The Student’s Desk

That we may know Christ

Jesus’ teaching on the Kingdom of God

Synopsis: The time and place of Jesus was on of political stability and religious zeal as the restoration of Israel was anticipated. Jesus teachings were radically different from his contemporaries. The following essay provides a brief summery of the expectations and political alliances so contrasts and comparisons may be developed between these and Jesus’ teaching. While this essay does recognise that Jesus’ teachings on the kingdom of God, it focuses on the parables given in Matthew 13 maintaining their prominence in the ‘kingdom of God’ theme. It concludes that Jesus’ teaching on the teaching of God does not ally him with any of the political or religious movements of his time and stands unique.

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The Roman province of Judah in the first century was a place of political instability which eventually led to the sacking of Jerusalem in 70 A.D.. Many held hopes for an uprising of a Messiah to restore the kingdom of Israel, while others saw the Roman Empire as providing a future for Israel. It is within this mix of political and religious movements that Jesus emerges and teaches about the kingdom of God in a manner that was radically different from contemporary views, and yet at the same remained entirely consistent with Scripture.

Messianic expectations within Judaism leading up to the first century A.D. were not unique. These had been part of Israel’s heritage. At the centre of Jewish expectations concerning the kingdom is the office of Messiah. While the Greek equivalent of this title, “Christ” would be applied to Jesus (Luke 2:11; John 1:41, 4:25), it was also used of others in the Old Testament. The term ‘messiah’ most often meant ‘anointed’ and referred to kings (1 Sam 12:3, 5; 16:6; 24:6, 10 for example). It was through the office of King that an everlasting kingdom was promised as part of the Davidic Covenant (2 Samuel 7:13). It was this promise of an everlasting kingdom that formed the basis of hope for the restoration of Israel (Psalm 89; 132; Isaiah 9:5-7). The political situation in Israel leading up to the first century A.D. intensified expectations of the Messiah and the establishment of the kingdom of God.

Though Israel had indeed returned to the land after exile (Nehemiah), they did not regain their sovereignty. As such, by the end of the millennium, they were a Roman province in a strongly Hellenised region. For the most part Jews resented this foreign occupier, and the Hellenistic culture that had also come. However, the expression of this expectation differed between several movements. Metzger helpfully categorises four of these groups into two different categories with two different responses. He identifies religious movements as including Pharisees as extremists and Sadducees as moderates; and political movements as including Zealots as extremists and Herodians as moderates.[1] It is helpful to understand these movements as background of Jesus teaching concerning the kingdom.

•1)    Pharisees

The term ‘Pharisee’ has been taken to mean “the separated ones” and first appeared under the rule of John Hycanus (135-105 B.C.). The Pharisees had their origins in the Hasidim movement who were allied with the Maccabeans in their struggle against the Seleucids (early second century B.C.). However, this group was not interest in the contest for political supremacy after the struggle. The Pharisees turned their attention to strict observance of the law, prophets, writings, and oral traditions. They were zealous to apply the old law to contemporary situations and keeping the Sabbath. They also believed in the immortality of the soul, and the resurrection.

•2)    Sadducees

The Sadducees had their origins in the Zadok, the priest of King David’s time (2 Samuel 8:17). They held the Torah as being canonical, and had no place for oral traditions. They were also anti-supernatural, and did not believe in angels, or the resurrection. Politically, they did not resist Rome. They were more open to Helenisation than other groups, and were willing to ally themselves to the dominant political power.


 

•3)    Essenes

The Essenes were a Jewish community that resembled monastic communities in early Christianity. They held property in common, led simple lives, and like the Pharisees strictly observed the law, and were even stricter with the Sabbath. They lived apart from the rest of the community and did not partake in temple sacrifice believing the religious establishment to be corrupt, and with good reason. Herod, a foreigner, had rebuilt the temple,[2] and was served by priestly class, the Sadducees, concerned to keep the Roman authorities pleased since theologically and politically they were in agreement with the Herodians.[3] They also believed the promises of God were fulfilled in the history of there community.

•4)    Zealots

While not a religious group, Zealots opposed tributes being paid to a pagan emperor, and used violence as a means of liberating Israel from Rome. Hence their actions were extremist and disruptive.

•5)    Herodians

The title ‘Herodian’ was used in reference to Jewish supporters of the Herodian dynasty. It is likely that most Herodians were Sadducees, though the title could have also applied to other groups and individuals. Apart from being allied to the dominant political power, there were other reasons for embracing Herodian Rule. Herod had complied to the Jewish expectations of the Messiah by claiming his ancestors were exiles of David’s house in Babylon, ruled an area that equalled the kingdom of David, built splendid buildings, established a palace for himself in Jerusalem, and rebuilt the temple. Hence, there was good reason for supporting the Herodian dynasty.

It is also known a number of other individuals rose up claiming to be the Messiah. In Pilate’s time, a Samaritan prophet had led his followers to Mount Gerizim in search of the holy vessels. Theudas, mentioned by Gamaliel (Acts 5:36), ventured to split the Jordan River providing his followers a safe passage alluding to the time of Moses.  A Jew from Egypt anticipated the collapse of the walls of Jerusalem at his command allowing free access into the city. It may have been this individual for whom Paul was mistaken (Acts 21:38). Jesus himself also anticipated many false Christ’s and prophets (Matthew 24:5, 11, 23-26).[4]

It is against these expectations, politics and theologies of the fore mentioned groups that Jesus teachings about the kingdom of God must be considered. It is important to recognise that Jesus teaching on the kingdom of God is not reduced to one section of any one of the four gospels, Luke informs his readers that Jesus mission was to teach about the kingdom of God (Luke 4:43). Hence, all of Jesus’ teaching can be traced back to the kingdom of God theme. However, there does seem to be a concentrated section of Jesus’ teaching on the kingdom of God in Matthew.. These teachings are given as parables. The phrase “the kingdom of God (or ‘the kingdom of heaven’ in Matthew) is like”, or a phrase simular, occurs fifteen times as an introduction to a parable throughout the synoptic gospels (Matthew 13:24, 31, 33, 43, 44, 45, 47, 52; 18:23; 20:1; 22:2; 25:1; Mark 4:26, 30; Luke 13:18). The meaning of the term ‘parable’ is broad, though in the gospels it generally refers to a contrast (Luke 18:1-8), or a comparison (Matthew 13:33).[5] The purpose of the parable was to provoke a response by the hearer.[6] The fact Jesus used parables to teach the kingdom of God must say something about the kingdom itself and the ministry of Jesus. The rise of Jesus as Messiah could not be ignored as in the examples of those who assumed this office previously. Jesus and his teaching on the kingdom of God demanded a response. For this reasons, Matthew 13, contains several such parables, will be closely examined, and the manner in which Jesus interacts with Jewish expectations of the kingdom will be noted.

The parable that is of most likely importance is the so-titled ‘Parable of the Soils’ (Matthew 13:1-23; Mark 4:1-20; Luke 8:4-15), for in Mark’s account, the importance of this parable is stressed (v13). In Matthew account, the importance of this parable and the parables following is also stressed by Jesus asking his disciples, “Have you understood all these things?” (v51). Understanding this parable is prerequisite to understanding the other teachings of Jesus and his works. In explaining the Parable of the Soils to his disciples, Jesus quotes Isaiah to indicate that his words are preparing people for judgment – a theme that will occur twice in the chapter (vv30, 48-50). This is so the judgement is not on the account of God. The fact that Jesus’ hearers did in fact understand something of what Jesus said on other occasions when he spoke in parables is evidenced by their actions (Mark 12:12; Luke 20:19), though they did not accept his message. Hence, the fulfilment of Isaiah does not rest on Jesus. Rather, it rests on those who do not accept Jesus message (Matthew 13:14).

It is not co-incidental that Jesus is using the image of planting. In the Davidic Covenant, the image of planting is used in reference to Israel being established so they would no longer suffer their enemies as part of an everlasting kingdom. While Luke understands the seed that is sown as the ‘word of God’ (Luke 8:11), Mark simply understands the seed that is sown simply as the ‘word’ (Mark 4:14). However, Matthew understands the seed that is sown as the ‘word of the kingdom’. Hence, not only do Jesus’ words bring about judgement, they also inaugurate the kingdom of God as Israel is replanted in the person of Jesus in the people’s accepting of his word. There is nothing unusual about the imagery Jesus uses in the parable. Jesus’ listeners would have often seen seed being scattered by hand, or be allowed to trickle from holes in a sack. Neither is there anything unusual about the yield. Though tenfold was average for much of Palestine, returns of up to one-hundred fold were possible and considered to be a tremendously good harvest.[7] Jesus expectation is always for a good yield from those who respond to his teaching as the lowest figure nominated is thirty-fold – still very much above what would be expected. In relation to the religious and political movements of Jesus day, it is clear at this point that the kingdom of God would not be established by such programs. Rather, the kingdom of God would be inaugurated in the person of Jesus. Matthew’s record of Jesus discourse continues on to consider the nature of the kingdom over several parables.

In the so-titled ‘Parable of the Weeds’ (vv24-40), Jesus demonstrates his kingdom is not what his contemporaries would have expected. Jesus uses a normal scene of a sower planting his wheat crop (v24). There is nothing unusual about weeds growing up with the crop. What is unusual in this parable is the weeds on this occasion were as a result of sabotage (v25). So much so, the volume of weeds prompted the servants to enquire to their master (v26). For this reason it is unusual scenario, one that would have shocked those listening to Jesus. The particular weed is known as ‘tare’. Hendrikson notes in the early stages of development, the tare closely resembled the wheat crop, and hosted a fungus poisonous to both animals and humans if eaten.[8] When interpreting the parable for his disciples (vv37-43), Jesus identifies the wheat seed as being ‘the children of the kingdom’ sown by the Son of Man (v38), and the tares as being ‘the sons of the evil one’ sown by the Devil (v39). The fact that Jesus closely identifies the children of the kingdom with the sons of the devil in the points of reference of wheat and tares is a strong indication that he does not have in mind the contemporary political views of the Kingdom of Israel verses the Roman occupation – two entities easily distinguishable from the other. Instead, the seed of the enemy to which Jesus is referring to, though does not identify at this stage, has close resemblance to the seed of the children of the kingdom and has grown up with them. Hence, the enemy is not an external entity to Israel. Rather the enemy is already part of Israel to be removed at a later time of final judgement. To discuss judgement would imply resurrection which would place Jesus’ teachings on the kingdom as being very different from those of the Sadducees.

Another aspect to this parable is the removal of the weeds. Keener notes “…fields were normally weeded in the spring, but if the weeds were discovered too late … harvesters could cut the wheat just below the head, leaving the shorter tares to be cut separately.”[9] The offer of the servants to pull the weeds out perhaps suggests that the normal time for removing weeds had not yet past, hence the response of the sower to permit the weeds to grow would have come as a surprise (vv28, 29). This suggests that the kingdom that Jesus had in mind would be a mix of the children of God and the sons of the devil until the final judgement at the close of the age (vv30, 40-42). Such a teaching would have been contrary to the religious programs of the Pharisees who were intent on avoiding unclean people, and the Essences who separated themselves from the broader community.[10]

The so-titled ‘Parables of the Mustard Seed and the Yeast’ continue to demonstrate the kingdom of God as being different from people’s expectations (vv 31-33). Keener recognises that the mustard seed is not the smallest seed known in Palestine.[11] Nonetheless, it was a small seed capable of growing into a large shrub, normally only four feet, it could grow as much as fifteen feet. The unexpected element to the parable is not its size, rather its function. While birds could normally perch in a mustard tree, they were not able to nest in it as portrayed in the parable. In simular fashion, Jesus likens the kingdom to yeast in three measures of flour. As insignificant as the yeast may appear in such a large quantity of flower, it is nonetheless able to raise enough bread to feed one-hundred people.[12] By telling these parables, Jesus is identifying his kingdom as something small and insignificant, not a political or religious movement to be concerned about. Even still, the influences of this kingdom would gradually be recognised.

Despite the seemingly insignificance of the kingdom, Jesus asserts its worth. In privacy with his disciples, he tells three more parables. Two expressing the worth of the kingdom, so-titled ‘The Parables of the Hidden Treasure and the Pearl’ (vv44-46), and one reiterating the mixed nature of the kingdom, so-titled ‘The Parable of the Net’ (vv47-50), as Jesus had just taught in ‘The Parable of the Weeds’ (vv24-30, 37-43). In the parables of the hidden treasure and the pearl, both scenarios were possible within the culture. Keener remarks that “Treasures were often buried for safekeeping”, and consistent with Keener, Hendricksen perceives that this would have been most likely done during times of strife. It was possible that the owner of the treasure had died before telling anyone of its location, leaving a peasant or worker to discover it by chance.[13] The surprise in this parable is the one who discovers the treasure actually has the resources to enable the purchase of the land on which the treasure is hidden, and they are prepared to part with those resources to gain the land that they may have rightful claim to the hidden treasure. Similarly, the same method of thinking is applied with the following parable with a pearl. If indeed the initial three parables are given in contrast to the contemporary kingdom expectations, than it would follow that these two parables are a continuation of that contrast. The possessions forfeited serve as a point of reference for contemporary kingdom expectations, and the hidden treasure and the pearl serve as a point of reference for the Kingdom of God. By telling the disciples these parables, Jesus is clearly teaching his disciples their need to forfeit their Jewish expectations kingdom of God and embrace what he has been teaching.

In his final parable, Jesus reiterates the mixed nature of the kingdom of God, and according to Hendricksen, that is all he does.[14] While all the points of reference are simular, Hendricksen has overlooked the change in the listening audience which can drastically affect the manner in which a parable is understood. It is not until verse 36 that Matthew tells his readers that Jesus had left the crowd. Therefore, ‘The Parable of the Weeds’ is given to the crowds, including the disciples, while ‘The Parable of the Net’ is given to the disciples only. There is also a shift in the point of reference for the Kingdom of God. In the former, the Kingdom of God is portrayed as having to compete with the enveloping circumstances which have been going for some time. However, this is about to change as the Kingdom of God is inaugurated by Jesus will be a mixture of all kinds (v47), and this is the type of kingdom which the work that the disciples will be partaking in. The thrust of this parable would not have been lost on some of the disciples whom Jesus had told will be fishers of men (Matthew 4:18-19). This would drive home the point that the work that the disciples were to be involved with was not to be a separatist movement as they may have imagined. Separation would be at the initiative of angels only (v49). Again, this teaching would have been contrary to that of the Pharisees.

Jesus radical teaching on the kingdom of God places him outside the main schools of thought in first century Judaism, and thereby stands unique. Through the gospels, opposition to Jesus can be detected from all these groups, with the exception of the Essenes who are not mentioned in Scripture. Clearly Herod, the Pharisees, and Sadducees all conspired against Jesus (Matthew 2:13, 16; 16:1; 26:3-4), and the Roman guard had no respect for him either (Matthew 27:27-31). Though there is not any know opposition from the Essenes, it is known that Jesus considered his disciples to be in the world, not separated from it (John 17:14, 16). Jesus teachings concerning the kingdom of God stood apart from contemporary expectations for one very good reason as Jesus explicitly told Pilate “My kingdom is not of this world.” (John 18:36). According to Jesus’ teaching the kingdom of God demanded repentance from contemporary views, and would not be consummated by political or religious movements, or by any other human initiative. Rather, it would be consummated at the time of judgement by the initiative of God.

 

Bibliography:

Betz, Otto.              ‘Messianic expectations in the context of first century Judaism’, in Christology in dialogue, ed. Robert F. Berkley and Sarah A. Edwards, Cleveland, Ohio: The Pilgrim Press, 1993.

Caragounis, Chrys C.,     ‘Kingdom of God / Kingdom of Heaven’ in Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, ed. J. B. Green & Scot McKnight. Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1992.

Hendriksen, William.       New Testament commentary: Matthew. Edinburgh, United Kingdom: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1973.

Hoehner, Harold W.        ‘Herodians’, in Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, ed. J. B. Green & Scot McKnight. Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1992.

Metzger, Bruce M.  The New Testament, its background, growth, and content. Nashville, Tennessee: Abingdon Press, 1965.

Snodgrass, Klyne R.       ‘Parable’, in Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, ed. J. B. Green & Scot McKnight. Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1992.

Tenney, Merrill C.   New Testament Survey. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing co., 1961.

© The Student’s Desk, 2007.

 


 

[1] Bruce M. Metzger, The New Testament, its background, growth, and content (Nashville, Tennessee: Abingdon Press, 1965), 46.

[2] Otto Betz, ‘Messianic expectations in the context of first century Judaism’, in Christology in dialogue, ed. Robert F. Berkley and Sarah A. Edwards (Cleveland, Ohio: The Pilgrim Press, 1993), 35

[3] Harold W. Hoehner, ‘Herodians’, in Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, ed. J. B. Green & Scot McKnight. (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1992), 325

[4] Otto Betz, ‘Messianic expectations in the context of first century Judaism’, 37

[5] Klyne R. Snodgrass, ‘Parable’, in Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, ed. J. B. Green & Scot McKnight. (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1992), 593

[6] Klyne R. Snodgrass, ‘Parable’, 597

[7] Craig S. Keener, The IVP Bible background commentary: New Testament on CD-ROM (Downers Grove, Illinios: InterVasity Press, 1993).

[8] William Hendriksen, New Testament commentary: Matthew (Edinburgh, United Kingdom: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1973), 563

[9] Craig S. Keener, The IVP Bible background commentary: New Testament on CD-ROM.

[10] Craig S. Keener, The IVP Bible background commentary: New Testament on CD-ROM.

[11] Craig S. Keener, The IVP Bible background commentary: New Testament on CD-ROM.

[12] Craig S. Keener, The IVP Bible background commentary: New Testament on CD-ROM

[13] William Hendriksen, New Testament commentary: Matthew, 575

[14] William Hendriksen, New Testament commentary: Matthew, 578

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October 24, 2007 Posted by | Essays, Gospels, New Testament, Religious | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A comparison of the Gospels of Matthew and Luke

Synopsis:The four accounts of Jesus life and ministry vary in their content. Some of their content can be found in all four while other parts are unique to that particular gospel. Even the content which is shared can vary in detail. The following essay examines the gospel accounts of Matthew and Luke as an example of two gospels sharing information, though differing in there theological emphasis. The essay assumes the integrity of both accounts, and regards them both as legitimate accounts of the life and ministry of Jesus. Overarching themes of both gospels are identified and substantiate by the content of each gospel. It is within the context of these overarching themes which the similarities and difference between the two accounts need to be considered.

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A brief reading of the gospels reveals that they all address one issue – the person and ministry of Jesus. In this, a great amount of overlap can be found among the gospels, more so among the synoptics. If all four gospels are about the ministry of Jesus, the question may be posed, why have four gospels been written? Yet within the similarities of overlap, numerous differences can be found in the gospels in the way of variations in the text of individual passages, additional or abbreviated material, and reordering of events. The gospels of Matthew and Luke will be surveyed in order to observe the similarities and differences in these texts. These two gospels have been chosen due to the similarities they share.

From the seventeen parables found in Matthew and nineteen in Luke, six are held in common. From the twenty miracles found in both Matthew and Luke, thirteen are held in common.[1] Both Matthew and Luke give details on Jesus’ infancy (Matthew 1:18 – 2:23; Luke 1:5 – 2:52); the preparatory ministry of John the Baptist (Matthew 3:1-12; Luke 3:1-20); the beginning of Jesus’ ministry (Matthew 3:13 – 4:1-11; Luke 3:21 – 4:15); Jesus’ ministry in Galilee (Matthew 4:13 – 19:1; Luke 4:16 – 9:62); and Jesus’ final week in Jerusalem, passion and ascension (Matthew 21-26; Luke 19-24). In these accounts difference can be observed in the particulars. Generally, Luke gives more details in these accounts. The greatest difference between the gospels is Luke’s coverage of Jesus’ Judean ministry which is unique to his gospel (10:1 – 18:14). To understand the reasons for these similarities and differences in Matthew and Luke and the way they have been structured, the theology and purpose of both gospels will be considered.

Gospel of Matthew

The main concern of the gospel of Matthew is to demonstrate how Jesus and his ministry are a continuation and a fulfilment of the Old Covenant. Several features of the gospel and their contribution to the main concern will be briefly considered.

1) Jesus’ Identification with David

The gospel of Matthew begins with a genealogy of Jesus mentioning two key figures in Israel’s heritage (1:1). The first of these figures is David. The mention of David connects Jesus to the Davidic covenant (2 Samuel 7:1-16) as the one whom through David’s throne would be established forever. Matthew shows that the kingship of Jesus is recognised from his birth by foreigners (2:1-2, 11), and that Jesus claim to the throne is asserted by Jesus himself (12:42; 22:44), especially by his provoking actions during his final entry into Jerusalem (21:1-11). This aspect of Jesus identity is recognised and accepted several times throughout the gospel by social outcasts and general public (9:27; 12:22-23; 15:22; 20:30-31; 21:9, 15). Jesus’ kingship was also recognised by Roman authorities who regarded it to be such a threat, infanticide was employed to prevent the rise of a rival king (2:16). Despite the responses from Rome and the general public, the religious establishment rejected Jesus’ kingship outright (27:41-42, this could be the issue behind the lack of repentance as Jesus compares himself to Solomon 12:38-42).

2) The identification with Abraham and fulfilling the Covenant as Israel

The second key figure Matthew mentions is Abraham. The identification of Abraham links the ministry of Jesus to the Abrahamic covenant, and the promises of land, nation, and blessing (Genesis 12:1-3). Though Israel received something of the promise, what they received was lost at the time of exile, and (they) never received the fulfilment of that promise. Jesus’ inaugurates the fulfilment of the promise by becoming Israel for Israel. This is a strong theme in the gospel as Jesus and his family is forced to flee from the infanticide of Herod to return to Israel at a later time. Matthew makes the comment that this was to fulfil the Scriptures thus identifying Jesus as a second Israel (2:15, Cf. Hosea 11:1). This identification with Israel is important as consideration is given to the reconstitution of the law.

3) The Miracles of Jesus

Jesus’ identity as the ‘Son of David’ also has implications for the Kingdom of God. The Son of David was to be sent “…by God specifically to the people of Israel to bring them salvation and deliverance by healing them of their diseases.”[2] Hence four out of the nine references to the ‘Son of David’ are given in the context of healing to support this theme (Matthew 9:27; 12:23; 15:22; 20:30, 31).

The idea of Jesus being sent specifically to Israel is also stressed. As Jesus sent out his twelve disciples on mission he instructs them, “Go nowhere among the Gentiles and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” (Matthew 10:5-6). However, though Jesus was indeed sent to Israel, as he personifies and reconstitutes Israel, he would also become a blessing to the nations fulfilling the Abrahamic Covenant (Genesis 12:3; 18:18; 22:18; 26:4). This appears to be the case in Jesus’ healing of the daughter of a Canaanite woman (15:21-28). Though Jesus was sent to Israel, the blessings of theocratic rule would extend beyond Israel and to the nations.

Not only does Jesus’ healing ministry have implications of Jesus’ identity, it also has implications for the Kingdom of God. Matthew understands Jesus miracles as the inauguration of the Kingdom of God (Matthew 11:2-6; 12:28). McKnight also suggests the healing ministry is also connected to atoning sacrifice. Matthew understands Jesus’ healing ministry as a fulfilment of the image of the suffering servant (Isaiah 53. Cf. Matt 8:16-17

).  However, Matthew does not apply this passage to explain Jesus’ death. Instead, there is a clear foretelling of Jesus’ atoning sacrifice as the Son of Man (20:28). It may be in this instance Matthew is using the title ‘Son of Man’ to refer to one who is authorised by God.[3] Again, these assertions add to the identity of Jesus, and his importance in salvation history.

4) Identification with Moses and Israel

          The identification with Moses implies the reconstituting of Israel by Jesus. Matthew’s account of Jesus’ temptation (4:1-11) contains explicit allusions to the accounts of Moses. Just as Moses spent forty days and nights with God (Exodus 9:18), so Jesus now spends the same time being tempted. Unlike the original Israel that failed, Jesus does not fail thereby creating faithful Israel. The allusion continues as Jesus constitutes a new community (4:18-22) and reconstitutes the law (5-7). The reconstitution of the law, commonly known as the ‘Sermon on the Mount’, is fundamental to Matthew as Jesus dismisses Jewish tradition (5:21, 27, 33, 38, 43), restoring the standard of righteousness which he will fulfil as the new Israel for Israel.

5) Rejection of the religious establishment

The gospel of Matthew stresses the uniqueness of Jesus from Roman, and the Jewish religious establishment. As already has been noted, there was enmity between the Roman authority and Jesus shortly after his birth. The recording of Jesus coming from Nazareth and beginning his ministry in Galilee (4:12-13) would not have been viewed favourably by the religious establishment as inhabitants of Jeruselem despised the region – a sentiment echoed in John’s gospel (1:46).[4] Other examples of where the religious establishment would find Matthew offensive is in the instance of Jesus’ commendation of the faith of a Roman Centurion (8:10-11), and Gentiles being counted among his followers (4:24-25). Mathew also contains teaching which is explicitly against the religious establishment (5:20; 23:13-36).

All this demonstrates that though Jesus was not part of the religious establishment or Roman authority, he was nonetheless the fulfilment of Scripture and the continuity of the Old Covenant. Nine times in the gospel the life and ministry of Jesus are said to fulfil Scripture (Matthew 1:22; 2:15; 3:15; 4:14; 8:17; 12:17; 13:35; 21:4; 26:54). These are included in the one-hundred and thirty plus references in the Old Testament – more than the other gospels.

Gospel of Luke

It is quite clear that Luke (the author of both the third gospel and Acts) is aware of other accounts of Jesus’ life and ministry (1:1), and he is not about to repeat the same emphasis. While Matthew’s main concern to show continuity from the Old Covenant to the person and ministry of Jesus, Luke’s main concern is to demonstrate the break away from traditional Israel, to a new covenant in Jesus and its applicability to the entirety of humanity. This is not to say Luke perceived the person and ministry of Jesus as having no connection with the Old Covenant. Though the gospel presents Jesus as distinct from the Old Covenant, it is still concerned to demonstrate the person and ministry of Jesus as a fulfilment of Scripture (2:23; 3:4; 21:22; 24:44), and in the recording of events which resemble events contained in the Old Testament. In this, Luke provides a universal presentation of the ministry of Jesus in the sense that it is not restricted to national Israel – this same theme prevails throughout Acts. The manner that Luke achieves this will be briefly considered.

1) The break from traditional Israel

The ministry of John the Baptist is contained in all four gospels, though Luke provides much more detail including the prophecies and circumstances surrounding his birth. It is the events surrounding John’s birth that are mentioned first, before the events that surround Jesus’ birth. The reasons for this are apparent when the circumstances of John’s birth are considered.

          Several key points concerning John and his parents, provide powerful allusions to several Old Testament identities through whom God performed extraordinary works which had a profound impact on the history of Israel. Luke informs his readers that Zechariah and Elizabeth were advanced in years, and Elizabeth herself was barren (1:6). John, their promised son, was “…not to drink wine or strong drink.” (1:15). It was in these and similar circumstances that Isaac (Genesis 17:15-19), Joseph (Genesis 29:31; 30:25); Samson (Judges 13:2-5, 24), and Samuel (1 Samuel 1:1, 20) were born. Hence Luke gives clues that God is about to do something different in the history of Israel. To be sure, John does not claim to be the Christ. Instead, the ministry of John was to testify to the one who was Christ (3:15). Similarly, Jesus was born of a childless woman, though not due to barrenness (1:34). Jesus confirms John’s ministry by recognising him as the last of the Law and the Prophets (16:16; 7:6-28). Hence John’s ministry serves as a transition between New and Old Covenants.

2) The universality of the Gospel

As Luke intends to demonstrate the universality of the gospels, he records a number of events not contained in the other gospels. These events involve people who would not be considered worthy.

          Luke records the people to receive the angelic proclamation of Jesus birth were shepherds (2:8-20). Shepherds were a despised class as Hendriksen remarks, “…because of the very nature of their occupation, to observe all the regulations of the Mosaic law-and especially all the man-made rules superim­posed on that law!”[5] Nonetheless, these were among the first people to learn of God’s actions and respond to them.

          Other reordering of social expectations can be found throughout the gospel such as chapter 18. In verses 9-14, Jesus tells a parable of a Pharisee and a tax collector, exemplary of a just and unjust person, and reverses the expected outcome (v14). In verses 15-17, Jesus welcomes children who have no social status, and exemplifies them for those who would follow him (v17).[6] In verses 18-30, Jesus dialogue with a rich young ruler reveals that entry into the kingdom can not be gained by human effort,[7] and those riches, often associated with observant Jewish leaders, hampered people from entering the kingdom. Similarly, Jesus tells of a rich man and a poor man named Lazarus, and again, the expected outcomes are reversed (16:8-31). Jesus also warns against the entrapments of riches and comfort (6:24-26). To be sure, Luke is not asserting that the poor and oppressed enter the kingdom while the rich people are condemned. Following shortly after Jesus dialogue with the rich young ruler is the occurrence of a tax collector who is inherently rich, and is declared to be a ‘son of Abraham’ due to his repentance. Hence Luke is merely demonstrating those who would not be considered as being in the kingdom in fact are.

          Consistent with this theme is Luke’s treatment of the religious establishment. Though Luke records sayings of Jesus critical of attributes which may be true of religious authorities, there is no direct public criticism as there is in Matthew. Luke’s ‘Sermon on the Plain’ (6:17-49), which appears as an abbreviated form of Matthew’s ‘Sermon on the Mount’ (Matthew 5-7) does not contain any comparisons to the teaching of religious authorities, or ‘you’ve hear said’ statements (Matthew 5:17, 21, 27, 33, 38, 43). Luke also records Jesus as receiving hospitality from Pharisees and being able to gently teach (7:36-50), though later invitations would not be so hospitable (11:37-52). Hence Luke provides little basis to dismiss the possibility of the religious authorities from entering the kingdom of God.

All these theological themes of Luke serve to introduce Jesus’ final commission to the Disciples (24:48); which Luke will espouse in his second volume.

Both Matthew and Luke share much of the material. However, they use their material differently to establish their own purposes. It is important to consider these purposes for understanding the individual accounts and events which form each gospel.

Bibliography:

Bauer, David R.      ‘Son of David’ in Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, ed. J. B. Green & Scot McKnight. Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1992.

Bock, Darrell L.      ‘Gospel of Luke’ in Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, ed. J. B. Green & Scot McKnight. Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1992.

Hendriksen, William        Luke. Banner of truth New Testament commentary. Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1978.

Hendriksen, William        Matthew. Banner of truth New Testament commentary. Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1973.

House, Wayne H.    Chronological and background charts of the New Testament, Academic Books, 1981.

Howard, Marshall, I.        ‘Son of Man’ in Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, ed. J. B. Green & Scot McKnight. Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1992.

Keeber, Craig S.      The IVP Bible background commentary, New Testament on CD-ROM. ((Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1992.

McKnight, Scot.      ‘Gospel of Matthew’ in Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, ed. J. B. Green & Scot McKnight. Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1992.

Riesner, Rainer, D.  ‘Galilee’ in Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, ed. J. B. Green & Scot McKnight. Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1992.

© The Student’s Desk, 2007.


[1] Wayne H. House, Chronological and background charts of the New Testament, (Academic Books, 1981), 109-115. Totals my differ pending the definitions of ‘parable’ and ‘miracle’.[2] David R. Bauer, ‘Son of David’ in Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, ed. J. B. Green & Scot McKnight. (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1992), 769.[3] Howard, Marshall, I. ‘Son of Man’ in Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, ed. J. B. Green & Scot McKnight. (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1992), 776.[4] Rainer, D. Riesner, ‘Galilee’ in Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, ed. J. B. Green & Scot McKnight. (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1992), 253.

[5] William Hendriksen, Luke. Banner of truth New Testament commentary. (Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1978), 149.

[6] Craig S. Keeber, The IVP Bible background commentary, New Testament on CD-ROM. ((Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1992).

[7] William Hendriksen, Luke. 831.

October 24, 2007 Posted by | Essays, Gospels, New Testament, Religious | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment