Kingdom Eschatology

by Spiros Zodhiates

(This month we conctinue a comparison of Matthew's Gospel with the other Synoptic Gospels, taken from Dr. Zodhiates' Introduction to the Gospel of Matthew.)

Matthew alone uses the expression "the kingdom of heaven" a profuse thirty-one times (3:2, etc.1). He speaks of the "Father which is in heaven" fifteen times (5:16, etc.2). He also uses "heaven" as a euphemism for God, a very common feature of Jewish culture: "voice from heaven" (3:17); "swear by heaven" (5:34; 23:22); "treasures in heaven" (6:20); "exalted unto heaven" (11:23); "sign from heaven" (16:1); "The baptism of John, whence was it? from heaven, or of men?" (21:25). All of these have a distinctive Jewish ring.

Matthew selects twelve kingdom parables (ten of which are found only in Matthew) to depict God's universal sovereignty over good and evil. The wicked, particularly hypocrites, may grow within the kingdom, but they are destined to be rooted out, the vultures gathering finally over a corpse (Matt. 24:28 alone)-not something with any life remaining in it. The parables include the Tares (13:24-30; 13:36-43), the Hidden Treasure (13:44), the Pearl of Great Price (13:45-46), the Dragnet (13:47-50), the Householder (13:52), the Landowner (20:1-16), the Two Sons (21:28-32), the Vineyard (21:33-43), the Wedding Feast (22:2-14), the Ten Virgins (25:1-12), and the Talents (25:14-30). Two other parables are cited additionally by Mark and Luke: the Mustard Tree (13:31-32, cf. Mark 4:30-32) and the Leaven (13:33-35, cf. Luke 13:20-21).

Matthew uniquely depicts salvation within the Kingdom as the sovereign God tying up the devil and pillaging his goods (12:29). 

And Matthew spends more time than the other Gospel writers advancing the theme that the Kingdom of God will spread beyond the borders of Israel to the entire world. He alone includes a prophecy from Isaiah that calls attention to a messianic purpose other than military conquest:

"Behold my servant, whom I have chosen; my beloved, in whom my soul is well pleased: I will put my spirit upon him, and he shall shew judgment to the Gentiles. He shall not strive, nor cry; neither shall any man hear his voice in the streets. A bruised reed shall he not break, and smoking flax shall he not quench, till he send forth judgment unto victory. And in his name shall the Gentiles trust" (12:18-21, cf. Isa. 42:1-4)."

Before the Messiah sends forth judgment to victory, there is a "till"-an interlude, an extended Spirit-empowered ministry of peace to the Gentiles, Israel's very enemies. This period of grace between peaceful and violent advents of the Messiah (see, e.g., Zech. 14:1-3; 12-15; Rev. 19:11-15) is alluded to in words from Christ that Matthew alone incorporates:

"Truly I say to you, Among them that are born of women there has not risen a greater than John the Baptist: notwithstanding he that is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and the violent take it by force. For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John. And if you will receive it, this is Elijah which is to come" (a.t.; Matt. 11:11-14).

Because Jesus was the Father's final Word (Heb. 1:1-2), His death completed not a cycle but a straight-line persecution of truth from the very inception of prophetic history with Abel (for Abel's prophetic role, see Gen. 4:10; Heb. 11:4; 12:24). As Luke testifies to the Gentiles (Luke 11:51), so Matthew witnesses to the guilt of the self-righteous of all history:

"Fill up then the measure of your fathers.... I send to you prophets, and wise men, and scribes: and some of them you will kill and crucify; and some of them you will scourge in your synagogues, and persecute from city to city that upon you may come all the righteous blood shed upon the earth from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah, the son of Barachiah, whom you slew between the temple and the altar. Verily I say to you, All these things shall come upon this generation" (a.t.; Matt. 23:32-36)

The analogous caution to God's people today is that they can expect the worst persecution against truth, not from unbelievers without (Gentiles) but from Pharisees, self-promoting hypocrites, within the church (the religious elite [Cain was a brother; Judas was one of the Twelve]; and thus Matt. 13:30; 22:11-12; 26:50, cf. Gal. 4:29 [in context]; 2 Pet. 2:1): "For they that are such serve not our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly; and by good words and fair speeches they deceive the hearts of the innocent [from kakos]"  (a.t.; Rom. 16:18).

As the Lord's ministry to the apostate nation unfolds, we find a progression of warnings in Matthew, first to rebellious individuals (3:7), then to whole cities (Chorazin, Bethsaida, Capernaum; 11:20-24, Matthew only), then finally to the entire generation (12:41-42). At the end of this progression, Jesus prophesies that unbelieving Israel will be displaced by a nation comprised primarily of Gentiles:

"Therefore say I unto you, The kingdom of God shall be taken from you, and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits (21:43, Matt. only); Many shall come from the east and west, and shall sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven. But the children of the kingdom shall be cast out into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth (8:11-12, Matthew only). Similarly, only Matthew records the Jews' acceptance of whatever guilt attaches to the death of Christ: "His blood be on us, and on our children" (27:25, cf. Rom. 11:25).

Matthew alone records Jesus' parable of the Two Sons which teaches that tax-gatherers (of whom Matthew is the spiritual firstborn) and harlots enter the Kingdom of God before self-promoting scribes and Pharisees (21:31-32)-a clear gradation of evil, hypocrisy and arrogance being the most depraved. Similarly, the parable of the Wedding Feast (22:3-14) shows the transition of the Kingdom of God from exclusive Jewish ownership to possession by all nations. Matthew alone records Jesus' strategic move from Nazareth to Capernaum for the purpose of fulfilling a prophecy related to the inclusion of Gentiles in the kingdom (4:13-16, cf. Isa. 9:1-2).

Finally, two parables already noted view the advancement of the Kingdom beyond the boundaries of Israel. The mustard seed starts out as the smallest of seeds, but it grows into a huge tree (13:31-32). Though the tree is planted in Israel, the coming of birds may represent the attraction of Gentiles to the Jewish salvation (John 4:22). Similarly, the leavening of "the whole" (13:33) more naturally connects with the advancement of the gospel to the entire world than to the nation which has the Kingdom taken from it (21:43).

Matthew's Gospel includes the only record of the Lord's promise to build an unassailable church on a "rock"-which we take to be Peter's confession of Jesus as the Son of God (16:16-18). Also exclusively reported in Matthew is the giving of the keys to the Kingdom-the power to acquit and punish (bind) sin-to the disciples (Matt. 18:18), represented in one instance by Peter (16:19). The church's authority to bind and loose is an expression of the eternal will of God (16:19; 18:18-35).

Since the kingdom is destined to expand through all nations, evangelism is a key theme in Matthew. Early in the book, Matthew uniquely exposes his readers to Jesus' vision of a plentiful harvest for which disciples should pray for workers (9:37-38). The Great Commission (28:19-20, cf. Mark 16:15) closes the book with the distinguishing commands to make disciples, baptize in the name of the triune God, and teach new believers to observe all of Jesus' commands. Our current age does not end until this "gospel of the kingdom [is] preached in the whole world for a witness to all the nations" (24:14 nasb).

Christ's return to this field of workers is imminent-as in the days of Noah (Matt. 24:37-39; Luke 17:26-27). The Lord comes as a thief (24:43; Luke 12:39), Matthew and Luke depicting the radical separation of co-workers and even spouses in bed together (24:40-41; Luke 17:34-36). Matthew stresses imminence in three additional unique parables: the Evil Slave (24:44-51), the Ten Virgins (25:1-13), and the Talents (25:14-30).

The threat of this separation is mitigated by the promise to the Twelve: "You also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel" (19:28 nasb). Matthew's Gospel alone records Jesus' very scenic picture of a final judgment which is based on how men treated His sheep (25:31-46).

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From The Gospel of Matthew-an Exegetical Commentary

©2004 by Spiros Zodhiates

Published by AMG Publishers

Footnotes:

1. The other texts in Matthew referring to "the kingdom of heaven" are: 4:17; 5:3,10,19-20; 7:21; 8:11; 10:7; 11:11-12; 13:11,24,31,33,44,45,47,52; 16:19; 18:1,3-4,23; 19:14,23; 20:1; 22:2; 23:13; 25:1,14.

2. The other texts employing the phrase, "the Father which is in heaven" are: 5:45,48; 6:1; 7:11,21; 10:32-33; 12:50; 16:17; 18:10,14,19; 23:9.

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