The most far-reaching statement in the Bible about the mission and the purpose of John the Baptist is contained in the words of the Lord Himself, recorded by Matthew and Luke. The apostle John is concerned mainly to show the Forerunner’s testimony to the Godhead of Christ. Matthew and Luke show the dispensational significance of the Baptist’s testimony.
In turning to Matthew we throw out to our readers our first hint that the so-called ‘synoptic’ gospels (the first three) are confusedly so named by the theologians. The idea sought to be conveyed is that the first three gospels are only of a narrative nature (a mere record of events) whereas the Fourth is ‘spiritual’. That there is a noteworthy difference between the first three and the Fourth there is no doubt, but it does not lie where these theologians allege. We must dismiss the idea totally that Matthew, Mark and Luke wrote MERELY in narrative. There is a majestic prophetism in all three which we do not know who has hitherto perceived, and we can only ask for the patient attention of our readers to what we now have to say as we seek to show that THROUGH THE NARRATIVE THERE RUNS A PROPHETIC THOUGHT AND IN THE RELATING OF EVENTS THERE IS A PROFOUND SPIRITUAL PURPOSE.
A BRIEF INTRODUCTION TO THE NEW TESTAMENT
Matthew opens his gospel (chap 1 verse 1) with words which show his inspired eye was upon the Old Testament, particularly the Book of Genesis – “These are the generations of the heaven and the earth ….” (Gen 2:4). The Book with which the N.T. opens shows the end for which the 0.T. was written and for which the world was made. Despite the vain wrangle among the critics as to the correct chronological order of the four gospels, we adhere to our view that Matthew is, was and must be the first to be written and singularly appropriate to the purpose of opening the New Testament because of its first words, “The Book of the generation of Jesus Christ … the son of David, the son of Abraham” proceeds Matthew. The two men upon whom all O.T. prophecy turns are joined in this verse. Abraham is the father of that covenant of faith by which, in his seed, all the families of the earth were to be blessed and Satan’s dominion destroyed.
Christ (says Matthew) is the true son of Abraham (though Abraham had many sons) because He, Christ, is the promised Seed - and He alone, not the Jew, not the gentile, just Christ - and we in Him.
David is the progenitor of that dynasty from which arose the King whose reign is eternal and whose kingdom will never pass away (therefore not a Jewish kingdom, and not a gentile kingdom, but an eternal kingdom of Jew and gentile by faith – a kingdom of God and of heaven which comes not by observation, but is ‘within’ us).
On these two pillars (the promises to Abraham and David), like the twin pillars of Solomon’s temple, Jachin and Boaz (“He shall establish” and “In Him is strength”), rest the whole of O.T. prophecy.
Having noted how careful was Matthew in the introduction of his manuscript we should be prepared to find the same perspicuity and scrupulous care in all that follows. This is in fact what we find. We discover that Matthew (an educated man no doubt, with an informed as well as an inspired mind) builds his genealogy of Christ from Abraham through David, in three periods of fourteen generations each, corresponding to the three Hebrew letters of King David’s name which in their numerical value add up to fourteen: that he carefully excludes three generations of kings after Jehoram the son of good king Jehoshaphat, because Jehoram had married a daughter of Ahab, and the poison remained in the dynasty for the next three generations. There are other omissions too, all of high significance.
We must be on our guard when reading Matthew, against trivial or ready-to-hand interpretations or criticisms. The problems raised in the genealogies recorded by Matthew and Luke must be approached with that deep reverence due to the only accounts in the world of the dynastic and personal descent of the Incarnate God. Resolution and readiness to probe and to learn, to search with patience, prudence and piety, are required if one is to arrive at those right conclusions which open the door to God’s majestic and sovereign wisdom in preparing the way for His coming into the world.
Those who think that Matthew just ‘moulded the genealogy to suit his purpose’, namely to produce the merely curios result of 3 x 14, should consider “how so careful a historian could even hope that a curiosity which rested on a simple perversion would be accepted without examination”.
(J.H.A. Ebrard, Erlangen, Germany)
Ebrard says that Matthew intentionally made the three periods equal, to invite the reader to a closer and more careful examination of the genealogy and to help him to the discovery of all the hidden references and allusive hints which it contained.
The first division is intended to cover the history from Abraham to David the king, as the formative period of the nation; the second, from Solomon to Jechonias, the entire dynastic period when the kings reigned over the chosen nation; the third, from Salathiel to Christ, the period of the nation’s humiliation during which no king reigned, but the tribes awaited the coming of Him who would set up an eternal kingship and a heavenly dominion which should never pass away.
MATTHEW’S PROPHETICAL QUOTATIONS
As chapter one has to do with the birth of the Lord Jesus, so chapter two deals with his infancy and childhood. The four O.T. quotations which Matthew makes in this chapter show his acquaintance with the inner depths of prophetic language. The first identifies Bethlehem (the city of David) as the location of the Nativity. The next two (“Out of Egypt I have called my son” and “Rachel weeping….”) would scarcely have entered into our thought as referring to the Flight and the Slaughter if Matthew had not told us, and many will never understand the association of thought till they are told that these prophecies identify the Saviour with the history and the sufferings of His people, and give a breathtaking view of the extensive nature of prophecy, and of Christ as the subject of it all. The fourth quotation, “He shall be called a Nazarene” is found in no prophecy but (says Matthew), it was spoken by the PROPHETS (plural); that is, it is the burden of prophecy that the King when He appeared would not seem to be a king, but would be despised and rejected of men. The thought is taken as much from Isaiah 53 as from any other part of the O.T. As Nazareth in Galilee was to the proud Jews of Judea, so was Christ to the ungodly and unseeing nation.
IN ELIJAH’S CLOTHES
Chapter three of Matthew brings forward John the Baptist in the spirit and power - and the very clothes - of HIS forerunner, Elijah. In the clear fulfillment of Isaiah 40 and Malachi 4 John appears as a sign to a disobedient and gainsaying people, of coming judgment. Grace and warning are alike unheeded by the self-righteous and self-sufficient, who regard themselves as children of Abraham and automatically heirs of the promises and of the Kingdom, by virtue of their birth-certificate.
“Think not”, thunders John, “to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father….” And here we come to that which is common to Matthew and to John - the meaning of John’s baptism, which was NOT a Jewish rite and had no counterpart in the Law of Moses, any more than Christian baptism has any correspondence whatever with any O.T. rite (despite the efforts of some Christians to identify it with male circumcision).
In passing, we would point out in the interests of prophetic interpretation and understanding, that the entire ministry of John the Baptist is invalidated by the strange doctrine of the ‘deferred kingdom’ which has, run riot in evangelical writings during the last century.
If the Kingdom of God was “at hand” and about to be fulfilled, then fulfilled it was, or, John was deceived.
If we be condemned for showing thus that 0.T. prophecy of the Kingdom is to be spiritually understood of the Gospel, then at least we shall find ourselves in excellent company. They took off John the. Baptist’s head for this precise reason, for though it was Herod, and Herod’s wife in particular, who were the final links in the chain of John’s martyrdom, it was the nation of Israel, headed up in the scribes and Pharisees which betrayed John the Baptist to Herod after he (John) had fled from Herod to the, desert region of Aenon near to Salim (the desert region to which John’s forerunner Elijah also fled from the threats of another woman who reigned in the same area as did Herod’s wife. Hear O ye wise!).
John was not permitted to introduce the New Covenant. That was reserved for another whose shoes latchet he was not worthy to unloose; but his baptism to repentance showed to Israel that the time had come and the Kingdom of Heaven must suffer violence before it could be fully brought to the birth.
The predictory value of John’s baptism is proclaimed in his stirring words, “I indeed baptise you with water unto repentance: but he that cometh after, me is mightier than I whose shoes I am not worthy to bear; He shall baptise you with the Holy Ghost and with fire”.
This dramatic baptism of John, so unprecedented in the history of Israel, proclaimed that HE was come whose fan was in His hand and He must throughly purge His floor, gathering the wheat into His garner and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire (Matt: 3:12).
CHRIST FULFILLING ALL RIGHTEOUSNESS
Why must Christ fulfil all righteousness (Matt. 3:15) and in what sense does His baptism at the hands Of John contribute to this fulfillment? The answer is that Christ always acts for His people under both covenants. Submitting Himself to every ordinance on their behalf, He carried the Church through the waters of Jordan to New Covenant ground. For the Church is one and indivisible in Old and New Testaments, consisting of the whole company of the redeemed from Adam to the final judgment.Hence, He was circumcised as a child of the Law on the eighth day, and at the age of 30 led His Church through the waters of baptism to the full inauguration of the Kingdom of God. Always He was with the Church and going on before them. Stephen the martyr, that marvelous prototype of the great Apostle of the Gentiles (to whom he in effect handed on his torch when his true successor, Saul of Tarsus, was present as witness at his execution) perceived clearly, before any of his day, the change in the divine order wrought by Christ. In his defence before the Jewish Council Stephen declared that Christ was with the Church in the wilderness (Acts 7: 38) and Paul adds (1 Cor. 10:4) that in the wilderness the people “drank of the (spiritual) rock that followed them (margin: went with them), AND THAT ROCK WAS CHRIST”.
So Christ carried His Church through from her Old Testament to her New Testament condition, fulfilling all righteousness on her behalf, as her head and mediator.
THE DESCENT OF THE SPIRIT
What was the significance of the descent of the Spirit upon Christ and remaining upon Him, under semblance of a dove?
Sad work is made of this question by our theologians. The excellent Thomas Goodwin (Puritan period) actually tells us: “Though our Lord had the assurance of faith that He was the Son of God, for He knew it out of the Scriptures by reading all the prophets, yet to have it sealed unto Him with joy unspeakable and glorious - this was deferred to the time of His baptism. He was then anointed with the oil of assurance and gladness in a more peculiar and transcendent manner.”
Even the estimable Bengel, one of the greatest theologues of them all, can only say: “In His baptism our Lord was magnificently enlightened. He was previously the Son of God and yet the power of the Divine testimony to His sonship at His baptism long affected Him in a lively manner”.
Great as is the regard which we justly have for these two worthies, Goodwin and Bengel, we thrust their interpretations from us in horror and dismay. The modern Bible critic trying to explain away the incarnation could scarcely have asked for so great a license with the Person of Christ as these good men allow.
Now it is a cardinal error fraught with the utmost danger for anyone to suppose that Christ ever lacked anything of self-knowledge, comfort, and the full consciousness of His own unique relationship with the Father in the unity of the Godhead. In the temple at the age of 12 years He repudiated all idea that Joseph was in any sense His father, declaring, “Wist ye not that I must be about my Father’s business?”. There He showed that He was fully conscious at so early a human age, of His divine nature and mission, as completely as at the end of His ministry He declared, “I must work the works of Him that sent me while it is day....” (John 9: 4). That Goodwin should try to tell us that Christ required to have the assurance of His own Sonship sealed to Him in baptism is an error of the first magnitude. That Bengel should say that our Lord was magnificently enlightened at His baptism throws suspicion on the state of His mind before that event.
Where such great men stumble it behooves us to walk with scrupulous care. At His baptism Christ received nothing that He did not possess before. The purpose of the baptism was far otherwise.
It was the New Covenant in Christ that was being declared in the waters of the Jordan. All prophecy was being fulfilled, and the whole expectancy of the human race was being realised. The Spirit without measure was the prerogative of Christ eternally as the Only Begotten Son, and was not withdrawn at the incarnation (John 3: 34). The descent of the Spirit upon Him at His baptism was a visible sign of His Messiahship and His public inauguration to the office of Mediator, Priest and Redeemer. He stood there in the waters for His whole Church as later He hung on the cross for her.
The voice which came from heaven, “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased”, did not make Him that which He always was, but announced to all creation the Father’s pleasure in Him, for the words which fell from heaven were the same words written eight centuries before by the inspired seer of Israel:
“Behold my servant whom I uphold, mine elect in whom my soul delighteth”. (Isaiah 42:1)
The effect of the words used by Isaiah may be rendered; “Behold my child, in whom I delight,” and Israel should have known this. The Greek Septuagint translators of the third century before Christ, employed for ‘servant’ a word which means ‘child’, and their translation was sanctified in the New Testament by the special and dramatic use of this peculiar Greek word in the Church’s prayer in Acts 4: 27: “Of a truth, against thy holy child Jesus whom thou hast anointed….”
The word ‘servant’ in Isaiah’s prophecy does not mean a menial but one who, wearing the nature of the Godhead in His own right, represents the Father and fully carries out the divine will. The words which fell from heaven at the time of the baptism therefore are identical with the words of the prophecy. The Voice from heaven declared publicly that this One was indeed the appointed One of all prophecy, the Seed of Genesis 3: 15, the Son promised to Abraham, the Shiloh of dying Jacob’s profound prophecy (Genesis 49:10), the heavenly Solomon who was to succeed David and attain universal dominion for ever, the Only Begotten from the bosom of the Father who was appointed from before the foundation of the world to glorify the Father’s Name on earth and finish the work which God appointed as the glorious task to which the Godhead was consecrated. So great a. Saviour have we!
THE BAPTISM OF THE HOLY SPIRIT
The baptism of the Holy Spirit (of which John the Baptist testified that HIS baptism was only the foreshadowing) signified the actual inauguration of the New Covenant in the heart of the individual believer.
This is made clear by Christ Himself, in the words:
“In the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried saying, If any man thirst let him come unto me and drink. He that believeth on Me as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water. But this spake he of the Spirit, which they that believe on him should receive: for the Holy Ghost was not yet given; because that Jesus was not yet glorified”. (John 7:37-39)
AN EVANGELICAL PERVERSION OF THE FAITH
It is one of the most baffling mysteries of our contemporary evangelicalism that these words of the Saviour should be represented as a conditional experience bestowed only upon those who, though ‘saved by grace’ are not hitherto ‘willing’ to consecrate themselves to God.
We have two things to say about this: First, Christ distinctly teaches in John 7 that the only condition for this gift of the Holy Spirit is saving faith. ‘Those who believe on Him’ can only mean, all the converted;
Secondly, the teaching that one can be converted yet unconsecrated, saved yet not acknowledging the Lordship of Christ, is so gross a, perversion of the doctrine of repentance and faith that it is difficult to find language strong enough to protest against it. It has wrought untold havoc in contemporary evangelism and led directly to conversion without repentance, easy profession, and the encouragement of unawakened persons (especially young persons) to embrace a formula and a phrase as a quick road to a false peace. The appalling fall-out rate of modern evangelism should have warned every one of us of this terrible perversion, and those who persist, in the soft devotionalism of convention atmospheres, to offer extraordinary ‘victories’ and conquests over sin, in addition to ‘power’ for successful ‘service’ in return for surrenders, consecrations, yieldings, and acts of faith, had better beware what they are about because they cannot find a single New Testament text in support. Keswick itself must do some serious work in this field if it is ever to play a worthy part in the welfare of the evangelical cause.
We recommend to all who are concerned, the reading of Warfield’s monumental work on “Perfectionism”.
The ‘promise of the Spirit’ is realised in every child of faith as soon as the grace of God establishes itself in the soul. The new birth, regeneration, is the same in Old Testament and in the New. What was promised by Christ as a distinct New Testament experience of the Spirit was not regeneration itself but that elevation into the full privileges of the New Covenant which could not be realised until He (the Saviour) was ‘glorified’ (John 7:39). We shall show presently what this means.
Meanwhile we simply point out that the promise of John 7:37-39, depends not upon some fresh act of faith, but upon Christ’s being ‘glorified’ in His conquest of sin and death at Calvary. Whatever the baptism of the Holy Spirit means, all believers in Christ have it, on the ground that Christ's sacrifice is complete.
John the Baptist’s doctrine is clear. Only to the humble and the penitent does the Kingdom of God come. Only by forgiveness and the seal of the Spirit (typified in baptism), is the soul sanctified and purified. Only by outward evidences of repentance can true repentance be proved. This he sets against the false Jewish notion of an earthly kingdom to which all Jews have a natural right.
John’s stern warning to the impenitent Jews, “Who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” is not to be overlooked. Describing the unbelieving Jewish nation as “a generation of vipers”, John has an eye to those scriptures which declare the depraved state of human nature – “The poison of asps is under their lips.” They are the enemies of the truth and of the same nature as their father the devil, the old Viper of Eden (John 8:44).
The message proclaimed by John is reinforced by his proclamation of the dignity and prerogatives of the One who follows him. HIS baptism is of fire (as contrasted with John’s baptism of water) - even the fire of God, the Holy Spirit. He comes, says John, not only to consummate salvation in those who truly hear, with a holy and heavenly baptism, but also pours vengeance on all who do not submit to Him. He winnows His threshing floor with the fan of His terrible and inescapable judgment, separating the wheat from the chaff and consuming the latter in the unquenchable fire of His holiness and truth and righteous judgment.
Matthew proceeds to relate in chapter 4 the Temptation in the wilderness by which Christ was proved again to the Son of God and the representative of His Church. The casting of John into prison becomes the signal for Him to move according to the prophetic Word, from Judea to Galilee, that Isaiah 9:1-2 might be fulfilled - that great prophecy which shows, when rightly understood, that Christ not for Jews only but also for gentiles, for Galilee was a province given to the gentiles by Solomon, and hence known by the Jews as “Galilee of the gentiles” where the people who sat in darkness saw a great light and, those who dwelt in the land of the shadow of death, upon them the light shone.
How mysterious is prophecy, and how marvellously do all the events of Christ’s life follow their predicted and predestined course!
John in prison represents the Old Testament about to pass away to make way for the New. The events of John chaps. 1-3 take place before the arrest of the Baptist. Now that John was in that prison from which he would only be released by death, Christ moves into the region of Galilee where most of His ministry was to be exercised. He calls to the apostleship the first of that chosen band - men whom He had already encountered at the Jordan where they were, attending the ministry of the Baptist (see John 1).
SERMON ON THE MOUNT
We follow the constantly unfolding wonder which Matthew is describing in his earlier chapters - how the old covenant is fading fast away, and the ‘dayspring from on high’, the new covenant of grace in Christ, begins to pour forth its light, dimming the lesser light of the Law. The Lord begins to call His apostles (those significant men who were to be the viceroys of the mystic kingdom for which Israel waited but did not understand). The kingdom was not to come with ostentation, but secretly and with great humility. Its citizens were to be the poor in spirit, the meek, the mourners for sin, those who hungered and thirsted after righteousness, and were pure in heart (through the purifying grace of the Spirit). As for fleshly Israel which boasted of privilege and earthly destiny, they were to look to it! The salt which has lost its savour is fit for nothing but to be cast out and trodden under foot of men - as took place historically in that generation as the Roman disaster overwhelmed the unbelieving nation which knew not the time of its visitation.
All this we see in that Sermon on the Mount so carefully recorded by Matthew in chapters 5-7. Christ divides the nation, as John divided it, into the wheat and the chaff, and exposes the falsity of hopes based on birth and not upon grace. Were they Jews? Prophets? Doers of marvelous works? Boast not, 0 proud nation. In that day Christ will say unto you, “Depart from me, I never knew you” (chap. 7:22-23).
There is only one way into this kingdom which Christ came to establish through a gate that is strait and a way that is narrow; and there are few indeed who will find it. Where then is the earthly expectation of the Jews and their rabbis? They only would stand in the judgment who were founded on the rock. That rock is the gospel word of repentance, faith, grace, and new life in Christ. All the rest will fall, be they Jew or gentile.
No wonder the hearers were astonished when the Lord concluded that great Sermon. The keen axe was cleaving to the very root of Jewish Pride and boasting.
MATTHEW 8 AND THE GREAT JEWISH DELUSION
The teaching of the Sermon, so revolutionary in its concept of the expected kingdom of Messiah, is authenticated in chapter 8 of Matthew by a great concentration of miracles designed to testify to the authority and the divinity of Christ and to show the manner of the kingdom in the healing of the consequences of sin. Let the cleansed leper show himself to the priest - for the regulations of Moses remain in force till the Old Covenant has finished its course.
The centurion’s faith warns Israel that the Word of Christ is about to breakout beyond all Jewish boundaries: “I have not found so great faith - no, not in Israel.” Peter’s wife's mother is healed. How curious the description of the old mother-in-law! Her sickness is that of Israel under the old Law. What a ‘fever’ indeed, is this - something the Law cannot heal - pride, envy, unbelief, and the delusion that the kingdom is by genealogy, and not of grace alone through repentance and faith. But her son-in-law will be known as the apostle of the circumcision, and will labour for Jews to enter the kingdom by the door of the gospel.
The evening of that day the demon-possessed and the sick were brought to Christ, and He healed them all. Demon possession seemed to be endemic among the Jews of that generation. Now let them behold the power of Messiah’s kingdom, and the source from whence that grace was to flow, namely the identification of Christ with His people’s sin, as He bears on the Cross on their behalf, the burden of guilt and shame. The kingdom rests on that alone.
Hence our careful historian, Matthew, brings in Isaiah 53:4 – “Himself took our infirmities and bare our sicknesses.” The quotation of course is from the Septuagint version, a Greek paraphrase of the original Hebrew, used here by Matthew to show the connection between sin and sickness for all mortal ailments and oppressions are the consequence of the fall of man.
There is no room here for charismatic pretensions on the part of evangelical practitioners who know not the inner meaning of this word. That Christ “bore our sicknesses” does not mean that we ought henceforth to be immune to sickness, any more than “He bore our sins” means we may never sin again, or that He bore our death, means we shall never die mortally. It shows His complete identification of Himself with all our burdens and sorrows. Let that suffice.
“I will follow thee” said the scribe (verse 19) still with his Jewish notion of a kingdom of this earth in which he would find eminence and distinction. You know not yet, 0 man, that your Messianic king has nowhere in this world to lay His head. Where then is His throne?
“Let me first bury my father”. He will be buried soon enough, fellow! Thy father is thy nation and thine Old Covenant. Let the dead bury their dead, but go thou and preach the Kingdom of God.
The vessel tosses on the sea, Lord save us, we perish! So is the Church (which is His Kingdom), a vessel which must ride the storm till she reach the end of her journey. Meantime,
No water can swallow the ship where lies The Master of ocean and earth and skies.
Luke tells us (Luke 8:22) that the boat set out under the command of Christ – “Let us go over to the other side” (i.e. the gentile side of the lake). We see in this voyage the passing of the Word of God from the Jewish to the gentile world. The boat is the Church and the storm is the opposition encountered as the Church breaks away from her Old Covenant moorings and begins her new and glorious journey on the sea of this world in pursuit of her gentile destiny.
THE MANIAC OF GADARA
“What have I to do with thee, Jesus, thou Son of God most high?” the cry of the poor maniac is the cry of the gentile world, where he resided among the tombs of those who arc dead in trespasses and in sins.
“I beseech thee, torment me not”. A true gentile cry indeed; an expectation of judgment whereas only mercy is intended.
“My name is Legion”. So it was truly - for the gentiles were oppressed by a legion of false gods and religions and devils.
And those swine? Unbelievers of Jew and gentile?
The last state worse than the first?
THE TWO COVENANTS IN MATTHEW 9
The paralytic (9:1-8) affords a further opportunity of demonstrating the divinity of the Lord and the object of His coming into the world - the pardon of sin and the judgment of the conscience, so different from those Messianic predictions of the rabbis. Matthew’s feast for publicans and sinners shows the nature of the gospel kingdom. “I am come … to call sinners to repentance”. Where now is that “deferred” Jewish kingdom?
The disciples of John are perplexed (verses 14-17). They fast (and so do the Pharisees) but Christ’s disciples rejoice. Let them understand that the Bridegroom is present, but when He is taken away, His Church and Kingdom will assume their full character: “Then shall they fast” - but not the bodily fast of the Old Covenant. This fast will be the persecutions, afflictions, sorrows and crosses which are the common lot in this world of the children of the New Covenant. Did they suppose (with the rabbis) that Messiah’s Kingdom was to be a scene of Jewish supremacy over the gentile world? What a misconception! “Then shall they fast”, as Messiah’s kingdom passes through its long travail of suffering, poverty and persecution, lasting for 2,000 years or more, till the Bridegroom should come again to receive His bride.
New cloth in old garments. New wine in old bottles (9:16-17). Here is the sheer incompatibility of the New Covenant with the Old - the impossibility of mixing the gospels with Jewish law and ceremony. Let those understand who seek nowadays to put the gospel into a Jewish garment and squeeze Christ’s Kingdom into a revived Jerusalem temple of stone and lime.
Jairus’s daughter is raised (18-19); the woman with the issue (20-22), whom the Old Covenant could not heal though its physicians of altar priesthood ceremony and ritual tried in vain for those twelve years. The number twelve is the signature of the Covenant. The woman finds deliverance in the touch of faith though it be only the hem of His garment to which her trembling hand reaches.
And we note too that the damsel with whom, in the gospel, the grown woman is always associated, was 12 years of age (Mark 5:42). If the reader still does not see the Covenant significance of the number 12 in this double miracle, or treats it as a mere irrelevant detail, he would be well advised to note in Mark’s account that Christ’s actual Hebrew words are quoted in the death chamber – “TALITHA CUMI” (which being interpreted is, Damsel arise). Now what purpose can this circumlocution serve if not to draw specific attention to the fact that Christ was quoting from Isaiah 51:17-18?
“Awake, awake, stand up 0 Jerusalem.....
there is none to guide her among all the sons she hath brought forth;
neither is there any that taketh her by the hand, of all the sons
that she hath brought up” (See also 52:2).
The Lord enacted the prophecy, in the death chamber of the damsel using the very Hebrew words which are found in Isaiah. The damsel is the virgin daughter of Zion in the Church of the New Covenant, raised from the death chamber-of the old Law. Her father is the ruler of the synagogue, the functionary of the Law. As the true representative of the believing remnant, the true Israel of God, he turns from the Law to the Gospel: “Come and lay thy hand upon her and she shall live”.
Always the actions of Christ are prophetic. There is no random or casual healing or deliverance. Everything is ordered according to what is decreed, to show the nature of His Kingdom and its place in prophecy.
Faith saves the two blind men (v. 27). “See that no man know it” for already the nation as a whole was placing itself outside the pale of the gospel and the Word of God would be taken from them.
The dumb man possessed with the devil is delivered. “It was never so seen in Israel”. But the representatives of the nation are roused to fury that Christ should show the impotence and temporality of their law and introduce a kingdom of power and grace which should put on one side their earthly kingdom:
“He casteth out devils through the prince of the devils”.
Incurable their sin! Sure and certain the judgment, even then marching with iron feet upon them. Take away their place and nation! Destroy that temple! Abolish that priesthood! Christ will replace all with a heavenly temple, kingdom, nation, and priesthood, which will never pass away.
The multitudes faint and are scattered (verses 36-38). They are “as sheep without a shepherd”. The Saviour has His eye on Ezekiel 34:5. Always in view is the failure of the Old Covenant and the establishment of the New. The time of the gospel harvest has come. The labourers are few. Pray ye….! The Shepherd is moved with compassion and looks forward eagerly to the commencement of that gathering in of the last for which He has planned before the foundation of the world.
Comes chapter 10 and the formal commissioning of the twelve - as though arising out of the preceding reference to the waiting harvest and the fewness of the labourers.
The twelve are selected according to a sovereign choice, not grounded on any particular personal qualities, gifts or graces - for Judas is among them. Thomas is there with his doubts and Peter with his infirmity of devotion. Men greater than most of them were still to come - Paul, Barnabas, Apollos. But the original twelve were chosen deliberately and purposefully to illustrate the power of God in the weakest of men. Let no man glory in His presence. “Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you and ordained you that ye should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain” (John 15:16).
The twelve are endued with power over unclean spirits and to heal all diseases. This is the signature of their authority.
2,000 YEARS OF HISTORY PLANNED
Now we are faced with a remarkable discourse by Christ as He prepares His preachers and His church for 2,000 years of history. There are three sections of this discourse in Matt.10, each concluding with a “Verily” (verses 15, 23 and 42) and “verily” is “AMEN” in the original and “AMEN” is the signature of deity
(Revelation 1:18; 3:14; 22:20).
The three sections correspond with the three periods of the New Covenant age (1) the preparatory ministry of the Apostles to Israel before the Crucifixion; (2) the period of Jewish opposition up to the destruction of Jerusalem in the Roman war; (3) the long period ensuing, of the worldwide ministry of the Church till the Lord’s return.
The first period confines the preaching to “the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (v. 5-6) but the very term shows that there is an elect Israel within the nation of Israel, and it is to these effectively, in the mystery of predestination, that the word is sent.
The second period is peculiarly descriptive of the 40 years of probation granted to the unbelieving nation, ending with that “coming of the Son of Man” which, in this instance, is not His Second Coming at the end of the world, but His coming to judge the earthly nation and make their city temple and land desolate according to Daniel. This Jewish period of preaching the gospel (“to the Jew first”) is significant in the references to synagogues and councils, brethren, fathers and children, and the brevity of the time they will not have completed the evangelisation of the cities of Judea before the Lord comes to the judgment of A.D.70.
The third section is peculiarly ours (gentiles). We read of the world’s hatred and scorn of the sword of the Gospel word which divides the tenderest relationships. One wonders how it is not more clearly seen that such gargantuan apparitions as the Church of Rome can be accepted for other than what they are - antichristian and oppressive systems of Satan – entirely outside the succession of the true Church. The Lord’s people are always a persecuted and scorned minority. But let them not fear the world, nor those who can only destroy the body but cannot touch the soul. Fearlessly let the whole counsel of God be declared. Let it be proclaimed from the housetops. God has numbered the very hairs of our head. Our confession of Christ is echoed in heaven by Christ’s acknowledgment and confession of us before the Father’s throne. Love for Christ must take precedence over the tenderest human relationship. If we love them well, we must love Christ better and then we shall love as we ought.
Christ’s cross is worth infinitely more to us than the world’s smile. Saving one’s life here will not be of any advantage in the end: it is the surest way to lose it. All that we lose for Christ’s sake will be more than repaid in the world that is to come. And let the world be assured that as they treat the believer in Christ, so they will be treated by Christ. A cup of cold water given to one of these little ones will in no wise go unrewarded.
So far Christ’s survey of history in chapter 10.
“GREATER THAN JOHN THE BAPTIST”
So dawns Matthew’s great eleventh chapter which for so long we have been labouring to reach. The intervening search, has been necessary in order to answer, our question: Why John the Baptist?
The apostles have received their briefing. As viceroys of the Kingdom of Heaven they have been prepared for their age long office. The narrative returns to John. He is in prison (verse 2). His day is ending fast.The last prophet of the Old Covenant, the last voice from the dying dispensation sounds from the prison – “Art thou he that should come or look we for another?” (verse 3).
What confusion has been wrought in the varied attempts to explain these words of John. Ever ready to find fault with God’s great heroes the preachers treat John the Baptist as they treat his great prototype Elijah, whose vindication we have already attempted in our study, “Elijah: ‘Crouching Coward’ or Hero of the Faith?”.
John (say his evangelical critics) has lost heart through finding himself in prison. He begins to doubt and fear. His faith is failing. He sends two of his disciples to ask an obvious question.
Alternatively, some ingenious writers proclaim that this is John’s device for assisting the faith of the two messengers.
So it goes on. We weary of the discussion and set down once and for all the deep - Oh! So deep - meaning of John’s PROPHETIC action.
There is no makeshift attempt here to bolster up a flagging faith. John’s delegation came with that prophetic mission which dominated the whole of his life and did not fail him at the last.
That mission was to hand over the torch of the Old Covenant to the New. He, the last and greatest of the O.T. witnesses, had the unique office of introducing the Mediator of the New Covenant with the blessing and worship of the Old. It was John’s purpose to bridge the gap and ensure the continuity between the two testaments.
Here was the secret of his office and the significance of his appearance in Israel. The old passes away in him: he must, in the name of the Old, acknowledge and recognise the Mediator of the New. Christ belonged to, both Covenants that He might fulfil all things in Himself.
John’s question was the official and proper inquiry of the dying dispensation concerning its successor.
The Mediator’s reply is in act as well as in word:
“Go and shew John those things which ye do hear and see: the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have the gospel preached to them”. (The “poor” are the humble believers, in contrast with Jewish national pride).
There is no rebuke to John. “Blessed is he whosoever shall not be offended in me”, is not a reproach to John, but a declaration of the terms of the gospel, and a warning to unbelieving Israel.
That no rebuke was intended to John is clear from what follows - the remarkable tribute paid by Christ to His imprisoned servant.
“What went ye out to see? A reed shaken with the wind?” John was no reed, not even in the condemned cell.
“But what went ye out to see? A prophet? Yea, I say unto you, and more than a prophet….”
Christ’s testimony to John exonerates His servant from all suggestion of weakness. We must look far deeper than this.
The Saviour bears now His own testimony to John. He (John) was the fulfillment of the prophecy of Malachi 3:1.
He goes further: “Verily I say unto you, among them that are born of woman there bath not risen a greater than John the Baptist: notwithstanding, he that is least in the Kingdom of heaven is greater than he”.
And few there be indeed who have succeeded in elucidating the plain and obvious meaning of these words.
In what sense is the humblest Christian greater than John the Baptist? Some have dared to say, “Because Christians are born again of the Spirit and John was not”. This horrifying suggestion springs from the false ground that regeneration was unknown in the Old Testament - despite the examples of men like Abraham, Daniel, Job, Joseph, Moses and a thousand others.
Some reply that OT saints belong to a different category of salvation, and by the accident of being born before the gospel came in will be doomed to an inferior place in heaven for all eternity. This is Dispensationalism gone mad, and illustrates the sad depths to which artificial treatment of the divine Word has plunged evangelical theology.
“FRIENDS OF THE BRIDEGROOM”
There is even a theory that there will be in heaven a limited category of saints known as “Friends of the Bridegroom” who will never enjoy quite the same felicity as those who were fortunate enough to be born after Christ instead of before. This notion derives from the statement of John the Baptist in John 3:29 when describing the nature of his office in preparing the scene for the entry of Christ upon His New Covenant work. The notion is based on a complete (one had almost said a bare faced) distortion of the text. There is only one ‘friend of the bridegroom’ and that is John the Baptist. He speaks in the singular and goes on to say, “This MY joy therefore is fulfilled.” According to these theorists, John is destined in heaven to occupy a category in which he will stand alone, in a sort of isolation from all other redeemed. (Elsewhere in our exposition of the Fourth Gospel we have shown the full and remarkable Significance of John’s description of himself).
To such lengths does Dispensationalism go, yet so thoroughly have these theories claimed the evangelical field that those who raise their voices against the enormity are almost classed as heretics.
There is in heaven only one category of believers: the pardoned and the redeemed. The Two Covenants are one in Christ through whose obedience unto death the Law is fulfilled, and the Covenant of Works becomes (to us) the Covenant of Grace. Do we make void the law through faith? God forbid. Yea, we establish the law (Romans 3, verse 31).
It was the realisation of this in Christ, and hence the proclaiming of the glorious liberty of the children of God, that places the NT believer in a state of privilege unknown in OT times. Because Christ has fulfilled the Law the shadows pass away, and the full privileges of sonship appear. His spirit is outpoured as a Spirit of adoption, whereby we now cry, “Abba, Father” - terms which 0T believers were never taught to use. We now realise our full privileges in Christ, with a measure of assurance and joy, and a release from the hard bondage of ‘dead works’ which was not possible even to John the Baptist, who died before the redeeming work of Christ was complete.
But let us be very sure that the superiority of our privileges extends only to this life and is not a permanent feature of eternity. There the OT saints already enjoy the privileges to which they were not permitted to attain in their earthly life. There they know who their Saviour is, and who is their Father, There they are released from every handicap which time imposed upon them. There Abraham, the father of us all who believe in Christ, be we Jew or gentile, OT or NT believer, sees and enjoys that which he longed to see when on earth: “Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day, and he saw it and was glad” (John 8:56).
It is in the gift of the Spirit of Adoption therefore, in place of the ‘spirit of bondage which gendereth to fear’ (Romans 8: 15, 17), that the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than John the Baptist. But it is a superiority which exists only this side of the grave. In heaven we are all one. There are not many gospels, but one only. There are not different redemptions or different degrees thereof. There is one redemption grand and glorious, one resurrection, one Christ, one glory, and one destiny.
ONE CHURCH IN OT & NT
In his epistles Paul makes this clear. There is one church in Old and New Testaments. The NT phase of the Church is its most glorious phase, because in it the manifold wisdom of God is fully unveiled, and what was hidden from the foundation of the world is now revealed as the eternal purpose of God
(Ephesians 3: 10-11). The ‘mystery’ of which Paul speaks in that great chapter is not that there was to be a ‘church’ but that the gentiles were to be part of it, partakers of the same promises made through Abraham, and fellow heirs with Israel of the covenanted redemption in Christ. And away goes Jewish exclusivism and envy, and away goes their claim to ‘special’ treatment, and away goes their earthly kingdom, because the family is one and indivisible, a family of Jew and gentile believers. Paul, with an eye to the saints of OT times now in heaven, writes,
“For this cause I bow my knees unto the
Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, of whom
the whole family in heaven and earth is named....” Eph. 3: 15.
One family we dwell in Him, and away go all the ‘categories’ of believers. In heaven there is one Christ, one Church, one Bride, one destiny, one glory. Distinctions which existed on earth are all abolished and Christ and God are all in all.
In Galatians supremely, Paul, makes this plain. Luther rightly made this epistle the bedrock of the Reformation. Yet how little is it understood today. The confusion in the minds of many Christians on the understanding of chapters 3 and 4 is very perplexing. Paul shows the passage the Church from its OT to its NT phase, representing the Church under the Law as being under the surveillance of a schoolmaster till the time appointed the Father when the heir to the inheritance should pass into his majority receive ‘the adoption of sons’.
How many evangelical sermons have been preached in vain on the subject of the law being our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, as though this is a picture of the sinner under conviction of sins. What the apostle is saying is that in OT times the Church was under ‘tutors and governors’, namely the tutelage of the Law with its apparatus of priests, sacrifices, rituals, dietary laws, compulsory observances, whereas all these ‘shadows of things to come’ have been abolished in Christ, who has taken away the ‘handwriting of ordinances’ nailing them to His cross.
Now we gentiles were never were never subject to the tutelage of the Law, and therefore were never in the hands of the schoolmaster. Paul’s doctrine has only one meaning: that the Church was kept in bondage to legal observances in OT times, but obtained release in Christ, passing from the category of servitude to the full liberty and of privilege of sonship.
Therefore (and observe that Paul was writing to the most gentile of all the churches when he so addressed the Galatians - the GAUL-atians) -therefore Paul was teaching one clear thing, that the Church that now is, is in the direct line of continuity with the Church that was before Christ came. Once more, therefore, we are seeing the meaning of the Saviour’s words: “He that is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than John the Baptist.”
We are seeing more; we are seeing the end of Dispensationalism as a valid method of interpreting the Bible. If the Church that now is, is the same Church that was (Paul represents it historically as the growth of a person from childhood, through the rigours of tutelage, to the full status of sonship), then there can no longer be a special future for the Jew. The Church of Jew and gentile is the fulfillment of all, the prophecies of Messiah’s kingdom. There is no break in continuity. There is no such thing as a ‘deferred kingdom’, there has been no break in history while God inserts a new device to take the place of what was promised to Abraham. There is no promise to Israel which is not fulfilled in the Church and there is no other holy nation, royal priesthood, peculiar people, or chosen generation, but that which Peter describes (1 Pet. 2:9) - and that people is Christ’s Church, “called out of darkness into His marvelous light”.
There can, therefore, be no special future for the Jew, because the only scriptures upon which that special destiny can be founded are already appropriated by Peter and Paul as descriptions of the Church in which Jew and gentile are one body.
If ‘the adoption’ by which we are raised to a status of superiority in this life, above all OT saints, is that act of grace by which is fully manifest in believers the witness of the Spirit declaring us to be the children of God with immediate right of access in Christ, requiring no earthly temple, priesthood, ritual law or ceremony, then who will dare to bring back the shadows of the law, and insult the work of Christ and the glory of redemption in Him, by abolishing His Spirit of Adoption and restoring in its place, temple, sacrifice, circumcision priest and Levite? Yet this is precisely what the rabbinical myth so fondly adopted by evangelicals today, imposes. Paul wrote Galatians to overthrow this very thing, but Dispensationalism and millennialism have brought it back, and in doing so have reduced Bible preaching and exposition to the lowest ebb in the history of the Christian Church.
If the dispensationalists had only studied adequately this gospel mystery of adoption, they would not have deprived the Church so long of a whole Bible, and would not have relegated the Church to a category subordinate to that of a revived Jewish kingdom, nor would they have taught many to expect a coming age in which the categories would be altered once again, so that he who is greatest in the kingdom of God would be less than the least in the Jewish millennial kingdom.
THE CHURCH WITH HER FULLY DEVELOPED “SPIRIT OF ADOPTION” IS THE FINAL MANIFESTATION OF THE DIVINE WISDOM (Eph. 3:30). There can be no age after this age, which is the last of the ages and the fulfillment of that for which all other ages were only preparatory. “Little children it is the last time….” (1 John 2:18).
THE BIRTH PANGS OF THE NEW COVENANT
The remainder of Christ’s testimony to John is now very much simplified:
“From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence and the violent take it by force”. (Matt. 11:12)
Christ spoke during the interim period from John’s ministry till the Cross and the Resurrection. During that period the “kingdom of heaven” was being violently born. The birth pangs of the new dispensation had begun. John the Baptist was the nursemaid presiding over the birth. The New Testament struggles in the womb of the Old Covenant and is about to be born - just as John himself leaped in the womb of Elisabeth when Mary came for shelter till her own Child was born (Luke 1:41). That pre-natal leaping was the salutation of the Old Covenant to the New. It was a leaping of joy that at last Christ was coming and the promise of redemption was about to be realised.
“For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John” verse 13.
That means all events before Christ were preparatory and the Law and the prophets have been personified in John, the last of that honoured race of seers and prophets and righteous men belonging to the old order.
“And if ye will receive it, this is Elias, which was for to come. He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.” verses 14-15
Christ now discloses clearly and plainly the prophetic function of John. He is Elijah - yet not actually Elijah. “If ye will receive it” that is, if ye have ears to hear and to understand the peculiar nature of prophecy which clothes spiritual realities in earthly figures.
This is one of the great principles of prophetic interpretation, the neglect of which has almost paralysed biblical exposition and forced upon the few the thankless task which Paul had to discharge in his day because of Judaistic heresy - travailing again in birth till Christ be formed anew in His Church (Gal. 4:19).
Prophecy is only to those who “have ears to hear” and whose hearts are disposed to “receive” its profundities.
THE FALL OF THE JEWISH NATION
The Saviour proceeds to expose the wickedness of the unbelieving nation to which first He came. Whereunto would He liken that generation, -- who, neither danced to the sound of the pipe nor wept at the sound of mourning? John, they said, had a devil, and this Jesus is a man gluttonous, and a wine-bibber. In short, nothing could be done with them. Threats, promises, exhortations, were alike in vain to a people bent upon destruction.
Woe to Chorazin and Bethsaida. Woe to Capernaum, Tyre and Sidon, in the day of their calamity. Sodom in its overthrow would be envied in comparison with the judgment which awaited that evil generation amongst whom mighty works had been done in vain.
“I thank thee Father, Lord of Heaven and earth, because thou hast hidden these things from the wise and prudent and revealed them unto babes”. (verse 25).
Christ closes with a statement of His own absolute divinity. No man knows the Son but the Father and no-one knows the Father save the Son - and he to whom the Son will reveal Him.
Let proud sinners therefore beware. God is incomprehensible and gives no account of His matters. No one can know, or be permitted to know, unless they first know Christ in repentance and faith.
“Come unto me all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest….”
Divinity speaks. Christ is the only source of the soul’s repose. Let His Jewish hearers especially consider these most-loved words of Christ, for they are drawn from a prophetic source and must be understood only in that sense.
Let those who are wise after the Spirit consider the words of Isaiah 55:3 and they will see whence Christ’s comforting words are taken and what is the deep, deep meaning of them.
If Israel had considered these words they would have known it was their God who now stood before them to give in place of the burdensome yolk of the law of sin and death, His own blessed yoke of new obedience in the Spirit - a yoke which is easy and a burden which is light.
But Israel did not consider, and the blessing and the promise pass to us, for so was it ordained.
All that grand conclusion of Matthew’s 11th chapter is a description of the Kingdom of Heaven and its rightful citizens and heirs. They are babes in their true humility and readiness to learn, to whom the Son reveals the Father in Himself and from whom He removes the burdensome yoke of guilt and curse, replacing it with the yoke of grace, peace and truth. Let the proud Jew and the well meaning evangelical expositor who has sat over-long at the feet of the rabbis instead of at the feet of Christ; perceive herein the complete contrast between the gospel kingdom and that Jewish fable of birth and natural privilege to which the nation clung until the lie was swallowed up in judgment.
LORD OF THE SABBATH
Chapter 12 of Matthew shows Christ as Lord of the Sabbath, claiming to be “greater than the temple” and vindicating by an act of divinity His claim to be arbiter of the most cherished law to which the Jew clung for his hope of salvation. By the healing of the man with the withered hand, on the sabbath day and in their own synagogue, He showed Himself to be Lord of the Sabbath. They sought from that time to destroy Him, but His hour was not yet come.
Isaiah 42 is advanced by Matthew to show the manner of the coming of the expected Kingdom - not with ostentation nor outward observation, but with great quietness and humility. Christ leaves the bruised reed of Israel and the smoking flax of their false righteousness, to be dealt with in the Father’s own time, while He (Christ) proceeds with His appointed destiny to bring righteousness to the gentiles (Matthew 12: 21).
The man blind and dumb and demon possessed is delivered, for this man represents the remnant of the nation according to the election of grace - without hope until the gospel, word came with Him who (according to that same prophecy of Isaiah 42 (verse 18) cries “Hear, ye deaf; and look ye blind, that ye may see”.
“I cast out devils by the Spirit of God” declares the Lord (verse 2 for this is the sign of the Kingdom of God which He came to establish on the ruins of the old covenant. See the prominence now given in Christ’s ministry, to the doctrine of the Holy Spirit, and the solemn warning to those who reject the testimony borne by His works. Here is the unpardonable sin of Israel - unbelief in the face of invincible light.
The Kingdom of God is established when “the strong man” is bound and the goods of his house are spoiled (v.29). Let Judah (and all gentiles) beware lest they commit the sin against the Holy Ghost (v. 31-37). This binding of Satan (the “strong man”) is the prelude to the N.T. gospel age during which “Satan is bound for a thousand years”.
“A sign, a sign!” demand the scribes and Pharisees.
None will be given (says Christ) but the sign of Jonah the prophet, the sign of His own death and rising again the third day. As Jonah was exclusively the prophet of the gentiles let all Judaizers take notice.
Verses 45 - 45, the return of the exorcised devil into the house from which he was ejected, bringing with him seven more devils more wicked than himself, so that the last state is worse than the first is the corollary of the event just narrated - the casting out of the deaf and dumb devil from the man of verse 22.
That man, therefore, is Israel and his healing is a solemn sign of the temporary reprieve of the Jewish nations. After they had finally rejected the New Covenant and committed thereby the sin against the Holy Ghost they would be exposed to the oppression of seven devils more evil than before and their last state would be worse than the first.
“Even so shall it be also unto this wicked generation” (verse 45).
The great chapter closes with Christ’s repudiation of all earthly relationship with Israel. “Who is my mother and my brethren?” And He stretched forth his hand to his disciples and said, “Behold my-mother and, my brethren! For whosoever shall do the will of my Father which is in heaven the same is my brother and sister and mother”.
In these terms He showed the end of the “special relationship” hitherto existing between God and earthly Israel.
THE PARABLES OF MATTHEW 13: NO “PRETTY STORIES”
The great chapter of the seven parables (chapter 13) is completely misunderstood by most commentators and preachers. No, they are not pretty stories making truth easy to be understood. “Not like your nuisances of doctrinal and expository preachers with their profound sermons unfolding the treasures of inspiration! Tell us stories like Jesus did!” say the patrons of ignorance. “Away with profundity and exposition and all that nonsense!”
But what are these parables? Easy stories? Childish divinity? Why then did Christ say: “I tell them parables not to make truth plain, but to seal up, the truth from their seeing and hearing – “lest at any time they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears and should be converted, and I should heal them”? (v. 13 - 15). For a parable is a dark saying, only to be understood by those to whom it is given to understand the mysteries of the Kingdom of Heaven.
What is mysterious about the parable of the sower that its meaning should elude these Jewish hearers? Let the chapter be studied as an exercise in false Jewish exegesis of prophecy, for they looked for an earthly and visible Messianic kingdom which was to Come with automatic suddenness and ostentation, whereas it came secretly, silently, as a seed germinates in the soil and as the wheat ripens into grain and as leaven works in those three measures of meal which (in this parable) denotes the three ethnic divisions of the human race into which the earth was divided after the Flood (the three sons of Noah: Shem, Ham and Japheth) Here too is Sarah, wife of Abraham, the mother of the Church, with her three measures of meal: “The kingdom of heaven is like unto leaven which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal till the whole was leavened” (Matt. 13:33, compare Genesis 18:6). Sarah is shown by Paul to be the Church, the new Jerusalem, the mother of us all, whether we be Jew or gentile (Galatians 4: 22-31).
Not by Jewish birth, genealogy, and privilege, but by faith and. repentance, sowing and reaping, fishing and buying - this is the way by which the kingdom of heaven comes in. No wonder the earthly Jew rejected both Christ and Christ’s herald, and no wonder that contemporary Dispensationalism is incapable of raising from the inexhaustible depths of O.T. prophecy, the mysteries and unsearchable riches of Christ.
Chapter 14 records the execution of John the Baptist at the instigation of that evil woman, the adulterous wife of Herod, who so aptly fits the prophetic picture of earthly Israel in its unbelief (see Ezekiel chapters 16 and 23).
And here ends our brief study of Matthew’s gospel in relation to the significance of John the Baptist.
His head has fallen. The blackest deed the world ever saw (with only one exception shortly to follow) has been done. In John the Old Covenant was wound up. Its last and most honoured representative; he pointed to the New, proclaimed its Mediator, enjoined all men to embrace it, and then sealed his testimony with his blood.
Born of the family of Aaron, born to be priest in Israel, yet never to take up his temple privileges, John performs the greatest priestly function of all as he baptises unto death in the waters of Jordan that ONE of Judah’s tribe who would be High Priest and sacrifice - and that forever, after the superior and heavenly order of Melchizedek.
* * * * * * * *
THE POSTPONEMENT THEORY
A remarkable theory has been propounded in our time to try to reconcile the preaching of John concerning the Kingdom of Heaven being “at hand” with the fact that in the end no literal Jewish Kingdom emerged but only a spiritual and invisible Kingdom of Gospel Grace.
The difficulty exists, of course, only in the minds of those who equate John’s prophetical pronouncement with the errors of the rabbis, the scribes, the Pharisees and the Sadducees, who taught the coming of a Messiah who would re-establish the Jewish kingdom and make all the world subject to it.
The idea that John should have been party to such a conception of “the kingdom” when in fact he was rejected by these very teachers, and betrayed to execution because he did NOT so teach, could only have rooted itself so firmly, in contemporary evangelicalism because of the woeful decline of Bible exegesis and exposition in our day.
To explain the total failure of the Baptist’s prediction (on the their theory) that the kingdom of heaven was “at hand” yet did not in fact materialise either then or since, during a period of 2,000 years, there was invented the device of a “postponement”. The kingdom which John pointed to and which the rabbis and Pharisees confidently expected, was in fact (so we are told) rejected by the Jewish nation and in consequence God postponed it for another 2,000 years, in the meantime inserting a substitute known as “the Church Age”. Some go so far as to say that this “Church Age” is so irrelevant to the first draft of the divine plan as to be in fact no part of OT prophecy, but is a “mystery” never before revealed (Dr. Scofield is a leading exponent of this school).
As to that, the Apostle Paul, writing to the Church at Rome says:
“Now to him that is of power to establish you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery, which was kept secret since the world began but now is made manifest, and BY THE SCRIPTURES OF THE PROPHETS, according to the commandment of the everlasting God, made known to all nations for the obedience of faith….” (Romans 16:25-26).
The mystery was not that God would do this thing; but that it lay concealed in the Old Testament until the time came for the purposes of God in Christ to be fully unfolded. Paul and his contemporaries proved from the O.T. prophecies that the Church was the Kingdom of God and the everlasting purpose of God.Christ (as we have seen) taught that the least believer in the NT Kingdom is greater than John the Baptist.
If in fact John “offered” an earthly kingdom to the Jew (and there is not a shred of evidence in his preaching that he did) then John must be held to be a false prophet for declaring that to be “at hand” which was not in fact at hand, and failing to show, as the herald of the New Covenant, that God was about to wrap up the Old Covenant and dispense with it for ever. In fact John did precisely this when he declared “the axe is laid to the root of the tree”, that is, Israel’s Old Covenant tree, and warned the earthly people that there was no comfort available to them in their boasted privilege or national election, for God would raise up other “children to Abraham” in their room.
There never was a clearer “gospel” preacher than John and no-one exceeded him in his “spiritualising” of prophecy concerning the kingdom.
The “postponement” theory has no way out of this dilemma and when we add that Christ followed in the steps of His herald and preached precisely the same gospel of repentance and the new birth, and never “offered” any Kingdom, or hope of a Kingdom, but one which was entirely spiritual; it will be seen how far evangelical theory of today has strayed into the fatal errors of the rabbis, the scribes, the Pharisees and the Sadducees who rejected both Christ and His forerunner solely because they did NOT offer or present, a “Kingdom” which was only too congenial to their carnal conceptions of truth.
If we are right in our assessment of John’s true function as the prophet of the New Testament, who prepared the way for the true gospel Kingdom of Christ, contemporary theories to the contrary must be regarded as an error of the first magnitude.
The position is grave indeed for these prophetical theorists because it puts them into precisely the same category as the Jewish teachers of the days of Christ.
It should be clear from our exposition that the “kingdom” announced by John and by the Saviour was entirely and exclusively the New Covenant; that that kingdom did in fact appear and is with us now.
Christ’s dialogue with Nicodemus (John 3) [Serial Number 007], that great Pharisee and ruler of the Jew’s (who ought to have known but did not in fact know, the nature of the promised kingdom), shows clearly that no Jew (or gentile) will ever see or enter that kingdom except by the new birth.
That we believers are in it now and enjoying its blessings and privileges because we have been “born again” is the final proof of the spiritual nature of prophecy and its true principle of interpretation.
And after all, Christ’s conversation with Nicodemus took place long before the point in His ministry when it could be alleged that the Jewish nation “rejected” the kingdom and procured its postponement.
Three questions to those who hold the “postponement of the Kingdom” theory, might be put in this form:
(1) What was the nature of that Kingdom which John the Baptist and Christ “offered” to the Jews?
(2) At what precise point of time was the “offer” withdrawn and an alternative “Kingdom” introduced?
(3) In what did the two alleged “Kingdoms” differ from each other (with scriptural proofs)?
We conclude with an extract from a sermon by a well-known American Radio-preacher (whose excellence as a Christian we do not for. a moment question). We give this extract entirely without comment, leaving it to the judgment of our readers to bring in their own verdict:
“The angels announced the coming of Jesus as the bringer of peace. He was the Prince of Peace and would have brought world peace if they had recognized and received Him.
The angels announced the Prince of Peace in good faith, for Jesus came to offer peace; but the world did not receive the Saviour and so the coming of the age of peace is postponed until He comes back again the second time. Unless we recognize this dispensational teaching of the first and second comings of Jesus, the Bible remains a book of paradoxes and apparent contradictions.
The first coming of Jesus Christ ended the dispensation of the law, and introduced the dispensation of grace. The Second Coming of Christ will conclude the dispensation of grace, and bring in the dispensation of peace and righteousness, called the Kingdom and the Millennium. When we see this program of God we will be able to reconcile the announcement of “peace” by the angels, and the announcement of “war” by Jesus. Both pronouncements were made at the first coming of the Lord. Now it makes sense and there is no contradiction”.