Matthew, Chapter 24, Part 1

Matthew 24:1 – Jesus left the temple and was going away, when his disciples came to point out to him the buildings of the temple.

Let’s take a moment and remember the context here.  Just before Jesus leaves the temple (for the last time before his crucifixion), he publicly laments over Jerusalem.  He experiences great sadness because of the path his people had chosen.  Jesus wanted to gather the Jews to himself.  He wanted to protect and preserve them.  He wanted to care for them and lead them into eternal life, but they refused.  They chose darkness rather than light.

Model of the Jerusalem Temple

As a result of that choice, Jesus made this pronouncement “See, your house is left to you desolate.”  So as he left the temple, his words were literally fulfilled.  The mood was not one of levity.  It was one of seriousness and even lament.

Now, as they exit, the disciples wanted Jesus to observe what a magnificent structure the temple was.  And indeed, in the eyes of man it was amazing.  While very few descriptions of it actually exist, we know that it was of immense size.  It was made of white marble, with gold trim.  It was surrounded by giant courts to contain the huge crowds that came during Passover and other Jewish holy days.   Luke tells us that the temple was adorned/decorated with gifts:

Luke 21:5 – And while some were speaking of the temple, how it was adorned with noble stones and offerings…

In other words, gifts of golden objects were placed in the temple as decorations.  Ancient writings (the Mishna and Josephus) indicate that the building was amazing in its size and beauty.

The disciples believed that this beautiful, well built structure either could not be destroyed because of the strength of its construction, or that it would not be destroyed because of its beauty and purpose.  This belief tied in with their erroneous understanding about the future of the kingdom of the Messiah.   

Remember, Jesus had told the disciples several times that he was going to die.  In their minds, he was going to die, rise again on the third day, and immediately set up his earthly kingdom.  They figured that Jesus was only leaving the temple for a week or so and that he would soon take permanent possession of it, as a part of his new kingdom.  Additionally, they believed that the destruction of the temple and the end of the world (time), would occur simultaneously.  In their minds, the temple would last until the final moment of time.

They couldn’t have been more wrong.

Matthew 24:2 – But he answered them, “You see all these, do you not?  Truly, I say to you, there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.”

At the time this was spoken, nothing seemed more improbable.  The temple was an amazing work of construction.  It was lavish and beautiful.  It was considered holy.  It was the pride of the nation and the nation was at peace.  Surely, this building would stand forever!

And yet, in 40 short years, the city and the temple would both be demolished by Titus and his armies.  Josephus the historian gives us an account of it in his book, Jewish Wars, book vi.  He tells us that Titus debated what to do with the temple. 

  • Should they leave it because it was holy? [They didn’t want to offend the God of the temple.]
  • Should they use it as a bargaining chip? [If they Jews capitulated to them, they would spare the structure.]
  • Should it be considered a citadel? [In which case it must be destroyed.] 
  • Should they keep a thing of such immense beauty and value? [They would like to keep it intact so they would be admired by later generations.]

In the end, Titus and Caesar both fought to keep the temple standing.  Yet the historical account shows that God’s will always overrides the plans of man.  The temple was burned over a period of several days.  Eventually it was completely stripped and demolished.  Large numbers of both Jews and Romans were slaughtered or burned in the intense, bloody battle that raged over the temple.

It is interesting to note that Josephus himself was Jewish.  He was captured by the Romans and remained with them during the siege and destruction of Jerusalem, so his accounts of this incident were from first-hand knowledge.  Being a Jew, he obviously would do nothing to confirm the prophesy of Jesus, yet his whole history of the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple is a perpetual confirmation that the words of Jesus were fulfilled.  God is so amazing!  Men who do not even serve him bear witness to the truth of his message!   

Another Jewish writer, Maimonides, also tells us that “Terentius Rufus, an officer in the army of Titus, with a ploughshare tore up the foundations of the temple”.  This too was a fulfillment of scripture:  

Micah 3:12 – Therefore because of you [wicked prophets, priests and rulers] Zion shall be plowed as a field; Jerusalem shall become a heap of ruins, and the mountain of the house a wooded height.

What lessons can we learn from this? 

It is a very grave reminder that the things of this life, no matter how permanent or magnificent they seem, are only temporary.  Homes and riches and positions of power seem so real to us, but they will pass away. 

Likewise, times of mourning or suffering will also eventually end.  You may be suffering for the gospel, or just because of an affliction of the enemy.  But take heart – it will one day end!  The Christian can look forward to an eternity with Jesus, where trouble, pain, sickness and injustice are gone forever!

Everything in this life will come to an end.

In his great mercy, God removed the earthly temple to point out that it was obsolete – he was now dwelling in the hearts and lives of his followers.  The last great monument of the Old Covenant was destroyed; everything now pointed to the New Covenant of grace available to all through the blood of Christ.  Don’t miss out on being a part of this!  Make sure that your heart is right with God.  He wants a relationship with you; you could even say that he destroyed the temple as a personal demonstration to YOU, that he wants to dwell in your heart.  

The destruction of the temple is also a lesson in judgment.  The Jews had rejected Christ.  Any nation (or person) who rebels against God will face certain and sure destruction.  It’s time to clean up our own personal holiness and make sure that we are living for Christ.  It is also time to be in earnest prayer for our own nation, that we do not get judged as the Jews did.

Matthew 24:3 – As he sat on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?”

Jesus and the disciples make their way to the Mount of Olives.  As we already discussed in prior lessons, from this vantage point they had a magnificent view of the whole city of Jerusalem.  It was fitting for the city and the temple to be in view as these discussions took place.

Even though Jesus spoke of the destruction of the temple to all of his disciples, only a certain few approached him privately, wanting to know more about this issue.  In the gospel of Mark, these men are identified as Peter, James, John and Andrew:

Mark 13:3 – And as he [Jesus] sat on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter and James and John and Andrew asked him privately….

I want to pause here and tell you that Matthew chapter 24 is an extremely difficult portion of scripture to understand.  Even the most eminent scholars disagree on its interpretation.

What makes it so difficult?  It is prophesy.  Biblical prophesy primarily concerns the people, places and events that are near at hand when it is given.  However, the same prophesy will also frequently have fulfillment in future generations as well.

In this case, some of the prophesy deals with the judgment and destruction of Jerusalem and the temple.  Some of it implies a future fulfillment in the judgment and destruction of the world at the end of time.  Therefore, it becomes very difficult to determine which event Jesus is describing – the destruction of Jerusalem, the destruction of the world, or both!

The good news is that the Holy Spirit is standing by to speak to our hearts about this portion of scripture.  There is no cause to be discouraged or fearful.  We may not fully understand everything, but we can be certain that if we look to him, he will reveal how this portion of scripture applies to us.

So, accepting Jesus’ declaration that the temple will be destroyed, the disciples ask Jesus some very far reaching follow up questions.  When will the destruction of the temple/city take place?  What will be the signs of Jesus coming, and what signs will accompany the end of the age (either the end of the Jewish dispensation or the end of the entire world)?

Jesus answers them in a very interesting way.  Obviously, he could have given them the exact date and time they were looking for, but he didn’t. 

Acts 1:7 – He [Jesus] said to them, “It is not for you to know the times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority.”

Instead, Jesus takes this opportunity to instruct the disciples about how they should live in light of the fact that their nation and temple will one day be destroyed.        

Matthew 24:4-5 – And Jesus answered them, “See that no one leads you astray.  For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and they will lead many astray.”

We know that the Jews constantly faced persecution.  They were treated with cruelty, harassed, afflicted and even put to death for their belief in God and their adherence to his law.  But persecution is a pretty straightforward, clear thing – you can recognize it right away. And while it is an awful thing, it can actually draw you closer to God and make you more resolute in your devotion to him. 

Deception is much more insidious.  It isn’t straightforward at all. On the surface, it looks like truth, but it really isn’t.  If you are not careful, you can be fooled into accepting a half-truth or even a lie, which will lead you away from God.  At best, it will damage your relationship to him.  At worst, it has the potential to sever your relationship with him all together. 

Jesus begins by giving his disciples a solemn warning that deception would characterize or be a sign of the latter days. 

This deception was to come through false prophets and teachers.  Sadly, the Jews themselves had opened the door for these deceivers.  In chapter 23, Jesus reveals that the religious leaders had killed the true prophets that God had sent them.  Since they had rejected and killed the men who presented them with the truth, they opened the door for false prophets/teachers to come in and tell them lies, which they readily accepted and clung to. 

And since they rejected and murdered the true Messiah, they opened the door to being fooled by false christs and pretended messiahs.  Josephus speaks of several such imposters coming on the scene in Jerusalem before its destruction.  According to his writings in Jewish Wars, book ii, several of these false christs arose, deceiving people and leading them out into the desert claiming to show them signs and wonders.

The book of Acts also reveals the presence of these false christs:

Acts 21:38 -Are not you that Egyptian, who before these days made an uproar, and led out into the wilderness four thousand men that were murderers?

Acts 5:36-37 – For before these days rose up Theudas, boasting himself to be somebody; to whom a number of men, about four hundred, joined themselves: who was slain; and all, as many as obeyed him, were scattered, and came to nothing.  After this man rose up Judas of Galilee in the days of the census, and drew away many people after him: he also perished; and all, even as many as obeyed him, were dispersed.

The acceptance of multiple false prophets split the Jews into multiple factions, which further splintered the nation and made their destruction all the more easy for their enemies. 

But the Jews are not the only ones susceptible to false prophets and teachers.  Christians can be fooled as well.

2 Peter 2:1 – But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who shall secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction.   

2 Thessalonians 2:3 –  Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day [the end of the world] shall not come, except there come the falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition;

Could a Christian of the 21st century ever fall prey to a false prophet or teacher?  Let’s consider that possibility.  The Jews followed after the religious leaders of their day, who had rejected the truth of the gospel message.  Rejection of the truth is what opened up the door for false teaching. 

Are there churches today that claim to be Christian yet have rejected the truth?  Are there churches that preach love to the exclusion of judgment?  Are there churches who accept all lifestyles and sexual orientations, even though the word of God says that marriage is between one man and one woman?  Are there churches who preach a gospel of earthly wealth while enriching themselves off of their followers and doing little/nothing to ease the suffering of the poor?   Any true Christian who attends such a church is opening themselves up to deception!  

The Jews were also preyed upon by individual false teachers.  Because they did not know the truth of the word, they accepted lies that matched up with the things they wanted to believe.  Today, there are thousands of individual people flooding the internet and social media with religious messages.  If you are listening to people you don’t know, be very, very cautious!  You must know the word well enough that you can spot a false doctrine if they hand it out.  Beware of any teacher who teaches that you are safe from any and all types of persecution or inconvenience or trouble. 

While it is true that God does not want you to fear and that your life is in his hands, it is NOT true that you will automatically be safe from hardship or persecution.  God promises to give you strength for your trials and he promises to walk through them with you.  He never promised that trouble would not come.      

Could a Christian of the 21st century fall prey to a false messiah?  I think it depends.  As times get more difficult and uncertain, anxiety and fear build.  People (including Christians) who have not built a firm relationship with God will be open to anything that looks like safety or deliverance.  Satan will not pass up the opportunity to deceive anyone.  If possible he would love to take you to hell with him. 

So, you and I need to be on our guard.  What steps we can take to protect ourselves from false prophets and false teachings? 

First of all, read the word.  God never contradicts himself.  Make sure that what is being taught or prophesied lines up with the written word. 

Second, get rooted in a solid church.  Don’t run from one ministry to another, or watch a new and different preacher over the internet each week.  Establish yourself in the fellowship where God has called you, and get involved.  You will be much less likely to fall for some outrageous new doctrine. 

Third, develop a close relationship with the Holy Spirit.  If a false teaching or prophesy presents itself, he will warn you about it.

Now is the time!

Now is the time to develop your relationship to God!  Now is the time to learn how to trust God before the storms of life come.  Now is the time to learn how to banish fear and doubt.  Now is the time to practice leaning on Jesus for protection, guidance, provision and peace. 

So just as deception, false prophets and false messiahs were a common factor in the destruction of the Jewish state back in AD 70, I believe we can expect them to make an appearance at the end of the world.  What do you think?

One final comment:  the disciples wanted Jesus to tell them the exact date or time of the destruction of their nation.  It is likely they wanted to prepare themselves and their families for that frightening time (perhaps by buying canned food and toilet paper).  But Jesus didn’t do that.  Instead, he prepares them to withstand the storms that were coming.  I believe the same is true for us.  Drawing close to God is the best preparation we can make for the end of the world.   

Matthew 24:6 – “And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars.  See that you are not alarmed, for this must take place, but the end is not yet.”

At the time Jesus spoke this prediction, Rome was the empire which ruled the world (including the Jews) and it was at peace.  Even rumors of war were nonexistent.

However, a time arose when rebellions started to occur.  These especially happened under the rule of the emperors Caligula, Claudius and Nero (specific details can be found in any good historical account).  The great Jewish war with Rome began in 66 AD and lasted 5 years. 

One example of rumored war occurred when Caligula the Roman emperor ordered his statue to be set up in the temple at Jerusalem.  Infuriated, the Jews refused to allow this sacrilege to happen.  They were certain that Rome would come to punish them, and they were so up in arms, that they forgot to plow their fields that year.  They braced for a confrontation, but it came to nothing because Caligula died shortly afterward, and the threat of war dissipated.

Rumored war can also include battles between other countries distant to your own, which threaten your own safety or well being in same way. For instance, they could have an adverse economic impact on your country.    

In any age, war certainly causes fear to rise up in the hearts of men. It disrupts society and families; it causes great death and destruction and there is no guarantee that any person or nation will survive intact. 

Jeremiah 4:19 – My soul, my soul! I am pained at my very heart; my heart makes a noise in me; I cannot hold my peace, because you have heard, O my soul, the sound of the trumpet, the alarm of war.

Yet, Jesus bids his followers not to be alarmed.  Why should they not fear? 

One, because “this must take place”.  These wars are appointed by God.  Punishment and ruin were decreed for the Jews by the justice of God, for the rejection of Jesus.  When God declares a thing, it will be accomplished in its due time.  Therefore, his people could take comfort and shake off fear knowing that God is in control.

The events that happened were a part of God’s divine plan.  They were a means to further an end.  The old house (the era of the law) must be shaken and removed, so that the new house (the era of grace) can be erected.  Hebrews tell us that things that are shaken must be removed and replaced with things that cannot be shaken:

Hebrews 12:26-29 – At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, “Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.”  This phrase, ‘Yet once more’, indicates the removal of things that are shaken – that is, things that have been made – in order that the things that cannot be shaken may remain.  Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.  

The second reason the disciples are not to fear is because “the end is not yet.”  These wars are not the end.  More trouble and affliction is to follow.  God has more vials of wrath to pour out.  He has more arrows of judgment in his quiver, still to be released. 

If the disciples gave way to fear at the beginning of trouble (wars and rumors of war, etc), then what will they do when famine and pestilence come?  Jesus is instructing them to gather their strength and stand firm.  If they lack strength, it can be found through praise, worship and waiting on God (Psalms 18:32, Psalms 27:1, Isaiah 12:2, Isaiah 25:4, Isaiah 40:29, 2 Corinthians 12:9, and dozens more). 

Here is a very important point:  Rather than acting out of knowledge of a future date, the disciples were to live each and every day in dependence on God.  When they lived that way, it didn’t matter which day was the end of the age.  They were ready, no matter what.  If they are totally depending on God for their provision, lives and protection, then they were ready for another day on earth, or they were ready to go home to Heaven.  

By contrast, if they knew the exact date that the temple/city would end, they would be all about setting their house in order and making provisions for this life.  God wants his people to trust in him, and he will provide all they have need of:

Matthew 6:33 – But seek you first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.    

Now, what about us?  Scholars argue over whether or not these signs pertain to the actual end of time and the end of the earth.  Scholars also argue over whether or not we are currently living in the last days.    

My point is this – It doesn’t matter.  The instructions and principles for life that Jesus gave his disciples also apply to Christians in every generation, including ours.  No matter how close (or far away) we are to the end of time, we should live each day for the glory of God. 

Each day, we should stand against evil.  Each day, we should be spending time in his presence with praise and worship.  Each day, we should be reading the word.  Each day, we should be following the prompting of the Holy Spirit.  Each day, we should be about the business of winning souls to Christ and praying for revival. Each day we should be living, working, discovering and making future plans.  Now is not the time to ‘hunker down’ and wait for the return of Christ.  Now is the time to stand up and be a light to the world around us.  

Matthew 24:7-8 – “For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places.  All these are but the beginning of the birth pains.”

What is the meaning of ‘nation against nation’ and ‘kingdom against kingdom’?  This refers to one part or province of the Jewish nation going to war against another; one city fighting against another and even within the city one faction will rise up against another, so that both are devoured by war and death.

Just before its destruction, the Jews joined the Galileans and fought against their relatives, the Samaritans.  The entire nation of the Jews fought against the Romans.  At the same time, there were Romans embroiled in bitter battles for the title of Caesar, particularly Otho and Vitellius fighting in a civil war in Italy.

So, this was historically fulfilled in the Jewish nation.  However, it applies to other nations as well.  Look at this prophesy from the Old Testament:

Isaiah 19:2-3 – And I will set the Egyptians against the Egyptians: and they shall fight everyone against his brother, and everyone against his neighbor; city against city, and kingdom against kingdom.   And the spirit of Egypt shall fail in its midst; and I will destroy its counsel: and they shall seek after the idols, and the charmers, and the mediums, and the wizards.  

In the Old Testament, Egypt is always symbolic of the world.  So this scripture is predicting that the nations of the world will fight against each other, which clearly has come to pass.  Such is the inescapable fate of those who reject God, for war is the natural result of rebellion against the Prince of Peace. 

War never travels alone.  It always brings along its companions – famine and pestilence.  We have clear historical records of severe famine when the city of Jerusalem was under siege by the Romans.  This was in addition to the famine mentioned in the scriptures in Acts 11:28.  Again, there also are many historical records that show pestilence (contagious or infectious epidemic disease) and earthquakes happened during this period of time.  We see that the words of Jesus proved true.

Will these same signs be present at the end of time?   Many generations since the destruction of Jerusalem (including ours) have seen wars, famines, pestilence and earthquakes.  In fact, we are in the midst of a pestilence right now!  As we noted earlier, it is best for us to treat each day on earth as our last, for in so doing, we will always be ready for the end.     

Matthew 24:9 – “Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name’s sake.”

Our translation says ‘deliver you up to tribulation’.  The King James version says ‘deliver you up to be afflicted’.  In this case, to be afflicted means to be persecuted, imprisoned, scourged, etc.  

The Romans literally fulfilled this prophesy in AD 64 when Nero began the systematic murder of Jews and Christians (including the apostle Peter and the apostle Paul).  He used them as scapegoats for the great fire and economic collapse that occurred.  The public wanted to take out their rage on someone, so they joined in and a mob mentality or spirit of persecution broke out.  [Notice that the people were unwilling to accept responsibility for their own sins, which was the true cause of their problems.]

Nero

The New Testament, particularly the book of Acts, is replete with examples of persecution and affliction of the early members of the church.  For example, Acts chapter 16 tells us how Paul and Silas were beaten and imprisoned in Philippi for casting a demon out of a girl, and thus ruining the income her Roman masters were making.

To make things worse, the Gentiles were not alone in their actions.  The Jews themselves were some of the worst persecutors of the Christians.  

Persecution has continued for both Jews and Christians from that day until this, while other false religions continue untouched. Nothing will satisfy the evil desires of Satan except the blood of the saints, which he thirsts for like water.

Yet, with each instance, the light of Christ shines forth as a testimony against the wicked.      

Matthew 24:10 – “And then many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another.”

Evil men and women will always persecute the godly, but they have other persecutors as well.

Back in Matthew 13, we looked at the parable of the sower.  Jesus spoke of seed that fell on rocky soil, which sprang up immediately, but when the scorching sun came, it withered and died.  Jesus said this represents people who gladly accept the gospel message, but when persecutions arise, they abandon the faith (Matthew 13:20-21).

The kind of persecution and affliction noted in verse 9 often results in the apostasy of believers who are not truly rooted or committed to Christ.  Many times it is these apostate people who become the most bitter persecutors of Christians.

Aren’t you glad that God is honest with us?  If Jesus had only given us promises of love and victory while leaving out the realities of persecution and hardship, very few people would remain faithful to him.  But, in his infinite glorious wisdom, he tells us from the outset that persecution and controversy and fiery trials will be the lot of his followers.  Yet, he gives us the faith and strength to endure these trials until the end (whether that be the end of the age, the end of your earthly life or the end of time).

Matthew 24:11 – “And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray.”

Josephus tells us that during the siege of Jerusalem, those in authority hired false prophets to declare that aid would be given to the people from heaven.  This was done to prevent them from attempting to desert, and to inspire confidence in God (Jewish Wars, book vi). 

How sad!  But, as previously noted, everyone needs something to believe in.  When you reject the truth, the only thing left are lies and deceit.  Those who end up rejecting the gospel will eagerly seek after anyone or anything that promises peace and safety.

This will be true in all generations, including the one that exists at the end of time.  

Matthew 24:12 – “And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold.”

When false prophets and persecution arise, and when saints of God are hated, true believers can expect two things. 

First, an abounding or increase in iniquity.  Sin and iniquity have always been part of the world, yet there seem to be times or seasons when they increase or abound more than usual.  During these times, society casts off the restraints of morality and God’s law.  Once cast aside, wicked people will do everything their power to keep them off, because they prefer the hedonistic pursuit of pleasure to the righteousness of God. 

Second, love will abate or grow cold.  As Christians, we are to love our neighbors as ourselves.  That is an easy task when your neighbor is at peace with you.  But what if your neighbor is persecuting or afflicting you? 

Worse yet, this may refer to the biblical concept of brotherly love.  As Christians, we are to love our fellow believers.  However, persecution can cause believers to be suspicious and shy of one another.  This can drive a wedge of distrust amongst God’s people and as a result, our love for one another grows cold.

However, there is still reason for hope.  Jesus says the love of ‘many’ will wax cold, not the love of all.  Even in the worst of times, God has a remnant that hold fast to their integrity and zeal.  Remember, Elijah thought he was the only one of God’s prophets left, but God had 7000 who had still not kneeled to Baal!

Also, Jesus says that love has grown cold; he does not say it is completely dead.  There is still life present in these individuals and God can redeem their cold love. 

Matthew 24:13 – “But the one who endures to the end will be saved.”

What does Jesus mean in this verse when he refers to the end?  This context may be referring to the ‘end’ as the close of the Jewish period and the phrase ‘shall be saved’ may indicate deliverance from doom during the destruction of Jerusalem.

However, it has a higher meaning that applies to Christians of every age.  ‘Endurance’ or adherence to Christ until death despite suffering, persecution, lack of love or an increase in lawlessness will always result in salvation/eternal life for every man and woman.  This is a great comfort to believers of every generation. 

This is a good for us to remind ourselves that God keeps accurate records.  He sees every heartache and every slight done to his people.  He will not fail to reward us for our faithfulness to him.   

Mathew 24:14 – “And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.”

Again scholars differ on the meaning of ‘the end’ in this passage. 

Those who believe it refers to the end of the Jewish state and law see it this way:  Prior to the death/resurrection of Jesus, the message had only been proclaimed to the Jews.  But by the time Jerusalem and the temple were destroyed in AD 70, the apostles had had spread the gospel message far and wide (throughout the inhabited earth).  The church had been born on the day of Pentecost.  Paul and his assistants had spread that same message to every Gentile they could find.  The preaching of the gospel message to all other people (the Gentiles) was a proof or a witness to the Jews that the Jewish state (the law/old covenant) was at an end.   

Those who believe it refers to the end of time see it this way:  There continue even until this day, people groups who have not yet heard the gospel message.  The preaching of the gospel to all people will be a sign that the end of time is near. Christ will not return again until a witness of him has gone throughout the whole earth.  People with this viewpoint concern themselves with things like missions, bible translation and electronic broadcasting of the gospel, etc in order to have the gospel preached to all of the inhabited world.  

What exactly does the gospel testify or witness to? 

  • It is a witness of the great mercy and faithfulness of God.  He never changes; his original intent was fellowship with mankind and he continues to extend that offer of fellowship to each and every person on earth. 
  • It is a witness to the mission of Jesus.  He is the Messiah, the Savior, the King of Kings.  With his blood, he ratified the covenant of salvation between God and man.  All who believe on him shall be saved. 
  • It is a witness to the evil of man’s heart.  Even though the good news of salvation and restoration with God have been widely published, many people continue to ridicule, mock and reject the offer that God has extended to them.  Many people will chose darkness rather than light.

So let me offer you some encouragement:

Many people believe we are living in the final days of time for planet earth.  Because of this, they want to prepare for what is coming.  They prepare by stocking up on food and other essentials and clinging to a survivalist mindset.  They are afraid of wars, riots and confrontations.

While there is certainly nothing wrong with being prudent, I encourage you to examine what Jesus says.  He says that the best way to prepare for the end of time is to shut yourself in with God (Isaiah 26:20-21) and draw close to him.  The only way to save your life, is to lay it down for the gospel (Mark 8:35-38).  Peace and safety are found by dwelling in his presence (Psalms 91). 

The Christian life is always to be lived under the leading and guiding of the Holy Spirit; that was true on the day of Pentecost and it is still true today.  If you know the truth it will not only set you free, it will prevent you from being deceived by Satan.  I encourage you to draw closer and closer to the Lord.

Let me offer you some relief:

Are you troubled or even terrified about what is going on in the world right now?  Are you uneasy about elections and food shortages and disease and social unrest? 

You don’t have to be.  Jesus, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, is in perfect control of what is happening on planet earth.  He is standing by to give you relief from your fears.  All you need to do is turn to him.  You can do that by sincerely praying this prayer from your heart:

 Dear Jesus, I confess to you that I am a sinner.  I am sorry for all the wrong things I have done and I ask you to forgive me.  I believe that you are the Son of God, that you died on the cross and rose again, and that your blood paid the price for my sin.  I invite you to come into my heart and life and to be my Lord and Savior.  I commit myself to you right now.  Thank you for saving me from death and giving me the gift of eternal life.  Amen.

If you prayed this prayer and sincerely meant it, then you have received the gift of salvation from Jesus Christ! 

Let me offer you some strength:

God did not design you to be a failure or a loser.  He did not intend for you to cower in fear during your time on earth.  He has set you up for victory through Jesus Christ.  So if you are alive right now (and I assume you are!), then God has victory for you in this age, regardless of whether or not it is the end of time.  So strengthen your resolve.  Change your thinking.  Put on the whole armor of God and STAND.  Operate under the power of the Holy Spirit.  Allow his strength to flow through you and be a witness for Christ in this generation.   

Matthew, Chapter 23, Part 3

Matthew 23:27 – Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness.

It was common for the Jews to use caves as tombs.  In addition, they also excavated tombs through hillsides or even through solid rock.  Some of these caves or passages were quite extensive.  These graves were not in the midst of cities.  They were out in the surrounding countryside, in places of solitude. 

The outside entrances to these tombs were white washed once a year, shortly before Passover.  Why do you suppose that was?

According to the law, if a person had contact with a dead body, he would be unclean for 7 days:

Numbers 19:16 – Whoever in the open field touches someone which was killed with a sword or who died naturally, or touches a human bone or a grave, shall be unclean seven days.

The Jews used to whitewash the outside of these tombs so that anyone traveling to Jerusalem for the Passover would not accidentally touch one of them and be unable to participate in the Passover celebration.

The outside of these places could be quite beautiful, but hidden inside were dead, stinking, rotting corpses. 

So imagine that Jesus is standing near the temple, speaking to the crowds.  In the distance on Mt Olivet, the crowd can look and see the whitewash of some tombs.  Suddenly, Jesus reveals that the religious leaders are just like these repulsive caves! 

Their outward appearance was pious and holy, but their hearts were full of hypocrisy, envy, pride, lust and malice.  In short, their inward man was stinking and rotting like a dead body!

This is quite a severe rebuke to the religious leaders, who purposely avoided contact with tax collectors and ‘sinners’, lest they become polluted by them!

This is one of the reasons that Christians are commanded never to judge.  We can only judge by outward appearances.  We are always liable to make mistakes.  Case in point, the common people of Jesus’ day judged the religious leaders by outward appearance.  They judged them to be pure and holy, but nothing could have been further from the truth. 

Only God is able to see what lies below the surface; only he never makes a mistake.  He can read the secret life of every man – including us!

Matthew 23:28 – So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.

The Scribes and Pharisees valued outward piety above inward sanctification and purity of heart.  So did Ananias and Sapphira – how did that work out for them? 

What good are mere outward appearances when we stand in front of God?  Make no mistake – every one of us will one day bow before him.  On that day, what will God find in your heart?

Matthew 23:29-30 – Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you build the tombs of the prophets and decorate the monuments of the righteous, saying, ‘If we had lived in the days of our fathers, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets’.

This is the eighth and final woe pronounced by Jesus.  The Pharisees were happy to build special monuments over the graves of earlier prophets to Israel.  They decorated them and kept them neat and clean, much as would care for the graves of our own loved ones today.  

They spent time, effort and funds on these projects.  They honored the memory of the prophets by speaking well of them or praying near their tombs.  Sometimes they even built synagogues in their memories. 

All these actions were a way for the religious leaders to profess or demonstrate respect for these men and their message/doctrine.  They asserted that their forefathers were wrong to have done them harm, and if they had been alive at the time, they would never have opposed the prophets of God.

But here is the problem – it was all a sham!  Again, they were playing the part of a hypocrite.

They claimed to have the utmost respect for the dead saints, while at the same time they persecuted the living ones!  The highest respect and honor they could have paid the dead prophets was to practice their doctrine while showing love and respect to their followers. 

John Calvin’s verse commentary says it this way:

“It is customary, indeed, with hypocrites thus to honor, after their death, good teachers and holy ministers of God, whom they cannot endure while they are alive…  as the ashes of the dead no longer give annoyance by harsh and severe reproofs, they who are driven to madness by the living voices of those men are not unwilling, by adoring them, to make an empty display of religion. It is a hypocrisy which costs little to profess warm regard for those who are now silent. Thus each of the prophets, in his own age, was contemptuously rejected, and wickedly tormented, by the Jews, and, in many instances, cruelly put to death; while posterity, though not a whit better than their fathers, pretended to venerate their memory, instead of embracing their doctrine; for they too were actuated by equal hostility towards their own teachers.” 

How is it possible that the religious leaders claimed to adore and venerate the former prophets, yet they persecuted and opposed Jesus with every means available to them?  Clearly they loved the mere memory of the prophets, not their message.   

Here is something interesting to consider:  we know that the Scribes and Pharisees insisted that if they had been alive at the time of their ancestors, they would not have killed the prophets who spoke out against evil and stood for righteousness.  There is no indication that they did not mean/believe what they were saying.  In their deluded, darkened minds, they believed this to be the truth.  It’s an example of ‘unconscious hypocrisy’, which everyone tends to indulge in. 

For instance, have you ever read the story of the Jews leaving Egypt and going to the Promised Land?  Remember how they spied out the land, then God told them to go in and take it, but they refused?  They had a lot of excuses for not taking it, didn’t they?  The people were like giants while they were like grasshoppers.  The cities had strong walls.  The people there would ‘eat them alive’.    So that generation lost the opportunity to take the Promised Land.

The Promised Land

Now we like to think that we are more righteous then they were.  We like to think that if we had been alive at that time, we would have joined with Joshua and Caleb and we would have stormed in and taken that land!  We condemn the unbelief of the Israelites who failed and we are adamant that we would never have done such a thing!

But before making such a bold statement, perhaps we should examine our own lives.  Are there things that God has called us to do, but we, like the ancient Israelites, have not done them because we don’t have enough faith in God?  Have we failed to stand for righteousness in our generation?  Have we failed to take ground for the kingdom that we knew God had called us to take?  Don’t we (like the Israelites) have excuses for why we haven’t done it?   

I suggest that we all contemplate this idea.  Ask the Lord if there is an area in which you have made excuses instead of fulfilling your destiny.  If so, repent and change your ways.  It’s not too late!  You want to be like Joshua and Caleb?  Excellent!  Stand up in faith and do what God has called you to do. Be a righteous example for future generations.

Matthew 23:31 – Thus you witness against yourselves that you are the sons of those who murdered the prophets.

The ancestors of the Scribes and Pharisees slew Isaiah, persecuted Jeremiah and shed the blood of Zacharias between the altar and the temple.  Their physical descendants continued to walk in their spiritual ways; they were about to orchestrate a plot to kill the Messiah.   

If Jesus came to earth today as the Messiah, would we embrace him or murder him? 

Jesus would, no doubt, have many devout followers.  But I feel there would also be many religious people who would hate him.  Look at the churches that are embracing sin.  They are affirming homosexuality.  They are dwelling on ‘peaceful thoughts’ instead of preaching the word of God.  They have a form of godliness, but deny its power.  They want to be just like the world, instead of being different for Christ.

Sadly, I suspect that if Jesus came to earth today as the Messiah, the outcome would be the same as it was 2000 years ago.   

Matthew 23:32 – Fill up, then, the measure of your fathers.

In the original Greek, the word for ‘fill up’ is not a command.  It is a statement of permission.  Jesus permits/allows them free will to do as they chose.

‘Measure’ is an interesting word.  It implies that there is a certain amount or limit of sin that God has fixed for every nation.  Each generation adds to the measure of sin.  God allows mankind this buffer for repentance.  If they turn from their wicked ways and follow him, nothing is added to the measure of their iniquity.  But if the nation continues in wickedness, they add to the measure.  Once it reaches the limit, God judges that nation (see Genesis 15:16). 

So in this case, Jesus predicts what the religious leaders will do.  They will not repent.  They will continue the evil practices of their forefathers.  They are the generation who will kill the Messiah, but even that will not be enough for them.  They will also fiercely persecute the apostles and disciples of Jesus after he has risen.  God brought judgment upon them in 70 AD, when their nation, temple and city were completely destroyed.

We might be tempted to think that we are better than the Jews, but are we?  How full is the measure of sin for the United States of America?  Look around you, brothers and sisters.  Sin and wickedness are getting darker and more perverted every day. Despite the warnings, judgments and difficulties we are facing right now, people are not turning to God in repentance.  If there has ever been a time to pray for our nation and to pray for revival, it is now! 

Matthew 23:33 – You serpents, you brood of vipers, how are you to escape being sentenced to hell?

Are you one of those people who think there is no hell because God is a loving God and he would never send anyone there?  Newsflash – according to Jesus, there is a very real place called hell.  It is a place of judgment and horror; a place of hopelessness and despair.

Jesus warns the Scribes and Pharisees that the evil in their hearts was sending them to hell in a hurry.  He is asking them to pause and consider their actions – how are they going to avoid the place of eternal sorrow if they continue on their current path of rebellion? 

Picture it this way:  The Niagara River inevitably leads to the Niagara Falls, right?  The river is very swift and powerful.  How can those who insist on rafting in this river avoid the falls?  The answer is, they can’t.  The powerful current of the river will propel them to only one, inevitable destination – the falls. 

In the same way, the river of sin and wickedness that the religious leaders were on was very swift and powerful.  They were totally caught up in its current.  It was leading them to only one inevitable destination – hell.  Jesus is telling them that unless they get off that river of wickedness by repenting, they won’t be able to avoid hell.

Matthew 23:34 – Therefore I send you prophets and wise men and scribes, some of whom you will kill and crucify, and some you will flog in your synagogues and persecute from town to town…

Jesus speaks historically and prophetically here.  Once the church was formed on the day of Pentecost, the power of God fell upon his followers.  They continued to proclaim the New Covenant message of repentance to everyone.  The wicked religious leaders did everything in their power to silence the voice of truth that rang out in their generation, just as they had done before. 

Stephen was stoned, Peter was crucified, James was killed with the sword, John was exiled after a failed attempt to boil him in oil. The list of atrocities goes on and on. Followers of Jesus were imprisoned, publicly beaten and persecuted whenever possible.  Evil men will stop at nothing to silence the voice of truth which reveals their wickedness.    

Matthew 23:35-36 – …so that on you may come all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah the son of Barachiah, whom you murdered between the sanctuary and the altar.  Truly, I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation.

Their generation would be the one to fill/overflow the national cup of iniquity that their ancestors had begun. 

The practice of killing innocent men who proclaimed righteousness in the face of evil had begun long ago, and God had seen every single drop of blood that was shed.  Now, it would be judged (2 Chronicles 24:22). 

Again, we must ask ourselves, what is the status of the United States of America?  How full is our cup?  In our lifetimes, prayer has been taken out of schools.  Abortion and gay marriage are now protected by law.  Movies continue to push the limits of debauchery. 

Our measure is filling at a rapid rate, and the only remedy is repentance.  Have you prayed for revival today?

Matthew 23:37 – O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it!  How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!

Jesus shows us the depth of his emotion for his beloved people.  He had done everything for them, yet they would not repent and seek his face (Isaiah 5:4, Matthew 21:33-41).

His desire was to gather them from their aimless wandering and bring them home to himself where they would be protected, preserved, loved and cared for, just as chicks are tenderly cared for by their mother (Psalms 91:4, Malachi 4:2). 

He desires to unite them, and give them the privilege and honor of being the first to enter his kingdom.  He has plans to prosper them and give them hope and a future, but they rejected him and chose to walk in the darkness.

Jesus is sorely grieved by the actions of the Scribes and Pharisees, because he knows how much good he has in store for them, and yet how much heartache evil they are choosing to bring upon themselves.  

Matthew 23:38 – See, your house is left to you desolate.

What house is Jesus referring to?  When Jerusalem is destroyed, the residential homes of the Jews were certainly demolished, but the real ‘house’ referred to here is probably the temple.  This was the house they trusted in and boasted about. 

Christ was now departing from that house, never to return.  They themselves had forced him out; they had no room for him in their lives!  Once the spirit of God left, the house was desolate – it was empty of power, glory, goodness and life. 

The bible speaks of us as being the temple of God under the New Covenant:

1 Corinthians 3:16 – Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?

Do you have room for Christ in your life?  Do you have time to fellowship with him, read his word, converse with him in prayer?  If so, you will experience his love and see his power in your life. 

If you choose to squeeze him out of his house he will go – but don’t be surprised to find your life desolate without him! 

Matthew 23:39 – For I tell you, you will not see me again, until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord’.

The day of mercy for the Jews was fast drawing to a close.  Salvation and protection have been rejected.  The nation is about to experience dreadful misery and suffering.  This would remain upon the people until they had borne the measure of their judgment.  Then, they would begin to look for God once again.  They would turn to him and seek a deliverer. 

This has not yet come to pass.  As of the writing of this blog post, the Jews are still experiencing desolation.  But a day will come when they once again cry out to the God of their fathers (Romans 11:25-32), and he will deliver them and show them mercy.

Let me offer you some encouragement:

Jesus describes the Scribes and Pharisees as being white-washed tombs.  The outside looked holy, but the inside was sinful.  This was a very, very dangerous condition for them to be in, because it led to more and more grievous sins.  It set them afloat on the ‘Niagara River’ towards destruction.

For this reason, it would be smart for us to take a good look at our own personal holiness.  Each of us should pray that the Holy Spirit will reveal to us the dark, hidden things in our hearts that are still not submitted to God. 

Although it can be painful to acknowledge the truth about ourselves (that we still have these sins and we need to expose and remove them from our lives), it is in our best interest to do so.  I encourage you to spend time in prayer this week, examining your heart and determining to remove these things from your life.

Let me offer you some relief:

Despite what some people would lead you to believe, the Christian life is not about rules and regulations.  It is not about scrupulously following laws, like the Pharisees did.  It is not about the things you can’t do. 

It is about a wonderful, glorious, fulfilling, creative, loving, amazing relationship with the God of the universe!  Nothing is more wonderful than a close relationship with God.  So stop concentrating on the rules and focus on the relationship.  Stop holding parts of yourself back from God – seek him with abandonment! Experience the relief that comes from letting go of legalism and entering into relationship!  

Let me offer you some strength:

We are living in some tumultuous times.  Satan would like to sap your strength, fill you with anxiety and cause you to go into hiding.  Don’t fall for that trick!  We are on the winning side.  Satan has no chance to overcome God.  So don’t bury your head in the sand.  Stand strong in the Lord and in the power of his might.  Be a shining light for Christ in this generation.

Matthew, Chapter 23, Part 2

Matthew 23:13 – But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees hypocrites! For you shut the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces.  For you neither enter yourselves nor allow those who would enter to go in.

Now from verses 13-30 we find 8 ‘woes’ denounced against the religious leaders by Jesus.  A woe is defined as “grief, sorrow, misery, heavy calamity”.

It is important to notice that Jesus is not cursing these men.  The woes are actually a serious yet compassionate warning about the terrible consequences that these stubborn sinners were bringing on themselves.  The original Greek word contains an element of profound pity – Jesus is saddened by the terrible misery these men have chosen for themselves.

In most of the ‘woes’ Jesus tells the religious leaders that they are hypocrites.  They have deceived themselves and others.  They are wearing masks of godliness, which hide their corrupt and polluted hearts. 

So we would expect these great calamities to come upon the religious leaders, unless they repent and make some serious changes in their lives immediately. 

It’s kind of interesting to note that you don’t hear a lot of “hell, fire and brimstone” sermons these days.  Yet, the last public teaching of Jesus was along those very lines!  We too, should not neglect to warn people about the wrath that will come upon them for rejecting Jesus as Messiah.

The first woe describes how these leaders keep people out of the kingdom of heaven.  As the religious leaders who sit in Moses’ seat, they were given the keys of knowledge regarding the word of God.  As always, knowledge and understanding of the word of God points the way to the Messiah.  It ‘opens’ the door of salvation. 

But they withheld the correct interpretations of the ancient prophesies concerning the messiah.  They were just like many of their forefathers:

Malachi 2:7-8 – For the lips of a priest should guard knowledge, and people should seek instruction from his mouth for he is the messenger of the Lord of hosts.  But you have turned aside from the way.  You have caused many to stumble by your instruction.  You have corrupted the covenant of Levi, says the Lord of hosts.

The Scribes and Pharisees taught false doctrines, elevated their traditions above the word of God, opposed Jesus themselves, and attempted to convince the Jews that Jesus was an imposter.  They even barred believers in Jesus from the synagogues.  They used every influence they had and did everything they could to hinder people for believing in Jesus.    

Great calamity and destruction (both in this world and in the next) awaits those who not only refuse to enter then kingdom themselves, but shut the door for others.

By contrast, it is a great blessing to be able to send the word of God out into the world for people to find.  There are many wonderful ministries that spread the gospel through television and through the written word.  In addition to these opportunities, you and I can personally share the gospel with people we know.  We can help open that door of salvation, rather than blocking it!  

Matthew 23:14 – Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you devour widows’ houses and for a pretense you make long prayers, therefore you will receive the greater condemnation.

The second woe centers around covetousness and the love of money.  The Scribes and Pharisees had done their best to hide these sins under a mask of virtue. 

We have already noted that it was a common practice of the Scribes and Pharisees to go into public places and spend hours praying.  Although these prayers were a sham, it gave them the appearance of being extremely holy and close to God. 

Because they seemed so holy, widows would become devoted to them and would regard them as their spiritual leaders.  The Scribes and Pharisees would then use their influence to convince these widows to give their entire estates (or at least a big part of them) to the temple.  As temple funds provided for the support of the Pharisees, they were deceitfully lining their own pockets when doing this; yet they appeared holy in front of the people.

What an evil and cunning practice!  It becomes even more foul when we recall that God had mandated the special care and protection of widows and orphans because they were vulnerable people!

This practice is still somewhat common today.  Many people consider “TV ministers” to be guilty of this same deceitful practice.  While some certainly are, we should be sure to judge them on an individual basis. 

We should never blindly follow any spiritual guide.  We need to be in the word of God for ourselves; anything that a minister publicly speaks needs to line up with the written word of God.  Further, we should always seek God for wisdom in how to use our financial resources.     

Matthew 23:15 – Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel across sea and land to make a single proselyte and when he becomes a proselyte, you make him twice as much of a child of hell as yourselves.

Woe #3 concerns converts to the faith.  A proselyte was a convert to Judaism.  The Jews almost always had some amongst them (Exodus 12:37-38, Acts 2:10, etc).  As a proselyte, they were circumcised and had to conform to all the rites of the Mosaic Law.

There was nothing wrong with proselytizing, or winning converts to Judaism.  There was nothing wrong with the evident zeal that the Scribes and Pharisees used to win them.  Even today, as Christians, we are to be about the work of gaining converts to Christ.  This is an essential part of being a citizen in the kingdom of God.

However, once a convert was gained, the Scribes and Pharisees paraded him around like a prize.  Their pride swelled as they gained praise and adoration from other Jews for increasing God’s flock, and for all the efforts they expended in winning them.

Then, they took these converts, put them under their power and authority, fed them corrupt doctrine, and trained them in their own forms of wickedness. Thus, they became a ‘child of hell’.     

The term “child of hell” was a common Hebrew phrase.  It signified ‘to be deserving of hell, to be awfully wicked’.  ‘Twice as much’ simply means even more, or to a greater degree than the Pharisees themselves.

We too are to engage in the work of leading people to Christ.  Once they have accepted Christ as Lord and Savior, we are to disciple or train them.  We are not to be puffed up or prideful about this.  Rather, we should be humbly grateful for a chance to assist them in their spiritual journey, as we all grow together in Christ.   

Matthew 23:16-18 – Woe to you, blind guides, who say, ‘If anyone swears by the temple, it is nothing, but if anyone swears by the gold of the temple, he is bound by his oath’.   You blind fools! For which is greater, the gold or the temple that has made the gold sacred?  And you say, ‘If anyone swears by the altar, it is nothing, but if anyone swears by the gift that is on the altar, he is bound by his oath’.

In woe number four, Jesus calls the spiritual leaders blind guides, because they lead others in making dangerous mistakes.  When the blind lead the blind, they both fall into trouble!

This woe has to do with the way the Scribes and Pharisees used oaths.  An oath is really a conditional curse, which a person calls down upon himself from God, if he fails to tell the truth or keep a promise.  Sadly, oaths became necessary because mankind does not keep his word, or tell the truth.

There was a legitimate need for oaths.  It arose from situations in which there were no eyewitnesses.  For example:

Exodus 22:10-11 – If a man gives to his neighbor a donkey or an ox or a sheep or any beast to keep safe and it dies or is injured or is driven away, without anyone seeing it, an oath by the Lord shall be between them both to see whether or not he has put his hand to his neighbor’s property.  

In this case, one man would swear an oath to the Lord that he had not intentionally harmed his neighbor’s property.  This oath was considered binding.  Its purpose was to end any strife, dispute or argument over the matter at hand.  The Israelites were commanded to swear by God’s name when they used an oath (Deuteronomy 6:13 and 10:20).

However, the Jewish religious leaders were making a mockery of oaths. 

First of all, remember that an oath is an appeal to God, to his omniscience and justice.  If the person is lying, then God will judge the liar.  So their first mockery of oaths was to allow men to swear by things other than God.  For instance, they sometimes swore by the temple, or the gold, or the altar.  These were mere objects (the work of men’s hands), servants of God’s honor.  When men swore by them, they put the object in the place of God.  How ridiculous!  Imagine gold having the ability to judge the inward thoughts and motivations of a man’s heart and having the power to execute judgment.  It’s absurd!  So, all of these types of oaths (where they swore to anything other than God) were a mockery of God.

Secondly, they tried to claim that some oaths were not binding.  For instance, if a man swore an oath by the temple, that was a non-binding oath.  You didn’t have to tell the truth or perform the action that you swore you would. (I have to wonder, what was the purpose of an oath that was not binding??) 

However, if you swore by the gold of the temple, they considered that a binding oath.  In this case, you had to tell the truth or perform the action you swore you would. 

Since the intent of an oath was to end any doubt that you were telling the truth, all oaths should have been binding, even though they swore to the wrong thing.  Making the oath non-binding was a breach of faith no matter what you swore by.  Again, they are making a mockery of the very serious matter of taking an oath.

Jesus points out the absurdity of their distinctions regarding oaths, by calling them fools and blind guides.  They are missing the point of oaths entirely; and they are lightly esteeming the judgment of God in an oath.

Matthew 23:19-22  – You blind men! For which is greater, the gift or the altar that makes the gift sacred?  So whoever swears by the altar swears by it and by everything that is on it.  And whoever swears by the temple swears by it and by him who dwells in it.   And whoever swears by heaven swears by the throne of God and by him who sits upon it.

The leaders believed that the gold was more important than the temple, and that the gift was more important than the altar. 

Jesus points out the error in their thinking.  The temple was a building that was sacred to God.  Therefore, any gold that was within it was holy because the temple was holy.  If the same gold happened to be located in any other place, it would NOT be sacred.  Therefore, the temple is greater than the gold.

The same is true for the gift and altar (this refers to the altar of burnt offering, located in the outer court of the temple where animals were sacrificed).  The altar is holy to God.  It is the altar that gives holiness to the gift (lamb, bull, ram, etc).  If the gift were at any other location, it would not be holy. 

Jesus reveals that their thinking is deluded by their greed.  The thing that is most important to them is the gold or the gift, because these are the things that will go into the temple treasury to support their lifestyle or put food in their mouths. 

Jesus removes all of their foolish convoluted rules regarding oaths and replaces them with the truth:  The essential thing in an oath is calling on God to witness the sincerity of the individual, because God alone can see and judge correctly. Anything else is a wicked and foolish swearing.

Why not just avoid the need for oaths by telling the truth and being a person of your word?  

Matthew 23:23 – Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness.  These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others.

The next woe (the fifth) pronounced against the Scribes and Pharisees is that they are neglecting the most important aspects of the law.  In this woe, Jesus has three important points to make.

One:  The law required the Jews to devote a tenth part (10%) of all their property to the support of the Levites and the temple services (Numbers 18:20-24, Leviticus 27:30-33).  The Scribes and Pharisees were stringently and meticulously keeping the law of tithing, even down to giving 10% of worthless herbs.

Two:  There were parts of the law that were more important than herb-tithing.  As the religious leaders of Israel, they should have been involved in bringing about justice for the oppressed, including widows and orphans.  They should have been involved in showing mercy to people, and easing the suffering of the poor, instead of loading them up with burdens.  They should have been faithful to carry out their duties as religious guides of the people.  They should have been looking for the Messiah and they should have pointed people to Jesus when he came.  However, they were doing none of these infinitely great tasks which carried eternal significance.  Instead, they were focused on the insignificant earthly things like tithing 10% of mint leaves!

Three:  All of the law is of God; all of it is important.  However, the smallest points of the law should not interfere with a man embracing the higher and more important parts of that same law.

This brings up an important point for us.  Many times, we limit our thinking of sin to things that we shouldn’t do, but we do them anyway.  For example, we should not talk about people, but if we do gossip, that is a sin.

However, it is also possible to commit what is known as sins of omission:

James 4:17 – Therefore to him that knows to do good, and does it not, to him it is sin.

If you know you should show love to your neighbor by showing him an act of kindness, but you refuse, that is sin.  If you have an abundance of wealth, but you neglect the poor, that is sin.  If you know that you should pray over a situation but you don’t, that is sin.  If you know the truth, but you refuse to disclose it, that is sin. 

As Christians, we need to be sure that we are following the leading of God.  We need to be able to hear his voice and act accordingly.  The bible speaks of acts of goodness that God has prepared for us to do:   

Ephesians 2:10 – For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God has before ordained that we should walk in them.

We should definitely follow the major points of God’s law.  But let’s also train ourselves to listen to the Holy Spirit, so we can recognize these good works and do them for God’s glory!       

Matthew 23:24 – You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel!

This refers to the above topic of failing to pay attention to the important parts of the law (justice, mercy, faithfulness). 

‘Straining out a gnat’ appears to have been a common practice back then.  Gnats begin life as a very tiny grub in stagnant water.  After about 3 weeks, they turn into chrysalides.  A few days later, they hatch to become gnats.  People would carefully strain their water with a sieve or cloth to make sure there were no gnats contained in it. [I don’t know about you, but that sounds like a great idea to me.  However, they probably did it to be in line with Leviticus 11:23 and 11:42.]  

So in this proverb, the gnat refers to something that is insignificant due to its size.  By contrast, the camel is very large in size. 

The meaning is that the Scribes and Pharisees took great pains to avoid any offense in even the tiniest points of the law (tithing on worthless spices), while at the same time they made no effort at all to avoid great and gross sins like hypocrisy, deceit, oppression, greed, lust, pride, etc. 

Matthew 23:25-26  – Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self indulgence.  You blind Pharisee!  First clean the inside of the cup and the plate, that the outside also may be clean.

The cup and the plate in woe #6 are literally that – dishes used for food/drink.  The Pharisees were known for their diligence in observing all the ceremonial washings required by their traditions.

So to men, who look on the outward appearance, they appear clean.  They wear the right clothes, they tithe, they pray, they sacrifice and they quote the law.  They appear to be about kingdom business.  But it is all a façade!

To God, who looks on the heart, they are greedy and full of pride.  They are missing all the fruits of righteousness like mercy, love, patience, kindness, etc. 

Jesus is not condemning the traditional practice of washing dishes or even external cleanliness in life and conversation.  He is calling attention to the discrepancy between outward purity and inward wickedness.  It is much better to cleanse one’s heart than one’s outward appearance. 

In fact, if a person diligently works to cleanse his heart, his outward daily life will automatically fall into line with what is in his heart.  But if he concentrates only on the outside, he can be inwardly filthy but outwardly pure. 

Let me offer you some encouragement:

What is the purpose of the ‘woes’?  It is not to condemn you.  It is to guide you in your walk with God.  It is to get you back on track, if needed.  If you are feeling remorse over something you have done (or not done), that is actually a good thing.  It is a sign that the Holy Spirit wants to do a work in your life.  He is calling you to repent and change your ways, because God has bigger and better and even more important things for you to do in his kingdom.  So submit yourself to him, and be encouraged!   

Let me offer you some relief:

Nobody is perfect!  You and I are going to sin.  There may be times when we lose our temper or we ignore a prompting of the Holy Spirit to minister to someone.  But don’t lose hope. 

When your blow it, stop and repent.  Repair the damage of what you have done, if possible.  Apologize to the person you yelled at; go back and do that act of kindness.  Pick yourself up and press forward in your walk with Christ.     

Let me offer you some strength:

One of the ‘woes’ deals with oaths.  These were necessary because men often lie or fail to do as they have promised. 

Oaths are not necessary with God.  Rest assured, what he has promised to do for you, he will certainly do!  He has promised you eternal life.  He has promised never to leave you.  He has promised to speak to you personally.  He has promised to fill you with the Holy Spirit.  He is your healer, your provider, your guide, your joy, your peace, and your salvation! 

Find one of his promises this week and dwell on it.  It will bring you strength for your daily walk with him!

Matthew, Chapter 23, Part 1

Matthew 23:1-2 – Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat,

What is the seat of Moses?  In this instance, ‘seat’ is defined as a public office or position of service and trust.  

As you recall, God gave the law to the Israelites through Moses.  In Exodus 19, God summoned the Israelites together at Mt. Sinai.  The mountain was covered with thick black clouds and lightening.  Moses ascended the mountain and received the law from God.  Then, he came back down the mountain and gave the law to the people. 

It was Moses who instructed the people in the correct interpretation and application of the law.  This ‘seat’ or responsibility for interpreting/applying the law, was later filled by the scribes and Pharisees.  Therefore, Jesus refers to them as occupying Moses’ seat. 

Matthew 23:3 – so do and observe whatever they tell you, but not the works they do.  For they preach, but do not practice.”

What a scathing rebuke by our Lord!  All throughout our study of Matthew’s gospel, we have seen that the religious leaders were very corrupt.  They were greedy, covetous, prideful, hypocritical, harsh/demanding, condescending and greatly desirous of power and authority.  They had taken their own opinions and traditions and elevated them above the law of God. They ignored the chance to repent under the ministry of John the Baptist, and they did everything in their power to destroy Jesus.

Yet, these are the same people who claim the authority to interpret and apply the laws of God! 

The religion that they profess does not match the life they live.  So what is a person to do if their religious guide is saying one thing, but doing another?

Jesus addresses this issue by giving the multitude a warning – the disgusting sinfulness of the religious leaders is not to weaken their respect for the sacred scriptures.  It is every Christian’s duty to obey all teachings that are consistent with the law and the prophets.   However, the people were not to use the lives of the religious leaders as examples to follow.  Their gross and unrepentant sin was contemptible.

In other words, the word of God should not be despised because of the wickedness of men.  It was this same word that would soon point to salvation through Christ; so the people must continue to have great respect and belief in the scriptures, despite the corruptness of the religious leaders. 

If you think about it, the same is true for us today.  There will always be preachers who claim to be concerned about the gospel, but they are really only looking for fame and fortune.  They are greedy and lustful.  Eventually, these people are usually found out and the public will despise and ridicule them.  However, none of this changes the truth of the gospel message. 

Matthew 23:4 – They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger.

Here Jesus is referencing the practice of using animals to carry burdens.  Back in that day, people would bind together heavy loads, then place the entire load on the back of a camel or donkey, and drive the animal along the road while supporting the load so it did not fall off the beast.  The person who did this never bore any of the hardship or responsibility of bearing the burden/load themselves, and they never gave the animal a break or showed them any mercy.

The religious leaders are treating the Jews in this same manner.  They added many, many rules on top of the law such as extra fasting and restrictions involving the Sabbath.  They loved to use their authority to bind men up with more and more regulations, until they were under a severe and difficult burden/yoke of bondage that they could not escape.  They mercilessly demanded strict adherence to every whim of tradition that they loaded onto the Jews, while finding reasons to excuse themselves from carrying these same burdens.

I think it would be wise if we stopped and asked ourselves a question – How did the religious leaders end up this way?  How did they go from inheriting the office of Moses to practicing such an empty religion?

The Biblical Illustrator says that after the rebuilding of the temple in the days of Nehemiah, the Jews had a true heart for God.  Obedience to the law was a natural outward expression of the love they had for God. 

If you think about it, that is true of us as well.  When we have a close, intimate relationship to God, we tend to obey his commands because sin bothers us.  This is a natural result of our relationship with him.  The closer we are to God, the more sin repulses us.   

However, over time subsequent generations of Jews didn’t have that same inward relationship or love for God that their forefathers possessed.  They were not of the generation who was rescued from exile and returned to their ancestral home.  They didn’t know what it was like to live without a temple.  So they participated in honoring the law just as their forefathers, but for them it was more of a ritual to adhere to, as opposed to a natural result of love for God.

Eventually a generation arose in which the love had totally died out, and natural obedience died with it.  They were left with nothing but empty rituals and rules to follow.  Consequently, the practice of the rituals became like an idol of the heart, replacing their relationship to God. 

That may be how the religious leaders of Jesus’ day became so addicted to empty religion – it was all they had.  It was such an idol to them, that they were unwilling to give it up for a true relationship with God through Jesus Christ.

What about you?  Are you going through the motions of ‘church’ because that is what you were taught by your parents or grandparents?  If so, you are in danger of missing a relationship with the God of the universe!  I encourage you to find him for yourself and see what he can do in your life!

Matthew 23:5 – They do all their deeds to be seen by others.  For they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long,

What was the purpose of the law?  Was it not to draw men back to God so they could have relationship and fellowship with him?

Yet the scribes and Pharisees are not practicing the law out of love for God or a desire to draw near to him.  Their main goal is to win praise and approval from their fellow man by appearing holy and perfect.  Hence, they pay precise attention to their phylacteries and fringes. 

Remember the phylactery?  It was a square shaped leather box bound to the person by a leather band.  There were two different types. 

The first kind was bound to the inner side of the left arm near the elbow with one end of the string wound around the middle finger.  When you bend your elbow, the scripture would rest over your heart.  The second type was to be bound in the center of the forehead, between the eyes. 

All Phylacteries contain the same four portions of scripture. Do you know what they are?

Answer: Exodus 13:1-10, Exodus 11-16, Deuteronomy 6:4-9 and Exodus 11:10. 

There are three places in the Old Testament where this practice is mentioned.  They are Exodus 13:16, Deuteronomy 6:8 and Deuteronomy 11:18.   Why don’t you take a minute and quickly read them? 

In all three cases, it seems quite clear that God was using this phrase figuratively.  He did not really mean for them to place his word on their foreheads, but to make sure that his word was in the forefront of their minds and hearts so they would always obey him. 

Thus, they completely distorted the whole teaching into an empty, purely formalistic ritual.  They gloried in the size and beauty of their boxes, while completely ignoring the truth of God in their hearts and minds!  They delighted in showing piety by wearing the boxes in front of people, rather than glorying in their inward relationship with God.

Similarly, they distorted the purpose of fringes. According to Numbers 15:38-39, the special fringes on the garment were to remind them of God’s law:

Numbers 15:38-39 –  Speak unto the children of Israel, and bid them that they make them tassels in the corners of their garments throughout their generations, and that they put upon the tassel of the corners a thread of blue:  And it shall be unto you a tassel, that you may look upon it, and remember all the commandments of the LORD, and do them; and that you seek not after your own heart and your own eyes, after which you use to follow harlotry:   

However, the religious leaders made their fringes broader and longer than normal, and wore them like a badge of holiness.  They were meant to convey that the Pharisees were of uncommon piety and wisdom, showing that they had a special respect for the law, which others did not possess.  Again, they have grasped the ritual while casting aside the relationship with God that the ritual was supposed to foster.  Their pride has gotten the better of them.

Matthew 23:6-7 – and love the place of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues, and greetings in the marketplaces and being called rabbi by others.

Feasts:  It is customary for us to eat sitting upright, in a chair (even if you are eating in front of the TV!).  No so for the Jews.  Their preferred arrangement was to eat by reclining at the table.  On three sides of their table they placed couches or cushions.  People reclined on the cushions on their left side, with their feet extending away from the table (and obviously, head toward the table).  In this arrangement, the head of one person naturally reclined on the bosom or chest of the one next to them.  To recline on someone in this manner was a sign of intimacy. 

The chief seat, or the seat of honor and distinction, was the seat in the middle at the upper end of the table, nearest to the host.  The host always sat in the corner with his most prestigious guest at his right hand.   

Synagogue: In a typical synagogue arrangement, the entrance door was in the south wall, while the seats faced north.  There was a lectern in the center for the reader with the woman’s gallery at the north end.  There were aisles along the eastern and western sides.  Near the front, there was a place for the ark, or the chest that contained the scrolls of the scriptures.  In front of this ark was an array of seats that faced the congregation.  These were the chief seats. 

These seats were given by the elders of the synagogue to those who were the most conspicuous in their devotion to the law.  They were coveted as a mark of approval for one’s religious reputation.  For those who were ambitious for power and authority, these seats were a must!     

The religious leaders loved sitting in these seats of distinction because they were full of pride.  They were supposed to be in the synagogue humbly giving glory and honor to God; instead they sought it for themselves, which was a form of mocking God.

Marketplace:  The marketplace generally contained multitudes of people.  The religious leaders loved to walk through the market and receive greeting/acknowledgements of respect from the people. These salutations fed their vanity and they greatly coveted them.  In addition, they would often pray long prayers in the marketplace for the purpose of being seen by men.  They were putting on a pious façade.   

Sadly, we conclude that the religious leaders worked/labored and expended enormous amounts of time, effort and resources to promote themselves in front of others.  Instead of working for God and storing up treasures in heaven, they were working for earthly treasures that vanished the moment they passed away.

They chose to serve empty rituals rather than having a relationship with the living God!

Matthew 23:8 – but you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brothers.

Rabbi (or Rab or Rabban) was a title given to eminent teachers of the law.  It was a title of honor and dignity, denoting their authority and ability to teach.  

The religious leaders loved these titles, because they felt it reflected their superiority over the common people.  They felt they were superior not only in knowledge, but in holiness.  They sought after, worked for, and coveted these titles.  Once obtained, they used their authority to set their own rules and forced their followers to adhere to them.

However, Jesus forbids his disciples to accept such titles.  The reason is because Jesus himself was their master and teacher.  All of his disciples were ‘brothers’; they were on the same level (no one was superior) and they were all equal in authority. 

They were to purposely avoid any kind of title that would create distinctions or hierarchies within the body of Christ.  Those with titles tend to become prideful and superior, while those without titles tend to envy and feel a sense of inferiority.    

Matthew 23:9-10 – And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven.  Neither be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Christ.

‘Father’ was yet another title that the Jewish leaders diligently worked to gain.  These men arrogantly claimed that their teaching formed the true nature of the men they taught, and thus they ‘gave them life’, and were worthy of the title father.  They wanted to have absolute spiritual power over their followers.  

The same is true with the title ‘master’ or ‘instructor’.  Again, those who used this title were claiming the right to direct and control the actions and spiritual lives of others. 

Jesus sets the record straight when he tells the people that the source of all life and truth was God and only God.  God is the giver of our life (both spiritual and physical), the sustainer of our lives on a daily basis, and our only hope of eternal life.  Therefore, the title ‘Father’ or ‘Master’ does not belong to any religious leader. 

Any man who is a true ‘spiritual father’ to someone (as the apostle Paul was to many people) should be pointing them to Christ, not to themselves.   

Of course, Jesus was not speaking of when we call our fleshly dad’s ‘father’; it is right and proper to give them this title of respect, authority and love.

Matthew 23:11 – The greatest among you shall be your servant.

The religious leaders desperately wanted to be the greatest men of their time.  But because they did not have a true understanding of God and his laws, they tried to obtain greatness the wrong way.    

 Jesus tells his followers that the person who wishes to be great in his kingdom will serve his fellow man, as opposed to exalting himself through vain titles.  We are to be humble and serve each other in love: 

Galatians 5:13 – For, brethren, you have been called unto liberty; only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another.  

Matthew 23:12 – Whoever exalts himself will be humbled and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.

The religious leaders wanted to obtain the highest praise of men, so they did everything in their power to exalt themselves above their fellow man.    

Christians, however, want to obtain the highest praise from God.  Therefore, we should be willing to become the servant of all.  The highest and best example of this was Jesus himself.  He is God, yet he humbled himself, took on the likeness of man and submitted himself to death, that we might be saved. 

Now he is the glorified head of the church, and all things are under his authority.  One day, every knee will bow before him, whether in heaven, on earth and under the earth!  Praise his name!  He is the example we should be following.   

I find it very interesting that we are looking at this portion of scripture just before the Labor Day holiday of 2020.

Labor is defined as ‘physical toil or bodily exertion’, ‘intellectual exertion/mental effort’ or ‘that which requires hard work for its accomplishment; that which demands effort’.  It also refers to travail, as in the pangs and efforts of childbirth.

In this nation, the Labor Day holiday was certainly birthed through physical toil, mental effort and even violence.  Labor Day recognizes the works and contributions of American laborers to the development and achievements of the United States.  The holiday was officially recognized and signed into law on June 28, 1894 by President Grover Cleveland.  

Labor is essential to our way of life in the United States.  It is also an essential part of our citizenship in the kingdom of heaven.  Look at this passage in the book of John, when Jesus speaks to his disciples at the well in Samaria:

John 4:35-38 – …Look, I tell you, lift up your eyes, and see that the fields are white for harvest.  Already the one who reaps is receiving wages and gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together.  For here the saying holds true, ‘One sows and another reaps.’  I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor.  Others have labored, and you have entered into their labor.  

Sowing and reaping are examples of labor.  The apostle Paul tells us that watering is also labor:

1 Corinthians 3:69 – I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase.

According to the passage in John, the eternal souls of people are like crops.  Someone must plant the word in their hearts.  That word must be watered by kindness, love, patience and truth.  Eventually, the Holy Spirit will ready the soul for harvesting.  Then it is our job to ‘harvest’ or lead them to salvation in Jesus Christ. 

We can look at it another way.  In America, anyone can open up a business any time they choose.  They can also hire laborers to work in their business.  Some might be working on an assembly line, while others keep the machines running smooth.  Some will deliver supplies and some will package the finished product for distribution.  Some will work in the payroll and benefit office.  Some will be in sales.  But all of them must work together for the good of the business.  

The same is true in the kingdom of heaven.  If God had a business, it would be the salvation of souls.  God hires each and every Christian to work in his business.  Some will preach, some will intercede, some will minister to the poor, some will baptize, and some will love the unlovely.  Some will encourage.  Some will finance the kingdom.  Some will go to the mission field.  But all must work together for the good of the business. 

What would have happened to labor in America if they did not band together and stand for change?  We would still be working 15 hours a day, seven days a week for next to nothing! 

Unity is also essential in the kingdom of heaven:

Matthew 12:25 – And Jesus knew their thoughts, and said unto them, Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation; and every city or house divided against itself shall not stand:  

So, as we approach this Labor Day and we celebrate the accomplishments of unity and labor, can we also take a moment to pause and consider the unity of our church in its labor for Christ? 

Have we seen division in our churches lately?  We all have opinions about politics, COVID, the economy and violence in our cities.  But we can’t let those opinions interfere with our spiritual relationships.  We must push our personal opinions aside, put on a mantle of love and labor with our fellow Christians for the good of the kingdom. 

It’s time for those who are able, to return to the church and minister to their brothers and sisters in Christ.  It’s time for us to unite in prayer, seeking the leading of God in these turbulent times. It’s time for us to get back in touch with the lost.  In the kingdom of heaven YOU are an essential worker!  The body of Christ needs what you have to offer.  So come back to work!

Let me offer you some encouragement:

The religious leaders of Jesus day toiled and planned and schemed to bring glory and honor to themselves.  They put everything they had into self promotion.  They worked tirelessly to prove how superior they were to ordinary men. 

How sad that they were laboring for the things of this earthly life, which are sure to pass away!  Now that they are dead, what good were all those special seats at the feast, or those salutations of honor in the marketplace?  I encourage you to take an honest look at your labors – make sure you are laying up treasures in heaven, not here on earth.

Let me offer you some relief:

Maybe you are afraid of working in the kingdom because of mistakes that you made in the past.  Perhaps you even failed in a ministry before.  If that is the case, let me offer you some relief.  Those mistakes make you what you are today.  They don’t hinder you from service in God’s kingdom, they prepare you for it!  So take courage and jump back into the kingdom workforce.     

Let me offer you some strength:

You are alive today, because God has kingdom work for you to accomplish!  So stop being afraid.  Roll up your sleeves and dig in!  Rely on the Lord and he will be your strength and shield.

Psalm 18:2-3 –  The LORD is my rock, and my fortress, and my deliverer; my God, my strength, in whom I will trust; my shield, and the horn of my salvation, and my high tower.  I will call upon the LORD, who is worthy to be praised: so shall I be saved from my enemies.   

Matthew, Chapter 22, Part 2

Matthew 22:23 – The same day Sadducees came to him, who say that there is no resurrection, and they asked him a question,

Last time we studied the Pharisees and the Herodians who laid a trap for Jesus, hoping to ensnare and arrest him.  They not only failed, but were disgraced in front of the people.

Now the Sadducees will attempt to perplex Jesus with hard questions. They too, hoped to ‘entangle Jesus in his talk’ in order to arrest him or at least to harm his reputation among the common people.  They too will be put to shame by Jesus.  

What do you remember about the Sadducees? They were one of the three major divisions of the Jews. Do you remember the other two?

If you said the Pharisees and the Essenes, you are correct. Feel free to reward yourself with candy!

Albert Barnes Notes on the Bible tells us this about the Sadducees:  “The SADDUCEES are supposed to have taken their name from Sadok, who flourished about 260 years before the Christian era. He was a pupil of Antigonus Sochaeus, president of the Sanhedrim, or great council of the nation. He had taught the duty of serving God disinterestedly, without the hope of reward, or the fear of punishment.  Sadok, not properly understanding the doctrine of his master drew the inference that there was no future state of rewards or punishments and on this belief he founded the sect.”

The Sadducees believed that there was no resurrection; when a man died his soul perished with his body.  Therefore, there was no eternal state or life after death, either good (heaven) or bad (hell).

If there is no eternal life after death, then there cannot be a future state of rewards and punishments.  Every reward you will ever get from God you will receive here on earth, and every punishment you deserve will also happen here.

The Sadducees also rejected all of the traditions of the elders and believed only what was found in the Old Testament, especially the Pentateuch. 

They were far less numerous than the Pharisees, but their members were extremely wealthy and had a high standing in the community, so they were able to wield quite a bit of influence in society. 

Matthew 22:24 – saying, “Teacher, Moses said, ‘If a man dies having no children his brother must marry the widow and raise up offspring for his brother.’

As we would expect, the Sadducees are relying on an Old Testament (Pentateuch) regulation.  It is found in Deuteronomy:

Deuteronomy 25:5-6 – If brothers dwell together and one of them dies and has no son, the wife of the dead man shall not be married outside the family to a stranger.  Her husband’s brother shall go in to her and take her as his wife and perform the duty of a husband’s brother to her.  And the first son whom she bears shall succeed to the name of his dead brother, that his name may not be blotted out of Israel.

Legally, the son of this union would be considered the son of the deceased man.  The son would be included in his (the deceased) genealogy, and would inherit his estate.  This helped to perpetuate the 12 tribes and also keep them distinct from one another.  

You can find a reference to this practice in Ruth 1:11, where Naomi tells her two daughters-in-law to return to their fathers because she has no more sons for them to marry. 

Matthew 22:25-26 – ‘Now there were seven brothers among us.  The first married and died, and having no offspring left his wife to his brother.  So too the second and third, down to the seventh.’

This scenario is plausible, but unlikely; there is no record of this situation actually occurring.  The Sadducees are making up the most difficult situation they can imagine, so that they can baffle Jesus and display their own wisdom in front of the people. 

Matthew 22:27-28 – ‘After them all, the woman died.  In the resurrection, therefore, of the seven, whose wife will she be?  For they all had her.’”

The phrase “they all had her” means that they were all lawfully married to the woman, so each had equal rights to claim her as his wife.

So what, exactly, is the point of their question?  How does it tie in with their beliefs on resurrection?

They are attempting to show/prove that the doctrine of resurrection and life after death (eternal life) was absurd.  They insinuate that if there were an eternal state, it would be exactly like the present age, in which people die.  So in order to keep the next life ‘populated’, men and women must marry and have offspring.  Relationships would be the same in the next life as they are now.  Their question attempts to show that this would produce a world full of confusion, strife and disorder (7 husbands + 1 wife = chaos).  In their mind, it would be an untenable and absurd situation, so therefore it cannot be true. 

What tiny, little imaginations they have!

We serve a God of infinite power, wisdom and creativity.  He loves variety. He is always doing something new.  Nothing is impossible with him!  I wonder what would make them think that God would create the exact same thing twice?  What would make them think that God would allow death into his perfect kingdom?  It’s like they don’t know him at all!  Thankfully, the Lord has assured us that this will not be the case; the old way of things (including death) will no longer exist:

Revelation 21:3-5 – And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man.  He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.  He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”  And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.”  Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”

Hallelujah!  Praise his name!  There will be a future state for you and I and it will be one where we dwell in the very presence of God!  No eye has seen, no ear has heard neither has it entered into the heart of man the things that God has prepared for us!

Matthew 22:29-30 – But Jesus answered them, “You are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God.  For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven.”

Jesus is now going to show them the error in their logic.  First off, the Sadducees either don’t know or don’t believe the Holy Scriptures.  They clearly indicate that there will be a resurrection from the dead.  Here are just a couple of examples:

Daniel 12:2 – And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.

Isaiah 26:19 – Your dead shall live; their bodies shall rise.  You who dwell in the dust, awake and sing for joy!  For your dew is a dew of light, and the earth will give birth to the dead. 

So Jesus points out that if they truly knew and believed the scriptures, they would know that God raises the dead.  They would know that there is a future state of reward and punishment.  They would also know that the state of men in the next world will not be the same as it is now; people no longer need to marry and have children, because they are no longer subject to death.

So we see that ignorance and unbelief cause them to go astray.  This is a very valuable lesson for us as well.  If we don’t read the scriptures, how will we know what God has to say?  When we don’t know what God says, we open ourselves up to deception by Satan and his followers. 

2 Peter 2:1 – But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who shall secretly bring in destructive heresies…

The Sadducees had no excuse for their ignorance.  They had ample time and opportunity to read and study the scriptures.  They had a chance to meditate on them, and discover their true meaning. 

What about you and I?  Do we have access to the scriptures?  Do we have the opportunity to meditate on the words of life and discover their meaning?  Of course we do!  In fact, we have it much better than the Sadducees ever did, because we also have direct access to the throne of God and we have the power of the Holy Spirit to instruct us.  If they had no excuse for their ignorance, what excuse do we have?

Their problem also involved an element of unbelief.  The original Greek word for “know not” can also indicate feeling or choice.  This means that the Sadducees were unwilling to know or acknowledge the truth that the scriptures presented to them.  They chose to ignore, cast aside, or disbelieve it.  So in addition to being ignorant of God’s word, they are also guilty of not believing what God said.

I think it is extremely important in this day and age that we believe what God tells us in his word.  The world is in turmoil right now.  Our only true foundation is God; if we don’t believe what he tells us, we are left with only one option – to trust in man.  And that will result in failure and death.

God’s word says :

  • The church will stand up to the gates of hell, and hell will not prevail against her, Matt 16:18. 
  • He knows what we have need of, before we even ask, Matt 6:8. 
  • He will baptize us in the Holy Spirit, Acts 2:38-39. 
  • He forgives our sin and heals our diseases, Psalms 103:3. 
  • We have victory over the enemy, through Jesus Christ our Lord, I Corinth 15:57.

The list goes on and on and on.  Why not make your own personal list of promises from the Word?  Believe and meditate on them, and watch your faith grow!      

The Sadducees had yet another problem.  They grossly underestimated the power of God.  In their minds, when a man has turned into dust and been scattered to the four winds, there is no way to bring him back.  But that is not what the Bible says.  The bible says that with God, nothing is impossible.  It also states that he will one day raise us from the dead, by his great power:

1 Corinthians 6:14 – And God has both raised up the Lord, and will also raise up us by his own power.  

Acts 26:8 – Why should it be thought a thing incredible with you, that God should raise the dead?

I think that part of the reason they did not believe in the power of God was that they did not see it at work in their lives.  Had they experienced it, they would not have been able to deny it.  What about you?  How have you seen the power of God at work in your life?

Matthew 22:31-32 – “And as for the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was said to you by God:   ‘I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’?  He is not God of the dead, but of the living.”

Notice that when the Sadducees came to contradict Jesus, their basis for doing so was Moses and the Pentateuch.  Jesus now uses those very things to show them they are in error.  This time Jesus quotes from Exodus 3, where Moses is encountering God through the burning bush.

At the time when God spoke this to Moses, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob had died hundreds of years earlier.  Yet, God refers to them in the present tense.  In essence, he says, “I am currently the God of these men.”  That can only be true if they are still living! 

And if they were still living, this proves that there is an eternal state/life after death.  It also shows that the soul is immortal and resides with God, even while the body is turning to dust in the ground (it does not cease to exist as the Sadducees believe).  At some point, that dead body will be resurrected, changed and reunited to the soul by the miraculous power of God! 

Matthew 22:33-34 – And when the crowd heard it, they were astonished at his teaching.  But when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together.

The crowd was amazed at the wisdom of Jesus.  His teaching was entirely new and it opened up the depths of the scriptures to them. 

The Sadducees, however, were put to shame and confounded.  They silently walked away. 

Matthew 22:35 – And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him.

The terms ‘lawyer’ and ‘scribe’ are interchangeable. Both terms refer to a person whose business is the study and knowledge of the law.  It was also their role to explain the law to the people. 

In this case, it does not seem that the lawyer is maliciously asking this question, but is really seeking true knowledge from Jesus.  The term “test” or “trying” is used in the sense of examining.    

Matthew 22:36 – “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?”

Which commandment was most important?  This was a much debated question amongst the schools or sects of Jewish religious leaders. 

Some felt that matters of ritual were most important.  These included washings, circumcision, observing the Sabbath, etc.  Some felt the moral laws were the most important.  These included things like adultery, murder, theft, etc.  Some felt that judicial laws were greatest.  These included things like governing authority, restitution and punishment for crime.

In fact, the religious leaders of Jesus day recognized 613 different commands, which they divided up into lesser and greater commands.  According to them, 248 were positive (things you must do) and 365 were negative (things you must not do).  The different sects constantly bickered about which law was the absolute greatest.  They desired to know this so they might keep that one, all important law instead of keeping them all.   

As usual, they are making things way too complicated! 

Matthew 22:37-39 – And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.  This is the great and first commandment.  And a second is like it:  You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

As we would expect, Jesus gives the perfect answer.  He draws their attention back to the original 10 commands given by God on Mt Sinai (see Exodus 20:1-17).

These commands or ‘words’ of God are often divided into two sections.  The first group consists of these: You shall have no other Gods before me.  You shall not make for yourself a graven image.  You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.  Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy.    

The second group consists of these:  You shall not murder.  You shall not commit adultery.  You shall not steal.  You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.  You shall not covet.  Honor your father and mother.   

We can easily see that the first group centers around our relationship with God, while the second group centers on our relationships with each other.  Thus, Jesus has summed up all of the law in just these two simple commands!

Of course, understanding them and actually keeping them are two different things. 

What does it mean to love God with all of your heart, soul and mind?

Heart love – This means that we should love God supremely.  We should love him more than all other beings and things.  He should occupy the special place of honor in our hearts.  Our affections and loyalty should be fixed on him; we should be ready to follow his command at any time.

Soul love – This refers to our lives.  We should be willing to give up our lives to him; surrendering our will and replacing it with his.  We should be willing to devote all that we are to his service, and even be willing to die if he so commands.

Mind love – This refers to our intellect.  Our knowledge and understanding must be based on or filtered through the absolute truth of God’s word.  We should submit ourselves to the teaching and guidance of the Holy Spirit.   

So here is the answer that the religious leaders couldn’t figure out:  The supreme or most important commandment is to love God.    

The second most vitally important commandment is like the first – Love your neighbor as yourself.  These two commands are the fountain from which all of the other commands flow. 

How do we love our neighbor?  We love them by forgiving them and overlooking minor faults.  We love them by mourning with them in adversity and rejoicing with them in blessing/prosperity, by promoting their good, supporting them in weakness, instructing them in the ways of the Lord, and treating them with kindness and patience. 

In short, we should endeavor to do everything in our power for our neighbors, in all circumstances, just as we would desire them to do to us, were our situations reversed. 

When this happens, it creates a peaceful, harmonious bond between people: 

Colossians 3:14 – And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.

And according to Paul, it fulfills the law:

Romans 13:10 – Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law. 

What a peaceful place the world would be, if all mankind followed these two laws!

Matthew 22:40 – “On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”

The phrase ‘law and prophets’ refers to the whole revelation of God’s divine will in the Old Testament.  So these two great commandments are the root of all other laws; the rest of laws either expand or apply these two commands.

Matthew 22:41-42 – Now while the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them a question, saying, “What do you think about the Christ?  Whose son is he?”  They said to him, “The son of David.”

Jesus has now baffled the Pharisees, the Herodians and the Sadducees.  He responded to a scribe/lawyer who was truly seeking knowledge.  In so doing, he makes the will of God plain to all mankind, for all the ages.  Jesus is amazing!

Now that he has the attention of the people, he turns the tables and asks a question of the Pharisees.  Obviously, this was not done with a spirit of maliciousness or envy.  Jesus was trying to get their attention and focus on the true doctrine of the Messiah.   For this reason, he asks them to tell him about their expectations of the Messiah.

They respond at once, in the traditional, earthly/fleshly manner.  They expect the Messiah to be the physical descendant of King David, who would deliver them from the power of the Romans and restore their kingdom and civil rights.  In their opinion, he was nothing more than a man, who would restore nothing more than earthly privileges.

Matthew 22:43-45 – He said to them, “How is it then that David, in the Spirit, calls him Lord, saying, ‘The Lord said to my Lord, Sit at my right hand, until I put our enemies under your feet’?  If then David calls him Lord, how is he his son?”

Jesus’ reply comes from Psalms 110:1, a well known Messianic Psalm, written by David.

Jesus is asking how the Messiah could be both David’s Lord and also his son.  No son is Lord to his father; therefore, if Christ were David’s sovereign, he must be more than a man.  He must be more than merely David’s physical descendant.

Furthermore, if David’s Lord and Master existed during the time of David’s reign, how could he also be David’s descendant generations later?   

The only explanation is that as a man, he is David’s descendant, but as God, he was David’s Lord. 

Jesus is challenging the religious leaders to stop and think; to consider whether or not their view of the Messiah was the whole truth or not.  And if it they didn’t have the whole truth, what were they missing?  Hopefully, if they were seeking the truth of this mystery, it would lead them to salvation.

Are there portions of scripture that the Holy Spirit is bringing to your mind?  Does he want to bring a fuller revelation of himself to you in some area?  For example, some people have been taught that God does not heal people today; he only did that during the time that Jesus walked the earth.  If you were taught that at some point in your life, the Holy Spirit might want to challenge you to stop and think about your belief. 

If he is challenging you, then I suspect he has some wonderful gift or revelation of himself that he wants to share with you.  I would encourage you to embark on a quest for the truth, and find out what it could mean for you.

Matthew 22:46 – And no one was able to answer him a word, nor from that day did anyone dare to ask him any more questions.

None of the leaders could (or would) offer any kind of solution to the difficulty Jesus presented to them.  

All of the religious sects had been put to shame by the wisdom of Jesus repeatedly.  They now cease trying to entangle him with his words.  They now focus their attention on some other way to murder him.  

Let me offer you some encouragement:

The Sadducees had a major, major problem.  According to Jesus, they erred in their beliefs because they did not know or understand the scriptures.  Their lack of knowledge led them down a dark path, away from the very God they were trying to serve!

This danger still exists today.  We can be caught up in popular praise music, or Christian books and films and neglect to spend time in the actual word of God.  The bible tells us that when we fight spiritual battles we are to put on the belt of truth.  Without it, we would not be able to stand against the enemy. 

So I encourage you to get into the actual word of God, even if it means putting down your favorite Christian author, or turning off that Christian radio/TV program.  Get into the word yourself.  Make sure you know what is says so that you can’t be led stray by false teachers or doctrines. 

Let me offer you some relief and strength:

At the beginning of this lesson, we saw that the Sadducees did not believe in resurrection or eternal life.  I find this astonishing and frankly, I don’t understand it at all. 

What a sad religion they practiced!  If there is no eternal state where we are in God’s presence and fellowship, then what is the purpose of religion?  What is the point of serving God at all?  

Thankfully, you and I know better!  From Genesis to Revelation, God continuously tells us that he loves us and wants to dwell in our midst.  He assures us that we will all be resurrected from death and we will be alive for eternity (what a relief!).  Not only that, but God also plainly tells us that in his kingdom he will reward us for all that we do for him here on earth. 

So don’t grow weary in your service for God.  Do you feel your strength waning during these difficult and uncertain times?  Then I have good news for you – when you spend time in God’s presence, he gives you strength:

Psalm 18:32 – It is God that girds me with strength, and makes my way perfect.

You may come to the end of your strength, but you will never come to the end of God’s strength!  What were you doing for God before the pandemic?  Were you working with kids, or teaching bible study, or leading a prayer group?  Whatever it was I encourage you to seek the Lord for a way to not only continue but expand your ministry.  God will make your way perfect and open up greater and greater doors for ministry, if we will look to him.  People need the truth of the gospel like never before. 

So draw close to the Lord and keep working to spread the gospel message.  One day you will find rest within his kingdom.     

Matthew, Chapter 22, Part 1

Matthew 22:1-2 – And again Jesus spoke to them in parables, saying, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son”,

This chapter opens with another parable that Jesus speaks to the multitudes.  It begins with a king who gave a wedding feast for his son. 

I have been to some very nice wedding receptions, but I have never been to one given by a king. I would certainly expect the king to show the riches of his kingdom in his provisions for this feast, wouldn’t you?  So, in general terms, what would you expect from a celebration like that?

First off, I would anticipate a lot of good food.  While there would be many dishes that I have heard of, there might be some that I didn’t even know existed.  I imagine there would be delicacies that I don’t eat every day.  There might be some things that I have always wanted to try, but never could.

My assumption is that all of the food would be prepared professionally and that it would taste good.  I also imagine a very large amount of desserts and other goodies; things that you don’t really need, but you sure enjoy!  There would also be a large variety of beverages available, as well as yummy little treats at your table!  I am getting hungry just thinking about it!

 There would also be great joy and celebration, wouldn’t there?  After all, the wedding is a celebration of two people who have found each other, gotten to know one another, fallen in love, and now want to be joined as one, so they can face the future together.  They have anticipated being together for a long time and now their desire is fulfilled; their union is complete, and their joy knows no bounds. 

In this wonderful celebration we would expect there to be singing, dancing and music as part of the celebration.

In this parable, the king is God, our heavenly Father.  The bridegroom is Jesus.  Many times in scripture, Jesus is referred to as the bridegroom: John 3:29, Ephesians 5:22-32.

His bride is the church, or all those who have accepted his salvation proposal: Ephesians 5:32, Revelation 19:7-9.

The invitation to the feast is actually the gospel message.  Through the gospel, each person is invited to partake in the marriage covenant of salvation through Jesus Christ.   

For those who accept the invitation, God will not fail to give them any good thing.  His table will be lavishly laden with amazing dishes of protection, provision, health, peace, joy and wisdom.  God will also give us some things we previously did not know existed or never had a chance to experience like forgiveness of sin, access to his throne room, the blessings and gifts of the Holy Spirit and an assurance of eternal life. 

Multitudes of people have accepted the gospel invitation.  They ‘found’ Jesus, got to know him, fell in love with him, and now eagerly desire to be with him for eternity, facing the future with him.  One day, we will see our desire fulfilled; Jesus will complete our union with him by taking us to heaven where our joy will know no bounds.  Music, singing, dancing and celebration will never end as we praise him for eternity!

The gospel is a precious invitation that should NEVER be cast aside!

Matthew 22:3 – “and sent his servants to call those who were invited to the wedding feast, but they would not come.”

The gospel message is the invitation to the wedding.  All those who accept it enter into salvation.  So the servants who call the invited guests are preachers or anyone who shares the gospel message with someone else.

The first people to be invited to this wedding feast were the Jews.  As you recall, when Jesus sent his disciples out to preach about the kingdom of heaven, he specifically told them to preach only to the Jews:

Matthew 10:5-6 – These twelve Jesus sent forth, and commanded them, saying, Go not into the way of the Gentiles, and into any city of the Samaritans enter you not: But go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.

Later, the apostle Paul affirms that the message of the gospel was to go to the Jews first, then to the Gentiles:

Romans 1:16 – For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to everyone that believes; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.

A careful reading of the book of Acts confirms this.  On the day of Pentecost, the 3000 people that were saved were Jewish.  The Gentiles were not admitted into the kingdom of heaven until Acts chapter 10, when Peter preaches to Cornelius and his household.

Despite having the place of honor, the Jews decide not to come to the feast.  They rejected the message of Jesus.  

Matthew 22:4 – Again he sent other servants saying, ‘Tell those who are invited, “See, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is read.  Come to the wedding feast.”’ 

God, in his infinite wisdom and mercy, affords us many chances to turn to him.  The Jews had all of the writings of the prophets to look at, and they happily sat under the teaching of John the Baptist, yet when Christ came, they did not respond.

Still, God did not give up on them.  The apostles publicly taught and persuaded large numbers of Jews to accept the gospel message after the resurrection of Christ, but as a whole, the nation still rejected God’s invitation.

Sadly, the rejection of this wonderful invitation is not limited to the Jews during the time of Christ.  Men and women have been rejecting the gospel invitation from the day Jesus rose from the dead until this very day.  There will continue to be those who reject it until the very last moment of time. 

This is a very sad thing to consider, isn’t it?  When we reflect upon how fulfilling it is to be in a relationship with Christ, it should prompt us to have compassion on those who don’t know him – yet.  It should prompt us to spend time in prayer, on behalf of those we love and care for who have still not responded to the call of the gospel.  

Matthew 22:5 – But they paid no attention and went off, one to his farm, another to his business,

What do you think of when you read the phrase ‘they paid no attention’?  To me, it indicates a state of indifference.  They simply did not care; they had no value for their own spiritual state/life. 

Because they did not consider their spiritual life important, they found other things which they thought were more worthwhile, or more interesting or more valuable and they spent their time and effort on those things. 

So those in the country went off to their farms and those in the city went off to their businesses.  Both classes chose the things of this temporary realm over a relationship with the creator of the universe! 

Their attitudes and actions were disrespectful and insolent.  Their rudeness was just like a slap in the face to both the King and his Son.

As horrible as this seems, many of the people in our day do the same thing.  They have no time for God while they are busy pursuing their own passions.  They have no problem ignoring the sacrifice that Jesus made for them on the cross.  People today are still’ slapping’ Jesus in the face.

Matthew 22:6 – while the rest seized his servants, treated them shamefully, and killed them.

This refers to the treatment of the prophets and later the apostles.  They were beaten, jailed and martyred for the sake of the gospel.  These ministers of the gospel brought only good news of hope and salvation, yet for this they were abused and tormented.

Around the world today, many people are still persecuted and martyred for inviting sinners to the marriage feast!

Matthew 22:7 – The king was angry, and he sent his troops and destroyed those murders and burned their city.

As we would expect, the King is not going to sit idly by and allow those who oppose him to kill his messengers.  Notice this – it is the murder of his messengers, not the rejection of his invitation that angers the King. 

As punishment for their wicked treatment of his servants, the King is going to destroy them and burn their city.  In this case, God uses the Roman armies as his rod of correction.  He causes them to disburse the Jews and burn Jerusalem, completely destroying it in 70 AD.    

It is worth noting that God is always angered by the shedding of innocent blood.  It made him angry way back in the days of Manasseh (2 Kings 24:4), it angered him during the days of Christ, and it will anger him in the last days of the earth, as the wicked continue to lash out against the righteous before the Lord returns again.

Sadly, the United States has shed a lot of innocent blood.  Unless we repent for all of the innocent babies we have aborted, we are sure to face judgment as well.   

Matthew 22:8-9 – Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding feast is ready, but those invited were not worthy.  Go therefore to the main roads and invite to the wedding feast as many as you find.’ 

Here is an interesting fact:  God did not reject his people, they rejected him! 

This was the same behavior that got them into trouble earlier, as they departed from Egypt.  Back then, God had prepared the Promised Land for his people.  It was sitting there, dripping with milk and honey, just waiting for them to claim it.  But because the people chose to rebel against God, they died wandering around in the desert!

So it is in the gospel dispensation. God has made salvation ready and available to anyone who will accept it.  And anyone who accepts it is automatically made a joint heir with Christ, the owner of the universe, and whatever lies beyond it!  Yet, there will be people who will reject his offer, choosing to experience death as they wander around hell!

Since the original guests (the Jews) were no longer interested in coming to the feast, God sends his messengers out into the streets to invite anyone who will come (Gentiles).

Now remember, parables do not match exactly with life.  In this case, the parable makes it sound like Gentiles were included only because the Jews had rejected the gospel, but that is not true.  From the beginning, God had planned to invite Gentiles to the salvation feast too:

Isaiah 49:6 – And he [God] said, It is too small a thing that you [Jesus] should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and to restore the preserved ones of Israel: I will also give you for a light to the Gentiles, that you may be my salvation unto the ends of the earth.   

So, as Gentiles, we have reason to rejoice because God has also called us to the feast of salvation.  However, we are not better than the Jews; all of us have sinned and come short of the glory of God.  God will one day call the Jews back to himself in a mighty way.

Matthew 22:10 – And those servants went out into the roads and gathered all whom they found, both bad and good.  So the wedding hall was filled with guests.

Imagine that you are traveling (or living) on the street.  All of a sudden, someone comes up to you and gives you an invitation to the feast of a King!  At the very least, that would be unexpected, wouldn’t it?  I dare say that many of us wouldn’t believe it; we would think it was a trick of some kind.  Imagine how astonishing it would be to find out that it was true!  You would be sitting in that hall wondering why you were invited!

The salvation of the Gentiles was just as surprising.  The Jews had long expected a Messiah to come; but the Gentiles entertained no such hopes.  To be admitted to the kingdom of heaven and all of its benefits simply by faith in Jesus was an astonishing thing indeed! 

So God gathers together people of every tribe, tongue and nation to make up the united body of Christ.  Together, we make up his bride.  Together, we will enjoy the benefits of salvation.  Together, we will be with Christ for all of eternity.  

Matthew 22:11-12 – But when the king came in to look at the guests, he saw there a man who had no wedding garment.  And he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding garment?’  And he was speechless.

Thus far, everything has been exceptionally wonderful.  The invitation to salvation and all of its benefits has been freely bestowed upon the good, the bad and the ugly, without exception.  But now we come to a very somber and troubling portion of the story.

The King circulates among his guests, and he immediately sees someone without a wedding garment. 

Notice that the other guests did not recognize that this man was improperly clothed.  To them, he seemed normal and comfortable.  He blended in with the crowd. 

In the parable, this man represents a hypocrite or a false Christian; a person who claims to be a Christian but is not.  He is a person who attends church regularly and knows all the religious lingo of Christians.  He sings the songs at church.  He takes communion.  He puts money in the offering plate.  He may even participate in some good works, but he has never actually given his heart and life to Jesus Christ.  He has not put on/dressed himself in the righteousness of Christ.  He has not adorned himself with holiness. 

Sadly, there are some of these people in the body of Christ right now.  Man looks on the outward appearance, and so to us, these people look fine.  We believe they are true members of the body of Christ and we accept them as such.   

Hebrews 4:12 – For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intents of the heart.

But God looks on the heart.  He immediately knows who truly belongs to him and who is just pretending.  So I invite you, right now, to examine your relationship to God.  Have you truly given your life to him?  Have you asked him to forgive your sin and cleanse you?  Are you following after him every day? 

1 Corinthians 11:31 – For if we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged.

Your eternal relationship to God is not something you want to play around with.  So judge yourself right now and be sure you are right with him today!     

Matthew 22:13 – Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot and cast him into the outer darkness.  In that place, there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

The hypocrite is treated as the criminal trespasser that he is – he is bound and shackled, then cast into a dark prison.  This prison represents hell.  Those who are without Christ will be cast into hell after being judged.  Hell is a real place of great darkness, sorrow and torment. 

Let me repeat that:  Hell is a very real place.  I urge you to seek the forgiveness of Christ right now!

Matthew 22:14 – For many are called, but few are chosen.

Everyone is called/invited to salvation in Jesus Christ.  But some will chose other things over Christ.  Some will be indifferent to the call.  Some will pretend to accept the call, but will not.

What will you do?

Matthew 22:15-16 – Then the Pharisees went and plotted how to entangle him in his words.  And they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians saying, ‘Teacher, we know that you are true and teach the way of God truthfully, and you do not care about anyone’s opinion, for you are not swayed by appearances.’

‘Entangle’ is a very interesting word.  It means to ensnare, as birds are taken by a net.  When snaring birds, you must first lay a hidden trap, then lead or entice the bird into the snare and suddenly spring it upon him.  This is the intention of the people who come to speak to Christ.  Luke tells us that their ultimate goal is to have Jesus arrested:

Luke 20:20 – So they watched him and sent spies, who pretended to be sincere, that they might catch him [Jesus] in something he said, so as to deliver him up to the authority and jurisdiction of the governor.

As you know, the Romans were in power at the time of Christ.  The Romans appointed rulers over the Jews.  These ‘kings’ or rulers were from the Herod family.  This would include Herod the great (who killed all the Jewish boys in Bethlehem 2 years old and under), Herod the tetrarch (the guy who beheaded John the Baptist) and Herod Agrippa (who slew the apostle James and imprisoned Peter). There was also Herod Philip, Archelaus and others. We could go on and on.  Quite a family, weren’t they?

Surprisingly, there was a Jewish political party who supported the ruler ship of the Herods.  They were known as the Herodians.  They often sided with the Sadducees against the Pharisees.  This group was in favor of the Jews paying tribute (tax) money to the Romans.    

On the other hand, we have the Pharisees.  As you know, these Jewish religious leaders had long ago rejected Jesus as the Messiah and did everything in their power to oppose him.  What you might not know is that they were staunchly opposed to the Herodians. 

Why was that?  Well, it so happens that the Pharisees had a real problem with paying taxes to Caesar/Rome.  Their opinion was based on the Old Testament law:

Deuteronomy 17:15 – You may indeed set a king over you whom the Lord your God will choose.  One from along your brothers you shall set as king over you.  You may not put a foreigner over you who is not your brother.

The Pharisees considered the Herods (and the Romans) to be false kings and they despised them.  They would never willingly support the idea of paying tribute (taxes) to them. Of course, they did pay, but only because they were forced to, and they hated it!  Most of the Jewish masses sided with the Pharisees on this particular point.

So here we find a very wicked and malicious union – two groups who normally oppose each other have joined forces to see if they can somehow ensnare Jesus and have him arrested.

Matthew 22:17 – ‘Tell us, then, what you think.  Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?’

Their basic plan is not difficult to understand. They ask Jesus if they should pay money to Rome or not. 

If Jesus sides with the Herodians by saying ‘yes’, it would cause a major uproar among the masses of Jews who did not agree with this view.  Jesus would be portrayed as being an enemy of the rights of the Jewish people.  The Pharisees hoped that this would destroy the people’s faith in Jesus as Messiah.  

If Jesus sides with the Pharisees by saying ‘no’, then the Herodians were ready to accuse him of treason/being an enemy of Caesar.  Either way, Jesus would entrap himself, and they could get rid of him (or so they thought!)  

Matthew 22:18 – But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, ‘Why put me to the test, you hypocrites?’

These evil men come to Jesus as if they were true seekers of knowledge.  They flatter Christ with their words.  They believe that they are setting a very clever, secret trap for Jesus and that they are going to ensnare him. 

But Jesus isn’t fooled at all. He has a divine nature that knows the thoughts and intents of a man’s heart. He immediately perceives their true motives, and correctly addresses them in front of the people as hypocrites. 

Matthew 22:19 – ‘Show me a coin for the tax.’  And they brought him a denarius.

The Jews used two different types of money.  When they paid the temple tax, it was with the Jewish shekel.  But Rome would not accept taxes paid in shekels.  The Jews had to pay in Roman money.  That is why they gave Jesus a denarius, not a shekel.

Matthew 22:20 – And Jesus said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?”

Jesus clearly knew what was on the coin.  But he makes his accusers answer the question anyway. Their own words will convict them.  They came with the intention of ensnaring Jesus, but he has turned the tables on them.  They will get caught in their own trap!

Matthew 22:21 – They said, “Caesar’s.”  Then he said to them, ”Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s.”

It is always the exclusive right of the ruling power to print money.  (If you don’t believe that, try to print some twenty dollar bills and see what happens to you!)  Therefore the use of the Roman coins by the Jews proved that they (the Romans) were masters over the Jews.  Thus, there should be no debate about the tax.  Caesar has stamped his image on earthly coins and laid claim to things that pertain to his earthly kingdom.  So give him what belongs to him.

  By the same token, God has stamped his image upon the hearts, souls and minds of men and women.  We should therefore give God what belongs to him – ourselves – and devote our lives to his spiritual kingdom.

Matthew 22:22 – When they heard it, they marveled.  And they left him and went away.

God foils the plans of his enemies and disgraces them as well.  They thought they could defeat God, but his perfect wisdom sent them away crowned with shame, not victory.

Jesus has answered perfectly.  Caesar is satisfied (he gets his money), God is glorified (He is to be honored and served by the people) and the people are edified (they have clear guidance and peace of mind on this contentious political issue).

Let me offer you some encouragement:

The parable of the wedding feast shows us that there will be some church-going people who don’t make it into heaven, because their hearts are not right with God.  Attending church, or communing with nature or meditation or good works are not paths to salvation.    

The only way to be in right standing with God and have your name written in the Lamb’s Book of Life is to ask Jesus to apply his shed blood to your sins.  You need to ask Jesus to forgive you, and cleanse you from sin.

John 14:6 – Jesus said unto him, “I am the way, the truth and the life: no man comes unto the Father, but by me.”

So I encourage everyone reading this post to honestly examine themselves.  Make sure your heart is right before God.  If there is any doubt, stop right now and ask Jesus to forgive you.  Tell him that you want to accept his salvation invitation.   

Let me offer you some relief:

The paying of taxes to Caesar was a really divisive issue back in the day of Christ.  People recognized that this political issue also had spiritual implications.  In the end, Jesus tells them that the important thing is for them to respect the authority God has placed over them and to serve God with all their hearts, minds, souls and strength.

I think this answer can offer relief to many of us today.  The upcoming elections in America seem to have spiritual implications as well, and many people are consumed with worry about the outcome.  Certainly, we should be diligent to examine the issues, be informed and vote for the best candidate, but we also need to remember, that no matter who is elected to the position of authority in the white house, GOD IS STILL ON THE THRONE! 

God will decide the future of America.  We can aid him by repenting and praying for our nation.  We can take action as the Holy Spirit directs us (including voting), but our ultimate trust and allegiance belong to God.  So let’s get serious with our Lord and Savior.  Let’s serve him with all our hearts mind, soul and strength!  

Let me offer you some strength:

For all of our lives, certain things have been constant and unchanging, like jobs, health care, schooling, police assistance, sports, travel etc.  But right now, God is allowing those things to be shaken, shifted and changed.  He is showing us that we cannot trust in these things.  I believe He is calling us to depend on Him, not the world around us.  He is drawing us to a closer relationship with Him. 

This may seem very scary and troubling.  But let me assure you that God knew all about you before you were born.  Long ago He saw the circumstances that you and I are facing today.  Keep in mind that God never sets you up to fail.  He sets you up for victory through Jesus.  So whatever you are currently facing, He will give you the grace and strength to walk through it.   

They key is to keep your focus on God.  Don’t let worry or fear of the future consume you.  I urge you to be in constant fellowship with God all day long, through prayer, worship and meditation on the word.  Let God be your source of strength.

Isaiah 12:2-6 – Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and will not be afraid; for the Lord God is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation.  With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.  And you will say in that day: ‘Give thanks to the Lord, call upon his name, make known his deeds among the peoples, proclaim that his name is exalted.  Sing praises the Lord, for he has done gloriously; let this be made known in all the earth.  Shout, and sing for joy, O inhabitants of Zion, for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel’.

Matthew, Chapter 21, Part 3

Matthew 21:33 – Hear another parable.  There was a master of a house who planted a vineyard and put a fence around it and dug a winepress in it and built a tower and leased it to tenants, and went into another country.

Jesus goes on to give yet another parable.  It has at least two purposes.  What do you suppose they are?  Think about your answer as we examine this passage.     

The parable starts by saying there was a master or proprietor of an estate.  This means that he had the legal right or exclusive title to everything in that estate.  He is the owner of it all, whether or not it is actually in his possession. 

This owner goes to an incredible amount of time and effort to create an amazing vineyard.  He plants only the choicest of vines. 

He encloses the vineyard with a fence.  This is probably not a fence like you and I typically think of.  Often in this part of the world ‘fences’ are actually hedges of thick, thorny plants.  These were more effective in keeping raiders out than the common wooden or metal fences we use today.   

The tower was a very large, tall edifice.  We would think of it as a guard tower.  From this position, the keeper of the vineyard could see trouble coming from a long way off.  He would be able to protect the vineyard from anything that wanted to destroy or ravage the crops.  This (along with the thorny hedge) was more than sufficient to protect the crop from thieves and animals.

This particular vineyard also contains a winepress.  Back in this time, a winepress had two parts.  There was a large receptacle cut into the rocky side of a hill.  This is where the ripe grapes were placed.  The receptacle had a trough leading to a vat.  A man would climb into the receptacle and tread the grapes with his feet.  As he crushed them, the juice would flow into the vat. 

This was often referred to as ‘treading the grapes’.  The person who did so would often stain their clothing with grape juice, which sometimes gave the appearance of being covered in blood.   

All things considered, we see that no expense was spared by the owner in creating this vineyard.  He did not ‘cut any corners’ or leave anything out.  It was an amazing, valuable, top-of-the-line operation. 

At this point, the owner leases the vineyard to some people.

There were commonly three different types of leases back then.  In the first type, the lessees received a portion or a percentage of the produce for their payment.  For instance, they might get 75% of the crop while the owner gets 25%. 

A second type of lease was where the lessee simply paid a monetary fee to the owner at the time of the contract, and then kept all of the harvest.  

The third type was where the lessee was required to give the owner a certain, specific amount of the harvest first, while they kept whatever was left over.  For example, they owner might want 1000 bushels of grapes.  The lessee must give him this first as payment, then they would keep whatever was harvested over and above that amount.

Such leases could be entered into for a single year (season) or for life.  In some cases, they could even be hereditary (the lease could be passed from father to son).  In this parable, the third type of lease seems to be indicated.  But regardless of which type of lease was used, the master is still the owner and as such, he will expect a harvest or payment of some kind.  

 And so, leaving them in charge, the owner departs on a journey to a far country.

Matthew 21:34 – When the season for fruit drew near, he sent his servants to the tenants to get his fruit.  

The owner was not making an unreasonable or unexpected request.  It had been established from the beginning of the lease, that payment would be due. 

So let’s begin to unravel the meaning of this parable. 

Who is the owner or master?

If you said ‘God’, you are correct.

What does the vineyard represent? Why?

The vineyard represents God’s chosen people. At that time, the vineyard consisted exclusively of the nation of Israel. Clearly, God had specifically ‘cultivated’ this nation as his own people. He had plans to bless and prosper them; thus he expected a great harvest from his vineyard. God valued them highly just as the master valued his vineyard.

The vineyard represents God’s chosen people.  At that time, the vineyard consisted exclusively of the nation of Israel.  Clearly, God had specifically ‘cultivated’ this nation as his own people.  He had plans to bless and prosper them; thus he expected a great harvest from his vineyard.  God valued them highly just as the master valued his vineyard. 

Jesus may be using Isaiah 5:1-7 as the basis for his parable. 

Isaiah 5:1-2 –  Now will I sing to my well-beloved a song of my beloved regarding his vineyard. My well-beloved has a vineyard on a very fruitful hill: And he dug it, and gathered out its stones, and planted it with the choicest vine, and built a tower in the midst of it, and also made a winepress in it: and he expected that it should bring forth grapes, and it brought forth wild grapes.

Who are the tenants or lessees of the vineyard?

They are the religious leaders of Israel – the chief priests, the Pharisees, the Scribes, the Sanhedrin and formerly the kings.

God had called and charged these leaders with the care of his people.  They were to work among God’s vineyard (people) by watering (teaching), pruning (correcting and calling to repentance), fertilizing (preparing them to receive the Messiah), etc.  In short, they were to take care of the people in such a way that they produced spiritual fruit for God.

What was the purpose of the hedge of thorns and the watchtower?

These represent the means of protection that God established for the people. The religious leaders were to keep watch over the people; they were responsible for manning the watch tower.

They should have sounded an alarm when they saw idolatry creeping into the vineyard.  They should have sounded an alarm when the Jews intermarried with the Canaanites.  They should have sounded an alarm when the kings made treaties with Egypt.  They should have noticed when the people drifted further and further into works of the law, instead of relationship with God.   

In short, they should have seen the attacks of Satan coming in the distance and provided spiritual guidance/protection for the nation.  But they didn’t.  They failed in their duty to be a watchman over the nation.  In fact, they were the number one cause of the people going astray!

The hedge that surrounded the vineyard/nation was maintained by God, as long as they remained true to him.  However, when the people rebelled against God, he allowed the hedge to fail and Israel’s enemies ravaged her.

Matthew 21:35-36 – And the tenants took his servants and beat one, killed another, and stoned another.  Again he sent other servants, more than the first.  And they did the same to them.  

This part of the parable tells us one of the main reasons why Jesus gave this parable, at this time, in this place.  Who are the servants?  What is the reason for the parable?

The servants represent the true prophets and messengers of God.  God sent the nation of Israel prophet after prophet; warning after warning as he tried to get them to remain true to him.  He did everything he could do to bring them to a place of maturity where they could produce spiritual fruit.  But the leaders of Israel did not embrace the messengers of God.  Time after time, they rejected, humiliated and killed them.

Isaiah 5:3-4 – And now, O inhabitants of Jerusalem, and men of Judah, judge, I pray you, between me and my vineyard.  What could have been done more to my vineyard, that I have not done in it? Why, when I expected that it should bring forth grapes, it brought forth wild grapes? 

This was acutely true at the time when Jesus gave this parable.  God had sent John the Baptist to testify to the coming of the Messiah.  Yet, the rulers rejected both him and his ministry.   They were in rebellion to God, just as the tenants were in rebellion to the master of the vineyard.  Just as the tenants had set themselves up as the dictators of the vineyard, so had the religious leaders set themselves up as dictators over Israel, seizing power, adoration, authority and glory that did not belong to them.  They wanted to usurp God’s authority and be the masters of Israel!

Sadly, the fault did not lie completely with the leaders.  The Jewish nation as a whole had often rejected the prophets of God as well. 

So, once again, Jesus is being merciful specifically to the religious leaders that are confronting him, and more generally, the whole nation.  Instead of rejecting them forever, he warns them about their rebellion and gives them another chance to repent and turn from their sin. 

Matthew 21:37 – Finally, he sent his son to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’

In the parable, who is the Son of the master?

Of course you are correct! It is Jesus!

Please keep in mind that the parables have limits.  Each and every circumstance in a parable does not exactly translate to a spiritual truth.  In this case, God was not in any way ignorant of the fact that Jesus was going to be rejected and crucified by men.  Clearly, God knew this from the beginning.  So don’t be confused by the attitude of the master in the parable.  The rebellion of the Jewish nation (particularly the religious leaders) is the main focus of the parable.  

Matthew 21:38-39 – But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, ‘This is the heir.  Come, let us kill him and have his inheritance.’   And they took him and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him.

Obviously, this is a prophetic declaration about Jesus’ imminent crucifixion. Here we find the second reason for the parable. Did you find it?

Jesus once again prophesies his own crucifixion by the Jews. Remember, he has recently ridden into the city and accepted praises from the people extolling him as the Messiah. If he suddenly dies without any warning, the faith of the people will crumble. They will think they have been deceived. However, when Jesus prophesies his own death, it reveals his divinity and assures the people that this was all part of his master plan. They have not been deceived; he is the Messiah he claims to be.

Matthew 21:40 – When therefore the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?

Here, Jesus asks the rulers to be involved in the parable.  Using their own wisdom and knowledge, he asks them how the tenants of the vineyard should be judged.  At this point, one can only surmise that they did not recognize themselves as the tenants!

Matthew 21:41 – They said to him, “He will put those wretches to a miserable death and let out the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the fruits in their seasons.”

The Jews themselves bear witness that the punishment they are about to endure is a just and righteous one.  They have approved/affirmed their own judgment!    

Isaiah 5:5-6 – And now; I will tell you what I will do to my vineyard: I will take away its hedge, and it shall be eaten up; and break down its wall, and it shall be trampled down:  And I will lay it waste: it shall not be pruned, nor dug; but there shall come up briers and thorns: I will also command the clouds that they rain no rain upon it.

Thus, God would very soon take leadership the ‘vineyard’ away from the Jews and give control of it to the Gentiles, who would honor God by producing fruit.  Clearly, the Gentiles have been the main herald of the gospel message for most of this dispensation.

Not only that, but God also changed the nature or makeup of the vineyard.  It was no longer exclusively made up of Jews.  God choose to graft the Gentiles into his vineyard/kingdom as well (Romans chapter 11)!  

What a very great honor and privilege for you and I!  We have the opportunity to expand and tend to the vineyard of God (the church).  How are you contributing to this great work?

Matthew 21:42 – Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures: ‘the stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes’?

Here Jesus makes his case another way, this time with a building metaphor.  He makes reference to Psalms 118:22:

Psalm 118:22 – The stone which the builders rejected has become the head stone of the corner.

Jesus as the cornerstone of the church is a much used metaphor in the New Testament (Acts 4:11, Romans 9:33, Ephesians 2:20, 1 Peter 2:7, etc). 

The cornerstone is a block of great importance when constructing a building because it is the thing that binds together the sides of the building.  Thus, Jesus is the chief cornerstone that binds the church (Jews and Gentiles) together. 

The cornerstone is also the foundation upon which the building rests. So Jesus is also the foundation of the kingdom of God.

The chief priests and religious leaders were the general contractors of God’s original building, the Jewish nation.  But the building was doomed to fail, because it did not have the correct foundation; the Jews rejected Christ as the cornerstone (Matthew 7:24-27).  They would not allow him a place in their edifice.  They cast him aside as being unfit for their plans.

But mankind’s plans cannot negate the plans and purposes of God!  The Jews mistakenly thought that since they were God’s chosen people, God would not have a church if they were cut off.  They did not realize that when God uses mankind to bear his name and reflect his glory it is not because God needs them, or is beholden to them.  It is because he wants to bless them and have relationship with them.  However, if they are unwilling to partner with God, he will move on.  Remember, if people keep silent, the very rocks will cry out in praise to God!  

The Jew’s rejection of Christ did not adversely affect God one little bit.  However, it did have an effect upon the Jewish nation.  Through their rejection of Christ, they brought judgment upon themselves and their nation.

This is a frightful truth.  If God did not spare the Jewish nation when they rejected him, how can the United States of America escape judgment?  We have certainly rejected Jesus as blatantly as the Jews of old!  We need to pray for repentance for our nation, don’t you agree?

As a side note, consider this:  the Jews had no doubt read this scripture (Psalms 118) plenty of times.  The problem was that they failed to meditate on it.  Meditation is what takes ‘head knowledge’ and makes it ‘heart knowledge’.  Do you meditate on the scriptures, or just read them?

Matthew 21:43 – Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people producing its fruits.

The Jews were punished by the destruction of their temple and their beloved city of Jerusalem in AD 70.  It would be a very long time indeed before the Jews had a nation again!

But the saddest part of their punishment was that the privilege of trusting in Christ and spreading the gospel message was taken from them.  As we already mentioned, this blessing would now be given to a nation who would bring forth its fruits – the Gentiles. 

Matthew 21:44 – And the one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces, and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him.

The Jews were unable to accept Jesus as the Messiah.  In other words, they ‘stumbled’ on this truth.  It threw them for a loop.  It tripped them up, and they ‘fell’ on the stone/doctrine of Christ.  This caused them (the nation) to be broken.  We have already discussed how the nation was judged.  It was indeed broken into pieces and the people scattered!

However, there is an even worse judgment set aside for the people who have the cornerstone fall on them and crush them.  This represents the people who reject Jesus as the Messiah after he has been raised from the dead and glorified. 

Jesus is the cornerstone.

We can understand the Jews being confused, because they were the first generation to deal with the idea of Jesus as the Son of God.  But now, there is no excuse for anyone to reject Christ.  His message has been proclaimed worldwide.  The scriptures are available in practically every language in every nation.  The Holy Spirit is actively at work on this planet, convicting men of sin and drawing them to Christ.  There are innumerable witnesses to the grace and mercy of God. 

So we see that whoever opposes Christ after he is exalted and the Holy Spirit is poured out, and the full revelation of the gospel is known, will bring upon himself unavoidable destruction and eternal damnation.  [Don’t be that guy!]

Matthew 21:45-46 – When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they perceived that he was speaking about them.  And although they were seeking to arrest him, they feared the crowds, because they held him to be a prophet.

Suddenly, the dull minds of the religious leaders comprehend that Jesus is pronouncing judgment against them!  They suddenly realize that they are the unfit tenants and the murderers of the master’s son.  They are the builders that rejected the chief cornerstone. 

They are so enraged at this, they would have violently seized Jesus and killed him, but they were restrained by their knowledge that the crowd would never allow it.  Jesus was surrounded by his own disciples and an admiring crowd.  Thus, the leaders must fall back once again to treachery and strategy in their efforts to discredit or kill Jesus.

How sad that the message of mercy that Jesus speaks to them only incites anger and hatred in their hearts.  Because of the hardness of their hearts, they are driven further and further from God, rather than closer to him.  

Let me offer you some encouragement: 

In my opinion, there is clear evidence that our nation has rejected Jesus as Lord just as surely as the Jews did back in the time of Christ. 

If this is the case, how long will it be before the stone falls and crushes us?  There is still time to repent and change.  But I believe it will take a true effort on the part of the church.  We need to be more holy and righteous.  We need to be different than the world.  I encourage you to spend time in true prayer and repentance for our nation!

Let me offer you some relief:

All throughout this chapter, we see the mercy of God.  God could have just struck down all the Jews because of their unbelief and rejection of his Son, but he didn’t.  He patiently allowed each person to make a decision.  I am sure that some of those who rejected him in the beginning had a change of heart later on, and accepted Jesus as Lord and Savior.  

Perhaps you have some people in your family who have rejected Christ.  I know I do, and it can be very troubling to think that they might be lost for eternity.  But let me offer you some relief – there is still hope.  Until they die or Jesus returns, they still have time to repent.  So pray for them, and continue to be a witness for Christ in both word and action.  

Let me offer you some strength:

God has called each one of us to be workers in his kingdom.  Some encourage, some have prayer ministries, some minister to the needy, some preach, some teach, some give, etc.  What has God called you to do?  Whatever it is, be sure to do it with all your strength!  Be faithful and committed to the task that Jesus has assigned to you.  God sees your service in his vineyard and he will one day return for you, bringing his reward with him!

Matthew, Chapter 21, Part 2

Matthew 21:18 – In the morning, as he was returning to the city, he became hungry.

The main events of Matthew chapter 21 are also recorded in Mark chapter 11.  When we read the two narratives, it seems like there is a time discrepancy, but there really is not.  The difference is in the method of recording events. 

In Western culture, it is our practice to always relate events in chronological order (This happened first, followed by that, etc).  However, in the Middle Eastern culture, that is not the case.  Events are often grouped together if the author thinks they are most important or related in some way.  This is the case with Matthew chapter 21. 

So Matthew is grouping relevant events together, but we are reading them with the belief that they are listed chronologically.  This leaves us with the impression that on Sunday Jesus made his triumphal entry and immediately cleansed the temple before departing to Bethany for the night.  Then, on his way to Jerusalem Monday morning, he cursed the fig tree and within seconds, the disciples noticed that it was dead/dying.  While the events are all true, this is probably not the actual timeline in which they occurred.   

If we want to see a chronological account, we need to look at Mark chapter 11.  There Mark tells us that Jesus made his triumphal entry on Sunday.  After healing and teaching in the temple that day, he returned back to Bethany.  On Monday morning, he returned to Jerusalem and cursed the fig tree on his way to cleansing the temple.  That night, they returned to Bethany (or at least left Jerusalem). Tuesday morning, on their way into the city, the disciples noticed that the fig tree was withered away, and this opens up the door for Jesus to teach them about faith and prayer.

Matthew 21:19 – And seeing a fig tree by the wayside, he went to it and found nothing on it but only leaves.  And he said to it, “May no fruit ever come from you again!” and the fig tree withered at once.

This tree was at the side of the public roadway.  Therefore, it was community property and anyone travelling on the road could eat the fruit. 

So, imagine you are walking down the road.  It is very early in the morning, probably before 6 am.  You are hungry.  [Sadly, there is no indication that coffee was available!]  Your eye naturally focuses on what is in the distance.  You spot a certain fig tree, standing out from all the rest.  While the other trees are bare and appear dormant, this one is in full leaf, appearing healthy, robust and luxuriant.  By its appearance, the tree gives you a hope or promise of fruit.  Naturally, you head straight for it, only to find… nothing.  Absolutely nothing!  

How would you feel if this happened to you?  Would you feel like you were cheated or deceived?  How would you express your anger or disappointment?   

When Jesus sees that there is no fruit, he pronounces judgment on the tree.  This does not mean that he lost his temper and yelled/cursed in a fit of rage.  He simply spoke to the tree, sentencing it to perpetual barrenness.  Does this seem odd to you?  Why would Jesus do such a thing?

Think of it this way – instead of telling a parable with words, Jesus was demonstrating a parable with his actions.  If that is the case, what is the parable and what is its meaning?

The obvious first answer is that the fig tree represents the nation of Israel.  Israel was separate or distinct from the other nations (trees) around it.  While other nations were spiritually bare or dormant, Israel was full of ‘leaves’ that indicated outward devotion to God.  Indeed, Israel had the law/covenant, the prophets, the promises, the rituals and the sacrifices.  For all appearances, she was profoundly religious. 

That outward devotion gave the appearance of a people/nation that was healthy, vibrant and luxuriant.  Any nation like that would obviously contain fruits of righteousness and salvation, right?  

But we find that underneath all that outward devotion, Israel was spiritually fruitless and barren.  She had replaced her relationship to God with works.  Having rejected the Messiah, she had nothing to give anyone in need of spiritual sustenance/food.  Therefore, Jesus pronounced a judgment on her.  She will henceforth be spiritually withered and barren. 

The somewhat less obvious meaning of this parable is that it applies to us.  That’s right. It applies to you and I!  In fact, this parable is a solemn warning to every Christian!

Religious activity can be divided into two groups – leaves and fruit:

  • Leaves are showy forms of religious activity while fruit is true inward change.
  • Leaves are head knowledge, while fruit is heart knowledge. 
  • Leaves are ‘works’ while fruit is relationship. 
  • Leaves offer the sinner a false promise of spiritual reconciliation to God via self righteousness, while a believer with true fruit is clothed with the righteousness of Christ. 
  • Leaves are nothing more than hay, wood and stubble which will burn up in the fires of testing and trial.  Fruit is like gold and silver, which the fire of adversity refines.

The ‘leaves’ of religious works may fool people, but they won’t fool God.  So…what kind of tree are you?

Matthew 21:20 – When the disciples saw it, they marveled saying, “How did the fig tree wither at once?” 

Jesus is now in the last week of his life on earth.  During the last three years, his disciples had seen literally hundreds if not thousands of miracles.  The lame/crippled were walking.  The blind could once again see and the deaf could hear.  Evil spirits were cast out of people and the dead were raised to life.  Storms were stilled with just a word.  Food was multiplied to feed thousands of people. 

After seeing all of these astonishing miracles, you wouldn’t think the disciples would be amazed by a dead tree, but they are.  They are so amazed they actually asked Jesus how he pulled this off.   

Matthew 21:21 -22 – And Jesus answered them, “Truly, I say to you, if you have faith and do not doubt, you will not only do what has been done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ it will happen.  And whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith.”

In Jewish culture, ‘moving a mountain’ or ‘plucking up a mountain by the roots’  was a proverbial expression that denotes overcoming the greatest of difficulties or solving the greatest perplexities.

Jesus is telling his disciples that nothing is impossible with God.  No difficulty is too hard for God to overcome.  No problem is so perplexing that God cannot solve it.  What God has promised shall certainly be performed, when we ask in faith, believing that God will act on our behalf. 

This is an amazing promise directly from Jesus and it is available to every believer in Christ.   There’s just one problem – we seldom experience it in our own lives.  For most of us, it is a promise that remains just that – a promise and not a reality.

If you attend the Kipton Community Church or watch it online, you know that this is a topic that Pastor Lee has spoken about recently.  He is leading our fellowship on a journey to discover why we don’t see this promise come to pass more often in our lives.

I certainly don’t have all the answers to this question.  However, this is a good opportunity for us to look at some basic principles in our study of this topic.  

In these verses, Jesus mentions prayer, faith and believing (not doubting). 

Prayer:   As a Christian, you are familiar with prayer.  Prayer is speaking to God.  During prayer we ask God to move on our behalf.  We take time to praise and worship him.  We allow time and opportunity for him to speak back to us.  Because each of us is a unique individual, our prayers will also be unique.  Don’t worry so much about that – God loves variety!  The main point I want to emphasize here is that prayer is talking to God.

This means that talking your problems over with your mom or your best friend is not prayer.  Spending your entire day mulling over a problem is not prayer.  Placing your problems on social media and getting feedback or support from all your followers is not prayer.  Getting advice from a professional of some kind is not prayer.

Sadly, we sometimes tend to substitute these things for true prayer. Why is that?

One reason might be that deep down, we don’t believe prayer really works.  I admit this sounds shocking at first, but just pause and think about this with me. 

  • If we really believed in the power of prayer, then prayer would be our first response to trouble, not our last resort. 
  • If we really believed in the power of prayer, we would spend a good amount of time praying.  But how many Christians have trouble praying for even 30 minutes a day? 
  • If we really believed in the power of prayer, we would spend more time praying and interceding for lost souls than we do trying to find the latest gimmick to get people in the church doors.
  •  If we really believed in the power of prayer, we would cover everything we do in prayer, rather than relying on our own abilities.

I propose that many Christians aren’t able to see mountains moved in their lives because they simply have a poor prayer life.  You may certainly disagree with me, but you have to at least admit that this is a possibility.

The good news is that you can strengthen/improve your prayer life.  The more time you spend in prayer, the more comfortable you become.  The more you praise him, the more faith rises up within you.  The more time you spend with God, the better you will hear him speak back to you.   I encourage you to take an honest account of your prayer life and see what you can do to improve it.  

Faith:  Faith, like prayer, is a huge topic.  We could discuss different aspects of faith every day for a year and not run out of things to talk about. However, today we are focusing on the topic of faith as it relates to mountain moving prayers.

The main point I want to emphasize here is that faith cannot stand alone; it is dependent upon a framework of promise. 

For instance, have you ever prayed and asked God for healing?  What gave you the assurance/confidence/faith that God would heal you?  Because he promised that he would, right? 

Exodus 15:26 – …I am the Lord that heals you.

Isaiah 53:5 – But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.     

So when we pray for healing, we exhibit faith in God’s promise to heal us.  We have confidence that God will do as he promised and we will be healed.

Do you need wisdom?  In the scriptures, God promises us that he will give us wisdom when we ask:

James 1:5 – If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.

So when you pray, you can have faith that God will grant you wisdom if you ask for it, because he has promised to do so.

The opposite is also true.  Have you ever prayed to win the lottery?  How did that work out for you?  Why didn’t God answer that prayer?  One reason (there may be others) is that there is no scriptural basis for expecting God to give you the winning power ball numbers.  He never promised to do that.    

So, in order to pray in faith and move mountains, your prayer must be resting on a promise of God.  This means you must know what the scriptures say; you must be reading the Word of God so that you know what he has promised. 

Romans 10:17 – Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God.    

Reading and meditating on the scriptures produces faith in what God has promised. 

Let me ask you this – Is it possible that some Christians don’t have answers to mountain moving prayers because they are ignorant of the promises contained in the Bible?  Do we have some vague idea of what we think God has said, or do we know for sure?  Can we quote it exactly?  Do we spend time absorbing and meditating on the word?  If not, we will certainly not experience answers to mountain moving prayers.

Believing:   The main thing I want to emphasize here is that “believing” is a state of heart and mind which allows us to receive the answer to our prayer.  It includes humility, hope, and dependence on God alone.  We must not only believe that God CAN move mountains for us, but that he WILL do it, and he will do it FOR US. 

Let’s suppose that your car is in the repair shop.  You ask your best friend to give you a ride to work.  Do you believe that they will do so?  Of course you do!  Why do you believe them?  Because of the relationship you have with them.  You have trusted them many times in the past.  They are reliable.  There is no doubt that you can trust them this time too.  If your friend says they will pick you up, you know/believe they will.

It is the same with God.  If your relationship is close, it will be easy for you to believe that God will honor his promises, and you can easily receive the answer to your prayer.  If your relationship is cold or distant, it will be hard for you to believe and hard for you to receive.

So let me ask you this – Is it possible that Christians don’t receive answers to mountain moving prayers because we don’t believe?  Is it possible that we don’t believe because our relationship with God is not as close as it could be?

Again, I would like to reiterate that I do not have all the answers as to why we don’t routinely experience answers to mountain moving prayers in our lives. 

What I do know is that faith, belief and prayer are required in order for God to do the impossible for you (or through you).  So we can start by examining these three basic aspects of our lives and making changes where needed.

Once we have the basics firmly in place, we can then examine other factors that hinder our prayers.  These include things like asking according to God’s will, harboring unforgiveness, God’s timing, man’s free will, etc.       

Matthew 21:23 – And when he entered the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came up to him as he was teaching, and said, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?”

In the time of Christ, the position of teacher/instructor of the law was conferred upon a man by the scribes, with the approval of the Sanhedrin.  This was done after years of careful study under a teacher endorsed and recognized by them.  After the training period, the new teacher went through a solemn ceremony in which he was given a key to the room in the temple that contained the law.  This was an outward symbol that he had the right to interpret the law and to teach. 

Here we find Jesus back in the temple, teaching the people without the approval of the scribes.  As we have seen throughout the book of Matthew, this infuriates the religious leaders because it undermines the false authority and positions of power they have worked so hard to build for themselves.  

Many times they have tried to debate doctrine with Jesus, but he always proves them wrong and they wind up looking foolish in front of the people.  They have even tried to cleverly (or so they thought) trap him, but again in every instance his divine wisdom puts them to shame.

They are further infuriated that Jesus ‘went over their heads’ when he cast the traders out of the temple.  After all, they were the keepers of the temple, not Jesus! If they approved of the traders, what right did he have to cast them out?  And worst of all, Jesus openly accepted the acclamations of the people that he was the Messiah.  This was something they just could not tolerate!  

So in this instance, they try a new tactic to discredit Jesus.  They raise doubts about his calling and commission.  They demand to know who he had trained under, and who endorsed him as teacher.

Now, had they done this with the motivation of honestly seeking the truth, it wouldn’t have been a bad thing.  Any man who began to meddle with the honor of the priesthood or the prophetic office had better be appointed by God.  How much more one who claimed the title of Messiah!

However, their motivation is something quite different.  They earnestly desire to put Jesus to death, and they want to do it according to the law.  So they are searching for any infraction or breach of the law which would allow them to discredit and kill Jesus.  This is why they call his commission into question.

Matthew 21:24 – Jesus answered them, “I also will ask you one question, and if you tell me the answer, then I also will tell you by what authority I do these things.

Jesus was not under any obligation to answer their questions.  His works, his teaching and his fulfillment of prophesy all confirmed that he was the Messiah, commissioned by the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. As the Son of God, they had no right to question him, and Jesus would not submit to their authority.

Matthew 21:25-26 – The baptism of John, from where did it come?  From heaven or from man?”  And they discussed it among themselves, saying, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say to us, “Why then did you not believe him?”   But if we say, ‘From man,’ we are afraid of the crowd for they all hold that John was a prophet.

Now the religious leaders have a problem.  If they acknowledge John’s mission to be the forerunner of the Messiah, it would obligate them to acknowledge that Jesus was the Christ, exactly as he claimed to be.  John testified more than once that Jesus was the Messiah.

John 1:29 – The next day John saw Jesus coming unto him, and said, Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.  

However if they deny John’s authority they feared that the crowd would stone them.  The common people believed that John was a prophet sent by God.  Great numbers of them had submitted to his baptism.  And his death did not hurt his reputation one bit – he was held in high esteem long after Herod removed his head from his shoulders.  

Matthew 21:27 – So they answered Jesus, “We do not know.”  And he said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.”

The only safe answer for these petty tyrants is not to answer!  What great lengths the leaders go to in making themselves spiritually blind, deaf and dumb!  

Matthew 21:28-29 – What do you think?  A man had two sons.  And he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’  And he answered, ‘I will not,’ but afterward he changed his mind and went.

Jesus now gives this very short parable in order that the religious leaders might feel some conviction about their attitudes and actions.  If they will allow themselves to be convicted, it will lead them to repentance.

The first son seems to be wicked for he refuses to go and work for his father.  This son represents the publicans and harlots who were the ‘wicked sinners’ of that day. 

At first they refused to do the work that God requires of them.  However, upon hearing Christ’s message and seeing his miracles, they repented and believed.  In the words of the parable, they ‘changed their mind and went’. 

Matthew 21:30 – And he went to the other son and said the same.  And he answered, “I go, sir,’ but did not go. 

The second son is represented as a hypocrite, who says the right thing, but does another.  This clearly represents the Jewish leaders.  They gave lip service to the father (God), but did not do as he asked of them. 

They pretended to have great concern for the church as if they were its faithful and honest guardians.  But in reality, they obstinately opposed Christ, denied his miracles and eventually lobbied to have him crucified.

Matthew 21:31 – Which of the two did the will of his father?  They said, “The first.”  Jesus said to them, “Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes go into the kingdom of God before you.

Thus, the worst and vilest sinners entered the kingdom of God before the religious leaders because they had no illusions about their spiritual state.  They did not trust in their own righteousness; they were sinners and they admitted it.  Thus, they were open to conviction and repentance, which lead to eternal life.   

However, the proud religious leaders continued to rely on their own righteousness.  They were blinded by vain hope and confidence in their own works.  They refused to be convicted of sin, and were thus unable to come to repentance.  They forfeited eternal life. 

Matthew 21:32 – For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him.  And even when you saw it, you did not afterward change your minds and believe him.

When John preached the message of repentance, the publicans and prostitutes embraced his message.  Their hearts were prepared to receive salvation through the forgiveness of their sins.  They found eternal life and reconciliation to God.   

Sadly, the religious leaders witnessed this, yet they were not provoked to jealously by it.  In fact, they were completely unmoved by the life altering changes that the gospel produced in their Jewish brothers and sisters.

We can only hope that this parable stuck in the minds of the religious leaders and eventually produced some repentance. 

Let me offer you some encouragement:  Today’s lesson involves some teaching about answered prayer.  Prayer is a vast and wonderful topic of study and discussion. In fact so much has been written about it, you probably couldn’t even read it all in your lifetime! 

Don’t be overwhelmed by the volume of material out there.  The best way to find answers to prayer is to get alone with God.  I strongly encourage you to spend time with God in prayer.  Just do what seems natural to you.  God greatly desires to fellowship with you, and he will meet you there.  If you are not receiving answers to mounting moving prayers, ask God to reveal the problem to you.   

Let me offer you some relief:  Jesus tells us that the vilest sinners were eligible to come into the kingdom of heaven, once they repented.  Maybe you were like that at one time.  But this should give you some relief – there was nothing that was so bad that it could not be forgiven by the blood of Christ. 

You can be sure that the enemy, Satan, will try to bring your past up as often as possible.  He is trying to make you feel guilty and ashamed.  If he can do that, he will affect your relationship with God, and possibly halt your ministry.  Don’t fall into that trap!  Once you are forgiven, your past becomes a testimony to the power and grace of God!  So don’t be ashamed of where you came from.  

Let me offer you some strength:  This lesson speaks about bearing fruits of righteousness.  And it is true that all Christians should bear fruit.  But keep in mind that in the natural realm, fruit does not suddenly spring up overnight.  It starts out small, then grows and matures slowly over time. 

What fruit is the Holy Spirit growing in your life?  Don’t be impatient or don’t be frustrated if progress is sometimes slow.  The Holy Spirit will continue to mold you into the image of Christ until he returns, or calls you home!

Matthew, Chapter 21, Part 1

Matthew 21:1 – Now when they drew near to Jerusalem and came to Bethphage, to the Mount of Olives, then Jesus sent two disciples…

Jesus and the twelve are heading to Jerusalem from Jericho, a distance of about 19 miles.  Obviously, this took multiple days.  What do you think they talked about while walking all those miles?  I am sure they spoke of ordinary things like the weather, and current events.  Maybe they joked a bit or sung some songs.  In between, I am sure that Jesus shared spiritual wisdom and truth with them, and they had a chance to ask him questions. 

On the surface, that sounds amazing – walking along with Jesus for a few hours, just fellowshipping and asking questions. You might be tempted to envy the disciples, but before you do, consider this: You actually have it better than the disciples, because Jesus is with you ALL of the time and you can speak to him at any moment!

So don’t wait! Begin to speak to him right now, and develop a spiritual ear to hear him answer you!

Most of this 19 mile journey was either through desert or woods filled with caves and rocks.  It was indeed a fit place for robbers to ambush people (Luke 10:30).

Let’s talk about the Mount of Olives (or Olivet) for a moment.  We find it mentioned a great deal in scripture.  It is named for the obvious reason – an abundance of olive trees grew there.  This place was located about a ‘Sabbath day’s journey’ (2 miles) from Jerusalem (Acts 1:12).  On the west side of this mountain was the Garden of Gethsemane (Luke 22:39).  On the eastern side were the villages of Bethphage and Bethany. 

What do you remember about Bethany?

The name means ‘house of unripe figs’.   It was the hometown of Lazarus, whom Jesus raised from the dead (John 11:1).  Since Mary and Martha lived with their brother Lazarus, it was their home too.  It was also the place where Mary anointed Jesus with the expensive oil of spikenard against the day of his death (John 12:1-7).

The Mount of Olives is about 700 feet high and overlooks the city of Jerusalem.  From its summit, nearly the entire city of Jerusalem can be seen. 

Now that we have an idea of their physical location, let’s consider the social climate that Jesus and the 12 are walking into. 

The religious leaders now openly despise Jesus.  In fact, they are looking for a way to arrest him (John 11:57).  Meanwhile, the masses of common people support Jesus.  His popularity is at its all time high.  They believe (incorrectly) that he will immediately set up a new kingdom, defeat the Romans and take power for himself.  God is using the influence of the common people to keep Jesus safe from the religious leaders.  The threat of their revolt is the only thing keeping the Pharisees in line (Matthew 21:26). 

Now the great feast of Passover is imminent.  Jews from all over the known world are flooding Jerusalem; the city is bursting with people.  What do you suppose is on the minds and lips of all those Jews? Right – Jesus!  Is he the Messiah?  Will he soon take over Jerusalem?  What about the Romans?

Speaking of the Romans, all of these additional people were a nightmare for them, because they were charged with keeping order in the city.  And they were not a bit afraid to use the most violent and brutal tactics to keep the peace.

From man’s perspective, Jerusalem seems like a powder keg that could blow up at any moment! No doubt Satan is there trying his best to light the fuse! He is rejoicing because he thinks he is on the verge of annihilating the Messiah.

But from God’s perspective, everything is happening exactly according to his specifications and plans.  Heaven is also rejoicing, because the salvation of man is about to be legally completed!  The kingdom of the Messiah is coming to pass!  Mankind will soon be reunited with the Father! 

What about your life?  Does your situation seem like a ‘powder keg’?  Things have changed drastically in the last few months, haven’t they?  Make sure you are looking at things from God’s perspective.  He is still on the throne.  He is still watching over his word to perform it.  You have not been lost in the shuffle of world events.  God neither slumbers nor sleeps; he is keeping guard over you right now, just as he always has!

Matthew 21:2 – saying to them, “Go into the village in front of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her.  Untie them and bring them to me.”

Why did Jesus choose to ride on a donkey instead of a horse? 

At that time, there were few horses in Jerusalem, and the ones that were present were chiefly used for war.  Men seldom if ever used horses in common life.  Instead, they used donkeys, mules and camels. 

To ride on a horse was an emblem of war.  To ride on a donkey or mule was an emblem of peace.  How interesting that during Jesus’ first coming, he rides the donkey of peace, but during his second return to earth, he rides a horse of war (Revelation 19:11)!

Donkeys and mules were the mode of transportation used by kings and princes during times of peace.  It was a mark of rank and dignity to ride in that manner (Judges 10:1-4, I Samuel 25:20).  When King Solomon rode to his inauguration, he rode a mule (1 Kings 1:33), which was the appropriate way in which a king should ride.  It was in no way a sign of poverty or degradation.  Thus, it was fitting for Jesus to ride into Jerusalem on a donkey.  When doing so, he was acknowledging himself as king to the world.  

Matthew 21:3 – “If anyone says anything to you, you shall say, ‘The Lord needs them,’ and he will send them at once.”

Jesus once again displays his divinity by knowing about the existence of the colt, its exact circumstance and location, as well as the response of the owners. 

The disciples are not to rent this beast or to ask permission to borrow it.  They were to claim the right to use it for the service of a King.  

Matthew 21:4-5 – This took place to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet, saying, “Say to the daughter of Zion, ‘Behold your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.’”

Now we see the exact reason why he rode into Jerusalem in the first place, instead of just walking there as he had done his whole life. 

It was to fulfill an ancient prophesy, found in Zechariah 9:9.  The Jews universally applied this prophesy to the Messiah and no other.  This was a plain, straightforward, literal fulfillment of an ancient prophesy, and it clearly declared that Jesus was the Messiah.  

Zechariah 9:9 – Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; shout, O daughter of Jerusalem: behold, your King comes unto you: he is just, and having salvation; lowly, and riding upon a donkey, and upon a colt the foal of a donkey.

And yet, he was not the Messiah that they expected.  His entrance into Jerusalem has been called the Triumphal Entry of Christ.  But it was not a fleshly or earthly triumph.  It was a triumph of humility over pride and ambition; a triumph of meekness and gentleness over rage and malice.  Jesus comes full of kindness and compassion to deliver himself up to those who were plotting his destruction!  The king enters the city to be cruelly abused and murdered by his own subjects, and to make his death a ransom for the souls of mankind!

Matthew 21:6 – The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them.

I find this verse interesting for what it doesn’t say.  There is no mention of delay.  The disciples responded immediately. There is no mention of discussion.  They did exactly what Jesus asked them to do.  There was no whining or complaining.  They did not require a full and detailed explanation of the purpose behind the command. 

Basically, they just did as Jesus asked them to do, and their endeavor met with success.  What a great example for us!  

Matthew 21:7 – They brought the donkey and the colt and put on them their cloaks, and he sat on them.

The scriptures are very specific that this colt had never before been ridden (Mark 11:2, Luke 19:30).  Therefore, it would not have a saddle.  So it makes sense that the disciples would take off their outer garments and put them on the colt as a kind of substitute for the saddle. 

Whether they knew it or not, this action had a greater significance.  

Back in 2 Kings 9, we find the story of Jehu being anointed as king.  At the time, he was a commander in the army.  Then one day, at the behest of Elisha (who was under direct orders from God), one of the prophets ran to find Jehu, called him into an inner room by himself, anointed him as king, then fled the scene.  Immediately afterward, when his men found out what had happened, every man took his garment and spread it under Jehu at the top of the steps then blew the trumpets saying, “Jehu is king” (2 Kings 9:13).

So laying down your outer garment was the custom in ancient Israel whenever they found that God had anointed a man to be their king.  And this was the exact thing that took place when Jesus was riding into Jerusalem on that colt!  

Matthew 21:8 – Most of the crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road.

Although it was certainly not the intention of the disciples, the multitude followed their example by casting tree branches in the road before Jesus.  This was the way in which ancient conquerors and princes were often honored.  Casting flowers, garlands or evergreens before a warrior returning from victory or a king entering into his kingdom was a common way of expressing joy and triumph.  (The famous historian Josephus says that King Agrippa was received this way as he entered into Jerusalem). 

Interestingly, John 12:13 tells us that the tree branches were actually Palm branches. The palm was an emblem of joy and victory used and recognized by the Roman soldiers as well as the Jews. For both groups, it was an emblem of peace.

So we find the common, obscure multitudes revering Christ as King.  God often uses the common or insignificant people of this world to do his bidding (1 Corinthians chapter 1).  I don’t know about you, but that is good news for me!   

Some scholars feel that the Holy Spirit moved on the crowds and prompted them to do this.  Others feel that the people did it believing that Jesus was going to rise to power and claim an earthly kingdom immediately after (if not during) the current Passover festival.  Regardless, the group was clearly proclaiming Jesus Christ as the Messiah.    

Matthew 21:9 – And the crowds that went before him and that followed him were shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David!  Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!  Hosanna in the highest!”

Let’s examine the praise that the crowd now offers to Christ.

Hosanna:  This word literally means ‘save now’ or ‘save, we beseech thee’.  The word was always spoken in an emphatic manner, with deep emotion behind it.  It was used as a plea by the common people to have the king redress their grievances and give them relief from oppression (See 2 Samuel 14:4, 2 Kings 6:26 and especially Psalms 118:25.  The 118th Psalm was used as a hymn in the celebration of the Passover meal and the Feast of Tabernacles). 

In this instance, the Jews are literally asking Jesus to relive them from the oppression of their enemies.  Although the Jews did not understand it at the time, Jesus will do that by granting them relief from their sins. 

Son of David:  This is a well known Jewish title used to mean Messiah.  It was never given to prophets or other holy men of God.  This was the term used by the blind men in Matthew 20. 

Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord:  To come in the name of the Lord means to come in God’s authority; to be commissioned by God to reveal his will.  This was another phrase the Jews used in connection with the Messiah. 

Hosanna in the highest:  This was essentially a prayer to the supreme God meaning ‘Save now, you who dwell in the highest heaven’.  They were asking for the utmost degree of salvation and deliverance to be granted to them.

By openly asserting his claim as Messiah (by riding the colt) and passively accepting the accolades of the Jews (the laying down of garments/branches and the praises), Jesus is accepting their acknowledgement of him as their King.

It is no coincidence that this revelation comes only days before his death.  Had he revealed himself this way any sooner, the people would have taken him by force and tried to make him an earthly king. 

Matthew 21:10-11 – And when he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred up, saying, “Who is this?” And the crowds said, “This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth of Galilee.”

His entry into Jerusalem was a great and unusual event.  It was not something done in secret.  The whole city was talking about it.

Therefore, all the religious leaders (Scribes, Pharisees and priests) could not have been ignorant of it.  Their reaction to it revealed the pride and malice hidden in their hearts.  They rejected Jesus as the Messiah, choosing to worship their religious rituals instead.

Then we have the devoted followers of Jesus, praising him and acknowledging him as Messiah and King. 

There were also multitudes of people that exhibited careless indifference.  They are completely unaware of who Christ is, and they are clearly not among his followers. He is just a spectacle to them!

Are not all three of these groups still present today?  Jesus has devoted followers like you and I, who willingly extol him as King.  There are those who hate Jesus because they have rejected him in favor of a false god/idol, and there are always those who are indifferent to their own spiritual life and have no interest in the gospel message.

Matthew 21:12 – And Jesus entered the temple and drove out all who sold and bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons.

Matthew does not specify the exact day that this event took place.  Because of the way he narrates his gospel, it looks as if this event took place on the same day as the triumphal entry, however, the gospel of Mark clearly states that this event took place on the day following the triumphal entry.

What temple is being referred to in this passage? 

As you recall, Israel started out with a tabernacle, which was a movable building made of cloth, bases and poles which they tore down and then put back up as they wandered through the wilderness.

Later, after the monarchy had been established, King David desired to make a permanent ‘house’ or temple for God.  All throughout his life he gathered materials for this building.  Finally, a magnificent structure was built by David’s son and successor, King Solomon (1 Kings 6:1).  Eventually, this amazing building was destroyed by King Nebuchadnezzar when he conquered Judah in 586 BC. This was the first temple, also referred to as Solomon’s temple.

Many years later, the temple was rebuilt (by order of Cyrus) after the Babylonian captivity. The project was spearheaded by Zerubbabel. [You can read the details in Ezra and Nehemiah.] It was eventually completed, but the building was vastly inferior and diminished in beauty and size as compared to Solomon’s temple. Nevertheless, this was the second temple. It was often defiled and abused during the wars of the Jews and in time, it fell into a state of disrepair.

During the time of Christ, Herod the Great, who was a very unpopular ruler among the Jews, wanted to do something to court their favor.  So, about 16 years before Christ he started a huge temple rebuilding project.  He did not raze the whole thing to the ground at once.  Instead, he removed and replaced one section at a time, until there was an entirely new building.  This new structure greatly surpassed the original second temple in size and magnificence.  Because it was not completely torn down and replaced, but technically ‘remodeled’, the Jews still referred to this as the second temple, or Herod’s temple.

So the temple Jesus cleanses in the gospel of Matthew is the second temple, or Herod’s temple.  Eventually, it too would be utterly destroyed by the Romans, in 70 AD.  Currently, there is no national temple of God in the Jewish nation.  However, we know that a third one will eventually be built, because it is mentioned in the book of Daniel, in regard to end time events (Daniel chapters 11 and 12).

Herod’s temple consisted not only of the actual temple; it also had many separate courts, rooms, storage places and chambers.  It appears that one of these outer courts had gradually become a market for buying and selling things related temple sacrifices. 

To some degree, it made sense to have a ‘temple store’ of some kind.  In fact, this market was endorsed by the religious leaders.  Many people who came to the temple in Jerusalem were coming from a hundred or more miles away.  It was much easier to buy a goat, lamb, oil, salt, etc once you got there, rather than bringing them from home. 

However, these temple merchants had become very corrupt.  They sold inferior animals that should never have been used as sacrifices, and they significantly over charged the people who bought them.  They were making a mockery of the sacred sacrifices while enriching their own bank accounts.  This kind of a thing should never have had a place in the temple or any of its courts. 

Therefore, with zeal and force, Jesus violently removes this abomination from his Father’s house.

Matthew 21:13 – He said to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer,’ but you make it a den of robbers.”

Jesus loosely refers to two Old Testament passages here, Isaiah 56:7 and Jeremiah 7:11.  If you have a moment, be sure to read Isaiah 56:6-7.  It speaks of the admittance of the Gentiles into the house of God, saying ‘my house shall be called a house of prayer for all people’. 

Jesus correctly viewed the temple as the temple of God, not the temple of Herod or the temple of the Jews.  He showed reverence for the house of his Father.  Jesus saw the holiness and purpose of the temple; it was the sacred dwelling place of God on earth.  It was the place where humans could have communion with God.

The temple had strayed from its original purpose – prayer and the true worship of God – to become something profane.  It was corrupt and fraudulent.  It needed to be reformed. 

Many scholars see this as a picture of the church.   

1 Corinthians 3:16 – Know you not that you are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?

Each one of us must be purified so that we are an acceptable ‘temple’ to God.  Sometimes things that are worldly or unholy creep into our lives.  It may start out as something very small or insignificant, but it can grow to be something deadly to our spiritual man. 

We should be diligent to examine ourselves and get rid of anything in our lives that does not glorify God, or enhance our mission of praise and worship to God.  Every person must examine their own personal holiness and make changes as needed.  

Matthew 21:14 – And the blind and the lame came to him in the temple, and he healed them.

Having condemned the profane use of the temple, and having cleansed it of its corruption and fraud, Jesus now demonstrates the proper use of the temple.  It is to be a place of prayer and fellowship with God, a place where God manifests his goodness and power by giving sight to the spiritually blind and healing/restoration to the spiritually lame.  It is to be a place of salvation and healing. 

Matthew 21:15 – But when the chief priests and the scribes saw the wonderful things that he did, and the children crying out in the temple, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” they were indignant…

What ‘wonderful’ things did Jesus do?  He accepted the title of King/Messiah, he cleansed and restored the temple to its proper use, and he then healed and set people free.

We expect indignation from the leadership, right?  All throughout the gospel of Matthew we have seen that the Scribes, Pharisees and other religious leaders exhibit jealousy towards Jesus. 

They are furious because the gospel negates the power, influence and prestige that they have so carefully cultivated in their lives.  They don’t want Jesus to be the Messiah; they want to find fault with him, so they can retain their earthly positions of power.

They are also furious because Jesus has come in and single handedly purified the temple.  This was something the priests should have done themselves; now they look foolish for not doing it.  Their greed and corruption have been exposed, and they don’t like it.

As always, the healing of people is an affirmation from God that Jesus is his true Son, the Messiah.  None of the people present that day could ever deny that Jesus was the Messiah!  Proof after proof was presented that day.  Prophesy was fulfilled, right in front of their eyes.  Anyone who does not bow to the authority of Jesus at this point is exhibiting outrageous contempt for God!

And yet, these foolish, rebellious men complain that Jesus is accepting praises from children! 

Matthew 21:16 – and they said to him, “Do you hear what these are saying?”  And Jesus said to them, “Yes; have you never read, ‘Out of the mouth of infants and nursing babies you have prepared praise’?”

At this point Jesus is in the temple healing people.  He is operating in the power and authority of the Messiah, the Son of God.  He is accepting praise given to the Messiah.  For those who believed, there could be no greater occurrence than this!

But for those that did not believe, there could be no greater outrage.  The unbelieving leaders could not stop what was happening; but in their own way, they confronted Jesus.

When they asked Jesus ‘do you hear what these are saying’, what they were really asking is this:  Do you accept these praises in the sense that they are being given to you?  Did you really enter the temple today claiming to be the expected Christ and Son of God?  Are you claiming to be the long awaited Messiah?  Because if you are not (and we don’t think you are), then you must immediately stop these people from praising you as God! 

Jesus answers them the same way he frequently replied to those who opposed him – with scripture! [See Matt 12:3,5, Matt 19:4, Matt 21:42, etc].  This time he references Psalms 8:2, quoted below in the NIV version of the Bible:

Psalms 8:2 – From the lips of children and infants you have ordained praise, because of your enemies to silence the foe and the avenger.

Jesus’ answer was both true and divine.  It did not put him in direct competition with Caesar for a crown, not did it refuse to accept the homage due to him as a true king.  It was the only answer that left his enemies without a foothold against him and yet honored the true faith of his followers.

Perhaps we could learn a lesson from this.  When a controversy arises, maybe we should answer with the scripture, not our own words of wisdom!

Matthew 21:17 – And leaving them, he went out of the city to Bethany and lodged there.

Jesus now leaves Jerusalem for the night, but he will be back the next day.  In fact, during these last 6 days of his time on earth, Jesus does not spend any nights in the actual city of Jerusalem.  Each evening he retires to Bethany (about 2 miles away) and then returns to the city each morning. 

He probably stayed at the house of Lazarus.  There, he would have opportunities to pray and be alone, as well as being able to enjoy the support, comfort and company of his close friends.  God granted him a measure of peace and rest before his final sacrifice, which he would not have received in the noisy, overcrowded city, over-run with visitors for the upcoming Passover.

Let me offer you some encouragement and strength:

As we discussed in today’s lesson, Jerusalem seemed like a powder keg just waiting to blow up.  Just one more incident could have caused the whole place to erupt into chaos, or so it seemed.

Sometimes, our current situation appears the same way!  As mankind struggles to find a new normal in light of the COVID 19 crisis, it seems like just ‘one more thing’ could cause our economy, our educational system, our whole way of life to descend into chaos.

But let me offer you a word of encouragement from Psalms 121, which we made reference to in today’s lesson.  This psalm has just 8 verses, but it is extremely comforting and powerful.  PLEASE take two minutes and read the entire thing – you will be glad you did!

In the meantime, let me quote just the last verse:

Psalm 121:8 – The LORD shall preserve your going out and your coming in from this time forth, and even forevermore.

Let me reiterate one more time:  you are not just an afterthought to God – you are the apple of his eye!  Your life, as well as the lives of your family/children, have not ‘slipped through the cracks’ of world events. 

The things that you and I perceive to be chaotic are not chaotic to God.  They are all part of His plan.  He has foreseen every circumstance and he controls every outcome.  What the enemy has meant for evil, God will use for your good!  The bible tells us that God knows the end, even from the beginning.  And the entire time he is preserving your movements both now and forevermore, so be encouraged and strengthened in your walk with him! 

Let me offer you some relief:

In today’s lesson, we saw Jesus instruct the disciples to go into a town and get a colt which he needed for his entrance into Jerusalem.  We could summarize that event by saying that Jesus guided them, they followed his leading/instructions, and the outcome was success.  This is a principle that will work for us too. 

Are you worried about how to survive in these troubled times?  Are you spending sleepless nights with an upset stomach wondering what to do?  Well here is some relief:  All you have to do is hear/listen to God’s instruction, and then obey. 

If you let him do the leading, while you concentrate on following, it will relieve a huge part of your fear, anxiety and frustration.  So relax – trust in God and follow where he leads!  He will successfully take you through this time.

Matthew, Chapter 20, Part 2

Matthew 20:20 – Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee came up to him with her sons, and kneeling before him she asked him for something.

The sons of Zebedee were James and John.  They, along with Peter, were the ‘inner circle’ of the disciples.  These three were with Jesus on the mount of transfiguration.  John was the disciple Jesus loved.  So we find that the sons of Zebedee were very close to Jesus.  

Peter, James and John were the ‘inner circle’

Their mother’s name was Salome.  Although Salome’s husband was deceased, he appears to have left her a wealthy widow.  She was one of the women who followed Jesus and the disciples, supporting them financially (Mark 15:40).  

Salome wants something.  Either she feels very comfortable asking because of her service to Jesus, or she is a very bold woman!  Either way, she approaches Jesus and kneels before him as a sign of respect.

Matthew 20:21 – And he said to her, “What do you want?”  She said to him, “Say that these two sons of mine are to sit, one at your right hand, and one at your left, in your kingdom.”

This seems like a strange request because it immediately follows the revelation of Jesus that he will soon suffer a horrible death on the cross.  Who would be asking for honors at a time like that?

However, it may not be that strange when we consider the mindset of James and John.  The brothers (along with many other Jews) believed that once Jesus rose from the dead on the third day, he would immediately set up the kingdom they had long expected. 

According to their timetable, Jesus would die, rise again and take over the world within a week!

The good news is that they had enough faith to believe that Jesus would rise from the dead.  They also had the faith to believe that he would successfully establish his kingdom, even though there was no sign of it at that time. 

The bad news is that their request shows their ignorance and reveals their sinful ambition.  They still believed that Jesus’ kingdom would be an earthly one with great splendor, glory, wealth and power.  They wanted to be the first applicants for the top positions of honor in this new kingdom.

Their ambition also reveals an element of pride.  They feel they are superior to the other disciples, and thus entitled to the highest positions of honor.  After all, aren’t they Jesus’ closest friends?  Hasn’t Jesus already shown them special favor?   

So we see that even the disciples struggled with letting the things of this world go, in order to take hold of heavenly things.  This is an issue that all Christians must constantly deal with. 

We are citizens of heaven, fulfilling a temporary assignment here on earth.  But sometimes, we get so focused on our temporary situation that we start to lay down roots here.  We start to store up treasure here, rather than in heaven.  We start to plan and work to have places of honor here, rather than in heaven.  We want to make our mark on this world, rather than the world to come.  We develop our own agenda for a good life here, rather than embracing the agenda that God has for us.

Even the apostles fell into this pitfall of the enemy.  Is there a way for us to avoid it?

I believe we can circumvent this problem by following the example of Jesus:

Philippians 2:5-7 – Have this mind among yourselves which is yours in Christ Jesus who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, … taking the form of a servant…he humbled himself becoming obedient to the point of death…

Notice that this scripture tells us that Jesus ‘emptied himself’.  In other words, he put all of his human dreams, desires, ambitions, rights, and goals aside.  Once he was emptied of his own desires, there was room for God to fill him with the desires of the Father, through the indwelling Holy Spirit.  Because he was committed to fulfilling the will of the Father and not his own will, he was able to face the cross:

Matthew 26:42 – He went away again the second time, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if this cup may not pass away from me, except I drink it, your will be done.

I believe that God wants each of us to do the same thing.  He wants us to empty ourselves by surrendering our plans, goals, dreams and desires to him.  If we are seeking the will of God, and not trying to complete our own agendas, we will not fall into the trap of loving the world and neglecting heaven.  Embracing God’s plan for our lives will ensure that we lay up all of our treasures in our permanent home (heaven), not here on earth.

During the next few days, will you give this idea some consideration?  The Holy Spirit is standing by right now, just waiting for you to empty yourself, so he can fill you with the plans and purposes of God!  

Matthew 20:22 – Jesus answered, “You do not know what you are asking.  Are you able to drink the cup that I am to drink?”  They said to him, “We are able.”

Interestingly, Jesus does not respond to Salome, but directly to James and John.  This indicates that the request originated with them, not their mother; she was probably making the request because they asked her to.

Jesus plainly tells the brothers that they don’t understand the full impact of what they are requesting.  James and John are only thinking about the honor and happiness that would belong to them, if they occupied the seats on either side of Jesus.  What they don’t realize is that the path to those seats is filled with trials, suffering and pain.

James and John speedily assure Jesus that they are quite capable of handling any trials or suffering that might come their way – no problem!  They have great confidence in their own strength and ability to endure suffering. 

But as we would expect, those who trust in the flesh always fail.  It was no different for James and John.  Their abject failure is clearly documented in the scriptures.  When Jesus was arrested, they all fled like cowards (Mark 14:30)!  After the death of Jesus, they were hiding in a room together for fear of the Jews (John 20:19).

Yet, in Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, we find that James was the first of the 12 apostles to be martyred.  His death is recorded in Acts 2:12.  He was executed in AD 44 by King Herod Agrippa I of Judea.

Foxe goes on to record this:  “The eminent writer, Clemens Alexandrinus, wrote that when James was being led to his execution his extraordinary courage impressed one of his captors to such a degree that he fell on his knees before the apostle, asked his forgiveness, and confessed that he was a Christian too.  He said that James should not die alone, whereupon they were both beheaded.” [Quote from The New Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, page 5, published 2001]. 

What about John? While in the city of Ephesus, he was arrested and sent to Rome, where he was cast into a large vessel filled with boiling oil – that did not harm him! As a result, he was banished by the Emperor Domitian to the Isle of Patmos, where he wrote the book of Revelation. Eventually, he was released and returned to Ephesus where he died a natural death in AD 98. He was the only apostle who did not die a violent death.

What could account for the miraculous transformation in James and John?  How do you go from running away at the arrest of Jesus to courageously facing a vat of boiling oil for your faith in Christ?

The difference was the indwelling of the Holy Spirit which the disciples received on the Day of Pentecost.  They no longer operated in the strength of their flesh, but in the power of the Holy Spirit.

Acts 4:31 – And when they had prayed, the place was shaken where they were assembled together; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and they spoke the word of God with boldness.

Have you ever wondered if you would have the strength to stand firm if you had to renounce Christ or die?

The fact is, we have no ability in ourselves (our flesh) to walk this path.  However, if we have been filled with the Holy Spirit, we can rely on his strength and power to give us boldness, even to the point of death.

Matthew 20:23 – He said to them, “You will drink my cup, but to sit at my right hand and at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father.”

Jesus reveals that both of these men will ‘drink his cup’ or in other words, they will share in his sufferings.  They will be persecuted for the sake of the gospel. 

However, that suffering does not guarantee them the places of honor they are seeking.

So to answer the original request of James and John, Jesus replies that the seats of honor they are seeking have been prepared for someone specific, and when the time comes, God will give them to the proper people.      

Matthew 20:24 – And when the ten heard it, they were indignant at the two brothers.

The reaction of the other 10 disciples reveals what was in their hearts. Their indignation is not a righteous indignation against sin, but a jealousy of rivals.  They were angry because they had the same hidden ambition as James and John!  So all of the disciples have been ‘infected’ with the desire to be honored and esteemed higher than anyone else. 

This is a problem that Jesus is going to have to address.      

Matthew 20:25 – But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them.”

Jesus does not angrily reprove the disciples, but tenderly and patiently he gives them instruction and revelation about the inner workings of his kingdom.

In the earthly realm, it is customary for kings to exalt their friends or relatives to positions of high honor and authority within their kingdoms.  This was the type of position the disciples desired. 

However, the government of the church (or the kingdom of heaven) is far different.  It is like no other kingdom that has ever existed.  It is founded on humility and brotherly love, which stem from our relationship to Christ.  

Therefore, the positions desired by the disciples simply do not exist in the kingdom of heaven.  All of their ambition and jealously were worthless/meaningless.

 Matthew 20:26-27 – “It shall not be so among you.  But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and who ever would be first among you must be your slave,”

The disciples were to be servants to the entire body of Christ.  They were to teach, to comfort, to encourage and to counsel.  They were to labor to bring other believers to a state of spiritual maturity.  This mandate was not just for the disciples. 

All the members of Christ’s kingdom have a duty to serve one another for mutual edification.  If you and I want to be great in Christ’s kingdom, we must:

  • submit to one another (Ephesians 5:18-21)
  • have humility towards one another (1 Peter 5:5)
  • bear with one another (Romans 14:13-19)
  • build one another up (Romans 15:1-3)
  • live in harmony with each other (Romans 15:4-6).

So the way to greatness in the kingdom of heaven is to be humble and serve our brothers/sisters.    

Matthew 20:28 – “…even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

As always, our lives should be patterned after our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ who provided us with the ultimate examples of:

Humbleness – Jesus has ultimate authority, yet he submitted to his earthly parents.  He owns the cattle on a thousand hills, yet he relinquished all earthly wealth, humbly depending on others to meet his needs.  He is the head of the church, but never held an office or ruled in the Jewish community.   He deserves all of our respect and admiration, yet he bent down and washed the feet of his own disciples.  Ultimate power belongs to him, yet he submitted to a painful, humiliating death by the hands of his own creation.

Service to others – When Jesus went into a city or town, he healed EVERYONE who came to him.  There were times when he was tired and hungry, but he never turned anyone away.  He came into this world as a man for a specific purpose:  to give his life as a ransom for us all.  What greater act of service is there?        

In light of the example of Christ, how should we live our lives? 

Matthew 20:29-30 – And as they went out of Jericho, a great crowd followed him.  And behold, there were two blind men sitting by the roadside, and when they heard that Jesus was passing by, the cried out, “Lord, have mercy on us, Son of David!”

Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem to sacrifice himself on the cross.  He will never again pass this way during his time on earth.  For these two men to be on the path that Jesus is walking is no accident – it is a divine appointment! 

This narrative becomes all the more interesting when we realize that blindness in the physical realm is a picture of blindness in the spiritual realm.  All of us have been born blind to spiritual things because of sin.

But our loving heavenly Father did not abandon us to our fate.  He sent his Son Jesus into the world, to heal our spiritual blindness so we can be reconciled to him. 

Luke 4:18 – The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he has sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised…

Speaking of the Messiah, notice that the two blind men address Jesus as ‘Son of David’.  This was a title that the Jews used to refer exclusively to the Messiah.  So these two men are not requesting help from a prophet or simply a holy man.  They are acknowledging Jesus as the Messiah, the person whom God had sent to be the one and only author of salvation. 

Matthew 20:31 – The crowd rebuked them, telling them to be silent, but they cried out all the more, “Lord, have mercy on us, Son of David!”

Because most of the Jews did not accept Jesus as the Messiah, the cries of these men no doubt made many of them angry.  They insist that the men keep silent.

Likewise, whenever a lost soul begins to cry out to Jesus for salvation, the world and the devil join together to try and drown out his cry, or intimidate him into silence.    

If people are trying to deter you from calling out to God for either salvation or deliverance, don’t let them hinder or stop you!  Those who persevere in seeking the Lord will find that their efforts are not in vain.  So do as this man did – appeal to God’s mercy, and cry out until he answers.  Never give up!

Matthew 20:32-33 – And stopping, Jesus called them and said, “What do you want me to do for you?”  They said to him, “Lord, let our eyes be opened.”

Jesus was not going to deny or ignore any man who cried out to him as Savior.  He stopped to speak with them, and grant their request.

In the same way, Jesus never ignores a plea for salvation. He is eagerly watching and waiting for the sinner to cry out, so he can grant their request.

However, I think there might be an ‘elephant in the room’.  Surely, Jesus knows what these men need/want – for their blindness to be healed. Even you and I could figure that one out!  If that is the case, why does Jesus ask them to verbalize their request to him?  Why not just do the obvious – heal their eyes?

The Lord knew the desire of their hearts, but he wanted a verbal confession of their needs and the distinct blessing which they desired, so that all those standing by might acknowledge the miracle.  Indeed, it confirmed for the man himself that God has answered his petition.

Do you see a parallel here with prayer?  God already knows what we have need of before we pray (Matthew 6:8), but he still asks us to bring our requests to him in prayer. 

Philippians 4:6 – Be anxious for nothing; but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God.

We do not make our request to God to inform him of our situation (he already knows it), or to move him to action (faith is what moves God to action).  By praying, we are partnering or cooperating with God in the work which he intends to accomplish in our lives.  We are releasing his mercy, wisdom and power into our hopeless situations.    

As an added bonus, our own faith is further strengthened when we make specific requests to God and then see him answer them in prayer.    

Matthew 20:34 – And Jesus in pity touched their eyes, and immediately they recovered their sight and followed him.

This is a testimony to the power of God.  Jesus healed the man easily and completely – immediately his eyes were opened.  Thus, he confirmed that he was indeed the Messiah and he revealed the mission for which he was sent – to give salvation to the spiritually blind.  Aren’t you so glad he did!

Let me give you some encouragement:

The disciples wanted places of honor in God’s kingdom.  They did not realize that the kingdom of heaven is made up of those who serve.  What service have you done lately? 

I am positive that in the midst of these uncertain times, there are many, many people out there who could use a word of encouragement and hope.  As a Christian, you carry the author of life with you, wherever you go.  Can we make a special effort this week to encourage those around us?  Why not reach out to a friend or family member you havn’t connected with in a long time?  Your words can make a difference in the life of someone who is scared, desperate or lonely.  So reach out and encourage someone this week!    

Let me give you some relief:

Maybe you’ve put down a few too many roots in this life.  Maybe you forgot that this world is not your home.  Well let me offer you some relief – you’re not the only one! 

This can happen to any of us.  The good news is that once you recognize the problem, you can change the outcome.   Right now, go to our Savior in prayer.  Surrender all of your ‘roots’ to him.  Ask him to fill your heart with His plans and desires; then follow them with all your might.  You will once again be storing up treasures in your permanent home – heaven!  

Let me give you some strength:

We mentioned in this passage that when the apostles encountered times of suffering and trial, their flesh was not strong enough to get them through.  It failed them every time.  However, after they were filled with the Holy Spirit, they experienced a new level of boldness and confidence. 

Because they were trusting in the Spirit, they were able to stare death in the face and not even flinch.  I encourage you to pray for a renewed anointing of the Holy Spirit in your life.  Tap into the strength and power that God has made available to each and every one of us.  In these days, we certainly need it!