FOUNDATIONAL FRAMEWORK. PART 47
Foundational Truths: The Bible is God’s self-revelation.
God is the Eternal, Sovereign Creator; all that He creates is good.
Man is a responsible agent, held to a moral standard.
Sin originates within a person, separating us from God.
God declares one righteous by faith alone, apart from works.
The glory of God is the centerpiece and goal of all existence.
God’s glory is maximally realized in the promised, coming Kingdom.
Matthew 3:1-6.John the Baptist did not come preaching “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved” (Acts 16:31). His “Good News” message was different because of the Old Testament promises that preceded the time of Jesus’ earthly arrival, and the grand goal of all history as culminating in a kingdom (Dan 7:13-14).
This was a message that had been promised, explained, and (in a way through the time of David and Solomon) demonstrated so that any confusion surrounding the issue would be minimal if one would only pay attention to what had already been revealed. This was a promise that was made to the Jewish people and this is exactly the focus of ministry that is seen in the beginning of the Gospel of Matthew.
John the Baptist preached, “Repent, for the kingdom of Heaven is at hand” (Matt 3:2). The direction of his preaching is seen clearly in v.5 where we are told that “Jerusalem was going out to him, and all Judea and all the district around the Jordan.” The message is precise and focused. Notice that there is an absence of elaboration on the word “kingdom.” Elaborating on this, Woods writes, “What this expression means is that the unchallenged rulership that God experiences in heaven had drawn near to the earth in the person of Jesus Christ, the long-awaited Davidic king.”An explanation of “the kingdom of heaven” would be out of place and is essentially unnecessary because of the revelation given to the Jews through the Old Testament. The Israelites knew exactly what John was talking about and they were responding to his call.
John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance. This is explained by the Apostle Paul in Acts 19:4 when he states, “John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in Him who was
coming after him, that is, in Jesus.” John’s baptism was preparatory for the coming King. Repentance, though a hotly debated issue in evangelicalism, is a compound word meaning “to change the mind.” The call of John was for the people to change their minds so that they would not miss the Savior when He arrived. Since the confession of sins is attached to this baptism, we can safely assume that there was an acute awareness of right and wrong, giving urgency since the proclamation of John was indicating that the time of the end was near.
However, the context in Matthew 3 gives a greater understanding to what exactly was in need of repentance, namely the grounds on which the Jews had been led to believe that they were acceptable unto God and should therefore be admitted entrance into the coming kingdom. Cocoris explains, “John is telling people who thought that they would enter the kingdom because they were descendants of Abraham that they must ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand,’ that is, they must not thinkthat because they are descendants of Abraham they will enter the kingdom. Obviously, they must think something else, which John mentions later, but the point is that when John the Baptist said, ‘Repent,’ he meant ‘change your mind’ about what you think it takes to enter the kingdom.”This faulty assumption is pronounced by John in Matthew 3:9.
For too long the Jews had been under the religious regulations of the Pharisees and Sadducees, as can been seen in something like the Talmud. While this short line of thinking could be considered a rabbit trail, it is important to understand what a first century Jew was dealing with when looking for spiritual guidance from those in authority over them.
Explaining the origins of the Talmud, Feinberg writes, “How did the Talmud come into being? The interpretation of the rabbis on the Old Testament was handed down orally through the centuries. This stream of oral teaching grew broader and increased in volume as the centuries came and went. Finally, it began to exceed the powers of memory, and
there was but one course left, to commit it to writing. There had been a standing prohibition against reduction of the material to writing, lest all further interpretation be stifled, but necessity decreed otherwise. The combined opinions handed down through the years were put in written form about 200 A.D. by Rabbi Judah the Prince. The work is known as the Mishnah, ‘teaching,’ or ‘repetition.’”
This may be better understood as having a Bible, but also lugging around a few commentaries on the whole Bible as well. It is not the physical weight that is being emphasized here, but the mental strain for the devout Jew who is desirous of “right living” that honors YHWH. With the Talmud, and then the Mishnah, the Old Testament ran a real risk of falling by the wayside. This is much like a judge who renders a verdict based off of a prior court’s decision rather than going straight to the laws of the land. You have distortion, misguided decisions, and eventually a complete loss of direction.
Sadly, it doesn’t end there. Feinberg continues, “It is the definite conviction of orthodox Judaism that all the laws were orally given to Moses at Sinai. But the Talmud consists of more than the Mishnah. The supplement to the Mishnah (there are a Palestinian and a Babylonian) is called ‘Gemara’—'supplement’ or ‘complement,’ that is, to the Mishnah. The aim of the Gemara is to interpret the Mishnah, to give the source of the teaching, the reasons for it, the explanations of obscure passages and real or seeming contradictions, and then to expand its contents by adapting it to the changing circumstances of life. Thus the Talmud consists, as to form, of Mishnah and Gemara. As to contents it comprises Halachah and Haggadah. The first deals with civil, criminal, and religious laws—it is legal to the core; the Haggadah contains non-legal Biblical exposition, homilies, narratives, legends, parables, ethical maxims, and general folklore. These two strands are not separated in the text, but are closely interwoven throughout.”
Now consider that YHWH’s revelation of life, living, morals, and ethics were stated clearly in the Ten Words given at Mt. Sanai (Exod 20:1-17).
Labored explanations served to obscure the simple and crucial commands of how a Jew was to walk in obedience with his or her Creator. Such religion had introduced a dose of amnesia to the importance of having a relationship and having fellowship with God. Now, YHWH was going to bring about His Son and the people of Israel needed to confess their sins (Matt 3:6b) and clear the way for the King of Israel’s arrival. Religion had to go. Their minds needed changing! Dabbling in sin only to offer the proper sacrifice later had to be rectified. Repentance was the only acceptable decision, understanding that the King was near, and with Him, the promised Kingdom of Israel.
Matthew 4:17.The first words that are recorded in Jesus’ public ministry are identical to that of John the Baptist (Matt 3:2). “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Again, no elaboration or explanation is given. The message, pertaining to the house of Israel, is clear.
Matthew 9:35-10:15.In this passage, we see that Jesus’ ministry consisted of the same message to the same people, going from city to city and visiting their synagogues in order to announce that the kingdom of heaven was near (9:35). Matthew records Jesus’ pity for the people because they were “troubled” and “helpless,” having no direction like sheep without a shepherd. Such a picture draws the mind back to Isaiah 40:11 and the compassionate demeanor that the Messiah is said to have toward Israel.
Those who were following Jesus are then addressed with a simple but pointed observation: “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few” (9:37). In Jesus’ estimation, there was a great field before them desperately in need of reaping. Something needed to be done.
The word for “beseech” in 9:38 is deomaimeaning “to ask for something pleadingly, ask, request,”and is translated as “beg/begging” in Luke 8:38, Acts 26:3, and 2 Corinthians 5:20. In other words, the Twelve were to beg God to send out doers who will do, so that the harvest will be harvested. It is interesting that the answer to this predicament is not to
“go and get something done.” MacDonald observes, “Notice here that the need does not constitute a call. Workers should not gountil they are sent.”When compared to Matthew 10:5, we find out that Jesus is the Lord of the harvest who sends out the Twelve with the Gospel of the Kingdom, providing direction to a religiously belabored and bogged down nation that had suffered greatly under the ailment of unbelief (Matt 9:24, 34) until Jesus’ arrival (Matt 9:18, 21, 22, 27, 28, 29, 32, 33).
While this entire narrative pertains to the message of the Kingdom of Heaven directed to the Jewish people, we cannot help but to see a secondary application in this passage and the desperate need for “doers” to be out harvesting the ripe souls that are in need of salvation. Are we begging Jesus to send “doers” into the harvest of unregenerate masses? Are we the ones being sent?
In Matthew 10:1, a realization is made by the disciples that they are the “doers” who will be sent out. Equipped with the Gospel of the Kingdom (10:7), they are given authority by Jesus over sickness and disease. This would be necessary to authenticate their message as being from God. In 10:2-4 the names of the disciples are given, of which Judas Iscariot is one. Make no mistake, Judas was given the same authority as the rest of the disciples of Christ, and that authority was given directly by Jesus. Knowing what we do of Judas’ later betrayal (which is noted by Matthew here) and his gruesome demise, we can understand that he had a heightened understanding of revelation, yet was not “clean” (John 13:11; compare with John 15:3 which occurs after Judas’ departure). More will be explained later regarding the responsibility that heightened revelation entails.
In 10:2 we have the first use of the word “apostles” in the New Testament. Secular common usage of this Greek word in the first century dealt with an envoy, naval expedition, or a deployment of ships with a particular message before them. It is understandable why Matthew uses this word. Radmacher explains, “The word apostleemphasizes delegated authority (1 Thess. 2:6); the term discipleemphasizes learning and following. Because the disciples had been given authority, they were now called apostles.”
In Matthew 10:5, Jesus gives specific instructions. They were not to go to the Gentiles (nations), nor to the Samaritans (people of a Jew/Gentile mixture). No, the target audience was to be the Jews and the message that was to be told to them was “The kingdom of heaven is at hand,” being the same message as that of Jesus (Matt 4:17) and John the Baptist (Matt 3:2). The word “preach” in 10:7 is a verb in the present imperative meaning that it is a continuous action or an ongoing process, being better understood as “keep on preaching.”
Accompanying this proclamation would be the ability to heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, and exercise demons (all of which Judas was a candidate for performing, hence the heightened revelation). Such was to be done without charge (10:8). The focus was not to be on material concerns, but on making sure that Israel had heard about the imminence of the Kingdom of Heaven.
In 10:10, Jesus says that the “worker is worthy of his support,” with the word for “support” literally meaning “nourishment.” Robertson states it as: “The sermon is worth the dinner.”The use of “worker” is the same word that Jesus used in 9:37 and 38 regarding the “workers” being few and imploring the Lord to “send out workers,” respectively. The conclusion is that the Twelve are the workers that the Lord of the harvest is sending out, and the Twelve are to be used by God, with the authority that they have been given, to go out and harvest a ripe crop, preaching the Gospel of the Kingdom to the inhabitants of Israel.
The apostles were not to exclude the possibility of rejection. Not everyone would respond favorably to their message. However, some would be “worthy” (10:13), those being the ones with which the apostles would stay as the traveled the length of Israel. Such recipients were to receive a blessing, but those who were “not worthy” were to have any
blessing that had been given removed (10:13b). For those, a sign was to be given to them in the form of the apostle shaking the dust from his feet in their sight (10:14). This sign would be understood as “an act indicating rejection of that Jewish city as if it were an unclean Gentile city.”Those who were “unworthy” had considered themselves unworthy. This was not something that was chosen by the disciples, or by Jesus, but was their own choice in rejecting the offer of the kingdom.
Matthew 10:15 is a startling statement that cannot be ignored. Jesus compares those who do not receive the Twelve and their message of the Kingdom to the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. Jesus states that the city that rejects the Twelve will fair far worse in “the day of judgment” than Sodom and Gomorrah. Knowing the fate of Sodom and Gomorrah, how could this be so? The issue here is the privilege of progressive revelation.
The amount of revelation that a people are given is directly tied to the amount of accountability that is placed upon that people. Or to put it another way, you are responsible for responding to what you know and learn and if you do not respond, having understood what was revealed to you, you will suffer the consequences for your failure to respond. When your opportunity for revelation has been heightened, your accountability to respond to that revelation has been heightened as well.
This can be better explained through an example in Scripture. Note Jesus’ words in Matthew 11:23-24, “And you, Capernaum, will not be exalted to heaven, will you? You will descend to Hades; for if the miracles had occurred in Sodom which occurred in you, it would have remained to this day.Nevertheless I say to you that it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in theday of judgment, than for you” (See also Luke 10:12-16).
Think about what Jesus has just said. If He would have been doing in Sodom the miracles that Capernaum had just witnessed, the city would still be standing. Due to Sodom’s gross sin, the city was wiped off of the surface of the earth when the Lord rained fire and brimstone upon it from heaven (Gen 19:24; Luke 17:29; 2 Pet 2:6; Jude 7). Because of
Capernaum’s greater exposure to the truth, meaning that they were given heightened revelation, they will fair worse in the day of judgment because of their failure to respond.
This is a truth of history that must be understood as a still-present reality today. Those who reject the Gospel of Jesus Christ after having heard it are of greater accountability unto the Lord to respond to it. This is why we make it our aim to obey the Lord with regards to the mandate of preaching the Gospel and making disciples of all nations.
Let’s be blunt in noting the contrast between our present text under consideration and our Church-Age responsibility to obedience.
In Jesus’ earthly ministry, the call went out regarding the kingdom of heaven being at hand. The King was on the scene, ready to usher in the Millennium. His forerunner and His disciples participated in this endeavor, keeping the message the central focus as the went out to the lost sheep of Israel.
While our ministry mandate today is to preach the good news on salvation through grace alone by faith alone in the Lord Jesus Christ alone, and to make disciples of all nations (Matt 28:19-20; Mark 16:15; Luke 24:47), the church is not charged with preaching the imminence of the kingdom of heaven. While we see numerous examples where the concept of the kingdom of heaven is taught to Church-Age believers, meaning that the Church is not exempt from the issues surrounding the future coming Kingdom of Christ (Acts 1:3; 8:12; 14:22; 20:25; 28:23, 31; Rom 14:17; 1 Cor 4:20; 6:9-10; 15:24; Gal 5:21; Eph 5:5; Col 1:13; 1 Thess 2:12; 2 Thess 1:5; 2 Tim 4:1, 18; Heb 12:28; Jas 2:5; 2 Pet 1:11; Rev 1:6), that is not our message to a lost and dying world. Our mandate is to preach eternal life and forgiveness of sins, calling them to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and they will be saved. For the Church, the harvest is also plentiful, but the workers are certainly few.
Who are the laborers?
Every believer has been called to call the lost to Christ.
Every Christian is to be a doer.
Raymond B. Dillard, “David,” Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology, Baker Reference Library (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1996), p. 144.
Alfred Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, vol. 1 (New York: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1896), p. 162.
Arnold G. Fruchtenbaum, Messianic Christology: A Study of Old Testament Prophecy Concerning the First Coming of the Messiah(Tustin, CA: Ariel Ministries, 1998), p. 44.
See John F. MacArthur Jr., The Gospel according to Jesus(Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 2000), p. 89.
Andrew M. Woods, The Coming Kingdom (Duluth, MN: Grace Gospel Press, 2016), p. 55.
G. Michael Cocoris, Repentance: The Most Misunderstood Word in the Bible(Santa Monica, CA: self-published, 2003), p. 12.
Charles Lee Feinberg, “The Old Testament in Jewish Thought and Life,” Bibliotheca Sacravol. 111 (1954): 31.
BDAG, p. 218.
William MacDonald, Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments, ed. Arthur Farstad (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1995), p. 1237.
Earl D. Radmacher, Ronald Barclay Allen, and H. Wayne House, Nelson’s New Illustrated Bible Commentary(Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1999), p. 1158.
A.T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament(Nashville: Broadman Press, 1933), Mt 10:10.
Charles Caldwell Ryrie, Ryrie Study Bible: New American Standard Bible, 1995 Update, Expanded ed. (Chicago: Moody Press, 1995), p. 1529.