NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
by Dr. Robert R. Seyda
GOSPEL OF MATTHEW
Verse 3: Later, Jesus was sitting at a place on the Mount of Olives. The followers came to be alone with Him. They said, “Tell us when these things will happen. And what will happen to prepare us for Your coming and the end of time?”
Had the verbal traditions of the Rabbis been available in book form in that day, Jesus could have easily picked up the Mishnah or Talmud and begin reading: “In the generation when the son of David [i.e., Messiah] will come, scholars will be few in number, and as for the rest, their eyes will fail through sorrow and grief. Multitudes of trouble and evil decrees will be published anew, each new evil coming with haste before the other has ended.”1 This same document then goes on to say, there would be a seven-year cycle that preceding His coming involving rain, hunger, famine, forsaking of God’s Word, inflation, recession, revival,2 return to God’s Word, and sounds from heaven. In a way, this also corresponds with the seven years of tribulation at the end of the Gentile era during which the Jews will finally turn and recognize Jesus as their Messiah.
I’m sure Jesus did not use this as His text because He was the Word straight from God. But to any student in a synagogue, these omens would be well-known. So what Jesus is about to mentioned should not come as a surprise to His listeners. Also, what claims does one have to make in order to be accepted as a Messiah? Israel was the only nation that clung tenaciously with hope to such a promise by God. In their minds, He would be a man divinely ordained of God to establish God’s kingdom in Israel, and then use Israel to spread His rule throughout the world. He would be a king of royal blood; a ruler of a nation, and spiritual leader of the children of Israel. He was to bring about the salvation of Israel with a final triumph over all her enemies.
Needless to say, when the Jews saw this humble, peaceful Jesus from Nazareth in His ministry as a suffering sacrifice, it did not meet their criteria. Nevertheless, Jesus would be all of these things and more! He was ordained by God because He was God. His kingdom was established and today its influence extends to the uttermost parts of the earth. He is a King of royal blood; the eternal King of kings. He did win triumphantly over all the enemies of God’s people: the devil, death, hell, and the grave! There is, therefore, no reason why anyone should not recognize Him as the Messiah. But the real question here is this: was Jesus giving a timeline that would occur during the time of the apostles or in the end days of the church?
One anonymous writer in the early church gives his exposition of this text. He writes: “Here the disciples were asking, ‘When will this be that no stone of the temple stands upon another, as you said?’ With these questions and others, they asked Jesus also to indicate to them the end of the age, which He had not mentioned. They asked questions about the Temple for their own benefit, but those questions concerning the end of the age were asked for our benefit. We never saw the destruction of the temple, nor did they see the end of the age. It was expedient, therefore, that they hear about the signs of the Temple’s destruction and for us to learn and recognize the signs of the world’s consummation. A work’s completion is sweet to every laborer, and the traveler eagerly awaits his arrival at home. The businessman frequently counts the days to year’s end, and the farmer constantly looks forward to harvest time. The merchant examines his purse day and night, and an expecting mother continually thinks of her delivery date. In a similar way, the servants of God eagerly anticipate the consummation of the age, for it is written, ‘Wherever your treasure is, there will your heart be also.’3”4
While I agree with the writer that it was good the disciples asked these questions so Jesus was given the opportunity to offer some instructions or point to signs of when this might occur, it is also important to note their question so that the answer given by our Lord can be applied to our understanding. They specifically asked about when the Temple would be torn down and about His return and the end of time.
This early church writer goes on to say: “If you have a certain quantity of valuable property stored away in your house when you come in from the street, you will naturally direct your gaze in the direction of those valuables before you look anywhere else. Likewise, the saints fix their gaze there where their crown has been laid up for them. It is also of some benefit to be able to recognize the end of the age, for when a man is on a journey, the closer he gets to home, the more he begins to celebrate.”5
Verses 4-5: Jesus answered, “Be careful! Don’t let anyone fool you. Many people will come and use my name. They will say, ‘I am the Messiah.’ And they will fool many people.”
The key to understanding this is the word, “Messiah.” Some say, that the church is not waiting for the Messiah’s first coming because He arrived a long time ago. Therefore, this must be applicable to the Jewish nation. As such, it no doubt would apply to their time from Jesus’ day up to this day and beyond, especially during the period of the Tribulation. Furthermore, since the nation of Israel is no longer under Roman rule, the liberation from foreign rule brought by the Messiah would not seem to apply today. But the Church is awaiting the Messiah’s return. The question then becomes, are these two one and the same when our Lord returns for His believers and the Jews finally accept Him as the true Messiah?
We learn from Jewish historian Josephus, that between 44-46 AD “…while Fadus was procurator of Judea, that a certain magician, whose name was Theudas, persuaded a great part of the people to take their effects with them, and follow him to the river Jordan; for he told them he was a prophet, and that he would, by his own command, divide the river, and afford them an easy passage over it; and many were deluded by his words. However, Fadus did not allow them to realize any advantage of his wild attempt, but sent a troop of horsemen out against them; who, falling upon them unexpectedly, slew many of them, and took many of them alive. They also took Theudas alive, and cut off his head, and carried it to Jerusalem. This was what befell the Jews in the time of Cuspius Fadus’s government.”6
Let’s look at what the Centurion, who arrested the apostle Paul in the Temple, said to him: “I thought you were the Egyptian who started some trouble against the government not long ago and led four thousand terrorists out to the desert.”7 In addition, Simon Magus8 became accepted by some as the Messiah. And Irenaeus writes about Magus, “…in order that he himself might seem to be a wonderful being, and applied himself with still greater zeal to the study of the whole magic art, that he might the better bewilder and overpower multitudes of men. Such was his procedure in the reign of Claudius Cæsar, by whom also he is said to have been honored with a statue, on account of his magical power. This man, then, was glorified by many as if he were a god; and he taught that it was himself who appeared among the Jews as the Son, but descended in Samaria as the Father while he came to other nations in the character of the Holy Spirit. He represented himself, in a word, as being the loftiest of all powers, that is, the Being who is the Father over all, and he allowed himself to be called by whatsoever title men were pleased to address him.”9
Origen writes, “And after the times of Jesus, Dositheus the Samaritan also wished to persuade the Samaritans, that he was the Christ predicted by Moses; and he appears to have won some over to his views. But it is not absurd, in quoting the extremely wise observation of Gamaliel, the one named in the book of Acts, to show how those persons mentioned above were strangers to the promise, being neither sons of God nor powers of God, whereas Christ Jesus was truly the Son of God.”10
And, early church theologian Tertullian writes that Simon Magus, who, in the Acts of the Apostles, earned a merited and just rebuke from the Apostle Peter,11 had the boldness to call himself the Supreme Virtue, that is, the Supreme God; and moreover, to assert that the universe had been originated by his angels; that he had descended in quest of an erring intelligence, which was Wisdom; that, in trying to resemble God, he had not suffered among the Jews, but it was as if he had suffered. After him came Menander and his disciple (likewise a magician), saying the same as Simon. Whatever Simon had affirmed himself to be, this did Menander equally affirm himself to be, asserting that none could possibly have salvation without being baptized in his name.12
While today we do not hear frequently about someone in Israel claiming to be the Messiah, we do have those elsewhere who claim they can lead people to God in ways not found in holy Scriptures. They tell people it is not necessary to repent or change their ways because God loves them the way they are. Just follow my rules, they say. However, nowhere in their past do we find a record of their suffering, death, and resurrection which are required to be the true Messiah.
1 Babylonian Talmud, op.. cit. Seder Mo’ed, Masekhet Sanhedrin, folio 97a
2 This is interpreted by many Bible scholars as being the latter rain prophesied in Joel 2:28-29
3 Matthew 6:21
4 Incomplete Work on Matthew, Homily 48
6 Flavius Josephus, op. cit., Antiquities of the Jews, Bk. 20, Ch. 5:1
7 Acts of the Apostles 21:38
8 Ibid., 8:9-11
9 Irenaeus, Against Heresies, Bk. 1, Ch. 23
10 Origen, Against Celus, Bk. I, Ch. 57
11 Acts of the Apostles 8:9-24
12 Tertullian, Against all Heresies, Trans. By Rev. S. Thelwal, Ch. 1