Monday, August 15, 2016

Matthew 26:54, But how then would the scriptures be fulfilled?

Matthew 26:54
But how then would the scriptures be fulfilled, which say it must happen in this way?

Jesus asked the above rhetorical question in response to one disciple's attempt to rescue Jesus from abduction by the Jews.

It can sometimes be frustrating when a Gospel writer tells us that a scripture was fulfilled but he does not tell us what particular scripture was fulfilled. In this case, he is not even clear what events were on their way to fulfilling scripture‒although we might suspect events such as the Lord's arrest, trial and crucifixion.

As we have already examined the way Matthew sees fulfilled scripture, we can be pretty confident about the nature of the scriptures he would have cited. He would have cited Old Testament scriptures that feature language that is easily recycled to fit the current event.

The book of Matthew was written for readers who appreciated that kind of scripture fulfillment; so such mention was particularly persuasive. When we look at the parallel accounts of this passage, this particular Matthean feature becomes more apparent.

Both the Matthew and the Luke accounts came either from Mark or from a source that Mark copied verbatim. I definitely do not have room to defend that claim; but I will leave it to you, if you doubt me, to do a little bit of your own research on the Synoptic Gospels and of Marcan priority.

In Mark, Jesus is quoted as saying, "But let the scriptures be fulfilled" (Mark 14:49). Luke omits the mention of fulfilled scripture in that account altogether.

Mark's account of Jesus' quote indicates that the priests and soldiers would be fulfilling scripture if they continued on their current course and that Jesus is prepared for that particular course. Luke dropped Mark's account of the Lord's mention of scripture fulfillment.

Matthew, on the other hand, worked the quote into a rebuke of the disciple who attempted to rescue Jesus from the soldiers. In Matthew's presentation, it is Jesus, not the soldiers, who is in a position to change the course of these events. In Mark, Jesus informs the soldiers that it is in their power to change the course of these events but Jesus invites them to continue on the current course. In Matthew, Jesus informs the disciple(s) that it is in his (Jesus') power to alter the current course of events and he chooses to let them proceed as they are going.

The reader was never intended to be impressed by the mention of scripture fulfillment. If we were so intended, we would have been told what scriptures were being fulfilled. What should impress us is that it was indeed possible for Jesus to avoid the course for which he had steeled himself. It was in the power of the soldiers to chose to not arrest Jesus. (According to John 18:6, the soldiers knew Jesus' true identity).

These alternate possibilities are not theoretical. Jesus really could have called for divine rescue. The soldiers could have really chosen to set Jesus free. Fulfilling the scriptures (whatever scriptures the evangelists had in mind) was not destiny. In this circumstance, it was by the choices of all the actors involved.

Our own actions are also our choices. They are not choices fixed in theoretical time. If we have a choice, it is a real choice. God expects us to make righteous choices.

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