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In 2021, the First Sunday in Lent is February 21.

The readings for Year B in the three-year Lectionary are below:

Readings for the First Sunday in Lent — Year B

My focus today is on the Gospel reading from Mark, which concerns the baptism of Jesus (emphases mine):

Mark 1:9-15

1:9 In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan.

1:10 And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him.

1:11 And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

1:12 And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness.

1:13 He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.

1:14 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God,

1:15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”

Commentary for today’s exegesis comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

I have often written about the accounts of our Lord’s baptism as a sign of obedience to God the Father. There was no reason for Jesus to undergo immersion in the River Jordan for His sins as He had none. Yet, He partook in what would become a sacrament in order to obey the ordinances of his Father under the New Covenant and to share in our human experience.

However, there is a far greater reason why Jesus was baptised. This was His earthly coronation, as John MacArthur ably explains.

Those who have read Mark’s Gospel know that it skips parts of Jesus’s earthly life and early ministry. This is because Mark wrote it for the Gentiles in Rome. He wanted them to understand quickly and simply that Jesus is the Son of God and our Saviour.

Instead of beginning with the lineage or Jesus or the Nativity, Mark begins with John the Baptist’s ministry, but not before introducing his Gospel as follows (Mark 1:1):

The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.[a]

Christ’s baptism has many scriptural hallmarks of being His coronation, through baptism, a religious ceremony that is not part of the Jewish tradition in terms of repentance.

There are ritual baths, mostly for women, but those are for the purposes of ceremonial rather than spiritual cleansing.

MacArthur looks at both the coronation and the sacramental aspect of baptism.

First, the coronation, involving this meeting between Jesus and His cousin, John the Baptist, as adults:

This is the only one recorded in the New Testament. Though they contacted each other through their disciples, there is no other indication they had met. But this meeting is monumental. This meeting has significance that is sweeping and far-reaching because on this occasion of their meeting, there is the coronation of the new King. Remember I told you that in the gentile world, as well as the Jewish world, the word euaggelion, the word gospel had to do with the ascent of a king, the accession of a king to his throne. And Mark is writing about God’s great King, the new King who is coming, who will declare a new era for the world. This is His coronation.

From the Greek word euaggelion we derive the words ‘evangelist’ and ‘evangelical’. In French, the word évangile means ‘Gospel’.

From Matthew 3:14, we know that John was reluctant to baptise Jesus, because he knew who He was, so He gave this reason:

15 But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented.

Jesus obeyed the commands of His Father, and baptism was one of them (verse 9).

MacArthur explains:

If God said this is to be done, then I will do this. It is that perfect obedience of Christ that is imputed to you and to me when we put our trust in Him. It’s what’s called His active righteousness.

But, how could the King of the Jews come from Galilee, let alone a little-known place called Nazareth?

The Jews considered Galilee unclean. MacArthur lays out the reasons why:

I don’t know if you know the history of Galilee. It was originally, of course, part of the land conquered by Joshua around the eighth century, I think – it was about then – it was invaded by the Assyrians, yes. And when it was invaded by the Assyrians, obviously they deported the Jews and many Gentiles came to live there. In the second century, they tried to – they tried to circumcise those gentiles, that didn’t go over real big.

They tried to attach them all to Judaism, that didn’t go over real big, either. So by the time you get to the ministry of John the Baptist, there are just a lot of Gentiles in that area. That’s why it’s called Galilee of the Gentiles. In fact, it was hated or treated with scorn and disdain by the Jews. One of the things that was said concerning Peter in Mark 14:70 was, “Isn’t he a Galilean?” There was nothing but scorn for Galilee. In fact, the further you were from Jerusalem, the more disdain they had for you, and this was a long, long way from Jerusalem. It was out on the fringes where the unclean people lived.

Yet — and yet — Isaiah prophesied that the Messiah would come from Galilee:

It would be unthinkable for the Messiah to come from Galilee, Galilee of the gentiles, that scorned place. And yet did they forget Isaiah 9, “There will be no more gloom for her who was in anguish. In earlier times he treated the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali with contempt, but later on He shall make it glorious by the way of the sea on the other side of Jordan, Galilee of the gentiles. The people who walk in darkness will see a great light, the light will shine on them.”

That’s the Messianic prophecy, that the Messiah would come from Galilee of the gentiles, Messiah would come from the land of Zebulun and Naphtali. This is Galilee, northern part of Israel.

Let us take a closer look at Nazareth. MacArthur says:

the town is Nazareth, so obscure it has to be named and it has to be located into Galilee. If you said Jesus came from Nazareth, nobody would know where it was. Nazareth in Galilee because Nazareth is not known. There is no place in any existing Jewish literature, ancient Jewish literature, where Nazareth is ever mentioned. It’s not in Josephus, it’s not in the Talmud, it’s not in the Old Testament, most obscure no-place place.

Except that Nathanael knew about Nazareth (John 1:46; Readings for the Second Sunday after Epiphany, Year B). He asked of the newly-called Apostle Philip, rather bluntly:

1:46 Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.”

Historically, the Jews expected the Messiah to come from Jerusalem, but the prophets knew better. MacArthur tells us:

The assumption was Messiah would come from Jerusalem, the temple is there, but the head, you know, the core, Jerusalem was corrupt, apostate. So the prophets said the Messiah will come from the fringes. The Messiah will come from the outskirts. He’ll come far at the most remote place from the religious establishment that is apostate. This in itself is a commentary on the corruption of Judaism at the time. And so He came and was baptized by John in the Jordan.

MacArthur explains the River Jordan:

You may have idyllic visions of the Jordan River, this mighty river. No. Jordan River is 105 miles long if you just fly down the Jordan. If you float, it’s 200 miles like that. Ten feet deep. At the widest, 100 feet across. “River” is stretching the word.

But it was there, away again from Jerusalem, in the wilderness, away from civilization because the center was so polluted. But John was baptizing as he had been commanded by God and Jesus came to be baptized.

MacArthur discusses John’s baptism of Jesus and the origin of the Greek word for this sacrament:

Baptizō means to immerse into water, Jesus was immersed, the symbol of the washing away of the old and purification that leads to newness, He was baptized. And He was baptized because God had commanded everybody to be baptized, and He was a man, and He would fulfill all righteousness.

And He was baptized secondarily because it was symbolic, I think, of going through the river of death, bearing the sins of His people.

As Jesus emerged from the water, two dramatic things happened (verse 10).

First, the heavens were ‘torn apart’. Secondly, the Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus in the form of a dove.

MacArthur interprets this for us via Luke’s version of events:

“Immediately coming up out of the water,” Luke adds, Luke 3:21, “while He was praying” – Jesus was in communion with the Father the whole time – “coming up out of the water,” which is an indication that He was immersed. It doesn’t mean He walked up on the riverbank, it means He came up out of the water. The scene, by the way, is trinitarian, right? Trinitarian, one of the great trinitarian texts in Scripture.

Our Heavenly Father had not rent the heavens apart for four centuries prior to this. During that era, He had also silenced prophesy. John the Baptist was the first prophet to emerge since that time.

Then God rent the heavens — tore them apart for that moment when His only begotten Son was baptised — and crowned. The Holy Spirit also appeared.

God also spoke (verse 11).

These three phenomena were open to public witness.

People were there to witness what Isaiah had prophesied centuries before, as MacArthur explains:

as He comes up out of the water, the coronation takes place. Has two parts, a visual and an audible – a visual and an audible. First, the anointing by the Holy Spirit and secondly, the affirmation by the Father. Let’s look at the anointing by the Holy Spirit. “Immediately coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens opened.” This is not a vision, by the way, folks, this is not a vision. We know it’s not a vision because … John 1:32 and following where John says, “I saw it. I saw it. I saw the Spirit descend, I saw it.”

And there’s no reason to think that others didn’t see it as well. It’s not a vision, it’s a visible reality, in contrast, for example, to the vision of Ezekiel 1. He saw the heavens opening. This is a signal of God breaking into time and space. I mean, this is huge. Now, remember, God hasn’t spoken in four hundred years. Four hundred years of divine silence until an angel comes and talks to Zacharias and Elizabeth. And another angel comes and talks to Joseph and Mary, but none of that is public. The heavens have been closed for four hundred years. And now they split.

He saw the heavens opening, and Mark uses a verb that Matthew and Luke do not use, schizō which means to rip. It’s dramatic, the heavens rip open. It’s only used one other time in the New Testament, when the veil in the temple at the death of Christ was ripped from top to bottom. This is so significant because Isaiah has been talking about the coming of Messiah, the coming of Messiah through the 40 chapters and the 50 chapters, and when you come to chapter 64, here’s the cry of the people, here’s the cry of the prophet’s heart, “O, that” – this is Isaiah 64:1. “O, that you would rip the heavens and come down.”

They were waiting for that, that God would rip open the heavens and come down and make His name known. This is anticipation of Messiah. The day is going to come when the silent heavens are going to rip open and God is going to come. The text of Isaiah 64 is a cry for God to do just that, break into history. And the Jews saw that text as evidences that Messiah would come and heaven would split open and down would come God.

MacArthur continues detailing this holy mystery of the Triune God:

God is about to come down, and He does in the form of the Holy Spirit – I love this – “and the Spirit like a dove descending upon Him.” Heaven rips open and you might think of something violent happening, something crashing down, but the Spirit like a dove descends upon Him.

Now, first of all, folks, this isn’t saying the Holy Spirit is a dove. I know there are doves all over Bible covers, and all over paraphernalia and holy hardware and all that, symbolizing the Holy Spirit, but the Holy Spirit is not a dove. The Holy Spirit is not a dove. That’s not what it’s saying. It simply says the Holy Spirit descended visibly – visibly. Luke says, think it’s chapter 3, maybe verse 21 or so, in bodily form, in some visible form, He descended like a dove. The question is not why is He a dove, the question is how does a dove descend. You understand the difference?

A dove doesn’t come crashing down. The dove is the gentlest, according to one text of Scripture, the gentlest of the birds. It comes down lightly, delicately, and rests in its place. That’s how the Holy Spirit came. That’s all it’s saying. It isn’t saying the Holy Spirit is a dove. The Holy Spirit is nowhere pictured as a dove. You don’t have to connect it with the dove that Noah sent out of the ark, like many commentators try to do, which is impossible. A dove is a very gentle, beautiful, delicate bird, and the Spirit came down in some visible form with the same kind of gentleness and beauty which is displayed when a little dove lands softly.

This is important because Isaiah made it very clear that when the Messiah comes, He will be empowered by the Holy Spirit. So this is confirmation that Jesus is the Messiah because here comes the Spirit. Listen to Isaiah 11:1, “A shoot will spring from the stem of Jesse,” that’s the father of David, out of David’s line, “A branch from his roots will bear fruit.” That’s the Messiah coming through Jesse’s line through David. “The Spirit of the Lord will rest on Him.” Messianic prophecy. Thirty-second chapter of Isaiah in the fifteenth verse, “Until the Spirit is poured out upon us from on high.” They knew that when the Messianic Kingdom comes, when Messianic glory arrives, it will be with the full power of the Holy Spirit.

Listen to 42:1, Isaiah 42:1, “Behold my Servant, whom I uphold, my Chosen One whom my soul delights, I have put my Spirit upon Him.” Those are prophecies. The Messiah would have the full presence power of the Holy Spirit. In John 3:34 it says this, that God gave Jesus the Spirit – this is the key phrase – without measure – without measure, without limit. That’s not true of everybody else. Everybody else has the Spirit in measure. Even the New Testament says that even those of us living in the age of the Holy Spirit receive a measure of the Spirit.

But He received the Spirit without measure, the full presence, the full power of the Holy Spirit came down and rested on Him. The infinite presence and power of the Spirit so that the whole life of Jesus was controlled by the Holy Spirit. His whole life was controlled by the Spirit. At the risk of over-simplifying something that is profoundly mysterious and beyond the grasp of all of us, let me see if I can give you a way to understand it. You have the Man Jesus here, you have the Son of God, eternal deity here, and that which is deity is conveyed to the man which is humanity through the means of the Holy Spirit.

As it says, He grew in wisdom and stature and favor with God and man, it was the Holy Spirit dispensing to the man, Jesus, the developing realities of truth that matured Him. That’s how you have to understand it. The Holy Spirit is the mediator between deity and humanity. John Owen makes the point that His divine nature did not directly communicate anything at all to the human Jesus. His divine nature did not communicate anything directly to the human Jesus, it all went through the mediation of the Holy Spirit, part of His self-emptying.

Through the Holy Spirit, divine power came, understanding came, enlightenment came, revelation came, so that His human nature was under the full control of the Holy Spirit, so that everything He did, He did in the power of the Spirit.

Then the Holy Spirit directed Jesus to the wilderness (verse 12).

Mark arrives at this part of the story without filling in intervening details that the other Gospels do because he wants to demonstrate the authority of Jesus.

MacArthur explains Mark’s reasoning:

He demonstrates the authority of Christ over three realms. One, over Satan and his realm. Two, over sin and its dominion. Three, over sinners. It is important for us to know that if the new King is going to take His throne, if the new King is going to reign, if the new King is going to overthrow the usurper, the temporary king, Satan himself, and if the King is going to conquer Satan and sin and sinners, He has to demonstrate the power to do that.

And so that’s where Mark establishes His authority. First in His temptation, His authority over Satan becomes clear … He can overpower and will overpower Satan. He can overpower and will overpower sin.

Mark tells us that Jesus was in the wilderness for 40 days — which is how we derived the period of our Lenten season — and, whilst there, the angels tended to Him (verse 13).

During this time, Jesus went without food, which is the root for Lenten fasting accompanied by prayer.

MacArthur continues, reminding us not only of scriptural precedent but also that Satan was ever present, tempting Him to worldly comforts:

Now, Mark doesn’t tell us what Matthew and Luke tell us, and that is this: that Jesus went without food for the entire forty days. Matthew 4:2, Luke 4:2, He didn’t eat for forty days. Forty-day fasts had happened before. According to Exodus chapter 34, Moses had a forty-day fast. According to 1 Kings 19, Elijah had a forty-day fast. That’s a long time, almost six weeks of eating nothing. Verse 13 says He was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. Forty days alone, forty days in isolation, forty days in a dangerous, devastating place. Forty days without anything to eat.

So you have no support system, no one to help Him, no one to comfort Him, no one to instruct Him, no one to encourage Him, and He is at His lowest possible physical condition. His strength would be gone long before the sixth week. It would begin to diminish seriously the second week. But if He is the King, He must be able, alone at His weakest, to conquer the enemy. And so the Holy Spirit throws Him into that conflict.

He is not only to be a King – and this is what you want to keep in mind. He is a King, and He is reigning over His people now, and He will reign over the earth and over all the new heaven and the new earth in eternity. He is a King, He will always reign, and He will ultimately and finally reign over everything. But He is also a suffering servant. And while as a King He is exalted, as a suffering servant, He is humiliated. The new King is also the suffering servant, it is a paradox, it is a paradox. The most exalted one is the one who suffers most.

Wandering in that place alone for nearly six weeks with nothing to eat in the wilderness, He is tempted the whole time by Satan. Some people assume that He was only tempted at the end of the forty days. Well, the temptations that came at the end of the forty days are given in Matthew 4 and Luke 4, but here we are told He was tempted the whole time. The whole time. And the interesting thing about the temptation Mark doesn’t describe, he leaves that to Matthew and to Luke, the interesting thing about the temptation was that the temptation was never a temptation for Him to give up His sovereignty.

It was never a temptation to give up His royalty, if you will. It was never a temptation for Him to give up His rights and His privileges and His honor and His exaltation and His elevation. It was a temptation for Him to abandon His humiliation.

We do not know exactly how the angels ministered to Jesus. Perhaps they kept him away from dangerous beasts, which were in the wilderness. Perhaps they distracted Him in good ways to look at the natural beauty of his surroundings. Even a desert offers God-given flowers and stunning sunsets.

Matthew Henry says:

Note, The ministration of the good angels about us, is matter of great comfort in reference to the malicious designs of the evil angels against us but much more doth it befriend us, to have the indwelling of the spirit in our hearts, which they that have, are so born of God, that, as far as they are so, the evil one toucheth them not, much less shall be triumph over them.

MacArthur says that on the final day, the angels found food for Jesus:

How did the angels minister to Him? They fed Him. After forty days of fasting, they gave Him something to eat. But I think they ministered in another way as well. I think they brought by their very presence and the food the confirmation of the Father. This was God’s way of saying, “I am still well pleased.” The divine approval of His holy triumph over Satan and fierce temptation is signaled by God sending holy angels to minister to Him at the end in the exhaustion of His victory.

Then Herod had John the Baptist arrested, after which Jesus proclaimed the Good News in Galilee (verse 14).

In real time — according to the other three Gospels — this was probably over four months after the end of His time in the wilderness, according to MacArthur.

Note that Jesus preached in Galilee, the region where He grew up. MacArthur says:

Galilee was the northern part of the land of Israel, the hinterlands, the outskirts, far from the religious center in Jerusalem. The fact that Jesus really launched His ministry in full power there was a testimony to the apostasy of the core, the corruption of Jerusalem.

Jesus preached that the kingdom of God, as we still say today, was at hand (verse 15). When people say it now, we understand it to be that the end of the world is nigh.

However, when Jesus spoke of it, he did so proclaiming the era of the long-awaited Messiah. This is the best news the people of faith at that time could receive.

MacArthur explains the message of Jesus:

… this is the message. It is the good news, it is good news, it is the best news the world has ever heard. And what is it? Verse 15, it is this, “The time is fulfilled,” the kairos, not the chronos, not clock time, not calendar time, epochal time – the era, the fixed point in history for an event to happen. Or in the words of Galatians 4:4, “The fullness of time.” The administration of the fullness of time, it’s called in Ephesians 1:10. God’s sovereign moment. The significant hour in human history.

This is it for which the world has long waited, the most significant era in the world’s history, the arrival of the Savior who will pay the penalty for sin and thus provide salvation for all who have believed from the beginning of history to the end. The time is fulfilled. This is God’s great epochal moment. The promises of the Old Testament regarding Messiah, the promises regarding the Kingdom, the promises of salvation are about to be fulfilled. What is the message? That Christ has come not only to conquer Satan but to conquer sin – to conquer sin through the gospel.

The new King has arrived and with Him the Kingdom. The Kingdom is here because the King is here. Wherever the King is present, the Kingdom is. Jesus’ message, very simple, unmistakable: the Kingdom of God is at hand, here it is. I’m here, the Kingdom’s here.

When He was in Nazareth in Galilee, Luke 4, just after His temptation, right at this same time, goes in to the synagogue and He says, “Today this prophecy is fulfilled in your ears.” And He was talking about the Messianic prophecy from Isaiah 61. It is the message, the good news, God’s hour has come, the Kingdom is here because the King is here. How do you enter that Kingdom? Repent and believe in the gospel, writes Mark. Repent of your sin. Believe in the gospel, the good news concerning Jesus Christ.

Matthew Henry says that that people, by and large, forgot the ancient prophesies. Jesus reminded them:

Observe, (1.) The great truths Christ preached The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. This refers to the Old Testament, in which the kingdom of the Messiah was promised, and the time fixed for the introducing of it. They were not so well versed in those prophecies, nor did they so well observe the signs of the times, as to understand it themselves, and therefore Christ gives them notice of it “The time prefixed is now at hand glorious discoveries of divine light, life, and love, are now to be made a new dispensation far more spiritual and heavenly than that which you have hitherto been under, is now to commence.” Note, God keeps time when the time is fulfilled, the kingdom of God is at hand, for the vision is for an appointed time, which will be punctually observed, though it tarry past our time.

The baptism of Jesus signified His kingship as Christ our Lord forevermore. my posts discussing Matthew Henry’s commentary on Matthew 10 (here and here), one of his observations deserves to stand alone, specifically that on Matthew 10:25:

It is enough for the disciple to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign[f] those of his household.

Jesus was referring to His healing the man made deaf by demons, documented in Matthew 9:32-34.

As is often the case, Henry explains the immediate context then gives us a practical application for the present day (emphases mine):

They must expect, in the midst of these sufferings, to be branded with the most odious and ignominious names and characters that could be. Persecutors would be ashamed in this world, if they did not first dress up those in bear-skins whom they thus bait, and represent them in such colours as may serve to justify such cruelties. The blackest of all the ill characters they give them is here stated they call them Beelzebub, the name of the prince of the devils, Matthew 10:25. They represent them as ringleaders of the interest of the kingdom of darkness, and since every one thinks he hates the devil, thus they endeavour to make them odious to all mankind. See, and be amazed to see, how this world is imposed upon: [1.] Satan’s sworn enemies are represented as his friends the apostles, who pulled down the devil’s kingdom, were called devils. Thus men laid to their charge, not only things which they knew not, but things which they abhorred, and were directly contrary to, and the reverse of. [2.] Satan’s sworn servants would be thought to be his enemies, and they never more effectually do his work, than when they pretend to be fighting against him. Many times they who themselves are nearest akin to the devil, are most apt to father others upon him and those that paint him on others’ clothes have him reigning in their own hearts. It is well there is a day coming, when (as it follows here, Matthew 10:26) that which is hid will be brought to light.

His words are truisms to remember for believers, especially clergy and those in public life, who suffer false accusations.’s post introduced Matthew Henry’s commentary on Matthew 10.

Henry’s exposition is well worth reading in full. It will certainly prove useful to those teaching Bible or youth classes to those who are new to the Gospel. And this will be useful for parents and other family members teaching youngsters in their household about the Apostles. Henry’s words bring the Twelve and their ministry to life. As I have not heard much deep preaching in church or anywhere else on Matthew 10, Henry offers excellent — and concise — explanations of the alternating stark and comforting way Christ taught the Twelve about the consequences of proclaiming the Gospel message.

Yesterday’s post covered the first 15 verses. This entry looks at the rest of the chapter. Excerpts from Henry follow, emphases in bold mine. I have also included a few personal observations.

Matthew 10:16-25 document Christ’s warning about the persecution to come. It is helpful to keep in mind that as the Apostles understood the Messiah was to be a temporal king — in keeping with Jewish teaching of the era — the last thought on their minds was persecution. It is unlikely they grasped the full import of our Lord’s prophetic message. His words hold true for millions around the world — including in the West. I shall write more about this shocking phenomenon tomorrow.

Our Lord was speaking here of the Apostles’ ministries post-Resurrection, when they would be on their own with the guidance of the Holy Spirit. At this point, the Twelve were unaware of His imminent death, resurrection and the first Pentecost.

Persecution — sheep and serpents

Our Lord said (Matthew 10:16, parallel in Luke 10:3):

“Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.

The Apostles were to be gentle and civilised in ministering to those who hated Christ and His followers. However, they were also to act with discernment. In any case, our Lord would ensure that no matter what they suffered they would be with Him for eternity. As to this verse:

… it is rather to be taken as a precept, recommending to us that wisdom of the prudent, which is to understand his way, as useful at all times, but especially in suffering times. “Therefore, because you are exposed, as sheep among wolves be ye wise as serpents not wise as foxes, whose cunning is to deceive others but as serpents, whose policy is only to defend themselves, and to shift for their own safety.” The disciples of Christ are hated and persecuted as serpents, and their ruin is sought, and, therefore, they need the serpent’s wisdom. Note, It is the will of Christ that his people and ministers, being so much exposed to troubles in this world, as they usually are, should not needlessly expose themselves, but use all fair and lawful means for their own preservation

It is the wisdom of the serpent to secure his head, that it may not be broken, to stop his ear to the voice of the charmer (Psalm 58:4,5), and to take shelter in the clefts of the rocks and herein we may be wise as serpents. We must be wise, not to pull trouble upon our own heads wise to keep silence in an evil time, and not to give offence, if we can help it.

Jesus warned that the Apostles would incur the wrath of the Jews and the Romans. The Jews would scourge them then hand them over to the Romans to be put to death. That was the limit the Jews could do in prosecution and persecution:

The Jews did not only scourge them, which was the utmost their remaining power extended to, but when they could go no further themselves, they delivered them up to the Roman powers, as they did Christ, John 18:30.

The shocking irony is that the Bible tells us that the Lord has ordained authority in those governing us to provide social order, yet:

Ye shall be brought before governors and kings (Matthew 10:18), who, having more power, are in a capacity of doing the more mischief. Governors and kings receive their power from Christ (Proverbs 8:15), and should be his servants, and his church’s protectors and nursing-fathers, but they often use their power against him, and are rebels to Christ, and oppressors of his church. The kings of the earth set themselves against his kingdom, Psalm 2:1,2; Acts 4:25,26. Note, It has often been the lot of good men to have great men for their enemies.

When this happens, the Holy Spirit will provide the right words through the persecuted (Matthew 10:20):

For it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.

Even worse than the authorities, however, were family members who would soon be turning new Christians over to the authorities as apostates to be killed. This still happens today:

the enmity of such is commonly most implacable[:] a brother offended is harder to be won than a strong city, Proverbs 18:19. The martyrologies, both ancient and modern, are full of instances of this. Upon the whole matter, it appears, that all that will live godly in Christ Jesus, must suffer persecution and through many tribulations we must expect to enter into the kingdom of God.

Whatever we endure, our Lord tells us to keep our faith (Matthew 10:22):

and you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.

Henry explains:

Note, A believing prospect of the period of our troubles, will be of great use to support us under them. The weary will be at rest, when the wicked cease from troubling, Job 3:17. God will give an expected end, Jeremiah 29:11. The troubles may seem tedious, like the days of a hireling, but, blessed be God, they are not everlasting. Secondly, That while they continue, they may be endured as they are not eternal, so they are not intolerable they may be borne, and borne to the end, because the sufferers shall be borne up under them, in everlasting arms: The strength shall be according to the day, 1 Corinthians 10:13. Thirdly, Salvation will be the eternal recompence of all those that endure to the end. The weather stormy, and the way foul, but the pleasure of home will make amends for all. A believing regard to the crown of glory has been in all ages the cordial and support of suffering saints, 2 Corinthians 4:16,17,18; Hebrews 10:34. This is not only an encouragement to us to endure, but an engagement to endure to the end. They who endure but awhile, and in time of temptation fall away, have run in vain, and lose all that they have attained but they who persevere, are sure of the prize, and they only. Be faithful unto death, and then thou shalt have the crown of life.

When necessary, we should seek shelter elsewhere — as does the serpent — for survival:

In case of imminent peril, the disciples of Christ may and must secure themselves by flight, when God, in his providence, opens to them a door of escape. He that flies may fight again. It is no inglorious thing for Christ’s soldiers to quit their ground, provided they do not quit their colours: they may go out of the way of danger, though they must not go out of the way of duty. Observe Christ’s care of his disciples, in providing places of retreat and shelter for them ordering it so, that persecution rages not in all places at the same time but when one city is made too hot for them, another is reserved for a cooler shade, and a little sanctuary a favour to be used and not to be slighted yet always with this proviso, that no sinful, unlawful means be used to make the escape for then it is not a door of God’s opening.

Our Lord told the Apostles not to try to be His equal but to imitate His example (Matthew 10:24-25). He also made allusion to the Jewish hierarchy putting him in league with Beelzebub — the devil. My readers will remember this from the verses I looked at a few weeks ago — Matthew 9:32-34 — when He healed the man made deaf by demons.

Our Lord said that whatever His enemies accused Him of would also mark His followers — ‘household’ — even more.

‘Fear not’

Despite the perils incurred in following Him, our Lord tells us that He will acknowledge us before His Father in heaven. Therefore, we are not to fear evil men, despite their ability to inflict pain and death.

On this point, Jesus said (Matthew 10:26-27):

26 “So have no fear of them, for nothing is covered that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. 27 What I tell you in the dark, say in the light, and what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops. 28 And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.[g]

Verse 26 has its parallel in Luke 12:2, about which I wrote in May 2014. (That post also contains the significance of rooftops in Jesus’s time.) On one level, these verses concern the hypocrisy of the Pharisees. However, they also refer to our sins which will be revealed, if not in this world, then on the Last Day.

As to what Jesus was teaching the Apostles when they were alone, He told them to proclaim from the rooftops:

Those ambassadors received their instructions in private, in darkness, in the ear, in corners, in parables. Many things Christ spake openly, and nothing in secret varying from what he preached in public, John 18:20. But the particular instructions which he gave his disciples after his resurrection, concerning the things pertaining to the kingdom of God, were whispered in the ear (Acts 1:3), for then he never showed himself openly. But they must deliver their embassy publicly, in the light, and upon the house-tops for the doctrine of the gospel is what all are concerned in (Proverbs 1:20,21,8:2,3), therefore he that hath ears to hear, let him hear. The first indication of the reception of the Gentiles into the church, was upon a house-top, Acts 10:9. Note, There is no part of Christ’s gospel that needs, upon any account, to be concealed the whole counsel of God must be revealed, Acts 20:27. In never so mixed a multitude let it be plainly and fully delivered.

Further words of comfort came when He told them that God the Father knows our trials, just as He knows when a sparrow dies or the number of hairs on our heads. He created us in His image. Furthermore, we are more valuable than sparrows.

Henry tells us:

Now this God, who has such an eye to the sparrows, because they are his creatures, much more will have an eye to you, who are his children. If a sparrow die not without your Father, surely a man does not,–a Christian,–a minister,–my friend, my child.


If God numbers their hairs, much more does he number their heads, and take care of their lives, their comforts, their souls. It intimates, that God takes more care of them, than they do of themselves.

Love our Lord first

Jesus warned the Apostles — and us — about Christianity dividing a household and about Christian teachings dividing us from the world. Note that He said nothing about earthly peace here (Matthew 10:34):

“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.

He said that our enemies would come from our own household (Matthew 10:26). Furthermore, we are not to love our own families more than we love Him (Matthew 10:37-38). Ultimately, if we die professing His name, we might lose our temporal life but we will find eternal life (Matthew 10:39).

Henry explains:

First, Before our nearest and dearest relations father or mother, son or daughter. Between these relations, because there is little room left for envy, there is commonly more room for love, and, therefore, these are instanced, as relations which are most likely to affect us. Children must love their parents, and parents must love their children but if they love them better than Christ, they are unworthy of him. As we must not be deterred from Christ by the hatred of our relations which he spoke of (Matthew 10:21,35,36), so we must not be drawn from him, by their love. Christians must be as Levi, who said to his father, I have not seen him, Deuteronomy 33:9.

Secondly, Before our ease and safety. We must take up our cross and follow him, else we are not worthy of him. Here observe, 1. They who would follow Christ, must expect their cross and take it up. 2. In taking up the cross, we must follow Christ’s example, and bear it as he did. 3. It is a great encouragement to us, when we meet with crosses, that in bearing them we follow Christ, who has showed us the way and that if we follow him faithfully, he will lead us through sufferings like him, to glory with him.

Thirdly, Before life itself, Matthew 10:39. He that findeth his life shall lose it he that thinks he had found it when he has saved it, and kept it, by denying Christ, shall lose it in an eternal death but he that loseth his life for Christ’s sake, that will part with it rather than deny Christ, shall find it, to his unspeakable advantage, an eternal life. They are best prepared for the life to come, that sit most loose to this present life.

Rewards for honouring His people

Finally, Jesus said that whoever honours His followers honours Him. Henry observes:

That though the kindness done to Christ’s disciples be never so small, yet if there be occasion for it, and ability to do no more, it shall be accepted, though it be but a cup of cold water given to one of these little ones, Matthew 10:42. They are little ones, poor and weak, and often stand in need of refreshment, and glad of the least. The extremity may be such, that a cup of cold water may be a great favour. Note, Kindnesses shown to Christ’s disciples are valued in Christ’s books, not according to the cost of the gift, but according to the love and affection of the giver. On that score the widow’s mite not only passed current, but was stamped high, Luke 21:3,4. Thus they who are truly rich in graces may be rich in good works, though poor in the world.


There are many lessons to absorb in Matthew 10, one of the most powerful chapters in the Gospels.

We — and our children — are likely to run into resistance to Christ, even those of us who live in the West.

In addition to considering this as historical prophecy from our Lord to the Apostles, we would do well to also apply it to our own lives. Matthew Henry’s commentary goes a long way in unpacking these verses for our benefit. the three-year Lectionary for public worship includes readings from Matthew 10, I will not be covering this chapter in my series Forbidden Bible Verses.

That said, Matthew 10 has some of the most memorable Gospel verses. Matthew Henry’s commentary on our Lord’s preparation of the Twelve Apostles helps to illuminate His teaching and purpose for them. Excerpts follow, emphases in bold mine.

Henry’s commentary will certainly prove useful to those teaching Bible or youth classes to those who are new to the Gospel. And this will be useful for parents and other family members teaching youngsters in their household about the Apostles. Henry’s words bring the Twelve and their ministry to life. Personally, I have not heard much deep preaching in church or anywhere else on Matthew 10.

St Matthew used the end of the preceding chapter to set the readers’ expectations for the selection and training of the Apostles — Matthew 9:35-38:

35 And Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction. 36 When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. 37 Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; 38 therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”

Authority and the Apostles

Then we read Matthew 10:1:

And he called to him his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every disease and every affliction.

Henry explains:

Note, All rightful authority is derived from Jesus Christ. All power is given to him without limitation, and the subordinate powers that be are ordained of him … He gave them power over unclean spirits, and over all manner of sickness. Note, The design of the gospel was to conquer the devil and to cure the world. These preachers were sent out destitute of all external advantages to recommend them they had no wealth, nor learning, nor titles of honour, and they made a very mean figure it was therefore requisite that they should have some extraordinary power to advance them above the scribes.

Matthew gives us the names of the Twelve:

2 The names of the twelve apostles are these: first, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother; James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus;[a] Simon the Zealot,[b] and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.

Henry explains the word ‘apostle’:

apostles, that is, messengers. An angel, and an apostle, both signify the same thing–one sent on an errand, an ambassador. All faithful ministers are sent of Christ, but they that were first, and immediately, sent by him, are eminently called apostles, the prime ministers of state in his kingdom.

They are named in twos because that is how they were sent out:

at first they were sent forth two and two, because two are better than one they would be serviceable to each other, and the more serviceable jointly to Christ and souls[;] what one forgot the other would remember, and out of the mouth of two witnesses every word would be established. Three couple of them were brethren Peter and Andrew, James and John, and the other James and Lebbeus. Note, Friendship and fellowship ought to be kept up among relations, and to be made serviceable to religion. It is an excellent thing, when brethren by nature are brethren by grace, and those two bonds strengthen each other.

Henry discusses the order of their names:

(3.) Peter is named first, because he was first called or because he was the most forward among them, and upon all occasions made himself the mouth of the rest, and because he was to be the apostle of the circumcision but that gave him no power over the rest of the apostles, nor is there the least mark of any supremacy that was given to him, or ever claimed by him, in this sacred college.

(4.) Matthew, the penman of this gospel, is here joined with Thomas (Matthew 10:3), but in two things there is a variation from the accounts of Mark and Luke, Mark 3:18; Luke 6:15. There, Matthew is put first in that order it appears he was ordained before Thomas but here, in his own catalogue, Thomas is put first. Note, It well becomes the disciples of Christ in honour to prefer one another. There, he is only called Matthew, here Matthew the publican, the toll-gatherer or collector of the customs, who was called from that infamous employment to be an apostle. Note, It is good for those who are advanced to honour with Christ, to look unto the rock whence they were hewn often to remember what they were before Christ called them, that thereby they may be kept humble, and divine grace may be the more glorified. Matthew the apostle was Matthew the publican.

(5.) Simon is called the Canaanite, or rather the Canite, from Cana of Galilee, where probably he was born or Simon the Zealot, which some make to be the signification of Kananites.

As for Judas, his presence as one of the Twelve shows us that we should not be surprised if vile, evil leaders turn up in the Church:

(6.) Judas Iscariot is always named last, and with that black brand upon his name, who also betrayed him which intimates that from the first, Christ knew what a wretch he was, that he had a devil, and would prove a traitor yet Christ took him among the apostles, that it might not be a surprise and discouragement to his church, if, at any time, the vilest scandals should break out in the best societies.

Some we know more about than others:

Note, all the good ministers of Christ are not alike famous, nor their actions alike celebrated.

Why twelve?

Henry explains that the number twelve occurs several times in the Bible:

Their number was twelve, referring to the number of the tribes of Israel, and the sons of Jacob that were the patriarchs of those tribes. The gospel church must be the Israel of God the Jews must be first invited into it the apostles must be spiritual fathers, to beget a seed to Christ. Israel after the flesh is to be rejected for their infidelity these twelve, therefore, are appointed to be the fathers of another Israel. These twelve, by their doctrine, were to judge the twelve tribes of Israel, Luke 22:30. These were the twelve stars that made up the church’s crown (Revelation 12:1): the twelve foundations of the new Jerusalem (Revelation 21:12,14), typified by the twelve precious stones in Aaron’s breast-plate, the twelve loaves on the table of show-bread, the twelve wells of water at Elim. This was that famous jury (and to make it a grand jury, Paul was added to it) that was impanelled to enquire between the King of kings, and the body of mankind and, in this chapter, they have their charge given them, by him to whom all judgment was committed.

Our Lord’s instructions

Matthew 10:5-15 has the detail of what Jesus told the Apostles to do. Parallel accounts are in Luke 9:1-6, which I wrote about in 2013, and Mark 6:7-13. I find it useful to list parallel verses found in the other Synoptic Gospels as this helps to establish the veracity of the New Testament. Too many mockers and detractors say that accounts in one Gospel are not corroborated by the others. In most cases, this is simply not true.

Henry breaks down these verses in Matthew 10 and calls our attention to the following:

They must not go into the way of the Gentiles, nor into any road out of the land of Israel, whatever temptations they might have. The Gentiles must not have the gospel brought them, till the Jews have first refused it … If the gospel be hid from any place, Christ thereby hides himself from that place. This restraint was upon them only in their first mission, afterwards they were appointed to go into all the world, and teach all nations.


The first offer of salvation must be made to the Jews, Acts 3:26. Note, Christ had a particular and very tender concern for the house of Israel they were beloved for the fathers’ sakes, Romans 11:28. He looked with compassion upon them as lost sheep, whom he, as a shepherd, was to gather out of the by-paths of sin and error, into which they were gone astray, and in which, if not brought back, they would wander endlessly see Jeremiah 2:6.

From this we get the term ‘Wandering Jew‘, which I haven’t heard in years. The last time was in the 1980s with regard to the plant, a lovely variegated vine which grows quickly and easily.

The nature of the Apostles’ preaching was to proclaim a spiritual kingdom, not a temporal one:

the kingdom of heaven at hand: not so much the personal presence of the king that must not be doated upon but a spiritual kingdom which is to be set up, when his bodily presence is removed, in the hearts of men.

Today, the message is still the same, despite the divine institution of the Church:

when the Spirit was poured out, and the Christian church was formed, this kingdom of heaven came, which was now spoken of as at hand but the kingdom of heaven must still be the subject of our preaching: now it is come, we must tell people it is come to them, and must lay before them the precepts and privileges of it and there is a kingdom of glory yet to come, which we must speak of as at hand, and quicken people to diligence from the consideration of that.

I’m trying to think of the last time I heard an Anglican priest preach about the kingdom of Heaven. Hmm. I could be some time…

Henry explains that the extraordinary gifts the Apostles were given served as the foundation of the Church. They were to be temporary:

to call for miracles now is to lay again the foundation when the building is reared. The point being settled, and the doctrine of Christ sufficiently attested, by the miracles which Christ and his apostles wrought, it is tempting God to ask for more signs.

On this subject, an atheist told me ten years ago that Jesus was nothing more than a gifted magician! Henry makes it clear that Jesus did not work frivolous miracles and nor did He authorise His Apostles to perform them:

not “Go and remove mountains,” or “fetch fire from heaven,” but, Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers. They are sent abroad as public blessings, to intimate to the world, that love and goodness were the spirit and genius of that gospel which they came to preach, and of that kingdom which they were employed to set up the intention of the doctrine they preached, was to heal sick souls, and to raise those that were dead in sin and therefore, perhaps, that of raising the dead is mentioned for though we read not of their raising any to life before the resurrection of Christ, yet they were instrumental to raise many to spiritual life.

The Apostles were not to accept money because Christ freely embued them with powers that were not of their own making or learning. Therefore, it would be wrong to accept payment for something they were not personally responsible for in terms of knowledge or their own ability:

Their power to heal the sick cost them nothing, and, therefore, they must not make any secular advantage to themselves of it.

There is another aspect to this. Henry draws on the dire example of Simon Magus, the magician in Acts who wanted to pay the Apostles to teach him how to work miracles:

Simon Magus would not have offered money for the gifts of the Holy Ghost, if he had not hoped to get money by them Acts 8:18. Note, The consideration of Christ’s freeness in doing good to us, should make us free in doing good to others.

Henry explains the instruction to enquire in every town who the worthy people were:

In the worst of times and places, we may charitably hope that there are some who distinguish themselves, and are better than their neighbours some who swim against the stream, and are as wheat among the chaff. There were saints in Nero’s household. Enquire who is worthy, who there are that have some fear of God before their eyes, and have made a good improvement of the light and knowledge they have. The best are far from meriting the favour of a gospel offer but some would be more likely than others to give the apostles and their message a favourable entertainment, and would not trample these pearls under their feet.

The Apostles had to stay in one house during their stay because:

They are justly suspected, as having no good design, that are often changing their quarters. Note, It becomes the disciples of Christ to make the best of that which is, to abide by it, and not be for shifting upon every dislike or inconvenience.

Where they were not well received, the Apostles were to leave, shaking the dust from that house or city from their feet, an ancient Jewish custom which has its origins in the Old Testament:

The apostles must have no fellowship nor communion with them must not so much as carry away the dust of their city with them. The work of them that turn aside shall not cleave to me, Psalm 101:3. The prophet was not to eat or drink in Bethel, 1 Kings 13:9. [2.] As a denunciation of wrath against them. It was to signify, that they were base and vile as dust, and that God would shake them off. The dust of the apostles’ feet, which they left behind them, would witness against them, and be brought in as evidence, that the gospel had been preached to them, Compare Jam. v. 3. See this practised, Acts 13:51,18:6.

Jesus told the Twelve that judgement would surely come to the places that rejected them:

The condemnation of those that reject the gospel, will in that day be severer and heavier than that of Sodom and Gomorrah. Sodom is said to suffer the vengeance of eternal fire, Jude 1:7. But that vengeance will come with an aggravation upon those that despise the great salvation. Sodom and Gomorrah were exceedingly wicked (Genesis 13:13), and that which filled up the measure of their iniquity was, that they received not the angels that were sent to them, but abused them (Genesis 19:4,5), and hearkened not to their words, Matthew 10:14. And yet it will be more tolerable for them than for those who receive not Christ’s ministers and hearken not to their words. God’s wrath against them will be more flaming, and their own reflections upon themselves more cutting.

Any universalist reading this thinking all are saved would do well to brush up on the New Testament. One reading does not suffice. People who reject Christ will not be saved in the world to come. It may sound unsophisticated to the armchair intellectual, nonetheless it is the unvarnished truth as Jesus told it.

More to come on Matthew 10 from Matthew Henry.

Tomorrow: Jesus on persecution

My Forbidden Bible Verses post last week looked at Matthew 8:28-34, the account the deliverance of the men near Gadara of their many demons.

This is often referred to as the story of the Gadarene swine, since Jesus sent the demons into a flock of pigs which ran off a cliff into the Sea of Galilee.

The townspeople were no doubt upset at the loss of their pigs. However, more importantly, they were alarmed by Jesus’s divine power and, instead of considering His miracle as being of God, actively rejected Him.

Incidentally, yesterday’s post explained why Jesus sent the demons into the swine.

Matthew Henry’s commentary on Matthew 9 begins by revealing what happened to the Gadarenes in the end.

First, it is essential to know that our Lord leaves those who reject Him to their own devices:

They bid him begone, and he took them at their word, and we never read that he came into their coasts again. Now here observe, 1. His justice–that he left them. Note, Christ will not tarry long where he is not welcome. In righteous judgment, he forsakes those places and persons that are weary of him, but abides with those that covet and court his stay. If the unbeliever will depart from Christ, let him depart it is at his peril, 1 Corinthians 7:15.

Secondly, He has infinite patience:

2. His patience–that he did not leave some destroying judgment behind him, to punish them, as they deserved, for their contempt and contumacy. How easily, how justly, might he have sent them after their swine, who were already so much under the devil’s power. The provocation, indeed, was very great: but he put it up, and passed it by and, without any angry resentments or upbraidings, he entered into a ship, and passed over. This was the day of his patience he came not to destroy men’s lives, but to save them not to kill, but to cure.

However, if His judgement on the Gadarenes did not follow at the time, it certainly did around the time the Romans destroyed the Temple in Jerusalem. How many of us knew this? Emphases mine:

Spiritual judgments agree more with the constitution of gospel times yet some observe, that in those bloody wars which the Romans made upon the Jews, which began not many years after this, they first besieged the town of Gadara, where these Gadarenes dwelt.

Coincidence? Believers would not think so. Our Lord works everything to His divine plan.

Matthew HenryAlong with the instruction to build our spiritual houses upon rock, another passage in Matthew 7 from the Sermon on the Mount which bears close scrutiny is our Lord’s teaching on who will be turned away from the kingdom of heaven.

I Never Knew You

21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ 23 And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’

It is in the three-year Lectionary. One can only wonder about the sermons preached on it. Any number of clergy — as well as congregants — are guilty.

Matthew Henry’s commentary unpacks this passage brilliantly. Excerpts follow. Emphases in bold are mine.

We have an exhortation to sincerity in prayer and use of our Lord’s name:

I. He shows, by a plain remonstrance, that an outward profession of religion, however remarkable, will not bring us to heaven, unless there be a correspondent conversation, Matthew 7:21-23. All judgment is committed to our Lord Jesus the keys are put into his hand he has power to prescribe new terms of life and death, and to judge men according to them: now this is a solemn declaration pursuant to that power. Observe here,

(1.) That it will not suffice to say, Lord, Lord in word and tongue to own Christ for our Master, and to make addresses to him, and professions of him accordingly: in prayer to God, in discourse with men, we must call Christ, Lord, Lord we say well, for so he is (John 13:13) but can we imagine that this is enough to bring us to heaven, that such a piece of formality as this should be so recompensed, or that he who knows and requires the heart should be so put off with shows for substance? Compliments among men are pieces of civility that are returned with compliments, but they are never paid as real services and can they then be of an account with Christ? There may be a seeming importunity in prayer, Lord, Lord: but if inward impressions be not answerable to outward expressions, we are but as sounding brass and a tinkling cymbal. This is not to take us off from saying, Lord, Lord from praying, and being earnest in prayer, from professing Christ’s name, and being bold in professing it, but from resting in these, in the form of godliness, without the power.

Then the call to obey Christ:

(2.) That it is necessary to our happiness that we do the will of Christ, which is indeed the will of his Father in heaven. The will of God, as Christ’s Father, is his will in the gospel, for there he is made known, as the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ: and in him our Father. Now this is his will, that we believe in Christ, that we repent of sin, that we live a holy life, that we love one another. This is his will, even our sanctification. If we comply not with the will of God, we mock Christ in calling him Lord, as those did who put on him a gorgeous robe, and said, Hail, King of the Jews. Saying and doing are two things, often parted in conversation of men: he that said, I go, sir, stirred never a step (Matthew 21:30) but these two things God has joined in his command, and let no man that puts them asunder think to enter into the kingdom of heaven.

Some of us — ‘hypocrites’ — try to substitute legalism, ‘healing’, speaking in tongues and other wonderful works for obedience. This is a particularly sharp warning not to do so which bears rereading:

2. The hypocrite’s plea against the strictness of this law, offering other things in lieu of obedience, Matthew 7:22 … They put in their plea with great importunity, Lord, Lord and with great confidence, appealing to Christ concerning it Lord, does thou not know, (1.) That we have prophesied in thy name? Yes, it may be so Balaam and Caiaphas were overruled to prophesy, and Saul was against his will among the prophets, yet that did not save them. These prophesied in his name, but he did not send them they only made use of his name to serve a turn. Note, A man may be a preacher, may have gifts for the ministry, and an external call to it, and perhaps some success in it, and yet be a wicked man may help others to heaven, and yet come short himself. (2.) That in thy name we have cast out devils? That may be too Judas cast out devils, and yet was a son of perdition. Origen says, that in his time so prevalent was the name of Christ to cast out devils, that sometimes it availed when named by wicked Christians. A man might cast devils out of others, and yet have a devil, nay, be a devil himself. (3.) That in thy name we have done many wonderful works. There may be a faith of miracles, where there is no justifying faith none of that faith which works by love and obedience. Gifts of tongues and healing would recommend men to the world, but it is real holiness or sanctification that is accepted of God. Grace and love are a more excellent way than removing mountains, or speaking with the tongues of men and of angels, 1 Corinthians 13:1,2. Grace will bring a man to heaven without working miracles, but working miracles will never bring a man to heaven without grace. Observe, That which their heart was upon, in doing these works, and which they confided in, was the wonderfulness of them. Simon Magus wondered at the miracles (Acts 8:13), and therefore would give any money for power to do the like. Observe, They had not many good works to plead: they could not pretend to have done many gracious works of piety and charity one such would have passed better in their account than many wonderful works, which availed not at all, while they persisted in disobedience. Miracles have now ceased, and with them this plea but do not carnal hearts still encourage themselves in their groundless hopes, with the like vain supports? They think they shall go to heaven, because they have been of good repute among professors of religion, have kept fasts, and given alms, and have been preferred in the church as if this would atone for their reigning pride, worldliness, and sensuality and want of love to God and man. Bethel is their confidence (Jeremiah 48:13), they are haughty because of the holy mountain (Zephaniah 3:11) and boast that they are the temple of the Lord, Jeremiah 7:4. Let us take heed of resting in external privileges and performances, lest we deceive ourselves, and perish eternally, as multitudes do, with a lie in our right hand.

That’s quite a slap in the face of legalism, sensationalism and outward appearances! Sadly, however, these things are all the rage in our time. This bears repeating:

Grace will bring a man to heaven without working miracles, but working miracles will never bring a man to heaven without grace.

As does this:

Let us take heed of resting in external privileges and performances, lest we deceive ourselves, and perish eternally, as multitudes do, with a lie in our right hand.

It gets worse for people who base their lives on outward piety and hidden sin:

How it is expressed I never knew you [;] “I never owned you as my servants, no, not when you prophesied in my name, when you were in the height of your profession, and were most extolled.” This intimates, that if he had ever known them, as the Lord knows them that are his, had ever owned them and loved them as his, he would have known them, and owned them, and loved them, to the end but he never did know them, for he always knew them to be hypocrites, and rotten at heart, as he did Judas therefore, says he, depart from me. Has Christ need of such guests? When he came in the flesh, he called sinners to him (Matthew 9:13), but when he shall come again in glory, he will drive sinners from him.


They that would not come to him to be saved, must depart from him to be damned. To depart from Christ is the very hell of hell it is the foundation of all the misery of the damned, to be cut off from all hope of benefit from Christ and he mediation. Those that go no further in Christ’s service than a bare profession, he does not accept, nor will he own them in the great day. See from what a height of hope men may fall into the depth of misery! How they may go to hell, by the gates of heaven! This should be an awakening word to all Christians. If a preacher, one that cast out devils, and wrought miracles, be disowned of Christ for working iniquity what will become of us, if we be found such? And if we be such, we shall certainly be found such. At God’s bar, a profession of religion will not bear out any man in the practice and indulgence of sin therefore let every one that names the name of Christ, depart from all iniquity.

This is such a stark and pointed truth — ‘convicting’, as Americans would say.

I have read Henry’s passage several times over the weekend. I hope that you, too, will find it beneficial to your Christian walk.

A few weeks ago Biblos revamped their Bible commentary site, Bible Hub.

I haven’t checked the layout for all the commentaries, however, some — Barnes, for example — are laid out just fine.

However, Biblos have made a grave error in repeating Matthew Henry’s commentary verse after verse. Why not give the relevant Bible verses then his commentary for them? What is the point of showing one verse and then giving the same text for that and the next several?

Biblos’s treatment of Henry was much better before. In fact, Henry’s commentaries are quite short and the old layout reflected this. This new arrangement is unnecessarily long and repetitive.

Perhaps Biblos will see this post and revise their layout of Henry’s text. I hope so.

Hello, ladies, egalitarians and complementarians. This post is dedicated to you.

Tomorrow, I shall continue with a study of John’s epistles, beginning with 2 John 1. In reading Matthew Henry’s Complete Commentary, I noted the empathetic way he introduced this letter, which was dedicated to a Christian lady.

Women and egalitarians will draw comfort from this introduction, and complementarians would do well to note its kindness and generosity to the fairer sex. It dates from the early 18th century (emphases mine):

Here we find a canonical epistle inscribed, principally, not only to a single person, but to one also of the softer sex. And why not to one of that sex? In gospel redemption, privilege, and dignity, there is neither male nor female; they are both one in Christ Jesus. Our Lord himself neglected his own repast, to commune with the woman of Samaria, in order to show her the fountain of life; and, when almost expiring upon the cross, he would with his dying lips bequeath his blessed mother to the care of his beloved disciple, and thereby instruct him to respect female disciples for the future. It was to one of the same sex that our Lord chose to appear first after his return from the grave, and to send by her the news of his resurrection to this as well as to the other apostles; and we find afterwards a zealous Priscilla so well acquitting herself in her Christian race, and particularly in some hazardous service towards the apostle Paul, that she is not only often mentioned before her husband, but to her as well as to him, not only the apostle himself, but also all the Gentile churches, were ready to return their thankful acknowledgments. No wonder then that a heroine in the Christian religion, honoured by divine providence, and distinguished by divine grace, should be dignified also by an apostolical epistle.

I pray that late 20th century complementarianism disappears soon. It has done grave damage to many good women who believe in the grace and love of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Several weeks ago, one of my readers — Matt, I believe — asked for more information on a woman’s role within the Church, especially the priesthood.

Whilst I do not wish to start a controversy before Christmas, I did say I would provide more information before the end of the year.

In September 2011, I ran excerpts of Dr Craig S Keener’s introduction to hermeneutics, which he gave to a group of students in Africa. You can find it on my Christianity / Apologetics page. I found it helpful and enlightening, as I really didn’t understand the concepts behind hermeneutics before then, however, it is all about reading the Bible as its authors intended us to read it.

I also used the Revd Vincent Cheung’s commentary on 1 Peter for a few of my Forbidden Bible Verses posts and appreciated what he had to say on the role of women.

As my regular readers will know, I normally rely on Matthew Henry’s Bible commentaries for my series, Forbidden Bible Verses. Henry wrote four centuries before Keener and Cheung, and it is interesting to see how their views compare.

A number of younger Protestant men are quite forthright about their literal interpretation of St Paul’s letters, with many of their wives following suit in marital submission. The next few posts will explore the role of women within the Church by clergymen, two of whom — Henry and Cheung — are Calvinists.

Matthew Henry

In September 2010, I featured a post about Matthew Henry’s views on women’s headcoverings in church, which, today, are becoming more like Muslim veils in a number of American congregations.

What follows are excerpts (emphases mine):

First, on what headcoverings meant in Corinth versus 17th century England:

The thing he reprehends is the woman’s praying or prophesying uncovered, or the man’s doing either covered, v. 4, 5. To understand this, it must be observed that it was a signification either of shame or subjection for persons to be veiled, or covered, in the eastern countries, contrary to the custom of ours, where the being bare-headed betokens subjection, and being covered superiority and dominion.

Second, the reason why a man bares his head in church (the same still applies today):

The man that prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonoureth his head, namely, Christ, the head of every man (v. 3), by appearing in a habit unsuitable to the rank in which God has placed him. Note, we should, even in our dress and habits, avoid every thing that may dishonour Christ.

Third, the reason why a woman covers her head in church:

The woman, on the other hand, who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonoureth her head, namely, the man, v. 3. She appears in the dress of her superior, and throws off the token of her subjection.

Fourth, women’s hair:

She might, with equal decency, cut her hair short, or cut it close, which was the custom of the man in that age. This would be in a manner to declare that she was desirous of changing sexes, a manifest affectation of that superiority which God had conferred on the other sex. And this was probably the fault of these prophetesses in the church of Corinth.

Fifth, why closely-cropped hair was forbidden for Christian women:

It was doing a thing which, in that age of the world, betokened superiority, and therefore a tacit claim of what did not belong to them but the other sex. Note, The sexes should not affect to change places. The order in which divine wisdom has placed persons and things is best and fittest: to endeavour to amend it is to destroy all order, and introduce confusion. The woman should keep to the rank God has chosen for her, and not dishonour her head; for this, in the result, is to dishonour God. If she was made out of the man, and for the man, and made to be the glory of the man, she should do nothing, especially in public, that looks like a wish of having this order inverted …

Should there not be a distinction kept up between the sexes in wearing their hair, since nature has made one? Is it not a distinction which nature has kept up among all civilized nations? The woman’s hair is a natural covering; to wear it long is a glory to her; but for a man to have long hair, or cherish it, is a token of softness and effeminacy.” Note, It should be our concern, especially in Christian and religious assemblies, to make no breach upon the rules of natural decency.

Sixth, the divine and natural order of God and the sexes — God, man and woman, respectively:

… man is the image and glory of God, the representative of that glorious dominion and headship which God has over the world. It is the man who is set at the head of this lower creation, and therein he bears the resemblance of God. The woman, on the other hand, is the glory of the man (v. 7): she is his representative. Not but she has dominion over the inferior creatures, as she is a partaker of human nature, and so far is God’s representative too, but it is at second-hand. She is the image of God, inasmuch as she is the image of the man: For the man was not made out of the woman, but the woman out of the man.

Seventh, why the divine and natural order must be reflected in godly worship:

she who was intended to be always in subjection to the man should do nothing, in Christian assemblies, that looks like an affectation of equality.

Recall that Henry said above that St Paul was objecting to women prophesying in church with their heads uncovered.

Eighth, as to the role of angels in this passage, Henry examines both sides of the question.  Some believed that evil angels were in play (e.g. unveiled women prophesying) and others pointed to the influence of good angels (e.g. that the gifts of the Holy Spirit were working actively in the congregation):

Now, believe evil angels will be sure to mix in all Christian assemblies, therefore should women wear the token of their shamefacedness and subjection, which in that age and country, was a veil. Others say because of the good angels. Jews and Christians have had an opinion that these ministering spirits are many of them present in their assemblies. Their presence should restrain Christians from all indecencies in the worship of God. Note, we should learn from all to behave in the public assemblies of divine worship so as to express a reverence for God, and a content and satisfaction with that rank in which he has placed us.

Note that Henry agrees in the mandate of female headcovering, he appears to be saying that the composition and proportion of such headcovering may differ:

which in that age and country, was a veil

Which is not to say that it necessarily must be a veil in our ‘age and country’. 

He goes on to say further down in the essay:

Custom is in a great measure the rule of decency.

The inference is not to stand out in a crowd by calling attention to oneself.  A hat would be appropriate today.

Vincent Cheung

Cheung, a modern-day contemporary increasingly cited by his fellow Calvinists, has studied philosophy as well as Christian theology, however, he is frank about Scripture and minces no words. The following excerpts come from his extensive commentary on 1 Peter:

While Galatians 3:28 and other verses oppose racism, classism, and sexism in relation to how we must regard people’s standing before God, they do not erase all distinctions concerning race, class, and gender. Neither do they eliminate roles and ranks in the society, the family, and the church. How Scripture addresses a given context must be settled separately using other biblical passages.

Of course men and women are equal in Christ, and this means that God does not save men more readily than he does women, and vice versa. They are all justified by faith in Jesus Christ, and women can believe just as readily as men can. Christians coming from once race is just as much justified, sanctified, honored, and blessed as Christians coming from another race. But this says nothing about their physiological distinctions, their roles in marriage, or even their places in the church. We must not distort Scripture and use it to overturn what God has said elsewhere in Scripture.

When it comes to ontology and soteriology, husbands and wives are without doubt equal. In terms of competence, the husbands will be better at some things, while at other times the wives will excel. However, in light of Ephesians 5:22-24, when it comes to authority and order in the family, there is no question but that the wives must submit to their husbands. Within the context of that passage, to deny this would in fact amount to a rejection of Christ’s authority over the church. We marvel at how some people could love their gender pride more than Christ, so that they would even spit in his face in order to gain a sense of “equality” (sometimes superiority) with the leaders that God has ordained. But then, with a knowledge of Scripture about the human condition, sin should no longer surprise us.  (p. 105)

Therefore, we are to look at marriage as being analogous to Christ’s relationship with His bride, the Church.  Yes, it is hard to accept in our 21st century world, but the Church is supposed to ‘obey’ Christ. It would have been wonderful to be able to say that today’s Church does obey Him, but, as we have seen over the past century, that is another matter entirely.

He explains the social order further on page 118 of his commentary:

To illustrate, if we were to address a group of Christians whose parents oppose the faith because of its alleged negative effects on the children, then we would naturally emphasize the command, “Obey your parents.” But the command is in force whether or not the particular situation requires us to emphasize it. Likewise, wives must submit to their husbands. In fact, if the submission of women is considered undesirable or offensive in a given culture, the church would still have to teach and practice it, only that the command would receive attention from a different perspective.

As to whether a woman must submit to every man, as some Protestant men believe, Cheung writes (same page):

Proceeding now to 3:1, Peter states the command in this manner: “Wives, in the same way be submissive to your husbands.” The verse does not say that every woman must submit to every man, but that every wife must submit to her own husband. Although this is the consistent testimony of Scripture (Ephesians 5:22; Colossians 3:18; Titus 2:5), it is opposed by many professing Christians, who use various tactics to neutralize it.

However, husbands should note that more is expected of them — analogous to Christ — than of their brides (p. 120):

in Ephesians 5, the only ones who are told to yield their rights are the husbands. Paul instructs them, “love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (v. 25). The church never gave up anything for the benefit of Christ, but Christ sacrificed himself to save the church. Likewise, the husbands are the ones told to make the sacrifice.

On p. 138, Cheung adds:

He is to use this authority to serve, protect, and direct his wife and family, often to his own hurt, and he must give an account for his decisions. Therefore, let every man exercise his authority with soberness and godly fear … And in light of this, women should not dare complain that they must obey their husbands.

And on p. 139:

Now, if we take a harsh tone with rebellious and overbearing women, we offer a still stronger rebuke toward husbands who do not cherish their wives. We think that they are not men, but ignorant and savage beasts. They must repent, turn from their sins against the Lord and their wives, and follow Christ’s example.

1 Peter cites Abraham’s wife Sarah (p. 121 of Cheung’s commentary):

Sarah was the wife of Abraham, and Peter writes that she obeyed (hypakouō) her husband. It cannot be said that Peter is only applying the word to Sarah, and not to wives in general. This is because the reason he mentions Sarah in the first place is to call all wives to imitate her example, and this means that we must equally apply hypakouō (obey) to all wives.

Moreover, in this passage, Peter either equates hypotassō (submit) to hypakouō (obey), or he at least assumes that hypotassō (submit) implies hypakouō (obey). This is because he writes, “They were submissive [hypotassō] to their own husbands, like Sarah, who obeyed [hypakouō] Abraham and called him her master.” That is, they were submissive, like Sarah, who obeyed. Here submission implies obedience.

Therefore, whether Scripture uses hypakouō or hypotassō (and now we see that it uses both words), it commands the wives to obey their husbands.

Cheung notes that Peter also advised women to dress modestly (p. 128):

Outward beauty is characterized by “outward adornment, such as braided hair and the wearing of gold jewelry and fine clothes” (v. 3). Peter is probably applying a common Christian teaching, as a very similar instruction appears in 1 Timothy 2:9-10: “I also want women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or expensive clothes, but with good deeds, appropriate for women who profess to worship God.” There Paul speaks to the proper behavior of women in the church in general, whereas Peter speaks to women in the context of marriage, or wives in particular. But notice the similarity in theme, as well as the same three categories of outward adornment: expensive coiffures, jewelry, and clothes.

But, you might say, what about men who are just bad people and, as a result, terrible husbands? This is why the Church places such emphasis on pre-marital courses and counselling. Clergy aren’t being nosy, but they do want to ensure that the marriage will be lasting and loving. St Paul warned us against being yoked with unbelievers — we are to find people like ourselves in faith, values and temperament.

Cheung says (pp. 132 and 133):

The correct answer, of course, is that a wife may disobey her husband whenever he commands something that is sinful. For example, if the husband commands the wife to commit adultery, or to worship a false god, then the wife will have no choice but to disobey. This sounds straightforward, but additional comments are needed to prevent abuse. This is because wives often take it upon themselves to call something sinful when it is only contrary to their personal preference or standard …

Therefore, when we acknowledge that there are exceptions to obeying the husband, we are probably not saying enough. Are the wives able to distinguish actual immorality from personal distaste? Or are they going to regard as an exception anything that they do not like, anything that runs contrary to their own hang-ups?

When Peter wrote his letters, he was addressing recent Christian converts; some women converted whilst their husbands had not. He did not want women lording it over the man of the house; rather, he envisaged that the women’s good and holy example would draw their husbands to Christ.

Craig Keener

Keener, who has written several books on the New Testament, explores St Paul’s exhortations for wives to be obedient to their husbands:

Some people used Ephesians 6:5-9 alongside Greek, Roman, and Arab discussions of slavery to support the kind of slavery practiced in the Americas, but a simple knowledge of the nature of the slavery Paul addressed would have disproved their understanding of the passage. Others even more recently have used 5:22-33 to treat wives in disrespectful and demeaning ways, which also misinterprets the entire tenor of the passage.

This passage addresses an ancient sort of writing called “household codes,” by which Paul’s readers could try to convince their prospective persecutors that they were not subversives after all. In Paul’s day, many Romans were troubled by the spread of “religions from the East” (such as Egyptian Isis worship, Judaism, and Christianity) which they thought would undermine traditional Roman family values. Members of these minority religions often tried to show their support for those values by using a standard form of exhortations developed by philosophers from Aristotle on.

From the time of Aristotle onward these exhortations instructed the male head of a household how to deal with members of his family, especially how he should rule his wife, children, and slaves. Paul borrows this form of discussion straight out of standard Greco-Roman moral writing, even following their sequence. But unlike most ancient writers, Paul changes the basic premise of these codes: the absolute authority of the male head of the house.

That Paul introduces the household codes with a command to mutual submission (5:21) is significant. In his day it was customary to call on wives, children and slaves to submit in various ways, but calling all members of a group (including the pater familias, the male head of the household) to submit to one another was unheard of.

Most ancient writers expected wives to obey their husbands, desiring in them a quiet and meek demeanor; sometimes a requirement for absolute obedience was even stated in the marriage contracts. This made sense especially to Greek thinkers, who could not conceive of wives as equals. Age differences contributed to this disparity: husbands were normally substantially older than their wives, often by over a decade in Greek culture (with men frequently marrying around 30 and women in their teens, often early teens).

In this passage, however, Paul adapts the traditional code in several ways. First, wifely submission is rooted in Christian submission in general (in Greek, 5:22 even borrows its verb “submit” from 5:21); submission is a Christian virtue, but not only for wives! Second, Paul addresses not only husbands but also wives, which most household codes did not. Third, whereas household codes told the husbands how to make their wives obey them, Paul simply tells husbands how to love their wives. Finally, the closest Paul comes to defining submission in this context is “respect” (5:33). At the same time that he relates Christianity to the standards of his culture, he actually transforms his culture’s values by going so far beyond them! Paul addressed Greco-Roman culture, but few cultures today give precisely the same expressions of submission as in his culture. Today Christians reapply his principles in different ways for different cultures, but these principles still contradict many practices in many of our cultures (such as beating a wife).

Keener addresses St Paul’s teachings on women’s conduct in church itself and encourages us to look at biblical passages in context.  He says:

When we apply them, we must make sure that we find the appropriate analogies between the situations Paul addresses and our situations today. For example, some interpreters believe that Paul prohibits most women in one congregation from teaching because they were generally uneducated, hence could prove easily misled (1 Tim 2:11-12). In that culture, his command that they should “learn” (2:11; “quietly and submissively” was the appropriate way for all novices to learn) actually liberated women, who normally did not receive direct instruction except by sitting in services. It makes a difference whether or not this is the issue: if not, the appropriate analogy today may be that women should never teach the Bible (though this would leave in question what to do with other texts, like Rom 16:1-2, 7; Phil 4:2-3; Judg 4:4; 1 Cor 11:4-5). If so, the analogy today may be that unlearned people, whether male or female, should not teach the Bible

we need to take into account differences in situation: in the first century, men were far more apt to be educated, including in the Bible, than women; would Paul have written exactly the same applications for today, when women and men are more likely to share equal opportunities for education? …

We may provide one stark example of how we need to take Paul’s situation into account. In two texts, Paul requires women to keep “silence” in church (1 Cor 14:34-35; 1 Tim 2:12). If we press this to mean all that it could mean, women should not even sing in church! Few churches today press these verses this far, but are they ignoring the passages’ meaning? Not necessarily. In other texts, Paul commends women for their labors for the kingdom (Phil 4:2-3), and in Romans 16 commends more women for their services than men (even though he mentions more men!) Moreover, he at least occasionally uses his most common terms for his male fellow workers to some women: “fellow worker” (Prisca, Rom 16:3); diakonos (“servant,” Phoebe, Rom 16:1); and once even “apostle” (Junia, according to the best translations; Rom 16:7)! Even more importantly, he accepts women praying and prophesying with their heads covered (1 Cor 11:4-5). How can they pray and prophesy if later in the same letter he requires them to be completely silent in church (1 Cor 14:34-35)? Does the Bible contradict itself here? Did Paul contradict himself in the very same letter?

But the two texts about silence probably do not address all kinds of silence, but deal with special kinds of situations. The only kind of speech specifically addressed in 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 is asking questions (14:35). It was common for people to interrupt teachers and lecturers with questions in Jewish and Greek cultures alike; but it was rude for unlearned people to do so, and they might have considered it especially rude for unlearned women. Keep in mind that women were usually much less educated than men; in Jewish culture, in fact, boys were taught to recite God’s law but girls almost never received this education. As to 1 Timothy 2:11-12, scholars still debate how Paul uses the Old Testament background (he applies Old Testament examples different ways in different passages, even the example of Eve: 2 Cor 11:3). But one point, at least, is interesting: Paul’s letters to Timothy in Ephesus are the only letters in the entire Bible where we know that false teachers were specifically targeting women with their false teachings (2 Tim 3:6). In fact, they may have targeted widows (1 Tim 5:9) who owned homes so they could use their houses for churches–one of the Greek terms in 1 Tim 5:13 nearly always meant spreading “nonsense” or false ideas. Those who knew less about the Bible were naturally most susceptible to false teachings; those who do not know the Bible should not be allowed to teach it. Whatever other conclusions one may draw from this, it seems unlikely that Paul would have refused to let women sing in church!

Sometimes, in an effort to recover what we consider to be the ‘past’, we go too far and misinterpret Scripture taking it to a place where it was not intended to be.

The series continues with a study by Dr Philip B Payne, a contemporary New Testament scholar and seminary professor.

Tomorrow: More on hair and headcoverings in Paul’s world

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