As I read Matthew, I realize that Jesus was specifically talking to Israel (i.e. Matthew 15:24) throughout most of the scripture with strict instructions that the gospel not yet be preached to the gentiles (Matthew 10:5-6). Jesus did help some gentiles, but these were the ones who were specifically coming to him. He remarks in a few instances that these “outsiders” have more faith in God than the “insiders” did (Matthew 8:10). It seems Jesus did this for two main reasons: 1) To warn Israel of the coming judgment if they didn’t accept the Kingdom he was bringing about (Matthew 8:11-12) and 2) not to confuse the gentiles with old standards that were being fulfilled so the New Covenant of freedom could be established.
The Kingdom Jesus was preaching was imminent (Matthew 4:17); it wasn’t just some distance thought. It seems he was giving Israel a chance to repent and enter first, but if they didn’t, the gentiles would. God’s overall redemption plan was to be through Israel whether they could accept that or not. Jesus became Israel and fulfilled what they couldn’t. Jerusalem was the city on the hill that was to be the light for the rest of the world yet the Israelites kept this light hidden and to themselves, additionally losing their saltiness. Again, these verses have far reaching impacts to us today, but we can also see the significance that Jesus was speaking directly to Israel.
I only quoted some of the verses to state the overall theme of the book as I’ve read without going through too many isolated details. I think we often fail to realize the overall context of scriptures and manipulate individual passages to our own way of thinking. I am especially guilty of this. If we look at the overall story of the Bible, it points to Jesus. When we take individual passages and bind them to our own limited viewpoints, we replace Jesus with laws that are often out of context with the original purpose and audience of the passages. Likewise, the Old Testament scholars were exemplary (more so than we are today) at upholding a morally upright life. Jesus often broke their deeply held rules (especially about the Sabbath) and even stated that they had missed the point of the law (Matthew 12:7-8; 23:23).
Along these same lines, the religious leaders had misunderstood the prophecies concerning the Messiah. They were expecting a military leader that was going to overthrow all of the outsiders and bring Israel into a new golden age of superiority over all other nations. It seems even the prophet John the Baptist may have been under this same misunderstanding (Matthew 11:2-3). God’s plan was always to bring the outsiders into the Kingdom through Israel though. It seems we are expecting the same thing today. We maintain a morally upright life waiting for Jesus to come back and overthrow our enemies, however he has already brought the Kingdom and we are free to live in it now. Likewise, it seems that the religious of Jesus’ time were the ones who judgment came on because they weren’t reaching out to those they had labeled as unrighteous. Instead, they hunkered behind their righteousness waiting for God to destroy those they had labeled as enemy.
There are also several prophetic things which could relate to Israel’s judgment, end time judgment, or both. I don’t want to get into these things yet as they would need at least a post of their own if/when I am led to write some about them. However, from reading Matthew, there is one major question that continues to be prompt in my mind:
Is modern Christianity in danger of repeating history by making the same assumptions and mistakes that Israel did?