The Shape of Matthew – 3

“A stone would be rejected by builders because it was ‘unhewn,’ like an Altar stone. But priestly submission was the only possible foundation for the perfectly chiseled stones of Israel’s temples, including the one still taking shape as Jesus spoke these words.”

Matthew 16-25: ETHICS

The third cycle moves us from the “Exodus” of Jesus and His ministry to the threshing of Israel under His new Law. His growing influence among the people (Hierarchy) brings Him into conflict with the authorities (Ethics).

The Covenant “macrostructure” is as follows (click the link for the previous blog posts):


The Ethics phase of the Covenant concerns the “rules” and the rulers, so Matthew’s arrangement turns from the people of Israel to their leaders. The priest-kings of Israel were to embody, to incarnate, the Law of God. In Jesus’ day, both Church and State behaved like Gentile priests and kings. They maintained a form of religion, but only as a means of tyranny over the people.

Matthew 16-17:13: A New Kingdom – Creation (Sabbath)

“Then the Pharisees and Sadducees came, and testing Him asked that He would show them a sign from heaven.”

As the Ethics section is the center of the Covenant pattern, so Testing is the center of the Bible Matrix (maturity) pattern. This is the point where the serpent attempts to hijack the offspring of Eve by twisting and contradicting the words of God. The players in this case, of course, are God incarnate as Adam, the people of Israel as Eve, listening intently for the outcome, and the religious rulers as the brood of serpents. Matthew is beginning the final testament by setting up the symbols with which John will end it.

The Pharisees and Sadducees Demand Signs (Transcendence – Creation)
The Leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees (Hierarchy – Division)
Peter Confesses Jesus as the Christ (Ethics 1 – Ascension)
Jesus Foretells His Death and Resurrection (Ethics 2 – Testing)
Take Up Your Cross and Follow Jesus (Ethics 3 – Maturity)
The Transfiguration (Oath/Sanctions – Conquest)
Tell No One the Vision (Succession – Glorification)

The first stanza begins with the questioning of Jesus’ authority. He informs them that He Himself will be the sign, beginning the age of the New Covenant where the signs are not the external workings of the Spirit, but His work in human flesh. (It is noteworthy that the sign of Jonah is mentioned at Conquest, which corresponds to baptism.)

The “Exodus” stanza returns to the subject of the miraculous feedings in desolate places. Jesus’ use of leaven to describe the doctrines of Jerusalem’s religious rulers, which would soon be “cleansed from the house” in an empire-wide Passover, first in the priesthood (AD30) and then in the kingdom (AD70). Aptly, the mention of leaven appears at Passover and Atonement, the tearing of the Veil and the tearing of the Temple and city. The two feedings appear in this stanza as two legal (prophetic) witnesses, the first priestly (twelve “table” baskets as Firstfruits [Genesis 37:5-8]), the second kingly (seven “field” baskets as Pentecost [Genesis 37:9-11]). Jesus used this dual process to cleanse His followers of the “Egyptian” leaven, to exile the old spirit (the fifth element) and prepare a clean house (four corners) for the new.

At Ascension, the new Law is given to Peter, the “binding and loosing” of sacrificial witness, the process of “bowing the heavens” that the will of God might be done on earth as it is in heaven. Like Adam, he is given a promise of dominion. [1] At Testing, blessed Peter is now cursed Peter. He is again like Adam, with his mind set on the things of man (Adam). At Maturity, Jesus reveals that the only way to eternal life is a willing death as a legal witness to His resurrection. He includes the promise that some would still be alive when the “first resurrection” arrived around the time of the Roman siege.

The structure aligns the “shining robe” of Jesus with Sanctions, just as it did with the vindication of the Word of the Father at His baptism. In gaming terms, we might say Jesus had now arrived at the next level, and the Father speaks again as a second witness. The words of Jesus now supersede those of the Law and the Prophets.

Moses’ body was hidden in the earth. Elijah’s body was hidden in heaven. Standing between these two legal witnesses, “after six days” (see also Exodus 24:15-16), Jesus mediates between heaven and earth as a better Adam. The cloud on the mountain is a reference to Sinai, where both Moses and Elijah saw the glory of the Lord. Finally, instead of a “great commission” appearing at the Glorification/Succession step, Jesus keeps the Veil closed. From this point on, His work is to confront the serpent, and with “the legs of Eden” (Jachin and Boaz), His footfall measures out a path to the grave.

This first cycle in the Ethics section is the vindication of Jesus as the true ruler of Israel.

Matthew 17:14-19:15 – The Innocents: Division (Passover)

The overarching theme of Passover in this second Ethical cycle answers many questions about the meaning of Jesus’ cryptic statements and the authorial intentions of Matthew in its arrangement. We have two coordinates here: Passover and Ethics, the death of the firstborn and the “governing lights.” Who was it who combined these two symbols in the first century like no other? Herod the Great, in the slaughter of the innocents. After some meditation, I believe the subject here is the exposure of the true nature of a kingdom in its treatment of children. [2] Of course, this theme can be traced back to Eden, where the serpent attacked “the mother of all living.”

Demoniac Boy Healed (Sabbath) [3]
Jesus’ Death Foretold (Passover)
The Temple Tax (Firstfruits)
ETHICS 2 – LAW OPENED (Pentecost)
Who Is The Greatest? (Creation)
A Humble Child In Their Midst (Division)
The Humble Will Be Exalted (Ascension)
Those Who Mislead Children Will Be Thrown Down (Testing)
The Legal Witness of Hands, Feet and Eyes (Maturity)
Children Are Guarded by the Host of Heaven (Conquest)
The Parable of the Lost Sheep (Glorification)
If Your Brother Sins (two or three witnesses) (Trumpets)
The Unforgiving Servant (Atonement)
Divorce, Eunuchs and Children (Booths)

The cycle begins with a demonic attempt to destroy a beloved son. He is (literally) “moonstruck,” which pertains to the darkness of night. Jesus predicts His own “Passover” death for the first time, after which comes the strange account of a “Land” tribute from the Sea, indeed, from “the first fish.” Jesus refers to the kings of the nations and their sons, another Passover allusion at this “Day 3″ step.

At the center of the cycle is an amazing construct which it seems must be taken as a whole, and also within this structure, to be understood. The disciples wish to be kings like the Gentiles, a sin common for Israel throughout her history. But a true king is not one who uses gods to rule, but one who submits to God as the Son submits to the Father.

He said to me, ‘It is Solomon your son who shall build my house and my courts, for I have chosen him to be my son, and I will be his father. (1 Chronicles 28:6)

The Torah makes a distinction between sins of “wandering” and sins which are “high-handed” or presumptuous (Numbers 15:22–31). High-handed sins would not be covered because they were committed with full knowledge of the truth, not in darkness but in the light. Paul condemns such people (Romans 1:18). The rulers whom God lifts up are to be shepherds, and their people look to them as children look to their parents. In the crucifixion of Christ, the Jewish rulers led the people astray for their own gain and would be held accountable. Jesus’ use of the word “millstone” is distinctly Pentecostal, having to do with the harvest, and also subtly a reference to harlotry. Jerusalem was a prostitute willing to drink the blood of her own children. Eve was led astray, but the sin of Jerusalem, sitting as a queen, in the slaughter of her earthly sons (Matthew 2) and her heavenly sons (the apostles and prophets) was high-handed. Jesus final words upon her would most likely have been, “Do not forgive them, Father. They know exactly what they are doing.”

The “dismemberment” advice from Jesus seems out of place at step 5, but its position reveals its purpose. If your two hands, your two feet and your two eyes do not agree as sets of “two witnesses,” the kingly one in each case (most likely the right hand, foot or eye) should be cut off. The purpose of circumcision was to “cut corporate Adam in two,” a priestly side and a kingly side, to divide him that he might be conquered (see also Leviticus 14:14). This process begins in the dividing of the animals in Genesis 15, a “Passover” which would be fulfilled in the slaughter of every man, woman, child and animal in Jericho, the Firstfruits of the Land. For the Church, Jerusalem was now Jericho. The Herodian hand, foot and eye would be “circumcised” from the priestly body.

The “children guarded by the host of heaven” is another sentence which makes more sense in the light of a Passover theme. The irony, of course, it that Jesus told the women of Jerusalem to weep for their children. They would all be destroyed because their kings would harden their hearts like Pharaoh (Romans 1:17-18).

At Sanctions, we have an allusion to the merciless rule of Lamech, who took vengeance on a young man who struck him. “If Cain’s revenge is sevenfold, then Lamech’s is seventy-sevenfold.” Again, the underlying reference is to the Cainite rule of the Herods, who thought nothing of having multiple wives and slaughtering their own family members to maintain their rule. The rulers of the new kingdom would be mediators, channels, for the forgiveness of God, Abels instead of Cains.

So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.” (Matthew 18:35)

The Herodian theme shines a new light on the Pharisees “test” concerning divorce. The final story in this section is the perfect combination of Ethics and Succession. John was beheaded for his preaching against the sin of Herod Antipas in marrying his brother Herod Philip I’s former wife, Herodias. Antipas was the Herod to whom Jesus was sent by Pilate. Perhaps the intent of the Pharisees here was to get Jesus into trouble with the king. The Succession motif also makes sense of Jesus’ comments concerning celibacy as a gift given by God only to some, which included Himself and Paul. The New Testament has almost nothing to say about natural fertility, where it is a major theme in the Old Testament. The Gospels and Epistles only speak of spiritual fruit, and spiritual sons, since the Seed had come. [4]

The section ends beautifully, with a picture of Jesus as the true king, a shepherd, the one who, as the blood on the doorposts, protects the little ones, and as the Angel of the Lord, captain of His hosts, also sees the face of His Father in heaven. [5] It would be Jesus who would send the Roman armies to wipe the Herodian succession off the face of the earth. [6] As in Egypt, the blood of the innocents would be avenged. Aptly, this final stanza puts the “laying of Jesus’ hands on them” at Passover and Atonement. His hands were not the hands of the Herods, which would be cut off for their satanic crimes.

Matthew 19:16-20:34 – Priest-Kings: Ascension (Firstfruits)

The subtle railing against the kings of the Land (rendered incorrectly as “rulers of the earth” in the Revelation) continues in the third cycle, which concerns the exaltation and receiving of the Covenant Mission by the blameless son.

The Rich Young Ruler (Creation)
Twelve Thrones (Division)
Laborers in the Vineyard (Ascension)
Jesus’ Death at the Hands of Jew and Gentiles Foretold (Testing)
The Sons of Zebedee at Right and Left (Maturity)
Jesus Heals Two Blind Men Outside Jericho (Conquest)
(No Glorification)

Ethics “opens” into Ascension, Testing and Maturity, that is, the giving, opening and reception of the Law. Here, Jesus gives a new Law to this “ruler of the Land.” He had obeyed all the laws of Moses and received the earthly riches promised for such obedience. But Jesus fills him in on what Abraham and all the saints understood: the Land of Canaan was only a picture, a type (Hebrews 11:13-16). Thus, Jesus moves the goal posts to a better inheritance, an invisible one. This leads to a discussion of the nature of this new “Hierarchy.” It breaks all the old ties and forges new ones in the Spirit. It exalts the humble (the “last”) and humbles the exalted (“the first”).

The vineyard at step 3 corresponds to the grape haul of Israel before their failure to enter into God’s rest, the earthly Canaan, inheriting the houses and vineyards of the Canaanites. It “opens” the comments of Jesus to the young ruler concerning the first and the last. This “inequality” is exactly the nature of the inheritance of the Land expressed in the Jubilee, where the allotments (outside the cities only) returned to their original owners. It is at the Ascension step of the book of Revelation in which Jesus is given, not tablets of the law, but a scroll which allows Him to claim His inheritance, the nations. All the lands are now His, returning to their original owner.

At Testing, Jesus foretells His death for the third time (Creation, Division, Ascension). At Maturity, we have a division of the twelve disciples similar to that of the twelve spies sent into Canaan by Moses. Jesus makes it plain that communion with Him is the prophetic “cup of staggering” given by God to adulterous rulers to bring them down (Numbers 5, Isaiah 51, Jeremiah 25, Daniel 5, Zechariah 12, Luke 22:42; Revelation 14:10; 17:4; 18:6). The door to Jesus’ throne is a cross.

Two blind men stand in for the “twin goats” at Atonement, so the reference to Jericho is significant. It seems there is no step 7 in this cycle, which alludes to the book of Leviticus, the book of Ascension. The Levites, lifted up above the Land, had no earthly inheritance, no Canaanite Succession. As the Firstfruits, their country was heavenly from the beginning.

Matthew 21 – Seven Seals: Testing (Pentecost)

At the center of the “kingdom” section is this “kingdom” cycle.

The Humble King (Genesis)
The Triumphal Entry (Exodus)
Cleansing the Temple (Leviticus)
Cursing the Fig Tree (Numbers)
Jesus’ Prophetic Authority (Deuteronomy)
The Parable of the Two Sons (Atonement)
The Vineyard Tenants (Booths)

Jesus comes in peace (on a donkey) at Sabbath, and then “passes over” a symbolic firmament of cloaks and branches. At Ascension, Jesus comes to inspect the “house” for “leprosy” (Leviticus 14), and at Testing, He places a curse upon a tree cloaked in fig leaves to hide its failure to produce righteous fruit. His reference to throwing a mountain into the sea is not to mountains in general, but to “this” mountain, the exalted Zion which Jesus would uncover and transform into a flaming Sinai before He threw it down into the Sea of the nations (Revelation 8:8).

The rulers question Jesus’ prophetic authority at Trumpets, and He doles out a “first and last” Covenant Sanctions at Atonement, where the blessings fall upon the wandering but repentant prostitutes and tax collectors (including Matthew), and the curses are stored up for Jerusalem, the city which masked her own whorings and avarice with a pretense of Covenant faithfulness.

The deep meaning of the parable of the tenants becomes clear when its position at Succession (concerning inheritance) is identified. Jesus was their inheritance all along, the only offspring which mattered, yet they rejected His messengers first and Himself last. The mixture of “vineyard”and “house” symbols is perhaps another reference to the possession of Canaan. A stone would be rejected by builders because it was “unhewn,” like an Altar stone. But priestly submission was the only possible foundation for the perfectly chiseled stones of Israel’s temples, including the one still taking shape as Jesus spoke these words. This pattern can be traced back through the altars of Elijah and Moses, and the pillow of Jacob, to the murder of Abel and the city of Cain. The blood of all the prophets, God’s lambs, would soon be avenged upon the bloodthirsty kings who built their temples and cities on the murder of God’s faithful. Those who stumbled at submitting to God would eventually be “ground to powder,” that is, scattered like Adamic dust.

Matthew 22 – The New Law: Maturity (Trumpets)

The Trumpets cycle puts Jesus at the beginning and the end, with the Pharisees as the bloody doors, and the Sadducees as the serpents at the center.

Jesus: The Parable of the Wedding Feast (Transcendent Call)
Pharisees: Paying Taxes to Caesar (Hierarchy – God’s Graven Image)
Sadducees: The Resurrection (Ethics – Seven Brothers)
Pharisees: The Great Commandment (Oath – Cruciform Law of Love)
Jesus: Whose Son Is the Christ? (Succession)

It is interesting that the stanza of the Sadducees (who did not believe in resurrection) is entirely earthly and carnal in its first half, and entirely heavenly in its second half. The contrast is between the Law of Moses and the Law of Christ, or rather, Old Covenant Israel under angelic guardians as children (circumcision), and New Covenant Israel as authorized ev-angelic guardians (baptism).

Matthew 23 – The Seven Woes: Conquest (Atonement)

Jesus’ blessings upon the humble of Israel in Matthew 5 are turned upside down here in His woes upon those who exalted themselves against God. Although there are seven woes, they are cleverly limited to “six days” (with two woes at Ascension for Land and fruits, Altar and Table). The reference to cleaning the inside comes at Pentecost, the day when the external Law becomes an internal principle, a change of nature. The architectural motif helps us to make sense of Jesus’ lament concerning His desire to shelter Jerusalem as the true Temple. His “wings” are the four corners of His Israelite robe, His own obedience to the Law signified by the blue tassels, the four life-giving rivers of Eden.

Woe to those who sit in Moses’ seat but do not practice what they preach (Ark of the Testimony)
Woe to those who shut the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces (Veil)
Woe to those who bind and loose with false oaths (Altar)
Woe to those who usurp the Laws of God with the laws of men (Table)
Woe to those who clean the outside but not the inside (Lampstand)
Woe to those who are whitewashed tombs (Incense Altar)
Woe to those who kill the prophets yet honor their tombs (Mediators)
Jesus’ lament over Jerusalem (Rest and Rule)

Since the book of Revelation uses identical structures, these seven woes correspond to the seven bowls of wrath poured out upon the city, an ironic reversal of the seven sprinklings of blood from the finger of the High Priest on the Day of Coverings. For her rejection of the Spirit of Christ, Jerusalem would be uncovered, her internal uncleanness exposed. As the writer of Hebrews puts it, that day was approaching.

Matthew 24-25 – End of the Age: Glorification (Booths)

This brings us to the most perplexing section of Matthew’s Gospel. Its placement in this Ethics cycle (at Succession) means it is about the cutting off of the lawless ones (Matthew 7:23; 23:28; 24:12). Paul also covers the lawlessness of Israel’s rulers in 2 Thessalonians 2.

Matthew 24 isn’t such a mystery if we understand its placement after Matthew 23. Commentators struggle with the events it foretells because they don’t take into account the Covenant pattern inherent in all Bible history and literature. Jesus is describing the end of the Old Covenant, and the entry of all the Old Testament saints (and the first century martyrs) into their inheritance, the heavenly country prepared for them by Jesus, as He promised.

Creation – Signs of the End of the Age (24:1-14)
Division – The Desolating Sacrilege (24:15-28)
Ascension – The Coming of the Son of Man (24:29-35)
Testing – No One Knows That Day and Hour (24:36-51)
Maturity – The Parable of the Ten Virgins (25:1-13)
Conquest – The Parable of the Talents (25:14-30)
Glorification – The Final Judgment (25:31-46)

Ironically, the request for signs of the end comes at the beginning. The Temple, a microcosm of the Creation, would be “de-created.” The position of the desecrating sacrilege at Passover supports James Jordan’s assertion that it was the slaughter of a converted contingent of Jews in the city during the siege. This time it was not the earthly sons of Israel but the heavenly sons. Their “harvest” as grain and grapes is described symbolically in Revelation 14. They had joined Jesus by receiving His body and His blood in communion, and now they really were His body and blood, a Passover which spelled the end of Herodian “Egypt.” The coming of the Son of Adam refers to the events predicted in Daniel 7. Ten is a military number, and here it is the bride as an army with banners. The oil is the Spirit of God, the light of their witness. The accountability for the talents of gold corresponds to the Covenant Sanctions.

As with the Passover cycle earlier, the position of “the final judgment” at Booths/Glorification/Succession sheds great light on its meaning. Booths prefigured Israel’s ultimate purpose as a blessing for all nations, but on the way, those nations would be blessed or cursed depending upon their treatment of Israel. Since Israel was judged for all the righteous blood shed since the murder of Abel, the nations under judgment presumably resembles the list in Genesis 10. These nations are called to account for their “shelter” of the brothers of Jesus, the humble priests who mediated for them before God, and bore the Edenic curses in their place:

Creation – Hunger (Genesis)
Division – Thirst (Exodus)
Ascension – Sojourning (Leviticus/Tents)
Testing – Nakedness (Numbers/Exposure)
Maturity – Sickness (Deuteronomy/Plagues)
Conquest – Prison (Joshua/Deliverance: the imprisonment of Joseph and Daniel appear at this point)

The sixfold list has no Rest at the end. Israel himself was the firstborn, the firstfruits with no earthly inheritance. He would be cut off from the earth and taken by God — in Christ. AD70 brought about the release from the grip of corrupted Judaism of the Gospel as a blessing to all nations. It also ended the curse upon the nations for their treatment of “Christ in the sons of Abraham.” The faithless servants were cast into outer darkness and the Jew/Gentile distinction was torn down forever. This judgment is similar to the ones pronounced by the prophets against the Canaanite nations who surrounded Israel and never regained power, never resurfaced, after the “flood” of Babylonian troops.

For those distressed by a first century interpretation of this passage, don’t forget that our God always works in fractals. The events which occurred in the Land prefigure those in the World. Our own history shows the debasement or exaltation of nations which persecute or aid the Church of Christ. They too will be called to account for their shelter of Jesus’ brothers, those who bear the curse for the healing of the nations.

“For it was fitting that he, for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the founder of their salvation perfect through suffering. For he who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one source. That is why he is not ashamed to call them brothers…” (Hebrews 2:10-11)

[1] See “Binding and Loosing” in God’s Kitchen, and also Bowing the Heavens.
[2] See “Kids in the Kitchen: Passover in the Motherland” in God’s Kitchen, for a discussion of this theme in the Bible, including the prohibition against boiling a kid in its mother’s milk.
[3] See God’s Kitchen, p. 212 for comments on the structure of the father’s speech, and the significance of the fire and water.
[4] See New Covenant Virility – 1.
[5] On how those who use this and similar passages as support for paedobaptism get this text upside down, see Bringing Children to Jesus.
[6] See Provoking the Dragon.
[7] See Healing in His… Tassels?

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One Response to “The Shape of Matthew – 3”

  • Mike Bull Says:

    Just notice another parallel:
    The three parts of the SUCCESSION section of Matthew 18-19:15 – Division (Passover)…


    are not only

    Garden (Marriage)
    Land (Circumcision)
    World (Offspring)

    but also correspond to the Inheritance of Noah’s sons:

    Ham (Canaan’s “cutting off” for exposing Noah’s nakedness)