Daily Archives: June 10, 2017

June 10, 2017: Verse of the day


10–12 The text of the NIV gives the word “yet” twice in this chapter, the previous occurrence being in v. 4. Both verses present reassessment that means the balancing of one partial truth with another, thus giving a full picture. In v. 4 penal suffering is balanced—and so interpreted—by substitution; here humanity’s unjust treatment of the Servant is balanced—and also interpreted—by God’s saving purpose in the Servant’s sufferings. Verse 10a is almost shocking in its apparent presentation of arbitrary disregard for personal righteousness, but the reader may recall the substitutionary nature of those sufferings, already declared in vv. 4–6 and referred to again later in this stanza. At once God is seen not to be harsh but astonishingly gracious.

Verses 10b–11, as rendered in the NIV, remind us of 52:14–15; for after suffering comes vindication, suggesting perhaps at the same time the completion of the Servant’s atoning work in his death and the opening of a new life beyond that death. The guilt offering may have special overtones of completeness, for it involved restitution as well as an offering to God (cf. Lev 5). Nothing then remains to be done; the work is complete.

Verse 11a (cf. Notes), with its contrast of “suffering” and “light,” certainly makes us think of the resurrection, which is still more clearly suggested by the earlier words “prolong his days.” In fact, the words “he will see his offspring and prolong his days” seem to stand in intended contrast with the second and third lines of v. 8. There is a parallel here with Psalm 22, which has so much in common with this passage, where a sufferer now vindicated declares, “Posterity will serve him” (22:30).

Some commentators take the words “by his knowledge” with the preceding clause; but, as Young points out, the Masoretic accentuation, representing of course the Jewish traditional understanding, links it with the words that follow it. If this is so, are we to take the pronominal suffix to be subjective, as the NIV does (“by his knowledge”), or objective, as in the NIV’s margin (“by knowledge of him”)? Young (in loc.) well expresses the contextual argument for the latter: “In this context the servant appears, not as a teacher, but as a saviour. Not by his knowledge does he justify men, but by bearing their iniquities.” We are saved not simply by revelation but by redemptive suffering, the latter being the teaching of the context of this verse. In this case, then, it is the experiential knowledge of faith that is in view; and we have here an important background for the Pauline doctrine of justification through the blood of Christ, appropriated by faith.

The adjective “righteous” and the verb “will justify,” coming from the same Hebrew root (ṣdq), are placed next to each other in the Hebrew, as though to stress their relationship. Calvin stressed that the obedience of Christ is the chief circumstance of his death. His righteousness and therefore his innocence of sin furnish a basis for his substitution. The final clause of v. 11, with its reminder of v. 6 (see comments there), states the objective grounds of this justification, which is of course a new position before God, the righteous Judge, on the basis of what the Servant has achieved in his sufferings and not of what we have ourselves done or will do. Strikingly, the emphatic “he” is used again in this clause (see comment on vv. 4–6). Here, then, is One who is both God and God’s Servant dealing with human sin!

The opening statement of v. 12, reminding many commentators of Philippians 2:9, shows how God honors the Servant for his faithful work and the Servant in turn distributes the spoils of battle to others. In fact it introduces a new note into the passage; for 52:13, to which in other ways it answers, contains no military language. The NT, however, does, and Christ’s work there is presented as a victory over spiritual foes, resulting in a distribution of the spoil to those made strong in him (cf., e.g., Eph 4:8; 6:10–17).

J. Jeremias (Servant of God [W. Zimmerli and J. Jeremias, eds.; London: SCM, 1957], 97), L. S. Thornton (The Dominion of Christ [Westminster: Darce, 1952], 91–95), and others have argued that the words heauton ekenōsen (“made himself nothing”) in Philippians 2:7 are a translation from a Semitic original meaning “he poured himself out” and are based on this verse. Thornton further points out that the clause can in fact be completed by the words “to death” from v. 8. Here, in both passages, is the ultimate in self-abnegation in dedication to the will of God.

The last three clauses of v. 12 sum up the matter. The Servant was numbered with the transgressors not only in the outward circumstances of his death (Mk 15:27 [NIV mg.]), but also as a general description of the meaning of his sufferings (Lk 22:37). Innocent, he was charged with human sins and so bears their penalty. Beyond this, as the letter to the Hebrews proclaims, he now has an intercessory ministry based on the finality of his sufferings. This means that even when vindicated by God, he is still concerned to minister to his people.

In 44:28 the name “Cyrus” is solemnly and dramatically revealed long before his coming. Our present passage speaks so eloquently of the work of Christ that even the inclusion of his name could add but little more to the extent of its disclosure of him.[1]

53:10, 11a Yet the Lord saw fit to bruise Him, to put Him to grief. When His soul has been made an offering for sin, He will see His posterity, that is, all those who believe on Him, He shall prolong His days, living in the power of an endless life. All God’s purposes shall be realized through Him. Seeing the multitudes of those who have been redeemed by His blood He will be amply satisfied.

53:11b “By His knowledge My righteous Servant shall justify many.” This may mean that His knowledge of the Father’s will led Him to the cross, and it is by His death and resurrection that He can reckon believers to be righteous. Or it may mean “by the knowledge of Him,” that is, it is by coming to know Him that men are justified (John 17:3). In either case, it is through His bearing their iniquities that justification is possible for the “many.”

The last stanza of Thomas Chisholm’s hymn, quoted above, reads triumphantly:

Who can number His generation?

Who shall declare all the triumphs of His Cross?

Millions, dead, now live again,

Myriads follow in His train!

Victorious Lord, victorious Lord,

Victorious Lord and coming King![2]

11–12 Other aspects of his saving work are shown in terms of justification, sin-bearing, identification (numbered with the transgressors; cf. Lk. 22:37) and intercession, i.e. intervention. He is presented as priest and sacrifice, patriarch (10b) and king. Finally, the manymany in vs 11–12 (the same word is translated great in v 12) for whom the one suffered, reappear in fulfilment of the opening promise (cf. 52:14–15, ‘many … many’).[3]

53:11 He will … be satisfied. The one sacrifice of the Servant will provide complete satisfaction in settling the sin issue (1Jn 2:2; cf. 1:11). By His knowledge. The Servant knew exactly what needed to be done to solve the sin problem. justify the many. Through the divine “knowledge” of how to justify sinners, the plan was accomplished that by His one sacrifice He declared many righteous before God (Ro 5:19; 2Co 5:21).[4]

53:11 he shall see and be satisfied. The outcome of the servant’s sufferings is not regret but the satisfaction of obvious accomplishment. by his knowledge. His experiential knowledge of grief (v. 3, see ESV footnote). many. His triumph, which does not secure the salvation of every individual without exception (universalism), spreads out beyond the remnant of Israel to “a great multitude that no one could number” (Rev. 7:9; cf. Rom. 5:15). to be accounted righteous. See Rom. 4:11–12.

53:11 Christ’s death and resurrection results in our justification (Rom. 3:23–26; 4:25; 5:19).[5]

53:11 he will see All intact Dead Sea Scrolls manuscripts and the Septuagint (the ancient Greek translation of the Bible) contain the word “light”; the Masoretic Text simply reads “he will see.” The most probable original text is “he will see light” (Dead Sea Scrolls) or “he will show him light” (Septuagint). The word “light” is required for the text to make sense poetically. This variant is a sign that the Servant experiences postmortem life, though it is not the only sign.

he will be satisfied The Servant may be satisfied by the fact that he has fulfilled Yahweh’s will (Isa 53:10). It is also possible that he is satisfied because he has suffered for the transgressions of God’s people (vv. 5–7). Or, the Servant could be satisfied in his resurrected life.

In his knowledge An elaboration on the previous line. The Servant knows that he has borne the iniquities of many and will make many righteous. He has learned this through his anguish (his suffering).

my servant Yahweh begins speaking again.

shall declare many righteous Like Israel—as Yahweh’s servant—was commanded to bring forth justice to the nations, the Servant makes many righteous.

will bear their iniquities The iniquities of the people are placed upon the Servant (similar to the goat on the Day of Atonement in Lev 16:22).[6]

53:11 knowledge. This is a reference to His insight into the divine plan (52:13 note).

righteous. See Rom. 5:19.

accounted righteous. Christ’s righteousness is imputed to His people (53:6 note), and in return He accepted their guilt so as to “bear their iniquities.” See “Justification and Merit” at Gal. 3:11.[7]

[1] Grogan, G. W. (2008). Isaiah. In T. Longman III, Garland David E. (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Proverbs–Isaiah (Revised Edition) (Vol. 6, pp. 802–803). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[2] MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (p. 980). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

[3] Kidner, F. D. (1994). Isaiah. In D. A. Carson, R. T. France, J. A. Motyer, & G. J. Wenham (Eds.), New Bible commentary: 21st century edition (4th ed., p. 663). Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press.

[4] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2006). The MacArthur study Bible: New American Standard Bible. (Is 53:11). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

[5] Crossway Bibles. (2008). The ESV Study Bible (p. 1339). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[6] Barry, J. D., Mangum, D., Brown, D. R., Heiser, M. S., Custis, M., Ritzema, E., … Bomar, D. (2012, 2016). Faithlife Study Bible (Is 53:11). Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

[7] Sproul, R. C. (Ed.). (2005). The Reformation Study Bible: English Standard Version (p. 1029). Orlando, FL; Lake Mary, FL: Ligonier Ministries.

June 10 – Applying the Word Without Delay

“If any one is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks at his natural face in a mirror; for once he has looked at himself and gone away, he has immediately forgotten what kind of person he was” (James 1:23–24).


Always respond immediately to what you know to be God’s will for you.

Men, have you ever been at work and touched your face, only to realize that you forgot to shave? Perhaps you were distracted by your wife’s call to breakfast or by one of the kids. Ladies, have you ever been out in public and suddenly realized that you forgot to apply some of your makeup? Those are common occurrences that illustrate what it means to hear God’s Word but fail to respond.

James 1:23 says, “If any one is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks at his natural face in a mirror.” “Looks” doesn’t refer to a casual glance but to a careful, cautious, observant stare. This person is taking a good, long look at himself. Hearers of the Word are not necessarily superficial or casual in their approach to Scripture. They can be serious students of the Word. And yet, the fact is, some seminary professors or Sunday school teachers are not true believers. Some even write commentaries and other Bible reference works. Your response to the Word—not your depth of study alone—is the issue with God.

Despite the hearer’s lingering look, he failed to respond, and the image reflected in the mirror soon faded. That’s reminiscent of Jesus saying, “When any one hears the word of the kingdom, and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart” (Matt. 13:19). The Word was sown, but it bore no fruit. The man looked into the mirror, but he made no corrections.

Perhaps there’s something God’s Word is instructing you to do that you’ve been putting off. If so, delay no longer. Don’t be a forgetful hearer!


Suggestions for Prayer:  Ask God to teach you to be more disciplined in responding to the dictates of His Word.

For Further Study: Read Matthew 13:1–23, noting the various soils and what they represent.[1]

1:23, 24 Anyone who hears the word but does not change his behavior is like a man who takes a fleeting glance in the mirror each morning, then completely forgets what he saw. He derives no benefit from the mirror or from looking into it. Of course, there are some things about our appearance that cannot be changed. But at least we should be humbled by the sight! And when the mirror says “Wash” or “Shave” or “Comb” or “Brush,” we should at least do as we are told. Otherwise the mirror is of no practical benefit to us.

It is easy to read the Bible casually or because of a sense of duty without being affected by what we read. We see what we ought to be but we quickly forget and live as if we were already perfect. This type of self-satisfaction prevents spiritual progress.[2]

  1. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror24. and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like.
  2. A striking example

A picture, especially one that portrays us as we are, is worth a thousand words. We see ourselves daily in the reflection in a mirror: before we leave the house in the morning, during the course of the day, and several times in the evening. Mirrors are part of life. But the repeated returns to the mirror establish the point that our memories are like sieves.

James uses the illustration of a mirror. In fact, his illustration approaches the parabolic form of speech Jesus used during his earthly ministry (compare Matt. 7:26). Mirrors in the first century were not made of glass but of metal that was polished regularly. The mirrors rested horizontally on tables so that the person who wished to see his reflection had to bend and look down. Then he would see but a poor reflection of himself (Job 37:18; 1 Cor. 13:12; 2 Cor. 3:18; Wis. 7:26; Sir. 12:11).

Here is the point of comparison. The person who looks into the mirror to see his own image and promptly forgets is like a person who hears the Word of God proclaimed but fails to respond to it. He sees his reflection in the mirror, quickly adjusts his external appearance, and walks away. He hears the gospel preached, makes minor adjustments, and goes his own way. But the gospel is unable to penetrate his heart and cannot change the internal disposition of man. The mirror is an object used to alter man’s external appearance; the Word, however, confronts man internally and demands a response.

Why does a person forget what he looks like almost as soon as he walks away from the mirror? That seems incredible and yet it is true. Many people hear a sermon on a given Sunday and a week later cannot remember a single word of that sermon. The person who only listens to the Word goes away and fails to respond to its demands.[3]

Willingness to Apply the Word Without Deception

who delude themselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks at his natural face in a mirror; for once he has looked at himself and gone away, he has immediately forgotten what kind of person he was. But one who looks intently at the perfect law, the law of liberty, and abides by it, not having become a forgetful hearer but an effectual doer, this man will be blessed in what he does. If anyone thinks himself to be religious, and yet does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this man’s religion is worthless. (1:22b–26)

Any response to the Word other than faithful, unqualified obedience is self-deceptive. Paralogizomai (delude) literally means to reason beside, or alongside, and therefore refers to incorrect reckoning or reasoning, often including the idea of deliberate false reasoning for the purpose of deceiving. In mathematics, the meaning is that of miscalculation. Professing Christians who hear the Word without obeying it make a serious spiritual miscalculation, which causes them to delude themselves. They are self-deceived. An old Scottish expression speaks of such false Christians as “sermon tasters who never tasted the grace of God.” Any response to the gospel that does not include obedience is self-deception. If a profession of faith in Christ does not result in a changed life that hungers and thirsts for God’s Word and desires to obey that Word, the profession is only that—a mere profession. Satan, of course, loves such professions, because they give church members the damning notion that they are saved when they are not. They still belong to him, not to God.

In order to explain this self-deception, James uses a simple analogy: If anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks at his natural face in a mirror; for once he has looked at himself and gone away, he has immediately forgotten what kind of person he was.

Katanoeō (looks) is a strengthened form of the verb noeō, which means simply to perceive, or look at something. The compound verb James uses here, however, carries the additional idea of careful, cautious consideration of what is being looked at. The hearer of the word who is not also a doer is like a person who carefully observes his natural face in a mirror, yet, as soon as he is finished looking, has immediately forgotten what kind of person he has just observed himself to be.

In New Testament times, mirrors were typically made of highly polished brass or bronze, although a wealthy person could buy one of silver or gold. But even the most expensive mirrors were primitive compared to glass ones, which were not developed until the fourteenth century. Consequently, those early mirrors gave a dim and distorted reflection of the person using them. But by carefully turning the mirror and finding the best light, a person could eventually see a fairly accurate image of his face, and that is the idea James has in mind. By careful and patient observation, as indicated by katanoeō, he could eventually discover what he actually looked like. But, for whatever reason, when he stops looking at himself and [goes] away, he immediately forgets what he has just seen. It is that forgetfulness which is the point of the analogy. Whether because of distraction, not being pleased with what was seen, or simply because of a poor memory, all the careful looking suddenly becomes wasted. Whatever the original purpose was for looking at oneself, what is seen is quickly forgotten.

A person who looks at God’s Word, even if it is carefully and accurately done, and yet does not apply the truths he has discovered to his own life, is like someone who immediately forgets what he has just seen in a mirror—except that the consequences are immeasurably worse. He sees his sin portrayed for the horrible evil that it is and he also sees God’s gracious provision in Christ for a remedy, yet he goes on his way as if he were never exposed to those realities.

Conversely, however, the one who looks intently at the perfect law, the law of liberty, and abides by it, not having become a forgetful hearer but an effectual doer, this man will be blessed in what he does. James here uses an even stronger verb for looking than in verse 23. Parakuptō (looks intently) means to bend over and carefully examine something from the clearest possible vantage point. It is the verb used by Luke to describe Peter’s looking into the empty tomb after Jesus’ resurrection (Luke 24:12) and by John of both Peter’s and Mary’s looking into the same tomb (John 20:5, 11). The person who looks intently at God’s Word, the perfect law, the law of liberty, examines it to discover its deepest and most complete meaning. For him it is not a mere exercise of curiosity, as with the forgetful person just mentioned. When he discovers a truth, he abides by it, understanding that this is the purpose for the Lord’s revealing it to men. God did not reveal His Word simply to be learned, but to be obeyed and applied. The key to James’s analogy is this: The faithful hearer and doer of the Word does not study the mirror itself but rather what the mirror reveals, namely, God’s revealed will and truth.

The perfect law, so called because Scripture is inerrant, sufficient, and comprehensive (cf. Ps. 19:7–9), encompasses all of God’s revealed Word. But by referring to it as law, James laid particular emphasis on the Lord’s commands to men, His requirement for the genuine and positive response of obedience to those commands. And by referring to the Word as the law of liberty, James focused on its redemptive power in freeing believers from the bondage of sin and then freeing them to righteous obedience (John 8:34–36). It allows us to serve God not out of fear or mere sense of duty, but out of gratitude and love. One day it also will free us from this world and its corruption; from our fallenness; from our flesh; from temptation; and from the curses of sin, death, and hell.

God’s law is thought of by some as bringing bondage; but in reality it brings great liberty. That truth is expressed clearly and succinctly by Paul in his letter to the church at Rome.

Do you not know that when you present yourselves to someone as slaves for obedience, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin resulting in death, or of obedience resulting in righteousness? But thanks be to God that though you were slaves of sin, you became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching to which you were committed, and having been freed from sin, you became slaves of righteousness. (Rom. 6:16–18)

Later in that letter, the apostle exults, “For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption [and freedom] as sons by which we cry out, ‘Abba! Father!’ ” (8:14–15).

Being saved solely by God’s grace through saving faith does not in the least revoke or diminish the requirements of His law. Forgiveness for past breaking of the law does not remove the present obligation to obey it. “Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets,” Jesus declared;

I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I say to you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. (Matt. 5:17–20)

God’s law still reflects His holy will and His standards for human conduct. It provides all the truth and guidance we need to live godly lives. It is consummate, flawless, without error or omission, and will meet every need, touch every part of life, fulfill every godly desire of true believers, the children of God. As we look to that law, it liberates us to forsake sin and to pursue righteousness. The true believer abides by God’s perfect law … of liberty because that is His heavenly Father’s will, and above all else he seeks to please and honor Him. He therefore willingly and eagerly abides by His divine and holy law, enabled by the Holy Spirit (Rom. 8:4).

Implicit in James 1:23–25 is the idea that one’s motive and attitude in studying God’s Word become evident by the response to what is learned. A person who pays no heed to what he learns from Scripture proves his motive for studying it is not godly. At best, he is interested in mere factual knowledge, and even that he soon forgets. In doing so, he brings even greater judgment on himself than a person receives who has never been exposed to the Word. He also gives strong evidence that, despite a profession of belief in Christ, he is not really saved.

One of most serious and pervasive obstacles to salvation is fallen man’s natural aversion to serious spiritual thought. He may love to study philosophy and man-made religions and theology. But he is not inclined to seriously search for God’s truth, realizing, even if subconsciously, that his life falls short of divine standards and that God will demand more than he is willing to give. Men are not naturally inclined to look at themselves honestly, to perform a self-evaluation under the bright and perfect light of God’s Word. They know instinctively that their pride, self-will, and love of sin will be exposed under the Lord’s righteous standards.

On the other hand, the person who humbles himself, by figuratively stooping over to get a better look at the Word, proves his right spiritual motive and attitude. His concern is not with bare facts but with divine truth, and he therefore obeys what he learns. In doing so, he is blessed and God is glorified. He also detests the reflection of himself that he sees in the mirror of the Word, and his overriding desire is to have every sin, every spiritual and moral blemish, removed and replaced with God’s righteousness. Seeing himself as he really is, he says, in effect, “Lord, continue to expose my ugliness, my hopelessness apart from You. Draw me to Yourself and cleanse me from my sins and fill me with Your truth, Your love, and Your purity.” Such a person is not … a forgetful hearer but an effectual doer and will be blessed in what he does. The genuine believer sees things as they really are, and his will is brought into union with God’s will. He loves to do what the Bible commands him to do, because that is the will of his heavenly Father.

God’s blessing results from a believer’s obedience. Through Joshua the Lord commanded and promised: “This book of the law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it; for then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have success” (Josh. 1:8, emphasis added). The only way to a spiritually blessed and prosperous life is through faithful study and application of God’s Word, to “meditate on it day and night,” and “to be careful to do according to all that is written in it.” The hearer and doer of the Word discovers that its demands are just as Jesus said: the “yoke is easy” and the “burden is light” (Matt. 11:30).

Obviously the distinctions between right and wrong attitudes about and responses to God and His Word are not always clear-cut, at least to our human eyes and understanding. Some unbelievers make a strong effort to act like believers, acknowledging that Scripture is inspired and true, attending church regularly, giving lip service to worship of God, and outwardly acting morally. In a similar but opposite way, true believers do not always live up to their understanding of Scripture, sometimes falling into serious sin. But James is speaking of the heart commitment to God’s Word or the lack of it. The unbeliever cannot keep up a spiritual facade indefinitely, and the true believer cannot be content to remain in sin indefinitely.

Moving away from the analogy of the mirror, James makes clear that the doer of the Word is not simply someone who is involved in religious activity. If anyone thinks himself to be religious, and yet does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this man’s religion is worthless.

Religious is from thrēskos, which refers to external religious rituals, liturgies, routines, and ceremonies. The famous Jewish historian Josephus used the word to describe worship in the temple at Jerusalem. Paul used the noun form of this term when speaking of his former life as a zealous Pharisee (Acts 26:5). By contrast, the word most commonly used in the New Testament for genuine, God-honoring and God-pleasing worship is eusebeia, whose basic meaning is that of godliness and holiness.

Such things as attending church services and activities, doing volunteer work, following various rituals and ceremonies, saying prayers, and even having right theology have no spiritual value in themselves apart from true saving faith and honorable motives to glorify the Lord. The person who trusts in those outward things sooner or later will expose his faithlessness with his mouth, because he does not have the inner power to bridle his tongue. Trusting in those things to please God and receive His blessing are deceptive and worthless. Even if a ritual or liturgy is biblical in its wording, it is as futile as pagan idolatry unless the heart is right with the Lord. A corrupt and unholy heart eventually will be exposed by corrupt and unholy speech.

The tongue is not the only indicator of true spirituality but is one of the most reliable. It has been estimated that the average person will speak some 18,000 words in a day, enough for a fifty-four-page book. In a year that amounts to sixty-six 800-page volumes! Many people, of course, speak much more than that. Up to one-fifth of the average person’s life is spent talking.

If the tongue is not controlled by God, it is a sure indicator that the heart is not, either. Jesus told the self-righteous Pharisees, “The mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart. … For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned” (Matt. 12:34, 37). Religion that does not transform the heart, and thereby the tongue, is totally worthless in God’s sight.[4]

23–24 James now offers an analogy as an explanation for why hearing without doing is unacceptable: “Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror.” The “face” is, more literally, the “face of his birth,” or the “face with which he was born,” and what James has in mind is what the person really looks like. Looking in a mirror, he sees his own face as it really is. Yet “after looking at himself, [he] goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like.” In other words, when he gets away from the mirror, which provided a point of reference for a true evaluation, that true picture of his own face fades in his memory. What is inferred is that, in light of the face given him at birth, this person has a higher opinion of his own appearance than is warranted! Thus he deceives himself, because the truth does not stay with him to change his perspective.[5]

[1] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1993). Drawing Near—Daily Readings for a Deeper Faith (p. 174). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

[2] MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (pp. 2223–2224). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

[3] Kistemaker, S. J., & Hendriksen, W. (1953–2001). Exposition of James and the Epistles of John (Vol. 14, pp. 60–61). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.

[4] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1998). James (pp. 83–88). Chicago: Moody Press.

[5] Guthrie, G. H. (2006). James. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Hebrews–Revelation (Revised Edition) (Vol. 13, p. 227). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.


But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies….

2 PETER 2:1

Whatever it may be in our Christian experience that originates outside the Scriptures should, for that very reason, be suspect until it can be shown to be in accord with them.

If it should be found to be contrary to the Word of revealed truth no true Christian will accept it as being from God. However high the emotional content, no experience can be proved to be genuine unless we can find chapter and verse authority for it in the Scriptures. “To the word and to the testimony” must always be the last and final proof.

Whatever is new or singular should also be viewed with caution until it can furnish scriptural proof of its validity. Throughout the twentieth century quite a number of unscriptural notions have gained acceptance among Christians by claiming that they were among truths that were to be revealed in the last days.

The truth is that the Bible does not teach that there will be new light and advanced spiritual experiences in the latter days; it teaches the exact opposite! Nothing in Daniel or the New Testament epistles can be tortured into advocating the idea that we of the end of the Christian era shall enjoy light that was not known at its beginning.

Beware of any man who claims to be wiser than the apostles or holier than the martyrs of the Early Church. The best way to deal with him is to rise and leave his presence![1]

2:1 At the close of chapter 1 Peter referred to the prophets of the OT as men who spoke, not by their own will, but as moved by the Holy Spirit. Now he mentions that in addition to the true prophets in the OT period, there were also false prophets. And just as there will be bona fide teachers in the Christian era, there will be false teachers as well.

These false teachers take their place inside the church. They pose as ministers of the gospel. This is what makes the peril so great. If they came right out and said they were atheists or agnostics, people would be on guard. But they are masters of deception. They carry the Bible and use orthodox expressions—though using them to mean something entirely different. The president of a liberal theological seminary acknowledged the strategy as follows:

Churches often change convictions without formally renouncing views to which they were previously committed, and their theologians usually find ways of preserving continuity with the past through re-interpretations.

W. A. Criswell describes the false teacher as follows:

… a suave, affable, personable, scholarly man who claims to be the friend of Christ. He preaches in the pulpit, he writes learned books, he publishes articles in the religious magazines. He attacks Christianity from within. He makes the church and the school a lodging place for every unclean and hateful bird. He leavens the meal with the doctrine of the Sadducees.

Where are these false teachers found? To mention perhaps the most obvious places, they are found in:

Liberal and Neo-Orthodox Protestantism

Liberal Roman Catholicism

Unitarianism and Universalism

Russellism (Jehovah’s Witnesses)


Christian Science

Unity School of Christianity


Armstrongism (The “Radio Church of God”)

While professing to be ministers of righteousness, they secretly bring in soul-destroying heresies alongside true Bible doctrine. It is a deliberately deceptive mixture of the false and the true. Primarily, they peddle a system of denials. Here are some of the denials which can be found among certain of the groups listed above:

They deny the verbal, plenary inspiration of the Bible, the Trinity, the deity of Christ, His virgin birth, and His death as a Substitute for sinners. They are especially vehement in their denial of the value of His shed blood. They deny His bodily resurrection, eternal punishment, salvation by grace through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, the reality of miracles in the Bible.

Other false teachings common today are:

The Kenosis theory—the heresy that Christ emptied Himself of the attributes of deity. This means that He could sin, make mistakes, etc.

The “God is dead” fantasy, evolution, universal salvation, purgatory, prayers for the dead, etc.

The ultimate sin of false teachers is that they even deny the Master who bought them. While they may say nice things about Jesus, refer to His “divinity,” His lofty ethics, His superb example, they fail to confess Him as God and as unique Savior.

Nels Ferré wrote, “Jesus never was or became God … To call Jesus God is to substitute an idol for Incarnation.”

Methodist Bishop Gerald Kennedy agreed:

I am frank to confess that the statement (that Christ is God) does not please me and it seems far from satisfactory. I would much prefer to have it say that God was in Christ, for I believe that the testimony of the New Testament taken as a whole is against the doctrine of the deity of Jesus, although I think it bears overwhelming witness to the divinity of Jesus.

In this and in many other ways, false teachers deny the Lord who bought them. Here we should pause to remind ourselves that while these false teachers to whom Peter refers had been bought by the Lord, they had never been redeemed. The NT distinguishes between purchase and redemption. All are purchased but not all are redeemed. Redemption applies only to those who receive Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, availing themselves of the value of His shed blood (1 Pet. 1:18, 19).

In Matthew 13:44 the Lord Jesus is pictured as a man who sold all He had to buy a field. In verse 38 of that same chapter, the field is distinctly said to be the world. So by His death on the cross, the Lord bought the world and all who are in it. But He did not redeem the whole world. While His work was sufficient for the redemption of all mankind, it is only effective for those who repent, believe, and accept Him.

The fact that these false teachers were never truly born again is indicated by their destiny. They bring on themselves swift destruction. Their doom is eternal punishment in the lake of fire.[2]

Destructive Heresies


The topic Peter discusses in this chapter appears to be opposite from the theme he develops in the previous chapter. In chapter 1, Peter hints at the pernicious influence of false teachers when he assures the readers that the apostles had not followed “cleverly invented stories” (v. 16). He implies that these stories, perpetrated by teachers who opposed Christ, were circulating within the broader Christian community.

When we consider the false teachings that the early church faced, we can understand Peter’s desire to encourage the believers to be strong in their spiritual lives. Peter provides all the necessary ammunition for the Christians so that they may successfully oppose the false teachers and defeat their purposes. He alerts the Christians to the war they must fight and equips them with spiritual armor to resist and dispel the anti-Christian forces.

For Peter, the time has come to depict these enemies of Jesus Christ. In the first three verses of this chapter he portrays the objectives of these false teachers (v. 1), shows the intended result of their activities (vv. 2–3a), and mentions their impending condemnation and destruction (v. 3b).

1a. But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you.

Peter marks the contrast between chapters 1 and 2 with the word but. He introduces a new subject that is familiar to anyone who knows the history of Israel. By mentioning the term false prophets, Peter is able to call to mind the spiritual struggle in which Israel was engaged in earlier years. While true prophets conveyed God’s Word to the people of Israel (see 1:19), false prophets introduced their own inventions. Here are a few instances in which God reveals his opposition to false prophets:

  1. He instructs the people of Israel to put to death a prophet who preaches rebellion against the Lord God (Deut. 13:5; also see 18:20).
  2. He compares the false prophets to Sodom because they “commit adultery and live a lie” (Jer. 23:14; also see 6:13).
  3. Among the people upon whom God pours out his wrath are the prophets who utter “false visions and lying divinations” (Ezek. 22:28).

These prophets were false for two reasons: because of their message and their claim to the prophetic office. God condemned them for the lie they taught and lived. Furthermore, they were residing among God’s people with the purpose of leading them astray.

Just as there were false prophets in Israel, Peter writes, so “there will be false teachers among you.” Notice that he uses the future tense to warn the people about the coming of false teachers. He is aware of their presence and knows that others will come. He is saying that the believers in the Christian era can expect just as many false teachers as God’s people encountered in Old Testament times. Peter repeats the warning Jesus gave in the discourse on the signs of the time: “Watch out that no one deceives you. For many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am the Christ,’ and will deceive many” (Matt. 24:4–5). This is an apostolic warning; Paul, John, and Jude also utter this same warning.

1b. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them—bringing swift destruction on themselves.

Mark the following questions:

  1. What is the objective of these teachers? Peter uncovers their practices and motives when he reveals that these false teachers “will secretly introduce destructive heresies.” Furtively and unlawfully, they enter the Christian community to disseminate their heresies. In the parallel account, Jude has virtually the same wording: “Certain men whose condemnation was written about long ago have secretly slipped in among you” (v. 4).
  2. What are heresies? The word heresies derives from the Greek verb which signifies to take something for one’s self, to choose, or to prefer. It refers to a chosen course of thought or action that an individual takes or that a group of people adopts as an article of faith or way of life. The inevitable result is the act of separation which gives the term heresy an unfavorable connotation. Thus, the Pharisees separated themselves from the Jewish people, and the Christians were known as a sect (Acts 24:5, 14; 28:22). In the early church, Paul instructs Titus to “warn a divisive person once, and then warn him a second time. After that, have nothing to do with him” (Titus 3:10; and see Matt. 18:15–17; 2 John 10).
  3. What is the result? Peter leaves no doubt that he uses the term heresy in a negative sense, for he says that false teachers “will secretly introduce destructive heresies.” The literal reading is, “heresies of [for] destruction.” The false teachers, then, slyly entered the Christian community with doctrines designed to destroy the spiritual and moral lives of the Christians. The term destruction occurs twice in the last part of this verse. Peter writes that these teachers, because of their anti-Christian activities, bring “swift destruction on themselves.” By furtively entering the church for the purpose of destroying its members with false doctrines, these teachers destroy themselves. Indeed, they are on a suicidal mission.
  4. Were the false teachers former members of the church? The answer to the question must be affirmative. Peter writes that these teachers are “even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them.” Note that Peter emphatically adds the word even. In addition to subverting the believers, these teachers continue to say that they have nothing to do with the sovereign Lord, who bought them. The expression sovereign Lord applies equally to God (Luke 2:29; Acts 4:24; Rev. 6:10) and Christ (Jude 4). To Jesus has been given all authority and power in heaven and on earth (Matt. 28:18). In the Greek, the word is despotēs, from which we have the derivative despot. It is closely connected with the verb to buy. In the New Testament, this Greek verb occurs twenty-five times in a commercial setting, “but on five other occasions it describes the ‘buying’ of Christians. This clearly reflects the contemporary terminology of the slave-market” (see 1 Cor. 6:20; 7:23; 2 Peter 2:1; Rev. 5:9; 14:3 [redeemed]). With his blood Christ has bought his people that they may do his will. But these false teachers who refuse to obey him demonstrate the height of insolence toward the sovereign Lord.

Just as a master has bought slaves from whom he expects obedience, so Jesus as sovereign Lord has bought his servants and demands obedience. But instead of obeying Jesus, these servants continue to reject him (compare Heb. 10:29). They are “apostate Christians who have disowned their Master.” In due time, therefore, Jesus will swiftly destroy them.[3]

Their Sphere

But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will also be false teachers among you, (2:1a)

Having just discussed the sure word of truth (1:19–21), Peter now shifts his focus to the deceptive words of false prophets (chapter 2). The coordinate conjunction but marks this contrasting transition. Through genuine prophets, God has spoken the truth to His people, but, through false prophets, Satan has always tried to obscure or contaminate God’s message. As servants of the Deceiver, false prophets propagate lies and falsehood in their systematic attack on the truth.

Throughout history, these spiritual mercenaries have always plagued God’s flock. Even in Old Testament times they arose among the people of Israel, spreading their deceptions and causing devastation (1 Kings 22:1–28; Jer. 5:30–31; 6:13–15; 23:14–16, 21, 25–27; 28:1–17; Ezek. 13:1–7, 15–19). That Old Testament Israel is in view here is evidenced both by Peter’s terminology (cf. Matt. 2:4; Luke 22:66; Acts 7:17; 13:17; 26:17, 23, where similar usages of the people clearly refer to the Jewish people) and his Old Testament illustrations (Noah—2:5; Sodom and Gomorrah—2:6; Lot—2:7; and Balaam—2:15).

Even during Jesus’ ministry, false prophets were still a serious problem for the Jewish people (Matt. 7:15–20). For that matter, the entire religious establishment was corrupt, with the Pharisees providing the quintessential example of false religion. Here is Christ’s indictment of those spiritual pretenders:

But the Lord said to him, “Now you Pharisees clean the outside of the cup and of the platter; but inside of you, you are full of robbery and wickedness. You foolish ones, did not He who made the outside make the inside also? But give that which is within as charity, and then all things are clean for you. But woe to you Pharisees! For you pay tithe of mint and rue and every kind of garden herb, and yet disregard justice and the love of God; but these are the things you should have done without neglecting the others. Woe to you Pharisees! For you love the chief seats in the synagogues and the respectful greetings in the market places. Woe to you! For you are like concealed tombs, and the people who walk over them are unaware of it.” One of the lawyers said to Him in reply, “Teacher, when You say this, You insult us too.” But He said, “Woe to you lawyers as well! For you weigh men down with burdens hard to bear, while you yourselves will not even touch the burdens with one of your fingers. Woe to you! For you build the tombs of the prophets, and it was your fathers who killed them. So you are witnesses and approve the deeds of your fathers; because it was they who killed them, and you build their tombs. For this reason also the wisdom of God said, ‘I will send to them prophets and apostles, and some of them they will kill and some they will persecute, so that the blood of all the prophets, shed since the foundation of the world, may be charged against this generation, from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah, who was killed between the altar and the house of God; yes, I tell you, it shall be charged against this generation.’ Woe to you lawyers! For you have taken away the key of knowledge; you yourselves did not enter, and you hindered those who were entering.” (Luke 11:39–52; cf. 12:1; Matt. 23:13–36; Mark 12:38–40)

Just as he knew false prophets had assaulted Israel, Peter understood that there will also be false teachers among the church. Years before, Jesus had predicted that in the last days the church would have to endure a variety of false teachers: “See to it that no one misleads you. For many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and will mislead many” (Matt. 24:4–5; cf. vv. 11, 24).

In a similar vein, Paul warned Timothy:

Preach the word.… For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths. (2 Tim. 4:2–4; cf. Acts 15:24; 20:29–30; Rom. 16:17–18; Gal. 1:6–9; 1 Tim. 4:1–3; 2 Tim. 3:1–9; Jude 4, 12–13)

False teachers arise when the church begins to embrace the worldly culture around it. As a result, congregations no longer desire to “endure [hold to] sound [healthy] doctrine.” God-centered worship and preaching is replaced by man-centered antics and entertainment. A biblical emphasis on sin, repentance, and holiness is replaced by an emphasis on self-esteem and felt needs. People look for teachers who proclaim only pleasant, positive ideas “in accordance to their own desires” because they want “to have their ears tickled.” As a result, these popular teachers (whom “they will accumulate for themselves”) will “turn” the minds of the people from the truth, leaving them vulnerable to Satan’s deceptive influence.

The warning from Scripture is clear: false teachers will arise in the church. In fact, the church is one of Satan’s primary spheres of operation. For that reason, the true shepherd must continually be on guard—constantly studying, proclaiming, and defending the truth, “so that he will be able both to exhort in sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict” (Titus 1:9b).

Their Secrecy

who will secretly introduce destructive heresies, (2:1b)

False teachers are never honest and straightforward about their operations. After all, the church would never embrace them if their schemes were unmasked. Instead, they secretly and deceptively enter the church, posing as pastors, teachers, and evangelists. That is why Jude describes them as “certain persons [who] have crept in unnoticed” (Jude 4). The verb “to creep in” (pareisduō) means to “slip in without being seen,” or “to sneak in under false pretenses.” The term refers to a clever defendant attempting to fool a judge, or a criminal secretly returning to a place from which he was banished.

Posing as true shepherds, false teachers introduce destructive heresies (or literally, “heresies of destruction”). Destructive (apōleias) means “utter ruin” and speaks of the final and eternal condemnation of the wicked. In this context, the term indicates that the antics of these men have disastrous eternal consequences, both for them and their followers. That this Greek word has the sense of damnation can be seen by its use to describe those who go through the wide gate in Matthew 7:13, its use to describe the fate of Judas in John 17:12, its application to unbelievers’ doom in Romans 9:22, its use to describe the judgment of the man of sin in 2 Thessalonians 2:3, and its use by Peter in 3:7 of this letter to describe the destruction of the ungodly. Peter marked those heresies as contrary to the gospel—they damn rather than save.

The term heresies (haireseis) denotes “an opinion, especially a self-willed opinion, which is substituted for submission to the power of truth, and leads to division and the formation of sects” (W. E. Vine, An Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, 4 vols. [London: Oliphants, 1940; reprint, Chicago: Moody, 1985], 2:203). By using this word, Peter indicated that those false teachers had exchanged the truth of God’s Word for their own self-styled opinions. As a result, they distorted the truth to their own ends, convincing the gullible to believe their lies. Their teaching, then, was nothing more than a religious counterfeit—a pseudo-Christian knockoff. While haireseis can simply refer to a sect or division (Acts 24:14; cf. 5:17; 15:5; 24:5; 26:5; 28:22; 1 Cor. 11:19), here it refers to the worst kind of deviation and deception—teaching that claims to be biblical but is actually the very opposite.

False teachers do not always openly oppose the gospel. Some claim to believe it, to have the true interpretation of it; but in truth they misrepresent it, or offer a shallow, inadequate message that cannot save. Because their teaching is as lethal as it is subtle, the self-styled opinions of false teachers can damn the souls of unsuspecting, professed believers (cf. Matt. 13:20–22, 36–42, 47–50). Unless they repent, believe the truth, and turn to Christ, those who embrace these heretical doctrines will be eternally lost.

Their Sacrilege

even denying the Master who bought them, bringing swift destruction upon themselves. (2:1c)

The conjunction even underscores the unthinkable magnitude of the false teachers’ arrogance—a pride that evidenced itself by denying the Master. Denying is a strong term meaning “to refuse,” “to be unwilling,” or “to firmly say no.” The same verb appears in Hebrews 11:24 to describe Moses’ refusal to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter. Here in this passage, Peter used the present tense participle (arnoumenoi) to denote a habitual pattern of refusal, indicating that false teachers characteristically reject divine authority (cf. Jude 8).

Master (despotēs, from which the English despot derives) means “sovereign,” “ruler,” or “lord.” The word appears ten times in the New Testament and always refers to one who has supreme authority. In four occurrences (1 Tim. 6:1, 2; Titus 2:9; 1 Peter 2:18) it refers to the master of a household or estate, who has full authority over all the servants. Here and in the other five occurrences (Luke 2:29; Acts 4:24; 2 Tim. 2:21; Jude 4; Rev. 6:10) it directly refers to Christ or God.

Thus for Peter the supreme sacrilege of false teachers is that they deny the sovereign lordship of Jesus Christ. Granted, they may not outwardly deny Christ’s deity, atonement, resurrection, or second coming. But internally, they adamantly refuse to submit their lives to His sovereign rule (Prov. 19:3; cf. Ex. 5:2; Neh. 9:17). As a result, their immoral and rebellious lifestyles will inevitably give them away.

The phrase who bought them fits Peter’s analogy perfectly. He is alluding to the master of a house who would purchase slaves and put them in charge of various household tasks. Because they were now regarded as the master’s personal property, they owed their complete allegiance to him. While false teachers maintain that they are part of Christ’s household, they deny such professions through their actions—refusing to become servants under His authority. Bought (agorazō) means “to purchase,” or “to redeem out of the marketplace,” and in this context is parallel to Deuteronomy 32:5–6 (cf. Zeph. 1:4–6). The false teachers of Peter’s day claimed Christ as their Redeemer, yet they refused to accept His sovereign lordship, thus revealing their true character as unregenerate enemies of biblical truth.

Many take this statement the Master who bought them to mean that Christ actually has purchased redemption in full for all people, even for false teachers. It is commonly thought that Christ died to pay in full the penalty for everyone’s sins, whether they ever believe or not. The popular notion is that God loves everyone, wants everyone saved, so Christ died for everyone.

This means His death was a potential sacrifice or atonement that becomes an actual atonement when a sinner repents and believes the gospel. Evangelism, according to this view, is convincing sinners to receive what has already been done for them. All can believe and be saved if they will, since no one is excluded in the atonement.

This viewpoint, if taken to its logical conclusion, has hell full of people whose salvation was purchased by Christ on the cross. Therefore the lake of fire is filled with those damned people whose sin Christ fully atoned for by bearing their punishment under God’s wrath.

Heaven will be populated by people who had the same atonement provided for them, but they are there because they received it. Christ, in this view, died on the cross for the damned in hell the same as He did for the redeemed in heaven. The only difference between the redeemed’s fate and that of the damned is the sinner’s choice.

This perspective says that the Lord Jesus Christ died to make salvation possible, not actual. He did not absolutely purchase salvation for anyone. He only removed a barrier for everyone, which merely makes salvation potential. The sinner ultimately determines the nature of the atonement and its application by what he does. According to this perspective, when Jesus cried, “It is finished,” it really should be rendered, “It is stated.”

Of course, the preceding interpretational difficulties and fallacies arising from this view stem from the misunderstanding of two very important biblical teachings: the doctrine of absolute inability (often called total depravity) and the doctrine of the atonement itself.

Rightly understood, the doctrine of absolute inability says that all people are dead in trespasses and sins (Eph. 2:1), alienated from the life of God (Rom. 1:21–22), doing only evil from terminally deceitful hearts (cf. Jer. 17:9), incapable of understanding the things of God (1 Cor. 2:14), blinded by love of sin, further blinded by Satan (2 Cor. 4:4), desiring only the will of their father the devil, unable to seek God, and unwilling to repent (cf. Rom. 3:10–23). So how is the sinner going to make the right choice to activate the atonement on his behalf?

Clearly, salvation is solely from God (cf. Ps. 3:8; Jonah 2:9)—He must give light, life, sight, understanding, repentance, and faith (John 1:12–13; 1 Cor. 1:30; Eph. 2:8–9). Salvation comes to the sinner from God, by His will and power. Since that is true, and based on the doctrine of sovereign election (1 Peter 1:1–3; 2 Peter 1:3; cf. Rom. 8:26–30; 9:14–22; Eph. 1:3–6), God determined the extent of the atonement.

For whom did Christ die? He died for all who would believe because they were chosen, called, justified, and granted repentance and faith by the Father. The atonement is limited to those who believe, who are the elect of God. Any believer who does not believe in universal salvation knows Christ’s atonement is limited (cf. Matt. 7:13; 8:12; 10:28; 22:13; 25:46; Mark 9:43, 49; John 3:17–18; 8:24; 2 Thess. 1:7–9). Anyone who rejects the notion that the whole human race will be saved believes necessarily in a limited atonement—either limited by the sinner who is sovereign, or by God who is sovereign.

One should forget the idea of an unlimited atonement. If he asserts that sinners have the power to limit its application, then the atonement by its nature is limited in actual power and effectiveness. With that understanding, it is less than a real atonement and is, in fact, merely potential and restricted by the volitions of fallen human beings. But in truth, only God can set the atonement’s limits, which extend to every believing sinner without distinction.

Adherents to the unlimited view must affirm that Christ actually atoned for no one in particular but potentially for everyone without exception. Whatever He did on the cross was not a full and complete payment for sin, because sinners for whom He died are still damned. Hell is full of people whose sins were paid for by Christ—sin paid for, yet punished forever.

Of course, such thinking is completely unacceptable. God limits the atonement to the elect, for whom it was not a potential but an actual and real satisfaction for sin. God provided the sacrifice in His Son, which actually paid for the sins of all who would ever believe, the ones chosen by Him for salvation (cf. Matt. 1:21; John 10:11, 27–28; Eph. 5:25–26).

Charles Spurgeon once gave a pointedly accurate and convincing perspective on the argument about the extent of the atonement:

We are often told that we limit the atonement of Christ, because we say that Christ has not made a satisfaction for all men, or all men would be saved. Now, our reply to this is, that, on the other hand, our opponents limit it; we do not. The Arminians say, Christ died for all men. Ask them what they mean by it. Did Christ die so as to secure the salvation of all men? They say, “No, certainly not.” We ask them the next question—Did Christ die so as to secure the salvation of any man in particular? They answer, “No.” They are obliged to admit this, if they are consistent. They say, “No, Christ has died that any man may be saved if”—and then follow certain conditions of salvation. Now, who is it that limits the death of Christ? Why, you. You say that Christ did not die so as infallibly to secure the salvation of anybody. We beg your pardon, when you say we limit Christ’s death; we say, “No, my dear sir, it is you that do it.” We say that Christ so died that he infallibly secured the salvation of a multitude that no man can number, who through Christ’s death not only may be saved, but are saved and cannot by any possibility run the hazard of being anything but saved. You are welcome to your atonement; you may keep it. We will never renounce ours for the sake of it. (Cited by J. I. Packer, “Introductory Essay,” in John Owen, The Death of Death in the Death of Christ [n.p., n.d.; reprint, London: Banner of Truth, 1959], 14.)

Contemporary writer David Clotfelter adds these observations:

From the Calvinist point of view, it is Arminianism that presents logical impossibilities. Arminianism tells us that Jesus died for multitudes that will never be saved, including millions who never so much as heard of Him. It tells us that in the case of those who are lost, the death of Jesus, represented in Scripture as an act whereby He took upon Himself the punishment that should have been ours (Isa. 53:5), was ineffective. Christ has suffered once for their sins, but they will now have to suffer for those same sins in hell.

The Arminian atonement has the initial appearance of being very generous, but the more closely we look at it, the less we are impressed. Does it guarantee the salvation of any person? No. Does it guarantee that those for whom Christ died will have the opportunity to hear of Him and respond to Him? No. Does it in any way remove or even lessen the sufferings of the lost? No. In reality, the Arminian atonement does not atone. It merely clears the way for God to accept those who are able to lift themselves by their own bootstraps. The Calvinist does not believe that any fallen person has such power, and so he views the Arminian atonement as unsuited to the salvation of sinners and insulting to Christ. (Sinners in the Hands of a Good God [Chicago: Moody, 2004], 165; emphasis in original)

Therefore, false teachers’ sins were not paid for in the atonement of Christ.

Contrary to what some Christians believe today, people who reject Christ’s lordship are not merely to be designated as second-class Christians (as believers but not disciples). Instead, those who reject Christ’s sovereign lordship will face swift destruction if they do not repent from such rebellion (cf. Heb. 10:25–31). Swift (tachinos) means “quick,” or “imminent,” and destruction (apōleia) refers to perdition or eternal damnation in hell (cf. Matt. 7:13; John 17:12; 2 Thess. 2:3). This horrible fate, coming either at death or at Christ’s return (John 12:48; 2 Thess. 1:7–10) awaits false teachers and all who follow their unrepentant path.[4]

1 In the present argument, the writer does not designate his adversaries as “false prophets”; rather, the term pseudoprophētai (GK 6021) is applied to deceivers who arose “among the people,” i.e., Israel of old. What the text does say is that “there will be false teachers among you.” The verbal tense is important, for it suggests that the Christian community will need to be on guard in the future.

Against the tendency of traditional scholarship to locate 2 Peter in the early or mid-second century, this description fits well in a mid-sixties scenario in the first century. Ethical lapse has visited the church as it seeks to take root in Gentile culture. Such occurs long before the noted (Gnostic) heretical schools of the second century are established. The appearance her of the term haireseis (GK 146), from which we derive the word “heresy,” has further fed the misconception that 2 Peter mirrors a late date—a date in which heresy is already widespread. However, Paul, writing in about the year AD 55, also uses the term in the sense of “factions” or “divisions” (1 Co 11:18). The phrase “destructive heresies” can be understood in the sense that the opinions or teachings of Peter’s opponents lead ultimately to their own ruin (so Bauckham, 239–40).

The slave-market metaphor, also in 2:19, is employed in v. 1: “even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them” (cf. Jude 4, where the same language is used of Jude’s opponents). What sort of denial might this be? As with Jude’s adversaries, these people have apparently made a confession of faith at one time and now have departed from the faith. The denial, as Green, 107, observes, is primarily ethical and not intellectual in nature. The slave metaphor, reappearing in 2:19, confirms this suspicion.[5]

[1] Tozer, A. W., & Smith, G. B. (2015). Evenings with tozer: daily devotional readings. Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers.

[2] MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (pp. 2294–2295). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

[3] Kistemaker, S. J., & Hendriksen, W. (1953–2001). Exposition of the Epistles of Peter and the Epistle of Jude (Vol. 16, pp. 280–282). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.

[4] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2005). 2 Peter and Jude (pp. 69–76). Chicago: Moody Publishers.

[5] Charles, D. J. (2006). 2 Peter. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Hebrews–Revelation (Revised Edition) (Vol. 13, pp. 396–397). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.


When the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful: for he had great possessions.

Matthew 19:22

All persons who are alienated from God and outside of Christ are part and parcel of a mighty deception!

They are called upon to pretend that they can have peace of mind within and that they can be relatively happy and make a big success of their human lives if they have youth and wealth and morality and high position.

In that sense of what is going on all around us, David never had to apologize for writing that “every man is a liar!” (see Psalm 116:11). The whole human concept of success and happiness and inner peace, based upon who we are and what we have, is completely false.

The rich young ruler who came to question Jesus had wealth, morality, position and youth. But his very first question gave the clue to his own inner emptiness of life: “What good thing should I do, that I may have eternal life?” (see Luke 18:18).

He knew very well that there is not a person alive who has eternal youth or eternal position or eternal righteousness. So, like every other man, he had to make a choice!

Lord, make me sensitive to those within my sphere of influence whose goals for success and happiness are based on a faulty foundation. I pray for these people, Lord, that their eyes may be opened to the truth and that they will fully repent.[1]

22. But when the young man heard this word he went away sorrowful, for he had much property. He was “sorrowful” (cf. 14:9; 17:23; 18:31; 26:22, 37). “His countenance fell” (Mark 10:22; cf. Gen. 4:6). Placed before the choice of either surrendering to Jesus or clinging to his material wealth he chooses the latter.

The demand which Jesus had made on this bewildered man was suited to his particular circumstances and state of mind. The Lord does not ask every rich person—for example Abraham (Gen. 13:2), or Joseph of Arimathea (Matt. 27:57)—to do exactly this same thing. There are those opulent individuals who, speaking by and large, are living for themselves. What they contribute to the cause of others is wholly out of proportion to what they keep for themselves. There are other wealthy persons, however, who are willing to go all out in helping others, including even the ungenerous (Gen. 13:7–11; 14:14); and who, motivated by gratitude, are constantly building altars and bringing offerings to God (Gen. 12:8; 13:18; 15:10–12; 22:13).

According to Scripture two men were asked to make a sacrifice. The one was Abraham (Gen. 22:1, 2); the other, the rich young ruler. The sacrifice Abraham was asked to make was by far the most enormous. By means of his willingness to make the sacrifice Abraham proved the genuine character of his faith. He “believed in Jehovah, and he reckoned it to him for righteousness” (Gen. 15:6; cf. James 2:21–23). The rich young ruler, though asked to make a much smaller but still considerable sacrifice, refused, thereby proving that he did not have the faith whereby salvation is accepted as God’s free gift. Abraham placed his trust in God; the young man, in his riches. That was the difference. See 1 Tim. 6:17.[2]

The Response to Jesus

The young man said to Him, “All these things I have kept; what am I still lacking?” Jesus said to him, “If you wish to be complete, go and sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” But when the young man heard this statement, he went away grieved; for he was one who owned much property. (19:20–22)

The man’s response-“All these things I have kept; what am I still lacking?”-was probably sincere but it was far from true. Like most of the scribes and Pharisees, he was convinced in his own mind that he had kept all of God’s law. He told Jesus, “Teacher, I have kept all these things from my youth up” (Mark 10:20). Because the commandments concerning attitudes toward God were just as familiar to the mart as the one’s Jesus quoted, he obviously thought he had fulfilled those as well. His view of the law was completely superficial, external, and man-oriented. Because he had not committed physical adultery or murder, because he was not a liar or a thief, and because he did not blaspheme the Lord’s name or worship idols, he looked on himself as being virtually perfect in God’s eyes.

By asking, “What am I still lacking?” he implied that there either must have been a commandment of which he had never heard or that something in addition to keeping the law was required to obtain eternal life. It simply did not occur to him that he fell short in obedience to any part of God’s known law. Because his outward, humanly observed life was upright and religious, he never suspected that his inner, divinely observed life was “full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness” (Matt. 23:27). He would not admit to himself that lust is a form of adultery that hate is a form of murder, or that swearing by anything in heaven or on earth is a form of taking the Lord’s name in vain (Matt. 5:22, 28, 34–35). And it certainly never occurred to him that “whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, … has become guilty of all” (James 2:10).

Like most of his Jewish contemporaries, he totally failed to see that the Mosaic commands were not given as means for humanly achieving God’s standard of righteousness but were given as pictures of His righteousness. The law was also given to show men how impossible it is for them to live up to His standards of righteousness in their own power. Obedience to the law is always imperfect because the human heart is imperfect.

One of sin’s greatest curses is the spiritual and moral blindness it produces. It would not seem to require special revelation from God for men to realize that even the commandments concerning their relationship to other men are impossible to keep perfectly. What truly honest person would claim he has never told a single falsehood of any sort, never coveted anything that belongs to someone else, and always treated his parents with respect and honor-much less that he had always loved his neighbors as much as he loved himself? But one of Satan’s chief strategies is to blind sinners to their sin; and because pride is at the heart of all sin, there is a natural inclination toward self-deceit. And nothing is more effective in producing self-deceit than works righteousness, which is the basis of every man-made religion, including the God-given but humanly corrupted religion of first-century Judaism.

The young ruler was aware of what he did not have and needed to receive, namely eternal life. But he was not willing to admit what he did have and needed to be rid of, namely sin. He had too much spiritual pride to acknowledge that he was sinful by nature and that his whole life fell short of God’s holiness and was an offense to Him. His desire for eternal life was centered entirely in his own felt needs and longings.

He had no hatred for sins that needed forgiving and no admission of a heart that needed cleansing. He was therefore not looking for what God needed to do for him but for what he still needed to do for God. Like most Jews of his day, and like most people in all times and cultures, he believed his destiny was in his own hands and that if his lot were to improve it would have to be by his own efforts. All he wanted from Jesus was another commandment, another formula, another rite or ceremony by which he could complete his religious obligations and make himself acceptable to God.

But salvation is for people who despair of their own efforts, who realize that, in themselves and by themselves, they are hopelessly sinful and incapable of improving. Salvation is for those who see themselves as living violations of His holiness and who confess and turn from their sin and throw themselves on God’s mercy. It is for those who recognize they have absolutely nothing good to give God, that anything good they receive or accomplish can be only by His sovereign, gracious provision in Jesus Christ.

Paul spends three full chapters of Romans declaring the sinfulness of man before he ever discusses the way of salvation. John 1:17 declares, “The Law was given through Moses; grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ.” Law always precedes grace; it is the tutor that leads to Christ (Gal. 3:24).

Jesus took the focus off the young man’s felt religious and psychological needs and placed it on God. He tried to show the man that the real problem in his life was not his feeling of emptiness and incompleteness, legitimate and important as those feelings were. His great problem, from which those felt needs arose, was his separation from God and his total inability to reconcile himself with God. Scripture says, “God is angry with the wicked every day” (Ps. 7:11 KJV). In himself this man not only fell far short of God’s righteous standards but was, in fact, an enemy of God and under His wrath (Rom. 5:10; Eph. 2:3). And God will not save those who try to come to Him harboring sin.

Evangelism or personal witnessing that does not confront people with their utter sinfulness and helplessness is not faithful to the gospel of Jesus Christ, no matter how much His name and His Word may be invoked. A profession of Christ that does not include confession and repentance of sin does not bring salvation, no matter how much pleasant emotion may result. To tell an unbeliever that God has a wonderful plan for his life can be seriously misleading. If the unbeliever turns to Christ and is saved, God does indeed have a wonderful plan for him. But if he does not turn to Christ, God’s only plan for him is damnation. In the same way it is misleading and dangerous to tell an unbeliever only that God loves him, without telling him that, in spite of that love, he is under God’s wrath and sentenced to hell.

God’s grace cannot be faithfully preached to unbelievers until His law is preached and man’s corrupt nature is exposed. It is impossible for a person to fully realize his need for God’s grace until he sees how terribly he has failed the standards of God’s law It is impossible for him to realize his need for mercy until he realizes the magnitude of his guilt. As Samuel Bolton wisely commented, “When you see that men have been wounded by the law, then it is time to pour in the gospel oil.”

Instead of being wounded by the law, however, the rich young ruler was self-satisfied in regard to the law. He diligently sought eternal life, but he sought it on his own terms and in his own power. He would not confess his sin and admit his spiritual poverty. Confession of sin and repentance from sin are utterly essential to salvation. John the Baptist began his ministry preaching repentance (Matt. 3:2), Jesus began His ministry preaching repentance (4:17), and both Peter and Paul began their ministries preaching repentance (Acts 2:38; 26:20). Peter even used repentance as a synonym for salvation when he wrote that “the Lord … is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance” (2 Pet. 3:9).

True conviction, confession, and repentance of sin are as much a work of the Holy Spirit as any other part of salvation (John 6:44; 16:8–9). They are divine works of grace, not pre-salvation works of human effort. But just as receiving Christ as Lord and Savior demands the action of the believer’s will, so do confession and repentance. It is not that an unbeliever must understand everything about confession, repentance, or any other aspect of salvation. A person can genuinely receive Christ as Lord and Savior with very little knowledge about Him and the gospel. But genuine belief is characterized by willingness to do whatever the Lord requires, just as unbelief is characterized by unwillingness to do whatever He requires.

In another attempt to make the self-satisfied young ruler face his true spiritual condition, Jesus said to him, “If you wish to be complete, go and sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” In this context, complete is used as a synonym for salvation, as it frequently is in the book of Hebrews, where the same basic Greek word is translated “perfect” (see 7:19; 10:1, 14; 12:23). Jesus was saying, “If you truly desire eternal life, prove your sincerity by selling your possessions and giving what you have to the poor.” If he truly lived up to the Mosaic command to love his neighbor as himself, he would be willing to do what Jesus now commanded. His willingness to obey that command would not merit salvation but it would be evidence that he desired salvation above everything else, as a priceless treasure or a pearl of great value for which no sacrifice could be too great (see Matt. 13:44–46).

The ultimate test was whether or not the man was willing to obey the Lord. The real issue Jesus presented was, “Will you do what I ask, no matter what? Who will be Lord in your life, you or Me?” That hit a sensitive nerve. Jesus demands to be Lord, sovereign over all. There was no better way to find out if the man was ready to accept Christ’s sovereignty than to ask him to give up his riches. The Lord challenged his wealth to force him to admit what was most valuable to him-Jesus Christ and eternal life or his money and possessions. The latter was clearly the man’s priority, and therefore for him salvation was forfeited.

The first part of Jesus’ command was quite capable of being obeyed in the man’s own power. But he refused to comply with it, not because he could not but because he would not. He not only failed to keep God’s impossible commands but failed to keep this one that was easily possible, proving conclusively that he really did not want to do God’s perfect will and be spiritually complete.

Mark tells us that as He gave the man that command, “Jesus felt a love for him” (10:21). The Lord must have felt for him as He did for Jerusalem as He looked out over that great city and cried, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, just as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not have it” (Luke 13:34). Jesus was approaching the time when He would shed His own blood for the sins of the rich young ruler, and for the sins of Jerusalem and of the whole world. But as much as He loved the man and desired for him not to perish, He could not save him while he refused to admit he was lost. The Lord can do nothing with a life that is not surrendered to Him, except to condemn it.

It is possible the man did not even hear Jesus say, “Come, follow Me.” He was so dismayed by the command to sell his possessions and give to the poor that Jesus’ call to discipleship did not register on his conscious mind. His call to discipleship always falls on deaf ears when there is unwillingness to give up everything for Him (see Matt. 8:19–22).

The young man did not want Jesus either as Savior or as Lord. He was not willing to give Him his sins to be forgiven or his life to be ruled. Therefore when he heard Jesus’ statement, he went away grieved; for he was one who owned much property. Contrary to his own self-assessment, he did not live up to any of God’s law, but he was especially guilty in the area of materialism. The property he thought he owned really owned him, and he would rather be its servant than Jesus’.

He went away grieved because, although he came to Jesus for eternal life, he left without it. He did not desire it above the possessions of his present life. He wanted to gain salvation, but not as much as he wanted to keep his property.

Zaccheus was also a wealthy man. But when Jesus called him, “he hurried and came down, and received Him gladly.” Spontaneously he volunteered to do essentially what Jesus commanded the rich young ruler to do. “Half of my possessions I will give to the poor,” Zaccheus said, “and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will give back four times as much.”Jesus then told him, “Today salvation has come to this house” (Luke 19:5–9). Zaccheus was not saved because of his new-found generosity. Rather his new-found generosity was evidence that he was truly saved. As implied in the next verse, Zaccheus was saved because he confessed he was lost (v. 10).

Although every sin must be forsaken for Christ’s sake, there is often a certain sin or group of sins that a person finds particularly difficult to give up. For that young man it was love of his wealth and the prestige associated with it. Willingness to give up his property would not have saved him, but it would have revealed a heart that under the convicting work of the Holy Spirit was ready for salvation.

When Jesus declared, “No one of you can be My disciple who does not give up all his own possessions” (Luke 14:33), He was not referring only to material possessions. For some people the supreme obstacle to salvation might be a career, an unsaved boyfriend or girlfriend, or some cherished sin. Many people who are materially destitute are just as far from the kingdom as the rich young ruler. Yet they must be willing to give up whatever they do possess, even if all they have left is pride, if they would be saved.

Salvation involves a commitment to forsake sin and to follow Jesus Christ at all costs. He will take disciples on no other terms. A person who does not “confess with [his] mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in [his] heart that God raised Him from the dead,” cannot be saved, “for with the heart man believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation” (Rom. 10:9–10).[3]

21–22 Many have taken these verses to indicate a two-tier ethic. Some disciples find eternal life, and others go further and become perfect by adopting a more compassionate stance (e.g., Harrington; NIDNTT, 2:63). But G. Barth (“Matthew’s Understanding of the Law,” 95ff.) convincingly disproves this exegesis. In particular the young man’s question in v. 20, “What do I still lack?” clearly refers to gaining eternal life (v. 17), and Jesus’ answer in v. 21 must be understood as answering the question. A two-tier Christianity is implicitly contradicted by 23:8–12, and the same word (“perfect”) is applied to all of Jesus’ disciples in 5:48. Matthew shows no strong tendency toward asceticism. Therefore, the basic thrust of v. 21 is not “Sell your possessions and give to the poor” but “Come, follow me.”

What the word “perfection” suggests here is what it commonly means in the OT—undivided loyalty and full-hearted obedience. This young man could not face that. He was willing to discipline himself to observe all the outward stipulations and even perform supererogatory works, but because of his wealth, he had a divided heart. His money was competing with God, and what Jesus everywhere demands as a condition for eternal life is absolute, radical discipleship. This entails the surrender of self. “Keeping the individual commandments is no substitute for the readiness for self-surrender to the absolute claim of God imposed through the call of the gospel. Jesus’ summons in this context means that true obedience to the Law is rendered ultimately in discipleship” (Lane, Mark, 367). Warren Carter (Households and Discipleship: A Study in Matthew 19–20 [JSNTSup 103; Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1994]) has an excellent discussion on how wealth was viewed in the ancient world (pp. 127–43) but badly misses the point when he assumes that this young man’s wealth was gained by oppression (p. 388). There is not a hint of that in the text.

Formally, of course, Jesus’ demand in v. 21 goes beyond anything in OT law (cf. Banks, Jesus and the Law, 163). Equally remarkable is the fact that the focus on God’s will (vv. 17–19) should culminate in following Jesus. The explanation of this is that Jesus is prophesied by the OT. The will of God as revealed in Scripture looks forward to the coming of Messiah (see comments at 2:15; 5:17–20; 11:11–13). Absolute allegiance to him, with the humility of a child, is essential to salvation. The condition Jesus now imposes not only reveals the man’s attachment to money but shows that all his formal compliance with the law is worthless because none of it entails absolute self-surrender. What the man needs is the triumph of grace, for as the next verses show, entering the kingdom of heaven is impossible for him (v. 26). God, with whom all things are possible, must work. The parable in 20:1–16 directly speaks to this issue. But the young man is deaf to it. He leaves because if a choice must be made between money and Jesus, money wins (cf. 6:24).[4]

[1] Tozer, A. W. (2015). Mornings with tozer: daily devotional readings. Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers.

[2] Hendriksen, W., & Kistemaker, S. J. (1953–2001). Exposition of the Gospel According to Matthew (Vol. 9, pp. 726–727). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.

[3] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1985). Matthew (Mt 19:17–20). Chicago: Moody Press.

[4] Carson, D. A. (2010). Matthew. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Matthew–Mark (Revised Edition) (Vol. 9, pp. 478–479). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

June 10 – Example of the Birds

Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they?—Matt. 6:26

Many birds live in northern Galilee, and it’s likely some flew by as Jesus was teaching. As an object lesson, Jesus called attention to the fact that birds do not have intricate and involved processes for acquiring food.

Like every creature, birds receive their life from God. And He provides them with an abundance of food resources and the instinct to find those resources for themselves and their offspring. The Lord asked Job, “Who prepares for the raven its nourishment when its young cry to God?” (Job 38:41). The obvious answer is: God does.

If God is so careful to provide for such relatively insignificant creatures as birds, how much more will He take care of those He created in His own image and who have become His children through faith?

This doesn’t mean Jesus is suggesting that birds do nothing to feed themselves. But they never worry about where their next meal is going to come from. They gather food until they have enough, and then go about whatever other business they may have until time for the next meal.

Use this example of a bird’s worry-free life and adopt the same attitude for yourself.

It really is worth reiterating that birds don’t sit around waiting for their needs to be met. Keep your eye to an open window one morning, and you’ll see just how industrious they are. How does this help you understand Jesus’ words better? In what ways have laziness and other lacks of good character increased your worry quotient?[1]

6:26 The birds of the air illustrate God’s care for His creatures. They preach to us how unnecessary it is for us to worry. They neither sow nor reap, yet God feeds them. Since, in God’s hierarchy of creation, we are of more value than the birds, then we can surely expect God to take care of our needs.

But we should not infer from this that we need not work for the supply of our present needs. Paul reminds us: “If anyone will not work, neither shall he eat” (2 Thess. 3:10). Nor should we conclude that it is wrong for a farmer to sow, reap, and harvest. These activities are a necessary part of his providing for his current needs. What Jesus forbids here is multiplying barns in an attempt to provide future security independent of God (a practice He condemns in His story of the rich farmer in Luke 12:16–21.) The Daily Notes of the Scripture Union succinctly summarize verse 26:

The argument is that if God sustains, without their conscious participation, creatures of a lower order, He will all the more sustain, with their active participation, those for whom creation took place.[2]

26. Look at the birds of the air. They neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them. You are of more value than they, are you not? The sky above Palestine and neighboring countries is full of birds. Scripture mentions many of them. In the small compass of seven verses (Lev. 11:13–19) no less than twenty kinds are listed: eagle, ossifrage, osprey, kite, falcon, raven, ostrich, nighthawk, sea gull, hawk, owl, cormorant, ibis, water hen, pelican, vulture, stork, heron, hoopoe, and bat. In the old dispensation all of these were considered “unclean.” The pigeon and the turtle-dove are mentioned in Lev. 12:6 (cf. Luke 2:24); the sparrow and the swallow in Ps. 84:3; for the former see also Matt. 10:29, 31; Luke 12:6, 7. In addition to turtle-dove and swallow Jer. 8:7 mentions the crane. In the passage parallel to Matt. 6:26 Jesus calls the attention of his audience to the (already mentioned) raven (Luke 12:24). The barnyard with its domestic fowl is not neglected; note the strikingly beautiful passage about the hen and its chicks (Matt. 23:37), and the part the rooster plays in the story of Peter’s denial (Matt. 26:34 ff., and parallels). The eagle, referred to not only in Lev. 11 but in several other Old Testament passages (including such well-known ones as Deut. 32:11; Ps. 103:5 and Ezek. 17:3, 11) returns in the pages of the New Testament (Matt. 24:28; cf. Luke 17:37; Rev. 4:7; 12:14). We have already become acquainted with the dove in our study of the baptism of Jesus (see p. 214).

For a complete list and description of the birds mentioned in Scripture one should turn to the delightfully interesting work by A. Parmelee, All the Birds of the Bible, New York, 1959. That author calls the country in which the Sermon on the Mount was delivered “the cross-roads of bird-migrations.” Was a thick swarm of winged travelers cleaving the air at the very moment when the Lord spoke the words of 6:26? It is entirely possible.

What Jesus is saying here is that the birds of the air neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, yet are being fed and kept alive by their Creator. This passage must not be misinterpreted as if it were an encouragement to idleness. It could not have been that, for the Lord knew well enough that his audience was conscious of the fact that adult birds are by no means lazy. They work for their living. They do not just settle themselves on some twig and wait for food to drop into their mouths. No, they are very busy. They gather insects and worms, prepare their nests, care for their young and teach them how to fly, etc. A certain degree of “care” for impending contingencies can be ascribed to them, especially to the migrants among them; for, as the season may dictate, these travel to warmer or cooler regions. Nevertheless, two things must be borne in mind. First, birds are not guilty of overdoing a good thing. They are not like the rich fool of the parable (Luke 12:16–21). Secondly, when these birds prepare their nests, train their young, migrate, etc., they are acting “instinctively.” When we say this, are we not really affirming that it is their Creator who, by endowing them with these instincts, is caring for them, while they themselves are merely responding to certain stimuli?

With men the story is entirely different. It is they, not the birds, who not only sow and reap and gather into barns, but who, while engaged in all this, are often filled with dreadful forebodings, in large measure ignoring God’s promises! While the birds are “carefree,” men are “careworn.”

Christ’s argument—from the less to the greater, contrast verse 25—amounts to this: If the birds, who cannot in any real sense plan ahead, have no reason to worry, then certainly you, my followers, endowed with intelligence, so that you can take thought for the future, should not be filled with apprehension. Again, if God provides even for these lower creatures, how much more will he care for you, who were created as his very image. And especially, if the One who feeds them is “your heavenly Father” but their Creator, then how thoroughly unreasonable your anxiety becomes. “You are of more value than they, are you not?” asks the Lord, in a question so worded in the original that it expects an affirmative answer.[3]

Worry About Food

Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they? (6:26)

There are many birds in northern Galilee, and it is likely that Jesus pointed to some passing birds as He said, Look at the birds of the air. As an object lesson, He called attention to the fact that birds do not have intricate and involved processes for acquiring food. They do not sow, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns.

Like every creature, birds have their life from God. But God does not say to them, in effect, “I’ve done My part; from now on you’re on your own.” The Lord has provided them with an abundance of food resources and the instinct to find those resources for themselves and their offspring. Your heavenly Father feeds them. He “prepares for the raven its nourishment, when its young cry out to God” (Job 38:41; cf. Ps. 147:9).

If God so carefully takes care of such relatively insignificant creatures as birds, how much more will He take of those who are created in His own image and who have become His children through faith? Are you not worth much more than they?

Arthur Pink comments, “Here we may see how the irrational creatures, made subject to vanity by the sin of man, come nearer to their first estate and better observe the order of nature in their creation than man does. For they seek only for that which God has provided for them, and when they receive it they are content. This solemnly demonstrates that man is more … vile and more base than even the brute beasts” (An Exposition of the Sermon on the Mount [Grand Rapids: Baker, 1974], p. 229).

Jesus does not suggest that birds do nothing to feed themselves. Anyone who has observed them even for a little while is impressed with their diligence and persistence in foraging for food. Many birds spend the greater part of their time and energy finding food for themselves, their mates, and their young. But they do not worry about where their next meal is going to come from. They gather food until they have enough, and then go about whatever other business they may have until time for the next meal. Birds only eat excessively when humans put them in cages. They never worry about or stockpile their food. Certain species store seeds or nuts for winter, but they do so out of instinctive sense, not out of fear or worry. Much less do they stockpile simply for the sake of gloating over their hoard. In their own limited way they illustrate what we should know: that the heavenly Father feeds them.

Yet no bird is created in the image of God or recreated in the image of Christ. No bird was ever promised heirship with Jesus Christ throughout all eternity. No bird has a place prepared for him in heaven. And if God gives and sustains life for birds, will He not take care of us who are His children and who have been given all those glorious promises?

The idea that the world’s food supply is rapidly diminishing is untrue. A recent bulletin of the U.S. Department of Agriculture states, “The world has more than enough food to feed every man, woman, and child in it. If the world’s food supply had been evenly divided and distributed among the world’s population for the last eighteen years, each person would have received more than the minimum number of calories. From 1960 to the present world food grain production never dropped below a hundred and three percent of the minimum requirement, and averaged a hundred and eight percent.”

Nor has the per capita amount of food been dropping. The same bulletin reports, “World per capita food production declined only twice in the last twenty-five years. In fact production of grain, the primary food for most of the world’s people, rose from two hundred and ninety kilograms per person during the early fifties to three hundred and sixty kilograms per person during the last five years.” It is also stated that only ten percent of the agricultural land in the world could produce enough food to feed every human being on our planet, even by the standard of U. S. consumption![4]

26 To worry about food and drink is to have learned nothing from the natural creation. If the created order testifies to God’s “eternal power and divine nature” (Ro 1:20), it testifies equally to his providence. The point is not that disciples need not work—birds do not simply wait for God to drop food into their beaks—but that they need not fret. Disciples may further strengthen their faith when they remember that God is in a special sense their Father (not the birds’ Father), and that they are worth far more than birds (“you” is emphatic). Here the argument is from the lesser to the greater.

This argument presupposes a biblical cosmology without which faith makes no sense. God is so sovereign over the universe that even the feeding of a wren falls within his concern. Because he normally does things in regular ways, there are “scientific laws” to be discovered. But the believer with eyes to see simultaneously discovers something about God and his activity (cf. Carson, Sermon on the Mount, 87–90).[5]

[1] MacArthur, J. (2008). Daily readings from the life of Christ (p. 170). Chicago: Moody Publishers.

[2] MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (pp. 1226–1227). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

[3] Hendriksen, W., & Kistemaker, S. J. (1953–2001). Exposition of the Gospel According to Matthew (Vol. 9, pp. 349–351). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.

[4] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1985). Matthew (pp. 421–423). Chicago: Moody Press.

[5] Carson, D. A. (2010). Matthew. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Matthew–Mark (Revised Edition) (Vol. 9, p. 215). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.