Two posts ago I tried to suggest that the place in the New Testament that most resembles the outline of a covenant (as per Dr. Meredith G. Kline’s Treaty of the Great King) is Jesus’ Sermon on the mount, which is reproduced most fully in Matthew 5-7. It’s literary structure seems most to resemble the “book of the covenant” in Exodus 20-23.
This time we’ll have a brief look at what I have called the prologue: Matthew 5:2-21. It seems to have three parts: blessings, a mission statement for Jesus’ disciples, and a mission statement by Jesus.
The blessings may well have been part of a blessings/curses formula such as in the Sinai Covenant. Luke records four of the nine blessings along with four opposite woes in Luke 6:20-23. It may be more helpful to think of a blessings/curses formula as an encouragement/warning formula, since there are warnings, both explicit and implied, throughout the prologue.
The blessings themselves would have tended to stand the disciples’ understanding of “blessings” on its head. Poverty and humility would not have been held in high esteem at that time. They would have been looking for victory over their oppressive Roman overlords, not attitudes that bring peaceful resolution or meekness in the face of oppression. The prior covenant had military advantage and prosperity among its blessings.
Clearly the reward for the longsuffering of Jesus’ disciples must come at a future time of rewarding of the saints, and not in their this-worldly lifetime. For the present time, the blessings would feel more like curses during their lives. Jesus was telling them that only the tough and committed need apply.
The concluding statement of the blessings in verse 12 contains an interesting hint about the disciples’ mission to follow in verses 13-16. The final blessing is upon those who are reviled, persecuted and lied about for Jesus’ sake. They are to rejoice, not only because their reward in heaven would be great, but also because the prophets who were before them were persecuted in just the same way.
A careful reading of that last statement suggests that Jesus is commissioning His disceiples as prophets.
The Disciples’ Mission
The next section focuses on the basic mission of the disciples. Their job is to promote Jesus Christ by doing good deeds that display the true nature of Jesus Christ and His Kingdom.
They are to leave people with a good taste in their mouth about what the Kingdom is about by being Kingdom people who do Kingdom works. Jesus warns disciples against merely conforming to worldly kingdom expectations so that their lives make no difference to those around them. He warns that losing the “saltiness” will result in being “cast out” and “trampled upon.”
Being a disciple of Jesus means being noticed for all the right reasons. It means casting light in the shadows. It means being a beacon of hope for other struggling human beings. It means lighting a candle in the darkness when everyone else is cursing the darkness (and a whole bunch of other cliches besides.)
It means being different in a way that brings out both admiration and jealousy from people around. It means being different in a way that requires others to lie in order to accuse or convict a disciple of wrongdoing.
Jesus’ mission is to fulfil, not abolish/destroy/nullify the Law and the Prophets. These are to remain in force “until everything is accomplished.” What does this mean? What exactly needs to be accomplished?
We did not have enough time to explore that big subject in detail, but we began be going to Deuteronomy 30:1-6 to see if there was any clue about the intent of the law in a post-exilic Israel.
“When all these blessings and curses I have set before you come upon you and you take them to heart wherever the LORD your God disperses you among the nations, and when you and your children return to the LORD your God and obey him with all your heart and with all your soul according to everything I command you today, then the LORD your God will restore your fortunes and have compassion on you and gather you again from all the nations where he scattered you. Even if you have been banished to the most distant land under the heavens, from there the LORD your God will gather you and bring you back. He will bring you to the land that belonged to your fathers, and you will take possession of it. He will make you more prosperous and numerous than your fathers. The LORD your God will circumcise your hearts and the hearts of your descendants, so that you may love him with all your heart and with all your soul, and live.”
We’ll leave this post with one question. Now that you have read this passage about what is supposed to happen after both the blessings and curses of the Sinai/Deuteronomic covenant occur, what do you think Jesus meant when He said that no part of the Law and the Prophets was to be abrogated or changed until everything is accomplished?
In other words, what, exactly, was going to be accomplished?