PMW 2018-070 by Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr.

I am currently working on a commentary on Matthew 21–25. In this commentary I will be focusing on the Olivet Discourse in its contextual setting. I will be demonstrating this fifth and final major discourse of Jesus (Matt. 5–7; 10; 13; 18; 24–25) not only prophesies the destruction of the temple and God’s judgment on Israel in AD 70, but also the Final Judgment upon all the nations at the end of history.

Jesus’ teaching in this section dramatically declares his universal lordship over both Israel (e.g., Matt. 24:2, 16, 34) and all men and nations (Matt. 25:31–46). Earlier (and uniquely!) in Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus specifically limited his mission to Israel (Matt. 10:5–6; 15:24). But now as the narrative of his life unfolds to its climax, he expands his mission to “all the nations” (Matt. 28:19). Thus, in this section he will begin repeatedly emphasizing the inclusion of the Gentiles in his program (e.g., Matt. 21:43; 22:8–10; 24:14, 31; 31–46). This Gospel reaches its appropriate climax in the powerful, open-ended [1] “great commission,” which reads as follows:

“Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, ‘All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age’” (Matt. 28:18–20)

The Olivet Sub-unit in Matthew

I have chosen to limit my focus to Matthew 21–25 in order to rein in the size of the work, while providing its broader, basic literary setting. These five chapters are a distinct sub-unit within Matthew’s well-structured Gospel. This sub-unit opens with Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem (by way of Bethany, just 1.5 miles away, v. 6) in preparation for his death (Matt. 21:1). It closes with the completion of his Olivet Discourse (Matt. 25:46), followed up by a clear declaration of his coming crucifixion. Its closing states that he has finished all of his major discourses:

“When Jesus had finished all these words, He said to His disciples. You know that after two days the Passover is coming, and the Son of Man is to be handed over for crucifixion” (Matt. 26:1–2)

Thus, he is now relentlessly heading towards Jerusalem for the Passover (v. 2) and his redemptive death (vv. 3, 11).

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But this sub-unit is a part of a larger section of Matthew’s macro structure. It appears in the third section of Matthew’s overarching outline. And its placement here will demonstrate the twin facts of the judgment of the Jewish nation — and the Final Judgment on all the nations.

The macro structure of Matthew

Matthew’s Gospel falls into three major parts. After its opening in Matthew 1:1, its outline is marked off with the structuring formula: “from that time Jesus began….” (Gk., apo tote erxato ho Iesous). Each of the three parts ends with a climax asserting Matthew’s fundamental message: that Jesus is the Son of God. And this structuring of the Gospel will highlight Jesus’ lordship over all the nations.

Matthew’s basic, three-point outline is as follows:

I. The Person of the Son of God (Matt. 1:1–4:16)

In this section is recorded the Son of God’s person, beginning with his birth and running all the way to the start of his public ministry. It reaches its climax in God’s own declaration at Jesus’ baptism, after which Jesus enters into his temptation. In his temptation he proves the point that he is “the son of God” (Matt. 4:3, 6). Then it introduces us to his public ministry proper (Matt. 4:12–16).

The climactic statement of the first section is found in God’s own dramatic declaration regarding Christ:

“Behold, a voice out of the heavens said, ‘This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased’” (Matt. 3:17).

Having established Jesus’ person, his true identity as the Son of God, Matthew now focuses on:

II. The Proclamation of the Son of God (Matt. 4:17–16:20)

In this section we have the record of the Son of God’s message regarding the kingdom of heaven/God. It opens with:

“From that time Jesus began to preach and say, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand’” (Matt. 4:17).

The climax of this section comes with Peter’s Great Confession: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matt. 16:16). This is uttered only after Jesus elicits from the disciples what the Jews are saying about his identity, “Some say [you are] John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; but still others, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets” (Matt. 3:14). The disciples now recognize his fundamental identity, though the Jews do not — despite all of his teaching and preaching.

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Then finally we enter the last section of Matthew, which gives us:

III. The Purpose of the Son of God (Matt. 16:21–28:20)

In this section we come to the Son of God’s mission purpose: his redemptive death on the cross.

“From that time Jesus began to show His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised up on the third day” (Matt. 16:21).

This will lead to the universal declaration of his being the Son of God (Matt. 28:20), even having the Roman soldier declare it (Matt. 27:54), while the Jews deny it (Matt. 26:63–66; 27:40).

This final section will emphasize Christ’s turning from Israel to the Gentiles (Matt. 21:43; 22:8–10; 24:14, 31). It will end with the Great Commission to “all the nations,” which will declare that he is the Son of God:

“Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit” (Matt. 28:19)

The Great Commission forms an inclusio, bracketing the narrative of Matthew in a remarkably important way. Matthew ends with the promise that “I am with you always, even to the end of the ages” (Matt. 28:20). It opens with Jesus’ birth name declaring that he is “God with us” (Matt. 1:23).

In my commentary I will be demonstrating how all of this impacts the Olivet Discourse, showing that it deals with both Israel’s judgment in AD 70 and the world’s judgment at the end of history. Stay tuned!

1. By “open-ended” I mean that the Gospel ends with a view to the long-term unfolding of history until “the end of the age.” In this open-ended period the Great Commission is to be engaged among all the nations. Matthew was not writing only for the early church in its struggle with Judaism prior to AD 70. Rather he has designed his work for the ongoing mission of the church in the historical long run.

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