Hermeneutics

The Kingdom of Heaven in Matthew (Part 5)

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The Parables of the Kingdom (Pt. 2)

The Parable of the Mustard Seed

The other five (or six) parables are shorter. The Parable of the Mustard Seed (Matt. 13:31-32) speaks of the “kingdom of heaven” beginning almost imperceptibly like a tiny seed but growing until it becomes a tree that can hold bird’s nests. Does this depict positive or negative growth? The wheat or the tares? It is hard to say, but I side with the majority who see it as positive growth.

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The Kingdom of Heaven in Matthew (Part 4)

This is from the first draft of my book The Words of the Covenant: New Testament Continuity. Read the series.

The Parables of the Kingdom (Pt. 1)

In any study of the Kingdom “the parables of the kingdom,” seven (or eight depending on one’s reckoning) of which are located in Matthew 13 are critical. Although this is not a Bible commentary, it is important to take a look at these parables because they provide important information about the progress of God’s Kingdom program.1 We should remind ourselves that although the majority of OT texts refer to the eschatological Kingdom, there are verses such as Psalm 103:19 which declare, “The LORD has established His throne in heaven, and His kingdom rules over all.” There is then a sense in which God has a kingdom up in heaven (naturally enough), but this is not the same as the one on earth described in such vibrant terms by the Prophets; the eschatological Kingdom. As we have seen that Kingdom is very much part of the theology of Luke.

Prior to chapter 13 Matthew has employed the term “kingdom of heaven” in a futuristic sense. It is something ahead (Matt. 3:2; 4:17; 5: 3, 10, 19-20; 7:21; 8:11; 10:7; 11:11-12). In several instances the passages plainly speak of the coming new aeon (Matt. 5:19-20; 8:11), but I submit that all the references ought to be taken in that way. However, things change in Matthew 13.

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The Kingdom of Heaven in Matthew (Part 3)

This is from the first draft of my book The Words of the Covenant: New Testament Continuity. Read the series.

Interpreting Matthew 10

Jesus dispenses power to vanquish demons and sicknesses to His disciples in Matthew 10:1 in preparation for them going throughout Israel heralding the impending Kingdom of Heaven (Matt. 10:1-10). The wonders they are to perform in the sight of their countrymen demonstrate the unsuitability of putting new wine in old wineskins. The Kingdom they are preaching as “at hand” will introduce a new aeon; one that will outdo this aeon as a combine-harvester outdoes a scythe. The miracles should not be seen as only sins that attract attention, but as portents of the kind of realm the Kingdom of God will be.

But it is a striking fact that Matthew tells us that this powerful witness was to be confined.

These twelve Jesus sent out and commanded them, saying: “Do not go into the way of the Gentiles, and do not enter a city of the Samaritans. But go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And as you go, preach, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand. Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out demons. Freely you have received, freely give.” (Matthew 10:5-8)

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The Kingdom of Heaven in Matthew (Part 2)

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The Kingdom to Come in the Lord’s Prayer

We are accustomed to treat the so-called “Lord’s Prayer” within our own “Church” context. And no wonder, for the guidance and hope it supplies are a great boon to the spiritual life. But if we situate it in its setting in the Sermon on the Mount we have to allow that it signified something a little different for the disciples, especially Matthew 6:10:

Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

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The Kingdom of Heaven in Matthew (Part 1)

The Kingdom of Heaven?

Matthew 3 begins with John the Baptist proclaiming, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” (Matt. 3:1-2). It has him calling Pharisees and Sadducees “a brood of vipers” (Matt. 3:7), which hardly matched the exalted spiritual status they gave themselves. Later in this Gospel we see Jesus calling Pharisees (and scribes) hypocrites and “fools and blind” (Matt. 23:13-19). In Matthew the religious leaders get called all kinds of names. Modern scholarship has tried to correct these Matthean malapropisms, and we do know of Pharisees who became followers of Jesus (Acts 15:5). All in all though, the portrait the Holy Spirit has left us in the first Gospel does them no credit at all.

After the temptation of Jesus, which I shall look at from Matthew’s perspective soon, we find Jesus immediately preaching “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matt. 4:17). This is of interest because it means there is a direct continuity between John’s preaching and Jesus’ preaching.1 There was therefore a large swell of expectation of the “kingdom of heaven” in the early days of Christ’s ministry wrought by the attention-grabbing efforts of the two men.

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Review of ‘Covenant’ by Daniel I. Block (Part 4)

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In this final installment of my review of Covenant we turn to look at Daniel Block’s discussion of covenants in the NT. This is the section of the book that I was most looking forward to as many scholars (e.g. I. Howard Marshall) have written about the relative unimportance of covenant in the Gospels, Paul and General Epistles. In one sense (a rather superficial sense) they are right; the NT writers do not seem as concerned with covenants as their OT counterparts. But this is only on the surface of things. Upon closer examination, and provided one has not forgotten about them, it becomes apparent that the Apostolic authors thought much in covenant terms. With this in mind I eagerly read Block’s Part Four, “Covenant in the New Testament.”

Block gives 229 pages to the study (394-623), and even though he insists upon using his (to my way of thinking) confusing naming of the covenants (i.e., Cosmic and Adamic (=Noahic) covenants; the four part Israelite covenant composed of Abrahamic, Mosaic, Deuteronomic & New, plus the Davidic covenant), I could still mostly follow his argument. But I think casting the covenants into this mold makes them not only confusing but tame; they simply don’t look influential in Block’s presentation. And this creates a problem for his presentation of covenance in the Gospels and Paul; it’s all rather pedestrian (which is epitomized in his Conclusion on pages 615-623).

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Review of ‘Covenant’ by Daniel I. Block (Part 3)

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The “Law” was not Law even though it was Commanded

As we move on from Block’s discussion of what he calls “the Cosmic covenant” (i.e. Noahic) the “Adamic covenant” (?), and the “Israelite covenant” (i.e. the Abrahamic and the Mosaic together!) we next encounter the “New Israelite covenant” (275ff.). For reasons I shall attempt to explain this is what most call “the New covenant.”

But before we do that I need to refer the reader to Block’s position on the possibility of obeying the Torah. He rightly says that the word means “instruction” more than “law.” Then he goes on to say on page 264 that,

“YHWH’s expectations, expressed by the laws he prescribed for his people, were both clear (Deut. 29:4, 29…) and attainable (Deut 29:29..30:1-14).” Italics original.

On the next page he avers,

“The ethical and ceremonial performances that YHWH demanded of the Israelites were both reasonable and doable. Not a single command was impossible.” (265)

But notice that Block calls this torah by the name “commands” which “YHWH demanded.” Sounds like law to me! My mind runs to Acts 15 and the Jerusalem conference where certain Pharisees wanted to instruct the Gentiles to keep the law [nomos] of Moses (Acts 15:5). Peter’s response to this was incisive:

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