NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
by Dr. Robert R. Seyda
GOSPEL OF MATTHEW
Verse 64: Jesus answered, “Let it be as you have said. But let me tell you, in the future, you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right side of God. And you will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven.”
Our Lord was not about to leave anything hanging in the air, so He replies quickly. British Bible commentator Charles Elliott puts it as succinctly as it can be said: “No words in the whole Gospel records are more decisive against the views of those who would be inclined to see in our Lord only a great moral teacher, like Socrates or Cakya Mouni.1 At the very crisis of His history, when denial would have saved His life. He asserts His claim to be much more than this, to be all that the most devout Christians have ever believed Him to be. At such a moment, when men stand face to face with seeming failure and with death, dreams, and delusive claims, for the most part, melt away. Here claims that men have presumed to think of as delusive were strengthened and intensified, and reproduced as in the calmness of assured conviction.”2
Jesus knew what their intentions were if He made such a claim. So He quickly out maneuvered and nonplussed His prosecutors by letting them know that killing Him will not end His mission. He is bound for heaven to sit at the Father’s right hand, and nothing they can do will be able to stop Him. But what really concerned them, is that being at the right hand of God means having direct access to divine power and authority.
This came from a clear understanding that here on earth, the one who stood by the right hand of the king was the spokesman for the king. And for Jesus to claim that position was the ultimate insult to these Jewish leaders. It was like saying, He will be more revered and higher than Moses. In fact, in the Babylonian Talmud, we find this perception of the power behind the words that God spoke to Moses on Mount Moriah in Sinai. “Rabbi Ishmael recited; [The words] ‘I’ and ‘Thou’… were heard from the mouth of Omnipotence.”3 The “I” is the first word of the first commandment, and “Thou” is the first word of the second commandment.4
So how could this disillusioned itinerant teacher from Galilee believe He would one day speak with the omnipotence voice of God? No doubt this is what the apostle John was getting at,5 and the writer of Hebrews as well.6 We can also believe that many of these same individuals would be there that day when Stephen was stoned for his witnessing, and heard him exclaim, “I see the Son of Man standing at God’s right side.”7 Not only that, but Jesus mentions the Son of Man coming in the clouds of heaven.
There is an interesting correlation between Exodus 13:22 and 1 Chronicles 3:24 concerning such a positioning to represent God’s presence. In the Jewish Bible, Exodus 13:22 reads in the Hebrew: “Lo-yamish amud he’anani yomam ve’amud ha’esh laylah lifney ha’am.” (The pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire at night never left their position in front of the people). The term “he’anani” is a name that has been associated with the Messiah. In a Jewish Targum we read this comment: “And he’Anani – ‘This is the King Messiah who is to be revealed.’ – Rabbi Jarchi says the same, and refers to Daniel 7:13: “Behold, one like the Son of man came with the clouds (ananey) of heaven.”8 So Jesus was not making up some story here, it was already contained in their Scriptures.
This may also give us a new understanding of Matthew’s quote: “The people living in darkness have seen a great light; upon those living in the region, in the shadow of death, light has dawned.”9 Maybe this will also help you better understand why the high priest was so furious at what Jesus said. As a result, the high priest tore his clothes in the customary display of anger or grief.10 How could this peasant prophet from Galilee ever claim to be the One spoken of by Daniel?11 Was this carpenter’s son from Nazareth so arrogant as to believe He was the One David spoke of in his psalm?12
Verses 65-66: When the high priest heard this, he tore his clothes in anger. He said, “This man has said things that insult God! We don’t need any more witnesses. You all heard his insulting words. What do you think?” The Jewish leaders answered, “He is guilty, and He must die!”
Could it be that by tearing his clothes, the high priest himself was guilty of violating the word of God? Doesn’t it say in their teachings: “The high priest was chosen from among his brothers. The anointing oil was poured on his head. In this way, he was chosen for the special job of being high priest. He was chosen to wear the special clothes, so he must not do things to show his sadness in public. He must not let his hair grow wild. He must not tear his clothes?”13
As a matter of fact, one respected Rabbi, in his commentary on priestly garments, states: “Priests are forbidden from entering the Temple grounds when their garments are torn. The source of this prohibition is God’s statement, ‘Your garments must not be torn; otherwise, you will die.’” This commandment is also repeated regarding the high priest in the verse, ‘He may not tear his garments.‘”14
However, we find this taboo was lifted under certain conditions. “Whoever hears the blasphemy of God’s name is obligated to rend his garments. Even when one hears the blasphemy of other terms used to describe God, one is obligated to rend his garments. The above applies when one hears the blasphemy from a fellow Jew. In that instance, both the one who hears the actual blasphemy and the one who hears it from the witnesses is obligated to rend his garments… Before his execution, all the witnesses, and the judges place their hands on the head of the blasphemer and tell him: ‘You are responsible for your death. You brought it upon yourself.’ Only a blasphemer – and none of the other offenders executed by the court – has the judges and witnesses place their hands upon his head, as Leviticus 24:14 states: ‘And all those who hear shall place their hands on his head.’”15
So it looks like the high priest was in line with the commandments by tearing his clothes. It also appears that the “placing their hands upon his head,” was carried out in a violent form by those standing by when this took place. But wait a minute, we also read, “The blasphemer is liable only if he utters the Divine Name. Rabbi Yehoshua ben Karhah says: The entire day of the trial, the witnesses are examined by using a substitute for the Divine Name [i.e., the witnesses testify that he said] May Yose smite Yose [Yose having four letters which, numerically, adds up to Elokim which was substituted for the Divine Name]… Thereupon, he did so by using the Divine Name. The judges then stood up and rent their garments, which were not resewn in a manner so that the tear would no longer be noticeable.”16
When it came to wearing their sacred garments, Jewish verbal law gives the guidelines: “Come and hear: As to priestly garments, it is forbidden to go out in them in the province, but in the Sanctuary whether during or outside the time of the service (i.e. outside the Temple), it is permitted to wear them, because priestly garments are permitted for private use.”17 This is repeated in, “Come and hear: It is forbidden to go out into the town in priestly garments, but it is permissible to walk about in them in the Temple whether at the time of service or otherwise, since the priestly garments may be made general use of. This is conclusive.”18
1 Cakya-Mouni: a legend on how Jesus became the Son of God: The lost 18 years of Jesus’ life revealed, written by Nicolas Notovitch, a Russian Jewish adventurer, 1894
2 C. J. Elliott: Commentary for English Readers, loc. cit.
3 Babylonian Talmud: Seder Nezikin, Masekhet Horayoth, folio 8a
4 Exodus 22:2
5 John 1:1
6 Hebrews 1:1
7 Acts of the Apostles 7:55-56
8 Targum on 1 Chronicles 3:24
9 Matthew 4:16 quoting Isaiah (9:2 in the Christian Bible and 9:1 in the Jewish Bible)
10 Cf. II Kings 18:37; 19:1
11 Daniel 7:13
12 Psalm 110:1
13 Leviticus 21:10
14 Moses ben Jacob of Coucy, also known as Moses Mikkotsi (Latin: Moses Kotsensis), French commentator and authority on Halakha (Jewish law). He is best known as the author of one of the earliest codifications of Halakha, the 613 Jewish Laws, called the “Sefer Mitzvot Gadol.” This quote comes from Negative comment #164
15 Moses Maimonides, Mishnah Torah, Sefer Madda, Avodah Kochavim, Ch. 2, Halacha 10.
16 Mishnah, Fourth Division: Nezikin, Tractate Sanhedrin, Ch. 7:5
17 Babylonian Talmud, Seder Mo’ed, Masekhet Yoma, folio 69a
18 Ibid., Seder Kodashim, Masekhet Tamid, folio 27b