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advent_annunciation botticelliWe are now in the season of Advent, a time of preparation for our Lord’s coming to earth, two millennia ago and in future.

How does that work and why? Advent readings are often gloomy or apocalyptic just as we are preparing for the happiest season in the Christian calendar.

A reflection from Calvin Theological Seminary’s Center for Excellence in Preaching explains the purpose of Advent (emphases mine):

The Church has traditionally begun the Season of Advent with apocalyptic passages about the end of history and Christ’s return for one very simple reason: if the events Jesus foretells (and forthtells) in Matthew 24 will never happen, then there is actually not much to celebrate surrounding his first arrival in Bethlehem. If Jesus is not coming back fully to usher in the kingdom of heaven that he preached about, then his original birth is drained of meaning too.

It ought not spoil anyone’s “Christmas spirit” if we spend the first Sunday in Advent pondering the ultimate things to which Jesus points. In a world as full of sorrows as this one, would it hurt to have a longing and an expectation for Christ’s Parousia [presence, Second Coming] and his ushering in a better day?  … We live in a world of hunger and want, of economic crises and incessant sorrow.

At Christmas of all times, how can we look at all that and not long for the second Advent of Jesus? If Christ is coming again, then and only then does his first Advent mean anything. In fact, then and only then Christ’s first arrival means flat out everything.

Below are links to my past posts on Advent which include a variety of resources and reveal why Christians place a heavy emphasis on charity at this time of year:

Advent resources for Catholics and Protestants

Advent reflections: John the Baptist and the Apocalypse

Advent: Make straight a highway

Advent: John the Baptist’s message of Good News — and repentance

Advent: a time to examine one’s conscience

Advent: Mary’s Magnificat and Zechariah’s prophecy in Luke 1

John the Baptist, charity and Advent

The Advent wreath: symbolism and history

Advent and Christmas in colonial America

I hope you find these helpful.

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Bible spine dwtx.orgThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version Anglicised (ESVUK) with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

1 Thessalonians 2:17-20

Paul’s Longing to See Them Again

17 But since we were torn away from you, brothers, for a short time, in person not in heart, we endeavoured the more eagerly and with great desire to see you face to face, 18 because we wanted to come to you—I, Paul, again and again—but Satan hindered us. 19 For what is our hope or joy or crown of boasting before our Lord Jesus at his coming? Is it not you? 20 For you are our glory and joy.

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Last week’s post discussed Paul’s displeasure with the Jews who prevented the Thessalonians from extending his ministry there, saying that the congregation suffered as much as the Judean converts did.

In true Pauline fashion, the Apostle wears his heart on his sleeve in today’s verses.

I want to show you the difference in the first few words of verse 17 in three translations, the first being from the ESVUK above:

But since we were torn away from you, brothers,

The second is Matthew Henry’s:

But we, brethren, being taken from you

The third is John MacArthur’s:

But we, brethren, having been bereft of you for a short while

The verb, whether ‘torn away’, ‘taken’ or ‘bereft’ denotes an unwilling and forced departure, in this case, to Berea, as I explained last week. Paul’s time in Berea was similarly short-lived for the same reasons.

Henry’s commentary says (emphases mine):

Here observe, 1. He tells them they were involuntarily forced from them: We, brethren, were taken from you, v. 17. Such was the rage of his persecutors. He was unwillingly sent away by night to Berea, Acts 17 10.

John MacArthur tells us:

He doesn’t say “having been gone from you” in just sort of generic terms.  The verb here, “having been bereft of you” is used only here in the New Testament, but we know its meaning from other uses.  It means “to be orphaned, to be bereaved.”  It literally means “to be torn away from.”  And that’s what he felt.

Henry’s and MacArthur’s respective translations begin with ‘But we, brethren’, meaning in contrast with the Jews who would not allow the Gospel to be preached at all.

MacArthur explains:

Look at verse 17.  “But we,” boy, that is a strong contrast, “But we,” compared to whom?  We’re going back to the prior passage.  He talks about the Jews in verse 14 who killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets and drove us out, the Jews who are hostile to all men, hindering us from speaking to the Gentiles that they might be saved.  Contrary to the Jews who don’t care that you get the gospel, contrary to the Jews who don’t care that you know Christ, contrary to the Jews who don’t care about your spiritual condition, we do. That’s the contrast.  “But we,” in contrast to the Jews who resented Christianity, Christians and Christ, we do, brethren.

Paul says that, even though he was torn away from them physically for a short while, but not in heart — not emotionally — he tried all the more, eagerly and with great desire, to see them face to face (verse 17).

That is one powerful verse.

MacArthur analyses Paul’s emotions as well as the quality of the Thessalonian congregation in faith and love:

The work was not done.  He stayed in Ephesus three years, and, Ephesus, it’s questionable whether they had the quality of Thessalonica.  He stayed in Corinth 18 months and the Corinthian church certainly didn’t have the quality of Thessalonica.  There’s no way he wanted to stay only a few weeks in Thessalonica.  He was ripped out of there, torn out of there.  He experienced a forced, sudden separation and he felt orphaned.  Remember back in verse 7 he talked about himself as a nursing mother who cares for his children, and back in verse 11 as a father who encourages and exhorts and implores his children. He had that parental heart and now he feels like a parent who has been torn away from his beloved children

… he says, “We’ve been ripped away from you,” note this, please, “for a short while.”  It indicates that though it had only been a brief separation so far, and though it might be only a temporary one as he, on his third journey, may have gone back to them, he still had a great longing in his heart for them.  Even though Timothy had brought word back and said they’re progressing, they love you, Paul, they love you, their faith is solid, their faith is growing, he still wanted to be with them.  That’s the heart of the shepherd; you can’t rip him away from his sheep.  That’s the heart of a spiritual mother; you can’t tear her away from her children.  That’s the heart of a spiritual father; you can’t rip him away from his children.

… though they are physically separated, they are still in his thoughts.  “I have you in my heart.”  His inward affection for them was strong, even though the physical separation existed.  They had his heart, if not his face.  I’m reminded of Colossians 2:5 where Paul says to the Colossians, “Even though I am absent in body, nevertheless I am with you in spirit.”  Why?  “I want to see your good discipline and the stability of your faith.”  I want to see how you live, how you walk, you’re on my heart.

It had to do with the weight that was laid on the man’s emotion, on his heart, because of the immense capacity he had to care about people.  And because he cared so deeply and so widely, he bore this immense burden of care.

MacArthur discusses Paul’s passion, as evidenced by ‘more eagerly’ and ‘great desire’. These are strong words:

… he says, “We were all the more eager with great desire to see your face.”  Now that little phrase is just a sort of an emotional stack, just a piling of words with intense significance.  He starts out, “We were all the more.” That means abundantly, excessively, fervently and it’s a comparative. We were more abundantly, more excessively, more fervently. Then he adds the word “eager” which means haste; you’re in a hurry.  It’s sort of a compelling thing, short of breath, anticipation.  He’s saying we were more abundantly, more excessively, more fervently eager.

And then he adds, if that isn’t enough, “With great desire.”  And he throws in the word epithumia which most often is used of sexual desire, sexual passion.  It is a neutral word. It can be used of any kind of passion, any kind of compelling, any kind of driving desire, any kind of desire that dominates.  And so he is saying we have a fierce passion driving us greatly into an abundant, excessive, fervent eagerness.  Boy, that’s pretty strong stuff.

Paul specifies he wants to see them ‘face to face’ or ‘to see your face’.

MacArthur looks at that, combined with Paul’s passion for the Thessalonians:

If we had time, we’d find that that’s a rich biblical statement, to see your face It means to come into intimacy with you ... Seeing the face is the full expression of the personThat’s why the telephone is only marginal Sometimes we’ll say, “Ah, this is too important to talk on the telephone, I want to see you face to face,” right?  Because there’s…there’s an interchange of life, not just words.  And so he says, “I want to be intimate with you, I want to make contact with your eyes. I want to look in your face.  I want to be there.”  That was his strong, compelling, fierce, passionate, abundant, successive, fervent desire.  Boy, that’s strong language.

From verse 17, we can feel Paul’s passion for the Thessalonians’ spiritual well being. It’s obvious that, even if he did not get to know them well, he loves them like a spiritual father.

The next thing we discover about the Apostle is that he knows his enemy.

He says that he wanted to see the Thessalonians again and again, but Satan hindered him (verse 18).

Henry says that Satan worked through Paul’s enemies to get him out and prevent him from returning:

He tells them that Satan hindered his return (v. 18), that is, either some enemy or enemies, or the great enemy of mankind, who stirred up opposition to Paul, either in his return to Thessalonica, when he intended to return thither, or stirred up such contentions or dissensions in those places whether he went as made his presence necessary. Note, Satan is a constant enemy to the work of God, and does all he can to obstruct it.

Sometimes Paul refers to himself as ‘we’ rather than ‘I’. MacArthur says that here, he is referring to Silas and Timothy, too, then himself:

He’s “we” in verse 17 and “we” in verse 18, embracing Timothy and Silas, and now, all of a sudden, he says, “I, Paul, more than once.”  And he says, “I’m not just talking about the group here, I, Paul.”  “More than once” means repeatedly. It’s the same term used in Philippians 4:16, the Philippians gave money to Paul repeatedly And here he says, “Repeatedly, I, Paul, personally want to see your face.”  Can’t delegate compassion, can’t delegate concern, can’t delegate love, can’t leave it to someone else to be concerned about the condition of your flock while you’re only concerned about the expansion of your ministry.

Paul did send Timothy back, but Paul as much as he wanted to go couldn’t go.  It wasn’t from a lack of concern. It wasn’t from a lack of effort.  He loved his people.  He desired to be with them.  He didn’t want to drop a load of information on them and then get out of there.  He wanted to find out their spiritual condition, nurture that spiritual condition.

MacArthur points out that Paul knew when the Holy Spirit prevented him from going places and when Satan hindered him:

Paul was very discerning.  You know, in Acts chapter 16 verses 6 and 7 the apostle Paul was moving on his missionary enterprise when he was stopped by the Holy Spirit.  Acts 16:6, they passed through the Phrygian and Galatian region, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the Word in Asia.  When they had come to Mysia, they were trying to go to Bithynia and the Spirit of Jesus didn’t permit them.  Now here he is being stopped by the Holy Spirit.  Over here he says, “I’m being stopped by Satan.”  Here was a man of discernment.  I believe this man walked with God in such a way that he knew the Spirit of God from Satan.  He understood when Satan invaded his territory.  “Satan thwarted us.”

This is another relationship that any servant of the Lord has to take into account.  If you’re going to be an effective servant of the Lord, plan on satanic attack. That malignant, evil, spiritual, supernatural person, Satan, that fallen angel, is going to get in the way of effective ministry.  Here was Paul separated from these believers, longing to be with them.  His heart was there.  His parental instincts were there.  He had been ripped apart from them.  He wanted to go there.  More than once he tried to go there.  He could never get there.  Why?  Satan was thwarting him.  Satan is very active in doing that.  I’m not under any illusions about that.  There are many times when I believe that I need to accomplish something for the Lord, to speak some place, to get a radio program on in a certain city, to accomplish some ministry here in the church and it just never happens.  It’s a good and noble effort and you make it several times, but it never happens.  Satan thwarts it …

MacArthur gives us instances in the New Testament where Satan was on the attack:

Now when he comes to attack, he desires to attack the church.  No question about that.  He desires to attack the church.  He attacked the first church in Jerusalem.  He moved right inside Ananias and Sapphira to make them lie to the Holy Spirit and God had to kill them before the whole church.  He was attacking the integrity of the first church, the only church right after its birth in Acts 5.  He attacks the church.  That’s one of his major ploys, to thwart the church, to prevent it from doing what it would otherwise do.  Paul told the Corinthians, don’t be taken advantage of by Satan.  He’s after the church.  You read Revelation if you have any question about that.  Just listen to this, Revelation 2:9, the church at Smyrna, “You have there” He says “blasphemy by those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan, an assembly of Satan.”  Pretty strong.  You find in chapter 2 verse 13, the church at Pergamum. “I know where you dwell, where Satan’s throne is.”  And He says there are some who died, even Antipas, who was killed among you where Satan dwells.  Satan always attacks the church.  Chapter 2, verse 24, the church at Thyatira, He says, “The rest who are in Thyatira who do not hold this teaching, who have not known the deep things of Satan.”  There were some in the church who were into the deep things of Satan, wittingly or unwittingly.  Chapter 3 verse 9, it says here about the Philadelphia church, “I will cause those of the synagogue of Satan who say they are Jews and are not but lie…” and so forth and so on.  Satan’s always in and around the church.

Let me go a step further.  He particularly attacks the leaders.  In 1 Timothy chapter 3 it tells us that when we choose elders and deacons, “They must have a good reputation with those outside the church so that they may not fall into reproach and the snare of the devil.”  The devil wants to snare leaders.  Why do you think there are so many scandals among leaders?  Money scandals, sex scandals, why?  Because he wants to snare leadership in the church.  He’s after the church.  He’s after the church’s leaders.  He went to God one day and he said, “I want Job. I’ll destroy him.”  God said, “Have at him.”  Couldn’t destroy him.  But he wanted the most righteous man who was the most faithful representative of the true God and he wanted to tear him down.  He wanted to devour him.  He didn’t succeed.

You come into the New Testament, who is the leading apostle?  Who is it?  Who is number one of the twelve?  Peter.  Satan again comes to God and according to Luke 22:31 Satan says to God, “I want Peter.”  God…Christ said, “Satan has asked for you, he wants you, Peter, to sift you like wheat.”  What does that mean?  You know how they sifted wheat?  They took a big basket; they threw it in the air like this. They sifted it that way.  And then they would put it through a process where that which was heaviest would fall back down. Obviously the wind would blow the chaff away.  And there were other processes of turbulence.  And so what is being said here is Satan wants to shake your life up.  He wants to flip everything in the air and shake it all loose.  He went after Peter.  Why?  Because Peter was the key guy.  Peter said, “I’ll go to prison and I’ll die for You, I don’t care what he does.”  Huh. The Lord said, “No you won’t, you’ll deny Me but you’ll get restored.”  He’ll get you temporarily but he won’t get you permanently.  So he tried Peter and didn’t succeed.

Satan came back to God and he said, “There’s another guy I want, I want Paul. I want Paul.”  And he gave to Paul, according to 2 Corinthians 12, a thorn what? In the flesh, a messenger of Satan sent to buffet me Satan went to God because he can’t go to any of God’s servants without permission. He said, “I want Paul, You give me Paul, I’ll destroy him. I’ll destroy him.”  Couldn’t do it.  Paul prayed three times for that satanic thorn to be removed. God said no every time and then Paul said, “Fine, my weakness becomes God’s (what?) strength.”  He’s always after the leaders.

He got Judas.  Satan entered into Judas and he betrayed Christ.  But he was never God’s to begin with.  He can only get his own, he can’t get God’s.  But he’ll come after the church and he’ll come after the Jobs and the Peters and the Pauls and anyone who is in spiritual leadership.  He’s not omnipresent, he can’t be everywhere. but he goes after certain leaders. 

And what does he want to do?  He wants to hinder the progress.  That word “hinder” or “thwart,” very interesting word, it’s a military word. It means to dig a trench or to break up a road.  If you’ve got your army sitting here and here comes the enemy, one of the ways that you would defeat the enemy is by making sure he can’t get access to you.  What you would do is send your soldiers out and dig a massive trench.  They can’t cross the trench.  Or you would go out and break up the road, tear up the road.  Roads would be made of stone. You just tear it up so that they can’t traverse.  You hinder their progress.

Paul says, I want to come, Satan’s breaking up the road.  Satan’s dug a bunch of trenches, I can’t get there.  I can’t get it done.  A warring tactic.

And it shows that the…the servant of God must understand not only loving his people but he has to understand his enemy He’s got to recognize satanic opposition. 

MacArthur explains that God sometimes allows satanic attacks if they further His plan:

Now remember this, though Satan is opposing us, he is controlled by the overruling providence and sovereignty of God He can only do what he can do within the limits that God allows.  God allowed him to go after Job.  God allowed him to sift Peter.  God allowed him to deal with Paul.  Why?  Because in Job’s weakness he was made strong.  In Peter’s weakness he was made strong.  In Paul’s weakness he was made strong.  And the end product benefits God’s work.  So within the limits that God allows, Satan hinders, prevents God’s servant from doing what he desires to do.

MacArthur cites the Lutheran theologian and Bible scholar Richard C H Lenski (1864-1936), who wrote the following:

This by no means excludes divine providence which rules in the midst of our enemies. Satan entered the heart of Judas so that he made plans to betray Jesus and God permitted the betrayal for His own divine and blessed ends.  So Satan succeeded in frustrating Paul’s plans to return to Thessalonica, but only because this accorded with God’s own plans regarding the work Paul was to do Satan has brought many a martyr to his death and God permitted it.  The death of these martyrs was more blessed for them and for the cause of the gospel than their life would have been.  It is ever so with Satan’s successes.  No thanks to Satan, his guilt is the greater.

Paul turns his attention to the Thessalonians’ spirituality, paying them a great compliment in saying that they are his hope, his joy, his heavenly crown; he hopes to boast of them to the Lord at His Second Coming (verse 19). He repeats himself, telling them that they are his glory and his joy (verse 20).

Henry says:

They were his hope, and joy, and crown of rejoicing; his glory and joy. These are expressions of great and endeared affection, and high estimation. And it is happy when ministers and people have such mutual affection and esteem of each other, and especially if they shall thus rejoice, if those that sow and those that reap shall rejoice together, in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at his coming.

MacArthur says this brings us to the third aspect of a good servant of the Lord — anticipating His return:

If you are to be a good servant, you must love your people; you must understand your enemy; thirdly, you must anticipate your Lord.

MacArthur explains these verses in light of any detractors Paul might have had who infiltrated the Thessalonian congregation:

Paul lived in the light of the return of Christ.  He says in verse 19 that very thing.  “For who is our hope or joy or crown of exultation?  Is it not even you in the presence of our Lord Jesus at His coming, for you are our glory and joy.”  The great motivation of the apostle Paul was that the Lord was coming, the return of the Lord.  This is a marvelous statement.  Listen very carefully to what he’s saying here, very rich.  He says this, “Who is our hope?  Who is it that we are hoping to see?  Who is that which is all bound up with our future hope?”  He’s talking about his hope of eternal reward, his hope of eternal blessing.  Who will be that hope?  Who will fulfill that anticipation?  And he secondly says, “Who is our joy?  Who is the source of our eternal happiness?  Who is the source of our eternal bliss?  Who is the source of our eternal satisfaction?”

Then he adds this, “Who is our crown of boasting?” That’s what exultation means.  “Who is our crown to boast about?”  He’s using crown, festive wreath, victor’s crown.  “Who is my hope in?  Who is my source of joy?  Who will be my eternal reward?  Who will cause the burst of joy coming out of my heart when Jesus comes?  Who?”  Well, you’d think it would be Christ and surely it is, but that’s not his point here.  Look what he says, verse 19, “Is it not even you in the presence of our Lord Jesus?”  It’s the whole thing, it’s the presence of the Lord Jesus but it’s you in His presence.  That’s my joy.  That’s my hope.  Paul is saying, “Can you imagine that the critics are right in suggesting I don’t care about you when you are my hope and you are my joy and you are my eternal reward?”  You’re it.  What a statement, what a marvelous statement.

And it wasn’t just them.  To the Corinthians he wrote, 2 Corinthians 1:14, “We are your reason to be proud as you also are ours in the day of our Lord Jesus.”  Paul said, “I’m going to boast about you in the day of the Lord Jesus.  When I see the Lord Jesus you’re going to be my boast, you’re going to be my joy, you’re going to be the fulfillment of my hope.”  Oh did he understand ministry.  What he understood was, when you get to glory you’re not going to get a crown for your glorified head. 

Here is the application for us:

Your crown is going to be the presence of the people that you were responsible to lead to the knowledge of Christ, the people with whom you planted the seed or watered or harvested, the people whose lives were influenced by your teaching and your living and your praying.  That’s your eternal reward.  It isn’t something you stick on your head and parade around saying, “I’ve got more of these than you.”  It isn’t something like that.  It is the accumulated impact of your life on the lives of others. That’s why in Luke 16 Jesus says, “Use your money to purchase friends for eternity.”  Spend your money as well as your time and effort to bring people to the knowledge of Christ so that you can know them forever as your friends and the source of your eternal joy.

Henry and MacArthur disagree on whether Paul saw the Thessalonians once more.

Henry says:

The apostle here puts the Thessalonians in mind that though he could not come to them as yet, and though he should never be able to come to them, yet our Lord Jesus Christ will come, nothing shall hinder this.

MacArthur thinks that Paul returned, as alluded to in Acts 20:

in God’s providence things cooled down and apparently he was able to get back on his third missionary journey You can read Acts 20 and take note of that.

Acts 20:1-6 might well be that passage, as Luke says two Thessalonians joined him:

Sopater the Berean, son of Pyrrhus, accompanied him; and of the Thessalonians, Aristarchus and Secundus; and Gaius of Derbe, and Timothy; and the Asians, Tychicus and Trophimus.

In closing, MacArthur describes his own personal longing to check in with his own church when he is away:

I, while not comparing myself in any measure to Paul, understand this to some degree.  People always ask me, “When I’m gone why I call back to the church every day?”  For the days that I’m gone, there’s a very few days that I would not call back and the reason is not because I have something to do or some question to ask, but because I must know the state of the congregation.  I need to know how it is with the sheep.  I find it very difficult to think about leaving this church, as many as offers as I might have to do that, I find it difficult to consider any of them because I feel I would spend the rest of my life wondering about your spiritual condition.  That’s just how it is.

It isn’t that the leader seeks the socialization and the sentiment of fellowship, but he seeks the responsibility of fellowship, which is to see the spiritual condition of the people, to be sure that all is well … 

There are people in ministry, I fear, who care very little, who care a lot about their sermons, who care a lot about how they come across, who care a lot about their popularity, who care a lot about drawing a crowd, who care a lot about traveling around and being well known, who care a lot about their preeminence, who care a lot about satisfaction, who care a lot about success, who care very little about their people There are, on the other hand, many faithful servants of God who care much about their people, who in continuous prayer and concern hold up their people before God, who are very uncomfortable when being dispossessed from their people, who long to be in the place of responsibility, the place of accountability, so they know the condition of their flock That’s Paul.  These people were new to him.  It wasn’t that there was some lifelong sentimentality. It wasn’t that there was some bonding, as they say today, that was deep and profound over a long period of time, not at all.  These were strangers in a sense.  And yet because they had become his charge and he was now their spiritual mother and father, his heart was there.  That’s how it must be in ministry.  You cannot effectively serve whom you cannot love and be concerned about.

In next week’s verses, Paul explains why he sent Timothy back to the Thessalonians.

Next time — 1 Thessalonians 3:1-5

advent wreath stjohnscamberwellorgauThe First Sunday of Advent is on November 27, 2022.

It is the first day of the new Church year.

As such, we move to a new year in the Lectionary, from C to A, for our readings, which can be found here.

In addition, as we are in Advent, the colour of the celebrant’s vestments is purple until the midnight service on Christmas Eve.

The Gospel reading is as follows, emphases mine:

Matthew 24:36-44

24:36 “But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.

24:37 For as the days of Noah were, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.

24:38 For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark,

24:39 and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away, so too will be the coming of the Son of Man.

24:40 Then two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left.

24:41 Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken and one will be left.

24:42 Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming.

24:43 But understand this: if the owner 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.

24:44 Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.

Commentary comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

If this reading sounds familiar, we had Luke’s version a fortnight ago on the Twenty-second Sunday after Trinity, Year C.

The Gospel readings for Advent and the last Sundays after Trinity/Pentecost are designed to encourage us to think about our own mortality and repentance.

Our Lord’s discourses on His Second Coming take place in the same circumstances, just a few days before the Crucifixion. In Luke 21, His disciples admired the beauty of the temple.

We have the same in Matthew 24:

1 Jesus left the temple and was walking away when his disciples came up to him to call his attention to its buildings. “Do you see all these things?” he asked. “Truly I tell you, not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.”

Luke places his Second Coming discourse at the temple. By contrast, Matthew’s is at the Mount of Olives:

As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately. “Tell us,” they said, “when will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?”

Note Matthew 24:35:

35 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.

Matthew Henry’s commentary says:

Christ here assures us of the certainty of them (v. 35); Heaven and earth shall pass away; they continue this day indeed, according to God’s ordinance, but they shall not continue for ever (Ps 102 25, 26; 2 Pet 3 10); but my words shall not pass away. Note, The word of Christ is more sure and lasting than heaven and earth. Hath he spoken? And shall he not do it? We may build with more assurance upon the word of Christ than we can upon the pillars of heaven, or the strong foundations of the earth; for, when they shall be made to tremble and totter, and shall be no more, the word of Christ shall remain, and be in full force, power, and virtue. See 1 Pet 1 24, 25. It is easier for heaven and earth to pass, than the word of Christ; so it is expressed, Luke 16 17. Compare Isa 54 10. The accomplishment of these prophecies might seem to be delayed, and intervening events might seem to disagree with them, but do not think that therefore the word of Christ is fallen to the ground, for that shall never pass away: though it be not fulfilled, either in the time or in the way that we have prescribed; yet, in God’s time, which is the best time, and in God’s way, which is the best way, it shall certainly be fulfilled. Every word of Christ is very pure, and therefore very sure.

John MacArthur summarises the events of that Passover week leading up to this discourse and what was going through the disciples’ minds:

He has done signs and wonders to prove His kingdom power.  He has recently denounced the false religious leaders of Israel.  He has cleansed out the temple of all of the godless enterprises that were being done in that place.  He has also announced that there will come soon a desolation of the whole temple complex, and He even has pronounced the truth that He would come in glory.  And all of these things have led them to believe that it must be very, very soon.  In fact, Luke 19:11 says they thought that the kingdom of God should immediately appear I mean it seemed to them that He was there announcing Himself as King, He was there destroying the false religious system that existed in order that He might establish the true spiritual kingdom promised to them by the prophets of old And so they were filled with anticipation. 

Jesus said that, of the day and the hour of His Second Coming, no one knows when it will happen, not the angels, not He Himself, only the Father (verse 36).

MacArthur explains why no one knows:

It is a day and an hour we’re looking at, not an era.  We don’t know what generation it’ll come upon, but we do know this, that whatever generation it starts with, it’ll end with, right?  That’s verses 32 to 35.  The generation that sees the beginning is going to see the end because it’s going to come so fast …

God has chosen not to reveal that specific moment and to give no specific sign of that specific moment.  And there’s reason in His great wisdom for that.  If men knew the exact moment when the Lord would come, they might be godless until just short of that moment.  Or even the people who were prepared might be living in panic or might be giving up, thinking the time was too short.  Life would become hopeless if you knew exactly when the Lord was going to come.  There could be no plans, there could be no ongoing relationships, and everything would be affected dramatically by that knowledge.  So the Lord has chosen not to give us that knowledge but to live every moment expecting His coming, every moment expecting His intervention, so that there is preparedness all the time.  If the world knew the very moment of the coming of Christ, it would dawdle itself away thinking that in that last and final moment it might take the steps to make things right just in time and so God has not told us that.  So no man knows that.  It is hidden from men. 

And then He says, “No, not the angels of heaven.”  Even the angels don’t know it.  The natural world does not know it and neither does the supernatural world

Furthermore, if you remember in Matthew 13, it tells us that the angels are the agents of judgment in the second coming When God reaches out to judge the world and gather men into that judgment, He sends His angels who are the reapers, you remember, to gather the wheat and the tares in So angels are very involved in the judgment activity.  In verse 31 of our chapter we’re looking at now, the angels are the ones sent out to gather the elect as well.  So though angels are the intimates of God and though they are face-to-face with God in a spiritual sense, doing His bidding, and though they are the agents of judgment and the gathering in of the godly and the ungodly in that time of Christ’s coming, they – in spite of all of that – do not know the exact moment.  God has chosen not to reveal it to them.  And He has His reasons. 

Then we come to the question of when Jesus Christ came to know the day and the hour. From the time of either His resurrection or ascension, He knew:

Now, the better manuscripts of Matthew indicate to us that it also should be included in the text “nor the Son” – “nor the Son.”  In Mark 13:32, which is the parallel passage, it is definitely included by Mark, “Of that day and that hour knoweth no man, no not the angels who are in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father.”  And it would be best to include it here in Matthew.  I think in the New American Standard and the New International version, they correctly do include it.  Jesus says, “Even the Son of Man doesn’t know” – “even I don’t know.”  And, of course, this has created all kinds of interesting discussion How is it that Jesus Christ, who is God, cannot know something?  How is it that Jesus Christ, who is God, who is omniscient – which means He knows everything – can’t know something or doesn’t know something? 

Well, that’s, I believe, rather easily explained if we understand the meaning of His incarnation.  Jesus Christ is fully God, very God of very God,  theologians used to say He is God fully and totally because you can’t be part God, He is all God.  But when He became a man, He voluntarily restricted the use of His godhood, of His divine attributes It wasn’t that He laid the attributes aside; it wasn’t that He set His deity aside; it was that He restricted the use of those things.  He had them as instruments but chose not to pick them up and use them.  So He lived, as it were, without using His omniscience unless the Father told Him to use it. 

We know He was omniscient on some occasions.  John 2, He says He needed not that anybody should tell Him what was in the heart of a man because He knew what was in the heart of a man.  There are many indications of His great knowledge, of His divine knowledge.  But He restricted the use of His omniscience to those things which the Father desired Him to know.  That is the design of the incarnation.  When the Bible says He became a Son, He took upon Him the form of a servant.  It means that He submitted Himself to that which the Father wanted Him to do, that which the Father wanted Him to say, and that which the Father wanted Him to know.  That’s why in John 15:15, you have a very, very important verse in understanding Christ.  It says this – Jesus speaking to the disciples – “Henceforth, I call you not servants for the servant knows not what his lord does.  But I have called you friends” – now listen to this – “for all things that I have heard of My Father, I have made known unto you.” 

In other words, Jesus’ knowledge in His incarnation was qualified by what the Father had revealed to Him And the Father revealed things to Him through Scripture; that is, the Old Testament, as He studied the Scripture, through experience as He walked in the world and saw the moving of the power of God, and through direct revelation.  But Jesus limited His knowledge to what the Father chose to reveal to Him He didn’t have to do that but He chose to do that to play the role of a servant to accomplish the redemption of mankind.  It’s a very important concept so that when it says He humbled Himself and took upon Him the form of a servant, was made in fashion as a man, and so forth, it means that He limited the use of those attributes.  And if you studied, for example, in the passages that deal with His early life, you will remember that it says Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, you remember, and favor with God and man.  He grew in wisdom …

Now, it is my own personal feeling that after the resurrection, this was revealed to Him That when He came out of the grave in the glory of His resurrection life, it says in Matthew 28:18, He said to His disciples, “All authority is given unto Me in heaven and earth.”  And I think what that’s saying is nothing is missing; I have authority over all things.  And then in Acts 1:7, He said this:  “But unto you it is not given to know the times and the seasons which My Father has put in His own power,” and He doesn’t include Himself anymore He says “unto you it isn’t given.”  So it may well be that after the resurrection, His knowledge was complete.  It’s as if the Father only revealed to Him the next great event, and He never revealed to Him the full moment of His second coming until He had already come out of the grave and accomplished the resurrection, and then the Father opened to Him the next event in His marvelous, marvelous work. 

Therefore, Jesus knew the day and the hour, if not at His resurrection, then at His ascension:

when Jesus entered into His glory, if not immediately after His resurrection, certainly after His ascension, He then was entered back into the fullness of that which He had before the incarnation and this moment right now, He knows fully when that second coming moment will be But in the midst of that incarnation, that had been abandoned in favor of learning what the Father would tell Him and nothing more. 

MacArthur believes that God is waiting for an excess of sin, iniquity that has reached its limit:

He is allowing sin to run its reckless course, to spend itself, to ripen to the point where it will be fully, finally, and forever harvested. 

Paul wrote similarly to the Thessalonians about the Jews who had prevented the Gospel from being spread. My Forbidden Bible Verses post from Sunday, November 20 discussed Thessalonians 2:16:

16 by hindering us from speaking to the Gentiles that they might be saved—so as always to fill up the measure of their sins. But God’s wrath has come upon them at last![a]

The persecuting Jews of Paul’s time hadn’t been divinely judged at that time, which was 20 years before the destruction of the temple. Nonetheless, Paul was saying that they had sinned to such an extreme that God’s judgement was as good as done, on earth and in the next life. When iniquity has reached its full extent, God acts.

However, there is another equally important reason God has timed the Second Coming perfectly, and that is because He wishes to save as many people as possible from judgement, Jew and Gentile alike:

… that reason is indicated to us in Romans chapter 11 verse 25 And it says, “I would not, brethren, that you should be ignorant of this mystery, this unrevealed truth, lest you should be wise in your own conceit, but blindness, that blindness in part is happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles be come in.”  The fullness of the Gentiles speaks of the gathering in of the church in this age.  And I believe another reason the Lord waits is for the gathering of the church.  I believe He is waiting to gather all the saints whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life.  He is waiting to collect the Gentiles who will forever and ever and ever throughout eternity give Him glory, give Him praise, give Him honor, give Him adoration and serve Him.  He is gathering together occupants for His eternal heaven to praise and glorify His name.  And also, after “the fullness of the Gentiles be come in” – verse 26 says – “so all Israel will be saved.”  There has to be also in the future the salvation of Israel, that Jew and Gentile together through all eternity may praise God. 

So there’s been a time going on since the first coming.  We’ve waited all this two thousand years and He’s not yet come.  And the reasons are twofold One, that sin may ripen; two, that the redeemed who have been planned for His glory eternally may be brought to that eternal glory.  So it is for sin and for salvation. 

Jesus said that, as things were in the time of Noah, so they will be when the Son of Man comes again (verse 37).

It took Noah 120 years to build the ark to God’s specifications. Noah was not a natural builder. He was originally a preacher. Those who lived around him laughed at him, because they lived in a desert.

Consider that every moment of every day for those 120 years, every bit of that ark was a daily call for them to repent of their sins or be destroyed in the flood, which did come to that part of the world. Talk about the patience of God! And still, the people laughed.

Imagine what it will be like just before the Second Coming.

MacArthur illustrates it for us:

You know, not only do people not know the day and the hour the Lord is coming, but most of them aren’t even going to care Even with all the signs and all the wonders and all the things going on, they’re not going to care.  They’re not even going to think about it.  They won’t even be considering that as an alternative.  It’s hard to imagine that.  I mean it’s really hard to imagine that.  They’ll be scoffing and mocking like in 2 Peter chapter 3.  And they’ll be getting out their little slide rules and they’ll be getting out their little charts and they’ll be fussing around with their computers and they’ll be analyzing the universe to try to explain scientifically why everything’s going haywire Why there are earthquakes and why there are all kinds of movements in the heavens and why the tides are all messed up and why the moon goes out and why the sun isn’t working properly and why daylight has been shortened and why there’s blood in the seas and there’s bitterness in the fresh water and why people are slaughtering each other and why there are terrible massacres all around the world They’re going to be trying to figure all this out sociologically, scientifically, rationallyBut they’re not going to look to the truth of the Word of God

Jesus had more to say about Noah’s era. People were preoccupied with a comfortable life, eating and drinking, marrying and giving people in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark (verse 38).

Henry says that their comforts and passions consumed them. The same was true before the destruction of the temple in AD 70:

Eating and drinking are necessary to the preservation of man’s life; marrying and giving in marriage are necessary to the preservation of mankind; but, Licitus perimus omnes—These lawful things undo us, unlawfully managed. First, They were unreasonable in it, inordinate and entire in the pursuit of the delights of sense, and the gains of the world; they were wholly taken up with these things, esan trogontesthey were eating; they were in these things as in their element, as if they had their being for no other end than to eat and drink, Isa 56 12. Secondly, They were unreasonable in it; they were entire and intent upon the world and the flesh, when the destruction was at the door, which they had had such fair warning of. They were eating and drinking, when they should have been repenting and praying; when God, by the ministry of Noah, called to weeping and mourning, then joy and gladness. This was to them, as it was to Israel afterwards, the unpardonable sin (Isa 22 12, 14), especially, because it was in defiance of those warnings by which they should have been awakened. Let us eat and drink, for to-morrow we die; if it must be a short life, let it be a merry one.” The apostle James speaks of this as the general practice of the wealthy Jews before the destruction of Jerusalem; when they should have been weeping for the miseries that were coming upon them, they were living in pleasure, and nourishing their hearts as in a day of slaughter, Jam 5 1, 5.

Jesus continued, saying that the people of Noah’s time knew nothing of the flood until it came to sweep them away; so shall it be when the Son of Man returns (verse 39).

Henry says that material security breeds carnality:

First, Therefore they were sensual, because they were secure. Note, the reason why people are so eager in the pursuit, and so entangled in the pleasures of this world, is, because they do not know, and believe, and consider, the eternity which they are upon the brink of. Did we know aright that all these things must shortly be dissolved, and we must certainly survive them, we should not set our eyes and hearts so much upon them as we do. Secondly, Therefore they were secure, because they were sensual; therefore they knew not that the flood was coming, because they were eating and drinking; were so taken up with things seen and present, that they had neither time nor heart to mind the things not seen as yet, which they were warned of. Note, As security bolsters men up in their brutal sensuality; so sensuality rocks them asleep in their carnal security. They knew not, until the flood came. 1. The flood did come, though they would not foresee it. Note, Those that will not know by faith, shall be made to know by feeling, the wrath of God revealed from heaven against their ungodliness and unrighteousness. The evil day is never the further off for men’s putting it far off from them. 2. They did not know it till it was too late to prevent it, as they might have done if they had known it in time, which made it so much the more grievous. Judgments are most terrible and amazing to the secure, and those that have made a jest of them.

He has a present day application for us:

The application of this, concerning the old world, we have in these words; So shall the coming of the Son of man be; that is, (1.) In such a posture shall he find people, eating and drinking, and not expecting him. Note, Security and sensuality are likely to be the epidemical diseases of the latter days. All slumber and sleep, and at midnight the bridegroom comes. All are off their watch, and at their ease. (2.) With such a power, and for such a purpose, will he come upon them. As the flood took away the sinners of the old world, irresistibly and irrecoverably; so shall secure sinners, that mocked at Christ and his coming, be taken away by the wrath of the Lamb, when the great day of his wrath comes, which will be like the coming of the deluge, a destruction which there is no fleeing from.

MacArthur provides this analysis of the comparisons with the people of Noah’s time:

It’s almost unbelievable that they knew not, that the people in the time of Noah didn’t know it was going to rain because they had had somebody telling them that for 120 years Noah was a preacher of righteousness.  And he preached righteousness and judgment.  And he gave them a very large sign of coming judgment by building a massive boat, an ark.  Literally the word means “wooden chest.”  This was the symbol and the sign, 120 years in building, that God was going to bring a devastation to drown the world.  And it says until the Flood came and engulfed them, they didn’t realize it They just went on eating, drinking, marrying, and giving in marriage.  In other words, they went on with the routines of life, literally ignoring the preaching of judgment, literally ignoring the sign and the symbol of the coming Flood And so it will be in the day of the second coming of Christ

They will ignore even the sign of the Son of Man in heaven; they will explain it away; they will rationalize it away. They will do something with it other than accept what it intends to purvey, what it intends to communicate, what it intends to say.  And when Jesus comes, they’ll be shocked.  Hard to imagine, but such is the blindness of the human heart.  Such is the darkness of the human mind.  Listen, they couldn’t even tell when God Himself walked in their midst.  Why should they be better able in that period to understand than they were when Jesus was here?  When the truth is, all hell having broken loose on the earth in that age, sin will be worse than it’s ever been. 

So they’ll not see the truth.  Oh, there will be a great salvation.  The Jews will be redeemed and there will be a great redemption among the Gentiles, as Revelation 7 says.  But there will still be a massive, worldwide populace of people who, having lived through all of the unbelievable events which we’ve chronicled in chapter 24, will still find the second coming of Jesus Christ occurring to them in an unexpected way It’s unbelievable.  In spite of all the signs

Also:

You see, in the days of Noah, people ignored the truth, didn’t they?  Do you know how long Noah preached?  Second Peter 2:5 calls Noah a preacher of righteousness.  Do you think he just built a big wooden chest – that’s the word ark, it’s a – the word is the word for a wooden chest, he built a big wooden chest in the middle of the desert and told people there was going to be a flood And they laughed because it had never rained.  There was no such thing as rain.  And there was no water there.  And you know how long he built that boat?  A hundred and twenty years and they laughed and they ridiculed and they mocked and they derided him. 

But 2 Peter 2:5 says he was a preacher of righteousness.  He wasn’t just a boat builder, he was a preacher.  Before he was a boat builder, he was a preacher.  And for 120 years while he built the boat, he must have been asked a million times, “Why are you building the boat?”  Right?  “Why are you building the boat?”  And that was the trigger for the sermon, “Because God is going to judge the wickedness of this world, and only those who put their faith in Him are going to escape.  And I’m building the boat as a way of escape.  Would you like to come on?”  And they laughed and they laughed and they mocked.  For 120 years, they went on with life as usual while he preached judgment, preached judgment, preached judgment, and demonstrated it to them by building a great big wooden chest right in the middle of everywhere so everyone could see it And they didn’t buy it.  And I’m sure the first time a raindrop hit somebody’s nose, they thought a dinosaur sneezed behind a hill or something.  Still wouldn’t believe it.  They didn’t want to believe that.  They could have come up with all kinds of excuses not to believe that. 

Jesus described simultaneous salvation and damnation in the next two verses.

Henry says that this took place when the temple was destroyed. No Christians in Jerusalem perished, a historic fact:

When ruin came upon Jerusalem, a distinction was made by Divine Providence, according to that which had been before made by divine grace; for all the Christians among them were saved from perishing in that calamity, by the special care of Heaven. If two were at work in the field together, and one of them was a Christian, he was taken into a place of shelter, and had his life given him for a prey, while the other was left to the sword of the enemy. Nay, if but two women were grinding at the mill, if one of them belonged to Christ, though but a woman, a poor woman, a servant, she was taken to a place of safety, and the other abandoned. Thus the meek of the earth are hid in the day of the Lord’s anger (Zeph 2 3), either in heaven, or under heaven. Note, Distinguishing preservations, in times of general destruction, are special tokens of God’s favour, and ought so to be acknowledged. If we are safe when thousands fall on our right hand and our left, are not consumed when others are consumed round about us, so that we are as brands plucked out of the fire, we have reason to say, It is of the Lord’s mercies, and it is a great mercy.

Jesus said that two — two men, that is — are in the field working, one will be taken and one will be left (verse 40).

MacArthur confirms that Jesus spoke of men:

The word “one” in verse 40 is masculine in gender … The man’s task in that particular agricultural part of the world in that time was to be in the field …

Not forgetting women, Jesus said that two of them would be grinding meal — grain — together; one will be taken and one will be left (verse 41).

MacArthur says:

The “one” in verse 41 is feminine in gender … the women were there with the stone, the mill, grinding that which was harvested by the men. 

We can interpret ‘taken’ as being saved or judged. Either is correct.

Henry leans towards salvation:

We may apply it to the second coming of Jesus Christ, and the separation which will be made in that day. He had said before (v. 31), that the elect will be gathered together. Here he tells us, that, in order to that, they will be distinguished from those who were nearest to them in this world; the choice and chosen ones taken to glory, the other left to perish eternally. Those who sleep in the dust of the earth, two in the same grave, their ashed mixed, shall yet arise, one to be taken to everlasting life, the other left to shame and everlasting contempt, Dan 12 2. Here it is applied to them who shall be found alive. Christ will come unlooked for, will find people busy at their usual occupations, in the field, at the mill; and then, according as they are vessels of mercy prepared for glory, or vessels of wrath prepared for ruin, accordingly it will be with them; the one taken to meet the Lord and his angels in the air, to be for ever with him and them; the other left to the devil and his angels, who, when Christ has gathered out his own, will sweep up the residue. This will aggravate the condemnation of sinners that others shall be taken from the midst of them to glory, and they left behind. And it speaks abundance of comfort to the Lord’s people. [1.] Are they mean and despised in the world, as the man-servant in the field, or the maid at the mill (Exod 11 5)? Yet they shall not be forgotten or overlooked in that day. The poor in the world, if rich in faith, are heirs of the kingdom. [2.] Are they dispersed in distant and unlikely places, where one would not expect to find the heirs of glory, in the field, at the mill? Yet the angels will find them there (hidden as Saul among the stuff, when they are to be enthroned), and fetch them thence; and well may they be said to be changed, for a very great change it will be to go to heaven from ploughing and grinding. [3.] Are they weak, and unable of themselves to move heavenward? They shall be taken, or laid hold of, as Lot was taken out of Sodom by a gracious violence, Gen 19 16. Those whom Christ has once apprehended and laid hold on, he will never lose his hold of. [4.] Are they intermixed with others, linked with them in the same habitations, societies, employments? Let not that discourage any true Christian; God knows how to separate between the precious and the vile, the gold and dross in the same lump, the wheat and chaff in the same floor.

MacArthur interprets ‘taken’ as if in judgement:

It’s based on that picture of the flood sweeping men away into death.  Two are going to be in the field when that final devastating flood of fire comes. And one is taken in judgment. Two at the mill and one is taken in judgment.  And the other left – the other left – what are they left for?  They’re left to go into what?  Into the kingdom ... They are the redeemed So you’ll have people on the job.  Some will be believers and some will be unbelievers.  The unbelievers will be swept away and the believers will be preserved. 

Jesus told His disciples — and us — to stay awake, to be aware, for we do not know what day the Lord is coming (verse 42).

Henry tells us that sleep is akin to sinfulness. All of us will die, so we need to be prepared:

Note, It is the great duty and interest of all the disciples of Christ to watch, to be awake and keep awake, that they may mind their business. As a sinful state or way is compared to sleep, senseless and inactive (1 Thess 5 6), so a gracious state or way is compared to watching and waking. We must watch for our Lord’s coming, to us in particular at our death, after which is the judgment, that is the great day with us, the end of our time; and his coming at the end of all time to judge the world, the great day with all mankind. To watch implies not only to believe that our Lord will come, but to desire that he would come, to be often thinking of his coming, and always looking for it as sure and near, and the time of it uncertain. To watch for Christ’s coming, is to maintain that gracious temper and disposition of mind which we should be willing that our Lord, when he comes, should find us in. To watch is to be aware of the first notices of his approach, that we may immediately attend his motions, and address ourselves to the duty of meeting him. Watching is supposed to be in the night, which is sleeping time; while we are in this world, it is night with us, and we must take pains to keep ourselves awake.

Be ye also ready. We wake in vain, if we do not get ready. It is not enough to look for such things; but we must therefore give diligence, 2 Pet 3 11, 14. We have then our Lord to attend upon, and we must have our lamps ready trimmed; a cause to be tried, and we must have our plea ready drawn and signed by our Advocate; a reckoning to make up, and we must have our accounts ready stated and balanced; there is an inheritance which we then hope to enter upon, and we must have ourselves ready, made meet to partake of it, Col 1 12.

Jesus gave a practical analogy: if the owner of a house knew when the thief was coming, then he would have stayed awake and not allowed his house to be broken into (verse 43).

Jesus meant that He will return suddenly, like a thief in the night. Thieves move quickly. By prefacing it with ‘understand this’, He was putting emphasis on it.

MacArthur explains the verse:

“But know this” – or “I think this” – it could be an imperative, it could be an indicative.  I like to think it’s an indicative.  That is, it states a fact Comparing with verse 42, “You do not know what hour your Lord does come, but you do know this.”  I mean this is obvious.  You do know this.  “That if” – and it’s “if” with a condition in the Greek that is contrary to fact – if and he doesn’t, but if he did, if the householder had known in what watch, that is, in what three-hour period during the night. The Jews divided the night into four three-hour periods from 6:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m.  6:00 to 9:00, 9:00 to 12:00, 12:00 to 3:00, 3:00 to 6:00.  He says, “If a householder knew what hours in the middle of the night the thief would come, he would have watched and allowed his house – not allowed his house to be broken into.”  Literally the Greek word for breaking in is “digging through”

So He says you don’t know when the Lord’s coming, but you do know this, if a man knew when a thief was coming, if he knew in general, not the minute or even the hour, but if he just knew the general watch, if he knew the general timeframe, he sure would be ready for him when he got there, right?  He sure would.  And that’s what He’s saying.  That you do know.  Any fool knows that if a robber’s coming and you know he’s coming, you’re going to be ready for him when he gets there. 

And the Lord’s coming is often likened to the coming of a thief.  And it would be good at this point to say that it is not because it is a criminal coming.  The likening of the Lord’s coming to a thief, which occurs here, 2 Peter 3:10, Revelation 3:3, Revelation 16:5, Luke 12:35-40, which I’ll show you in a moment. It also occurs in 1 Thessalonians 5:2 and following.  And those places where the Lord’s coming is likened to a thief, it is not that Christ is like a thief, it is that Christ will come suddenly and unexpectedly like a thief comes suddenly and unexpectedly That’s the only analogy.  That’s the only analogy. 

Jesus ended His discourse by saying that we must also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour (verse 44).

This refers to death as well as the Second Coming, as Henry explains:

We know not the day of our death, Gen 27 2. We may know that we have but a little time to live (The time of my departure is at hand, 2 Tim 4 6); but we cannot know that we have a long time to live, for our souls are continually in our hands; nor can we know how little a time we have to live, for it may prove less than we expect; much less do we know the time fixed for the general judgment. Concerning both we are kept at uncertainty, that we may, every day, expect that which may come any day; may never boast of a year’s continuance (James 4 13), no, nor of tomorrow’s return, as if it were ours, Prov 27 1; Luke 12 20

… his saying “I come quickly.” obliges us to be always expecting him; for it keeps us in a state of expectancy. In such an hour as you think not, that is, such an hour as they who are unready and unprepared, think not (v. 50); nay, such an hour as the most lively expectants perhaps thought least likely. The bridegroom came when the wise were slumbering.

It is best for us to get our spiritual house in order, starting now, so that we are ready for our deaths:

Note, First, We have every one of us a house to keep, which lies exposed, in which all we are worth is laid up: that house is our own souls, which we must keep with all diligence. Secondly, The day of the Lord comes by surprise, as a thief in the night. Christ chooses to come when he is least expected, that the triumphs of his enemies may be turned into the greater shame, and the fears of his friends into the greater joy. Thirdly, If Christ, when he comes, finds us asleep and unready, our house will be broken up, and we shall lose all we are worth, not as by a thief unjustly, but as by a just and legal process; death and judgment will seize upon all we have, to our irreparable damage and utter undoing. Therefore be ready, be ye also ready; as ready at all times as the good man of the house would be at the hour when he expected the thief: we must put on the armour of God, that we may not only stand in that evil day, but, as more than conquerors, may divide the spoil.

In studying the Gospels, we notice that Jesus often told parables about being prepared for the master or the bridegroom.

MacArthur gives us one example:

the Lord very often taught the same lessons using the same illustrations or very closely related ones As any good teacher knows, you repeat good things and you repeat good illustrations in different settings because they’re helpful to people And the Lord here in Luke chapter 12 is also concerned in warning people about His second coming He says, “Let your loins be girded about and your lamps burning, and you yourselves like men that wait for their lord when he will return from the wedding, that when he comes and knocks you may open unto him immediately.”  I mean, be ready so that when he comes back, everything is as it ought to be.  “Blessed are those servants whom the lord when he comes shall find watching.  Verily I say unto you that he shall gird himself and make them to sit down to eat, and will come forth and serve them.” 

Amazing.  When the Lord comes back, if you’ve been faithful, He’ll sit you down to eat and He’ll serve you.  That’s the kingdom.  If you’re prepared when He comes, you’ll sit down with Him in His kingdom and He will serve you.  And if He should come in the second watch or come in the third watch and find them so, then blessed are those servants because they’re ready whenever He comes They know He’s coming.  They don’t know when it is, but they’re ready.  “And this know, that if the owner of the house had known what hour the thief would come, he would have watched and not permitted his house to be broken through.  Be ye therefore ready also for the Son of Man comes at an hour when you think not.” 

Now you can go back to Matthew 24.  It’s the same idea.  It’s the same basic lesson.  It’s the same idea that He has given here, that when He comes is a devastating judgment.  When He comes is an immediate glory for the redeemed.  So be ready.  And since we don’t know when it is, and no one knows when it is, and no one can know when it is, we need to be ready at all times – at all times.  So alertness and readiness. 

Advent readings are to remind us of repentance and new life. John the Baptist preached before Jesus began His ministry. Advent is that time of preparing ourselves for His coming to earth as a humble infant to save us as the adult who died humiliatingly for our sins.

Happy Thanksgiving to all my American readers, wherever they are in the world.

The readings for Year C can be found here.

Emphases mine below.

First reading

When the Israelites arrived in the Promised Land, the Lord commanded that they offer Him a tithe of their first fruits. This is still commemorated at Shavuot, which takes place 50 days after Passover. From God all good things come.

Deuteronomy 26:1-11

26:1 When you have come into the land that the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance to possess, and you possess it, and settle in it,

26:2 you shall take some of the first of all the fruit of the ground, which you harvest from the land that the LORD your God is giving you, and you shall put it in a basket and go to the place that the LORD your God will choose as a dwelling for his name.

26:3 You shall go to the priest who is in office at that time, and say to him, “Today I declare to the LORD your God that I have come into the land that the LORD swore to our ancestors to give us.”

26:4 When the priest takes the basket from your hand and sets it down before the altar of the LORD your God,

26:5 you shall make this response before the LORD your God: “A wandering Aramean was my ancestor; he went down into Egypt and lived there as an alien, few in number, and there he became a great nation, mighty and populous.

26:6 When the Egyptians treated us harshly and afflicted us, by imposing hard labor on us,

26:7 we cried to the LORD, the God of our ancestors; the LORD heard our voice and saw our affliction, our toil, and our oppression.

26:8 The LORD brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with a terrifying display of power, and with signs and wonders;

26:9 and he brought us into this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey.

26:10 So now I bring the first of the fruit of the ground that you, O LORD, have given me.” You shall set it down before the LORD your God and bow down before the LORD your God.

26:11 Then you, together with the Levites and the aliens who reside among you, shall celebrate with all the bounty that the LORD your God has given to you and to your house.

Psalm

The Psalm, which is one of my favourites, calls us to rejoice in the Lord with thanksgiving.

Psalm 100

100:1 Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the earth.

100:2 Worship the LORD with gladness; come into his presence with singing.

100:3 Know that the LORD is God. It is he that made us, and we are his; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.

100:4 Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise. Give thanks to him, bless his name.

100:5 For the LORD is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations.

Epistle

Writing from prison in Rome, Paul was still full of joy in Jesus Christ and exhorted the Philippians to also rejoice, continuing in the ways he taught them.

Philippians 4:4-9

4:4 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.

4:5 Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near.

4:6 Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.

4:7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

4:8 Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.

4:9 Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.

Gospel

This episode in our Lord’s ministry took place the day after the Feeding of the Five Thousand. The people hoped that He would perform another miracle in multiplying food for them. Instead, He told them that spiritual food is far more important and that He, sent by His Father, is the bread of life. Those who believe in Him will not want and will share eternity with Him.

John 6:25-35

6:25 When they found him on the other side of the sea, they said to him, “Rabbi, when did you come here?”

6:26 Jesus answered them, “Very truly, I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves.

6:27 Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For it is on him that God the Father has set his seal.

6:28 Then they said to him, “What must we do to perform the works of God?”

6:29 Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.”

6:30 So they said to him, “What sign are you going to give us then, so that we may see it and believe you? What work are you performing?

6:31 Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.'”

6:32 Then Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven.

6:33 For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.

6:34 They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.”

6:35 Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.

I hope that everyone celebrating Thanksgiving has a splendid day with good food, warm conviviality — and lots of leftovers.

May we also thank God for our many blessings and for the Bread of Heaven, our Saviour Jesus Christ.

Bible evangewomanblogspotcomThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version Anglicised (ESVUK) with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

1 Thessalonians 2:14-16

14 For you, brothers, became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus that are in Judea. For you suffered the same things from your own countrymen as they did from the Jews, 15 who killed both the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and drove us out, and displease God and oppose all mankind 16 by hindering us from speaking to the Gentiles that they might be saved—so as always to fill up the measure of their sins. But God’s wrath has come upon them at last![a]

———————————————————————————————————————————

Having concluded my study of Paul’s letter to the Colossians, I am proceeding to his two letters to the Thessalonians.

Matthew Henry’s commentary — the Revd Daniel Mayo, a contemporary, finished Henry’s work on 1 and 2 Thessalonians — states that after Paul founded the church in Thessalonica, he had to flee to Berea, then to Athens, leaving Timothy and Silas (Silvanus) behind (emphases mine):

Paul, being left at Athens alone ( 1 Thess 3 1), departed thence to Corinth, where he continued a year and a half, in which time Silas and Timotheus returned to him from Macedonia (Acts 18 5), and then he wrote this epistle to the church of Christ at Thessalonica, which, though it is placed after the other epistles of this apostle, is supposed to be first in time of all Paul’s epistles, and to be written about A.D. 51. The main scope of it is to express the thankfulness of this apostle for the good success his preaching had among them, to establish them in the faith, and persuade them to a holy conversation.

John MacArthur describes the church as fragrant in faith and blessing, like his own congregation of Grace Community Church in California:

I was drawn to Thessalonians because I really believe in my heart that this was a noble, wonderful, blessed church that brought great joy to the heart of the apostle Paul and that the letter, for the most part, is so very, very encouraging that I thought it might be fitting for us because I believe Grace Community Church to be an especially blessed and especially wonderful church and certainly one which has brought great joy to my own heart.  And in the study of this epistle I have already found many parallels between our own church and the church at Thessalonica.  And as this letter must have come to them as a great encouragement, as they were an encouragement to Paul’s heart, so I trust its truths will come to you as a great encouragement as you are an encouragement to my heart.

The European theologian Reinhold Niebuhr once wrote cynically, “The church is like Noah’s ark. If it weren’t for the storm outside, we couldn’t stand the stink inside.”  One thing for sure, he didn’t go to church in Thessalonica.  There was no stink there.  In fact, there was just a sweet fragrance This rich letter exudes the sweetness of these precious people

This was the true church.  They were all redeemed in Christ.  They were all members of the body.  They were all true believers.  They were all real saints.  They were all the brethren of God’s children.  They were the beloved of God, sovereignly loved by Him and chosen for salvation.  And only that kind of church could emit such a sweet fragrance and elicit such an encouraging response

So the Thessalonians were the elect They were the real Christians, chosen by God from eternity past for salvation and eternal glory

BiblePlaces.com has a page on Thessalonica, recapping Paul’s rather short stay in the city, described in Acts 17:

He preached in the city’s synagogue, the chief synagogue of the region, for at least three weeks. His ministry was strong, and he established a Jewish-Gentile church, although it was more heavily Gentile (1 Thess 1:9). When Paul faced great persecution at the hands of the mob, he fled to Berea, but Thessalonians eventually forced him to leave there also (Acts 17:13-14).

I wrote about the violent attacks on Paul and Silas as well as a convert there, Jason. It was no better in Berea, which was equally blessed with new, faithful believers, however, the Jews from Thessalonica travelled over and persecuted Paul there, too.

The letters to the Thessalonians - Bible Study by Mark Day - Flatwoods ...Thessalonica was a strategic trade and military city, as you can see from the map, courtesy of Flatwoods Church of Christ.

BiblePlaces.com gives us its history to the present day:

Thessalonica was located at the intersection of two major Roman roads, one leading from Italy eastward (Ignatia Way) and the other from the Danube to the Aegean. Thessalonica’s location and use as a port made it a prominent city. In 168 BC it became the capital of the second district of Macedonia and later it was made the capital and major port of the whole Roman province of Macedonia (146 BC). In 42 BC, after the battle at Philippi, Thessalonica was made a free city. Today the modern city of Thessaloniki is the second most important city of Greece and home to a million inhabitants.

We do not know much about Thessalonica because the Greeks built Thessaloniki on top of its ruins. The following refers to a photo on the page:

Very little has been uncovered at ancient Thessalonica because Thessaloniki sits atop the remains. The area pictured above and at right was formerly a bus station; when it was moved in 1962, this 1st or 2nd century AD forum was revealed. Excavators found a bathhouse and mint dating to the 1st century AD below pavement surrounding an odeum. An inscription (30 BC to AD 143) from the Vardar gate bears the word politarches, the word Luke used in reference to the officials of the city before whom Jason was brought by the mob (Acts 17:6). The word does not appear in any other Greek literature but does match the archaeology of the site.

St Demetrios was a local 4th century martyr and is the city’s patron saint, showing that the Church is alive and well there. A basilica in the city is named after him.

Wikipedia tells us more about the city’s founding:

The city was founded around 315 BC by the King Cassander of Macedon, on or near the site of the ancient town of Therma and 26 other local villages.[33][34] He named it after his wife Thessalonike,[35] a half-sister of Alexander the Great and princess of Macedonia as daughter of Philip II. Under the kingdom of Macedonia the city retained its own autonomy and parliament[36] and evolved to become the most important city in Macedonia.[35]

Twenty years after the fall of the Kingdom of Macedonia in 168 BC, in 148 BC, Thessalonica was made the capital of the Roman province of Macedonia.[37] Thessalonica became a free city of the Roman Republic under Mark Antony in 41 BC.[35][38] It grew to be an important trade hub located on the Via Egnatia,[39] the road connecting Dyrrhachium with Byzantium,[40] which facilitated trade between Thessaloniki and great centers of commerce such as Rome and Byzantium.[41] Thessaloniki also lays at the southern end of the main north–south route through the Balkans along the valleys of the Morava and Axios river valleys, thereby linking the Balkans with the rest of Greece.[42] The city became the capital of one of the four Roman districts of Macedonia;.[39]

At the time of the Roman Empire, about 50 AD, Thessaloniki was also one of the early centers of Christianity; while on his second missionary journey, Paul the Apostle visited this city’s chief synagogue on three Sabbaths and sowed the seeds for Thessaloniki’s first Christian church.

MacArthur tells us more about the history of the city and life in Thessalonica in Paul’s time:

The city was founded in 315 B.C. by a general, a Greek general under Alexander the Great whose name was Cassander He chose the place because of its thermal springs. He also chose it because it was the crucial northernmost point on the Aegean Sea He also chose it because it was right where the highway from the Orient to the West came He chose it because the Axios River flowed into that harbor area It was a tremendously strategic place

Thessalonica was one of three key cities in Macedonia, the other two being Philippi and Berea.  Paul visited all three.  In Achaia, the southern part, there were two key cities which Paul visited, Corinth and Athens.  When the Romans conquered the Greeks and they came in, they supplanted Greek rule in the year 168 B.C.  They took that northern part, Macedonia, and they divided it into four quarters They made Thessalonica the capital of one of those quarters and twenty years later they blurred out the division and had one Macedonia and made Thessalonica the capital.  In fact, from 146 B.C. on, Thessalonica was designated the capital of the whole province of Macedonia and had the nickname, “The Mother of Macedonia.”  It was a very strategic city

The only way to get to the east, of course, if you didn’t go on the Mediterranean Sea by water and you wanted to go on foot was just to walk along the northern coast area there and that was called the Ignatian Highway from the west to the east, to the east to the west.  It became a military road for the transportation of all the troops.  It became a trade route for from east to west.  And it went right across the top of the Aegean Sea and right through the city of Thessalonica.

.. It was a totally sheltered harbor, had a great river, as I said, the Axios River, and so it became a very thriving seaport.  The town was filled with soldiers.  The town was filled with businessmen, travelers, traders.  The town was filled with sailors.  It was a booming place.  It became famous for vice, famous for sexual perversion, prostitution was rampant and well organized.  History tells us that people built their homes in Thessalonica with no windows because crime was so rampant and out of control.  They would literally build a house with only a door.

Also, one of the characteristics of Thessalonica was that they would pain obscene paintings on the walls of their houses.  It was a very lascivious city.  Divorce was very frequent.  Babies were continually abandoned.  That was the old form of abortion. You just had your baby and let it die.  Murder was common.  And it was in that sewage pipe that the church lived in Thessalonica and I think that’s part of the reason in chapter 4 why the apostle Paul tells them in verse 3 to abstain from sexual immorality because they were in the middle of it.

Now because it was a thriving trade area, the Jews came there in great force, always enterprising.  They showed up in mass in Thessalonica.  In fact, there was so many of them that they had a very large synagogue in that city And that became the starting point for Paul’s evangelism.  That is, by the way, unlike Philippi.  You remember when Paul went to Philippi there weren’t even enough Jewish men to constitute a synagogue?  Well, there were in Thessalonica because that was the hot spot for trade, for business, for commerce.

.. You might also want to know that the Jews remained there throughout all the centuries until World War II when Hitler went to Saloniki, took 60,000 Jews out of that city and executed all of them So the city has had a fascinating and long, long history.

The emperor of Rome at the time that Paul arrived, which would have been 350 years after the city was founded, the emperor was a man named Claudius Claudius didn’t deserve to be the emperor. He didn’t deserve to be a leader of anything.  He only became leader because his uncle, Gaius, was murdered. They say, about Claudius, all kinds of things. We can’t be certain exactly what was true.  Some writers say he was epileptic.  Some say he had fits and seizures. Some say he was crazy.  All agree he was a stuttering, slobbering man who had total incompetency.  But he was in charge of the Roman government.

MacArthur says that Paul’s letter to the congregation indicates he was there for longer than three sabbaths:

… I think that he was in the synagogue three Sabbaths, but I believe there’s ample reason to assume he was in Thessalonica some weeks longer than that And you say, “Why is that so?”  Well, because it’s evident that he involved himself in work Chapter 2 of 1 Thessalonians verse 9, “You recall our labor and hardship, how working night and day so as not to be a burden to any of you, we proclaimed to you the gospel of God.”  He must have opened up his tent-making or his leather-working business to some degree and actually functioned in some work capacity, which he would not have done if he was only there two weeks with a Sabbath on each end and one in the middle.

In 2 Thessalonians 3:8 he says that, “We were working night and day so that we might not be a burden to any of you.”  Well they wouldn’t have been a burden if they were only there for two weeks.  So he must have spent three consecutive Sabbaths in the synagogue. And then from there moved out of the synagogue and continued his labor of evangelism.

It’s amazing that Paul’s stay, as short as it was, produced such a marvellous group of believers in such a decadent city:

Think about that church. They’re coming out of lifelong Judaism.  They’ve got all that Judaistic baggage.  Or they’re coming out of paganism.  And it’s a brand new baby church and he’s only there at most a few weeks and they’re living in a city that is just drowning in vice.  And how are they going to be matured?  And Paul and Silas and Timothy are gone. And Silas and Timothy are down in Berea where it’s a little easier to stay and even there Paul couldn’t stay and he left and went to Athens And from Athens he went on to Corinth and stayed there for 18 to 22 months and established the church there and strengthened the church there and ministered there for a prolonged period of time.

But who is taking care of the Thessalonians?  I mean, a tiny little church with no leadership and no help, so young in the Lord, weeks old and in a sea of paganism and trying to come out of the massive encumbrances of Judaism. We could well understand that Paul would be deeply concerned.  When he left Thessalonica and traveled about 50 miles, or two and a half days walk to Berea, and had a good reception there, he probably thought in his heart, “I’d like to go back to Thessalonica, we need to go back when it cools down.”  But it didn’t cool down.  The heat from Thessalonica came to Berea and forced him out of there, forced him to Athens and God wasn’t working in Athens and he went from Athens to Corinth and there the Lord worked and he ministered.

Before he had left Athens, Timothy had come to join him.  And now by the time we get him into Corinth, he’s kind of settling down a little bit and it’s probably the spring of A.D. 50, just a few months since the church at Thessalonica was founded.  And he has been so concerned to find out about them, he sends Timothy back.  And Timothy goes back and Timothy comes with a report and the report is what caused the letter because Timothy comes back and says they’re doing super. They’re elect. They’re elect.  You’ve got an elect church. It’s going to be okay.  They’re redeemed.  They’re pure.  And that’s why Paul in chapter 3 is so exhilarated.  He says in verse 6, “Now that Timothy has come to us from you and brought us good news of your faith and love…” and then in verse 7 he says, “That’s why we’re comforted.  Ah, this was an elect church, a church that could contribute all of its success to the power of God, the grace of God.  For God’s own purposes, He had kept this church wonderfully pure in the midst of the morass of pagan filth, in the midst of theological confusion, in the midst of traditions, this little group was true and pure.  And so to them he writes these words, verse 1, “Paul and Silvanus.” That is the Roman equivalent of Silas, his Jewish name, “And Timothy to the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”

MacArthur points out that Paul did not refer to himself as an Apostle because they had already recognised he was a holy, sincere man dedicated to Christ:

Apparently in Macedonia his apostleship was never in question.  He wrote two letters to the Thessalonian church which is in Macedonia, he wrote one letter to the Philippian church which is in Macedonia and in none of those three letters did he identify himself as an apostle.  Apparently that was not an issue, the church never questioned his authority and they had not been besieged by someone who had and thus become confused about it So he simply says, and I love the simplicity, “Paul.”  There’s something humble about that.  And then he links with himself as if they’re all equals, “Silas,” who was a Jewish coworker with Paul, a faithful servant of the Lord, a wonderful instrument.  And then he mentions Timothy, a young man that he had met in Lystra. Acts 16 tells about it.  He had helped him in Philippi and later come to Thessalonica.  He was Paul’s son in the faith.  He was the one to whom he would give the mantle as at the end of his life he wrote 1 and 2 Timothy to him.

So, it’s the three of them and they all know about the Thessalonians.  Timothy has gone and gotten a report.  Paul was there when it started and Silas is with Paul and so the Thessalonians are precious to all of them And so Paul sort of collects them into this wonderful introduction and says, “This letter comes from us to the church of the Thessalonians.”

MacArthur explains the Greek word for church:

One little thought about the word “church,” ekklsia.  It’s a word related to the Greek word kale, which means “to elect,” ek kale, to elect.  This is the elect.  The word “church” means the called out ones, the elect ones.  And so again the emphasis is there.  “Paul and Silas and Timothy to the elect ones of Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” That’s a very unusual expression for Paul, but a very wonderful one.

Here is 1 Thessalonians 1, which is in the Lectionary:

Greeting

Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy,

To the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ:

Grace to you and peace.

The Thessalonians’ Faith and Example

We give thanks to God always for all of you, constantly[a] mentioning you in our prayers, remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labour of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. For we know, brothers[b] loved by God, that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction. You know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake. And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit, so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia. For not only has the word of the Lord sounded forth from you in Macedonia and Achaia, but your faith in God has gone forth everywhere, so that we need not say anything. For they themselves report concerning us the kind of reception we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, 10 and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.

One could not expect a higher accolade from Paul than that.

Here is the first half of 1 Thessalonians 2:

Paul’s Ministry to the Thessalonians

For you yourselves know, brothers,[a] that our coming to you was not in vain. But though we had already suffered and been shamefully treated at Philippi, as you know, we had boldness in our God to declare to you the gospel of God in the midst of much conflict. For our appeal does not spring from error or impurity or any attempt to deceive, but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not to please man, but to please God who tests our hearts. For we never came with words of flattery,[b] as you know, nor with a pretext for greed—God is witness. Nor did we seek glory from people, whether from you or from others, though we could have made demands as apostles of Christ. But we were gentle[c] among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children. So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us.

For you remember, brothers, our labour and toil: we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, while we proclaimed to you the gospel of God. 10 You are witnesses, and God also, how holy and righteous and blameless was our conduct towards you believers. 11 For you know how, like a father with his children, 12 we exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you to walk in a manner worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory.

13 And we also thank God constantly[d] for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers.

That brings us to today’s verses.

Paul credits them for being imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus in Judea, because the Thessalonians suffered the same things from their own countrymen as the Judeans did from the Jews (verse 14).

Henry says:

The word wrought effectually in them, not only to be examples unto others in faith and good works (which he had mentioned before), but also in constancy and patience under sufferings and trials for the sake of the gospel: You became followers of the churches of God, and have suffered like things as they have done (v. 14), and with like courage and constancy, with like patience and hope. Note, The cross is the Christian’s mark: if we are called to suffer we are called only to be followers of the churches of God; so persecuted they the prophets that were before you, Matt 5 12. It is a good effect of the gospel when we are enabled to suffer for its sake. The apostle mentions the sufferings of the churches of God, which in Judea were in Christ Jesus. Those in Judea first heard the gospel, and they first suffered for it: for the Jews were the most bitter enemies Christianity had, and were especially enraged against their countrymen who embraced Christianity. Note, Bitter zeal and fiery persecution will set countrymen at variance, and break through all the bonds of nature, as well as contradict all the rules of religion. In every city where the apostles went to preach the gospel the Jews stirred up the inhabitants against them. They were the ringleaders of persecution in all places; so in particular it was at Thessalonica: Acts 17 5, The Jews that believed not, moved with envy, took unto them certain lewd fellows of the baser sort, and gathered a company, and set all the city in an uproar.

MacArthur says that Paul must have told the Thessalonians about the churches in Judea:

… they had become imitators of other believers, namely those in the churches of God and Christ Jesus in Judea.  We cannot assume that they had any occasion to meet those saints in Judea.  We can assume that Paul must have given them some input as to the kind of life those saints in Judea lived.

I can imagine if I were in Paul’s situation going to a pagan, Gentile city, going to a Jewish synagogue to evangelize Jews and then going out into the streets to evangelize Gentiles, that I would want to give them some kind of a model of what a church was, that I would want to…to instruct them on some of the life patterns of noble saints that they could learn from so I can make the assumption that Paul probably told them about other Christians, probably told them about the founding of the church in Jerusalem, probably told them that with the martyrdom of Stephen the Jerusalem church was scattered and that it was scattered, it re-identified itself in other places all around Judea then gave birth to daughter churches And by the time the Thessalonian church was founded there was a sprinkling of little churches throughout Judea and maybe not so little after that.  And that those believers in Judea would have been longer in the faith than the brand-new Thessalonians and more mature by virtue of years of walking in the Spirit and therefore were models for them to follow There may have been some specific things that Paul told them about those Christians in Judea that they could pattern their own lives after.

But they were a…a wonderful group of Christians because they imitated Paul, Timothy and Silas, they imitated the Lord, and here he says they even imitated the saints in Judea.  And the highest form of honor is imitation, isn’t it?  You really honor someone when you pattern your life after them.  And so that’s the second thing that sort of marks the nobility of this little church is that they honored the saints. They honored the saints by patterning their lives after them.  “For you, brethren,” and the word “for” is an indicator that there’s an added confirmation of their positive reception of the Word.  They received the Word and the confirmation of that is what it did in their life to make them imitators of other mature believers.  They were mimicking the believers in Judea as they had mimicked Paul, Timothy, and Silas and attempted even to mimic the Lord.  They paid the highest honor by imitation.  The greatest respect… They had respect for Christ, they wanted to imitate Him.  They had respect for the preachers, they wanted to imitate them.  They had respect for the rest. They were willing to imitate them.

MacArthur analyses Paul’s ‘churches of God in Christ Jesus’:

Now would you just note “the churches of God in Christ Jesus” is a very interesting little phrase Just to point out to you, plural “churches”; there is one church in the sense that we are all one in Christ, but the Scripture is very clear too that there are local assemblies identified as individual churches.  And there were then churches scattered around Judea, notice he calls them “churches of God.”  Assemblies, gathering togethers of which God was the source; God’s gospel, God’s church, God’s churches, they belong to Him.  He’s their sovereign, electing, saving, sanctifying source and you can study the New Testament and you will find the term “church” used in general for the church and you will find it used in specific for local assemblies, such as 1 Corinthians 1:2; 2 Corinthians 1:1; etc.  But in all cases — please notice — it is the churches of God in Christ Jesus All true believers are in Christ.  Back to chapter 1 verse 1: “In God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”  Galatians 1:22, the churches of Judea which were in Christ, in union with the living Christ.  And these churches to whom he refers were in Judea.

Continuing on the Jews who were guilty of this persecution, Paul says that they killed Jesus and, historically, the prophets, driving Paul and sometimes his companions out of where they were preaching; as such, they displease God and oppose all mankind (verse 16).

Henry explains the verse:

Upon this occasion, the apostle gives a character of the unbelieving Jews (v. 15), enough to justify their final rejection and the ruin of their place, and church, and nation, which was now approaching. (1.) They killed the Lord Jesus, and impudently and presumptuously wished that his blood might be on them and their children. (2.) They killed their own prophets: so they had done all along; their fathers had done so: they had been a persecuting generation. (3.) They hated the apostles, and did them all the mischief they could. They persecuted them, and drove and chased them from place to place: and no marvel, if they killed the Lord Jesus, that they persecuted his followers. (4.) They pleased not God. They had quite lost all sense of religion, and due care to do their duty to God. It was a most fatal mistake to think that they did God service by killing God’s servants. Murder and persecution are most hateful to God and cannot be justified on any pretence; they are so contrary to natural religion that no zeal for any true or only pretended institution of religion can ever excuse them. (5.) They were contrary to all men. Their persecuting spirit was a perverse spirit; contrary to the light of nature, and contrary to humanity, contrary to the welfare of all men, and contrary to the sentiments of all men not under the power of bigotry.

MacArthur says that those Jews who rejected the word of God, having heard it, will be judged severely. That said, God wants His chosen people to come to believe in Christ:

He still calls Jews in this age to salvation in Jesus Christ and I praise Him for those in our church family from Israel who believe in their Messiah. And someday He will call that nation to Himself.

For the Jews at the time of Paul and Jesus, and even today, for the most part, are a people to be sad for because they had the greatest spiritual privilege and opportunity and they are lost without their Messiah and damned to hell. The Jews had started the fires of persecution with the killing of Jesus. They had then continued the fires of persecution everywhere Paul went, rejecting Christ, rejecting the churches, spreading the fact that Christianity was not true. And Paul sees them in contrast to this church in Thessalonica.

Look at the three contrasting characteristics. Number one, their rejection of the Word. The Thessalonians received the Word, the Jews rejected the Word. Notice verse 15, “Who both killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets and drove us out.”

You say, “What does that have to do with the Word of God?” It had everything to do with the Word of God because all of those are simply the folks who were proclaiming it. The Lord Jesus came to speak the truth. The prophets had preached the Word of God. The apostles were proclaiming the gospel. They killed Jesus, killed the prophets, drove the apostles out not because they didn’t like their personalities, but because they rejected their message. They would not receive the Word no matter who brought it. The noblest of men had brought it through their history, namely the prophets, the men of spiritual virtue, the men of God. They killed them. Then came Jesus Christ Himself, perfect, flawless, without sin, who literally banished disease from Palestine in the time of His life, blessed everyone who came near. They killed Him, too. And now they were pursuing all the…all the rest of those who preached the gospel, to kill them as well. No matter who brought it, they rejected it. They rejected it at such an extreme level that they had to assassinate those who preached it.

Paul also said that the Jews hindered their ministry to save the Gentiles, ‘so as always to fill up the measure of their sins’, but God’s wrath has come upon them completely (verse 16).

Paul wrote the Thessalonians around 20 years before the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem, but the Apostle could see, if not that specifically, a judgement that would befall those who rejected God’s Son.

Henry says:

(6.) They had an implacable enmity to the Gentiles, and envied them the offers of the gospel: Forbidding the apostles to speak to the Gentiles, that they might be saved. The means of salvation had long been confined to the Jews. Salvation is of the Jews, says our Saviour. And they were envious against the Gentiles, and angry that they should be admitted to share in the means of salvation. Nothing provoked them more than our Saviour’s speaking to them at any time concerning this matter; this enraged the Jews at Jerusalem, when, in his defence, Paul told them, he was sent unto the Gentiles, Acts 22 21. They heard him patiently till he uttered these words, but then could endure no longer, but lifted up their voices, and said, Away with such a fellow from the earth, for it is not fit that he should live. Thus did the Jews fill up their sins; and nothing tends more to any person or people’s filling up the measure of their sins than opposing the gospel, obstructing the progress of it, and hindering the salvation of precious souls. For the sake of these things wrath has come upon them to the uttermost; that is, wrath was determined against them, and would soon overtake them. It was not many years after this that Jerusalem was destroyed, and the Jewish nation cut off by the Romans. Note, When the measure of any man’s iniquity is full, and he has sinned to the uttermost, then comes wrath, and that to the uttermost.

MacArthur explains the Greek used in that verse:

Verse 16, “With the result that they always fill up the measure of their sins, but wrath has come upon them to the utmost.”  That’s a frightening text.

This construction shows result and-or purpose. The result of their hostility, the purpose of their hostility is that they are filling up the measure of their sins.  Literally it says they always heap up their sins to the limit.  This point says, as it did in Matthew 23:32, to a very well defined point at which you’ve reached your limit.  You remember back in the antediluvian culture when God said, “My Spirit will not always (what?) strive with men.”  There comes a point at which you’ve filled it up.  Your fathers always fill it up, Jesus said Matthew 23:32, and here Paul says, “And you always fill it up.”  You always run your sin to the absolute limit, and once the cup begins to overflow, judgment is inevitable.  So he says, “Wrath has come upon them to the utmost.”  They had reached the apex.

The apostasy of Israel had gone all the way to killing Christ and killing the messengers of Christ.  That’s it.  That language, by the way, comes from Genesis 15:16 where it says, “The iniquity of the Amorite is not yet full.”  That’s the first time we hear that kind of phrase.  It means that God doesn’t act in judgment until iniquity has reached a certain point, and then He acts.  He says here the Jews were ahead of the pagan Amorites. They always fill it up.  And when the cup is full, judgment is inevitable.

Notice the verb there, “wrath has come.”  Has come, already arrived, has come; this use of the aorist tense, I believe, affirms something that is so inevitable and so certain that it can be spoken of as if it has already come to passFirst of all, he could be referring to the tremendous sweeping devastation and massacre of 70 A.D.  But more than that, he’s talking about a final eschatological wrath when they face the God whom they have rejected as individuals.  The kind of sin they’re committing here is the kind of sin that is not just associated with a military defeat. It’s associated with an eternal damnation.  It’s reminiscent of John 3:36.  Do you remember this verse where Jesus says, “He who believes in the Son has eternal life, but he who doesn’t obey the Son shall not see life but the wrath of God (what?) abides on him.”  It’s already there waiting until the moment of release.

So, what is Paul saying?  All the prerequisites for future, eternal damnation have been met. The cup is full.  You have come to the limit of your sin, murdering the Messiah, murdering His preachers.  There will come a temporal judgment in the destruction of JerusalemThere will come an eternal judgment to you as individuals in the destruction, the unending destruction of hell.

That phrase at the end of verse 16, “wrath has come upon them to the utmost,” eis telos, is used in John 13:1 where it says of Jesus, he looked at His disciples, having loved them which were in the world he loved them eis telos. It means He loved them to the limit.  He loved them to the extreme limit, to the very end, to the perfect expression of love.  Same phrase.  He will damn them to the limit, to the fullest expression of judgment.  And he’s saying the judgment is now irreversible, the cup is full, the judgment cannot be avoided.

Also:

They had a hostility in them, but it most directly and primarily was directed at hindering the apostles from preaching the gospel to the Gentiles so they could be saved. It wasn’t that they were racially prejudiced. That’s not Paul’s point. They were religiously prejudiced. They didn’t want the gospel which they resented being preached to anyone. Hostile to God’s purposes, hostile to everybody, says Paul. And it shows up because they tried to keep everybody in their sins by not letting the gospel be preached to them, though they didn’t realize that was the implication. They’re hostile to all men, not that they hate all men, but that they prevent us from giving them the gospel. They’re interfering with gospel preaching. Boy! That is a dangerous thing, a dangerous thing.

The end of Jesus’ speech to the disciples in Matthew 10, He says, “If you receive a prophet, you will receive a prophet’s reward. If you receive a righteous man, you will receive a righteous man’s reward.” You better be careful how you treat the spokesmen for God. But these were interfering with gospel preaching.

MacArthur concludes:

The application today is we need to be thankful for those who believe and receive the Word and honor the saints by imitating their lives and those who persevere in trials, showing their hope and faith that perseveres to eternal glory, but we need to be sad for those who reject the Word, those who hinder the preaching of the gospel, those whose only ultimate suffering will be that of hell. We have to have a heart of compassion. One writer says this. “Paul is writing here about particular Jews, those who have shown hostility to God’s messengers and not about the Jews in general. Further, what Paul says about them is valid only so long as they persist in their hostility to God and the gospel. If this view is correct, Paul is not guilty of anti-Semitism. What he says here about the nearness of God’s wrath is true for those Jews who persist in ungodliness, but does not contradict the hope that he holds out in Romans that the present time of Jewish opposition to the gospel will be followed by a turning of the people to God.”

Beloved, we should be zealous to show the love of Christ to Jews and lead them to the knowledge of their Messiah. We should desire to do the same thing for Gentiles. The choice is the same. Will you be a person who receives the Word? That’s salvation. Who imitates the saints? That’s sanctification. Who perseveres to the end? That’s glorification. Or will you be a person who rejects the Word? Who hinders the saints and the work they set out to do? And who will endure only punishment? That’s condemnation. The choice has always been the same; blessing, cursing, never different. 

It must not have been easy for the Thessalonians. Many others would have fallen away from the faith, but they remained true to it:

We can assume in the weeks that passed before he wrote this letter back from Corinth to them that during that time that hostility had escalated. During that time it had probably accumulated more Gentile animosity and, of course, we know that they were accusing Paul of being nothing but a fake and a phony and a charlatan and a fraud, a false teacher, one who wanted sexual favors, money, possessions, power, prestige. That’s why he writes chapter 2 verses 1 to 12 to answer that.

But this little church had endured all of that.  They had endured the persecution.  And Paul saw it as an evidence of their real Christianity.  They had counted the cost.  They willingly entered the narrow gate to walk the narrow way.  They paid the price. They took up the cross. They followed Christ.

How can you tell a true church?  By the way they received the Word, by the way they honor the saints and imitate them and by the way they endure the difficulties.  This is a people to be glad for, a people to be glad for. 

What an amazing example of faith in action, against all odds.

Next time — 1 Thessalonians 2:17-20

Reign of Christ — Christ the King — Sunday is on November 20, 2022.

Readings for Year C can be found here.

The Gospel reading is as follows (emphases mine):

Luke 23:33-43

23:33 When they came to the place that is called The Skull, they crucified Jesus there with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left.

23:34 Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” And they cast lots to divide his clothing.

23:35 And the people stood by, watching; but the leaders scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Messiah of God, his chosen one!”

23:36 The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine,

23:37 and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!”

23:38 There was also an inscription over him, “This is the King of the Jews.”

23:39 One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deriding him and saying, “Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!”

23:40 But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation?

23:41 And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.”

23:42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

23:43 He replied, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

Commentary comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Apologies in advance for another long post, but what our commentators have to say will open our eyes to the true depth of this reading.

John MacArthur says that the story of the penitent thief is found only in Luke’s Gospel:

The story of the penitent thief is not in Matthew, Mark or John.  It is only in Luke.  This is all we have.  And in a sense, as we look at verses 39 to 43 and consider this miraculous conversion of a thief hanging on a cross next to Jesus, we might conclude that this is a rather cryptic account Perhaps we would wish that Matthew had given us another look at it or Mark or both or John, but this is all we have …

we come to the conversion at Calvary, the story of the salvation of a crucified thief.  And as I said, as you first look at it, it seems a bit brief and perhaps not very revealing, but you will find by the time we’re done that it is anything but that.

MacArthur explains that our Lord’s crucifixion was set up to play out as a comedy for both Romans and Jews:

I understand that’s a stunning notion, that this is a comedy, but it is precisely that which was intended by the crucifiers.  To them, Jesus was an object of absolute ridicule.  As a king, he was laughable.  This whole thing was intended to be a mockery of the fact that he was a king.  He had no army.  He had no sovereignty over anything or any place.  He had meager and minimal followers.  He had conquered no one and nothing and delivered no one.  There was nothing about him that looked as if he was a massive power, but rather he was increasingly weaker and weaker and weaker And so the whole thing was so comedic they turned it into a kind of burlesque.  Here, those that are gathered around the cross are mocking, sneering and hurling abuse at Jesus with sarcasm.  They’re endeavoring to treat the Son of God with as much dishonor as they can muster, with as much disrespect and disdain and shame as they can possibly generate. 

Along with Judas’s betrayal a few days beforehand, this is one of history’s greatest sins. Both show how horrible spiritual blindness truly is:

Here is sin at its apex.  Here is sin at its ultimate.  Here is blasphemy at its pinnacle.  Mocking deity, sneering at the incarnate God, and with glib satisfaction piling sarcastic scorn on the Creator and the Redeemer – the true King; the true Messiah.  Sinners cannot to worse than this.  Nothing that sinners can do could more offend God than this.  Blasphemy can’t be worse than this.  We might ask that in light of the heinousness of this, maybe this is time for God to act.  We should be expecting a holy, righteous God to react to this kind of ultimate blasphemy by pouring out wrath and vengeance and fury on those who are perpetrating this on him …

Judgment will come 40 years after this in the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans.  Many, if not most of these people, gather today who are still alive 40 years later will perish in that judgment.  Many will die before that ever comes.  But doesn’t this seem like an undue patience?  Just how tolerant is holiness?  Just how patient is righteousness?  Just how enduring is divine mercy and grace?  If ever there seemed to be a time when God’s wrath would be justified if it came swiftly, this would be it.

Well, in a strange irony, His judgment did come swiftly at the cross, but it didn’t come on the crowd, it came on Jesus on behalf of those who blasphemed him.  The Old Testament is clear about blasphemy.  It says this in Leviticus 24:16, “Anybody who blasphemes my name shall die.”  It is a capital crime to blaspheme the name of God.  They are blasphemers.  They know that.  They’re content to blaspheme Him, to pronounce curses on Him, to heap abuse on Him.  That is exactly what they are doing.  In a perverted twist, however, they accuse him of being the blasphemer.  When earlier in his ministry Jesus demonstrated the power to forgive sin, Matthew 9, they said this man blasphemes.  You come to the end of Matthew – or toward the end of Matthew in chapter 26, Jesus says, “You’ve said it yourself, nevertheless I tell you that you shall see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of power and coming on the clouds of heaven.  And the high priest tore at his robes saying, “He has blasphemed.  What further need do we have of witnesses.  Behold, you have heard the blasphemy.  He is deserving of death.”  And they spit in his face and beat him with their fists and slapped him.

They are the blasphemers, but in a perverted twist, they make him into the blasphemer and they are the ones who think they’re upholding righteousness

MacArthur reminds us of God’s infinite patience:

When you run out of patience, God does not.  When you look, at something and think the patience of God must be exhausted because my patience would have been long ago exhausted, God’s is not.  And the answer is that God is far beyond us, infinitely beyond us, in how He thinks and how He acts.  The uniqueness of God is this: when He is massively offended and when He is relentlessly offended, He still comes to the offenders, and warning them of the judgment to come offers them forgiveness and mercy and grace and compassion and makes them His children and takes them to His holy heaven forever.  It is that God who is hanging on the cross.  That God whose patience is far beyond ours because His ways are not our ways, His thoughts are not our thoughts.  The stunning contrast at Calvary is the contrast between the merciless insults of the crowd and the merciful intersession of the Christ, and those are the two points I want you to look at.  The merciless insults of the crowd, verse 35.  We’re going to look at the merciless insults of the crowd.  The crowd is made up of four groups.  There’s the people, the leaders, the soldiers and the thieves and they all have the same response to Jesus.  They’re literally without sympathy.  They are heartless, cruel, brutal.

When the Romans — ‘they’ — came to the place that is called The Skull, or Golgotha, they crucified Jesus with the two criminals, one on His right and one on His left (verse 33).

Matthew Henry’s commentary says:

he was crucified at a place called Calvary, Kranion, the Greek name for Golgotha—the place of a skull: an ignominious place, to add to the reproach of his sufferings, but significant, for there he triumphed over death as it were upon his own dunghill. He was crucified. His hands and feet were nailed to the cross as it lay upon the ground, and it was then lifted up, and fastened into the earth, or into some socket made to receive it. This was a painful and shameful death above any other.

Our Lord’s place in the middle of the two men was significant:

he was crucified in the midst between two thieves, as if he had been the worst of the three. Thus he was not only treated as a transgressor, but numbered with them, the worst of them.

Jesus interceded to His Father asking Him to forgive them because they didn’t know what they were doing; the soldiers cast lots to divide His clothing (verse 34).

MacArthur says that casting lots for a criminal’s belongings was normal:

That’s standard procedure, by the way.  The executioners were given the right to keep the possessions, the final possessions of clothing and things of the people who were executed.  That was sort of a small job benefit, I guess, a perk.  Now there’s a little more detail on this back in John because John gives us some insight into exactly what the soldiers did.  In 19 John 23, “The soldiers, therefore, when they crucified Jesus, took his outer garments and made four parts.”  There would be four parts.  There would be four garments that a man would wear in that day.  There would be an outer cloak that you kept warm with, like a jacket, and you slept on and used as a blanket.  There would be shoes or sandals.  There would be a headpiece.  There would be a sash or a belt.  Four pieces. 

Psalm 22 prophesied this would happen:

We know that there were four Roman soldiers assigned to a crucifixion.  If you look in 12 Acts 4, you read about a squad of Romans.  It’s a quaternion made up of four In fact a full one was four units of four, so it’s very likely that there were four soldiers in a death squad That’s why the four garments could be divided one to each of the four, but there was also a tunic which would have been his regular garment and the tunic was seamless, woven in one piece, so they said let’s not tear it.  Let’s cast lots for it to decide whose it shall be.  That the scripture might be fulfilled they divided my outer garments among them and for my clothing they cast lots.  That, too, in Psalm 22. 

Out of the four groups of people there that MacArthur wants us to look at, we see the soldiers first:

We might expect cruelty out of Roman soldiers because they did this all the time. 

The people stood by watching, and the leaders scoffed at Jesus, saying that if He saved others, let Him save Himself if He is the Messiah of God, His Chosen One (verse 35).

Here Luke shows us the crowd and the leaders.

Remember that every Jew possible was in Jerusalem for the Passover, so it was a huge crowd.

Of them, MacArthur gives us something to think about:

these are the people, probably, who had been healed by Jesus of certain diseases.  These might be people who had had experiences of other miracles that Jesus had performed in the area of Judea and Jerusalem, and there were lots of them from, of all places, Galilee in the north.  There may have been, and surely were, people in the crowd who were fed among the 5,000 when Jesus made the food.  There were certainly people who knew well those who had been healed, maybe been given their hearing or their sight, or raised up to walk from a state of paralysis.  I mean wouldn’t we expect to find something sympathetic out of them and didn’t they hear Jesus teaching, and didn’t they experience the meekness and gentleness of Christ and the love of Christ that was so manifest in the beauty and magnificence of what he taught? 

But even the crowd is merciless.  You say, “Wait a minute.  All it says in that verse is the people stood by looking on.”  Well, that’s not all that can be said about the merciless crowd, I’m sorry to say.  This is a large crowd.  They’ve come from everywhere.  It’s Passover.  The city has swelled by hundreds of thousands of people and the crowd moving toward Calvary from the public trial early in the morning is growing and growing and growing, because Jesus is the most popular person in the country by far and he’s drawing a massive crowd that are now collected around the cross.  These are people who were there to hail him as the potential king on Monday when he came into the city.  They were the same people who were there to scream, “Crucify him!  Crucify him!” earlier in the day, and now they sort of appear to be exhausted, I guess, sort of blank stares from what Luke tells us.  But Matthew and Mark tell us more.  Matthew and Mark tell us what we need to know.  Matthew 27:39, “And those passing by, the milling crowd, were hurling abuse at him, wagging their heads, a gesture of taunting, and saying, “You who are going to destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save yourself.  If you are the son of God, come down from the cross in the same way,” the priests, etc.

MacArthur thinks the leaders influenced the crowd:

Mark 15 verse 29, “And those passing by the milling crowd were hurling abuse at him saying, “Ha!” Wagging their heads, “You are going to destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days.  Save yourself and come down from the cross.”  Again, in the same way which sorts out the rulers from the passing, milling crowd.  The crowd were in it.  They had been orchestrated by the leaders.  They’re easily seduced by their evil hearts of unbelief, easily seduced by the manipulation of their leaders.  They’d picked up the comedic game and they pour out the venomous sarcasm on Jesus.  They never do the right thing, this crowd.  They haven’t done the right thing all week.  Here they’re just vicious, merciless, to the merciful son of God.  It’s amazing.  It’s amazing.  This is the worst possible conduct by the people of Israel.  So the merciless crowd, then the merciless rulers – back to Luke 23:35, “And even the rulers were sneering at him.”  Of course they had orchestrated all of it, “Saying he has saved others, let him save himself if this is the Christ of God, His Chosen One.”  Then they use to Messianic terms, The Christ of God, the Anointed; the word Messiah, and His Chosen One a Messianic title taken from Daniel chapter 9 The Old Testament expressions related to the Messiah are in reference – in general reference when they use the term the Christ of God.  The specific words, “His Chosen One” comes from Daniel 9 and definitely is a Messianic title. 

The soldiers joined in the mocking, offering him sour wine (verse 36) in His moment of greatest thirst and taunting Him, saying that if He were the King of the Jews, He should save Himself (verse 37).

Of the sour wine, Henry says it was a taunting invitation to drink with them:

They mocked him (v. 36, 37); they made sport with him, and made a jest of his sufferings; and when they were drinking sharp sour wine themselves, such as was generally allotted them, they triumphantly asked him if he would pledge them, or drink with them.

MacArthur discusses the Greek word for ‘taunt’ and the sour wine:

The actual Greek word empaiz is to taunt.  Inflicting even more pain on him to his face as he hangs in agony.  And in a mock act of obeisance and service to him as if he were a king, they offer him sour wine Now there are a couple of occasions that are clearly identified when Christ was crucified in which he was offered something to drink.  The first one was when they got him to the place to be crucified, you remember they offered him a drink that had a sedative in it, that would probably be used to sedate the person a little bit so it would be easier to nail him to the cross and he wouldn’t fight And Jesus refused that, remember? 

And then when he comes to the very end of his dying, six hours later, at the very end, at 3:00 in the afternoon when he’s about to die, he says, “I’m thirsty,” and they lift up to him a drink on a sponge on the end of a stick.  This seems to me to be something different from both of those.  This seems to me to be part of the game they were playing.  This is certainly not their giving him the wine in response to his asking.  This does not appear to be the sedative because he’s already there and the mockery is already full scale.  It seems to me that they are offering him sour wine and saying at the same time, if you’re the King of the Jews, save yourself.  It’s a pretend act of obeisance, as if they were bringing royal wine to the king.  The mockery just reaches ultimate proportions.  Roman soldiers drank a cheap form of wine.  They offered it to him, mimicking the rulers, mimicking the people, spewing out the same taunts.

MacArthur looks at Matthew’s account and prophecies from the Old Testament:

According to Matthew’s account, Matthew 27:42, “He saved others, he can’t save himself.  He is the King of Israel.  Let him now come down from the cross and we’ll all believe him.  He trusts in God, let Him deliver him now if he is taking pleasure in him, for he said, “I am the son of God.”  You know, they say these things and they just have no idea what they’re saying.  Listen to this.  Psalm 22 looks at the cross of Christ.  It’s prophecy.  It starts out this way.  Here’s the beginning of 22 Psalm, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”  Does that sound familiar?  The very words of Jesus on the cross. But go down to verse seven, 22nd Psalm 7, “A reproach of men despised by the people, all who see me sneer at me.  They separate with the lip.  They wag the head.”  That’s exactly what they did.  “Saying commit yourself to the Lord.  Let Him deliver him. Let Him rescue him because he delights in him.”  All that sarcasm was predicted in the Psalm.  They fulfilled it to the letter. 

They knew about the title of the Chosen One, because Jesus had applied it to Himself during His ministry:

… you can go back to the ninth chapter of Luke and in verses 20 and 35 you will see that Jesus did take the title The Christ of God and he did take the title His Chosen One.  They knew he claimed it.

Paul said that the Jews would find Jesus to be a stumbling block and the Gentiles would find Him foolish, things that are still true today. MacArthur addresses that and dying on a tree, the ultimate curse for a Jew:

Remember, Paul says in 1 Corinthians 1 that a crucified Messiah is to a Jew a stumbling block, and of course to the gentile, foolishnessThey thought of someone hanging on a tree according to 21 Deuteronomy 23 as cursed by God and Jesus was cursed by God, and so they heap on him all the scorn of this notion that he is the true Messiah and King that they’ve been waiting for.  How could that possibly be true?  It’s absurd.  The leaders orchestrate this and egg on the mindless crowd.  Little did they know, as I said, that he was being cursed by God That was true.  Further, 53 Isaiah 4 says, “He was smitten by God and afflicted,” and verse 10 says, “The Lord was pleased to crush him, putting him to death.”  Paul looks back on that and said he was made a curse for us But it was all nonsense to the people. 

Henry says this mocking of Jesus was a moment of unity between Roman and Jew:

… they said, If thou be the king of the Jews, save thyself; for, as the Jews prosecuted him under the notion of a pretended Messiah, so the Romans under the notion of a pretended king.

There was an inscription over Jesus: ‘This is the King of the Jews’ (verse 38).

Although Luke doesn’t say so, it was written in Latin, Greek and Hebrew. Our commentators place great emphasis on it being in those three languages.

Henry says that it was part of God’s plan to spread the Gospel:

That the superscription over his head, setting forth his crime, was, This is the King of the Jews, v. 38. He is put to death for pretending to be the king of the Jews; so they meant it; but God intended it to be a declaration of what he really was, notwithstanding his present disgrace: he is the king of the Jews, the king of the church, and his cross is the way to his crown. This was written in those that were called the three learned languages, Greek, and Latin, and Hebrew, for those are best learned that have learned Christ. It was written in these three languages that it might be known and read of all men; but God designed by it to signify that the gospel of Christ should be preached to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem, and be read in all languages. The Gentile philosophy made the Greek tongue famous, the Roman laws and government made the Latin tongue so, and the Hebrew excelled them all for the sake of the Old Testament. In these three languages is Jesus Christ proclaimed king. Young scholars, that are taking pains at school to make themselves masters of these three languages, should aim at this, that in the use of them they may increase their acquaintance with Christ.

MacArthur explains why Pontius Pilate wanted the inscription to read just that:

We know historically that when people were crucified, their crime was posted and since Jesus committed no crime there could be no crime posted over him So Pilate decided what was going to go on the sign Pilate, 19 John 19, Pilate wrote an inscription and put it on the cross.  This was Pilate’s thing and this is what it said, “Jesus, the Nazarene” or Jesus of Nazareth, “The King of the Jews.”  If you combine Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, it actually says, “This is Jesus of Nazareth, The King of the Jews.”  It was all placarded there.  Well, therefore this inscription many of the Jews read for the place Jesus was crucified was near the city, again reason for the huge crowd.  It was written in Hebrew, Latin and Greek.  Pilate wanted everybody to know it and so the chief priests and the Jews were saying to Pilate, “Do not write the King of the Jews, but that he said, “I am King of the Jews.”  Pilate answered, “What I have written I have written.”  Pilate wouldn’t change it because this is Pilate’s way to mock them.  They had mocked him.  They had backed him into the proverbial corner and blackmailed him into a executing a man he knew was innocent.  Even his wife said wash your hands of this innocent man.  Pilate said multiple times, “I find no fault in him.”  Herod found no crime.  And Pilate had been made to look like a fool and he wasn’t going to leave it at that, so he wanted to turn the tables and make them look like fools.  It was Pilate’s little joke.  This is Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.  They said take that down and put up he said he’s the King of the Jews and he said what I have written I have written.  So you have the people mocking Jesus and Pilate mocking the people.

Then we meet the last group, the two criminals on crosses next to Jesus.

One of them also joined in the mocking, saying Jesus that, if He were the Messiah, He should save Himself — and them (verse 39).

MacArthur tells us that in Matthew’s and Mark’s accounts, both thieves had been mocking our Lord:

One of the thieves, only one is quoted by Luke, but Matthew and Mark tell us the rest of the story.  Here’s what Matthew says, 27 Matthew 44, “The robbers were also insulting him with the same words,” both of them; plural.  15 Mark 32, “Those who were crucified with him were also insulting him.”  They both joined in; the whole crowd, all the rulers, all the soldiers, both thieves.  All Luke does is record for us what one of the two said, but they were both involved.  “Are you not the Christ?” again with scorn and sarcasm, “Save yourself and us.” 

The silent thief rebuked the other, asking him if he did not fear God, for both were under the same sentence of condemnation (verse 40).

The penitent thief told his companion that both of them were justly condemned but that ‘this man’ — Jesus — had done nothing wrong (verse 41).

Henry points to divine grace in the spiritual transformation of the penitent thief:

2. He owns that he deserves what was done to him: We indeed justly. It is probable that they both suffered for one and the same crime, and therefore he spoke with the more assurance, We received the due reward of our deeds. This magnifies divine grace, as acting in a distinguishing way. These two have been comrades in sin and suffering, and yet one is saved and the other perishes; two that had gone together all along hitherto, and yet now one taken and the other left. He does not say, Thou indeed justly, but We. Note, True penitents acknowledge the justice of God in all the punishments of their sin. God has done right, but we have done wickedly. 3. He believes Christ to have suffered wrongfully. Though he was condemned in two courts, and run upon as if he had been the worst of malefactors, yet this penitent thief is convinced, by his conduct in his sufferings, that he has done nothing amiss, ouden atoponnothing absurd, or unbecoming his character. The chief priests would have him crucified between the malefactors, as one of them; but this thief has more sense than they, and owns he is not one of them. Whether he had before heard of Christ and of his wonderous works does not appear, but the Spirit of grace enlightened him with this knowledge, and enabled him to say, This man has done nothing amiss.

MacArthur describes what happened to the penitent thief physically and spiritually:

As the hours passed on the cross, one of the two most thoroughly degenerate people on the mountain, at the scene, a man devoted to violent robbery, a wicked criminal, has a massive transformation.  It is shocking; 180 degrees.  His taunting goes silent and while his body is in horrible trauma and agony, the unparalleled suffering of crucifixion, his mind might be assumed to go foggy as he tries to deal with the pain.  And as some kind of shock would set in, just to protect him from agonies that would be totally unbearable, and we know the body has the capacity to send us into shock in order to mitigate those kinds of excruciating experiences, but in the moment of the worst imaginable kind of agony, his mind becomes crystal clear with a clarity and perception of reality and truth that he’d never experienced in his life.  With a clarity and a perception of truth and reality that he hadn’t experienced a moment before.  Something has happened.  All of a sudden, he turns to his friend and rebukes him for doing what he had just been doing.  What has happened?

I’ll tell you what has happened.  A divine, sovereign miracle has happened.  There is no other explanation.  You want a parallel to this?  Paul on the Damascus Road.  That’s the best parallel.  His thoughts of Jesus are thoughts of hate.  His thoughts toward those who confess the name of Jesus are thoughts of persecution and execution.  Paul has papers.  He’s on his way to Damascus to persecute and execute those who named the name of Christ.  And while he’s on his way with his papers in his hand, God invades his life, slams him to the dirt, blinds him and saves him That’s how salvation works, folks.  It is a sovereign miracle.  Not always that dramatic, but sometimes that dramatic

The penitent thief is a form of the Prodigal Son:

If you want to connect this with somebody else, this man would be the prodigal This is a wicked man, but all of a sudden in the moment he is dramatically transformed and it becomes immediately evident what has happened.  He goes from blaspheming Jesus to being horrified at the other criminal blaspheming Jesus.  His whole perception of how you treat Jesus is completely changed and that’s where the story begins The other criminal has had no such change, hanging there hurling abuse at Jesus with the same mocking sarcasm, “Are you not the Christ?  Save yourself and us.”  It must have shocked him to hear from the other side of Jesus, his friend, verse 40, who answered and rebuking him said, “Do you not even fear God since you’re under the same sentence of condemnation?  And we, indeed, justly for we’re receiving what we deserve for our deeds.  But this man has done nothing wrong.”  This must have been a shock to the other thief who was hurling the abuse.  What happened to you?  What happened to you since you were nailed up there?  The transformed man finds the taunts coming out of the mouth of his companion criminal repulsive to him and frightening to him and they had just come out of his mouth.  What this man says is the evidence of his changed heart. Salvation is a divine miracle and it manifests itself There’s a lot more here than you might think. 

First of all, he becomes very, very aware of God and the fear of God Then he openly acknowledges his own sin Then he confesses the sinlessness of Christ and affirms his messiah-ship and his savior-hood It’s an amazing thing.  And all of these are responses to the miraculous sovereign work of the spirit of God on his dark heart.  This is the light of the glorious gospel of Christ shining in the midst of the darkness and dispelling it.  I want to sort of unpack those elements that are the manifest evidences that God has done the work of transformation.  The other sinner, no fear of God, no fear of judgment, no sense of sinfulness, no sense of justice, no sense of guilt, no desire for forgiveness, no longing for righteousness, no desire for reconciliation.  And the thief who has been transformed confronts that tragic condition, which moments before had been his own condition.  He can’t understand it any more.  In a moment of time he went from being a part of it to not being able to comprehend it.  How can you act like that?  How can you talk like that?  Don’t you fear God?  Don’t you know you’re getting what you deserve?  Don’t you know this man is righteous?  What a transformation.  Let’s look a little more closely at it.

While the one criminal is hurling abuse at Jesus, the other answered and rebuking him said – rebuking is a very strong word Epitima He said, “Do you not even fear God?”  Let me tell you the first evidence that God is doing the work of conversion:  the fear of God.  The fear of God.  If someone is converted to Christ, if someone is regenerate and someone is born again, made new, Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5:17 he becomes a new creature, old things pass away and all things become new.  Boy, do we see that here.  And the first thing you see in a real conversion is a heightened awareness that God is a threat.  To be afraid of God, literally to fear God.  He really is not seeking someone to get him off the cross.  He’s not trying to find someone who can save him from physical death.  He wants to make sure he is saved from divine judgment.  His problem is not really what’s happening to him on the earth, it’s what’s going to happen to him when he comes to the throne of God.  He’s a Jew, no doubt, raised to know the laws of God, to understand God – God’s holiness, God’s law, obedience to God’s law.  He is a violator of God’s law.  He is an open violator of God’s law.  He is a known violator of God’s law.  He is a tried and proven violator of God’s law and he’s dying a death that is just and he says it.  And the law of men was a reflection of the law of God, certainly in Israel, and so he knows that if this is what men to do him for breaking the law of God, what in the world is God going to do to me?  All of a sudden he has clarity on what he had learned about the law and guilt and sin and judgment.  He knew he was a violator.  He was internally convicted by the work of the Holy Spirit, to be aware that what he was getting from a human judge was only a small sampling of what he was going to get from a divine judge.  And to add to his guilt, which put him on the cross, you can add that he had been blaspheming the Messiah and he now knows it, producing an even greater guilt From this place of clarity he can’t even imagine that he did that, that he said what he said to Jesus and he can’t understand how his friend can say that.  He says in verse 40, “Do you not even fear God since you’re under the same sentence of condemnation?”  They’re two of a kind.  Look, we’re getting exactly what we deserve.  Don’t you have a fear of what’s going to happen when we wind up before God?  As Jesus said in Luke 12:4-5, “I don’t fear those who destroy the body, but fear him who destroys both soul and body in hell.”  I will tell you this, and you need to remember this, Romans 3:18 says this when it defines the inherent nature of fallen man and his sinfulness, “there’s none righteous, no not one, there’s none that understand, none that is good,” etc.  That text from verse 10 of Romans 3 to verse 18, ends in verse 18 with this statement:  “There is no fear of God in their eyes.”  It is characteristic of the unregenerate not to fear God.  This is a typical unregenerate comment, “I’ve lived a pretty good life.  Certainly God will take me to heaven.”  Like the Jews in Romans 10 who didn’t understand the righteousness of God.  The sinner does not live under the fear of God.  He must be brought under the fear of God by the convicting power of God.  This thief who is still hurling abuse at Jesus has no fear of God like all other sinners.  But the sinner who comes to salvation has been brought by the power of the Spirit of God to a deadly fear of divine judgment And friends, as we communicate the gospel with sinners, you can’t hold back that reality.  The gospel is not telling sinners that Jesus will make them happy or Jesus will give them a better life or Jesus will fix up the pain and bring fulfillment and all of that.  The message of salvation is you are a violator of God’s law and you are headed for eternal punishment under the wrath of God. You’d better fear God.  That’s the message.  And when you see a real conversion, you see this and it’s reminiscent, isn’t it, of Luke 18.  What is the public doing as he pours his head down and looks at the ground and pounds his breast saying, “Lord, be” – what – “merciful to me, a sinner.”  Don’t give me justice.  Don’t give me judgment … 

… All of a sudden, he had crystal clarity in his mind on the fact that he was going to stand before God as a sinner with nothing that could rescue him.  That’s the first evidence of a work of salvation in the heart.  The second one is a sense of one’s sinfulness.  They go together.  The fear of God coupled with a sense of one’s guilt.  Verse 41, we indeed, justly, we’re receiving what we deserve for our deeds.  He says I’m a lawbreaker.  I know that.  It’s a true assessment of his condition.  Like the prodigal, who in getting down with the pigs and trying to eat and be on the brink of death, he says – and Jesus told the story in Luke 15 – he came to his senses That’s where true repentance begins, when you come to your senses.  He’s guilty, he’s aware of his sinfulness, he’s in a sense saying I am a sinner.  I know I am a sinner.  I am receiving what I deserve for my deeds.  This is the attitude of a true repenter.  He understands that if justice is operating in his life, then he is going to get exactly what he’s getting.  No excuses.  He’s not saying I was led astray and there were evil influences in my life.  I was molested when I was four or whatever it might be.  He’s saying look, we’re receiving exactly what we deserve for our deeds.  Justice is operating and it will operate not only in the human world, in the world of men, but it will operate in God’s realm as well.  Spiritual reality makes clear that in spite of the system of Judaism teaching salvation by works, salvation by self effort, salvation by ceremony, etc., the true convert pleads nothing but confesses his utter guilt and absolute bankruptcy.  He has nothing to offer God; nothing to commend himself.  Like the prodigal he comes back stinking and dying.  He needs mercy, he needs grace and he knows it He’s an unworthy sinner.  These are the evidences of a saving work of God He needs mercy and it’s never been this clear.  By the way, sin never becomes as clear to the sinner as when he’s in the presence of righteousness.  Like Isaiah, who in the presence of God, who was holy, holy, holy, said, “damn me, for I am a man of unclean lips.”  He had a clear perception of the judgment of God which he was deserving and a clear perception of his great guilt. 

There’s a third element that becomes in evidence for us of the work of God in his heart and that is that he believed in Christ.  He believed in Christ.  We talk about two things that make up a real conversion repentance under the fear of divine wrath and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, and we see that.  The things that he says about Christ, though brief, are really quite stunning.  The end of verse 41 he does what the sinner must do.  He compares himself with the perfection of Christ.  “We’re getting exactly what we deserve for our deeds.  But this man has done nothing wrong.”  Here the story moves from an assessment of his own condition to an assessment of Jesus Christ That’s what happens in a true conversion.  And he goes beyond saying Jesus isn’t guilty of the crime for which he’s being crucified to saying something far broader than that.  He has done nothing wrong.  I don’t know how much he knew about all the attempts to try and find a crime for which they could legitimately crucify Christ and they never could find one.  I don’t know what exposure he had to Christ.  I don’t know what he heard other people say about the perfections of Jesus Christ, but our Lord had been on display for three years with all of his perfections and no one had ever been able to lay any legitimate charge against him.  He is given, by the power of the Spirit of God, clarity to understand that he is hanging on a cross as a sinner who is getting what he deserves next to someone who is righteous and is getting what he doesn’t deserve.  He believes, then, in the righteousness of Christ. 

The repentant thief asks Jesus — by name — to remember him when He comes into his kingdom (verse 42).

It’s a highly humble request.

Henry also says the request showed that the man believed in the righteousness of Christ:

1. Observe his faith in this prayerChrist was now in the depth of disgrace, deserted by his own disciples, reviled by his own nation, suffering as a pretender, and not delivered by his Father He made this profession before those prodigies happened which put honour upon his sufferings, and which startled the centurion; yet verily we have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel. He believed another life after this, and desired to be happy in that life, not as the other thief, to be saved from the cross, but to be well provided for when the cross had done its worst. 2. Observe his humility in this prayer. All his request is, Lord, remember me. He does not pray, Lord, prefer me (as they did, Matt 20 21), though, having the honour as none of the disciples had to drink of Christ’s cup and to be baptized with his baptism either on his right hand or on his left in his sufferings when his own disciples had deserted him he might have had some colour to ask as they did to sit on his right hand and on his left in his kingdom. Acquaintance in sufferings has sometimes gained such a point, Jer 52 31, 32. But he is far from the thought of it. All he begs is, Lord, remember me, referring himself to Christ in what way to remember him. It is a request like that of Joseph to the chief butler, Think on me (Gen 40 14), and it sped better; the chief butler forgot Joseph, but Christ remembered this thief. 3. There is an air of importunity and fervency in this prayer. He does, as it were, breathe out his soul in it: Lord, remember me, and I have enough; I desire no more; into thy hands I commit my case.” Note, To be remembered by Christ, now that he is in his kingdom, is what we should earnestly desire and pray for, and it will be enough to secure our welfare living and dying. Christ is in his kingdom, interceding. “Lord, remember me, and intercede for me.” He is there ruling. “Lord, remember me, and rule in me by thy Spirit.” He is there preparing places for those that are his. “Lord, remember me, and prepare a place for me; remember me at death, remember me in the resurrection. See Job 14 13.

MacArthur looks at the thief’s calling Jesus by name:

“Jesus, yeshua.”  What does that mean?  Jehovah saves.  “We shall call him Jesus for he will save his people from their sins,” Matthew 1:21.  Yeshua.  He recognizes Jesus as righteous.  He recognizes Jesus as a source of forgiveness and grace and mercy.  He recognizes that Jesus is so merciful and gracious that he’s not even holding the sin of these people against them, but rather desirous of their forgiveness.  And he sees, I think, all of this with clarity given only by the spirit of God who drew, perhaps out of his background, perhaps out of conversations – who knows where it came from – to focus the clarity because he had to know the truth about Christ.  Then when he says, “Jesus,” there’s a lot in that word.  He recognizes Jesus as the Savior.  How do you know that?  Why would he then ask him to remember him when he comes into his kingdom unless he thought he was the one who could save him?  He doesn’t say to him, “Dear sir, could you find somebody that could save me.”  He doesn’t say, “Could you connect with whoever’s in charge of saving people like me?”  He says, “Jesus.  Yeshua.”  Save me.  Remember.  More than a thought.  We think about remember, it’s a hazy, foggy kind of thing.  That’s not what he’s talking about.  Much, much more than that.  It’s a plea of a broken penitent, an unworthy sinner, for grace and forgiveness.  And what he’s really saying is save me from the judgment of God.  Save me from what I deserve.  Forgive me.  You’ve prayed it.  Can I be one of those that’s in answer to your prayer? 

And then I love this.  Boy, he’s got a pretty comprehensive Christology because he says, “Remember me when you come in your kingdom.”  He’s got the Old Testament eschatology.  What did the Old Testament teach?  That the Messiah would come in the end of the age, gloriously, and establish a kingdom, right, fulfilling all the promises to Abraham, all the promises to David and fulfilling all the reiterated promises of the Old Testament that are rehearsed again and again by the prophets, including the new covenant salvation to Israel, and that there would be a kingdom established on earth that’s defined and described in great detail in the Old Testament …  Nobody survived crucifixion, so he also believed that Jesus would die and what, rise again and bring his kingdom.  That’s pretty good Christology.  That’s exactly what he was saying.  Remember me when you come in your kingdom.  He is saying this isn’t the end of you. Like the Centurion, remember, who says surely this is the son of God He’s convinced.

Jesus replied, beginning with ‘Truly I tell you’ — meaning emphatically and sincerely — that the repentant thief would be that day, with Him, in Paradise (verse 43).

Paradise was the third of the heavens referred to in that era. It meant the highest heaven.

MacArthur discusses our Lord’s reply and promise:

Did he have a right to be with Christ?  Are you kidding me?  With me?  Today.  What had he done to earn it?  Nothing.  He’d be dead before he could do anything.  This is grace, isn’t it?  This is the father kissing the son.  This is full reconciliation; instantaneous.  Today.  Paradise, paradeisos, an old Persian word for garden.  It’s a synonym for heaven.  In 2 Corinthians 12 Paul says in verse two, “I was called up to the third heaven.”  And in verse four he says he was called up to paradise.  Same thing.  Third heaven, first heaven, atmospheric, second heaven, celestial, third heaven the abode of God.  That’s paradise.  Or in relation to seven, Jesus says, “To him who overcomes I will grant the tree of life which is in the paradise of God.”  If you turn to Revelation 21 and 22, the tree of life is in heaven.  So he’s not saying anything but you’re going to be with me in heaven today.  There’s no waiting place.  There’s no transitional place.  Absent from the body, present with the Lord, to depart and be with Christ.  If that is not the great illustration of grace I don’t know what is.  This is a man whose whole life qualified him for hell.  And in one moment a sovereign God swept down, gave him complete clarity on himself and on Christ and by the power of the Holy Spirit rescued him from divine judgment and that same day met him in heaven and fellowshipped with him

Henry has this analysis:

1. Christ here lets us know that he was going to paradise himself, to hades—the invisible world. His human soul was removing to the place of separate souls; not to the place of the damned, but to paradise, the place of the blessed. By this he assures us that his satisfaction was accepted, and the Father was well pleased in him, else he had not gone to paradise; that was the beginning of the joy set before him, with the prospect of which he comforted himself. He went by the cross to the crown, and we must not think of going any other way, or of being perfected but by sufferings. 2. He lets all penitent believers know that when they die they shall go to be with him there. He was now, as a priest, purchasing this happiness for them, and is ready, as a king, to confer it upon them when they are prepared and made ready for it. See here how the happiness of heaven is set forth to us. (1.) It is paradise, a garden of pleasure, the paradise of God (Rev 2 7), alluding to the garden of Eden, in which our first parents were placed when they were innocent. In the second Adam we are restored to all we lost in the first Adam, and more, to a heavenly paradise instead of an earthly one. (2.) It is being with Christ there. That is the happiness of heaven, to see Christ, and sit with him, and share in his glory, John 17 24. (3.) It is immediate upon death: This day shalt thou be with me, to-night, before to-morrow. Thou souls of the faithful, after they are delivered from the burden of the flesh, immediately are in joy and felicity; the spirits of just men are immediately made perfect. Lazarus departs, and is immediately comforted; Paul departs, and is immediately with Christ, Phil 1 23.

What an amazing illustration of forgiveness, divine grace and salvation.

MacArthur has an interesting observation on the Jews’ misunderstanding of Passover during that era. This ties in with the Crucifixion:

There’s another irony, that the Jews want him dead so they can get on with the celebration of the Passover that points to his death.  The Jews want to get on with the slaying of the lambs that can never take away sin while rejecting the one, true lamb of God how alone can take away the sin of the world While they are busy killing the lambs who had no power, God was by their hands, killing the lamb to whom all salvation power belongs.  The Jews looked at Passover as God rescuing them from Pharaoh.  That really wasn’t what the Passover was.  They looked at the Passover as God rescuing them from the power of Pharaoh in Egypt.  It was really far more than that.  While there was a deliverance from Egypt, there was a far greater deliverance in the Passover.  Do you remember what the Passover was?  The word came from God that he was going to come in sweeping judgment on both Egyptians and Jews, and the only people who would be protected from that judgment would be those who put the blood of the lamb on the door post and the lintel.  Otherwise, the judgment of God would hit that house and take the life of the first born.  And God did not discriminate between the Jews and the Egyptians.  He would take the life of any first born.  He would bring wrath and judgment on any household that was not covered by the blood of the Passover lamb.  The night of the Passover, then, was not truly a deliverance from the power of the Pharaoh and the wrath of Pharaoh, it was a deliverance from the wrath of God.  Somehow they had skewed that thinking that they were delivered from the wrath and power of Pharaoh.  They celebrated that part of it and they forgot that the real Passover was a deliverance from the wrath of God And all sinners are always deserving of wrath unless they’re covered by the blood, and the blood of bulls and goats can’t take away sin and can’t really cover the sinner.  So they had no idea what as going on at their cross of Calvary when the true Passover lamb was dying so that his blood might become the protection of all who believe in him.

So in not saving himself, Jesus was able to save others, exactly opposite their assumption that he couldn’t save anybody because he couldn’t even save himself.  How twisted their perception.  How wrong.  And the whole scene was feeding this twisted perception.  There was no clarity anywhere.  The leaders didn’t have clarity.  The people didn’t have clarity.  The Romans didn’t have clarity.  The high priests didn’t have clarity.  The chief priests didn’t have it.  Nobody had it.  Everybody had a twisted and perverted understanding of what was happening and in the midst of all of this, one man gets clarity.  In spite of everything that’s going on around him in which he’s been a participant, the light dawns.  Life comes out of death.  Knowledge comes out of ignorance.  Light dispels the darkness.  And that’s the story of this man that we call the penitent thief.  It’s a personal story. It’s a very personal story.  It’s about one man.  It’s a personal story of salvation, but it’s also the pattern of the story of all people’s salvation  

MacArthur sums up these verses as follows for what to remember about the Crucifixion and what happened at the first Pentecost:

Without argument what is being spewed out of these evil hearts and evil mouths right at the son of God is the supreme blasphemy, the ultimate desecration of holiness, the lowest sin every committed, wickedness at its lowest, and it is deserving of divine cursing, divine threatening, divine vengeance, divine judgment, divine damnation.  This is injustice without parallel, transgression without equal.  This is heresy above heresy, irreverence above irreverence, profanity above profanity, sacrilege beyond comprehension.  We would expect Jesus to pour out furious denunciations on all of them, to judge them, to make them pay for their outrageous, extreme iniquity immediately on the spot, but he doesn’t.

Contrary to that he says, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they’re doing.”  He asks God to provide forgiveness for them.  Now Jesus spoke seven things from the cross He spoke to one of the thieves and said, “Today you’ll be with me in paradise.”  Then he spoke to his mother and John and said, “Behold your mother, behold your son,” and gave the care of his mother to the apostle John who were standing far, far away.  And then for three hours the whole earth was dark and he spoke not at all.  And after the darkness he spoke to God and he said, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”  And then he spoke to the soldiers and said, “I’m thirsty,” and they gave him the sponge And then he spoke to himself and said, “It is finished.”  And then he spoke to God and said, “It’s at thy hands I commit my spirit.”  But the first thing he said, before any of those was, “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.”  His first words were words seeking divine forgiveness for the world’s most wretched sinners Certainly this is Jesus, the Father, running to embrace the stinking prodigal, isn’t it?  This is not surprising.  Jesus even said that the more someone is forgiven the more they love, so he set himself up to forgive great sinners so that he might experience from them great love. 

Peter says that when he was reviled he was reviled not again and that when he was being abused he did not cry out for vengeance, 1 Peter 2:23 and 24 Stephen picked up on this and when Stephen saw life was being crushed out by the bloody stones, Stephen, following his Lord said, “Lord, lay not this sin to their charge.”  This is a general prayer.  To understand what he meant by this, it is a general prayer for all the world to know that there’s no sin against the son of God that is so severe it cannot be forgiven if one will repent That’s the message.  If there is forgiveness for these people, there is forgiveness for anyone.  You can’t get beyond this.  But it’s more than just a general prayer, it’s a specific prayer.  When he said, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they’re doing,” he knew who the “them” were because on the day of Pentecost, 3,000 Jews in Jerusalem were converted to Christ and baptized and the church was begun Within a few weeks another 5,000 men and more and more and it moves into tens of thousands of people in Jerusalem who embrace the faith of Jesus Christ, and there must have been many of those who came to Christ in those weeks after the resurrection who were there in that crowd, so that it is a general prayer telling the whole world that the sinner who repents and comes to Christ can be forgiven of the worst crime ever committed.  But it is also a specific prayer that God knows in His mind from before the foundation of the world, who in that crowd He will truly forgive A church was born out of these people who stood at the foot of Calvary and mocked the son of God.  They became the first church.  Not only that, there was a soldier among the soldiers.  One of them came to salvation.  23 Luke 47 when the Centurion saw what had happened, he began praising God saying, “Certainly this man was innocent.”  And Matthew says he said something besides that, he said, “This was the son of God.”  And by the way, don’t think it was just that Centurion Listen to 27 Matthew 54, “Now the Centurion and those who were with him keeping guard over Jesus said, “Truly, this was the son of God.”  The prayer was answered on the spot.  Some in the crowd formed the first church.  Some among the soldiers affirmed the deity of Jesus Christ, and a Roman Centurion praising the true God of Israel and affirming the reality of His son and others with him?  By the way, some of the leaders also were saying it.  In 6 Acts 7, “The word of God kept on spreading.  The number of the disciples continued to increase greatly in Jerusalem.”  Listen to this:  “And a great many of the priests were becoming obedient to the faith.”  And by the way, there was one of the two thieves who said, “Remember me when you come into your kingdom,” and to him Jesus said today, “I’ll meet you in paradise.”

In one sense it’s a general prayer that throws open the forgiveness of God for all who have rejected Christ no matter how great the crimes committed against him, but on another level this is a very specific prayer that was immediately answered among the crowd, among the soldiers, among the thieves and even among the priests.  The great irony of Calvary is that while all this scorn was being heaped on Christ, he was bearing the curse of God far worse than anything they could put on him You think it’s bad to be cursed by men, he was being cursed by God.  But in taking both the curses from men and the curse from God, he provided the very atonement which makes the forgiveness he prayed for possible

Christ the King: truly He is, now and forever.

This is the last Sunday in the 2021-2022 Church year. Next Sunday, a new Church year begins with the season of Advent, and a new set of Lectionary readings from Year A.

May everyone reading this have a blessed Sunday.

Bible GenevaThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version Anglicised (ESVUK) with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Colossians 4:15-18

15 Give my greetings to the brothers[a] at Laodicea, and to Nympha and the church in her house. 16 And when this letter has been read among you, have it also read in the church of the Laodiceans; and see that you also read the letter from Laodicea. 17 And say to Archippus, “See that you fulfil the ministry that you have received in the Lord.”

18 I, Paul, write this greeting with my own hand. Remember my chains. Grace be with you.

————————————————————————————————————

Last week’s post discussed Epaphras and Demas, two of Paul’s Gentile companions in Rome who sent their greetings to the Colossians.

This week’s ends my study of Paul’s letter to the Christians at Colossae.

The city was near Laodicea, the city of one of the churches mentioned in Revelation 3, which by the late AD 90s, had become the ‘lukewarm’ church. Holman Hunt’s famous Light of the World was inspired by Revelation 3:20 (image creditWikipedia):

Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.

The door has no handle and can be opened only from the inside. The idea is that Christ wants the Laodiceans to open their door fully to Him.

However, when Paul wrote his letter in AD 62, their faith might have been stronger, since Paul sends his greetings to the congregation and to Nympha, a woman who hosted their worship in her house (verse 15). In some translations, the name is Nymphas, implying a man.

Laodicea was a wealthy city, known for its local wool trade and banking. It was also thought to have had a medical school.

A Church council was held there in the middle of the 4th century. Today, the city remains a titular see of the Catholic Church.

Paul instructs the Colossians to share their letter with the Laodiceans and to read the letter he sent to them separately (verse 16).

Matthew Henry’s commentary states (emphases mine):

If so, that epistle is now lost, and did not belong to the canon; for all the epistles which the apostles ever wrote were not preserved, any more than the words and actions of our blessed Lord. There are many other things which Jesus did, which if they should be written every one, I suppose the world itself could not contain the books which would be written, John 21 25. But some think it was the epistle to the Ephesians, which is still extant.

John MacArthur is one of those scholars who believes the letter to Laodicea is the letter to the Ephesians:

… here’s another indication that when these letters were written, they weren’t ever intended for one congregation; they became circular letters. They went all through the church.

You say, “What is the epistle from Laodicea?” I’ll tell you what I believe it is: it’s the book of Ephesians. It’s highly likely that the book of Ephesians was delivered to Laodicea by Tychicus, and the book of Colossians was delivered to Colossae, and then they switched. The book of Ephesians was a circular letter and passed around, very likely. He’s saying, “Swap letters; I want you to get all the information.” And you know what they would do when they got a letter? They would copy it so they would have an abiding copy, and then they would send it on.

Paul adds a special message to a man named Archippus, telling the congregation to exhort him to fulfil the ministry that he has received in the Lord (verse 17).

MacArthur interprets the verse for us:

I think Paul has just put a whole pile of illustrations right on the back of the neck of Archippus, and said, “Say, by the way, Archippus, take heed to the ministry which you have received in the Lord, and fulfill it. Tychicus has, Onesimus has, Aristarchus has, Mark has, Jesus Justus has, Epaphras has, Luke has. I’d like you to.

Henry says that it is a grave mistake to neglect one’s ministry, whatever that might be:

Observe, (1.) The ministry we have received is a great honour; for it is received in the Lord, and is by his appointment and command. (2.) Those who have received it must fulfil it, or do the full duty of it. Those betray their trust, and will have a sad account at last, who do this work of the Lord negligently. (3.) The people may put their ministers in mind of their duty, and excite them to it: Say to Archippus, Take heed to the ministry, though no doubt with decency and respect, not from pride and conceit.

Paul closes, saying that he has written that portion, his greeting, with his own hand, asking them to remember his chains. He ends by praying that divine grace be with them (verse 18).

Henry points out that Paul does not ask for anything material, only that they think about his ministry in prison in Rome:

Concerning himself (v. 18): The salutation of me Paul. Remember my bonds. He had a scribe to write all the rest of the epistle, but these words he wrote with his own hand: Remember my bonds. He does not say, “Remember I am a prisoner, and send me supply;” but, “Remember I am in bonds as the apostle of the Gentiles, and let this confirm your faith in the gospel of Christ:” it adds weight to this exhortation: I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy, Eph 4 1.

From that, it would make sense that the letter they are to read is Ephesians.

The full text of Ephesians 4:1 is:

I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called

MacArthur has a further thought:

He dictated the letters, and somebody else wrote them; but he signed them so they would be known to be authentic. “Remember my bonds. Don’t forget me; I’m in jail still. Just because things are successful doesn’t mean it isn’t hard. You pray. Grace with you. Amen.”

What does it say to you tonight? It says to me this: “MacArthur, you’ve just seen a portrait of some people who made the ministry possible. Are you doing your part? You’re Archippus. You’ve just seen all the examples. Now fulfill your part, that the kingdom may be advanced.I hope it says that to you.

It is unclear what ultimately happened to the church at Colossae.

However, GotQuestions says that it survived for a few centuries:

The church of Colossae continued for several centuries in one form or another. How long it continued, and what significance it maintained, is a debated topic. Theodoret, a Christian theologian in the fifth century, claimed that Philemon’s house remained at Colossae and could still be viewed (Colossae in Space and Time: Linking to an Ancient City, Cadwallader, A., and Trainor, M., ed., Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2011, p. 303). Epiphanius, the bishop of Colossae, was recorded present at the Council of Chalcedon, while Kosmas, a later bishop, apparently participated in the Quinisext Council.

Whatever happened:

While some historical questions remain, the reality and vibrancy of the early church in Colossae are certain. The believers’ faith and love were founded upon the “hope stored up for [them] in heaven” and “the true message of the gospel” (Colossians 1:5). By the grace of God, we have this same hope today, and, like the faithful Colossians millennia ago, it should motivate us to love Him and love others more every day.

My next study will be that of the two letters Paul wrote to the Thessalonians, who were full of faith and love despite being persecuted.

Next time — 1 Thessalonians 2:14-16

The Twenty-second Sunday after Trinity is on November 13, 2022.

Readings for Year C can be found here.

The Gospel reading is as follows (emphases mine):

Luke 21:5-19

21:5 When some were speaking about the temple, how it was adorned with beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God, he said,

21:6 “As for these things that you see, the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down.”

21:7 They asked him, “Teacher, when will this be, and what will be the sign that this is about to take place?”

21:8 And he said, “Beware that you are not led astray; for many will come in my name and say, ‘I am he!’ and, ‘The time is near!’ Do not go after them.

21:9 “When you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified; for these things must take place first, but the end will not follow immediately.”

21:10 Then he said to them, “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom;

21:11 there will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and plagues; and there will be dreadful portents and great signs from heaven.

21:12 “But before all this occurs, they will arrest you and persecute you; they will hand you over to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors because of my name.

21:13 This will give you an opportunity to testify.

21:14 So make up your minds not to prepare your defense in advance;

21:15 for I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict.

21:16 You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, by relatives and friends; and they will put some of you to death.

21:17 You will be hated by all because of my name.

21:18 But not a hair of your head will perish.

21:19 By your endurance you will gain your souls.

Commentary comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur (specified below).

We are approaching the end of our Lord’s ministry, as He delivered this discourse during what we commemorate as Holy Week, or Passion Week.

John MacArthur says:

This is our Lord’s own sermon on His Second Coming. And it comes at a very, very appropriate time because from the human viewpoint, it looks as if His coming has been a total disaster and abysmal failure, a massive disappointment. It is, when we come to verse 5, still Wednesday, Wednesday of what is known as Passion Week, the week in which our Lord is crucified. On Thursday the betrayal will take place. And on Friday He will be crucified by the Romans. It is Wednesday. It is only going to get worse, a lot worse from the human viewpoint. In fact, from the human viewpoint, His life is worse than a failure, it is a disaster. And so it is on the brink of what appears, from a human viewpoint, to be a tragic end that our Lord gives to us the real story of the end bound up in His return to earth in the future.

Some of our Lord’s disciples were admiring the beauty and magnificence of the temple and the gifts therein dedicated to God (verse 5).

The Jews considered the temple to be God’s house, wrapped up with prayer and worship.

However, Jesus replied that the day would come when not one stone of the temple would lay on top of another; all would be thrown down (verse 6).

The disciples must have found His response shocking, especially as they viewed Him as the Messiah and expected a magnificent kingdom on earth.

They asked Him when this would take place and by what sign (verse 7), so that they would know what to expect.

MacArthur says:

The word in the Greek is parousia. It means presence…presence.  And it really was used of a king who had arrived and would continue to dwell among his people.  So what they’re really asking is this, “Now that You are here, what are we looking for that will inaugurate the work that You’ve come to do?”  They don’t see Him there and going away and coming back several thousand years later.  They see His parousia, His presence, and they want to know: You’re here, what sign are we looking for that’s going to inaugurate all our messianic expectations?  That’s their question and it comes in response to His statement about the tearing down of the temple in verse 6, that not one stone will be left upon another that will not be torn down.

They were still hopeful about an earthly kingdom, but Jesus was saddened by what had happened in the days beforehand:

this is Wednesday, all day long He has been in the temple which He had cleansed the day before, throwing out the buyers and the sellers, the corrupt money changers and those who were extorting money at exorbitant prices out of people by disqualifying the sacrifices they brought and making them buy sacrifices from them. Jesus had done that at the beginning of His ministry and He had to do it again. There was no question in the minds of His followers that the system was corrupt. They knew it was corrupt because they had grown up in it. They knew it was corrupt because they had been saved out of it. Of course, His disciples, for the most part, affirmed Him as Messiah. They had come to believe in Him as Messiah. They had been taught by Him and He had taught them plenty about the corruption of the Jewish religious system. He had spoken very strong words about the Sadducees, Pharisees, the scribes, the religious leaders. They knew exactly how He felt. He had cleansed the temple the day before, cleansed it at the beginning of His ministry. He had just finished a prolonged speech or sermon against the leaders of Israel in which He pronounced repeated judgment and damnation curses upon their heads. And He made very clear that Jerusalem was cursed, the religious system cursed. And because its effect had reached the nation as well as the city, the whole nation would bear the curse. And, in fact, He had told them on a couple of occasions that the land and the people and the temple was desolate and was falling under the judgment of God. Now He gets very specific and says, “This judgment is going to mean the dismantling of the temple itself.”

The first four verses of Luke 21 are about the poor widow who goes to the temple to donate her last two coins. As we saw last week, the Sadducees who ran the temple got incredibly rich off of the sacrificial system. Those overseeing the donations allowed that destitute woman to give her final coins, rather than saying, ‘No, you’re fine. You keep those coins for yourself’.

MacArthur tells us:

He has preached His last message, His last warning. He’s had His last discussion, His last dialogue confrontation with the leaders. It’s over. The last thing that we know that He did in the temple was sit down because He was drained and weary. And as He sat down in the Court of the Women, He looked across opposite Him to the treasury and He watched the people putting money in and He saw the widow come by in the first four verses of chapter 21, and He watched the widow put in her last two cents to go home to die. And He hated the kind of religious system that would take the last two cents out of the hand of a defenseless, destitute widow. And that was the final scene with Jesus in the temple, so corrupt, so corrupt that those whom He accused of devouring widows’ houses are doing just that and He watches a widow give up her last two cents because that’s what that religious, legalistic system required of her if she was to buy her salvation and blessing from God. And He has had all that He can take of this system.

Furthermore, according to Matthew’s account, He wept over Jerusalem:

And so, He leaves the temple. We know this from the parallel passage in Matthew, the parallel passage in Matthew, the end of chapter 23. He closes the sermon against the false leaders with these words, verse 37, “Oh Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who were sent to her. How often I wanted to gather your children together the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings and you were unwilling. Behold, your house (that is your temple and your city and your nation all encompassed in your house) is being left to you desolate. For I say to you, from now on you shall not see Me until you say, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.'” And He implies there that there’s going to be a long time of desolation; desolation upon your house, destruction and emptiness upon your house for a long time until you acknowledge Me.

The temple was said to be the ne plus ultra of its time. Herod the Great began the immense construction project, which grew and grew with time. Herod was not in the slightest bit religious, but he wanted his name on the temple in his memory.

MacArthur describes the temple:

What a stunning place. What an amazing place, one of the wonders of the ancient world. Some writers say it was the greatest building in the world, most impressive. Before it was actually completed, it was being built and decorated for eighty-five years, about fifty years of building at the time our Lord walked out on that Wednesday. It had been started by Herod the Great in 19 and 20 B.C. It was an unbelievable building project. And the Jews were so concerned that it would be sacred that Herod actually trained priests to be masons and carpenters and craftsmen so that there would only be people who understood holy things who were actually leading the work. And it went on and on and on and on, nearly fifty years by the time Jesus walked out. Fifty years of the best that you could ever imagine. Every stone in that place was made of mezza, white brilliant stone available in the land of Israel that can be finely cut and polished so that it looks like marble. It was a staggering project.

I’ve seen models, reconstructive models of the best estimate of the Herodian temple. It’s indescribable. As to its myriad porticos, colonnades, plazas, patios, rooms, multiple level upon level upon level, all the way up to the parapet around the highest level which had to be fenced in so the people didn’t fall at one particular point on the southwest corner. It’s about a 400 foot drop to the valley below, Kidron. Massive walls, massive colonnades, porticos. It’s a staggering facility. To imagine this thing coming down is stunning

prior to this there was another temple there built by Zerubbabel after the restoration from Babylonian captivity. The Babylonians destroyed the Solomonic temple. But Zerubbabel’s temple looked more like a fort, and maybe didn’t get any higher than three stories. It lacked the glory of the Solomonic temple and so Herod came along and said, “Look, this is an inadequate temple for the God of Israel. I will build a greater one, far greater one.”

His real reason was not to honor the God of Israel. His real reason was to immortalize himself in this great building. So work began in the 18th year of his reign and went on long after his death. They took the old temple, Zerubbabel’s temple, and they flattened it to the ground right down to the bedrock. They laid massive new foundation stones, some of which are still there and visible today. Construction, as I said, went on and on and on and on. The place got larger and larger and larger and larger and could accommodate hundreds of thousands of people.

As Jesus foretold, the end of the magnificent complex came in AD 70, at the hands of the Romans:

On August 29, 70 A.D., Titus Vespasian, the great Roman general, came in after a long siege and they began burning the colonnades, the great porticos and colonnades that surrounded the outer courtyards and there were numbers of them. And then some soldier on his own against the wishes of Titus, historians tells us, took a torch and threw it into the Holy Place. And they tried to put it out but they couldn’t save it and down came the Holy Place and the Holy of Holies. The whole thing was torched. There were about 6,000 people, Josephus says, who were trying to seek refuge in the temple who were consumed in the conflagration and died and there were tens of thousands more that were massacred by the Romans throughout the city of Jerusalem. The priests, Josephus tells us, tried in a feeble way to defend their temple. They got up on the highest parapet where there were spikes driven up like this to keep the birds from perching there and they were pulling the spikes out and throwing them at the Romans in a useless effort to stop the horrible destruction.

Returning to what Jesus told the disciples, they must have wondered how exactly that destruction would take place:

So as they left, they look backed at this massive, glorious, incredible building, must have been wondering about the words of Jesus that they had already heard just a day before, that it was coming down. It was the grandest of Herod’s many massive building projects. Its eastern front, its eastern front, the side they would be seeing as they went out the east and down the little slope at the backside of the mountain, across the Kidron and up the Mount of Olives, the eastern side was completely covered in gold plating so that it looked like one massive piece of solid gold. In the morning sun, the sun would roll up over the top of the Mount of Olives. It would reflect itself in such a blaze that it would blind someone who didn’t cover his eyes just to look at the temple. And in the evening when the sun was on the other side, its golden glory was only subdued but still impressive. By all accounts, it was the most beautiful building in the world.

MacArthur says that, according to the historian Josephus, a deceiver told people to gather in the temple and they would be safe:

Some false prophet, Josephus says, had told people that if they go there they would be safe from the Romans. Six thousand people huddled for safety in the temple and were consumed by the fire.

In response to the disciples’ question as to when this would take place, Jesus gave an interesting response.

He did not say when it would take place. Instead, He told them not to be deceived — led astray — because many would falsely claim they were He and that the time was near (verse 8).

Henry explains why Jesus responded that way:

Now as to this, he gives them a needful caution (1.) “Take heed that you be not deceived; do not imagine that I shall myself come again in external glory, to take possession of the throne of kingdoms. No, you must not expect any such thing, for my kingdom is not of this world.” When they asked solicitously and eagerly, Master, when shall these things be? the first word Christ said was, Take heed that you be not deceived. Note, Those that are most inquisitive in the things of God (though it is very good to be so) are in most danger of being imposed upon, and have most need to be upon their guard. (2.) “Go you not after them. You know the Messiah is come, and you are not to look for any other; and therefore do not so much as hearken to them, nor have any thing to do with them.” If we are sure that Jesus is the Christ, and his doctrine is the gospel, of God, we must be deaf to all intimations of another Christ and another gospel.

Once again, what Jesus told the disciples came true.

MacArthur says there were many false prophets and many were executed:

Many false teachers came after Jesus had gone and claimed to be the Messiah and that the kingdom was going to begin … they were executing one a day, according to Josephus, false claimants, as insurrectionists.

Jesus told the disciples not to be terrified by wars and insurrections because those had to take place first, but the end will not follow immediately (verse 9). Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom (verse 10).

Henry says that Jesus was telling His followers that they must approach such situations with wisdom rather than fear:

… trust therefore in him, and be not afraid. Nay, when you hear of wars, when without are fightings and within are fears, yet then be not you terrified; you know the worst that any of these judgments can do to you, and therefore be not afraid of them; for,” [1.] “It is your interest to make the best of that which is, for all your fears cannot alter it: these things must first come to pass; there is no remedy; it will be your wisdom to make yourselves easy by accommodating yourselves to them.” [2.] “There is worse behind; flatter not yourselves with a fancy that you will soon see an end of these troubles, no, not so soon as you think of: the end is not by and by, not suddenly. Be not terrified, for, if you begin so quickly to be discouraged, how will you bear up under what is yet before you?

These wars did not take place just before the destruction of the temple. Jesus was talking about the future.

MacArthur explains:

There is going to be war among nations, war between kingdoms, lots of time passing. What He’s describing here is history. Don’t be mistaken, long way off. But I will come.

As you break down His message starting in verse 8, He talks about the preliminaries to His coming, the things that are going to happen before He comes. Then starting in verse 25 He talks about His actual coming and then in verse 29, talks about preparation. So it’s preliminaries, then the promise of His coming, and then the preparation.

Jesus said that there will be great earthquakes and, in various places, plagues and famine; there will also be great portents and signs from heaven (verse 11).

MacArthur says that Jesus knew these were — and are — terrifying things for mankind:

It’s easy to become terrified. If I didn’t know what Scripture says, if I didn’t know God was sovereign, if I didn’t know God was on the throne and God was ordering history, this would be a terrifying world to live in. It would be a terrifying world to raise children in. It would be terrifying to think about your grandchildren, to think about your future in this world, especially with people out there making the worst case scenario all the time for everything that possibly could go wrong. And so the Lord understands that. And we can be terrified by the way things go in this world, even in a primitive world around the time of the Lord Jesus Christ. It was a terrifying world to live in because it was marked by wars and disturbances. It was marked by terrifying things.

The dreadful portents and signs from heaven are likely to come at the very end.

MacArthur tells us:

Turn to Revelation 16, verse 17. “The seventh angel sounded.” This would be the last blast of trumpet judgments, the last bowl judgment, which is the last part of the last trumpet judgment. They’re kind of telescopic. “The seventh angel poured out his bowl on the air and a loud voice came out of the temple from the throne saying, ‘It is done.” It’s over. This is the last judgment before Christ comes. “There were flashes of lightning, sounds, peals of thunder and there was a great earthquake such as there had not been since man came to be upon the earth, so great an earthquake was it and so mighty.” John is given a vision of that last of all these great earthquakes. The great city was split into three parts, Jerusalem. The cities of the nations collapsed. “Babylon the great was remembered before God to give her the cup of the wine of her fierce wrath.” And again you have Babylon connected with the end.

How bad is this earthquake? Look at verse 20, “Every island fled away and the mountains were not found.” Huge hailstones, about 100 pounds each, came down from heaven upon men. And what is their response? “They blasphemed God because of the plague of the hail, because its plague was extremely severe.” Jesus said, “Expect great earthquakes. Expect them to escalate in a fallen, corrupted physical realm.”

And then: great signs from heaven. What should we expect in this period of history? Death at the hand of wild beasts? I’m sure that’s happened. Earthquakes? That’s happened and happening and will happen, escalating. Plagues? Yes. Famine? Yes. And even great signs from heaven. What could that be? Is it a meteor hitting the earth? That’s happened. What could it mean? …

Revelation 6 verse 12, “I looked when he broke the sixth seal and there was a great earthquake and the sun became black as sackcloth made of hair.” That’s goatskin. Black means the sun goes out. The moon becomes like blood, dark as well. In the future there will be a great earthquake and the sun will go out and the moon as well, for it’s reflected light from the sun. “The stars of the sky fell to the earth as a fig tree casts its unripe figs when shaken by a great wind and the sky was split apart like a scroll when it is rolled up. And every mountain and island were moved out of their places. And the kings of the earth and the great men and the commanders and the rich and the strong and every slave and free man hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains. They said to the mountains and rocks, ‘Fall on us.’” As long as you’re falling, fall on us “’and hide us from the presence of Him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb’ for the great day of the wrath has come and who is able to stand?”

The future, time of the tribulation, massive changes in the heavens above, massive. Look at chapter 8 and verse 3, another angel came, stood at the altar, has a golden censer. And verse 4 says, the smoke of the incense in that censer with the prayers of the saints went up before God out of the angel’s hand. The angel took the censer, filled it with the fire of the altar, threw it to the earth; a symbolic act. There followed peals of thunder, sounds, flashes of lightning and an earthquake. “And the seven angels who had the seven trumpets prepared them to sound them. And the first sounded, and there came hail and fire, mixed with blood, and were thrown to the earth. A third of the earth was burned up. A third of the trees were burned up. And all the green grass was burned up.” Fire coming from the sky.

“The second angel sounded. Something like a great mountain burning with fire” a meteor perhaps, “was thrown into the sea. A third of the sea became blood. A third of the creatures in the sea had life, died. A third of the ships were destroyed. The third angel sounded and a great star fell from heaven,” another heavenly body catapulted to the earth like a torch, “fell on a third of the rivers and the springs of waters.” The salt waters are devastated and so are the fresh waters. “The name of the star is called wormwood and a third of the waters became wormwood and many men died from the waters because they were made bitter,” or toxic. A fourth angel sounds, a third of the sun, a third of the moon, a third of the stars were smitten, a third of them might be darkened and day might not shine for a third of it and the night in the same way. You know what that means. All the tides are thrown off. Day and night is thrown off. All the crops are thrown off. Things can’t grow. Life is total chaos.

“And I looked and heard an eagle flying in mid-heaven saying with a loud voice, ‘Woe, woe, woe to those who dwell on the earth because of the remaining blasts of the trumpet of the three angels who are about to sound.’” If it’s that bad with the first four, what in the world is going to happen with the final three?

This is the future of this planet. This is the future of humanity. This is the future of the world. Deceivers will flourish and abound in the name of Christ. False Christianity will cover the globe. Deception and disaster … Disaster will come and stay and grow and escalate until the final disaster.

Then Jesus tells the disciples what will happen before this. This, I believe, is the most pertinent part, because it has happened continuously throughout our two millennia and will go on to the end of time.

Jesus said that they — those in authority — will arrest and persecute you in punishment and judgement because of His name (verse 12).

I wrote about Luke 21:10-19 several years ago for my Forbidden Bible Verses series. At that time, I was using a Lectionary reading schedule from the Episcopal Church, which, fortunately, is no longer being used.

My post tells what happened to the Apostles that Jesus had under His care during His ministry, except for Judas. All were martyred, bar John, who was exiled to Patmos. That in itself was a type of martyrdom, too, although not as physically brutal and immediate as what the others suffered. St Paul was also martyred.

Jesus told them that persecution would give them an opportunity to testify in His name (verse 13), which Sts Peter, Stephen and Paul certainly did.

Henry explains:

God will bring glory both to himself and them out of their sufferings: “It shall turn to you for a testimony, v. 13. Your being set up thus for a mark, and publicly persecuted, will make you the more taken notice of and your doctrine and miracles the more enquired into; your being brought before kings and rulers will give you an opportunity of preaching the gospel to them, who otherwise would never have come within hearing of it; your suffering such severe things, and being so hated by the worst of men, men of the most vicious lives, will be a testimony that you are good, else you would not have such bad men for your enemies; your courage, and cheerfulness, and constancy under your sufferings will be a testimony for you, that you believe what you preach, that you are supported by a divine power, and that the Spirit of God and glory rests upon you.”

Jesus told them not to plan their defence in advance (verse 14), because He would give them words and wisdom that none of their opponents could contradict (verse 15).

The same holds true for us.

MacArthur says:

Ah, what a promise. Don’t worry, don’t be fearful. Don’t wonder whether you’ll be able to say the right thing in that hour, in that moment …

Don’t worry about what you’re going to say, the Holy Spirit who dwells within you will show you what to say, and in such a way that none of your opponents will be able to resist or refute you.

You can go through the book of Acts and you can see illustrations of this, how that when they were brought before the authorities they said exactly the right thing, for which the authorities had no response. Even in my little world, I have rested on this promise. I get myself in situations where I’m under fire from people who hate the gospel, sometimes on worldwide television. And people ask me, “How do you prepare for that?” And I have always said this, “I prepare for that by simply trusting in the Holy Spirit.” I’m actually excited. It’s an adventure. I’m eager to find out what I’m going to say. And sometimes I’ll replay it and I’ll say, “Wow! That was pretty good.” But they’re never a match for the truth. They’re never a match for the truth.

Yes, on the world stage there will come relentless persecution. Don’t worry, it’s going to come. You need to know it’s going to come because that will insulate you against it. You don’t need to be surprised by this.

Christians will also come under attack from family and friends, some of whom will put their nearest and dearest to death (verse 16).

Jesus, once again, was correct.

MacArthur says that Christianity is the only religion with martyrs, tens of millions of them through the ages:

No other religion has this history.  In many places in the world today, believers continue to be persecuted.  Muslim- and Hindu-controlled countries, especially Africa and the Middle East, especially murderous toward Christians; though other nations such as communistic states are also antagonistic and during the development of communism, Christians were massacred wholesale.  1997, an article in the New York Times reports, quote: “More Christians have died this century simply for being Christians than in the first nineteen centuries after the birth of Christ.” Twentieth century, more Christians died than in the nineteen centuries before, New York Times, February 11, 1997.

In addition, an incalculable number of faithful believers have been rejected by their families, hated by their parents, hated by their siblings, by their friends, arrested, beaten, persecuted short of death, all on account of loyalty to Christ.  There’s a relatively new book called The New Persecuted, published in 2002A Roman Catholic journalist, Antonio Socci: He estimates that in the 2,000 years of church history, seventy million Christians have been martyred.  The number is likely much greater since he minimizes the number of those executed under the Roman Catholic Church.  God knows. I don’t know how many but the numbers are staggering.

He also says that of these seventy million Christians, two thirds have been killed in the last hundred years.  He claims that an average of 160 thousand Christians have been killed every year since 1990; 160 thousand a year since 1990.

Persecution, like wars, plagues, famines, earthquakes and all the rest will continue to escalate until the Second Coming:

So was our Lord right when He said you can expect this in the time between My first and My Second Coming? He was right about the wars. He was absolutely right about the earthquakes and the plagues and the famines that they would increase and escalate and become worse and worse and worse. And we see it played out just the way He said it. Don’t think for one split second that the purpose of Jesus failed at the cross. Don’t think that what He intended to do didn’t come to pass. He laid out exactly what would happen and that’s the way it is in the history of the world. And it’s going to get worse, not better. If you think persecution of believers is going to go away, you’re wrong. The church is going to continue to be persecuted because it’s going to continue to be scattered for purposes of evangelism. And it’s going to continue to have to give its testimony of triumph in the face of persecution so to demonstrate its truthfulness and validity, and persecution will continue and get worse.

Jesus said that the disciples — and other believers in the ages to come — will be hated by all because of His name (verse 17).

Henry explains the hate that unbelievers have had throughout history:

They were hated of all men, that is, of all bad men, who could not bear the light of the gospel (because it discovered their evil deeds), and therefore hated those who brought in that light, flew in their faces, and would have pulled them to pieces. The wicked world, which hated to be reformed, hated Christ the great Reformer, and all that were his, for his sake. The rulers of the Jewish church, knowing very well that if the gospel obtained among the Jews their usurped abused power was at an end, raised all their forces against it, put it into an ill name, filled people’s minds with prejudices against it, and so made the preachers and professors of it odious to the mob.

However, Jesus said that no one who is persecuted will perish, not one hair on their head (verse 18).

The martyrs might have lost their heads or tortured alive in many other horrific ways, but the Triune God knows who has suffered, and they will be saved.

Henry says:

First, “I will take cognizance of it.” To this end he had said (Matt 10 30), The hairs of your head are all numbered; and an account is kept of them, so that none of them shall perish but he will miss it. Secondly, “It shall be upon a valuable consideration. We do not reckon that lost or perishing which is laid out for good purposes, and will turn to a good account. If we drop the body itself for Christ’s name’s sake, it does not perish, but is well bestowed. Thirdly, “It shall be abundantly recompensed; when you come to balance profit and loss, you will find that nothing has perished, but, on the contrary, that you have great gain in present comforts, especially in the joys of a life eternal”; so that though we may be losers for Christ we shall not, we cannot, be losers by him in the end.

Jesus ended this part of His discourse saying that endurance will gain us our souls (verse 19).

‘Endurance’: that word of which Paul was so fond, using it several times in his letters.

Henry interprets the verse as follows:

“It is therefore your duty and interest, in the midst of your own sufferings and those of the nation, to maintain a holy sincerity and serenity of mind, which will keep you always easy (v. 19): In your patience possess ye your souls; get and keep possession of your souls.” Some read it as a promise, “You may or shall possess your souls.” It comes all to one. Note, First, It is our duty and interest at all times, especially in perilous trying times, to secure the possession of our own souls; not only that they be not destroyed and lost for ever, but that they be not distempered now, nor our possession of them disturbed and interrupted. “Possess your souls, be your own men, keep up the authority and dominion of reason, and keep under the tumults of passion, that neither grief nor fear may tyrannize over you, nor turn you out of the possession and enjoyment of yourselves.” In difficult times, when we can keep possession of nothing else, then let us make that sure which may be made sure, and keep possession of our souls. Secondly, It is by patience, Christian patience, that we keep possession of our own souls. “In suffering times, set patience upon the guard for the preserving of your souls; by it keep your souls composed and in a good frame, and keep out all those impressions which would ruffle you and put you out of temper.”

The rest of Luke 21 is about the destruction of the temple and our Lord’s Second Coming in His own words. They are two different events.

I do not believe the following passages are in the Lectionary, and they are important to understand:

Luke 21:20-24 – Jesus, destruction of Jerusalem

Luke 21:32-38 – Jesus, Second Coming, be on guard, no excesses, no drunkenness

May all who persevered in reading this post enjoy a blessed Sunday.

Bible croppedThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version Anglicised (ESVUK) with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Colossians 4:12-14

12 Epaphras, who is one of you, a servant of Christ Jesus, greets you, always struggling on your behalf in his prayers, that you may stand mature and fully assured in all the will of God. 13 For I bear him witness that he has worked hard for you and for those in Laodicea and in Hierapolis. 14 Luke the beloved physician greets you, as does Demas.

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Last week’s post discussed Paul’s mention of his only Jewish friends in ministry in Rome: Aristarchus, the Gospel writer Mark (John Mark) and Jesus Justus.

Paul continues writing about his other friends in Rome, beginning with Epaphras, one of the Colossians and a servant — doulos — of Christ Jesus, who greets them; he is praying most fervently — painfully — for the Colossians so that they stand mature and fully assured in all the will of God (verse 12).

Epaphras is sometimes confused with Epaphroditus.

Matthew Henry’s commentary states they are the same person:

Epaphras (v. 12), the same with Epaphroditus.

However, they are two different men.

Part of the confusion lies in the fact that Epaphras is a shortened form of Epahroditus.

Bible Hub has this quote from the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (emphases mine):

A contracted form of Epaphroditus. He must not, however, be confounded with the messenger of the Philippian community. He was with Paul during a part of his 1st Roman imprisonment, joining in Paul’s greetings to Philemon (Philemon 1:23). Epaphras was the missionary by whose instrumentality the Colossians had been converted to Christianity (Colossians 1:7), and probably the other churches of the Lycus had been founded by him.

Bible Hub also cites Easton’s Bible Dictionary, which says that the name Epaphras means ‘lovely’ and that he probably founded the church in Colossae:

Lovely, spoken of by Paul (Colossians 1:7; 4:12) as “his dear fellow-servant,” and “a faithful minister of Christ.” He was thus evidently with him at Rome when he wrote to the Colossians. He was a distinguished disciple, and probably the founder of the Colossian church. He is also mentioned in the Epistle to Philemon (1:23), where he is called by Paul his “fellow-prisoner.”

Some translations say that Epaphras was ‘always labouring fervently for you in prayers’ instead of ‘always struggling on your behalf in his prayers’.

Henry’s commentary describes Epaphras’s prayers, which involve throwing one’s heart and soul into them:

Always labouring fervently for you in prayers. Epaphras had learned of Paul to be much in prayer for his friends. Observe, 1. In what manner he prayed for them. He laboured in prayer, laboured fervently, and always laboured fervently for them. Those who would succeed in prayer must take pains in prayer; and we must be earnest in prayer, not only for ourselves, but for others also. It is the effectual fervent prayer which is the prevailing prayer, and availeth much (Jam 5 16), and Elias prayed earnestly that it might not rain, v. 17. 2. What is the matter of this prayer: That you may stand perfect and complete in all the will of God. Observe, To stand perfect and complete in the will of God is what we should earnestly desire both for ourselves and others. We must stand complete in all the will of God; in the will of his precepts by a universal obedience, and in the will of his providence by a cheerful submission to it: and we stand perfect and complete in both by constancy and perseverance unto the end.

John MacArthur tells us more about the man who had told Paul about the false teachers in Colossae:

This I call the “man with the single passion.” I love this man. I am going to get a corner in heaven with him and talk to him, because he’s a man after my own heart. If I could pick a pastor out of the New Testament and go be in his church, I’d pick this guy.

Verse 12: “Epaphras, who is one of you, a servant of Christ,” – and, incidentally, he was the founder of the Colossian church, and most likely its pastor – “greets you.” And you say, “What was he doing there if he was the pastor of the Colossian church? Why was he in Rome?” Because he had come to Rome to tell Paul the trouble that the errorists and the false teachers had brought to the Colossians. And Paul is writing this letter to the Colossians in answer to what Epaphras has told him; and he wants to stay awhile and spend more time with Paul. So Paul says he sends his greeting …

He’s always laboring fervently for you – how? – in prayer.

The word “laboring fervently,” I want to hit this because it reiterates what I told you about chapter 4, verse 2, about perseverance. Listen, laboring fervently is the word “to agonize.” He was on his knees agonizing, in a prolonged, intense, effectual, fervent prayer. It says “always laboring, working at it, agonizing in prayer.”

This is what we’ve been talking about. Prayer is not simply flipping up little thoughts to God; it is agonizing, it is struggling, it is wrestling with God like Jacob, and saying, “I’m not going to let go until You bless me, God.” It is the word used in 1 Corinthians 9 of an athlete who runs a long race and beats his body to make it go – drives it, agonizes it.

You want to hear something interesting? This same word in John 18:36 is translated “fight.” “He fights for you in his prayers. He wrestles with God for you. He persistently struggles with God for your blessing.”

In Romans 15:30 Paul says, “I beseech you, brethren, for the Lord Jesus Christ’s sake, for the love of the Spirit, that you fight together with me in your prayers to God for me.” Again he uses the same word.

In Luke 22, the same word appears in verse 44, 1 think it is. You can see the meaning of it there comparatively. “And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling to the ground.” Jesus prayed with such agony and such strain and such persistence, that He began to ooze blood.

Epaphras prayed like that. He prayed in an intense, spiritual wrestling with God. And when it says in Acts 6:4 that the apostles gave themselves continually to prayer and the ministry of the Word, that’s what it was. They were like Epaphras; they prayed, and they wrestled with God for the lives of people.

I think we give up too easy. I don’t think we know the meaning of that. We say, “Ah, I’ve worked on so-and-so, they don’t come around.” Maybe we’ve never known what it is to pray the way they prayed.

Paul says that he can bear Epaphras witness — confirm undeniably — that he has worked hard for the Colossians as well as those in Laodicea and Hierapolis (verse 13).

In Henry’s and MacArthur’s translations, ‘great zeal’ is used in that verse.

MacArthur says:

Now listen to this, “He is always laboring fervently for you in prayers, that you may stand perfect and complete in all the will of God. And I bear him witness that he has a great zeal for you, and them that are in Laodicea and in Hierapolis.” Those are the two cities within a ten-mile radius of Colossae. “He’s one of you. He’s your pastor, your founder.” What a man. It says, “He’s a servant of Christ, doulos again, a slave.

But verse 13 says, “I bear him witness, he has a zeal.” The word “zeal” incidentally should be translated “pain.” “He has great pain for you.” In fact in Revelation 16:10 and 11, and Revelation 21:4 the word is used to speak of intense pain. “The man is in intense pain over you. He hurts for you.” I’ll tell you, people, that’s a pastor’s heart. He hurts

Now this guy’s got the view of the ministry. This is it right on the nose, man. Every pastor in the world should have this same desire, that his people be mature and convinced in their mind and assured that this is the truth. And only when they’re mature will they be assured, because Paul says in Ephesians 4, “It’s spiritual babes and children that are knocked to and fro about with every wind of doctrine.”

And so Epaphras had one desire: “I want to make them mature, so that when they’re mature they’ll be fully assured of the truth, and these false teachers won’t have an affect.” How do you make them mature? “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God and is profitable, that the man of God may be mature, thoroughly furnished to all good works.” It is the Word that brings maturity.

Epaphras, I know from that, believed in teaching God’s truth. He wanted his people mature. He wasn’t satisfied that they were there, he wanted them grown up. He wasn’t satisfied that they gave their money; he wanted them assured that the truth was the truth, so they wouldn’t fall into error, because he cared, because he loved them. What a man. I call him Epaphras, the man with a single passion.

Epaphras, the man with a single passion, that his people be mature. He was right on. Ephesians 4: “And he gave some apostles, and prophets, and evangelists, and teaching pastors, for the maturing of the saints, for the work of the ministry.” He was a prayer warrior, and he had a single passion, that the people be mature.

You can imagine what a blessing he was to Paul. Can you imagine what an encouragement he was to all the other guys working with Paul to see this guy praying like that, day after day after day; and to see Paul praying day after day after day, night after night after night? Can you imagine the impact that the lives of those two men had on everybody else? And he knew what he was praying for: for the maturity of the saints.

You know something? Somewhere along the line, we’ve got to get past their broken legs and their bodily diseases, and get praying for what really matters. You know that? It’s fine to pray for physical things. But sometimes that’s an excuse, I think, almost a cop out for not really laboring about people’s spiritual welfare. I know I feel guilty about a failure to do that. I don’t know why it is, but it’s so easy not to do that.

Paul tells the Colossians that Luke, the beloved physican, greets them, as does Demas (verse 14).

He is talking about Luke, the Gospel writer and the author of Acts.

Henry says:

This is he who wrote the Gospel and Acts, and was Paul’s companion. Observe, He was both a physician and an evangelist. Christ himself both taught and healed, and was the great physician as well as prophet of the church. He was the beloved physician; one who recommended himself more than ordinary to the affections of his friends. Skill in physic is a useful accomplishment in a minister and may be improved to more extensive usefulness and greater esteem among Christians.

Paul had bouts of ill health during his life and to have his personal doctor around while he was a prisoner in Rome must have been a great blessing.

Acts 20 records Paul’s first meeting with Luke, who was probably from Troas in Asia Minor. Luke stayed with the Apostle through to his imprisonment in Rome. In fact, some passages in Acts are written in the first person.

Like Henry, MacArthur also thinks there is a special calling for physicians in ministry:

He was Paul’s personal physician. I love this; this just thrills me. Here was a man who had a specialized talent. He was a doctor; that’s what he did. But it’s interesting to note that on Paul’s first missionary journey he was sick all the time. And it’s interesting to note that when he went on his second journey, he took Luke. He felt the need of a personal doctor, so he took him along.

God’s work needs specialists, folks. Everybody doesn’t have to go to seminary. There are some people who can do something else and fit in. And you say, “Yeah, but I mean you might get stuck doing that all the time.” Listen, I don’t know what he gave up. He may have given up a lucrative practice, if practices were lucrative in that day, I don’t know. But he must have been kind of fun for Paul to have along, because he was an educated man, a cultured man; so was Paul.

And they must have had some great interaction. I’ll bet they were just bosom buddies, because when Paul was dying, in 2 Timothy, he says, “And only Luke is with me.” I mean they were close. He knew every pain and every scar on the body of Paul. He was his pal, and his doctor. And he calls him “beloved physician.” I like that.

Luke is a great illustration of a man who had a specialty to offer. Now watch. And he gave his specialty to God, and God took his specialty and gave him back a privilege he never dreamed would even happen. Do you realize that Luke wrote fifty-two of the chapters of the New Testament? I’d say that’s significant. Wouldn’t you? Hate to do without him – the whole book of Acts, and the gospel of Luke.

You say, “How did he get to do that? How did he get such a glorious task?” Because he had a specialty, and he gave it to God, and God took him where he was and used him where he never dreamed he could be used. He is living proof of Ephesians 3:20, “Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all we could ask or think according to the power that works in us.” God takes people with special talent and gives them the ability to do things they never dreamed they could do; and that’s the way He works.

Demas’s ministry had a sad ending.

Henry says that the timeline can be confusing and lead to speculation:

Whether this was written before the second epistle to Timothy or after is not certain. There we read (2 Tim 4 10), Demas hath forsaken me, having loved this present world. Some have thought that this epistle was written after; and then it is an evidence that, though Demas forsook Paul, yet he did not forsake Christ; or he forsook him but for a time, and recovered himself again, and Paul forgave him and owned him as a brother. But others think more probably that this epistle was written before the other; this in anno 62, that in 66, and then it is an evidence how considerable a man Demas was, who yet afterwards revolted. Many who have made a great figure in profession, and gained a great name among Christians, have yet shamefully apostatized: They went forth from us, because they were not of us, 1 John 2 19.

MacArthur thinks that Paul wrote this before Demas abandoned the ministry:

This is the fly in the ointment. “And Demas greet you.” I call Demas the man with a sad future. This is the last man in the photograph, and he’s a sad man. Oh, here it isn’t sad. He says, “Demas greets you.” And at the end of the book of Philemon it talks about Demas: “My fellow worker.” Man, it sounds good; good ol’ Demas, hanging in there. He’s been around. I think he was around at least two years. I do know that he was with Paul in both imprisonments. That’s substantial commitment.

But there’s a sad thing about him, because it says in 2 Timothy 4:9, Paul says to Timothy, listen to this: “Do your diligence to come shortly to me;” – now listen – “for Demas has forsaken me, having loved this present world, and is departed to Thessalonica.” Isn’t that sad?

Yeah, he says, “Demas was around the first imprisonment, Demas was around the second imprisonment, my fellow worker. But he left me, because he loved the present system.” So he went to Thessalonica. He abandoned Paul because he fell in love with the world.

You know something? There are some of those kind in everybody’s ministry, that’s right. Jesus had His Judas, and Paul had his Demas, and all of us have the same kind. They’re all there somewhere, and they show up, and it’s sad. And what’s so sad about it is the privilege and the opportunity and the learning, the exposure that they had somehow never caught. And those are the people I know in my own life, those Demas[es] that have been in my life; those are the people that haunt me, because I don’t understand it. But it’s comforting to know that you can’t be a winner all the time, that even the best are going to have those that fail. And like Paul’s heart, they’ll break our hearts, and we’ll never forget; and the scars will be deep, and the questions will always be there.

MacArthur concludes:

Well, that’s the picture: a man with a sad future, a man with specialized ministry, a man with a strong commitment, a man with surprising future, a man with a sympathetic heart, a man with a sinful past, and a man with a servant’s heart. Quite a team, isn’t it? That’s the Pauline Evangelistic Association. Headquarters: jail, Rome. A great bunch.

Paul has messages of his own to deliver. More on those next week in my concluding post on Colossians.

Next time — Colossians 4:15-18

The Twenty-first Sunday after Trinity is November 5, 2022.

Readings for Year C can be found here.

The Gospel reading is as follows, emphases mine:

Luke 20:27-38

20:27 Some Sadducees, those who say there is no resurrection, came to him

20:28 and asked him a question, “Teacher, Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies, leaving a wife but no children, the man shall marry the widow and raise up children for his brother.

20:29 Now there were seven brothers; the first married, and died childless;

20:30 then the second

20:31 and the third married her, and so in the same way all seven died childless.

20:32 Finally the woman also died.

20:33 In the resurrection, therefore, whose wife will the woman be? For the seven had married her.”

20:34 Jesus said to them, “Those who belong to this age marry and are given in marriage;

20:35 but those who are considered worthy of a place in that age and in the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage.

20:36 Indeed they cannot die anymore, because they are like angels and are children of God, being children of the resurrection.

20:37 And the fact that the dead are raised Moses himself showed, in the story about the bush, where he speaks of the Lord as the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.

20:38 Now he is God not of the dead, but of the living; for to him all of them are alive.”

Commentary comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Last week’s reading about Zacchaeus was near the end of Luke’s 10-chapter long account of our Lord’s final lessons to His disciples and the Pharisees, along with His final healing miracles to those in the crowds following Him.

We are now in the middle of Holy Week.

John MacArthur says of the timing of this story:

this is Wednesday Matthew, in fact, gives the parallel account to Luke in Matthew 22.  Mark gives a parallel account in Mark 12.  Matthew says they came on the same day.  The same day as the prior questioning by the Pharisees which puts it on Wednesday. 

Wednesday was a busy day for Jesus, the last week of His life.  He is crucified on Friday.  On Wednesday He’s teaching in the temple, and He is in dialogue with the people, and He is in conflict with these leaders.  The Pharisees have come after Him.  The Herodians have come after Him.  And now it is the Sadducees’ turn.  And they are furious at Jesus. 

Matthew Henry’s commentary says that the Sadducees were the theological free-thinkers of their era, as they did not believe in the resurrection of the body:

I. In every age there have been men of corrupt minds, that have endeavoured to subvert the fundamental principles of revealed religion. As there are deists now, who call themselves free-thinkers, but are really false-thinkers; so there were Sadducees in our Saviour’s time, who bantered the doctrine of the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come, though they were plainly revealed in the Old Testament, and were articles of the Jewish faith. The Sadducees deny that there is any resurrection, any future state, so anastasis may signify; not only no return of the body to life, but no continuance of the soul in life, no world of spirits, no state of recompence and retribution for what was done in the body. Take away this, and all religion falls to the ground.

II. It is common for those that design to undermine any truth of God to perplex it, and load it with difficulties. So these Sadducees did; when they would weaken people’s faith in the doctrine of the resurrection, they put a question upon the supposition of it, which they thought could not be answered either way to satisfaction. The case perhaps was matter of fact, at least it might be so, of a woman that had seven husbands. Now in the resurrection whose wife shall she be? whereas it was not at all material whose she was, for when death puts an end to that relation it is not to be resumed.

Marriage is an institution meant for this life; it will no longer exist in the next. Jesus’s teaching appeared in an old episode of Larry David’s Curb Your Enthusiasm several years ago. Larry told his Gentile wife that they would no longer be married in the next life. She became very angry, indeed. He said, ‘But it’s true!’ If I remember rightly, he chided her for not knowing the New Testament, which made her even angrier.

MacArthur has a fascinating account of the Sadducees’ ties with Rome, even though they were the top of the elitist heap that made up the Sanhedrin. Their links with Rome, which made them very rich, angered everyday Jews who experienced the corruption at the temple in Jerusalem, particularly with regard to purchasing animals for sacrifices:

When you study the gospel accounts, you don’t see the Sadducees very often.  You don’t see them in Jesus’ ministry in Galilee.  You don’t see them as He’s moving around in the land of Judea.  Where you see them is where they always were, and that’s at the temple.  They come into play at the times that Jesus cleanses the temple. 

He did it at the beginning of His ministry.  He did it again at the end … in chapter 19.  They ran the temple operation, very lucrative, very powerful.  They were wealthy.  And Jesus interrupted their very successful business.  They hated Him.  They were furious at Him for what He had just done a matter of hours before this event in cleansing the temple, throwing out the buyers and the sellers and the moneychangers.  And so He had assaulted them.  Just as He had assaulted the theology of the Pharisees, He had assaulted the economics of the Sadducees.  They had the power over the temple operation.

Now let me just give you a little more background about them.  Politically, they were eager to cooperate with Rome.  Since there was no resurrection, since there was nothing to be worried about in the life to come, they put all their stock in this life They went after all the power, all the wealth, all the position, all the control that they could get.

And in order to do that, they had to cooperate with Rome because they were an occupied country under Roman power.  It was the Romans who gave them the right to do what they did.  They had a delegated authority from the Romans.  And so they did everything they could to kowtow to Rome to make sure they curried the favor of Rome to keep their position.  The people hated them.  They hated them.  That’s why there weren’t many of them.  It wasn’t a popular thing to be. 

The people hated them for their accommodation to Rome and they hated them for the corruption of the system to which the people were subjected every time they came to the temple They pursued policies that pleased Rome, and therefore they pursued policies that angered the Jews.  And their corrupt temple operation was a continual irritation to the nation.

When the temple was destroyed in AD 70, the Sadducees disappeared:

… in the destruction of 70 A.D. when the Romans finally had all they could take from the Jews who were rebelling against them and came in and destroyed Jerusalem, destroyed the temple, crushed the nation, actually massacred people in up to a thousand towns and villages around Israel, when the Romans finally brought it all down, the Sadducees ceased to exist.  Once their priestly position and power was broken their history was over.

Although the Sadducees were free-thinkers when it came to the resurrection of the body and everlasting life, they were more fundamentalist than the Pharisees when it came to interpreting Scripture for the ordinary Jew:

Religiously, they were very narrow and very strict.  Some people have thought that they were liberal.  They were liberal in the sense that they didn’t believe in resurrection and angels and spirits and that’s a view like liberal theologians take today.  But in applying justice in the land and in applying the law, they werecruelIt was part of how they kept their power to be cruel. 

Josephus tells us they were more savage than any other group of Jews.  The Pharisees, he says, does Josephus, were lenient in dealing with people compared to the Sadducees.  They were brutal in enforcing their will upon the people as they interpreted the Law of God in order to keep their power and position.  They were viewed, then, as fundamentalists and traditionalists who refused to accept the oral law and the scribal law.  Which, by the way, the Pharisees fully accepted.  The Pharisees accepted Scripture and the oral tradition and the scribal writings.  But the Sadducees did not.  They only accepted Scripture. 

They prided themselves on being committed to the pure faith, nothing more.  They interpreted Mosaic Law more literally than any others and were fastidious beyond all others in the matters of Levitical purity … 

They ended up like that because they honoured only the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Bible, the books of Moses:

Now the question comes, how in the world could they call themselves literalists, fundamentalists, traditionalists, purists, adhering to Scripture and not accept the Scriptures that I read to you about resurrection?  And the answer is they very likely held to the primacy and the priority of the Mosaic Law, that is the five books of Moses, the five books of Moses, the Pentateuch, the five books.  Everything was subordinated to the books of Moses.

Since they were protectors of the pure faith, they apparently affirmed the absolute priority of Moses.  And they said all other books in the Old Testament are merely commentaries on those five books, and since nowhere in those five books is resurrection mentioned, therefore resurrection is not a part of the pure faith, and any other attempt to talk of resurrection is an aberration, even by another Bible writer.

The doctrine of resurrection life cannot be found in the Pentateuch, they said, so resurrection as a reality must be rejected, since all of the rest of the Old Testament is only commentary on Moses and it wasn’t in Moses’ writings, then there must be another way to understand that commentary than to believe in resurrection. 

That’s how they defined themselves.  They lived life as if there were no tomorrow, being fastidious on the one hand, pounding people in a cruel and brutal way with the law, but with a view to using that to keep their power base so they could indulge themselves in anything and everything they wanted at the expense of the people.

It sounds illogical to me.

The Pharisees, by contrast, believed in the resurrection of the body and the life to come. Naturally, questions arose about what would happen. The Pharisees devised answers to those questions:

the Pharisees were very, very definitive about the resurrection.  And the Pharisees loved to discuss the resurrection.  It seems to me that they sort of followed the flow of Baruch and some other writers, that you would be raised the same way you died because the Pharisees discussed things like when you are raised from the dead, will you be naked or will you have clothes on? 

Well, they couldn’t comprehend that everybody in the resurrection would be naked so they came to the conclusion that you would have clothes on.  And then the question was where would you get the clothes?  And then the debate was about whether you get new clothes or whether you rise in the same clothes you used to wear, in fact the very clothes with which you were buried.  And then the question they loved to discuss was if you have defects in this life, physical defects, or mental defects, or whatever, when you rise from the dead again will you have those same defects? 

And many of the Pharisees felt that you would rise in the same clothes you died in and you would rise with the same defects you had in this life.  In fact, some of them believed that all Jews would rise, all Jews who died throughout all of history would all rise in the land of Israel.  In other words, wherever they died, they would all rise in the land of Israel.

And, in fact, it was suggested that beneath the earth there’s a massive network of tunnels and somehow they’re all slanted so that whenever Jews go into the ground, they wind up rolling down a series of tunnels till they all land in a pile in Israel So that they’re all conveniently there as a result of this complex of tunnels and they’ll be raised there.

The Sadducees found such statements absurd:

The Pharisees loved to discuss these kinds of things and occasionally discussed them with the Sadducees.  The Sadducees thought this was ridiculous, as it is.  Thought it was bizarre.  Thought it was outrageous and loved to scorn and mock such ridiculous things.  They became mockers of the resurrection.  They were so defined by not believing in the resurrection, that they had mastered the art of infuriating the Pharisees and the rest of the people with their arguments.  They made a joke out of resurrection.

With this in mind, some Sadducees approached Jesus (verse 27), with a question they thought would stump Him.

MacArthur says the Sadducees wanted Jesus out of their way, because if enough Jews believed in Him, their corrupt system would disappear:

I don’t really think they wanted Him arrested by the Romans.  I don’t think they necessarily cared about that.  Eventually they fell in line with that.  I think they were very worried about Rome getting involved in anything, doing anything to irritate Rome at all threatened their security But in this conflux of Pharisees and Sadducees in John 11:47, they come together, hold a council and they say, “What are we doing?  This man is performing many signs.” 

They never denied His miracles, even the raising of Lazarus from the dead.  “If we let Him go on like this, all men will believe in Him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.”  That was what they feared, they feared losing their position, losing their place.  “And if we don’t do something about Him, the Romans are going to come and take away our position.”  That has to be the sentiment of the chief priests.  The Pharisees, they want the Romans to come and arrest Him and the people will immediately know He’s not the Messiah because He can’t overthrow the enemy.

But the Sadducees, they don’t want the Romans involved in this because they think they’ll lose their position.  So a certain one of them, the high priest, Caiaphas, who is a Sadducee, said to them, “You know nothing at all.  Do you take into account that it is expedient for you that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation should not perish?”  In other words, we have to have Him put to death.  He’s got to die or we’re all going to perish. 

And so the Pharisees and the Sadducees come together, even though the Pharisees wanted Him dead for sure, the Sadducees might have not necessarily wanted Him dead thinking Rome would invade, Caiaphas steps up.  He’s the high priest.  And says, “Wait a minute, He’s got to be dead or we’re all going to lose everything.”  They’re determined that Jesus has to die.

The Sadducees’ approach is to discredit Him in front of the people by asking Him a question that nobody’s been able to answer.  This is their ultimate question.  This is the one that stumped everybody, I’m sure, all the way along in the debates.  This is their best shot.  Let’s make Him look stupid.  Let’s make Him look foolish by this question on the resurrection.

The Sadducees ask Jesus a question, addressing Him as Teacher and citing Mosaic law, about a man marrying his brother’s wife and raising his children should she become a widow (verse 28).

MacArthur explains the source of their question and why that command was there:

They bring up Moses, of course.  They bring up the Pentateuch, of course.  They bring up Deuteronomy 25.  Deuteronomy 25.

Now, I just remind you of it.  Deuteronomy 25, part of God’s law for the nation Israel, this is what it says, verse 5, “When brothers live together and one of them dies and has no son, the wife of the deceased shall not be married outside the family to a strange man.”  There are several brothers, one of them gets married, he dies before he can raise up a child to propagate the family.  She’s not to marry a stranger.  “Her husband’s brother shall go into her take her to himself as wife and marry her perform the duty of a husband’s brother to her.  And it shall be that the firstborn whom she bears shall assume the name of his dead brother, that his name may not be blotted out from Israel.”

In the time when Israel is on the edge of going into the land in the book of Deuteronomy, they’re going to go in.  The land is going to be apportioned.  Families, tribes are going to get certain portions of the land.  It is very important for those tribes to have progeny, to have offspring, to continue God’s covenant promise, and the promise is in the giving of the land to those tribes.  What happens if somebody has a wife and never gives birth to a son?  A brother in the same family then takes that woman as his own wife to raise up the seed to keep the family moving, because that was God’s covenant promise and purpose.  That was a way of protecting and preserving the nation and the identity of the peoples and the places that God had designed.  It is called levirate marriage from the Latin meaning “brother.”

It first appears in the Old Testament, by the way, back in Genesis 38 in the household of Judah, son of Joseph.  Onan refused to comply and raise up a child to his dead brother’s wife and it resulted in God taking the life of Onan in Genesis 38.  God wanted to protect and preserve His people and the tribes of His people for the fulfillment of His plan and prophecy and this is the way God did it

The hypothetical woman the Sadducees describe sounds like a black widow spider.

There were seven brothers, the first of which married and died childless (verse 29). The second and the third brother married the woman in sequence and also died childless, along with the remaining brothers (verses 30, 31). Then the woman died (verse 32).

The Sadducees asked Jesus whose wife the woman will be at the resurrection if all seven brothers married her (verse 33).

They knew the Pharisees had a view on this, too, as MacArthur tells us:

How many times had they posed that question before?  How many jokes had they made out of the absurdity of resurrection using this kind of illustration or analogy?  The Pharisees were the ones who said the next life will be just like this life.  Same person, same features, same clothes, same weakness and strengths, same relationships.  Are you kidding?  And there were some, like Maimonides, who actually said children will be born after the resurrection He’s the original Mormon.  That’s not new.

Jesus replied succinctly, saying that those who belong in this age — live on earth — marry and are given in marriage (verse 34).

Henry says that marriage is an institution that reins us in from sin and gives us a structure in which to raise children:

The children of men in this world marry, and are given in marriage, hyioi tou aionos toutouthe children of this age, this generation, both good and bad, marry themselves and give their children in marriage. Much of our business in this world is to raise and build up families, and to provide for them. Much of our pleasure in this world is in our relations, our wives and children; nature inclines to it. Marriage is instituted for the comfort of human life, here in this state where we carry bodies about with us. It is likewise a remedy against fornication, that natural desires might not become brutal, but be under direction and control. The children of this world are dying and going off the stage, and therefore they marry and give their children in marriage, that they may furnish the world of mankind with needful recruits, that as one generation passeth away another may come, and that they may have some of their own offspring to leave the fruit of their labours to, especially that the chosen of God in future ages may be introduced, for it is a godly seed that is sought by marriage (Mal 2 15), a seed to serve the Lord, that shall be a generation to him.

MacArthur gives us a bit of Matthew’s account of this question, which includes a response from Jesus that Luke does not include:

Matthew 22, which is the parallel passage giving the same account, adds this, Matthew 22:29, “Jesus answered and said to them – listen to this “ ‘ – You are mistaken, not understanding the scriptures or the power of God.’  

He was telling them that, as the high priests, their knowledge of Scripture was woefully deficient:

Wow.  If you think it was painful for Him to go in with a whip and clean out their business, how painful was it for them to take that shot at their theology?  They prided themselves at being interpreters of Scripture.  You are mistaken, from the verb plana meaning “to cause to wander, to lead astray.”  Means “you have caused yourselves to wander.  You have led yourselves astray.  You are cut loose from the truth and from reality.  You don’t get it.”  Why?  “Because you do not understand the Scriptures.”  What an indictment that is …

Not understanding the Scriptures, you couldn’t have said anything more painful for them to hear than that You are ignorant interpreters of Scripture.  You’ve gotten it wrong.  You have misled yourselves.  You have wandered from the truth.  You do not understand the Scriptures.  And that could describe every false teacher ever.

They prided themselves on the knowledge of the Scripture.  They didn’t have it.  And then “you do not understand the Scriptures – ” He says “ – nor the power of God.”  Had they known the Scriptures, had they really known the Scriptures, they would have known that God promises resurrection.  Had they known the power of God, they would have understood that God can raise people in a state where all their supposed absurdities are absent.  They were spiritually blind.

And so, He’s going to tell them the truth.  Verse 34, “Jesus said to them, ‘The sons of this age marry and are given in marriage.’ ”  “Sons of this age.”  That’s a Hebraism for “people living in this world,” us, temporal humans.  What is Jesus saying?  The matter of marriage, sex, reproduction, childbirth, and everything accompanying it is for this life, not the next.  It’s for this life, not the next.  There is for this age marrying and giving in marriage.  That is a part of this age.

Mormons take note, you will not spend forever on your own planet having celestial sex and producing supernatural children.  Muslims take note, you will not be on green pillows having sex with 72 virgins either in the life to come.  Marriage is for this life only.

Jesus went on to tell the Sadducees that those who are worthy of a place in that age and in the resurrection neither marry or are given in marriage (verse 35).

He was talking about the life to come.

Henry says:

Note, There are more worlds than one; a present visible world, and a future invisible world; and it is the concern of every one of us to compare worlds, this world and that world, and give the preference in our thoughts and cares to that which deserves them.

With that in mind, MacArthur says that Jesus was warning the Sadducees about their spiritual inadequacy and blindness:

Notice that little phrase in verse 35, “who are considered worthy to attain to that age and the resurrection of the dead.”  That poses the question, why does He say that?  I think it’s a warning.  I think it’s a direct warning to the Sadducees.  In effect it’s saying to them, implying to them, “You obviously aren’t worthy to attain to this since you don’t even believe in this.”  It’s a warning.  “You don’t even believe in angels, sons of God, sons of the resurrection, that age to come, the resurrection from the dead.  You reject all of that.  Obviously, you’re not worthy.”

On the other hand, how would one be considered worthy to enter heaven?  How is one considered worthy to become a son of God, a son of resurrection?  Answer, by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.  The Bible is clear about that.  We don’t have any worthiness of ourselves.  All our righteousness is filthy rags.  The Old Testament was clear on that.  Isaiah said that.

Henry explains the life to come, saying that, as there will be no more death, there is no longer a need for marriage and procreation:

(1.) Who shall be the inhabitants of that world: They that shall be accounted worthy to obtain it, that is, that are interested in Christ’s merit, who purchased it for us, and have a holy meetness for it wrought in them by the Spirit, whose business it is to prepare us for it. They have not a legal worthiness, upon account of any thing in them or done by them, but an evangelical worthiness, upon account of the inestimable price which Christ paid for the redemption of the purchased possession. It is a worthiness imputed by which we are glorified, as well as righteousness imputed by which we are justified; kataxiothentes, they are made agreeable to that world. The disagreeableness that there is in the corrupt nature is taken away, and the dispositions of the soul are by the grace of God conformed to that state. They are by grace made and counted worthy to obtain that world; it intimates some difficulty in reaching after it, and danger of coming short. We must so run as that we may obtain. They shall obtain the resurrection from the dead, that is, the blessed resurrection; for that of condemnation (as Christ calls it, John 5 29), is rather a resurrection to death, a second death, an eternal death, than from death.

(2.) What shall be the happy state of the inhabitants of that world we cannot express or conceive, 1 Cor 2 9. See what Christ here says of it. [1.] They neither marry nor are given in marriage. Those that have entered into the joy of their Lord are entirely taken up with that, and need not the joy of the bridegroom in his bride. The love in that world of love is all seraphic, and such as eclipses and loses the purest and most pleasing loves we entertain ourselves with in this world of sense. Where the body itself shall be a spiritual body, the delights of sense will all be banished; and where there is a perfection of holiness there is no occasion for marriage as a preservative from sin. Into the new Jerusalem there enters nothing that defiles. [2.] They cannot die any more; and this comes in as a reason why they do not marry. In this dying world there must be marriage, in order to the filling up of the vacancies made by death; but, where there are no burials, there is no need of weddings. This crowns the comfort of that world that there is no more death there, which sullies all the beauty, and damps all the comforts, of this world. Here death reigns, but thence it is for ever excluded.

Jesus continued, saying that those belonging to the next life cannot die again, because they are like angels and are children of God, being children of the resurrection (verse 36).

Henry and MacArthur cite the same Greek word used in that verse, isangeloi — angels’ peers.

MacArthur says:

“Rather they’re like angels.”  That’s a verb that Luke coins, isangeloi, “equal to angels,” used only here.  The angels were all created at one time, they don’t procreate and they don’t die Their number is fixed.  There’s no need for marriage because there’s no need for propagation.  There’s no need for replacement.  There’s no need for continuity in the race.  There’s also no need for that kind of union because having a relationship with God and Christ as our true bridegroom and having a perfect relationship with everybody else in the glory of heaven precludes the necessity of having any other lesser relationships.

Verse 36, “Because people don’t die anymore, they are equal to angels, they are sons of God.”  What does that mean?  They take on God’s life, God’s life, which is not sexual.  They take on God’s life, which is an eternal life.  They become sons of the resurrection.  Whenever you see in the Bible “son of, sons of this age, sons of God, sons of the resurrection,” and you’ll see that repeated throughout the gospels, it’s simply a way to identify the essential nature or essential defining quality of something

If you’re a son of Belial, the essential quality is satanic.  If you’re a son of God, the essential essence of life is divine.  If you’re a son of the resurrection, you possess resurrection life.  That’s the defining reality.  If you’re a son of this age, humanity is your defining reality.  If you’re a son of the age to come, eternality is the defining reality.

And so He says those who come to the age of resurrection will take on the character of angels who do not procreate, do not have those kinds of relationships, take on the character of sons of God, that is they will be the possessors of the pure fulfilling life of God.  And they will take on the character of resurrection, newness of life.  Marriage is not necessary.  Marriage does not define any aspect of life in the age to come.

And so our Lord corrects their theology.  If you want more about that, read 1 Corinthians 15, start at verse 35, read to the end of the chapter, where the Lord through the  apostle Paul gives us a look at the form of the resurrection body.  It will be a body like the glorious resurrection body of Jesus as it tells us in Philippians 3:21.

Henry says:

[3.] They are equal unto the angels. In the other evangelists it was said, They are as the angelsos angeloi, but here they are said to be equal to the angels, isangeloiangels’ peers; they have a glory and bliss no way inferior to that of the holy angels. They shall see the same sight, be employed in the same work, and share in the same joys, with the holy angels. Saints, when they come to heaven, shall be naturalized, and, though by nature strangers, yet, having obtained this freedom with a great sum, which Christ paid for them, they have in all respects equal privileges with them that were free-born, the angels that are the natives and aborigines of that country. They shall be companions with the angels, and converse with those blessed spirits that love them dearly, and with an innumerable company, to whom they are now come in faith, hope, and love. [4.] They are the children of God, and so they are as the angels, who are called the sons of God. In the inheritance of sons, the adoption of sons will be completed. Hence believers are said to wait for the adoption, even the redemption of the body, Rom 8 23. For till the body is redeemed from the grave the adoption is not completed. Now are we the sons of God, 1 John 3 2. We have the nature and disposition of sons, but that will not be perfected till we come to heaven. [5.] They are the children of the resurrection, that is, they are made capable of the employments and enjoyments of the future state; they are born to that world, belong to that family, had their education for it here, and shall there have their inheritance in it. They are the children of God, being the children of the resurrection. Note, God owns those only for his children that are the children of the resurrection, that are born from above, are allied to the world of spirits, and prepared for that world, the children of that family.

In the final two verses, Jesus pointed out where the Sadducees failed in their knowledge of Scripture.

He said that even Moses showed that the dead are raised to new life in the story of the burning bush, where the Lord said that He is the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob (verse 37).

MacArthur explains that this is the real shot across the bow:

The main answer comes in verse 37 and it is a powerful answer.  Listen to this.  “But that the dead are raised,” in other words, let’s get back to the point.  Forget the marriage thing, we settled that.  “But that the dead are raised – ” which is the big issue here.  You say they’re not.  “Even Moses showed – ”  Wow, now He’s coming at them in their own zone, right?  In their own zone, because that’s the issue.  It’s not in Moses.  It can’t be so.  So He says, “Even Moses showed in – ” literally “ – in the bush – ” in the text about the bush, the passage about the bush, the burning bush, Exodus 3.

What?  In Exodus 3 Moses showed the truth of resurrection?  How did he do that?  Because it was there “where he calls the Lord the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.”  Well, what does that mean?  Well, I think the important thing for you to know is that when in Exodus 3:6 God said – listen to this – here’s a quote, “I am the God of Abraham.  I am the God of Isaac.  I am the God of Jacob.”  When He said that emphatically, and the I am is recorded in Matthew’s version of this, Matthew 22:32, I think it is.  When He said, “I am the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob,” He did not say, “I was the God of Abraham.  I was the God of Isaac.  I was the God of Jacob.”  I am.  I am, and therefore they are.  Follow that?  A little bit of a careful exegesis of verb tenses.  He doesn’t say, “I was their God.”  He says, “I am their God.”  I am and they are, not I was and they were.

In Genesis 26:24, in Genesis 28:13, God calls Himself “the God of Abraham,” and Abraham is dead.  In Exodus 3:6, 15, 16, again in chapter 4, God calls Himself “the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob,” and all three are dead.  So is God the God of dead people?  Verse 38, “Now He is not the God of the dead but of the living; for all live to Him.”  From our perspective they’re dead.  From His perspective they’re – what? – they’re alive.  They all live to Him. 

The God who says, “I am the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob,” isn’t establishing His glory on the basis that He’s worshiped by corpses.  That wouldn’t bring Him any honor.  Notice that each is singled out individually: The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob, emphasizing the personal reality of each Each is alive to God, in God’s presence, in relationship to God, though dead from a worldly view.

Jesus emphasised that reality by saying that God is not of the dead but of the living; to Him, all of them are alive (verse 38), meaning Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

That also includes God’s chosen, those who are worthy of eternal life with Him in glory.

MacArthur says that if we are alive in Christ, we, too, will share that life to come:

“He is not the God of the dead, but of the living; for all live to Him.”  To God, all who are His are alive and in union with Him in His presence, just as the Old Testament says.  Death does not end one’s existence.  There is another life, an afterlife, a resurrection life, for those who belong to God in His presence.  “I am – ” said Jesus in John 11 “ – the resurrection and the life, whoever believes in Me though he die yet shall he live.”  We will live forever and if we belong to Christ, we will live forever in the presence of Christ and in the presence of God.

It is a pity that the Lectionary compilers did not include the next two verses in this reading, because they show that Jesus silenced the Sadducees in their folly. ‘Teachers of the law’ here refers to the scribes:

39 Some of the teachers of the law responded, “Well said, teacher!” 40 And no one dared to ask him any more questions.

MacArthur says that, in popular parlance, we could say that Jesus blew away their minds:

And that leads us to the last point, the astonishment of the crowd, the astonishment of the scribes, and I guess you could say the astonishment of the Sadducees.  “Some of the scribes answered and said, ‘Teacher, You’ve spoken well.’ ”  Scribes are the legal experts.  They were the theologians.  They were the ones who thought most carefully and deeply about Scripture.  They were wowed.  They were floored. 

This is an understatement, “You have spoken well.”  Matthew 22:33 says, “The multitudes heard and were astonished.”  The word “astonished” and there could be a number of words in the Greek, but the one that’s used in Matthew 22:33 is ekplss and one lexicon, I think, gives it a good spin.  This is what it essentially means.  “To strike out of one’s wits.”  It’s kind of an Old English approach.  We would say this:  To blow their minds.  That’s exactly what it means.  He blew their minds.  They were just astonished at the teaching of Jesus, astonished, amazed, astounded, marveling.

And the Sadducees?  They were done.  Verse 40, they didn’t have courage – the Greek verb is “to dare, or to presume.”  “They didn’t dare question Him any longer about anything.”  They gave it their best shot.  They were done.  They had been cleaned out economically and then they had been dismantled spiritually and theologically.  They’re done.  They disappear.

May all reading this have a blessed Sunday.

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