Is Matthew's outlookdominated by his eschatology?



It would be possible to make out a case that Matthew's outlook was dominated by his eschatology, in the sense that he is always looking to the future and warning of the fate that will overtake those who do not produce fruit in due season. But it would be unduly narrow to hold that this dominated all his horizon, for it is only one element in his interpretation of the Christ-event as bringing the fulfilment of Judaism by inaugurating a new People of God.



A very strong element in Matthew's eschatology is his series of warnings for the future. He insists that, just as Israel has failed through a failure to produce fruits, so the new People of God will fail if they do not produce fruit. There can be no doubt that Israel has failed. Already in the Baptist's message the axe is put to the root of the tree and the fire of judgement threatens (3.8-9). Matthew's condemnation of 'this generation' is absolute and emphatic, an evil generation, more evil than Sodom and Gomorrah (11.16; 12.39; 16.4). He passes up no opportunity to underline the insufficiency of Israel: in the story of the centurion of Capernaum, the interest in the healing is almost submerged by the contrast betweeen Israel and the gentile ('in no one in Israel have I found such faith' preceded by a solemn 'Amen' and followed by the statement of the admission of the gentiles from East and West to Abraham's feast). In the Parable of the Wedding-Feast, the king's rage and the absurdly exaggerated burning of the city of those who simply have more important appointments than the wedding-feast (22.7) make sense as a symbol of the destruction of Israel. The condemnation of the Temple is repeatedly emphasised: the eschatological discourse is focussed upon the destruction of the Temple, not only by the inclusion of the word 'Temple' in 24.1, but by the sevenfold woes on the scribes and Pharisees (22.1-36) and the lament over Jerusalem which immediately precede it (23.37-39). As France points out, in the scene of the interrogation by the Sanhedrin, according to Matthew Jesus' statement that he will destroy the Temple is not related by false witnesses (as in Mark), but by two genuine witnesses, whose word therefore stands. Before Pilate pas o laos (a formal statement of the whole nation) accepts responsibility for Jesus' blood.

The condemnation of Jerusalem is in the present, in Jesus' own ministry; but the threat of the same for the future for those who become part of the new People of God is an everh-hpresent reality in Matthew's moral code. The fire of judgement is ever present for those who do not accomplish good works: in the threats at the end of the Sermon on the Mount (7.19-23), in the coda to the parable of the Wedding Feast (22.11-14), where the lack of a wedding-garment is interpreted according to conventional Jewish understanding as a lack of good works. The parables make clear that the Christian community is a corpus mixtum, including some bad fish: so Matthew substitutes for Mark's Seed Growing Secretly the Parable of the Tares (with its explanation, to remove all possible doubt) and pairs it, as he likes pairing parables, with the Dragnet for further emphasis. And of course the most significant parable is the Last Judgement, placed as a climax to Matthew's version of Jesus' outlook on the future of the community. In the preceding four parables Matthew enormously stresses Mark's little warnings to be alert (5 verses) by developing them into major parables (Mt 24.37-25.30: the Watchful Householder, the Faithful Servant, the Ten Wedding-Attendants and the Talents).



But, in order to see these emphases in their true light, they should be considered only as part of a larger picture. Matthew, it is true, is acutely aware of the possibility of failure (a little touch is significant: whereas Mark ends the Sower with a crescendo 'thirty, sixty, a hundredfold', Matthew less optimistically substitutes a decrescendo, '100, 60, 30'). He applies his warning as necessary both to Israel in the past and present, and to the followers of Christ in the future. The factor which unites these two, however, is the preoccupation with the People of God itself, incorporated first in Israel who failed, and secondly in the new People of God. It should perhaps be said that it is not Israel that fails but the present representatives of Israel; they fail to live up to their calling, and are replaced by others who will fulfil their calling: this is exactly the message of the Wicked Vinegrowers.



From the first Jesus is shown to be fulfilling the hopes of Israel. He is (Mt 1) the heir to the House of David, deliberately adopted through angelic intervention into the line of David. He is (Mt 2) the second Moses, fulfilling in his early history the early history, biblical and traditional, of Moses. As Mt shows through the 14 formula quotations, Jesus acts in order to fulfil the scripture. In the Sermon on the Mount the morality depicted for the followers of Jesus is a typically Jewish one: it is fulfilment of the Law, though in a new way, constantly described as 'justice' in the Jewish mode, and prescribed to exceed the justice of the scribes and Pharisees (5.21), while remaining obviously on the same model, a re-reading (whence 'you have heard...but I say to you' six times) rather than a radical departure. The Jewish good works of prayer, almsgiving and fasting have their place, though in a purified and perfected way (6.1-18). In the very first miracle, just after the Sermon, Matthew chops the Markan ending in order to finish his version of the story with the fulfilment of the Mosaic law.



Matthew's portrait of Christ shows him unambiguously to be the Messiah of Judaism, entering the Holy City as the humble king prophesied by Zechariah, finally vindicated and giving his mission in the final verses of the gospel as the Danielic Son of Man (who at least retains the overtones of the figure in Daniel 7, standing for the People of God themselves).



Matthew's ecclesiology, if such we may call it, is also specifically a fulfilment of Jewish theology of the community. Jesus founds a community corresponding to the qahal Yahweh, which he calls my ekklesia (Matthew alone of the evangelists uses the word); historically Jesus must have been aware that he was modelling his community with 12 foundation stones on the 12 tribes of Israel. By Matthew this is stressed by such scenes as the promise at Caesarea Philippi, that most significant turning-point in Mark which Matthew enriches by the very Jewish sayings on the community. Matthew devotes one of his five significant discourses to relationships within the community, making the central truth the presence of Jesus among them, in just the way in which Yahweh was present among his people in the tent of meeting (when 2 or 3 are gathered together in my name). The presence of God in the world through Jesus in his community provides a sort of inclusio to the Gospel, by 'Emmanuel' in 1.23 and the Danielic promise of presence until the end of time in 28.19.



The thread which runs through Matthew, then, is rather fulfilment of the hopes of Israel than eschatology. The prominence in his thought of the last judgement and the threat of punishment provides a vibrant sanction to his demand for good works. But this is no more than an aspect of the morality demanded of the new People of God.