Category Archives: Expositor’s Bible Commentary

June 28, 2017: Verse of the day

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18–20 The concluding doxology closes Book II. The Lord is “blessed” (bārûk; NIV, “praise be to”). He is God, the Lord (Yahweh), “the God of Israel,” who has done and will continue to do “marvelous deeds” in behalf of his people (v. 18; cf. 71:14; 86:10; 136:4). Through his “deeds” he has demonstrated his “glorious name” (v. 19; cf. 1 Ch 29:13; Ne 9:5; Isa 63:14) in all the earth (cf. Isa 6:3). Such was also the testimony of Zechariah: “Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, because he has come and has redeemed his people” (Lk 1:68).

The congregational response to the doxology is a twofold “Amen” (cf. 106:48; Ne 8:6). They confess that these words are true. The final verse (v. 20) separates the psalms associated with David from those of Asaph (Pss 73–83).[1]


72:18, 19 The Psalm closes with a doxology. The glorious reign of the Lord Jesus is God’s achievement. It is He who brings about these wonderful conditions, as no one else could do. And so it is fitting that His glorious name be praised forever, and that His glory fill the whole earth.[2]


72:19 The filling of the earth with God’s glory will be fulfilled in the consummation (Rev. 21:22–27).[3]


72:19 blessed be his glorious name forever Yahweh’s name is representative of His power and character.[4]


72:18, 19 These magnificent words of benediction mark the conclusion of the psalm, as well as the conclusion of Book II of the Psalms. The repetition of the word blessed, the focus on the name (as in 89:16), and the double Amen all indicate that this psalm was used in the worship of God in His temple.[5]


[1] VanGemeren, W. A. (2008). Psalms. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Psalms (Revised Edition) (Vol. 5, p. 555). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[2] MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (p. 660). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

[3] Crossway Bibles. (2008). The ESV Study Bible (p. 1026). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[4] Barry, J. D., Mangum, D., Brown, D. R., Heiser, M. S., Custis, M., Ritzema, E., … Bomar, D. (2012, 2016). Faithlife Study Bible (Ps 72:19). Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

[5] Radmacher, E. D., Allen, R. B., & House, H. W. (1999). Nelson’s new illustrated Bible commentary (p. 695). Nashville: T. Nelson Publishers.

June 27, 2017: Verse of the day

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8 Micah now asks and answers the question, “What does the Lord require of you?” He does so in a verse justly regarded as one of the memorable and timeless expressions of OT ethical religion (cf. Jas 1:27). It is a heart’s response to God demonstrated in the basic elements of true religion, as shown to Israel in the social concerns reflected in the Mosaic legislation.

God has told his people what is good. The Mosaic law differentiates between good and bad and reflects God’s will in many areas of their religious and social lives. It indicates what God requires (dāraš, “seeks”) of them. They are to act justly (lit., “do justice,” mišpāṭ). The word “justly” here has the sense of “true religion,” that is, the ethical response to God that has a manifestation in social concerns as well (cf. Note on 3:8). “To love mercy” is freely and willingly to show kindness to others (cf. Notes below). The expression “to walk humbly with your God” means to live in conscious fellowship with God by exercising a spirit of humility before him. These great words recall similar words of our Lord in Matthew 23:23.

The prophet is not suggesting that sacrifice is completely ineffectual and that simply a proper attitude of heart toward God will suffice. In the preceding verse he painted a caricature—a purposefully exaggerated picture—of the sacrificial system to indicate that God has no interest in the multiplication of empty religious acts. Jeremiah 7:22–23 is often appealed to as evidence that the prophets rejected the Levitical system; yet Jeremiah promised that the offerings would be acceptable if the people were obedient (Jer 17:24–26). A similar attitude toward sacrifice is expressed in Psalm 51:16–17, but the succeeding verses show the author to be indicating that the Levitical sacrifices are acceptable to God only when accompanied by a proper attitude of heart toward him (51:18–19).

The ethical requirements of v. 8 do not comprise the way of salvation. Forgiveness of sin was received through the sacrifices. The standards of this verse are for those who are members of the covenantal community and delineate the areas of ethical response that God wants to see in those who share the covenantal obligations.[1]


6:6–8 What does the Most High seek in return for this? Not extravagant animal sacrifices! Certainly not human sacrifices! But justice, and mercy, and humility. Verse 8 describes what God requires; to obey this a person must have divine life. An unconverted person is totally incapable of producing this kind of righteousness.[2]


6:8 Micah’s terse response (v. 8) indicated they should have known the answer to the rhetorical question. Spiritual blindness had led them to offer everything except the one thing He wanted—a spiritual commitment of the heart from which right behavior would ensue (cf. Dt 10:12–19; Mt 22:37–39). This theme is often represented[3]


6:8 The Lord desires the primary forms of love—justice (do justice), mercy (love kindness), and faithfulness (walk humbly)—as the expressed response of his people to his redemptive acts (Matt. 23:23; cf. Deut. 10:12–13; 1 Sam. 15:22; Isa. 1:11–17; Hos. 6:6). On the meaning of “justice,” see notes on Isa. 42:1; Jer. 22:3; Amos 5:7. your God. The complement to “my people” (Mic. 6:3, 5).

6:8 Sacrifices cannot replace the need for justice and kindness. The focus on real righteousness anticipates Jesus’ teaching (Matt. 5:23–24; 9:13; 15:10–20) and is fulfilled in Jesus’ own righteousness (Acts 3:14; Rom. 8:1–4).[4]


6:8 does Yahweh ask from you This verse gives the answer to the question the prophet asked in Micah 6:6–7. What God requires is heartfelt love and obedience.

to do justice A proper relationship with God also involves a proper relationship with one’s neighbor. See 3:1; Isa 5:7 and note.

kindness The Hebrew word here often occurs in reference to Yahweh’s covenant with Israel (see Deut 7:9, 12; 1 Kgs 8:23; Neh 1:5).

humbly This Hebrew word occurs only here in the ot. It traditionally has been understood as referring to humility, but it also can indicate carefulness or thoughtfulness.[5]


[1] McComiskey, T. E., & Longman, T. I. (2008). Micah. In D. E. Garland (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Daniel–Malachi (Revised Edition) (Vol. 8, p. 540). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[2] MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (p. 1135). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

[3] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2006). The MacArthur study Bible: New American Standard Bible. (Mic 6:8). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

[4] Crossway Bibles. (2008). The ESV Study Bible (p. 1705). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[5] Barry, J. D., Mangum, D., Brown, D. R., Heiser, M. S., Custis, M., Ritzema, E., … Bomar, D. (2012, 2016). Faithlife Study Bible (Mic 6:8). Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

June 21, 2017: Verse of the day

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The Urgency of Rest

Let us therefore be diligent to enter that rest, lest anyone fall through following the same example of disobedience. For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do. (4:11–13)

The need for God’s rest is urgent. A person should diligently, with intense purpose and concern, secure it. It is not that he can work his way to salvation, but that he should diligently seek to enter God’s rest by faith—lest he, like the Israelites in the wilderness, lose the opportunity.

God cannot be trifled with. For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, … and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. In the immediate context this verse means that the readers who are hesitating in trusting Christ, who are even considering falling back into Judaism, had better be urgent and diligent in seeking to enter God’s rest, because the Word of God is alive. It is not static, but active—constantly active. It can pierce right down into the innermost part of the heart to see if belief is real or not.

So the Word of God is not only saving and comforting and nourishing and healing, it is also a tool of judgment and execution. In the day of the great judgment His Word is going to penetrate and lay bare all hearts who have not trusted in Him. The sham and hypocrisy will be revealed and no profession of faith, no matter how orthodox, and no list of good works, no matter how sacrificial, will count for anything before Him. Only the thoughts and intentions of the heart will count. God’s Word is the perfect discerner, the perfect kritikos (from which we get “critic”). It not only analyzes all the facts perfectly, but all motives, and intentions, and beliefs as well, which even the wisest of human judges or critics cannot do. The sword of His Word will make no mistakes in judgment or execution. All disguises will be ripped off and only the real person will be seen.

The word translated open had two distinct uses in ancient times. It was used of a wrestler taking his opponent by the throat. In this position the two men were unavoidably face to face. The other use was in regard to a criminal trial. A sharp dagger would be bound to the neck of the accused, with the point just below his chin, so that he could not bow his head, but had to face the court. Both uses had to do with grave face-to-face situations. When an unbeliever comes under the scrutiny of God’s Word, he will be unavoidably face-to-face with the perfect truth about God and about himself.

In light of such certain and perfect judgment and of such beautiful and wonderful rest, why will any person harden his heart to God?[1]


12 The exposition of Psalm 95:7–11 is complete, but before moving on with his argument the author pauses to reflect in vv. 12–13 on the power of “the word of God,” and the “for” shows this reflection is not a self-contained comment but a colorful and rhetorically powerful underlining of what has just been taught from the psalm. The psalm has focused on God’s speaking, both in the “voice” that the people are exhorted to heed (95:7) and in the declaration on oath that sealed the fate of those who refused to listen (vv. 10–11). This could be all that our author refers to when he speaks of “the word of God,” but he has also made it clear that he regards the whole message of the psalm as coming from the Holy Spirit (3:7) and from God (4:7), not just from David, so that vv. 12–13 are more likely to be understood in that wider sense. The whole text he has just been expounding is “the word of God” and as such cannot lightly be dismissed. To go further and find in these two verses a description of the whole of the OT goes beyond what the context requires but would be consonant with the authority our author clearly attributes to a wide variety of OT passages. Quite likely he also has in mind the “word of God” as it now comes through Christian preachers, of whom surely he himself was one (cf. 13:7, where the same phrase is used).

God’s word, like its author (3:12), is “living” (TNIV, “alive”). It is also “at work” (energēs, “active, effective, powerful,” GK 1921); the thought is close to that of Isaiah 55:11, where God’s word goes out from his mouth and accomplishes the purpose for which he sent it (cf. Ps 147:15, 18). Jeremiah conveyed this dynamic idea of God’s word by describing it as like a fire and like a hammer smashing the rock (Jer 23:29). Our author goes for a different metaphor, that of a double-edged sword (one designed for stabbing rather than slashing like a cutlass), which conveys not so much its sheer power as its ability to cut through our human resistance. This dynamic understanding of the word of God is vividly symbolized in the picture of a “sharp, two-edged sword” coming out of the mouth of the risen Lord in Revelation 1:16 (cf. 19:15). In the context of his discussion of Psalm 95, our author may be thinking of Numbers 14:43, where even after God’s oath some Israelites nonetheless tried to enter Canaan directly, only to be cut down by the sword of the Amalekites and Canaanites; God’s word is sharper even than that.

The metaphor continues in the following description of the sword (literally) “going right through to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and marrow.” The latter pair, “joints and marrow,” refers to the literal body of flesh and bones, though it is not easy to see how joints can be “divided” from marrow; we may feel the effect of the metaphor without needing to inquire too closely how it might be envisaged physically. But with the former pair, “soul and spirit,” we seem already to be moving beyond the literal picture of what a sword can do. Words such as “soul” (psychē [GK 6034], sometimes better translated “life”) and “spirit” (pneuma [GK 4460], used for angels [1:7] and for the Holy Spirit as well as for people alive after death [12:23]) are notoriously slippery, and our author’s use of the two words elsewhere does not suggest he thought of them as two separate “parts” of a person. As with joints and marrow, we probably do better to feel the force of the metaphor than to press pedantically for a literal explanation. Both terms denote our “real, innermost selves,” and at that level, too, we are still open to the penetrative power of God’s word.

The final description of the word of God as “judging the thoughts and attitudes of the heart” has left the metaphor of the sword behind. The unusual adjective kritikos, “judging” or “discerning” (GK 3217), denotes its ability to break through pretense and confusion to expose the reality of our inmost being.[2]


4:12. This vivid expression of the power of God’s message provides the explanation for the strong warning of verse 11. Because God’s message is alive, active, sharp, and discerning, those who listen to God’s message can enter his rest. Two questions are important in this verse. First, what is the word of God? Second, what does this passage say about it?

Although the Bible sometimes refers to Christ as God’s Word (John 1:14), the reference here is not speaking of Jesus Christ. Here we have a general reference to God’s message to human beings. In the past God had spoken to human beings through dreams, angelic appearances, and miracles. He still can use those methods today, but our primary contact with God is through his written Word, the Bible. God’s Word will include any method God uses to communicate with human beings.

This verse contains four statements about God’s Word. First, it is living. God is a living God (Heb. 3:12). His message is dynamic and productive. It causes things to happen. It drives home warnings to the disobedient and promises to the believer. Second, God’s Word is active, an emphasis virtually identical in meaning with the term living. God’s Word is not something you passively hear and then ignore. It actively works in our lives, changes us, and sends us into action for God.

Third, God’s Word penetrates the soul and spirit. To the Hebrew people, the body was a unity. We should not think of dividing the soul from the spirit. God’s message is capable of penetrating the impenetrable. It can divide what is indivisible. Fourth, God’s message is discerning. It judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. It passes judgment on our feelings and our thoughts. What we regard as secret and hidden, God brought out for inspection by the discerning power of his Word.

In 1995, Johnny Oates was managing the Texas Rangers baseball team when God spoke to him through the illness of his wife Gloria. Oates had become a Christian in 1983; but until the crisis in 1995, he had always lived as if baseball were his god. His wife was traveling to the spring training camp for the Rangers when she became ill in Savannah, Georgia. His daughter summoned him to Georgia with a phone call. Oates arrived to find his wife in a motel, despairing and defeated.

Oates said, “God got my attention and said, ‘Johnny, it’s not going to work this way.’ ” In the grief of the moment, Oates told God that he was ready to listen to anything he wanted to say. The next day Oates checked his wife out of the motel and headed for their home in Virginia. There he and his wife both participated in a Christian counseling program and learned how to communicate with one another. He learned that what he had worshiped was not God or his family, but the game of baseball. Both Oates and his wife moved closer, and Oates said, “As we get closer to God, … we get closer to each other.”

God got his attention. Fortunately Oates listened. God’s message to this baseball manager was life changing. It was also marriage saving.[3]


12a. The word of God is living and active.

The writer reminds the reader that God’s Word cannot be taken lightly; for if the reader does not wish to listen, he faces no one less than God himself (see Heb. 10:31; 12:29). The Bible is not a collection of religious writings from the ancient past, but a book that speaks to all people everywhere in nearly all the languages of the world. The Bible demands a response, because God does not tolerate indifference and disobedience.

In their interpretation of verse 12a, some scholars assert that the phrase Word of God is a reference to Jesus. This view is difficult to maintain, even though such a reference exists in Revelation 19:13 (where the rider on the white horse is called the Word of God). The phrase Word of God occurs at least thirty-nine times in the New Testament and almost exclusively is the designation for the spoken or written Word of God rather than the Son of God. In the introductory verses of the Epistle to the Hebrews, the writer clearly states that God spoke to the forefathers in the past, and in the present he spoke to us in his Son (Heb. 1:1–2). In Hebrews Jesus is called the Son of God, but never the Word of God.

In the original Greek, the participle living stands first in the sentence and therefore receives all the emphasis. This participle describes the first characteristic of God’s spoken and written Word: that Word is alive! For example, Stephen, reciting Israel’s history in the desert, says that Moses at Mount Sinai “received living words” (Acts 7:38), and Peter tells the recipients of his first epistle that they “have been born again … through the living and enduring word of God” (1 Peter 1:23).

A second characteristic is that the Word of God is active. That is, it is effective and powerful. (The original Greek uses a word from which we have derived the term energy.) God’s Word, then, is energizing in its effect. No one can escape that living and active Word. Just as God’s spoken Word brought forth his beautiful creation, so his Word recreates man dead in transgressions and sins (Eph. 2:1–5). As in the wilderness some Israelites refused to listen to God’s Word while others showed obedience, so today we see that “the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Cor. 1:18).

The Bible is not a dead letter, comparable to a law that is no longer enforced. Those people who choose to ignore the message of Scripture will experience not merely the power of God’s Word but its keen edge as well.

12b. Sharper than any double-edged sword.

In the ancient world, the double-edged sword was the sharpest weapon available in any arsenal. And in verse 12b, the author of Hebrews likens the Word of God to this weapon. (In a similar passage [Rev. 1:16] we read about the “sharp double-edged sword” coming out of the mouth of Jesus as John saw him on the island of Patmos. Whether this means that the tongue resembles a dagger is an open question.) The symbolism conveys the message that God’s judgment is stern, righteous, and awful. God has the ultimate power over his creatures; those who refuse to listen to his Word face judgment and death, while those who obey enter God’s rest and have life eternal. Let no one take the spoken and written Word for granted; let no one ignore it; let no one willfully oppose it. That Word cuts and divides, much as the scalpel of a surgeon uncovers the most delicate nerves of the human body.

However, the Word of God also provides protection. Paul in his Epistle to the Ephesians equates the Word with the sword of the Spirit—that is, part of the Christian’s spiritual armor (6:17).

12c. It penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.

I do not think that the writer of Hebrews is teaching the doctrine that man consists of body, soul, and spirit (1 Thess. 5:23). Of course, we can make a distinction between soul and spirit by saying that the soul relates to man’s physical existence; and the spirit, to God. But the author does not make distinctions in this verse. He speaks in terms of that which is not done and in a sense cannot be done.

Who is able to divide soul and spirit or joints and marrow? And what judge can know the thoughts and attitudes of the heart? The author uses symbolism to say that what man ordinarily does not divide, God’s Word separates thoroughly. Nothing remains untouched by Scripture, for it addresses every aspect of man’s life. The Word continues to divide the spiritual existence of man and even his physical being. All the recesses of body and soul—including the thoughts and attitudes—face the sharp edge of God’s dividing sword. Whereas man’s thoughts remain hidden from his neighbor’s probing eye, God’s Word uncovers them.

God’s Word is called a discerner of man’s thoughts and intentions. In the Psalter David says:

O Lord, you have searched me

and you know me.

You know when I sit and when I rise;

you perceive my thoughts from afar.

You discern my going out and my lying down;

you are familiar with all my ways. [Ps. 139:1–3]

And Jesus utters these words:

As for the person who hears my words but does not keep them, I do not judge him. For I did not come to judge the world, but to save it. There is a judge for the one who rejects me and does not accept my words; that very word which I spoke will condemn him at the last day. [John 12:47–48]

The Lord with his Word exposes the motives hidden in a man’s heart. In his epistle the author stresses the act of God’s speaking to man. For instance, the introductory verses (Heb. 1:1–2) illustrate this fact clearly. And repeatedly, when quoting the Old Testament Scriptures, the writer uses this formula: God, Jesus, or the Holy Spirit says (consult the many quotations, for example, in the first four chapters). The Word is not a written document of past centuries. It is alive and current; it is powerful and effective; and it is undivided and unchanged. Written in times and cultures from which we are far removed, the Word of God nevertheless touches man today. God addresses man in the totality of his existence, and man is unable to escape the impact of God’s Word.[4]


[1] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1983). Hebrews (pp. 104–105). Chicago: Moody Press.

[2] France, R. T. (2006). Hebrews. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Hebrews–Revelation (Revised Edition) (Vol. 13, pp. 67–68). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[3] Lea, T. D. (1999). Hebrews, James (Vol. 10, pp. 71–72). Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

[4] Kistemaker, S. J., & Hendriksen, W. (1953–2001). Exposition of Hebrews (Vol. 15, pp. 115–118). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.

June 19, 2017: Verse of the day

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Jesus reigns supreme over the visible world, the unseen world, and the church. Paul sums up his argument in verse 19: For it was the Father’s good pleasure for all the fulness to dwell in Him. Plērōma (fulness) was a term used by the later Gnostics to refer to the divine powers and attributes, which they believed were divided among the various emanations. That is likely the sense in which the Colossian errorists used the term. Paul counters that false teaching by stating that all the fulness of deity is not spread out in small doses to a group of spirits, but fully dwell-s in Christ alone (cf. 2:9). The commentator J. B. Lightfoot wrote about Paul’s use of plērōma,

On the one hand, in relation to Deity, He is the visible image of the invisible God. He is not only the chief manifestation of the Divine nature: He exhausts the godhead manifested. In Him resides the totality of the Divine powers and attributes. For this totality Gnostic teachers had a technical term, the pleroma or plenitude.… In contrast to their doc-trine, [Paul] asserts and repeats the assertion, that the pleroma abides absolutely and wholly in Christ as the Word of God. The entire light is concentrated in Him. (St. Paul’s Epistles to the Colossians and to Philemon [1879; reprint, Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1959], p. 102)

Paul tells the Colossians they do not need angels to help them get saved. Rather in Christ, and Him alone, they are complete (2:10). Christians share in His fulness: “For of His fulness we have all received, and grace upon grace” (John 1:16). All the fulness of Christ becomes available to believers.

What should the response be to the glorious truths about Christ in this passage? The Puritan John Owen astutely wrote,

The revelation made of Christ in the blessed gospel is far more excellent, more glorious, more filled with rays of divine wisdom and goodness than the whole creation, and the just comprehension of it, if attainable, can contain or afford. Without this knowledge, the mind of man, however priding itself in other inventions and discoveries, is wrapped up in darkness and confusion.

This therefore deserves the severest of our thoughts, the best of our meditations, and our utmost diligence in them. For if our future blessedness shall consist in living where He is, and beholding of His glory, what better preparation can there be for it than a constant previous contemplation of that glory as revealed in the gospel, that by a view of it we may be gradually transformed into the same glory? (John Owen, The Glory of Christ [reprint, Chicago: Moody, 1949], pp. 25–26)

Reconciled to God

and through Him to reconcile all things to Himself, having made peace through the blood of His cross; through Him, I say, whether things on earth or things in heaven. And although you were formerly alienated and hostile in mind, engaged in evil deeds, yet He has now reconciled you in His fleshly body through death, in order to present you before Him holy and blameless and beyond reproach—if indeed you continue in the faith firmly established and steadfast, and not moved away from the hope of the gospel that you have heard, which was proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, was made a minister. (1:20–23)

The word reconcile is one of the most significant and descriptive terms in all of Scripture. It is one of five key words used in the New Testament to describe the richness of salvation in Christ, along with justification, redemption, forgiveness, and adoption.

In justification, the sinner stands before God guilty and condemned, but is declared righteous (Rom. 8:33). In redemption, the sinner stands before God as a slave, but is granted his freedom (Rom. 6:18–22). In forgiveness, the sinner stands before God as a debtor, but  the debt is paid and forgotten (Eph. 1:7). In reconciliation, the sinner stands before God as an enemy, but becomes His friend (2 Cor. 5:18–20). In adoption, the sinner stands before God as a stranger, but is made a son (Eph. 1:5). A complete understanding of the doctrine of salvation would involve a detailed study of each of those terms. In Colossians 1:20–23, Paul gives a concise look at reconciliation.

The verb katallassō (to reconcile) means “to change” or “exchange.” Its New Testament usage speaks of a change in a relationship. In 1 Corinthians 7:11 it refers to a woman being reconciled to her husband. In its other two New Testament usages, Romans 5:10, and 2 Corinthians 5:18–20, it speaks of God and man being reconciled. When people change from being at enmity with each other to being at peace, they are said to be reconciled. When the Bible speaks of reconciliation, then, it refers to the restoration of a right relationship between God and man.

There is another term for reconcile that is used in Colossians 1:20, 22—apokatallassō. It is a compound word, made up of the basic word for reconcile, katallassō, with a preposition added to intensify the meaning. It means thoroughly, completely, or totally reconciled. Paul no doubt used this stronger term in Colossians as a counterattack against the false teachers. Because they held that Christ was merely another spirit being emanating from God, they also denied the possibility of man’s being reconciled to God by Christ alone. In refuting that denial, Paul emphasizes that there is total, complete, and full reconciliation through the Lord Jesus. Inasmuch as He possesses all the fullness of deity (1:19; 2:9), Jesus is able to fully reconcile sinful men and women to God (1:20).

Paul defends Christ’s sufficiency to reconcile men to God by discussing four aspects of reconciliation: the plan of reconciliation, the means of reconciliation, the aim of reconciliation, and the evidence of reconciliation.

The Plan of Reconciliation

and through Him to reconcile all things to Himself, having made peace through the blood of His cross; through Him, I say, whether things on earth or things in heaven. And although you were formerly alienated and hostile in mind, engaged in evil deeds, (1:20–21)

God’s ultimate plan for the universe is to reconcile all things to Himself through Jesus Christ. When His work of creation was finished, “God saw all that He had made, and behold, it was very good”  (Gen. 1:31). God’s good creation, however, was soon marred by man’s sin. The Fall resulted not only in fatal and damning tragedy for the human race, but also affected the entire creation. Sin destroyed the perfect harmony between creatures, and between all creation and the Creator. The creation was “subjected to futility” (Rom. 8:20) and “groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now” (Rom. 8:22). One evidence of that is the Second Law of Thermodynamics, which indicates that the universe is losing its usable energy. If God did not intervene, the universe would eventually suffer a heat death—all available energy would be used up, and the universe would become uniformly cold and dark.

We live on a cursed earth in a cursed universe. Both are under the baleful influence of Satan, who is both “the god of this world” (2 Cor. 4:4), and “the prince of the power of the air” (Eph. 2:2). The devastating effects of the curse and satanic influence will reach a terrifying climax in the events of the Tribulation. Some of the various bowl, trumpet, and seal judgments are demonic, others represent natural phenomena gone wild as God lets loose His wrath. At the culmination of that time of destruction and chaos, Christ returns and sets up His kingdom. During His millennial reign, the effects of the curse will begin to be reversed. The Bible gives us a glimpse of what the restored creation will be like.

There will be dramatic changes in the animal world. In Isaiah we learn that

The wolf will dwell with the lamb, and the leopard will lie down with the kid, and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little boy will lead them. Also the cow and the bear will graze; their young will lie down together; and the lion will eat straw like the ox. And the nursing child will play by the hole of the cobra, and the weaned child will put his hand on the viper’s den. They will not hurt or destroy in all My holy mountain. (Isa. 11:6–9)

“The wolf and the lamb shall graze together, and the lion shall eat straw like the ox; and dust shall be the serpent’s food. They shall do no evil or harm in all My holy mountain,” says the Lord. (Isa. 65:25)

The changes in the animal world will be paralleled by changes in the earth and the solar system:

Then the moon will be abashed and the sun ashamed, for the Lord of hosts will reign on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem, and His glory will be before His elders. (Isa. 24:23)

The light of the moon will be as the light of the sun, and the light of the sun will be seven times brighter, like the light of seven days, on the day the Lord binds up the fracture of His people and heals the bruise He has inflicted. (Isa. 30:26)

No longer will you have the sun for light by day, nor for brightness will the moon give you light; but you will have the Lord for an everlasting light, and your God for your glory. Your sun will set no more, neither will your moon wane; for you will have the Lord for an everlasting light. (Isa. 60:19–20)

Tremendous, dramatic changes will mark the reconciliation of the world to God. Paul writes, “The creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption” (Rom. 8:21). God and the creation will be reconciled; the curse of Genesis 3 will be removed. We might say that God will make friends with the universe again. The universe will be restored to a proper relationship with its Creator. Finally, after the millennial kingdom, there will indeed be a new heaven and a new earth, as both Peter and John indicate:

According to His promise we are looking for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwell-s. (2 Pet. 3:13)

I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away. (Rev. 21:1)

The Lord will make everything new.

Paul again takes direct aim at the false philosophical dualism of the Colossian heretics. They taught that all matter was evil and spirit was good. In their scheme, God did not create the physical universe, and He certainly would not wish to be reconciled to it. Paul declares that God will indeed reconcile the material world to Himself, and further, that He will do it through His Son, Jesus Christ. Far from being a spirit emanation unconcerned with evil matter, Jesus is the agent through which God will accomplish the reconciliation of the universe. The German theologian Erich Sauer comments,

The offering on Golgotha extends its influence into universal history. The salvation of mankind is only one part of the world-embracing counsels of God.… The “heavenly things” also will be cleansed through Christ’s sacrifice of Himself (Heb. 9:23). A “cleansing” of the heavenly places is required if on no other ground than that they have been the dwelling of fallen spirits (Eph. 6:12; 2:2), and because Satan,  their chief, has for ages had access to the highest regions of the heavenly world… the other side becomes this side; eternity transfigures time and this earth, the chief scene of the redemption, becomes the Residence of the universal kingdom of God (The Triumph of the Crucified [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1960], pp. 179, 180 [italics in original]).

Some have imagined all things to include fallen men and fallen angels, and on that basis have argued for universalism, the ultimate salvation of everyone. By so doing they overlook a fundamental rule of interpretation, the analogia Scriptura. That principle teaches that no passage of Scripture, properly interpreted, will contradict any other passage. When we let Scripture interpret Scripture, it is clear that by all things Paul means all things for whom reconciliation is possible. That fallen angels and unregenerate men will spend eternity in hell is the emphatic teaching of Scripture. Our Lord will one day say to unbelievers, “Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels,” and they “will go away into eternal punishment” (Matt. 25:41, 46). In Revelation 20:10–15, the apostle John writes,

The devil who deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are also; and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever. And I saw a great white throne and Him who sat upon it, from whose presence earth and heaven fled away, and no place was found for them. And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne, and books were opened; and another book was opened, which is the book of life; and the dead were judged from the things which were written in the books, according to their deeds. And the sea gave up the dead which were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead which were in them; and they were judged, every one of them according to their deeds. And death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.

On the other hand, there is a sense in which even fallen angels and unredeemed men will be reconciled to God for judgment—but only in the sense of submitting to Him for final sentencing. Their relationship to Him will change from that of enemies to that of the judged. They will be sentenced to hell, unable any longer to pollute God’s creation. They will be stripped of their power and forced to bow in submission to God. Paul writes in Colossians 2:15 that after Christ “disarmed the rulers and authorities [fallen angels], He made a public display of them, having  triumphed over them.” Because of Christ’s victory, “the God of peace will-soon crush Satan under your feet” (Rom. 16:20). And “at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those who are in heaven, and on earth, and under the earth” (Phil. 2:10). God has elevated Christ to a position above all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven. Paul wrote to the Ephesians that God “raised Him from the dead, and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age, but also in the one to come. And He put all things in subjection under His feet” (Eph. 1:21–22).

Though in the sacrifice of Christ, God made provision for the world (cf. John 3:16; 1 John 2:2), all persons will not be reconciled to God in the saving sense of being redeemed. The benefits of Christ’s atonement are applied only to the elect, who alone come to saving faith in Him.

From God’s general plan to reconcile all things to Himself, Paul turns to the specific reconciliation of believers like the Colossians. That they had been reconciled was evidence enough that Christ was sufficient to reconcile men and women to God. Their reconciliation foreshadowed the ultimate reconciliation of the universe.

To impress on them Christ’s power to reconcile men to God, Paul reminds the Colossians of what they were like before their reconciliation. They were formerly alienated and hostile in mind, engaged in evil deeds. Apallotrioō (alienated) means “estranged,” “cut off,” or “separated.” Before their reconciliation, the Colossians were completely estranged from God. In a similar passage, Paul writes, “You were at that time separate from Christ, excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ” (Eph. 2:12–13). NonChristians are detached from God because of sin; there is no such thing as an “innocent heathen.” All unbelievers suffer separation from God unless they receive the reconciliation provided in Jesus Christ.

The Colossians had also been hostile in mind. Echthros (hostile) could also be translated “hateful.” Unbelievers are not only alienated from God by condition, but also hateful of God by attitude. They hate Him and resent His holy standards and commands because they are engaged in evil deeds. Scripture teaches that unbelievers “loved the darkness rather than the light; for their deeds were evil. For everyone who does evil hates the light, and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed” (John 3:19–20). Their problem is not ignorance, but willful love of sin.

Even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God, or give thanks; but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures. Therefore God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, that their bodies might be dishonored among them. (Rom. 1:21–24)

Although “that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them” (Rom. 1:19), they “suppress the truth in unrighteousness” (Rom. 1:18). As Isaiah wrote to wayward Israel, “Your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden His face from you, so that He does not hear” (Isa. 59:2). Sin is the root cause of man’s alienation from God. Because God cannot fellowship with sin (cf. Hab. 1:13; 1 John 1:6), it is sin that needs to be dealt with before God and man can be reconciled.

The question arises as to whether man is reconciled to God, or God to man. There is a sense in which both occur. Since “the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God” (Rom. 8:7), and “those who are in the flesh cannot please God” (Rom. 8:8), reconciliation cannot take place until man is transformed. “Therefore if any man is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come. Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ” (2 Cor. 5:17–18).

There is also God’s side to reconciliation. From His holy perspective, His just wrath against sin must be appeased. Far from being the harmless, tolerant grandfather that many today imagine Him to be, God “takes vengeance on His adversaries, and He reserves wrath for His enemies” (Nah. 1:2). “At His wrath the earth quakes, and the nations cannot endure His indignation” (Jer. 10:10). The one who refuses to obey the Son will find that “the wrath of God abides on him” (John 3:36). Because of their sin, “the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience” (Eph. 5:6). Man and God could never be reconciled unless God’s wrath was appeased. The provision for that took place through Christ’s sacrifice. “Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him” (Rom. 5:9). It is “Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come” (1 Thess. 1:10). He bore the full fury of God’s wrath against our sins (cf. 2 Cor. 5:21; 1 Pet. 2:24). After all, “God has not destined us for wrath, but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thess. 5:9).

Christ’s death on the cross reconciled us to God (Eph. 2:16), something we could never have done on our own. In Romans 5:6–10, Paul gives four reasons for that. First, lack of strength: “we were still  helpless” (v. 6). Second, lack of merit: we were “the ungodly” (v. 6). Third, lack of righteousness: “we were yet sinners” (v. 8). Finally, lack of peace with God: “we were enemies” (v. 10). It is only through the atoning work of the Lord Jesus Christ that anyone can receive reconciliation (v. 11).

The Means of Reconciliation

having made peace through the blood of His cross… He has now reconciled you in His fleshly body through death (1:20b, 1:22a)

Those two phrases sum up the specific means whereby Christ effected our reconciliation with God. Paul says first that Christ made peace between God and man through the blood of His cross. Blood speaks metaphorically of His atonement. It connects Christ’s death with the Old Testament sacrificial system (cf. 1 Pet. 1:18–19). It is also a term that graphically notes violent death, such as that suffered by the sacrificial animals. The countless thousands of animals sacrificed under the Old Covenant pointed ahead to the violent, blood-shedding death the final sacrificial Lamb would suffer. The writer of Hebrews informs us that “the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the holy place by the high priest as an offering for sin, are burned outside the camp. Therefore Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people through His own blood, suffered outside the gate (Heb. 13:11–12).

The reference to Christ’s blood again stresses the link between His violent death and the violent deaths of the animals sacrificed under the Old Covenant. Unlike many of them, however, Jesus did not bleed to death (cf. John 19:34). No man took His life. He was not a helpless victim, but willingly offered up His life to God.

For this reason the Father loves Me, because I lay down My life that I may take it again. No one has taken it away from Me, but I lay it down on My own initiative. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This commandment I received from My Father. (John 10:17–18)

Jesus chose the moment of His death: “When Jesus therefore had received the sour wine, He said, ‘It is finished!’ And He bowed His head, and gave up His spirit” (John 19:30).

There is nothing mystical, however, about the blood of Christ. It saves us only in the sense that His death was the sacrificial death of the final Lamb. It was that death that reconciled us to God (Rom. 5:10).

Proper biblical teaching on the blood of Christ simply is that His physical blood has no magical or mystical saving power. It is not some supernaturally preserved form of the actual blood of Christ that literally washes believers of their sin. The blood of Christ is applied to the believer in a symbolic sense, by faith, in the same way that we “see” Christ by faith, and we are seated with Him in the heavenlies—not in a physical sense.

How could the red and white corpuscles be literally applied to believers in salvation? To our physical bodies? Could it be otherwise with literal blood? Where is that literal, tangible blood kept? How much of it is applied, and why is it not used up? To one degree or another, we must acknowledge that there is symbolism in what Scripture says about the blood. Otherwise we will wind up with an obviously unbiblical doctrine like transubstantiation to explain how literal blood can be applied to all believers for salvation. (I have recently heard that some believe the blood of Jesus is kept in a bottle in heaven to be literally used in some way to apply to the soul!)

A strictly physical interpretation of what Scripture says about the blood of Christ cannot adequately deal with such passages as John 6:53–54: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in yourselves. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”

It would be equally hard to explain how physical blood is meant in Matthew 23:30–35 (“We would not have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets”); 27:24–25 (“His blood be on us, and on our children”); Acts 5:28 (“[you] intend to bring this man’s blood upon us”); 18:6 (“Your blood be upon your own heads”); 20:26, 28 (“I am pure from the blood of all men”); and 1 Corinthians 10:16 (“The cup of blessing… is it not the communion of the blood of Christ?”).

The literal blood of Christ ran into the dirt and dust, and nothing in Scripture hints that it now exists in any tangible or visible form. Communion wine does not change into blood. There is no way the actual blood of Christ could be applied to all of us. We must acknowledge at some point that the sprinkling with blood under the New Covenant is symbolic.

“Without shedding of blood there is no forgiveness” (Heb. 9:22). I affirm that truth and have never denied it. But the “shedding of blood” in Scripture is an expression that means much more than just bleeding. It refers to violent sacrificial death. If just bleeding could buy salvation, why did not Jesus simply bleed without dying? Of course, He had to die to be the perfect sacrifice, and without His death our redemption could not have been purchased by His blood.

The meaning of Scripture in this matter is not all that difficult to understand. Romans 5:9–10 clarifies the point; those two verses side by side show that to be “justified by His blood” (v. 9) is the same as being “reconciled to God by the death of His Son” (v. 10). The critical element in salvation is the sacrificial death of Christ on our behalf. The shedding of His blood was the visible manifestation of His life being poured out in sacrifice, and Scripture consistently uses the term “shedding of blood” as a metonym for atoning death. (A metonym is a figure of speech in which the part is used to represent or designate the whole.)

Bloodshed was God’s design for all Old Testament sacrifices. They were bled to death rather than clubbed or burnt. God designed that sacrificial death was to occur with blood loss as a vivid manifestation of life being poured out (“the life of the flesh is in the blood”). Nevertheless, those who were too poor to bring animals for sacrifices were allowed to bring one-tenth of an ephah (About two quarts) of fine flour instead (Lev. 5:11). Their sins were covered just as surely as the sins of those who could afford to offer a lamb, goat, turtledove, or pigeon (Lev. 5:6–7). Christ’s blood was precious—but as precious as it was, only when it was poured out in death could the penalty of sin be paid.

Thus, if Christ had bled without dying, salvation would not have been purchased. In that sense, it is not His blood but His death that saves us. And when Scripture talks about the shedding of blood, the point is not mere bleeding, but dying by violence as a sacrifice. That is not heresy, and nothing in Protestant church history would support the notion that it is. The only major group to insist that the application of the blood is literal is the Roman Catholic Church.

Christ died not only as a sacrifice, but also as our substitute. He has now reconciled you in His fleshly body through death. In Romans 8:3, Paul tells us that God sent “His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh.” He took the place of sinners, dying a substitutionary death that paid the full penalty for the sin of all who believe. This death satisfied God’s wrath. Once again Paul hammers away at the false teaching of the Colossian heretics that Christ was a mere spirit being. On the contrary, Paul insists, He died as a man for men. Were that not true, there could be no reconciliation for any person.[1]


19 Were one to ask on what grounds the resurrected Christ should reign supreme, an answer would be forthcoming in vv. 19–20. First of all, he should have first place in all things because it pleased God “to have all the fullness dwell in him.” One might ask, however, the fullness of what or whom? If one may appeal to 2:9 (and there is no convincing reason not to), then the answer is clear enough—the fullness of deity, i.e., of God himself (note NIV’s, “his fullness”). “Fullness” (plērōma, GK 4445) functions here as a “circumlocution for God” (Garland, 93). It was God’s pleasure to dwell fully and completely in Christ. Although articulating it differently, John 1:14 expresses a similar idea: “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us …, full of grace and truth.” In Christ a wedding between deity and humanity occurs. He is the incarnate image of God (cf. again v. 15). If the Philippians “hymn” highlights Jesus’ humanity (see esp. Php 2:6–8; cf. 2 Co 8:9), this “poem” emphasizes his divinity.

20 Lest a person be tempted to forget, however, this verse reminds that “the Lord of glory” (1 Co 2:8) was subjected to tremendous agony on the cross (2 Co 13:4). Christ’s ministry of reconciliation was costly indeed. Why should God’s Son have first place in all things (v. 18)? It is not only because of his resurrection (v. 18) or incarnation (v. 19), but it is also because of his crucifixion (v. 20). It would be difficult to exaggerate the centrality of the cross in Paul’s theology (cf. Ro 3:23–25; 5:8–9; 14:7–9; 1 Co 1:18–25; 2:1–2; 15:3–4; 2 Co 5:14–15, 21; Gal 2:20–21; 5:11; 6:12; Eph 2:13–16; Php 2:6–8; 1 Th 4:14; 5:9–10). The cross will feature again in this letter in 1:22 and 2:11–15. For Paul, the cross graphically and persuasively demonstrates the depth of God’s love; the humble, radical obedience of Christ to the Father on behalf of humanity; and the seriousness of sin and the fallen human condition.

It pleased God, the “hymn” contends, to reconcile (i.e., to restore or restitute) all things to himself through Christ (cf. 1:22; Eph 2:16). That there existed a need for restitution between the Creator and the created presupposes a schism and a resulting chasm between the two. Paul believed that this division was due (in large part) to human rebellion against God and the good (see esp. 2:13–14, as well as 1:13, 21; 3:7; cf. Ro 3:23; 6:23; Eph 2:1, 5). The divine solution to the human predicament, Paul propounded, was to turn an instrument of execution (i.e., a Roman cross) into an implement of peace. Jesus, the Prince of Peace (Isa 9:6; Eph 2:14), has effected peace between God and humanity through his bloody (i.e., sacrificial) death on the cross. As 1 Timothy 2:5–6 puts it, Christ Jesus, the One who “gave himself as a ransom for all people” (cf. Mk 10:45), is the “mediator between God and human beings” (TNIV). Where spiritual disconnect and disquiet exist, he comes to bring peace and reign in peace (3:15; cf. Ro 5:1; Eph 2:13–17).

Despite claims to the contrary, the scope of God’s reconciling work in Christ is universal. Be that as it may, reconciliation with God through Christ is not a foregone conclusion. The proclamation and reception of the gospel are the means through which people are reunited with God (cf. 1:5, 23). Those who embrace God’s grace through Christ in the word of the gospel are reconciled to God; those who choose not to do so remain estranged from God and stand outside the realm of his salvific rule (see 1:13, 21; 4:5).[2]


1:19–20. Jesus has supremacy over all things because all of God’s fullness resides in Jesus: He is the full embodiment of God’s attributes and saving grace. Through Jesus, God is able to reconcile to himself all things. Reconciliation is the removal of hostility and the restoring of friendly relations to parties who have been at war. Paul also calls reconciliation making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. What God has done is to move toward us to restore harmony, patch things up, cease hostilities, bury the hatchet, smoke the peace pipe, and heal the breach.[3]


19. Note, however, the words, “that he might have.” These words show that this high honor possessed by the Son was a matter of design, the Father’s good pleasure. Hence, the text continues, For in him he [God] was pleased to have all the fulness dwell.

This delight of the Father in the Son was evident even during the old dispensation, yes, even before the world was founded (Ps. 2:7, 8; John 17:5; Eph. 1:9). During the period of Christ’s sojourn on earth it manifested itself again and again (Matt. 3:17; 17:5; John 12:28). It was indeed God’s good pleasure that in his Son all the fulness should dwell. The powers and attributes of Deity were not to be distributed among a multitude of angels. The divine supremacy or sovereignty, either as a whole or in part, was not to be surrendered to them. On the contrary, in accordance with God’s good pleasure, from all eternity the plenitude of the Godhead, the fulness of God’s essence and glory, which fulness is the source of grace and glory for believers, resides in the Son of his love, in him alone, not in him and the angels. It dwells in him whom we now serve as our exalted Mediator, and it manifests itself both in Creation and Redemption.

Explanatory passages are:

John 1:16, “For out of his fulness we have received grace upon grace.”

Col. 2:3, “in whom all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are stored up.”

Col. 2:9, “For in him all the fulness of the godhead dwells bodily.”

20. Now both in Col. 2:9, 10 and here in 1:19, 20 the fulness which dwells in Christ is mentioned with a practical purpose. It is a source of blessing. Thus here in Col. 1:19, 20 we are told that it was the good pleasure or delight of God the Father that in the Son of his love all the fulness should dwell and through him to reconcile all things to himself, having made peace through the blood of his cross; through him, whether the things on the earth or the things in the heavens. Not only were all things created “through him,” that is, through the Son of God’s love (verse 16), but all things are also (in a sense to be explained) reconciled “through him” (verse 20). In both cases all things has the same meaning: all creatures without any exception whatever:

“There rustles a Name O so dear ’long the clouds,

That Name heaven and earth in grand harmony shrouds.”

This is the nearly literal translation of the first lines of a Dutch hymn:

“Daar ruist langs de wolken een lieflijke naam,

Die hemel en aarde verenigt te zaam.”

Some have objected to the lines for theological reasons.

Personally, I see no reason for rejecting the idea expressed in this poem. One might as well reject Col. 1:20! It is all a matter of interpretation. Thus, it is true, indeed that heaven and earth are not now united, and are not going to be united, in the sense that all rational beings in the entire universe are now with gladness of heart submitting themselves, or will at some future date joyfully submit themselves, to the rule of God in Christ. This universalistic interpretation of Col. 1:20 is contrary to Scripture (Ps. 1; Dan. 12:2; Matt. 7:13, 14; 25:46; John 5:28, 29; Phil. 3:18–21; 2 Thess. 1:3–10; and a host of other passages). It was Origen who was probably the first Christian universalist. In his youthful work De Principiis he suggested this thought of universal, final restoration for all. In his later writings he seems to imply it here and there, but obscures it somewhat by the suggestion of a constant succession of fall and restoration. He has, however, had many followers, and among them some have expressed themselves far more bluntly. Some time ago a minister told his audience, “In the end everybody is going to be saved. I have hope even for the devil.”

The real meaning of Col. 1:20 is probably as follows: Sin ruined the universe. It destroyed the harmony between one creature and the other, also between all creatures and their God. Through the blood of the cross (cf. Eph. 2:11–18), however, sin, in principle, has been conquered. The demand of the law has been satisfied, its curse born (Rom. 3:25; Gal. 3:13). Harmony, accordingly, has been restored. Peace was made. Through Christ and his cross the universe is brought back or restored to its proper relationship to God in the sense that as a just reward for his obedience Christ was exalted to the Father’s right hand, from which position of authority and power he rules the entire universe in the interest of the church and to the glory of God. This interpretation brings the present passage in harmony with the related ones written during this same imprisonment. Note the expression “the things on the earth or the things in the heavens” (or something very similar) not only here in Col. 1:20 but also in Eph. 1:10 and Phil. 2:10.

There is, of course, a difference in the manner in which various creatures submit to Christ’s rule and are “reconciled to God.” Those who are and remain evil, whether men or angels, submit ruefully, unwillingly. In their case peace, harmony, is imposed, not welcomed. But not only are their evil designs constantly being over-ruled for good, but these evil beings themselves have been, in principle, stripped of their power (Col. 2:15). They are brought into subjection (1 Cor. 15:24–28; cf. Eph. 1:21, 22), and “the God of peace (!) will bruise Satan under your feet shortly” (Rom. 16:20). The good angels, on the other hand, submit joyfully, eagerly. So do also the redeemed among men. This group includes the members of the Colossian church as far as they are true believers, a thought to which Paul gives expression in the following verses.[4]


[1] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1992). Colossians (pp. 48–63). Chicago: Moody Press.

[2] Still, T. D. (2006). Colossians. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Ephesians–Philemon (Revised Edition) (Vol. 12, pp. 293–294). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[3] Anders, M. (1999). Galatians-Colossians (Vol. 8, p. 284). Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

[4] Hendriksen, W., & Kistemaker, S. J. (1953–2001). Exposition of Colossians and Philemon (Vol. 6, pp. 78–82). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.

June 18, 2017: Verse of the day

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11 Isaiah (Isa 66:15–16) utilizes the figure of fire and chariots like a whirlwind to depict God’s coming in judicial anger against sinful humanity. Much of that imagery was probably drawn from texts portraying God as present in intense thunderstorms (e.g., Pss 18:9–15; 29:3–9).[1]


2:10–12a Elijah said that it was not in his power to grant the request, then added a condition that was also beyond his control: If Elisha would see him depart, then his request would be granted. As they walked on and talked, they were separated by a chariot of fire … with horses of fire. Then a whirlwind caught Elijah … up … into heaven in full view of Elisha. Elisha … cried out, “My father, my father, the chariot of Israel and its horsemen!” This may indicate that Elijah was the strongest weapon of God’s power and the best defense of Israel.[2]


2:11 chariot of fire and horses of fire. The horse-drawn chariot was the fastest means of transport and the mightiest means of warfare in that day. Thus, the chariot and horses symbolized God’s powerful protection, which was the true safety of Israel (v. 12). As earthly kingdoms are dependent for their defense on such military force as represented by horses and chariots, one single prophet had done more by God’s power to preserve his nation than all their military preparations.[3]


2:11 Elijah’s ascent prefigures the triumph of Christ over death and his ascension (Luke 24:51; Acts 1:9).[4]


2:11 a fiery chariot with horses of fire Fire in the ot is associated with God’s presence (compare 2 Kgs 1:10, 12). The chariots and horses belong to Yahweh (Hab 3:8).[5]


2:11 chariots of fire and horses of fire. God’s heavenly attendants escort Elijah to heaven “by a whirlwind.” Fire appears several times in Elijah’s ministry as a sign of God’s all-consuming power (1:10, 12, 14; 1 Kin. 18:38; cf. 1 Kin. 19:12).[6]


[1] Patterson, R. D., & Austel, H. J. (2009). 1, 2 Kings. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: 1 Samuel–2 Kings (Revised Edition) (Vol. 3, p. 814). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[2] MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (p. 392). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

[3] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2006). The MacArthur study Bible: New American Standard Bible. (2 Ki 2:11). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

[4] Crossway Bibles. (2008). The ESV Study Bible (p. 648). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[5] Barry, J. D., Mangum, D., Brown, D. R., Heiser, M. S., Custis, M., Ritzema, E., … Bomar, D. (2012, 2016). Faithlife Study Bible (2 Ki 2:11). Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

[6] Sproul, R. C. (Ed.). (2005). The Reformation Study Bible: English Standard Version (p. 516). Orlando, FL; Lake Mary, FL: Ligonier Ministries.

June 17, 2017: Verse of the day

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Desperate Plea (9:20–24)

The boy’s father was about to get what he so desperately wanted, while the demon would get what he desperately did not want. In response to the Lord’s command, they brought the boy to Him. While he was still approaching Jesus (Luke 9:42), when he saw Him, immediately the spirit threw him into a final, violent convulsion, and falling to the ground, he began rolling around and foaming at the mouth.

While this dangerous display of vile demonic power was going on, Jesus calmly asked his father, “How long has this been happening to him?” The Lord was not asking, of course, for information that He did not already possess, since He is omniscient. He wanted to bear the father’s pain; to have the man tell Him the heartbreaking story of his son’s demonic oppression. The father was not coming to an impersonal force but to a person. The healing miracles Christ performed reveal the compassion of God and that He cares about human pain and suffering. Jesus allowed this suffering man to unfold his heart to the sympathetic and merciful Lord.

His reply, “From childhood,” indicates that his son had been in this terrible state all his life. It was not due to any sin on the part of either the father or the son but for the glory of God (cf. John 9:1–3). And though the demon had repeatedly tried to kill the boy by throwing him both into the fire (commonly used for heating and cooking) and into the water (such as wells and pools) to destroy him, God preserved him for this moment to bring His Son glory. The father’s desperate struggle to keep the demon from killing his son was about to be ended permanently.

Encouraged by the Lord’s sympathetic concern for his beleaguered, battered son, the man asked Him pleadingly, “If You can do anything, take pity on us and help us!” Boētheō (help) literally means, “to run to the aid of one who cries for help.” His faith was weak and incomplete; he correctly perceived that Jesus was willing to deliver his son, but he was not sure that He had the power to help him. But he was desperate.

Jesus’ reply, “If You can?” was not a question but an exclamation of surprise. In light of His widespread ministry of healing the sick and casting out demons, how could His ability to cast this one out be in question? His further declaration, “All things are possible to him who believes,” is the lesson Jesus intended to teach. This was not the first time He had spoken of the importance of faith (cf. Mark 5:34–36; 6:5–6), nor would it be the last (cf. Mark 10:27; 11:22–24). The lesson that faith is essential to access the power of God applied to all the unbelieving crowd, the father, who was struggling to believe, as well as to the disciples, whose faith was weak and wavering. The disciples especially needed to learn this lesson, since after Christ’s death, they would need to access divine power through believing prayer (Matt. 7:7–8; 21:22; Luke 11:9–10; John 14:13–14; 15:7; 16:24; 1 John 3:22; 5:14–15).

Overcome with emotion, immediately the boy’s father cried out and said, “I do believe; help my unbelief.” He was honest enough to admit that though he believed in Jesus’ power, he struggled with doubt. Just as he pleaded in desperation for Jesus to deliver his son from the demon, so also did he plead for Jesus to help him be delivered from his unbelief. The Lord is not limited by imperfect faith; even the strongest faith is always mixed with a measure of doubt.[1]


23–24 Jesus immediately fixes on the first part of the father’s statement by repeating his words, “If you can?” Some interpreters take these words as elliptical, meaning something like, “As to your ‘if you can’ …” (so Cranfield, 302). But they are better read either as a question with the sense, “What do you mean ‘if I can’?” (so NLT), or as an exclamation, “ ‘If you can’ indeed!” (so France, 367). In both renderings, Jesus is pointing out that it is not a question of whether he has the power to heal the boy—he certainly does!—but whether the father has faith to believe that Jesus can. “Everything is possible for one who believes” (TNIV). Anything—even moving mountains (Mt 17:20)—is possible when faith is placed in an all-powerful God. This is because what is impossible for human beings is possible for God (Mk 10:27).

Jesus’ statement, which is really a promise, elicited faith from the father. “I do believe,” he exclaimed; but he recognized that his faith was far from perfect (v. 24). It was still mixed with unbelief. So in a beautiful display of honesty, he asked Jesus to help him overcome his unbelief. Calvin, 2:325, comments, “He declares that he believes and yet acknowledges himself to have unbelief. These two statements may appear to contradict each other but there is none of us that does not experience both of them in himself” (emphasis his).[2]


9:23–24. Jesus declared that he had the power to heal his son if the man had the faith. If you can?… Everything is possible for him who believes, he declared. Jesus did not mean that miracles depend on the strength of a person’s faith. We must pray always with God’s will in mind. The father confessed his belief immediately. It sprang from his heart. But he was aware that he was an imperfect human being; his recent lack of faith proved it. Therefore, he asked Jesus to heal him—the father—first. “Whatever is in me, Lord, that does not believe or want to believe, heal that first.” Like removing the log from our own eye, this request was not only appropriate but life-giving.[3]


24. Immediately the boy’s father cried out, I do believe, help my unbelief. Very striking is this answer in which the tempest-tossed father pours out his very heart. He was certain of two things: a. that he did indeed have the kind of faith Jesus demanded; and b. that this faith was imperfect, beset by fears and doubts. Only five words (in the original), but these five comprised a. a sincere profession of faith: “I do believe,” and b. an earnest, moving petition, “Help my unbelief,” meaning, “Continue moment by moment and day by day to come to my aid, so that I may overcome my unbelief.”[4]


9:24 The father expressed the paradox of faith and unbelief experienced by God’s people in all ages. “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!” We want to believe, yet find ourselves filled with doubt. We hate this inward, unreasonable contradiction, yet seem to fight it in vain.[5]


[1] MacArthur, J. (2015). Mark 9–16 (pp. 27–28). Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers.

[2] Wessel, W. W., & Strauss, M. L. (2010). Mark. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Matthew–Mark (Revised Edition) (Vol. 9, p. 845). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[3] Cooper, R. L. (2000). Mark (Vol. 2, p. 149). Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

[4] Hendriksen, W., & Kistemaker, S. J. (1953–2001). Exposition of the Gospel According to Mark (Vol. 10, p. 349). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.

[5] MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (p. 1343). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

June 16, 2017: Verse of the day

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A Contented Person Is Independent from Circumstances

I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. (4:12)

Paul expands on what he alluded to in the previous verse. The twice-repeated phrase I know how … I also know how reveals that he had learned by experience and spiritual maturity to live above his circumstances and not to let them affect his contentment. That is an important lesson for believers to learn, for it is the difficult circumstances in life that most frequently steal our contentment.

Paul’s statement I know how to get along with humble means, to be hungry, and to suffer need indicates that he had had his share of poverty. He knew what it was to get by with meager material things. He also knew how to live in prosperity, to be filled, and to have an abundance when God graciously granted him more than he needed. All six of those terms refer to the material, earthly needs of this life, not to spiritual needs.

Paul was no ivory tower theologian; he had lived and ministered in the trenches. His life was not exactly a testimonial for the prosperity gospel. The apostle’s trials began at Damascus shortly after his conversion. Enraged that Paul

kept increasing in strength and confounding the Jews who lived at Damascus by proving that this Jesus is the Christ, … the Jews plotted together to do away with him, but their plot became known to [Paul]. They were also watching the gates day and night so that they might put him to death; but his disciples took him by night and let him down through an opening in the wall, lowering him in a large basket. (Acts 9:22–25)

At Lystra on his first missionary journey, hostile “Jews came from Antioch and Iconium, and having won over the crowds, they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, supposing him to be dead” (Acts 14:19). Many of the Philippian believers no doubt remembered what happened to Paul and his fellow preacher Silas in Philippi:

The crowd rose up together against them, and the chief magistrates tore their robes off them and proceeded to order them to be beaten with rods. When they had struck them with many blows, they threw them into prison, commanding the jailer to guard them securely; and he, having received such a command, threw them into the inner prison and fastened their feet in the stocks. (Acts 16:22–24)

Things did not get much better for the apostle in Thessalonica, where

the Jews, becoming jealous and taking along some wicked men from the market place, formed a mob and set the city in an uproar; and attacking the house of Jason, they were seeking to bring them out to the people. When they did not find them, they began dragging Jason and some brethren before the city authorities, shouting, “These men who have upset the world have come here also; and Jason has welcomed them, and they all act contrary to the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, Jesus.” They stirred up the crowd and the city authorities who heard these things. And when they had received a pledge from Jason and the others, they released them. The brethren immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea. (Acts 17:5–10)

Trouble, in the form of hostile, unbelieving Jews, followed Paul from Thessalonica to Berea: “But when the Jews of Thessalonica found out that the word of God had been proclaimed by Paul in Berea also, they came there as well, agitating and stirring up the crowds” (Acts 17:13). Forced to flee Berea, Paul went to Athens, where he was mocked and ridiculed by the skeptical Greek philosophers gathered on Mars Hill (Acts 17:18–34). From Athens the apostle went to Corinth where, “while Gallio was proconsul of Achaia, the Jews with one accord rose up against Paul and brought him before the judgment seat” (Acts 18:12). After ministering for three months in Greece, “a plot [to kill Paul] was formed against him by the Jews as he was about to set sail for Syria” (Acts 20:3). When he got to Jerusalem, Paul was attacked and savagely beaten after Jews from Asia Minor recognized him in the temple (Acts 21:26–30). Rescued from certain death by the quick action of a Roman officer (Acts 21:31–35), Paul began his long stay in Roman custody. Two years later, after hearings before the Sanhedrin and the Roman governor failed to resolve the situation, Paul exercised his right as a Roman citizen to appeal to Caesar. After a harrowing sea voyage, which included a terrifying, two-week-long storm that ended in a shipwreck (Acts 27), Paul finally arrived in Rome (Acts 28). As he penned this letter to the Philippians, Paul was again a prisoner in Rome.

Summing up his arduous, difficult, painful life Paul wrote,

Are they servants of Christ?—I speak as if insane—I more so; in far more labors, in far more imprisonments, beaten times without number, often in danger of death. Five times I received from the Jews thirty-nine lashes. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, a night and a day I have spent in the deep. I have been on frequent journeys, in dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my countrymen, dangers from the Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers on the sea, dangers among false brethren; I have been in labor and hardship, through many sleepless nights, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. Apart from such external things, there is the daily pressure on me of concern for all the churches. Who is weak without my being weak? Who is led into sin without my intense concern? If I have to boast, I will boast of what pertains to my weakness. The God and Father of the Lord Jesus, He who is blessed forever, knows that I am not lying. In Damascus the ethnarch under Aretas the king was guarding the city of the Damascenes in order to seize me, and I was let down in a basket through a window in the wall, and so escaped his hands. (2 Cor. 11:23–33)

In all Paul’s unique and constant sufferings, he had learned the secret of rising above them. In the midst of all his trials, he kept his focus on heavenly realities (cf. Col. 3:1–2). In 2 Corinthians 4:17, the apostle wrote, “For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison.” With that perspective, is it any wonder that no amount of pain, suffering, or disappointment could affect his contentment?[1]


12 “I know what it is to be in need” translates tapeinousthai (GK 5427) as in the passive voice (“to be humbled”), which assumes that Paul’s lowly state is thrust on him. “To live in plenty” (or in prosperity) is relative and may simply refer to the times when he was not experiencing the hardships he cataloged in 2 Corinthians 11:24–27. He had learned the secret of trusting God to provide his daily bread, even when on half rations or starving. How to live is the issue, and Paul continues to present himself as an example for the Philippians to follow (4:9).[2]

4:12–13. Paul spoke from experience. He had been through the extremes: surplus and poverty. He knew how to weather the dangers of both. This was his secret. Greek and Roman religions had secret initiation rites. Some religions and philosophies prided themselves on secret knowledge. Paul had a different kind of secret. His secret was his reliance on Christ, a reliance gained through his Christian experience. Stoics relied on personal will to gain contentment. Paul did not claim such personal inner strength. His strength came from Jesus living in him. Paul was in Christ and thus content no matter what his circumstances.

J. Vernon McGee writes:

Whatever Christ has for you to do, He will supply the power. Whatever gift He gives you, He will give the power to exercise that gift. A gift is a manifestation of the Spirit of God in the life of the believer. As long as you function in Christ, you will have power. He certainly does not mean that he is putting into your hand unlimited power to do anything you want to do. Rather, He will give you the enablement to do all things in the context of His will for you (McGee, Thru the Bible, V:327–8).

The Christian life is not only difficult; it is also impossible unless we acquire the power to live it through Christ. To be sure, this truth does not come naturally to us but must be learned.[3]


12. It is to be noted that this contentment or soul-sufficiency (see on 1 Tim. 6:6) is derived not from any resources which the soul has in itself. Paul is no vain boaster who exclaims, “I am the Captain of my soul.” He is no Stoic who, trusting in his own resources, and supposedly unmoved by either joy or grief, endeavors with all his might to submit without complaining to unavoidable necessity. The apostle is no statue. He is a man of flesh and blood. He knows both joys and sorrows, yet is content. But his contentment has its cause in One other than himself. The real Source or Fountain of Paul’s soul-sufficiency is mentioned in verse 13. And that Fountain never runs dry, no matter what may be the circumstances. With reference to the latter Paul continues, I know what it means to live in straitened circumstances, and I also know what it means to have plenty. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret, both to be filled and to be hungry, both to have plenty and to be in want.

Paul has learned the secret (a verb used only here in the New Testament and related to mystery). He has been thoroughly initiated into it by the experiences of life applied to the heart by the Holy Spirit. To those who fear him God reveals this mystery (Ps. 25:14). Those who reject Christ cannot understand how it is possible for a Christian to remain calm in adversity, humble in prosperity.

The words in the present passage which require some elucidation are the following:

  • to live in straitened circumstances

Again and again Paul had been “brought low,” same verb as used with reference to Christ in Phil. 2:8, the Christ who humbled himself. That the apostle indeed knew what it meant to be reduced to such straitened circumstances is clear from the following passages: Acts 14:19; 16:22–25; 17:13; 18:12; 20:3; Chapters 21–27; 2 Cor. 4:11; 6:4, 5; 11:27, 33. He knew what was meant by hunger, thirst, fasting, cold, nakedness, physical suffering, mental torture, persecution, etc.

  • to be hungry

Hunger and thirst are often mentioned together (Rom. 12:20; 1 Cor. 4:11; 2 Cor. 11:27; and cf. for spiritual yearning, Matt. 5:6). In glory there will be neither hunger nor thirst (Rev. 7:16), and this because of Christ’s submission to these afflictions for his own children (Luke 4:2).

  • to be in want

The apostle had often fallen behind. He had suffered from lack of such comforts as many other people would have considered necessities. He had come short. Yet, none of these things had deprived him of his contentment.

Over against the expressions indicating poverty and affliction are those referring to riches and glory:

  • to have plenty

Before his conversion Paul has been a prominent Pharisee. The future looked bright and promising. Paul had had plenty, and this in more ways than one. Yet, he had lacked the greatest boon of all: Christ-centered peace of soul. But even after his conversion there had been moments of refreshment when even physically he had experienced what it meant, in a sense, to have plenty (Acts 16:15, 40; 16:33, 34; 20:11; 28:2; Phil. 4:15, 16, 18), and now no longer apart from but in connection with peace of soul. Now, to carry oneself properly in the midst of plenty is no easy matter (Prov. 30:8; Mark 10:23–25). As the adage has it, “In order to carry a full cup one must have a steady hand,” Paul, however, by the grace of the Holy Spirit had been schooled to abundance as well as to want.

  • to be filled

This word, though used at first with respect to the feeding and fattening of animals (of which meaning there is an echo in the clause: “all the birds gorged themselves with their flesh,” Rev. 19:21), and applied to men chiefly by the Comic poets, was gradually losing its depreciatory sense and is here simply used as a synonym for to have plenty.[4]


[1] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2001). Philippians (pp. 300–302). Chicago: Moody Press.

[2] Garland, D. E. (2006). Philippians. In T. Longman III (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Ephesians–Philemon (Revised Edition) (Vol. 12, p. 258). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[3] Anders, M. (1999). Galatians-Colossians (Vol. 8, pp. 263–264). Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

[4] Hendriksen, W., & Kistemaker, S. J. (1953–2001). Exposition of Philippians (Vol. 5, pp. 204–206). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.

June 15, 2017: Verse of the day

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Focusing on Expectations

For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ; who will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself. (3:20–21)

The underlying motivation for pursuing Christlikeness is the hope of the return of Jesus Christ. Since Christ is in heaven, those who love Him must be preoccupied with heaven, longing for Christ to return and take them to be with Him (1 Thess. 4:17).

Paul had little interest in the comforts and pleasures of this world, as the following passages indicate:

We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body. (2 Cor. 4:8–10)

In everything commending ourselves as servants of God, in much endurance, in afflictions, in hardships, in distresses, in beatings, in imprisonments, in tumults, in labors, in sleeplessness, in hunger, in purity, in knowledge, in patience, in kindness, in the Holy Spirit, in genuine love, in the word of truth, in the power of God; by the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and the left, by glory and dishonor, by evil report and good report; regarded as deceivers and yet true; as unknown yet well-known, as dying yet behold, we live; as punished yet not put to death, as sorrowful yet always rejoicing, as poor yet making many rich, as having nothing yet possessing all things. (2 Cor. 6:4–10)

Are they servants of Christ?—I speak as if insane—I more so; in far more labors, in far more imprisonments, beaten times without number, often in danger of death. Five times I received from the Jews thirty-nine lashes. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, a night and a day I have spent in the deep. I have been on frequent journeys, in dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my countrymen, dangers from the Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers on the sea, dangers among false brethren; I have been in labor and hardship, through many sleepless nights, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. Apart from such external things, there is the daily pressure on me of concern for all the churches. Who is weak without my being weak? Who is led into sin without my intense concern? (2 Cor. 11:23–29)

This view led him to the conviction that made him write, “I am hard-pressed from both directions, having the desire to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better” (1:23).

It is consistent for believers to have a heavenly focus, because our citizenship is in heaven. Politeuma (citizenship) appears only here in the New Testament, though Paul used the related verb in 1:27. It refers to the place where one has official status, the commonwealth where one’s name is recorded on the register of citizens. Though believers live in this world, they are citizens of heaven. They are members of Christ’s kingdom, which is not of this world (John 18:36). Their names are recorded in heaven (Luke 10:20; cf. Phil. 4:3; Heb. 12:23; Rev. 13:8; 21:27); their Savior is there (Acts 1:11; 1 Thess. 4:16); their fellow saints are there (Heb. 12:23); their inheritance is there (1 Peter 1:4); their reward is there (Matt. 5:12); and their treasure is there (Matt. 6:20).

Though they do not yet live in heaven, believers live in the heavenly realm (Eph. 2:6); they experience to some degree the heavenly life here on earth. They have the life of God within them, are under the rule of heaven’s King, and live for heaven’s cause.

Paul’s reference to citizenship may have been especially meaningful to the Philippians, since Philippi was a Roman colony. The Philippians were Roman citizens, though obviously living outside of Rome, just as believers are citizens of heaven living on earth.

It is from heaven that we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. To the disciples who watched as Christ ascended into heaven the angels said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into the sky? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in just the same way as you have watched Him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11). In John 14:2–3 Jesus Himself promised, “In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also.” Because of those promises, believers are to be “awaiting eagerly the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 1:7), and “to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, that is Jesus, who rescues us from the wrath to come” (1 Thess. 1:10). Until He returns, believers “groan within [themselves], waiting eagerly for [their] adoption as sons, the redemption of [the] body” (Rom. 8:23).

The hope of Christ’s return provides believers with motivation, accountability, and security. In this promise there is positive motivation to be found faithful when He returns to reward believers; to be accountable to God for living lives that produce gold, silver, and precious stones instead of wood, hay, and straw (1 Cor. 3:12). There is a corresponding negative reality, as John wrote: “Watch yourselves, that you do not lose what we have accomplished, but that you may receive a full reward” (2 John 8). Finally, the promise of Christ’s return provides security, since Jesus promised, “This is the will of Him who sent Me, that of all that He has given Me I lose nothing, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him will have eternal life, and I Myself will raise him up on the last day” (John 6:39–40).

Believers are not to wait for Christ’s return with attitudes of passive resignation or bored disinterest. Instead, they are to eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. Believers are not waiting for an event but a Person. Apekdechomai (eagerly wait) is often used to speak of waiting for Christ’s second coming (e.g., Rom. 8:19, 23, 25; 1 Cor. 1:7; Gal. 5:5; Heb. 9:28). It describes not only eagerness, but also patience.

As noted above, Christ’s return marks the end of believers’ struggling pursuit of the elusive prize of holy perfection, for it is then that He will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory. It is then that the eagerly awaited redemption of the body will take place (Rom. 8:23). It is “when He appears [that] we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is” (1 John 3:2). Until then, the new creature (2 Cor. 5:17) is incarcerated in the unredeemed humanness (“the body of this death”; Rom. 7:24) from which it longs to be liberated.

For believers who die before Christ’s return, death means the temporary separation of the spirit from the body. The body goes into the grave, while the spirit goes immediately into the presence of God (1:21, 23; 2 Cor. 5:6, 8). Heaven is currently occupied by “the spirits of the righteous made perfect” (Heb. 12:23). Those believers who live from Pentecost to the Rapture will have their spirits joined to their resurrection bodies at the Rapture (1 Thess. 4:15–17). The Old Testament believers and those saved during the Tribulation will receive their resurrection bodies at Christ’s second coming (Dan. 12:2; Rev. 20:4).

Christ will totally transform the bodies of all believers, each group at its appointed time (cf. 1 Cor. 15:22–23), to make them fit for heaven. Believers’ bodies will have a new schematic; they will be refashioned and redesigned. Christ will change the present body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory. Like Christ’s resurrection body, believers’ resurrected bodies will be recognizable. They will be able to eat, talk, and walk, but will not have the physical restrictions of our present bodies. After His resurrection Christ appeared and disappeared at will, even entering a room whose doors were locked (John 20:19). Paul gives the most detailed description of believers’ resurrection bodies in 1 Corinthians 15:35–49:

But someone will say, “How are the dead raised? And with what kind of body do they come?” You fool! That which you sow does not come to life unless it dies; and that which you sow, you do not sow the body which is to be, but a bare grain, perhaps of wheat or of something else. But God gives it a body just as He wished, and to each of the seeds a body of its own. All flesh is not the same flesh, but there is one flesh of men, and another flesh of beasts, and another flesh of birds, and another of fish. There are also heavenly bodies and earthly bodies, but the glory of the heavenly is one, and the glory of the earthly is another. There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for star differs from star in glory. So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown a perishable body, it is raised an imperishable body; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. So also it is written, ‘The first man, Adam, became a living soul.’ The last Adam became a life-giving spirit. However, the spiritual is not first, but the natural; then the spiritual. The first man is from the earth, earthy; the second man is from heaven. As is the earthy, so also are those who are earthy; and as is the heavenly, so also are those who are heavenly. Just as we have borne the image of the earthy, we will also bear the image of the heavenly.

The combination of a redeemed spirit and a glorified body will enable all believers to perfectly manifest the glory of God. Sin, weakness, sorrow, disappointment, pain, suffering, doubt, fear, temptation, hate, and failure will give way to perfect joy (Matt. 25:21), pleasure (Ps. 16:11), knowledge (1 Cor. 13:12), comfort (Luke 16:25), and love (1 Cor. 13:13).

Salvation involves far more than mere deliverance from hell. God’s ultimate goal in redeeming believers is to transform their bodies into conformity with the body of His glory. They will “become conformed [summorphos; the same word translated conformity in v. 21] to the image of His Son” (Rom. 8:29; cf. 1 John 3:2). “Just as we have borne the image of the earthy, we will also bear the image of the heavenly” (1 Cor. 15:49).

Their transformed bodies will permit believers finally to be the perfect creation God intends for them to be for the joy of perfect fellowship with Him forever. Describing heaven, John wrote, “I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, ‘Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them’ ” (Rev. 21:3; cf. John 14:1–3; 1 Thess. 4:17). Those bodies will also allow believers to see God. In the Beatitudes Jesus said, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Matt. 5:8), while John wrote that in heaven “there will no longer be any curse; and the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and His bond-servants will serve Him; they will see His face, and His name will be on their foreheads” (Rev. 22:3–4). Believers’ resurrection bodies will also be perfectly suited for the eternal service they will render to God (cf. Rev. 7:15).

Lest any doubt Christ’s power to transform believers’ bodies, Paul notes that He will accomplish it by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself. Hupotassō (subject) means “to arrange in order of rank” or “to manage.” Christ will have the power to rule the millennial kingdom (Rev. 12:5, 19:15; cf. Isa. 9:6; 32:1; Zech. 14:9). By His power Christ will also transform the earth’s topography (Zech. 14:4–8) and the natural kingdom (Isa. 11:6–9). Paul’s point is that if Christ can subject the entire universe to His sovereign control (cf. 1 Cor. 15:24–27), He has the power to transform believers’ bodies into His image.

As they run the spiritual race (Heb. 12:1), believers must look to godly examples for inspiration and instruction. They must also look out for those enemies of the truth who would lead them astray. Finally, they must focus on the glorious hope that is theirs at the return of Christ—the transformation of their bodies into conformity with His. Then, regenerated fully in soul and body, they will be suited to eternal, holy glory and joy.[1]


Our Blessed Hope

Philippians 3:20

But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ.

In the early days of the Christian church the doctrine of the last things had three great points of focus: the return of Jesus Christ, the resurrection of the body, and the final judgment. Of the three the most significant was Jesus Christ’s return. This was the blessed hope of Christians; it was for this they prayed. With this thought they comforted one another in the face of sorrow, persecutions, death, and martyrdom. We can imagine that as they lay in prison, suffering and tormented, often near death, they looked for his coming and thought that perhaps in an instant and without warning Jesus would appear and call them home. As they entered the arena to face the lions or looked up to face their executioner, many would have thought with joy in their hearts, “Perhaps this is the moment in which Jesus will return; and even now, before the beasts can spring or the ax can fall, I shall be caught up to meet him.”

Unfortunately, in our day belief in the second coming of Jesus Christ has faded into a remote and sometimes irrelevant doctrine in many large segments of the Christian church. It is entirely possible that our present lack of courage and lack of joy flow from this attitude.

A Biblical Doctrine

We are told today by many, some of them within the church, that belief in the return of Jesus Christ is a preposterous doctrine or at best a “pie-in-the-sky” philosophy. But it is hard to see how any professing Christian can dismiss it.

The return of Jesus Christ is mentioned in every one of the New Testament books except Galatians and the very short books such as 2 and 3 John and Philemon. Jesus quite often spoke of his return. Mark records him as saying, “If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels” (Mark 8:38). Again, “At that time men will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. And he will send his angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of the heavens” (Mark 13:26–27). John tells us that Christ’s last words to his disciples included the promise: “I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am” (John 14:2–3).

Paul’s letters are also full of the doctrine. To the Christians at Thessalonica he wrote, “For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever” (1 Thess. 4:16–17). Peter called the return of Jesus Christ our “living hope” (1 Peter 1:3). Paul called it our “blessed hope” (Titus 2:13). John wrote, “Look, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him” (Rev. 1:7).

It is the same in the verse that is our text in Philippians. “But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body” (3:20–21). In these verses and in many others the early Christians expressed their belief in a personal return of Jesus that was to be closely associated with the resurrection and transformation of their own bodies and a final judgment of individuals and nations. They acknowledged that their lives should be lived on a higher plane because of it.

Changed Conduct

The personal return of Jesus Christ should have a profound bearing on our own life and conduct. Lord Shaftesbury, the great English social reformer, said near the end of his life, “I do not think that in the last 40 years I have lived one conscious hour that was not influenced by the thought of our Lord’s return.” This conviction was one of the strongest motives behind his social programs.

If you are expecting the Lord’s return, then this conviction ought to alter your concern for social issues as well as other things. At the height of the racial crisis in the United States in the early 1960s, two signs hung on the wall of a restaurant in Decatur, Georgia. The first sign read, “Jesus is coming again!” The second sign directly below it said, “We reserve the right to refuse service to anybody!” The juxtaposition of the two signs was unintentionally humorous for at least two reasons. First, because they implied that the owner, who apparently was looking for the return of Jesus Christ, might refuse him service. Second, because the racial discrimination that was involved was incongruous in the light of Christ’s imminent return.

Are you looking for Jesus’ return? If you are motivated by prejudice against other Christians or others in general, whether they are black or white, rich or poor, cultured or culturally naive, whatever they may be—then the return of Jesus Christ has not made its proper impression on you. If you are contemplating some sin, perhaps a dishonest act in business, perhaps trifling with sex outside of marriage, perhaps cheating on your income tax return—then the return of Jesus Christ has not made its proper impression on you. If your life is marked by a contentious, divisive spirit in which you seek to tear down the work of another person instead of building it up—then the return of Jesus Christ has not made its proper impression on you. If you first protect your own interests and neglect to give food, water, or clothing to the needy as we are instructed to do in Christ’s name—then the return of Jesus Christ has not made its proper impression on you.

John wrote, “Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, just as he is pure” (1 John 3:2–3). The greatest consequence of belief in the return of the Lord Jesus Christ should be a purification of our conduct.

Hope in Suffering

Another consequence of a firm belief in the return of Jesus Christ should be a transformed understanding of suffering. For suffering strengthens our hope and makes our present fellowship with Jesus more wonderful. This is why Paul writes of the believer’s hope in Romans saying, “Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope” (Rom. 5:3–4). In Paul’s experience hope had transformed suffering, and suffering had intensified his hope.

The word “suffering,” which occurs in this verse, means any tribulation, persecution, or hardship—like that which Paul lists of himself in 2 Corinthians 11: beatings, imprisonments, stoning, shipwrecks, perils, weariness, thirst, and hunger. It includes the cruelest oppressions. The Greek word Paul used and its Latin translation carried the most vivid of images in Paul’s day. The Greek word was thlipsis, which means the kind of oppression that a conquered people would receive from a cruel conqueror. The Latin translation was based on the noun tribulum, which meant a threshing sled, and implied severe torture. A tribulum was generally several feet wide and five or six feet long and was studded with sharp spikes on the bottom; it was pulled over the grain on a threshing floor by an animal. The Latin word tribulare compared oppression to experiencing such threshing.

It is easy to see how the Christians thus conceived of their suffering. They knew themselves to be often pressed as wheat while the tribulums of the world passed over them. They knew the feel of the spikes and the lash of the flail. But they endured such suffering. They had learned that it was the way God separated the wheat in their lives from the chaff and made them more useful and more obedient servants.

All of God’s children learn this sooner or later. Certainly it was known by the persecuted prophet Jeremiah. What had persecutions done for Jeremiah? In Jeremiah 17 he intimates that they had actually drawn him closer to the Lord and strengthened him for his work. He is contrasting two types of people. The first is the person who trusts in human beings and thereby departs from the Lord. Jeremiah says this person “will be like a bush in the wastelands; he will not see prosperity when it comes. He will dwell in the parched places of the desert, in a salt land where no one lives” (v. 6). The other type of person is the one who trusts God and whose hope is in him. What is he like? Jeremiah says, “He will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit” (v. 8). In other words, Jeremiah had found that suffering had strengthened his roots and had actually drawn him closer to the Lord.

All Christians should experience that. Tribulations will come. Job spoke truthfully when he said, “Yet man is born to trouble as surely as the sparks fly upward” (Job 5:7). But the Christian can have a hope in the midst of tribulation that transforms suffering and is strengthened by it.

Day of Judgment

Everything written up to this point has been encouraging. It has been intended for Christians. But there is a somber side for those who do not know Christ and who therefore do not expect him. Christ is coming; it will be a joy for Christians. But it will also mean the beginning of Christ’s judgments. These will be terrible for those who do not know him.

Christians acknowledge this every time they recite the Apostles’ Creed, for they say that Jesus shall come again from heaven “to judge the living and the dead.” Paul told the Athenians that God has “set a day when he will judge the world with justice” (Acts 17:31). In that day Jesus Christ will return to judge the nations, the false church, and individuals. Everyone will have to answer to him. Will you meet him as one judged righteous on the basis of our Lord’s death for sin and his gift of righteousness? Or will you meet him as one who trusts in your own human goodness and is therefore cut off from God’s presence forever?

It is my experience that people react in one of two ways to Christ’s judgment. Some simply disbelieve it, for they think that judgment is incompatible with the character of God. I mentioned something about the judgment of God on The Bible Study Hour once and received a letter from a woman who seemed greatly offended at the thought that a loving God could ever pronounce a judgment on anything. I wrote back asking her what she would think of a God who would let a murderer go on murdering throughout eternity, a thief go on stealing throughout eternity, a sexual pervert continue to violate other men and women throughout eternity, and other sinners to go on sinning. Certainly it is in the character of a loving and righteous God to stop such things. It may help some persons to think of the final judgment in this light and begin to find out what the Scriptures say concerning it.

The second reaction to the fact of God’s judgment comes from the unbeliever who has heard the offer of salvation by grace through the gospel but who prefers to deal with God’s justice. Pity the man who wants nothing from God but God’s justice! Justice will condemn a person to hell. The only hope for anyone lies in God’s mercy.

The result of seeking nothing but justice from God is seen in a story from the life of Abraham from the Old Testament. God told Abraham that he was about to destroy the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah for their great wickedness, and Abraham had immediately begun to think about his nephew Lot and his family who lived there. He knew that they would also be destroyed in God’s judgment, so he began to reason with God. He said, “Will you also destroy the righteous with the wicked? Suppose there are fifty righteous in the city; will you also destroy and not spare the place for the fifty righteous that are in it? Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?” God said, “If there are fifty righteous persons in the city, I will spare it.” Abraham became worried at this point because he only knew of four righteous persons himself. They were Lot, Lot’s wife, and Lot’s two daughters. He began to doubt that there were fifty. So he said, “Suppose there are only forty-five? Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?” God replied, “I will spare the city for the sake of forty-five.” Abraham bargained with God until God had agreed to spare the city for the sake of ten righteous people. But even then Abraham had not reduced the figure far enough. So after God had removed Lot and his family from Sodom, his judgment fell upon the cities.

That is what happens when the Judge of all the earth does right! Humans are condemned by God’s justice. If you seek nothing from God but justice, you will be condemned at Jesus Christ’s return. Fortunately there is no need to meet him as Judge. For the One who is coming in judgment is also the One who once came as the Savior, to die for your sin, to bear your judgment, and to meet you thereafter as your Lord, your friend, and your bridegroom. You must decide how you will meet him. The decisions of this life affect the issues of eternity.[2]


20 The recurrence of rare words in 3:20; 4:1; and 4:3 (appearing first in 1:27) marks 1:27–4:3 as a unit. The verbs in 1:27, politeuomai (“conduct yourselves [as citizens],” GK 4488; 1:27), stēkō (“stand firm,” GK 5112), and synathleō (“contending as one,” GK 5254), reappear in the same order: politeuma (nominal form, “citizenship,” GK 4487; 3:20), stēkō (“stand firm”; 4:1), and synathleō (“contended at my side”; 4:3). Paul also weaves the vocabulary from 2:6–11 into these verses and draws on that passage’s elevated style (Lincoln, 88–89), which suggests that he reaches the climax of his argument in this entire section (1:27–4:3).

Since we “eagerly await a Savior from [heaven]” (cf. 1 Th 1:10; 4:16; 5:23), that must be where the Christian’s Lord is now, and the Lord’s presence there is the reason why the Christian’s commonwealth is in heaven. By using the metaphor of a civic body, Paul reminds the Philippians that they are an outpost on earth of God’s kingdom in heaven. The metaphor evokes at least four points of comparison:

(1) Since Philippi was an outpost of Caesar’s empire, he leaves them to draw the contrasts. Caesar is not the savior, as imperial propaganda would want people to believe, but Jesus is. Paul may deliberately allude to popular names of Nero—“Lord” and “Savior”—to make the point that Caesar is not Lord.

(2) The metaphor evokes the rights and privileges of citizenship. Philippian Christians who may have been granted the honor of Roman citizenship will need to recognize that their heavenly citizenship is infinitely greater and to evaluate their status in the same way that Paul evaluated his status as a Jew. The least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than any in the kingdom of Rome. If they are dual citizens, their allegiance to the Lord of heaven is to outweigh all other commitments. If they are not legal citizens of any earthly city, then they should know that they are full citizens of a heavenly commonwealth, with all its perquisite rights and privileges. In this body of citizens, all members share full and equal rights.

(3) In Greek thought, a citizen should submerge his own interests and profit to that of the city. Paul’s metaphor reminds Christians that as citizens of heaven they should subordinate their self-interest to the welfare of the community to the point of self-sacrifice.

(4) Roman colonies were set up as “miniatures” of Rome (Gellius, Attic Nights 16.13.9) to foster the majesty of Roman culture, religion, and values. The Christian commonwealth has a different constitution and different laws, and Christians are to exemplify the values of the heavenly realm. Christ’s resurrection establishes a new city (polis) and an alternative political jurisdiction that challenges the values and the methods of the empire. The empire tyrannizes, enslaves, and crucifies its subjects. Christians are not to imitate the crucifiers but the crucified one. They are to accept suffering rather than to inflict it. If one is conformed to the kings of this world, one is conformed to a way of death; if one is conformed to Christ, one is conformed to a way that brings life.

In a world of conflicting powers, Christians await the Savior’s return to rescue them from death-dealing powers. They are not to place their trust in Caesar to protect them from enemy hordes and death through his military power but in God’s power to raise the dead and destroy death. Christ was obedient to death but now reigns with all power (2:6–11) and will come to effect the rescue and vindication of those who belong to him, as God effected the same for him (Lincoln, 107). Christians must wait patiently and faithfully for his return.[3]


[1] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2001). Philippians (pp. 259–263). Chicago: Moody Press.

[2] Boice, J. M. (2000). Philippians: an expositional commentary (pp. 214–219). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.

[3] Garland, D. E. (2006). Philippians. In T. Longman III (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Ephesians–Philemon (Revised Edition) (Vol. 12, p. 248). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

June 13, 2017: Verse of the day

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The Distinctiveness of Believers’ Destiny

For God has not destined us for wrath, but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, so that whether we are awake or asleep, we will live together with Him. Therefore encourage one another and build up one another, just as you also are doing. (5:9–11)

The most sobering truth in Scripture is that God will judge the wicked and sentence them to eternal hell (Matt. 3:12; 13:40–42, 50; 18:8; 25:41, 46; John 3:36; 5:29; Acts 24:25; Rom. 2:5, 8; 9:22; 2 Thess. 1:9; Heb. 6:2; 10:26–27; 2 Peter 2:9; 3:7; Rev. 14:9–11; 20:11–15; 21:8). On the other hand, the blessed truth for believers is that God has not destined us for wrath (cf. 1:10; John 3:18, 36; 5:24; Rom. 5:1, 9; 8:1, 33–34). Like their nature, established in the past at salvation, and their present pattern of obedience, day people’s future destiny sets them apart from night people. Believers will not experience the wrath God will pour out on unbelievers on the Day of the Lord, and for eternity in hell.

The word destined expresses the inexorable outworking of God’s sovereign plan for believers’ salvation. In Matthew 25:34 Jesus promised that believers will “inherit the kingdom prepared for [them] from the foundation of the world.” To the Ephesians Paul wrote, “He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him” (Eph. 1:4), while in 2 Timothy 1:9 he added, “[God] has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was granted us in Christ Jesus from all eternity.”

Orgē (wrath) does not refer to a momentary outburst of rage, but to “an abiding and settled habit of mind” (Richard C. Trench, Synonyms of the New Testament [reprint; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1983], 131). It is a general reference to the final judgment, when God’s wrath will be poured out on the wicked (Matt. 3:7; John 3:36; Rom. 1:18; 2:5, 8; 3:5; 4:15; 5:9; 9:22; 12:19; Eph. 5:6; Col. 3:6; Rev. 14:9–11). But God’s wrath here must also include the Day of the Lord, since that was the Thessalonians’ primary concern. Paul assured them that they would face neither temporal wrath on the Day of the Lord (cf. Rev. 6:17), nor eternal wrath in hell.

But—in contrast to the doomed night people—God has destined believers for obtaining (lit., “gaining,” or “acquiring”) salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. Once again, Paul referred to the future dimension of believers’ salvation, their glorification (see the discussion of verse 8 above). But all three aspects of salvation—justification (Isa. 53:11; Rom. 3:24, 26; 5:8–9; 1 Cor. 6:11; Gal. 2:16), sanctification (1 Cor. 1:30; 6:11; Heb. 7:25), and glorification (cf. Phil. 3:21)—come only through our Lord Jesus Christ. The simple, yet profound phrase who died for (huper; “on our behalf”; “with reference to us”; “in our place”; “as our substitute”) us (cf. Rom. 5:8) expresses the sole basis for believers’ salvation. God “made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Cor. 5:21); “He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness” (1 Peter 2:24; cf. John 10:11; Rom. 8:3; Gal. 1:4; 3:13; Eph. 5:2; 1 Peter 3:18; 1 John 2:2). The glorious message of the gospel is that Christ’s substitutionary death paid in full the penalty for believers’ sins and therefore believers will not face God’s judgment. In John 5:24 Jesus declared, “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life.” Nor will they face His condemnation, because “there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1).

Christ’s death on their behalf sets all day people—both those who are awake (alive) and those who are asleep (dead; cf. 4:13–15)—apart from night people. The marvelous reality is that all believers will live together with Him, as Jesus Himself promised:

Do not let your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also. (John 14:1–3; cf. 1 Thess. 4:17)

As he did with his discussion of the Rapture (cf. 4:18 where he used the same word rendered here “encourage”), Paul concluded his discussion of the Day of the Lord by exhorting the Thessalonians to encourage one another and build up one another. Based on the truth he had given them, they were to reassure the anxious and fearful that they would not experience the Day of the Lord. His concluding phrase, just as you also are doing, affirms that they were already committed to encouragement. Ever the faithful pastor, passionately concerned for his people, Paul wanted them to “excel still more” (4:1).

One of two possible destinies awaits every member of the human race. Those who stubbornly remain in spiritual darkness will ultimately “be cast out into the outer darkness” of eternal hell (Matt. 8:12; cf. 22:13; 25:30). But those who through faith in Jesus Christ come to the light of salvation (Acts 13:47; cf. John 8:12; 9:5; 11:9; 12:46) will “share in the inheritance of the saints in Light” (Col. 1:12). They will live forever in God’s glorious presence, where “there will no longer be any night; and they will not have need of the light of a lamp nor the light of the sun, because the Lord God will illumine them; and they will reign forever and ever” (Rev. 22:5).[1]


11 With such a guarantee the readers are now equipped to “encourage one another and build each other up.” As in 4:18, parakaleō (“encourage,” GK 4151) has more a consolatory than a hortatory meaning. Here is an unconditional pledge to strengthen even the weakest in faith. It can also build up another Christian. Oikodomeō (“build … up,” GK 3868) was later to become one of Paul’s favorite ways of writing about growth in the church (Eph 2:20–22; 4:12, 16). An intellectual grasp of the provisions Paul describes leads to both individual and collective growth of the body of Christ. Paul is quick to acknowledge progress along this line: “just as in fact you are doing.” Yet he also looks forward to even greater attainments for them (cf. 4:1).[2]


5:11. This assurance of salvation, of transformation into the image of Christ, should encourage us. As we are encouraged, we must continually talk about it and remind one another of our future so that we do not grow weary or lose heart in the spiritual battles which rage. Every Christian has a responsibility to encourage others in the faith. In an age which is prone to criticism and fault-finding, the same fault-finding attitude can creep into the church. It can become natural to talk about others or critique their performance instead of examining our own hearts or encouraging others toward godliness.

While encouragement inspires us to keep on track spiritually, building each other up deals with investing in others. We should add to other people in such a way that they will be spiritually stronger. In this way, we encourage maturity and fortification of character. We need to look upon all persons as those for whom Christ died. They are eternal soul-spirits just as valuable as we are. We have a responsibility to encourage them to remain faithful and growing until the end.[3]


11. The relation between 5:10 and 11 is a close parallel to that between 4:17 and 18. Just as in chapter 4 the clause, “And so shall we always be with the Lord” was followed by “Therefore encourage one another with these words,” so here in chapter 5 the clause “In order that … we may live in fellowship with him” is followed by Therefore encourage one another and build up one the other, as in fact you are doing.

That last expression, “as in fact you are doing” has been explained in connection with 4:10. By instructing one another and by encouraging one another with the comfort which is found in the preceding paragraph (such comfort as is contained in assurances like “You are not in darkness,” “You are all sons of day,” “For God did not appoint us for wrath but for the obtaining of salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ … in order that we may live in fellowship with him”), believers at Thessalonica will be doing very valuable personal work: building up one the other; for the church and also the individual believer is God’s edifice, God’s temple, 1 Cor. 6:19.[4]


[1] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2002). 1 & 2 Thessalonians (pp. 163–164). Chicago: Moody Press.

[2] Thomas, R. L. (2006). 1 Thessalonians. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Ephesians–Philemon (Revised Edition) (Vol. 12, p. 426). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[3] Larson, K. (2000). I & II Thessalonians, I & II Timothy, Titus, Philemon (Vol. 9, p. 71). Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

[4] Hendriksen, W., & Kistemaker, S. J. (1953–2001). Exposition of I-II Thessalonians (Vol. 3, pp. 128–129). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.

 

June 13 – Speaking from a Pure Heart

“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” (James 1:26).

✧✧✧

Your speech reveals the condition of your heart.

In verse 22 James talked about the delusion of hearing the Word without obeying it. Here he talks about the deception of external religious activity without internal purity of heart.

That’s a common deception. Many people confuse a love for religious activity with love for God. They may go through the mechanics of reading the Bible, attending church, praying, giving money, or singing songs, but in reality their hearts are far from God. That kind of deception can be very subtle. That’s why James disregards mere claims to Christianity and confronts our motives and obedience to the Word. Those are the acid tests!

James was selective in the word he used for “religious.” Rather than using the common Greek word that spoke of internal godliness, he chose a word that referred to external religious trappings, ceremonies, and rituals—things that are useless for true spirituality.

He focused on the tongue as a test of true religion because the tongue is a window to the heart. As Jesus said, “The mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart” (Matt. 12:34). Corrupt speech betrays an unregenerate heart; righteous speech demonstrates a transformed heart. It doesn’t matter how evangelical or Biblical your theology is, if you can’t control your tongue, your religion is useless!

You can learn much about a person’s character if you listen long enough to what he says. In the same way, others learn much about you as they listen to what you say. Do your words reveal a pure heart? Remember Paul’s admonition to “let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, that it may give grace to those who hear” (Eph. 4:29). Make that your goal each day, so you can know the blessing and grace of disciplined speech!

✧✧✧

Suggestions for Prayer:  Ask the Lord to guard your tongue from speaking anything that might dishonor Him. Be aware of everything you say.

For Further Study: Read James 3:1–12. ✧ What warning does James give? ✧ What analogies does he use for the tongue?[1]


1:26, 27 Useless religion and pure and undefiled religion are contrasted. Religion here means the external patterns of behavior connected with religious belief. It refers to the outward forms rather than the inward spirit. It means the outer expression of belief in worship and service rather than the doctrines believed.

Anyone who thinks he is religious, but cannot control his tongue, … this one’s religion is useless. He might observe all kinds of religious ceremonies which make him appear very pious. But he is deceiving himself. God is not satisfied with rituals; He is interested in a life of practical godliness.

An unbridled tongue is only one example of futile religion. Any behavior inconsistent with the Christian faith is worthless. The story is told of a grocer who apparently was a pious fraud. He lived in an apartment above his store. Every morning he would call down to his assistant, “John!”

“Yes, sir.”

“Have you watered down the milk?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Have you colored the butter?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Have you put chicory in the coffee?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Very well. Come up for morning devotions!”

James says that such religion is useless.

What God is looking for is the practical type of godliness which takes a compassionate interest in others and keeps one’s own life clean. As examples of pure and undefiled religion, James praises the man who visits needy orphans and widows, and who keeps himself unspotted from the world.

In other words, the practical outworking of the new birth is found in “acts of grace and a walk of separation.” Guy King describes these virtues as practical love and practical holiness.

We should put our own faith on trial with the following questions: Do I read the Bible with a humble desire to have God rebuke me, teach me, and change me? Am I anxious to have my tongue bridled? Do I justify my temper or do I want victory over it? How do I react when someone starts to tell an off-color joke? Does my faith manifest itself in deeds of kindness to those who cannot repay me?[2]


26. If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless.

In explaining the meaning and implication of serving God, James tells his readers first how not to serve God. Then in the next verse, he instructs them how to profess and practice their religion.

  • “If anyone considers himself religious.” This is a simple fact conditional sentence that depicts life as it is. A person who attends the worship services in a Christian church may consider himself religious. To be sure, many people believe that church attendance, praying, or even fasting is the equivalent of being religious. Not so, says James, because such activity may be merely outward show. That is formalism, not religion.

What, then, is religion? Negatively, it is not what man construes it to be when he considers himself to be pious. Positively, religion comes to expression when man speaks with a bridled tongue.

  • “Yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue.” The author of this epistle introduces the subject of the tongue in the first chapter (1:19), mentions it here in connection with religion, and then returns to it more explicitly in the third chapter. There he compares the tongue to horses that have bits in their mouths so that they obey their masters. “No man can tame the tongue,” James says. “It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison” (3:8). If man is able to bridle his tongue, “he is a perfect man” (3:2).

If man fails to keep his tongue in check, his religion is worthless. The unruly tongue engages in lying, cursing and swearing, slander, and filthy language. From man’s point of view the hasty word, shading of the truth, the subtle innuendo, and the questionable joke are shrugged off as insignificant. Yet from God’s perspective they are a violation of the command to love the Lord God and to love one’s neighbor as oneself. A breach of this command renders man’s religion of no avail.

  • “He deceives himself and his religion is worthless.” This is the third time that James tells his readers not to deceive themselves (1:16, 22, 26). As a pastor he is fully aware of counterfeit religion that is nothing more than external formalism. He knows that many people merely go through the motions of serving God, but their speech gives them away. Their religion has a hollow ring. And although they may not realize it, by their words and by their actions—or lack of them—they deceive themselves. Their heart is not right with God and their fellow man, and their attempt to hide this lack of love only heightens their self-deception. Their religion is worthless.[3]

Do Not Be Deceived: The Importance of Right Speaking (1:26)

26 The word translated “religious” (thrēskos, GK 2580) is rare and unknown in Greek prior to this occurrence in James. The related and much more common word thrēskeia (GK 2579), which James uses at the end of v. 26 and again at the beginning of v. 27, has to do with religious ritual but could also imply the internal piety of the worshiper (TLNT 2:200–203). James clearly uses both terms to speak of service to God via right attitudes of the heart and righteous living (see 1:20). In line with the previous passage, true religion does not participate simply in forms of worship (i.e., hearing the word spoken or read) but must extend to a transformation of life that has implications for how one interacts in community.

Specifically, if a person thinks of himself as religious and cannot keep control of his tongue, he is self-deceived. The word translated “considers himself” does not have the pronoun attached to it in Greek, and the term dokeō also can communicate the idea of reputation, or “to seem.” Thus it might be better to translate the clause, “If anyone seems to be religious,” or, “If anyone has the reputation of being religious.” Yet what seems to be is not really true, for this person uses words destructively in the community. Both the NIV and NASB reflect that the term for “control” (chalinagōgeō, GK 5902) was used literally of a horse’s bridle, which is the main means of controlling the horse; hence the figurative meaning of “keep under control.” If the tongue is not kept in check, two conclusions may be drawn. The person deceives his own heart, and he has a worthless religion. The heart was seen variously as the seat of the physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual life of a person. In its figurative use, it represented, among other things, the inner self where moral decisions were made. James’s emphasis here is that we can trick ourselves into thinking ourselves religious when the clear evidence indicates otherwise. If the tongue is not under control, the supposed religion is “worthless,” a word connoting that it is useless, fruitless, powerless, or even lacking truth.[4]


[1] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1993). Drawing Near—Daily Readings for a Deeper Faith (p. 177). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

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

[3] Kistemaker, S. J., & Hendriksen, W. (1953–2001). Exposition of James and the Epistles of John (Vol. 14, pp. 63–64). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.

[4] Guthrie, G. H. (2006). James. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Hebrews–Revelation (Revised Edition) (Vol. 13, pp. 228–229). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

JUNE 13 – GOD’S RIGHT: TO ASK OBEDIENCE OF HIS CREATURES

Blessed are they that do his commandments, that they …may enter in through the gates into the city.

REVELATION 22:14

The command to love God with our whole being has seemed to many persons to be impossible of fulfillment, and it may be properly argued that we cannot love by fiat.

Love is too gentle, too frail a creature to spring up at the command of another. It would be like commanding the barren tree to bring forth fruit or the winter forest to be green.

What then can it mean?

The answer is found in the nature of God and of man. God being who He is must have obedience from His creatures. Man being who he is must render that obedience, and he owes God complete obedience whether or not he feels for Him the faintest trace of love in his heart.

It is a question of the sovereign right of God to require His creatures to obey Him.

Man’s first and basic sin was disobedience. When he disobeyed God he violated the claims of divine love with the result that love for God died within him.

Now, what can he do to restore that love to his heart again?

The heart that mourns its coldness toward God needs only to repent its sins, and a new, warm and satisfying love will flood into it. For the act of repentance will bring a corresponding act of God in self-revelation and intimate communion.

Once the seeking heart finds God in personal experience there will be no further problem about loving Him.[1]


22:14 This verse may read, “Blessed are those who do His commandments” or “Blessed are those who wash their robes” (margin). Neither reading teaches salvation by works but rather works as the fruit and proof of salvation. Only true believers have access to the tree of life and to the eternal city.[2]


14. “Blessed are they who wash their robes, so that they may have the right to the tree of life and by the gates they may enter the city.”

“Blessed are they who wash their robes.” With this last and seventh beatitude Jesus addresses the saints on earth by calling blessed those people who wash their robes. He implies that their robes are filthy because of sin, which can be removed only through the blood of Christ. The verb to wash is a participle in the present tense to indicate that sin is a continual polluting agency that needs repeated cleansings. Earlier John recorded the words of an elder who instructed him concerning the status of the saints in heaven. “These are they who have come out of the great tribulation and have washed their robes and have made them white in the blood of the Lamb” (7:14). Whereas the words of the elder are addressed to celestial saints, whose robes have been washed once for all (aorist tense), Jesus speaks to the saints on earth and by implication urges them to wash their robes again and again (present tense). Moses instructed the Israelites at Mount Sinai to wash their clothes prior to coming before God to hear the Law (Exod. 19:10, 14). This means that no one can enter the presence of God in filthy garments, for such an act is abominable to him. Only those who are covered with the robe of righteousness may enter God’s holiness (Isa. 61:10). Clothed in pure linen, they are permitted to sit at the table of the Lord (19:8; compare Matt. 22:11–13).

“So that they may have the right to the tree of life.” Adam and Eve were driven out of the Garden of Eden, and cherubim prevented them from approaching the tree of life (Gen. 3:24). But now the saints have perfect freedom to take the fruit of this tree (2:7; 22:2). Indeed Jesus grants them the right to do so. Delivered from the bondage of sin and guilt through his sacrifice, they now enjoy life eternal with unhindered access to the tree of life.

“And by the gates they may enter the city.” They are God’s people who have the right to enter the holy city and enjoy never-ending residency. Their names are recorded in the book of life that grants them citizenship in the new Jerusalem (21:27b).[3]


 

because of the exclusivity of heaven

Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they may have the right to the tree of life, and may enter by the gates into the city. Outside are the dogs and the sorcerers and the immoral persons and the murderers and the idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices lying. (22:14–15)

This section begins with the last of the seven beatitudes in Revelation (v. 7; 1:3; 14:13; 16:15; 19:9; 20:6), each introduced by the pronouncement blessed. This blessing is pronounced (most likely by the Lord Jesus Christ) on those who wash their robes. That phrase graphically portrays the believer’s participation in the death of Christ. In 7:14 one of the twenty-four elders said to John, “These [the Tribulation martyrs; 7:9] are the ones who come out of the great tribulation, and they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” Soiled clothes represent sinfulness in Isaiah 64:6 and Zechariah 3:3, whereas Psalm 51:7; Isaiah 1:18; and Titus 3:5 speak of the cleansing of sin that accompanies salvation. The agency through which that cleansing comes is the blood of Christ (1:5; 5:9; 7:14; Matt. 26:28; Acts 20:28; Rom. 3:24–25; 5:9; Eph. 1:7; 2:13; Col. 1:20; Heb. 9:12, 14; 10:19; 13:12; 1 Pet. 1:2, 18–19; 1 John 1:7).

Those who have experienced the washing from sin that marks salvation will forever have the right to the tree of life. As noted in the discussion of 22:2 in chapter 19 of this volume, the tree of life is located in the capital city of heaven, the New Jerusalem. This will be the fulfillment of Jesus’ promise, “To him who overcomes, I will grant to eat of the tree of life which is in the Paradise of God” (2:7). Those granted access to the tree of life, will be allowed to enter by the gates into the city (cf. the discussion of 1:21 in chap. 19 of this volume).

Heaven is exclusively for those who have been cleansed from their sins by faith in the blood of Christ and whose names have been “written from the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who has been slain” (13:8). In contrast, everyone else will remain forever outside the New Jerusalem in the lake of fire (20:15; 21:8), because “nothing unclean, and no one who practices abomination and lying, shall ever come into it, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life” (21:27). As in 21:8, a representative (though not exhaustive) list of the type of sins that exclude people from heaven is given to John.

The inclusion of dogs on the list seems puzzling at first glance. But in ancient times dogs were not the domesticated household pets they are today. They were despised scavengers that milled about cities’ garbage dumps (cf. Ex. 22:31; 1 Kings 14:11; 16:4; 21:19, 23–24; 22:38). Thus, to call a person a dog was to describe that person as someone of low character (cf. 1 Sam. 17:43; 24:14; 2 Sam. 3:8; 9:8; 16:9; 2 Kings 8:13; Phil. 3:2); in fact, the first time blatantly impure sinners are called dogs is in Deuteronomy 23:18, where male homosexual prostitutes are in view. Sorcerers (from pharmakos, the root of the English word “pharmacy”) refers to those engaged in occult practices and the drug abuse that often accompanies those practices (cf. 9:21; 21:8; Gal. 5:20). Immoral persons (from pornos, the root of the English word “pornography”) are those who engage in illicit sexual activities. Murderers are also excluded from heaven in the list given in 21:8 (cf. 9:21; Rom. 1:29). Idolaters are those who worship false gods, or who worship the true God in an unacceptable manner (cf. 21:8). The final group excluded from heaven also includes everyone who loves and practices lying. It is not all who have ever committed any of these sins who are excluded from heaven (cf. 1 Cor. 6:11). Rather, it is those who love and habitually practice any such sin, stubbornly cling to it, and refuse Christ’s invitation to salvation who will be cast into the lake of fire.[4]


14 The seventh and last beatitude in Revelation is evangelistic in emphasis (cf. 21:6; 22:11, 17). Strands of the earlier imagery are blended in it. In 7:14, the washing of the robes indicates willing identification with Jesus in his death. It also carries the thought of martyrdom during the great ordeal for the saints (cf. 6:11). Thus it symbolizes a salvation that involves obedience and discipleship, since it is integrally related to the salvation imagery of the tree of life (cf. comments at 22:2) and the gates of the city (cf. 21:25).[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.) (p. 2381). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

[3] Kistemaker, S. J., & Hendriksen, W. (1953–2001). Exposition of the Book of Revelation (Vol. 20, p. 590). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.

[4] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2000). Revelation 12–22 (pp. 307–309). Chicago: Moody Press.

[5] Johnson, A. F. (2006). Revelation. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Hebrews–Revelation (Revised Edition) (Vol. 13, p. 788). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

June 13 – Seeking God’s Kingdom First

But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.—Matt. 6:33

When Christians think like the world and crave things in the world, they will worry like the world, because a mind not focused on God is a mind that has cause to worry. The faithful, trusting, and reasonable Christian is “anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving [lets his] requests be made known to God” (Phil. 4:6).

The antidote to worry that results in contentment is to make God and His kingdom your priority. Jesus is saying, “Rather than seeking and worrying about food, drink, and clothing like unbelievers do, focus your attention and hopes on the things of the Lord, and He will take care of all your needs.”

Seeking God’s kingdom means losing ourselves in obedience to the Lord and pouring out our lives in the eternal work of our heavenly Father. To seek God’s kingdom is to seek to win people into that kingdom that they might be saved and God might be glorified.

We are also to seek His righteousness. Instead of longing after the things of this world, we ought to hunger and thirst for the things of the world to come, which are characterized above all else by God’s perfect righteousness and holiness. We not only are to have heavenly expectations but also holy lives: “What sort of people ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God” (2 Peter 3:11–12).

ASK YOURSELF
Seeking first the kingdom can be little more than a mental slogan for us until we define what this means in real-life, everyday terms. Spend some time today focusing on what a kingdom priority looks like at home, at work, at church, at the gym, at the market, in all the places your routine takes you.[1]

6:33 The Lord, therefore, makes a covenant with His followers. He says, in effect, “If you will put God’s interests first in your life, I will guarantee your future needs. If you seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, then I will see that you never lack the necessities of life.”[2]


33. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be granted to you as an extra gift. Over against the Gentiles, who crave food, drink, garments, etc., Christ’s followers are urged to seek first his kingdom and his righteousness. The verb seek implies a being absorbed in the search for, a persevering and strenuous effort to obtain (cf. 13:45). The form of the verb that is used also allows the rendering, “Be constantly seeking” (cf. Col. 3:1). Note: seek first; that is, give God the priority that is his due (2 Cor. 4:18).

The object of this seeking is “his kingdom and his righteousness.” The listeners are exhorted, therefore, to acknowledge God as King in their own hearts and lives, and to do all in their power to have him recognized as King also in the hearts and lives of others, and in every sphere: education, government, commerce, industry, science, etc. For the concept “kingdom of heaven” see pp. 249, 250. It stands to reason that when God is recognized as King, righteousness will prevail. For this concept see pp. 274, 317. These two (kingdom and righteousness) go together. In fact, “the kingdom of God is [means, implies] righteousness” (Rom. 14:17), a righteousness both imputed to men and imparted to them, both of legal standing and of ethical conduct.

Now it is true that the kingdom and its righteousness are gifts, graciously bestowed. They are his kingdom and his righteousness. They are, however, also objects of continuing, diligent search; of ceaseless, strenuous effort to obtain. These two are not contradictory. An example from nature will clarify this. Of itself a tree has no power to maintain itself. Its roots are, as it were, empty hands stretched out to the environment. It is dependent on the sun, the air, the clouds, and the soil. It does not even have the strength to absorb the nourishment it requires. The sun is the source of its energy. But does this mean that the tree is therefore inactive? Not at all. Its roots and leaves, though completely receptive, are enormously active. For example, it has been estimated that the amount of work performed by a certain large tree in a single day to raise water and minerals from the soil to the leaves was equal to the amount of energy expended by a person who carried three hundred buckets full of water, two at a time, up a ten-foot flight of stairs. The leaves, too, are virtual factories. They, too, are tremendously active.

The same holds also with respect to the citizens of the kingdom. They receive the kingdom as a gift. Yet, after the new principle of life has been received, the recipients become very active. They work very hard, not by means of anything in themselves but by the power that is being constantly supplied to them by the Lord’s Spirit. They “work out their own salvation,” and are able to do this because “it is God who works in them both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Phil. 2:12, 13. See also Matt. 7:13; cf. Luke 13:24; 16:16b). They trust in God’s promises, pray, spread the message of salvation, and out of gratitude perform good works to benefit men and to glorify God.

The reward of grace: “all these things will be granted to you as an extra gift.” While they are concentrating their attention on the kingdom and its righteousness, God’s gift to them, their heavenly Father sees to it that they have food, drink, and clothing. For further elucidation see 1 Kings 3:10–14; Mark 10:29, 30; and 1 Tim. 4:8.[3]


Worry Is Unreasonable Because of Our Faith

Do not be anxious then, saying, “What shall we eat?” or “What shall we drink?” or “With what shall we clothe ourselves?” For all these things the Gentiles eagerly seek; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added to you. (6:31–33)

Worry is inconsistent with our faith in God and is therefore unreasonable as well as sinful. Worry is characteristic of unbelief. Ethnoi (Gentiles) literally means simply “peoples,” or “a multitude.” In the plural form, as here, it usually referred to non-Jews, that is, to Gentiles and, by extension, to unbelievers or pagans. Worrying about what to eat, drink, and clothe themselves with are things the Gentiles eagerly seek. Those who have no hope in God naturally put their hope and expectations in things they can enjoy now. They have nothing to live for but the present, and their materialism is perfectly consistent with their religion. They have no God to supply their physical or their spiritual needs, their present or their eternal needs, so anything they get they must get for themselves. They are ignorant of God’s supply and have no claim on it. No heavenly Father cares for them, so there is reason to worry.

The gods of the Gentiles were man-made gods inspired by Satan. They were gods of fear, dread, and appeasement who demanded much, promised little, and provided nothing. It was natural that those who served such gods would eagerly seek whatever satisfactions and pleasures they could while they could. Their philosophy is still popular in our own day among those who are determined to grab all the gusto they can get. “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die” is an understandable outlook for those who have no hope in the resurrection (1 Cor. 15:32).

But that is a completely foolish and unreasonable philosophy for those who do have hope in the resurrection, for those whose heavenly Father knows that [they] need all these things. To worry about our physical welfare and our clothing is the mark of a worldly mind, whether Christian or not. When we think like the world and crave like the world, we will worry like the world, because a mind that is not centered on God is a mind that has cause to worry. The faithful, trusting, and reasonable Christian is “anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving [lets his] requests be made known to God” (Phil. 4:6). He refuses in any way to “be conformed to this world” (Rom. 12:2).

Within this series of rebukes Jesus gives a positive command coupled with a beautiful promise: But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added to you. The cause of worry is seeking the things of this world, and the cause of contentment is seeking the things of God’s kingdom and His righteousness.

De is primarily a conjunction of contrast, for which but is a good rendering. In the present context it carries the idea of “rather,” or “instead of.” “Rather than seeking and worrying about food, drink, and clothing like unbelievers do,” Jesus says, “focus your attention and hopes on the things of the Lord and He will take care of all your needs.”

Out of all the options that we have, out of all the things we can seek for and be occupied with, we are to seek first the things of the One to whom we belong. That is the Christian’s priority of priorities, a divine priority composed of two parts: God’s kingdom and God’s righteousness.

As we have seen in the discussion of the Disciples’ Prayer (6:10), basileia (kingdom) does not refer to a geographical territory but to a dominion or rule. God’s kingdom is God’s sovereign rule, and therefore to seek first His kingdom is to seek first His rule, His will and His authority.

Seeking God’s kingdom is losing ourselves in obedience to the Lord to the extent that we can say with Paul, “I do not consider my life of any account as dear to myself, in order that I may finish my course, and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify solemnly of the gospel of the grace of God” (Acts 20:24). To seek first God’s kingdom is to pour out our lives in the eternal work of our heavenly Father.

To seek God’s kingdom is seek to win people into that kingdom, that they might be saved and God might be glorified. It is to have our heavenly Father’s own truth, love, and righteousness manifest in our lives, and to have “peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Rom. 14:17). We also seek God’s kingdom when we yearn for the return of the King in His millennial glory to establish His kingdom on earth and usher in His eternal kingdom.

We are also to seek … His righteousness. Instead of longing after the things of this world, we are to hunger and thirst for the things of the world to come, which are characterized above all else by God’s perfect righteousness and holiness. It is more than longing for something ethereal and future; it is also longing for something present and practical. We not only are to have heavenly expectations but holy lives (see Col. 3:2–3). “Since all these things [the earth and its works, v. 10] are to be destroyed in this way,” Peter says, “what sort of people ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God” (2 Pet. 3:11).[4]


The heart of the matter (6:33)

33 In view of vv. 31–32, this verse makes it clear that Jesus’ disciples are not simply to refrain from the pursuit of temporal things as their primary goal in order to differentiate themselves from pagans; instead, they are to replace such pursuits with goals of far greater significance. To seek first the kingdom (“of God” in some MSS) is to desire above all to enter into, submit to, and participate in spreading the news of the saving reign of God, the messianic kingdom already inaugurated by Jesus, and to live so as to store up treasures in heaven in the prospect of the kingdom’s consummation. It is to pursue the things already prayed for in the first three petitions of the Lord’s Prayer (vv. 9–10).

To seek God’s righteousness is not, in this context, to seek justification (contra Filson, McNeile). “Righteousness” must be interpreted as in 5:6, 10, 20; 6:1. It is to pursue righteousness of life in full submission to the will of God, as prescribed by Jesus throughout this discourse (cf. Przybylski, Righteousness in Matthew, 89–91). Such righteousness will lead to persecution by some (5:10), but others will themselves become disciples and praise the Father in heaven (5:16). Such goals alone are worthy of one’s wholehearted allegiance. For any other concern to dominate one’s mind is to stoop to pagan fretting. “In the end, just as there are only two kinds of piety, the self-centered and the God-centered, so there are only two kinds of ambition: one can be ambitious either for oneself or for God. There is no third alternative” (Stott, Message of the Sermon on the Mount, 172). Within such a framework of commitment, Jesus’ disciples are assured that all the necessary things will be given to them by their heavenly Father (see comments at 5:45; 6:9), who demonstrates his faithfulness by his care even for the birds and his concern even for the grass.[5]


[1] MacArthur, J. (2008). Daily readings from the life of Christ (p. 173). Chicago: Moody Publishers.

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

[3] Hendriksen, W., & Kistemaker, S. J. (1953–2001). Exposition of the Gospel According to Matthew (Vol. 9, pp. 354–355). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.

[4] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1985). Matthew (pp. 425–427). 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, pp. 216–217). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.