Prophet, Priest, and King in Hebrews 1

The Letter to the Hebrews wants us to understand Jesus in light of the Old Testament. And in the letter’s opening chapter we find the well-known trifecta of prophet-priest-king.

Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world (Heb. 1:1-2).

Jesus is God’s climactic revelation, the end of a line of prophets whose mouths declared the words of God. He is Prophet.

After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs (Heb. 1:3b-4).

Jesus is the mediator between sinners and his heavenly Father. He alone made purification for sins. He is Priest.

But of the Son he says, “Your throne, O God, is forever and ever, the scepter of uprightness is the scepter of your kingdom” (Heb. 1:8).

Christ will reign forever. The “throne” and “scepter” and “kingdom” are all royal terms. He is King.

Christ is Prophet, Priest, and King. Hebrews 1 teaches us even more than that, but those ideas are a great start!

The Parables in Matthew 13

There are eight parables in Matthew 13, four before Jesus goes into a house with his disciples, and four after Jesus goes into a house with his disciples (see 13:36).

  1. The Parable of the Sower and Four Soils (13:1-9)
  2. The Parable of Weeds Sown by an Enemy (13:24-30)
  3. The Parable of the Mustard Seed (13:31-32)
  4. The Parable of the Leaven Hidden in Flour (13:33)
  5. The Parable of the Hidden Treasure (13:44)
  6. The Parable of the Supreme Pearl (13:45-46)
  7. The Parable of the Net and the Fish (13:47-50)
  8. The Parable of the Master Who Brings out Treasure (13:52)

The question in Matthew 13:51, “Have you understood all these things?”, seems to separate the first seven parables from the eighth. The seven parables in 13:1-50 are about the presence, power, and word of the kingdom, and the eighth parable in 13:52 is about the disciples.

In 13:1-50, therefore, we see seven kingdom parables.

  1. The Parable of the Sower and Four Soils (13:1-9)
  2. The Parable of Weeds Sown by an Enemy (13:24-30)
  3. The Parable of the Mustard Seed (13:31-32)
  4. The Parable of the Leaven Hidden in Flour (13:33)
  5. The Parable of the Hidden Treasure (13:44)
  6. The Parable of the Supreme Pearl (13:45-46)
  7. The Parable of the Net and the Fish (13:47-50)

Consider similarities between them. Parables 1, 2, and 3 all concern the act of sowing into the ground. Parables 5, 6, and 7 all concern finding something you want to keep: a treasure, a most valuable pearl, and good fish. Parable 4 is not about sowing, nor is it about finding something worth keeping. In Parable 4 Jesus said, “The kingdom of heaven is like leaven that a woman took and hid in three measures of flour, till it was all leavened” (13:33). Adding to the uniqueness of this parable is the fact that it is the shortest of the seven. And being Parable 4, it is the central parable of the seven. When you focus on the language of the verse, Parable 4 is also a perfect transition from the first three to the last three: Parable 3 tells of seed going into the ground and tremendous growth taking place, and Parable 4 tells of leaven going into dough and tremendous growth taking place; and Parable 4 speaks of leaven being hidden in flour, and Parable 5 speaks of a treasure hidden in a field.

For these reasons and perhaps more, has Matthew indicated by his arrangement that 13:33 should receive special emphasis? Am I overreading the structure? Thinking out loud here.

Jesus Helps Us Identify the Fourth Kingdom in Daniel 2

In Daniel 2, four successive kingdoms are given in 2:32-33.

  1. Head of Gold (2:32a)
  2. Chest and Arms of Silver (2:32b)
  3. Middle and Thighs of Bronze (2:32c)
  4. Legs of Iron and Feet of Iron/Clay (2:33)

Identifying the first kingdom is easy because Daniel specifies it: “you are the head of gold,” he told Nebuchadnezzar (Dan 2:38). The first kingdom is Babylon. But scholars disagree on whether the second kingdom (silver) is the Medes or the Medo-Persians. If it is the Medes, then the third kingdom is Persia and the fourth is Greece. But if the silver represents the Medo-Persians, then the third kingdom is Greece and the fourth is Rome. You see the dilemma: the decision you make on the second kingdom affects everything else.

But what if Jesus can help us identify the fourth kingdom? Then, with the first and fourth kingdoms identified, the second and third kingdoms would become clear as well. In order to see this, we need to know more of the vision Daniel recounted. In 2:34, a stone came during the rule of the fourth kingdom, and in 2:44-45 this stone is interpreted to be God’s kingdom that shall never be destroyed.

In Luke 20:9-18, Jesus tells a parable of wicked tenants. A man’s tenants continued to kill servants whom he sent (see 20:10-12, 15). The scribes and chief priests realized Jesus directed the parable against them (20:19), and Jesus was casting himself in the role of the final servant (the man’s “beloved son,” 20:13) who was killed by the wicked tenants (20:15a).

The last two verses of Jesus’ parable are the key: in Luke 20:17, Jesus cited Psalm 118:22, “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.” Jesus used stone imagery again in 20:18: “Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces, and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him.” This language is not from Psalm 118:22 anymore but from Daniel 2. In Daniel 2:34 the stone “struck the image on its feet of iron and clay, and broke them in pieces,” and similar language can be found in 2:44-45.

Jesus is the stone. He is the stone that the builders rejected (Ps 118:22), and he is also the stone that shatters those who fall on him and those on whom he falls (Dan 2:34, 44-45). If Jesus is the fulfillment of the stone in Daniel 2, and if the stone would come during the reign of the fourth kingdom of Daniel 2, then we can identify the fourth kingdom by simply asking who was in power during the Son’s incarnation: Rome. Not Greece. If the fourth kingdom in Daniel 2 was supposed to be Greece, then either Daniel is false prophecy or Jesus has deficient hermeneutics.

Jesus applied to himself the imagery of the stone from Daniel 2, and this confirms that Rome was the fulfillment of the fourth kingdom in Daniel 2. So if the first kingdom (head of gold) was Babylon and the fourth (legs of iron and feet of iron/clay) was Rome, then we can accurately identify the second (chest and arms of silver) and third (middle and thighs of bronze):

  1. Babylon (Head of Gold)
  2. Medo-Persia (Chest and Arms of Silver)
  3. Greece (Middle and Thighs of Bronze)
  4. Rome (Legs of Iron and Feet of Iron/Clay)

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.

Interpreting Pearls and Pigs – What Does Matthew 7:6 Mean?

Matthew 7:6 is a notoriously difficult verse to interpret.

Jesus said, “Do not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before pigs, lest they trample them underfoot and turn to attack you.”

But who are the “dogs,” what is the “holy,” what are the “pearls,” and who are the “pigs”? Suggestions have been many. Is Jesus denying the eucharist to the unbaptized? Is he warning against letting persecutors trample the gospel? Is he saying not to give authority to pagans to judge church disputes? Is Jesus forbidding (temporarily) the kingdom’s message from going to Gentiles?

I don’t think certainty is possible, but I believe the traditional explanation still makes the most sense: Jesus warns against continuing to cast the kingdom message before those who are reviling and persecuting you.

Where Matthew 7:6 Belongs, Structurally

Some scholars contend that Matthew 7:6 is an independent saying, and that relating it to anything before or after it is problematic. Maybe, but Talbert (and others) make good arguments for taking 7:6 with what follows it.

In the main body of the Sermon on the Mount (5:21–7:11), the teachings are in three large blocks of material: 5:21-48, 6:1-18, and 6:19–7:11. Each of these three sections break into smaller sections: 5:21-48 has six subsections, 6:1-18 has three, and then there’s 6:19–7:11. It is agreed that 6:19–7:11 has 6:19-24 and 6:25-34, but what about the remaining verses of 7:1-11? Does 7:1-11 have two parts (either 7:1-6 and 7:7-11, or 7:1-5 and 7:6-11) or three (7:1-5, 7:6, and 7:7-11)? I think only two, divided as 7:1-5 and 7:6-11. (For more on the literary relationships in 6:19–7:11, see here.)

Since the body of the Sermon deals in subsections of larger blocks, it makes sense that in the remaining verses of the body, 7:6 would not stand alone but would connect to verses either before or after it as part of a subsection. If 7:6 joins 7:7-11, then we have a number of important parallels and contrasts with 7:1-5.

  1. 7:1 begins with a negative command (“Do not judge”), and 7:6 begins with a negative command (“Do not give dogs what is holy”). For the larger section of 6:19–7:11, starting subsections with a prohibition seems to be a pattern (see 6:19 and 6:25).
  2. 7:1-5 addresses judging rightly among insiders, and 7:6-11 addresses judging rightly among outsiders. The motif of making judgments, then, unites both sections.
  3. 7:1-5 and 7:6-11 each have a prohibition, two rhetorical questions, and a final verse that identifies the listener with a label (“you hypocrite” in 7:5 and “you who are evil” in 7:11). These structural elements bolster the notion that 7:6 connects to 7:7-11 and isn’t an independently floating verse in the Sermon discourse.
  4. 7:1-5 and 7:6-11 may have the loose connection of “vision problem.” In 7:1-5, the hypocritical judge doesn’t notice the log in his own eye. In 7:6, dogs don’t value something holy when it is thrown to them, and pigs may confuse pearls with bits of food to eat. In 7:9, a cruel father might substitute a stone for a piece of bread, which would trick a hungry child because the items may look alike. And in 7:10, a cruel father might substitute a snake for a fish, which would also trick a hungry child because a snake might resemble an eel-like fish.

Observations about Matthew 7:6-11

If we grant that 7:6-11 is a subsection that should be held together (just like 6:19-24, 6:25-34, and 7:1-5 inside the larger block of 6:19–7:11), then here are several observations about this little unit.

  1. 7:6 is a command, and 7:7-11 explains how to obey it. The topic of prayer introduced in 7:7-8 is probably a prayer for wisdom, and this means the command (7:6) is followed by a prayer for wisdom in how to obey it (7:7-8). This kind of arrangement is found in James 1:2-8 where the command to count your trials joy (1:2-4) is followed by an exhortation to pray for wisdom in this effort (1:5-8).
  2. 7:6 involves a situation where dogs don’t recognize something “holy” for what it is, as well as a situation where a pig tramples precious pearls. The dogs and pigs don’t show discretion, appreciation, or discernment. In the illustrations of 7:9-10, the hungry child may not always show proper discernment when he is hungry, and only a cruel father would give a stone resembling bread or a fish resembling a snake.
  3. 7:7-11 is assurance that God, the trustworthy heavenly Father, will give the gifts of discernment and wisdom to obey the command of 7:6.
  4. 7:6 is a prohibition, and 7:7 is a positive command that shows proper obedience to it. 7:1 is a prohibition, and 7:5 is a positive command that shows proper obedience to it. In other words, both 7:1-5 and 7:6-11 contain prohibitions as well as instructions on how to obey them.

Zooming in on Matthew 7:6

Matthew 7:6 is a chiasm. Putting the elements of the verse in a different order, here is the warning: if we give what is holy to dogs, they may turn to attack us, and if we throw pearls before pigs, they may trample them underfoot. Important to note is that this verse is using “dogs” and “pigs” to refer to the same kinds of people, and “what is holy” and “pearls” refer to the same object.

Let’s think about the response of the animals in Matthew 7:6: attacking and trampling. That’s an instinctively violent response, isn’t it? It’s not mere rejection, it’s an offensive posture toward the meat-giver and pearl-caster. The pictures of dogs and pigs here are not of cute, domesticated, friendly animals, but scavenging, wild ones.

In the context of the Sermon on the Mount, attacking is something that opponents (persecutors) do. In Matthew 5:10, believers are blessed if they are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, and in 5:11 believers are blessed if they encounter revilement and persecution all on Jesus’ account.

In Matthew 7:6, what is being cast before pigs and given to dogs? The traditional explanation is that “what is holy” and the “pearl” refers to the kingdom message, and I think this is correct. In Matthew 3, John the Baptist was proclaiming the kingdom and repentance (3:3). In Matthew 4, Jesus was proclaiming the kingdom and repentance (4:17). In Matthew 5:10-11, it is clear that not everyone will embrace this kingdom message and repent of their sins. Believers may face persecution and revilement. Such responses mean that the unbeliever is a dog or pig who is trampling the pearl of the kingdom, and Jesus says not to let them do that.

The image of pearls is used later in Matthew 13:45-46 as a metaphor for the kingdom of heaven. Thinking of the pearls in 7:6 this way is probably correct, then, especially since pearls were used by Jews as a metaphor for precious teaching. What teaching were Jesus and his disciples proclaiming that was more valuable than his kingdom message? The problem in 7:6 is that unbelievers may react strongly against this message, in the way a dog or pig will not appreciate sacrificial meat or precious pearls. The pigs and dogs in 7:6, therefore, aren’t equivalent to unbelievers in general but to opponents (persecutors) in particular.

The Missionary Orders in Matthew 10

It is widely observed that Matthew 10 may serve as an illustration for applying the prohibition in 7:6. Jesus said, “As you enter the house, greet it. And if the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it, but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you. And if anyone will not receive you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet when you leave that house or town. Truly, I say to you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah than for that town” (10:12-15).

The disciples were to make a judgment about the homes: were they worthy or unworthy? It seems the worthiness of the home was conditioned on the response the disciples received. And what was it they were proclaiming as they went? “The kingdom of heaven is at hand” (10:7). Put another way, the disciples were to cast the pearl of the kingdom, but if it turned out that a pig wanted to trample it, they were to shake the dust from their feet and leave.

Examples from Paul’s Missionary Travels

Could the prohibition in Matthew 7:6 have been practiced in Paul’s ministry? In Acts 13:49, the “word of the Lord was spreading throughout the whole region.” The response? “But the Jews incited the devout women of high standing and the leading men of the city, stirred up persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and drove them out of their district” (13:50). The opposition probably involved both Jews and Gentiles. What was the response Paul and Barnabas gave? “But they shook off the dust from their feet against them and went to Iconium” (13:51).

When Paul was in Thessalonica, he proclaimed the word (Acts 17:13). In response to this, Jews agitated and stirred up the crowds (probably comprised of both Jews and Gentiles), so Paul was sent on his way (17:14).

When Paul was in Corinth testifying that Jesus was the Christ (Acts 18:5), Jews opposed and reviled him, so “he shook out his garments and said to them, ‘Your blood be on your own heads!'” (18:6a).

Conclusion

Much more can still be said–and has been said–about Matthew 7:6. There may be plausible alternatives to the above arguments, but I’m convinced (for now) that the dogs and pigs represent unbelievers who trample the pearl of the kingdom message by attacking (or reviling, persecuting) the disciples of Jesus. The warning about not tolerating such trampling seems to have been enacted in the missionary activities of the disciples and of the apostle Paul.

Do you find other interpretations of the pigs and pearls more compelling? Or do you, like I do, believe the most common interpretation of Matthew 7:6 is still the most likely?

The World’s True King

The wedding of William and Kate has evoked worldwide interest and media coverage.  True, the event is historic.  And, true, it may be the only royal wedding some people ever see.  But the whole extravaganza, in a sense, is a massive letdown.

The streets were shiny, the church was prepped, the instruments were tuned, and the participants were appropriately attired.  But none of it will last, none of it bears the weight ascribed to it by fallen man.  The world watches royalty–fallen, temporary royalty at that–and is not rightly captivated by Jesus, the Messiah, the royal Son of David.

William is someone who will one day be king of England, but the Bible declares the One who is King of all the earth (Psalm 47:7).  When Israel wanted a king like the nations (1 Samuel 8:19-20), they discovered no earthly ruler could exercise permanent dominion or live in perfect righteousness.  Many of Israel’s kings were wicked, participating in idolatry and leading the nation into egregious rebellion against Yahweh.  Even Israel’s good kings, the ones who walked in the ways of God, were sinners and eventually died.

But God promised to raise up a king whose rule would never end: “When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom.  He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever” (2 Samuel 7:12-13).

Israel longed for this king, but no successive ruler fulfilled the royal expectations.  After Israel split into northern and southern kingdoms, they eventually fell to the conquests of the Assyrians and Babylonians.

Isaiah, though, extended hope of a Great Ruler: “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.  Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore.  The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this” (Isaiah 9:6-7).

Centuries later, an angel announced to a group of shepherds, “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:11).  Jesus, the Royal Son of God, had come.

When Jesus neared the end of his earthly life, Pilate asked him, “So are you a king?” (John 18:37a).  Jesus told him, “My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36a).  Then the king of the world was crucified–and three days later he rose victoriously over sin and death, never to die again.

When Jesus returns, “On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords” (Revelation 19:16).  Jesus is the world’s true King, the one who rules in righteousness.  His integrity cannot be matched, his faithfulness is incomparable, his justice is incorruptible, his worthiness exceeds our comprehension, and his reign will never end.  He is forever king.

So heed the warning of Psalm 2: “Now therefore, O kings, be wise; be warned, O rulers of the earth.  Serve the LORD with fear, and rejoice with trembling.  Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and you perish in the way, for his wrath is quickly kindled.  Blessed are all who take refuge in him” (Psalm 2:10-12).

In other words, flee to Christ as the object of your affections and the refuge from righteous judgment.  Only in Christ is salvation, and apart from him condemnation.  Every king, every prince, every duke, every citizen of Britain, every American, and every human on the earth–know that Christ alone is the rightful Ruler of the world, and all should bow their hearts in glad adoration.

The Kingdom of God, According to Russell Moore

“The kingdom of God, then, is the good news that the right rule of God, and the right rule of man—a rule our ancestors Adam and Eve lost—have come together in the right rule of one right God-man: Jesus of Nazareth. In his sin-resisting life, his wisdom-saturated teaching, his demon-exorcising power, his substitutionary, conquering death, and his justifying, victorious resurrection, Christ is king.”

–Russell Moore