Archive for the ‘Parables’ Category

The flow of the Olivet Discourse in Matt 24-25

I have been preaching through Matthew’s gospel account for the last few years and recently completed the section commonly known as “The Olivet Discourse” (Matthew 24-25). The following is an expositional outline based on my own understanding of the text. Some of the phraseology is new and some is borrowed. The intent of this outline is to capture the flow of the text. This is not necessarily a preaching outline, although it can be if handled with care. I picture the text like eight movements in a musical score with each movement contributing to the overall masterpiece that is Jesus’ final sermon to His disciples.

I.               Introduction (24:1-3)

A.     The Setting (vs. 1)

B.     The Occasion (vs. 2)

C.     The Subject (vs. 3)

II.             Movement One: The Signs of Tribulation (24:4-14)

A.     Leadership troubles (vs. 5) (cf. vs. 24; see also 2 Thess 2:11)

B.     Geopolitical troubles (vs. 6)

C.     Natural troubles (vs. 7) (cf. Luke 21:11; Joel 2:10, 31; 3:15; *Rev 6:8)

D.    Initial timing of the signs (vs. 8)

E.     Religious troubles (vs. 9) (cf. Rev 7:14; 2 Tim 3:12; Matt 10:24-25)

F.     Faithfulness troubles (vs. 10) (cf. Mk 13:12; Luke 21:16; 1 John 2:19; 1 Pet 1:5; John 10:27)

i.     Because of persecution (vs. 10)

ii.     Because of deception (vs. 11)

iii.     Because of sin (vs. 12)

iv.     Encouragement (vs. 13)

G.     The gospel and the end (vs. 14)

III.           Movement Two: The End of Tribulation (24:15-28) (cf. Rev 7:14; Jer 30:7; Dan 12:1)

A.     Characterized by unholy worship (vs. 15)

B.     Characterized by unrelenting persecution (vv. 16–20)

C.     Characterized by unparalleled distress (vs. 21)

D.    Characterized by unshakable sovereignty (vs. 22)

E.     Characterized by unmistakable return (vv. 23–28)

IV.            Movement Three: Return of Christ (24:29-31)

A.     The Surety of Christ’s return (vs. 29)

i.     Historical

ii.     Future

iii.     Cosmic

B.     The Sign of Christ’s return (vs. 30)

C.     The Splendor of Christ’s return (vs. 31)

V.              Movement Four: Parable of the Fig Tree (24:32–41)

A.     The Parable: a word of instruction (vs. 32)

B.     The People: a word of encouragement (vv. 33–34)

C.     The Passing: a word of warning (vs. 35)

D.    The Teaching: anticipation (vv. 36–41)

i.     The timing (vs. 36)

ii.     The analogy (vv. 37–39)

iii.     The result (vv. 40–41)

VI.            Movement Five: Parable of the Thief and the Two Slaves (24:42–51)

A.     The Thief: vigilance (vv. 42–44)

B.     The Two:  faithfulness (vv. 48–51)

i.     Faithful servant (vv. 45–51)

ii.     Unfaithful servant (vv. 48–51)

VII.          Movement Six: Parable of the Ten Virgins (25:1–13)

A.     The Delay (vv.1–5)

B.     The Arrival (vv.6–9)

C.     The Feast (vv.10–12)

D.    The Meaning (vs. 13)

VIII.        Movement Seven: Parable of the Talents (25:14–30)

A.     The Journey (vv.14–15)

B.     The Investment (vv.16–18)

C.     The Reward (vv.19–30)

IX.            Movement Eight: Return in Judgment and Glory (25:31–46)

A.     The Setting: Return for Judgment (vv. 31–33)

i.     Messiah is in control (vs. 31)

ii.     Universal in scope (vs. 32)

iii.     Final in nature (vs. 33)

B.     The Invitation: Inheritance of the Sheep (vv. 34–40)

C.     The Rejection:  Condemnation of the Goats (vv. 41–45)

D.    The Conclusion: A Fulfilled Promise (vs. 46)

The literary and thematic unity of Matthew 19-20

The more I preach through Matthew’s gospel account the more I see its wonderful thematic coherence. For example, it is interesting to see how scholars treat passages like Matt 20:17-19 or Matt 20: 29-34. They will say things like, “this is a late addition by Matthew borrowed from Mark or Q” or “this passage is a departure from the flow of Matthew’s thought.” Of course the evidence for such conclusions can be found on the same aisle at Walmart that sells unicorns and leprechauns.  As always, the literary-thematic flow of NT narrative is crucial to understanding each individual pericope and the book’s central message/purpose. In Matthew 19-20, Matthew uses six narrative units to uphold a significant point about the Messiah.

Long story short, although the OT was clear that the Messiah would suffer, the disciples were often befuddled over the fact that Jesus had to die (e.g., Matt 16:21-23). After all, if He is the one who makes His enemies His footstool (Ps 110), then why does He have to die? Matthew wants the reader to see that the Messiah will not come in the way many expect. In fact He will come to those who are the outcasts, the foolish, and the despised of this world. Shockingly, the Messiah has done this by becoming preeminent not among the first but among the last. The chapter divsions between Matt 19 and 20 are unfortunate but they are what they are. Here’s how I see the literary unity of Matthew’s point:

19:1-12 Introduction and testing the Messiah

19:13-15 Narrative 1–The kingdom is for the last.

19:16-26 Narrative 2–The kingdom is shut off to the first.

19:27-29 Narrative 3–The kingdom is rewarded to the last.

19:30-20:16 Parable–Kingdom blessing is sovereignly rewarded.

20:17-19 Narrative 4–The Messiah is preeminent among the last.

20:20-28 Narrative 5–The Messiah came to serve the last through giving His life.

20:29-34 Narrative 6–The Messiah demonstrated His compassion for the last.

Why parables: “result” or “purpose”?

Jesus gives the reason for His speaking in parables in Matthew 13:10-15; Mark 4:11-12; and Luke 8:10. An interesting thing happens in Matthew and Mark’s passages. Each one quotes from Isaiah 6:9-10 which highlights the consequences of divine judgment. However each one uses a different conjunction when quoting the same thing. Matthew uses hoti which carries the idea of result and is translated as “because” while Mark uses hina which carries the idea of purpose and is translated “so that”. The differences can be seen in the following:

Therefore I speak to them in parables; because [hoti] while seeing they do not see, and while hearing they do not hear. (Matthew 13:13)

To you has been given the mystery of the kindgom of God; but those who are outside get everything in parables, in order that [hina] while seeing they may see and not perceive. (Mark 4:11-12)

So why parables? There seem to be two very different answers here which yield differing theological conclusions. Matthew attributes Jesus’ use of parables because of Israel’s hardness of heart. However Mark attributes the parables to the Lord’s judgment. I think finding answers to this problem, as some have done, in the Aramaic Targums and Hebrew idioms is wrongheaded. What we have here is an example of the gospel writers referring to the same thing yet both with a different emphasis. Matthew emphasizes that Jesus used parables as a result of Israel’s hardness and Mark shows us that they were also for the purpose of withholding certain truths from those hardened. Matthew shows us “heads” and Mark shows us “tails” but they are the same coin.

What does this mean for our preaching? Without getting into a lengthy discussion on the proper use of cross references, I would say that this illustrates why it is important to let each Gospel writer speak to his own context. For example, if we import Mark’s design and purpose onto Matthew then we lose the nuances that Matthew wanted to bring to his audience. Lastly, this also shows us that it is not necessary to embrace critical views of Scripture which see such passages as contradictions rather than compliments to one another.

Beautiful at the start, dead before the finish

I am preaching through the parables of Matthew 13. This last Sunday was the parable of the four soils. One of our church members sent a picture she took which illustrates Matthew 13:5 in a modern context.

“Others fell on rocky places, where they did not have much soil; and immediately they sprang up, because they had no depth of soil.”

Thinking in Parables

It can be a great and rewarding challenge to preach the parables of Christ. I am currently preaching through Matthew 13 at my church so I hope to offer a few scattered thoughts on this subject over the next few weeks.

Parables can be defined in many ways but for now I would offer the simple definition that a parable is an extended figure of speech presented as a story with a spiritual point. There is a lot of debate as to whether there is one point or many points to be found in parables. Generally, I fall to the side that less is better. When every detail is pressed like wine grapes for spiritual significance then missing the intended point becomes inevitable. There has been a great amount of hermeneutical hopscotch over the last two thousand years which can only be characterized as “inventive” and that’s not a complement.

There are real challenges to be faced in interpreting the parables but a careful examination of the context will payback the expositor a hundredfold. In many cases Jesus will come right out and say “here’s what it means” (e.g., Matt. 13:18-23). Other times the key to interpretation will be found in the prologue to a specific parable (e.g., Luke 18:1, 9; 19:11). Likewise, the epilogue will often yield the meaning and purpose of a parable (e.g., Matt. 25:13; Luke 16:9). Some have even noted that both the prologue and epilogue construct interpretive bookends for some of the parables (e.g., Matt. 18:23-24, 35; Luke 12:16-21). I would agree with Bailey who noted that “before one should seek to understand the significance of the parables for one’s own situation today, one should seek the original meaning of the parables and their application for Jesus’ audience in the first century” [BibSac 155:617 (Jan 98) 31].

For those who want to develop a good grasp of what the parables are all about I would highly recommend Mark Bailey’s eight-part series which I quoted above, “The Kingdom in the Parables of Matthew 13” which began to appear in Bibliotheca Sacra 155:617 (Jan 98).

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