THE GOSPEL OF MATTHEW
The Message of Jesus and Its Significance
Why spend several months studying the sermons of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew? First because no matter what else is true about these sermons, they are the sermons of God the Son. Whatever else is true about Christianity, the main truth is that we believe that Jesus is none other than God the Son. Whereas He is not the Father, He is as much God as the Father is God. As a result, whenever Jesus says something, we should take it very seriously because the way we respond to Jesus' teachings constitutes nothing less than the way we respond to God Himself.
Second, we are CHRISTians, that is, Christ is the most important part, the most defining element of our faith. If we are going to be serious about being believers in Jesus, not just about being believers in God, but in Jesus specifically, then we should understand who Jesus is and what He desires from us. We come to this understanding primarily from the words of Jesus Himself.
Third, as we conduct this study, we will come to see that most of the rest of the NT flows from these teachings. For example, when Paul speaks about divorce, he is basing much of what he says upon the teachings of Jesus as found in Matt. 19. When John in Revelation and Paul in 1 Thess. 5 and 2 Thess. 3 write about the second coming of Christ, they are expanding upon what Jesus had already said as found in Matt. 24-25. From this study you will appreciate more deeply the impact the life and ministry of Jesus upon Christianity, and specifically upon the rest of the NT itself. (Another example is seen with regards to Ephesians and the Gospel of John. According to extrabiblical texts both books were written to the church at Ephesus. The theme for Ephesians is the unity of the church, the very thing Jesus prayed for the church in John 17.)
THE LANGUAGE OF THE NT ITSELF IS IMPORTANT
One of the most popular verses in the NT is Galatians 4:4. According to Gal. 4:4 when did God send Jesus into the world?
Normally when we think of this verse, we apply it to the fact that at this time God had prepared the world for the coming of Jesus in several ways. First, up until the time of Christ, communications were primitive; however, by the time of Christ, the Romans had built up a system of roads and sea travel which revolutionized communications. After the Roman legions had conquered the known world around the Mediterranean Sea, the emperors had to come up with something for these legions to do. They didn't want a bunch of warriors on their hands sitting around and doing nothing. That was a recipe for disaster. So they turned them into the first Army Corps of Engineers, who built aqueducts and roads throughout the Roman empire.
Few of us understand how radical this change in communications was. We think that the internet has changed society. Yet before the internet was arranged, we would still pick up a phone and contact somebody almost anywhere in the world instantaneously. Before the Romans launched their communications revolution, it took weeks, months, years to communicate to people throughout the known world. Now at least around the Mediterranean Sea that lapse of time was greatly reduced. This developed system of communication allowed the early church to spread the gospel to places it would not have been able to reach 100 years earlier.
Also by this time 2 languages dominated the known world: Greek and Latin. Before 300 B.C. if you wanted to be able to share the gospel with the known world (the eastern part of the Mediterranean all the way down to India), you would have had to know a multitude of languages if you wanted to share Christ with anybody. Yet when Alexander the Great appeared on the horizon, all this changed. Alexander was not interested in just simply conquering land. He was the student of the great Greek philosopher Aristotle. He believed that Greek culture was the pinnacle of all culture. He launched a crusade to convert the great empires of the ancient world to this Greek culture, a process known as "Hellenism." Everywhere he went, he promoted Greek culture, which included promoting the Greek language. All of a sudden millions of people were bound together by one language. If you knew Greek, you could communicate the gospel to these millions.
With the emergence of the Roman culture came the predominance of the Latin language in the western part of the Mediterranean world. If you knew either one of these 2 languages, you would have been able to share the gospel with millions of people, an impossibility a few hundred years earlier.
A third way that God sent Jesus at the best time was that by this time Greek philosophies and pagan religions had failed to meet the deepest needs of men's hearts. Greek philosophy and eastern religions were bankrupt spiritually. Men were realizing that they needed a Savior. God had prepared their hearts to accept Christ.
A fourth piece of evidence confirms that God sent Jesus at the right time to earth--the language and concepts which were in use at that time were perfect instruments God would use to reveal Himself to mankind. If God had come to earth today, we would probably have thought of the church as a democracy and not a kingdom. Today when we think of the idea of a kingdom, we think of Great Britain. Well, as wonderful a queen as Elizabeth has been, she has absolutely no power. Parliament could dethrone her overnight if it wanted. God, on the other hand, does not serve at the whim of parliaments. He doesn't take a vote each year to see if He is going to be king or not. By divine right He is king over the universe.
(Be careful when trying to use language current today to try to communicate God's truth. Although we need to be culturally relevant to a certain degree, if we use the language of our present culture to determine completely the way we communicate God's Word, we may end up preaching our culture and not Jesus.)
Because God has chosen certain concepts from the first century AD to reveal Himself to us, we need to learn what those concepts are and study them in order to understand what God is saying to you and me right now. Whereas that might seem somewhat difficult, that should not bother us because according to Jesus the greatest command of all is: "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your ___________________" (Matt. 22:37). If I am truly going to love God, then I must know who He is and what He wants. That involves using my mind.
THE THEME OF THE MESSAGE OF JESUS
At the beginning of the First Gospel, Matthew sums up the message of Jesus in one short sentence. According to Matt. 4:17, how does Matthew sum up the preaching of Jesus?
In Matt. 3:2 Matthew sums up the preaching of John the Baptist. Are the 2 themes similar?
These 2 themes are not just similiar, in the Greek text of Matthew they use the exact same words.
The word translated "repent" literally means "to change one's mind." In the context of the Bible, it refers to sinners changing their mind/attitude/heart towards God. Before they repented, sinners were hostile in their relationship to God. Jesus and John the Baptist are calling for these people to change their attitudes and hearts so that now they are in a positive relationship with God.
The second part of the sentence gives the reason they are to repent: "the kingdom of heaven is at hand." Jesus is saying that if I want to be a part of this kingdom of God, then I need to repent in my relationship with God, especially in the way I relate to Jesus. Moreover, this kingdom is at hand because the King Himself, Jesus, has just appeared on the scene.
THE THEME OF THE EARLY CHURCH
This was not only the theme of the messages of Jesus and John the Baptist. It was also the theme of the message of the early church. This should not surprise us since the early church believed that it was supposed to carry on the same mission Jesus Himself had carried out (John 20:21). If they had changed the message, then they would have changed the mission.
Look up the following verses and write down the theme of these sermons preached by the leaders of the early church:
When Philip preached to the Samaritans, what was the theme of his sermon? Acts 8:12:
When Paul preached to the Thessalonians, he proved to them that the Christ (Messiah) had to suffer. What else did he preach to them? Acts 17:3:
Paul preached 3 years to the city of Ephesus. According to Acts 20:25 what was the theme of his preaching?
When Paul went to Rome and preached to the Jews, what did he preach to them about (Acts 28:23)?
Paul stayed in the Roman prison for 2 years? What did he preach during those 2 years (Acts 28:31)?
Notice that the early church did not simply preach "the kingdom of God." It preached the kingdom of God and Jesus, that is, Jesus' vital role in the kingdom of God.
These verses are just samples of what the early church taught. If you were to look in a good concordance and search out the word "kingdom," you would find that it is used no less than 342 times in 316 verses in the Bible. The word "Christ" which refers to Jesus being the one who brings in the kingdom of God occurs no less than 555 times in 512 verses in the NT alone. It is quite clear that the message of Jesus was the same message of the early church.
EXPLANATION OF THIS THEME
Definition of the Kingdom of God
Whatever the kingdom of God is, it is primarily the rule of God in the hearts of people. One day God's kingdom will cover the entire universe, mankind, in addition to the spiritual world and the material universe. Right now though, we see God's rule in the hearts of Christians (the church) and in the hearts of those spiritual forces which are obedient to Christ.
The Kingdom of God is God's Kingdom
Although the theme, The Kingdom of God, might sound somewhat simplistic, it is somewhat more involved than what it seems. Whatever else the Kingdom of God is, it is God's Kingdom. Whereas that might seem to be the case without saying it, this aspect of the Kingdom of God can get lost if you don't intentionally remember it. The reason it might tend to get lost is that from here on out we are going to be focusing on the important role of Jesus in the kingdom of God. Whereas right now the focus in the Kingdom of God is on Jesus, behind all of this stands the Father.
I say this because some Christians tend to think that whenever you focus on Jesus, you lose sight of the Father. Dr. J. T. Ayers once told me that I spoke too much about Jesus and that he just felt like he needed to put in a good word for the Father. I can understand his sentiment; however, I need to remember that this focus on Jesus is the will of the Father Himself. Just think about it for a moment. Whenever Nathan and Molly do well in school events, I don't jump up and say, "What about me? I'm the one who bought them their shoes. They have my genes! (Fortunately they have Putt genes in them as well!)" I rejoice that all this attention is being focused on them. That's what a good dad should do. Well, God is the best Dad of all. If I rejoice in my children receiving attention, how much more does our heavenly Father rejoice in His Son receiving attention!
Moreover, think about why the Father would rejoice over people focusing on Jesus. Jesus obeyed His Father perfectly. As we watch Gibson's The Passion of the Christ, we come to appreciate better the sacrifice Jesus made for us. The Father is infinitely "proud" of His Son. He desires that we focus our attention on Christ.
For example, right now because Jesus obeyed His Father to the point of dying on the cross, what has the Father given to Jesus (Matt. 28:18)?
Right now God is wooing all mankind to submit to the lordship of Jesus. According to 1 Cor. 15:28 what will happen after the Father has subjected all things to the lordship of Jesus?
Revelation supports Paul's claim in 1 Cor. 15. In Revelation 19 and 20 Jesus returns and reigns over all creation for 1000 years. Only after Jesus has reigned for 1000 years does the Father come to the transformed earth to dwell among us. What will we be able to see after Jesus has reigned and after the Father has come to the earth to dwell among us (Revelation 22:4)?
Why is it so important we stress that this kingdom is God's? Because we need to realize that our response to the message about the kingdom and about Jesus is nothing less than our response to God. This is not just a nice theological exercise. It is vital for our relationship with God the Father Himself.
The OT Background to the Kingdom of God
It is ironic that we are going to spend just 2 pages on the OT background to the concept of the Kingdom of God. When Paul entered Rome, he summoned the leaders of the Jewish community in order to share with them the message he preached throughout the Roman world--the kingdom of God and Jesus' relation to it as the Christ. According to Acts 28:23 Paul taught them this concept from morning until evening (10-12 hours). What text did he use? According to Luke he preached to them from the Law and the Prophets, that is, from the entire Old Testament.
It is so strange that this concept is foreign to so many Christians since it is such a major theme in the entire Bible. One of the reasons this concept is strange to us is that most of the time we are overwhelmed by the number of people and events in the OT. It is hard to get a handle on it because there is so much happening in the OT. Although all the OT is God's Word, there are really only 5 critical events upon which the rest of the OT hangs.
This should not surprise us since this is the very nature of history itself. Not everything that happens in history is all that important, not every person in history is all that important. For example, if I were to ask you to list the presidents of the U.S., everybody except the U.S. history majors would list Washington, Lincoln, maybe FDR, Bush 1 and Bush 2, and possibly Kennedy. Even though the U.S. has had 43 presidents, most people would list only about 7 with 2 of them being at least Washington and Lincoln. It is OK that they don't list all 43. Why? Because not all 43 are that important. Yet it would really be amiss if we failed to mention Washington and Lincoln. Why? Because they are so important. They made such an impact upon our nation that to fail to mention them would almost be criminal. Just like these 2 presidents influenced greatly the events and presidents which came after them, so these 5 events in the OT greatly influenced and set the tone for the events which came after them. Get a handle on these events and their significance, and you will get a handle on the OT itself.
Another reason that this is not understood by many Christians is that there has been a breakdown in the theological institutions. Up until the fifteen, sixteen hundreds, religious scholars were biblical scholars. They studied and became "experts" on the entire Bible, not just on the NT or the OT. After the 1500's and 1600's though, theological institutes separated the disciplines of the OT from the NT. In order not to feel like "second-class" scholars, OT scholars demanded that the OT be taken on its own; they rejected the NT interpretation of the OT. Well, what you and I have to decide is if Paul and John, etc. were right or wrong in their interpretations of the OT. Were they led by the Holy Spirit or not?
According to Gen. 3:15 what does God promise Eve?
Although Gibson's movie The Passion of the Christ was controversial, there were many incredibly correct theological touches throughout the movie. For example, when Christ crushes the head of the serpent in the Garden of Gethsemane, Gibson is tying the death/resurrection of Christ with the defeat of Satan. He re-emphasizes this by having Satan scream out in excruciating pain at the end of the movie when Christ dies on the cross.
From Genesis to 2 Samuel 7 we see God fulfilling His promise to Eve that one day He would give her a Son who would crush the head of her enemy, the serpent. Next God chooses one man Abraham from whom and from whose family (the Jews) this Son would come.
What we are seeing here is God developing the promise to Eve. The promise to Eve is very global, very general. All the promise says is that Eve will have a son who will crush the head of the serpent. Now with the promise to Abraham we see that God is getting more specific. Out of all of Eve's descendants, Abraham is the one God has chosen to be the ancestor/father of Eve's son. Moreover, God promises that Abraham's son would be the source of blessing for the world.
What kind of Son though was God going to give to Eve? According to 2 Samuel 7:12-16 what does God promise David? According to these verses then, what kind of Son is God going to give to Eve through Abraham through David?
According to Jesus Himself, was this Son going to be lesser or greater than David (Matthew 22:41-45)? Also, why do you think that is going to be true?
As time progressed, God developed the theme of David's Son coming to reign upon David's throne. According to Isaiah 61:1 was this Son going to bring in the Kingdom of God in whose strength and power?
The Jews believed that this person had the Holy Spirit living in Him because God had "anointed" Him with the Spirit. The Hebrew word for "the Anointed One" is "Messiah." When the Jews translated the word "Messiah" into Greek, they translated it into the word "Christ." Whenever you hear Jesus called "Christ," you need to remember that "Christ" means "Messiah." This Messiah/Christ was the One God was going to anoint with His Spirit so that He might usher in the kingdom of God.
According to Isaiah 35:6 because the Holy Spirit lives in this Messiah, what would happen to the lame, blind, etc. when He came?
God was not going to give His Spirit to the Christ simply so that the Christ would lavish it upon Himself. When this Christ came to bring in the kingdom of God, He would then pour out this Spirit upon those who followed Him. According to Joel 2:28 when God pours out His Spirit to bring about the kingdom of God, what will happen to young men, young women, slaves, and old men?
Isaiah chapters 40-66 give the best OT description of what it will be like in the kingdom of God. Another thread though runs throughout these glorious chapters. This thread though is not glorious; rather it is quite sad. It tells about what will happen to a person called The Servant of the Lord. According to Isaiah 53:3-9 what will happen to this Servant of the Lord?
In other words, the kingdom of God was not simply going to appear, that is, the Holy Spirit was not just going to start healing the blind, etc. Rather the Christ who was anointed with God's Spirit was going to come and dispense the Spirit who in turn would make the kingdom of God a reality. The Christ would bring about the kingdom by suffering.
Jesus Fulfills These OT Prophecies About the Messiah and the Kingdom of God
According to the NT Jesus is the Christ (Messiah), the One whom God anointed with His Spirit to bring in the kingdom of God. Matthew 16:16 is one of the key verses in the NT. What does Peter call Jesus in Matt. 16:16?
According to Jesus, when He cast out demons, what was He proving to the Jews (Matt. 12:28)?
When John the Baptist began to have doubts as to whether Jesus was the Christ (Messiah), how did Jesus prove to John that He was indeed the Christ (Matt. 11:2-6)?
How did Jesus' healings prove to John the Baptist that He was the Messiah/Christ?
In Peter's great sermon on the day of Pentecost, Peter says that the followers of Jesus have received the Holy Spirit. According to Peter, what does this prove (Acts 2:36)?
Peter's logic runs like this. All the Christians speaking in tongues proved that God's kingdom had come. Why? The only way that they could speak in tongues was by the Holy Spirit producing this miracle in them. The fact then that they spoke in tongues supernaturally proved that the Holy Spirit had brought forth the kingdom of God into the world. Well, the Jews knew that the kingdom just didn't simply come. The only way for it to come was for the Messiah/Christ to usher it in. Well, who is that Christ/Messiah? According to Peter Jesus is the Messiah because He fulfills the OT prophecies about the Messiah suffering and rising from the dead. Whereas many Jews thought that these verses referred to David, Peter proves that they could not have referred to David since David's tomb was in their very midst. Jesus' resurrection proves that He is the Christ whom God has made Lord over the universe.
What the Future Holds For Jesus
Because Jesus humbled Himself before His Father even to the point of dying the ignominious death on the cross, what is the Father doing for Him right now (Heb. 2:8)?
Because Jesus humbled Himself before His Father even to the point of dying the ignominious death on the cross, what will happen to Jesus on the last day (Philippians 2:9-11)?
As we approach this study of the kingdom of God and Jesus' relationship to it, remember that Jesus has only inaugurated this kingdom. An inauguration is the first stage of a king's reign. For example, 3 & 1/2 years ago, President Bush inaugurated his administration. Those first few days were as much a part of his presidency as the next 1000 days; however, it was only the start. There was a lot more to come. Well, just like President Bush inaugurated His administration, so Jesus inaugurated His kingdom 2000 years ago. There is a lot more to come.