Is Matthew 23 Part of the Fifth Teaching Discourse?

Two truths very well established in Matthew studies are that (1) there are five lengthy teaching discourses in the Gospel of Matthew, and (2) Matthew 24-25–the Olivet Discourse–falls into the fifth teaching discourse in the Gospel. The question is whether Matthew 23 also fits within this fifth discourse. There are two options as readers consider the boundaries of the five teaching discourses:

  1. Matthew 5-7, 10, 13, 18, 24-25
  2. Matthew 5-7, 10, 13, 18, 23-25

Option 1 excludes Matthew 23 from the fifth teaching discourse, and so that chapter is considered the climax of the temple disputes that began in 21:23. Option 2 includes Matthew 23 in the fifth teaching discourse, without denying that the chapter climaxes the temple disputes that began in 21:23.

So should Matthew 23 be included in the Gospel’s fifth teaching discourse or not? I have gone back and forth on this issue, but I lean toward option 2. Here are five points to consider.

  1. The length of Matthew 23 certainly warrants its inclusion in some teaching discourse. From 23:2-39 there are thirty-eight uninterrupted verses! Not including it in one of the teaching discourse sections seems unjust when we consider that the discourse in Matthew 10, ranging from 10:5 to 10:42, is thirty-eight verses too. And Matthew 18, the fourth teaching discourse, contains teaching from 18:1-20 and 18:22-35, thirty-four verses. The sheer length of sustained teaching in Matthew 23, therefore, warrants consideration as part of a teaching discourse.
  2. It is unlikely that separate discourses would be juxtaposed together, such that Matthew 23 would form a discourse and then Matthew 24-25 form a separate one. The total of lengthy teaching discourses would then be six (5-7, 10, 13, 18, 23, 24-25). But nowhere in the previous chapters of the Gospel does Matthew juxtapose any of the first four discourses. It is more likely that the lengthy teaching in Matthew 23 is part of the immediately-following lengthy teaching in Matthew 24-25.
  3. An objection against seeing Matthew 23 as part of the discourse of Matthew 24-25 is the scene change. Beginning in 24:1 Jesus left the temple where he spoke the words in Matthew 23, and so the change in location may seem to fit with the start of the fifth and final discourse in Matthew 24. This is a legitimate objection, but it is not unanswerable. Scholars agree that Matthew 13 is one of the Gospel’s five discourses, but notice what happens in 13:36: “Then he left the crowds and went into the house.” A scene change! And yet it is agreed that all of Matthew 13 comprises the discourse, despite the scene change. We should grant the same structural leeway to Matthew 23-25. There is certainly a scene change in 24:1-3, but that doesn’t have to mean chapter 23 must be excluded from the discourse of chapters 24-25. In fact there is a striking parallel to what happens in Matthew 13 and 23-25. In Matthew 13 the audience is public, but the scene change in 13:36 narrows to the disciples. The same pattern happens in Matthew 23-25. In Matthew 23 the audience is public, and in 24:1-3 the scene narrows to the disciples. If the totality of Matthew 13 can be considered one of the five teaching discourses, then so can Matthew 23-25.
  4. If Matthew 23 is part of the fifth teaching discourse, then several structural elements are interesting to observe. Of the five discourses, the first (chs. 5-7) and last (chs. 23-25) are the longest, each discourse exceeding one hundred verses! Then the second (ch. 10) and fourth (ch. 18) are very similar in length, between thirty to forty verses per discourse. This arrangement would demonstrate the artistry of the Gospel.
  5. If Matthew 23 belongs to the discourse of 24-25, then the fifth and final discourse (Matthew 23-25) recalls themes from the first discourse, Matthew 5-7, the Sermon on the Mount. For example, Matthew 23 talks about acting for the purpose of being seen (23:5-8), the danger of hypocrisy (23:13, 15, 23, 25, 27, 29), the laxity of oath-taking (23:16-22), the threat of judgment in hell (23:15, 33), the history of persecuting prophets (23:29-36), the scribes and Pharisees (23:2, 13, 15, 23, 25, 27, 29)–all topics that Jesus covered in the Sermon on the Mount.

Taking into account the preceding five points, I lean toward Matthew 23 being part of the fifth and final discourse of the First Gospel. The boundaries of the five discourses, then, are Matthew 5-7, 10, 13, 18, and 23-25. I think the inclusion of chapter 23 with the fifth discourse creates fewer problems than if it is separated from chapters 24-25.

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.

The Question for Two Miraculous Feedings: How Many Baskets Did You Gather?

In Matthew 14:13-21, Jesus fed five thousand people with a small collection of fish and bread. Then in 15:32-39, he fed four thousand people with another small collection of fish and bread. Matthew 16 references these two stories and draws important lessons about the two feedings. My suggestion is that in Matthew 16, Jesus asks questions in a way that shows the significance of the numbers of baskets leftover in Matthew 14 and 15. I think those real numbers have a symbolic meaning.

In Matthew 16, the disciples are in a boat with Jesus and they’ve forgotten to bring the leftover bread (Matt. 16:5). Jesus warned them of the leaven (or teaching) of the Pharisees and Sadducees (16:6, 12), but the disciples were too distracted by the lack of actual bread in the boat (16:7-8).

Jesus helps them focus by asking some questions in Matthew 16:9-10. In 16:9 he asks, “Do you not remember the five loaves for the five thousand, and how many baskets you gathered?” And in 16:10, “Or the seven loaves for the four thousand, and how many baskets you gathered?”

Notice the information Jesus supplied. He refers to both feedings (which are reported in Matt. 14:13-21 and 15:32-39), the number of loaves in each case (“five” in the first feeding, “seven” in the second), and the number of people who were present for each miracle (“five thousand” and “four thousand,” respectively). However, there is also a number Jesus omits in each question: “how many baskets you gathered” (16:9 and 16:10). The reader has already learned that 12 baskets of leftovers were gathered after the first feeding, and 7 baskets after the second (see 14:20 and 15:37). When Jesus was on the boat with the disciples in Matthew 16, he surely knew the number of baskets that were leftover in each episode, so he didn’t ask for those figures for his own information. The phrasing of the questions in 16:9 and 16:10 highlights the number of leftovers because it was the only number Jesus didn’t explicitly give in each question. Jesus wanted the disciples to recall the number of the baskets when he fed the 5,000 and the number of the baskets when he fed the 4,000.

Notice that the numbers of baskets are not random numbers like 9 or 17 or 22. The numbers are 12 and 7, which are significant numbers in Scripture. Some interpreters may be reluctant to ascribe symbolic significance to the number of baskets in Matthew 14 and 15, but I think the phrasing of Jesus’ questions in 16:9 and 16:10 invites the reader to consider a meaning to the numbers. If the numbers didn’t matter, why omit those details in the questions? Jesus clearly wants the specific numbers to be remembered. Because of the geographical areas where the feedings in Matthew 14 and 15 took place, the former was probably a “Jewish” feeding, reinforced by the “12” baskets of leftover bread (for Israel had 12 tribes in the Old Testament), and the latter was probably a “Gentile” feeding, reinforced by the “7” baskets of leftover bread (for Deut. 7:1 names seven nations in Canaan; and note too that Jesus had just healed a Canaanite woman’s daughter in Matt. 15:21-28 before the second miraculous feeding).

In the miraculous feedings of Matthew 14 and 15, Jesus was forecasting the great messianic feast, where Jewish and Gentile believers would fellowship with their God forever. He himself was the Bread of Life (see John 6:22-41), the true and better Moses. The two feedings showed that Jesus was reconstituting the people of God around himself. He was the one who would provide what they needed, no matter if they were Jews or Gentiles. He not only gave them bread, he would be bread for them. In the fields, he gave them loaves. On the cross, he gave himself.

Why Was Jesus Raised on the “Third Day”?

On multiple occasions, Jesus clarified that his resurrection would be on “the third day” (see Matt. 16:21; 17:23; 20:19; also John 2:19). When Paul wrote to the Corinthians about the gospel tradition, he said that Jesus was “raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures” (1 Cor. 15:4).

Paul taught that if you looked in “the Scriptures” (for Paul, the Old Testament), you would discern a “third day” expectation for Jesus’ deliverance. How does he conclude such a thing? And when Jesus spoke about his future resurrection, he said it “must” be on the third day (Matt. 16:21). Why must it be on that day and no other? Why the third day rather than the first or fourth? Why not death followed by resurrection a few hours later?

The expectation of Third Day Deliverance was probably not linked to only one Old Testament text but to an overall pattern of incredible third-day events. For instance:

  • Isaac was delivered from being sacrificed on the “third day” (Gen. 22:9)
  • Joseph released his brothers on the third day (Gen. 42:17-18)
  • God came down to meet Moses on Mount Sinai on the “third day” (Exod. 19:11)
  • When Joshua rallied the people to enter the promised land, he said the conquest would begin in “three days” (Josh. 1:11; 3:2)
  • After Jonah was in the belly of the fish for three days, he was delivered (Jonah 1:17)
  • In Hosea, the people said, “After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will raise us up” (Hos. 6:2)
  • Hezekiah, the king of Judah, was healed from his sickness on the third day (2 Kgs. 20:5-6)
  • Esther successfully interceded for the Jews on the “third day” (Esth. 4:16)

There are more examples that could be cited, but the above events establish the point that some major Old Testament stories were specifically associated with “three days” or on the “third day.” In fact, there are multiple examples of Third Day Deliverance stories where a character is delivered from sickness or death!

The resurrection of Jesus was the ultimate biblical example of a Third Day Deliverance.

See an excellent article by Stephen Dempster titled “From Slight Peg to Cornerstone to Capstone: The Resurrection of Christ on ‘The Third Day’ According to the Scriptures” (Westminster Theological Journal 76.2 [2014]: 371-410). And Jim Hamilton has traced a cluster of third-day passages on his blog.

“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).


Out of the Heart Comes Law-Breaking

Typically the Ten Commandments are divided into ones dealing with our relationship to God (Commandments 1-4) and our relationship to others (Commandments 5-10). In Matthew 15, Jesus engages Pharisees who fail to see their law-breaking hearts. Over the course of the chapter, Jesus references the second category of the Ten Commandments, and in order.

15:5-6, “But you say, ‘If anyone tells his father or his mother, “What you would have gained from me is given to God,” he need not honor his father.’ So for the sake of your tradition you have made void the word of God.” Later in the same chapter, Jesus tells his disciples, “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander” (15:19).

Let’s take them one by one.

  • Fifth commandment: “honor” your parents
  • Sixth commandment: do not “murder”
  • Seventh commandment: do not commit “adultery” or “sexual immorality”
  • Eighth commandment: do not engage in “theft”
  • Ninth commandment: do not bear “false witness”
  • Tenth commandment: do not covet, which may be manifested in “slander” 

Jesus shows that breaking God’s law begins inwardly. The phrase “evil thoughts” confirms the inner source of the acts which follow it. Given the order of the commandments and their correspondence to the Old Testament list in Exodus 20, the reader may be surprised that the last word in 15:19 is “slander” rather than “covetousness.” Yet perhaps Jesus uses “slander” as a manifestation of covetousness. Since Jesus in some way alludes to Commandments 5, 6, 7, 8, and 9, it is plausible to expect the final term to relate to Commandment 10, right?

Jesus’ words are a corrective challenge to the Pharisees’ complaint that his disciples break God’s law by not washing their hands when they eat (Matt 15:1-2). Countering the notions of the religious leaders, Jesus showed that keeping God’s law is fundamentally a heart issue. And if the Law of Moses is a mirror, we are all guilty of breaking it.

But the heart of Jesus was different. If the Law of Moses was a mirror, Jesus’ life perfectly reflected it. He never spoke or did what was evil. From his heart never came evil thoughts. Irrespective of washed or unwashed hands, in the midst of sinners Jesus was the only one truly clean.

Prophecy and Patterns: How Isaiah Prophesied about Jesus’ Religious Opponents

Biblical prophecy doesn’t necessarily function as a direct prediction that meets a single exhaustive fulfillment. The Bible’s authors also considered patterns to be prophetic. Such patterns could have multiple fulfillments as time marched on.

Consider Matthew 15:7-9. Jesus told the Pharisees, “You hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy of you, when he said: ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.'”

In Matthew 15:7, Jesus introduced a quotation from Isaiah 29:13. Now if you dissect Isaiah 29:13 carefully, there is no indication that it is any direct prophecy. Isaiah didn’t mention Pharisees when he quoted Yahweh’s words for his eighth-century B.C. readers, yet Jesus told them, “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you.”

How exactly did Isaiah prophesy about the Pharisees? Jesus discerned Isaiah 29:13 to be a prophetic pattern. The Pharisees were a typological fulfillment of the kind of people Isaiah addressed, people who had fraudulent hearts. When Isaiah prophesied about those who worshiped in vain, his words applied to (or would be “fulfilled” in) anyone whose worship was also vain despite their lip-service and religious ritual. People in Isaiah’s day fit the pattern, people in Jesus’ day fit the pattern, and so do people in our day. This means we too should be warned, lest Isaiah’s words be “fulfilled” in us.