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The Church of Christ According to The Gospel of Matthew [1]

  

 

1. Introduction

 

In the Gospel According to Matthew the author does not introduce himself. However, according to Irenaeus (ca. 130 - ca. 200) the author is the apostle Matthew, publishing the gospel when he was living among the Hebrews. [2] Whether Irenaeus is right or not, the gospel linked to Matthew's name seems at first hand to haven been written for the needs of a Christian community with a majority of Jewish members. The gospel enables them to go to their fellow Jews as well as to the Gentiles with the good news. I regard Matthew's Gospel as a handbook on Christian personal life and on Christian community life, a personal and congregational life manual. Each of the four gospels has its own characteristics. Mark may be a catechetic handbook to give the catechumenes a better knowledge of Jesus. The Gospel of Luke is linked with the Acts in a combination of the history of Jesus and the history of the early church, or Jesus' work until his ascension and Jesus' continued work through the Holy Spirit and through his apostles and disciples. John does not straight away repeat what the synoptics have told, but he will supplement and amplify the others.

One should not link the single gospel too much to one congregation, since the writings were distributed around in the church, what of course was the intention, but is has been argued that Antioch in Syria was the place of origin of the Gospel of Matthew. I personally favour this assumption. Paul was sent out in the world from the congregation in Antioch. In 1 Timothy 5,18 he quotes the Scripture:

""You shall not muzzle an ox while it treads out the grain," and, "The labourer is worthy of his wages."" [3]

Here the apostle first quotes Deuteronomy 25:4, and then what? You don't find the second quotation in the Old Testament. But you find it in Matt. 10:10 and Luke 10:7. [4] Paul quotes a synoptic word of Jesus as a word of the Holy Scripture! Paul may have known Matthew's gospel from Antioch already, and also Luke may have been regarded as a canonical writing.

 

2. Christ and His Mission

 

Though Matthew is a handbook on personal and congregational life, as a gospel it is of course a book about Jesus Christ. The opening verse i Matt. 1:1, gives us a perspective on the whole writing:

"The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham:"

As early as here the evangelist shows that the confession of faith is based on historical facts. The opening words call in mind God's promises to Abraham and to David and state that they are being fulfilled in Jesus, who is Christ, that is the anointed king and saviour in the last times, the Messiah.

But he is not only the son of David and the son of Abraham. And he says to the Pharisees: "How then does David in the Spirit call him 'Lord' [---]?" (Matt. 22:43) The implied answer is that he is the Son of God. And that is so to speak the first confession of the Christian faith, Matth. 16. The evangelist emphasizes it in the first chapter already. That which is conceived in Mary, is of the Holy Spirit, Matt. 1:20, and the child is the promised Immanuel, which is Hebrew for "With us is God", 1:23. And God declares after Jesus' baptism that he is his beloved Son, 3:17, as he also does by the transfiguration on the mount, 17:5.

And Immanuel is also the confession of Christ's people. Immanuel: "With us is God." It reflects the faith in Jesus Christ and in his promises. See in the middle of the gospel of Matthew 18:20: "For where two or three are gathered together in my name, I am there in the midst of them." And in the end of the gospel: "and look, I am with you always, even to the end of the age." (Matt. 28:20)

When I was a student of theology, I learned some very important things concerning the synoptic gospels which I maybe not had noticed before. One of them is that the gospels show how Jesus adopts or enters roles and functions which in the Old Testament belong to Yahweh. He is the almighty healer, the bridegroom of his church, the shepherd of his flock, he has the power to forgive sins, he speaks with the highest authority, he sends his disciples as God in Old Testament times sent his prophets ... He speaks and acts as Yahweh. [5]

And in the great commission in the end of Matt. 28 Jesus declares the unity of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. We are baptized in and we baptize in their one and common name, which in fact is Yahweh, and which the Septuagint and the New Testament render with o kurioV, the Lord. Therefore, the confession of Jesus as Lord, Romans 10:9, 1Cor. 12:3, Philippians 2:11, is equivalent with: Jesus is Yahweh. Yahweh is the name which is above every name, Phil. 2:9. Jesus, the Son of God by nature - not by adoption as we can be children of God - is a major theme through the gospel. It is not only in John Jesus calls himself the Son, and in Matt. not only in the last chapter, but also in 11:27.

The eternal blessing is the fellowship with the triune God. And that is the mission for which Christ came. Note these two central statements concerning Christ's work: "[H]e will save his people from their sins", Matt. 1:21, and: "He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire." Matt. 3:11. That is the way in which he creates the people of the new covenant and fulfills various prophecies of the Old Testament, such as in Isaiah, in Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Zechariah ...

 

3. The Building of the New Temple: The Church on the Rock

 

There is of course a lot of ways in which we can deal with the topic the Church of Christ According to Matthew. For example to go through the gospel from the beginning to the end and note different passages of specific ecclesiological importance and also look for material which we find in Matthew alone. We may also start with the three occurances of the greek word ekklhsia, namely in Matt. 16:18 and 18:17 (twice). Or we can look for a central ecclesiological motif, which in principle of course presupposes that we have gone through the entire gospel.

Now I would like to see the church in the gospel of Matthew from three different points of view. Ecclesiology corresponds to christology. Think of three words in Matt. 12, whichs states that Christ is greater than the temple (12:6), he is greater than the wise king Solomon (12:42), he is greater than Jonah (12:41). Christ is even greater than John the Baptist. So

1) his church is being built on him as its rock,

2) his disciples learn from him what righteousness means, and wisdom is proved right from her actions [6],

3) he not only preaches repentance, but he saves his people from their sins and baptizes with the Holy Spirit and fire. The kingdom of heaven is at hand.

I then suggest the concept of the new temple as the point of departure.

The temple in Jerusalem is in the old covenant the main place of God's presence of revelation in Israel. At the consecration of the first temple Solomon said, as we read in The First Book of the Kings 8:27-29:

"'But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Behold, heaven and the heaven of heavens cannot contain you. How much less this temple which I have built! Yet regard the prayer of your servant and his supplication, O Lord my God, and listen to the cry and the prayer which your servant is praying before you today: that your eyes may be open towards this temple night and day, towards the place of which you said: ' My name shall be there,' that you may hear the prayer which your servant makes towards this place.'"

"My name shall be there." Here you hear of God's name again. The blessing name, which Aaron and his sons should put on the children of Israel according to Numbers 6. That leads us to Ps. 118:26a:

"Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!"

The multitudes are crying that when Jesus arrives in Jerusalem, Matt. 21, and Jesus in a way takes over the temple, challenging the official Judaism and giving people a choice. He is greater than Solomon, the temple-builder, Matt. 12:42, indeed he is greater than the temple, Matt. 12:6. By saying "there is something here greater than the temple" (Greek: tou ierou meizon estin wde) Jesus is possibly not talking about himself alone as the new temple, but also of his disciples as the new temple. So we are being led to the metaphors of house, building and building materials. And then to Ps. 118:22-23:

"The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief corner-stone. This was the Lord's doing; it is marvellous in our eyes."

In my opinion this is a key word to the ecclesiology in the gospel of Matthew. Let us look closer at the topic.

The "ekklesia" is a spiritual house of living stones, a temple for God. Jesus says: "on this rock I will build my church", Matt. 16,18. "[M]y church" (!) That is to be understood from the point of view I already have mentioned, that Jesus speaks and acts as Yahweh.

Let us read the text Matt. 16:13-19.

 

[Reading Matt. 16:13-19]

 

You have parallells in Mark 8 and Luke 9, but the verses 17-19 has Matthew alone. In the region of Caesarea Philippi - today along the border between Syria and Lebanon - Jesus finds the calmness to talk with his disciples about who he is, and about his way through sufferings, death and resurrection. The disciples have witnessed his words and deeds. He asks them that important question: "who do you say that I am?" (V. 15) And Simon Peter answers for all of them: "You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God." (V. 16) It is an answer responding to the divine revelation: This has my Father revealed to you, Jesus states. And this statement corresponds with the declaration in Matt. 11.27:

"All things have been delivered to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father. Nor does anyone know the Father except the Son, and he to whom the Son wills to reveal him."

Just as Simon in Matt. 16:16 declares that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the living God, Jesus proclaims in verse 18 that Simon is Peter. According to John 1:42 Simon got this name, namely Cephas, already in his first meeting with Jesus (- you see that John supplement Matthew with a historical detail -), so I would say that Jesus now near Caesarea Philippi suggests the meaning of the name. The Greek Petros is a translation of the Aramaic Cephas (or Cepha), which means stone or rock. In Greek you have in verse 18 both the masculine Petros, as a name of Simon, and the feminine petra, denoting the rock on which Jesus will build his church, his "ekklesia". Though the nouns petros and petra could express the same thing, petros is strictly speaking a stone and petra is strictly speaking a rock. Living in the decadent Western Europe I don't want to say so many negative things about the Roman Catholic Church today when it often defends Biblical and Christian positions far more consistently than the Protestants do, at least in ethical issues. But even if one interprets petra, the rock, as Peter as a type, as a believer, a confessor and a preacher, this of course is no clue nor any basis for the Roman Catholic view that the primacy is inherited from Peter to the pope. [7] But I suppose we go the safe way and do the right thing when we distinguish between the person Peter and the rock on which the church is built. Jesus would probably not call the person to whom he talks for "this rock" instead of saying "you". But as Jesus in John 2:19 with "this temple" ("Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.") means the temple of his body, so he with "this rock" may mean himself. And that was a usual interpretation of Matt. 16:18 in the Old Church - for instance by Augustine - and in the Middle Ages.

It is not unusual in the Gospel of Matthew that a statement or an issue occurs twice. Then in Matt. 21:42 we have the motif again:

"Jesus said to them, "Did you never read in the Scriptures: 'The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief corner-stone. This was the Lord's doing, and it is marvellous in our eyes'?"

No doubt Jesus speaks about himself as the chief corner-stone. He relates the parable of the wicked vine-dressers, vine growers, who killed the son of the owner of the vineyard, to Psalm 118:22-23. The vineyard in the parable is the kingdom of God. It is to be taken from the wicked growners, that is the religious leaders of the Jewish people, verse 43:

"Therefore I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken from you and given to a nation bearing the fruits of it." Not entirely taken from Israel, but from the unbelieving, especially the unbelieving leaders. As you see in verse 45 the chief priests and Pharisees perceived that Jesus was speaking of them. And the stone has a double meaning. You know, it is quite a different thing to stand on a rock or to throw pottery on a rock. A falling stone or to fall on a stone is dangerous. A rock as a foundation or as a corner-stone means safety. The believing church of Christ is safe, Matt. 16, but those who reject Jesus, are condemned, as Matt. 21:44 clearly states.

And what does Peter say later? He states that Jesus is the stone which was rejected by the builders, but has become the chief corner-stone, Acts 4:11, and he combines that prophecy from Ps. 118 with the promise in Is. 28 of the stone for a foundation in Zion. Jesus Christ is a living stone (greek: liqoV), which is chosen by God and precious (1Pet. 2:4). With him as the chief corner-stone in Zion are the Christians being built up as living stones, as a spiritual house (cf. 1Pet. 2:5ff). For the disobedient ones the chief corner-stone has become a stone of stumbling and a rock of offence,  - and there we have the noun petra again: a rock of offence - Greek: petra skandalou. I think Peter understood that Jesus himself is the rock on which he build his church, and that he, Peter, had his place as a stone in the house being built. Like John the Baptist confessed: "I am not the Christ" (John 1:20), so Peter could have said: "I am not the rock." But a stone has the nature of a rock, and that reminds me of the peculiar mode of expression in 2Pet. 1:4 that we may be partakers of the divine nature.

Like Peter Paul also quotes the promise in Is. 28 of the stone in Zion, Rom. 9:33. And what else does Paul say about this? You remember the suggestion that he had learned about The Gospel According to Matthew in the congregation in Antioch. And he also calls Christ a rock (Greek: petra). Christ was the spiritual rock that followed our fathers in the wilderness, he states (you see the ancient Israel as the fathers of the church, in other words: you see the continuity between the people of the old and the new covenant), 1Cor. 10. And as if someone would claim that Paul or Apollos or Cephas were the foundation of the spiritual building, the apostle declares that "no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ", 1Cor. 3:11.

In Eastern tradition the rock in Matt. 16:18 has been interpreted as the faith that Peter confessed. However, the rock as Christ himself is of course to be seen in connection with the faith given by God, Matt. 16:17, and the confession that Peter on behalf of the apostles confessed, verse 16. "For with the heart one believes to righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made to salvation." (Rom. 10:10) The believing and confessing church, built on the rock, will never die. In Matt. 16:18 Hades is drawn as a fortress. When its gates close behind any one, then he is in the power of Hades. But the Lord, who, as David says, lifts him up from the gates of death (Ps. 9:13), can lift people up from the gates of Hades.

 

4. The New People of God: The Disciples of Christ

 

The church is the disciples of Christ. To be a Christian is discipleship. That is the second point of view in this brief study.

As I mentioned, I regard Matthew as a both personal life and congregational life manual, and therefore as a handbook on discipleship. Discipleship is a central issue in the gospel. The disciples are Jesus' spiritual family, cf. Matt. 12:49-50. The twelve apostles - corresponding to the twelve tribes of Israel, cf. Matt. 19:28 - form the inner circle of the disciples. The gospel of Matthew mentions the number of them several times [8], but calls them apostles only in 10:2. They are usually called disciples. It may be said that Matthew introduces the first disciples more as ear-witnesses to Jesus' teaching than as eyewitnesses to his miracles. Matthew emphasizes that they got an explanation and an understanding of Jesus' metaphors and parables and the mystery of salvation (cf. 16:12; 17:13 and chapter 13). The disciples are listening to the words of Jesus, and sooner or later they also understand the revealed redemption, which should be believed, and the will of the heavenly Father, which should be done.

Jesus commissions the eleven disciples to make all the nations disciples through baptism and to teach them to observe all things that he had commanded them, Matt. 28:18-20. The gospel presents Jesus as a teacher with the highest authority (cf. "I say to you" in the Sermon on the mount and "Hear him!" (17:5)). And the evangelist has preserved his instructions, not only in the Sermon on the mount (chapters 5-7), but many other places. [9] In the great commission Jesus makes his own teaching a model for the apostolic and Christian instruction. His everlasting words are binding. "Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will by no means pass away", he says, Matt. 24:35. The words of Jesus determine Christian doctrine, as you clearly see in Paul (cf. 1Cor. 7 concerning marriage and 11 concerning the Lord's Supper).

In the great commission in Matt. 28 we have the word maqhteuein (make disciples). [10] To be a Christian is to be a disciple. That seems to imply that the relation of the apostles to Jesus during his earthly life in many respects, in many ways, forms a model of the life as a Christian. The apostles became disciples of Christ through the call of the earthly Jesus. We come into the same relationship to him through the baptism. But in the gospel we read about the disciples before the day of the Pentecost. The baptism with the Holy Spirit - connected to the baptism with water - makes possible a righteousness that exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees (5:20), indeed the true fulfilment of the law.

It was not by observing all things Jesus has commanded, that we became his disciples. [11] The instruction in Matt. 28:19-20a contains three participles and one imperative. maqhteuein (here in aorist imperative) means to make disciples. [12] The second and the third participles, baptizonteV (baptizing) and didaskonteV (teaching), can scarcely be related to maqhteusate in the same way, namely as both / and. I have learned that we then probably would have some small words in Greek which we do not have here: kai / kai or perhaps te / kai. [13] Then we may presume that the last participle (teaching) is subordinated to the first (baptizing) or has another relationship to maqhteusate (make disciples). So it is naturally to understand the great commission to mean that a detailed instruction follows after the baptism, and that it is by baptizing following the fundamental preaching that the disciples win new disciples. [14] The discipleship, to which Jesus during his earthly life called individuals, is for all nations, and the baptism - following the preaching of the gospel (cf. Matt. 24:14) - is a gate to the discipleship. If it may be expressed in such a way in English, we may translate the following way:

"Go therefore and make all the nations disciples, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teach them to observe all things whatever I have commanded you".

The Sermon on the mount is a programme for the lives of the disciples in this world. It is spoken to the disciples in the presence of the people (Matt. 5:1-2; 7:28-29). Jesus separates false discipleship from true discipleship, he separates dead faith from living faith. [15] He who saves his people from their sins (1:21) and also baptizes with the Holy Spirit (3:11), he brings the true fulfilment of the law in his own life and in the lives of his disciples (cf. 5:17).

One should not overlook that Jesus according to Matthew not seldom denotes the true disciples as just or righteous (Greek: dikaioi), cf. 10:41; 13:43.49; 25:37.46. As the text in Matt. 25:31-46 about the judgement shows, the righteous ones do good works and thus show their faith. The Proverbs of Solomon teaches much about the differance between the righteous and the wicked, and now here is a greater than the wise king Solomon (Matt. 12:42).

The substantive righteousness (dikaiosunh) is a word which we must interpret from the context. In Matthew it is obvious that righteousness means more than one thing. It can be God's righteousness, and it can be men's righteousness. In the Pauline-Lutheran dogmatic tradition we are used to emphasize the righteousness through faith, the imputed righteousness, which means the remission of sins. And this righteousness is fundamental for the Christian existence. This imputed righteousness is a gift of God's saving righteousness, which Jesus talks about in Matt. 3:15; 5:6 and 6:33. But the gospel of Matthew like the epistle of James (which I think is pre-Pauline and not anti-Pauline) emphasizes the distinction between true discipleship and false discipleship demanding righteousness and good works in the lives of the believers, confer Matt. 5:20 and 6:1. In fact, those who practise lawlessness (touV poiountaV thn anomian), 13:41, will be gathered out of the kingdom at last.

This does not mean that a Christian has no sin. Day after day he has to pray: "forgive us our debts" (Matt. 6:12). Sunday after Sunday - which I think was the most common practice in the Early Church - he eats the body of Christ, given on the cross and in the Lord's Supper, and drinks the blood of Christ, shed on the cross and in the Lord's Supper for the remission of sins (cfr. Matt. 26:26-28).

The teaching of discipleship is theology of the cross. To be a disciple of Jesus, is to share his conditions, he who went the way through suffering and death to glory. "If anyone desires to come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me", he says (Matt. 16:24). We could also say that the theology of the cross is the true theology of the glory. The Sermont on the mount shows us the people of God, which are living stones in the new temple built on the rock. They are not wealthy in themselves, but in Jesus Christ. Bearing their cross, which means enduring adversities and suffering for Christ's sake, they seek the kingdom of God and his righteousness, they do the will of the heavenly Father following Christ's words and example. Though they feel the open or the latent hostility from the world, they are blessed, as the beatitudes in the beginning of the Sermon of the mount state. As the salt of the earth and the light of the world they are of vital importance. And Jesus says in Matt. 5:16 to his disciples, to his church:

"Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven."

 

5. The Church and the Kingdom of Heaven

 

We have looked at the church from the viewpoint of the new temple and of discipleship. The third point of view in this lecture is the church as the bridgehead of the kingdom of God.

As Jesus is the rock of the church, the Christians are living stones in the new temple. As Jesus is the great teacher, the Christians are his disciples. As Jesus brings the kingdom of God to men, the Christians are the children of the kingdom.

Jesus not only preach repentance, but he saves his people from their sins and baptizes with the Holy Spirit and fire. Thus he shapes the new people of God, the children of the kingdom, sowed in the world (cf. Matt. 13:38) as the light of the world (5:14). The kingdom of heaven is at hand because salvation and new life is at hand.

While the word "ekklesia" occurs only three times and in only two verses in the gospel, the kingdom of heaven is a term used many times in Matthew. The common message of John the Baptist, Jesus himself and his disciples is a message of the kingdom of heaven, Matt. 3:2; 4:17; 10.7. Matthew does not entirely avoid the term the kingdom of God (see for instance 21:43), so there must be a difference of meaning. The kingdom of God has it's origin in heaven and comes from heaven to earth.

What is the kingdom of God? The emphasis is on kingdom, not on dominance. It is the gospel, rather than the law, to speak dogmatically. The message of the kingdom is a gospel - Greek: euaggelion (cf. Matt. 24:14). That is another very important thing which I learned as a young student about four decades ago. [16] In the kingdom of heaven God does not primarily rule, no, primarily he gives. It is the kingdom where the blessing and gifts of salvation are to be sought and to be found. It is the kingdom where the forces of redemption are working.

In fact the parables of the treasure hidden in a field and the parable of the pearl (Matt. 13:44-46) - both of them are in Matthew alone - may be interpreted reciprocally. Who is the man who found the treasure and sold all that he had? Who is the merchant who found the pearl of so great value and sold all that he had? Is it the Christian? Or is it Christ himself? Do the treasure and the pearl mean the kingdom, that men find? Or do they mean men, that Christ finds? To sell all that one have, is it what the believer does in the conversion to Christ, or is it what Christ does when he gives his life for us? I mean, both interpretations are possible. Maybe both messages are implied in the parables, so thus you see the kingdom of God as a great story of love between Christ and his church.

With Jesus the kingdom of heaven is at hand - in the church, indeed to the end of the age, but not in its final form. We are all called to enter the kingdom, which is described as a spatial entity, as an area. Between the first coming of Christ and his coming in glory, the church is the bridgehead of the kingdom, though in this world the kingdom is partly hidden under the weakness and limitations of men. But it is not the same thing becoming a member of the church now and enter the kingdom of heaven at last. In several parables of the kingdom Jesus talked about the separation at the end of the age. That indicates that the church is a mixted community of true believers and hypocrites. All the disciples of Christ are members of the church, but the faithful only will enter the kingdom at the end of the age. Just to his disciples Jesus said in Matt. 18:3:

"Assuredly, I say to you, unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven."

Though the sinner is coming just as he is to Christ, and though he in principle is converted through faith and baptism, he is not determined to remain as he is. You remember, in the parable of the wedding celebration in Matt. 22 a man has come to the celebration without a wedding celebration garment. We may receive the invitation despite our filthy garments, but we have to change clothes before the wedding. Don't you see the parallell to the exhortations in Paul's letters?

 

6. Christ is the new covenant to Israel and the light to all the nations.

 

The "ekklesia", the church of Jesus, is the new people of God with Israelites and non-Israelites. The word ekklhsia (church or more precisely: congregation) is used in the gospels only in two places, namely Matt. 16:18 and 18:17. It's corresponding verb is ekkalein (call out), and the word implies the thought of being called together. The Septuagint uses ekklhsia as translation of Hebrew "qahal", which is the assembled people of Israel - or the act of getting together. The disciples, the church, is the people who gather together in Christ's name, Matt. 18:20. Though it is maybe not elaborated in Matthew, we must think of the "ekklesia" not only as the visible local congregation, Matt. 18:17, but as all the disciples of Christ, Matt. 28:19-20, and as the blessed people of the future sitting down with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, Matt. 8:11, confer 5:3ff. Or we might think of the eschatological Israel with the apostles sitting on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel, Matt. 19:28.

The church is not a new people in every meaning, but the legitimate continuation of the old covenant people. God, the Lord, says to the Messiah, his Servant, in Is. 42:6: "I will keep you and give you as a covenant to the people, as a light to the Gentiles". Jesus, the Messiah, is the new covenant to Israel and the light to all the nations. We have both these two motives in Matthew. "this is my blood of the covenant [or: the new covenant]", Matt. 26:28. This is strictly speaking a covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah as the Lord says in Jer. 31. But as the Lord says to the Messiah in Is. 49,6:

"It is too small a thing that you should be my Servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and to restore the preserved ones of Israel; I will also give you as a light to the Gentiles, that you should be my salvation to the ends of the earth."

"I am the light of the world", Jesus declares in John 8:12. But just what he there says about himself, he says about his disciples in Matt. 5:14: "You are the light of the world." Yes, he is with his disciples always, and the light meaning salvation, life and righteousness is present in his church. Paul could therefore refer the prophecy in Is. 49:6 to the apostolic messengers in Acts 13:47:

"For so the Lord has commanded us: 'I have set you to be a light to the Gentiles, that you should be for salvation to the ends of the earth.'"

 

7. The Gospel of Matthew as a Personal Christian Life Manual

 

When we discussed the stone metaphor, we looked at Matt. 21:42-44. From those who reject the chief corner-stone, the kingdom of God would be taken, and it would be given to a nation bearing the fruits of it. That nation, the people of the new covenant, need a handbook on their individual living, a manual helping them to do the will of the heavenly Father and to enter the kingdom. And as you know, I regard the gospel of Matthew as such a handbook. Do you see a metaphoric link not only between Matt. 16 and Matt. 21, but also between these texts and the Sermon on the mount? What about the end of the sermon? Matt. 7:24-27:

"Therefore whoever hears these sayings of mine, and does them, I will liken him to a wise man who built his house on the rock: and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it did not fall, for it was founded on the rock [Greek: epi thn petran]. Now everyone who hears these sayings of mine, and does not do them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand: and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it fell. And great was its fall."

 

8. The Gospel of Matthew as a Congregational Life Manual

 

In many ways the gospel of Matthew can be seen also as a congregational life manual. (We might broaden this to include a Christian mission manual. However, mission should also be seen as integrated in the personal and congregational life.) But this challenges us to make up our minds about a debated question in the interpretation of the gospel of Matthew. Does Jesus in this gospel address his twelve disciples in their own historical situation, or do the disciples rather represent the church at the time when the gospel was written? I believe that we have to realize that for the evangelist the words and speeches of Jesus which he reports, are parts of his narrative, in other words: The evangelist testifies that Jesus has said this during his earthly life including words after the resurrection, but before the ascension. But on the other side, I am convinced, not only that the evangelist had in mind the church at the time when the gospel was written, but also that Jesus himself had in mind the church in later times. So the relevance of the instructions in chapter 10, for example, goes far beyond the situation of that time. After all the evangelist is more interested in the lasting validity of the Lord's instructions than in historical reporting. He does not even tell about the apostles going out and returning (which Mark and Luke tell us about). You see, in many ways Jesus' instructions for the apostles are of immediate importance for later generations.

Compared with Luke and the Acts [17] Matthew seems less interested in the apostles as apostles [18] and more interested in them as disciples. "[-] do not be called 'Rabbi"; for one is your Teacher, the Christ, and you are all brethren." "[-] do not be called teachers; for one is your Teacher, the Christ." (Matt. 23:8.10) They have no authority in themselves, but only in Christ and in the Holy Spirit. Therefore, preserving Jesus' words spoken in the past is essential for the church as it was for the apostles. I think Matthew emphasizes that point in a special way.

So, how does the gospel of Matthew answer the question of ecclesiastical authority? Not in the Roman Catholic way. Matthew does not talk about any apostolic succession nor about any growing doctrinal tradition. He does not answer the question in a spiritualizing way either. Matthew does not talk about new relevations concerning faith and ethics. Neither does he answer the question in a liberal evolutionary way. Nobody has the authority to define Christian doctrine anew in a new era. The ecclesiastical authority is bound to the everlasting word of Christ, which he impressed upon his disciples, and which his disciples are commissioned to teach all nations, even teach them to observe all things that he has commanded.

Just as Jesus gives instructions of mission, baptism and teaching, so he also teaches about prayer and church discipline and institutes the holy communion. Much could be said about these themes and also about the childrens position in the church, about charity and so on. But let us now take a closer look at church discipline, in connection with which the word "ekklesia" also occurs.

Then we go back to Matt. 16.

To Peter, but also to all the apostles and the church Jesus gives the keys of the kingdom of heaven, the kingdom of redemption, which has come with Jesus from heaven to earth. And the keys to the kingdom fit both on earth and in heaven. As a steward in the church of Christ Peter should receive these keys, Matt. 16:19. However, though Peter was a spokesman among the apostles, which is obvious in the first part of the Acts, the whole college of apostles were partakers of the power of the keys, as Matt. 18:18 clearly states. [19] Confer also John 20:22-23. In Matt. 16 Jesus talks on the very background that Peter recognized and confessed Jesus to be the Messiah, the Son of God. In John 20 the disciples are called to receive the Holy Spirit. The church which has received the keys of the kingdom of heaven, has also received the Holy Spirit and is committed to preach both the law and the gospel - with love, wisdom and discretion - so that the ungodly ones are arrested and those who repent, are being comforted. This is an authority which accompanies the gospel. And what else is the power of the keys than the authority which the servants of God's word have to keep the heaven closed and the hell open to those who will not repent, and also to keep the hell closed and the heaven open to those who regret and believe? This takes place by preaching God's law and God's gospel in a true way. It concerns not only church discipline, excommunication and private absolution (which may be called a special form of the preaching of the gospel). It concerns the whole administration of the word and the sacraments. So says Jesus in Luke 24,47: "[-] that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name to all nations, [---]". (I notice that Luke 24,47 is a key word for the reformer Melanchthon.)

We have mentioned two links between the text in Matt. 16 and Matt. 18:15ff. They are the only texts in the gospels where we find the word "ekklesia", and both texts speak of the power of the keys or of binding and loosing. In the Son of Man God has given such power to men, confer Matt. 9:6-8.

Church discipline is a rescue action. On the one hand one should not judge one's brother (Matt. 7:1-2) and not risk uprooting the wheat with the weeds (13:29). On the other hand the sincere church discipline is a good thing. But it has to be attended by people who sweep before their own door, as they say in my country. "First remove the plank from your own eye," Jesus says, "and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye." (Matt. 7:5)

I read Matt. 18:15-20.

 

[Reading Matt. 18:15-20]

 

It is not quite certain whether the original reading in Matt. 18:15 has "if your brother sins" or "if your brother sins against you". After all it is a common responsibility for the congregation to intervene, but I think that one who has been directly offended or is being aware of another's sin, has a particular responsibility. If the sinner is convinced on two man's hand, he is won back, and the brotherhood is restored. If you don't succeed, you have to try again with one or two others. If the sinner maintains his sin, then two or three are witnesses to this fact. We may also think of them as witnesses of what the divine law says. As a rescue squad they seek the sinner.

Two or three witnesses is a biblical principle. Confer Dt 17:6; 19:15; John 8:17; 2Cor. 13:1 and not at least 1Tim. 5:19: "Do not receive an accusation against an elder except from two or three witnesses." [20] Jesus gives his church a legal structure. The individual has a legal protection of his participation in the sacramental life of the congregation. Nobody has a right to excommunicate anyone on the basis of unconfirmed rumours or a one-sided account of the case from an individual who claims to be injured.

Now, if the sinner in question refuses to hear the new witnesses, the case has to be taken out of the private room of spritual care and put into the public room of the congregation. Tell it to the church, the "ekklesia", probably means that you inform the congregation about the facts and the attempts to win the person back. One more attempt is then to be done. The individual in question has to realize that he is in conflict with the congregation as a whole and as a representative of the church of Jesus Christ in heaven and on earth. And if the sinner refuses even to hear the church, which teaches and warns him, it is to be taken as a sign that he no longer belongs to the church, but has excluded himself from the people of God. If he will not repent, he must be regarded like a heathen and a tax collector, Jesus determines. At the stage of excommunication the church discipline in the New Testament in a way corresponds to the death penalty in the Old Testament, but there is a possibility of reconciliation with the church. After all the gospel is for tax collectors and sinners who come to Jesus, cfr. Matt. 9:9ff.

You see that the church of Christ is both a cultic and in a way a legal assembly. Church discipline is both a rescue operation for the individual who has fallen in transgression, and a protection of the integrity of the church. [21] And practising church discipline belongs together with prayer. See verse 19. The way to the heart of the sinner goes through God. The unanimous prayer, the prayer with one accord, has a promise of being heard. "For where two or three are gathered together in my name, I am there in the midst of them", Jesus says in verse 20. There you have the Immanuel motif. Jesus is God, and he is with his disciples. They are his church, which he both builds and is in the midst of. This seems to be a counterpart to a Jewish rabbinic conviction of the precense of the glory of God while two men sit together and the words of the law are in the midst of them. [22]

 

9. The Relationship between the Church According to Matthew and Lutheran Ecclesiology

 

The famous 7th article of the Augsburg Confession describes the one holy church as "the congregation of the saints, in which the Gospel is purely taught and the sacraments are rightly administered". Is this definition in harmony with the gospel of Matthew? Indeed, Jesus warns against the false prophets and against deceit, against being led astray. Guarding the biblical doctrine is of vital importance. Jesus institutes the sacraments. They should be administered according to his will. And no doubt the people of God in the new covenant as in the old is a holy nation (cfr. Ex 19:6). But Matthew also describes the saints as disciples keeping Christ's commands, suffering with him, that they may be glorified with him. As you may know, Luther can extend the tokens, the marks, of the church (notae ecclesiae) with for example the power of the keys, the prayer and the cross, which brings the ecclesiology closer to that of the gospel of Matthew. And also in one of the forerunners of the Augsburg Confession, namely the Schwabach Articles from 1529, I think we have a description of the church more directly in connection with that of the gospels. Therefore I finish by quoting the 12th Schwabach Article:

"[-] there is no doubt that there is and remains on earth one holy Christian church, until the end of the world. As Christ says in the last chapter of Matthew: "Look, I am with you until the end of the world." This church is nothing other than believers in Christ, those who hold to the articles and parts mentioned above and who believe and teach them and who are persecuted and martyred in the world because of this. For where the Gospel is preached and the sacrament rightly used, there is the holy Christian church. And it is not bound by laws and external pomp to places and times, to persons and ceremonies."

 

 

 

Notes

 

[1] Somewhat shortened given as a lecture at Mekane Yesus Theological Seminary, Addis Ababa, 26 February, AD 2007.

[2] Ireneus: Adv. haer. III,1

[3] My quotations from the Bible mostly follow The New King James Version.

[4] Cf. also 1Cor. 9:14

[5] Cf. Sverre Aalen: "Jesu kristologiske selvbevissthet. Et utkast til "jahvistisk kristologi"", TTK 1969, p. 1ff (or "Guds Sønn og Guds rike", Oslo/Bergen/Tromsø, 1973, p. 271ff)

[6] Cf. Matt. 11.19b

[7] Cf. "Den katolske kirkes katekisme" (1992; Norwegian translation 1994) 881: "Herren gjorde Simon, ham Han gav navnet Peter, alene til sin Kirkes klippe. [---] Peters og de andre apostlenes hyrdeoppdrag hører med til Kirkens grunnvoll. Det føres videre av biskopene under pavens primat."

[8] Matt. 28:16 has even the expression "the eleven disciples" (the twelve without Judas Iscariot).

[9] It is not only instructions about our relationship to our neighbours, but it is also teaching about our relationship to God and about the life in the church.

[10] The other occurances of this verb in the NT are in Matt. 13:52; 27:57; Acts 14:21.

[11] threin and eneteilamhn - compare entolh (commandment) - show that the teaching is related to the law (cf. the Lutheran doctrine of the third function of the law).

[12] Cf. 27:27; Acts 14:21; but in Matt. 13:52 it probably means to teach.

[13] Greek combines co-ordinated participles by kai or te ... kai or de. (J. Lindblom 1919)

[14] Cf. D. A. Frøvig: "Kommentar til Mattæus-evangeliet med innledning", Oslo 1934, p. 670: “hvis det hadde vært meningen at dåpen skulde komme efterat man var blitt disippel, måtte der stått maqhteusanteV baptizete.”

[15] Cf. Erling Utnem in "Fast Grunn" 1960

[16] Cf. Sverre Aalen: The kingdom of God "betecknar fulländningstillståndet, eller det tillstånd och område där frälsningsgåvorna är närvarande och emottagna." ("Guds kungavälde eller Guds rike?" (from SEÅ 1965) in: "Guds Sønn og Guds rike", Oslo/Bergen/Tromsø, 1973, p. 151ff, quotation from p. 152)

[17] Cf. Luke 6:13; 22:14; 24.10; Acts 1:2.25f; 2:42; 5:12; 6:6; 8.14ff

[18] A word which the Gospel of Matthew uses only in 10:2, as mentioned above.

[19] Peter and the disciples are to a certain extent interchangeable, which a comparison between Matt. and Mark shows, cf. Matt. 5:15 / Mark 7:17; Matt. 21:20 / Mark. 11:21.

[20] Cf. George W. Knight III:  "The Pastoral Epistles", Grand Rapids, Michigan 1992 p. 239: "the handling of accusations must be guided by the objective criteria of two or three witnesses, those who commit sin must receive a public rebuke, and all must be done without prejudgment or partiality."

[21] The others have to fear God, cf. 1Tim. 5:19f; Dt 13:11.

[22] In Mishnah (Abot III,2) - referring to Mal. 3:16 - one read, "if two sit together and words of the Law (are spoken) between them, the Divine Presence rests between them" (quoted after Leon Morris: "The Gospel according to Matthew", Grand Rapids, Michigan / Leicester, England 1992, p. 470f).

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