Calling Disciples: the kingdom of heaven

Calling disciplesThe Kingdom of Heaven. 21 He walked along from there and saw two other brothers, James, the son of Zebedee, and his brother John. They were in a boat, with their father Zebedee, mending their nets. He called them, 22 and immediately they left their boat and their father and followed him. 23 He went around all of Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom, and curing every disease and illness among the people.

“The kingdom of heaven” is uniquely Matthew’s phrase. He often uses it in place of Mark’s “kingdom of God.” Perhaps, if we assume a Jewish background for Matthew, it is a way of avoiding saying and thus possibly misusing the name of God.

Basileia can refer to the area ruled by a king; or it can refer to the power or authority to rule as king. We probably shouldn’t interpret the “kingdom of heaven” as a place — such as the place we go when we die; but as the ruling power that emanates from heaven. One commentator translates the phrase: “heaven rules”.

The verb eggizo is difficult to translate in this passage. It means “to come near”. It can refer to space, as one person coming close to another person; or to time, as “it’s almost time”. The difficulty is with the perfect tense of the verb, which usually indicates a past action with continuing effects in the present. For instance, the perfect: “He has died” or “He has been raised” or “I have believed” can also be expressed with the present: “He is dead” or “He is raised” or “I am believing”. When we say with the perfect tense that “The kingdom of heaven has come near.” That implies that the kingdom is near or even that it arrived. Its “time has come” or “is now”. Given the ambiguity of the perfect tense and the translation in the preceding paragraph, we might say: “Heaven’s rule has arrived and is arriving.”

Ironically, in a chapter called “Worship,” Mark Allan Powell in God With Us: A Pastoral Theology of Matthew’s Gospel, states:

Still if worship is an appropriate response, it is not the ideal one. For Matthew, the ideal response to divine activity is repentance. . . . Indeed, Jesus never upbraids people for failing to worship or give thanks in this gospel (compare Luke 17:17-18), but he does upbraid those who have witnessed his mighty works and not repented (11:20-24). We know from Jesus’ teaching in Matthew that people can worship God with their lips even when their deeds demonstrate that their hearts are far from God (15:3-9). Thus, the responsive worship of the crowds in 9:8 and 15:31 is commendable but will be in vain if performed with unrepentant hearts. [pp. 41-42]

What should be our response to the coming of heaven’s rule? Surprisingly, it is not worship or praise, but repentance. Perhaps this is the big problem with the coming of the Kingdom or the coming of Jesus at Christmas or Palm Sunday (or even “praise services”?) — we want to celebrate and praise, rather than repent — let the coming one change our thinking and our living.

A Summary of Jesus’ Activities. Although Jesus’ activity is confined to the region of Galilee, word of it spreads to the whole province of Syria. The outward movement of Jesus’ reputation as a teacher and healer results in the movement of many people toward him. People suffering from all kinds of diseases are brought to him, and they are cured (v. 24). People from every region of Israel except Samaria join the crowds that follow him (v. 25). Such people, along with the disciples, form the audience for the Sermon on the Mount (see 5:1; 7:28).

Matthew 4:23–25 encapsulates the ministry of Jesus. It may be viewed as a concluding summary of Jesus’ early ministry in Galilee, or as the introduction to the Sermon on the Mount. It is noteworthy that 4:23 is repeated almost verbatim in 9:35. Both 4:23 and 9:35 are located just before major discourses of Jesus, and they serve to summarize his deeds as the context for his words. But there is likely more to the repetition than that. Taken together, 4:23 and 9:35 form an inclusio, a set of literary bookends, which summarize Jesus’ words and deeds at the beginning and end of two sections that present his words (Matt 5–7) and deeds (Matt 8–9) in detail. Significantly, both the words (7:29) and deeds (8:9; 9:6) demonstrate Jesus’ Kingdom authority, an authority he passed on to his disciples in 10:1. As his words and deeds proclaim and demonstrate the Kingdom, so will the words and deeds of his disciples (10:7–8; 24:14).

By way of preparation for the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew has established Jesus’ superiority to John the Baptist (3:1–12), recounted the divine acknowledgement of Jesus as the Son of God (3:13–17), and shown what kind of Son of God Jesus is (4:1–11). He has also explained why Jesus taught and healed in Galilee (4:12–17) and how he attracted an inner circle of disciples (4:18–22) and a larger circle of interested followers (4:23–25). The Sermon on the Mount (5:1–7:29) will reveal what a powerful teacher Jesus is.

Notes

Matthew 4:23 their synagogues: Matthew usually designates the Jewish synagogues as their synagogue(s) (Matthew 9:35; 10:17; 12:9; 13:54) or, in address to Jews, your synagogues (Matthew 23:34), an indication that he likely wrote after the break between nascent Christian church and synagogue.

Matthew 4:24 Syria: the Roman province to which Palestine belonged.

Matthew 4:25 great crowds: Matthew’s use of the term “crowds” is noteworthy, since it often portrays those who are attracted to Jesus because of his sensational deeds (cf. 8:1, 18; 11:7; 12:46; 15:30; 17:14; 19:2). The crowds occupied a middle ground between Jesus’ committed disciples on the one hand, and the hostile religious leaders on the other. At times, the crowd seemed favorable to Jesus (9:8; 12:23; 15:31), and he to the crowd (9:36; 14:14; 15:32). But as time went on, under the influence of the leaders, the crowd ultimately called for Jesus’ death (26:47, 55; 27:20, 24). In this context, the presence of the crowds led Jesus away to the mountain where he delivered his first discourse (5:1). the Decapolis: a federation of Greek cities in Palestine, originally ten in number, all but one east of the Jordan. beyond the Jordan: This refers to the region farther south, east of Jerusalem and the Jordan River. Matthew’s geographical language covers the whole land of Israel, moving from northwest (Galilee) to northeast (Decapolis) to Jerusalem (probably to be understood as the center of the land) to southwest (Judea) to southeast (“beyond the Jordan”).

Sources

  • G. K. Beale and D. A. Carson, Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI; Nottingham, UK: Baker Academic; Apollos, 2007) 18-19
  • Eugene Boring, The Gospel of Matthew in The New Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. VIII (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1994) 166-71
  • R.T. France, The Gospel of Matthew in the New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdman’s Publishing, 2007) 136-51
  • R.T. France, Matthew: An Introduction and Commentary in the Tyndale New Testament Commentaries, Vol. 1, ed. Leon Morris (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1989) 105-11
  • Daniel J. Harrington, The Gospel of Matthew, vol. 1 of Sacra Pagina, ed. Daniel J. Harrington (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1991) pp. 70-75
  • Daniel J. Harrington, “Matthew” in The Collegeville Bible Commentary, eds. Diane Bergant and Robert J. Karris (Collegeville, Minn.: Liturgical Press, 1989) pp. 868-69
  • John P. Meier, Matthew, New Testament Message 3 (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1990) 31-36
  • Brian Stoffregen, “Brian P. Stoffregen Exegetical Notes” at www.crossmarks.com

D. Turner and D.L. Bock, Matthew and Mark in the Cornerstone Biblical Commentary, vol. 11 (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2005) 65-79

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