Message and messengers of the King (Matthew 4:12-20)

Published on Saturday, 04 November 2017 05:54
How would we summarise the message that Jesus preached during this period described by Matthew? Obviously, since he had not yet died on the cross and risen again from the dead, there would be some differences between what was preached by him and then later by the apostles. We can summarise the difference by saying that Jesus preached the kingdom had not yet begun whereas the apostles declared that the kingdom had arrived because Jesus had ascended to the throne of God in heaven.

Why does Matthew call it the kingdom of heaven whereas other gospels use the phrase kingdom of God? One answer that is made, and I am not aware of any other suggestion, is that Matthew, since he wrote initially for Jews, followed the Jewish custom of substituting the word ‘heaven’ for ‘God’. So we have here an example of taking on board cultural sensitivities in order to make it easier for others to grasp the gospel.

What is the kingdom of heaven in this context? It is the kingdom that was predicted in the Old Testament which would be set up when the Messiah came. The details of the kingdom were that it would be universal, that it would be undefeatable, that it would be unending, and composed of sinners devoted to God. Those details were described by using illustrations taken from the time in which the prophets lived, but their fulfilment would be far greater. For example, the place where the Messiah would reign from was said to be Jerusalem whereas we know from the New Testament that the actual place of his throne is the heavenly Jerusalem. The New Testament expands the picture given in the Old Testament.

Matthew records the occasion when four of Jesus’s disciples were called by him to give up their everyday work and follow him more fully. He had a particular role for them to fulfil and the path of preparation involved accompanying him as he travelled round the country preaching about the kingdom.

Jesus does something very unusual here. At that time, rabbis did not command people to follow them. Instead, it was the custom for individuals to decide to identify themselves with a particular teacher. The fact that he called the four disciples here shows that Jesus was conscious that he possessed authority. Their response also reveals that they recognised that Jesus was more than a rabbi.

It is likely that the four men were waiting for Jesus to call them. About a year had passed since they had met him in Judea (as described in John 1). Maybe Jesus had given them time to reflect on what they had seen and heard. It would have been impossible for them not to have done so. And since they respond immediately to this particular call we can deduce that they were eager to go.

The calling here stresses two details about this call. First, allegiance to Jesus comes before family ties. We this especially in the case of James and John because they had to leave their father. Second, allegiance to Jesus comes before their particular role in life (in their case, they were fishermen). Giving Jesus priority in those areas does not indicate that they should be indifferent to family or even to their tasks (we know that Peter fished on a couple of occasions later on). 

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