step foot upon (Zech 14:5).

What stones are upon that hill?

They are graves.

God can raise them up out of the graves, and you will completely miss it, because you have hardened yourself, and have refused to consider that God is an actual person, and not some concept that we fiddle with.

We come back to the concept of agriculture and producing fruit. What do  you do when a tree refuses to bear fruit? You cut it down and use it as firewood. Therefore, John has no hesitation or timidity in pointing out that the ax is already at the root, just like it’s always been, and the fire of God is already upon you. This is the vision of the prophets. Everything is immanent; everything is life and death; everything is now, even while it yet might be millennia in the future. Eternity has no concept of time. Time cannot contain eternity. Eternal moments break the constraints of time, so that they who are eternal can perceive the reality of past, present, and future in a manner that affects all of past, present, and future. We’re affected by our past, and we also effect the past. We’re affected by the future, and we also effect the future.

In verse 11, John again brings up the issue of repentance. He says, “I baptize you with the water of repentance…” Baptism itself, as far as I can tell, comes from the concept of mikveh. A mikveh was the ritual of washing yourself with water to make  yourself clean. You find this in Exodus 19, that God says to Moses that the people need to wash their clothes and be made clean before Him. You find it again in Psalm 51:2, that David asks to be washed in order to be made clean. Ezekiel 36:25 speaks of clean water being poured out upon the House of Israel to make it clean – again, a reference to mikvah. In Leviticus 17:15, we have the mikvah prescribed in regard of becoming clean again after eating something that has died of natural causes or by beasts (that which you didn’t kill).

For a mikveh, you would immerse yourself in moving water. The rabbis talk about how this takes you out of your regular mode (in the air), and puts you in a state less familiar (floating submerged in water). It’s like birth, and has deep significance tied to it from a baby that leaves the womb, and now therefore is coming forth into the air for the first time. You are no longer unclean, but now as clean as a baby, you enter again into the air and society in right standing with HaShem (God).

In this last segment, when John begins to express what the Messiah shall do, again we find that much of it goes back to the prophets. He isn’t saying anything new. John is building upon what has already been said, and what is already being believed. For example, look up these verses: Psalm 1:4, Isaiah 1:31, 27:4, Jeremiah 7:20, 15:7, Malachi 4:1, and Amos 9:8-10.

I think the “Holy Spirit and fire” is not two separate things, but one. It’s like when you say it is raining cats and dogs. It doesn’t mean that it rains cats in one spot, but dogs further up the street. It’s just a saying, for one, but we all understand that they go together. In fact, the whole point of the outpouring of the Spirit in the prophets (Jeremiah 31:31-37, Ezekiel 36:21-27, Joel 2:25-32, etc) was that there was both the outpouring of the Spirit and the cleansing of the House of Israel, but also the judgment and recompense upon the nations in the Day of the Lord. You cannot escape it. This outpouring is always placed at the end of the Time of Jacob’s Trouble, at the threshold of the coming of Messiah, the Day of the Lord, when there shall be signs  in the heavens, and fire and devastation. The Spirit of supplication and grace poured out upon Israel in Zechariah 12 is the same timeframe as the previous verses:
“And the governors of Judah shall say in their heart, ‘The inhabitants of Jerusalem are my strength in the Lord of hosts, their God.’ In that day I will make the governors of Judah like a firepan in the woodpile, and like a fiery torch in the sheaves; they shall devour all the surrounding peoples on the right hand and on the left, but Jerusalem shall be inhabited again in her one place – Jerusalem. The LORD will save the tents of Judah first, so that the glory of the House of David and the glory of the inhabitants of Jerusalem shall not become greater than that of Judah. In that day the LORD will defend the inhabitants of Jerusalem; the one who is feeble among them in that day shall be like David, and the house of David shall be like God, like the Angel of the LORD before them. It shall be in that day that I will seek to destroy all the nations that come against Jerusalem.”

Let us conclude, then. This passage is incredibly suggestive of end times events. That which John is speaking of cannot simply be constrained to the first coming of Jesus. And yet, there is a reality in which they were exactly constrained to the first coming of Jesus. The leaders really were cast off of their own tree – the ax already being at the root. They were cast off and wild branches were grafted in. But that isn’t for you to boast, but for you to tremble. Behold the goodness and severity of God. Goodness to you, should you continue in the ways that you have been taught by Christ, yet severity to those who harden themselves to become full of bad fruit. This is a now word, because many do neglect the most basic principles of the faith, and yet it is also a future word, because the King shall come, and when He does, we shall again see the outpouring of the Spirit and fire.

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.

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

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.

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.

Glory in the Cross – Galatians 6:11-18

These are the concluding marks of Paul’s epistle to the Galatians. Within these few verses, we have a recap that it isn’t by the flesh that we should live, but by the Spirit. Now, we can compare this statement with other statements that Paul makes elsewhere, such by saying that his Gospel is not in word only, but in the demonstration of power. They who are compelling the Galatians to be circumcised, according to Paul, are not speaking with this power, but speaking from the flesh. It is not the flesh that profits anything, but the new creation.

For those of you who struggle, listen to Paul’s advice. I’m always amazed at how simple the language is. It’s never some exotic, or some “super-spiritual” thing that is commanded of us. All we’re called to do and be is what Christ has already made us to be. We’re “new creations”, and therefore no longer under the same bondage that we once were. I know that there is still struggle. We all have them. But, don’t let your struggle and temptation define you. You’ve been bought with a price, and with that freedom you’ve been given, do all you can to remain free.

Grace and peace in Christ. Next we’ll begin looking at the Gospel of Matthew, because I’ve been saying that we need to pay attention to the words of Jesus, but haven’t yet gone through them… Pray for me, because this is the deep end.