The Shape of Matthew – 5

“As always, the beauty of the arrangement is breathtaking. It is historical narrative, poetry, legal Covenant and high symbolism all at once… It consists of three Cycles which recapitulate the triune ‘Garden, Land, World’ architecture of the Creation and the Tabernacle.”

Matthew 28: SUCCESSION

The fifth major cycle takes us to the end of the Covenant pattern, from the Covenant Sanctions to Covenant Succession. In the Old Testament, this concerned handing Covenant authority to the faithful of the next generation. It was the blessings of Jacob upon his sons (Garden), and Moses passing the baton of headship of Israel to Joshua (Land). This time, the inheritance was not the Garden Sanctuary of Moses [1] nor the Land of Canaan, but the entire World. Thus, it is no accident that in both cases, in that of Joshua and that of the disciples, He said, “I am with you.” A battle lay ahead.
The Covenant “macrostructure” of Matthew is as follows (click the link for the previous blog posts):


This final Section also corresponds to the Feast of Booths, the festival at which Israel ministered to the nations. That feast would be fulfilled once for all over the next four decades until there was no longer a “Mosaic” Israel. As Christ gave Himself to the disciples, so the disciples would give themselves to the Jews and to the Gentiles.

Since this final Section is brief, I will do a detailed analysis. I have done my best to follow the “rhythms” of the Greek in my parsing. Although there were some tricky bits, every line seems to find its logical place in the progression. As always, the beauty of the arrangement is breathtaking. It is historical narrative, poetry, legal Covenant and high symbolism all at once.

The theme of this final Section is not only testimony to the nations but to the next generation. It consists of three Cycles which recapitulate the triune “Garden, Land, World” architecture of the Creation and the Tabernacle.

The first Cycle is the “singular” testimony of
the angel to the women
(Garden – Most Holy Place – Adam and Eve)

The second Cycle is the testimony of
the soldiers to the Jewish leaders
(Land – Holy Place – Cain and Abel)

The third Cycle is the testimony of
Jesus to the disciples
(World – Courts – Sons of God)

This means that this final Section of Matthew’s Gospel is effectively a new “three-decker” house. However, the “Land” between the World and the Garden, like the Veil, was about to be torn apart by the testimony of Jesus. Beginning with the witness of Abel, all the blood would be avenged upon that generation.

Testimony in the Garden



Now after the Sabbath, (Sabbath)
toward the dawn (Passover – darkness removed)
of the first day (Firstfruits)
of the week, (Pentecost – seven lamplights)
came Mary Magdalene (Trumpets – two witnesses)
and the other Mary
to see the tomb. (Atonement)

The first Stanza speaks of light in the darkness. Matthew mentions only two women as two “bridal” trumpets. Although the first listed feast is the weekly Sabbath, it is an imperfect, not final, rest. So the final step, Glorification/Booths, is missing, as it was in the Garden of Eden.


And behold, (Creation – Light)
there was a great earthquake, (Division – Cutting)
for an angel (Ascension – Covenant Scroll)
indeed of the Lord (Testing – Rulers)
having descended from heaven (Maturity – Hosts)
and rolled back the stone (Conquest – Mediation)
was sitting upon it. (Glorification – Rest & Rule)

The Sabbath silence is torn apart in Stanza 2. At this “Passover,” the firstborn is the Firstborn From The Dead. Covenant, Sonship, Law and Family are all redefined. It is not waters being divided here but the Land. Or is it? There is a symmetry between the rocks split at the crucifixion and those at the resurrection, like the rocks split by Moses that Israel might drink. Moses was not to strike the rock the second time because the new Israel was a resurrection body (Exodus 17:6; Numbers 20:11). Moses was denied an inheritance in the Land. The water at the crucifixion was from the body of Christ. The water at the resurrection was a river of the Spirit, the testimony of Jesus. So, in a sense, the waters above and below were once again divided, and a new Firmament created. [2]


The appearance of him (Light – Genesis – Ark)
was like lightning, (Sent – Exodus – Veil)
and his clothing (Authority – Leviticus – Altar)
white as snow. (Sacrifice – Leviticus – Table)
And for fear of him (Law – Numbers – Lampstand)
the guards trembled (Witness – Deuteronomy – Incense)
and became like dead men. (Conquest – Joshua – Mediators)

Levite priests were the guardians of the Tabernacle. Here, the heavenly guardian knocks the earthly guardians flat. The literary structure shows us Matthew’s the reason for explaining these events slightly out of chronological order: the women needed to be in the “Sabbath” Stanza. Again, the final line is missing, mimicking the structure of the book of Leviticus.


But the angel said (Initiation)
to the women, (Delegation)
“Fear not, (Presentation)
for I know indeed (Purification – Law Opened)
that Jesus (Transformation – Law Received)
who was crucified, (Vindication)
you seek. (Representation)

Testing often includes the theme of trembling at the opening of God’s Law. For Israel it was harlotry and death in the wilderness. It is interesting that at Ascension, the women are told not to fear. The terrible fires and thunders of Sinai are now silent. Matching this in the symmetry is Jesus, who is the new Law, the Law of the Spirit.


He (Transcendence)
is not here, (Hierarchy)
for he has risen, (Ethics)
indeed, (Oath)
as he said. (Succession)

Maturity speaks of resurrection, the Bridal Body rescued from the serpent through obedience at Testing, and also legal witness, which is why the angel refers to the truth of Jesus’ “oath.” Notice that the bloody body of flesh is now missing, speaking of the end of the Circumcision. The only worship now is worship in Spirit (Testing – Pentecost) and truth (Maturity – Trumpets). This Stanza is fivefold, which means I suppose that this testimony of resurrection is a scroll yet to be “opened.”


Come, (Ark removed)
see (Veil removed)
the place (Altar removed)
where he was lying. (Table removed)

The “Day of Coverings” Stanza is actually an uncovering. The women are permitted to see what only the High Priest was previously permitted to see: the Most Holy Place. Wonderfully, the words of the angel follow the process of Ascension, and the body has indeed risen. It is like touring the launch pad after the rocket has take off. Line by line, the first elements of the tent of Moses are replaced with the real thing. This leaves us at the Lampstand, the imminent Day of Pentecost. Of course, this would also lead to the incineration of the stoicheia one generation later, as Peter predicted (2 Peter 3:10).


And having gone quickly, (Creation – Initiation)
tell his disciples (Division – Delegation)
that he has risen from the dead, (Ascension – Jewish Head)
and behold, (Testing – Lampstand)
he is going before you to Galilee; (Maturity – Jew/Gentile Body)
there him you will see. (Conquest – Veil Torn/Vindication)
Behold, I have told you.” (Glorification – Sound Judgment)

Just as the ministry of Israel to the nations at Booths was the outflow of their cleansing at Atonement, so here the testimony of the women is the outflow of the empty tomb.


Testimony in the Land



And having gone out quickly (Transcendent Word)
from the tomb, (New Hierarchy)
with great fear and joy (New Ethics – Internal Law)
they ran to tell (New Oath)
his disciples, (New Succession)

The women come out of the tomb into the Light as Eve came out of the side of Adam. The structure makes their testimony the witness of the New Covenant. The Ethics of this Covenant is an internal motivation to speak, the Law-Word written on flesh.


and also, behold, (Creation – Light – Forming)
Jesus met them, (Division – Passover)
saying, Greetings! (Ascension – Nearbringing)
Moreover, (Testing – Lights – Filling)
having come to him, (Maturity – Elders)
they took hold of his feet, (Conquest – Crystal Sea)
and worshiped him. (Glorification – Wise Judgment)

Prostration is common at Division. Jesus’ greeting at Firstfruits is beautiful. Jesus’ feet are clean feet. He is not only the new Tabernacle but the head of the new Priesthood. He needs not to shake off the dust and wash His feet. Having crushed the serpent and risen from the dead, even the dust is no longer cursed.

Notice that Jesus is the Head of this Stanza (forming) and the Women are the Body (filling). It is word and response.


Then Jesus said (Transcendence)
to them, (Hierarchy)
Fear not. (Ethics 1 – Earthly Altar)
Go, tell my brothers (Ethics 2 – Lamps)
to go into Galilee (Ethics 3 – Heavenly Altar)
and there me (Oath/Sanctions – our “Amen”)
they will see. (Succession – faith becomes sight)

At Ascension, Jesus makes a promise. It seems that the brothers are in the center, which would make them Pentecostal lamps. Once again, Galilee is a cipher for the combination of the Land and the Sea, the union of Jew and Gentile.


While they were going, (Initiation)
behold, (Delegation – Veil Torn)
some of the guard (Presentation – Gentile “Levites”)
having gone into the city (Governing Lights)
reported (Legal Witness)
to the chief priests (Mediators)
all that had been done. (Peace with God accomplished)

At the center of the cycle we have the testimony of the soldiers to the serpentine rulers. In the Land, this is the witness of a better Abel’s resurrection, whose blood speaks not of curses but of blessings. They would fail to rule over sin, just as Cain had done, but vengeance upon them would not be postponed for long. They were marked with the mark of the beast. Indeed, it was the “ministry” of the Jewish rulers against the Church which would lead to their reliance upon Rome to wipe out the Christians. Like Cain, they would lose their inheritance. Jerusalem appears at the center as the city of peace, corresponding to the Peace Offering in Leviticus. Also, as the “Pentecost” Stanza, the light brought to them by the soldiers would be turned to darkness. They would withhold the truth in unrighteousness.


And, (Initiation)
having been gathered together, (Delegation)
with the elders, (Presentation)
moreover, (Purification)
having taken counsel, (Transformation)
many silver pieces
they gave to the soldiers, (Vindication/Mediation)
saying, (Representation)

Maturity is often military but it also concerns legal witness. Notice that these guards went into the city after the resurrection just as those who came out of the graves. This means there was a contingent of Jews and a contingent of Gentiles: two witnesses. Jerusalem had no excuse in her denial of the resurrection.

This gathering corresponds structurally to the brothers of Joseph plotting his demise and then his sale. The earthly “elders” at Ascension correspond to the heavenly elders in the Revelation. But those elders acknowledged Christ.

The silver pieces turn up where the silver usually turns up. It is a bridal metaphor, found in the purchase of Sarah’s tomb, the plunder of Achan, and of course the shiny “Gentile fish” of Day 5. These leaders had bribed a Jew with silver to murder Jesus and now they were bribing Gentiles to keep Him dead. This “plunder” would bring the Covenant plagues upon them. Notice that their “counsel” and the silver pieces correspond to the theft and false witness in the Ten Words. These believing Gentiles are silenced by murderous Jews.


Say that his disciples (False Ark of the Testimony)
by night having come, (False Veil)
stole him while we were asleep. (False Altar)
And if this is heard by the governor, (False Lampstand)
we will persuade him, (False Incense – Witness)
and you out of trouble (False Mediators – Aversion of blame)
will keep. (False Shelter – No Booths)

The structure of this little speech is mind blowing. It is the Day of Atonement perverted but not beyond recognition. Notice the clever combination of the hearing of the Word (Pentecost) and the governing lights in the center. The Jewish leaders were a Law unto themselves, and thus betrayed and misled their people once again. No wonder Jesus referred to them as serpents.


Moreover, (Transcendence)
having taken the money, (Hierarchy)
they did as they were instructed. (Ethics 1 – Law Given)
And is spread abroad (Ethics 2 – Law Opened)
this report (Ethics 3 – Law Received)
among the Jews, (Oath/Sanctions)
until the present day. (Succession)

So, the true testimony of Jesus was turned into a false one, and God was slandered as He was in Eden. Notice that the Jews appear at Sanctions. All the Covenant curses would fall upon them for this act and the ones which followed. That is what the book of Revelation is about.


Testimony in the World


The pattern begins in a hole in the ground and ends upon a mountain. Moreover, it was a mountain in Galilee. Jesus and the disciples were sons of Abraham as lights in the sky and grains of sand on the shore, mediating between Land and Sea.


Moreover (Initiation)
the eleven disciples (Delegation)
went into Galilee (Presentation – Sea and Land)
to the mountain (Purification)
assigned (Transformation)
to them (Vindication)
by Jesus. (Representation)

The mountain seems to appear in the center as a reference to the commission to Adam in Eden, the first mountain of God.


And (Transcendence)
having seen him (Hierarchy)
they worshiped; (Ethics)
some however (Oath/Sanctions)
doubted. (Succession)

The Division now is not between Jew and Gentile, or Hebrew and Egyptian, but between believer and unbeliever. The Firmament was filled with lights.

ASCENSION – PRESENTATION (Land and Firstfruits)

And having come (Transcendence)
to them, (Hierarchy)
Jesus spoke (Ethics)
to them, (Oath/Sanctions)
saying, (Succession)

At Ascension, Jesus opens the New Covenant scroll, just as He does in the Revelation, which follows the same pattern. What was being bound on earth would be bound in heaven (the unbelieving Jews as a whole burnt offering) and what was now loosed on earth (the true Isaac) would be loosed in heaven as the first Son of the Promise.


Has been given (Transcendence)
to me (Hierarchy)
all authority (Ethics)
in heaven (Oath/Sanctions)
and on the [Land]. (Succession)

At the Ethics/Heavenly Rulers Stanza, we have the Covenant structure of the Revelation in microcosm: The vision of Jesus, His authority over the Churches, the preaching of the Gospel, the slaying and ascension of the saints, and the pouring out of the curses upon the Land.


Having gone therefore, (Genesis)
disciple all the nations, (Exodus)
baptizing them (Leviticus)
in the name (Numbers)
of the Father, (Deuteronomy)
and of the Son, (Joshua)
and of the Holy Spirit, (Judges)

This Stanza is another witness to the error of paedobaptism. Firstly, the mention of “nations” does not mean a “civic” baptism. John’s baptism for Jews was now Jesus’ baptism for Jews and Gentiles (all nations), hence the location: not the Jordan River but overlooking the Sea of Galilee. Moreover, the baptism appears where it does in the first Cycle of Matthew: at Ascension. It is a priestly robe for a mediator, not merely a recipient. Baptism is not for those who are Physical Sons (Noah) or Social Sons (Abraham) but Ethical Sons, those in whom the Father is pleased because they are Triune, they have overcome the serpent. It is interesting that the Father corresponds to the fatherhood of God in Deuteronomy and the role of Samuel the prophet (and Joseph) as an Ethical “father” to kings. The Son is of course Adam-Jeshua, and the Spirit is the Shekinah which fills each Temple once the instructions have been followed. The baptized are wise judges because their eyes have been opened and they see as God sees from heaven and do His will on earth.

And, just to annoy paedobaptists even more, the baptism does not appear at step 6 (the Laver) but at step 3, Day 3 (which is actually the step 6 of the “Head” pattern). One being baptized rises up out of the water like the Land out of the Sea, or a murdered Jew who knocks out the Gentile guards. So, unwashed brother or sister, get with the programme. Get immersed or you have not identified with Jesus as one in whom God is pleased. [3]


teaching (Initiation)
them (Delegation)
to observe (Presentation)
all things (Purification)
whatever (Transformation)
I commanded (Vindication)
you. (Representation)

The Gospel is the two-edged sword in the mouth of Jesus, here, as it is in the Revelation. It brings great blessings to those who hear and obey, and great curses to those who do not. The promises to Abraham concerning those who blessed him or cursed him were transferred to his seed, Jesus. Also, based upon the Edenic pattern, the disciples were now the ev-angels with the flaming sword of the Spirit. The four Gospels would go out into the Land as four horsemen: Creation, Division, Ascension, Testing, just as the witness of the angel concerning the empty tomb. The shockwave of the original “earthquake” would divide the entire Land.


And behold, (Transcendence)
I am with you (Hierarchy)
all the days (Ethics)
until the completion (Oath/Sanctions)
of the age. (Succession)

The final stanza is fivefold, a scroll awaiting to be opened in history. Just as Joshua stood on the border of the Land, now Jesus stood on the border of the World.

This Garden, Land, World pattern of testimony is replicated in the Revelation at a greater level. John sees the ascended Christ who sends the four Gospels into the Land. Once the Land is conquered, all the saints ride with Jesus into the World.

I hope you have enjoyed this analysis of Matthew.

[1] The blessings of Jacob upon his sons, when aligned with the tribes arranged around the Tabernacle, construct a cruciform ladder to heaven, a ziggurat.
[2] See my notes on Hagar and Sarah as the waters below and waters above in the forthcoming The Shape of Galatians. You can find my inspiration in James B Jordan’s Trees and Thorns.
[3] I plant to write a post about sprinkling some time soon. Briefly, sprinkling is about substitutionary blood and death, disintegration, ashes and dust mediated in water, not about the integration of resurrection. It is the cross, not the tomb.

ART: The Resurrection of Christ (right wing of the Isenheim Altarpiece) – Matthias Grünewald, c.1512-c.1516

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