Summary: Who is Israel?

To Whom Has the Kingdom of Heaven Come Near?

Matthew 4:17-25

Last week we looked at the passage about the three temptations of Jesus. We mentioned that Jesus was re-enacting the wandering of the Israelites in the Wilderness. When we read about their journey, we discover that they were always grumbling, disobedient, and lacked faith in God’s promise. Jesus, on the other hand, bears the forty days in the wilderness without complaint. He does not accuse God whose Holy Spirit led Him into the desert of sending Him to die of hunger and thirst there. Moses tempted the Lord in the Wilderness. Jesus turns down the temptation to tempt God by throwing Himself off the pinnacle of the Temple. And finally, the Children of Israel were tempted by the riches of the land they entered to forget the Lord who brought them there and to give worship to the Canaanite gods of fertility, whereas Jesus refused to bow down to Satan in exchange for all the riches of the world.

Jesus, by His obedience, rewrites the history of Israel. Israel is now a righteous nation in the presence of God because it is seen in the righteousness of Christ rather than the sinfulness of Adam. We also might have wondered and thought what has that to do with us today. The simple answer to that is if we are not Israel, it does not mean anything to us. But if we are Israel, then it means everything. It means that Jesus has not only relived the history of ancient Israel, He has also relived our history as well. Jesus, the one who never sinned died the sinner’s death in our place, and His righteousness and obedience becomes ours. This is the hope of our salvation.

We have seen from the beginning of the Gospel of Matthew just who Israel is. A great mistake is made in my opinion by those who separate the people of God into two separate chosen people, Israel and the Church. The question would come up then of who is the more chosen. Most commentators have concluded that Matthew was written mostly to Jewish Christians with a crumb or two of Gentiles included. Matthew has been used in an attempt to divide God’s church, a Jewish one and a Gentile one.

But when one looks at the Gospel of Matthew as being addressed to the people of God who happened formerly to have been either Jew or Gentile, one gets a clearer picture. Gentile women are included in Matthew’s genealogy. The wise men were Gentiles and there is no mention of the circumcision of Jesus or His presentation in the Temple. He went to Gentile Egypt and when Joseph, Mary and Jesus returned to Nazareth of Galilee, it was a fulfillment of the prophecy of Isaiah 9 that a light would shine in Galilee of the Gentiles. As we continue to go through the study, we will see many other Gentile references including this morning.

Jesus comes back from the temptation to the land of Galilee, to the city of Capernaum. Galilee of the first century was of mixed ethnicity. This mixed ethnicity was characteristic of the early church as well. Here Jesus begins His mission to preach repentance and the Kingdom of Heaven. He preaches the same message as John the Baptist had preached. By this time John had been cast into prison. The fact that the Apostle John mentions a ministry in Judaea and Samaria indicates that some time elapsed from the temptation and this message. The text gives the sense of immediacy like it happened right away, but that is the trouble with writing historical data as time is compressed.

But to whom was this message delivered? It was obvious that the areas Jesus first preached at were primarily Jewish. The Jews heard the message first and experienced his miracles and signs. And the first disciples were all ethnically Jewish. Most of them were fishermen, but one who would be called later was a tax collector, Matthew, the writer of this Gospel.

But something very interesting is said in verse 24. It says that the news went all over Syria, not just Galilee and Judaea. Syria was a large Greco-Roman province which included Antioch, the city whose churches in my opinion were the earliest recipients of Matthew. So not just Jews but Gentiles heard the message. The fame of Jesus reached Antioch years before the first missionaries came there. Gentiles were numbered among the followers of Jesus from the very beginning of His ministry, even as John shows how the Samaritans were included. Jesus was already preparing the way for His message to go out into all the nations. The twelve would have noticed this as well. When they were called to be fishers of men, it meant all of humankind.

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