Location: Greensboro, NC, United States

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Follow-up on Covenantal Curses

There were a couple of things I wanted to follow-up from my post below on the covenant.

I was curious to know if anyone else had taken Jesus’ words in Matthew 23:34 in the same way I had. I haven’t done any extensive looking through commentaries, but I did look to see what Matthew Henry had to say about this verse, and here is what he said:

3. Those he sends are called prophets, wise men, and scribes, Old-Testament names for New-Testament officers; to show that the ministers sent to them now should not be inferior to the prophets of the Old Testament, to Solomon the wise, or Ezra the scribe. The extraordinary ministers, who in the first ages were divinely inspired, were as the prophets commissioned immediately from heaven; the ordinary settled ministers, who were then, and continue in the church still, and will do to the end of time, are as the wise men and scribes, to guide and instruct the people in the things of God. Or, we may take the apostles and evangelists for the prophets and wise men, and the pastors and teachers for the scribes, instructed to the kingdom of heaven (ch. xiii. 52); for the office of a scribe was honourable till the men dishonoured it.

I would probably push this a little farther than Henry would, and say that one thing that is indicated here is the continuity of the ministers under the New Covenant with the ministers under the Old Covenant. And it seems to me that in Mt. 13:51-52 that Henry references that Jesus is specifically aligning the disciples (which means here, I assume, the Twelve, as the apostles were called) with the scribes or, as some translations have it, the teachers of the Law (see the NIV, for instance). What the theological significance of this is, I do not entirely know. Nonetheless, I am apparently not the only one to have thought along these lines regarding this passage.

I also wanted to clarify my statements regarding Jesus’ function in this passage. In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus is seen fulfilling various Old Testament types such as the New Moses, the True Israel, and the shoot that comes out of the stump of Jesse, the heir of David’s throne, the true King of Israel (Is. 11). Here in Mt. 23, Jesus is (at least, in part) filling the role of prophet. Now, Jesus is more than just a prophet (cf. Mt. 21:33-45, especially vss. 37-39), but he was a prophet nonetheless. David Chilton, in Days of Vengeance, his commentary on the Book of the Revelation, gives a helpful description on the role of the prophet in relation to the Covenant:

The Covenant is the meaning of Biblical history (Biblical history is not primarily adventure stories). The Covenant is the meaning of Biblical law (the Bible is not primarily a political treatise about how to set up a Christian Republic). And the Covenant is the meaning of Biblical prophecy as well (thus, Biblical prophecy is not “prediction” in the occult sense of Nostradamus, Edgar Cayce, and Jean Dixon). To a man, the prophets were God’s legal emissaries to Israel and the nations, acting as prosecuting attorneys bringing what has become known among recent scholars as the “Covenant Lawsuit”. That Biblical prophecy is not simply “prediction” is indicated, for example, by God’s statement through Jeremiah: "At one moment I might speak concerning a nation or concerning a kingdom to uproot, to pull down, or to destroy it; if that nation against which I have spoken turns from its evil, I will relent concerning the calamity I planned to bring on it. Or at another moment I might speak concerning a nation or concerning a kingdom to build up or to plant it; if it does evil in My sight by not obeying My voice, then I will repent of the good with which I had promised to bless it." (Jer. 18:7-10)

The purpose of prophecy is not “prediction”, but evaluation of man’s ethical response to God’s Word of command and promise. This is why Jonah’s prophecy about Nineveh did not “come true”: Nineveh repented of its wickedness, and the calamity was averted. Like the other Biblical writings, the Book of Revelation is a prophecy, with a specific covenantal orientation and reference. When the covenantal context of the prophecy is ignored, the message St. John sought to communicate is lost, and Revelation becomes nothing more than a vehicle for advancing the alleged expositor’s eschatological theories. (pp. 10-11)

This is the role that Jesus was filling in Mt. 23. This also explains the connection he draws between himself and the prophets that came before him.


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