NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
by Dr. Robert R. Seyda
GOSPEL OF MATTHEW
Verse 46 (Con’t): In Isaiah, we find the following verses, “Family of David, listen very carefully! Is it not enough that you would test the patience of humans? Will you now test the patience of my God? But the Lord will still show you this sign: The young woman will become pregnant and will give birth to a son. She will name Him, Immanuel.”1 Then Isaiah adds this, “This will happen when that special child is born. God will be giving us a son who will be responsible for leading His people. His name will be ‘Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Father of Eternity, Prince of Peace.’”2 The prophet goes on, “This branch will grow from Jesse’s roots. The Lord’s Spirit will always be with this new king to give him wisdom, understanding, guidance, and power. The Spirit will help Him know and respect the Lord. He will find joy in obeying the Lord.”3 These verses have been accepted by Christians and many Jews as a clear reference to the Messiah and was fulfilled by none other than Jesus of Nazareth.
Then according to Jeremiah, “When He rules, Judah will be saved, and Israel will live in safety. This will be His name: Adonai Tzidkenu [ADONAI does what’s right].4 To this Ezekiel adds: “Then I, the LORD, will be their God, and my servant David will be the ruler living among them. I, the LORD, have spoken.”5 So we can see why the Jews waited so expectantly for this Messiah to come. However, they saw Him as a political liberator rather than a spiritual one. That’s why when the unknown prophet from Galilee showed up without riding in on a white horse followed by armed supporters, they could not imagine that He was the Messiah they were looking for.
The early church fathers had their opinions on the outcome of this one-sided discussion since it appears that all the opponents of Jesus could do was ask questions. And even though Jesus gave them answers, they themselves had no answers to His questions. For instance, Origen writes: “The reason they dared not to ask Him even another word was this, that having been asked themselves, they could not respond. For if their question had come from a desire to learn, then they would never have proposed their questions to Him. They dared not ask Him anything now. For they were asking Him only as tempters, and for this reason, He chose to confuse them by their own question so that, blushing, they might back away from His directness and thereafter ask Him nothing further.”6
Origen makes a good point here. If these people had come to really learn something from Jesus about the subjects they had in mind, they would not have asked them in such a way as to trick Him into saying something they could then ridicule. Early church theologian Jerome makes this same point: “The Pharisees and Sadducees had been looking for an opportunity for deceiving Him, looking to find some word that might be taken advantage of by the plotters. Yet they had been totally confounded in their conversations. So they asked nothing further. What did they do then? All they could do was turn Him over to the custody of the Roman authorities. From this, we learn that the faults of the jealous are indeed able to be overcome but are difficult to put to rest.”7 But this should not surprise us. After all, look what happened to Satan when he tried to trick our Lord during His time in the wilderness. He was not successful then, nor was he successful when he inspired these critics to do the same.
So as we can see, the Pharisees were quick to answer that everyone knew the Messiah would be a descendant of king David. Then came the hook. Our Master quoted from the Psalms.8 We must take into consideration that the Jews’ understanding of the Messiah during the time Jesus was here on earth had undergone a transition from what they read in the book of Isaiah. In the prayer, by Hannah, the mother of the prophet Samuel, we find a clue as to what they understood the role of this Messiah to be, “The LORD will judge even the lands that are far away. He will give power to His king. He will make His Anointed One strong.”9
Jewish scholars tell us, it was after the fall of the Maccabean dynasty, when the despotic government of Herod the Great and his family, and the increasing tyranny of the Roman empire had made their condition ever more unbearable, that the Jews sought refuge in the hope of a personal Messiah. They yearned for the promised deliverer of the house of David, who would free them from the yoke of the hated foreign power, would put an end to the godless Roman rule, and would establish His own reign of peace and justice in its place. In this way, their hopes became gradually centered in a desperately needed Messiah.
As evidence that in the Roman period the Messianic hope had become universal among the Jews may be adduced from what Flavius Josephus had to say: “That then should their city be taken, as well as their holy house, when once their temple should become firmly established…about that time, one from their country should become governor of the habitable earth.”10 And Roman historian Tacitus, who made note that, “Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus,”11 also spoke of the Jews fascination with a divine deliverer, “There had been seen hosts joining battle in the skies, the fiery gleam of arms, the Temple illuminated by a sudden radiance from the clouds. The doors of the inner shrine were suddenly thrown open, and a voice of more than mortal tone was heard to cry that the gods were departing. At the same instant, there was a mighty stir as of departure. Some few put a fearful meaning on these events, but in most there was a firm persuasion, that in the ancient records of their priests was contained a prediction of how at this very time the East was to grow powerful, and rulers, coming from Judaea, were to acquire universal empire.”12
Even Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus, commonly known as Suetonius, a Roman historian who lived from circa 59-122 AD, writing about Vespasian,13 made the following observation, “A firm persuasion had long prevailed through all the East, that it was fated for the empire of the world, at that time, to designate some who should go forth from Judaea. This prediction referred to a Roman emperor, as the event showed; but the Jews, applying it to themselves, broke out into rebellion, and having defeated and slain their governor, routed the lieutenant of Syria, a man of consular rank, who was advancing to his assistance, and took an eagle, the standard, of one of his legions.”14 Also in the heart of the Jewish prayer life, we find this prayer, “The offspring of your servant David may you speedily cause to flourish, and enhance his pride through Your salvation, for we hope for Your salvation all day long. Blessed are you, HaShem,15 Who causes the pride of salvation to flourish.”16
So Jesus’ question about whose Son the Messiah would be, had to be processed by these Pharisees with all these views in mind. However, although they did answer correctly that it would be a descendant of David, they were looking for someone totally different than Jesus of Nazareth. So the question is, if this, was in fact, David’s son, then why does David call his son, Lord? Had the Pharisees been thinking of the person of the Messiah on a spiritual basis, they may have seen the light. But they were contemplating the person of the Messiah on a human basis.
Therefore, as a descendant of David, the true Messiah would come to sit on David’s throne and from there rule Judea and eventually the whole world. There were looking for someone to be a successful and victorious prince, coming to deliver them out of the hands of their temporal enemies. But if He were David’s son, then how could David see Him as someone higher, someone divine? This is what puzzled them. How could a human king like David, be the forebearer of a divine king called the Messiah?
Matthew says the Pharisees were at a loss for words. As a matter of fact, from that day forward none of His opponents dared ask Him any more questions. No doubt, for fear of being embarrassed again and made to look like blind men trying to lead the blind. Job experienced a similar situation, as his friend Elihu pointed out to him, “Job, these men lost the argument. They don’t have anything more to say. They don’t have any more answers. I waited for them to answer you. But now they are quiet. They stand there with nothing more to say.”17
This point in Matthew’s Gospel account is a critical turning point in the life of Jesus. From here on He will walk in the shadow of the cross waiting for Him up on Calvary’s brow, beckoning Him to come as the Lamb of God to be slain so that His blood can be used as the atonement for the sins of all who believe. This will influence His actions and words from now on until He quietly enters the room where the disciples are hiding for fear of the Jewish authorities, and says confidently to them, “Peace be with you!”18
1 Isaiah 7:14
2 Ibid. 9:6
3 Ibid. 11:1-3
4 Jeremiah 23:6 – Complete Jewish Bible
5 Ezekiel 34:24
6 Origen: Commentary on Matthew 5
7 Jerome: Commentary on Matthew 4.22.46
8 Psalm 110:1
9 I Samuel 2:10, (cf. Daniel 7:25)
10 Flavius Josephus, Wars of the Jews, Bk. 6, Ch. 5:4
11 Tacitus, The Annuals, Bk. 15
12 Tacitus, The Histories, Bk. 5:13
13 Vespasian was Roman emperor from 69 – 79 AD who besieged Jerusalem during the Jewish rebellion in 66 AD, some 30 years following the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus.
14 C. Suetonius Tranquillus, The Lives of the Twelve Caesars, T. Flavius Vespasianus Agustus, IV
15 HaShem is Hebrew meaning, “The Name,” which was substituted for the real name for God which the Jews feared to repeat in order to prevent them from saying His name in vain.
16 Amidah, Blessing #15, For the Messianic King
17 Job 32:15-16
18 Luke 24:36