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FREE Scholarly verse by verse commentaries on the Bible.


The Kingdom of God in Matthew.

The idea of the Kingdom of God (Heaven) is central in Matthew’s Gospel and is one of its main themes. He makes clear his intention from the beginning to reveal that the expected King has come in Jesus Christ the Messiah, and that through His ministry that Kingdom of God will be established, and closes his Gospel by point out that as the risen Lord He has been given all authority in Heaven and earth, thus making clear the presence of the Kingdom of God. on earth. For full details see below.

Scholarly verse by verse commentaries on the Bible.

GENESIS ---EXODUS--- LEVITICUS 1.1-7.38 --- 8.1-11.47 --- 12.1-16.34--- 17.1-27.34--- NUMBERS 1-10--- 11-19--- 20-36--- DEUTERONOMY 1.1-4.44 --- 4.45-11.32 --- 12.1-29.1--- 29.2-34.12 --- THE BOOK OF JOSHUA --- THE BOOK OF JUDGES --- --- PSALMS 1-17--- ECCLESIASTES --- ISAIAH 1-5 --- 6-12 --- 13-23 --- 24-27 --- 28-35 --- 36-39 --- 40-48 --- 49-55--- 56-66--- EZEKIEL --- DANIEL 1-7 ---DANIEL 8-12 ---


The Kingly Rule of Heaven/God In Matthew.

It would not be an exaggeration to say that the Kingly Rule of Heaven (he basileia town ouranown), or Kingly Rule of God (he basileia tou theou), along with its connection with the King Who has come, underlies the whole of Matthew’s Gospel, as it also underlies Acts. It should equally underlie our preaching today. So the important question is, what is indicated by ‘the Kingly Rule of Heaven (God)’?

This Kingly Rule over all who are His, is clearly declared in Psalm 103.19, ‘YHWH has established His Name in the Heavens, and His Kingly Rule (Psalm 102.19 LXX he basileia autou) reigns over all’. Here God is seen as King in the Heavens, with His Kingly Rule reigning over all in Heaven and earth. The ‘all’ here could signify ‘all people’ or ‘all things’, but the principle is the same, He is Lord over all.

A parallel passage in Psalm 22.28 similarly declares ‘of YHWH is the Kingly Rule (Psalm 21.29 LXX tou kuriou he basileia), and He reigns over the nations’. Here the Kingly Rule is specifically seen as ‘over the people’. Thus in the Psalms the Kingly Rule of YHWH over all things and especially ‘over the nations’, that is, over all people, is made clear. Neither Psalmist has any doubts about Who is in sovereignty over the Universe. That is indeed why He is the Judge of all the earth (Genesis 18.25).

The only problem is that that Kingly Rule is not accepted by the people. The nations are seen as in rebellion against that Kingly Rule (e.g. Psalm 2.1-2; 5.10; 110.2), and as have taken the Rule out of His hands.

But this is not a problem to the Psalmist, for he knows that in the end God will firmly establish His Kingly Rule. Man is but as grass, and when the wind blows he is gone (Psalm 103.15-16). But in contrast those who are oppressed will receive justice and be vindicated, and those who fear Him and keep His covenant and obey His commands will experience His covenant love (Psalm 103.6, 17-18). So the Psalmist clearly sees that YHWH will re-exert His Kingly Rule, destroying those who continue in rebellion, while delivering those who respond to Him, submit to His covenant and walk in obedience to Him.

The same idea is emphasised in Psalm 22. There also the triumph of God’s Kingly Rule is assured, and it is especially the poor and the meek who will benefit. He has ‘not despised the affliction of the poor’ (Psalm 22.24, - Psalm 22.25 LXX ptowchou), where ‘the poor’ is describing the Psalmist, and it is a Psalm of David (and is thus not speaking of abject poverty). Thus it is to the poor (ptowchoi) in spirit that the Kingly Rule of Heaven belongs (5.3). Moreover ‘the meek will eat and be satisfied’ (3.5-6; Psalm 22.26; 37.11). And the result will be that ‘all the ends of the earth will remember and turn to the Lord’ (Psalm 22.27). Here is a description of what Jesus has come to bring about, blessing on the poor and the meek (5.3, 5), and the ends of the earth recognising the Kingly Rule of God, and it is noteworthy that in the Psalm it follows hard on the description of the sufferings of the son of David in Psalm 22.12-21.

Also significant is that in Psalm 22, in the same context, His Name is to be declared to ‘my brethren’ and in the midst of the congregation (LXX ekklesia ‘church’) He is to be praised. Thus those who will finally submit to the Kingly Rule of YHWH are here described as ‘the church’ or ‘congregation’. We see therefore in these Psalms the basis of two central themes in Matthew, the Kingly Rule of Heaven and the ‘congregation’ who will praise YHWH (16.18; 18.17).

These two themes are central in Matthew and the most important thing about the world today. For God still ‘reigns over the nations’ and we who are Christians now serve the King, ‘Jesus the Christ (Messiah - ‘Anointed One)’ (1.1, 16, 17), under the Kingly Rule of God, just as Israel had served ‘David the King’ (1.6), and it is the ‘congregation’ (the church) who truly praise God. In this sense the Kingly Rule of God has now come for all who are His, while it is still ‘at hand’, that is, available, for those who are not His. Thus the final triumph of the Kingly Rule of Heaven still awaits the future, when all is brought in submission to Him, and those who refuse submission will be destroyed (as the Psalmist had described).

This future aspect of the Kingly Rule of Heaven awaits the consummation, when some will enter and others will be refused entry, when the nations over whom He exercises His Kingly Rule are purged of all who have rejected His Name.

Initially we must therefore consider the differing aspects of His Kingship:

  • 1). He is the son of David. He is this by direct descent from Abraham and David, and as the miracle worker and demon controller like Solomon, the son of David (see Titles of Jesus). He is, however, greater than Solomon (12.42). He is the Davidic hope.
  • 2). He is David’s Lord. As the greater than David He is his Lord (22.42-45).
  • 3). He is the Son of Man of Daniel 7.13-14. Jesus depicts Himself as the Son of Man Who came on the clouds of Heaven to the throne of God. As this He has the power on earth to forgive sins (9.6), and is the Lord of the Sabbath (12.8). At the consummation He will send forth ‘His angels’ (13.41) to bring about the final judgment (25.31), coming in the glory of His Father (16.27; compare 24.27). But prior to that the world will see the effects of His ‘coming in His Kingly Rule’ to His Father’s throne (16.28; 26.64; Daniel 7.13).
  • 4). He is the Son of God. While the kings of Israel could be addressed by God as His adopted sons, and even be thought of as ‘My son’ (2 Samuel 7.14), they were never called ‘the son of God’. Nor would anyone have used that title in Jesus’ day without recognising the uniqueness that it indicated. For one to call Himself ‘the Son of God’ or ‘the Son of the Blessed’ was seen by the Jews as blasphemy (26.63-65; Mark 14.61-64; Luke 22.70-71). And had He not genuinely been the Son of God it would have been blasphemy. But in Matthew Jesus is called the Son of God by Satan (4.1-11), by demons (8.29), by those amazed at His power over sea and storm (14.33), and by the centurion (27.54). All recognised in these moments of awe that here was the true Son of God. He is also depicted by God as ‘My Son’ (2.15), ‘My beloved Son’ (3.17; 17.5), and ‘the Son’ (11.27).

Thus to Matthew Jesus is the supreme King and the Son of God. We must now seek how this is outworked in his Gospel.

Matthew commences his Gospel in 1.1 by speaking of Jesus as the Messiah, the son of David, (the latter in verse 6 being emphasised as being ‘the King’), and the son of Abraham, (who was well recognised as the precursor of kings (Genesis 17.6, 16)), and he ends it with Jesus’ own words describing Himself as the One Who has been given all authority in Heaven and earth (28.19). From start to finish He is thus seen as the King.

In the first part of chapter 1 the genealogy of Jesus declares His kingly descent, and in the second part He is revealed to be the coming King who would be born of a virgin as prophesied to Ahaz by Isaiah 7.14; 9.6-7 (see on this ‘That It Might Be Fulfilled’).

In chapter 2 He is born in David’s city, Bethlehem, and is declared to be ‘the King of the Jews’ by the Magi, and it is as such that an attempt is made on His life, with the result that He becomes exiled in Egypt. His life is following the pattern of Israel; born of Abraham, and exiled (in Egypt). It is also following the royal pattern, born of Abraham, born of David, exiled (in Babylon). But then as ‘My Son’ He is called from Egypt in a manner reminiscent of Israel before Him (2.15). It is an indication that, through His King, God is commencing the redemption of His true people (who at this stage are those in Israel who are waiting for redemption - Luke 2.25).

These ideas would signify far more to a Jew of Matthew’s day than they do to us. Israel had always seen itself as very much tied up in its king. His life was their life (Lamentations 4.20). His history was their history, hence the books of King and Chronicles. So the genealogy of the royal line and its exile was seen as very much parallel with that of Israel.

As their King approved by God He returns from exile to the land of their inheritance as their representative on their behalf (2.15). It is an indication that their long exile is over. In the same way, when He dies, He dies on their behalf (20.28), and when He goes to the throne of God in order to receive everlasting Kingly Rule He goes there on their behalf (Daniel 7.13-14). And it is as King in waiting that He retires to lowly Nazareth.

In chapter 3 John the Baptist comes to prepare the way as for a king and declares that the Kingly Rule of Heaven is at hand (3.2). If you prepare the way for a King and declare His Kingly Rule as at hand, then when the King appears it is clearly in order to establish His Kingly Rule. So when God’s beloved Son is then manifested as both King and Servant in the words spoken after His baptism (3.17), the baptism which identifies Him with Israel, the indication must be that He has come for the very purpose of establishing His Kingly Rule, and is now being revealed as such.

In chapter 4 the King, on being offered an earthly throne, turns His back on it, and goes forward instead to proclaim that ‘the Kingly Rule of Heaven’ is at hand (verse 17). It is now on the doorstep and He is about to found it. It is available for all who would receive it. God’s Kingly Rule is still over the nations in Heaven (Psalm 22.29; 103.19), and He has come like light out of darkness (4.16) in order to reveal it, for in Isaiah 9.2-7 the coming of the light out of darkness was to result in the triumph of the King. There is an interesting parallel here with Colossians 1.13, for He has just left behind the prince of darkness in order to establish His Kingly Rule in light (compare Luke 22.53; Acts 26.18; Ephesians 6.12; Colossians 1.13). He is thus seen as proclaiming the ‘Good News of the Kingly Rule’ (verse 23), the Kingly Rule of light, the Kingly Rule of God’s beloved Son (Colossians 1.13). His Kingly Rule is not of this world (John 18.36), and yet it will be over all in the world who respond to Him, for His Kingly Rule is ‘over all’ (Psalm 103.19).

In chapters 5-7 the Kingly Rule of Heaven belongs (present tense, in contrast with a number of future tenses) to those who follow Him (verse 5.3), and to all who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake (5.10). Status in that Kingly Rule will be determined by the honour in which they hold His Law (5.19), with both its demands and its revelation concerning the Coming King, while those who follow the behaviour and attitudes of the Scribes and Pharisees will be excluded altogether. They will not enter it either now or in the future (5.20). This ‘Kingly Rule of God’ is to be sought first before anything else, along with God’s righteous deliverance (6.33). Unless therefore we argue that we cannot receive His righteousness on earth (which is patently false) we cannot argue that this Kingly Rule of God is only in the future. Both are to be sought now with all our hearts.

Where Matthew does use the phrase ‘the Kingly Rule of God’ (rather than the Kingly Rule of ‘Heaven’) he appears to be signifying by it a present experience of the Kingly Rule. Consider:

  • ‘But seek you first the Kingly Rule of God, and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you’ (6.33). Here the parallel with righteousness suggests that both are to be sought immediately as two parallel divine benefits.
  • ‘But if I cast out devils by the Spirit of God, then the Kingly Rule of God is come to you’ (12.28). Here the Kingly Rule of God is undoubtedly present, having broken in on earth.
  • ‘And again I say to you, It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the Kingly Rule of God’ (19.24). Here the Kingly Rule of God is ambiguous. It could be either present or future. And here ‘Kingly Rule of Heaven’ (in Mark and Luke ‘Kingly Rule of God’) is used in the previous verse, with seemingly no distinction in meaning.
  • ‘Truly I say to you, That the public servants and the prostitutes go into the Kingly Rule of God before you’ (21.31). This would seem to indicate a present entry, for it leaves open the option for the Jewish leaders to follow on. This is especially so as in the next verse He makes it quite clear that they are refusing to do so. ‘For John came in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the public servants and the prostitutes believed him, and even when you saw it you did not afterwards repent and believe him’.
  • ‘Therefore I say to you, The Kingly Rule of God will be taken from you, and given to a nation bringing forth its fruits’ (21.43). How we see this depends on how we interpret it. Those who see it as a comparison between a present Israel and a future Israel, with the latter establishing a Kingly Rule of God on earth will see it as future. But those who see it as signifying that rejected Israel is to be replaced by a new Israel on the basis of 16.18 will see it as referring to the present Kingly Rule of God.

Overall then Matthew uses the phrase ‘Kingly Rule of God’ (rather than Heaven) to indicate the present availability of the Kingly Rule of God to those who believe, so that all can connect with Him personally through it.

Only those Who do the will of His Father in Heaven will enter under that Kingly Rule (7.21), for men’s doing of His will is the result of men seeking it and responding to it. It is not to be entered by saying, ‘Lord, Lord’, it is to be entered by truly submitting to the Father and to His will. Here the ‘entering of the Kingly Rule of Heaven’ could be either present or future. Perhaps then we should consider the significance of the phrase ‘enter into the Kingly Rule of Heaven’. The verses in question are as follows:

  • 1). ‘For I say to you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will in no case enter into the Kingly Rule of Heaven (5.20).
  • 2). ‘Not every one who says to me, “Lord, Lord”, will enter into the Kingly Rule of Heaven, but he who does the will of My Father Who is in Heaven’ (7.21).
  • 3). ‘And said, Truly I say to you, Except you be converted, and become as little children, you will not enter into the Kingly Rule of Heaven’ (18.3).
  • 4). ‘Then Jesus said to his disciples, Truly I say to you, That a rich man shall hardly enter into the Kingly Rule of Heaven’ (19:23).
  • 5). ‘And again I say to you, It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the Kingly Rule of God (19.24).
  • 6). ‘But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you shut up the Kingly Rule of Heaven against men, for you neither go in yourselves, nor do you allow those who are entering to go in’ (23.13).

On the whole the verses are not decisive about when the entry takes place, and we could therefore see these verses as referring to entering immediately, or as signifying future entry. But the following points must be made. Firstly, in view of what we have seen of the phrase ‘the Kingly Rule of God’ above, that would suggest that 3 & 4 refer to present entry. Secondly, the present tense in 6 would seem to refer to present entry. It can, of course, be argued that these are ‘futuristic presents’, and dogmatism is therefore ruled out, but on the whole the impression is given by the continual use of the present tense that it is speaking of what they are doing at the present time. Thirdly the impression given in 3 is that being converted and becoming like little children results in entry into the Kingly Rule of Heaven. If it be argued that He is speaking to the disciples we will agree. But we know that at least one present was not a true believer (Judas the betrayer) and Jesus regularly left open the question in what He said of who was and was not a believer (e.g. in 5.3-9). Thus it would appear to us that the balance of probability lies in the ‘entering into the Kingly Rule of Heaven/God’ being intended to signify that it is something to be done at the present time. And as we shall see shortly this in confirmed in chapter 13. It is also confirmed by John 3.5 where being born from above results in entry under the Kingly Rule of God.

This suggests then that the Sermon on the Mount is aiming at, present submission to the Kingly Rule of God, and reveals that only genuine submission will bring men under His Kingly Rule. Outwardly some may appear to be entering it who are not, but they are not children of the Kingly Rule, they are children of the Evil One (13.38).

In chapter 8, after revealing His kingly authority over disease by healing a Gentile’s servant at a distance, He declares in connection with it that in the coming Kingly Rule of Heaven in its future manifestation, will be Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, along with many from all parts of the earth, while those who should naturally have been a part of it will be cast out (8.11). So the present Kingly Rule of Heaven which men are now entering under His ministry will merge into the future Kingly Rule of Heaven where they will meet Abraham and all who have been truly God’s in the past. And there they will also find men from all parts of the world who have truly believed in and submitted to God. Strictly speaking this could refer to the Jew’s of the Dispersion (the Jews scattered around the world), but the context demands that it mean more than this. It indicates that others like the believing centurion will also be included. Apart from the homage of the Magi this is the first real indication that His Kingly Rule is to incorporate Gentiles.

His Kingly Rule is then revealed in the remainder of the chapter by His demonstration of His power over disease, over sea and storm. Note that He is each time addressed as ‘Lord’ in contexts that demand that it mean much more than ‘Sir’. It is also revealed in His demonstrated authority over demons. The demons call Him ‘the Son of God’ (8.29).

In chapter 9 He is revealed as King in terms of the Son of Man (9.6; Daniel 7.13-14) and as such has the authority on earth to forgive sins (9.6), very much a royal prerogative. This leads on to healings, and the raising of the dead, followed by the healing of the blind who call Him the Son of David (9.27), and the healing of a dumb demoniac. His Kingship and Sonship is thus being revealed. The Pharisees on the other hand align Him with the prince of demons (9.34). So all recognise His authority in one way or the other. Even the Pharisees had to admit to His powers, even though they attributed them to the wrong source. After this Jesus goes everywhere proclaiming the Good News of the Kingly Rule (9.35).

In chapter 10 the disciples are sent out to proclaim to all that the Kingly Rule of Heaven is at hand in the same way as heralds are sent out to proclaim the appointment of a king. It is there for all to enter under it who will. Those who will can now enter it by responding to the King, repenting and being forgiven, and doing the will of His Father. He also refers back to the accusation of the Pharisees by telling His disciples , ‘If they have called the Master of the house Beelzebul, how much more His servants’. So Jesus declares Himself to be ‘the Master of the House’, that is of all who have truly submitted to God (in contrast with Satan who is master over his own kingdom - 12.25-26). By this therefore He is revealed as their King. (Compare how some parables refer to the master of the house and some to the king, or the king’s son - 18.23-35; 20.1-16; 21.33-43; 22.1-14; 25.14-30).

In chapter 11 He demonstrates to John that He is the Coming One by pointing to His miraculous works which fulfil the promises in Isaiah (11.4-6; Isaiah 29.18-19; 35.5-6; 61.1), and links this with the Kingly Rule of Heaven by pointing out that those who are least in the Kingly Rule of Heaven are greater than John (11.11), and that from John’s days onwards it is the ‘violent’ and determined who ‘take’ the Kingly Rule of Heaven (11.12). This again confirms the present nature of the Kingly Rule of Heaven. All who come under the Rule of God in the new age through responding to Jesus Christ are ‘greater’ than John because they are children of the new Kingly Rule to which John could only point forward. This is because John is the last and greatest of the Old Testament prophets, the promised ‘Elijah’ (Malachi 4.5), and thus pre-Kingly Rule, while they are enjoying the presence of the King (11.13-14). They are in the new age. Jesus Sonship in a deeper sense is then emphasised. He is ‘the Son’ in relation to ‘the Father’ (11.25-27).

In chapter 12 Jesus reveals Himself as ‘Lord of the Sabbath’ as the Son of Man (12.8), and when He heals a demoniac the people ask themselves whether He is therefore the coming Son of David (12.22). Both titles confirm His Kingship. The Pharisaic solution to this is that He casts out demons by the Prince of Demons (12.24), which Jesus then points out is putting them in danger of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, because it is by the Spirit of God that He casts out demons (12.27-32), in context as the Spirit anointed Isaianic Servant of YHWH (12.18).

If there has been any doubt as to whether the Kingly Rule of Heaven is actually present on earth this is dispelled in chapter 13. The secrets of the Kingly Rule of Heaven are laid open to His disciples (13.11). The word of God’s Kingly Rule is being proclaimed among men (13.19) and men are being called on to respond to it. For the Kingly Rule of Heaven can be compared to a man (who represents the Son of Man - verse 37) who sows good seed in a field (13.24) with the hope of producing a harvest. This is what Jesus’ present ministry is all about. Those who receive that seed and truly respond to it come under His Kingly Rule. They are children of the Kingly Rule (13.38). Those who do not truly respond to it (some of whom give the impression of doing so) are children of the Evil One (13.38). The Kingly Rule of Heaven is like a tiny mustard seed which grows rapidly and becomes large enough for the birds to lodge in its branches (13.31-32). It is like leaven which a woman takes and puts in the flour until the whole is leavened (13.33). Thus the Kingly Rule of Heaven is to be seen as on earth and expanding and spreading. And in its consummation ‘His’ Kingly Rule will have removed from it all who are unfit, (who were actually not sons of the Kingly Rule at all, but were sons of the Evil One (13.38) infiltrating among those who were under His Kingly Rule like secret agents), so that the righteous will shine forth like the sun in the Kingly Rule of the Father.

The Kingly Rule of Heaven is like a treasure which men will pay anything for (13.45-46). It is like a pearl which a man will sell all that he has in order to possess. In other words being within the Kingly Rule of Heaven is so precious that it is worth any sacrifice, (for no one could actually purchase the Kingly Rule of Heaven).

And finally the Kingly Rule of Heaven is like a huge net that is cast, taking in both good and bad (13.47-48), that is, the children of the Kingly Rule and the children of the Evil One (13.38), removing the latter and leaving the former as the genuine members of the Kingly Rule of Heaven.

It will be noted from all this that the idea of the Kingly Rule of Heaven is not static in these illustrations, although the ideas behind the illustrations are quite clear. The mention of ‘the children of the Kingly Rule’ makes clear that any other elements seemingly found within it do not really belong there. They are like foreign bodies, germs and parasites. (When I say ‘my body’ I do not say ‘apart from the parasites within it’, but that is what I mean. All recognise that they are not really a part of my body. In the same way the children of the Evil One were never really a part of the Kingly Rule of Heaven. Indeed they could not be because being in the Kingly Rule of Heaven signifies being in submission to the King). The fact that the Kingly Rule of Heaven can illustration-wise be bought because it is so precious is also in contrast with the idea of it containing both good and bad. No one would want to buy the bad. This all illustrates that essentially the Kingly Rule of Heaven only consists of the good, with the bad appearing among it superficially, but not really as a part of it.

The whole passage ends with an interesting verse in which the disciples are seen as being trained as Scribes ‘trained for the Kingly Rule of Heaven’ (a similar idea really to ‘sitting on twelve thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel’). They are like householders who bring out of their treasures both what is old and what is new. This must be seen in the light of the Sermon on the Mount, where the old Torah has become new in the hands of the Master, as it is explained to those who will become Teachers. What has been hidden within it because of the hardness of men’s hearts, is now made manifest.

In chapter 14 the earthly ‘king’, Herod the Tetrarch, is contrasted with the heavenly King. He is fearful of Him because he thinks that He may be John the Baptist, (whom he had executed under the evil influences of the world), risen from the dead. When Jesus heard what Herod was saying about Him he moved away from his territory (as He had previously moved away from Herod’s father’s - 2.14) into the territory of Herod Philip. And there He takes the next step in the official commencing of a new covenant community of Israel (the first step was the appointment of the twelve). For He provides a covenant meal for over five thousand men (five is the number of covenant) together with women and children. Then He once more reveals Himself as the ruler of the waves, and those who are with Him declare Him to be the Son of God (14.33). They are realising that He is more than just the Messiah Whom they were expecting. This is followed by crowds gathering around Him and being healed even by touching the fringe of His robe. (This to some extent compares with the healing at a distance of the Centurion’s servant. Both are signs of Jesus’ far reaching power).

In chapter 15, in criticising the hypocritical behaviour of the Scribes and Pharisees, Jesus links Himself with the Isaianic prophecies by citing Isaiah 29.13. This angers the Pharisees, and results in His stark criticism of them. It will be noted that Isaiah 29.13 is followed in Isaiah by a reference to the destruction of the wisdom of their wise men. Here also then Jesus is criticising ‘the wise men’. It may be significant that this incident is then followed by the approach of a Canaanite woman who, in contrast with them, acknowledges Him as the Son of David. While the religious authorities of Judea speak against Him, and are ‘blind’, the Canaanite responds, accepting Him as the Son of David.

Jesus continues to reveal Himself as the Coming One by healing the lame, the maimed, the blind and the dumb (11.4-5; Isaiah 35.5-6). In Isaiah this is to be followed by waters breaking forth in the wilderness, and a mirage becoming a pool, and the opening of a highway which is called ‘the Holy Way’ in which the ransomed of the Lord come to enjoy the blessings of the new age. Here in Matthew it is followed by a further covenant meal, indicating that the covenant community is growing. But this is an indication that the Holy Way is opening up, and now He is in mainly Gentile territory. This time there are four thousand. Four is the number of ‘worldwideness’ (four rivers from Eden cover the world, four ‘corners’ to the earth, four winds of Heaven, four empires represent world history, and so on)

In chapter 16 Jesus is challenged by a delegation from the Sanhedrin who have come to check Him out, and He warns His disciples to beware of the teaching of both of the parties who make up the delegation, the Sadducees and the Pharisees (together forming the religious mainstay of the Sanhedrin). So once again He leaves for Gentile territory. His enforced exiles continue. And there He questions His disciples concerning their view of Him. The leadership will not recognise Him, but what about His disciples? He is seeking a declaration of faith, a new commitment, prior to His declaration of the new ‘congregation’ that He is founding.

Peter declares that He is ‘the Messiah, the Son of the Living God’. Jesus then replies that what Peter has said is the rock on which He will build His ‘congregation’ (of the new Israel) against which the gates of Hades will not be able to prevail. It signals the final defeat of the Serpent. And as a result He will give to Peter the keys of the Kingly Rule of Heaven and the power to bind and loose. The former was an indication that Peter would be the means of ‘opening the Kingly Rule of Heaven’, first to the Jews in Acts 2 and then to the Gentiles in Acts 10. (Jesus retained the keys of Death and of Hades - Revelation 1.18). This is a further indication that the Kingly Rule of Heaven was to be seen as on earth in Peter’s own day. Furthermore this was similar to the key handed to Rabbis on their graduation. It indicated the right to open up the Scriptures in God’s name. ‘Keys’ may be seen as plural because they are for all the Apostles.

The power to ‘bind and loose’, which he will share with all the Apostles (18.18), indicates the ability through the Holy Spirit to declare what is binding on the new community, especially as regards doctrine, and what can be ‘loosed’, that is, made non-applicable, and it arises because of the special gift that will be given to the Apostles in this regard (John 14.26; 16.13). By this gift the words that He had spoken to them would be brought back by the Holy Spirit to their remembrance, and they would thus be led into all truth. There is no indication that this right would be passed on or shared outside the Apostolate, and in fact by its very nature it would die out with them. It could only apply to those who had heard the words of Jesus from the beginning (Acts 1.21-22) and who had received His unique anointing (John 20.21-22).

The power to bind and loose together with ‘the key of knowledge’ (of the traditions of the Elders) was granted to Rabbis who graduated from the Rabbinic schools. By receiving them they were seen as equipped to teach and to make pronouncements concerning the Law. Peter, in view of his clear enlightenment by the Father, and His Apostles, are now therefore seen by Jesus as having ‘graduated’ and as being ready to receive the keys of knowledge of the Kingly Rule of Heaven when the time is right, so that they will be able authoritatively to proclaim its truth to others (it is in the future and not immediately - see also verse 20).

This is all a clear indication that Jesus is founding a community which will have its own leadership and its own Teachers. It is a necessary part of Matthew’s emphasis on the replacement of the old Israel by the new, because he is making clear to Christian Jews what the true situation is. It is similar to Paul’s aim in Romans 9-11. But the fact that Jesus will form a new community is clear in all the Gospels. It is the reason for appointing disciples in the first place, and necessarily follows on His rejection by Israel. It is made most plain in Acts.

The disciples are, however, forbidden as yet to reveal the truth to men that He is the Messiah, and it is from this point on that Jesus begins to point to Himself as the Son of Man Who must suffer (verse 21), although emphasising that one day He will also come as the Son of Man revealed in His Father’s glory and accompanied by angels (16.27). This is a further declaration that He is the Son of Man Who will come to the throne of God (as the King of Israel) to receive everlasting power and glory (Daniel 7.13-14). And He concludes by promising that this coming to the throne of God to receive Kingship (but not necessarily His appearing in glory) will occur within the lifetime of some of His hearers. He who has been declared King at His birth (1.16-17; 2.2) and at His baptism (3.17), will shortly be declared King at His transfiguration (17.5), and then at His resurrection (28.19). After which a further pouring out of the Holy Spirit having wider consequences will reveal that He has been declared both Lord and heavenly Messiah (Acts 2.36). The final revelation of this will come when He comes in His glory (16.27).

In chapter 17 Jesus is transfigured in ‘a high mountain’ and something of His heavenly glory is revealed, and a voice from the cloud declares, ‘This is My beloved Son, in Whom I am well pleased. Hear Him’ (verse 5). Again we have a combination of the ideas in Psalm 2.7 and Isaiah 42.1, referring to the anointed King and the Servant of the Lord. What they have seen is also to be kept secret until after His resurrection.

The chapter closes with the incident of the payment of the half-shekel tax required yearly for the Temple. Its importance here lies in Jesus’ reply, for He declares that really He should not be required to pay it, because it is His Father’s house and He is His Father’s Son. As the son of the Great King (5.35) He is not liable to the tax.

Chapter 18 contains the regulations for the new congregation of Israel which Jesus is introducing. But it commences with a question posed by His disciples, ‘Who is the greatest in the Kingly Rule of Heaven?’ The present tense indicates that they have in mind a present Kingly Rule that Jesus is establishing on earth. In their own way of thinking they appreciate the fact that He has slowly been building up support for His Kingly Rule. What they are probably angling after here therefore is as to how they are getting on with regard to it. Judging by their questions elsewhere (20.20-25) their thought is, ‘which of us?’, and they are wanting to know how they rate in His plans. For now that He had openly confirmed to them that He was the Messiah they probably felt that it would not be long before He would make His move so as to establish His rule politically. They were probably expecting that shortly it would no longer be a ‘spiritual’ or potential Kingly Rule, but would become practical and political (as they clearly still did in Acts 1.6). And they wanted to ensure that they were prepared for it and could make any necessary preparations for their part in governing it. None wanted to lose out by not being prepared. They still had much to learn, and had not yet caught on to the fact that God’s Kingly Rule would continue to be spiritual. (They had still not learned that lesson by Acts 1.6).

Jesus reply must therefore have stunned them, for He said, “Truly I say to you, Unless you are turned around and become as little children, you will not enter into the Kingly Rule of Heaven.” They were probably baffled. They had no doubt been discussing among themselves how they could best govern the country, and had great ideas for the future, and now Jesus was referring to little children. It was all very well when they were moving around together as a band. Clearly mutual helpfulness was important for that. But surely once things became political that would no longer apply? How could becoming like a little child possibly help in running the country?

It was, of course, a gentle rebuke indicating that they had the wrong ideas completely. The first thing that they required to recognise, He was saying, was the need for a complete change of heart for anyone who would enter under the Kingly Rule of Heaven, a change of heart which seemed at this time sadly lacking in them. If only they understood the basis of the Kingly Rule of Heaven, then instead of dreaming of future greatness, and of how they would gain the highest position, they would be considering how best they could serve in lowliness and meekness. Until that was their attitude of heart they were not even part of it. Without that they could not even enter that Kingly Rule. It was only open to the lowly in heart, as He had made plain in 5.3.

His reference to ‘entering the Kingly Rule of Heaven’ should have pulled them up short. There was a hint there that they might not yet have entered it after all. (As we know one of them certainly had not). They were wondering about high positions. Well, let them ask themselves this. If no one could enter it who was not lowly in heart, where did that leave them? Jesus had told Nicodemus that in order to even ‘see’ the Kingly Rule of God he needed to be born from above (John 3.3), and once that occurred he would ‘enter it’. Now He wanted His disciples to recognise that that was true of them as well. And if they had been born from above then they would have become ‘poor in spirit’ (5.3). Being His disciples was no guarantee of their security. Only a true birth from above would ensure that. And that would have given them the trustfulness and openness and lowliness of little children. He was not really wanting to make them doubt their position, only to consider it more fully. (We can compare how Paul speaks of the theoretical possibility of he himself being rejected after testing (1 Corinthians 9.27) and Peter calls on believers to ‘make their calling and election sure’ (2 Peter 1.10). There is no room for presumption in the Christian life. ‘By their fruits they will be known’. And He may well have had Judas especially in mind.

Then He made His point clear. ‘Whoever therefore will humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the Kingly Rule of Heaven.’ If they really would be great in the Kingly Rule of Heaven, and not those who were called ‘least’ because they emasculated the Law (5.19), or even be excluded because their righteousness was like that of the Scribes and Pharisees (5.20), then they must humble themselves like this little child who was with them. This little one was not worrying about greatness in the Kingly Rule of Heaven. All he wanted to do was please Jesus. The present tense again suggests that He had in mind the present Kingly Rule of Heaven on earth, and this is confirmed by His words that follow, for he goes on to point out a continuing present situation. It is possible that the future tense in verse 3 refers to a sudden switch to the idea of the future Kingly Rule, but it seems far more likely that it should be interpreted as above.

The authority of those who rule over the Kingly Rule of Heaven and over the new community is then dealt with in verses 15-20. Here, if only the disciples will see it, is to be the sphere in which they will exercise authority. It will be in reconciling people, and guiding them on ordinary everyday matters, and in order to see to this wisely they will need all the lowliness they can build up. There they will need to meet, with Him among them, so that they can agree together, for then their Father will hear them.

And He finally ends His words with a parable about forgiveness. In the parable the King is their heavenly Father (verse 35). When one of His servants came to Him who owed him a huge debt (and which if us does not?), He forgave him. But instead of being lowly in heart the man was arrogant. And being owed money for a far less amount by a fellow-servant he took him by the neck demanding payment, and had him cast into prison, but when the king learned of it he called him into His presence and asked him why he had not forgiven the other servant his debt when he himself had been forgiven a far larger one. Then He reinstated his debt and handed him over to the debtors’ prison until he could pay it all. Jesus’ point was clear. If the one who has been forgiven is not ready to forgive, it is a demonstration that his heart is not in such a state that he is in a position to be forgiven. There has been no repentance or change of heart. Thus forgiveness is not possible. The same doubt that we saw in verses 1-4 apply here. A man may seem to be under the Kingly Rule of Heaven, but if his life is totally inconsistent with it then he clearly is not.

In chapter 19 the lesson that children are more in a state to enter the Kingly Rule of Heaven than any others, is brought home when the disciples turn away mothers who are bringing their children for His blessing. For Jesus tells His disciples not to forbid such children to come to Him, for ‘theirs is the Kingly Rule of Heaven’ (verse 14). They respond to it easily and quickly, for they find no difficulty in submitting to God, and once they are His He will then hold them permanently. And that for believing children the Kingly Rule of Heaven is theirs confirms its present realisation in their case. How much more difficult it was for a young man who had great possessions, for he came almost as eagerly and yet, unlike the children went away unblessed. He had a problem that they never dreamed of, for they were too young to know. And it prevented his entry under God’s Kingly Rule.

This then led on to Jesus pointing out how hard it was for a rich man to enter under the Kingly Rule of Heaven, for it would involve surrendering his riches which he would be loth to give up. Indeed it would be easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingly Rule of God. In view of the fact that the young man had just stumbled because of that difficulty it is clear that the question of his entry into the Kingly Rule of Heave/God was a current one, as it always is when entry into the Kingly Rule of Heaven/God is mentioned. It was his failure to enter it now that was the problem. Fortunately Jesus did then point out that while the whole thing seemed impossible there were cases where the working of a miracle in men’s hearts did make it possible (verse 26).

It is frankly quite impossible to distinguish the use of the phrase ‘the Kingly Rule of Heaven’ from the use of ‘the Kingly Rule of God’ here in verses 23, 24. The use is clearly synonymous. It is, however sometimes attempted by making the Kingly Rule of Heaven the future Kingly Rule and the Kingly Rule of God the present one, but we may possibly be excused for thinking that this is rather stretching one’s credulity. There is really no reason why the one should be seen as different from the other. What does seem true is that ‘the Kingly Rule of God’ does always mean the present Kingly Rule, for the purpose of using God’s name (by Someone slightly hesitant to do so) is in order to make it immediate, while the Kingly Rule of Heaven can mean either the present or future Rule. But that is a matter of emphasis rather than of indicating a different Kingly Rule. Actually there is only one Kingly Rule, the only difference is the location of the person who is under it.

The chapter then closes with an interesting statement by Jesus. ‘Truly I say to you, in the regeneration, when the Son of Man shall sit on His glorious throne, you who have followed Me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel’ (19.28). The first inclination is often to take this literally as a description of some future time when the Apostles will sit on literal thrones ruling Israel. The point is made that ‘regeneration’ can only refer to the new Heaven and the new earth, and that this therefore points forward to their heavenly reward, although not to be applied too literally as there will presumably be no national distinctions in Heaven, and probably no thrones, these last being symbolic. The problem here would be that it might suggest naivete in Jesus in suggesting as a reward the very thing that He was constantly having to fight when dealing with the Apostles’ weaknesses. It would seem exceedingly strange for Him on the one had to be battling against their desire for earthly glory, while at the same time promising them precisely the same glory in Heaven in similar terms. It would almost seem to justify their ideas.

Even more doubtful are those who try to suggest that it means that this will happen in some ‘Kingdom age’, which they see as signifying a period of one thousand years on earth which they call ‘the Millennium’. But quite apart from the fact that such a Millennium is never mentioned elsewhere in either the Gospels or the epistles, there is the further problem that it would mean that the resurrected Apostles would be ruling on earth in their resurrection bodies. Such a mixture of earthly and heavenly people together is somewhat incongruous, and is contrary to what we know from Scripture of God’s desire to keep separate the earthly and the heavenly. Some do try to get round the difficulty by suggesting that they will rule ‘over the earth’, in the same way as God clearly does. But that simply makes them into heavenly spacemen.

Far more likely is it that Jesus meant to indicate by this that His Apostles would be given authority over the new community, the regeneration indicating the new world which would come into being after His resurrection, the new creation of Galatians 6.15; 2 Corinthians 5.17. The idea of sitting on thrones to judge the tribes comes from Psalm 122.5 where the sons of David sat on thrones in Jerusalem to judge the visiting tribes who gathered there to praise the name of the Lord. Jesus thus sees His Apostles as the ‘sons’ of the greater David, doing the same for the people of God, first in Jerusalem (Acts 1.12) and then to the ends of the world.

The incongruity of any other idea is brought out starkly in the passage in Luke which deals with similar words of Jesus in Luke 22.24.30. There the contrast between Jesus’ warnings about the need for humility and a desire to serve are in such stark contrast with the idea of the Apostles lording it over Israel that there is really no way in which it could be taken literally (see our commentary on Luke. See also how Matthew depicts Jesus as using similar language in order to dissuade James and John from their folly in 20.20-28). It must rather thus be seen as another example of the depiction of God’s Kingly Rule on earth, but as ministered to by the twelve as it is in Acts 1-12.

In chapter 20 we have the parable of the householder who pays everyone equally, no matter how short or long their working hours, and this is said to be what the Kingly Rule of Heaven is like. The most obvious interpretation of this is that the Kingly Rule of Heaven has people working in it throughout the heat of the day, with others tagging along at the last moment. Here the idea is clearly of a present Kingly Rule of Heaven, which then moves on into the eternal Kingly Rule, as each receives his reward. It can be argued that verse 1 is intended simply to refer to the conclusion, but it seems highly unlikely. The whole point of the parable is to teach lessons about the Kingly Rule of Heaven.

That the disciples took a long time to appreciate that their ideas about the Kingly Rule of Heaven were wrong comes out in 20.20-28. There James and John, through their mother, seek the privilege of sitting, one at His right hand and the other at His left, in His Kingdom. No one but a proud mother eager for her sons’ welfare would have dared to approach Jesus like this. The request is so audacious that it is almost unbelievable. (On the other hand my mother would probably have done the same for her sons). Jesus’ reply reveals how He answers questions such as this. He does not argue against them, He just leaves them in the air in the confidence that gradually His disciples will learn better. Compare how He deals with the question about the baptism of John (21.23-27). It is not quite the same, but there too He deals with it by not giving an answer. He left them to sort it out for themselves. And that is what He does here.

Here He counters with the idea that they cannot expect such a place of privilege until first they have suffered as He has, and when they indicate that they are ready for such suffering He does not discourage their zeal by indicating the folly of their reply. Rather He indicates that they will indeed suffer in one way or another for His name. But all Matthew’s readers are aware that such suffering could never match up to His. Then He simply deals with the issue by pointing out that such matters are not within His gift. But we cannot seriously believe that two people will be appointed for this privilege, whoever may be our personal favourites. It would be totally unnecessary, and contrary to all that God’s Kingly Rule is all about (service and humility). It is simply His way of telling them not to presume on God.

This incident is then followed by the two blind men outside Jericho who see more clearly than all those with eyes and call Jesus ‘the Son of David’. Their special need makes them give credit to a famous healer, probably linking Him with the great Solomon, the son of David who in the tradition was thought of as the great healer. (See Titles of Jesus).

In chapter 21 Jesus enters as King into Jerusalem. Unlike the other Gospels Matthew makes the connection clear by citing Zechariah 9.9, so that the cries that welcome Him (which were the normal cries which greeted pilgrims approaching Jerusalem for the Passover, and especially prominent ones) are given a new poignancy, and the crowds now welcome Him as the son of David, possibly alerted by the blind men. And once again we have the healing of the blind and lame, this time in the Temple itself. The Temple is not left without a witness. They too, if they would, could remember Isaiah 35.5-6 indicating that the Coming One was here. Notice the irony of Matthew’s words. His opponent saw the healing of the lame and blind, and they heard the children repeating the words of their parents and following Him with cries of ‘Son of David’, but their hearts were so hardened that they could not connect the two.

Later in chapter 21 Jesus makes quite clear that the Kingly Rule of God is being entered by men even in His day. For having given His parable of the two sons, which parallels the obedient-disobedient leaders with the disobedient-obedient tax collectors and prostitutes, He then declares, “Truly I say to you, that the public servants and the prostitutes are going into the Kingly Rule of God before you, for John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the public servants and the prostitutes believed him, and you, when you saw it, did not even repent yourselves afterward, that you might believe him” (21.31-32).

Jesus is here rubbing in the failure of the Jewish leaders to answer His question about John. For the truth was that by their attitude to John they had rejected the Kingly Rule of God. (The use of ‘God’ is necessary here so as to parallel the interpretation with the father of the parable). Let them then consider that the public servants and prostitutes, the lowest of the low, believed John and accepted the Kingly Rule of God, and are continually entering in. That this indicates that they are at present entering the Kingly Rule of God, and not that it indicates in the future, is evidenced by the fact that they are entering it ‘before’ the leaders. It is reasonable to have ‘before you’ when there is still doubt as to whether the leaders would enter in, that is, before He has made the final statement. It is not reasonable if a future going in is in mind which is seen in the light of the whole, because in fact the leaders are said not to enter at all, so that in the light of that they could not be going in ‘before them’. For we note that the leaders did not even repent afterwards and believe him. Thus Jesus sees the Kingly Rule of God as already being entered in the time of John. John had not realised it, for he probably did not have Jesus’ knowledge of what the Kingly Rule of God consisted of (compare 11.3). But Jesus knew precisely what the Kingly Rule of God consisted of, and therefore knew that John’s converts were already entering it as they were prepared for His manifestation.

This is then followed by the parable of the wicked tenants of the vineyard, in which Jesus reveals Himself as the only Son, and declares that in the future He will become the head of the corner of the house of Israel. For the Kingly Rule of God (which they have rejected in the parable), will be taken away from them, and will be given to a nation producing its fruits. The most natural meaning of this is that the old Israel will so be dealt with that they will now never enter the Kingly Rule of God, because having had their opportunity to enter it they will, by what is to happen finally, have rejected Him as their King (compare verses 15-16), so that it will only be entered after His resurrection by the new nation that Jesus is founding, as represented by His new congregation of Israel, because they are accepting Him as King. Entry into the Kingly Rule of God is the continual theme of Acts. (See our article on Is The Church Israel?).

Chapter 22 commences with the parable of the king’s son to which the Kingly Rule of Heaven is compared. Thus entry into the Kingly Rule of Heaven is at present being offered, and because it is rejected the King send his troops to destroy them and burn their city (22.7). In view of chapter 24 this signifies that Jerusalem will be destroyed. Thus before that they will have already refused to enter the Kingly Rule of Heaven. Strictly, of course, Jerusalem was not burned, even though the Temple was. Thus this demonstrates that Matthew was writing before that incident took place. The burning of their city with fire is mentioned over ten times in Jeremiah, which is probably where Jesus got the idea from (e.g. Jeremiah 21.10; 32.29; 34.22; 37.8, 10; 38. 17, 18, 23; 39.8; 52.13).

This chapter ends (verses 41-45) with Jesus’ demonstrating to the Pharisees that the Christ will be greater than David, because according to Psalm 110.1 David addresses Him as his Lord.

In chapter 23.10 Jesus tells the crowds and His disciples that there is only one Master that they should look to, and that is the Messiah, and Matthew ends the chapter with Jesus declaring to Jerusalem, ‘You will not see me again until you say, Blessed is He Who comes in the Name of the Lord’ (23.39).

In chapter 24 this is then followed by His prophecy of the arising of false Messiahs (verses 5, 23-24), and in contrast is the fact that the good news of the Kingly Rule (compare 4.23) is to be proclaimed throughout the whole world, as a testimony to all nations (verse 14; compare Psalm 22.28) as the disciples go out in His Name (verse 9). Meanwhile we have a description of the coming destruction of Jerusalem (compare verse 3), which will commence the great tribulation of the Jews (which will last until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled - Luke 21.23-24), which can, however, be partially escaped by fleeing to the mountains (verses 16-20 - demonstrating that it is, at least initially, local). And once that is over the Son of Man will come like lightning that floods the sky (verse 27). That will be the sign of the Son of Man in Heaven (verse 30), which will make all the tribes of the earth mourn (for they thought that they had thrown off His rule and are aware that they deserve His judgment) and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of Heaven in power and great glory, and He will send out His angels with the sound of a great trumpet and will gather together His chosen ones from all directions. Thus will those who are under the Kingly Rule of Heaven on earth enter under the Kingly Rule of Heaven in Heaven.

In chapter 25 we have the Kingly Rule of Heaven likened first to ten virgins awaiting the Bridegroom. Some were ready for His coming and some were not. As in chapter 13 not all who appeared to be under His Kingly Rule really were so. In the case of those who were not ready their lamps were without oil. What this simply signified was that they had no means by which their light could shine out. It may be that Jesus intended His hearers to remember Zechariah 4 where oil was connected with the Spirit of God, or the oil may simply have signified the life of God within. Either way the point is that these five had no fruit and no testimony (5.16) because they had no life within them, so that when the Bridegroom came their lack was exposed.

The Kingly Rule of Heaven is then likened a man who goes into another country and leaves his servants to look after his business arrangements. Two did it successfully, but the third did nothing. He simply kept safe what he had been offered without using it. He was like those who receive the word and do nothing with it (13.22). Thus he demonstrated that he was not a true child of the Kingly Rule (13.38) and was cast out into outer darkness. He was not of the light. In both these examples the Kingly Rule of Heaven is seen as a situation taking place on earth with, in both cases the need to be ready for the return of the one who had gone away.

The chapter then ends with the description of the return of the King. This makes clear Who was due to return. And there He sits on the throne of His glory and gathers all nations before Him for the final judgment, and the final result is that some go to everlasting life, while others go to everlasting punishment (verse 46).

Certain things should be noted here. Firstly that the verdict makes quite clear that this is the final judgment. The final result is exactly the same as in Revelation 20.15, and agrees with John 5.28-29. Secondly that we should not press the detail. It is to be seen as illustrative, and not as a description of the literal way in which His final judgment will be carried out. Quite apart from the impossibility of gathering all nations in one physical place on earth, and then separating them into two sections, is the fact that the final judgment is depicted in Scripture in a number of ways, all of which differ. Consider for example Isaiah 24.21-23; Joel 3.12-15; Revelation 14.17-20; 16.17-21; 18.4-24; 19.11-21; 20.11-15. And also considered must be the fact that those who are His will rather come before the Judgment Seat of God (Romans 14.10), that is, of Christ (2 Corinthians 5.10). Consideration of the initial horrendous pictures brings out the awfulness of the judgment, and at the same time reveals that they are not a physical description of what will actually happen, as is clear from the detail.

But from the viewpoint of what we have in mind here the important point is the arrival of the King to publicly sit on His glorious throne, revealing the final outcome of 28.19, and His act of judging the world. This indeed is what the Kingly Rule of Heaven is like (25.1; Isaiah 45.23; Philippians 2.9-11).

From this point on the King goes inexorably towards His death, and in 26.28-29 He speaks of the sealing of the new covenant in His blood, and of His not drinking ‘henceforth’ (ap arti - from now on) of the fruit of the vine until He drinks it new with them under His Father’s Kingly Rule. This last statement must surely have made them pause and think. Luke tells us that it was after the second cup, and prior to the third cup at which Jesus initiated the Lord’s Supper, while Himself abstaining (Luke 22.17-18). (Matthew and Mark only want to draw attention to one cup and so move the statement until after the words spoken over that one cup). But the question here is as to what He means by this statement. There are two main alternatives.

  • The first is that He wants them to recognise that this a moment of crisis. He wants them to know that this is the last meal that they will have together. Things are now at such a pass that the time for joy is over. Such joys as drinking with them will no longer be His because He is going forward to His death. Let them think on that. We must remember that while we are fully aware of what was to follow, the disciples were in fact totally unaware. As far as they were concerned they would be able to drink wine with Him at the feast on the following day. They probably just could not conceive what He was talking about, and wrote it off as part of the ceremony, and as one more of those things that He said that they did not understand.

    We may, however, see it as signifying that He is trying to bring home to them that this is His last drink of wine with them, and that from this time on He will have nothing to celebrate, or indeed no reason for drinking wine with them, until after His sacrifice of Himself is complete.

    Possibly He also had in mind, and wanted them later to appreciate, that the priest who was going up to the Tabernacle to offer the sacrifices was required to abstain from wine and strong drink (Leviticus 10.9). And that the Nazirite who was consecrating Himself to sacred service also abstained from wine (Numbers 6.3). Thus it may well be that He wanted them to see, in the future if not at the time, that it was at this point that His final dedication to His offering up Himself as a guilt offering (Isaiah 53.10) had arrived. The time had come that He must go forward and become the Lamb of God Who offered up Himself for the sin of the world (John 1.29). The further point would then follow that once that offering was complete, and He had died and risen again, He would once more have cause to rejoice, and the result would be that He would be able to ‘drink wine’ with them at the Lord’s Table under the Kingly Rule of His Father as they went about their task of evangelising the world. Certainly we know that once He had risen again He did eat with them at least once, and possibly twice (Luke 24.42-43; John 21.13). Can we think then that He would have refused wine if it had been offered to Him? Surely the point that He was making was not one of just abstinence from wine, it was of its deep significance. Furthermore we must take into account that 27.48 does seem to suggest that, while at the moment of His crucifixion He had refused wine that would deaden the pain of what was to happen (Mark 15.23), once His sacrifice was complete He seems to have had no objection to drinking (27.48; see also Mark 15.36). It would appear possible that at this latter stage He considered His abstinence was at an end.

  • The alternative, accepted by most, is that He had in mind not drinking of the fruit of the vine until they join Him under the final eternal Kingly Rule of His Father (Luke 12.37)? Then the thought would be that He wanted to indicate by it the glorious fact that they could be sure that one day that day would come, and that meanwhile they could be sure that all His attention would be on His High Priestly work.

Either way it was a confident declaration that He knew that, although He must die, He would rise again. For in no other way would He be in any position to drink wine with them. If we take the second view it is doubtful whether we would be intended to take the idea literally. It must be very much open to doubt whether there will be vines in Heaven. But that is not the point. It is what drinking of the fruit of the vine signified that is important. It would signify final triumph, and that all God’s purposes had come to completion (Isaiah 25.8-10). It would signify the certainty of the triumph of the Kingly Rule of His Father.

From now on ‘the Son of Man’ goes on to His destiny (26.45), and such is His authority that had He wanted to He could have called on ‘more than twelve legions of angels’ (26.53), but God’s will must be done (as He had taught them to pray) and He knew that He must face another type of cup, the cup of suffering (26.39). And all this was in accordance with the Scriptures (26.54, 56). And finally at His trial He is adjured by the High Priest to declare whether He did claim to be the Christ, the Son of God (26.63). The crisis point had come. What then did He claim about Himself? It is interesting that in spite of the fact that He had refused to speak of Messiahship, the members of the leadership had no doubt about what His behaviour really indicated. It was no ‘Messianic secret’ to them. They knew exactly what all that He had done was intended to indicate. The former title (Messiah) might have been claimed without necessarily incurring a charge of blasphemy, but the latter (Son of God) certainly could not, as the High Priest well knew. However, by putting both together he probably hoped to deceive Jesus into slipping up and making both a politically ruinous, and at the same time a blasphemous claim.

Jesus, however, saw through him. But He knew that His moment had come and that the time for reticence was over. So He declared, ‘You have said it. Nevertheless I say to you, from now on you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of power and coming on the clouds of Heaven’ (26.64) ‘You have said it’ was an indirect way of agreeing without boasting. It was indicating agreement (which is why Mark interprets it for Gentile readers as ‘I am’ (Mark 14.62). But the second statement is more enigmatic.

We must remember in considering this that it is doubtful if His hearers knew anything about His apocalyptic teaching to His disciples. That had not been given a public hearing. Thus they had to interpret what He said in the light of the Scriptures. And they would recognise its source immediately. There was only one who came on the clouds of Heaven to the throne of God and sat on the right hand of Power (of God), and that was the Son of Man coming to the throne to receive ‘dominion and glory and Kingly Rule (basileia)’ (Daniel 7.13-14). They would recognise immediately what He meant. He was declaring in apocalyptic language that He was about to act in the power of, and with the authority of, God. Their reaction was that, Well, they would show Him. They would put Him to death, and then they would see how far His claims would take Him. And that is why they would boast at the cross, “He trusts on God. Let Him deliver Him now if He desires Him, for He said, ‘I am the Son of God’ ” (27.43).

However, as we know, Jesus was aware of what they would do, and He had no doubt that He would rise again and accomplish exactly what He had said. And what did He mean by His statement? It was not a reference to His second coming. It was rather a declaration that when He rose He would ascend to the throne of God and there receive dominion and glory and Kingly Rule, and that that Kingly Rule would then be revealed through the activities of the disciples and the further pouring out of the Holy Spirit. For it was to happen ‘from now on’. A full explanation of exactly what He meant is found in 28.18-20.

Chapter 27 deliberately reveals that while the leaders of Israel seek His death, the Roman governor acknowledges Him as ‘the King of the Jews’ just as the Magi had done previously (2.2), for at His trial Pilate asks Him if He is the King of the Jews (verse 11), and His reply again is an acceptance of the title, “you have said it”. Thus the reason for His sentence is made clear. He is being condemned as the King of the Jews.

He was willing to make clear the position to Pilate (John 18.33-38), but once He was faced up to the Chief Priests and the elders (a large part of the Sanhedrin) He refused to say anything further. He would not deign to answer them, for He knew that they were not seeking the truth. They were only out for His death. And the final result was that given the choice between an insurrectionist or ‘the Christ’, they opted for the insurrectionist and called for ‘the Christ’ to be crucified (27.16-23).

The crucifixion being carried out, the superscription was then written over His cross, ‘This is Jesus the King of the Jews’ (27.37). The passers-by jeered at His claim to be ‘the Son of God’, and this was followed by the actions of the Chief Priests, Scribes and Elders, who could not resist enjoying their final triumph, and jeering at Him, first at His claim to be ‘the King of Israel’, and finally again at His claim to be ‘the Son of God’ (27.40-43). It is thus in stark contrast that the centurion, and others with him, declare, as a result of an earthquake and the way He died, ‘Surely this was the Son of God’ (27.54).

The final crisis point comes after His resurrection. The fact of His resurrection having been declared (28.1-10), we are informed of the reactions, first of the Jewish leadership (28.11-15), and then of those who are replacing them, the eleven Apostles (28.16-20). Both acknowledge that the body is no longer in the grave. The Jews declare that that is because the disciples have stolen the body of Jesus. The Apostles learn that it is because He is truly risen. For when Jesus appears to His disciples after the resurrection He declares that what He had told the Sanhedrin would occur, had truly happened. He had truly now been seated ‘at the right hand of Power’. All authority had been given to Him in Heaven and on earth (28.18). His Kingly Rule had thus been confirmed and it was now His disciples’ responsibility to take out the message of His Kingly Rule to all nations, making disciples of them and baptising them in the Name of Father, Son and Holy Spirit (an indication that He was now restored to His full glory - John 17.5), and calling on them to do all that He had commanded them (28.19-20). And in doing so they would not be alone, for He Himself would be with them in His resurrection power (28.20), as they went about their mission. For His Kingly Rule was now to advance to the end of the world.

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