Tag Archives: Craig Blomberg

To Which Generation Does Jesus Refer in the Olivet Discourse? Part 1

In Mark 13:30, Jesus says, “I tell you the truth, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened.” Matthew 24:34 and Luke 21:32 record the exact same words. To which generation does Jesus refer? Biblical scholars have offered several theories, but I will survey several a handful of well-respected conservative scholars to give the reader some ideas for further research.

James A. Brooks, in vol. 23, Mark, The New American Commentary , writes that “this generation” refers to Jesus’ disciples and their contemporaries. “Jesus meant that some of the people of his generation, and more particularly some of his disciples, would not die until the things of [Mark 13:5–23] had happened, including the very significant destruction of Jerusalem and its temple.”

Brooks argues that the cosmic signs and Jesus’ second coming (verses 24-27 in Mark 13) “constitute the end, not things that must precede the end. Furthermore, the various items in vv. 24–27 together constitute one climactic event that takes place at one point of time rather than a series of events spread over a long period of time.”

Craig S. Keener, in The Gospel of Matthew: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary , agrees with Brooks’ interpretation. He writes,

Whereas the signs Luke mentions mean that the kingdom is near (Lk 21:31; cf. 1 Clem. 23), ‘these things’ in Matthew 24 (cf. 24:2) apply to the desolation of the temple to occur within that generation (24:34). Though some (mentioned in Cullmann 1956a: 151; Mattill 1979a: 97; cf. Bonsirven 1964: 58) wish to take ‘generation’ (genea) as ‘race’ (cf. the distinct genos in 2 Macc 8:9; Jdt 9:14; 11:10), 23:35–36 leave no doubt that Jesus uses the term as normally (e.g., Jer 7:29) and as elsewhere in Matthew refers to the climactic ‘generation.’

Craig Blomberg, in vol. 22, Matthew, The New American Commentary,  also agrees that “generation” refers to Jesus’ contemporaries. He writes about Matthew 24:34:

Verse 34 does not imply that Christ will return within the lifetime of his hearers or within some later period of thirty to forty years during which all the signs occur. Nor is it necessary to follow the NIV margin and translate genea as ‘race,’ referring to Israel, a much less likely rendering of the Greek than ‘generation.’ Rather, ‘all these things’ in v. 34 must refer to ‘all these things’ of v. 33, which show that Christ’s return is near and which therefore cannot include Christ’s return itself. ‘All these things’ will then refer to everything described in 24:1–26 but will not include the Parousia itself (described in vv. 27–31).

We’ll look at more scholars’ views in part 2.

 

Commentary on Luke 21 (Jesus Predicts the Destruction of the Temple and His Second Coming)

Early in the Passion Week, as Jesus and his disciples are leaving the temple precincts, his disciples comment on how majestic and beautiful the temple is. Robert Stein, in vol. 24, Luke, The New American Commentary , remarks, “Under Herod the Great the temple experienced massive reconstruction, which began in 20 b.c. (cf. John 2:20) and continued until a.d. 63. This new temple exceeded even Solomon’s temple in beauty and size and justifiably could have been included among the seven wonders of the world.” The Jewish historian Josephus reported that massive white stones, some as long as 65 feet, were used in construction. These white stones gave the building a brilliant white appearance so that the temple looked like a snow-covered mountain.

Jesus responds by telling the disciples that one day in the future, the temple will be destroyed. The disciples then ask Jesus when the temple will be destroyed and what signs will forewarn them. Matthew and Mark report that the disciples asked this question as they sat on the Mount of Olives, after leaving Jerusalem for the day (recall that Jesus was teaching in the temple precincts during the Passion Week). The Mount of Olives overlooks Jerusalem and the temple from the east. The following verses have thus become known as the Olivet Discourse.

In verses 8-19, Jesus then describes a series of events that will occur before the destruction of the temple, but none of them are to be taken as signs that the destruction of the temple is imminent. These events include: 1) false messiahs, 2) wars, 3) earthquakes, 4) famines, 5) persecution of the disciples by Jewish and Roman authorities, 6) betrayal by family members, 7) and even martyrdom for some of the disciples.

Why would Jesus warn his followers about these events? Jesus knows that all these things will occur and he wants his disciples to know that God is in control of all of it. They are part of the divine plan. The disciples must not be led astray by the chaos going on around them. In verses 13-15, Jesus reassures his disciples that when they are brought before the authorities, it is their opportunity to bear witness to everything they have seen with respect to Jesus. Jesus himself will give them the words to speak so that nobody can refute them. In verses 18-19, Luke writes that those who stay faithful to Jesus to the end, despite persecution, are guaranteed eternal life.

One of the most challenging aspects of interpreting the Olivet Discourse is that Jesus is actually answering two questions: When will the temple be destroyed and when will the second coming of Jesus, and consequently, the end of the age (world) occur? These two questions are explicitly asked in Matthew’s version of the discourse. It is likely that the disciples believed that the destruction of the temple, the end of the age (world), and the return of Jesus would all happen in quick succession. Jesus, however, is telling them that the end of the world and his second coming will not occur immediately after the destruction of the temple. There will be a period of time between these two major milestones.

The events that Jesus predicts in verses 8-19 will not only occur before the temple is destroyed, but they will occur throughout the Christian era (i.e., from AD 70 to Jesus’ second coming). Thus, nobody can cite these kinds of events as an indicator that the end of the world is imminent.

Some might question whether the seven events listed above did indeed occur before the temple was destroyed in AD 70. Craig Blomberg, in vol. 22, Matthew, The New American Commentary , argues they did:

Various messianic pretenders arose, most notably Theudas (Acts 5:36; Josephus, Ant. 20.97–99, 160–72, 188, who describes other false claimants as well). The war of Israel against Rome began in a.d. 66–67 and was preceded by the growing hostility incited by the Zealots. Famine ravaged Judea, as predicted in Acts 11:27–30, datable to ca. a.d. 45–47 by Josephus, Ant. 20.51–53. Earthquakes shook Laodicea in a.d. 60–61 and Pompeii in a.d. 62 (cf. also Acts 16:26). Persecution dogged believers’ footsteps throughout Acts; internal dissension so tore apart the church at Corinth (1 Cor 1–4) that God even caused some to die (1 Cor 11:30). Numerous New Testament epistles were written primarily to warn against false teachers and perversions of Christianity, most notably Galatians, Colossians, 1 Timothy, 2 Peter, and Jude.

In verses 20-24, Jesus finally describes the destruction of the temple. When Jerusalem is surrounded by armies, the time is near. The Roman army would indeed surround Jerusalem in AD 66. Jesus advises everyone in and around Jerusalem to flee the city into the surrounding mountains. The city walls will not protect them. Pregnant women and infants will suffer the most, as they are most vulnerable to the suffering caused by war. Jesus predicts that the armies surrounding Jerusalem will finally prevail and that a great number of Jews will die or be captured by the Gentiles. Once this occurs, the age of the Gentiles (the Christian era) will begin. The Gentile Roman army did indeed finally enter Jerusalem and burn the temple in AD 70.

In verse 22, Luke sees the destruction of Jerusalem as fulfilling OT prophecies. Robert Stein comments:

Luke may have been thinking of such OT prophecies that speak of God’s judgment upon Jerusalem due to its sins such as Jer 6:1–8; 26:1–6; Mic 3:12; cf. also 1 Kgs 9:6–9. Whereas the OT prophecies would speak of Jerusalem’s judgment as due to its sins, what those sins entailed is found in Luke-Acts. They involve oppressing the poor (Luke 18:7; 20:47); rejecting its Messiah (13:33–34; 20:13–18); not recognizing the time when God visited and the kingdom was offered to it (19:44); rejecting the gospel message (Acts 13:46–48; 18:5–6; 28:25–28); but above all official Israel’s involvement in the death of God’s Son.

Jesus then describes a future time when there will be cosmic signs: “signs in sun and moon and stars, and on the earth distress of nations in perplexity because of the roaring of the sea and the waves, people fainting with fear and with foreboding of what is coming on the world. For the powers of the heavens will be shaken.” Stein writes,

This metaphorical imagery is frequently found in the OT. Such impressionistic language reveals that God is about to enter world history either for blessing or woe or for both. Again the signs associated with the Son of Man’s coming are cosmic, whereas those associated with Jerusalem’s fall are terrestrial, so that Luke kept these two events distinct. For Luke these ‘signs’ and the ones that follow do not provide a clock or timetable by which one is able to know the ‘times or dates’ (Acts 1:7) of the Son of Man’s coming.

How will Jesus’ followers finally know that the world is coming to an end and that the messianic kingdom is inaugurating? Luke writes, “And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” This is a clear allusion to Daniel 7:13-14, where Daniel writes,

In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all peoples, nations and men of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.

In verses 29-33, Jesus tells a brief parable about a fig tree and its leaves. When you see leaves sprouting on a fig tree, you know summer is near. Likewise, Jesus says, “When you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near.”

So here is the challenge for us: what are the “things taking place” to which Jesus is referring? It cannot be his second coming, because that means the kingdom of God has begun. So, “things taking place” must be referring to everything else mentioned between verses 8-26. In verse 32, when Jesus says, “Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all has taken place,” the word “all” cannot be referring to his second coming. “All” must be referring to the other events which must occur before Jesus returns.

As we discussed earlier, all the events recorded in verses 8-24 did occur by the end of AD 70. The generation of Jesus’ disciples would have clearly extended to AD 70, so that generation indeed did not pass away until all had taken place.

The only question left to resolve is whether the events in verses 25-26 occurred before AD 70, after AD 70, or have yet to occur. It is here that biblical scholars differ greatly, for the answer weighs heavily in deciding which generation Jesus is referring to. This topic will be fleshed out in a subsequent blog post.

Regardless of the interpretation of verse 32, Jesus has clearly not returned in power and glory and so we, his followers, are still waiting for that day to arrive. Matthew, Mark, and Luke all exhort Jesus’ followers to be ready at any time for his return. Jesus tells his followers that only God the Father knows the day, so that everyone will be taken by surprise. There will be no warning, so we must all be prepared for his arrival.

Commentary on Matthew 20 (Jesus Foretells His Death)

As Jesus and his disciples travel to Jerusalem at the end of his third year of ministry, Jesus reminds them in Matthew 20:17-19 what will happen once he arrives: “And the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified, and he will be raised on the third day.”

This is the third time Jesus has explained that he will be tortured and killed in Jerusalem during the Passover Feast. Unlike the previous two warnings, Jesus adds that he will be mocked, flogged, and crucified by the Romans (Gentiles). In that day, it was illegal, according to Roman law, for Jews to execute anyone, so all executions had to be performed by the Roman government.

In verses 20-28, we see once again that Jesus’s disciples still do not comprehend what he is saying. Instead of asking questions about the nature of his death or resurrection, they are instead concerned about their place in his coming messianic kingdom.

The two brothers, James and John, go to their mother and ask her to intercede for them with Jesus. James and John are Jesus’s first cousins and their mother, Salome, is Jesus’s aunt. Salome and several other women are traveling with Jesus toward Jerusalem. Salome obviously believes that because of her close kinship with Jesus, he will grant her sons special privilege. Her request is that her sons sit at Jesus’s right and left hands when his kingdom begins.

In Matthew 19:28, Jesus had promised the twelve disciples that they would all occupy twelve thrones to rule over the twelve tribes of Israel when Jesus’s kingdom began in the future, so Salome is trying to secure the best two thrones for her sons, the thrones immediately to the right and left of Jesus’s throne. It seems likely that her sons put her up to this request.

Jesus responds by asking whether James and John are able to handle the suffering (the cup) that will come to them because of their allegiance to Jesus. They say they are willing to suffer. Jesus affirms that they will indeed suffer, but he tells them that it is not his decision who sits on his right and left, but God the Father’s decision.

The other ten disciples hear about James and John’s request and react with anger. Jesus gathers all of them together to explain what it means to be a leader in his kingdom, because they clearly do not understand. He reminds them that Gentile rulers oppress their people and exercise great privilege and authority.

In Jesus’s kingdom, the rulers will do just the opposite. Rulers must be servants and slaves of those whom they oversee. Jesus reminds them that he came to serve mankind, not be served. He came to offer his life as a ransom for those who would believe in him. The second half of verse 28 provides important insight into Jesus’s mission, as he, himself, understands it. Craig Blomberg, in vol. 22, Matthew, The New American Commentary , explains:

Verse 28b alludes to Jesus’ impending substitutionary and atoning death. This half verse preserves perhaps the most crucial teaching of Jesus about his self-understanding and conception of his mission, especially since a strong case can be made for the authenticity of this saying even using critical criteria. The word ‘ransom’ (lytron) would make a first-century audience think of the price paid to buy a slave’s freedom. ‘Life’ is the more correct translation here for psychē, which in other contexts sometimes means soul. Though it has been disputed, anti (‘for’) means instead of or in the place of. ‘Many’ refers to all who accept Jesus’ offer of forgiveness, made possible by his death, and who commit their lives to him in discipleship. Verse 28 as a whole probably reflects the language of Exod 30:12; Ps 49:7–9, and, most significantly, the suffering servant song of Isa 53:10–12. Jesus declares that he will die and thereby pay the penalty for our sins that we deserved to pay.

Commentary on Matthew 16-17 (The Transfiguration)

At this point in Jesus’ ministry, he has demonstrated to his disciples repeatedly who he is. Most recently, he fed a crowd of 5,000 men with 5 loaves of bread and then walked on the Sea of Galilee. In chapter sixteen, Jesus asks his disciples if they understand who he is. Peter correctly answers that Jesus is the Messiah who fulfills all the OT prophecies.

Starting in verse 21, however, Jesus reveals to his disciples, for the first time, where his ministry is ultimately leading. He will go to Jerusalem, be tortured and killed, and then be raised from the dead three days later. Verse 21 effectively introduces the rest of Matthew’s Gospel, because all of the following text will focus on the road to the cross.

Peter, the very disciple who just correctly identified Jesus, then takes Jesus aside and rebukes him! Peter tells Jesus that Jesus must be wrong about his suffering and dying at the instigation of the Jewish leadership in Jerusalem. In Peter’s mind, the Messiah should not suffer at all, but immediately start his glorious reign. Jesus responds to Peter by telling him that Peter is playing the role of the devil, for the devil does not want Jesus to accomplish his mission. Satan had already tempted Jesus in chapter four by offering him power over the entire earth. He could skip the suffering and death of the cross; all Jesus would have to do would be to worship Satan.

In a similar way, Peter is trying to convince Jesus to inaugurate his messianic kingdom, but without going to the cross. Peter’s desire for Jesus is directly counter to God’s plan. Peter has become a stumbling block to God’s plan.

In verses 24-26, Jesus teaches the disciples that following him (doing the will of God) will entail suffering and perhaps even death (this is the meaning of “taking up your cross”). And, in fact, according to church tradition, all of Jesus’ closest disciples would die as martyrs, except for John. The reward for suffering and possibly dying for Jesus is eternal life. Without gaining eternal life, this earthly life is pointless. The wealthiest person has gained nothing if she hasn’t dedicated her life to Jesus.

But why should followers of Jesus accept suffering in this life? Because Jesus is going to return to earth and judge everyone for the choices they made during their lives. Those who chose to faithfully follow Jesus will be rewarded according to their deeds. Those who chose to reject Jesus will be judged according to their deeds. Therefore, the person who suffers greatly for Jesus on earth will be more than compensated when the Messiah begins his future reign.

Many Christians are surprised that all people will judged for their deeds at the inauguration of the messianic kingdom, but this idea is clearly taught throughout Scripture (see Ps 62:12; Prov 24:12; Rom 2:6; 2 Cor 11:15; Rev 22:12). When Jesus speaks of himself as being the judge of all mankind, he is likely alluding to Daniel 7:13-14 and applying all of the OT passages on divine judgment to himself.

Jesus then reassures his disciples that some of them will receive amazing confirmation of his Messiahship before they die. That confirmation would come one week later for Peter, James, and John, Jesus’ inner circle. Jesus takes them up to the top of a mountain and before their very eyes he is transformed. “[H]is face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light.” Recall how Moses’ face shone with glory after his encounter with God in Exodus 34. Not only that, but Moses and Elijah are standing there speaking to him!

What does the presence of Moses and Elijah signify? Craig Blomberg, in vol. 22, Matthew, The New American Commentary writes:

they were key representatives of the law and prophets [or, the entire Old Testament], they lived through the two major periods of Old Testament miracles, they were key messianic forerunners whose return was often expected with the advent of the Messiah, and they were often believed never to have died but to have gone directly to God’s presence (2 Kgs 2:1–12 makes this clear with reference to Elijah; in the case of Moses the belief is based more on intertestamental literature like the Assumption of Moses).

Michael Wilkins, in The Gospels and Acts (The Holman Apologetics Commentary on the Bible), further elaborates on the presence of Moses and Elijah:

They represent the Law and the Prophets witnessing to Jesus as the Messiah who fulfills the OT (cf. 5: 17) and who has the eschatological role of initiating the kingdom of God (4: 17). Moses was considered the model prophet (Deut 18: 18) and Elijah the forerunner of Messiah (Mal 4: 5– 6; cf. Matt 3: 1– 3; 11: 7– 10). Both had visions of the glory of God on a mountain— Moses on Mount Sinai (Exod 24: 15) and Elijah on Mount Horeb (1 Kgs 19: 8).

Peter’s first reaction is to figure out a way to get Moses and Elijah to stay, so he offers to build shelters for Jesus, Moses, and Elijah. But Peter is cut off when a bright cloud overshadows them and a voice booms out, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” God the Father repeats the same words He spoke when Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist, but He adds “Listen to him” to emphasize to Peter, James, and John that they are not to question his road to the cross. It is the road Jesus must take.

Blomberg reminds us how the cloud is connected to the God of the Old Testament:

The cloud reminds us of the one that overshadowed Moses on Sinai, leading to his dazzling splendor when he descended from the mountain (Exod 34:29–35, on which cf. also Paul’s remarks in 2 Cor 3:7–18), the cloud that enveloped the tabernacle when God’s glory filled it (Exod 40:34), and the cloud that followed the Israelites by day throughout their wilderness wanderings (Exod 40:36–38).

After the disciples fall on their faces in terror from hearing the voice of God, Jesus tells them to rise and not be afraid. When they arise, Elijah and Moses are gone. Jesus is standing there alone. Blomberg adds, “The disciples must focus on Christ alone. He will prove sufficient for their needs.”

Commentary on Matthew 13 (Parable of the Soils)

Jesus is teaching near the Sea of Galilee, but the crowds are so large that he climbs into a boat and moves out into the water. The crowds then gather on the beach to hear him. This takes place well into his ministry, possibly two years.

Unlike his previous teaching, he only communicates parables to the crowd. R. V. G. Tasker and I. H. Marshall explain the meaning in the New Bible Dictionary:

‘Parable’ is ultimately derived from Gk. parabolē, literally ‘putting things side by side.’ Etymologically it is thus close to ‘allegory,’ which by derivation means ‘saying things in a different way.’ Both parables and allegories have usually been regarded as forms of teaching which present the listener with interesting illustrations from which can be drawn moral and religious truths; ‘parable’ is the somewhat protracted simile or short descriptive story, usually designed to inculcate a single truth or answer a single question, while ‘allegory’ denotes the more elaborate tale in which all or most of the details have their counterparts in the application. Since ‘truth embodied in a tale shall enter in at lowly doors,’ the value of this method of instruction is obvious.

The first parable he teaches is known as the Parable of the Sower. The sower is scattering seeds on the ground to grow a crop. However, when the sower scatters the seeds, they fall on four different kinds of soil: soil along the path, soil on rocky ground, soil with thorns growing in it, and finally good soil. As most of Jesus’ listeners were familiar with scattering seeds, they would have understood the imagery Jesus is using to tell the parable. However, since we are two thousand years removed, here is some background from Michael J. Wilkins in Matthew, Mark, Luke: Volume One (Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary):

Seed was sown ‘broadcast’ style by scattering it in all directions by hand while walking up and down the field. The average rate of sowing wheat varies from twenty pounds per acre (22.5 kilograms per hectare) upward, which allowed for wasted seed. Fields were apparently plowed both before the seed was sown and after, plowing across the original furrows to cover the seeds with soil. . . . It was common for seed to be scattered on the hard paths that surrounded the fields. Birds would swoop down as the farmer walked on and eat the seed.

Conditions for farming in many areas of Israel were not favorable. The hardships that many people experienced included insufficient amounts of water and soil. The terrain in most cases was uneven and rocky, with only thin layers of soil covering the rock. Seed that landed on this shallow soil could begin to germinate, but it couldn’t put down deep roots to collect what little moisture was in that parched thin layer of earth. Sprouting seed would soon wither and die in the hot sun (13:6).

Sometimes thorns were also hidden in the soil, so the farmer could not see them to pull them out by the roots. Therefore, when seed was planted beside the thorns, the thorns would grow rapidly and crowd out the seeds.

With regard to the good soil, Craig Keener notes in The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament:

Thirtyfold, sixtyfold and a hundredfold are tremendously good harvests from Galilean soil. The Jordan Valley normally yielded between ten- and a hundredfold, so a hundredfold need not be a miraculous harvest (Gen 26:12; cf. Amos 9:13). But for much of Palestine, the average yield was tenfold (meaning that 10 seeds were harvested for every seed sown), and all the figures Jesus reports here are very good yields.

Once Jesus has finished, his disciples pull him aside and ask why he has started teaching in parables. Jesus explains that only those who are truly following him (his disciples) will have the parables explained to them. The parables are revealing the secrets (mysteries) of the kingdom of heaven. Those who aren’t following Jesus will not hear the parables explained, and thus will remain ignorant about the secrets of the kingdom of heaven.

What does Jesus mean by the “secrets of the kingdom of heaven”? Up until Matthew 13, Jesus has been presenting himself to the Jews of Galilee and Judea as the Messiah, the long-predicted King of Israel. He has performed miracles, he has fulfilled prophecies, he has taught with authority, yet most Jews were rejecting his claims to be the Messiah. In fact, in Matthew 12, the Jewish leadership attributes his miracles to the power of Satan!

Given the rejection of Jesus as their King, Jesus will now start revealing to his disciples that the kingdom of God (heaven) that the OT predicted will be delayed until Jesus returns to the earth some time in the future. Until he comes back, however, the kingdom of God will exist, but in a different form than what the Jews would have expected. Jesus, then, is going to reveal to his disciples the characteristics of this new form of the kingdom which will exist between his first and second coming. This new form has never been revealed before, so that is why it is referred to as a “secret” or “mystery.”

Why would Jesus only want his closest followers to be told about the new form of the kingdom of God? Because the crowds that are coming to hear him speak are mostly composed of people who don’t accept his claim of being the Messiah and who don’t want to dedicate their lives to him.

Reflecting on verses 13-15, Craig Blomberg writes, in vol. 22, Matthew, The New American Commentary:

The hidden aspect of the parables’ message is thus both a cause of and a response to people’s unwillingness to follow Jesus. ‘Seeing’ and ‘hearing’ are each used in two different senses here, once for simple sensory perception and then for the kind of insight that leads to acceptance of the gospel and discipleship. ‘Understanding’ is a key word for Matthew in this chapter, especially in vv. 19 and 23, where he adds the term to his sources. The language of v. 13 is taken almost verbatim from Isa 6:9–10, LXX. Jesus declares that the words of Isaiah are now being fulfilled.

The word for ‘fulfill’ here (anaplēroō) is different from before, the only time in the New Testament this verb is used with reference to Scripture. Verse 14a probably means the prophecy of Isaiah applies to them—i.e., the pattern of behavior in Isaiah’s time is repeating itself and being completed in Jesus’ day among those who reject him. . . . Meanwhile v. 15 explains the current plight of those who reject Jesus. God confirms such people in their hard-heartedness in response to their freely chosen disobedience (as in the larger context of God’s call to Isaiah to prophesy to rebellious Israel; cf. also the sequence of events in Rom 1:18–32). Jesus sees his preaching in parables, in part at least, as a kind of judgment from God upon unbelieving Israel.

As for Jesus’ disciples, they are blessed. They will be taught the meaning of the parables, and thus the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven. They are learning things about the kingdom that not even the great prophets and saints in the OT were privileged to know.

In verses 18-23, Jesus explains the parable of the sower to his disciples. The seed represents Jesus’ teaching on the kingdom of heaven. The four soils represent four different kinds of responses to Jesus’ teaching.

The first kind of person (soil on the path) never understands Jesus’ words and Satan snatches away the words before any understanding does occur. This does not a represent a person who simply needs more instruction to understand. This person willfully rejects the message they are hearing and they are therefore culpable.

The second kind of person (soil on rocky ground) receives Jesus’ words, but as soon as he is troubled or persecuted for his beliefs, he abandons Jesus.

The third kind of person (soil with thorns) also receives Jesus’ words, but money and earthly distractions make him an unfruitful disciple.

The fourth kind of person (good soil) receives and understands Jesus’ words, and becomes extremely fruitful in the kingdom of heaven. This is the only kind of person whom Jesus commends. To be fruitful means to be obedient to God in everything you do. Michael Wilkins adds his thoughts about the crop produced in the life of the good soil:

Many think that this ‘crop’ refers to converts won to Christ through the believer. This no doubt is partially correct, but in this context it refers to something more fundamental—the transformation of a person who has encountered the kingdom of heaven. In the fourth soil the crop represents the outworking of the life of the divine seed (cf. 1 John 3:9), with special reference to the production of the fruit of the Spirit (cf. Gal. 5:22–23), and the outworking of the Spirit in the gifts of the Spirit in the believer’s life (1 Cor. 12). This results in personal characteristics produced by the Spirit (Gal. 5:22–23), the external creation of Spirit-produced righteousness and good works (e.g., Col. 1:10), and indeed, new converts won through the believer’s testimony (e.g., Rom. 1:13). The ‘crop’ produced is the outward evidence of the reality of inward life of the kingdom of heaven.

Even though it is depressing to learn that only one of the four soils actually succeeds as a member of the kingdom of heaven, it should also be noted that the fourth kind of person produces a new crop that is thirty, sixty, or a hundred-fold. Thus the fourth soil more than makes up for the other three soils and their failure to produce.

A final word about the parable. Although the parable primarily speaks of fruit-bearing, there is a sense in which Jesus is referring to entrance to the ultimate kingdom of heaven. In other words, he is speaking about what we commonly refer to as salvation, or being saved.

Most commentators agree that the first soil is not saved and the fourth one is. However, there is no consensus about the second and third soils. Some argue they are not saved and some argue they are. I do not know the answer to that question, but I will say that everyone agrees that the only soil Jesus commends in the parable is the fourth. So, any Christian who does not aspire to be like the fourth soil is completely missing the point of the parable. The first three soils don’t cut it in Jesus’ kingdom.

Commentary on Matthew 6-7 (Sermon on the Mount, continued)

We continue to look at the Sermon on the Mount in chapters six and seven of Matthew. We will analyze the Lord’s Prayer, judging others, and the Golden Rule.

In chapter six, verse 5-6, Jesus instructs his disciples to pray in a way that does not bring attention to themselves. Prayer is a private matter between you and God, not an activity meant to show how spiritual you are. Craig Blomberg writes, in vol. 22, Matthew, The New American Commentary,

As with almsgiving, Jesus does not rule out all public behavior but stresses the private side of piety. Public prayer is very appropriate when practiced with right motives. But public orations should represent the overflow of a vibrant personal prayer life. What is more, prayer ought not to be used to gain plaudits, summarize a sermon, or communicate information to an audience but should reflect genuine conversation with God.

In verses 7-8 Jesus warns his disciples to not pray like pagans. Pagans would typically recite long, formulaic prayers that would invoke numerous names of the deity they were praying to. The purpose was to use the right phrases and names of the deity to make the prayer efficacious. A mistake in the words chosen would mean that the deity would not respond to the prayer. Instead, we should think of God as our father who knows exactly what we need before we even ask. Jesus then offers an example prayer for his disciples in verses 9-13. This has come to be known as the “model prayer,” “Our Father,” or “Lord’s prayer.”

“Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.”

The first step is to give proper respect to the name of God in your prayer. Recall that a name includes one’s nature, character, and authority. We are to reverence God.

“Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”

God’s will is already done in heaven where He has not allowed His creatures’ sins to pollute. But our prayer is that one day God’s reign and authority will reach to our world as well. We are praying that God will someday bring His sinless perfection to the earth.

“Give us this day our daily bread”

We are to rely on God every day to provide us sustenance. There are no guarantees of a long life, but each day we pray for God to provide the essentials.

“and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.”

We should ask God every day to forgive us our sins, but He will not do so if we refuse to forgive the sins others have committed against us.

“And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”

Blomberg explains what this verse meant to Jesus’s listeners:

’Lead us not into temptation’ does not imply ‘don’t bring us to the place of temptation’ or ‘don’t allow us to be tempted.’ God’s Spirit has already done both of these with Jesus (4:1). Nor does the clause imply ‘don’t tempt us’ because God has promised never to do that anyway (Jas 1:13). Rather, in light of the probable Aramaic underlying Jesus’ prayer, these words seem best taken as ‘don’t let us succumb to temptation’ (cf. Mark 14:38) or ‘don’t abandon us to temptation.’ We do of course periodically succumb to temptation but never because we have no alternative (1 Cor 10:13). So when we give in, we have only ourselves to blame. The second clause of v. 13 phrases the same plea positively, ‘Deliver us from evil’ (or ‘from the evil one’ [NIV marg.], from whom all evil ultimately comes). This parallelism renders less likely the alternate translation of the first clause as ‘do not bring us to the test’ (‘test’ is an equally common rendering of peirasmos) either as times of trial in this life or as final judgment. If we are praying for rescue from the devil, he is more likely tempting than testing us (cf. under 4:1). God tests us in order to prove us and bring us to maturity (Jas 1:2–4; 1 Pet 1:6–9). Such tests should not be feared, nor should we pray for God to withhold them.

Verses 14-15 reiterate the thoughts in verse 12. If you are an unforgiving person, then God will likewise not forgive you.

As we move to chapter seven, Jesus tells his disciples how they should judge. Contrary to popular opinion, Jesus is not commanding his followers to never judge, but he is instructing us how to judge. Blomberg elaborates on verses 1-2:

’Judge’ (krinō) can imply to analyze or evaluate as well as to condemn or avenge. The former senses are clearly commanded of believers (e.g., 1 Cor 5:5; 1 John 4:1), but the latter are reserved for God. Even on those occasions when we render a negative evaluation of others, our purposes should be constructive and not retributive. So Jesus is here commanding his followers not to be characterized by judgmental attitudes . . . . The immediate practical rationale for his command is that others, including God, may treat us in the same manner we treat them.

Verses 3-5 illustrate the kind of hypocritical judgment that Jesus condemns. A person who is sinning badly has no right to judge another person for the same sin. We must first deal with our own sins before we judge the sins in others.

Dogs and pigs were scavenging animals in ancient Palestine. They often lived in squalor and ran around the streets of many towns looking for food. They were known to turn on humans and attack them. To Jews, calling someone a “dog” or “pig” was a grave insult. So when Jesus says, “Do not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before pigs, lest they trample them underfoot and turn to attack you,” he is advising his followers not to waste giving truth to those who are hostile to what you are saying. When you give them truth, they will simply turn on you and attack you.

Verse 12 embodies what has come to be known as the Golden Rule. Jesus instructs his disciples to do to others what we wish they would do to us. He adds that this maxim sums up much of the Hebrew scriptures. Notice how this maxim is similar to “love your neighbor as yourself.” They essentially are saying the same thing.

Commentary on Matthew 5 (Sermon on the Mount)

In chapter four of Matthew, Jesus had commanded his followers to repent for the “kingdom of heaven is at hand.” This announcement would have caused those following him to ask questions. Louis Barbieri, in The Bible Knowledge Commentary, places us in the mind of the Jews hearing Jesus.

Natural questions on the heart of every Jew would have been, ‘Am I eligible to enter Messiah’s kingdom? Am I righteous enough to qualify for entrance?’ The only standard of righteousness the people knew was that laid down by the current religious leaders, the scribes and Pharisees. Would one who followed that standard be acceptable in Messiah’s kingdom?

Chapters 5-7 in Matthew are known as the Sermon on the Mount and they consist of Jesus answering these questions for his disciples. Barbieri explains that

Jesus’ sermon therefore must be understood in the context of His offer of the kingdom to Israel and the need for repentance to enter that kingdom. The sermon did not give a ‘Constitution’ for the kingdom nor did it present the way of salvation. The sermon showed how a person who is in right relationship with God should conduct his life.

Verses 2-12 are known as the “Beatitudes.” Michael Wilkins, in Matthew, Mark, Luke: Volume One (Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary), explains the origin of the term:

The name ‘beatitude’ is derived from the Latin noun beatitudo, because the first word of each statement in the Latin Vulgate is beati (adj. related to the noun), which translates the Greek word makarios (traditionally rendered in English as ‘blessed’).

The Beatitudes are a description of the kinds of people who will populate the kingdom of heaven, which is both present, with Jesus, and future, when he returns to reclaim the entire earth for God at his second coming.

The “poor in spirit” are those who acknowledge their complete powerlessness and spiritual bankruptcy without Jesus. Those who are economically deprived (materially poor) are often more likely to acknowledge their reliance on God than those who are wealthy. The “poor in spirit” have the kingdom of heaven now and will have it more fully at the second coming.

Those who “mourn” are those who grieve over their personal sins and the sins of mankind in general. It could also refer to those who are suffering in this life. In the future kingdom of heaven, God promises to comfort these people.

The “meek” are those who are humble and gentle. They will rule with Christ over the new heavens and earth in the future kingdom.

Those who “hunger and thirst for righteousness” yearn for God’s moral laws to be established and obeyed by all mankind. In the future kingdom, this will indeed be the case.

The “merciful” are those who are forgiving and compassionate toward others. They will receive this compassion from God in His kingdom.

The “pure in heart” are those who display a single-minded devotion toward God. Craig Blomberg, in vol. 22, Matthew, The New American Commentary, writes:

Purity in heart refers to moral uprightness and not just ritual cleanliness. The Pauline theme of the impossibility of perfect purity in this life should not be imported here. Rather, as with ‘righteousness’ in general for Matthew, what Jesus requires of his disciples is a life-style characterized by pleasing God . . .  . The ‘pure in heart’ exhibit a single-minded devotion to God that stems from the internal cleansing created by following Jesus. Holiness is a prerequisite for entering God’s presence. The pure in heart pass this test, so they will see God and experience intimate fellowship with him. This Beatitude closely parallels Ps 24:3–4.

The “peacemakers” are those who work to reconcile people to God and to each other. They will be subjects in God’s future kingdom.

Finally, in verses 10-12 Jesus explains that the person who does all these things will be persecuted because the world rejects this lifestyle. A person who is living for God will inevitably be attacked, but Jesus promises that they will be rewarded in his future kingdom.

In verses 17-20 Jesus answers his critics who claim that he is undermining the Hebrew scriptures (“Law and Prophets” is shorthand for the entire Old Testament) with his teaching. Jesus corrects them by saying that he is not contradicting the Scriptures, but rather he is fulfilling them. Through his teachings, life, death, and resurrection, he will not only fulfill the messianic prophecies, but he will explain and demonstrate the intended meaning behind all of God’s Word.

Jews at this time believed that the only way to enter the future messianic kingdom was to adhere to the legalistic rules laid out by the scribes and Pharisees. Jesus, however, clearly states that the righteousness attained by following their rules is insufficient. How so? The scribes and Pharisees were focused on external and outward obedience to God’s Word. Jesus will teach in the remainder of chapter five that obedience to God’s Word starts inside a person. It must be inside-out.

Jesus will give six examples of Pharisaical teachings and then correct them. What is he trying to accomplish with these six illustrations? Michael J. Wilkins, in Matthew, Mark, Luke: Volume One of Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary, explains:

This section of the Sermon on the Mount is commonly called ‘the antitheses’ because six times Jesus says a variation of, ‘You have heard that it was said . . . but I tell you.’ This has been mistakenly interpreted to mean that Jesus makes his teaching the antithesis of the OT itself (e.g., Luz 2007, 277– 79), as if he were overturning and declaring incorrect the testimonies of the OT. But in reality Jesus is contrasting his interpretation of the OT with faulty interpretations and/ or applications of the OT. In each of the antitheses, Jesus demonstrates how the OT is to be properly interpreted and applied, and thus, how the Law and the Prophets are fulfilled (cf. 5: 17). This elevates Jesus above all interpreters, making his pronouncements equivalent with Scripture itself.

The scribes and Pharisees held sway over the common people, mapping out a course for attaining righteousness through their interpretation and application of the OT. They emphasized legalistic, external obedience to the Law without calling attention to an inner heart-obedience. They were therefore ‘hypocrites’ in their practice of the Law (see on 6: 1– 18), and were responsible for leading the people into hypocritical practices. Jesus looks at several examples of how they had done this, and demonstrates how correct interpretation and application of the Law must be based upon proper intent and motive. Jesus does not say, ‘Hear what the OT says,’ but rather, ‘You have heard it said.’ He is not negating the OT, but the people’s incorrect understanding and application of it.

Given time constraints, we will skip to the fifth illustration in verses 38-42. In these verses, Jesus teaches his followers about retaliation when they are wronged. The OT guidelines, captured in the saying “eye for an eye,” are meant to limit retribution or retaliation. A person can only be punished in proportion to his crime. For example, if you stole a relatively inexpensive object from your neighbor, your neighbor is not allowed to seek capital punishment, as this is clearly disproportionate punishment.

Jesus, however, teaches that his disciples need to go even further with regard to personal retaliation against those who are oppressing them. If a person insults you (a slap on the cheek in Jewish culture), do not retaliate with an insult back at that person.

If a person sues you to gain some disputed property (in this case a tunic), do not fight his legal case, but offer him an even more valuable piece of clothing, a cloak. Wilkins explains the historical context of the tunic and cloak:

The tunic was the basic garment, a long-sleeved inner robe similar to a nightshirt that a person wore next to the skin. It was often worn short by men and ankle length by the women. The ‘cloak’ was the outer robe (cf. 27:35; John 19:23–24), which was an indispensable piece of clothing. When it was given as a pledge, it had to be returned before sunset, because it was used by the poor as a sleeping cover.

Roman soldiers were legally allowed to force Jews to help them carry their equipment for a distance. In this situation, a disciple of Jesus should not resist, but instead offer to carry the equipment even further.

If people ask you for help, help them by giving to them or letting them borrow something they need.

The sixth illustration, in verses 43-48, is perhaps the most challenging to Jesus’s followers. Jesus commands us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. God Himself provides the blessings of sunshine and rain for all people, even those who hate Him, therefore we are to imitate Him.  Jesus points out that if you only love your family and friends, then there is nothing special about you. Even tax collectors and idol-worshiping pagans do that. Craig Blomberg adds:

Christians must love their enemies (v. 44). Otherwise they are no different than tax collectors and pagans, two groups classically despised by orthodox Jews—the first for working for Rome in collecting tribute from Israel and the second because of their false religion (v. 46). Almost all people look after their own. The true test of genuine Christianity is how believers treat those whom they are naturally inclined to hate or who mistreat or persecute them.

In verse 48 Jesus tells his disciples to “be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Is Jesus giving his disciples an impossible task? Blomberg writes:

The paragraph begun in v. 43 closes with a command that may equally summarize all six antitheses. ‘Perfect’ here is better translated as ‘mature, whole,’ i.e., loving without limits (probably reflecting an underlying Aramaic tamim). Jesus is not frustrating his hearers with an unachievable ideal but challenging them to grow in obedience to God’s will—to become more like him. J. Walvoord rightly observes, ‘While sinless perfection is impossible, godliness, in its biblical concept, is attainable.’ But such godliness cannot be comprehensively formulated in a set of rules; the ethics of the sermon are suggestive, not exhaustive.

Commentary on Matthew 3 (John Baptizes Jesus)

From the birth of Jesus to the beginning of Matthew 3, we skip about thirty years. John the Baptist’s ministry started between the years AD 26 and 28, so we would expect the events recorded in chapter three of Matthew to take place after John’s ministry had been established for a year or two.

John’s message is simple: turn away from your sins (repent) so that you are prepared for the inauguration of God’s kingdom on earth. Matthew quotes Isaiah 40:3 to show that John is the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy. John is the voice crying out in the wilderness.

Verse 4 connects John to the ministry of Elijah, for John dresses as Elijah did. They are both wilderness prophets who are poor and humble. Michael Wilkins, in Matthew, Mark, Luke: Volume One of Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary, writes:

Locusts and wild honey were not an unusual diet for people living in the desert. The locust is the migratory phase of the grasshopper and was allowable food for the people of Israel to eat, as opposed to other kinds of crawling and flying insects (Lev. 11:20–23). They are an important food source in many areas of the world, especially as a source of protein, because even in the most desolate areas they are abundant. They are often collected, dried, and ground into flour. Protein and fat were derived from locusts, while sugar came from the honey of wild bees.

Verses 5-6 indicate that John is attracting large crowds to the Jordan River where he is preaching. The crowds would come to confess their sins and be baptized by John. Craig Blomberg, in vol. 22, Matthew, The New American Commentary, explains about baptism that

Jews seem regularly to have practiced water baptism by immersion for adult proselytes from pagan backgrounds as an initiation into Judaism. Qumran commanded ritual bathing daily to symbolize repeated cleansing from sin. But John’s call for a one-time-only baptism for those who had been born as Jews was unprecedented. John thus insisted that one’s ancestry was not adequate to ensure one’s relationship with God. As has often been put somewhat colloquially, ‘God has no grandchildren.’ Our parents’ religious affiliations afford no substitute for our own personal commitment (cf. v. 9).

The crowds coming to see John included members of two religio-political organizations, the Sadducees and Pharisees. Together, these two groups composed most of the membership of the Jewish Supreme Court, known as the Sanhedrin. Michael Wilkins provides some historical background on the identities of these two groups.

The name Pharisee is probably derived from the Hebrew/Aramaic perušim, the separated ones, alluding to both their origin and their characteristic practices. They tended to be politically conservative and religiously liberal and held the minority membership on the Sanhedrin.

They held to the supreme place of Torah, with a rigorous scribal interpretation of it. Their most pronounced characteristic was their adherence to the oral tradition, which they obeyed rigorously as an attempt to make the written law relevant to daily life. They had a well-developed belief in angelic beings. They had concrete messianic hopes, as they looked for the coming Davidic messianic kingdom. The Messiah would overthrow the Gentiles and restore the fortunes of Israel with Jerusalem as capital. They believed in the resurrection of the righteous when the messianic kingdom arrived, with the accompanying punishment of the wicked. They viewed Rome as an illegitimate force that was preventing Israel from experiencing its divinely ordained role in the outworking of the covenants. They held strongly to divine providence, yet viewed humans as having freedom of choice, which ensures their responsibility. As a lay fellowship or brotherhood connected with local synagogues, the Pharisees were popular with the common people.

The Sadducees were a small group with aristocratic and priestly influence, who derived their authority from the activities of the temple. They tended to be politically liberal and religiously conservative and held the majority membership on the Sanhedrin.

They held a conservative attitude toward the Scriptures, accepting nothing as authoritative except the written word, literally interpreted. They accepted only Torah (the five books of Moses) as authoritative, rejecting any beliefs not found there. For that reason they denied the resurrection from the dead, the reality of angels, and spirit life. They produced no literature of which we are aware. They had no expressed messianic expectation, which tended to make them satisfied with their wealth and political power. They were open to aspects of Hellenism and often collaborated with the Romans. They tended to be removed from the common people by economic and political status.

When John sees the Pharisees and Sadducees, he accuses them of being the offspring (brood) of poisonous snakes. They are shrewd and dangerous. Why does John accuse them of this? He perceives that they are only pretending to be interested in John’s message. In reality, they do not think they need to repent of anything.

In their way of thinking, they are descendants of Abraham, and therefore God automatically accepts them as His own. John corrects their faulty theology and forcefully asserts that God can make even stones His children if He so desires. The true children of God will repent of their sins and then lead lives of good works and righteousness. The people of Israel (the root of the trees), and especially the Jewish leadership, will be judged by God based on this criteria, not whether they are physical descendants of Abraham.

Starting in verse 11, John then speaks of the One who would do the judging. The One who is coming, the Messiah, is so mighty that John doesn’t even qualify to be His slave (slaves would carry the sandals of their masters). The Messiah, unlike John, will baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire. Louis A. Barbieri, in The Bible Knowledge Commentary, writes:

Those hearing John’s words would have been reminded of two Old Testament prophecies: Joel 2:28–29 and Malachi 3:2–5. Joel had given the promise of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on Israel. An actual outpouring of the Spirit did occur in Acts 2 on the day of Pentecost, but experientially Israel did not enter into the benefits of that event. She will yet experience the benefits of this accomplished work when she turns in repentance at the Lord’s Second Advent. The baptism ‘with fire’ referred to the judging and cleansing of those who would enter the kingdom, as prophesied in Malachi 3.

In verse 12, Blomberg explains, “John uses the image of a farmer separating valuable wheat from worthless chaff by throwing the grain into the air and allowing the two constituent elements to separate in the wind. The wheat, like believers, is preserved and safeguarded; the chaff, like unbelievers, is destroyed.”

In verses 13-17, Matthew records the official inauguration of the Kingdom of God on earth, the baptism of Jesus. Jesus travels south from Galilee to Judea to be baptized by John. John is confused by Jesus’s request because Jesus (the promised Messiah) should have no need of repentance and confession of sins, of which John’s baptism is symbolic.

Jesus insists that He be baptized by John because His baptism, firstly, authenticates John’s ministry as Jesus’s forerunner, and, secondly, officially marks the beginning of Jesus’s public ministry. After Jesus is baptized, the Holy Spirit descends on Jesus (John uses the metaphor of a dove) and God the Father speaks the following words: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” Blomberg adds:

The heavenly voice cites excerpts of Ps 2:7 and Isa 42:1. Both texts were taken as messianic by important segments of pre-Christian Judaism (see 4QFlor 10–14 and Tg. Isa 42:1, respectively). Together they point out Jesus’ role as both divine Son and Suffering Servant, a crucial combination for interpreting Jesus’ self-understanding and mission.

Commentary on Matthew 1 (Genealogy of Jesus)

The traditional view of the Gospel of Matthew is that it was written by Matthew-Levi, the tax collector and disciple of Jesus, between AD 50-60. Although some scholars believe the Gospel of Matthew was the first Gospel written, a majority believe that it was written after the Gospel of Mark and borrowed heavily from that Gospel.

Michael J. Wilkins, in Matthew, Mark, Luke: Volume One of Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary, explains the purposes of Matthew in writing his Gospel:

It is a book that establishes Jesus’ identity as the Messiah, the heir to the promises of Israel’s throne through King David and to the promises of blessing to all the nations through the patriarch Abraham. Against the backdrop of a world increasingly hostile to Christianity, Matthew solidifies his church’s identity as God’s true people, who transcend ethnic, economic, and religious barriers to find oneness in their adherence to Jesus Messiah. His gospel becomes a manual on discipleship, as Jew and Gentile become disciples of Jesus who learn to obey all he commanded his original disciples.

The Gospel of Matthew chooses a different approach to introducing Jesus. Matthew’s strategy is to demonstrate that Jesus Christ is the rightful heir to Abraham and David. He accomplishes this by providing a genealogy that traces the legal lineage from Abraham to Joseph, Jesus’s legal (but not biological) father. Matthew divides the genealogy into three sections of fourteen generations: Abraham to David, David to Jechoniah, and finally Jechoniah to Jesus.

Scholars have noted that Matthew leaves out several names in the genealogy, effectively creating gaps. Why would Matthew do this? Craig Blomberg, in vol. 22, Matthew, The New American Commentary, explains that the key to the groups of 14 have to do with King David, who is the central figure in the genealogy.

When one adds up the numerical values of the Hebrew consonants in his name (DVD), one arrives at the number fourteen (4+6+4). This gematria, as ancient Hebrew numerical equivalents to words are termed, probably accounts for the centrality of the number fourteen in Matthew’s genealogy. Each of the three sections contains fourteen generations (v. 17), and David’s name itself is the fourteenth entry. The actual number of generations in the three parts to the genealogy are thirteen, fourteen, and thirteen, respectively; but ancient counting often alternated between inclusive and exclusive reckoning. Such variation was thus well within standard literary convention of the day.

How did Matthew construct his genealogy? Blomberg tells us the origins of Matthew’s data:

Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Judah figure prominently in Gen 12–50. The other male names in vv. 2–6a correspond to 1 Chr 2:3–15. Solomon through Josiah (vv. 6b–11) all appear in 1 Chr 3:10–14 (recalling that Azariah is the same individual as Uzziah—cf., e.g., 2 Kgs 15:1–2 with 2 Chr 26:3—and that there are omissions in Matthew’s list). In vv. 12–16 Jeconiah is a variant form of Jehoiachin, who with Shealtiel and Zerubbabel appear in 1 Chr 3:17–19. But there Zerubbabel is a nephew of Shealtiel, which may suggest that the latter died childless and that the line of succession passed to his brother’s family. In Ezra 3:2, Zerubbabel is legally considered a son of Shealtiel. The rest of the names from Abiud to Jacob are unparalleled, but ancient Jews tried scrupulously to preserve their genealogies; so it is not implausible that Matthew had access to sources that have since been lost.

Another interesting aspect of the genealogy is that Matthew mentions five women (Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, Bathsheba, and Mary), which is unusual in a Jewish genealogy. Why does he do this? With regard to the first four women, Blomberg writes:

Suggestions have included viewing them as examples of sinners Jesus came to save, representative Gentiles to whom the Christian mission would be extended, or women who had illicit marriages and/or illegitimate children. The only factor that clearly applies to all four is that suspicions of illegitimacy surrounded their sexual activity and childbearing. This suspicion of illegitimacy fits perfectly with that which surrounded Mary, which Matthew immediately takes pains to refute (vv. 18–25).

Matthew later explains that Jesus was born of Mary, but that Joseph was not involved in the conception of Jesus. He is his legal father, but not biological father. Blomberg explains that “in fact, the grammar of v. 16 makes clear that Joseph was not the human father of Jesus because the pronoun ‘whom’ is feminine and therefore can refer only to Mary as a human parent of the Christ child.”

Blomberg further explains why Matthew would have been so concerned with including these women in the genealogy when he wrote his Gospel 20-30 years after Jesus’s death and resurrection.

Within the Gospels, Jewish polemic hinted (John 8:48) and in the early centuries of the Christian era explicitly charged that Jesus was an illegitimate child. Matthew here strenuously denies the charge, but he also points out that key members of the messianic genealogy were haunted by similar suspicions (justified in at least the two cases of Tamar and Bathsheba and probably unjustified in the case of Ruth). Such suspicions, nevertheless, did not impugn the spiritual character of the individuals involved. In fact, Jesus comes to save precisely such people. Already here in the genealogy, Jesus is presented as the one who will ignore human labels of legitimacy and illegitimacy to offer his gospel of salvation to all, including the most despised and outcast of society. A question for the church to ask itself in any age is how well it is visibly representing this commitment to reach out to the oppressed and marginalized of society with the good news of salvation in Christ. At the same time, Matthew inherently honors the five women of his genealogy simply by his inclusion of them. So it is not enough merely to minister to the oppressed; we must find ways of exalting them and affirming their immense value in God’s eyes.

Are You Worried About the Unpardonable Sin? Part 2

Post Author: Bill Pratt

In part 1 of this post, we learned what exactly the unpardonable sin is – attributing to Satan what is accomplished by the Spirit of God.  But what caused Jesus to give this stern warning to this particular group of people?  It is important to understand so that we can know how to apply Jesus’s warning today.  For the answer, we just continue reading Matt. 12 to get an idea of the kind of people Jesus is admonishing:

Make a tree good and its fruit will be good, or make a tree bad and its fruit will be bad, for a tree is recognized by its fruit. You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil say anything good? For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks.  The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him.  But I tell you that men will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken.  For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.

Clay Jones summarizes Jesus’s words for us: “The Pharisees’ blasphemy wasn’t a hastily uttered slip of the tongue or simply a mistaken apprehension of reality.  Rather, it was a knowing, deliberate, and final rejection for which they will give an account of themselves on the Day of Judgment.”

Craig Blomberg adds: “Even if all the details are unclear, we should observe that in this text only Jesus’ enemies are in any danger—those who have never professed any allegiance to him and, at least in the pages of Scripture, never do. Instead, they intensify their opposition to the point of crucifying him.”

To further illustrate how hard-hearted the Pharisees are, we should note that even after Jesus issues his warning, this same group of people asks Jesus for another miraculous sign in verse 39!  Clay Jones comments, “It was as if they said, ‘Even though you have healed a blind and mute man in our presence, demonstrated your dominance over spiritual beings, and have refuted our arguments – we still need more proof that what you do is of God.”  Jesus aptly responds, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign.”

You can now see that the unpardonable sin does not apply to a Christian living today who utters some hasty or angry words toward God that he later regrets.  As Jones explains, “The very fact that a person would be concerned about his or her relationship with Jesus is evidence that he or she isn’t hardened against the Holy Spirit.”

But for those who persist in rejecting any and all evidence that Jesus is from God, his warning stands.  At some point, a line is crossed.  “By your words you will be condemned.”