Saturday, February 17, 2007

Does Matthew Introduce a Time After Jesus?

In Lukan studies, it's commonplace to refer to a shift that takes place somewhere amid the ending of Luke and the opening of Acts. Some argue with Conzelmann that a whole new age is beginning, whereas others argue that the age of Jesus (though now mediated by the Holy Spirit) remains the key point of departure for the early church. However we might interpret it, Luke nevertheless indicates to his readers in various ways that a shift is taking place.

I'm curious whether Matthew does the same thing. It's common, of course, to attempt to determine Matthew's ecclesiology for his own time, partly by his explicit statements and partly by teasing out implications of how he chose to tell his story. But does Matthew indicate how the transition took place between the time when Jesus taught his disciples in person and the time when he no longer did so?

It has been argued, of course, that Matthew's lack of an ascension account, coupled with Jesus' promise, "Behold, I am with you always," indicates that Matthew wishes to emphasize the continuity between the accounts described in the gospel and whatever took place in the church after that time. Yet Jesus also tells his disciples in Matthew that they will have authority to bind and loose matters for the church, so clearly something has changed. So my question is, does Matthew indicate this shift more or less explicitly through the rhetoric of his narrative? I plan to emphasize an audience oriented approach, with appropriate reference to other methods of criticism.

For my notes, I'll also consider passages that seem aimed directly at the reader, i.e., that jump from Jesus directly to the church member in Matthew's day. However, what I really would like to find are indications (other than just the great commission) of the transition that is implied at the end of the gospel.


scoots said...

I think the Sermon on the Mount has to be seen as a key point in the reader's understanding of life as a part of the church. If the reader has any conception of herself at the outset as a "disciple" of Jesus (or one who follows Jesus, as Peter, Andrew, James and John do), then 5:1-2 clearly indicates to her that what follows is intended for her. The ending of Matthew ("disciple all nations"), though the reader hasn't yet read it, suggests that Matthew is writing for people who already see themselves as disciples.

If the reader has any doubts at the start of the sermon whether it's intended for her, the end of the sermon makes it explicit (7:24-27) that those who hear Jesus' words are expected to put them into practice. Unless Matthew goes on to persuade the reader to reject the teachings of the sermon, she will certainly understand it as immediately relevant to her life, to the extent that she considers herself a disciple of Jesus.

scoots said...

5:11-12: I don't know of any indication in the rest of the gospel that the disciples are persecuted during Matthew's narrative, so I think the final beatitude has to be taken as directly explicity at the time of the reader.

The rest of the sermon is directed at the reader too, but it is not as time-specific.

scoots said...

10:5-42: The first verse, telling the apostles not to go among the Gentiles, indicates that Matthew was writing with a historical perspective; therefore, the story is in no sense entirely "transparent" for Matthew's readers.

How exactly the various teachings of chapter 10 apply to later readers becomes an interesting question.

The mission of 10:7-14 is an itinerant proclamation of the kingdom of God directed only at the towns of Israel. It is difficult to know whether a reader in Matthew's community would have read this section historically or autobiographically. Chapters 11-13 of the Didache, a work which bears some striking connections with Matthew, seem to indicate that apostles fitting this description were indeed at work in the early church –– although Didache's dating is uncertain.

There is no question that the warnings of 10:16-25 stretch beyond the horizon of Matthew's narrative, but it is unclear again to what time they point. If Matthew's readers were familiar with Paul's writings or perhaps some of the stories that ended up in Acts, then this section of Jesus' words would sound familiar: Paul writes of being flogged by Jews (10:17), Acts tells how Paul was dragged in front of governors and kings (10:18), and the speeches of Peter early in Acts seem to have been granted to him (an unschooled man) from on high (10:19-20).

But then 10:22 announces, "But the one who endures to the end will be saved." This would be a curious things for Jesus to say directly to his disciples, since Matthew's readers would already know them to be dead. It's conceivable that "the end" refers to the individual person's death (in light of 10:21), but the end of verse 23 seems to indicate that the end in question is apocalyptic: "…you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes." So that pushes the time forward from the apostles to Matthew's readers.

10:24-25 drives home the point (which I raised earlier going into the Sermon on the Mount) that believers in Matthew's community would have considered themselves disciples, and that they would have regarded these teachings as meant for them.

The rest of the chapter emphasizes conflict between believers and the rest of the world –– conflict that does not come up during the span of Matthew's narrative and so must be located after the end of his story. What's described here would appear to link up with the last beatitude (5:11-12). It seems that this conflict with the world will escalate during the time when believers await the eschaton. The themes of conflict, loyalty, providence, and vindication are addressed.

This discourse (the second in Matthew) was introduced by a listing of the 12 apostles (10:2), and it is concluded by saying that Jesus "had finished instructing his twelve disciples" (11:1). While the reader would probably take it as applying to herself in at least some sense, the historical perspective it reflects would perhaps suggest that it describes the entire time between the end of Matthew's narrative and the reader's own day.

So what was Matthew doing here? He assembles a speech that limits the apostles' proclamation to Israel, but then he puts in apocalyptic perspective, looking ahead to a time when Gentiles would be a focus of the mission. How to these two perspectives fit together?

It seems likely that some of the unevenness is created by Matthew's use of diverse sources. Some of the traditions he uses would have been more directly pertinent to the original twelve, while others would better fit Matthew's church. It appears that Matthew combines these, but it's not clear why.

scoots said...

When Jesus talks about "something greater" being present, is he applying that to his presence (or the presence of the Kingdom) in the church, or only to his presence in the flesh, during Matthew's narrative?

In 12:6, he compares his work to the work of the temple, where certain laws can be broken because of a more important task that must be carried out. In 12:41 he emphasizes the need for repentance by saying that "something greater than Jonah" and "something greater than Solomon" is here.

OK, so presumably, Jesus is holier than the temple, wiser than solomon, and on a greater prophetic mission than Jonah. But what does that mean for the church? Is something greater than the temple still present, or are things like the sabbath-breaking prerogative limited to Jesus in person? Is the goal of these comments only to substantiate the authority of Jesus' teaching ("but I say to you") in the face of other interpretations of Torah, or is the goal also to affirm decisions the church will make later ("whatever you bind will be bound in heaven")?

The structure of the story reflects this same complexity/ambiguity. As the story is set up, it is not Jesus but his disciples who are plucking grain, presumably at their own initiative. In 12:2 Matthew adds a second mention of the disciples to the parallel account from Mk 2:24, so perhaps he wants to emphasize that it is the behavior not of Jesus but of his disciples that is in question. This would tend to shift the focus of the question to a time after Jesus––a time when Jesus is still present as something greater than the temple, but when his disciples' actions, rather than his own, are being questioned.

When the Pharisees question Jesus about what his disciples are doing, he appears to offer two conflicting defenses. After all, if Jesus breaks the sabbath because he's greater than the temple, and therefore lord of the sabbath, then he shouldn't need two different passages from Scripture to back it up. If he's saying his opponents should already recognize from Scripture that his disciples' behavior is correct, then his lordship over the sabbath is kind of superfluous.

So is Jesus defending the bending of the law only when he gives explicit teachings to that effect, or is he defending the disciples' right to bend laws at their own initiative? If Jesus is indeed still present with the church after the end of Matthew's narrative, then wouldn't it be reasonable for them to retain that prerogative?

But if they've already got that prerogative by virtue of their connection with Jesus, why does Jesus go on to quote the scripture from Hosea 6:6? Again, why does he need scriptural justification if he's acting as lord of the sabbath?

One clue is that the Hosea passage quoted here in 12:7 is a repetition, having been quoted already in 9:13; and lest the reader miss the repetition, Jesus points out that he has already said this to the Pharisees and that they have clearly misunderstood it. The repetition indicates that this was an important passage for Matthew that he wanted his readers to notice; the way Jesus presents it to the Pharisees indicates that it is in fact being presented as some form of justification for his disciples' actions in the face of the Pharisees.

Another clue comes from Matthew's redaction of Mark. Because he leaves out Mark 2:17's statement that "the sabbath was made for humans, not humans for the sabbath", it seems that Matthew does not want to set down a general principle that people should have figured out before Jesus. In othe words, perhaps Matthew wishes to emphasize that it's not the nature of the sabbath, but rather the nature of Jesus, that determines how the sabbath will be observed.

The question of Jesus' authority over the sabbath puts Matthew in a difficult spot, because he wants to claim that Jesus has all authority (28:18), but that God hasn't set aside the Torah as a legitimate authority ("not one stroke," 5:18).

Here's what I'd propose as the explanation for all these diverse, and seemingly contradictory, elements that are present in the pericope: Jesus, as one who is greater than the temple, etc., has chosen to fulfill the law and the prophets according to the program of his choice, namely "I desire mercy, not sacrifice." So, the disciples can break sabbath as a part of their holy mission (on which they were sent in ch. 10) because the lord of the sabbath, who is greater even than the holy temple, has come forward to fulfill the law and prophets by proclaiming that these matters will now be mediated according to a principle that was present in Scripture all along: "I desire mercy, not sacrifice."

Ultimately, Torah interpretation is a key point in Matthew's gospel. Both Jesus and his opponents know the content of the Scriptures, but correct interpretation is another matter, and of course correct action is as well.

It doesn't seem to me, from this passage, that Matthew is arguing from Scripture that Jews ought to agree with Jesus––as, e.g., Paul seems to have done in Acts. Rather, Matthew takes Jesus as his starting point and explains to his readers how to interpret Scripture since Jesus, the Messiah, came and fulfilled it.

So the post-great-commission church doesn't have the freedom to interpret Torah however it will, but it does have freedom and authority to make judgments within the boundaries and principles set forth by Jesus. Having witnessed that Jesus, who was lord over these sorts of things, fulfilled the law by applying to it the principle "I desire mercy, not sacrifice", the church is called to go out and obey Torah according to that same principle.

scoots said...

For 12:1-8, I also need to consider how it follows from the previous pericope and leads into the next.

Jesus had just finished saying, "My yoke is easy, and my burden is light" (11:30). Is the principle of "mercy, not sacrifice" a key way in which Jesus' yoke is easy?

Starting in 12:9, Jesus has another conflict with the people (presumably Pharisees) in the synagogue over whether he can heal a man on the sabbath. He concludes with "It is lawful to do good on the sabbath." The question, as above, is whether Jesus thinks they should have come to this conclusion on their own, or whether he is announcing that this interpretation is true because he is pronouncing it so.

scoots said...

13:10-17: "Truly I tell you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, but did not see it, and to hear what you hear, but did not hear it."

It would be difficult for a reader not to hear Jesus' prologue to his explanation of the parable of the sower as directed at her, although it fits into the story historically as well.

scoots said...

13:24-30, 36-43: In the parable of the weeds and its explanation (both totally unique to Matthew), it is the Son of Man who is sowing seed, and yet the story stretches to "the end of the age" (13:39).

Is the horizon of this story supposed to be confined to Matthew's narrative, such that Jesus is talking primarily about the people to whom he is preaching, whose response will ultimately be judged at the eschaton?

Clearly the parable has relevance for the church. But what is Jesus' ongoing role? Has he merely initiated the mission of sowing the word that his apostles will continue, or is the proclamation going on after the great commission still considered to be the work of the Son of Man?

Pehaps the question is unimportant, or, more likely, impossible to settle.

scoots said...

Further passages pointing to the future:

16:15-20: Peter's confession, Jesus to build church on the Rock.

17:9: Descending the mount of transfiguration, Jesus commands, "Tell no one about the vision until after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead." Are we to assume this took place "during" the last chapter of Matthew, or not until after the great commission?

17:17: Jesus says, "You faithless and perverse generation, how much longer must I be with you? How much longer must I put up with you?" Does he only remain with them until the end of Matthew, or until the end of the eschaton? Is the church, presumably, a group that is no longer a part of the faithless and perverse generation? It would seem so, since they have "little faith" (17:20), not no faith.

17:20: The exhortation about having faith to move mountains would presumably apply to the later church, but it can probably be construed to fit the time of Matthew's gospel as well.

18:1-35: I obviously have to deal with this chapter, which speaks of the "church" and clearly explains practices for a post-great-commision time.

20:23: Jesus' statement that James and John will "drink my cup" clearly points to a time after Matt 28 but before Matthew's community.

20:26: Whoever would be great must be a servant, etc. If the future tense reading is original (a well-attested variant has present tense), then Jesus seems to be speaking of leadership in the church after Matt 28.

21:18-22: Like in 17:20, the faith to move mountains through prayer seems more relevant to later readers than to disciples in Matthew's story.

21:43: "The kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that produces the fruits of the kingdom." Presumably refers to the gentile mission, which doesn't begin until after Matt 28.

22:1-14: The parable of the wedding banquet seems to point also to the Gentile mission, the Jews being those who were invited and declined. That the king send troops and "burned their city" seems to be a clear reference to the fall of Jerusalem in 70. (Note Matthew lacks the evident concern for the poor that Luke has in this story; Matthew's claim is not that the poor will be invited, but that both good and bad will be invited.)

23:24: Jesus is sending "prophets, sages, and scribes" to the scribes and Pharisees, but they will reject them, flog them, kill them, etc. This will result in blood guilt that will "come upon this generation." This surely points past the time of Jesus. Is the blood guilt related to the fall of Jerusalem (which Matthew seems to have described above, in 22:7)?

scoots said...

Read Kingsbury, Matthew: Structure, Christology, Kingdom, chapter 1.

scoots said...

I suppose the Kingdom of God must be a big part of what is intended for after Jesus leaves. Or does Matthew ever indicate that the kingdom arrives during Jesus' story? Or at his crucifixion? Or only at the eschaton?

scoots said...

It appears that during the narrative of Matthew's Gospel, Jesus never actually baptizes with the Holy Spirit (3:11), which would mean that the story implies that it takes places after 28:20.

If so, then is 28:19 proclaiming the start of a new sort of age of the Holy Spirit? That they had always known the Father, and in Jesus they knew the Son, but now, after he left, they would know the Holy Spirit as well?

This connection is definitely supported by the word “baptism.” The word and its cognates occur seven times in chapter 3, then only once (21:25, when Jesus questions the chief priests and elders about John's baptism) before the closing statement of 28:19.

The idea of the Holy Spirit also connects John's prophecy to the great commission, though in less obvious fashion.

It is clear from early on that Jesus acts by the Spirit. He is conceived by the “Holy Spirit” (1:13, 20), the “Spirit of God” descends on him at his baptism (3:16), the “Spirit” leads him into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil, Jesus' ministry is explained by a quotation from Isa 42:1-4 where God says he will place his spirit on his servant (12:18), and Jesus implies that he casts out demons by the “Spirit of God” as a sign that the kingdom of God (note not kingdom of heaven, as usually in Matthew) already arrived (12:28). He further implies that he works by the Spirit of God when he accuses the Pharisees of blaspheming the Holy Spirit (12:32) by ascribing his work to Beelzeboul (12:24) when in fact it is the work God has chosen for his servant (12:18).

David also is said to have spoken by the “Spirit,” which seems to imply that God’s spirit is responsible for revelation.

And then we have one passage about the disciples speaking by “the Spirit of your Father” when they are arrested and expected to bear witness (10:20). The instructions of chapter 10 appear to be intended for after Matthew's narrative, and this is consistent with Jesus’ baptizing people with the Holy Spirit (3:11), which doesn't appear to happen until after the narrative either. The disiples are never said to act according to the Spirit during the timeframe of the story, even though Jesus clearly does.

So, then, it seems clear that the call to baptize (in the great commission) is meant to refer back to John's prophecy in 3:11, because that baptism (as opposed to John's baptism) will be done not only in the name of the Father and Son, but also in the name of the Holy Spirit. It seems that only *then* will baptism of the Holy Spirit take place.

So in that sense it does appear that a different time period will have begun.

scoots said...

4:12-17 is clearly a transitional passage of some sort. John is put into prison, Jesus moves from Nazareth to Capernaum in fulfillment of (a rough translation of) Isaiah 9:1-2, and Jesus begins “from then” (apo tote, drawing attention to the transition?) preaching, “Repent, for the kingdom of the heavens has drawn near.”

The quotation may have been used because of the geographical references that correspond to where Jesus was living, but it can hardly be ignored that this same oracle in Isaiah 9 goes on to proclaim that a child has been born to Israel (Isa 9:6) who will sit on David's throne (9:7), destroy the “rod of the oppressor” (9:4), and uphold the kingdom with justice and righteousness (9:7).

This connects with Matthew's story where Jesus, who is called Christ (i.e, king) and Son of David (i.e., king) is just beginning to describe the “kingdom of heaven.” I'm not sure it's entirely clear how often Matthew uses the original contexts of his scriptural quotations, but in this case he almost surely meant to imply a correspondence.

Unlike in Luke (see Conzelmann), in Matthew Jesus' message is exactly the same as John's (3:2) at this point, so we probably can't say that John's imprisonment and the beginning of Jesus' preaching constitute the specific point of coming of the kingdom. On the other hand, clearly Jesus’ ministry is related to the coming of the kingdom.

So the question remains: What does the rest of the story lead us to conclude about the coming of the kingdom?

scoots said...

On the kingdom of heaven:

John the Baptist (3:2) doesn't offer an explanation of the kingdom, but his preaching suggests some of its features. The Isaiah quotation (3:3) suggests that the kingdom involves God coming to Israel, and the call to repentence (3:2) is linked to a warning that God's coming will be a time of judgment (3:7-8) that is presumably related to the kingdom. When Jesus comes, he will bring a baptism of fire (3:11), which is linked also to the coming judgment by preceding and following references to felled trees (3:10) and wheat chaff (3:12) that will be burned.

He will also bring a baptism in the Holy Spirit, which I have already suggested is related to 10:20 and 28:19.

When Jesus himself brings up the kingdom (4:17), it's almost immediately connected with curing diseases and sicknesses (4:23).

Jesus then shortly begins the Sermon on the Mount, in which his first proclamation concerns the kingdom of heaven, that it belongs to the “poor in spirit.” If we take the beatitudes as a group, such that all the qualities refer to the same group of people, then the people of the kingdom are those who seek, above all, righteousness (5:6, 10), evidenced in showing mercy (5:7) and making peace (5:9). It appears that only the downtrodden (poor in spirit, mournful, meek) will be pure in heart and accept Jesus' message.

It's interesting that the wrath that will come upon the Jewish leaders is in many cases directly related to their response to Jesus’ healing, such as (perhaps implied of) the gentiles in 8:34 and the scribes in 9:3-4. That means that the notions of the kingdom as presented by John and then Jesus may actually be consistent: John says Jesus will bring judgment, and ironically it is Jesus’ kingdom-related act of healing that does bring judgment, at least for those who won't accept it as coming from God.

scoots said...

Probably the most obvious meaning of the kingdom of the heavens for Matthew is his own community's discipleship to Jesus, including their beliefs, lives, and communal practices. Righteousness (e.g., 6:33) is a key part of this.

scoots said...

The kingdom comes up several more times in the Sermon on the Mount.

5:19: Here people are said to be called “least” or “great” in the kingdom of the heavens according to whether they “do and teach” or “loose” even the least of the commandments of the law. The future tense (“shall be called”) may, but does not necessarily, indicate that the kingdom is future, as seen in the parallel constructions in 5:22 (the Sanhedrin is an immediate threat, though note that Gehenna is mentioned in the same terms as a future threat).

5:20: Here the disciples’ righteousness must exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees in order for them to “enter into” the kingdom of the heavens. The grammar would imply that the disciples are not already in the kingdom, which would seem to make it a future reality. (It could, of course, be both present and future.)

6:10: The next reference to the kingdom comes in the Lord’s prayer, which clearly considers the kingdom a matter of the future. The parallel between the coming of God’s kingdom and God’s will being done suggests that that is what God’s kingdom is––wherever God’s will is being done. This especially makes sense if basileia is taken to mean “reign” more than “dominion,” though in Greek I can't find another word for either.

6:33: Textual variants complicate this passage (“of God” is missing from both Sinaiticus and Vaticanus), but on any reading it links the kingdom with righteousness, which is becoming a theme (5:10, 20, plus the linking of repentance with the kingdom in 3:2 and 4:17 and the linking of obedience to the law with repentance in 5:19). If disciples can seek the kingdom, then it must be something at least partly available to them in this life.

My sense so far is that there is a continuity in the approach of the kingdom that extends from the preaching of John the Baptist through the end of Matthew's Gospel and into the lives of later believers. That suggests that the kingdom is no more present after 28:20 than it was before; is it less present though (as some argue of Luke)?

scoots said...

9:8: The story of the forgiving/healing of the paralytic ends with a perplexing comment: “When the crowds saw, they were afraid, and they glorified God who gave such authority to humans.”

Since Jesus had just announced his “authority” to forgive sins, the authority the crowds marvelled at almost has to be that same authority to forgive sins, though the ability to heal a paralytic is obviously closely related in the story.

But then who are the “human beings”? It seems there are only two possibilities.

The first is that they're only acknowledging the authority of Jesus (the son of man), but that the text uses a plural for some reason. Perhaps the point is that forgiveness is no longer only from heaven, but is now carried out by one (Jesus) who lives among humans.

The second possibility is that it’s a reference to the binding and loosing (16:19; 18:18) that Jesus authorizes the apostles to do, apparently a binding/loosing of sins or commandments, though that is not certain. If that is what Matthew is talking about, it does not fit well into the flow of the story, since it’s unclear at this point in the narrative what it refers to. The reader has to wait 7 more chapters to find out that Jesus passes on his authority over sins to his disciples, so if that’s what Matthew is indicating, he’s pretty clumsy about it.

Of course, it’s an awkward comment no matter how you approach it. I'd lean toward the second meaning.

scoots said...

9:14-17: Jesus talks of a time when "the brideroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast." I suppose this would have to refer either to Jesus' time in the grave or to some future point when he leaves that is not recounted in the story.

Those who would emphasize Jesus' promise that "Behold, I am with you always" might prefer the former, but in the Sermon on the Mount Jesus tells his disciples how to fast, which points to the latter. In fact, Mt 9:15 explicitly says that people don't fast "as long as the bridegroom is with them," which would suggest that the church after Mt 28:20 would never fast at all, if Matthew indeed wants us to hold that Jesus never left. I would tend to take Matthew as meaning that Jesus did leave in one sense, even though he remains with the church in another sense.

In any event, to say that Matthew included this parable, intending really for it only to apply to the very short time Jesus was in the grave, doesn't make much sense. Matthew never points out that any of Jesus' disciples mourned between his crucifiixion and resurrection, so if he intended that connection he didn’t highlight it very well. Peter and Judas both mourn, but they do so before Jesus even stands before Pilate, and in any event their mourning is associated not with Jesus being taken away but with their own respective betrayals. So this pericope doesn't seem to point to any particular point of time *within* the story.

Maybe we have to conclude that Matthew just wasn't being consistent. He adapted his source (Mk 2:18-22) with only incidental changes, so maybe he didn't consider whether this pericope would contradict the idea of "God with us". Or maybe "Behold, I am with you always" was indended to refer to a different kind of presence than that assumed in the comparison with a bridegroom.

So, then, since the pericope doesn't relate to a time within Matthew's narrative, it would seem to point to a time after his narrative, in the life of the church. Presumably Matthew's community fasts, knowing that in one sense, at least, the bridegroom is not in fact *with them*. I wonder if Matthew ever indicates or suggests whether such mourning began immediately after his story concluded (implying an ascension) or at a later point.

Another possibility is that the death of Jesus functions as the world’s rejection of the kingdom, such that what follows is a time of persecution and mourning for the church even though Jesus is raised from the dead.

How do the patches and wineskins relate to this? It seems likely that the “new” thing is the coming of the kingdom, which goes hand in hand with Jesus’ fulfillment of the law according the scripture “I desire mercy, not sacrifice” and according to the principle of love. I'm still not sure this can be parsed out cleanly.

scoots said...

Does 12:28 indicate that the kingdom of God already arrived? Is it present in the person of Jesus? If so, then seeking the kingdom would be something that happens after Jesus is gone, right?

scoots said...

Does 12:28 indicate that the kingdom of God already arrived? Is it present in the person of Jesus? If so, then seeking the kingdom would be something that happens after Jesus is gone, right?

Since the kingdom contains the wicked as well as the good (13:41, 47), should we presume that to be *in* the kingdom doesn't mean to be *of* the kingdom?

scoots said...

13:38: how do the “sons of the kingdom” represented here by the good seed relate to those (Israelites) whom Jesus refers to when talking to the centurion in 8:12?

scoots said...

16:4: Is the “sign of Jonah” supposed to be apocalyptic? That is, does the death and resurrection of Jesus constitute a particular kind of warning to the people that they would not have received otherwise?

scoots said...

16:18f: “…You are Peter, on on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.”

This is an interesting sentence, because it refers to three different time frames. Jesus is predicting the founding of the church, so obviously the saying is given an historical setting during the life of Jesus. Then the actual founding of the church, with Peter as a pillar, takes places after the end of Matthew's story but long before the lives of Matthew's readers. Finally, the promise that Hades will not overcome the church looks towards the future, such that it is directed at Matthew's readers.

scoots said...

8:10-12: Sons of the kingdom will be thrown out –– this appears to be at the eschaton, so I don't think it's in a particular time frame within or soon after Matthew's narrative.

scoots said...

8:17: The quotation of Isa 53:4 appears to be another example of Isaiah referencing a broader passage by quoting a small part of it. That chapter in Isaiah is so suggestive of the story of Christ that it is difficult to conceive that Matthew did not intend to relate it to him.

That passage describes God’s “servant” (52:13) who suffers on behalf of the people. Relevant to my question concerning Matthew is that the servant accomplishes something on behalf of the people that changes their situation. Isaiah says, for example, “upon him was the punishment that made us whole, and by his bruises we are healed” (53:5b). This suggests that Matthew understands his passion story as marking a profound point in the dealings of God with the people.

Isaiah also says of the servant, “Therefore I will allot him a portion with the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong; because he poured out himself to death....” Perhaps this is a stretch, but I wonder if Matthew would relate this to Jesus’ claim to have received all authority in heaven and on earth.

Does Matthew ever indicate that Jesus has that kind of authority before the cross? If not, then Isaiah’s claim of exaltation after suffering is almost too much to ignore.

Well, Jesus does have power over leprosy (you can make me clean, 8:2), he has authority like a centurion (8:9), he can rebuke winds and sea (8:26), he has full authority to torment demons (8:29; cf. TestSol), he has authority to forgive sins (9:6), and he can appeal to the father and have an angelic army sent in to defend him (26:53).

And for that matter, Jesus seems to give pretty much all of that authority to the disciples in chapter 10: preaching the same message, healing, raising the dead. However, two points of chapter 10 seem to indicate that it is intended for later, not for a time during Matthew’s narrative. First is the disciples’ ability to speak by the spirit (10:20), something I'm suggesting doesn’t happen until later, after the great commission is given. Second is the mission, which will not be completed “before the Son of Man comes” (10:23).

All that is to say, Jesus had quite a bit of authority before the cross. However, perhaps for Matthew it was all derivative from the father before the cross (the temptations perhaps suggest this), but afterwards Jesus was given authority of his own. That might also explain the father/son/spirit grouping, meaning that the father had sent all along, now the son was sending on his own authority, and baptism would bring the Holy Spirit.

scoots said...

20:21: James's and John's mother wants them to sit at Jesus' right and left “in your kingdom.” Jesus' response is that those places have already been prepared for others by his Father.

Matthew changes Mark (Mk 10:37), for whom they want to sit at the right and left in Jesus' *glory*, not his kingdom. Mark seems to be alluding to the two criminals on Jesus' right and left (Mk 15:27), but it is not clear that Matthew either recognized or tried to perpetuate that reference in his narrative––the word glory left just enough ambiguity for Jesus’ the literary connection to work.

But since Matthew speaks instead of the kingdom, it appears he either misses or sets aside Mark's irony and intentionally makes the reference eschatological.

scoots said...

21:4-11: We should expect that the triumphal entry is related to the kingdom of God, in that Matthew clearly describes the scene to resemble the coming of the king to Zion in Zech 9:9ff (which Matt also quotes). Calling him the “Son of David,” though it may have healing connotations, seems likely to be a royal reference as well.

The reference to Psalm 118:25-26 (Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! cf. also 21:15) clearly alludes to a celebration of God coming to save the people of Israel, which is the subject of that entire psalm.

When you put those together, and consider that the high priest asks Jesus if he is “the Messiah, the Son of God” (26:23) and then Pilate asks Jesus if he is “King of the Jews” (27:11), it does seem that the story creates the expectation for its characters (and presumably for its readers as well) that Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem is some sort of establishment of his kingdom.

A weakness of this point is that the crowds immediately (21:11) refer to Jesus as the *prophet*.

One question all this raises is, are they simply misunderstanding this as the establishment of Jesus’ kingdom? How, for Jesus, does this relate to the establishment of *the* kingdom?

scoots said...

18:3: Here again the issue is whether one can “enter into” the kingdom of heaven (cf. 5:20), the implication perhaps being that the disciples are not already in the kingdom? But then the one who becomes humble like a child is (already) in the kingdom (18:4). Are the tenses just rhetorical?

Also 19:24: it's difficult for the rich to enter the kingdom.

21:31: tax collectors and prostitutes preceeding Jewish leaders into the “kingdom of God” (not heavens) because they believed John.

scoots said...

21:43: (cited also above) "The kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that produces the fruits of the kingdom."

Saldarini notes that this is directed at the leaders (21:45), so it's not necessarily talking to all the Jews. Rather, it's those *tending* the vineyard (in this case, chief priests in Jerusalem and pharisees in the villages) who will lose what they have (i.e., control).

scoots said...

21:37: Concerning Jesus' authority, the heir of the vineyard, to the extent that the analogy holds, is the representative of the owner. Presumably this would represent a lesser degree of status than at the end of the story, when he has all authority in heaven and on earth?

scoots said...

22:7-14: I mentioned the wedding banquet above, but I should add that this last portion of it seems to refer to the time of Matthew's community––not immediately after Matthew 28, but only later, after the fall of Jerusalem. The exhortation appears to be directed toward later believers, who are called to invite everyone to the banquet. But, of course, not everyone is allowed to stay, the wedding clothes presumably being a reference to living according to the righteousness described in Jesus teachings (see 5:20).

scoots said...

24:9-14: This set of persecutions, in contrast to 10:16ff, appears to be apocalyptic rather than imminent. My sense is that that's true for the whole chapter.

scoots said...

25:34: here the kingdom is an inheritance––how does this relate to the kingdom as a presence or way of living?

scoots said...

26:2: these predictions of Jesus' death indicate that the triumphal entry was explicitly intended to be ironic, I think. So, then, was it ironic in that the kingdom would be rejected, or in that the nature of the kingdom was one humility, suffering, and death?

scoots said...

26:29: Jesus will again drink the fruit of the vine when he drinks it “new” in his father's kingdom. Matthew (unlike Luke and John) never describes Jesus as participating in a meal after his resurrection, so it seems most likely that Jesus is talking about the final kingdom, at the eschaton.

Interesting point of comparison with the Qumran Rule of the Congregation, where the priestly and kingly messiahs will share a banquet with the elect. This takes place in the “final days” (1Q28a 1.1), and it seems likely that Matthew (or perhaps even Jesus) had a scene such as this in mind.

scoots said...

26:64: Is Jesus claiming here that he's receiving his authority in his death (as suggested by Isaiah 53, I argued earlier)?

In any event, the Daniel passage (7:13-14) Jesus quotes refers to the Son of Man who receives everlasting kingship and dominion from the Ancient One (= El). For the charge to be blasphemy, that figure in Daniel must have been seen as divine in some way.

This is another OT quotation, then, that indicates that Jesus receives his authority in light of his arrest and execution.

scoots said...

27:51-53: the events that accompany Jesus' death obviously have symbolic value, but it's not clear what that is. Why would bodies of saints be raised *before* Jesus?

More significant, it seems, is the curtain in the temple ripping. Christian tradition has seen that as symbolizing the end of the Temple as a dwelling place for God. So, is there any other plausible explanation? If the splitting of the rocks (27:51) leads to the resurrection of saints, then what does the splitting of the curtain (same word) do?

Does it mark a new age? Perhaps a new kind of presence with God among the people (“God with us,” baptism with the Holy Spirit, “I am with you always.”), which the curtain was guarding against?

scoots said...

28:9: the worshipping here is no great shock, as a number of gentiles have already worshiped Jesus, as have the disciples after he walked on the water (14:33).

scoots said...

28:18-20: several key points are wrapped up in this passage.

The authority of Jesus is now complete. I would argue that his authority up to this point has been derivative, but that God now has granted him all authority in accordance with Isaiah 53 and Daniel 7.

I wonder if “son of man” consistently links the suffering of Jesus with the apocalyptic figure of Jesus; if so, then we could say Isaiah 53 describes the suffering that will allow Jesus to receive the transfer of authority described in Daniel 7.

The role of the Holy Spirit, which up till now has only been working in Jesus but has been predicted to work in the disciples, is now linked to the baptism that John prophesied in 3:11.

And Jesus’ perpetual presence with the disciples may also be linked here with the Holy Spirit. The Gospel has already suggested in a number of places that Jesus will leave (if he's present mystically when they gather in his name, that means he's otherwise absent, right?), and Christian tradition (esp. e.g., John's Gospel) suggests that Matthew is here presenting the Holy Spirit as the means of that presence.