Continuing with my review of volume 1, Peter Leithart has written a two-volume commentary on Matthew in the Through New Eyes commentary series. Leithart, like many others, understands that Matthew portrays Jesus as moving through Israel’s entire history by using words and picking up on themes from the Old Testament. Volume 2 covers Matthew 13–28, which includes three of the five discourses.
- Matthew 13: Jesus’ parables // Solomon’s wisdom
- Matthew 14–17: Jesus performs miracles // Elisha in the “divided kingdom period”
- Matthew 18: Jesus forms an Israel within an Israel // Elijah and Elisha did the same during the Omride dynasty.
- Matthew 19–22: Jesus the apocalyptic prophet // Joash, Jehu, Jeremiah
- Matthew 23–25: Jesus, like Jeremiah, condemns Israel’s religious leaders
- Matthew 26–28: Jesus is both the suffering prophets (Jeremiah) and the destroyed city (Jerusalem). His death is exile from God, but his resurrection is the ultimate return from the exile of death.
The Divided Kingdom Period
Jesus showed his wisdom in Matthew 13 by speaking parables to the people about God’s kingdom. But the people reject their king, and Herod kills John the Baptist. Elijah confronted the wicked king Ahab; John, the one who is Elijah, confronted the wicked king Herod. When there is a Herod in Matthew, innocent people are killed. Herod the Great killed infants in Matthew 2. Herod Antipas has John the Baptist killed. The Herodians plot to have Jesus killed. (Luke tells us Herod Antipas has a role in getting Jesus killed as well.) Jesus heals the sick, he feeds thousands. Yet “Herod rules a kingdom of death” and “devours his people” (36).
Leithart provides great hope in Jesus’ stilling of the storm. To paraphrase, just before this scene and the feeding of the 5,000, Herod killed John. The “storm” the disciples will face is one of persecution, being delivered over to rulers, “being threatened with death.” The world has been and is full of Herods—people who eat whoever opposes them. These Herods “are able to silence prophets, cut down the trees of God’s kingdom, destroy the fruit.” These rulers stir up the waters, and the little church-boat seemsl ike it will overturn and be crushed by the waves. We fear death by drowning. But “there is nothing to fear. Sooner or later, Jesus will come to us, draw us up as we sink ito the waves, climb into the boat, and calm the storm. God is never finished, and when Herods dominate the land, He always has a kingdom of his own” (38). The application here is having hope that God will rescue his people when the church at large is drowning. When evil rulers rule, we know God rules above them.
According to Leithart, the parousia “that Jesus is talking about” is the “‘arrival’ or ‘appearance’ or ‘presence’… of a king who has been absent for a time. At his parousia, the emperor inspects, passes judgment, distributes benefices and pronounces sentences, sets things in order. This is what Jesus promises to do in and to Jerusalem” (202–203). Leithart takes “this generation” at face value. When Jesus says “this generation will not pass away until all these things [including Jesus’ appearing] take place” (24:34), Jesus meant that generation. “This sequence happens again and again in history” (207). God crumbles old worlds and makes new worlds. The abomination of desolation crumbles Jerusalem. As even the Pharisees said concerning the parable of the vineyard, the owner of the vineyard will “let out the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the fruits in their seasons.” The religious leadership in Jerusalem crumbles, and Jesus’ followers go on bearing fruit in his name.
Leithart believes that the sign “that the Son of Man has indeed ascended to receive all authority and power [and] that He is enthroned” is the fall of Jerusalem and the temple to the Romans. That is the vindication of Jesus’ prophecies against the corrupt religious leadership. He is confirmed a true prophet. Yet we are called to be alert today. It is Jesus who rules over the rise and fall of powers. Jesus comes again and again, judging everyone rightly.
I’ve looked more in-depth at two sections of Leithart’s commentary. Even if you disagree with his eschatological conclusions, you will find his thoughts provoking and his application helpful. His OT connections are enlightening and serve to draw out the meaning of the text. Volume 2 is longer than volume 1, but it is just as easy and enjoyable to read. If you are a layperson, a pastor, or a teacher of some kind working your way through Matthew, I highly recommend both these commentaries.
- Series: Through New Eyes
- Author: Peter J. Leithart
- Paperback: 348 pages
- Publisher: Athanasius Press (January 15, 2019)
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Disclosure: I received this book free from Athanasius Press. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html.