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The Second Sunday of Advent is on December 4, 2022.

Readings for Year A can be found here.

The Gospel reading is as follows (emphases mine):

Matthew 3:1-12

3:1 In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming,

3:2 “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”

3:3 This is the one of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke when he said, “The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.’”

3:4 Now John wore clothing of camel’s hair with a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey.

3:5 Then the people of Jerusalem and all Judea were going out to him, and all the region along the Jordan,

3:6 and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.

3:7 But when he saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?

3:8 Bear fruit worthy of repentance.

3:9 Do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham.

3:10 Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.

3:11 “I baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.

3:12 His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and will gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

Commentary comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

This is a long post, so grab yourself a cuppa and a snack.

To set the background for John the Baptist, it had been 400 years since God had sent the Jews a prophet.

Malachi was the last. This is Malachi 4, with which the Old Testament ends:

Judgment and Covenant Renewal

[a]“Surely the day is coming; it will burn like a furnace. All the arrogant and every evildoer will be stubble, and the day that is coming will set them on fire,” says the Lord Almighty. “Not a root or a branch will be left to them. But for you who revere my name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its rays. And you will go out and frolic like well-fed calves. Then you will trample on the wicked; they will be ashes under the soles of your feet on the day when I act,” says the Lord Almighty.

“Remember the law of my servant Moses, the decrees and laws I gave him at Horeb for all Israel.

5 “See, I will send the prophet Elijah to you before that great and dreadful day of the Lord comes. He will turn the hearts of the parents to their children, and the hearts of the children to their parents; or else I will come and strike the land with total destruction.”

John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea proclaiming (verse 1) repentance, for the kingdom of heaven was near (verse 2).

Matthew Henry’s commentary points out that both John the Baptist and his cousin Jesus were of humble families and led unremarkable childhoods, yet figured mightily in God’s plan:

Glorious things were spoken both of John and Jesus, at and before their births, which would have given occasion to expect some extraordinary appearances of a divine presence and power with them when they were very young; but it is quite otherwise. Except Christ’s disputing with the doctors at twelve years old, nothing appears remarkable concerning either of them, till they were about thirty years old. Nothing is recorded of their childhood and youth, but the greatest part of their life is tempos, adelonwrapt up in darkness and obscurity: these children differ little in outward appearance from other children, as the heir, while he is under age, differs nothing from a servant, though he be lord of all. And this was to show, 1. That even when God is acting as the God of Israel, the Saviour, yet verily he is a God that hideth himself (Isa 45 15). The Lord is in this place and I knew it not, Gen 28 16. Our beloved stands behind the wall long before he looks forth at the windows, Cant 2 9. 2. That our faith must principally have an eye to Christ in his office and undertaking, for there is the display of his power; but in his person is the hiding of his power. All this while, Christ was god-man; yet we are not told what he said or did, till he appeared as a prophet; and then, Hear ye him. 3. That young men, though well qualified, should not be forward to put forth themselves in public service, but be humble, and modest, and self-diffident, swift to hear, and slow to speak.

Matthew says nothing of the conception and birth of John the Baptist, which is largely related by St. Luke, but finds him at full age, as if dropt from the clouds to preach in the wilderness. For above three hundred years the church had been without prophets; those lights had been long put out, that he might be the more desired, who was to be the great prophet. After Malachi there was no prophet, nor any pretender to prophecy, till John the Baptist, to whom therefore the prophet Malachi points more directly than any of the Old Testament prophets had done (Mal 3 1); I send my messenger.

Henry describes this wilderness, sometimes called a desert, of Judea, which has biblical significance:

It was not an uninhabited desert, but a part of the country not so thickly peopled, nor so much enclosed into fields and vineyards, as other parts were; it was such a wilderness as had six cities and their villages in it, which are named, Josh 15 61, 62. In these cities and villages John preached, for thereabouts he had hitherto lived, being born hard by, in Hebron; the scenes of his action began there, where he had long spent his time in contemplation; and even when he showed himself to Israel, he showed how well he loved retirement, as far as would consist with his business. The word of the Lord found John here in a wilderness. Note, No place is so remote as to shut us out from the visits of divine grace; nay, commonly the sweetest intercourse the saints have with Heaven, is when they are withdrawn furthest from the noise of this world. It was in this wilderness of Judah that David penned the 63d Psalm, which speaks so much of the sweet communion he then had with God, Hos 2 14. In a wilderness the law was given; and as the Old Testament, so the New Testament Israel was first found in the desert land, and there God led him about and instructed him, Deut 32 10. John Baptist was a priest of the order of Aaron, yet we find him preaching in a wilderness, and never officiating in the temple; but Christ, who was not a son of Aaron, is yet often found in the temple, and sitting there as one having authority; so it was foretold, Mal 3 1. The Lord whom ye seek shall suddenly come to his temple; not the messenger that was to prepare his way. This intimated that the priesthood of Christ was to thrust out that of Aaron, and drive it into a wilderness.

The beginning of the gospel in a wilderness, speaks comfort to the deserts of the Gentile world. Now must the prophecies be fulfilled, I will plant in the wilderness the cedar, Isa 41 18, 19. The wilderness shall be a fruitful field, Isa 32 15. And the desert shall rejoice, Isa 35 1, 2. The Septuagint reads, the deserts of Jordan, the very wilderness in which John preached.

As the prophets did before him, John the Baptist exhorted his audiences to repent, to turn their lives away from sin:

Those who are truly sorry for what they have done amiss, will be careful to do so no more. This repentance is a necessary duty, in obedience to the command of God (Acts 17 30); and a necessary preparative and qualification for the comforts of the gospel of Christ. If the heart of man had continued upright and unstained, divine consolations might have been received without this painful operation preceding; but, being sinful, it must be first pained before it can be laid at ease, must labour before it can be at rest.

John MacArthur looks at the Greek word for ‘proclaim’, or ‘preach’:

It says in verse 1, “He came preaching,” and the Greek word there is “to herald,” “to announce,” “to proclaim,” kerussoAlso, it’s interesting that it says, “In those days came John,” and the verb “came” there is literally used in the Greek to speak of the arrival of an official The arrival of an official.  John was an official herald announcing the arrival of a king; and you know his message in verse 2?  “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”  And “at hand” means it’s imminent, it’s the next thing

Kerusso, the noun form is krux or krux, and it means “a herald.”  Literally, “one who with a loud voice announces the arrival of a king” – a herald.  And so he was heralding.  He was heralding, and what was he heralding?  “Repent!”  That was the message.  “This kind of King demands that you repent.”  In other words, He wants you to worship Him, but you can’t worship Him legitimately until you get sin out of the way You can’t come to Jesus Christ and just worship Him first.  First, you’ve gotta deal with your sin.  That’s what he was saying.

He was saying to Israel, “Look, you just can’t accept the King and begin to worship the King.  You’ve gotta get rid of your sin.”  In fact, it’s the identical message that Jesus preached when He came.  Matthew 4:17, “From that time Jesus began to preach.” And what did He say?  “Repent.”  Same sermon.  Jesus and John preached the same sermon.  The word “repent,” metanoeo, means more than just sorrow.  We think of repentance, and we say, “Oh, he’s so repentant.  He’s weepy, and he’s sorrowful.”  That isn’t what the word means in the Greek It means “to turn around.”  It means “to be converted.”  It means a change of opinion.  A change of purpose.  A change of direction.  A change of mind.  A change of will.  A change from sin to holiness.

Broadus, who has written a classic commentary on Matthew, says, “Wherever this Greek word is used in the New Testament, the reference is to changing the mind and the purpose from sin to holiness.  It implies sorrow for sin, but that’s not what it means.  It means to turn around.”  It is 2 Corinthians 7 that talks about godly repentance, godly sorrow, that turns you around, and that’s what John was saying He wasn’t just saying, “I want you to feel sorry for your sin.”  He was saying, “I want you to change from sin to holiness.  You will never have the kingdom.  You will never have the King until you turn around.”  The message really could be better translated, “Get converted.  Get converted.”

MacArthur discusses Matthew’s use of the words ‘the kingdom of heaven’:

The precise phrase, “the kingdom of heaven,” is not found in the Old Testament; but it is an Old Testament concept.  This is why I say that.  Nebuchadnezzar, for instance, in Daniel 4:37, refers to God as “the king of heaven.”  Daniel 2:44 calls Him “the God of heaven”; and Daniel 4:25 says, “He will set up a kingdom which will never be destroyed.”  Now, the God of heaven, the King of heaven, God and heaven are then associated.  The kingdom of heaven and the kingdom of God then are associated terms.

Now, Matthew uses the term “kingdom of heaven” 32 times; and he is the only gospel writer that ever uses it Mark doesn’t use it.  Luke doesn’t use it.  John doesn’t use it.  They use “the kingdom of God,” and there may be a special reason for that.  As I tried to point out from Daniel, and there are many other illustrations, heaven and God were thought of as synonymous.  God was the King of heaven; and the reason Matthew may use it is because Matthew’s gospel is a characteristically Jewish gospel; and one thing about Jews that you learn historically as you study Judaism is that a Jew would never say the name of God; and in deference to that, they would substitute frequently the term “heaven.”

MacArthur explains what the kingdom of heaven, or the kingdom of God, is:

The kingdom of heaven has two aspects.  Two aspects – the outer and the inner, and sometimes, in the gospels, the outer is in view, and sometimes the inner is in view Let me show you what I mean.  In the broadest sense, the kingdom of heaven, the kingdom of God, includes – watch this – everybody who professes to acknowledge God.  Now, in Matthew 13 we’ll see that, that the kingdom of heaven’s got in it wheat and what?  Tares, right?  That the kingdom of heaven is like a great big bush with birds in it; and you’ve got the true and the false, the real and the non-real.

So in the outer sense, the kingdom of heaven is, is everybody that professes; but in the inner sense, it’s only the really regenerated, born-again, genuinely saved people; and in some passages, the inner is in view; and in some, the outer; and we’ll see that as we go through Matthew.  The big circle of profession includes the true and the false.  The little circle only those truly born again in Christ.

Now, tracing the kingdom will help us a little bit.  Let me give you a quick little historical look at the kingdom.  We’re gonna go flying by, so hang on.  There are five distinct phases in the kingdom.  Five phases.  I, I tried to reduce a very difficult subject to simple terms so I could understand it and pass it on to you simply.

First of all, it’s talking about the rule of God.  The rule of God over the hearts of men and over the world.  Both are included.  Now, the first phase of this thing is the prophesied kingdom, the prophesied kingdom.  For example, Daniel said that God is gonna come and set up a kingdom, a kingdom that’ll never be destroyed; and Daniel foresaw that Christ would be the King of that kingdom It was a prophesied kingdom.

The second thing, the second phase of this is what you could call the present kingdom or the at-hand kingdom; and that was the kingdom described by John the Baptist He was saying, “The prophesied rule of God is now imminent.  It’s now ready.”  Jesus said it.  The twelve said it.  It’s at hand.  It’s coming.  It’s imminent.  It’s near.  The rule of God, the reign of Christ, both internally and externally – it’s here.

Then the third phase of the kingdom was what I call the interim phase The prophesied, the imminent or at-hand, and the interim; and, there, the kingdom is described in this way.  After the King was rejected by Israel, the King returned to heaven, and the kingdom now exists in a mystery form.  Christ isn’t literally in the world, literally reigning, literally sitting in Jerusalem ruling the kingdom; but He reigns a kingdom in the hearts of all who acknowledge Him as Lord, right?  So it’s an interim kingdom, the mystery form.  So you have the prophesied, the at-hand, which would’ve been both earthly and internal, the whole thing; and when they wouldn’t accept the King, the kingdom went inside; and now in a mystery form is in the hearts of those who believe And, as Paul says in Romans 14:17, “The kingdom of God is righteousness and joy and peace in the Holy Spirit.”  It’s internal.

The fourth phase of the kingdom is what I call the manifest phase You start with the prophesied, the at-hand, the interim, and then the manifest; and this is the literal, thousand-year millennium that is to come It will involve an external rule where Christ literally rules, physically in the earth, and an internal where He rules the hearts of the believing people.

The book of Revelation talks about this.  Jesus, in Matthew 16, gave people a glimpse of this in the transfiguration.  So what do you have?  You have the prophesied kingdom, the at-hand one, the interim one, the manifest one for a thousand years; and finally what I call the everlasting kingdom.  Second Peter 1:11, Peter calls it, “The eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”  The fifth and final phase.

Now, that’s generally the flow of the kingdom.  The Old Testament prophesied a kingdom — a kingdom that would be external, where they would literally be in the earth; and the earth would be the place of the kingdom; and the earth would be ruled by the King; and it would also be internal, the hearts of the believing people would submit to that reign.  And John and Jesus and the twelve said it’s at hand. But it was rejected, and so an interim, internal kingdom has taken form now that we call this mystery age.  But one day the kingdom will be manifest internally and externally, and then that thousand-year kingdom will exist and, at the end of that, an everlasting kingdom.

This bit is particularly interesting:

So John was talking about the at-hand. Now listen to me – had they received John, and had they received Christ, there never would have been the interim – you understand that there never would have been the mystery church age. They would have gone into the thousand-year manifest kingdom and from there right into the everlasting kingdom, and John would have been that Elijah and it would have all been fulfilled. But when they killed the forerunner and they killed the King, the whole thing was future postponed and in the meantime the mystery kingdom dwells in the hearts of believing people. And Christ may not be reigning in the world, but He’s reigning in my heart, right, and your heart. So John was calling the nation to turn its back on sin, to be converted, to get ready for the kingdom, because the kingdom was coming.  The tragedy of it is that they didn’t hear his message.  They didn’t listen.  They never received the kingdom, and that whole generation died without the King, died without the kingdom, and went into hell. So the man, the message, and the motive.

The notion of the herald continues as Matthew tells is that Isaiah spoke of a man in the wilderness who would cry out, ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight’ (verse 3).

MacArthur explains:

Fourthly, the mission. Simply stated, and we’ve already seen it, he was called to be the herald of Christ, but the mission was laid out long before in the Old Testament prophets.  Look at verse 3, “For this is he that was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah, saying, ‘The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make His paths straight.'”  He fulfilled Isaiah 40, verse 3, “He is the one of whom the prophets spoke.”  He is the one who was to come and get things ready, and he was preparing a way.  Not a road, not a dirt path, but a way into the hearts of believing people.  He was “the voice of one crying in the wilderness.”

Oh, that’s such a great passage.  Isaiah 40, you see, that tells us about the forerunner in 40, verse 3. But in the verses after it tells us why he was getting them ready.  Listen to chapter 40 verse 1, “Comfort ye, comfort ye my people,” and you can’t know what an exciting thing that was in chapter 40 ’cause they had just had 39 chapters full of judgment; and, boy, here comes this comfort “Speak ye tenderly to Jerusalem.  Cry to her.  Her warfare is accomplished.  Her iniquity is pardoned.  She’s received from the Lord hands, Lord’s hands double for her sins.”  All that’s done, and now comes the voice of him that cries in the wilderness, “Prepare the way of the Lord.  Make straight in the desert a highway for our God.”

Why?!  Because the kingdom is coming, and he describes it this way:  “Every valley shall be exalted.  Every mountain and hill shall be made low.  The crooked shall be made straight, and rough places plain.  And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together; for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it.”  One of the, one of my favorite passages of the Messiah taken from that marvelous text.

You see, John was crying to prepare the people for the kingdom, and Isaiah described the kingdom in 4 and 5.  He was fulfilling the prophetic word of Isaiah.  “The voice of one crying in the wilderness, make his paths straight.  Prepare a road into your heart by turning from sin.”  So his mission was preparation, deep conviction.  He wanted to bring to bear on Israel such conviction that they confessed they were unfit, sinners, poor, damned, miserable – he was a judgment preacher.  He was a judgment preacher designed by God from way back in the book of Isaiah to confront a wicked, evil nation and get ’em right for the arrival of the King. So he fulfilled prophecy.

Part of the herald’s job was to make sure that the road upon which the forthcoming king travelled was smooth and free of obstacles.

MacArthur says that the straight paths here were spiritual rather than literal:

So to John was given the role of being the herald of the King, announcing the King’s arrival and making sure the people made the preparations so that the path was smooth This was a customary oriental thing, and John was called to do it.  Only in his case, he was heralding the King of kings; and in his case, he wasn’t asking people to prepare a dirt road He was asking them to prepare the road into their hearts, that the King might enter there.  That was his purpose.

Henry has more on the corrupt religious system that the Jewish hierarchy imposed on the people, legalistic without holiness:

In the Jewish church and nation, at that time, all was out of course; there was a great decay of piety, the vitals of religion were corrupted and eaten out by the traditions and injunctions of the elders. The Scribes and Pharisees, that is, the greatest hypocrites in the world, had the key of knowledge, and the key of government, at their girdle. The people were, generally, extremely proud of their privileges, confident of justification by their own righteousness, insensible of sin; and, though now under the most humbling providences, being lately made a province of the Roman Empire, yet they were unhumbled; they were much in the same temper as they were in Malachi’s time, insolent and haughty, and ready to contradict the word of God: now John was sent to level these mountains, to take down their high opinion of themselves, and to show them their sins, that the doctrine of Christ might be the more acceptable and effectual. (2.) His doctrine of repentance and humiliation is still as necessary as it was then to prepare the way of the Lord. Note, There is a great deal to be done, to make way for Christ into a soul, to bow the heart for the reception of the Son of David (2 Sam 19 14); and nothing is more needful, in order to this, than the discovery of sin, and a conviction of the insufficiency of our own righteousness. That which lets will let, until it be taken out of the way; prejudices must be removed, high thoughts brought down, and captivated to the obedience of Christ. Gates of brass must be broken, and bars of iron cut asunder, ere the everlasting doors be opened for the King of glory to come in. The way of sin and Satan is a crooked way; to prepare a way for Christ, the paths must be made straight, Heb 12 13.

John wore simple clothes made from camel hair along with a leather belt; he ate locusts and wild honey (verse 4).

It is probable that he had taken a lifelong Nazirite vow, as Samson and Samuel did.

However, our commentators note that Old Testament prophets dressed similarly and lived simply without that particular vow.

Henry says that John might have purposely dressed like Elijah:

John appeared in this dress, (1.) To show that, like Jacob, he was a plain man, and mortified to this world, and the delights and gaieties of it. Behold an Israelite indeed! Those that are lowly in heart should show it by a holy negligence and indifference in their attire; and not make the putting on of apparel their adorning, nor value others by their attire. (2.) To show that he was a prophet, for prophets wore rough garments, as mortified men (Zech 13 4); and, especially, to show that he was the Elias promised; for particular notice is taken of Elias, that he was a hairy man (which, some think, is meant of the hairy garments he wore), and that he was girt with a girdle of leather about his loins, 2 Kings 1 8. John Baptist appears no way inferior to him in mortification; this therefore is that Elias that was to come. (3.) To show that he was a man of resolution; his girdle was not fine, such as were then commonly worn, but it was strong, it was a leathern girdle; and blessed is that servant, whom his Lord, when he comes, finds with his loins girt, Luke 12 35; 1 Pet 1 13.

As for his meagre diet from foraging, Henry posits that he probably had more normal meals, just not that often:

… his meat was locusts and wild honey; not as if he never ate any thing else; but these he frequently fed upon, and made many meals of them, when he retired into solitary places, and continued long there for contemplation. Locusts were a sort of flying insect, very good for food, and allowed as clean (Lev 11 22); they required little dressing, and were light, and easy of digestion, whence it is reckoned among the infirmities of old age, that the grasshopper, or locust, is then a burden to the stomach, Eccl 12 5. Wild honey was that which Canaan flowed with, 1 Sam 14 26. Either it was gathered immediately, as it fell in the dew, or rather, as it was found in the hollows of trees and rocks, where bees built, that were not, like those in hives, under the care and inspection of men. This intimates that he ate sparingly, a little served his turn; a man would be long ere he filled his belly with locusts and wild honey: John Baptist came neither eating nor drinking (ch. 11 18)—not with the curiosity, formality, and familiarity that other people do. He was so entirely taken up with spiritual things, that he could seldom find time for a set meal.

The people of Jerusalem and all of Judea as well as those who lived along the Jordan flocked to him (verse 5).

MacArthur says:

This man had an amazing impact.  He called the society to attention.  In Matthew 21:26, it says, “For all men hold John as a prophet.”  It was common belief this was a prophet from God, and they went out. 

John baptised people in the River Jordan and they confessed their sins (verse 6).

This was radical, because the Jews of that era had ritual ceremonial baths but not the type of baths that proselytes — converts — had. John the Baptist’s form of baptism was the kind that those converting to Judaism had.

MacArthur explains:

As much of a shock as it was, people came, and they were baptized, and they confessed their sin Can you imagine it out there? One crowd after another, everywhere, even in Galilee they came.

The fact that they were baptized is shocking.  I’ll tell you why.  Listen to me.  Never — I’ll say it again — never in all history had any Jew submitted to being baptized Okay?  This is something new.  “Oh,” you say, “what about the Levitical washings?”  Those were different.  The Levitical washings of the hands and the feet and the head and all of that were frequent.  There were certain ceremonial bathings among the Essenes, which was a community of the Jews living out in that area; but all of those – listen to this – purification ceremonies were repeated daily and even hourly if you sin.  You understand that?  These were just ceremonial washings, and every time you suspected another pollution, you did it again.

John’s baptism was a one-time, one-shot deal; and Jews never did that.  You say, “Why?”  Listen to this.  Because single baptism was exactly what was required of a Gentile proselyte, who was entering into Judaism. And a Jew who would submit himself to that kind of baptism would be saying, in effect, “I am an outsider seeking entrance into the people of God,” and that’s quite an admission, isn’t it?  They were literally indulging themselves in proselyte baptism.

So, they did this; it was really a step.  A member of God’s chosen people, a son of Abraham, assured of God’s salvation, baptized like a common proselyte? And, yet, that’s exactly what John asked of them He called Israel to realize that their nationality couldn’t save ’em.  Their race couldn’t save ’em.  They had to forsake sin.  They had to be converted to righteousness.  They had to get in the kingdom like everybody else did; and in the East, no act of religion, no act of crisis in religion was ever done in the heart without an external act to go with it.  That was part of the culture, and baptism in the Jordan River was the sign of the public confession of sin that had occurred in the heart.

So John was calling for a fundamental transformation that even a Jew had to make.  Now, some of these people were hypocritical.  Some of them went through it, but they were phony … the fascinating confrontation with the snakes who were also known as Pharisees.  But they came confessing their sins.  The man had an incredible impact on the entire country.

When John saw the Pharisees — those who had devised the legalistic religious system — and the Sadducees — those who ran the temple system and did not believe in the divinely supernatural — he called them a brood of vipers and asked them who warned them to flee from the wrath to come (verse 7).

MacArthur says that the Pharisees inherited their beliefs from the predecessors, the Hasidim. (Today’s Hasidim are probably a mix of the original and of the Pharisees.) The Pharisees focused more on legalism than holiness:

… it all started out kind of okay with the Hasidim, but by the time it got to the reorganized Pharisees, they perverted everything.  And there was no inward life left.  There was no real devotion.  There was no real consecration.  There was no real piety.  There was no real godliness.  It was all an external, phony deal to set themselves above everybody else as the real super spiritual people.  They were, literally, fanatics at self-righteousness.  They withdrew themselves, Luke 7:39 says, from all sinners.  And they tried to condemn Jesus for even going near sinners.  You remember that?  They blasted Him for hanging around drunkards, winebibbers and sinners, and any of those kinds of people.  They tried to force Jesus into their same kind of fanatical self-righteousness.

The Sadducees got rich off the sacrificial system and courted the Greeks when they ruled, then the Romans:

They didn’t particularly care about the intrusion of Greek culture.  They could have cared less about Greek customs.  They were the ones who courted and kowtowed and hassled around and fiddled with Rome to get everything they could out of it.  The high priests at the time of Jesus were Sadducees.  They were compromisers.  They didn’t believe in any resurrection, so they didn’t have to worry about how they lived ’cause there weren’t any consequences.  They just, you know, made hay while the sun shined, that’s all.  Everything was here-and-now, get it while you can get it, make it while you can.

And so they did everything they could politically to make sure they got out of Rome all they could get and they played the political game to get into the seats of power.  They were few in number, extremely wealthy. They were a priestly party, and the chief priest, by the way, is almost a synonym when you see that in the Bible. The term chief priest, the New Testament, is almost a synonym for the Sadducees.  Their big thing was to make money, and they ran the temple franchises.  You say, “What?”  Oh, yeah, they had big business in the temple.  When certain feast time came – in fact, all year long, when people came there, pilgrims from other countries, to make sacrifices – the first thing they had to do was exchange their money, because they had to buy sacrificial animals.  And in the temple they sold everything, the doves and the pigeons and the goats and the sheep.  They sold it all there.  They provided the whole bit, and when these pilgrims would come to the temple they would first of all have to exchange their money to trade in Jerusalem And the place you exchanged your money was at the temple and, of course, they charged an exorbitant interest to change the money.  And then it turned right around, when they went to buy the animals, they paid incredible prices for the animals and the Sadducees were gettin’ wealthier and wealthier and wealthier.  And that’s why Jesus went in with a whip and cleaned them out.  And when He cleaned the thing out, that’s when He alienated the Sadducees ’cause that was their business that He was messing with.  And that’s why people like Annas and Caiphas hated Him for the rest of the time that He lived and ministered, until finally they got Him to the cross.

MacArthur analyses the verse and explains why the two groups were there:

In Matthew 3 we find a very interesting thing in the Greek “But when he saw many of the Pharisees and the Sadducees.”  What’s interesting to me about this, in the Greek there are two nouns but only one article And it seems to me that John is kind of pointing to the fact that he saw them as one group.  It’s sort of like he was saying, “and when he saw the Pharisees/Sadducees.”  They’re just like one group, one class of religious phonies, one class of people all wrapped up in the religion of human achievement.  In one case it was get it now, in one case it was earn it for later, in both cases it was the same thing.

You say, “Well, John, if they’re so bad off and they’ve got it all figured out with their human achievement, why are they coming to be baptized?”  Good question.  Why are they coming to be baptized?  What do they want out of John?  Well, you know something?  The Bible doesn’t tell us why they came.  But I’ll give you some reasons that I thought of.  First of all, they may have come because they were curious.  I mean, if the whole city of Jerusalem had come out there, you know that they’re gonna come out.  And it’s amazing that they figured it was a threat to them, too – Right? – or they wouldn’t have banded together.  Or at least we assume they were together because they appear together so frequently following this.  I think maybe, too, that the Bible tells us, you know, that all men perceive that John the Baptist was a prophet, and I think they were intimidated by the population that thought this man was a prophet of God.  And maybe they even had some real questions ’cause they’d had prophetic silence for 400 years.  Maybe they figured that maybe the people are right.  Maybe the guy’s a prophet.  We certainly can’t stay in here and be ignorant while everybody in town’s running out to find out about it.  We gotta find out about this guy.  And so under the pressure of curiosity and the pressure of the people believing he was a prophet, they showed up. And I got another think, too.  I think maybe they figured if they didn’t join the people, they might get left out and then the people would know something they didn’t know and they might lose their influence.

And I think, also, that they probably wanted to get in on the movement so they could move to the top and take it over.  Listen, that’s an old one.  We’ve got that in Christianity today.  We’ve got all kinds of people running churches and running organizations in Christianity who aren’t Christians.  Satan moves these people in.  The apostle Paul told us that.  “Beware, because when I leave grievous wolves shall come in not sparing the flock.”  Watch out for false teachers.  Watch out for false apostles.  Watch out for the people who want to come in and take over the church – false leaders.  They wanted to get in on it.  This was a movement that was gonna make a difference.  If this was a movement that was gonna capture the people, then they were willing to stoop to conquer.  Now, you can see they were all the wrong reasons There was no real repentance, no real repentance, no real confession of sin, no honest spirituality, no real search for God, no real heart-rending sorrow, no desire to get a heart that was sinful righteous, to get ready for the coming King and His kingdom.  They were so smug and self-righteous. They believed that they would be the great exalted ones in the kingdom when it came, just as they were; so they didn’t repent.  There wasn’t any conversion, no transformation.  They were just deceitful hypocrites.  And they just come walking out minding their own business and they run into John.  And I don’t know what they figured about this guy, but I’m sure they didn’t figure what they got.

Henry says that John was warning these two groups about the wrath here and the wrath to come. Recall that the Romans destroyed the temple in AD 70:

Note, (1.) There is a wrath to come; besides present wrath, the vials of which are poured out now, there is future wrath, the stores of which are treasured up for hereafter. (2.) It is the great concern of every one of us to flee from this wrath. (3.) It is wonderful mercy that we are fairly warned to flee from this wrath; think—Who has warned us? God has warned us, who delights not in our ruin; he warns by the written word, by ministers, by conscience. (4.) These warnings sometime startle those who seemed to have been very much hardened in their security and good opinion of themselves.

MacArthur explains why John called them a brood — offspring — of vipers:

“O, offspring of snakes, who chased you out here?”  The proud sons of Abraham, honored leaders of the nation, and he says, “You offspring of vipers.”  You know, the Lord must have liked that title for them ’cause He used it a lot.  It became rather common.  Jesus said to them in Matthew 12:34, “O offspring of vipers.”  And then over in Matthew 23:33, Jesus said again to them, “O offspring of vipers”  Boy, I mean, that’s pretty strong stuff.  What does he mean by that?  Well, he exposes in one expression the great and fatal sin that marked them.  He condemns them instantly as religious phonies.  Let me tell you why.  Viper, echidna, interesting little Greek word.  It refers to a small, poisonous desert snake, very familiar to John the Baptist.  And that snake was so deceitful.  It looked like a dead branch or a little stick, and it would stay still and somebody gathering firewood, phe-ew!  That’s exactly what happened on Melita in Acts 28, you remember, in verse 3, the firewood, and Paul was at the fire and that little thing that looked like a stick got Paul, Acts 28.  That was the viper, deceitful.  Suddenly it would strike and sink its teeth in and shoot its poison.  Now, he doesn’t call them just vipers; he calls them offspring of vipers, for they were just the product of the people who preceded them He really talked about the sin of their fathers.  But they were deadly hypocrites.  They were poisoning a whole nation with their fatal deception.  They were passing themselves off as if they were harmless and they were venomous.  And by the way, it was fitting that he called them vipers because their own originator and their own leader was nothing but a viper himself, and who was that? – Satan.  Revelation, chapter 12, verse 9 and Revelation, chapter 20, verse 2, Satan is seen as a serpent.  He is a serpent in the Garden.  John 8, he is a deceiver.  He is a liar.  And so he calls them poisonous, deceitful vipers, snakes.

It is common to see vipers slither out of the way of danger:

… basically, in the desert, and if you were there today, you’d see that this is all there is – in places in the desert there was dry, short grass, and it’s just very dry and you see fields of it.  Maybe it’s sometimes left over from a harvest, but just sometimes growing there.  Perhaps the water of the Jordan allowing some growth and then as the heat of the summer comes and the Jordan becomes a little narrower, it dries out and is very parched.  And then, now and then, around the desert, as John would well know, you would see these stunted little bushes, thorny bushes, very brittle for lack of water.  And sometimes a desert fire would come.  And when a desert fire would break out, it would sweep like a river of flame across that dry grass and those brittle little thorny bushes.  And invariably, and this is still true, in front of that wall of fire would come scurrying these little snakes, these little vipers, and other little scorpions and desert creatures running for their lives In fact, the same thing happened when a field was burned Today in America we still burn fields after harvest.  They did the same then.  During the time when the grain was growing, the snakes would hide in the grain.  They would live there.  And then all of the sudden the harvest would come and they might endure the harvest.  And then the field burning would come and if the field was being burned, you’d see the little snakes fleeing across the desert in front of the fire.  And so John the Baptist faces the snakes and says, “What made you run to safety before the fires of judgment?”  You see this picture?  Graphic.  He sees these people scurrying in front of the flame.  It’s as if to say, “Who brought you snakes out of your holes?” What brought you out of your holes?  What fire got you moving?  And, you know, in his own mind and in his own heart, he knew what that fire was It was the fire of the judgment of God he’s about to talk about.  But that wasn’t what really moved them.  They weren’t moved by the fire of the judgment of God; they were chased out of their holes by Satan The devil had pushed them out there to carry out their hypocrisy.  And just like snakes scurrying before a fire, they were running out there as chased by Satan.  They should have been running out there running from the wrath of God with real repentance.

John warned that repentance is evidenced by worthy fruit (verse 8), meaning that those who have truly turned away from sin will lead sincerely godly lives, not just on the surface — not through legalism — but in spontaneous and heartfelt good deeds.

MacArthur explains:

What he’s saying is there oughta be a change in your lifestyle.  Stop doing what you used to do.  Do righteous things, not unrighteous things.  Be loving and sharing and kind.  He says to the Pharisees and the Sadducees, if you got two coats, give one to somebody and if you’ve got food, give it to somebody who’s hungry.  Let me see something in your life.  That’s exactly what James says: “Faith without works is” – What? – “dead.”  You’ll never prove true repentance unless the fruit of repentance and the work of repentance is visible.  True repentance will manifest a changed life.  And there’s a beautiful little word here.  “Bring forth, therefore, fruits befitting repentance.”  That Greek word means “of equal weight.”  In other words, there ought to be works that are of equal weight with repentance so you can see it’s legitimate And this wasn’t true of them, and he knew it, and they knew it, and everybody around knew it.  And so he nails ’em with it.  “If you’re coming here with genuine repentance, then let’s see it.  Let’s see your life change.”

John had a special message for his fellow Jews: their Abrahamic lineage meant nothing. John said that, if He chose to do so, God could raise stones as children to Abraham (verse 9).

The Jews of that era were fond of saying they had nothing to worry about spiritually, because Abraham was their father. They did not need to repent. John was telling them otherwise, hence the exhortation to be baptised as if they were Gentile converts.

MacArthur elaborates:

“Think not to say within yourselves, ‘we have Abraham as our father,’ for I say unto you that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham.”  Big deal!  “You have Abraham as your father.  God can make a child of Abraham out of a rock.  You’re not so hot.”  Now, this he says, “Stop presuming on your descent from Abraham as a passport to heaven.”  Boy, this was really a shock to them Do you realize that orthodox Jews believed that they were saved by their Jewishness?  I’m sure you know that.  The rabbis said, quote, “All Israelites have a portion in the world to come.”  They believed that.  They talked about – listen to this – they talked about “the delivering merits of the fathers,” “the delivering merits of the fathers.”  They had their own Jewish treasury of merits.  Another thing the rabbis taught was that Abraham sat at the gates of Gehenna and hell to turn back any Israelite who happened by chance to come that way.  They said that it was the merits of Abraham which enabled the ships to sail safely on the seas, that it was because of the merits of Abraham that the rain descended on the earth, that it was the merits of Abraham which enabled Moses to enter into heaven and receive the law, that it was because of the merits of Abraham that David’s prayer was heard, even for the wicked these merits sufficed.  They said, “If thy children were mere dead bodies without blood vessels or bones, thy merits, O Abraham, would avail for them.”  And it’s just that spirit that John is rebuking.  A degenerate person cannot claim salvation on the basis of a heroic past.  An evil son cannot plead the merits of a saintly father.  They were tryin’ to hold onto their nationality.  They were dead wrong

And the Pharisees and the Sadducees that confronted John were headed for hell because they were relying for their eternal security on their descent from Abraham They were Jews, and they were so smug.  And he says to them, “God is able to take these stones and make children unto Abraham out of ’em.”  What a statement.  You see, it minimizes the importance of being a son of Abraham.  But more than that –  listen to this.  It is a symbolic statement, I feel.  If these Jews – now watch – if these Jews, by turning their hearts to stone in resisting God’s converting grace, if they wish to do that, if they wish to turn their hearts to stone, then God will take stones – lifeless, useless, dead things – and make them into his sons And I believe those stones are symbols of the Gentiles “If you want to turn into rocks, dead, lifeless and useless, then I’ll take the dead and lifeless and useless Gentiles and turn ’em into sons.”  In chapter 8, verse 10, Jesus said the same thing.  He met a centurion servant who was a Gentile, and he saw, and he listened and he marveled and he said, “Verily I say unto you, I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel.”  I never met a son like this.  And here’s a rock that I can turn into a son.  “And I say unto you that many” [such Gentiles] “shall come from the east and west and sit down with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven.  But the sons of the kingdom” – the Jews – “shall be cast out into outer darkness.  There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”  If God finds a son who has become a rock; He’ll find a rock that He can make a son out of.  And so John confronts them and condemns them.

There is a note of caution here for Christians, too. Some firmly believe that the denomination they belong to is the only one that brings salvation and that anyone who doesn’t belong to it is destined for hell. That sort of thinking is along the lines of the Jews invoking Abraham here.

MacArthur says:

You know something very interesting to me?  Do you know that the rich man in hell in the story that Jesus told about the rich man and Lazarus – You remember that? – the rich man went to hell; the rich man was a man who had Abraham for his father.  That’s right.  He had Abraham for his father.  I’ll tell you something else.  He even heard Abraham call him “son” and it didn’t do him any good.  He recognized Abraham as a father.  Abraham recognized him as a son racially; it didn’t do him any good.  No religious attainment does.

Tying into that verse, John then goes into an agricultural analogy which everyone listening to him would have understood, even if they lived in Jerusalem. He said that the ax is lying at the root of the trees, and that every tree that does not bear good fruit will be thrown into the fire (verse 10). Farmers chop down trees that don’t bear fruit. Gardeners do, too. Those trees are wasting space that could be used for productive trees.

Henry says:

It is now declared with the axe at the root, to show that God is in earnest in the declaration, that every tree, however high in gifts and honours, however green in external professions and performances, if it bring not forth good fruit, the fruits meet for repentance, is hewn down, disowned as a tree in God’s vineyard, unworthy to have room there, and is cast into the fire of God’s wrath—the fittest place for barren trees: what else are they good for? If not fit for fruit, they are fit for fuel.

To understand this more fully, MacArthur explains true repentance as expressed in Psalm 51:

First of all is the intellectual.  Repentance begins when there is a knowledge of sin, when there is a recognition of sin.  So John, like any good preacher of repentance, confronted people with sinfulness.  There had to be an understanding of sin involving a sense of personal guilt, a sense of personal defilement, a sense of personal helplessness.  Now, all three of these are illustrated very aptly in Psalm 51first of all is the intellectual part in verse 3 “For I acknowledge my transgression and my sin is ever before me.”  Verse 7, “Purge me with hyssop and I shall be clean.  Wash me and I shall be whiter than snow.”  Verse 11, “Cast me not away from thy presence.  Take not thy Holy Spirit from me.”  Now, in all three of those verses is a recognition of sin.  Verse 3 explicitly, “For I acknowledge my transgressions, my sin is ever before me.”  Verse 7 and 11, implicit, the sense that he needs to be cleansed, the sense that he needs to be purged, that there is something wrong, that God may leave him, verse 11, the Holy Spirit may be removed from him.  And so there is an acknowledging, an acknowledging of sin, a recognition of what we are before God.  That is the beginning of repentance …

There must be, secondly, the emotional; and … this what we have in the feelings.  We go from the mind to the feelings, and it becomes a recognition not only of sin, but that sin is hateful to a holy God, and then there is an overwhelming sense of guilt in the emotions Psalm 51 again – in this psalm where David is facing his sin, we find this element in verse 1: “Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy lovingkindness, according to the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions.  Wash me thoroughly from mine iniquity and cleanse me from my sin.”  You see, here is a man crying for mercy and the only man who needs mercy is a man who is – What? – guilty.  You see, innocent men don’t need mercy.  Justice will do fine for them.  It’s guilty men that need mercy, and David recognizes here that he is guilty and his emotions are stirred.  In verse 10, “Create in me a clean heart” – he sees the evil in his heart – “O God, renew a right spirit in me.”  Verse 14, “Deliver me from blood guiltiness.”  And David even felt the anxiety and the pain in his physical body He cries out to God in the midst of this sin, in terrible anguish in his heart … True repentance doesn’t think of consequences, it doesn’t think of other people’s opinion, and it doesn’t think of excuses; it does think of transgressing God, it does think of being personally guilty.  So it is lupe kata theon, “sorrow toward God.”  That’s the issue.  And when there is genuine repentance, there will be this deep sense of sorrow directed toward a holy God who has been offended

But no matter how convinced the mind is about sin, and no matter how pained the emotions become, even in the right way, true repentance will never happen without the third area, and that’s volitional – intellectual, emotional, and volitional.  There’s got to be an act of the will.  There’s got to be a turning around With David he recognized it and he felt guilty for it and his guilt was directed toward God, but the thing that really made the repentance happen was the fact that he had an act of will in which he said “I will not do this anymore.  I turn from this.”  He changed his life pattern.  Look at Psalm 51, verse 5.  “Behold, I was shaped in iniquity and in sin did my mother conceive me.”  He recognizes that this is the past, this is the way it was.  But in 7 he says, “Purge me with hyssop and I shall be clean.  Wash me and I shall be whiter than snow.”  Turn it around.  Turn this depravity around.  Turn this sinfulness around.  “Create,” verse 10, “in me a clean heart, O God.  Renew a right spirit within me.”  You see, his will wanted a dramatic change.  That’s vital.  That’s vital.

Guilt is of no use if we do nothing with it to change our lives with the help of divine grace.

Now on to MacArthur’s explanation of verse 10:

John is saying this: “Look, you can pretend to be running from the wrath to come.  You can pretend to be fleeing from the judgment of God, but if there’s not any fruit there, and if you’re depending upon your self-righteous smugness and your descent from Abraham to save you, you’re in a lot of trouble because the axe is already laid at the root of your tree because there’s no fruit.  There’s an imminency here.  He says – look at it – “the axe is laid unto the root of the trees” already.  “Now,” he says, “it’s there.  It’s there now.  Judgment is now.  It’s imminent.”  Notice a most interesting thing that judgment, in John’s preaching and in all of the prophetic preaching of the Old Testament, was connected with the coming of the Messiah, just as much as salvation was

As Henry said above, there is judgement here and judgement in the life to come. MacArthur agrees:

I can’t help but think back a few weeks ago in Matthew that as soon as that little baby arrived, as soon as that little baby arrived it wasn’t very long until other little babies were slaughtered, until there was chaos in Israel, until 70 A.D. came and the whole nation of Israel was drowned in a bloodbath and the city of Jerusalem literally obliterated from the map When John preached this word, when John said the axe is laid at the root of the tree, do you realize the destruction of Jerusalem was only about 40 years away and it would be all over And so there was imminent judgment.  By the way, this is always true There is always imminent judgment, because the moment you die, the moment any man dies, there is judgment.  Oh, not the final great white throne judgment, but listen, when you die without Jesus Christ, at that moment you go out of the presence of God forever That’s judgment.  And, additionally, God brings about judgment and vengeance even in this life before we die.  If you live a life in violation of God’s principles, you will suffer consequences here and now.  Read the book of Proverbs.  The bottom line in the book of Proverbs is this:  It’s gonna be good for the good and bad for the bad, here and later.  That’s the bottom line in the book of Proverbs.  Good for the good, bad for the bad, now and later.  The axe head is at the root of the tree.  And, of course, ultimately, the great white throne judgment – terrible, fearful, fearful judgment.  So, John had to say judgment is just as near as the kingdom is near.  If the King comes, He comes not only to save, but He comes to judge and always the same.  By what you do with Jesus Christ, you determine whether He’s the Savior or the Judge. 

Then John spoke of Jesus. John said that he provided a baptism of repentance but that Jesus — unnamed here — was more powerful and coming after him; John said he was unworthy of carrying His sandals and that he would baptise the people with the Holy Spirit and fire (verse 11).

Henry says:

See how meanly he speaks of himself, that he might magnify Christ (v. 11); “I indeed baptize you with water, that is the utmost I can do.” Note, Sacraments derive not their efficacy from those who administer them; they can only apply the sign; it is Christ’s prerogative to give the thing signified, 1 Cor 3 6; 2 Kings 4 31. But he that comes after me is mightier than I. Though John had much power, for he came in the spirit and power of Elias, Christ has more; though John was truly great, great in the sight of the Lord (not a greater was born of woman), yet he thinks himself unworthy to be in the meanest place of attendance upon Christ, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear. He sees, (1.) How mighty Christ is, in comparison with him. Note, It is a great comfort to the faithful ministers, to think that Jesus Christ is mightier than they, can do that for them, and that by them, which they cannot do; his strength is perfected in their weakness. (2.) How mean he is in comparison with Christ, not worthy to carry his shoes after him! Note, Those whom God puts honour upon, are thereby made very humble and low in their own eyes; willing to be abased, so that Christ may be magnified; to be any thing, to be nothing, so that Christ may be all.

Of Christ’s forms of baptism, Henry tells us:

By the powerful working of his grace; He shall baptize you, that is, some of you, with the Holy Ghost and with fire. Note, [1.] It is Christ’s prerogative to baptize with the Holy Ghost. This he did in the extraordinary gifts of the Spirit conferred upon the apostles, to which Christ himself applies these words of John, Acts 1 5. This he does in the graces and comforts of the Spirit given to them that ask him, Luke 11 13; John 7 38, 39; See Acts 11 16. [2.] They who are baptized with the Holy Ghost are baptized as with fire; the seven spirits of God appear as seven lamps of fire, Rev 4 5. Is fire enlightening? So the Spirit is a Spirit of illumination. Is it warming? And do not their hearts burn within them? Is it consuming? And does not the Spirit of judgment, as a Spirit of burning, consume the dross of their corruptions? Does fire make all it seizes like itself? And does it move upwards? So does the Spirit make the soul holy like itself, and its tendency is heaven-ward. Christ says I am come to send fire, Luke 12 49.

John warned that Christ’s winnowing fork is in His hand and that he will clear the threshing floor, gathering His wheat — the saved — into His granary but burn the chaff with unquenchable fire (verse 12).

Henry explains:

By the final determinations of his judgment (v. 12); Whose fan is in his hand. His ability to distinguish, as the eternal wisdom of the Father, who sees all by a true light, and his authority to distinguish, as the Person to whom all judgment is committed, is the fan that is in his hand, Jer 15 7. Now he sits as a Refiner. Observe here [1.] The visible church is Christ’s floor; O my threshing, and the corn of my floor, Isa 21 10. The temple, a type of church, was built upon a threshing-floor. [2.] In this floor there is a mixture of wheat and chaff. True believers are as wheat, substantial, useful, and valuable; hypocrites are as chaff, light, and empty, useless and worthless, and carried about with every wind; these are now mixed, good and bad, under the same external profession; and in the same visible communion. [3.] There is a day coming when the floor shall be purged, and the wheat and chaff shall be separated. Something of this kind is often done in this world, when God calls his people out of Babylon, Rev 18 4. But it is the day of the last judgment that will be the great winnowing, distinguishing day, which will infallibly determine concerning doctrines and works (1 Cor 3 13), and concerning persons (ch. 25 32, 33), when saints and sinners shall be parted for ever. [4.] Heaven is the garner into which Jesus Christ will shortly gather all his wheat, and not a grain of it shall be lost: he will gather them as the ripe fruits were gathered in. Death’s scythe is made use of to gather them to their people. In heaven the saints are brought together, and no longer scattered; they are safe, and no longer exposed; separated from corrupt neighbours without, and corrupt affections within, and there is no chaff among them. They are not only gathered into the barn (ch. 13 30), but into the garner, where they are thoroughly purified. [5.] Hell is the unquenchable fire, which will burn up the chaff, which will certainly be the portion and punishment, and everlasting destruction, of hypocrites and unbelievers. So that here are life and death, good and evil, set before us; according as we now are in the field, we shall be then in the floor.

Before I forget, MacArthur has an English anecdote that needs correction. As he preached these sermons in 1978, he did not have the benefit of the Internet.

MacArthur’s sermon says:

The story goes that Lady Huntington was invited, or rather invited, I should say – the Duchess of Birmingham – to come to hear George Whitfield preach.  The duchess responded in this manner, quote, “It is monstrous to be told that you have a heart as sinful as the common wretches that crawl on the earth.  It is highly offensive and insulting,” end quote.  Well, Lady Huntington was insulted when George Whitfield attempted to call her to the recognition of sin, and consequently she never entered into the act of repentance.

I do wonder about the veracity of that story, since Selina Hastings, Countess of Huntingdon (1707-1791), devoted her life to the Christian faith and to charity. George Whitefield became her personal chaplain and preached to invited guests in one of her homes in London. She had connections with Anglicanism, her first denomination, then Calvinism and, finally, Methodism, participating in the work of the Great Revival.

In closing, MacArthur tells us what made John the Baptist the greatest human that ever lived:

Number one, made him great, he was obedient to God’s Word.  From the very beginning of his life, he obeyed.  From the very start of his life, he obeyed.  He never wavered from the calling that God had given to him.  From the time that he was a little child, he obeyed God.  That’s part of greatness.

Second, he was filled with the Spirit.  Luke 1:15 says he “was filled with the Spirit from the time of his mother’s womb.”  He was great because he was obedient.  He was great because he was filled with the Spirit of God.  He was controlled by the Holy Spirit.

Thirdly, he was great because he was self-controlled.  Luke 1:15 says he, “drank neither wine nor strong drink.”  Matthew 3 says that, “His clothes were only what was necessary, and his food the same.”  The man had self-control.  The man had brought his body into subjection.  He didn’t overdo anything …

Fourth, he was great not only because of his obedience, because he was Spirit-controlled, because he was self-controlled, but because he was humble He was humble.  The greatest thing he ever said, I think, in this regard was when Jesus finally arrived on the scene, and the disciples who had so fallen in love with John the Baptist were gathered around John, and they said, “And, John, now what?  This, this is the Messiah, and He’s come, but, but what about you?”  And John said in John 3, in verse 30, “He must increase, and I must” – What? – “decrease.”  “It’s over for me, guys.  You go and give your love to Him.  I’m not even worthy to unlatch His shoe.”  Right?  That’s what he said.  Humble.

Fifth, he was great because he proclaimed God’s Word.  “Behold, the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world.  Repent, the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”  You can hear him thundering it out, “He shall turn many of the people to righteousness.”  That’s the sixth He not only proclaimed God’s Word, he won people to Christ He was obedient, filled with the Spirit, self-controlled, humble, proclaiming God’s Word, and winning people to Christ.  “He shall turn many of the hearts of the people to righteousness.”  And he did.

You say, “Oh, boy, but even if I did all that, I’d never be as great as John.”  Hang onto your seat and listen to this.  Matthew 11:11 says, “Verily I say to you, among them that are born of women, there hath not risen a greater than John the Baptist.”  Now listen to this.  “Nevertheless, he that is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.”  You get that? Shock.  Listen, we’re in the kingdom; and any of us, the least of us in the kingdom, surpasses the one who foretold its coming.  We have all the resources he looked for.  We have all the realities he searched for.  We have all the blessings he anticipated.  We’re not greater in terms of character.  That isn’t what he’s saying.  We’re greater in terms of privilege and opportunity.

It’s like Jesus said to His disciples, “Greater things than these shall” – What? – “ye do, because I go to My Father.” We can be great for God.  The least of us, greater than the greatest who ever lived.  That’s what it is to be in His kingdom.  Are you grateful?

That is certainly something to ponder in the days ahead. So often, we take our spiritual blessings for granted, but they are the greatest gifts we can receive in this life, because the Lord gave them to us.

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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.

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.

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.

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.

All Saints Day is November 1.

Readings for Year C can be found here, including links to the exegeses on the Gospel reading from Luke, his version of the Beatitudes.

The Epistle is as follows, emphases mine:

Ephesians 1:11-23

1:11 In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will,

1:12 so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory.

1:13 In him you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit;

1:14 this is the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God’s own people, to the praise of his glory.

1:15 I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, and for this reason

1:16 I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers.

1:17 I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him,

1:18 so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints,

1:19 and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power.

1:20 God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places,

1:21 far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come.

1:22 And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church,

1:23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.

Commentary comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

The first half of this passage concerns predestination: God’s choosing His elect.

The doctrine of election, or predestination, is confusing to the point that people make jokes about it. Old-school Presbyterians have and still do place much emphasis on election. Some say that one can be predestined, commit murder and still be saved. Not so. Others wonder if they are part of the elect and pray for those who do not have faith, some of whom who come to belief later in life.

John MacArthur explains more about election, borrowing a quote from the famous 19th century English evangelist, Charles Haddon Spurgeon:

“If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, believe in your heart God raised Him from the dead, you’ll be saved.” You can’t think for a moment that you are supposed to figure out whether you’re elect; that’s absurd. As Spurgeon said, we can’t run around and see if people have an E stamped on their back. But you are commanded to believe, and, “You’ll die in your sins if you believe not on Me,” Jesus said. The reality of all of this is you have an apparent paradox in every major doctrine in Scripture that brings God together with man.

Paul mentions predestination when he says that, in Christ, we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of Him — God — who accomplishes all things according to His counsel and will (verse 11).

God does this, Paul says, so that we, setting our hope on Christ, live for the praise of His glory (verse 12).

Paul tells the Ephesians — and those of the churches surrounding Ephesus —  that when they heard the Gospel and believed it, they were marked with the seal of the Holy Spirit (verse 13), as belonging to God and His Son.

In examining these verses, MacArthur unpicks the confusion many of us face when we think of predestination:

All of this is God’s plan. Go back to verse 11: He is the one “who works all things after the counsel of His will,” energeō. He energizes everything. So when you think about salvation, I want you to think about it as the purpose of God, the will of God, the plan of God, the intention of God. He chose you.

But sometimes people get a little bit confused with this, and they wonder, “Well where is the necessary faith in that?” And it’s side by side, down into verse 13: “You also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation—having also believed.” Salvation doesn’t happen apart from faith. Through the years that’s been a question that is asked of me over and over again: “How do those go together? If salvation is all of God, if it’s monergistic, if God does the choosing, God does the predestining, if God has to give the life to the dead person, if God has to do the regenerating, if God has to grant the faith, if God has to give the sinner sight and life in order to respond and believe—how is it the sinner’s responsibility? The answer is, I’m not sure the dynamics of that, but I know that God’s purposes in election never come to fruition unless someone believes the gospel. And we’ve been told to go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.

Rather serendipitously, the Gospel for the Twentieth Sunday after Trinity in Year C, October 30, 2022, has the story of Zacchaeus, the despised chief tax collector, whom Jesus saved. Jesus knew who he was and Zacchaeus received Him joyfully. Luke 19:10 concludes the story with Jesus saying:

19:10 For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.”

I cited a sermon from MacArthur wherein he says God seeks us first, then we seek Him:

In our sinfulness, in our fallenness, in our reprobation, in our blindness, in our ignorance, in our association and relationship to the kingdom of darkness and under the power of Satan, we cannot seek after God. We do not seek after God.  There would then be no reconciliation, no salvation, no forgiveness, no hope of heaven if God did not seek after us.  God does the initial seeking.  God does the saving of those who apart from Him would hide themselves from Him like Adam and Eve, running from His presence with no capacity in them to ever turn and pursue Him …

And this is the work of the Son of Man.  The Son of Man in verse 10 is a title which Jesus used of Himself more than any other, by far … The word “seek,” zte, means to pursue, to look for, to search for.  To save means basically to rescue from harm, to deliver from danger And the amazing irony of it all is that God sends Christ to seek and to save those who are headed for His own wrath and judgment.

Returning to today’s reading, another essential component of predestination, or election, is that we must believe in Christ and confess Him as Lord. MacArthur says:

You cannot be a believer without believing—basic …

John 1:12, “As many as received Him”—that would be the same as believing—“to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name.” Who becomes a child of God? Those who believe. Then verse 13, “Who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” There you have the same thing again. It’s the will of God, not the will of man—and yet you must believe. In fact, if you don’t believe, you weren’t elect, because election will be confirmed by faith.

Another difficulty is sin. If the Holy Spirit is with us, whose fault is it when we sin?

MacArthur explains it this way:

If—whatever’s good happens in your life, you give Him the praise; whatever wrong happens in your life, you take the blame. There you are again with the same reality that you cannot do anything in the flesh, you can only do it by the power of the Spirit—and yet you are responsible to conduct your life in a sanctified way.

… that should encourage you because it means it’s a far more glorious issue than any human being could ever understand. But it doesn’t happen without believing. That’s why the New Testament is filled with the command to believe, to believe. “Faith comes by hearing, hearing the word of God.”

It’s somewhat simpler than it sounds:

So we have an inheritance. The ground of that inheritance is basically predestination, verse 11. But the ground of that inheritance is also, according to verse 13, believing. Your responsibility is not to figure out God’s predestined plan; your responsibility is to believe. And whoever believes, the Lord will never turn away, right? So that’s the foundation understanding; the ground of our inheritance is bound up in God’s predestined plan and our response of faith.

Let’s look at the role of the Holy Spirit, because Paul says that the Spirit’s seal is the sign that we are pledged to that inheritance towards redemption as God’s own people, for the praise of His glory (verse 14).

MacArthur tells us how the Holy Spirit helps us lead a sanctified life:

The Holy Spirit does illuminate us. The Holy Spirit is our resident teacher. The Holy Spirit does convict us of sin. The Holy Spirit does an ongoing work in our lives of enabling us to minister through spiritual gifts. But He is also “the Holy Spirit of promise,” and that is to say He guarantees the fulfillment of the future inheritance.

MacArthur tells us that a seal was very important in that era and in the Old Testament:

Now it says the seal of the Spirit: “You were sealed in Him.” What does this notion of sealing mean? Well let me see if I can just give you some illustrations of it. In looking at it maybe from different facets. First of all, we’d say sealing is a sign of security

You remember that Christ’s tomb was sealed with a Roman seal, which meant that no one could break that seal. No one had the power to break that seal unless they had more power than Rome. That was a way to secure something. And that is exactly what the seal of the Spirit is. We are secured, and we are secured by the Holy Spirit, and no one has greater power than He. No one can break the seal. The seal also in Jewish culture was a sign of authenticity. You remember back in 1 Kings 21 when Ahab wanted Naboth’s vineyard, and through Jezebel’s deception she got it for him by writing letters and sealing them with Ahab’s seal. This was the official mark of authenticity, the royal signature. So God seals us to secure us, and He seals us so that it is labeled that we belong to Him. We are legitimate, authentic sons of God

I think that’s a marvelous way to think of the Holy Spirit. He is the one who grants to us delegated authority to access all divine resources. Jesus said, “Ask anything in My name and”—what?—“I’ll give it to you—anything according to My will.” Being sealed with the Spirit is a sign of security, authenticity, ownership, and authority; and we exercise all those things as believers.

A pledge for us, on our behalf, is also involved:

So the ground of our inheritance is predestination and faith. The guarantee of our inheritance is the promise, the Holy Spirit of promise who secures us and our inheritance. One other comment on verse 14: The Holy Spirit is “given as a pledge”—not only a seal, but a pledge. What is a pledge? It’s the Greek word arrabōn. It’s used a couple of ways. One is “a down payment.” The Holy Spirit is the first installment on our inheritance yet to come. The Holy Spirit is God’s down payment on our eternal inheritance. And every believer has the Holy Spirit. “If any man have not the Holy Spirit, he’s none of His,” Romans 8:9. So the fact that the Spirit has taken up residence in us and we are the temple of the Spirit of God means that God has given us the first installment on our eternal inheritance. Arrabōn was also used another way: It was used for an engagement ring. So the Holy Spirit is for us not only the down payment to our future inheritance, but the engagement ring that means we are the bride, and we will be married to the bridegroom, Jesus Christ.

Paul has a reason for writing these words to the Ephesians:

Paul is really calling on these troubled believers living in the worst life of their day to suffer patiently and wait with hearts full of praise for the eternal inheritance that was promised to them. He’s calling for them to understand the spiritual heavenly blessings that were already secured for them by the redemptive work of Jesus Christ and the elective purpose of God in eternity past, and they were just waiting for the full realization of them when they entered glory.

Ultimately, for us:

The ground of our inheritance is predestination and faith. The guarantee of our inheritance is the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of promise who is both a seal and a down payment, engagement ring, a pledge. Finally, the goal of our inheritance. What is the purpose in all of this, end of verse 12? “To the praise of His glory”; end of verse 14, “to the praise of His glory.” God is going to finally redeem us into glory as His “own possession,” verse 14, “to the praise of His glory.” That is always the reason for everything. It’s not about us; it’s about Him.

This is what’s remarkable, and I want you to grasp this as a final thought. If you’re like me, you wonder why the Lord even tolerates you. After all, He is perfect—perfect in every way. It’s incomprehensible to imagine a situation where you are altogether, in every way, exactly what He wants you to be so that you have capacity for only one thing, and that is to bring praise to His glorious name. That’s what heaven is all about. It’s not about you getting your own mansion, it’s not about you traversing the New Jerusalem and counting the jewels; it’s about God having made you like His Son so that you fully satisfy His holy desire. You are to Him as His own Son is to Him. That’s your best life.

In the second half of this passage, Paul prays for the members of the church.

MacArthur says:

This prayer, you almost feel, is a kind of interruption in the flow of Paul’s revelation for the church. It’s almost as if he can’t go another step unless he offers a prayer for the church. He’s writing to the church in Ephesus; it’s been four years since he was there. Not only to the church in Ephesus, but Ephesus was a major town in Asia Minor, and there were other churches listed in Revelation 2 and 3; they also would have received this letter. He starts out with that amazing set of blessings, spiritual blessings in Christ; and then before he starts to go into some more detail about the church and what it believes and how it behaves, he raises a prayer starting in verse 15.

Paul is writing this letter in Rome, where he was being held prisoner.

He tells these Christians in Asia Minor that he has heard of their faith in the Lord Jesus and their love towards all the saints, i.e. fellow believers (verse 15).

MacArthur says that Paul would have received reports of them, either written or in person:

Now he knows he’s writing to a true church because if you look at verse 15 he says, “I too, having heard of the faith in the Lord Jesus which exists among you and your love for all the saints.” Why does he mention those? Because those are the evidences of true salvation: faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and manifest love for the saints.

How did he know about this? How did he know that the Ephesian church was doing so well after four years? Well he says he heard; he heard about it. How would he have heard about it? He’s a prisoner in Rome, he hasn’t seen them in four years, he’s incarcerated. But prisoners could receive letters, and they could receive visitors. And over the period of time of his imprisonment he had received both letters and visitors. And the testimonies were always the same; it was about the faith of the people in Ephesus, and it was about their love for the saints. These are evidences of a true church.

Matthew Henry’s commentary says that love of the saints, of greater or lesser degrees, brings heavenly blessings:

Faith in Christ, and love to the saints, will be attended with all other graces. Love to the saints, as such, and because they are such, must include love to God. Those who love saints, as such, love all saints, how weak in grace, how mean in the world, how fretful and peevish soever, some of them may be.

For the reasons of their future divine inheritance, which they are manifesting through their faith and love in anticipation thereof, Paul gives thanks as he remembers them in his prayers (verse 16).

Paul prays for their further spiritual enlightenment, that God, the Father of Jesus Christ and of all glory, may give them a spirit of wisdom and revelation (verse 17).

Henry explains:

The Lord is a God of knowledge, and there is no sound saving knowledge but what comes from him; and therefore to him we must look for it, who is the God of our Lord Jesus Christ (see v. 3) and the Father of glory. It is a Hebraism. God is infinitely glorious in himself all glory is due to him from his creatures, and he is the author of all that glory with which his saints are or shall be invested. Now he gives knowledge by giving the Spirit of knowledge; for the Spirit of God is the teacher of the saints, the Spirit of wisdom and revelation. We have the revelation of the Spirit in the word: but will that avail us, if we have not the wisdom of the Spirit in the heart? If the same Spirit who indited the sacred scriptures do not take the veil from off our hearts, and enable us to understand and improve them, we shall be never the better.—In the knowledge of him, or for the acknowledgment of him; not only a speculative knowledge of Christ, and of what relates to him, but an acknowledgment of Christ’s authority by an obedient conformity to him, which must be by the help of the Spirit of wisdom and revelation. This knowledge is first in the understanding.

MacArthur says that we lack this teaching today, because churches have moved away from teaching and preaching about Christ. They have focused too much on worldly matters and losing their essential purpose — proclaiming Christ:

This is how the church should live. We should live with this consuming preoccupation with the person of Jesus Christ. In the Old Testament, He’s anticipated; in the New Testament, He’s revealed. And He is the revelation of God that is the most clear revelation. God spoke in time past through the prophets and the writers of the Old Testament. In these last days He’s spoken unto us by His Son. God is on display in Christ. To know Christ is to know all the riches of heaven that are yours because you are His. Churches struggle with this. They get caught up, they get seduced away from Christ

Everything is about knowing Christ. And so … Paul says, “That’s my goal in ministry, is to proclaim Him, proclaim Him.” I hear a lot of things from a lot of so-called preachers these days. I say this too often; I say, “Why doesn’t anyone ever talk about Christ? Why?” We proclaim Him. Completeness is in Him.

Paul continues praying, saying that with the eyes of the heart duly enlightened, the faithful may know the hope to which they are called, the riches of our Lord’s inheritance among the saints (verse 18). The faithful belong to Christ and He inherits us as His Church.

MacArthur ties that verse in with predestination and encourages us to set our minds on the life to come:

Now look at the sweeping reality of verse 18. I want you to understand the doctrine of election; I want you to understand the doctrine of predestination. Some people say, “If you believe in predestination it’ll make you lazy, it’ll make you indifferent.” If you really understand the doctrine of predestination it’ll make you thankful, and then it’ll make you holy, and then it’ll make you joyful, and then it will fill your life with security. You need to understand that you were chosen, predestined, called to eternal glory. It began with the choice and the calling, and it ends with “the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints.”

The very inheritance of Christ is with the saints. It’s in union with the saints that Christ receives His inheritance, and we receive it with Him. Think about it. Before time began God chose you, predestined you to eternal glory, called you in time, granted you faith to believe the gospel, justified you, and set you for glory. And it’s going to take place, because in verse 13 it says, “You were sealed [unto that glorious end] by the Holy Spirit,” who is God’s guarantee, “the Holy Spirit of promise.”

So when you’re focusing on Christ, focus on that which is eternal. You have to fly over life in this world, go from eternity past to eternity future. Think on that: “Set your affections on things above and not on things on the earth.” It’s not going to get better, you can’t fix it; let’s set our affections in the heavenlies. We live; whatever happens in the world around us, we are just a vapor that appears for a little time and vanishes away. This is a very short time; and while we’re here we need to set our affections on things above. Contemplate the greatness of the doctrine of election. This doctrine is so powerful and so important.

Paul then writes of the immeasurable power of Christ towards believers, according to the working of that great power (verse 19).

MacArthur says that the Greek word means ‘energy’:

Christ is your protector

You not only understand the greatness of His plan, but you understand the “greatness of His power,” power “in accordance with the working of the strength of His might.” There are four words here that describe His power: the word “power,” the word “working,” the word “strength,” and the word “might.” He has the power. He has the energy, energeia, His “working.” He has the strength. He has the might.

This is the good news. He not only has a plan, He has the power to execute that plan.

Paul says that God gave His Son that power at the Resurrection, raising Him from the dead, and the Ascension, where He sits at His Father’s right hand (verse 20).

MacArthur tells us:

The resurrection of Christ and the ascension of Christ demonstrates the power of God to bring you through death out the other side into His presence, even as He did for His own beloved Son.

Christ’s power is above all earthly powers and above every name, not just now but for all eternity (verse 21).

MacArthur says:

Sounds like Romans 8, doesn’t it? What’s going to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus?—and Paul lays out a litany of things. No—no persons, no things.

Paul concludes with the holy mystery of the Church. Everything and everyone is subordinate to Jesus Christ, who is head of all things and all people for His Church (verse 22), His Bride, his body of faithful people, the fullness of Him who fills all in all (verse 23).

MacArthur conveys Paul’s idea as being one of Christ’s dominion over everything:

the One who is head over all things, God gave to the church as the head. He didn’t give us angels, He didn’t give us a committee of godly men; He gave us the head of the universe as head of the church. And we are His body; and as “His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.” This is just overwhelming.

He lives in us. The one who has the universal, eternal, redemptive plan has the power to execute that plan, and is the person superior to all other persons and all other things; the One who is head over all things, ruler over everything, is ruler in His church. And not only does He rule His church, but He lives in His church. We are His body, and He fills us with His fullness. There’s so much doctrine and so much theology in this. This is the message we need to preach: It’s about Jesus Christ, who is absolutely everything, and the only hope of salvation and the only deliverance from judgment.

I hope that this explains more about predestination and our divine inheritance as believers.

All Saints Day is officially and traditionally November 1 every year.

However, some churches commemorate it on the Sunday before, i.e. October 30, 2022.

Readings for Year C follow, emphases mine.

First reading

Daniel has a dream of four winds — four neighbouring kingdoms — and an attendant (angel) interprets the dream saying that the faithful will receive and be part of the kingdom of God for eternity.

Daniel 7:1-3, 15-18

7:1 In the first year of King Belshazzar of Babylon, Daniel had a dream and visions of his head as he lay in bed. Then he wrote down the dream:

7:2 I, Daniel, saw in my vision by night the four winds of heaven stirring up the great sea,

7:3 and four great beasts came up out of the sea, different from one another.

7:15 As for me, Daniel, my spirit was troubled within me, and the visions of my head terrified me.

7:16 I approached one of the attendants to ask him the truth concerning all this. So he said that he would disclose to me the interpretation of the matter:

7:17 “As for these four great beasts, four kings shall arise out of the earth.

7:18 But the holy ones of the Most High shall receive the kingdom and possess the kingdom forever–forever and ever.”

Psalm

This Psalm of praise (Psalms 145 to 150) looks forward to the kingdom of the Messiah, Jesus Christ.

Psalm 149

149:1 Praise the LORD! Sing to the LORD a new song, his praise in the assembly of the faithful.

149:2 Let Israel be glad in its Maker; let the children of Zion rejoice in their King.

149:3 Let them praise his name with dancing, making melody to him with tambourine and lyre.

149:4 For the LORD takes pleasure in his people; he adorns the humble with victory.

149:5 Let the faithful exult in glory; let them sing for joy on their couches.

149:6 Let the high praises of God be in their throats and two-edged swords in their hands,

149:7 to execute vengeance on the nations and punishment on the peoples,

149:8 to bind their kings with fetters and their nobles with chains of iron,

149:9 to execute on them the judgment decreed. This is glory for all his faithful ones. Praise the LORD!

Epistle

Paul impresses upon the Ephesians the glory of Jesus Christ and his thanks that they are part of His divine inheritance.

Ephesians 1:11-23

1:11 In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will,

1:12 so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory.

1:13 In him you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit;

1:14 this is the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God’s own people, to the praise of his glory.

1:15 I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, and for this reason

1:16 I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers.

1:17 I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him,

1:18 so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints,

1:19 and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power.

1:20 God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places,

1:21 far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come.

1:22 And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church,

1:23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.

Gospel

This is Luke’s version of the Beatitudes, which are about spiritual as well as temporal wants that the Lord will satisfy. These verses were read earlier this year over two Sundays: the Sixth and Seventh after Epiphany. Those links contain the exegeses to the following reading.

Luke 6:20-31

6:20 Then he looked up at his disciples and said: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.

6:21 “Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled. “Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.

6:22 “Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man.

6:23 Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets.

6:24 “But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.

6:25 “Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry. “Woe to you who are laughing now, for you will mourn and weep.

6:26 “Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.

6:27 “But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you,

6:28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.

6:29 If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt.

6:30 Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again.

6:31 Do to others as you would have them do to you.

All Souls Day is November 2. On that day, Christians remember the faithful departed in the hope of their rising again in Christ.

The Twentieth Sunday after Trinity is on October 30, 2022.

The readings for Year C can be found here.

The Gospel reading is as follows (emphases mine):

Luke 19:1-10

19:1 He entered Jericho and was passing through it.

19:2 A man was there named Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was rich.

19:3 He was trying to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was short in stature.

19:4 So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree to see him, because he was going to pass that way.

19:5 When Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today.”

19:6 So he hurried down and was happy to welcome him.

19:7 All who saw it began to grumble and said, “He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner.”

19:8 Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, “Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much.”

19:9 Then Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham.

19:10 For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.”

Commentary comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

This is a long post, as it discusses not only Jericho but also tax collectors and the purpose of our Lord’s ministry.

As I have said over the past several weeks of Luke’s Gospel passages this year — Year C — Luke 9 through most of Luke 19 contain our Lord’s lessons to His disciples and also to the Pharisees, along with the miracles that Jesus performed during this time.

John MacArthur says:

Jesus is headed for Jerusalem, leaving His ministry behind as He heads for the cross in a few days.  He’s about to give His life as the only acceptable sacrifice that satisfies God, the only ransom price paid to God for sin.  It is imminent.  He’s wrapped up His earthly ministry.  Spent most of that last year in Judea, just before this occasion had made a little foray into Galilee and then down through Perea, crossing the Jordan to the east so as not to go through Samaria, which the Jews did not traverse normally, and coming down the east side of Jordan back across the river, headed through Jericho up to Jerusalem for the Passover This would be His last time

Luke tells us that Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through it (verse 1), meaning that He would not be staying there long.

Matthew Henry’s commentary says of Jericho and the purpose of our Lord’s visit:

This city was build under a curse, yet Christ honoured it with his presence, for the gospel takes away the curse. Though it ought not to have been built, yet it was not therefore a sin to live in it when it was built. Christ was now going from the other side Jordan to Bethany near Jerusalem, to raise Lazarus to life; when he was going to do one good work he contrived to do many by the way. He did good both to the souls and to the bodies of people; we have here an instance of the former.

Compelling Truth explains why some believed the city should not have been rebuilt:

After the defeat of Jericho, Joshua delared, “Cursed before the LORD be the man who rises up and rebuilds this city, Jericho: ‘At the cost of his firstborn shall he lay its foundation, and at the cost of his youngest son shall he set up its gates'” (Joshua 6:26). Why did he give this curse?

First, Joshua clearly did not want to see this city that worshiped other gods to be rebuilt. A curse was upon its citizens and their memory due to their worship of false gods.

Second, the destruction of Jericho served as an example to other cities that opposed Israel and its God. When the Israelites crossed the Jordan River, Jericho was the first major city they encountered. Its devastation would serve as a powerful warning to other people in the land of God’s power.

Third, Joshua realized the negative influence the city could have on the Israelites. In fact, the very next chapter records the account of Achan, an Israelite who secretly kept some of the plunder from the battle. His sin caused the Israelites to lose their next battle. Eventually, Achan’s sin was revealed and punished.

During the reign of King Ahab, the curse was fulfilled:

We read in 1 Kings 16:34, “In his days Hiel of Bethel built Jericho. He laid its foundation at the cost of Abiram his firstborn, and set up its gates at the cost of his youngest son Segub, according to the word of the LORD, which he spoke by Joshua the son of Nun.”

The cost of rebuilding Jericho came at a price for Hiel of Bethel. Jesus then removed any taint of curse by visiting it during His ministry:

Some have misunderstood this curse, believing Jericho would never be rebuilt. However, the curse only referred to the one who attempted to rebuild the city. The rebuilt Jericho appears in the New Testament as the place where Jesus healed two blind men (Matthew 20:29; Mark 10:46; Luke 18:35) and where Jesus met Zacchaeus (Luke 19:1–3). It is also mentioned in the account of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:30). The city of Jericho exists still today, home to approximately 18,000 residents in the West Bank.

MacArthur says that Jericho was a beautiful, prosperous — and fragrant — city:

… He arrives at the City of Palms, as it was called, the city of Jericho six miles north of the Dead Sea and six miles west of the Jordan River.

it was really a wonderful city.  It was the garden city of the ancient world, certainly of the land of Israel at that time; a far more wonderful place then than it is frankly is now.  It was fed by springs that were producing ample amounts of water which was brought by aqueduct into the city and used to irrigate the area so that it bloomed in a magnificent way It was a walled city, new walls, not the ones that fell down in the Jericho of the Old Testament.  There was a theater there. There was an amphitheater there built by Herod.  There was a new palace as well.  Gardens designed by Archelaus, it was a magnificent, magnificent place.  Edersheim, the great historian, says, “It was characterized by groves of feathery palms rising in stately beauty, stretched gardens of roses and sweet-scented balsam plantations The largest behind the royal gardens of which the perfume is carried by the wind almost out to the sea and which may have been given to the city…may have been used as the reason the name was given to the city, Jericho, Jericho meaning ‘the perfumed.’” Edersheim says, “It was the Eden of Palestine, the fairy land of the Old World.”

Deep down in a hallowed valley it sits; massive limestone mountains to the west.  The sunken Jordan Valley to the east and off in the distance the purple mountains of Moab, a remarkable place, its streets filled with a motley throng.  Pilgrims from Galilee and Perea, priests who lived there and served there, traders from all lands, it was one of the high density trading centers, there were routes going north, east, west and south, it was a busy, busy place, full of good people in a human sense, full of the wretched, the worst who occupied places where there was lots to steal The robbers were there en masse.  The great caravans came through there.  There was ample supply for those who stole, as well for those…as well as for those who bought and sold.  Soldiers were there, courtiers were there, the worst of everything, the best of everything. Tax collectors had a high profile there because it was one of the three regional tax centers in the land of Israel, the northern one being Capernaum, the central one on the coast being Caesarea, the southern one being Jericho.

MacArthur sets the scene for us as Jesus arrived:

So here Jesus came with His disciples headed for Jerusalem, not just His disciples but all other kinds of followers that had collected with Him, plus all the pilgrims headed for a Passover.  It was a huge crowd that crossed the Jordan and came into…entering says verse 1, and passing through Jericho.  And the question was on people’s minds: Is this Jesus the Messiah?  Is He going to bring the promised kingdom?  They knew He had miracle power. He had filled the land with His miracles.  They knew He was a teacher like no other teacher.  And in Jericho they knew He had raised Lazarus from the dead because just up the hill a little ways from Jericho is Bethany, before you enter into Jerusalem, where Lazarus lived and was well known and it was only a matter of weeks before this event that He had raised him from the dead.  And the word would have spread everywhere. We know it spread. It spread right up to the upper echelons of the leadership of Jerusalem.  We can be certain that it spread down the hill into Jericho that He had power over death as well as disease, as well as demons.

Interestingly, MacArthur says that Jesus had already raised Lazarus from the dead. Henry says that Jesus resurrected Lazarus after this visit. I’ll leave it to you to decide.

Whatever the timeline, one thing we know for certain: wherever Jesus went, His crowds were well known.

Returning to the reading, Luke says that a man named Zacchaeus was there, a chief tax collector who was very rich (verse 2),

MacArthur says that this story is unique to Luke:

It is only recorded by Luke, does not appear in the other three gospels, but Luke’s account is rich and instructive. 

Henry tells us about Zacchaeus:

His name bespeaks him a Jew. Zaccai was a common name among the Jews; they had a famous rabbi, much about this time, of that name. Observe, 1. His calling, and the post he was in: He was the chief among the publicans, receiver-general; other publicans were officers under him; he was, as some think, farmer of the customs. We often read of publicans coming to Christ; but here was one that was chief of the publicans, was in authority, that enquired after him. God has his remnant among all sorts. Christ came to save even the chief of publicans. 2. His circumstances in the world were very considerable: He was rich. The inferior publicans were commonly men of broken fortunes, and low in the world; but he that was chief of the publicans had raised a good estate. Christ had lately shown how hard it is for rich people to enter into the kingdom of God, yet presently produces an instance on one rich man that had been lost, and was found, and that not as the prodigal by being reduced to want.

MacArthur has more on tax collection in Jericho and explains that God instituted government, therefore, tax is (an unfortunate) part of that structure:

Highway going through the west through Jerusalem, headed to Caesarea and Joppa, great trade centers also on the Mediterranean Sea.  Highway going through heading to Egypt in the south and cities east of the Jordan into Moab and the far east from which all kinds of products came and went, great exchange center This city would have had many, many tax collectors.  This man is identified as a chief tax gatherer.

As you know, because we’ve seen our tax gatherers before, this is number six in the gospel of Luke This is the sixth time our Lord has an encounter with a tax gatherer.  And by the way, all of them are favorable.  So He defies the conventional wisdom and the attitude of the people toward these men; and in so doing, reminds us that it’s not a crime to be a tax collector That may encourage those of you who are.  It is a noble calling if you do it right because taxation is a divine institution.  Jesus said, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s.”  Pay your taxes. He did.  Paul said, “Custom to whom custom is due, tribute to whom tribute is due, tax to whom tax is due,” Romans 13.  The entire theocratic kingdom of Israel in the Old Testament was basically functioning by a very carefully laid out taxation system in which every Jewish person paid essentially twenty-three and a third of their average income to the theocratic kingdom in order to fund the government.  The Lord instituted taxation because He instituted government.  Powers that be are ordained of God.  The Lord never had a problem with the people who collected tax because He never had a problem with tax as such.  But the Lord does have a problem with abusive taxes, with illegitimate taxes, with corruption, dishonesty, crime, and separating people from their money illegitimately by use of physical force and cruelty, which is what the tax collectors in the ancient world did.

MacArthur explains why the Jews considered tax collectors to be unclean. It was because they had made a conscious decision to be in league with Rome:

In order to have a tax franchise, you had to buy it from Rome So you were a traitor from the very outset to your own people who were occupied by the Roman idolatrous and despised pagans.  Rome would set a certain amount that the tax gatherer had to pay.  Whatever else he could collect, he could keep; a formula for corruption for sure.  And there were so many ways to tax The people had no idea what they were supposed to pay.  Yes, there were some sort of foundational taxes.  There was, for example, an individual tax, kind of a poll tax for men from 14 to 65 and women from 12 to 65 and they paid that tax.  There was a ground tax they called like a property tax, one tenth of all grain or something the equivalent of grain, one fifth of wine and oil. So there were some fixed taxes; even a kind of income tax which was about 1 percent of a person’s income.  So they had those that were fixed.  But beyond that, you could tax anything that you could get away with taxing.  You could tax everybody’s commerce by taxing every wheel, every axle on their cart, taxing every animal pulling the cart, taxing every product that they bought and sold, every way imaginable.  And so tax collectors became filthy rich because what they paid Rome was only a portion of what they actually collected.  They also became despised and hated.  They couldn’t attend the synagogue.  They couldn’t have any social relationships with people because the people wouldn’t get near them because they were considered unclean and anybody who came near one of them would be polluted.  So the only people they could associate were the people who were also unclean, and so they were the collection of people called the tax collectors and sinners that we meet so often in Jesus’ ministry, the very people that God loves to save.  “He came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”  In fact, Jesus spent so much time with the scum and the riff-raff, the tax gatherers and their assorted criminals, that they called Him, Luke 7:34, Matthew 11:9, “a friend of tax gatherers and sinners.” They would have said that with such disdain you couldn’t imagine it.  And it is really why they thought that He represented Satan because He spent so much time with the people that they thought belonged to Satan.

Well here’s one of them.  There was a man called by the name of Zacchaeus.  Now his mom and dad had good intentions for him when he was born.  Zacchaeus means — Are you ready for this? clean, innocent, pure, and righteous.  Nice try, things didn’t go the way they intended them to go.  So he in his life defies the intent of his parents and becomes unclean, guilty, impure, and unrighteous.

He was, it says, architelns, architelns, actually means commissioner of taxes, commissioner of taxes.  He was at the top of the pyramid, top of the pile.  Everybody who collected everything, and there were lots of tax collectors, had to pay him a piece of the action.  So everything came up the…up the pyramid and landed eventually in his pocket Everybody extorted for him.  He got a piece of everybody’s action.  And as a result, he was rich, a combination of legitimate and illegitimate activity.

Zacchaeus was trying to see who Jesus was, but, because he was short, he could not do so (verse 3).

Henry points out that Jesus was never carried on a sedan chair or anything that elevated Him above the people, which would have made Him more easily visible:

He could not get his curiosity gratified in this matter because he was little, and the crowd was great. Christ did not study to show himself, was not carried on men’s shoulders (as the pope is in procession), that all men might see him; neither he nor his kingdom came with observation. He did not ride in an open chariot, as princes do, but, as one of us, he was lost in a crowd; for that was the day of his humiliation. Zaccheus was low of stature, and over-topped by all about him, so that he could not get a sight of Jesus. Many that are little of stature have large souls, and are lively in spirit.

In order to see Jesus, Zacchaeus ran on ahead of the crowd and climbed a sycamore tree, because our Lord was going along that way (verse 4).

When Jesus got to the place where Zacchaeus was, He called out to him by name, telling him to come down because He was going to stay at his house that day (verse 5).

MacArthur explains that Jesus intended to spend the night, not just go for lunch or dinner:

… that phrase, “stay at your house,” indicates to spend the night I’m coming and I’m going to stay overnight.  This is not, by the way, a request and he didn’t run a Bed and Breakfast.  This is a divine command.  Zacchaeus never could have anticipated anything like this because he knew he was a defiled person and no one who considered himself righteous or clean would ever come near him, let alone near his house, and worst of all, eat a meal with him, which was tantamount to affirmation and partnership Yes, Zacchaeus wanted to see who Jesus was, but far more than that, Jesus wanted to see Zacchaeus.

Zacchaeus hurried down and was happy to receive — welcome — Jesus (verse 6).

He was happy because he was an outcast in society, even lower than the blind, the lame and the beggars. Despite all his riches, he had no friends other than tax collectors and could not worship with the other Jews because of his occupation.

Henry says that our Lord’s request of Zacchaeus was an efficacious call:

The notice Christ took of him, the call he gave him to a further acquaintance (v. 5), and the efficacy of that call, v. 6. 1. Christ invited himself to Zaccheus’s house, not doubting of his hearty welcome there; nay, wherever Christ comes, as he brings his own entertainment along with him, so he brings his own welcome; he opens the heart, and inclines it to receive him. Christ looked up into the tree, and saw Zaccheus. He came to look upon Christ, and resolved to take particular notice of him, but little thought of being taken notice of by Christ. That was an honour too great, and too far above his merit, for him to have any thought of. See how Christ prevented him with the blessings of his goodness, and outdid his expectations; and see how he encouraged very weak beginnings, and helped them forward. He that had a mind to know Christ shall be known of him; he that only courted to see him shall be admitted to converse with him. Note, Those that are faithful in a little shall be entrusted with more. And sometimes those that come to hear the word of Christ, as Zaccheus did, only for curiosity, beyond what they thought of, have their consciences awakened, and their hearts changed. Christ called him by name, Zaccheus, for he knows his chosen by name; are they not in his book? He might ask, as Nathanael did (John 1 48), Whence knowest thou me? But before he climbed the sycamore-tree Christ saw him, and knew him. He bade him make haste, and come down. Those that Christ calls must come down, must humble themselves, and not think to climb to heaven by any righteousness of their own; and they must make haste and come down, for delays are dangerous. Zaccheus must not hesitate, but hasten; he knows it is not a matter that needs consideration whether he should welcome such a guest to his house. He must come down, for Christ intends this day to bait at his house, and stay an hour or two with him. Behold, he stands at the door and knocks. 2. Zaccheus was overjoyed to have such an honour put upon his house (v. 6): He made haste, and came down, and received him joyfully; and his receiving him into his house was an indication and token of his receiving him into his heart. Note, When Christ calls to us we must make haste to answer his calls; and when he comes to us we must receive him joyfully. Lift up your heads, O ye gates. We may well receive him joyfully who brings all good along with him, and, when he takes possession of the soul, opens springs of joy there which shall flow to eternity. How often has Christ said to us, Open to me, when we have, with the spouse, made excuses! Cant 5 2, 3. Zaccheus’s forwardness to receive Christ will shame us. We have not now Christ to entertain in our houses, but we have his disciples, and what is done to them he takes as done to himself.

All who saw this began to grumble — complain — and said that Jesus was going to be the guest of a sinner (verse 7).

Once again, Jesus spurned the self-righteous for the notional sinner, something He did often.

MacArthur analyses the crowd’s reaction and our Lord’s magnanimity:

It would have been the first time any righteous, clean, noble, respected person had come to his house.  And here is the Lord, like that father, throwing his arms around a stinking, prodigal son, kissing him all over the head and reconciling him and embracing him.  Of course he received Him gladly, profusely, because he was so overjoyed.  Contrast that with the crowd in verse 7 and you understand the difference between the heart of God and apostate first century Judaism.  “And when they saw it, they all said, ‘Isn’t it wonderful to see the grace of God toward a sinner.'” Oh, is that what it says?  Afraid not.  What it says is, “They all began to grumble.” That is in the Greek an onomatopoetic word.  You remember what an onomatopoeia is?  It is a word whose meaning sounds like it.  The word is diagogguz, da-ga-da-goo-goo, diagogguz, rr-rr-rr-rr. It’s a compound strong term.

This is absolutely predictable.  This is…you know they’re going to do this, outraged propriety, religious incorrectness, no self-respecting Jew would ever expose himself to such severe pollution by staying at the house of the chief administrator of taxation, the most corrupt of all tax gatherers and then to eat a meal with him, to sleep at his house, absolute outrage.  And then you’ve got to realize that there are people in the crowd who are just looking for some action on the part of Jesus to take them on the last few steps to being convinced that He’s the Messiah, and instead He does something that would literally undo all of their previous idea that He would be the Messiah by defiling Himself in this way It’s just against the grain of everything that was a part of their religious thinking.  He’s gone to be the guest of a man. That is a Greek verb, katalu, and it means to loose in a…in a compound sense, to take off.  What it means is to be a guest. He went to take His clothes off to stay the night. He went to loose His clothing.  It’s also used to unhitch an animal.  It’s only here and in Luke 9:12.  But it means to take everything apart, to take all your clothes off, get ready for the night And this man is a hamartl. He’s in the category of the wretched, the despised and the rejected, the category of those people who are the unclean and the untouchable.

Anyone who went to a notional sinner’s house automatically assumed that person’s sins, merely by association:

No Jew would go to his house because then he would be basically a partaker in his evil deed.  He would be guilty of all his crimes and all his corruption.  But Jesus goes to his house because He seeks to save this lost man.  He is on a divine mission, established by divine, sovereign grace and a divine timetable.  He knows exactly who he is though he’s never met Him.  He knows his name though he’s never heard it.  And he has an appointment with salvation He received Him gladly.  What a contrast.  And when they saw it, they began to grumble.  They never got it.  People of Israel never got it.  All the way to the end they’re holding on to their vile, damning, self-righteous religion while Jesus is saving sinners who have no merit, nothing to commend them to Him.

Zacchaeus then stood and made a declaration, saying that he would give half of his possessions to the poor and, if he had defrauded anyone, he would pay them back four times as much (verse 8).

That went far beyond the stipulation of Jewish law, yet Zacchaeus felt it necessary. He was being regenerated, right then and there.

Henry analyses that verse as follows:

The proofs which Zaccheus gave publicly that, though he had been a sinner, he was now a penitent, and a true convert, v. 8. He does not expect to be justified by his works as the Pharisee who boasted of what he had done, but by his good works he will, through the grace of God, evidence the sincerity of his faith and repentance; and here he declares what his determination was. He made this declaration standing, that he might be seen and heard by those who murmured at Christ for coming to his house; with the mouth confession is made of repentance as well as faith. He stood, which denotes his saying it deliberately and with solemnity, in the nature of a vow to God. He addressed himself to Christ in it, not to the people (they were not to be his judges), but to the Lord, and he stood as it were at his bar. What we do that is good we must do as unto him; we must appeal to him, and approve ourselves to him, in our integrity, in all our good purposes and resolutions. He makes it appear that there is a change in his heart (and that is repentance), for there is a change in his way. His resolutions are of second-table duties; for Christ, upon all occasions, laid great stress on them: and they are such as are suited to his condition and character; for in them will best appear the truth of our repentance.

Recall last week’s reading, the Parable of the Pharisee and the Publican, Luke 18:9-14, when the publican — tax collector — prayed that the atonement sacrifice he had just witnessed at the temple would be applied to him for his sins.

MacArthur says that the isolated status of the tax collector and his inability to worship in the temple, even a synagogue, made Zacchaeus’s joy and repentence all the more profound:

Zacchaeus received Him gladly, rejoicing.  That tells us that he came for more than curiosity.  That tells us that he came for more than some kind of superficial interest.  He didn’t just come because he had some kind of a little idea that maybe this was a unique guy and he wanted to have a novel experience.  He responds with joy because he’s got some things going on his heart that are pretty profound and pretty deep.  Now remember, he is alienated, he is isolated.  He has no relationships with anybody that matters, with anybody that’s good or noble or pure.  His only companions are the riff-raff, the worst of the worst, the scum.  But remember, deeper than that is the fact that he is an extortioner and a thief and a robber who has abused and harmed and hurt people and stolen from them, and impoverished them, and abused them in every sense possible.  And he feels the weight of that and he feels the guilt of that.  He can’t worship.  He can’t go to the temple.  He can’t have a…an atonement offered for him.  That’s why in Jesus telling the story of the Pharisee and the publican, you remember the publican goes to the temple and says, “God, please apply this atonement to me,” because that was not how it was.  They were outcasts.  And typically of a Pharisee…if a publican went to the temple ground, they would be discovered there as one of the unclean and thrown out the eastern gate.  So he was isolated from God.  He was isolated from religion He was isolated from hope And then he was bearing the full weight of this massive burden of extortion and corruption which is the way he had lived his life in his heart.  And to hear that a holy prophet of God with miracle power who may well be in the eyes of some the Messiah of Israel was going to come to his house?  It wasn’t just that now in spite of the way he was treated by everybody else, the most significant person in all of Israel would come to his house. It wasn’t a yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah attitude.  Too bad for you, He’s coming to my house.  It wasn’t that.  It is just the overwhelming unbelievable joy of an aching heart, of an empty heart having a meeting with someone who represents God.  He was eagerly joyous though he must have been stunned.  It doesn’t say he received Him with fear.  It doesn’t say, “Whoa, I don’t want to go that far, I just wanted to know who You were.  I don’t want to get that close.”  He received Jesus with joy.

The self-righteous called the unclean sinners, which dates from the Old Testament, most noticeably in the Book of Job. However, the self-righteous did not, to paraphrase Elizabeth I, have eyes into their souls.

This is what Jesus is actively opposing:

… again in typical fashion, he stands in direct contrast to the rest of the populace.  When they saw it, verse 7, they all began to grumble saying, “He’s gone to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.”  That may have been sort of orchestrated by some Pharisees in the crowd, or some of their more devout disciples.  “Sinner” not meaning…meaning in some personal sense they knew about his life, although that were true, sinner in the sense that he belongs to the category of the despised, the category of the rejected, the category of the outcasts You don’t go to their house.  This is more of the cantankerous criticism that came against Jesus Christ from the self-righteous people who thought He worked for Satan because He hung around Satan’s people so much.

Please notice verse 7, “When they saw it, they all began to grumble.” This is universally the viewpoint.  This man belongs in the category of rejected, despised, defiled, corrupted people.  No Jew with any sense of purity would ever go to his house, stay and eat; you share his corruption.  But Jesus says, “I’m coming to your house.”  He hurried and came down and received Him gladly. 

MacArthur analyses Zacchaeus’s pledge to Jesus:

Look at verse 8 again with that in view.  Zacchaeus stopped.  I don’t know if that’s the best word for that, statheis, statheis in the Greek It really means he…he took a stand…he…he set himself with a fixed attitude It could be used for a formal act.  It is really saying this: Zacchaeus, after the conversation is over that we can assume took place, rises, sets himself, and makes this confession.  That’s the idea.  “And said to the Lord…” This is where he takes his formal stand.  Obviously the Lord made everything clear.  The Lord talked of salvation.  He believed by the power of the Spirit of God at work in his heart, not apart from his will but through his will.  And so he rises, takes his stand and said to the Lord, “Behold, Lord.” That’s enough right there.  He’s confessing Jesus as what? As Lord.  This is foundational.  This isn’t something that comes later.  This is foundational.  If you confess Jesus as Lord, you’re saved, Romans 10:9 and 10.  It’s essential.  “Behold, Lord,” and behold is an exclamation.  I suppose today we would say, “Wow, Lord, whoa, Lord.”  And this is just a way to exclaim something that speaks of the dramatic transformation that has taken place in this man’s life.  First thing he says when he takes his stand is, “You’re my Lord.”  Second thing, “Half of my possessions I will give to the poor.”  Wow that is a change.  This is self-denial.  This is, “If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself.” That’s it.  “Take up his cross and follow Me.”  He has affirmed that Jesus is his Lord and he says immediately, “I’m going to give half of everything that I possess to the poor.”  Now he possessed a lot.  Remember back in verse 3…pardon me, verse 2…he was…he was rich, he was really, really rich.  In one day he was so totally transformed that he went from being a thief to being a benefactor; that he went from being selfish to being unselfish; that he went from being a taker to being a giver.  It’s stunning, stunning.  Ah, it’s very much different than the rich young ruler back in chapter 18 verse 22. “Jesus said, ‘One thing you still lack, sell all that you possess and distribute it to the poor, you’ll have treasure in heaven, come follow Me.’ When he heard these things he became very sad, he was extremely rich.”  There was a man who wasn’t about to be parted from his riches.  It’s impossible, Jesus says, for rich men to give up their riches on their own.  Verse 24 of 18: “How hard it is for those who are wealthy to enter the kingdom of God!”  How hard is it?  “It’s easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.”  Wow, that sounds like impossible, not hard.  Verse 27: “Things impossible with men are possible with God.”  It’s impossible for a rich man on his own to give up his riches. Here’s an illustration in the very next chapter of a rich man who immediately gave up his riches Why?  Because he was sought and saved by a sovereign Lord True righteousness results in a transformation, a transformation that hits at the very core of your dominant category of sin.  Now you can pick a lot of categories.  For this guy it was money and extortion.  For somebody else, it might be something else.  It might be anger, it might be immorality. It might be homosexuality.  It might be whatever.  But when true salvation comes and real transformation comes, it strikes a death blow at the core category of one’s wretchedness.

You remember that Ephesians 2:10 says that “you were saved unto good works which God has before ordained that you should walk in them.”  That is a natural consequence of a supernatural transformation.  And here you see it.  You don’t need to know what the conversation was.  You don’t need to know what he said about believing.  All you need to see is this massive miracle of a transformed soul: Half of my possessions I’ll give to the poor.  And now he’s got half left. What about the other half?  “If I have defrauded any one of anything, I’ll give back four times as much.”  Wow!  Anybody that I’ve defrauded, I’ll give back four times as much.  Now how many people would that be?  Hundreds?  Thousands?  Just play that scene out in your mind.  This isn’t a parable, this is a real man in a real story in a real place

Now where did he get that idea?  Did that just come out of the air?  If you go back to Leviticus, chapter 6 verse 5, or Numbers.  In fact, you might look at Numbers. I think it’s chapter 5 verse 6 and 7. There is an Old Testament prescription for restitution.  Numbers 5, go down to verse 6, The Lord said…spoke to Moses saying, “Speak to the sons of Israel, when a man or woman commits any sin of mankind acting unfaithfully against the Lord and that person is guilty” verse 7 “he shall confess his sins which he has committed, he shall make restitution in full for his wrong” to the person he has wronged, obviously, “and add to it one fifth of it and give it to him whom he has wronged.” So this was pretty much the Jewish standard.  If you read any Jewish literature, 20 percent, one fifth, would have been what was necessary in restitution.  You…you stole somebody from something…something from somebody, you defrauded somebody, you gave them back plus 20 percent, which would cover something of the lost interest or accumulation that could have been gained by whatever it was you stole.  That would be typically what Judaism would honor.  Judaism at that time would honor the 20 percent.  So he could have said that.  He could have said, “I’ll tell you what, I’ll follow the Old Testament prescription in Leviticus and Numbers and I’ll give back everything I’ve taken plus one fifth.” And he would have been…Well he would have been right on target.

Or he could have done it another way.  He could have based it…and I won’t take time to go to that…He could have based it on Exodus 22 In Exodus 22 if you read the first seven verses, you find that in the case of an ordinary robbery which was what he was doing, according to Exodus 22 verses 4 and 7, you paid back double. You paid back double.  So he could have said, “You know what?  I’ll pay back two fold.” That would have been more generous than 20 percent. Now you’ve gone to 200 percent.  That’s pretty good…or 100 percent, that’s pretty good.

Well, why did he say fourfold?  Because in Exodus 22:1, if you robbed someone with violence and destruction, a fourfold response was required.  He went to the max.  He said, “I’ve done this, I’ve done it violently, I’ve done it destructively.  I will gladly pay back the max.”  He knew his Old Testament Law.  And this is the evidence of transformation.  It’s not a, “Oh, is that what I’m supposed to do?  Oh do I have to do that?  How little can I do and get away with it?  How little can I obey and still be considered a Christian?  How close can I walk to the edge?”  It’s, “Look, just show me the maximum demonstration of obedience, that’s what I want to do.” This is the real deal, folks, the real deal.  He was determined to do more than was asked, more than the law required.  There wasn’t any law that said give half of everything you have to the poor.  He would have probably given more, but he needed to keep half because he was going to give back 400 percent of what he had defrauded people of to the maximum of Old Testament allowance.  This is the kind of obedience that marks the one who has denied himself, taken up his cross and followed Christ and doesn’t live on the minimal but lives at the maximum level of obedience.  He acted as if every illegitimate, defrauding taxation was destructive, violent, devastating.  And he strips himself of everything he has, even his honest gain.

Jesus said to him that salvation had come to his house that day because, he, too, is a son of Abraham (verse 9).

Well, if that wasn’t a shot across the bow of the self-righteous witnessing that scene.

The self-righteous Jews were fond of calling themselves the sons of Abraham. They meant by lineage and, therefore, automatically saved. Jesus called Zacchaeus a son of Abraham in terms of faith, Abraham’s absolute faith and trust in God.

MacArthur says:

It’s a similitude, it’s a similarity.  Abraham was a man of faith, Genesis 15:6, he believed God and God accounted to him for righteousness.  Here’s another one, here is an ethnic, genetic son of Abraham who is a spiritual son of Abraham as well He is a true Jew.  Paul says in Romans, “Not all Israel is Israel.  Not all Israel is Israel.” In fact, he says, “I…I have heaviness of heart and great sorrow” for Israelites, “I could almost wish myself accursed” for the Israelites, because the Israelites do not know God. 

MacArthur explains that when Jesus said salvation had come to Zacchaeus’s house, He probably meant just him, not the whole household:

“And Jesus said to him, ‘Today salvation has come to this house.'” Sure, and salvation can even refer to Him, that is to Jesus, because you remember back in Luke 2:30 Simeon took the little baby Jesus in his arms and says, “My eyes have seen Your salvation.”  Salvation in Christ came to his house and salvation as an act of transformation happened in his soul.  The proof: transformation.  “House,” does that mean his whole household?  It doesn’t say that. There are times when like in the Philippian jailor’s case, he believed, and his household.  Probably just means house and Zacchaeus and salvation in a moment turned an essentially greedy man into a gracious, generous man, turned a passion of his life from abuse and gain to kindness and giving.  And Jesus says, “Because he, too, is a son of Abraham.”

Jesus says that the Son of Man came to seek out and save the lost (verse 10).

MacArthur interprets that all-important verse as follows:

… this is the very reason Jesus came, to seek and save that which was lost.  And this is one final comment made to Israel You haven’t gotten it all along and you don’t get it now.  You’re still grumbling and you’re still complaining because you don’t get it.  I'[ve] come to seek and save the lost and I can’t do anything for the self-righteous.  In the Middle Eastern mind, to include this man in the community of salvation was outrageous.  But for us, it is the most magnificent expression of the redeeming grace and love of God Jesus came to seek and save sinners and then to totally transform them.

MacArthur gives us the secret of salvation. God seeks us first, then we seek Him. However, we cannot seek Him without Him seeking us first:

In our sinfulness, in our fallenness, in our reprobation, in our blindness, in our ignorance, in our association and relationship to the kingdom of darkness and under the power of Satan, we cannot seek after God. We do not seek after God.  There would then be no reconciliation, no salvation, no forgiveness, no hope of heaven if God did not seek after us.  God does the initial seeking.  God does the saving of those who apart from Him would hide themselves from Him like Adam and Eve, running from His presence with no capacity in them to ever turn and pursue Him.

MacArthur explains why Jesus referred to Himself so often as the Son of Man:

He is the seeker.  He is the saver of those who are lost.  And the story is an illustration.  A man out of a massive crowd sitting in a tree has a divine appointment with the seeking, saving Lord who spots him, names him and by divine necessity says, “I’m coming to your house because this is the day of your salvation.”  This is one of the great biblical illustrations of sovereign salvation, of God seeking not just sinners in a general or vague way but seeking sinners in a very specific, personal way.  And this is the work of the Son of Man.  The Son of Man in verse 10 is a title which Jesus used of Himself more than any other, by far.  It refers to Him as man, that is His humanity, but far more than that, it is a messianic title referring to Him as the all-glorious, chosen One by God to rule and reign over an ever-lasting kingdom.  That is prophesied as He is there identified in Daniel chapter 7 So it sees Him, yes, in His humanity, but far more in His divine glory and everlasting rule Son of Man has come. “Has come” refers to His incarnation, not has come to Jericho, but has come into the world. At His birth He came, incarnation, for the purpose of seeking and saving.  Those are two infinitives which means it starts with to, t-o.  That’s an infinitive. These are what we call in Greek infinitives of purpose, two purposes to seek, to save.  The word “seek,” zte, means to pursue, to look for, to search for.  To save means basically to rescue from harm, to deliver from danger And the amazing irony of it all is that God sends Christ to seek and to save those who are headed for His own wrath and judgment.

When we read of being ‘lost’, we think of it rather loosely. MacArthur explains that, in the Greek, it means to be destroyed, damned:

God seeks to save people from Himself, from His own wrath and His own holy judgment.  The ones that He seeks to save are identified here as that which was lost, that which was lost.  Literally in the Greek it’s a condition of being, the having been lost one, the one who is in a permanent state of lostness.  But even being lost doesn’t express the fullness of this word.  It’s a very strong word in the Greek, apollumi. Any Greek students know it’s a familiar word. It means to be ruined. It means to be destroyed.  The Son of Man then was incarnated, coming into this world for the purpose of pursuing and saving those who are in a condition of ruination and destruction and headed for damnation Couldn’t be more clear … 

Sin has devastated all of humanity and all of humanity is marred, corrupted, evil, ruined, headed for eternal damnation We are all in that same condition.  In fact, that condition needs to be understood, and so we read in Romans 3, starting in verse 10, a very careful description of that condition There is none righteous, not even one.  There is none who understands.  There is none who seeks for God.  All have turned aside.  Together they have become useless.  There is none who does good There is not even one.  Their throat is an open grave.  With their tongues they keep deceiving.  The poison of asps” or snakes “is under their lips.  Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness.  Their feet are swift to shed blood.  Destruction and misery are in their paths.  The path of peace have they not known.  There is no fear of God before their eyes.” So writes the apostle Paul and every single sentence he drew from the Old Testament.  This is not a new description of man. This is God’s description of man’s sinful condition from the start.

In Ephesians chapter 4, an even more concise description of the human condition, verse 17, “We walk in the futility of our minds, darkened in our understanding, excluded from the life of God because of the ignorance in us, because of the hardness of our hearts we are callous given over to sensuality for the practice of every kind of impurity with greediness.” We can never get enough impurity.  This is the human condition.  And the purpose of the coming of the Son of Man, the Lord Jesus into the world, is to rescue sinners from this condition with its inevitable result of eternal damnation.

Knowing the true purpose of our Lord’s earthly ministry is exceedingly important:

Jesus did not come into the world to be a good teacher.  He did not come to be a moral leader.  He did not come to espouse religious ideas.  He did not come to raise the religious consciousness of the people in His community and His society.  He did not come into the world to show us what a good life looks like.  He came into this world to rescue doomed sinners.  That is the Christian message.  That is the only Christian message.  Everything in the Old Testament points to that.  Everything in the New Testament defines that.

We all want to know what happened to Zacchaeus.

MacArthur has a highly possible answer as to why Luke has this story and named him:

It’s interesting that he gave him a name.  This is the first for us to see a tax gatherer who actually named other than Matthew who is called an apostle by Jesus.  Why the name?  Well again, remember when we studied Bartimaeus and we suggested the church historians have said that Bartimaeus later became a very prominent Christian and his name was used because everybody knew who he was and this would have associated him with that great moment in his life when he was given sight and saved in Jericho.  Well, here you have, according to some church historians, a similar situation.  It’s Clement of Alexandria, one of the church fathers, who says that this man, Zacchaeus, became a very prominent Christian leader and ended up a pastor of the church in Caesarea, later to be succeeded by none other than Cornelius, the centurion.  That’s from church history.  We can’t find that in the Word of God.  So perhaps it’s so and that’s why his name was used.

Amazing.

Acts 10 has the story of Peter and Cornelius, which I wrote about a few years ago:

Acts 10:1-8 – Cornelius, divine vision, angel, Peter, God-fearer

Acts 10:9-16 – Peter, divine vision, allegory, animals, Gentiles, forbidden food is now clean

Acts 10:17-23 — Peter, Holy Spirit, obedience, Gentiles, hospitality

Acts 10:24-29 — Peter, Cornelius, Jewish converts, Gentile converts

Acts 10:30-33 – Peter, Cornelius, Jew, Gentile, Jesus Christ

Acts 10:44-48 – Peter, Cornelius, the Holy Spirit, baptism, Gentile, Jew

May all reading this have a blessed Sunday.

The Nineteenth Sunday after Trinity is on October 23, 2022.

Readings for Year C can be found here.

The Gospel reading is as follows (emphases mine):

Luke 18:9-14

18:9 He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt:

18:10 “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.

18:11 The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.

18:12 I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.’

18:13 But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’

18:14 I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.”

Commentary comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

This reading picks up from where we left off last Sunday. Jesus told a parable about a widow who cried for justice from an ungodly judge. He gave in and granted her justice only because he did not want to be beaten down (the Greek words used) by her wailing anymore. Jesus said how much more merciful God would be to those who cry out to Him:

18:7 And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them?

18:8 I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them. And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”

Of today’s parable, John MacArthur says:

There is no time indicator here. There is no transitional statement here so we don’t know exactly whether or not Jesus said this on the same occasion He was talking about the kingdom. Perhaps He did, perhaps He didn’t, but certainly in Luke’s inspired order of the text, this is the right discussion because we’ve just been talking about the kingdom and that Jesus is coming and you must be ready for His coming. And when He comes, there’s going to be separation and there’s going to be the death of the ungodly and carcasses are going to be everywhere. You want to be ready for the coming King. You want to be in His kingdom. And so that begs the question: How does one enter the kingdom? Who is in the kingdom and why? And so the parable fits in the flow of thought.

Regular readers of this column over the past few months will know that Jesus was in His final six months of public ministry. Luke 9 through Luke 19 documents His lessons to the disciples and to the Pharisees before He entered Jerusalem for the final time.

Jesus addressed this parable to the self-righteous who regarded others with contempt (verse 9).

Matthew Henry’s commentary explains:

He designed it for the conviction of some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others. They were such as had, 1. A great conceit of themselves, and of their own goodness; they thought themselves as holy as they needed to be, and holier than all their neighbours, and such as might serve for examples to them all. But that was not all; 2. They had a confidence in themselves before God, and not only had a high opinion of their own righteousness, but depended upon the merit of it, whenever they addressed God, as their plea: They trusted in themselves as being righteous; they thought they had made God their debtor, and might demand any thing from him; and, 3. They despised others, and looked upon them with contempt, as not worthy to be compared with them. Now Christ by this parable would show such their folly, and that thereby they shut themselves out from acceptance with God. This is called a parable, though there be nothing of similitude in it; but it is rather a description of the different temper and language of those that proudly justify themselves, and those that humbly condemn themselves; and their different standing before God. It is matter of fact every day.

MacArthur says:

… in particular who did He have in mind? Who were the real leaders of this religion in Israel of trusting in yourself that you were righteous? The Pharisees, the scribes. Go back to chapter 16 verse 14. The Pharisees…says Jesus…First of all it says Luke. “The Pharisees who were lovers of money were listening to all these things and were scoffing at Him and He said to them,” and here are the words of Jesus, “You are those who justify yourselves in the sight of men. You make yourselves righteous in the sight of men, but God knows your hearts. That which is highly esteemed among men is detestable in the sight of God.”

MacArthur would agree with Henry about self-righteouness continuing to be a matter of fact every day:

… the people believed that trusting in yourself to become righteous was the way that you gained a place in the kingdom of God and the way you would eventually get to heaven. The benchmark of their system: self-confidence in one’s ability to achieve righteousness by their own power and works trusting in their own righteousness. These are the Pharisees for sure. These are the people who followed the Pharisees. But these are also all the people of all time who have developed any kind of self-styled approach to God in which they believe they have the power to live a life that satisfies God, that somehow they are good enough to be acceptable to God, into His kingdom, into His goodness and into His heaven. These are all the people in the religion of human achievement. Basically that’s how people think in the world

The Pharisees were sickeningly self-righteous, or as Walter Liefeld says, “They are obnoxiously self-righteous.” And that’s why you have a further description of them at the end of verse 9.  Not only did they trust in themselves that they were righteous, but they viewed others with contempt.  They viewed others with contempt.  Contempt is the worst scorn that you can heap on somebody.  In Luke 23:11 the only two times this word is used in the gospels, once here in 18 and once again in 23:11, Herod with his soldiers after treating Jesus with contempt and mocking Him, dressed Him in a gorgeous robe and sent Him back to Pilate.  Scorn, ridicule, mockery, sarcasm, the lowest form and the most biting form of derision; the Pharisees were that way.  They looked at anybody below them outside their group with contempt.  The word, I think, is interesting enough to kind of break down, exoutheneō.  It comes from two words, as do many Greek terms, many of the verbs combining a preposition at the beginning.  Ek, out of, ouden, not, not even; out of not even anything, the nobodies, the nothings, the non-existents.  They viewed them as if they didn’t exist.  By the way, that same word is used by Peter in Acts 4 when he preached a sermon, and he said this about Jesus, “He is the stone which the builders rejected.” That’s the same verb.  Jesus was treated as if He was nothing, absolutely nothing.  By the way, the word is also used in 1 Corinthians 1 where the Lord has chosen the base things and the despised. The nothings and the nobodies God has chosen.

So, there’s in this self-righteousness, in this pride, a contempt for anybody beneath you.  The Jews, the law keepers were called the habarim and the lawbreakers were called the amharitz, the low-lifes.  And in the eyes of the Pharisee, he couldn’t get near to anybody who was an amharitz.  That was an absolutely unthinkable thing for him to do.  Kenneth Bailey writes, “In the eyes of a strict Pharisee, the most obvious candidate for the classification of amharitz would be a tax collector.  But there was a particular kind of uncleanness that was contracted by sitting, riding, or even leaning against something unclean. This uncleanness was called midras uncleanness. And for Pharisees, he writes, “The clothes of an amharitz count as suffering midras uncleanness.”  They didn’t get near any of the low-lifes and the riff-raffs that they disdained. Remember I told you earlier, not even so much as to teach them the law of God.

And so here we have these two men.  And they are at extreme polesAnd they’re going to be the ones that convey the message Jesus wants to convey to the people who think they can be good enough to get to heaven on their own.  The audience is really universal, a comprehensive audience.

Jesus began the parable by saying that two men went up to the temple to pray: a Pharisee and a tax collector (verse 10).

In old money, this parable was known as the one of the Pharisee and the publican. Publican in this context means tax collector, not someone who runs a pub.

Henry says that the custom of praying in the temple dated from the time of Solomon:

Two men went up into the temple (for the temple stood upon a hill) to pray. It was not the hour of public prayer, but they went thither to offer up their personal devotions, as was usual with good people at that time, when the temple was not only the place, but the medium of worship, and God had promised, in answer to Solomon’s request, that, whatever prayer was made in a right manner in or towards that house, it should therefore the rather be accepted.

MacArthur says an atonement sacrifice was offered twice a day, dating back to Leviticus:

What’s the scene here?  Two men went up to the temple to pray.  That happened twice a day, basically, every day, 9 A.M., 3 P.M., morning and evening sacrifice prescribed for the burnt offering which was laid out in the 1st chapter of Leviticus.  They were to go up and make an animal sacrifice, a blood sacrifice as a symbol of atonement.  That was a very, very important thing.  They were very, very fastidious people who made sure they showed up at 9 A.M. and at 3 P.M. every day, particularly Pharisees who were in the proximity and could do that.  Now the crowd would go up the steps at the prescribed time.  The sacrifices would be offered on the altar.  Following the sacrifices which would symbolically open the way to God because atonement had been made, incense would be burned symbolizing prayer.  Now because atonement has been made, prayers can be offered. And prayers would be offered.  There would come a priestly benediction upon the people who were faithful enough to be there as well, and that would be the typical scene.  When it says they went up to the temple to pray, “pray” would embody all the worship, all of the activities that went onThe temple, according to Matthew 21:13 by the mouth of Jesus Himself is a house of prayer.  Remember Jesus said, “My Father’s house is a house of prayer,” taking the language from Isaiah 56:7, “and you’ve turned it in to a den of thieves.”  A house of prayer: “Prayer” synonymous with worship, a house where you go to offer yourself and your petitions and your praise to God.  It was that time and the crowd ascended the long, steep steps up to the temple mount.  They went up, anabainō. They ascended up there to worship.  The two men are in the crowd and everybody would understand.  It’s a very familiar scene, every morning, every afternoon the same scene went on.

They’re going up there because an atonement is going to be made for sin.  Some are going up there feeling they need the benefits of that atonement.  Some are going up there to display themselves and they’re just looking for a crowd to gather for that purpose.  There would be a time when all of the people would gather around the altar as the sacrifice was being made, after which the incense being burned, people would then pray.  The Pharisee, very familiar to us, we don’t need to say any more about them, you know all there is to know: self-righteous, self-promoting, self-satisfied purveyors and protectors of the religion of human achievement.  Tax collector, also familiar; we’ve seen tax collectors already in four chapters. This is the fifth time.  We know they were the low-lifes of that society because they had purchased tax franchises from the Romans who were the idolaters, oppressors, thus desecrating themselves.  They then extorted money from their own people using strong-armed thugs and any intimidation, manipulation or criminal activity they could and were surrounded by the low-life, riff-raff of society.  So, they are shown going up together with the crowd, but they separate when they get there.

The Pharisee stood by himself, praying to God with an erroneous thanksgiving that he was not like other people he considered to be unclean and beneath himself: thieves, rogues, adulterers — ‘or even like this tax collector’ (verse 11).

Henry says:

Here is the Pharisee’s address to God (for a prayer I cannot call it) … he was wholly intent upon himself, had nothing in his eye but self, his own praise, and not God’s glory; or, standing in some conspicuous place, where he distinguished himself; or, setting himself with a great deal of state and formality, he prayed thus. 

MacArthur comes to the same conclusion:

Jesus even talks about in Matthew 6:5 standing in a posture of prayer but not doing it to be seen of men.  He says don’t be like the hypocrites who stand in order to be seen by men.  Well here’s one of those hypocrites.  Not wrong to stand but to stand to be seen by men. Again you go back to the issue of the heart.  Very likely he would take his place in a most visible location and nearest to the holy place that he could get to show his proximity to God.  He wants to be wherever God is believed or deemed to be, to give the unwashed around him a good look at a truly righteous man.  He takes his posture there.

The Pharisee said that he fasted twice a week and tithed a tenth of all his income (verse 12).

Henry offers this analysis:

The Pharisees and their disciples fasted twice a week, Monday and Thursday. Thus he glorified God with his body: yet that was not all; he gave tithes of all that he possessed, according to the law, and so glorified God with his worldly estate. Now all this was very well and commendable. Miserable is the condition of those who come short of the righteousness of this Pharisee: yet he was not accepted; and why was he not? (1.) His giving God thanks for this, though in itself a good thing, yet seems to be a mere formality. He does not say, By the grace of God I am what I am, as Paul did, but turns it off with a slight, God, I thank thee, which is intended but for a plausible introduction to a proud vainglorious ostentation of himself. (2.) He makes his boast of this, and dwells with delight upon this subject, as if all his business to the temple was to tell God Almighty how very good he was; and he is ready to say, with those hypocrites that we read of (Isa 58 3), Wherefore have we fasted, and thou seest not? (3.) He trusted to it as a righteousness, and not only mentioned it, but pleaded it, as if hereby he had merited at the hands of God, and made him his debtor. (4.) Here is not one word of prayer in all he saith. He went up to the temple to pray, but forgot his errand, was so full of himself and his own goodness that he thought he had need of nothing, no, not of the favour and grace of God, which, it would seem, he did not think worth asking.

MacArthur says:

… the construction lends itself better to understand that he was actually directing his prayer in a self-congratulatory fashion. And that is fairly well indicated by the fact that in two verses he refers to himself five times. That’s pretty hard to do. You have to have short sentences and a lot of first person pronouns. This is a self-congratulatory prayer and the translation of the NAS is a good translation. “The Pharisee stood and was thus praying to himself.” He is parading himself. This is no prayer to God. He gives God no praise. He asks nothing from God, no mercy, no grace, no forgiveness, no help. But he does refer to God. “God,” because you’re supposed to, that’s the way all prayers are supposed to begin, “I thank you that I’m not like other people.” Wow. Well, what’s there to thank God for? You’ve done this on your own. This is sheer hypocrisy. This is an unequivocal confession to God of his worthiness, of his righteousness. Thanking God for what you are on your own? This is where self-righteousness leads you. I’m good enough. God, I thank You that I’m good enough. I’m good enough to have a relationship with You. I’m good enough to be here in Your temple. I’m good enough to be standing by this holy place. I’m good enough to be the paragon of religious righteousness and virtue. I’m good enough to stand here so all the low-lifes can see what a really godly man looks like.

MacArthur says that when the prayers began, the notionally unclean were separated and ushered out of the temple:

And he must have kept himself a little bit of distance away.  If he were to brush against any amharitz, he would be unclean.  And physical isolation for a Pharisee was a statement.  They stood aloof from others when they gather around the altar, they stood aloof from others at all time in society, they never had a dinner or a lunch at their house with anybody but another Pharisee, unless they invited somebody in which to trap Jesus.  According to the Mishnah, by the way, the Jewish law, at the time of the incense, after the sacrifice in the morning and evening service, prayers were made. And when the prayers began, according to Mishnah, there was a delegation of Jews that was responsible at the time of the beginning of the prayer, of the praying, to find the unclean people in the crowd and clear them away to the eastern gate, get all the unclean people out.  And maybe a Pharisee like this would wonder why there was even a tax collector in his vision who should have been ushered off and out the eastern gate.

MacArthur also has more on the Monday and Thursday fasting of that era:

Verse 12: “I fast twice a week.”  Impressive, huh?  By the way, the Old Testament only prescribed one fast, Day of Atonement, preparation for the Day of Atonement. Leviticus 16:31 called for a fast.  There are no other required fasts.  There were times of sorrow, times of penitence, times of mourning when people fasted and that was something you could choose to do.  But there was only one prescribed fast.  But as I said, these self-styled, self-righteous, external legalists like to invent rituals and ceremonies as all false religions do.  And they get more complicated and more complicated and more complicated and more symbolic and more symbolic in direct proportion to the absence of truth and reality.  And so they had developed a scheme of fasting on Monday and Thursday, Monday and Thursday.  Why Monday and Thursday?  Because those were the market days and the crowds were bigger, so you could go into the big crowd and throw a bunch of ashes on your head and look sad, and fast, spiritual impression would be made.  And why Monday and Thursday?  Some other writers say, well because it was a Monday, according to some rabbi, that Moses went up to Sinai and forty days later he came down on a Thursday. So Monday and Thursday.  Some other rabbi offers this explanation, “Because Monday and Thursday are equal distant from the Sabbath while being as far from each other as possible.”

Jesus condemned showy fasting:

Jesus condemned that, remember, in the 6th chapter in the Sermon on the Mount when He said, “Don’t fast like the hypocrites fast, in the public streets and in the corners, calling attention to yourself.” It’s talking exactly about this. People putting on external spiritual displays by ritualistic, ceremonial behavior by the clothing they wear, the garb, the way they dress as if this is the mark of real holiness.

The Pharisee’s tithes were in addition to the Old Testament tithes, something they invented, therefore, man-made:

Further he says, “I pay tithes of all that I get.”  Sounds like a good Baptist, but not really.  I pay tithes of all that I get.  The Old Testament laid down prescription for tithing, 10 percent of what you get goes to fund the national theocratic government, 10 percent goes to fund the national festivals and feasts on high holy days, and 10 percent every third year for the poor.  So it was three and a third a year, so about a 23 and a third percent tax, that’s what funded the theocratic kingdom of Israel.  Now that’s all the Lord required.  Then there was a half-shekel temple tax and that was it.  But again, they wanted to invent laws to appear righteous, so in Matthew 23:23 and Luke 11:42, I think it is, it says that they tithe of mint and anise and cumin.  Those are tiny little spices.  They tithed the tiny little seeds and leaves of the spices as a way to demonstrate their virtue, their holiness, their law-keeping.  They went beyond the law.

MacArthur gives us an actual prayer from the Pharisees’ era:

A Pharisaic prayer dating from about the time of Jesus goes like this, “I thank Thee, Jehovah, my God, that Thou hast assigned my lot with those who sit in the house of learning and not with those who sit in the street corners. I rise early and they rise early. I rise early to study the words of the Torah and they rise early to attend to things of no importance. I weary myself and they weary themselves. I weary myself and gain thereby while they weary themselves without gaining anything. I run and they run. I run toward the life of the age to come. And they run toward the pit of destruction.” That was self-righteousness in the Pharisaic mind.

Jesus said (verse 13) that the tax collector stood far off, would not look upward to heaven, but instead beat his breast saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’

Henry discusses the tax collectors stance and gesture:

He expressed his repentance and humility in what he did; and his gesture, when he addressed himself to his devotions, was expressive of great seriousness and humility, and the proper clothing of a broken, penitent, and obedient heart. (1.) He stood afar off. The Pharisee stood, but crowded up as high as he could, to the upper end of the court; the publican kept at a distance under a sense of his unworthiness to draw near to God, and perhaps for fear of offending the Pharisee, whom he observed to look scornfully upon him, and of disturbing his devotions. Hereby he owned that God might justly behold him afar off, and send him into a state of eternal distance from him, and that it was a great favour that God was pleased to admit him thus nigh. (2.) He would not lift up so much as his eyes to heaven, much less his hands, as was usual in prayer. He did lift up his heart to God in the heavens, in holy desires, but, through prevailing shame and humiliation, he did not lift up his eyes in holy confidence and courage. His iniquities are gone over his head, as a heavy burden, so that he is not able to look up, Ps 40 12. The dejection of his looks is an indication of the dejection of his mind at the thought of sin. (3.) He smote upon his breast, in a holy indignation at himself for sin: “Thus would I smite this wicked heart of mine, the poisoned fountain out of which flow all the streams of sin, if I could come at it.” The sinner’s heart first smites him in a penitent rebuke, 2 Sam 24 10. David’s heart smote him. Sinner, what hast thou done? And then he smites his heart with penitent remorse: O wretched man that I am? Ephraim is said to smite upon his thigh, Jer 31 19. Great mourners are represented tabouring upon their breasts, Nah 2 7.

Henry analyses the publican’s prayer:

His prayer was short. Fear and shame hindered him from saying much; sighs and groans swallowed up his words; but what he said was to the purpose: God, be merciful to me a sinner. And blessed be God that we have this prayer upon record as an answered prayer, and that we are sure that he who prayed it went to his house justified; and so shall we, if we pray it, as he did, through Jesus Christ: “God, be merciful to me a sinner; the God of infinite mercy be merciful to me, for, if he be not, I am for ever undone, for ever miserable. God be merciful to me, for I have been cruel to myself.” (1.) He owns himself a sinner by nature, by practice, guilty before God. Behold, I am vile, what shall I answer thee? The Pharisee denies himself to be a sinner; none of his neighbours can charge him, and he sees no reason to charge himself, with any thing amiss; he is clean, he is pure from sin. But the publican gives himself no other character than that of a sinner, a convicted criminal at God’s bar. (2.) He has no dependence but upon the mercy of God, that, and that only, he relies upon. The Pharisee had insisted upon the merit of his fastings and tithes; but the poor publican disclaims all thought of merit, and flies to mercy as his city of refuge, and takes hold of the horn of that altar. “Justice condemns me; nothing will save me but mercy, mercy.” (3.) He earnestly prays for the benefit of that mercy: O God, be merciful, be propitious, to me; forgive my sins; be reconciled to me; take me into thy favour; receive me graciously; love me freely.” He comes as a beggar for an alms, when he is ready to perish for hunger. Probably he repeated this prayer with renewed affections, and perhaps said more to the same purport, made a particular confession of his sins, and mentioned the particular mercies he wanted, and waited upon God for; but still this was the burden of the song: God, be merciful to me a sinner.

MacArthur reminds us that the heart is the centre of evil:

An old Jewish commentary says, and I quote, “Why do the righteous beat on their heart as though to say all is there?  The righteous beat their heart because the heart is the source of all evil longing.”

This is a recognition of what our Lord taught, that it’s out of the heart that all evil comes You remember the words of our Lord Jesus, Mark 7:21 and Matthew 15:19, parallel passages.  Let me read you Matthew 15:19 and 20, “Out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, slanders. These are the things which defile the man.”  He understands. This is a man who understands his own sinfulness. His location demonstrates it, his posture demonstrates it. His behavior demonstrates it.  He knows what’s in his heart.  He knows that what Jeremiah said is true, that the heart of man is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked.  He is anguished over his guilt.  He is broken over his shame, his unworthiness.  He is crushed and humbled.  And it comes out in everything about him and even in his words.  He says, “God,” and he is truly talking to God. That’s not just doing what is expected, he is talking to God. “Be merciful to me, the sinner.”  Those are the words of a true penitent.  Start with the sinner, not a sinner; toh hamartōlō, definite article, the sinner.  Like Paul in 1 Timothy 1:15, “For I am the chief of sinners.”  This is an unequivocal confession of his extreme and supreme sinfulness and there’s no comparing him with others. He is the worst sinner.  And that is a legitimate response because of all the sinners in the world he knows he knows himself to be the worst because no sinner knows so much about himself as the individual himself.  He knows about other sinners, but he knows his own heart better than he knows anybody else.  “Who knows the spirit of a man but the spirit of the man that is within him?” says the Scripture.  He is the worst sinner in the world, as far as his personal knowledge is concerned.

MacArthur says that the Pharisee thought he himself was a sinner but that, unlike the publican, he had more right to be forgiven. As such, the Pharisee thought God would overlook his sins:

The Pharisee had faith in God. He believed in God. He believed in the true and living God, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. He believed in the God who was the Savior God. He believed in the sacrificial system. He believed in atonement for sin. He believed in God’s forgiveness.

You say, “You mean he really did believe in God’s forgiveness?” Sure. A Pharisee didn’t believe that he never committed any sin ever in his entire life. He just believed that he had earned the right to be forgiven.

MacArthur cites a modern day example of this type of belief, that of the Mormons:

When I was meeting with some of the leaders of the Mormon church, we were having a conversation, one of the stunning statements they made to me and they wanted to affirm it again and again, is we believe salvation is all of grace, all of grace. And I said, “Okay, well then if I want to be sure to go to heaven, what do I need to do?” And they said, “Well, first of all you have to be baptized in this Mormon ritual, and then you have to join the Mormon church, and then you would have to adhere to…” and they started down this list.

I said, “Wait a minute. It doesn’t sound like grace. That sounds like works.” And as I pressed the issue, it came around to this: Isn’t God gracious that He allows us to earn our salvation? … That’s the way religious people think. It isn’t that the world is full of people who don’t think they’ve ever done anything wrong. It’s just that they think they have not done as much wrong as they have done right. And so they’ve tipped the scales in their favor and God is going to forgive the stuff that they’ve done because they’ve earned it.

MacArthur discusses the publican’s prayer for God’s mercy in light of the atonement sacrifice:

The defining distinction here is that the first man has nothing for which to what?  Repent.  He’s like the rich young ruler. He says, “I’ve kept everything since my youth.  I can’t find anything I need to confess or repent of.”  That is the issue.  There is no possibility of salvation apart from this kind of repentance because this is the defining element.

Now notice what he says.  “Be merciful to me.”  The Greek is, very important phrase, hilaskomai, hilaskomai. Hileos tati is not to show mercy. That’s a different word.  If you go down to verse 38, Jesus meets a blind man in verse 38 of this chapter, and the blind man calls out and says, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me.” That is a true translation of eleēson me, different word, from the verb eleeō, which means to show mercy.  That’s exactly what that means, to show mercy.  Hilaskoimoi comes from the Greek verb hilaskomai, which means to propitiate, to appease, to make propitiation, to make satisfaction.  And every word attached to that verb root, hilas, whether it’s alasmos, halasterios, hilaos, they all have to do with the same idea.  This is what he said, “God, be propitious to me.  God, be appeased toward me.”

What is he saying?  He’s saying this, “God, please apply the atonement to me.”  He understood the theology of atonement.  He understood the wages of sin is death, the soul that sins it shall die.  He understood all the way back to the wonderful story of Abraham and Isaac that God would provide a sacrifice that would satisfy Himself and would satisfy His justice, a substitute.  He understood that the millions of animals that had been offered throughout all of Jewish history were symbolic of the fact that God could be appeased by a sacrifice, though none of those sacrifices ever gave the final appeasement to God. Otherwise they would have ceased.  He’s talking atonement language here.  This is not a general plea for mercy.  And this needs to be expressed clearly because sometimes when we present the gospel, all we want to do is say God loves you and has this wonderful purpose for your life and God wants you to have the joy and happiness and all of this and if you just ask Him, He’ll be merciful to you.

That’s not what he’s saying.  He is saying, “I am a wretched sinner.  I am unworthy to stand near you.  I am unworthy to look up toward you.  I am in profound agony and anguish over my wretchedness.  I need an atonement for my sins to be applied to me.”  That’s what he’s saying.  This is about sin and atonement.

This verb is only used two times in the New Testament, one here and the second use in Hebrews 2:17 where it says, concerning Jesus Christ, that He is a faithful high priest in things pertaining to God to make propitiation for the sins of His people, to make satisfaction, to satisfy the wrath of God, to satisfy the justice and holiness and vengeance of God.  And that’s what this man is crying for. Oh God, please apply the atonement to me, make atonement for me.  That very day a sacrifice had been made on that altar. He pleads that it would apply to him.  He understood the theology of substitution, imputation and atonement.  They knew that there would come one day a Son of David, a root out of Jesse, Isaiah 53, and He would bear our iniquities and He would die in our place.  That’s what Isaiah 53 says, “He was wounded for our transgressions, bruised for our iniquities.  And by His sacrifice we have peace with God.  Please, oh God, please make the atonement apply to me.  May Your anger with me over.”  That’s the plea of a penitent sinner.  “Oh God, cease being justifiably, righteously angry with me.  May Your justice be satisfied through atonement.”

One historian says this, “One can almost smell the pungent incense, hear the loud clash of ceremonial cymbals, see the great cloud of dense smoke rising from the burnt offering.  And the tax collector is there, stands afar off, anxious not to be seen, sensing his unworthiness to stand with the participants.  In brokenness he longs to be a part of it all.  He yearns that he might stand with the righteous.  In deep remorse he pounds his chest and cries out with repentance and hope, ‘Oh God, let it be for me.  Make an atonement for me, a sinner.'”  There in the temple, this humble man aware of his own sin and unworthiness, with no merit of his own to commend him, longs that the great dramatic atonement sacrifice might be applied to him.”

Jesus ended the parable by saying ‘I tell you’ — making it most emphatic on His authority — that the tax collector went home justified, not the Pharisee; those who exalt themselves will be humbled and those who humble themselves will be exalted (verse 14).

MacArthur explains why Jesus began that ending the way He did:

Jesus says, “I tell you.” Why does He say that? Why begin like that? Because He knows He couldn’t get this anywhere else in Judaism. He can’t quote a rabbi. He speaks with absolute authority, “I tell you.” Here is sound soteriology from incarnate God. “I tell you, this man went down to his house…” That’s not what the rabbis tell you, that’s not what the scribes tell you, that’s not what you have heard. “I tell you, this man went down to his house having been made just,” having been made righteous, having been made acceptable. And speaks of a completed condition, the verb form, a state of having been declared righteous and that’s permanent.

MacArthur says that our Lord’s statement about instantaneous and permanent divine justification of the publican would have shocked the legalists listening to Him:

This would draw gasps from the legalists. Think of it, Jesus, God in human flesh, the holy one, the perfect sinless one says that in one moment an extreme sinner can be pronounced instantly righteous without any works, without any merit, without any worthiness, without any law-keeping, without any moral achievement, religious achievement, spiritual accomplishment or ritual. No time lapse, no penance, no works, no ceremony, no sacrament, no meritorious activity whatsoever, nothing to do, instant declaration of justification on the spot, permanent. Wow! How can that be? Because the only righteousness that God will accept is perfect righteousness and since you can’t earn it, He gives it as a gift to the penitent who put their trust in Him. That’s the gospel. All the sinner ever does is receive the gift, coming in penitent trust, pleading for atonement to be made to satisfy the wrath of God against his sin.

Here is the broken-hearted, self-confessed sinner, humble, unworthy, trusting only in God’s atonement, pleading that God would apply it to him, who is instantaneously made perfect before God, as perfect as God, for the righteousness of God is credited to him. He’s the one who enters the spiritual and will be in the earthly and will live forever in the eternal kingdom, rather than the other. The self-righteous pride of the Pharisee and everybody like him only intensifies the alienation. His soliloquy up there just solidified his self-confidence and he went down even more wretched than when he went up. Atonement is worthless to the self-righteous.

So the listening crowd who heard Jesus say this and anybody who reads it is forced to reassess how a person enters the kingdom of God. It’s not by human morality, goodness, or religion, but by repentance and conviction of sin and a plea for an atoning sacrifice.

MacArthur says this is the only time that Jesus ever spoke of justification:

The work of our Lord is not mentioned because it’s not yet occurred.  But what is clear is this, that righteousness and justification is a gift from God apart from works that is only made possible through the application of an atoning sacrifice.  We leave it to Paul after the cross to teach the rich meaning of the atonement of Jesus Christ being that one and only sacrifice that satisfies God.  But isn’t it interesting that the starting point for Paul, the starting point for the New Testament understanding of righteousness through atonement is traceable back to this story which Jesus told?

When I wrote the book The Gospel According to Jesus and I rewrote a later edition and a newer edition of it, I wanted to include in that the doctrine of justificationThis is the only place in the teaching of Jesus where you have this explicit instruction.  It is here that the foundations for the teaching of Paul are found.  Christ becomes that sacrifice and it’s His death who’s applied… it’s applied to all in the past and all sins.  However, know this, that there is no salvation on this side of the cross apart from recognizing Christ and His work on the cross, for there is no salvation in any other name.

MacArthur then discusses the second half of verse 14, a truth mentioned throughout the Bible:

The Lord ends this amazing story with what I’ll call the central axiom. The audience, the analogy, the answer, the central axiom in verse 14, this is a truism, a proverb, “For everyone who exalts himself shall be humbled, but he who humbles himself shall be exalted.” “Exalted” here is a synonym for salvation, a synonym for righteousness. It’s used in an Old Testament sense. In the Old Testament, only God is truly exalted and only God can exalt men. Men can’t exalt themselves successfully to His level. So this refers to spiritual salvation, reconciliation, righteousness, justification, being in the kingdom. All efforts to doing that on your own are going to leave you humiliated. Everyone who exalts himself — that is, tries to save himself or make himself righteous — shall be humbled in the severest sense of the word, crushed in eternal loss and punishment. The path of self-exaltation ends up in eternal judgment. God resists the proud and gives grace to the humble.

On the other hand, all who humble themselves, confessing they cannot do anything to save themselves, will be lifted high into eternal glory. The damned think they’re good. The saved know they’re wicked. The damned believe the kingdom of God is for those worthy of it. The saved know the kingdom of God is for those who know they’re unworthy of it. The damned believe eternal life is earned. The saved know it’s a gift. The damned seek God’s commendation. The saved seek His forgiveness.

May everyone reading this have a blessed Sunday.

The Eighteenth Sunday after Trinity is on October 16, 2022.

Readings for Year C can be found here.

The Gospel reading is as follows (emphases mine):

Luke 18:1-8

18:1 Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart.

18:2 He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people.

18:3 In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Grant me justice against my opponent.’

18:4 For a while he refused; but later he said to himself, ‘Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone,

18:5 yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.’”

18:6 And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says.

18:7 And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them?

18:8 I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them. And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”

Commentary comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

We are nearing the end of our Lord’s lessons to His disciples and to the Jewish hierarchy, which began in Luke 9 and conclude in Luke 19.

The context for today’s reading is set in light of our Lord’s discourse in Luke 17 about His Second Coming.

This parable illustrates the need for perseverance and patience in God’s justice delivered through His Son Jesus Christ.

Jesus told a parable to His disciples about the importance of praying always and not losing heart (verse 1).

Matthew Henry’s commentary says:

When we are praying for strength against our spiritual enemies, our lusts and corruptions, which are our worst enemies, we must continue instant in prayer, must pray and not faint, for we shall not seek God’s face in vain. So we must likewise in our prayers for the deliverance of the people of God out of the hands of their persecutors and oppressors.

Jesus said that in a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor respected the people (verse 2).

That means he was self-centred and corrupt.

John MacArthur says that this scenario would have been familiar to the disciples. The judge was a civil judge and not a religious one:

This is simply a city that Jesus fabricates in the story. But we can assume that since He’s talking to people in the land of Israel, it would be typical of a city in Israel. And what follows would be all too familiar to the people of Israel, for Israel, frankly, had much experience with widows and much experience with unjust judges. And here we meet such a judge, a judge who did not fear God and did not respect man.

And while that seems a rather simple characterization, it is a very well chosen characterization because you find such references to people in literature from ancient times outside the Bible and this kind of description is used to describe the most wicked person, someone who has absolutely no reverence for God and no interest in people, no concerns regarding the law of God, the will of God and completely indifferent to the needs of people and their just causes.  This man is ultimately and finally wicked.  There is no way to penetrate this man’s wickedness either from the viewpoint of the law of God or from the viewpoint of the need of man.  He is not moved by reverence or worship and he is not moved by compassion or sympathy.  He has no interest in the first commandment, loving God; no interest in the second commandment, loving his neighbor.  He is the most wicked man …

Now the kind of court that a judge like this would be a part of would be a civil court.   In towns and villages, or in large cities, these civil courts were in a lot of locations.  Every little town had to have one and a place like Jerusalem would have many of these civil courts.  This is not a position of national responsibility in a religious court where they were interpreting the religious things, or the traditions, or the law of the Old Testament. This is a civil court, but nonetheless the judge would have a very serious responsibility before God to uphold the law of God and to uphold sympathy and compassion toward people.  Any judge in Israel would be very familiar with Old Testament instruction regarding being a judge.  Second Chronicles chapter 19, Jehoshaphat is the king of Judah.  It says in verse 4, “Jehoshaphat lived in Jerusalem, went out again among the people from Beersheba to the hill country of Ephraim and brought them back to the Lord, the God of their fathers.  And he appointed judges in the land in all the fortified cities of Judah, city by city.  And he said to the judges, ‘Consider what you are doing for you do not judge for man but for the Lord who is with you when you render judgment.’  “Now then,” verse 7, 2 Chronicles 19:7, “let the fear of the Lord be upon you.  Be very careful what you do for the Lord our God will have no part in unrighteousness, or injustice, or partiality, or the taking of a bribe.”

Everyone who was ever appointed to any judicial responsibility in Israel would know that passage very, very well.  But even in the Old Testament, in spite of the clear instruction of God, judges were corrupt.  Amos the prophet, chapter 5 verse 10, “They hate him who reproves him in the gate.  They abhor him who speaks with integrity.  Therefore because you impose heavy rent on the poor and exact a tribute of grain from them, though you have built houses of well-hewn stone, you will not live in them.  You have planted pleasant vineyards; you will not drink their wine, for I know your transgressions are many, your sins are great, you who distress the righteous and accept bribes and turn aside the poor in the gate.”  The gate is normally where the civil law was adjudicated.  These judges that Amos mentions are corrupt and will know the judgment of God.

But this kind of judicial corruption was not limited just to the Old Testament. It was also true in the time of our Lord Jesus.  Alfred Edersheim, who has written the classic Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, the great history of that period of time, describes the judges in Jerusalem as being so corrupt that the people changed their title.  They were known as dayyaney gezeroth. That was the term used to describe a judge and his responsibility to deal with the prohibitions of the law.  The people called them dayyaney gezeloth. They changed one letter in the Hebrew which turned the expression “a judge dealing with the law” to “a judge who is a robber.” “Robber judges” became their title because they were so corrupt.  They did just exactly what the Bible said not to do, what God said not to do.  They showed partiality.  They were unjust and they took bribes.  The Talmud said they were so perverted in some occasions that they would actually pervert justice for one meal, for one meal.  And so, when our Lord says this is an unrighteous judge, adikia, meaning no sense of justice, dishonest and corrupt. He is defining what everybody would know by the description in verse 2, that he didn’t fear God and he didn’t respect man.

Let me look at that word “respect” for just a moment in verse 2, Entrepōmi, interesting verb, it means to be put to shame, to be put to shame.  In other words, this man had no shame.  Now remember the Middle Eastern culture then and even now is a shame-honor culture.  You do what brings you honor at all cost, you avoid all things that produce shame, you avoid shame like the plague.  That was typically the way life was lived.  And so the way to understand that expression “did not respect man” would be to understand it this way: He is not ashamed before people, he has no shame. He cannot be put to shame.  In fact, if you were to study Middle Eastern translations of this verse in Middle Eastern language, New Testament Syriac and Arabic, they never translate it any other way over the centuries than “he was not ashamed before people.”  He had no shame. He could not be shamed no matter what he did.  Good social behavior in those cultures basically was encouraged by an appeal to shame. 

In that city, a widow repeatedly approached him appealing for justice against the person who wronged her (verse 3).

Widows, then and now, were — and are — often in a precarious position if they have no male to help them fight their cause.

Henry says:

Note, Poor widows have often many adversaries, who barbarously take advantage of their weak and helpless state to invade their rights, and defraud them of what little they have; and magistrates are particularly charged, not only not to do violence to the widow (Jer 21 3), but to judge the fatherless, and plead for the widow (Isa 1 17), to be their patrons and protectors; then they are as gods, for God is so, Ps 68 5.

MacArthur tells us that a court of law was a man’s domain and that women were largely ignored. The Old Testament states that God’s people were to protect widows:

“There was a widow in that city and she kept coming to him saying, ‘Give me legal protection from my opponent.’”  Someone has defrauded her.  In fact, someone has so seriously defrauded her that she is destitute.  Not only is she destitute by virtue of the fact that she keeps coming and keeps coming and keeps coming, which is our Lord’s way of pointing out that she really was in a situation where she had to have what was rightfully hers, but we know that her destitution goes beyond the financial, she apparently has no man in her life, no man in her family, not a brother, not a brother-in-law, not a father, not a son, not a cousin, not a nephew, not any man who could come to plead her case, because courts belonged to men. They did not belong to women, they belonged exclusively to men.  Men came to court. Women did not come to court.  The courts belonged to the men.  The only time a woman would come to court was when there was no man to plead her case.  This woman is alone. She represents the destitute, the powerless, the helpless, the deprived, the lowly, the unknown, the unloved, the uncared for, the desperate.  And it’s wonderful to use the illustration of a widow because her case is clear-cut, as far as the Old Testament goes, if not on a legal basis, purely on the basis of mercy that he should have done something to care for her.   Exodus 22 verses 22 to 24 talks about the responsibility to show mercy to a widow.  Deuteronomy 24 verses 17 and 18, Isaiah 1:16 and 17, and many other places, widows were to be cared for. Their needs were to be met.  This judge is utterly indifferent to her on a sympathetic side, on the side of compassion, but apparently she had the law on her side as well because she is asking for legal protection.  She has been defrauded.  Property, money which was life to her has been taken from her.

By the way, as a footnote, there are a number of interesting widows that Luke focuses on both in his gospel and in the book of Acts as well.  They were an important part of the ancient world.  Corrupt judges, there were plenty of them; and there were even more needy widows.

The judge refused to entertain her plea for justice but later said to himself that, though he did not fear God or respect man (verse 4), he would grant her justice so that she would not wear him out by continually bothering him (verse 5).

Henry says:

bad as he was, would not suffer him to send her to prison for an affront upon the court.

MacArthur gives us this analysis:

His wickedness is obviously toxic, it is compounded because he is in the role of a judge and he renders his judgments in regard both to the law of God and the needs of people and since he is not moved by either, he is, as Jesus characterizes him, an unrighteous judge.  The word “unrighteous” would mean dishonest, corrupt, unjust.  Not only is he this evil but he knows it and he’s comfortable with it.  In verse 4 he said to himself, “Even though I do not fear God nor respect men.” This is not simply a definition of the man that has been placed upon him by those that know him, he agrees with it in full.  Here is the worst possible human being in a very, very important position of responsibility whose disregard for God and man has massive implications in regard to all the people who come into his court

Well consistent with his utter disdain for the commandments of God and any sense of justice and his utter disinterest in showing compassion to anyone, even a lowly widow, verse 4 says, “And for a while he was unwilling.”  He was just outright indifferent.  He is the worst kind of human being who is then the worst judge imaginable.  Just as the prodigal son was the worst possible profligate sinner and the older brother was the worst possible hypocrite.  Jesus is into painting these extreme pictures in his stories with just a minimum of language.  But if you can fill in the gaps, the people would understand that.  But it says in verse 4, “Though he for a while was unwilling, but afterward he said to himself…” Now we get a soliloquy like the soliloquy of the prodigal son who came to his senses and talked to himself. So this man speaks to himself, “Even though I do not fear God nor respect man.” He’s a self-confessed wretch, he holds nothing back.  He has no noble motive.  He is first to admit he has no noble motive whatsoever. 

The woman’s appeals would have been loud, characteristic of a Middle Eastern culture of powerless women:

But he says, in spite of that, verse 5, “Yet because this woman bothers me.” In the Greek, “She causes me trouble, she is irritating me.”  Every day she’s there.  Every day she’s pleading her case.  It’s becoming very troublesome.  I will give her legal protection “lest by continually coming…” “Continually” is eis telos, sometimes translated in the Bible “forever.”  She will come forever if I don’t get rid of her and “she will wear me out.”

He has no regard for God.  He has no regard for man.  But he has regard for himself.  He cares not for what pleases God.  He cares not for what pleases men.  But he cares a lot for what pleases him and this does not please him.  This is an irritating, troubling harangue that he hears out of this widow every single day that is intrusive and interruptive.  And by the way, I like that little phrase, “She will wear me out.”  But it’s a little more benign than the Greek.  The Greek is a verb hupopiazo, which means it’s a boxing term and it means to strike someone with a full blow in the eye She is punching me silly day after day after day. She is beating me up.  Some translations would be, “to blacken the face,” to indicate the severity and the strength of the blows.  She’s giving me a black eye, she’s beating me.  It’s used in 1 Corinthians 9:27 where Paul says, “I buffet my body, I punch my body with a fierce blow to beat it into submission.”  This woman is not just troublesome, this woman is painful.  This is more than I can stand and she’s going to do it eis telos, forever, if I don’t get rid of her.  So the powerful and impervious judge is defeated by the weak widow through her persistence.

Now you need to know something else, a little bit more about the Middle Eastern culture.  Women were really powerless.  I guess that’s a good way to say it.  They were powerless in the male-dominated culture; still largely true in Middle Eastern culture today.  But they were respected and they were honored.  And while they had no power, they did have honor and they could get away with things that men couldn’t get away with.  I was reading one Middle Eastern scholar who said, “A woman could scream and complain at the top of her voice relentlessly and get away with it because women are to be honored and respected.  And if a man did the same thing, he would lose his life.”  And so, even today sometimes you see pictures in the Arabic world of women who are pleading their case by screaming and yelling and this would be the crying day and night kind of relentless approach of this woman that is characterized hereThe crying day and night comes in the explanation in verse 7 So she’s driving this man to destruction in his own mind.  He’s got to get rid of her.  And so he rules in her favor.  Go back to verse 5, “I will give her legal protection.” That simply means I will vindicate her.  I will vindicate her.  It’s got the word dikēo in it, from which we get the word dikaiōs, righteousness, justice.  I will execute justice, righteousness on her behalf.  I will vindicate her.  I will avenge her.  I will do justice to her because I cannot tolerate her…her harangue any longer.  So that’s the story. That’s the illustration.

Jesus called on the disciples to take heed of what the unjust judge said (verse 6).

It is interesting that both commentators use the same expression about this parable.

Henry says:

This parable has its key hanging at the door; the drift and design of it are prefixed. Christ spoke it with this intent, to teach us that men ought always to pray and not to faint, v. 1.

MacArthur says:

What’s the intention of this story? Go back to verse 1. Now He was telling them a parable to show that at all times they ought to pray and not to lose heart. So here we find that the key to the parable is hanging on the door. Before you even get inside to the parable, the key is out there. This is a parable designed by our Lord to show that at all times they ought to pray and not to lose heart.

Then Jesus implied that if the corrupt judge showed justice — left unsaid — how much more will the righteous, all-merciful God grant justice to those who cry out to Him day and night, asking if He will delay helping them (verse 7).

MacArthur explains:

This is a “much more than” kind of comparison, this is a “lesser and greater” kind of comparison.  This is extreme.  You have the most wicked, impervious, impenetrable, indifferent human being doing what is right for someone about whom he has no feeling or interest.  And if a judge who is like that will do what is right for someone for whom he has no affection, do you think God will not do what is right for those who are His eternal elect, who are loved by Him before the foundation of the world?  And who cry out to Him day and night pleading for His glory to come and for them to be glorified with Him?

The elect are represented by the widow.  We are, in a sense, helpless.  We are, in a sense, at the mercy of our judge.  But this judge is not like God.  This judge is the opposite of God.  He is as unlike God as you can get.  God always does what is right by His own law.  God is always compassionate, merciful, gracious, tender-hearted, and kind.  And God will do what He says He will do to bring about the glorious manifestation of His own children who are loved by Him from before the foundation of the world.  The wicked, unjust, unloving judge will do what is right. What will a righteous, loving, holy God do?

The answer: verse 7, “Now shall not God bring about justice for His elect?”  Literally, “Make the vindication,” make the vindication.  Again “the vindication” comes from that same verb, dikēo, which is related to the word group “justify.”  Will He not justify?  Will He not vindicate His elect, those whom He has chosen for salvation?  First Peter 2:23 says, “God is the one who judges righteously.”  Romans 12:19 says that, “God has said, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay.’”  Revelation 19:2, “True and righteous are His judgments.”  He will do what He has promised for His elect because His Word is at stake and He’s faithful to His Word, He’s faithful to His law, because He’s merciful, because He’s compassionate, and because He loves those whom He has eternally chosen.

Henry refers to earnest prayer as wrestling with God, which is what Jacob did and was blessed afterwards with the name Israel. That passage from Genesis 32 is one of today’s First Readings:

And herein we must be very urgent; we must cry with earnestness: we must cry day and night, as those that believe prayer will be heard at last; we must wrestle with God, as those that know how to value the blessing, and will have no nay. God’s praying people are told to give him no rest, Isa 62 6, 7.

Jesus concluded by saying that, contrary to the corrupt judge, God will quickly grant justice to the faithful, however, on that day of the Second Coming, will the Son of Man — Jesus — find faith on Earth when He returns (verse 8)?

MacArthur says:

He closes with a question, verse 8, “However, when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?”  What does that mean?  Jesus is just pensively asking the question that when He does come, given that it’s going to be a long time, will there be anybody left persistent like this widow?  When He does come, and He will, will He find people praying for His return?  I kind of think that if He were to come now He would find a whole lot of people who call themselves Christians with very little interest in that.  Genuine Christianity never loses its grip on God, never loses its trust in Christ, never loses its hope.  But we get easily distracted, don’t we?  And the Lord is trying to nail this down in a practical way.  When He comes, will He find His people still crying day and night eagerly waiting for His return?  Will we love His appearing?  Will we be crying out “Maranatha”? First Corinthians 16:22, even come, Lord, come, Lord.  Or will it be like in Noah’s day with just a few, or Lot today with just a few?

We live in hope, beloved, we live in hope.  We…We are true Christians and we have been given a tremendous promise.  This is how it’s all going to end.  In the meantime we suffer and we’re rejected and persecuted and alienated and the gospel is resisted and Christ is dishonored and sometimes maybe we think it’s going on too long and too long.  We continue to pray and plead for the glory of Christ, the honor of Christ.  And when you live that way and pray that way and plead that way, it changes everything about your life.  How you view every part of your life.  Yes it’s been 2,000 [years]. But our hope burns shining bright, and our love for Christ is still true and pure and our confidence that He keeps His Word is fast and firm.  And so we pray persistently calling on Him to come, to glorify Himself, to vindicate Himself, to punish sinners, dethrone Satan, establish a righteous kingdom and peace on the earth, reign as King of kings and Lord of lords and create the eternal new heaven and the new earth. We say, “Even so, come, Lord Jesus,” and it ought to be on our lips day after day after day, says our Lord.  Live in that kind of anticipation until He comes.  And watch how it changes your life.

Henry mentioned Jacob’s earnest faith and the blessing he received.

I wrote more about the background of Genesis 32 a few years ago in ‘The Parable of the Prodigal Son and brothers in Genesis’.

After he sold his birthright to Jacob for a mass of pottage, Esau wanted to kill him.

In Genesis 32, Jacob prayed fervently in this appeal to God:

And Jacob said, “O God of my father Abraham and God of my father Isaac, O Lord who said to me, ‘Return to your country and to your kindred, that I may do you good,’ 10 I am not worthy of the least of all the deeds of steadfast love and all the faithfulness that you have shown to your servant, for with only my staff I crossed this Jordan, and now I have become two camps. 11 Please deliver me from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau, for I fear him, that he may come and attack me, the mothers with the children. 12 But you said, ‘I will surely do you good, and make your offspring as the sand of the sea, which cannot be numbered for multitude.’”

Today’s alternate First Reading tells us of Jacob’s wrestling with God and obtaining an enduring blessing for prevailing — overcoming:

Genesis 32:22-31

32:22 The same night he got up and took his two wives, his two maids, and his eleven children, and crossed the ford of the Jabbok.

32:23 He took them and sent them across the stream, and likewise everything that he had.

32:24 Jacob was left alone; and a man wrestled with him until daybreak.

32:25 When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he struck him on the hip socket; and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him.

32:26 Then he said, “Let me go, for the day is breaking.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go, unless you bless me.”

32:27 So he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.”

32:28 Then the man said, “You shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with humans, and have prevailed.”

32:29 Then Jacob asked him, “Please tell me your name.” But he said, “Why is it that you ask my name?” And there he blessed him.

32:30 So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, “For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life is preserved.”

32:31 The sun rose upon him as he passed Penuel, limping because of his hip.

My follow-up post discussed God’s blessing to Jacob in his 12 sons, ‘The Parable of the Prodigal Son relates to the lost tribes of Israel‘.

One day, Jesus will be seen by God’s people as the Messiah.

For now, we can meditate on the faith and perseverance that Jacob showed.

May all reading this enjoy a blessed Sunday.

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