Matthew 17 to 21 is what I call the Forth Block of Kingdom Teaching, and we will focus on the “first to last, leaders to servants, greatest to the humble” teachings Jesus gave His disciples. These chapters start with the Transfiguration and go to Jesus delivering His first sermon from the Two Mounts. I have used mentions of John the Baptist to frame the blocks of teachings about the Kingdom. Yes, there are other thoughts and teachings in this period. Three standout examples are: Jesus was questioned twice on divorce, He uses children several times in His teachings, and foretells His death twice. If I extend the block into His Sermons on the Two Mounts (the fifth block), He tells two parables about weddings. Jesus’ changes in physical locations are also worth noting.
This Last to First series of studies has already challenged some long-held paradigms. That is never comfortable; it is necessary but not pleasant. There are many first/last ideas in these chapters. After playing the tour guide of Jesus’ travels I will focus on three related kingdom thoughts.
His Final Pilgrimage – I will not go into great detail here, as I have done some of that in other studies. Even His movements have a “least to great” lesson in them.
- He is on the mount where He is transfigured and meets with Moses and Elijah. (John the Baptist is mentioned here.)
- Capernaum, for the last time.
- Jesus leaves the land of Naphtali and Zebulun (Galilee). He “goes over” the Jordan and to the area across from Jericho.
- If you check with the other Gospels, He does several trips to the west bank.
- He begins His final trip to Jerusalem by crossing the Jordan and going to Jericho. He is busy here and possibly was there for several days.
- He travels to the Mount of Olives where He sends for a donkey.
- Jesus does a “victory ride” into Jerusalem and inspects the Temple. (John the Baptist is mentioned in His first of two sermons on Tuesday of Holy Week.)
I know that I have a tendency to single out a story or thought. It seems that the Holy Spirit has grouped several separate lessons together to highlight a theme. In this block, the timespan is probably several weeks and completely different locations. The audience however is the Twelve Disciples and the others in His camp.
Children – Chapter 18 opens with the disciples wanting to know who was going to be the greatest (megas) in the kingdom of heaven. There is no doubt, in my mind, that they were asking about an earthy kingdom. I believe that Jesus planted the seed for this question when He asked about the Temple tax. The Master Teacher did a show and tell by using a little (mikros) child to focus on being humble (tapeinoō). The test for this teaching unit came in 19:13-15. The disciples did not make an “A” so Jesus did a quick reteach.
The Father then supplied an object lesson of a rich young ruler who did not want to become humble. This “righteous” child of Abraham, this megas, knew something was missing. Jesus quizzed him on Commandments 5-9, and he was good. I always find it interesting that Commandments 1- 4 were not mentioned. (Exodus 20) You may form your own opinion on that. His title and money had not brought him peace and he doubted his salvation. The young man did not like Jesus’ answer, he wanted a spiritual answer and was told to do away with his earthy hinderance. (I have not forgotten the l. Earthy = dust.)
Put a Selah in-between 19:22 and 23. Ignore the French printer’s chapter break and look at 19:23 to 20:16 as one whole, new lesson.
Last/First – The Spirit and Matthew changed terms in this new teaching, but the thought stays true. The “camp of disciples” saw the megas’ first (prōtos) position, and they knew he had salvation, because! Jesus segways from the earthy kingdom and moves to the Heavenly one in 19:28. The word/phrase is “palingenesia” Strong G3824. (All of the Greek is from Mounce.) It means renewal, new birth, or regeneration.
Your heart and vision will determine how you view first (prōtos) and last (eschatos). Your starting position is important. There is an interesting switch in last/first from 19:30 to 20:16, see my first post in this series.
John’s Eema – I have no doubt that John and James’ mother was in the camp that left Capernaum. There is no reason not to think that she had heard all of the teachings and witnessed the miracles that were done by Jericho. Like the young ruler, she asks a kingdom question. Was she talking about the earthy one or the Heavenly one? Jesus’ answer is about the Heavenly one. It is not settled in my mind if the disciples realized that Jesus was talking about a different kingdom than what they thought was coming. In verse 25, He meets them where they are and talks about leaders (megas) and servants (diakonos). See Paul and Slaves. Mom’s question makes you think about the disciples’ question in Chapter 18.
Jesus has told His disciples several times that He is going to Jerusalem to die. Did that sink in before the Garden? The questions and indignant feelings make me want to say no. But they heard and eventually lived the teaching, may we be able to say that also.
Before the Rich Man – In this series of teachings Jesus answers how to be the greatest or first in the kingdom. The lessons had a “least” action: finding lost sheep, forgiving someone, and helping little children come to Jesus. The last or least path is the way to go.
The Kingdom Teaching – Matthew 19:28 and 20:1 give this idea a heavenly setting. In between those verses, it is very heavenly. The parable in chapter 20 lends itself to the Earth. This really does need more study.
After the Teaching – John’s eema is an example of what not to be. Jesus’ ride into Jerusalem is an interesting lesson about the topic. Jesus rode into the city as a “great or first” and carried a cross out of the city as a “servant or last”. Then because of the shame-ridden cross, He became Lord and Master of all.