Where’s the Beginning of the End (Matthew 23)

Throughout his gospel, Matthew organizes large segments of Jesus’ teaching into five major discourses. That just means there are a whole bunch of red letters… all scrunched together… in five different places.

The author does this on purpose… because he wants us to think of Jesus in terms of the Old Testament character, Moses. Moses was that person who lead the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt and on towards the land that had been promised to their family. Moses wrote 5 major discourses (the first five books of the Old Testament). To help connect Jesus as “the new Moses”, Matthew presents Jesus’ teaching in five distinct settings.

Today, it’s the last discourse I’m interested in… and where it might begin. Those familiar with the Bible at all have probably heard of “The Olivet Discourse”. It’s found in Matthew 24:3-26:1 and is named after the location Jesus was when He taught it. He was on the “Mount of Olives” in Jerusalem.

We know the discourse ends in Matthew 26:1 because the Matthew includes a clue for the reader that signifies the end (“When Jesus had finished all these words…”). But there is no equivalent marker used for the beginning of the discourse.

I think Matthew intended for us to think the discourse actually begins… not in Matthew 24… but back in Matthew 23. There are three reasons why I think it’s intended to be read this way.

Three (very compelling) reasons…

1. First, Matthew 23:1-26:1 is linked thematically – Matthew 23 deals with the condemnation of the temple leadership… and Matthew 24-25 deals with the condemnation of the temple ministry as a whole.

2. Second, the first discourse in Matthew begins in Matthew 5:1 with the “blessed” statements (Blessed are the poor in spirit…). Matthew 23:13 begins with the “woes” (… woe to you scribes and Pharisees…”). Similar “blessings” and “curses” are presented together in Luke 6:20-26 in one discourse. I believe, even though Matthew has split them, the reader is supposed to understand the woes are to be a included in the fifth discourse.

3. Third, there is a linguistic theme that ties the three chapters together. In Matthew 23:36, Jesus is recorded as saying, “Truly I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation. Similarly, in Matthew 24:34, Jesus states, “Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place.”

For these reasons I believe we are to understand that Jesus’ last discourse in Matthew begins in 23:1 with his criticism of the temple leadership… and carries on through to the description of what would happen, within a generation, to the buildings that housed that temple ministry.

The structure of Jesus’ fifth discourse in Matthew is just one of the topics I cover in The Matthew Study video lesson for chapter 23. You can watch the video below… or preview the other videos and download chapter lessons from The Matthew Study by visiting: THE MATTHEW STUDY VIDEOS page.

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