The Gospels

(Volume 5 of the Numerical Bible: The Fifth Pentateuch of the Bible)

F. W. Grant.

Division 5. (Matt. 20:29 — 23.)

The Governmental Presentation and the End as to Israel.

Clear as it already was that Christ would not be received by His own, there yet had to be His formal presentation to Jerusalem as its King, so that they might openly and manifestly accept or reject Him. Moreover, this could not be too early, before not only His works of power had been done among them, but also He Himself had been fully before their eyes, and His teaching was sufficiently known to those who cared even to listen to it. For these were in fact the credentials of His power, as from God. The people as a whole would have responded to what had been the devil's suggestion, and have welcomed one who had cast himself down unhurt from the pinnacle of the temple before their eyes. But that could have been no settlement of anything in any way acceptable to God. The people who did, in fact, believe when they saw the miracles that He did, He could not trust. God is not Power only, nor Power and Wisdom, but Righteousness and Holiness and Love as well. All was fully now displayed, and they were called to make their momentous decision.

Now therefore He openly accepts the title of the Son of David given Him by the acclamation of the multitudes who accompany Him to the city, and who had perhaps been first wrought upon by the miracle at Jericho, which was expressly an acceptance of that title. The blind men to whom He had given sight were with Him as His witnesses, as once before two blind men (Matt. 9:27) had been; but then forbidden to let any know it. Here all is in public, and they follow Him without prohibition. His claim of the asses afterwards, expressly as fulfilling Zechariah's prophecy, is still more outspoken and the children crying in the temple are commended by Him in the fullest way.

But the acclamations die out in the air of the rebellious city, whose pollution of the temple proclaimed its rottenness at heart; and His judgment of the fig-tree is that of the people themselves, of whom the "fig-tree planted in a vineyard" is elsewhere distinctly used by Him as the figure (Luke 13:6-7). This is the prelude only to that open opposition which follows on the part of all the various sects and classes among them, who set aside their strife with one another to unite in vainly seeking to ensnare Whom they cannot confute. And this ends with the "woe" upon the leaders, and His lament over the city.

Subdivision 1. (Matt. 20:29 — 21:22.)

The King.

The presentation of the King occupies the first subdivision here, which ends with the judgment of the fig-tree. All is quickly over, for the decision of the people has been really made before, and here they but re-affirm it. Babes and sucklings may welcome Him, but the people are far from being of the spirit of such, and therefore far from the Kingdom. The cry "Blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord" will have, as the Lord declares, to be taken up again and in earnest at a future time.

1. The royal proclamation begins at Jericho, the city of the curse; which does not and cannot, however, prevail over the blessing. Jericho, which even in Joshua's day had witnessed the salvation of Rabat, from its own doom, now witnesses the grace of the Son of David. Two blind men, sitting by the wayside, cry out to Him as this, only to find the rebuke of the multitude, as by and by a remnant of Israel will awake up to their darkness and their need of Him, only to meet the opposition of a growingly apostate mass. But they cry the more, until He who can never turn away from the voice of need answers and heals them. The light dawns upon those sightless eyes, and the Person of their Saviour becomes revealed to them; then they follow Him.

The two men in this case, where in the other synoptics is but one, are, as we have seen; characteristic of Matthew, as the two blind men before (Matt. 9) and the two demoniacs (Matt. 8), in both which cases Mark and Luke speak but of one. There is surely, therefore, design in this difference, which in Matthew, no doubt, speaks of witness-bearing to the Lord, now in the character which at this time He is taking. And this witness He does not, as in the former case, forbid; as the healing also is now in public. Publicity He designs, as His time is at last come for "showing Himself to the world;" and these, delivered from the "land of darkness and of the shadow of death" are suited witnesses.

2. Accordingly now upon His approach to Jerusalem, at Beth-phage, the "house of unripe figs," ― and the typical significance of the fig comes shortly into prominence, ― He sends two of His disciples to claim for His service the ass and colt, upon the latter of which He rides into the city. The animal was characteristic of the Prince of peace, in contrast with the war-horse upon which we see Him in Revelation (Rev. 19:11). The young animal also, before unridden, shows the new and free spirit of obedience which alone could bring Him into His place among His people ― thus to be "willing in the day of His power" (Ps. 110:3).

As to the other ass accompanying, it is impossible not to think of the past in connection with it, as the patristic commentators did. Is it more suitable to regard it merely as necessary to quiet the foal for its service to its Creator? Those who can think so we must leave to such sober interpretation. It was a time when the very stones were ready to cry out, and all, we may be sure, has its significance for us. The "foal of a beast of burden" seems even as if it were intended to remind us, not surely of the unbelieving synagogue, nor yet of the law itself, which imposed, but did not bear, burdens, but rather of those who as belonging to the legal dispensation could be so pictured, even though the true people of God by faith. Thus only, as inheritors of that faith, could the after-generation; destined to freer service, be counted as their offspring. But with these the elder generations could be seen; as linked with them in the triumph of the Christ now come.

Thus all is surely consistent, though even for that time it was but a gleam of light which, as far as Israel nationally was concerned, went out in darkness. And the prophecy of Zechariah is carefully abridged on this account. "He is just and having salvation" is omitted, because in fact salvation could not then come. The crowds might exhibit a temporary enthusiasm, and genuine disciples add their truer homage to the King, ― the city meets it with a question merely, however "moved;" and the "Hosannas to the Son of David" weaken sadly into the how different reply, "This is Jesus the prophet from Nazareth of Galilee." The King of glory is for them already discrowned.

3. But He, not dependent on the voices of the multitude, goes on into the temple which was in fact the place of His throne, but now desecrated by the abominations of priestly avarice, for which the people, three years before the destruction of the city, themselves suppressed the traffic that defiled it.* There it was before His eyes, with its loud-voiced iniquity, just as He had met it at the beginning of His ministry, and then purged out the defilement as He afresh purges it now. Quick work for Him to establish His authority there in the very presence of His fiercest enemies, in the heart of Jerusalem, in His Father's house itself, which, as He tells them, they had changed from the "house of prayer" for which it should have been known; into a robber's den. And there, in the now empty place, "the blind and the lame" (characteristic and concurrent types of those that needed the touch of the true King) "came to Him in the temple and He healed them." Thus He is owned of God and of man alike, ― though of man, alas, unchanged and hostile still. There are no "willing people;" and for them it cannot be the "day of His power." He may prove His title, but cannot take His throne.

{* Edersheim, vol. 1, p. 372.}

This is for Him, then, no triumph: only the children's voices make music for Him now, with whom the hosannas that have died out in the streets are taken up again. What is hidden from wise and prudent is revealed to babes; and the rebuke which they look for from Him as to it, they find themselves. No: they had never read that "out of the mouth of babes and sucklings He perfected praise." How much of our Bibles, it may be, we have never read, though our eyes may have often enough been upon what they have never seen there! Had they been spiritually little ones, would they not have seen this? Even our involuntary ignorance may tell ― must tell ― thus against us!

They were not little ones, and therefore for that generation of Israel the Kingdom could not come. The Lord withdraws from the city to spend the night at Bethany among those whose hearts had answered to the grace that was seeking men.

4. In the morning He returns early to the city, and is ahungered. A fig-tree is before Him by the wayside, and He comes to it to satisfy His hunger, but finds no fruit. Mark tells us that it was not the season yet for figs; but the leaves upon this tree promised for it fruit, as Israel stood alone among the nations in the profession of allegiance to the One True God. Fruit therefore could be expected from her, if nowhere else; and He with hunger of soul unsatisfied had been seeking it. His own parable of the fig-tree had been long before spoken (Luke 13:6-9) with evident application to the people also; and now the judgment is to be pronounced. "Let no fruit be henceforth on thee for ever," is answered by the rapid withering away of the fruitless tree.

The disciples are in amazement when they see the fig-tree withered; but the Lord uses the miracle to assure them of the power which was ready to manifest itself for them in response to faith. Not only should they do what was done to the fig-tree, but if they had faith and doubted not, even a mountain standing in their way should be removed and cast into the sea, and whatsoever they asked in prayer, believing, would be done. We may well see in this a veiled assurance of how Israel, now nothing but an obstacle in the path of faith would disappear politically in the sea of the nations. But the promise here is of course, of very various application, and it would be entirely wrong in any way to limit it, save as the Lord Himself does; who distinctly makes His last assurance as full as possible. To faith nothing shall be denied; but it is not limitation to insist that faith must be faith.

Subdivision 2. (Matt. 21:23-46.)

Rejection and its Consequences.

The opposition gathers strength, although still kept in check by the power displayed in Him, and by the revealing words in which He lays bare the condition of things and their hypocrisy and unfrankness in their rejection of Him. They are made to feel how well He knows them, and their intent, and how its success would leave Him Master still, themselves alone undone by it. Quiet, simple, strong, irrefutable words, they penetrate through all the defenses of a seared conscience and a hardened heart, and confound, if they do not convert. We do not read of conversion; but then we are here occupied with another and very different subject, and tracing Israel's rejection of her King, as it goes on step by step to the end now so near, when He leaves desolate the House (no longer His Father's, but their own) to the Gentile invader.

1. For the moment He is in the House which He has cleansed, teaching publicly, as was His wont, and there the chief priests and elders of the people come upon Him with the question; "By what authority doest Thou these things? and who gave Thee this authority?"

It was the Sanhedrim, the highest religious authority itself among the people, that asked this; and their question implied their disclaimer of any authorization on their part. But it was a vain and foolish question: for as they knew on the one hand that He was no Rabbi of the schools, so on the other, as we know, the testimony of Scripture united with that of His miracles to proclaim Him what He was even now declaring Himself to be. But for those who were questioning Him there was a yet more simple ground of appeal. They had sent a special mission to the Baptist to investigate his claim; and the Baptist's own recognition of the Lord was known to all. They "sent unto John, and he bare witness unto the truth." What then was "the baptism of John? was it of heaven or of men?" Either they had decided about John's authority, or else they were incompetent to pronounce as to the Lord; and their verdict as to the one would necessarily include both: in any case they had the means of answering their own question.

Answer it, however, they cannot: if they said the mission of John was from heaven, they had to believe the testimony that he gave; if they said, of men, they would be in direct opposition to the people, and theirs was no martyr-spirit to suffer for their convictions. It was easier, with all the humiliation it involved, to profess their ignorance; but then they were no court to adjudicate in claims of this kind: "Neither do I tell you by what authority I do these things."

2. Plainly it was conscience they needed, and the Lord has in turn a question for them. A man had two sons: one who to his bidding, "Go, work today in my vineyard," answers openly and defiantly "I will not;" while the other expresses at once his ready obedience. After all, the first repented and went; the second never did go. Which, then, did the will of his father? The answer is put into their mouths: they could only say, The first. Then He makes application for them: the tax-gatherers and harlots would go into the Kingdom of God before them. For John came in the way of righteousness, only demanding on their part an upright conscience to receive manifest truth, but, built up in legal self-righteousness, they had turned from him; while the people of evil life had been convicted and believed; and even this witness of repentant sinners they had refused.

3. He searches them out with another parable, in which Israel's history as a whole is shown to be of a piece with this, while He follows it on to the end soon coming, and shows them how their success against Him would only be ruinous defeat for themselves at last.

The figure of a vineyard had been used of old in the prophets with reference to Israel. The "man," the householder, could only partially represent God. Was it not a representation of things according to their own thoughts merely, that God was like a man in a far country, and things were in their hands as they proudly assumed? Yet their responsibility was fully granted, and let them take heed to it. All through the ages down, God had been sending to those in trust for Him, to get the fruit of His vineyard; and the prophets had been His messengers to them to present and urge His claim. How had they treated them? Certainly they well knew, whose claim had been; that if they had lived in their fathers, days, they would not have been "partakers with them in the blood of the prophets." They had beaten one, killed another, stoned another, and so whenever God had sent flesh witnesses.

But now He had sent His Son: there the full glory of the Speaker is flashed upon them; had He not title to say, without taking into account His divine knowledge, "They will respect My Son"?

But indeed He is not ignorant to what He sends Him: and now all that is in their hearts to do and what they will accomplish is pictured for them, as if it were a history of the past. What a testimony to the actors in it that are to be, ― He face to face with them, with those clear, deep, always compassionate eyes looking into theirs! think after this of their going on to fulfil it. "But when the husbandmen saw the son, they said among themselves" not, who art Thou? or who gave Thee this authority? but on the contrary, "This is the heir;" and their after action is all grounded upon this.

Yes, they could have been very tolerant of a false claim: the true one was quite another matter. The claim of God is uncompromising, and His yoke intolerable to the natural heart. The second psalm represents the refusal of Messiah as the Lord does, as the manifestation of the spirit which said, "Let us burst their bands asunder, and cast away their cords from us." Here it breathes of murder, ― "Come, let us kill Him, and lay hold of His inheritance."

And the thing is done. The Lord quietly assures them, as He had done before with His disciples, that He is in fact to die. But if He be in reality the Son; will that secure them what they seek? "when the lord of the vineyard cometh, what will he do unto those husbandmen?" and they are forced to pronounce what is their own doom.

He confirms it from their own scriptures: for was not the chief corner stone of which the psalmist spoke to be a stone rejected by the builders in Israel? Was not "the Lord's doing" to be the reversal of their deed? But the result of it for that generation would be the taking from them of that Kingdom which in the person of its King they were thus refusing. It would be given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof: that is, not the Christian Church, but the Israel of the future; in fact the first nation which will be all holy. The terms of the new covenant expressly assure us of this.

Meanwhile "whosoever shall fall on this stone" ― as the nation then were doing ― "shall be broken; but on whomsoever it shall fall" ― in the day when it strikes the feet of the image, as Nebuchadnezzar, the head of the image, saw it ― "it shall grind him to powder." At the coming of the Lord judgment will do its complete and effectual work.

The chief priests and Pharisees knew that it was of them that He was speaking; but His words held the people, and they could as yet do nothing. Those who have lost the fear of God are just those who will be most completely dominated by the fear of man.

Subdivision 3. (Matt. 22:1-14.)

The marriage of the King's Son.

The parable of the marriage of the king's son is a parable of the Kingdom of heaven. Its subject, therefore, is not the response of Israel to God as under the law, or even to Christ come unto His own, as in that of the husbandmen. Responsibility as to the vineyard is no more in question; but as to the offer of grace made to them in the gospel after the Cross, and when the Spirit of God was in marvellous grace testifying through the apostles that upon their repentance there would still be for them the blotting out of their sins and the coming of times of refreshing from the presence of the Lord, whom, though rejected, God would again send to them.* Not till after the definite rejection of this offer by Israel, does the message of the gospel go out to the Gentiles, as in the parable, which goes on to the end of this also, when the man that has not on a wedding garment is cast out. In this, too, the rejection of grace is figured, though here in one who might seem to have accepted it.

{* Acts 3:19-21. The Revised Version has here set right the strange error of the common one, which has "when the times of refreshing shall come," instead of "so that the times of refreshing may come."}

(1) We find the same parable in the gospel of Luke (Luke 14:16-24), but in briefer form, and without the dispensational character which is so manifest and appropriate in Matthew. In Luke it is simply a man who makes a feast: here it is the marriage-feast of a king's son. Marriage was in the Old Testament a familiar figure of covenant relationship between the people and their God; here with the Son of God ― Messiah. The bride does not, however, come into the scene, but only those invited to the marriage, the joys and blessings of union being symbolized as a feast. The Jews are the already invited guests, but not till after atonement had been made in the sacrifice of the Cross could the message go forth, "I have prepared my dinner; my oxen and my failings are killed, and all things are now ready: come unto the marriage." Nothing is said of what the Cross is on the human side of it we have only the result in divine grace; and that is "tidings of joy which shall be unto all people."

(2) The messengers go out with this, but only to find how little it is this to those to whom it is sent. Only the general result as to Israel is given; and this is rejection whether it be manifest simply in making light of it and going off to other things, or in harsher treatment of the messengers, even to putting them to death. This brings sure retribution: "the king sent forth his armies and destroyed those murderers and burned up their city." Israel is thus for the time being set aside, ― left without priest or altar or sacrifice, as it is this day.

(3) But divine goodness will not be frustrated in this way; and through Israel's fall salvation comes to the Gentiles. The invited guests were not worthy: the servants of the king are sent out therefore into the public thoroughfares to invite all without restriction of any kind ― the universal call of the gospel now. "Bad and good" are welcome alike: salvation is needed by the best, sufficient for the worst. The response is still not universal as the call is; but the vacant seats are nevertheless filled: the wedding is furnished with guests.

(4) But this, alas, is not yet the whole account. The Kingdom, as we have seen; in all these parabolic representations of it, in which the "mysteries" of it are told out, ― the Kingdom while the King is absent and the administration in the hands of men ― is in a mixed condition; the false found with the true; and needs in consequence that purging which when the King comes to take it into His own hands, it will surely receive. The gathering of the guests is on earth ideally, where of course, alone the confusion is, but even this is not stated, nor have we here any prophetic outline of final events. It is the awful fact alone that is put before us of what the end will reveal as to a class of which the man without a marriage garment is simply the representation. The coming of the King reveals them: a class which, with whatever profession; have not Christ, the precious gift of God's grace, and who alone is title and fitness for the eternal joy.

Whether the garment was a gift or not, and what it stands for, have been variously disputed. The circumstances of the case are sufficient proof that the multitude of invited could not be expected to have or to provide for themselves what would suit a royal feast. While the spiritual meaning can only be made clear by the language of the gospel as we find it elsewhere. The "robe of righteousness" (Isa. 61:10) with which God covers His people, and which, though it be put upon a prodigal, is the "best robe" in the Father's house, is only susceptible of the most evangelic meaning. Christ is alone "made unto us righteousness" (1 Cor. 1:30), and as with the first God-given covering for the nakedness of sinful man, death it is that in His wonderful way has furnished it. That He is God's free gift to all who will receive Him, will strike dumb every one who appears at last before God without this.

(5) Judgment follows. The refuser of Christ is really outside all the light of God by that very fact. He is but sent to his own place in the darkness outside the rejoicing in the house of God. There the awful sting of remorse must follow him: there is the weeping and gnashing of teeth."

The last dread words here multiply this one man into a multitude indeed: "for many are called, but few chosen."

Subdivision 4. (Matt. 22:15-46.)

Testing and tested.

Thus the Lord has made, and made good for Himself, the highest claim. He has searched out the hearts of His accusers, and summoned their consciences before Him, not in vain; though they have not yielded to their convictions. On the contrary we are now to find their whole strength massed against Him to try and remedy their desperate condition, and give Him, if possible, even yet an overthrow. For this Pharisees and Herodians combine together, and Sadducees seek to retrieve the lost battle of the Pharisees. But all is vain; and the leaders and factions among the people appear before Him only to receive severally specific judgment from Him, until He turns upon them at last with one decisive question which completely silences them all, and that with regard to the very claim which He is making. From that time they have but the one answer, in deeds, not words.

1. The Pharisees, who are all through the leaders, lead now in the attack. But they confess their fear in the subtlety with which they make it, sending their disciples instead of openly appearing themselves, and with them their adversaries the Herodians, with whom it would not be expected they could have collusion. Between them they would catch Him as between the opposite blades of shears; not with an argument either, but only a matter for His decision, as to which they can depend upon His entire and unfearing truthfulness, teaching the way of God in truth, and regarding not the person of men. "Tell us, therefore, what thinkest thou? is it lawful to give tribute to Caesar, or not?"

A dangerous question, however it were decided: whether to refuse it, under the iron heel of Rome as they were, or to yield it in the face of a people constantly fretting against the sign of their humiliation. Was He too, if indeed their King, to bring them no deliverance? Would it not be the collapse of all His claims to leave a question of this sort even for a moment doubtful?

In reply, He assures them that their object was fully known to Him. They were hypocrites, only tempting Him; and yet for all that, they should have their answer; indeed should help to find it for themselves: let them show Him the tribute money. So they brought Him the Roman coin; and there was the image of Caesar upon its face. "Whose is this?" He asks; and they say, "Caesar's." "Render, then," He replies, "what is Caesar's to Caesar; and to God the things that are God's."

It is a mistake to consider this as simply settling the rights and distinguishing the jurisdictions of the civil and spiritual powers. It was the dominion of the Gentile over the people of God that was felt by the Pharisees, ― a yoke under which they never would have come, had they rendered, as the Lord bids them, to God His own. It was the refusal of this which had put them into Caesar's hands, and now to seek escape was only to refuse the chastisement of their sins, and dills was rebellion against God Himself.

The Gentile yoke had come as their father Jacob had long since prophesied. Issachar had become "like a strong ass, couching between the hurdles; and he saw rest that it was good, and the land that it was pleasant, and bowed his shoulder to bear and become servant to tribute" (Gen. 49:14-15 Notes). Israel had accepted fellowship with the Gentile, and Caesar's coin was only the sign of this. Gentile in heart and way, God had reckoned her where she belonged; but then she could not maintain an independence, which for her could only be another name for dependence on God. Let them give Caesar his own; but let them give God His own also. When they really do this, there will be no question at all to settle as to Caesar. Not by self-assertion, but by repentance only can deliverance come for them.

While the principle, of course, remains the same for the Christian, the case of the Christian is far different. He is not a citizen of earth, but a pilgrim and a stranger. He is to "render to all their due; tribute to whom tribute is due" (Rom. 13:1-7). For him, "the powers that be are ordained of God," and to "resist the power" would be to "resist the ordinance of God": while this, of course, defines the limit also. If there be collision between the higher and the lower power, the apostles, rule, "We must obey God rather than men" (Acts 5:29) is the only real fulfilment of duty both to God and man. To render to man what belongs to God is evil every way.

Thus the first attack upon the Lord turns only to the confusion of His adversaries: "when they heard it, they marvelled and left Him, and went their way."

2. There follows now an attack on the part of the Sadducees, the unbelievers in resurrection, who had their question (more honest, as it would seem, than that of the Pharisees), though displaying, as the Lord tells them, ignorance both of the Scriptures and the power of God. But the Pharisees on their part had done much to give occasion to such difficulties with regard to the future life as their opponents here suggest; perhaps, in spite even of the Lord's words here, we are not at the present time altogether beyond them.

Their question is as to the relationship in the resurrection of a woman who, according to the law in Deuteronomy (Deut. 25:5-6), had married seven brethren. "In the resurrection, therefore, whose wife shall she be of the seven: for they all had her?"

The Lord answers their question first, and then rebukes the unbelief which had inspired it. The question He answers with a simple affirmation, in which He contradicts another article of their unbelieving creed, ― that there were no angels (Acts 23:8). It was sufficient to meet a mere argument from their ignorance with His own perfect knowledge. Angels there were, and in the resurrection the saints would be like these, neither marrying nor giving in marriage. They knew not the power of God, and could conceive of nothing else than a mere reproduction of earthly conditions. Their perplexity was but the fruit of their own carnal imaginations.

But as for the truth of resurrection; it underlay the very simplest assurance of God's covenant-relationship with men. The "dead" were for the Sadducees extinct, and the denial of any enduring personality was the natural root of the denial of resurrection. It is here, therefore, that the Lord meets them; for, if death be not extinction, but the spirit survives it, not only is all argument for extinction taken away, but this survival by itself implies that death is but a temporary interference with what creation shows to be God's thought of man, and may be perfected but cannot be abandoned. If man still continue to exist in death, then it is natural and reasonable that, whether for judgment or reward, the body should rise again.

Sadduceeism was thorough in its denial; and for the Sadducee "I am the God of Abraham," said to Moses at the bush, could be but mockery. Abraham was a shadow that had passed without even hope of recall. The God of a nonentity ― what of comfort or blessing was in that? Could there be even such?

It was by that title, the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob," and as that "I am," who had looked upon and had respect unto His people, that God had sent forth Moses from "the bush" to be their deliverer. Sadduceeism never could have been the gospel of that deliverance, nor the inspiration of it. A living God in covenant with men meant life, not death; and if death were, then a life supreme above it. Thus resurrection was the necessary filling out of such a declaration: the hand that God held out to man was not to clasp the listless fingers of a corpse.

3. So the Pharisees hear that He has put the Sadducees to silence, and they are gathered together; not, alas, to own His divine wisdom, but to "tempt" Him yet again. Still there has been an effect produced, as Mark tells us, upon the questioner, and some better thing is hidden under the test question he proposes. Matthew takes no note of this because he is occupied with the position of the nation as a whole with regard to the Lord, and the state of the individual does not indicate this.

The question is, "which is the great commandment of the law?" The answer shows what is the heart of it, the life-pulse beating through it all. Alas, that this should be a question. The apostle answers it afterward in a similar manner to the Lord here, ― "love is the fulfilling" ― or, the fullness ― "of the law" (Rom. 13:10). God claims heart and soul and mind; but then; on that very account, man as the image of God must come in under it. Thus the second commandment is like unto the first: that commandment which they were so manifestly breaking. Nay, here was the Image of God indeed; and in Him they had seen and hated both Himself and His Father (John 15:24).

But He adds no word of reproach; only enlarges upon the central place which these two commandments had, not in the law only, but also in the prophets: wherever, therefore, the mind of God was expressed. All, in fact, depended upon them there: they were the moral unity manifested in all.

4. And now the Lord appeals to them as they are gathered there before Him as to that which was now for them the question of questions: what do they think of Christ? "whose son is He?" To that they readily reply, "The son of David." This was the truth, and they knew He would not deny it: it was in fact a question which any child among them could have answered.

He did not deny it: it was truth, but was it the whole truth? "How then," He asks, "does David in Spirit call Him 'Lord,' saying, 'The Lord said unto my Lord, Sit Thou on My right hand until I put thine enemies beneath thy feet'? If David, then; call Him Lord, how is He his Son?"

The argument was complete and crushing, and so they felt it.* "No one was able to answer Him a word, nor from that day did any one dare to ask Him further."

{*It "proceeded, of course," says Edersheim, "on the two-fold supposition that the psalm (110 Neither of these statements would have been questioned by the Synagogue. But we could not rest satisfied with the explanation that this sufficed for the purpose of Christ's argument, if the foundation on which it rested could be seriously called in question. Such, however, is not the case. To apply Ps. 110, verse by verse and consistently, to any one of the Maccabees, were to undertake a critical task which only a series of unnatural explanations of the language could render possible. Strange, also, that such an interpretation of what at the time of Christ would have been a comparatively young composition, should have been wholly unknown alike to Sadducee and Pharisee. For our own part, we are content to rest the Messianic interpretation on the obvious and natural meaning of the words taken in connection with the general teaching of the Old Testament about the Messiah, on the undoubted interpretation of the ancient Jewish synagogue, on the authority of Christ, and on the testimony of history." (Life and Times of Jesus, vol. 2, 405.)}

Subdivision 5. (Matt. 23.)

Judgment pronounced.

They are silenced, but not won. The human heart is a citadel that can entrench itself against the clearest evidence; and the conscience can harden itself by repeated rejection of the truth, until light be as darkness. Thus it is now that He who would (how often!) have gathered the children of Jerusalem, as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, is forced to give them up to the avenger soon to come. Israel is doomed, and the lips of divine love have to pronounce her doom, until she shall say in truth and penitence, "Blessed be he that cometh in the name of the Lord."

But the terrible denunciation that follows is rather against the leaders that have misled her to her ruin; though the blind leaders and the led fall together into it. From the necessity of the case, the judgment pronounced is given in the most open manner in the presence of the multitude, preceded by that picture of the rule of the rabbi, which could not but appeal to the experience of all who heard it. Yet it left them under it, of their own choice.

1. (1) The scribes and Pharisees had set themselves down in Moses, seat. It was their own act, and yet could not be looked upon wholly as a usurpation. An earnest zeal for the law of God in opposition to prevailing laxity had put them originally in the place that they now occupied. Degeneration had come in, and they had fallen from the ancient spirit while retaining the place ― a place in which the Lord evidently recognizes them here, while recognizing fully also the degeneracy. They were now mere barren professors, contradicting their profession with their lives; while the rule of the rabbi was a tyranny of the severest kind, binding upon men's shoulders burdens grievous to be borne ― a growing oppression; more and more intolerable, and never lightened.

"Rabbinism placed the ordinances of tradition above those of the Law, and this by a necessity of the system, since they were professedly the authoritative exposition and the supplement of the written law. And although it was a general rule that no ordinance should be enjoined heavier than the congregation could bear, yet it was admitted that, whereas the words of the Law contained what 'lightened,' and what 'made heavy,' the words of the scribes contained only what 'made heavy.' Again it was another principle that where an aggravation or increase of the burden had once been introduced, it must continue to be observed."* Well might the Lord say, that they would not put forth even a finger to move the intolerable load.

{* Edersheim, vol. 2, p. 407.}

With the people all this, of course, increased their power; and power and place was what they were constantly seeking. Thus they made broad the 'phylacteries' or parchment strips in which they strove after their peculiar manner to have the law in the most literal way as "frontlets between the eyes" (Deut. 6:8)*; while the actually enjoined tasselled "borders" (Num. 15:38) they enlarged, to make them conspicuous, as the Lord reproaches them. Naturally with this there was the love of conspicuous places also, at feasts and in the synagogues, and of greetings in the markets in which they were to be accosted as Rabbi, with all due respect.

{*They were "square capsules, covered with leather, containing on small scrolls of parchment these four sections of the law: Ex. 13:1-10; 11-16; Deut. 6:4-9; Deut. 11:13-21. The phylacteries were fastened by long leather straps to the forehead, and round the left arm, near the heart."}

(2) Such were the Jewish leaders: among the disciples Jesus enjoins them that such things were not to be. They were not to be called Rabbi, but to be all brethren; with Christ alone their real Teacher. There was to be no authority among them but His own; no claim of spiritual fatherhood but for the Heavenly Father; nor of leadership, again; for any but Christ. The "leader" here (kathegetes) is more than teacher: he is the teacher who may have many teachers under him. All this, as it plainly calls for most serious attention on the part of all who call Christ Lord in truth, so also it needs wisdom in the application: for all these terms, "teacher," "father," "leader,*" are applied in Scripture itself to disciples, and cannot be meant, therefore, to be in an absolute way forbidden. But it was in Israel then; as it has come to be so largely in the Christian Church today, that those who should have been the servants of their brethren claimed to be masters, and stood between the consciences of men and Him who is alone the Lord of the conscience. Neither the Church as a whole nor any class of men in it can claim aright authoritative place for their teaching, which Scripture alone (as the word of the Lord) has; and yet this is what, with many modifications, is continually being done, and the people of God also are on their side not merely allowing but prompting the claim. In this way the word of God loses irreparably; it is made plastic in the hands of men; and, dethroned from its place of authority, it becomes subject to the reproach which attaches to all human handiwork: infidelity finds its own in this degradation. The louder and more authoritative the Church's voice, the more that of God through His word becomes silenced and unheard.

{*The exact word here is only found in the New Testament in this place, but it is only an intensive form of that used in Acts 15:22, "leading men" and in Heb. 13:7, 17, 20, "leaders," which the common version translates "those that have the rule."}

But how different is the "ministry" which is really that, which seeks no lordship for itself, and no authority, but, like the Baptist of old, points only to that Other, in whose presence it stands self-emptied, because filled, satisfied, glorified with the light, unseen of the world, into which it has entered! True, it will not lead men universally to faith, which Christ's own presence in it was not able to do; yet the faith to which it brings men will be how different! But it is not of this the Lord speaks here. He carries us back instead to that glimpse of an open heaven, which He so lately Himself has opened to them, and again He repeats: "The greater of you shall be your servant." In service ― in the ability to serve ― true greatness is. And if the spirit of service be love, and love be the spirit of heaven, then it must be ― there can be no avoidance of so plain a fact — that "whosoever shall exalt himself among you shall be humbled; and whosoever shall humble himself shall be exalted."

2. The Lord turns now and addresses personally the leaders of the people, smiting them with a sevenfold perfect "woe," because of their condition which He reveals in successive flashes of awful wrath. Yet no mere outburst of passionate emotion is it that manifests itself in these burning words. They are measured utterances in which the truth of divine judgment is as plain as its reality. And even in form, as they are sealed with the number of perfection; which is at the same time the stamp of an oath,* so this seven is in its structure, like that of the creative days, a 3. 3. 1, beginning indeed with the "light," which is in these "blind guides" but darkness, in the first three woes; in the second three, stigmatizing their duplicity ― their double life; while the final one, which has the characters of both preceding sections, brands them as the true children of those who slew the prophets, however much (now that these were dead) they might build their sepulchres.

{*"To swear" is in Hebrew to "use or name seven (victims or witnesses) as to oneself, i.e. to bind oneself by an attested oath." (Davies' Heb. Lexicon.) Compare Gen. 21:28. Beersheba is thus the "well of seven" or "of the oath."}

a. (1) The first "woe" deals with their opposition to the Kingdom of heaven; which they shut up in the face of men, themselves neither entering in; nor (as far as lay in them) suffering others to enter. As it is put in Luke, they had "taken away the key of knowledge." With their legal and traditional teachings they had barred man's approach to the only place of blessing in subjection to the glorious King in whom the Kingdom was presented to them, so that the outcasts of Israel, the "tax-gatherers and harlots," went into it more easily than they.

Thus they had not the light, and had refused the light: for if "light had come into the world," it is necessarily self-manifesting, as well as that which manifests other things; and men who refuse it do so, not because of insufficient evidence, but because they "love darkness rather than light." And such were the leaders of Israel: here is their condition written upon their forehead.

(2) But while they had taken away the key of real knowledge, it was in perfect accord with this that they should be zealots of their own false knowledge, and eager to gain proselytes to it. Perfectly accordant, too, it was that they should, in the condition in which they were, have proselytes that would go beyond themselves. Calling the light darkness they naturally called the darkness light, and as light would propagate it. The second woe, therefore, follows the first in easily intelligible order.*

{*The omission of the fourteenth verse here is justified as well by its character as by the textual evidence; for in this place it would not suit, however characteristic of the leaders it might be, and was. It is found in Mark and Luke.}

(3) The third woe again shows how the light in them was darkened by their inversion of true proportion as to the holy things. With them the gold of the temple was more highly estimated than the temple itself, and the gift than the altar that sanctified it. And then this casuistry was used to teach men how they could swear vain oaths and be excused responsibility ― a responsibility which the Lord affirms in every case.

b. (1) The three following woes are plainly different from the preceding ones. They show us the double life of these Jewish leaders. In the first case, the profession of absolute integrity could hardly be more complete than in paying tithes of the very mint and anise and cummin, the least product of their fields; yet on another side there was an absolute deficiency in that which should have been rendered. The moral elements, the weightier matters of the law, were just with them the things that had no weight. They strained carefully out the gnat in such things, but they swallowed easily the camel!

(2) Then the cup and dish they cleansed on the outside; within they could keep them full of rapine and indulgence. With a correct outside the lusts within were retained and sanctioned.

(3) The third woe speaks of spiritual death within; with a good looking exterior only, like a whitened sepulchre. This is the most inward aspect of the evil, but it presents the same duplicity as those preceding it.

c. In the next and last case, there is a return to the beginning. The opposition to God with which this characterization began is here as real as there; yet it is covered with a veil which might hide it, not only from others but from themselves. The dead prophets they memorialized and honored ― built sepulchres to the men their fathers killed. And this honor to the dead might well save them from all identification with the men that killed them, though these might unfortunately be their fathers. Alas, their present opposition to the Kingdom of God showed how much value was to be attached to such a profession of regard for men who lay quietly in their graves and never troubled them. They were witnesses themselves that they were children of those who slew the prophets. Let them fill up then the measure of their fathers: fill it up and more they would, as already He had shown them, for these with whom He was now face to face would be His betrayers and murderers.

And He would send them prophets and wise men and scribes, and the old history would be repeated. With the long record of ages before them, and that history of their forefathers preaching to them of God's controversy with them for their sins, they would renew and consummate it in their own persons, making themselves heirs of all that long reign of unbelief and evil, of the blood-shedding crying out to God from Abel to Zechariah slain between the temple and the altar, in the very face of God Himself. If this were the Zechariah the prophet, of the returned remnant,* how the guilt of Israel is emphasized in this! and "which of the prophets have not your fathers persecuted?" are Stephen's words to them at a later time. Upon this generation was to come the recompense of that long wearing out of the saints of God.

{*There seems no good reason for supposing any other than Zechariah the prophet to be meant, though Zechariah the son of Jehoiada is generally taken to be. But this leaves the "son of Barachias" to be accounted for, when the "son of Jehoiada" also would have better reminded them of the history. It seems also too far back (in Joash's time) for the Lord's purpose, when summing up the guilt of the people.

As to Zechariah the prophet, he was son of Berachiah, and grandson of Iddo, and "the Jewish Targum states that Zechariah the son of Iddo, a prophet and priest, was slain in the sanctuary" (See "The Irrationalism of Infidelity," by J. N. Darby, pp. 150-159).}

3. But here the pent-up love in the heart of Christ breaks out in a lament over the city which had rejected Him. City as it was of murderous hatred against those sent to it of God, how often would He have gathered her children together, as the hen gathers her brood under her wings! but they would not. Now their house ― which He could no longer call His Father's ― was left to them as they would have it; but to real desolation. Nor would they see Him henceforth, according to the blessing which those rejected prophets had prophesied should yet be theirs, until, with hearts disciplined with sorrow, and in judgment made to learn the righteousness which alone could be the preparation for it, they should be enabled from their heart to say, "Blessed be he that cometh in the name of the Lord."