Matthew, Chapter 26, Part 4

Matthew 26:36 – Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to his disciples, “Sit here, while I go over there and pray.”

The account of Jesus in the Garden is also recorded in Mark 14:32-42, Luke 22:39-46 and John 18:1. 

The Garden of Gethsemane was on the western side of the Mount of Olives.  The word ‘garden’ does not refer to a place in someone’s backyard where they grow tomatoes.  It would be more like a park with trees, water (the Kidron creek/brook) and possibly places to walk.  It was a place of refreshment, away from the noise and heat of the city.

Jesus in Gethsemane

The gospel of Luke indicates that Jesus frequently met with the apostles at this location (John 18:2).  This is evidence that Jesus did not go there in order to hide from his enemies.  The opposite was true.  He purposely went to a place that Judas was familiar with, spent time in prayer and waited for his enemies to come and arrest him. No man took his life from him; he laid it down himself.

John 10:17-18 – For this reason the Father loves me; because I lay down my life that I may take it up again.  No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord.  I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again.  This charge I have received from my Father.

He instructed most of the apostles to wait near the entrance, while he went further on to spend time in prayer.

Here is a lesson for us.  As the hour of greatest darkness loomed, Jesus spent time in prayer.  Communion with God sustained him during this tribulation.  We too can approach the throne room of God to find comfort in days of trial.

Did you know that the word ‘Gethsemane’ means ‘olive press’?  It was place where the olives were crushed and bruised in order for the oil to flow.  Many scholars see a parallel here – Jesus was crushed, bruised and pressed that atonement might flow from him.  They see this as Jesus treading the winepress of the wrath of God.

Here is another interesting thought:  Sin first entered our lives in a garden setting, and brought death with it.  Likewise, in a garden setting Jesus submits to death so that sin must now ‘exit’ our lives.   Kind of ironic, don’t you think?

Matthew 26:37 – And taking with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, he began to be sorrowful and troubled.

While eight of the apostles are left near the entrance, Peter, James and John went further into the garden with Jesus.  These are the same men who were present on the mount of transfiguration (Matthew 17) and also the three who witnessed Jesus bringing Jarius’ daughter back to life (Luke 8:51).  They had been witnesses of the glory and power of Jesus, now they would witness his humiliation which he suffered for our sake.

As Jesus was praying, he became sorrowful.  That word (sorrowful) is a very weak and inappropriate translation.  The original word means ‘to be pressed down or overwhelmed with extreme or severe anguish and horror; excruciating anxiety and torture of spirit’.  The word ‘sorrow’ does not even begin to express the true meaning of what happened to Jesus.   

This term has nothing to do with physical pain.  It refers to great emotional and spiritual distress. 

What was the cause of this suffering? 

In his Whole Bible Commentary, Matthew Henry asserts that in the garden Jesus began to take upon himself the iniquities of us all.  Most scholars are in agreement with him.  Jesus willingly accepted all the torment that the Father laid upon him, so that God’s wrath might be satisfied and the debt for sin paid.  Let us always remember that sin is never written off like a bad debt – it is paid in full by the suffering of Jesus.

So it was our sin that resulted in the excruciating sorrow and distress of Jesus.

Matthew 26:38 – Then he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here and watch with me.”

The unspeakable severity of the burden of sin was so great, that it nearly caused physical death in Jesus.  This burden would stay upon him until his death on the cross.   According to scholars, this did not happen little by little.  Sorrow surrounded him or was poured upon him on every side, breaking upon him with sudden violent force.  There was no escape from it.  

Thus, turning to his disciples, he explains that his torture is so intense, that it almost kills him; without support from God he would sink under this burden.  Therefore, he asks his disciples to watch with him, while he sought God.

The truth is that none of us can understand the agony of Jesus as he prayed in the garden that night.  None of us can fathom the crushing burden of sin that was placed on his sinless soul.  None of us know the extent to which Satan was allowed to tempt Jesus in this hour.  God alone knows and understands the extent of the suffering endured by Jesus for our sake. 

  • What we can do, is reverently and humbly bow before Jesus and thank him for being our scapegoat, our sacrificial lamb, and our Savior.
  • What we can do is honor and love him by obeying his commands.
  • What we can do is to share the gospel message with those who are still lost and dying; the price for their salvation has already been paid.

Matthew 26:39 – And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.”

Jesus wished for his chosen disciples to be near him in his woe, and yet, as it advanced, he felt the need to be alone with his Father, and so he left them to be alone.

In times of grief and sorrow, the body of Christ should comfort and sustain its fellow members.  It is our pleasure and our duty to do so.  We can comfort one another using calls, texts, hugs, food, cards, prayer, kind words, tears, and many other methods. 

But sometimes our burdens are so intense or our trials so difficult, that we instinctively turn to God alone. There are times when human comfort cannot console us. It is good to know that during these times, we can find comfort and strength in the presence of our Almighty heavenly Father.

Here Jesus speaks of drinking the cup that his Father had prepared for him.  The cup represents the pain and suffering of sin (the burden he was now bearing) and his imminent death on the cross. 

He begs God that if possible, this cup would pass, or in other words Jesus is asking if he might avoid the sufferings now at hand, or if the sufferings might be shortened in some manner.  This shows us that Jesus was really and truly human, because people are always adverse to pain and suffering.  This is a natural law of self preservation that is inherent in us when we are born.     

But despite the bitter pain and agony of his suffering, Jesus freely chooses to submit his will to the Father.  If drinking the cup is the only way to glorify God, defeat Satan and provide salvation for mankind, then Jesus will drink it.

Galatians 1:4 – Who gave himself for our sins, that he might deliver us from this present evil world, according to the will of God our Father:    

Jesus immediately puts his own will in line with the will of his heavenly Father.  This had been his practice since he came to earth.

John 5:30 – I can do nothing on my own.  As I hear, I judge, and my judgment is just, because I seek not my own will but the will of him who sent me.

Hebrews 10:9 – Then said he [Jesus], Lo, I come to do you will, O God.   

By submitting himself and his will to the will of God, Jesus obtained the strength and power to endure Calvary. 

This is a lesson for every Christian.  We need to submit or line up our wills with the will of God.  He alone can see the future and only he knows what is best for us.  To go against his will can only result in heartache and lost blessings for us.  

Matthew 26:40-41 – And he came to the disciples and found them sleeping.  And he said to Peter, “So, could you not watch with me one hour?  Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation.  The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.”

While this rebuke was given in the hearing of Peter, James and John, we cannot help but notice that Jesus addresses the comment specifically to Peter.

If Peter could not stay away and watch with his Savior for even an hour, how would he be able to remain faithful in all the trials that were coming upon him?  The rash zeal and self confidence he displayed earlier were going to be put to the test very shortly – and they were going to fail him.  

Jesus admonishes all of them to watch and pray.  This had nothing to do with security reasons.  Jesus was going to be arrested and put to death and he knew it.  Rather, he is calling the disciples to spiritual watching.  He is telling them to seek aid from God because they had need of power to overcome temptations.

Jesus tells them that their spirits/minds are ready and willing to bear the trials of life, but the flesh is not.  Our flesh is weak and fearful of danger, pain or discomfort.  It will lead you astray when trials come.  Therefore, we should pray that God will strengthen us to stand firm against temptation. 

Jesus is contrasting the fleshly self confidence of Peter with the true way to overcome temptation – to abide in God.  Thankfully, in the age of grace, we have access to the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.  He will aid us and strengthen us in resisting temptation.      

Matthew 26:42-44 – Again, for the second time, he went away and prayed, “My Father, if this cup cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done.”  And again he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy.  So, leaving them again, he went away and prayed for the third time, saying the same words again.

Here again, we find the scriptures bearing witness to two great truths:  

First, Jesus endured horrible, unspeakable suffering in his flesh and soul, as a man.  Had he not done so, the claim could be made that he never truly suffered and consequently made no atonement for sin. 

Secondly, we find that Jesus freely surrenders his life to the will of God.  Had God constrained him to give it, it would have ceased to be a free will offering and would therefore have been of no use in purchasing the salvation of mankind.

What are we to make of the disciples sleepiness?  Some feel that their lethargy was simply because they had been up nearly 24 hours at that point.  Others feel that they had great sorrow over the sufferings of their Master, and this sorrow brought about great drowsiness.  Still others feel they were influenced by the powers of darkness.  While we don’t know the exact cause, we do see that they were no real help or comfort to Jesus.  He was utterly alone in his trial.   

Matthew 26:45  – Then he came to the disciples and said to them, “Sleep and take your rest later on.  See, the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners.”

Most interpreters suppose that this statement should have been translated as a question, rather than a command.  They suggest such things as this: ‘Do you still sleep?  Will no warnings avail?  Will no danger excite you to watchfulness and prayer?’  This is consistent with the account in the gospel of Luke, where he records the words of Jesus as a question, not a statement (Luke 22:46).

The phrase ‘hands of sinners’ refers to Gentiles.  Specifically, it applies to the soldiers that Judas brought with him in order to apprehend Jesus.

Matthew 26:46 – “Rise, let us be going; see my betrayer is at hand.”

There are two ways of answering a prayer for the removal of a burden.  In one, the burden is taken away and we remain unchanged.  In the other, we are strengthened so that the burden is bearable.

In this case, God did not take away the burden of sin from Jesus.  Instead, through his many prayers and supplications, Jesus received the strength from heaven that his flesh needed to finish the task he had willingly undertaken. 

This is proved by the words of Jesus in verse 46.  He is no longer prostrate on the ground.  He is done crying out to God.  He has full control of himself.  He calmly tells the disciples to wake up and get ready; he is going out to meet his betrayer and submit himself to death. 

Now, let’s give some consideration to our own spiritual lives.  Can you remember a time when you were carrying around a heavy burden?  Did you ask God to remove it?  I am sure you did, because this is the natural thing for a Christian to do. 

Did God remove it?  If not, were you angry at God for not doing as you asked?  Did you feel like he was punishing you unjustly?  Did you whine and cry about the unfairness of it?  Did you demand to know what you did to deserve it?  Did you allow this to become a wall or a stumbling block in your relationship with God?

I have known people to react in just such a manner.  This type of response shows spiritual immaturity. 

The mature child of God knows and understands that every trial is an opportunity to sharpen our spiritual strength.  Trials give us opportunities to trust in God, which allows us to stretch and grow our faith. This prepares us for bigger challenges. 

Prolonged trials teach us to dig into the word and stand on the promises of God.  They give us opportunities to practice fasting and waiting on the Lord.  They deepen the relationship between us and our Heavenly Father.   As we wait on God, we will receive strength and eventually, the burden becomes lighter and lighter, and we are able to manage it well, because we become stronger.

The eternal benefits of accepting and working through a burden are immense.  So, can we stop acting like spiritual 3-year-olds?  Can we believe that God is allowing a burden or a trial for our own good and the good of His kingdom?   Can we work with God, instead of against Him as he matures us?  The choice is yours.

Psalms 138:3 – In the day when I cried you answered me, and strengthened me with strength in my soul.

2 Corinthians 12:9 – And he said to me, My grace is sufficient for you: for my strength is made perfect in weakness…

It’s okay to ask God to remove a burden or deliver you from a trial.  But remember, God sees your big picture.  He knows what tomorrow holds.  He knows your limits.  So if you don’t find deliverance, then accept that God knows what he is doing, and that He is working all things out for your good.    

Matthew 26:47 – While he was still speaking, Judas came, one of the twelve, and with him a great crowd with swords and clubs, from the chief priests and the elders of the people.

John gives us a more specific description of this crowd:

John 18:3 – Judas then, having received a band of men and officers from the chief priests and Pharisees, came there with lanterns and torches and weapons.

So, obviously we have the traitor Judas, who is the leader.  He has ‘a band’ of men with him.  The literal translation is actually ‘the band’ and it refers to a specific cohort of soldiers. 

Because of the great multitude of people who flocked into Jerusalem for the Passover, Pilate automatically assigned a group of Roman soldiers to keep watch/stand guard by the temple.  They were under the authority of the high priest.  If any disorder or riot broke out, they were there to restore peace. This accounts for the men with swords. 

There were also ‘officers from the chief priests and Pharisees’.  These were Levites who were the normal temple guards and they were most likely armed with clubs.

This group came with torches and lanterns, probably because it was still before dawn and it would have been dark as they left the city. 

Now, put yourself in the shoes of the disciples for a moment.  There are 11 of you, plus Jesus.  You have no military experience.  You are unarmed, except for two small swords used for protection against robbers (Luke 22:38).  You are physically and mentally exhausted.  Jesus has just told you to get up, because he is now going to turn himself over to be crucified.  And the next thing you see is this imposing group of armed, trained soldiers.  What would be your first reaction?  I think mine would be fear!

Matthew 26:48-49 – Now the betrayer had given them a sign, saying, “The one I will kiss is the man; seize him.  And he came up to Jesus at once and said, “Greetings, Rabbi!” And he kissed him.

It was dark and the Roman soldiers were not familiar with Jesus.  So Judas worked out a signal with them – he would identify Jesus with a kiss, and a greeting of Rabbi. 

It was customary among the Jews, that when friend meets friend, they salute one another with a kiss.  It would seem that when Judas kissed Jesus, he did that which all the apostles were accustomed to do, when they met their Master after an absence. 

Matthew 26:50 – Jesus said to him, “Friend, do what you came to do.”  Then they came up and laid hands on Jesus and seized him.

It seems strange that Jesus would call his betrayer a friend.  If you go back to the original Greek, the word is more properly translated ‘companion’ or ‘comrade’, which makes more sense.  

Obviously, Jesus is not fooled by this pretence of affection by Judas.  He admonishes the traitor to get to the point; to do what he came to do.

Matthew 26:51 – And behold, one of those who were with Jesus stretched out his hand and drew his sword and struck the servant of the high priest and cut off his ear.

Who was the swordsman who cut off this man’s ear? What was the injured man’s name?

According to the gospel of John, Peter was the swordsman. The injured man’s name was Malchus (John 18:10).

According to the gospel of Luke, Jesus took the time to stop and heal the man’s ear (Luke 22:50-51).  In order to do so, he either had to pick up the ear and put it back on the guy’s head, or he had to create a new ear.  Either way, it was a miracle that could only be produced by the unlimited power of God.

So the final earthly miracle that Jesus performs was unexpected and unsolicited by the recipient.  In fact, it was performed upon an enemy actually engaged in hostility against Jesus.  What a striking demonstration of mercy and forgiveness!  

Matthew 26:52 – Then Jesus said to him, “Put your sword back into its place.  For all who take the sword will perish by the sword.”

Jesus rebukes Peter for his rash action.  Starting a fight with 11 men and 2 swords against a crowd of armed and trained soldiers is a really bad idea.  In fact, had it not been for the providence and care of Jesus, the entire group of apostles may well have been immediately cut in pieces.

If Jesus had instructed Peter to do so, that would have been a completely different scenario.  God can and will do the miraculous, but we need to follow his lead in that regard. In this case, Peter was acting against the will of God.

Matthew 26:53 – “Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels?”

What good was Peter’s sword anyway?  If Jesus chose to, he could have requested and received a limitless supply of help from heaven.  Jesus did not need Peter or his sword to rescue him.  In fact, Peter’s actions showed distrust in the providence and power of God, and ignorance of the scriptures. 

The battle that was being fought that day was not a physical one.  It was a spiritual battle that manifested itself in the natural realm. So Peter’s misguided efforts were of no avail.  

Matthew 26:54 – “But how then should the Scriptures be fulfilled, that it must be so?”

It is obvious to us that the scriptures foretold the death/sacrifice of Jesus for the sins of the world.  Having finished the work that the Father gave him to do, it was now time for Jesus to give up his life.  So any attempt on the part of the disciples to stop the process was futile.

However, the disciples did not have the benefit of hindsight like we do.  I am sure they were still adjusting to the situation.  The words of Jesus are just one more reminder that everything was progressing exactly as God had planned it from the very beginning of time. 

You know, God also knows about your life.  Psalms 139 tells us that God knew every one of the days of your life, before you were ever born.  It tells us that God knows when you sit down, when you get up and every word that is on your lips before it is spoken.

It also says that he has hedged you in, going before and after you to protect you.

Psalm 139:5 – You have hedged me behind and before, and laid your hand upon me.

So no matter what trials you are experiencing right now, God is right there.  No matter what uncertainties we face (changes in government leadership, the virus, raging fires, intense storms, unemployment, etc), God is right here.  None of this is a surprise to him.  Therefore, He can guide you through what seems to be difficult times.  Seek him in prayer as Jesus did.  He will give you strength and wisdom to bear your burdens and be victorious!

Matthew 26:55 – At that hour Jesus said to the crowds, “Have you come out as against a robber, with swords and clubs to capture me?  Day after day I sat in the temple teaching, and you did not seize me.”

At this time there were robbers who frequently hid in caves along the highways and preyed upon travelers.  They were notoriously violent and wicked.  The government sent armed soldiers out to hunt down and capture these criminals.

And now, they are treating Jesus in much the same manner even though he is neither wicked nor violent.  He sat peaceably in the temple on many occasions.  At other times, he was out in public ministering.  Jesus was never armed, nor did he hide from the Romans or the Jews.  They could have taken him at any time.  The large armed force sent to ‘capture’ him was an unnecessary insult.

Matthew 26:56 – “But all this has taken place that the Scriptures of the prophets might be fulfilled.”  Then all the disciples left him and fled.

Jesus makes sure to give witness that the events which were taking place at that moment were not controlled by mankind.  They were the result of the will and plans of God himself. They had been predicted hundreds of years before, and could easily be verified by looking at the Old Testament scriptures.

As we have already discussed, one of these scriptures foretold that when the shepherd was struck, the sheep would be scattered.  Thus, the disciples left Jesus and fled.

Let me offer you some encouragement:

We looked at the suffering of Jesus in the garden.  We saw that God did not remove his burden, but strengthened him that he could bear it. 

If you are facing a heavy burden today, let me encourage you to do the same thing that Jesus did – spend time in prayer.  Pour your heart out before God.  Ask him to strengthen you so that you too can bear whatever burden you have.  By seeking him, you will find strength, rest and a deepening of the relationship between you and the Lord. 

Burdens and trials are not pleasant, but they do much for our eternal growth and our relationship with God.

Let me offer you some relief:

What can we say about the actions of the disciples during this time?  They appear to be scared and weak.  But the good news is that they did not end up that way!  Once they were baptized in the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost, they became bold witnesses for Christ.  They were no longer afraid of what man could do to them.

Are you weak or fearful of what could happen to you for your faith?  Jesus is still baptizing people with the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit is still providing the strength and boldness you need to live an amazing, powerful life for Christ.  Why not pray and ask Jesus about your relationship with the Holy Spirit?

Let me offer you some strength:

Despite what things look like around you, God is in control of the world.  He continues to hold it in place as it spins around the sun.  He is bigger and more powerful than the affairs of men.  Nothing happens without his consent.  Things that do happen, happen on God’s time schedule. 

In the midst of all of that, God is still acutely aware of each individual person.  He is still seeking the lost.  He is still breathing new life into babies.  He is still calling saints home to be with him.  And He, the Almighty God and Everlasting Father, still desires to have a close, intimate relationship with YOU.  He desires to find you in his throne room, asking for his help.  He desires to impart his strength into your body, soul and spirit.  Won’t you spend some time with him today?  

  

 

    

 

Matthew, Chapter 26, Part 3

Matthew 26:31 – Then Jesus said to them, “You will all fall away because of m this night.  For it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’”

Wow!  Jesus’ last night on earth is proving to be emotionally draining to the apostles. 

First, Jesus washes their feet (John 13).  This was an utterly unexpected act, which the disciples were hesitant to accept at first.  I am sure it made them uncomfortable.  But they followed the leading of Jesus, despite its unconventional nature. 

Just as things seem to get back to normal during the Passover celebration, Jesus makes the shocking revelation that one of them would betray him.  All of them are alarmed and horrified.  There would have been a great tide of raw emotion as each one questions if he might be the one.  But then a wave of sweet relief washed over the eleven, as each one realized he was not the one.   

I am sure they were expecting a typical ending to the Passover celebration; an ending like dozens of endings they had experienced in the past.  But not that night!  At the close of Passover, Jesus institutes a new sacrament – communion. 

Again, a feeling of normalcy must have taken over as they sung the closing hymns and gave thanks to God.  But as they depart for the Mount of Olives, Jesus blows their minds again:  that very night, in a matter of hours, they will ALL abandon the Teacher/Messiah that they love so dearly!

Can you imagine the second wave of shock and disbelief that overcomes them?  Furthermore, Jesus tells them that their abandonment of him was prophesied hundreds of years before:  

Zechariah 13:7 – “Awake, O sword, against my shepherd, against the man who stands next to me,” declares the Lord of hosts.  “Strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered; I will turn my hand against the little ones.”

In Zechariah, God speaks of awakening or permitting the sword of his wrath to fall upon the shepherd (Jesus) and smite him.  This speaks of the suffering that Jesus would endure on earth before and during his crucifixion. 

Once that sword of suffering began to fall, the sheep (disciples) would be scattered (run away, abandon Jesus).  This was perfectly fulfilled on the night Jesus was betrayed.

Scattered is an interesting term.  It means to strew about or to separate in different directions.  In other words, once Jesus was arrested, each disciple immediately turned to the care of himself without regard for Jesus or their fellow apostles.  When death drew close, it was instantly ‘every man for himself’. 

Matthew 26:32 – “But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee.”

But again, words of hope and comfort are given to the followers of Jesus.  They hardly had time to process the fact that they would abandon the savior before he assures them that their actions will not be the end of the relationship.   

They will forsake Jesus, but He will be faithful to them.  They are going to stumble, but He will pick them up.  Once He is risen, He will tenderly and lovingly gather them together again.  He will go before them, as a true shepherd goes before his sheep. 

Matthew 26:33 – Peter answered him, “Though they all fall away because of you, I will never fall away.”

Peter adamantly rejects notion that he would ever abandon Christ.  With the utmost confidence he binds himself to a promise – ‘I will not be offended and run away’.  But he doesn’t stop there; he presumptuously claims that he would NEVER be offended in Christ. 

Hmm… had his declaration been made in an attitude of humble dependency upon the grace of God, it might have been acceptable. But clearly, it was being made out of confidence in his own fleshly power and courage.

Evidently, down in his heart, he feels that he is better than his fellow disciples; they may fall, but he will not.  His pride and self confidence are readily apparent in his conversation.  He assumes that he is safe from any and all temptations and weaknesses that are common to mankind. 

In reality, he has no idea just how weak he truly is! 

Matthew 26:34 – Jesus said to him, “Truly, I tell you, this very night, before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times.”

Peter is sure that he will escape the temptation better than any of his fellow apostles, but in fact, he will do worse.  He would not only run away out of fear, but he would disown Jesus – not once, but three separate times.

Matthew 26:35 – Peter said to him, “Even if I must die with you, I will not deny you!”  And all the disciples said the same.

Clearly Peter knew what he SHOULD do – die with Christ rather than denying him (Luke 14:26).

He knew what he WANTED to do – be faithful to his Lord, no matter what the cost (Luke 9:62).

Though his intentions were noble, he was POWERLESS to stand when the trial/temptation came. 

Peter would soon find out that although death does not look so formidable at a distance, it can be scary close up!  When it draws near, your natural (fleshly) reactions are fear and flight.  Sure enough, when the soldiers came to arrest Jesus, fear took over, and Peter fled the scene. 

What about us?  Are we in a position to stand firm when trials and temptations come to us?  How can we avoid the same mistake that Peter made on that long ago night?

One thing we can do is make sure we are wearing the full armor of God:

Ephesians 6:11-12 – Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.  For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in heavenly places.

The apostles failed to stand that night because they were operating in their own fleshly power.  It takes spiritual weapons to fight spiritual battles.  Spiritual attacks can only be thwarted with spiritual defenses: 

Ephesians 6:13 – Therefore take unto you the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.

Let’s take a quick review of the spiritual armor available to us:

Ephesians 6:14 – Stand therefore, having your loins girded about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness;

Integrity, holiness and purity in life are automatic defenses against many of the assaults of Satan.  There is an old saying ‘those who play with fire get burned’.  Don’t play with sin – if you do, temptation will overcome you every time.

One of the greatest defenses you have is truth.  This doesn’t mean just telling the truth in everyday life.  The Bible tells us that God’s word is truth (John 17:17).  It is vital that you know and recognize truth as defined in the Bible, because the world is constantly whispering lies into your ears. 

  • The world says that sexual perversions are legitimate alternate lifestyles.  God says that marriage is exclusively between one man and one woman.
  • The world says that all religions can coexist; all roads lead to heaven.  The bible says Jesus Christ is the way, the truth and the life, no one comes to the Father except through Him.
  • The world says you are descended from a monkey.  The bible says that man was created in the image of God.
  • The world says that God is either dead or powerless.  The bible says that Jesus reigns and that he will one day put all enemies under his feet.   

I am sure that each of us could give many other examples.  The point is, if you want to stand in times of trial and temptation, you need to know what the truth really is! 

Ephesians 6:15-16 –  And your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace; Above all, taking the shield of faith, with which you shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one.  

Do you have your shoes on?  Are you ready to give a simple account of the gospel message to those around you?  If not, take the time to put together some scriptures so that you are ready to harvest a life for Christ when the opportunity arises.

What about your shield?  Is it a big, thick, formidable one, or a small, thin weak one? 

Good news: you can strengthen your shield of faith.    

Is your armor in good shape?
  • Every time you pray, you are exercising faith.  If you didn’t believe that God hears and answers prayer, you would not bother to pray!
  • When you claim and/or speak one of God’s promises over your life or the life of someone you know, you are exercising faith in the promises of God.  When he answers, your faith grows and is strengthened.
  • When you obey the commandments of God, you are practicing faith in his word.  
  • When you testify about something that you believe God is going to do for you, even though you have not seen it happen yet, you are exercising faith.

The shield protects every part of the body by deflecting or blocking attacks.  Likewise, your faith will protect every aspect of your life, if it is strong enough.

Ephesians 6:17 – And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God:

Are you wearing your helmet?  Are you convinced of having salvation and the blessings of God in the next life?  The assurance of an eternity spent with God can strengthen hope and resolve which can aid you in the fight against evil.

The sword makes another reference to the word of God.  When Jesus fought with Satan during the wilderness temptation, what did he use to defeat him?  That’s right – the word of God.  The same word that is available to you right now.  You should have some of that word hidden in your heart so you can use it on command when temptations and afflictions arise, just as Jesus did.

Are there other things that will help us stand in the day of temptation? Most assuredly!

1 Corinthians 10:13 – There has no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted above that you are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that you may be able to bear it.

Here is an exceedingly great promise from God that we can use for our benefit.  God has provided an escape route for us, in each and every temptation that the enemy throws our way.  We must train ourselves to look for that escape hatch.   

For instance, let’s suppose that you have a problem with envy.  Anytime you see someone with something wonderful, you want it for yourself.   Your desire is so great, that you are angry at the other person’s happiness.

What ways of escape might be open to you, as you fight this temptation/sin?

First off, you could use the sword of the Spirit to knock down the bullet of envy by quoting Luke 12:15 to yourself:

Luke 12:15 – And he [Jesus] said to them, Take heed and beware of covetousness; for a man’s life consists not in the abundance of the things which he possesses. 

That would stop your envy quickly, wouldn’t it?  During that moment when envy is pushed back, you could begin to list the things in your life that you are thankful for.  As you begin to dwell on how good God has been to you now, and the wonderful things that will be yours in eternity, envy will have to leave.  So in this case, thankfulness would be an escape hatch against envy.

Another idea would be to begin to worship God, the giver of all good and perfect gifts.  As we enter into his presence through worship, no evil can follow; envy will depart from us when we are in God’s throne room.  Remember David and King Saul?  When the evil spirit came to torment the king, David would play songs of praise on his harp, and the demon would leave.  Why was that?  Because God inhabits our praise, and the demon could not stay in God’s presence.

Perhaps a third idea would be to call a spiritual friend.  Let them know you are having an attack, and you need some support.  The two of you could talk until your temptation passes.

Phone a friend

So stop and think for a moment – what temptations/sins are the most difficult for you to battle against?  What scriptures could you use to deflect an attack?  How could you use your faith to block an attack?  What possible escape hatches can you find?  I encourage you to prepare now, before the next attack comes!

Of course, the ultimate source of power that God has given to every Christian is his Holy Spirit.  It was the Holy Spirit that transformed the cowering, fearful disciples into mighty, fearless witnesses for God.

In Matthew 26, we found Peter running away in fear and denying Jesus.  Yet, at the end of his life he was willingly crucified for his faith in Christ.  Foxes’ Book of Martyrs tells us that Peter did not think himself worthy to die in the same manner as Jesus, so he requested to be crucified upside down. Can you imagine that?   

The Holy Spirit empowers us for service.

Through the power of the Holy Spirit Peter lived a holy life, won people to Christ, performed miracles, refuted false teaching, wrote two books of the New Testament, brought the Gentiles into the church, and many other things. 

It was the Holy Spirit who equipped him to carry out the divine mission that God had appointed for him.  The Holy Spirit is still available to believer today:

Acts 2:38-39 – Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.  For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call.   

His mission has not changed. He is here on earth, willing to baptize and equip any follower of Jesus with the power needed to stand in the time of temptation,  and to fulfill the unique destiny that God has appointed for each one of us. 

Why not spend some time in prayer this week, asking Jesus if you need more of the Holy Spirit in your life?  If you do, be open to a move of God in your life.

Let me offer you some encouragement:

You are not helpless and alone in the fight against temptation and evil.  Far from it!  God has given you spiritual armor to aid in your battle.  He has given you his word; the same word Jesus used to defeat Satan during His temptation.  And He has given you (or is willing even now to give you) a new infilling of his Holy Spirit. 

So don’t live your life discouraged.  Live in victory by using the power and skills that God has given to you.

Let me offer you some relief: 

Have you ever wondered whether or not you would be strong enough to be a martyr for Christ?  I can answer that for you. 

If you were to depend on your own power and determination, you would fail just as Peter did on that Passover night so long ago.  Your flesh does not have the power to be a martyr.

But here is the relief – you don’t have to depend on your own power!  If you are full of the Holy Spirit he would empower you to be victorious in all your spiritual struggles.  Through Him, you would certainly be able to withstand evil, even to the point of death.   

Let me offer you some strength:

God has created you to be victorious in the face of evil.  He does not want you to be cowering and fearful.  He will provide you with the strength necessary to be faithful to him until he returns or calls you home.

Isaiah 41:10 – Fear not; for I am with you: be not dismayed; for I am your God: I will strengthen you; yea, I will help you; yea, I will uphold you with the right hand of my righteousness.

Matthew, Chapter 26, Part 2

Immediately after the Passover, Jesus institutes the Lord’s Supper, or what we commonly call communion.  You may also hear it referred to as the Eucharist or the Holy Eucharist.  These terms all refer to the same thing – the sacrament or ceremony of commemorating the death of Christ by using bread and wine as the appointed emblems of the communion.   

Communion is considered a sacrament by all Christians.  (A sacrament is a solemn religious ordinance given by Christ, the head of the church, to be observed by his followers.) 

Protestants believe there are two sacraments – communion and baptism. 

Catholics believe there are seven – communion, baptism, confirmation, penance, anointing of the sick, matrimony and holy orders.

Although all Christians believe in the sacrament of communion, different groups view it in vastly different ways.  As a result, communion has become a source of division in the world wide body of Christ.  This lesson is written from the Protestant point of view, however, we will mention some opposing beliefs at the end of this lesson.

But for now, let’s turn to scripture.  The sacrament of communion is recorded here in Matthew, as well as in Mark 14:22-26 and Luke 22:15-20.  It is also referenced by Paul in 1 Corinthians 11:23-25.  We will be referencing all of these scriptures in this lesson, so you might want to take a few minutes to read them.

Let’s consult the scriptures.

Before we dig in to each aspect of the sacrament, let’s examine the overall view of what is happening here.  Jesus was creating a remembrance of our redemption/salvation. 

Picture this event as a moment frozen in time.   Up until this very moment, God’s people have lived under the Old Covenant or the Law.  They have observed the feast of Passover, a sacrament of the law which was a shadow or picture of the redemption that was to come by the Messiah. 

In less than 24 hours, Jesus would end (fulfill) the Old Covenant by sacrificing himself for the sins of the world. 

In doing so, he ushers in the New Covenant, the kingdom of heaven, the age of grace.  The New Covenant requires a new sacrament – and so Jesus conducts the very first communion service with his disciples, only minutes after observing the final Passover.  

Consider how astounding this truly is – scripture has given us a snapshot of the exact moment of the transition between the old and the new sacraments. 

Within hours of the time the ‘snapshot’ of this event took place, another event occurred.  It is also recorded in Holy Scripture.  It too, is a snapshot forever frozen in time – the most stunning, mind blowing, epic event that has ever taken place in the history of the world – the sacrifice of Jesus Christ!

It is this extraordinary event that we commemorate as we observe the sacrament of communion.   Communion should never be approached with a casual air or indifferent attitude.  It is not just an empty ritual in remembrance of an event long past.  It is the impartation of life to every believer in Jesus Christ, in every generation.  So let’s take a closer look at the scriptures.  It is my hope that you will be never look at communion the same way after this study.     

Matthew 26:26 – Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.”

First, we see that Jesus ‘took bread’.  In other words, he picked up some of the bread that was already at hand.  Remember, this event is happening at the close of the Passover meal.  As we mentioned last time, Passover was immediately followed by the seven day feast of unleavened bread.  During that time, the Jews completely removed all traces of leaven from their homes and even businesses.  Therefore, there can be no doubt that the bread used in the first communion was unleavened bread.  It would have been a thin cake, easily broken and distributed.

The bread itself was ordinary, readily available, unleavened bread.  There was nothing particularly special about it.  However, because Jesus ‘took it’ or set it apart for holy purposes, it became holy.

This is how we should view the bread in our present day sacrament of communion.  Although it may come from a common, every day source, it has been taken or set apart for a holy purpose.  We should always make sure that we respect the communion elements.

In the scriptures, leaven often represents sin.  The first communion bread did not contain any leaven; therefore it symbolically contained no sin or was sinless.  This makes it a good comparison to Jesus since he truly was sinless.  This is not the first time Jesus has used this comparison: 

John 6:35 – And Jesus said unto them, I am the bread of life…

Jesus is the bread of life.  Just as physical bread is needed for life and nourishment of the flesh, the sacrifice of Christ’s body is needed for life and nourishment of the soul. 

So we find that Jesus makes a comparison between himself and the bread.  The bread is not really his body; Jesus is speaking symbolically.  He has done this many times in the past.  For instance, he calls himself the ‘vine’ in John 15:1, and the ‘door’ in John 10:7. But he was never really a literal, physical vine or door.  Jesus was comparing himself to these items, just as he compared himself to the communion bread.

Jesus blesses the bread.  The word translated ‘blessing’ has also been translated as ‘give thanks’ in other scriptures (see John 6:11).  During the blessing of the elements, Jesus acknowledges God as the author of every good and perfect gift.  While the Jews were accustomed to give thanks to God for all earthly food, this was different.  This thanksgiving was to center on the spiritual aspect of the elements – the atonement of Christ which resulted in the eternal salvation of the human race.  

Since the bread represented his body, the breaking of the bread represented the sufferings of Jesus that were about to take place – his body was wounded, pierced, bruised and finally broken by death.  Why?  What was the purpose? 

It was to make atonement for our sins; to purchase our redemption with his priceless, sinless blood: 

1 Corinthians 11:24 – And when he [Jesus] had given thanks, he broke it, and said, Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me. 

The suffering and sacrifice of Jesus are the exact things that Jesus is instructing us to vividly remember during the communion service:

Luke 22:19 – …This is my body, which is given for you.  Do this in remembrance of me.

As we come into God’s presence during communion and stop to consider what Jesus went through during the crucifixion, our hearts should be stirred.  As we look at the bread and juice, we are reminded that he was whipped, mocked, abandoned, pierced with nails, crowned with thorns and hung up to die a painful humiliating death. Worst of all, He experienced spiritual separation from God.  As he assumed all of our sin upon himself, He was cut off from the Father. 

Not only do we stop to consider the suffering of Christ, we need to stop and consider the cause of that suffering – us.  It was your sin and my sin that put Jesus up on that cross.  Communion is a time to reflect how much our sin actually cost the Son of God.

So, by participating in communion, we publicly acknowledge our sense of guilt and need of a savior.   We also publicly declare our trust in Jesus and our love for him, as well as or desire to be with him always.  Consideration of these vital truths will increase our faith, lift our hope, enlarge our love, and strengthen us against sin.   The rite of communion is not just an empty ritual.  It brings spiritual life to you and me.  

Have you noticed that Satan loves to constantly remind us of our sin?  He desires to render us ineffective for Christ by getting us to dwell on the shame and guilt of our failures. 

But this spell is broken when we enter into communion.  Yes, we know we have sinned; but the bread is a clear reminder that our sin has been atoned for.  Our part is to ‘take and eat’ the bread or to appropriate the sacrifice of Jesus with our faith. 

Matthew 26:27-28 – And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.”

Jesus instituted the use of two elements in the communion rite.  The second is the cup.  Our physical bodies require both food and drink to be sustained.  Likewise, our spiritual man needs both elements, and both are provided exclusively by the sacrifice of Jesus. 

The wine or juice represent the blood of Jesus and are referred to as the cup.

What do the scriptures teach us about blood?

For one thing, they tell us that the life of every living thing is in its blood:

Deuteronomy 12:23 – Only be sure that you eat not the blood: for the blood is the life; and you may not eat the life with the flesh.  

It also tells us that blood is required for the remission of sin:

Leviticus 17:11 – For the life of the flesh is in the blood: and I have given it to you upon the altar to make an atonement for your souls: for it is the blood that makes an atonement for the soul.

Hebrews 9:22 – Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.

This was clearly evident under the Law/Old Covenant, which was ratified when Moses literally sprinkled the blood of an animal on the Israelites:

Exodus 24:8 – And Moses took the blood, and sprinkled it on the people, and said, Behold the blood of the covenant, which the LORD has made with you concerning all these words.

Under the Law, only those of Israel could obtain forgiveness through sacrifice.  All Gentiles were excluded. 

Nearly every sacrifice required blood to be shed and sprinkled on the altar and once a year, the high priest had to sprinkle blood on the Mercy Seat within the Holy of Holies to cover the sins of Israel for another year.  This was done year, after year, after year, because the blood of animals could not provide permanent restitution for sin.

The Old Covenant was a shadow of what would take place in the New Covenant, when Jesus would shed his perfect blood for the permanent atonement of sin:

Hebrews 9:12-14 –  Neither by the blood of goats and calves, but by his own blood he entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us.  For if the blood of bulls and of goats, and the ashes of a heifer sprinkling the unclean, sanctifies to the purifying of the flesh:  How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?

Keeping in mind that there is no remission of sin without blood, notice the emphasis placed upon the cup by Jesus.  While he simply told them to eat the bread, he expressly states that ALL are to drink of the cup. Thus, all believers in all ages whether Jew or Gentile, are commanded to drink.  This is because the cup represents the very essence of our redemption – the blood of Christ poured out for the remission of our sin.  The blood/cup is what actually ratifies the New Covenant.  Without it we have nothing. 

So, we see that communion is a wonderful and glorious expression of grace – the undeserved favor of God – upon our lives and immortal souls!  We bring nothing to the new covenant except our needs – the need for forgiveness, the need for healing, the need for rescue, the need for love, the need for righteousness, etc.  For his part, God brings to the New Covenant everything that you and I have need of, PLUS benefits we never imagined in our wildest dreams!  And the factor that ratified this covenant between God and Man was the blood of Jesus. 

It should be noted that partaking of communion does not save your soul.  Each one of us must expressly apply the blood of Jesus to our own spiritual lives/hearts, because that is the way appointed by God for the pardon of our sin.  Communion symbolizes the atonement that has already been applied to our lives.   

Matthew 26:29 – “I tell you I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.”

Two important things are indicated here.  One, Jesus is going to die.  Therefore, he will not be on earth to lead the communion celebration again.  Obviously, that is not a shock to any of us.  However, for the apostles, these words of Jesus were an immense consolation.  While they were pained by the thought of him dying, Jesus confirms that his death is not a final separation.

This brings up the second point.  One day, you and I and all the other followers of Christ will be reunited together in the kingdom of Heaven.  At that time, we will partake of new wine as we enjoy everlasting communion with our Savior and we celebrate the blessings and triumphs of redemption.  Clearly, communion is not just looking back to what happened thousands of years ago.  It also looks forward to a future where we are in Heaven with Jesus, in the presence of God.  It is a future where we will enjoy a healthy, fulfilling, productive existence – forever! 

1 Corinthians 11:26 – For as often as you eat this bread, and drink this cup, you do show the Lord’s death till he comes.

How often are we to take communion?  The scriptures are not specific on this point; you can observe the rite of communion as often as you need it.  There may be times when once every month or so is enough.  But there may be times of chaos in your life where you feel like you need to partake of the Lord’s table daily. 

The only thing we can say for sure is that communion is a perpetual ordinance; we are to continuously observe this sacrament until we die, or Jesus returns. 

Matthew 26:30 – And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.

It was customary for the Jews to sing or chant the 113th, 114th, 115th, 116th, 117th and 118th Psalms during the Passover celebration.  The 114th and 118th were typically sung during the observance of the Passover meal, and the rest at the close of the celebration.  There is no reason to believe that Jesus sung anything else on the evening he instituted the rite of communion.

This in itself is very instructive.  You would do well to take a look at these six short Psalms. 

  • The 113th Psalm has 9 verses and focuses on praise to God.  For instance, this is verse 2:

Psalms 113:2 – Blessed be the name of the Lord from this time forth and forevermore!

  • The 115th contains 18 verses and speaks of the glory of God and how he blesses his children.
  • The 116th Psalm has 19 verses and speaks of God’s righteousness and mercy; it reflects on our deliverance from death and affliction.
  • The 117th Psalm has 2 verses; it instructs us to praise our God!

Do you see a pattern here? 

Praise and worship are a part of communion.  Not only do we remember our sins and reflect on the price that our Savior paid, but in the end there is great rejoicing and cause for celebration. 

Who rescues us, and showers us with mercy?  Who delivers us from death and affliction?  Who exhibits steadfast love and faithfulness to us?  Is it not Jesus, our Redeemer, our Savior, our King?   How can communion end in anything but great joy, as we realize the new life and freedom we have in Christ?  At the close of communion, we should be bursting with praise and worship to our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ!  Hallelujah!

Additional Viewpoints:

Previously, we noted that Protestants and Catholics both believe in the sacrament of communion, but practice it in vastly different ways.  One of the major differences is how the two groups view the actual elements. 

Protestants view the bread and juice as exactly that – bread and juice.  They are symbols that represent the body and blood of Christ, nothing more.

Catholics, however, believe in transubstantiation, which is defined as ‘a change into another substance’.  Roman Catholics believe that the bread becomes the actual flesh of Jesus and the juice becomes the actual blood of Jesus as the elements are consecrated by the priest, however, the elements still appear as bread and wine.

The Lutherans and Anglicans have yet another point of view.  They believe in consubstantiation.  In this doctrine, the bread is both bread and the body of Christ at the same time.  The juice is both juice and the blood of Christ at the same time.

An in depth study of other viewpoints is outside of the scope of this lesson.  However, there are many other resources that you can access if you wish to do a self study on the different practices of communion.  

Let me offer you some encouragement:  Communion connects us to the past.  As we take a quiet moment of reflection to recall Christ’s sacrifice for us, we should be encouraged.  Even though thousands of years have passed, His blood never loses its power or runs dry.  We may stumble and fall in our Christian walk; we may sometimes make poor choices or give into sin.  But forgiveness is still available through the precious blood of Christ. 

Let me offer you some relief:   Communion is relevant for the present day.  It reminds us to rejoice in the New Covenant that Jesus has brokered between God and mankind.  Because of that covenant, you and I can walk in victory every day.  So if the chaos of the world is getting you down, look for relief at the communion table.  Spend time praising and worshipping our Redeemer.  Dwell on the mighty promises of the Word.  Soon you will find relief from the uncertainties of daily life. 

Let me offer you some strength:  Communion connects us with the future.  It strengthens us with the promises of tomorrow.  It reminds us that one day, Jesus will return for his church.  We will spend eternity with Him in the kingdom of heaven, where he will once again drink of the fruit of the vine with us.   Hallelujah!

Matthew, Chapter 26, Part 1

Matthew 26:1-2 – When Jesus finished all these sayings, he said to his disciples, ‘You know that after two days the Passover is coming, and the Son of Man will be delivered up to be crucified.’

Many scholars believe that verses 1-2 of chapter 26 should have been the very last verses of chapter 25.  In chapter 25, Jesus has just finished his teachings regarding the end of the Jewish age and the end of time; he now reminds them that Passover is coming and he will crucified at that time. 

Think of it!  The most crucial event in God’s timetable for the ages was about to take place!  Can you imagine the joy of heaven as the time drew near for Jesus to legally defeat Satan and put an end to the power of sin and death?   

Let’s give ourselves a quick review of the Passover celebration.  We will take a look at the basics of the first Passover, then look at how the customs changed after their liberation from Egypt. 

Passover Lamb

God instituted this celebration as He freed the Israelites from slavery in Egypt.  You can find the original instructions for Passover in Exodus 12:3-20, Leviticus 23:5-8 and Numbers 28:16-25.

On the 10th day of Nisan, each household was to select a male lamb that was without blemish.  They kept this lamb separated until the 14th of Nisan (or Abib).  At that time the head of each household would kill the lamb sometime in the afternoon, before the sun was fully set.  The blood of this lamb was sprinkled on the top and both sides of the door frame of each entrance/exit to their house.  When the death angel of the Lord saw the blood on the door, he would ‘pass over’ that house.  However, in houses where the blood was absent (Egyptian households), each and every firstborn male was mysteriously killed that night.

Blood was put on the top and sides of the door frame.

The lamb was eaten the same day it was sacrificed, after being roasted.  It could not be boiled, fried, stewed, cooked in an Instant Pot or eaten raw.  It HAD to be roasted.  In order to be roasted, it was thrust through with two spits – on lengthwise and one transversely.  These two spits crossed each other in the area of the forelegs, so that the animal appeared to be crucified.  No bones of the animal were to be broken in this process. 

The lamb was to be eaten with unleavened bread and bitter herbs (salad), while the people were fully clothed and wearing coats and shoes.  This was to show that they were ready to leave Egypt in a hurry. 

While the basics of this feast are still retained, some changes have been made.  In later years when the lamb was selected, he actually lived with the family, inside the house, for the 4 day waiting period.  During this time, they often grew attached to the animal.  Because of this, the death of the lamb had a greater impact on the household. 

When the 14th came, all lambs were sacrificed at the temple by a priest, at around 3 pm in the afternoon (As opposed to being sacrificed by the head of the house, anytime in the afternoon, at any place).  The blood was sprinkled on the corner of the brazen altar, instead of the door posts. 

The lamb was still to be put on two spits, roasted and eaten on the same day.  Each lamb was designed to feed a group of between 10-20 people.  Families had to join together to meet these requirements.    

Passover itself is a single day festival.  However, immediately following it the Jews celebrate the Feast of Unleavened Bread.  During this time, all leaven is removed from their houses for 7 days.  This festival shows that the leaven of sin should be put far from us, after our sins have been forgiven by the blood of Jesus. 

Together, these two festivals give us a picture of Jesus.  Just as the Israelites were enslaved to the Egyptians, we were slaves to sin.  But at the appointed time, Jesus came to earth to be our final sacrifice.  Just like the lamb, he was perfect (sinless).  He allowed himself to be crucified on the cross (the two spits) and he died at 3 pm in the afternoon.  The Jews applied the blood of the lamb to their door posts, and it delivered them from death.  We symbolically apply the blood of Christ to our hearts, which pays for our sin, while imputing the righteousness of Christ to us.  Because of this, we are free from spiritual death which is caused by sin.

Other changes have been made to the Passover celebration throughout the years.  If you are interested in the exact ceremony of Passover, including the four cups of wine, the reciting of various Psalms, the removing/adding of plates, the testimony of the father to his children about what God has done, etc you can look online.  This information is readily available, and since the practice of communion is tied into the Passover, you should know about it.  So take some time and check it out!     

Now that we have had a brief review of Passover, let’s return to our text.  Jesus tells his disciples that in just a couple of days, he will be crucified at Passover.  This demonstrates that Jesus was God, because he clearly knew that the time had come for him to be the fulfillment of the Passover celebration.   

John 13:1 – Now before the feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come that he should depart out of this world unto the Father…

So, the timing of the death of Jesus was not determined by the Jewish religious leaders or by the political overtones of those days.  The timing of the death of Christ was a fixed, appointed time that was determined by God, before the world began. 

We can easily show that the Jewish religious leaders did not intend to kill Him during the Passover:

Mark 14:1-2 – After two days was the feast of the Passover, and of unleavened bread: and the chief priests and the scribes sought how they might take him by craft, and put him to death.  But they said, Not on the feast day, lest there be an uproar of the people.   

Despite what man has planned, God is in control.  God had a definite, appointed time for the sacrifice of the Lamb of God and it happened exactly when God ordained that it would.

Likewise, God has appointed a set time for Jesus to return to earth, when he will take us to be with him and judge the world, as we saw in chapter 25.  

The declaration of Jesus about his coming crucifixion was not only a sign that he was God, it was a comfort to his followers.  When things did not go as expected, they could take comfort in the fact that God was in control. 

What a great lesson for us!  Events of this world may not be unfolding the way you thought they would, in your own personal life or in our country.  But if we are disciples of Jesus, we can take comfort knowing that he sees us, and that we are in the palm of his hands.  Regardless of what happens around us, we can be assured that God is in control.

Matthew 26:3 – Then the chief priests and the elders of the people gathered in the palace of the high priest, whose name was Caiaphas.

Let’s review the facts about the high priest and the ‘supreme court’ of the Jews.

High priest is a title given to the head priest in any generation.  Back when God first instituted the office of high priest, a man held that office until he died, then the title passed to his firstborn son, and to his firstborn son, etc.

Quick question – Who was the first high priest?

Answer – Aaron, brother of Moses (Exodus 28:1).

As you recall, Aaron had four sons – Eleazar, Nadab, Abihu and Ithamar.  When Aaron died, it passed to his eldest son Eleazar.  It continued to be inherited in that family line for approximately 300 years, until it passed to Eli, who was the son of Ithamar, Aaron’s fourth son.  It then continued in that branch of the family until the time of King Solomon, who deposed Abiathar (for disloyalty to David) and appointed Zadok (descendant of Eleazar) to the office.  It remained in Eleazar’s line until the Babylonian captivity.  After the return of the Jews to Jerusalem, a descendant of Eleazar (Joshua) was once again placed in the office. 

Then around 160 BC, when Antiochus Epiphanes ruled in Judea, he sold the office to the highest bidder!  From that time on, it changed hands frequently and was no longer a ‘lifetime’ position.  In fact, Herod the Great changed the high priest as often as he liked, for any reason that suited his fancy.  Persons who had been removed from that office still retained the title.  That is why more than one high priest is sometimes mentioned, although the office technically belonged to only one man.

Now, by this time the high priest was also the head of the supreme court of Israel, called the Sanhedrin.  This court was originally instituted during the lifetime of Moses (Numbers 11:16-17) and included 70 men, prominent elders and rulers of big families.  Originally, their job was to assist Moses in judging matters between the Jews, but the purpose and power of this council changed over time.

By the time of Christ, it consisted of 24 chief priests, scribes and some elders of the people, who were the heads of the great families.  They had the ultimate ruling authority over the Jews, however, at this all Jews were under the authority of Rome.  This meant that the Sanhedrin could try a person and condemn them to death, but they could not carry out the sentence without the consent of the Roman authorities. 

Now the scriptures tell us that some kind of a meeting took place in the ‘palace’ or court of the high priest’s house.  This leads many scholars to believe that it was not an official meeting of the Sanhedrin, because official meetings of that group were held in the hall of Gazith (one of the halls in the court surrounding the temple).  They believe the meeting included some of Sanhedrin, as well as some temple officials and friends of the current/former high priest.

On the other hand, some scholars are convinced that this was a true, official meeting of the Sanhedrin.  Regardless of who is correct, we can be sure that this was a group who were bitterly opposed to Jesus, determined to bring him to shame and death at any cost. 

Matthew 26:4-5 – …and plotted together in order to arrest Jesus by stealth and kill him.  But they said, ‘Not during the feast, lest there be an uproar among the people.’

All of the Jews believed Jesus was a distinguished prophet and teacher sent by God.  No doubt, many believed that he was the Messiah.  So any public plot against Jesus by the ruling Jews would probably have backfired on them.   The common Jews would have formed a mob, and rescued Jesus.  Realizing their position, the council gathered together to plan a covert or secret plot to arrest and kill Jesus.  But these men were not in control of the destiny of Jesus!  They could not frustrate the predetermined plans of Almighty God!

So the event that they wished to keep as secret as possible ended up taking place as the most public event of the century! Jews from all across the world has gathered in Jerusalem for the Passover feast.  These same people became witnesses to the most important event ever known to man – the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead! And they took that witness back to every corner of the globe. (It was very important that his resurrection be public, so that in later years, no false religion could cast doubt upon the claims of Christianity). 

Now, this raises important implications for us.  There are people in government positions or people in the court system who think they are in control of the destiny of Christians – but they are just as wrong as the Jewish council.  The bible tells us that Jesus is the head of the church…

Ephesians 1:22 – And has put all things under his [Jesus] feet, and gave him to be the head over all things to the church,

…and he is in control over all things relating to the body of Christ.  Governments believe that they can wipe out or suppress Christianity, but they cannot.  When they persecute the church, it just spreads like wildfire.  Try to snuff it out in one place, and it will pop back up in multiple other places. 

Judges believe that they can rule ruthlessly and unjustly over the people of God, and simply silence them, but they cannot.  Jesus will always provide whatever the church needs in order to bring it to victory.  Our assignment is to trust in Jesus, and follow his battle plan.  If we do, he will put our enemies (and His) to ultimate shame!

Matthew 26:6-7 – Now when Jesus was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, a woman came up to him with an alabaster flask of very expensive ointment, and she poured it on his head as he reclined at table.

Matthew has been relating events that took place two days before the Passover.  However, he now inserts an incident that took place six days earlier (John 12:1-2).  Why would he do such a thing?

His purpose is to show the treachery of Judas Iscariot.  In this passage, we will see that Judas is a thief.  He was not a true disciple of Jesus, but a traitor.  The rebuke he received at this dinner several days ago may have been the final catalyst that caused him to betray Christ.

So, we find that six days earlier, Jesus had been invited to supper at the house of Simon the leper.  It is really not possible for Simon to have been a leper at that point, because lepers could not live in the city and certainly nobody would go to their house for a meal.  It is likely that he himself had been cured of leprosy by Jesus, or that one of his relatives was, and the phrase “leper” was adopted as a surname to distinguish him from other men named Simon.

Now remember, at this time people did not sit upright in chairs at mealtime.  They reclined on couches with their heads toward the table and their feet pointing outward.  So as Jesus is eating, this woman arrives with a box of very expensive perfume.  Mark (14:3) and John (12:3) tell us that it was nard or spikenard. 

Spikenard was taken from an herb growing chiefly in the Indies.  It was a liquid obtained from the root or bark of the plant.  It was one of the most desired and precious of all the perfumes.  John tells us that she had a pound, which would equal 12 ounces to in our culture.  This is a rather large quantity of oil and it was very valuable.   

Back in Jesus’ day, people loved to anoint themselves with perfumes and ointments.  The most common method was to pour the perfume on the top of your head or hair.  Anywhere you went, people would be able to smell the perfume. So this woman breaks open her jar and without hesitation, she pours it on the head/hair of Jesus.      

The book of John mentions that she also poured some on his feet as well.  This was an uncommon way to use the perfume.  After his feet were wet, she then knelt down and wiped them with her hair.  This was an act of deep humility and it exemplified her love for Jesus. 

So… when was the last time you loved Jesus extravagantly?  How did you do that?  Do you ever look for opportunities to do it again?    

Matthew 26:8-10 – And when the disciples saw it, they were indignant, saying, “Why this waste?  For this could have been sold for a large sum and given to the poor.”  But Jesus, aware of this, said to them, “Why do you trouble this woman? For she has done a beautiful thing to me.”

Immediately, someone cast a damper on this act of humility and love by starting to complain.  Nothing can ruin an act of love more quickly than a complaint!  So who was the rotten apple?  You guessed it – Judas!

John 12:4-6 – But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (he who was about to betray him), said, “Why was this ointment not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?”  He said this not because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief and having charge of the moneybag, he used to help himself to what was put into it.

He not only murmurs against this woman and her display of extravagant love for Christ, he implies fault on the part of Jesus as well, for allowing her to treat him in this way.  That’s a very bold assumption, don’t you think?   

Once Judas begins to gripe and complain, it appears that the other disciples also entered into it.  What a grievous and evil fire was set aflame by the tongue of Judas!  His envy and avarice infected all of his companions.

What a multitude of lessons present themselves in this circumstance!

  • We ought to see this as a kind of warning, not to rashly decide on a matter until we have heard both sides of the story.  The disciples instantly sided with Judas because there was a degree of plausibility in his statement.  However, if they had waited to see what Jesus had to say about the matter, they would have come to a completely different conclusion.  I wonder how embarrassed they were after Jesus responded to their griping and accusations!  The wise person will consider both sides of the issue, before spouting off at the mouth!
  • Thinking of complaining?  Don’t do it!  It never helps.  Complaining is one of Satan’s favorite fragrances.  Don’t draw him to yourself by wallowing in it.  Don’t tear others down with it.  Say something encouraging or keep your mouth shut!
  • How dare the disciples judge this woman’s act of service to Christ as a ‘waste’?  What right did they have to do so?  This woman’s perfume was her ‘talent’.  Had she kept it hidden away instead of investing it, that would have been a waste. 

Instead, she purposely and selflessly rendered a unique gift/service to God; Jesus commends her actions as surely as if he had said ‘well done, good and faithful servant’.  In short, we have no right to judge the motivation of a person’s heart.  When someone gives a pure expression of love to Christ, it has a value unknown to us; but it is priceless to God.

Matthew 26:11 – “For you always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me.”

There are two kinds of opportunities which are available to us as Christians.  The majority of these are constant; they are always around.  For instance, we can always give clothing and shelter to the poor, because they will always be poor among us.  We can always feed the hungry, because there will always be hungry people.  We can always give to the spread of the gospel message, because they are always places that still need to be reached with the good news of Jesus.

But there are also opportunities that are one-time events.  The anointing of Jesus with this costly perfume was one of them.  It was right and good that she gave Jesus this lavish gift, because he would soon be gone and the chance to do this good work would also be gone.  This was her only chance to minister to this need. If we are attentive to the voice of the Holy Spirit, he will show us some of these unique opportunities. 

Matthew 26:12-13  –  “In pouring this ointment on my body she has done it to prepare me for burial.  Truly, I say to you, wherever this gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will also be told in memory of her.”

It is very unlikely that this woman clearly understood that Jesus was going to die shortly; even the disciples did not fully comprehend the fact at that time.  She was motivated by love and gratitude; Jesus used her extravagant gift to call attention to the fact that he was soon going to lay down his life for the benefit of mankind. 

Can we wax poetic for a moment and say that the death of Christ yielded a wonderful or desirable odor because it breathed life and salvation throughout the whole earth? 

After all, when Jesus promises that this woman will be remembered ‘wherever the gospel is proclaimed in the whole world’, he is indirectly testifying that the gospel will spread way past the borders of the Jewish nation to include the Gentiles as well. That’s good news for all of us reading this lesson right now.

Matthew 26:14-15 – Then one of the twelve, whose name was Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests and said, “What will you give me if I deliver him over to you?” and they paid him thirty pieces of silver.

So, as one of Christ’s followers is giving him an extravagant gift of love, another one is planning to betray him to his sworn enemies!  Even in Jesus’ circle of friends there were both sheep and goats. 

It is true that Jesus gently rebuked his disciples for their grumbling about the gift of spikenard.  But why would a person who receives a gentle rebuke respond with a full blown betrayal?

Despite the fact that Judas had walked with Jesus for three years, witnessed great numbers of miracles and heard godly teaching, Christ was not truly ruling his heart.  He had not been transformed by his time with Jesus.  

So when he is rebuked for complaining about the ‘waste’ of the perfume, Judas probably felt some shame, which soon transformed into anger.  The true motivation of his heart – greed – had been painfully and publicly exposed.  Think about this:  He was angry and frustrated because he lost the opportunity to steal money that was never even under his control!  

He was probably further agitated by the realization that Jesus was not going to set up an immediate earthly kingdom – he was going to die!  All the dreams that Judas had about being the secretary of the treasury in Jesus’ new kingdom went right up in smoke!    

Obviously, lust for money consumed every part of Judas’ being.  And anyone who loves money that much has no room for God.

Now remember, this event happened six days before the crucifixion.  So over the next few days, Judas’ lust, anger and frustration grew to a point where he was totally consumed.  At some point (during the Passover meal), he allowed Satan to have control of his heart.      

Luke 22:3-5 – Then entered Satan into Judas surnamed Iscariot, being of the number of the twelve.   And he went his way, and conferred with the chief priests and captains, how he might betray him unto them.  And they were glad, and agreed to give him money.

The price that was paid for the betrayal of Jesus is just bewildering.

On one hand, we have Judas, who is consumed by his love for money.  He is more than just greedy.  He has entered into the realm of avarice.  He will eventually trade his immortal soul and eternal life with Jesus for earthly money.  That being the case, we would expect him to ask the religious leaders for an exorbitant sum. 

On the other hand, we have the religious leaders, who are desperately determined to put an end to the life of Jesus.  They have access to vast sums of money (from the temple funds).  Surely, they would pay a handsome price to get what they wanted. 

Yet, we find that the amount paid for the life of Jesus was just thirty coins. 

Was there any significance to this amount?

Under the Law, thirty pieces of silver was the appointed restitution price for a servant/slave who had been gored to death by an animal.  It reflects the lowest value that could be placed on a human life.

Exodus 21:32 – If an ox gores a slave, male or female, the owner shall give to their master thirty shekels of silver, and the ox shall be stoned. 

The only explanation for such a meager sum, was that God had ordained it in times past, and the sum was a fulfillment of prophesy.  

Zechariah 11:12-13 – And I said unto them, If you think it good, give me my price; and if not, forbear. So they weighed for my price thirty pieces of silver.   And the LORD said unto me, Cast it unto the potter: a princely price that I was valued at by them. And I took the thirty pieces of silver, and cast them to the potter in the house of the LORD.  

And yet, it is a fitting price, for Jesus was a servant:

Isaiah 42:1 – Behold my servant, whom I uphold; my elect, in whom my soul delights; I have put my spirit upon him: he shall bring forth justice to the Gentiles.   

How could we ever comprehend the depth of the love that Jesus has for us?  Mankind assigns his life the lowest possible value, yet Jesus pays the ultimate price for us – his own blood.    

Sadly, our nation is even worse than Judas.  We have assigned a value of zero worth to tens of thousands of unborn children when we stood by and allowed abortion to be an acceptable practice.    

Matthew 26:16 – And from that moment he sought an opportunity to betray him.

Once the bargain was struck, there was no further need to wait until after the Passover.  The religious leaders still did not want to arrest Jesus in front of the crowds, but that shouldn’t be a problem now.  As a close associate of Jesus, Judas would know where he was at all times.  It would be easy to call in the temple guards at night, or in a place of secrecy, away from the throngs of people who had descended upon Jerusalem.  Or so they thought…

Matthew 26:17 – Now on the first day of the Unleavened Bread the disciples came to Jesus saying, “Where will you have us prepare for you to eat the Passover?”

As we already discussed, Passover only lasted a single day, but it was immediately followed by the feast of unleavened bread, which lasted seven days.  This feast commemorated the haste and confusion that occurred on the night that the Israelites fled Egypt.  Because of their great haste, they ate bread without leaven (Exodus 13:5-10).

I find it interesting that while Jesus was alive, he perfectly observed every facet of the ceremonial law, even up to the time of his death.  Jesus made no excuses – He celebrated Passover in Jerusalem, as the law specified, despite the threats of the religious leaders. 

Soon he would both fulfill and abolish the Law with his death and resurrection! 

Matthew 26:18 – He said, “Go into the city to a certain man and say to him, ‘The Teacher says, My time is at hand.  I will keep the Passover at your house with my disciples.’”

Jesus instructs his followers to go and find a specific man, and make arrangements for the Passover meal to be eaten at his house.

No doubt, this man was a follower of Jesus.  This is apparent in the message that Jesus gives him.  In it, he refers to himself as “The Teacher” or “The Master”.  This was the title that the disciples commonly used for Jesus. It is possible that this man was a secret disciple, like many others at the time, because they feared persecution from the Jewish leaders (John 12:42).

As Master, Jesus does not ask permission from the man to use his house.  He commands it to be done, knowing that the man will acknowledge his authority.

Do we acknowledge the same authority of Jesus?  If he speaks to us about giving up our material possessions for his use, do we immediately comply, or do we hesitate and complain?  Do we find excuses not to do as he has commanded?    

Notice the message that Jesus gives to the homeowner: My time is at hand.  In other words, Jesus knew that the time of his death was upon him, and he acted accordingly. 

We, however, do not know the time of our death and so (as discussed in chapter 25) we must always be watchful and on guard so that we can be ready for eternity when the time of our death arrives. 

Matthew 26:19 – And the disciples did as Jesus had directed them, and they prepared the Passover.

Have you ever prepared an entire Thanksgiving meal by yourself?  You have to clean and roast the turkey, peel the potatoes, make the cranberry relish and mix the stuffing.  You also have to thicken the drippings for gravy, heat up the corn and make sure to bake the pies.  The tricky part is making sure that it is all done at the same time.   Thanksgiving dinner can be exhausting if you are the cook!

The disciples had a similar situation in this case.  Although the room they had access to was furnished (had tables and couches), they still had to get a lamb, buy or prepare unleavened bread, buy and wash the bitter herbs, make the sauce and get the wine.  The lamb would need to be taken to the temple to be slain; then it had to be skinned, dressed and roasted.  The table had to be set.  And it all had to be ready by sunset.

Matthew 26:20-21 – When it was evening, he reclined at table with the twelve.  And as they were eating, he said, “Truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me.”

So the Passover meal followed its normal course of events, until a shocking announcement is made by Jesus. 

First, we notice that Jesus was very much aware of what was going on.  Judas may have fooled his fellow disciples, but Jesus was divinely aware that Judas was his betrayer. 

Judas

Jesus had told his disciples for some time that he was going to be betrayed and put to death, but they probably figured it would be the religious leaders who would to this.  It was quite a blow for them to find out that it was a member of their inner group whose treachery would lead to their Master’s death. 

However, this revelation did serve a purpose.  When they saw it, it did not take them by surprise.  It was not a blow to their faith.  In fact, it was the opposite – because Jesus had accurately predicted it, the event became a confirmation of their faith in him.

Matthew 26:22 – And they were very sorrowful and began to say to him one after another, “Is it I, Lord?”

The reaction of the 11 was predictable – they were filled with sorrow and grief that Jesus was going to be betrayed.  This exemplified their great love for Jesus.

It probably also troubled them to find out that there was a traitor among them.  They had spent about three years with each other and I’m sure they felt that they knew each other very well.  Now they probably questioned whether or not they could trust anybody. 

But most troubling of all was that they were uncertain who the betrayer was.  Apparently, Judas was not the obvious suspect. He was a hypocrite, but he was well hidden and by all outward appearances, he was a true believer.  This is, perhaps, the scariest detail in this account. 

To their credit, the disciples did not start accusing one another.  They did not indignantly assert that it couldn’t be them.  Instead, each man was apt to suspect himself of some hidden weakness or sin that could lead to a betrayal of their Master, even though they were not conscious of it. 

This uncertainty surely made each disciple look inward and examine the intents and motivations of his own heart.  Having found nothing, they look to Jesus to confirm that they are clean. (Lord, is it I?)

This is a good lesson for us as well.  Every so often, we would do well to take stock of our motivations.  Are we still serving God with a pure heart?  Or has a touch of pride, a slice of jealousy, or a drop of judgment crept into our hearts and lives?  It is good for us to consult with the Holy Spirit and ask him to reveal any uncleanness in our lives. 

It is also possible that some of us have been ‘betrayed’ by a friend, or family member.  It may even have been someone extremely close to us.  It may have been something that was completely unexpected and caught us totally off guard.  But this example tells us not to be discouraged or to give up hope; Jesus experienced the exact same thing. 

If you are hurting or broken because of a betrayal, Jesus can heal you.  The stripes he took on his back were not just for physical healing, but for spiritual and emotional healing as well.  

Matthew 26:23 – He answered, “He who has dipped his hand in the dish with me will betray me.”

What is the dish being discussed here?  In the observance of Passover, the Jews had a thick sauce made of raisins and figs mixed with vinegar and other spices.  It was their view that this mixture represented the clay which their forefathers were compelled to use in making brick.  So the sauce was a reminder of their bitter bondage in Egypt.

Remember, there were 10-20 people in the group who ate the Passover lamb.  So there would have been several small bowls of this sauce on the table where the meal was eaten.

So when Jesus says that his betrayer will ‘dip his hand in the dish with me’, it indicates that Judas was sitting very close to Jesus during this final Passover meal. 

Which brings up another point.  How could Judas, knowing what he planned to do, come to participate in the sacred Passover feast with the one he planned to betray?  It is truly unbelievable!   

Psalm 41:9 – Yea, my own familiar friend, in whom I trusted, who did eat of my bread, has lifted up his heel against me.

In the eyes of Jewish culture, eating with the one you betrayed made the treachery even more monstrous.

Matthew 26:24 – “The Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed!  It would have been better for that man if he had not been born.”

Judas shows a fixed determination to do evil.  He hears the ugly truth of his crime proclaimed by lips of absolute love and truth, and yet he is unmoved.  His intensions are no longer secret or hidden; his sin is exposed for all to see, yet he does not seem to care.  Most people are ashamed and embarrassed when their private sins are publicly broadcast, but not Judas.  He expresses no remorse over the foul deed he is about to do. 

He seems to have no care for his future condition.  Jesus is telling him that his future will be cast in stone, and it will be more horrible than he could imagine, but still Judas stays his course. 

We often speak of deathbed confessions, where sinners finally come to terms with their lives and turn to Christ on the threshold of eternity.  This is really the same thing.  Judas is on the threshold of no return.  Jesus throws him one more lifeline in an effort to sway him from his evil decision and save himself.  But he makes no move to grab the life preserver. 

If you are reading this, and you have delayed and delayed in doing something that God has called you to do, I urge you to stop right now, and make a change. 

If you have delayed in fully living for Christ (perhaps you still have one foot in the world), I urge you to stop right now and make a change.  It may seem like you have a long life ahead of you, but time has a funny way of disappearing.  You blink and it’s gone.  You may be on the threshold of an irreversible decision.  You don’t know when you will breathe your final breath.  Commit fully to Christ, today. 

Matthew 26:25 – Judas, who would betray him, answered, “Is it I, Rabbi?”  He said to him, “You have said so.”

Did you notice the title by which Judas addresses Jesus? 

All of the other disciples address Jesus as Master (or Lord), while Judas calls him Teacher (Rabbi).  This was probably the one truthful statement that he made – Jesus was NOT his Master or Lord, and in the end, he was unable to address him by that title. 

John gives us many additional details about this incident, so you might want to check that out (See John 13). He tells us that Satan actually entered into the heart of Judas after he ate the bread with sauce.  At that point, Jesus admonishes him to perform his betrayal quickly, and Judas leaves the company at that point. 

Thus, Judas did not partake of the bread or cup (the first communion) which was to be a sign or mark of the New Covenant.  We will discuss this topic on our next post.

Let me offer you some encouragement, relief and strength: 

The time of Jesus’ death was a very scary and perplexing time for the disciples.  They didn’t fully understand what was happening.  Things were not working out the way they had anticipated.  There was social unrest as the religious leaders clashed with Jesus and the threat of Roman involvement hung in the air.  Fear and doubt crowded into their minds.  Someone they trusted turned out to be a traitor.  Death and persecution were very real possibilities. 

You may be feeling the same way right now.  We are living in some perplexing times.  People are widely divided on many issues, like government, the virus, environmental issues, race, etc.  Everywhere we look there is social unrest. 

Maybe things in your life aren’t working out the way you thought they would.  Perhaps fear, doubt, depression or hopelessness are trying to attack you. 

But there is a way to be victorious in the midst of these times.  The disciples found victory by fully committing and trusting in Jesus.  So can you!

1 John 5:4-5 – For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world.  And this is the victory that has overcome the world – our faith.  Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?

Look at what John is saying in this verse.  If you are a child of Almighty God, you are an overcomer!  No matter what comes against you, no matter what the government says, no matter what disease is out there, no matter how divided people are over social issues, you can/will overcome! 

John tells us that the key to overcoming the world is your faith.  So this week, I encourage you to take specific steps to further strengthen your faith. 

Here are some suggestions:

Read the word.  Not just a little; not just a few verses before bed.  Saturate your mind with it. Listen to it on CD or stream it.  Read it on your phone during your break.  Memorize a new passage.  Recite the verses you know each morning or before bed.  Share a scripture with your spouse.  Let the truth of the word fill your heart and mind.  Let it be on your lips as you go throughout your day.

Testify about what God has already done for you.  Sometimes there is an opportunity during church to testify, but many times there is not.  So you need to find a way to testify to your fellow believers.  Call someone on the phone, and let them know what God has done in your life recently.  Post something on social media.  Text your BFF and let them know.  This not only helps build your faith, it builds their faith as well!

Spend time in worship.  No evil can exist in God’s presence.  So when you are there, your faith grows and your troubles shrink.  The more you fellowship with God, the more your faith will expand.  Believe in him and trust in him.  Watch him work on your behalf!

Matthew, Chapter 25, Part 3

Matthew 25:31 – When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angles with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne.

We commonly call the last part of this chapter the parable of the sheep and goats, but that is not entirely accurate.  It is obvious that the sheep and goats form only a small illustration in what is actually a description of divine reality. 

Jesus was born in a manger and often had no place to ‘lay his head’.  In his role as servant, he was despised and rejected by men.  He was condemned by the religious leaders and rulers of his day.  He was beaten, whipped, humiliated, reviled, abused and nailed to the cross.  The people of that day did not understand that Jesus was veiling his true glory as the Son of God, in order to die for our sin. 

But when he returns, that veil will be removed and mankind will see him how he truly is.  Jesus will return in a display of his mighty power and great glory.  We will see him as dignified, righteous, powerful, majestic and without equal.  He will return as judge of the earth:

John 5:22 – The Father judges no one, but has given all judgment to the Son.

To him, every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord:

Philippians 2:10-11 – So that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. 

His return will strike the hearts of his enemies with fear and dread; it will fill the hearts of his people with joy and confidence.  As his children, we should be eagerly awaiting and anticipating the glorious return of our Savior, Shepherd, High Priest, Brother, Redeemer, Bridegroom and Friend.

Although he died alone, he will not return to earth that way.  He will be bringing all of the angels with him.  How many angels are there?  A bunch!

Revelation 5:11 – Then I looked and I heard around the throne and the living creatures and the elders, the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands,

None of them will want to be left behind, as the glory of Jesus is revealed.  Besides, the angels will be assisting Jesus in his tasks as his attendants and ministers of justice.       

Right now, Jesus is sitting at the right hand of the Father, on a throne of grace. 

Hebrews 4:16 – Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.

 But one day, when he returns, he will ‘sit on his glorious throne’ which is a throne of judgment:

Daniel 7:9-10 – I beheld till the thrones were set in place, and the Ancient of days did sit, whose garment was white as snow, and the hair of his head like the pure wool: his throne was like the fiery flame, and its wheels as burning fire.  A fiery stream issued and came forth from before him: thousand thousands ministered unto him, and ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him: the judgment was set, and the books were opened.

Oh how the tables are turned!  Jesus, who was once arrested and arraigned like a criminal will now sit upon the judicial bench as judge of all!

Matthew 25:32-33 – Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.  And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left.

Before him ALL nations will be gathered.  The disciples were most concerned with what would happen to their own nation, Israel.  They wanted their nation to be delivered from the miseries and oppression they were experiencing.  They wanted God to fulfill his covenant with Abraham, exalt his chosen people and manifest his presence among them, for the whole world to see.

As wonderful as that would be, it is evident that the disciples were bound by their limited thinking.  Although they did not yet understand it, Jesus had extended the benefit of redemption to ALL people.  Jesus planned to gather people of every tribe, tongue and nation to himself, to serve and love him.  So we see that God’s plan for the ages was way bigger than anything they had imagined.

Isaiah 49:6 – And he said, It is too small a thing that you 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.  

Now, what do you suppose God has in store for those who love him and look for his appearing?  What does God have prepared for his good and faithful servants? What do you think awaits us in heaven?  I suspect it is also way bigger than anything we have imagined!

So, once the gathering is complete, Jesus will separate the sheep (true believers, Christians, those that serve Christ) from the goats (hypocrites/those that do not believe, sinners, those who reject Christ). 

Notice that there is only one criterion for the separation of sheep and goats – your relationship with Jesus.  People will not be separated according to the amount of money they make/possess, or how much education they had, or how beautiful they were, or how much influence they exercised on earth.  All these things will no longer matter.  The final, eternal division of people rests upon the blood of Christ.  It has either been applied to your life, or it has not.     

The sheep are assigned to be on his right hand, which is the place of honor and dignity.  The goats are assigned to be on his left hand, which is the place of shame and contempt.

Jesus has already alerted his disciples to this separation; we saw it in his parable of the wheat and tares back in Matthew 13, the separation of the good and bad fish (also Matthew 13), or the separation of the wheat from the chaff (Matthew 3).

In the meantime, God has allowed us (true believers) to be mixed with the ‘goats’ or unbelievers.  Until he separates us out, it is our duty to be a light for Him, to share the gospel message and try to lead the lost to the Good Shepherd. We need to make sure that we are keeping ourselves separate from the sin of the world.   Remember, our labor is not in vain.  One day, Christ will come and bring his rewards with him.

Matthew 25:34 – Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.’

The King is Jesus Christ, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, who is now acting in his capacity as judge (Revelation 17:14).   He pronounces absolution (freedom from guilt, sin or penalty; forgiveness of an offence) on the righteous, who are now at his right hand. 

Interestingly, they are described as being blessed by God, rather than redeemed by Christ.  Jesus is reminding us that our salvation proceeded from the undeserved favor of God.  Among the Hebrews, the phrase ‘blessed of God’ means one who is dear to God or beloved by God.  This expression always points to the great grace of God towards men. 

Through this immense and undeserved grace, the righteous will inherit a kingdom prepared specifically for them, before the creation of this world.  Notice that Christ does not invite believers to possess this kingdom as if we had obtained it by our own merits.  Rather, he expressly points out that the kingdom is bestowed upon us because we are heirs though Christ. 

This is a matter of great comfort to us as believers.  It motivates us to be patient and to continue in righteousness despite opposition. 

  • During those times when we are mocked or afflicted or scorned, we can take comfort knowing that God has prepared a kingdom for us to inherit, before any of this took place. 
  • On those days when we are weary, or facing difficulties and struggles, we should remind ourselves that God has a kingdom prepared for us to inherit, as soon as our race is over.
  • When we become discouraged because it looks like the wicked are prospering in everything they do, we should remind ourselves that God has a kingdom prepared for us to inherit; the things of this life will soon pass away.

Anyway you look at it, the kingdom is a sure and certain blessing promised to us by the Father.  We may not have seen or experienced it yet, but it is coming!      

Matthew 25:35-36 – ‘For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’

Here, we must be wise Christians who ‘rightly divide the word of truth’.  What do I mean by that?  Well, if we just quickly read these two verses, we may be under the false assumption that we can get to heaven through performance of good works or acts of charity like those described.

However, we must measure our interpretation by the rest of the scriptures.  We know that the only way to heaven is through faith in Jesus Christ.

Romans 5:9 – …being now justified by his [Jesus] blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him.

Ephesians 2:8 – For by grace you are saved through faith; and that not of yourselves:  it is the gift of God.

Titus 3:5 – Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us….

So, by trusting in the atoning work of Jesus Christ, we are saved from sin.  Once we are saved, Holy Spirit comes to dwell in our hearts.  He assists us in our Christian walk by making us more and more like Jesus.  One of the main characteristics of God is that He is love.  Love is one of the fruits of the Holy Spirit that begins to grow in our lives.

Galatians 5:22 – But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith…

God is very clear that love is one of the main characteristics of his people.

Ephesians 5:2 – And walk in love, as Christ also has loved us, and has given himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet smelling fragrance.

Romans 13:9 – …You shall love you neighbor as yourself.

1 Corinthians 13:13 – And now abides faith, hope and love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.

We can go on and on with scriptures that instruct us to exemplify the love of Christ; there are literally dozens more we could look at.  It is very clear that we are to love those around us, as Christ has loved us.

Now, when we accept the blood of Christ as atonement for our sin, and He fills us with his Holy Spirit, we begin to walk in the love of God.  It is this love that prompts us to do works of charity to others, like feeding the hungry, clothing the naked and visiting those in prison. 

So we find that it is NOT the works themselves which earn us a place in heaven; the works are simply an outward manifestation of the presence of God within our lives.

If you think about it, this makes sense.  If it required works of charity to enter heaven, then how would poor people make it in?  I am very sure that some of the people who were the recipients of charity will be in heaven even though they had no means to provide for the physical needs of others.

If it required works of charity to enter heaven, then how did the thief on the cross make it in?  He died within hours of trusting in Christ as his savior; he had no means to perform any good works.

The reverse would also hold true.  If it required works of charity to enter heaven, then any wicked person who donated riches to charity would get in.  However, we know that no wicked people will enter the gates of heaven. 

This is probably a good place to mention that the acts of charity that Jesus refers to indicate more than just a mere donation of money and more than just a passing impulse.  They imply a sacrifice of time, strength and sympathy.  They require effort and thought.  They are done on purpose, when you could have devoted your resources to yourself.  Thus, along with obedience and the practice of spiritual disciplines, they are a good indication of a life lived for Christ. 

Matthew 25:37-39 – Then the righteous will answer him saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink?  And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you?  And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’

It is doubtful that these exact words will be spoken by us as we stand before Jesus.  However, the response in this parable illustrates the profound humility that characterizes the followers of Christ. 

They have a deep sense of being unworthy of such commendation.  No doubt, we will believe that our acts of kindness were far short of what they could have been.  No doubt, we will recall times when we failed to do what was right.  As we stand before Jesus and look into his eyes and feel the true depth of his love for us, we will realize that we have no claim to praise or reward.  Everything we did was based in the grace and mercy he extended to us in the first place.

Matthew 25:40 – And the King will answer them, ‘Truly I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brother, you did it to me.’

Wow.  Think about the implications of this statement.  God loves every man, woman, girl and boy on this planet.  He is deeply concerned about both their spiritual and physical needs.  Anytime we are faced with those in need, it is as if we were looking at Jesus himself.  We can either assist and honor him, treating him with dignity and love, or we can reject and despise him, casting him aside as worthless. 

When we perform acts of kindness to the needy without an expectation of reward, it is the same as doing it for Christ.  While the needy person cannot reward us for our service, our Lord and Savior not only can, but he will.   

Proverbs 19:17- He that has pity upon the poor lends unto the LORD; and that which he has given will he pay him again.

It is only by the grace and mercy of God that our sins are forgiven and his love fills our hearts.  Through this grace, we are motivated to serve and help others.  In fact, it is God who gives us the means and the opportunity to help.  As we do, God then rewards us in ways that only He can.  How is it possible that God could be so good to us?  Who can comprehend the wonders of a Savior who sets aside good works for us, just so he can reward us beyond our wildest imaginations?  

Who could love us more than Christ?  In the light of that love, how can we do anything other than reaching out in love to those around us?   How can we not share the gospel with those who are lost?

As our world slips further and further into chaos, I suspect there will be more and more difference between the righteous and the wicked.  There will be more and more opportunities to do service for Christ.  Let’s not miss opportunities to minister to Jesus. 

Matthew 25:41 – Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.’

Those on the left of Jesus are the wicked.  They have rejected the sacrifice of Jesus; their sin is their own responsibility.  They have chosen the very worst anguish imaginable – eternal separation from God.

2 Thessalonians 1:8-9 – In flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ:  Who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power…

Take note:  Heaven is a very real place.  So is hell.  Citizenship in heaven is eternal; it never ends.  So is citizenship in hell.  Those who dwell there will receive certain and intense pain and torment.  There is no indication that this punishment is remedial or corrective; it is a punishment that will last forever.  

But this was never God’s will for anyone.  The place of suffering and torment was designed for Satan and his followers. 

Matthew 25:42-43 – ‘For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me’.

Here is the opposite case.  These people rejected salvation through Jesus Christ.  Thus, they did not have Holy Spirit indwelling their hearts, assisting in the growth of fruits of righteousness, especially Godly love. 

Because the love of Christ is absent in their lives, there are no outward manifestations of the presence of God, like works of charity, righteous living, or obedience to God.  In fact, we could expect them to be hard hearted towards those in need, even turning a blind eye to their suffering.  They look upon the poor through the eyes of their flesh; they do not view the destitute as Christ and they have little or no desire to alleviate their suffering.

Thus their fruits reveal the wickedness that resides within their hearts (Matthew 7:16-19).  And according to Jesus, evil trees are cast into the fire and burned.

They are like the man who had one talent, and buried it instead of using it.   

Matthew 25:44 – ‘Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’

Again, these are probably not literal words that will be spoken by the wicked.  But in their hearts and minds, they will recognize their guilt as Jesus brings charges against them.  Try as they might, there will be no acceptable excuses on that day; the time to change their ways has past.

They resisted the call of the Holy Spirit and they rejected the offer of grace.  There is nothing left to help them.      

Matthew 25:45 – Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these you did not do it to me.’

By failing to relieve the suffering of people, the wicked show that they have no real love for God.  They clearly do not have Holy Spirit at work in their hearts and lives.  Their actions prove that they are unfit for the kingdom of heaven.

Like the servant who buried his one talent and refused to use it, they will be condemned for neglecting their duty.  However, scripture also points out that they will be also be condemned for their sins of commission (Romans 2:9, Colossians 3:5, Revelation 21:8, etc).  

Matthew 25:46 – And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.

Unlike our court system, the sentence imposed upon the wicked is executed speedily.  There are no reprieves, no appeals, and no escapes.  

Likewise, the righteous will immediately enter into eternal life, and inherit the kingdom of heaven that has been prepared for them.  There, we will be in constant communion with God.  The curse of sin and death has no place there. 

We certainly do not know and understand everything about the end of the age.  However, Jesus gives us a lot of understanding in Matthew chapter 25 through the parable of the 10 virgins, the parable of the talents and the description of final judgment (sheep/goats). 

So while we don’t know everything, some things are certain: 

  • We are given talents in life. 
  • We are responsible for using those talents. 
  • We need to be preparing now for the return of Jesus (or for our own deaths), for we do not know when he will return. 
  • At the end of the age, there will be an accounting of what we have done in life. 
  • There will be a separation of the righteous and the wicked. 
  • The righteous inherit the kingdom, the wicked are sent into punishment. 
  • The duration of both these states (blessing and punishment) are exactly the same; they are eternal.    

In light of that, let me offer you some encouragement:  Find your talents and use them!  What gifts and interests has God placed within you?  Whatever they may be, step out in faith and work with them.  There may be ups and downs, but in the end using your talents will bring glory to God, goodness to mankind and an eternity of reward to you.  

Let me offer you some relief:  The Christian life is best lived one day at a time.  As we walk with the Holy Spirit daily, he will lead us into greater and greater depths of Christ.  He will grow spiritual fruit in our lives and fill us with the love of Christ.  He will train us to fight the enemy and endue us with power and wisdom.  If you walk with him daily, you will never have to worry about running out of oil.  He will always keep you filled and ready for the return of Christ.

Let me offer you some strength:  Where you stand in the Day of Judgment is determined by the life you live right now.  As times become more chaotic and uncertain, we may have a tendency to ‘circle the wagons’ and keep all of our time, energy and resources for ourselves.  But that is not the correct outlook.  We need to continue to see our service to the needy as a direct ministry to Jesus himself.  As we trust in him, he will give us provision not only for ourselves, but for others as well. So be strong in the Lord and in the power of his might!

Matthew, Chapter 25, Part 2

Matthew 25:14 – For it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted to them his property.

In the prior parable of the 10 virgins, Jesus was warning us to be watchful and ever mindful of his coming.  He is going to come back unexpectedly, and we need to be ready. 

This parable, commonly referred to as the parable of the talents, tells us how Jesus will deal with men upon his return.  In light of this, we can understand how a wise follower of Christ should live his/her life.   

The Parable of the Talents

I am sure that you have already identified the main characters of the parable.  The ‘man’ or owner/master is Jesus.  Notice that he is going on a journey.  This refers to the period of time that we call the gospel dispensation or the kingdom of heaven.  When Jesus left the apostles to go and sit at the right hand of the Father, he ‘went on a journey’.  In the end of the parable, he will return once more.  This refers to the end of time, when Jesus will come again for the church. 

This period of time is the same time referred to in the prior parable when the bridegroom tarried or was delayed in his coming.

In the current parable servants are exactly that – true followers of Christ.  As his servants, Jesus has entrusted or given them authority over a portion of his property.  What does that refer to?

Back in the day when Jesus told this parable, there were two ways for an absent owner to invest his money/goods.

First, he could give his servants authority on his behalf, making them his agents.  They would till the land and sell the produce or they could use his money as capital in trading.  Although there was no written contract (they were servants/slaves), there was always an implied understanding that these servants would receive part of the profits. 

The second opportunity, which was in full operation throughout the Roman Empire, was to take advantage of money lending.  The Phoenicians are credited with inventing this investment banking system.  It is still used in our society today.  The bankers would receive money on deposit and pay interest on it, then turn around and lend it to someone else at a higher interest rate.  So a person who did not have the time or inclination to farm or trade could still invest and make some money. 

 Matthew 25:15 – To one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability.  Then he went away.

Let’s examine the word ‘talent’.  You could have a talent of silver, or a talent of gold.  A talent is both a measure of weight and a denomination of money.  To make matters more confusing (at least from my point of view), during the time of Christ the Jews used two different currencies in daily life.  They had the Hebrew system of money, which was based on the shekel, and they had the Greek system of money which was favored by Rome and based on drachmas. 

Of course, we are curious to know how much that is worth in our day.  Because the price of precious metals is always fluctuating, it is difficult to determine exactly how much a talent is worth today.  According to one internet source, the modern value of a talent of silver in July 2020 was worth $6,606 dollars and a talent of gold was worth $385,350. 

If you search the internet, you will find slightly differing answers to this question.  But the real point to be made here, is that a talent is not a tiny amount of money.  Based on the figure we are using, one of the servants in this parable was given $1,156,050 and another was given just shy of 2 million. 

Right away we can discern two things:  The owner is very, very wealthy.  And, more importantly from the perspective of our study, he has entrusted a great deal to his servants.  

‘Talent’ is not only defined as a unit of weight/money.  According to Webster’s dictionary, it also means “ability, mental endowment or capacity, skill in accomplishing something, a special gift”.

These talents or gifts are given to us by God:

Ephesians 4:8 – Therefore it says, “When he ascended on high he led a host of captives, and he gave gifts to men.”

So each Christian has been given talents or gifts by Jesus.  Our gifts can take on any shape or form.  We may have a talent for singing, or selling goods, or playing a sport, or making scientific discoveries.  The list is endless.  God desires each one of us to use the talents/gifts he has given us to the full.

Sometimes Christians want to limit our talents and abilities to the spread of the gospel, but I do not believe that is the case.  God has given people abilities in every single aspect of life, and he wants us to use them.  You can serve and glorify God in the midst of creating art.  You can serve and glorify God in the midst of running a business.  You can serve and glorify God while being an astronaut or making medical breakthroughs.  The key is to be faithful in the use of your gifts, as we will discuss later.

Now, we can’t help but notice from verse 15 that not everyone receives equal talents.  Some talents have more influence or power; some have less.  We can plainly see that from everyday life.  What can we infer from that? 

Well, let’s first examine what it does NOT say. 

  • Nowhere in this parable (or in the whole of the scriptures) does it ever say that God loves those least to whom he gives the least.  In other words, He loves each one of us completely, 100%, right here, right now.  He loves us perfectly.  His love is not a function of how big our gifts are.
  • The scriptures never portray God as being capricious (given to sudden and unaccountable changes of mood or behavior; fickle, unstable). In fact, the opposite is true.  God never changes (Malachi 3:6).  So God knew exactly what he was doing when he assigned one of his children 1 talent and another 5 talents.  His decision is not based on whim, but on the perfect plan that he already designed for each one of us.
  • There is no indication that this differential lasts beyond our present life.  The talents are for use here on earth; none of us knows what God has in store for us in heaven.
  • No one is without a talent.  As we previously showed, even one talent is a considerable sum.

Why different amounts then?  God is going to give us the amount of gifting/talents needed to accomplish his will on earth.  If given more than needed, we would have a tendency to boast of our own accomplishments.  If given less than needed, we would fail at our task.  We have just enough to keep us in direct connection to God, so that we can complete the task at hand, giving the glory to him alone.  We have each been given the perfect amount.

Matthew 25:16-17 – He who had received the five talents went at once and traded with them, and he made five talents more.  So also he who had the two talents made two talents more.

We have looked at the distribution of talents given to the servants by their master.  Now we will consider the servants use of the talents/gifts they were given.

In both of these cases, we find the servants ‘traded’.  This is indicative of activity and labor.  They used their talents.  No doubt, they made mistakes.  But they did not give up.  They continued to be faithful in investing what they had.   

They learned from their actions, and then made more trades, based on an increased level of knowledge and experience.  In so doing, they gained even more wisdom and understanding of their gift, and how to effectively use it.

Now they can anticipate what might happen next.  They can spot subtle nuances that others would miss.  They avoid common mistakes.  They increase their skill, apply what they have learned and soon these two servants doubled their talents.

For instance, let’s suppose you have a gift for woodworking.  You decide to make a coffee table.  Your first table probably has some flaws.  Maybe the finish isn’t quite perfect or the legs are slightly crooked.  So you take note of your mistakes, and make another table.  Each table you make adds to your knowledge and wisdom in woodworking.  Before long, you can look at a piece of wood and know whether or not it is suitable for a table.  You are able to make more intricate designs and fill custom orders.  Soon, you are selling as many tables as you can make. 

Because you actively and faithfully used your talent, it grew.  You prospered in your task.  As more and more people admire your work, you have a chance to share the gospel and/or live a righteous life before men.  You have a chance to glorify God through your talent.  The influence you have as a result of being a master craftsman can be used to share the gospel message.  This is how the servants of the master doubled their money.    

Matthew 25:18 – But he who had received the one talent went and dug in the ground and hid his master’s money.  

Here is an interesting thought – no one can take our talents/gifts from us.  Paul says it this way:

Romans 11:29 – For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.

Although no one else can take your talent/gift from you, you can choose to neglect it, or as the servant in the parable, bury it.  How does one neglect a talent/gift?  By allowing opportunities to use it pass you by; by leaving undone things that you have the ability to do. 

Why would anyone bury their talent?

  • He/she may believe that they couldn’t accomplish much with one talent anyway, so why bother?  This rationalization does not come from God.  As we already noted, God gives different qualifications in different degrees to different individuals, in order that each person might fulfill the unique mission He has prepared for them.  So the idea that ‘not much’ can be accomplished with one talent is a lie.
  • He/she may be comparing their talents to the talents of others.  Sometimes the enemy will try and get us to compare ourselves to other believers.  He will point out that other Christians have more faith than you, or more eloquence than you, or more wisdom that you, etc.  If Satan can get you to do a comparison, it is then easy to convince you to be envious of what someone else possesses or to make you dissatisfied with what God has given you.  Both of these convictions will cause you to bury your own talent.
  • He/she may be afraid of failure.  There is no question that fear is one of the main tactics of our enemy.  Satan uses fear to immobilize us or stop us from carrying out God’s will. Over and over and over in the scriptures God instructs his children NOT to fear, but to have faith in him.  If we listen to Satan instead of God, we will bury our talent because of fear.   

Matthew 25:19 – Now after a long time the master of those servants came and settled accounts with them.

Eventually, a day of reckoning will come.  If you think about it, this makes perfect sense. 

Jesus is the head of the Christian economy.  In that exalted capacity, he has given various extremely valuable talents/gifts to his servants to steward for Him.  The expectation has always been that his servants will use these talents to glorify Him, to do the world good and to further his kingdom on earth.  Naturally, a period will arrive when he will come to demand an accounting.

Romans 14:12 – So then each of us will give an account of himself to God.

The accounting that is to come will be personal.  I will not answer for you, nor will you answer for me.

Are you ready for the books to be opened and examined?  One of the purposes of this parable is to get you to answer this very question.  If you are not ready to give an accounting of your stewardship, then you need to make immediate changes in your life (immediate as in TODAY, RIGHT NOW, THIS VERY MINUTE).   

Matthew 25:20 – And he who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five talents more, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me five talents; here I have made five talents more.’

The result of the proper use of our talents and gifts is that they will grow and bless others.  They will glorify God, do good to mankind and bring others into the kingdom of heaven.  The results of faithfully using our talents are reckoned in the imagery of the parable as gaining more talents. 

We find that the faithful steward rightly acknowledges that all he had (his talents/gifts) had come from his master and that it was his duty and pleasure to gain an increase in talents for his master’s benefit.  The long delay had not made him careless or negligent; rather he had used the time profitably and he was able to lay an increase at his master’s feet.  He has no need to be ashamed when the time of reckoning comes. 

Matthew 25:21 – His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant.  You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much.  Enter into the joy of your master.’

The master praises his servant:

He is praised for being good – He was kind and merciful and honest in using his gifts.  He did not selfishly use the gifts only on himself, but he used them for the benefit of others.

He is praised for being faithful – He was not idle or inactive, but steadily and continuously he labored for the expansion and good of his master’s kingdom.

The master rewards his servant:

The servant goes from being a slave to a position of authority.  He is promoted to greater honors and more important tasks.

The servant is invited to share the pleasures and enjoyments of the master’s palace.  He is to sit down and join in the rejoicing over the event of his master’s return.

As faithful Christians who steadily and continuously labor for our Heavenly Father, we can joyfully anticipate being rewarded by God for our work here on earth. 

Here is something to consider:  The sum originally entrusted to this servant (nearly 2 million dollars) was a considerable amount in itself, but it was actually very small when compared with the vast wealth of his master. 

Likewise, our work for God here on earth will be rather small compared to the vast reward that God has planned for his faithful earthly stewards.  There can be no doubt that God is a generous employer!

Matthew 25:22-23 – And he also who had the two talents came forward, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me two talents; here I have made two talents more.’  His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant.  You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much.  Enter into the joy of your master.’

This servant’s work is acknowledged, praised and rewarded in exactly the same manner as the first servant.  The reward is dependent upon faithfulness, not greatness.  

Matthew 25:24-25 – He also who had received the one talent came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed, so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground.  Here you have what is yours.’

And now we come to the servant who chose to bury his talent.  He has seen the first two servants be praised and rewarded.  He understands that he too, will give an account of his stewardship over the one talent.  He knows that his service has been unsatisfactory; he is left without an explanation and must rely on an excuse for his inaction.

His excuse is based on the fact that the original talent has not been lost.  His assumption is that while he might not enjoy the praise of his master, he will at least be safe from punishment.    

In his estimation, he is going to ‘pass muster’ because he is not a liar or a murder, or an atheist, or an adulterer, etc.  He seems to think that just good works will gain him entrance into an eternity with his master.  He is completely unconcerned about wasting his talent. In fact, he readily admits that he hid the talent he was given to steward.  In his mind, he did no wrong by putting it in a safe place and taking no risks with it. 

He then turns his attention from himself to the ‘unfair’ character of his master.  He chooses to see his master (God) as harsh, stern and churlish, without love or compassion, who sets men up to fail and makes no allowances for imperfect service.  As if this were not bad enough, he attempts to pass off his claims as ‘knowledge’ of God.

How sad!  Even a slight understanding of God reveals his love to mankind.  What greater love could Jesus have displayed than dying to save us?  That love should motivate us to be diligent and faithful to shine our lights before men, not hide them under a bushel.   

However, it is not uncommon for sinful men who are facing punishment for their own wrong-doing to view God according to their own perverted views.  The Lord confirms this in Psalms:

Psalm 50:21 – These things have you done, and I [the Lord] kept silence; you thought that I was altogether such a one as yourself: but I will rebuke you, and set them in order before your eyes.

In this parable, nothing can be plainer than the fact that the man with one talent had been willfully neglecting what he knew to be his duty.  It was a duty he could do; a duty he ought to do.  But he did nothing.  When the day of reckoning came, he tried to hide his shame by complaining of his master.

Blaming God is not a new excuse or novel idea.  Adam tried to blame God for his sin in the Garden of Eden – ‘The woman YOU GAVE TO ME, she gave me of the tree… (Genesis 3:12) 

Matthew 25:26 – But his master answered him, ‘You wicked and slothful servant!  You knew that I reap where I have not sown and gather where I scattered no seed?’

But his excuse (like all excuses on the Day of Judgment) is unacceptable. 

The master convicts him of slothfulness.  The bible is clear that inaction is sin:

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

Being careless in God’s work opens up doors of opportunity for Satan to move in and do his evil work.  Someone once said that the only thing required for evil to abound is for good men to do nothing.  Such is the case of the slothful servant.

Picture it this way – what if God had given you talents in scientific research.  Unbeknownst to you, He was equipping you to find the cure for cancer.  But you buried your talent and did not use your gift.  Because you did not find the cure, Satan will continue to inflict thousands and thousands of people with cancer.  Thus, your slothfulness allows evil to continue.

Matthew 25:27 – ‘Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest.’

Depositing the master’s money in the bank to earn interest was a safe, lazy and cowardly way to increase the sum for his master.  However, it at least produced some results.  If the servant was truly afraid to step out and do what the master has called him to do, then why not at least take the safe path?  Doing something, no matter how insignificant or safe, was better than doing nothing.

Burying it in the ground actually required more effort than putting it out for interest!

Matthew 25:28-29 – ‘So take the talent from him and give it to him who has the ten talents.  For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance.  But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.’

God now pronounces judgment on the servant.  The talent he did not use is to be taken away and given to someone who will faithfully steward it.  We saw Jesus expound this principle back in Matthew chapter 13 (please refer back to that blog for more information).

This principle applies to talents in the natural realm.  If you have a talent to cook or bake, and you exercise that talent, you will become better and better.  Your increased talent will bring you rewards.  However, if you fail to use that talent, it will wither and die which is essentially the same as it being removed from you.

The principle also applies in the spiritual realm.  Thos who are diligent to use the spiritual gifts/talents that God has given will find more and more open doors to use those gifts for the glory of God and the good of men.  We are to stir up the gifts within us and continuously make use of them.

Matthew 25:30 – ‘And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness.  In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

The wicked servant receives the most severe punishment possible – he is banished from the presence of his Lord.

So let’s take the lesson of this parable seriously.  Examine your stewardship.  Make changes if you need to.  Pursue your endeavors with abandon and see what God will do!  

Let me offer you some encouragement:

Don’t live a timid life!  What gifts and talents has God given to you?  Are you skilled at building or electronics or dancing or finance?  Has God called you to pray for the sick or to do the work of an evangelist or to feed and clothe the poor?  Then I encourage you to roll up your sleeves and get to work!

Step out in faith, and begin to exercise that talent/gift.  I assure you, it will be rewarding work, both here and in eternity.

Let me offer you some relief:

Do you perceive yourself to be a ‘one talent’ individual?  If so, there is no reason to fret!  Let’s face it – the vast majority of people on earth probably have one talent.  Even among the 12 apostles there seems to have been some who had more (Peter) and some who had only one (Bartholomew perhaps?). 

They key is to use what God has given you!  And keep in mind, if you use what you have, more will be given to you. 

Let me offer you some strength:

Our society longs to be free of any responsibility.  We want to retire by the time we are 30, and we envy those who have made enough money to do so. 

But I believe our desire to be idle for most of life is a wrong desire.  God has designed us to work.  He has put us on paths of discovery and accomplishment.  The most fulfilling lives are not lived by those who wander aimlessly for years, but by those who make discoveries, overcome obstacles and step through doors of opportunity in both the physical and spiritual realms.

So stop longing for idleness.  Gather up your strength and use those talents.  God will reward you mightily for your effort.

Matthew, Chapter 25, Part 1

Matthew 25:1 – Then the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom.

Here we find a couple of key words.  The first is ‘then’.  Remember, chapter 25 is a continuation of the discussion of chapter 24.  The disciples have asked Jesus three questions: 

When shall these things be? (Referring to the actual timing of events).  What will be the sign of your coming? (Referring to the signs that will indicate to the Jews that the end of the temple/Old Covenant are near).  And finally, what are the signs of the end of the world? (Literally, the end of time).

Jesus has addressed the first two questions in chapter 24.  So the phrase ‘then’ at the start of chapter 25 is significant.  It means that what Jesus is about to say specifically pertains to the final question regarding the end of time. 

This brings us to the next significant word in this verse, which is ‘will’.  In other instances, Jesus said ‘the kingdom of heaven is like’.  This indicated present tense; Jesus was referring to the current time. 

Now he transitions to using the future tense:  ‘the kingdom of heaven will be like’.  Again, this points to a future phase of the kingdom of heaven, the one that will be in place at the end of time.

Jesus uses this parable to impart wisdom to us about the end of time.  This parable made perfect sense to the Jews, because they were well acquainted with the marriage customs of that day.  For our understanding, a quick review of these customs is helpful.

In that day, couples were betrothed long before the marriage.  The betrothal was actually the true marriage contract, even though the marriage was not consummated at that time, and the woman continued to live in her father’s house until the time she was claimed by the groom. 

This explains why Joseph was going to divorce Mary when he found out she was pregnant.  Notice in the following verses she is ‘betrothed’ to him, but they are not living together and he must go through a legal process (divorce) to break off his ties with her.   

Matthew 1:18-19 –  Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way: When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly.  

Now, according to Jewish custom, when the time for the marriage celebration finally arrived, the bridegroom and his friends came, late at night, to the house of the bride.  She was expecting/watching for his arrival with her bridesmaids.  When the groom was spotted, the maidens would go out with their lamps in their hands to light up the way to the house with great ceremony and formality.  They would accompany the bride to the wedding feast prepared by the groom.  This feast was always held at the groom’s house.

The two main characters in this parable are both introduced in verse one.  Who are they? 

First, we have the bridegroom.  This represents our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  Many times in the New Testament he is referred to as the bridegroom (Mark 2:19-20, John 3:28-9).  This simile reflects the great and passionate love that Jesus has for his spouse, the church (Ephesians 5:32). 

We are currently betrothed to him (Hosea 2:19-20), but he has not yet come to earth to claim us for eternity.  But when the perfect time has come, He will gather us to the marriage supper of the Lamb (Revelation 19:7-9).

The second character in this parable is the group of 10 virgins.  These symbolize people who profess to have a relationship to God. 

Just as the virgins or bridesmaids were supposed to be watching expectantly for the groom, so we are to be expectantly looking for the second coming of Christ. We are not just to believe in it, but rejoice at the thought of it.  We should long for his appearing (2 Timothy 4:8).  The fact of his future coming should affect our entire life – it should be a guide in all that we do, think, say and feel.        

The chief duty of the bridesmaids was to have their lights shining brightly as they honor and do service to the bridegroom.  Likewise, we are to let our gospel lights shine before the world in honor and service to Jesus our King (Philippians 2:15-16).  

Matthew 25:2 – Five of them were foolish, and five were wise.

 Jesus tells us that some of the bridesmaids in this group are wise.  Some are not.  When they all stand in a group together, it is impossible for us to tell which are which. 

If they represent people who profess to know God, then it is clear that the wise virgins are those that have a true and sincere relationship with God.  The foolish virgins are hypocrites.  They profess to know God, but they are not truly his children. 

They may know the Christian lingo, they may attend church services and sing worship songs, but they have not surrendered their hearts to Jesus Christ.  They are foolish.   

Matthew 25:3-4 – For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them, but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps.

Their folly is in their lack of oil.  They had just enough oil to make their lamps burn for a short time, but they were not prepared if the bridegroom should delay his coming. 

Does this sound vaguely familiar?  It should.  Jesus expressed the same situation in the parable of the seeds:

Matthew 13:5-6 – Some fell upon stony places, where they had not much earth: and immediately they sprung up, because they had no deepness of earth:   And when the sun was up, they were scorched; and because they had no root, they withered away. 

The foolish bridesmaids have no ‘reserves’.  They have a lamp of profession in their hands, but they lack a true change in their hearts.  They do not know the word.  They are not rooted in their faith.  Love does not rule their lives.  They cannot endure even a small trial or tribulation.  Despite what comes out of their mouths, they are void of true spiritual life.  Isaiah describes them this way:

Isaiah 48:1 – Hear this, O house of Jacob… who swear by the name of the LORD, and make mention of the God of Israel, but not in truth, nor in righteousness.

Essentially, they are hypocrites.  They have taken pains to convince their fellow bridesmaids that they have burning lights, but they cannot fool the one who discerns the thoughts and intents of the heart (Hebrews 4:12).

This is opposed to the wise, who did have reserves of oil.  Think of it this way – your heart is a vessel.  Holy Spirit, the fuel/oil for your Christian walk, resides there; He fills your heart with power to serve Christ.  He is the one who gives us strength to withstand trials and tribulations.  He is the one who guides us into all truth.  He points out good works for us to accomplish.  He is the ‘down payment’ that guarantees our salvation.  Without him, our Christian lights would quickly be extinguished.   

Zechariah gives us a beautiful picture of the Holy Spirit being the oil in our lamps in his vision in Zechariah chapter 4. 

Zechariah 4:6 – Then he answered and spoke unto me, saying, This is the word of the LORD unto Zerubbabel, saying, Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the LORD of hosts.    

How well are you acquainted with Holy Spirit? Do you work with him each day to accomplish the will of God?  If not, I suggest you get to know him better.  He is your power for righteous living; with his assistance, your light will shine before men, causing them to give glory to God (Matthew 5:16).

Matthew 25:5 – As the bridegroom was delayed, they all became drowsy and slept.

Notice that all of the virgins sleep – the wise as well as the foolish.  How are we to interpret this ‘sleep’?

One interpretation says that ‘sleeping’ is used in a shameful sense.  This theory says that Christians have become spiritually apathetic.  They have chosen to be happy and content sitting in church and hearing the word of God, but not really going out to work in the kingdom.  They have stopped fighting against the devil; they have grown spiritually lazy.  Instead of harvesting souls, they are slumbering.

Another interpretation says that ‘sleep’ actually denotes earthly occupations and cares.  This theory says that as long as we dwell on earth, we must devote a certain part of our lives to working, eating, learning, family duties, etc.  These things can distract us from our relationship with Christ.  In this interpretation, that distraction is the same as falling asleep.

The third and most common interpretation is that ‘sleep’ refers to physical death.  This analogy is frequently used in scripture.  We are all going to die at some point, saints and sinners alike.  We are also all going to be resurrected at some point.  The saints of God (wise virgins) rise to eternal life while the sinners who reject Christ (foolish virgins) will rise to eternal death.

Regardless of which interpretation you think is correct, one thing is certain – the bridegroom tarried or was delayed.  The ‘delay’ refers to the period of time that began when Jesus went up into heaven, and it ends with the rapture – the time when he comes to claim the church (his bride) as his own. 

No man knows when this will take place.  The believers back in Jesus’ day thought it would happen in their lifetime, but it didn’t.  Many of our own Christian ancestors felt it would happen in their lifetimes, but it didn’t.  

However, this doesn’t negate the promise of his coming.  God has many plans and purposes that he wants to accomplish before he returns.  The harvest of the earth must have time to ripen and we must have time to harvest it.  The church must be purified, becoming without spot or wrinkle.  God is always faithful to carry out what he has promised.  Therefore we know that when the perfect time has arrived, Jesus will come again!   

How much do you dwell on the return of Christ?  Is it only a vague thought in the back of your mind?  Does it somehow make you uneasy?  Or is it a truth that drives you forward in your zeal for the Lord?

The writer of Hebrews says this:

Hebrews 10:23 – Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.

In other words, while Jesus tarries, we need to have a firm grip on the hope we have in Christ.  We need to constantly remind ourselves that although the world is a mess, Jesus will bring all things under his authority.  He has an appointed time to come and claim his bride, the church.  He has an appointed time in which he will rise up, break the seals of the scroll (Revelation 5), and usher in the eternal age. 

The promises he has given us regarding his return and our home with him in heaven are rock solid.  We need to find scriptures that speak of these things, and keep them in our minds and hearts, even committing them to memory.  

Way back in the book of Genesis, God promised Eve that he would send a deliverer to free mankind from sin.  She thought it would happen in her lifetime, but it didn’t.  Yet, the promise was still valid.  At the appointed time, Jesus came to earth and sacrificed his life for us all, proving that God was faithful to his promise.

Habakkuk 2:3 – For still the vision awaits its appointed time; it hastens to the end – it will not lie.  If it seems slow, wait for it; it will surely come; it will not delay.

So it will be with the rapture.  We may or may not see it in our lifetime, but the promise is sure.  The appointed time will come.  God is faithful to all that he has promised.

Hebrews 10:24 – And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works…

Our time on earth should always be lived with the realization that Christ is returning.  We should speak of this often to one another, reminding each other that lost opportunities can never be regained.  We need to work for the kingdom today; there is no promise of tomorrow. 

In light of his future coming, we should support each other in our endeavors for Christ.  We should pray without ceasing. We should rejoice at all times.  We should love the lost, even if they don’t agree with our point of view and be ready to share the gospel on all occasions. 

Above all, we need to be filled with the mighty Holy Spirit, who will lead and guide us during our time on earth.

Hebrews 10:25 – …not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.

If at all possible, I encourage you to be in fellowship with each other.  If you can go to church, by all means, do so!  The church needs you!  There are people there who need your wisdom and experiences.  They need to hear your testimony.  They need you to lay hands on them, and pray for them or share a prophetic word. 

If It isn’t possible for you to come to church for some reason, I encourage you to find a very small group of family or friends that you are comfortable with, and fellowship with them.  Listen to sermons together.  Worship together.  Pray for each other.  Serve communion to each other.  Be a strength to others when they are weak, and they will do the same for you.

And all of us need to encourage each other.  Don’t assume that just because someone is smiling or saying they are fine, that they don’t need an encouraging word.  Jesus tells us that in the final era of time, the world will be wicked, violent and haters of God.  In that environment, we had better be in the practice of encouraging each other.

Matthew 25:6 – But at midnight there was a cry, ‘Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’

In the parable, the bridegroom arrives suddenly and unexpectedly.  A loud cry goes forth, waking the virgins from their slumber.  The time of the celebration has finally arrived and they must arise immediately to meet the long awaited groom. 

What does this mean to us? 

THE KING IS COMING! 

There used to be an old saying that the only two sure things in life were death and taxes.  That saying is only half right; the two sure things in life are death and the return of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ!

John 14:3 – And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.

How will you use your time on earth until Christ returns or calls you home through death?  Will you invest all your time and resources on the things of this life, or will you store up treasures in heaven?

Matthew 25:7 – Then all those virgins rose and trimmed their lamps.

When the virgins arose and trimmed their lamps, they were preparing for the imminent coming of the bridegroom.  They were making themselves ready to receive him. 

Spiritually speaking, men and women will often scramble to prepare themselves to meet God when they feel death is imminent.  But alas!  It is often too late.  The best time to prepare for eternity is right now. 

The question has been asked, ‘How can we live a life that is pleasing to God?’

The answer, of course, is ‘one day at a time.’

Each and every day we need to live for Christ.  Each day, read the word.  Each day, spend time with God in prayer and worship.  Each day, look for opportunities to plant the seed of the word of God, or water that seed in someone’s life or harvest a soul for Christ.  Each day, encourage and disciple others.  Each day, find a way to strike a blow at our enemy.  Then, when the call comes for us to meet Christ, whether through death or his return, we will be ready to meet him.  Our vessels will be full of oil.    

Matthew 25:8-9 – And the foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’   But the wise answered, saying, ‘Since there will not be enough for us and for you, go rather to the dealers and buy for yourselves.’

Now the foolish virgins become aware of their need for fuel.  It suddenly occurs to them that they have been foolish in preparing for the wedding celebration.  They are not ready for the events that have come upon them.  How terrifying that feeling would be!   

At the same time, it occurs to them that others are well prepared.  Those they despised or mocked for their deep commitment to preparing for the bridegroom, are now revealed as wise.  How the foolish wish they were like them now!

In their desperation, they appeal to the wise for help, but the wise cannot share what they have laid up for themselves; the foolish must procure their own oil.

Spiritually speaking, there will be people who come face to face with death (or the return of Christ) and suddenly realize that they are unprepared.  Their excuses are no good, nor can they rely on the merits of someone else.  We shall all be judged individually.  Those who want to be welcomed by the bridegroom must have personal preparation, personal faith and personal holiness.  We have no authority to accept grace and salvation for someone else.  Each person has the right to decide for themselves what their relationship to God will be.

So the wise give the foolish a wise answer – go to the dealers (the ministers of the gospel) and get what you need.

In fact, the advice to “go and buy for yourselves” is exactly what the wise have done.    Right up until the time the cry/signal came announcing the appearance of the bridegroom, grace and mercy had been available without limit:

Isaiah 55:1, 3 – Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.  Incline your ear, and come to me; hear, that your soul may live… 

The wise took full advantage of this offer, listening to the words of God and accepting salvation through the shed blood of Christ. 

All of a sudden, the foolish virgins want to buy grace and mercy, but it is too late.  The situation has changed.  The salvation they are now desperately seeking was only available until they drew their last breath.  Once they died, they no longer had access to it.    

Matthew 25:10 – And while they were going to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the marriage feast, and the door was shut.

The implication here is clear.  Those who are prepared to meet the bridegroom (Jesus) are admitted into the kingdom of God.  Once they were all inside, the way was shut.

Here is something interesting to consider.  The scriptures say that when the flood came, Noah and his family entered the ark and God shut the door:

Genesis 7:16 – And they that went in, went in male and female of all flesh, as God had commanded him: and the LORD shut him in.

This was not a mistake or an afterthought.  It is a reflection of the wisdom of God.  I am sure that once the flood came, many of the wicked who failed to take the message of repentance seriously came to Noah’s back yard and pounded on the door of the ark, begging to be let in.  But Noah was relieved of any burden in that respect – God had shut the door; only he could open it.

The same is true in this parable.  When the bridegroom shut the door, no one else was admitted. 

Likewise, when the door to heaven is shut, no one will be able to cross that threshold either.

Revelation 3:8 – I know your works: behold, I have set before you an open door, and no man can shut it…

No one can shut a door that God opens; no one can open a door he has shut.

What does this mean for the foolish?

The door of opportunity was closed – those who had many opportunities to repent but always put it off until ‘tomorrow’ have now lost their chance.

The door of mercy was closed – God is longsuffering to all men, but there is a time limit.  When we die or Christ returns, the age of grace will end for us.

The door of hope was closed – Jesus is the only hope of eternal life; there is no other name under heaven whereby you can be saved.  If you have rejected him, all hope is lost for you.  

The door of heaven was closed – Those who reject heaven will still find an open door – the door to the bottomless pit of hell. 

What does this mean for the righteous?

The door is closed to all effects of sin – No death, disease, mental illness, broken relationships or heartache will be allowed through heaven’s door.

The door is closed to the worries of earthly life – No longer will we concern ourselves over food, clothes, money, education or work. 

The door is closed to death – We will never again experience death ourselves, nor will we be affected by the death of anyone we love.    

The door is closed to all wickedness – No murderers, fornicators, sorcerers, idolaters or liars will be allowed to enter heaven’s door (Revelation 21:8).

Which side of the door are you on?

Matthew 25:11-12 – Afterward the other virgins came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us,’ but he answered, ‘Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.’

Though the foolish cry out to the bridegroom, they are too late. It will be too late to ask for mercy when the day of judgment arrives.

Matthew 7:21 – Not every one that says unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that does the will of my Father who is in heaven.

Jesus, who knows the thoughts and intents of every heart, says emphatically that he does not know these foolish people.  They have made a vain profession of religion with their mouths, but they hearts and lives were unchanged. 

Matthew 25:13 – Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.

 And now we come to the ultimate message of the parable.  Jesus warns all of us to be watchful every day, for we do not know the time or date of his return (or our own deaths).  We must live every day in close communion with our Lord, believing and rejoicing in the knowledge that he will one day come and usher us into heaven to be with him forever!   

Let me give you some encouragement:

As long as I can remember, I have heard people say that Christ could come any day.  The fact that he hasn’t yet, does not mean that he won’t.  It just means that he has an appointed time set aside to come and claim his bride.  So take heart!  One day all our struggles will be over.  One day we will be ushered into the wonderful marriage supper of the lamb and we will dwell with Christ forever.

In the meantime, I suggest that you find several scriptures that speak of the return of Christ and his great love for the church, and memorize them.  They will be a wonderful encouragement to you.  

Let me give you some relief:

People talk a lot about the end of time, referring to it as the apocalypse or Armageddon.    They frequently describe it as a time of upheaval and distress; a time of economic chaos and violence; a time of lawlessness when every man must look out for himself.

 But to the true child of God, the end of time is not a time to be afraid or worried.  It is a time of rejoicing, because Christ will return for us, his bride.  On that day we will find relief from sin and death.  

Let me give you some strength:

As Christians, we all want to be more like Christ.  Usually, that does not happen all at once.  It happens little by little, day by day.  So forget the mistakes of your past.  Move ahead and achieve the things that are before you, pressing toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. 

Matthew, Chapter 24, Part 3

Matthew 24:36 – “But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only.”

One of the questions asked by the disciples was WHEN the end of the age would come. 

Jesus does not reveal the precise date and time.  Rather, he gives them general signs of its coming.  For example, when you see the fig tree in bud, that is a clear indication that summer is coming.  Likewise, when the disciples saw the signs that Jesus mentioned, the end of the age (destruction of Jerusalem, end of the Law) would be at hand.   

Furthermore, when the end of time/end of the world comes, these same signs will be present.   

God does not tell us when He will return.

Why do you think God keeps the exact end of time hidden from us?

I can think of a few reasons, but in my mind one stands out.  Contrary to what we sometimes think, God is mainly interested in a close relationship with us.  Everything else, like good works and personal holiness, stems from that relationship. 

If we knew the exact date and time of the end of the age or of his return, we would have a tendency to indulge in sin and let our relationship with him grow cold.  By keeping the date secret, God creates within us a sense of excitement and great anticipation for a fabulous present that will someday be ours.  As his children, we should view the end of time with the eagerness of Christmas morning.  We know that we are going to receive extraordinary gifts, which we can’t even imagine!  

Matthew 24:37 – “For as were the days of Noah, so will the coming of the Son of Man.”

The narrative of Noah and the ark is found in Genesis chapters 6-9.  What are the main points of the narrative of Noah?

One – That generation was wicked and violent: 

Genesis 6:5, 11 – The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.  Now, the earth was corrupt in God’s sight and the earth was filled with violence.

In Noah’s generation, mankind as a whole was completely bent on evil.  Every decision they made was rooted in darkness.  It would be easy to imagine how they abused and oppressed widows and children.  It is easy to imagine that they served false gods and idols. It is easy to imagine how they faithfully pursued pleasure, ease and drunkenness.   It is easy to image that they were violent people, who wanted nothing to do with God. 

Let’s compare that with our generation.  Generally speaking, is mankind evil?  Do the people around us make decisions that are clearly rooted in darkness, like removing God from our schools and court system?  Do Americans serve idols like money, fame, ease and false religions?  Are we a violent society?  I think so…  just look at the news on any given day.  There are murders, robberies, instances of child abuse, clashes between gangs, and burning businesses in many cities.  What do you think – are we violent? 

Two – The message of repentance was preached to that generation, but they rejected it:

2 Peter 2:5 – … [God] saved Noah the eighth person, a preacher of righteousness…

Not only did Noah preach righteousness, he lived it in front of his generation.  He began to build an enormous boat in his backyard.  You can bet that the people of his town often stopped by to mock the ‘crazy’ guy who was obsessed with God.  You can bet that Noah was the subject of many taunts and jokes.   But each day that he lived righteously was a testimony to those around him.  His uncompromising life stood in sharp contrast to the evil around him. 

What about our generation?  The message of repentance is being preached like never before.  It is available in churches, online, in print, over the radio and in everyday conversations with believers.  I think that at this point, most people in America would have to be actively avoiding the gospel, in order not to hear it. 

That being said, can we say that our lives are a testimony of righteousness?  Do we have an uncompromising commitment to our King that stands in sharp contrast to the evil around us?

Three – Judgment came suddenly and caught them unaware:

Matthew 24:38-39 – “For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and they were unaware until the flood came and swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.”

Even though they heard the message spoken to them by Noah, they did not take it seriously.  They did not believe it, or prepare themselves for it.  If they had, they too would have been saved from death.  Instead, they were indifferent to the message.

As a result, they were not looking for judgment to come.  It wasn’t even on their radar.  Each day they enjoyed reveling in sensuality and debauchery.  Each night they went to bed expecting that another day would arrive, right on schedule.  And for a time, that is exactly what occurred.  God was giving them time to repent and turn from their wickedness.

But they turned a blind eye to their window of opportunity. They filled up the measure of sin for their society, in their generation.  And as a result, judgment came. 

Jesus tells us that the same symptoms will accompany the generation who lives at the end of time/the world.  They will hear the message of judgment.  God will most certainly provide opportunities to repent and turn to him, but many people will not listen.  They will turn a blind eye to the warnings of destruction and as a result, they will be swept away in judgment. 

I hope that this prompts us all to continue to earnestly pray for the United States of America.  We need the Holy Spirit to overshadow our nation and bring a spirit of repentance to every man, woman and child.  We need to put on sackcloth and ashes, and cry out to God for mercy, so that our nation is not swept away in judgment.

Four – In the  time of Noah, God saved those who were his:

Genesis 7:13, 16 – On the very same day Noah and his sons…and Noah’s wife and the three wives of his sons with them entered into the ark…and those that entered, male and female of all flesh, went in as God had commanded them.  And the Lord shut him in.

Here is the message of hope for every child of Almighty God!  God knew exactly which people were in a true relationship with him.  He knew those who were close to him, and when the time of destruction and judgment (the flood) came, God spared those who served him. 

For those living in the last generation of time (us?), this will also hold true.  God has created each and every human being and placed them in a precise location at a precise time in history.  So, if you are alive in the last generation, it is because God specifically planned it that way.  He will equip you to be victorious in that situation.  The judgment that will come upon the wicked at the end of time, will not touch you.  Your name will be written in the Lamb’s book of life; you will enjoy an eternity with God!

Matthew 24:40-41 – “Then two men will be in the field; one will be taken and one left.  Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken and one left.”

Right now, people are busy living life.  This includes working, forming relationships, enjoying hobbies, making discoveries, educating ourselves, raising children, etc.  In the midst of all this, the gospel continues to be broadcast far and wide.  People have a choice of whether or not to pay attention to the gospel.  Each person must make an individual choice – will they accept Jesus as savior and Lord, or will they not.

Currently, the godly and the ungodly are mixed together in every venue of life – within families, within schools and businesses, even within the church.  Sometimes we have a difficult time telling them apart.  But God does not.  At the appointed time, Jesus will return and there will be a clear and sudden separation of those who believe and those who do not. 

Those who have received Jesus as Lord and are alive at his coming, will be summoned from the earth to meet him in the air, as he descends from heaven with a shout and the sound of a trumpet.

1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 – For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord.  

Those who have rejected the offer of grace and salvation will be left behind, to the fate they have chosen – shame and everlasting contempt; an eternity separated from God.

Who can describe the happiness of those who are taken when the Lord returns?  Who can imagine the misery of those who are left behind?  Let us give careful consideration to these choices, because they represent life and death for our spirits.  

Matthew 24:42 – “Therefore, stay awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming.”

Our translation says ‘therefore, stay awake’, but I think the King James is a better interpretation.  It says ‘watch therefore’. 

When are we to watch?

We should be diligently watching for the return of our savior each and every day.  We will meet God in one of two ways: either we will die or he will return to earth for us.  Since we do not know the exact timing of either one of those events, we should be watchful and cognizant of his possible coming at all times.

Why are we to watch?

Quite frankly, we need to watch because we are sinful beings.  We tend to take our eyes off eternity and place them on the ‘here and now’.  Unless we are careful, we can become enamored with the things of this world, while we neglect our relationship with God.  But if we are constantly watching for his return, we will be in constant communion with him, and we will be ready when the time comes.    

How are we to watch?

We should be joyfully watching for his return.  When Christ returns (or calls us home), it will be the end of our struggle against sin.  It will be the end of disease and death.  It will be the end of separation from our loved ones who have already gone to heaven. 

It will be the beginning of a new eternity filled with love and peace where we are always in his presence.  It will be the fulfillment of every promise that God has made to his children.  Clearly, this will be a time of rejoicing.  So we should be passionately excited by the prospect of his return!  Thoughts of his return should make us feel exhilarated and delighted.  

What are we to watch?

In light of his coming at an unspecified time, we should watch the way we conduct ourselves in this life.  It is time to put away the sins that stubbornly cling to our lives.  Do you have a foul mouth?  Time to clean it up.  Do you lust?  Time to get your thoughts under control and place them under the power of God.  Do you love anything more than God?  If so, that is an idol.  Time to smash that thing and remove it from your life.   Do you still cling to old habits of the world?  Time to clean house and prepare for the return of our Lord and Savior. 

It is time to make sure that our gospel light is shining brightly, pushing back the darkness and providing hope to the lost.  It’s time to pray.  It’s time to spend time in his presence.  It’s time to nourish our spirits on the word of God.  It’s time to build up our most holy faith by praying in heavenly languages (Jude 20).  

Matthew 24:43 – “But know this, that if the master of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into.”

If you knew a thief was going to break into your house sometime during the night, there is no doubt that you would be awake and on guard, watching for him to show up.     

The scriptures tell us that when Jesus returns to gather his saints home, he will come like a thief in the night:

1 Thessalonians 5:2 – For you yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so comes as a thief in the night.   

In the same way that the owner of the house was watching and preparing for the thief to show up, Christians need to be diligently watching and preparing for the coming of Jesus, or his coming will catch us unprepared and off guard. 

Luke makes it practical for us:

Luke 21:34 – But watch yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life, and that day come upon you suddenly like a trap.

It can be easy to get caught up in the affairs of this life.  Recently, I have spoken to several Christians who are very caught up in the political issues of our day.  While it is good to be informed, these folks have taken it too far.  They are constantly feeding themselves from multiple news sources, when they should be feeding themselves on the word of God. 

All of the unrest and controversy covered on the news is keeping their eyes on man, and off of the Savior.  It is taking their minds off the word of God.  It is taking their time away from prayer.  This is just one example of how easy it can be to be weighed down with the cares of this life.

Dissipation is another thing that can put us in bondage and consume all of our time and attention.  Just for the record, to dissipate means to destroy by wasteful extravagance or lavish use, to squander or waste.  Many Christians have lived ‘above their means’ or made poor use of their resources.  They have borrowed money or run up credit card bills, making them slaves to their lenders.  They spend a lot of time and effort on their debt, instead of using that energy to serve the Lord.

We will mention drunkenness later on in this lesson, but let me just say this:  alcohol is a tool of the enemy which he uses to bind, enslave and destroy people.  It can cause you to do terrible things to yourself and those you love.  Be very, very careful about the footholds you allow the enemy to have in your life.  If you are not careful, you may find that alcohol can consume your loved ones, your finances, your health, your ministry, your dreams and your peace.       

Matthew 24:44 – “Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.”

We must prepare ourselves for the return of our Savior by living holy lives and keeping our focus on the return of Jesus and our future heavenly home.  If we are constantly looking for it, we will not miss it.  

Luke 21:36 – Watch therefore, and pray always, that you may be accounted worthy to escape all these things that shall come to pass, and to stand before the Son of man.

Luke cautions us that we need to be in constant prayer.  In so doing, we will escape the judgments that come upon the wicked. We will be able to stand in front of our Lord without being ashamed. 

Matthew 24:45 – “Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom his master has set over his household, to give them their food at the proper time?” 

Verses 45-51 are actually a short parable which shows that the disciples of Jesus should act as if they were expecting his return at any moment.  There are two similar applications of this parable.

In the first, the wise and faithful servant represents a faithful Christian.

Can you determine who the master represents?  That’s right – it’s Jesus, the Lord or Master of every Christian.  In this application, the ‘household’ represents all the people, places, and goods that the Christian has authority over. 

As a wise and faithful servant, the Christian will use his authority and all the resources available to him to support and nourish spiritual life to those around him, especially to his family and his church.  He will make sure that at ‘the proper time’ he distributes wisdom, encouragement, prayer, financial resources or whatever else is needed to those in need.  He lives his life with integrity of heart and pure intentions.    

The second application of this parable is a message to pastors and ministers of our day, whom God has placed in authority over his ‘household’ or ‘flock’.  They are to be wise and faithful stewards, watching over the flock that God has given them.  They are to provide spiritual food, wise council and other assistance to the Christians under their authority.  They dispense the blessings that Christ has purchased by his blood.  Like any Christian, they are to work continually, maintain their integrity and operate with impartiality and pure intentions. 

Ministers of God have been elevated to their positions for the purpose of shepherding and leading others.  Their main concern is to further God’s kingdom.  They must be scrupulously exact in fulfilling the commands of the Master, not substituting their own agenda for his.

At the same time, all servants of God must be faithful; we must follow the principles and commands of Jesus, not our own.  We must be willing to share the whole council of God, even if the word is not a happy ‘feel good’ message.  Faithfulness requires us to dispense words of warning as well as words of wisdom and encouragement..

In both instances, the man or woman who discharges their stewardship wisely and faithfully is blessed by God.  He will graciously and abundantly reward them.  

Matthew 24:46-47 – “Blessed is that servant whom his master will find so doing when he comes.  Truly, I say to you, he will set him over all his possessions.”

God notices good stewardship.  Pastors and Christians who constantly distinguish themselves in this life with humility, diligence, love and sincerity in their work on earth will be noticed and rewarded by God for all of eternity. 

There may be times when we are tempted to take short cuts. There may be times when we get weary from always doing the right thing.  But take heart!  Even though other men don’t notice when you weary yourself doing what is right, God does.    

God not only notices good stewardship, he rewards it!  Of course, all who are found in Christ at the end of time are blessed (Revelation 14:13).  But Jesus promises additional blessings for those who become faithful stewards. 

We have a biblical example of this in the Old Testament.  Joseph was a steward in the house of Potiphar.  He did an excellent job, and was rewarded with additional authority, additional honor and additional responsibility:

Genesis 39:4 – So Joseph found favor in his sight and attended him, and he made him overseer of his house and put him in charge of all that he had.  

We don’t know what God has in store for us in eternity, but you can be sure that he loves to reward faithful stewards.  You can be sure that additional authority and honor are in store for those whom he finds faithful in all his house.

Matthew 24:48-49 – “But if that wicked servant says to himself, ‘My master is delayed’, and begins to beat his fellow servants and eats and drinks with drunkards,”

Matthew Henry says this:  “The vilest of creatures is a wicked man, the vilest of men is a wicked Christian and the vilest of them a wicked minister”.   What an insightful statement!

What would make Christians and ministers wicked?  They are wicked if they doubt or disbelieve the second coming of Christ (saying to themselves, ‘my master is delayed’).

In other words, instead of constantly giving encouragement to the saints that God has a plan and an appointed time to come and receive his bride, and helping others to stay faithful until God arrives, the wicked servant will begin to grumble and complain and doubt the faithfulness of God.  They will begin to despair or disbelieve in his coming. 

This sends them down a horrible, slippery slope.  If God was not truthful in his statement that he was coming again for his people, then how can we believe He has truly forgiven our sins and that He will take us to heaven to be with him?  How can we believe anything He told us?  If that is the case, why not ‘eat, drink and be merry’? 

Slippery slope

Any minister or Christian who begins to think this way (that God is not coming back), will in turn begin to slip in their stewardship.  They will begin to listen to their flesh, as opposed to their spirit.  They will begin to use their authority and power to satisfy their own carnal desires and lusts.  They will begin to abuse and oppress the other Christians in their church/household.   

They will begin to associate and fellowship with evil people, walking in their council and joining them in sin.  They will begin to scorn the righteous principles they once held dear.   When this happens, it can cause others to stumble in their faith.  The believers they are supposed to be watching over and assisting are left to the wolves.  This stains the holy name of our Lord. 

It is interesting that Jesus uses the term ‘drunkards’ in this passage to describe wicked servants.  Many Christians see nothing wrong with drinking alcohol.  However, let the reader beware; while alcohol may not be a sin in and of itself, it is certainly a dangerous gateway that leads to other sin.  Many people have committed horrible sins while under the influence of alcohol that they never would have even considered if they had been sober. 

Matthew 24:50-51 – “The master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he does not know and will cut him in pieces and put him with the hypocrites.  In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

Just as God sees faithful service to him, he also sees wickedness done in his name.  Just because wicked Christians doubt the coming of the Lord, it does not change the fact that God is coming.  In fact, his coming is a sure and certain promise, which cannot be broken by the unbelief of man.

His second coming will be a dreadful surprise to careless Christians and pastors who have cast aside the warnings of his word.  Don’t be that person!

So let me offer you some encouragement:

Jesus admonishes us to “watch” for his coming; we are to stay sharp and diligent in his service, because He is coming back again.  This is not a statement that should fill you with fear or make you weary. 

This is a promise that should cause you to rejoice – our King is coming!  So be encouraged – God sees your service to him and He will reward you for it in eternity.     

Let me offer you some relief and some strength:

Human beings make promises all the time.  They also break promises all the time.  As a result, we have a right to be skeptical when someone gives us a promise that seems too good to be true.

But God is different.  He is always, always, always faithful to his promises.  If He says it, you can count on it!   

Deuteronomy 7:9 – Know therefore that the LORD your God, he is God, the faithful God, who keeps covenant and mercy with them that love him and keep his commandments to a thousand generations;

So relax – you can trust God to do exactly what he promises to do.  So dig deep in his word.  Find the promises that speak to your situation.  Pray them over yourself and your loved ones and watch God move in your situation!    

Matthew, Chapter 24, Part 2

As you recall, we are in the midst of Matthew chapter 24.  Jesus has left the temple for the last time; his death on the cross is only days away.  His disciples have been questioning him about when the end of the age will be, and what will be the signs of his return to earth.

Jesus does not tell them an exact day when he will return, however, he does give them some signs to look for that will mark the end of the age.  The difficulty comes when we try to define ‘end of the age’.

As we pointed out last week, biblical prophesy primarily concerns the people, places and events that are near at hand when the prophesy is given.  However, the same prophesy will also frequently have fulfillment in future generations as well.

So, while the ‘end of the age’ certainly refers to the end of the Jewish state in AD 70, it probably also has a future fulfillment at the end of time.  Let’s see what the Holy Spirit would like to say to us in this portion of scripture.  

Matthew 24:15-16 – “So when you see the abomination of desolation spoken of by the prophet Daniel, standing in the holy place (let the reader understand),”

In this verse Jesus gives us the next sign that will mark the end of the age. It is taken from Daniel chapters 9, 11 and 12. 

Certainly, this prophesy was fulfilled close to the time it was given, and it clearly applied to the fall of Jerusalem.  The abomination of desolation that stood in the holy place was the Roman army. 

Luke 21:20 – And when you shall see Jerusalem surrounded with armies, then know that its desolation is near.

Why would the Roman army be considered an abomination?  For one, the Jews consider them an abomination because they are Gentiles.  As such, they should never step foot into the temple or any of the land surrounding it, which was also considered holy.  Two, they are considered an abomination because they took Roman ensigns (flags) into the temple, placed them by the eastern gate and made sacrifices to them there.  Here is a quote from Josephus, Wars of the Jews, book vi, chapter 6:

“And now the Romans, upon the flight of the seditious into the city, and upon the burning of the holy house itself, and of all the buildings lying round about it, brought their ensigns to the temple and set them over against the eastern gate: and there did they offer sacrifices to them, and there did they make Titus imperator, with the greatest acclamations of joy”.

While this is certainly a strange practice, it was normal for the Roman soldiers.  They treated the ensigns like idols, worshipping them and swearing by them.  For them, victory in war and conquest was the only thing that mattered.  It was their god.   

An alternate explanation is also offered by some scholars.  The desolation may have been at the hands of a Jewish faction called the Zealots, who at one time during the war took control of the temple, stopped the daily sacrifice and drenched the holy place in blood.  However, the first explanation certainly seems more in line with the words of Daniel.

Matthew 24:16-18 – “then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. Let the one who is on the housetop not go down to take what is in his house, and let the one who is in the field not turn back to take his cloak.”

In this verse, Jesus instructs his followers that the very moment they see the fulfillment of this prophesy spoken through Daniel, they are to waste no time in immediately fleeing.  This sense of urgency is conveyed in the instructions not to stop in your house to grab a coat or any other material possessions.  The wise follower of Christ would hastily make his way to the city gate, never slowing down until he was free of the city and surrounding area.  

The houses of the Jews were flat on top, and they frequently used these spaces for relaxation (or storage or a work area or an extra bedroom) much the same as we would use a deck.  It was normal to have two sets of stairs to the roof, one inside the house and one outside. 

This meant you could ascend/descend between the roof and the street without going into the house.  It was also standard practice for these roofs to be built in a continuous line, so that you could pass from house to house along everyone’s roof without having to descend to the street, until you came close to the city gate.  If you were fleeing for your life, this would be the quickest route out of the city.

History tells us (Eusebius, book 3 chapter 5) that the Jewish Christians did indeed flee from Jerusalem and the surrounding area of Judea.  They fled over the mountains of Gilead to Pella and other places beyond the Jordan river, where they were safe from the horrors and atrocities that took place in Jerusalem.

We can’t help but see the spiritual principle here as well.  When a person realizes that they are in need of Jesus as their Lord and Savior, they should not delay.  If they pause to have one more good time, or wait until ‘tomorrow’ to surrender to him, they may find that it is too late!  When you realize that sin and death and crouching at your door, don’t waste any time on worldly things.  Turn immediately to Jesus for forgiveness and eternal life!     

Matthew 24:19-20 – “And alas for women who are pregnant and for those who are nursing infants in those days!  Pray that your flight may not be in winter or on a Sabbath.”

This is in regards to the flight from the city into a place of safety.  The window of opportunity would be very short (hence, do not stop to grab a coat or any other possessions).  Pregnant women and nursing mothers would have a very difficult time moving quickly enough to escape the destruction.  The implication is that they would not be able to flee, and would therefore have to stay in the city and bear the miseries of the siege.  Josephus confirms that this was the case; he tells of houses full of women and children who died of starvation.

Likewise, winter weather would impede a swift exit due to cold, bad road conditions, short days, long nights, etc. 

But flight on a Sabbath would be even more dangerous.  You could legally travel 2 miles or less on the Sabbath.  If you still lived under the old conviction not to break the Sabbath, you would not be far enough away to guarantee your safety.  If you got caught violating the Sabbath by a devout Jew, you would be stoned to death.  In addition, the gates of Jerusalem were traditionally closed on that day.  Getting to a place of safety on the Sabbath would be tricky. 

Matthew 24:21 – “For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be.”

Tribulation means calamity, suffering or severe affliction.  In the gospel of Luke, Jesus is more specific about what this will consist of:

Luke 21:23-24 –  …For there will be great distress upon the earth and wrath against this people.  They will fall by the edge of the sword and be led captive among all nations, and Jerusalem will be trampled underfoot by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.

To die ‘by the edge of the sword’ refers to being slain in war, where swords were the principle weapons used by armies.  Death by the sword may have been the most merciful end, for those inside the city also faced rape, famine, disease and fire.  Bodies littered the streets (imagine the smell), women ate their own children, and fanatic groups of Jews mercilessly ruled over portions of the city like war lords, mistreating their fellow Jews.  There was no place to turn to for hope or relief. 

Historical records (Josephus, Jewish Wars book vi chapters 2,3 and 9) tell us that approximately 97,000 Jews were taken captive during the 5 year war.  The tall and handsome young men were kept by Titus so they could be persecuted and paraded around to show his great triumph.  Many were distributed throughout the Roman provinces to be destroyed by lions and other wild beasts in the theaters.  Others were sent to labor camps in Egypt.  The rest (principally those under 17 years of age) were sold for slaves. Thus, they were indeed led captive into all nations.

It is the greatest tribulation ever.  And how did this group merit such treatment?  They continuously and eagerly pursued wickedness until the measure of iniquity for their nation was full.  They despised and rejected the incarnate Son of God and His offer of grace.  What words can describe the baseness of their actions as they put to death the very Author/Creator of life?  So upon them the most violent wrath of God has fallen.

As we discussed last time, our nation has just as surely rejected the Son of God as the Jews did.  Our only hope is to humble ourselves, repent and pray for our nation, seeking the mercy of God (2 Chronicles 7:14).   

Matthew 24:22 – “And if those days had not been cut short, no human being would be saved.  But for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short.”

The gospel of Matthew was written sometime between 50 and 60 AD, but probably closer to 50.  Either way, the information recorded by Matthew was published years before Jerusalem was actually destroyed.  Anyone who read the prophesy and believed it, had ample opportunity to save themselves and their families from this destruction.  This is a testimony of the mercy of God.

The fact is, without the mercy and intervention of God, all of the Jews would be completely and utterly destroyed without remedy.  The calamities mentioned above were sufficient to exterminate the entire population, wiping them from the face of the earth.  

  • If Satan had his way, the Jews would have been utterly destroyed. (He has clearly tried to exterminate them a number of times.) 
  • If God had poured out upon them the wrath they deserved, they would have been utterly destroyed. 
  • If mankind (Romans) were in charge, they would have been utterly destroyed.  

But, hallelujah, God is in charge!  Even though his judgment against them was righteous, his great mercy caused him to stay his hand, preserving yet again a remnant of his people.  

Isaiah 10:22 – For though your people Israel be as the sand of the sea, yet a remnant of them shall return: the destruction decreed shall overflow with righteousness.

Despite what man deserves, God is merciful.  Again, we notice that God is in complete control and his timing is perfect.  His wrath must come, but at the exact moment it is fulfilled, he swiftly and surely turns the tide from destruction to deliverance.   

Matthew 24:23 – “Then if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or ‘There he is!’ do not believe it.”

Here’s the deal – the Jews believed that the Messiah was going to be an earthly ruler.  They expected him to come, rescue them from the Romans, and set up his kingdom.  We have indicated this fact many times in past lessons.  Since the Jews living in Jerusalem had rejected Jesus, they were still looking for the Messiah to come.

The horrible circumstances they were in probably made them cry out to God even more earnestly for the deliverer whom they thought was yet to come.  Because of their desperate state, they were very susceptible to being deceived by Satan. 

Like drowning men, they clutched at any sign that offered them a hope of deliverance.  But what they grabbed onto was a lead weight. What can be more evil than false hope which shuts the door of true salvation and deliverance, while condemning one to darkness and despair?

What could be more heinous in our day, than preaching a gospel where God loves everything, approves everything and everything goes, no matter what?  If we preach a weak gospel where people are not required to repent and turn from wickedness, we are offering them a ‘lead weight’ when we need to throw them a life preserver of truth!  Let’s not compromise the gospel message – it’s not fair to the lost.

Matthew 24:24 – “For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect.”

How did the Jews know that Jesus was the Messiah?  One of the signs was that he could do great miracles.  The New Testament is replete with the miracles of Christ.  He healed physical ailments, cast out demons, discerned the inmost hearts of men, walked on water, multiplied food and raised the dead. 

Here, Jesus tells his disciples that the false messiahs would try to imitate his miracles through sorcery, divination and magic.  We have at least one example of this in the book of Acts:

Acts 8:9-11 – But there was a certain man, called Simon, who previously in the same city used sorcery, and amazed the people of Samaria, giving out that he was some great one:  To whom they all gave heed, from the least to the greatest, saying, This man is the great power of God. And to him they had regard, because for a long time he had amazed them with sorceries.

Josephus tells us that there were a number of men who stepped forward during this time to claim they were the messiah.  He does not give specific details about the miracles they performed. 

However, Jesus warns that the signs/wonders would be very convincing.  They would so closely mimic true miracles, that even true believers would be fooled, if that were possible. 

This statement must have given the apostles and all true believers a sure hope – they would NOT be fooled by these false messiahs. 

John 10:4-5 – And when he puts forth his own sheep, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him: for they know his voice.  And a stranger will they not follow, but will flee from him: for they know not the voice of strangers.

It would be impossible to persuade true Christians that Jesus is not the Christ.  They are so firmly established and rooted in him, that they will recognize an imposter.  This is true in every generation, from the time of the apostles until our generation. 

I don’t know what false prophets or messiahs are going to come forward in our generation, but I know that if we remain close to Christ, we will hear his voice and not be fooled by those who want to lead us astray.

Matthew 24:25-26 – “See, I have told you beforehand.  So, if they say to you, ‘Look, he is in the wilderness’, do not go out.  If they say, ‘Look, he is in the inner rooms’, do not believe it.”

Jesus is telling his disciples to be on the lookout for these deceptions, so they are not caught off guard.  People will claim to have found the messiah, and try to lead others to where they can also find him – in the desert or hidden in buildings.

Notice how these imposters operate – in dark, secret places.  Why?  Because if they operated in the light of day, their deception would soon be discovered.    

These false messiahs would covertly gather as many followers as they could, then try to launch an assault to overthrow the Romans, resulting in (they hoped) an earthly kingdom for themselves. This fed right into the false beliefs of the Jews (that the kingdom of God would immediately manifest itself in an earthly kingdom).

By contrast, Jesus always performed his miracles publicly.  Crowds followed him everywhere.  Entire towns were healed.  There were so many people, he had to get into a boat and push off the shore in order to teach.  5000 and 7000 people were fed with just a few provisions.  Religious leaders were constantly seeking to discredit him.  If he were a false messiah, he could never have stood up to that kind of scrutiny.

Furthermore, his kingdom will commence as a spiritual kingdom, not a physical one.  It will suddenly and unexpectedly light up the entire world, like lightening.  

Matthew 24:27-28 – “For as the lightening comes from the east and shines as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.  Wherever the corpse is, there the vultures will gather.”

What is meant by the phrase ‘the coming of the Son of Man’?

Some scholars believe that it refers to his coming to destroy Jerusalem.  It came unexpectedly and suddenly, like lightening.  These interpreters see the carcass as representing the body of the Jewish nation which will shortly be nearly destroyed, and the vultures (your translation may say eagles), as the Roman army. 

Other scholars see this as a reference to the spiritual kingdom of Jesus.  The kingdom of the true Messiah will not be shut up in some hidden corner of Judea.  It will suddenly and brightly be extended to the uttermost parts of the world.  Just like lightening, the gospel will flow with astonishing rapidity through every part of the world.  Everyone is eligible to see it and embrace its power. In this interpretation, the carcass represents the message of the death and resurrection of Christ, which cause all of his followers (vultures/eagles) to gather together and feed on the blood and body of Christ (John 6:51-53).

Matthew 24:29 – “Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken.”

Some scholars believe that this part of the prophesy applies only to the destruction of Jerusalem.  In their opinion, the tribulation consisted of all the heinous suffering the Jews endured during the destruction of the city and the temple.  The sun, moon and stars are symbolic of the temple, Jerusalem and the cities of Judah.  All of them have come to ruin; their earthly glory has been shaken and eclipsed by other powers.

Others believe that this refers to the second coming of Christ.  They see great tribulation at hand for all of mankind.  After that horrendous period, the literal sun will be darkened or perhaps burn out.  Because the sun has lost its power, the moon will also be darkened because its light is a reflection of the sun.  The heavens will be so shaken, that many stars will also fall from heaven (Revelation 8:12).

This is a sign of the end of the world because as the old passes away with a great noise, it makes way for a new heaven to be revealed (2 Peter 3:10-13).  In this new kingdom, Satan’s dominion will be at an end.  All things will come under the authority of Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 15:24- 28, Isaiah 24:23).      

Matthew 24:30 – “Then will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.”

If verse 29 applies specifically to the judgment of Jerusalem, then the ‘sign of the Son of Man’ is the power and justice of the Lord, evident as he visits punishment upon his people.  This is a just punishment for those who stood at the trial of Jesus and said, ‘Let his blood be upon us and our children’ (Matthew 27:24-25).

If verse 29 applies specifically to the end of the world, then all nations of the world will see Jesus come to earth a second time (Acts 1:9-11), when he comes not as the lamb but as the Lion of the tribe of Judah.  He will come with a sword and with power, bringing the wrath of God.  He will smite the nations and rule them with an iron rod.  (Revelation 19:11-16).  When he does, all the people of the earth will mourn (Revelation 1:7).

Matthew Henry makes a sobering comment with regard to mourning.  He notes that sinners who heed the call of the Spirit will mourn for their sin.  Tears of repentance are like seeds that bear a crop of joy as we reap eternal life.  Sinners who ignore the call of Christ enjoy a form of joy right now, but their day of mourning will come when Christ returns and they have no remedy for their sin.  They have sown a crop of destruction.

Psalm 126:6 – He that goes forth weeping, bearing precious seed, shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him.   

  What kind of seed are you sowing? What kind of harvest will result?

Matthew 24:31 – “And he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.”

If verses 29 and 30 apply to the destruction of Jerusalem, then in this verse the ‘gathering of his elect’ signifies the delivering of a remnant from sin and utter destruction.

If verse 29 and 30 apply to the end of the world, then the angels are literally that – created, spiritual beings who serve God and will attend Christ at his second coming.  They are spirits sent to minister to the saints (Hebrews 1:14), and God will send them with the sound of a trumpet (1 Corinthians 15:52, I Thessalonians 4:16). 

The Old Testament tells us that there was a sound of trumpets when the law was given on Mt Sinai.  It was exceedingly loud and the people trembled at the scene before them.  How much worse it will be at the end of the world for those who have rejected Christ.  When they hear that trumpet sound, they too will tremble at the scene before them, for it will signify the time of divine justice.

But for Christians of every tribe, tongue and nation, gathered from all of the four winds, it will be a time of exceeding joy and great reward. 

Matthew 24:32 – “From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts out its leaves, you know that summer is near.”

When the seasons begin to change, life will first stir in the roots of the tree, where you do not see it.  The tree will begin to produce sap and send it from the roots up to the branches.  This will cause the growth/swelling of the buds which will burst into life as leaves.  Everyone knows that when you see the trees budding, warm weather is coming.  This is a certainty, for God has guaranteed there will always be summer (Genesis 8:22).

Just as certainly, Christ will again return to this earth.  It doesn’t matter that sinners will scoff at the idea (2 Peter 3:3-4), or that unbelievers will deny it.  It doesn’t matter that we don’t know the exact day.  The truth remains – Jesus is coming back.  There is a fixed, appointed time for his return.  As his children, we should be watchful and notice the signs of his coming.

We also cannot help but notice the parallel between the tree and the church.  In winter, the tree appears lifeless and barren.  Yet, when the season changes and the nourishing sap runs through the tree, it is transformed into a thriving, living thing that will bring forth fruit. 

In the same way, the church might be considered in the throes of winter.  She appears lethargic and sinful (at best) and many have pronounced her dead.  Yet, the season will change.  Adversity will provoke an awakening among God’s people.  God will cause his Holy Spirit to begin flowing through his church, nourishing her.  She will be transformed into a holy, thriving, living thing that will bring forth fruit in the proper season.     

Matthew 24:33 – “So also, when you see all these things, you know that he is near, at the very gates.”

If this applies specifically to the destruction of Jerusalem, then it means time is short when these signs appear.  The destruction of the city/temple and the old Law are imminent.  The kingdom of heaven has come.

If this applies specifically to the end of the world/the end of time, then time is short when these signs appear (Song of Solomon 2:13).  Jesus is once again coming to earth to bring judgment for sin and reward (heaven, eternal life, etc) for his saints.  He will take his rightful place as King of Kings and Lord of Lords. 

Matthew 24:34 – “Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place.”

What is a generation?  It can be a fixed amount of time, typically a period of 40 years.  It can also be defined as all of the people born and living at about the same time, regarded collectively.  For example you, and all the people you went to high school with are a generation.  Your children and all of their contemporaries are a different generation.  You grandchildren would be classified as a generation different from both you and their parents.

The prophesy of Jesus was fulfilled using either/both of these definitions of a generation.  By 70 AD the city and temple were destroyed and the era of the Law had passed.  The kingdom of heaven had arrived on earth.  The generation of people who were the roughly the same age as the apostles were still around.  In fact, one of the apostles was still alive to see this prophesy be fulfilled.  Do you know who it was? 

It was John, who was eventually banished to the isle of Patmos and recorded the book of Revelation for us. 

The prophesy also has a future fulfillment.  The generation that sees the signs described above should take note, for that generation will not pass until He returns in the clouds of glory.  The old heaven and earth will pass away.  God will make everything new.  The era of eternity will begin for the believer.  Praise his name!  

Matthew 24:35 – “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.”

Jesus gives his children (including us!) a final confirmation.  We can be assured that all he has spoken in this prophesy will come to pass, without fail.  You can count on it!

Isaiah 40:8 – The grass withers, the flower fades; but the word of our God shall stand forever.

Praise His Name!

Let me offer you some encouragement:

Are you encouraged by these words of Jesus?  I sure hope so!  God never gives us a spirit of fear, but of power, love and a sound mind (2 Timothy 1:7).  Today, I am encouraged by the fact that the end of the world is not something that Christians need to fear.

For us, it will be a blessing.  It will be an end to strife, death, disease, and all the other evils that come with sin.  It will be a time of reward, where we will be forever admitted to the throne room of God.  We will join with the saints of every generation in songs of praise to our God. 

At the end of the world, all of our weeping will be turned into joy.  All of our sorrow will be turned into gladness.  I expect that Heaven will shatter all our puny expectations and blow our minds!   So don’t fear – draw close to God and eagerly anticipate his coming!

Let me offer you some relief:

Today, we spoke of the fig tree which looks dead in the middle of winter.  Maybe you think that describes your spiritual life.  Maybe you are feeling a little hopeless.  You want to be on fire for God, but you’re not.  Maybe you are wondering how you could ever turn your situation around.  Well let me offer you some relief – no one can do this in their own power! 

It will take the moving of the Holy Spirit to reignite the church and fill her with power.  The same is true in our individual lives.  So here is what you can do:  spend time in prayer.  Hide the word in your heart and mind.  Open yourself up to the filling of the Holy Spirit.  Then, let him come into your life and fill you with power.  His Spirit operating in you will cause spiritual life to flow through your being.  The Spirit will transform you into the servant of God that you desire to be.  He will bring about a season of life/growth in your life, as well as a spiritual harvest.

Let me offer you some strength:

Have you read the end of the book?  As a Christian, you are on the winning side!  The darkness will never, ever overpower the light.  So stand firm in your faith.  Shine your light in the darkness and watch what God will do!

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.