Who is the King?
We are studying Matthew's gospel and especially how Matthew depicts Jesus as the King of the kingdom of heaven. Matthew recounts much of the same events and teachings as the other gospel writers, but in his gospel we are able to trace this particular theme. So far we have seen various ways that Matthew has referred to Jesus' royal person, but in the following section we will see Jesus actually force the issue among His disciples. In other words, He will make His Apostles come to and admit the conclusion that only He is the ruler, the King. When we last saw the Lord and His Apostles, they were in the northern part of the country near their hometowns around the Sea of Galilee. After He finishes His ministry in this area, Jesus will go south towards Jerusalem and finish His ministry there.
When He will go to Jerusalem He will:
- Teach and confront the Pharisees
- Have a triumphal entry into the city
- Pronounce a judgment on the city and prophesy concerning its future
- He will celebrate the final Passover and initiate the Lord's Supper with His Apostles
- And finally be arrested, falsely convicted, crucified, resurrected and ascend into heaven
In the meantime, while He is in safer and more familiar surroundings, Jesus will establish, especially with His Apostles, His true identity.
Jesus will also prepare them for the rejection He will suffer at the hands of the leaders and the people.
Turning Point for the King
Every story has a dramatic turning point (e.g. the plane crashes, someone is arrested, the villain is revealed, etc.). In Matthew's account, the turning point in Jesus' ministry takes place with two events:
1. Jesus is rejected by the people of His hometown
Until Jesus returned to Nazareth, there had been a very positive response to Him and His teachings. However, we know that the tide is about to turn when the people who knew Him best and had not only witnessed His teachings and miracles, but His good life as well; when these people reject Him, we know that the change for the worse has begun.
2. Herod kills John the Baptist
Herod, at the national level, believed that John was a popular prophet, knew of his connection with Jesus, but had him executed anyway. This was a clear signal to Jesus of Herod's opposition and contempt.
Faced with this level of opposition moves Jesus to step up His efforts at strengthening the Apostles' faith and understanding of who He truly was.
Ministry to His Apostles
We've looked at this material in the previous chapter looking at it in the context of His kindness, the idea that as King Jesus was a servant of those in need. But from another perspective we also see that Jesus is building the faith of His Apostles to the point where they will be assured that He is also the Lord, the Messiah, the Divine Son of God, as well as the King. We see Him doing this in a variety of ways:
His miracles for the people
The Apostles were witnesses of the tremendous miracles Jesus performed for the people who came to Him.
- Feeding the 5000
- The sick were healed simply by touching His cloak
- Healing the Canaanite woman's daughter
- Healing the lame, blind and handicapped
- Feeding another crowd of 4000
- Healing of an epileptic boy upon a father's desperate request
Despite the miracles done among them, many of these people begin to reject the Lord, but He continues to minister to them anyways and in doing so built the faith of His Apostles.
His handling of the Jewish leaders
Most were afraid of these people, but Jesus, the King, showed His authority when He dealt with them and their schemes to destroy Him. Jesus' rejection was spearheaded by the Pharisees and Priests (Sadducees) whom, despite seeing the miracles and hearing the teachings, refused to accept the conclusion that these pointed to Jesus. They wanted to discredit and destroy Jesus in order to protect their position and hide their own sinfulness:
- They did not teach with authority and twisted the Scriptures to their own advantage.
- They did not help people or provide for them; they manipulated the people in order to maintain their position.
And so, Matthew describes several instances where the king handles His accusers and enemies who are out to discredit Him:
1. Accusation of transgressing the "tradition"
1Then some Pharisees and scribes came to Jesus from Jerusalem and said, 2"Why do Your disciples break the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat bread." 3And He answered and said to them, "Why do you yourselves transgress the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition?
4"For God said, 'Honor your father and mother,' and, 'He who speaks evil of father or mother is to be put to death.' 5"But you say, 'Whoever says to his father or mother, "Whatever I have that would help you has been given to God," 6he is not to honor his father or his mother.' And by this you invalidated the word of God for the sake of your tradition. 7"You hypocrites, rightly did Isaiah prophesy of you:
8'This people honors Me with their lips,
But their heart is far away from Me.
9'But in vain do they worship Me,
Teaching as doctrines the precepts of men.'"
10After Jesus called the crowd to Him, He said to them, "Hear and understand. 11"It is not what enters into the mouth that defiles the man, but what proceeds out of the mouth, this defiles the man."
12Then the disciples came and said to Him, "Do You know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this statement?" 13But He answered and said, "Every plant which My heavenly Father did not plant shall be uprooted. 14"Let them alone; they are blind guides of the blind. And if a blind man guides a blind man, both will fall into a pit."
15Peter said to Him, "Explain the parable to us."
16Jesus said, "Are you still lacking in understanding also? 17"Do you not understand that everything that goes into the mouth passes into the stomach, and is eliminated? 18"But the things that proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and those defile the man. 19"For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, slanders. 20"These are the things which defile the man; but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile the man."
- Matthew 15:1-20
We examined this episode previously and noted that Pharisees from Jerusalem (who had more authority than local scribes) came to Galilee and accused Jesus of violating the "tradition" concerning the washing of hands before eating. Now the "tradition" or "HALACHA" was the set of (631) rules set as a fence around the Law by rabbis in order to make sure one did not break the Law. It included all kinds of rituals, procedures and rules that were conceived and enforced by religious leaders without any authority from Scripture.
The Law of Moses required no inter-marrying or worship with Gentiles. These rabbis had extended this to include a rule where if you even touched something that had been previously touched by a Gentile, you were considered "unclean" or "defiled" and unable to worship without a long process of washings and rituals to correct the situation. When referring to these rules Jesus explained that a person defiles himself when he speaks evil things and does evil things that begin in his heart. What comes from the heart, Jesus taught, this is the evil that defiles a man. What he touches or eats, this has no power to defile a person.
In saying this, Jesus implied that it was the Pharisees who were impure because of their teachings and conduct that did not find a basis in the word of God.
2. The Pharisees ask for a sign
1The Pharisees and Sadducees came up, and testing Jesus, they asked Him to show them a sign from heaven. 2But He replied to them, "When it is evening, you say, 'It will be fair weather, for the sky is red.' 3"And in the morning, 'There will be a storm today, for the sky is red and threatening.' Do you know how to discern the appearance of the sky, but cannot discern the signs of the times? 4"An evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign; and a sign will not be given it, except the sign of Jonah." And He left them and went away.
5And the disciples came to the other side of the sea, but they had forgotten to bring any bread. 6And Jesus said to them, "Watch out and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees." 7They began to discuss this among themselves, saying, "He said that because we did not bring any bread." 8But Jesus, aware of this, said, "You men of little faith, why do you discuss among yourselves that you have no bread? 9Do you not yet understand or remember the five loaves of the five thousand, and how many baskets full you picked up? 10Or the seven loaves of the four thousand, and how many large baskets full you picked up? 11How is it that you do not understand that I did not speak to you concerning bread? But beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees." 12Then they understood that He did not say to beware of the leaven of bread, but of the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees.
- Matthew 16:1-12
This is not the first time these leaders ask for a sign, they had done this before. They wanted a demonstration of His power or a special sign or signal for themselves. Their implication being that what He had done so far was not enough to convince them. Jesus responds by condemning their request because:
It is an example of disbelief and an evil heart.
It is not a sincere request based on a desire to know and believe (like Thomas' was), but a challenge born of cynicism.
Jesus knows their hearts and tells them what sign to look for: the sign of Jonah. The sign of Jonah (who was three days in the belly of the great fish and then returned) was the sign of the resurrection. The prophets said that the true sign of the legitimate Messiah would be His resurrection (Acts 2:31-32; Romans 1:1-4); they were to look for that.
In handling these men, the King prepares His disciples not only by building their faith in Him but also by showing them who will be their enemies in the future.
Miracles Performed for the Apostles
In building their faith, Jesus performed miracles for the masses and responded to the Jewish leaders who were trying to destroy His credibility and formulate a charge in order to execute Him. But Jesus also used His power in a very personal way in allowing His Apostles to see His divine and royal attributes from very close up. This He did through miracles only the Apostles were witness to:
1. Walking on water
22Immediately He made the disciples get into the boat and go ahead of Him to the other side, while He sent the crowds away. 23After He had sent the crowds away, He went up on the mountain by Himself to pray; and when it was evening, He was there alone. 24But the boat was already a long distance from the land, battered by the waves; for the wind was contrary. 25And in the fourth watch of the night He came to them, walking on the sea. 26When the disciples saw Him walking on the sea, they were terrified, and said, "It is a ghost!" And they cried out in fear. 27But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, "Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid."
28Peter said to Him, "Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water." 29And He said, "Come!" And Peter got out of the boat, and walked on the water and came toward Jesus. 30But seeing the wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, "Lord, save me!" 31Immediately Jesus stretched out His hand and took hold of him, and said to him, "You of little faith, why did you doubt?" 32When they got into the boat, the wind stopped. 33And those who were in the boat worshiped Him, saying, "You are certainly God's Son!"
- Matthew 14:22-33
We looked at this miracle in a previous section where Jesus comes to His Apostles who are in a boat rowing against a storm. They are afraid at first, but Peter comes out and for a while he too walks on water before doubting and needing Jesus to save him from sinking.
In the end, this miracle leads all the Apostles to worship and declare Jesus as the divine Lord, a level of faith they had not yet reached before this episode.
2. The Transfiguration
1Six days later Jesus took with Him Peter and James and John his brother, and led them up on a high mountain by themselves. 2And He was transfigured before them; and His face shone like the sun, and His garments became as white as light. 3And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them, talking with Him. 4Peter said to Jesus, "Lord, it is good for us to be here; if You wish, I will make three tabernacles here, one for You, and one for Moses, and one for Elijah." 5While he was still speaking, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and behold, a voice out of the cloud said, "This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well-pleased; listen to Him!" 6When the disciples heard this, they fell face down to the ground and were terrified. 7And Jesus came to them and touched them and said, "Get up, and do not be afraid." 8And lifting up their eyes, they saw no one except Jesus Himself alone.
- Matthew 17:1-8
Peter, James and John witness the visual brightness of Jesus' divine nature and His ability to communicate beyond both the time and physical dimensions. He speaks with Moses and Elijah (who provide by their appearance a confirmation from the Law and the Prophets who Jesus really is). Luke writes that the three discussed Jesus' crucifixion. The voice from heaven also confirms Jesus' role as one who fulfills all prophecy and Law.
The instruction to, "...hear Him…" is to listen to Jesus as the final authority and final word of Law and Prophecy. He fulfills and supersedes these two.
3. The coin in the fish
24When they came to Capernaum, those who collected the two-drachma tax came to Peter and said, "Does your teacher not pay the two-drachma tax?" 25He said, "Yes." And when he came into the house, Jesus spoke to him first, saying, "What do you think, Simon? From whom do the kings of the earth collect customs or poll-tax, from their sons or from strangers?" 26When Peter said, "From strangers," Jesus said to him, "Then the sons are exempt. 27"However, so that we do not offend them, go to the sea and throw in a hook, and take the first fish that comes up; and when you open its mouth, you will find a shekel. Take that and give it to them for you and Me."
- Matthew 17:24-27
Peter is questioned to see if he pays the temple tax or not. Jesus tells Peter to go fish and explains that when he does so, he will find a coin in the fish's mouth with which he will pay the tax for both of them. The idea here is that it was ridiculous for Jesus, the Son of God/the King of Kings, to pay tax on His own temple. But to avoid offending those weak in the faith He instructs Peter to pay it, but with a coin obtained in a miraculous way. Of course those who didn't believe or didn't accept Jesus only saw a young teacher pay His dues.
The Apostles, however, receive yet another demonstration of Jesus' power to bolster their faith and understanding of who He was.
Finally, Jesus used many opportunities to privately teach His Apostles about His role and position—teaching that the masses were not exposed to:
1. The lesson about pure and impure (Matthew 15:15-20)
After chastising the Pharisees about their hypocrisy concerning their traditions, Jesus explained privately to the Apostles why food did not defile.
This insight gave them the moral authority to refute the Jewish leaders later on.
2. Warning against the Pharisees (Matthew 16:1-12)
We read about this in Jesus' answer to the Pharisees when they requested a sign. After this incident, when Jesus was alone with the Apostles, He uses this incident to warn them about these men.
Jesus, in pointing to His miraculous feeding of the 4000 and then to the work of the Pharisees is, in effect, asking His Apostles to compare the two and realize who has the real power and authority: the Pharisees or the King of the kingdom.
3. Jesus' response to Peter's confession
13Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, He was asking His disciples, "Who do people say that the Son of Man is?" 14And they said, "Some say John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; but still others, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets." 15He said to them, "But who do you say that I am?" 16Simon Peter answered, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." 17And Jesus said to him, "Blessed are you, Simon Barjona, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. 18I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it. 19I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven." 20Then He warned the disciples that they should tell no one that He was the Christ.
- Matthew 16:13-20
We see another climactic moment here. The miracles, responses to the leaders and special teaching they have witnessed and received have built their faith to the point where, upon being asked, Peter confesses his true and perfect belief.
Speaking ahead of the others, he declares in clear and unmistakable language what the parables, miracles and teachings were all pointing to from the very beginning:
- That Jesus is the divine Messiah.
- The King is recognized for who He is.
At this point however, Jesus teaches them beyond the point of a simple confession of faith. He teaches them that:
A) Without revelation of the Son through teachings and miracles, Peter would have never known this. Human wisdom cannot discern God's will and plan without revelation from God Himself. This is why the gospel is powerful; it reveals the will of God, which is salvation through faith in Christ.
B) Simon, the old man, the man Jesus originally called to follow Him, is truly a blessed person because of the confession he has just made.
C) Peter, the new man (rockman), will be stronger and better because of this confession. (Simon=stone; Peter=boulder/cliff)
D) This revelation which Peter has formally declared in his confession of faith will be the basis or the "rock" upon which Jesus will build His church (the called out). Now, if Jesus wanted to say that He was to build His church upon Peter, the construction of the sentence would have been, "...and upon thee, I will build my church." But the rock upon which the indestructible church was to be built was the reality and fact that Jesus is the divine Messiah, not just the acknowledgement of that fact. The church is built upon a person (Jesus) not just a doctrine (who we say He is).
E) Jesus continues to teach them further by revealing the ministry they will have:
- The "keys of the kingdom" represents the authority they will have to open the doors of the heavenly kingdom because they will possess and proclaim the gospel message and through it will bestow forgiveness of sins, the Holy Spirit and eternal life with God in heaven upon all who will believe and respond to the gospel in faith expressed through repentance and baptism (Acts 2:37- 42). The imagery of keys comes from Isaiah and David: key to the throne = authority.
- "Binding and loosening" is the authority to speak to men on behalf of God. Through the guidance of the Holy Spirit the Apostles recorded the inspired writings, which explain the gospel and define the Christian life.
It wasn't their authority, it was the authority of the word which God spoke through them.
This further teaching as a response to Peter's confession solidifies Jesus' rule as King over His kingdom and the future tasks and authority given those who will serve in His kingdom.
Prophecy Concerning the Crucifixion
One last method of teaching that Jesus used to build faith and prepare His Apostles was the giving of various prophecies concerning His death and resurrection. The prophets wrote that the single most important sign of the true Messiah was to be His resurrection, not His miracles or teachings (Isaiah 53:5-11; Psalms 16:10).
To prepare them for this last and greatest proof of His person, Jesus prophesied no less than three times (in Matthew) about His eventual death and subsequent resurrection (Matthew 16:21-28; Matthew 17:9-13; Matthew 17:22-23). This was done not only for them but also for our instruction because with these prophecies Jesus taught both them and us several important lessons about Himself specifically, and discipleship in general:
- For Christ and His followers, death would come, but would be followed by a glorious resurrection (Matthew 16:21).
- The cost of salvation for Him and discipleship for us is high (Matthew 16:24-26).
- All of this: His resurrection as well as ours, was according to God's word (Matthew 17:10).
And so, with a mixture of faith in Him as the divine Messiah, King of the kingdom of heaven, and knowledge of the suffering that this title was to cost Him, the Apostles were ready to leave the relatively safe surroundings of Galilee in order to be with the King as He traveled to the city of kings and eventually to the cross.
- Of all the key events in the life of Jesus to this point in His ministry, which do you consider the most significant and why?
- What is a "Gestalt moment" and how does it relate to Peter's statement in Matthew 16:16?
- Concerning Peter's statement about Jesus, what are the associated teachings?
- What was significant about Jesus' teaching concerning His death and resurrection?
- How can you use this lesson to grow spiritually and help others come into a relationship with Jesus?