In day-to-day living, any one of us might navigate through complicated traffic patterns, proficiently use advanced technologies, demonstrate mastery of complex work skills, solve challenging puzzles and mysteries, and manage many other chores requiring sophisticated reasoning. It is easy to take for granted that we, as humans, are designed to “make connections” and apply them effectively.
When it comes to understanding the Scriptures, we are invited to a realm in which our minds and hearts can make connections in the most meaningful ways possible, to the end that our lives can bear fruit for Yahweh! The “invitations” to contemplate meaningful Scriptural connections are tremendously vast, from the bold use of direct quotations and striking figurative language to very subtle allusions and repetitions of words and phrases.
For example, Romans is one book that quotes Old Testament Scriptures frequently, essentially inviting the spiritually hungry to explore the contexts of Habakkuk, Psalm 32, Psalm 44, and many other passages to gain fuller insight. At the same time, in delving deeply into the meaning and true application of faith, there is a key repetition used in Romans: “obedience of faith” is used in the introduction (1:5) and in the conclusion (16:26.) Correlating faith to obedience this way serves to avoid misunderstanding the nature of true faith throughout this book. Faith should not be thought of as a mere passive acceptance of truth while one is continuing in a lifestyle of disobedience!
Similarly, 1 Peter, as well as using extensive quotes, presents some interesting repetitions of ideas. God’s fatherhood, God’s foreknowledge, obedience, Christ’s blood, faith in God, being “born again,” hope, and love are eight concepts closely linked in 1:3-8 and again in 1:17-23, in back-to-back fashion. This can and should cause us to pause and meditate on how such truths are relevant and vitally connected in terms of God’s loving provision and our proper response to His undeserved grace!
It is easy to see in the gospels that Jesus often taught the same truths at different times and places, such as comparing Matthew 5, 6, and 7 to sections in Luke 6, 11, and 12. As well as these obvious connections, there is a more subtle “invitation” within Matthew, the book which states, “teaching them to observe all that I command you…” (28:20.) Notice the following similarities in phrasing:
“When Jesus had finished these words…” (7:28a)
“When Jesus had finished giving instructions to his twelve disciples…” (11:1a)
“When Jesus had finished these parables…” (13:53a)
“When Jesus had finished these words…” (19:1a)
“When Jesus had finished all these words…” (26:1a)
Thus, in a discreet way, five major teachings are linked in Matthew by these concluding phrases: chapters 5, 6, and 7/ chapter 10/ chapter 13:1-52/ chapter 18/ and chapters 23, 24, and 25. (Of course, there is more teaching material in the book of Matthew, such as the bulk of chapters 11 and 12, other sections in which Jesus answers questions, and other interspersed bits of instruction.) However, this five-fold repetition of highly similar phrasing at the end of five teachings might be a subtle but solemn allusion to the Torah: five scrolls (books) giving instructions (laws) concerning the powerful realities from Yahweh and the obedient response involved in the old covenant associated with Moses. In a very similar way, the Messiah, as presented in Matthew to inaugurate the new covenant, is associated with five connected sections of specific, relevant bodies of instruction. All five concern the coming Kingdom from heaven and the required response of true repentance. All this certainly seems to beckon us to explore how these five teachings might be interconnected and reverently to realize how important it is to hear and do what is commanded.
For example, Matthew 5:3 mentions the blessedness of the “poor in spirit” or humble. Is that concept developed elsewhere? Matthew 18:1-6 presents the live illustration of a very young child. Not only does a young child depend totally on the care of others, he or she does not “put on airs,” as if superior in social status to others. This humble attitude is greatly contrasted in the gospels to the arrogant stance of the religious hierarchy prevalent in first century Israel.
How about the idea of mourning in Matthew 5:4? One might notice Jesus’ example of heartfelt anguish when he lamented over the hard-hearted obstinance of Jerusalem (23:37-38.) What an awe-inspiring example of truly caring and not being callously indifferent to the failure of others to respond correctly!
Themes briefly touched on about being gentle and merciful, being peacemakers, and being proactive with a brother who has something against “you,” (5:5, 7, 9, and 23-24) are really picked up and explicitly expounded in chapter 18:12-20 with loving procedures for winning back an erring brother with the heart of a diligent, compassionate shepherd. One can compare the warning about adultery from the heart, which uses a doubly emphatic hyperbole (5:27-30) to the warning about any causing of little ones (or humble ones) to stumble, as emphasized by a triple hyperbole (18:6-10)! The solemn responsibility to forgive others and the dire consequences of the refusal to forgive others (6:12, 14-15) are further developed (18:21-30) with the answer to Peter’s question and the ensuing parable of the forgiving king (of a huge debt) and the unforgiving actions of the forgiven slave (who was owed a small debt). Handling persecution with joyful confidence (5:10-12) is expanded in detail with a description of realistic expectations concerning this world’s evil tendencies, the Father’s promised spiritual answers, and rewards for genuine service and true priorities (10:14-42) . Connecting the dots in this way may help open our eyes to the insights Yahweh provides towards increasing in loving confidence in the walk of newness of life! We can also grow in seeing how these realities are congruent with the whole body of new covenant writings. Yahweh, by His spirit, enables us to walk in His ways.
As a final example here, within these five “marked” teachings in Matthew, are solemn warnings of future judgment in Matthew 7:13-27, a context of choosing the “narrow gate,” the danger of false prophets, and the importance of discerning “them” by their fruits. This section culminates with the future rejection of those saying, “Lord, lord,” while boasting of spiritual activities, but, nevertheless, while practicing lawlessness instead of truly acting on Jesus’ words. The same picture is touched on again in parables and explanations, contrasting the reward of the righteous with the judgment of those who commit lawlessness (chapter 13:24-30, 36-43, and 47-50.) This whole scenario is then greatly expanded with the “woe” judgments unto condemnation that rightly fall on religious hypocrites whose leadership is false (23:1-36). Chapter 24:3-41 follows up by explaining quite a bit about the increasingly dangerous times signaling the approaching hope for the faithful, redeemed ones and the impending judgment for others. The need to persevere in faithful alertness and loving actions is illustrated in four extensive parables (24:42- 25:46). Effectively, this stream of connections, leading up to these concluding parables, teaches those who hunger and thirst to be right with God how to avoid falling into the condemnation described toward the end of chapter seven. It encourages believers never to give up in light of the merciful hope being offered! May Yahweh be praised for His good pleasure to welcome us into His kingdom as He answers prayers in light of Luke 22:28 and 34-36, something “connected” to these Matthew truths!
What other possible connections might be seen in the prayerful, comparative study of these five teachings?