JESUS BRINGS THE INWARD RIGHTEOUSNESS OF THE MESSIANIC AGE THAT CANNOT MESH WITH FORMER EXTERNAL SYSTEMS OF RELIGIOUS RITUAL
Richard Gardner: The point that both metaphors make is that the new thing God is doing through Jesus cannot simply be tacked onto or poured into existing structures. On the contrary, the reign of God present in Jesus’ ministry calls for a radical transformation of life and worship. For the reader, the sayings in verses 16-17 raise a critical question about the direction the story is going: Can Israel itself be sufficiently transformed to receive what God is doing through Jesus? Or do fresh wineskins hint at the formation of a new community of God’s people? Matthew’s answer to that question will come in chapter 16.
Grant Osborne: Jesus continues to challenge the old traditions. He not only freely associates with sinners, but also he and his disciples do not even observe a key religious practice like fasting (see on 6:16–18). The reason is that Christ is bringing with him a new era, a kingdom reality that cannot be simply immersed into the old ways of Judaism. . . In 5:17–20 Matthew stresses Jesus’ continuity with the past; here he expresses the discontinuity. . .
Jesus has not come to amalgamate Judaism with Christianity. New forms are needed. The OT has not been annulled but fulfilled, and this requires the Torah of the Messiah, a new set of ethical norms and gospel practices established by Jesus. The early Palestinian church did not realize the fullness of what Jesus meant and considered themselves the new messianic sect of Judaism. It was not until the Gentile movement had begun that they gradually understood the enormity of this truth.
Donald Hagner: It is becoming clear in the progress of the narrative that despite the emphasis found in Matt 5:17–20, Jesus possesses a rather different concept of righteousness than do the Pharisees. He associates with tax collectors and sinners, even banqueting together with them, and now as the disciples of John point out, he and his disciples do not fast. What in fact is the position of Jesus concerning the accepted standards of righteousness? In this pericope that subject is addressed directly, and a very important summary of the situation is given by Jesus.
Louis A. Barbieri Jr.: Jesus, however, was not out to patch up an old system, like sewing a new unshrunk cloth on an old garment, which would then tear, or pouring new wine into old wineskins which would then burst. His purpose was to bring in something new. He had come to lead a group out of Judaism into the kingdom based on Him and His righteousness. True righteousness is not built on the Law or on Pharisaic traditions.
I. (:14) RAISING THE QUESTION OF FASTING? WHAT HAS CHANGED?
“Then the disciples of John came to Him, saying,
‘Why do we and the Pharisees fast, but Your disciples do not fast?’”
Robert Gundry: Appropriately, a question about fasting follows a question about eating (9:10–13).
John MacArthur: The three major expressions of the Judaistic traditions of that time were fasting, alms giving, and prayers. And they had their little routine during the day, when they said prayers at so many intervals, and they would stand on the corner, in the middle of the street, and do it. And they had their little alms giving routines. And they also had their routine fasts. And they would look like they were fasting, with a drawn face, and they would decorate themselves so everyone would know they were fasting.
Well, these external, outward rituals were the substance of their religion. And what they’re really saying is, “How come You don’t do what we do? How come Your approach is so different?” That’s really a very important question. You see, they don’t see religion as a matter of humility, sinfulness, repentance. They see religion as a matter of ceremony, as a matter of ritual. . .
You know what the Lord is saying? Listen to this; if you go through any religious exercise apart from an honest attitude in the heart, it is ritual and nothing more. If you fast just to fast, pray just to pray, go to church just to go to church, read the Bible just to read the Bible, sing a song just to sing a song, you’ve missed it.
He’s saying, “Look, we’re saying we have an internal, vital, real relationship with the living God, and what we do is a result of what’s happening in that relationship. And right now,” He says, “the Bridegroom is here, and the wedding is going on. You don’t cry at a wedding; you cry at a funeral. You’re happy at a wedding. I’m here with them. This is not a time for mourning.”
Bruce Hurt: All three synoptic accounts include the fact that the Pharisees were fasting, which is very important in interpreting this section. As we have seen, the Pharisees were practicing a religion of ritual, a religion of externals, a religion based on law, a religion of works aimed at promoting self-righteousness, all of which was in diametric contrast to the “religion” which Jesus brought, which was one of relationship (with God), of internals (heart change) , of grace (not law), and of faith in Jesus (not works) trusting in imputation of His righteousness. The Pharisees ceremonial practice was “bad news,” while Jesus had come to introduce a “religion” of “good news.” One is reminded of the statement in Hebrews 8:13 “When He said, ‘A new covenant,’ He has made the first obsolete. But whatever is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to disappear.” The ritualistic practices of the Pharisees were about to disappear!
Charles Swindoll: We often get the impression that when Jesus began His ministry and John was imprisoned by Herod, all of John’s disciples simply transferred allegiance to the One to whom John had been pointing —the Lamb of God. Not so. For whatever reason, some disciples were still loyal to John, unwilling or unready to turn to Jesus. In fact, such a group seems to have endured even into the apostolic church (Acts 18:24 – 19:7).
Stan Toussaint: John belonged to the old age; Jesus was the One who was bringing a new dispensation. They should therefore leave the forerunner and join themselves to the King. Unless they did, they could not partake of any new dispensation which Jesus might bring.
Richard Gardner: The question they raise is not who eats with Jesus, but the more fundamental question of why Jesus and his companions are more inclined to feast than to fast! In this respect, Jesus’ practice differed both from that of the Pharisees (who fasted twice a week) and from the ascetic lifestyle of John and his followers (cf. 11:16-19).
Craig Blomberg: Neither the Pharisees nor John’s disciples were wrong in fasting as a prelude to the reception of spiritual blessings, but now those blessings are present. Jesus’ inauguration of the kingdom stimulates celebration and rejoicing, as at wedding festivities.
II. (:15-17) RESPONDING TO THE QUESTION OF FASTING – EVERYTHING HAS CHANGED! 3 ILLUSTRATIONS HIGHLIGHTING THE RADICAL TRANSFORMATION USHERED IN BY JESUS
A. (:15) Primary Illustration – Bridegroom Metaphor – It’s All About Jesus
- Presence of Jesus Now Makes This a Time for Joy, Not Mourning
“And Jesus said to them, ‘The attendants of the bridegroom
cannot mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them, can they?’”
William Barclay: It tells us that to be with Jesus is a thing of joy; it tells us that in the presence of Jesus there is a sheer, thrilling effervescence of life; it tells us that a gloom-encompassed Christianity is an impossibility. Those who walk with Christ walk in radiance of joy.
D. A. Carson: In exonerating his disciples’ eating, Jesus used messianic-eschatological terms. In the OT, the bridegroom metaphor was repeatedly applied to God (Isa 54:5–6; 62:4–5; Hos 2:16–20); and Jews sometimes used it of marriage in connection with Messiah’s coming or with the messianic banquet (cf. Str-B, 1:500–518; in the NT, cf. Mt 22:2; 25:1; 2Co 11:2; Eph 5:23–32; Rev 19:7, 9; 21:2). Thus Jesus’ answer was implicitly Christological: he himself is the messianic bridegroom, and the messianic age has dawned.
Donald Hagner: In his answer Jesus turns to the idea of messianic jubilation expressed specifically in the imagery of the bridegroom and his attendants. The announcement of the presence of the messianic kingdom is similar to being present at a great wedding banquet (cf. Feuillet). This imagery is elsewhere particularly appealing to Matthew (cf. 22:1–14; 25:1–13). The phrase οἱ υἱοὶ τοῦ νυμφῶνος, “the sons of the bridal chamber,” means those in relation to, belonging to (cf. BAGD, 834, s.v. υἱός 1δ; 545), or hence, attending to, the bridegroom (cf. 8:12, “sons of the kingdom”). Whereas the bridegroom image in the OT refers to God (cf. Isa 62:4–5; “husband”: Isa 54:5–6; Hos 2:16–20), in the NT it is applied to Christ (2 Cor 11:2; cf. Eph 5:22–27; Rev 19:7).
- Crucifixion of Jesus Will Make Fasting Appropriate for a Season
“But the days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them,
and then they will fast.”
R. T. France: This is the first hint that Jesus will be “taken away” (the verb suggests a violent and unwelcome removal, with a possible echo of Isa 53:8), a theme which will become dominant after 16:21. No details are yet given, but in a response to John’s disciples it would naturally be taken as linking his fate with that of John, already imprisoned for his opposition to the authorities (4:12; 11:2) and soon to be unjustly executed (14:1–12); in 17:12–13 Jesus will explicitly say that he is to be executed “by them” as John has been. The agents and the circumstances will in fact be different, but the principle of official suppression is the same.
B. (:16-17) Two Supporting Illustrations – Transition from Old to New Covenant Times
R. T. France: Two little parables pick up the theme of a new and joyful pattern of religion which is incompatible with the old traditions represented by the fasting régimes of the Pharisees and the followers of John.
Grant Osborne: The next two analogies (Luke 5:36 calls them “parables”) expand on Jesus’ point regarding the appearance of the new covenant reality and its incompatibility with the old covenant. Just as the joy of the new covenant cannot cohere with the mourning of the old ways, so the new kingdom as a whole cannot be forced into the old one, lest both be destroyed. This first analogy is clear. The old garment has long ago shrunk, but the new cloth has not. To sew a new piece of cloth onto an old robe to repair it is foolish, for as soon as the new patch is washed it too will shrink, pulling the threads from the old robe and ripping it anew.
John Nolland: Once again the image is clearer than the application, but the idea commends itself that what is being asserted is that the new does not need to be constrained by the old, and that only in this way can the new be welcomed and the abiding value of the old be preserved.
Donald Hagner: If fasting has lost its fixed place in the fabric of righteousness because of a new reality now present in and through the ministry of Jesus, then a question mark can be raised over the whole body of inherited practice, and even that stipulated in Torah. How, in fact, is the newness represented by the presence and message of Jesus to be combined with previous conventional modes of conduct? And Jesus replies with two analogies (Luke alone introduces them with the word παραβολή, “parable” [5:36]) that illustrate vividly that the new cannot simply be superimposed upon or contained within the framework of the old.
- (:16) Not Appropriate to Mesh New Patch with Old Garment
“But no one puts a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment;
for the patch pulls away from the garment, and a worse tear results.”
John MacArthur: Now, in those days, the garments were cotton or wool, and both would shrink. If you had an old robe, and you got a big hole in it – right? – and you take a piece of brand new cloth, stick it in that whole and stitch it all around, then as soon as you washed that garment, that new cloth shrinks, and the old fibers are going to be ripped by the strength of the new cloth, and all you’re going to get is a bigger hole. You keep doing it, and it just gets bigger and bigger. You can’t put a new one in an old robe. Anybody who knows knows that if you’re going to patch an old robe, you’ve got to use an old piece of material. What Jesus is saying is this, “There is no way that what I teach can fit into your system. No way. There is no way that the message that I am giving of an internal holiness, of a real repentance, of a hard attitude can ever fit in the ritualistic system that you hold. No way. Not only won’t it connect, but secondly, your system can’t contain it.” . . .
that is not to say that the Old Testament is disconnected. Oh, no. He came to fulfill the Old Testament. Their religion was not the religion of the Old Testament. It was a rabbinic tradition that denied the very truth of the Old Testament as He made abundantly clear in the Sermon on the Mount.
So, Jesus said, “Look, your system says you’re righteous. Mine says you’re vile and sinful. No way to match those two together. If you hang onto yours, that’s it.”
I really believe, people, that when someone comes to Christ, they have to say goodbye to a ritual system. Now, there are people in ritualistic systems, and they’ll confess Christ. I think if it’s genuine, eventually they’re going to come out of that ritualistic system to the freedom of Christ, to the expression of an inward relationship.
- (:17) Not Appropriate to Pour New Wine into Old Wineskins
“Nor do men put new wine into old wineskins; otherwise the wineskins burst,
and the wine pours out, and the wineskins are ruined;
but they put new wine into fresh wineskins, and both are preserved.”
D. A. Carson: Skin bottles for carrying various fluids were made by killing the chosen animal, cutting off its head and feet, skinning the carcass, and sewing up the skin, fur side out, to seal off all orifices but one (usually the neck). The skin was tanned with special care to minimize disagreeable taste. In time, the skin became hard and brittle. If new wine, still fermenting, were put into such an old skin, the buildup of fermenting gases would split the brittle container and ruin both bottle and wine. New wine was placed only in new wineskins still pliable and elastic enough to accommodate the pressure.
Donald Hagner: It is not unwarranted allegorizing to draw out the following symbolism, which is inherent in the passage. The new wine is the newness of the gospel (cf. John 2:1–11), personified in Jesus; the old wine skins are the established patterns of conduct regarded as exemplifying the righteousness of the Torah. The former is too dynamic to be contained by the traditional framework of obedience. The proposal to combine the two may well have been a temptation to Matthew’s Jewish-Christian readers. But the new reality of the gospel requires instead “new skins,” i.e., new patterns of conduct based on the ethical teaching of Jesus as the true exposition of the meaning and intent of the Torah. Here Matthew’s special interests and viewpoint (and conservatism too, compared to Mark) become obvious: “both are preserved,” that is, the new wine of the reality of the kingdom and the new skins (not the old skins!) of faithful obedience to the law, but as expounded by Jesus. For Matthew, gospel and law (not Christianity and Judaism; contra Fenton, A. Kee) are held together in the Church, but the standard of interpretation of and obedience to the latter is always solely the authoritative teaching of Jesus.