The Shape of Matthew – 4

“Sanctions corresponds to the Day of Atonement. One goat goes to heaven (as fragrant smoke) and the other goes to hell, carrying the sins of the people into the wilderness, to be eaten by the birds and beasts. The difference here is that we have not two goats, but two High Priests…”

Matthew 26-27: SANCTIONS

The fourth major cycle moves us from the Covenant Ethics to the Covenant Sanctions. This concerns the pouring out of blessings and curses for obedience or disobedience to the Covenant, and the cleansing of the Land from the guilt of sin and the ensuing barrenness.

Aligning this pattern with its corrupted prototype in Eden, the “war of words” between Adam (Jesus) and the serpent (the Jewish rulers) is over, and it is time for some face to face combat, and a reckoning.

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


Sanctions corresponds to the Day of Atonement. One goat goes to heaven (as fragrant smoke) and the other goes to hell, carrying the sins of the people into the wilderness, to be eaten by the birds and beasts. The difference here is that we have not two goats, but two High Priests: Caiaphas and Jesus. Which one would truly carry the curse of the sins of the people? The Herodian priesthood believed they were the true mediators, thus designating Jesus as the second goat. Of course, the opposite was true. In this case, the blessed earthly rulers would be cursed and the cursed heavenly ruler would be blessed.

The Sanctions section has two parts, and the events put an interesting spin on the Day of Atonement. This should not surprise us, since we have a mercurial God who loves to confound the wise, and thus never fulfills His prophecies in quite the way we expected.

On the Day of Atonement, the High Priest made two approaches to the Most Holy, offering the blood of a bull for the covering of the sins of the priesthood, including himself, and then the blood of the first goat for the covering of the sins of the people. Priesthood and kingdom are the “head and body,” a pattern which we see in the Ascension Offering in Leviticus 1. [1] So, how does the Spirit spin this in Matthew? The first cycle concerns Jesus in the hands of the Jews (representatives of one nation, Israel as the priestly head); the second concerns Jesus in the hands of the Gentiles (representatives of all nations, the Gentiles as the stately body). Land and Sea would both condemn the incarnate God.

Matthew 26 – FIRST APPROACH: Jesus in the Hands of the Jews

Because Matthew’s Sanctions is a shorter section, we can analyze it in more detail.

The Plot/Jesus Anointed (Creation)
Judas Bought/Jesus Sold/The Passover (Division)
The New Covenant, Scattering the Disciples (Ascension)
Praying in Gethsemane (Testing)
Soldiers Arrest Jesus, Scatter the Disciples (Maturity)
Before the High Priest and Council (inner court) (Conquest)
Peter’s Denial (outer court) (Glorification)

The correspondence of the event to the matrix pattern is fairly straightforward. But the matrix is only one strand of a woven cord. When we align the events with the other strands, the significance of each event as a fulfillment of the Old Covenant should make the saint weep.

Bible Matrix Sacrifice Event Tabernacle Feast
(Day 1 – Light)
Initiation The Plot/Jesus Anointed Ark of the Testimony Sabbath
(Day 2 – Waters)
Delegation Judas Bought/Jesus Sold/The Passover
Veil of the Temple Passover
(Day 3 – Land & Fruits)
Presentation The New Covenant, Scattering the Disciples
Bronze Altar & Golden Table Firstfruits
(Day 4 – Lights)
Purification Praying in Gethsemane Lampstand Pentecost
(Day 5 – Swarms)
Transformation Soldiers Arrest Jesus, Scatter the Disciples Incense Altar Trumpets
(Day 6 – Animals & Man)
Vindication Before the High Priest & Council (inner court)
(High Priest and Sacrifices)
(Day 7 – Rest)
Representation Peter’s Denial (outer court) Shekinah Booths

The Plot/Jesus Anointed

These two accounts each follow the matrix, but together give the first step a head and a body. Moreover, both accounts also give us a head and a body. So we have the totus Christus working at three levels:

Head: Jesus speaking about Passover to the disciples
Body: The Chief Priests and the Elders gather in the palace of the High Priest

then, combining these two as the head,

Head: The Plot to Kill Jesus
Body: Jesus’ head and body anointed at Bethany (“House of God”)

The anointing at Bethany follows the Covenant pattern, with Jesus’ head anointed at Transcendence, the disciples murmuring at Hierarchy, Jesus defending the Woman (as Adam and Eve) at Ethics, Jesus’ body anointed at Sanctions, and the woman honored at Succession. Since these two stories together form the “Sabbath” of the greater structure, the irony is that while Jesus is reclining in “the House of God,” the High Priest and his minions are not only working, they are plotting a murder.

The structure of each account is sublime literary architecture. The second is outlined above, so I will only arrange the first here:

(Matthew 26:1-5)
CREATION (Initiation)
When Jesus had finished all these sayings,
DIVISION (Delegation)
he said to his disciples,
“You know that after two days (Transcendence)
the Passover is coming, (Hierarchy)
and the Son of Adam (Ethics)
will be delivered up (Sanctions)
to be crucified.” (Succession)
TESTING (Purification)
Then the chief priests (Transcendence)
and the elders of the people (Hierarchy)
gathered in the palace (Ethics – Rulers)
of the high priest, (Sanctions)
whose name was Caiaphas ["to raise up/set up"], (Succession)
MATURITY (Transformation)
and they plotted together (Transcendence)
in order that Jesus, (Hierarchy)
by trickery (Ethics)
they might seize (Sanctions)
and kill. (Succession)
CONQUEST (Vindication)
They said, however,
GLORIFICATION (Representation)
“Not during the feast (Garden – Sanctuary)
that there not be a riot (Land – Holy Place)
among the people.” (World – Courts)

Take a moment to look at the symmetry here. Jesus predicts the plot at Ascension (opening the future, like Joseph and Daniel) and it is described in the matching stanza at Maturity. At the center of Ascension is the Son of Adam, and at the center of Maturity is the seed of the serpent (trickery). You might also notice that the plot to arrest Jesus appears at step 5, which is exactly where it occurs in the greater structure of Matthew 26. The cycle finishes with the rulers attempting to shelter themselves (Booths).

Division: Judas Bought/Jesus Sold/The Passover

The second step also has two parts. Judas’ meeting with the chief priests highlights the “Veil” theme. Division also concerns circumcision and Passover, so we have an illicit union to cut off the Lamb. Jesus’ pronouncement of “woe” upon Judas corresponds to His earlier woes pronounced upon all of Judah. Like Egypt, the Bronze Altar-Land of Israel was hungry for the blood of her murderous rulers. Jesus’ words, “It would have been better for that man if he had not been born,” are likely included to highlight the “firstborn” slain at Passover. This time, Jesus would not escape as He did as an infant.

Ascension: A New Covenant/the Disciples Scattered

At the Bronze Altar step, Jesus institutes a new feast. Here, He is “opening the scroll” and it is His own body, the Word incarnate. As the Land was formed and filled on Day 3, so Jesus, the true Isaac, the true Israel, and the true Land, is de-formed and de-filled. The bread is the old altar broken in two (1 Kings 13:5) just as Israel itself would be divided by the Gospel, cut up like a sacrifice and placed upon the altar. Since we are at the Ascension step, it is worth mentioning that at this step Moses received the Ten Words, written with the finger of God. God incarnate now uses ten fingers to break this “tablet” of bread in two. The typology here is both mind boggling and heart breaking.

The Table highlights the sacrificial lamb, and Jesus predicts the scattering of the flock (again, we have a correspondence between the prediction/promise at Ascension and the fulfillment at Maturity, the Giving and Receiving of the Law). The disciples identify themselves with the Lamb.

Testing: Jesus Prays in Gethsemane

The walk through the Tabernacle as a new Creation continues as we reach the Lampstand. The disciples are called to be “governing lights,” or watchmen, while Jesus prays in Gethsemane. The Lampstand was fuelled with holy olive oil, and Gethsemane is the place where olives were crushed for their oil. The Testing theme is highlighted with the cup, the jealous inspection (Numbers 5). The disciples fail to watch, so Jesus twice commands them to “see.” Their eyes are opened.

Maturity: Soldiers Arrest Jesus, Scatter the Disciples

The Maturity symbols here are many. Firstly, Joseph’s brothers betrayed him at this point in his first cycle. [2] We have swords and clubs and legions of angels mentioned, as well as a nod to the prophets. The high priest’s servant’s ear is of course significant, since the human body relates to the Tabernacle. Since the sword is usually in the right hand, it was likely his left ear, corresponding to the Table. The allusion is also to the servant whose ear was bored through to ratify his desire to remain in the service of his master’s house (Exodus 21:6). And Jesus would have healed it with His right hand. Jesus does not free slaves through revolution. It only leads to worse bondage. His reference to the swords of angels is also interesting, being another reference to Passover.

Jesus Before Caiaphas and the Council

Finally, we have the face off between the two high priests, one an image of Jesus by office, and Jesus an image of God by nature. The structure tells us two things: firstly, it alludes to Adam’s trial before God (“He deserves death,” v. 66) and secondly it alludes to the recompense for faithfulness to the Covenant Oath. Of course, Jesus has been entirely faithful to His oath, but in dying He would become a fulfilled oath for all those who believe.

“And to the angel of the church in Laodicea write: ‘The words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of God’s creation.” (Revelation 3:14)

At step 6 within this step six cycle, the High Priest tears his robes (which was illegal for the High Priest alone), which corresponds to the open Veil at Atonement, the tearing of the Veil at the crucifixion, and the destruction of the Temple in the first century pattern. Even the silence of Jesus was a sword that would cut Israel in two.

Peter Denies Jesus

At Glorification/Booths/Succession, Matthew places Peter’s denial of Jesus. This step is about the outflow of step 6, Atonement, for the sake of the nations. Instead, Peter invokes a self-maledictory oath, legally cutting himself off from the shelter of Jesus, which looks like death but is life. The cry of the rooster is the only true witness to the coming dawn. Peter pictures unbelieving Israel, and his outflow is bitter tears.

Matthew 26 – SECOND APPROACH: Jesus in the Hands of the Gentiles

The second cycle follows the same pattern, but the action has escalated to a greater court. Since the Jews were prohibited from executing criminals without reference to Roman law, Jesus could only be murdered via a Jew-Gentile conspiracy.

Jesus Delivered (Creation)
Judas Hangs Himself (Division)
Jesus Before Pilate (Ascension)
The Crowd Chooses Barabbas (Testing)
Jesus Is Mocked by Soldiers (Maturity)
The Crucifixion & Death of Jesus (Conquest)
The Burial of Jesus / The Guard at the Tomb (Glorification)

Morning comes as a new Creation, and Jesus is bound as a sacrifice.

Judas again appears at Division, and the Field of Blood is a reference to the child sacrifices of Israel’s kings. [2]

At Ascension, Jesus is the silent Firstfruits Lamb, the “standing sacrifice.” The Revelation follows the same structure. Here, He gives no answer. The “opening” of His body would lead to a corporate mouth, the apostolic testimony. The indwelling Spirit would cure Peter’s fear and make him a bold witness.

At step 3 of the Testing cycle, we have the ruler and his wife, who receives a troubling dream, as Gentile rulers are wont to do when God’s man is faithful in a Gentile court. At the Atonement/Sanctions/Oath step (the Laver), Pilate washes his hands of the matter, while the Jews take full responsibility for Jesus’ death. This corresponds to the choice they were being given in the Gospel: be cut off with the Circumcision, or be cleansed and freed in Baptism.

At Maturity, we have the symbol of the robe of office, and the crown of thorns, which pictures for us the fruit of Israel according to the flesh: cursed thorns and thistles awaiting the fire.

Analysis of the Conquest/Atonement step of this chapter reveals Matthew’s reason for mentioning the things he does. The “anointed head” at Creation is the Place of the Skull. Jesus’ garments are divided at Division, matching the tearing of the Temple Veil at Conquest. The promise of a Temple rebuilt “in three days” appears at Ascension. Instead of the Lampstand, we have the midday darkness at Testing. And at Maturity, we have the true fruit of the Land, resurrected holy ones, who testify in the city. Conquest/Sanctions also contains the “oath” of the centurion concerning the true identity of Jesus. Matthew is a literary marvel.

The Sanctions section finishes with another Jew-Gentile two-part cycle, Jesus “priestly” burial, and His Gentile guards, hired by the murderous Jews. The “seal” on the tomb is a Day 6 symbol, the legal pronouncement upon all those captive to death. [4] But the Law was now satisfied, and all the prisoners were legally free.

Finally, for further meditation, it might help to align these two cycles, Jew and Gentile, visually:

Covenant – Garden Jews (Priestly Head) – Land Gentiles (Stately Body) – World
TRANSCENDENCE The Plot/Jesus Anointed
Jesus Delivered
HIERARCHY Judas Bought/Jesus Sold/The Passover
Judas Hangs Himself
ETHICS 1: Law Given The New Covenant, Scattering the Disciples
Jesus Before Pilate
ETHICS 2: Law Opened Jesus Prays in Gethsemane
The Crowd Chooses Barabbas
ETHICS 3: Law Received Soldiers Arrest Jesus, Scatter the Disciples
Jesus is Mocked by Soldiers
OATH/SANCTIONS Before the High Priest & Council (inner court)
The Crucifixion & Death of Jesus
SUCCESSION Peter’s Denial (outer court)
The Burial of Jesus / The Guard at the Tomb

If you’ve been around here for a while, you might understand the correspondence between this arrangement and the Ten Words, which is even more food for thought.

Having been condemned at the hand of the Jews, and also at the hand of the Romans, qualified Jesus as a Priest-King, after the order of Melchizedek. He was not bloodied on the right ear, thumb and toe only, but on both sides, ending the Circumcision, and making of the two “Abrahamic” halves one New Adam.

[1] Of course, this two-fold approach is repeated “fractally” between AD30 (the ascension of Christ) and AD70 (the first resurrection). See One Taken, One Left Behind. Also see James Jordan’s fascinating comments concerning the “Day of Atonement” structure of Daniel 7 in his commentary, The Handwriting On The Wall.
[2] See Dogs and Pigs.
[3] See The Field of Blood.
[4] The “seal” upon Daniel in the lion’s den is step 6 (Sanctions) in the first cycle of the book. See Daniel’s Long Shadow.

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