The seventy sevens — Daniel 9:22-27

The seventy sevens

Daniel 9:22-27

22 He instructed me and said to me, “Daniel, I have now come to give you insight and understanding. 23 As soon as you began to pray, a word went out, which I have come to tell you, for you are highly esteemed. Therefore, consider the word and understand the vision:

24 “Seventy sevens are decreed for your people and your holy city to finish transgression, to put an end to sin, to atone for wickedness, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up vision and prophecy and to anoint the Most Holy Place.

25 “Know and understand this: From the time the word goes out to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until the Anointed One, the ruler, comes, there will be seven sevens, and sixty-two sevens. It will be rebuilt with streets and a trench, but in times of trouble. 26 After the sixty-two sevens, the Anointed One will be put to death and will have nothing. The people of the ruler who will come will destroy the city and the sanctuary. The end will come like a flood: War will continue until the end, and desolations have been decreed. 27 He will confirm a covenant with many for one seven. In the middle of the seven he will put an end to sacrifice and offering. And at the temple he will set up an abomination that causes desolation, until the end that is decreed is poured out on him.”

COMMENTARY — Daniel 9:22-24

22 He instructed me and said to me, “Daniel, I have now come to give you insight and understanding. 23 As soon as you began to pray, a word went out, which I have come to tell you, for you are highly esteemed. Therefore, consider the word and understand the vision:

24 “Seventy sevens are decreed for your people and your holy city to finish transgression, to put an end to sin, to atone for wickedness, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up vision and prophecy and to anoint the Most Holy Place.”

Seventy sets of seven — contours of the enhanced punishment

In the moment that Daniel’s prayer reaches a passionate crescendo,[1] the angel Gabriel swiftly approaches to reveal to Daniel the vast span of God’s plans. When Gabriel returns to explain more fully what Daniel has found in Jeremiah’s writings, he reveals a much bigger context of Yahweh’s discipline for the Jews and looks far into the future to the end of all such judgment. In doing so, Gabriel not only answers Daniel’s short-term concern but also unveils the much larger picture of how God’s ultimate judgments will unfold and when they will end.

This chapter concerns not only the end of God’s punishment for his people but the end of his tolerance for human rebellion. In effect, Gabriel reveals that God’s people are nearing the end of the original 70-year punishment, but the seven-fold enhancement of their penalty still lies in Daniel’s future (as well as our own).

Miller calls verses 24-27 “four of the most controversial verses in the Bible.”[2] A detailed discussion of the four major views is beyond the scope of this study guide but may be found in Miller’s commentary.[3] We will begin by clarifying terms.

All four views depend upon the interpretation of the very first word in verse 24, the Hebrew noun shabu’, which means “period of seven (days, years), heptad, week.”[4] Because translators prefer the simple, self-explanatory nature of the word “week” to the more accurate phrase “period of seven,” quite a few English versions (ESV, NET, CEB, NASB, HCSB) start verse 24 with the words “Seventy weeks”. But “weeks” is a poor choice since multiples of 7 years are what the interpretation of the passage requires. We must congratulate NIV for saying, “Seventy sevens,” but the grand prize goes to NLT for saying, “A period of seventy sets of seven”.

Commentators generally agree that Daniel was speaking in terms of sets-of-seven-years. Recall that Hoehner said, “Each year of captivity represented one seven-year cycle in which the seventh or Sabbath year had not been observed.”[5] Daniel has already shown his understanding from Jeremiah (25:11-12; 29:10) that the Babylonian captivity would last 70 years. And we have established from the Law of Moses both the requirement of giving the land rest in the seventh year (Lev. 25:4) and the seven-fold enhancement factor for disobedience (Lev. 26:18, 21, 28).

So, if commentators generally agree Daniel is dealing with multiple periods of seven years, what is the reason for their splitting into four different views of the passage? The answer is that differences of opinion exist about (1) whether the years are literal or figurative, and (2) when the periods of time begin and end.

Since the meaning of years related to this passage is literal, we agree with Miller[6] and Wood[7] that the interpretation must also deal with literal years and that the last of those years will end with the second coming of Christ. We will briefly show that this interpretation gives a coherent understanding of what God has revealed to Daniel and to us.

Daniel 9:24 “Seventy sevens are decreed for your people and your holy city to finish transgression, to put an end to sin, to atone for wickedness, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up vision and prophecy and to anoint the Most Holy Place.”

We have already explained that the sevens refer to multiple periods of seven years. So, seventy sevens is a period of 490 years (70 x 7 = 490). Hoehner[8] rightly points out that, by looking toward the past from Daniels day, we see a scattered series of seven-year-periods for which the Sabbath-year rest commanded by God was not observed. Since this happened 70 times, we are talking about 490 years in all. Gabriel looks forward from Daniel’s day and sees a scattered series of seven-year-periods also totaling 490 years. At various points within the seventy sets of seven-year-periods, the events listed in verse 24 will all take place, most of them positioned at the end.

It is vital to realize that the seventy sevens have been imposed upon “your [i.e., Daniel’s] people and your holy city” (verse 24a). Wood explains, “It should be noted that Gabriel said the 490 years will be in reference to the Jewish people and the Jewish capital city, which would seem to exclude any direct concern with Gentiles.”[9] In other words, the terms of the prophecy should be interpreted in relation to the Jews and Jerusalem; how they relate to the church or to people who live in the 21st century is a separate issue. We cannot hijack the prophecy!

Six things will be accomplished in relation to the Jews and Jerusalem:

“to finish transgression” — Miller explains, “It would probably refer to Israel’s rebellion against God.”[10] Chisholm agrees by translating “putting an end to rebellion.”[11]

“to put an end to sin” — Miller notes, “This prophecy cannot be fulfilled in any real sense until Christ personally returns to earth.”[12]

“to atone for wickedness” — This must surely be a reference to the cross of Christ, the Messiah of Israel. God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood — to be received by faith (Rom. 3:25). Only at the Messiah’s second coming does Israel turn to him.

“to bring in everlasting righteousness” — Miller says, “As the prophecy pertains to Israel specifically, it indicates that at the end of the seventy sevens the nation as a whole will have received permanently a right relationship with God.”[13] That is not possible until Jesus returns.

“to seal up vision and prophecy” — Perhaps better is NLTs translation “to confirm the prophetic vision” since the verb means either “seal up” or “confirm.” Wood observes: “The words taken together refer to the final fulfillment of revelation and prophecy; i.e., when their functions are shown to be finished. The time in mind can only be the final day when Christ comes in power.”[14]

“to anoint the Most Holy Place” — The exact phrase given as “the Most Holy Place” is one that occurs thirty-nine times in the Old Testament, always in reference to the Tabernacle or Temple or to the holy articles used in them.[15]

COMMENTARY — Daniel 9:25-27

25 “Know and understand this: From the time the word goes out to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until the Anointed One, the ruler, comes, there will be seven sevens, and sixty-two sevens. It will be rebuilt with streets and a trench, but in times of trouble. 26 After the sixty-two sevens, the Anointed One will be put to death and will have nothing. The people of the ruler who will come will destroy the city and the sanctuary. The end will come like a flood: War will continue until the end, and desolations have been decreed. 27 He will confirm a covenant with many for one seven. In the middle of the seven he will put an end to sacrifice and offering. And at the temple he will set up an abomination that causes desolation, until the end that is decreed is poured out on him.”

Seventy sets of seven — the unfolding timeline

Daniel 9:25 “Know and understand this: From the time the word goes out to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until the Anointed One, the ruler, comes, there will be seven sevens, and sixty-two sevens. It will be rebuilt with streets and a trench, but in times of trouble.”

In this verse Gabriel gives a starting point — “the time the word goes out to restore and rebuild Jerusalem” — as well as an ending point — “until the Anointed One, the ruler comes.” Gabriel further reveals that the interval between these two events is “seven sevens, and sixty-two sevens.” Opinions differ at this point depending on whether the years are taken figuratively or literally. Those preferring the figurative view of years cannot make good sense of the numbers, but they question the assumptions of those who attempt exact calculations. Both views are possible, but we prefer the literalist or numerical approach.

We follow the traditional view of the church in saying “the Anointed One,” or “Messiah” (HCSB), is Jesus; verse 26 makes this identification even stronger. The specific analysis of dates that makes the most sense is that given by Hoehner.[16] He starts with the words of the Persian king Artaxerxes I to Nehemiah, the man who led the rebuilding of Jerusalem, and biblical data place that conversation in March/April 444 B.C. (Nehemiah 2:1-9).[17] The king specifically authorized rebuilding Jerusalem, but the project later ran into a lot of local opposition from the Samaritans and others.

Hoehner demonstrates that using a 360-day year, having 12 months of 30 days each, is a model that has biblical support. With a starting point defined and a year composed of fixed elements, Hoehner is well able to do the math and arrive at an ending date for the seven sevens, and sixty-two sevens of March 30, A.D. 33, the time of Jesus triumphal entry into Jerusalem. Not all agree, but his analysis holds its own. By this reckoning, 69 sevens-of-years end when Jesus enters Jerusalem to die.

Daniel 9:26 “After the sixty-two sevens, the Anointed One will be put to death and will have nothing. The people of the ruler who will come will destroy the city and the sanctuary. The end will come like a flood: War will continue until the end, and desolations have been decreed.”

Note that the death of the Messiah comes after the 62 sevens-of-years; the vital word after arises from a particular word in the Hebrew text and not from the sense of the passage. In the view of the world, Jesus died as a capital criminal, the ultimate shame. Since honor was paramount in the Mediterranean world of Jesus day, he died with nothing.

Note carefully that it is “the people of the prince who will come” who destroy the city and the sanctuary, not the prince.[18] We have already said that the Roman general Titus totally destroyed Jerusalem and its temple in A.D. 70. The Roman Empire in some renewed form is the one repeatedly presented by Daniel as the one to emerge in the last days with the Antichrist (called “the prince who will come”) at its head. As Miller says, “[Verse] 27 makes clear that this ruler will be the future persecutor of Israel in the seventieth seven.”[19]

A covenant with a treacherous man

Daniel 9:27 “He will confirm a covenant with many for one seven. In the middle of the seven he will put an end to sacrifice and offering. And at the temple he will set up an abomination that causes desolation, until the end that is decreed is poured out on him.”

At last we find the seventieth seven-of-years, and it lies in our future. The unpredictable nature of the onset of the seventieth seven fits Jesus words: “But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father” (Matthew 24:36). Often, the seventieth seven is called the tribulation and the last half of it is called the great tribulation. Although there is a sharp theological debate about whether Christians will be on the earth at this time, Gabriel says nothing about that. His focus is on the Jews and Jerusalem.

Some have been critical of the gap between the first sixty-nine sevens and the seventieth seven, a period of almost two thousand years. This criticism overlooks the spotty occurrence of the missed sabbath years as well as the gap between the seventy years of captivity and the authorization to begin rebuilding Jerusalem. These sevens-of-years are part of the seven-fold enhancement of the original punishment, and God may place them as he chooses.

The “he” who will confirm a covenant (verse 27a) is “the ruler who will come” in verse 26; we know him as the Antichrist. We agree with Miller that, in this context, “‘the many’ is best taken as a description of the Jewish people as a group.”[20] The Jews will likely agree to a seven-year treaty with the powerful renewed Roman Empire to have security from their enemies.

After half the period is over — three and a half years — the Antichrist will end any worship activities (verse 27a) presumably being conducted on Temple Mount (whether or not a temple is actually standing). What happens next is not clear, but it will involve the most profane possible activity in defiance of Yahweh. The NIV follows the Septuagint, an ancient Greek translation of the Old Testament, in saying “at the temple,” but the Hebrew text says nothing of the temple. CEB offers: “… he will stop both sacrifices and offerings. In their place will be the desolating monstrosities until the decreed destruction sweeps over the devastator” (verse 27bc). So, for three and a half years that part of Jerusalem most associated with Yahweh will be dreadfully desecrated until the time appointed for the Antichrist to be destroyed.

It is easy for us to underestimate the effect of this astounding revelation on the elderly Daniel. We know that he understood, based on Jeremiah’s prophecies, that the desolation of Jerusalem would last seventy years (Dan. 9:2). Is it possible that he did not understand the seven-fold enhancement of the seventy years — 70 x 7 = 490 years, seventy units-of-seven years for further desolation, as declared in Leviticus 26? In verses Dan. 9:17 and 9:18 he asks Yahweh to look on the desolation of Jerusalem and the temple. But Gabriel repeats that word in Dan. 9:26 and 9:27 (twice) to refer to further desolations of Jerusalem to come. This news must have been appalling to the elderly Daniel.

[1] Miller, Daniel, 249.
[2] Miller, Daniel, 252.
[3] Miller, Daniel, 2537.
[4] BDB, shabu, period of seven, q.v.
[5] Hoehner, Daniels Seventy Weeks and New Testament Chronology, 49.
[6] Miller, Daniel, 257.
[7] Wood, Daniel, 244.
[8] Hoehner, Daniels Seventy Weeks and New Testament Chronology, 49
[9] Miller, Daniel, 259.
[10] Miller, Daniel, 260.
[11] Chisholm, Handbook on the Prophets, 313.
[12] Miller, Daniel, 260.
[13] Miller, Daniel, 260.
[14] Wood, Daniel, 250.
[15] Wood, Daniel, 250.
[16] Harold Hoehner, Daniels Seventy Weeks and New Testament Chronology, Bibliotheca Sacra 132 (JanuaryMarch 1975) 4765. This material also appears as chapter 6 of Chronological Aspects of the Life of Christ (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1978).
[17] Hoehner, Daniels Seventy Weeks and New Testament Chronology, 59.
[18] Wood, Daniel, 255.
[19] Miller, Daniel, 268.
[20] Miller, Daniel, 271.

A matter of the heart, Matthew 15:15-20

“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” So goes the old children’s rhyme that tries to convince children to ignore taunts. Whatever good the rhyme may accomplish is countered by selling it with some big lies. First, every adult knows how much words can hurt. Second, God uses our words as a measure of our hearts. Oh my!

Matthew 15:15-20

15 Peter said, “Explain the parable to us.”

16 “Are you still so dull?” Jesus asked them. 17 “Don’t you see that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and then out of the body? 18 But the things that come out of a persons mouth come from the heart, and these defile them. 19 For out of the heart come evil thoughts murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. 20 These are what defile a person; but eating with unwashed hands does not defile them.”

Commentary

Peter reminds me of certain Christian adults living in 2015 in that he heard what Jesus said (in verse 11) but made little to no effort to understand it on his own (verse 15).[1] Nor did Jesus let the matter go by unremarked!

Verse 16 is a hammer stroke against spiritual timidity and laziness. The first word out of Jesus mouth is the rare Greek adverb akmen meaning “even yet.” The following “you” is plural, showing that Peter is not alone, but the crusher is the adjective meaning uncomprehending. Even after being with Jesus for an extended period, they still lack a keen spiritual sense! How did Jesus find this out? By the words that came out of Peter’s mouth. That fact is ironic in light of what Jesus teaches them next.

The question Jesus asks in verse 17 expects a “yes” answer. Yes, all the disciples know that food simply passes through the body and then leaves it. The same is true of wine, water and other things taken in through the mouth. They have no bearing on the persons defilement status because they tell us nothing about the person.

Jesus next reveals the actual source of personal defilement: the heart as revealed by the things that come out of a persons mouth (verse 18). While NIV has Jesus saying that the heart is the source of evil thoughts (verse 19), the Greek word can include reasoning, intentions and plans as well. Further, Jesus qualifies these thoughts by calling them wicked or vicious. This description plainly fits when we learn that these thoughts include murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony and slander. For example, the religious leaders are already planning to murder Jesus and have slandered him by claiming that his miraculous acts are empowered by Satan rather than the Holy Spirit.

At last, Jesus returns to the original accusation against his disciples (verse 20). They are innocent of defilement because eating with unwashed hands can only affect what goes into the mouth and later emerges. Compared to the religious leaders, their hearts are pure even if their hands are not!

Copyright 2015 by Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Material originally developed for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.

[1] To clarify, I am certainly not talking about fellow members of the Life Group I belong to, who continually show that they are seeking to know God better! They inspire all who visit our group.

A major break — part 2, Matthew 15:10-14

One interesting thing about a Dallas Cowboys football game is that if you don’t have a ticket, you don’t get in. The ticket qualifies you to enter the stadium and sit in a particular seat. In a similar way, avoiding ritual defilement was necessary in the time of Jesus to enter the temple and worship God. Those who were defiled, according to the law, were not qualified to enter and worship.

Because the temple was central to the worship of God, a great deal of rabbinic teaching existed to define defilement and to spell out how to eliminate it. You would think that defilement would be the one thing that all Jewish religious leaders understood. But Jesus refuted that belief.

Matthew 15:10-14

10 Jesus called the crowd to him and said, Listen and understand. 11 What goes into someones mouth does not defile them, but what comes out of their mouth, that is what defiles them.
12 Then the disciples came to him and asked, Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this?
13 He replied, Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be pulled up by the roots. 14 Leave them; they are blind guides. If the blind lead the blind, both will fall into a pit.

Commentary

When Jesus summons the crowd to listen and understand (verse 10), that sets the stage for an escalation of the conflict between him and the Jewish religious leaders. What Jesus says in verse 11 seems simple enough to us, but it directly contradicted the teaching of the Jewish religious leaders about defilement. They claimed that defilement came from external sources, but Jesus said that what emerges from the mouth, from the inside of a person, is what defiles that person.

When we get to verse 18, Jesus will identify the exact inner source of what defiles a person.
Presumably some time passed after Jesus spoke to the crowd (verse 11), and during that time the Pharisees were seething and deeply offended over what Jesus had said about defilement. The disciples quickly learned of this development and went to Jesus to warn him of it (verse 12). The disciples show the respect many must have felt toward a high-level delegation of religious leaders from Jerusalem.

Jesus answers the news with a surprising metaphor: Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be pulled up by the roots (verse 13). Since the traditions of the Pharisees contradict the commandment of God, they are the ones who can expect to be pulled up by the roots! This language may well look back to the Parable of the Weeds, where Jesus taught about the separation that will take place at the final judgment.[1] Jesus disciples are the plants established by God, not the Pharisees and their allies.

As to how they might relate to the offended Pharisees, Jesus tells his disciples, Leave them (verse 14a), with the idea of abandoning them and going on to something else. This Greek verb is also used for divorce. In offering his reasons for this action, Jesus returns to metaphors: They are blind guides. If the blind lead the blind, both will fall into a pit (verse 14b). In the arid climate of Palestine, cisterns were dug underground and lined with stone. The surface entry was often a terrible hazard for those unable to see.

Ritual purity, and therefore defilement, held extreme importance to the Pharisees. Jesus has already crossed the boundary of propriety by touching women, lepers and even the dead in order to heal them. Now he moves from deed to word in teaching that defilement comes from within, not from externals. R. T. France explains the significance by saying, After this dialogue the breach between Jesus and the scribal establishment is irreparable.[2]

Copyright 2015 by Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Materials originally developed for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.

[1] Passages such as Isaiah 5:1-7 contain similar ideas.

[2] R.T. France, The Gospel of Matthew, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2007) 575.

Compassion flows freely, Matthew 14:33-36

When Jesus arrives, grab anyone in need and go to him!

Matthew 14:33-36

34 When they had crossed over, they landed at Gennesaret. 35 And when the men of that place recognized Jesus, they sent word to all the surrounding country. People brought all their sick to him 36 and begged him to let the sick just touch the edge of his cloak, and all who touched it were healed.

Commentary

After dealing with the dangerous winds and waves, the boat makes landfall at Gennesaret, a small fertile plain several miles south of Capernaum (verse 34).[1] The moment the people recognize Jesus, messengers disperse throughout the region advising that sick people come to Jesus now (verse 35)!

People in that region do not have to hear twice before going to help their loved ones be healed by Jesus. The verb translated healed means, in as more general context, bring safely through danger, so it is a good choice in the same setting where Jesus just got the disciples through a deadly storm.

Not only did they bring all their sick to Jesus (verse 35b), but they steadily begged him to let the sick simply touch his cloak, without the formality of a personal touch from him. He demonstrated kindness and compassion in granting healing to all who did so (verse 36).

Copyright 2017 by Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Material originally developed for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.

[1] Grant R. Osborne, Matthew, Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2010) 581.

Rescue on the Lake, Matthew 14:22-27

It will gradually become apparent that everyone is trying to push Jesus in one direction or another. But his focus remains on showing compassion and building his disciples.

Fishermen or not, the disciples have about the worst luck I have ever seen for encountering night storms. I wonder if there is a reason for that. Actually, I know the reason.

Matthew 14:22-27

22 Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowd. 23 After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. Later that night, he was there alone, 24 and the boat was already a considerable distance from land, buffeted by the waves because the wind was against it.

25 Shortly before dawn Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. 26 When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. Its a ghost, they said, and cried out in fear.

27 But Jesus immediately said to them: Take courage! It is I. Dont be afraid.

Commentary

Remind me to check the manifest the next time I start to go out on a body of water. If Peter or the other disciples are aboard, then Im staying ashore! (smile)

Keep in mind the context and situation. After spending the day healing the sick, Jesus has just finished feeding a crowd of well over 5,000 people, though he had only a few loaves and fish to do it (verses 14-20). Night is falling because that is the whole reason the disciples wanted to send the people away to find food for themselves (verse 15).

Immediately, Jesus compels the disciples to enter the boat without him and cross the lake, presumably back to Capernaum (verse 22). This forcing action is unusually strong: Greek anagkazo, meaning compel or force. Matthew does not explain, and I am reluctant to introduce information from elsewhere, but perhaps it is appropriate on this occasion. Johns account says that the crowd meant to take Jesus by force and make him king (John 6:15)! Knowing this, Jesus dismissed the crowd — another strong word — and slipped away to a nearby mountain to pray (Matthew 14:23). That this was a strategic moment is seen by the fact that this occasion is the only one when either Matthew or Mark refer to Jesus at prayer other than the Garden of Gethsemane on the night before the cross.[1] Jesus prayed on that mountain most of the night.

Meanwhile, our mariners in the boat have encountered another storm on the lake with the result that they have been rowing for many hours in darkness — more than enough to cross the lake — but are stuck far from shore. Worse, the wind is high and the waves are punishing the boat with severe force, communicated by the Greek verb (basanizo) used for torment (verse 24). NIV’s refined translation buffeted can only be used by scholars sitting around a table with the AC running!

To get a sense of wind speeds on the Sea of Galilee, use the methods mentioned in the footnote.[2] Also keep in mind that the names Lake Tiberias and Lake Kinneret are alternative names for this body of water. You will find that the wind on the Sea of Galilee is typically much stronger in the mid-afternoon than at night. Storms and high winds are far more likely to form during the day due to solar heating.

Once again, I join those scholars who see demonic forces trying to attack Jesus and his disciples. The offer of the kingship is a replay of the temptations described in Matthew 4:8-10, where Satan made a similar offer. Blomberg notes that the sudden storm resembles the one in Matthew 8:23-27, and that the verb for torment is sometimes used elsewhere for demonic hostility against people (Matthew 8:6 and Revelation 9:5), and concludes that demonic activity may be present here.[3] I did not come to either of these lake crossings (Matthew 8 and 14) with demonic activity in mind, but the improbability of the events happening by normal means left me no other choice. Jesus has to rescue his disciples in both cases.

A light in a dark place

The timing of events in verse 25 is subject to interpretation. The Greek text simply says, In the fourth watch of the night, referring to a Roman division of time starting at 3 am and ending at 6 am. So, while NIV places events shortly before dawn, HCSB offers, around three in the morning. The latter is more likely. Osborne points out that the disciples have been rowing for their lives for several hours and are about at the end of their strength and resolve.[1] They need help!

When Jesus, predictably, comes to rescue his disciples, they experience terror in seeing a human shape striding toward them on the lake surface (verses 25-26). In daylight, under calmer conditions, they might have remembered verses in the Old Testament about God walking on or through the waters (Job 9:8 and 38:16; Psalm 77:19). But deep waters had long represented chaos and evil to the Jews. It is hard to criticize the disciples fear that they were seeing a ghost; a similar experience in the twenty-first century could easily receive the same reaction.

Note that Jesus immediately acts to reassure them, urging them to embrace courage, not fear (verse 27). His identification, Greek ego eimi, means It is I, but its older meaning I AM is never far away.

Those causing this trouble had best get lost!

Copyright 2017 by Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Materials originally developed for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.

[1] Grant R. Osborne, Matthew, Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2010) 574.

[1] Craig L. Blomberg, Matthew, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1992) 234.

[2] Use Google search phrase wind speed on Lake Tiberias to get graphic results. The search phrase wind forecast for Lake Kinneret will help you find a site used by windsurfers.

[3] Blomberg, Matthew, 234.

Preview of coming events, Matthew 14:1-12

It is all too common to be haunted by the things we have done. Even we who trust in Jesus and enjoy his limitless grace can regret past acts. And we do. How much more can those who never knew him at all!

Matthew 14:1-12

14:1 At that time Herod the tetrarch heard the reports about Jesus, 2 and he said to his attendants, This is John the Baptist; he has risen from the dead! That is why miraculous powers are at work in him.

3 Now Herod had arrested John and bound him and put him in prison because of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, 4 for John had been saying to him: It is not lawful for you to have her. 5 Herod wanted to kill John, but he was afraid of the people, because they considered John a prophet.

6 On Herods birthday the daughter of Herodias danced for the guests and pleased Herod so much 7 that he promised with an oath to give her whatever she asked. 8 Prompted by her mother, she said, Give me here on a platter the head of John the Baptist. 9 The king was distressed, but because of his oaths and his dinner guests, he ordered that her request be granted 10 and had John beheaded in the prison. 11 His head was brought in on a platter and given to the girl, who carried it to her mother. 12 John’s disciples came and took his body and buried it. Then they went and told Jesus.

Commentary

It is easy to get confused in this brief account. Matthew gives us events out of chronological order by using a flashback in verses 3-11. These events were already in the past, on Herod’s timeline, when Herod experienced the fears expressed in verses 1-2.

Herod Antipas (b. 21 B.C. – d. after A.D. 39), the tetrarch of Galilee (verse 1) was a son of Herod the Great, who tried to kill Jesus not long after he was born. Herod the Great died in 4 B.C., and Caesar Augustus divided his kingdom, delegating rule of Galilee and Perea to Herod Antipas. See the map in the Introduction. Like his father, Herod Antipas would not make a good ethical model, but his rule kept Galilee relatively stable and prosperous during Jesus life and ministry there.

After he had already ordered John the Baptist to be executed, as described in verses 3-12, Herod heard the reports about Jesus (verse 1), and verse 2 makes clear that the reports correctly included miraculous acts by Jesus. It was typical for reports to be made to rulers about important events in their territories, and Herod was at the fortress of Machaerus, east of the Dead Sea, 85 miles (by air) from the area where Jesus was working miracles. The rough terrain made the messenger’s actual travel much longer.

Osborne probably has the right idea that Herod’s guilty conscience had used Hellenistic ideas about spirits seeking revenge to come up with the idea that the miracle-working Jesus was actually John resurrected (verse 2).[1] Starting in verse 3, Matthew gives the twisted background behind John’s execution. Herod had arrested John to shut him up, because John had repeatedly said in public that it was not lawful for Herod to marry Herodias, the wife of his brother Philip (verses 3-4). As we will see, this was not the last time that Herod’s lust would land him in trouble. Herod wanted to kill John to stop the ongoing attack on his honor, but he knew that could cause real trouble with the people (verse 5), and that risked the anger of his Roman overlords.

Herod already had a wife, a Nabatean princess, whose royal father was furious and later waged a war that cost Herod dearly.[2] Herodias, who was Herod’s niece and the wife of Philip the tetrarch, soon proved that she could skillfully execute plots to get her way (verses 6-8). She relied on Herod’s lust and the alcohol that flowed freely in such quasi-royal birthday celebrations. It is amazing after so long a time that even non-biblical sources tell about Herod’s extravagant parties.[3]

When you consider the number of parties that occur where questionable or evil things occur, what should a Christian do about invitations to them?

Verses 610 need no explanation in this context. Herodias eliminated her greatest enemy; Herod gained a lifetime of bad dreams; John’s disciples, at great risk, requested John’s body and buried it. While we are here, it is illustrative to see that Herod got word by a messenger from Galilee, and Jesus received the bad news through John’s disciples after a long journey from the southern wastes. News traveled slowly.

John spoke the truth and, through scheming, was put to death. In that, he again served as a forerunner for Jesus. Matthew probably decided to use John’s story here to hint at what will follow for Jesus.

[1] Grant R. Osborne, Matthew, Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2010) 557.

[2] R.T. France, The Gospel of Matthew, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2007) 554.

[3] France, Matthew, 555, footnote 17.

 

Remaining blind and deaf in Nazareth, Matthew 13:53-58

This week we begin a long narrative section of Matthew’s Gospel (13:53 to 17:27) that is notoriously difficult to analyze in terms of literary structure. A big issue at the beginning and toward the end is this vital question: Who is Jesus? Another major theme is Jesus dealing with his disciples, gradually preparing them for the day he is taken from them. In both matters we follow a crooked road toward the cross.

Matthew 13:53-58

53 When Jesus had finished these parables, he moved on from there. 54 Coming to his hometown, he began teaching the people in their synagogue, and they were amazed. “Where did this man get this wisdom and these miraculous powers?” they asked. 55 “Isn’t this the carpenter’s son? Isn’t his mother’s name Mary, and aren’t his brothers James, Joseph, Simon and Judas? 56 Aren’t all his sisters with us? Where then did this man get all these things?” 57 And they took offense at him.

But Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his own town and in his own home.”

58 And he did not do many miracles there because of their lack of faith.

Commentary

Looking back, we find that Jesus had some conflict about his family (12:46-50) right before he began a long series of parables. In that scene, it was apparent that Jesus was alienated from his family during his Galilean ministry around Capernaum. In a way, this passage resumes the narrative right about where we left it, but this time the alienation is between Jesus and his hometown.[1]

Looking forward, commentator Craig Blomberg compares Nazareth’s rejection of Jesus (verses 13:53-58) with the rejection of John the Baptist by Herod Antipas, ruler of Galilee (14:1-12). Both rejections were based on a mistaken assessment of who Jesus is.[2] They never did get it straight.

Now and then in studying the Bible, you will come on situations that just make you shake your head in dismay. When the people of Nazareth heard the teaching by Jesus in their synagogue, and possibly saw a healing (verse 54), their reaction was such as to require a Greek verb (ekplesso) meaning “to be filled with amazement to the point of being overwhelmed.”[3]

In the next breath, they start raising questions (verse 54): Where did this man get this wisdom and these miraculous powers? Like everyone in Galilee, they had heard reports of his miracles and also the charge that he had done them with Satan’s power. Next come three questions about Jesus’ family, each expecting a yes answer (e.g., This is the carpenters son, is it not?). Based on their own words, they decide that Jesus could not possibly be anything special, and they take offense at him (verse 57a).

So, the people of Nazareth cling to the past, and cannot shake giving Jesus an identity from their past: the carpenters son (verse 55). Even his astonishing teaching and a few miracles cannot bring them out of spiritual lethargy. When their Messiah came, they did not receive him.

What does it take, or what did it take, to rouse you from spiritual lethargy?

Among English versions, the NLT does the best job of translating the idiom in verse 57b: “Then Jesus told them, A prophet is honored everywhere except in his own hometown and among his own family.” Keep in mind that a prophet was primarily a teacher and only revealed future events when God decided to make it so. Among many things, Jesus was a prophet.

Jesus does not force anyone to commit to him. In response to their unbelief, Jesus left them with most of the same problems they had when he arrived. Except, they had stumbled on the one issue that, when botched, brings catastrophe: Jesus revealed himself to them, and they rejected him.

Just curious: what kind of welcome would Jesus get at your house?

[1] R.T. France, The Gospel of Matthew, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2007) 548.

[2] Craig L. Blomberg, Matthew, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1992) 226.

[3] BDAG-3, ekplesso, astound, q.v.