Teaching Matthew: Rising Conflict


Note: This blog is the tenth in a series of posts on teaching the Gospel of Matthew. You can find the first blog on teaching Matthew HERE.

As Jesus continues to proclaim the Kingdom, the conflict around his teaching continues to rise. In the fifth section of Matthew’s Gospel, Matthew highlights that conflict for us. We see the results of the conflict between John the Baptist and Herod. We see the open theological disputes between Jesus and the religious leaders, and we see conflict over Jesus’ teaching among the disciples themselves. This section ends with a sermon from Jesus on life in the kingdom of God. The life that Jesus calls his followers to in the context of all this conflict is shocking and telling. The outline for the section looks like this

V.        Section 5 – Rising Conflict (13:54-18:35)

            A.        The Fourth Set of Narratives (13:54-17:27)

            B.        The Fourth Discourse – Life in the Kingdom (18:1-18:35)

Below is the material I gave my church members as I taught this. Note: some of the language below is adapted from the study notes on Matthew that I wrote for the Worldview Study Bible (Holman Bible Publishers, 2018).

The Death of John the Baptist and Jesus Performs More Miracles (14:1-36):

There are a number of “famous” miracles in this section—e.g. feeding the five thousand and walking on the water. The section begins with Herod executing John the Baptist, the one who came proclaiming the Kingdom of God. Herod knows enough about the Old Testament to know that God does sometimes bring people back from the dead (e.g. 1 Ki 17:17-24; 2 Ki 4:32-35). In his guilt and superstition Herod is afraid that God might have brought his prophet John back to life to condemn Herod for his sins. Herod clearly has no idea about the identity of the Messiah and the Old Testament promises of his resurrection from the dead (e.g. Is 53:10). The section ends with a mighty demonstration of the Kingdom of God (Jesus heals all the sick in Gennesaret).

1.  Why do you think Matthew pairs the miracle of the feeding the five thousand with the miracle of the walking on the water? What does each story tell us about Jesus? What does each story tell us about the disciples? (Make sure you read 16:5-12 as you consider your answer.)

2. Why do the gospel writers include summary passages like 14:34-36? There is no preaching of Jesus included in these summaries. The miracles aren’t being used to persuade anyone of Jesus’ identity. The theology of the people who are receiving the miracles is clearly deficient (e.g. 14:36). What is Matthew up to here?

Theological Disputes with the Religious Leaders (15:1-16:12):

Matthew highlights a number of disputes between Jesus and the religious leaders. It is not always clear to the casual reader just what these disputes are about. Here are a few notes on each for clarity:

15:1-20  The hand washing mentioned here is ceremonial in nature and not related to hygiene. It was a tradition of the elders, not a biblical command. Jesus uses the opportunity to condemn the Pharisees and scribes for constantly putting their traditions above the Scripture. He further focuses on corban (cf. Mk 7:11), the practice of dedicating money to the temple to keep from having to use it to care for aging parents.

16:1-4  The religious leaders want Jesus to show them a sign from heaven, but Jesus has already revealed himself to them and they have rejected him. Just as Jonah proclaimed God’s judgment on Nineveh, so Jesus, one greater than Jonah (Mt 12:41), declares judgment on that evil and adulterous generation.

16:5-12  Yeast in the Bible is typically used to represent sin and corruption. Just like a little bit of yeast will spread throughout an entire loaf of bread to leaven it, so the corrupting influence of the Pharisees and Sadducees, those who knew best who Messiah was and rejected Him anyway, has spread and permeated the community. The disciples need to be wary of them.

1.  What do you make of the way Jesus talks to the Canaanite woman? How does the story end? What is Mathew’s purpose in telling this story right here?

2.  How do we typically preach and teach the Jonah story? How does Jesus talk about the Jonah story? Are they consistent?

Conflicts Involving the Disciples (16:13-18:1):

The conflict with Jesus over his teaching about the gospel and the Kingdom of God is not limited to the religious leaders. Matthew includes several stories of conflict Jesus has with his own disciples. They did not understand what it means that he was the messiah. They are terrified of Jesus when they see him in his glory. They argue over who will be the “greatest” in Jesus’ Kingdom.

What are the disciples consistently getting wrong? Jesus’ disciples still do not understand that Messiah did not come to restore Israel to its former military and economic glory but rather came to rescue mankind from sin and death by dying and rising again (e.g. Mt 16:22-23). Until they do understand the Messiah properly, Jesus instructs them to tell no one that he is the Messiah. Jesus strongly rebukes Peter by calling him “Satan” (lit. adversary)for insisting that the Messiah cannot suffer and die when that is the very thing Jesus came to do. Peter and the other disciples are apparently hoping for a military and economic restoration for Israel. This is why they want to know who will be greatest in Jesus’ Kingdom. That is why they are deeply distressed when Jesus teaches them that his kingdom is not founded on economic or military power but on the death and resurrection of the Messiah.

1.  How do the disciples respond when they see Jesus transfigured on the mountain? Why? What is Matthew trying to teach us?

2.  What does Jesus teach Peter about money, government, and the Christian (17:24-27)? What can we learn from this for today?

Jesus’ Sermon on Life in the Kingdom (18:2-35):

This section ends with Jesus preaching a sermon to his disciples on life in the Kingdom of God. He gives them a number of warnings and a number of exhortations. He tells two parables throughout the sermon as well.

1.  According to Jesus, who is “greatest” in the kingdom of God? What does that tell us about God and his Kingdom?

2.  What are the two parables in the sermon about? What do they have in common? How do they function in the sermon? Why do you think Jesus ends the sermon with the second parable?

3.  What does Jesus teach us about temptation in 18:7-9? Why do you think he uses such extreme language?

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