The Gospel of Matthew
It begins with an ending.
The genealogies and lists in Genesis are used like credits in modern movies — they tell the audience a story is over. They are a way of indicating a transition from one era to another, from one hero to another. But while Genesis is divided into numerous stories, the Hebrew Bible as a whole is divided into three: the Torah, the Prophets, and the Writings. To begin with a genealogy — a list — implies a whole new section of the Hebrew Bible.
The genealogy is in three pieces too. Some number of generations before the Kingdom. The same number during the Kingdom. The same number after the Kingdom. And there are Kings in the list — the Anointed One himself David, his beloved son Solomon, our friend Ruth, and even two whores — one of whom wasnt even Jewish.
The Gospel of Matthew is a sort of anti-horror, where one out of place piece is turned until an entirely different world is revealed. But this is that first piece, out of place. The Torah has a nice smooth beginning (“In the Beginning…”). The Prophets begin smoothly (“After the death of Moses…”). The Writings announce themselves confidently (“Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked…”). But this new thing, the Gospel of Matthew, begins with an ending.
Immediately following the genealogy is another piece familiar from the Hebrew Bible, the Annunciation.
In the very first annunciation, in the Torah, God appears as a man (the LORD), and promises a son, and an everlasting covenant
Whehn Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to Abram, and said to him, “I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless…
God said to Abraham, “As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name. I will bless her, and moreover I will give you a son by her. I will bless her, and she shall give rise to nations; kings of peoples shall come from her.” Then Abraham fell on his face and laughed, and said to himself, “Can a child be born to a man who is a hundred years old? Can Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child?” And Abraham said to God, “O that Ishmael might live in your sight!” God said, “No, but your wife Sarah shall bear you a son, and you shall name him Isaac. I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his offspring after him.
The offspring of that covenant, oddly, will be marched up a hill and bound in his 30s.
The only Annunciation during the Kingdom is an odd one, with Elisha promising a son, but a son somehow lost to history. We do not know more about him, other than Elisha’s role in providing for him, and later bringing him back to the dead
He said, “What then may be done for her?” Gehazi answered, “Well, she has no son, and her husband is old.” He said, “Call her.” When he had called her, she stood at the door. He said, “At this season, in due time, you shall embrace a son.” She replied, “No, my lord, O man of God; do not deceive your servant.”
The woman conceived and bore a son at that season, in due time, as Elisha had declared to her.
2 Kings :15-17
God as a man. An everlasting covenant. Rising from the dead. The meek.
The King from Bethlehem
The Gospel of Matthew began with an ending, obvious in the Hebrew Bible but oddly placed. It then continued into an Annunciation, the first since the Kingdom. But what comes next is harder to say. Whatever it is, its unsettling.
Michah, from the Prophets, is quoted, implying this will be about the return of the House of David.
But you, O Bethlehem of Ephrathah,
who are one of the little clans of Judah,
from you shall come forth for me
one who is to rule in Israel,
whose origin is from of old,
from ancient days.
But theres a section after where Deuteronomy. For a reader entering Matthew from the Hebrew Bible the implication is that Jesus’s kingship is created by the LORD and should not be tested — but the rhetorical tact is unnerving
Do not put the Lord your God to the test, as you tested him at Massah. You must diligently keep the commandments of the Lord your God, and his decrees, and his statutes that he has commanded you.
While God turns men into kings, they rule but do not legislate. The only legislation comes from Moses.
Indeed, a sign that David himself was no longer fit for kingship (though he continued to enjoy the throne, until he became tortured by it) was Davids incompetent arbitration of the case-of-the-stolen-lamb. In willful taking of property the victim is made whole, under Moses’s Law, by actual damages plus treble punitive damages. Davids statement that the thief “deserves to die” is a dangerous innovation, taking to himself the right to make moral decisions when Moses’s Law is clear.
Then David’s anger was greatly kindled against the man. He said to Nathan, “As the Lord lives, the man who has done this deserves to die; he shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing, and because he had no pity.”
2 Samuel 12:5
By contrast, wise Solomon carefully used the Law, even while dealing with political enemies. Generalissimo Joab, who had killed rival Generals, killed Davids son Absalom, imprisoned King David, and attempted to put an impostor on the throne, fled to the holy altar seeking sanctuary. But Solomon remembered Moses’s Law that such protection does not apply to those who killed one they betrayed
If it was not premeditated, but came about by an act of God, then I will appoint for you a place to which the killer may flee. But if someone willfully attacks and kills another by treachery, you shall take the killer from my altar for execution.
So Solomon could use the Law to dispose of Joab, even though Joab had fled to the place of sanctuary.
When it was told King Solomon, “Joab has fled to the tent of the Lord and now is beside the altar,” Solomon sent Benaiah son of Jehoiada, saying, “Go, strike him down.” So Benaiah came to the tent of the Lord and said to him, “The king commands, ‘Come out.'” But he said, “No, I will die here.” Then Benaiah brought the king word again, saying, “Thus said Joab, and thus he answered me.” The king replied to him, “Do as he has said, strike him down and bury him; and thus take away from me and from my father’s house the guilt for the blood that Joab shed without cause.”
1 Kings 2:29-31
Solomon’s wisdom was not in creating new laws, but in correctly interpreting Moses’s Law.
But suddenly Jesus is issuing legislation. But he does it challenging the same chapter that Solomon quoted. While the verse and chapter division was made only in the middle ages, its only a few sentences later in Moses’s Law that
If any harm follows, then you shall give life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.
But Jesus says:
You have heard that it was said, An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also;
Experts in the Law would be nonplussed at a surface tension in wording (after all, the first law in Exodus and the Second Law often have a tension), but this Jesus, this third law?
This is not just a new King. This is a new Constitution.
Matthew began with an ending. But it seems the old relationship of the King and the Law is itself ending. Where does this stop?
At this point Matthew is completely disorienting.
Elisha brought the dead back to life
When Elisha came into the house, he saw the child lying dead on his bed. So he went in and closed the door on the two of them, and prayed to the Lord. Then he got up on the bed and lay upon the child, putting his mouth upon his mouth, his eyes upon his eyes, and his hands upon his hands; and while he lay bent over him, the flesh of the child became warm. He got down, walked once to and fro in the room, then got up again and bent over him; the child sneezed seven times, and the child opened his eyes. Elisha summoned Gehazi and said, “Call the Shunammite woman.” So he called her. When she came to him, he said, “Take your son.” She came and fell at his feet, bowing to the ground; then she took her son and left.
2 Kings 4:32-37
and now Jesus does to:
While he was saying these things to them, suddenly a leader of the synagogue came in and knelt before him, saying, “My daughter has just died; but come and lay your hand on her, and she will live.” And Jesus got up and followed him, with his disciples. Then suddenly a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years came up behind him and touched the fringe of his cloak, for she said to herself, “If I only touch his cloak, I will be made well.” Jesus turned, and seeing her he said, “Take heart, daughter; your faith has made you well.” And instantly the woman was made well. When Jesus came to the leader’s house and saw the flute players and the crowd making a commotion, he said, “Go away; for the girl is not dead but sleeping.” And they laughed at him. But when the crowd had been put outside, he went in and took her by the hand, and the girl got up. And the report of this spread throughout that district.
So perhaps the Kingdom and the legislation stuff should be seen as a form of prophecy? I mean, isn’t Saul, too, among the prophets? But… its really odd that passage of Elisha bringing back the dead to life is in the same chapter as the Annunciation.
Or does this mean that the King, the Legislation, and the Prophecy are being combined?
Is this a normal passage or a revolutionary one?
What remains in this gospel?
A King Greater than Moses
Step by step, the message of the Gospel of Matthew is unveiled.
Moses’s epithet is “The Man”
Now the man Moses was very humble, more so than anyone else on the face of the earth.
Jesus is the Son of Man, Son of David, Son of God
Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” Matthew 16:13-16
Moses heals the skin-blanched, on the request of his priest, after seven days
Then Aaron said to Moses, “Oh, my lord, do not punish us for a sin that we have so foolishly committed. Do not let her be like one stillborn, whose flesh is half consumed when it comes out of its mother’s womb.” And Moses cried to the Lord, “O God, please heal her.”
Jesus heals the skin-blanched, on the request of his priest, but without delays
When Jesus entered Peter’s house, he saw his mother-in-law lying in bed with a fever; 15 he touched her hand, and the fever left her, and she got up and began to serve him.
Moses feeds the many
When the Israelites saw it, they said to one another, “What is it?”[a] For they did not know what it was. Moses said to them, “It is the bread that the Lord has given you to eat. 16 This is what the Lord has commanded: Gather as much of it as each of you needs, an omer to a person
Jesus feeds the many
Jesus asked them, “How many loaves have you?” They said, “Seven, and a few small fish.” 35 Then ordering the crowd to sit down on the ground, 36 he took the seven loaves and the fish; and after giving thanks he broke them and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. 37 And all of them ate and were filled; and they took up the broken pieces left over, seven baskets full.
Moses is the intercessor
Therefore he said he would destroy them—
had not Moses, his chosen one,
stood in the breach before him,
to turn away his wrath from destroying them.
Jesus establishes an intercessors:
And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.
Moses goes up the mountain
Then the Lord said to Moses, “I am going to come to you in a dense cloud, in order that the people may hear when I speak with you and so trust you ever after…
When the Lord descended upon Mount Sinai, to the top of the mountain, the Lord summoned Moses to the top of the mountain, and Moses went up
Then Time Collapses In On Itself
For Elijah went up in a whirlwind
When they had crossed, Elijah said to Elisha, “Tell me what I may do for you, before I am taken from you.” Elisha said, “Please let me inherit a double share of your spirit.” He responded, “You have asked a hard thing; yet, if you see me as I am being taken from you, it will be granted you; if not, it will not.” As they continued walking and talking, a chariot of fire and horses of fire separated the two of them, and Elijah ascended in a whirlwind into heaven.
2 Kings 2:9-11
And Moses is the greatest of the prophets
Never since has there arisen a prophet in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face. He was unequaled for all the signs and wonders that the Lord sent him to perform in the land of Egypt, against Pharaoh and all his servants and his entire land, and for all the mighty deeds and all the terrifying displays of power that Moses performed in the sight of all Israel.
But then this:
Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. Then Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three dwellings here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” While he was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!”
and this, radiation burns from the presense of the LORD
Moses came down from Mount Sinai. As he came down from the mountain with the two tablets of the covenant in his hand, Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone because he had been talking with God. When Aaron and all the Israelites saw Moses, the skin of his face was shining, and they were afraid to come near him. But Moses called to them; and Aaron and all the leaders of the congregation returned to him, and Moses spoke with them. Afterward all the Israelites came near, and he gave them in commandment all that the Lord had spoken with him on Mount Sinai. When Moses had finished speaking with them, he put a veil on his face; but whenever Moses went in before the Lord to speak with him, he would take the veil off, until he came out; and when he came out, and told the Israelites what he had been commanded, the Israelites would see the face of Moses, that the skin of his face was shining; and Moses would put the veil on his face again, until he went in to speak with him.
The Transfiguration is so breathtaking that there is no longer any ambiguity that Jesus is greater than Moses. The simultaneous presense of Jesus, Moses, and Elijah ia break in time itself. The implication of the “other” side of Mt. Sinai, the destination of the fierey chariot, reorients the reader. Thus far everything was disorienting, but now we know the destination. The Gospel of Matthew is the story of God on Earth.
Jesus is clear: the Son of Man, his title for Himself, is an apocalyptic figure:
Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven’ with power and great glory. 31 And he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.
The similarity to the Book of Daniel is unavoidable.
“I was watching in the night visions,
And behold, One like the Son of Man,
Coming with the clouds of heaven!
He came to the Ancient of Days,
And they brought Him near before Him.
Then to Him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom,
That all peoples, nations, and languages should serve Him.
His dominion is an everlasting dominion,
Which shall not pass away,
And His kingdom the one
Which shall not be destroyed.
And now everything is unveiled. The greatest of the prophets, the greatest of kings, is the Son of Man, the LORD himself.
The Laws themselves are how we worship the LORD, for this is the greatest of the Laws:
When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, and one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” He said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”
And in obeying these laws, we directly serve the LORD
“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. Then the king will say to those at his right hand, Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ And the king will answer them, Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”
The Son of David, In a Tree, Under Stones
When the Son of David went up on a tree:
Absalom happened to meet the servants of David. Absalom was riding on his mule, and the mule went under the thick branches of a great oak. His head caught fast in the oak, and he was left hanging between heaven and earth, while the mule that was under him went on.
2 Samuel 18:9
When the Son of David was buried under stones
They took Absalom, threw him into a great pit in the forest, and raised over him a very great heap of stones. Meanwhile all the Israelites fled to their homes.
2 Samuel 18:17
The King of the Jews offered his own life for his beloved son
The king was deeply moved, and went up to the chamber over the gate, and wept; and as he went, he said, “O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! Would I had died instead of you, O Absalom, my son, my son!”
2 Samuel 18:33
This all happens again. But this time it is the King on the tree. This time it is King buried under storms. The Son of Man died
In the same way the chief priests also, along with the scribes and elders, were mocking him, saying, “He saved others; he cannot save himself. He is the King of Israel; let him come down from the cross now, and we will believe in him”
And instead of lamentations, after three days the death is followed by the happiest sentences ever recorded
Suddenly Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”
The God Who Will Never Leave
The Book of Exodus ends with Moses with glory of God being with the people of Israel.
Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. Moses was not able to enter the tent of meeting because the cloud settled upon it, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. Whenever the cloud was taken up from the tabernacle, the Israelites would set out on each stage of their journey; but if the cloud was not taken up, then they did not set out until the day that it was taken up. For the cloud of the Lord was on the tabernacle by day, and fire was in the cloud by night, before the eyes of all the house of Israel at each stage of their journey.
The Gospel of Matthew Ends the Same Way
Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
There are other things in the Gospel of Matthew too. Jesus teaches in parables, which are much like the narrative writings. There are other miracles, including his own resurrection. There is a clear establishment of a line of Priests with Peter, with echoes to both Aaron and the Temple. But this, to me, seems like the core of the gospel.
The Gospels begin a new section of the Bible, equivalent to the Torah, the Prophets, and the Writings
Jesus creates a Law on par with the First Law in Exodus and the Second Law in Deuteronomy
Jesus is Son of God, Son of David, Son of Man
Jesus is the LORD God
When we serve this new law, by serving the least among us, we serve the God LORD Jesus God, Son of David, Son of God, Son of Man.
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