Matthew 24 is one of the most discussed and famous chapters in the Gospel because Jesus gives his disciples “the signs of the end of the age” in the first half of his Olivet Discourse. His followers have sought to interpret these “signs” and predict his second coming and the establishment of his earthly kingdom ever since.
His teaching follows a progression from the beginning signs and general characteristics of the age before he returns to the reality of the tribulation his disciples will face to the promised certainty of his return.
Some Signs and a Challenge
Jesus lists numerous signs that will characterize the age prior to his return. To a large degree these signs characterize the entire age from the time of his ascension to the time of his return. However, there is a sense that these signs will intensify and come with increasing frequency the closer we get to his glorious return.
Though many of these signs are difficult to interpret, Jesus does give one definitive sign that will precede his return — “the gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations” (24:14). If we wish to hasten the return of Christ and the establishment of his kingdom, we should get busy proclaiming to gospel to all peoples throughout the world. We should be focused on testifying to the greatness of the king who is to return. We should also be about the business of preparing folks for his return.
The Promise of Grace (24:13, 22, 31)
I want to make one final note about chapter 24, and that is the promise of grace that Jesus gives to his disciples and us. Three different times he highlights the grace of God which is given to the elect in Christ. Verse 13 says, “But the one who endures to the end will be saved.” Then, verse 22 reads, “…But for the sake of the elect those days (the days of tribulation) will be cut short.” And, again, in verse 31, we read, “…he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.”
Talk of the end of the age, of the end of the world can be troubling, confusing, and even scary. But, the promise of Jesus is true — there is hope for the elect, those whose lives are hidden Christ. If you are in Christ, if you have chosen to follow him, then you should be encouraged by his promise. There is no way for you to choose him if he has not chosen you. You have been elected by his grace from eternity; therefor, you are sealed in his everlasting grace. Do not be afraid. You are his, and you will not suffer the judgement of God because he has suffered it for you.
Intense is the only word that I can come up with to describe Matthew 23. Jesus holds nothing back in his instruction to the people and in his rebuke of the Pharisees.
Jesus instructs his hearers to be on their guard against the false teachers of the scribes and Pharisees. This is a radical instruction given that these two groups comprised the religious leaders of the day. They were the ones to whom the people went for guidance, instruction, and counsel. The scribes were the interpretive experts on the Torah itself, and the Pharisees were experts on theological issues that the Torah raised.
The people were to reject the teachings of these religious leaders because both the scribes and the Pharisees did not practice what they preached. “They tie up heavy burdens, had to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to them with their finger” (23:4). Belief drives behavior, and behavior has to match belief. Be on your guard against false teachers. Make sure their actions validate their message.
Beginning in verse 13, Jesus turns his attention directly to the scribes and Pharisees. He condemns them because they have “drawn the people away from the kingdom of heaven instead of leading them it.”* The seven woes are:
Examine yourself before the Lord. Make sure that you are not a whitewashed tomb. Clean from the inside out. Jesus calls us to develop a hatred of sin and to live a life of righteousness.
*ESV Study Bible
I apologize for the delay in posting these comments.
At this point in the Gospel, the conflict between Jesus and the Jewish religious leaders was at a fever pitch. They did not like Jesus and were prepared to stop at nothing to get rid of him. They had kicked their plotting into high gear.
Three Parables of Judgement
Chapter 22 begins with the parable of the wedding feast. This parable is actually the third of three that Jesus told in response to the religious leaders’ challenge of his authority. These parables express God’s judgment on the religious leaders for not embracing Jesus as the Christ and for not encouraging the people to do the same. In the first, The Parable of the Two Sons (21:28-32), Jesus exposes the religious leaders’ hypocrisy as they failed to live up the profession of repentance at John’s baptism. In the second, The Parable of the Tenants (21:33-46), Jesus declares that God will take the kingdom away from Israel for their rejection of the “cornerstone,” which is Christ. And, in the third, The parable of the Wedding Feast (22:1-14), Jesus clearly describes the certain consequences of the religious leaders’ actions.
Four Attempts to Trap Jesus
As you can imagine, this public rebuke did not sit well with the religious leaders. They sought desperately to make him pay for embarrassing them. So, they plotted how “to trap him in his own words” (22:15).
Question: Should we pay taxes to Caesar?
Jesus’ Answer: Yes
Why?: Because Caesar’s inscription was on the coin. We are to give to Caesar’s what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.
Question: If a woman is married to seven brothers and they all die, the who’s wife is she at the resurrection of the dead?
Jesus Answer: Neither of the brothers
Why?: Because the institution of marriage as we know it presently will not continue into heaven. That doesn’t mean there will not be some connection eternally, but certainly our understanding of marriage will not continue. What will be will be much better and glorious than we now know!
Question: What is the greatest Commandment?
Jesus Answer: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (22:37-39).
Why?: All the Law and Prophets depend on these two commandments
Jesus’ Question: Whose son is the Christ?
People’s Answer: ___________
The Result of the Interactions
Jesus is the true Son of God. He reveals that to the people. They are afraid to ask him more questions. He emerges the supreme authority through these interactions. He is the king of the world.
I am left with two questions at the end of chapter 22. They are:
Chapter 21 signifies the beginning of the end of Jesus’ public ministry and earthly life. The chapter begins with his triumphal entry into Jerusalem and ends with the Pharisees plot to arrest him. As I read it, two main themes stand out — Authority and Fruitfulness.
Jesus’ authority is a theme for Matthew throughout his gospel. In chapter 7, he records that the crowds were astonished at this teaching “for he was teaching them as one who had authority and not as the scribes.” He also gives multiple examples of Jesus’ authority over nature, illness, and demons. And here, in chapter 21, he shows Jesus’ authority over Jerusalem and the religious establishment in his triumphal entry (21:1-11), his actions in cleansing the Temple (21:12-17), his cursing of the fig tree (21:18-22), and his debates with the religious leaders (21:23-46).
But, it is important to remember that Matthew presents Jesus not as a Gentile king who lords his authority over his people. Rather, Jesus is a servant king who uses his authority to advance his kingdom which, in turn, is good for his people. This is perhaps no more clearly seen, up to this point in the Gospel, than in his triumphal entrance into Jerusalem riding on a donkey, not a noble steed.
Bearing fruit in keeping with repentance and life in Christ is central to Matthew’s message and even to the New Testament as whole. It is not enough to simply be a “hearer of the word.” We must also be “doers.” Jesus cursed the fig tree because it should have had fruit to go along with its leaves. The time was right. It looked healthy and useful, but it wasn’t. It didn’t produce fruit. Jesus used this tree as a symbol to the disciples. We must bear fruit in keeping with repentance or we have no part in Jesus and his kingdom.
Pulling It Together
Jesus is authoritative over our lives. We are called to submit to his authority. We are enabled to do that because he was a sacrificial servant. Through faith in him and the work of the Holy Spirit, we are empowered live submissive and fruit-bearing lives. Are you bearing fruit in keeping with repentance? Does Jesus have authority over your life?
Jason and Mike worked for the same engineering firm. Mike spent his free time during college as an intern at the firm. He had gotten to know the firm’s management team. He had been to dinner with the owner. He walked into a tailored made job with a good salary when after graduation. Jason had spent his college years goofing off. He made decent grades, but spent the majority of his time playing instead of studying. The idea of completing an internship during college was far from his mind. But, when he graduated, the engineering firm was hiring two engineers. He managed to get a job. And though, he had no prior job experience he was hired at the same salary as Mike who had completed the internship.
Mike was not a happy camper when he found out that Jason’s starting salary was the same as his. He had proven himself, and Jason had not. Certainly we can all understand Mike’s point of view. We can identify and and sympathize with him in his frustrations. He had put the effort in and Jason had not. Yet, he was not rewarded for that effort. That just doesn’t seem fair.
Some Laborers and Their Wages
Jesus told a similar story in chapter 20. A man had a vineyard, and he needed some laborers to work in it. He found some at 6 am and put them to work. He sent some others into the vineyard at 9 am, others at 12 pm, and others still at 3 pm. All the laborers agreed to work for the same wage — a denarius. The man came across some other men about 5 pm. He sent them into the vineyard to work. He agreed to pay them a denarius too. At the end of the day, the man called all his laborers in from the vineyard to pay them. He distributed the payment to them beginning with those hired last. Everyone received the same wage.
The guys that started working at 3 and 5 pm were thrilled, but those who started at 6 and 9 am were furious. They confronted the vineyard owner about this injustice. He responded, “Take what belongs to you and go…Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or, do you begrudge my generosity?”
Three Points to Apply
What do you value most in life? Is it your family? Is it your job? Is it your commitments to the community? Is it the successes of your life professionally and personally? Is the wealth you have amassed?
Those are important questions. They are questions that determine the nature of your heart’s true affections. They are questions that Jesus posed to his disciples and to those who would be his followers. And, because of the way Matthew records Jesus’ teachings in chapter 19, he poses the same questions to us.
Two Stories with the Same Point (19:3-12, 16-22)
Verses 3-12 tell the story of Jesus’ interaction with the Pharisees regarding the issue of divorce and remarriage. This is a difficult passage for many people and would take a lot more time and space than we have here to fully explain. But, the main point is one of willingness to stay in a difficult marriage in order to work it out according to the will of God regardless of the way in which one may feel about it. In other words, are you willing to honor your commitment to your spouse even though you may not want to? Are you willing to give up everything you have in order to live out the kingdom of heaven in your marriage and family life?
Verses 16-22 tell the story of Jesus and the rich young ruler. The point of this story is quite simple. Jesus recognizes that the young man has used his wealth as his means of personal identity, power, influence in the community, and purpose in life. The guy has allowed his wealth to become his god.
Thus, Jesus challenges the man to stop thinking on kingdom life in terms of outward conformity to the Law. Rather, he should look inwardly to examine his heart, to determine who is his real god. In order to repent from his idolatry, the young man would need to sell everything he possessed in order to give his life fully to Jesus. His idolatry had sunk that deep. But, he wasn’t willing to part with those possessions. He wasn’t willing to repent. He wasn’t willing to dethrone the idol of wealth in his heart. And so, he walked away sad.
A Summary Statement (19:23-30)
The point of Jesus’ teaching in chapter 19 is summarized in the last seven verses. Jesus contrasts the great reward of those who count the costs and willing follow him with those who value other things more than him and his kingdom. One will be turned away when Jesus comes into his kingdom and one will be welcomed home.
“And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters of father or mother or children or lands, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold and will inherit eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first” (19:29-30).
Question of Application: Are there things that you value more than you value Jesus? If so, are you prepared to sell them and give them to the poor?
Jesus is the heaven-born king of the world. He came to establish his kingdom, which Matthew defines as the active reign of Christ in the hearts of men and women. This active reign of Christ creates a people — those who have submitted to the will of God in Christ. This people has a community life. In chapter 18, Matthew gives us five aspects of this community life.
The disciples ask Jesus, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” His response is, “Whoever humbles him like [a] child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” His point is simple. Children are humble. They are reliant on their parents. They are quick to trust other children. They are young and seemingly insignificant according to the measures of the world. Members of God’s kingdom are to emulate children in their trust of their king and willingness to accept and befriend others.
Question of Application: Do you have a child’s faith before the Lord Jesus Christ and his people? Are you open to trust and accept other people as Christ accepted you?
Moral Purity (18:7-9)
The kingdom of God is to be characterized by moral purity. It is the king’s standard. His people are to reflect his moral character. Thus, Jesus told his disciples to cut off the parts of the body that lead them into temptation. He’s not speaking of actual self-mutilation here. He’s using hyperbole to emphasize the importance self-discipline and the radical removal of sin from our lives. When sin is not dealt with, the judgment upon it is great.
Question of Application: Are you prepared to drastically deal with the sin in your life and get rid of it?
A shepherd leaves 99 sheep in order to find the 1 that has wandered away. Jesus used this analogy to illustrate the importance of every one of the sheep that he has been called to shepherd. He pursues his sheep and gently brings them back to the fold. We are to do the same with those who have wandered away from the church. That’s grace at work.
Question of Application: Who should you go get and bring back to the congregation of God?
Honest Conflict Resolution (18:15-20)
Being sinned against and hurt is a reality of life. It happens to those within the kingdom just as it does to those standing on the outside. Jesus prescribes a simple process for dealing with those who have hurt you or against whom you hold something. It takes honesty and commitment to resolve conflict properly.
Question of Application: Are you prepared to honestly resolved the conflicts you have with others? When you resolve conflict do you follow the biblically prescribed method?
How much are we suppose to forgive others? Seven times? No. Seventy times seven times. In other words, we are to forgive others without limit. Jesus asked, “How are you to be forgiven by God, if you are unwilling to forgive others?” God’s kingdom is a kingdom of forgiveness. Those who have been forgiven much are to forgive much.
Question of Application: Are you willing to forgive others without limit? Do you hold something against someone in your past or present that has caused you not to forgive them? If so, what do you plan to do about it?
There is something different about chapter 17. You can feel it. You can taste it. The drama intensifies.
A Dramatic Shift and Peter’s Objection
In 16:21, Matthew tells us that Jesus became singularly focused on getting to Jerusalem, enduring his cross, and preparing his disciples for that time. To prepare them, he had to give them a new mindset, a mind set on the things of God, not on the things of men. The needed a shift from the realm of rational possibility to the realm of supernatural reality. And, that’s what Jesus gave them.
A Glorious Experience (17:1-13)
He graciously took three of them to the top of the mountain and gave them a glimpse of his heavenly glory — a reminder what he possessed before he became man and a foretaste of what he will posses in his future exaltation. These three disciples — James, John, and Peter — were providentially chosen to the be the future leaders of the small band. They were the inner circle. In his grace, Jesus deemed it necessary to give them the privilege of glimpsing his glory to validate his call on their lives and the reality of his prophetic claims.
The Right Kind of Faith is Necessary (17:14-20)
After their mountaintop experience, Jesus and his disciples had an encounter with a man whose son was demon-oprressed. He had bought his son to Jesus’ disciples, but the disciples couldn’t cast out the demon. So, he brought the boy to Jesus. Jesus did cast out the demon. Amazed and confused, the disciples asked him, “Why couldn’t we cast out the demon?” Jesus said, “Because of your little faith.”
The point of this story is not to question the amount of the disciples faith. It is to make a necessary distinction between defective and effective faith. The disciples had faith. That’s for certain. But, their faith was defective. It wasn’t functioning properly because it was limited to the possible. It wasn’t expectantly looking to the impossible. Jesus explained it this way, “If you have the faith of a grain of mustard seed, you will say to the mountain, ‘Move from here to there, and it will move, and nothing will be impossible to you.'” The issue isn’t the “amount” of faith we posses; rather, it is the object of our faith and our expectation of our God to accomplish the impossible.
Is Your Faith Effective or Defective?
Take a moment to think about the kind of faith you posses. Ask yourself, “Do I have the kind of faith in the God of glory that allows you to anticipate his accomplishment of the impossible?” The Transfiguration gives us a clear picture of our all-powerful, all-gracious moving heaven and earth to accomplish his glorious purposes. This is the kind of faith effectively prepares and empowers us to accomplish the will of our King while on this earth.
When I started thinking about “The NT365 Experiment” my goal was to make one observation, one interpretation, and one point of application of each chapter in the New Testament. I have found that to be extremely difficult. Some chapters simply don’t lend themselves to such a simple cyclical format. Matthew 16 is a prime example. It is not possible to think on the text in one cycle of observation, interpretation, and application. It takes three cycles.
Pharisees and The Demand for a Sign (vv. 1-4)
Observation: The Pharisees and scribes demanded that Jesus give them a sign from heaven in order to trick (test) him. Jesus would give them a sign, the sign of Jonah.
Interpretation: People often demand signs from God in order to test his faithfulness and his goodness. Their goal is not to seek validation of God’s kingdom, but to find a place to trap God, and thus give themselves a way out of submitting to him. God has given us his sign — the life, death, and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Application: Don’t demand signs from God. Trust the one he has already given you. There is no greater and secure sign of God’s faithfulness than the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.
A Rock Solid Confession (vv. 13-20)
Observation: Jesus asked his disciples, “Who do you think that I am?” Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus said, “Blessed are you Simon… I tell you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church.”
Interpretation: Every person who follows Jesus must answer the question, “Who do you say that I am?” The only proper answer to that question is, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” It is upon this confession of faith that Jesus has built his church. Only those who rightly confess, “You are the Christ.” will be allowed in his kingdom.
Application: You have to answer the question for yourself. Can you say in faith that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God? Have you made that confession of faith?
Costly Discipleship (vv. 21-28)
Observation: Jesus knew that he must suffer many things at the hand of the Pharisees and scribes. He informed his disciples that these sufferings would lead to his eventual death. And, he told them that to be his disciples they would have to be willing to suffer the same thing.
Interpretation: Jesus had to die in order to purchase our salvation. He had to give his life up, and he came to do just that. Our salvation is free to us because he made the costly sacrifice. It isn’t cheap. It cost Jesus his life. And, those who seek to be his disciples must be willing to offer themselves as a sacrifice for his glory. We must be willing to “deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow him.”
Application: Are we willing to deny ourselves, take up our crosses, and follow him? Are we willing to sacrifice ourselves for the sake of his glory out of love for him and others? In a demonstration of self-sacrifice today, take $10-20 (at least) and give it to someone in need or to a gospel-focused charity as an intentional act of Christ-following discipleship.
The climax of the conflict between Jesus and the religious leaders of his day will not take place until Jesus’ crucifixion. However, it becomes a prominent theme in chapter 15.
The Religious Leaders and Their Commandments
Matthew begins the chapter with a question from the Pharisees and scribes to Jesus. “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat.” This question is rooted in the religious leaders understanding of the righteous life before God. In addition to the Scriptures, they emphasized the interpretations of the Scriptures which had been handed down from esteemed rabbis. The particular tradition behind this question had to do with the ceremonial cleanliness and purity required by all Israelites in the performance of their daily duties. And, eating was considered one of those duties that required cleanliness.
A Failure to Make a Proper Distinction
Jesus responded to the religious leaders challenge by calling them out on their failure to make the proper distinction between the Scripture and the rabbinic tradition. The Old Testament Scripture is the commandment of God, while the rabbinic tradition is the “commandment of men” (9). The two are incomparable — one comes from the mouth God, and the other from the mouth of men. Jesus goes so far as to say that they have “for the sake of their tradition…made void the word of God” (6).
A Necessary Corrective
Jesus teaches his disciples and those around him what the Bible has always said that purity and impurity before God is a matter of the heart’s condition not outward compliance to a set of regulations. He said to them, “Hear and understand: it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth; this defiles a person…what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart… For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery… These are what defile a person. But to eat with unwashed hands does not defile anyone.”
There are certain cultural and christian traditions that I love. I love a certain style of worship music. I love Reformed theology. I love church traditions at Christmas, Easter, and throughout the year. I have certain prayer, Bible study, discipleship practices that I really think others should adopt. But, I must be reminded that all of those traditions, all of that way of life is not the commandment of God. It is the commandment and practice of men. This passage reminds me to focus on the commandments of God and to remain charitable to those who disagree with me on the traditions of men.
Do you have a similar struggle? If so, this passage is for you. Think on Christ today. Think on the commandment of God found in the Scriptures.