We previously saw in a passage (Mtw 17:24-27) that there was a specific time marker which indicated that that incident could not have taken place more than thirty days before the festival of Passover which was shortly to be celebrated in Jerusalem and at which Jesus was to die. The subsequent passage of Scripture (Matthew chapter 18) reads as if it took place on one particular day in Galilee but, as the incident is recorded as transpiring as they were returning from a visit or journey (Mark 9:33-34), the likelihood is that, by the close of the chapter, there were significantly less days to go than our previous stated maximum of thirty.
Pp Mark 10:1, Luke 9:51
When we get to Matthew chapter 21 and the entrance of Jesus into Jerusalem, we know that there were only five days left before the Passover took place (John 12:1, 12:12) and, if we take the crucifixion as transpiring on the Friday of that week, the day on which this occurred must have been the traditional Sunday - the day called Palm Sunday in the religious calendar.
Therefore, when we begin to read Matthew chapter 19, we know that the following passage which speaks of Jesus’ ministry to Judea and which must include His journeying toward Jerusalem (Mtw 19:1-20:34) could have taken only around three weeks - that is, if Jesus left Capernaum with twenty-eight days to go before the Passover and arrived in the city of Jerusalem with five days left, it leaves us with a period of twenty-three days in which the incidents took place. And this time period is the largest which appears to be possible from the dates we know to be correct.
Mathen’s assertion that the journey and ministry took place from December of the year 29AD to April 30AD is purely fanciful if Mtw 17:24-27 is taken as being placed in the correct chronological order and relating to an event which took place in that same year in which He was crucified. However short the journeying and ministry may appear, it’s necessary to accept the period of days from the historical sources.
Mark records just the one chapter of incidents which occur on the journey (chapter 10) which is roughly in keeping with Matthew’s two chapters and is certainly not an excessive amount of text, whereas Luke runs the journey from 9:51-19:27 and adds so many new and unique passages into his record of the journey that the attentive reader is initially surprised that a short journey to Jerusalem could have been packed with so much incident.
Matthew states only that Jesus journeyed to the region of Judea which lay beyond the Jordan and the inference is that what takes place subsequently is a record of that short time of ministry.
This phrase ‘beyond the Jordan’ is a difficult one to harmonise with our strict interpretation of Judea as ending at the Jordan river and not continuing over into what is known as Peraea - Mathag sees the mention of the area beyond the Jordan as indicating the route which was taken rather than the location in which Jesus began His ministry to the Judeans while Mathen translates one of the phrases as meaning ‘the borders of Judea’ which allows for a location ‘beyond the Jordan’. But Strabo, in His Geography, notes that (16.2.21 - my italics)
‘...the other [region] situated above Phoenicia in the interior between Gaza and Antilibanus and extending to the Arabians [is] called Judea’
That is, the boundaries of Judea should rightly have been described as ending at the Jordan river but, even so, Strabo mentions it as extending much further eastwards, covering the region beyond the Jordan for some considerable distance. Even if Strabo is maintaining a minority view, it’s still the case that the area east of the river could be considered to be a part of Judea.
There are a few difficulties in Luke’s text, however, even with the identification of Jesus on the east banks of the Jordan. For instance, Luke records Jesus as teaching in one of the synagogues on the sabbath (13:10), teaching as He continued His journey towards Jerusalem (13:22) and, on another sabbath, being invited to dine in a ruler’s house (14:1). If we take these two mentions of the sabbaths as being subsequent ones, then we can, at least, account for a period of over a week.
However, just when the reader thinks that Jesus must be fast approaching Jerusalem, we read in Luke 17:11 that He was passing between Samaria and Galilee which would place Him far north and on the wrong side of the Jordan river to be in the correct area of the land of Judea.
But Luke does record Jesus as coming to Jericho in 18:35 and 19:1, so that a trip due south from the borders of Galilee and Samaria is unlikely. Rather, there appears to have been a journeying eastwards and south to arrive at a place which was close to Jericho but still within Judean territory which was ‘beyond the Jordan’.
When we try and put the three Gospel records together - and if we take them as all having been written in chronological order - we would have to conclude that Luke has recorded with some detail the short journeying (a matter of days) of Jesus and the disciples from Galilee into Jerusalem but that he generally omitted the recording of the short period of ministry which Jesus gave in Judea before His final advance on the city of Jerusalem.
Nothing of what Luke records appears to be directly parallel (as opposed to teaching which Jesus repeated in a different context and setting) to the content of Mtw 19:3-20:34 until the party approaches Jericho (that is, from Luke 18:15 onwards) and, therefore, Luke’s passage which runs 9:51-19:27 seems to be a genuine attempt by the author to record events which took place ‘on the journey’ to Jerusalem.
However, there are some pointers which would cause us to shy away from this interpretation and towards the belief that Luke has simply gathered sources which he’s brought together and which could have occurred at widely divergent times within Jesus’ ministry - even though some have most definitely occurred on His final trip south.
I have noted above that there are no direct parallels - even though Luke 10:25-28 is so similar to Mtw 19:16-22 as to beg the question whether they’re one and the same incident. However, against such an assertion are the varied second parts to the incident (Mtw 19:23-30, Luke 10:29-37) and the apparent repeat of the incident in Luke 18:18-30 which is the real parallel passage (and which also helps us to realise that similar passages can too easily be mistaken for one and the same).
But there are other indications that we may be too hasty in taking Luke as strictly chronological at this point.
I have previously noted that Luke 17:11 places Jesus very far to the north but, equally so, Luke 10:38-42 places Jesus too far south! For, in John 11:1 we read that Bethany was Mary and Martha’s village, situated some three miles south-east of Jerusalem. It’s difficult to see how Jesus would have travelled to the capital so quickly and then chose to travel northwards once more away from the city to be on the borders of Samaria in Luke 17:11. Luke 13:22 also notes that
‘He went on His way through towns and villages, teaching and journeying toward Jerusalem’
but the location previously stated would envisage Him journeying away from the city, not towards it. So, Luke’s long passage seems to be a compilation of differing incidents and teaching which the author has brought together but which do not appear to be in the chronological order in which they occurred. The least we can say is that Luke has demonstrated that Jesus’ journeying was not a quick jaunt into Judea before ascending up towards Jerusalem, but that He ministered on the way as certain passages make mention.
As such, what we read in Mtw 19:3-20:34 may have taken no more than a couple of days, the remainder of the time being taken up with journeying and the large amount of incidents which were taking place in the areas into which he was entering.
Besides, we have previously seen that Jesus had been attempting to withdraw Himself from the attentions of Herod Antipas (Mtw 14:13) and that His previous wanderings away from Galilee may have been partly a result of His continuing concern to do just this. His entry into the region ‘beyond the Jordan’ (see here for an explanation of this term) would place Him directly back into Herod’s territory and in danger of being arrested by soldiers which were loyal to the king.
That He would have stayed here only a short period of time is the more likely to avoid word being taken to the king in Machaerus (located south east) and an armed guard being sent out to seize Him. Alternatively, Herod may have already taken his journey to Jerusalem for the imminent festival (Luke 23:7) and not been residing in the territory.
It’s difficult to be exactly sure at this point. However, Jesus’ ministry ‘beyond the Jordan’ appears to have taken no more than a few days of the week which immediately preceded the Passover Festival.
When Matthew 19:1-2 speaks of Jesus entering
‘...the region of Judea beyond the Jordan; and large crowds followed Him, and He healed them there’
we should picture these multitudes as being the ones which were being ‘picked up’ on their journeying as they headed south. Instead of choosing to travel directly to the city solely for the purpose of celebrating the Passover, they appear to have decided to follow after Jesus for a slightly longer period away from their homes than was normal and to be close to the Galilean Rabbi who was causing such a commotion amongst their religious leaders.
It may be that many of the people who encountered Jesus were doing so for the first time and that, having heard so much about Him, were intrigued to witness some miracle from His hand or, simply, just to have their physical need met.
Whatever their precise reasons, the crowds appear to have followed Him into Judea and then, subsequently, into Jerusalem (Mtw 21:9, Luke 19:37) though there were an equal number of pilgrims already in the city who came out to meet Him as He came toward the city (John 12:12-13,18).
Finally, these two verses begin - in Matthew - the last major time of ministry before the death and resurrection of Jesus that we can label as belonging to a specific region and people, even though we’ve noted above that Jesus ministered extensively in the limited time available to Him as He journeyed toward the city.
Although I’m not one for advocating precise references to chapter and verse which clinically section off passages for the commentator to deal with them with little or no reference to what precedes or follows, there does appear to be eight major segments which can be noted in this Gospel, four of which neatly summarise the type and region of ministry which was carried out.
It was by no means this cut and dried as even John’s Gospel shows when He has Jesus appearing in Judea to minister and attending festivals in Jerusalem at which He taught the Jews but, for Matthew, these sections provide neat and concise segments which make it easier for the reader to come to terms with ‘what happened where’.
Closing this page, then, we should notice the sections as:
1. Early Years - Mtw 1:1-2:23
2. Prelude to Ministry - Mtw 3:1-4:16
3. Galilean Ministry - Mtw 4:17-15:20
4. Gentile Ministry - Mtw 15:21-17:21
5. A short stop in Galilee - Mtw 17:22-18:35
6. Judean Ministry - Mtw 19:1-20:34
7. Jerusalem Ministry - Mtw 21:1-25:46
8. The Passion - Mtw 26:1-28:20
GO TO MATTHEW PAGE