Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Mark 6

Rejected in His own country (vs. 1-6)—Jesus “came to His own country” (v. 1), which means Nazareth. He taught in the synagogue on the Sabbath, but the people weren’t receptive. They knew Him and His family (vs. 2-3), and even though He had never sinned, they were not willing to accept that one of their own had risen to a greater status than they. So Jesus makes the statement that has become proverbial: “A prophet is not without honor except in his own country, among his own relatives, and in his own house" (v. 4). Notice His claim to be a prophet. The first part of verse 5 is a bit confusing: “Now He could do no mighty work there,” which seems to indicate that faith was necessary in order for miracles to be done. Jesus, of course, could do miracles whether people believed or not, but most of the time, He would not do them if people didn’t demonstrate faith. Jesus never rewarded stubborn unbelief, nor should He. He did heal a few people in the area, though (v. 5). Their lack of faith astonished Him (v. 6), probably the magnitude of it.

The “Limited Commission” (vs. 7-13)--Jesus then sent the 12 out on what has been called the “Limited Commission.” Mark doesn’t discuss it much; Matthew goes into great detail in Matthew 10, and there are many details I cover there that Mark omits. The idea was for the apostles to get some training, but also help spread the message of the coming kingdom. Obviously, 12 could cover more ground than just one. The city that rejected the message was in for sore punishment: “Assuredly, I say to you, it will be more tolerable for Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment than for that city!" (v. 11). Jesus gave the apostles power to perform miracles (v. 13). See Matthew 10 and my summary thereof for a full account of this commission.

The death of John the Baptist (vs. 14-29)—This event is covered in Matthew 14, and I’ll simply relate here what I wrote in that summary: “This superstitious Herod (he thought Jesus was John the Baptist risen from the dead, was Herod Antipas, the son of Herod the Great, of Jesus’ birth fame. Antipas wasn’t much better than his old man, and ended up dying in exile. John the Baptist, with his typical straight-forward approached, rebuked Herod for stealing his brother Philip’s wife. It takes great courage to stand up to wicked men of power like John did, and it cost him his head.” The events are fairly straight-forward.

Jesus feeds the 5,000 (vs. 30-44)—Again, from my Matthew 14 summary, verses 13-21: “When Jesus heard about the death of John, He departed to a deserted place, but the multitudes followed Him. “He was moved with compassion for them, and healed their sick,” (v. 14). But when evening came, His disciples suggested that He had best send the people away to find something to eat (v. 15). Jesus responded that such wasn’t necessary, that the disciples could feed them (v. 16). And they said to Him, ‘We have here only five loaves and two fish’" (v. 17), which Jesus then used to feed the throng. When all the food had been divided up, there was 12 baskets full of leftovers (v. 20). The number fed was “about five thousand, besides women and children” (v. 21). So Jesus fed probably at least 10,000 people miraculously. A notable miracle indeed.”

Jesus walks on water (vs. 45-52)—This event is also found in Matthew 14. The only real difference in Mark’s account is that he omits Peter’s failed attempt to join Jesus on the water. The apostles “were greatly amazed in themselves beyond measure, and marveled” (v. 51). Their obtuseness was still in evidence. Mark adds that part of that amazement was because “they had not understood about the loaves, because their heart was hardened” (v. 52). These men weren’t hard hearted due to rebellion, but mainly due to ignorance and prejudice regarding His mission. Always remember that it wasn’t until after the Holy Spirit descended upon them in Acts 2 that the apostles fully began to understand the new covenant. And even then, the revelation of God’s word was piecemeal, and not all at once.

Back to Gennesaret (vs. 53-56)—This is the area where Jesus had cast out “Legion,” the man possessed by multiple demons (chapter 5). This time the people received Him warmly (vs. 54-55). In the previous instance, He apparently had frightened them so that they had asked Him to leave (5:17). But, now, they “laid the sick in the marketplaces, and begged Him that they might just touch the hem of His garment. And as many as touched Him were made well” (v. 56). Notice that, as with the woman with the bleeding disease in chapter 5, just a touch of His clothes was sufficient for the faithful to be healed.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Mark 5

The healing of “Legion” (vs. 1-20)—After Jesus calmed the storm (chapter 4), the boat landed in the region of the Gadarenes (or Garasenes, as the ASV has it). Jesus was met by a wild, violent demon-possessed man. Matthew tells us that there were actually two men, but one was obviously so prominent that Mark doesn’t bother referring to the other. The man dwelt among tombs “and no one could bind him, not even with chains, because he had often been bound with shackles and chains. And the chains had been pulled apart by him, and the shackles broken in pieces; neither could anyone tame him” (vs. 3-4). The demons within him recognized Jesus, of course: “What have I to do with You, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I implore You by God that You do not torment me” (v. 7). Jesus asked him his name, to which the response was “My name is Legion; for we are many.” He asked Jesus to cast him (them?) into a nearby herd of swine, to which Christ gave them leave (vs. 12-13). So aggressive were these demons, that “the herd ran violently down the steep place into the sea, and drowned in the sea” (v. 13). Those who had been tending the swine ran to the nearby city, reported what they had seen, and the people of that town “went out to see what it was that had happened” (v. 14). “Legion” was completely cured now, “sitting and clothed and in his right mind” (v. 15). The event so overwhelmed and, apparently, frightened the people that “they began to plead with Him to depart from their region” (v. 17). Jesus, never one to stay where He wasn’t wanted, “got into the boat” to leave (v. 18), but “Legion” asked to go with Him. Jesus preferred that he “go home to your friends, and tell them what great things the Lord has done for you, and how He has had compassion on you” (v. 19). “Legion” did so, and “began to proclaim in Decapolis all that Jesus had done for him; and all marveled” (v. 20). He did a whole lot more good that way than he would have done traveling with the Lord. A marvelous story. Jesus had just stilled a turbulent storm. Now, He demonstrates His power over the spirit world. In the next incident, He will triumph over death. “Is anything too hard for the Lord?” (Genesis 18:14). Apparently not. About the only thing He cannot—will not—overcome is our lack of faith.

Christ raises Jairus’ daughter (vs. 21-24, 35-43)—There is an interlude in this event to which I will return. Once Jesus had returned from the region of the Gadarenes, He was immediately met by a man named Jairus, “one of the rulers of the synagogue” (v. 22). Jairus’ daughter was at the point of death and he “begged Him earnestly” (v. 23) to come and heal her. Jesus went with him. There was an interruption on the way (the “interlude”) and by the time that matter was settled, the daughter had died. But Jesus said to Jairus, “Do not be afraid; only believe” (v. 36). He continued to the ruler’s house, and taking only Peter, James, and John with Him, entered. There was a group of people weeping and mourning, but the Lord said, “Why make this commotion and weep? The child is not dead, but sleeping” (v. 39). The mourners “ridiculed Him” (v. 40) because they believed the girl to be dead (which technically, she was). Jesus told them all to leave, except the father and mother and His three disciples. He spoke to the girl, “’Little girl, I say to you, arise.’ Immediately the girl arose and walked, for she was twelve years of age. And they were overcome with great amazement” (vs. 41-42). Another singular, powerful miracle.

Jesus and the “bleeding” woman (vs. 25-34)—The “interlude” was of a woman who “had a flow of blood for twelve years” (v. 25). Nothing could be done for her, and indeed we can all sympathize with her: she had “had suffered many things from many physicians. She had spent all that she had and was no better, but rather grew worse” (v. 26). She believed that “if only I may touch His clothes, I shall be made well” (v. 28). She was correct; she “touched His garment” (v. 27), and “immediately the fountain of her blood was dried up, and she felt in her body that she was healed of the affliction” (v. 29). Jesus perceived that “power had gone out of Him, [and] turned around in the crowd and said, ‘Who touched My clothes?’" (v. 30). The Lord knows all. Since there was a multitude around Him, His disciples were somewhat astonished that He recognized one touch, but it was the “power” departing from Him that He was aware of. The woman, “fearing and trembling, knowing what had happened to her, came and fell down before Him and told Him the whole truth” (v. 33). But Jesus commended her: “Daughter, your faith has made you well. Go in peace, and be healed of your affliction” (v. 34). Another great story of faith. “If only I may touch His clothes….” Oh, for that kind of simple, trusting faith in the Lord.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Mark 4

The parable of the sower (vs. 1-20)—Jesus taught many things in parables, which are simple stories designed to illustrate great truths. The so-called “parable of the sower” is perhaps His most well-known. A sower spread seed and it fell on four different types of soil: some seed fell “by the wayside; and the birds of the air came and devoured it” (v. 4). Other seed fell on stony ground. There was some soil here, but it was very shallow. The crop “immediately” sprang up, but the sun scorched it and it died “because it had no root” (vs. 5-6). Some of the seed fell “among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it, and it yielded no crop” (v. 7). But a portion of the seed landed on good soil and yielded a varying result of high-quality produce (v. 8). Pay attention! (v. 9).

Jesus had to explain the parable to His disciples. In verses 11 and 12, He first tells why He gives some of His teaching in parables: “To you it has been given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God; but to those who are outside, all things come in parables, so that 'Seeing they may see and not perceive, And hearing they may hear and not understand; Lest they should turn, And their sins be forgiven them.” To those who resist and pervert the Lord’s words, His parables would be confusing and limit their ability to distort His message and hinder His work. Those who think themselves of some intellectual greatness will not comprehend; but men who have an honest and good heart will perceive and understand.

And that last thought is a major point of the parable. The sower is one who preaches the word of God. He does his job—preaches. From then on, he disappears from the parable and the emphasis is placed on the hearers, especially the kinds of hearts they have. The “wayside” heart is one so hardened that the word never penetrates, and “Satan comes immediately and takes away the word that was sown in their hearts” (v. 15). The “stony ground” represents a shallow heart. It may receive the word and “receive it with gladness” (v. 16). But then, because “they have no root in themselves,” they will fall away when “tribulation or persecution arises” (v. 17). The “thorny soil” is actually good soil; that which can produce thorns can produce wheat. The problem here is, the heart is already occupied: “the cares of this world, the deceitfulness of riches, and the desires for other things entering in choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful” (v. 19). But there are good hearts, “those who hear the word, accept it, and bear fruit: some thirtyfold, some sixty, and some a hundred” (v. 20). Obviously, we should strive to have this type of heart. It is sad, and noteworthy, that three of the four types of hearts the Lord describes are poor soil for the word of God and thus unfruitful.

Righteous living and its fruits (vs. 21-25)—That productive heart of the parable sower will be a light to the world; indeed, a major responsibility of Christians is to show forth their righteousness to the world (v. 21), in order to glorify God (Matthew 5:16). All things are eventually going to be exposed anyway (v. 22). Pay attention! (v. 23). But “take heed what you hear” (v. 24). As we give to others, we will be blessed in return: “With the same measure you use, it will be measured to you; and to you who hear, more will be given” (v. 24). The more someone gives, the more he receives. But if he does not give, “even what he has will be taken away from him" (v. 25).

The subtlety of the kingdom’s expansion (vs. 26-29)—We know, from the parable of the sower, that the word must be preached in order for Christians to be produced. But exactly how the word works within our hearts is a mystery known only to God. In this parable, Jesus speaks again of a man who scatters seed on the ground, but when he sleeps, “the seed…sprout[s] and grow[s], he himself does not know how” (v. 27). I preach the word; it’s all I can do. How it affects a human heart is far beyond my capability--or need--to comprehend.

The parable of the mustard seed (vs. 30-34)—This parable is somewhat similar to the previous—the growth of the kingdom. But in the former parable, the silent affect is within the human heart. Here we see the expansion of the kingdom itself. “It is like a mustard seed which, when it is sown on the ground, is smaller than all the seeds on earth; but when it is sown, it grows up and becomes greater than all herbs, and shoots out large branches, so that the birds of the air may nest under its shade” (vs. 31-32). How does that happen? It is humanly inexplicable. Jesus is simply telling us here not to try to comprehend the ways of God. Be a sower. Sow the seed. And let the mysterious power within the “seed” perform its work. Parables were a prominent means for Jesus to set forth His doctrine (vs. 33-34).

The calming of the storm (vs. 35-41)—This chapter ends with the remarkable miracle of Jesus calming a storm. He and His disciples were traveling across the Sea of Galilee. A tired Christ was asleep when a tempest arose. The disciples became afraid as the seas became more boisterous. They awoke Jesus, and “said to Him, ‘Teacher, do You not care that we are perishing?’” (v. 38). Jesus “arose and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, ‘Peace, be still!’” (v. 39). The sea immediately calmed. He rebuked their lack of faith (v. 40). And the disciples were overwhelmed, indeed, they “feared exceedingly, and said to one another, ‘Who can this be, that even the wind and the sea obey Him?’” (v. 41).  An amazing miracle. Close your eyes and put yourself there and try to experience it.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Mark 3

Healing a man with a withered hand (vs. 1-6)—Remember that chapter 2 ended with a conflict between Jesus and the Pharisees over a supposed violation of the Sabbath law. Chapter 3 opens with another example of disagreement between Christ and the religious leaders. A man with a withered hand was in the synagogue with Christ on the Sabbath day. Jesus asked them, “’Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?’" But they kept silent.” (v. 4).  The answer seems pretty obvious, but by this time the Pharisees hated Him enough that nothing He did would please them. So Jesus healed the man, and, sure enough, “the Pharisees went out and immediately plotted with the Herodians against Him, how they might destroy Him” (v 6). What the Herodians were upset about is not altogether clear. They were simply a small political party who supported the claim of the Herod family to rulership of Palestine. And perhaps therein lay the reason. If Jesus claimed to be king, then that would obviously undermine the Herod’s claim. But this group doesn’t play much of a role in the New Testament.

More teaching and healing (vs. 7-12)—Jesus and His disciples then withdrew to the Sea of Galilee (v. 7). They were, as usual, followed by a multitude (vs. 7-8). Jesus performed many healing miracles, including expelling some loud-mouthed demons who would otherwise have caused trouble (vs. 11-12).

The twelve apostles and His own countrymen (vs. 13-21)—These verses list the 12 apostles. “He appointed twelve, that they might be with Him and that He might send them out to preach, and to have power to heal sicknesses and to cast out demons” (vs. 14-15). These men, of course, would later be responsible for taking the gospel to the whole world (Mark 16:15), but at the moment, they were simple given a little on-the-job training. He was still popular with the multitudes (v. 20), but “His own people” thought “He is out of His mind” (v. 21). The prophet being without honor in His own country.

“He has Beelzebub” (vs. 22-30)—Anything to try to destroy faith in Jesus. He was casting out demons, but the “scribes” said He was doing it by the power of Satan. Jesus pointed out to them the extreme illogic of their argument: “How can Satan cast out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand. And if Satan has risen up against himself, and is divided, he cannot stand, but has an end” (vs. 23-26). He then mentions the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. I went into some detail in my notes on Matthew 12 explaining what I think that obscure reference means; I don’t want to repeat it here. If you’d like my explanation of the blasphemy against the Spirit, please check the post on Matthew 12.

The family of God (vs. 31-35)—In this midst of His teaching, Jesus’ mother and brothers wanted to see Him. Jesus took that occasion to provide a good object lesson. In no way intending to slight physical relations, He says, “’Who is My mother, or My brothers?’ And He looked around in a circle at those who sat about Him, and said, ‘Here are My mother and My brothers! For whoever does the will of God is My brother and My sister and mother.’" (vs. 33-35).  Spiritual relationships are closer than physical ones; the former will last for eternity, the latter end at death.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Mark 2

The faith of the paralytic (v. 1-12)—Jesus was teaching in a house in Capernaum (v. 1). Four men brought a paralytic on a bed to Him, but the house was so crowded that they could not get to Him (v. 4). So the men climbed up on the roof, removed the tiles and “let down the bed on which the paralytic was lying” (v. 5). Jesus was impressed with their faith, and said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven you” (v. 5). The text specifically says that He saw “their” faith, but the blessing seems to have been singular: “Son, your sins are forgiven you.” Jesus could have intended that collectively, but that’s unknown for sure. Regardless, the blessing He bestows is the highest heaven can give: forgiveness. That is far more significant and wonderful than just a healing. However, His claim to forgive sins troubled “some of the scribes” who were there, and they “reason[ed] in their hearts, ‘Why does this Man speak blasphemies like this? Who can forgive sins but God alone?’” (vs. 6-7). Indeed. And this passage indicates clearly to us that Jesus was/is divine, God in the flesh. And in order to prove that He truly did have the authority to forgive sins, “He said to the paralytic, ‘I say to you, arise, take up your bed, and go to your house.’” (v. 11). “Immediately, he arose, took up the bed, and went out in the presence of them all” (v. 12). Note the “immediately”; Jesus’ miracles were public, visible, and did not require months to actuate. But more importantly, the miracles were designed to confirm His message. Only God can suspend natural law in this way, and thus the miraculous wonders Jesus (and His apostles) did authenticated their message. That was their major purpose.

The call of Matthew (vs. 13-17)—Matthew, or Levi, as Mark refers to him, was a tax-collector. The Jews hated such men, mainly because they saw them as traitors—collecting tribute for the despised Romans. But Matthew/Levi became a devoted apostle of Christ and, of course, author of one of the four gospels. To show his appreciation and devotion to Jesus, he prepared a banquet for the Lord at his house (v. 15), and invited other tax collectors and “sinners” to join them. The self-righteous scribes and Pharisees were affronted that Jesus would eat with such people. But Christ’s explanation was simple: “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance” (v. 17). We are all more comfortable being around our friends and closest acquaintances, but there is a whole world of lost people out there who need our help. Breaking out in that world, as Jesus did, seems to be one of the hardest things for us to do.

The new order (vs. 18-22)—Some disciples of John the Baptist and Pharisees asked Him why His disciples did not fast, as they did. Jesus’ answer is a little obscure, but deals with the new system. There will, indeed, come a day when His followers would fast (vs. 19-21), but it wasn’t really necessary. There is a new order coming—one doesn’t put new cloth on an old garment or new wine in old wineskins. Fasting was a vital part of the old law, but not the new. And there is a complete break between the two. Christianity is not just spliced onto Judaism; it is a completely new religion that requires a clean severance—new wine in new wineskins, not new wine in old wineskins. While Christianity obviously acknowledges a link with the Jewish religion, it is not an extension of it. And Jesus and His disciples make that abundantly clear in the New Testament.

David and the showbread (vs. 23-28)—I go into some detail on this story in Matthew 12, and I won’t repeat all the particulars here. It’s not an easy passage, but one that I do think has been misunderstood. The Pharisees condemn Jesus and His disciples for “working” on the Sabbath; in this case, plucking grain on that day. Which was not “work” in the sense meant by the Sabbath. What Jesus does here is point out the hypocrisy of the Pharisees. They censure Jesus for doing something that wasn’t wrong, while justifying David when he did something that was indeed contrary to the Law of Moses. We must not equate Jesus’ action here with David’s, because the latter truly did break the old law while Christ was not doing so. Thus, it is Pharisaic inconsistency that is being exposed here. Jesus’ statements that “the Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath” (v. 27), and “therefore the Son of Man is also Lord of the Sabbath” (v. 28) are not excuses to break God’s law. See my discussion of this in Matthew 12; there is no reason for me to repeat the entire discourse here.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Mark 1

Introduction to the gospel of Mark—Most Bible scholars think that the author of this gospel is John Mark, who went with Paul and Barnabas on their first missionary journey, but then turned back at Perga and Pamphylia, for a reason not mentioned (Acts 13). But whatever it was, Paul and Barnabas had a rather severe contention over Mark before their second journey; Paul didn’t want him to go, but Barnabas did. The disagreement was of such that they split and went their separate ways (Acts 15:36-40). Yet Mark eventually became acceptable and helpful to Paul in his work (II Tim. 4:11). It is widely believed that Mark was a close companion of Peter since the latter calls him “my son” in I Peter 5:13. And that belief has led many to conclude that Peter was the human source for much of this gospel.

Mark’s audience in the book is Roman—again, this is surmise, since the gospel doesn’t specify to whom it is written. But there is a lot of action in the book and not a lot of intricate theology, and that would appeal to the Romans. Occasionally Mark explains Jewish customs which the Gentiles wouldn’t have understood. Regardless, it’s the shortest of the gospels, but strong, powerful witness for the deity of Christ.

Much of the material in the gospel is also found in Matthew and I’ve covered it there, so I won’t go into as much detail here, but I will hit the main point of each section.

The work of John the Baptist (vs. 1-8)—Mark covers nothing about the birth of Jesus, but starts with John the Baptist. His work is the fulfillment of prophecy (Isaiah 40). John’s work was preparatory of Christ’s: “And he preached, saying, 'There comes One after me who is mightier than I, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to stoop down and loose'” (v. 7). He will have disciples for many years afterwards, as is clear from Acts 18.

Jesus’ baptism and temptation (vs. 9-13)—Again, Mark gives a very brief synopsis of these events. He does mention the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove (v. 10), and the Father’s pronouncement of pleasure upon the Son (v. 11). Two verses with almost no details are given to Jesus’ 40 days in the wilderness and temptation (vs. 12-13).

Jesus’ preaching and the call of the first four disciples (vs. 14-22)—Mark completely skips Jesus’ first year of preaching; John is the only one who deals with that in much detail. Christ’s Galilean ministry took place in his second year of preaching. Peter, Andrew, James, and John knew the Lord almost from the beginning of His ministry, so when He called them to the apostleship, they were ready to follow Him. Apparently, it wasn’t too much of a hardship, at least on James and John’s father; they must have had some degree of wealth because verse 20 speaks of “hired servants.”

Jesus casts out an unclean sprit (vs. 23-28)—Here is the first “real” action of Christ recorded by Mark. He goes into a synagogue and casts out a demon. The people responded with astonishment: “Then they were all amazed, so that they questioned among themselves, saying, ‘What is this? What new doctrine is this? For with authority He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey Him’" (v. 27).

More healing and preaching (vs. 29-39)—One of the reasons it is believed that Mark wrote for a Roman audience is all the miracles He performed. The Romans, being a very powerful empire, would have been impressed by the miraculous abilities and powers of Christ. So it’s not terribly surprising the Mark begins his gospel with a lot of mighty works that Jesus did. It would be eye catching to the Romans and impressive to them.

He heals a leper (vs. 40-45)—Another great miracle. In verses 43-44, Jesus told the man, “And He strictly warned him and sent him away at once, and said to him, ‘See that you say nothing to anyone.’” The reason Jesus didn’t want all of this broadcast is stated in verse 45: “he went out and began to proclaim it freely, and to spread the matter, so that Jesus could no longer openly enter the city, but was outside in deserted places.” Jesus wasn’t able to travel as freely the more His reputation spread.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Matthew 28

The resurrection of Jesus (vs. 1-10)—A lot of the confusion regarding the four accounts of the resurrection of Christ stems from the fact that there are…four accounts. None of the writers purport to tell the whole story. This is not a difficult principle to grasp. If four different people were to report on a common traffic accident they witnessed, no doubt there would be varying details—they would all see, in general, the same events, but they would all notice diverse facets. That’s what we have with the resurrection. When we get to John’s account, and have all the information before us, I’ll put it all together. Until then, we’ll look at each rendering in turn.

Matthew mentions two Marys that go to the tomb very early on Sunday morning after the Sabbath was over (v. 1). Before they arrive, there was an earthquake and an angel came and rolled away the stone (v. 2). “And the guards shook for fear of him, and became like dead men” (v. 4). That’s not a surprise. The angel told the women, once they had arrived, that Jesus “is not here; for He is risen, as He said” (v. 6). I wonder if there isn't an implied rebuke there:  "What are you doing here?  He told you He wasn't going to be here, that He was going to be raised."  Well, regardless, the angel then told the women to go and tell His disciples, and that Jesus was headed for Galilee.

Jesus meets them, they recognize Him, “and worshiped Him” (v. 9). He repeats the order to tell His disciples that He is going to Galilee “and there they will see me” (v. 10).

Now, that’s a very sketchy report of what happened. Again, the other gospel writers will fill in details that Matthew omits. We’ll pick them up as we go along in this study.

The continuing disbelief of the religious leaders (vs. 11-15)—They simply refused to believe. There can be nothing done with this kind of impenetrable heart. The guards at the tomb went and reported what happened; they certainly weren’t biased in favor of a resurrection (v. 11). The chief priests and elders “consulted together, [and] they gave a large sum of money to the soldiers, saying, Tell them, His disciples came at night and stole Him away while we slept“ (v. 11). That is utterly  ridiculous. Roman soldiers, on pain of death, did not go to sleep on watch; even if one of them did, all of them wouldn’t have. Plus, what court of law would accept the testimony of a man who says something happened while he slept? If they were asleep, how did they know the disciples came and stole the body? One would be amazed at this hardness of heart if it wasn’t so common in the world today.

Jesus appears to His disciples (vs. 16-20)—Matthew mentions just one appearance of Christ; there were several. He and his disciples were in Galilee, as He had directed. “When they saw Him, they worshiped Him; but some doubted” (v. 17). The chief priests and elders weren’t the only ones with incredulous hearts. Why did some doubt? Well, again, we must keep in mind that, for all their lives, these men had been taught, not a suffering, resurrected Messiah, but a glorious, conquering One. It just took a while to wash that out of these men. Someone who is taught a certain false doctrine for decades—say, salvation by faith only—is going to be very hard to convince once confronted with the truth simply because the teaching has been drilled into them for so long. That’s what the disciples faced here. They would learn, especially after the Holy Spirit came upon them in Acts 2. The chapter concludes with what is called “The Great Commission”: “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age" (vs. 18-20). One small point, but it’s worth mentioning. We are baptized “in the name” of Jesus (Acts 2:38), and “into” the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The Greek is distinct with the prepositions. Jesus has all authority—that’s what “in the name of” means. “Into the name of” is a relationship—we are baptized into the family of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Both the KJV and NKJV miss that in Matthew 28:19; the ASV has it right. It’s not earth shattering, but it does present a nice picture of one of the things that baptism does for us.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Matthew 27, Part Two

Jesus is beaten and abused (vs. 26-31)—Weakening the condemned was all part of the pre-crucifixion ritual, though probably worse in this case given Jesus claimed to be king of the Jews, which the Romans probably found riotous. He was scourged (v. 25), something that was incredibly painful and often not survived. They put a scarlet robe on Him (v. 28), a crown of thorns on His head and a reed in His right hand (v. 29). They mocked Him (v. 29), they spat on Him (v. 30), hit him in the head with the reed, ripped the scarlet robe off of him (which may have been soaked with His blood, v. 31), and they “led Him away to be crucified” (v. 31). Don’t forget that they are doing all of this to God in the flesh. Jesus didn’t have to put up with a moment of it; but He did. For you and me. And, for those who were so mistreating Him.

Jesus’ crucifixion and death (vs. 32-50)—Jesus was so weak that He couldn’t carry His own cross, so the Romans found a man, Simon of Cyrene, and “compelled [him] to bear His cross” (v. 33). They took Jesus to a hill called Golgotha, or “Place of a Skull,” because it looked like one (v. 33). He was offered sour wine mixed with gall to drink, which was supposed to alleviate the pain at least somewhat, but Jesus wouldn’t drink it (v. 34). Once they had Him on the cross, the soldiers divided up his garments—a fulfillment of prophecy, Matthew tells us (v. 35). Two robbers were crucified on either side of him; initially, both of them reviled Him (vs. 38, 44), but eventually we know that one of them had a sincere change of heart and asked for Jesus’ forgiveness. We’ll discuss that in Luke, where it’s found. And there were other people around, chiding Him: “Likewise the chief priests also, mocking with the scribes and elders, said, ‘He saved others; Himself He cannot save. If He is the King of Israel, let Him now come down from the cross, and we will believe Him’” (vs. 41-42). That last statement was a bald-face lie. They wouldn’t have believed in Him, regardless of what He had done. The problem with the Jewish leaders was not a lack of evidence; Jesus had given them plenty of proof that He was the Son of God. The problem was an impure heart (Matt. 5:8). In the parable of the sower, Jesus had made it plain that it is the “honest and good heart” (Luke 8:15) who will receive the Word and bear fruit. The evidence is there if we have the right kind of heart to accept it. Those leaders did not.

At about 3 o’clock in the afternoon, Jesus died. Matthew says, He “yielded up His spirit” (v. 50). Nobody took it from Him, He freely offered it for our sins.

Strange happenings (vs. 51-54)—This is a once-in-history event, the death of God in the flesh, and it was surrounded by awesome events. Matthew had already said that “from the sixth hour until the ninth hour there was darkness over all the land” (v. 45). When Jesus died, “the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom;” this perhaps represents the ending of the separation between Jews and Gentiles in the gospel age (v. 51). There was an earthquake, and graves were opened (v. 52). Some of the dead were raised “after His resurrection”, and “went into the holy city and appeared to many” (v. 53). The whole circumstance caused great fear and consternation among the superstitious Romans who were guarding Him (v. 54). It’s a little shocking to learn that these powerful, manly Romans were among the most credulous people who ever walked the earth.

His friends take care of His body (vs. 55-61)—He hadn’t died completely alone. John tells us that His mother was there (John 19:26), and Matthew tells us that Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joses, and “the mother of Zebedee’s sons” (her name was Salome) were also present, though “looking on from afar” (vs. 55-56). A rich disciple named Joseph, from the city of Aramathea, went to Pilate and asked for Jesus’ body. Pilate consents, and Joseph lays the body in his own tomb (v. 60). It was getting late on Friday, and the Sabbath began at 6 PM. No work could be done on the Sabbath, so the preparations for the burial were not complete. Mary Magdalene and “the other Mary” (v. 61) saw where He was laid, intending to return on Sunday morning to finish the burial process. They did return, of course, and received quite a surprise.

The Jews ask for a guard (vs. 62-66)—Some of the chief priests and Pharisees asked Pilate to “command that the tomb be made secure until the third day, lest His disciples come by night and steal Him away, and say to the people, ‘He has risen from the dead.’ So the latter deception will be worse than the first” (v. 64). Pilate is a little brusque with them: “You have a guard; go your way, make it as secure as you know how” (v. 65). The Jews had a corps of Roman soldiers they could use for occasions such as this; Pilate told them to use that guard. And that’s what the Jewish leaders did (v. 66).

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Matthew 27, Part One

The third trial of Jesus (vs. 1-2)—Matthew has a very brief reference to this trial before the Sanhedrin. Luke is the only writer than mentions it with much detail (Luke 22:66-23:1). The Jews had found plenty of reasons to kill Jesus, but they needed one for the Romans. They take Him to Pilate for the first of two times.

Judas commits suicide (vs. 3-10)—Remorse overcame him when he (apparently) realized what the chief priests and elders had in mind for Jesus. The KJV and ASV say that Judas “repented himself,” but that’s a little misleading. There are two words in the Greek which are translated by a form of “repent” in the KJV, but one of them actually means “regret” or “remorse,” and that’s the way the NKJV and most modern translations have it. So he didn’t “repent” in the sense Peter meant in Acts 2:38. He brought the thirty pieces of silver back to the chief priests and elders (v.3), but they didn’t want it; they had what they were after—Jesus. Judas threw the money down, and “went and hanged himself” (v. 5). This is one of two problems in this section, but they are easily explained. Luke, in Acts 1:18, says of Judas, “Now this man purchased a field with the wages of iniquity; and falling headlong, he burst open in the middle and all his entrails gushed out.” Judas hanged himself, but the rope broke, either immediately or after his insides had corroded somewhat, and he hit the ground and made a mess. Matthew 27:9 says this is the fulfillment of a prophecy in Jeremiah, but the actual location of the prophecy is Zechariah. Two explanations have been given for this: a copier’s error because, in the Greek, there are only two letters difference between “Zechariah” and “Jeremiah,” so he could have gotten confused, or the second explanation is probably the best. The Jews divided the Old Testament into “the Law,” “the Psalms,” and “the Prophets.” Jeremiah stood at the head of the latter category so Matthew attributes the prophecy to that section of the Old Testament. The chief priests, because of what Judas did, bought a field with the thirty pieces of silver “to bury strangers in” (v. 7). There is no indication that this is where Judas was buried.

Jesus before Pilate (vs. 11-25)—This is actually the second time Jesus appeared before the Roman governor. The first time, Pilate sent Him to Herod Agrippa because Jesus was from Galilee and that was Herod’s jurisdiction—though Pilate was the ultimate authority in Palestine. Luke is the only author that records the trial before Herod, and I’ll look at that when we get there. But, in this second trial before Pilate (Herod obviously sends Jesus back), the governor, after trying to release Christ, finally is persuaded to crucify Him. Pilate even asked Jesus, “Are You the King of the Jews?", to which Jesus replied, "It is as you say," or “yes.” This is what the Jews were actually hoping that Pilate would condemn Jesus for; the Romans would not put Him to death for blasphemy, but if there was a “king” rivaling Caesar, then yes, that could be a capital crime. But it didn’t seem to bother Pilate; I’ve always thought the governor probably figured Jesus was a harmless nut. But Pilate was in somewhat of a bind here. The Jewish mob before him wanted Jesus’ head. His wife sent him a message saying, “Have nothing to do with that just Man, for I have suffered many things today in a dream because of Him" (v. 19).  Which would he rather face--the mob or his wife?  But then, he had to worry about the Romans, too. If he executed an innocent man, that was definitely contrary to Roman law, and that could get him in trouble with his overseers. But if he didn’t execute Jesus, it looked like he was going to have a riot on his hands, and that could get him in trouble with the Roman authorities, too—“can’t you control the territory? If you can’t, we’ll get somebody who can.” I’m not defending Pilate here, but he was in a bit of a pickle. At the end of this article, I’m going to post a brief history of Pilate from Smith’s Bible Dictionary. He wasn’t a good man, but he was in probably the most difficult province to control in the Roman empire.

Bottom line here is that “When Pilate saw that he could not prevail at all, but rather that a tumult was rising, he took water and washed his hands before the multitude, saying, ‘I am innocent of the blood of this just Person. You see to it.’ And all the people answered and said, ‘His blood be on us and on our children’" (vs. 24-25). It’s not uncommon in modern times for the Jews to be exonerated from the crucifixion of Jesus, but they accepted the blame at the time, and the rest of the New Testament also fixes the guilt upon them. They couldn’t have done it without the Romans; but the Romans wouldn’t have done it if the Jews hadn’t insisted.

Brief history of Pontius Pilate: “Pontius Pilate was the sixth Roman procurator of Judea, and under him our Lord worked, suffered and died, as we learn not only from Scripture, but from Tacitus (Ann. xv. 44). Pilate was appointed A.D. 25-6, in the twelfth year of Tiberius. His arbitrary administration nearly drove the Jews to insurrection on two or three occasions. One of his first acts was to remove the headquarters of the army from Cæsarea to Jerusalem. The soldiers of course took with them their standards, bearing the image of the emperor, into the holy city. No previous governor had ventured on such an outrage. The people poured down in crowds to Cæsarea, where the procurator was then residing, and besought him to remove the images. After five days of discussion he gave the signal to some concealed soldiers to surround the petitioners and put them to death unless they ceased to trouble him; but this only strengthened their determination, and they declared themselves ready rather to submit to death than forego their resistance to an idolatrous innovation. Pilate then yielded, and the standards were by his orders brought down to Cæsarea. His slaughter of certain Galileans (Luke13:1) led to some remarks from our Lord on the connection between sin and calamity. It must have occurred at some feast at Jerusalem, in the outer court of the temple. It was the custom for the procurators to reside at Jerusalem during the great feasts, to preserve order, and accordingly, at the time of our Lord's last Passover, Pilate was occupying his official residence in Herod's palace. The history of his condemnation of our Lord is familiar to all. We learn from Josephus that Pilate's anxiety to avoid giving offence to Cæsar did not save him from political disaster. The Samaritans were unquiet and rebellious. Pilate led his troops against them, and defeated them enough. The Samaritans complained to Vitellius, then president of Syria, and he sent Pilate to Rome to answer their accusations before the emperor. When he reached it he found Tiberius dead and Caius (Caligula) on the throne A.D. 36. Eusebius adds that soon afterward "wearied with misfortunes," he killed himself. As to the scene of his death there are various traditions. One is that he was banished to Vienna Allobrogum (Vienne on the Rhone), where a singular monument—a pyramid on a quadrangular base, 52 feet high—is called Pontius Pilate"s tomb, Another is that he sought to hide his sorrows on the mountain by the lake of Lucerne, now called Mount Pilatus; and there, after spending years in its recesses, in remorse and despair rather than penitence, plunged into the dismal lake which occupies its summit.”

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Matthew 26, Part Two

Jesus predicts Peter’s denial (vs. 31-35)—Peter, of course, denies that he will deny Jesus, but the Lord says he will do it three times before the “cock-crowing.” Mark and Luke say the denial will take place before the rooster crowed twice, which according to custom was at midnight and then about dawn. The last instance was known as the “cock-crowing,” and that’s the one Mark and Luke mention and Matthew intends. Jesus actually says that all of the disciples “will be made to stumble because of Me this night” (v. 31), and that event is the fulfillment of prophecy (Zechariah 13:7).

Jesus prays in Gethsemane (vs. 36-46)—Gethsemane was a beautiful garden just outside of Jerusalem. Jesus took Peter, James, and John, and then went off aways to pray. Three times the Lord prayed, in effect, “O My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will" (vs. 39, 42, 44); the wording was a little different each time. The apostles, clueless as always as to what was going on, fell asleep while Jesus was praying. He mildly rebukes them, but no doubt is resigned now to His fate. It would have been nice if His friends had stood with Him, but He died alone and He knew it was going to happen.

Judas betrays Jesus with a kiss (vs. 47-56)—The mob arrived, “a great multitude with swords and clubs, came from the chief priests and elders of the people” (v. 47), just a bunch of rabble, no doubt, either stirred up or paid off by the religious leaders. For those who might not have known Jesus by sight, Judas said, “Whomever I kiss, He is the One; seize Him" (v. 48). Jesus doesn’t resist. Peter does. He grabs a sword and chops off the right ear of a servant of the high priest named Malchus. Matthew doesn’t give us all of that information, but by reading the accounts in Mark, Luke, and John we get the full account. Jesus makes famous statement, “Put your sword in its place, for all who take the sword will perish by the sword” (v. 52). He didn’t really need Peter’s help: “Do you think that I cannot now pray to My Father, and He will provide Me with more than twelve legions of angels?” (v. 53). He had to die, that’s what He came to this earth for. But despite repeated declarations of that over the past several months, His disciples still did not understand. Peter was at least willing to fight at the moment; no doubt, his confusion over the Lord’s attitude will help lead to his denial in a few hours.

The trial before the high priest, Caiaphas (vs. 57-68)—Jesus actually was to undergo six trials before the night was over. Matthew doesn't mention the first one, before Annas, the father-in-law of Caiphas (John 18 discusses this trial). The Roman governor, Pontius Pilate, is the one who had to condemn Jesus to death; the Jews didn’t have that authority, so in this first trial, they are trying to find some reason to accuse Him before Pilate. Even though blasphemy is the charge of which “He is deserving of death” (v. 66), they will eventually charge Jesus of claiming to be a king. That could be serious, because, of course, only Caesar (in this case Tiberius) could be "king." But to the Jews, blasphemy was a serious enough crime to deserve capital punishment.

Peter’s denials (vs. 69-75)—Peter had followed Jesus “at a distance to the high priest's courtyard. And he went in and sat with the servants to see the end” (v. 58). Yet, just as Jesus had predicted, Peter is confronted three times with his association with the Lord, and rebuffs the idea each time. On the last denial, Luke tells us, “And the Lord turned and looked at Peter” (Luke 22:61). Can you imagine how Peter felt? It is no wonder that “he went out and wept bitterly” (Matthew 26:75).

Friday, March 5, 2010

Matthew 26, Part One

The plot to kill Jesus (vs. 1-5)—One more time, in verses 1-2, Christ tells His apostles that He will be crucified. And, at the same time, “the chief priests, the scribes, and the elders of the people assembled at the palace of the high priest, who was called Caiaphas, and plotted to take Jesus by trickery and kill Him” (vs. 3-4). Their plan was to wait until after the Passover, which was only two days off. But, an opportunity presented itself, and they will take it and crucify Him on Passover night.

Mary anoints Jesus for his burial (vs. 6-13)—Matthew doesn’t give us the name of the woman, but in John’s account (John 12), he tells us it was Mary, the sister of Martha and Lazarus. There are some commentators who think two different incidents are involved, but the similarities seem conclusive for the same event. John includes that Mary also anointed Jesus’ feet (Matthew only mentions the anointing of His head) and wiped them with her hair. The oil was expensive—300 denarii (John 12:5), which is close to a year’s wage for an average worker (see Matthew 20). Some of the apostles—notably Judas (John 12:4)--complained about the cost, arguing that "this fragrant oil might have been sold for much and given to the poor” (Matthew 26:9), but the beloved John also tells us that Judas was a thief and often stole from the store of cash he kept for the group. But Jesus commends Mary: “For she has done a good work for me” (v. 10), “for in pouring this fragrant oil on My body, she did it for my burial” (v. 12). It’s really doubtful that Mary understood that last point; if she believed that Jesus was going to die and be buried and resurrected, then she was far ahead of just about anybody else in her faith and understanding. But Jesus praised her and that is sufficient, and His final words on the matter are certainly true because I am writing about her right now: “Assuredly, I say to you, wherever this gospel is preached in the whole world, what this woman has done will also be told as a memorial to her" (v. 13).

Judas sells out Jesus (vs. 14-16)—Judas went to the chief priests and asked what they would give him to “deliver Him to you”. Thirty pieces of silver. The chief priests knew what Jesus looked like, of course, but they needed to know where He might be so that they could seize Him at an opportune time. That’s what Judas provided for them—information about His whereabouts.

Christ and His apostles eat the Passover (vs. 17-30)—The disciples weren’t sure where they were going to eat the Passover, so Jesus directs them to the appropriate place (vs. 17-19). When evening had come, they sat down together to observe the memorial. The first thing Jesus does is announce that one of them is going to betray Him. “And they were exceedingly sorrowful and each of them began to say to Him, ‘Lord, is it I?” (v. 22). Judas asked Him the question, surely just to find out if the Lord knew, and Jesus indicated that He did. The phrase “You have said it” (NKJV) or “Thou hast said” (KJV, ASV) is simply a Hebrew way of saying “yes.”

Jesus then explained the memorial feast to them as they ate it: “And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to the disciples and said, 'Take, eat; this is My body.' Then He took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, 'Drink from it, all of you. For this is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins'” (vs. 26-28). The Passover feast, instituted nearly 1500 years previous, right before the Israelites left Egypt, pointed to this night, and the body and blood of the Savior. God does nothing arbitrarily. Certainly no one in Moses’ day understood the ultimate meaning of the Passover. But Jesus now explains it, and as Paul said in I Corinthians 5:7, “For Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us.” This memorial was remembered each week by the early church, and is the meaning of Jesus’ next statement, “I say to you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in My Father's kingdom” (v. 29).

Incidentally, Jesus’ statement in verse 28, “For this is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins,” tells us that His blood was shed “for the remission of sins,” something we all know, of course, and no one disputes. The phrase, “for the remission of sins,” in the original Greek is “eis aphesin amartion” and is the exact same phrase, word for word, that Peter uses in Acts 2:38, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” So for whatever purpose Jesus shed His blood, baptism has the exact same purpose—the “remission of sins”—and for those who deny that baptism is unto that end, they must explain why the phrase in Matt. 26:28 means Jesus’ blood was shed in order to obtain our forgiveness, but the exact same phrase in Acts 2:38 means something completely different.  Salvation is not at the point of faith alone.  Repentance and baptism “eis aphesin amartion” are also necessary.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Matthew 25

The parable of the ten virgins (vs. 1-13)—This parable helps illustrate the point Jesus was making at the end of chapter 24—that we must always be prepared for His Second Coming. There are 10 virgins in this story—five “wise” and five “foolish.” What made them “wise” or “foolish” was their vigilance. They were waiting for a “bridegroom”—no doubt representing Christ at His Second Coming. Five of them brought oil for their lamps, in case he came at night; the five “foolish” brought no oil. The key thought is in verse 5—“But while the bridegroom was delayed.” If He had come earlier, perhaps when the five “foolish” were expecting him, then their lack of oil would have posed no problem. But he came “at midnight” (v. 6). It was dark and they needed oil. They asked their five companions, who had oil, to share with them, but the five “wise” virgins had only enough for themselves—we can’t make preparations for others, we have to be ready ourselves. The five “foolish” rushed out to by oil, but while they were gone, the bridegroom came, “and those who were ready went in with him to the wedding” (v. 10). And then…”the door was shut.” The five foolish virgins came back, sought entrance, but were denied—it was too later. The lesson is clear: “Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour in which the Son of Man is coming” (v 13).

The parable of the talents (vs. 14-30)—Another point Jesus made at the end of chapter 24 was that part of that preparedness was to be faithfully about the Master’s business (Matt. 24:46). In this parable, a man was going on a journey and delivered his goods to his servants, expecting them to use them wisely while he was gone. To one he gave five talent, to another two talents, and to a third one talent. It isn’t easy, in today’s inflationary times, to determine the exact monetary value of a “talent,” but it was an enormous sum. The man given five talents used his gift well and accrued five more talents; the two talent man likewise doubled his money. The man given one talent, however—the one of whom the least was expected—“went and dug in the ground, and hid his lord's money” (v. 18). He failed to employ what was entrusted to him for his master’s benefit. When the lord of those servants returned, there was a reckoning, and the five and two talent servants were commended and blessed: “Well done, good and faithful servant; you were faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord” (vs. 21, 23). The one talent man made an excuse: “Lord, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you have not sown, and gathering where you have not scattered seed. And I was afraid, and went and hid your talent in the ground. Look, there you have what is yours” (vs. 24-25). The lord knew it was an excuse: “You wicked and lazy servant” (v. 26). Yes, God can be “hard,” but only if we fail to live up to the blessings He has given to us. So part of the preparedness for His Second Coming is to be faithful with what He has committed to us so that we will be fruitful laborers. Not surprisingly, the penalty for the slothful servant was, “Cast the unprofitable servant into the outer darkness. There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (v. 30). This is not a fate we wish to experience.

The final judgment scene (vs. 31-46)—When He returns, “He will sit on the throne of His glory. All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats” (vs. 31-32). The “sheep” are the saved, and the “goats” are the lost. Both will ask why they receive their sentence. The essence is, “for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me” (vs. 35-36). Or, in the case of the “goats,” they did not do that. “The righteous will answer Him, saying, 'Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink?” and so forth (vs. 37-39), and “the King will answer and say to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me” (v. 40). And the “goats” did not do such and thus were condemned. Jesus has made it plain that “whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant” (Matt. 20:26)—the route to “greatness” in God’s eyes is in serving others, and in this final scene in Matthew 25, that point is emphasized. Do note, please, that nothing is said in this scene about the love and grace of God! Nor is there a word about church attendance, baptism, or the Lord’s Supper. Does that mean these matters have no role to play in our eternal destiny? Of course not. But those things aren’t what Jesus emphasizes in Matthew 25. We look for the easy way; unfortunately, that’s not the road to heaven. Be watchful, be prepared, and be busy with serving others. Then, “the righteous [will enter] into eternal life,” but the lost “will go away into everlasting punishment” (v. 46).

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Matthew 24, Part One

(There are three articles in this series on Matthew 24.  Due to the importance of the chapter, and for the ease of the reader, I have put them in sequence.)

This is a very complicated chapter for a short summary. Well, it's really not that complicated, it's just been made that way by those who have misinterpreted it and created confusion. It would help if you would get your Bible and follow along carefully. If something isn't clear to you, put it in the "comment" section below, and I will try to further explain. This is very important because this has been a much abused and much misunderstood chapter. But keep in mind the earlier chapters and Jesus' battle with, and then denunciation of, the Jewish leaders. Chapter 24 is the climax, when God pronounces doom on the Jewish system because of their repeated rejection of Him, His prophets, and now His Son.

The apostles’ questions (vs. 1-3)—Jesus, probably still angry, left the temple. The disciples, perhaps to mollify Him a little, pointed out to Him how beautiful and magnificent the temple was. Wrong move. “Jesus said to them, ‘Do you not see all these things? Assuredly, I say to you, not one stone shall be left here upon another, that shall not be thrown down.’" (v. 2). That was no doubt a shock to His apostles.  They apparently said no more until they all arrived on the Mount of Olives. Then the disciples asked Jesus, “Tell us, when will these things be? And what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?" (v. 3). Very possibly, they thought they were asking only one question, i.e., that the destruction of the temple, the coming of Christ, and the end of the age (world?) would all be at the same time. But in reality, they were asking two questions: one, the destruction of the temple, of which Jesus had just spoken, and two, the Second Coming of Christ, the end of the age. Or at least that’s the way Jesus answers them. In verses 4-35, He answers the first question—the destruction of the temple, which took place in 70 A.D. by the Romans. Beginning in verse 36, and continuing all the way through chapter 25, He deals with His Second Coming. It is absolutely essential to understand that verses 4-35 are NOT, except for one brief reference, referring to His literal Second Coming; they refer to the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D.

Signs preceding the destruction of Jerusalem (vs. 4-28)—Jesus is very specific here about what to look for before Jerusalem is destroyed. False Christs will arise and deceive many (v. 5). There will be wars and rumors of wars; but “see that you are not troubled; for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet” (v 7). This is just the “beginning of sorrows” (v. 8). The apostles would be delivered up and some of them killed and hated “for My name’s sake” (v. 9). There will be betrayals, hatred, false prophets, and lawlessness (vs. 10-12). And “the love of many will grow cold” (v. 12). But endure and you will be saved (v. 13). Keep in mind, Jesus is talking to the apostles about an event that is going to happen in their lifetime. In verse 14, the gospel “will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come.” Now, He obviously doesn’t mean to America; “all nations” would encompass Jew and Gentile. We have a reference in Colossians where Paul writes about the gospel, which "was preached to every creature under heaven” (Col. 1:23). This is a Hebrew expression that, again, would mean Jew and Gentile, that salvation in Christ has been offered equally to all. But back to Matthew 24:14 and compare—the gospel “will be preached in all the world…and then the end will come.” Colossians was written in the early 60s; Jerusalem was destroyed in 70 A.D. So the time frame is perfect, and given to us by inspired Scripture.

But then, the end will come. Verse 15 is obscure, but not for long: “Therefore when you see the 'abomination of desolation,' spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place (whoever reads, let him understand).” Matthew is writing to a Jewish audience, thus “whoever read” would understand. In the parallel passage in Luke 21:20, which is written to a Gentile who wouldn’t understand Daniel, Luke simply writes, “But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies…” That's what Daniel's "abomination of desolation" refers to. The Romans are coming. Well, when you see that, Jesus says, flee to the mountains (v. 16). Don’t waste time going and getting your stuff; you aren’t going to have time (vs. 17-18). Woe to those who are pregnant—they obviously won’t be able to move very rapidly (v. 19). Hope that it doesn’t happen in winter or on the Sabbath, both of which could slow down flight. Folks, think about it a minute—if this is referring to the literal Second Coming of Christ, why flee to the mountains? What good will that do? What difference is it going to make if a woman is pregnant or not? Or if it’s the Sabbath day? This isn’t the Second Coming; it’s the destruction of Jerusalem, thus fleeing as rapidly as possible will be necessary. The rest of this section, through verse 28, is designed to protect His disciples from deception: “Therefore if they say to you, 'Look, He is in the desert!' do not go out; or 'Look, He is in the inner rooms!' do not believe it” (v. 26). Because when Jesus does come in His literal Second Coming, He’s not going to be in the desert or somebody’s closet—“For as the lightning comes from the east and flashes to the west, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be” (v. 27). There will be no time to prepare or to look for Him in the desert. Then, the vivid picture of despair: “For wherever the carcass is, there the eagles will be gathered together” (v. 28). Jerusalem is dead, and the Roman vultures are going to gather to clean the bones.

And then, the judgment of God upon Jerusalem….

Matthew 24, Part Two

The coming judgment upon Jerusalem (vs. 29-31)—These three verses are the ones that confuse most people. Let’s get them fully before us: “Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And He will send His angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.” Verse 30’s declaration that “they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds with power and great glory” is interpreted to mean the literal Second Coming of Jesus. It’s not. It is a figurative coming in judgment upon Jerusalem and the Jewish nation. Notice that this coming was going to happen Immediately after the tribulation of those days” (v. 29). Jesus obviously did not literally come back in the first century, so we must understand the “coming” of verse 30 as figurative.

And, frankly, if we’d do just a little bit of Old Testament study, there would be no difficulty. This idea of the sun being darkened, the moon not giving its light, etc. was used by the prophets to indicate judgment upon a nation. For example, in his “burden against Babylon” in Isaiah 13, we find this language: “Behold, the day of the LORD comes, cruel, with both wrath and fierce anger, to lay the land desolate; and He will destroy its sinners from it. For the stars of heaven and their constellations will not give their light; the sun will be darkened in its going forth, and the moon will not cause its light to shine” (vs. 9-10). Notice that the language used is almost exactly what Jesus says in Matthew 24:29. If God used this language in illustrating “the day of the Lord,” i.e., a day of judgment against Babylon, why would He not use it against Jerusalem? It's language Jesus' listeners and Matthew's readers would have been been familiar with.

Another example: In Ezekiel 32, the prophet speaks judgment against Pharaoh and Egypt. Verses 7 and 8 read, “When I put out your light, I will cover the heavens, and make its stars dark; I will cover the sun with a cloud, and the moon shall not give her light. All the bright lights of the heavens I will make dark over you, and bring darkness upon your land,' says the Lord GOD.” Sound like Matthew 24:29 again. If we study the Old Testament, this “apocalyptic” language that Jesus uses in Matthew 24 should be familiar to us, too, and thus we ought not be surprised that such speech is found in reference to the coming judgment on Jerusalem.

And, once more, the “coming with the clouds” is figurative. Isaiah 19:1 says, “The burden against Egypt. Behold, the LORD rides on a swift cloud, and will come into Egypt.” Jehovah is coming in judgment upon Egypt riding on a cloud. Literally? Psalm 104:3 talks about a God Who “lays the beams of His upper chambers in the waters, Who makes the clouds His chariot, Who walks on the wings of the wind.” Now, indeed, when the Lord Jesus returns the final time, He will come with the clouds (Acts 1:11; Rev. 1:7). But that coming will be a judgment day, too. So familiarity with the Old Testament figures and allusions will help us to understand Jesus’ language in Matthew 24:29-31, the most difficult passage in the chapter.

Verse 31, “And He will send His angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other,” tells us that, during this destruction of Jerusalem, the Lord will protect “His elect”—provided, of course, they paid attention to what He had told them earlier in the chapter. “See, I have told you beforehand” (v. 25).

The lesson from the fig tree (vs. 32-36)—Jesus relates a short parable in vs. 32-33: “Now learn this parable from the fig tree: When its branch has already become tender and puts forth leaves, you know that summer is near. So you also, when you see all these things, know that it is near--at the doors!” You know the signs for ripe figs, Christ says, now you know the signs for the coming destruction of Jerusalem. If they didn’t pay attention, it wouldn’t be the Lord’s fault.

Verse 35 is clear: “Assuredly, I say to you, this generation will by no means pass away till all these things take place.” A generation is 40 years and that’s about how many years intervened between Jesus’ warning in this chapter and the disaster that befell Jerusalem at the hands of the Romans in 70 A.D.

The destruction of Jerusalem that year is a cardinal event in the history of the Jews. The Romans obliterated everything—the temple, all the records, etc. There isn’t a Jew alive today who can tell you which of the 12 tribes he comes from, because the Romans destroyed those records. How can Israel today set up their religion as revealed in the Law of Moses? The priests must be from the tribe of Levi, but no Jew today can know if he is from that tribe or not. The destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. was God’s plenary judgment upon the Jewish nation—no more land, no more temple, no more sacrifices; the Jewish religion is not God’s authorized religion today, and He has no more purpose for the Jewish people. God “desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (I Tim. 2:4), and that can only happen through Jesus Christ and the Christian religion (Acts 4:12). If the Lord had His way, there wouldn’t be one single, solitary Jew left on the face of this earth. They would all become Christians.

That’s what He was trying to tell them in 70 A.D.

Matthew 24, Part Three

That day and hour (vs. 35-51)—Verse 35 is a transition verse from Jesus talking about the fall of Jerusalem—answering the apostles’ first question in verse 3—to a discussion of His literal Second Coming—the second question. In verse 35, Jesus is, in effect, “nothing is going to keep My word from coming to pass.” Verse 36 begins the analysis of His Second Coming and the subject continues till the end of chapter 25.

A couple of key points in verse 36, which reads, “But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, but My Father only.” The phrase “that day” is used several times in the New Testament to refer to the Day of Judgment. For example, in Matthew 7:22, a Judgment Day scene, Jesus says, “Many will say to Me in that day…” Luke 10:12 reads, “But I say to you that it will be more tolerable in that day for Sodom than for that city,” another obvious allusion to the final day. In II Timothy 4:8, Paul wrote, “Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing.” And there are others. “That day” was a well-known and clarion reference to the final Judgment Day, the Second Coming of the Lord.

And note also in verse 36, that of that day, “no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, but My Father only.” Jesus had just spent 30 verses specifying exactly when a certain event was going to take place. If verses 4-35 refer to the Second Coming, we know exactly what to look for. But then, in verse 36, He says no one knows? No, the only explanation is the one I’ve given—verses 4-35 refer to the fall of Jerusalem in 70 A.D., and the end of Jewish system as established by God. Beginning in verse 36, the subject is the literal Second Coming.

Notice also one more thing: a shift in terminology. In verses 4-35, Jesus speaks of “those days” (vs. 19, 22, and 29)—the whole time of the coming of, and then the destruction of, Jerusalem. But not, beginning in verse 37, it’s “that day.” Also, we saw how specific things were before the fall of Jerusalem—wars, rumors of wars, famines, pestilence, false Christs, etc. But, before the Second Coming, there is nothing specific: “But as the days of Noah were, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be. For as in the days before the flood, they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark” (vs. 37-38). What warning did people have that the flood was about to come? None, except Noah’s preaching. They were carrying on their daily lives, “eating, drinking, marrying and giving in marriage”; and so it will be when Jesus comes again. You might be on your way to work—and there He appears. You could be eating supper—and you hear the shout and the trumpet. There will be no warning. “Then two men will be in the field: one will be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding at the mill: one will be taken and the other left” (vs. 40-41). Those two men and women weren’t looking for anything; there were no signs warning them of the impending arrival of Jesus. They were simply going about their daily business. Thus, what should our response be? “Watch therefore, for you do not know what hour your Lord is coming” (v. 42). If we knew when He was coming, we could prepare: “But know this, that if the master of the house had known what hour the thief would come, he would have watched and not allowed his house to be broken into. Therefore you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect” (vs. 43-44). And that’s part of Jesus point: how many people, if they knew the signs approaching Jesus’ Second Coming, would wait until they saw them before they got ready to meet Him? No, no such luck. We must always be ready, for there are no signs before Jesus’ Second Coming! Folks, we are not looking for the signs, we are listening for the shout (I Thess. 4:16). Jesus ends Matthew 24 with an example of a servant who was, and a servant who was not, looking for the coming of the master—and the end result of each. Reward for the watcher, punishment for the slacker.

In Matthew 25, Jesus will give some examples of how we need to be ready for “that day” to come.