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Matthew’s Emphasis on Jesus’ Gradual Change In His Approach, From Preaching Only To The Jews, To Proclaiming The Good News To Both Jews and Gentiles And Establishing A New Israel.

One of Matthew’s purposes is to reveal to his readers that while salvation is of the Jews, through Jesus, the son of Abraham, it is intended for the whole world.

The transition is first revealed in the first two chapters, where Jesus is the son of Abraham, and the son of David (1.1), and is the One Who will ‘save His people from their sins’, and yet Gentile Magi seek Him and pay Him homage (2.11), and their offerings are accepted, a sign too of the acceptance of their homage (2.11), while His parents seek refuge for Him in Egypt where He is an exile (2.13).

In chapter 3 John’s ministry is revealed as very much to the Jews (3.3) even though it is then made clear that the fatherhood of Abraham is not sufficient to save men and women (3.9), for God is able to raise up children to Abraham from the very stones of the ground (3.9). There is thus behind the account the idea that birth is not considered important in deciding who will be saved.

But from then on the ministry of Jesus is seen to be decidedly to the Jews. He proclaims the Kingly Rule of Heaven, a Jewish term and concept, and the Instruction given by Him to His followers is put very much in Jewish terms (5-7), although even there it is so that His people might be the light of the world, a city set on a hill which cannot be hidden (5.14). So the purpose of their responding to Jesus is seen finally to be because they have a ministry to the world. But we should note that the Sermon on the Mount is not to be seen as a new Law. It is the amplification of what Moses taught, given by the Messiah (as with His interpretation of the Sabbath law (12.8). But not a yod or tittle of the Law will fail (5.18). They are still to observe Moses’ Law (23.2-3).

An exception to the general rule is certainly made for a Gentile centurion in 8.1-11, but he is a pious man and a God-fearer, and even then he recognises that he is not fit to receive Jesus into his house. Yet he is described by Jesus as a symbol of the fact that in the last day men will enter from all directions under the Kingly Rule of God, along with Abraham and the fathers, while those who should have been welcomed, ‘the sons of the Kingdom’, that is those who should have been the natural inheritors of the Kingly Rule of Heaven, the unbelieving Jews, will be cast out (8.11).

Thus in each case, even while the concentration has been on the fact that ‘salvation is of the Jews’, Matthew is aware of a wider vision which declares that one day Gentiles also will be welcomed by the God of Israel. And this is further confirmed when Jesus heals two demoniacs on Gentile soil (8.28-34).

And yet in chapter 10 the Apostles are warned not to go to the Gentiles, nor to the Samaritans, but only to ‘the lost sheep of the house of Israel’ (10.5-6). It is they who must be given the first opportunity to hear the Good News of the Kingly Rule of God. It is ‘to the Jew first’ (Romans 1.16). The identity of the lost sheep is defined in 9.36, ‘He was moved with compassion for them (the crowds) because they were distressed and scattered, as sheep not having a shepherd’, and this while He was going ‘about all their towns and villages’. So ‘the lost sheep of the house of Israel’ does not refer to all Israel, but to those within the towns and villages of Israel who are bewildered and astray, and without a shepherd. This idea is confirmed in Jeremiah 50.6. ‘My people have been lost sheep, their shepherds have caused them to go astray, they have turned them away on the mountains; they have gone from mountain to hill, they have forgotten their resting place.’ We should note here in Jeremiah the clear distinction made between the false leaders of the people (the king and the teachers of Israel) and the ‘lost sheep’. The same distinction is found in Matthew. And if Matthew is seen as anti-Jewish, Jeremiah must be seen so as well.

So the ‘lost sheep of the house of Israel’ are those who are not confident in themselves, and sense that they have been led astray by their teachers, but do not know where to turn.

An example of one such is found in Psalm 119.176 where the idea in context is of one who is seeking God’s salvation (verse 174), and who cries, ‘I have gone astray like a lost sheep, seek your servant, for I do not forget your commandments.’ The Psalmist is lost and bewildered but his heart is reaching out to God, and there is that within him which clings to God’s commandments. And it is of these lost sheep that Isaiah in 53.6 also declares, ‘all we like sheep have gone astray, we have turned everyone into our own way’ (Isaiah 53.6), and there the solution is found in the Lord laying on the Shepherd Servant the iniquity of them all. It should be noted that 10.5-6 lies very much in the heart of ‘that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by (through) Isaiah the prophet’ territory, where all Matthew’s direct citations are from Isaiah. It is sandwiched between 8.17 which cites Isaiah 53.4; and 12.17 which cites Isaiah 42.1-4; and we can also compare 3.3; 4.15; 13.14; 15.7). Isaiah was thus very much in Matthew’s mind while penning this section. This confirms that the connection of the phrase ‘the lost sheep of the house of Israel’ with Isaiah 53.6 must be seen as very relevant, following as it does a citation of Isaiah 53.4. Already therefore in mind is the Servant Who will give His life a ransom for many (20.28).

This confirms that ‘the lost sheep of the house of Israel’ who must first be sought are those in Israel who sense that they are shepherdless, whose hearts have not forgotten His commandments, and who are waiting to be found. They are the kind who flocked to John the Baptiser, and are now flocking to Jesus.

Nevertheless in spite of this the Apostles will be called on to bear witness before Gentiles whether they like it or not, for they will be dragged before Gentile governors in Gentile courts (10.18). So even here the Gentiles cannot be avoided, and there is a testimony to be made to them. In the same way as previously, the Gentiles are again hovering in the background of Matthew’s narrative.

But at this stage in the ministry of the Apostles, if one town of Israel fails to receive them they must hurry on to the next, still seeking the ‘lost sheep of the house of Israel’ who are waiting to be found. For He emphasises that they will not have covered all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes (10.23). Thus while the Gentiles may benefit peripherally it is on the Jews that the present concentration is to take place.

What then does the coming of the Son of Man refer to?

It should be noted that the emphasis is not actually on the coming of the Son of Man, but on the certainty that not all the towns of Israel will have been evangelised by the time He comes, which is why at this time the concentration must be on them. The Kingly Rule of God must be offered ‘to the Jew first’. But this concept is not totally exclusive as we have observed all the way through. Gentiles who seek Him are welcomed. On the other hand the ministry to Gentiles is marginal. It is not one to be specifically engaged in, for Israel must first of all be given saturation coverage. All this being so, while Matthew clearly had no confidence in the over-shepherds, any more than Jesus had, something that is made quite clear in words of Jesus in chapter 23, it would be to go against the evidence to suggest that either Jesus or Matthew are ‘anti-Jewish’.

A further indication of Jesus’ thinking is found in 10.14. There the disciples are told to shake the dust off their feet of any town that does not receive them. It was a custom of many Jews to shake the dust off their feet when they left Gentile territory for they saw Gentile territory as being ‘unclean’. This may therefore be seen as suggesting that such towns as reject the Good News of the Kingly Rule of God were to be seen as the equivalent of Gentiles. Symbolically they were cut off from Israel.

This idea of the separation of ‘the lost sheep of the house of Israel’ from the majority of Jews is brought out emphatically in 11.20-30, where the towns which have seen many of His mighty works are upbraided for their unbelief, while the comparatively few who have responded to Him are rejoiced in as the ones who have received God’s illumination. For He has come as the Servant Who, empowered by the Spirit, will work quietly and patiently and gently among God’s true people until right has been done and victory is achieved (12.18-20). But meanwhile, even in that case, the Gentiles are in mind (12.18), and hope is offered to the Gentiles by way of a kind of postscript (12.21). Furthermore when Jesus rebukes the Scribes and Pharisees for seeking a sign from Heaven, the examples He cites in order to rebuke them are Gentiles who responded to God’s truth proclaimed through His servants, the men of Nineveh and the Queen of Sheba (12.40-42). For as Isaiah has said, the majority of the people of Israel are deaf and blind, in contrast with the few who are blessed, whose eyes see and whose ears hear (13.13-17).

In chapters 14-15 there are significant features pertinent to the question in mind. This section commences with the feeding of five thousand men at a covenant meal which is contrasted with the martyrdom of John the Baptiser (14.1-12). The conscience stricken king is certain that this miracle working prophet must be John the Baptiser risen from the dead, and on learning this Jesus retires to a lonely place where the crowds, the lost sheep of the house of Israel, come seeking Him (14.13-14). The contrast between the unbelieving authority, and the people to whom Jesus has come is clear. And there in that isolated place those who have sought Him take part in a covenant meal, designating them as a new community. We should note the number who took part. In the Scriptures numbers are regularly significant, and five is the number of covenant. It is thus not insignificant that there are here ‘five thousand men’ who partake of ‘five loaves’ (the two fish then making it up to seven, the number of divine perfection, compare 15.34). This five-foldness very much represents the covenant community, the true congregation of Israel. They are symbolic of the lost sheep of the house of Israel who seek Jesus.

A similar contrast as that with Herod then comes out in respect of the Scribes and Pharisees who come from Jerusalem, whose hearts are set on Him fulfilling their requirements concerning ritual washing (15.1-14). He declares that they are blind guides and leaders of the blind (verse 14). So it is Herod’s ferocity, together with the antagonism of the religious leadership, resulting from their failure to be able to discern the difference between ritual cleanliness and heart cleanliness, that causes Him to take refuge in the district of Tyre and Sidon, which was very much Gentile territory, while at the same time containing many Jews. But even so He is still there seeking the lost sheep of the house of Israel (verse 24). However, a Gentile woman comes seeking help for her daughter, and what is more she is a ‘Canaanite’ (this fact would be significant to Jews, but not to Gentiles, another indication of Matthew’s Jewishness. In the other Gospels she is a Syro-phoenician). Her daughter is possessed with an evil spirit. And she appeals to Him as ‘O Lord, son of David.’ She recognises that she has no claim on Him, but that He is being hailed by many as the Jewish Messiah, and she has heard of the wonders that He has done. As a Canaanite she is seeking to the God of Israel.

But Jesus makes no response, and we are told why, for He declares, ‘I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel’ (15.24). At this stage therefore He is very much aware that His mission from God is still to those in Israel who are waiting for deliverance and salvation. Indeed we cannot really avoid the fact that Matthew sees a complete transformation in Jesus’ direction of thought is taking place here. As we have already seen, He was not averse to Gentiles benefiting on the fringe, (as also Samaritans in John 4), but as always He is represented here as concentrating His ministry on those in Israel whose hearts are seeking and open. And we should further note in this regard that even in Israel He was not keen on performing miracles for the sake of it (compare Mark 1.38). How much less so then for this Gentile woman.

But when she came to Him, pleading with Him face to face, His heart overruled His theology. (Although that is not strictly true, for He had examples such as Naaman to take into consideration (compare Luke 4.27). He was never unwilling to respond to the cry of the needy who sought Him in God’s name). He was the very opposite of those Scribes and Pharisees whom He had met up with, whose theology ruled their hearts. He lived up to His own dictum, ‘I require mercy and not sacrifice’ (9.13; 12.7). This powerful passage reminds us that Jesus was still ‘growing in wisdom’ and was still in a sense ‘feeling His way’ in the purposes of God.

But we must not assume that he condemned all Scribes and Pharisees regardless, He described the Scribes and Pharisees in His own day in terms of those whom He had actually come across, who were in such a contrast to those He had known in His earlier days, whose attitude towards Him had then been kindly (Luke 2.46-47). But that He did not despair of or reject them all comes out elsewhere in the Gospels, e.g. John 3.1-6; Luke 7.36; 11.37; 14.1. He still had hopes of reaching at least some of them and gladly associated with those who were willing to receive Him even when it meant the possibility of humiliation from the other guests. His condemnation was reserved for the hypocrites. He would have condemned the churchmen of Luther’s day in the same way, although recognising that among them there were some whose hearts remained true. They were, however, very much in the minority.

But first He had to make clear to her what she was asking. She was seeking help from the God of Israel, and it was to Him that any gratitude must be shown. He could not give her a blessing and then allow her to thank her own pagan gods and become even more firmly gripped by idolatry. So He said to her (and this in fact indicated His willingness to help her on the right terms), ‘It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.’ The children were those who belonged to the family, and were very much a part of it, the lost sheep of the house of Israel. Here it was the family of Israel who were seen as looking to their Father. The dogs on the other hand were scavengers, on the outside of the family circle, with no right to the children’s food. They looked elsewhere for their provision. They represented the Gentiles.

The woman acknowledges the rightness of His claim, for she basically agrees. ‘Yes Lord, but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.’ Her words humbly acknowledge that she is coming to Israel’s table, and that she is looking to the God of Israel through Him, but her claim is that pet dogs are allowed to receive some of the good things to be found at that table. And she has come as a pet dog seeking His favour. She recognises that she is coming to the God of Israel.

Here was a faith that Jesus could not deny, and He grants her request (verse 28). Her daughter is healed instantly. That this seems to have given Him a new turn in His own thinking comes out in the sequel. (It should be noted that no one would ever have made up a narrative like this, expressed in this way, for it could be seen as suggesting Jesus’ fallibility. All, however, that it is really revealing is His gradual growth in understanding, something which we cannot hope to understand fully).

For the sequel is not only that the daughter is healed, but that from now on Jesus goes continually into territory where Gentiles are prominent with an attitude that seems more open to Gentiles coming to Him. Thus He welcomes crowds who are clearly inclusive of many Gentiles, and heals their sick. And ‘they glorify the God of Israel’ (15.31), an indication that many of them were ‘outsiders’ like the woman.

This is then followed significantly by a covenant meal at which is present ‘four thousand men’, and at which there are seven loaves. Four is the number which signifies the whole world. Four rivers from Eden watered the whole world (Genesis 2.10). Four ‘foreign’ kings invaded Canaan (Genesis 14.1, 9). World empire was symbolised by four beasts (Daniel 2 & 7). The four winds of Heaven spoke of world effects (Jeremiah 49.36; Daniel 7.2; 11.4; Zechariah 2.6). The earth was seen as having four ‘extremes’ (Isaiah 11.12; Revelation 7.1; 20.8). The four living creatures represent creation (Revelation 4.7-8, compare Zechariah 6.5). Thus, in this context in Matthew, four must be seen as significant. Furthermore seven was the universally acknowledged indication of divine perfection among both Jews and Gentiles. Connected with the four that too must be seen as significant (for the total of fishes is deliberately ignored). It would suggest that this covenant meal, held in Gentile territory, included Gentile disciples. It is the first major indication of outreach to the Gentiles. So Gentiles are being allowed under the Kingly Rule of Heaven on responding to the God of Israel. It is a foretaste of what is to come. Then Jesus and His disciples return to what is firmly Jewish territory (15.39).

It should be noted that at least in theory the Jewish leadership would not have been averse to this reception of Gentiles, although they would have required of them that they be circumcised and undergo proselyte cleansing, and after the destruction of Jerusalem there would be great debate among the Rabbis as to whether they should positively seek such converts, or should take up a neutral attitude and simply receive those who came.

But once Jesus and His disciples reached Jewish territory representatives arrived from the Sanhedrin seeking a sign from Heaven in order for His ministry to be validated, so He departs again to foreign soil and warns His disciples against their teaching (16.1-12). And the consequence of this is that He is again found in Gentile territory, in the region of Caesarea Philippi (16.13). And it is while He is there that Peter identifies Him as ‘the Christ, the Son of the living God’ and that in reply He declares that what Peter has said is to be the foundation of a new ‘congregation’ (16.16-19). The word ‘ekklesia’ was regularly used in LXX of ‘the congregation of Israel’, which signified all Israel. Thus the thought is of the establishment of a new Israel under the Messiah, which will be ‘ruled’ by the twelve Apostles with the powers to ‘bind and loose’, that is, to determine the application of the Scriptures on religious matters (compare 18.18; 19.28; Luke 22.30). It must be seen as significant that this happens not in the heart of Galilee or Judea, nor in Jerusalem, but in decidedly Gentile territory (although containing many Jews). For Matthew does not often use place names, unless they are to be seen as significant. Indeed it is in this section that they have become so (14.34; 15.39; 16.13; 17.24).

And this new connection of Jesus with the Gentiles may be being brought out in a curious way in 17.24-27. For there, while He is willing to pay the Temple tax required of all Jews, He points out to Peter that really He should not have to do so, for sons of a king are not required to pay their father tax, and so in the same way He, as His Father’s Son, is not liable to pay the Temple tax which is payable to His Father. Thus, unlike in 3.15, He is no longer seeing Himself as the representative of Israel, but as His Father’s Son. It is clear that previously He must have paid the Temple tax (it is never suggested otherwise), and thus this must be seen as His taking up a new approach to it. Now that He is no longer bound only to Israel, and sees Himself in a wider role, He does not acknowledge His responsibility to pay the tax. He no longer see Himself as representing the old Israel. He is now rather bound only to the new congregation which He is founding over which He is Lord. And even His way of paying the tax indicates that He receives the tax money from His Father (from the mouth of one of His creations). It is a family affair.

All this naturally leads into chapter 18 where Jesus now gives His instruction to the new congregation, laying down methods of appeal on controversial matters which are no longer to follow the old procedures before the judges of Israel (verses 16-17), and stressing again the right of the Apostles to ‘bind and loose’ (verses 18-19). It is quite clear here that the new community is not to be seen as subject in its interpretations and judgments to the priests and the scribes and Pharisees, but to Jesus and His Apostles. This is a new Israel founded on the Messiah.

However, while making this clear He emphasises that note should be taken of the need for personal responsibility and inter-association within the new community, so that matters should hopefully be sorted out individually. Appeal to the Apostles should only be as a last resort. That is the main stress all the way through this chapter. Jesus wants the new congregation to be a fellowship of people responsive towards one another, not a community rigidly ruled by a hierarchy. Even the highest must humble themselves to that end. Nevertheless the idea of ‘the congregation’ (church) at this stage is that it will be the congregation of the new Israel. And at this stage it is largely composed of believing Jews (although see above on chapter 15). The idea makes full sense in the context, and there is therefore no need to start inventing later ‘communities’ for which there is not the least bit of evidence apart from scholarly interpretation.

(The Qumranis also, to some extent in a similar way, saw themselves as a new community, with its own leadership, and themselves as the true Israel. So the idea of a new community was not novel. It was the different basis of the new community, and its focal point in Jesus the Messiah, that was novel. At the beginning of Acts we see how dangerously close the ‘church’ might have come to becoming like the Qumranis, a virtually closed community, although never as isolated and exclusive (2.44-47), but instead it chose the way of openness and expansion which would finally lead to the evangelism of the Gentiles. Humanly speaking we could say that it risked all on the success of its message and it confidence in its Messiah. Acts, however, makes clear that its real success resulted from the activity of the Holy Spirit. It was because in the end it was God’s purpose, and Jesus’ purpose, that it succeeded in spreading throughout the known world - Acts 1.8).

In 19.1-12 Jesus’ interpretation of the Law with regard to divorce exemplifies this new community. For He specifically points out in verse 12 that its basis is life under the Kingly Rule of Heaven, within which sphere men must choose either lifetime marriage or celibacy. And when the young man in 19.16-22 wished to receive the life of the coming age (and thus enter under the Kingly Rule of Heaven), he was called on to sell all that he had in order to follow Jesus, emulating the Apostles (19.23-30). In both cases the demands of the new community under the Kingly Rule of Heaven were high. But we should note that Jesus is not introducing a new Law, He is amplifying the old. This is the continuation of Israel, not its replacement. Thus in 23.2-3 He declares that because the Scribes and Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat their teaching is to be followed, even if their example is not.

And in 18.28-29 the coming ministry of the Apostles, once He Himself has been enthroned in glory (Daniel 7.14) will involve them in sharing His authority and ‘rule over the twelve tribes of Israel’, a rulership which He later defines in terms of His own rulership (20.25-28). For when James and John came to Him with ideas of glory in their head, spurred on by their misinterpretation of His statement (they had told their mum what He had said and she had got stars in her eyes on behalf of her boys), He made quite clear what sitting on such a throne would involve (20.27-28). It would involve becoming a servant and a slave, even as he Himself had become a Servant Who would offer Himself a ransom for many. So ‘ruling over the twelve tribes of Israel’, (in modern parlance becoming the servants of the true church), was to be fulfilled by humble service among His people. That is a description of their future ministry. It was also what Jesus revealed in His rule on earth, but how hard it is for us to walk as He walked.

There is a wonderful illustration of this in Revelation, although not to be taken too literally. In Revelation 4.4 the elders are sitting on their thrones, but in fact they are not doing so as verse 10 makes plain, for at the praise of the living creatures, which be it noted continues without ceasing, they without ceasing are off their thrones and on their faces casting their crowns before Him. The idea, of course, is not to be taken literally. It is rather aiming to depict both their privilege and their responsive worship and service. They have no thought of their own glory. All thought is on serving Him. It is to be the same with the disciples.

(While Jesus’ statement is slightly ambiguous here to literalists, Jesus’ meaning comes out clearly in Luke’s similar statement at the Last Supper, where for it to signify future exaltation would be against the whole tenor of what Jesus was saying. See for a justification of this statement our commentary on Luke 22.14-30 which we append below).

The new congregation under the Messiah is thus the true Israel, and all who reject Him are therefore cut off from Israel (see 21.43). It is followers of the Messiah who are the new nation. That is certainly how Peter understood it. In Exodus 19.5-6 Israel was to be God’s unique treasure, His kingdom of priests, His holy nation, and Peter tells us that now it is God’s new people, His elect (1 Peter 1.1), who are the chosen race, the royal priesthood, the holy nation (1 Peter 2.9).

Chapter 20 reaffirms what rulership is all about. It commences with a parable where those who rule are seen as labourers, who all receive exactly the same reward (20.1-15), ending with the statement that those who are last will be first, and the first, last (20.16). It then continues with Jesus’ emphasis on His coming suffering, death and resurrection (20.17-19). And that is immediately followed by the mother of James and John bringing them in order to jump the queue for a place of honour. In spite of all that Jesus has said she wants glory for them in terms of earthly glory. For they have not yet recognised what sitting on the right and left hand of Jesus involves. It involves servitude and suffering to a great degree. So He assures them that they will indeed share something of His suffering, for they will receive their ‘thrones’, but that He cannot grant them the positions that they desire, for that is in His Father’s hands. He does not want His disciple trying to impress Him in order to gain promotion. And He then exemplifies what all this will involve in terms of His own present and future as the Servant, Who will suffer to the utmost as He becomes a ransom for His people.

We who cannot rid our minds of our desire for crowns, and thrones and glory, are just like James and John here. How many of us are filled with hunger really to be true servants without reward as His parable has suggested? We have not yet received the heart of the Servant King Whose only desire was to serve. Rather our baseness of attitude comes out in that we next speculate on who will have these seats of honour. But in fact, in the way in which we view them they do not exist. For those who are worthy of them would eschew them, and fall on their faces and cast their crowns before Him Who sits on the throne (Revelation 4.10). They would have no desire for thrones of glory. And indeed, if we take the meaning of Jesus’ parable literally we will all sit on them!

The point behind all this is that the new community will be glorified through suffering. The New Israel will walk the way of the Servant, both in His suffering and humiliation (Isaiah 50.4-8; 53.1-11) and in His final restoration to His Father, for they will share in what He has achieved (Isaiah 53.12). But this is not Rachel weeping for her children in Ramah (2.17-18), that is in the past now that Messiah has come, this is a sharing in Messiah’s glorious destiny (20.23).

This is then followed by an indication that it is the blind who recognise the Son of David, and see, while those who see go on in their blindness (20.29-34; John 9.39-41; Isaiah 29.18; 35.5; 42.7, 16; Jeremiah 31.8).

What is to happen to the old, fruitless Israel is then depicted in the cursing of the fig tree which signifies the destruction of the Temple on its mount (21.18-22). The disobedient in Israel, exemplified by the brigands in the Temple, are to be cut off from Israel, and to be replaced by the new Israel, the blind and the lame who are healed (21.12-14, compare 21.28-32). It is the repentant public servants and prostitutes who have a change of mind and begin to obey their Father, who enter under the Kingly Rule of God before their very faces, and have been doing from the time of John the Baptiser (21.31-32), while they who pretend allegiance and yet refuse to obey the Father are excluded .

These ideas are followed by the parable of the wicked tenants, often called the parable of the wicked husbandmen (21.33-44). In Matthew it is clearly seen to be modelled on Isaiah 5.1-7, where the vineyard is Israel, and it indicates God’s rejection and destruction of the present Jewish leadership, who have reached the ultimate in their rebellion and disobedience, and its replacement by others, (those who will sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel). Thus the Kingly Rule of God is to be taken away from the Pharisees (verse 45), and from the nation of Israel as a whole (verse 43) and given to others who will bring forth its fruits. This can only have in mind the new Messianic community, the new Israel, founded on Peter’s Messianic confession (16.16-18).

A similar idea is present in the parable that follows (22.1-14) where the invitees to the wedding feast who have rejected His servants are to be destroyed, and are to be replaced by those from the highways and byways. Incidentally verse 7 of this parable demonstrates that Matthew was written prior to 70 AD, for it speaks of the city (Jerusalem) being ‘burned’, a fate which it did not suffer in 70 AD, (even though the Temple was set on fire), but which is firmly in line with Old Testament prophecy (Isaiah 1.7; 4.4; 10.16; 24.6; 64.11; Jeremiah 2.15; 7.20; 15.14; 21.10; 32.29; 34.2, 22; 37.8, 10; 38.23; 52.13; Ezekiel 16.41;23.47). Burning was a regular way by which Jesus depicted judgment (3.12; 13.30, 40, compare 5.22; 7.19; 13.42, 50; 18.8-9; 25.41).

Once the necessity for the destruction of the religious leadership had been so openly and definitely laid down it was necessary that it be justified, otherwise it would simply have sounded like vindictiveness, so chapter 23 must be seen in terms of that requirement. In that chapter Jesus takes back the covers and lays bare the worst excesses of the Scribes and Pharisees without restraint. This was the justification for all that He had been saying. Had He not justified it we would have been left wondering as to why God’s judgments were so necessary. Here then He lays bare His indictment against them. It is a total expose, and they are seen as justifying the fate that He has decreed for them. And for those who cavil against it, it must be read in the light of what actually happened, but His words are no more severe here than against all hypocrites throughout His ministry. Furthermore His words were no more severe than some of the judgments by the better Rabbis against their own kind. Those were days when men spoke plainly. But the words were not spoken vindictively, as verse 37 makes clear, and that also suggests that we should translate ouai (woe) as ‘alas’. Jesus was expressing regret rather than pleasure. Of course not only the Scribes and Pharisees were like this. It is also, slightly altered, a wonderful expose of most leading politicians in any day, including our own, for it simply lays bare the truth about mankind.

But one most important thing that should be observed in chapter 23 is that distinction is made between these Jewish teachers and the message that it was their responsibility to convey. For Jesus tells the people that in what He is saying He is not attacking the Law of Moses, which must indeed be observed, but only those who distort it and do not practise what they preach (23.2-3).

In chapter 24 the indictment is followed by the sentence, and Jesus declares quite emphatically that Jerusalem is to be destroyed. There it is also emphasised that after His death many false Messiahs and prophets will arise, tribulation and suffering is coming on the world, and the world’s response will be to persecute His followers. Meanwhile the Good News of the Kingly Rule of God will be proclaimed among all nations (24.14). Jesus’ new programme is now being laid bare, and it is worldwide. And this is finally concluded in chapter 25.31-46 with the picture of all nations being called before Him for judgment and being judged in accordance with how they have responded to Jesus’ ‘brethren’. Not only the Jews, but the whole world, are to be called on to account for how they have treated and responded to the messengers of Christ.

It should not therefore take us at all by surprise when His commission after His resurrection is ‘Go therefore, and make disciples of all nations’ (28.19-20), for in the light of 25.31-46 it is the least that we would expect. As always judgment will follow once the opportunity to repent has been given.

Thus we see in Matthew’s Gospel a clear and consistent picture of how the Good News of the Kingly Rule of God commences as something first to be proclaimed among the Jews, with Gentiles, however, always in the background, but then as something that must be offered to the world, because Israel as a whole, along with its leaders, have refused it. And the basis on which this will be done is stated to be the new ‘congregation’ founded on the statement of His Messiahship. How this actually came about initially is what the book of Acts is all about. Matthew and Luke are therefore totally consistent with each other.


Note on Sitting on Thrones Judging the Twelve Tribes of Israel In The Lucan Context.

What Is To Be Seen As Jesus’ Main Emphasis In This Passage (Luke 22)?

One further thing we must consider before looking in detail at this passage, about which there is much controversy, is the significance of some of the ideas used in it. And as we consider it we must constantly remember Jesus’ love of the apt parable and His use of vivid illustration. For this passage can be seen as having one of two emphases, depending on our interpretation of it. On the one hand it can be seen as describing the future service on earth which lay ahead for the Apostles, with a strong reminder of what will be required of them in it, and the continuing fellowship that they will have with Him. This would fit well with the connection of this passage with the following words of Jesus to Peter concerning strengthening his ‘brothers’ which would be a part of his duty in watching over and serving the people of God. Or it can be seen as looking beyond the present to His return and to the final Kingdom and blessing. In this case He will be seen as directing their eyes to their final reward, and avoiding the mention of what immediately lies ahead, so as to sustain them in the days that lay ahead.

We must remember that the disciples were imbued with the ideas of their times. These included the coming of the Messiah, the enjoyment of a Messianic Banquet of rejoicing and triumph, and the prospect of Israel ruling over the nations. But what Jesus will now seek to do is reinterpret these ideas so as to reveal that while they will be fulfilled, it is in a very different way than Israel envisaged. From Israel’s viewpoint these ideas all fixed their attention on the prestige and power and glory that would be Israel’s. Jesus wants to fix His disciples’ minds rather on the opportunities for humility and humble service that they presented. In a sense He turns the ideas upside down. It was Gentile kings like the King of Babylon who sought to climb higher and higher (Isaiah 14.13-14). But His disciples are to follow His own example and seek to become lower and lower (Luke 14.7-11; 18.14). They are not to seek what they shall eat and drink, but to seek the Kingly Rule of God (Luke 12.29, 31).

But before looking at these questions, let us, in order to put it all in context, ask ourselves what we would expect of Jesus here at this hour of crisis, especially in view of what lies ahead? For He knew that this hour would result in His suffering, and His resurrection, which would then be followed by His sending forth of His disciples to all nations, commencing at Jerusalem (Luke 24.46-47). At this stage this was something that the disciples did not even dimly conceive of. So it was surely necessary for Jesus to prepare them for it in terms that they understood, but which later they would understand more deeply. We must remember that their thoughts were on, ‘Lord, will you at this time restore the Kingly Rule to Israel?’ (Acts 1.6). His thoughts were on, ‘You will receive power after the Holy Spirit has come on you, and you will be witnesses both in Jerusalem -- and to the uttermost parts of the earth’ (Acts 1.8). How then was He to convey the idea of the latter to those who were looking for the former? He does it, in fact, by a brilliant use of parable and symbolism which they will not come to fully understand until much later.

This is the view of many who feel that it is inconceivable that He would not in some way say something about all this in His final words to them at this feast, especially as He stresses the need for them to eat and drink of Him. They therefore see Him as wanting to dynamically prepare them for their future, only dimly understood, ministry. But others see Him as rather pedantically putting all His emphasis at the feast on what lies beyond their future ministry, looking rather to the final consummation, and virtually omitting any mention at all of the near future and the task that lay ahead. Their view is that He wants to fill their minds with the splendour and glory that will one day be theirs. But what is problematic in this view is that it overlooks His emphasis on humble service and the kind of attitude that the disciples should have, and turns their thoughts towards ideas which in context He specifically rejects as being unworthy of them. For as we shall see this latter interpretation appears to indicate that He is offering to them the very thing that He at first rejects.

In the eyes of these latter interpreters it is as though at this meal, at which He is seeing His disciples for the last time before He leaves them, He is only interested in the consummation and what will be enjoyed by them then, and not in the process that will lead up to it, a process in which they will be so actively engaged. Their view is that He leaves dealing with the latter until after the resurrection, while here He lays all His emphasis on the glory that is to be theirs, even though in verses 25-26 it is the seeking of this glory which He in specifically eschews. Thus they claim that He emphasises the future under the coming heavenly (or Millennial) Kingly Rule of God, when they will all celebrate with Him in His triumph, and virtually ignores their truly glorious future when they will achieve their great triumphs in the spreading of the Kingly Rule of God on earth, prior to going to be with Him. But in our view this error comes about because they have failed to recognise that Jesus has to present the one in terms of the other because of the continual failure of the disciples to grasp the realities that he has brought, and they have not noticed above all the fact that it is totally contradictory in comparison with His words about service and seeking the lowest place.

The verses which are seen as giving this impression are as follows:

  • ‘I say to you I will not eat of it (this Passover) until it be fulfilled in the Kingly Rule of God’ (verse 16).
  • ‘I say to you I will not drink from henceforth of the fruit of the vine until the Kingly Rule of God shall come’ (verse 18).
  • ‘And I appoint to you a Kingly Rule, even as My Father has appointed to Me, that you may eat and drink at My table under My Kingly Rule, and you shall sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel’ (verses 29-30).

Setting these three statements together does seem at first, until they are considered more carefully, to give a strong emphasis on the final consummation (or, for those who believe in it, the Millennial kingdom). He will not eat -- or drink -- until they eat and drink with Him at His table and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel. It would seem that He is putting all the emphasis on the glory that is to be theirs, that He is lifting up their hearts to consider the power and authority that they will one day enjoy so that His crucifixion will not be too much of a jolt.

But there is one major problem with this interpretation, and that is that it stands in complete and utter contrast with the attitude that He is seeking to inculcate in them in verses 25-27. For there He inveighs against those who seek the higher place and urges rather that they must think in terms of lowly humility and humble service. He there tells them that they must seek the lowest place, that of the youngest. They must not seek to be chiefs (to sit on thrones), but to serve. They are not to be like the Gentile kings who want to lord it over people and be called Benefactors. And He then gives from the example of His own life the way in which they are to walk. They are not to seek to be sitters at table, but to be servers at table. Is it really likely then that He would seek to immediately implant in them ideas which totally contradict this previous exhortation? And this is reinforced by 12.37 where we learn that at the consummation He will gird Himself, and make them sit down to meat, and come and serve them. Thus this is the kind of attitude that He wants them to have. The idea of humble service, not that of lording it over a great banquet.

Some would reply, yes, that is to be their attitude while serving God on earth, but the other picture is also given to them so that while serving they can look with confidence to the day when they will be lifted out of service in order to share His glory. Humility first, glory afterwards.

But this explanation assumes two things. The first is that the disciples had the clear distinction in their minds that we have between their period of active service to come, in which they would serve humbly on earth, and the Kingly Rule which would follow when they would be lifted up and glorified. But this is in fact patently untrue. If there is one thing that is certain it is that their minds were in fact still very much in a whirl. And the second is that they would thus instantly be able clearly to distinguish in His words to them in the Upper Room the difference between the period of humble service described by Jesus and the period of glory that would follow and would consider that for them it would be different from what it would be for Jesus. A few moments thought will make us aware that that is actually far from the truth, for the truth is that they were, right up to the end, still very much taken up with the question as to who would be the greatest (verse 24). Thus by far the most likely scenario for the understanding of Jesus’ words is that we are to see Him as emphasising how they are to approach their future with humility, and with the recognition of the need for humble service , even though in parabolic terms, rather than emphasising the glory that was to be theirs, which in view of their thoughts at that time would simply perpetuate their error.

For if there is one thing that is certain it is that the disciples did not have everything about the future sorted out in their own minds. Their minds were not on their future as depicted in Acts, which was something that would have to be explained to them after the resurrection. For even after His resurrection, and after the words He has given to them about going out with the Good News (24.47-48), their question and their interest was expressed in the terms of, ‘Lord, do you at this time restore the Kingly Rule to Israel?’ (Acts 1.6). It is quite clear therefore that in their minds there was considerable confusion (which given the situation is not surprising). Thus it is equally clear that they would be treating all His words at the Last Supper as running together with the situation described later and as all speaking about the same situation. For Jesus makes very clear that God’s purposes with regard to the Kingly Rule in the distant future was none of their business. So it is clear that Jesus would very much want to take their thoughts away from this and demonstrate that what they must look forward to, while describable in terms of His coming Kingly Rule, was actually a life of humble and dedicated service.

And we may add to this the further point, that psychologically it would hardly have been helpful to them if on the one hand He had emphasised the need to humble themselves, and follow His example of humble service, and avoid the attitude of Gentile kings, while at the same time pointing to the glory that lay ahead for them when they too would rule over the nations. To ask them to keep both ideas in mind, and keep them separate, and properly interpret and apply them and live by them, would surely have been asking far more than they were capable of grasping. We would suggest that it would not have been at all helpful, without making the situation much clearer, to combine the two ideas together with any hope of being properly understood. For Jesus was well aware that one of the great problems of the disciples was their desire for greatness (22.24). Would He really then encourage that desire by glistening promises, while at the same time trying to urge on them the need for total humility? It really does not seem likely. One would almost certainly have had to give way to the other in their minds, and we would suggest, knowing our own hearts, that it would be the way of humility that would go. Indeed when preachers follow this interpretation that is what they tend to emphasise, the glory and privilege and authority that is to be ours, something which goes in complete contrast with Jesus’ words in the passage about humility. They are inculcating in us the very attitude that Jesus deprecated.

Furthermore, how could He possibly, when on the verge of leaving them, have not given them at least some instruction concerning what now currently lay ahead for them in the not too distant future? And would such instruction, and assurance of its success, not in fact have been much more encouraging than promises concerning a more distant future? (This is especially so as that is precisely what He does in John’s Gospel, although that would not be recorded in writing for many years).

In the light of all this let us now consider His words as recorded in the Synoptic Gospels, and especially in Luke, in preparation for what is to come, and see whether or not they agree with this suggestion once considered carefully..

Note Concerning Jesus’ Words At The Last Supper About The Kingly Rule of God And the Idea of Eating At His Table And Sitting On Twelve Thrones Ruling The Twelve Tribes of Israel In Luke 22.14-30.

The first question that arises with regard to this matter is as to what Jesus is referring to when He speaks of ‘the Kingly Rule’ in this passage. They will after all shortly be going out to proclaim the Kingly Rule of God to the people of God (and then to all nations) as the Book of Acts will make very clear (Acts 1.3 in the light of verses 6-8 where it is made clear that He is not opening their minds about a coming permanent earthly Kingdom; 8.12; 14.22; 19.8; 20.25; 28.23, 31). Are we then to see Him in Luke 22 as totally ignoring this fact, and simply concentrating on the everlasting Kingdom? Or does He rather have in mind in His words the message concerning the Kingly Rule of God that they will soon be taking out and proclaiming?

In order to determine this let us consider carefully what He says in Luke 22 about the coming Kingly Rule of God.

The Coming Kingly Rule of God In Luke 22.

What Jesus in fact says is that:

  • 1) He will not eat of the Passover until it is fulfilled in the Kingly Rule of God (22.16).
  • 2) He will not henceforth drink of the fruit of the vine until the Kingly Rule of God will come (22.18).

Clearly the significance of these verses will depend very much on whether we interpret them in the light of the coming spreading of the Kingly Rule of God through the spreading of the word, as depicted in Acts, which Luke intends to go on to deal with in Acts, or whether we do it in terms of the everlasting (or Millennial) Kingdom which in Acts 1.7 He dismisses as irrelevant to them.

Mark has here the words, ‘I will no more drink of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the Kingly Rule of God’ (Mark 14.25). Matthew has ‘I will not drink henceforth of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in My Father’s Kingly Rule’ (Matthew 26.29). We should note that all these are probably translations from the Aramaic, as well as each possibly being an abbreviation of what He actually said. So Mark adds the expanded thought of ‘drinking it new’. Matthew also has this but further adds ‘with you’.

Why then does Luke abbreviate the wording in verse 18 and describe it in terms of ‘the coming of the Kingly Rule of God’? Based on what we have seen previously it would be in order to make clear a Jewish idiom to his Gentile readers. Let us then consider what Luke normally indicates when he speaks of the ‘coming of the Kingly Rule of God’ elsewhere in his Gospel. The idea occurs a number of times.

  • ‘And heal the sick who are in it, and say to them, The Kingly Rule of God is come near to you’ (10.9).
  • ‘Even the dust of your city, which adheres to our feet, we wipe off against you. Notwithstanding be you sure of this, that the Kingly Rule of God is come near’ (10.11).
  • ‘But if I by the finger of God cast out demons, no doubt the Kingly Rule of God is come upon you’ (11:20).
  • And being asked by the Pharisees, when the Kingly Rule of God comes, He answered them and said, “The Kingly Rule of God does not come with observation, neither will they say, Lo here, or Lo there, for the Kingly Rule of God is within (or ‘among’) you” (17.20).

It will be noted that in every case of the mention of ‘the coming of the Kingly Rule of God’, it was present among them or ‘near’ so that they could come in contact with it for themselves. Furthermore it did not come in openly outward form, but was within or among them.

On the other hand, in the case where the Kingly Rule of God is spoken of as in the future it is men who come to the Kingly Rule of God, and not the Kingly Rule of God that comes to them. “And they will come from the east, and from the west, and from the north, and from the south, and will sit down in the Kingly Rule of God” (13.29).

The same can also be said of the other two Synoptic Gospels.

  • “But if I cast out devils by the Spirit of God, then the Kingly Rule of God is come to you” (Matthew 12.28).
  • ‘And He said to them, “Truly I say to you, That there are some of those who stand here, who will not taste of death, until they have seen the Kingly Rule of God come with power” (Mark 9.1).

In the first case the Kingly Rule of God has already come on them. In the second the Kingly Rule of God will come with power within the lifetime of some of those present. In both cases the words have in mind participation now, or definitely in the very near future, of the Kingly Rule of God, in the latter case revealed in terms of power.

Thus our conclusion must be that when Luke speaks of the ‘coming of the Kingly Rule of God’ he has in mind its present manifestation. Indeed in the light of his previous words his readers could hardly have seen it in any other way.

We should also note that later in Luke’s account in chapter 22 He then declares that “I covenant to you a Kingly Rule, even as My Father has covenanted to Me, that you may eat and drink at My table in My Kingly Rule and you will sit on thrones judging (ruling over) the twelve tribes of Israel” (22.29-30).

(Some would, however, translate this as meaning that even as His Father covenants to Him a Kingly Rule, so does He covenant to His disciples that they may eat and drink at His table in His Kingly Rule, and that they will sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel. In this translation the disciples are not themselves actually covenanted a Kingly Rule. Either translation is feasible and the difference is not really very great. The Kingly Rule of God in which they are to have a part is unquestionably involved whichever is chosen).

A large number of commentators take all these references in Luke 22 to signify that He is referring to the final coming of God’s Kingly Rule in the everlasting (or Millennial) Kingdom. They thus refer to the eating and drinking as referring to the future triumphal Messianic banquet which is described in Scripture (compare Isaiah 25.6) where the idea is of coming triumph and wellbeing, and which is referred to in later Apocalyptic literature which concentrates on the glory that is to be Israel’s. This Banquet is seen by them as the reward for all those who have been faithful to Him (in their terms), something to be looked forward to as bestowing honour and prestige and a great level of superiority, as well as abundant joy. Those who interpret like this therefore tell us that in these last moments of His presence with them Jesus completely ignores their near future, and the important task that is to be theirs, about which they must have been so concerned, and concentrates all His thoughts on when they will see Him again in the more distant future, when they will enjoy positions of prestige and authority, and does it in similar terms to these apocalyptic writers who so misrepresent the situation (such an idea is not found in Isaiah). In the light of what we have already seen it is, of course, possible. But it seems to us very unlikely. And this unlikelihood is even more so when we consider the context of the statement, which is that of seeking humility and humble service. You do not encourage men to be humble by telling them of the greatness that awaits them.

However, before discussing this question more fully let us also consider one or two other references in Luke to God’s Kingly Rule and the equivalent. In 23.42, for example, the dying thief calls on Jesus and says, ‘Remember me when you come in your Kingly Rule’. Jesus replies to this, ‘Truly I say to you. Today you will be with me in Paradise’. It may, of course, be that Jesus was simply ignoring the repentant thief’s statement, and that His reply was not directly related to it, but many would see it as much more likely that Jesus actually saw His Kingly Rule as immediately commencing in some way in ‘Paradise’, and as something in which the thief would be able to partake. If not we might have expected some indication of the fact.

(Whichever way we take it ‘today’ must probably signify ‘at this time, very shortly’ as it does in Aramaic. For it was already within a short few hours of sunset when the literal day would end. It may, however, be that what He meant was that both He and the thief would be immediately transferred in spirit into what Jesus calls ‘Paradise’, the more pleasant side of Hades. It would be dangerous for us to be dogmatic about the question).

Furthermore at His trial Jesus is revealed as saying in reply to the question as to whether He is the Messiah, ‘from henceforth will the Son of Man be seated at the right hand of God’ (22.67-69). The Son of Man being seated at the right hand of God can only here indicate that He has received His Kingship by approaching the throne of God in accordance with Daniel 7.13-14. This can thus only signify that ‘from this time on’ He considers that He will have been enthroned and will therefore be ruling over His sphere of Kingly Rule. He clearly considers that He will by this have entered on Kingly Rule.

Mark has it as, ‘you will see the Son of man sitting at the right hand of power and coming in the clouds of Heaven’ (Mark 14.62). As this can hardly consistently indicate His immediate second coming, this must again be seen as referring to the Son of Man’s ‘coming’ to the throne of God to receive Kingship in Daniel 7.13-14, where He approaches God on the clouds of Heaven and takes His kingly throne. Matthew has something similar, ‘Henceforth you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of Heaven’ (Matthew 26.64). And in Matthew’s case we have the later depiction of the risen Jesus as looking back on this event and saying, ‘All authority has been given to me in Heaven and on earth’ (Matthew 28.18). So all agree that shortly after the crucifixion Jesus will receive Kingly Rule and will be reigning in Heaven. This can be seen as further confirmed in Acts 2.33, 36 where Peter declares that Jesus has been exalted and has been made both Lord and Christ.

Again prior to the Transfiguration Jesus had said, ‘There are some standing here who will not taste of death until they see the Kingly Rule of God’ (9.27), which as we have seen Mark puts as ‘see the Kingly Rule of God come with power’. This thus must be seen as indicating that as far as Jesus was concerned the establishing of the Kingly Rule of God would occur within the lifetime of many who heard Him. Matthew and Mark in their own different ways agree, Mark declaring that the ‘Kingly Rule will come with power’ and Matthew referring to it in language which relates to Daniel 7. As far as these words were concerned therefore the coming of the Kingly Rule of God (in power) was to be seen by that generation.

Again, in 19.12-15, in a parable about the kingdom, the king receives kingly rule and then returns. But as no specific timetable is given this does not tell us anything more, although it does agree in the sense that it distinguishes the receiving of kingly rule from his later return. He receives His kingly rule before His return, not at it.

In contrast with all this, however, in 13.28-29 there is the idea of a heavenly Kingly Rule of God which follows the second coming of Jesus Christ into which gather all the believers of the past from all parts of the world, but as we have already seen in that case it is the people who come to the Kingly Rule of God, not the Kingly Rule of God that comes to them. And in 21.31 there is the idea of the Kingly Rule of God being near, which will follow the fulfilment of the signs of His coming. Both of these relate the Kingly Rule of God to His second coming. But neither actually speak of the coming of the Kingly Rule of God, and they are in contrast to the many verses in Luke where the Kingly Rule of God is depicted as being already present or as ‘near’ to the people of that day (6.20; 7.28; 10.9, 11; 11.20; 16.16; 17.21), and as ‘coming’. Neither of the verses that refer to the Kingly Rule of God at the consummation actually speak of it as ‘coming’.

So we can summarise all this as follows:

  • 1). The Kingly Rule of God is already present among them in Jesus, and at work in their hearts (6.20; 7.28; 10.9, 11; 11.20; 16.16; 17.21; John 3.2-3).
  • 2). The Kingly Rule of God is about to be revealed in power as a consequence of His resurrection and as a result of His enthronement and subsequent receipt of all authority in Heaven and earth (9.27; 22.67-69; 23.42; Mark 9.1; 14.62; Matthew 26.64; 28.28; Acts 2.33, 35).
  • 3). The Kingly Rule of God will one day be revealed in Heaven, and in that day all will enter it who are His (13.28-29; 21.31).

But we would stress again that with regard to these it is only the first and the second which are spoke of in terms of ‘the coming of the Kingly Rule of God’.

When, however, we come to Acts the Kingly Rule of God is unquestionably the message that is offered through the preaching of the word (14.22; 19.8; 20.25; 28.23, 31), and furthermore, in 28.23, 31 the preaching of the Kingly Rule of God is said to be specifically the equivalent of preaching Jesus. None of these references, however, specifically speak of its ‘coming’, although in fact the suggestion would appear to be that it has come and may be entered into by all who will respond.

So when we ask the question ‘Do the references to the coming Kingly Rule of God by Jesus in 22.16, 18 have in mind the Kingly Rule of God that comes at Pentecost, or does it refer to the Kingly Rule of God which comes to fruition at the final consummation? there would only seem to be one answer. And if we ask ‘Was Jesus simply giving an indication that the Kingly Rule of God would not be long in coming because it would be the result of His resurrection and enthronement, or was He talking about what would be the final position when the future had come to its consummation?’, the weight of the evidence lies with the former. So the same conclusion seems to apply to both questions. The ‘coming of the Kingly Rule of God’ as such was seen as something that that generation would experience.

With regard to the further statements in the verses, the Passover could certainly be seen as ‘fulfilled’ in the deliverance of men and women through the cross at Pentecost as they were thus brought into the Kingly Rule of God with power (see 1 Corinthians 5.7). Here was a greater deliverance by far than that at the Exodus. Although it is true that it could also be seen as fulfilled at the consummation when the saved were finally gathered in. And in the same way it could be that the reference to drinking the fruit of the vine was an indication that there was only a short period between His drinking with them then and the coming of the Kingly Rule of God, although again it may be seen as having in mind a longer term view.

So overall we would suggest that in exegetical terms as well the references to the Kingly Rule of God in 22.16, 18 must be seen as suggesting that when Jesus spoke of it, He had in mind the coming of the Kingly Rule of God which would result from His approaching enthronement following His resurrection, and through the work of the Holy Spirit, as in Acts. This would, however, not exclude the fact that it would finally result for all who were thus ‘saved’ in the everlasting Kingdom. For in Jesus’ eyes the one ran into the other, for elsewhere when speaking of blessing to be given to His own He says, ‘Both now in this time --- and in the life to come’ (Mark 10.30).

Having come to this conclusion let us now consider whether it is supported by the context.

The Context: The Lord’s Supper.

The next thing that we note is that while Jesus declares that He Himself will cease eating the Passover and drinking the fruit of the vine for a period of time, His disciples are to continue to do so. This could indicate a short term abstinence for Himself while they continued with their eating and drinking, or it may have been in order to indicate that they were to eat and drink of it constantly in the future in a new form. In the longer text of Luke, (which we consider is unquestionably correct, see later), this is made more explicit, even though no mention is actually made of eating and drinking, for the bread is given ‘in remembrance of Me’ and the cup is offered. Both of these ideas include the thought of eating and drinking. Thus there is an emphasis on the fact that while Jesus Himself will for an unstated period cease eating and drinking, the Disciples will go on eating and drinking in remembrance of Him, and that what they will eat and drink will be a reminder of His body and blood. Even in the shorter text this is implied, for Luke’s readers would certainly there understand these words or similar as following ‘this is My body’, due to their own celebration of the Lord’s Table (compare 1 Corinthians 11.23-5).

One thing that arises from the reference to Jesus as ‘not eating and drinking’ is as to whether the purpose of that is in order to suggest how soon the Kingly Rule of God will come (‘it is so near that I will abstain from eating and drinking until then’, for remember those who heard His words did not know what was coming), or whether the idea is rather that He will meanwhile shortly be active in such a way that the taking of food and wine would be improper, that is, that He sees the abstention from wine as necessary because He sees Himself as about to act as a serving priest (Leviticus 11.10) as in Hebrews, and because He is consecrating Himself to what lies ahead as the equivalent of a Nazirite (Numbers 6) as John the Baptiser did (1.15). That is, that He wants them to know that He is totally devoting Himself to an important ministry that lies before Him, the ministry of the cross and resurrection and enthronement. Like the mention of the swords later it could be seen as a reference to preparation for the events that now lay ahead. In His case the point would be that He was preparing Himself for the offering up of Himself as the perfect and fully consecrated offering, for abstinence from food and drink was a regular way of preparing for some especially important task ahead (compare Acts 23.12; 1 Samuel 14.24-28). If this is so then it is clear that He sees the task as fulfilled by Luke 24.43.

In indirect contrast with Jesus’ statement about not eating and drinking, however, is the fact that His people will in the future be eating and drinking because they will be partaking of the Lord’s Supper. This might be seen as suggesting therefore that His abstinence will only be until then, at which point He will again eat it and drink it with them at His Table. (Compare how He does break bread with the two disciples at Emmaus after His resurrection - 24.30). And we should note that here in chapter 22 this eating and drinking is immediately connected with ‘the Table’, for immediately afterwards we are told that ‘the hand of him who betrays Me is with Me on the Table ‘ (22.21). The point here would seem to be that on the very table at which Jesus had dispensed the bread and the wine, the betrayer was planning to betray Him. But that shortly He would again (spiritually) be eating and drinking with them at His Table once His Kingly Rule had begun after His resurrection. We should note how in His resurrection appearance He specifically goes out of His way to eat with them - 24.41-43, compare John 21.13.

This is then followed shortly afterwards by Jesus’ illustration of Himself as One Who humbly serves, where He declares, ‘Which is greater, he who sits at the meal or him who serves? Is not he who sits at the meal? But I am in the midst of you as Him Who serves’ (22.27). Unless this is just an illustration taken out of the blue, (which is one possible way of looking at it), we might see this as referring to what He will do in future at The Lord’s Table. There He will serve those who come to that Table to partake of the bread and the wine. Or alternately it could be seen as having reference to what has gone before, and therefore to Jesus as presiding over the Passover. The problem then is that it would not be a good illustration of humility, for the one who presided at the Passover was usually someone who was seen as important. But if His point is that He will in fact from now on, as the One Who is here to serve, be serving them continually by giving them His body and blood, and will thus in the future be present at the Lord’s Table in order to apply it to His people as the Servant Who gave His life a ransom for them (Mark 10.45), then it does illustrate in His case a humbling of Himself for His people.

But however that may be, what is unquestionably true is that the purpose of this illustration is in order to demonstrate the humility, and the ambition to serve in a humble capacity, that should be the lot of those who follow Him. Indeed He stresses that fact. He says that His disciples should not be like the kings of the Gentiles whose desire it is to lord it over everyone (verse 25), but should be like Him in His desire solely to benefit others by humble service. They should not have the hearts of earthly kings, but the heart of the heavenly King, the heart of a servant. They should not be seeking to sit on the High Table, but should be seeking to serve at the lowest table. He is by this seeking to inculcate in these men who have such a dangerous tendency to think in terms of attaining greatness, a desire rather for humility and humble service, with no thought of obtaining greatness.

That being so what follows must, if interpreted as signifying the glory that awaits them at His future Table under His coming glorious Kingly Rule, be seen as quite extraordinary. For what follows is a statement which is then so at variance with what He has previously said that it is difficult to think of anything more contradictory that could have been said. He would be saying, ‘although I am calling you to the humblest of humbles service, nevertheless I am going to sit you on twelve thrones as rulers’. Now that would be fine to someone theologically trained who could make the distinctions that we make, but it could only be totally confusing, and worse, to people as muddled as the Apostles were. It would give them two contradictory ideas.

Let us consider it further. Depending on how we translate it this following statement could be:

  • 1). Either the statement that He has covenanted them a kingly rule, as a result of which they will eat and drink at His table in His Kingly Rule, and will sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.
  • Or the statement that He has covenanted for them to eat and drink at His table in His Kingly Rule, the one God has given Him by covenant, where they will sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.

Now whichever of these two translations is accepted this is often taken to mean that they will join Him in the Kingly Rule of God at the Messianic Banquet at which they will be privileged guests, as a result of which they will also sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel, and in terms of Jewish thinking lording it over the Gentiles. They will be there as those who have been exalted and raised to positions of authority in the everlasting (or Millennial) Kingdom. Can you think of anything that would more fill the disciples in their present state with pride and joy at being exalted, and with a feeling of superiority, and with a renewed interest in who would be the greatest? We must ask therefore, ‘How could this possibly immediately follow on an exhortation to seek the lowest level of humble service such as we have previoulsy seen?

Can you therefore see why we have suggested that it is quite extraordinary? For it would appear that at the same time as He is seeking to lure them away from their attitude of seeking greatness, to being truly humble, and urging them to desire not to sit at table as someone important, but to serve at table as one who is least, and as one who serves others, He is also at the same time trying to fix their minds on their coming greatness. With their previously dangerously arrogant desires for greatness this is surely so contradictory that it is unbelievable. Indeed it might be seen as encouraging hypocrisy. It would be saying, ‘be humble now with a view to being rewarded with greatness. Earn your greatness by making a show of being humble’. Let us confirm this further by looking at His two parallels. Firstly consider:

  • ‘The kings of the Gentiles, have lordship over them, and those who have authority over them are called benefactors, but you shall not be so, but he who is greater among you, let him become as the younger, and he who is chief, as he who serves.’

    And compare it with:

  • You will sit on thrones ruling over (judging) the twelve tribes of Israel.’

It is surely immediately apparent that Jesus is here seemingly going against His own dictum. On the one hand He appears to be saying, ‘You are to eschew power and authority,’ while on the other He is bolstering them up with the very thought that they should be looking forward to a similar kind of power and authority. He is saying, ‘seek to be humble’, and at the same time saying ‘look forward to the fact that you will be made great.’ Given the dangerously wrong ideas that the disciples had revealed that they already had, this is surely, to say the least, extremely unlikely. Is He not really asking too much of them? How can He hope to inculcate an attitude of such humility and yet at the same time, in the same breath, promise such greatness as an incentive? If He is He is surely taking the cutting edge off His urging.

Now had He as an incentive compared being like the Gentile kings now, with being like a Messianic prince in the future that would have been understandable. He would be comparing earthly greatness with heavenly greatness. But the exhortation to eschew the attitude of the Gentile kings, and to follow the way of humility and humble service, is, we suggest, totally incompatible with seeking to arouse in them a desire for a similar future glory at the same time in the state of their knowledge at that time, especially as, as far as they were concerned the latter could be fairly soon (as Acts 1.6 demonstrates). The first promise thus makes this view of His final saying very improbable indeed we might say impossible. You can make a contrast between the pride of Gentile kings and the humility of a servant, and you can make the contrast between the glory of Gentile kings and the glory of being a Messianic prince, but you cannot do both at the same time, for in the same context they are flatly contradictory attitudes.

And this is especially so in the light of what follows. Consider again:

  • ‘Which is greater, he who sits at the meal, or him who serves. Is not he who sits at the meal? Yet I am among you as one who serves,’

    And compare it with:

  • ‘I appoint to you, even as my Father has appointed me a kingly rule, that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingly rule.’

If this latter means the Messianic Banquet where they feast in triumph and glory, then it is in complete contradiction with the former. He would appear to be encouraging at the same time two different attitudes of mind. How can this latter possibly fit in with the idea that they are to be like the One Who serves? They are two different approaches altogether. Either they set their hearts on the way of humble service, desiring not to sit at table, except in the same way as Jesus has as a servant, but to serve, or they set their hearts on the enjoyment of sitting at table with the Messiah in the glory of the Messianic banquet. But they cannot genuinely and honestly be expected to have both aims in mind at the same time, especially as the latter has been a constant temptation to them. (It is even worse if there is the thought of the Messiah serving them at His coming as in 12.37). Separately, in different contexts, the two aims might be compatible, humility now, glory later, but not as two aims asked for in the same breath, especially when it is asked of those who have a tendency to seek greatness, and even more especially as He has been warning them against arrogance and boastful pride. In the light of the earlier self-seeking of James and John He would surely here be in grave danger of encouraging a similar arrogance and boastful pride. Are they really then to be asked to seek the lowest place, while keeping one eye on the highest place? It is hardly possible to think so. It would surely not be inculcating the right attitude (which he has just described) at all.

But if it is not to be taken like this, how then are we to take it?

Before we answer that question let us remind ourselves again of something else, and that is that during this time in the Upper Room, apart from the brief reference to bread and wine, Jesus on this view has apparently said absolutely nothing about the future that lies ahead for His disciples prior to His return, contrary to what we find in John.

That being so these self-contradictions and obvious misapplications described above must surely suggest that somehow we are misinterpreting these verses by seeing in them a picture of their future exaltation, rather than a picture of present service. For how could someone who has just derided Gentile kings because of their attitude, and has put His behaviour as a servant forward as the ideal of humble service, then talk as though His disciples should be seeking the highest place, and should be looking forward to life on their own thrones, and be shown to be completely ignoring all words about their coming service (which John shows that He did talk about in the Upper Room)? It is surely simply not conceivable. But how else then can we see them?

Taking the question of eating and drinking at His table first, we can relate it back to verses 19-20 and also to verse 27. There His table is the one at which He serves. Thus we might see the significance of the Table here as referring not to the Messianic Banquet which is to come in which they will exalt on their glory, but as His feeding of them at His Table in such a way that they serve humbly along with Him at the true Messianic banquet on earth, as in the feeding of the five thousand, by feeding His people, as he commands Peter in John 21.15-17. In the light of what we have seen before, this would signify His activity on their behalf as they partake in the Lord’s Supper, and as they thereby work humbly within the Kingly Rule of God as He does. This would then not be indicating a feasting in triumph at the Messianic feast in some future glory, but a feasting in humility in the Kingly Rule of God as they partake of Christ and then go out to serve others, sharing in His present glory. This fits precisely with Jesus’ urging to behave like humble servants.

But how then are we to think of their being given thrones from which they will rule the twelve tribes of Israel? One thing we can be sure of, and that is that this is surely to be seen as in clear contrast with the Gentile kings who lord it over their people and want to be called benefactors. The point is not that they will achieve better than the Gentile kings, for the attitude of the Gentile kings was to be abhorred. Rather it is that they are to seek to be the very opposite. If one thing is certain it is that it cannot mean that they should be looking forward ambitiously to sitting on thrones ruling the people. It would here be arousing in them all the wrong motives, and contradicting His warning about being like Gentile kings.

That being so it is clear that Jesus must have some other idea in mind than that, the idea of acting as His humble deputies in establishing the Kingly Rule of God among people on earth so that these people might finally inherit the everlasting kingdom. Rather than seeking to lord it over people, He will be saying, they must instead be seeking to humbly serve God’s people in the same way as Jesus Himself has done, bringing them into the Kingly Rule of God and building them up in Christ. This would also then tie in perfectly with His following words to Peter where He describes him, as a result of his being sifted by Satan, as being prepared for this very task. But how then are we to obtain this idea from the words that Jesus uses?

At this point reference must be made to Psalm 122.4-5, for that is the passage for which Jesus obtained the idea. In that Psalm we read of, ‘Jerusalem -- whither the tribes go up, even the tribes of the Lord, for a testimony to Israel, to give thanks to the name of the Lord, for there are set thrones for dispensing righteousness, the thrones of the house of David’. This Psalm refers to the fact that when ‘the tribes’ went up to Jerusalem they were to find justice at the hands of those who sat on ‘the thrones of David’, that is, those who were representing the son of David who was current at the time, by acting as his deputies and judiciaries. It may even indicate princes of the royal house who have this function. This would fit in admirably with what occurred in Acts. There the Apostles in Jerusalem were seen as acting in the name of the greater son of David Who was enthroned in Heaven (Acts 2.29-36; 4.24-30), and were bringing justice and righteousness to the people as they themselves symbolically sat ‘on the thrones of David’, that is, were acting in Jesus’ Name. They were, as it were, to be seen as acting in the name of the Greater David, and could thus be seen as sitting on the metaphorical thrones of David acting in His name. This would also then tie up with their following Him by ‘ruling’ in humility and humble service over the people of God, as Jesus had while on earth, and with their eating and drinking at the Lord’s Table. In other words they were to ‘rule’ over His people with all humility.

But it might be asked, can the church be called ‘the twelve tribes of Israel’ in this way? The answer is in fact a resounding, ‘yes’. For ‘the twelve tribes of Israel’ is merely in the end a phrase indicating ‘all Israel’, having in mind its founding fathers. At varying times there had been a varying number of tribes of Israel, especially early on (see Judges 5), and always, after Ephraim and Manasseh had split up, there were at least thirteen tribes, and yet even in Jesus’ day most pure Jews identified themselves with one of ‘the twelve tribes’. We can compare how Paul described himself as a Benjaminite. It was thus a general phrase, not one that was specifically applicable. It pictured an ideal.

However, apart from very few Jews, this identification would not go back many generations. Large numbers were originally linked with their tribes by adoption rather than by birth, and the number of Jews who were actually descended from the patriarchs, and certainly any who could prove it satisfactorily, would have been very, very few. The main exception would be the descendants of the royal house. Thus the phrase ‘the twelve tribes of Israel’ really signifies ‘all who professed themselves as Israel and were bound in the covenant’.

That the church was seen as the new Israel, the new covenant community, the genuine fulfilment and continuation of Israel, comes out regularly in the New Testament. Jesus had from the beginning set out to establish a new congregation of Israel (Matthew 16.18). And almost from the beginning the unbelieving Jews were seen as having been cut off from the true Israel, and the believing Gentiles as grafted in (see for example John 15.1-6; Romans 11.17-33; Galatians 3.29; 6.16; Ephesians 2.11-22; 1 Peter 2.5, 9; Revelation 7.1-8). And Peter in a letter which is clearly to all Christians, both in its content, and in the fact that whenever he refers to ‘Gentiles’ it is always as those who are unbelieving, writes to ‘the exiles of the Dispersion’ (1 Peter 1.1), those who are strangers and pilgrims (1 Peter 2.11) dispersed around the world, clearly referring this to the whole believing people of God, and therefore seeing them as Israel. In the same way James writes to ‘the twelve tribes in the Dispersion’ (James 1.1), and again is writing to all Christians. This is demonstrated by the fact of his total lack of reference to Gentile Christians in his letter, something which would have been unaccountable in a letter written only to Jewish Christians when he was seeking to give them guidance about their behaviour. Had Gentile Christians not been included among those whom he addressed he would have been failing in his duty not to explain how Christian Jews were to behave towards them. So the non-mention of them, not even by a hint, confirms that they are included among those to whom the letter is written. Thus as far as James was concerned believing Gentiles had been incorporated into Israel and were part of ‘the twelve tribes’.

For we must remember that the idea of ‘Israel’ was always a fluid one. From the very beginning many ‘Israelites’ had been descendants of foreign servants within the households of the patriarchs. Yet all in their ‘households’, (thus foreign servants included), had gone down into Egypt and had retained their identity as Israel. And when they left Egypt they had been joined by a mixed multitude (Exodus 12.38) who would mainly from then on be seen as Israelites. They would join in the covenant of Sinai, and be circumcised on entering the land. And provision was specifically made for such people to be full blown Israelites (Exodus 12.48). Indeed so many sought to join with Israel that provision was made later as to who could and could not do so (Deuteronomy 23.1-7). And all through their history proselytes were welcomed as true Israelites on equal terms (at least theoretically) if they were circumcised and submitted to the covenant. So the idea of Israel was not so much that of literal descendants of Abraham, but of those who were faithful to the covenant. Those who were not were cut off from Israel even if they were true-born. Those who wished to become a part of ‘Israel’ could do so, through circumcision and submission to the covenant. And it was in fact precisely because the early church saw new converts as becoming a part of Israel that the requirement for circumcision was debated. And the final solution was not found in suggesting that they were not really joining Israel, but in the argument that once they became Christ’s they were already circumcised with the circumcision of Christ (Colossians 2.11) and therefore did not need to be circumcised again. But they were certainly recognised as having become the true seed of Abraham (Galatians 3.29). For they were ingrafted into the olive tree (Romans 11.17-28), and, as Paul tells us in Ephesians 2.13-22, they became fellow-citizens with the saints (the Old Testament name for true Israelites) and of the household of God. Thus the early church did unquestionably see themselves as the true Israel, and therefore as ‘the twelve tribes of Israel’.

This being so the most consistent interpretation of this passage would seem to be the one that sees it as referring to the Kingly Rule of God that would be established at Pentecost and after, and which saw the Apostles as ‘serving at table’ and ‘sitting on thrones’ by serving the people of God as they built up the Kingly Rule of God on earth ready for their later transfer to Heaven.

Before moving on further there is one more emphasis that we can perhaps examine, and that is the one in the passage about being ‘at (on) the table’.

Being At The Table In Luke 22.

In verse 14 Jesus reclines with His disciples, and the assumption must be that it was at the Table(s) present in the room. So here reclining at the Table indicates closeness of fellowship. And it is as being at this Table that He gives them the bread and wine representing His body and blood.

It comes therefore in shocking contrast when Jesus says, ‘the hand of him who betrays Me is with Me at (on - ‘epi’) the Table’ (verse 21). One of those who were reclining at His Table, eating and drinking with Him, and had even solemnly received bread and wine from Him, was planning to betray Him. To behave in such a way was to go counter to all that was looked on as customary and acceptable. It was to break all boundaries of decency. For it was a principle of Eastern hospitality that when you ate with someone it was a guarantee of friendship and of concern for their wellbeing.

In contrast Jesus then pointed out that He was here at the Table in order to serve. While it was true that He was reclining at the Table with them, He said, it was not as one who considered it as His right to be served, but as one who was there in order to serve. He was not here to exercise authority over them but with the sole purpose of serving them. Indeed He was here with the purpose of giving Himself to them and for them. And this was to be an example to them, so that they also were not to be like Gentile kings lording it over people, and being given great titles, but were also in their turn, while reclining at Table, to serve, seeking only the lowest place, that of the youngest (and at some stage He gave the example by washing their feet).

So when He then goes on to say that in future they will sit at (on - ‘epi’) His Table under His Kingly Rule, eating and drinking as they are now (unlike the one who has betrayed Him), the thought is clearly that He will there continue to serve them, and that they too should be thinking in terms of humble service as they recline at His Table, as He has already enjoined. In the context of this whole passage this suggests that it signifies their future humble service in the Kingly Rule of God which will shortly come with power, and thus signifies what is to follow the resurrection.

In other words Jesus takes the idea of the Messianic Banquet and turns it on its head. The ideas that should be filling the heads of His disciples, He says, should not be those of Messianic glory, but of Messianic service. Thus we may summarise by saying that He has both assured them that the Kingly Rule that they were expecting was coming, so that what is to follow in His coming death should not leave them with any doubts about that, but that they should not be looking at it as something that would bring them glory, but rather as something that would enable them, like Him, to act faithfully as ‘the Servant of the Lord’ (Acts 13.47).


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