Friday, June 01, 2007

Who does Matthew think Jesus is?

"Single-handed, Chris Wright leads the reader convincingly and attractively into the whole sweep of 'biblical theology'. And he does it with a rare combination of the passion and excitement the man who loves and lives by the Bible with the calm common-sense of the responsible interpreter who is truly in tune with his text."
RT France, on Knowing Jesus through the Old Testament, Chris Wright

Chris Wright provides a valuable resource in approaching Matthew's Gospel with the Old Testament in view. I'm not going to rehearse his arguments here but I'll admit I've found him very helpful in understanding who Jesus is in the light of the promises of God.

The book that opens the Christian New Testament starts with "The Genesis of Jesus Christ, Son of Abraham, Son of David". Though many of us probably skip the genealogy it should be our first point of careful study. The line is traced from Abraham to David, David to the exile and the exile to Joseph. The names are selected with many omitted. To David the line is familiar and notably includes Gentile Women (a global theme recurs in Matthew as the Son of Abraham is presented - even to the global call to proclaim Christ in 'the great commission').

Matthew gives a different genealogy to Luke's (which I'll look at another day). Why? The differences cannot have escaped the church's attention. Having pursued a line from Abraham to Joseph, Matthew then tells us that Jesus wasn't the natural son of Joseph. It cannot be a genetic line that matters to Matthew. Yet he concludes that Jesus is the Christ (v18). He places Jesus in the royal line (from David to the exile are the kings, unlike in Luke's version) yet without apology shows that Jesus is the Son of God, adopted into the line of David. Completing the Abrahamic & Davidic lines is vital but his divine sonship is greater. Great David's Greater Son is - as was promised - God's son.

Matthew goes on to cite five Old Testament references to prove Jesus' fulfillment of what has gone before. He selects obscure passages that are mostly not prophecies. A notable one is his claim that Jesus' journey from Bethlehem to Nazareth via Egypt fulfills what God had said in Hosea 11 about Israel - that they were his son brought out of Egypt. He sees Jesus as the completion of what God has done in the past with his people - what was then, repeated in Jesus. Through history and geography, guided by God's promises.

He had to know he was being obscure! If it's fiction it's strange fiction - why not play more obviously on promises? Matthew perseveres and happily declares that Jesus fulfills all righteousness and fulfills all the promises of the Law and the Prophets.

What of his rule? Matthew sees Jesus proclaiming his kingdom throughout his book, climaxing in his enthronement on a Roman cross, bearing curse in accordance with God's word. Finally Jesus' rule is seen in Matthew closing words: Jesus is given all authority. Not just as David's son, but as God's son. And his rule will be globally expressed as his disciples teach the world to obey everything he has spoken. Come the end of the age Jesus' rule will be most clearly seen with a rule to make every human rule pale in scale and scope. Matthew sees disciples of Jesus coming from east and west to be in his kingdom (8:11) - not just an earthly kingdom but Messiah's Kingdom of Heaven. "And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come." (24:14).

Matthew repeatedly tells us about Jesus' Kingdom, illustrating with parables to show it's nature and it's glory:
"The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it." Today this kingdom of scattered disciples may look less than an earthly kingdom like David's, at the end of the age it will be seen by all.

And so the question is then raised (13:10-17) do we have ears to hear what Jesus says and so receive the secrets of his kingdom? Or are we dull hearted and so unable to see that Jesus is Messiah?
Then the disciples came and said to him, "Why do you speak to them in parables?" And he answered them, "To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. For to the one who has, more will be given, and he will have an abundance, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand. Indeed, in their case the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled that says:
"'You will indeed hear but never understand, and you will indeed see but never perceive. For this people's heart has grown dull, and with their ears they can barely hear, and their eyes they have closed, lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their heart and turn, and I would heal them.'

But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear. Truly, I say to you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.

As he does elsewhere Jesus asks us to listen to his words by which he rules, he asks us to hear. Matthew portrays Jesus as the King who calls everyone who hears his teaching to obey it. If I don't obey I'm on the wrong end of the King's rule, if I obey (by believing) I'll find myself in his kingdom, truly Abrahamically-blessed and enlivened - counted righteous by King Jesus, the global-divine King who completes all the expectation of God's promises and God's people.

1 comment:

  1. Great post. You need to close the last italic tag though, the rest of the blog has gone slanty...