Last Supper, Lord’s Supper, or Marriage Supper: What Do the Miraculous Feedings Foreshadow?

In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus miraculously provided food for a crowd of 5,000 (Matt. 14:13-21) and 4,000 (15:32-39). Scholars recognize that these feedings allude to Old Testament stories involving Moses, Israel, Elijah, and Elisha. But in addition to pointing backward, do the stories point forward? And if these feedings are forward-pointing, what is being foreshadowed?

Perhaps the Last Supper of Jesus with his disciples, or perhaps the Lord’s Supper which believers practice, or perhaps the eschatological Marriage Supper. Let’s take these options in reverse.

  1. Least controversial is that the miraculous feedings foreshadow the Marriage Supper. Matthew has already reported Jesus’ words about an end-time banquet: “I tell you, many will come from east and west and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 8:11). And near the end of the Gospel, Jesus refers to “that day” when he will drink “this fruit of the vine” with his disciples “in my Father’s kingdom” (26:29), another reference to the eschatological meal. In Grant Osborne’s commentary on Matthew, he represents the view of many scholars when he writes, “This was truly a messianic miracle pointing forward to the messianic banquet, an eschatological meal often emphasized by Jesus (Matt. 8:11; Luke 14:15; 22:30) and also a common theme in Judaism.”
  2. But what about the Lord’s Supper? Could the miraculous provision of loaves find meaning in the frequent practice of believers sharing bread and wine together? Leon Morris is hesitant to see in the language any application to communion. Ben Witherington says “it is doubtful that the First Evangelist had any major intent to portray this as a Eucharistic meal.” Craig Blomberg says a eucharistic reading would be anachronistic, though some foreshadowing might be possible. R. T. France is more open to the view, though, writing, “The feeding of the crowd is . . . a ‘foretaste’ of the central act of worship of the emergent Christian community, even though the menu was not quite the same.” Furthermore, consider that the order of taking, giving thanks, breaking, and eating (Matt. 15:36-37) is the pattern of the Lord’s Supper in Acts 27:35 (“And when he had said these things, he took bread, and giving thanks to God in the presence of all he broke it and began to eat”).
  3. The miraculous meals may point to the Last Supper which Jesus shared with his disciples. Grant Osborne rightly notes that the sequence of verbs in Matt. 14:19 (taking, blessing, breaking, giving) is found elsewhere in the Gospel only at the Last Supper in 26:26 (“Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples”). David Turner says it is “at least plausible” that the miraculous feeding foreshadowed the Last Supper. The second miraculous meal tells us that Jesus gave thanks, and this notion was during the actions of taking and giving (15:36). At the Last Supper, Jesus took the cup and gave thanks and gave it to his disciples (26:27).

Before we evaluate these options, let’s avoid the mistake of assuming only one view can be held. Why couldn’t two views be true simultaneously? Or even all three? The eschatological feast is surely the end point of what the miraculous meals foreshadow. But the Lord’s Supper is itself an anticipation of that final feast. In the bread and wine, we “proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes” (1 Cor. 11:26), a coming which leads to table fellowship with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven (Matt. 8:11). And isn’t the Lord’s Supper the ordinance which Jesus established at the Last Supper? And wasn’t it at the Last Supper when Jesus also spoke of the eschatological feast in the Father’s kingdom? (26:29).

The original audience of the miraculous feedings may not have realized the significance of the meals. But the point isn’t whether the original eaters or listeners would have sensed a deeper resonance of truth. The point is for the original readers of Matthew’s Gospel, readers which had an inspired collection and organization of stories and narration and teachings. The readers of Matthew’s Gospel were decades after the events of Jesus’ earthly ministry and thus decades after the ordinance of the Lord’s Supper at the Last Supper (see 1 Cor. 11:24-25; Luke 22:19). When these readers and hearers of Matthew’s Gospel learned about Jesus taking, blessing, breaking, and giving bread, discerning elements (pun intended!) of the Last Supper, Lord’s Supper, and Marriage Supper is not only plausible but reasonable and, I think, even probable.

So, yes, I’m saying the miraculous feedings foreshadowed the meal Jesus shared in the upper room, the meal the church shared (and shares) together, and the meal on the last day when we recline with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

We need not be bound to only one view of what the feedings point to. If you look at a map and locate Nashville, Tennessee, you will notice that I-40 leaves Nashville to the west, and it will take you to Oklahoma City. And if you said, “I’m going to travel on I-40 from Nashville to Oklahoma City,” it would also be correct for someone to say, “You know, along the way, you’ll go through Memphis and even Little Rock.” This is true because I-40 takes you from Nashville to Oklahoma City but through other cities along the way. The trajectory of travel is advanced, not hindered, by these other places prior to your final destination.

The map illustration is a way of saying that the miraculous meals point to the Marriage Supper, but this trajectory does not exclude a foreshadowing of the Last Supper and Lord’s Supper–which themselves continue pointing to the final feast at the table with the patriarchs.

“From Dust You Shall Arise”: Resurrection Hope in the Old Testament

I had the honor of contributing an article to the latest edition of The Southern Baptist Journal of Theology (SBJT 18.4 [2014]). The journal focused this issue on “resurrection,” and just in time for Passion Week drawing nigh.

I wrote on resurrection hope in the Old Testament: “From Dust You Shall Arise” (pp. 9-29 of the journal).

 

What Part of Scripture . . . ?

You know this: what part of Scripture . . . 

  • was written by an apostle
  • had a multiple and circular readership
  • had readers in Asia
  • had an opening where you can discern the Persons of the Trinity
  • had the word “blessed” in the opening verses
  • spoke of testing faith
  • had the phrase “revelation of Jesus”
  • ascribed praise and honor and glory to God
  • spoke of angels
  • spoke of Jesus as a Lamb
  • used temple language
  • spoke of an earthly ruler
  • mentioned spirits in prison
  • spoke of Jesus in heaven
  • declared that the end was near
  • mentioned “elders”
  • foretold Christ’s return
  • promised a crown of glory
  • featured warnings about the devil
  • used the word Babylon
  • extolled God’s eternal kingdom
  • talked about a “morning star”
  • warned against false prophets
  • spoke of angels committed to chains
  • referred to Sodom
  • promised vindication for the godly and punishment for the ungodly
  • mentioned Balaam
  • specified a “thousand years”
  • prophesied that the heavens would pass away
  • held out hope for a new heavens and a new earth

The answer? The letters of 1-2 Peter, of course. Surprised? Well, pray tell, what book were you thinking of?

The 10 Major Issues in Dating the Book of Revelation

As I’ve been preparing to preach a series through Revelation at Kosmosdale Baptist Church, I’ve noticed that in discussions of the book’s date of composition, certain issues appear again and again. The following list is an attempt to distill what scholars sort through when they project a date for the book.

  1. The references to nearness. In Revelation 1:3, “the time is near” (cf. 22:20). Should references to nearness be taken straightforwardly as something the first readers would’ve seen fulfilled? Or do the references still point to the future even from our vantage point two thousand years after the book? Or are there degrees of fulfillment, as in some Old Testament prophecies, so that the readers should expect fulfillments both soon in their lifetimes and far into the future?
  2. The situations of the seven churches. In Revelation 2-3, seven Asian churches are addressed in seven letters. Discerning the issues in each letter, do the respective circumstances best fit a date in the late 60s or the mid-90s (the only plausible dates, in my opinion)?
  3. The testimony of Irenaeus. In Adversus Haereses 5.30.3, Irenaeus dates the visions of John’s Apocalypse near the end of Domitian’s reign (AD 81-96). The question is: how much weight should the testimony of Irenaeus be given? Some say this external evidence should be decisive, while others say it should be a factor though not decisive. And since Irenaeus didn’t write in English, have his words been accurately preserved and translated? Some people argue that it was John himself (rather than the Apocalypse) who was seen near the end of Domitian’s reign, which could mean an earlier date for the writing of Revelation. Other scholars hold firmly to the traditional translation of Irenaeus’ words.
  4. The endurance of persecution. The book of Revelation called its readers to prepare for suffering. But when in the first century was such suffering experienced? Does the book have in view what happened under Nero? Or perhaps immediately after Nero? Or later under Domitian? Scholars debate the degree of persecution under Nero and Domitian. Did persecution extend beyond Rome? Is there evidence that an emperor specifically targeted Christians? To what degree were Christians persecuted? Were there scattered pockets of persecution, or was there governmentally sanctioned persecution?
  5. The emperor cult. Does Revelation possess an awareness of the emperor cult? When did the worship of emperors begin? Did certain emperors command worship? What was the status of the emperor cult under Nero and under Domitian?
  6. The number of the beast. In Revelation 13, we find the (in)famous 666. John says, “This calls for wisdom: let the one who has understanding calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man, and his number is 666” (13:18). But what man has the identity 666? Was it one of the emperors Nero or Vespasian or Domitian? According to some scholars, calculating the number of the beast is important because the man may be the formerly- or presently-reigning emperor when the Apocalypse was written. Or is the number about a future ruler? If John told the readers of Revelation to calculate the number, was the beast’s identity clearly known to them? If so, is the beast’s identity discernible to us or is the ability to calculate that identity now lost? And what kind of calculation is involved anyway? If John means the practice of gematria, should the calculation be with Greek letters or Hebrew letters? And are we looking for a last name, first name, or nickname? Or is the number purely symbolic, thus making mathematical calculations irrelevant? Is any proposal of an actual name simply wrongheaded?
  7. The seven kings. In Revelation 17:9-11 John says, “This calls for a mind with wisdom: the seven heads are seven mountains on which the woman is seated; they are also seven kings, five of whom have fallen, one is, the other has not yet come, and when he does come he must remain only a little while. As for the beast that was and is not, it is an eighth but it belongs to the seven, and it goes to destruction.” According to some scholars, the numbers here are symbolic and do not have historical referents. Other scholars, though, believe John is evoking an order of emperors and thus gives indication of who may be reigning when he says “five of whom have fallen” but “one is.” If the “five” can be identified, then “one” who “is” would be the emperor reigning when the Apocalypse was written. The problem, though, is identifying the first emperor in the order. Do you start with Julius Caesar or with Augustus? And do Galba, Otho, and Vitellius belong in the order, or are they omitted? Some scholars say that identifying emperors for the “seven kings” is a chasing after the wind and, instead, readers should take the numbers symbolically. If a specific order of emperors is unnecessary, Revelation 17 may not help us date the book at all.
  8. The myth of Nero’s return. Does the book of Revelation have an awareness of the Nero Redivivus, the legend that the dreaded Nero would return one day? If Revelation is aware of this myth, then a post-Neronic dating for the book is most likely. Post-Neronic, though, could mean the reign of Vespasian (pre-70 AD) or even later (post-70 AD) during the reign of Domitian. Or, if Revelation does not show semblances of the Nero Redivivus, then this issue may leave the door open for a Neronic dating, or it may mean the Nero Redivivus myth isn’t helpful to dating the book at all.
  9. The use of “Babylon.” Since many scholars agree that “Babylon” in Revelation refers to the Roman Empire, this use may indicate a post-70 AD dating. Post-70 AD Jewish literature uses “Babylon” for Rome.
  10. The mention of the temple. In Revelation 11, John was given a measuring rod and told to measure the temple. The question is whether this means the second temple was still standing and thus implying the book of Revelation was written pre-70 AD, or whether the temple language is purely symbolic (perhaps of God’s people) and thus Revelation 11 offers no help in dating the book.

There may be other issues to be considered in dating the book of Revelation as well, of course, but these ten are major players in the dating game.

“Depart from Me, You Workers of Lawlessness”: The Use of Psalm 6:8 in Matthew 7:23

The Sermon on the Mount constantly uses the Old Testament, either by allusion or quotation, so the use of a psalm in Matthew 7:23 is no surprise: “And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.'”

The scene is judgment day (Matt 7:22), and Jesus is refusing kingdom entrance to those who had a mere confession (7:21) without a heart-life commitment to him. In reply to their protest (7:22), he dons the words of David. The genealogy and birth account in Matthew 1 show that Jesus is the true and greater David who will lead his people from exile and rule in righteousness. In Matthew 2, the wise men seek him in Bethlehem, the very town where David had been born (2:2-6). We might expect that Jesus would give David’s words (particularly in the Psalms) their greatest, fullest significance and application.

As Jesus nears the end of the Sermon on the Mount, he quotes a Davidic psalm and evokes its context. In Psalm 6:8, David wrote, “Depart from me, all you workers of evil.” Psalm 6 was a prayer that God would be gracious to David, and near the end it shows confidence that God’s enemies will be ashamed. The prayer is for vindication. “How long” until deliverance? (6:3-4)? Then the good news is welcomed: David’s prayer is heard (6:9)! David is vindicated! His enemies must flee!

Jesus, the long-awaited Davidic king who will reign forever, has an eschatological role in Matthew 7:23. He is exiling unbelievers from the kingdom’s gate, saying, “Depart from me.” He calls them “workers of lawlessness,” using the same phrase as the LXX of Psalm 6:9 (6:8 Eng.). God’s enemies on judgment day will face the shame of eternal exile and divine rejection. To reject the Son is to align yourself against his Father.

Jesus is the Davidic King, and on the day of final judgment he will not be speechless. He will speak with sovereign and final authority, and any who contend shall do so in vain.

Where Is the Gate on the Narrow Way?

Until studying Matthew 7 for sermon preparation, I was unaware that there was any debate as to where the “narrow gate” was. If Matthew 7:14 spoke about a narrow gate, a hard way, and  a destination of life, then the order of the words must be the order of what you’d find: first you’d go through the narrow gate, then you’d come upon the narrow way, and lastly you’d arrive at life.

But now I think a different explanation of the “gate” language is more compelling. Scholars like John Nolland and Charles Quarles offer arguments that the “narrow gate” is actually at the end of the narrow way. The gate is about final entrance. Why is this a plausible–if not the probable–explanation?

  1. Gates were often used as points of eschatological destination. The “gates of hades” or “gates of heaven” refer to a gate that opens to the destination, not to a gate that leads to a journey. The gate is at the end of the journey.
  2. The “narrow gate” image in Matthew 7:13-14 is fronted for the sake of emphasis, not for the purpose of telling you the exact order of the elements (gate, then path, then final destination). When Jesus says “Enter by the narrow gate” (Matt 7:13a), he wants his listeners to enter the kingdom. The “narrow gate” is mentioned first because that is what’s most important here. That’s the thesis of Matthew 7:13-14.
  3. “Entering by the narrow gate” is probably equivalent to entering God’s kingdom or entering into eternal life on the last day. Thus final entrance would be in view. In fact, later in Matthew 7 the verb “enter” is used again and refers to Judgment Day: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven” (7:21). In the first chapter of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus warned that “unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (5:20). Later in Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus teaches that people should enact radical measures to defeat sin, for “it is better for you to enter life with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into the hell of fire” (18:9). In Matthew’s Gospel, it seems “entering life“=”entering the kingdom of heaven“=”entering by the narrow gate.”
  4. The “road” or “way” language in Matthew 7:13-14 is used elsewhere in his Gospel for roads outside a city. People would traverse such roads to arrive at a city’s gate–or, in Jesus’ use of the metaphor, at the gate of the kingdom. The way that leads to life is hard (7:14), but people should travel that way nonetheless, for the narrow way leads to a “narrow gate,” through which is life eternal.

The hard way in Matthew 7:14 is the disciple’s life that Jesus has articulated in Matthew 5-7. Jesus wants people to enter through the narrow gate which leads to life, so they should travel the way he’s been teaching about, because no other path leads to the narrow gate. The alternative way is broad and easy, but it leads to a wide gate, and through that gate is destruction.

So where along the “way” is the “narrow gate” located? Some argue that the gate is at the beginning of the path, while others say it’s at the end. I’ve summarized some scholarly arguments that suggest the latter, and I find that view most convincing.

What Are the Hermeneutical and Theological Presuppositions of the New Testament Authors?

In G. K. Beale’s Handbook on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament, he explains 5 presuppositions that the NT writers hold (pp. 96-97).

  1. There is the apparent assumption of corporate solidarity or representation.
  2. In the light of corporate solidarity or representation, Christ as the Messiah is viewed as representing the true Israel of the OT and the true Israel–the church–in the NT.
  3. History is unified by a wise and sovereign plan so that the earlier parts are designed to correspond and point to the later parts.
  4. The age of eschatological fulfillment has come in Christ.
  5. The later parts of biblical history function as the broader context for interpreting earlier parts because they all have the same, ultimate divine author who inspires the various human authors.