J. A. Trench.
from 'Truth for Believers' Vol. 3. — Miscellany.
SEQUENCE IN MATTHEW'S GOSPEL.
If Psalm 40 "Then said I, Lo I come: in the volume of the book it is written of me, I delight to do thy will, O my God" characterizes the whole path of the Lord Jesus here, as most surely it does, we may expect to see that Will carried out in different parts of it in the way He is presented to us in the Gospels. Ever obedient, able to say "My meat is to do the will of him that sent me" — what aspect of that will is presented to us in this Gospel? Already the genealogy prepares us for His being presented as coming according to the promises made to Israel. It is "the book of the genesis of Jesus Christ." (Ver. 1; cp. vers. 18 and Luke 1:14) "the Son of David, the Son of Abraham," and as has been noted Matthew begins with it, for as so coming His connection with the stock of promise was the foundation of His position. It is the lineage of Joseph, the legal heir to the throne of David; i.e. it exhibits the successive heirs to the kingdom, ending with Christ as Joseph's reputed son. But at once we are in presence of the mystery of His Person which meets us everywhere. He must be Joseph's son legally or else Joseph would have barred His right to the throne, yet how much else had to be fulfilled in Him according to promise that necessitated that He should not be Joseph's son actually. He was to be "the virgin's" son according to Isaiah 8 — "Emmanuel — God with us," and hence we have her "betrothed" to Joseph, so that he can be called "her husband" — and her issue legally his heir, yet she is found with child "Before they came together," — "that which was conceived in her" being "of the Holy Ghost." "JESUS," the name given Him beforehand by the angel, tells that He was Jehovah — the Saviour of His people from their sins. "He who accomplishes those marvellous prophecies which more or less plainly drew the outline that He could only fill up," as has been said. It has been remarked (Gore, Bampton L., p. 78) in comparing Luke 1 and 2 with Matthew how here unmistakably everything is told from the side of Joseph, his perplexities, the intimations which he received, his resolutions and his actions; while Luke's narrative, intensely Jewish (following on his markedly Greek preface), has all the appearance of containing directly or indirectly Mary's story.
In Matthew 2 it is significant that if rejection awaited Him in Israel, God had Gentiles from afar to own Him as "Born king of the Jews." By Herod's action gathering the leaders of the people together, the report of such an enquiry already troubling all Jerusalem would be still further emphasized. It gave occasion, too, for the prophecy of Micah to be pointed out as now having found its fulfilment in the birthplace of a "Governor that should shepherd" the nation, little as they knew it or cared to verify it — Herod's to destroy — the only action taken upon the production of the prophecy. The star that had started them on their journey now reappears to their exceeding joy and guides them to the house, where they "fell down and worshipped" the young child and "offered" (not "presented" as A.V.) — a sacrificial word — their gifts: gold and frankincense and myrrh. (Cp. Isa. 60:6 for the two first. Myrrh was the chief ingredient of the holy anointing oil with which the tabernacle, ark, and all its vessels, and the priests were anointed.) (Ex. 30:23-25, etc.) In the next scene, the departure into Egypt — it was in no sense a flight — but the revealed will of God, that, retiring thus before the hostile power in the land, He should begin again, as it were, in His own Person, the history of the true Israel. He being substituted for Israel according to the flesh (as in Isa. 49 He becomes the true Servant and John 15 the true Vine — positions that Israel once had had but had failed in), and that becomes the ground of their blessing in the age to come. (Ps. 18 may be compared with this, specially the change at vers. 15, 16, where, from the past deliverance through the Red Sea, the Spirit of Christ identifies Him with the people, "He sent from above, He took ME, He drew ME out of many waters," and passes on to that which is yet future — when He is made Head of the heathen: ver. 43 to end.) What meanwhile, when the born King of the Jews was thus in rejection, could be the circumstances of the people in the land, but the sorrow of which Jeremiah 31 had spoken, "Rachel weeping for her children," although "There is hope in thine end, saith the Lord, that thy children shall come again to their own border." The return of the young Child being likewise directed of God, even the selection of Nazareth to dwell in was also. Note that A.V. "Notwithstanding being warned of God" makes difficulty where there is none crematistheis de when fear operated with Joseph as to going back to Judea — prophecy being thus accomplished — "That (hoti see for force Gr. Test.) he shall be called a Nazarean" I suppose the general tenor of the prophets that He should be rejected. (Isa. 49 - 53, Micah 5:1, Zech. 13, Ps. 22)
Matthew 3. John is now sent forth with the testimony of repentance addressed to the nation on the ground that the kingdom of the heavens was at hand. The term thus used would seem especially suited to the form the kingdom was to take on the rejection of the King and the establishment of the seat of its authority in the heavens. What comes nearest to it from Old Testament expression would be Nebuchadnezzar having to learn "That the heavens do rule" (Dan. 4:26), but is there connected with the Most High ruling in the kingdom of men and giving it to whomsoever He will (ver. 25). And the Kingdom when Christ takes it will be the manifestation of such heavenly and divine rule over the earth as never before in its history. And observe that the throne of God and of the Lamb will then be in the heavenly city. (Rev. 22)
The note of accomplishment of Isaiah 40:3, which is Matthew's here, but applied by John to himself in John 1:23, involves that it is Jehovah he is ushering in, only it is not added from the prophet "a highway for our God." For, though owned to be Jehovah, He comes in as man in humiliation; besides, Israel in its present state could not be put into the place of saying "our" God. [I do not quite see, the force of Matthew's and Mark's notice of his dress. We know from Zechariah 13:4 that raiment of camel's hair was so usual in the case of prophets that deceivers wore it, and a "hairy man" was Elijah's description, as also wearing a leathern girdle (or "of skin" as the same word is rendered in Mark). Nature supplied it as also his food — separate from the people because of their state, coming in the way of righteousness, such simple raiment and fare did not involve taking anything from men — left him thus more in the isolation of his mission.] While verse 5 indicates a pretty general movement at first to hear him (but we know from Matthew 21:31, 32 that it was only the disreputable and vile that believed him, and from Luke 7 that there was a marked separation — all the people (ho laos) and publicans being baptised — the Pharisees and lawyers rejecting the counsel of God against themselves), John's testimony, where it reached, manifested a remnant who took their only true place — any man's — of confessing sins: the only fruit possible for God in their then condition, but of His own grace in bringing them to the conviction of it; while being baptised of him would be the surrender of Jewish claim to promise and the like, and a change of place for them so far. [Note "Offspring of vipers" here applied to Pharisees and Sadducees is addressed to the crowds in Luke 3:7.] "I indeed baptise you with water unto repentance." (A.V. Luke.) Fruit worthy of it was to prove the reality of repentance, instead of resting in descent from Abraham. Sovereign grace could raise up children to Abraham out of the very stones — a principle that would let in Gentiles. While, as to the trees and their fruit, the axe was already lying at the root to cut down those that bore bad fruit — instead of any improvement being looked for. The axe was not actually felling but applied to the root ready for use, which would leave room for the last test to the nation (and to man) of Messiah's presence. In verse 11 we have not here, nor in Mark or Luke, as in John, the full testimony to who He was as emprosthen mou gegonen (wrongly translated A.V. "preferred before me," John 1:15 — has precedence of me — is come before me), hoti protos mou en. It occurred in this connection, see verse 27 of that gospel. But here he deems himself not worthy to perform for Him the most menial service (it is as come and manifested, not so much who He was that was so come, which has its perfect place in John). "He shall baptise with the Holy Spirit" and it is added "with fire" — blessing first of the highest spiritual order (en A Pn) and judgment. And note — iscuroteros (in the power of), "mightier than I" — it is a question of power displayed in both, dispelling evil whether by blessing or destruction; the last being specially amplified (ver. 12), "whose fan is in his hand," according to Jeremiah 15:7 [(LXX paraphrases diaspero en diaspora) and note, it is Jehovah's fan in Jehovah's hand] for dealing with His floor, though it does not overlook the blessing (the wheat gathered into the garner); the dealing is therefore discriminative, and the chaff He will burn up with fire unquenchable.
Verse 13: How great the contrast of the place Jesus takes with John in coming forth from the long years of His privacy in Galilee, and the foregoing testimony of John concerning Him, and how perfect. In lowly grace carrying out God's will (fulfilling righteousness), He goes where the remnant of His people went confessing sins, and thus identifies Himself with them in this first fruit for God — first step towards God — that grace had produced in them, but thus declared to be the true remnant of His people. And He owns them as "The saints, the excellent of the earth in whom was all his delight," according to Psalm 16, taking His place, too, according to that Psalm, i.e. as man among them to set before them man's perfection before, and looking to, God. We cannot wonder at John not only forbidding, but taking steps to prevent (diakoluo, only here), the Lord so doing, but it was His perfection; yet with what grace He associates John with Himself in the path of carrying out God's will: "Thus it becometh us," etc. He in his place, Jesus in His. But how deeply significant that it should be at such a moment that He identified Himself with all that was of God in Israel, as become man; for only thus was it possible that the opened heavens (now for the first time presented with an object on earth worthy of their being so opened) and the Spirit of God descending as a dove (denoting manner of descent - not "like" [A.V.] as if resemblance in form — but Luke adds "in bodily shape"), and the voice out of the heavens, should put God's seal of approbation to the place He had taken. The Spirit would be His anointing as Man according to Acts 10:38, and "This is my beloved son," more official than the expression of personal delight as in Luke, "Thou art my beloved son," which would be rather connected with sealing — though both had place at the same moment. (Note that this also is true of the believer who receives the Holy Ghost.) In four ways He sets forth in Himself the pattern of the place He would set them and us in by redemption: Heaven opened, the Holy Ghost given to abide, sonship, and man's place in perfect divine favour (the object of God's delight). [Eph. 1:4 and 5 show how these two last can be distinguished.] But here it is as yet His own personal place in which He was alone, what He was in Himself: when by redemption He can introduce us into it, it is what we are in Him according to the counsels of eternity. (Prov. 8; Eph. 1)
Matthew 4. What a contrast is now presented. He whose normal place was to be with God is now led of the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil. In what different circumstances too from those in which the first man was tempted — surrounded by everything that ministered to him naturally.
"Having fasted" — is it from the nature of the place where He was (cp. 14:15) nothing to be had — or rather His own act — meeting direct Satanic power in this way as indicated to the disciples in Mark 9:29? How fully He was there as man in weakness — afterwards He hungered — never exercising divine power to take Himself out of any consequence of the place He had taken as man to accomplish God's will. And this was just the character of the first temptation — "If thou be" — as just proclaimed from heaven — "the Son of God, speak (eipe) that these stones become bread." But man's place was to obey, and He had become man and so will not act without a word from God, even to satisfy the cravings of hunger, to take necessary food. "It is written" — the word of God abiding in Him He was strong to overcome the wicked one — and being a Jew in the land He turns to the book of instructions for such, (Deuteronomy), and needs not to go outside it. And perfectly keeping the place He had taken He quotes, "Man shall not live," etc. The word out of God's mouth was not then only to direct the course outwardly, but to be the sustenance of the life, the source of any movement in thought or action. To live by it, I am formed in the springs of activity by it — a Man found for the first time on earth to carry out thus perfectly God's mind for man. Surely it needed, what is brought to the test in the second temptation, confidence, — more especially if the fast was because of the desert character of the place where no food could be obtained — under such circumstances still to wait. The sublety of it is in the suitedness of the Psalm quoted as belonging to Messiah: the perfection of the reply, in the principle that covers not only the specific act but everything, "Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God." So that we learn what tempting God is, i.e. not trusting Him absolutely in contrast to the human thought of doing the best we can for ourselves. Satan's omission in the quotation of "In all thy ways" is pertinent: he could not have pretended that to throw Himself down from the temple was "His ways." It is striking that in Matthew, where we have manifestly the historical order, the last temptation should be the world and its glory, taken in connection with what is said to the young men in 1 John 2 [they had overcome the wicked one — the Word abiding in them, but have to be warned against the world — and all that is in it]: here Satan puts openly his object "If thou wilt fall down and worship me." Thus he is openly declared to be Satan, seeking to dispossess God of His place before the heart by objects presented out of his domain; and the Lord treats the case in this way, "Get thee hence, Satan: for it is written," and here is the positive power of refusal — the Lord God Himself alone before the heart for worship and service. [Note, they go together ever; where the service is true, it partakes of the character of worship.] Observe that the Lord has used the LXX throughout but here changes from phobethese, "fear," to proskuneseis, the significance of which Bengel notices; but which arises from Satan's having proposed worship, the Lord thus applying the principle. He was not of those whose sorrows should be multiplied, who hasten after another according to Psalm 16. "Then the devil leaveth him," unable to find a foothold in a path and life of man so ordered and governed, "And angels came and ministered unto him," as noted here and in Mark.
At verse 12 John's ministry having closed in his being delivered up, that of the Lord Jesus opens in Galilee of the Gentiles, and to the people that sat in darkness and in the region and shadow of death light arose. The Lord takes up the testimony of His forerunner and calls from their lowly occupation of fishing those whom He would associate with Him to be fishers of men. Two of them had been attracted to Him previously we know from John 1. And the last three verses sum up the Lord's Galilean ministry of the gospel of the kingdom with the varied display of power accompanying it, and the effect of great crowds following Him from all parts of the land. In Matt. 9:35 we have such another summary, and they indicate a section of the gospel completed. [The call of these four disciples, given in Mark as here, must, I think, be that given in detail as to Peter in Luke 5, only there taken out of its historic order to put into its deeper moral place in connection with other scenes of the Lord's presentation in grace, and which complete it.]
Matthew 5 - 7. The crowds attracted, became the occasion of the Lord's unfolding in the (so-called) Sermon on the Mount, the principles of the kingdom He was announcing. It was addressed to the disciples but in presence of the crowd (cp. Matt. 7:28, 29.) These principles come out as characterising those who should enter into it when it is set up. From verses 3-9 there are seven beatitudes that divide into four and three — as constantly when this number of spiritual completeness is used.
Poor in spirit . . theirs the Kingdom of Heaven.
Mourners . . . they shall be comforted.
The meek . . . shall inherit the earth.
They that hunger and thirst after righteousness . . . shall be filled.
The merciful . . . obtain mercy.
The pure in heart . . . shall see God.
The peacemakers . . . called the sons of God.
The first four have to do with righteousness — man's relative place with God, the last three more with what God is in His nature. And these two great characteristics run through the instruction. Verses 2-10 answers to (1) 11-12 to (2) 13 to (1); 14-16 to (2); 17-37 to (1) 38-48 to (2) Matthew 6:1-18 to (1); 19-34 to (2), the last chapter being general, unless indeed verses 1-12 go with the (2) section of chapter 6, and from verse 13, (1) is more the subject.
Note that the poor in spirit, (the opposite to "a man of spirit" in the world,) who does not stand for his rights, will be a mourner in such a world, pushed aside and downtrodden, suffering at the hands of the world. But thus exercised and tried there will be meekness, and not only the Kingdom of Heaven their portion, but the earth in a day that is coming. They sought not this but hungered, etc., after righteousness and shall be filled, satisfied. It is man's place before God in the world as it is, in man's departure from God, and leads into possessing it when Christ gets His place here. The three last belong more to the expression of the divine nature of God to man: only verse 8 is essential to this and inseparable from it; verse 7 leads into it — dwelling in love we dwell in God is the full principle of the connection: in the active exercise of what is according to His own nature, mercy; the heart dwells in Himself and is purified in having such an object ("purifying their hearts by faith") and leads into the full enjoyment of it for ever — "They shall see God." Meanwhile in such a world peacemakers are characteristically His sons. Verse 10 then sums up the first four — theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven. But 11-12, depending upon the last three, identifying us with Christ (Who was the perfect expression of them — indeed of the first four too: in Him man's place before God is seen in its perfection, as well as God revealed to man, God in Christ) more directly put us into His place ("for my sake") of rejection, and the reward is commensurately greater, being directly in heaven. (Cp. 1 Peter 3:14 et seq., and 1 Peter 4:13, 14.) Thus He has set His disciples to be both the salt of the earth and the light of the world: the salt — in the holy energy of faith that separates to God, the only preserving (and preservative) principle in the earth — sanctifying the Lord God, or Christ in the heart (what Peter connects with righteousness, 1 Peter 3:15 and 14): if this characteristic of the disciple, this separation to God, be lost nothing is left — for nothing can salt salt; it is good for nothing but to be cast out and trodden under foot. The light is more the positive testimony of what God is — hence connected with (2), and (note) light of the world, i.e. the sphere under testimony from God. A light is lit to give light or shine; even so (ver. 16) "Let your light shine before men" (not as A.V.) "that they may see your good (kala) works" and know the source to connect them with — not be occupied with the good works or the good men, but "glorify your Father which is in heaven."
Verse 17. Note, the association in what is said here of the law and the prophets; whatever "fulfil" means as to one it means as to the other. The force, I believe, is that He "comes as the revealed completeness of the mind of God" as expressed by both. From verse 18 it is the law that is in question. The rule of man's righteousness (Deut. 6:25) though man being as he is, in result it became a means of the conviction of sin (for "By the law is the knowledge of sin"), a ministry of condemnation and death; yet it, not a jot or tittle of it, should pass away till it found what answered to it in revealed completeness in the Person of Christ. It was in His heart in the deepest way (Ps. 40:8) (cf. marg. for lit. Hebrew), He gave it a wonderful glory in submitting to its obedience, magnified it and made it honourable; and under the new covenant it will be written in the heart of the nation. Even in Christianity the dikaioma (full sum of its requirements) of the law is fulfilled in us who walk after the Spirit (though for this we needed to be delivered out from under it — "Led of the Spirit ye are not under the law") — surely the opposite of breaking the commandments and teaching so. Thus the first part of verse 19 is simple; but do I apprehend "Whosoever shall do and teach (there is nothing answering to 'them') shall be called great," etc.? It is amongst the characteristics of those who should enter into the Kingdom when it is set up, hence belongs to the time before it is so, when Matthew 23:2, 3 would be still in force, and Moses had still and rightly "In every city them that preach him," as James says to the council. (Acts 15)
Verse 20 is evidently, as it has been said, the key to this part of the sermon — not the spiritualizing of the law but the contrast of an internal state with Pharisaic outward formal righteousness. Only two of the ten words are referred to, verses 21, 27.
Verse 22 would be judgment in any case, but differing in degree. Verse 25, the position of the Jewish people with the Lord in their midst, unrecognised; unbelief was putting Him into the position of an adversary, but it was "While thou art in the way with him" still; they might come to terms with Him; but if not they should be dealt with in the government of God till it can be said "Her iniquity is pardoned, for she hath received of the Lord's hand double for all her sins." All this belongs to the first great subject of the sermon (1), righteousness; but from 38 the principle of grace comes in which answers to the second (2), and this, that we may be characteristically sons of "your Father which is in heaven," verse 48 setting the standard of walk as of old with Abraham at the full height of the revelation given — then the Almighty God (Gen. 17:1) — with Israel (Deut. 18:13) "perfect with Jehovah thy God" — now "perfect (hosper) even as your Father which is in heaven" — the name of heavenly grace in which so far He was revealed.
In Matthew 6:1-18 further instruction comes out on the side of righteousness, as indeed may be read in verse 1 instead of alms, which would then take in prayer (5-15) and fasting (16-18) as well as alms-giving (1-4.) The same principle governs all three things — not merely the avoidance of display, and desire to gain a religious reputation in the desperate subtlety of these hearts of ours, by them, but setting us before the Father for appraisal and as object in them — God not man — verses 1, 4, 6 (note — "when thou hast shut thy door"); 17-18 (note — to obliterate the traces of fasting that men may not know it). Hence it is not a question of open reward, in 1, 18 (omit "openly") — "Thy Father which seeth in secret himself shall reward thee" is enough. "I know thy works." What a deliverance from the thought of the necessity of much speaking — that "Your Father knoweth what things ye have need of before you ask him." What grace so to put it to us. "After this manner," etc.; it is manifestly of God that the "when ye pray say" of Luke should give, according to the critical editors, a much briefer form, so that the evil might be avoided that the Church has fallen into, of using the prayer as a form, and apart from any question of need, as a kind of charm. It is deplorable to see the great mass of Christians under the power of what is simply superstition. When we take it as the Lord gave it to the disciples here, the perfection of it comes out more and more. "Our Father which art in heaven" would be very new to them as compared with anything known in Judaism, (though not putting them into the full Christian position of relationship, which was impossible before redemption and the Holy Spirit was given). We drop "in heaven" then and "heavenly Father" because in Christ we belong to heaven ourselves, His Father is our Father; but this wonderful change of man and place could not be yet — not the Spirit of adoption by which we, cry Abba Father. We have seen it much characterize the Lord's instructions here, and it would form them in grace and confidence — finding its place in the beginning of the revelation of the Father in the blessed Lord's path, though for this revelation fully to come out, it needed that the veil should be taken off the deeper glory of His Person, as in Matthew 11 and Gospel of John. "Hallowed be thy name" (cf. Mal. 1:11), only the desire goes further, that the Father's name should not only be universally great, but that it should be set apart and held according to the nature of Him whose Name it is and who is revealed in it in those to whom it is known — "our Father." The heart is then led out to embrace the Kingdom, to look for its coming, especially the heavenly side of it (cf. Matt. 13:43) — their Father's kingdom; though the latter clause of the petition looks for the effect of it to be found on earth — the Father's will, the rule of it on earth as in heaven (only translate as in Luke, where editors omit the clause "as in heaven so in earth": i.e. it is not a question of measure but of fact). "Give us this day our needed bread" teaches dependence in that, which by the petition being given them is assured to them, i.e. the supply of the day's need. (See latter part of J. N. D.'s Note N.Tr. for what I cannot doubt — even after Lightfoot's "revision" and rejection of it — is the true solution of the apax legomena.) "Forgive us our debts as we," etc.: "our Father" according to the address of the prayer enables us to see at once that this is the Father's forgiveness that is looked for under the gracious government of His people. He "judgeth according to every man's work" (1 Peter 1), and hence, according to the enlargement of the principle in verses 14-15, if we forgive not men their trespasses, instead of forgiveness we come under His judgment in chastening. But, on the other hand, the spirit of grace is met in grace by the Father. The principle is as true for us as for them, and in no way touches the forgiveness of redemption of non-imputation, and no more conscience of sins in which we stand before God, now that redemption is accomplished and that forgiveness is preached. "Lead [or rather "bring"] us not into temptation." (Cf. Luke 22:40, Pray that ye enter not into temptation"; cf. for force of word John 6:6.)
It teaches us in distrust of self, fearful that we should fall, to deprecate what puts us to the test, and thus the spirit in which to go through the testing when it comes — the Lord setting us in Luke the perfect example of it: and the prayer closes with "But deliver us from evil" or "the evil one," the doxology being a later though very early addition.
In the case of fasting how deliberate was to be the care that men should not know of it — to preserve its true character before the Father in secret. From verse 19 it is the more positive side of light, (2) of the discourse: the heart is most positively directed to heaven, not for final reward (ver. 12), but for present objects, where at least its treasures are to be treasured up, on the principle that the heart follows its treasure. This would give a single eye. The heart's true treasure, Christ; though this would not come out fully till He took His place there, the eye upon Him alone would be the channel of heavenly light to the body, and the whole body should be photeinon ("lightsome"). But the test will come — Mammon or God (what hearts we have to need the warning) — not both: ou dunasthe ("you cannot"). Verse 25 guards the heart on the side whence the danger comes — anxiety as to the necessaries of life has been the snare that has dragged many under the power of Mammon. Have none, because of "your heavenly Father's" care. He feeds the birds of the air — God clothes the grass of the field. O ye of little faith. Besides, what did anxiety ever effect? (ver. 27). The Gentiles seek after these things — "your heavenly Father knoweth," etc.: it is enough for faith. Seek first His kingdom and righteousness [and here (1) and (2) are brought together] and all these things shall be added unto you. And if the present is thus provided for tomorrow is too. (Ver. 34.) The interdependence of all in this portion is beautiful.
Matthew 7. The spirit of judging, which takes such hold when indulged, is forbidden. With verse 2 cf. Ps. 18:26. How often we find that what leads to it is a lack of judgment of self. Sharp to detect a mote in another's eye, there is a beam in one's own. To see clearly there must be the judgment of self. But grace manifested thus will not lead to making common what is holy. Verse 12 connects with verse 2, and the "therefore" presents the Father's grace as still giving its character to this part of the instruction. His willingness to give good to them that ask Him is set before us as direct encouragement to ask. From verse 13 it is rather righteousness again: the strait gate and narrow way which leads to life — too strait to admit what is of man and the flesh — that the "false prophets" would cultivate, but to be known by their fruits. Corrupt flesh could not be cultivated into producing good fruit — and however fair in outward seeming, it is a false, deceiving system; and sooner or later the fruits will make it manifest. The wide gate and broad way of it lead to destruction. There must be reality for God, not mere profession. (Ver. 21.) Verse 22 shows how far power may go without this — may we know of none without communion as its spring. And so the parable of the house built on a rock. It is not a question, here or throughout, of the work of God that produces the characteristics, but of these as delineating those who enter into the kingdom when it is set up. It is remarkable how full the instruction is of "your Father," yet not as the Gospel of John brings out the revelation in the Person of the Son — not introducing into the Father's circle of things, though preparing the way for it. It is His grace, and gracious care for them connected with things down here — hence ever "your" (vers. 16, 45, 48; Matt. 6:1, 4, 6, 8. 9) — never "my Father and your Father," etc. of John 20, nor even "the Father" as "He that hath seen me hath seen the Father." Verse 28 shows that however part of the instruction may have been repeated — Matt. 5 — Matt. 7 was given as a connected whole.
Matthew 8. Having brought out the principles of the kingdom, we have the personal position of the Lord given us, by the grouping together of miracle and instruction, taken out of historic order to give this deeper order, that He whose Kingdom it was, the King Himself — His heart and His power, going on in Matthew 9 to verse 36 into the principles of His then presence in Israel — might come out fully. No more striking expression of who He was could have been afforded than that which came out in the leper who trusts His power more than His heart: "If thou wilt thou canst." Yet who could heal the leper but Jehovah? But if He was there with divine power to do so, His action of stretching forth His hand to touch him tells of His heart. As Man, the only undefiled and undefilable one, He touches him in human tenderness, while as God He says: "I will, be thou clean." Immanuel was in Israel; and showing himself to the priest with the gift that Moses commanded would carry the testimony of it to them in the fullest way. This was one of the earliest miracles (Luke 5 and Mark 1); but now follows (in its place historically, Luke 7:1 et seq.) the case of the Roman centurion who by his "I also am a man" (kai gar ego as in Luke) recognizes the Lord in the place He has taken as having power by His word over disease, as he has over his men. No such faith in His Person had been found in Israel, and verse 11 announces the admission of many a Gentile to sit down with the patriarchs in the Kingdom of the Heavens while the sons of the kingdom would be cast into Hell. Two of the earliest incidents of His ministry are now brought in (cf. Mark 1 and Luke 4): Peter's mother-in-law, and when the evening was come (noted by all three — for it was the Sabbath, Mark 1:21, 29, 32) the healing of many demoniacs, but not merely for the power displayed but the heart — the tender grace as foretold (Isa. 53) bearing the weight upon Himself of all the pressure upon man of disease and demon that He relieved. To one who would follow Him is brought out the test of the Son of Man's position — no where to lay His head: another must learn that His claim is absolute, before that which is natural. "Follow me"; — while the tempest in the sea would indicate the circumstances in which He was to be followed in such a world, but which only serve to manifest His Person, and the character of their fears that thought they could perish with Him on board. [It was He who "rebuked (LXX) the Red Sea" (Ps. 106:9), "which stilleth the noise of the seas, the noise of their waves." (Ps. 65:7.) "He maketh the storm a calm, so that the waves thereof are still." (Ps. 107:29.) "Who is a strong Jehovah like unto thee . . . thou rulest the raging of the sea; when the waves thereof arise thou stillest them" (Ps. 89:8, 9).] But just as in verse 3, — if He sleeps in the simplicity and reality of His taken place as man, who it is that takes that place is manifested, as in divine power as their Creator He commands the elements. And the testimony and conviction is afforded the disciples that He is no ordinary Person whom winds and waves obey ("man" is not in the Gr. outos).
On the other side two demon-possessed meet Him, as we learn only from Matthew ("In the mouth of two or three witnesses"); Mark and Luke are occupied with the effects produced in one of them, and so give his case with greater detail, following it out to its result in him. Here it comes into its place as setting forth the relations of the Lord, (recognized as Son of God by demons,) with the nation, who preferring the presence of demons to His whose power was manifested in casting them out, are like the herd of unclean swine being precipitated by Satanic power to destruction. No more remarkable evidence of divine design in the grouping of the facts thus given us could be found. Matthew 9 goes with 8, but enlarges the field of view to take in the principles of grace upon which He was here. The faith that brought in the sick of the palsy is met by "Thy sins be forgiven thee," and the proof of the exousia 'authority' (more than dunamis) of the Son of Man on earth to do this by his healing. Then comes the call of Matthew, who gives us his own name — (the others call him Levi as a publican) — Matthew as an apostle — and the scene in his house (as we know from Mark 2 and Luke 5) when many publicans and sinners were guests with Him, and the Pharisees' objection becomes the occasion of bringing out the principles of grace upon which the Lord was here — it was the sick that needed the physician, sinners were the objects of His coming and calling. But this grace attaches hearts to Him who becomes known in the exercise of it, and to the disciples of John the effect is opened out: the presence of the Bridegroom was not the time for fasting, but He would be taken from them and then they shall fast, when it would be no longer religious formalism, but the effect and expression of hearts missing Him. He was not here to patch up the old worn-out garment of Judaism, it would but make the rent worse. Nor could the old bottles contain the new wine of the joy of which the Spirit would be the power. There must be a new man, a new creation; verse 18 supplying the figure of Israel's condition — the ruler's daughter even now dead — it would be in the power of Him who could raise the dead. But on His way to apply this power to the dead daughter of His people, the faith of the woman with the twelve years of the issue of blood, that would but touch His garment and be healed, receives its answer. The dead raised, the blind eyes, where there was faith in His power to do so, are opened, and the tongue of the dumb demoniac is loosed, the multitudes owning that it was never so seen in Israel, but the Pharisees ascribed the power that wrought, to Satan. Verse 36 gives another such summing up of much work, as the close of Matthew 4 and completes another section of the gospel.
Matthew 9:36. The uncared-for multitudes ("crowds") drew out the Lord's compassion — the harvest plentiful but the labourers few, and He would interest hearts in the need, that praying, the Lord of the harvest might supply it — which He proceeds to do, in the mission of the twelve, giving them power (exousia) over unclean spirits, etc. (Vers. 5, 6). The confined limits of the mission to Israel is only here. They were to go out counting upon the resources of the King whose kingdom they were to announce, and should lack nothing. Note, that we have not the choice of the twelve here as in Luke 6 before the Sermon, and Mark 3, but their sending forth, verse 5. From verse 16 there is a marked change in the character of the instruction, and we have the full anticipation of their rejection and suffering at the hands of men "For my sake." And though not to go to the Gentiles, the testimony would come to them and their rulers by their being brought before them as prisoners. If they were thus to share the portion of a rejected Christ the Spirit of their Father would be the power of the testimony rendered. The ties of relationship will be no protection for them from the hatred of all against Christ. Verse 23 is remarkable as showing how the then testimony rendered by the disciples will be going on when the Son of Man comes — broken off by their scattering it will be resumed again before the end and they will not have gone through the cities when He comes. General principles follow to support their faith and bring out the testimony boldly, with encouragement for those who receive them in the teeth of such opposition. Some of the principles are found elsewhere, but nowhere the instruction as a whole (cf. Matt. 11:1) with its important dispensational bearing.
In Matthew 11 the actual circumstances of His rejection come pressing upon His spirit. But first, when in his prison John the Baptist's faith fails for the moment — hearing of works of the Christ and left to languish there — he is left to the testimony that was making all in Israel responsible — "The things which ye do hear and see," while verse 6 touches the point that put all to the test — His humiliation. Blessed those who found no stumbling block in it. Then Jesus bears testimony to His faithful servant — more than a prophet — even the Messenger of Jehovah sent by Jehovah according to Malachi 3:1 to prepare His way before Him (here changed to "Thy way before thee," identifying the Lord in His lowly place with Jehovah). None greater in privilege than he: others had prophesied of the kingdom, but to him it was given to point out the King as come; yet such the privilege of the kingdom when set up, that the least in it would be greater than John. But already the presentation of the Kingdom by John was putting men to the test: it suffered violence; it was only entered by the energy that would make its way through all the opposition of the natural heart. The time of prophecy was over, — "until John," he the forerunner of the Messiah. To those willing to receive it, he was Elijah who was about to come. But it needed the ear to hear to enter into these things: with the natural heart there was none, no heart to answer to the wondrous harmony of the words of grace of Jesus, none to dance, as there was none to weep at the mournful strains of John's testimony. Nay, they discerned in the holy separate path of this beloved servant but the characteristics of the devil, and in Jesus a glutton and wine-bibber, or what was equivalent in their eyes to this — a friend of publicans and sinners. But grace wrought, and there were children of Wisdom who characteristically justify all Wisdom's ways. The cities in which there had been the most abundant display of His power, and that repented not, are warned of a deeper judgment, as they were more hard of heart, than Tyre — the personification of the pride of life, as Sodom of the lust of the flesh, to whom no such testimony had been rendered. But the pressure of this great sorrow — and who can estimate what it was to Him who felt all perfectly according to God — only gives occasion for the expression of His perfection: taking all from no lower source than the Father's heart according to faith's title, He can thank Him and own how perfect His ways in hiding the things of His testimony from the wisdom and intelligence of the world and revealing them to babes; and resting thus in His knowledge of the Father He bows to His will — the rest of Christ first and then the yoke of Christ. And now the veil lifts from off the deeper glories of His Person, ever pressed out as they are by unbelief. He had been presented to Israel on the lower line of earthly promise, and rejected. Now all things are delivered to Him of the Father, not merely the Messianic Kingdom. Then there is the unfathomable depth of the glory of the Person of the SON become man — whom no man knoweth. (It did not please the Father to become Man, nor the Holy Ghost, but the Son — hence this glory; and, observe, it remains absolutely true; there is no one to reveal the Son. And this precious guard is thrown round the glory of His Person.) And, lastly, the deepest purpose in grace of His coming here, i.e. as Revealer of the Father, to whom, He, in divine title and sovereign grace, "willeth." But to whom does He will to reveal the Father? Were there hearts that had proved, as He had, that there was no one, no thing, to rest in here — He calls them to Himself that He may give them rest, introducing them into the source of His own rest, even the knowledge of the Father (for the connection of the words points to this as the character of the rest — as though He said "I will reveal Him to you"), and then calls them to take His yoke of perfect submission to the Father's will, upon them, learning from "the meek and lowly in heart" how to do so in order to find rest — i.e. for rest practically maintained. The first prepares for, and makes possible, the second character of rest. For if I can trace all that comes upon me to its known source in the Father's will, how simple it becomes to bow to that will. The trial may remain, but this takes the sting out of it (as I have developed a little elsewhere). The yoke — His yoke — is easy and the burden light. Both characters of rest are seen to be realized in the blessed Lord first. (Vers. 25, 26.)
Now Matthew 12. His rejection and its consequences for Israel are fully before us. It was no use contending for the sign of the Covenant, as the Pharisees. The anointed King upon whom all depended was rejected, as David in his day — all was out of course — one greater than the Temple was there, the Jehovah of it, little as they conceived it. But even if they had entered into the spirit of the law or of Him who gave it, "I will have mercy and not sacrifice" (cf. Matt. 9:13), they would not have condemned the disciples for what they were guiltless in — plucking the ears of corn as they went through the fields, to eat when hungry. But not as the anointed King, or Jehovah, but even as Son of Man He was Lord even of the Sabbath. (Cf. Mark 2:27 in the same connection.) In the synagogue the question is fully raised as to healing on the Sabbath: they would rescue one of their own sheep on it; and He healed the man with the withered hand. Thus confounded, they take counsel to destroy Him. It was a definitive step taken in His rejection. But He pursues His gracious work in power, healing all, but not leaving a retired place — not seeking to attract attention to Himself, which gives rise to the quotation of the prophet setting forth His position. He was the Servant chosen of Jehovah, beloved, and the object of His perfect delight, upon whom He had put His Spirit. Judgment should be meted to the Gentiles, but the weak state of things in Israel should last — a bruised reed, smoking flax — till judgment should result in victory; and meanwhile He would be the object of Gentiles' confidence.
[In looking back to the prophet Isaiah 42:1-4 we see the force of a passage much perverted from its true bearing — the deliverance under Cyrus only pointed on to a full final one. Meanwhile the state of the people under Jehovah's judgment was like a bruised reed and smoking (dimly burning) wick. (See vers. 22, 24, 25.) But the intervention of the true Servant secures the full deliverance. (Ver. 7.) He had a long time holden His peace, but now He would deliver, and confound those who trusted in idols, by the deliverance. Would the breaking of the "bruised reed" and the quenching of the dimly burning wick be indicated by verse 25 — the heaviest stroke of His judgment just before the blind eyes are opened, or merely be descriptive of the state of the people just kept alive and nothing more for the full deliverance? The result of judgment on the Gentiles is a new song to the Lord and His praise from the end of the earth. (Ver. 10.) The isles waiting for His law of verse 4 is given as "In his name shall the Gentiles trust" in Matthew — the prophet referring more definitely to the millennial blessing of the nations — the Spirit using it for the principle upon which they will be blessed, and are now before that day. Simeon quotes verse 6, the introduction of Christ was the dawn of the revelation of the Gentiles. But we must not lose sight of the object of the quotation — the lowly place Christ took as come in grace in humiliation before the day for His voice to be lifted up in judgment: and in that place what He was to the heart of God and the counsels of glory, and blessing connected with Him whom the leaders of the nation took counsel how to destroy — so wilfully blind as they were according to what follows in the prophet.]
It is significant that the next display of power in grace is to open the eyes of a demoniac who was both blind and dumb — what an expression of Israel's state! But the Pharisees once more declare that it is by the power of Satan (cf. Matt. 9:34) He cast out Satan. They do not, they could not, deny the power, but put it down to Satan. The Lord demonstrates the absurdity of it — as if Satan could be against Satan; but their children assumed to exercise that power — by whom? But it was the Lord, casting out by the Spirit (Luke, "finger") of God, the proof that the Kingdom "of God" (because it was a question here of its moral power — not dispensational form) is come to them. He had entered into the domain of Satan's power (such was Israel!) and was spoiling his goods, having first bound the strong man. It was a time of the direct conflict between Christ and Satan: sides must be definitely taken. Whoever was not with Christ was against Him — and gathering not with Him was scattering. The "wherefore" of verse 31 would depend on the power that they owned, but put down to Satan, being that of the Spirit: so to ascribe power recognized in its effects, was blasphemy against Him and not pardonable, "Neither in this age, nor in the age to come." Note, that this passes over the whole present period, which is not an "age," but the fruit of counsels before ages began. Here the principle applied in Matthew 7 to the false prophets, by which men were known, is more generally to the nation or generation.
What the heart is full of comes out, either good out of a good treasure, or evil out of an evil. Hence the importance of the words: they express the man. They shall be taken account of in the day of judgment. If the heart is full of Christ it will confess Him and by my words I am justified (for "With the mouth confession is made unto salvation"); and the opposite is also true. What an expression of the state of Pharisees and Scribes follows when they speak to ask a sign from Him, making nothing of the sign God gave the House of David when it wearied Him by its unbelief — the intervention of God Himself in the virgin's son; the only sign possible after that, which they ignored, being that of the prophet Jonah, i.e. His death and resurrection. They should be condemned by the men of Nineveh who had repented at Jonah's testimony, and by the queen of the South who had been so attracted by Solomon's wisdom — a greater than Jonah or Solomon producing no impression on them. The unclean spirit of idolatry had long gone out of them, but it would return to its house — uninhabited and ready for it. (It might have been filled with the glory of Christ, but it rejected Him for Satan.) And with a seven-fold accession of power it enters and takes possession, so that the last state of the nation is worse than the former when given to idolatry. And disowning His natural relationships in Israel (cp. Mark 3:21, 30), the Lord opens relationship with Him to whosoever would do the Father's will. Observe that from Matthew 11 the deeper glory of His Person having come out in Israel's rejection of Him, it, He, is the touchstone of all hearts. It is in this way He comes before us, not as any more presented to Israel.
Matthew 13. In keeping with this change the parabolic form of instruction is found from this out, and the principle upon which it is used is given from verse 10 on the disciples raising the question; it was given to a remnant who by grace had ears to hear, to know the mysteries of the Kingdom of Heaven, while the rest were blinded, according to Isaiah 6, but this only after full testimony had been rendered to them, and they neither saw nor heard nor understood. Their moral state had been demonstrated, and this connected with a wilful rejection of the testimony — their hearts had waxed gross, ears dull, and "their eyes have they closed," and the judicial consequences ensued. But this served to mark out and separate the remnant, "Blessed are your eyes for they see," etc. — privileged in what they saw and heard, beyond prophets and righteous men. Thus the interpretation of the parables was for them. But I am anticipating. The action of the Lord at the opening of the chapter is suited to the new state of things. He leaves the Jewish house and takes His place by the seaside — the nations outside Israel — no more to look for fruit from Israel; but to do a new work in the world to produce fruit — "A sower went forth to sow," etc. The first parable is thus introductory and not of the kingdom, the six following giving the result in the new form the kingdom takes by testimony, whether of the Lord or His disciples, on the rejection of the King; it is the result of the sowing of the seed — the first three giving us what becomes of it outwardly, the last three, to the disciples alone, the inward reality found in it for the heart of God and of Christ. In that of the sower, it is not the internal work in the soul that produces reality, but the external effect; only that it is found that where the seed fell on good ground only, there was any fruit, any enduring effect. Note, in the interpretation (ver. 18 sq.) it is the "Word of the kingdom" that is sown, but the persons who receive it are sown — "This is he that is sown by the wayside" (not "he which received seed" as A.V. and throughout); so in the parable of the tares "The good seed are the children of the kingdom, and the tares the children of the wicked one": i.e. where any effect is produced it is persons formed by the way the testimony is received, or, by the work of the enemy. (Cf. 1 Cor. 3) This is the first of the great dispensational changes that result from the rejection of the Lord Jesus. The more faith apprehends the glory of the Person who has been rejected, the more the necessity of such changes will be felt.
Note as to the first parable — those which are sown by the wayside — the Word is not understood — the seed is snatched away by the wicked one — no effect is produced. He which is sown upon rocky places "immediately" with joy receives the word; but this is a bad sign for it is not a joyful discovery to find oneself out as a lost sinner before God upon the brink of hell: it leads to joy, but the first effect where real would be repentance, the solemn judgment of ways and self; where instead of this, it was joy, it was the proof that there was no root, and when the normal opposition in such a world is faced because of the Word "immediately" the profession is given up, he is proskairos "only for a time." We must not be disappointed in meeting with such cases; only that the teaching would lead us to seek that the conscience might be reached by the word, for there may be attraction without this. He that is sown among thorns seems even a more solemn case — the care of this age and the deceit (apate, deceitfulness here, 2 Thess. 2, "deceivableness") of riches choke the word and it becomes unfruitful. In none of these cases is it understood — there is no intelligent entrance into what it reveals of God or of self. In the last case only, where the seed fell on good ground, there was the intelligent reception of it and fruit in different measures the result. How it came about that there was good ground is not within the object of the parable to unfold. There must have been a work of God in the soul to produce it, but the teaching does not go into this. The mysteries of the Kingdom of Heaven (ver. 11) are the new form the kingdom takes on the rejection of the King, and the seat of authority being established in heaven — promulgated by the Word upon earth, instead of being established in power that puts down all opposition according to prophecy. To the disciples it was given to know these mysteries, on the principle that "Whosoever hath to him shall be given." Many prophets and righteous men would have desired the privileged position this puts them into.
From verse 24 we come to these mysteries; the first three parables of the kingdom being spoken in the presence of the multitudes we know from verse 36. But the interpretation of the first and the last three are reserved for the disciples. Observe, the interpretation introduces new features having mainly to do with the end of the age: the parable itself is as to what the kingdom became likened to. The Son of Man had sowed good seed, i.e. the children of the kingdom, in the field of the world, but through the unfaithfulness of men the devil had found opportunity to sow among them children of his own. The kingdom then assumes this mixed form in the world — not purely the effect of the Son of Man's work but of the devil's too, though the result did not at once manifest itself: when it does the servants want to know if they are to gather up the tares. But this was not the will of the Lord — not part of their work. Both were to grow together to the harvest, and in the time characterized by that event, reapers (angels) would be sent to have to do with the tares, gathering them together in bundles to burn, while the wheat would be gathered away from the field into the barn — it does not say by whom. In the interpretation, after the definition of the terms employed in the parable, we are carried on from the point reached there, i.e. the gathered tares, to the disposal of them. Nothing is said of the removal of the wheat, it is not part of what the Son of Man sends forth His angels for. The kingdom runs on, and the angels are employed in gathering out of it all that offends and is contrary to its true character, casting them into a furnace of fire: and then the righteous previously removed out of the field to the heavenly barn shine forth in the Kingdom of their Father. The kingdom then passes into a new phase of it answering as to the earthly part of it to the testimony of the prophets — the kingdom of the Son of Man, — with a heavenly part, the kingdom of their Father in which the righteous shine forth in manifested glory. The interpretation thus goes much beyond the scope of the parable as we might expect; for the parable has to do with present facts as taking place in the scene of this world; the interpretation, (where there is one,) to what is revealed to faith connected with them but going beyond them — letting the opened ear (ver. 43) into the thoughts and plans of God about them.
But before opening up the tares thus to the disciples, two more parables have to do with the public phases the Kingdom of Heaven enters into. The mustard-seed is noted as the least of seeds, so that it was thoroughly abnormal that it should grow up the greatest among herbs and become a tree in which birds should make their nests. The tree is the constant symbol of the great ones and powers of the world, as for instance, Ezekiel 31 — the Assyrian — and Nebuchadnezzar in Daniel 4. (Note, ver. 4 as to the peteina birds, and ver. 19 for what they have been already employed in this instruction.) As to the leaven it would seem to be its property of permeating the meal into which it is put, that is the special point here — a given mass (three measures), and the whole leavened — a system of doctrine spreading, and taken up as such by a mass of persons who are not reached by it in heart or conscience. Nor can it be without solemn significance that leaven is always used for evil elsewhere. The truth itself becomes corrupted in this process of being taken up as a professed system of doctrine without reality. Again verses 34, 35, the parabolic form of instruction is emphasized, only now quoting Psalm 78 (of Asaph — thus known to have been a "prophet"), not for the blinding of the mass who rejected plain testimony when it was rendered to them, but as containing things "kept secret" — hidden from the world's foundation — for so indeed it was as to a kingdom thus to be established.
But when the external result in the world was so mixed in character it might have been thought that there would be little for the heart of God or of Christ in it. Hence the grace of what follows when the multitudes had been dismissed, and the Lord is alone in the house with the disciples. In the first of the last three the Kingdom of Heaven is like unto a treasure hid in a field, etc.: it, with the others following, give us the reality known to God in it. Here the treasure-trove is a source of joy to the finder in selling all that he hath that he may possess himself of it. The heart of God is on the redeemed, and the Lord Jesus renounces all that is His as man to possess Himself of the world for their sake. There is a difference not always discerned in the second parable; for here, with knowledge of what is of value — a merchant-man, and seeking goodly pearls — he found one pearl of great price; there it is the Church as such — not merely redeemed ones which may include all who have part in the first resurrection, e.g. the 144,000 of Revelation 14 who don't die at all — but one precious object of singular beauty in His estimate who can best judge of this; and He sold all that He had and bought it — that one thing. (Eph. 5) He loved the Church and gave Himself for it. And in the manifested glory of the kingdom it comes out displaying at every place of approach, every several gate of a pearl, what drew out the heart of Christ to it: yet no beauty of its own, but all what in the thought of His love He had conferred on it.
One more parable brings us definitely to the end of the state of things characterized as the Kingdom of the Heavens; I say this because it occupies us not with the casting of the net and gathering (sunagagouse) of every kind, but with the action of the fishermen "when it was full," the haul, and then their gathering up the good into vessels, having nothing to do with the bad — just simply thrown away there where they were on the shore. But the Lord adds an interpretation which, as before, brings in fresh elements of instruction; for, taking us to the end of the age we find nothing of the fishermen and their work with the good, but angels who have to do exclusively with the wicked, severing the wicked from the just and casting them into the furnace of fire. Just as with the tares then, in providential dealings of God, judgment will be executed at the end of the age upon the evil found in association with the good under the profession of subjection to Christ in His rejection. Here, when the net is full, the fishermen who were employed in letting down the net (as angels never were), in the mind of God as to the object of the fishing, have to do only with what is of value and are occupied in gathering them according to God, in vessels. It is a beautiful indication to them of the character of their work at the close of the fishing operations. And carrying us on thus to the close, it suggests a prolonged application of the seven parables just as has been found in the epistles to the seven Churches.
1st. The introductory work of Christ and His servants sowing the Word of the kingdom which produces children of the kingdom though only in the case of the seed falling on ground prepared of God for it.
2nd. The early secret admixture in the sphere of profession of what is of the enemy — children of the wicked are found after a little in the same ground with the children of the kingdom.
3rd. The growth of the profession into a power in the world with worldly influence and the like — as under Constantine.
4th. The spread of the doctrine of Christianity amongst a mass of population unaffected by it in any real way — the doctrine being corrupted in the process.
5th. The discovery of a reality known to Christ — of His own redeemed in the profession in spite of its outward state — Protestantism.
6th. Of the special place of the Church in the heart of Christ.
7th. The work of fishermen at the close gathering up what was real into vessels.
Verse 51. How much they missed in taking the ground of understanding "all these things." True intelligence of them would be marked by not merely entering into the new things of the form the Kingdom was to take in Christ's rejection, but in the correlation of this with the kingdom as announced prophetically. The old was not excluded by the new things. But how new it would be to any Scribe that the kingdom was to embrace the world, and the children of it to derive their relation with it and existence by the Word instead of from Abraham. What follows only works out in detail the breach between Messiah and Israel that has taken place in Matt. 11 and Matt. 12, and the manifestation of it, as also the purposes of God founded on it. In His own country, while affected by His teaching in so far at least as to be astonished at the wisdom and the mighty works, they are offended because of His lowly origin and connections after the flesh — a carpenter's son, his mother, four brothers, and sisters all known among them. Their unbelief hindered further manifestations of divine power in goodness there.
Matthew 14 follows, with Herod's uneasy conscience thinking that the mighty works of Jesus of which he heard were that John, whom he had beheaded, was risen from the dead, bringing out the facts of John's faithfulness and the miserable circumstances for Herod under which he had put him to death. His ministry had closed by his imprisonment before the Lord's opened; but now the forerunner himself was gone. The disciples came and told Jesus. He felt it and departed by ship into a desert place apart. But the crowds following Him on foot, He was not long in retirement; if the leaders of the nation were rejected in their rejection of Him He continued His gracious service among the poor and needy, and on the disciples intervening to suggest that they should be dismissed, as it was a desert place and the time late, their faith was now to be tested. "Give ye them to eat." And this seems to be the character of all that follows from Matt. 11 and Matt. 12. He is no longer presented to the nation, but deeper glories of His Person coming out in their rejection of Him He becomes the touchstone of all that is presented to Him, making more and more manifest the state of the nation and its leaders, and that of all hearts naturally, but even of the faith of true disciples. Here they think not of Him — for a moment, but only of the total inadequacy of their provisions for such a multitude; "Bring them hither to me" ought to have reminded them of Who they had with them. He deigns to use their supply and multiply it, looking up to heaven as only exercising His power in dependence, till there remained twelve baskets-full of the broken pieces (not of crumbs) that were left when all were satisfied — 5000 men besides women and children. And immediately, having compelled the disciples to take ship — the Jewish multitude dismissed — Jesus went up into a mountain to pray alone, while the remnant of His people were left to cross the storm-tossed lake without Him. It is the moral character of the world we have to pass through. But if apart from them, He ever liveth to make intercession for us; and we learn from Mark that He saw them toiling with the contrary elements. In the fourth watch of the night they see Him coming to them, walking on the water. But before He rejoins them, the new path of faith opens out in Peter, who attracted to the blessed Lord desires to come to Him, walking like Him. Had He not presented Himself that He might draw out the desire of one heart at least thus to Him? And now Peter's resources for a path, where no principle of the flesh could sustain him, came out in "If it be Thou, bid me come unto thee on the water." All depended upon the glory of His Person, and then there was the authority of His word "Come." And Peter left the ship, the only known means to man of crossing the water, to go to Jesus. It was a divine path where only divine power could sustain. And for a moment he made proof of that power and walked like Jesus to go to Him. But he soon began to look at the circumstances — the boisterous wind and waves — and began to sink, though Jesus was too near to let him. Still, there was a total difference between walking by faith of the resources which were his in the Person of Christ, to whom storms and waves were nothing, and without which the calmest sea would have been as impossible to Peter as the roughest, in communion with Him and like Him on his way to Him — between such a path and the rebuking of unbelief. What a lesson for us all: "Wherefore didst thou doubt?" Come into the ship, thus rejoining the remnant of His people, the wind ceased and they in the ship own Him as the Son of God (Ps. 2) and the land of Gennesaret that had previously rejected Him recognizes Him — His power going out to heal them. It is a complete panorama from the execution of John the Baptist to Christ rejoining the remnant of His ancient people and being known of the Gentiles.
Matthew 15 goes deeper into the roots of things, and we have what man is and what God is. Man's religion is hypocrisy; resting in outward forms, he allows traditional precepts to set aside the commandment of God, and by the pretence of offering a gift to God, to defraud his parents of their due: in vain they drew near to God with mouth and lip; for their heart was far from Him. So much for man in his religious state or cloak. The multitude are called to hear what man is in his purely natural state — defiled by what comes out of, and not by what enters into, the mouth. The disciples, sensitive for the Pharisees, learn that only plants which "my heavenly Father" plants abide; the rest shall be rooted up. They were but the blind guides of the blind and should fall into the ditch with those led by them. The influence of the whole system of the flesh's religion is seen in the disciples even; for the plain statement of man's case is to them a parable needing interpretation, but his case was that his heart was a defiling spring of everything that was evil, and we have a list of what proceeds characteristically out of it (more fully given in Mark). But now we have the blessed effect produced when by grace one takes the place that this recorded judgment of what man is naturally puts one into. It is seen in a member of the accursed Canaanites (where Pharisaism had no influence, only to blind), an inhabitant, too, of cities that had been used (11) as the personification of hardness of heart; in whose nearest relationships there was a demon - the manifested power of Satan. But grace was needed to bring even her to take her true place. For appeal to the "Son of David," as such, was but pretending to a place that was not hers, and the disciples misinterpreting His seeming indifference and wishing to get rid of her cries, He explains His action: the Son of David was sent but to the lost sheep of Israel. Now she takes the truer, simple ground of need — "Lord, help me," but only to be met by a severer rebuff as it might have seemed to the flesh. "It is not meet to take the children's bread and cast it to curs" (for such is the force of the diminutive employed): yet in result only to bring out exquisitely what grace would and must produce in each of us. Yea, Lord, I am in truth but a cur, but there is such superabundance upon such a Master's table that there are crumbs to fall on the floor for the curs. Was He there to deny it? Nay, He was come to be the full revelation of that overflowing heart of God, that could not be confined within Jewish barriers, when there was no difference, the heart of all men alike, man, man whether Jew or Gentile, and defiled — God must be God in grace to man. So that the moment by grace she takes her true place as such, without reserve or hesitation, she reaches through, by faith, to the heart of God.
Yet He does not leave the poor and needy of Israel, that flocked to Him in their troubles, casting down their sick at His feet — and glorifying the God of Israel when His power was put forth to heal them: and acting now proprio motu, in compassion, He feeds them — the disciples at as great a loss as ever as to how they were to be fed, — only now the number of baskets of the broken pieces left after 4000 men besides women and children had been satisfied indicates the fulness of spiritual blessing, rather than, as before, perfection of administration in man. And the form this takes comes out in chapter 16. Different forms of unbelief show themselves. Pharisees and Sadducees, as before, seeking a sign from heaven, showing total moral incompetency to appreciate the wonderful sign of God manifest in the flesh in their midst; and, note, that this was in presence of the sign that God Himself had vouchsafed to the house of David, when in Ahaz it had refused to ask for one at His command. They could judge of the weather by marks that were not nearly so clear, but could not discern the signs of the times. And briefly mentioning the sign of Jonah as that which could only be added to what they had, He left them and departed. But even the faith of true disciples is proved to be defective. Taking occasion to warn them of the leaven of these sects of the Jews, they interpret it as alluding to their having no bread. There was neither the intelligence nor remembrance of faith. Had they already forgotten the five loaves of the 5000 and how many kophinos* they had taken up of what was left, and the seven loaves of the 4000 with so many spuris† taken up? How is it ye do not yet understand? If faith had treasured up in their hearts what they had seen they would now have entered more into the danger of which the Lord was warning them. The Person of the Lord was the touchstone of everything.
* Small hand-basket.
† Large basket, or hamper.
But now another form of unbelief is brought out by the Lord's question: "Whom do men say that I the Son of Man am?" There was the usual report that goes about everything — report, too, that identified Him with one or other of these messengers of God — prophets — as John or others. A divine mission was not doubted, but had produced no further effect than indolent opinion — you had yours and I have mine — no one cared really to know who He was or what the nature of His mission: and the Lord turns from the heartless unbelief around to the little company of His own. But whom say ye that I am? And this draws out the confession of Peter — "The Christ, the Son of the living God." Jesus at once declares it to be the revelation of the Father, as beyond flesh's competency thus to pierce the veil that hid the deeper glories of His Person. It was entirely by divine revelation the Son could be, and is, so known. For it was not merely the Messiah as presented to Israel now, nor even the Son according to Psalm 2 and the faith of a Nathanael, but "Of the living God" predicated a power of life over, yea out of death; it was Divine life come into the world in the Person of the Son superior to the effects of sin and the power of Satan here — that death could not touch. And the Lord also, exercising authority, confirms in connection with this new revelation the name He had already given — Petros (John 1) — and makes it the occasion of the revelation of His purpose upon this Petra to build His Assembly: i.e. upon the glory of His Person thus revealed to and confessed by faith, which made Peter partake of the nature and be a stone for that building Christ was about to form. And all the power of Satan should not prevail against it. But note, this is said of what Christ builds, not of what man had afterwards responsibility in (1 Cor. 3), where failure has come — wood, hay, and stubble — and that which defiles and will be consumed in judgment. Then, besides this place given to Peter in connection with the Assembly, and which he makes common to all believers in 1 Peter 2 (though not so privileged as he), the Lord added that of special authoritative administration in (or of "the keys of") the Kingdom of Heaven, his acts on earth of binding and loosing would be ratified in heaven, as, for instance, opening it to the Jew in Acts 2 and the Gentile in Acts 10 (including, perhaps, the authority with which he acted in Ananias and Sapphira's case, and his sentence upon Simon Magus). From this point the testimony that He was the Christ was to cease (cf. Luke 9:20-22), and the Lord unfolds to them what was before Him in Jerusalem — rejection and death at the hands of the leaders of the nation; what answered here to the heavenly glory in which He had been revealed to Peter — the Cross. This is what puts His poor servant thoroughly to the test — not the new and exceptional apprehension of the glory of His Person given him, but when he found that this led to the Cross, as to man and this world. And he began to try and hinder the Lord taking the path that was essential to the glory in which He had been revealed to him, and came under the rebuke of the faithful Lord — (as "Satan") — who refuses to be stumbled by the suggestion of the enemy under whose power Peter had fallen, and we learn how, — by minding the things that be of men. — Terrible witness of what man is. But can anything be more solemn than what we find thus brought into connection with the revelation to Peter and his confession founded upon it, and the consequent announcement of the Assembly as Christ builds it. How immediately we find out that what is of man is antagonistic to it, and that only, by accepting death to all that is of man, we can take the path of it. Also how the most precious truth communicated to the soul may, and will, lose its power unless it is applied to judge what is of man and self. It is to be deeply taken to heart that while we cannot doubt that Peter was recovered from the snare into which he here fell, and enjoyed the truth communicated in communion with the Lord, he did not become the vessel of testimony of it — he lost the power of it for this; and Paul is taken up to bring out all that was involved in the revelation, preaching at once on his conversion that Jesus was the Son of God, while Peter did not go further than that He was the pais, or servant, nor ever mentions Him as the Son in his epistles. Another thing is that, if I do not accept the Cross practically, I become a stumbling-block in the way of everyone seeking to follow the Lord fully. To the disciples the Lord now develops this as the character of the new path to be theirs on His rejection — self, the spring of the alienation of man from God must be denied, and his cross taken up in desiring to follow the Lord. To cling to what goes to make up life in this world would be to lose it: to lose it for His sake would be to find it. (Man, his life here and its sphere the world, must be abandoned — as in direct contrariety to the heavenly glory of Christ.) For the Son of Man was about to come in the full glory of His Person, that of the Father, with His angels, to reward everyone according to his works; and the power and coming of the Lord in the Kingdom is manifested in the transfiguration before the chosen witnesses of His majesty. For it was not only the scene of the rewards, but would be an encouragement to those He was leading in a path so new to them, to be given a little foretaste, as it were, of where it was leading. Only it is to be observed that the loss, or forfeiture, of the soul goes further than a mere question of reward, or none, in the kingdom.
Matthew 17. It is more the personal place of the Lord in Matthew — the Kingdom of God in power in Mark and Luke. Here they were eye-witnesses of His majesty: they "see the Son of Man coming in His Kingdom." But thus the Lord carries them on to the last of the great dispensational effects of His rejection as presented to Israel. We have had the mysteries of the Kingdom of Heaven; the Church; and now the Kingdom in glory (only observe that the Church, being founded on a power of life in the Son of God manifested in resurrection superior to all the power of the enemy, is beyond and outside what is dispensational). In Luke the fashion of His countenance is altered, but Matthew alone notices that it shone as the sun. Mark emphasizes the exceeding whiteness of the raiment. The face as the sun would be suited to His place of supremacy, not as Messiah merely, but as Son of Man and Son of God. (Cf. Matt. 11:27 and Matt. 28:18.) The divine glory is present in the "bright cloud" — "the excellent glory" (2 Peter 1), it is this that overshadows the disciples, at Peter's suggestion to retain the association of the Lord with Moses and Elijah, and that they enter into in Luke (if we omit ekeinoi with the editors) — leading as Luke does into the Father's house: here the bright gleam of the glory of the Kingdom passing away till the time for its establishment in power comes, the lesson for the disciples is that Jesus remains — Jesus only — but revealed as Son of the Father, the object of His delight, our inestimable privilege to have Him thus in a glory beyond all that in which He will be revealed in the Kingdom, at least, in the intimacy of communion with the thoughts and delight of the Father as to Him into which it brings us. But Elijah and all that he prepares the way for, according to Malachi 4, was not lost to them, if far better things are to be their present portion. He truly shall first come, before the coming of the great and terrible day of the Lord. Only He had come in spirit and power in John the Baptist which left Jews without excuse, and they had done to him as they would do to the Son of Man. Meanwhile the disciples, other than the chosen witnesses of the transfiguration, had been tested by the man with a lunatic son, and in the Lord's rebuke the solemn principle is expressed that by our failure to count on the resources of His power present in grace, according to the character of the intervention of His grace, we may be hurrying the time of it to a close — "O faithless and perverse generation, how long shall I be with you"? — and that when it is a question of the direct manifested power of the enemy, only by dependence and the withdrawal of the heart from what is natural — the abstinence of the flesh — can we have power over him. Yet faith, as a grain of mustard-seed — that which is smallest — could remove "this mountain" (polity of Israel) and nothing should be impossible to it. How humbling to know so little of faith's power then.
One more occasion of testing as to the apprehension of the glory of the Lord even by a true disciple occurs at Capernaum when they that received the didrachma (cf. Neh. 10:32) for the service of the House of God asked Peter if his teacher paid it, Peter answers for Him, as a good Jew, Yes. But the Lord puts it to him, if the kings of the earth were accustomed to take custom or tribute from their own sons, or not rather from strangers. Was He not then, as Son of the great King, free? Yet in lowly grace taking the stranger's place that His own disciple gave Him, He exercises the power of the Divine Creator of the universe and orders that the first fish Peter catches should furnish him with a stater, the amount for two persons, "That take and give unto them for me and for thee" — thus associating Peter with Him not only as Son of the King, but as Lord of all.
Matthew 18 furnishes us with the characteristic spirit of lowliness and grace that suits the Kingdom of Heaven and goes on to that which befits the Church, too, now that it has been revealed. The thought of the disciples is who should be greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven. But the Lord sets a little child in their midst as the expression of that lowliness, confidence, and absence of self that must be produced by grace, in conversion, to have any place in it. True greatness would prove itself in being little in one's own eyes and able to humble oneself. To receive one such little child — one morally such as believing in Christ, verse 6, in the name of Christ, would be to receive Him. To cause or be a stumbling-block to such, it would be better to be drowned in the depth of the sea. It is a world of such — woe to it! and to him individually by whom the stumbling-block comes. To avoid this, needs uncompromising severity as to self in what has proved a hindrance to the soul's progress — it were better to part with hand, foot, or eye if an occasion of stumbling to oneself, than to let oneself be led by them to hell. So much as to the qualities grace would produce in lowliness and energy of decision against self. But the Lord has not lost sight of the actual child in the midst (ver. 2) — little accounted of in this world they were represented before His Father's face where they had their place, but on the ground that the Son of Man was come to save the lost, with the joy, too, to Himself of one that had lost a sheep gone astray upon the mountains and who sought and found it. Thus it was not the Father's will that one of them should perish.
This leads on to ways of grace suited to the Assembly in the case of personal trespass. To gain my brother should be the first thought, hence the importance of a private interview first to "convict" him. If he will not hear then I am to take with me other witnesses, and in the last resort to tell it to the Assembly, and he becomes to me as a heathen and a publican. This leads to the bestowal of authority on the Assembly to act on earth with heaven's sanction in binding and loosing — that same character of authority that had in chapter 16 been conferred on Peter for the Kingdom of Heaven. And it is at this point, just where the need would be felt in exercising the authority, of the Lord's guidance, that the promise is to two agreed as to anything they shall ask, that it should be done for them of "My Father who is in heaven." Both the conferred authority and enjoined and encouraged dependence, and that not only individual, resting upon the immense principle of the next verse — the presence of the Lord in the midst secured to the faith of the two or three counting upon it and gathered to His Name — i.e. according to the full revelation of His glory as made to Peter in Matthew 16. For it surely does not go back of this, and leaves open any further opening out to us in the mystery of that Name. Thus we learn where the Assembly is to be found for any practical purpose: it may be at the lowest point as to numbers, but He is there. So that it is not only a provision for a day of ruin, but we see that the Assembly had nothing richer when in full normal order; and no ruin touches this deepest principle of its blessedness. The Lord then returns to the spirit suited to the Kingdom, on Peter's question as to the repeated forgiveness of one that sinned against me. (Cp. Luke 17:3, 4, and 1, 2, where somewhat in the same connection of thought omitting what applies to the Assembly, the Lord had indicated that if a brother sinned seven times in a day against me I was to forgive him seven times: it may have been Peter's question that led to the moral exhortation in Luke and his desire to make what was general in it the limit of the forgiveness, that leads the Lord here to make it practically illimitable — without limit — and to append the dispensational parable which has only its place here.) When in the Kingdom of Heaven that grace had been in exercise as to the Jew and he in spite of it would exact all, — of one that owed but 100 pence as compared with the 10,000 talents he had been forgiven, — and have no patience, his lord was wroth and gave him over to the tormentors till he should pay all that was due. And so 1 Thessalonians 2:14-16 shows wrath come upon the Jew to the uttermost, though grace was first proffered to that nation, and Isaiah 40:2 shows it will not come out thence till it has received of the Lord's hand double for all her sins. How different it might have been with them in their responsibility we know from Acts 3:19, etc.
Matthew 19. The Lord continues to teach what is suited to the Kingdom of Heaven. Where it is a question of marriage, it is remarkable how the Lord goes back from the law, treated as provisional, to what God established at the beginning. It was God's institution that when a man left father and mother and took a wife they were no more two persons but one flesh, and the bond was indissoluble. In the case of sin against the relationship it was not really an exception, for then the one man and one woman had ceased to be one flesh by man's will coming in: the bond was broken by sin. But while recognizing thus God's original order in creation as to marriage, there was a path outside it by the power of the new things the Lord was introducing, not for all, but according to gift: one who was able to receive it might keep himself outside the relationship for the Kingdom of Heaven's sake — to serve the Lord with less distraction; but this was exceptional and a question of power of the Spirit given for it. It is evidently in the same connection of thought that the Lord receives the little children as representing the spirit suited to the Kingdom of Heaven, in their simplicity, lowliness, absence of self-consciousness, and self-seeking — the opposite of what obtains in the world — though grace alone could form this in any of us; and all that is fairest in nature is found to fail under the test of the Cross.
The next scene illustrates this — one in whom, as Mark tells us, the Lord discerned so many traces of God's original work in creation amid the wreck of sin, that He loved him. But there was in him no knowledge of what a ruin he was by sin. Perfectly satisfied as to his position under the law with no conscience of sin, deceived by the letter of it, he only desires to know by what additional good-doing he may have eternal life — confounding in his questions the goodness of God, with supposed goodness in man as the ground of obtaining eternal life. He had yet to learn that there was none good but God — nor was there any use in attempting to bring out this until the thought of man's goodness was disposed of. [Observe change of reading in question, omitting "good," and answering "What askest thou me concerning goodness? one is good" (or "the Good").] Hence the Lord takes him up on the ground of the law that was the revealed measure of what God required if man would stand before Him on the ground of good in man. But in generally quoting what was required of him in relation to his fellow-man, the Lord leaves out the last commandment, the only one that touched what man is, to apply the principle of it, when He bids him if he would be perfect, dispose of his possessions to the poor, in view of treasure in the heavens, and the path of a rejected Christ on earth. But his possessions linked him with the earth and he turned away sorrowfully from heaven, and the cross that answers to a portion there, as to this world. Nature at its best breaks down before such a test. Yet possessions here had been a mark of God's favour, but that was before Christ was presented to the world, to be rejected by it. And the disciples, amazed, have to learn that only by God's power as well as goodness can any be saved, "With men this is impossible."
But the Lord has not yet touched the question of eternal life. That great blessing was not to be found under the law, but only in the path of the surrender of everything here by the faith that attached the heart to Christ. Upon that Peter takes the place sincerely of the disciples having forsaken all to follow Christ, but with his eye upon the reward — "What shall we have therefore?" (which leads to the parable of Matt. 20). But the Lord owns in them what His grace had wrought, and "in the paliggenesia when the Son of Man shall sit in the throne of his glory "they should sit upon twelve thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel — this would be assigned them in the kingdom. And then, enlarging the application of the principle, everyone who had surrendered earth's advantages and relationships for Christ's name should receive an hundred-fold and "inherit everlasting life." But a word of warning was needed in Peter's forwardness: many that were first in nature's energy would find it slacken and fail before testing and be last in the end, while those who were slower at first in distrust of self, would by weakness and dependence that made room for resources outside themselves, come in first. While the mercenary spirit of so much recompense for so much surrender implied in Peter's question is met by the parable of the householder (Matt. 20) — a parable of the Kingdom of Heaven. There were those whom the householder had called early to the work agreeing with them for so much, and if he pleased to give the same to those brought in later, was it not of his own goodness — what had the early ones to complain of? they had received what they had agreed upon. The Lord would do what He willed with His own, and would give to the latest called as to the first in His sovereignty: thus the last would be first in grace and the first last — many called but few chosen — a principle that would admit of the Gentiles though called so late, not even into equal privileges with the Jew called first, but make of them those that should be first. And the parable has its place only in this Gospel of dispensations.
Once more the Lord now tells His disciples plainly what is before Him in Jerusalem. But the Cross was not what was in their thoughts, and Zebedee's wife asks for her sons the place at His right hand and left hand in His kingdom. That is what these hearts would appreciate who sincerely loved Him and desired to be near Him in the Kingdom. And such places would be assigned by the Lord, but only according to the Father's counsels; but the present question (and test for us all) was, could they drink of His cup — be associated with Him in His portion of rejection and death? When the ten heard it they were indignant at having been anticipated in asking for what was so desirable. What hearts we have! The princes of the Gentiles might seek positions of pre-eminence and authority. But true greatness among the followers of Him who came not to be ministered to, but to minister and give His life in it, a ransom for many, would be shown in ability to be little and serve. What a contrast to our self-seeking: and how this last can mingle with even true attachment to the Lord.
From verse 29 begins the last section of the gospel common to the Synoptics. The Lord, appealed to as Son of David, opens the eyes of two blind men at Jericho, who follow Him, and He presents Himself to Jerusalem (the first recorded visit in this gospel) as her King according to the prophet, escorted by crowds who greet Him in the words of Psalm 118. He purges the temple of God (N.B. "My house" — it was Jehovah who was acting; cf. Matt. 23:37-9) which had become a den of thieves, the blind and lame, the hated of David's soul, being received in grace. On the remonstrance of the chief priests and scribes at the children crying Hosanna to the Son of David in the temple, the Lord treats it but as the fulfilment of Psalm 8:2 and retired from the city to spend the night in Bethany.
The incident of the fig tree, in the morning when He was hungry and sought fruit but found only leaves, and condemned it to bear no fruit for ever, serves solemnly to set forth in figure the position of Israel — pretentious but unfruitful. If it is to blossom and bud and fill the whole world with fruit (Isa. 27:5) it will not be according to the flesh — Israel's (and man) in responsibility — which is condemned, but on wholly new ground as the true seed of Abraham in grace, in Christ. Withering away under His sentence the disciples wonder, but are taught that with faith it should be possible to them to remove "this mountain" into the sea at their word; even as by their testimony (and faith in bearing it) and the nation's rejection of it, its settled polity as a nation was dissolved and the people scattered among the Gentiles. But how absolute the promise — "all things whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive." In the Temple the priests and elders raise the question, so natural to those assuming official religious place, as to the authority by which the Lord was teaching and acting. The Lord tests their moral competency of judging by putting it to them whether the baptism of John was out of heaven (ek as its source) or of men; when it was found that it was no question with them of the truth in itself or of conscience, but of how the recognition of it would affect their position. If they admitted it was from heaven why, then, had they not believed him? if they ventured to say it was of man, they had the people to answer to. They prefer to take the ground of ignorance however little true it was; and the Lord treats them as such, only in the next parable showing their full responsibility under John's testimony, who had come in the way of righteousness and they believed him not, and that the publicans and harlots, apparently the furthest removed from righteousness, would go into the Kingdom of God before them, for they had bowed to the solemn testimony: yet when furnished with this fresh proof of its character they repented not afterward to believing him. And now in the parable of the Householder the Lord opens out what the history of the nation had been in its responsibility to bring forth fruit, in the leaders that represented it at least, and the point reached in the ways of God with it, as also in the following, with that which was substituted for it in grace — the Kingdom of Heaven. Instead of receiving fruit from the vineyard, the servants sent for it are persecuted and slain, and, last of all, He had sent His Son, saying, They will reverence my Son. But when the husbandmen knew who He was they resolved to kill Him and seize on the inheritance, and "They caught him, and cast him out of the vineyard, and slew him." What was to be done with such husbandmen? They pronounce their own sentence in reply: (cf. Mark 12:9 and Luke 20:16) they would be destroyed and the vineyard made over to others (the Gentiles). And the Stone rejected by the builders, according to Psalm 118, should become the head of the corner — the Lord but carrying out His own purposes in it. A despised and rejected Christ would become a stumbling-block to the proud unbelief of Israel, upon which they would fall and be broken; but the day was coming when, as a Stone cut out without hands, He would fall upon all that had set Him aside and grind it to powder, as in Daniel 2 (though there it is the Gentile power that is in question).
Meanwhile others would be in the responsible place of fruit-bearing. The parable of the marriage of the King's son — a parable of the Kingdom of Heaven — is the testimony of grace, presented first to the nation, and opens out the result. A king makes a marriage for his son; thus it is all of the king's providing according to his delight in, and for the glory of, his son. But when the bidden ones were called to the marriage-feast they would not come — which answered to the testimony when the Lord was on earth. The second message, still to the bidden ones, is later — I have prepared, to ariston, all things are ready, etc., and would answer to the testimony to Israel after the Cross; but making light of it they "went their ways" (apelthon) to the farm and merchandise, while the rest seizing the servants insulted and slew them. And thus the king's judgments, "his armies," fall on the murderers and their city; while the invitation goes out to the cross roads and embraces all — "As many as ye shall find bid to the marriage." Thus we are brought on to the full admission of the Gentiles with whom it was no question of character, or worthiness ("both bad and good, and the wedding was furnished with guests") — all was provided for them. But now came the test: had the guests due regard to him who had provided the wedding-feast? Did they think they could have their place in the presence of the king without the suited array as He had provided it? For such there was nothing but judgment, and the solemn principle is illustrated again that if many are called few are chosen. Thus in the two parables we have the whole scope of God's ways, from the planting of the vineyard — the separation of Israel — to the judgment of professing Christianity. N.B. — That it is not the failure in responsible fruit-bearing that brings about the judgment of Jerusalem; there (Matt. 21:41) it is the husbandmen — the leaders — that are judged. But it is the definitive rejection of grace. (Matt. 22:7.)
But now the different representatives of the state of Israel come before Him to receive their judgment morally. The chief priests and Pharisees had perceived the bearing of His parables upon them and would have seized Him but for the crowds whom they feared. But now they come with the Herodians to seek to entangle Him in His word, and we have the result of such an association in their question about the tribute. It was wickedness and hypocrisy: for by it they sought to put Jesus in the position of rejecting the authority of Caesar, or else neutralizing His own claims to be Messiah. (See Luke 23:2 where they charge Him falsely with the first.) But if they transacted business with Caesar's coin let them take to heart how it came to be circulating in Immanuel's land — their subjection to the Gentile domination because of their sins — and that would put them in their true place before God of self-judgment. The Sadducees come up next with a question arising from marriage arrangements under the law, which they suppose demonstrates the absurdity of resurrection, being materialists of a low type. But they erred through not knowing the Scriptures and the power of God. They trusted their own minds instead of God's revelation of His, and left out of account His power for anything beyond the range of their senses. In the resurrection, the difficulty they put would not arise — no natural relationships there — it is a spiritual state as that of angels, fruit of divine power. And as to the Scriptures had those whose names God deigned to call Himself by in grace — not ashamed to be called their God long after they had passed out of a world of sense — ceased to exist? No: the promises of God were secured, by a God of life and resurrection. It was unanswerable — God is not God of things that have no existence, but of living. The multitude at any rate feel the force of His teaching. But if the Sadducees are silenced, the Pharisees are not; — one of them, a lawyer, having still a question as to "the great commandment of the law" — which gives the Lord the opportunity of declaring the great principles of the law. But now it was time that they should answer the Lord's question, which brings out by Psalm 110 not only the whole truth of His Person, but of the position He was about to take, until His enemies made His footstool, He should establish His kingdom in Zion. Thus all classes of the leaders of the people have come before Him only to expose their state and receive their judgment in God's thoughts about them. And the condition of the nation comes out from every point of view of their relations with God; viz. their responsible national position according to conscience, and their privileges; then, as regards the kingdom grace would introduce; both these resulting in judgment, though that of the latter going far beyond the former; thus their true position with regard to the Gentile domination and to God who placed them under it; then the guarantee of the fulfilment of promises in a God of resurrection: closing with putting the real scope of the law before the scribes, and bringing out His own position, connected as it is with His rejection by the representatives of the people who had surrounded Him.
In terrible denunciation of the scribes and Pharisees, then, He warns the disciples against their works, while they were still (for this was suited to their then position — that of Christ Himself in connection with Judaism and the law) to own their teaching as representative of Moses, morally judging their whole conduct which was hypocrisy, satisfied with an appearance of piety before men with no inward reality. (Ver. 14 — given in Mark and Luke must be omitted here.) But it was not merely this; they belonged to a generation of opposers to the testimony of God; building sepulchres and garnishing tombs of those whom their fathers had slain, — in self-exaltation, — identified them morally with the murderers whose sons they were: it would not have been the course of these who were humbled before God at the course of their fathers in slaying the prophets and righteous men who had stood for God. But the Lord would bring this fully to the test — by sending them prophets, wise men, and scribes, and they would treat these messengers of the Lord as their fathers had; that thus upon them might come all the righteous blood shed upon earth from Abel down — a solemn principle in God's ways of accumulated guilt in the rejection of testimony, even as the conscience becomes more hardened by each successive act of so doing. And at last the heart of the blessed Lord — Jehovah of Israel as He has manifested Himself to be ever since the curing of the blind men near Jericho (Matt. 20:29) — expresses itself over Jerusalem, notorious for the rejection of God's testimony. How often in the tenderness of divine love would He have gathered her children together as a hen her chickens, but ye would not. Behold your house — not Jehovah's any longer — is left unto you desolate, till by grace His people, willing in the day of His power, should truly greet Him according to Psalm 118: Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord."
Matthew 24. This gives rise to the prophecy of 24 and 25. For, on the Lord announcing to the disciples the total destruction of the Temple, they connect it with His coming and the end of the age, and ask when and what will be the sign of it. In His answer He tells them nothing more as to the destruction of the Temple, but takes up immediately the position, in relation to Israel and the nations, of the true remnant of His people, and His testimony connected with them, in view of the events that were coming; passing on rapidly to the end of the age because the judgment upon the Temple and city would for the time being break up that relation; and furnishing principles for their instruction both up to the time of the suspension of such relation, and when it should be renewed at the end. This will be to verse 28, only that at verse 15 there is a definite point of time marked, according to Daniel, by the setting up of the abomination of desolation in (the) holy place. Up to this the instruction is general, suited to the then position of the testimony (broken up by the destruction of Jerusalem — which thus, though not alluded to, has an important bearing upon the instruction) or whenever at the time of the end the disciples will find themselves in similar circumstances. Men coming falsely in the name of Christ; false Christs and prophets would be one of their dangers; wars, famines, and earthquakes would be but the beginning of sorrows; they would be delivered up to and hated and killed of the nations — and this by one another — and under the testing and by reason of prevailing lawlessness the love of "the many" would wane, making the path of faith more trying: but he that has endured to the end should be saved. (Cp. the issue for the innumerable multitude who come out of the great tribulation in Rev. 7:9 et seq.) Still the testimony would go forth — "this gospel of the kingdom" — "for a testimony to all the nations "in the whole oikoumene, before the end shall come. From verse 15, as a fixed date is given, 1290 days before all is finished according to the prophecy referred to, and that connected with a "holy place" (anarthrous I suppose because of verse 2 announcing the destruction of what was then there as an object that could be particularized) the focus of trouble is Judea: their flight was to be instantaneous — no clinging to the defiled place nor turning back to it for even clothes. And the Lord in His grace thinks of the weak, and exhorts to prayer that their flight may not have to take place in the cold of winter or be limited by the Sabbath; for the tribulation should be such as had never been or ever would be, but shortened for the elect's sake. As in the beginning of sorrows so at the end, false Christs would be a snare; but the coming of the Son of Man would be in no sense such as they affected, but as lightning flash upon the object of judgment — succeeding immediately upon the tribulation and the convulsion of the hierarchical powers — the sign of the Son of Man, — and it would be Himself — shall appear in heaven, and all the tribes of the earth shall mourn at His advent upon the clouds with power and great glory. Then, by the ministers of His providence and with trumpet sound, His elect of Israel would be gathered from the utmost parts into the land.
From verses 32-44 general instructions follow suited to those who are found in the circumstances preceding the end. This generation — the moral one of Israel in its pride and unbelief — should not pass till all these things were fulfilled; for though the created heaven and earth might pass away, His words should not. The day and hour of their accomplishment was not a matter of revelation; — known to the Father only. The state of things upon earth would be as in the world before the flood. But the judgment would be discriminative; out of two men in the field or women at the mill, one taken in it and the other left. Watching for the Lord was the attitude for all, and preparedness.
From verse 45 in three parables we have this principle applied to that which takes the place of the remnant in connection with Israel after the destruction of Jerusalem, and until the renewal of testimony in the midst of the nation in the last days: i.e. the Lord's household or the Christian profession. And first, the responsibility of the servant in the household — set over it to give them meat in due season — blessed he who was found so doing when the Lord comes, — to be made ruler over all His substance as his reward. But now we find what opened the door to all the departure in Christianity: the responsible servant puts off in his heart the return of the Lord, he does not want to see Him and begins to exercise undue authority over his fellow-servants and to have full fellowship with the world in its joys. He shall be cut asunder and appointed his portion with the hypocrites — judged not simply as an unbeliever, but because, having assumed the place of a servant, he had been unfaithful in it.
In Matthew 25 a parable of the kingdom gives us the responsibility of all to watch; (homoiothesetai it is "shall be made like" here only — what it becomes like). The whole profession of His name is represented by ten virgins with their torches of outward profession, and who ostensibly turn their backs on the world and go out to meet the coming Bridegroom. The difference between them consisted in the absence with the five foolish of oil — the Spirit as the power of life in Christ, which alone gives permanence to the light; but this does not come out at first. The delay of the coming of the Bridegroom puts all to the test, and they nod to sleep and then fall fast asleep — wise as well as foolish; and from the midnight cry it comes out that they had fallen back into the world out of which they had originally gone forth, to sleep there all the more comfortably. But this was not to be the state of things up to the end. At midnight there is a cry, "Behold the bridegroom." ("Cometh" must be omitted — it is more the presentation of the Lord Himself personally.) One solitary note of warning sounds through the sleeping profession. The cry presents the Lord Himself once more to the profession of His name, that where there is any heart for Him it may come out, and it calls them out to their original position, "Go ye out to meet him." The result is general activity in contrast with the sleep in which all had been sunk; all arose and trimmed their lamps, and the discovery bursts upon the foolish that not having oil their lamps or torches were going out. For the Spirit of God leaves no room for any necessary lapse of time between the then expectants and the coming of the Lord: the virgins that fell asleep at the first are the same that awake at the midnight cry, and torches lit without oil before they went asleep are only just going (not "gone") out when they awake. While they went to procure it from those who pretended to supply it, the Bridegroom came — those that were ready, and the five wise were ready, went in with Him, and the door was shut by the time the foolish came, and there was no answer to their demand for admission, but "Verily I say unto you, I know you not" — the moral being enforced that we should be always watching, not knowing the day nor the hour; verse 13, being left thus without the addition of words, as in the ordinary text, which would have tied down the application to the coming of the Son of Man to set up the kingdom.
It is thus seen that while the warning is most solemn to mere professors who rest in what is external and their association with true believers in outward privilege, the parable is meant to apply mainly to these last. The midnight cry sealed the doom of the mere professor as far as the parable goes; its scope does not take in any work done in their hearts or consciences; they are deceived up to the very door of heaven, so to speak. The cry, while it awoke all, was meant then to act upon those really the Lord's — with life, and the Spirit to be the power of it — but who had slept like the rest in the tarrying of the Bridegroom, that they might be ready to go in with Him. With life and the Spirit it might be thought what more could they want; but they slept, and the Lord wanted His own to be awake in the affections of their hearts instead of this. And so there was just time enough between the cry that woke them and the coming to put themselves in the attitude in which they would like the Lord to find them at His coming. Their preparedness was not their title to go in — this was what the gospel had brought them; but it was the state suited to Christ of those who had their title. And in grace the five wise were ready. (Cf. Heb. 9:28.)
I note here several points that show how it is not a parable for the remnant on Jewish ground waiting for the Messiah. First, that it is a state of things that the Kingdom of Heaven becomes likened to; i.e. the Christian profession in contrast to a replacing what was Jewish. Second, the remnant does not go out to meet the Messiah: He comes to them suddenly where they are. Third, they have not what answers to the oil, i.e. the Spirit before He comes: the millennial giving of the Spirit is after He comes. (Joel 2) Fourth, there is nothing that we know of as to them answering to their going asleep after they had gone out; the time of their manifestation and testimony will be rather one of trial — such as would make this impossible. The parable can then only apply to those of the Christian profession — His household as introduced in Matt. 24:45 — and the application will terminate when the Lord comes and takes all who are His into the heavenly glory; hence the way verse 13 is left vague without the defining words the ordinary text adds.
Nor is the following parable one of the Kingdom of Heaven, seeing it is a question of those to whom gift has been committed and the principle of true service. Read "It is as a man," etc. Observe the distinction between the spiritual gift and the natural capacity of the vessel — the more necessary because we in English have taken the word "talent" from the one and applied it to the other. The gifts differed in measure (cf. 1 Cor. 3:5), and there was a relation between them and the natural capacity, as for instance where the Lord makes a man an Evangelist, he will be able to address an audience and not have to write his sermon. But no cultivation of the natural ability could make it into a gift from Christ. This is of the essence of the teaching; for the bestowal of the gift makes me responsible to Him for the exercise of it without waiting for human authorization or aught else. When the time comes for the Lord to make a reckoning with his servants, we find what the spring and power is for thus exercising it; namely, simple confidence in the Lord who bestowed the gift. He who had received one talent and hid it in the earth did not know his Lord's heart; but in the judgment he is taken on his own ground and convicted of being wicked and slothful: what he had is taken from him and given to him who made most use of what was entrusted to him, and he is cast into the outer darkness. For the possession of gift does not necessarily suppose the divine nature or any real relationship with God. Two things enter into and form the reward of the faithful servant — faithful in few things he is set over many things in the kingdom, but besides that, he enters into "the joy of thy Lord."
The course of events is now prophetically resumed at the point at which it was broken off in Matt. 24:31. Up to that it had been given as especially affecting the Jew. General instructions followed as to those left in the place of waiting for the events fore-announced, which assumed a particular form, i.e. answering to the Christian profession in the three parables. (Matt. 24:45 to Matt. 25:30.) From verse 31 the Gentiles come in view. For when the Son of Man shall come (according to Matt. 24:30, 31) in His glory and all the angels with Him, i.e. back to this world, — it is an earthly scene — He sits upon the throne of His glory, and all the nations are gathered before Him. His coming fighting from heaven according to Revelation 19 is over; it is now a sessional judgment of the living nations outside those disposed of in Revelation 19 and begins by a separation as a shepherd can divide his sheep from the goats. The ground of judgment is then found to be confined to the simple issue of how they received the brethren of the Lord who had been sent to them with the Gospel of the kingdom. (Cf. 24:14.) Note how distinct from every point of view the judgment of the Great White Throne in Revelation 20 is. As to place, — here, when the Son of Man comes and sits upon the throne of earthly glory where nations (not of course of the dead) can be gathered before Him — there heaven and earth have fled away from the face of Him who sits there. Here it is the nations of living men on earth; there it is the dead, whom the sea and death and Hades gave up in resurrection — who are the subjects of judgment. Here the ground of it is the way the Lord has been treated in the persons of His brethren — messengers. There it is the works of those of whom by far the larger part never had any such messengers sent them — never heard of Christ. Here the righteous get their award as well as the cursed. There nothing takes place as to those whose names are written in the book of life: only those whose names are not found therein are judged according to their works written in the books that are opened, and cast without one exception into the lake of fire. Only note that the judgment of the quick as here is as final, being before Christ, as the dead there: the cursed depart into everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels, as the blessed into the kingdom prepared for them from the world's foundation, and into everlasting life. It is to be carefully noted also that there is no room for the cringing submission of any here wrung from them through fear, that Psalm 18:44 speaks of (cf. Deut. 33:29 [=Heb.] Ps. 66:3 [cf. Ps. 81:15]). The connection in which this expression occurs shows it belongs rather to the period of warrior judgment that precedes this sessional one, by which the Lord has disposed of the western powers, and all that shall be associated against Him under Antichrist and the beast's power. The result of this judgment would be, a kingdom composed at first only of the sheep, of those for whom it had been prepared from the earth's foundation. The almost universal revolt of the end when Satan is loosed from the bottomless pit is accounted for by a thousand years of generations from these blessed ones who do not inherit grace or the divine nature any more then than now. But the saints are faithful all through.
Matthew 26 brings us to the closing scenes. The Lord announces to the disciples the day of His crucifixion. The council of the priests, scribes, and elders may settle that it should not be on that day, but in vain: the Passover of so many centuries' observance was to have its fulfilment. But the uproar they feared did not take place: there was no one to make it. From verses 6-16 is introduced parenthetically, as in Mark, giving what led Judas to go to the chief priests — "now when" (tou de Iesou genomenou) not fixing the time; from John we know it was six days before the Passover. The woman's (from John we can say Mary's) appreciation of Him drew out Judas into action. In the house of Simon the leper, Mary found opportunity to express how He filled her heart. With her store of very precious ointment she anoints His head here — as suitable to His presentation in Matthew as Messiah, as His feet, recorded in John; she poured the ointment on both; but the Spirit gives the record in each according to the divine plan that inspired each. The disciples, Judas leading in it as we know from John, were indignant and condemned the expression of her devotedness as waste. They could have appreciated the expenditure if the poor had been the object. But it was not for disciples she was acting, and Jesus, to whom it was done, takes her part — it was a good work though not what is so appraised by even true disciples. The poor were always with them to be cared for, for it is His will they should, though not in Judas' mind for a moment — "But me ye have not always." How blessed for Mary to have been so in God's mind about God's object in the instincts of communion, that she was ready to seize that last opportunity for expressing her love in a way divinely suitable to the Person, the moment, and the whole circumstances. And the Lord gives to her action all the value of His intelligence of what was before Him: "She did it for my burial." And being just the true expression of what He looks for as the fruit of the gospel reaching the soul, He wills and announces that it should be inseparably attached to the proclamation of it throughout the world. The effect on Judas is that he goes to the priests to make a bargain with them for His betrayal. And they "weighed" to him the goodly price Zechariah had announced beforehand (the Spirit using the word of the prophet: they were so anxious to seize the opportunity that they paid the cash down). And from that time Judas sought suitable occasion (eukairian) to carry out the agreement.
The first day of unleavened bread having come, the Lord gives the disciples directions for the Passover, during which Judas is marked out. (Cf. Mark for the details by which they find a suitable house with a large upper room furnished and prepared.) Jesus says, "One of you shall deliver me up." In touching distrust of themselves, confiding absolutely in His Word, each one of them says, "Is it I, Lord," though with real sorrow at the thought of it. It was to be the one whose hand would be with Jesus in the dish — the mark of identification being even more direct as we know from John. "Woe unto that man," etc., has no effect in arresting Judas. Satan had entered into him, we learn in John, with the sop and last of all he actually says, "Is it I, Rabbi" (not "Lord" as the rest), lest I suppose, the attention of the rest should be directed to him by his silence; and having been answered in the affirmative (Matt.) he went immediately out (John 13:30), so that he was not present at the institution of the Supper, here given in its simplest elements — the bread was His body, the cup "My blood of the New Covenant" which is shed for many for the remission of sins, the ground of all the blessing to be brought in by the New Covenant. For the blessings of it are ministered in Christianity before the Covenant is established — the Lord here indicating the first of them, the remission of sins; and this not confined to Israel, but "for many"; though the Lord passes on in thought to the resumption of His relations, in joy too, though in a wholly new way (kainon), with the true remnant of His people in the kingdom of the Father — here then the heavenly side of the kingdom in which the righteous are to shine forth as in Matthew 13. And having sung (humnesantes only occurs intransitively here and Mark in N. Test., and in LXX, Ps. 65:13), they went out into the Mount of Olives, and the testing of the last scenes begins for the disciples. The Lord Jesus calmly warns them of it. They should all be stumbled in Him that night: for Zechariah 13 was to be fulfilled — the Lord was about to come under the effect of God's governmental hand upon Israel and be smitten, — not in atonement to gather together in one the children of God that were scattered, though it was upon the Cross the smiting took place in which atonement was wrought; but here the effect is that the Shepherd being smitten the sheep of the flock are scattered.
The nation was under governmental wrath from God because of their sins; these had reached their culminating point in the rejection of the Messiah and involved for Him that instead of the kingdom, He got the Cross, lifted up of God to be Messiah and thus presented to Israel, He was now to be cast down (Ps. 102) and get nothing (Dan. 9). Thus, — so fully had He identified Himself in grace with the people, — their state involved His smiting. When this took place on the Cross He who had given Himself up to be the victim was made sin, and endured the judgment of God due to it, glorifying Him absolutely as to what sin was and is, thus laying the ground in righteousness for the wrath that was upon Israel being only governmental; to issue in blessing instead of being their destruction, as well as for the accomplishment of the eternal counsels of God. But here it is not the atoning aspect of His death that is before the Lord, but the governmental hand of God upon Israel and upon Israel's Shepherd, under which the sheep of the flock are scattered. And after resurrection He appoints Galilee as the rendezvous of the sheep. Peter is forward to express his true affection for the Lord, but without that knowledge of himself that would produce distrust of self; and he even ventures to take up the warning of the Lord that all would be offended in Him, to except himself — Though all should be, he never would. And when, further, it is made known to him by the Lord that before cock-crowing he would deny Him thrice, he protests that though he must die with Him he would in nowise deny Him: in which all the disciples now join.
Gethsemane was now reached, and, leaving the body of the disciples to pray, He takes the three who had been the witnesses of His glory on the Holy Mount to be with Him; and we are allowed to know that what was before Him was pressing on His spirit. "He began to be sorrowful and sore troubled," and spoke of it to them, asking them to watch with Him. But none of them could enter into the character of that sorrow. He leaves them and presents it before the Father, the only One who could, in the communion in which He ever walked with Him. It would be there, all the immensity of it would be known in the soul; in His very perfection He shrinks from the cup of Divine Judgment due to sin, but gives Himself up in perfect obedience to drink it. The poor disciples who slept in presence of His glory, do so now in presence of His suffering, and He warns them, "Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation," the way to go through it when it comes, in distrust of self and dependence upon God, of which spirit Peter illustrates the opposite. The spirit was willing, as in his case indeed, but the flesh is weak, and he had not learned this. But "That ye may not enter into" seems to go further than a distrust of self that leads me to pray that I may not be exposed to the circumstances that test me. "Lead us not into temptation" would be more simply this. Is it that the spirit of watchfulness and dependence would be itself the preservative, and the circumstances would not become temptation? (Note that the latter clause of verse 41 is before the Spirit was given: now the same allowance can hardly be made for us.) The perfect expression of it all is found in the blessed Lord; absolute dependence in confidence and perfect obedience maintained in communion with His Father when the crucial test had come. "If this cup cannot pass away unless I drink it, thy will be done."
All had been gone through with the Father, and now He gives Himself up in peace to meet what was necessary to the accomplishment of the Divine will. "Rise, let us be going; behold he is at hand that doth betray me." And Judas, with his "Hail, Rabbi," gives the treacherous kiss, the sign as to who they should seize. It was not the time for resistance, as one of them striking with his sword the high-priest's servant. He might have called on His Father for twelve legions of angels; but how then should the Scriptures be fulfilled, as again He takes this ground with the crowds who came out against Him as a robber, with their weapons: all took place that Scripture might be fulfilled. At this point all the disciples forsaking Him fled. And Jesus was led away to Caiaphas where the scribes and elders were assembled: Peter following afar off, even into the palace sits among the officers to see the end. The council of leaders is now occupied with seeking false witness against Jesus. But He is condemned for His own testimony to the truth. Silent until the judicial oath is administered, though He could not deny that He was the Son of God, all was over on that ground; henceforth it was a question of the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven, whom they would see. Upon this they pronounced Him worthy of death, and subject Him to every insult and outrage, while Peter, so near at hand as we know from Luke, that he can catch the Lord's eye, three times over at the taunt of servant-girls and others, and finally with cursing and oaths denies that he ever knew Him. The cock crowing recalls the warning of Jesus, and he went out and wept bitterly. But what a scene it is — all hearts put to the test in presence of that only perfect One going through all to accomplish Scripture and the will of God expressed in it.
Matthew 27 opens with the formal council (see Mark 15:1; Luke 22:66) at which it was resolved to deliver Him to the Gentile power as the Lord had foretold they would (Matt. 20:19), and we find Him before Pontius Pilate. Judas, when he saw that the Lord was allowing things to take their course, for His hour had come, filled with remorse, penetrates in his terrible earnestness even into the naos where none but priests had access, to give up the thirty pieces of silver, declaring that he had betrayed innocent blood. But that was nothing to religious leaders who, having no scruple as to betrayal and suborning false witnesses and murder, can yet carry out their religiousness as to the disposal of the money: not fit for the treasury as the price of blood, it can be used to buy a field to bury strangers in. And they were thus fulfilling prophecy.
Before Pilate Jesus confesses the truth when the question is put to Him, "Art thou the King of the Jews?" but takes no notice of the accusations of the priests and elders. The mockery of judicial forms is not given us further here. Pilate proposing to cut it short by putting it to the populace whether he should release Barabbas or Jesus, according to his custom at the feast, for we are told he know that for envy they had delivered Him: he received a warning, too, from his wife because of a dream. The multitude, led by the priests and elders, demand Barabbas and that Jesus should be crucified, Pilate asking what evil He had done: but they cried out the more, "Let him be crucified," all idea of charges being dropped. In vain Pilate seeks to absolve himself from the guilt of judicial murder by washing his hands before the multitude. The people — "all" — are willing enough to accept the responsibility — pronouncing their own sentence, "His blood be on us and on our children." Then Pilate releases Barabbas and, having scourged Him whom he had just before declared to be just, he delivered Him to be crucified. It was now the brutal soldiery's opportunity, for all hearts must be manifested in His presence; and they used it with a terrible will.
And having crucified Him they parted His garments, actually fulfilling Scripture all unconsciously to themselves in the way they did it. Two robbers are also crucified with Him: the passers-by revile Him with mocking gestures. Even the religious leaders must come along to mock, and little knew the truth of what they say, "He saved others, himself he cannot save." How well they knew the place He took as King of Israel (cf. Mark); and His moral perfection in it had not escaped them, "He trusted in God." Even the robbers found time amid the agonies of their lingering torment to heap reproach upon the crucified One by their side. Note, this does not involve that both did — it would appear not, from Luke — but the scene was thus further characterized. Clearly Scripture would have us to know that a change took place at the sixth hour when there was darkness over all the land to the ninth hour: His cry then indicates what that change was. Up to it He had through the eternal Spirit offered Himself up to be the victim. Then there was the imposition of sins and He who knew no sin made sin, and the consequent hiding of God's face — He was forsaken of God. All that He had up to this suffered from man's hand, (and we know from Psalm 22 how He felt this,) is distanced immeasurably by what He suffered from God's. How fitting that there should be darkness over all the land, or "earth" (as translated in Luke, who notes also that "the sun was darkened"), as He drank that dread cup till He had finished it — infinitely, as He alone could, enduring the judgment of God against sin, He was able to exhaust it. Though it is only where the divine side is brought in, in John, that we learn what the loud voice declared — i.e. His own consciousness of it — "It is finished." Immediately the veil of the temple was rent, in such a way, too, that it could only have been by the hand of God — blessed witness that He could now come out from where He had been hidden under the law, in the full revelation of Himself and introduce us into His presence; for the blow of divine judgment against sin that rent the veil, had removed the sin that would have shut us out; and all that God is had been glorified in doing it. Besides, what was of such deep moral significance, signs of power accompanied His death, as the earthquake and rocks rending, and more wonderful still, graves of the saints were opened, and their bodies came out of them after His resurrection, — for He must be the first that rose from the dead (Acts 26:23) — and appeared to many. Signs they were that carried conviction to the centurion and those who watched, of the glory of His Person as the Son of God. Amongst them were the Galilean women who had attached themselves to Him. Had men made His grave with the wicked? God disconcerted their plans and ordered it should be with the rich, Joseph of Arimathea coming forward to lay Him in his own new tomb; Mary of Magdala and the other Mary noting the spot. Meanwhile if disciples had failed to lay it to heart, the chief priests and Pharisees had not forgotten that "while He was yet alive" He had announced that He would rise after three days, and so they secured a watch from Pilate to make it as sure as man could make it that they would have no more to do with the Son of God — strange precaution to have to take against a "deceiver," or that the disciples' possession of His corpse could have been an "error worse than the first." But thus they were only securing for themselves the irrefragable testimony of His resurrection; another earthquake and an angel from heaven to roll away the stone with a "look" or "appearance" like lightning and raiment white as snow so that for fear the keepers shook and became as dead men; yet they could take large money to declare they had slept (which would have been death to them by law, hence "we will persuade him and free you from care," ver. 14) and that the disciples had stolen Him.
It is clear that verse 1 (of Matt. 28) records a visit of the Marys "as it was the dusk" of the next day after the Sabbath, beginning at 6 p.m. — (Mark mentioned their purchase of spices to embalm Him, "the Sabbath being now past") — they come "to look at the sepulchre." Verse 2 would relate then to what had preceded their visit the first thing in the morning of the first day of the week. When they arrived the stone was rolled away (Mark 16:4) — how, the guard only had been witnesses. But the women, from their visit Saturday night, and now with all changed, the stone rolled away, and the tomb open and an angel to tell them He is risen, have the strongest testimony for the faith of their souls of the resurrection, and were now to announce it to the disciples, the angel already indicating Galilee, the scene of the Lord's chief labours among the despised remnant, as the rendezvous — "There ye shall see Him." As they go, Jesus Himself meets them with the positive direction that they go into Galilee. The facts of the resurrection and what followed are few in Matthew, tending the more to impress that the mind of God in this gospel is to present the renewal on resurrection ground indeed, of Christ's relations with the remnant of His people. There He takes His place as having all power given Him in heaven and earth, and hence all nations were to be the sphere of their testimony to make disciples of them and baptise them to the full name in which God was now revealed.