NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
by Dr. Robert R. Seyda
GOSPEL OF MATTHEW
Verse 26: Jesus looked at them and said, “This is something that people cannot do. But God can do anything.”
Christ’s answer here clearly indicates the futility of those who would attempt to enter God’s kingdom by their own initiative. The reason being is that the eye of the needle through the kingdom’s gate is called “The Law”, and as of this date no one has made it yet because of the requirements to be morally perfect in all manner of ethics, virtue, and conduct. As Jesus so aptly states, “This is humanly impossible.” Had He stopped here, everyone who heard Him would have bowed their heads and begin crying in hopelessness. With entrance into the kingdom of heaven needed to obtain everlasting life, such a declaration would have doomed everyone. But praise the Lord, Jesus follows this with another declaration that caused everyone to raise their heads and began to rejoice in hope when they heard Him say: “But with God everything is possible!”
This certainly was the message to Abraham and Sarah about them having a baby in their old age. The visiting angel said, “Is anything too hard for the LORD?”1 Another Jewish translator believes the original Hebrew would be better rendered: “Is anything beyond the LORD?”2 And God told Moses, “Don’t diminish my power! You will see that I can do what I say I can do.”3 And Job was quick to confess after God asked him if he doubted what He could do, “I know you can do everything. You make plans, and nothing can change or stop them.”4 And when things did not look good because of the threat from the powerful Babylonians, the Lord spoke to a prophet and said, “Jeremiah, I am the LORD. I am the God of every person on the earth. You know that nothing is impossible for me.”5
Chrysostom in his sermon on this text says: “Why were the disciples upset since they were poor, in fact very poor? They were upset for others’ salvation and because they possessed great love toward them all. Already they were taking on the tenderness of teachers. At least they were in such trembling and fear for the whole world from Jesus’ declaration as to need much comfort. And so after Jesus had made eye contact with them, He said, ‘With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.’ So with a pleasant and gentle look, He soothed those whose hearts that were terrorized and relieved their anguish (for this is what the Evangelist meant by ‘looking at him’). Then He uplifted them with His words as He focused on the power of God, and thus He gave them faith.”6 While I agree with the great preacher that the disciples had concern for all those wanting to enter the kingdom of heaven, I believe their concern also came from a sudden revelation that if they, the followers of the Messiah, can’t make it then who can.
What Jesus is saying here is the key to understanding. We must let Jesus provide the necessary ingredient for what it takes to be righteous in God’s sight. Chrysostom then goes on to address his congregation: “If you also want to learn the way and how the impossible becomes possible, listen. He did not make this statement that what is impossible for man is possible for God merely so you could relax and do nothing and leave it all to God. No, He said this so you could understand the importance of calling upon God to give you help in this rigorous contest and that you might more readily approach His grace.”7 So it is not a case of seeking God’s help in doing our will, but seeking His guidance in doing His will.
So when the day comes for all of us to gather together up in heaven and an archangel stands next to the throne of the Almighty and calls out: How did you make it here? the myriad multitudes will respond in perfect unity, “By the grace and mercy of God through our Lord Jesus Christ His Son!” The angels will have to bow their heads in respect and honor because even they did not make it there on their own. They were given their station by the creative goodness of God, while we have been blessed with our station by the creative grace of God.
Verse 27: Peter said to Him, “We left everything we had and followed You. So what will we have?”
Here Peter was echoing the words of Moses when he blessed the priestly tribe of Levi, “They were more loyal to you LORD than to their own families. They ignored their fathers and mothers. They did not recognize their brothers. They did not pay attention to their children. But they obeyed your commands. They kept your agreement…LORD, bless everything Levi has. Accept what he does. Destroy those who attack him! Defeat his enemies so that they will never attack again.”8 So perhaps this outspoken disciple was expecting a similar blessing.
It is apparent that Peter had not yet grasped that he was not following Jesus because of what was in it for him – Peter, but what was in it for Him – Jesus. Today, it is not uncommon to go into many megachurches and hear the pastor tell people that if they will just turn their lives over to Jesus Christ things will go better for them. That they will be given better jobs, bigger houses, nicer cars, more successful careers, etc. Some, therefore, become followers of Jesus for the money, not for the ministry. This does not mean that our Lord intends for all of His followers to live on garbage dumps, but that for His sake whatever they can achieve on their own is like trash compared to what He has in store for those who are faithful and endure until the end.9
Chrysostom has to say: “What is ‘everything,’ blessed Peter? Is it your fishing rod? your net? your boat? your skill? Are you telling me these are the ‘everything?’ ‘Yes,’ he says, ‘I am not saying these things to show off but in order that by this question I may embrace the multitude of the poor.’ For when the Lord said, ‘If you wish to be perfect, sell what you have and give to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven,’ one of the poor may say, ‘What then? If I have no possessions, can I not be perfect?’ Peter asks the question so that you, the poor man, may learn that you are in no way inferior to the disciples. Peter asks the question, not so that you may have doubts if you learn it from Peter (for he was still imperfect and as yet unfilled by the Spirit) but so that you may hear the word from Peter’s Master and so believe. When we dispute on behalf of others, we often make their concerns our own. That is what the apostle did when he offered this question to the Master on behalf of the wider world of the poor.”10 Here again, we must be careful to make note of what our Lord said that should be taken as a metaphor or taken literally. The literal interpretation of selling everything and living in complete poverty as a way of serving Christ fostered thousands of monasteries in the middle ages that did little if anything to represent the kingdom of heaven as inclusive. Instead, it made it look even more exclusive.
Verse 28: Jesus said to them, “For sure, I tell you, when all the earth will be made new and the Son of man sits on His throne in His shining-greatness, you who have followed Me will also sit on twelve thrones, and judge the twelve tribes of the Jewish nation.
Again we are faced with whether or not Jesus is speaking literally here or using a metaphor. One quick way is to examine the logic of what is being said. For what reason would the twelve disciples of Jesus sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel? It is a precursor to the future which can be found in the revelation that John would later receive? Would they be included in the 24 elders?11 We do not hear the disciples speak about this later as something they came to expect. But if we take this in its symbolic sense, then we can see where Jesus is indicating that because the Israelites did not accept Him when He came as the Messiah, the twelve disciples who did will be a witness against them that they missed the opportunity to follow the Anointed One.
Chrysostom had this to say: “But what does it mean that they will ‘judge the twelve tribes of Israel?’ It means they will judge them insufficient and convicted. For they are not going to sit as jurymen. But just as He said that the queen of the south is to judge that generation and the Ninevites will condemn them,12 so will these too. For this reason, He did not say ‘the nations and the world’ but ‘the tribes of Israel.’ The Jews and the apostles had been brought up in the same laws and customs and political system. When the Jews said that they were not able to believe in Christ because the law forbade them to receive His commandments, He brings forward these people who had received the same law and had believed, and thus He condemns all those others. That is why He had already said, ‘Therefore they shall be your judges.’13”14
Verse 29: “Everyone who has left houses, brothers, sisters, father, mother, children, or farms to follow me will get much more than they left behind. And they will have eternal life.”
Now our Lord offers, even more, clarity. Whatever we have sacrificed here on earth to follow Christ; to do His will and fulfill His purpose for our lives, will be made up one hundred times over when we do get to heaven. Not in terms of material wealth, but with what riches alone can not provide and that is the blessed assurance of eternal life with the never ending joy of being in God’s presence. That should make any Christian want to give more to Christ than ever. God gave this promise to Isaiah, “For, see, I will make new heavens and a new earth. The past things will not be remembered or come to mind. But be glad and have joy forever in what I make.”15 Citing some sayings of well-known Jewish Rabbis, one compiler of these teachings noted: “Rabbi Levi said: ‘Six things the Holy One will renew in the time-to-come, namely, heaven and earth, heart and spirit, the name of the Messiah, and the name of Jerusalem.’”16 He then goes on to give Scriptural proof.17
Then citing some of the same sacrifices noted in Levi’s blessing, the Master says that it will all be worth it to inherit eternal life. It’s interesting to see what Jesus enumerated as those things people will be challenged to give up for His sake, in other words, to willingly respond to His commission to take the gospel into the whole world. Some have mistaken these sacrifices as things one denies themselves of in order to please God with their humility and impoverishment. But that does not comply with the list given to us by Christ: “houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or farms.” You cannot read this list without immediately thinking of missionaries and evangelists. All of this was in response to someone’s question of Jesus in verse 16 of what must they do to obtain eternal life.
When Jesus suggested that they fulfill the law, the young inquirer replied that he had. Then Jesus recommended that he sell everything he had and come follow Him. This was too hard for him and Jesus used it to illustrate to His disciples how hard it is for those who have so much to give it up for so little in order to follow Him, and we can be sure that Jesus was not talking only of money. That’s when Peter became defensive and wanted to know since they gave up everything to follow Him, would they also fail to acquire eternal life. In response, Jesus gave this qualifier of how everything one forsakes everything to carry out His mission here on earth will not only receive eternal life but be recompensed double in joy and contentment in what they gave up for His name’s sake. You’ll notice, our Lord did not include tithes, offerings, and gifts to His mission. To have done so would have raised the possibility of Him being accused of fostering the idea that eternal life can be bought.
I recall how shortly after finishing my graduate work in seminary, I was excited about the future of the church I pastored. I was talking with one member who was interested in financing some project, and I explored setting up our own local radio broadcast potential so that those who did not attend church in the area or those who were forced to stay home because of handicap or illness, could listen to the Sunday services live, as well as playing Christian music and having devotions each day.
At the same time, we needed a bigger auditorium and the local high school wanted to rent our facilities for classes and testing, and the rent they were willing to pay would have covered our mortgage on a new building. I checked out the construction of a new sanctuary and invited a professional fundraiser to evaluate our situation and he told me that we would be able to more than handle the cost and offered to help us. Besides, a local farm implement dealer was willing to swap a large piece of land he had out on the main highway for a plot the church owned in town, which would have put us where our church would be clearly visible and easily accessible for those coming from all directions into town.
Also, I secured a job at the local mental health service to pay half the salary for a young man and his wife who wanted to come and assist us. He would serve as associate pastor and youth director, and she would serve in the children’s ministry for the church. Everything was looking like the Promised Land. But right in the middle of this, God opened the door and called me to go back out on the mission field. But to do so we had to sell everything we owned, except for the clothes on our backs, move some 10,000 miles away to live in a foreign country I’d never been to before, and live on half the salary I was receiving at the church. I did not hesitate. I trusted God to take care of me and my family, and He did exactly that without fail.
Did I ever get back all that was sold at auction? No! But I was blessed with something more? I went from ministering to a congregation of a few hundred in a small farming community out on the great plains of the United States, to ministering to thousands in some of the largest cities in the world. God also was so gracious allowing me to be involved helping to advance and develop a higher Christian education facility were hundreds of new ministers, musicians, youth workers, social workers, could be trained for the glory of God. The joy of serving the Lord in this capacity was greater by a thousand fold than what I had invested in those things that were sold at a loss from their original value.
Did that make me something special? No! It made my God and my Savior special in that they led me and stay with me all the way. There were thousands before me that did the same and thousands since. Did that facilitate my entry into the kingdom of heaven with guaranteed eternal life? No! One does not do these things to get in, but they are done once a person is in as a sign of gratitude and love for the One who paid the greatest price of all to open the door to the kingdom so that whosoever believes in Him may not perish but enjoy everlasting life.
1 Genesis 18:14
2 Robert Alter, op. cit., p.79
3 Numbers 11:23
4 Job 42:2
5 Jeremiah 32:27
6 Chrysostom: Matthew, Homily 63.2
7 Chrysostom: ibid.
8 Deuteronomy 33:9, 11
9 See Philippians 3:8
10 Chrysostom: Matthew, Homily 64.1
11 See Revelation 4:4
12 Matthew 12:41
13 Matthew 12:27
14 Chrysostom: Matthew, Homily 64.2
15 Isaiah 65:17-18
16 Pesikta De-Rab Kahana, op., cit., Piska 22:5a, p. 468
17 Ibid., Isaiah 65:17; Ezekiel 36:26; Psalm 72:17; Isaiah 62:2