Then Peter answered and said to Him, “Behold, we have left everything and followed You; what then will there be for us?” And Jesus said to them, “Truly I say to you, that you who have followed Me, in the regeneration when the Son of Man will sit on His glorious throne, you also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. “And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or farms for My name’s sake, shall receive many times as much, and shall inherit eternal life. “But many who are first will be last; and the last, first.
We read Mark’s account of this scene last time. It’s fairly different and I can’t tell you exactly why. In one way it is good that they don’t each include the same details, that is, that we get a better understanding of the author’s aspiration to his audience and see a larger picture. If they all said the exact same thing, the three synoptic gospels would be superfluous, we would only need one. And like any eyewitnesses’ testimony, if they were exactly the same, we would wonder whether one is copying the other or if it was rehearsed. Another thing that it shows is the conversations between Jesus and his disciples, or anyone else for that matter, were much longer than recorded. The authors only hit the highlights as they see fit. Many secular scholars will attempt to disprove the Bible based upon these discrepancies. Still others will attempt to disprove the Bible based upon the fact that Matthew and Luke resemble Mark too closely and were probably copies with only a few additions and edits. How one sees the similarities and discrepancies is almost always based upon their presumptions, preconceived notions and their presuppositions–we work to eradicate those here.
We use the CAGED method of Biblical hermeneutics; Context, Aspiration of author, Genre, Examples (in their context) and Rightly divide–context being superlative. We let the Scripture interpret Scripture, we let the genre steer the ship and we attempt to ascertain the author’s aspirations to his audience.
Usually the largest difficulty we face when reading the Bible is what I call, cross-cultural contamination. That’s is, over time, cultures erode, change, mix with other cultures until you have arrogant, ignorant, illiterate Americans, who can’t string two verses together (hyperbole), or see the metaphorical meaning (alliteration), like a child without his mother, we wander through the Bible aimlessly (simile). Today’s text is a prime example of how we need to let Scripture interpret Scripture, because we simply don’t know our Old Testament tutor the way we should, myself very much included, and because our culture is far removed from their’s.
I knew that writing about this passage would prove difficult and daunting; delete being as common as the word, “thing.” Almost as often, I have cut, as I have typed. All because of the sublime string. I can’t do justice to the text; not in under 2000 words. It’s just as well, for I’m not here to be exhaustive. I put the proverbial pen to pad, not to teach but to show how to be responsive. Consider the context and let the genre steer, search for examples and the author’s aspiration. Don’t be like the mega-church pastors, whose sermons suffer contextual constipation.
“Then Peter answered and said to Him, ‘Behold, we have left everything and followed You; what then will there be for us?’ And Jesus said to them, ‘Truly I say to you, that you who have followed Me, in the regeneration when the Son of Man will sit on His glorious throne, you also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.'”
Peter wants to know what the reward will be for him and his fellow disciples, who have left families and farms and followed Jesus. We can reasonably assume that Peter is asking about the 12 because of his question, and because of Jesus’s response. “you also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.” Problem: one of them, we’ll soon find out (but already know), is a traitor. Another problem: what kind of a reward is that?
Symbolically, the reward is great, considering our Old Testament tutor. Practically speaking, it makes little sense that the 12 tribes will need “judges” in the “regeneration.” Consider a very familiar passage from the end of the Book; “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” Why would we need judges if Christ has taken care of everything?
Clearly this promise given by Jesus is symbolic, but how? what does he intend to convey to the 12, one of whom is a traitor, with his words, “you also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel?” We need to see the sublime string of the overarching aspiration of Matthew to his first-century, Jewish audience. We need to consider the entire context of the book of Matthew. It is imperative to not rip this verse out of the greater context of Matthew and dogmatically say that, the 12 disciples, literally sit on twelve literal thrones, for all eternity. They can’t, because we know Peter is standing outside the gate, with the keys.
Those that regularly read my missives, see the irony and understand the inside joke. If you happen to be reading for the first time, things like the sublime string and Matthew’s aspiration to his first-century audience must be confusing. Nevertheless, welcome, I hope you find what I have found–context is king. The sublime strings running through scripture are those items, principles or even people that are woven throughout the entire scriptures that hold it all together. The Messiah being the foremost. From Genesis on down to Revelation, the Bible is all about Jesus. Another small example of a sublime string is the principle of, “by two or three witnesses shall everything be confirmed.” We have seen this sublime string several times in Matthew. We have also seen in Matthew that the steps of Jesus mirror the steps of Israel, only where Israel failed, Jesus was successful. From birth in Israel, fleeing to Egypt, “out of Egypt did I call my son,” to baptism, wandering in the wilderness, and giving of the Law on the mountain, Jesus fulfilled all that Israel couldn’t. This is Matthew’s overarching aspiration to his first-century, Jewish audience; Jesus as the true Israel.
Therefore we see, and should be looking for, a myriad of Old Testament references, mentions, culture and quotes. Matthew, which contains 28 fairly short chapters, which one could read in about an hour or so, contains almost 100 direct quotes from the Old Testament. No other gospel comes close. Even the book of Romans doesn’t come close. Revelation is replete with Old Testament imagery and phrasing, but as far as direct quotes, I believe Matthew wins, hands down. But in all fairness, Matthew cannot hold a candle to the Old Testament allusions in Revelation. The point I am poorly trying to provide is, Matthew wasn’t written to us (it was written to people with a knowledge of the Old Testament because that was their culture and heritage). Therefore we must take our Vitamin E and consult our Old Testament tutor. Problem: it’s repleate with similar situations and syntax.
I would hope that our minds, with even little Spiritual discernment, would think back to the book of Judges, remembering that there were twelve of them. That Israel would stray, unbelievably, from the Lord. Then a judge would arise, enemies would be defeated and peace would be restored until the judge died. Then Israel would stray again and another judge would be appointed and the saga would continue. We also don’t see a royal bloodline in the book of Judges, though some try to use their ancestors to claim authority. Nor do we see one tribe only, from which the judges arise.
We also think of the kings and thrones and their symbolism. We remember the twelve tribes of Israel, the twelve stones, the twelve servants of Solomon and probably a dozen different sums of the number 12. And then we can flip all the way to the back of the book and see the use of imagery of thrones and the number 12 in Revelation. A thorough expository exegesis of examples would be overwhelming here, which is a good thing. However, we simply don’t have the time, therefore we hit the highlights. Search the Scriptures for yourself, that’s why I write. I used to tell people that my missives could count as one’s daily devotional, but not anymore. I want everyone who reads my missives to read the Bible themselves, mining it for gold, for all it’s worth. Not a verse here and half a verse there but read it in the way in which it was written–a literary masterpiece, easy enough for the simple-minded to understand. Many commentators and scholars, pastors and preachers, theologians and teachers have varying opinions on today’s text concerning the 12 disciples sitting on 12 thrones in the “regeneration.” Problem: the word, “regeneration” only appears one other time in the New Testament.
In Titus chapter three we read, “He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration (παλινγενεσίᾳ) and renewing by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, that being justified by His grace we might be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life.” παλινγενεσίᾳ, regeneration, literally; rebirth. Am I suggesting that we should focus more on the word than on the symbolism? No, but we must consider the only other use of the word in the New Testament in which Paul speaks of our Spiritual baptism. I believe, athough distinct in content and context, Paul’s use of the word, “regeneration” should be considered, since it is the only other time that the word is used.
And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the following: “Immediately I was in the Spirit; and behold, a throne was standing in heaven, and One sitting on the throne. And He who was sitting was like a jasper stone and a sardius in appearance; and there was a rainbow around the throne, like an emerald in appearance. And around the throne were twenty-four thrones; and upon the thrones I saw twenty-four elders sitting, clothed in white garments, and golden crowns on their heads.” This is found in Revelation, chapter five. But instead of 12 thrones, we read of 12×2 thrones. Arguably the Old Testament elders and the New Testament elders–the disciples–sans Judas, of course. Which brings me to my next thought. If these words of Jesus were to be taken literally, would that not dogmatically demonstrate that Judas is in heaven now, judging?
“For it is written in the book of Psalms, ‘LET HIS HOMESTEAD BE MADE DESOLATE, AND LET NO MAN DWELL IN IT’; and, ‘HIS OFFICE LET ANOTHER MAN TAKE.’ “It is therefore necessary that of the men who have accompanied us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us— beginning with the baptism of John, until the day that He was taken up from us—one of these should become a witness with us of His resurrection.” And they put forward two men, Joseph called Barsabbas (who was also called Justus), and Matthias.” -Acts, chapter one. And the lot fell to Matthias. Read Acts, chapter one and it’s Old Testament tutor. Judas is not in heaven, judging. And in my opinion, neither are the 11+Matthias–at least not literally.
I don’t claim to know what Heaven is like, at the moment. We know much more about the future Heaven than we do about the current one. We know that it exists, it’s described by Jesus as paradise, but as far as what it looks like, we simply aren’t given much information. However, the New Heavens and the New Earth are described in detail, although much of it metaphorically. Nevertheless, this missive is not about Heaven but about Jesus’s response to Peter in Matthew 19.
“Truly I say to you, that you who have followed Me, in the regeneration when the Son of Man will sit on His glorious throne, you also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or farms for My name’s sake, shall receive many times as much, and shall inherit eternal life. But many who are first will be last; and the last, first.”
Based on the book of Judges, the Kings, the Chronnicles and a thousand other Old Testament tutors about judgement, thrones, witnesses, the coming Messiahand other sublime strings, like the entire book of Matthew and his aspirations to his audience, I believe that Christ response is symbolic–yet very real.
Unlike judges and kings who have failed in the past, Jesus pours his Spirit into the 12, so that, “they even carried the sick out into the streets, and laid them on cots and pallets, so that when Peter came by, at least his shadow might fall on any one of them. And also the people from the cities in the vicinity of Jerusalem were coming together, bringing people who were sick or afflicted with unclean spirits; and they were all being healed.” Plus a myriad of other miracles performed by the disciples. Not to mention the teaching, preaching and church-building. The disciples, while uneducated fishermen and a tax-collector, did what had never been done. Think about Moses’s miracles or those of Elijah, or the double portion of Elisha–how do they compare to the disciples? Jesus picked the most unworthy of men and made them the most prominent, miracle making men. They weren’t kings or judges, sitting on a throne but ordinary men, even under-ordinary, doing extraordinary things for the Kingdom of Heaven. They got their hands dirty. That’s one thing about mega-church pastors, speaking sermons in their slick suits, that causes me to pause–check under their fingernails–look for callouses. We think of holy as, clean, white linen but the disciples prove that dirty is the new holy. Thrones and judgement signify the significance of the disciples’ contribution to the Kingdom, through the Holy Spirit. And yet…
“But many who are first will be last; and the last, first.”
We can disagree with whether or not this context is to be taken literally or figuratively. We may get to Heaven and see the disciples sitting on their thrones–it’s entirely possible. I could be wrong but the context and sublime string are clear, the disciples, later the apostles, while certainly not the cornerstone, are foundational to build our faith. Ordinary men who were filled with the Spirit, doing extraordinary things. But still…
“But many who are first will be last; and the last, first.”