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 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.   

Matthew, Chapter 23, Part 3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

John Calvin’s verse commentary says it this way:

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

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

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

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

The Promised Land

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let me offer you some encouragement:

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

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

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

Let me offer you some relief:

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

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

Let me offer you some strength:

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

Matthew, Chapter 23, Part 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let me offer you some encouragement:

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

Let me offer you some relief:

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

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

Let me offer you some strength:

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

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

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

Matthew, Chapter 23, Part 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Unity is also essential in the kingdom of heaven:

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

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

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

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

Let me offer you some encouragement:

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

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

Let me offer you some relief:

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

Let me offer you some strength:

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

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

Matthew, Chapter 22, Part 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What tiny, little imaginations they have!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

God’s word says :

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As usual, they are making things way too complicated! 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And according to Paul, it fulfills the law:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let me offer you some encouragement:

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

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

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

Let me offer you some relief and strength:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Matthew, Chapter 22, Part 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What will you do?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let me offer you some encouragement:

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

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

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

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

Let me offer you some relief:

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

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

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

Let me offer you some strength:

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

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

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

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

Matthew, Chapter 21, Part 3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who is the owner or master?

If you said ‘God’, you are correct.

What does the vineyard represent? Why?

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

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

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

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

Who are the tenants or lessees of the vineyard?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Of course you are correct! It is Jesus!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jesus is the cornerstone.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let me offer you some encouragement: 

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

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

Let me offer you some relief:

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

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

Let me offer you some strength:

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