Category Archives: Verse of the day

March 19, 2019 Afternoon Verse Of The Day

The Lord’s Response

Then Jesus answered and said to her, “O woman, your faith is great; be it done for you as you wish.” And her daughter was healed at once. (15:28)

After putting up a barrier of silence and then a double barrier of seeming rejection, Jesus heard what He wanted to hear. Her seeking heart would not give up. Like Abraham, she grew strong in faith through God’s testing (Rom. 4:20), and like Jacob wrestling with the Lord (Gen. 32:26), she would not let go until He blessed her. She fulfilled the pledge of Jeremiah 29:13–14, “ ‘And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart. And I will be found by you,’ declares the Lord.”

Highly pleased with the woman’s response, Jesus declared, O woman, your faith is great. Without having heard the Sermon on the Mount, she came with the humble, mourning, meek, and seeking heart that God requires for kingdom entrance (Matt. 5:3–6). She exhibited the attitude expressed in Luke 16:16 of vigorously pressing forward (from biazomai) into the kingdom and in Luke 13:24 of striving, struggling, straining every nerve (from agōnizomai) to enter it.

Because of her great faith, Jesus granted her wish that her little child be delivered from the demon, and her daughter was healed at once. As Spurgeon observed, “The Lord of glory surrendered to the faith of the woman.” She kept asking until she received, seeking until she found, and knocking until it was opened to her (cf. Matt. 7:7).[1]


28. Great is thy faith. He first applauds the woman’s faith, and next declares, that on account of her faith he grants her prayer. The greatness of her faith appeared chiefly in this respect, that by the aid of nothing more than a feeble spark of doctrine, she not only recognized the actual office of Christ, and ascribed to him heavenly power, but pursued her course steadily through formidable opposition; suffered herself to be annihilated, provided that she held by her conviction that she would not fail to obtain Christ’s assistance; and, in a word, so tempered her confidence with humility, that, while she advanced no unfounded claim, neither did she shut against her the fountain of the grace of Christ, by a sense of her own unworthiness. This commendation, bestowed on a woman who had been a heathen, condemns the ingratitude of that nation which boasted that it was consecrated to God.

But how can the woman be said to believe aright, who not only receives no promise from Christ, but is driven back by his declaration to the contrary? On that point I have already spoken. Though he appears to give a harsh refusal to her prayers, yet, convinced that God would grant the salvation which he had promised through the Messiah, she ceases not to entertain favourable hopes; and therefore she concludes, that the door is shut against her, not for the purpose of excluding her altogether, but that, by a more strenuous effort of faith, she may force her way, as it were, through the chinks. Be it unto thee as thou desirest. This latter clause contains a useful doctrine, that faith will obtain anything from the Lord; for so highly does he value it, that he is always prepared to comply with our wishes, so far as it may be for our advantage.[2]


28 The faith that simply seeks mercy is honored. Again Jesus speaks, this time with emotion (see Notes), and the woman’s daughter is healed “from that very hour” (cf. 8:13; 9:22). The Clementine homilies (end of the second century) call the woman Justa and her daughter Berenice, but the names may have been invented.[3]


15:28. Finally, having seen ample proof of this dear woman’s heart of faith, and having “rubbed it in” for the disciples, Jesus broke his feigned “resistance” with this enthusiastic response: Woman, you have great faith! Clearly, he was deeply touched by such mature and persistent faith in this Gentile woman.

There was no longer any reason to test the woman’s faith, so Jesus assured her that her deepest desire had been granted. Just as with the centurion’s servant (8:13), Jesus performed a long-distance healing. Matthew records that the woman’s daughter was healed that very hour.[4]


28. Then Jesus answered and said to her, “O woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you desire.” And healed was her daughter from that very moment. Divine love is so infinite and marvelous that it even praises a human being for exercising a gift—in this case faith—with which this very divine love has endowed her, and which apart from that divine activity could not have gone into action at all.

The praise which this woman receives cannot fail to remind us of the eulogy with which Jesus lauded the centurion (8:10). Here as well as in 8:10, 11 is there not a prediction of the fast approaching wide-opening of the door for the reception of the Gentiles into the kingdom of heaven?

Note also that the blessing bestowed on the woman cannot even be conceived of apart from that with which her daughter was favored. When the woman received what she desired this implied that the daughter likewise was given what she needed. The latter was healed immediately and completely! Moreover, these blessings did not rob “children” of their “bread.”[5]


[1] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1985). Matthew (Vol. 2, pp. 473–474). Chicago: Moody Press.

[2] Calvin, J., & Pringle, W. (2010). Commentary on a Harmony of the Evangelists Matthew, Mark, and Luke (Vol. 2, pp. 268–269). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

[3] Carson, D. A. (2010). Matthew. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Matthew–Mark (Revised Edition) (Vol. 9, p. 405). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[4] Weber, S. K. (2000). Matthew (Vol. 1, p. 232). Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

[5] Hendriksen, W., & Kistemaker, S. J. (1953–2001). Exposition of the Gospel According to Matthew (Vol. 9, p. 625). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.

March 19, 2019 Morning Verse Of The Day

Calling Peter and Andrew

And walking by the Sea of Galilee, He saw two brothers, Simon who was called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea; for they were fishermen. And He said to them, “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.” And they immediately left the nets, and followed Him. (4:18–20)

The Sea of Galilee is an oval-shaped body of water about eight miles wide and thirteen miles long, and is nearly 700 feet below sea level. Luke, who was well traveled, always referred to it more properly as a lake. Yet Josephus reports that in the first century a.d. some 240 boats regularly fished the waters of that lake. Much additional fishing was done along the shore, as Simon who was called Peter [see Matt. 16:16–18], and Andrew his brother were doing on this occasion, casting a net into the sea.

In that day, three methods of fishing were used. One was by hook and line, the second was by a throw net cast from the shallow water along the shore, and the third was by a large dragnet strung between two or more boats in the deep water. Peter and Andrew were here obviously using the second method. That net was probably about nine feet in diameter, and the two brothers were skilled in its use, for they were fishermen by trade. The Greek term for that particular net was amphiblēstron (related to our amphibious, an adjective describing something related to both land and water)—so named because the person using the net would stand on or near shore and throw the net into the deeper water where the fish were.

When Jesus called those first disciples, He gathered together the first fish-catching crew of His church. They were the first of the original band of evangelists He called to fulfill the Great Commission. They were Jesus’ first partners in ministry. He had the power and the right to accomplish the work of proclaiming the gospel by Himself. But that was not His plan. He could have done it alone, but He never intended to do it alone. From the beginning of His ministry, His plan was to use disciples to win disciples. He would command His disciples to do other things, but His first call to them was, Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.

We are given specific details of the callings of only seven of the original twelve. But Jesus individually selected those who would become part of the first marvelous ministry of winning people to Himself. “He called His disciples to Him; and chose twelve of them, whom He also named as apostles” (Luke 6:13). God always chooses His partners. He chose Noah and Abraham, Moses and David. He chose the prophets. He chose Israel herself to be a whole nation of partners, “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Ex. 19:6). Jesus told His disciples, “You did not choose Me, but I chose you, and appointed you, that you should go and bear fruit” (John 15:16; cf. 6:70; 13:18). Paul called Epaenetus “the first convert [lit., “firstfruit,” aparchē] to Christ from Asia” (Rom. 16:5).

That calling to bear fruit in evangelism is extended to everyone who belongs to Jesus Christ. The called ones are themselves to become callers. Speaking of all Christians, Peter wrote, “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light” (1 Pet. 2:9). Christ mandates that all of His followers be fishermen. The command, Follow Me (in the Greek an adverb of place expressing a command), literally means “come here.” The term after is used in the original to show the place they are to come: “Your place is following after Me!”

The disciples’ obedience was instant: And they immediately left the nets, and followed Him. The sovereign authority of the Lord had spoken. Followed is from akoloutheō, which conveys the idea of following as a disciple who is committed to imitating the one he follows.

Many years ago an Italian recluse was found dead in his house. He had lived frugally all his life, but when friends were going through his house to sort out the few possessions he had accumulated they discovered 246 expensive violins crammed into his attic. Some even more valuable ones were in a bureau drawer in his bedroom. Virtually all of his money had been spent buying violins. Yet his misdirected devotion to the instruments had robbed the world of their beautiful sounds. Because he selfishly treasured those violins, the world never heard the music they were meant to play. It is even reported that the first violin the great Stradivarius ever made was not played until it was 147 years old!

Many Christians treat their faith like that man treated his violins. They hide their light; they squirrel away their great treasure. By not sharing their light and their treasure, many to whom they could have witnessed are left in spiritual darkness and poverty.

Some researchers estimate that as many as ninety-five percent of all Christians have never led another person to Jesus Christ. If that is true, ninety-five percent of the world’s spiritual violins have never been played! True love of our riches in Christ leads us to shine and share, not to hide and hoard.

When D. L. Moody once visited an art gallery in Chicago he was especially impressed by a painting called “The Rock of Ages.” The picture showed a person with both hands clinging to a cross firmly embedded in a rock. While the stormy sea smashed against the rock, he hung tightly to the cross. Years later Mr. Moody saw a similar picture. This one also showed a person in a storm holding to a cross, but with one hand he was reaching out to someone who was about to drown. The great evangelist commented that, though the first painting was beautiful, the second was even lovelier.[1]


19–20 Greek has several expressions for “follow me” (cf. 10:38; Lk 9:23; 14:27), but they all presuppose a physical “following” during Jesus’ ministry. His “followers” were not just “hearers”; they actually followed their Master around (as students then did) and became, as it were, trainees. The metaphor “fishers of men” glances back to the work of the two being called. It may also be reminiscent of Jeremiah 16:16. There Yahweh sends “fishermen” to gather his people for the exile; here Jesus sends “fishermen” to announce the end of the exile (see comments at 1:11–12; 2:17–18) and the beginning of the messianic reign. But this allusion is uncertain. The danger of “parallelomania” (coined by S. Sandmel, “Parallelomania,” JBL 81 [1962]: 2–13) is evident when E. C. B. MacLaurin (“The Divine Fishermen,” St. Mark’s Review 94 [1978]: 26–28) works out many parallels and then opts for Ugaritic mythology a millennium-and-a-half old. In any case, there is a straight line from this commission to the Great Commission (Mt 28:18–20). Jesus’ followers are indeed to catch men.[2]


4:18–22 / The Sea of Galilee (also called Gennesaret, Luke 5:1, and Tiberias, John 21:1) is a pear-shaped lake measuring 13 miles north to south and eight miles east to west. It lies 680 feet below sea level in a very warm climate. The surrounding countryside is fertile. Josephus reports that in the time of Christ nine cities lined its shores and its waters were crowded with fishermen.

Walking along the lake Jesus sees two brothers, Simon and Andrew, at work casting their net for fish. Simon (who was given the name “Peter” at Caesarea Philippi, 16:18) and Andrew were originally from the town of Bethsaida on the north side of the lake where the Jordan River enters (John 1:44). At this time, however, it appears that they were living in Capernaum (cf. Mark 1:29). Peter became a leader among the disciples and, along with James and John, formed an inner circle (cf. Mark 5:37; Matt. 17:1; 26:37). Jesus calls them from catching fish to a new kind of “fishing—Come, follow me, and I will make you fishers of men (v. 19). The call is not unlike that of Old Testament prophets (cf. 1 Kings 19:19–21). To leave one’s work and quite literally “follow after” Jesus is what it means to be a disciple (this reflects the practice of many famous teachers of antiquity). The response was immediate. Peter and Andrew leave their nets and follow Jesus.

Shortly after this another set of brothers, James and John, were working on their nets in a boat with their father Zebedee. When called by Jesus they abandon their work and follow Jesus. The urgency of the call and the immediate response of the fishermen are worthy of note. Jesus called as his helpers not the religious leaders of Jerusalem but common people from the mixed population of Galilee. Religious knowledge often hinders the action required by genuine faith.[3]


4:18–22. Peter, Andrew, James, and John were fishermen (all involved in a family business) living in Capernaum or nearby Bethsaida (see John 1:44). This was apparently also the home of Matthew at the time of his calling (9:1, 9), and of Philip and possibly Nathanael (John 1:43–45). The fishing profession in that day probably carried with it the same kind of social stigma that “common laborer” does today. Three of the four (Peter, James, and John) would become Jesus’ closest earthly friends. And Andrew played a significant role in his ministry more than once (Mark 13:3; John 1:40; 6:8; 12:22).

Matthew left his readers with the impression that this was Jesus’ first encounter with these four men. However, John recorded that some of the Twelve (at least Andrew, Peter, Philip, and Nathanael) had been with Jesus during his earlier ministry (John 1:35–51; 2:2, 12, 17; 3:22; 4:1–2, 27–33). Jesus had known his disciples for some time and had even seen them in ministry situations. Thus, their decision to follow him was not hastily made.

However, this does not decrease the significance of their commitment. In fact, quite the opposite. These men, in well-reasoned decisions, left both career and family to follow Jesus. And their confidence in him was such that, when he called, they all came at once (4:20) or immediately (4:22). They literally dropped their nets and left the boats in which they were standing. James and John left their father standing with his boats.

When Jesus said, Come, follow me (4:19), he was calling these men to a new career. In keeping with his skill as a teacher, he used terminology that would inspire them because of its relationship to their life experience. These men knew how to fish—for fish. So they had some concept of the task to which he was calling them. However, even though they had some familiarity with the concept of fishing, Jesus would still need to transform them into fishers of men. And that is the point of most of the teaching that follows, including the Sermon on the Mount—Jesus taught his disciples! He trained the Twelve whose names would one day mark the foundation “stones” (Matt. 16:18; Eph. 2:20; Rev. 21:14) of the New Jerusalem!

You will notice as Matthew’s Gospel unfolds that, while Jesus did not ignore the crowds, he was primarily engaged in teaching the Twelve. Even when he ministered to the thousands, it was in the context of teaching the Twelve. For example, the feeding of the five thousand, while compassionately providing food for thousands, was about his attempt to impact the Twelve (Mark 6:30–44). (See discussion at Matthew 5:1–2.)

The one condition necessary to their becoming fishers of men was to follow me. Packed into this two-word command are many implications. Jesus was saying, “Live with me and learn by watching me. Own my values and priorities. Learn to become passionate for the things I live for. And follow my example by doing the ministry I have come to do.”[4]


4:18–22 The Calling of Four Fishermen

Cf. Mark 1:16–20; and for Matt. 4:19b and Mark 1:17b cf. Luke 5:10b

18 While he was walking along the Sea of Galilee he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and Andrew his brother, throwing a casting-net into the sea, for they were fishermen. 19 He said to them, “Come, follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” 20 At once they left their nets and followed him. 21 And going on from there he saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, in the boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets; and he called them. 22 And immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.

18–20. While he was walking along the Sea of Galilee he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and Andrew his brother, throwing a casting-net into the sea, for they were fishermen. He said to them, Come, follow me, and I will make you fishers of men. At once they left their nets and followed him.

As stated in the explanation of verse 17 (see especially d above), the wonderful gospel of the kingdom was not intended only for the men living during the time of Christ’s earthly ministry. It was intended for the ages. It is not at all surprising, therefore, that at the very beginning of his ministry Jesus chose men who, by means of their testimony both oral and written, would perpetuate his work and proclaim his message. For a teacher to have not only a general audience but also a band of close companions or disciples was nothing new. Did not Socrates have disciples? Did not John the Baptist? The Pharisees? The rabbis? Christ’s disciples were to become the links between himself and his church. They were to be the precious foundation stones for Jerusalem the Golden (Rev. 21:19, 20). Think, for example, of the importance of such men as Matthew, John, and Peter in the formation of the Gospels, which are our chief sources of information about Jesus Christ. Accordingly, while he was walking along the Sea of Galilee Jesus invites certain men to come to him.

There were several calls to discipleship and to closely related apostleship:

  • The one mentioned in John 1:35–51. See N.T.C. on those verses.
  • The one mentioned here (Matt. 4:18–22; Mark 1:16–20).
  • The one mentioned in Luke 5:1–11.
  • The one mentioned in Matt. 9:9–13; Mark 2:13–17; Luke 5:27–32.
  • The one mentioned in Matt. 10:1–4; Mark 3:13–19; Luke 6:12–16.

The five invitations differed; probably as follows (explaining a to e as listed above):

  1. About February of the year a.d. 27 this call was extended to Andrew and an unnamed disciple, in all likelihood John, inviting them to accept Jesus of Nazareth as the Messiah, and to become his spiritual followers. Andrew brought his brother Simon (Peter) to Jesus. John probably rendered the same service to his own brother James. Almost immediately afterward Philip and (through him) Nathaniel were added to the list. Although occasionally accompanying Jesus on his trips, the disciples continued to pursue their secular occupations.
  2. This occurred about a year later; hence, about February of the year a.d. 28. The four disciples referred to in John 1:35–41 (Peter, Andrew, James, and John) now become the Lord’s more steady companions, and are made more conscious than ever of the fact that they are being trained for apostleship, that is, for becoming “fishers of men.” Even now, however, Matt. 4:20 and 22 can hardly be interpreted to mean that they bade a final farewell to their secular occupation as fishermen. More will be said about b. in a moment.
  3. This takes place a little later. It comprises the story of the miraculous catch of fishes. Luke 5:10b resembles Matt. 4:19b and Mark 1:17b; that is, “catch men” and “become fishers of men,” are similar, though perhaps not identical, the Matthew and Mark passages emphasizing the effort, the Luke passage the success. Aside from this resemblance, however, the two accounts are entirely different. In the Matthew-Mark account Jesus is walking along the sea; in Luke he is standing. In the former Simon and Andrew, James and John are all mentioned by name. All are also addressed by Jesus. In the beloved physician’s account Jesus directs his words to Peter alone. Andrew is not even mentioned, though he may have been present. In the earlier account Simon and Andrew are casting a net into the sea; i.e., they are fishing; James and John are mending their nets. In Luke the fishermen are washing their nets. In the former, Peter and Andrew leave their nets and follow Jesus; similarly, James and John leave the boat and their father and follow the Master. But in Luke the disciples leave all, during the entire precrucifixion period of Christ’s earthly ministry saying farewell to their occupation as fishermen, and following Jesus permanently.
  4. This was the call of Matthew (=Levi) the publican, the writer of this Gospel. It probably occurred very shortly after c. Proof: see Luke 5:11, 27. Matthew, too, in following Jesus, “forsook all.”
  5. This concerns the entire group of twelve. For all of them it is the formal call to discipleship-apostleship. There was probably a brief interval between Mark 3:13–19 (cf. Luke 5:27–32) and Matt. 10:1 ff.

The men who were chosen by Jesus to be his immediate companions needed to be trained for apostleship. Simon the fickle must become Peter the rock. Something similar was true with respect to all. When we first meet these men, and to a certain extent even much later, they manifest lack of deep spiritual penetration (Matt. 13:6; 15:33; 16:7–12, 22, 23; 17:10–13; 19:10–12, 23–30; 24:3); of fervent sympathy (14:15, 16, 23; 19:13–15); of profound humility (18:1–4); of the gladly forgiving spirit (18:21, 22); of persevering prayerfulness (17:16–21); and of unflinching courage (26:56, 69–75). Nevertheless, on their part it required a degree of courage to become Christ’s followers and thereby face the opposition of many, including the religious leaders. For further details on The Twleve see on 10:1–4.

In this connection one fact must not be ignored. Their decision to side with Jesus exhibits his greatness: the impelling force of his influence over the minds and hearts of men, so that when he calls they follow immediately. The breadth of his sympathy and the magnitude of his power are also shown here. Is it not marvelous that he was willing and able to take such common folk, four fishermen, etc., unlettered individuals, and, in spite of all their prejudices and superstitions, to transform them into instruments for the salvation of many; to make them leaders who, by means of their testimonies, would turn the world upside down?

The four mentioned in verses 18–22 are:

Peter, the impetuous (Matt. 14:28–33; 16:22, 23; 26:33–35; John 18:10), who becomes the leader of The Twelve, and is mentioned first in every list of apostles (Matt. 10:2–4; Mark 3:16–19; Luke 6:14–16; and Acts 1:13).

Peter’s brother Andrew, who is always bringing people to Jesus (John 1:40–42; 6:8, 9, cf. Matt. 14:18; John 12:22).

Zebedee’s son James, the first of The Twelve to wear the martyr’s crown (Acts 12:1, 2).

His brother John, who is called “the disciple whom Jesus loved” (John 13:23; 19:26; etc.). To be sure, the Lord loved all “his own” very intensely (John 13:1, 2), but between Jesus and John the tie of attachment and understanding was the tenderest.

A few more details now on verses 18–20. Peter and Andrew were throwing a casting-net into the sea. For net Matthew uses three different words. One is diktuon, used in verses 20 and 21. It is the most comprehensive or general word of all, and can refer to any net whatever, even a hunting net or a net for catching birds. In the New Testament, however, it is confined to fishing nets of any and every description. The sagene is the seine or dragnet. Very appropriately it is used in Matt. 13:47; see on that verse. The third is the one used here in 4:18 (and Mark 1:16), the amphiblestron, i.e., casting-net. When skillfully cast over the shoulder it will spread out, forming a circle as it falls into the water, and then, because of the pieces of lead attached to it, will quickly sink into the water, capturing the fish underneath. That was the kind of net with which Peter and Andrew were fishing when Jesus, walking along the sea, said to them, “Come, follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” The Lord exercises his sovereignty over these men, not even allowing them to finish their work. They must be ready to follow immediately when he calls them. Cf. 8:21, 22; 10:37.

Peter and Andrew hailed from Bethsaida (John 1:45), but Peter had recently moved to Capernaum (Matt. 4:13; 8:5, 14, 15; Mark 1:21, 29, 30; Luke 4:31, 33, 38). By this time these men had come to know Jesus, because a year had elapsed since the unforgettable event recorded in John 1:35–42. Hence, when he now (Matt. 4:19) said to them, “Come, follow me, and I will make you fishers of men,” they at once left their nets and followed, encouraged by the promise of their Lord to train them for a task far superior even to the honorable one in which they were now engaged. Instead of catching fish for the table they would recruit men for the kingdom.

It must not escape us that by means of the promise, “I will make you fishers of men” Jesus sets the seal of his approval upon the words of the inspired author of the book of Proverbs, “He who wins souls is wise” (Prov. 11:30); confirms Dan. 12:3: “They that turn many to righteousness shall shine as the stars forever and ever”; adds his own authority to Paul’s striking statement, “To all I became all, that in one way or another I may save some” (1 Cor. 9:22); and anticipates his own glorious invitation, “Come to me, all who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28).[5]


[1] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1985). Matthew (Vol. 1, pp. 115–117). Chicago: Moody Press.

[2] Carson, D. A. (2010). Matthew. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Matthew–Mark (Revised Edition) (Vol. 9, p. 148). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[3] Mounce, R. H. (2011). Matthew (pp. 33–34). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.

[4] Weber, S. K. (2000). Matthew (Vol. 1, pp. 44–45). Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

[5] Hendriksen, W., & Kistemaker, S. J. (1953–2001). Exposition of the Gospel According to Matthew (Vol. 9, pp. 245–248). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.

March 18, 2019 Evening Verse Of The Day

The Confession

And Simon Peter answered and said, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.” (16:16)

As usual (see, e.g., Matt. 15:15; 19:27; John 6:68), Simon Peter was the spokesman, “the director of the apostolic choir,” as Chrysostom called him. Also as usual, his comments were brief, emphatic, and decisive: “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Christ is the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew Messiah, God’s predicted and long-awaited deliverer of Israel, the supreme “Anointed One,” the coming High Priest, King, Prophet, and Savior. Without hesitation Peter declared Jesus to be the Messiah, whereas the multitudes of Jews believed Him to be only the Messiah’s precursor.

On first meeting Jesus, Andrew had excitedly proclaimed Him to be the Messiah, and Nathaniel had called Him “the Son of God … the King of Israel” (John 1:41, 49). The disciples knew that John the Baptist had borne witness that Jesus “is the Son of God” (John 1:34), and the longer they stayed with Him, the more evidence they had of His divine nature, power, and authority.

Like their fellow Jews, however, they had been taught to expect a conquering and reigning Messiah who would deliver God’s people from their enemies and establish forever His righteous kingdom on earth. And when Jesus refused to use His miraculous power for His own benefit or to oppose the Roman oppressors, the disciples wondered if they were right about Jesus’ identity. His humility, meekness, and subservience were in total contrast to their preconceived views of the Messiah. That the Messiah would be ridiculed with impunity, not to mention persecuted and executed, was inconceivable. When Jesus spoke of His going away and coming back, Thomas doubtlessly echoed the consternation of all the disciples when he said, “Lord, we do not know where You are going, how do we know the way?” (John 14:5).

It was similar bewilderment that caused John the Baptist to question his earlier affirmation of Jesus’ messiahship. “When John in prison heard of the works of Christ, he sent word by his disciples, and said to Him, ‘Are you the Expected One, or shall we look for someone else?’ ” (Matt. 11:1–3). Jesus’ miracles were clear evidence of His messiahship, but His failure to use those powers to overthrow Rome and establish His earthly kingdom brought Jesus’ identity into question even with the godly, Spirit-filled John.

Like John the Baptist, the Twelve fluctuated between moments of great faith and of grave doubt. They could proclaim with deep conviction, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have words of eternal life. And we have believed and have come to know that You are the Holy One of God” (John 6:68–69). They could also display remarkable lack of faith and discernment, even after witnessing hundreds of healings and dramatic demonstrations of supernatural power (see Matt. 8:26; 14:31; 16:8). They were sometimes strong in faith and sometimes weak. Jesus frequently spoke of their “little faith.”

Now, at last, the truth of Jesus’ divinity and messiahship was established in their minds beyond question. They would still experience times of weakness and confusion about what Jesus said and did, but they would no longer doubt who it was who said and did them. He was indeed the Christ, the Son of the living God. God’s own Spirit had now imbedded the truth indelibly in their hearts.

It took two and a half years for them to come to this place of confession, through the struggles and hatred of the Jewish religious leaders, the mounting fickleness and rejection of the people, and their own confusion about what the Messiah had come to do. But without question they now knew He was the fulfiller of their hopes, the source of their salvation, the desire of the nations.

On behalf of all the apostles, Peter not only confessed Jesus as the Messiah, the Christ, but as the Son of the living God. The Son of Man (v. 13) was also the Son of … God, the Creator of the universe and all that is in it. He was the true and real God, not a mythological figment such as Pan or a mortal “deity” such as caesar-both of whom had shrines in Caesarea Philippi. The disciples’ Lord was Son of the living God.

As evidenced by numerous things the Twelve later said and did, they did not at this time have a full comprehension of the Trinity or even of the full nature and work of Christ. But they knew Jesus was truly the Christ and that He was truly divine, the Son of the living God. Son reflects the idea of oneness in essence, because a son is one in nature with his father. So Jesus Christ was one in nature with God the Father (cf. John 5:17–18; 10:30–33).[1]


16. Thou art the Christ. The confession is short, but it embraces all that is contained in our salvation; for the designation Christ, or Anointed, includes both an everlasting Kingdom and an everlasting Priesthood, to reconcile us to God, and, by expiating our sins through his sacrifice, to obtain for us a perfect righteousness, and, having received us under his protection, to uphold and supply and enrich us with every description of blessings. Mark says only, Thou art the Christ. Luke says, Thou art the Christ of God. But the meaning is the same; for the Christs (χριστοί) of God was the appellation anciently bestowed on kings, who had been anointed by the divine command. And this phrase had been previously employed by Luke, (2:26,) when he said that Simeon had been informed by a revelation from heaven that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. For the redemption, which God manifested by the hand of his Son, was clearly divine; and therefore it was necessary that he who was to be the Redeemer should come from heaven, bearing the impress of the anointing of God. Matthew expresses it still more clearly, Thou art the Son of the living God; for, though Peter did not yet understand distinctly in what way Christ was the begotten of God, he was so fully persuaded of the dignity of Christ, that he believed him to come from God, not like other men, but by the inhabitation of the true and living Godhead in his flesh. When the attribute living is ascribed to God, it is for the purpose of distinguishing between Him and dead idols, who are nothing, (1 Cor. 8:4.)[2]


15–16 The “you” is emphatic and plural (v. 15). Therefore, at least in part, Peter serves as spokesman for the Twelve (as he often does: cf. 15:15–16; 19:25–28; 26:40; Mk 11:20–22; Lk 12:41; Jn 6:67–70; cf. Ac 2:37–38; 5:29). Peter’s confession (v. 16) is direct: “You are the Christ” (Mark 8:29); “The Christ of God” (Luke 9:20); “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew). (For discussion about Messiah = Christ, see comments at 1:1.)

Majority opinion assigns “the Son of the living God” to Matthean redaction, a sort of explanatory gloss. Yet this may be premature. Ben F. Meyer (Aims of Jesus, 185–97) has given good reason for accepting Matthew’s form as authentic: (1) It better explains the genesis of the other forms, not only in Mark and Luke but also “the Holy One of God” in John 6:69, than does Mark’s “You are the Christ”; (2) “Son of God” may well have had purely messianic significance in Peter’s mind (see comments at 3:17; 11:27; 14:33), even though it came to indicate divinity (cf. Bonnard; see Reflections, pp. 251–52); and (3) other details in this pericope support Matthew’s priority (see comments at vv. 17–19). Guthrie (New Testament Theology, 305–6) reminds us that since the other synoptists record the application of “Son of God” to Jesus in other contexts, it is not intrinsically unlikely here.[3]


16:15–16 / But Jesus’ primary concern was who his own disciples thought he was. But what about you? he asked them. Who do you say I am? This was the critical question. It was Simon Peter who answered, You are the Christ, the Son of the living God. Christos is the Greek transliteration of the Hebrew word for Messiah (“the anointed one”). Used with the article it refers to the central figure of Old Testament expectation. By his confession Peter is saying that Jesus is the One who comes in fulfillment of Israel’s hopes and dreams. He is the Son of the living God. Some modern writers would agree with Beare’s conclusion that this title is a “Christological confession cast in the language of the early church” (p. 352). Gundry, however, on the basis of Matthew’s “they will call him Immanuel, which means, God with us” (Matt. 1:23) and the account of the virgin birth, argues that the title has the stronger connotation of essential deity (p. 330). Though in the Hellenistic world the idea of divine sonship was quite common (used extensively of kings and emperors), Peter’s use of the title was deeply rooted in a Hebraic background. When Jesus accepts Peter’s ascription, Son of God, he reveals his own consciousness of a unique and intimate relationship to his heavenly Father.[4]


16:15–16. In these verses Jesus asked a second, more pointed question: But what about you?… Who do you say I am? Notice that Jesus did not ask who the disciples thought he was, or who they believed he was, but who they said he was. Jesus wanted to know what they were ready to confess verbally about his identity. This was the point at which they needed to step across the line and commit to the reality of him as Christ or stay behind with the rest of the blind speculators.

Although Jesus asked all the disciples, it was Simon Peter—the forthright spokesman for the Twelve—who answered for them all. (We are to assume that the other eleven agreed with Peter’s confession.) Peter, who stepped out of the boat with wavering faith in 14:28–31, now stepped out again with much more steady faith to confess the truth about Jesus.

In Peter’s answer, the pronoun “you” is emphatic: “You are the Christ” (the Greek title equivalent to the Hebrew “Messiah,” both meaning “Anointed One”). By the utterance of the word Christ, Peter attributed to Jesus all the hopes and promises, all the prophecies and all the messianic honor of the entire Hebrew Scriptures. No longer was Jesus merely a miracle-working prophet from God. He was now the king himself, the Savior who was promised. He was truly the one and only Son of the living God.

Here before the disciples stood the hope and salvation of Israel and all the earth. Certainly the Twelve had not been totally ignorant of this reality in the preceding weeks and months, but they finally had reached a degree of certainty. Now they were able to articulate the truth with confidence. Even as the reality took form in their minds, they must have felt a compulsion to bow down in awe before Jesus.

There were many false gods in the secular cultures surrounding the Jews, but only one God was living. The rest were dead and inactive. This included those gods carved into the high rock wall where they were standing. When Peter confessed Jesus as this “living” Son of God, he recognized Jesus as the unique, promised Son of prophecy (e.g., Isa. 7:14; 9:6–7). He was the true God as opposed to the dead deities of this world (cf. Deut. 5:26; Pss. 42:2; 84:2; Rom. 9:26; 1 Tim. 3:15; 1 Pet. 1:23; Rev. 7:2; 15:7).[5]


It must be borne in mind that this question had been addressed to all these men, not just to one of them; hence, “you,” not “you.” Accordingly when one of the Twelve now answers it, he does so as the spokesman for the entire group, and the answer which Jesus gives him must therefore also be regarded as not being altogether without significance for the group. 16. Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God. The personality of Peter and his position of leadership has received earlier comment (see on 4:18–22; 10:2; 14:28, 29). In the present passage note:

  1. Probably to add solemnity and clarity to the record of the event this disciple’s full name is here used: “Simon Peter.” This appellation is the usual one in John’s Gospel, but not in the Synoptics. It occurs in Luke 5:8, in connection with another context of deep emotion and humble reverence.
  2. In the Gospels and in the book of Acts Peter frequently represents The Twelve, as is clear not only from the present context but also, among others, from Matt. 15:15, 16; 19:27, 28; 26:35, 40, 41; Luke 8:45; 9:32, 33; 12:41; 18:28; John 6:67–69; Acts 1:15; 2:14, 37, 38; and 5:29. Nevertheless, his identity is not lost. It is Peter who speaks and Peter who is going to be addressed in verses 17–19.
  3. Even before this time Peter had made soul-stirring declarations concerning Jesus (Luke 5:8; John 6:68, 69), but the present profession of faith is the most complete of them all.
  4. As to definiteness, in this concise statement, containing only ten words, the original uses the definite article no less than four times.
  5. When Peter declares Jesus to be “the Christ” he means the long awaited Anointed One, the One who as Mediator was set apart or ordained by the Father and anointed with the Holy Spirit, to be his people’s chief Prophet (Deut. 18:15, 18; Isa. 55:4; Luke 24:19; Acts 3:22, 7:37); only Highpriest (Ps. 110:4; Rom. 8:34; Heb. 6:20; 7:24; 9:24); and eternal King. (Ps. 2:6; Zech. 9:9; Matt. 21:5; 28:18; Luke 1:33; John 10:28; Eph. 1:20–23; Rev. 11:15; 12:10, 11; 17:14; 19:6).
  6. Peter’s declaration that Jesus is “the Son of the living God” can mean no less than that in a unique sense, a sense not applicable to any mortal, Jesus is, was, and always will be the Son of that God who not only is himself the only living One, over against all the dead so-called gods of the pagans (Isa. 40:18–31), but also is the only source of life for all that lives.[6]

[1] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1985). Matthew (Vol. 3, pp. 20–22). Chicago: Moody Press.

[2] Calvin, J., & Pringle, W. (2010). Commentary on a Harmony of the Evangelists Matthew, Mark, and Luke (Vol. 2, p. 289). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

[3] Carson, D. A. (2010). Matthew. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Matthew–Mark (Revised Edition) (Vol. 9, p. 416). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[4] Mounce, R. H. (2011). Matthew (pp. 160–161). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.

[5] Weber, S. K. (2000). Matthew (Vol. 1, pp. 249–250). Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

[6] Hendriksen, W., & Kistemaker, S. J. (1953–2001). Exposition of the Gospel According to Matthew (Vol. 9, p. 643). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.

March 18, 2019 Afternoon Verse Of The Day

The Terror Of The Father

While he was still speaking, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them; and behold, a voice out of the cloud, saying, “This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well-pleased; listen to Him!” And when the disciples heard this, they fell on their faces and were much afraid. (17:5–6)

A third confirmation of Jesus’ deity was the terror caused by the intervention of the Father while Peter was still speaking. Through the form of a bright cloud God overshadowed the three disciples and spoke to them in a voice out of the cloud. To the testimony of the transfiguration itself and the testimony of the two Old Testament saints was now added the surprising testimony of God the Father.

Throughout the wilderness wanderings of Israel the Lord manifested Himself through “a pillar of cloud by day to lead them on the way” (Ex. 13:21; Num. 9:17; Deut. 1:33). Isaiah predicted that “when the Lord has washed away the filth of the daughters of Zion, and purged the bloodshed of Jerusalem from her midst, by the spirit of judgment and the spirit of burning, then the Lord will create over the whole area of Mount Zion and over her assemblies a cloud by day, even smoke, and the brightness of a flaming fire by night; for over all the glory will be a canopy” (Isa. 4:4–5). In his vision of the last days John “looked and behold, a white cloud, and sitting on the cloud was one like a son of man, having a golden crown on His head, and a sharp sickle in His hand. And another angel came out of the temple, crying out with a loud voice to Him who sat on the cloud, ‘Put in your sickle and reap, because the hour to reap has come, because the harvest of the earth is ripe.’ And He who sat on the cloud swung His sickle over the earth; and the earth was reaped” (Rev. 14:14–16).

Out of such a bright cloud the Father overshadowed Peter, James, and John, and spoke to them in an audible voice, … saying, “This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well-pleased; listen to Him!” The Father spoke almost identical words at Jesus’ baptism (Matt. 3:17), and during Jesus’ last week in Jerusalem—but a few days before His betrayal, arrest, and crucifixion-the Father again publicly and directly declared His approval of the Son (John 12:28).

In calling Jesus His Son, the Father declared Him to be of identical nature and essence with Himself (cf. John 5:17–20; 8:19, 42; 10:30, 36–38). Scripture frequently refers to believers as children of God, but they are adopted children, brought into the heavenly family only through the miracle of His grace (Rom. 8:15, 23; Gal. 4:5; Eph. 1:5). Jesus is the essence of divine nature, as the apostles repeatedly emphasize (see Rom. 1:1–4; 2 Cor. 1:3; Gal. 1:3; Eph. 1:3; Col. 1:3; 1 Pet. 1:3; 1 John 1:3; 2 John 3).

In calling Jesus His beloved Son, the Father declared not only a relationship of divine nature but a relationship of divine love. They had a relationship of mutual love, commitment, and identification in every way.

In saying, “with whom I am well-pleased,” the Father declared His approval with everything the Son was, said, and did. Everything about Jesus was in perfect accord with the Father’s will and plan. Compare John 5:19; 8:29; 10:37–38; 12:49–50.

Then, directly addressing the three disciples, perhaps Peter in particular, God said, “Listen to Him!” He was saying, in effect, “If My Son tells you He must go to Jerusalem to suffer and die, believe Him. If He tells you He will be raised up on the third day, believe Him. If He tells you to take up your own cross and follow Him, that is what you are to do. If He says He will come again in glory, then believe Him and live accordingly.”

The outspoken, brash Peter and his two companions now knew they stood in the awesome presence of Almighty God. As would be expected, when the disciples heard this, they fell on their faces and were much afraid. Peter was probably so utterly traumatized that he promptly forgot about his presumptuous suggestion to build the three tabernacles.

The combined awareness of the Lord’s grace and His majesty, His love and His justice, His friendship and His lordship should cause a kind of spiritual tension in every believer. On the one hand he rejoices in his loving fellowship with the Lord because of His gracious kindness, and on the other hand he has reverential fear as he contemplates His awesome holiness and righteousness. As the believer walks in obedience to God, he experiences the comfort of His presence. But as he walks in disobedience, he should feel the terror of that same presence. Proverbs declares that spiritual wisdom begins with the fear of God (Prov. 9:10).

Sinful men in the presence of a holy God always want to hide. Before the Fall, Adam and Eve had uninterrupted fellowship with God, but after they sinned the relationship was vastly changed. When “they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, … the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden” (Gen. 3:8). When Isaiah beheld the divine majesty and glory that surrounded the heavenly throne, he cried out in great fear, “Woe is me, for I am ruined! Because I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts” (Isa. 6:5). As he stood in the presence of perfect holiness, the sense of his own utter sinfulness overwhelmed him. Daniel was likewise terrified when the Lord spoke directly to him after his vision of the ram, goat, and little horn (Dan. 8:15–17).[1]


5. Lo, a bright cloud overshadowed them. Their eyes were covered by a cloud, in order to inform them, that they were not yet prepared for beholding the brightness of the heavenly glory. For, when the Lord gave tokens of his presence, he employed, at the same time, some coverings to restrain the arrogance of the human mind. So now, with the view of teaching his disciples a lesson of humility, he withdraws from their eyes the sight of the heavenly glory. This admonition is likewise addressed to us, that we may not seek to pry into the secrets which lie beyond our senses, but, on the contrary, that every man may keep within the limits of sobriety, according to the measure of his faith. In a word, this cloud ought to serve us as a bridle, that our curiosity may not indulge in undue wantonness. The disciples, too, were warned that they must return to their former warfare, and therefore must not expect a triumph before the time.

And, lo, a voice from the cloud. It deserves our attention, that the voice of God was heard from the cloud, but that neither a body nor a face was seen. Let us therefore remember the warning which Moses gives us, that God has no visible shape, lest we should deceive ourselves by imagining that He resembled a man, (Deut. 4:15.) There were, no doubt, various appearances under which God made himself known to the holy fathers in ancient times; but in all cases he refrained from using signs which might induce them to make for themselves idols. And certainly, as the minds of men are too strongly inclined to foolish imaginations, there was no necessity for throwing oil upon the flame. This manifestation of the glory of God was remarkable above all others. When he makes a cloud to pass between Him and us, and invites us to himself by His voice, what madness is it to attempt to place Him before our eyes by a block of wood or of stone? Let us therefore endeavour to enter by faith alone, and not by the eyes of flesh, into that inaccessible light in which God dwells. The voice came from the cloud, that the disciples, knowing it to have proceeded from God, might receive it with due reverence.

This is my beloved Son. I willingly concur with those who think that there is an implied contrast of Moses and Elijah with Christ, and that the disciples of God’s own Son are here charged to seek no other teacher. The word Son is emphatic, and raises him above servants. There are two titles here bestowed upon Christ, which are not more fitted to do honour to him than to aid our faith: a beloved Son, and a Master. The Father calls him my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased, and thus declares him to be the Mediator, by whom he reconciles the world to himself. When he enjoins us to hear him, he appoints him to be the supreme and only teacher of his Church. It was his design to distinguish Christ from all the rest, as we truly and strictly infer from those words, that by nature he was God’s only Son. In like manner, we learn that he alone is beloved by the Father, and that he alone is appointed to be our Teacher, that in him all authority may dwell.

But it will perhaps be objected, Does not God love angels and men? It is easy to reply, that the fatherly love of God, which is spread over angels and men, proceeds from him as its source. The Son is beloved by the Father, not so as to make other creatures the objects of his hatred, but so that he communicates to them what belongs to himself. There is a difference, no doubt, between our condition and that of the angels; for they never were alienated from God, and therefore needed not that he should reconcile them; while we are enemies on account of sin, till Christ procure for us his favour. Still, it is a fixed principle that God is gracious to both, only so far as he embraces us in Christ; for even the angels would not be firmly united to God if Christ were not their Head. It may also be observed that, since the Father here speaks of himself as different from the Son, there is a distinction of persons; for they are one in essence and alike in glory.

Hear him. I mentioned a little ago, that these words were intended to draw the attention of the Church to Christ as the only Teacher, that on his mouth alone it may depend. For, though Christ came to maintain the authority of the Law and the Prophets, (Matth. 5:17,) yet he holds the highest rank, so that, by the brightness of his gospel, he causes those sparks which shone in the Old Testament to disappear. He is the Sun of righteousness, whose arrival brought the full light of day. And this is the reason why the Apostle says (Heb. 1:1) that God, who at sundry times and in various ways spoke formerly by the Prophets, hath in these last days spoken to us by his beloved Son. In short, Christ is as truly heard at the present day in the Law and in the Prophets as in his Gospel; so that in him dwells the authority of a Master, which he claims for himself alone, saying, One is your Master, even Christ, (Matth. 23:8.) But his authority is not fully acknowledged, unless all the tongues of men are silent. If we would submit to his doctrine, all that has been invented by men must be thrown down and destroyed. He is every day, no doubt, sending out teachers, but it is to state purely and honestly what they have learned from him, and not to corrupt the gospel by their own additions. In a word, no man can be regarded a faithful teacher of the Church, unless he be himself a disciple of Christ, and bring others to be taught by him.[2]


5 The “cloud” is associated, in both the OT and intertestamental Judaism, with eschatology (Ps 97:2; Isa 4:5; Eze 30:3, Da 7:13; Zep 1:15; cf. 2 Bar. 53:1–12; 4 Ezra 13:3; 2 Macc 2:8; b. Sanh. 98a) and with the exodus (Ex 13:21–22; 16:10; 19:16; 24:15–18; 40:34–38). Of the synoptists, only Matthew says that the cloud was “bright,” a detail that recalls the Shekinah glory. The latter eschatological associations (Lk 21:27; 1 Th 4:17) show Jesus in his role as the one who succeeds Moses, the eschatological prophet; the former associations (Ps 97:2 et al.) assure us that Jesus is the messianic King whose kingdom is dawning. But as Liefeld (“Theological Motifs,” 170) points out, common to both sets of passages and to others as well is the more fundamental idea of the presence of God.

It is uncertain whether epeskiasen means “enveloped” (NIV) or “overshadowed” (cf. Ex 40:35). What the Voice from the cloud says is largely a repetition of 3:17, an apparent mingling of Psalm 2:7 and Isaiah 42:1, stressing that Jesus is both Son and Suffering Servant. This is the high point of the narrative (cf. S. Pedersen, “Die Proklamation Jesu als des eschatologischen Offenbarungsträgers,” NovT 17 [1975]: 241–64). (Mark omits the allusion to Isa 42:1; but both Matthew and Luke, not to mention 2 Pe 1:17, attest the connection in different ways; cf. Gundry, Use of the Old Testament, 36–37.) But if Matthew 3:17 identifies Jesus, this verse in its context goes further and places him above Moses and Elijah.

The additional words “Listen to him”—an allusion to Deuteronomy 18:15—confirm Jesus is the Prophet like Moses (Dt 18:15–18; cf. Ac 3:22–23; 7:37). This does not mean Jesus is another prophet of Moses’ stature but the eschatological Prophet patterned on Moses as a type; for, as Liefeld has suggested (“Theological Motifs,” 173), Moses’ primary role here is typological, whereas Elijah’s, not explained until vv. 9–13, is eschatological. As Moses’ antitype, Jesus so far outstrips him that when Moses is put next to him, men must “listen” to Jesus, as Moses himself said. The climax of biblical revelation is Jesus, the Son and Servant whom God loves and with whom God is well pleased. Even Moses and Elijah (the Law and the Prophets) assume supporting roles where he is concerned. This confirms our interpretation of 5:17–48; 11:11–15.[3]


The voice from heaven (v. 5)

Just as at Jesus’ baptism, there is a voice that speaks from the glory, out of a cloud, saying, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.’ This voice echoes 3:17, but develops our understanding further, as we realize that the beloved Son is the prophet who was to come into the world. The voice from heaven, therefore, serves to show that Jesus is one with the prophetic tradition represented by Moses and Elijah, but that he is also the consummator of that tradition. He is, in fact, the last prophet.

The descent from the mount of transfiguration serves to highlight other issues. The true meaning of Elijah’s appearance is emphasized by Jesus as he identifies Elijah with John the Baptist (vv. 9–13). Jesus still wishes the disciples to keep the events they have witnessed secret. The time for proclamation and publication will come, but is not yet. The unexplained question lingers in the minds of the disciples—why is the coming of Elijah a matter of rabbinic teaching? Jesus’ answer is that the prophecy concerning the coming of Elijah was fulfilled in the appearance of John. And just as Elijah and John were cruelly mistreated in the world, so, too, will Jesus be.[4]


17:5. Peter’s offer was interrupted by the appearance of the Father himself. There is a connection between the cloud’s appearance and the Father’s voice and Peter’s offer to build the shelters. Matthew says the cloud enveloped them while he [Peter] was still speaking. God recognized Peter’s good intention in wanting to honor Jesus, Moses, and Elijah, but he corrected Peter’s misperception by elevating his Son above the others.

In addition to Jesus’ dazzling transformation and the appearance of Moses and Elijah, the awesome display drew to its climax as the cloud of the Shekinah glory came down and the voice of God spoke from the cloud.

The cloud was bright, with the same glory that shone from Jesus, face and clothes, reminding us of the cloud of God’s presence during Israel’s wanderings (Exod. 13:21–22), and his indwelling of the tabernacle (Exod. 40:34–38) and the temple (1 Kgs. 8:10–13).

The Father’s words were identical to those spoken at Jesus’ baptism (3:17, see comment there), with the addition of Listen to him (the Greek present imperative, which means “keep on listening” or “always listen”). When the Father affirmed Jesus as his Son, the disciples gained a better idea of Jesus’ true identity—the glorious and suffering Messiah. When the Father expressed his love for his Son, the disciples had a more complete idea why Jesus was pleasing to the Father. He had been and would be obedient to the Father, even to death.

The command to the disciples was “Listen to him,” elevating the word of Jesus above the words of Moses and Elijah. Indeed, Moses himself commanded God’s people to heed the prophet “like me” who would come (Deut. 18:15). This reminds us of Jesus’ repeated challenge, “He who has ears, let him hear” (11:15; 13:9, 43). The disciples had heard all of Jesus’ teachings, but the “ears” of their hearts were not fully open to the meaning of what had been revealed to them.[5]


[1] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1985). Matthew (Vol. 3, pp. 67–69). Chicago: Moody Press.

[2] Calvin, J., & Pringle, W. (2010). Commentary on a Harmony of the Evangelists Matthew, Mark, and Luke (Vol. 2, pp. 313–315). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

[3] 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. 438–439). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[4] Campbell, I. D. (2008). Opening up Matthew (pp. 108–109). Leominster: Day One Publications.

[5] Weber, S. K. (2000). Matthew (Vol. 1, pp. 269–270). Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

March 18, 2019 Morning Verse Of The Day

The Test Exemplified

the one who says he abides in Him ought himself to walk in the same manner as He walked. (2:6)

The only person who can pass the test of obedience and realize full assurance is the one who … abides in Him—because Jesus Christ is the perfect role model for obeying the Father. In John 15:4–5 Jesus commanded,

“Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.” (cf. vv. 10–11)

Believers draw spiritual life from the Lord Jesus Christ, even as branches do from a vine. To abide in Christ is to remain in Him—not a temporary, superficial attachment, but a permanent, deep connection (cf. Luke 9:23; John 6:53–65; Phil. 1:6; 2:11–13). Such authentic abiding in the Savior characterizes those who “continue in the faith firmly established and steadfast, and not moved away from the hope of the gospel that [they] have heard” (Col. 1:23; cf. 2:7; Eph. 3:17), because they are truly regenerate—new creatures who possess irrevocable eternal life.

John made it perfectly clear that those who claim to abide in Christ must walk in the same manner as He walked. Walk is a metaphor for daily conduct by believers (1:7; John 8:12; 12:35; Rom. 6:4; 8:4; 1 Cor. 7:17; 2 Cor. 5:7; Gal. 5:16; Eph. 2:10; 4:1; 5:2, 8; Col. 1:10; 2:6; 1 Thess. 2:12; 4:1; 2 John 6; cf. Mark 7:5). The Lord Himself perfectly exemplified this principle during His earthly ministry. In every way He obeyed His Father’s will:

“For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me.” (John 6:38)

“And He who sent Me is with Me; He has not left Me alone, for I always do the things that are pleasing to Him.” (John 8:29)

“For this reason the Father loves Me, because I lay down My life so 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)

“So that the world may know that I love the Father, I do exactly as the Father commanded Me.” (John 14:31)

Obviously, believers’ obedience will not be perfect, as Jesus’ was. Nonetheless, He established the perfect pattern they are to follow. If anyone claims to know Him and abide in Him, it will be evident in his life. He will walk in the light—in the realm of truth and holiness—and guard (obey) His commandments because of his passionate love for the truth and the Lord of the truth. Therein lies the key to real assurance of salvation.[1]


Conclusion (v. 6)

This conclusion also comes to Christians living in our own time. Do we say we are Christians? Then “whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did.” The call is to emulate Jesus in our conduct. “Earlier,” as Calvin said, “he had set the light of God before us as an example. Now he calls us also to Christ, to imitate him. Yet he does not simply exhort us to the imitation of Christ, but, from the union we have with him, proves we should be like him.”

To walk as Christ walked is to live, not by rules, but by an example. It is to follow him, to be his disciple. Such a discipleship is personal, active, and costly. It is personal because it cannot be passed off to another. Indeed, we are to find ourselves with Christ, as Peter did following the resurrection. Jesus asked Peter, “Do you love me?” When Peter replied, “Yes,” he was told, “Feed my sheep.” This was repeated three times, and it began to irritate Peter. So to escape Christ’s careful probing, he turned to John, the beloved disciple, who was apparently standing some distance away, and asked, “Lord, what about this man?” Jesus replied, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? Follow me!” In other words, there was no escaping the call to a personal discipleship for Peter.

To walk as Christ walked is also active because the Lord himself is active. To be inactive is to be left behind.

Finally, it is costly as well, because the path that Jesus walked is the path to crucifixion. It leads to glory, but before that it leads to the cross. Such a path can be walked only by the one who has died to self and who has deliberately taken up the cross of Christ to follow him.

Such a one, whether in John’s day or our own, will always have confidence before God and will be sure that he knows him. Here Dodd concludes most perceptively,

In this passage our author is not only rebutting dangerous tendencies in the Church of his time, but discussing a problem of perennial importance, that of the validity of religious experience. We may have the feeling of awareness of God, of union with him, but how shall we know that such experience corresponds to reality? It is clear that no amount of clearness or strength in the experience itself can guarantee its validity, any more than the extreme vividness of a dream leads us to suppose that it is anything but a dream. If, however, we accept the revelation of God in Christ, then we must believe that any experience of God which is valid has an ethical quality defined by what we know of Christ. It will carry with it a renewed fidelity to his teaching and example. The writer does not mean that only those who perfectly obey Christ and follow his example can be said to have experience of God. That would be to affirm the sinlessness of Christians in a sense which he has repudiated. But unless the experience includes a setting of the affections and will in the direction of the moral principles of the Gospel, it is no true experience of God, in any Christian sense.

There is more to be said, of course, as Dodd also indicates. In fact, more is to be said in the verses following, but thus far the test of one’s experience holds. By the test of righteousness we may know that we know God and may assure our hearts before him.[2]


6. He that saith he abideth in him. As he has before set before us God as light for an example, he now calls us also to Christ, that we may imitate him. Yet he does not simply exhort us to imitate Christ; but from the union we have with him, he proves that we ought to be like him. A likeness in life and deeds, he says, will prove that we abide in Christ. But from these words he passes on to the next clause, which he immediately adds respecting love to the brethren.[3]


6 While the language of this verse is grammatically similar to that of v. 4, it seems John is now offering a maxim to validate the two tests in vv. 4–5. While v. 3 focused on the need to obey Jesus’ teaching, v. 6 emphasizes the need to live by his example. The person who claims to remain in Jesus “ought to walk just as he walked” (NIV, “must walk as Jesus did”), meaning that the true believer’s life will be patterned after the example of Jesus.

The maxim in v. 6 describes the person who “claims to live in him.” The Greek word menō (NIV, “live”; GK 3531) is a key term in Johannine thought. Menō literally means “remain,” “stay,” or “abide,” and John sometimes uses the term in this general sense to imply endurance or durability (cf. Rensberger, 62–63). He warns believers, for example, to “see that what you have heard from the beginning remains in you” in the face of the threat of the Antichrists (2:24) and tells the “chosen lady” that “the truth which remains in us will be with us forever” (2 Jn 2; NIV, “the truth, which lives in us …”).

Other passages indicate that menō is a codeword for several key points in Johannine theology. It is frequently used in the fourth gospel to describe “the relationship of mutual indwelling of the Father, the Son, and the believer” (W. L. Kynes, “Abiding,” in Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, ed. Joel Green et al. [Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 1992], 2). The Father abides in Jesus, empowering his work (Jn 14:10), and will also abide in those who love Jesus and obey his teaching (14:23). The disciples, in turn, must abide in Jesus, apparently meaning that they must live by his word in order to maintain their relationship with him. It is through this process of mutual indwelling that Jesus gives believers life and power to accomplish his work (15:4–9). This special relationship gives an eschatological dimension to Christian experience. Those who remain with Jesus faithfully throughout their lives will “abide [NIV, live] forever” because they have escaped from the world and its desires (1 Jn 2:17). First John 2:6 highlights the ethical obligation that follows from this relationship: if we truly abide in Jesus, this will be evident in the way we live our lives. All those who do not live this way “abide in death” (1 Jn 3:14; NIV, “remain in death”).[4]


2:6 / The Elder’s answer is a practical one: walk as Jesus did. This verse contains the fifth stated claim of the Elder’s opponents, the secessionists, who had denied the full humanity of Jesus (1 John 4:2; 2 John 7) and separated themselves from the community (1 John 2:19). They claim to live in him. Actually, the Greek original is stronger: they claim to abide or to dwell (menō) in him. Menō means to live in an ongoing, close, personal relationship with God/Christ. It parallels to live in “fellowship with him” (1:6), to “walk in the light” (1:7), “to know him” (2:3–5), and “we are in him” (2:5). The Elder’s opponents claimed to have this profound relationship with God/Christ unbroken by sin (1:8, 10), whereas the believer confesses sin (1:9) and counts on Christ as advocate (niv, “one who speaks … in our defense” [2:1]) and “atoning sacrifice” (2:2).

The Elder insists that the opponents’ claim be tested by a life in imitation of Jesus. You must walk as Jesus did. This test, he is convinced, they cannot pass, because they do not keep God’s commands (2:3–4), as Jesus did. Above all, they do not love as Jesus loved (John 13:34). “The test of our religious experience is whether it produces a reflection of the life of Jesus in our daily life; if it fails this elementary test, it is false” (Marshall, Epistles, p. 128).[5]


6. Now comes the explicit statement of the second version of the Christian claim to know God: it is the assurance of “abiding” (continuously) in him. (For the use and meaning of μένειν, “to abide,” in John, see the comment on v 5; and for its occurrence in 1 John see also Malatesta, Interiority, especially 24–36, 133). But how may the genuineness of such a claim be judged? The answer is that “the test for the reality of the experience of union with God in Christ is the imitation of Christ” (Dodd, 32). The claim, and its attached condition, form in effect an applied example of the principle enunciated in v 5a: “in anyone who obeys his word God’s love has really reached fulfillment.”

ὁ λέγων ἐν αὐτῷ μένειν, “anyone who claims to abide in him.” The second version of the assertion about knowing God has already been introduced in v 5, once more using γινώσκομεν (literally, “we know”): “this is how we can be sure” (plural, as in v 3). The citation of the claim itself, however, uses the singular form, ὁ λέγων (as in v 4): “anyone who claims (to abide in him).” Possibly this reflects the quotation of an actual slogan which individuals were using (cf. also v 9).

But what was the precise nature of the claim? The phrase “to abide in him” (ἐν αὐτῷ μένειν) seems once again to refer, in the first place, to God; and this would follow naturally from the reference to God in v 5a, and the obviously parallel phrase ἐν αὐτῷ ἐσμεν (“we exist in him”) in v 5b. However, it is fairly certain that, as before, we cannot exclude a reference to Jesus from this sentence; and, indeed, perhaps we should regard the primary reference as christocentric. (Dodd, 32, takes “him,” [ἐν] αὐτῷ, as standing exclusively for Christ here.)

Two further points support such a view. One is that the allusion in the remaining part of this verse is clearly to Jesus (see below). Secondly, it is possible that the claim to “abide in him” was derived directly from the Fourth Gospel by (docetic?) ex-members of the Johannine community who were not concerned about the ethical responsibilities involved in such an assertion (see the comment on the parallel claim in v 4). In this case the passage drawn upon would, obviously, be John 15:1–7. Note especially v 4, “remain in me (μείνατε ἐν ἐμοί), and I will remain in you.”

A refinement of thought thus seems to be involved in vv 5b–6. The reference to “existing in him” (v 5b) is primarily to God, but includes Jesus; the predominant meaning of “abiding in him” (v 6a) is probably “abiding in Jesus,” but this cannot exclude God; and the subject of “he lived” περιεπάτησεν, v 6b), is Jesus himself. For all his readers, including those (ex-Jewish Christians?) who may have been inclined to regard Jesus as no more than a man, John makes it clear that the ultimate knowledge of God the Father is disclosed through Jesus his Son.

For the verb μένειν (ἐν), “to abide (in),” see the comment on v 5. The use of this word represents a climactic development in the thought of the present passage. In v 4 the writer speaks of “knowing” God in Christ; in v 5b the allusion is to “existing” in him; and here the reference focuses on “abiding” in God through Jesus the Christ. The use of μένειν at this point suggests an intensely personal knowledge of God; it presupposes an intimate and committed relationship with him, through Jesus, which is both permanent and continuous. To abide “in (ἐν) Jesus,” moreover, indicates a close and ongoing relationship between the Father and the Son (cf. John 15:10); it guarantees eternal life; and it provides the power for living ethically as a believer. Thus “abiding in Christ” is used by John interchangeably with “Christ abiding in the believer” (cf. 3:24; John 14:20–21; 15:4–5). On the formula “in him” (ἐν αὐτῷ) in this passage see further Schnackenburg, 105–10.

ὀφείλει καθὼς … περιπατεῖν, “must (live) … as he lived.” For any Christian to say, “I am abiding (habitually) in God through Jesus,” is perfectly acceptable. However, John warns his readers, and in particular those with heretical and antinomian inclinations, that such an assertion by itself is insufficient. As with the broad claim to “know God” (v 4), ethical obligations are included (cf. vv 3, 5). Thus the test of “abiding” in him is, as before, whether or not the claimant is living a life of obedience to God. For this he is obliged to do. The force of ὀφείλει, “he must,” is almost “he binds himself” (so neb).

The particular aspect of obedience mentioned on this occasion is Christlikeness. “He himself must live as Jesus lived.” In other words, the life of the believer must be consistent not only with the assertion that he abides in the Godhead, but also with the life of Jesus himself. For the verb περιπατεῖν (literally, “to walk”), as a synonym for “to live,” see the comments on 1:6–7.

The reference of ἐκεῖνος (“he”) in the phrase καθὼς ἐκεῖνος περιεπάτησεν (literally, “as that one walked”), is clearly to Jesus; for the pronoun ἐκεῖνος in 1 John always refers to him (cf. 3:3, 5, 7, 16; 4:17; also John 7:11; 9:12, 28; 19:21). In the words “live as he lived” the writer is obviously alluding to the earthly activity of Jesus (cf. Acts 10:38); and this is interesting because in 1 John such historical allusion is rare.

The way in which John refers, however elliptically, to the historical life of Jesus here, presupposes that his readers had some factual information on which to base the imitation of Christ which is being advocated. If so, the chief source for this would presumably be the Fourth Gospel itself, which was probably written earlier (see the introduction, xxii). This Gospel, as a growing consensus of scholarship now recognizes, reflects a background of authentic, historical tradition about the earthly ministry of Jesus. See Smalley, John, especially 9–40.

This is the obligation, therefore, laid personally upon every Christian (note the force of αὐτός, “he himself”): not only to obey God’s orders, his word (vv 4–5), but also to follow the example of his Son (v 6). “We cannot claim to abide in him unless we behave like him” (Stott, 92). It is not only a matter of discipleship, but also of obedient discipleship; and this is expressed by habitually imitating Christ. As Jesus lived (περιεπάτησεν, aorist), so must the Christian himself live (ὀφείλει αὐτὸς περιπατεῖν, “he must himself live,” where the infinitive suggests a present, repeated action). In the Johannine writings καθώς (“as”) relates to the life of Christ as both a model to be imitated, and as the means for that imitation to become a possibility (cf. 3:2; 4:17; John 13:15, 34; 15:12, 17). So Malatesta, Interiority, 134; see also O. de Dinechin, RSR 58 (1970) 233–36.

The idea of imitatio Christi (“the imitation of Christ”) appears elsewhere in 1 John. See 3:16, where the sacrificial reference to “giving up life,” as part of the imitation, may connect with 2:2 (“he is himself the offering for our sins”; cf. John 10:11, 15, 17); note also 3:2 (imitation is a dynamic process, a goal not yet achieved). Cf. also John 13:15; Phil 2:5–11; 1 Pet 2:21. On this idea in the NT generally, including John, see Smalley, Themelios 3 (1965) 13–22, especially 16–17.[6]


2:6 Therefore, whoever says he abides in Him should walk just as the Lord Jesus walked. His life, as set forth in the Gospels, is our pattern and guide. It is not a life which we can live in our own strength or energy, but is only possible in the power of the Holy Spirit. Our responsibility is to turn our lives over to Him unreservedly, and allow Him to live His life in and through us.[7]


2:6 abides in Him: Abiding is habitual obedience. It has the idea of settling down in Christ or resting in Him. It is evidenced by a life modeled after Christ. A Christian may fail to abide in Christ as evidenced by His repeated commands to abide in John 15:4–10. ought … to walk: The admonition to live by the teaching of Jesus reveals that this conformity comes from us. Slaves must follow the commands of their masters or they will be punished. Employees need to do their work to keep their jobs. However, the Christian as a child of God ought to obey God because of a sincere desire to do so. It should be a joy to follow in the footsteps of the One who died for us.[8]


2:6 — He who says he abides in Him ought himself also to walk just as He walked.

An intimate relationship with Christ makes it both possible and appealing for us to obey God, just as Jesus did. If we think of salvation as an invitation to sin—“He’ll forgive me anyway”—we’re on the wrong track.[9]


[1] MacArthur, J. (2007). 1, 2, 3 John (pp. 59–60). Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers.

[2] Boice, J. M. (2004). The Epistles of John: an expositional commentary (pp. 49–50). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.

[3] Calvin, J., & Owen, J. (2010). Commentaries on the Catholic Epistles (p. 176). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

[4] Thatcher, T. (2006). 1 John. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Hebrews–Revelation (Revised Edition) (Vol. 13, pp. 437–438). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[5] Johnson, T. F. (2011). 1, 2, and 3 John (pp. 41–42). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.

[6] Smalley, S. S. (1989). 1, 2, 3 John (Vol. 51, pp. 51–53). Dallas: Word, Incorporated.

[7] MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (p. 2312). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

[8] Radmacher, E. D., Allen, R. B., & House, H. W. (1999). Nelson’s new illustrated Bible commentary (p. 1708). Nashville: T. Nelson Publishers.

[9] Stanley, C. F. (2005). The Charles F. Stanley life principles Bible: New King James Version (1 Jn 2:6). Nashville, TN: Nelson Bibles.


 

March 17, 2019 Evening Verse Of The Day

The Riches of Poverty

Then Peter answered and said to Him, “Behold, we have left everything and followed You; what then will there be for us?” And Jesus said to them, “Truly I say to you, that you who have followed Me, in the regeneration when the Son of Man will sit on His glorious throne, you also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or farms for My name’s sake, shall receive many times as much, and shall inherit eternal life.” (19:27–29)

With hope perhaps tinged with uncertainty, Peter ventured to ask Jesus, “Behold, we have left everything and followed You; what then will there be for us?” “We came on Your terms, didn’t we?” he said in effect. “Do we thereby qualify for eternal life? The rich young ruler refused to surrender his possessions and his life to You, and he forfeited the kingdom. But we forsook our jobs, our families, our friends, and everything else we had in order to be Your disciples. We have repented of our sins and surrendered to Your lordship. Just as You commanded, we have denied ourselves and taken up our crosses for your sake. Doesn’t that qualify us for a place in Your kingdom?”

Peter was speaking for all of the Twelve, because he had no suspicion of Judas’s betrayal. As that false disciple would soon make evident, he had not forsaken everything for Christ but was instead seeking to use Him for his own ends. He expected Jesus to overthrow Rome and set up His own earthly kingdom, with the disciples given the highest places of honor and power. Judas was much further from the kingdom than the rich young ruler, who at least knew he needed eternal life and had a certain desire for it. Judas, on the other hand, was totally concerned with his present, earthly life.

But the rest of the Twelve, despite their small faith and slowness to understand Jesus’ teaching, had truly given themselves to Him. They shared with Judas many of the common Jewish misconceptions about the Messiah and His kingdom. They may still have been expecting Him to establish the kingdom during their lifetimes and therefore could not bring themselves to accept the idea of His suffering and death. But they nevertheless continued to follow and obey Him. As Peter had declared in behalf of the Twelve, “You have words of eternal life. And we have believed and have come to know that You are the Holy One of God” (John 6:68–69).

Although Peter and the others were still confused about much of Jesus’ message and mission, they knew they truly belonged to Him and that He truly loved them and would not forsake them. They were certain He had something divinely good in store for them, even if they had a distorted idea of what it was. Peter therefore asked to hear from Jesus’ own lips concerning what then will there be for us? “What are the benefits of Your kingdom for us?” they wanted to know “What do we have to look forward to as Your disciples?”

Some have criticized Peter for his expectation of blessing and reward. But Jesus gave no hint of dissatisfaction with the question. Instead, He acknowledged that they were indeed His true and sincere disciples, referring to them as you who have followed Me. The Greek aorist participle characterizes them as His followers.

Next, He gave them the marvelous and unique promise that in the regeneration when the Son of Man will sit on His glorious throne, you also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.

The term palingenesia (regeneration) literally means new birth. It was used by Josephus for the new birth of the Jewish nation after the Babylonian Captivity and by Philo of the new birth of the earth after the Flood and after its destruction by fire. It is used only twice in the New Testament, here and in Titus 3:5, where Paul uses it to refer to the personal new birth of believers. In the present passage, however, Jesus uses it to represent the rebirth of the earth under His sovereign dominion at the time of His second coming. It will be paradise regained and a global parallel to the individual rebirth of Christians.

The earth and the world of men will be given a new nature, described in great detail by the Old Testament prophets and by John in Revelation 20:1–15. Just as they have been given spiritual life and a new nature in Jesus Christ but are not yet perfected, so there will be a rebirth of the earth that is divinely recreated. Although it will not yet be a totally new earth (Rev. 21:1), it will nevertheless be wonderfully superior to the present fallen and unredeemed earth. It was the belief of the Jews that Messiah would renew the earth and heavens, based on the prophecy of Isaiah 65:17 and 66:22. Peter called it “the period of restoration of all things about which God spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets from ancient times” (Acts 3:21).

All believers will sit on the throne of Christ (Rev. 3:21), exercising authority over the people of the earth (Rev. 2:26), while the apostles are uniquely ruling restored Israel. This cannot be the eternal state described in Revelation 21:12–14, where twelve gates in the New Jerusalem are inscribed with the names of the twelve tribes and twelve foundations are inscribed with the names of the twelve apostles.

At the time of the restoration of the earth, righteousness will flourish, peace will abound, Jerusalem will again be exalted, health and healing will prevail, the earth will produce food as never before, the lion will lay down in peace with the lamb, the deserts will blossom, and life will be long. The age-old curse that began with the Fall will then be limited, in anticipation of its being eliminated completely in the eternal state to follow (Rev. 22:3).

As God had long before predicted, the Messiah, the Lord’s Anointed, will then receive all the nations as His inheritance and have the very ends of the earth as His possessions. “Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron,” the psalmist declared; “Thou shalt shatter them like earthenware” (Ps. 2:2, 8–9). Then the Son of Man will sit on His glorious throne, as King of kings and Lord of lords (Rev. 19:16). This is a reference to the prophecy of Daniel 7:13–14, where God, “the Ancient of Days,” gives the kingdom to the Son of Man. Jesus is affirming the reality that He will rule in the coming kingdom.

At that time the redeemed of all the ages will also reign with Him. “Then the sovereignty, the dominion, and the greatness of all the kingdoms under the whole heaven will be given to the people of the saints of the Highest One; His kingdom will be an everlasting kingdom, and all the dominions will serve and obey Him” (Dan. 7:27; cf. 1 Cor. 6:2; Rev. 20:4). The nation of Israel will be restored, and sharing Christ’s rule over her will be the Twelve apostles, who also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. Matthias, who took Judas’s place among the apostles shortly before Pentecost (Acts 1:26), will join the other eleven on the twelve thrones (cf. Dan. 7:22 and Isa. 1:26).

Because amillennial interpreters do not believe in a literal thousand-year kingdom on earth or in Israel’s national restoration, they take the twelve thrones and the twelve tribes as being purely figurative. One such writer made no attempt to discern Jesus’ meaning but simply commented, “Now we have to wonder what our Lord meant by the twelve tribes of Israel.”

If Jesus was referring to a real reigning on His part when He spoke of His throne, He must be referring to literal thrones that the apostles would sit upon while literally judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And as already noted, this millennial truth is also revealed elsewhere in Scripture.

The Word makes clear that in the reign of Christ over the world, He will be sovereign and rule over Jews and Gentiles with righteousness, peace, and immediate justice. He will be worshiped as supreme Lord, and His kingdom will bring prosperity, healing, health, and blessedness.

Not only that, Jesus continued, but “everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or farms for My name’s sake, shall receive as much, and shall inherit eternal life.” Those who renounce their possessions and become poor for Christ’s name’s sake are going to share with the apostles in His triumph and reign. Mark reports that Jesus said the person who gives up those things for His sake and the gospel’s “shall receive a hundred times as much now in the present age” (Mark 10:30).

When a person comes to Jesus Christ he must often have to turn his back on certain relationships, even with those who are very dear to him. Many times his conversion turns his own family and closest friends against him, in some cases even to the point of seeking his disinheritance or even his life. But the one who gives up everything for Christ’s sake, not only will inherit eternal life but also the family of God in this present life. He will have a host of new fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters with whom he will forever be united in God’s divine family. Wherever he goes, he meets spiritual loved ones, many of whom he has never seen or heard of before. Throughout the world he finds those who will share his sorrows, encourage his spirit, and help meet his needs, material as well as spiritual.

The believer in Jesus Christ will have blessings now, blessings in the millennial kingdom, and blessings throughout all eternity. To be poor for the sake of Christ is to be rich indeed. Jim Elliot, a young missionary martyred by the Auca Indians of Ecuador whom he was seeking to reach for Christ, wrote shortly before his death, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”[1]


Matthew 19:29. And whosoever shall forsake. After having raised the expectation of his followers to the hope of a future life, he supports them by immediate consolations, and strengthens them for bearing the cross. For though God permit his people to be severely afflicted, he never abandons them, so as not to recompense their distresses by his assistance. And here he does not merely address the apostles, but takes occasion to direct his discourse generally to all the godly. The substance of it is this: Those who shall willingly lose all for the sake of Christ, will be more happy even in this life than if they had retained the full possession of them; but the chief reward is laid up for them in heaven.

But what he promises about recompensing them a hundred-fold appears not at all to agree with experience; for in the greater number of cases, those who have been deprived of their parents, or children, and other relatives—who have been reduced to widowhood, and stripped of their wealth, for the testimony of Christ—are so far from recovering their property, that in exile, solitude, and desertion, they have a hard struggle with severe poverty. I reply, if any man estimate aright the immediate grace of God, by which he relieves the sorrows of his people, he will acknowledge that it is justly preferred to all the riches of the world. For though unbelievers flourish, (Ps. 92:7,) yet as they know not what awaits them on the morrow, (James 4:14,) they must be always tossed about in perplexity and terror, and it is only by stupifying themselves in some sort that they can at all enjoy prosperity. Yet God gladdens his people, so that the small portion of good which they enjoy is more highly valued by them, and far sweeter, than if out of Christ they had enjoyed an unlimited abundance of good things. In this sense I interpret the expression used by Mark, with persecutions; as if Christ had said, Though persecutions always await the godly in this world, and though the cross, as it were, is attached to their back, yet so sweet is the seasoning of the grace of God, which gladdens them, that their condition is more desirable than the luxuries of kings.[2]


29–30 Jesus now extends his encouragement to all his self-sacrificing disciples (cf. Mk 10:30). The promise is not literal (one cannot have one hundred mothers). God is no man’s debtor. If one of Jesus’ disciples has, for Jesus’ sake, left, say, a father, he will find within the messianic community a hundred who will be as a father to him—in addition to inheriting eternal life (v. 29).

The proverbial saying (v. 30) is one Jesus repeats on various occasions. Here he immediately illustrates it by a parable (20:1–16), climaxed by the proverb in reverse form (20:16) as a closing bracket. It indicates something of the reversals under the king’s reign. Attempts to restrict the application of this parable to one setting are not successful.

  1. Some say the rich become poor at the consummation and the poor rich (cf. vv. 16–29), as in Luke 16:19–31 (the story of Lazarus and the beggar). But such reversals are not absolute. Zacchaeus (Lk 19:1–10) was a rich man to whose house salvation came; Abraham, to whose “bosom” the beggar went, had great wealth.
  2. Many of the Fathers hold that the first/last idea refers to Jews and Gentiles respectively. Doubtless it may, but this theme is not dominant in these chapters.
  3. Some think the proverb assumes that the disciples had been arguing about priority on the basis of who was first called, to which Jesus responds that “the last will be first …” But this better suits the situation in Matthew 18 than in ch. 19.
  4. It seems preferable, therefore, to take the proverb as a way of setting forth God’s grace over against all notions that the rich, powerful, great, and prominent will continue so in the kingdom. Those who approach God in childlike trust (vv. 13–15) will be received and advanced in the kingdom beyond those who, from the world’s perspective, enjoy prominence now.[3]

19:27–30 / Somewhat incongruously, Peter asks what reward there will be for the disciples who have given up everything in order to follow Jesus. The answer is that at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man is enthroned, the twelve disciples will sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. The Greek word translated the renewal of all things (palingenesia) occurs only here and in Titus 3:5 in the New Testament. It is a technical term developed by the Stoics, who expected a periodic renewal of the universe following its destruction by fire. In Jewish thought, regeneration referred to the renewal of Israel that would accompany the establishment of God’s earthly kingdom. Christians linked the concept with the enthronement of the Son of Man.

The idea of judging (v. 28 has the participle krinontes) should be taken in the sense of ruling. The Hebrew judge was virtually the ruler of Israel. The symbolism of the twelve tribes is carried over into New Testament to represent the Christian church (cf. James 1:1). Everyone who has forsaken home and family will be rewarded a hundred times over and will inherit eternal life. But many who are first (those who have not made the sacrifice of family in order to follow Jesus) will be last, and many who are last (such as the disciples) will be first. That there are twelve followers is symbolic: it does not ensure a place in the New Age for Judas.[4]


19:28–29. Jesus underscored the faithfulness of the promise he was about to make with his words, I tell you the truth. His additional words, you who have followed me, included all the diligent hardship and sacrifice Jesus had predicted would be the lot of his true followers. We hear in Jesus’ words warmth and affirmation for his followers. And that includes everyone who sacrifices for my sake. There is not only eternal life, but enormous rewards (a hundred times as much).

The word renewal is from palingenesia (also Titus 3:5), meaning “rebirth” (palin, “again,” plus genao, “to give birth”). Jesus was referring to the future day when he would, after eliminating Satan and his influence, take over this earth and restore it to its original purpose (cf. Dan. 7:13–14; Rev. 3:21; 20:1–6).

Using his title Son of Man in all its messianic fullness, Jesus gave his disciples a glimpse of his future glory as the king on his glorious throne. Aside from his transfiguration before Peter, James, and John, this was the fullest revelation of his future glory that Jesus had given his disciples.

Jesus promised that the Twelve would share with him in ruling (this is the present meaning of judging) the twelve tribes of Israel. (This is the clearest statement in Matthew of at least one of Jesus’ reasons for choosing twelve disciples.) Part of the faithful disciple’s reward is authority in his kingdom (cf. believers’ future authority in Luke 22:30; 1 Cor. 6:2).

Jesus had already assured his followers that discipleship implies sacrifice. Now he promised that any sacrifice made for my sake would be more than repaid. In between houses and fields Jesus listed even greater sacrifices—members of one’s family, even children (cf. 10:21–22, 34–37).

But the reward for such sacrifice will be the repayment of a hundred times as much in some form or another. In the church, the Lord gives us a foretaste of this payment. If a person is rejected by his family for being a Christian, he finds many more “fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters” in the family of God.

The true follower (in contrast to the rich young ruler) will inherit eternal life. The use of the term inherit here provides the sense of the new family (after one has been rejected by his old family). An heir is a son of the family from whom he inherits.

19:30. Jesus began to caution the disciples not to use a human yardstick when measuring eternal rewards. God’s estimation of worthiness is quite different from ours.

The chapter break here is unfortunate, for the flow of thought is continuous. Many people who seem to be deserving of reward will receive less than is expected (though no less than they deserve). And many whom we might judge as undeserving will prove, in God’s economy, to be first, receiving great reward.[5]


The general promise, the one intended for all true followers of the Lord, is found in verse 29. And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields for my name’s sake shall receive a hundredfold, and shall inherit everlasting life. With this compare 10:37. This promise is for all who have in life chosen Christ above everybody and everything else, even above their nearest relatives and most cherished possessions. They have made the sacrifice, says Jesus, “for my name’s sake,” explained in Mark 10:29 as meaning “for my sake.” The “name” of Jesus indicates Jesus himself as he has revealed himself. See also on 6:9; 7:22; 10:22, 41, 42; 12:21.

These loyal followers of the Lord are going to receive “a hundredfold,” that is, they will be reimbursed “many times over” (Luke 18:30). For “hundredfold” see also Gen. 26:12 and Matt. 13:8. Even in the present day and age (note Mark 10:30; Luke 18:30), that is, before the great day of judgment, and for each believer before his death, these loyal followers receive the blessings indicated in such passages as Prov. 15:16; 16:8; Matt. 7:7; John 17:3; Rom. 8:26–39; Phil. 4:7; 1 Tim. 6:6; Heb. 6:19, 20; 10:34; 1 Peter 1:8. In spite of the persecutions which they will have to endure, they will even be able to enjoy their material possessions (“houses … lands,” Mark 10:30), far more than the ungodly enjoy theirs. Reason? See Isa. 26:3; contrast 48:22. For the sake of Christ has it become necessary for his followers to forsake close relatives? New “relatives” will now be theirs (Matt. 12:46–50; Rom. 16:13; 1 Cor. 4:15), for they now belong to “the family of God” (see N.T.C. on Eph. 3:15).

When Esau boasts about having “enough” or “much,” Jacob—rather “Israel”—answers that he has “all” or “everything” (Gen. 33:9–11 in the original Hebrew and in the Septuagint). With this compare Paul’s exuberant testimony (1 Cor. 3:22, 23). These treasures are real. Otherwise how shall we account for Paul’s triumphant outbursts of optimism (2 Cor. 4:7–18; 12:9; Phil. 4:10–13)?

Jesus adds, “and shall inherit everlasting life.” As meant here this blessing pertains to “the age to come” (Mark 10:30; Luke 18:30). For the concept “everlasting life” see on verse 16. All the spiritual blessings that are bestowed upon God’s children in the present life “in principle” will be theirs “in full measure” in the hereafter. On and after the day of Christ’s return in glory material blessings will be added to the spiritual. They shall inherit them, in the present context implying that a. they are freely given to them, not earned by them; b. the gift is based upon justice: they were earned for them and are therefore theirs by right; and c. they are theirs forever.

To the apostles and to believers in general Jesus has given rich promises. Does this mean now that the pledged blessings will be theirs regardless of how they conduct themselves? Not at all. It is only in the way of trust and obedience that the promised goods are delivered to the children of God (Phil. 2:12, 13; 2 Thess. 2:13).

When Peter said, “Look, we have left everything and followed thee; what then shall we have?” (verse 27), was his question the product of holy curiosity, or, in whatever slight degree, of a mercantile spirit? The division of opinion among commentators in their attempt to answer this question is most interesting. Some, in their zeal to defend Peter against every charge, go so far as to say that those who distrust Peter’s motives are judging others by their own ethical standards. Others go to the opposite extreme and regard Christ’s sayings, the one reported in verse 30, as also the parable immediately following (20:1–16), to be inexplicable unless Peter’s worldly motivation be taken into account. May not the best procedure be the following: A man is innocent unless his guilt can be established beyond any reasonable doubt. Accordingly, we have no right to charge Peter with anything wrong. On the other hand, it is also true that his question, though purely motivated, may have occasioned the warning that is found in the verse we are about to consider. Jesus may well have meant something on this order: “Peter, your question, ‘What then shall we have?’ is right and proper. Nevertheless, since it is so easy to fall into the error of expecting a reward based on supposed merit, I must warn you, so that you may not be caught unawares.” Besides, is it not possible that the undoubtedly mercantile attitude of the rich young ruler (verse 16) may have caused Jesus to issue a needed warning?

It should not escape our attention that the words of verse 30. (as well as those of verses 28 and 29) are not addressed to Peter alone but to all the disciples: But many that are first shall be last, and (many) last first. We are reminded of the words of Jehovah addressed to Samuel, “Jehovah does not see as man sees; man looks on the outward appearance, but Jehovah looks on the heart” (1 Sam. 16:7). The “first” are those who because of their wealth, education, position, prestige, talents, etc., are highly regarded by men in general, sometimes even by God’s children. But since God sees and knows the heart many of these very people are by him assigned to a position behind the others; in fact, some may even be altogether excluded from the halls of glory. Cf. Matt. 7:21–23.

There does not seem to be any good reason for saying that Jesus meant that all of those who “shall be last” are going to be lost or outside the kingdom. Fact is: not only are there degrees of suffering in hell (Luke 12:47, 48), there are also degrees of glory in the restored universe (1 Cor. 15:41, 42). There will be surprises however. Not only will many of those who are now regarded as the very pillars of the church be last, but also many who never made the headlines—think of the poor widow who contributed “two mites” (Mark 12:42), and Mary of Bethany whose act of loving lavishness was roundly criticized by the disciples (Matt. 26:8)—shall be first on the day of judgment (Mark 12:43, 44; Matt. 26:10–13). The disciples, who were constantly quarreling about rank (18:1; 20:20; Luke 22:24) better take note![6]


[1] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1985). Matthew (Vol. 3, pp. 203–206). Chicago: Moody Press.

[2] Calvin, J., & Pringle, W. (2010). Commentary on a Harmony of the Evangelists Matthew, Mark, and Luke (Vol. 2, pp. 407–408). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

[3] 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. 481–482). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[4] Mounce, R. H. (2011). Matthew (p. 185). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.

[5] Weber, S. K. (2000). Matthew (Vol. 1, pp. 316–317). Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

[6] Hendriksen, W., & Kistemaker, S. J. (1953–2001). Exposition of the Gospel According to Matthew (Vol. 9, pp. 730–732). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.

 

March 17, 2019 Afternoon Verse Of The Day

God’s Pardon

And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. (6:12)

Opheilēma (debts) is one of five New Testament Greek terms for sin. Hamartia is the most common and carries the root idea of missing the mark. Sin misses the mark of God’s standard of righteousness. Paraptōma, often rendered “trespass,” is the sin of slipping or falling, and results more from carelessness than from intentional disobedience. Parabasis refers to stepping across the line, going beyond the limits prescribed by God, and is often translated “transgression.” This sin is more conscious and intentional than hamartia and paraptoma. Anomia means lawlessness, and is a still more intentional and flagrant sin. It is direct and open rebellion against God and His ways.

The noun opheilēma is used only a few times in the New Testament, but its verb form is found often. Of the some thirty times it is used in its verb form, twenty-five times it refers to moral or spiritual debts. Sin is a moral and spiritual debt to God that must be paid. In his account of this prayer, Luke uses hamartia (“sins”; Luke 11:4), clearly indicating that the reference is to sin, not to a financial debt. Matthew probably used debts because it corresponded to the most common Aramaic term (hôbā) for sin used by Jews of that day, which also represented moral or spiritual debt to God.

the problem

Sin is that which separates man from God, and is therefore man’s greatest enemy and greatest problem. Sin dominates the mind and heart of man. It has contaminated every human being and is the degenerative power that makes man susceptible to disease, illness, and every conceivable form of evil and unhappiness, temporal and eternal. The ultimate effects of sin are death and damnation, and the present effects are misery, dissatisfaction, and guilt. Sin is the common denominator of every crime, every theft, lie, murder, immorality, sickness, pain, and sorrow of mankind. It is also the moral and spiritual disease for which man has no cure. “Can the Ethiopian change his skin or the leopard his spots? Then you also can do good who are accustomed to do evil” (Jer. 13:23). The natural man does not want his sin cured, because he loves darkness rather than light (John 3:19).

Those who trust in the Lord Jesus Christ have received God’s pardon for sin and are saved from eternal hell. And since, as we have seen, this prayer is given to believers, the debts referred to here are those incurred by Christians when they sin. Immeasurably more important than our need for daily bread is our need for continual forgiveness of sin.

Arthur Pink writes in An Exposition of the Sermon on the Mount (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1974), pp. 163–64:

As it is contrary to the holiness of God, sin is a defilement, a dishonor, and a reproach to us as it is a violation of His law. It is a crime, and as to the guilt which we contact thereby, it is a debt. As creatures we owe a debt of obedience unto our maker and governor, and through failure to render the same on account of our rank disobedience, we have incurred a debt of punishment; and it is for this that we implore a divine pardon.

the provision

Because man’s greatest problem is sin, his greatest need is forgiveness—and that is what God provides. Though we have been forgiven the ultimate penalty of sin, as Christians we need God’s constant forgiveness for the sins we continue to commit. We are to pray, therefore, forgive us. Forgiveness is the central theme of this entire passage (vv. 9–15), being mentioned six times in eight verses. Everything leads to or issues from forgiveness.

Believers have experienced once-for-all God’s judicial forgiveness, which they received the moment Christ was trusted as Savior. We are no longer condemned, no longer under judgment, no longer destined for hell (Rom. 8:1). The eternal Judge has declared us pardoned, justified, righteous. No one, human or satanic, can condemn or bring any “charge against God’s elect” (Rom. 8:33–34).

But because we still fall into sin, we frequently require God’s gracious forgiveness, His forgiveness not now as Judge but as Father. “If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves, and the truth is not in us,” John warns believers. But, he goes on to assure us, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:8–9).

During the Last Supper, Jesus began washing the disciples’ feet as a demonstration of the humble, serving spirit they should have as His followers. At first Peter refused, but when Jesus said, “If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me,” Peter went to the other extreme, wanting to be bathed all over. Jesus replied, “ ‘He who has bathed needs only to wash his feet, but is completely clean; and you are clean, but not all of you.’ For He knew the one who was betraying Him; for this reason He said, ‘Not all of you are clean’ ” (John 13:5–11).

Jesus’ act of footwashing was therefore more than an example of humility; it was also a picture of the forgiveness God gives in His repeated cleansing of those who are already saved. Dirt on the feet symbolizes the daily surface contamination from sin that we experience as we walk through life. It does not, and cannot, make us entirely dirty, because we have been permanently cleansed from that. The positional purging of salvation that occurs at regeneration needs no repetition, but the practical purging is needed every day, because every day we fall short of God’s perfect holiness.

As Judge, God is eager to forgive sinners, and as Father He is even more eager to keep on forgiving His children. Hundreds of years before Christ, Nehemiah wrote, “Thou art a God of forgiveness, gracious and compassionate, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness” (Neh. 9:17). As vast and pervasive as the sin of man is, God forgiveness is more vast and greater. Where sin abounds, God’s grace abounds even more (Rom. 5:20).

the plea

Asking forgiveness implies confession. Feet that are not presented to Christ cannot be washed by Him. Sin that is not confessed cannot be forgiven. That is the condition John makes plain in the text just quoted above: “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). To confess means basically to agree with, and when we confess our sins we agree with God about them that they are wicked, evil, defiling, and have no part in those who belong to Him.

It is difficult to confess sins, and both Satan and our prideful nature fight against it. But it is the only way to the free and joyful life. “He who conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will find compassion” (Prov. 28:13). John Stott says, “One of the surest antidotes to the process of moral hardening is the disciplined practice of uncovering our sins of thought and outlook, as well as of word and of deed, and the repentant forsaking of them” (Confess Your Sins [Waco, Tex.: Word, 1974], p. 19).

The true Christian does not see God’s promise of forgiveness as a license to sin, a way to abuse His love and presume on His grace. Rather he sees God’s gracious forgiveness as the means of spiritual growth and sanctification and continually gives thanks to God for His great love and willingness to forgive and forgive and forgive. It is also important to realize that confessing sin gives God the glory when He chastens the disobedient Christian because it removes any complaint that God is unfair when He disciplines.

A Puritan saint of many generations ago prayed, “Grant me never to lose sight of the exceeding sinfulness of sin, the exceeding righteousness of salvation, the exceeding glory of Christ, the exceeding beauty of holiness, and the exceeding wonder of grace.” At another time he prayed, “I am guilty but pardoned. I am lost but saved. I am wandering but found. I am sinning but cleansed. Give me perpetual broken-heartedness. Keep me always clinging to Thy cross” (Arthur Bennett, ed., The Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayers and Devotions [Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1975], pp. 76, 83).

the prerequisite

Jesus gives the prerequisite for receiving forgiveness in the words, as we also have forgiven our debtors. The principle is simple but sobering: if we have forgiven, we will be forgiven; if we have not forgiven, we will not be forgiven.

We are to forgive because it is the character of righteousness, and therefore of the faithful Christian life, to forgive. Citizens of God’s kingdom are blessed and receive mercy because they themselves are merciful (Matt. 5:7). They love even their enemies because they have the nature of the loving heavenly Father within them (5:44–45, 48). Forgiveness is the mark of a truly regenerate heart. Still we fail to be consistent with that mark and need constant exhortation because of the strength of sinful flesh (Rom. 7:14–25).

We are also to be motivated to forgive because of Christ’s example. “Be kind to one another,” Paul says, “tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you” (Eph. 4:32). John tells us, “The one who says he abides in Him ought himself to walk in the same manner as He walked” (1 John 2:6).

Because it reflects God’s own gracious forgiveness, the forgiving of another person’s sin expresses the highest virtue of man. “A man’s discretion makes him slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook a transgression” (Prov. 19:11).

Forgiving others also frees the conscience of guilt. Unforgiveness not only stands as a barrier to God’s forgiveness but also interferes with peace of mind, happiness, satisfaction, and even the proper functioning of the body.

Forgiving others is of great benefit to the whole congregation of believers. Probably few things have so short-circuited the power of the church as unresolved conflicts among its members. “If I regard wickedness in my heart,” the psalmist warns himself and every believer, “the Lord will not hear” (Ps. 66:18). The Holy Spirit cannot work freely among those who carry grudges and harbor resentment (see Matt. 5:23–24; 1 Cor. 1:10–13; 3:1–9).

Forgiving others also delivers us from God’s discipline. Where there is an unforgiving spirit, there is sin; and where there is sin, there will be chastening (Heb. 12:5–13). Unrepented sins in the church at Corinth caused many believers to be weak, sick, and even to die (1 Cor. 11:30).

But the most important reason for being forgiving is that it brings God’s forgiveness to the believer. That truth is so important that Jesus reinforces it after the close of the prayer (vv. 14–15). Nothing in the Christian life is more important than forgiveness—our forgiveness of others and God’s forgiveness of us.

In the matter of forgiveness, God deals with us as we deal with others. We are to forgive others as freely and graciously as God forgives us. The Puritan writer Thomas Manton said, “There is none so tender to others as they which have received mercy themselves, for they know how gently God hath dealt with them.”[1]


12. And forgive us our debts. Here it may be proper that we should be reminded of what I said a little before, that Christ, in arranging the prayers of his people, did not consider which was first or second in order. It is written, that our prayers are as it were a wall which hinders our approach to God, (Isa. 59:2,) or a cloud which prevents him from beholding us, (Isa. 44:22,) and that “he hath covered himself with a cloud, that our prayer should not pass through,” (Lam. 3:44.) We ought always, therefore, to begin with the forgiveness of sins: for the first hope of being heard by God beams upon us, when we obtain his favour; and there is no way in which he is “pacified toward us,” (Ezek. 16:63,) but by freely pardoning our sins. Christ has included in two petitions all that related to the eternal salvation of the soul, and to the spiritual life: for these are the two leading points of the divine covenant, in which all our salvation consists. He offers to us a free reconciliation by “not imputing our sins,” (2 Cor. 5:19,) and promises the Spirit, to engrave the righteousness of the law on our hearts. We are commanded to ask both, and the prayer for obtaining the forgiveness of sins is placed first.

In Matthew, sins are called debts, because they expose us to condemnation at the tribunal of God, and make us debtors; nay more, they alienate us entirely from God, so that there is no hope of obtaining peace and favour except by pardon. And so is fulfilled what Paul tells us, that “all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God,” (Rom. 3:23,) “that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God,” (Rom. 3:19.) For, though the righteousness of God shines, to some extent, in the saints, yet, so long as they are surrounded by the flesh, they lie under the burden of sins. None will be found so pure as not to need the mercy of God, and if we wish to partake of it, we must feel our wretchedness. Those who dream of attaining such perfection in this world, as to be free from every spot and blemish, not only renounce their sins, but renounce Christ himself, from whose Church they banish themselves. For, when he commands all his disciples to betake themselves to him daily for the forgiveness of sins, every one, who thinks that he has no need of such a remedy, is struck out of the number of the disciples.

Now, the forgiveness, which we here ask to be bestowed on us, is inconsistent with satisfaction, by which the world endeavours to purchase its own deliverance. For that creditor is not said to forgive, who has received payment and asks nothing more,—but he who willingly and generously departs from his just claim, and frees the debtor. The ordinary distinction between crime and punishment has no place here: for debts unquestionably mean liability to punishment. If they are freely forgiven us, all compensations must disappear. And there is no other meaning than this in the passage of Luke, though he calls them sins: for in no other way does God grant the pardon of them, than by removing the condemnation which they deserve.

As we forgive our debtors. This condition is added, that no one may presume to approach God and ask forgiveness, who is not pure and free from all resentment. And yet the forgiveness, which we ask that God would give us, does not depend on the forgiveness which we grant to others: but the design of Christ was, to exhort us, in this manner, to forgive the offences which have been committed against us, and at the same time, to give, as it were, the impression of his seal, to ratify the confidence in our own forgiveness. Nor is any thing inconsistent with this in the phrase used by Luke, καὶ γὰρ, for we also. Christ did not intend to point out the cause, but only to remind us of the feelings which we ought to cherish towards brethren, when we desire to be reconciled to God. And certainly, if the Spirit of God reigns in our hearts, every description of ill-will and revenge ought to be banished. The Spirit is the witness of our adoption, (Rom. 8:16,) and therefore this is put down simply as a mark, to distinguish the children of God from strangers. The name debtors is here given, not to those who owe us money, or any other service, but to those who are indebted to us on account of offences which they have committed.[2]


12 The first three petitions stand independently from one another. The last three, however, are linked in Greek by “ands,” almost as if to say that life sustained by food is not enough. We also need forgiveness of sin and deliverance from temptation.

In Matthew, what we ask to be forgiven for is ta opheilēmata hēmōn (“our debts,” GK 4052); in Luke, it is our “sins.” Hill notes that the crucial word to opheilēma (“debt”) “means a literal ‘debt’ in the LXX and NT, except at this point.” And on this basis, S. T. Lachs (“On Matthew 6.12,” NovT 17 [1975]: 6–8) argues that in Matthew this petition of the Lord’s Prayer is not really dealing with sins but with loans in the sixth year, one year before the Jubilee. But the linguistic evidence can be read differently. The word opheilēma is rather rare in biblical Greek. It occurs only four times in the LXX (Dt 24:10 [2x]; 1 Esd 3:20; 1 Macc 15:8); and in Deuteronomy 24:10, where it occurs twice, it renders two different Hebrew words. In the NT, it appears only here and in Romans 4:4. On this basis it would be as accurate to say the word always means “sin” in the NT except at Romans 4:4 as to say it always means “debt” except at Matthew 6:12.

More important, the Aramaic word ḥôbā (“debt”) is often used (e.g., in the Targums) to mean “sin” or “transgression.” Deissmann (Bible Studies, 225) notes an instance of the cognate verb hamartian opheilō (lit., “I owe sin”). Probably Matthew has provided a literal rendering of the Aramaic Jesus most commonly used in preaching; and even Luke (Lk 11:4) uses the cognate participle in the second line, panti opheilonti hēmin (“everyone who sins against us”). There is therefore no reason to take “debts” to mean anything other than “sins,” here conceived as something owed God (whether sins of commission or omission).

Some have taken the second clause to mean that our forgiveness is the real cause of God’s forgiveness, i.e., that God’s forgiveness must be earned by our own. The problem is often judged more serious in Matthew than Luke, because the latter has the present “we forgive,” the former the aorist (not perfect, as many commentators assume) aphēkamen (“we have forgiven”; GK 918). Many follow the suggestion of Jeremias (Prayers of Jesus, 92–93), who says that Matthew has awkwardly rendered an Aramaic perfectum praesens (a “present perfect”): he renders the clause “as we also herewith forgive our debtors.”

The real solution is best expounded by C. F. D. Moule (“ ‘… As we forgive …’: a Note on the Distinction between Deserts and Capacity in the Understanding of Forgiveness,” in Donum Gentilicium [ed. E. Bammel et al.; Oxford: Clarendon 1978], 68–77), who, in addition to detailing the most important relevant Jewish literature, rightly insists on distinguishing “between, on the one hand, earning or meriting forgiveness, and, on the other hand, adopting an attitude which makes forgiveness possible—the distinction, that is, between deserts and capacity.… Real repentance, as contrasted with a merely self-regarding remorse, is certainly a sine qua non of receiving forgiveness—an indispensable condition” (pp. 71–72). “Once our eyes have been opened to see the enormity of our offense against God, the injuries which others have done to us appear by comparison extremely trifling. If, on the other hand, we have an exaggerated view of the offenses of others, it proves that we have minimized our own” (Stott, Message of the Sermon on the Mount, 149–50; see comments at 5:5, 7; 18:23–35).[3]

12. And forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors. In connection with this petition, which sounds so simple, a few questions are in order:

  • What is the difference between “debts” (verse 12) and “trespasses” (verses 14, 15)?

Answer: see on verse 14.

  1. Why should we pray for forgiveness, since we no longer sin?

Answer: We do, indeed, sin daily. See p. 317.

  1. Granted that we sin, why must we still daily pray for forgiveness, since through Christ’s atonement we are already cleansed (justified) from every sin?

Answer: It is true that the basis of our daily forgiveness has been established once for all by means of Christ’s atonement. Nothing need be and nothing can be added to that. But this total, objective cleansing needs daily application for the simple reason that we sin every day. A father may have bequeathed a large inheritance to his son. It now very definitely belongs to the son. Nevertheless, this does not mean that the latter is immediately allowed to withdraw the entire huge amount from the bank and spend it all within one week. Very wisely the father included a stipulation limiting the withdrawal privilege to a certain generous amount each month. So also when a person receives the grace of regeneration, this does not mean that all of that which Christ merited for him is immediately experienced by him. If it were, would it not overwhelm and crush his capacities? Rather, “He [God] giveth and giveth and giveth again.” See also John 13:10.

The prayer for forgiveness implies that the supplicant recognizes that there is no other method by which his debt can be wiped out. It is, therefore, a plea for grace.

However, a totally different difficulty arises in connection with “Forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors.” This certainly cannot mean that our forgiving disposition earns God’s pardon. The forgiveness of our debts is based not on our merits—how could we have any?—but on Christ’s, applied to us. Consequently, from our point of view, forgiveness is based on God’s unmerited (not merited by us) favor, that is, on divine grace (Eph. 1:7), compassion (Matt. 18:27), and mercy (Luke 18:13). Nevertheless, our own forgiving disposition is very important. In fact, without it we ourselves cannot be forgiven. For us it is the indispensable condition of receiving the forgiveness of sins. That fact is stated clearly in verses 14 and 15, which, together with 18:21–35, is the best and simplest explanation of 6:12 one could ask for. It is with this as it is with salvation in general. We are not saved on the basis of our faith, as if faith had earning power. We are saved by grace (Eph. 2:8). Yet faith must be present if we are to be saved (hence, “by grace through faith”). Faith and one of its manifestations, namely, the disposition to forgive, are conditions that must be met and exercised if salvation and its component, pardon, are to be received. We must believe, we must forgive. God does not do these things for us. Nevertheless, it is God who plants in our hearts the seed of faith and of the forgiving disposition. Moreover, the power to believe and the power to forgive are from God. At every step—beginning, middle, and end, all along the way—God is both present and active. “With fear and trembling continue to work out your own salvation; for it is God who is working in you both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Phil. 2:12, 13). See also N.T.C. on Eph. 2:8 and on Phil. 2:12, 13. It is exactly as Greijdanus observes, in commenting on the parallel passage, Luke 11:4 (“And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves also forgive every one indebted to us”). He writes, “In spite of for, this clause does not indicate the ground upon which God bestows forgiveness, but that which must be complied with for us to enjoy God’s forgiveness of our own sins.”

To be genuine, this forgiveness that we ourselves bestow upon our fellow men must be given gladly, generously, and with finality; not in the spirit of, “I’ll forgive, but I’m telling you that I’ll never forget.” Lord’s Day 51 of the Heidelberg Catechism gives a correct, succinct, and beautiful explanation of the fifth petition: “Be pleased, for the sake of Christ’s blood, not to impute to us, miserable sinners, any of our transgressions, nor the evil which always cleaves to us; as we also find this witness of thy grace in us that it is our full purpose heartily to forgive our neighbor.”

A possible objection to the explanation given must be briefly answered: “Does not this mean, then, that our act of kindness toward the one who has injured us precedes Christ’s act of kindness toward us?”

Answer. In the circle of salvation the beginning is always with God, never with us. See 1 John 4:19; cf. John 13:15; Eph. 4:32; and 1 Peter 2:21. Nevertheless, the forgiving love of Christ not only precedes but also accompanies and even follows the love with which we love him and the neighbor.

Our sincere purpose to forgive those who have injured us, and thus also our experience of the pardoning love and grace of God in Christ, can be enhanced by the following considerations:

Extend forgiveness to others, for

  1. God so commands. Vengeance belongs to him, not to us (Deut. 32:35; Rom. 12:19).
  2. We should follow the example Christ himself has given us (Luke 23:34; John 13:12–15; Eph. 4:32; 5:1, 2; Col. 3:13).
  3. We cannot be forgiven unless we forgive, as has been shown.
  4. The man who injured us needs our sympathy and love. We owe him this love (Rom. 13:8).
  5. Harboring a grudge and planning revenge is not only wicked but also foolish, for it deprives us of the strength we need to do effective work. We should have the forward look (Phil. 2:13).
  6. Forgiving others will impart peace of heart and mind to us, the peace that passes all understanding (Phil. 4:7, 9).
  7. Thus, thus alone, will God be glorified, which should be our aim in all we do (1 Cor. 10:31).

The fourth petition is linked to the fifth, and the fifth to the sixth, by the conjunction and. All three represent human needs, and are closely connected. The connection between the fourth and fifth has already been indicated. Very close is also the relation between the fifth and the sixth, and this in at least the following respect: we are in need not only of forgiveness of past sins, but also of God’s protecting care so that in the future we may not fall into the clutches of Satan.

Between “And lead us not into temptation” and “deliver us from the evil one” there is no conjunction and. On the contrary, the conjunction but shows that the petition simply continues, the negative request being balanced by the positive in one petition. These two are, as it were, the two sides of the same coin. Accordingly, I am in agreement with all those who accept six, not seven, petitions.[4]


[1] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1985). Matthew (Vol. 1, pp. 391–395). Chicago: Moody Press.

[2] Calvin, J., & Pringle, W. (2010). Commentary on a Harmony of the Evangelists Matthew, Mark, and Luke (Vol. 1, pp. 325–327). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

[3] 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. 206–207). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[4] Hendriksen, W., & Kistemaker, S. J. (1953–2001). Exposition of the Gospel According to Matthew (Vol. 9, pp. 334–336). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.

March 17, 2019 Morning Verse Of The Day

10  I will greatly rejoice in the LORD;
my soul shall exult in my God,
for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation;
he has covered me with the robe of righteousness,
as a bridegroom decks himself like a priest with a beautiful headdress,
and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.
11  For as the earth brings forth its sprouts,
and as a garden causes what is sown in it to sprout up,
so the Lord GOD will cause righteousness and praise
to sprout up before all the nations.

The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Is 61:10–11). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.


10. Rejoicing I shall rejoice in Jehovah. He represents the Church as giving thanks to God, in order to convince them more fully of the truth of what he formerly said. It may be regarded as (ὑποτύτωσις) a lively description, by which the thing is, as it were, painted and laid before the eyes of men, so as to remove all doubt; for by nature we are prone to distrust, and so fickle, that we place confidence rather in the inventions of men than in the word of God. As to this form of confirmation, we have spoken at chap. 12:1; 26:1, and at other passages.

For he hath clothed me. These things were still, indeed, at a great distance, but must have been seen and understood by the eyes of faith; as the eyes should undoubtedly be raised to heaven, when the Prophet discourses concerning salvation and righteousness. Nothing is visible here, and much less could so great happiness have been perceived by the senses, while everything tended to destruction. But because even now we do not see any such beauty of the Church, which is even contemptible in the eyes of the world under the revolting dress of the cross, we need faith, which comprehends heavenly and invisible things.

With the garments of salvation. He connects “righteousness” with “salvation,” because the one cannot be separated from the other. “Garments” and “mantles” are well-known metaphors. It is as if he had said, that righteousness and salvation had been bestowed upon them. Since the Lord bestows these benefits, it follows that from him alone we should seek and expect them.

He hath adorned me. The metaphor is supposed to be drawn from priestly ornament; and accordingly there are some who speculate here about the priesthood of Christ. But I do not think that the Prophet spoke so ingeniously; for he brings forward the comparison of the bridegroom and the bride. Formerly the Church lay in filth and rags, and was universally despised, as a forsaken woman; but now, having been received into favour with her husband, she shines with amazing lustre. A parallel passage occurs in Hos. 2:20. This was accomplished at the coming of Christ; but it is also bestowed upon us daily, when the Lord adorns his people with righteousness and salvation. But all these things, as we have often said already, shall be accomplished at Christ’s last coming.[1]


61:10–11 / The prophet’s second response to the promises of chapter 60 is to praise. In line with the intended relationship between prophet and people, the Preacher begins now to behave in accordance with the whole people’s destiny as verses 1–9 describe it. The Preacher thus models a response to which the whole people is called. They are to offer this response before the event actually happens, in accordance with the summons that chapters 40–55 often made to their audience. The symbolism of the words, with their reference to the adornment of bride or groom, suggests that the response also has the resonances of a sign, an act which expresses and effects that which it signifies.[2]


The prophet speaks (Isa. 61:10–11). Isaiah is speaking on behalf of the remnant who are praising God for all He has done. They rejoice that He has cleansed them and clothed them and turned their desert into a fruitful garden (55:10). They have gone from a funeral to a wedding![3]


61:10–11 The song of the justified. With this outburst of joy, cf. 12:1–6 and the songs in chs. 24–27. Note the two metaphors for righteousness: first as the robe, on which the perfect comment is ‘the best robe’ of Lk. 15:22, festive and wholly undeserved; secondly as shoots of plant life, products of what is sown, whose inherent vitality issues in growth and form. The former depicts righteousness as conferred from outside (cf. Rom. 3:22); the latter as springing from within (cf. Rom. 8:10); both make it the gift of God. On its shades of meaning cf. on 46:12–13.[4]


61:10–11. In these verses the prophet seems to be speaking for the redeemed remnant who will rejoice (cf. comments on 9:3) in response to God’s blessings mentioned in 61:1–9. Salvation and righteousness are pictured as clothes worn by the people (cf. God’s “clothes,” 59:17). In other words the Israelites are characterized by salvation (God’s redeemed people) and righteousness (those who are living by God’s standards; cf. 58:8; 60:21). To picture their joy and blessing a bridegroom wore a fancy headgear, like a priest’s turban, and the bride wore costly jewelry. God will cause Israel’s righteousness to spring up in (be known by) other nations (cf. 61:11; 62:1–2) much as the soil sustains the growth of plants.[5]


61:10, 11 The Messiah leads the praises of His redeemed remnant. He celebrates the glorious garments of salvation and righteousness with which God has decked them, and the sprouting forth of practical righteousness and praise in Israel before the nations during the Millennium. (The speaker in vv. 10, 11 is variously identified as Isaiah, Zion, or the Messiah Himself. We prefer the last, the same speaker as in vv. 1–3.)[6]


61:10 I and the parallel My soul refer to personified Zion. Rejoice is translated “joy” in v. 3 (65:18). Clothed signifies the Servant’s new glorified status or condition (47:2; 52:1; 59:17). Ornaments is translated “beauty” in v. 3. bride: For a similar image, see 49:18.

61:11 spring forth: This phrase is also found in 42:9; 43:19; 45:8 to describe the coming of God’s salvation. Righteousness here means “deliverance” (54:17). before all the nations: For related passages, see 52:10; 60:2, 3.[7]


61:10 clothed me … wrapped me. Here is the OT picture of imputed righteousness, the essential heart of the New Covenant. When a penitent sinner recognizes he can’t achieve his own righteousness by works (see notes on Ro 3:19–22; 2Co 5:21; Php 3:8, 9), and repents and calls on the mercy of God, the Lord covers him with His own divine righteousness by grace through his faith.[8]


61:10 The church as Christ’s bride is given beautiful clothing (Rev. 19:8; see Eph. 5:25–27).[9]


61:10 I will rejoice greatly in Yahweh The speaker shifts from Yahweh to either Zion or the Servant. If it is Zion, it is rejoicing in the salvation Yahweh has brought. If the Servant, he is rejoicing over the salvation made possible through him.

as a bridegroom adorns himself with a head wrap like a priest The bridegroom and bride imagery is later used to describe Christ and the Church. Here, the speaker identifies with both bride and bridegroom; the analogy focuses on the care and attention that went into the adornment.

61:11 makes its plants sprout An allusion to the messianic title of “branch,” “shoot,” or “sprout.” See 4:2; 11:1.[10]


61:10 I. Zion is represented here as having received the blessings described in v. 3, for example, joy and the garments of praise. To be “clothed” with something is a common figure for a change in status or condition (52:1; Zech. 3:3–5; Matt. 22:11).[11]


61:10 Isaiah broke out in a hymn of praise in response to the pronouncement he had just delivered. He used the theme of clothing to describe his taking on God’s salvation and righteousness. These were not just any clothes but the clothes of a bride. This image implies the metaphor of God as husband of his people.[12]


[1] Calvin, J., & Pringle, W. (2010). Commentary on the Book of the Prophet Isaiah (Vol. 4, pp. 315–317). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

[2] Goldingay, J. (2012). Isaiah. (W. W. Gasque, R. L. Hubbard Jr., & R. K. Johnston, Eds.) (pp. 348–349). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.

[3] Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). Be Comforted (p. 157). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

[4] Kidner, F. D. (1994). Isaiah. In D. A. Carson, R. T. France, J. A. Motyer, & G. J. Wenham (Eds.), New Bible commentary: 21st century edition (4th ed., p. 667). Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press.

[5] Martin, J. A. (1985). Isaiah. In J. F. Walvoord & R. B. Zuck (Eds.), The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures (Vol. 1, p. 1116). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

[6] MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (p. 986). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

[7] Radmacher, E. D., Allen, R. B., & House, H. W. (1999). Nelson’s new illustrated Bible commentary (p. 870). Nashville: T. Nelson Publishers.

[8] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2006). The MacArthur study Bible: New American Standard Bible. (Is 61:10). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

[9] Crossway Bibles. (2008). The ESV Study Bible (p. 1353). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[10] Barry, J. D., Mangum, D., Brown, D. R., Heiser, M. S., Custis, M., Ritzema, E., … Bomar, D. (2012, 2016). Faithlife Study Bible (Is 61:10–11). Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

[11] Sproul, R. C. (Ed.). (2005). The Reformation Study Bible: English Standard Version (p. 1039). Orlando, FL; Lake Mary, FL: Ligonier Ministries.

[12] Longman, T., III. (2017). Isaiah. In E. A. Blum & T. Wax (Eds.), CSB Study Bible: Notes (p. 1129). Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers.

March 17 For the love of God (Vol. 1)

Exodus 28; John 7; Proverbs 4; Galatians 3

 

the priestly garments God prescribes (Ex. 28) are strange and colorful. Perhaps some of the details were not meant to carry symbolic weight, but were part of the purpose of the ensemble as a whole: to give Aaron and his sons “dignity and honor” as they discharge their priestly duties (28:2, 40).

Some of the symbolism is transparent. The breastpiece of the high priest’s garment was to carry twelve precious or semi-precious stones, set out in four rows of three, “one for each of the names of the sons of Israel, each engraved like a seal with the name of one of the twelve tribes” (28:21).

The breastpiece is also called “the breastpiece of decision” (28:29). This is probably because it carries the Urim and Thummim. Perhaps they were two stones, one white and one black. They were used in making decisions, but just how they operated no one is quite sure. On important matters, the priest would seek the presence and blessing of God in the temple, and operate the Urim and Thummim, which would come out one way or the other and thus, under God’s sovereign care, provide direction. Thus over his heart the priest simultaneously carries the names of the twelve tribes “as a continuing memorial before the Lord,” and the Urim and Thummim, “whenever he enters the presence of the Lord,” thus always bearing “the means of making decisions for the Israelites over his heart before the Lord” (28:29–30).

On the front of his turban, Aaron is to affix a plate of pure gold. On it will be engraved the words, “Holy to the Lord” (28:36). “It will be on Aaron’s forehead, and he will bear the guilt involved in the sacred gifts the Israelites consecrate, whatever their gifts may be. It will be on Aaron’s forehead continually so that they will be acceptable to the Lord” (28:38). This assumes that the “sacred gifts the Israelites consecrate” were primarily sin offerings of various sorts, offered to atone for guilt. The priest, even by the symbolism embodied in his garments, conveys this guilt into the presence of the holy God, who alone can deal with it. The text implies that if the priest does not exercise this role, the sacrifices the Israelites offer will not be acceptable to the Lord. The priestly/sacrificial/temple structure hangs together as a complete system.

In due course these meditations will reflect on passages that announce the impending obsolescence of this system, which thereby becomes a prophetic announcement of the ultimate priest, the ultimate covenant community, the ultimate authority for giving direction, the ultimate offering, the ultimate temple. There is no limit to his “dignity and honor” (cf. Rev. 1:12–18).[1]


[1] Carson, D. A. (1998). For the love of God: a daily companion for discovering the riches of God’s Word. (Vol. 1, p. 25). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

March 16, 2019 Evening Verse Of The Day

How to Be Great

It is not so among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave; just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” (20:26–28)

This simple, clear passage is one of the most beautiful in the gospels. The principle it teaches needs little explanation, but it is in great need of emulation by those who call Jesus Lord.

First Jesus presents the precept and then the pattern.

the precept of true greatness

It is not so among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave; (20:26–27)

Jesus turned the world’s greatness upside down. The self-serving, self-promoting, self-glorying ways of the world are the antithesis of spiritual greatness. They have no place in God’s kingdom and are not to be so among you, Jesus told the Twelve. In many different ways He had taught them what He told Pilate: “My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36).

The world’s way of greatness is like a pyramid. The prestige and power of the great person is built on the many subordinate persons beneath him. But in the kingdom, the pyramid is inverted. As the great commentator R. C. H. Lenski has observed, God’s “great men are not sitting on top of lesser men, but bearing lesser men on their backs.”

Unfortunately, however, there are still many people in the church who, like James and John, continually seek recognition, prestige, and power by manipulating and controlling others to their own selfish advantage. A tragic number of Christian leaders and celebrities have gained great followings by appealing to people’s emotions and worldly appetites. But that is not to be so among Christ’s disciples today any more than among the Twelve.

Jesus went on to explain that it is not wrong to desire great usefulness to God, only wrong to seek the world’s kind of greatness. Paul assures us that “it is a trustworthy statement: if any man aspires to the office of overseer, it is a fine work he desires to do” (1 Tim. 3:1). As the apostle goes on to point out (vv. 2–7), the standards for an overseer in Christ’s church are high. But the man who is willing to meet those standards for the Lord’s sake and in the Lord’s power will have the Lord’s blessing.

Therefore, Jesus said, “Whoever wishes to become great among you, that is, great by God’s standards rather than men’s, shall be your servant.” He was not, as some have suggested, contradicting what He had just taught. He was speaking of an entirely different kind of greatness than the sort James and John were seeking and that the world promotes. This kind of greatness is pleasing to God, because it is humble and self-giving rather than proud and self-serving. The way to the world’s greatness is through pleasing and being served by men; the way to God’s greatness is through pleasing Him and serving others in His name. In God’s eyes, the one who is great is the one who is a willing servant.

It is not only not wrong but very much right to seek eternal glory, because that glory is God-given. Paul declared, “Nor did we seek glory from men, either from you or from others, even though as apostles of Christ we might have asserted our authority” (1 Thess. 2:6). But he also declared to those same believers in Thessalonica that “it was for this He called you through our gospel, that you may gain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Thess. 2:14). The way to that divine and eternal glory, which comes from God, is the way of renouncing the worldly and temporal glory that comes from men. The way to God’s glory is the way of the servant. Man’s focus must be on rendering spiritual service with consummate excellence and leaving the success of that service to the Lord.

Jesus was speaking of being a true servant, not a sham. He did not have in mind the “public servant” who uses his office for personal gain and power. Godly greatness comes from genuine humility. Only God knows a person’s heart, and Paul assures us that the Lord “will both bring to light the things hidden in the darkness and disclose the motives of men’s hearts; and then each man’s praise will come to him from God” (1 Cor. 4:5).

Servant is from diakonos, from which the term deacon is derived. The original Greek word was purely secular, referring to a person who did menial labor, such as house cleaning or serving tables. It was not necessarily a term of dishonor but simply described the lowest level of hired help, who needed little training or skill.

But Christ elevated diakonos to a place of great significance, using it to describe His most faithful and favored disciples. He could have chosen any number of more noble words to characterize obedient discipleship, but He chose this one because it best reflects the selfless, humble life that He honors. It is also the life that He Himself exemplified, as He would go on to say (v. 28).

The surest mark of the true servant is willing sacrifice for the sake of others in the name of Christ. The sham servant avoids suffering, while the true servant accepts it.

Paul had the pure, genuine heart of a servant. He readily acknowledged his apostleship and the divine authority that came with that unique, high office. But he even more readily acknowledged that his office and authority belonged to God and were only entrusted to him as a steward (1 Cor. 4:1). To the proud, self-centered, factious, and worldly Corinthians he said, “What then is Apollos? And what is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, even as the Lord gave opportunity to each one” (1 Cor. 3:5). Later in that letter he says sarcastically,

You are already filled, you have already become rich, you have become kings without us.… For, I think, God has exhibited us apostles last of all, as men condemned to death; because we have become a spectacle to the world, both to angels and to men. We are fools for Christ’s sake, but you are prudent in Christ; we are weak, but you are strong; you are distinguished, but we are without honor. To this present hour we are both hungry and thirsty, and are poorly clothed, and are roughly treated, and are homeless; and we toil, working with our own hands; when we are reviled, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure; when we are slandered, we try to conciliate; we have become as the scum of the world, the dregs of all things, even until now” (4:8–13)

In his book A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life, William Law writes,

Let every day be a day of humility; condescend to all the weaknesses and infirmities of your fellow-creatures, cover their frailties, love their excellencies, encourage their virtues, relieve their wants, rejoice in their prosperities, compassionate their distress, receive their friendship, overlook their unkindness, forgive their malice, be a servant of servants, and condescend to do the lowliest offices of the lowest of mankind.

Another great saint of past years, Samuel Brengle, wrote,

If I appear great in their eyes, the Lord is most graciously helping me to see how absolutely nothing I am without Him, and helping me to keep little in my own eyes. He does use me. But I am so concerned that He uses me and that it is not of me the work is done. The axe cannot boast of the trees it has cut down. It could do nothing but for the woodsman. He made it, he sharpened it, and he used it. The moment he throws it aside, it becomes only old iron. O That I may never lose sight of this. (Quoted in Oswald Sanders, Spiritual Leadership [Chicago: Moody, 1967], p. 58.)

Jesus reiterated and intensified His description of God’s way to greatness: “Whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave.” The position and work of a slave were much lower and demeaning even than those of a servant. A servant was to some degree his own person. He often owned little more than the clothes on his back, but he was free to go where he wanted and to work or not work as he pleased. But a slave (doulos) did not belong to himself but to his master and could go only where the master wanted him to go and do only what the master wanted him to do. He did not belong to himself but was the personal property of someone else.

In several of his letters Paul identified himself as Christ’s slave (doulos) even before identifying himself as His apostle. He greeted the Romans with the words, “Paul, a bond-servant of Christ Jesus, called as an apostle” (Rom. 1:1; cf. Phil. 1:1; Titus 1:1). That is why he could say, “If we live, we live for the Lord, or if we die, we die for the Lord; therefore whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s” (Rom. 14:8). Slaves were the property of their owners and could therefore be bought and sold. Like such a slave, Christians “have been bought with a price” (1 Cor. 6:20; cf. 7:23) and are the property of the Lord who bought them with His own precious blood (1 Pet. 1:18–19).

Paul greatly desired to be exalted and to receive glory, but the exaltation and glory he sought were God’s and he sought them in God’s way, through the suffering of servanthood and the bondage of slavery. It was said of one leader in the early church that “He belonged to that class of early martyrs whose passionate soul made an early holocaust of the physical man.”

In one of her most beautiful poems Amy Carmichael wrote,

Hast thou no scar?

No hidden scar on foot, or side, or hand?

I hear thee sung as mighty in the land,

I hear them hail thy bright ascendant star;

Hast thou no scar?

Hast thou no wound?

Yet, I was wounded by the archers, spent.

Leaned me against the tree to die, and rent

By ravening beasts that compassed me, I swooned:

Hast thou no wound?

No wound? No scar?

Yes, as the master shall the servant be,

And pierced are the feet that follow Me;

But thine are whole. Can he have followed far

Who has no wound? No scar?

The cost of true greatness is humble, selfless, sacrificial service. The Christian who desires to be great and first in the kingdom is the one who is willing to serve in the hard place, the uncomfortable place, the lonely place, the demanding place, the place where he is not appreciated and may even be persecuted. Knowing that time is short and eternity long, he is willing to spend and be spent. He is willing to work for excellence without becoming proud, to withstand criticism without becoming bitter, to be misjudged without becoming defensive, and to withstand suffering without succumbing to self-pity.

When faithful believers have done everything they can for the Lord to the limit of their abilities and energy, they say to Him, “We are unworthy slaves; we have done only that which we ought to have done” (Luke 17:10). It is to such disciples that the Lord will say in return, “Well done, good and faithful slave; … enter into the joy of your master” (Matt. 25:21).

William Barclay has succinctly commented, “The world may assess a man’s greatness by the number of people whom he controls and who are at his beck and call; or by his intellectual standing and his academic eminence; or by the number of committees of which he is a member; or by the size of his bank balance and the material possessions which he has amassed; but in the assessment of Jesus Christ these things are irrelevant.”

the pattern for true greatness

just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” (20:28)

The emphasis of this verse is in the words just as the Son of Man. What Jesus says about Himself should also characterize His followers. “I am your perfect Pattern,” He was saying, “your supreme Example. My attitude should be Your attitude, and My kind of living should be your kind of living. If you want to be great as God wants you to be great, be like Me.”

To discover what it means to become a godly servant and slave, the disciples had only to look at the Son of Man Himself. Many years after John presumptuously asked to be seated at Jesus’ side in the kingdom, the now humble apostle wrote, “The one who says he abides in Him ought himself to walk in the same manner as He walked” (1 John 2:6). As once his life had centered in himself and his great desire had been to lord it over others, now it was centered in Jesus Christ and was abandoned to the selfless service of others in His name. He no longer sought to manipulate Jesus but only to emulate Him.

In His incarnate role as the Son of Man, Jesus did not come to be served, but to serve. “Although He existed in the form of God, [He] did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore also God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name” (Phil. 2:6–9).

Jesus is the supreme example of humility and servanthood, because, as the sovereign of the universe and of all eternity, He subjected Himself to humiliation and even to death. He is the most exalted because He faithfully endured the most humiliation. Although He was the King of kings and had the right to be served by others, He ministered as a Servant of servants and gave His life to serve others.

During the Last Supper, after the disciples had again been arguing about which of them was the greatest, Jesus asked, “Who is greater, the one who reclines at the table, or the one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at the table? But I am among you as the one who serves” (Luke 22:27). It was probably at this time that Jesus gave them the beautiful object lesson of servanthood recorded by John.

[Jesus] laid aside His garments; and taking a towel, He girded Himself about. Then He poured water into the basin, and began to wash the disciples’ feet, and to wipe them with the towel with which He was girded.… And so when He had washed their feet, and taken His garments, and reclined at the table again, He said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you? You call Me Teacher and Lord; and you are right, for so I am. If I then, the Lord and the Teacher, washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I gave you an example that you also should do as I did to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a slave is not greater than his master; neither is one who is sent greater than the one who sent him. If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.” (John 13:4–5, 12–17)

Jesus’ ultimate act of servanthood, however, was to give His life. “Greater love has no one than this,” He said, “that one lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13).

Some years ago, Joe Delaney, a star football player for the Kansas City Chiefs, saw three young boys out in a lake, crying out for help and struggling to stay above the water. Although he was himself a poor swimmer, Joe dived into the water and tried to save them. One of the boys was rescued, but Joe and the other two boys drowned. He willingly laid down his life in an effort to save those boys, making the ultimate sacrifice in their behalf.

Although such heroes are lauded, the world understands little of that kind of selflessness, which runs counter to man’s natural inclination to self-preservation. But self-giving is to be the normal pattern for Christians, just as it was the normal pattern for Christ.

In His next statement, Jesus presents the first explicit New Testament teaching about the redemptive work of the Messiah. He would vicariously suffer for the sins of mankind as a ransom for those who trust in Him. He did not simply give His life an example for others. He was no mere martyr for a godly cause, as some claim. Nor was He merely an example of life-giving selflessness, although He was indeed the supreme example of that. Jesus not only lived and died for others but died as a ransom for others.

In that redemptive aspect, of course, His followers cannot follow His example. Nothing that a believer can do will have any direct spiritual benefit for himself or others. If he could not merit his own salvation, he surely cannot merit the salvation of someone else.

Lutron (ransom) was the term commonly used for the redemption price of a slave, the amount required to buy his freedom. It is used only twice in the New Testament (see also Mark 10:45), both times in reference to Christ’s giving of Himself to redeem others. Here it is followed by the preposition anti (“instead of”), expressing an exchange. In 1 Timothy 2:6, the word used for “ransom” is antilutron, which simply combines the two words used here. In both cases the idea is that of a price paid for a life.

The unbeliever is a slave to sin, the flesh, Satan, and death, and it was to redeem men from those slaveries that Jesus gave His life a ransom in exchange for sinners. “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus,” Paul explained to believers in Rome. “For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh” (Rom. 8:1–3). “Having been freed from sin,” the apostle had told them earlier, “you became slaves of righteousness” (6:18). Christ’s sacrifice bought us back from the slavery of sin.

And although the noun lutron is used only twice in the New Testament, other forms of the root word are used frequently, as are numerous synonyms. “For you have been bought with a price,” Paul reminded the worldly Corinthian believers; “therefore glorify God in your body” (1 Cor. 6:20). To the Galatians he wrote, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us” (Gal. 3:13; cf. 4:5); to the Ephesians he wrote, “In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace” (Eph. 1:7; cf. v. 14; 4:30); and to Titus he wrote, “[Christ] gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds” (Titus 2:14). Peter reminds believers that they “were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold, … but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ” (1 Pet. 1:18–19). In John’s magnificent vision on Patmos he heard the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders proclaim of Christ, “Worthy art Thou to take the book, and to break its seals; for Thou wast slain, and didst purchase for God with Thy blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation” (Rev. 5:9).

Jesus’ ransom was paid to God to satisfy His holy justice, and it was more than sufficient to cover the sins of everyone who has ever lived and ever will live. His death was sufficient for “the whole world,” says John (1 John 2:2). It is not the Lord’s will “for any to perish but for all to come to repentance” (2 Pet. 3:9). And because He “desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim. 2:4), He has therefore provided atonement for every person. “For this is the will of My Father,” Jesus said, “that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him, may have eternal life; and I Myself will raise him up on the last day” (John 6:40).

Although His ransom is sufficient for every person, it is valid only for those who believe in Him. It is in that sense that His redemption is for many, rather than for all. The Lord was not teaching limited atonement, the idea that He died only for the sins of a select few. Paul makes it clear that Christ died for the whole world: “The man Christ Jesus … gave Himself as a ransom for all” (1 Tim. 2:5–6).

The basic idea behind anti (for) is that of being set over against something else, and the word was often used to denote an exchange or substitution. In becoming a ransom for many, Jesus exchanged His life for the lives of the many who would believe in Him. It became His death for the deaths of those many, His undeserved punishment for the punishment they deserved. As Isaiah had predicted 700 years earlier, “Surely our griefs He Himself bore, and our sorrows He carried; … He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, and by His scourging we are healed” (Isa. 53:4–5).

Christ, then, is the pattern for all to follow in being servant leaders. By giving His life He gained the eternal glory and esteem of God and men. That is the path to greatness.[1]


26. It shall not be so among you. There can be no doubt that Christ refers to the foolish imagination by which he saw that the apostles were deceived. “It is foolish and improper in you,” he says, “to imagine a kingdom, which is unsuitable to me; and therefore, if you desire to serve me faithfully, you must resort to a different method, which is, that each of you may strive to serve others.” But whoever wishes to be great among you, let him be your servant. These words are employed in an unusual sense; for ambition does not allow a man to be devoted, or, rather, to be subject to his brethren. Abject flattery, I do acknowledge, is practised by those who aspire to honours, but nothing is farther from their intention than to serve. But Christ’s meaning is not difficult to be perceived. As every man is carried away by a love of himself, he declares that this passion ought to be directed to a different object. Let the only greatness, eminence, and rank, which you desire, be, to submit to your brethren; and let this be your primacy, to be the servants of all.[2]


24–27 The indignation of the ten doubtless sprang less from humility than jealousy plus the fear that they might lose out. If these verses scarcely support egalitarianism—choice positions, after all, will be allotted—they demonstrate that interest in egalitarianism may mask a jealousy whose deepest wellsprings are not concern for justice but “enlightened self-interest.” The disciples revert to the squabbling of an earlier period (Mk 9:33–37; cf. Mt 18:1). Jesus calls them together and draws a contrast between greatness among ta ethnē (“pagans” or “Gentiles,” v. 25) and greatness among heirs of the kingdom. The “pagans” or “Gentiles” who would spring to mind were Romans; power and authority characterized their empire. The NIV’s “lord it over” gives a false impression. Jesus is not criticizing abuse of power in political structures—the verb never has that meaning (cf. K. W. Clark, “The Meaning of [κατα] κυριεύειν,” in Studies in New Testament Language [ed. Elliott], 100–105) and should be translated “exercise lordship over,” parallel to “exercise authority over” in the next line—but insists that the very structures themselves cannot be transferred to relationships among his followers.

Greatness among Jesus’ disciples is based on service. Anyone who wants to be great must become the diakonos (“servant,” v. 26, GK 1356) of all. Here diakonos does not mean “deacon” or “minister” (KJV) in the modern church use. One of the ironies of language is that a word like “minister,” which in its roots refers to a helper, one who “ministers,” has become a badge of honor and power in religion and politics. But lest the full force of his teaching be lost, Jesus repeats it in v. 27 with the stronger word doulos (“slave,” GK 1528; cf. 1 Co 9:19; 2 Co 4:5). In the pagan world, humility was regarded not so much as a virtue but as a vice. Imagine a slave being given leadership! Jesus’ ethics of the leadership and power in his community of disciples are revolutionary.[3]


[1] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1985). Matthew (Vol. 3, pp. 239–246). Chicago: Moody Press.

[2] Calvin, J., & Pringle, W. (2010). Commentary on a Harmony of the Evangelists Matthew, Mark, and Luke (Vol. 2, p. 426). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

[3] Carson, D. A. (2010). Matthew. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Matthew–Mark (Revised Edition) (Vol. 9, p. 488). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

March 16, 2019 Afternoon Verse Of The Day

The Epitome of Praise

And most of the multitude spread their garments in the road, and others were cutting branches from the trees, and spreading them in the road. And the multitudes going before Him, and those who followed after were crying out, saying, “Hosanna to the Son of David; blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord; hosanna in the highest!” (21:8–9)

As Jesus began to ride into the city on Monday, most of the multitude spread their garments in the road. It was an ancient custom (see 2 Kings 9:13) for citizens to throw their garments in the road for their monarch to ride over, symbolizing their respect for him and their submission to his authority. It was as if to say, “We place ourselves at your feet, even to walk over if necessary.”

While those people were putting their clothes in Jesus’ path, others were cutting branches from the trees, and spreading them in the road. From John 12:13 we learn that the branches were from palm trees, symbolic of salvation and joy and picturing the magnificent tribute that the “great multitude, which no one could count, from every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues” one day will present “before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, and palm branches … in their hands” (Rev. 7:9). There was great excitement and ecstasy as the multitude proclaimed praise to the Messiah, to the Rabbi from Galilee who taught with such authority and who had healed their diseases and even raised the dead.

The Lord was now completely surrounded by a mass of humanity, perhaps several hundred thousand people, some of whom were going before Him and some who followed after Him. Fickle as they would prove to be, the people now disregarded the warning of “the chief priests and Pharisees [who] had given orders that if anyone knew where [Jesus] was, he should report it, that they might seize Him” (John 11:57). The expectations that the Messiah would bring deliverance were so great that the crowd became totally caught up in what, from a human perspective, was a frenzy of mob hysteria. Yet completely in accord with God’s plan, they unwittingly fulfilled prophecy, just as Caiaphas unwittingly fulfilled prophecy when, a few days earlier, he had arrogantly declared to fellow members of the Sanhedrin: “You know nothing at all, nor do you take into account that it is expedient for you that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation should not perish.” As John went on to explain, Caiaphas did not say that “on his own initiative; but being high priest that year, he prophesied that Jesus was going to die for the nation” (John 11:49–51).

Seemingly with one voice, the whole multitude was crying out, saying, “Hosanna to the Son of David; blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord, Hosanna in the highest!” The Hebrew word hosanna is an exclamatory pleas meaning “save now.” But the crowd on that day was not interested in Jesus’ saving their souls but only in His saving their nation. Like the Twelve, they had long wondered why, if Jesus were truly the Messiah, He had not used His supernatural powers against the Romans. Now at last, they thought, He will manifest Himself as Conqueror. They were about to celebrate Passover, which commemorated the Lord’s miraculous deliverance of Israel from Egyptian bondage. What better occasion could there be for the Lord’s Anointed, the Messiah, to make the ultimate and final deliverance of His people from tyranny?

The people wanted a conquering, reigning Messiah who would come in great military power to throw off the brutal yoke of Rome and establish a kingdom of justice and righteousness where God’s chosen people would have special favor. But Jesus did not come to conquer Rome but to conquer sin and death. He did not come to make war with Rome but to make peace with God for men.

Although the shouts of the multitude were entirely appropriate and were, in fact, fulfillment of prophecy, the people had no idea of the true significance of what they were doing, much less of what Jesus would soon do on the cross in their behalf. They neither understood the Lord nor themselves. He intentionally did not enter Jerusalem with a powerful retinue of soldiers who would fight for Him to the death. He entered instead with a ragtag multitude of ordinary people, most of whom despite their loud proclamation of His greatness, would soon turn against Him, and none of whom would stand by Him

The multitude acknowledged Jesus as the Son of David, which was the most common messianic title. They were crying out for Messiah’s deliverance, pleading, in effect, “Save us now, great Messiah! Save us now!” They were quoting from a popular praise psalm from the Hallel (Psalms 113–118), in particular Psalm 118, which was also a psalm of deliverance, sometimes called the conqueror’s psalm. Almost two centuries earlier, the Jews had hailed Simon Maccabeus with the same psalm after he delivered the Acra from Syrian domination.

The multitudes knew who Jesus was, but they did not understand or truly believe what they knew. They were right in their belief that He was the Messiah, the Son of David, and that He had come in the name of the Lord. But they were wrong in their belief about the sort of Deliverer He was. They knew He was a king, but they did not understand the nature of His kingship or His kingdom. They did not realize any more than Pilate that the kingdom He came then to bring was not of this world (John 18:36). That is why, when it dawned on them a few days later that Jesus had not come to deliver them from the Romans, they turned against Him. When they clamored before Pilate for the release of Barabbas instead of Jesus (John 18:40), they shouted, in effect, the words Jesus had predicted in the parable of the nobleman: “We do not want this man to reign over us” (Luke 19:14).

The people wanted Jesus on their own terms, and they would not bow to a King who was not of their liking, even though He were the Son of God. They wanted Jesus to destroy Rome but not their cherished sins or their hypocritical, superficial religion. But He would not deliver them on their terms, and they would not be delivered on His. He was not a Messiah who came to offer a panacea of external peace in the world but to offer the infinitely greater blessing of internal peace with God.

Many people today are open to a Jesus who they think will give them wealth, health, success, happiness, and the other worldly things they want. Like the multitude at the triumphal entry, they will loudly acclaim Jesus as long as they believe He will satisfy their selfish desires. But like the same multitude a few days later, they will reject and denounce Him when He does not deliver as expected. When His Word confronts them with their sin and their need of a Savior, they curse Him and turn away.

The Romans were godless and cruel oppressors, and the Lord would not allow them to survive indefinitely. But they were not His people’s greatest enemy. Their greatest enemy was sin, and from that they refused to be delivered. God would allow the holy Temple of His chosen people to be destroyed long before He allowed their pagan oppressors to be destroyed. He would, in fact, allow those very pagans to destroy the holy Temple.

On the day after His triumphal entry into Jerusalem Jesus “entered the temple and cast out all those who were buying and selling in the temple, and overturned the tables of the moneychangers and the seats of those who were selling doves. And He said to them, ‘It is written, “My house shall be called a house of prayer;” but you are making it a robbers’ den’ ” (Matt. 21:12–13). That cleansing of the Temple was purely symbolic and had little lasting effect. The mercenary moneychangers and sacrifice sellers were doubtlessly back in business the next day. But less than forty years later, in a.d. 70, the Romans would utterly destroy the Temple, after which, just as Jesus foretold, not one stone of it was left upon another that was not torn down (Matt. 24:2). Not until modern times, nearly two thousand years later, could even its ruins be identified.

As far as the true intent of the people was concerned, Jesus’ coronation was a hollow, empty pretense. The words of the multitude were right, but their hearts were not. In any case, He had not come at that time to be crowned but to be crucified.

He will be crowned one day in a way that is perfectly befitting. The times of rejection will be over, and at His name “every knee [will] bow, of those who are in heaven, and on earth, and under the earth, and … every tongue [will] confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil. 2:10–11). The first time He came, He came to provide men’s salvation. But when He comes again, He will come to display His sovereignty. His great and ultimate coronation is described by John:

And when He had taken the book, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, having each one a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. And they sang a new song, saying, “Worthy art Thou to take the book, and to break its seals; for Thou wast slain, and didst purchase for God with Thy blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation. And Thou hast made them to be a kingdom and priests to our God; and they will reign upon the earth.” And I looked, and I heard the voice of many angels around the throne and the living creatures and the elders; and the number of them was myriads of myriads, and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice, “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing.” And every created thing which is in heaven and on the earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all things in them, I heard saying, “To Him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb, be blessing and honor and glory and dominion forever and ever.” And the four living creatures kept saying, “Amen.” And the elders fell down and worshiped. (Rev. 5:8–14)[1]


9. Hosanna to the Son of David. This prayer is taken from Psalm 118:25. Matthew relates expressly the Hebrew words, in order to inform us, that these applauses were not rashly bestowed on Christ, and that the disciples did not utter without consideration the prayers which came to their lips, but that they followed with reverence the form of prayer, which the Holy Spirit had prescribed to the whole Church by the mouth of the Prophet. For, though he speaks there of his own kingdom, yet there is no reason to doubt that he principally looks, and intends others to look, to the eternal succession, which the Lord had promised to him. He drew up a perpetual form of prayer, which would be observed, even when the wealth of the kingdom was decayed; and therefore it was a prevailing custom, that prayers for the promised redemption were generally presented in these words. And the design of Matthew was, as we have just hinted, to quote in Hebrew a well-known psalm, for the purpose of showing that Christ was acknowledged by the multitude as a Redeemer. The pronunciation of the words, indeed, is somewhat changed; for it ought rather to have been written, Hoshiana, (הושיע נא) Save now, we beseech thee; but we know that it is scarcely possible to take a word from one language into another, without making some alteration in the sound. Nor was it only the ancient people whom God enjoined to pray daily for the kingdom of Christ, but the same rule is now laid down for us. And certainly, as it is the will of God to reign only in the person of his Son, when we say, May thy kingdom come, under this petition is conveyed the same thing which is expressed more clearly in the psalm. Besides, when we pray to God to maintain his Son as our King, we acknowledge that this kingdom was not erected by men, and is not upheld by the power of men, but remains invincible through heavenly protection.

In the name of the Lord. He is said to come in the name of God, who not only conducts himself, but receives the kingdom, by the command and appointment of God. This may be more certainly inferred from the words of Mark, where another exclamation is added, Blessed be the kingdom of our father David, which cometh in the name of the Lord; for they speak thus in reference to the promises; because the Lord had testified that he would at length be a deliverer of that nation, and had appointed as the means the restoration of the kingdom of David. We see then that the honour of Mediator, from whom the restoration of all things and of salvation was to be expected, is ascribed to Christ. Now as it was mean and uneducated men by whom the kingdom of Christ was called the kingdom of David, let us hence learn that this doctrine was at that time well known, which in the present day appears to many to be forced and harsh, because they are not well acquainted with Scripture.

Luke adds a few words, Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest; in which there would be no obscurity, were it not that they do not correspond to the song of the angels, (Luke 2:14;) for there the angels ascribe to God glory in heaven, and to men peace on earth; while here both peace and glory are ascribed to God. But there is no contradiction in the meaning; for, though the angels state more distinctly the reason why we ought to sing, Glory to God—namely, because through his mercy men enjoy peace in this world—yet the meaning is the same with what is now declared by the multitude, that there is peace in heaven; for we know that there is no other way in which wretched souls find rest in the world, than by God reconciling himself to them out of heaven.[2]


9 Crowds ahead and behind may be incidental confirmation of two other details. First, John 12:12 speaks of crowds coming out of Jerusalem to meet Jesus. Apparently the Galilean pilgrims accompanying Jesus and the Jerusalem crowd coming out to greet him formed a procession of praise. Second, the fact that the Jerusalem crowds knew he was approaching supports the stopover in Bethany, which allows time for the news to spread. Messianic fervor was high, and perhaps this contributed to Jesus’ desire to present himself as the Prince of Peace.

The words of praise come primarily from Psalm 118:25–26. “Hosanna” transliterates the Hebrew expression that originally was a cry for help: “Save!” (cf. 2 Sa 14:4; 2 Ki 6:26). In time, it became an invocation of blessing and even an acclamation, the latter being the meaning here (cf. Gundry, Use of the Old Testament, 41–43). “Son of David” is messianic and stresses the kingly role Messiah was to play (cf. Mark, Luke, and John for explicit references to “kingdom” or “king”). “He who comes in the name of the Lord” is cited by Jesus himself a little later (23:39; cf. 3:11; 11:3), but some scholars object that if this phrase had been a messianic acclamation by the people, the authorities would have stepped in. The words, they say, must be a formula of greeting to pilgrims on the way to the temple.

Such an assessment betrays too stark an “either-or” mentality to weigh the evidence plausibly. “Son of David” in the previous line is unavoidably messianic, and the authorities do raise objections (v. 16). But crowd sentiments are fickle. On the one hand, acclamation can rapidly dissipate, so instant action by the authorities was scarcely necessary; on the other hand, it is foolish to antagonize the crowd at the height of excitement (cf. 26:4–5, 16). “Hosanna in the highest” is probably equivalent to “Glory to God in the highest” (Lk 2:14). The people praise God in the highest heavens for sending the Messiah and, if “Hosanna” retains some of its original force, also cry to him for deliverance.

Two final reflections on this verse are necessary. First, Psalm 118 was not only used at the Feast of Tabernacles (m. Sukkah 4:5) but also at the other two major feasts, Dedication and Passover—at the latter as part of “the great Hallel” (Pss 113–18). The use of Psalm 118 is, therefore, no support for Manson’s suggestion (see Overview, 21:1–11). Second, Walvoord’s interpretation stumbles badly: “They recognized that he was in the kingly line, although they do not seem to have entered into the concept that he was coming into Jerusalem as its King.” On the contrary, it is hard to think of the crowd’s making fine distinctions between “kingly line” and “king.” Moreover, one growing thrust of this gospel is, as we have seen, that even where Jesus was perceived, however dimly, as King Messiah, he was not perceived as Suffering Servant. In the expectations of the day, it was fairly easy for the crowd, after hearing Jesus’ preaching and seeing his miracles, to ascribe messiahship to him as much in their hope as in conviction. But it was far harder for them to grasp the inevitability of his suffering and death and the expansion of the “people of God” beyond the Jewish race.[3]


[1] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1985). Matthew (Vol. 3, pp. 260–263). Chicago: Moody Press.

[2] Calvin, J., & Pringle, W. (2010). Commentary on a Harmony of the Evangelists Matthew, Mark, and Luke (Vol. 2, pp. 451–453). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

[3] 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. 495–496). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

March 16, 2019 Morning Verse Of The Day

9. Ascend on the high mountain. He proceeds with the same subject; for the Lord, having formerly promised that he would give prophets who should soothe the grief and fear of the people by promises, now commands that this consolation shall be more widely spread; because it is his pleasure to diffuse his grace throughout the whole of Judea.

Lift up thy voice aloud, O Jerusalem. Formerly he had given to Jerusalem and Zion the hope of this joyful message; now he commands that the same voice shall be spread and shall be heard through other cities, and, for this reason, gives orders that the loud voice shall be lifted up, and proclaimed from a lofty place. Although by the words “Zion” and “Jerusalem” he means the same thing, yet the repetition is emphatic; for he shews that one city excels all other cities, for no other reason than because God hath chosen it to be his sanctuary.

That bringest tidings. He gives to the city this appellation, because there the priests and Levites were instructed according to the injunctions of the Law, that they might be the teachers of the whole people, and by their labours might spread the doctrine of salvation. (Mal. 2:7.) Yet we ought carefully to observe this commendation which God bestows on his Church, that it may not be without a clear mark of distinction; for an assembly in which the preaching of heavenly doctrine is not heard does not deserve to be reckoned a Church. In this sense also, Paul calls it (1 Tim. 3:15) “the pillar and foundation of the truth;” for although God might have governed us by himself, and without the agency of men, yet he has assigned this office to his Church, and has committed to it the invaluable treasure of his Word. For the same reason it will be called in another passage, “the mother of all believers.” (Isaiah 54:1; Gal. 4:26.) Hence it follows that, nothing is more absurd and wicked than for dumb idols to boast of the name of the Church, as is done in Popery.

We are likewise taught, that the Church has not been instructed by God, in order that she may keep her knowledge hidden within herself, but that she may publish what she has learned. Besides, he commands that grace shall be freely and boldly proclaimed, that prophets and teachers may not speak with timidity, as if it were a doubtful matter, but may shew that they are fully convinced of the certainty of those things which they promise, because they know well that “God, who cannot lie,” (Tit. 1:2,) is the Author of them. He enjoins the witnesses of his grace to proceed from Zion, that they may fill with joy the whole of Judea.

Behold your God! This expression includes the sum of our happiness, which consists solely in the presence of God. It brings along with it an abundance of all blessings; and if we are destitute of it, we must be utterly miserable and wretched; and although blessings of every kind are richly enjoyed by us, yet if we are estranged from God, everything must tend to our destruction. From this circumstance it ought also to be remarked, that nothing is more opposite to faith than to estimate by the present appearances of things what God declares by his prophets, who at that time must have been struck dumb, had they not raised their views above the world, and thus, through the power of unshaken boldness and perseverance, dared to draw others along with them, that they might cherish good hopes when matters were at the worst. And indeed when wicked men and wickedness prevail, the greater the terror that is spread all around, and the greater the seeming wretchedness of the Church, the more ought we to extol the grace of God, and to point out his presence to believers.[1]


40:9 In this section of Isaiah (40:1–55:13), Zion is an endearing term for the remnant who have remained faithful to God. The good tidings are that God has come to rescue His enslaved people. Behold your God: Compare John 1:36; 19:5.[2]


40:9 Zion … good news … Jerusalem … good news. Like a messenger on a mountain, to be seen and heard by all, the prophet called on the city to proclaim loudly to the rest of Judah’s cities the good news of God’s presence there (cf. 2:3). Here is your God! The restoration of Israel to the Land is to include the resumption of God’s presence in Jerusalem after many centuries (Eze 43:1–7; Rev 21:22, 23; cf. Eze 11:22, 23).[3]


40:9 high mountain. The reliability of God’s promise calls for wholehearted public announcement (cf. 52:7). fear not. They are to proclaim the message by faith, whatever the conditions at the time (cf. 35:3–4). cities of Judah. The Jewish exiles will return to the Promised Land, for that is where the divine Messiah is to appear (cf. 48:20; Mic. 5:2).[4]


40:9 Zion, bringer of good news Rather than identifying Zion or Jerusalem as the herald, the Hebrew allows for the reading “herald of good news for Zion” and “herald of good news for Jerusalem” in the parallel line. In the context of the prophet’s message and charge to preach, it is reasonable to read v. 9 as addressed to him along with v. 8. See v. 1 and note.

Here is your God The simple call to look upon their God is expanded and amplified in vv. 10–31.[5]


[1] Calvin, J., & Pringle, W. (2010). Commentary on the Book of the Prophet Isaiah (Vol. 3, pp. 213–214). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

[2] Radmacher, E. D., Allen, R. B., & House, H. W. (1999). Nelson’s new illustrated Bible commentary (p. 846). Nashville: T. Nelson Publishers.

[3] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2006). The MacArthur study Bible: New American Standard Bible. (Is 40:9). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

[4] Crossway Bibles. (2008). The ESV Study Bible (p. 1310). 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 (Is 40:9). Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

March 15, 2019 Evening Verse Of The Day

The Application

Therefore I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you, and be given to a nation producing the fruit of it. And he who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; but on whomever it falls, it will scatter him like dust.” (21:43–44)

With those straightforward, unambiguous words, Jesus removed whatever uncertainty may have remained in the minds of the chief priests and elders about what He was saying to them. In the first half of verse 43 and in verse 44, the Lord reiterated the judgment on unbelieving Israel and her ungodly leaders; in the second half of verse 43 He reiterated their replacement by believing Gentiles.

“Therefore I say to you,” the Lord declared, no doubt looking intently into the eyes of His adversaries, “the kingdom of God will be taken away from you.” In their stead the kingdom would be given to a nation producing the fruit of it.

When he first began preaching the kingdom, John the Baptist demanded that the Pharisees and Sadducees who wanted to be baptized first “bring forth fruit in keeping with repentance” (Matt. 3:8). The fruit of the kingdom is the demonstrated righteousness produced out of a life turned from sin (see Phil 1:11; Col. 1:10). The unbelieving religious leaders would not turn from their sin and repent, and therefore they could not produce kingdom fruit (genuinely righteous behavior). They were spiritually barren, and because of that willful barrenness they were cursed, like the fig tree that had leaves but no figs (21:18–19).

By grace through God’s unconditional promise, Israel will one day return to God and bear fruit for His kingdom. “God has not rejected His people whom He foreknew,” Paul assured his fellow Jews. And when “the fulness of the Gentiles has come, … all Israel will be saved; just as it is written, ‘The Deliverer will come from Zion, He will remove ungodliness from Jacob’ ” (Rom. 11:2, 25–26).

But in the meanwhile God has chosen another people to be His own witness. He had long ago declared “I will call those who were not My people, ‘My people,’ and her who was not beloved, ‘Beloved.’ And it shall be that in the place where it was said to them, ‘You are not My people,’ there they shall be called sons of the living God” (Rom. 9:25–26).

Ethnos (nation) has the basic meaning of “people” and seems best translated that way in this verse, as in Acts 8:9. The nation, or people, who produce the fruit of the kingdom is the church, “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession” (1 Pet. 2:9). As the only citizens of God’s kingdom, only believers are equipped by the Holy Spirit to bear kingdom fruit. “I am the vine, you are the branches,” Jesus said; “he who abides in Me, and I in him, he bears much fruit; for apart from Me you can do nothing” (John 15:5).

And he who falls on this rejected stone, that is, Jesus Himself, will be broken to pieces. The Jewish leaders who, as it were, fell on Jesus and put Him to death would themselves be broken to pieces. And on whomever it, Jesus the stone, falls, it will scatter him like dust. For those who will not have Jesus as Deliverer, He becomes Destroyer. Just as the Father has given all salvation to the Son (John 14:6), He has also “given all judgment to the Son” (John 5:22).

“If anyone does not love the Lord, let him be accursed,” Paul declared (1 Cor. 16:22). To put that truth in the language of this text, let such a person be broken to pieces, crushed into powder and scattered like dust, just as the Lord Jesus Christ Himself had warned. God’s enemies are destined to be pulverized into nothingness. To try to destroy Christ is to assure one’s own destruction. Through Daniel the Lord predicted Christ’s ultimate coming in judgment against the unbelieving peoples and nations of the world, represented by the magnificent and seemingly invulnerable statue of gold, silver, bronze, iron, and clay. As the “stone … cut out without hands,” Jesus will one day strike the statue of unbelieving mankind, and “then the iron, the clay, the bronze, the silver and the gold [will be] crushed all at the same time, and [become] like chaff from the summer threshing floors; and the wind [will carry] them away so that not a trace of them [will be] found” (Dan. 2:32–35).[1]


The Parables of the Two Sons and the Wicked Tenants

Matthew 21:28–46

“What do you think? There was a man who had two sons. He went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work today in the vineyard.’

“ ‘I will not,’ he answered, but later he changed his mind and went.

“Then the father went to the other son and said the same thing. He answered, ‘I will, sir,’ but did not go.

“Which of the two did what his father wanted?”

“The first,” they answered.

Jesus said to them, “I tell you the truth, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you. For John came to you to show you the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes did. And even after you saw this, you did not repent and believe him.…”

When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard Jesus’ parables, they knew he was talking about them. They looked for a way to arrest him, but they were afraid of the crowd because the people held that he was a prophet.

Jesus was a superb teacher. He often used a striking action and then, after he had gained the attention of the people, explained what his action meant. We see this frequently in John’s Gospel, in which Jesus first performs a miracle and then provides a long discourse to explain the symbolism. The feeding of the five thousand is followed by his teaching on the bread of life, for instance. The raising of Lazarus is followed by his discourse that he is the resurrection.

This pattern has not always been so obvious in Matthew’s Gospel, where the teaching tends to stand on its own more than in John. But the pattern is apparent in Matthew 21 and the first part of Matthew 22. In the first half of Matthew 21, Jesus performed three symbolic actions.

  1. He entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, thereby presenting himself as Israel’s true King and Messiah.
  2. He cleansed the temple, restoring it to its God-given function as a “house of prayer” rather than a “den of robbers.”
  3. He cursed the fig tree as a symbol of God’s coming judgment on the nation for its failure to produce spiritual fruit.

We understand what those actions meant because we have the Gospel’s explanation of them. But they would not have been readily understood by those of Christ’s day, not even by the disciples, which is why they are followed by the teaching in the remainder of chapter 21 and the first part of chapter 22. The teaching is in the form of three parables: (1) the parable of two very different sons (Matt. 21:28–32); (2) the parable of the wicked tenant farmers (Matt. 21:33–46); and the parable of the wedding banquet (Matt. 22:1–14). It is obvious that these stories are intended to explain the earlier actions, because the second parable concludes with the judgment, “Therefore … the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit” (Matt. 21:43). This is what the withering of the fig tree was about.

The teaching concerning these parables was not lost on the Pharisees and priests who heard it. The chapter ends by saying that “they knew he was talking about them” (v. 45).

Two Very Different Sons

The first story was about two sons. Each was told by his father to go and work in the vineyard. One said he would not, but afterward he repented and went. The other said he would but did not go. Jesus asked, “Which of the two did what his father wanted?” (v. 31).

They answered, “The first.”

Jesus then added this conclusion: “I tell you the truth, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you. For John came to you to show you the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes did. And even after you saw this, you did not repent and believe him” (vv. 31–32).

The son who said he would obey his father but did not actually do it represents the chief priests and elders; they had a reputation for being God’s servants, but they rejected the prophets. The son who rejected his father’s command but later did what his father wanted represents the tax collectors and prostitutes, who had been in rebellion against God’s standards but who in many instances repented of their particular sins and came to Jesus.

Moreover, since the command of the father was to work in the vineyard, this is a parable not merely of salvation—that is, of believing on Jesus—but also of Christian service. It asks, “Who are those who truly serve?” as well as “Who are God’s children?” Or we could put it this way: “What is the fruit of true religion?” Christ’s answer is in terms of doing or failing to do the will of the father, rather than other matters.

Take the case of the second son. He said, “I will, sir,” but did not go to the vineyard. A person might reason from this that Jesus suggested it is improper to make promises to God, since we may not keep them. He might conclude, “I will make no promises, no profession of discipleship.” That would be wrong, of course. Jesus is not against profession. On the contrary, the Bible links profession to true belief in Jesus. Paul wrote in Romans, “If you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved” (Rom. 10:9–10). What Jesus denounced is an insincere profession, the profession of one who cries, “Lord, Lord …,” but who does not do what Jesus says.

Are you in that category? You cannot answer by saying that you have joined a church, affirmed the creeds, have a reputation as a good Christian, or even that you are a Christian worker or minister. You can do all those things and still be disobedient to God, just as the religious leaders were. They were active in all sorts of religious matters, but they did not believe on Jesus, and they were not working in God’s vineyard. They were working in a little vineyard of their own, building their own reputations and erecting their own little kingdom. You can only answer that question properly if you have trusted Jesus as your Savior and are now engaged in the specific work to which he has called you.

There is also the case of the other son. He said no to his father but afterward repented of his disobedience and went to the vineyard to work. We must not think that Jesus approved of everything about him. Jesus did not approve of his initial disobedience. But there was this good thing: Although he had defied his father at first, he later repented and did his father’s will.

I mention his early disobedience because people today, often young people, think that it is all right for them to go their own way as long as they go God’s way at some later point. They want to have fun now and serve God later—when they are too old to be of much use or when their opportunities for sound preparation are gone. Granted, it is better for them to sin now and repent later than for them to sin now and not repent at all. But the best way is to come to Jesus early and serve him both early and late. It is best to give your entire life to his service.

Besides, if you delay now, you have no guarantee that you will be able to come to Jesus later. You may, but sin takes its toll, and one of the things sin does is trap us so that we cannot get free even if we want to, and usually we do not even want that freedom. If God is speaking to you and you are saying no, you should know that although it may be hard for you to say yes now, it will be even harder to say it the next time around—even assuming that God speaks to you again. The only safe thing is to give prompt and sincere obedience to God’s call.

The Story of the Tenants

There is a connection between the parable of the two sons and the parable of the wicked tenant farmers because each has to do with a vineyard, representing God’s kingdom or the church. But there is also a progression from the first to the second. In the first parable the fault of the second son is his hypocrisy. He said he would obey but did not. In the story of the tenants the disobedient spirit of the religious leaders is worse than mere hypocrisy. Their spirits are so hardened by evil that they murder the landowner’s son, who is obviously Jesus.

The parable of the wicked tenants tells how men who had been selected to manage a vineyard for its owner mistreated the owner’s servants and at last killed the owner’s son. The father is God; the son is Jesus; the servants are the prophets. The story shows that sinners are so virulent in their hatred of others, including God, that they murder God’s servants and would murder God himself if he stooped to place himself within their grasp. What are the two great commandments? The first is, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” The second is like it: “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matt. 22:37, 39; see Lev. 19:18; Deut. 6:5). But on the basis of this story, it is correct to say that man in his natural state does precisely the opposite. He hates God with all his heart, with all his soul, and with all his mind, and he hates his neighbor even as he hates himself.

God’s Vine

Jesus began by telling how a landowner planted a vineyard, put a wall around it, dug a winepress, and built a watchtower. He was speaking clearly to his Jewish audience. Israel was the “vine” of God, and everything Jesus said in that opening picture was known to have applied to Israel in the Old Testament. Isaiah had written, “My loved one had a vineyard on a fertile hillside. He dug it up and cleared it of stones and planted it with the choicest vines. He built a watchtower in it and cut out a winepress as well” (Isa. 5:1–2). The psalmist had written beautifully, “You brought a vine out of Egypt; you drove out the nations and planted it. You cleared the ground for it, and it took root and filled the land. The mountains were covered with its shade, the mighty cedars with its branches” (Ps. 80:8–10; see also Jer. 2:21 and Ezek. 19:10).

That imagery was so well known to Christ’s hearers that when he referred to the vineyard, there could be no doubt in their minds that he was talking about them and those who had the responsibility for their spiritual oversight and development. We may be tempted, therefore, to dismiss the parable, thinking it applies only to them and not to us. But if that is the way we are interpreting it, we are utterly misreading Jesus’ words. Jesus told the story in that way because he was speaking to Jews. But would he not have made it equally pointed if he were telling it to us? He may have used another image, or he might simply have said that we too may be compared to vines, as Israel was. Has he not planted us in our lands, whatever they may be? Has he not fenced us in? Has he not watered and cared for us? Has he not built a watchtower for us? Has he not sent his servants to care for us and present our choice fruits to him when he returns for them? He has done all these things. Yet we have not been faithful any more than Israel was faithful. We have also hated God and would destroy him if we could.

We Are Naturally God’s Enemies

Years ago the great American theologian Jonathan Edwards developed this theme at length. His sermon was entitled “Men Naturally Are God’s Enemies,” and it was based on Romans 5:10 (“For if, when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son …”). Most of us, when we take a text such as that, focus on the good part—in this case, the wonder of the death of Christ. Edwards did not go about things in that way. He saw that no one could appreciate the death of Christ, the second part of the verse, until he understood that he was an enemy of God, the first part. In this discourse he examined how we are God’s enemies until regenerated.

We are God’s enemies in several ways, says Edwards: in our judgments, in the natural likes or dislikes of our souls, in our wills, in our affections, and in our practice.

  1. We are God’s enemies in our judgments. We have mean opinions about God. Edwards used an illustration here, asking, What do you do when you are present in some gathering and a friend of yours is attacked? The answer is, you go to his or her defense. And how is it when an enemy is praised? In that case, you introduce negative factors to put down anything in the enemy that might be thought good.

So it is in people’s judgments of God, Edwards argues.

They entertain very low and contemptible thoughts of God. Whatever honor and respect they may pretend, and make a show of toward God, if their practice be examined, it will show that they certainly look upon him as a Being that is but little to be regarded. The language of their hearts is, “Who is the Lord, that I should obey his voice?” (Exod. 5:2), “What is the Almighty, that we should serve him? And what profit should we have if we pray unto him?” (Job 21:15). They count him worthy neither to be loved nor feared. They dare not behave with that slight and disregard towards one of their fellow creatures, when a little raised above them in power and authority, as they dare, and do, towards God. They value one of their equals much more than God, and are ten times more afraid of offending such, than of displeasing God that made them. They cast such exceeding contempt on God, as to prefer every vile lust before him. And every worldly enjoyment is set higher in their esteem than God. A morsel of meat, or a few pence of worldly gain, is preferred before him. God is set last and lowest in the esteem of natural men.

  1. We are God’s enemies in the natural relish of our souls. Relish is an old-fashioned word that we use today only to refer to condiments for the table. In Edwards’s day it meant “likes” or “desires,” so what he means here is that we do not naturally like God. In fact, the opposite is the case. By nature we find him and his attributes repugnant. Edwards discusses our hatred of four great attributes of God—his holiness, omniscience, power, and immutability—which I have referred to in other messages, picking up on Edwards’s insights.

He says of unsaved people:

They hear God is an infinitely holy, pure, and righteous Being, and they do not like him upon this account; they have no relish of such qualifications; they take no delight in contemplating them.… And on account of their distaste of these perfections, they dislike all his other attributes. They have greater aversion to him because his omniscience is a holy omniscience. They are not pleased that he is omnipotent, and can do whatever he pleases, because it is a holy omnipotence. They are enemies even to his mercy, because it is a holy mercy. They do not like his immutability, because by this he never will be otherwise than he is, an infinitely holy God.

That explains why men and women do not want much to do with God, why they try to keep him at such great distance. I had a neighbor once who was so adverse to God that I could not even begin to witness to her. The moment the name of God came up, she cried out, “Don’t talk to me about God!” She was even adverse to letting her six-year-old daughter hear God’s name mentioned. This is why people will not go with you to church, will not read Christian books, will not pray. It is why even Christian people have such a difficult time with these matters.

  1. We are God’s enemies in our wills. The will of God and our wills are set at cross purposes. What God wills, we hate, and what God hates, we desire. That is why we are so opposed to God’s government. We are not God’s loyal subjects, as we should be, but are opposed to his rule of us and this world. These rebellious desires were expressed well by the psalmist when he quoted God’s enemies as saying, “Let us break [God’s] chains … and throw off [his] fetters” (Ps. 2:3).
  2. We are God’s enemies in our affections. Our emotions also flare out against God. In prosperous times, when God seems to leave us alone and our plans are not disturbed, we manage for the most part to keep our evil affections hidden. We may even be a bit condescending at such times, as if from the throne of our own universe we might throw God a tip. But when we are crossed, when something goes wrong, our malice burns against him. “This is exercised in dreadful heart-risings, inward wranglings and quarrelings, and blasphemous thoughts, wherein the heart is like a viper, hissing and spitting poison at God. And however free from it the heart may seem to be, when let alone and secure, yet a very little thing will set it in a rage. Temptations will show what is in the heart. The alteration of a man’s circumstances will often discover the heart,” Edwards says. He wrote that these hatreds will be seen most clearly when people are cast into hell.
  3. We are God’s enemies in our practice. Here Edwards gets close to the main point of Christ’s parable, for he says that although men and women cannot injure God, because he is so much above them, they nevertheless do what they can. They oppose God’s honor, persecute his prophets, attempt to thwart his work in this world, and, in general terms, “[en]list under Satan’s banner” as willing soldiers.

Judgment Is Coming

What is to be done with such persons? That is the question Jesus asked those who were listening to his parable. He could have given the answer himself, but instead he turned to the very people he was accusing of being the bad tenants and asked them what the owner would do when he returned. He asked them to render judgment. What is the proper response to such wicked and inexcusable behavior? he asked. The people replied rightly, “He will bring those wretches to a wretched end, and he will rent the vineyard to other tenants, who will give him his share of the crop at harvest time” (v. 41). That was correct. It was the only answer anyone could possibly give. However, in rendering that judgment the leaders of the people pronounced their own doom.

What would you say if Jesus asked you that question: “What should the owner of the vineyard do?” Unless you are an utter hypocrite or completely ignorant, you would answer as the Pharisees did, and, like them, you would also render judgment on yourself.

After listening to their answer Jesus concluded, “Have you never read in the Scriptures: ‘The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone; the Lord has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes’? Therefore I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit. He who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces, but he on whom it falls will be crushed” (vv. 42–44). The quotation is from Psalm 118:22–23. But when Jesus added to it by speaking of sinners being “crushed” by “this stone,” I think he was referring to the vision King Nebuchadnezzar had in the days of the prophet Daniel. Nebuchadnezzar had a dream in which he saw a statue representing four successive world kingdoms. At the end of the vision, a stone that was not cut by human hands came and struck the statue, grinding it to pieces, after which it grew and became a mountain that filled the whole earth (Daniel 2). The stone is Christ. The mountain is his kingdom. Jesus was telling the people of his day, “You can be part of my kingdom and thus grow up in me and fill the earth. That will happen by the decree of God my Father. Or you can stand against me and my kingdom and be broken.”

The judgment of God should not be taken lightly, because God should not be taken lightly. God is our Judge. The God who offers salvation now is the God who will judge in righteousness hereafter. Therefore, if you will not have Jesus as your Savior now, in the day of his grace, you will have him as your Judge when you stand before his throne at the final day. Remember that as he spoke those words, Jesus was on the way to the cross to die for such as would believe on him. You can be one of them. Why not come to Jesus now and become a part of his advancing kingdom?[2]


The Climax of the Story

Matthew 21:23–46

Jesus entered the temple courts, and, while he was teaching, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to him. “By what authority are you doing these things?” they asked. “And who gave you this authority?” Jesus replied, “I will also ask you one question. If you answer me, I will tell you by what authority I am doing these things. John’s baptism—where did it come from? Was it from heaven, or from men?” They discussed it among themselves and said, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will ask, ‘Then why didn’t you believe him?’ But if we say, ‘From men’—we are afraid of the people, for they all hold that John was a prophet.” So they answered Jesus, “We don’t know.” Then he said, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.” (Matt. 21:23–27)

Jason Bourne is a fictional character of action films and novels who faces the most basic riddle: “Who am I?” When fishermen pull Bourne from the Mediterranean, he has serious wounds and no memory. He thinks in English, but discovers that he can speak French, Russian, and German whenever convenient. He has a dizzying array of skills: he can dash for half a mile at seven thousand feet, tie exotic knots, create sophisticated electronic devices from a bit of this and that, disarm a policeman in an instant, and memorize the city map of Paris at a glance. He knows all this, but he doesn’t know his name. The audience wonders beside him—who is he and why is someone trying to kill him?

Long before, the Gospel narratives asked the same question of Jesus: Who is this and why do some people want to kill him? Of course, if Jesus’ identity baffled his contemporaries, he still knew who he was. Indeed, during this phase of his life, he was performing a series of symbolic acts and teaching in public to show who he is and what faith in him means.

Three Symbolic Actions

The first half of Matthew 21 describes three of Jesus’ symbolic acts. First, he entered Jerusalem on a donkey that no one had ever ridden, amid cries of praise: “Hosanna to the Son of David, Hosanna in the highest.” As people laid their cloaks before him, waved palm branches, and called for deliverance, and as Jesus accepted their acclaim, some realized that Jesus came as Israel’s peaceful king, as the prophet Zechariah had foretold (21:1–11).

Second, Jesus threw merchants and money changers out of the temple, temporarily closing it. In doing this, Jesus acted as king and high priest, exercising authority over the temple (21:12–17).

Third, the next day, acting like the prophets of old, Jesus cursed a fig tree, full of green leaves, but without fruit. The fig tree was a symbol of Israel, which so often resembled that tree. Like the tree, the temple looked healthy, but bore no fruit. When the tree withered, it symbolized God’s judgment on the fruitless leaders of Israel (21:18–22). As the Lord told Ezekiel: “My people … sit before you to listen to your words, but they do not put them into practice. With their mouths they express devotion, but … to them you are nothing more than one who sings love songs with a beautiful voice and plays an instrument well, for they hear your words but do not put them into practice” (Ezek. 33:31–32).

Isaiah and the Lord Jesus say the same thing: “These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men” (Isa. 29:13; Matt. 15:8–9).

The Bible warns of dead religion more often than it warns against lust or murder or many other sins. As J. C. Ryle said, “Open sin and avowed unbelief no doubt slay their thousands. But profession without practice slays its tens of thousands.”

The three symbolic actions all carry the same message. The king of Israel has come to call his people to repent. A little later he says, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem … how often I have longed to gather your children together … but you were not willing. Look, your house is left to you desolate” (Matt. 23:37–38). The judgment of the temple and the curse on the fig tree had a point: judgment is coming—although it is not too late to repent. Israel can still say, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord,” and Jesus will restore them (Matt. 23:39).

Will Israel take the offer or will pride and external religion stand in the way? For most of the leaders of Israel, pride did stand in the way. We see this first in a double question the leaders ask Jesus.

Questions from the Authorities

When Jesus cast the money changers and merchants out of the temple, he appealed to Scripture, their common authority, to explain his action: “ ‘My house will be called a house of prayer [for the nations],’ but you are making it a ‘den of robbers’ ” (21:13). Some time later, the chief priests and elders came, apparently as an official delegation, to investigate what Jesus had done. (Mark 11:27 says “the teachers of the law” were also there. This means the three groups that constitute the ruling Sanhedrin were present.)

Jesus had moved on and was now teaching, but the priests and elders felt free to interrupt. They did not ask “Is he right?” they asked, “Who gave you the right?” To be precise, they said, “By what authority are you doing these things? And who gave you this authority?” (21:23). Leaders are always tempted to respond to criticism this way. They think, “I am in charge. I earned the qualifications and was duly appointed to my position. What standing does this person have to criticize me?” To this day, we are prone to say things like “I’m the boss” or “I’m your mother [or father] and you will do as I say.”

The authorities think they have trapped Jesus with a dilemma. If he says he gained his right to criticize from a human authority, they will say, “But we are the human authority.” But if he says his authority came from God, they will accuse him of blasphemy. So they decided in advance to reject both possible replies.

But Jesus answers their question with a question and their dilemma with a dilemma. He will answer their question “By what authority are you doing these things?” (21:23), if they answer his: “I will also ask you one question. If you answer me, I will tell you by what authority I am doing these things? John’s baptism—where did it come from?” (21:24–25).

This question poses a problem for the leaders: “ ‘Was it from heaven or from men?’ They discussed it among themselves and said, ‘If we say, “From heaven,” he will ask, “Then why didn’t you believe him?” But if we say, “From men”—we are afraid of the people, for they all hold that John was a prophet.’ ” They cannot say “From heaven” because John’s prime message is that Jesus is the Christ, “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” So if they say “John’s message was from heaven,” Jesus will say, “From heaven John said I am the One, the Messiah, and that is my source of authority.” Thus they cannot say “From heaven.”

But they cannot say “From men” because everyone believes John is a prophet. If they deny that, they would lose authority! So they stand in embarrassed silence. They refuse to answer Jesus and he refuses to answer them: “So they answered Jesus, ‘We don’t know.’ Then he said, ‘Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things’ ” (23:27).

We know the source of Jesus’ authority, of course. He is the king of Israel, the great high priest. Jesus always had authority. When he spoke, people marveled “because he taught as one who had authority” (Matt. 7:28–29). When he healed, he did it “so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins” (9:6). When he commissioned his disciples, he said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” (28:18–20).

Authority problems afflict most of us. Remember: the disciples were prone to ask, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom?” (18:1), and “Who will have seats of honor in the kingdom?” (20:20–28). The desire to be in charge, to have authority, is common. But selfishness often leads us astray. We want to seize authority when it isn’t ours.

During Jesus’ final week in Jerusalem, Jewish leaders wanted to kill Jesus because he threatened their authority. The Romans also viewed Jesus as a threat; they had the power to kill Jesus and ultimately they did. Yet Jesus’ popularity gave him a kind of power. Meanwhile, many Israelites hoped Jesus would lead them to overthrow Roman power.

But real power has other sources. We remember that when Jesus cursed the fig tree, the disciples asked how he did it, for they wanted the same power. Jesus replied, “If you have faith and do not doubt, not only can you do what was done to the fig tree, but also you can say to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and it will be done” (21:21). By “this mountain” Jesus meant the temple mount, with its false religion. That mountain, Jesus said, can be moved only by faith and prayer.

The greatest powers are spiritual and moral. Forty years after Jesus’ resurrection, Roman armies destroyed Jerusalem for trying to obtain her freedom through the power of armed rebellion. Christians never tried to conquer Rome. They told the truth, they loved, and they prayed, and the gospel conquered Rome. The gospel, love, and prayer are the great powers, then and now. If you want to conquer, if you want to win someone, tell the truth and love people.

The Crusades, by contrast, were designed to advance the gospel by force, and we count the Crusades as one of Christendom’s signal failures. The Bible calls our faith “the gospel of peace” for it brings peace with God, family, and neighbors (Eph. 6:15). If you are at war with someone, don’t nurse your anger, but seek to make peace, as best you can (Rom. 12:18). Pray for an opportunity to move what might look like a mountainous problem. Then seek dialogue, confess your part of the problem, and ask questions instead of making accusations. Mountains can move.

A Question for the Authorities: Which Son Is Faithful?

Jesus then put a second question to the leaders, in the form of a simple parable:

There was a man who had two sons. He went to the first and said, “Son, go and work today in the vineyard.”

“I will not,” he answered, but later he changed his mind and went.

Then the father went to the other son and said the same thing. He answered, “I will, sir,” but he did not go.

Which of the two did what his father wanted? (Matt. 21:28–31)

The answer could hardly be more obvious; the first son obeyed. What counts is not words, but deeds—not promises, but performance. Jesus drew the conclusion: “The tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you. For John came to you to show you the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes did. And even after you saw this, you did not repent and believe him” (21:31–32).

The lesson is easy to decipher. The son who promised obedience but did not give it represents Israel’s leaders, who did not believe John’s testimony. They seemed willing to serve, but even as Jesus speaks, they refuse, for the priests and elders oppose Jesus.

The son who refused to obey but repented represents Israel’s sinners. In that culture, tax collectors got rich by collaborating with Roman oppressors. Prostitutes hardly require comment. Both seemed to be “the wicked” par excellence. Their way of life entailed constant sin and made them outcasts. But they repented and believed and gave up their sin. Therefore they will enter the kingdom first, ahead of the priests and elders.

The parable teaches two lessons. First, anyone can come to Jesus through repentance and faith. Second, it is never enough to make promises to God, or to claim to believe, or to recite a creed. What counts is actual devotion: love of God, worship, and loving service to others. In almost every church there are pretenders. Pastors rarely know who they are, but the Lord knows and he will reveal the truth to all who are willing to hear.

It is simple enough if the Lord is nudging someone to give up his or her charade. They need only repent of their pride and deceit, then heed his call to love and serve him. Why should anyone wait? There may never be a better time to get right with God. Let no one think he will repent later. If anyone chooses to deafen himself to God’s call, later may never come.

The Vineyard and the Tenants, or the Climax of Israel’s Rebellion

The Vineyard

Jesus’ challenge for the Jewish leaders continues with a larger parable that tells the history of Israel from a prophet’s perspective. In this parable, Jesus sounds like Isaiah, Jeremiah, or Asaph in Psalm 78. Here is how the parable starts: “There was a landowner who planted a vineyard. He put a wall around it, dug a winepress in it and built a watchtower. Then he rented the vineyard to some farmers and went away on a journey” (Matt. 21:33). God called Israel to life and gave his nation all it needed. The owner’s well-provisioned vineyard represents God’s provision while the rest of the story describes Israel’s response. The land, hedge-wall, winepress, and tower amount to everything a farm needs. In the real world, the Lord gave Israel land, gave them his love and his law, and ordained kings and prophets to protect the people. Everything was in place.

Evil Tenants

When harvest time approached, the landowner rented out his vineyard as an investment and went away. The rent would be paid in the fruit of the vineyard. It would not produce much in the early years, but the law required the owner to collect rent to establish his interest and ownership. So the landowner “sent his servants to the tenants to collect his fruit” (21:34). Oddly, the tenants refused to pay. In fact, when the servants came to collect the rent, “they beat one, killed another, and stoned a third” (21:35). When the master “sent other servants to them, more than the first time, … the tenants treated them the same way” (21:36).

The parable is clearly an allegory. The owner represents God, the tenants represent Israel at its worst, and the servants represent the prophets. Indeed, the leaders of Israel generally rejected and tried to kill God’s prophets.

The Crowning Offense

The owner gives the tenants one last chance to repent. He will send one more messenger, one who is like the others, yet different: “He sent his son to them. ‘They will respect my son,’ he said.” The landowner thinks that because this is his only son, his beloved, surely they will respect him (21:37, cf. Mark 12:6; Luke 20:13)! But no, the sight of the heir heightens their rebellion. They say, “This is the heir … if we kill him, the vineyard is ours.” They rouse each other to violence, “Come on, let’s kill him and get the estate for ourselves” (21:38 NLT).

What happens next in the story foretells what happened in four days in the real world. The tenants took the heir, “threw him out of the vineyard and killed him” (21:39). Just so, the Jewish leaders laid hands on Jesus, the beloved Son and heir. When the farmers throw the son out, they are saying “The vineyard is ours.” As in the story, the rulers said, “The vineyard is ours.” This sounds like the moment when they asked Jesus who gave him the authority to act in their temple. Too soon they would do as the parable predicts; they would take Jesus outside the city and kill him.

It is not anti-Semitic to say that the rulers of Israel led the effort to kill Jesus. Of course Jews led the effort. Jesus was a Jew living in Israel. Both his greatest supporters and his greatest foes were Jews. The point is not “See what the Jews did.” The point is “See what people do.” No people, no nation would have done otherwise. Apart from God’s grace, we all resent the Lord’s authority and we all rebel. We don’t mind if God gives us advice, but we want the last word. We want to control the vineyard for ourselves.

Their Just Punishment

The tenants imagine that they have the vineyard at last now that the servants and the heir are gone. But the owner is more resolute than they imagined. He is coming, in force. Jesus lets the leaders draw the conclusion: “Therefore, when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?” (21:40). Caught up in the story, they condemn themselves: “He will bring those wretches to a wretched end, and he will rent the vineyard to other tenants, who will give him his share of the crop at harvest time” (21:41). The NIV captures a play on words in the Greek, which roughly reads “bad ones he will badly destroy.” So Jesus now says what he previously showed when he closed the temple and he cursed the fig tree: judgment is coming.

This Fulfills Scripture

Jesus accepted their answer and saw it as a fulfillment of Scripture: “The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone; the Lord has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes” (Matt. 21:42; cf. Ps. 118:22–23).

Hear the parable: A woman went to market seeking ripe melons. Coming upon a display of cantaloupe, she sniffed and prodded them all. Finally, she came upon the perfect fruit, with sweet bouquet, and firm yet yielding flesh. But she tossed it to the floor and chose a hard and blighted melon in its stead.

Jesus’ parable uses builders, not shoppers. In his parable stone masons search through a pile of stones, looking for the right one to complete their building. The builders examine and discard (apodokimazō) stone after stone. They test each for the size and shape necessary to complete their project. Yet the builders lack discernment. When they see the best stone, they reject it.

As the parable showed, Israel’s leaders examine Jesus. Some think he is the Messiah. “Is he,” they ask? No, they conclude, he does not act as the Messiah should. He is a sinner. Yet since he draws crowds, he is dangerous to the people. Since he also threatens their leadership, they resolve that he deserves to die.

Consequences

Yet, Jesus announces, there is a high price for rejecting him: “The kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit. He who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces, but he on whom it falls will be crushed” (21:43–44). Again, this is not a rejection of “Jews.” The kingdom is taken from Israelites who reject Jesus and given to the apostles and all who follow them, whether Jews or Gentiles.

Jesus says God will create a new people, a new nation, without borders, speaking every tongue. They will bear the fruit God seeks. Indeed, the Lord will take the leaders’ rebellion against God and turn it to great good. He will use the rebellion of Israel to keep his promises to Israel. Long ago, the Lord told Abraham:

I will make you into a great nation

and I will bless you;

I will make your name great,

and you will be a blessing …

and all peoples on earth

will be blessed through you. (Gen. 12:2–3)

This is a message from the Jews to a pagan world. The God of Israel is the God of the world. He sent his Son, his only Son. Jesus, the true Israelite, offers God perfect love and devotion. He is the light of the world, as Israel was supposed to be (Deut. 4). He is the true man, the second Adam, the man we were supposed to be (Rom. 5:12–21). Israel was always supposed to become a house of prayer for the nations (Mark 11:17). The nations were to stream in to taste God’s blessings. Now Jesus will make it so.

The Lord has unlimited capacity to take evil and turn it to good. He uses harsh teachers and insensitive bosses to teach us that outsiders’ opinions are not the measure of our worth. He uses illness to teach us to find our strength in him. And he takes the greatest evil, the crucifixion of Jesus, and fashions the greatest good—the resurrection of Jesus and our new life in him. The rejection of Jesus brings his gospel of God to the world.

Ominous Plots

The priests and Pharisees grasp enough of Jesus’ parable to realize that Jesus is “talking about them” (21:45). They resolve to arrest Jesus, if they can. A few days later they succeed. They reject the foundation stone. But, Jesus warns, those who fall against that stone “will be broken to pieces.” When they attack Jesus, they will break themselves and “be crushed” (21:44).

Despite all this, the scene ends with hope. “The people” still judged “that he was a prophet” (21:46). Matthew drops hints that even the judgment on Israel leads to hope. The prophecy about the rejected stone becoming the cornerstone comes from the celebrative Psalm 118. Israel’s families sang it as they traveled to Jerusalem. It begins, “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever” (v. 1). Later it says, “The Lord is with me; I will not be afraid.… This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it” (vv. 6, 24). Thus, paradoxically, the rejection of this stone—and its subsequent acceptance—is actually the hope of Israel.

The same holds for the stone that crushes (21:44). The image is from Daniel, when Babylon oppressed Israel. The king of Babylon dreams that his kingdom will fall, smashed by an enormous stone. Daniel explains, “The God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed.… It will crush all those kingdoms and bring them to an end, but it will … endure forever” (Dan. 2:44).

So then, the rejection of Jesus inaugurates the eternal kingdom of God, a kingdom that offers the blessings of Israel to the world. Paul develops this theme in Romans. He cites the promises God made to Israel, and, one by one, says they are ours by faith in Jesus, the risen Lord. In Romans we find these:

Romans 4:1–8        Justification by faith (Gen. 15:6)

Romans 4:1–8        Forgiveness of sins (Ps. 32)

Romans 5:1            Peace with God (Isa. 53:5; 32:17)

Romans 5:5            Hope in hardship (Ps. 23:6; 25:20)

Romans 5:5            Giving of the Holy Spirit (Joel 2; Acts 2)

Romans 5:15          Abundance of grace (Ps. 136, passim)

Romans 6               Spiritual liberation (Isa. 53:11)

So the parable describes God’s plan for the world’s spiritual history. When the leaders of Israel and Rome rejected Jesus, they scattered his gospel through the world. Yet it is personal history too. The parables put to us the questions they put to the Israelites long ago.

Jesus asks us, What kind of son are you? Do you say you will work for the Lord, then refuse? Or have you said yes and kept to it? Do you know that Jesus is the foundation stone for God to bless mankind? Have you examined him? Do you know who he is? Have you made him the cornerstone for your life? Are you part of the nation without borders that lives and bears fruit for him? We know who he is; we have heard his call to follow and bear fruit. It is right for us to give him the fruit he seeks.[3]


43. Therefore I say to you. Hitherto Christ directed his discourse to rulers and governors, but in presence of the people. Now, however, he addresses in the same manner the people themselves, and not without reason, for they had been the companions and assistants of the priests and scribes in hindering the grace of God. It was from the priests, no doubt, that the evil arose, but the people had already deserved, on account of their sins, to have such corrupt and degenerate pastors. Besides, the whole body was infected, as it were, by a similar malice to resist God. This is the reason why Christ denounces against all indiscriminately the dreadful vengeance of God; for as the priests were inflated with the desire of holding the highest power, so the rest of the people gloried on the ground of having been adopted. Christ now declares that God was not bound to them, and, therefore, that he will convey to another the honour of which they rendered themselves unworthy. And this, no doubt, was once spoken to them, but was written for the sake of all of us, that, if God choose us to be His people, we may not grow wanton through a vain and wicked confidence in the flesh, but may endeavour, on our part, to perform the duties which he enjoins on his children; for if he spared not the natural branches, (Rom. 11:21,) what will he do with those which were ingrafted? The Jews thought that the kingdom of God dwelt among them by hereditary right, and therefore they adhered obstinately to their vices. We have unexpectedly come into their room contrary to nature, and therefore much less is the kingdom of God bound to us, if it be not rooted in true godliness.

Now as our minds ought to be struck with terror by the threatening of Christ, that those who have profaned the kingdom of God will be deprived of it, so the perpetuity of that kingdom, which is here described, may afford comfort to all the godly. For by these words Christ assures us that, though the ungodly destroyed the worship of God among themselves, they would never cause the name of Christ to be abolished, or true religion to perish; for God, in whose hand are all the ends of the earth, will find elsewhere a dwelling and habitation for his kingdom. We ought also to learn from this passage, that the Gospel is not preached in order that it may lie barren and inoperative, but that it may yield fruit.[4]


43 This verse, found only in Matthew (cf. van Tilborg, Jewish Leaders, 54–58), further explains the parable. Up to this time, the Jewish religious leaders were the principal means by which God exercised his reign over his people. But the leaders failed so badly in handling God’s “vineyard” and rejecting God’s Son that God gave the responsibility to another people who would produce the kingdom’s fruit (cf. 7:16–20). For a somewhat similar explanation, see Stonehouse (Witness of Matthew, 230). Strictly speaking, then, v. 43 does not speak of transferring the locus of the people of God from Jews to Gentiles, though it may hint at this insofar as that locus now extends far beyond the authority of the Jewish rulers (cf. Ac 13:46; 18:5–6; 1 Pe 2:9); instead, it speaks of the ending of the role the Jewish religious leaders played in mediating God’s authority (see comments at 23:2–3; so also Ogawa, “Paraboles de l’Israël véritable?” 127–39, though he unsuccessfully questions the authenticity of v. 43).[5]


[1] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1985). Matthew (Vol. 3, pp. 298–300). Chicago: Moody Press.

[2] Boice, J. M. (2001). The Gospel of Matthew (pp. 457–464). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.

[3] Doriani, D. M. (2008). Matthew & 2. (R. D. Phillips, P. G. Ryken, & D. M. Doriani, Eds.) (Vol. 2, pp. 267–277). Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing.

[4] Calvin, J., & Pringle, W. (2010). Commentary on a Harmony of the Evangelists Matthew, Mark, and Luke (Vol. 3, pp. 37–38). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

[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. 511–512). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

March 15, 2019 Afternoon Verse Of The Day

Responding to a Royal Invitation

(22:1–14)

And Jesus answered and spoke to them again in parables, saying, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king, who gave a wedding feast for his son. And he sent out his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding feast, and they were unwilling to come. Again he sent out other slaves saying, ‘Tell those who have been invited, “Behold, I have prepared my dinner; my oxen and my fattened livestock are all butchered and everything is ready; come to the wedding feast.’ ” But they paid no attention and went their way, one to his own farm, another to his business, and the rest seized his slaves and mistreated them and killed them. But the king was enraged and sent his armies, and destroyed those murderers, and set their city on fire. Then he said to his slaves, ‘The wedding is ready, but those who were invited were not worthy. Go therefore to the main highways, and as many as you find there, invite to the wedding feast.’ And those slaves went out into the streets, and gathered together all they found, both evil and good; and the wedding hall was filled with dinner guests. But when the king came in to look over the dinner guests, he saw there a man not dressed in wedding clothes, and he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you come in here without wedding clothes?’ And he was speechless. Then the king said to the servants, ‘Bind him hand and foot, and cast him into the outer darkness; in that place there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ For many are called, but few are chosen.” (22:1–14)

This parable is the third in Jesus’ trilogy of judgment parables given in response to the Jewish religious leaders who maliciously challenged His authority (21:23, 28–30, 33–39). It is among the most dramatic and powerful of all His parables, which, though directed specifically at those leaders and all unbelieving Israel whom they represented, also has far-reaching significance and application for subsequent times, certainly including our own.

For three years Jesus had been preaching and teaching the gospel of the kingdom, which included proclaiming Himself as the Messiah, the Son of God and Savior of the world. He had been offering Himself and His kingdom to the people of Israel, His own people, the chosen people of God. But at the end of those three years, all but a handful of Jews had rejected Him. Although Jesus had always been popular with the masses wherever He ministered, their acceptance of Him was for the most part superficial and selfish.

The multitudes were awed by Jesus’ straightforward, authoritative teaching, which was in refreshing contrast to the confusing, legalistic, and complicated tradition taught by their scribes and Pharisees. They were even more awed by His healing miracles, which had brought restored health, sanity, and even life to so many countless thousands of their friends and loved ones. They doubtlessly appreciated the fact that Jesus never took financial advantage of them, never taking payment for any supernatural good work He did. On the contrary, He was always giving to them freely, and had on several occasions miraculously fed thousands. They deeply admired Jesus for His humble, self-giving love and compassion, and they must have rejoiced when He rebuked and embarrassed their hypocritical, self-righteous leaders, who looked down on them in contemptuous superiority. How wonderful, they must have thought, that the Messiah not only is so powerful but also so compassionate.

But when the people finally realized the kind of Messiah Jesus was, and especially that He had no plans to deliver them from the Roman oppressors, their acclamation quickly turned to rejection—as is evident in their change of mood from Sunday to Thursday of this last Passover week of Jesus’ ministry. Therefore, as He continued to respond to the Jewish leaders in the Temple, where He was teaching on Wednesday morning (21:23), it was also to the multitudes that the third judgment parable was directed.

The Invitation Rejected

And Jesus answered and spoke to them again in parables, saying, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king, who gave a wedding feast for his son. And he sent out his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding feast, and they were unwilling to come. Again he sent out other slaves saying, ‘Tell those who have been invited, “Behold, I have prepared my dinner; my oxen and my fattened livestock are all butchered and everything is ready; come to the wedding feast.” ’ But they paid no attention and went their way, one to his own farm, another to his business, and the rest seized his slaves and mistreated them and killed them.” (22:1–6)

The parable contains four scenes, the first of which depicts the rejection of the invitation. Although none of His hearers may ever have attended a royal wedding feast, they were all familiar with wedding feasts in general and had some idea of the importance and magnificence of one that a king would prepare for his own son.

As Jesus answered the chief priests and elders (21:23), He was continuing to respond to their bitter challenge of His authority and spoke to them again in parables for the third time. It is likely they heard little of what He said, because their minds were by then singularly and unalterably bent on His arrest and execution. They had wanted to seize Him after He related the second parable but were still afraid of what the crowds might do (21:46).

In His first two parables Jesus gave no introduction, saving the explanation and application to the end. In this parable, however, He begins by stating that it illustrates the kingdom of heaven. Because most Jews believed that the kingdom of heaven was reserved exclusively for them, and possibly a few Gentile proselytes, the audience in the Temple immediately knew that what Jesus was going to say closely applied to them.

Although they had many perverted ideas about the kingdom of heaven, because the term heaven was so often used as a substitute for the covenant name of God (Yahweh, or Jehovah), most Jews would have understood that it was synonymous with the kingdom of God and represented the realm of God’s sovereign rule. There are past, present, and future as well as temporal and eternal aspects of the kingdom, but it is not restricted to any era or period of redemptive history. It is the continuing, ongoing sphere of God’s rule by grace. In a narrower sense, the phrase is also used in Scripture to refer to God’s dominion of redemption, His divine program of gracious salvation. As Jesus uses the phrase here, it specifically represents the spiritual community of God’s redeemed people, those who are under His lordship in a personal and unique way because of their trust in His Son.

In the ancient Near East, a wedding feast was inseparable from the wedding itself, which involved a week-long series of meals and festivities and was the highlight of all social life. For a royal wedding such as the one Jesus mentions here, the celebration often lasted for several weeks. Guests were invited to stay at the house of the groom’s parents for the entire occasion, and the father would make as elaborate provisions as he could afford. A royal wedding, of course, would be held in the palace, and a king would be able to afford whatever he desired.

A wedding feast that a king prepared for his son would be a feast of all feasts, and Jesus was therefore picturing the most elaborate celebration imaginable. The fact that it was a wedding celebration was incidental to the purpose of the parable, the only mention of the groom being that of identifying him as the king’s son. No mention at all is made of the bride or of any other aspect of a wedding. The point is that because the feast represents the greatest festivity imaginable, given by the greatest monarch imaginable, for the most-honored guests imaginable, a royal wedding feast was chosen as the illustration of the ultimate celebration.

When all the preparations were complete, the king sent out his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding feast. The fact that they had been invited indicates that the guests were invited earlier and already knew they were expected to attend the wedding. To be a pre-invited guest to the king’s wedding was among the highest honors possible, and no doubt those who had received invitations were boasting to their neighbors and friends. It is therefore inconceivable that, when the actual call came to attend, they were unwilling to come.

As with the previous parable of the wicked vine-growers, it is the shockingly extreme and unthinkable nature of the events mentioned that are central to the story’s point. Jesus’ hearers already would have begun to think to themselves, “Who would do such a thing? The very idea is preposterous.” Attending the royal wedding would be an even greater experience than receiving the invitation, and it would have provided the finest food and the most prestigious fellowship in the land. Not only that, but an invitation from one’s king not only brought honor but obligation. It was a serious offense to spurn the king’s favor.

The initial response of the king, like the initial response of the vineyard owner, is as amazing as the responses of the guests. Few monarchs were known for their humility and patience, especially in the face of open insult. But that king sent out other slaves saying, “Tell those who have been invited, ‘Behold, I have prepared my dinner; my oxen and my fattened livestock are all butchered and everything is ready; come to the wedding feast.’ ”

The dinner was the first of many meals eaten during the feast, and it was ready to be served. “Remind the guests,” the king said in effect, “of all the preparations that have been made. The oxen and fattened livestock are all butchered and waiting to be roasted, and everything else is ready also. Plead with the people to come to the wedding feast now.”

But as before, the invited guests disregarded the call from the king, except that their refusal this time was even more crass and brutal. Many of the invitees were coldly indifferent, acting as if the wedding were of no consequence. They responded by carrying on business as usual. They went their way, doing the things they would normally have done in looking after their own interests, represented by the farm and business. They were so selfishly preoccupied with personal concerns for profit that the invitation and the repeated calls of the king to stop work and attend his son’s wedding were altogether ignored. They willingly and purposely forfeited the beauty, grandeur, and honor of the wedding for the sake of their everyday, mundane, self-serving endeavors. They were not concerned about the king’s honor but only about what they perceived as their own best interests.

But another group of guests were worse than indifferent. Rather than being concerned about offending the king, they were themselves offended at his persistence. In an act of unbelievably brutal arrogance, they seized the king’s slaves and mistreated them and killed them. Contempt for the king’s slaves demonstrated contempt for the king himself, and in mistreating and killing his slaves they committed a flagrant act of rebellion.

As already noted, because Jesus had said that the parable was about the kingdom of heaven, its meaning needed no interpretation to any thinking hearer. The king obviously was God, and the invited guests were His chosen people, Israel, those who already had been called by Him.

God first called His chosen people through Abraham, whose descendants would be blessed and be a channel of blessing to the rest of the world (Gen. 12:2–3). After being captive in Egypt for 400 years, the chosen people were delivered through Moses. Through His prophets the Lord declared, “When Israel was a youth I loved him, and out of Egypt I called My son” (Hos. 11:1), and, “You only have I chosen among all the families of the earth” (Amos 3:2). In one of the most poignant accounts in Scripture, God described Israel as an abandoned newborn, with its umbilical cord untied and squirming in its own blood. To that hopeless infant He had said, “Live!” and it lived and prospered. The Lord bathed it, anointed it with oil, clothed and protected it, and adorned it with jewelry (Ezek 16:4–14).

The wedding feast represented God’s promised blessing to Israel, a figure understood by everyone in the Temple that day. According to talmudic literature, the Messiah’s coming would be accompanied by a grand banquet given for His chosen people.

The slaves God sent to call again and again those who had been invited were John the Baptist, Jesus Himself in His preaching-teaching ministry, and the New Testament apostles, prophets, and other preachers and teachers. It would seem that the slaves would also have to represent New Testament preachers, because their message pertained to the King’s Son, Jesus Christ. God was saying to Israel, His already-invited guests, much the same as He had said from heaven at Jesus’ baptism: “Here is My Son; come and give Him honor.” But John the Baptist was rejected and beheaded, Jesus was rejected and crucified, and the apostles and prophets were rejected and persecuted, many being put to death.

The indifferent guests in the parable represent people who are preoccupied with daily living and personal pursuits. They are essentially the secular-minded, those who are interested in the here and now and have no interest in spiritual things. They are the materialists, whose primary interest is accumulating things, and the ambitious, whose main concern is “getting ahead.” They are not usually antagonistic to the things of God but simply have no time for them.

Those who are actively hostile to the gospel invariably are people involved in false religion, including the many forms of humanistic religion that parade under a guise of philosophy, mysticism, or scientism. The history of persecution of God’s people shows that the chief persecutor has been false religion. It is the purveyors of error who are the aggressive enemies of truth, and it is therefore inevitable that, as God’s Word predicts, the final world system of the antichrist will be religious, not secular.

The fact that the king sent his messengers on two different occasions cannot be pressed to mean that only two calls were extended or that the first group consisted of John the Baptist and Jesus and the second consisted of the apostles. The parable makes no distinction in the types of slaves, or messengers. The point of the two callings of the invited guests was to illustrate God’s gracious patience and forbearance with the rejecters, His willingness to call Israel again and again—as John the Baptist had done for perhaps a year, as Jesus did for three years, and as the apostles did for some forty years, until Jerusalem and the Temple were destroyed in a.d. 70.

The Rejecters Punished

But the king was enraged and sent his armies, and destroyed those murderers, and set their city on fire. Then he said to his slaves, ‘The wedding is ready, but those who were invited were not worthy. (22:7–8)

The second scene in the parable depicts the punishment of the rebellious subjects who rejected the king’s call. As in the parable of the vineyard, God’s patience is here shown to have its limit. The king would have been perfectly justified in punishing the offenders when they first ignored His call. After His repeated invitations and their repeated wicked responses, He finally became enraged. One is reminded of God’s statement with regard to the antediluvian generation: “My Spirit shall not strive with man forever” (Gen. 6:3).

The term behind armies (strateuma) refers to any group of armed forces and is probably better translated “troops,” since the king would hardly have needed his full military might to accomplish his purpose. According to the king’s instructions, the troops both destroyed the murderers responsible for killing his emissaries and set their city on fire. The fulfillment of the second prophetic feature in the story occurred in a.d. 70.

When the Roman general Titus conquered Jerusalem in that year, he killed some 1,100,000 Jews, threw their bodies over the wall, and slaughtered countless thousands more throughout Palestine. In his Jewish War, the Jewish historian Flavius Josephus, who witnessed the destruction of Jerusalem, graphically chronicled the horrible scene:

That building [the Temple at Jerusalem], however, God long ago had sentenced to the flames; but now in the revolution of the time periods the fateful day had arrived, the tenth of the month Lous, the very day on which previously it had been burned by the king of Babylon.… One of the soldiers, neither awaiting orders nor filled with horror of so dread an undertaking, but moved by some supernatural impulse, snatched a brand from the blazing timber and, hoisted up by one of his fellow soldiers, flung the fiery missile through a golden window.… When the flame arose, a scream, as poignant as the tragedy, went up from the Jews … now that the object which before they had guarded so closely was going to ruin.… While the sanctuary was burning, … neither pity for age nor respect for rank was shown; on the contrary, children and old people, laity and priests alike were massacred.… The emperor ordered the entire city and sanctuary to be razed to the ground, except only the highest towers, Phasael, Hippicus, and Mariamne, and that part of the wall that enclosed the city on the west.

The king explained to his slaves that the wedding was ready, but those who were invited were not worthy to attend. Their unworthiness was not because in themselves they lacked the required righteousness. Neither the original invitation nor the subsequent calls were based on merit but solely on the king’s gracious favor. Ironically and tragically, they were declared to be not worthy because they refused an invitation that was in no way based on worth. As the parable goes on to make clear (v. 10), “both evil and good” people were called.

That which makes a person worthy of receiving salvation is not any sort of human goodness or religious or spiritual accomplishment but simply his saying yes to God’s invitation to receive His Son, Jesus Christ, as Lord. The people God here declared not worthy were His chosen people, Israel, who would not come to Him freely and without merit through His Son. And because they rejected the Son, God rejected them for a season. Because they rejected their own Messiah, they were temporarily cast off as a nation and as God’s unique chosen people.

The New Guests Invited

Go therefore to the main highways, and as many as you find there, invite to the wedding feast.’ And those slaves went out into the streets, and gathered together all they found, both evil and good; and the wedding hall was filled with dinner guests. (22:9–10)

The third scene in the parable depicts the guests who were finally invited to replace those who had repeatedly refused the king’s call. The wedding feast for the king’s son was ready, but there was no one to attend unless new guests were invited.

“Go therefore to the main highways,” the king told His servants, “and as many as you find there, invite to the wedding feast.” The plan was for them to go everywhere and find everyone they could and invite them to come. That is precisely what Jesus commanded in the Great Commission: “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations” (Matt. 28:19). God had long beforehand predicted through Hosea, “I will call those who were not My people, ‘My people,’ and her who was not beloved, ‘Beloved.’ And it shall be that in the place where it was said to them, ‘You are not My people,’ there they shall be called sons of the living God” (Rom. 9:25–26; cf. Hos. 2:23; 1:10). By the Jews’ “transgression,” Paul wrote in that same letter, “salvation has come to the Gentiles” (11:11).

Just as their king commanded, those slaves went out into the streets, and gathered together all they found, both evil and good. They called the morally evil and the morally good alike, their being equally unworthy in themselves to come to the king’s feast. The original guests had not been invited because of their moral or spiritual superiority, and neither were the newly-invited guests. Among the ancient Jews were those who lived exemplary, upright lives, who were helpful to their neighbors, told the truth, never used the Lord’s name in vain, never cheated in business, and never committed adultery or murder or theft. There were also those whose lives were a moral cesspool. But the first kind of person was no more acceptable to God in himself than the second. God has always extended His call for salvation to both evil and good people, because neither are righteous enough and both are equally in need of salvation.

Paul makes clear that “neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, shall inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Cor. 6:9–10). God will not allow those whose lives are characterized by such sins to have any part of His kingdom. But He will receive for salvation a person who is guilty of any or all of those and other sins and who desires to be cleansed from his sins by the redeeming work of Christ on the cross. Therefore Paul could continue to say to his Corinthian brothers in Christ, “And such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified” (v. 11).

What makes a person worthy of salvation today is exactly what has made a person worthy of salvation since the Fall, namely, personal faith in God’s gracious provision in Christ. All who accept God’s invitation to His Son’s celebration, that is, who follow the Son as their saving Lord, will be dinner guests in His divine and eternally glorious wedding hall.

The Intruder Expelled

But when the king came in to look over the dinner guests, he saw there a man not dressed in wedding clothes, and he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you come in here without wedding clothes?’ And he was speechless. Then the king said to the servants, ‘Bind him hand and foot, and cast him into the outer darkness; in that place there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ For many are called, but few are chosen.” (22:11–14)

The fourth and last scene in the parable focuses on an intruder into the wedding feast, who did not belong because he was not dressed in wedding clothes. The man obviously had been included in the general invitation, because the king made no restrictions as to who was invited, having instructed his slaves to call both the evil and good wherever they might be found. He was not a party crasher who came without an invitation, but he had come improperly dressed, and he obviously stood out in the great wedding hall, in stark contrast to all the other dinner guests.

At first reading, one wonders how any of those who accepted the king’s invitation could have been expected to come properly attired. They had been rounded up from every part of the land, and many had been taken off the streets. Even if they had time to dress properly, they had no clothes befitting such an occasion as the wedding of the king’s son.

But the fact that all of the dinner guests except that one man were dressed in wedding clothes indicates that the king had made provision for such clothes. It would have been a moral mockery, especially for such an obviously kind and gracious ruler, to invite even the most wicked people in the land to come to the feast and then exclude one poor fellow because he had no proper clothes to wear.

That man was fully accountable for being improperly dressed, but the gracious king nevertheless gave him an opportunity to justify himself, asking with undeserved respect, “Friend, how did you come in here without wedding clothes?” Had the man had a good reason, he would certainly have mentioned it immediately But he was speechless, unable to offer the king even the feeblest excuse. It is therefore obvious that he could have come in wedding clothes had he been willing.

Until that point the man had been utterly presumptuous, thinking he could come to the king’s feast on his own terms, in any clothes he wanted. He was proud and self-willed, thoughtless of the others, and, worst of all, insulting to the king. Arrogantly defying royal protocol, he was determined to “be himself.”

But his arrogance was short-lived. When, as the king knew in advance, the man could not excuse himself, the king said to the servants, “Bind him hand and foot, and cast him into the outer darkness; in that place there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” The binding of hand and foot probably represents prevention of the man’s resisting as well as prevention of his returning. By that time it was night, and although the wedding hall would be well lighted, it was dark outside. The man was permanently expelled from the presence of the king and of the king’s people into the outer darkness. He would have great regret and remorse, and, with everyone else in that place, he would experience perpetual weeping and gnashing of teeth. But though he had a great opportunity, he had never had, and did not now have, the godly sorrow that leads to repentance and salvation (2 Cor. 7:10).

Since Cain’s first attempt to please God by offering his self-appointed sacrifice, men have been trying to come to the Lord on their own terms. They may fellowship with believers, join the church, become active in the leadership, give generously to its support, and speak of devotion to God. Like the tares among the wheat, they freely coexist for a while with God’s people. But in the day of judgment their falsehood will become obvious and their removal certain. Some will dare to say to God “on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then [Christ] will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness’ ” (Matt. 7:22–23).

The proper wedding garment of a true believer is God-imputed righteousness, without which no one can enter or live in the kingdom. Unless a person’s righteousness exceeds the hypocritical self-righteousness that typified the scribes and Pharisees, he “shall not enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:20). The only acceptable wedding garment is the genuine “sanctification without which no one will see the Lord” (Heb. 12:14).

Many of Jesus’ Jewish hearers that day would have recalled the beautiful passage from Isaiah which declares, “I will rejoice greatly in the Lord, my soul will exult in my God; for He has clothed me with garments of salvation, He has wrapped me with a robe of righteousness” (Isa. 61:10). Sincere Jews knew that, contrary to the man-made, legalistic traditions of their rabbis, God not only requires inner righteousness of men but He also offers it as a gift.

God’s eyes, of course, can see into men’s hearts to know whether their righteousness is of their own making or His granting. But even outwardly a true believer’s life will evidence right living and reflect right thinking. The Lord not only imputes but imparts righteousness to His children. Only He can see the internal righteousness that He imputes, but everyone can see the external righteousness that He imparts. A child of God is characterized by a holy life. Peter made that fact clear when he described salvation as “obedience to the truth” which has “purified your souls” (1 Pet. 1:22).

Just before Jesus declared that prophesying, casting out demons, and performing miracles in His name may be false evidence of salvation, He had said that true evidence of salvation will always be apparent. A person’s spiritual condition will be manifested in the fruit of his living. “Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes, nor figs from thistles, are they?” He had asked rhetorically. “Even so, every good tree bears good fruit; but the bad tree bears bad fruit” (Matt. 7:16–17, 21–23). A holy, godly life cannot help bearing righteous fruit, because it is the natural outgrowth of the work of the Spirit within (Gal. 5:22–23).

Jesus surely would have been pleased had one of His hearers interrupted and asked, “How can I be clothed in the proper garment? What can I do to keep from being cast into the outer darkness like that man?” He no doubt would have said to that person as He had said many times before in various ways, “Come to Me, that you may have life” (John 5:40). As Paul explained to the Corinthians, God made Christ “who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Cor. 5:21). That is the wedding garment that God demands and His Son provides.

Jesus did not ask the Jewish leaders to comment on this parable as He had done with the previous two, where in each case they condemned themselves by their answers (21:31–32, 40–45). He knew they would not be trapped again, because it was now obvious that the whole thrust of the parables was to condemn them. Their only purpose, now heating up to a fury, was to trap and condemn Him to death (22:15; cf. 21:46).

Consequently, the Lord closed with the simple but sobering statement, Many are called, but few are chosen. That phrase reflects the scriptural balance between God’s sovereignty and man’s will. The invitations to the wedding feast went out to many, representative of everyone to whom the gospel message is sent. But few of those who heard the call were willing to accept it and thereby be among the chosen. The gospel invitation is sent to everyone, because it is not the Father’s will that a single person be excluded from His kingdom and perish in the outer darkness of hell (2 Pet. 3:9). But not everyone wants God, and many who claim to want Him do not want Him on His terms. Those who are saved enter God’s kingdom because of their willing acceptance of His sovereign, gracious provision. Those who are lost are excluded from the kingdom because of their willing rejection of that same sovereign grace.[1]


The Parable of the Wedding Banquet

Matthew 22:1–14

Jesus spoke to them again in parables, saying: “The kingdom of heaven is like a king who prepared a wedding banquet for his son. He sent his servants to those who had been invited to the banquet to tell them to come, but they refused to come.

“Then he sent some more servants and said, ‘Tell those who have been invited that I have prepared my dinner: My oxen and fattened cattle have been butchered, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding banquet.’

“But they paid no attention and went off—one to his field, another to his business. The rest seized his servants, mistreated them and killed them. The king was enraged. He sent his army and destroyed those murderers and burned their city.

“Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding banquet is ready, but those I invited did not deserve to come. Go to the street corners and invite to the banquet anyone you find.’ So the servants went out into the streets and gathered all the people they could find, both good and bad, and the wedding hall was filled with guests.

“But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing wedding clothes. ‘Friend,’ he asked, ‘how did you get in here without wedding clothes?’ The man was speechless.

“Then the king told the attendants, ‘Tie him hand and foot, and throw him outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

“For many are invited, but few are chosen.”

From time to time in these studies I have acknowledged that a particular parable is difficult to interpret and have mentioned several ways the details of the story might be taken. That problem does not exist with the parables in Matthew 21 and 22: the parable of the two sons, the parable of the wicked tenant farmers, and the parable of the wedding banquet. On the contrary, they are all too clear—above all the parable of the banquet! It speaks of God’s gracious invitation in the gospel and of the indifferent and even arrogant way men and women respond to it. It also refers to hell as the end of those who presume to enter God’s presence without the wedding garment of Christ’s righteousness.

This parable is found in Luke as well as in Matthew, though with some differences. The fullest form is Matthew’s; Luke does not mention the guest who is cast out. But Luke 14:15–24 contains an elaboration of the excuses made by those who refused the king’s invitation.

Those Who Would Not Come

The story begins with a king who has prepared a wedding banquet for his son and sends servants to those who have been invited to tell them that the feast is now ready and that they should come. They refuse to come. Their refusal is an insult, of course. It is dishonoring to the son, the king, and even to the servants who carried the king’s message. But the king is patient at first. He sends other servants to repeat the invitation: “Tell those who have been invited that I have prepared my dinner: My oxen and fattened cattle have been butchered, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding banquet” (v. 4). But again they refuse. This time, however, they do not merely reject the invitation, they also mistreat the messengers and kill some of them. The king sends an army to destroy the murderers and burn their city (vv. 1–7). After that he invites others.

The reason the parable is so easy to understand is that nearly every part is discussed in plain terms elsewhere. The king is God, sitting on the throne of the universe. The son is his Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. The banquet is the marriage supper of the Lamb. The messengers are the early preachers of the gospel. Those to whom the invitation was first given are the upright Jews, and those who eventually come to the banquet are the outcast and poor, even Gentiles. John 1:11–12 says, “He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.”

John 1:11–12 suggests that on one level at least a number of Jesus’ parables deal with the refusal of the Jews to receive Jesus when he first came to them. This was a major puzzle during the lifetime of the Lord, as well as afterward, so it is not strange to find parables that either deal with it directly or allude to it indirectly. The older son in the parable of the prodigal son represents Israel and her religious leaders particularly. So do the workers in the vineyard who were hired early but were paid the same as those who came late. So does the Pharisee in the story of the Pharisee and the tax collector (Luke 18:9–14). These parables all explore the thinking of those who supposed they had worked long and faithfully for God, unlike the common people or Gentiles, and were resentful when the grace of God was shown to people they considered unworthy of it.

The unique element in the parable of the wedding banquet is the willful refusal of those who were invited. It was not that they could not come. Rather, they would not. The reason for their refusal is not spelled out, but the way the servants were treated suggests what it was. They “seized” the servants, “mistreated them and killed them” (v. 6). If the invited guests felt that way toward the servants, they obviously felt that way toward the king who had sent them and would have seized, mistreated, and killed him if they could have done so. In other words, they would not come because they actually despised the king and were hostile to him.

The leaders of Christ’s day bitterly resented this portrait of them, but resent it or not, that is precisely the way these religious leaders thought and acted. In the story immediately before this (Matt. 21:33–46), Jesus told of tenant farmers who beat, killed, and stoned the owner’s servants. At last they murdered his son.

In the chapter following (Matthew 23), Jesus pronounces woes on these same people:

Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You build tombs for the prophets and decorate the graves of the righteous. And you say, “If we had lived in the days of our forefathers, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.” So you testify against yourselves that you are the descendants of those who murdered the prophets. Fill up, then, the measure of the sin of your forefathers!…

I am sending you prophets and wise men and teachers. Some of them you will kill and crucify; others you will flog in your synagogues and pursue from town to town. And so upon you will come all the righteous blood that has been shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah son of Berakiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar.…

O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing.

verses 29–37

We know that at the last these rebellious subjects of the King of heaven killed Christ. As Stephen later put it, “Was there ever a prophet your fathers did not persecute? They even killed those who predicted the coming of the Righteous One. And now you have betrayed and murdered him—you who have received the law that was put into effect through angels but have not obeyed it” (Acts 7:52–53).

Today we are not so inclined to kill prophets. If we are honest, however, we will admit that the same spirit is present among many of our contemporaries as they dispose of God’s messengers by ridicule or neglect, if not by more violent hostility. Charles H. Spurgeon preached seven sermons on this parable during the course of his long ministry, and he was deeply touched by that fact. He said:

Today this same class will be found among the children of godly parents; dedicated from their birth, prayed for by loving piety, listening to the gospel from their childhood, and yet unsaved. We look for these to come to Jesus. We naturally hope that they will feast upon the provisions of grace, and like their parents will rejoice in Christ Jesus; but alas! How often it is the case they will not come!… A preacher may be too rhetorical: let a plain-speaking person be tried. He may be too weighty: let another come with parable and anecdote. Alas! With some of you the thing wanted is not a new voice, but a new heart. You would listen no better to a new messenger than to the old one.

Some who are invited to the gospel banquet do not openly express their hatred of the one who gives it, but they make excuses. They go off “one to his field, another to his business” (v. 5). Jesus elaborates that point in Luke’s version: “But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said, ‘I have just bought a field, and I must go and see it. Please excuse me.’

“Another said, ‘I have just bought five yoke of oxen, and I’m on my way to try them out. Please excuse me.’

“Still another said, ‘I just got married, so I can’t come’ ” (Luke 14:18–20). Each of those excuses is trifling. As Jesus tells it, it is not a case of a man being on his deathbed, unable to move, nor a woman being kept at home by a violent husband. Not one of these excuses has any weight at all. So what if a man has just bought a field? There is no reason why he would have to see it on that particular day and miss the banquet. The field could wait. There was no reason why the second person had to try out his oxen. He could have waited a few days. Even the excuse about marriage had no substance. Are we to think that a new bride would be unwelcome at a feast to which her husband was invited?

Besides that, the invitation was not the first they had received. In both versions of the parable Jesus says the invitation was sent to those who had already been invited once. The guests had no excuse for failing to arrange their schedules accordingly. When the final summons came, they should have been eagerly anticipating the banquet.

Many who reject the gospel invitation today have equally flimsy excuses and will rightly incur the King’s wrath. They say they are too busy for spiritual things. They say they have fields or patients or bonds or whatever it is that imprisons their souls and keeps them from faith in him who brings salvation. Spurgeon, whom I quoted earlier, tells of a ship owner who was visited by a godly man. The Christian asked, “Well, sir, what is the state of your soul?” to which the merchant replied, “Soul? I have no time to take care of my soul. I have enough to do just taking care of my ships.” But he was not too busy to die, which he did a week later.

Do you fit that pattern? Are you more interested in your good credit than in Christ? Do you read the stock quotations more than you read your Bible? You do not have to murder a prophet to miss out. You have only to fritter away your time on things that will eventually pass away and thus let your opportunities for repentance and faith pass by.

Those Who Came

Half the parable (Matt. 22:1–7) is about those who despised the king and would not come to the banquet, but the second half (vv. 8–14) tells of those who did come. The king said, “Go to the street corners and invite to the banquet anyone you find” (v. 9). Luke makes it plain that these persons were drawn from the lower ranks of life. “Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame.… Go out to the roads and country lanes and make them come in, so that my house will be full” (Luke 14:21, 23).

This seems an extraordinary thing for the master to have done or, in Matthew’s case, for a king to have done. But when we remember that the master represents God, it seems inevitable. We need to ask questions such as, Is it possible that the King of the universe could ever be dishonored by having no one at the wedding supper of his Son? That no one would be saved? Can the Almighty be vanquished? Disappointed? Can the work of the Lord Jesus Christ be ineffective? Can Jesus have died in vain? Or risen in vain? If Jesus died and no one receives salvation through his completed work, would not God be dishonored? Would Satan not have triumphed? To ask questions such as these is to show the impossibility of such an outcome. God must be honored. Jesus must be effective in his work. Jesus himself said, “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away” (John 6:37, emphasis added).

But surely God is dishonored by the kinds of people who come, someone might say. These are not the important people, not the wise, not the strong, not the mighty. True, and God admits it. Paul wrote, “God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him” (1 Cor. 1:27–29). Is God dishonored by dealing with such people? On the contrary, he is highly honored.

How? Let me share Spurgeon’s answer to that question:

  1. “The persons who came to the wedding were more grateful than the first invited might have been if they had come. The richer sort had a good dinner every day. Those farmers could always kill a fat sheep, and those merchants could always buy a calf. ‘Thank you for nothing,’ they would have said to the king if they had accepted his invitation. But these poor beggars picked off the streets … welcomed the fatlings. How glad they were! One of them said to the other, ‘It’s a long time since you and I last sat down to such a joint as this,’ and the other answered, ‘I can hardly believe that I am really in a palace dining with a king. Why, yesterday I begged all the day and only had twopence at night. Long live the king, say I, and blessings on the prince and his bride!’
  2. “The joy that day was much more expressed than it would have been had others come. Those ladies and gentlemen who were first invited, if they had come to the wedding, would have seated themselves there in a very stiff and proper manner.… But these beggars! They make a merry clatter; they are not muzzled by propriety; they are glad at the sight of every dish.…
  3. “The occasion became more famous than it would otherwise have been. If the feast had gone on as usual it would have been only one among many such things; but now this royal banquet was the only one of its kind, unique, unparalleled. To gather in poor men off the streets, laboring men and idle men, bad men and good men, to the wedding of the Crown Prince—this was a new thing under the sun. Everybody talked of it. There were songs made about it, and these were sung in the King’s honor where none honored kings before.… Dear friends, when the Lord saved some of us by his grace, it was no common event. When he brought us great sinners to his feet, and washed us, and clothed us, and fed us, and made us his own, it was a wonder to be talked of for ever and ever. We will never leave off praising his name throughout eternity. That which looked as though it would defame the King turned out to his honor, and ‘the wedding was furnished with guests.’ ”

Ultimately, nothing will dishonor God. Unbelievers may despise him and dishonor him by their rejections of the gospel, but theirs is not the last word. Their hatred will be overcome by God’s good, and the praise of the redeemed will drown out the cries of the impenitent. To see it we have only to turn to the last chapters of the Book of Revelation, where we find the wicked being judged and the redeemed people of God engaged in holy, hearty, heartfelt praise to him who sits upon the throne and to the Lamb forever.

The Man without a Garment

At this point the parable seems to be over, which is the case in Luke. But Matthew is not quite finished, and I am glad because here the Lord gives a much needed warning concerning the man who came to the feast without a wedding garment. The disadvantaged sometimes possess an inverse pride. Because they are not rich or famous or powerful but poor and unknown and weak, they feel they deserve the king’s bounty and can come before him in their own character and on the basis of their own “good” works. Jesus exposed that error by showing how the man who came to the feast without a garment was at once confronted by the king and then thrown “outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (v. 13).

What is the wedding garment? It is the righteousness of Jesus Christ, of course. It is that perfect righteousness that God provides freely to all who repent of sin and trust in the Lord Jesus Christ alone for their salvation. We sing about it in a hymn of Nikolaus von Zinzendorf, translated by John Wesley:

Jesus, thy blood and righteousness

My beauty are, my glorious dress;

’Midst flaming worlds, in these arrayed,

With joy shall I lift up my head.

If we are clothed in Christ’s righteousness, we will be able to stand before God and rejoice in our salvation, but only if we are so clothed. If we are not clothed in Christ’s righteousness, we will be speechless before God and will be cast out.

I am interested in the words “the man was speechless” (v. 12), because that is the same thought Paul expresses in Romans 3:19, when he wraps up his powerful indictment of the human race by concluding that “every mouth [will] be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God.”

Early in his ministry, Donald Grey Barnhouse developed a way of presenting the gospel using that text. When Barnhouse was speaking to a person and he wasn’t sure whether the person was a Christian, Barnhouse would ask, “Suppose you should die tonight and appear before God in heaven and he should ask you, ‘What right do you have to come into my heaven?’ what would you say?” He learned from experience that there were only three answers a person could give.

Many would cite their good works, saying, “I’d say I’ve done the best I can, and I’ve never done anything particularly bad.” This was an appeal to the person’s moral record, and Barnhouse would point out that it is our record that has gotten us into trouble in the first place. We have all fallen short of God’s moral standard embodied in the law. The Bible flatly declares, “No one will be declared righteous in [God’s] sight by observing the law” (Rom. 3:20).

A second group of people would respond as a woman did whom Barnhouse once met on a ship crossing the Atlantic. He asked, “If God demanded of you, ‘What right do you have to come into my heaven?’ what would you say?”

She responded, “I wouldn’t have a thing to say.” To put it in other words, she would be “speechless” before God, which is what Paul wrote about in Romans. In Jesus’ parable the Lord says this will be the case for all of us when God actually asks that question. In this life we may get by with our excuses or with the delusion that our record is pretty good and God will be satisfied with it. But in that day, when we see God in his glory and understand what true righteousness is, our foolishness will be made apparent to ourselves as well as to all other beings in the universe, and we will be reduced to silence—if we are not clothed with the wedding garment of Christ’s righteousness.

Which brings us to the third and only acceptable answer. “What right do you have to come into my heaven?” The only possible answer is, “None at all, so far as I myself am concerned. But Jesus died for my sins and has given me the covering of his own righteousness in which alone I dare to stand before you. I come at your invitation and in that clothing.” Will God reject a person who comes in that way? He will not, for it is precisely for such persons that Jesus Christ died. Besides, it is Jesus who has invited us to come to him.[2]


The Parable of the Wedding Feast

Matthew 22:1–14

Many are invited, but few are chosen. (Matt. 22:14)

We are fascinated by weddings. My recent internet search of the term “wedding” turned up over fifty million hits, not far behind terms such as truth, marriage, baseball, and mother. Weekly television programs and successful magazines are exclusively devoted to brides and weddings. Wedding movies entertain every year, with stories of princess brides, runaway brides, and wedding planners who dream of their own wedding plans. Some people plan more for their wedding than they do for their marriage, and a few people seem to care more about their wedding than their marriage. Therefore they put their marriages at risk by delaying marriage in order to have “the perfect wedding,” and after the marriage ends, they may end up suing each other for ownership of the wedding photos.

The Kingdom Is like a Royal Wedding Banquet

Since this fascination with weddings is nothing new, it is no surprise that Jesus tells a parable about the kingdom that features an unusual wedding: “Jesus spoke to them again in parables, saying: ‘The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son’ ” (22:1–2 ESV). Like all parables, this one is a comparison, an analogy, meant to make a point, not to offer a precise definition of the kingdom. Strange things happen in parables, so that they arrest our attention and make us think. Here, for starters, guests spurn a royal wedding and kill the messengers, and the king retaliates by burning their city.

In our story, a king hosts a wedding banquet for his son and invites his guests. Then, as now, custom required that the king send invitations to his friends and fellow leaders for such a formal event. The guests would be honored by the invitation, and the king would prepare a sumptuous banquet that might last for days.

The invitation secures a commitment to attend (or not) on a certain day. Since they had no clocks or watches, everyone would need to be ready to come when the king dispatched his servants to invite everyone again and to declare that the hour of the wedding and the feast had come.

The Invited Guests Behave Badly

Yet on the appointed day, when the king “sent his servants to those who had been invited to the banquet … they refused to come” (22:3). This is astonishing—both rude and unnatural—to reject anyone like this, let alone the king!

But the king persisted and gave everyone a second chance. Could there be a misunderstanding? To make everything clear, “he sent some more servants and said, ‘Tell those who have been invited that I have prepared my dinner: My oxen and fattened cattle have been butchered, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding banquet’ ” (22:4).

Strangely, the guests cared not a whit and “paid no attention” to the servants. They “went off—one to his field, another to his business” (22:5). Thus they ignored the king. To sense the depth of this insult, imagine receiving an invitation to an intimate event hosted by the president or prime minister of the nation. This is neither a publicity stunt nor a photo opportunity, but an entire day with government leaders, including an hour with the president or prime minister himself, discussing policy. We accept the invitation and arrange to go. But when the day comes, we change our mind. It is a beautiful day for a round of golf or a long hike with a friend, so we skip the flight. Suppose that the president’s staff is tracking the flights of all his guests and learns that we are not on the appointed flight. Thinking the best, a staffer calls and says, “We see that you missed the flight. I have reserved a seat on the next flight from your airport. It is scheduled to leave in an hour, but the plane will wait for you.” If we still do not come, what must the president think? If we choose golf or a hike over a once in a lifetime opportunity to meet with the president, he must be dismayed as he concludes that we think nothing of him and scorn his office.

As the parable describes the shocking behavior of the king’s supposed friends, we realize that Jesus must have been dismayed at the dreadful way Israel’s leaders had treated him in recent days. Describing Jesus’ life as a whole, John says, “He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him” (John 1:11 ESV). Matthew has given us the details. Specifically, when Jesus examined the temple and saw no fruit, he corrected what he saw. But far from asking Jesus what his acts meant, the authorities replied defensively, asking why he thought he had the right to criticize them. Jesus then told three parables that describe the way he saw the temple and its leaders.

The parable of the two sons compares the leaders to a man who promises to serve his father, then goes off and does nothing (21:28–32). The parable of the tenants compares Israel to tenants who are given a perfect vineyard, then refuse to pay the rent and attempt to seize the property by beating and killing the owner’s representatives. Finally, they incite one another to disinherit and slay the owner’s son, just as the leaders soon disinherited and killed Jesus (21:33–46). In this parable, people are invited to a royal banquet, then refuse to come.

These parables do not merely condemn Israel’s leaders, they express dismay over their rejection of Jesus, their long-expected Redeemer and King. Remember, Jesus had an emotional life. On occasion, he grew weary and disappointed, even exasperated (Matt. 17:17; Mark 8:12). So here we sense astonished disappointment. How could those who claim to be God’s people do such things? It is a wound, an outrage, a senseless insult to the King of kings. It is hate toward his servants, the prophets, and his Son. Why would they do it? How shall the king respond?

The story hints at the senselessness of it all. The guests casually wandered off to their farms or businesses. Jesus tells essentially the same parable but in a different setting in Luke 14. There Jesus describes the guests’ excuses in more detail. As in Matthew, they had no urgent business.

One said, “I have just bought a field, and I must go and see it” (Luke 14:18). But any sensible person would inspect a field before he bought it. Today one might as well say, “I cannot come to your party. I bought a house and need to look at it.” It is hardly urgent to examine a field or a house after buying it. Besides, if a final inspection is necessary, the next day will suffice.

Another wanted to test five teams of oxen (14:19). But a team must be tested before purchase, for if they cannot pull together, they are worthless. This excuse is no more likely than someone saying today, “I just bought five trucks and must go see if they run.” We test things before we buy them.

Finally, one said, “I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come” (14:20 ESV). The assumption is that the marriage was recent. The law does excuse a newly married man from fighting for Israel’s army (Deut. 20:7). But marriage is no excuse for backing out of a party. Besides, he did accept the first invitation, whether newly married or not. So the invitees insult the host’s honor.

Worse yet, some of them did something more egregious than simply to ignore the king and his messengers. They “seized his servants, mistreated them and killed them” (Matt. 22:6). At first glance, the invited guests simply seemed rude and disrespectful. But now we see that they hate him and would destroy his reign if they could. This is rebellion!

The king is angry, yet resolute. He is the king, after all. The violence against his servants will be punished: “He sent his troops and destroyed those murderers and burned their city” (22:7 ESV). In the parable, the feast is waiting and the rebels are concentrated in another city, which he burns. We understand that not everything in the story could happen at once. Rather, the king ordered his soldiers to act decisively to crush the rebellion.

This element of the story may shock us. The image comes from Isaiah 5, which also supplied the starting point for the parable of the wicked tenants (21:33–46). In Isaiah, the Lord compares Israel to a fertile vineyard, well planted with vines, guarded by a tower and supplied with a winepress. But the vineyard bore him no fruit. Therefore the Lord will tear up the vineyard, let the vines dry, and then burn them. Israel despised the word of God, “therefore the anger of the Lord was kindled” (Isa. 5:1–6, 24–25 ESV).

As the first phase of the story ends, we pause to consider whom the characters represent. As usual, the king represents God the Father. The son represents Jesus (the son was Jesus in the prior parable, 21:33–46, and Jesus is a bridegroom in 25:1). The servants are God’s agents—the prophets, the apostles, and their successors. The king invites guests to his son’s wedding feast just as God invites men, women, and children to his kingdom through the ages. The feast is a symbol of eternal life, for God’s people will celebrate and dine with him at “the wedding supper of the Lamb” (Rev. 19:7–9).

Those who initially agreed to come represent those Israelites who said “Yes” to God, but now refuse God’s invitation when the hour arrives. Originally, they especially represented the Jewish leaders who opposed Jesus. But the citizens also represent religious people who first accept, then reject God’s invitation.

Then and now, those who reject God’s invitation miss his feast. Yet the guests do not simply turn down an invitation to a party. In the story, they are so hostile that they kill the king’s servants. This violence is rebellion against the king. For this, they face the king’s wrath and punishment (22:7).

In the real world, many simply ignore God’s invitation, for it seems irrelevant to them. Others are more adamant about their goal of keeping God out of their lives. For example, Stephen Jay Gould, the renowned Harvard paleontologist and Darwinist, famously said, “Science and religion are not in conflict, for their teachings occupy distinctly different domains.” That may sound innocuous, but Gould meant that religion and morality merely belong to the private sphere of finding comfort and direction in life. He meant that religion—indeed, God himself (should he exist)—should stay out of the public sphere of science and fact. He meant Christians should keep their faith out of science and scientists will keep out of their faith. But his definition of the spheres keeps God and faith out of all but a small realm of private feelings and personal decisions. Religion can offer direction to the morally confused and comfort to the emotionally burdened, but nothing more. So he excluded God from most of the world.

Now we cannot read the first principles or the developed theories of science from the Bible, but if the God of the Bible says anything, he says he is Lord of all. When someone says, “This sphere, my sphere, is off limits to God,” he rejects the Lord. He ignores, even insults, God’s messengers.

The King Invites Others

The king is angry at his first guests. They “did not deserve to come” (22:8). But the king is gracious. The wedding feast stands ready (22:8), so he commissions his servants to “go to the street corners” or, more precisely, the intersections where two roads meet. He charges them “to invite to the banquet anyone you find” (22:9). So the servants “went out into the streets and gathered all the people they could find, both good and bad, and the wedding hall was filled with guests” (22:10).

The banquet will go on because the king shows genuine grace, inviting those who have no relationship with him. There is no reason to invite them to the feast other than his desire to honor his son on his wedding day. That is why the servants must “gather” them. Custom required them to refuse the invitation. The offer cannot be serious! So the servants must convince them the host is sincere and urge them to come. The king orders that the servants bring “both good and bad.” Eventually, “the wedding hall was filled with guests” (22:10).

Again, the symbolism is easy to follow. The guests who fill the banquet hall represent everyone who does not deserve a place at God’s eternal kingdom celebration. They represent flawed Israelites who are unworthy of God—the ordinary people, the sinners, who seemed to have no relation to the king. They represent Gentiles, nations, and peoples who once seemed far removed from the kingdom. From the beginning, the Gospels predicted that Jesus would come to the Gentiles. Shortly after Jesus’ birth, Simon called him “a light for revelation to the Gentiles.” Later, John said that through Jesus “all flesh shall see the salvation of God” (Luke 2:32; 3:6 ESV). Matthew says Jesus began his ministry in “Galilee of the Gentiles” (Matt. 4:15).

So God invites all kinds of people to his feast. Some initially say yes, then back away. Many leaders did this in Jesus’ day. They said yes to God once, but when Jesus came, they did not like what they saw. Today, the same holds for nominal Christians. They go to church occasionally, maybe even regularly. They like some of Jesus’ teachings and the offer of eternal life. But when they inspect the entire package, they demur and pull away.

Such people remind us that it is not enough to say yes to God once, vaguely. Many people are baptized, catechized, and sanitized from public displays of gross sin. But there is more to faith than that. True believers say yes and come to Jesus, redeemer and Lord, as the Gospels present him. Yet if someone refuses the feast, he does not stymie Jesus. His feast goes on, for he issues more invitations.

To this day, invitations remain important. In high school, good looks, athletic ability, and social confidence are the gold, silver, and bronze medal winners in the world of invitations. Of course, adults consider it important to be invited to certain parties or meetings, and some will do all they can to get in. But there is a gathering for which no credentials are required. The host is most impressive and the guest list will take your breath away. Unfortunately, one glance at the host tells you this party is out of your league.

Yet the party is not exclusive. Everyone is invited. The messenger declares, “The king requests your presence.” You reply, “There must be a mistake. You cannot mean it.” But the host does mean it, so the messengers must gather people, pulling them in. “Yes, you have no standing with the host, but he wants you to come. Please come; I implore you.”

The parable depicts the free gift of the gospel. The feast is a metaphor for eternal life. Even today, people ought to be astonished that the king of the universe requests their presence. Before we knew him, apart from any merit on our part, the Lord God set in motion a process that brings ordinary people to himself. According to plan, God personally entered history with the incarnation and continued through the death, resurrection, ascension, and return of Christ. He will return to call his people to himself.

But the Guests Must Be Prepared

This is the gospel: God saves on the basis of grace, not by merit, by grace alone, not by credentials, résumé, or lineage. He saves by faith in Christ alone. Even our faith has no merit. We cannot boast, “At least I had the good sense to believe.” God seeks us and prompts us to come to him. Besides, faith does not look inward, to the believing self. It looks upward to Christ. Then and now, faith leans on Jesus. And he accepts us, whether we are insiders or outsiders, whether we are the kind to get invited to important parties or not.

The story has one more element. The king came, inspected his guests, and “noticed a man there who was not wearing wedding clothes” (22:11). His address takes a cordial tone: “Friend, how did you get in here without wedding clothes?” But the man had nothing to say—he “was speechless” (22:12).

Since he was unfit for the banquet, the king’s servants tossed him outside, “into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (22:13; cf. 8:12; 13:42, 50). The guest was invited, but he acted like a party crasher. He was not dressed for the wedding. As a result, the host cast him out. The parable hints at the reality of eternal exclusion from the blessed presence of God and the eternal punishment which Matthew 24 and 25 describe more fully.

The darkness and the weeping represent eternal separation from God. The parable reminds us that not all who are part of the visible church are members of the true church. Eventually they leave or are cast out. As John says, “They did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us” (1 John 2:19).

But what do the wedding clothes represent? There are two answers. In Revelation, the wedding clothes are the righteousness of Christ. In heaven, God’s people are dressed in white robes. They became white when washed “in the blood of the lamb” (Rev. 7:9–14). This fits the parable which says the king invited both “good and bad” guests. If they are “bad,” they must be dressed in the righteousness of Jesus, which we gain by faith. But Revelation also says God’s people are dressed in fine linen, which is “the righteous deeds of the saints” (19:8 ESV).

So then the garment seems to be both the righteousness we have by faith in Christ and the righteousness we have by living as disciples. How can it be both? Let me answer with another story from family life.

Reflecting on the Banquet

Our first child was born to my wife at noon, after twenty hours of labor and thirty-three hours without sleep. A nurse cleaned her, checked her grip, and handed her to her mother for a season of bonding, as if, like a duck, our infant needed to imprint on her mother. It was a tender but brief moment. They cuddled, I took a photo, and my exhausted wife smiled and said, “Here, you take her, I need to sleep.”

I accompanied our newborn for the next phase of hospital activities. They undressed and weighed her and she screamed. They stretched her out for measurement and she screamed some more. They smeared gel in her eyes and thrust tubes down her nose and stuck their fingers in her mouth and she wailed. My emotions began to rise. Sleep deprived as I was, I struggled to restrain myself from accosting my baby’s tormentors and shouting, “Why are you hurting my baby? Leave her alone.” I did restrain myself, of course, because I could foresee the headlines: “Pastor wrestles nurse in hospital melee.” But the depth of my emotions surprised me. I loved this child! I had known her for twenty minutes and hot waves of paternal love surged through me.

Just so, parental love does not depend on an infant’s merit. It is free. My children know their parents’ love is free. Yet they know it also has costs. For example, everyone has chores to do, even if they suspect that it is impossible to match all the white socks correctly. And we have rules: Tell the truth; treat each another with respect, and don’t hit anyone unless they clearly deserve it.

Why do my children obey those rules? Why do they love and respect their parents? In order to obtain our love? No, they love because we loved them first. They obey not to get a father but because they have a father. For a child, there is a great difference between obeying parents in order to gain love and obeying because she is loved. Good parents remember the difference every day. The kingdom is the same. First we experience God’s love, then we love him and obey him. Both are necessary: the parents’ initial love and the child’s answering love.

The parable makes this vital point about God: he invites all kinds of people to join his kingdom. He offers life to religious and to secular people, to Jews and Gentiles. The other characters in the story teach additional lessons as they respond to this primary lesson.

The first group teaches that rejection of God’s offer is rebellion, which God eventually punishes (22:1–7). The second group teaches that both good and bad people can enjoy God’s offer (22:8–10). Yet those who come to God must come in truth (22:11–13). They must be prepared to stand before the Lord. That happens two ways: by faith in Jesus, who gives his righteousness to us, and by living as a disciple.

So it comes to us. Jesus says, “Many are invited [or called], but few are chosen” (22:14). That is, many hear the outward call to God and many appear to respond, but God chooses only some of them to enter his eternal heaven. We know who these are by a profession of faith that is verified by a godly life.

Today, we can have assurance that we are ready for God’s banquet and have been chosen for it in this way. We must ask: Have we heard and accepted Christ’s call to believe? Are we, to use Paul’s phrase, “putting on Christ” and the good deeds that never earn God’s favor but always answer to his favor? Or will you be speechless when you meet the Lord?

Some years ago, a great pastor fashioned a diagnostic question that started profitable conversations about the faith: If God asked you, “What right do you have to enter my heaven?” what would you say? The pastor found that people answered three ways.

  • Some say they have tried to be good—a good neighbor, a good mother, a good citizen. They say, “I’ve done my best and I’m no worse than the next fellow.”
  • A second group is speechless. This is not the silence of a listener, it is the silence of the embarrassed, the flustered and the guilty, who know they have nothing to say in their defense. They simply do not know what to say.
  • The third group says, “I have no right to enter heaven and offer nothing by way of merit. But I do believe in Jesus. I trust in him alone for salvation and I seek him for daily direction.”

The third group is fit for the banquet, fit for heaven. In the last several chapters, the topic of true religion and true faith has come up several times. True religion bears fruit, true faith follows Christ. If someone is not sure whether his religion is genuine, he should both examine himself and pray. He may seek a Christian friend or a pastor to help him, or he may seek a quiet place where he will be alone with the Lord. A person might pray this way:

Lord Jesus Christ, I am aware that in different ways you have been seeking me. I believe that your claims are true; that you died on the cross for my sins, and that you have risen in triumph over death. Thank you for your loving offer of forgiveness, freedom, and fulfillment. Now—I turn from my sinful self-centeredness. I come to you as my Savior. I submit to you as my Lord. Give me the strength to follow you for the rest of my life. Amen.

This prayer, sincerely prayed, makes us true friends of the king. It clothes us in the garments that prepare us for God’s banquet, for life everlasting with him.[3]


[1] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1985). Matthew (Vol. 3, pp. 303–313). Chicago: Moody Press.

[2] Boice, J. M. (2001). The Gospel of Matthew (pp. 465–471). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.

[3] Doriani, D. M. (2008). Matthew & 2. (R. D. Phillips, P. G. Ryken, & D. M. Doriani, Eds.) (Vol. 2, pp. 278–288). Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing.

March 15, 2019 Morning Verse Of The Day

14 I hope to come to you soon, but I am writing these things to you so that, 15 if I delay, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of the truth. 16 Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of godliness:

He was manifested in the flesh,
vindicated by the Spirit,
seen by angels,
proclaimed among the nations,
believed on in the world,
taken up in glory.

The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (1 Ti 3:14–16). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.


The Message of the Church

And by common confession great is the mystery of godliness:

He who was revealed in the flesh,

Was vindicated in the Spirit,

Beheld by angels,

Proclaimed among the nations,

Believed on in the world,

Taken up in glory. (3:16)

The Word of God is a vast, inexhaustible storehouse of spiritual truth. Out of all that truth, what is most essential for the church to uphold and proclaim? Paul gives the answer in verse 16: The message of Jesus Christ. That is the core of what we teach and preach. In Luke 24:46–47, Jesus said to the disciples, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and rise again from the dead the third day; and that repentance for forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in His name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem.” That became the theme of apostolic preaching. In Acts 10:37–43 Peter said,

You yourselves know the thing which took place throughout all Judea, starting from Galilee, after the baptism which John proclaimed. You know of Jesus of Nazareth, how God anointed Him with the Holy Spirit and with power, and how He went about doing good, and healing all who were oppressed by the devil; for God was with Him. And we are witnesses of all the things He did both in the land of the Jews and in Jerusalem. And they also put Him to death by hanging Him on a cross. God raised Him up on the third day, and granted that He should become visible, not to all the people, but to witnesses who were chosen beforehand by God, that is, to us, who ate and drank with Him after He arose from the dead. And He ordered us to preach to the people, and solemnly to testify that this is the One who has been appointed by God as Judge of the living and the dead. Of Him all the prophets bear witness that through His name everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins.

Paul, too, made Jesus Christ the central theme in his preaching. To the Corinthians he wrote, “we preach Christ crucified” (1 Cor. 1:23), and, “For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:2). In his second epistle to them he added, “For the Son of God, Christ Jesus, who was preached among you by us—by me and Silvanus and Timothy—was not yes and no, but is yes in Him” (2 Cor. 1:19), and “We do not preach ourselves but Christ Jesus as Lord, and ourselves as your bond-servants for Jesus’ sake” (2 Cor. 4:5). In Galatians 6:14 he said, “May it never be that I should boast, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.” Even when Christ was preached from wrong motives, he rejoiced (Phil. 1:18).

Because Paul emphasizes the person and work of Christ in 1 Timothy (cf. 1:1; 2:5–6; 6:15–16), that truth may well have been under attack in Ephesus. In this magnificent six-line hymn, Paul rehearses in familiar terms the central truths about Jesus Christ.

Common confession comes from homologeō, which means “to say the same thing.” This is a truth upon which everyone agrees; it is the unanimous conviction of all believers that great is the mystery of godliness. That phrase may be a parallel to the common confession of the pagan worshipers in Ephesus, “Great is Artemis [Diana] of the Ephesians!” (Acts 19:28).

As already noted, a mystery was a hidden, sacred truth that is revealed in the New Testament. The mystery of godliness parallels the “mystery of the faith” (v. 9). It refers to the great truth of salvation and righteousness through Christ, which produces godliness (eusebeia) in those who believe. It is also possible to understand the mystery of godliness as a reference to Jesus, who was the very revelation of true and perfect “godlikeness,” since He was God. Godliness, then, first refers to the incarnation and secondly to those who are saved and become the godly in Christ.

As already noted, the lines that follow are undoubtedly from an early church hymn. That is evident from its uniformity (the six verbs are all third person singular aorists), rhythm, and parallelism. The first parallel is between the flesh and the Spirit, the second between angels and nations (men), and the third between the world and glory, or earth and heaven.

The Authorized Version opens the hymn with “God.” The earliest and best manuscripts, however, read hos (He who), not theos (“God”). (For a discussion of the textual issue see Bruce M. Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament [New York: United Bible Societies, 1975], 641.) Although no antecedent for hos is given, the hymn can only be describing Jesus Christ, who is the purest mystery of godliness—the hidden God revealed perfectly. This marvelous hymn gives us six truths about our Lord.

First, Jesus Christ was revealed in the flesh. God became man in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. Phaneroō (revealed) does not mean “to bring into existence,” or “to create,” but “to make visible.” It thus affirms Christ’s preexistence (cf. John 8:58; 17:5). At the Incarnation, Jesus “although He existed in the form of God … emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and [was] made in the likeness of men” (Phil. 2:6–7). Our Lord Jesus Christ made the invisible God visible to human eyes (cf. 1:17; 6:16; John 14:9; Col. 1:15; Heb. 1:3).

Flesh does not refer here to sinful, fallen human nature, as it does in Romans 7. Rather it refers merely to humanness (cf. John 1:14; Rom. 1:3; Gal. 4:4). Jesus was “made in the likeness of men … and … found in appearance as a man” (Phil. 2:7–8). “Since then the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise also partook of the same” (Heb. 2:14), and therefore “is not ashamed to call them brethren” (Heb. 2:11). That does not mean He was sinful, but that He was fully human. “We do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin” (Heb. 4:15).

It is at precisely this point that the cults and false religions of the world deceive. Satan invariably attacks the Person of Christ, denying that He is the living, eternal God in human flesh.

Second, Jesus Christ was vindicated in the Spirit. Dikaioō (vindicated) means “to justify,” or “to declare righteous.” Though the translators decided to capitalize Spirit, making it refer to the third member of the Trinity, it could also refer to Jesus. That would mean that Jesus Christ was vindicated—declared to be righteous—with respect to His spiritual nature. This reality is why the Father said, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased” (Matt. 3:17). First John 2:1 calls Him “Jesus Christ the righteous.” He was “tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin” (Heb. 4:15). Hebrews 5:9 relates that “having been made perfect, He became to all those who obey Him the source of eternal salvation,” while Hebrews 7:26 describes Him as “holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners and exalted above the heavens.”

Jesus Christ was a sinless sacrifice on our behalf: “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Cor. 5:21). “How much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God” (Heb. 9:14)? “For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps, who committed no sin, nor was any deceit found in His mouth” (1 Peter 2:21–22).

Our Lord was the God-Man. In His human nature, He was fully man, in His divine nature, He was fully God.

It is also possible that the translation of Spirit in the upper case is correct and is referring to Christ’s vindication by the Holy Spirit. In Romans 1:4 Paul tells us that Jesus Christ “was declared the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead, according to the spirit of holiness.” His resurrection by the Spirit proved His sinlessness. If He had any sin of His own, He would have stayed dead as the penalty for that sin. The affirmation of His perfect righteousness came when the Holy Spirit raised Him from the dead.

It may well be that Paul here encompasses both realities. Jesus Christ was vindicated both by His sinless life of obedience to God which declared His righteousness, and by the testimony of the Holy Spirit, who affirmed His righteousness again by raising Him from the dead.

Third, Jesus Christ was beheld by angels. Horaō (beheld means “to see,” “to visit,” “to observe,” or “to be attendant to.” Throughout our Lord’s earthly ministry, the angels observed Him, and attended to Him. They were there at His birth, announcing it to Joseph and the shepherds. They ministered to Him at His temptation, and strengthened Him in Gethsamane. At His death and resurrection, which is the focal point of this passage, angels observed Him. The fallen angels saw Him. First Peter 3:18–20 describes that event:

For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, in order that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit; in which also He went and made proclamation to the spirits now in prison, who once were disobedient, when the patience of God kept waiting in the days of Noah.

After His death on the cross, our Lord visited the place where certain demons are kept imprisoned, and proclaimed His triumph over them (cf. Col. 2:15).

The holy angels also were involved. An angel rolled away the stone at the door of His tomb (Matt. 28:2). Angels appeared to the women, affirming that Jesus had risen (Luke 24:4–7). Finally, two angels attended Christ’s ascension (Acts 1:10–11). Angels were involved in our Lord’s earthly life from beginning to end. That, too, signified divine approval of the incarnate Messiah.

Fourth, Jesus Christ was proclaimed among the nations. Before His ascension, He commanded the disciples to “go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:19–20). In Acts 1:8 He told them, “you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.” There was to be no nation left without the gospel message. Jesus Christ is the Savior of the whole world (cf. John 3:16; 4:42; 2 Cor. 5:19–20; 1 John 2:2; 4:14).

Fifth, Jesus Christ was believed on in the world. The plan of God was fulfilled as the apostles’ proclamation resulted in saving faith in many lives. At the first public preaching of the gospel after Christ’s resurrection, 3,000 people were saved (Acts 2:41). In the days that followed, thousands more believed on Him. The gospel was preached throughout Judea, then to the Samaritans, to an Ethiopian eunuch, to Cornelius the Gentile, and ultimately across the Gentile world by Paul and his associates.

Finally, Jesus Christ was taken up in glory. Acts 1:9–10 describes the event:

After He had said these things, He was lifted up while they were looking on, and a cloud received Him out of their sight. And as they were gazing intently into the sky while He was departing, behold, two men in white clothing stood beside them; and they also 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.”

“When He had made purification of sins,” Hebrews 1:3 says, “He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high.” To the Philippians Paul wrote,

Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore also God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those who are in heaven, and on earth, and under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (Phil. 2:8–11).

Jesus’ ascension showed that the Father was pleased with Him and accepted His work.

In six short stanzas, this hymn summarizes the gospel. God became man, died for our sins, triumphed over death, was honored by angels and feared by demons, and ascended into heaven. This message was preached all over the world and many believed and were saved. That is the heart of the message it is our mission to proclaim to the world.

There once was an old church in England. A sign on the front of the building read “We preach Christ crucified.” After a time, ivy grew up and obscured the last word. The motto now read, “We preach Christ.” The ivy grew some more, and the motto read, “We preach.” Finally, ivy covered the entire sign, and the church died. Such is the fate of any church that fails to carry out its mission in the world.[1]


The Great Mystery of Godliness

1 Timothy 3:14–16

He was manifested in the flesh, vindicated by the Spirit, seen by angels, proclaimed among the nations, believed on in the world, taken up in glory. (1 Tim. 3:16)

The truth is not as true as it used to be. Sometimes it may even be falsehood. During one White House scandal, a prominent lawyer was asked if his client was telling the truth. “Tell us what the truth is,” the reporter demanded. “The truth is what is in that deposition,” answered the lawyer, “unless we make a deal with the prosecutor and say something else.” In other words, “the truth” is something that may or may not actually be true. It is something to manipulate for personal gain.

Sadly, lawyers and politicians are not the only ones who do not know the difference between truth and falsehood. In his book No Place for Truth, or, Whatever Happened to Evangelical Theology? David Wells argues that the church is weak because it has “exchanged the sensibilities of modern culture for the truth of Christ.” If Wells is right, then the church is no longer the church. For in the process of explaining his purpose for writing to Timothy, the apostle Paul defines the church by its relationship to the truth: “I hope to come to you soon, but I am writing these things to you so that, if I delay, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of truth” (1 Tim. 3:14–15).

Order in the House

Paul was planning to visit Ephesus before long. But in case he was detained—by an arrest, perhaps, or yet another shipwreck—he wanted Timothy to know how to carry out his pastoral duties in the meantime. Since 1 Timothy was a public letter, it seems he also wanted to remind the Ephesians to support their pastor by behaving themselves in the household of God. From what we have seen in 1 Timothy so far, the kind of conduct the apostle has in mind includes proper doctrine (1 Tim. 1:1–20), proper gender relations (1 Tim. 2:1–15), and proper spiritual leadership (1 Tim. 3:1–13) in the church.

It is not certain precisely how this letter fits with Paul’s itinerary in the book of Acts. Nor is it known if his travels ever brought him back through Ephesus after all. But in the providence of God, Paul’s uncertainty led him to write this letter, and the Holy Spirit has used it ever since to tell Christians all over the world “what kind of conduct befits a member of God’s household” (1 Tim. 3:15 nab). “Household” is an image that comes up repeatedly in 1 Timothy and throughout the New Testament (e.g. Gal. 3:26–4:7; 1 Tim. 3:4–5). The members of the true church are sons and daughters of God the Father. Having been born again through faith in God’s Son, we have been adopted into his family by the Holy Spirit. Therefore, we are brothers and sisters in Christ. Each and every one of us has a place of fellowship and service in God’s household.

Second, the church is God’s residence—what Paul calls “the church of the living God” (1 Tim. 3:15; cf. Josh. 3:10). In other words, the church is not simply God’s household; it is also his house. “There are good reasons why God should call the Church His House,” writes Calvin, “for not only has He received us as His sons by the grace of adoption, but He Himself dwells in the midst of us.” Here Paul may well have been reminding the Ephesians what he told them in an earlier letter: “In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit” (Eph. 2:22; cf. 2 Cor. 6:16). The church is the house that God built.

The promise that God makes his home in his church must have been of special encouragement to the Ephesians, who worshiped within the shadow of the temple of the goddess Diana. Diana’s temple in Ephesus was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. But however impressive it seemed from the outside, it was utterly devoid of life. The goddess in the temple was nothing more than a dead idol. By contrast, Paul wanted to remind the Ephesians that the church of Jesus Christ is the real temple. The living God does not dwell in temples built by human hands (cf. Acts 17:24). He lives among his people, especially in their public worship. Whenever Christians gather for prayer and praise, for Word and sacrament, God takes up residence among them. To put it in the vernacular, God is in the house.

This is why Christian worship properly begins with a prayer of invocation. In the invocation, a church invites the Holy Spirit to enter its house of worship with power. If the church is true to God’s Word, the Spirit will always make his presence known. Whenever visitors enter a church where the Spirit of God is present with the people of God in worship, they say, “Surely God is in this place!”

The Pillar of Truth

The church is not only a home for God and for his people; it is also a home for God’s truth. Paul continues his temple imagery with a third definition of the church: it is “a pillar and buttress of truth” (1 Tim. 3:15). Roman Catholic theologians often use this verse to argue against the Reformation doctrine of sola scriptura. “See,” they say, “the church is the foundation for the truth. Therefore, Scripture is not the only rule of faith and practice, as Protestants say. We must obey church tradition as well as the Bible. The truth rests upon the church, and not the other way around.”

One problem with the Catholic view of this verse is that it forgets Paul’s previous letter to the Ephesians: “You are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone” (Eph. 2:19–20). The ultimate bedrock foundation of the church is the Word of God spoken by the prophets of the Old Testament, written by the apostles of the New Testament, and made incarnate by God’s own Son. How can the church be the foundation of the truth if the truth is the foundation of the church?

Notice further that one of the words Paul uses to describe the church in 1 Timothy 3:15 is the word “buttress” (hedraiōma). A buttress is not a building’s foundation, but part of its supporting structure. To be specific, a buttress helps to stabilize the walls and pillars of a large building. In the same way, the church of Jesus Christ helps to hold the truth steady. The people of God are people of the truth. In opposition to every form of false teaching, they support truth in the world.

The other word Paul uses to describe the relationship between the church and orthodoxy is the word “pillar” (stylos). The architectural function of pillars is well known: they hold up the roof. So to say that the church is the pillar (and buttress) of the truth is to say that it lifts up the truth for all the world to see. As John Stott says, “The purpose of pillars is not only to hold the roof firm, but to thrust it high so that it can be clearly seen even from a distance.… Just so, the church holds the truth aloft, so that it is seen and admired by the world. Indeed, as pillars lift a building high while remaining themselves unseen, so the church’s function is not to advertise itself but to advertise and display the truth.” Thus the truth that the church is a “pillar of the truth” is not so much a doctrinal truth as it is a practical truth.4 Over against the Roman Catholic view that the church determines the truth, the Bible teaches that the church displays the truth.

It may be significant that the Greek omits the definite article: verse 15 reads “a pillar” rather than “the pillar.” Every Christian congregation is one pillar of truth. The Ephesians were reminded of this every time they saw the temple of Diana, which had more than one hundred Ionic columns in all, each six stories high. So many pillars were needed because the entire roof was made of marble. Without all of these pillars the temple would collapse, rather than remaining visible for miles around. Similarly, every church is a pillar that helps to bolster the truth of Jesus Christ by holding it up for the world.

A Great Mystery

If the church is a pillar and buttress of the truth, it needs to know what the truth is, and the truth is a great mystery: “Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of godliness” (1 Tim. 3:16). When the Bible uses the word “mystery” it is not referring to something that is unsolved, but to something long hidden that has now been revealed (cf. Rom. 16:25–26; 1 Tim. 3:9). In the Bible, a mystery is the secret plan of redemption which is no longer secret because God has divulged it.

The mysteries concerning Jesus Christ are profound; they are “great beyond all question” (1 Tim. 3:16 reb). The greatness of the mysteries of the gospel is demonstrable and “undeniable.” There is no doubt about it. The mysteries of the gospel are great by common consent. Almost certainly, this was another attack on the goddess Diana. During Paul’s first visit to Ephesus, the silversmiths felt threatened by his missionary work, so they sent the city into an uproar. As many as twenty thousand people crowded into the theater at Ephesus, where “they all cried out with one voice, ‘Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!’ ” (Acts 19:34). They shouted this slogan so long and so loud that their words were still ringing in Paul’s ears when he wrote this letter. Paul knew the meaning of true greatness, however, so he wrote: “Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of godliness” (1 Tim. 3:16). His very phrasing helps convey the glory and grandeur of the gospel, for the mystery is Jesus himself. This is the truth that the church is called to uphold in the world: the saving mystery of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

The mystery of Jesus Christ is described in six lines that sound like part of an early creed, confession, or catechism. Because the lines are rhythmic, and because their first words all rhyme, it is often thought that this verse formed part of an early Christian hymn:

He was manifested in the flesh,

vindicated by the Spirit,

seen by angels,

proclaimed among the nations,

believed on in the world,

taken up in glory. (1 Tim. 3:16)

In order to capture their liturgical quality, Walter Lock has put these lines into English verse:

In flesh unveiled to mortals’ sight,

Kept righteous by the Spirit’s might,

While angels watched him from the sky:

His heralds sped from shore to shore,

And men believed, the wide world o’er,

When he in glory passed on high.

These lines deserve careful study, especially since scholars disagree about how they should be divided. One suggestion is to separate the creed into two stanzas, each three lines long. The first stanza refers to the earthly ministry of Jesus Christ (he was “manifested,” “vindicated,” and “seen”), while the second stanza refers to the work of Jesus Christ after his ascension (he was “proclaimed,” “believed on,” and “taken up”).

Walter Lock, who follows this two-part structure, calls the first stanza “The Life of the Incarnate Lord” (“as seen on earth, as watched from heaven”) and the second stanza “The Life of the Ascended Lord” (“as preached on earth, as lived in heaven”). Gordon Fee describes the difference between them like this: “The first stanza sings Christ’s earthly ministry, concluding with a word of triumph and glorification. Similarly, the second stanza sings the ongoing ministry of Christ through his church, concluding again with the theme of glorification. In a certain sense both stanzas reflect the theme of humiliation and exaltation.”

Other scholars point out that the lines come in pairs or couplets. In each case, there is a contrast between earth and heaven: “flesh” and “Spirit,” “angels” and “nations,” “world” and “glory.” This suggestion may also have some merit, although the contrast between “angels” and “nations” seems somewhat forced.

Since it is not certain how to subdivide the verse, perhaps it is better not to try. This hymn—if it is a hymn—is a short history of Jesus Christ. It contains the gospel truth about his work of salvation in outline form. Each line describes a different period or event in his life and ministry. Therefore, it seems best to understand these statements in chronological order.

He Appeared in a Body

Paul begins by saying, “He was manifested in the flesh” (1 Tim. 3:16; cf. 2 Tim. 1:10). The best and oldest manuscripts say “Who” rather than “He,” but the meaning of the verse is the same in either case: God was manifested in physical form.

God the Son had lived in all the splendor of his deity from eternity past (cf. Phil. 2:6–8). Then he became a man, identical to us in his physical body. This is the mystery of the incarnation: God the Son became the God-man. By taking upon himself human flesh and blood, he became one person with two natures: a divine nature and a human nature. Calvin described his epiphany like this:

Thus is Jesus Christ true God, in so much as he was the wisdom of God before the world was made, and before all everlastingness. Now it is said, that he was made manifest in the flesh. By this word flesh, Saint Paul giveth us to understand that he was true man, and put upon him our nature. But yet he showeth by this word, manifested, that there are two natures in him. And yet we may not imagine, that there is one Jesus Christ which is God, and another Jesus Christ which is man: but we must know him only God and man.

Since God the Son appeared as a man, everything he did on this earth he did in a real human body. The events of the passion of Jesus Christ were physical events. His cheek was kissed by his betrayer. His face was spit upon. His body was struck and slapped. His back was flogged. His brow was pierced by thorns. His head was struck with a staff. As the Scripture says, “Christ suffered in the flesh” (1 Peter 4:1).

Christ even died in the flesh. It was a real body that was nailed with real nails to a cross of real wood. It was a real body that was punished for sin: “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree” (1 Peter 2:24). Then it was a real body—a corpse—that was taken down from the cross, wrapped in linen, and laid in a tomb. God the Son did not just appear in a body; the body in which he appeared was crucified, dead, and buried.

Vindicated by the Spirit

God the Son did not remain in the grave, however; he was “vindicated by the Spirit” (1 Tim. 3:16). In other words, the Holy Spirit confirmed and proved that Jesus Christ is God’s own Son and the Savior of the world by raising him from the dead.

Some scholars think that this part of the creed refers again to the incarnation. In that case, the word “spirit” would refer to the human spirit of Jesus. However, although it is true that Jesus Christ had a spirit as well as a body, what is emphasized here is that he was vindicated by the Spirit.

When was Jesus vindicated? The Holy Spirit proved Jesus was who he claimed to be throughout his earthly ministry. The Spirit proved it at Jesus’ baptism, when he descended upon him from heaven like a dove (Matt. 3:16). He proved it by preserving Jesus from sin throughout his earthly ministry. He proved it whenever he performed miracles, especially when he drove out demons. “But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons,” Jesus said, “then the kingdom of God has come upon you” (Matt. 12:28).

The Spirit vindicated the Son in all these ways, but most of all he did it through the resurrection. When Christians think about the resurrection, we usually think first of God the Son, who was raised up from the grave. We may even remember that it was God the Father who raised him. But Easter Sunday is also a day to praise God the Holy Spirit. The resurrection was such an important event that it required the work of each and every member of the Trinity. God the Father raised God the Son from the dead by the power of God the Holy Spirit: “Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive by the Spirit” (1 Peter 3:18 niv; cf. Rom. 8:11). Although Jesus laid down his life to take it up again (see John 10:18), he did not raise himself by himself. He was raised from the dead by his Father (e.g. Acts 2:24; Rom. 10:9), but this was done through the Spirit. The Holy Spirit was the one who gave life and glory to the dead body of Jesus Christ.

When the Holy Spirit raised Jesus from the dead, he confirmed that everything Jesus ever said or did was true. Although Jesus Christ was rejected by the world, he was approved by the Spirit. The Spirit vindicated the Son by raising him from the dead. The word for “vindication” is also the word for “justification,” which is why the King James Version says Jesus was “justified in the Spirit” (1 Tim. 3:16). Justification is a legal declaration. In this case, it means that by his resurrection Jesus was declared to be the Son of God and the Savior of the world. As the apostle Paul explained on another occasion, Jesus “was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead” (Rom. 1:4). The resurrection was the Holy Spirit’s verification that Jesus is the Christ.

Seen by Angels

After Jesus was “vindicated by the Spirit” he was “seen by angels” (1 Tim. 3:16). The word “angels” (angelos) usually means what it says. It refers to the principalities and powers of the unseen world, especially those glorious, supernatural creatures who worship God in heaven and serve him on earth—the angels.

We know from the Gospels that some of the angels were witnesses of the incarnate Christ. Angels sang at his birth (Luke 2:13–14). They attended to him in the wilderness (Mark 1:12–13). An angel even appeared in the Garden of Gethsemane to strengthen Jesus for the work of the cross (Luke 22:43). But the angels were also witnesses of the risen Christ. They were the first to tell the disciples that Jesus was alive (Matt. 28:1–7; cf. Luke 24:23), but how could they give such testimony unless they had seen his resurrection body for themselves? Then, finally, angels witnessed the ascension of Jesus into heaven (Acts 1:9–11). To summarize, “These ministering spirits sang at his birth, ministered in the hour of his temptation, guarded his sepulcher, attested his ascension, and expected his return.”

The reason for mentioning the angels here is to show that the mystery of godliness is known in heaven as well as on earth. Although the angels themselves are not saved by grace, they glorify God for our salvation, as they are doing this very moment. The Bible teaches that Jesus Christ “has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him” (1 Peter 3:22).

There is, however, another possible meaning for this line of Paul’s hymn. The word “angel” simply means “messenger,” which makes it an appropriate word for God’s heavenly messengers. But it can also refer to his earthly messengers, meaning the apostles. What Paul says about these messengers in 1 Timothy 3:16 was certainly true of the apostles: they saw Jesus. The apostles were eyewitnesses of his life and work, and especially of his resurrection. In fact, the Greek word Paul uses here for seeing (ōphthē) is the same word he uses when he tells the Corinthians that the risen Christ “appeared” to Peter and the rest of the apostles, including Paul himself (1 Cor. 15:5–7).

When the first Christians confessed that Jesus was seen by messengers, therefore, they may have been referring to the apostles. This possibility has been dismissed by many commentators, but without sufficient reason, because it is in keeping with the logic of the hymn. The next thing Jesus did after he appeared in a body and was vindicated by the Spirit was to show himself to Peter, John, and the rest of the disciples, including Thomas. Here is the sequence of Paul’s hymn: first, the incarnation; second, the resurrection; third, the presentation.

The postresurrection appearances of Jesus were essential to the plan of salvation. In order for the apostles to know that Jesus was the Christ, they had to see his glorious resurrection body. Otherwise, they would not have been able to testify that he had won the victory over the grave. Without their eyewitness testimony, we ourselves would never believe in the resurrection, and the church of the living God would not be able to stand as a pillar and buttress to the gospel truth. The same cannot be said of the angels and their testimony. They glorified God when they saw the resurrection of Jesus Christ. But our faith rests upon Jesus’ presentation to the apostles, not to the angels.

Preached among the Nations

There is another reason for thinking that “messengers” may refer to the apostles. Notice what comes next: Jesus was “proclaimed among the nations,” meaning all the Gentile peoples of the world. This clearly refers to the apostolic preaching of the gospel. After the presentation came the proclamation. Having seen the risen Christ, the apostles preached the risen Christ.

The apostles received the commission to do this from Jesus himself. Before he ascended into heaven, he said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matt. 28:18–20). The apostles began to fulfill this commission at Pentecost. While they waited in Jerusalem, they were anointed by the Holy Spirit and began to speak in foreign tongues. The Bible emphasizes that the people who heard them were “from every nation under heaven” (Acts 2:5). When Peter stood up and addressed the crowd that day, he was preaching Jesus Christ among the nations.

Pentecost was only the beginning of the worldwide work of the gospel. Jesus Christ was preached, not only in Jerusalem, but in Judea, and Samaria, and to the uttermost parts of the earth. Paul himself preached Christ in Ephesus (Acts 19), and once they came to Christ, the Ephesians began to take the gospel to the nations, especially by praying for missions (see 1 Tim. 2:1–4). Jesus is preached among the nations to this very day. This is part of the great mystery of godliness. What the church is doing at this moment in history is essential to God’s plan for the redemption of the world. The gospel is going to the nations as the good news about Jesus Christ is proclaimed to every tribe, people, and language.

Believed On in the World

Wherever Jesus Christ is proclaimed, he is “believed on in the world” (1 Tim. 3:16). The first to believe were the first eyewitnesses of the resurrection. John believed even before he saw the risen Christ. When he heard the tomb was (almost) empty, he “outran Peter and reached the tomb first. And stooping to look in, he saw the linen clothes lying there, but he did not go in” (John 20:4–5). As John stood in the doorway, he saw the burial cloth, still intact, and tried to figure out what it all meant. Finally, he went inside, where “he saw and believed” (John 20:8). On the evidence of the burial clothes, he believed that Jesus had been raised from the dead.

John was only the first to believe. Mary Magdalene believed and told the disciples, “I have seen the Lord” (John 20:18). They were afraid at first, and some doubted, but when Jesus appeared to them, they also believed (Matt. 28:17). Eventually, even Thomas believed, in spite of all his initial doubts (John 20:24–29).

As soon as the apostles began to preach the gospel to the nations, others began to believe as well. Nearly three thousand people believed on the day of Pentecost alone (see Acts 2:41). As the first church in Jerusalem continued to preach the gospel, “the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved” (Acts 2:47). It has been that way ever since. It is doubtful whether a single day has gone by since the day Jesus rose from the tomb without people coming to him in faith, giving their lives to him.

The global mission of Jesus Christ is a global success. He is still believed on in the world. The week that I write this I have received news of dozens of conversions. The mother of a church member—an eighty-eight-year-old Jewish woman—prayed to receive Jesus as her Messiah. A boy in a neighborhood Bible club asked how he could pray to receive Jesus into his heart. A former church member wrote to say that his daughter started a Good News club for her friends; all nine of them have made a commitment to Christ. Then there was the news from overseas. The church received an e-mail from the Middle East, where missionaries reported seeing more Muslims believe the gospel and repent of their sins in recent weeks than ever before. Another report, this one from the Far East, told the story of a man who received a Bible from a missionary hospital. The next time he needed medical care he returned to the hospital. It was thirty years (!) since his previous visit, and he had been reading his Bible ever since, having long since come to faith in Jesus Christ.

The confession in 1 Timothy 3:16 makes a historical claim: “he was believed on in the world.” But this statement is for the present as well as the past because God is still making history. He will continue to bring men, women, and children to salvation in Christ until history comes to an end. In fact, if you trust in Jesus Christ for your salvation, then this verse is about you as well. You are in the world. You believe on him. Therefore, your faith is one proof that Jesus is believed on in the world.

Taken Up in Glory

The only real problem with taking Paul’s hymn about the mystery of godliness in chronological order is the last phrase: he was “taken up in glory” (1 Tim. 3:16). This line seems to refer to the ascension. In fact, the same verb (analambanō) is used in the book of Acts to describe the way Jesus ascended to heaven. After he appeared to his disciples, “as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight” (Acts 1:9; cf. 1:2, 22; Mark 16:19). The problem is that this seems to be out of sequence: Jesus was “taken up in glory” before he was “proclaimed among the nations” or “believed on in the world.”

One possible solution is that this last phrase refers to the second coming of Jesus Christ. When Jesus returns to this earth he will come the way he left, trailing clouds of glory, to gather all his people to himself. The reason this is put in the past tense is that it is such a certainty. Jesus has promised to come again in power and glory, and he will undoubtedly do so.

The important thing, in any case, is that Jesus has become the glorified Christ. “Glory” (doxa) is the word the Bible uses to describe “brightness, splendor, or radiance.” It “denotes in particular the glory, majesty, and sublimity of God.” By virtue of his resurrection, Jesus is exalted and enthroned. He radiates the glory of God. What better way to end a hymn than with the glorious praise of the glorious Christ? Epiphanius had this glory clearly in mind when he composed his “Second Creed”—a confession of praise that strikes a joyous chord in every believer’s soul: “The Word became flesh; the same suffered in the flesh; rose again; went up to heaven in the same body, sat down gloriously at the right hand of the Father; is coming in the same body in glory to judge the quick and the dead.”

The Godliness of the Mystery

The truth that the church holds out to the world is the mystery of the incarnation (“manifested in the flesh”), resurrection (“vindicated by the Spirit”), presentation (“seen by angels”), mission (“proclaimed among the nations”), reception (“believed on in the world”), and glorification (“taken up in glory”) of Jesus Christ. The only thing left to say about this mystery is that it is a mystery “of godliness” (1 Tim. 3:16; cf. 2:2; 4:8). In other words, this hymn or confession contains practical truth. It promotes the worship of God and encourages the exercise of true religion.

John Chrysostom understood well that the mystery of Christ is for godliness. When he preached this mystery at his church in Constantinople, he brought his sermon to the point of practical application: “Great indeed was it. For God became Man, and Man became God. A Man was seen without sin! A Man was received up, was preached in the world! Together with us the Angels saw Him. This is indeed a mystery!.… But let us live in a manner worthy of the mystery.” This is good pastoral counsel. The truth about Jesus Christ demands a response.

What does it mean to live worthily of the mystery of godliness? Since Jesus “was manifested in the flesh,” let us glorify him with our bodies. Let us use our hands to help, our lips to bless, and our minds to serve. Since Jesus was “vindicated by the Spirit,” let us pray that we ourselves will be vindicated on the day of judgment. Let us ask God to prove that we belong to him by giving us glorious resurrection bodies. Since Jesus was “seen by messengers,” let us join the angels and the apostles in their worship around his throne. Since Jesus was and is “proclaimed among the nations,” let us testify to his grace, declaring the gospel to everyone we love and sharing in the worldwide work of missions, so that all peoples might praise him. Since Jesus was and is “believed on in the world,” let us believe on him with all our hearts for salvation as well as for everything else we need. Last of all, since Jesus was “taken up in glory,” let us await his soon return with eager expectation, longing for the day when we will see the great mystery for ourselves.[2]


16. Great is the mystery of godliness. Again, here is another enhancement. That the truth of God might not, through the ingratitude of men, be less esteemed than it ought, he extols its value, by stating that “great is the secret of godliness;” that is, because it does not treat of mean subjects, but of the revelation of the Son of God, “in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom.” (Col. 2:3.) From the greatness and importance of such matters, pastors ought to judge of their office, that they may devote themselves to the discharge of it with greater conscientiousness and deeper reverence.

God manifested in the flesh. The Vulgate translator, by leaving out the name of God, refers what follows to “the mystery,” but altogether unskilfully and inappropriately, as will clearly be seen on a bare perusal, though he has Erasmus on his side, who, however, destroys the authority of his own views, so that it is unnecessary for me to refute it. All the Greek copies undoubtedly agree in this rendering, “God manifested in the flesh.” But granting that Paul did not express the name of God, still any one who shall carefully examine the whole matter, will acknowledge that the name of Christ ought to be supplied. For my own part, I have no hesitation in following the reading which has been adopted in the Greek copies. In calling the manifestation of Christ, such as he afterwards describes it, a “great mystery,” the reason is obvious; for this is “the height, depth, and breadth of wisdom,” which he has elsewhere mentioned, (Eph. 3:18,) by which all our senses must unavoidably be overwhelmed.

Let us now examine the various clauses in their order. He could not have spoken more appropriately about the person of Christ than in these words, “God manifested in the flesh.” First, we have here an express testimony of both natures; for he declares at the same time that Christ is true God and true man. Secondly, he points out the distinction between the two natures, when, on the one hand, he calls him God, and, on the other, expresses his “manifestation in the flesh.” Thirdly, he asserts the unity of the person, when he declares, that it is one and the same who was God, and who has been manifested in the flesh.

Thus, by this single passage, the true and orthodox faith is powerfully defended against Arius, Marcion, Nestorius, and Eutyches. There is also great emphasis in the contrast of the two words, God in flesh. How wide is the difference between God and man! And yet in Christ we behold the infinite glory of God united to our polluted flesh in such a manner that they become one.

Justified in the Spirit. As the Son of God “emptied himself,” (Philip. 2:7,) by taking upon him our flesh, so there was displayed in him a spiritual power which testified that he is God. This passage has received various interpretations; but, for my own part, satisfied with having explained the Apostle’s real meaning, as far as I understand it, I shall add nothing more. First, justification here denotes an acknowledgment of divine power; as in Ps. 19:9, where it is said, that “the judgments of God are justified,” that is, are wonderfully and absolutely perfect; and in Ps. 51:5, that “God is justified,” meaning that the praise of his justice is illustriously displayed. So also, (Matt. 11:19, and Luke 7:35,) when Christ says, that “Wisdom hath been justified by her children,” he means that they have given honour unto her; and when Luke (7:29) relates that the publicans “justified God,” he means that they acknowledged, with due reverence and gratitude, the grace of God which they beheld in Christ. What we read here has, therefore, the same meaning as if Paul had said, that he who appeared clothed with human flesh was, at the same time, declared to be the Son of God, so that the weakness of the flesh made no diminution of his glory.

Under the word Spirit, he includes everything in Christ that was divine and superior to man; and he does so for two reasons: First, because he had been humbled in “the flesh,” the Apostle now, by exhibiting the illustration of his glory, contrasts “the Spirit” with “the flesh.” Secondly, that glory, worthy of the only-begotten Son of God, which John affirms to have been seen in Christ, (John 1:14,) did not consist in outward display, or in earthly splendour, but was almost wholly spiritual. The same form of expression is used by him, (Rom. 1:3, 4,) “Who was made of the seed of David according to the flesh, and declared by the power of the Spirit to be the Son of God;” but with this difference, that in that passage he mentions one kind of manifestation, namely, the resurrection.

Seen by angels, preached to the Gentiles. All these statements are wonderful and astonishing; that God deigned to bestow on the Gentiles, who had hitherto wandered in the blindness of their minds, a revelation of his Son, which had been unknown even to the angels in heaven. When the Apostle says, that he was “seen by angels,” he means that the sight was such as drew the attention of angels, both by its novelty and by its excellence. How uncommon and extraordinary the calling of the Gentiles was, we have stated in the exposition of the second chapter of the Epistle to the Ephesians. Nor is it wonderful that it was a new spectacle to angels, who, though they knew about the redemption of mankind, yet did not at first understand the means by which it should be accomplished, and from whom it must have been concealed, in order that this remarkable display of the goodness of God might be beheld by them with greater admiration.

Obtained belief in the world. It was above all things astonishing that God made the Gentiles, who were heathens, and the angels, who held uninterrupted possession of his kingdom, to be equally partakers of the same revelation. But this great efficacy of the preached gospel was no ordinary miracle, when Christ, overcoming all obstacles, subdued to the obedience of faith those who seemed to be altogether incapable of being tamed. Certainly nothing appeared to be less probable—so completely was every entrance closed and shut up. Yet faith vanquished, but by an incredible kind of victory.

Lastly, he says that he was received into glory; that is, from this mortal and wretched life. Accordingly, as in the world, so far as related to the obedience of faith, so also in the person of Christ, the change was wonderful, when, from the mean condition of a servant, he was exalted to the right hand of the Father, that every knee may bow to him.[3]


16 The apostle goes on to cite a confession (homologoumenōs, GK 3935; NIV, “beyond all question”; NASB, “by common confession”; cf. Josephus, Ant. 1.180: “by common consent”; 2.229: “all agree”), which he calls “the mystery of godliness.” (Regarding eusebeia [GK 2354, “godliness”], see comments at 2:2; cf. 4:7, 8; 6:3, 5–6, 11.) Most likely this confession is made up of three couplets, each linking earthly and heavenly realities (flesh/spirit; angels/nations; world/glory), apparently in the form of a chiastic structure (ab-ba-ab; contra Mounce, 217–18, following Walter Lock, who sees two stanzas of three lines each; and Marshall, 502, who postulates the later insertion of lines 4 and 5). Knight, 183, writes that “the first of the three couplets presents Christ’s work accomplished, the second his work made known,and the third his work acknowledged.”

The confession makes reference to Jesus’ incarnation (“appeared in a body”; cf. Jn 1:14) and resurrection (“vindicated by the Spirit”; cf. Ro 1:4; the phrase should probably be rendered, “vindicated in the realm of the Spirit” [cf. K. Easley, “The Pauline Usage of Pneumati as a Reference to the Spirit of God,” JETS 27 (1984): 305; NASB]). In the second couplet, Jesus was “seen by angels” (resurrection appearances?) and became the object of universal proclamation (“preached among the nations”; cf. Col 1:6, 23). Finally, the faith elicited by this proclamation (“believed on in the world”) and Jesus’ ascension and exaltation (“taken up in glory”) conclude the confession. The first and last lines serve as a framing device, with lines 2–5 filling out the confession, which on all accounts is “great” (sublime as well as important; cf. Eph 5:32).[4]


Gearing up for godliness

3:14–16

I was always nervous when my school report was about to be handed to my parents. Invariably there were comments about the amount of time I spent talking when I should have been working. However, the observation that I ‘could do better’ was always the one that caused me the most difficulty because it was saying that I was not fulfilling my potential.

If we were to write a report on the church in Ephesus, it would say something similar. They could do much better! These verses set out the standards at which they should have been aiming. This was ‘the church of the living God’ and he had given it the responsibility of spreading the good news and living according to his Word in a pagan environment. But these Christians had allowed themselves to be side-tracked by false teaching, divided by arguments, and distracted by rules and regulations introduced by their new teachers.

Throughout the letter Paul has been urging them to live consistently with the fact that they are God’s people. They should be leading ‘peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness’ (2:2, NIV); the men should be able to pray, ‘lifting holy hands without anger or quarrelling’ (2:8); the women should adorn themselves ‘with good deeds, appropriate for women who profess to worship God’ (2:10, NIV); the overseers should be ‘above reproach’ (3:2); and the deacons should ‘live with a clear conscience’ (3:9, New Living Translation). Also Paul tells Timothy that he must train himself to be godly (4:7) and that ‘godliness with contentment is great gain’ (6:6, NIV).

The new teachers, who were at the root of many of the problems in Ephesus, would have cited godliness as their main aim. Their thinking seems to have been similar to that of the Pharisees and Sadducees (the religious leaders of Jesus’ day) which was: the more rules and regulations there are to follow, the more godly one will become. But this is not the genuine article. Real godliness is about doing the things which please God and sharing his passion to see people come to salvation and grow in the faith.

Put your house in order!

A lot of people consider this letter to be a set of instructions on how to organize the local church. But they couldn’t be more wrong. It is a passionate plea for Timothy and the Christians in Ephesus to address an urgent situation. Paul intends to visit the church himself but the needs are too urgent to wait until then. ‘I hope to come to you soon,’ he tells Timothy in verses 14 and 15, ‘but I am writing these things to you so that, if I delay, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God.’ The word translated ‘know’ carries the idea of practical knowledge that will enable the church to take the steps necessary to put things right, whereas ‘conduct’ describes a consistent pattern of life. In other words, the contents of this letter are designed to enable these Christians to live in a way that is consistent with the good news.

Three powerful pictures

Paul talks about the local church in three ways:

  • it is ‘god’s household’, which portrays her as a family.
  • it is ‘the church of the living god’ or literally, ‘the living God’s church’. We often think of the ‘church’ as being a building, but the word used here describes people who have been called out of the world and brought together by God.
  • it is ‘a pillar and buttress of truth’ This would have been a powerful image for Timothy and the church he cared for because the temple of Diana was in Ephesus. It was one of the Seven Wonders of the World, with one hundred huge pillars, each over eighteen metres high, lifting its massive marble roof. As well as supporting the roof, the pillars also served to hold it high so that it could be seen from a distance. While Paul is not endorsing the kind of worship that went on in such a temple or comparing its objectives with the purpose God has given to the church, he uses this building to illustrate his point. John Stott says, ‘Just as those pillars held up that massive roof, so the church holds the truth aloft, so that it is seen and admired by the world … the church’s function is to display the truth.’ Beneath the pillar lies a ‘buttress’, which is a solid wall-like structure that is constructed to protect a building. When the parts of this image are put together, it is evident that the church exists to guard the truth by proclaiming it.

An open secret

After giving us these three powerful images of the church Paul says, ‘Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of godliness’ (v. 16). The mystery Paul announces here is an open secret, something which would never have been known had it not been revealed. The majority of people reading this book will not know me, so if I tell you that I have a sister by the name of Nikki, you will have discovered something that you otherwise would not have known. It used to be hidden from you but now it is revealed. Verses 9 and 16 remind us of three fundamental truths that God has revealed to his church.

  • christ ‘was manifested in the flesh’. The Son of God became a real human being. He was like us in every way, except for our sin.
  • he was ‘vindicated by the spirit’ This could be referring to Jesus’ resurrection or the way in which the Holy Spirit came upon him during his ministry on earth. But the point being made is that true spirituality is patterned by Christ.
  • he was ‘seen by angels’ and ‘proclaimed among the nations’. The angels were at the empty tomb, telling the disciples that Jesus was no longer there because he had been raised from the dead. The good news is spread because of Christ’s resurrection.
  • he was ‘believed on in the world’ and ‘taken up in glory’. This echoes Matthew’s account of Jesus’ ascension:

Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. And when they saw him they worshipped him, but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age’

(Matt. 28:16–20).

When believers have their sights set on the risen, ascended Jesus, they are filled with a sense of purpose and fuelled by a passion to tell others about him. This will make us godly people.[5]


3:16 / The mention of the truth (“of the gospel” always being implied by this word) leads Paul to the exclamation: Beyond all question, the mystery (“revealed truth,” as in 3:9) of godliness is great. The word godliness (eusebeia), a favorite in 1 Timothy (see disc. on 2:2), ordinarily refers to “the duty which people owe to God.” But here, as often with “faith” in these letters, it is not referring to the quality of “godliness” as such but “the godliness,” thought of in a more objective way as the content or basis of Christianity.

What follows is an expression of some of the content of the “revealed truth” of the godliness entrusted to God’s people. The passage itself is almost certainly a hymn, or hymn fragment, in six rhythmic lines. Each line has two members, a verb standing in first position, each in the aorist (past) tense, passive voice in Greek, ending with the rhythmic –thē, followed by a prepositional phrase (Gk., en, “in” or “by”). The implied subject of each verb is Christ.

On that much all modern interpreters are agreed; but on the structure itself, the meaning of a couple of the lines, and the meaning of the whole, there has been considerable debate, with nothing like a consensus. It has been viewed as a single stanza of six consecutive lines (see the jb), as two stanzas with three lines each (but in a variety of patterns [cf., e.g., the gnb with the rsv]), as three stanzas with two lines each (cf. niv), or in other, not easily classified combinations. Moreover, three of the lines (2, 3, and 6) are not perfectly clear as to their meaning, a difficulty raised in part by some apparent parallels and/or antitheses between the lines and in part because the whole seems to have a degree of chronology, moving from the Incarnation to further aspects of Christ’s life and ministry, yet breaking down in line 6. In view of so many difficulties and disagreements, one offers an interpretation with some reservation.

Let us begin with what appears to be somewhat certain. Line 1, he appeared in a body (lit. “he was manifested in the flesh”), has been universally recognized as an affirmation of the Incarnation, comparable to John 1:14 or Romans 1:3. Even more than in 1:15, such language implies pre-existence. In Christ, God himself has appeared “in flesh.”

Line 4, was preached among the nations (or “Gentiles”), is likewise generally recognized to refer to the period of early apostolic history when the gospel was proclaimed throughout the nations of the known world.

Line 5, was believed on in the world, seems to accompany line 4 as a word about the response to the proclamation of the gospel.

The content of these lines, therefore, which begin with Christ’s own entry into the world and in 4 and 5 take up the apostolic witness to Christ, has caused most interpreters to view it as some form of heilgeschichtliche hymn, that is, a hymn that tells the story of salvation (cf. J. Wilbur Chapman’s “One Day,” or Fanny Crosby’s “Tell Me the Story of Jesus”). If these observations are correct, then the problem that remains has to do with the meaning of the other three lines and how they all relate to one another.

Let us turn, then, to what is less certain. Line 2, he was vindicated by the Spirit, presents considerable difficulties. Literally, it says “he was justified in spirit [or Spirit].” In the Greek there seems to be a parallel between “in flesh” in line 1 and “in spirit” in line 2. But does it refer to the Holy Spirit or (more likely, given the parallel) to his spiritual nature? If the latter, then the point of this line, with some poetic license, is at least “vindication,” perhaps “exaltation,” referring to Christ’s resurrection. Thus the first two lines hymn Christ’s humiliation and exaltation (incarnation and resurrection) in a manner similar to the splendid prose of Romans 1:3 and 4 (cf. 1 Pet. 3:18).

Line 3, he was seen by angels, is likewise puzzling. This is the only line without the Greek preposition en (“in” or “by”). This verb (was seen by or “appeared to”), with the person(s) to whom he appeared in the Greek dative case (as here), is the regular formula in the nt for resurrection appearances (Luke 24:23; Acts 9:17; 1 Cor. 15:5–8). In this case, however, it more likely refers to the worship given by angels to the ascended, glorified Christ. If so, then the first three lines sing Christ’s incarnation, resurrection, and glorification and form a stanza about Christ himself, as he is seen “from glory to glory.”

In such a scheme, the next two lines (4 and 5) offer a similar parallel to lines 1 and 2, but now sing the ongoing ministry of Christ through his church. But the problem arises at line 6, he was taken up in glory. The word was taken up elsewhere in the nt refers to the Ascension (Luke 9:51; Acts 1:2, 11, 22; cf. Mark 16:19). How, then, does the Ascension follow the apostolic ministry? The answer seems to lie with the phrase in glory, which less likely refers to the place of his exaltation as to its manner, that is, it was “glorious” or “accompanied with glory.” Like line 3, then, this line also emphasizes his triumph and glorification more than the actual event of the Ascension itself, chronologically understood. Indeed, in this view, line 6 is the glorious climax of the whole that begins in line 1 with the humiliation of Incarnation.

On this understanding, then, the hymn has two stanzas of three lines each. The first stanza sings Christ’s earthly ministry, concluding with a word of triumph and glorification. Similarly, the second stanza sings the ongoing ministry of Christ through his church, concluding again with the theme of glorification. In a certain sense both stanzas reflect the theme of humiliation and exaltation.

Thus the great mystery of the godliness we believe in, Paul sings, has to do with Christ’s own humiliation and exaltation and the church’s ongoing witness to him who is now the exalted, glorified one. This double focus, especially the emphasis on the ongoing ministry to the nations, returns to a theme sounded earlier in the creedal words of 1:15 and 2:4–6.

But the question still remains: Why this hymn with these emphases at this point in the letter? The answer to that is not easy, but two possibilities commend themselves (perhaps it is a combination of both): First, the double emphasis on humiliation/exaltation, focusing on the present, triumphant glory of Christ, probably stands in some kind of contrast to the Christology of the false teachers. This is especially so, if, as we have argued in the Introduction (pp. 7–10), there are some affinities between what is going on in Ephesus and what had earlier been afoot in Colossae and Laodicea. Second, Paul is about to return to a censure of the false teachers, with an exhortation to Timothy to stand in sharp contrast to them. This hymn prepares for that censure by boldly expressing what the truth is all about, as a contrast to their demonic errors.[6]


The church (3:14–16)

From the qualifications for the pastorate Paul turns to the church in which pastors serve. For the nature of the ministry is determined by the nature of the church.

Although I hope to come to you soon, I am writing you these instructions so that, 15if I am delayed, you will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God’s household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth. 16Beyond all question, the mystery of godliness is great:

He appeared in a body,

was vindicated by the Spirit,

was seen by angels,

was preached among the nations,

was believed on in the world,

was taken up in glory.

Here is Paul’s self-conscious apostolic authority. He is planning to visit Timothy in Ephesus. He says so twice (3:14 and 4:13). And when he comes he will personally regulate the affairs of the church. But he senses that he may be delayed. So he writes his instructions for the interim period. Thus by a deliberate providence of God the New Testament letters came to be written and have been preserved for the edification of the church in subsequent generations. If the apostles’ directions regarding the doctrine, ethics, unity and mission of the church had been given only in oral form, the church would have been like a mapless traveller and a rudderless ship. But because the apostolic instructions were written down, we know what we would not otherwise have known, namely how people ought to conduct themselves in the church.

Paul uses three descriptive expressions of the church, each of which illustrates a different aspect of it, namely God’s household or family, the church of the living God, and the pillar and foundation of the truth (15).

  • God’s household

The word oikos can mean either a house (the building) or a household (the family that occupies the building). And Scripture tells us that the church is both God’s house and God’s household.59 The two concepts are sometimes brought together. But since in this chapter oikos has already been used three times of a household (verses 4, 5, 12), it seems likely that it has the same connotation in verse 15.

By new birth of the Spirit we become members of the family of God, related to him as our Father and to all fellow believers as our sisters and brothers. Although Paul does not here draw out the implications of our being God’s household or family, he does elsewhere. He emphasizes that as God’s children we have an equal dignity before him, irrespective of age, sex, race or culture; and that as sisters and brothers we are called to love, forbear and support one another, enjoying in fact the rich ‘one anotherness’ or reciprocity of the Christian fellowship.63

  • The church of the living God

On a number of occasions in the Old Testament Yahweh is named ‘the living God’ in deliberate contrast to the lifeless idols of the heathen. Indeed, still today Christian conversion involves turning ‘to God from idols to serve the living and true God’. But where does the living God live? Joshua answered this question succinctly: ‘The living God is among you.’65 For this was the essence of God’s covenant promise to Israel: ‘I will dwell among you and be your God, and you shall be my people.’ Israel’s consciousness that the living God lived among them profoundly affected their community life. Even an elementary lesson in personal hygiene was based on the fact that the Lord God walked among them and must not see anything indecent. And they were incensed when the heathen presumed to ‘defy’, ‘insult’ or ‘ridicule’ the living God.68

An even more vivid consciousness of the presence of the living God should characterize the Christian church today. For we are ‘the temple of the living God’, ‘a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit’.70 When the members of the congregation are scattered during most of the week it is difficult to remain aware of this reality. But when we come together as the church (ekklēsia, ‘assembly’) of the living God, every aspect of our common life is enriched by the knowledge of his presence in our midst. In our worship we bow down before the living God. Through the reading and exposition of his Word we hear his voice addressing us. We meet him at his table, when he makes himself known to us through the breaking of bread. In our fellowship we love each other as he has loved us. And our witness becomes bolder and more urgent. Indeed, unbelievers coming in may confess that ‘God is really among you’.

  • The pillar and foundation of the truth

Having considered our duty to each other as the household of God, and to God as his dwelling-place, we come to our duty to the truth as its pillar and foundation.

The hedraiōma of a building is its mainstay. It may refer either to its foundation or to a buttress or bulwark which supports it. In either case the hedraiōma stabilizes the building. Just so, the church is responsible to hold the truth steady against the storms of heresy and unbelief.

The word stylos, however, means a pillar or column. The purpose of pillars is not only to hold the roof firm, but to thrust it high so that it can be clearly seen even from a distance. The inhabitants of Ephesus had a vivid illustration of this in their temple of Diana or Artemis. Regarded as one of the seven wonders of the world, it boasted 100 Ionic columns, each over 18 metres high, which together lifted its massive, shining, marble roof. Just so, the church holds the truth aloft, so that it is seen and admired by the world. Indeed, as pillars lift a building high while remaining themselves unseen, so the church’s function is not to advertise itself but to advertise and display the truth.

Here then is the double responsibility of the church vis-à-vis the truth. First, as its foundation it is to hold it firm, so that it does not collapse under the weight of false teaching. Secondly, as its pillar it is to hold it high, so that it is not hidden from the world. To hold the truth firm is the defence and confirmation of the gospel; to hold it high is the proclamation of the gospel. The church is called to both these ministries.

Some Christians, however, are confused about the relation between the church and the truth. Is it really so that the church is the foundation of the truth? Is it not rather the case that the truth is the foundation of the church? It was probably this concern which led Chrysostom to make a slip of the tongue and say ‘for the truth is the pillar and ground of the church’. Besides, Paul himself had earlier described the church as ‘built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets [sc. their teaching], with Jesus Christ himself as the chief cornerstone’. So is the truth the foundation of the church, or is the church the foundation of the truth? The answer is ‘Both’. When Paul taught that the truth is the foundation of the church,75 he was referring to the church’s life and health: the church rests on the truth, depends on it, cannot exist without it. But when he taught that the church is the foundation of the truth (3:15), he was referring to the church’s mission: the church is called to serve the truth, to hold it fast and make it known. So then, the church and the truth need each other. The church depends on the truth for its existence; the truth depends on the church for its defence and proclamation.

What then is the truth which the church must both guard against every distortion and falsification, and proclaim without fear or compromise throughout the world? It concerns Jesus Christ, to whom Paul now bears witness by quoting from an early hymn or creed. He introduces it with the following words: Beyond all question, the mystery of godliness is great (16a). First, it is a ‘mystery’, a cluster of truths which are now known only because God has been pleased to reveal them. Secondly, it is a ‘mystery of godliness’ as he has previously called it a ‘mystery of the faith’ (9, jb). It is the latter because it stimulates faith and is faith’s object. It is the former because it stimulates our worship, our humility and reverence before God, as all truth does.76 Thirdly, this divine godliness-promoting revelation is ‘great beyond all question’ (reb) or ‘by common consent’,77 ‘undeniably’ great (BAGD) or ‘demonstrably’ great.78 And fourthly, it focuses on the person and work of Jesus Christ, since ‘the mystery’ is essentially ‘the mystery of Christ’.

Spicq sees these verses as the ‘doctrinal climax’ of the letter, even its ‘heart’, since they define the church ‘by her relation to the glorious Christ’. He also sees the credal affirmation (‘great … is the mystery of our religion’, reb) as ‘a solemn public confession in opposition to that of Diana’s devotees’ who shouted in unison for two hours, ‘Great is Diana of the Ephesians!’80

The liturgical statement Paul goes on to quote consists of six lines which, stylistically speaking, closely resemble one another. For all six begin with a verb which ends in the letters -thē, and is in the aorist tense and the passive voice. All also end with a noun in the dative, and all but one use the preposition en to link the verb with the noun. Moving from style to substance, however, what do the six statements mean, and how do they relate to one another? Three suggestions are made.

First, the six affirmations may be read chronologically, each denoting a fresh, consecutive event or stage in the career of Jesus, taking us from his first coming to his second, from his appearance in flesh to his welcome in glory. So he appeared in a body (literally, ‘in flesh’) refers to his incarnation, by which the pre-existent Son was born into the world, and lived and died in it. Next, he was vindicated by the Spirit. Although the body-spirit contrast has suggested to some commentators a reference to his human and divine natures, ‘spirit’ is more likely to refer to the Holy Spirit who vindicated Jesus first by his mighty works, and then supremely by his resurrection.83 He was seen by angels, and attended by them, throughout his life. But the chronological sequence following his incarnation and resurrection would expect this third statement to refer to his ascension. And indeed angels were present at it85 and watched the whole unfolding drama of salvation. That he was preached among the nations is a clear reference to the church’s world-wide mission in obedience to the great commission of the risen Lord, while he was believed on in the world is an equally plain allusion to the success of the gospel as people responded to it. The final statement, that he was taken up in glory, sounds like another reference to the ascension. But if the sequence is chronological, it must be the parousia which is in mind, his ascension foreshadowing his final epiphany in power and great glory. This interpretation is the more probable because otherwise ‘there is no hint of eschatology’ in this Christological hymn.

A second and more popular reconstruction is to divide the hymn into two stanzas, each consisting of a triplet, the first alluding to the life of the historical incarnate Jesus on earth (he appeared, was vindicated and seen), and the second to the life of the exalted Lord (he was preached, believed on and glorified).

The third and best suggestion, however, is that the hymn consists of three couplets, in each of which there is a deliberate antithesis: between flesh and spirit, between angels and nations, between world and glory. The first couplet speaks of the revelation of Christ (he appeared in a body, was vindicated by the Spirit). Here are the human and divine aspects of his earthly life and ministry in Palestine. The second couplet speaks of the witnesses of Christ (was seen by angels, was preached among the nations). For now the significance of Jesus Christ is seen to extend far beyond Palestine to all the inhabitants of heaven and earth, to angels as well as humans, to the nations as well as the Jews. Then the third couplet speaks of the reception which Christ was given (was believed on in the world, was taken up in glory). For heaven and earth did more than see and hear him; they joined in giving him recognition and acclaim.

Some years ago Joachim Jeremias, in his book Jesus’ Promise to the Nations, argued that this Christological hymn was essentially a missionary statement, announcing the inclusion of the nations in consequence of the death and resurrection of Jesus. He also suggested that this credal fragment was ‘couched in the form of a hymn of three distichs, after the style of a coronation hymn’, indeed ‘the ancient coronation ritual exemplified for us in the ancient Egyptian ritual’. It consisted of the Elevation (of the king to deity), the Presentation (of the deified king to the world) and the Enthronement. This, Jeremias proposed, corresponded to the three couplets of verse 16, namely ‘the Justification by resurrection of him who has been manifested on earth, the Announcement to heaven and earth of his exaltation, and his Assumption of the kingdom on earth and in heaven’. Commentators have been intrigued by Jeremias’s suggestion, and have pronounced it ‘ingenious and attractive’,92 but have not been persuaded by it, mainly on account of the inexact nature of the parallelism. Yet the missionary emphasis is surely right. The mystery of godliness which the church proclaims, the truth of which the church is the foundation and pillar, is the historic yet cosmic Christ.

In conclusion, Paul’s perspective in this chapter is to view the presbyters and the deacons in the light of the church they are called to serve, and to view the church in the light of the truth it is called to confess. One of the surest roads to the reform and renewal of the church is to recover a grasp of its essential identity as God’s household, the church of the living God, and the pillar and foundation of the truth (15).[7]


[1] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1995). 1 Timothy (pp. 138–143). Chicago: Moody Press.

[2] Ryken, P. G. (2007). 1 Timothy. (R. D. Phillips, D. M. Doriani, & P. G. Ryken, Eds.) (pp. 137–151). Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing.

[3] Calvin, J., & Pringle, W. (2010). Commentaries on the Epistles to Timothy, Titus, and Philemon (pp. 91–95). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

[4] Köstenberger, A. (2006). 1 Timothy. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Ephesians–Philemon (Revised Edition) (Vol. 12, pp. 531–532). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[5] Robinson, S. J. (2004). Opening up 1 Timothy (pp. 62–66). Leominster: Day One Publications.

[6] Fee, G. D. (2011). 1 and 2 Timothy, Titus (pp. 92–95). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.

[7] Stott, J. R. W. (1996). Guard the truth: the message of 1 Timothy & Titus (pp. 102–108). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

March 14, 2019 Evening Verse Of The Day

6:5. The faith statement of the Shema is followed up by the charge to love the Lord your God, implying complete devotion to Him and not just emotional attraction. Moses’ sense of love is to express loyalty to Him with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. The whole person is to express this loyal devotion to God. The heart was generally associated in Hebrew thinking with the mind, the soul denoted the innermost being or emotions, and might refers to doing the previous two injunctions exceedingly (lit., “very, very much”). The repetition of the word “all” shows that Israel’s commitment to the Lord was to be undivided and complete.[1]


6:5. To love the Lord means to choose Him for an intimate relationship and to obey His commands. This command, to love Him, is given often in Deuteronomy (v. 5; 7:9; 10:12; 11:1, 13, 22; 13:3; 19:9; 30:6, 16, 20). Loving Him was to be wholehearted (with all your heart) and was to pervade every aspect of an Israelite’s being and life (soul and strength).[2] †


6:5 — “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength.”

Of all God’s commandments, this is the central and most important one. When we love God first and foremost, obedience follows as a natural result and ceases to be a chore (John 14:15; 1 John 5:3).[3]


6:5 love. See 4:37. all. That the Lord alone is Israel’s God leads to the demand for Israel’s exclusive and total devotion to him. heart … soul … might. All Israelites in their total being are to love the Lord; “this is the great and first commandment” (Matt. 22:38). In Matt. 22:37, Mark 12:30, and Luke 10:27, Jesus also includes “mind.” In early Hebrew, “heart” included what we call the “mind”. “Might” indicates energy and ability.

6:5 Love for God is the greatest commandment (Matt. 22:37–38). One’s relation to God himself is central to life, and true love for God and reconciliation to God are possible only in Christ (John 14:6; Rom. 5:1–10).[4]


6:5 you shall love The command is not a demand to manufacture false emotion but to cultivate a disposition (see Lev 19:17–18).

with all of your heart and with all of your soul The Hebrew terms levav (often translated “heart”) and nephesh (often translated “soul”) do not refer to separate components of the human person. Rather, the terms overlap in meaning, conveying the internal life, dispositions, emotions, and intellect.

might The Hebrew word here is not a noun but an adverb meaning “exceedingly.” This description of love of Yahweh thus implies totality: as Yahweh is undivided unity and alone worthy of worship, so the Israelites must have undivided loyalty to Him.[5]


6:5 all your might. The Hebrew expresses totality. For this reason the New Testament sometimes renders it with “mind and strength” (Mark 12:30). This is the language of devotion. God does not demand mere outward obedience to a law, but the heartfelt love and commitment of the whole person (Prov. 23:26).[6]


6:5 The principle of love is a major theme in Deuteronomy. In Luke 10:27 Jesus stressed love as the essence of pure religion, and elsewhere He referred to it as a kind of “eleventh commandment” (Matt. 22:34–40; John 13:34; cf. Rom. 13:10).[7]


[1] Coakley, J. F. (2014). Deuteronomy. In The moody bible commentary (p. 277). Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers.

[2] Deere, J. S. (1985). Deuteronomy. In J. F. Walvoord & R. B. Zuck (Eds.), The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures (Vol. 1, p. 274). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

[3] Stanley, C. F. (2005). The Charles F. Stanley life principles Bible: New King James Version (Dt 6:5). Nashville, TN: Nelson Bibles.

[4] Crossway Bibles. (2008). The ESV Study Bible (p. 341). 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 (Dt 6:5). Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

[6] Sproul, R. C. (Ed.). (2005). The Reformation Study Bible: English Standard Version (p. 254). Orlando, FL; Lake Mary, FL: Ligonier Ministries.

[7] Criswell, W. A., Patterson, P., Clendenen, E. R., Akin, D. L., Chamberlin, M., Patterson, D. K., & Pogue, J. (Eds.). (1991). Believer’s Study Bible (electronic ed., Dt 6:5). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

March 14, 2019 Afternoon Verse Of The Day

The Warning

Be on the alert then, for you do not know the day nor the hour. (25:13)

For the fifth time in the discourse (see 24:36, 42, 44, 50) Jesus called on those who will be alive during the last days of the Tribulation to be alert, because they will not know the day nor the hour of His appearing. They would know its nearness by the catastrophic signs, but the exact day and the exact hour they would not know.

“Be on guard,” Jesus had said in the Temple on the previous day, “that your hearts may not be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of life, and that day come on you suddenly like a trap; for it will come upon all those who dwell on the face of all the earth. But keep on the alert at all times, praying in order that you may have strength to escape all these things that are about to take place, and to stand before the Son of Man” (Luke 21:34–36).

In his epic poem Idylls of the King, Alfred Lord Tennyson used figures from the parable of the ten virgins in a song directed to the wicked Queen Guinevere, who learned too late the cost of sin:

Late, late, so late, and dark the night and chill!

Late, late, so late, but we can enter still.

Too late, too late, ye cannot enter now.

No light had we, for that we do repent;

And, learning this, the Bridegroom will relent.

Too late, too late, ye cannot enter now.

No light, so late, and dark and chill the night!

O let us in, that we may find the light.

Too late, too late, ye cannot enter now.

Have we not heard the Bridegroom is so sweet?

O let us in, tho’ late, to kiss His feet!

No, no, too late! Ye cannot enter now.[1]


13 The theme is reiterated once more (cf. 24:36, 42, 44, 50). Jeremias (Parables of Jesus, 52) and others suggest this verse is a late addition to the parable, since it is at variance with the fact that both the wise and the foolish virgins fell asleep. But this misses the purpose of v. 13. “Keep watch” does not mean “keep awake,” as if an ability to fight off sleep were relevant to the story. Rather, in light of the entire parable, the dominant exhortation of this discourse is repeated: Be prepared! Keep watching![2]


25:13. Jesus’ closing exhortation is the central application point of the parable, using almost exactly the same wording as when Jesus first introduced the command in 24:42. As in 24:42, we find again the present tense with the imperative mood of the verb gregoreo, which means, “be staying continually awake, constantly keeping watch.” And the same reason is given—we do not know the day or the hour of Christ’s return. Our preparedness for Christ’s coming demonstrates our personal trust and respect for him.[3]


13. Keep on the alert, therefore, because you do not know the day or the hour. See on 24:36, 42, 44, 50.

Having now studied the parable, and having fixed our attention upon its main lesson, namely the necessity of constant preparedness, hearts and lives ever consecrated to the Lord in the here and now, we are entitled to ask, “In keeping with this main application, what are some of the ancillary truths taught here?” Probably the following:

  1. All who profess to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ are alike in many respects; especially in this, that all are on their way to meet the Bridegroom, Jesus Christ. See Matt. 25:1.
  2. The resemblances are, however, superficial. There is an essential difference. By no means all who read the Bible, attend and even belong to a church, sing the songs of salvation, make public profession of faith, even preach in Christ’s name, are going to share in the blessings of Christ’s return. Some are sensible. Religion with them is not sham and pretense. They believe in being prepared by faith in the Savior and lives dedicated to him and therefore to God Triune. Others are foolish. “They have a form of piety but deny its power” (2 Tim. 3:5; cf. Matt. 7:22, 23). Unprepared they travel on—to meet the Judge. See Matt. 25:2–4.
  3. A long span of time will elapse between the first and the second coming. See Matt. 25:5; and on 24:9, 14; 25:19.
  4. The return of the Lord will be sudden, visible, and audible. See Matt. 25:6; and on 24:31.
  5. Preparedness is not transferable from one person to another. See Matt. 25:7–9; also Ps. 49:7; Prov. 9:12; Gal. 6:12.
  6. For those who are not ready—that is, for those unsaved before they die, and for those who in their unsaved condition survive on earth until Christ’s return—there is no “second chance.” See Matt. 25:10–12; also 7:22, 23; 10:32, 33; 24:37–42; 25:34–46; 2 Cor. 5:9, 10; Gal. 6:7, 8; 2 Thess. 1:8, 9; Heb. 9:27.
  7. Therefore—and in view of the fact that the moment of Christ’s return is unknown—watchfulness at all times is required. See Matt. 25:13; also Ps. 95:7, 8; 2 Cor. 6:2.

Whether or not the “oil” in this parable has a symbolical meaning is not certain. If it does, it would point to the Holy Spirit, through whose transforming and enabling power men are prepared to welcome the Bridegroom. See Matt. 25:2–4; and cf. Isa. 61:1; Zech. 4:1–6; 2 Thess. 2:13.[4]


[1] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1985). Matthew (Vol. 4, pp. 92–93). Chicago: Moody Press.

[2] Carson, D. A. (2010). Matthew. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Matthew–Mark (Revised Edition) (Vol. 9, p. 577). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[3] Weber, S. K. (2000). Matthew (Vol. 1, p. 419). Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

[4] Hendriksen, W., & Kistemaker, S. J. (1953–2001). Exposition of the Gospel According to Matthew (Vol. 9, pp. 878–879). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.

March 14, 2019 Morning Verse Of The Day

Some Will Depart from the Faith
4 Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, 2 through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared, 3 who forbid marriage and require abstinence from foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. 4 For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, 5 for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer.

The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (1 Ti 4:1–5). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.


Falling Away from the Faith

But the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons, by means of the hypocrisy of liars seared in their own conscience as with a branding iron, men who forbid marriage and advocate abstaining from foods, which God has created to be gratefully shared in by those who believe and know the truth. For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected, if it is received with gratitude; for it is sanctified by means of the word of God and prayer. (4:1–5)

Since creation, the earth has been the battleground between God and Satan. God calls mankind to respond to His Word, and Satan tries to lure them to follow lies. Some claim satanic perversions to be the truth from God. Sadly, even some who profess to follow God’s truth turn away from it.

Such deviations from the true faith are nothing new. Among the many examples of apostasy in the Old Testament was King Amaziah of Judah. Second Chronicles 25:2 says of him, “he did right in the sight of the Lord, yet not with a whole heart.” His religion was mere external behavior; in his heart he did not know God. Soon he was lured away into idolatry. Second Chronicles 25:14 tells the tragic story: “Now it came about after Amaziah came from slaughtering the Edomites that he brought the gods of the sons of Seir, set them up as his gods, bowed down before them, and burned incense to them.” At the close of his life, his epitaph read, “Amaziah turned away from following the Lord” (2 Chron. 25:27).

The New Testament also has its share of apostates, men like Judas Iscariot (John 6:70–71) and Demas (2 Tim. 4:10). The church at Ephesus had seen Hymenaeus and Alexander depart from the faith (1:18–20). Church history from New Testament times until our own day is replete with examples of apostates. They have turned aside to follow deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons. It is fallen angels, those demonic beings, who energize all false religion. Like their evil master, Satan, their deception is effective because they disguise themselves as angels of light (2 Cor. 11:14).

When men worship idols, they are in reality worshiping the demons behind those idols. Leviticus 17:7 says, “They shall no longer sacrifice their sacrifices to the goat demons with which they play the harlot.” Deuteronomy 32:17 laments that Israel “sacrificed to demons who were not God,” while Psalm 106:36–37 shows the depravity of such worship. Israel “served their idols, which became a snare to them. They even sacrificed their sons and their daughters to the demons.” “The things which the Gentiles sacrifice,” Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “they sacrifice to demons” (1 Cor. 10:20).

The presence of apostate false teachers at Ephesus is indicated from 1:3–7, 18–20. In chapters 2 and 3, Paul dealt with some of the ramifications of their false teaching and corruption of the church. He countered their deceptions with the divine design for men and women in the church, and the spiritual qualifications for true church leaders. Chapter 3 closed with a creedal statement affirming what apostates most directly deny and what is the central truth of the Christian faith: the Person and work of Jesus Christ. In chapter 4, Paul returns to his discussion of the false teachers themselves. The battle lines are thus sharply drawn. While not always popular in our day of toleration and “love,” there is a biblical mandate to deal directly and firmly with false teaching. Any tolerance of error regarding God’s revelation is a direct form of dishonor to Him. “For Thou hast magnified Thy word according to all Thy name” (Ps. 138:2). Professing believers who would not speak a blasphemous or degrading word against God Himself out of reverence for His name will nevertheless readily misrepresent and pervert His Word, which is to be equally exalted.

The Certainty of Apostasy

some will fall away from the faith, (4:1c)

The key to unlock this passage is the phrase in verse 1, some will fall away from the faith. There will be those, like Judas, Demas, and the false disciples of John 6:66, and those often warned in Hebrews, who abandon the faith. Fall away is from aphistēmi, which means “to depart from,” or “to remove oneself from the position originally occupied to another place.” It is a stronger term than either the word translated “straying” in 1:6, or the one translated “suffered shipwreck” in 1:19, and refers to a purposeful, deliberate departure from a former position. This term can refer to a simple geographical leaving (cf. Luke 2:37; 4:13; Acts 5:37; 12:10). But in the spiritual sense, it refers to those who come very close to the truth that saves, only to leave. Jesus used this verb when He described some who hear the gospel as being like seed falling on soil that has rockbed below the surface: “Those on the rocky soil are those who, when they hear, receive the word with joy; and these have no firm root; they believe for a while, and in time of temptation fall away (aphistemi)” (Luke 8:13). Here it is used to describe apostasy, to identify the tragic reality that some will act like Judas and turn their face from eternal joy to choose hell.

An apostate is not someone struggling to believe, but one who willfully abandons the biblical faith he had once professed. As already noted, the faith refers to the content of divine revelation that constitutes what Christians believe (cf. Jude 3). This phrase, then, describes an apostate, a rejector of Christ from within the ranks of the church.

In this passage, Paul gives us six features of apostasy: its predictability, its chronology, its supernatural source, its human purveyors, its content, and its error.

The Predictability of Apostasy

But the Spirit explicitly says (4:1a)

Whereas apostasy should sadden and outrage believers, it should neither shock nor surprise them, because the Spirit explicitly says that it will occur. This prediction is part of His ongoing revelation in Scripture on the subject of apostasy. In the Old Testament, He warned of the consequences of apostasy (Deut. 28:15:ff.; Ezek. 20:38), and gave numerous examples of apostates (Ex. 32; 1 Sam. 15:11; Neh. 9:26; Ps. 78). The New Testament also warns of apostasy, particularly at the time of the end just before the Lord’s return. Our Lord warned of false christs who would deceive many (Matt. 24:4–12). Paul wrote to the Thessalonians about the wholesale departure from the faith that will take place during the future time of tribulation (2 Thess. 2:3–12). Peter and Jude warned of mockers, who, in the end time would depart from the faith (2 Peter 3:3; Jude 18). The apostle John cautioned that “it is the last hour; and just as you heard that antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have arisen; from this we know that it is the last hour” (1 John 2:18; cf. 4:1–6). But apostasy, though escalated in the end time, is not limited to that era. The writer of Hebrews exhorted his readers, “Take care, brethren, lest there should be in any one of you an evil, unbelieving heart, in falling away from the living God” (Heb. 3:12; cf. 5:11–6:8; 10:26–31).

Paul knew that Ephesus would not be spared efforts to deceive people into abandoning the truth. In his farewell address to the Ephesian elders in Acts 20:29–30 he said, “I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them.”

As the revelation from the Spirit in Scripture shows, apostasy is predictable, and inevitable. There will always be those who make a temporary response to the gospel, but have no genuine faith in God. We should not be surprised when they leave, and should remember the words of John, “They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, in order that it might be shown that they all are not of us” (1 John 2:19).

The Chronology of Apostasy

that in later times (4:1b)

Paul defines the time frame in which apostasy will take place as the later times. The later times include, but are not limited to, the eschatological future. The first coming of Christ ushered in the later or last times, which was the Messianic era. First John 2:18 supports this fact when it says simply, “Children, it is the last hour.” First Peter 1:20 states that Christ “has appeared in these last times for the sake of you.” The writer of Hebrews informs us that God “in these last days has spoken to us in His Son” (Heb. 1:2), and “now once at the consummation of the ages [Christ] has been manifested to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself” (Heb. 9:26). From the first coming of our Lord to His return, through all this age of the church, apostasy will occur and escalate toward the end when “most people’s love will grow cold” (Matt. 24:12).

The Source of Apostasy

paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons (4:1d)

As already noted, apostasy is generated by demonic beings. Ephesians 6:12 says that the battle for the truth and the kingdom of heaven is a struggle “not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.” Paying attention to is from prosechō. The verb expresses more than merely listening to something. It means “to assent to,” “to devote oneself to,” or “cling to something.” The present tense of the participle shows that apostates continually cling to demonic teaching. They understand the facts of the gospel intellectually, and outwardly identify with the Christian faith. Since their hearts are not right with God and they do not have the Spirit to teach and protect them (cf. Jude 19), however, they are lured away by deceitful spirits. Planos (deceitful) comes from the root word from which our English word “planet” derives. It carries the idea of wandering, and thus came to mean “seducing,” or “deceiving.” Demons are called deceitful because they cause men to wander from the orbit of the truth. The Holy Spirit leads people into saving truth (cf. John 16:13), while these unholy spirits lead them into damning error.

Apostates are not actually the victims of sophisticated university professors, false religious leaders, or wickedly clever writers or speakers. They are the victims of demonic spirits, purveying lies from the depths of hell through such humans. False teaching is thus something far more than a human aberration, it is nothing less than the doctrines of demons. The subjective genitive indicates this is not teaching about demons, but teaching done by them. Satan and his agents have concocted all manner of lying theologies to confuse and deceive. To sit under false teaching that contradicts the truth of Scripture is to be taught by demons, and to put one’s mind and soul in jeopardy. It is no wonder, then, that the Bible cautions against exposing oneself to false doctrine.

In his second epistle, the apostle John wrote,

Many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh. This is the deceiver and the antichrist. Watch yourselves, that you might not lose what we have accomplished, but that you may receive a full reward. Anyone who goes too far and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God; the one who abides in the teaching, he has both the Father and the Son. If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house, and do not give him a greeting; for the one who gives him a greeting participates in his evil deeds. (vv. 7–11)

We are to rescue those under the influence of false teaching like we would snatch a stick out of the fire, being careful not to get burned ourselves (Jude 23).

Deuteronomy 13:12–18 gives us a very straightforward warning about apostasy:

If you hear in one of your cities, which the Lord your God is giving you to live in, anyone saying that some worthless men have gone out from among you and have seduced the inhabitants of their city, saying, “Let us go and serve other gods” (Whom you have not known), then you shall investigate and search out and inquire thoroughly. And if it is true and the matter established that this abomination has been done among you, you shall surely strike the inhabitants of that city with the edge of the sword, utterly destroying it and all that is in it and its cattle with the edge of the sword. Then you shall gather all its booty into the middle of its open square and burn the city and all its booty with fire as a whole burnt offering to the Lord your God; and it shall be a ruin forever. It shall never be rebuilt. And nothing from that which is put under the ban shall cling to your hand, in order that the Lord may turn from His burning anger and show mercy to you, and have compassion on you and make you increase, just as He has sworn to your fathers, if you will listen to the voice of the Lord your God, keeping all His commandments which I am commanding you today, and doing what is right in the sight of the Lord your God.

That sobering warning shows how seriously God wants us to view apostasy. It was to be cut out of the nation of Israel like cancer from a human body.

The history of demonic seduction dates back to Satan’s successful tempting of Eve in the Garden of Eden. Throughout human history, culminating in the terrible influence of demons in the Tribulation (Rev. 9:2–11; 13:14; 16:14; 18:2, 23; 19:20; 20:2, 3, 8, 10), deceitful spirits will ply doctrines of demons. Through God’s mercy, however, true believers will not succumb (Ps. 44:18; Heb. 6:9; 10:39; Jude 24–25).

The Purveyors of Apostasy

by means of the hypocrisy of liars seared in their own conscience as with a branding iron (4:2)

Demonic false teaching is purveyed through human agents. While the source is supernatural, the agents are natural. The phrase the hypocrisy of liars translates two nouns in the Greek text and could be rendered “hypocritical or deceitful lie-speakers.” To purvey their hellish teachings, demons use human deceivers who speak their lies. They may be religious leaders, and appear outwardly good and devout. They may teach in an ostensibly Christian college or seminary. They may pastor a church, or write theological books or commentaries. Though they wear the mask of religion (even Christianity) and wear a mask of piety, they do not serve God, but Satan. They blaspheme God. Sitting under such teachers has no redeeming value, and it results in being exposed to spiritual gangrene (2 Tim. 2:17–18).

The false teachers are able to go about their devilish business without restraint because they are seared in their own conscience as with a branding iron. Some argue that Paul’s metaphor here is that of a slave branded with his owner’s mark. The false teachers, according to that view, carried Satan’s brand in their consciences. It seems better, however, to understand this as a reference to the burning or numbing of their consciences. Kautēriazō (seared) was used by the Greek medical writer Hippocrates to speak of cauterization. The false teachers can carry out their hypocrisy because their consciences have been destroyed. Conscience is the faculty that affirms or condemns an action (cf. Rom. 2:14–15). It is the sensitivity to right and wrong that controls behavior. Paul looked to his conscience as the divinely given witness to the condition of his soul (cf. Acts 23:1; 24:16; Rom. 9:1; 2 Cor. 1:12; 2 Tim. 1:3). The apostle has already stated that false teachers reject “a good conscience” (1:19), which is the very goal Paul pursued (1:5). The false teachers’ consciences have been so ignored and misinformed that they have become like scar tissue burned senseless, which cease to function. With scarred consciences, they feel no guilt or remorse as they purvey their false doctrines.

The Content of Apostasy

men who forbid marriage and advocate abstaining from foods, (4:3a)

Anything contrary to Scripture can be the entry point of demonic teaching. We might have expected the apostle to follow his severe comments about demon doctrine with examples like denying the Trinity or the deity of the Savior, or rejecting salvation by grace. But Satan is so subtle and seeks to gain a foothold on territory more easily yielded. Paul gives a sample of what was being taught at Ephesus. The deceivers there were focusing on two seemingly minor teachings: that spirituality demanded avoiding marriage and abstaining from foods. As is typical of satanic deception, both of those teachings contain an element of truth. There is nothing wrong with singleness, and such a state may aid spiritual service. First Corinthians 7:25–35 honors those designed by God to be single. Nor is fasting wrong; it is an important accompaniment to prayer (cf. Matt. 6:16–17; 9:14–15). The deception comes in seeing those as essential elements of salvation. The devising of human means of salvation is a hallmark of all false religion.

The teaching that self-denial on the physical level was essential for true spirituality characterized the Essenes. They were a Jewish sect that appeared in Palestine as early as the second century b.c.. They formed the Qumran community, near the Dead Sea, where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found. They practiced asceticism, denying marriage and enforcing special dietary regulations. It is possible their influence was being felt in Ephesus.

Another possible influence was the philosophic dualism that characterized much contemporary Greek philosophy. That view held that matter was evil, and spirit good. Marriage and food, being aspects of the evil material world, were to be shunned. Such teaching may have influenced the Ephesians, as it did the Corinthians (cf. 1 Cor. 7:1–7, 28–38; 15:12). In the second century, this false teaching developed into the dangerous heresy known as Gnosticism. Gnostics boasted of a secret, hidden knowledge. They believed they were the initiated ones, who had transcended the mundane and touched the reality of God. They rejected the body as part of the evil, physical world. Gnosticism was to pose a serious threat to the orthodox faith for several centuries.

The emphasis on externalism that marked the Ephesian apostates is typical of all satanic false religion. From the animism of primitive tribes to the sophistication of major world religions, men rely on good works, outward ritual, and self denial. William Barclay comments,

This was an ever-recurring heresy in the Church; in every generation men arose who tried to be stricter than God. When the Apostolic Canons came to be written, it was necessary to set it down in black and white: “If any overseer, priest or deacon, or anyone on the priestly list, abstains from marriage and flesh and wine, not on the ground of asceticism (that is, for the sake of discipline), but through abhorrence of them as evil in themselves, forgetting that all things are very good, and that God made man male and female, but blaspheming and slandering the workmanship of God, either let him amend, or be deposed and cast out of the Church. Likewise a layman also” (Apostolic Canons 51). Irenaeus, writing towards the end of the second century, tells how certain followers of Saturninus “declare that marriage and generation are from Satan. Many likewise abstain from animal food, and draw away multitudes by a feigned temperance of this kind (Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 1, 24, 2). This kind of thing came to a head in the monks and hermits of the fourth century. They went away and lived in the Egyptian desert, entirely cut off from men. They spent their lives mortifying the flesh. One never ate cooked food and was famous for his “fleshlessness.” Another stood all night by a jutting crag so that it was impossible for him to sleep. Another was famous because he allowed his body to become so dirty and neglected that vermin dropped from him as he walked. Another deliberately ate salt in midsummer and then abstained from drinking water. “A clean body,” they said, “necessarily means an unclean soul.” (The Letters to Timothy, Titus, and Philemon [Philadelphia: Westminster, 1975], 93–94)

Such teaching is both false and dangerous. Paul rejects it in Colossians 2:16–23:

Therefore let no one act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day—things which are a mere shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ. Let no one keep defrauding you of your prize by delighting in self-abasement and the worship of the angels, taking his stand on visions he has seen, inflated without cause by his fleshly mind, and not holding fast to the head, from whom the entire body, being supplied and held together by the joints and ligaments, grows with a growth which is from God. If you have died with Christ to the elementary principles of the world, why, as if you were living in the world, do you submit yourself to decrees, such as, “Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch!” (which all refer to things destined to perish with the using)—in accordance with the commandments and teachings of men? These are matters which have, to be sure, the appearance of wisdom in self-made religion and self-abasement and severe treatment of the body, but are of no value against fleshly indulgence.

Believers are complete in Christ and do not need to practice physical self-denial to gain salvation from sin and righteousness before God.

The Error of Apostasy

which God has created to be gratefully shared in by those who believe and know the truth. For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected, if it is received with gratitude; for it is sanctified by means of the word of God and prayer. (4:3b–5)

The fundamental error of such apostate teaching is that it rejects divine revelation. All false teaching is a denial of God’s Word. All through the Pastoral Epistles, Paul confronts false teachers for their treatment of Holy Scripture (cf. 1 Tim. 1:3–11; 6:3–5, 20–21; 2 Tim. 2:14–18; 23–26; 3:13–17; 4:1–4; Titus 1:9–16; 3:9–11). Contrary to the false teaching plaguing Ephesus, God created both marriage and food and pronounced them good (cf. Gen. 1:28–31; 2:18–24; 9:3). God created marriage and food to be gratefully shared in by those who believe and know the truth. How then can it be right to deny them to men? God made marriage and food for the same reason He made everything else—to give man joy and to bring Himself glory (cf. 1 Cor. 10:31). Unbelievers, while they enjoy marriage (“the grace of life”—1 Peter 3:7) and food, do not fulfill that ultimate intention and praise God for them. So in the truest sense, God made marriage and food for those who believe and know the truth, because they are the ones who will glorify Him for such gracious goodness. How foolish to abstain from his kindness and thus deny God the right to be glorified for their enjoyment!

The Ephesian deceivers refused to recognize that everything created by God is good. They flatly denied the goodness of God’s creation, which would have led them to understand that nothing is to be rejected, if it is received with gratitude. Paul once again emphasizes that God’s purpose in giving good things to men is so that, in their enjoyment of those gifts, they would praise Him. By gratefully receiving God’s gracious gifts, believers fulfill that noble intention for which those things were created. The doxology of Romans 11:36 sums up this perspective: “For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen.”

At the close of creation week, God pronounced everything He had created “good” (Gen. 1:31). Those good things from God that believers gratefully receive are sanctified by means of the word of God and prayer. To be sanctified is to be set apart for holy use. The means by which that is accomplished are the word of God and prayer. Prayer obviously refers to the thanksgiving that expresses gratitude. The word seems to refer to the very word in Genesis 1:31, that everything God made was good. There is a double sanctifying, or setting apart from all that is sinful. But it is also possible that Paul has in mind more than Genesis 1:31, namely, the New Testament gospel.

In the Pastoral Epistles, the word of God refers to the message of salvation (cf. 2 Tim. 2:9; Titus 2:5). Through that message, believers have come to know the truth in Christ. Part of that truth is that Christ has abolished the dietary laws. According to Mark 7:19, our Lord “declared all foods clean” (cf. Acts 10:9–15; Rom. 14:1–12; Col. 2:16–17). The dietary regulations were temporary, intended to teach Israel the importance of discernment and to isolate the nation from the pagan societies around them. To reimpose them now would be to manufacture a works righteousness system that denies the work of Christ and dishonors God. If believers understand that the gospel has abolished the dietary laws, and in prayer offer God thanks, they can receive all His good gifts, and He will be glorified.

Mandatory celibacy and abstinence from foods in general or particular is the teaching of demons. It denies the goodness of God’s creation, and robs Him of the glory and praise He is due for that goodness. It also is a denial of God’s truth, as revealed in His Word. Mere externalism neither pleases God nor promotes genuine spirituality.

Apostasy is an ever-present danger to the church. Believers can avoid the false teaching that feeds it only by giving heed to God’s Word. They would do well to pay attention to the warning issued by the writer of Hebrews: “Do not be carried away by varied and strange teachings; for it is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace, not by foods, through which those who were thus occupied were not benefitted” (Heb. 13:9).[1]


Where Bad Theology Comes From

1 Timothy 4:1–5

Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared. (1 Tim. 4:1–2)

The world is full of bad theology. On television a preacher of prosperity says, “Be healed! Jesus died for your disease on the cross!” On the radio a teacher presents such a distorted view of Calvinism that it would cause the most stable Christian to doubt his or her salvation. In the magazines leading evangelicals are confused about whether justification comes by faith alone or not. Then add all the errors of non-Christian religion: the fanciful speculations of the New Age; the dangerous views about Jesus in the cults; the mindless, godless philosophies of the consumer culture. The world is full of untrue, unsound, unbiblical theology. Where does it all come from?

Apostasy Ahead

Having explained the mystery of godliness (1 Tim. 3:16), Paul explains the mystery of ungodliness, telling Timothy and the church to expect bad theology: “Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith” (1 Tim. 4:1). This is not simply Paul’s analysis of the church; it is a prophecy of the Holy Spirit.

Paul does not specify when the Holy Spirit said this. This unhappy news may have been revealed to Paul as he wrote to Timothy. More likely, the apostle was referring to some earlier prophecy, perhaps one uttered by a prophet in the early church. Similar prophecies do appear elsewhere in the New Testament. Paul may even have been recalling the words of Jesus Christ: “And then many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another. And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray” (Matt. 24:10–11). The parallel with 1 Timothy is close because Jesus speaks of people “falling away.” Or the apostle may simply have been reminding the Ephesians of the warning he gave their elders when he said farewell to them at Miletus: “I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them” (Acts 20:29–30).

The living voice of the Holy Spirit testifies in no uncertain terms that although Christians may be saddened by false theology, they should never be surprised by it. Timothy was well acquainted with the dangers of unsound doctrine. He knew, for example, that Hymenaeus and Alexander had made a shipwreck of their faith (1 Tim. 1:19–20). At that very moment, he was contending against false teachers in the Ephesian church. Like Timothy, the church can take the Spirit’s word for it: “in later times some will depart from the faith” (1 Tim. 4:1).

The technical theological term for abandoning the faith is “apostasy,” which comes from the Greek noun apostasia. Here the related verb appears: to “depart from the faith” is to apostatize (1 Tim. 4:1). One scholar defines such apostasy as “the serious situation of becoming separated from the living God after a previous turning towards him, by falling away from the faith.” Apostasy does not mean that believers who have saving faith can lose it. This would be an impossibility, since every sinner who receives the gift of saving faith is preserved by the Holy Spirit until the day of Christ (see John 10:28; Phil. 1:6).

What apostasy does mean, however, is that someone who once claimed to be a Christian has renounced the gospel. Here again, as he does throughout this epistle, Paul refers to Christianity as “the faith.” He has in mind those central doctrines that rest on the solid foundation of Holy Scripture and are necessary to saving faith: the sovereignty of God the Father, the deity of God the Son, the reality of God the Holy Spirit, and redemption through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, received by faith. Sad to say, some who profess to believe these doctrines later deny them. Indeed, one of the distinguishing marks of the later times is that people who call themselves Christians will forsake the Christ of authentic Christianity.

Since human beings are curious about the future, we are bound to ask, “When will these later times be?” There is an important clue in this passage. In verse 1 the Holy Spirit speaks about the future: “in later times some will depart from the faith.” Yet by verse 3 the apostle is speaking in the present tense about things happening in the Ephesian church at that very moment. This indicates that the later times of the final age have already begun.

The same shift from the future to the present occurs in 2 Timothy 3:1–5, where Paul warns Timothy that “in the last days there will come times of difficulty” (2 Tim. 3:1). He then proceeds to explain how people will behave in the end times: they will be insolent, violent, and arrogant. Thus he warns Timothy to “avoid such people” (2 Tim. 3:5). In other words, Timothy himself knew some of the wicked people of the last days. They were already living in Ephesus!

When someone asks, therefore, “Do you think we are living in the last days?” the answer is always, “Yes!” These are the later times. These are the last days, which, as John Wesley said, “extend from our Lord’s ascension till His coming to judgment.” George Knight helpfully defines them as “the days inaugurated by the Messiah and characterized by the Spirit’s presence in power, the days to be consummated by the return of Christ.”3 The end times thus encompass the whole Christian era from the resurrection of Jesus Christ to his second coming in power and glory.

If these are the later times, then apostasy is to be expected. From time to time Christians will hear news of former church members who have abandoned the faith. Some will fall into grievous sin. Others will gradually drift away from the church. Still others will reject Reformation truth for the falsehoods of other faiths. As sad as these things are, they should not surprise us. When someone abandons orthodox Christianity it should not throw our faith into question. Rather, it proves the truth of Scripture “that in later times some will depart from the faith” (1 Tim. 4:1).

Diabolical Doctrine

The Scripture goes on to explain that such apostasy comes from bad theology. In verses 3 through 5 Paul will proceed to explain what the false doctrines are. First, however, he explains where they come from. Bad theology has two sources, the first of which is positively diabolical. Those who abandon the faith do so “by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons” (1 Tim. 4:1). Bad theology comes from seductive spirits and deceptive demons. The Revised English Bible thus identifies their teachings as “demon-inspired doctrines.”

There are two errors to avoid when thinking about demons. The first is to give the devil more than his due. Some Christians think there are demons lurking behind every door. They assume they are under spiritual attack every time they get a headache or miss the bus. Others attribute most of their own sins to demonic activity. Still others become so obsessed with demons that they live in unholy fear. But the truth is that Jesus Christ defeated the devil and all his lackeys on the cross of Calvary. The Son of God became a man so that “through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery” (Heb. 2:14–15). On occasion, God may allow fallen angels to manipulate the physical universe or to tempt human beings to commit sin. But demons do not and cannot have control over anyone who is filled with the Holy Spirit.

The opposite error is to deny that demons exist. As Baudelaire once said, “The devil’s cleverest ruse is to make men believe that he does not exist.” But the devil does exist. Spiritual warfare is as real today as it was in the days of Jesus Christ. We continue to “wrestle against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Eph. 6:12). This struggle will continue until the day of judgment, which is why the Lord Jesus instructs his disciples to pray every day for deliverance from the evil one (see Matt. 6:13).

The main reason Christians need daily spiritual protection is the deceitfulness of the devil. Jesus called Satan “a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44). Elsewhere Paul speaks of his schemes (2 Cor. 2:11; Eph. 6:11) and bewitchments (Gal. 3:1). His work is said to be “displayed in all kinds of counterfeit miracles, signs and wonders” (2 Thess. 2:9 niv; cf. Rev. 13:14). Believers are thus warned not to believe every spirit, but to test the spirits “to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1).

Satan was a deceiver from the very beginning. When he came to Eve in the form of a serpent, his appearance was deceptive, and he asked a deceptive question: “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” (Gen. 3:1). Satan was putting words in God’s mouth because God had said nothing of the kind. Then he made a deceptive claim: “You will not surely die” (Gen. 3:4). Satan told one lie after another. This is his modus operandi, his standard operating procedure. When he hinted to Eve that God was stingy, he was denying God’s goodness. When he told Eve that she would not die, he was denying God’s justice. Satan was the first liberal theologian. It is his particular aim to persuade people that true theology is false and false theology is true.

In addition to lying about creation, the devil also lies about redemption. Consider the words of Martin Luther:

When God’s holy Word arises, it is always its lot that Satan opposes it with all his might. At first, he rages against it with force and wicked power. If that promises no success, he attacks it with false tongues and erring spirits and teachers. What he is unable to crush by force he seeks to suppress by cunning and lies. This was his strategy at the beginning. When the Gospel first came into the world, he launched a mighty attack against it through Jews and Gentiles, shed much blood, and filled Christendom with martyrs. When this did not succeed, he raised false prophets and erring spirits and filled the world with heretics.… And we must be prepared for this, and by no means allow it to disturb us, for so it must be.

If Satan’s favorite strategy is deception, it follows that the church is in real danger of being fooled by false doctrine. Some theology is so bad it can be spotted a mile off. But most false doctrines contain enough truth to resist detection. The most dangerous heresies often sound the most like authentic Christianity. Consider a few examples. The distortions of the signs and wonders movement hide behind the truth of the need for people to make a personal commitment to Jesus Christ. The distortions of Roman Catholicism hide behind the truth of the value of good works. The lies of Mormonism hide behind the truth of family values. The lies of the International Church of Christ hide behind the truth of the necessity of baptism. Every false doctrine tries to find some truth to hide behind.

The deceptiveness of false doctrine teaches every Christian to be wary. A man once told me that after he committed his life to Christ he listened to every program on Christian radio. As he matured in the faith, he learned what a mistake that can be. The discerning Christian does not listen to every so-called Christian radio program, read every so-called Christian book, or enter every so-called Christian church, but is wary enough to be on guard against diabolical deceptions.

Through Lying Leaders

If bad theology comes ultimately from demons, it comes more immediately through human beings. It comes, in fact, “through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared” (1 Tim. 4:2). This is the second source of bad theology. It comes from lying leaders as well as deceptive demons.

This is not to say that every theological error comes from someone who is demon-possessed. However, false doctrine is transmitted from false angels through false teachers. The word the Holy Spirit uses to describe such a teacher is “hypocrite” (hypokritēs)—a word that comes from the Greek theater. It means to assume a role in a dramatic production, to play a part.

Hypocrisy explains why heresy is so deceptive. Many false teachers are good actors. They know how to play the part of a Christian. This, too, is part of Satan’s master plan: “Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is no surprise if his servants, also, disguise themselves as servants of righteousness” (2 Cor. 11:14–15). Or as Hamlet put it, “The spirit that I have seen / May be the devil: and the devil hath power / To assume a pleasing shape.” False teachers often play the part of Christians, pretending to be followers of Jesus Christ. They call themselves Christians. They seem to be committed and sincere. They are thoroughly convinced of their orthodoxy. They go to church, and they may even preach from a pulpit. Heresy always wears the mask of Christianity.

It is all a lie, however. False teachers are sincere all right: sincerely wrong! Neither they themselves nor their doctrines are true. There may even be something intentional about the way they distort the gospel. John Stott says that “hypocrisy is a deliberate pretence and a lie a deliberate falsehood.” There is a grave warning here for Christians who try to seem more godly than they actually are!

Eventually, liars start to live their own lies. They do not even realize they are lying any more, for their “consciences are seared” (1 Tim. 4:2). There is some disagreement about what Paul means by this expression (kaustēriazō). Some take it to refer to the branding of cattle or slaves to establish ownership, in which case the point is that false teachers are tools of the devil. It may be better, however, to take this expression in its medical sense, of coagulating live tissue with a burning instrument to stop bleeding. Sometimes when skin is burned it becomes insensitive, almost as if anesthetized. Once the nerves have been deadened, the skin is no longer able to feel pain. The same thing can happen to the human conscience. It can become cauterized by sin. The more a soul sins, the less painful sin seems, until finally the conscience becomes dead to all feeling (cf. Eph. 4:18–19). At that point, it is no longer able to warn the soul against sin.

To use a different analogy, the conscience is like an alarm clock. The first time a man commits a particular sin the alarm bells ring all over his conscience. But the next time he commits the same sin, it is not nearly as alarming. “This isn’t so bad,” he says to himself. “I’ve done this once or twice before.” The man carefully locates the snooze button on his conscience so that next time he is able to disarm it more quickly. Eventually, he unplugs his conscience altogether and slumbers unto death.

Unless Christians are careful, this self-destructive pattern can be repeated anywhere:

The grim sequence of events in the career of the false teachers has now been revealed. First, they turned a deaf ear to their conscience, until it became cauterized. Next, they felt no scruple in becoming hypocritical liars. Thirdly, they thus exposed themselves to the influence of deceiving spirits. Finally, they led their listeners to abandon the faith. It is a perilous downward path from the deaf ear and the cauterized conscience to the deliberate lie, the deception of demons and the ruination of others.

Apostasy is the inevitable result of hypocrisy. So do not wound your conscience by committing outrageous sins or by excusing lesser ones. Guard your conscience so that it remains sensitive to the least offense against the holiness of God.

By now it should be obvious why Paul so frequently reminds Timothy to keep his conscience clear. His goal is for Timothy to have love which comes from “a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith” (1 Tim. 1:5). He urges him to keep “holding faith and a good conscience” (1 Tim. 1:19). Similarly, he tells deacons to “hold the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience” (1 Tim. 3:9). In short, Paul wants every Christian to be as conscientious as he himself was. For as the apostle later testified to Timothy, he served God “with a clear conscience” (2 Tim. 1:3), and as he told Felix, “I always take pains to have a clear conscience toward both God and man” (Acts 24:16). One reason Paul was such a good theologian was that he was such a holy Christian.

A clear conscience is always highly to be prized, but is most necessary of all for the pastors and teachers of the church. A theologian who grows comfortable with sin is well on his way to becoming a heretic, while a tender conscience preserves orthodoxy.

The Ascetic Life

Up to this point, Paul has been speaking about bad theology in general terms. In verse 3 he finally starts to get specific by telling us that the false teachers in Ephesus believed that celibacy and vegetarianism were necessary for salvation: they “forbid marriage and require abstinence from foods that God created” (1 Tim. 4:3). Given what Paul has said in the previous two verses, this surely is a surprising summary of what the false teachers were saying. We might well have expected the apostle to say that these men were denying the deity of Jesus Christ, or adding works to faith as the basis for justification, or advocating some other heretical doctrine. But before talking about their theology, Paul first locates their heterodoxy in two areas of everyday practice.

There is nothing wrong, in principle, with being a single, or a vegetarian, or both. God calls some individual Christians to remain unmarried or to refrain from certain foods for a time. In fact, the apostle Paul himself was called to both. He himself was a bachelor, and he encouraged other Christians to value singleness (1 Cor. 7:8). He also followed the biblical practice of fasting with prayer (e.g. Acts 14:23).

The trouble comes when these or other matters of relative indifference are treated as essentials of the gospel. This legalistic mindset is often a problem in the church. A group of Christians discover something that helps them grow in the Christian faith. They rediscover a forgotten doctrine, take up some political cause, follow a new method for family life, or commit themselves to a ministry, which is all well and good. But then they decide that what is good for them ought to be mandatory for others. Soon they go around trying to get everyone to adopt one style of Christianity. They assume that anyone who does not do what they do is less spiritual than they are.

This is exactly what the false teachers in Ephesus were doing. They had committed themselves to one particular diet and one particular lifestyle. Fine. There is nothing wrong with remaining single or with fasting. Nor is there anything wrong in principle with private vegetarianism (although Romans 14:2 hints that this lifestyle may come from spiritual weakness). The trouble came when the false teachers decided that what was good for them was good for everyone. They tried to require every Christian to adopt their practices for abstaining from sex and food.

Apparently, these false teachers taught that meat and marriage were inherently sinful. This passage mentions “foods” without specifying what they were. Perhaps this is a reference to Jewish dietary customs which came from the Mosaic law. Yet elsewhere—especially in Rome (Rom. 14:2, 21) and in Corinth (1 Cor. 8:13)—the controversy in the church concerned eating meat. Whatever the precise practices may have been, the single best word to describe this kind of theology is “ascetic.” According to the Oxford English Dictionary, an ascetic is “a person who practices severe self-discipline and abstains from all forms of pleasure, especially for religious or spiritual reasons.” By forbidding marriage and changing their diet, some members of the Ephesian church were denying the pleasures of sex and food, and at the same time saying that physical self-denial was essential to a person’s standing before God.

What lies behind forbidding meat and marriage is the Gnostic idea that there is something sinful about the body. According to this line of thinking, the physical universe is a hindrance to spiritual life. Souls are all that matter, and physical appetites only lead to sin. John Stott explains the ascetic mindset like this: “From the beginning of church history some teachers … have argued that sex and hunger are themselves unclean appetites, that the body itself is a nasty encumbrance (if not actually vile), and that the only way to holiness is abstinence, the voluntary renunciation of sex and marriage, and, since eating cannot be given up altogether, then at least the renunciation of meat.”

Asceticism has a long history. The Essenes who wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls refused to marry. So did the Manichaeans, who lived in the east from the third to the tenth centuries. Similarly Irenaeus reports that the Encratites of his day “preached against marriage, thus setting aside the original creation of God, and indirectly blaming him who made them male and female for the propagation of the human race. Some of those reckoned among them have also introduced abstinence from animal food, thus proving themselves ungrateful to God, who formed all things.” There has long been an ascetic tendency in Roman Catholicism. This explains the existence of monasteries and why Catholic priests are forbidden to marry. It is also the reason why orthodox Catholics refuse to eat meat during Lent.

A more contemporary example of asceticism is the Straight Edge movement, which takes its name from a 1981 punk song by Ian MacKaye and Minor Threat: “I’m a person just like you / But I’ve got better things to do / Than sit around and smoke dope.… I’ve got a straight edge.” As the song suggests, Straight Edgers refuse to smoke or use drugs—so far, so good. However, they are equally opposed to marriage. Sex, they say, is only for having children. It is immoral for human beings to eat anything that comes from an animal, including dairy products. Straight Edgers are willing to use physical violence against people who disagree with their views. Thus, even to the present day, there are people “who forbid marriage and require abstinence from foods” (1 Tim. 4:3).

The Ingratitude of Asceticism

What is wrong with a little asceticism? After all, John the Baptist lived on honey and locusts (Mark 1:6). Jesus had nowhere to lay his head (Matt. 8:20). Paul even talked about disciplining his body to “keep it under control” (1 Cor. 9:27). Besides, sex and food so easily lend themselves to sins of the flesh.

One problem with self-denial is that it is often used as a way to become self-righteous. Calvin accuses the false teachers in Ephesus of trying “to acquire righteousness for themselves by abstaining from those things which God has left free. The only reason why consciences are burdened by such laws is that perfection is being sought apart from the law of God.” Another problem with ascetic Christianity is that it rejects God’s good gifts. When they are used in a lawful way, both food and sex are meant for joy. God himself created them “to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth” (1 Tim. 4:3).

Consider marriage. Paul spends less time defending that institution here, perhaps because family life receives positive mention elsewhere in this epistle (see 1 Tim. 3:2, 12; 5:14). Remember, too, that Paul’s other letter to the Ephesians included a good bit of teaching about marriage (Eph. 5:22–33). But what the Bible teaches about marriage is that it is a divine gift, ordained by God the Father (Gen. 2:24) and blessed by God the Son (Matt. 19:4–6). Therefore, marriage is to be received with thankful joy. Chastity in marriage is no less holy than virginity in singleness.

The Puritans offer many good examples of how to appreciate the gift of marriage. Contrary to popular opinion, they were not puritanical about sex. They prized marriage, including its sexual aspect. In his Book of Matrimony, the Puritan Thomas Becon defined marriage as the

high, holy and blessed order of life, ordained not of man, but of God … wherein one man and one woman are coupled and knit together in one flesh and body in the fear and love of God, by the free, loving, hearty, and good consent of them both, to the intent that they two may dwell together as one flesh and body, of one will and mind, in all honesty, virtue and godliness, and spend their lives in equal partaking of all such things as God shall send them with thanksgiving.

Like marriage, food is one of God’s good gifts. Christians are allowed to eat whatever foods they please. Paul’s reasoning is very straightforward: what God has made, we may eat. This is one very practical consequence of the doctrine of creation: “everything created by God is good” (1 Tim. 4:4). Throughout the first chapter of Genesis, God describes everything he made as very good; among other things, what God has made is good to eat.

The proper way to receive the good gifts of creation is “with thanksgiving” (eucharistias), which is Paul’s favorite term to express gratitude to God. Gratitude is so important that it is mentioned twice in three verses: God created these things “to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer” (1 Tim. 4:3–5).

There are two important qualifications here. The first comes from the doctrine of redemption: followers of Christ must be the most grateful people of all. Christians are here defined as “those who believe and know the truth” (1 Tim. 4:3). To believe is to believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and the Savior of the world. It is to trust in his death on the cross and resurrection from the grave for salvation. True gratitude is a response to saving grace. It begins with thanksgiving for the gift of eternal life through Jesus Christ. The other qualification comes from the doctrine of creation. Paul does not say that everything is good; he says that “everything created by God is good” (1 Tim. 4:4). What God made is good, but there is always the danger of corrupting what God has made. Christians are to enjoy life to the fullest, but it is not “anything goes!” Although the right use of food and sex have God’s blessing, lechery and gluttony fall under God’s curse.

One way to test if God’s gifts are being used properly is to ask this question: “Can I thank God for what I am doing right now without being ashamed of myself?” A sensitive Christian will find it impossible to thank God for gross excess. Furthermore, true gratitude always leads to generosity. Christians who keep their food to themselves—or keep the benefits of family life to themselves, for that matter—are not receiving God’s gifts with thanksgiving at all.

When Paul speaks about thanksgiving, he may be referring to the practice of saying grace before meals. One way to receive food with thanksgiving is to do what the Lord Jesus did: offer a prayer of thanksgiving before and/or after eating it. In the Gospel of Mark we overhear Jesus giving thanks for the loaves and the fish (Mark 6:41; 8:6), as well as for the bread and the wine of the Last Supper (Mark 14:22–23). This was also the practice of the apostle Paul, who speaks of sitting down to his meals “with thankfulness” (1 Cor. 10:30). The way to receive any gift is with a word of thanks. The Scripture further describes giving thanks for food as a consecration: “it is made holy by the word of God and prayer” (1 Tim. 4:5). Praying before a meal does not make the food any more holy than it already is, but saying grace is a way of acknowledging that daily bread is a sacred gift. According to Calvin, “the only recompense we can make to God for His liberality is a testimony of our thanks.”

It is hard to say for certain what Paul means here by “the word of God” (1 Tim. 4:5). Various commentators have suggested that it refers to the gospel message (Paul sometimes equates “the word of God” with the gospel), or to the Lord’s Supper, or even to the first chapter of Genesis, where God said over and over again that everything he created was very good (an interpretation that fits in well with Paul’s emphasis on creation in these verses). Still others point out that the Jews often used Scripture when they said grace. The last suggestion is a good one. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner may all be consecrated to God. Every meal is a dialogue with heaven. As Fairbairn says, the Bible is “God’s word to man warranting him to use the creation gift,” while saying grace is “man’s word to God, acknowledging the gift, and asking his blessing on it.” Christian singles and families ought to dedicate their meals to God through prayer and the reading of Scripture. Table devotions have been the standard practice of God’s people throughout history. The fact that they have gone out of fashion in some Christian circles today makes them all the more necessary.

Giving thanks, however, is not just for mealtimes. Gratitude is a whole way of life. Christians ought to give thanks to God for every good thing. G. K. Chesterton wrote something helpful about this in one of his personal notebooks. Chesterton was an English essayist and biographer. He was also a Catholic, but not of the ascetic kind, as one can tell from what he wrote:

You say grace before meals.

All right.

But I say grace before the play and the opera,

And grace before the concert and pantomime,

And grace before I open a book,

And grace before sketching, painting,

Swimming, fencing, boxing, walking, playing, dancing;

And grace before I dip the pen in the ink.

Chesterton’s point is that God is to be praised for everything he has created. I am in a good position to appreciate this because I am writing these words one fine spring morning. As I walked the streets of Philadelphia early in the day I saw a starling in a tree. Starlings are not the most attractive birds. They lack the bright colors of song birds and they have trouble carrying a tune. Yet the starling I saw was almost melodic. He was inspired, no doubt, by the fresh buds on the tree and the bright sun in the sky. As I paused to look and to listen, I joined him in grateful praise to the God who made us both. Everything God made is good and is to be received with thanksgiving. Even starlings.

A Grateful Theology

The last thing to be said about the origins of bad theology is that gratitude is essential to sound theology. Thanksgiving is so important to daily Christian life that anyone who rejects God’s good gifts runs the risk of abandoning the faith.

A good example of the way sound theology depends upon a grateful heart comes from the early days of the Swiss Reformation. Shortly before Easter in 1522, several printers scandalized the city of Zurich by eating meat during the traditional Catholic fast for Lent. The printers decided to do this for two reasons. One was practical. They performed such hard physical labor that they felt they needed to eat meat to keep up their strength. But the other reason was theological. The printers wanted to eat meat in order to make a public declaration of their commitment to the doctrines of the Reformation.

To understand this, it helps to know that the Lenten fast in Zurich had become a form of works-righteousness, a way of earning favor with God through self-denial. But the printers knew where bad theology comes from—and where it leads. They believed that they were saved by grace, not by works. They also understood that “everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving” (1 Tim. 4:4). Therefore, they ate their meat to the glory of God, which of course is the way every believer ought to do everything.[2]


Learn to discern

4:1–5

After being taken to the mountain top at the end of the last chapter, we come down to earth with a bump when we read: ‘Now the Spirit expressly says that in the later times some will depart from the faith’ (4:1). The ‘later times’ do not refer to a period at some time in the future, but to the era that both Timothy and we live in. It is the final phase of God’s plan that has been ushered in by Jesus’ death and resurrection and was initiated on the day of Pentecost.

The Greek word translated as ‘now’ in verse 1 connects the great statement made in chapter 3:2 with the practical issues Paul is going to raise in chapter 4. The ‘mystery’ has been revealed to us: God’s Son became a man, has been raised from the dead and has ascended into heaven. But there are still heart-breaking problems with which Timothy has to deal.

This has been revealed to Paul by the Holy Spirit and it should be familiar to the elders of the church in Ephesus. When Paul last spoke to them he said, ‘The Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and afflictions await me … I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock’ (Acts 20:23, 29). A wolf is a symbol of a false teacher who divides and destroys, just like the men who were creating so many problems for Timothy.

The source of the problem

The most dangerous element of the kind of teaching circulating in Ephesus—such erroneous teaching is still in existence today—was that it did not always appear to be wrong. It is possible that Timothy had not realized how dangerous it was until God had shown this to him through the letter Paul had written. Although these ideas were taught by men, they originated from ‘deceitful spirits’ and ‘demons’. This does not excuse the teachers themselves; they were ‘hypocritical liars’ (v. 2, NIV). The word ‘hypocrite’ is a term which has emerged from the theatre and it describes a person who gives a false impression, pretending to be something he or she is not. These teachers knew how to present their teaching so that it had appeal to as many people as possible. They were able to do so because they were ‘seared in their own conscience as with a branding iron’ (NASB). Hippocrates, the Greek medical writer, used the word ‘seared’ to describe cauterization, and the image here is of a conscience that has been destroyed.

The substance of their teaching

Having read that their ideas originated from deceitful spirits and demons, the description of their teaching may seem a little surprising. Paul says that they ‘forbid marriage and require abstinence from foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth’ (v. 3). At first, this does not seem so serious, but when given more thought, it will become apparent how harmful their teaching was.

  • it separated christians from god. By forbidding marriage and saying that people could not eat certain foods, they rejected God’s gifts. That is why Paul goes on to remark that ‘everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer’ (vv. 4–5).
  • it caused divisions among christians, creating an elite group of people who considered themselves to be ‘spiritual’ and who looked down on those who did not follow their rules and regulations.
  • it caused them to be preoccupied with themselves and made them neglect evangelism. Remember that this teaching originates from ‘deceitful spirits’ and ‘demons’ whose purpose it is to discourage people from following Christ and to destroy the local church. That is why it is essential to use discernment and to ‘test everything’ (1 Thes. 5:21).[3]

[1] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1995). 1 Timothy (pp. 145–155). Chicago: Moody Press.

[2] Ryken, P. G. (2007). 1 Timothy. (R. D. Phillips, D. M. Doriani, & P. G. Ryken, Eds.) (pp. 152–166). Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing.

[3] Robinson, S. J. (2004). Opening up 1 Timothy (pp. 68–71). Leominster: Day One Publications.

March 13, 2019 Evening Verse Of The Day

The Inheritance of the Saved

Then the King will say to those on His right, “Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.” Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, “Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give You drink? And when did we see You a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You? And when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?” And the King will answer and say to them, “Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.” (25:34–40)

Jesus here reveals unequivocally that the Son of Man who sits on the glorious throne (v. 31) is also the Son of God, the divine King. After his subjects are separated, the King will say to those on His right, “Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” Those will be the believers who have survived the holocaust of the Tribulation, and they will be ushered alive into the millennial kingdom, which has been prepared for them from the foundation of the world.

Doubtlessly anticipating the salvation-by-works interpretations that would be made of verses 35–45, the Lord made clear that believers will not inherit the kingdom based on good deeds they will have or will not have performed on earth. Their inheritance was determined countless ages ago, even from the foundation of the world. Those who enter the kingdom will not do so on the basis of the service they have performed for Christ but on the basis of their being blessed by the Father because of their trust in His Son. They will in no way earn a place in the kingdom. A child does not earn an inheritance but receives it on the basis of his being in the family. In exactly the same way, a believer does not earn his way into the kingdom of God but receives it as his rightful inheritance as a child of God and a fellow heir with Jesus Christ (Rom. 8:16–17).

Prepared for you accentuates the selectivity of salvation. From before the time the world was created, God sovereignly chose those who will belong to Him. And “whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the first-born among many brethren” (Rom. 8:29). The source of salvation is the Father’s blessing, the reception of salvation is through faith, and the selectivity of salvation is in the advance preparation of the Father made in ages past. Stressing the same truth, Peter declared, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time” (1 Pet. 1:3–5).

The good deeds commended in Matthew 25:35–36 are the fruit, not the root, of salvation. It cannot be emphasized too strongly that they are not the basis of entrance into the kingdom. Christ will judge according to works only insofar as those works are or are not a manifestation of redemption, which the heavenly Father has foreordained. If a person has not trusted in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, no amount of seemingly good works done in His name will avail to any spiritual benefit. To such people the Lord will say, “I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness” (Matt. 7:23).

Nevertheless, the genuinely righteous deeds Jesus mentions in verses 35–36 are measurable evidence of salvation, and He therefore highly commends those who have performed them. He is saying, in effect, “Come into My kingdom, because you are the chosen children of My Father, and your relationship to Him is made evident by the service you have rendered to Me by ministering to your fellow believers, who, like you, are My brothers” (v. 40).

The Lord then lists six representative areas of need: being hungry, thirsty, a stranger, naked, sick, and in prison. The kingdom is for those who have ministered to such needs in the lives of God’s people, because those good deeds evidence true, living faith. They are characteristic of God’s children and kingdom citizens. “If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food,” James warns, “and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,’ and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that? Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself” (James 2:15–17). John proclaims the same truth in similar words: “Whoever has the world’s goods, and beholds his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in Him? Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth” (1 John 3:17–18). Scripture is very clear in teaching that the evidence for assurance of true salvation is not found in a past moment of decision but in a continuous pattern of righteous behavior.

The response by those whom the King commends is remarkable and is another proof of their salvation. Because they have ministered in a spirit of humility and selflessness and not to be seen and honored by men (see Matt. 6:2, 5, 16), they have seemingly forgotten about the many things they have done and are surprised that these are worthy of such mention by the Lord.

The King addresses them as the righteous, not simply because they have been declared righteous in Christ but because they have been made righteous by Christ. Their works of service to fellow believers give evidence that they are themselves the product of divine “workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:10).

The good deeds mentioned in these verses all deal with common, everyday needs. There is no mention of monumental undertakings or of spectacular accomplishments (cf. Matt. 7:21–23, where the claim to the spectacular is useless) but only of routine, day-to-day kindnesses that help meet the needs of fellow believers. Nothing more evidences conversion than a life marked by the compassion of God and the meekness and love of Christ. When the disciples of John the Baptist wanted evidence that Jesus was the Messiah, He replied by telling them not just about His spectacular healings but also about how He treated those in need (Matt. 11:4–6). When He announced His messianic credentials to the people of Nazareth, He again reflected not on the amazing but on the way He treated the poor, the prisoners, the blind, and the downtrodden (Luke 4:18–19). The person who belongs to Christ will demonstrate such compassion and be humble about it.

When the King’s self-effacing servants ask, “Lord, when did we do all those things for You?” the King will answer and say to them, “Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.”

The King’s addressing these people as brothers of Mine gives still further evidence that they are already children of God and do not become so because of their good works. The writer of Hebrews declared, “For both He who sanctifies and those who are sanctified are all from one Father; for which reason He is not ashamed to call them brethren” (Heb. 2:11). “The one who joins himself to the Lord is one spirit with Him,” Paul says (1 Cor. 6:17), and because of that union a believer can say, “It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me, and delivered Himself up for me” (Gal. 2:20).

When the disciples were arguing about which one of them was the greatest in the kingdom of heaven, Jesus set a small child in front of them and said, “Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you shall not enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 18:3). A person who does not come to Christ in the humble trustfulness that is characteristic of small children will have no part in His kingdom at all, much less be considered great in it. Jesus continued, “Whoever then humbles himself as this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever receives one such child in My name receives Me” (vv. 4–5). The physical child standing before them represented the spiritual child of God, the person who is converted (v. 3) by believing in Christ (v. 6). The person who lovingly serves the children of God proves himself to be a child of God.

“He who receives you receives Me,” Jesus told the disciples on another occasion, “and he who receives Me receives Him who sent Me” (Matt. 10:40). Whatever believers do for each other they also do for their Lord Jesus Christ, and the person who genuinely receives and serves Christians in Christ’s name proves he himself is a Christian. The self-giving service of Christians to each other in Christ’s name is a key external mark that identifies them as God’s people. Jesus said, “By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35).

It is to the practical manifestations of such love that Christ the King will call attention as he ushers the Tribulation saints into His millennial kingdom. Believers during those seven years, especially during the devastating last three and one-half years, will have great need for the basics Jesus has just mentioned. Because of their identity with Christ, they will often be hungry, thirsty, without decent shelter or clothing, sick, imprisoned, and alienated from the mainstream of society.

Those who will have met the needs of fellow believers will themselves have suffered great need. Few, if any, believers during the frightful days of the Tribulation will be able to give out of abundance. Most of them will have resources hardly sufficient to meet their own needs. Their divinely inspired generosity to each other will have set them apart as the Lord’s people even before, as returning King, He publicly declares them to be His own.[1]


40. Verily I tell you. As Christ has just now told us, by a figure, that our senses do not yet comprehend how highly he values deeds of charity, so now he openly declares, that he will reckon as done to himself whatever we have bestowed on his people. We must be prodigiously sluggish, if compassion be not drawn from our bowels by this statement, that Christ is either neglected or honoured in the person of those who need our assistance. So then, whenever we are reluctant to assist the poor, let us place before our eyes the Son of God, to whom it would be base sacrilege to refuse any thing. By these words he likewise shows, that he acknowledges those acts of kindness which have been performed gratuitously, and without any expectation of a reward. And certainly, when he enjoins us to do good to the hungry and naked, to strangers and prisoners, from whom nothing can be expected in return, we must look to him, who freely lays himself under obligation to us, and allows us to place to his account what might otherwise appear to have been lost.

So far as you have done it to one of the least of my brethren. Believers only are expressly recommended to our notice; not that he bids us altogether despise others, but because the more nearly a man approaches to God, he ought to be the more highly esteemed by us; for though there is a common tie that binds all the children of Adam, there is a still more sacred union among the children of God. So then, as those who belong to the household of faith ought to be preferred to strangers, Christ makes special mention of them. And though his design was, to encourage those whose wealth and resources are abundant to relieve the poverty of brethren, yet it affords no ordinary consolation to the poor and distressed, that, though shame and contempt follow them in the eyes of the world, yet the Son of God holds them as dear as his own members. And certainly, by calling them brethren, he confers on them inestimable honour.[2]


34–40 The change from “Son of Man” (see Reflections, p. 247) to “King” (vv. 31, 34) is not at all unnatural; the Son of Man in Daniel 7:13–14 approaches the Ancient of Days to receive “a kingdom,” and here that kingdom is consummated (see comments at 24:30). The kingship motif has long since been hinted at or, on occasion, made fairly explicit to certain persons (see comments at 3:2; 4:17; 5:35; 16:28; 19:28; 27:42). Yet Jesus still associates his work with his Father, something he loves to do (10:32–33; 11:25–27; 15:13; 16:17, 27; 18:10, 19; 20:23; 26:29, 53; and many references in John). He addresses the sheep, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father” (v. 34). “Blessed” is not makarioi (as in 5:3) but eulogēmenoi (as in 21:9; 23:39). They are “blessed” inasmuch as they now take their inheritance (Ro 8:17; Rev 21:7), which presupposes a relationship with the Father. That inheritance is the kingdom (see comments at 3:2) prepared for them “before the creation of the world” (Jn 17:24; Eph 1:4; 1 Pe 1:20). This glorious inheritance, the consummated kingdom, was the Father’s plan for them from the beginning.

The reason they are welcomed and invited to take their inheritance is that they have served the King’s brothers (cf. Isa 58:7). The thought is antithetical to Paul only if we think this is all Matthew says and that all Paul says touches immediately on grace. Both assumptions are false: 2 Corinthians 5:10 is related to the thought of this parable, and Matthew has other things to say about the salvation of men and women (1:21; 11:25–30; 20:28). The reason for admission to the kingdom in this parable is more evidential than causative. This is suggested by the surprise of the righteous (vv. 37–39; see comments below). When he is questioned, the King replies that doing the deeds mentioned to the least of his brothers is equivalent to doing it to him (v. 40), and by implication to refuse help to the King’s brothers is sacrilege (Calvin).

There is no awkwardness in the scene that requires a disjunction between the sheep (the righteous) and “the least of these brothers of mine,” for in pronouncing sentence on each one, the King could point out surrounding brothers who had been compassionately treated.[3]


He will bring his people into the presence of God (vv. 34–40)

His people are those who have served him and whose service has been evident in a life of devotion to him. Matthew is not telling us that people who do good things will go to heaven; rather, he is telling us that good things are an evidence of true discipleship and genuine faith. Those who are saved by faith are judged by their works, since their works show how much they were willing to deny themselves in the service of others. The phrase ‘you did it to me’ (v. 40) is a clear indicator of the Christ-centred and Christlike character of their religion. The faith that saves by trusting to the work of Christ shows itself to be genuine by its fruits and practical consequences. Those who have served Christ in this way enjoy the inheritance prepared for them; they enter into the final reality of the kingdom of heaven.[4]


25:37–40. Note that The righteous answered in surprise; they did not remember when they had met all these needs of the Messiah. The king began his answer with I tell you the truth, indicating the absolute truthfulness of his next statement.

Not all of the righteous served the king to the same degree, but all served with a right heart. The answer continues, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me. By brothers (a generic Gr. term that could also include “sisters”), Jesus meant his followers (his disciples all ages; see Jesus’ new definition of his family in 12:50; cf. 28:10), since we share with him the same Father.

Anyone who met the need of even the most insignificant of Jesus’ followers was ministering to him. Jesus identified this closely with his family on earth (Acts 9:4–5). On the least among the believers, see Matthew 11:11; 18:4; 20:26–28; 23:11. On Jesus’ identification with believers conducting their evangelistic mission, see Matthew 10:11–14, 40–42. On equating love for people with love for God, see Matthew 22:37–40.

Jesus defined more clearly one important component of remaining on the alert and being ready (24:42, 44; 25:13) for the Messiah’s return. We will be faithfully doing the kingdom work if we care for the needs of those around us.[5]


[1] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1985). Matthew (Vol. 4, pp. 121–125). Chicago: Moody Press.

[2] Calvin, J., & Pringle, W. (2010). Commentary on a Harmony of the Evangelists Matthew, Mark, and Luke (Vol. 3, p. 181). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

[3] 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. 585–586). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[4] Campbell, I. D. (2008). Opening up Matthew (pp. 152–153). Leominster: Day One Publications.

[5] Weber, S. K. (2000). Matthew (Vol. 1, pp. 425–426). Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

March 13, 2019 Afternoon Verse Of The Day

God Uses Suffering to Display His Grace

And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you,” (12:9a)

Paul’s three requests for relief resulted in the same answer from the Lord. Each time He did not answer by removing Paul’s pain, because, as noted above, that pain was spiritually productive. It revealed Paul’s true character, kept him humble, and drew him intimately in prayer to God. The Lord granted Paul relief not by removing his suffering but by giving him grace sufficient to endure it.

The magnificent, rich term charis (grace) appears 155 times in the New Testament. Grace describes God’s undeserved favor to mankind. It is a dynamic force, totally transforming believers’ lives, beginning at salvation (Acts 15:11; 18:27; Rom. 3:24; Eph. 1:7; 2:5, 8; 2 Tim. 1:9; Titus 2:11; 3:7) and continuing through sanctification (2 Peter 3:18) to glorification (Eph. 2:7). Grace sets the Christian faith apart from all other religions. God is gracious, benevolent, and kind, in contrast to the gods of false religions, who are at best indifferent and need constantly to be cajoled and appeased.

The Bible teaches that believers “have all received … grace upon grace” through the Lord Jesus Christ (John 1:16), since “grace and truth were realized through” Him (John 1:17) and He, as God incarnate, is “full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). Thus, Luke, writing of the early Christians, said that “abundant grace was upon them all” (Acts 4:33); Paul wrote of the “grace in which we stand” (Rom. 5:2); James spoke of grace that is greater than sin’s power (James 4:6; cf. Rom. 5:20); and Peter described the “manifold [multifaceted] grace of God” (1 Peter 4:10). No wonder Paul called it the “surpassing grace of God in [believers]” (2 Cor. 9:14), and was confident that “God is able to make all grace abound to [believers], so that always having all sufficiency in everything, [they] may have an abundance for every good deed” (2 Cor. 9:8).

Sadly, many evangelical churches today deny in practice the sufficiency of God’s grace for all of life’s problems, supplementing it with the humanistic theories of psychology. The idea that the grace of God is sufficient for even the most serious issues believers may face is derided as antiquated, simplistic, and naïve, like putting a Band-Aid on a broken leg. It is suggested by so-called Christian psychologists that divine grace may be sufficient for solving shallow problems, but deeper issues require therapy.

That raises some troubling questions. If God’s Word does not have the answers to all of life’s problems, how can it be perfect, able to totally transform the soul (Ps. 19:7–11)? Was Paul mistaken when he wrote under divine inspiration, “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16–17; italics added)? Why does the “wisdom from above” (James 3:17) need to be supplemented by the foolishness of human wisdom (1 Cor. 1:20–21; 2:5; 3:19)? If believers are complete in Christ (Col. 2:10) and have been granted in Him “everything pertaining to life and godliness” (2 Peter 1:3; italics added), what more do they need? When Paul said, “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me” (Phil. 4:13; italics added), did he have in mind only superficial, minor issues? Was he mistaken when he wrote, “Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God” (2 Cor. 3:5)? Does God, who “knows the secrets of the heart” (Ps. 44:21), need the insights of humanistic psychology in order to fully understand people’s problems? Is “the word of God” really “living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword … 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” (Heb. 4:12)? If it is an essential tool for removing the barriers to sanctification, how were God’s people sanctified before the advent of psychology in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries? What a tragic delusion for God’s people to imagine that the answers to life’s problems lie outside of His all-sufficient and unbounded grace. (I discuss the sufficiency of God’s grace at length in my book, Our Sufficiency in Christ [Dallas: Word, 1991].)

When God declared to Paul in answer to his prayer, “My grace is sufficient for you,” He affirmed the total sufficiency of His grace for every need in life—to believe the gospel; to understand and apply the Word to all the issues of life; to overcome sin and temptation; to endure suffering, disappointment, and pain; to obey God; to serve Him effectively; and to worship Him. God’s grace was sufficient for the deepest pain Paul (or any other believer) could ever experience.

The comforting truth is that “no temptation has overtaken [believers] but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow [them] to be tempted beyond what [they] are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that [they] will be able to endure it” (1 Cor. 10:13). The way of escape is the way of endurance in grace. The writer of Hebrews urged suffering believers to “draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that [they] may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb. 4:16). Deuteronomy 33:26 reminds believers, “There is none like the God of Jeshurun, who rides the heavens to your help, and through the skies in His majesty.” God’s promise of His strengthening presence to Joshua, “Be strong and courageous! Do not tremble or be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go” (Josh. 1:9) applies to all believers, as does His promise to Israel:

But now, thus says the Lord, your Creator, O Jacob, and He who formed you, O Israel, “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are Mine! When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they will not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be scorched, nor will the flame burn you.” (Isa. 43:1–2)

If God’s grace was “more than abundant” to save Paul (1 Tim. 1:14), it was certainly sufficient to strengthen him in any subsequent trial he faced.

The following anecdote from my book Our Sufficiency in Christ illustrates the sufficiency of God’s grace:

The story is told of Charles Haddon Spurgeon, who was riding home one evening after a heavy day’s work, feeling weary and depressed, when the verse came to mind, “My grace is sufficient for you.”

In his mind he immediately compared himself to a little fish in the Thames River, apprehensive lest drinking so many pints of water in the river each day he might drink the Thames dry. Then Father Thames says to him, “Drink away, little fish. My stream is sufficient for you.”

Next he thought of a little mouse in the granaries of Egypt, afraid lest its daily nibbles exhaust the supplies and cause it to starve to death. Then Joseph comes along and says, “Cheer up, little mouse. My granaries are sufficient for you.”

Then he thought of a man climbing some high mountain to reach its lofty summit and dreading lest his breathing there might exhaust all the oxygen in the atmosphere. The Creator booms His voice out of heaven, saying, “Breathe away, oh man, and fill your lungs. My atmosphere is sufficient for you!” (pp. 256–57)

God Uses Suffering to Perfect His Power

“for power is perfected in weakness.” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong. (12:9b–10)

God not only wanted to display His grace in Paul’s life, but also His power; He not only wanted the apostle to be humble, but also strong. Because “power is perfected in weakness,” it was necessary for the fires of affliction to burn away the dross of pride and self-confidence. Paul had lost all ability, humanly speaking, to deal with the situation at Corinth. He had visited there, sent others there, and written the Corinthians letters. But he could not completely fix the situation. He was at the point when he had to trust totally in God’s will and power.

It is when believers are out of answers, confidence, and strength, with nowhere else to turn but to God that they are in a position to be most effective. No one in the kingdom of God is too weak to experience God’s power, but many are too confident in their own strength. Physical suffering, mental anguish, disappointment, unfulfillment, and failure squeeze the impurities out of believers’ lives, making them pure channels through which God’s power can flow.

Though his circumstances had not changed, Paul could still exclaim, Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. In 1 Corinthians 1:27 he reminded the Corinthians that “God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong.” The apostle himself had ministered among the Corinthians “in weakness and in fear and in much trembling” (1 Cor. 2:3). Paul’s weakness was not self-induced or artificial; it was not a superficial psychological self-esteem game he played with himself. It was real and God-given. He did not love the pain caused by the false apostles, knowing it was satanic in origin. Yet he embraced it as the means by which God released His power through him.

Verse 10 summarizes the truth of this passage. Eudokeō (well content) could be translated, “pleased,” or “delighted.” He was thrilled with the weaknesses, insults, distresses, persecutions, and difficulties he endured for Christ’s sake, not because he was a masochist, but because when he was weak, then he was strong.

Having a proper perspective on trouble, trials, and suffering is the cornerstone of Christian living. Focusing all one’s efforts on removing difficulties is not the answer. Believers need to embrace the trials God allows them to undergo, knowing that those trials reveal their character, humble them, draw them closer to God, and allow Him to display His grace and power in their lives. They should heed the counsel of apostle James to “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (James 1:2–4).[1]


9. He said to me. It is not certain, whether he had this answer by a special revelation, and it is not of great importance. For God answers us, when he strengthens us inwardly by his Spirit, and sustains us by his consolation, so that we do not give up hope and patience. He bids Paul be satisfied with his grace, and, in the mean time, not refuse chastisement. Hence we must bear up under evil of ever so long continuance, because we are admirably well dealt with, when we have the grace of God to be our support. The term grace, here, does not mean here, as it does elsewhere, the favour of God, but by metonymy, the aid of the Holy Spirit, which comes to us from the unmerited favour of God; and it ought to be sufficient for the pious, inasmuch as it is a sure and invincible support against their ever giving way.

For my strength. Our weakness may seem, as if it were an obstacle in the way of God’s perfecting his strength in us. Paul does not merely deny this, but maintains, on the other hand, that it is only when our weakness becomes apparent, that God’s strength is duly perfected. To understand this more distinctly, we must distinguish between God’s strength and ours; for the word my is emphatic. “My strength,” says the Lord, (meaning that which helps man’s need—which raises them up when they have fallen down, and refreshes them when they are faint,) “is perfected in the weakness of men;” that is, it has occasion to exert itself, when the weakness of men becomes manifest; and not only so, but it is more distinctly recognised as it ought to be. For the word perfected has a reference to the perception and apprehension of mankind, because it is not perfected unless it openly shines forth, so as to receive its due praise. For mankind have no taste of it, unless they are first convinced of the need of it, and they quickly lose sight of its value, if they are not constantly exercised with a feeling of their own weakness.

Most gladly, therefore. This latter statement confirms the exposition that I have given. I will glory, says he, in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Hence, the man that is ashamed of this glorying, shuts the door upon Christ’s grace, and, in a manner, puts it away from him. For then do we make room for Christ’s grace, when in true humility of mind, we feel and confess our own weakness. The valleys are watered with rain to make them fruitful, while in the mean time, the high summits of the lofty mountains remain dry. Let that man, therefore, become a valley, who is desirous to receive the heavenly rain of God’s spiritual grace.

He adds most gladly, to show that he is influenced by such an eager desire for the grace of Christ, that he refuses nothing for the sake of obtaining it. For we see very many yielding, indeed, submission to God, as being afraid of incurring sacrilege in coveting his glory, but, at the same time, not without reluctance, or at least, less cheerfully than were becoming.

10. I take pleasure in infirmities. There can be no doubt, that he employs the term weakness in different senses; for he formerly applied this name to the punctures that he experienced in the flesh. He now employs it to denote those external qualities, which occasion contempt in the view of the world. Having spoken, however, in a general way, of infirmities of every kind, he now returns to that particular description of them, that had given occasion for his turning aside into this general discourse. Let us take notice, then, that infirmity is a general term, and that under it is comprehended the weakness of our nature, as well as all tokens of abasement. Now the point in question was Paul’s outward abasement. He proceeded farther, for the purpose of showing, that the Lord humbled him in every way, that, in his defects, the glory of God might shine forth the more resplendently, which is, in a manner, concealed and buried, when a man is in an elevated position. He now again returns to speak of his excellences, which, at the same time, made him contemptible in public view, instead of procuring for him esteem and commendation.

For when I am weak, that is—“The more deficiency there is in me, so much the more liberally does the Lord, from his strength, supply me with whatever he sees to be needful for me.” For the fortitude of philosophers is nothing else than contumacy, or rather a mad enthusiasm, such as fanatics are accustomed to have. “If a man is desirous to be truly strong, let him not refuse to be at the same time weak. Let him,” I say, “be weak in himself, that he may be strong in the Lord.” (Eph. 6:10.) Should any one object, that Paul speaks here, not of a failure of strength, but of poverty, and other afflictions, I answer, that all these things are exercises for discovering to us our own weakness; for if God had not exercised Paul with such trials, he would never have perceived so clearly his weakness. Hence, he has in view not merely poverty, and hardships of every kind, but also those effects that arise from them, as, for example, a feeling of our own weakness, self-distrust, and humility.[2]


9–10 These two verses form the climax of 12:1–10, just as 12:1–10 is the acme of the whole “Fool’s Speech” (11:21b–12:13). The answer to Paul’s prayer did not take the form he had expected. The thorn remained, but so too did his recollection of the divine reply (eirēken, “he has said,” v. 9a). In the distressing weakness inflicted at various times by his ailment, he would never lack sufficient grace to be more than a conqueror (cf. Ro 8:35–37). This grace of Christ (2 Co 13:14) was adequate for Paul, weak as he was, precisely because (gar, “for”) divine power finds its full scope and strength only in human weakness—the greater the Christian’s acknowledged weakness (i.e., acknowledgment of one’s creatureliness and of one’s impotence to render effective service to Christ without his empowering), the more evident Christ’s enabling strength (cf. Eph 3:16; Php 4:13). But it is not simply that weakness is a prerequisite for power. Both weakness and power existed simultaneously in Paul’s life (note vv. 9b, 10b; cf. 4:10–11), as they did in Christ’s ministry and death. Indeed, the cross of Christ forms the supreme example of “power in weakness.”

With this spiritual lesson well learned, Paul would gladly boast about things that exposed his weakness (“insults … hardships … persecutions … difficulties,” v. 10) rather than pray for the removal of the “thorn” and its attendant weakness. It was not, however, in the weaknesses themselves that Paul took delight but in the opportunity that sufferings endured “for Christ’s sake” afforded him for Christ’s power to rest on him and form a protective cover over him (v. 9b).[3]


[1] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2003). 2 Corinthians (pp. 402–406). Chicago: Moody Publishers.

[2] Calvin, J., & Pringle, J. (2010). Commentaries on the Epistles of Paul the Apostle to the Corinthians (Vol. 2, pp. 377–380). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

[3] Harris, M. J. (2008). 2 Corinthians. In T. Longman III &. Garland, David E. (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Romans–Galatians (Revised Edition) (Vol. 11, p. 533). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.