NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
by Dr. Robert R. Seyda
GOSPEL OF MATTHEW
Early church scholar Cyril gives us his commentary on this portion of Matthew. He writes: “The disciples were not merely confused; rather the matter greatly disturbed them, and the knowledge of this mystery was hard to grasp. How could one be raised from the dead, or one with countless wonders done on behalf of the people be handed over to death and dishonor? Yet this agrees with what the prophet said: ‘Strike the shepherd.’1 David also says to the Father, ‘Therefore those whom you struck, they will persecute.’2 However, not all this occurred at the will of the Father; He did not desire for Him [the Son] to suffer, if only the Jews would have accepted Him. So one cannot say He willed a murder. The Father consented with the Son’s choice to suffer this. So it is written that the Father struck ‘the shepherd.’ He permitted Him to suffer yet had the power to prevent the suffering. Something like this is at work in the passage that says Pilate was ‘over’ Christ. ‘You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above,’3 that is, ‘if the Father had not permitted me to suffer.”4
However, I think bishop Cyril misses an important point. Jesus was sent to die whether the Jews believed in Him or not. In fact, those who did believe had their faith strengthened when He rose from death and ascended to the Father with a promise to return so they could be where He was going. Had the Jews accepted Him and Jesus would have considered His mission finished. Then, even they would have been cheated out of having the possibility of singing that grand old hymn by Alfred Ackley: “I serve a risen Savior, He’s in the world today. I know that He is living, whatever men may say.” . . . “He lives, He lives. Christ Jesus lives today! He walks with me and talks with me along life’s narrow way.”
Verse 30: They all sang a song and then went out to the Mount of Olives.
Here is one of the first references to Jesus singing. I’m sure He did that more than once, but on this occasion, it was part of the ceremony. Using my own imagination I can see and hear the disciples singing the hymn by Robert Lowry: “What can wash away my sins, nothing but the blood of Jesus.” Or one of my favorites by Andre Crouch: “The blood that Jesus shed for me way back on Calvary, oh the blood that gives me strength from day to day, it will never lose its power.”
However, Jewish tradition tells us that as part of the Passover liturgy, special hymns were sung from the Hallel Psalms (meaning “Praise Psalms”), consisting of Psalms 113-118. Looking at these Psalms, imagine if you can, Jesus singing the following lines: “Death’s ropes were around me. The grave was closing in on me. I was worried and afraid. Then I called on the Lord’s name. I said, ‘Lord, save me!’ LORD, you saved my soul from death. You stopped my tears. You kept me from falling. I will continue to serve the Lord in the land of the living. What can I give the Lord for all that he has done for me? He saved me, so I will give Him a drink offering, and I will call on the Lord’s name. Lord, I am your servant! Yes, I am your slave, as my mother was. You set me free from the chains of death. I will give you a thank offering. I will call on the Lord’s name.”5
Had He done so, it would have been more for the disciples than for Himself. And I am sure it would have become one of the favorite hymns of the apostolic church and beyond. But since we are told in the Jewish guide to the Passover meal6 that the Benediction Song is taken from Psalm 118. In reading this Psalm it comes across like the summary of Christ’s life. But as the meal came to a close these may have been the final words of their song: “LORD, you are my God, and I thank you. May God, I praise you! Praise the LORD because He is good. His faithful love will last forever.”7
Verse 31: Jesus told the followers, “Tonight you will all lose your faith in me. The Scriptures say, ‘I will kill the shepherd, and the sheep will run away.’”
With the supper over, the singing quieted down. Our Lord now gets to the real issue at hand. In His usual way, He offers the prophecy found in Zechariah 13:7 as a basis for what will happen next. This is not only uncanny but done on purpose. They may try and argue with Him, but they will be less disposed to argue with Scripture.
As on any subject, a perusal of the writings of Jewish scholars finds differing interpretations of just who Zechariah was referring to. Rabbi Solomon Jarchi indicates that “My shepherd” pertains to: “the one whom I appointed over the flock of My exile.”8 Meanwhile, Rabbi Isaac ben Abraham points to the king of the Ishmaelites or the Turks.9 However, Rabbi David Kimchi has this to say, “Rabbi Abraham Aben Ezra, has interpreted this prophecy of the great wars which will be in all the world in the days of the Messiah, the son of Joseph.10”11 An earlier Rabbi, Isaac Abravanel, also believes that the shepherd in Zechariah 13:7 is speaking of Messiah, the son of Joseph.12
Jesus could have as easily quoted from Job, who said to his supposed friends, “I cannot depend on you, my brothers. You are like a stream that has no water when the weather is dry but is flooded when the rains come. In the winter, it is choked with ice and melting snow. But when the weather is hot and dry, the water stops flowing, and the stream disappears.”13
In his sermon on this text, Chrysostom writes: “Then Jesus said to them, ‘You will all fall away because of me.’ After this, He mentions a prophecy: ‘For it is written, “I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.”14 He was urging them to be attentive to what has been prophetically predicted of His death and resurrection, and at the same time, He wanted to make it plain that He was indeed crucified according to God’s purpose. All of this was to show that He was no alien from the old covenant or from the God who preached it. What was done in the Old Testament was a dispensation. All the prophets proclaimed all things beforehand from the beginning that are included in this salvation event. All this was to increase faith. And He teaches us to know what the disciples were before the crucifixion and what they did after the crucifixion. For indeed they who were not able so much as to stand their ground when He was crucified after His death became mighty and stronger than adamant.”15
1 Zechariah 13:7
2 Psalm 69:26, (Also see Psalm 68:27 in the Septuagint from which Cyril is quoting.)
3 John 19:11
4 Cyril of Alexandria: Commentary fragment 292
5 Psalm 116:3-4, 8-9, 12-13, 16-17
6 The Passover Haggadah, Edited by Nahum N. Glazer, Schocken Books, New York, 1953
7 Psalm 118:28-29
8 The Complete Jewish Bible with Rashi Commentary, loc. cit.
9 Chizzuk Emunah” (Faith Strengthened), Ch. 37, p. 310
10 Messiah ben Joseph. In Jewish eschatology, Messiah ben Joseph or Mashiach ben Yoseph, also known as Mashiach ben Ephraim, is a Jewish messiah from the tribe of Ephraim and a descendant of Joseph. The figure’s origins are much debated.
11 Commentary on Prophecies of Zechariah, Translated from the Hebrew with Notes and Observations on the Passages Relating to the Messiah by the Rev. A. M’Caul, A.M., of Trinity College, Dublin, London: James Duncan, 37 Paternoster Row, 1837). pp.167-168
12 Mashmi’a Yeshu’ah (Announcing Salvation), folio 74. 4
13 Job 6:15-17
14 Zechariah 13:7
15 Chrysostom: Matthew, Homily 82.2