[November 18, 2012] We come now to the beginning of the end of the Gospel of the kingdom. When Matthew wrote, “And when Jesus finished all these words …,” he marked the transition into the last section of his seven-part gospel, the section that fulfills the significance of the kingdom of the heavens having drawn near. In this final section Jesus offers Himself up as an atoning sacrifice—a sin offering—for Israel and for the whole world (for the gentiles who also will come to believe), and He rises from the dead that He may be with His people—“God with us” (1:23), “there am I in their midst” (18:20)—“all the days until the consummation of the age” (28:20), that we may be His qahal, His church, until He comes to overthrow all that opposes His kingship by the manifestation of His parousia (the coming of the revelation of His Person, His Being).
Transition (Matthew 20:1)
“Jesus finished all these words.” These words indicate that Jesus has finished His teaching, not just the teaching of chapters 23 or 24 and 25, but of all His teaching. 22:46 tells us that from that point on no one dared ask Him any more questions; after chapter 23 He no longer spoke to the crowds; and chapters 24—25 is His last discourse to His disciples. Corresponding to the number of the books of Moses, Jesus gave five major discourses, each ending with a formula (“Jesus finished these words,” 7:28; “Jesus had finished giving instructions to His Twelve disciples,” 11:1; “Jesus had finished these parables,” 13:53; “Jesus finished these words,” 19:1; and “Jesus finished all these words, 20:1), but the last instance “finish” concludes all the preceding. At the end of Deuteronomy (just before Moses’ death), it says, “And Moses finished speaking all these words to all Israel, and he said to them, ‘Set your heart on all these words which I am testifying to you today. You shall command them to your children that they may be certain to do all the words of this law. For it is not a matter too vain for you [i.e., it is no trifling matter for you], because it is your [very] life; and by this matter you will extend your days upon the Land into which you are crossing over the Jordan to possess” (32:44-47). Likewise, we are to take all that Jesus has said to heart, to set our heart upon it, for it is our life. Jesus calls His disciples to obedience. And when we proclaim the Gospel and disciple all the gentiles, baptizing them into the name of the Father and Son and Holy Spirit, we are to teach them to observe all that He has commanded us (Matthew 28:20). He intends for us to obey His teachings.
His Coming Death (20:2)
Jesus foretells His coming death one more time to His disciples. In three previous instances (16:21; 17:22-23; 20:18-19) He foretold of His death and resurrection. Here He speaks of His betrayal (delivering up, or being handed over) and crucifixion, preparing the disciples—and us– for both the betrayal of one of the disciples (Judas), who betrays Jesus to the high priest and chief priests and elders of the people, and their betrayal of Jesus to the gentiles (Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor). In an ironic twist, Jesus hands Himself over to us in the “tradition” (literally, the handing on) of the Gospel and the Last Supper, and the disciples are to thus deliver or hand Him to Israel and the gentiles as their Lord and Savior. Before that can take place, however, He is to be delivered up to His enemies to be crucified—by the will of God, for His death is to accomplish God’s will for the people of Israel and for the whole world. Jesus’ prescience of what is to happen shows us that it is not a fate that happens to Him but rather is the unfolding of His Father’s will who has “delivered” to the Son all things (11:27).
Therefore, Jesus does not say casually that when He is to be delivered up to be crucified is when “the Passover takes place.” His death not only is analogous to the Passover but is the fulfillment of it; it is the Passover, of which the exodus story is the analogy. He is both the firstborn Son who is put to death and the Lamb of God that is slain to save whatever household is marked by His blood from the death due to the firstborn. His blood marks the household and His flesh is meat for their journey out of Egypt and across the wilderness in the freedom of servitude to God.
The Tenant Farmers of the Lord’s Vineyard (26:3-5)
Those who are responsible for the Lord’s people, the people of Israel, the Jews, the leaders of the Royal City and the worship in the Temple, the teachers of God’s will, prove their unfaithfulness to their Master and Lord and King by plotting together against Jesus. The kingship of Jesus threatened their own power, for He was the King for whose throne they were responsible, though they rationalized that Jesus was a threat to the people of Israel. In fact, it was the Roman governor, manipulated by Satan, though under the overruling of God, who wanted Jesus to die as an example to the people, and, however they rationalized it, Caiaphas and the chief priests and elders were doing his will. They rationalized it so that they would not feel as powerless before the powers of the “world” as in fact they were. This is what all power does. It succumbs to the powers of the world but rationalizes its servitude in order to convince itself that it is acting righteously.
Matthew tells us, however, that they had agreed that they were not to arrest Jesus during the feast, lest there be uproar among the people. Not only were they rationalizing their servitude to Pilate, they were afraid of the people to whom they were supposed to be the ministers. We saw this already in 21:26 when Jesus refused to recognize their authority to question Him. In fact, Jesus was arrested during the feast, on the night of the Passover Seder, and was crucified during the Feast of Unleavened Bread. They were not in control. Pilate was to have his way, but over all God was working out His own purpose and having things unfold in His way.
Jesus Anointed for Burial Is Anointed as King (26:6-13)
The woman who anoints Jesus is anonymous (in John’s gospel we are told who she is: the sister of Lazarus; by the time that John wrote she was probably dead and therefore no longer in danger of arrest) because what she did could have been construed as a crime. She anointed Jesus as King, just as the prophet Samuel anointed David (1 Samuel 16:12-13) and the priest Zadok anointed Solomon (1 Kings 1:39). In John’s gospel she did this the night before He was paraded into the Royal City as the King of Israel, the Son of David (John 12). There was no mistaking the meaning of her action, and in the eyes of the Romans it would have been treasonous. As it was, Pilate crucified Jesus for the claim to be the “King of the Jews,” that is, for what the City witnessed on what we call Palm Sunday. Mary’s act and its connection to the procession on Palm Sunday were kept secret to preserve her life.
It is interesting that she anoints Him as the King just as He is about to be arrested. An outsider might look at that as an ironic failure. He was anointed as King only to die at once by a power much greater than Himself, who crushes Him in fact as a man would crush a spider. The irony however works in the other direction. Jesus effectualizes His kingship by His death. It is by His death—and the obedience that it fulfills and the faithfulness that it accomplishes—that He conquers His enemies, and not they who conquer Him. It is by His death that He takes the throne from its usurpers. It is by His death that He condemns the under-shepherds and is able to purify and redeem Israel, and to take His place as Israel’s Shepherd. In His resurrection all authority is given to Him in heaven and on earth (28:18), and to Him Caiaphas and Pontius Pilate and even the emperor of Rome will bend their knee.
His burial is not the resting place of one who is in decay, but it is the Sabbath rest of One who has accomplished all things well and is resting satisfied from all His labors. He rested on that Saturday, beginning when the Jewish Sabbath begins, just as God rested on the seventh day of creation. It is not the end, but the new beginning for the New Man in Him.