Wednesday, May 31st, 2023
the Week of Proper 3 / Ordinary 8
the Week of Proper 3 / Ordinary 8
Pett's Commentary on the Bible Pett's Commentary
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Matthew 9". "Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://studylight.org/
commentaries/ eng/ pet/ matthew-9.html. 2013.
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Matthew 9". "Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://studylight.org/
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‘And he entered into a boat, and crossed over, and came into his own city.’
Having been rejected in Decapolis Jesus now returned to ‘His own city’, that is, to Capernaum (Matthew 4:13). There is a pathos in this. It was not really His own city. He had been rejected from the town where He had been brought up. No wonder that He had nowhere to lay His head.
This interconnecting verse may well be seen as forming an inclusio with Matthew 8:23. It is finishing off the inner sequence. What follows is therefore not necessarily a part of the same time sequence. It is simply brought in here to complete the picture. (Mark in fact has it much earlier). It is sealing off the fact that Jesus has come to bring healing (Matthew 8:1-17), deliverance and security (Matthew 8:23-27), the vanquishing of man’s Enemy (Matthew 8:28-34), and the forgiveness of sins (Matthew 9:1-8). They are being ‘saved from their sins’ (Matthew 1:21).
The Healing of the Paralytic (9:1-8).
We come now to the third of these revelations of Jesus’ authority. He has revealed His authority over some of the most powerful forces of this world, He has revealed His authority over the powers of the supernatural world, and now He will reveal His authority over man’s greatest enemy, sin. He is thereby revealed as the complete Saviour, and especially the Saviour from sin (Matthew 1:21). And here we learn that all that is necessary for the redemption of His own from among mankind is now in place.
Furthermore as a result of this those who follow Him will now know that He can protect them from all evil, both physical and spiritual, and will now learn that He is among them as the forgiver of sins. In the words of the Psalmist, ‘Do not forget all His benefits, Who forgives all your iniquities, Who heals all your diseases, Who redeems your life from destruction, Who crowns you with loving kindness and tender mercies’ (Psalms 103:3-4). Forgiveness of sins has always been of first importance in God’s eyes. And it was to be a part of the Messianic blessing (Isaiah 43:25; Isaiah 44:22).
a And he entered into a boat, and crossed over, and came into his own city (Matthew 9:1).
b And behold, they brought to him a man sick of the palsy, lying on a bed (Matthew 9:2 a).
c And Jesus seeing their faith said to the sick of the palsy, “Son, be of good cheer; your sins are forgiven” (Matthew 9:2 b).
d And behold, certain of the scribes said within themselves, “This man is blaspheming” (Matthew 9:3).
e And Jesus knowing their thoughts said, “Why do you think evil in your hearts?” (Matthew 9:4).
d ‘For which is easier, to say, “Your sins are forgiven”, or to say, “Arise, and walk?” ’ (Matthew 9:5).
c “But that you may know that the Son of man has authority on earth to forgive sins” (then he says to the sick of the palsy), “Arise, and take up your bed, and go up to your house” (Matthew 9:6).
b And he arose, and departed to his house (Matthew 9:7).
a But when the crowds saw it, they were filled with awe, and glorified God, who had given such authority to men (Matthew 9:8).
Note that in ‘a’ Jesus enters into a boat, crosses over the sea and comes to His own city, and in the parallel His actions result in the glorifying of God. Compare Matthew 8:23; Matthew 8:27 where He similarly entered a boat and it again resulted in men marvelling. His journeys all had a purpose. In ‘b’ the man is brought to Him, and in the parallel the man walks out on his own. In ‘c’ Jesus informs the man that he is forgiven, and in the parallel justifies it by His healing power. In ‘d’ He is accused of blaspheming, and in the parallel He poses His defence. And centrally He expresses His distress at the evil in men’s hearts.
Jesus Is Revealed As Lord Over Nature, Lord Over The Spirit World, and Lord Over Sin and Forgiveness (8:18-9:9).
This subsection from Matthew 8:18 to Matthew 9:9 can be seen as united around a series of travel descriptions deliberately used in order to unite them together:
a It commences with Jesus command to go to the other side (Matthew 8:18)
b That is followed by their entering into a boat and setting sail (Matthew 8:23).
c They arrive at the other side (Matthew 8:28).
b They cross back over to His own city (Matthew 9:1).
a The subsection then ends with His ‘passing from there’ (Matthew 9:9).
The whole subsection is probably brought together by Matthew in order to vividly portray the future for the followers of Christ. What follows will depict the problems and encouragements of discipleship. Having depicted how as the Suffering Servant Jesus has brought deliverance and healing for all who are unclean (Matthew 8:1-17), He now goes on to depict the future for those who will follow Him.
First we have the calling of disciples to follow Him with a warning of what the future holds for them of discomfort, sacrifice and self-dedication as they seek the way of eternal life through the Suffering Servant.
That is then followed by His entering a boat and their ‘following Him’, which results in their experiencing the greatest storm that they had ever faced in their lives. This may be seen as an indication of the storms that lie ahead for the followers of Jesus, but with the promise that He will protect them from them. (It was only they who could expect special protection).
This is then followed by the recognition of the powerful spiritual forces that they will have to face in the future. They learn that not only will He keep them from the depths of the sea and from ‘perishing’ (Matthew 8:25-26), but that through Him they need fear no forces of evil (Matthew 8:28-34). The authority of Jesus is more than sufficient to deal with all. Their spiritual adversaries, however, will not be so fortunate (Matthew 8:32). They will be driven into the sea from which Jesus had delivered His disciples, and will perish.
And then finally comes the indication of what the benefit is of following Him. He grants forgiveness of sins, and this is linked with the healings that He performs. He Who bore their sicknesses and carried their diseases (Matthew 8:17) has also come to bring the forgiveness of sins, a forgiveness linked with and demonstrated by those healings and His bearing of their afflictions and diseases, as well as their sins (Matthew 9:1-8).
And all this also reveals to the disciples their own future mission, that facing storms and spiritual forces of darkness, they too are to take out to men in His Name the forgiveness of sins (Matthew 9:6; compare Luke 24:47; John 20:23).
However, in the story of the paralytic another idea emerges, and that is the idea that while the men of faith (the paralytic and his bearers) experience forgiveness and healing, those deceived by Satan will arise in opposition to Jesus. The former will be thus be delivered, as the disciples had been, while the latter will finally perish along with the demons. We have here the first indication in Matthew of the opposition of the religious authorities of Judaism. This opposition must have come as something of a shock to the disciples. They had always been taught how godly these men were. And now they were learning differently, something which will come out further in Matthew 9:10-17. And meanwhile all this is finally sealed by the calling of Matthew (Matthew 9:9) so that he might have his part in it.
There are interesting connections between the initial account of the approach of the would be disciples, and the events that immediately followed. The Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head, and so when He snatches sleep it will be in the stern of a boat at sea. The dead are to be left to bury their dead, while the living who follow Him are to be delivered from death at sea, so as to be brought to recognise that they have eternal life.
Note that central to all these incidents is their arrival in Decapolis. It may be that we are to see from this sequence that Jesus had a specific aim in going to the other side, quite apart from just to avoid the crowds, namely to pin down a particularly dreadful manifestation of the power of the Devil, and to establish a preparatory witness in the area with the future in mind. (We can compare how He had previously established a preparatory ministry among the Samaritans - John 4:3-45). It is quite possible that news about these two demon-possessed people who were in such a dreadful condition had been brought to Jesus by Jews from Decapolis who had come to hear Him. The incident will also indicate that the Gentiles are not yet ready to receive Him. They cannot yet cope with His extraordinary powers. For originally it may well be that Jesus’ aim had been to stay there much longer, ministering among the many Jews who were there.
A more in depth analysis of this subsection is as follows:
a Two would be disciples are challenged concerning the cost of following Him and He reveals Himself as the suffering SON OF MAN (Matthew 8:18-22).
b Jesus calms the Tempest and reveals His power over nature, resulting in His disciples marvelling, and calling Him ‘LORD’, and saying ‘What manner of man is this?’ They are delivered from the sea and from ‘perishing’ even though their FAITH is little (Matthew 8:23-27).
c A host of devils who call Him THE SON OF GOD are cast out of two demoniacs, at which all the inhabitants in concert beg Him to leave. These demons are driven into the sea and do ‘perish’ (Matthew 8:28-34).
b Jesus forgives the sins of a paralytic because of their FAITH and then heals him revealing that as the SON OF MAN He has the power on earth to forgive sins. This results in the crowds being filled with awe and glorifying God Who had given such power to men (Matthew 9:1-8)
a Jesus calls Matthew to follow Him, and Matthew immediately does so. (Matthew 9:9).
Note that in ‘a’ two disciples are challenged to follow Jesus, and in the parallel one disciple is called and does follow Him. In ‘b’ Jesus acts in such demonstrative power that His disciples marvel and ask what manner of MAN He is, and in the parallel He acts in such demonstrative power that the crowds give glory to God because He has given such power to MEN. Centrally in ‘c’ we find the great expulsion of the demoniacs, and Jesus’ own expulsion from Gentile territory.
‘And Jesus seeing their faith said to the sick of the palsy, “Son, be of good cheer; your sins are forgiven.” ’
Jesus saw the faith of the men who had brought the paralytic and also the eager faith of the paralytic himself, and so He said to him, “Son, be of good cheer; your sins are forgiven.” This must have surprised everyone. But it suggests that Jesus was aware not only of the man’s condition, but of his inner pain. He had only to look into his eyes to see that he was troubled. And that what he was troubled about was sin.
Sin is indeed often the thing that most concerns many people. The Psalmist recognised that forgiveness of it was his first need, for he cried, ‘Bless the Lord, O my soul, -- Who forgives all your iniquities, who heals all your diseases’ (Psalms 103:3). He was aware in the depths of his soul that forgiveness was the first of all God’s benefits. And this man’s heart was clearly crying out for forgiveness. So Jesus first went to the core of his real need.
The fact that Jesus addressed him as ‘Son’ suggests that he was a young man, and it is quite possible that his condition had made him more aware of sin than most, for he would often have asked himself, ‘why has this happened to me?’ And the answer that he would have received from most people at that time was that he must have done something which had greatly displeased God, that there must be something deeply wrong within him. So it would not be surprising if he bore a great burden of guilt. And it was that burden that Jesus wanted to remove. But this was something that did not please certain people who were listening at all.
What they cavilled at was not that Jesus was saying that God could forgive him. They also would have said that, on condition of course that he went through all the rigmaroles that they considered necessary in order for a man to find forgiveness. What they objected to was the clear statement of the man’s forgiveness as an undoubted fact no longer open to dispute, simply on Jesus’ word. This was to have a certainty that they could not allow.
‘And behold, certain of the scribes said within themselves, “This man is blaspheming”.’
The Scribes were the teachers of the Law, and they had come to check Jesus out. Here was this man performing all these miracles, and they wanted to know if He was ‘sound’, that is, whether He taught what they taught. And these dreadful words convinced them that He did not. Indeed they considered that what He had said was blasphemy. Who was this man to dare to suggest that a man’s sins were certainly forgiven? Men could only hope and pray, and give alms, and then hope that God would take notice of them. Only God could determine whether a man was worthy of forgiveness. For that was their problem. They did not believe in God’s free forgiveness.
But Jesus had come to bring men forgiveness. He had come to save His people from their sins (Matthew 1:21). Thus he knew that forgiveness was available for all who truly turned to God from their past lives, seeking a true change of heart. And He had seen that in this man before Him.
Central to the idea of blasphemy was the using of God’s Name lightly, but that clearly also included a careless claiming of the prerogatives of God. And that was what they saw Jesus as doing. Their thought was simply, ‘None can forgive sins apart from God’, and they considered that He did it in His own way, so that to claim the knowledge that a man was forgiven was insupportable arrogance.
‘And Jesus knowing their thoughts said, “Why do you think evil in your hearts?” ’
But Jesus knew what they were saying. Indeed He may well have deliberately provoked it in order to get over to the people that in Him forgiveness had come for all who would turn to God with a view to repenting, turning from sin to God, serving Him and obeying His commandments. For He wanted them to know that in Him their past could be blotted out (Matthew 18:23-35), and a way was provided for future forgiveness (Matthew 6:12). Indeed Isaiah had made clear that this was God’s promise in the time of His Visitation (Isaiah 1:18; Isaiah 43:25; Isaiah 44:22). It was to be included in the task of the Servant of the Lord (Isaiah 53:3-6; Isaiah 53:10). And indeed it was something that had always been God’s offer to men when they turned to Him (Exodus 34:6-7; Numbers 14:18; Psalms 103:4).
And because of this it was His prerogative as the One Who had come in His Father’s Name, as The Son of Man Whom God had established at His right hand to dispense justice and mercy (Daniel 7:14; Psalms 80:17), and had sent to earth (John 3:13) to bring the forgiveness of sins to all who would repent, something that should have been obvious to all from the miracles that He performed. Thus He saw their words as arising out of the evil that was in their hearts. In their prejudice they were refusing to recognise the evidence of the Holy Spirit at work within Him (Matthew 12:28; Matthew 12:31). The casting out of demons was above all the evidence of the Spirit at work, and of the presence in Him of the Kingly Rule of God, which may well be why Matthew puts this incident after the healing of the demoniacs, and they therefore had no reason to doubt His authority as being from God. Indeed what greater proof was needed than that, that God was at work in Jesus? And if He was truly from God, then who could argue that He could not declare God’s forgiveness of men’s sins.
‘For which is easier, to say, “Your sins are forgiven”; or to say, “Arise, and walk?” ’
He then challenged them on the basis of the evidence of His mighty works. Which was easier, to say, “Your sins are forgiven”; or to say, “Arise, and walk?” The answer was that they were both impossible to man, but that they were both equally possible to God. And if God performed the one through a man of His choosing, would it not then demonstrate His approval of that man in all that He did? For all knew that God would not perform His mighty works through a blasphemer. So He set the proof of His right to declare the forgiveness of sins categorically and firmly on the basis of His ability to perform mighty wonders by God’s power.
This was a question that they could not answer (which was their tendency when they knew that really their case had been destroyed - Mark 11:27-33). They could hardly say that miracles of healing were not of God. Why, they had themselves taught that God only acted on behalf of those who pleased Him. Yet they dared not say that a man who could heal consistently was demonstrated to be of God, because they knew very well that Jesus could do it. On the other hand they could not deny it in front of the crowds, for they would have simply looked at them in amazement. For this was their basic sin, the ‘blasphemy against the Holy Spirit’, that they would accept nothing that did not conform with their teaching, even if the evidence that it was from God, and that the Spirit was at work, was indisputable.
“But that you may know that the Son of man has authority on earth to forgive sins (then he says to the sick of the palsy), “Arise, and take up your bed, and go up to your house.”
Having stunned them to silence Jesus then positively declared His position and His intention. In order that they might know that He truly was the Son of Man, the God-anointed One of Daniel 7:0, and therefore had the right while on earth to forgive sins He would perform a miracle. He would do what they could not do, what only One Who was approved of God could do. He would enable this man to walk. Then if they were honest, having failed to argue against His reasoning, they would have to admit His right to forgive sins.
So turning to the paralytic He told him to rise from his mattress and walk home carrying his mattress. What better proof could there be that he was genuinely healed, and therefore now coming under the approval of God, and therefore also forgiven.
‘And he arose, and departed to his house.’
And the man did what he was told and walked home with his mattress on his shoulder. Jesus’ claims were vindicated.
‘But when the crowds saw it, they were afraid, and glorified God, who had given such authority to men.’
Matthew is not interested in the reaction of the Scribes. His concern was for the glory of God. The Scribes, put to flight rationally, ceased to matter to him (he does not seek to show them up in a bad light at every turn). What mattered was that the crowds recognised what had happened. They were filled with awe and they glorified God because He gave such power ‘to men’. They still saw Jesus as just a man among men, even if a prophet. The inference is that while they were honest enough to admit the truth of what they had seen (unlike some others who could be mentioned) they had not appreciated the fuller truths which were coming home to the disciples that Jesus was more than just another man.
But the reader is expected to see further than that. He is expected to see that by providing both forgiveness and healing ‘on earth’ Jesus was demonstrating that the Kingly Rule of Heaven was present on earth as it had always been in Heaven (Psalms 22:28; Psalms 103:19; Psalms 93:1; Psalms 97:1; Psalms 99:1; Psalms 110:1). The Son of Man was ruling on earth as He would one day in Heaven.
The Call of Matthew 9:9 .
With this verse Matthew comes to the end of the subsection which began in Matthew 8:18 with the reference to other disciples considering following Jesus. Perhaps there is a stress on the fact that while the others had been in doubt, there was no doubt about Matthew. He did unquestionably follow Jesus. Matthew was probably chronologically called before this, but it is placed here partly to seal the subsection that has gone before, and partly to introduce what follows (which takes place in his house. This gathering was probably some time after his call). There may also be the point that the preaching in Matthew 4:17 resulted in the successful calling of four disciples, now the revelation made up to this point has resulted in the successful calling of a fifth. The number of genuine disciples who recognise the uniqueness of Jesus, and who submit to the Kingly Rule of Heaven, is gradually growing.
‘And as Jesus passed by from there, he saw a man, called Matthew, sitting at the place for the collection of tolls, and he says to him, “Follow me.” And he arose, and followed him.’
In the other synoptic Gospels Matthew is spoken of as Levi at the time of his calling, but as Matthew in the list of Apostles. It was not unusual for people to have two Hebrew names in those days, as many inscriptions make clear. Any speculation on the question of his name is thus just that. Pure speculation to which no answer will ever be found. It is quite likely that Jesus (or indeed he himself) changed his name when He called him, indicating by it that he was a new man. This would adequately explain the change from Levi to Matthew in the other Gospels, with Matthew being his discipleship name.
We can imagine the shock that many must have had when Jesus chose a public servant as a disciple. Such public servants were looked on as traitors and were ostracised. They collected taxes on behalf of either the Romans or Herod and took a cut for themselves, regularly using violent methods in order to achieve their targets. They would be accompanied by soldiers and were not above having people roughed up. While as a ‘customs official’ Matthew would not have indulged in the wildest excesses of the taxation industry most people would have frowned to see him amongst the Apostles.
That he collected tolls, probably at a border post, indicates a man used to keeping records. He would thus be a useful addition to the Apostolic band, and that especially because he would be meticulous in the keeping of records. He may well therefore have become the group’s recorder. As his position had presumably also ensured that he was fluent in at least Greek and Aramaic, with a smattering of other languages as well, this would well qualify him for keeping records of Jesus’ teaching and ensuring that it was later passed on to the churches.
His call was simple. Jesus said, ‘Follow Me.’ And he did. It was a royal command. But there is no reason to doubt that he had been an avid listener to Jesus’ message prior to this. We can almost certainly assume that Jesus had previously spoken with him, and had now picked him out as suitable to be an Apostle. The impression given is that like the four that we know of as called previously (Matthew 4:18-22) he followed Jesus immediately. Presumably there were colleagues working with him who could take over his duties at the time. And we should consider the fact that if Jesus considered him to be suitable there can be no doubt about his ability to write a Gospel.
‘And it came about that as he reclined at meat in the house, behold, many public servants and sinners came and sat down with Jesus and his disciples.’
We know from the other synoptic Gospels that this gathering was in Matthew’s house. He, together with Jesus and His other disciples, had come there to eat. Often at such meals Jesus would almost inevitably become the focal point. It was so here. This was probably some time after Matthew’s conversion and call to discipleship, and he had therefore called together some old friends to meet Jesus, possibly even at their request. These consisted of public servants like he had been, together with other people who were looked on by the Pharisees as ‘sinners’. By ‘sinners’ is meant those who failed to live according to even the minimum requirements of the Pharisees. They would include many who worked in trades that made it difficult to do so, for example, tanners, and probably also some with bad reputations. To eat with such people was to risk becoming ‘unclean’. The Pharisees would have withdrawn in horror at the idea.
But even worse were the public servants. They served a foreign state, who used locals for collecting taxes and other revenues in order to try to make them more acceptable. But to the Jews these taxes were an insult to their religion. So these public servants were seen by the vast majority of Jews as traitors, especially in a fanatically nationalistic country like Galilee, and even moreso as they used their positions in order to make themselves rich. They were on the whole notoriously dishonest. They often overtaxed the people, keeping what they skimmed off for themselves, they would take large bribes so as to look the other way when assessing taxes, and they presented a false picture to the authorities to whom they had to account. They were by the nature of their contacts looked on as unclean, and they were excluded from the synagogues. Along with robbers and murderers they were unacceptable as witnesses in Jewish courts. No one with any respect for themselves would have relations with them.
However Jesus did not hesitate, and His disciples followed His lead (they had even been willing to accept Matthew into their number). This did not mean that Jesus compromised on His own standards, nor that He relaxed His requirements for discipleship. But it did mean that He did not cut Himself off from them nor demand of them unnecessary observances. They would not, however, be there ‘partying’. The point was that they had come to hear what Jesus had to say.
‘In the house.’ It has been suggested that this rather vague description arises from the fact that the writer was speaking of his own home. How often many of us must have said, ‘I’ve got one in the house’ or ‘let’s go into the house’, calling it that because of its familiarity to us.
Jesus Has Come as the Healer of the Sins of All Men, But the Pharisees Criticise Him For Eating with Public Servants and Sinners (9:10-13).
Jesus now makes clear that He has come in order to save the undeserving. That was something that the Pharisees, who slaved at being ‘deserving’, could not understand. Indeed they could not comprehend why, if He was of God, He could possibly behave in the way that He did. It went against all their principles. They failed to realise that God was like that. For to them God was a stern taskmaster Who did not give anyone an inch, or even half an inch. They had overlooked the laws about love and compassion.
a And it came about that as he sat at meat in the house, behold, many public servants and sinners came and sat down with Jesus and his disciples (Matthew 9:10).
b And when the Pharisees saw it, they said to his disciples, “Why does your Teacher eat with the public servants and sinners?” (Matthew 9:11).
b But when he heard it, he said, “Those who are whole have no need of a physician, but those who are sick” (Matthew 9:12).
a “But you go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice,’ for I came not to call the righteous, but sinners” (Matthew 9:13).
Note that in ‘a’ Jesus sat down with public servants and sinners, and in the parallel it was because He had come precisely in order to call people like that. In ‘b’ the Pharisees ask why Jesus eats with them, and in the parallel He explains why.
What Jesus Has To Offer And The Growth of Pharisaic Opposition (9:10-34).
We are now informed about the first open opposition among the Pharisees to Jesus. The Pharisees had seemingly previously approached John with a critical attitude, along with the Sadducees. They had felt that it was their duty to vet any new prophet. But they had been firmly put in their place (Matthew 3:7-9). Now they will begin to criticise Jesus, and their criticism will grow and will continue on to the end. Not all Pharisees, however, were like this. Some did meet up with Jesus and hold conversations with Him (e.g. John 3:1-6; Luke 14:1; Mark 12:28-34). But here it is the antagonistic majority who are in mind.
They are mentioned three times in this passage, in Matthew 9:11; Matthew 9:14; Matthew 9:34, and as a result we begin to recognise their growing hostility. Previously we have had the murmuring of the Scribes (Matthew 9:3). Now the opposition will become more open, and He will be more closely observed. They will first criticise Him for the company He keeps (Matthew 9:11), then indirectly for not encouraging fasting (Matthew 9:14), and finally, quite falsely, for casting out devils by the prince of devils (Matthew 9:34). This last is what shows up their total hypocrisy, for they had no grounds for such a claim. It was simply a let out for them because they had no other explanation for His success, apart from the one that they were not willing to contemplate, that He really was from God. But we should note that Matthew does not yet associate them with the Scribes in their opposition. That would become prominent later
The original Pharisees had been genuine protectors of the Law, but many of them had gradually become more taken up with the ritual that their teachers had laid down than with the root purposes of the Law. To them the correct washing of the hands, the observance of minutiae about the Sabbath, and the tithing of even the smallest thing had become more important than a genuine concern for others. And they suspiciously watched others in order to ensure that they maintained the same standards as themselves, especially people like Jesus and John, because they were so sure hat they were right.
On the other hand Jesus stands in contrast to them and stresses what He has come to offer. This will be revealed in Matthew 9:10-35. He has come in order to help those who have been neglected by religious people (Matthew 9:10). He wanted to reach down and lift up the fallen. He has come as a physician (Matthew 9:12). He wanted to heal the spiritually needy. He wanted to bring sinners to God. And that involved meeting up with them. He has come as the Bridegroom to bring something new, putting the old aside, for His presence as the Bridegroom is the proof that a new age is upon them (Matthew 9:15-17). He has come as the Life-giver to offer life and restoration (Matthew 9:18-26). He has come to open the eyes of the blind and to loosen the tongue of the dumb (Matthew 9:27-34). He has come bringing the Good News of God’s Kingly Rule offered to all who will accept it (Matthew 9:35).
a Jesus has come as the Healer of the sins of all men, but the Pharisees criticise His eating with public servants and sinners (Matthew 9:10-13).
b Jesus is criticised for not fasting but points out that He has come bringing something new. He is the heavenly Bridegroom (Matthew 9:14-17).
c Jesus raises the dead with His HAND of power and heals a woman who is unclean with a discharge of blood through her FAITH (Matthew 9:18-26).
b Jesus opens the eyes of the blind with His TOUCH as a result of their FAITH. He is the SON OF DAVID (Matthew 9:27-31).
a Jesus makes the demon-possessed dumb man speak but is accused by the Pharisees of casting out demons by means of the Prince of demons (Matthew 9:32-34).
Note that in ‘a’ Jesus is criticised by the Pharisees for the company He keeps, and similarly in the parallel. In ‘b’ Jesus has brought something new as the heavenly Bridegroom and in the parallel blind eyes are opened. Centrally in ‘c’ is the raising of the dead and the cleansing of the woman because of her faith.
‘And when the Pharisees saw it, they said to his disciples, “Why does your Teacher eat with the public servants and sinners?” ’
To the Pharisees what Jesus was doing was unpardonable. To them their rituals had become the be all and end all of their lives. And they could not see how Jesus could take the risk of being religiously defiled. To them that was offensive to God because of their perverted ideas about God. So they challenged His disciples as to why Jesus was not more fastidious. Why did He eat with public servants and sinners?
Such meals as this would be held in an open room or courtyard, and anyone could gain access to it, and often observe it from afar. No doubt the Pharisees had sent their spies to keep an eye on what was happening. And when they reported back it was then that the Pharisees approached the disciples about the situation. Or perhaps they had acted as spies themselves, determined to catch Him out. In their eyes a prophet who did not live in accordance with their interpretations of the Law was a scandal.
‘But when he heard it, he said, “Those who are whole have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.” ’
When Jesus heard what was being said He patiently explained His position to the Pharisees. He pointed out that a doctor did not go to those who were well. He went to those who were ill. It was the ill who needed a doctor. And thus as He was Himself a physician of souls it was necessary for Him mix with those who needed His help. It was after all those who were ‘smitten of God’ whom He had promised to heal (Hosea 6:1).
His claim that He Himself was a doctor of the spiritually sick was, of course, of considerable significance. While the Pharisees considered that their most important aim must be to avoid defilement, Jesus was saying that, like a doctor, it was necessary for Him to risk defilement in order to help others. Furthermore He was also setting Himself up as fulfilling God’s own ministry. For it was God Who had offered Himself as the Doctor of souls (Hosea 6:1; Hosea 7:1). He was thus claiming a unique position with God.
He wanted both the Pharisees and the world to know that He had not come simply to mingle with ‘those who are whole’, that is, ‘the righteous’, that is those who strove to keep the Law and thought that they could do so (who would not be many in number). He had come rather to help those who were sick of soul and in need. He had come to save and restore. Those who were in health and whole did not need a doctor. It was only those who were sick who did so. Thus He was here to be a spiritual doctor to sinners and to all in need. He was here to call them to turn to God in repentance. And in order to achieve that He had to go where they were.
It is probable that He had mind here the words in Jeremiah 8:22, ‘Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there? Why then is not the health of the daughter of my people recovered?’ That expressed why He had come. He had come for the purpose of meeting that lack, that is, to provide a balm in Gilead, and to be that physician. In a sense there were some who did not need a physician. There were the godly in Israel. They had already become right with God. But He was not suggesting that the Pharisees did not need a physician. He knew that in fact, on the whole, they desperately needed one, for their righteousness was not sufficient for entry under the Kingly Rule of Heaven (Matthew 5:20). Rather He was pointing out that the recovery of God’s people in these last days did require a physician like Himself, and that He had therefore come for all who recognised their need and admitted their spiritual ill-health. Those who thought themselves already righteous would not, of course, come to Him. Thus He would not be able to help them. But for all who did recognise their need, whoever they were, He was available.
His claim to be God’s physician must be seen for what it is. He is setting Himself up as having a certain level of uniqueness. The point is that He is able to restore sinners because he is not a sinner. An ailing and sick doctor would be of little use to his patients. And He is calling them to repentance, to turn to God with all their hearts, which is something that He can do because He Himself needs no repentance. Here then as the only Son He was acting on behalf of His Father. We may compare Jesus’ willingness to be a healer here with the man in Isaiah 3:7, who was not prepared to be a healer because it would be too costly and demanding. Jesus minded neither the cost nor the demand. The Father had sought a physician and He was here.
“But you go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice,’ for I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”
‘Go and learn.’ This was a regular Jewish way of directing people to seek spiritual truth. And He informed them that where they should look was in Hosea 6:6. There we read, ‘I desire covenant love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.’ And there the emphasis was on following true righteousness and being God-like, rather than on the observance of ritual. Ritual had its place. But only if it helped men to love God and their neighbour. The purpose of ritual was to bring men to the knowledge of God. Once it got in the way of doing that, or replaced that, it had to be got rid of. Thus compassion had to come before rigidity of ritual. And that was why Jesus had come, not to call the righteous, but sinners. Any who were truly righteous would not need His help. It was the repentant sinners whose heart cried out for God, Who needed His help, and they were the ones He was mixing with. And that was in line with the heart of God.
As Hosea 6:1-2 makes clear, this coming of a special physician from God was to be a feature of the last days in order to bring His people back to Himself.
‘Then come to him the disciples of John, saying, “Why do we and the Pharisees fast often, but your disciples do not fast?” ’
The disciples of John now approach Jesus, but it would appear possible that they had been in consultation with the Pharisees, who were clearly also commenting on the lack of fasting among Jesus’ disciples. It appeared to them that their lack of fasting demonstrated a lack of sincerity, and they may well have been genuinely puzzled. The disciples of John had of course good reason to fast as an act of mourning, for their great leader languished in prison. That would make it even more reason why they should feel that Jesus’ disciples should be fasting as well at what was a dark time for the godly in Israel. We have good reason to believe that the Pharisees fasted every Monday and Thursday until around 15:00 hours. It would appear possible that John’s disciples may have done something similar. Then there were also voluntary fasts connected with some of the great Feasts which some of them had just been involved in.
Jesus Has Come As The Bridegroom Bringing Something Totally New (9:14-17).
Having revealed Himself as the Great Physician, a further incident about fasting leads on to His revelation of Himself as the heavenly Bridegroom. John the Baptist had already given an indication of this when he spoke of himself as the ‘friend of the Bridegroom’ (John 3:29). Now Jesus applies the thought of the Bridegroom to Himself, and gives an indication that He is already aware of the future that awaits Him. He will be ‘taken away’.
In the Old Testament it is God Who is the heavenly Bridegroom. In Isaiah we read, “As the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so will your God rejoice over you” (Isaiah 62:5, compare Jeremiah 2:2; Hosea 2:19-23). He longed for His people to become His bride and thus become faithful to their marriage covenant (compare Isaiah 50:1; Isaiah 54:6)
a Then come to him the disciples of John, saying, “Why do we and the Pharisees fast often, but your disciples do not fast?” (Matthew 9:14).
b And Jesus said to them, “Can the sons of the bridechamber mourn, as long as the bridegroom is with them? But the days will come, when the bridegroom will be taken away from them, and then they will fast” (Matthew 9:15).
b “And no man puts a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment, for then that which should fill it up takes from the garment, and a worse tear is made” (Matthew 9:16).
a “Neither do men put new wine into old wineskins, or else the skins burst, and the wine is spilled, and the skins perish. But they put new wine into fresh wineskins, and both are preserved” (Matthew 9:17).
Note that in ‘a’ the question is posed as to why Jesus’ disciples do not fast, and in the parallel the answer is, ‘because they put new wine into fresh wineskins’. In ‘b’ the presence of the Bridegroom will result in His being ‘taken away’ and in the parallel the intermixture of an unshrunk patch on an old garment results in it being torn.
‘And Jesus said to them, “Can the sons of the bridechamber mourn, as long as the bridegroom is with them? But the days will come, when the bridegroom will be taken away from them, and then they will fast.” ’
Jesus points out that such fasting would be inappropriate for His disciples, because for them this was a time of joy. The Bridegroom has come. The Kingly Rule of Heaven is at hand. Those therefore who are benefiting from it should not be fasting but rejoicing.
His first point is that fasting is reserved for times of mourning and unhappiness, mourning over failure and unhappiness about sin, and especially mourning because God had not yet acted in history and because the Messiah and the Holy Spirit’s outpouring had not yet come. And the implication of His words therefore is that the time of the Messiah, and of the Holy Spirit’s outpouring is now here, something which even outweighs the suffering of John.
He points out that those who are appointed at a wedding to be with the bridegroom to sustain him and enjoy his pleasure with him (the ‘sons of the bridechamber’) cannot fast, for they would then mar the celebrations. Rather must they eat and drink and be joyful. A Jewish wedding lasted for seven days, and they were days of feasting and merriment during which the bridegroom would be celebrating. And he would have with him his closest friends to share his joy with him. To seek to fast under such circumstances would be an insult. (Even the Rabbis excluded people at a wedding feast from the need to fast). Thus it was a unique occasion, and only a unique occasion, that exempted His disciples from fasting.
This in itself was a remarkable claim, that because He had come men need not fast. It was to claim divine prerogative. Moses could not have said it. Elijah could not have said it. John the Baptiser could not have said it. It required a greater than they.
But unquestionably Jesus was conveying a deeper message even than this, as the next verse brings out. He was pointing out that the Messiah had come. He was pointing to Himself as the great Bridegroom whose presence meant that men need not fast, the great Bridegroom promised in the Scriptures. In Isaiah 62:5 the prophet had said “As the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so will your God rejoice over you”. The picture there was one that was emphasised and poignant. Isaiah pointed out that they had previously been called Forsaken, and their land Desolate, but now would be renamed because God delighted in them and their land would be married to God. They would become God’s bride. He would be their Bridegroom. So there God is the Bridegroom, and His restored people are the Bride, and it is clearly pointing to the time of restoration. In the same way Jesus, by describing Himself as the Bridegroom of God’s restored people, shows that He is uniquely standing in the place of God and introducing the time of restoration.
A similar vivid picture is also brought out in Jeremiah 2:2 where the Lord says of His people, “I remember concerning you the kindness of your youth, the love of your espousals, how you went after me in the wilderness, in a land that was not sown.” Here we have the Lord as the Bridegroom in waiting (compare Jeremiah 2:32. Compare also Ezekiel 16:8-14). It is thus very doubtful whether a discerning listener would fail to catch at least something of this implication.
Furthermore that Jesus emphatically saw Himself as the Bridegroom comes out elsewhere in the Gospel. Consider the marriage feast for the son (Matthew 22:2-14) and the Bridegroom at the wedding where the foolish virgins were excluded (Matthew 25:1-13), both clear pictures of Jesus. So His being the Bridegroom was a theme of His. And as we have seen John the Baptiser described Him in the same way (John 3:29). Thus Jesus was by this declaring in another way that the ‘the Kingly Rule of God has drawn near’, and that He was a unique figure come from God, the heavenly Bridegroom, God’s Messiah.
His point is therefore that if God has come on earth as the Bridegroom, how can there be fasting by those who have recognised Him and welcomed Him? It would not be seemly. The others only fast because the truth has not come home to them.
“But the days will come when the bridegroom will be taken away from them, then will they fast.” Then Jesus comes in with an ominous warning. The words He has spoken confirm that we are to see in the picture of the Bridegroom something significant concerning Jesus. And this is clear in that the Bridegroom, Who was now here, will one day be ‘taken away’ (Mark effectively adds ‘forcibly’) and then His disciples will have good cause to fast. Jesus knew already from the voice at His baptism that He was called on to fulfil the ministry of the suffering Servant, and this had been confirmed by John’s words, “Behold the Lamb of God, Who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). Thus we have here the first indication from Him of His awareness of the brutal end that awaits Him. He knew that He must face suffering on behalf of His people. And then indeed His disciples would fast.
Interestingly the words do not encourage regular fasting. The disciples would indeed sorrow but their sorrow would be turned into joy (John 16:20). Thus the need for fasting would quickly pass and would be no more. There is no real encouragement to fasting here. It is not, however forbidden. The point is that it is not required. Those who serve the King are not bound by petty regulations but are concerned with how they can please Him. If they fast it is in order to better serve Him by spending longer in prayer in a state of enhanced awareness, not because it is necessary for their own spiritual sustenance, for as regards that He is more than sufficient.
So we have here both Jesus’ testimony to the fact that He is God’s Sent One, over Whom men should rejoice, and with it an indication that He is aware of the future that awaits Him. The cross would not catch Him by surprise (compare Luke 2:35).
This declaration that Jesus has come as the heavenly Bridegroom and is inaugurating a new world is then brought out by two illustrations.
“And no man puts a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment, for then that which should fill it up takes from the garment, and a worse tear is made.”
By His illustrations here Jesus now declares that it is not a time for supplementing the old ideas and trying to repair them. The inference is that what is needed is new clothing and new wine. The old is not to be supplemented by the new, but the new must replace the old. It is a clear indication that in Jesus has come a new age. The prophets had prophesied until John (Matthew 11:13). But now a greater than John was here. We are reminded by this illustration of God’s promises to reclothe His people (see the parallel idea in Matthew 22:11-12 and compare Zechariah 3:4-5 and the idea in Ezekiel 16:10-14 with 59-63). For giving them new wine to drink see Isaiah 25:6 and compare John 2:1-11.
But the new is to replace the old because the old is not what it should be. The new Israel that will replace the old (Matthew 21:43) will return to the truths of its founding fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (Matthew 8:11). It is what is cast out that is the old (Matthew 8:12). We can compare how in the Sermon on the Mount Jesus has not produced a new Law, but has brought out the true meaning of the original. The Law that is rejected is not the true Law, but the misinterpreted Law. The true Law is enhanced and glorified.
The Old Testament prophets had looked forward to this new age. They had looked for God to establish His Kingly Rule. This idea had been part of Isaiah’s inaugural call (Isaiah 6:1), and a central feature of his ministry (Isaiah 52:7). And He would do it through the Coming One (Isaiah 7:14; Isaiah 9:6-7; Isaiah 11:1-4).
In context the application of these words is as a defence against fasting. It is saying that we should not take old ideas, (in context the ideas about fasting), and try to improve them by mixing them with the new. That would be like using unshrunk cloth with which to mend the old. That would be ridiculous. When the garment was laundered the unshrunk cloth would shrink and the old cloth would be even further torn. Instead of the new patch filling the hole, it would make the hole bigger. Thus to put together the ideas of the old ragged ways and the new unspoiled ways would be incompatible. They do not match. With Jesus everything has begun anew.
This suggests that He saw fasting as being mainly for the old dispensation, but not for the new. The old world fasted because they waited in penitence for God to act. But now God was acting and fasting was a thing of the past. Now was the time for rejoicing.
However, the words also contain within them the general idea that what Jesus Himself has come to bring is new. ‘The Kingly Rule of Heaven has drawn near’. So now is to be a time of rejoicing and everything must be looked at in its light. The old had past, and the new has come (compare 2 Corinthians 5:17). Two examples of this appear in the Old Testament. The first is in Ezekiel 16:0 where Israel, having been splendidly clothed by God was defiled because of her idolatrous practises. But God promised that in the end He would put all right. Their fortunes would be restored. The second is in Zechariah 4:3-5 where Joshua the High Priest, the representative of Israel, was clothed in new clothing as an illustration of acceptance by God. From these we may gather that Jesus had also come to reclothe His people with pure clothing (compare Matthew 22:11-12; Revelation 19:8).
The extraordinary significance of this statement must not be overlooked. Jesus is clearly declaring that in His coming as the Bridegroom at this time a whole new way of thinking and living has been introduced. He is the introducer of a new age that is even at this time bursting in on the world, for being a bridegroom indicates that a marriage is about to take place, introduced by the Messianic Banquet which the disciples are already enjoying. So all this is not far in the future, it is resulting because Jesus is here. That is why they are not fasting. The acceptable year of the Lord has arrived. And their repentance and forgiveness in the new age into which they have now entered will lead to lives of joy as they walk in company with first the earthly and then the heavenly (risen) Bridegroom. Thus fasting will be unnecessary except in exceptional circumstances, in the brief period before final victory. Everything is different and old ways must be forgotten.
And this is because Jesus is introducing new clothing. This gains new meaning in the light of Jesus’ idea elsewhere, which He Himself may have had in mind, for the man who seeks to enter the heavenly wedding without having a proper wedding garment on will be cast out (Matthew 22:11-12 compare Revelation 19:8; Revelation 3:5; Revelation 3:18). Those who would enter His presence must be clothed with the righteousness that He provides. There must be no partially patched up clothes for them.
It will be noted that the illustration here is different from that in Luke 5:36, for Luke speaks there of taking the new cloth from a new garment, which heightens the folly, as it destroys the new garment as well. It is clear that Jesus used the same illustration a number of times, varying it slightly when He wanted to make a different point, and that Matthew and Mark have used one example, and Luke another. In Luke ‘and He spoke also a parable to them’ may be seen as suggesting that it is Luke or his source who have brought the ideas together there. But the fact that these saying are connected in all three synoptics, while at the same time being slightly different from each other, might point to the tradition as a whole as having done the bringing together. Alternately it may be that the unshrunk cloth is simply a slight abbreviation of the slightly longer illustration which emphasises the major point, with Luke giving us Jesus’ full words. Matthew and Mark may thus simply be giving an abbreviation of them. A piece from a new garment would in fact be unshrunk cloth.
“Neither do men put new wine into old wineskins, or else the skins burst, and the wine is spilled, and the skins perish. But they put new wine into fresh wineskins, and both are preserved.”
The point is emphasised again, this time using the idea of putting new wine into old wineskins. To do so would be to cause the dried out old skins to burst. They are no loner elastic enough to cope with the fermentation of new wine. Then all would be lost, the new wine and the wineskins, for the skins would perish.
Here there is included the idea also found in John 2:0, that the new wine of the Kingly Rule of God has come. But it is being emphasised that it must not be put into old wineskins. The wineskins that had been built up by Judaism must be thrust aside, as He had Himself done in the Sermon on the Mount.
But the above illustrations carry also another warning, although it may well not have been in Jesus’ mind. For the point lying behind the illustrations is that the introduction of the new into the old will cause rending and perishing. And that is precisely what would happen. The old wineskins of Judaism would be unable to take the arrival of the new wine of Jesus so that it would cause His death. Jesus had come to a country which was like dried out, old wineskins, so that His coming could only result in His death, and then for them the new wine would be lost because they had clung to the old) and would result in the destruction of the place to which He had come (the old wineskins, Jerusalem, would perish). For there was a sense in which it was unavoidable that the new would clash with the old.
“But they put new wine into fresh wineskins, and both are preserved.”
Here is the solution, to keep the new wine to new wineskins, and not try to mix it with the old. Everything must be seen anew. Thus must they rejoice in the bridegroom, and not fast over Him, and thus must they receive His new message, putting the old (Judaism) aside. Their righteousness must exceed that of the Scribes and Pharisees (Matthew 5:20). Then they will not destroy themselves by mixing the new with the old (as in fact part of the later church did).
The idea is carried further in John 2:1-11 where the new wine symbolises the glories of the Messianic age indicating that the time has come for the fulfilment of Isaiah 25:6. We should note in all this that it is not what is recorded in the Scriptures that brings about the clash, it is the way in which it has been interpreted and used by its interpreters. The Scriptures contain the same message throughout, salvation by the grace of God through repentance and the offering of blood, and His continual gracious working in their lives.
‘Both are preserved.’ That is, the new wine and the new wineskins. There is no thought that the old is to be preserved. The tragedy would be if the disciples began to incorporate the wrong ideas that had grown up in Judaism into the new community that Jesus was founding. There is no thought that the old was to survive alongside.
(There was, of course, a sense in which the old way in the best senses was still necessary until the new message had reached out into the world, and it would therefore be necessary for it to be maintained for a while. There were godly people around the world who had never heard the Good News. They still came to God on the basis of the old ideas. And Jesus was wise enough not to want to tear that situation apart. For it would be many decades, and even longer, before all had had the chance of hearing and responding to the new. But the old that Jesus was casting off was not these genuine Scriptural foundations. What He was rejecting was the misinterpreting of it by Judaism in the same way as they had misinterpreted the Law (Matthew 5:20). What Jesus abhorred was the thought of something which was a continual mixture of both the old misinterpreted religion and the new purified religion. In the end the old had to be shed, a process greatly helped by the destruction of Jerusalem. But none of that is in mind in His statement that ‘both are preserved’).
‘While he spoke these things to them, behold, there came a ruler, and worshipped him (or ‘paid him homage’), saying, “My daughter is even now dead, but come and lay your hand on her, and she will live.” ’
‘While He spoke these things to them.’ This could be intended to be specific (and thus as signifying ‘while He was actually speaking what has just been recorded’) or it could be intended to be more vague (‘while He was teaching similar types of things to those which have just been recorded’) as a convenient means of linking the narratives. In the latter case he would simply be saying that the Ruler burst in on Jesus at some time when He was teaching about the coming of what was new. Compare Mark 5:21 which is also vague. Neither confirms the true chronological position of the story.
We have in this whole account a typical Matthaean abbreviation. He condenses a more complicated situation mainly in order to save space, but possibly in this verse also for the purpose of emphasising from the start that by the time Jesus arrived at the house she really was dead. By establishing that fact here there would be no danger of anyone (well, nearly anyone) misinterpreting Jesus’ later comment about her being ‘asleep’. In order to obtain the full facts the sentence has to be divided into two halves, the first indicating that the Ruler came to Jesus and fell at His feet, and the second indicating that the Ruler informed Jesus that his daughter was dead, for this latter in fact took place some time after the former. It may thus be a typical piece of journalistic condensation. Basically Matthew is saying as briefly as possible that the father came to Jesus for help, informed Jesus (later) that his daughter was dead, and asked Him to heal her in the usual manner. The way in which Jesus regularly healed was no mystery. It was, however, unusual. There is a solitary reference to Abraham being called on to lay hands on a sick person in a Qumran scroll, but it is a rare occurrence.
Alternately Matthew may be depicting the Ruler as exaggerating the case in order to bring home to Jesus the seriousness of the situation. By ‘is dead’ he may simply have meant ‘as good as dead’, ‘could die at any moment’, ‘dead if you do not come and do something about it’. (Compare ‘let the dead bury their dead’). This may have been a commonly recognised way of indicating nearness to death, especially when calling a doctor. ‘She is dead if you do not come quickly with your medicines’. But if this is so we have no other evidence of it. On the other hand this interpretation is supported by the words that follow. For the suggestion that Jesus would lay hands on her so that she might live suggests that the father did not see her as actually dead, but was hoping for a cure. The Ruler would have had no cause to think that Jesus could raise the dead by laying hands on them, but he would have every cause to think that Jesus could heal the sick by doing so. (Note that in fact Jesus does not lay His hands on her, so this is not conforming the story to the later facts).
We are given fuller details in the other synoptic Gospels. When the Ruler first made contact with Jesus, as far as he was aware his daughter was still alive, although dying. It was only later when messengers arrived to tell him that his daughter was dead that he passed that information on to Jesus. So the basic facts as depicted in Matthew is right, it is the inessential (to Matthew) detail that is missing.
This should act as a warning to us that in many Bible stories details are often missing so that we should beware of drawing lessons from silence, or overemphasising what might simply be the result of condensation. But we do note that while Matthew elsewhere draws attention to outstanding faith (Matthew 8:10; Matthew 9:28), even doing so later in this story (Matthew 9:22), there is no mention of the Ruler’s faith here, simply because Matthew knew the full story and knew that his was a wavering faith, and not something to be especially commended.
‘The Ruler.’ He was a ruler of the synagogue and therefore respected, playing an important part in society. We must not judge the attitude of the synagogues by the Pharisees (see Matthew 12:9; Matthew 13:54), although Jesus was aware that His Apostles would experience rough treatment in some synagogues (Matthew 10:17).
The Raising of A Ruler’s Daughter And The Healing Of The Woman With A Discharge of Blood (9:18-26).
No better illustration of the fact that the new had come can be found than here. In the raising of the anonymous Ruler’s daughter we are provided with a foretaste of the resurrection. It was a pointer to the fact that to all ‘Rulers’, as to all men and women, new life was being offered. And in the woman who was made clean we have a picture of the prospective new Israel who need to reach out and touch Jesus and be cleansed. (Compare for the latter Ezekiel 16:60-63).
In what follows Jesus goes to the aid of a young girl who has died, and raises her from the dead. But there is a subsidiary story, which is always seen as an integral part of the main story. This reveals a woman who was continually ceremonially ‘unclean’ because of a discharge of blood from within her which she had had for twelve years. She too was dying, and she had been dying for twelve years. And she had found no hope anywhere until the day when she came to Jesus and found that He could make the unclean clean. Both were in their own way representative of the people of God, dead in sin and unclean before God.
But in order to confirm the lesson lying behind this we need to go to a passage in Ezekiel 16:0. There Jerusalem was likened to a baby, cast out at birth covered in the blood flow of its mother, whom God had commanded ‘in her blood’ to live (Matthew 9:6). He then betrothed her to Himself, but she remained naked (it is not a natural picture). And when she came to an age for love (i.e. about twelve years of age) He wiped the blood from her (Matthew 9:9). So either the idea is that for twelve years she had been covered in vaginal blood, or that she was once again covered in blood because of her menstruation, seen as connecting back to her first condition. And now she was His to be restored by His mercy to full glory.
It would seem that this is the lesson behind both the child whom God will make to live, and the woman with a flow of blood for twelve years which will be made clean. The two together reveal that Jesus (the Bridegroom - Matthew 9:15) has come to make clean and give life to His people so as to betroth them to Himself.
a While He spoke these things to them, behold, there came a ruler, and worshipped him (Matthew 9:18 a).
b Saying, “My daughter is even now dead, but come and lay Your hand on her, and she will live” (Matthew 9:18 b).
c And Jesus arose, and followed him, and so did His disciples (Matthew 9:19).
d And behold, a woman, who had a discharge of blood twelve years, came behind him, and touched the border (or ‘fringe’) of His cloak. For she said within herself, “If I do but touch His clothing, I will be made whole” (Matthew 9:20-21).
e But Jesus turning and seeing her said, “Daughter, be of good cheer, your FAITH has made you whole” (Matthew 9:22 a).
d And the woman was made whole from that hour (Matthew 9:22 b).
c And when Jesus came into the ruler’s house, and saw the flute-players, and the crowd making a tumult, He said, “Remove yourselves, for the damsel is not dead, but sleeps.” And they laughed Him to scorn (Matthew 9:23-24).
b But when the crowd was put forth, He entered in, and took her by the hand, and the damsel arose (Matthew 9:25).
a And the fame concerning this went forth into all that land (Matthew 9:26).
Note that in ‘a’ the ruler came and worshipped Him, and in the parallel His fame went throughout the land. In ‘b’ he pleads for his daughter’s life and in the parallel Jesus grants his request. In ‘c’ Jesus arose and followed him and in the parallel they arrive at the ruler’s house. In ‘d’ the diseased woman says to herself that if she touches Jesus’ clothing she will be made whole, and in the parallel she is made whole. Centrally in ‘e’ it is her faith which has made her whole.
‘And Jesus arose, and followed him, and so did his disciples.’
Responding to the Ruler’s plea Jesus arose from where He was sat teaching, and followed him, accompanied by His disciples.
‘And behold, a woman, who had a discharge of blood twelve years, came behind him, and touched the border (or ‘fringe’ or ‘tassel’) of his cloak. For she said within herself, “If I do but touch his garment, I will be made whole.” ’
In the crowd that followed Jesus was a woman who ought not to have been there, for she was permanently ritually unclean (Leviticus 15:25). She had a flow of vaginal blood that never stopped flowing. (Luke tells us that she had spent a fortune on doctors, and now she was in poverty and all hope had gone). But she had heard of Jesus, and no doubt disguised in some way, crept into the crowd around Him. She knew that what she was about to do was unforgivable, and would not want her neighbours to know that she was there. For when she touched this prophet she would be making Him ritually unclean, together with all the people around her who touched her. Religiously she was human dynamite. But her desperation overrode everything else and quietly and surreptitiously she made her way through the crowd and touched either the hem of His robe or the tassel required to be worn by all Jewish males in Numbers 15:37-38 (compare Matthew 14:36). The idea of the tassels which every Jewish male was supposed to wear in order to indicate his concern for God’s commandments would be of great interest to his Jewish readers.
She only touched the hem of His garment,
As to His side she stole,
Amidst the crowd that gathered around Him,
And straightway she was whole.’
She may thus in fact have touched one of the tassels that every Jewish man had on his garment (Numbers 15:38), but either way it was effective. Immediately she sensed the change in her. For the first time in years the flow of blood had dried up. She was healed. She would hardly have been able to believe it. It would have seemed too good to be true.
It was a picture of what could also happen to Israel if only they too would reach out and touch Jesus. As God had promised to the woman in Ezekiel 16:0 so long before, full restoration was available when she was ready to turn to Him.
‘But Jesus turning and seeing her said, “Daughter, be of good cheer, your faith has made you whole.” And the woman was made whole from that hour.’
Matthew then brings out the point of this story. It is the woman’s faith, wavering though it was, that had made her whole. It will be the same for the Ruler. In order to appreciate the emotion of the story we need to read it in the other synoptic Gospels, but in order to appreciate the basic point Matthew is admirable. All who come to Jesus in faith will be ‘made whole’.
To Jesus it was important that the woman recognise that she was not healed because she had touched Him, but because her faith had reached out to Him. ‘Made whole’ (saved) almost certainly indicates not only physical healing but spiritual blessing as well. It could hardly be otherwise. The crowds may have had doubts about Jesus, but from this moment on she had none.
‘And when Jesus came into the ruler’s house, and saw the flute-players, and the crowd making a tumult, he said, “Give place, for the damsel is not dead, but sleeps.” And they laughed him to scorn.’
On arriving at the ruler’s house Jesus found that the funeral arrangements had already begun. The professional flute players had been called in (only Matthew mentions this) and official mourning was taking place. ‘Making a tumult.’ It was the practise to wail loudly, led by professionals who were experienced at it. (Later the minimum requirement, even for the funeral of a poor man, would be two fluteplayers and one wailing woman).
But Jesus turns to them and tells them to leave quietly, for the girl is only asleep and they will wake her up. They simply looked at Him as if He was mad. He had only just arrived. What did He know about the facts? On the other hand they knew, for they had seen the little girl lying dead on her mattress. And they jeered at Him. These jeerers were probably the professional mourners. Here was this prophet come to do a miracle and so full of confidence, and He was too late. The genuine mourners would probably rather have tearfully assured Him that she was dead. It may be, however, that feelings were exacerbated by the thought that if only He had come earlier He might have saved her.
‘She sleeps.’ There is no doubt that she was dead, and all knew it. But to Jesus it was only sleep because He knew that He was going to wake her, and He did not want everyone to know what He was accomplishing (see also John 11:11-14). Compare the use of ‘sleep’ for death when someone was to be ‘awoken’ from the dead in Daniel 12:2 (and see also 1 Thessalonians 4:13-14; 1 Thessalonians 5:10). That Matthew knew that she was dead comes out in that otherwise, if this was not a raising from he dead, he would not have given a full complement of miracles to satisfy Matthew 11:5. Luke makes it all quite clear.
‘But when the crowd was put forth, he entered in, and took her by the hand, and the damsel arose.’
Matthew tells the story briefly in order to bring out the main point. The crowd were put out, Jesus went in, and then He took her by the hand and she arose. Here we have a simple depiction of the resurrection. Resurrection was an important part of the expectancy of the coming age. The Messianic banquet would be accompanied by the defeat of death (Isaiah 25:6-8). The defeat of death and the raising of the dead was a part of the coming future triumph (Isaiah 26:19). God’s victory would be evidenced by those who ‘slept’ being ‘awoken’ (Daniel 12:2). It may well be because Jesus saw those whom He raised from the dead as forerunners and illustrations of the Resurrection, that He emphasised that they but ‘slept’ (Matthew 9:24; John 11:11). Note Jesus’ emphasis in the case of Lazarus that He was going to ‘awaken him out of sleep’ (compare Daniel 12:2), and the great similarity between His raising of Lazarus (John 11:43-44) and His description of the resurrection in John 5:28-29. Thus His raising of the Ruler’s daughter may be seen as a forerunner of the triumph of the Kingly Rule of Heaven (compare Matthew 11:5), as well as a picture of the spiritual life that He was offering to men and women (Matthew 7:14; Matthew 19:29; John 5:24).
To touch a dead body was to incur defilement (as with the leper in Matthew 8:3) but there was no doubt an exception for Someone Who raised the dead person to life.
‘And the fame concerning this went forth into all that land.’
And as is made clear in each of these last three stories the result was widespread ‘fame’. The stories of what had happened spread everywhere throughout the whole of Galilee. Here among them was One Who could raise the dead.
Among the lessons that Matthew was trying to convey was the fact that Jesus brought hope and life to both rich and poor. He treated both the wealthy Ruler and the impoverished, once wealthy, woman in exactly the same way. Thus all could know that His mercy reached out to all without exception, whether clean or unclean, wealthy or poor.
‘And as Jesus passed by from there, two blind men followed him, crying out, and saying, “Have mercy on us, you son of David.”
Not only is this a Messianic sign following closely on the previous one, and deliberately connected to it, but it is also a picture of what will follow the resurrection. Blind eyes will be opened to an acceptance of the Messiah. For it is those who ‘see’ who are blessed (Matthew 13:16). And this will be because of the merciful response of ‘the Son of David’ (see above and introduction).
For parallel appeals for merciful action see Matthew 15:22; Matthew 17:15; Matthew 20:30-31. It is made quite clear that the title Son of David is especially connected with exorcisms and the healing of the blind (Matthew 12:23; Matthew 15:22; Matthew 20:30-31; Matthew 21:9 with 14). This may well be because by the time of Jesus Solomon, the son of David, was famed for his powers of exorcism (see introduction under Titles of Jesus).
We need not assume that Jesus had ignored their pleas. He may well have been unaware of them (but see Matthew 15:23. He may have had the purpose in it of being able to speak to them privately). Or He may not have wanted to respond in an open way to that designation at this point in His ministry. It could have raised false expectations. The detail then assumes an eyewitness, something quite common in Matthew’s Gospel. It is hardly likely to have been invented.
The Restoring Of Sight To Two Blind Men.
The raising of the Ruler’s daughter from the dead is now followed by a further Messianic sign, the opening of the eyes of the blind (see Matthew 11:5). In this incident there are two blind men who are healed. Rather than dismissing Matthew’s tendency to notice what others do not we should recognise from this that Matthew appears especially to have noticed examples of companionship (even in the case of the asses later). Perhaps it was because as an ex-public servant he had known what it was to long for genuine companionship.
These two men began by calling on Jesus as ‘the Son of David’. While this was not a Messianic title in wide use it is clear from the Psalms of Solomon that it was used by some as a Messianic title. And as we have seen in the introduction, there may be good cause for seeing it as especially connected with Solomon, the son of David. For in most of its uses in Matthew it is connected either with the healing of the blind or the exorcising of evil spirits. And Solomon, the son of David, was especially connected with the latter in Jewish tradition. Thus it indicated here that present among them was one who was recognised as being in the line of David and Solomon, the Messianic king and the Wise One who could cast out evil spirits and heal even the blind. But actual examples of the healing of the blind are never mentioned in either the Old Testament or Jewish literature. It was to be a Messianic function (Isaiah 35:5).
Note too the emphasis on their faith. This is the fourth mention of faith in this section (compare Matthew 8:10; Matthew 9:2; Matthew 9:22). It is being made clear that Jesus responds to faith.
The suggestion that Matthew is simply repeating, with alterations, the story in Matthew 20:29-34 is laughable when we consider how Matthew condenses his material to save space. The stories are clearly referring to different incidents, and in view of the fact that Jesus must have healed hundreds of blind people (e.g. Matthew 15:30) for they were common in Palestine), it simply indicates that even scholars can sometimes be ‘blind’. The superficial similarities are easily explicable. The truth is that men do tend to go around in pairs, as in fact the Apostles did, especially men who live in a world of their own like blind men do, and who beg in the same places. The title ‘Son of David’ is regularly connected with the blind. Indeed there would appear to have been an expectation that the Son of David would open the eyes of the blind, possibly based on Isaiah 35:5 (see Matthew 12:22; Matthew 20:30; Matthew 21:14 with 9). But anyway the differences between the accounts are too significant to ignore.
a And as Jesus passed by from there, two blind men followed him, crying out, and saying, “Have mercy on us, you son of David” (Matthew 9:27).
b And when he was come into the house, the blind men came to him (Matthew 9:28 a).
c And Jesus says to them, “Do you believe that I am able to do this?” (Matthew 9:28 b).
d They say to him, “Yes, Lord” (Matthew 9:28 c).
c Then he touched their eyes, saying, “According to your faith be it done to you” (Matthew 9:29).
b And their eyes were opened. And Jesus strictly charged them, saying, “See that no man know it” (Matthew 9:30).
a But they went forth, and spread abroad his fame in all that land (Matthew 9:31).
Note that in ‘a’ they followed Him and called out loudly for mercy, and in the parallel they spread abroad His fame. In ‘b’ the blind men came to Him ,and in the parallel their eyes were opened. In ‘c’ He asked whether they believed and in the parallel He responded to their belief. Central in ‘d’ was their bold statement of faith in Him, ‘Yes, Lord’.
‘They say to him, “Yes, Lord.”
Their reply is a simple confirmation of their faith. They have no doubt. They are confident in His power, as had been the leper and the centurion. This contrasts greatly with the ‘little faith’ of the disciples (Matthew 8:26). That is not, however, fully fair to the disciples, for these people had concentrated their faith on one great thing, which the disciples would by now know that He could do, but the disciples were being called on to learn slowly that they had to trust Him in every aspect of their lives.
We note again the use of ‘Lord’. This is in a very full sense, even if only because they see Him as the Son of David. But it was heightened by the fact that they saw Him as a unique healer and prophet. It was reverence of the highest magnitude.
‘Then he touched their eyes, saying, “According to your faith be it done to you.”
Jesus makes clear that He is responding to their faith. He uses His touch of power, touching their eyes and declaring that He is responding to their faith. The lesson is clear. All who come to the Messiah in faith can have their eyes opened.
‘And their eyes were opened. And Jesus strictly charged them, saying, “See that no man know it.”
In Isaiah 35:5 it is stated concerning the coming age, ‘the eyes of the blind will be opened’, and here it was happening before all eyes. It was declaring to them, “The Messiah, the son of David’ is among you. The Kingly rule of Heaven is here.’ Then Jesus told them not to spread abroad what had happened. It was a private miracle done within a private house, and that was how He wanted it to remain. As ever Jesus aim was to curtail the crowds and prevent Himself from being swamped.
‘But they went forth, and spread abroad his fame in all that land.’
But His words fell on ‘deaf’ ears. They went out and told everywhere what had happened to them and how Jesus had healed them And so Jesus fame spread abroad in all the land. Compare the parallel phrase in Matthew 9:26. His fame could not be hidden.
‘And as they went forth, behold, there was brought to him a dumb man possessed with a demon.’
A man is brought to Jesus who was dumb as a result of a spirit which possessed him. As we have seen kowphos could mean both deaf and dumb. But the man was a picture of Israel, which should have been testifying to God, but had nothing to say (see Isaiah 32:4).
The Healing Of a Man Possessed By a Dumb (and Deaf?) Spirit (9:32-34).
We now come to the final Messianic sign (Matthew 11:5), both of the section from Matthew 8:1, and the threefold series from Matthew 9:18. And yet the fact that it does not tie in exactly with Matthew 11:5 indicates the honesty of Matthew’s reporting. He would not change the facts in order to suit what he was trying to say. In Matthew 11:5 Jesus said, ‘the deaf (kowphoi) hear’, but Matthew illustrates it here with a kowphos (dumb one) who speaks. (In Isaiah 35:5 both are mentioned). In fact it was so regularly true that the dumb were often deaf as well that it is little different, and Matthew could have got away with a slight change in his material. But he refused to do so.
The verses are a masterpiece of condensation, and yet they say all that is necessary. They introduce a demon possessed man who by his possession was made dumb. They describe how the demon is cast out, and the reaction of the crowd. And finally they demonstrate the very opposite reaction of the Pharisees. At least at this stage the crowds are on Jesus’ side. But the opposition is growing.
We have here the final Messianic sign (Matthew 11:5), the testimony of the crowds, and a contrast with the faith of the centurion. The Gentile centurion had recognised Him as having the very highest authority from God (Matthew 8:8-9), those who should have known and who should have been welcoming Him, declare His authority as coming from the prince of demons. Unlike the blind men, their eyes are closed.
‘And when the demon was cast out, the dumb man spoke, and the crowds marvelled, saying, “It was never so seen in Israel.” ’
Here Matthew’s emphasis is on two things, the fact that the dumb spoke, and the fact that the crowds marvelled. The casting out of demons has almost become something to be expected (Matthew 8:16; Matthew 8:32). In any other it would have been the wonder of his life. The emphasis on the dumb man speaking reflects Isaiah 32:4. The marvelling of the crowds and their declaration that nothing like it had been seen in Israel underlines Jesus’ fame as going out ‘into all the land’ (Matthew 9:26; Matthew 9:31).
It should be noted how carefully Jesus distinguishes between demon possession and disease. Here the demon has to be ‘cast out’. There is no thought that Jesus touches the man, in spite of him being dumb. Contrast the case of a deaf and dumb man who is not demon possessed in Mark 7:31-37. There Jesus has the closest of contact with him.
With this brief account Matthew comes to the end of his three triads of miracle stories, three times three indicating full completeness. He has given a complete testimony to Jesus. All can now tell that He is the Coming One promised by God and testified to by John.
‘But the Pharisees said, “By the prince of the demons he casts out demons.” ’
But there is one set of people who will never see that. Refusing to believe in Him or accept Him they have to find an alternative explanation to the obvious one. And so they declare that He casts out demons by the prince of demons. But Jesus will shortly bring out the fallacy of their position (Matthew 12:25-29). Meanwhile He just ignores them and carries on with His ministry.
It would seem that this is Matthew’s summing up of the attitude of the Pharisees to all that he has been describing. While the people continue to marvel, and Jesus’ reputation continues to grow, the Pharisees continue to grow more and more sour. At least in Galilee they are finding themselves supplanted.
‘And Jesus went continually about all the cities and the villages, teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the Good News of the Kingly Rule, and healing all manner of disease and all manner of sickness.’
This verse closes off the last section and opens this one. It describes a continuing ministry as the tense of the verb reveals. ‘All the cities and the villages’ indicates intention. There were too many for Him to reach them all immediately, as He would soon acknowledge (Matthew 10:23). The synagogues were the places where men and women went to worship and to study the Scriptures. While there was still a welcome for Him there they were a sensible focal point for Jesus. And the fact that He continued going to them indicates their continuing welcome. ‘Their synagogues’ reflects the fact that synagogues were locally owned. Each town had ‘its’ synagogue of which it was proud. But Matthew would in fact, as a public servant, have had little to do with synagogues. He would never have been welcomed there. (Thus he would never have been able to see them as ‘our synagogues, even when he entered them with Jesus. He would always be the least Jewish in emphasis among the Apostles because the Pharisees would never see him as acceptable. As far as they were concerned his conversion had not taken place in the right way, and it was to heretical ideas. To them he was still an outcast). The preaching of the Kingly Rule of Heaven together with the healing of ‘disease and sickness’ (almost certainly intended to reflect Matthew 8:17 and Isaiah’s prophecy, see on that verse) which demonstrated that that Kingly Rule had come, is now the constant theme (Matthew 4:17; Matthew 4:23; Matthew 10:1; Matthew 10:7-8). Indeed He will shortly emphasise that the ministry of John has been superseded because the Kingly Rule is now here (Matthew 11:11-13; Matthew 12:28).
Jesus Appoints and Sends Out The Twelve To Proclaim The Kingly Rule of Heaven With Admonitions, Warnings And Final Promises (9:35-11:1).
In this section Jesus appoints and sends out His twelve Apostles. His purpose for them is that they might proclaim the Kingly Rule of Heaven, and reveal its presence on earth by the signs and miracles that will result as they evangelise (Matthew 10:1; Matthew 10:7-8). But He is full aware that their message will only be accepted by the minority as He has made clear in Matthew 7:13-27. So He warns them of two things. Firstly that they are not to expect total success in their evangelism, and secondly that they must expect to sometimes have a rough time of it.
In regard to the first He points out that their ministry will rather result in dividing the nation into two, splitting off those who respond to their message, from those who reject it. This was what they should have expected, for, as He had already taught, while some will choose to enter the narrow gate, they will be the comparatively few, while others will choose the broad gate, and they will be the many (Matthew 7:13-14). Some will choose to build on rock because they hear and respond to His teaching, others will choose to build on sand because they refuse to hear and respond (Matthew 7:24-27). And this was indeed something that had already been indicated by John’s teaching concerning the wheat and the chaff (Matthew 3:12). So whatever the disciples were expecting, Jesus was fully aware of the difficulties of the way ahead, and was not even expecting that the majority of the Jews would respond.
This is confirmed in His words to the twelve as He now sends them out for the first time. Rather than seeing all the Jews as responding to them, His clear indication is that they will split ‘Israel’ into two, or rather will cut off from Israel all who refuse to believe. This He demonstrates as follows:
As they go out some persons and towns will refuse to hear them and to make a response, and those who do refuse to hear them are to be cut off from the new Israel. The very dust of their houses or towns is to be shaken off from the disciples’ feet as a testimony against them in the coming judgment (Matthew 10:14-15). By this it is indicated that they are no longer accepted as a part of Israel. On the other hand this very fact confirms that others are expected to hear and respond.
Some will bring them before synagogue courts, and even Gentile secular courts because they will reject their message and hate them for it. This was the common lot of non-conformists in Palestine, compare Acts 8:1; Acts 22:4; Acts 26:9-11 (Matthew 10:17-18).
Families will be divided down the middle, with some responding to Jesus, and others persecuting them for doing so by demanding that they be treated as false prophets, compare Deuteronomy 13:1-11 (Matthew 10:21-22).
Indeed His Apostles must expect to be driven from town to town by persecution (Matthew 10:23).
Some will call them Beelzebub just as they have called Him Beelzebub, compare Matthew 9:34; Matthew 12:24; Matthew 12:27 (Matthew 10:25).
Some will seek to kill their bodies, compare 21-22 (Matthew 10:28).
Some will confess Him before men, and some will deny Him (Matthew 10:32-33).
He has not come to bring peace on earth -- but to divide even individual households into two opposing segments (Matthew 10:34-36).
People will have to choose between their loved ones and Him, and between taking up their cross or refusing to do so (Matthew 10:37-38).
People will have to choose between holding on to their lives, or ‘losing them’ by responding to Him (Matthew 10:39).
So it is clear from all this that Jesus was not expecting a mass movement by which most or all Jews would turn to Him and enter the Kingly Rule of Heaven. He was very much aware of the tensions in Galilean society, and the thoughtless fanaticism of many. And He recognised from the start that His Apostles’ preaching would bring bitter division, as some responded to His truth and some rejected it.
As we shall see later it was quite clear to Him that in setting up a new ‘congregation of Israel’ in the midst of the old, and thereby setting aside the unbelieving of old Israel, He was expressing a revolutionary new idea which would result in a new nation which could hardly be acceptable to the old regime. From then on the majority of ‘Israel’ would no longer be seen as Israel at all. The nation would be take from them and given to a nation producing its fruits (Matthew 21:43). For just as the Israel of Sinai were all cut off in the wilderness, and none, apart from rare exceptions, entered the land, being replaced by a new generation, (so that a ‘new Israel’ entered the land), so now God would cut off a large part of present Israel because of their rejection of their King, and form a new Israel from what remained. From then on they and they alone would be the true Israel, and it would be open to all who responded to Jesus Christ.
Many seek to argue that some of the words spoken in what follows could not have been spoken by Jesus at this time, given the circumstances in which they found themselves. They claim that none of these things described actually happened to the disciples on these preaching trips. But that is to make unwarrantable assumptions on the basis of our lack of knowledge, and by reading between the lines. We do not in fact know what problems the Apostles encountered on their journeys, and when we think of the stirring impact that their mission must have made (twelve effective wonder workers appearing among them, compare Luke 12:17) it must be considered quite possible, indeed probable, that some of them were dragged before synagogue courts, and even before Herod and local governors, and given a beating before they were then let go as a warning to them. So if we do want to read between the lines, it would seem reasonable to suggest that we should do so in terms of what is written in those lines. (We have nothing else to go by, and the Scriptures often describe commands and warnings while not describing how they were carried out and fulfilled, even though they were, e.g. Exodus 17:1-7).
And if some ask, why is it then not mentioned we have two replies. Firstly that the Gospels are concentrating on the presence and doings of Jesus Christ, and only cursorily mention the doings of Apostles, and secondly that, just as Matthew assumes that his readers will gather from these words that their mission actually was carried out (he does not actually say so), so he and the other evangelists may have assumed that their readers would recognise that these other things did also happen. We might also add that they were probably so used to it in their own ministries that they did not see it as anything unusual (note how James the leading Apostle could be martyred and it only be mentioned briefly so as to indicate an attack on the Apostles in Jerusalem. There was no interest in the actual martyrdom (Acts 12:2).
There is in fact nothing described in Jesus’ words, apart from His own firm demands on them, that would not be reasonably anticipated by someone who was familiar with the Law and the Prophets. Consider for example:
The treatment that was to be meted out to those who were seen as false prophets (Deuteronomy 13:1-11), which was the same as that described here.
What had happened to the Old Testament prophets (e.g. 2 Chronicles 24:21; Jeremiah 18:18; Jeremiah 37:15).
The prophetic warnings about what was to happen in the future (Micah 7:6; Isaiah 66:5; Ezekiel 22:7; Zechariah 7:10-12; Zechariah 13:7-9).
And we must ever remember Jesus’ deliberate tendency to exaggerate in order to bring home His point. We have only to consider the Sermon on the Mount to recognise the vividly exaggerated way in which He would lay out His case so as to prepare them for the worst (e.g. Matthew 5:22-26; Matthew 5:29-30). The One Who could give such warnings in such vivid terms would be likely to do the same here. And that is what we find. (Rhetoric must not always be take literally. It is intended to spur men on. Despite Churchill none of us ever fought the enemy on the beaches of the UK). But there is no reason to doubt that the persecution and family problems that He describes did actually happen and would go on happening, as they still do to some today. Families would treat converts to Jesus as ‘dead’ to the family, and there may well have been some cases of actual death. The fact that the Gospel writers saw them as simply a necessary part of their testimony, and therefore as not worth mentioning, should not make us say that they did not happen. For in the light of the way the Old Testament prophets were treated, what Jesus describes had to be anticipated. And this would especially be so given the fact that their erstwhile fellow missionary John was lying in prison, something almost totally ignored by the Gospels, and that the reputation of the Herod family for the arrogant treatment of their subjects was well known. We must therefore emphasise that there is nothing in Jesus’ words, (once toned down in order to take into account the deliberate exaggeration, and rhetoric), which could not have been their present experience, as we shall see further as we consider the text. The disciples had to expect the worst.
For Jesus would not have been fair to His disciples if He had not warned them of the dangers that lay ahead in these terms. They were the new prophetic men who were taking on the mantle of the prophets, and He must have expected them to be persecuted as the prophets had been (Matthew 5:11, compare Matthew 23:34-35). And this was especially so in view of His own words already on record from an early stage that He Himself expected a ‘taking away’ of Himself that would give His disciples reason for mourning (Matthew 9:15). Thus He clearly already had a dark foreboding about the future. And besides He had Himself already experienced what close neighbours could do at Nazareth when they objected to the truth (Luke 4:29), and how volatile the people could be. Had He not been Who He was He might well already be dead. And He already knew of the fervency of the feelings of the Pharisees against Him (Matthew 9:34). The Galileans were a fanatical people, and easily stirred in religious matters. Thus He would have had to be very shortsighted not to expect some kind of violent opposition from both the authorities and the people when His Apostles went out, especially as some of the Apostles might quite easily trespass on parts of Galilee where Gentile influence was more pervasive, in their aim to reach all Jews, even possibly causing a stir in Jewish parts of cities like Tiberias (which was mainly occupied by Gentiles), and may well in their enthusiasm not have been guarded in their words. In fact His aim to limit their preaching to Jews may well have had as one reason behind it His reserve against their reaching out further until they were better trained, on the grounds of what might be the consequences from the point of view of the reaction of the authorities, which might be too much for them at the present time, and that even though He was quite clear in His own mind that God had a welcome for Gentiles (Matthew 8:10-13; Matthew 8:28-34; Luke 4:24-27). For in view of the fact that He had already arranged for some Gentiles to hear the truth about Him (Mark 5:19-20; compare also John 4:4-42), even though in a way to which none could not object, we do need to have some explanation of why His concentration was so wholly on the lost sheep of the house of Israel. For we must remember that His early life had been sustained by gifts from Gentiles (Matthew 2:11).
Once examined the whole passage is in fact seen to be a basic unity, being put together in the form of a chiasmus, the second half reflecting the first in reverse order, whilst also expanding on the thoughts contained in it.
Analysis of Matthew 9:35 to Matthew 11:1 .
a Jesus goes through all their towns preaching the Good News of the Kingly Rule of Heaven and healing disease and sickness, but when He saw the crowds, He was moved with compassion for them, because they were distressed and scattered, as sheep not having a shepherd (Matthew 9:35-36).
b Then He says to His disciples, “The harvest indeed is plenteous, but the labourers are few. Pray you therefore the Lord of the harvest, that He send forth labourers into His harvest”. And He called to Him His twelve disciples, and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal all manner of disease and all manner of sickness. Now the names of the twelve apostles are these: The first, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother; James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother; Philip, and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the public servant; James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; Simon the Cananaean, and Judas Iscariot, who also betrayed Him (Matthew 9:37 to Matthew 10:4)
c These twelve Jesus sent forth, and charged them, saying, “Go not into any way of the Gentiles, and enter not into any city of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And as you go, preach, saying, The kingly rule of heaven is at hand. Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. Freely you received, freely give” (Matthew 10:5-8).
d Get you no gold, nor silver, nor copper in your purses; no food wallet for your journey; neither two coats, nor shoes, nor staff. For the labourer is worthy of his food” (Matthew 10:9-10).
e “And into whatever city or village you shall enter, search out who in it is worthy, and there stay until you go forth. And as you enter into the house, salute it. And if the house is worthy, let your peace come on it, but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you” (Matthew 10:11-13)
f “And whoever will not receive you, nor hear your words, as you go forth out of that house or that city, shake off the dust of your feet, truly I say to you, It will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment, than for that city” (Matthew 10:14-15)
g “Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves, be you therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves” (Matthew 10:16).
h “But beware of men, for they will deliver you up to councils, and in their synagogues they will scourge you, yes and you will be brought before governors and kings for My sake, for a testimony to them and to the Gentiles” (Matthew 10:17-18).
i “But when they deliver you up, do not be anxious how or what you shall speak, for it will be given you in that hour what you shall speak, for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father who speaks in you” (Matthew 10:19-20).
j “And brother will deliver up brother to death, and the father his child, and children will rise up against parents, and cause them to be put to death. And you will be hated of all men for My name’s sake. But he who endures to the end, the same will be saved” (Matthew 10:21-22).
k “But when they persecute you in this city, flee into the next, for truly I say to you, You will not have gone through the cities of Israel, till the Son of man be come (Matthew 10:23).
j “A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his lord. It is enough for the disciple that he be as his teacher, and the servant as his lord. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebub, how much more those of his household!” (Matthew 10:24-25).
i “Do not be afraid of them therefore, for there is nothing covered, that will not be revealed, and hid, that will not be known. What I tell you in the darkness, speak you in the light, and what you hear in the ear, proclaim upon the housetops” (Matthew 10:26-27).
h “And do not be afraid of those who kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul, but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:28).
g “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall on the ground without your Father, but the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Do not be afraid therefore, you are of more value than many sparrows” (Matthew 10:29-31).
f “Every one therefore who shall confess Me before men, him will I also confess before my Father who is in heaven, but whoever shall deny Me before men, him will I also deny before My Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 10:32-33).
e “Do not think that I came to send peace on the earth. I came not to send peace, but a sword. For I came to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law, and a man’s foes will be those of his own household” (Matthew 10:34-36).
d “He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me, and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me, and he who does not take his cross and follow after Me, is not worthy of Me” (Matthew 10:37-38).
c He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for My sake will find it” (Matthew 10:39).
b “He who receives you receives Me, and he who receives Me receives Him who sent Me. He who receives a prophet in the name of a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward, and he who receives a righteous man in the name of a righteous man will receive a righteous man’s reward. And whoever will give to drink to one of these little ones a cup of cold water only, in the name of a disciple, truly I say to you he will in no wise lose his reward” (Matthew 10:40-42).
a And it came about that when Jesus had finished commanding his twelve disciples, He departed from there to teach and preach in their cities” (Matthew 11:1).
Note that in ‘a’ Jesus went all about their towns and saw the crowds that were thronging Him as being like sheep without a shepherd, and that in the parallel He goes out to preach and teaches in their towns. In ‘b’ He commissions His disciples for their preaching ministry and, calling them by name, gives them Kingly authority over evil spirits, death and disease, and in the parallel declares that because they go out in His Name their being received will be the same as if those who received them were receiving Him, and thus receiving Him Who sent Him. In ‘c’ they are to go to Israel freely giving of themselves, and in the parallel this is seen as losing their lives for His sake (compare Matthew 19:29). In ‘d’ they are to take no provisions with them because the labourer is worthy (axios) of his hire, and in the parallel such worthiness is spelled out. In ‘e’ they are to offer or withhold peace, and in the parallel He points out that for the majority His purpose is not to bring peace. In ‘f’ He warns of judgment on those who refuse their testimony, and in the parallel those who do not confess Him will not be confessed before His Father. In ‘g’ they are to go forth as sheep and to be as harmless as birds, and in the parallel they are treasured because they are more important than birds. In ‘h’ they will be brought before different types of court, and in the parallel they are not to be afraid of those who can kill the body but not the soul. In ‘i’ they are not to be anxious because the Spirit of their Father will speak in them, and in the parallel they are not to be afraid of men because Jesus Himself will tell them what to speak in the light and they will hear in their ear what they are to declare from the housetops. In ‘j’ households will be divided because of Him and they will be hated of all men for His Name’s sake, and in the parallel because men have called Him Beelzebub they will call them the same. And centrally in ‘k’ in the face of persecution they are to persevere with their ministry until He comes to them.
‘But when he saw the crowds, he was moved with compassion for them, because they were distressed and scattered, as sheep not having a shepherd.’
The great crowds that gathered around Jesus had touched His heart. He was ‘moved with compassion’ towards them. The word for compassion used here is a word solely used of Jesus in the Gospels apart from when He uses it in His own parables. It is at the heart of the Kingly Rule of Heaven. For He saw these people as distressed and scattered, like sheep without a shepherd. This description of sheep without a shepherd is firmly based on the Old Testament (Numbers 27:17; 1Ki 22:17 ; 1 Chronicles 18:16; Ezekiel 34:6; Ezekiel 34:12 compare Jeremiah 50:17). And the description of Israel as sheep is even more common (2 Samuel 24:17; 1 Chronicles 21:17; Psalms 23:0; Psalms 44:11; Psalms 44:22; Psalms 74:1; Psalms 78:52; Psalms 79:13; Psalms 95:7; Psalms 100:3; Psalms 119:176; Isaiah 53:6; Jeremiah 23:1; Jeremiah 50:6; Micah 2:12). Without a shepherd sheep are in a hopeless condition.
The scattering of sheep was a picture of the exile (Psalms 44:11; Jeremiah 50:17; Ezekiel 34:6; Ezekiel 34:12) and of persecution (Zechariah 13:7). Thus Jesus looked on these people as in their own kind of exile, an exile from which He had Himself come in order to deliver them (Matthew 2:15). A group of scattered sheep without a shepherd would soon have found themselves in great distress in Palestine, especially in the dry summers. Unlike goats they were not good at looking after themselves. And what with thorn bushes, and predators, and scavenging dogs, and a disinclination to forage, and shortage of water, their situation if left to themselves would be desperate. In a similar way that was how Jesus saw these people, as scattered and distressed sheep, because their shepherds had failed them. It was because of their spiritual hunger and thirst that they had flocked to John and were now flocking to Him.
‘Distressed and scattered.’ Various alternative translations have been suggested, ‘worried and helpless’, ‘harassed and helpless’, ‘distressed and downcast’, ‘harassed and dejected’, ‘bullied and unable to escape’, ‘mishandled and lying helpless’, partly depending on whether we are thinking primarily of the sheep, or of the people that they represent. But in the end they are all saying the same thing.
Then says he to his disciples, “The harvest indeed is plenteous, but the labourers are few. Pray you therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he send forth labourers into his harvest.” ’
Jesus saw the people who came to hear Him, or who wished to come to hear Him, as a harvest to be gathered in (compare John 4:35-36). In His view many of them were there just waiting for someone to come and harvest them in, and it was for that that He was training His disciples. And that was the vision that He wanted to give to them. In Matthew, as we have already seen, the harvest points to the gathering in of the good wheat to God’s barn (Matthew 3:12). The Pharisees may have seen the people as chaff to be burned, but Jesus saw them as wheat to be harvested (see Matthew 3:12 where both are depicted as the Coming One’s task). But whereas John had depicted this as an ‘end time’ event because he held the same mistaken views as the disciples and everyone else in Judaism who were waiting for the ‘consolation of Israel’, Jesus makes clear that it is a process that is to begin now and is to continue as more and more labourers are sent out into the harvest fields. The ‘last days’ were here, but they were to be a continuing process as more and more harvest is gathered in. Nevertheless, as He will make clear later, that harvest time will in the end also result in judgment on the unrighteous, on those whose lives are more like weeds (Matthew 13:30; Matthew 13:39-42). The ‘Lord of the harvest’ here is clearly God as representing the owner of the fields being harvested. It is His ‘field’ that is being harvested. Jesus is the Harvester, and the disciples are to assist Him in the harvesting.
These actual words appear to reflect a standard procedure followed by Jesus when He was commissioning His disciples for ministry (compare Luke 10:2 before He sends out the seventy which is almost the same). It is apparent that these words were spoken to all the disciples indicating that they were to gather to pray, and then when they had done so, those appointed would be sent out. But all would as a result feel that they had a part in the mission. Compare how He also uses similar words prior to sending out the seventy, once the number of trained disciples has grown (Luke 10:2; see also Acts 13:2).
By this time of prayer He joins all His disciples with Him in what is happening, and brings home to all of them the greatness of the waiting harvest (compare John 4:35-36), and the fewness of those who genuinely labour to gather it in. So all the disciples are made to be involved in the sending out of their fellow-workers, although it is very much with a view to themselves also one day being a part of it.
And as those who are sent go out they also must carry a burden on their hearts that others might join them in the task. So that even as they go they too are to pray that God will send out even more into the harvest field. Here we have a clear reminder that Jesus is building up to the future. He is preparing all His disciples for what lies ahead, and seeking to establish a multiplying effect. But He knows that as yet not all are ready to go, and He will initially therefore commence with a small band of twelve. The number indicates His intention. They are to go out to the ‘twelve tribes of Israel’ (Matthew 19:28), that is, initially to the Jews. Of course, the ‘twelve tribes of Israel’ was even then just a picturesque conception. Apart from a few who clung to their identity with them, many of the tribes had almost disappeared. Not many traced their ancestry to the Northern tribes. What being a member of ‘the twelve tribes’ really signified was a claim to be the seed promised to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, as defined in Old Testament terms. But what that meant in reality was all who had entered within the covenant, whether by birth or choice, for the idea that all were descended from Abraham was but a myth. Few could prove that descent (Jesus was One Who could - Matthew 1:1-17). They were descended not from Abraham, but from members of Abraham’s family tribe; from the mixed multitude (Exodus 12:38) who had become a part of Israel at Sinai; and from those who had later attached themselves to Israel in accordance with Exodus 12:48-49. They were really a conglomerate nation. But all saw themselves as the seed of Abraham.
And now the same ‘twelve tribes’ (the future seed of Abraham) are to come under the authority of the Apostles (Matthew 19:28). And only those who enter under the Kingly Rule of Heaven will thus be members of the new ‘twelve tribes’. They will be the new nation which replaces the old (Matthew 21:43). Those who reject Him will be cast off (see e.g. John 15:1-6; Romans 9-11). Their dust will be shaken off the feet of the disciples (Matthew 10:14). And from the old will arise a purified nation. It is only later that the disciples will discover that God’s notion of the twelve tribes, while seeming smaller, is in fact larger than theirs (James 1:1; 1 Peter 1:1), and that the seed of Abraham will be increased by Gentiles becoming His seed by faith (Galatians 3:29), although even that is still founded on this idea. But at this stage the disciples would have seen it as signifying mainly that the Jews who responded to Jesus, along with a few proselytes, would form the ‘twelve tribes of Israel’, the true seed o Abraham.
So here for the first time through this exhortation to pray that we find in Matthew 9:37-38 He brings the many into cooperating in the sending out of the few. They had already been taught to pray, ‘May Your Name be hallowed, may your Kingly Rule come, may your will be done’, now they were to pray for the sending forth of labourers in order to accomplish that very purpose. So He is already building up the sense of community and fellowship among His disciples. This is no longer simply a matter of teaching and stirring men and women so as to send them back to their farms and their occupations to carry on with their lives as usual and await the Coming One, as John had done. It is the implanting of a new vision. It is the commencement of a great new mission. For as He has demonstrated, now that the Coming One is here, things can never be the same again.
At first in Acts this vision of going out into the harvest field will be partly lost sight of. It will soon be apparent there that the Apostles were quite ready to settle in Jerusalem and enjoy their great success, thinking that they were doing what He had asked, (like us they were ever foolish and slow to act). But then God would step in and thrust them out from there and make them go elsewhere, we know not where. (But He knew). For the last we know of them is in Acts 15:0, and in a few letters. But it would be a mistake to think that they just disappeared. They went out effectively sowing the seed of the word of God. And under that sowing grew up a healthy young church, the new Israel. And we know that Papias (early second century AD) knew many who had known the Apostles, and demonstrated that their words were still revered. Indeed for the first fifty years after the death of Jesus they were the living prime sources of His words. But because all the attention was rightly on Christ (the hugeness of the idea of His coming blacked out everything else) and not on them, their doings were not seen as important except in so far as it indicated His pre-eminence. And had it not been for Acts, which demonstrated how the Kingly Rule of God reached Rome, and Paul’s letters, we would have known almost nothing about these intervening years, and the huge work that the Apostles accomplished. But that is something that is rather revealed by its product, the early church. However, quite rightly, in their eyes Jesus had to increase, and they decrease.
Jesus also wisely knew that by teaching the Apostles to pray like this He would ensure the continual renewing of their own impetus. For once their initial enthusiasm had died down, or once the numbers who had to be reached began to get on top of them, this would be the incentive that would keep them going, and the prayer to which they could turn in order to deal with their concerns. We too are to have the same burden. And as we pray we will similarly find ourselves thrust out to play our part in the harvest field. This picture of the harvest will soon play a great part in His parables (chapter 13).