The presenting of God’s grace in the Person of the Lord, in the Gospel of Matthew, brings before us in a very striking way, how the blessed Lord took our place, and was a pattern of ours in the relationship into which He has brought us by redemption, whether of blessing or conflict, only overcoming for us. Many, many passages shew His grace in it, but in this He takes the place itself. I refer to the end of Matthew 3 and beginning of Matthew 4. The law and the prophets were till John. Then the kingdom of heaven, as presently coming in, was announced. There was repentance for the people, but a new thing to be set up. The first step in good was receiving the testimony and coming to that repentance; and their hearts, touched by grace, go.
The gracious Lord could not let His people take one step alone. He goes to be baptized by John. He, I need not say, needed no such baptism. So John receives Him: “I have need to be baptized of thee, and comest thou to me? “The Lord answers, “Suffer it to be so now; for thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness. Then he suffered him.” In Him it was fulfilling righteousness. Still He takes the lowly place. You, John, have your part to do, I mine. “Us “is not, I believe, a plural of dignity, though it is not of much moment; it refers to John as to Jesus: compare chapter 17:26, 27, a beautiful example of the same grace, only there He shines out as a divine Person. The Lord does not identify Himself with rebellious and perverse Israel, but with the path of God, and those who were walking in it, but He makes Himself one of them when they had taken it. The word of God entered into the ear, and led the heart of His perfect servant as fulfilling all righteousness; the blessed Son of God. He has now taken His place amongst the godly and upright though feeble sons of men, the remnant according to the election of grace in Israel. His person and personal perfectness was there, but among them according to the will of God; and He gives us the pattern and model of that into which we are introduced by redemption according to the counsels of God. When He comes up out of the water, having taken this place, He stood according to the perfect will of God as man before Him. Here heaven must respond. Lo, the heavens were opened to Him, and He saw the Holy Ghost descending upon Him.
Heaven may have been opened in glorious visions of the judicial throne or the like, but never before had there been an object upon earth to which they could be opened. Divine favour might rest on Abraham, and God visit him in grace, and Enoch who walked with God find a lonely way (once indeed though in a different form followed by Elijah) into heaven; but never were the heavens opened before to man upon the earth: now they were. Further, this blessed man was sealed38 and anointed39 with the Holy Ghost and with power. Thirdly, the Father owns Him, a man, as His beloved Son. Now this is all our place, of which He is here the type and pattern. Heaven is open to us, the veil rent from top to bottom, the way into the holiest open. We are sealed and anointed with the Holy Ghost, and the Father owns us as sons, loved even as Jesus is loved: only we of course have it through redemption and faith in Him; He was in it personally. But He gives us the full and blessed pattern of the place in which we stand. Our connection with Him in it, and His own taking it, its being His place, is not its least blessed feature.
Nor is this all. Here, in the Lord’s taking this human place yet of full acceptance, the Trinity is first fully revealed. We find indeed remarkable intimations of it in the Old Testament, for the Son in Psalm 2 is Jehovah; people are to trust in Him; and the Spirit, I need not say, is continually mentioned. But it cannot be said it was clearly revealed. That was the effect of Christianity when the Son and the Spirit had come, and the Father was fully revealed in Him, and to us made sons. And in connection with His person it is so here. The Son was there as man, the Holy Ghost came upon Him, and the Father’s voice came from heaven to own Him Son. What a wonderful connection for us to see Him identified with us, or rather ourselves with Him, and that in this place, He being Son, the whole Trinity comes out revealed, and in that He is a man. Take, as an example of the effect, 1 John 2:28, 29; 3:1-3; where the Godhead and manhood are spoken of in one sentence of the same person, only taking up each side as suited; but we are so identified with Him that, though glory be not revealed, this much is certain as to it, that when He shall appear we shall be like Him. Is not this a wonderful connection? If He was Jehovah’s delight, rejoicing always before Him, His delight was in the sons of men.
Many such cases, and even reasonings from it, may be found in scripture. However, such is the Son’s place as man, the model place for us. It is a blessed thought, and how precious becomes His love. Still remark how the person of the Lord is maintained in its glory. Heaven is opened to us as to Him; but when it is opened, is there any object on which His eye is fixed to give heaven its character to Him, and form Him after it as in Stephen, and to saints in their measure of faith? If heaven is opened, He is the object of it. It looks at Him, seals Him, owns Him here. He could not be on earth without heaven being opened on Him, the supreme object of every thought there. This we continually see. On the Mount of transfiguration Moses and Elias are in the same glory as Christ, and confer familiarly with Him of what was first in the counsels of God; but the moment Peter would put them on a level in some sort with the Lord, they disappear, and the Father’s voice owns Him as the Son, His Son who was to be heard; and Jesus was found alone. So ever. Here then, the Lord having associated Himself with His people, we have the place into which He has brought them, Himself the model of it. It is His place. He is now gone to His Father, and our Father, His God, and our God.
But the blessed and gracious Lord has fully entered into our case, the place of His people, and He now takes that in which they are in conflict with Satan, as well as that in which they are in relationship with God. Thus anointed as man, He was led up of the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil. Many things here suggest themselves to the mind: the difference of the position of Adam and Eve, when they were tempted; the difference of the character of the forty days during which Moses and Elias were estranged, so to speak, from the common lot of humanity; but I confine myself here to the great fact of the temptation, and the Lord’s undergoing it, as the other side of our position from our relationship in Him with God. Only remark that the temptation follows this. That is fully established, and it is as anointed therein of the Holy Ghost that He enters into it. The tempter comes to Him. The point of His temptation was to lead Him out of the place He had taken as man, and first out of that of obedience, or of a servant, His perfect place as man. If Thou be the Son of God, use your authority, speak so that these stones become bread. In a word, do an act of your own will, since you are nothing less than Son of God. But the blessed Lord holds fast to the simple place of obedience, of the servant, of man, but perfect Man.
But several things are to be noted here. First, He has no need to go farther than His own duty, no long controversy or reasoning with Satan. The latter comes with wile; but deceit has no place in simple duty, and the Lord, as a servant, occupies Himself with that, and it is enough. Next, God’s will is His motive for acting, not merely His rule. That of course it was, but His motive also: an important principle. It is not selfwill arrested by a rule even cheerfully submitted to. The obedience of Christ has the will of God for the source of His actions. Thirdly, the word of God, the scriptures, are the adequate, complete, and sufficient expression of this for man. He quotes a text and that is all. But that is all God’s will expressed for man. Man lives by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.
Wondrous expression! It is divine, absolutely so in its source and character, out of God’s mouth, but perfectly adapted for man to live by. There is nothing like that; only Christ is the living expression of it—the Word made flesh. Man may talk very high about it, as the foolish slave of the enemy, deceived by him; but a single text is enough for Him who is the Wisdom of God, the Lord, and enough for Satan, so that he has no reply. It gave Christ His place as man, and with that Satan could do nothing. He betrayed himself and his weakness if he suggested anything contrary to it. Scripture is enough for the Lord Himself, for man here below, and for the devil. It comes from the mouth of God and man lives by it. Christ guarantees this to us.
And note the occasion. Be it so, He could not fail; but He went through the trial. All depended on His victory. If the second Man had failed for man, there was no hope; but a text is sufficient: by it He gains an absolute victory. There was no reply to it. On the authority, truth, sufficiency, and suitableness of scripture, the victory on which all hope for man depended was founded and won. The last Adam had prevailed, and prevailed by it; Satan succumbed, and succumbed to it: only it was justly used by the Holy Ghost. No will was elicited by the temptation; obedience was, and its true character and power shewn.
Next, the enemy would draw Him out of confidence in God and therein too, out of the true path of obedience, for it would have been Christ’s own will and act. Cast thyself down. He has promised to keep you: try and see if He will be as good as His word. Perfect confidence had no need to try, no will to exercise. Again, the word is quoted: “Thou shalt not tempt Jehovah thy God.” Exodus 17:7 gives us the true force of the expression, often used as a meaning pretty nearly the opposite to the true. We have need of perfect confidence to obey and to await the Lord’s time. Anticipating the Lord’s time is one proof of want of confidence and want of obedience. See the case of Saul waiting for Samuel. His confidence fails and his will works, and all is lost, though he thought to shew faith and service to God. Obedience and dependence, for which confidence in God is needed, were now fully manifested, and Satan had nothing to do but to shew himself, and then the case is simple: he is Satan and may go. For “resist the devil and he will flee from you.” The Lord has destroyed his force, has bound the strong man. The first two cases are wiles. And then, abiding in the simple place of obedience according to the word, waiting for God’s will, obedience to the word, and confidence in what is said that God will accomplish it, entirely frustrate every attempt of Satan. He may seek to lead us openly from God by the word, but it is owning the power of it. The word of God is absolute as to that. It is still “It is written,” but it is not now simply obedience, but openly affiance to God, and all is simple; and if the heart be right, Satan, revealed as such, dismissed. Angels are the ministering servants of the obedient Son of man; so for us, as scripture shews; Heb. 1.
The way in which the Lord met the enemy is exceedingly instructive; but that to which I desired especially to draw the attention of your readers was the blessed way in which the Lord took our place, put Himself in it, a model and a pattern of ours for its simple but highest privileges, and in the combat which belongs to it, in which we are, and there, in the lowliness and perfectness of a servant’s place, has shewn us to our path too. But in both He really was, and the combat now over as to the relationship and blessing, He is only in glory, but as man, and has brought us into it by redemption and grace. I know no more blessed picture of our connection with the Lord, the man of God’s counsels, and that because we see Him in it alone in His own perfectness.
In what follows the temptation, we have the sum of all the Lord’s ministry; not His discussions at Jerusalem, which have another character and are chiefly in John, in the midst of a condemned people, but amongst the poor of the flock, spoiling the goods of him whom He had overcome. The rejection of John was His rejection, the close of John’s ministry the beginning of His own, and leaving Judaea He seeks the poor of the flock, where prophecy had already declared that the light should spring up. He was carrying on the testimony begun by prophets, and more immediately before by John the baptist, himself a testimony not to what was, but what was to come. His person, Jehovah in grace, in their midst, was the great testimony: but His ministry followed in the train of those who had gone before, only announcing the near approach of the kingdom and calling to repentance, because the kingdom of heaven was at hand. It is the same testimony as that of John Baptist, not owning the title of the people to have the kingdom as the people of iniquity (compare Isaiah 48:2; 57:21), but calling to repentance, separating morally those who had ears to hear, and on the ground that the kingdom of heaven was close at hand. But there is necessarily this difference between John the baptist and the Lord, that, though they may have surrounded him as a teacher, John pointed to another, while the Lord—and great grace it was—gathered round Himself: proof that a divine Person was there: such alone had title to do it. They leave all and follow Him. He is a commanding and binding power of attraction. The whole of His general ministry is summed up in verse 23. This single verse embraces characteristically His whole ministry. The two following state the effect: His fame spread through the country, so that sick were brought to Him, and He was followed by multitudes from all parts.
The history of His ministry is here complete, multitudes surrounding Him, which gave occasion to His taking His disciples apart to a mountain (though it appears the multitude followed so as to hear what He said), and teach them what were the real principles of the kingdom which was going to be set up. Such is the sermon on the Mount. The first sixteen verses give the whole positive statement of the character and position of those who belong to it in truth, or rather to whom it belongs. It is taken, remark, in its whole extent. First, the general character of those to whom it belongs, the poor in spirit, not the haughty of this world, but those who mourn in the midst of evil. It is a characteristic of grace when evil is in the place of righteousness. Peace-making characterises God. It is striking how peace is associated with God and His work. He is the God of peace. Peace on the earth is announced with Christ: He has made peace. “Peace be with you” was His twice repeated word. The fruits of righteousness are sown in peace. Pure in heart comes no doubt first, as elsewhere: first pure, then peaceable. Pure in Himself, He is at peace, and so makes it in grace. When we are pure in heart, the Spirit of peace seeks it in others.
In the fourth verse we see that the promises of the kingdom rise to its highest privileges. The moral character looked for in those who were to have part in the kingdom having been stated, rising to its highest privileges and activity in grace, the consequences in a world of evil, till it was set up in power, are then pointed out; persecutions for righteousness and persecutions for Christ’s name. The former shewed the kingdom of heaven theirs, the latter pointed to reward in heaven itself. Thus, while verse 5 assures the meek of the earthly portion, this points to the possessions of the reward in heaven itself. Their position in the world is then stated, the salt of the earth and the light of the world—what is in contrast with and so far hinders the corruption of that in which it is, and the testimony of God’s light to those in darkness in the world around.
We have thus the character fitted for the kingdom of heaven; its earthly and heavenly portion, but its carrying out in a state of things adverse to it, persecution, corruption, and darkness— only that which was of God in it. What follows is the relationship it bears to what had subsisted up to then, and the contrast with the workings of the human heart, which may put on the form of good, or render external service to God, but not have purity within, nor God for its motive in everything; which can listen to the words of God, but not build its house in obedience to them. The law is not referred to, save in the declaration that it and the prophets must all be fulfilled. It is not obedience, but fulfilling, every jot and tittle of it accomplished. What preceded was fully confirmed, but in the person of the Lord a new thing brought in. The lusts and unsubdued movements of the human heart are wholly disallowed. The Father’s name is introduced, Christ declares His name, a very important element. The kingdom to be desired by the disciples was the Father’s kingdom, though He, as to the present condition, be seen in heaven, while they were on earth. But love according to His ways was to be exercised, goodness without motive save in itself. They were there to serve, not to judge, but with insolent evil not to misapply their blessings. It was a strait gate and a narrow way, and few would go in at it. False prophets, for Satan would have every hindrance, would be known by their fruits. The true character and condition of the children of the kingdom, the Father’s name, and the contrast of this new place in holiness, grace, and obedience, with what had gone before, while sanctioning fully what God had given previously, the law and the prophets, which must all be fulfilled. Thus the true character of the ministry of Jesus the Lord, in grace and power, and in its bearing and character in Israel, is fully given from chapter 4:12 to the end of chapter 7. Now begin the details of His personal presentation in Israel, so that what should have acted on the hearts and minds of those He walked amongst is fully set before us, ending in His rejection by and through that, for the time, of Israel, and the substitution of the church and kingdom-Let us then now follow the blessed character of the Lord thus revealed, Emmanuel in the midst of His people. A leper comes to Him on His descent from the mountain, accompanied by the multitudes. None but Jehovah cleansed the leper, but Jehovah was there. The leper, while doing homage to the Lord and owning His power to heal of which abundant proof had been given, was not quite assured of His good will and readiness to do it. “If thou wilt, thou canst make me clean.” But the Man of grace was there. Jesus put forth His hand and touched him. He is come to the sorrows and wretchedness of man—a man with them. One not to be contaminated, but in grace come to those who were; not driven away by the corruption and evil, but come to man when in them, touching him as man to relieve and help, yet Jehovah. Wondrous truth! “I will,” who can say it, or say it with right or with effect? God. Why should He say it, when sin, and misery, and defilement were there to produce repugnance? Perfect grace— the grace man’s heart was no way sure of—was there; divine goodness touching man as man, with the will to heal, but in power, man in his defilement, but to remove it from him: such was Jesus, Himself undefined.
We can hardly have a more wondrous picture or presentation of His coming to the earth, Jehovah-Man, touching man in grace, power, and^ove, good-will to heal in grace, and present there with man. Grace is there—a word heals—the work of Jehovah, but Man touching, laying His hand on man. At the same time the Lord, while giving this proof of His divine presence, recognises the Jewish economy as still subsisting. The cleansed leper was to go to the priest and offer his offering for a testimony. In accepting it, they owned he was healed, they owned that Jehovah was there—Jehovah there in grace, but still owning Israel as to its standing. But this divine grace manifested in Israel, being divine, could not limit itself to Israel. A Gentile—owning far more fully, as not shut up in Jewish thoughts, the divine power that was in exercise, that the Lord could dispose of all things, as he sent his soldiers hither and thither—looks for mercy for his servant, but, with a faith which, as ever when it realises the divine presence, produced true lowliness of heart, counts himself unworthy that Jesus should come under his roof. A word from the Lord, ready as He was to go to him, sufficed, and the word was spoken. Such faith had not been found in Israel. It is for the Lord the occasion to declare that many from all parts, Gentiles, shall come and enjoy the promises with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; and the children of the kingdom, its natural heirs, Israel, would be cast out into outer darkness. Faith and the person of the Lord take the place of natural succession, because God is revealed, and, as He must be if He is, in grace; and once revealed must have what suits Himself, and acts in a grace which is above ordinances. It was now because the person of the blessed One was there, As thou hast believed, so be it done unto thee. Yet He was still subject, coming in by the door, we have seen, to the law in Israel, yet in power, and grace could not be limited to it. Jehovah healing in Israel, a man amongst them, but one who must reach to the Gentiles, going forth in grace towards them.
But we have further traits of His character in this chapter. Not only is He Emmanuel in Israel, and the God of grace to Gentile need, but He is come for the sorrows and evils that sin has brought in here below. The sick mother-in-law of Peter rises up at His word and serves them, and the evil spirits depart at once from the possessed, and all the sick are healed. But it was not merely power. His heart was in it and felt it all. “Himself took our infirmities and bare our sicknesses.” His miracles were miracles of goodness. It was not merely some as a testimony, but deliverance from all the effect of sin and Satan’s power. One was there who revealed God in goodness, able to remove all the effects of sin in man. He was there who did it and could give power to others to do it, not a mere confirmation of testimony, but He who was to be testified of, present in that power. Nor only that, but present as One who entered into them all. But He sought no honour from men, and when His works attracted the crowd, He left the place. It was His work, not admiration He sought.
And this brings out another side of His character as the Son of man. He hath not where to lay His head. Such an one as the doer of miracles, the scribes would follow; but He has not lost sight and would not have others lose sight of it, that He is the rejected One, hidden and despised in the world. “Foxes have holes, and the birds of the air nests; the Son of man has not where to lay his head.” If followed, He must be followed with nowhere in this world to go to; followed for His own sake only. And thus it involves following Him absolutely—with an absolute breach with all that is of the life of the flesh, however near or dear. “Suffer me first,” will not do, though it seemed the strongest possible claim. If Christ was there and went that road, His disciples must follow Him and leave all behind, nor look back. He was come into the world because the world was far from God, and in it was gathering to Himself out of it. His disciples did follow Him, and into a storm where He seemed to have left them disregarded in danger, wholly regardless of their difficulties and danger. But foolish creatures that they were, that we are, they were in the same ship with the Lord. Was He, the centre of all God’s counsels, the Lord of glory, going to sink, and all God’s plans, by an accident? Alas, what are we! But the Lord was there and with the deep lesson—alas! how often to learn—of their unbelief, a word from Him calms the winds and waves. There was a great calm. And the men marvelled when they had not believed.
But we are not quite at the close of this presentation of Emmanuel, the Lord manifested on earth. He comes into the country of the Gadarenes. There the power of Satan meets Him, a power which was terror to subject man: a word from Him and all is over. The men possessed speak under the influence of those they were possessed by as if themselves. Man does not know how Satan governs and uses him when under his power; but, to shew the reality of it, the Lord suffers the devils to go out into the swine, and the unclean animals rush into ruin. But the quiet world will not have God’s presence (Satan’s it cannot help now); but if God’s power and presence is revealed, it cannot bear this. They beseech Jesus to depart out of their coasts, and He went. So it has been with the world. In Luke we have more details and an application to other points. Here it is the great truth of the result of God’s revelation of Himself in grace in this world. The world would not have Him, and He departed out of their coasts. Terrible as will be the end of the unclean vessels of Satan’s power, the quiet world rejects the Lord. In general the chapter is in the midst of Israel, but shews the dealing in grace with the Gentiles and the judgment of the children of the kingdom; and here we have passed over to a wider scene without leaving Israel. God is ever the same, and the heart of man, but proved in Israel—the world has rejected Christ. It loves its quiet and ruin; the destruction of Satan brings with it the revelation of his power. But it is God that the people will not have. Our chapter gives us thus a full picture of the Lord’s presence in the world in grace and power. He is there. In chapter 9 we have more the principles of His dealings.
We find in chapter 9 the work of the Lord, its character in grace; as His person, in chapter 8 (still more definitely in Israel), but rejected. The Lord returns to His own city (Capernaum), but away from the scene which closed the last chapter, which is complete in itself; the world rejecting Him, and He leaving it. Now He is again seen in the midst of His service in Israel. Faith brings one smitten in his body. The Lord is still here as Emmanuel, yet Man in their midst, but declares Himself there with the promised blessing of Jehovah’s presence in grace. It is not here redemption, though indeed there could be no such forgiveness without it, but the application of forgiveness in grace in Israel as in Psalm 103, and for present blessing Israel must be forgiven. The Lord comes with it, and it is a direct testimony to forgiveness, or He might have simply healed as elsewhere. But when Jehovah came in grace, He forgave all their sins and healed all their infirmities. The Lord announces the presence of Jehovah to do the former. The scribes murmur within themselves, Who could forgive but Jehovah? But He who knows the thoughts was there and proves by the other part of the verse that the Lord was there in the power of grace. He heals the infirmity at once.
We may remark that in this, as in the last chapter, He takes the title of Son of man, His title of predilection in love to us, wider than Christ, which though He was, He did not come to take, and never takes in Israel. He is there as Emmanuel Jehovah, to save His people; but as Son of man, a title of all-importance; the One who takes the kingdom in glory from heaven; yea has all things under His feet. Christ never presents Himself as Christ. The Son of man was to be strong for God (Psalm 80:17); but now He was to suffer. But God, though in the midst of His people, must, when down here, take, in His nature and work, His place in connection with men beyond all relationship in law, the rejected One on earth. The Son of man has power on earth to forgive sins; so the crowd says, “such power to men.” Forgiveness then was there; and grace to sinners. He was there in that character. He goes and eats with publicans, having called Matthew who was one. It was not the outside which governed His path. God was there and the work was to be the effect of His presence and grace, not dependent on what He found. And He knew the heart, and the vessels to choose to be under the effect of that grace as instruments of it. But the principle of the work was the principle of grace; He came not to find, but to bring what was needed, and the vessels to receive it for service were vessels chosen, divinely known, and wrought by grace into new and fitting instruments. He is there then forgiving sins, and eating with sinners, but it is Jehovah who heals; Psalm 103.
But the revelation as to the work goes farther. It could not be put into old Jewish forms and take up what was there as vessels to hold it. A publican was to be an apostle, a Pharisee at best learn that he must be wholly born again. And none of the old forms of righteousness really connected with the flesh, and man in the flesh, could receive the new wine; the doctrine of grace in power came by Jesus Christ. All this belonged to flesh, but could not hold divine power. It had seemed to test man’s flesh, but what was come now was divine power in grace, and what was wholly new must have its own vessels. Besides, the Bridegroom was there: it was not the time for the children of the bridechamber to fast. The time would come for that. It is striking how the Lord always holds out His own rejection as a part of His history. The Son of man must suffer, the Bridegroom be taken away. It was Jehovah there in grace, which could not adapt itself to the old vessels, and only drew out the hatred of man, and of Israel, who preferred its vessels as giving them importance, to God Himself, and that revealed in grace.
The following recital contains the true history of Israel. Coming to it as just dying,40 He has to deal with it as dead, and can, but those who on the way with Him have faith in Him are fully healed when all help failed. The virtue and power of life was in Him, though in result He had to vivify a really dead Israel. Such is the history of the ministry of the Son of man—Jehovah in Israel. Two accessory effects of His power are added as to its special character as to Israel, appealed to under the name of Son of David. The general character, though manifested in Israel, yet in its nature goes beyond it—Jehovah and Son of man—and this it is which is of such profound interest to trace: but He was the Son of David in Israel. And in verse 27 we enter exclusively on Israelitish ground, where the spirit of the leaders is fully manifested, and the patience of the Lord still goes on in grace. The blind in Israel receive sight by faith in the Son of David, and here He is in the house, and He opens the mouth of the dumb there too: the attention of the multitude is attracted and owns it was never so seen: but if He casts out the devil’s power, the leaders of the people call His power that of the devil. The spirit of unpardonable apostasy was already manifested; but Jesus had not finished His work of goodness in the midst of Israel, and He goes around cities and villages, teaching, preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing. His heart moved for Israel, multitudes as sheep without a shepherd. For if Jehovah in goodness, His heart could be moved by what He saw as a man, and till that goodness found no more room for its exercise. His time was not hindered by the wickedness of those who were enemies; the harvest was yet plenteous, the labourers few. Oh, how the heart may still feel this! Still He will accomplish His work, have His sheep. Our part is to seek from the Lord of the harvest that He will send out labourers. In this chapter then we have the grace of His ministry, its true character, the ministry of Jehovah come in grace available to faith, but which must raise the dead; and as a present thing is refused and blasphemed. His person and His work have no place here save in grace. While this can work, He still goes on caring for all that may be reached.
In chapter 10 He calls His twelve disciples and sends out labourers, giving them power, a new proof of the divine person with whom they had to do. It is not merely that He works miracles, a testimony to divine clemency come into the world, but He can give power to others to work them—power over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every disease.
I have remarked that Matthew gives an order in his recital which is the mind of the Spirit as to the bearing of the facts (that is, after the birth and before the last scene at Jerusalem). The whole history, as such, between these epochs we have seen given in one verse at the end of chapter 4. We have here first the whole number of apostles chosen, as we see in Luke, after prayer, before the sermon on the Mount. One finds at the outset of their commission how the testimony as a present service is, in this Gospel, confined to Israel as enjoying Emmanuel’s presence, though it could not end there, closing at the same time by Israel’s rejection of that Emmanuel. God’s presence on earth could but be only for Jews, if He was the minister of the circumcision for the truth of God. The twelve are forbidden to go elsewhere. The way of the Gentiles they were not to tread, and no city of the Samaritans was to receive their visit. The lost sheep of the house of Israel were to be the objects of their care. They were to preach, saying, The kingdom of heaven is at hand. All evil was to be subject to them—death itself, the power of the enemy, and the sorrows and human ills brought in by sin—leprosy and all. And as they received gratuitously—Jehovah’s power to use in their hands in grace—they were to use it in the same grace; and they were to trust His power and care equally and take no provision for the way. It was Jehovah who sent. They did His service, and the labourer was worthy of his hire. Jehovah’s care was there, and they, as we read afterwards in Luke, lack nothing. Further, they were to seek out the godly remnant, inquire who was worthy in the city, and abide there, and the sons of peace were to receive a blessing. Those that refused this all but last testimony, and here treated as practically the last (there was only partially the seventy on His way to Jerusalem afterwards), were judged and rejected as worse than Sodom and Gomorrha. This verse closes the direct present commission. What follows from verse 16 continues indeed their service on the same mission, that is, exclusively to the lost sheep of the house of Israel, but goes on beyond the Lord’s rejection and on to His coming again (v. 22).
The full character of their mission as thus left to serve is gone into—persecution, death—but the Spirit of their Father speaking in them, and a care over them which counted the hairs of their head. But this part of the chapter shews how deeply the Lord felt His rejection in Israel, noticed as we have seen all through. The full power needed would be given no doubt every moment, but the testimony would draw out the passions of men in a way that would break through every natural tie. Relations of nature divinely formed would not resist the hatred of the human heart against the testimony of God, and they would be hated of all men for Christ’s name sake; strange feeling, which only the hatred of man’s heart against God can explain! They would be brought before kings and governors, for so the Lord would bring this testimony before the great and before the Gentiles: the hatred of the Jews would do it, a plain testimony that we are here still in Israel. But the hatred would be universal: they were to endure to the end. They were to go, when persecuted in one city, to another; nor would have gone through the cities of Israel till the Son of man came. It was Christ’s portion. They had called the Master of the house Beelzebub: He looked at it fully; they must face it, if they were in the place of testimony; enough for them to be as He. But they were not to fear, all would come out and they were to be out in open daylight in service; death might be there on the road, they were not to fear but Him, who could judge and deal with body and soul both. But it is remarkable how the Lord, as to Himself and them, takes the power of evil for granted, though God was with full care of His own above all; yet till judgment came as to the present manifestations of power, evil reigned (compare Rev. 2:10); for He, the power of God, was about to be rejected, and all this power of evil pressed upon His spirit in sending them out. Now indeed as Emmanuel present He guarded them, but in this second part the presence of the Spirit marks Him gone, and already treated as Beelzebub. Such warning is not found (though the fire was already kindled) in the first fifteen verses: but He knew His portion, and warned them of theirs. But they were of value to God, and not to fear. He is to be confessed before men at all cost. But nature and the flesh, which, as to power, He could have restored, were over in His rejection. What man broke through in hatred to God they must give up in devotedness to Christ.
The closing of the old creation is not here doctrinally taught, but the deep feehngs of the Lord, as to the practical effect of the coming in of what was divine into the scene of man proved apostate by its effect, are wonderfully portrayed. It is not only the warning to the disciples (v. 21, 22), when the enmity is spoken of, but the general effect of His coming (v. 34-36). Peace on earth was not the word now, but enmity in the closest relations. Owning the Lord is intolerable to man. The closer the relationship, the greater the hostility. But Christ came a test of everything, and as His presence and the true confession of Him awakened hostility, so the heart of His servant must take Him, the new divine thing, instead of everything. The world had proved the incompatibility of the old and the new, nature as it was and grace, and the servant and minister of grace must give up all (v. 37). Christ tests the heart as well as the world. He was the rejected One. His servant must take up the cross and follow Him. Natural life was of course the track of nature, and that must be given up too in nature to find it new with God. But then they were thus associated with Christ, and he that received them received Him. The recognition of the testimony come into the world was the reception of Him of whom it spake, and the reception of Him was the reception of Him who sent Him, and whose Witness in the world He was. This was the turning-point, the owning Him, His name and word, if a cup of cold water only was given. The difference of verses 1-15, though the principle of testimony was the same, with verses 16 to the end is very marked; the power of the then final testimony with judgment on him that did not receive it, while He was there present as Emmanuel, and the moral mark in the world of a rejected Saviour. His grace continued in patience, but the fact that He was called Beelzebub had borne its witness in His soul. The present was a final testimony in Israel; the rest, the witness of a rejected Saviour; but all in Israel, save as it brought them as guilty before Gentiles.
This rejection and the entire change of dispensation and ground of relationship with God are fully brought out in the chapters which follow. When I say relationship, none could really be but on the new ground of grace; but I speak of God’s ways. The Lord as yet continued His testimony in the midst of Israel. And thus the chapter (11) gives us a full view of the true position of the witnesses God had sent, and the real place Christ held; His place as founded on His person and personal grace contrasted with His coming after John in His service.
In the following chapter 12 we have the setting aside the old covenant or its principles, and nature’s rest with it, with the full iniquity and judgment of the Jews on the other side. But in chapter 11 we have the open history and the secret history of all that was going on. Patience of goodness as yet continued, but all was now changing. The provisional service of John before Christ, and his favoured position in it, are fully recognised. The Lord delights to own His faithful servant in it: but it is over. He came after John, was before him; and it is in this character He is now coming out, though all the rest was true. John is in fact in prison, man’s evil will and enmity already shewn as the unbelief of Israel towards the Lord (v. 20-24); and John himself must believe Christ on the witness He gives of Himself. He gives testimony to John instead of receiving it from him. The chief point in John’s message is to shew this change, for though in prison some uncertainty doubtless had arisen in his heart—for if Messiah, Jesus brought no deliverance—yet his heart was all right. He did not doubt the testimony of Him to whom he sent. The Lord throws the answer on the testimony all had, which His word and work rendered to Himself, yet as already the rejected One in whom the reasoners of the people were offended: blessed he who was not. The Lord then proceeds to give testimony to John Baptist, but with witness of the coming change—change which His person brought in, for as a divine person He receives not testimony from men, but He gives it to His faithful servant. And John was only a forerunner of the thing itself that was to come: the least actually in it was greater than he. Of born of woman, of gifts to Adam’s children, none was greater; but the kingdom set up by Emmanuel was on the other ground, founded on the second Adam. The law and the prophets dealing with men in flesh had reached up to John: since then the kingdom of heaven was preached (not come). And this was no matter of giving a law to an acquired people alive in the flesh, or recalling them to it, but set up with flesh opposed and trial brought in. The energy of faith alone could make its way into it. This, if faith could receive it, was the Elias to come—was he who had gone before Jehovah in his spirit and power, this special coming of Jehovah; but in grace, not in judgment.
The rejection of His testimony is now definitely entered on, and the true character of what was taking place. He shews the state of the people as to the reception of John and Himself (v. 17-19). Warnings and grace were alike rejected. But a remnant, wisdom’s children, justified God’s ways in both. Such was the state of things. Then the Lord comes especially to His own testimony and the mighty works by which it had been confirmed. It was not merely moral warning closing the old warning, the list of prophets owning Israel and doing no miracles, but the manifestation of power and one working miracles claiming attention by divine power, not reckoning on any present acknowledgment of Jehovah on which the word as of the prophets could be based. It was a Person present, Himself the subject, source, and power of testimony, its object, and that from which it flowed. But Israel would not repent. His works left them without excuse, His grace made the sin the greater. It would be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon, Sodom and Gomorrha in their day of judgment, than for these cities; such was the testimony they had rejected.
But now we come to what was inside all this, the glory of His person known to none, and the revelation made by Him of that name of grace which, in the rejection of the Son and Servant, was brought out for the soul of him that was weary in a Christ-rejecting world. The unbelief, justly rebuked by the Lord, found with it no gall nor bitterness in the spirit of the blessed Lord, so that He should not be pure with His Father, it only threw Him from man into the fulness of the mind of God; but first in lowliness and submission in the place of the servant, ascribing all to His Father, yet as Son, perfect submission, but entire confidence of love, thus intelligence clear, no delay in solving the mystery, seeing it on the side of God. At that time Jesus answered and said, I thank thee, O Father. Then He is owned as supreme in everything, Lord of heaven and earth, and with the owning of this supremacy, the sense of the fitness of the dealing; human wisdom failed, it was fitting, necessary; how should it, base and earthly, understand divine ways? They were hidden, and hidden by the Lord of all from the wise and prudent. He puts man’s wisdom in its place, its true moral place. But grace revealed them to the simple and unpretending, the unsuspecting confidingness of the babe. So it seemed good in the Father’s sight; man, and old things with him, had passed away; Christ, the second Man, the Son in grace, replaced them all.
No one knows Him but the Father. The Father in grace can be known through Him, but God come as man in the form of a servant, none could know; and though He had presented works and words which left them without excuse in His service, yet His person none could know. But this submission, and relinquishment of all as sent, brings into His own spirit what belongs to Him in the place He now was in His person and service. All things were delivered to Him of the Father; the Son and faithful Servant had now all things in His hands, in this new place where He received them indeed, for He made Himself servant, but as Son; for He could not cease to be that, whatever His service; and now rejected of all, none knew, nor, in this His personal glory, could know Him; but He knew, and in this place revealed the Father. In this place of grace He stands alone, unknown of all (being in His service and testimony to them in their place rejected) and alone in sovereign grace to reveal the Father—that is, He who sends the Son in grace, and in such a world wholly tested, and its history, that is, man’s and Israel’s, over in His rejection—to say, “Come to me.” If there were hearts weary of themselves and a world that thus rejected Him—perhaps could not well explain why, but weary of evil—though evil—let them come to Him. This solitary place of Christ, in grace revealing the Father, is very striking. Heir of all things, and the Son revealing the Father, but the deposit—thus alone the beginning of all anew from the Father—of all grace and perfect grace, rest for the weary, not help, though help He does, but rest by the revelation of this grace.
But there is another thing that then comes, but comes after this, though accompanying it: “Take My yoke upon you and learn of Me.” The first point was He had brought the grace and rest for him who came to Him by it, but He had shewn in His rejection the lowliness and meekness which bowed to the Father’s will and accepted His rejection, looking absolutely to His Father’s will and good pleasure, and thus thanking, even in the midst of sorrow, not looking at the evil to be vexed, but to His Father out of it working in His wise and holy ways. Meek and lowly of heart He gives rest to the soul; as to its state, perfect rest through the knowledge of grace, with God by coming to Christ, and rest of heart through lowliness and the absence of all working of will. His yoke is easy and His burden light, the one which He had borne.
It is interesting to see how what is stated doctrinally in John 1 is here wrought out experimentally in the history of Christ, as heretofore remarked, that the first three Gospels present Christ to men, and result in His rejection. John begins with His rejection and presents the person of Him who was rejected, and man must be born again, and then the Comforter when He was gone, and an elect remnant with others such, among the Gentiles, the Jew reprobate. Compare too chapter 17.
Chapter 12 presents the setting aside the old system, first by the principles of the new, and then by the full judgment of the wickedness of the leaders of the old, and closes with the declaration that Christ’s connection was not with those with whom He was naturally united according to the flesh; but with those who received His word. Judaism was over. Judah or Israel was neither the true servant nor the true vine, but Christ; and those who received His word, the branches; for John still gives in doctrine what we learn here experimentally. The question as to the old and new principles rested on the sabbath. Law and grace were connected immediately with it, for the sabbath was given as God’s rest, and a seal of the covenant; but the old as the rest of the first creation. The new principle flowed from the person of the Lord, Jehovah, Son of man, withal present on earth, and the grace in which He came. But He is still viewed as the rejected Messiah; to this the Lord refers. His disciples rubbed and ate the ears of corn; the Pharisees object that it is the sabbath, and they put the question, “Is it lawful to heal on the sabbath day?” The rejection of God’s Anointed dissolves the bond of legal enactment. All was common, there was no rest in nature possible. For a fugitive David the bread was in a manner common. And the priests in the temple itself profaned the sabbath to maintain the command of God, and circumcise sinful flesh and accomplish the due service of God. But One greater than the. temple was there. The setting of mercy above sacrifice, moral intelligence of God’s ways in grace, would have saved them from their mistake in condemning even the Lord Himself. The Son of man was entirely above the ordinances of the law. The One who was to come in glory, set over all the works of God’s hands, was above not only in His person and place (for He was the Ancient of Days) but as the new head of all things, alone seal of the old covenant. He is, as Son of man, Lord of the sabbath too.
Another principle was, that power was there in grace. These hypocrites would have done more for their own interests. It is lawful to do good on the sabbath. Thus with a rejected Messiah, old things were gone, the Son of man was Lord of the sabbath, Jehovah wrought in grace, and old things really had passed away. The animus of the leaders was shewn, and Jesus withdrew Himself according to the prophetic character given to Him. He sought no rumour, nor glory for Himself; still His power would burst forth and bring the Gentiles under His sway, and they would trust in Him. For the rejected Messiah the sabbath was gone, and rest over for the world. Jehovah in grace wrought in mercy and had not rest in man’s sorrow, and the Son of man, the glorious One, was above the ordinances of the sabbath, Lord of it, the head of the new creation.
But the Lord continues His work of patient grace, destroying the power of the enemy, though seeking no present glory nor lifting up His voice in the streets. But the Pharisees, unable to deny the power with which He wrought, attribute it to Satan. This brought all to a crisis. To speak against Christ in blindness could be pardoned, but to own the power and call the Holy Ghost Satan was unpardonable. It was open antagonism to divine power undenied. The Lord shews the folly of it, Satan destroying Satan’s kingdom. It was the fruit of the abundance of their heart, and that wilful enmity against God in goodness, and every word spoken shewed what was there, and men would be judged by such. They are given up. The only sign they would now have was Jonas, a rejected one in the tomb. But men of Nineveh and a queen of the south would rise up in judgment with that generation, for a greater was there in testimony than Jonas or Solomon, a greater prophet, a greater and wiser king.
Their final judgment is pronounced. The old unclean spirit (of idolatry and rejection of Jehovah) would return with seven others worse, and Judah’s state be worse than when they went to Babylon. Then they were judged for the former sin (see Isaiah 40-48), now for rejecting the Son of man (Jehovah Emmanuel in grace) see Isaiah 49-57 (though their restoration is also taught): the end would be the giving up the nation to the worst power of the enemy. Here the deliverance is not spoken of; it is the state of the generation. And then the great result, present result, as to Christ, to which I have alluded (present ties by birth in flesh as Son of David and man on the earth) gives place to those formed by the word in the hearts of the sons of men—of the sons of grace, who did His Father’s will. It is the close, not of goodness even here below, but of the history of a Christ presented to Israel and man; and the beginning of the going forth of the fulness of grace in a divine person; and the Word that brought the blessing in grace with it, and sought no fruit on His vine nor reception from man in flesh. A sower went forth to sow; and all is formed on this footing. He leaves the house, for Israel had been Jehovah’s habitation; but, for the present at least, it was left by Him, and He goes to the sea-side—the moving multitude of the world—and there taught.
The first parable then gives the general character of the Lord’s work. He is a sower sowing the seed of the word to bear fruit. And this parable is individual, not a likeness of the kingdom of heaven. The great principle is that the Lord brings with Him what is to produce fruit, He does not seek it in the field. It stands alone thus in the seven. The other six are similitudes of the kingdom of heaven. It is not on the other hand the teaching as to the effects of grace but of sowing; as manifested in result as to the fruit produced, one only of four produced any. Satan took away at once what was sown in the first. Conscience not being reached, the profession sprang up at once in the second, and when trouble came, because of this it was given up as lightly, and withered. In the third case there seemed more hope, but the cares of this world and lusts of other things choked it, and the man is unfruitful. In one the word of the Blessed was understood, the conscience and heart, the need of the soul awakened, received it, and various degrees of fruitfulness followed. The first did not understand—nothing was awakened, it rested on the surface. The two others seemed to receive, but it came to nothing. All, I repeat, is individual here, a constant truth, but an immense change from seeking fruit in the nation. It is put thus to him who has ears to hear, urgent and individual.
The disciples ask why He speaks in parables, and in His answer He makes at once the solemn difference of the position of the disciples. To them who had received His word it was given to know the mysteries of the kingdom, but to the mass of the people it was not given. They saw, and saw not; they heard and heard not, nor understood; and the judgment pronounced in Isaiah was fulfilled in them, and they were not to be treated as a nation then: all was over with them. To him that had more would be given, and he would have abundance. From him that had not would be taken even what he had. So with that people. But the eyes of the disciples were blessed, for they saw; their ears, for they heard; they saw and heard what many favoured of God had desired to see and hear, and had not. Here we see clearly the people held as rejected and blind, and the remnant separated to Christ for the knowledge of the mysteries of the kingdom, but for this very reason a kingdom with a rejected king, and which took a form that was the consequence of this.
These similitudes of the kingdom of heaven begin with verse 24. There are six: three addressed to the multitude, and three, with the explanation of one of the first three, to the disciples. I will not here enlarge because these parables have been so often explained, but give some general remarks connected with the point we are at in the Gospel.
By this rejection of the king, and His going on high, and not taking the direct power of the kingdom till His return (compare Mark 4:26-29), the kingdom of the heavens had become like a man who sowed good seed in the field, etc. We have only had the fact of His rejection on earth and breach with Israel and the world, and the fact of what the kingdom was made like. The further truth of His exaltation and what flows from it are here; it is the kingdom such as it had become by His rejection, and I may add the kingdom on the earth, only that in the last three we have the thoughts of God as to it. The only allusion to what is out of this world is the gathering the wheat into His garner. But this is not explained. In the explanation the Lord returns to the earth again.
On the earth the crop should be spoiled. This would not hinder the wheat from being brought into the garner. Note, here only we have the Son of man sowing formally affirmed. It may be supposed in a general way in the mustard seed, but it is merely the fact of a small seed sown and a great tree produced, but here we have good distinctively sown by the Son of man, and another sowing by the enemy; and the effect of each, though in the same field, has its own distinctive character, and even manifestly so to the servants though they could not remedy it. If they meddled with the evil plants, they would pull up the wheat with them, and so did those who attempted it. But this was not in the church, it was in the field, the world; for our individual conduct we have other directions in the epistles, and in our church conduct. This was a question of service towards others of the servants personally in their place of servants, and plucking up evil ones out of the field, which was the world, and of nothing else. Satan’s work in spoiling Christianity as a result here below, called Christendom, cannot be remedied by Christ’s servants; it is a matter of judgment and divine power carried on by the instrument of that power, and in part providentially. We do not reap, cut down out of this world, either to lodge fruit in heaven, or to arrange evil in itself on earth. God will do that otherwise by His power. Indeed in this parable the servants do nothing at all. They have the intelligence of Christ as to what is going on, and what the crop is, and how it came about. This parable is the full and explained account of the whole scene in its sources, their effects, the general result here, and the intervention of God to close the scene and the effect and manner of that.
But the explanation belongs to the disciples, not to the multitude. For them, the whole scene on earth is unfolded, but not manifested judgment and its effects; that belongs too to the disciples, to the communications of Jesus to them in the house. The providential gathering of tares, God’s judicial acts in the world (for it is part of the course of the history of the kingdom here), and then the single heavenly fact in the whole series— “gather the wheat into My garner”; both which are left unexplained—that is, the bundles of tares and the garner. It was necessary to introduce them, or the after public effects on earth would not have had their place, but they are no part of the parabolic instruction in itself; that is the kingdom on earth. The end of the present scene is the providential gathering of the wicked in corporate bodies, and the taking of the saints into heaven. The judgment exercised on earth will have other effects. How the evil came in is stated to the multitude, a needed instruction for all. While men slept, Satan was active. The irremediable consequence has often been noticed, and I do not go farther into it here, though of all importance.
All this belonged to the public history of the kingdom of heaven. The explanation of the next two has to be rather limited than extended. It is the fact—not directly by the sowing of the Son of man—that the planting of Christianity would result in a great political power, and would fill a limited sphere with a system of professed doctrine. I recognise fully that leaven is always used in a bad sense; there is no sowing of the word here that produces plants which grow up from it, not a leavened mass; and it is intended, I doubt not, to shew it was not this. But the object was not to shew it was bad, but the mere filling a mass with a system, not the word of life to souls. Moreover, when individuals are spoken of, we have plants in the kingdom or fishes out of the sea. Care is taken to shew it is not the word which works effectually in those that believe, but a general effect, and for this a word always used elsewhere for evil. We have then the general effect of Christ’s work spoiled, as a whole, in this world by the enemy, and irremediably spoiled here; a great political power in the world, and a general profession spread through a limited sphere. I do not take the birds in verse 32 for evil spirits, but as used to shew the power to protect and shelter found in the tree, just as in Nebuchadnezzar’s case in Daniel.
Having gone into the house the Lord explains the parable of the tares and wheat, and gives three more parables. Besides what I have said, there is only to remark that we have the actual judgment in this world at the end of the age. The Son of man gathers out of His kingdom, here on earth, all things that offend—no evil things allowed there—and those that do iniquity; and they are cast into a furnace of fire. Then the righteous shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father: I doubt not the heavenly part of the scene, but manifested in glory, not the joy within, but the glory without, still the Father’s kingdom; and men are warned and encouraged to give heed. Then the Lord gives further parables, shewing His true intent and the divine mind in what was doing, however He might be rejected.
The kingdom of heaven was carrying the mind of God, however the Christ might be rejected, or its development on earth spoiled. The Lord had found a treasure hid in the field of this world. This was not Israel; Israel would none of Him. It was Israel’s responsibility, and was over. Here He was seeking, He was acting, and takes the world because of what was there to be found in it, His heavenly people; and had given up all His earthly title and place to take this. It was worth while. Surely He shall have it more gloriously as Son of man, but He gave all up then and took the world, for all things are now His. But it was not only the value of His people in His sight, but He knew and judged of the moral beauty the nature and heart of God desired. He was it; and the heavenly saints alone, formed into His likeness, answered to this delight. He sought goodly pearls—understood what was beautiful, found one very precious one, and gave up all and bought it. Think what a privilege, what an unspeakable privilege to be the express and singular object of divine delight 1 For the treasure and the value He had for it, He bought the whole world, has a title to all, but with the treasure as His object; but here He seeks what can be the divine delight, and has one thing which can be the satisfying object of it. It is wonderful. We can understand why we are taught to be imitators of God; why the beatitudes express Christ’s character; why the exhortation in Phihppians 2 is the exact portrait of what Christ was. To have this object of His moral delight, Christ gave up all He was entitled to as Son of David then. The wickedness of man may reject Him, and shew what he is, and this we have learned in Matthew; but God always pursues meanwhile His own counsels.
There remains the parable of the fishes, also connected with the counsels of God, but carried out with intelligence by men who serve Him. Here only we have introduced the activity of men other than the Lord. Before, it was the Lord who sowed and the servants were only told they could do nothing. In the treasure we clearly buy no field to have Christ, nor do men naturally seek goodly pearls and so find Christ. Here, though the comparison be the net itself first, yet the fishermen have their part and their object and work when the net is full. The net has not gathered all fishes nor embraced all the sea, but gathered a net-ful out of it, and of every kind; and then when full they sit down and select the fish that are proper and put them in vessels. The service in the beginning was of a different kind. Either the Lord added such as should be saved, or the word acted individually. All that came were received into the flock, though soon false brethren found their way in. They were put into vessels, but not out of a net full of every kind. This is at the end, when as a fact there is a net full. Then comes quiet and deliberate selection; they sat down, when it was drawn to shore, when the gathering work had taken place, and took out the good ones and put them into vessels. Their business was with the good ones (they were their object), and as intelligent fishermen they selected them and put them into vessels. With the bad fishes they had nothing to do, they cast them away and put them into no vessels. It was sufficient to reject them and leave them cast away on the shore. They were not left in the net. By the selection the net-ful was done with, and the bad fish rejected, but left on the shore as they were. But their object and their occupation was about the good fish; they put them with deliberate care out of the net into vessels. The net full there was no more, a solemn thought in itself.
So, when the servants came to the householder to have his mind, there was nothing for them to do with the tares: only there, in the public field, as at the beginning, the Lord having sowed, the crop was spoiled and remained so. The Lord’s servants had nothing to do with tares as to their service. Angels would make the separation in judgment. So here, the servants have to do with die good and gather them out of the net. Afterwards at the end of the age the angels have to do with the wicked. They gather the wicked from among the just and cast them into a furnace of fire. They leave the just here where they were: with this judgment the fishermen had nothing to do; their business was with the good fish, to put them into vessels; with the bad they had only to reject and have done with them. The disciples had thus the old things of prophecy, the earthly things of the kingdom, and the new of the kingdom which they now learnt. But He who could with divine wisdom teach them these things was in His own country only the carpenter’s son. There He could do but little.
Chapters 14, 15, seem to me of considerable importance. In this respect, that they introduce the abiding patience and grace of Christ as Jehovah when Israel is already judged, and the kingdom announced as coming in in mystery; so that His person and personal grace, and that even towards Israel, remained unchanged, only must go out beyond in the nature of things. We have now not Israelitish dealings, but the abiding character of the divine Person as in the end of chapter 11, when, I repeat, the kingdom as set up in His absence had been fully announced, as after these chapters we have the church and the kingdom in glory fully announced; but here Himself. John had been beheaded by the Idumean and Roman king in Israel, but He that satisfieth the poor with bread in Israel is there. He felt the blow of John’s death and retired, but when the need of the people came, Jehovah was there. He satisfies the poor with bread, Psalm 132; here, with a character connecting itself with the full establishment of governmental order41 in Israel in man, though man would not have Him.
Then Jesus goes up in His human character on high to pray, and the disciples are sent away alone on the stormy sea first, and He dismisses the multitude of Israel, taking the other place of intercession on high. When going to rejoin the disciples He walks on the sea; I apprehend the church’s or Christian’s place, the path of pure faith or of power, and faith in power with no ship, no boat, as a refuge: nothing external or human, as Israel was. The question then and particularly at the close, as a fact, is faith, personal faith in the Lord Himself. “If it be thou.” Then if the eye is off Jesus, we are in no place at all for man to walk in. Peter began to sink. We can easily understand this, but it was really folly. He saw the wind boisterous, but He could no more have walked on a smooth sea than on a rough, and if the Lord was there on a rough as well as on a smooth. It was a question of faith and looking on the Lord, not on the sea, and so of himself. But Jesus will enter into the ship, again the earthly and human order, though glorified not humbled; then the wind will cease, and all in that ship will own Him Son of God, and the world that once rejected Him will own His power and presence, and gladly.
Such is the scheme, if I may so speak, connected with the Lord’s unchangeable faithfulness and love to Israel as Jehovah, though leaving the remnant that had owned Him to themselves for a time. We have now the moral and simply divine character which cannot be hid or confine itself to Israel. First we have Jewish or formal religion judged, God’s commandments hypocritically set aside, and especially by the clergy and religious doctors for their traditions. Superstitious gifts to the clergy are specially noticed and outward forms; but the whole result of this teaching was, the people in general drawing near with their lips, but their hearts far from God; where human commandments are introduced, men worship God in vain. If man’s tool passed on the altar, said the law, the altar was defiled. But human nakedness was equally defiling. Man’s religion was condemned, but man’s heart was condemned with it, man was set aside as well as Israel. Not what went into the mouth defiled a man, but what came out. Soon is stated what did; but first the leaders of the Jews, as the leaders of fleshly religion always are and must be, were offended at the rejection of a religion which heartless flesh and hypocrisy could fulfil, and the judging of all that came out of the heart. But all was over, though grace went on with flesh and the Jewish system. The Lord dismisses them with the short judgment, they were not plants of His heavenly Father’s planting. Now every plant which His heavenly Father had not planted would be rooted up. The fallen earthly system was over, only what He planted He would own. All else would be rooted up.
Such was the public judgment. It was not now Israel or their hypocritical and self-righteous leaders who could pass. Judgment was on all not planted of the Father of Christ, characterised here as heavenly. But to His disciples He goes farther, and shews not formal hypocrisy judged, but what does come from the human heart, and this was evil of every kind. Has He, full of love and goodness, nothing to say of good that would come from it? not a word. These are the things which defile a man. Thus the moral judgment was complete, first of the formal systems, which Judaism now was; the reality of heavenly planting, the only thing owned; all human religion vain, and interiorly and spiritually the human heart judged.
All was said as to man; but only to bring in sovereign grace. And now Jehovah’s grace above all this appears, but as still owning Israel—for that is a main point in these two chapters when just going to set it aside (chaps. 16, 17) for the church, the kingdom, and the heavenly kingdom and glory. He is giving Israel up. Grace is going out in grace fully, according to divine fulness and prerogative; He is giving up His present place of Messiah there. God must be greater than that; still Israel’s place is owned, though not set up in strength now. He goes where the cities noted for hardness of heart had their coasts, and a woman of the accursed race of Canaan meets Him. She takes Him on the ground of His place in Israel, “Thou Son of David.” What had a Canaanite to do with that? He has no answer as such. The disciples put self first: Get rid of her (by granting her request), for she cries after us. The Lord in reply formally takes His place in Israel. “I am not sent but to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” Then she comes up and pleads with Him, and meets with what seems the hardest answer. “It is not meet to take the children’s bread and to cast it to [Gentile] dogs.” The woman takes this place too. She owns the promises to Israel, Israel’s rights; she owns them to be the children, but the felt want (through grace) drives her right to the heart and goodness of God Himself. It was so: she had no right, she was only a dog; Israel was in the place of the children. But there were resources in God for even the dogs, they might eat of the crumbs from their masters’ table. God’s appointment and purposes (the true divine place of Israel) were owned, but the heart and goodness of God reached; masters they might be in God’s plans, she owned it (that is, Him). But He who gave children’s bread to children could supply the need of those who were not, and had but the crumbs around to look to. Christ could not deny the goodness of God, or limit it to Israel, however as sent He might own their exclusive title; but the sent one was Jehovah in Israel and could not be less than Himself, or other than God in His nature and goodness.
And now see how faith and God’s character meet. I have thus spoken of the dispensational character of this history. Recognising Israel fully, the divine Person there necessarily over-passes its limits, but the moral character of the circumstances are of the deepest interest. Great faith produces great humility. There is the full recognition not only of entire unworthiness, accepting the place of a dog, but that there is no right, no claim, no promise, but then through grace, by reason of this, she goes right through to the goodness of God in Himself. That is true faith; she, as Christ, owned the dispensations of God, His right to have a people of His own, but saw Him revealed, Himself in Christ, and her need met the riches of the grace and love which were in Him. It is thus need by faith meets God, God Himself in goodness, but revealed in Christ, as part of the goodness was so to present Himself. We may learn afterwards to joy in God, when we know Him; but here we meet Him and as He is, as He puts Himself forth in Christ to be met. Hence Christ, to manifest this faith, puts forth the dispensational side in the strongest way, that faith, going on the ground of need, might pierce through all this up to God Himself, as the divine nature and goodness pierced through in Christ the place of service He had taken in Israel. And thus the simplicity of need meets the riches of God’s goodness by means of grace in Christ on one side, and through grace, faith on the other. In this respect it is a beautiful scene. And this is, I think, progress.
First it is Son of David, and this was right and true recognition of the promise and Christ’s title to it. But then there is no answer. Then she comes more simply in her need, and, doing Him homage, says, Lord, help us. This brought an answer, but that He was sent to Israel, not to Canaanites; it was not meet to give the children’s meat to dogs. And then she takes her full place of a dog with no title, but there was goodness enough in God, riches and plenty enough for such. The blessed Lord could not say there was not. He was it there, and then He recognises the woman’s faith. Her desire was to be met according to itself—as thou wilt. But the woman has all the great principles of Paul’s gospel in the world. Christ was a minister of the circumcision for the truth of God to confirm the promises made to the fathers, and that the Gentiles should glorify God for His mercy.
In what follows in the chapter we have the great general truth of the position of Christ brought out. He returns to His place in Israel where the light was to spring up; manifests His divine power and goodness in delivering from every evil, and the multitude glorify the God of Israel, but it is not now the twelve baskets full. It is not in the character of perfect ordained human power. The baskets are seven. The perfection remains, but it is purely divine in its spiritual character, not developed in human government. It remains, but it remains divine.
In that which follows we have the positive preparation for that which was going to take place before we come to the history of the event itself. That which was to take the place of Christ owned on earth is given, and in giving this, the inapprehensiveness of the disciples themselves, both as to intelligence and power, not that of Israel. Testimony to then as under their present leaders, and in their present state for the then mission of Christ, was closed. But with all the incapacity of the disciples to avail themselves of the grace of Christ then present, the revelation of what was to be the foundation of that which was to take the place of it, and of the coming glory, as well as what was the path to this, was made to some or all of them. But of the whole present position of Christ they were wholly unable to seize the true character, or use the power which belonged to it. This incapacity of the disciples is somewhat prominently brought forward in these chapters (16, 17). Still the revelation of what was needed for the new state of things coming is made to them. The Pharisees come with their unbelieving request of a sign; but the answer now is short—no sign but Jonas, Christ lost to Israel in the grave—and He left them and departed: only warns the disciples against their doctrine. But the testimony to the divine power and presence of Christ had left the disciples still without any intelligence which recognised who He was so as to own Him as testified of down here.
But here the patience of the Lord waits upon them and recalls the testimony so that they at length understand His warnings, but present understanding of His actual position there was none as then come; nothing in their state available in divine service for Him as then revealed or even available for their own souls. They were attached to His person and this was real, but no intelligence, and, as we shall see, no power by faith in what He was, but here the want of intelligence was marked. Still the Lord’s works had drawn attention every where, and the Lord asks them the effect of this on the people. It was various: opinions were formed, and there it ended. Some said one thing and some another.
But unable as the disciples might be to appreciate Christ as then there, God revealed to Simon Peter in an especial way that which was to be the foundation of the new blessing. That is, we find here, as all through, the two things, Christ presented to Israel then, and His person behind all that. Only here we find besides, the disciples unable to seize the former, and God revealing to one at least the latter. We know that all confessed Him such. “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.” The Christ of course they owned Him, but here was a special revelation: His divine person as Son, Son of Him in whom was the divine and eternal power of life. This was demonstrated in the resurrection, but was there in His person: that He was the Christ they were not to say He was any more. This was over in Israel, His true name there; but on the name, being the Christ, of the Son of the living God, He was going to build His church. Here was the new thing. The Son of the living God revealed, and the church built by Christ on this great truth. The first full grand revelation of the new thing, ever in the counsels of God, but set up in Israel’s place during their rejection, here, but for ever in heaven. Against this the gates of hades, the power of Satan should not prevail. Based on the person of Christ, Son of the living God, Satan could not succeed against it. This power of life proved and exercised in resurrection victorious over death and hades, the power of death which had prevailed against the first Adam could not prevail against this. Such was the great truth, but many things require notice here.
Jesus recognises it as a new and special revelation; not flesh and blood, but His Father who was in heaven had revealed it to Him. It was a positively heavenly and personal revelation, not drawn, however justly, even from prophets and teachers; not merely that there was a Christ or even a Son, but a direct revelation of His Father in heaven, made to Peter, that Jesus was the Son of the living God. The prophets no doubt spoke of Him to come, and there was sufficient evidence that Jesus was He; but here was a personal revelation, the foundation of the new thing, the church.
Next, it was personal to Simon. The whole ground of the blessedness was that it was a personal revelation: “Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-jonas, for—” This was the ground, though prophetically given before, why he was called Peter, but a particular special new revelation was the ground of the whole matter. A successor to a revelation to Simon Bar-jonas is nonsense, because he only has it. He only who has the revelation can have the place the revelation and it only gives. He was blessed and called Peter because he had it. On this immovable rock, the Son of the living God revealed and known, the Lord’s church was to be built.
But, further, who is the builder? The Lord only. “I will build”; not “I am building.” He was going to build it. But He only was the builder, and it is not finished yet. But His work no power of hell can prevail against. But it is only His work, what He builds. Hence, when Peter alludes to it in his epistle, he has no idea of being a builder, any more than a foundation. “Unto whom coming [the Lord], as unto a living stone … ye also as living stones are built up,” 1 Pet. 2:4. They come and are built up, as living stones are built up. They are built on the Lord, as living stones they come. There is no human builder, and Christ is that on which they are built. Whatever others did, I suppose Peter understood as taught of God what his Master said. But Paul, speaking of the church in the same way at the end of Ephesians 2, says the same thing: “In whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord.” There is no human builder, and Christ is the chief corner stone. There is a house of God where there are builders; 1 Cor. 3. Paul was a wise master-builder. Others might build wood, hay, and stubble, which Christ never does: corrupters might corrupt it. Here man was builder and his work might all be burned up.
I only notice this that by the contrast we may see the more clearly what is spoken of here: not a corporation subsisting at any one given time upon earth, of which scripture does speak, but of a working going on and wrought by Christ Himself, and as yet, of course, unfinished. Further, there are no keys to the church; neither Peter, nor anybody else, had any keys for the church. It was a building going on of which the Lord was the builder, and that does not want keys, nor are keys things to build with. The keys of the kingdom of heaven were given to him, and no doubt he used them, and to good purpose too. It is a very serious mistake to confound the kingdom of heaven and the church. They are distinguished here and never confounded anywhere. Chapter 13 has given us the kingdom of heaven. Chapter 16 tells us of the church, and then adds a distinct commission as to the kingdom; one is founded on the Father’s revelation to Peter, and Christ is the builder, not Peter: the other is Christ’s commission especially given as a distinct thing. “And I say also,” or more clearly, and “I also say to thee”; the Greek can have no other sense. The Father’s revelation had laid the foundation of the church, and Christ was going to build it. Christ names His servant, an act of authority, and entrusts him with the keys of the kingdom. If we must have a wise master-builder of the church on earth, it was Paul, if we are to believe him, not Peter. The keys of the kingdom were surely given to Peter, and he used them, and administered it for Jews and Gentiles. Every Christian owns that whatever in his apostolic ministry he did, as sent by Christ, heaven sanctioned. Remark, he bound nothing in heaven; but what he bound and loosed on earth, heaven held for good, and it was sanctioned as bound or loosed there, but the things bound or loosed were only on earth.
Having thus fully declared the new thing founded on His person, He forbids the disciples to say any more that He was the Christ. That was the old place, now done with as presented to Israel in promise. And He begins from this time to teach them His sufferings and death at Jerusalem, and His new place in resurrection. But this they did not understand any more than the rest. God had revealed to Peter the person of Christ as Son, but his state met in no way the necessary effect and meaning of this in the world. In their state, even with true affection, they might rejoice: their master was the Son of God; but that He should suffer and be rejected had no charm for them. Remark this for us all. There may be true divinely given faith in a truth, without the flesh being subdued, so as to receive or estimate divinely the results of this truth in the world. Still it was just man, what man savours and the world; and Peter is treated as acting under the influence of the enemy of souls and the blessed Lord’s work, in resisting the cross. If he had had his way, he would have hindered Christ completing His work. But the faithful Lord treats it as Satan; to savour of the things that be of man is so, it is not of God.
The Lord then openly warns the disciples that, if they follow Him, they must take up their cross and follow Him: that was His path. He then gives two reasons: first, gaining the world and losing one’s soul was little profit; and, secondly, the Son of man was coming in the glory of the Father, though now humbled, and then would reward every man according to his works. The world was a passing and vain thing; but our path in it would meet its consequence in another. God and man were really opposed in their thoughts: the rejection of Christ proved it. The path of the Lord was to suffer here and His followers to follow Him; but He would come in His Father’s glory and then the fruits would be judged according to the estimate of that new world to which He was hastening; and so sure was this, that some would be given to see it before they died. All this is the new thing taking the place of the old, but in the proof of man’s opposition to God, and that as still in their moral thoughts in the flesh, even the disciples were unable to enter into the mind of God. They are really as far from apprehending it in the revelation of the glory; they are not out of the old things, nor able to see even the power Christ had brought into the world. They were really in the flesh as to their minds. All in every way must be wholly new.
The church as built by Christ we have had in chapter 16, and the keys of the kingdom of heaven confided by Christ to Peter. We have now (chap. 17) the kingdom in glory, which in its time is also to replace Christ as He then was on earth. The Lord displays it to the three who were to be pillars: Christ formally standing alone by the authority of the Father’s voice, the law and the prophets disappearing. This is the great point here. We have more in Luke of the intimacy of glorified saints with Christ, and especially more of the heavenly part, they (I suppose Moses and Elias) entering into the cloud; but here it is more the personal glory, and the kingdom —as Peter himself expresses it, the power and coming of the Lord Jesus Christ. The manifested glory of His person is more fully put here. His countenance shone as the sun and His raiment is white as the light. So it is said, “Till ye see the Son of man coming in his kingdom “; in Mark and Luke, the kingdom come, or come in power. It is a bright cloud which overshadows them. In all, Peter would have joined the lawgiver and the great prophet with the Son of man; but this foolish proposal (nor is Peter alone in it) brings in the glory of the Father, the excellent glory, the cloud of God’s presence, and the Son of man is owned Son of God Himself, and Moses and Elias are gone: a testimony most distinct and express.
It has been said, that the risen and changed are seen here. I have nothing against it, but I do not think here it is the object of the vision, but the personal glory of Christ, and the disappearing of law and prophets (surely all fulfilled) in the glory of the kingdom where the Son of man has His place alone, because the others are fulfilled, and disappear in their service, and Christ is alone; and further, He, God’s beloved Son, the kingdom and glory being revealed, is now alone to be heard. Not, of course, that we do not believe all the law and prophets have revealed, but they are what testify of Christ; and now the thing is come, the Person they spoke of; and further, not as the Messiah, and Christ of promise (as such He had been rejected, and He was speaking of this, chap. 16:20-28, and it is what introduces this vision), but as Son of man and Son of the Father, testified of immediately, personally, out of the excellent glory, as the object of delight and alone in it. It is not that He had left, or would leave, His people in the glory; He was talking with them in it, but as the One who appeared, the object testified of, He was all alone, the Father only, and we may necessarily and in His delight testifying of Him as He could and did reveal the Father.
It is a wonderful scene. But resurrection was needed to bring it out; a living Christ on earth could not be revealed in this place. It was the counterpart from it from heaven when rejected here below. The Messiah’s place was God, and beside the Christ, it was the cross and the Son of man in glory, Son of God alone the object of the Father’s delight. I say the Father’s, for when He says Son, He reveals the Father; not Christ reveals the Father to us, but Himself in what He could not but be with the Son. It is a great thing to know, besides His person, that the Father’s delight is in Christ. The Father said, “I have found my delight,” such as He had been on earth, though in itself eternal. He can tell us the Father’s mind perfectly. The Lord refers to this and similar testimonies in John 5. But it is not as in John 3: He speaks that He knows and testifies that He had seen heavenly things as Son of man who is in heaven, not what John Baptist declares, and “what he has seen and heard that he testifies.” There Christ is revealing from heaven. Here the Father is testifying and shews His delight, that He has found His satisfying delight in that which Christ was on earth, and owns Him Son.
And now we find, as I have remarked, the incapacity of the disciples not merely to understand the new position Christ was taking, but even to make use of the old. Peter, with a forwardness which the Lord constantly used to bring out some truth, did not go beyond the similar glory of Moses and Elias to Christ to recognise the person of Christ. At this, though he had owned Him Son of the living God, so that he ought to have known better, we can hardly be surprised; but difficulties when they did know, and incapacity to use the power already come in with Christ, is all that marks their state. Only the Lord pursues His own grace and His own thoughts, as we shall see.
Some other important points arise out of this chapter. As regards this world, the coming of the Lord was a kind of provisional or tentative coming, though for far more important purposes. Just as He could say, till the Son of man comes, though He was there; and this double purpose is morally evident, because He came completing the trial and testing of man (compare John 15:22-24), and also to accomplish His Father’s will, and give His life a ransom for many. And it was His rejection in the first form which brought about the accomplishment of the second, so that responsibility and grace in atonement met in the cross. Thus, if they could receive it, John was Elias who was to come. The scribes were right in expecting him, but John was come in the spirit and power of Elias. To him they had done what they listed. Only if Elias came, personally he must be another; when the Son of man comes, it will be the same, only risen and glorified. The Lord allowed the difficulty to be presented that the whole scene that was going on might be brought out.
We then come to the incapacity of the disciples to use by faith the power which was then present. The poor man with the demoniac son had brought him to the disciples, and they could not cast the demon out. This draws out from Jesus the expression of the uselessness of His stay with them, when even His disciples could not make use of His power. This it is which finally leads, not to the prophecy and declaration that He would suffer, and depart, and rise again, but to the immediate expression of what drove Him away. “O, faithless and perverse generation, how long shall I be with you? how long shall I suffer you?” The unbelief even of His disciples, hindering the efficacious testimony to His power, led to His going away. His person remained the same, and His personal grace, but His work was hindered by the faithlessness even of His own. How long was He to stay and bear with them? Thus we learn what closes a dispensation and the Lord’s dealings in goodness, not the power of evil that brought Him here, but the powerlessness of those who follow Him, in making good the testimony He has given of His power and goodness. This does not cease, but in the same sentence in which He say, How long? He says, Bring thy son hither. It is what we have seen, the closing of His service here, but His person and grace only shining out the more brightly; the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever; and exercised wherever there was a want that came to Him, the actual meeting-place between man and God—a want, and grace in a Saviour.
Two things are then brought out as regards the exercise of this power of God by faith. First faith, unclouded confidence in Christ to do it, but, secondly, that there was a real adverse power of Satan, and that, in cases where that power was in its full exercise, as here, it could not be met and overcome but by nearness to God, bringing in His power by prayer and that self-restraint in which the heart was separated from nature to God. I expect no miracles in these last days, save false ones on the part of the enemy, though many things are counted miracles which in connection with God’s government faith ought always to do; but for that to which faith now applies, according to the will of God, these directions are of the last importance; faith in God’s power, and that in exercise in grace towards us, and this sought in prayer and separation of heart to God. Elias, we read, was a man of like passions with us, and he prayed, which I notice, because all we read of in the Old Testament is his declaration, “As the Lord liveth,” etc.; 1 Kings 17:1. In spite of all this practical unbelief in the disciples, the personal glory and grace of the Lord, and the association of the disciples with Himself in grace, is no way hidden or diminished. The close of the chapter is a remarkable witness of this in connection with what we have been seeing.
The Jews come to collect the tribute for the temple, and come to Peter with the question if the Lord paid it, tantamount to the question, if He was a good Jew. The Lord anticipates Peter, shewing divine knowledge and divine power. He asks him of whom the kings of the earth take custom, or tribute— of their own children or of strangers. Of strangers, replies Peter. Then, says the Lord, are the children free. Christ, that is, was Son of the great King of the temple, but in this character associates poor Peter with Himself. “Then are the children free: nevertheless that we offend not,” etc. He then shews His divine power and in the way of Peter’s natural calling disposes of the creation, of the fish of the sea, to bring him the needed money. Son of the most high God, knowing all things and disposing of creation, He nevertheless subjects Himself in grace to Jewish order; but in the title of His low place, in infinite grace He puts Peter in the same place with Himself: “that give for Me and thee.” The lowliness of Him who came in by the door, the divine person, and the perfect grace, are all shewn out together.
The true position at this moment too is clearly seen. In chapters 18 to 20 to the end of verse 28 are presented to us in a general way the principles in which they were to walk in the new order of things, and in general what characterised this new order in contrast with nature and Judaism, while God’s creation is fully owned. The Lord begins with the abnegation of self, and self-importance. We are to be as little children; one who was not such in principle could not enter into it, and he who was most so would be greatest in it. The Christian received Christ in receiving such in Christ’s name. But opposition and difficulties were to be expected. Woe to the world because of them! If they put a stumbling-block in the way of these little ones who did believe, for weakness might accompany simplicity, they had better have been hopelessly drowned in the sea. As to oneself, if one found anything in oneself that led one to stumble, no self-sparing; better lose the best member one has than one’s soul. The Lord always maintains in the strongest way the solemnity of God’s judgment of evil. The fullest freest grace is taught us, blessed be God, but nothing to weaken the horror of evil, but the contrary.
There is comfort in what follows, if not professed doctrine, as to infants, and their salvation if going out of the world as such. The Lord’s disciples were not to despise them: they were always present before Jesus’ Father in heaven. I take “angel” in the common use of it in scripture, of one who represented another without his being personally there. Thus we have the Angel of the Lord; the Malak-Jehovah. They said of Peter, It is his angel. It may be an angel who does the service; but the object of the passage is not to shew who does it but what is done, and for this purpose popular language is used. But this blessing is not founded on sentimentality, or vague notions. It is founded on the parable used for sinners in general of the lost sheep, and that the Son of man was come to save what was lost; only here, with infants, it is not said to seek. But it is not the will of our Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish: of such is the kingdom of heaven. It is not, I judge, to be thought that the Lord speaks of the poor and humble in spirit; they are the greatest in the kingdom: it would be a small and insignificant thing to say of them that it was not the Father’s will that they should perish.
We have then the case of a brother offending another, not the world; and this introduces the assembly in practice here below in the coming period. The injured person was to tell his offending brother, and win him if he could; if not, take one or two more, and if that failed, it would not merely be, You say, and I say, but the whole matter before the whole assembly with clear evidence. If he refused the judgment of the assembly, he was to be as a heathen man and as a publican. The assembly takes in this the place of the synagogue. It is remarkable here that the successors to the power given to Peter to loose and to bind, so as to have heaven’s sanction upon it, are the two or three gathered as an assembly. What the assembly decided, as such, was sanctioned in heaven. The Lord adds the promise of granting what was asked by two or three so assembled, for He Himself would be there. But what should characterise the disciple was grace, and, if personal forgiveness answered the end, it was to be given constantly. Church discipline is another thing, it comes to be judicial and needed for clearing conscience. The spirit of forgiveness belonged essentially to the Christian. By being forgiven he was one, and he was not partaker of it if he had not the spirit of it.
I apprehend, in the form of the parable, that there is an allusion to the Lord’s forgiveness of the nation, even after killing Him if they repented (Acts 3), and their refusal of grace, as shewn towards the Gentiles, involving them in all the consequences of their first guilt against Christ.
The next, chapter 19, furnishes us, I think, with some very important principles. Nature, brought up, and as God formed it, was fully recognised, but a principle and power is brought in which is wholly above it, and in its actual moral state it is fully detected and judged; while the following of Christ out of nature’s power has blessing in this world and in that to come. This—setting every thing in its place on the rejection of Christ, which did reveal every thing, and brought in a new power—is full, it seems to me, of the deepest instruction. It has its occasion first as a question debated in the Jewish school, to which the Lord gives the divine answer which unfolds the whole state of things: “Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife for every cause?” The Lord goes back behind the law to God’s original institution: “He which made them at the beginning… . From the beginning it was not so.” Thus God’s natural order, the relationship He had formed, origin of all other human relationships is restored by Christ’s authority. He returns to God and God’s institution of man. It is not Jehovah, it is not “my Father,” but God made them—a very important principle. The law takes its place as a provisional thing by the bye. Looked at as a Jewish law, a law of ordinances, God had made allowance for the hardness of the human heart, and now returned to His own thoughts and institutions. God’s order created order.
But besides this, another power is come in, which is not nature but divine, as in the power of the Spirit of God, because nature is all ruined, the power of evil is in the world, to which nature is no answer, because it is what is ruined; power therefore comes in, which is above nature, as being of God, but which consequently owns nature as He made it, and His institutions. To break them is sin, to live above them is the gift of God. “He that is able to receive it, let him receive it.”
Hence also the Lord receives little children, and blesses them. This was in God’s order, and of God’s creation, in a certain sense unspoiled. I speak not of the root of sin, but of the manifestation of evil in the world. In themselves they were the fruit of God’s natural order, as yet in a state unspoiled and natural. And so they are. The kingdom of heaven set up this order again in natural relationships and nature as God made it. We are not talking of the church here; that has its relationships spoken of in, chapter 18.
But nature, however amiable and good in this sense, has the deep root of evil in it. This we see in the young man who runs up to the Lord. A beautiful character—his shewing desire of learning of Him, whom he saw to be the most perfect master of good, would inherit eternal life, had kept all those commandments which were the maintenance of the relationships we have spoken of. But the Lord cuts down the whole seed of man (for the young man came to Him as a man, a Rabbi). There was none good but one—God; still for man the commandments were His will, and, for man to enter into life he was to keep them in the system of the law. Relationship to God the Lord does not speak of, and He says life, dropping the word eternal, which the young man had used. But the way of life for man in this world was keeping the commandments. The young man, like Paul, was irreproachable in conduct. The Lord puts the test of lust and of his heart, and all was wrong. Instead of lust judged, and all counted dung for Christ, Christ is left for the riches which his lust clung to. This tale was told of man’s heart; even where irreproachable, lust possessed it, and earth, not heaven, was its desire. The new and heavenly thing had come in which detected its state, and the fairest remains of creation: character and qualities were nothing; the heart was away from God. Riches—which to a Jew were a sign of divine favour, according to the government of this earth, now that God was revealed, and man’s state made manifest, that it was a question of man’s heart with God—were the greatest hindrance. The reason was simple: they held the desires of the natural heart.
But if one with the best qualities, and the desire of doing good, and such an opportunity, were not saved, who was to be? The Lord’s answer does not avoid the consequence; with man it was impossible: plain, earnest, and solemn testimony. But that did not hinder God; all was possible with Him, and He could save. We have, then, the consequence of giving up all for Christ, but not beyond the kingdom. All here concerns the kingdom. Peter, ever forward, puts the question, What were they to have who had forsaken all? In the renewed world, which was coming, they would be on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel, the first places in the centre of the kingdom; and every one who had left what nature loved for Christ’s name would have a hundredfold in this world, and then everlasting life; for in following Christ eternal life comes in, not in doing the law.
But the principle on which it is done is also of all importance. Many then first should be last, and who were last first, but as a principle it is (chap. 20) always true. And the principle laid down is this—labouring through confidence in Christ, and not for so much reward; grace, and not law: reward is encouragement to endurance, not motive. Those who agreed for their penny got their penny, those who trusted the master of the vineyard got according to his heart. “What is right I will give,” and they went on his word. The assurance of reward for sacrifice is there when Christ is the motive of the sacrifice; but where the reward is the motive of the service, it is poor pay, and indeed all is false. But thus there are (the converse) last first, those who, with perhaps later opportunity of service, have more trust in the Lord’s heart and faithfulness, and reap the fruit of it in Him. The sovereign grace of God is the source of true blessing. But here service, not conversion, is the question. Chapter 18, on to thus far in chapter 20, closes the moral instruction of His disciples, as giving the true character and state of things, brought in by His rejection, and the principles the disciples were to act upon: chapter 18 more within, among saints; chapter 19 men’s state and the kingdom, the principle of service being shewn in chapter 20. The Lord then proceeds to tell them of His rejection as immediate in Jerusalem, where He was going; that He could give them the cup, that was all. He was taking the lowly place, ministering, and giving His life a ransom for many: the high places in His kingdom were for those for whom they were prepared of His Father. Then, as in all the three Gospels, begins the history of the last scenes with the blind man near Jericho.
In chapter 20:30 the Lord accepts the title of Son of David, acting in grace where the place of the curse had been. He is therefore now no longer with the poor of the flock in Galilee, but drawing nigh to Jerusalem, in the character in which He had to say to His people there as such; a last testimony to them before His rejection by them, and their judgment. Accordingly He enters into Jerusalem as King, according to the prophecy of Zechariah, only the first part of it is omitted, the accomplishment of which will be at another time. Then He will be just, and having salvation. He was it always; but it was not in that character that He rode into Jerusalem now. His whole character here is placing the Jews under the final test of the presence of Messiah their King, bringing on their judgment as about to leave them; the rejected King passes them all in review before Him, and assigns them their place. It is the last closing act between Messiah and Jerusalem. God put the testimony in the mouths of the multitude, which shall be the cry of Israel in the last days, according to Psalm 118. He acts as holy King and Judge, and clears the temple of its defilements.
All that follows is the final procedure in which the dignity of the humble rejected One is vindicated against the withered pretensions of the unbelieving heads of Israel; in which each class, pretending to call Him in question and perplex Him, comes to receive its sentence from His mouth. Still, for every need His power is yet in grace. The blind and the lame come to Him in the temple, and are healed. When the chief priests see this done in the temple, in public and before the multitude, and the children crying, Hosanna to the Son of David, according to Psalm 118, they are sore displeased, and appeal to Jesus to stop it. He answers by Psalm 8. He must be glorified; and, if He gave Himself, still His glory must be maintained, and if the simplicity of children did not fulfil the task, as we read elsewhere, the stones would cry out. Here we have only the short and silencing allusion to Psalm 8, and He leaves them. He would no longer sleep in the condemned, though loved, city.
We have then the testimony to the final judgment of Israel as under the first covenant, that is, of man in his responsibility. He came to look for fruit; there were only leaves, and man is judged as utterly fruitless for ever. Israel thus judged would immediately wither away. But the whole power of the people, if the disciples had faith, would be cast into the sea of the Gentiles; and so it was. At the same time the Lord insists on the power of the prayer of faith in their service.
The chief priests and scribes came to Him, as He was teaching, to demand His authority for what He did. This is the common question of what is really apostate ecclesiastical authority. That which is of God owns God’s work: God’s work proves itself. If God’s work is done, God has wrought it, and God’s authority to act is not a matter of question for those who, being of God, know His work. Man may sometimes mix that which is of himself with it, and so far spoil and enfeeble the testimony, but that which is of God they who are of God will own. In Christ all was perfect, of course. Hence the Lord puts them on their capacity to judge of God’s work, and from carnal motives they avow their incapacity to judge of it. Why then should He tell them by what authority He acted? They were confessedly unable to judge of it. It was a humbling setting aside of their pretensions—avowed incapacity. But it is well to remember that God’s work does not need authorisation. From whom is it to receive this? God assuredly needs none to work, or make others work, and he who pleads ecclesiastical authority for working proves that it is not God who is working, for who can authorise Him?
It may seem more difficult till the proofs are there, but that is a matter of faith. If Christ has given the talent to trade with, the seeking another authority gives proof that he who does so does not know his Master. He does not know that he is sent of Christ, for then he need not seek another. If he has another without that, it is simply nought. But the Lord goes farther with their religious authorities, and in the parable of the two sons shews that the repentant sinner, not the pretended just one, was the doer of God’s will. The publicans and harlots went into God’s kingdom before such. Terrible and humbling sentence! but so it was. Nor had the bowing to John’s testimony by these repentant sinners wrought on the conscience of these hardened self-righteous ones.
The Lord then gives utterance to a parable which was the divine judgment on the whole conduct of the leaders of Israel, represented by those before Him. He had done everything for His vineyard, and then in due season He sought fruit— sent the prophets, who were rejected, and persecuted, and killed—sent yet more, and they treated them in the same way; at last He sent His Son, saying, They will reverence my Son. Him they cast out and slew. The chief priests and scribes pronounce the only possible judgment on them in reply to the Lord. It was their own sentence. The Lord then from scripture—testimony which they could not deny— shews that what they rejected was made by God the head of the corner. There could not be a plainer testimony, more immediately applicable. God, and the chiefs of Israel, the builders, were in open contradiction. It was Jehovah’s doing to exalt the rejected stone. It is still Psalm 118, the special oracle of God as to these events. We have then the Lord’s open comment and statement as to the result with the Jews— the kingdom of God taken from them, and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits of the kingdom. It was to Gentiles, but that is not the special point of the Lord’s words. It was to a nation bringing forth the fruits of the kingdom. If that be not done, they cease to answer to the description, whatever the patience of God; and though that be not the subject here, they also would have to be cut off. The same truth is otherwise told in Romans 11.
Further, the Stumbling-stone (Isa. 8) was there. It was indeed Jehovah Himself in grace. Whoever stumbled on it was offended in Him, and (this is of wider application than the chief priests) would be broken, but those on whom He fell, when coming again in judgment, would be ground to powder. Such was the present and future result of the responsibility of the Jews, to whom every advantage had been given, and to whom the Son of God Himself had come. Here the Lord is looking for fruit. The aspect of the crisis from the side of grace follows. Meanwhile the chief priests and Pharisees would have taken Him, but feared the people.
The Lord presents then the state of things on the side of grace, not of seeking fruit. A king is making a marriage for his son. This leads us on into the christian sphere of things, though taking it up first as to Jewish responsibility. It is the kingdom of heaven, only the Jewish invitation here takes no effect. The streets and lanes of the city, the poor of the flock in Israel, are not in the scene here. We have the invitation to the Jews as then given. They would not come. When all is prepared after Christ’s death, they are again invited, but they made light of it, and went their way to their own occupations, or treated the messengers injuriously, even to death. This brought judgment on them and on their city Jerusalem. They were not worthy, and the King sends out to such as had no claim or hope of such a privilege—sent, as sinners of the Gentiles, and the wedding was furnished with guests. But all this was the external thing. The title really to partake is tested amongst those who have come in, a single example being taken as the principle. He must be fit for the wedding: a wedding garment can alone be allowed at the wedding, and that is Christ. Fine clothes might be displayed, perhaps, but the wedding garment was indispensable. If a man has not really Christ, he cannot be allowed there.
This, then, is the outward profession of Christendom, tested by the possession of Christ. Judgment was exercised as to those who, being there, were not fitly there. What suited the King’s mind and purpose could alone be allowed. The offender was cast out into outer darkness. The fullest grace that seeks the needy does not content itself with unfitness for the place that grace brings into. All blessing, the feast of God’s delight and joy, was there; but if we have not really Christ, we cannot have part in it. One who has not really put Christ on is in a state discordant with the whole place and meaning of what is going on, and he must be cast out. He had no real title there.
We have now special classes who come up, but only to have the real state of the nation judged, and all the classes judged; they blamed each other. All were wholly wrong before God in the point they particularly contended for as their pride. But all the phases of Jewish moral condition are brought out, and the real truth of God in opposition to them. The Jews were under the power of the Gentiles since the time of the Babylonish captivity. This ought not to have been, but their unfaithfulness to Jehovah had brought it on, only God had spared a remnant to present Messiah to them, whom they were now rejecting. Till God gave deliverance they were to bow to the chastening. It was God’s hand upon them. The last of the four great empires now held the rule.
But while one party accommodated itself to Caesar, and made nothing of unfaithfulness to God, the other, instead of bowing to the yoke as humbled under God’s hand for their sins, were in constant rebellion against the empire, insisting on their rights as God’s people, which they had really forfeited, hypocrites with Him, and not bowing to the yoke He had laid upon their necks for their sins. These two classes come together, that Jesus might be found in fault either way. No deliverer from the Roman yoke if he accepted the tribute easily; accused to the governor if he forbade it. The Lord puts all in its place. He asks whose authority this tribute-money represents: “Caesar’s,” they reply. Give to Caesar, He says, what is his, and to God what is God’s—the true secret of their place. They marvelled, and left Him.
Then came the Sadducees, the infidels of Israel. Israel was the sphere of God’s earthly government, and resurrection no express part of the law. They gave as a fine piece of reasoning what shewed their ignorance, but the Lord was plain on so capital a point. They erred, not knowing the scriptures nor the power of God. The Lord reveals the state of the raised, shewing the mere ignorance and folly of the reasoning of the Sadducees. It is a high and holy state where what is merely earthly will have passed away for ever. Things ordered of God, and owned here, will have passed away there. What is spiritual alone remains, and the body itself changed into suited glory. But the Lord goes farther, and shews that the origin and basis of Judaism before the law was given is God’s revelation of Himself, the basis of all hope for them. His memorial name for ever condemned their thoughts.
If Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob had ceased to exist, could God have still taken their names, the name of naught to characterise Himself to Israel? He might have said, I am He who was with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, when they existed; and even so it would have been an utterly unworthy relationship—the God of those who had a mere animal existence. God characterises Himself by them—is not ashamed to be called their God. Could He characterise Himself by a mere dying animal, who, when He calls Himself theirs, did not exist at all? He is not the God of the dead, but of the living. But this truth went farther, for, as to separation of soul and body, Abraham was dead, and, though living for God, was not what God meant him to be as his God. God was not even in this sense, as an abiding state, the God of the dead. They must be according to what He would have man, soul and body. Till all was accomplished they might wait with their spirits blessed, but this was not God’s thought as to man. He was to be complete, and hence raised from the dead. The name of God indicating His relationship with those, gone for the moment, demonstrated the resurrection. For Him indeed, as we read, all are alive; but the ground of the argument here is God’s relationship with them. He cannot be the God of those who do not exist. It was a living Abraham, body and soul, of whom God could be the God. Death therefore, for he was dead, proved the resurrection. Thus divine truth was established in contradiction to the Sadducees.
This brings the Pharisees forward, who used the law as a repertory of good deeds of different value to make out worth for themselves. They ask the Lord which is the greatest. This was all human pretension of doing and reasoning. The Lord goes to the root, and gives the summary and essence of the whole law in two verses, picked out of the mass of Moses’ writings. This gave the law of God as He saw it. Thus we have resurrection, and another world, and the essence of the law established. Next, for Christ; whose Son was He? David’s, they reply; and so He was according to the flesh, but that was only man’s view of Him, and not what was being made good now. The truth that was to be fulfilled now was Psalm no. He was David’s Lord too, and going to sit on God’s right hand. This closed the whole pleading between God and the people. They could give no answer, nor durst ask any more questions. The scene was closed with Israel. Yet till judgment was executed, testimony has its place in their midst; for the patience of grace is great. Morally they were now fully judged.
Chapter 23 is a remarkable proof how in this Gospel, till we arrive at the very last chapter, all refers to the Jews, and even there it is not what actually took place among the Gentiles in our present Gospel. The scribes and Pharisees are still seen as sitting in Moses’ seat with the book of God in their hand, and in the very chapter in which they are utterly denounced (for it is the object of this chapter) in every aspect, the disciples, moving still as Jewish disciples among the Jews, are to follow what they say from Moses’ seat, and their testimony (v. 34) is sent to these same Jews. No one sits in that seat now. We may find some analogies, which the church found early when it was corrupting itself; but there is no seat of Moses to sit in. Father or Rabbi is alike out of place. How completely however the testimony is here viewed as among the Jews, is seen (v. 34) where the apostolic and christian ministry is formally so treated, sent to those whom the Lord was now denouncing. With this is formally designated at once their place and ministry. The object of the chapter is to denounce those who led the people to reject their own mercy in Christ.
All the various sides of the Pharisaic evil are denounced. They impose burdens, and heavy ones, on others, but do not touch them with one of their fingers; to be seen of men, and solemn ritual observers for that purpose, is their object. To be made much of by men, set in high places, greetings, to be called Rabbi, theological doctrinal importance in the world, to be looked up to as having official religious reputation, such were they; but all this was forbidden to the disciples: he who set up to be great among them was to be servant; they were to follow the lowliness of Christ, who ever came down, yea, from the form of God to the dust of death. Christ was their Teacher and Rabbi, and their Father was in heaven.
Then come out the various aspects of ecclesiastical Pharisaism. First is the shutting up the kingdom of heaven against men; not going in themselves, they seek to hinder others; they profit by their religious profession to get widows’ money, making long prayers; very great zeal to make a proselyte to their superstition, making him then worse than themselves; blind themselves, they lead the blind, but into the ditch. With refined casuistry as to what is evil, they shew their folly to the spiritual mind; excessively exact and zealous about the minute externals of religion, the substantial realities of it they neglect. They strain out the gnat and swallow the camel; as the chief priests bought Christ’s blood for money without a scruple, but would not put it into the treasury because it was the price of blood. They clean the outside of the platter to appear very religious and holy, within they are full of extortion and excess; as whited sepulchres, clean without, full of uncleanness within. They honoured the true witnesses of God who were of old, true children of those who had killed them, piously alleging that, had they lived then, they would not have been guilty of their blood. They would fill up the measure of their fathers. God would test them, sending them to prophets and wise men and scribes, as He did in the beginning of the gospel, and they would kill, scourge, and crucify them, that, the measure being filled up, all the righteous blood from Abel might be required of that generation.
Ecclesiastical solemnity and superstition, and often with the profession of orthodoxy, have been the persecuting power and spirit of opposition to truth in every age and in every land. Look around and see where the traits here depicted are found, and see if it be not in hierarchy in the measure of its influence. Be it Jewish or Christian, it is the same story. If we go out to Mohammedans, nay, even to heathens, it is the same thing. But, specially in a pretended orthodox hierarchy, persecution and all the traits noted by Christ will be found. I appeal to every history in every land; for Jewish and Christian I may appeal to scripture, for though the chief priests were Sadducees, the scripture shews the same spirit of persecution, and the Pharisees and the doctors of the law fill up the rest of the picture, the Lord Himself being witness. Who delivered to the secular arm in Christendom, hypocritically asking for mercy? And as in Jerusalem for Jews, so in Babylon for Christendom, was found the blood of prophets and of saints and of all that were slain upon the earth. In the ecclesiastical power, from the pope downward, will be found in the measure of its realisation what the Lord describes here.
Finally, verse 37, the Lord, though in words of tender compassion, pronounces judgment on Jerusalem. Often would Christ, Jehovah her Lord, have gathered her children together as a hen her chickens under her wings, but they would not; but now her history was closed, their house was left to them desolate, and, until they took up the children’s cry, the words of Psalm 118, they would not see their Lord again. The repentance of Israel (as proposed in the intercession of Christ, Acts 3, but then refused) would be the signal of His return to them. It is of importance to see clearly what I have remarked, that the position of the disciples and their ministry is in Israel more exactly among the Jews. It helps us in understanding what follows.
The testimony of the Lord to the Jews was closed. Their house was left unto them desolate, they were not to see the Lord, the rejected One, till they repented, when the prophecy of Psalm 118 comes to be fulfilled. This testimony of the Lord could be received only by faith, and that is what is available for the disciples and guides him out of the way of awaited peril. But there is another key and interpreter of prophecy, the fulfilment of judgment. What is discerned only by faith when it is matter of faith, is made plain by events in judgment. Warning prophecies are of no avail when the judgment is executed. It is too late. Thus we find in symbolical prophecies and parables that the explanation always goes beyond what it explains. At any rate, making events the proof of the truth of a revelation, while perfectly true, is not the ground of the Christian nor of faith at all. The believer has God’s word, and what concerns him in the prophecy is the warning or encouragement it affords when it is not fulfilled. What is a direction to flee to the mountains worth when the prophecy is fulfilled? Where is the exhortation to wait for Jehovah available in the midst of tribulation and trial with the prophetic assurance that He will come, but in the tribulation when He is not come?
Besides, prophecy is of no private interpretation; the whole plan and ways of God as to earthly government are unfolded. This is so in a very central and important point here, perhaps we may say, as to earth the most important of all. The throne of God had been on earth from the setting up of the tabernacle, and in a special way at Jerusalem from the dedication of the temple. This ceased at the Babylonish captivity. In the beginning of Ezekiel we see the glory on the threshold, then on the Mount of Olives, and then depart entirely. But a remnant of the two tribes were brought back to Jerusalem that Messiah might be presented to them, and He was so presented to them.
The true temple indeed was His body, as He said to the Jews: still He owned the temple as His Father’s house, though they had made it a den of thieves. Now the sad word came, “your house is left unto you desolate.” The Lord now predicts present judgment, in the destruction of it; and when they took this as the end of the age, and as the same time as His coming, He unfolds all God’s ways as to their testimony in Israel, and then of the power of evil, and judgment at the end when He should come to the deliverance of His servants. The Lord had merely said their house would be desolate till He came. When His disciples, still possessed with the thought of the temporal glory of Israel, boasted in what they could shew Him, the buildings of the temple, He declares that not one stone of it should be left upon another.
Then, on the disciples inquiring when the sign of His coming and of the end of the age would be, He unfolds the whole course of events as far as concerned Jerusalem, the disciples’ testimony amongst that people when He was gone, and the state the Jews would get into, and the testimony such as He then could render it in the whole world; and, finally, in a distinct portion, the last events as they concerned them or those who might believe as they did.
The disciples connect what the Lord had already said with the end of the age and the hoped-for arrival of Messiah in glory which they awaited—were obliged in such case to await, and they looked for signs. This last point He does not touch till verse 30. In verse 29 He tells of overwhelming judgments and the subversion of all things supposed to be regular and stable, but no previous sign is given. These are after the tribulation and usher in His coming when it takes place. From Luke we learn that there is anticipation of judgments, at least terror as to what is coming when they take place as far as Judsea goes.
But I continue with Matthew. The prophecy divides at the end of verse 14, which verse goes to the end of the age. Then from verse 15 we have the special circumstances of Jerusalem and the tribulation there, closing in verses 29-31 with the coming of Christ and the gathering of the scattered Jews. But the Lord does not begin by satisfying their wish as a matter of curiosity, natural as it was, but treats it as a solemn matter as to their own service. His absence would put them to the test. The rejection by the Jews of the true Christ exposed them to every false pretender. Many would come in His name. So it is always; the rejection of a truth throws it, as it were, into the hands of Satan who gives his version of it to deceive. This is a solemn thing, and examples are not wanting of it. But the Lord is faithful. And here many would be deceived. Such deceivers suit themselves to the flesh, perhaps religious flesh, and the deception is great; men are religiously bad and hardened in evil and deep in delusion. We have had an example of it in Irvingism as to the coming of the Lord and the presence of the Holy Ghost, and a great and abiding one in the pretension (foolish as to fact, yet wise as to man) to unity in the Roman ecclesiastical body.
Further, besides the false Christs, political disturbances, restlessness, actual wars and rumours of them would attract attention and characterise the state of things on earth. But the disciples were not to be troubled; all this would come to pass, they were no signs of His coming, the end was not yet. Thus the Lord is caring for what would guide and strengthen His witnesses, keeping them calm and steady in their places. The end was not yet. He gives such instruction as would make them calm in service, not agitated with circumstances or by false hopes, neither to say, Lo! here, nor Lo! there, nor to be agitated by what agitated the world. They might still serve quietly on.
But besides these things judgment would come: the contentions of nations, famine, pestilence, earthquakes in divers places. These were the beginning of the throes of Jewish sorrows in the midst of which they were to render their testimony. It was surely the heaving of the nations; but the effect considered is on the disciples in their service among the earthly people, though that testimony would go farther. But there was more. Their own immediate sorrows and trials; they would be delivered up to be afflicted, killed, hated of all the Gentiles for Christ’s sake. But this persecution from without would produce defections within; many would be offended, would turn against those once companions and betray them and hate them, and, because of abounding iniquity, many hearts not nourished directly from the flame of Christ’s love would wax cold. He that went through all the difficulty and pressure to the end would be saved. This gospel of the kingdom would be preached to the Gentiles, and then the end would come.
In this passage the Lord seems to me to overleap the whole period in which we live, and gives the ministry of the disciples in the testimony they then had of the near setting up of the kingdom, in the midst of the Jews when He was gone and the house left desolate; and resumed when the Jews were again there to be spoken to; but especially to have in view the testimony amongst that people at the end. The destruction of Jerusalem interrupted this formally and judicially, and it would again be resumed when the church was gone, and be carried on in spite of opposition, till the end came. On to that end it clearly goes, and the present gospel of salvation is clearly passed over. Verse 14 comes in as an additional element by itself. In the beginning of His reply the Lord speaks of what would be applicable at any time after His departure, but soon passes essentially into what characterises the end in Judaea, and finally they are called to endure to the end.
Verse 14 gives us the gospel of the kingdom preached in all the world, which additionally shews us that we are here in the last days. It is for a witness to all the Gentiles and then the end comes. But it is important to remark here that it is the gospel of the kingdom. This gospel of the kingdom was what Christ could preach then, what He had been preaching, that is, that the kingdom was just coming, and that men must repent to meet it, only that it was to go out to all the Gentiles. It was to be preached, as naturally such a gospel must, as a witness, as the word was that the kingdom was at hand, only that then it was to come in with judgment and power, the end was to come according to, though then immediately and definitely, the everlasting gospel of Revelation 14 and Psalms 93-100. That was the end of the age in judgment.
According to this would the judgment of chapter 25 be carried on. Hence the brethren there, are, I doubt not, Jewish messengers of the kingdom, such as the Lord here speaks to, and of. I do not mean personally apostles, but His messengers to the nations, such as in Psalm 96, though that be modified by the prophetic tone. Only the end of the age is come when He sits to judge the nations. He has righteously judged and made wars, destroyed His adversaries, and sits on the throne of His glory; the whole state of things in the old age is judged, and Messiah comes, and sitting there. It is no longer the age to come, because it is come; only before it, the gospel goes out to all nations and then the end comes.
Thus the Lord has fully answered the question of the disciples, first in warnings as to their work in Judaea, available to them, then without any particular sign, save false Christs, and then more definitely what would introduce the end. There was a provisional end to service in Palestine and among the Jews as a nation, and a half-week of Daniel wholly unaccomplished;—for unbelief a whole one. This is resumed or taken up again when the faithful have to endure to the end and be saved. Other details are given elsewhere, as in Revelation 11-13, but that is not our object here, only we have that half-week referred to generally here in what follows verse 15, a distinct revelation as to the events of that closing period which in the Old Testament is unfolded to us in Daniel 12, as it is alluded to in other places as in Jeremiah 30:7, and in the word “indignation,” and consumption decreed, though this last refers rather to what arrives on the close of the great tribulation; it gives the full guidance and instruction for service.
The Lord now gives the needed warning as to the power of evil which would be in the time Daniel had spoken of when the idol that brought on the desolation should be set up in the holy place. This was not the time of their continued testimony as His witnesses in the land of Canaan; the testimony gone out among the heathen might continue, but the history of testimony is closed and the time of tribulation begins. The covenant is broken, every claim despised, and Jerusalem trodden down. I do not mean that there is no sackcloth testimony in spite of this; we read there is, when the power of evil is most displayed, but the time is not characterised by service as their then instruction and duty. Trials and persecutions there would have been then, but this as the natural accompaniment of faithful testimony in the midst of evil. Now the power of evil was dormant and characterised the state of things. The Jews accept idolatry, that is, the great body of them accepted Antichrist, and the power of Satan reigns for the moment unhindered, save as God holds the upper hand after all.
But He has shortened the days, or no flesh would be saved. And it is the time when Michael, that great prince, stands up for Daniel’s people. But it is the time of flight for him that reads and understands as to those who dwell in Judaea. It is a peremptory sign of the great tribulation, the beginning of the last half-week of Daniel’s seventy weeks. Desolation is there caused by the setting up of idols. The unclean spirit with seven others worse had entered in. They were to flee from the wonted habitations of men, and frequented places, to the desolate mountains, not to descend to get anything from the house, nor return if working in the field to get the clothes they had left aside. Woe to those hindered in their flight! But God can think of His people who trust Him even at such a time, and think of everything for them. They were to pray that their flight might not be in winter, difficult for the travel and sojourn of fugitives in the mountains, nor on a sabbath when a flight measured by a sabbath-day’s journey would give a bad hope of escape in times such as never were nor would be; God would think of this for them.
But here we have and are meant to have a clear proof that we have to do with Jews, Jewish laws, as with Judaea for the scene, and with nothing else. Further, a little consideration shews that it is only of the last terrible time that it speaks. The Lord refers us to Daniel, and there we find the unparalleled tribulation which cannot be repeated, and the three-years-and-a-half, with seventy-five days added for certain cleansing. There too Michael stands up and the people are delivered, every one that is in the book. Now take 1260 days or years, nothing happened at either, after the destruction of Jerusalem by Titus. That is spoken of in Daniel 9 and then a period of continued calamity, desolations determined; so in Luke, where no abomination is spoken of, only Jerusalem encompassed with armies.
In a word it is the final and terrible tribulation of the Jews guilty of having rejected their Messiah, but whose deliverance will then take place in grace, those who are written in the book, for God has an elect people, and for their sakes the days shall be shortened. But in these last days we again find false Christs and false prophets encouraging the unbelieving with the hope of deliverance. They shall give signs and wonders so that if it were possible they would deceive the very elect. But these God will keep. The Lord warns them to believe none of them. They had His account of His coming; it would be sudden and unsuspected as a flash of lightning, where the object of judgment was there it would be, as the unseen bird of prey appears unlooked for where the carcase is. It is an allusion to Job 39:30. The shortening of the days I apprehend to be the confining them peremptorily to the 1260, whereas man’s will and passions would carry them on indefinitely. But the Lord would come as a thief in the night and close it all.
Verse 28 closes that part which is warning for the disciples as to the dangers of every kind at the time of the great tribulation. Verse 29 is God’s intervention in judgment. Immediately after the tribulation of those days there is a complete subversion of governmental order. All that held a place in the ordinances that ruled the earth would be shaken and subverted, and then Christ would appear, for the sign of the Son of man in heaven is His appearing. It is not signs of a coming kingdom and then a Messiah on earth, but the Son of man, heir of all things, who appears in heaven. There may be indistinctness of glory before He is personally seen, but it is the Son of man Himself who comes and is seen. It is Himself appearing, no premonitory sign but Himself, and Himself from heaven who had gone up there, not a Jewish expected Messiah, Son of David, on earth. This shall be mourning to all the tribes of the earth or rather land—hopes disappointed, judgment come. All the earth will be dismayed surely, but here it is rather “of the land”; nor is it I conceive the mourning of Zechariah 12:10-14. There it is grace on the remnant, “the families that remain.” They mourn for Christ. Here it is seeing Him come in power and all the tribes mourn.
Yet not only does the Lord deal then with those in the land, but the elect of Israel will be gathered from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other. This closes the direct revelation as to His ways with Israel. What follows is exhortation and warning testimony as to the character of His coming and moral details. From verse 45 we have the estimate of conduct while He is away, in principle, state, and service, all in reference to His coming. The Lord directs them to that by which those forewarned would know it was at the doors. To the disciples such things as the idol in the holy place and the false Christs would tell it was just there. The Lord’s warnings had given them the key. To Christians, as we now are with the Holy Ghost, such do not apply. A man who sets up to be Christ can have no deceiving power, for we know He is come, and when He yet comes, will come in glory, even if we have not scriptural intelligence to know we shall appear with Him. The whole scene is Jewish. No mountains in Judaea are my deliverance. I am going to be caught up to meet the Lord in the air. The sabbath day’s journey and all the circumstances point to a Jewish scene. To the Jew who expected deliverance a false Christ would be a great snare. With this warning no doubt all is plain, but in itself what the Lord warns against would be a great snare. Even to the Christians before the destruction of Jerusalem, profoundly Jewish as they were, it would not have been without danger, false as it was. At the end, to which this latter part applies, it becomes in the highest degree applicable.
We have then the well-known word: “this generation shall not pass till all these things be fulfilled.” If we return to Deuteronomy 32, the expression becomes quite clear (see v. 5, 20); the last is just what is spoken of here. I attach great importance to the destruction of Jerusalem by Titus, because, consequent on the rejection of the Lord, the throne of God on the earth was finally set aside; but it is not the subject here, though there is analogy. Indeed it was more than an ordinary generation of men after the Lord’s crucifixion, though perhaps not sufficiently so to use it as a proof that it does not apply. Nor has that unbelieving generation passed away; we have it amongst us to this day unmingled with the nations. The word of the Lord abides: heaven and earth will pass, Christ’s word will not—a solemn assertion of divine testimony. The word of the Lord abides for ever. The “word of our God” says Isaiah. Precious and solemn truth! we have a testimony: God’s word, essential truth that changes not, must be always true. Things change, heaven and earth pass away, all is rolled up like a garment; but truth is always truth, and God’s word is truth, has revealed the truth blessedly adapted to us and the state we are in; but God’s own truth, what reveals Him and His ways, what is heavenly and divine is suited, as Jesus Himself, to what is human and weak down here. We have what never passes away, and faith possesses it, the believer is sanctified by it, and Christ is the fulness of it. Grace and truth came by Him. But of the day and hour of His coming knows no man or angel. It is not a thing revealed. It is kept in the secret of the Father’s counsels, the divine mind, and is not in any wise a subject of revelation; it does not come to expression out of the secret of that mind.
When the abomination is set up, then indeed the short remaining time is known at any rate in general, and one taught of God knows by the warnings we have been reading if the end is nigh, but when that is, who can say? So Noah, once warned, knew the judgment was then fast coming, but none else. Judgment came as a thief in the night. But this judgment, sudden and unexpected as it may be, will be sure and discriminative. The eye of God will discern those that are His, though in identical circumstances with those who are not. Two men may be in the same field, two women at the same mill; judgment will leave the one unscathed, and take the other. To the heart that was really watching and waiting for Him He would come as a deliverer from all the power of evil. The disciples were to watch, they knew not at what hour their Lord would come.
At the time of the end, when the Lord judges as a whole the unfaithful servant, the kingdom of heaven shall take, as to individual responsibility of those who make positive profession, the form or likeness of ten virgins who went forth to meet the Bridegroom, and servants to whom their Lord entrusted talents for service: the former referring to spiritual state; the latter to service.
The character attached to the saints at the beginning in the first parable is that they went out to meet the Bridegroom; as it is expressed doctrinally in I Thessalonians I, they were converted to wait for God’s Son from heaven. This is all important as the living characteristic of the Christian. “And ye like unto men who wait for their Lord when he shall return from the wedding”: their loins girded about, their lights burning—a clear and manifest confession of Christ, and all in order in the heart, and as men ready to open whenever the Master knocked. Not a mere notion or theological idea, but the actual waiting for Christ, and the heart in a state ready to receive Him. It is well before we go farther to remark that we have not the bride here. The church is not viewed as such. If we will make out a bride here, it is Jerusalem on the earth, and that according to the whole tenor of the Gospel; not Jerusalem above. Christians are viewed as virgins accompanying the Bridegroom in to the wedding.
The Lord had warned the disciples in the parable of the servant, chapter 24, of the church’s losing the present sense of His coming; that if the evil servant said in his heart, My Lord delayeth His coming, he would begin to persecute and fall in with the world, as it has happened. This looks at the professed assembly as a whole. Here we find that in fact the Bridegroom tarried. The effect upon all was that all slumbered and slept. True Christians forgot it—lost their character of being gone out to meet Him, as much as false professors. They had gone in, moreover, into worldly religion in spirit and principle whence they came out, though maintaining their profession, however dimly it shone; for the cry had to be resumed, “Go ye out to meet him.” This is very solemn; the whole church, the brightest and the best, had forgotten their true place and character. Their original calling was forgotten and lost, but the true saints had not of course ceased to be such. There was a general waking up of all who made profession. The foolish were like the others formally and had their lamps.42 But the cry came at an unlooked for, or as men would say, an unseasonable, hour, “Behold, the bridegroom cometh.” They were to go out again to meet Him, to take their original calling. They all arose and trimmed their lamps; but, with the five, oil was wanting, there was no living grace, and hence nothing could last. What really shewed a right state, inward thoughtfulness of w hat they went out for, the effect subjectively in what was not displayed of that which was objectively before them—this was all that was wanting. They were with the others; they had their lamp or profession like them. What was to feed it, living grace within, was wholly wanting; the profession soon began to fail. It was not the time to get what was wanting for it. They were not ready. This was the great essential point. All had been asleep; the whole church, pious and all, had forgotten the Lord’s coming. All that made any profession were awoke, the foolish as the wise, by the midnight cry. Any can be aroused to activity when the Lord sends forth the cry. They are not rejecters or infidels, quite the contrary, but there is no oil—the inward life and grace is wanting. Time is allowed after the awakening cry to test the reality of profession. It was soon going out. The Lord came and they had no part in the blessing—the Lord did not know them. A solemn testimony for those who may make a positive profession of Christianity! The midnight cry, the Lord is corning, is what wakes up the sleeping professors. Till then the whole church had lost the expectation of His coming—were asleep to it; but only those who had the Spirit of Christ, real living grace within, were ready to meet Him.
The points of the parable are these: the church was called to go out to meet Christ; the Bridegroom tarries, and all go to sleep, ceasing to expect Him. What wakes them up is the cry of His coming; they are called back to their original calling; but only those who had the Spirit of Christ, living grace, were found ready to meet Him, and went in to the marriage. The state of souls professing Christianity is in question.
In the following parable their service is in question. The Lord on His going away leaves talents with His own servants. It is not here, remark, natural gifts, however responsible we may be for the use of them; it is what Christ gave to His own servants when He went away. The Lord gave spiritual gifts on His departing. What were the talents given, and given to servants, for? To serve with. Those who understood their Master’s mind, because they had confidence in their Master’s goodness, entered in heart into His interests, which is the way of love—traded with them; one did not, he waited to be authorised, and why? He did not know nor estimate his Master. Confidence in Him was wanting, and so confidence in acting grace was not there known in the heart. The Lord is not here unfolding dogmas or explaining how this happens, but presenting phenomena. The servant who did not really know his Master did not serve Him; he feared to do so. He was in the place, had competency to act from the Lord, but did not feel interest enough in what concerned Him to act for Him while away; he had not heart enough to do it, because he did not know the Lord’s heart.
The Lord does not treat the question whether there may be gift without grace; from other scriptures, as 1 Corinthians 13, we know there may; but it is not the question here, for there they might use them, where there was grace, for vanity. It is what renders one in the place of a servant an unprofitable one. Gifts of power are wholly distinct from grace. One in the place of a servant with capacity to serve (and every disciple of Jesus thus stood in that place when He was gone), who did not serve through distrust of His Master, proved he did not know Him, and was cast into outer darkness. Note here that the gift is distinct from natural capacity. This last is recognised here. The vessel was fitted and prepared, and the gift put into it. So Paul was a chosen vessel, and was then gifted for service.
In Luke the responsibility of man is more fully brought forward, and direct proportionate reward. Every one receives one pound, and he who gains ten gets ten cities. Here all the faithful ones enter alike into the joy of their Lord. They had known their Lord’s character and acted on it, and had the blessing of it as associated with Him, were partakers of His joy, though also to be made ruler over many things. Here it is blessedness, there reward. Nor is the wicked person there cast into outer darkness; he loses even what he had— the subject is reward. If he had hard thoughts of his Master, he should have acted on it legally, if he could not according to grace. But now under grace, the want of the knowledge of grace takes away the sense of responsibility. The man does nothing; under law it is not so. A man really under it will toil and labour through fear. The whole parable shews the spirit in which Christ’s servant labours according to grace, and its result, not in the kingdom, but together in the Lord’s joy, which is according to grace, in our enjoyment of it. If this be wanting all is gone.
Remark another thing here, which is always so. The Lord puts His coming so as not to allow a thought beyond a living man’s life. The virgins who fell asleep are the virgins who awoke; the servants who got the talent are the same that are judged. Christ was always to be looked for; and “which are alive and remain” is the right word for faith. Both parables refer entirely to the responsibility of the saints; but there is this difference: the first shews to us the universal way in which, even with true Christians, the original calling of the church was wholly forgotten. The Lord was not waited for. Only grace woke them up in time when He was coming, so that those that had grace, being ready, went in with Him: only there was sufficient interval between the cry and the coming to test personal grace. In the second it is individual all through, and the effect of individual grace in that knowledge of the Lord Himself, which made them serve with the confidence of love, without as to that referring to the Lord’s return. They laboured while He was away, but not here in direct reference to His return. The state of the saints of God, as a whole, depended on that; but many have served devotedly, knowing Christ, without knowing aught really of His coming as a present expectation, though knowing He would return and take account, and their service was accepted with the blessed word, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”
I would further remark that any application of these parables to the Jewish remnant is a mere mistake; God’s dealings with and by this remnant, as far as treated in this part of scripture, are unfolded in chapter 24 to the end of verse 31, and this connects itself as to historical events on earth directly with verse 31 of chapter 25. Verse 32 of chapter 24 begins personal exhortations to verse 44. These exhortations have their application to that remnant and close with personal separation by judgment, the spared one being left on earth. From verse 45 we pass over to general christian ground—the disciples up to the destruction of Jerusalem having both positions (though the twelve and Paul had a different dispensational position), both founding the assembly; though its place was not yet revealed as afterwards by Paul, and carrying the last testimony to the Jewish people. Thus in Arts 2 you have church testimony; in Acts 3 you have remnant Jewish testimony. This closed morally with the death of Stephen, where we first find Saul as an adversary in ignorance, and judicially in the destruction of Jerusalem. Stephen began the departure to heaven, forming the heavenly company of Christians.
Matthew 24:45-51 gives us the general history of the service willed of God, in the assembly as a whole, and the source of it in view of the Lord’s return, and the resulting alternative as regards the professing body upon earth; and the parable of the ten virgins, those who went out to meet the Bridegroom, which is not the character of the Jewish remnant. The Lord comes to the remnant where they are. These accompany Him to the wedding. The parable of the talents is the responsibility of service all the time He is away, as to their service by the gifts of the Holy Ghost, personal grace or knowledge of Christ being the testing point. Now all this is a solemn warning to Christians, as to their state and service, founded on true knowledge of Christ.
In chapter 25:31, we have formally His coming to earth and seating Himself there on the throne of His glory, connecting itself immediately, as I have said with chapter 24:30, 31, which terminated the Jewish part of the prophecy and instruction. But when coming in glory with all the holy angels, He does not verily come as a flash of lightning, but takes, and seats Himself on, the throne of His glory, and gathers all the Gentiles before Him. He sits to judge the nations on the earth, the nations then living on it, to whom the message of the then coming kingdom, as declared in chapter 24:14, had come. They were judged consequently according to their reception of these messengers. No other test or ground of judgment was applied to sheep or goats.
Remark further that there are three classes here, the goats, the sheep, the brethren. There is no reference to the dead, nor to resurrection. When the Lord judges the dead at the end of the world, He does not come at all. He sits on the great white throne, and heaven and earth flee away, and the dead small and great are brought up before Him. They are judged according to the works.
And note here, that the ground of judgment in this parable does not apply to the great body of those of the Gentiles judged there when raised. They had had no messengers. The ground of their judgment is stated in Romans 1 and 2. What renders them inexcusable is quite different from the ground of judgment here. What is here is not mentioned there, what is there is not referred to here. The judgment of the assembly on earth, and of special judgment as to the state of individuals and their service, we have already had in the three preceding parables. But before the end God, ever mindful of His mercy, sends out a message to warn the inhabitants of the whole world that judgment is just coming— what in chapter 24:14 is called this gospel of the kingdom; warning them, that is, that the kingdom was just going to be set up. The final character of the testimony is found in the everlasting gospel, Revelation 14, and Psalm 96, called, I believe, “everlasting gospel” as being, not the testimony of sovereign grace taking us to heaven and revealing Christ sitting in glory at God’s right hand, but that which was announced in die garden of Eden, that the Seed of the woman should bruise the serpent’s head. Compare Revelation n:17, 18, and chapter 12, the former passage going on fully to the end, for the casting into the bottomless pit is not the final bruising of Satan which is in Revelation 20:10. But Christ’s coming and the binding of Satan in the bottomless pit is the close of God’s earthly dispensational dealings, and the strange mystery of a disorder which God allows to go on while calling out souls in grace; Rev. 20:2, 3.
The whole prophetic history then is contained in chapter 24:1-31. In verses 31-44 is judgment on the Jews when He comes. Chapter 24:45, to 25:30 is the judgment of Christendom, of the whole state and system, their distinctive judgment. Then chapter 25:31 takes up the consequence of the establishment of Christ’s throne upon the earth in the judgment of the Gentiles. But for the immensely important fact of setting up the throne of the earth, we might say all is judgment from chapter 24:31. But this fact is all-important, because God has a throne of judgment on the earth again, which He has never had since Nebuchadnezzar took Jerusalem. The Lord comes from heaven and judges the beast and the apostasy, all that rises up against the Lamb. But by this He establishes His power on earth, and in fact in Jerusalem, and thus takes His earthly throne in connection with the Jews and the heavenly saints, to whom judgment, in the sense of ruling government and power, is given. The war-judgment against the beast is in Revelation 19, the sessional-judgment in chapter 20.
This judgment of the Gentiles is spoken of in the Old Testament too. Indeed all the Psalms from 93-99 are the full inauguration of it, in the cry of the remnant, and then first giving the appeal to Israel and to the Gentiles, Psalm 100 being the call of the world up to worship after judgment is accomplished. In a word, our parable is the judgment of the quick only, exclusively the Gentiles (the Jews having been judged, chap. 24:32-35), and the ground of it their reception of the messengers who had been sent out to announce the coming kingdom. The judgment of the quick is as final as the judgment of the dead, “These shall go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into life eternal.” The wicked have their lot with the devil and his angels in the everlasting fire prepared for these. The kingdom will be inherited down here by the righteous, blessed of His Father. It was prepared for them from the foundation of the world.
We may notice here that those who have preached the introduction of the millennial kingdom will have a place that those born under it will not, though these enjoy the fruit of it in peace. They have gone through tribulation and are before the throne of God, and praise Him with a nearness the others cannot (see Rev. 7:9-17), though still on earth. I am disposed to think the 144,000, Revelation 14, are the Jewish remnant. I have so considered them habitually, and the everlasting gospel to the Gentiles comes after them. These spared ones who have received the messengers go into everlasting life. It is not merely the kingdom, but personal salvation. Those born during the millennium are not necessarily quickened; hence, when temptation comes, they follow Satan. Indeed, though we know that we have eternal life by many testimonies, yet the only passages in which it is spoken of in the Old Testament (Dan. 12 and Psa. 133) speak of it in reference to the millennium. We have it in a higher and better way, with and like Christ.
Some practical details I would yet notice. We have seen that what stamped the character and calling of the Christian was lost while the Bridegroom tarried, and the virgins were asleep. They had originally gone out to meet the Bridegroom— left the rudiments of the world and all religious association with it, for that especially is going out. They had got back into worldly religion, into the world for ease, while still making profession. There were living saints there; but what stamped their calling was lost, and therefore no separation took place. Asleep, a virgin without oil was as good as a virgin with it. “Awake, thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light.” But the midnight cry awoke both. Religious activity was roused—how much we see of it! But this led to separation, the interval between the awakening cry and the Lord’s being there testing the reality of their state. They did not endure; their profession of Christ got dim and was not maintained.
Thus the midnight cry restores the character of the Christian and puts all professors into the place of their calling. But, secondly, their getting into this tests their real state. They cannot go on apart from the world. Their faith does not endure, and then comes the solemn fact: it is now too late. Just as in Thyatira (the papal body), she had time to repent and did not, and now it was judgment; she was replaced by the kingdom and the Morning Star. So here, it was too late to get the oil now and go in to the wedding. It was not the time of calling and supply of grace, but of separation and testing as to the possession of grace—a solemn thought! Who can say how soon it may come? whether individually it may not be come for some who have heard the cry, woke up and given up all, or gone back to the world?
This is the point, I believe, intended by not getting oil from the others; and no more than this; it was not the time of calling and communication of grace, but of testing as to possession of it. It was too late, and Christ does not know them. If this be so, and the cry is gone out, and in some measure I believe it has, it is a very solemn thought. A time does come when the calling of grace to this place and position closes, and the time of separation begins. As in another aspect of things it is true, the net was drawn to shore and the good put into vessels and the bad left on the shore, though there the tale continues to the actual execution of judgment; here they are only shut out. But that says all. The door was shut. A gospel to heathens who have not heard may and will go forth, but a possessed gospel definitely without effect there is no gospel for.
The prophetic testimony of the Lord was closed: the immediate circumstances of His last hours now rise up before us. Still in these moments of humiliation He remains the same blessed object to teach us what the wisdom of God is, and even the power of God, though giving Himself up for a season to the will of man; and He shines only the more brightly by passing through it.
The introduction is very striking, though simple. In divine calmness the Lord tells His disciples what is about to happen: after two days was the passover, and at that time the Son of man was to be betrayed to be crucified. The true Passover was to be sacrificed, the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world. Such was God’s sure purpose. The chief priests anxiously seek not to have it then, fearing a tumult of the people who so eagerly listened to Him and had seen His miracles. They need not have feared; His hour was come, and the heart of man would be led by Satan’s power, where alas! they wished. Enmity against God was to have its full course. At the passover at which they feared the people, the whole people would follow them to have Jesus crucified, to bring the victim on the altar—God’s Lamb, but a rejected people. They would now have their will, but God’s purpose was to be accomplished. Evil was to have its way, and all, save the special work of grace attaching the heart to Jesus, and so ordering a testimony to Him and to the heart it filled—all were to bow to the power, and yield to the tide of evil.
The Lord is at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper: a woman comes (we know elsewhere it was Mary the sister of Lazarus; but here it is Jesus who is in view and the state of mind as to Him) and spends what she had most precious on Him—right-hearted devotedness drawn out through grace by the growing power of evil. But the disciples, led away by the spirit of Judas, are indignant at what they call waste. To be sure, spending anything on Jesus is waste in the eyes of the world. On what is useful for man, it is not waste. Even, if worldly-wise wisdom does not see too much encouragement of the poor contrary to the rules of political economy, spending something on them is not waste; but on Christ devotedness of affection to Him—to what purpose? Man’s benefit may pass, but testimony of affection of heart to Him (be it that it only does that) cannot pass in the world, no, nor with disciples, where that devotedness is not. The calculations of hypocrites lead them astray, finding ready access to their heart in the state it is in. But the Lord owns it: care for the poor is all right and well; the Lord owns it, but love to Him, when the world’s ruin and eternity depend on the manifestation of His self-sacrificing love, rejected or owned, is above all. It is not a corban to those who hold the place of priests, and use His name to the neglect of duty to God and those He has put us in relationship with; but a free and uncalculating heart which shews, as best it may, its unselfish devotedness to Him.
I have noticed elsewhere that it is this devotedness to Christ, to Himself, which obtains true knowledge instinctively in doing what is right, or in the revelation of Him and of truth. Thus Mary Magdalene’s watching at the sepulchre makes her the vessel of communication of our highest privileges to the apostles themselves. So the gospel is first fully brought out in the blessed Lord’s meeting the case of the poor woman that was a sinner in the city—like this Mary in affection, though so different in state; but each brings out the suited testimony of the Lord. But the attachment to His person draws it out, for He is the centre of all truth and blessing, and, when rejected in this world, brings out further grace connected with Himself; for in Him all divine riches and purposes are found and fulfilled, and it is His breach with the lower position of this world and promise, that raises us up with Him into the higher world of purpose and glory, and it is just there we are now in the Gospel of Matthew. It was worthy to be recorded in all ages that one heart estimated the Saviour, when the world was gone against Him, when the disciples even had not heart or understanding to see and know His preciousness in that solemn moment. It was not insincerity in them but poverty of heart; it was man’s heart that looked no deeper than prudence and common sense: divine perception was not there. Attachment to Christ felt what was fitting in heart and drew out divine knowledge for Him.
In Judas we have the full contrast with Mary. It may be that the spending the precious ointment on Christ, and so much money lost, as he would think, roused his cupidity. It is very probable—at any rate the hour was there, and good and evil were coming to their full crisis and contrast—money was his motive and Satan suggested to him, blinded utterly by his wretched avarice, to sell the blessed Lord. Nor is the price unnoticed by the Holy Ghost. It is fearful to think for how small a sum he could betray the Master he had so known; but man’s heart was to be manifested, and here man’s heart under the leading and hardening power of Satan. The love of money was there, this was the lust; Satan suggested the means of gratifying it, and then hardened his heart against even natural feeling. Many a natural man would recoil from betraying with a kiss one known in long kindness and grace. It is evident also that being ever with Christ with evil in his heart and ways must have hardened him in hypocrisy.
For my own part I believe Judas expected Him to get off as He had so often escaped their power, blind as he was as to the hour being come; but this only makes it more horrible. Alas! he had sold himself, not Christ. For He could have got free, with twelve legions of angels, or gone away when they went backward and fell to the ground. But therefore it was the greater sin, and man was to be shewn by his dishonouring the Lord, measured in his mind by this goodly price. For Christ and Christ’s perfectness bring out fully the evil of man’s heart. What thief being alongside another would insult and outrage the companion of his misery? but, when Christ is there, the poor criminal can join in ribald insults against the Lord of glory. Oh, what a test He is, and what it shews is in the human heart under God’s searching power, the searching power of Christ’s presence!
But another scene was to take place before all was accomplished—the blessed testimony of grace in the institution of the Lord’s supper. Yet here also the power of evil was to be ripened by the presence of grace. It was one that dipped his hand with Christ in the dish that was to betray Him, and as we read elsewhere, after the sop he went out. All is prepared of God and used by the Lord in the calmness of divine perfectness. A heart was ready to provide the room, nay, had it ready; and the Lord sends him word, My time is at hand (for that indeed He was come), I will keep the passover at thy house with My disciples. The Lord then refers to His betrayal in words which express, what indeed other passages reveal, His deep feeling as to its being one of the disciples who should betray Him. His knew who it was, He told it here, but what was on His heart in His love to His disciples was, that one of them should do it. The disciples, I think, here shew a true and right spirit, which indeed spoke their innocence. They were sure the Lord knew and told what was certain. Some of them would, and they distrusted themselves; but their asking freely shews they had no such thought: sorrow and honesty of heart were there. The Lord’s answer alludes to the prophetic statement which told of His sorrow and the cause of its being so poignant. See Psalm 41:9; 55:12. The Son of man must go as it was written of Him, but terrible was the doom of him who did it. In truth it was awful:— one who had seen His miracles, been sent out to work them himself, witnessed His grace and perfectness; and then to sell Him for thirty pieces of silver! This drew out unhappy Judas; who must speak like the rest, though avoiding doing it till thus denounced. Now he would say as all, to seem as clear as others; afraid, his doom thus denounced, to be different from the rest, but only to bring out the full testimony to his known guilt.
The Lord then institutes the supper, putting first Himself, then the blood of the new covenant, then its being shed for many, in the place of the Jewish passover, the old covenant, and the limitation of everything to that people. This is the distinctive character of the supper here, suited to this Gospel. Mark’s account is essentially the same. Luke’s is much more personal and connected with (surely divine, but also) human affection to the disciples. But in all it is the blood of the new covenant, or the new covenant in His blood. In Matthew it is leaving association with them, breaking with men, even with the disciples down here, drinking no more of the fruit of the vine; only in Matthew and Mark His drinking it again with them after a wholly new sort is also spoken of. It was the simple and blessed testimony of the displacing all that was before, man and any previously presented ground of man’s relationships with God.
No new covenant was yet established; but the blood on which it was to be founded was shed, and it could be announced so that Judaism was closed, that is, man’s relationships with God as in flesh, and on the footing of man’s righteousness; also closing any connection between the Lord come in flesh and man. His body, but His body as dead, was given as meat indeed. This carried the double testimony that there was no possible connection any more between man in the flesh and God; but also, that redemption was wrought, the true pass-over offered. Hence, as before that, death was death to man, now he lives by death, the death of Christ. It is not here as in Luke, “Do this in remembrance of me,” but His separation from His disciples is strongly marked. He does not eat or drink with them, but gives what was the sign of His death to them, the sign of a perfect redemption by His death, but that His death, not His life with them was their portion with Him. This was a total and mighty change, the essence of their whole relationships with Him and having an eternal character. Death was the portion of the Son of God as man down here, and their part with Him and with God was founded on it.
The blood was shed for many for the remission of sins, and the new covenant was founded on it; all was dispensationally changed, but all was eternally founded also as to man, the believer’s relationships with God. But present association was wholly broken off till renewed in a new way in His Father’s kingdom. This is an expression of Matthew’s Gospel like the kingdom of heaven. It is the higher and heavenly part of the kingdom. In chapter 13 we find it in the explanation of the tares and the wheat. We read, “The Son of man shall gather out of His kingdom all things that offend … then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father,” that higher part where they shall be in the same glory as Christ Himself, predestinated to the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to Himself: only here it is My Father; there, “their.” Then Christ will anew, but in a blessedly new way, enjoy companionship with His disciples and they with Him. Blessed place and blessed familiarity! If the Lord has given up the companionship of His disciples, it is to accomplish their redemption; and He waits, as we wait, to renew it in a better place and in brighter scenes, but as truly and more intimately than they could have it here. Nothing more beautiful or touching than this intimation of the Lord at the moment of His departure. He shewed where His heart was, His love to us. And they sung a hymn together, and went out to the mount of Olives, His wonted resort.
But on the way the Lord reveals to them what was about to happen, and that immediately, but still with His heart resting on them. They would find only an occasion of stumbling in Him. With what gracious calmness the Lord tells them of it! For it was a poor and base path, one alas! too natural to us; but He only thinks of them to warn and apprise them of it as those He loved. But, as it was written, they were the sheep of His pasture, and the Shepherd was to be smitten and the sheep scattered. He speaks of them as those gathered to the good Shepherd in this world, the Jewish remnant gathered to Messiah the true Shepherd of Israel, though now to enter on brighter and better hopes and a more blessed service; but here the sheep of His flock already gathered, and now to be dispersed by the death of Messiah the Shepherd.
But He would rise again and then go before them into Galilee, the place where according to prophecy He had been the light of Israel, and gathered these poor of the flock around Him. As such they are looked at here, as such His death scattered them. For Messiah, the true Shepherd, was smitten, and cut off; and what was the flock with the Shepherd taken away? But risen, He would go before them again into the place where He had been associated with them; for in Matthew we have no ascension. The Acts are wholly founded on Luke’s mission.
But Peter, trusting as ever his own strength, declares that he never would be offended if all were; if Jordan overflowed all its banks, he was not afraid to dip his foot in it. But self-confidence in a disciple must be corrected by abasement of self. Humble, we are safe, for God gives grace; self-confident and not humble, we must be humbled: so with poor Peter. The Lord warns him, but he maintains his confidence; and so, instead of watching and praying, he goes to sleep, and, though he knew it not, the enemy close at hand, man’s hour and the power of darkness. And how easily we are led by what is wrong without exactly what is apparently evil, but what suits human nature! All the disciples are led away into the same self-confident assertion; so they chime in with Judas about the ointment; so they were carried away—even Barnabas— by Peter’s dissimulation. What is of man is contagious for men, be it false boldness, or servile fear.
But we are drawing to the last scenes of the blessed Lord’s life. He is here, the tested but perfect victim, while alas! the disciples again shew what man is! but all only brings out the Lord’s grace. It is not, as in John, a divine Person above all, offering up Himself, nor the man overcoming in dependence all that pressed upon Him. Obedience and grace must be perfect in the true and spotless victim. Death and the cup were there; and He must be put fully to the proof of His obedience. But He passes through it all with His Father and yet can think of others who can think but little of Him; for, as to them, it is the testing of the disciples more than what was special to Christ that is portrayed. He looked for their watching, and they failed Him. But we have Jesus perfect in patient obedience, Jesus perfect in referring all to His Father, though feeling, and when feeling, all He had to go through.
It is the perfectness of His mind when His being a victim is in view that is here specially brought before us. He takes all the disciples with Him to Gethsemane; and then, telling them to tarry there while He went on farther and prayed, He takes Peter, and James, and John, who had also been with Him on the mount of transfiguration, and afterwards had the place of pillars farther on; and there all that was before the blessed One came upon His spirit. He began to be sorrowful and very heavy; He felt as man what He had to undergo, not mere pain or suffering, the power of death weighed upon His spirit, weighed upon it as man, yet with a weight no man could fathom. Yet with what calm simplicity He tells it out! We ought to know it, though it may be beyond our knowledge. “My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death.” His need was there, and told out to hearts that ought to have felt it and watched earnestly, occupied with Him. He looked for this, some one to have compassion. “Tarry ye here and watch with me.” Blessed Saviour! what ought a heart to have felt to whom He said it? Oh how should it have watched, but alas! what are we?
He went on to be alone there with His Father about that which with Him only He could enter into, and which must be altogether with Him. He was perfect in referring it to His Father, and referring it alone. There the solemn question must have its solution. There alone it could, and there alone His perfectness could bring it. He fell on His face and prayed, saying, “O my Father,” in supplicating earnestness, “if it be possible, let this cup pass from me.” He should feel it fully and He did: submission would not have been perfect else, but then His obedience and submission were perfect: “nevertheless, not as I will, but as thou wilt.” In the perfect sense of the cup to be drunk, and the holy desire to avoid it, the piety of soul which desired it (for it was all the repulsion of sin from God, and what our wretched souls had fallen into— what man was as departed from God, which He must take upon His soul, if indeed He had to drink it, if He undertook our cause, and it was a holy desire to shrink from such a judgment and being made sin, even as bearing it before God), yet with perfect submission and obedience to His Father, whatever His will was, and to His Father He brings it there where it ought to be brought, alike perfect in desiring not to drink it, and obediently submitting to drink it if it was His Father’s will; and this was His second utterance, “If this cup may not pass away from me except I drink it, thy will be done.” The no reply now to His first demand leaves His soul in the unclouded perfectness of the second and third, for He was with His Father in full and solemn sense of what it was, but with Him—He is occupied with it. How could it be otherwise? It ought to have been so. The disciples sleep, leaving Him alone with God. Where else could He have now been with such a work, such a cup, before Him? Now it is over, one can linger round this scene to learn His perfectness and love, the love we shall enjoy in brighter days when we shall see Him as He is—when He shall see of the travail of His soul and be satisfied. Yes, it was well; it was only right that He should be alone with His Father then. It could have been nowhere else, and He went naturally there, if I may so speak, for all His thoughts were perfect.
But where was he (let us think of ourselves) who was to go to prison and to death? With what touching grace He calls up to view the strange inconsistency. “Peter, could ye not watch with me one hour?” Where was the strength that was going through everything just now? yet with what grace He warns, with what grace He excuses! “Watch and pray that ye enter not into temptation: the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” How must one nave hated oneself for such a want of earnestness and love to Him! alas, how we have to do with it! But here so perfectly is He with His Father for the depth of what was before Him, so perfectly had He had all that with Him only, that the free unhindered grace could in all liberty be as perfect towards His poor feeble but failing disciples: no weight on His spirit with them; that was borne with His Father. How perfect are all His ways! what could they be else? But He can warn them, and warn them as to what was just going on. To Him it was now the path of obedience; but what was not that was temptation. So indeed with everything: all we meet with is occasion of temptation or obedience, only there brought out where all was brought to a crisis with man. But this intercourse with the disciples at this moment is a witness of a depth and calmness in His path which is divine perfection, though in man and in human ways and grace which calls for adoring recognition. We struggle or faint, or hide our sorrow in pride. I have known what it is not to know relief till I said, O my God, my soul is cast down within me. But He has all with God, and can state it as to the fact in perfect simplicity to man. We cannot tell our grief, we need support; and where are we to trust it if it be heavy? He had His resource so elsewhere—all His heart out, looking to His Father—that He could confide where really there was nothing to lean on, only truth of heart—the spirit was willing.
Now this is greatness, only in perfection, yet in lowliness, not in self-sufficiency, in conscious weakness of humanity, but all told in perfect faith and dependence to God His Father, yet never losing His human place, yea, the very expression of it. It is here it comes out so perfectly: never a thought that was not human indeed, but never one that was not suited to such a place in the presence of God, that is, to death and drinking the cup, yet, though a man’s feelings there in view of it, not one but what was according to the perfectness of One in whom the fulness of the Godhead dwelt bodily. It would not do that He should not have been fully in conscious manhood there, for He was there for us; nor that in that place a thought or a feeling, that was not divine in its fitness for it, should have been there, and so it was. He was not drinking the cup, but He had to feel it as to all that it was, and feel rightly about it; had He not been God as well as man, that could not have been. Surely He could not have drunk it else, but He could not have thought about it adequately, if a divine source and measure of thought had not been the spring of it in man’s necessity before God.
Blessed Lord, I do not pretend to fathom what Thou wast: who could? But we may learn from it and adore in our hearts, we may look on and learn Who was there, and with thankfulness of heart. No man knows the Son but the Father, but oh, what traits of paramount blessedness flow forth from this Son being a man! And we shall see that, very man as He is, (and who shall tell the joy of that?) yet He is as perfect in gracious gentleness to man. What it must have been to them, when they had the Holy Ghost, to look back to, and when they knew themselves in their flight from that which He was going to meet! Humbling surely, but a great thing for the heart to have been thus humbled; for after all, we must learn what we are where Christ was, save of course atonement, and even there in respect of guilt to know the perfectness that is in Him. It is not by our minds, but in looking at perfectness in the same place in our weakness. Who will know strength like the weak one that leans on it? Still we know it as taught of God, as He in the perfectness of His person.
In verse 45, in tender words which yet shewed them their service was over, and how He had been alone, He says, “Sleep on now [watching time is finished, the power of evil in act is here]. Arise, let us be going: he that betrayeth me is at hand.” But they must be fully proved, He does not send them away. They must be with Him to the end, learn the tale however gently they may. If there was over confidence as in Peter, yet even so it fitted him to strengthen his brethren when restored by a deeper knowledge of what human strength came to in the things of God. But we must learn ourselves where He was, save where He was wholly for us, instead of us, making propitiation for our sins. There He was perfectly alone, alone with God. Who else could have been? He was practically alone in Gethsemane; but He looked for their watching with Him, susceptible of human interest and watching with Him, though indeed He had only to feel how man failed Him even in that. If He looked for that watching, the sense of some one with Him, it was to feel that there was none. But the betrayer was there—and here man and the blessed Lord must be again in contrast. Unhappy Judas, over whom one’s heart would draw a veil, betrays the Lord by that which was the expression of long intimacy and that held Him fast. It is horrible. Oh, he was up to his work, and would shew he was!
The Lord receives it with the calmness of One who, now in the path of obedience, had perfectly bowed to His Father’s will. “Friend, wherefore art thou come?” For indeed, when He warned His disciples, He might have gone away, for it was dark, but for that He had not come. He could have had twelve legions of angels; but how then should the scriptures be fulfilled that thus it must be? It was now, having gone through all with His Father as to His path, a settled thing, not His feeling about it, but the divine path itself. It must be: scripture, the true revealed mind of God, had pointed out that path. What a testimony to scripture and its authority 1 In that greatest and lonely hour, that stands out from all and has none like it, it sufficed. How then should the scripture be fulfilled that thus it must be? It was by that the Lord conquered in the wilderness, by that He was as to authority determined in this moment in which He gave up all to glorify God and atone for our sins. It is to be remarked here that there is no healing of the servant which we know was wrought; another subject is set forth by the Spirit here, the obedient and submissive victim. He was going as a lamb to the slaughter. This was His place. He ever perfectly obedient, He was learning obedience by the things that He suffered; and that path is ours: human violence and human weapons in the Christian will meet with human weapons and stronger ones in the world; submission to God’s will and the cross, is the path marked out for God’s glory, as the world is—a wondrous lesson but a blessed one.
If we do well, suffer for it, and take it patiently, this is acceptable with God. This Jesus was now doing, and in the most perfect sense. He could have had His legions of angels and used no violence; but He came to obey and suffer, and do so to the full, accomplishing the work given Him to do, not to contend or escape. But here too, as with the disciples, yea, even with Judas, He has His word for the multitudes. He had sat daily with them in the temple, and they laid no hands upon Him; now they came out against Him as against a thief. There is tenderness and compassion in these words toward them; and the sense that the truth was, His hour was come as to Himself. He had been quietly with them in the temple, and they hanging indeed on His lips, and they had laid no hands on Him. But so it was to be: He was to lay down His life for the sheep, for all the glorious purposes of atonement. They were led by others, but would not have been, were they not away from God. Compassion on ignorance there might be, but this time was to signal Satan’s power and Jesus’ submission. He is conscious of the difference; He expresses calmly, as to His disciples, His sense of the state of things, and notices it in grace, and bows to it.
He was there to submit and accomplish His work. If such was the case, what were the disciples to do? Go His path they could not, though not with the evil. They were powerless, and the enemy exercises over them all the power he can. They forsake Him and fly; they fail utterly in faithful love, when danger is there. They save themselves: it is all they think of. Fight they might have done; flesh can do it; but this path flesh cannot tread. The ark must go alone first through those waters. It was the moment for devotedness; with man, a friend, that might have been; but with Christ— no—He must stand alone. The circumstances which follow do not call for explanation unless in a very small degree. The importance of them is not so much in the moral elements (though their manifestations be brighter than ever), but in the blessed and glorious work which was now accomplished. The chief priests and council held two meetings, but all was prepared already. They were enemies, accusers, and judges— had already paid the price of His capture, making an agreement for His betrayal. They were awaiting His capture in a meeting gathered together for that purpose.
The Lord was taken first to Annas, father-in-law to Caiaphas, actual high priest that year, and they question Him in the morning very early. The council was formally assembled, but when they only ask Him the questions for form, on His answer that He was the Son of God, they condemn Him and take Him to Pilate. All of this is not found in this Gospel, but will be, I think, on comparing the Gospels together. All that is important to display the willing victim, and on whose testimony He was condemned, is found here. They lead Him to Caiaphas. And Peter follows afar off; John (we know he was known to the high priest and went in) gives details not necessary to the moral scene here depicted. They may be seen in John 18:13 and following. Here we have, first, the witness of truth in presence of vain falsehood and violence; Peter will come in his place. It is another scene. He sat with the servants to see the end, a natural feeling even as to one he loved, but which shewed no sense of what was going on. I do not think the apostles shine in all this part of the history. It teaches the difference between ministerial power when sent, and the state of a soul. How the Lord could see through and judge of fitting vessels when power should be conferred, and bear in patient grace with what man was through all! The chief priests and assessors seek for witness to put Him to death, but, ready as they and their followers might be, none was to be found.
At last they bring forward what was in the main a true statement, for we have it recorded in John; elsewhere we learn that the testimony, as testimony failed; there must be two for death, and they did not agree. But to man’s testimony against Him the Lord returns no answer. Defending Himself was not His object, nor even teaching now; He stood as the willing Victim, as the Lamb for the slaughter, and as the sheep before his shearers is dumb, so He opened not His mouth. The high priest turns and adjures Him43 to answer if He be the Christ, the Son of God according, as we have seen, to His title (Psalm 2)—His true, full, Messiah-title among the Jews. To this the Lord at once answers, He was: for now it was His own testimony and He must give the whole truth, and adds, “moreover, also I say to you henceforth [not hereafter] ye shall see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven.”
The affected indignation of the high priest and the willing assent of the rest I will not notice. But this is to be remarked, and we shall see it again, that the Lord is condemned for the truth, being the truth in what He said, and the truth as to His own person. He was the Victim again of insult and outrage. The truth He told was the truth, dangerous there but specially the truth there, I mean, which was in connection with Israel, and the point of faith or refutation of all for them, as He owned Himself king before the representative of the Emperor. It was the truth itself as to His person as the object of faith for them. There He was the Christ the Son of God, and rejected, He takes, as we have seen Him do, in peace, the place and title of Son of man coming in glory.
The word “henceforth” is of moment. It says that place of Messiah and Son of God, according to Psalm 2, was over from this, and they would only see Him coming in glory and for judgment, and so it is in fact for Israel. The end of chapter 23, though referring to the same judgment, applies to the remnant repentant through grace; this, to the nation in judgment. Peter’s history follows. What poor feeble man is, is shewn even where love is sincere. The flesh has no power in the presence of the world; where it is leaned on, sincerity does not keep us. But it was the means of knowing himself and perfect grace to man being such, but that is not the point here. It is, as all through these scenes in Matthew, what man is in opposition to what Christ was, feeling the trial fully and crying to His Father; perfect in testimony, in truth, and in meekness, not seeking deliverance now but letting the will of God take its course. He is the silent Victim, as the sheep before its shearers, while man was boasting, sleeping, shrinking from the testimony, and denying the truth and his Master, to escape. It is a wonderful picture of a perfect Christ, and what poor wretched man is, in every respect.
Some difficulty having been felt and made current by rationalists, and some rationalists are such by trusting their minds on scripture, I will just briefly notice it, though it be hardly worth it. Matthew and Mark are the same. Luke has this difference, which is not really one: the two former speak of what the maid in the passage said to the men. Luke their remark on it, then all three Peter’s denial. The last is the same in all; John is much more general, and mentions only two instances: first, when he was at the fire, when the maid spoke, in John it is merely, they said to him—and then he gives a precise point not noticed by others, that a kinsman of Malchus, whose ear Peter cut off, recognised him, which is given generally in the three others, “they that stood by”; very likely several spoke and convicted him so that he was angry, for from John 18:27 what is said in verse 26 was probably the last time. Peter, on whose face the fire shone (for in the original it is said in Luke “sitting in the light”), went out into the entrance, but it was only to fall into the hands of another maid. I suspect he had got back into the central court, for the last time was an hour afterwards, and the Lord would look on him from where He was. Still the poor apostle’s heart was true and the Lord’s prayer effectual, his faith did not fail; the Lord’s look, full of grace, broke him down, and he went out and wept bitterly. The sorrow of repentance, not despair, was the blessed effect in his heart.
After the morning’s council, at which the Lord was formally condemned (for they had buffeted Him and insulted Him as a condemned person already), they led Him away to Pilate. But before the Lord’s answering before the Gentile governor, we have the ways of unhappy Judas and the priests. It is remarkable how the account in Matthew brings out the wretched condition of man, believers or unbelievers, what man in the flesh is, even if won by grace to Christ; but here the wretched exhibition of those who were His enemies. Remorse seizes Judas when the evil one has done his work by him. He seems to have thought He would, as before, escape; but this made his sin worse, for he knew that power then was there, but money governed his heart, and by it Satan led him into the horrible sin, but he could not shield him when the sin was there. What was money to one who was in despair? The fruit and witness of sin is no comfort to one who is lost by it. He goes to those who ought to have led him in the right way, his heartless companions in the wickedness, and throws down the money in despair: “I have sinned in that I have betrayed the innocent blood.” He knew well now what he had done, for lust hides sin from the conscience, and Satan will furnish excuses to the mind; but committed sin is on it, it is all dark in its trail behind; and if the love of God be not there to cling to, despair, dark, black despair, only remains. The chief priests have gained their point by Judas’ wickedness: what do they care about the effects for him? With consummate heartlessness they reply, See thou to that: what is that to us? A frightful picture of man’s heart given up to wickedness. One can conceive nothing more frightful than such a state— more appalling than such a scene. Judas threw the money down on their answer. What comfort can sin when done find from Satan? And he was even here to be a witness of the terribleness of his sin; and he went and hanged himself. There is something strange in this part of the account which throws the money, and Judas, and the temple, and the priests, all together. He threw it down in the temple, naos; the word is that used for the house. How did he throw it there? I am not aware that the word is ever used for anything but the house itself. And then see the religiousness of those who can buy the blood of the Son of God for thirty pieces of silver. It was the price of blood, and they could not put it into the treasury. To buy the blood they had no scruple, to put such into the treasury was defiling. What a picture of man the Spirit of God gives all through here! and they bought the potter’s field to bury strangers. They were common things, but they or any Jew was too holy to be profaned by being buried there. The most outward official religion, and the most absolute wickedness, run together; and even in a Christian, official religiousness is the bane of piety.
But the Lord now stood before Pilate, and it is remarkable that again His own testimony is the foundation of all. The governor asks Him if He be King of the Jews? The Lord replies (for He was the truth) in the affirmative, witnessing a good confession; for before the chief priests His confession was to that which was dangerous there, but the truth; before Pilate, what was dangerous there. He was “Son of God” before the priests, “King” before the Roman governor. To the accusing Jews He answers nothing, as I have said; He was not there to defend Himself or escape, but a willing Victim, and He was witness to the truth. But the heads of the Jewish people are before us here as the enemies of God. Pilate, who saw it was all envy, seeks to deliver Him, so much the more anxiously that his wife had sent to press it on him, being alarmed by a warning dream, and presses His deliverance; but the Jews persevere in their enmity against the Lord; and, inexcusable as the governor was, who clearly was bound to protect one he knew to be innocent, yet the wilful sin rests on the head of the unhappy leaders of the people.
Ecclesiastical wickedness is always greater than civil; in a persecution it is what is religious and clerical that is the spring and mover in it. But we have the terrible testimony from their own mouth of their part in it, their judgment on themselves. The careless and reckless governor (to his eyes there was nothing much to care for) washes his hands of the matter and leaves His blood on their heads, and they take it in their folly. “His blood be on us, and on our children,” and so it is to this day. And he delivered Jesus to their will, releasing a murderer whom they desired according to Paschal custom.
And now the blessed Lord is the subject of outrage and insult from the soldiers—accustomed as this poor world is to revel in evil when it is congregated and can encourage one another in it. The Lord bows to it all with patient endurance; He is still the Lamb led to the slaughter. The whole scene is still the patient and perfect victim. But man appears with his heart unveiled. Who would be found to insult and outrage a dying man if he were a criminal? What executed criminal would insult his fellow on the gibbet? but when Christ is there, all this happens. They wag their heads and say, He saved others, Himself He cannot save. Oh, terrible victory of sin over One who would not save Himself because He would save others. Yet if sin had its full display and seeming victory, it was to meet a grace which was, in the perfect work of obedience, accomplishing that which puts it away—a sovereign grace which allows the sin to run to its height to accomplish that which puts it away. The mere provision for present relief the Lord declines accepting, the cup His Father had given Him, that He drinks in peaceful submission, but to know its whole bitterness. But see, as has appeared all through, the awful state of these unhappy priests. They quote their part of Psalm 22 as Jesus did His afterwards. There is in that psalm a verse (8) which is the utterance of the insulting enemies of God, of unbelief; that they quote in utter moral blindness, and fulfil it.
To verse 44 we have the patient silent submission of the blessed Lord, and as heretofore, what man is when it is manifested in the light of His presence, only here ripened into perfect manifestation. From verse 45, though we find man’s utter insensibility to all, a stranger to all that was going on, yet we especially get His place with God as the true Victim of propitiation. He was shut in from man and all around to God, as “made sin who knew no sin.” Darkness was over all the land. At the close the Lord gives utterance to that which was going on within the veil of darkness which hid Him from all earthly things—an utterance which in few words declares to our souls the cup that He was drinking, His perfectness who was drinking it, perfectness as sinless, perfectness in reference to God. He is the Victim of propitiation; and His voice, not to man but for him, which alone could rightly declare it, announces the solemn fact of what He was accomplishing. For here He is the offering for sin, bearing our sin, made sin for us.
It is not now communion with His Father, though perfect submission to His will, and love to Him; but before God as made sin, yet perfect in His confidence and reference of heart to Him. It is the holy and righteous God dealing with sin as sin, yet in Him who had none but was made it, and had voluntarily offered Himself for it; the wonderful work of settling the question of sin before God, and God glorified in dealing with it, where His love to us might be infinite in dealing with sin, in divine and absolute righteousness, and His Majesty and truth made good: where perfect obedience and love to His Father was found, where He stood as made sin, with no departure of heart from confidence in God. “Thou continuest holy.” It was not, as Job, reproaching God for His dealings with him, with a yet unbroken will. It is, “My God,” yet with a full sense that there was no cause in Him—“why?” and the absolute sense, according to His own enjoyment of that presence, of God’s forsaking Him, that which no horror is like. He is simply here the Victim, the offering to God in propitiation. We can say “why,” when brought to the cross; first, as bearing our sins, and then as glorifying God.
Other circumstances or words of the Lord are not brought forward here; He stands in the solitary solemness of the Victim before God, perfect in that place of sin. This there is nothing like. It is once for all; God is perfectly glorified and sin dealt with for His glory. It stands alone in the history of eternity and all, for divine glory depends upon it, its results immutable; for it is done, and its value cannot change or God’s must, which cannot be, for His nature is glorified here as well as our sins put away. Man understands nothing of it; they say, He calls for Elias! Then we find that the whole accomplished, and Jesus yet in the fulness of His strength, gives up His spirit. It is not here as in John 19:30, “delivered up his spirit,” nor as in Mark 15:37, and Luke 24:46, “expired,” breathed His last as we say. In Luke we have also the words, “Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit” —words of faith in death, when its sting of terror and anguish which He has borne was gone. Yet death was still there, but His Father perfectly trusted in it.
Here all these deeply interesting parts of the scene are passed over, that the great fact of death in letting now His spirit go away from His body, really dying yet when in full strength, the dying but perfect and willing Victim might stand out before us in its own majesty and force. But all God’s dispensation and God’s creation, and the dead themselves, felt its power; yea, the rude heart of the Roman soldier was awed. The veil was rent, that which was the sign that man could not approach God. The whole Jewish dispensation in which man’s responsibility to God was tested outside was rent from top to bottom; man’s sin complete, and man down here had lost God for ever; but the way into the holiest, by a new and living way, fully opened. The sign of God’s present power in creation was there; the earth quaked, and the rocks were rent, and the graves were opened, but none stirred till the first-fruits of them that slept had broken the bonds of death, and then they appeared to many in Jerusalem, the witness of the wondrous work that had been accomplished. No wonder all felt its power, or that God gave witness there even to what had glorified Him. He has indeed suffered His Son, in the accomplishment of divine counsels, to be despised and rejected of men, but we shall find that in His humiliation He has always taken care to give a testimony to His glory and what He was to Him. The raising of Lazarus, the riding into Jerusalem, the voice from heaven, and the dove; the dove and His own voice when He bows to enter in by the door with John, taking His place among the poor of the flock; the chorus of angels when He stooped to the incarnation, all are witnesses to His glory in the very place where He humbles Himself, and so it was here in the closing act of all. Nor did the heart of the centurion withstand the power of all that passed; a poor dark heathen, but at least not hardened as the unhappy Jews were religiously, and susceptible of these outward signs of divine power; he and those with him, struck with awe and fear, echoed at least with natural conscience the testimony Jesus gave of Himself when questioned by the priests, “Truly this man was the Son of God.”
We cannot tell whether there was any divine and lasting operation, in his or the other’s soul; we may hope. The object here was the public divine testimony given to the dying Lord that went home irresistibly to the hearts.and consciences of those who watched Him, and brought out of their awed spirits the confession of who He was. The testimony had been spread abroad and even they knew that this was the thing in question—Was He the Son of God? What unhardened heart could resist the witness?
But what a terrible witness was this against the Jews! When God gives testimony to His Son, so that the heart of the poor pagan bows under it, theirs remain unmoved! It is well to notice that, though the saints did not arise to shew themselves at Jerusalem, yet their resurrection is connected here with the Lord’s death. There He destroyed the power of him who had the power of death. But all was now closed for man and Judaism. All is to begin on a new footing, foreknown indeed and predicted; but now, the work being accomplished on which all was to be founded—yea, had been in fact, though not revealed, man begins according to the counsels of God upon the ground of that accomplished work, wrought to put away sin, to glorify God, and lay the foundation of immutable blessing the result of that which could never lose its value with God. Here, as we shall see, we go on farther than the fact of resurrection and its power, and that in connection with the residue of Israel though sent out to the Gentiles on this ground. So that while historically brought out, as a present thing, yet its realisation bears on the days yet to come, when a restored residue, not having the heavenly place, will be a testimony to Christ’s death and resurrection in their own blessing, but on earth, and they disciple the Gentiles on that ground, leading them in the path of Jesus’ commandments to the disciples when on earth.
But the Father would have accomplished the testimonies of His word in honouring His Son rejected and crucified; for all here is really a contrast between the blind incredulity of the Jew and all else; even, as we have seen, a poor ignorant Gentile. He was to be with the rich in His death. Not only the devoted women were watching their crucified Lord, but Joseph of Arimathea, when now He was surely dead, goes on to Pilate and begs His body and it is given to him, and he lays it in his own tomb wrapped in a linen cloth, there where never man was yet laid, and rolled a great stone to the mouth and departed. In them all it was respect and attachment, but in Joseph’s act God had another purpose; not only to render due respect to Jesus, but to give the strongest proofs that He was really risen. The Jews remembered that He had said He would rise again. The fears of a bad conscience without God fear what they would not believe. Blinded they were, for what was all this in presence of power to rise again? And the thought of stealing His body was the suggestion of their own wicked heart, anything but reassured, and seeking what by self-deception might quiet the suspicious dread of a self-condemning heart. But their plans only make the matter doubly sure. They would have engaged Pilate, thinking all were to be under the powers of their restlessness, in securing the tomb. Pilate leaves it to them to settle the matter. It was their affair; they might make it as sure as they could. But what were seals or guards against the power and will of God? They might make the fiction of the apostles stealing the body absurd and impossible, but that is all. The angel does not quicken the Lord, nor raise Him, but shews—acting according to the majesty of Him who had sent him—the empty tomb. To the guards it is terror and dismay, for such any manifestation of the unseen world is to man; to them the angel says nothing. They were witnesses of the intervention of God, no guards against the working of His power. But to those attached to Jesus words of grace and restoring comfort come from heaven, “I know that ye seek Jesus; he is not here, he is risen.”
Our Gospel here brings together in a brief statement the hearing of Jesus’ resurrection and what accompanied or rather followed it, on various persons—the women, the soldiers, the Jews. As to the first, it is comfort and grace, they are the messengers of the good news to the disciples. The soldiers are alarmed and as dead men. Such is the effect of the manifestation of God’s power and intervention. There is nothing which man is so unused to, and which is so strange to his heart and thoughts. A legion of devils might be sought to be restrained, but must be borne and people be used to it, save personal danger; but the presence of Jesus, who drives them out by divine power and goodness, brings the demand at once that He should leave them; and so He did. The soldiers are as dead men. It is the simple effect on the natural man of the manifestation of the power of God, of the unseen world, introduced into this. With the Jews it is deliberate hardness of heart. They seek to destroy the testimony they could not deny, that they had made secure themselves by setting the guard. The women have direct communication from God by means of the angel; they are the Lord’s messengers to the disciples. We see, as in so many cases, that love to the Saviour for His own sake brings us into the place where we receive the communications of His grace.
It is these communications which must occupy us now. They are comforted with the assurance that He is risen; they are to go at once to tell His disciples that He was. Here it is still the relationship of Christ with Israel which is before us. We have not the special communications of Jesus with Mary Magdalene, which take us into the heavenly place of Jesus, and His interview with His disciples on this ground. We are not at Bethany with Luke, to see Him going up to heaven with hands outstretched to give a heavenly blessing, which could begin with guilty Jerusalem and reach to the ends of the earth. Nor are the various positions of the women brought out, different and distinct in their nearness to Christ; simply, briefly, the different relationships to Christ of the ignorant Gentiles, the women, and the Jews, in presence of the resurrection and what followed it.
The ascension is not found in Matthew. The Lord directs the disciples to go to Galilee where He would meet them. Nor was He content to leave it to the angel only to communi-ate His will to the disciples, though at the tomb this was needed to apprise them of His resurrection; He Himself meets these poor devoted women—ever the same gracious Saviour. He salutes them graciously, coming to meet them as they went joyfully in haste to deliver the angel’s message and the good news of the resurrection to the disciples. And here with the gracious dealing of Jesus we are not on the ground of Mary Magdalene. There Christ presents Himself as going to the Father (His and His brethren’s, the disciples), His God and their God. He was not come back to be on earth in visible and bodily presence risen, as Mary’s heart hoped, but for what was better. Here He presents Himself to the remnant in connection with Israel, but calling His disciples “brethren.” And this gives its character to the whole conclusion of the Gospel. It puts a risen (not ascended) Saviour in connection with the remnant of the Jews, owned as brethren, sending them, as thus owned, to bring in the nations. The body of the nation remains in the blinded hostility which the presence of Jesus had drawn out. We see too how all the characteristic circumstances are drawn together here in a brief review. As the women were going on their errand, some of the watch go into the city to inform the chief priests what had happened. The elders are gathered; the facts communicated; and they deliberate what to do. Hostility to the Lord was the settled source of all. Deliberation as to receiving the clear testimony of the Lord’s resurrection there was none; how to get rid of it was all these unhappy chiefs of the people deliberated about. The evidence was clear, clear by their own witnesses; they resort to bribery to engage them to give a different account of the matter, assuring them, if so grave a fault in a Roman soldier as being asleep on his post came to the governor’s ears, they would secure them. Their desire to keep all quiet would be a sufficient motive, perhaps money for him too, as for Festus, and the heartless indifference of the governor would have thought as little of the resurrection as of the death of Jesus. Such at least was their ground as to the general result with the soldiers; and the money sufficed to make them run the risk. Such is the world. “The transgression of the wicked saith within my heart, that there is no fear of God before his eyes,” Psalm 36:1.
Yet this was but the outside of what was closed, and passed away, though judgment yet lingered. The real and abiding fact with God is the risen Jesus. This, wholly new as to man, never passes away; it is the divine result, though not in all its consequences, of the perfect solution of every question as to good and evil; divine power being come in to solve it, the basis laid which spoke of evil passed away, and of the accomplishment of all God’s counsels of grace in righteousness, and man in a position in which, guilty or innocent, he had never been before, after all had been settled according to God, and immutable blessing secured. Here however we have its application, as I have said, the discipling the Gentiles, recognising the Jewish disciples, the remnant of Jews already gathered, as His brethren. The disciples go into Galilee, to the mountain Jesus had appointed. There He appears; when they see Him, they do homage, but some doubt. In the utmost simplicity of truth we find that if the Jews plotted to secure their infidelity, there was no plot in the disciples, for some doubted it was He. No one would have said this who sought to compose an account; the evidences would have made it flagrantly true, incontestable. It is made more incontestable by the doubt, but it is not man’s way of making it so. He comes upon them by surprise and some are not sure. A plot arranged would have secured His acceptance; a testimony unfounded in fact would not have invented a doubt. The apostle tells us in simplicity, and guided of God, what occurred.
The Lord addresses them on the ground of the place which now belonged to Him, which He will fully take in power hereafter, which belonged to the risen Lord, being His in right of the new place into which He had entered as man. “All power is given to me in heaven and in earth.” All is not accomplished, all things not yet put under His feet, but it is His place as the risen Man who has glorified God and accomplished the work given Him to do. Hence He sends them forth beyond the limits of the King of Israel in Zion, that had been set forth fully in chapter 10, then and on to the future. Here connected with the remnant of the Jews, associating them as brethren with Himself, having accomplished redemption, they were to disciple the nations, baptizing them (not to Jehovah, not to Messiah or the Son of David, but) to Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, that in which the one God of Israel was fully and completely revealed; teaching them to observe that which they had learned from Him on the earth; and He would be with them to the end of the age. It is thus before the millennium, not the mystery of the church, nor the future gathering of all things. The former was revealed and confided to Paul, the latter to come in when the age was finished. Not the mission from Bethany (which the Acts follow throughout), not starting from Jerusalem nor beginning it as that did; but accepting the poor of the flock as brethren to Christ; they were to bring in, disciple all the nations on the footing of their relationship with Him as thus risen.
It is well to notice what has been alluded to:—the ministry in the Acts is not the accomplishment of this but of the mission in Luke, the book itself being, as is known, the continuation of his Gospel; nor was the ministry of Paul, who took up by a separate divine mission the evangelisation of the nations, the carrying out of this. His was more fully even yet a mission from an ascended and glorified Saviour, to which was added the ministry of the church. It connects itself even much more in its first elements with Luke. The ministry here established stands alone. The disciples are not sent to Jews, as in Luke coming from an ascended Saviour they were to begin at Jerusalem. Jerusalem is rejected, and the remnant attached to Christ (His brethren, and owned in this character) sent out to Gentiles. This, as far as scripture teaches us, has never been fulfilled. The course of events under the hand of God— another term, so to speak, the disciples remain at Jerusalem; and a new mission to the Gentiles is sent forth in the person of Paul and that connected with the establishment of the church on earth. The accomplishment of this mission has been thus interrupted, but there is the promise to be with those who went forth in it to the end of the age. Nor do I doubt it will be so. This testimony will go forth to the nations before the Lord comes. “The brethren” will carry it to warn the Gentiles. The commission was given then, but we find no accomplishment of it. It connects the testimony with the Jewish remnant owned by a risen Lord of all, with the earth and His earthly directions, and for the present it has in fact given place to a heavenly commission, and the church of God.
38 John 6:27.
39 Acts 10:38
40 Literally ‘is now at her end,’ see footnote, page 100.
41 In the number twelve, the loaves, the tribes, and all connected with this, the twelve apostles as connected with the kingdom, the twelve stars on the woman’s head in Revelation 12.
42 It seems these were rather torches, and they had oil in their vessels to feed them with.
43 Let the reader remark here that this also is an instance of obedience to Leviticus 5:1. It is just what being sworn as a witness is now; and the Lord, who forbids all voluntary oaths as coming of evil from ourselves, takes this at once.