There are certain issues and themes in the New Testament that must be addressed, if we are to understand what was meant and understood by the 1st Century audience. Some issues are historical and have a tremendous impact on the writing of the Christian Scriptures, some are philosophical/theological issues.
In Matthew 22, God's empire is like the parable situation of the wedding banquet. Banquet scenarios often are seen as participation in God's purposes, including the completion of those purposes. Marriage symbolizes the covenant relationship between God and the people. The son in the parable is Jesus and the king is God. The parable concerns God's dealings with Israel. The King sends repeated invitations to the elite (Israel) and the slaves are the prophets. The invitations are sent out to the elite and their refusal insults the King. The act of destruction seems out of proportion to the offense and it destroys the sequence of verses six and eight. Still, it is a classic Imperial tactic. However, fire represents judgment and most scholars see this as a reference to Rome's burning of Jerusalem in the year AD 70. This was described in detail by Flavius Josephus in his book the Jewish Wars. Josephus interpreted this as God's judgment. Josephus and other ancient writers believed that God will, in turn, judge Rome at Jesus’ return.
But the stage is set in so many other Gospel narratives.
Jesus chases the temples commercial vendors out of the temple precincts in Mark, Matthew, Luke, and John. Ancient temples conventionally functioned much as modern-day banks do. Money exchanging, the storage of personal and family treasures, holding of funds for oaths, and other financial and commercial enterprises were expected activities, especially in large national temples like the one in Jerusalem. Jesus is calling for the practical realization of what was mainly a theoretical idea about temples; that they be houses of prayer only as was referenced in Isaiah 56:7 and in Jeremiah 7:11. They were not to be a primary site of commerce. It was the fear of Jesus interrupting their commercial ventures that led the chief priests and scribes to plot his death.
That notion was continued in Mark chapter 12 where, beginning in verse 38, Jesus told his disciples to beware of the scribes because “they devour widows’ houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers.” Then he immediately sat down opposite the Temple treasury and watched the crowd putting money into the Treasury. Large sums were being deposited when the poor widow came and put in two small copper coins. Then he called his disciples and said this woman has put in more than all of those who are contributing to the Treasury. Jesus presents the scribes’ behavior as an example to be avoided. The Temple itself desired everything a person could give, even the final two copper pieces from a widow.
We often look at the woman giving her last two coppers as something good, as being a greater percentage than what the wealthy were giving but, in truth, it looks more to be another condemnation of the workings of the Temple. All the widow had to live on was now gone. And then they would come for her house.
It is interesting to note that, following Jesus description of the falsehood of the temple, Jesus immediately described the destruction of the temple in Mark chapter 13. Chapter 13 is often referred to as a little apocalypse where Jesus speaks of the future end of the age which will be finally fulfilled only outside the Gospel narrative. The reference to the future life of the community has made chapter 13 the primary source for speculation on the dating of the gospel, taking place during the first Jewish-Roman War (c. AD 70) and on the issue facing the audience for whom it was written .
Eternal life does not speak of immortality or a future life in heaven but it is a metaphor for living now in the unending presence of God. Jesus offer of his own life through being lifted up on the cross makes eternal life possible for those who believe. This is the new life that Jesus promised Nicodemus in John 3:3-5. The eternal rule should also be remembered as God being eternal sovereign. Ultimately, eternal life is a metaphor for living now in the unending presence of the eternal reign of God.
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