Intensifying Opposition: Matthew 19:1-22:46
These chapters divide into three main sections based on Jesus’ movement. In 19:1–20:16, Jesus faced opposition in Judea. There he dealt with Pharisees and the question of divorce. He also dealt with opposition that grew out of misunderstandings of riches and power.
Earlier in the gospel, Matthew had noted the beginning stage of the tensions between Jesus and the Jewish leaders. In this section, he reported that full hostility had developed. For instance, the Pharisees sometimes asked questions designed to trap Jesus, as in Matthew 19:3-9; 21:16, 23; and 22:15-40. As just one example, consider Matthew’s report in Matthew 22:15:
Then the Pharisees went out and laid plans to trap him in his words.
At the same time, Jesus sometimes challenged the Jewish leaders. We see this in the parables of the two sons, the tenant farmers, and the wedding banquet in 21:28–22:15.
But the conflict wasn’t always limited to verbal exchanges. Sometimes it was more direct and forceful, as when Jesus overturned the tables of the money changers and drove them out of the temple in Matthew 21:12-16. Especially biting were his words in the seven cursing woes of 23:13-35. Consider how Jesus rebuked them in Matthew 23:15:
“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as you are.”
Of course, Jesus and the Jewish leaders were not the only characters in these chapters. The hostility of the Jewish leaders was aggravated by the way the crowds still honored Jesus on occasions such as the triumphal entry in 21:1-11.
Throughout this section Jesus encouraged his disciples to put this confrontation into perspective. In Matthew 19:27-30, he promised that one day they would sit with him in glory. But in 20:17-19, he also warned them that those glorious days would only come after his own suffering death.
Moreover, Jesus insisted that his disciples would reach glory only after a life of humble suffering. Jesus drove home this point three different times. In Matthew 19:30, Jesus said:
Many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first.
Then in Matthew 20:16, he said:
The last will be first, and the first will be last.
And he repeated this in Matthew 20:26-28, saying:
Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave — just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.
Jesus’ kingdom looked strange. His followers would suffer, and the King of Israel himself would be killed by the people of Israel. Apparent defeat would come before victory.
The next segment of intensifying opposition involves Jesus going to Jerusalem in 20:17-34. Jesus made it clear that he was going to Jerusalem to suffer and die. He only faced opposition from the mother of two disciples who sought authority for her sons in the kingdom. Then, Jesus was welcomed by the crowds into Jerusalem as he fulfilled Old Testament prophecy in his triumphal entry.
In the next segment, in 21:12–22:46, Jesus faced opposition as he moved in and out of Jerusalem and the temple. He drove out money changers, told parables that warned about God’s coming judgment. Moreover, Jesus and the religious leaders disputed theologically over taxes to Caesar, the resurrection of the dead, the greatest commandment and the question of whose son the Messiah was.
But Jesus dealt with his opponents so well that we read these words in Matthew 22:46:
No one could say a word in reply, and from that day on no one dared to ask him any more questions.