INDEX

MATTHEW

The Crucifixion
Gustave Doré

Author

Matthew Levi (Apostle)

Date

50 – 60 A.D.


Introduction by Kretzmann

The Gospel according to Saint Matthew

The apostle and evangelist Matthew, the author of the first synoptic Gospel, had been a publican, bearing the name of Levi, the son of Alphaeus, in or near the city of Capernaum, before his conversion, Matthew 10:3. He was sitting at the receipt of custom when Jesus called him, Matthew 9:9; Mark 2:14-15; Luke 5:27-29. There can be no doubt as to the identity of the former publican Levi and the later apostle Matthew, from a comparison of the parallel passages as well as from the established custom of the Jews to adopt a new name upon the occasion of some important happening in their lives. Cp. Acts 4:36; Acts 12:12; Acts 13:9. It is evident throughout the Gospel that the author was a Jewish Christian of Palestine, whose familiarity with the Roman method of tax collection indicates an intimate knowledge of the publican’s work. Within the circle of the apostles, Matthew was never conspicuous. His was the quiet, unostentatious content of the disciple happy in the companionship of his Lord. This activity after the ascension of Christ only so much is recorded that he was engaged as missionary among the Jews of Palestine. Tradition has it that he spent the last years of his life in proclaiming the Gospel in Ethiopia and other heathen countries and died at an advanced age.

Purpose

The purpose of the Gospel according to Matthew is indicated in almost every section of the book. He wrote for his fellow-countrymen, not, indeed, in the Hebrew or Aramaic language, as some have thought, [cf. Schaller, Book of Books, 180] but in Greek, the common language of the Orient in those days. His object was to show the glorious culmination of Old Testament type and prophecy, to prove that Jesus Christ, the Son of David, the Rod out of the stem of Jesse, is the promised Messiah, that His entire life, passion, death, and resurrection is the fulfilment of the Old Covenant. The genealogical table establishing the claim that Jesus is the Son of David, the continual reference to the Old Testament, the frequent repetition of the phrase “That it might be fulfilled,” furnish abundant evidence for this. It is the principal fact which the author wishes to impress upon his hearers.

Date

So far as the date of the Gospel is concerned, it appears from Matthew 27:8; Matthew 28:15 that it was written some time after the events there recorded. It seems evident, also, that it was composed before the final destruction of Jerusalem, since the author, in that event, would undoubtedly have referred to the fulfilment of Christ’s prophecy concerning the fate of that city. Ancient reports have it that Matthew’s Gospel was the first to be written, and the date 60 A.D. has been suggested with some degree of plausibility. The fact that the later extensive missionary labors of Matthew precluded the leisure required for literary work makes it probable that he wrote while still living in Palestine and composed the Gospel at Jerusalem.

Authenticity

The authenticity of our Gospel cannot be called into question. Historical and textual considerations consistently uphold not only Matthew’s authorship, but also the fact that this book is a part of the sacred canon and belongs to the inspired writings of the Bible. We may rest assured that we have to-day the Gospels as written by Matthew, one of the apostles of the Lord, in the same form in which he penned it by inspiration of the Holy Ghost.

Contents

The contents of the Gospel may be briefly summarized as follows. Matthew presents, first of all, a brief narrative of the nativity and the earliest childhood of Jesus. Then comes an account of the ministry of the Lord, which was ushered in with His baptism by John. The evangelist devotes the greater part of his Gospel to the work of the Savior in Galilee, in the course of which He also trained His disciples for the work of preaching the Gospel of the Kingdom, but which finally brought upon Him the increasing hatred of the Jews, and especially of their leaders. In the second part of the Gospel there is a detailed account of the Savior’s last journey to Jerusalem, of His last sermons and miracles, of His sufferings, death, and resurrection. The Gospel closes with the great missionary command of the Lord and His comforting assurance: “Behold, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world!”


Chapter 1

Verses 1-17

The legal genealogical table of Christ

Matthew 1:1

1 The book of the generation of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.


Cross-references

Genesis 2:4; Genesis 5:1-32; Luke 3:23-38; Romans 9:5; 2 Samuel 7:13, 16; Isaiah 9:6; Jeremiah 33:15-17; John 7:42; Matthew 22:41-46; Matthew 9:27; Luke 1:31-32; Revelation 22:16; Genesis 12:1-3; Genesis 22:14-18; Genesis 26:1-5; Genesis 28:13-14; Galatians 3:16; Romans 4:13; Galatians 3:7-9

This is the title, or caption, which Matthew places at the head of his book. The entire Gospel is a book of the generation of Jesus Christ in the sense which the Jews usually attached to the expression in similar connections, meaning an account of the chief events in a person’s life, more or less briefly related, Genesis 5:1; Genesis 6:9; Genesis 37:2; Genesis 2:4; Numbers 3:1. The evangelist offers a history of the birth, acts, suffering, death, and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. But the first verses are a genealogy in the most restricted sense of the term, as presenting a table of Christ’s legal forefathers through His foster-father Joseph, rightful heir of the kingdom, the thought most interesting to Jewish Christians. Matthew calls Jesus the Son of David, the king of the Golden Age of the Jewish people, to whose family the promise of the Savior was at last restricted, 2 Samuel 7:12-13; Psalms 8:3-4; Psalms 132:11; Isaiah 11:1; Jeremiah 23:5. Christ was prophesied under the very name of “David,” Ezekiel 34:23-24; Ezekiel 37:24-25. “Son of David” was the official title which the Jews applied to the expected Messiah, Matthew 9:27; Matthew 12:23; Matthew 21:9; under this designation they had been led, by prophetic authority, to expect Him. But it would also arouse the attention and hold the interest of Christians of Jewish descent to know that the Christ whom Matthew proclaimed was the son of Abraham, for they knew that the father of their race had received the promise of the Lord: “In thee and thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed,” Genesis 12:3; Genesis 18:18; Genesis 22:18. “For this reason he refers only to those two fathers, Abraham and David, since to these two alone the promise of Christ was made in these people. Therefore Matthew emphasizes the promises to Abraham and David, because he has a definite intention with regard to this nation, in order that he might influence them, as heirs of the promise, in a charming manner, to accept the Christ prophesied to them and to believe that this man was Jesus whom they had crucified.” [Luther, St. Louis Edition, 7, 6]

The evangelist now offers the genealogy proper:

Matthew 1:2-16

Abraham begat Isaac; and Isaac begat Jacob; and Jacob begat Judas and his brethren; And Judas begat Phares and Zara of Thamar; and Phares begat Esrom; and Esrom begat Aram; And Aram begat Aminadab; and Aminadab begat Naasson; and Naasson begat Salmon; And Salmon begat Booz of Rachab; and Booz begat Obed of Ruth; and Obed begat Jesse; And Jesse begat David the king;

and David the king begat Solomon of her that had been the wife of Urias; And Solomon begat Roboam; and Roboam begat Abia; and Abia begat Asa; And Asa begat Josaphat; and Josaphat begat Joram; and Joram begat Ozias; And Ozias begat Joatham; and Joatham begat Achaz; and Achaz begat Ezekias; 10 And Ezekias begat Manasses; and Manasses begat Amon; and Amon begat Josias; 11 And Josias begat Jechonias and his brethren, about the time they were carried away to Babylon: 12 And after they were brought to Babylon, Jechonias begat Salathiel; and Salathiel begat Zorobabel; 13 And Zorobabel begat Abiud; and Abiud begat Eliakim; and Eliakim begat Azor; 14 And Azor begat Sadoc; and Sadoc begat Achim; and Achim begat Eliud; 15 And Eliud begat Eleazar; and Eleazar begat Matthan; and Matthan begat Jacob; 16 And Jacob begat Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ.


Cross-references

Luke 3:23-38; Acts 7:8; Genesis 5:1-32; Genesis 10:1-32; Genesis 11:11-32; Genesis 21:1-7; Genesis 25:19-26; Genesis 46:8-27; 1 Samuel 17:12; Matthew 1:18-25

In three sections of fourteen members each the progenitors of Joseph are tabulated, reaching back to Abraham, the father of the faithful. No person ever born into this world could boast, in a direct line, a more elevated or illustrious ancestry than Jesus Christ. The kingly, the priestly, the prophetic offices were represented in this list in all their glory and splendor. “The holy Matthew writes his Gospel in a most masterly manner and makes three distinctions of the fathers of whom Christ sprang forth, fourteen patriarchs, fourteen kings, and fourteen princes. … There are three times fourteen persons, as Matthew himself names them; from Abraham to David, both included, are fourteen persons or members; from David to the Babylonian captivity, again fourteen members; … and from the Babylonian captivity to Christ there are also fourteen members.” [Luther, 11, 2344]

A careful comparison of the list as here given and the account found in the Old Testament, 2 Chronicles 22-26, shows a slight discrepancy, since Ahaziah, Joash, and Amaziah followed after Joram, before Uzziah. The explanation for this difficulty is found in the fact that Matthew took up the genealogies just as he found them in the public Jewish repositories, which, though in the main parts correct, were yet deficient in some respects. But the omission of the three kings was of no consequence to the evangelist’s argument, which was to show the legal descent of Joseph, the foster-father of Jesus, and therefore of Jesus Himself, in an uninterrupted line from David, and consequently from Abraham. “What need is there of many words? Matthew himself shows sufficiently that he did not want to enumerate the generations with Jewish strictness, and so excite doubtfulness. For almost after the manner of a Jew he makes three times fourteen members of fathers, kings, and princes, but with deliberate knowledge omits three members of the second section, as though he would say: The genealogical tables are indeed not to be despised, but herein lies the chief thing that Christ is promised through the generations of Abraham and David.” [Luther, 7, 7]

Another difficulty is in Matthew 1:11, where Josias is named as the father of Jechonias, whereas he was the grandfather, 1 Chronicles 3:14-16. The solution is found either by reference to the explanation above, showing that Matthew made use of a deliberate contraction, since the Jews were in the habit of extending the appellation “father” also to the grandparent; or we may adopt the marginal reading, which is based upon some Greek manuscripts: “Josias begat Jakim, and Jakim begat Jechonias.” This would also yield the fourteenth member of this section, unless we include Jesus in this group. In a similar manner, though Jechonias had no brethren mentioned in Scriptures, his father had, and it is by no means unusual to find more remote relatives spoken of in this manner, Genesis 28:13; Genesis 31:42; Genesis 14:14; Genesis 24:27; Genesis 29:15. “It is not to be supposed that the evangelist was at all concerned to make sure that no link in the line was omitted. His one concern would be to make sure that no name appeared that did not belong to the line.” [Expositor’s Greek Testament, 1, 63]

Another significant fact: Only four women are mentioned in the tables, and of these two were originally members of Gentile nations, Rachab and Ruth, and two were adulteresses, Thamar and Bathsheba. Note, also, that the last is not mentioned by name, the reference being both delicate and reproachful. “Of the kings and princes which Matthew enumerates, there were a few very bad knaves, as we read in the Book of Kings; yet God permits them to be entered as though they were so worthy that He should have wanted to be born of them. He also has no pious woman described: the four women that are mentioned here were all considered knaves and impious by the people, and regarded as evil women, as Thamar, who with Judas, her husband’s father, begat Phares and Zara, as is written Genesis 38:18; Rachab is called a knave or harlot, Joshua 2:1; Ruth was a Gentile woman, Ruth 1:4: though she was pious in honor, since one reads nothing evil of her, yet because she was a heathen, she was despised as a dog by the Jews and regarded as unworthy before the world; Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah, was an adulteress before David took her in marriage and begat Solomon with her, 2 Samuel 11:4. All of which, beyond doubt, is enumerated for the reason that we should see how God desired to present to all sinners a mirror that Christ was sent to sinners and wanted to be born of sinners; yea, the greater the sinners, the greater the refuge they should have with the merciful God, Priest, and King, who is our Brother, in whom, and in none other besides, we may fulfil the Law and receive God’s grace. For this He came from heaven and desires no more from us but only this, that we let Him be our God, Priest, and King. Then all shall be right and plain; through Him alone we become children of God and heirs of heaven.” [Luther, 11, 2346]

The table of Matthew ends with the words, Matthew 1:16 (a): “And Jacob begat Joseph, the husband of Mary.” This fact, and the further circumstance that Luke 3, has an altogether different list of ancestors of Jesus, must be considered proof positive that we have in Matthew the genealogy of Joseph, the foster-father of Jesus. The aim of the evangelist therefore undoubtedly was to set forth Jesus as the legal son of Joseph, Mary’s husband, at His birth, and as such the proper heir of David’s throne. Joseph was, before the law, father of Jesus. All his rights and privileges, by reason of his birth and ancestry, were by law transferred to his son. As long as he lived, Joseph continued in his role as the legal paternal ancestor of Jesus, Matthew 13:35; John 6:42. In this way the name and position of Jesus, especially during His ministry, were put above reproach, Deuteronomy 23:2, and His claim as to being the heir of David’s line was placed on a sound basis, even in the eyes of the sticklers for legal form.

Note the careful phraseology used by Matthew in this sentence, Matthew 1:16 (b): “Mary, of whom was born Jesus.” Not from them both, as natural parents, after the usual manner of procreation, was the Savior begotten, but of Mary only, thus placing the event which Matthew is about to relate entirely outside of the course of nature, beyond the plane of human understanding. Jesus is her son’s name, after the great work which He came into the world to perform, the salvation of mankind. And He is called the Christ, which has precisely the same meaning as the Hebrew Messiah: the Anointed of God. It was His official title according to His threefold office, as the legitimate descendant of David, which the genealogy showed Him to be. He alone is rightly, above all His fellows after the flesh, called the Christ; He is King of kings and Lord of lords: the great King, who governs the entire universe with His almighty power and reigns in the hearts of His followers with His benign mercy; He is the Prophet greater than Moses, with a message of truth and love and grace divine for all men; He is the great High Priest, who in His own body and by the shedding of His holy, precious blood made full atonement for the sins of the entire world.

Such is Matthew’s introduction to his Gospel. And in concluding this genealogy, which immediately places Jesus the Christ into the center before the minds and hearts of his readers, he gives a brief summary according to the divisions of Jewish history:

Matthew 1:17

17 So all the generations from Abraham to David are fourteen generations; and from David until the carrying away into Babylon are fourteen generations; and from the carrying away into Babylon unto Christ are fourteen generations.


Cross-references

2 Kings 24:1-2, 13; 2 Chronicles 36:5-7; Daniel 1:1-7

The three periods represent, respectively, the three forms of government which the Jews had: theocracy, monarchy, hierarchy, with judges, kings, and priests at their head. But, incidentally, the same division sums up Israel’s fortunes. First came the age of slow and steady growth, with all the manifestations of the first love’s zeal and fervor toward God, culminating in the reign of David. Then came the period of slow decline and gradual disintegration, ushered in with the luxurious reign of Solomon and characterized by the continuous and losing conflict with idolatry. And lastly came the period of a restored Church with internal ruin, of a dead orthodoxy, of an insipid ritualism. If any fact stands out clearly from this contrast, it is this, that redemption was most sorely and urgently needed.


Verses 18-25

The annunciation to Joseph and the birth of Jesus

Matthew 1:18

18a Now the birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise:


Cross-references

Luke 1:26-38

The reference is not so much to the actual process of generation, but expresses the general idea of origin. It was in this way that the Messiah assumed human nature, took upon Himself the form of our sinful flesh. As the Son of God He had no beginning, but is in the bosom of the Father from eternity, John 1:18. As a human being He had a beginning, and this origin the evangelist relates:

Matthew 1:18

18b When as His mother Mary was espoused to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Ghost.


Cross-references

Genesis 3:15; Galatians 4:4-5; Luke 1:35

Mary had entered into a betrothal, into a contract of espousal, with Joseph. She had agreed to a marriage, she had pledged her word to Joseph, just as he was bound to her by his promise of betrothment. While Mary was in this relation to Joseph, and after she had given him her pledge as his promised bride, she still lived at her own or at her father’s house. As a rule, some time elapsed before a betrothed virgin was formally given in marriage and taken to her husband’s house, Deuteronomy 20:7; Judges 14:7-8; Judges 15:1-2. During this time, cohabitation did not take place, though the marriage contract was legal and binding. And it was then, before the celebration of the nuptials, that Mary was found with child. Her situation was not only delicate, but the most distressing and humiliating which could fall to the lot of a pure maiden. Knowing herself to be innocent of even the slightest transgression in deed, and fully convinced of the fact that her condition was due only to the supernatural working of the Holy Ghost, she nevertheless could expect no one to believe her defense, should she attempt one. “Nothing but the fullest consciousness of her own integrity and the strongest confidence in God could have supported her in such circumstances, where her reputation, her honor, and her life were at stake.” [Clarke, Commentary, 5, 39]

At this critical juncture, Joseph proved himself all that a true Christian should be:

Matthew 1:19

19 Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not willing to make her a public example, was minded to put her away privily.


Cross-references

Deuteronomy 22:23-24; Deuteronomy 24:1-4; Proverbs 12:5; Mark 10:2-12

Unable to believe her innocent, which in the face of the evidence must have been beyond the average man’s strength, he nevertheless found a way out of the difficult dilemma. As the betrothed husband he had the husband’s rights and responsibilities. And he was a just man, righteous, a respecter of the Law, which was especially strict and uncompromising on the subject of infidelity in the woman, Deuteronomy 22:22-24. Yet he did not wish to expose Mary publicly and thus heap ignominy and shame upon her, for she was the woman to whom he had given the love of a husband. His humaneness and benevolence, his affection, were put to a severe test. But the result of his weighing the matter was that he did not choose strict measures, resolving rather upon a quiet cancelation of the bond of betrothal, without assigning a cause, in order that her life might be saved. Justice was tempered by mercy.

It was here that God interfered in behalf of the mother of His Son, according to His humanity:

Matthew 1:20

20 But while he thought on these things, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a dream, saying, Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost.


Cross-references

Proverbs 3:5-6; Luke 1:26-38

Joseph’s mind was still busily engaged with the perplexing problem; he was wrestling with painful, distressing, distracting thoughts, and even his kind expedient may have seemed harsh to him. But, behold! — a vivid introduction of the angelic appearance to emphasize the intervention of God. In a dream the vision came to Joseph to save him and his betrothed from an act which would result in disastrous consequences. The appearance of an angel in a dream was one of the methods which God used to make known His will, or to reveal the future in special cases. The angel addresses Joseph, “Thou son of David,” not to awaken the heroic mood, as has been suggested, but to emphasize the thought of the legal acknowledgment and adoption of the child. He should not fear to take home, publicly to accept, Mary as his wife. This simple acceptance of the angel’s words meant for Joseph an act of faith similar to those performed by the great heroes of the Old Testament, to believe the Lord absolutely, in spite of all the evidences of the senses. This public recognition would save the honor of Mary and also that of her child. For instead of being the fruit of adulterous and licentious intercourse, the product of a most unholy cohabitation, the child which was to be born of her was of the Holy Ghost, begotten by deliberate intervention of God, against the course of nature.

The climax of the angel’s message:

Matthew 1:21

21 And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call His name JESUS: for He shall save His people from their sins.


Cross-references

Acts 4:12; Isaiah 7:14; Matthew 1:23; John 1:29

It was thus ordained in God’s counsel: She will give birth to a son, she is to become a mother, not only by supernatural interposition, not merely by God’s giving new life to organs that were past the age of bearing, as was true in the case of Sarah and Elizabeth, Genesis 18:10-14; Luke 1:7-18, but by a miraculous suspension of the usual process of nature, according to which men are born of the will of the flesh and of the will of man, both sexes being active. And this son of Mary he, Joseph, was to call Jesus. This is a command in the form of a prediction. By giving to the child His name, Joseph would publicly recognize and formally adopt Him as his legal son. Jesus is to be the child’s name, not indeed as a mere appellation to distinguish Him from other people, as in the case of the Hebrew synonym Joshua, Numbers 13:17; Zechariah 3:1, but as an expression of the very essence of the divine personality, through which the salvation of men would be gained. For the angel explains the name: He shall save His people from their sins. That, in a sentence, is the end and object of His coming, that alone is His errand and mission: He, and no other, He alone, and He completely, saves. He brings full pardon, free salvation, complete deliverance, not only from the pollution and power, but also from the guilt of sin. To His people He brings this priceless boon, not merely to the members of His nation according to the flesh, to the Jewish people, but to all that are in need of a Savior, Matthew 18:11. This is the Gospel-message, not that Jesus makes allowances for sin, but that He has made atonement for it; not that He tolerates sin, but that He destroys it.

Matthew now adds an explanatory note to show the fulfilment of the Old Testament types and prophecies in the person and work of Christ:

Matthew 1:22-23

22 Now all this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, 23 Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us.


Cross-references

Isaiah 7:14; Jeremiah 23:6; Matthew 5:17; Genesis 3:15; Isaiah 9:6

It was not an incident that just happened that way which the evangelist records, but an occurrence definitely decided upon and fully planned by the Lord centuries before. For it was He that spoke the prophecy through Isaiah 7:14. The words as written by the prophet referred to a sign or miracle which the Lord promised King Ahaz in order to assure him that the counsels of the enemies of Israel should not stand, but that the latter should finally be utterly discomfited. In giving this sign, the Lord had in mind the spiritual Israel and its enemies, the deliverance being the redemption wrought by the Messiah. Before the eternal God, the space of seven hundred years is as a watch in the night. This sign was now to be given and the prophecy fulfilled. The virgin, not any virgin, but the one designated and chosen by God, being with child, was now about to bear a son. And they, not only His parents, but men and people that would know Him, especially those that would accept His salvation, would call His name Emmanuel: God with us. In the son of Mary these words were fulfilled, her son is God Himself; in His person the strong God, the almighty Lord, is with us, not according to His condemning justice, but according to His loving-kindness and tender mercies, Isaiah 9:6; John 1:1-14; 1 Timothy 3:16.

The result of the angelic vision:

Matthew 1:24

24 Then Joseph being raised from sleep did as the angel of the Lord had bidden him, and took unto him his wife.


Cross-references

Genesis 1:27-28; Genesis 2:24

As soon as he awoke from sleep, he was immediately, energetically active and set about to act upon the divine instructions. He took Mary home as his wife, he celebrated the betrothal with all customary Jewish ceremonies. She who was his wife by betrothal now was given this position in the eyes of the whole world. But the marriage was not consummated at that time:

Matthew 1:25

25 And knew her not till she had brought forth her firstborn son: and he called His name JESUS.


Cross-references

Exodus 13:2; Luke 2:7, 21; Romans 8:29

Joseph did not enter into the natural relations of marriage with Mary until her son, the promised Messiah, had been born. It is a moot question whether Mary and Joseph ever lived together in the usual matrimonial intercourse and begot children. The Roman Catholic theologians and a great many Protestant commentators argue with much spirit that the firstborn son of Mary was her only son. Some have held with one of the early Church Fathers that the “brethren” of Jesus mentioned in various passages, Matthew 12:46; Matthew 13:55; Mark 3:31; Luke 8:19; John 2:12; Luke 7:5; Acts 1:14; Galatians 1:19, were the cousins of the Lord, the sons of Alphaeus, Joseph’s brother, and of Mary, the wife of Alphaeus, the sister-in-law (not sister) of the mother of the Lord. Others have held that they were the stepbrothers of Jesus, by a former marriage of Joseph. As a matter of fact, the question is of little import and can have no doctrinal significance. It is not for historical, exegetical, or dogmatic reasons, but only for motives of reverence that men have been prompted to insist upon the alleged fact of Mary’s perpetual virginity. [See Schaller, Book of Books, 276]

The evangelist concludes the narrative by stating that he, Joseph, called the name of Mary’s son Jesus, thus following the divine command, assuming the legal paternity of the child, and incidentally expressing his hopeful belief in the Savior of mankind.

Summary

Jesus Christ, the son and legal heir of David, beyond whom His genealogy can be traced to Abraham, the father of the faithful of all times, was conceived and born of Mary, the virgin mother, after Joseph, His foster-father, had been instructed through a wonderful angelic vision as to God’s interposition.


Chapter 2

Verses 1-12

The Wise Men from the East

Matthew 2:1

1a Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king,


Cross-references

The transition which the evangelist employs fitly connects the narrative of the circumstances surrounding the birth of the Savior with the story of the adoration of the Magi. It is an account of the “reception given by the world to the new-born Messianic king. Homage from afar, hostility at home; foreshadowing the fortunes of the new faith: acceptance by the Gentiles, rejection by the Jews.” [Expositor’s Greek Testament, 1, 69]. While Matthew does not fix the time of the nativity so exactly as Luke 2:1-2, he nevertheless mentions a very important point which corroborates the Old Testament prophecy in a most remarkable manner. For Herod was king at this time. History calls him Herod the Great, since he was great in political sagacity, great in diplomatic shrewdness, great in energy which expended itself in works of external beauty and grandeur, but also great, almost incredibly so, in wickedness. He was the son of the Idumean Antipater, Roman procurator of Judea. His ambition succeeded in winning for him the governorship of Galilee when he was but twenty-five years of age. He next became governor of Coele-Syria, the fertile valley between the Lebanon and Anti-Lebanon mountain ranges, including southern Syria and Decapolis, and later was made tetrarch by the Roman triumvir Antony. Driven from his province, where his standing with the people had always been insecure, by the Maccabean Antigonus, Herod fled to Rome, gained the help of Antony and Augustus, and was declared king of Judea by the Roman senate, 714 years after the founding of Rome, 37 B.C. It was necessary for him to win his kingdom by force of arms, but once in possession of it, he proceeded to use his power in a cruel and ruthless manner for his own aggrandizement. He flattered the influential party of the Pharisees by the erection of the magnificent Temple and by other feigned tokens of religious zeal; he courted the favor of Rome by a fawning servility, by various concessions to heathenism, and by the introduction of Grecian customs. Of his ten wives, he executed the Asmonean Mariamne, daughter of Hircanus, and he caused three of his sons, Antipater, Alexander, and Aristobulus, to be put to death, not to mention a multitude of other executions which were as cruel as they were unjustified. By such a degree of bloodthirstiness was his reign characterized that the slaughter of the innocents at Bethlehem is omitted by secular historians as an insignificant episode. Such was the character of Herod the Great. And by the final definite establishment of his kingdom the word of the Lord was fulfilled: “The scepter shall not depart from Judah … until Shiloh come,” Genesis 49:10. Cp. Genesis 27:40. “In the first place, the evangelist cites Herod the king to remind of the prophecy of Jacob the patriarch, who had said, Genesis 49:10: The scepter shall not be taken from Judah, nor a teacher out of his loins, until He comes that should come. From this prophecy it is evident that Christ must put in His appearance when the kingdom or government was taken from the Jews, that no king or ruler out of the tribe of Judah occupied it. That was done through this Herod, who was not from the tribe of Judah nor from the blood of the Jews, but of Edom, a stranger, established as a king of the Jews by the Romans; however, with great indignation of the Jews, so that he ground himself against them for thirty years, shed very much blood, and killed the best of the Jews, until he stunned and vanquished them. When this stranger, then, had ruled for thirty years and brought the government into his power, so that he sat in tranquillity, and the Jews had yielded, since there was no more hope to get rid of him and therefore the prophecy of Jacob was fulfilled, then the time had come, then Christ came and was born under the first stranger, and appeared according to the prophecy. As though He would say: The scepter has ceased from Judah, a stranger is sitting over My people; now is the time that I enter and also become king, the government now pertains to Me.” [Luther, 11, 296]

In Bethlehem of Judea, Jesus was born, in accordance with prophetic utterance. This Bethlehem is distinguished from another village of the same name in Galilee, in the former tribe of Zebulun, Joshua 19:15. The town of Christ’s birth is called Bethlehem-Judah, 1 Samuel 17:12, and Ephrath or Ephratah, Genesis 48:7; Micah 5:2. It is situated on a small ridge or declivity overlooking a fertile farming country, whence its name, which signifies “house of bread,” may have been suggested. It was a fitting name for the village which produced as its greatest son Him who is properly called the “Bread of Life,” John 6:35-48.

Place and time of the nativity having been indicated, the evangelist now proceeds:

Matthew 2:1

1b Behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem.


Cross-references

He introduces the new theme in a lively manner, also for the purpose of bringing out the contrast between the reigning king of Judea and these strangers from heathen lands. Wise men, or, more literally, Magi, he calls them, not kings, as the medieval legend has it, but the scientists of those days who, at many a court, formed the king’s privy council, Jeremiah 39:3; Daniel 2:48. They cultivated chiefly medicine, natural science, especially in its occult applications, the interpretation of dreams, astronomy, and astrology. “Therefore the Magi, or wise men, were not kings, but learned and expert people in natural science… . The Magi were nothing else than what the philosophers were in Greece and the priests in Egypt, and such men as are with us the learned men of the universities; in short, they were the theologians and the learned men of Arabia Felix, just as if ecclesiastics and learned men from universities would now be sent to a prince.” [Luther, 11, 299]. Magi from the East they were, and Matthew probably used the vague indication of the locality intentionally. It matters little whether the men were from Arabia, or from Persia, or from Media, or from Babylon, or from Parthia. A tradition among the Jews has it that there were prophets in the kingdom of Saba and Arabia that were of the posterity of Abraham by Keturah, who transmitted the promise of God given to Abraham from one generation to the next. All this signifies nothing. But all the more important is the fact that these strangers from a far country come to Jerusalem on such an extraordinary errand. “Him whom His own would not seek or acknowledge, nor the inhabitants and citizens, this strange, foreign people sought in so many days’ journeying. To Him to whom the learned men and priests would not come and worship, to Him the soothsayers and astronomers come. That was truly a great disgrace for the entire Jewish land and people that Christ was born in the midst of them and they should first learn of it from strange, heathen, foreign people.” [Luther, 11, 300]

The message of the Magi was brief:

Matthew 2:2

2 Saying, Where is He that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen His star in the east, and are come to worship Him.


Cross-references

There was an assertion contained in their question. Their knowledge was definite as to His having been born. It was a fact beyond question or discussion. A Child has been born that is King of the Jews; His kingship is even now established beyond a doubt. The evidence which the Magi adduce for their belief is sensational. They had seen a star in its rising, just as soon as the phenomenon became visible; not any star, not a meteor provided for the occasion, not a comet of peculiar brilliance, not an extraordinary conjunction of planets, but His star, a star which was set in the firmament, or which flashed forth at just this time with unusual brightness. The appearance and, according to verse 9, also the guidance of this star was to them a definite sign, an unmistakable token of the fulfilment of a prophecy, tradition, or revelation which was known to them. It may have been that the prophecy of Balaam, Numbers 24:17, had been explained by their teachers as referring to an actual, physical star, or it may be, as the medieval legend, which is embodied in the Old Saxon poem of The Heliand, has it, that Daniel transmitted to the learned men of the East a tradition concerning this particular star. At any rate, they had come to worship Him whose coming the star indicated, to give Him divine homage and adoration by a gesture or ceremony of abject submission, placing themselves and all their possessions at His disposal.

The effect of this startling announcement:

Matthew 2:3

3 When Herod the king had heard these things, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.


Cross-references

The consternation of Herod may be explained in two ways. As king, because of his position as king, Herod was troubled. Having himself reached his position of ruling sovereign by methods which were not at all unobjectionable, the foreigner and usurper feared a rival, and the tyrant feared the joyful acceptance of the rival by the people. At the same time, Herod felt a dread since it was freely predicted that a great personage, the Messiah, the King of the Jews, should judge both the nation and the world, — and Herod’s conscience was not clean. On the other hand, the people were excited for different reasons. Their alarm was due to a bad conscience and the feeling of guilt because of their hypocrisy and selfishness which was sure to be found out by the Messiah, but mingled with this was the excitement of expecting a deliverer from the yoke of Rome, a hope which had been carefully cherished by the Pharisees.

Herod’s measures to meet the emergency:

Matthew 2:4

4 And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he demanded of them where Christ should be born.


Cross-references

Not the entire Sanhedrin, or Great Council of the Jewish people, — for that included also the elders, many of whom Herod had put to death, — but the chief priests, the present incumbent of the office as well as former high priests; and the scribes, who were also political officers, assisting the civil magistrates in the role of confidential secretaries and statisticians. All of these were men of letters. Here again was a political move planned to strengthen Herod’s tottering prestige: to be summoned to a secret meeting might be thought a rare distinction by the Jewish leaders. And Herod, accustomed as he was to commanding, in this instance was very careful about couching his request in polite, though urgent, terms. The question he submitted was a theological one: Where, according to the transmitted records, according to the accepted tradition, is the birth-place of the Christ?

The answer of the Jewish theologians savors of a hidden satisfaction:

Matthew 2:5-26

5 And they said unto him, In Bethlehem of Judaea: for thus it is written by the prophet, 6a And thou Bethlehem, in the land of Juda, art not the least among the princes of Juda.


Cross-references

Their opinion was given without hesitation; it reflected the current opinion and agreed with Talmudic tradition. In their Scriptural proof they do not quote the Old Testament passage literally, but combine the words of the prophet, Micah 5:2, with 2 Samuel 5:2. Incidentally, their answer was shaped by some interpretation due to rabbinical teaching. “Art not thou the least?” the text inquires. Bethlehem may be little in size and influence, especially as compared with its metropolitan neighbor, but it is by no means the least in dignity and distinction. It may have been considered small and insignificant among the thousands of Judah, the cities that could boast a population of a thousand or more families, but it still had the best-founded claim for excellence among the princes of Judah. Here is indisputable evidence:

Matthew 2:6

6b For out of thee shall come a Governor, that shall rule My people Israel.


Cross-references

Out of the despised village One should come forth, should regard it as His native town, who would combine the qualities of a Ruler with those of a tender, loving Friend and watchful Guardian. He whose birth was to distinguish Bethlehem-Judah, would be a Prince and Leader, who would make the shepherd’s sleepless devotion for those entrusted to him His life’s object.

Herod was convinced that the information he received was reliable. He resolved, therefore, to remove a possible rival by a speedy and thorough, though cruel method. But he must have more information:

Matthew 2:7

7 Then Herod, when he had privily called the wise men, enquired of them diligently what time the star appeared.


Cross-references

It was a secret conference, just fitting in with his political trickery. Had he made his inquiries in a public reception, his own courtiers might have become suspicious, but the unsuspecting visitors could be coaxed to talk freely in a private interview and would not become alarmed. The exact time of the star’s first appearance was what Herod wanted, assuming probably that the birth of the child had occurred at the same time. All of which was an especially loathsome form of hypocrisy, an affectation of a kind interest in all that related to the Child in whose destinies the very stars seemed involved.

Herod carried out his scheme:

Matthew 2:8

8a And he sent them to Bethlehem and said, Go and search diligently for the young Child; and when ye have found Him, bring me word again.


Cross-references

Eager for the success of his plans, he nevertheless manages to make his guileless visitors feel that he has nothing but the favorable outcome of their quest at heart. The text implies the idea of great haste. He sent them off at once with the urgent entreaty, almost command: Go and search. Leave nothing undone, make your search most thorough, in order that the Child may be found. And not only that:

Matthew 2:8

8b That I may come and worship Him also.


Cross-references

He crowns his hypocrisy with a final base lie. For it was not that he wanted to bow down to the Child in adoring worship, but he intended to bow down the Child’s soul into the dust of death.

In simple trustfulness, the Magi proceed to act according to the king’s words:

Matthew 2:9

9 When they had heard the king, they departed; and, lo, the star which they saw in the East went before them, till it came and stood over where the young Child was.


Cross-references

They left Jerusalem, apparently all alone and with only general directions to guide them. Herod wanted no talebearers from among those that patterned after him. But the Magi, looking up to heaven, once more see their guide in the sky; they recognize the heavenly sign which had first called their attention to the miracle. And this star kept going before them all the way until, as they came to Bethlehem, it took up its definite position right over the house where the Child was, for He was the object of their search, to Him they were directed. Another proof that the star here referred to was made for just this purpose: it traveled from north to south. It must have stood much lower than other stars, since it indicated exactly in which house the Child was. “But this star, since it goes with them from Jerusalem to Bethlehem, went from north to south; which therefore establishes clearly that it was of a different kind, course, and place than the stars in the sky. It was not an attached star, as the astronomers call the stars, but a free star that could rise and sink, turn to all places.” [Luther, 11, 331. 2105]

The effect of its appearance upon the Magi:

Matthew 2:10

10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy.


Cross-references

They were overjoyed. Their long journey was successful, their arduous quest was ended. The most intense gladness, a fairly ecstatic delight, took possession of them, as the evangelist expresses it. At once they carried out the purpose of their journey:

Matthew 2:11

11a And when they were come into the house, they saw the young Child with Mary, His mother, and fell down, and worshiped Him.


Cross-references

So vivid is Matthew’s description that the words fairly gush forth in a joyful stream. The Magi saw with their own eyes Him whom they had longed to behold, the Child, the Messiah, the promised Star of Judah. His mother Mary and His foster-father, who is intentionally omitted, had now found shelter in one of the houses of the village. The Magi worshiped the Child after the Oriental fashion of falling down on the knees and touching the forehead to the earth, in complete surrender.

Matthew 2:11

11b And when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto Him gifts; gold, and frankincense, and myrrh.


Cross-references

With full hands they come, as befits such as would enter into the presence of royalty. They open their treasure-chests; they bring forth gold, the most precious metal, frankincense and myrrh, costly aromatic gums distilled from trees, much used in religious ceremonies, Psalm 72:10; Isaiah 60:6. Whether there is any special significance, a mystical meaning, in the gifts, is an idle speculation which has engaged many commentators. It was commonly stated: Gold, as to the King; incense, as to God; myrrh, as to one destined to die; or, as a medieval rhyme has it: “The first was gold, as most mighty King; the second was myrrh, as Priest of priests being; the third was incense in tokening of burying.” Luther’s explanation is simple: “Although they [the Magi] enter a poor house, find a poor young woman, with a poor child, and also there is an appearance so unlike a king that their servant is more honorable and reputable, yet they are not, troubled, but in great, strong, full faith they put everything out of their eyes and mind which nature with its arrogance might adduce and bring into play; they simply follow the verse of the prophet and the testimony of the star and believe Him to be King, fall down, worship Him, and give presents to Him.” [Luther, 11, 355. 2113]

Matthew concludes the narrative of the adoration:

Matthew 2:12

12 And being warned of God in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed into their own country another way.


Cross-references

Here is another instance of divine intervention to frustrate the bloodthirsty designs of Herod toward the Savior. It does not appear from the text that the simple trustfulness of the wise men had given way to suspicion as to the king’s intention, and that they had asked God for a sign. It is simply narrated that by command of God they received an earnest admonition, an emphatic warning, not to turn back on their steps over Jerusalem. Whether each individual member of the party had the vision, or whether their leader alone received God’s command, is immaterial. Enough that they complied with the request. They departed, they withdrew, and thus escaped into their own country by taking a different caravan route, away from the dangerous neighborhood of Herod. Their object had been gained, they had seen the light of the Gentiles; their hearts were filled with the content of the believing soul that has seen the salvation of the Lord.


Verses 13-23

The Flight into Egypt and the return to Nazareth

One part of Herod’s plan had not worked out: the Magi did not return to reveal the exact whereabouts of the Child. Now the Lord also foiled the design against the Child’s life.

Matthew 2:13

13 And when they were departed, behold, the angel of the Lord appeareth to Joseph in a dream, saying, Arise, and take the young Child and His mother, and flee into Egypt, and be thou there until I bring thee word: for Herod will seek the young Child to destroy Him.


Cross-references

God again makes use of an angelic vision to protect His Son, by giving the necessary instructions to Joseph. Cp. Matthew 1:20. The need of haste is expressed: Having arisen, take at once; lose no time. The Child is again named first, everything revolves about His well-being. “And His mother,” the angel says. The phraseology is very careful and once more definitely points to the virgin birth. The reason for the command is also stated, in order to prevent delay. Herod has the intention, he has planned, he is about to search for the Child with the purpose of putting Him to death. Even the place of refuge is named in the divine message. Egypt should be their temporary home until such a time as a further command or communication to Joseph would permit their return to their native land. It is probable that Egypt was chosen because many Jews had settled in that country. The holy family would therefore be among fellow-countrymen and in a Roman province, where the rage of Herod could not pursue them.

Joseph again was obedient to the angel’s word:

Matthew 2:14-15

14 When he arose, he took the young Child and His mother by night, and departed into Egypt: 15 And was there until the death of Herod: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, Out of Egypt have I called My Son.


Cross-references

Matthew relates the carrying out of the command in the very words in which the angel had spoken them in order to show the obedient spirit of Joseph. That very night he quietly made his escape with those entrusted to his care. He made Egypt his home until after the death of Herod, which, by the nearest historical calculation, occurred in the same year. He died of a peculiar, loathsome disease, which caused his flesh to decay upon his bones, rendering him an abhorrent carcass before his soul finally left the body. It may be remarked, in passing, that all accounts of Christ’s stay in Egypt, as found in apocryphal sources, are entirely fanciful and gross pieces of superstition. But it is of interest to find even here a fulfilment of Old Testament prophecy, Hosea 11:1. Though the deliverance of Israel out of the serfdom of Egypt is there referred to, the Holy Ghost here gives us another true explanation, showing that the prophecy relates to the infant Jesus, in His sheltered sojourn in, and safe return from, the country where His ancestors had been held in bondage. Note the reference to the divine inspiration of the prophecy!

Matthew 2:16

16 Then Herod, when he saw that he was mocked of the wise men, was exceeding wroth, and sent forth, and slew all the children that were in Bethlehem, and in all the coasts thereof, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had diligently inquired of the wise men.


Cross-references

The evangelist, after his brief digression, returns to his story proper. Herod saw that, from his standpoint, he had been outwitted, made a fool of, by the Magi. And when he was certain that they were not going to retrace their steps to Jerusalem, to report what they had found at Bethlehem, he was enraged, extremely incensed with an unreasonable rage. This wrath demanded an outlet, it could be quenched only in blood. Herod sent executioners to Bethlehem with the command to kill all children that were to be found in the village proper and in its entire vicinity, the rural district surrounding the town. Not one was spared, not even, according to an ancient report, his own son. In fixing the age of his victims, he made use of the information given him by the Magi, probably extending the time either way in order to make sure that none escaped. Herod would not be too scrupulous: from one hour to two years old, it mattered not; if anything, it insured him an ample margin either way.

Here again there is the fulfilment, not of a literal, but of a typical prophecy:

Matthew 2:17-18

17 Then was fulfilled that which was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet, saying, 18 In Rama was there a voice heard, lamentation, and weeping, and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children, and would not be comforted, because they are not.


Cross-references

The passage as penned by the prophet, Jeremiah 31:15, is the narration of a vision with reference to the deportation of Israel into captivity, Rachel being the representative mother of the nation, and Ramah having been a fortress of Israel on the frontier where the captives were collected. This prophetic passage Matthew applies to the slaughter of the innocents. Rachel is represented as the mother of Bethlehem and its environs, because it was here that she died, in childbirth, Genesis 35:16-20. Her sympathy for her children’s misfortunes would cause her to indulge in such bitter weeping and mourning as the mothers of Bethlehem doubtless gave themselves to at this exhibition of revolting and senseless cruelty on the part of Herod. Consolation and comfort could avail but little when they were obliged to witness the murder of their children before their very eyes and could only wring their hands in helpless sorrow and agony.

The evangelist now returns to the story of the Savior:

Matthew 2:19-20

19 But when Herod was dead, behold, an angel of the Lord appeareth in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, 20 Saying, Arise, and take the young Child and His mother, and go into the land of Israel: for they are dead which sought the young Child’s life.


Cross-references

Herod died at Jericho in the year 750 after the founding of Rome. And his son Antipater, heir apparent to the throne, who had inherited his father’s cruel disposition, had been put to death at the tyrant’s command, five days before he himself yielded up his soul. So they whose murderous designs were most apparent were no longer living. The angel therefore gave Joseph the command to return to the land of Israel. No immediate danger threatened the Savior’s life. No apprehension need be felt regarding His safety. There is nothing, no person to fear: Go! Note again that Matthew always gives to the Christ-child the prominent position to which His divinity entitles Him. He is to be kept foremost in the minds and hearts of all readers.

Joseph lost no time in obeying the command:

Matthew 2:21-22

21 And he arose, and took the young Child and His mother, and came into the land of Israel. 22a But when he heard that Archelaus did reign in Judaea in the room of his father Herod, he was afraid to go thither:


Cross-references

Herod, indeed, was dead, but Augustus had divided his kingdom among his three sons. Archelaus obtained Judea, Idumea, and Samaria, with the designation of ethnarch; Herod Antipas, Galilee and Perea; and Philip, Batanea, Trachonitis, and Auranitis, the latter two receiving the title tetrarch (ruler over a fourth part). Like his father, Archelaus was a suspicious and cruel tyrant. It is related of him that, at one of the passovers, he caused three thousand people to be put to death in the Temple and city. No wonder that Joseph was filled with apprehension as to the safety of his charges. To settle in Judea was the most natural course to follow, and he probably had Jerusalem in mind. But once more God Himself, through the agency of an angel, solved the difficulty and indicated to him a place of security. And so he turned aside, made the journey up to Galilee, the northern part of Palestine, formerly divided into Upper and Lower Galilee, the former being Galilee proper, Matthew 4:12; John 4:43, the latter occupying the ancient territory of Zebulon. It was to Lower Galilee that Joseph journeyed with the Child and His mother:

Matthew 2:22-23

22b notwithstanding, being warned of God in a dream, he turned aside into the parts of Galilee: 23 And he came and dwelt in a city called Nazareth: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets, He shall be called a Nazarene.


Cross-references

So Joseph returned to his former city, which had also been Mary’s home, Luke 1:26; Luke 2:4. Nazareth was a small city southwest of the Sea of Galilee, not far from Cana, on the one side, and from Mount Tabor, on the west. It was situated on the slope of a hill, and was surrounded by beautiful and grand scenery. It was here that Jesus lived until He entered upon His ministry, Luke 2:51; Luke 4:16; Matthew 3:13.

This reference of the evangelist to a fulfilment of Old Testament prophecy has ever caused difficulties, since there is no individual passage, with the exact contents as given, in the writings referred to. It is significant, however, that Matthew writes: “Which was spoken by the prophets,” thus indicating a general type rather than an explicit text. The most plausible explanation: “Nazarene” or “man of Nazareth” contains the reference. For the name Nazareth is derived from a Hebrew root meaning a branch or tender offshoot. Thus the Messiah is called in Isaiah 11:1. And this passage is analogous to the expressions used in Isaiah 53:2; Isaiah 4:2; Jeremiah 23:5; Jeremiah 33:15; Zechariah 3:8; Zechariah 6:12, and to other descriptions of the humble appearance of the Messiah. Cp. John 1:46. Others have suggested that the reference is to Judges 13:7. “It is with the prophetic references in the gospels as with songs without words. The composer has a certain scene or state of mind in his view, and writes under its inspiration. But you are not in his secret, and cannot tell when you hear the music what it means. But let the key be given, and immediately you find new meaning in the music. The prophecies are the music; the key is the history.” [Expositor’s Greek Testament, 1, 78]

Summary

The Magi having been directed to Bethlehem by a special star and by prophetic direction, give to the Christ-child divine adoration, while the life of the Savior is preserved from the cruelty of Herod by divine interposition, which directs Joseph first to Egypt, then to Galilee.


Chapter 3

Verses 1-12

The ministry of John the Baptist

Matthew 3:1

1a In those days came John the Baptist,


Cross-references

The method here used by Matthew to introduce a new section in his history of the Savior is one employed by the holy writers to refer to a preceding date or occurrence, Exodus 2:11, 23; Isaiah 38:1. It was during the residence of Jesus in Nazareth, during the period of His obscurity, when He was quietly growing in wisdom and age, and in favor with God and man, Luke 2:52. Luke’s narrative is here characterized by a most careful fixing of time, Luke 3:1-2, as befits so exact an historian, but our present passage is dramatically most effective. Those were memorable days and years to which our wistful, reverent gaze turns back, which the eyes of our spirit do not tire to behold. John, surnamed the Baptist, came in those days; he entered upon his ministry, for which he had been intended and prepared even before his birth, Luke 1:15-17; Luke 1:42-44; Luke 1:76-77. He is distinguished from John the Apostle and bears the name Baptist from the outstanding feature of his public work, since he baptized those that confessed their sins. It was necessary, to this end, that the hearts of the people be properly prepared, and therefore John came,

Matthew 3:1

1b preaching in the wilderness of Judaea,


Cross-references

Not primarily as a teacher, but as a preacher and exhorter he came, solemnly proclaiming, heralding the approach of the kingdom of heaven. And this with all the greater impressiveness, since his abode was in the wilderness of Judea, away from the usual haunts of men, in the mountainous, rugged country toward the Dead Sea, and in the steppes, or pasture lands, sloping down from there to the valley of the Jordan. Interesting, because different!

The emphasis of John was on one fact:

Matthew 3:2

2 And saying, Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.


Cross-references

That was the chief content, the matter, the burden, of his heralding, the admonition to repentance, the watchword which characterized his preaching. He deemed a complete change of mind and heart necessary as preparation for the advent of the Messiah. For His kingdom, the kingdom of God, the kingdom of heaven, has come near; it is about to be revealed in all its glory. It is a kingdom of the heavens in opposition to an earthly kingdom of which the Jews dreamed, since Jesus, the Lord of heaven, is its Ruler, and since this kingdom, whose beauty is here often hidden by the misery of this present life, will be fully revealed in the light of the future glory above. There all those that with sorrowful and contrite hearts accepted the Savior in His lowliness and humility will be partakers of His kingdom with its eternal splendor and majesty. Sincere repentance, followed by simple faith, opens the way to all this grandeur. “But this is repentance, if I believe God’s Word, which reveals to me and accuses me of being a sinner and condemned before God, and am terrified with all my heart because I have ever been disobedient to my God, have not rightly looked upon and considered His commandments, much less kept the greatest or the least, and yet do not despair, but let myself be directed to Jesus, to seek mercy and help with Him, and also firmly believe I shall find it. For He is the Lamb of God, destined from eternity for this purpose that He shall bear the sins of the whole world and pay for them by His death.” [Luther, 7, 689]

Matthew’s manner of adducing the prophetic passage in this instance is peculiar:

Matthew 3:3

3 For this is he that was spoken of by the prophet Esaias, saying, The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make His paths straight.


Cross-references

He sets him apart from others concerning whom there was a prophecy. This is the man whom Isaiah had in mind when he wrote his words of comfort for Jerusalem, Isaiah 40, 3. We have here an allusion to the well-known Oriental custom of heralding the coming of, and preparing the way for, princes in their travels. The typical prophecy of Isaiah became a distinct announcement in Malachi 3:1. Cp. Malachi 4:6; Luke 1:17; Matthew 11:10, 14; Matthew 17:11. John was the herald of Jesus. The purpose of his ministry was by preaching and by baptizing to prepare the hearts and minds of the people for the coming of the great King of Mercy. The King’s highway must be straight, without deviations of hypocrisy, without twists and turns of selfishness. That is the burden of the cry in the wilderness.

The appearance and habits of the Baptist should also be noted:

Matthew 3:4

4 And the same John had his raiment of camel’s hair, and a leathern girdle about his loins; and his meat was locusts and wild honey.


Cross-references

John was an antitype of Elijah, the great prophet and preacher of Israel, both as to his personal appearance and bearing and as to the peculiar difficulties under which his message went forth, 2 Kings 1:8; 1 Kings 19:10. His raiment, his usual clothing, was not a complete dress or cloak, but a covering or garment thrown over the shoulder, woven out of camel’s hair, a rough, uncomfortable protection against the elements. It was held together at the loins by a leathern girdle, without ornamentation. His main article of food was locusts, an edible species as named in Leviticus 11:22, still used as meat in the East: legs and wings stripped off, and the remainder boiled and roasted. To give at least some variety to the diet, or to serve for sustaining life when locusts were scarce, John used wild honey, such as was deposited by bees in trees and holes in the rocks, or the tree honey which exudes from fig-trees, palms, and other trees. The austere, ascetic appearance and mode of life of John corresponded with his message, which enjoined renunciation of the world and repentance.

The effect of his preaching:

Matthew 3:5

5 Then went out to him Jerusalem, and all Judaea, and all the region round about Jordan,


Cross-references

If not instantaneous, the success was rapid. The news traveled swiftly. First came those from the surrounding country, people from either side of the Jordan, whose homes were in or near the wilderness. Then the great movement spread in ever-widening circles into Judea. And finally, haughty, disdainful Jerusalem is drawn into the excitement. This the evangelist intimates by placing the capital city first; even conservative Jerusalem goes into the wilderness, a penitent at the call of John. A remarkable testimony for the power of the Word when openly and fearlessly proclaimed!

John performed his ministry to all:

Matthew 3:6

6 And were baptized of him in Jordan, confessing their sins.


Cross-references

His powerful, appealing call to repentance had its effect. In ever-increasing numbers they came. The guilt-burdened men and women, whose lives had been lived in sham and deceit, made a frank, explicit, public confession of their sins, voluntarily, now general, now special, as they came under the influence of John’s personality and message. “This confession of sins by individuals was a new thing in Israel. There was a collective confession on the great Day of Atonement, and individual confession in certain specified cases (Num. 5, 7), but no great spontaneous self-unburdenment of penitent souls — every man apart. It must have been a stirring sight.” [Expositor’s Greek Testament, 1, 81]. And as they came and made confession of their sins, in a practically unbroken stream, they were baptized by John in the river Jordan. It was an awakening such as the land had not witnessed since the time of the ancient prophets.

A perplexing, disagreeable situation:

Matthew 3:7

7 But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees come to his baptism, he said unto them, O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come?


Cross-references

Matthew includes the members of both sects in one and the same category of unworthy intruders. The Pharisees excelled especially in their insistence upon outward observance of the Law and the traditions of the elders, and the Sadducees were rationalists that rejected all the inspired writings but the books of Moses. In either case their religion was nothing but a thin veneer of form and show of pomp, without the assent of the heart. All the more reprehensible, then, is their affront in appearing at John’s baptism, where repentance, change of heart, was the primary demand. It may have been partly curiosity, partly fascination, since they could not remain indifferent to a movement which had assumed such proportions, that brought them to John. At any rate, they came upon the scene, they appeared at the place where John was baptizing. But their reception at his hands was anything but pleasant. “Generation of vipers” is the epithet he applies to them, offspring of serpents, imbued with the nature of the slimy, stinging reptiles. It is an outburst of intense moral aversion that causes him to shrink from, and openly denounce, these visitors as both deceitful and malicious, Psalm 140:3; Isaiah 14:29; Isaiah 59:5; Psalm 58:4. It seemed indeed as though they were fleeing from the wrath to come by making application for entrance into the Kingdom, but there is every reason for distrusting their sincerity. It is impossible to escape from the wrath which will bring upon hypocrites the holy, penal justice of God, and thus the punishment itself, Romans 1:18; Ephesians 2:3.

Matthew 3:7

7 But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees come to his baptism, he said unto them, O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come?


Cross-references

Having thus unmasked them, the Baptist makes his demand:

Matthew 3:8

8 Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance:


Cross-references

An entire change of heart must precede the performing of truly good works, such as measure up to the standard of an honest repentance, as conform to a real amendment of life. John insists upon their producing proper, suitable, sufficient evidence of a true repentance, fruits of a divine flavor, before he can consent to administer Baptism to them. And his further warning is peculiarly fitting in the case of the Pharisees:

Matthew 3:9

9 And think not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father: for I say unto you, that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham.


Cross-references

The fact that they were members, according to the flesh, of God’s chosen people, the fact that they were descendants of Abraham, in a direct line, had ever been the boast of the Pharisees, John 8:33, 39. But a mere external membership in God’s Church is of no avail. He is a Judge of the hearts and minds and may, on that score, at any time reject them as spurious children. Besides, it would be a small thing for God, out of the very stones of the wilderness, to create for Himself new children, more genuine as to faith than the Pharisees and Sadducees. “We are (said they) God’s people whom He has chosen before all nations on earth, and to whom He has given circumcision; so we have and observe the Law, visit God’s Temple at Jerusalem, and exercise ourselves in the holy service which God Himself has ordered. In short, we go our way in the spiritual and worldly government, as both have been fixed and ordered through Moses by God’s command; are also of the blood and tribe of the holy patriarchs: Abraham is our father, etc. What do we lack that we should not be pious and holy, dear and pleasing to God, and be saved? All this, he says, does not concern the matter. For God is not interested in knowing that you are proficient in boasting much and high concerning the Law, the Temple, the fathers, etc. He wants you to fear Him and to believe His promise, to obey and accept Him whom He has promised to you and now sends. The alternative is that He will reject and exterminate you with all your glory, with which He Himself has endowed and ornamented you before all nations.” [Luther, 7, 682]

And this is not all:

Matthew 3:10

10 And now also the axe is laid unto the root of the trees: therefore every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.


Cross-references

The ax has been placed, it is even now ready to begin its work of just retribution, of stern justice upon every spurious descendant of Abraham. Every tree which proves itself hopelessly barren cannot escape the near inevitable doom. And John makes use of careful phrasing. Not only is fruit demanded, which may, under circumstances, be unpalatable and even poisonous, but his condition is that the tree produce good fruit. Unless this demand is met, there is no other alternative: The useless tree is condemned to be firewood; the unbelieving Jew will be excluded from the kingdom of the Messiah.

John’s sermon would have been incomplete without a reference to Him whose way he was sent to prepare:

Matthew 3:11

11 I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance. but He that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: He shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire:


Cross-references

His was merely a temporary and a symbolical mission. He was only the forerunner, the herald, and he was fully satisfied with this secondary and subordinate position. His baptism was merely preparatory. By inducing men to repent and by administering the washing of Baptism, he was getting them ready for the understanding of the higher mission of the Messiah. But He who is just coming, who follows immediately after me in point of time, who will shortly make His appearance, is stronger than I; to Him pertains almighty power. And with this power is combined divine dignity. So great, so august, so exalted is His personage that John does not feel himself worthy even to take off His sandals, the work of the lowest slaves in the Orient. The ministry of this man will stand out in wonderful contrast. Himself will baptize you, will give you a peculiar baptism, with the Holy Ghost and with fire. A twofold effect of Christ’s work is here predicted: To those who with penitent hearts accept Him as Savior, He will give the precious boon of the Holy Spirit, with all His glorious gifts and powers, John 1:33; Mark 1:8; Acts 1:5; but those whose impenitent hearts would reject the purchased salvation He will immerse in fire. They have refused to accept the Spirit with His invigorating and illuminating power, and therefore the omnipotence of His outraged holiness will submerge and devour them. [The expression “with the Holy Ghost and with fire” may also be taken as a hendiadyoin and understood of the purging power of the Holy Ghost, by means of which He searches and purifies the hearts, Malachi 4:1]

This thought is carried out still further:

Matthew 3:12

12 Whose fan is in His hand, and He will throughly purge His floor, and gather His wheat into the garner; but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.


Cross-references

The picture is that of a threshing-floor in the Orient, a flat, open space paved with stones. The husbandman has driven his oxen across the floor to tread out the grain from the hulls, or his workmen have beaten it out with flails. Now comes the purging of the floor to separate the stalks and the hulls from the grain, and the winnowing of the loose matter with a fan to blow away the lighter chaff and leave the heavier kernels. God’s great threshing-floor is the earth. The test by which He decides the fate of every person in the world, by which He separates the wheat from the chaff, is the relation toward Jesus and His salvation. Those that are found secure in His redemption through faith are gathered safely into the garner of heaven. But those that are found too light, either on account of their reliance upon their own self-righteousness or because they esteem a mere external church-membership a sufficient guarantee of the joys of heaven, will find themselves subjected to the violent, inextinguishable fire, not only of the judgment, Malachi 4:1, but of hell, Matthew 25:41.


Verses 13-17

The Baptism of Jesus

The time had now come for Jesus to enter upon His ministry, to be inducted into His office by a public ceremony:

Matthew 3:13

13 Then cometh Jesus from Galilee to Jordan unto John, to be baptized of him.


Cross-references

He now came forth from His concealment, while John was at the very height of his evangelistic career. He came down to John, not like the Pharisees and Sadducees, who really all the while rejected God’s counsel against themselves, Luke 7:30, but in an open, friendly manner, to enter into amicable relations with him, and incidentally to receive Baptism at his hands. So far as His coming in itself was concerned, there was no difference between His desire for Baptism and that of the multitudes.

And yet Matthew writes:

Matthew 3:14

14 But John forbad Him, saying, I have need to be baptized of Thee, and comest thou to me?


Cross-references

This passage is not out of harmony with John 1:31, 33, where John says that he did not know Jesus. The apparent contradiction is in the translation only. In the original the word used signifies “to recognize beyond the possibility of a doubt, to be sure of the identity.” John had known of the existence of the Messiah, either from his mother or by direct revelation, but he did not know Him personally. When Jesus came, the majesty and dignity of His bearing caused John to surmise His identity, hence his hesitancy. But the actual identifying sign, which removed all doubts and made the recognition absolute, did not happen until after the baptism, as John relates in his gospel. In the mean time, John, impressed by the moral exaltation which emanated from the person of his visitor, sought, with some persistence, to dissuade and thus hinder Him from carrying out His intention. He cannot throw off the impression that this man is greater than he, and it behooves the smaller to receive Baptism at the hands of the greater. Well might John wonder as to the reason that actuates Christ in coming and seeking Baptism. “Why does He come and seek Baptism, as there is no sin and uncleanness in Him which Baptism would remove? That will be a blessed baptism. John here is getting a sinner who in His own person has no sin, and yet is the greatest sinner, that has and bears the sin of the whole world. For this reason He permits Himself to be baptized and confesses with this action that He is a sinner. However, not for Himself, but for us. For He here takes my place and thy place and stands in our stead who are sinners, and since all, especially the arrogant saints, do not want to be sinners, He must become a sinner for all; He assumes the form of our sinful flesh and complains, as many psalms testify, on the cross and in His passion, of the weight of the sins which He bears.” [Luther, 7, 691; 11, 2130]

So Jesus overrules John’s objection:

Matthew 3:15

15 And Jesus answering said unto him, Suffer it to be so now: for thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness. Then he suffered Him.


Cross-references

Obedience and fulfilment were the outstanding traits of the Messiah’s vicarious work. In applying these, He could brook no opposition. Every righteous ordinance, all religious usages that were enjoined upon the people, He wanted to fulfil. This Jesus gently, but firmly urged. It was the proper, the right, and the expedient thing to do. And so John acquiesced.

From ancient times the teachers of the Church have found here a wider, larger reference. “Jesus says: … If that shall be performed that the poor sinners may come to righteousness and be saved, you must baptize Me. Because for the sake of sinners I have become a sinner, must therefore do what God has charged the sinners to do, in order that they may become just through Me.” [Luther, 13, 1575; 11, 2139]

The occasion must needs be marked by preternatural accompaniments:

Matthew 3:16

16 And Jesus, when He was baptized, went up straightway out of the water: and, lo, the heavens were opened unto Him, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon Him: 17 And lo a voice from heaven, saying, This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.


Cross-references

Here was a revelation of the divine essence. As soon as Jesus had been baptized, He at once walked up the bank away from the river. His baptism had been necessary, but the miracle which was now to take place was even more important as manifesting the relationship obtaining between Him and the other persons of the Godhead. In a wonderful manner, causing a surprised exclamation in the evangelist’s narrative, the heavens were opened, a most glorious apparition, since it was an actual happening and not a vision, as in the case of Jacob, Stephen, and others, Genesis 28:12; Acts 7:55-56; Acts 10:11. And he, John, saw the Spirit of God descending in a bodily shape like a dove upon Jesus, John 1:32-34; Luke 3:22. It is an idle speculation to inquire why the dove was chosen, and to find the comparison in the perfect gentleness, purity, and fulness of life of this bird. Let us rather emphasize the fact that God wanted to convey the idea of an unlimited imparting of the Holy Spirit to His Son, according to His human nature, Psalm 45:8; Hebrews 1:9; Acts 10:38. And the marvels were not yet ended. Once more Matthew calls out: Behold! God the Father is now also manifested by a voice from heaven, identifying both Him and the Son. Cp. Isaiah 42:1; Psalm 2:7. This man that was thus plainly distinguished and set apart. from all the rest of the people there present is the true Son of God, beloved of Him in a unique sense. It is an eternal act of loving contemplation with which the Father regards the Son. It is with the consciousness of the Father’s good pleasure, His full and unequivocal consent and blessing, that Christ enters upon His ministry. The Triune God, at the baptism of Jesus, set the seal of His approval upon the work of redemption.

Summary

In the course of John the Baptist’s ministry, during which he had occasion to administer a sharp rebuke to the Pharisees and Sadducees, Jesus also received Baptism at his hands, whereupon there occurred a marvelous revelation of the Triune God.


Chapter 4

Verses 1-11

The temptation in the wilderness

Jesus, by His baptism and the accompanying supernatural manifestations, had been formally and publicly inaugurated into His ministry. But He was not to begin His preaching at once:

Matthew 4:1

1 Then was Jesus led up of the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil.


Cross-references

“Then,” immediately after His baptism, as soon as He had received the extraordinary communication of the Spirit. This same Spirit now filled His humanity and directed His actions, leading Him up, first of all, into the wilderness, causing Him to make the journey into the solitude of the desert, the haunt of wild beasts rather than the abode of men, Mark 1:13. It was a voluntary trip on the part of Jesus, His single concern being to fulfil, in all things, the will of His heavenly Father, Psalm 40:7-8; Hebrews 10: 7, 9, though the weakness of His human nature may have required some urging, Mark 1:12. For the object of this retirement was not merely to afford an opportunity for blessed rest and joy, nor to offer a chance for weighty contemplation as to the methods of revealing Himself to His people after the manner of a Buddha or a Mohammed, but to be tempted of the devil. The entire period of solitary living was occupied with this temptation, Mark 1:13; Luke 4:2. This combating of the devil was a part of the office and work for which He was sent by God and anointed with the Spirit. As the arch-enemy of mankind had tempted and overcome the first Adam, thus plunging the entire human race into condemnation, so he now proposed to vanquish the second Adam by hindering or frustrating the work of redemption. “Led up of the Spirit”: “tempted of the devil” — a powerful contrast!

A severe test, even from the standpoint of Christ’s physical nature:

Matthew 4:2

2 And when He had fasted forty days and forty nights, He was afterward an hungred.


Cross-references

The expression indicates that it was a spontaneous, voluntary desisting from food, the severity of the trials, the mental preoccupation caused by the temptations, stifling the ordinary desire for nourishment, somewhat after the manner of Moses, Exodus 34:28, and Elijah, 1 Kings 19:8. But this entire abstinence from food, which possibly included also drink, was not in the nature of an ascetic exercise. “That is also the reason why the evangelist at the beginning with great care sets down and says: He was driven into the wilderness by the Spirit that He fast and be tempted there, in order that no one may follow the example from his own choice and make a selfish, self-willed, and assumed fasting out of it, but wait for the Spirit; He will send him enough of fasting and temptation.” [Luther, 11, 534]

Of the many and various assaults which the devil employed during the forty days, Matthew and also Luke mention three incidents which took place at the end of this period. Note that the chronological sequence of the events here narrated is a minor consideration. The evangelist’s chief aim is to picture the cunning manner of the temptation:

Matthew 4:3

3 And when the tempter came to Him, he said, If Thou be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread.


Cross-references

The word tempter applied to the devil fittingly describes his evil work, his constant occupation, his ceaseless attacks, Luke 22:31; 1 Thessalonians 3:5. The time and the form of this temptation were chosen with crafty calculation. Hunger naturally diminishes the resistance of the body, both physically and mentally; it enfeebles and irritates the mind and interferes with sound judgment. The wily suggestion might therefore easily find a favorable reception. Even the phrasing of the devil’s insinuation should be noted: in harmony with his character, couched in the form of a question, implying a doubt, both as to the divine sonship of the Savior and as to His ability to provide food for Himself by miraculous means. As though he were saying: “I cannot believe that Thou art the Son of God; give me some proof. Speak, in order that these stones lying about on the desert floor may be turned, by a miracle, into loaves.” To yield to the request would have meant: giving up to the spirit of evil and darkness, lack of trust in the divine Providence and support, letting selfishness rule rather than practising self-sacrifice.

The Savior equal to the occasion:

Matthew 4:4

4 But He answered and said, It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.


Cross-references

The most powerful and effective weapon: a simple statement of Scripture truth, Deut. 8, 3. Jesus readily concedes the usual order of things, the dependence of man upon food for the ordinary means to live. But He declares that God is not bound by these means, but may support life by a word of His mouth. He thus frankly puts His trust in His Father, depending for the keeping of His earthly life, not on any foolish intermeddling with God’s ways, nor on satanic device and agency, but on the power of His Word alone. And this is true in general. “All creatures are God’s masks and mummeries, whom He will permit to work with Him and help carry out various things, which He otherwise, without their assistance, can do and actually does, in order that we may depend upon His Word alone, thus: If bread be there, that we do not have the more trust; or if none be there, that we on that account do not despair the more; but use it when it is there, and do without when it is not there, in full assurance that we yet live and are nourished at either time through the Word of God, whether there be bread or no bread. With such faith avarice, gluttony, and temporal worry concerning food is vanquished.” [Luther, 11, 539]. “He who would guard himself against such temptation may learn here from Christ that a person has two kinds of bread. The first and best bread, which comes down from heaven, is the Word of God; the other and more unimportant is the earthly bread which grows out of the ground. If, now, I have the first and best, the bread from heaven, and do not permit myself to be diverted therefrom, then the earthly bread will also not fail or remain away, the stones must rather turn to bread.” [Luther, 13, 1687]

Repulsed, but not routed, the devil seeks a new line of attack:

Matthew 4:5-6

5 Then the devil taketh Him up into the holy city, and setteth Him on a pinnacle of the temple, 6a And saith unto Him, If thou be the Son of God, cast Thyself down:


Cross-references

His attempt to produce distrust in God’s ability to sustain life under unusual conditions having failed, Satan tries to plant the seed of self-glorification and presumption in the heart of Jesus. He shows greater boldness, taking the Lord to himself as his companion, practically seizing hold of Him, and carrying Him along to Jerusalem, called by the evangelist, as with affection, the Holy City. Here he set Him on the pinnacle of the Temple. This refers either to the southwest corner of the Temple court, where Herod had erected a gallery of great height, from whose dizzy top the depth of the Kidron Valley below was intensified to the eye, in which case the dangerousness of a leap would have given added force to the devil’s urging; or Matthew has in mind the high roof of the Most Holy Place, the highest elevation of the Temple proper. A daring jump, an ostentatious miracle it would have been if Jesus, in the presence of the assembled multitude, had cast Himself down from this prominent point and reached the ground unharmed. By yielding to the devil at this suggestion, He might in an hour have gained more followers than the entire number of disciples amounted to whom He gathered by the laborious method of teaching.

Having been rendered cautious by his first experience, the enemy determined to ward off a second quotation from Scriptures by quoting a passage in his own favor:

Matthew 4:6

6b for it is written, He shall give His angels charge concerning Thee: and in their hands they shall bear Thee up, lest at any time Thou dash Thy foot against a stone.


Cross-references

The devil truly can quote Scriptures to his purpose, in the manner peculiar to him, with the omission of an essential part. For in the text referred to, Psalm 91:11-12, the words, “To keep Thee in all Thy ways,” are indispensable for a correct interpretation. It is not in the ways of a man’s own choosing that the protecting hand of God is assured him, but in the ways which agree with the rational order and the laws of the universe.

This is implied in the answer of the Lord. Note that He does not even take the trouble of rebuking Satan for misquoting Scriptures:

Matthew 4:7

7 Jesus said unto him, It is written again, Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God.


Cross-references

He offers, not a contradiction, but a qualification, to emphasize the necessity of explaining Scripture through Scripture. A significant fact: Jesus quotes the passage to which He refers, Deuteronomy 6:16, in the singular, thus making application of its truth to Himself in this instance. The leap from the pinnacle just then would not only have meant seeking escape from the cross at the cost of duty, but it would have been a bold challenge of Providence upon false understanding of the Bible, and so sinful in itself. The Lord’s method of handling the situation must be that of every Christian. “Now, this is such a temptation as no one understands unless he has tried it. For just as the first drives to despair, so this one drives to presumption and to such works as surely do not have God’s word and command. There a Christian should choose the golden mean that he neither despair nor be bold, but remain simply with the Word in true trust and faith. Then shall the good angels be with him; otherwise not.” [Luther, 13, 1690]

And still the devil is not overcome:

Matthew 4:8

8 Again, the devil taketh Him up into an exceeding high mountain, and sheweth Him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them;


Cross-references

Once more the tempter attacks; there is no ceasing in his efforts to destroy God’s work, 1 Peter 5:8. And he has great power, he controls, to some extent, the forces and the wealth of the earth, as a prince of the power of the air, Ephesians 2:2. Cp. John 12:31; John 14:30; John 16:11; Ephesians 6:12. A stratagem of magic the devil here employed, to conjure up the wealth and the glories of all earth’s kingdoms in an alluring, almost irresistibly appealing picture, all in a moment of time, Luke 4:5. The location of the exceeding high mountain here referred to is immaterial, also the question whether the picture was a physical demonstration or a mental suggestion. The main fact in Matthew’s narrative is the refined subtlety, but also the extreme denseness of the tempter:

Matthew 4:9

9 And saith unto Him, All these things will I give Thee, if Thou wilt fall down and worship me.


Cross-references

For an ordinary human being no proposition, in itself, could have been more attractive. What a dazzling picture of absolute sway over the world and possession of its glory was here offered to the lowly and rejected descendant of David! But what folly to presume upon the unlimited disposition of the wealth and grandeur of the world in the presence of Him who of right holds all the nations of the earth as His inheritance and the utmost ends of the world as His possession! The condition of Satan demanding homage to him as the superior was therefore almost naively awkward. But he staked all on this last powerful appeal to worldly ambition, involving the wilful yielding to the most heinous form of idolatry.

Jesus meets the insult with proper dignity:

Matthew 4:10

10 Then saith Jesus unto him, Get thee hence, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and Him only shalt thou serve.


Cross-references

Here Jesus rises in the power of His supreme authority, and passionately repels the Satanic suggestion. In the Greek we have here a single word: Begone! Out of My sight! It is a peremptory command. It terminates the disagreeable companionship which the devil had thrust upon the Lord. He applies the epithet “Satan” to the tempter, that is, adversary, enemy, 1 Kings 11:14; Psalm 109:6, since he not only interferes with Christ’s Messianic work, but is, from the beginning, the arch-enemy of all mankind. Yet He condescends to support His majestic dismissal with a Scripture text, Deuteronomy 6:13, adapting it to the present circumstances. Jehovah alone is worthy of honor and glory and adoration; to Him only shall the ministering of divine service, of religious veneration, be made.

This last demonstration of almighty authority decided the day:

Matthew 4:11

11 Then the devil leaveth Him, and, behold, angels came and ministered unto Him.


Cross-references

The enemy’s rout was complete, the glorious supremacy of the Lord, not only over man, but also over the spiritual world, had been established. For a season, at least, the devil departed from Him, Luke 4, 13. And angels came and acted as His servants, not primarily in bringing Him food, but in giving Him the assurance of the sympathetic understanding and the heavenly support which He now enjoyed on the part of all good spirits, thus ministering to Him with a comfort destined to sustain Him in the days to come. All Christians should take note: “This, however, is written for our consolation, that we know many angels serve us, whereas only one devil tempts us; if we but fight gallantly and stand, God will not let us suffer want. Rather must the angels come from heaven and become our bakers, waiters, and cooks, and serve us in every necessity. It is not written for the sake of Christ, who is not in need of it. If the angels have ministered unto Him, let them also serve us…. We should therefore be well equipped with God’s Word, in order that we may defend and sustain ourselves with it. Our dear Lord Jesus Christ, who Himself conquered these temptations for our sakes, give us strength that through Him we may overcome and be saved.” [Luther, 11, 545; 13, 1693]


Verses 12-25

The beginning of the Galilean ministry and the call of the four

With a few rapid strokes the evangelist now sketches the opening of the Messianic work of Christ in Galilee. He is not so much concerned about offering a chronological sequence of events as about grouping the incidents so as to present a continuous narrative. He here omits the return of Jesus to the Jordan, John 1:35, His journey to Galilee, John 1:41, the marriage at Cana, the trip to Capernaum and that to Jerusalem before the imprisonment of John, and His ministry in Samaria, John 3-4. He gives a summary of Christ’s varied activities in the North by way of introduction:

Matthew 4:12

12 Now when Jesus had heard that John was cast into prison, He departed into Galilee;


Cross-references

In his usual fearless manner, John the Baptist had felt no hesitation about reproving Herod Antipas, the ethnarch of Galilee and Perea, for his adulterous union with Herodias, his niece and already the wife of his half-brother, Herod Philip. The consequence was that the enraged princess caused his imprisonment, Luke 3:19-20; Mark 6:17. John’s last field of activity had been in Aenon, John 3:23, and he probably had extended his labors into Galilee. When the mouth of this faithful witness had been silenced, Jesus knew that the time had come for Him openly to enter upon His work as prophet. His ministry in Galilee began when the Baptist’s came to an end, John 3:30.

His home town naturally came first:

Matthew 4:13

13 And leaving Nazareth, he came and dwelt in Capernaum, which is upon the sea coast, in the borders of Zabulon and Nephthalim:


Cross-references

The unpleasant reception which was accorded Him at Nazareth, Luke 4:16-30, caused Him to make His stay there very brief. He went to settle, to make His home, in Capernaum, which appears throughout the gospel accounts as the center of the Lord’s Galilean ministry. It was a thriving city on the Sea of Galilee, on the great road from Damascus to the Mediterranean Sea. In fulfilment of Christ’s prophecy, Matthew 11:23, this commercial metropolis was later so utterly destroyed that its very site in a region of ruined towns is doubtful, Tell Hum being now commonly conceded to have been the ancient location. [Barton, Archeology and the Bible, 98]

The evangelist locates the city only sufficiently exactly to pave the way for another prophetic reference:

Matthew 4:14-16

14 That it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Esaias the prophet, saying, 15 The land of Zabulon, and the land of Nephthalim, by the way of the sea, beyond Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles; 16 The people which sat in darkness saw great light; and to them which sat in the region and shadow of death light is sprung up.


Cross-references

What Isaiah had written, Isaiah 8:22; Isaiah 9:1-2, found its fulfilment in the ministry of Jesus in this region. Here the tribes Zebulun and Naphthali had formerly had their homes; their country lay towards or alongside of the sea; it was a place where races mix, a border population, mainly on this side, the west side of the Jordan, according to Hebrew usage of the word, or beyond Jordan, according to the Greek usage, containing a reference to Perea, which was also a scene of Christ’s activity. Of this mixed population of Jews and Gentiles, in whose midst the Greek rulers had founded new cities with heathen customs and institutions, the evangelist says, in applying the words of the prophet, that they sat in darkness. The spiritual condition of the people was such as to represent an increase in religious blindness even over the time of Isaiah, nearly 700 years before. And the evangelist repeats the verb “sat.” Theirs was an indifferent, sluggish attitude. The shadow of spiritual death had enveloped them. It effectually shut out the light of life streaming from the Old Testament prophecies. But now “Jesus Christ, the true Light, shone forth in the beauty of holiness and truth. Christ began His ministry in Galilee and frequented this uncultivated place more than He did Jerusalem and other parts of Judea. Here His preaching was peculiarly needful; and by this was the prophecy fulfilled.” [Clarke, Commentary, 5, 60]

The form of Christ’s message was familiar to the people:

Matthew 4:17

17 From that time Jesus began to preach, and to say, Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.


Cross-references

It had been uttered by John the Baptist in his urgent appeal for a change of heart. But with Jesus it had a greater significance. He must needs preach repentance in order to prepare the way for the proclamation of salvation. He acted, not as a guide to a distant and coming salvation, but as the herald of the kingdom of grace now at hand in Himself. His plea was for a change from the old to the new, from the prophecy and type to the fulfilment. In this way the day-star arose in Christ and His Gospel, and had now begun to shine upon those that were covered with darkness, in order that they might see this light and rejoice in its merciful illumination and warmth.

The calling of disciples one of Christ’s first official acts:

Matthew 4:18

18 And Jesus, walking by the sea of Galilee, saw two brethren, Simon called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea: for they were fishers.


Cross-references

The Sea of Galilee, also called Lake Gennesaret, Luke 5:1, and Sea of Tiberias, John 21:1, is a small body of water formed by the river Jordan, having an average length of thirteen and an average width of about seven miles. Its water is fresh and clear, and contains an abundance of fish. The hills on its western shore are low and calcareous in nature; the mountains rising along the eastern shore are much more prominent. Jesus deliberately followed the path along the shore out from Capernaum, attended by a great multitude that insisted upon His preaching to them, Luke 5:1. It was then that He saw Simon, whom He had called Cephas at the first meeting, John 1:42, the Aramaic equivalent of Peter, and his brother Andrew, of Bethsaida, plying their trade as fishermen. Both of these men were not unknown to the Lord, having been with Him in the plains of the Jordan, John 1:40-42, and later at Cana. Having come with Jesus into the neighborhood of their home, they had returned to their old occupation. At His word also they cast their nets into the sea for the miraculous draft, Luke 5:4-6.

But the Lord had need of them:

Matthew 4:19-20

19 And He saith unto them, Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men. 20 And they straightway left their nets, and followed Him.


Cross-references

This was not a request for mere companionship, but an authoritative, though genial call to apostleship, couched in language which would appeal to their unlearned minds. They had been His disciples, but without special obligation as to attending Him; they were now chosen as His steady followers, to be trained for their great and high calling. “That was the beginning and the first call, namely, to hear the Gospel of Christ the Lord. For should they preach to others, they must first hear and learn it. Afterward, when they should preach to others, the Lord calls them by another call and gives them command how and wherein they should comport themselves, Matthew 10.” [Luther, 11, 1910]. Jesus calls them, most appropriately, “fishers of men,” since He wanted to train them to gain immortal souls for heaven, though they were but simple, unlearned men, “in order that the power and strength of God be indicated in this that He began such a great work with such lowly, simple people, and also performs it; in order that every one should understand that this is not done out of human power, but out of divine power and might.” [Luther, 11, 1917]. In this way their secular employment served as the emblem of their spiritual calling. How deeply the presence and teaching of Christ had impressed these poor Galilean fishermen appears from the fact that there was no hesitation, no conferring with flesh and blood. At once they left their nets, gave up their earthly calling, forsook all, and followed Him, became His disciples and theological students.

Others joined them on the same day:

Matthew 4:21-22

21 And going on from thence, He saw other two brethren, James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, in a ship with Zebedee their father, mending their nets; and He called them. 22 And they immediately left the ship and their father, and followed Him.


Cross-references

This occurred in the same neighborhood as the event just recorded and in immediate conjunction with it, Luke 5:10. John had probably been among those that followed Jesus at the Jordan, John 1:35-40, and had, in the mean time, also told his older brother James of his wonderful experience. Therefore, although they were busily engaged with the routine of their calling, and although the call of Jesus implied the severing of family ties, there was just as little hesitation on their part. The honor of serving their Lord, even in poverty and humility, outweighs any and all temporal considerations.

With these men, as the nucleus of a loyal band of disciples, Jesus now entered upon His Galilean ministry, of which Matthew here gives a summary, in the form of an introduction to the succeeding chapters:

Matthew 4:23

23 And Jesus went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the Gospel of the kingdom, and healing all manner of sickness and all manner of disease among the people.


Cross-references

All of Galilee was His field of activity, not only Upper Galilee with its fertile valleys, but also Lower Galilee with its many prosperous villages dotting the landscape. In His journeyings back and forth Jesus was busily engaged, continually active, in the three functions of His ministry. He taught in the synagogs, or schools, of the Jews, principally by expounding the Old Testament; He preached the Gospel of the kingdom, the glorious news of the Messianic redemption; He healed the sick, not merely by mental suggestion, as many would have it, but by deliberate application of His divine power, for every form of disease and ailment was represented.

The result was natural:

Matthew 4:24

24 And His fame went throughout all Syria: and they brought unto Him all sick people that were taken with divers diseases and torments, and those which were possessed with devils, and those which were lunatick, and those that had the palsy; and He healed them.


Cross-references

Throughout the Syrian country, most likely along the road frequented by caravans, the accounts of the Lord’s miraculous powers were spread. And so all those that were tormented or afflicted with any kind of ailment were brought to Christ by their relatives or friends. There is a formal catalog of diseases. There were minor painful disorders that required the touch of His healing hand. There were demoniacs, such as were subject to disease through the influence of unclean spirits; there were lunatics, or epileptics, upon whom changes in the sidereal bodies, especially the phases of the moon, had an ill effect; there were paralytics, those that were palsied as the result of nervous disorders and atmospheric changes. And of them all the evangelist has the same to say, telling it in just three words: “He healed them.” The power of the sickness had to yield before the omnipotence of the divine Healer.

With His fame grew the number of His followers:

Matthew 4:25

25 And there followed Him great multitudes of people from Galilee, and from Decapolis, and from Jerusalem, and from Judaea, and from beyond Jordan.


Cross-references

The extraordinary impression which this Prophet of Nazareth created was not confined to Galilee. People came from Decapolis, the southern part of Gaulanitis, southeast of Lake Gennesaret, whose population was predominantly Grecian. They thought nothing of the long journey from the extreme South, from haughty Judea, from exclusive Jerusalem, from far-distant Perea, beyond the Jordan from Judea. All wanted to see and hear the man whose miracles were astounding the nation.

Summary

Jesus, having successfully withstood the temptation of the devil after His forty-day fast, entered upon His Galilean ministry of teaching, preaching, and healing, Peter, Andrew, James, and John being His first disciples.


Chapter 5

Verses 1-12

The Beatitudes

The section of Matthew’s Gospel included in chapters 5-7 is one of the most beautiful and impressive in the entire New Testament. In the simplest language, but with singular force and pertinency Jesus here gave a summary of His moral teaching, the doctrine “of the fruits and good works of a Christian,” as Luther writes. For the Sermon on the Mount is not the proclamation of the Gospel, but preaching of the Law. To awaken and promote the realization and the sense, not only of comparative weakness and insufficiency in spiritual matters, but of a total and utter inability to think and speak and act in conformity with the holy will of God; to bring about the humiliating, but incidentally the most blessed conviction as to one’s being wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked in spiritual things, Revelation 3:17; and to teach the regenerated that without Him we can do nothing, and thus lead them on the way of true sanctification: that was the object of Christ in delivering this wonderful sermon.

The time and place for this great lesson were chosen by Jesus with particular care. He had spent the night in prayer on a mountain and had then separated twelve of His disciples to be apostles, Luke 6:12-16. He was now on His way to the valley:

Matthew 5:1

1a And seeing the multitudes, He went up into a mountain:


Cross-references

The people were crowding to Him in increasing numbers. They came to hear Him, they insisted upon touching Him, to be healed of various diseases, Luke 6:17-19. To get away from the crowds below, whose eagerness threatened to overwhelm Him, Jesus ascended the mountain once more. Its name and location would be interesting for sentimental reasons only. On the higher slopes of the hill the people had no chance to throng Him:

Matthew 5:1

1b and when He was set, His disciples came unto Him:


Cross-references

Not only the apostles, though they were surely in the front ranks, but His disciples in general, now become a considerable band, gathered about Him. To them His discourse was chiefly addressed, though the others were by no means excluded. Here was an ideal location to give instruction without distraction, far from the din of the jostling crowd, above the bustle and the sultry heat of the region below.

A solemn and dramatic description of the beginning of a weighty discourse:

Matthew 5:2

2 And he opened his mouth, and taught them, saying,


Cross-references

It was a confidential, awe-inspiring communication of the great Teacher which the evangelist records, Job 3:1; Daniel 10:16; Psalm 78:2. A well-prepared, carefully outlined discourse is given, in which reference to existing deplorable conditions was made with utter fearlessness. “That also, as stated above, belongs to a preacher that he does not keep his mouth closed, and not only publicly performs his office that every one must keep silence and permit him to come forth as one that has divine right and command, but also opens his mouth cheerfully and confidently, that is, to preach the truth and what is committed to him; not keep silence or speak indistinctly, but without dread and terror confess and speak plainly, without regarding or sparing any one’s person, let it strike whom or what it will.” [Luther, 11, 353. 354. cf. 7, 350-677] Jesus taught them, not only His disciples, but all whom His voice would reach. It was teaching that He gave them, not preaching; Jesus is here the Master and Teacher, not the Evangelist and Prophet.

His first words strike the key-note of the entire discourse:

Matthew 5:3

3 Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.


Cross-references

The reference of Jesus here is not primarily to temporal poverty, to earthly misery, as in other passages of the New Testament, 1 Corinthians 1:26-28; James 2:5. He is speaking of the poor and miserable “in spirit,” those that shrink and cower with fear and dread, that are tremblingly alive to the wants and needs of their soul, that feel in their own heart, so far as spiritual riches are concerned, nothing but a great void, a despair of their own abilities, Matthew 11:5, 28; Isaiah 61:1; Isaiah 62:2; Psalm 70:5. Such as these, who are conscious, painfully aware, of their moral deficiencies, the Lord calls blessed, happy. If they were still under the mistaken impression that they were spiritually rich and wanted nothing, they might deceive themselves into a false security which would prevent their gaining the true riches, the only abiding happiness. But as conditions are, no false pride will keep them from accepting the unsearchable riches of the kingdom of heaven, which are theirs by grace. For the kingdom of heaven is the sum total of all the gifts of God in Christ Jesus as they are enjoyed here on earth in the Christian Church and finally above, in the kingdom of glory. This being true, and the riches of the kingdom being even now in their possession, the disciples should strive all the more diligently to cultivate the poverty which the Lord here praises, and to exercise themselves in it daily.

Closely connected with this thought is the next:

Matthew 5:4

4 Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.


Cross-references

The disciples are subject to conditions and circumstances which cause, which bring about, mourning, Luke 6:21, 25; John 16:20; Acts 14:22. But the chief reason for their lamenting lies in the fact that they feel their spiritual poverty, grieving over the barrenness of their carnal nature, that separates them from the fountain of blessedness. This grief on account of the absence, because of the loss of spiritual possessions, is a deep and burdensome sorrow. It realizes, in keen repentance, sin and its results, both in him who grieves and in others. Its evil effects, however, shall be prevented lest they lead into despair. “As also Christ places just these words, and promises the consolation that they do not despair in their grief, nor let their heart’s joy be taken entirely and extinguished, but mingle such mourning with the comfort and refreshment; otherwise, if they never had any comfort or joy, they would have to become faint and withered.” [Luther, 7, 368] And therefore they will be comforted. Their bitter sorrow will be converted into ultimate, abounding consolation and gladness, Romans 14:17. The very Messianic kingdom with its message of hope is called the comfort of Israel, Luke 2:25.

These two conditions form the prerequisite for the third beatitude:

Matthew 5:5

5 Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.


Cross-references

Their heart is not filled with self-righteousness, pride, and conceit. They are bowed down with grief, and therefore are ready and willing to endure with a meek spirit, Psalm 37:11. To suffer and to bear uncomplainingly is their characteristic; there is no obstinate arrogance in their behavior. “For it will not fail to be forthcoming: thy neighbor will sometimes maltreat thee or otherwise overstep the bounds, either inadvertently or deliberately. If it be inadvertently, thou on thy part wilt not make it good by thy refusal or inability to bear it. But if it be malice, thou wilt but make him worse by hostile pawing and stamping; while he laughs and satisfies his desire to provoke thee to anger and do thee harm, in order that thou mayest have no peace nor enjoy what is thine with quietness.” [Luther, 7, 372]. The disciples of Christ, however, with meek and tender hearts, will be blessed and happy, since they have the promise of the earth as their inheritance. This statement, in its paradoxical form, is most startling. The expression, as the Lord uses it, cannot be referred to spiritual gifts only, though these doubtless are included. Jesus emphasizes the fact that meekness, by God’s will, is a “world-conquering principle.” As rightful lords of creation those whom the promise of Christ here concerns shall use God’s temporal gifts with a good conscience, 1 Corinthians 3:22, and be sure that God’s bounty will provide. “The expression ‘inherit the earth’ here means to possess all manner of goods here on earth. Not that each one should occupy a whole country, otherwise God would have to create more worlds, but the goods which God confers upon every one, that He gives him wife, children, cattle, house, home, and what belongs thereto, that he may remain definitely in the land where he lives and be master of his possessions, as Scripture commonly says.” [Luther, 7, 369]

Having named a few negative virtues, the Lord next mentions some positive qualifications which should characterize His disciples:

Matthew 5:6

6 Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.


Cross-references

This righteousness is not that of Christ, imputed by faith, in which case this one sentence of Gospel would be out of place in the admonitions concerning the life and behavior of His followers. It is the external righteousness before the world, the piety of life which He here urges. “Therefore understand here the external righteousness before the world, as we comport ourselves one toward another. That this, briefly and simply, is the meaning of these words: That is a truly blessed person that always continues and with all his might strives after this, that all things everywhere be in proper order and every person do right, and helps to hold and further such a condition with words and deeds, with counsel and action.” [Luther, 7, 373]. The disciples of Christ should hunger and thirst, be extremely eager for the possession of such piety, in order to receive the blessing of a full and complete satisfaction. This is God’s reward of mercy for virtue, not only the happy conviction of things well done, but, according to His will, also temporal recompense, Psalm 37:25; Isaiah 3:10; Proverbs 11:18-19; Proverbs 14:34, and finally an acknowledgment of the virtue in heaven, Psalm 36:9; Revelation 7:16; Psalm 17:15.

One of the chief proofs of the Christian’s piety is mercy:

Matthew 5:7

7 Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.


Cross-references

A heart filled with deep sympathy and sincere compassion for the temporal and spiritual need of the neighbor, that is deeply concerned for, and earnestly endeavors to do good to, all men, especially such as are of the household of faith, is well-pleasing to the Lord. And all the efforts thus made, insignificant as they may seem even in the Christian’s own estimation, will receive, as a reward of mercy, the compassion of God Himself.

But hypocritical behavior will not stand the test of His scrutiny:

Matthew 5:8

8 Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.


Cross-references

A mere outward purity in keeping the ceremonial injunctions of the Law is not sufficient in the economy of God. He desires such hearts as keep themselves pure, unsullied with the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, Isaiah 1:16; James 4:8; 2 Corinthians 6:17. But this purity finds its expression also in single-mindedness of purpose which throws off every restraining, distracting thought and seeks the Lord and His kingdom with undivided heart, Philippians 2:12. Happy, blessed are they that are found practising such purity, for their reward again outstrips their fondest hopes. Even in this life they shall see God with the eyes of the spirit, lifting them up, in joyful confidence, to the God of their salvation, Isaiah 17:7; Micah 7:7; Psalm 25:15. But the very essence of heavenly bliss will be the seeing of God face to face in the life to come, Psalm 17:15; Psalm 42:3; Job 19:27.

A third positive Christian virtue, reflecting the perfection of Christ Himself:

Matthew 5:9

9 Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.


Cross-references

The disciples of Jesus are children of peace: they not merely have peace in their own souls through purity, they are not merely peace-loving, but they are active, strenuous promoters of peace in the midst of a world torn asunder by hatred, party interest, and every form of alienation, Romans 12:18; Psalm 34:15; Mark 9:50; 2 Timothy 2:22; Hebrews 12:14. In using their best offices in the interest of assuaging passions, of settling sectional strife, they prove themselves true children of God, who has only thoughts of peace toward all men. This is their reward of grace: God is their Father, Christ is their Brother, heaven is their heritage, their home, 1 Peter 3:10-11; Isaiah 57:2.

It is inevitable that the reproach of Christ will strike the disciples in their endeavor to follow these rules, and so Jesus adds:

Matthew 5:10

10 Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.


Cross-references

In living these principles of Jesus and thus confessing Christ before men, the righteousness of the Christians’ lives tends to make them conspicuous before men, to make them seem different from, morally cleaner than, the others. And therefore the children of the world will resent this aloofness, construing their attitude as a criticism of their own behavior. The hatred of the world because of this belief results in persecution, John 15:19. The consolation of the followers of Christ, in that case, is that the various evidences of hatred which they must endure will be more than outweighed by their heritage, the kingdom of heaven.

Jesus applies this to His immediate disciples:

Matthew 5:11

11 Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for My sake.


Cross-references

These are a few of the forms in which the hatred of the enemies will be likely to manifest itself. It is a persistent, continuous persecution by word and deed, especially hard to bear because of malicious lies which implied, and accused the disciples of, all manner of evil. There are two facts that serve to console them. The statements thus made are deliberate lies due entirely to violent prejudice. And the hatred of men strikes them for His name’s sake. It is a distinction, an honor, to suffer in His interest, because they bear His name.

In spite of the persecutions, then:

Matthew 5:12

12 Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.


Cross-references

Joy, gladness in the highest measure is possible, an irrepressible exhibition of exultation is expected of Christ’s followers. For all the hatred that can be poured out by the enemies cannot be measured against, cannot come into consideration in comparison with, the reward of grace in heaven. They will be more than amply repaid for all the disagreeable show of hatred which they were compelled to endure here, Romans 8:17-18; 2 Corinthians 4:17. Another comfort which upholds them in their trial: they thereby become, in that respect at least, the equals of the prophets. It cannot be a source of lasting sorrow to endure for a time, knowing that the prophets of old were martyred in the same way, and yet endured the afflictions gladly for His name’s sake, 2 Chronicles 36:16; Hebrews 11:33-40. Therefore, take up the work and endure the suffering of those that were before you, knowing that their reward will be yours also. [Cp. Lehre und Wehre, 1913, Mai-Juli]


Verses 13-16

The chief functions of the disciples in the world

The Lord continues to address His disciples directly:

Matthew 5:13

13 Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be salted? it is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men.


Cross-references

Having experienced the sanctifying power of the Word and Spirit of Jesus, the disciples are a salt. Note the four main qualities of salt: It is white and pure, it prevents rapid decay, it preserves nutriment and flavor, it renders the food palatable and healthy. The Christians are the salt of the earth; their business is to prevent its decay and putrefaction, to use every effort that the moral rottenness of the children of the world does not become excessive and render every class and age of society putrid by its infection, 1 Corinthians 15:33. This is not an easy task. But “our defiance, when things go badly, and when the world and the devil give us evil looks, and are as angry as they wish, is this, that He says to us: Ye are the salt of the earth. Where this word shines into the heart that it puts its trust in that and glories without doubting that we are God’s salt, then let every one be thoroughly angry that will not laugh. I can and may put more defiance and boasting upon a single word of His than they upon their might, swords, and guns.” [Luther, 7, 406]. If this salt now loses its flavor, it becomes insipid. This is true only of salt that undergoes a chemical process, either by being exposed to rain or by being stored for some length of time, as travelers from the Holy Land report. The figure of Christ is thus particularly apt. Insipid, saltless salt is really a contradiction in itself, and Christians that have lost their distinctive properties have ceased to influence their surroundings for good, have also lost their discipleship. As savorless salt has no value whatever and is treated as refuse; as a certain species of bituminous salt found in Judea which very rapidly became flat and tasteless was spread out in a court of the Temple to prevent slipping in wet weather, so the Christians that have ceased to apply themselves to their business of acting as a moral power in the world, will partake of the judgment of the world. Luther probably is right in saying: “Therefore I have always admonished, as Christ also does here, that salt remain salt and not become insipid, that is, that the chief article of faith be urged. For if that ceases, then not one piece can remain, and everything is lost; there is neither faith nor understanding, and no one can teach or counsel properly any more.” [Luther, 7, 413]

The same admonition under a different figure:

Matthew 5:14-15

14 Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid. 15 Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house.


Cross-references

Christ is, strictly speaking, the only true light of the world, John 8:12; John 9:5; John 12:35. But His disciples partake of His nature; they are a light in and through Him; they receive their illumination as well as their power to give light to others from Him, 1 Thessalonians 5:5; Philippians 2:15; Ephesians 5:8. Their illumination, like His, is therefore not confined to their immediate neighborhood, but is supposed to extend to the ends of the world. So self-evident is this thought that Christ merely refers to a fact well known to His hearers. Many cities of the Holy Land, probably some of the smaller ones visible from the hill where they were assembled, were located on prominent elevations, and all Jews were familiar with Mount Zion. Cities thus situated could not be hid, they were the most conspicuous objects in the entire landscape. The Christians, by virtue of their discipleship, are like such a light, like such a city. Their very difference makes them marked people. That is as it should be, that agrees with the nature and with the object of their calling. To light a candle or a light, one of the small lamps used in Palestine, and then to place it under an overturned measure, a modius, an earthenware grain measure holding a little more than a peck, might be done occasionally for special reasons. But the purpose of such kindling was evidently another. The lamp should be placed on a stand, a small projecting stone in the wall in the cottages of the poor, or a lamp-stand in the form of a tripod, which could easily be moved about in the house. Then only can a lamp serve its purpose, namely, to illumine the house.

Jesus Himself applies the parable:

Matthew 5:16

16 Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.


Cross-references

The policy of obscuration, of hiding beliefs and convictions, is often urged by lukewarm Christians, so-called “reasons of prudence and wisdom: gradual accustoming of men to new ideas; deferences to the prejudices of good men; avoidance of rupture by premature outspokenness; but generally the true reason is fear of unpleasant consequences to oneself.” [Expositor’s Greek Testament, 1, 103]. To think and act thus is deliberate disloyalty to Christ. Your light, given to you from above, not to be used according to expediency, but to shine; your light, not you, the object being not to make your person prominent, but your Christianity. The Christians, individually and collectively, should perform this task as their steady work. For the light which shall be thrown out from them in every direction, before all men, consists in their good works, the fruits of their regeneration, the proof of their being illuminated by Jesus. These should be seen by the people for a definite reason. All men that come in contact with their works shall be forced to draw conclusions as to the power that inspires them. And so the glory, the honor will be placed where it properly and exclusively belongs, will be given to the Father in heaven. This fact renders the admonition urgent by giving to it its real basis. Faith is the lamp; love is the light; the good works are the illumination. As little as the lamp can pride itself upon its light, so little can the Christians glory in their good works; all glory must be God’s.


Verses 17-37

Christ confirms and expounds the Law of Moses

Good works Jesus has just urged. He now proceeds to give a definition of good works from the Law. He makes clear His position with regard to the Law:

Matthew 5:17

17 Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil.


Cross-references

The teaching of the Kingdom, the Gospel which He came to proclaim, is a doctrine radically different from the teaching of Moses. But it does not invalidate the demands of the moral law as taught by Moses, it does not substitute a new moral law. Jesus rather emphasizes its proper understanding, and for that reason takes great pains to explain its spiritual content. He wants to fulfil, to bring out fully, the real import, to counteract the influence of the shallow, superficial explanation then in common use; and then to render a perfect obedience to the Law. He who might abrogate all its demands, who has power to modify any of its injunctions, places Himself under the Law, Galatians 4:4, and, by fulfilling its every letter, cancels the law of the letter. And He fulfils the prophets. Whatever, in the revelation of the Old Testament, is type and prophecy, finds its completion, its realization in Christ the Redeemer, Colossians 2:17.

Note the emphasis of His assertion:

Matthew 5:18

18 For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.


Cross-references

With a solemn oath Christ here affirms that the Law shall be retained also in the Church of the New Testament in the unabridged exercise of its strength. The whole Old Testament is a divine revelation, and so its minutest precept has religious significance which should find recognition and proper understanding in the New. So long as the earth shall stand, the sacredness of the Scripture of olden times shall remain so absolutely unimpaired that not even an iota, the smallest letter of the Hebrew alphabet, nor a tittle, the slight projecting point on some of its letters, shall fall to the ground. There is here a gleam of Gospel glory in the midst of the proclamation of the Law, implying a fulfilment which was to be made, and was in fact made, in and through the person of Jesus Christ.

In the mean time all men should know:

Matthew 5:19

19 Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.


Cross-references

Here is a conclusion. Since the above is Christ’s view, He is bound to take His stand with reference to the transgressors of that rule. He that dissolves, abrogates, sets aside even those commandments that seem small and of little import, he that disregards as much as one of the little horns or hooks, whose presence or absence may, indeed, change the meaning of an entire passage, falls under Christ’s sentence of condemnation, he is declared to be the least in the kingdom of heaven. The sincerity of his convictions will not be accepted as an excuse, and his fault will only be made greater by his extending the false opinion he holds by means of teaching. He shall be called the least, he shall be rejected in this kingdom, he shall be excluded from its glories. On the other hand, he that teaches in entire conformity with the Old Testament, that preaches not only the Gospel, but the Law in its great purpose of preparing the hearts, that keeps silence with regard to nothing, that does not add thereto nor take therefrom, he shall have a great name in the kingdom of heaven, he shall receive the reward of faithfulness. For this teaching is essential in educating men as to the true righteousness of life, in holding up before the Christians a proper rule of conduct.

How strongly this feature is brought out by the contrast:

Matthew 5:20

20 For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.


Cross-references

Not in the teachers of the people as they were then acknowledged, but only in Himself there would be the perfect realization of teaching and doing. The scribes were the accepted teachers of the Law, and many of them were members of the sect, or party, of the Pharisees. The chief accusation which Christ brought against these people is recorded in many passages of the Gospels; cp. Matthew 23. The feature of their doctrine and life was this, that they set aside the great for the little, the divine for the sake of the traditional. The result was a slavish observing of externals, which gave them a great show of piety before the people, an impression which they were very cafeful to nourish. So far as the great majority of these sectarians was concerned, their hearts were far from true piety and righteousness of the heart, which seeks, in true love of one’s neighbor, to do the will of God in word and deed. Wherever such is the case, there is no faith, and therefore no idea of entering into the kingdom of heaven.

The Lord now proceeds to prove His condemning statement by expounding a few of the commandments of the Law according to their full spiritual significance:

Matthew 5:21

21 Ye have heard that it was said of them of old time, Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment:


Cross-references

They were accustomed to hear this in the regular synagog services, where the reading of the Law was never omitted. It was said both to them of old time, Exodus 20:13; Deuteronomy 5:17; Genesis 9:5-6, and by them of old time, in the precepts delivered by tradition from father to son as well as by the teachers of the people, 2 Chronicles 17:7-9, but the addition, fixing the penalty, was made in the interpretation of the rabbis. But by this explanation the meaning of “kill” was restricted to actual murder, and the commandment of God became a mere external legal enactment. The end of the transgression was penalized, but the beginning, in desires, in thoughts, in words, was not restrained. “Behold, that is the beautiful holiness of the Pharisees, which can cleanse itself, and remain pious, so long as it does not kill with the hand, though the heart be filled with anger, hatred, and envy, the tongue also with cursing and blaspheming.” [Luther, 7, 429]

Christ’s exposition is not so narrow:

Matthew 5:22

22 But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire.


Cross-references

The statement of the Lord is very general: Every one, none excepted; it is a universal prohibition of angry passion. He that gives way to such wrath is guilty of judgment, of condemnation. Anger against a brother, any member of the human family, is a deadly sin. It should properly come under the jurisdiction of the council or court, Deuteronomy 16:18; 2 Chronicles 19:5. This is speaking relatively. The person that gives way to anger is as great an offender in God’s sight as the one that slays his brother in cold blood, Galatians 5:20; Colossians 3:8; James 1:19-20. The same condemnation, but with greater emphasis, falls upon him that cannot control his anger, permitting it to burst forth in maledictions. Raca is an Aramaic word meaning an empty head, a stupid. The one using angry epithets of this nature is guilty of the Sanhedrin, the supreme council of the Jews that tried the worst offenses and inflicted the severest penalties. Anger that is not quickly controlled will become hatred combined with contempt, and freely indulge in railing, 1 Peter 3:9. A still greater insult lies in the epithet, “Thou fool,” which was used to denote a good-for-nothing, hopeless, helpless, morally worthless fool, and expressed contempt for a man’s heart and character. This expression of utter disregard of the fellow-man’s position in the eyes of God is an offense equal to that of murder, it is a damnable sin, 1 John 3:15; Revelation 21:8. It is punishable by the fire of Hinnom, the valley where the refuse of Jerusalem was burned — a figure often used by Jesus in speaking of the punishment of hell-fire.

Jesus presents the positive side of His exposition:

Matthew 5:23-24

23 Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee; 24 Leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift.


Cross-references

The forgiving attitude is pictured from a happening which was very frequent among the Jews, with which they were thoroughly familiar. A Jew might bring his Corban, his gift, used of every kind of bloody and unbloody sacrifice which was brought to the Temple, Matthew 8:4; Matthew 15:5; Matthew 23:8. But in the very act of handing it to the officiating priest at the altar there comes the remembrance. It suddenly flashes into his mind that he has been guilty of an act or a word which might have provoked a brother. The natural way of dealing with the situation might seem to be to keep on with the worship, get through as quickly as possible, and then hurry to make peace with the offended. But Christ tells us to interrupt our worship and go on the errand of seeking forgiveness first, though it may seem profane to do so. It is more important that the heart be free from anxiety for a brother’s peace of mind than that an external rite be performed: mercy before sacrifice. There will be plenty of time for sacrificing afterward. Cp. Isaiah 58:4-7.

The same truth in a different parable:

Matthew 5:25-26

25 Agree with thine adversary quickly, whiles thou art in the way with him; lest at any time the adversary deliver thee to the judge, and the judge deliver thee to the officer, and thou be cast into prison. 26 Verily I say unto thee, Thou shalt by no means come out thence, till thou hast paid the uttermost farthing.


Cross-references

The picture is that of a debtor on the way to court with his creditor, Deuteronomy 21:18; Deuteronomy 25:1, who is his adversary, but probably might be found willing to come to terms outside of court. The advice is that the debtor be in a very conciliatory mood, ready and eager to straighten out the difficulty without litigation. In case a settlement would not be effected in this manner, the danger would be that the adversary, losing all patience, would deliver and even forcibly drag the debtor before the judge, secure a favorable decision, have this carried out by the officer of the court, and have the satisfaction of seeing him taken to prison. All hopes of obtaining mercy would then be shattered. For even the last quadrans, the fourth part of a Roman assarion, which was worth not quite two cents, would be demanded of him. Payment would be exacted to the last fraction of a penny. A very earnest admonition not to wait or hesitate about coming to terms with our adversary, with any one whom we owe reconciliation. The brief period of life is soon behind us, and the implacable that refused to agree will find in the Lord an equally implacable Judge.

A lesson from the Sixth Commandment:

Matthew 5:27-28

27 Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery: 28 But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.


Cross-references

The Sixth Commandment had indeed been given to “them of old time,” Exodus 20:14; Deuteronomy 5:18. But it was understood by the Jewish teachers of the sin in deed only, of the deliberate unfaithfulness of those joined in wedlock, or the carnal intercourse of the unmarried. Many rabbis expressly stated that the evil thought should not be regarded on a level with the sinful act [Tholuck, Bergrede Christi, on v.27]. Christ’s explanation opens the deeper meaning of the commandment. He finds the beginning of adultery in the deliberate nourishing of the awakening lust of the heart. A woman may be seen, come within the range of vision of a man, and there is no wrong in the act. Ordinary human intercourse would be impossible without it. But when the look turned upon any woman, married or unmarried, is deliberate and intentional, conscious and persistent, as on a person of the opposite sex, and this is followed by an impure desire of coveting her for immoral purposes, then adultery has in fact been committed, although the sin is hidden deeply in the heart.

Christ’s advice to the tempted:

Matthew 5:29-30

29 And if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell. 30 And if thy right hand offend thee, cut it off, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell.


Cross-references

The right eye and the right hand are named as prominent members in the actual committing of sin, through which the evil desire of the heart finds its expression. They are represented as the organs of temptation. According to popular view, they are the members that offend, that incite to the actual commission of sin. Therefore, symbolically speaking, these members and all the members of the body must be controlled, if necessary, by an absolute and painful renunciation. Better to be without individual organs and members of the body than have the whole body condemned. Christ speaks figuratively, and His words must be understood in the spiritual sense; for mutilation evidently may prevent the outward act, but will not kill the desire. Every member of the body shall be so controlled and governed by the sanctified will that it will not yield to sin, thus bringing the whole body into condemnation. Jesus again uses the figure of the perpetual fires of the valley of Hinnom, where the waste and refuse of the city of Jerusalem was burned, for the punishment of hell. “This, then, is the meaning: If you feel that you look upon a woman with evil lust, then pluck that eye or vision out as being contrary to God’s commandment, not of the body, but of the heart from which the burning and desire proceeds, then have you torn it out rightly. For when the evil lust is out of the heart, then the eye will also not sin nor offend you, and you will look upon the same woman with the same eyes of your body, but without desire, and it will be as though you had not seen her. For no longer is that eye there which was there before, which is called an eye of burning or desire, although the eye of the body remains uninjured.” [Luther, 7, 448]

A further illustration:

Matthew 5:31-32

31 It hath been said, Whosoever shall put away his wife, let him give her a writing of divorcement: 32 But I say unto you, That whosoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causeth her to commit adultery: and whosoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery.


Cross-references

The form in which Jesus here speaks indicates that He disapproves of their literal interpretation of the permission granted by Moses, Deuteronomy 24:1. The Mosaic law was given in the interest of the woman, to give her at least some show of right. But the Jewish doctors, concerned only about the outward form and about getting the bill of separation into due legal shape, permitted a license which was soon carried to scandalous and criminal excesses. Pouncing upon the phrase: “She find no favor in his eyes,” they permitted divorces when a man found a handsomer woman, when he was displeased with his wife’s cooking, when he did not find her manners agreeable. Only the bill or letter of separation must be made out, that formality was insisted upon. But such a deliberate breaking of the marriage-tie, though it be sanctioned by the civil courts, has no validity before God. The Lord recognizes only one reason for divorce, when there is a plain case of unfaithfulness, of adultery, of any unlawful intercourse of a married person with any other person but the lawful spouse. In this case a divorce may be secured, but is not commanded. “We neither command nor hinder such divorce, but leave it to the government to act…. But to give advice to such as want to be Christians, it would be far better to admonish and urge both parties to stay together, and that the innocent spouse be reconciled to the guilty one (if this one were humble and willing to amend) and forgive in Christian love.” [Luther, 7, 452]. If any other reason is alleged and the divorce brought about, adultery is committed, both by the complainant, in severing the marriage-tie, and by the accused that permits the frivolous dissolution. In the same way he that marries a woman divorced from her lawful husband, to whom she still belongs before God, is an adulterer in the eyes of the Lord.

An illustration from the Second Commandment:

Matthew 5:33-37

33 Again, ye have heard that it hath been said by them of old time, Thou shalt not forswear thyself, but shalt perform unto the Lord thine oaths: 34 But I say unto you, Swear not at all; neither by heaven; for it is God’s throne: 35 Nor by the earth; for it is his footstool: neither by Jerusalem; for it is the city of the great King. 36 Neither shalt thou swear by thy head, because thou canst not make one hair white or black. 37 But let your communication be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay: for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil.


Cross-references

Jesus introduces the subject as before, referring to the customary reading of the Law and the accompanying teaching. The implication of Christ is that the people were really kept under a false impression, by being permitted to draw the conclusion that they were listening to the exact words of Moses. The words as stated are indeed found in the Law, Leviticus 19:12; Numbers 30:3; Deuteronomy 23:22. But the interpretation left much to be desired. It placed no emphasis upon the inner truthfulness of the heart. If that is missing, what object have all oaths? All the careful distinctions as to degrees of oaths, and therefore of perjury, were a yoke on the necks of the Jews that did not affect their hearts. And it was a matter of mere sophistical quibbling that permitted all manner of affirmations in which the divine name was not mentioned directly, Deuteronomy 6:13, and thus evaded the obligation of the oath. There is not the slightest difference between an oath in the name of God and such asseverations as substitute the names of holy things, heaven, or such over which God alone has control: His city, Jerusalem, the earth, His footstool, a man’s head or life. All these oaths involve a reference to God. And all of them, as He distinctly specifies them, one after the other, are superfluous where the heart is pure and truthful. The Lord distinctly condemns the incessant, frivolous calling upon the Deity in all kinds of garbled forms. He does not imply that oaths, under circumstances, are not altogether lawful and right. “In civil life the most truthful man has to take an oath because of the untruth and consequent distrust prevailing in the world, and in so doing he does not sin against Christ’s teaching. Christ Himself took an oath before the high priest.” [Expositor’s Greek Testament, 1, 111]. His demand is absolute truthfulness and straightforwardness in the dealing of people with one another. There the affirmation shall have the full value and force of the Yea, and the denial the simple power of the Nay, that there may be an unhesitating dependence upon all statements, without the support of an oath. Anything that goes beyond this simple definition is of evil, even savors of the influence of the evil one, the devil, the father of lies. Jesus expressed Himself mildly with a purpose, and did not deny the necessity of oaths in a world full of falsehood. “I know, He means to say, that in certain circumstances something beyond yea and nay will be required of you. But it comes of evil, the evil of untruthfulness. See that the evil be not in you.”


Verses 38-48

The law of love toward the enemy

Matthew 5:38

38 Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth:


Cross-references

Jesus here refers to the law of retribution, or compensation, as contained in the Levitical ordinances, Exodus 21:24. This is said to the government, and is a sound principle for the instruction of the judge: Fair compensation should be granted for injuries received. But the scribes and Pharisees applied the statement to the relation of every person toward his neighbor. They taught and declared that every one had the right to take revenge and to exact compensation for himself. Christ goes on record as differing from this explanation:

Matthew 5:39

39a But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil:


Cross-references

Either by trying to prevent injury or by demanding revenge for it, by repelling one outrage with another. He had excellent authority for His explanation, Leviticus 19:18; Proverbs 24:29. Christian love must be willing to bear and to forbear, though a defense of right is permitted, John 18:23; Acts 23:3; Acts 22:25. If this were not true, it would follow that all outrages would go unchallenged, and a Christian would lose house and home, wife and children, as Luther says. But a disciple of Christ should be willing and patient in suffering, even wrongfully, and not seek revenge nor return evil for evil.

Christ brings out this fact by a few examples:

Matthew 5:39-41

39b But whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also. 40 And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak also. 41 And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain.


Cross-references

There is a climax in the examples chosen by Christ; injury goes from bad to worse. There will be times and circumstances when love will be ready patiently to suffer the repetition of the same injury: the disgrace of being struck with the palm of the open hand, the humiliation of giving up the more costly mantle or toga together with the tunic or undergarment, the demand and even the compulsion, coming probably from a soldier, to accompany him for some distance and assist him with his baggage. A Christian will, so far as his person alone is concerned, render such exacted service cheerfully and do more than is asked, rather than submit to the inevitable in a sullen manner. On the other hand, of course, such passive behavior must cease as soon as it comes into conflict with the law of love. A disciple of Christ has duties toward his family, his community, his country, which will sometimes compel him to protect and defend them against injustice and insult. But for the individual it is true: he that magnanimously bears, overcomes. Bather than harbor evil, vengeful thoughts and desires, the Christian will be ready to render assistance whenever this is needed:

Matthew 5:42

42 Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away.


Cross-references

To give and to lend are two duties of charity which Christ puts on a level, both guided by prudence and the interest of the neighbor, 2 Thessalonians 3:10; Proverbs 20:4. Stewards of God’s bounty will have to give an account at the last day, and their sentence may depend largely upon the manner in which they appreciated the trust of God. All such assistance rendered to the needy neighbor should be given cheerfully, without a thought of reward.

Final illustration, from the general law of love:

Matthew 5:43

43 Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy.


Cross-references

The first injunction is found in the Law, Leviticus 19:18. The second part of the sentence is an addition made by the rabbis. They understood the word “neighbor” of the members of their own nation only, arguing from the many passages of the Law in which God had commanded the children of Israel to destroy the heathen nations. But in all those instances the children of Israel were merely carrying out God’s penal justice. Their argument would therefore not stand, especially in view of Exodus 22:21; Exodus 23:9; Leviticus 19:33; Deuteronomy 10:18-19; Deuteronomy 24:17; Deuteronomy 27:19. Jesus insists that all hatred is contrary to humaneness, opposed to the spirit which He was striving to foster. His is a different law:

Matthew 5:44

44 But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you;


Cross-references

The injunction receives its application at all times and in all places. The impressiveness of the passage is heightened by the contrast presented in each member of the saying. Cursing is met with blessing; hatred, which leads to injuries, with well-doing; and abuse of all kinds, culminating in persecution arising from religious hatred, with prayer and intercession. Whatever meanness the enemies may devise, love’s ingenuity will find a way of overwhelming them with goodness. For its object is always to find ways and means of winning the adversary, and, above all, of gaining him for the Lord.

Such behavior is in agreement with the true nature of Christians:

Matthew 5:45

45 That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.


Cross-references

To become and to be indeed the children of God, to possess and exhibit the likeness of the heavenly Father. Because His heart is filled with goodness toward all His creatures, because He makes no distinction between righteous and unrighteous, between good and evil in His providence, they shall partake of their Father’s nature. For with absolute impartiality, and with no reference to individual character, whether niggardliness or generousness is more in evidence, He causes His sun to rise and sends His rain. Just so there should be neither indifference nor ignorance, but earnest concern and kind benevolence in the hearts of those who are striving sincerely to resemble the great Friend and Benefactor above.

And there is also the moral distinction:

Matthew 5:46-47

46 For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same? 47 And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? do not even the publicans so?


Cross-references

That is the usual, the customary way of dealing in the world: Kind deeds are rewarded with kind deeds, friendly words are given in return for friendly words. That is the height of human morality. The word “salute” may be taken in its literal sense, as a mere greeting, for even so much the Jews denied the Gentiles. Or it may imply friendly relations and a readiness to serve, as became those that were united in the same confession. Outside of that they knew nothing, more they refused to do, John 4:9b. Such a low moral level is not for the disciples of Christ. He expects them to distinguish themselves above the average morality, to carry out the ambition to excel, actually to be superior to a spirit characterized by smallness and meanness. The latter spirit might be expected in the publicans, the tax-collectors of Palestine, who were heartily disliked as being the representatives of the Roman power, and for their cheating and exactions. It is not a Pharisaic pride and arrogance that the Lord wishes to awaken, but the earnest desire to be elevated above a mere customary etiquet, which may become the most refined form of cruelty. A significant fact: Jesus finds something good even in the social outcasts!

A summary of this section:

Matthew 5:48

48 Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.


Cross-references

Since all these arguments must be accepted, and since love is the fulfilment of the Law, the Lord draws His conclusion. Ye who wish to be counted as My disciples shall stand out in contrast with those whose idea of altruism is modeled after conventional standards. Nothing short of the great ideal shall satisfy you. With a single-mindedness of purpose that forgets all else they shall strive after perfection in accordance with their great model, their Father in heaven. God is perfect, the fulness, the consummation, of all good. And the perfection of the Christians consists in striving after those ideals which God has set before them in His holy will. Thus they are daily and continually renewed in knowledge, and in holiness and righteousness, after the image of Him that made and redeemed them, until the day of their final perfection will dawn in heaven.

Summary

Christ opens the Sermon on the Mount with the beatitudes, gives a short outline of the call of the disciples in the world, shows the spiritual understanding of the Law by a number of examples, and teaches love toward one’s enemy and true altruism.


Chapter 6

Verses 1-18

Almsgiving, praying, and fasting

The first part of Christ’s sermon had treated of the right interpretation of the Law, shown by many examples. From scribe law He now passes to Pharisaic practise, holding up the false righteousness in its hollow mockery. A very prominent feature in the religious life of the Pharisees:

Matthew 6:1

1 Take heed that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them: otherwise ye have no reward of your Father which is in heaven.


Cross-references

The reference to a universal practise would be understood at once by all. It is a warning against the common form of showing probity, of practising charity in the sight of all men, with the intention of bringing one’s own person into prominence. Christ’s idea is that the good works shall be seen and speak for themselves, but that the person of the doer be kept entirely in the background. The Pharisees took great pains that they should be seen while performing works which they falsely thought good. Theirs was a theatrical virtue; they sought only their own honor, a reputation as saints. Any one thinking himself a disciple of Christ, but guilty of such hypocritical ostentation, can expect no reward from the heavenly Father, and is foolish for indulging in a hope based upon such a false foundation. He has nothing in common, with the disposition of the Lord.

The false way to give alms:

Matthew 6:2

2 Therefore when thou doest thine alms, do not sound a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.


Cross-references

Christ mentions no names, but with one word characterizes those that make a show of their charity. Hypocrites they are, actors; they are acting for effect, there is nothing real and sound about the righteousness they affect. The sounding of trumpets, the attracting of attention was their object, not the helping of the poor. When the collection was made in the synagogs, they were most prominent in the act, though not in the gift. When beggars stopped them on the street, they were sure to attract the attention of all passers-by before making a show at almsgiving. They want the glory which properly belongs to God alone, Matthew 5:16. In bitter irony, Christ says of them that they have their reward. The word is taken from the language of the banks. “They can sign the receipt of their reward: their right to receive the reward is realized, precisely as if they already had given a receipt for it.” [Deissmann, Bibelstudien, 229]. They have nothing more to expect, they will get nothing from God.

The right way to practise charity:

Matthew 6:3-4

3 But when thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth: 4 That thine alms may be in secret: and thy Father which seeth in secret himself shall reward thee openly.


Cross-references

Not the act of almsgiving was condemned by Christ, but only the manner. The work was well-pleasing to Him. Give with simplicity of heart, with so little show of self-glorification that even the left hand, so to speak, shall not be admitted into the secret, lest the satisfaction which one may feel on account of having done another good work detract from God’s glory. The works shall shine brightly, but the donor shall remain hidden to all but God, who knows the secrets of men’s hearts and actions. He knows all the sacrifices that are made, and at the proper time He will give the reward of mercy; He will make public announcement on the day when He will reveal everything.

The wrong manner of praying:

Matthew 6:5

5 And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.


Cross-references

Prayer is the communion of the soul with God, a confidential imparting of all needs, desires, and conditions of feeling to the heavenly Father. The faithful Israelites had the custom of observing the hours of prayer, either in their own homes or in some secluded spot in the Temple, Daniel 6:10; Acts 3:1. But the Pharisees proved themselves true actors also here. They love to stand, it is dear to their hearts, they make a practise of it which is pleasing to their vanity and conceit. Standing in the most conspicuous places, in the synagog before the assembled congregation, at the corners of the streets, at cross-roads, where they might expect a great number of loungers and passers-by to watch them in gaping admiration, they made their prayers. Their real object was, of course, to be observed of men, to attract attention, for which purpose their very standing posture was an ostentation. Strange that the hour of prayer always overtook them in the most public places!

The true manner of praying:

Matthew 6:6

6 But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.


Cross-references

An emphatic contrast, “But thou.” Be as different from these hypocrites as possible, lest thy manner of praying savor of their hypocrisy. Christ does not restrict the praying to fixed hours. Whenever you feel the need of communing with God, as often as you wish to be undisturbed with Him alone. For such a purpose a room in the interior of the house or on the housetop, secluded from all interference and intrusion, will be found most appropriate. Christ advises even the shutting of the door to emphasize the intimacy which such a prayer implies. Here, with no one to disturb you, with no one present but Him who is in the secret places, whose omnipresence invites you freely to confide in Him, you may open your heart freely, even in regard to matters which may fitly be hidden before the eyes of the whole world. Every one accustomed to private prayer after this description of the Lord will receive full edification also from the public prayer in home devotions and in congregational worship. His heart has been trained to be centered in the Lord alone and to banish all distracting thoughts. Note especially that the Lord emphasizes “thy Father,” which tenderly invites and urges childlike trust and confidence. “Though I be a sinner and unworthy, still I have here God’s command, which commands me to pray, and His promise that He will mercifully hear me, not on account of my worthiness, but for the sake of the Lord Christ. With this trust thou canst put away all thoughts and doubts, and kneel down cheerfully and pray, not regarding thy worthiness or unworthiness, but thy trouble and His word, in which He commands you to put confidence.” [Luther, 7, 503]

A lesson in regard to the form of prayer:

Matthew 6:7

7 But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking.


Cross-references

The chief characteristic of the prayers in heathen worship is a gabbling or babbling, a repetition without end of the same forms of words, 1 Kings 18:26; Acts 19:34. Such customs were familiar to the Jews as well as to the Galileans, on account of the mixed population and the presence of strangers in their midst. The idea supporting such meaningless repetitions seems to have been that the very flood of words should argue for the sincerity of the worshiper and practically weary the gods into complying with their wishes.

Warning against such absurd practises:

Matthew 6:8

8 Be not ye therefore like unto them: for your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask Him.


Cross-references

The Christians should differ from the heathen by a sharp distinction. They shall not be like the heathen; there shall be no point of resemblance between their worship and that of the heathen. Their idea of prayer is essentially unlike that of the Gentiles. “Prayer requires more of the heaxt than of the tongue. The eloquence of prayer consists in the fervency of desire and the simplicity of faith. The abundance of fine thoughts, studied and vehement motions, and the order and politeness of the expressions, are things which compose a mere human harangue, not a humble and Christian prayer. Our trust and confidence ought to proceed from that which God is able to do in us, and not from that which we can say to Him.” [Clarke, Commentary, 5, 84]. Another point bringing out the absurdity of babbling prayers: our needs are known to God before we make them known in our prayers. As a true Father He is concerned about the wants and troubles of His children, and gets His information often before they are aware of their lack, Isaiah 65:24. “God commands us to pray, not indeed that we with our prayer should teach Him what He should give, but rather that we should realize and confess what kind of goods He gives to us, and will and can give much more; so that by our prayer we instruct our selves more than Him.” [Luther, 7, 506]

A model prayer to show that an infinite variety of wants and requests can be compressed into a few humble petitions:

Matthew 6:9

9 After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name.


Cross-references

It does not detract from the value of the prayer that many of its words and thoughts are found in the Old Testament and in the formulas in use among the Jews at that time. The marvel of its beauty lies rather in this, that the Lord arranged the petitions with reference to the importance of human wants and imbued them with His spirit, thus making the brief formula the most perfect prayer in the world. Note how He brings out this point. Thus, after this manner, not after that of the heathen, shall be your habitual prayer, for you are people who stand in a different relation to the Deity, you know the one, true God, to whom all prayers should be addressed. Father, He calls Him, to bring out the sonship of the believers. Their confidence and trust in Him is that of children sure of the father’s love. He is our Father, in the fullest sense, by His work of creation as well as by that of redemption. He is the almighty God and Lord, who reigns in heaven over all the universe and thus possesses the willing power to hear our prayer, Ephesians 3:14-15; Ephesians 4:6; Isaiah 66:1; Acts 7:55-56. His name, the entire manifestation of His essence, the revelation of His being, which distinguishes Him and gives an idea of His greatness, Psalm 48:11; Malachi 1:11, shall be hallowed, praised, glorified. This is done not only by holding Him in all esteem and reverence, by yielding to Him the position which is His by eternal right, by making Him the one object of worship the world over, but by leading such lives that every desire, thought, word, and deed will redound to His glory, Matthew 5:16.

His majesty, power and might, omnipresence, and omniscience having been confessed, the thought follows:

Matthew 6:10

10 Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.


Cross-references

The kingdom of heaven, the sum total of the gifts and mercies of God in Jesus, which God has intended for all men and which is realized as the kingdom of grace in the believers, shall come. God must grant faith and keep us in faith and thus in His kingdom, John 15:I-5. But our prayer is also for others, that God may open their hearts and minds to the glorious news of their salvation by sending faithful pastors and missionaries, and that he would soon merge the Church militant into the Church triumphant. This petition implies that such is the good and gracious will of God. It follows, then, that this will of God should be perfectly, ideally done and fulfilled, and that all opposing forces should be broken and hindered. Incidentally, His will and allowance in our own lives should be carried out. Whatever of suffering and trials He is pleased to put upon us shall be borne willingly, since the angels. themselves are models in the doing of God’s will. At all times, in all places, in all things we pray that His will be done.

Temporal gifts are also included:

Matthew 6:11

11 Give us this day our daily bread.


Cross-references

In putting the petition in this form, Christ teaches humility and frugality. For this day we pray, taking no thought for the morrow, not yielding to anxious care. And the daily bread we are to ask for, that which is sufficient for the present day, enough to nourish us from day to day. God, in His infinite goodness, includes much more than the things which are necessary for our bare existence, as Luther shows in his explanation of this petition.

One of the greatest spiritual and temporal needs:

Matthew 6:12

12 And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.


Cross-references

We daily contract an enormous, an unbelievable amount of debts before God. And the more we desire the fulfilment of the first petitions, the more conscious we shall be of our shortcomings. This debt, in its nature, being an account of God against us, whether the sin is committed directly against Him, or whether it harms the neighbor and thus transgresses His Law, must stand charged against us forever, rendering us subject to the debtor’s damnation, Matthew 18:24-25, unless we receive forgiveness, a full and free pardon from the free mercy of God in Jesus, which we here plead for. Revenge and hatred can, of course, not be in any man’s heart when he prays this petition. The more conscious a person is of his own mistakes and shortcomings, the more indulgent his heart will be toward the faults of others, even when committed against himself. It would condemn him to everlasting damnation if his forgiveness would not be patterned after that of his heavenly Father, Matthew 6:14-15.

A final plea for help:

Matthew 6:13

13a And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil


Cross-references

There are not many that reach the heights of moral heroism by which they welcome persecutions, Matthew 5:10; James 1:2. For the average Christian the thought of temptation and trial is in itself depressing. The petition not to be exposed to moral trial, to violent assaults of Satan, to such circumstances as are extremely hard to bear for mere flesh and blood, is therefore very necessary. God sometimes, for reasons of His own, suffers or permits a temptation to come near a Christian, in order to test and strengthen his faith, 1 Corinthians 10:13. We ask that He would so lead us and cause us to walk circumspectly that no evil results of the temptation may strike us, that the final outcome may ever be beneficent. This is included in the “deliver” of the last sentence. Since trials and temptations are sure to come, therefore we turn to God to draw us out of their snares, out of their bondage, and especially to deliver us from the evil one, the devil, who makes use of every occasion to bring us into his power. Thus every possible contingency in the life of the average human being is provided for. And so the doxology is most appropriate:

Matthew 6:13

13b For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.


Cross-references

He is our great King and Ruler, who has our well-being at heart; He is the almighty God, in whose power lies the fulfilment of our every need; to Him we therefore intend to give all honor and glory for all the gifts and benefits which He showers upon us so freely. Of this we are so sure that we close the Lord’s Prayer with a fervent Amen, to indicate our faith and trust in our Father.


Verses 1-11

The temptation in the wilderness

Jesus, by His baptism and the accompanying supernatural manifestations, had been formally and publicly inaugurated into His ministry. But He was not to begin His preaching at once:

Matthew 4:1

1 Then was Jesus led up of the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil.


Cross-references

“Then,” immediately after His baptism, as soon as He had received the extraordinary communication of the Spirit. This same Spirit now filled His humanity and directed His actions, leading Him up, first of all, into the wilderness, causing Him to make the journey into the solitude of the desert, the haunt of wild beasts rather than the abode of men, Mark 1:13. It was a voluntary trip on the part of Jesus, His single concern being to fulfil, in all things, the will of His heavenly Father, Psalm 40:7-8; Hebrews 10: 7, 9, though the weakness of His human nature may have required some urging, Mark 1:12. For the object of this retirement was not merely to afford an opportunity for blessed rest and joy, nor to offer a chance for weighty contemplation as to the methods of revealing Himself to His people after the manner of a Buddha or a Mohammed, but to be tempted of the devil. The entire period of solitary living was occupied with this temptation, Mark 1:13; Luke 4:2. This combating of the devil was a part of the office and work for which He was sent by God and anointed with the Spirit. As the arch-enemy of mankind had tempted and overcome the first Adam, thus plunging the entire human race into condemnation, so he now proposed to vanquish the second Adam by hindering or frustrating the work of redemption. “Led up of the Spirit”: “tempted of the devil” — a powerful contrast!