Matthew’s Mission Bracketology

Christ’s Mission in the New Covenant
Chad Richard Bresson April 8, 2013
The stage has been set1. The brackets have been expended. Bracketology2 is winding down. The brackets have served their purposes. There will be a final conclusion3. The American college basketball season will draw to a close. But there is a different kind of bracketology employed by biblical writers. And this kind of bracketology points us to mission in the New Covenant. The bracketology of Matthew. This bracketology expresses the mission of Jesus. An explanation is in order (and jumping back to English 101 for most of us). We use brackets all the time. We use brackets in our sentences to set off a thought or phrase. Some moms use two gates in their home to bracket off a particular room to confine a toddler to one play-safe room. Some of us need the bowling rails as brackets to confine our bowling balls to the lane, rather than the gutters. Brackets are used to contain something of value to a singular unit, space, thought, etc. Literature has its brackets. We call them chapters and paragraphs, using indentation, capitalization, and spacing to confine thoughts and ideas and action to singular "units". This kind of organizing helps make text easier to understand. The literature of the Bible has its own "bracketology", albeit of a different kind. Our English Bibles are organized into sections called chapters and verses. The Bible wasn't always organized this way. The writers of the Bible had their own way of organizing the text so that it was meaningful to the original audiences who heard the Bible read in the clan meetings, the synagogue, the tabernacle, or temple. Usually this involved repeating words or phrases or thoughts. The book of Genesis is a popular example. The book of Genesis is marked off in sections by use of the word "generations". This word is repeated throughout the book of Genesis as Moses gave literary and theological structure to his writing. If one includes Genesis 1:1 (the word "beginning" carries the same thought), there are 12 of these words throughout Genesis (1:1, 2:4 (records), 5:1, 6:9, 10:1, 11:10, 11:27, 25:12, 25:19, 36:1, 36:9, and 37:2. The use of "generations" (Hebrew: toledot) are the brackets used by the author Moses to organize the book4. These kinds of literary devices are all over the Scripture. They are not hidden. We miss them simply because we are not ancient Hebrew worshipers used to following the organization of the Scriptures this way. (Linguists and theologians call these literary markers "inclusios"5.) Repetition in our Bibles is a big deal. Repetition, parallelism, and literary markers (brackets or inclusios) were used to organize the Bible in a meaningful way for the ancient cultures. A good habit for any Bible student is to make note
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of the repetitions and parallels as the Bible is read. It's a quick way of discerning what was important to the biblical author writing under the inspiration of the Spirit. This parallelism begins and ends Christ's commissioning of the disciples found in Matthew. Do you see it? Jesus Christ's "Missionary Discourse"6 is bracketed off from preceding and succeeding sections in the book of Matthew. The apostle Matthew uses a literary device (what we're calling "brackets") to highlight what is important for the original audience, the early church in the New Covenant, to understand, believe, and do in this section of his book. In order to understand what the apostle Matthew was highlighting for the early church, a very brief bracketology lesson is in order. These repetitive brackets which begin and end Bible passages are part and parcel to Hebrew parallelism. This parallelism is not only a feature of Hebrew poetry, but all manner of ancient Hebrew writing, prose included.7 When one finds a repeated sentence, thought, or sometimes imagery at the top and bottom of a Scripture passage, not only is one probably dealing with parallelism, but also the brackets (inclusios8). Not only do these markers help organize passages of Scripture, they carry meaning. Embedded in these markers are the theology, eschatology, and worldview of the inspired writers of the Scriptures. These "brackets" point to the intention of the author, highlighting "what it is" he wants the original audience to hear and understand. Identifying the parallelism (in similarity or contrast) at the top and bottom of a passage goes a long way in identifying the what the biblical writer wanted his original audience to know, understand, believe, and/or do. It also goes a long way in helping us rightly interpret the Scriptures by keeping thoughts, ideas, events, and instructions in their proper context. One such place is in this great missionary passage found in the book of Matthew, beginning in chapter 9 verse 35 and ending in chapter 11 verse 1. This so-called missionary passage in Matthew 9:3511:1 picks up on a theme of proclaiming gospel and kingdom begun by Matthew in 4:23: "Jesus was going all over Galillee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every sickness among the people."(HCSB)9 Matthew presents Jesus as the expected but unexpected Messiah-King who has come to save his people from their sins and inaugurate His (upside-down) kingdom in fulfillment of the Old Testament promises. Christ comes on mission, but his mission is not what Israel expected of its Messiah. Christ comes "teaching" and "preaching" the "good news of the kingdom." This mission is not to overthrow Rome, but to gather a people to Himself among whom He will dwell as their king. This Messiah-King comes "healing", reversing the curse and ushering in a New Creation. In chapter 9, we see Matthew's summary statement of Christ's mission repeated as an introduction to a new section of Matthew. Verse 35: "Then Jesus went to all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and every sickness."
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The popular label given to this section of Matthew: Matthew 9:35-11:1. For more on Hebrew parallelism:,,,; and, more in depth: Adele Berlin’s “The Dynamics of Biblical Parallelism”,; keep in mind, this kind of

parallelism is not exclusive to Hebrew poetry).
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First century Christians hearing Matthew's epistle in their gathering would have perked up their ears on hearing this. They've heard this already from Matthew, in 4:23. The repetition here means Matthew is emphasizing a point. And then the theme is repeated again in Matthew 11:1: "When Jesus had finished giving orders to His 12 disciples, He moved on from there to teach and preach in their towns." What does Matthew want his audience to understand, believe, and do by way of these repetitions or "brackets"? The apostle Matthew uses a literary device (what we’re calling “brackets”) to highlight what is important for the original audience, the early church, to understand, believe, and do in this section of his book. We have previously noted that there are similarities between Matthew 4:23, Matthew 9:35, and Matthew 11:1: Matthew 4:23: "Jesus was going all over Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people." Matthew 9:35: "Jesus went to all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and every sickness." Matthew 11:1: "When Jesus had finished giving orders to His 12 disciples, He moved on from there to teach and preach in their towns." Each summary statement notes Christ's preaching and teaching (of the kingdom of God), his healing of the sick (minus a mention in 11:1), and his movement from town to town with His gospel message and ministry. The apostle Matthew uses these summary statements to highlight for the early church to whom he is writing the nature of Christ's ministry as the Unexpected Messiah proclaiming an UpsideDown Kingdom. It is fair to ask: why are Matthew's "brackets" important? Even more to the point: why bother with the discussion at all? The answer lies in the reason Matthew has placed these literary markers where he has in the overall setting of the book of Matthew. His structure of the text is a major clue for understanding what he intended for the early church to know, believe, and do. We've already noted that Matthew 9:35 and 11:1 provide the beginning and ending points for what has been called Matthew's "Missionary Discourse". This mission text thus looks like this: "Then Jesus went to all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and every sickness." (Matthew 9:35) Narrative and discourse (Matthew 9:36-10:42) "When Jesus had finished giving orders to His 12 disciples, He moved on from there to teach and preach in their towns." (Matthew 11:1) What follows the summary statement in Matthew 9:35 is Christ's commission and sending of the twelve disciples in Matthew 10:5, a commission that mimics Christ's mission. Christ's sending (apesteilen) of the disciples is anticipated in the "summoning" of the twelve apostles (apostolon). These Christ sends (apostello) as sheep among wolves just as Christ has done previously and will

continue to do throughout the book of Matthew. Christ’s commission is anticipated in the prayer he gives to his disciples: pray to the Lord of the harvest to send out (ekballo) workers into His harvest. Christ sends his disciples into His harvest with a thrust (ekballo), with a propulsion-like force. There is an urgency to the disciples’ mission, a mission begun by Christ after his baptism and temptation (Matthew 3 and 4). All of the elements of those Matthean summary statements (4:23, 9:35, 11:1) are here in the commission of chapter 10. The disciples are to "announce" (preach and teach) the kingdom (vs. 7). They are given authority to heal and cast out demons (vs. 1,8). The disciples are to carry out this activity in the "towns" of the Jewish people in Israel (vs. 5-6). Eventually, they will be bearing witness of Christ to the nations, an indication that their mission will someday include Samaritans and Gentiles (vs. 18). For some of these disciples, the mission will cost them their lives (vs. 16,21). These elements of activity, place, and message inherent to the apostles' mission (healing, proclamation, "towns", kingdom) are themes found in Matthew's summary statements of Christ's mission in Matthew 4:23 and Matthew 9:35. And the common language being used in these passages means Christ's commission and sending of the disciples in Matthew 10:5-8 is parallel to Matthew 4:23, Matthew 9:35, and Matthew 11:1, with Matthew 9:35 and Matthew 11:1 being used as brackets for the entire commissioning section in the great mission chapter (Matthew 10). Christ's mission becomes the mission of the apostles. The disciples become the answer to the prayer of Matthew 9:38: Pray that the Lord of the harvest ekballo (propel, thrust) workers into His harvest. The Lord of the harvest does precisely that with the apostles in chapter 10, but they will accomplish much more than is first expected. They begin on mission to Israel, but it does not end there. Theirs is a mission that will spread Christ's glory to all nations over the expanse of the globe. What does any of this have to do with missionary activity, reaching the unreached, or carrying the gospel message to remote corners of the world? Matthew's "Missionary Discourse" is bracketed by two summary statements. The structure of this section of his book begins and ends with Christ's proclamation mission of the kingdom. And in between we find Christ commissioning his disciples with the same message. The discourse includes Christ's commission of his disciples, which looks much like Christ's own mission: “Then Jesus went to all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and every sickness.” (Matthew 9:35) Jesus sent out these 12 after giving them instructions...“Don’t take the road leading to other nations, and don’t enter any Samaritan town. Instead, go to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. As you go, announce this: ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those with skin diseases, drive out demons." (Matthew 10:5-8) “When Jesus had finished giving orders to His 12 disciples, He moved on from there to teach and preach in their towns.” (Matthew 11:1) To summarize this for our purposes: Christ’s mission (Matthew 9:35) The disciples’ mission (Matthew 10:5-8) Christ’s mission (Matthew 11:1)

The commission given by Christ to the disciples in Matthew 10:5-8 matches the summary statements from Matthew regarding Christ's ministry. Christ proclaims. The disciples are to announce. Christ goes to "towns". The disciples go to the towns of the lost sheep of Israel. Christ proclaims the kingdom. The disciples announce "the kingdom of God is near". The brackets of Christ's mission (Matthew 9:35, Matthew 11:1) are pointing to the commission of the disciples (Matthew 10:5-8). Christ's mission becomes the mission of the disciples to proclaim the arrival of the kingdom in the Person and work of the Messiah-King Jesus. But so what? What does any of this have to do with missionary activity, reaching the unreached, or carrying the gospel message to remote corners of the world? What does Matthew's bracketology have to do with our mission? Here are some takeaways from the Matthew 9:35-11:1 passage: The brackets in this section of Matthew (9:35 and 11:11) are Matthew's way of making sure that the church to whom he was sending his account of Christ's first advent (his life, death, resurrection, and exaltation) would continue to notice that Christ came into this world on mission. Emmanuel's mission is other-worldly. The "descension" from heaven is the divine activity of Father sending the Son into the world to take on human flesh in order to "save his people from their sins" (Matthew 1:21). God is With Us, comes from heaven bringing heaven with him: the kingdom he is inaugurating is the kingdom of heaven. Matthew's Messiah-King is establishing His kingdom in fulfillment of the Old Testament promises through mission. "Saving his people from their sins" involves missionary activity. Early in the book of Matthew, "Jesus was going all over Galilee, teaching"… and "preaching the good news of the kingdom" (Matthew 4:23). In Matthew 9, the mission is again noted by Matthew: "Jesus went to all the towns and villages…"teaching" and "preaching" the good news of the kingdom." (Matthew 9:35). The movement that began from heaven to earth in the Incarnation of Emmanuel continues toward His people, a harvest (Matthew 9:38). Initially, we find the Messiah in Matthew gathering his people from among Israel (Matthew 4:23; his preaching and teaching is in "the synagogues"). But that mission eventually will include the Gentiles (Matthew 4:15). The mission that began in heaven will encompass the whole earth (Matthew 28:18) and engulf all nations (Matthew 28:19). Christ's mission has a message. The Son of David's mission to "save his people from their sins" (Matthew 1:21) is in and of itself Good News. The King's people are being "called to repentance" (Matthew 9:13). This "Light that has Dawned" (Matthew 4:16) continues to preach and teach the good news of the kingdom (Matthew 4:17), fulfilling the Old Testament promises which anticipated his coming (Matthew 1:23, 2:15, 2:23, 3:15, 4:14, 5:17, 8:17, 12:17, 13:35, 21:4, 26:56, 27:9). The old order, along with its leaders and oppressive religion, is out. A new day has come, ushered in by a Messiah-King who is establishing His rule and reign among a people with whom he dwells. Absent from the Son of Man is the blaze of glory anticipated in Daniel. Instead, God has condescended himself to man by putting on human flesh and becoming a servant who gives his life a ransom for many (Matthew 20:28). Where this message is proclaimed through "preaching" and "teaching", the Messiah-King is establishing a church against which the gates of Hell cannot prevail (Matthew 16:18). The proclamation of who this Messiah-King is, what he has done for His people, and what he calls his people to do is to be taken to every corner of the globe. This is the message of the mission until Emmanuel's kingdom is realized in its fullest measure (Matthew 28:18-20). Christ's disciples have the same mission as his. This is the thrust of the parallels. It is the heart of Matthew's missionary bracketology. Christ's own mission (Matthew 9:35 and Matthew 11:1) is found

in his commission of the disciples (Matthew 10:5-8). As the disciples mimic their teacher (Matthew 10:24-25), Christ's mission becomes the disciples' mission. Christ sends the disciples on mission with the same activities in the same kinds of places with the same message as He has been doing and proclaiming since the beginning of the book of Matthew (4:23). Thus, Christ's message is the disciples' message. Christ is going to the synagogues in the towns and villages. The disciples too. The MessiahKing is proclaiming the good news of an other-worldly kingdom being established through the salvation of His people from their sins. The disciples too. Whatever Jesus has been doing in preaching and teaching and healing and confronting the demonic activity, the disciples are sent by Jesus to do the same thing. They are to immerse themselves in His mission to Israel (and ultimately, to the ends of the earth). Like teacher, like student. The disciples become participants in the Messiah-King's mission to establish His kingdom among His people. But this isn't simply mission duplication. It is true that 12 can accomplish more than 1. But that's not what the disciples are to understand, nor is it what the early church is to be seeing in Matthew's words. This is mission transfer. Christ soon will die, rise, and be exalted as King of Kings and Lord of Lords at the right hand of the Father. The disciples will remain on earth to finish the mission. What the early church must see and what we must see in the commissioning of the disciples is that the disciples are on mission on behalf of the King. The disciples are on mission accomplishing "more" than the King. We get this from the mission summary in Matthew 28. Christ's mission included Gentiles, but his focus throughout much of the book of Matthew is to the Jewish people. In fact, in Matthew 10, when he commissions the 12, he specifically excludes the Gentiles (Matthew 10:5-6). But having inaugurated heaven's kingdom through His sacrificial death, he has no such familial limitations in his command to the disciples in Matthew 28. The mission is to spread over the whole earth to all people groups. Through the disciples, Christ's mission becomes the mission of the church: gathering His people from among all people groups over the entire globe. This is a New Covenant mission. This missionary discourse (Matthew 9:35-11:1) occurs during Christ’s ministry. When this is given to the disciples, Christ has yet to accomplish what he has begun. The kingdom is “near”, but it will be established through the inauguration of the New Covenant in his death. The disciples initially are to go to the towns of Israel, but Christ gives indication of the broader scope of the mission when he tells them in the discourse that they will appear before kings and the gospel will be proclaimed to all nations (Matthew 10:18). This is the rhythm of “to the Jew first, and then to the Gentile” found in Matthew. The early church to whom Matthew writes is living in the already/not yet of the kingdom proclaimed in Matthew 9:35 and 10:5-7. This early church is living in the New Covenant anticipated in Matthew. The mission given to the disciples in the proclamation of the good news in the synagogues is now their mission of gospel proclamation to all people groups in every “town” on earth. Christ’s kingdom has been inaugurated and is to be proclaimed to the ends of the earth (Matthew 28:16-20). There's one other way the brackets and the parallelism in this section highlight Christ's mission as the disciples' mission: eventually this mission will cost the Son of David his life (Matthew 26:28). The disciples too (Matthew 10:21,22). Christ does not send the disciples on a mission that He himself isn't willing to undertake. The disciples, in answer to the mission prayer (Matthew 9:38), are being "ekballoed" (propelled) into Christ's harvest of a kingdom people. But the One who sends is the One who Himself will be "ekballoed" from the harvest (Matthew 21:39,41). The Lord of the Harvest will die for the Harvest. Emmanuel's mission, which began in heaven when the Father sent the Son, culminates in his death to procure for his people salvation, forgiveness of sins, and the inauguration of a New Covenant and kingdom. The Son of Man dies on mission. Christ's death is so integral to his mission from heaven, the early church can do nothing but conclude that without His death, there is no mission.

While the disciples cannot die for the forgiveness of sins, the mission they are given in Matthew 10:5 is embedded with suffering, hardship, and death for the sake of Christ. Mission has been embodied by Christ. And that Pattern is where the disciples and the early church were to find their mission identity. As Christ unpacks for his disciples what it means for the Lord of the harvest to ekballo workers into a harvest of His people, it becomes very clear that the very act of "ekballo" involves suffering and death. "I'm sending you out like sheep among wolves...people will hand you over...and flog will betray brother to death, and a father his child. Children will even rise up against their parents and have them put to death. You will be hated by everyone because of My name." The disciples and all who follow after them can expect their mission and message and suffering to be like Christ's because they are united to the Lord of the Harvest who was first on mission to gather to himself a people through the proclamation of the gospel. This is Matthew's missional bracketology. It's not the kind of a bracketology that generates office pools and pizza parties. But it is one that is fueling a generation of Reformed millenials to abandon the white picket fence and two-car garage to run to the fields where a harvest of Christ's people awaits. Christ's mission is the New Covenant mission for the church. New Covenant mission is the church engaging itself in Christ's mission to proclaim the gospel of the kingdom to the ends of the earth. No longer simply to the "towns" of Israel, the New Covenant community proclaims the world over to Jews and Gentiles alike, "Christ's kingdom is here, inaugurated by the blood of the covenant in His death." (Matthew 10:5-8, Matthew 26:28). Christ rules and reigns on his throne and His people are charged with the mission of the proclamation of the gospel to all people groups everywhere. 3 billion people around the world have never heard the good news of Jesus. These 3 billion will be born, live their lives, and die before anyone tells them about Jesus. They are unreached. They have no access to the gospel. And they are unengaged: no church or Christian organization is going to them with the good news of Jesus. Each one of the 3 billion who have never heard of Jesus have a story. Christ's mission is our mission to take the gospel to many of the 3 billion unreached. We are a New Covenant people of the mission brackets. Matthew would have us find ourselves standing next to the disciples, hearing Christ say, I'm sending you, the church, as sheep among wolves, to proclaim the Good News of Jesus and his kingdom to the ends of the earth. Emmanuel's mission continues to be our mission.