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Matthew’s Tendencies (2)

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Material in red = Mark .. in blue =   Q   .. in green = Special Matthew .. in fuchsia = Special Luke


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Matthew’s Tendencies (1) .. §  Jewishness .. Torah as Obligatory .. Fulfillment of Scripture .. “Kingdom of Heaven” .. Exclusivism .. § Universalism .. § Anti-Pharisaism
Matthew’s Tendencies (2) .. § Heightening of End-of-Time Expectation .. § Heightening of the Miraculous  
Matthew's Tendencies (3) .. § Theological Tendency: Toward a Higher Christology .. § Toward the Idealization of the Apostles
Matthew’s Tendencies (4) .. § Popular Anecdotal Material .. § Concluding Observations



 §  Heightening of End-of-Time Expectation

Our principal synoptic sources, Mark and Q, provide us with sayings of two sorts about the coming of the Kingdom of God and the Son of man: that the Kingdom was future, and that it had come and was present, in the teaching and activity of Jesus. Click on End-of-Time Sayings.

Now it is well known that the early church lived in a state of intense expectation of end-of-time events; click on imminent coming, and end of the age. But as months lengthened into years, and years into decades, with no appearance of Christ on clouds of glory, Christians responded to this delay in two ways.

     1. Paul and the author of the Fourth Gospel responded to the problem of delay by emphasizing the present reality of the end-of-time events, such as resurrection, judgment, salvation. Though early on he was something of an apocalyptic cheer-leader, expecting that most believers (including himself) would still be alive at the grand finale, Paul eventually faced the reality of his own impending death and nourished the hope that he would depart and be with Christ (Philippians 1:20-23; compare 2 Corinthians 5:1-9). For Paul the decisive death and resurrection experience has already taken place, as the believer has been united with Christ in baptism (Galatians 2:19-20; Romans 6:3-4). The future hope was being “updated,” even if it was not being abandoned altogether (Philippians 3:20-21). Click on revision
     The Fourth Gospel is a later but similar attempt to affirm the present reality of events traditionally located at the end of time, especially eternal life and judgment; at the same time, the author does speak of judgment, and resurrection of the believer “on the last day” (John 6:40, 44, 54; compare 11:24), with a future reference. Click on End-of-Time in John.

     2. Others, in the face of the continuing and awkward delay of the second coming, chose to reinforce the usual end-of-time teaching, and evidently did so in a more apocalyptic mode; these would include not only the authors of 2 Thessalonians, Revelation, and 2 Peter, but also the author of Matthew.

Of the two dimensions of Kingdom of God and Son of man expectation, the present and the future, Matthew seems to emphasize the future — even as we acknowledge the fact that he does not suppress Q passages which represent the kingdom as present. This apocalyptic exuberance is evident from the material found only in Matthew [here in green], as it is also in Matthew’s “improvements” on material from Mark.

Matthew 10:23  When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next; for truly I tell you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes.

As difficult as this text is, and whether these are the words of Jesus or of an early Christian, it does reflect a pronounced apocalyptic outlook. The same is true of the allegorizing interpretation of the parable of the wheat and the weeds (13:24-30), with much of the stock terminology of apocalyptic literature, including an echo of the apocalyptic Daniel 12:3 in verse 43.

Matthew 13:36-43  37The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man; 38the field is the world, and the good seed are the children of the kingdom; the weeds are the children of the evil one, 39and the enemy who sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels. 40Just as the weeds are colleted and burned up with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. 41The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, 42and they will throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 43Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Let anyone with ears listen!

As for material derived from Mark, we may note two examples of a heightening of future, apocalyptic expectation by Matthew. In Mark 9:1, Jesus announces that within the lifetime of some of his listeners they will see (or perhaps, recognize) that God’s reign has begun, with manifestations of his power. In Luke 9:27, Mark’s saying is abbreviated, and the nuanced statement of an already present kingdom becomes a somewhat general statement about seeing the kingdom, whatever the author intends by that. But in Matthew 16:28 Mark’s announcement of an already present kingdom becomes a full-blown prediction of the second coming, yet to happen in the future.


Matthew 16:28

Mark 9:1

Luke 9:27

                              Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.


And he said to them, Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see that the kingdom of God has come with power. But truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God.


Another example of Matthew’s heightening of end-of-time teaching is evident in his version of the so-called Little Apocalypse in Mark 13. Having enumerated the various tribulations to come, Mark turns to the cosmic disasters which will accompany the end-of-time events. This collapse of the physical universe will happen “in those days, after that suffering,” with no specific dating offered; but Matthew writes that these events will take place “immediately after the suffering of those days” (24:29), thus suggesting an imminence lacking in Mark. Matthew adds to the ominous character of these events by telling of the appearance of “the sign of the Son of Man . . . in heaven,” and the mourning of all the tribes of the earth (24:30). He also adds the standard apocalyptic phrase, “a loud trumpet call” (24:30), to the sending out of the angels, when the Son of Man comes on the clouds of heaven.

Matthew 24:29-31

Mark 13:24-27

Luke 21:25-28

29Immediately after the 
suffering of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from heaven, 
24But in those days, after that suffering, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, 25and the stars will be falling from heaven, 
There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, 
and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. 26People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world,  
and the powers of heaven  will be shaken. and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.  for the powers of the heavens  will be shaken. 
  30Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn,  
and they will see “the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven” with power and great glory.  26Then they will see “the Son of Man coming in clouds”  with great power and  glory. 27Then they will see “the Son of Man coming in a cloud”  with power and great  glory. 
31And he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.  27Then he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.
28Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.

Thus, if the end-of-time events have been delayed, Matthew’s readers are to be encouraged with renewed end-of-time zeal. (Luke also adds some phrases [here in purple], which seem to make the pronouncements more vivid, but without raising—and perhaps reducing—the level of apocalyptic expectation.)

     “. . . the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” 

This is a characteristic editorial phrase of Matthew.

    Matthew  8:12   “. . . the heirs of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
        (compare also Luke 13:28, “. . . there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, and you yourselves thrown out.”)
    Matthew 13:42  “. . . They will throw [all causes of sin and all evildoers] into the furnace of fire,  where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
.   Matthew 13:50  “. . . [The angels will throw the evil] into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
    Matthew 22:13  “. . . Bind [the man without a wedding garment] into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
    Matthew 24:51  “. . . [The master will cut the wicked slave] in pieces and put him with the hypocrites, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
    Matthew 25:30  “As for this worthless slave [who hid his talent], throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

It is reasonable to conclude that Matthew found the phrase, there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth, in the Q source (Matthew 8:12 || Luke 13:28) and decided to employ it in five other places as a kind of judgment refrain. 


  §  Heightening of the Miraculous

We note first that while in Mark Jesus heals a blind man, called Bartimaeus (Mark 10:46-52), in Matthew’s re-working of Mark two blind men (unnamed) are healed (Matthew 20:29-34). Similarly, Matthew has two demoniacs (unnamed) healed (8:28-34), instead of one, Legion (Mark 5:1-20 || Luke 8:26-39).

Even more striking is Matthew’s version of the withering of the fig tree. In Mark, a day passes before the disciples observe that the tree has withered , whereas according to Matthew the tree withers at once (Mark 11:12-14, 20-23 || Matthew 21:18-21). The reader’s attention is drawn to the miraculous character of the event by the disciples’ query, “How did the fig tree wither at once?” Click on The Fig Tree for a more comprehensive discussion of this text.

Matthew 21:18-20

Mark 11:12-14, 20-21


18In the morning, when he returned to the city, he was hungry.   12On the following day, when they came from Bethany, he was hungry. 
19And seeing a fig tree by the side of the road, he went to it and found nothing at all on it but leaves.     


13Seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to see whether perhaps he would find anything on it. When he came to it, he found nothing but leaves, for it was not the season for figs
Then he said to it, “May no fruit ever come from you again!”  14He said to it, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” And his disciples heard it. . . .
And the fig tree withered at once. 20When the disciples saw it they were amazed, saying, “How did the fig tree wither at once?”  
20In the morning as they passed by, they saw the fig tree withered away to its roots. 21Then Peter remembered and said to him, “Rabbi, look! The fig tree that you cursed has withered.”  

In general, it is not unusual for stories with miraculous features to flourish around great religious figures. (See also Popular Anecdotal Material in Matthew.) Those in Matthew are relatively restrained, representing only a modest progression in comparison with the full-blown miracle stories of the so-called infancy gospels of the apocryphal New Testament, coming from a century or two later (the child Jesus clapping his hand, to make clay birds fly away; stretching timbers that were too short in Joseph’s carpenter shop; or  raising to life a play mate who had fallen from a roof top). 


Revised July 19, 2003


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