Matthew 11, Law vs. Kingdom?

Anachronism is reading history out of order. Many examples of popular anachronisms exist. The religious art of Europe is a well-known anachronism. Biblical characters are depicted wearing plate armor at times or Renaissance fashion (or posing nude, in spite of ancient taboos on nudity).

Matthew 11 is a common victim of anachronism as well as supersessionism (Christianity has replaced the Jewish people). But this discourse on John, the law and prophets, and the kingdom is surely saying that Christianity is superior to Judaism, the New Testment to the Old Testament, right?

I offer this reading in the hopes that it will help Christians understand Judaism a little better and see Yeshua from within Judaism, not as a “Christian Messiah” breaking with his childhood religion and people.

Note: The text of Matthew 11:2-19 is included here from the NET (New English Translation), see http://net.bible.org.

11:2 Now when John heard in prison about the deeds Christ had done, he sent his disciples to ask a question: Matthew 11:3 “Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?” Matthew 11:4 Jesus answered them, “Go tell John what you hear and see: Matthew 11:5 The blind see, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news proclaimed to them. Matthew 11:6 Blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.”
John’s disappointment or doubt is clear in the passage. Vs. 6 should dispel any interpretation of John’s motive other than doubt and disappointment. Yeshua’s actions and message do not seem to fulfill the prophecies of John (3:10-12). Where is the fire, the axe laid to the roots? Yeshua answers with a different messianic mission than the one John expected: the mission of Isaiah 35 and 61, healing and liberation. Yeshua does not explain to John that the fire will come later (something the reader must infer). Rather, Yeshua trumps John’s authority (another indication of the high view Yeshua had of his identity) in vs. 6.

Matthew 11:7 While they were going away, Jesus began to speak to the crowd about John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind? Matthew 11:8 What did you go out to see? A man dressed in fancy clothes? Look, those who wear fancy clothes are in the homes of kings! Matthew 11:9 What did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. Matthew 11:10 This is the one about whom it is written: ‘Look, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you.’
Yeshua explains John as a hard man with a hard message (not a bendable reed). John is a prophet whose message is true. Yeshua does not deny this. Yet he also does not explain why the fire and axe are not happening at the present time. Yeshua is an enigmatic teacher, expecting his disciples to puzzle it out.

Matthew 11:11 “I tell you the truth, among those born of women, no one has arisen greater than John the Baptist. Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he is. Matthew 11:12 From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and forceful people lay hold of it. Matthew 11:13 For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John appeared. Matthew 11:14 And if you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah, who is to come. Matthew 11:15 The one who has ears had better listen!
Is the “least in the kingdom” about the present or future? An anachronistic and supersessionist reading is: “Any Christian is greater than John the Baptist because he did not know the gospel or have the Spirit.” John represents the last prophet of the old era, before the kingdom was revealed. The blessings of the kingdom, partially realized in Yeshua’s healing and teaching, bring the disciples into a greater age. This is not Judaism vs. Christianity (a ludicrous anachronism foisted on this text from time immemorial), but statement about the blessing of living in the age of the kingdom’s unveiling. Likewise, Hebrews 8:6 speaks of the better promises of the New Covenant age. None of this should be read in a replacement (either-or) paradigm, but a consummation (both-and) paradigm. In other words, what the law and prophets foretold is coming to pass. John is less blessed than those who now are seeing the kingdom revealed, even though he is the greatest of the prophets who looked forward to it.

What about the violent men saying? What is going on here? Keep in mind, Yeshua often said things denouncing the revolutionary spirit of his times. Yeshua denounces those who take a violent approach to bringing the kingdom (war with Rome) or who would assume that John’s fire is about a Jewish war. Many in Yeshua’s generation reasoned: (1) God has not acted in a long time, (2) God must be waiting on us to take the first step, (3) therefore, we must defeat our enemies and make the kingdom so that God will help us (“let’s force God’s hand with violence”).

Matthew 11:16 “To what should I compare this generation? They are like children sitting in the marketplaces who call out to one another, Matthew 11:17 ‘We played the flute for you, yet you did not dance; we wailed in mourning, yet you did not weep.’ Matthew 11:18 For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon!’ Matthew 11:19 The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look at him, a glutton and a drunk, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ But wisdom is vindicated by her deeds.”
He rebukes his generation for failing to respond to God’s revelation and instead judging prophets (judging both John and Yeshua as if the word of God can be put on trial).

About Derek Leman

IT guy working in the associations industry. Formerly a congregational rabbi. Dad of 8. Nerd.
This entry was posted in Bible, Christian, Judaism, messianic, Messianic Jewish, Messianic Judaism, Replacement Theology, Supersessionism, Yeshua, Yeshua In Context. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Matthew 11, Law vs. Kingdom?

  1. bography says:

    Derek you say:

    “But this discourse on John, the law and prophets, and the kingdom is surely saying that Christianity is superior to Judaism, the New Testment to the Old Testament, right?”

    How would the following passage from Hebrews 8 resonate with your question above:

    3 Every high priest is appointed to offer both gifts and sacrifices, and so it was necessary for this one also to have something to offer. 4 If he were on earth, he would not be a priest, for there are already priests who offer the gifts prescribed by the law. 5 They serve at a sanctuary that is a copy and shadow of what is in heaven. This is why Moses was warned when he was about to build the tabernacle: “See to it that you make everything according to the pattern shown you on the mountain.”[a] 6 But in fact the ministry Jesus has received is as superior to theirs as the covenant of which he is mediator is superior to the old one, since the new covenant is established on better promises.

    7 For if there had been nothing wrong with that first covenant, no place would have been sought for another. 8 But God found fault with the people and said[b]:

    “The days are coming, declares the Lord,
    when I will make a new covenant
    with the people of Israel
    and with the people of Judah.
    9 It will not be like the covenant
    I made with their ancestors
    when I took them by the hand
    to lead them out of Egypt,
    because they did not remain faithful to my covenant,
    and I turned away from them,
    declares the Lord.
    10 This is the covenant I will establish with the people of Israel
    after that time, declares the Lord.
    I will put my laws in their minds
    and write them on their hearts.
    I will be their God,
    and they will be my people.
    11 No longer will they teach their neighbor,
    or say to one another, ‘Know the Lord,’
    because they will all know me,
    from the least of them to the greatest.
    12 For I will forgive their wickedness
    and will remember their sins no more.”[c]

    13 By calling this covenant “new,” he has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and outdated will soon disappear.

    Raphabog, a onedaringjew

  2. Bography:

    Imagine if every physicist who wrote theory had to answer all comers who insisted he or she make all answers consistent with a unified field theory! That’s what doing theology on the internet is like. I comment on Matthew 11 and suddenly someone wants me to be able to answer for any and every text in the New Testament. If you’re planning to follow this up with text after text, I don’t have the time.

    IMO, Hebrews is a rhetorically charged book by a Jewish author speaking to Jews who are considering abandoning Yeshua-faith and returning to a Yeshua-less Judaism. I read Hebrews with a “both-and” hermeneutic (because I take the permanent validity of Torah for Israel as a given). If you are familiar with midrashic reworking of texts you know that a lot of freedom is possible when applying scriptures homiletically.

    The issue in Hebrews 8 is the superior priesthood of Yeshua which is based on the Melchizedek/Davidid tradition. I read Hebrews as saying to these about-to-abandon-Yeshua Jews: the old way (without Yeshua) is obsolete now that the better priest has come.

    That does not mean “Torah is abolished,” and I say so for several reasons: (1) Hebrews appeals to Torah repeatedly to prove points, (2) if Hebrews said Torah was obsolete it would be out of sync with Yeshua and would contradict the rest of scripture, (3) the writer of Hebrews is more sophisticated than that, and (4) the issue is not whether Jews should keep kosher but whether membership in Israel is sufficient for salvation. He is saying it is not. And going back to a Yeshua-less Judaism is now obsolete. But what is he advocating? Is he advocating a Torah-less Yeshua-ism? Not at all. He is advocating both-and.

    Derek Leman

  3. Bography:

    I forgot to make another point. The formula in Hebrews and in Matthew 11 is not “New replaces Old” but “New is added to Old.”

    It is not that New is superior to Old, but Old plus New is superior to Old.

    Or, put another way, these Jews in Hebrews were about to switch to Old minus New. But when God has done something, people must respond in faith. So Old minus New is inferior to Old plus New.

    Derek

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