In a Unitarian model of God the man Jesus was adopted as the Son of God in his baptism, and the disciples concluded from his life and words that he was the expected Messiah (2:4). In a Trinitarian model of God, which I will assume the writer has in mind throughout this Gospel (as in 3:16, 28:19,20), the one who was named Jesus by his parents was the pre-existent eternal Son of God.
I will extend this model to assume (as I do in Matthew 24) that in the writer's mind the eternal Son of God was already reigning as King in the day of the Lord when he toppled Babylon (Isaiah 13:6-13). That suggests he was already Messiah before coming into our world (as in Matthew 2:4 Luke 2:11, 26 ?). With this model in mind the Son of God was already King, Savior, Shepherd, and Messiah in the Old Testament period, and he was recognized as such by the early Christians. This is worked out in detail in the Greek Words and Models study of John's Gospel.
In the Epistles the sequence of words -Christos Iysous- Messiah Jesus perhaps suggest that Jesus was Messiah before his birth, whereas -Iysous Christos- indicates he was known as the man Jesus, and only later recognized as the Messiah (see the comments on Philippians 1:1, 2 & 2:5-11).
From Matthew 28:18-19 we can also assume that the writer views the Son of God as continuing his reign among the nations after the ascension. From this viewpoint the writer of this Gospel is not expecting one future coming of the Messiah. Rather there are constant comings and interventions of the Messiah as reigning King throughout human history. This is very different from the common idea among Jews and many Christians that the coming of the Messiah to reign as King is an event expected in the future.
Since the writer (we will call him Matthew from now on) concludes his book with a commission to baptize in the name of the Trinity (28:19), we can assume that the involvement of the Father, the Son, and the Spirit in Jesus' baptism at this point is also part of Matthew's Trinitarian model. For models of the Trinity, see 28:19.
Four kinds of model have been suggested to explain what Matthew meant by -y basileia ton ouranon- the kingdom of the heavens :
(a) The kingdom began when Jesus begins to preach.
(b) The kingdom begins when the Son of God begins reigning after the Ascension.
(c) The kingdom begins when Jesus eventually returns.
(d) The Son of God has always reigned and intervened in our world as King Messiah (as proposed in the comments on 1:1-18). His preaching would therefore make clear that the Old Testament King Messiah had now taken birth in our world. In the Sermon on the Mount Matthew will explain the principles of that reign. Under 24:23-34 we will see how Matthew tells us that the destruction of the temple (as in Mark 13) in the generation of Jesus' hearers was the sign and proof of his continuing reign. Matthew's use of the term -y basileia ton ouranon- would in this model mean the Messiah' continuing reign from heaven.
(a) Jesus fulfilled the Old Testament prophecies, and every jot and tittle (5:18) of the typology of the ceremonial and moral law. In the history of the Church this model has opened up rich mines of fanciful and allegorical interpretation.
(b) Jesus set about dismantling the patriarchal and legalistic system the Jewish people had been burdened with for too long. This model might fit Jesus' fierce condemnation of Pharisee religion in chapter 23. But is does not explain what Matthew had in mind when he said -iota en y mia keraia ou my parelthy apo tou nomou- not one dot or squiggle of the Hebrew alphabet in the law will be discarded (5:18).
(c) From the time of the Exodus the Old Testament offers us a detailed and very honest account of Jewish patriarchal culture, food laws, tabernacle and temple rituals, and interpretations of their moral, civil, criminal, and marriage laws. As Messiah, Jesus gave his sixfold "But I say to you" (5:21-44) to show how the moral law had been misinterpreted. Matthew knew that the food laws which set the Jewish people apart had been discarded (Acts 10 & 11). A completely new model of marriage had been explained by Paul (see 1 Corinthians 7:1-16). But that did not mean the story of the Jews was unimportant. Every nation would be able to compare their own laws and traditions with every jot and tittle of those of the Jews, and see how Jesus "But I say to you" would apply in their own case.
We have no proof that this model (c) was what the writer of the Gospel had in mind, but it fits the facts of the new law of love and freedom among the early Christians from burdensome food laws, patriarchal attitudes to marriage, and massive Pharisaic legalism.
(a) Preachers often use this text to show us that we are far short of God's standards, and therefore deserve eternal damnation. But we can respond to the Gospel invitation, accept Christ and be saved.
(b) Others make this part of a model to exhort us to seek the very best for our lives.
(c) Greek Orthodox theologians look back to "Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness (Genesis 1:26). From the beginning God had our -theosis- being made morally perfect in mind, and God undertakes to effect this in us by the Holy Spirit. The meaning of the text would then be: When you have learned from me as my disciples, you will ultimately be perfected (5:47).
(a) It seems unthinkable that Matthew imagined that an innocent woman being divorced is automatically a literal adulteress.
(b) By translating "makes her to become an adulteress" we have a model in which a divorced woman in those days was bound to get involved with another man, and so would become an adulteress.
(c) In an ideal marriage a woman hopes for a life of continuing mutual love till the couple is parted by death. That means that divorce is an inevitable adulteration of the marriage. Matthew notes the exception. If the man has already adulterated the marriage by physical -porneia - sleeping around, the woman may be glad to have marriage terminated (5:32, see 19:3-9)
(a) The kingdom began when Jesus begins to preach. In that case Peter was to have metaphorical keys as leader of the apostolic band
(b) The kingdom begins when the Son of God begins reigning after the Ascension. Peter as the first Pope in Rome, and his successors, are to administer the metaphorical keys of the Church. But 18:19,20 suggests a wider application than just the ecclesiastical hierarchy.
(c) The kingdom begins when Jesus eventually returns. But it seems inconceivable that Peter's keys will only begin to work after 2,000 or more years.
(d) A more plausible model is that the Son of God has always reigned and intervened in our world as King Messiah (as proposed in the comments on 1:1-18). In the Sermon on the Mount Matthew set out some of the principles of that reign. He knew that Peter would be the first to grasp the metaphorical key to the replacement of Jewish traditional interpretations of their law (see 15:1, 3, 6). The first sign of this was when he deliberately broke the Jewish kosher food laws (Acts 10 & 11, see 15:14-20). If this was the model Matthew was working with, then the -palingenesia- would be the new birth (19:28) of the many Jews who became followers of the Messiah (see for example Acts 2:41,47, and including many of the priests, 6:7).
(a) Many scholars have assumed that Jesus expected a - palingenesia- restoration of Jewish messianic kingdom before, or perhaps after, his arrest and crucifixion. If Jesus was wrong about this, Matthew writing at least thirty years later would hardly include such a failed expectation in his book.
(b) If the -palingenesia- new birth of the Jewish people was to happen at the end of that age in AD 70, or many years later, say after 2,000 AD, we wonder why it is the Jewish people who are to be judged by the apostles, and on what basis will the three thousand years of the Jewish people be judged?
(c) By their preaching of the apostles, and the establishment of the new Gentile churches, the Jews who did not recognize their Messiah were inevitably excluded from the ancient promises to Abraham concerning the land, the people, and being a blessing to all nations (see Genesis 12:1-3).
In fact the exclusion from the land continued for 1,900 years till the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948. In this connection it is interesting that Paul had expected an eventual restoration of the Jewish people (Romans 11:12,23,25).
(a) Schweitzer's view was that Jesus had expected a vindication of his messianic claims, but when his crucifixion became inevitable he announced he would return in glory. That is a historical judgment, which may or may not be correct. Our interest is in what Mark had in mind, and he obviously did not think his Lord had turned out to be mistaken. In any case by the end of the Gospel Mark records the fact of the resurrection (Mark 16:1-8).
(b) In the model used by preachers of the second coming, the Lord's coming is still in the future. It will be preceded by the signs recorded in Mark 13.
(c) Mark 13 refers to the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem (13:1-2), which would be preceded by false prophets, wars, earthquakes, famines, persecution, preaching of the good news to the nations, the flight of Christian disciples from the city, and claims that the Messiah had come (13:5-23). Mark then uses the language Isaiah had used in the fall of Babylon six hundred years before: the sun being darkened, the moon not giving its light, the stars falling, and the powers of heaven being shaken (13:24- 25). These are all vivid metaphors for the toppling of a great city.
Matthew has so far quoted Mark 13 more or less verbatim. We can therefore assume that he understood what Mark was writing about. What Matthew adds must be significant. Matthew writes: -tote phanysetai to symeion tou uiou tou anthropou en ourano- then will appear the sign of the Son of Man in the sky (Matthew 24:30) This is to explain or amplify the verse from Mark that follows: -tote opsontai ton uion tou anthropou erchomenon en nephelais meta dunameos pollys kai doxys- then they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory (Mark 13:26).
What did Matthew have in mind as he added this explanation of the sign in heaven? Based on the consideration of models in Mark 8:28-9:1) there are two main option
(a) A great sign in the sky (perhaps a cross) will signal the second coming of Christ which is still in the future.
(b) The coming of the Messiah, as he had predicted, in the generation of his hearers (Matthew 23:36, 24:34) was the toppling of the temple and the destruction of the city in AD 70. When that occured, it would be the metaphorical sign in the sky of what Jesus had himself announced. It would be as if Jesus was saying, "When you see the temple toppled and the Jerusalem destroyed, you will know it is myself who has come, it is my intervention. And it will just as clearly be my Day of the Lord as when I toppled Babylon" (Isaiah 13). This is the interpretation of the events of Mark 13 given by Luke -otan idyte tauta ginomena, ginoskete oti eggus estin y basileia tou theou- when you see these things (the fall of Jerusalem) take place you know that the kingdom of God has come near (come upon you, become visible).
Another significant addition to the text of Mark 13 is the word - parousia-coming to be present. It comes twice in the form -y parousia tou uiou tou anthropou- the coming of the Son of Man (Matthew 24:27,37). In both cases Matthew uses it to highlight the unexpected suddenness of the coming. But it is significant that the -parousia- the coming of Christ is not the end of history. It will usher in a period of the good news going out to four points of the compass (24:31). There was to be a first going out in the Roman Empire (24:13), as described in the book of Acts. But Matthew obviously expects the great commission (28:19) to be fulfilled all over the world after the -parousia-.
This would mean that Matthew believed, as did Mark, that Jesus died at the same time as the Passover Lambs were being sacrificed for each family in Jerusalem. We can imagine that the disciples in their own family gatherings would have begun to make the connection with the Lamb of God (see John 1:29,36, 1 Corinthians 5:7, Revelation 5:6,11,13, 7:9,10,14,17,8:1).
Here are some covenant models that we imagined Mark might have had in in mind:
(a) There was a previous "blood of the covenant" that sealed a covenant made at Sinai (Exodus 24:8). Here Jesus was referring to a new covenant as in Luke 22:20, and in Paul's words "This cup is the new covenant in my blood" (1 Corinthians 11:25). In place of the system of animal sacrifice system (set out in Leviticus) Jesus was instituting a new form of worship.
(b) Paul also explained "For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes" (1 Corinthians 11:26). This is a common view among Protestants. The only function of the communion service is to give us a vivid reminder of the crucifixion. To this Matthew has added that the blood of the covenant, is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins (Matthew 26:28)
(c) In addition to viewing the communion both as a remembrance (Luke 22:19), and a new covenant in blood (Luke 2:20), Luke gives a Kingdom interpretation "so that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom" (Luke 22:28-30). In this model the communion service would be symbolic of servants of the Messiah gathering as a family at his table.
(d) Mark, and perhaps Matthew and Luke, had a composite model that included the above. We will explore such a model under Luke 22:28-30.
(a) By the second century there was a period of probation before baptism to check out the sincerity of those under instruction. Matthew gives us no accounts of baptism, but certainly in the Book of Acts all the recorded baptisms are immediate with no time for instruction or probation.
(b) Christians are those who have been born again by exercising faith in Jesus as the one who died for them. Baptism follows as the public witness to others and to oneself that this is the case.
(c) In John's Gospel we are told that both John the Baptist and Jesus were enrolling disciples by baptism (John 4:1). Using this model the apostles were to go among all nations, and baptize any who were willing to enrol for instruction (as in the case of Joseph of Arimathea, see 27:57). None were too bad to begin learning, and there was no point in probation because only the Holy Spirit could fill individuals with the love of God. As in any modern enrolment for evening classes, a proportion will never show for instruction, and others will drop out. Perhaps the parable of the Sower pictures what happens after baptism (13:3- 23).
Matthew precises that baptism is -eis to onoma- into the name
of the Trinity (28:19). In model (c) the baptized are to
be taught about God as Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit as
Jesus had himself taught the disciples. This would be the meaning of -didaskontes
autous tyrein panta osa eneteilamyn umin- teaching them to hold on
to all that I have committed to you (28:20). The reference to the
Trinity in baptism would therefore be a rudimentary Apostles' Creed. In
model (a) the catachumen would need to learn and understand about
the three Persons of Trinity before baptism. In model (c) the Apostles'
Creed would function as a syllabus of what is to be taught after baptism.