A Possible Ambush, A Great Change, Matthew 12:22-28

Perhaps you have heard the advice that if you don’t have a good, sound argument, then find an argument that sounds good. Anyone interested in American politics sees that ploy in use all the time. But you can find people in the Gospels trying the very same tactic on Jesus.

The Jewish religious leaders, led by the scribes and Pharisees, had a problem on their hands. They had given a name to their pain, and that name was Jesus. We already know they were working on a plot to kill him (Matthew 12:14), but they had to be careful about his death to avoid any blame.

Might there be another way to stop Jesus?

Matthew 12:22-28

22 Then they brought him a demon-possessed man who was blind and mute, and Jesus healed him, so that he could both talk and see. 23 All the people were astonished and said, Could this be the Son of David?

24 But when the Pharisees heard this, they said, It is only by Beelzebul, the prince of demons, that this fellow drives out demons.

25 Jesus knew their thoughts and said to them, Every kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and every city or household divided against itself will not stand. 26 If Satan drives out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then can his kingdom stand? 27 And if I drive out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your people drive them out? So then, they will be your judges. 28 But if it is by the Spirit of God that I drive out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.

Commentary

When you read this, the Dallas Cowboys will be preparing for the playoffs. As every football fan knows, when you have a powerful opponent, it is vital to scout them thoroughly and try to find some way to attack them. The Pharisees and their allies had been scouting Jesus from the beginning, but his abundant miracles, both healings and exorcisms, gave their efforts special urgency.

It is my opinion that the events we are looking into today may have been an ambush. The Pharisees knew Jesus would perform an exorcism, if the need arose, and they had prepared an argument that they hoped would place him in such danger that his life could be taken according to the law. Practicing magic or sorcery was a capital offense under Jewish religious law, so one promising line of attack was to convince the public that Jesus was a sorcerer.[1] Such a charge would put him on the wrong side of Roman law as well. As in the trial and crucifixion of Jesus, Roman consent was necessary to execute anyone, but an aroused mob needs no consent. While this is speculation on my part, it fits the circumstances as we know them.

Matthew reports the miracle with remarkably few words (verse 22). Yet the few words present a man in abject misery, having an ongoing experience of blindness and inability to speak due to a demonic presence within him. This man is an archetype for a prisoner of Satan. Though the details are not stated, we can infer that Jesus cast out the demon, and muted it as well, because Mark informs us that, upon seeing Jesus, the unclean spirits would cry out, You are the Son of God (Mark 3:11). Jesus freed this man so he could both see and speak (Matthew 12:22).

Yet the words Matthew reports are those of the astonished witnesses: Could this be the Son of David? (verse 23). France notes that this is the first time in Matthew’s Gospel a crowd has used explicit messianic language about Jesus.[2] The significance of the crowds reaction is not lost on the Pharisees! They immediately respond with their prepared charge: It is only by Beelzebul, the prince of demons, that this fellow drives out demons (verse 24). Beelzebul seems to have been a popular nickname for Satan, a name chosen for the crowds ears.

In making his first counterargument (verses 25-26), Jesus too relies on what is common knowledge; a demon king attacking his own forces would divide his own kingdom and lead to its fall. The people knew all about how internal divisions had torn Herod’s kingdom into many pieces after his death (see the map in the introduction). So, it made no sense for Satan to attack himself by empowering Jesus exorcisms.

How does unity among Christians play a vital role in accomplishing Jesus work among us and in our community? What about the effect of disunity?

Jesus makes his second counterargument in verse 27; his opponents have no right to criticize his exorcisms while approving exorcisms done by their own disciples.[3] Do not fail to notice verse 27b: So then, they will be your judges. In the final judgment, when the deeds of every person are evaluated by God, the disciples of the Pharisees will testify that they performed exorcisms on orders of their masters, bringing them shame for criticizing Jesus.

The idea that these false charges against Jesus were orchestrated finds support in Jewish sources making the same charge of sorcery or magic against Christians working miracles well into the second century after Christ came.[4] One such Jewish source talks about an early second-century rabbi who, when near death, tried to get a second rabbi to let a Christian enter and pray for him, but he died before he could finish the argument.[5] We all want miracles!

The Arrival of God’s Promised Rule

Matthew 12:28 But if it is by the Spirit of God that I drive out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.

My guess is that the Pharisees were not expecting Jesus to meet their prepared charge with a strong defense. Worse for them, Jesus took the offensive (verse 28) with an effective, though indirect, claim to cast out demons by the Spirit of God. His audience knows what he is claiming, but his wording offers no effective way to charge him with anything.

This skirmish between Jesus and the Pharisees has the appearance of a strictly earthly struggle for religious control of Galilee, but Jesus is revealing developments in a much larger conflict. Jesus is ripping away parts of Satan’s kingdom and making them part of his own. He pulls back the concealing drape in verse 28.

The if-statement in verse 28 has a form meaning that it must be taken as true for the sake of argument. As a matter of fact, we know the if-statement to be true. Jesus does drive out demons by the Spirit of God. That means the matching conclusion is true as well: then the kingdom of God has come upon you (verse 28b). Jesus is warning his opponents that his decisive victory over the demonic spirits by the Spirit of God is a clear sign that God’s rule has come through him. To oppose Jesus is to oppose God.

What are the implications of such an effortless victory by Jesus over Satan? What does this victory say about Jesus ability to help you defeat spiritual enemies in your own life?

The person who best develops the meaning of the phrase the kingdom of God has come upon you (verse 28) is Darrell Bock of Dallas Theological Seminary when he explains Luke 11:20. Bock points out that Jesus demonstration of saving authority demands a decision: Jesus is perceived as ruling over God’s many salvation benefits. He has the authority to distribute them to anyone who responds to his message.[6] Bock points out that the presence of Jesus rule within believers, through the indwelling Holy Spirit, looks forward to his coming physical rule over the earth.

Have you made a decision about the reign of Jesus over your life? If not, what is standing in your way?

Copyright 2017 Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.

[1]Craig S. Keener, A Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew(Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1999) 361.

[2] R. T. France, The Gospel of Matthew, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2007)477.

[3] Keener, Matthew,363.

[4] Keener, Matthew, 362.

[5] Keener, Matthew, 362.

[6] Darrell L. Bock, Luke 9:51-24:53, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1996), 1081.

Taking the Role of Servant, Matthew 12:15-21

If you look around, it is not hard to find people who are quietly trying to make their way through life. They don’t get on TV or find themselves as the subject of a best-selling book. Perhaps you are one of those quiet, diligent people.

On the other hand, we also have those seeking to be the center of attention, making frequent selfies, posting their smallest movements on Facebook and otherwise wanting to be noticed and highly valued by others.

Though the world of the first century was very different from ours, these two types of people were still around. The quiet people trying to get through their lives were among those coming in throngs to find Jesus and get help. The more self-concerned and self-assertive group was led by the Pharisees and scribes in their constant effort to be seen as godly men helping — or making! — others be godly too, at least according to their rules for godliness.

Which groups did Jesus identify with? What kind of man was he?

Matthew 12:15-21

15 Aware of this, Jesus withdrew from that place. A large crowd followed him, and he healed all who were ill. 16 He warned them not to tell others about him. 17 This was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet Isaiah:

18 Here is my servant whom I have chosen,
the one I love, in whom I delight;
I will put my Spirit on him,
and he will proclaim justice to the nations.
19 He will not quarrel or cry out;
no one will hear his voice in the streets.
20 A bruised reed he will not break,
and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out,
till he has brought justice through to victory.
21 In his name the nations will put their hope.

What did Jesus tell the people he healed?

Commentary

As we have seen, Jesus declared that it was lawful to do good on the Sabbath and did just that by healing a man with a withered hand (Matthew 12:13). What Jesus considered lawful, the Pharisees considered awful — I couldn’t resist — so they began plotting to kill him (Matthew 12:14). These were the facts occupying Jesus’ mind as we begin verse 15.

Osborne provides a sound overview of verses 15-21 by saying, As the Pharisees plot violence against the Son of God, Jesus takes the lowly path, serving God and humankind.[1] This contrast is a key point of the section.

In saying that Jesus “withdrew from that place,” Matthew uses a Greek verb (anachoreo) that indicates a retreat to safety, something Jesus has already done several times to avoid direct conflict with his opponents. The day will come (in Jerusalem) when he will confront the Pharisees and put them to shame, but now such action would misdirect his mission. It would lead to premature trial and crucifixion, if not his outright murder.

Sometimes withdrawal from conflict can better serve God's purposes. For example, maintaining unity within a group of believers might require avoidance of conflict. What similar examples occur to you?

Instead of dealing with the Pharisees and their endless plotting, Jesus spent his hours healing illnesses among the large crowd that followed him (verse 15b). He commanded them to be silent about their healing (verse 16) so that no further trouble might erupt; the Pharisees were right on the point of behaving with violence. Matthew shows us that Jesus, in taking this peaceful, caring approach, was fulfilling the role of God’s special servant, as revealed by the prophet Isaiah many centuries earlier (verse 17).

By quoting this famous passage from Isaiah, Matthew implies a question: who is behaving like the servant of Yahweh? In theory, there might be two alternatives: either the Pharisees or Jesus. The Pharisees certainly see themselves as God’s servant and want honor from others as well. Matthew has shown us that Jesus is the Messiah, and the Messiah had long been considered a prime candidate to fulfill Isaiah’s prophecy. So, Matthew is obviously presenting Jesus as the fulfillment of this role. To demonstrate that Matthew is right, we need to examine the prophecy itself.

Matthew 12:18 (“Here is my servant whom I have chosen, the one I love, in whom I delight; I will put my Spirit on him, and he will proclaim justice to the nations”) corresponds to Isaiah 42:1. This part is easy because in Matthew 3:17, at Jesus baptism by John, the Holy Spirit came upon Jesus, and the Father declared him to be his Son in whom he was well pleased. While we have not yet had many developments about the nations, the healing of the Roman centurion’s servant was accomplished along with a declaration from Jesus that many would come from the east and the west to take the place of the Jews who were disloyal to God (Matthew 8:513). Obviously, Jesus has satisfied this prophecy, while the self-declared defenders of the faith, the Pharisees, have not.

How does replacing disloyal Jews with loyal Gentiles demonstrate proclaiming justice to the nations?

Matthew 12:19 (“He will not quarrel or cry out; no one will hear his voice in the streets”) corresponds to Isaiah 42:2. It is easy to show that the Pharisees have been regularly initiating disputes with Jesus and his disciples. Matthew 9:1-15 has the dispute over Jesus healing and forgiving sins as well as the controversy over his eating with tax collectors and sinners. We also recall Jesus teaching on the mountain to beware those who pray while standing in synagogues and on street corners to be seen by others (Matthew 6:5), a clear reference to the Pharisees.

Matthew 12:20 (“A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out, till he has brought justice through to victory”) matches Isaiah 42:3. France gives us great clarity here.[2] A cracked or bent reed could no longer serve its intended purpose; the same was true of a barely smoldering lamp wick. Many would throw these broken or spent things away without a thought. But the reed and the wick are metaphors for broken and hurting people, the very ones Jesus was busy healing and restoring to a meaningful life.

This image of brokenness represents so many of us. How did Jesus rescue you from a desperate life, going nowhere? If that is not your story, how has the great healer improved your life?

The final clause of verse 20 (“till he has brought justice through to victory”) needs explanation. Jesus will continue to lift up those broken people seeking him until the day when final justice is achieved through his victory over sin, death and Satan. It is easy to understand why the nations will put their hope in Jesus (verse 21) because no one else can bring about justice!

In short, we have the Pharisees busy plotting murder while Jesus is busy healing and caring for deeply hurting people. The contrast could hardly be greater, and it is obvious who is fulfilling Isaiah 42:3 (Matthew 12:20).

Copyright 2016 Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.

[1] Grant R. Osborne, Matthew, Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2010)462.

[2] R. T. France, The Gospel of Matthew, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2007)472-73.

Taking the Easy Yoke, Matthew 11:28-30

In this case we come to a famous Bible verse that many older Christians have memorized. Experience tells me that lots of Christians love this verse because it offers something they want (rest), but they lack understanding of the all-important details. The situation is something like getting one of those offers for a free dinner at a local steak house only to realize when you get there that it is a sales event, not the outright gift you were wishing for. We all like gifts and dislike obligations.

For many of us, life is a struggle, though in North Texas the struggle often occurs in comfortable surroundings, and frustrated dreams are too familiar. On top of everything is our relationship to God. Has that relationship become just one more burden among many?

Matthew 11:28-30

28 Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.

Who gives rest? What does he require of you in doing so?

Commentary

If “those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him [the Father]” of verse 27 sounded selective, verse 28 opens the invitation to “all you who are weary and heavy laden.” Yet, it is important that you be clear on the fact that those who do not “come to me” (verse 28a) do not get the “rest” that Jesus is offering.

In the context of Matthew’s Gospel, “come to me” has to start with repenting because the rule of God has come, and that has been Jesus message from the start (Matthew 4:17). But repenting is not like a drunk shifting from whisky to rum — a meaningless change. In our case, repenting involves turning away from those who say they need nothing from God, if he exists, and going to Jesus, the man from heaven, who assuredly lives! So, “come to me” is a call to discipleship under Jesus.[1]

As to being “weary and burdened” (verse 28), the first condition (weary) is expressed by a Greek form that suggests weariness is an ongoing condition. The second condition, being burdened, arises from a Greek form suggesting that the burden was put on them long ago and never taken off. Since Matthew 23:4 and Luke 11:46 use the same verb to express the Jewish religious requirements used to regulate people’s behavior, these burdens seem to have a religious origin. So, the people in first-century Israel are worn out from carrying out the burden of the law as it has been interpreted in detail by the scribes and the Pharisees.

Christianity has also had groups similar to the scribes and Pharisees, and these groups have at times made Christian faith more of a burden than a gift from God. It should become apparent from what Jesus is saying that those groups were not carrying out his intentions. They had an agenda of their own.

Has your personal history included painful, discouraging experiences from some Christian group or church? Did these experiences drive you away from Christ, or did you seek him again with a different group?

It is entirely possible that the weariness and burdens also involve parts of our lives that we do not normally associate with God, though he is truly Lord of all. Living, working and getting an education in a world gripped by sin and spiritual darkness can produce a weariness and burden all its own. Only Jesus can teach you how to deal with all that, because he had to do it too.

It has proven remarkably difficult to narrow the concept of “rest” (verses 28-29). First, Jesus’ words seem to look back to Exodus 33:14, where Yahweh says, “My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” Yahweh was speaking to Moses and possibly to the entire nation in the aftermath of a serious incident involving rebellion by the Israelites on their way to Canaan. In that context, rest was connected with settling in Canaan, the land of milk and honey, where God would vanquish their enemies, give them abundant land, and dwell with them in security from future enemies.

New Testament theologian N. T. Wright shows us a way forward when he says, “Jesus was replacing adherence or allegiance to Temple and Torah [law] with allegiance to himself.”[2] Jesus sees the spiritual burden put on the people by the teachings of the scribes and Pharisees, and he invites the people to come to him, the Son of Man from heaven, to put themselves into submission to him and his interpretation of the law. This submission is what is meant by the yoke — “take my yoke upon you and learn from me” (verse 29) — a device that comes from the imagery of plowing a field. Discipleship does not exempt anyone from work but makes it manageable.[3]

In the near term, those who come to Jesus find their spiritual burden lightened due to the presence of Jesus and the wisdom provided by his teaching. That is more restful than the crushing burden they have had before, and it allows them to look forward to the ultimate rest that will follow when they are with Christ in heaven. Rest now and better rest later is the blessing Jesus offers them.

All of this is possible because of who Jesus is. He is not only the Son of Man, offering them rest, but he will be with them on the way as a master who is “gentle and humble in heart” (verse 29). This rest does not consist of complete freedom from all restraint and obligation, something sought by twenty-first century hedonists. Taking the yoke of Jesus means that he is our Lord, and this teaching prepares us for Paul’s message in Romans 6 that those united to Christ are slaves to God.

Our secular world offers a life without significance, a struggle to keep the ever-changing moral requirements that emerge from an elusive human consensus, and no hope that the struggle will matter beyond our own insignificant, and utterly final, death. Jesus offers rest for your soul, both now and forever.

Will you either take Jesus offer for the first time, or will you continue to learn how to put down the burdens of this world and further embrace the easy yoke of Jesus? How will you do that?

Copyright 2016 Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.

[1] Grant R. Osborne, Matthew, Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2010)441.

[2] N. T. Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 1997) 274.

[3] Craig L. Blomberg, Matthew, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1992)194.

Where To Seek God, Matthew 11:25-27

It would be hard to improve on the words of Mark Lilla: “To most humans, curiosity about higher things comes naturally, its indifference to them that must be learned.”[1]

Matthew 11:25-27

25 At that time Jesus said, I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. 26 Yes, Father, for this is what you were pleased to do.

27 All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.

What does this text say about what is hidden and what is revealed?

Commentary

At times Bible translators can be too smart for their own good! You would not think that the simple words Jesus said (verse 25) could be tricky, but we will look a little closer. Actually, the Greek here says something like: “Jesus answered and said” (NASB). But most English versions have collapsed the two verbs into just one, arguing that this was required by English style. Not so fast!

Recent research, made practical by use of computers and biblical databases, indicates that Bible passages in the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) using the “answered and said” pattern (in Greek, of course) turn out to be important statements.[2]

So, what vital truth is Jesus revealing to us in the wake of this importance-marker in verse 25? These verses are difficult to unravel because we have to make some educated guesses about the meaning of these things: the wise and learned and little children. So, we had best get to it.

Osborne offers us a useful summary when he says, “God reveals his truths only to those who open themselves up to him with a childlike simplicity and receptivity, not to those who in their pride and self-sufficiency feel no need for it.”[3] By this reading, the little children (verse 25) are those who have responded to Jesus and accepted who his miracles prove him to be. This group of God-seekers occasionally includes centurions (Matthew 8:59) and synagogue leaders (Matthew 9:18), but more often includes tax collectors and sinners (Matthew 11:19).

We have also seen that the religious leadership, led by the scribes and Pharisees, are lining up to oppose Jesus, and they seem to have convinced the bulk of the population in Capernaum, Bethsaida and Chorazin to follow their lead. Jesus has already denounced that entire group and made it clear that they are on the broad road that leads to destruction. So, this group comprises the wise and the learned from whom the things revealed in and through Jesus are hidden (verse 25).

What cross-pressures exist in our own culture that try to convince us not to value Jesus or, indeed, to value any honor paid to God?

France ably points out that Jesus’ disciples, diverse as they are, represent an alternate community that the world does not value. This alternate community has repented and is trying to learn how to live according to the humble, compassionate, God-honoring values that Jesus has taught. It is they alone who can know the truth about God and his Son.[4]

Note carefully that hiding the truth from the wise and learned and revealing it to the little children happens according to what is pleasing to the Father. France clarifies this division when he says, “The basis of this division is not an arbitrary selection, but the fundamental principle of divine revelation, that it comes to those who are open to it, but finds no response with those who think they know better.”[5]

There is no ground here for any of the anti-intellectualism that has sometimes plagued Christianity in America. Openness to the truth is not a function of education or social class. A good example of what Jesus is talking about occurs when he is interrogated by Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor of Judea:
Jesus: “The reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me” (John 18:37).
Pilate: “What is truth?” (John 18:38).

Like many in our society today, Pilate had no confidence that truth could be had anywhere! He left to address the crowd before Jesus could answer.

Where do people in our culture turn to find the truth? If they become frustrated in the search, to what alternatives do they turn?

When verse 27 speaks of all things being committed to Jesus by the Father, it must certainly include what Jesus has taught about God’s reign, the authority to work miracles that he has demonstrated, and (in this verse) it includes revealing the Father to those whom the Son deems receptive. It is also true that the Father has committed to the Son “all authority in heaven and earth” (Matthew 28:18), as revealed in the Great Commission.

Of special interest is the final clause of verse 27: “No one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.” This is an astounding thing for anyone to say, except for the fact that Jesus is the Son! Osborne captures this when he says: “This is tantamount to a declaration of the deity of Christ. He is more than an Agent; he is the Revealer!”[6]

An even closer look focuses on “those to whom the Son chooses to reveal [the Father]” (verse 27b). “Chooses” is a loaded translation for this Greek verb; HCSB translates better with “anyone to whom the Son desires to reveal him.” In fact, a more careful look at the grammar here yields interesting results. The Greek verb is present tense, usually implying an ongoing action. The specific wording of this section involves repeated action, regardless of the time element.[7] The action relates to anyone or whoever meets the condition of openness to God and his reign.

So, whether in the first century or the twenty-first century, Jesus repeatedly finds those who want to know God, and he, in turn, fulfills his ongoing desire to make the Father known to them. Otherwise, you and I would have never found out!

Copyright 2016 Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.

[1] Mark Lilla, “The Hidden Lesson of Montaigne,”New York Review of Books 58, no. 5 (March 24, 2011): 20.

[2] Mavis M. Leung, The Discourse Function of apokrithe kai eipen (He Answered and Said) in the Gospel of John, Bibliotheca Sacra 171 (July-September 2014) 307-327. See also France, Matthew, 439, footnote 1.

[3] Grant R. Osborne, Matthew, Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2010)440.

[4] R. T. France, The Gospel of Matthew, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2007)441.

[5] France, Matthew, 443.

[6] Osborne, Matthew, 441.

[7] BDAG-3, an, used with a relative pronoun to mean whoever, (meaning b. beta), q.v.

Missed Opportunities to Find Rest, Matthew 11:20-24

Many who use this blogconsider themselves sports fans. Another large group of our readers prefer movies. If mixed together, these two groups can resemble oil and water in relation to their preferences, but they have one thing in common. Every sports event and every movie comes to an end at a certain time.

Actually, we are all accustomed to this idea on a broader basis. Every day, week, month, year, decade, century, or millennium comes to an end. So does every life. No one takes the streets to protest the end of Tuesday, November 19, 2016.

Why is it that we can get so much pushback from declaring that a day is coming on which this age and this world will end — a day of judgment? Perhaps the difference is that the day of judgment will be personal; there will be winners and losers. Ecstatic winners. Inconsolable losers.

Is there a way to influence the judge in our favor? Who is the judge? Jesus, the Son of Man and Son of God, will judge our individual cases, and he has commanded all to repent and submit to the reign of God while each has opportunity.

Some failed to listen or comply, and today we will learn of their end. Or, will it be the end of the beginning, with far worse to follow?

Matthew 11:20-24

20 Then Jesus began to denounce the towns in which most of his miracles had been performed, because they did not repent. 21“Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. 22 But I tell you, it will be more bearable for Tyre and Sidon on the day of judgment than for you. 23 And you, Capernaum, will you be lifted to the heavens? No, you will go down to Hades. For if the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Sodom, it would have remained to this day. 24 But I tell you that it will be more bearable for Sodom on the day of judgment than for you.”

Commentary

Here our secular society must consider a troubling possibility from their viewpoint: if Jesus actually had the authority and the power to overrule the natural order by working miracles, as all ancient sources say, then might he also have the authority to bring the existing natural order to an end? Those committed to a world run exclusively by humans and not by God will bring every tool of denial and distraction into play to keep that question quiet!

Verse 20 has a hidden quality that I want to bring to your attention. While the NIV’s translation “then Jesus began to denounce the towns” is accurate, the underlying Greek verb emphasizes the subject, Jesus.[1] Criticism is so common in our society that we scarcely give it a thought. But, when Jesus denounces you, it’s time to go to red alert! The initial Greek verb typically means to rule or govern, but that verb takes on the meaning “begin” in many contexts, possibly because a person with authority can begin something that lasts. Jesus began things that no one could stop!

Chorazin and Bethsaida lay to the north and east of Capernaum, neither very far away. Archaeology has shown them to be similar in size to Capernaum.[2] In verse 21, Jesus presents us with an if-clause which is contrary to fact since no such miracles were done in Tyre and Sidon. [Stop and consider the implications of Jesus telling us what would have actually happened in a different place and millennium!] Blomberg explains that Tyre and Sidon, in ancient Phoenicia, were paradigms of Israel’s ancient enemies.[3] So, Jesus is shaming these Jewish cities as less responsive to God than those pagan cities already condemned to terrible retribution.

According to one notable authority, “woe” is an interjection that means “how greatly one will suffer” or “what terrible pain will come to one.”[4] The phrase “woe to you” occurs twenty-two times in Isaiah and always marks those who have set themselves against God and his purposes.

These particular towns received the unique honor of having miracles worked within their bounds to benefit people they all knew. After seeing an astonishing shower of God’s kindness from Jesus, the mass of people and their leaders still failed to heed his call for repentance. As R. T. France suggests, these towns seem content to go on as if nothing has changed; they have no clue what the reign of God means.[5]

Verse 22 should have sent chills down the spines of all in Chorazin and Bethsaida who were not committed to Jesus. For Jews to hear that the historically-hated Gentiles from Tyre and Sidon would find judgment day more bearable than a Jewish town would have resulted in profound shock and anger.

But Jesus saves his most searing rebuke for Capernaum (verse 23). Those Jews familiar with Isaiah’s taunts against the proud king of Babylon (Isaiah 14:13, 15) would have found such mocking words used in relation to the pride of Capernaum in verse 23. Just as Babylon had considered itself above all others and untouchable, so Capernaum swelled with unjustified pride. Was it not only prosperous and favorably positioned but also the home of the great healer and exorcist of Galilee — Jesus?

But, Jesus says that Capernaum, like the proud king of Babylon, will not ascend to the heavens; it will descend to Hades, the place of the dead (verse 23). Why? Because Capernaum failed to repent after seeing the miracles performed by Jesus, miracles that would have brought Sodom to its knees and spared it from total destruction. In Israelite minds, Sodom was the epitome of the wickedness.

There is, apparently, more than one way to receive God’s severe punishment. One is to indulge in the deepest depravity like Sodom (Genesis 19:1-29). Another is to have the greatest possible revelation from Jesus himself and then refuse his command to repent and submit to the reign of God. Jesus firmly declares that those failing to heed his words and his miraculous deeds, performed before their eyes, will receive God’s severest treatment on the day of judgment.

Copyright 2016 Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.

[1] The Greek verb archo is in the middle voice.

[2] R. T. France,The Gospel of Matthew, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2007) 438.

[3] Craig L. Blomberg, Matthew, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1992) 191.

[4] L&N, ouai, “how greatly one will suffer ,” q.v.

[5] France, Matthew, 438.

Exposition of Daniel 1:17-21 Yahweh causes Daniel’s rise

Daniel 1:17-21

17 To these four young men God gave knowledge and understanding of all kinds of literature and learning. And Daniel could understand visions and dreams of all kinds.

18 At the end of the time set by the king to bring them into his service, the chief official presented them to Nebuchadnezzar. 19 The king talked with them, and he found none equal to Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah; so they entered the king’s service. 20 In every matter of wisdom and understanding about which the king questioned them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and enchanters in his whole kingdom.

21 And Daniel remained there until the first year of King Cyrus.

Commentary

While it was true that Nebuchadnezzar had sent Daniel and his friends into training, it was Yahweh who granted them mastery by giving them knowledge and understanding of all kinds of literature and learning (verse 17). Not least, they knew the true God and could disregard the false gods of Babylon. They also knew to steer clear of divination and sorcery, which were forbidden in the law (Deut. 18:10-12). For an example of how the Babylonians commonly used such practices to make decisions during military campaigns, see Ezekiel 21:18-24 with special attention to Ezek. 21:21.

Not only did God enable the four young men to read cuneiform tablets written in Akkadian, but he also granted to Daniel the special skill of understanding “all visions and dreams” (ESV) not “all kinds of visions and dreams” (NIV). Yahweh did not make Daniel the master of dream categories; he made Daniel the precise interpreter or any individual dream by giving him the exact interpretation when required. This will become plain in chapter 2. In effect, Daniel became the channel for God’s interpretation of any dream whose meaning was to be made known to others.

Wood supports the above interpretation of verse 17 when he says:

This gift was entirely from God. Daniel could not learn the technique of true vision and dream interpretation. There is point to noting this here, for the Babylonians believed one could do so. In fact, much of the literature in which the young men would have had to become proficient concerned such techniques. … The four Judeans would have had to reject all such thinking, as they recognized that true revelation could come only from God, and as he pleased.[1]

In time, the day of reckoning came for Nebuchadnezzar to personally interview every candidate trained for service in his government (verses 18-20). This kind of attention to detail is plainly what made him one of the most formidable rulers of ancient times. By showing the king’s meticulous care, Daniel sets the stage for the unfolding of the king’s shrewd actions in chapter 2.

Because several English versions (NIV, ESV, NET and NLT) use the word “magicians” to describe some of the king’s counselors in Dan. 1:20b, we should clarify this term. The English word “magician” leads us to think of various illusions and tricks we have seen on television. But that is not anywhere close to the function Daniel mentions. The standard Hebrew lexicon offers “soothsayer-priests”[2] and HCSB skillfully translates using “diviner-priest.” Miller further describes the role of the diviner-priests:

Supposedly in touch with the world of the spirits and the gods, these individuals were advisers to the king on virtually every matter. They employed rites and spells intended to heal, exorcise demons, or counter an evil spell placed upon the sufferer. Omens were studied in order to understand the future, and astrology played an important part in this activity.[3]

Before you sneer at the idea of a powerful ruler being guided by such arcane advice, consider that one of our most popular American presidents is known to have used the advice of an astrologer in making and executing many decisions. In Nebuchadnezzar’s time there was no reason to hide such advisers; they served in an official capacity.

Chapter 1 records the steady rise of Daniel and his companions. They began as royal captives swept up in punitive conquest (verses 2-3). By maintaining their special diet as a symbol of loyalty to Yahweh, the four are seen by their overseer to be superior in appearance to all other trainees (verse 15). When Nebuchadnezzar examines their skill, they demonstrate superiority to all the diviner-priests and enchanters in Babylon (verse 20). At the beginning of the chapter no one is paying much attention to Daniel and his friends, but by the close of their training, the king values them above all his other advisers. The king has unwittingly recognized the skills Yahweh has given to these young men, and the chapter closes with the note that Daniel’s career extended throughout the Neo-Babylonian empire and into the reign of Cyrus the Great of Persia (verse 21).

Copyright 2015 by Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. These materials were originally prepared for use at Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.

[1] Leon Wood, A Commentary on Daniel (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1973)43.

[2] HALOT, chartum, soothsayer-priest, q.v.

[3] Stephen R. Miller, Daniel, The New American Commentary (Nashville: B&H Publishing Group, 1994)72.

Exposition of Daniel 12:1-13 Yahweh delivers the righteous, both living and dead

Daniel 12:1-13

1 At that time Michael, the great prince who protects your people, will arise. There will be a time of distress such as has not happened from the beginning of nations until then. But at that time your people everyone whose name is found written in the book will be delivered. 2 Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt. 3 Those who are wise will shine like the brightness of the heavens, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars for ever and ever. 4 But you, Daniel, roll up and seal the words of the scroll until the time of the end. Many will go here and there to increase knowledge.

5 Then I, Daniel, looked, and there before me stood two others, one on this bank of the river and one on the opposite bank. 6 One of them said to the man clothed in linen, who was above the waters of the river, How long will it be before these astonishing things are fulfilled?

7 The man clothed in linen, who was above the waters of the river, lifted his right hand and his left hand toward heaven, and I heard him swear by him who lives forever, saying, It will be for a time, times and half a time. When the power of the holy people has been finally broken, all these things will be completed.

8 I heard, but I did not understand. So I asked, My lord, what will the outcome of all this be?

9 He replied, Go your way, Daniel, because the words are rolled up and sealed until the time of the end. 10 Many will be purified, made spotless and refined, but the wicked will continue to be wicked. None of the wicked will understand, but those who are wise will understand.

11 From the time that the daily sacrifice is abolished and the abomination that causes desolation is set up, there will be 1,290 days. 12 Blessed is the one who waits for and reaches the end of the 1,335 days.

13 As for you, go your way till the end. You will rest, and then at the end of the days you will rise to receive your allotted inheritance.

Commentary

Recall that Daniel was an old man by the time he received this vision. He had faithfully served God, and, as we saw in his prayer in Daniel 9, he was deeply concerned about the fate of his people. In that prayer he hadn’t made excuses for their disobedience, but instead asked for mercy. He knew the Scriptures, and so he understood the promises God had made to Abraham, Moses and David. Daniel was standing firm because he trusted in the character of Yahweh. Because Yahweh keeps his Word, deliverance will eventually come for those who truly worship God.

The paragraph break for chapter 12 is unfortunate, because the angels vision of the future continues through Daniel 12:4. Further, verse 1 can be wrongly understood to refer to a point in time such as the moment that the Antichrist reaches his end (verse 45), but that is not correct. Wood translates During that time Michael … will stand up in order to make clear that Michael was fighting all during the tribulation for those under his care, the Jewish people.[1] Miller agrees that the time reference includes verses Dan. 11:36-45.[2] That difference in time will be vital to those involved.

The horrors of this period are called distress (Dan. 12:1), but need and helplessness bring out some other aspects of the final set of seven years that complete the enhanced punishment. When Jesus declared this time to be the greatest suffering in the entire history of Israel (Matt. 24:21), he was undoubtedly thinking of this verse. Only those inscribed in the Yahweh’s book will be delivered. As Paul tells the Romans, A person is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code (Rom. 2:29). Merely being a Jew will not ensure deliverance!

Verse 2 is an astounding statement by the angelic messenger, who proclaims both the resurrection of the dead and everlasting punishment or reward for those who are raised. Here again we see the frequent biblical metaphor of sleep in relation to those who are physically dead (John 11:11-14). Multitudes will wake to enter everlasting life, the Old Testament counterpart to the eternal life mentioned in such New Testament verses as John 3:16. This verse stands in complete refutation of those whether atheists or adherents of naturalism who say that at death we simply cease to exist.

However, many others will wake to enter everlasting abhorrence,[3] a Hebrew word used only here and in Isaiah 66:24. Miller explains the gravity of this state by saying: Isaiah’s use of the term appears to explain the significance of the expression in Dan. 12:2. So shocking will be the fate of the lost that onlookers must turn their faces away in horror (or disgust).[4] The cost for clinging to rebellion against Yahweh is not only high, it lasts forever!

Verse 3 has an unusual verb that deserves attention. The phrase “those who lead many to righteousness” is based on a verb that is also used to describe the Messiah in Isa. 53:11b, which says: “by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many, and he will bear their iniquities.” This beautiful Messianic prophecy says that Jesus will justify many by using his knowledge, or insight, to point them toward righteousness. Daniel 12:3 says that we can and should do the same thing! The part only Jesus can do is: “he will bear their iniquities” (Isa. 53:11b), which is what he did for us all at the cross.

NIV does an exceptional job with verse 4. So does Miller when he explains what the angel wants done with the scroll:

In the ancient Near East the custom was to seal an important document by impressing upon it the identifying marks of the parties involved and the recording scribe. A sealed text was not to be tampered with or changed. Then the original document was duplicated and placed (closed up) in a safe place where it could be preserved.[5]

The angel knows that those enduring the events at the end will make an anxious and desperate search for both the prophecy and its interpretation, just as Nebuchadnezzar (chapter 2), Belshazzar (chapter 5) and Daniel (chapter 9) had done when confronted with events that urgently required a word from heaven. That is the meaning of verse 4b. May God grant them the understanding they need in that day!

Final instructions

At this time Daniel suddenly finds that angels stand on either side of the Tigris, and one has a question for the man clothed in linen (verse 6) who stands above the waters of the river: How long will it be before these astonishing things are fulfilled? (verse 6b). Miller notes: “The fact that this knowledge is requested from the man in white suggests his superiority over the angels. . . . The angel’s question indicates that he was curious about these future events. It is interesting to observe there are things that even angels do not know but desire to learn (cf., 1 Pet. 1:12).”[6]

The angel’s question to Christ, as Miller[7] correctly identifies him, brings an amazing response: an oath is made by Christ concerning the answer (verse 7). Why does the answer come with an oath? A divine oath makes the following prophetic declaration unalterable.[8] What is that declaration? It is that three and a half years will be required for the Antichrist to break the power of the Jews. That time will bring an end to the rebellion of the Jews against God (Dan. 9:24) and end the seventieth seven-of-years.

Ever curious, Daniel asks, “What will happen after these things?” (verse 8b NET). We all wish that question had been answered! Yet, some cryptic yet important revelations remain. Not so cryptic is the statement that while some will be refined, others will continue their wickedness (verse 10a; see Rev. 9:20-21; 16:9, 11).

Difficult is the unraveling of the various time periods: 1260 days, 1290 days, and 1335 days. Since we already know that the last half of the seventieth seven-of-years lasts 3 and a half years (42 months of 30 days each = 1260 days), the difficulty lies in figuring out the other two numbers. We accept Wood’s suggestion: “A clue to as to [the additional 30 days that result in the total 1290 days] is found in Matthew 25:31-46, which describes a time of judgment by Christ immediately after he comes in power . . . . The purpose of the judgment is to determine those who will be permitted to enter into and enjoy the blessedness of the millennial period.”[9] The millennial period is a period of 1,000 years during which Christ rules on the earth as king (Rev. 20:2-3).

What then of the 1335 days (verse 12)? Miller suggests: “It has been reasonably suggested that this date is the official inauguration of the thousand-year reign of Christ on the earth. Wood thinks the additional forty-five days are needed to set up the millennial government.”[10]

In the final verse of the book, the promised resurrection is applied personally to Daniel (verse 13). It is my opinion that Daniel will rise to be posted as an administrator in the world-spanning government of the Lord Jesus Christ (Luke 19:17, 26a) during the millennium.

As for us, may we be faithful servants until we too join with Jesus, who said, “I tell you, I will not drink from this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in my Fathers kingdom” (Matthew 26:29). Amen.

Copyright 2015 Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.

[1] Leon Wood, A Commentary on Daniel (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1973)315.

[2] Stephen R. Miller, Daniel, The New American Commentary (Nashville: B&H Publishing Group, 1994)313.

[3] HALOT, deraon, abhorrence, q.v.

[4] Miller, Daniel, 317.

[5] Miller, Daniel, 320.

[6] Miller, Daniel, 322-3.

[7] Miller, Daniel, 323.

[8] Robert B. Chisholm, Jr., “Does God Change His Mind?,”Bibliotheca Sacra 152 (October-December 1995), 387-99.

[9] Wood, Daniel, 328.

[10] Miller, Daniel, 326.