Outline of the Gospel of Matthew - Part 2

The Bible Treasury, New Series

Volume 13 (1920)


There was literally another reason lying on the surface that required certain names to drop out, The Spirit of God was pleased to give, in each of the three divisions of the Messiah's genealogy, fourteen generations, as from Abraham down to David, from David to the captivity, and from the captivity to Christ. Now, it is evident, that if there were in fact more links in each chain of generation than these fourteen, all above that number must be omitted. Then, as we have just seen, the omission is not haphazard but made of special moral force. Thus, if there was a necessity because the Spirit of God limited Himself to a certain number of generations, there was also a divine reason, as there always is in the word of God, for the choice of the names which had to be omitted.

However this may be, we have in this chapter, besides the genealogical line, the person of the long-expected son of David; we have Him introduced precisely, officially, and fully as the Messiah; we have His deeper glory, not merely that which He took but who He was and is. He might be styled, as indeed He was, “the son of David, the son of Abraham,” but He was He is, He could not but be, Jehovah-Emmanuel. How all-important this was for a Jew to believe and confess, one need hardly stop to expound: it is enough to mention it by the way. Evidently Jewish unbelief, even where there was an acknowledgment of the Messiah, turned upon this, that the Jew looked upon the Messiah purely according to what He deigns to become as the great King. They saw not any deeper glory than His Messianic throne, not more than an offshoot, though no doubt one of extraordinary vigour, from the root of David. Here, at the very starting-point, the Holy Ghost points out the divine and eternal glory of Him who deigns to come as the Messiah. Surely, too, if Jehovah condescended to be Messiah, and in order to this to be born of the Virgin, there must be some most worthy aims infinitely deeper than the intention, however great, to sit upon the throne of David. Evidently, therefore, the simple perception of the glory of His person overturns all conclusions of Jewish unbelief, shews us that He whose glory was so bright must have a work commensurate with that glory; that He whose personal dignity was beyond all time and even thought, who thus stoops to enter the ranks of Israel as Son of David, must have had some ends in coming, and, above all, to die, suitable to such glory. All this, it is plain, was of the deepest possible moment for Israel to apprehend. It was precisely what the believing Israelite did learn; even as it was just the rock of offence on which unbelieving Israel fell and was dashed to pieces.

The next chapter shows us another characteristic fact in reference ‘to this Gospel; for if the aim of the first chapter was to give us proofs of the true glory and character of the Messiah, in contrast with mere Jewish limitation and unbelief about Him, the second chapter shows us what reception Messiah would find, in contrast with the wise men from the East, from Jerusalem, from the king and the people, and in the land of Israel. If His descent be as sure as the royal son of David, if His glory be above all human lineage, what was the place that He found, in fact, in His land and people? Indefeasible was His title: what were the circumstances that met Him when He was found at length in Israel? The answer is, from the very first He was the rejected Messiah. He was rejected, and most emphatically, by those whose responsibility it was most of all to receive Him. It was not the ignorant; it was not those that were besotted in gross habits; it was Jerusalem —it was the scribes and Pharisees. The people, too, were all moved at the very thought of Messiah’s birth.

What brought out the unbelief of Israel so distressingly was this—God would have a due testimony to such a Messiah; and if the Jews were unready, He would gather from the very ends of the earth some hearts to welcome Jesus— Jesus-Jehovah, the Messiah of Israel. Hence it is that Gentiles are seen coming forth from the East, led by the star which had a voice for their hearts. There had ever rested traditionally among Oriental nations, though not confined to them, the general bearing of Balaam’s prophecy, that a star should arise, a star connected with Jacob. I doubt not that God was pleased in His goodness to give a seal to that prophecy, after a literal sort, not to speak of its true symbolic force. In His condescending love, He would lead hearts that were prepared of Him to desire the Messiah, and come from the ends of the earth * to welcome Him. And so it was, They saw the star; they set forth to seek the Messiah’s kingdom. It was not that the star moved along the way; it roused them and set them going. They recognised the phenomenon as looking for the star of Jacob; they instinctively, I may say, certainly by the good hand of God, connected the two together. From their distant home they made for Jerusalem; for even the universal expectation of men at the time pointed to that city. But when they reached it, where were faithful souls awaiting the Messiah?- They found active minds— not a few that could tell them clearly where the Messiah was to be born: for this God made them dependent upon His word. When they came to Jerusalem, it was not any longer an outward sign to guide. They learnt the scriptures as to it. They learnt from those that cared neither for it nor for Him it concerned, but who, nevertheless, knew the letter more or less. On the road to Bethlehem, to their exceeding joy, the star reappears, confirming what they had received, till it rested over where the young child was, And there, in the presence of the father and the mother, they, Easterns though they were, and accustomed to no small homage, proved how truly they were guided of God; for neither father nor mother received the smallest part of their worship: all was reserved for Jesus—all poured out at the feet of the infant Messiah. Oh, what a withering refutation of the foolish men of the West! Oh, what a lesson, even from these dark Gentiles, to self-complacent Christendom in East or West! Spite of what men might look down upon in these proud days, their hearts in their simplicity were true, It was but for Jesus they came, it was on Jesus that their worship was spent; and so, spite of the parents being there, spite of what nature would prompt them to do, in sharing, at least, something of the worship on the father and mother with the Babe, they produced their treasures and worshipped the young child ‘alone.

This is the more remarkable, because in the Gospel of Luke we have another scene, where we see that same Jesus, truly an infant of days, in the hands of an aged one with far more divine intelligence than these Eastern sages could boast. Now we know what would have been the prompting of affection and of godly desires in the presence of a babe; but the aged Simeon never pretends to bless Him. Nothing would have been more simple and natural, had not that Babe differed from all others, had He not been what He was, and had Simeon not known who He was. But he did know it. He saw in Him the salvation of God; and so, though He could rejoice in God and bless God, though he could in another sense bless the parents, he never presumes so to bless the Babe. It was indeed the blessing that he had got from that Babe which enabled him to bless both God and his parents; but he blesses not the Babe even when he blesses the parents. It was God Himself, even the Son of the Highest, that was there, and his soul bowed before God. We have here, then, the Easterns worshipping the Babe, not the parents; and in the other case we have the blessed man of God blessing the parents, but not the Babe: a most striking token of the remarkable difference which the Holy Ghost had in view when inditing these histories of the Lord Jesus.

Further, to these Easterns intimation is given of God, and they returned another way, thus defeating the design of the treacherous heart and cruel head of the Edomite king, notwithstanding the slaughter of the innocents.

Next comes a remarkable prophecy of Christ, of which we must say a word—the prophecy of Hosea. Our Lord is carried outside the reach of the storm into Egypt. Such indeed was the history of His life; it was continual pain, one course of suffering and shame, There was no mere heroism in the Lord Jesus, but the very reverse. Nevertheless, it was God shrouding His majesty; it was God in the person of man, in the Child that takes the lowliest place in the haughty world, Therefore, we find no more a cloud that covers Him, no pillar of fire that shields Him. Apparently the most exposed, He bows before the storm, retires, carried by His parents into the ancient furnace of affliction for His people. Thus even from the very first our Lord Jesus, as a babe, tastes the hate of the world—what it is to be thoroughly humbled, even as a child. The prophecy, therefore, was accomplished, and in its deepest meaning, It was not merely Israel that God called out, but His Son out of Egypt; Here was the true Israel; Jesus was the genuine stock before God, He goes through, in His own person, Israel’s history. He goes into Egypt and is called out of it.

Returning, in due time, to the land of Israel at the death of him that reigned after Herod the Great, His parents are instructed, as we are told, and turn aside into the parts of Galilee. This is another important truth; for thus was to be fulfilled the word, not of one prophet, but of all— “That it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets, He shall be called a Nazarene.” It was the name of man’s scorn; for Nazareth was the most despised place in that despised land of Galilee. Such in the providence of God,, was the place for Jesus. This gave an accomplishment to the general voice of the prophets, who declared Him despised and rejected of men. So He was. It was true even of the place in which He lived, “that it might be fulfilled which “spoken by the prophets, He shall be called a Nazarene,”

We enter now upon the announcement of John the Baptist. The Spirit of God carries us over a long interval, and the voice of John is heard proclaiming, “Repent ye, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Here we have an expression which must not be passed over—all-important as it is for the understanding of the Gospel of Matthew. John the Baptist preached the nearness of this kingdom, in the wilderness of Judea. It was clearly gathered from the Old Testament prophecy, particularly from Daniel, that the God of heaven would set up a kingdom; and more than this, that the Son of man was the person to administer the kingdom, “And there was given him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all people, nations, and languages, should serve him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away; and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed.” Such was the kingdom of heaven. It was not a mere kingdom of the earth, neither was it in heaven, but it was heaven governing the earth for ever.

It would appear that in John the Baptist's preaching it, we have no ground for supposing that either he believed at this time, or that any other men till afterwards were led into the understanding of the form which it was to assume through Christ's rejection and going on high as now. This our Lord divulged more particularly in chap. xiii. of this Gospel. I understand, then, by this expression, what might be gathered justly from Old Testament prophecies; and that John, at’ this time, had no other thought but that the kingdom was about to be introduced according to expectations thus formed. They had long looked for the time when the earth should no longer be left to itself, but heaven should be the governing power; when the Son of man should control the earth; when the power of hell should be banished ‘from the world; when the earth should be put into association with the heavens, and the heavens, of course, therefore be changed, so as to govern the earth directly through the Son of man, who should be also King of restored Israel. This, substantially, I think, was in the mind of the Baptist.

But then, he proclaims repentance; not here in view of deeper things, as in the Gospel of Luke, but as a spiritual preparation for Messiah and the kingdom of heaven. That is, he calls man to ones his own ruin in view of the introduction of that kingdom. Accordingly, his own life was the witness of what he felt morally of Israel’s then state. He retires into the wilderness, and applies to himself the ancient words of Isaiah—“The voice of one crying in the wilderness.” The reality was coming: as for him, he was merely one to announce the advent of the King. All Jerusalem was moved, and multitudes were baptized by him in Jordan, This gives occasion to his stern sentence upon their condition in the sight of God.

But among the crowd of those who came to him was Jesus. Strange sight! He, even He, Emmanuel, Jehovah, if He took the place of Messiah, would take that place in lowliness on the earth. For all things were out of course; and He must prove by His whole life, as we shall find by-and-by He did, what the condition of His people was. But, indeed, it is but another step of the same infinite grace, and more than that, of the same moral judgment on Israel; but along with it the added and most sweet feature— His association with all in Israel who felt and owned their condition in the sight of God. It is what no saint can afford lightly to pass over; it is what, if a saint recognise not, he will understand the Scripture most imperfectly; nay, I believe he must grievously misunderstand the ways of God. But Jesus looked at those who came to the waters of Jordan, and saw their hearts touched, if ever so little, with a sense of their state before God; and His heart was truly with them. It is not now taking the people out of Israel, and bringing them into a position with Himself—that we shall find by and by; but it is the Saviour identifying Himself with the godly-feeling remnant. Wherever there was the least action of the Holy Spirit of God in grace in the hearts of Israel, He joined Himself. John was astonished; John the Baptist himself would have refused, but, “‘ Thus,” said the Saviour, “it becometh us ’—including, as I apprehend, John with Himself. “Thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness.”

It is not here a question of law; it was too late for this—ever a ruinous thing for the sinner. It was a question of another sort of righteousness. It might be the feeblest recognition of God and man; it might be but a remnant of Israelites; but, at least, they owned the truth about themselves; and Jesus was with them in owning the ruin fully, and felt it all. No need was in Himself —not a particle; but it is precisely when the heart is thus perfectly free, and infinitely above ruin, that it can most of all descend and take up what is of God in the hearts of any. So Jesus ever did, and did it thus publicly, joining Himself with whatever was excellent on the earth. He was baptized in Jordan—an act most inexplicable for those who then or now might hold to His glory without entering into His heart of grace. To what painful feelings it might give rise! Had He anything to confess? Without a single flaw of His own He bent down to confess what was in others; He owned in all its extent, in its reality as none else did, the state of Israel, before God and man; He joined Himself with those who felt it. But at once, as the answer to any and every unholy misapprehension that could be formed, heaven is opened and a twofold testimony is rendered to Jesus. The Father’s voice pronounces the Son’s relationship, and His own complacency. while the Holy Ghost anoints Him as man. Thus, in His full personality, God’s answer is given to alt who might otherwise have slighted either Himself or His baptism,

The Lord Jesus thence goes forth into another scene—the wilderness—to be tempted of the devil; and this, mark, now that He is thus publicly owned by the Father, and the Holy Ghost had descended on Him. It is indeed, I might say, when souls are thus blessed that Satan’s temptations are apt to come, Grace provokes the enemy. Only in a measure, of course, can we thus speak of any other than Jesus; but of Him, who was full of grace and truth, in whom, too the fulness of the Godhead dwelt—even so, of Him it was fully true. The principle, at least, applies in every case. He was led up of the Spirit into the wilderness, to be tried of the devil. The Holy Spirit has given the temptation to us in ‘Matthew, according to the order in which it occurred. But here, as elsewhere, the aim is dispensational, not historical, as far as intention ones, though really so in point of fact; and I apprehend, specially with this in view, that it is only at the last temptation our Lord says, “Get thee hence, Satan.” We shall see by and by why this disappears in the Gospel of Luke. There is thus the lesson of wisdom and patience even before the enemy; the excellent, matchless grace of patience in trial; for what more likely to exclude it than the apprehension that it was Satan all the while? But yet our Saviour was so perfect in it, that He never uttered the word “Satan” until the last daring, shameless effort to tempt Him to tender to the evil one the very worship of God Himself. Not till then does our Lord say, “Get thee hence, Satan.”

We shall dwell a little more upon the three temptations, if the Lord will, as to their intrinsic moral import, when we come to the consideration of Luke. I content myself now with giving what appears to me the true reason why the Spirit of God here adheres to the order of the facts, It ‘is well, however, to remark, that the departure ‘from such an order is precisely what indicates the |consummate hand of God, and for a simple reason.

To one who knew the facts in a human way, nothing would be more natural than to put them down just as they occurred. To depart from the historical order, more particularly when one had previously given them that order, is what never would have been thought of, unless there were some mighty preponderant reason in the mind of him who did so. But this is no uncommon thing. There are cases where an author necessarily departs from the mere order in which the facts took place. Supposing you are describing a certain character; you put together striking traits from the whole course of his life; you do not restrain yourself to the bare dates at which they occurred. If you were only chronicling the events of a year, you keep to the order in which they happened; but whenever you rise to the higher task of bringing out moral features, you may be frequently obliged to abandon the consecutive order of events as they occurred. |

It is precisely this reason that accounts for the change in Luke; who, as we shall find when we come to look at his Gospel more carefully, is especially the moralist. That is to say, Luke characteristically looks upon things in their springs as well as effects. It is not his province to regard the person of Christ peculiarly, i.e, His divine glory; neither does he occupy himself with the testimony or service of Jesus here below, of which we all know Mark is the exponent. Neither is it true, that the reason why Matthew occasionally gives the order of time, is because such is always his rule. On the contrary, there is no one of the Gospel writers who departs from that order, when his subject demands it, more freely than he, as I hope to prove to the satisfaction of those open to conviction, before we close. If this be so, assuredly there must be some key to these phenomena, some reason sufficient to explain why sometimes Matthew adheres to the order of events, why he departs from it elsewhere.

I believe the real state of the facts to be this:— first of all, God has been pleased, by one of the Evangelists (Mark), to give us the exact historical order of our Lord’s eventful ministry. This alone would have been very insufficient to set forth Christ. Hence, besides that order, which is the most elementary, however important in its own place, other presentations of His life were due, according to various spiritual grounds, as divine wisdom saw fit, and as even we are capable of appreciating in our measure. Accordingly, I think it was owing to special considerations of this sort that Matthew was led to reserve for us the great lesson, that our Lord had passed through the entire temptation—not only the forty days, but even that which crowned them at the close; and that only when an open blow was struck at the divine glory did His soul at once resent it with the words, “Get thee hence, Satan.” Luke, on the contrary, inasmuch as he, for perfectly good and divinely given reason, changes the order, necessarily omits these words. Of course, I do not deny that similar words appear in your common English Bibles (in Luke iv, 8); but no scholar needs to be informed that all such words are left out of the third Gospel by the best authorities, followed by almost every critic of note save the testy Matthaei, though scarce one of them seems to have understood the true reason why. Nevertheless, they are omitted by Catholics, Lutherans, and Calvinists; by High Church, and Low Church; by Evangelicals Tractarians, and Rationalists. It does not matter who they are, or what their system of thought may be: all those who go upon the ground of external testimony alone are obliged to leave out the words in Luke. Besides, there is the clearest and the strongest evidence internally for the omission of these words in Luke, contrary to the prejudices of the copyists, which thus furnishes a very cogent illustration of the action of the Holy Spirit in inspiration. The ground of omitting the words lies in the fact, that the last temptation occupies the second place in Luke. If the words be retained, Satan seems to hold his ground, and renew the temptation after the Lord had told him to retire. Again, it is evident that, as the text stands in the received Greek text and our common English Bible, “Get thee behind me, Satan,” is another mistake. In Matt. iv. 10, it is rightly, “Get thee hence.” Remember, I am not imputing a shade of error to the word of God. The mistake spoken of lies only in blundering scribes, critics, or translators, who have failed in doing justice to that particular place. “Get thee hence, Satan,” was the real language of the Lord to Satan, and is so given in closing the literally last temptation by Matthew.