NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
by Dr. Robert R. Seyda
GOSPEL OF MATTHEW
But there is also an interesting concept to consider about what Jesus said concerning Korazin. We find it in the story of the Greek god Asklepios who was the son of the Greek god Apollo by way of a human mother, a Trikkaian princess named Koronis. Therefore, because of his divine and human parents he was considered both god and man in one. Apollo had trained his son in the art of medicine. Asklepios became so skilled at the art of healing that he began to raise the dead to life. In his statues Asklepios is depicted as a kindly, bearded man holding a staff with a serpent entwined at the bottom. Today, this staff with the serpent is the universal symbol for medical doctors.
However, Asklepios’ raising the dead did not go well with another mythological god named Hades. He considered this a crime against nature so he went and complained to Zeus, the supreme ruler of the Olympian gods. Hades was the King of the Underworld, the god of death and the dead. He presided over funeral rites and defended the right of the dead for proper burial. Hades was also the god of the hidden wealth of the earth. So if you wanted to become wealthy, you must earn his favor.
Hades was also influential among the Greek gods as well. So when he went to Zeus and complained that with Asklepios resurrecting people from death, he felt threatened and might be put out of business, Zeus responded to Hades’ request by killing Asklepios with a thunderbolt. But Asklepios’ father Apollo was so grieved by this action that he went to Zeus and asked permission to have his son placed among the stars as the constellation Ophiuchus, which means “the serpent holder.” His wish was granted.
We have no evidence that Jesus was a reader of Greek literature, but He knew what aspects of Greek mythology had bled over into Jewish thought. As the omniscient Son of God He was aware of all that men were thinking and what they were influenced by. Perhaps this is why when the scribes and Pharisees doubted Jesus’ authority to forgive sins, He would perform a miracle of healing to show that God was also involved in curing man’s diseases. Jesus knew about the influence of Greek mythology and how it had affected the world up to His day. Could it be that Jesus was making a subtle hint at the constellation of Ophiuchus when he said to the people of Capernaum, “And you, Capernaum, will you be lifted to the heavens? No, you will go down to Hades.”
However, our Master may have had another thought in mind expressed in the Song of Moses: “Their vines and fields will be destroyed like Sodom and Gomorrah. Their grapes are like bitter poison. Their wine is like the poison of deadly snakes. ‘The Lord says, ‘I am saving that punishment. I have it locked up in my storehouse! I will punish them for the bad things they did. But I am saving that punishment for when they slip and do bad things. Their time of trouble is near. Their punishment will come quickly.’”1
We can see the impending fall of Korazin illustrated in a sermon by Reverend Jonathan Edwards who was widely acknowledged to be one of America’s original and important philosophical theologians and one of America’s greatest intellectuals. He is most remembered and well-known for the sermon he preached on Wednesday evening, July 8, 1741, at the Congregational Church in Enfield, Connecticut entitled, “Their Foot Shall Slide in Due Time.” But it became better known as, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.”
In his opening remarks, Edwards said that this text here in Matthew, “…seems to imply the following things, relating to the punishment and destruction to which these wicked Israelites were exposed.”
That they were always exposed to destruction; as one that stands or walks in slippery places is always exposed to fall. This is implied in the manner of their destruction coming upon them, being represented by their foot sliding. The same is expressed Psalm 73:18, “Surely You set them on slippery ground; You cast them down into destruction.”
It implies, that they were always exposed to sudden unexpected destruction. As he that walks in slippery places is every moment liable to fall, he cannot foresee one moment whether he shall stand or fall the next; and when he does fall, he falls at once without warning: Which is also expressed in Psalm 73:19, “How suddenly are they destroyed!”
Another thing implied is, that they are liable to fall of themselves, without being thrown down by the hand of another; as he that stands or walks on slippery ground needs nothing but his own weight to throw him down.
That the reason why they are not fallen already and do not fall now is only that God’s appointed time is not come. For it is said, that when that due time, or appointed time comes, their foot will slide. Then they shall be left to fall, as they are inclined by their own weight. God will not hold them up in these slippery places any longer, but will let them go; and then, at that very instant, they shall fall into destruction; as he that stands on such slippery declining ground, on the edge of a pit, he cannot stand alone, when he is let go he immediately falls and is lost.
So great was the impact of this sermon, that it resulted in what is called the “First Great Awakening” in the churches in America. However, I’m afraid that such preaching today would be considered politically incorrect. Nevertheless, that’s what it took to turn Nineveh to God, and brought on the Reformation in Europe and the Revival in the United States, so it will take the same emphasis on how people are on a slippery slope when they keep ignoring Jesus as the Savior of the world.
It is interesting that our Lord singles out Capernaum, which by now was His home town. Could it be that Jesus was using the words in Isaiah to foretell their punishment: “You thought to yourself, ‘I will scale the heavens, I will raise my throne above God’s stars. I will sit on the Mount of Assembly far away in the north. I will rise past the tops of the clouds, I will make myself like the Most High.’ Instead you are brought down to Sheol, to the uttermost depths of the pit,”2 when He said: “But I tell you, it will be worse for you in the day of judgment than for Sodom.’”
The spiritual lesson here is more important than the physical. Jesus seems to be saying that those cities who felt themselves exalted because of their morality and religiosity would fare far worse in the judgment than those plagued with disreputable conduct by reason of their rejection of the truth and acknowledging Him as the true Messiah.
Verses 25-26: It was at this point that Jesus looked up and said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from those who consider themselves so sophisticated and educated, but You have shown them to people who are like children.”
When Jesus uses the phrase “hidden”, he is talking about the ability to comprehend with the help of the Holy Spirit. Nicodemus was a very wise scholar and considered one of the top intellectuals on the Sanhedrin court. Among the pious Jews, there was a long-held belief that they had intrinsic knowledge about all things divine. In fact, one Jewish writer wrote: “That which is accessible to us through immersing ourselves in the study of Torah will suffice to grant us the degree of understanding that is appropriate for each one of us for his respective level of intelligence and piety. Generally speaking, God does not legislate laws that are beyond the grasp any human being to understand, although they may not be fully understood by most of us.”3
In responding to this prayer by Jesus, one Jewish skeptic stated: “Now, did Jesus have to say, ‘I thank you”? If he was God, what sort of thanks must he give? Everything that is hidden from all the world is known to him, yet he says, ‘I thank you to God.’”4 What this critic missed is that although Jesus was God, He was God’s Son. So there is nothing wrong with a divine Son thanking His heavenly Father. So we see why when Nicodemus came to Jesus he could not understand Jesus’ teachings on the Kingdom of God without having his mind transformed through the power of faith and the Spirit of God, and neither could this polemic writer.
But another Rabbi admits: “There is no one in the world, nor has there ever been, who can understand His wisdom or stand and argue against Him. He is hidden, concealed, transcendent, beyond, beyond.”5 One reason for this was attributed by a well-known Rabbi to the destruction of the Temple. He said: “Since the Temple was destroyed, prophecy has been taken from prophets and given to fools and children.”6 Another Jewish writer put it this way: “The degree of prophetic insights granted to the prophets prior to the destruction of the first Temple was comparable to ‘a large window.’ After the destruction of the Temple the degree of prophetic insight granted by God to those who were granted it at all, was similar to what can be seen through a very small window.”7
When we look at the spiritual darkness and confusion that people live in around our world today, while there are plenty of churches for them to drive by; and there are many religious programs on their TV’s and other media resources, their ignorance of God and the need for salvation cannot be blamed on the lack of such things. But what does seem to be missing in many of these churches and programs, is preaching and teaching based on what God’s Word says, not on what man says. There is a Judgment Day coming when all who have ever lived and are still alive will stand before the throne of the Almighty and give an account of their words and deeds. Will you be able to say: “As for me and my house, we served the Lord.”8
1 Deuteronomy 32:32-35
2 Isaiah 14:13-15 – Complete Jewish Bible
3 Tzror Hamor, op., cit.,, Genesis 25:22-24 Toldot, pages 346-347
4 The Nizzahon Vetus, op., cit., pp. 181-182
5 Rabbi Judah: Zohar on Genesis, Abram’s Descent into Egypt, Openings, Genesis 18:1,10
6 Rabbi Johanan: Babylonian Talmud, op. cit. Seder Nezikin, Masekhet Baba Bathra, folio 12b
7 Tzror Hamor, op., cit., Genesis 15:2 Lech Lecha, p. 214
8 Joshua 24:15