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On Easter Sunday, Dr Gregory Jackson of Ichabod posted an outstanding expository sermon on the resurrection.

Please read it in full. Excerpts follow below.

(Image credit: Padre Steve)

The text is Mark 16:1-8 (KJV):

Mark 16:1 And when the sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome, had bought sweet spices, that they might come and anoint him. 2 And very early in the morning the first day of the week, they came unto the sepulchre at the rising of the sun. 3 And they said among themselves, Who shall roll us away the stone from the door of the sepulchre? 4 And when they looked, they saw that the stone was rolled away: for it was very great. 5 And entering into the sepulchre, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, clothed in a long white garment; and they were affrighted. 6 And he saith unto them, Be not affrighted: Ye seek Jesus of Nazareth, which was crucified: he is risen; he is not here: behold the place where they laid him. 7 But go your way, tell his disciples and Peter that he goeth before you into Galilee: there shall ye see him, as he said unto you. 8 And they went out quickly, and fled from the sepulchre; for they trembled and were amazed: neither said they any thing to any man; for they were afraid.

Emphases in bold mine below, apart from the Scripture verses and title.

The Lesson Where Jesus Is Absent

KJV Mark 16:1 And when the sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome, had bought sweet spices, that they might come and anoint him. 

This Gospel lesson is so important in considering the meaning of the empty tomb. Instead of featuring Jesus, His works and statements, this lesson emphasizes the absence of Jesus, because the women went to honor His body and He was not there to be honored. This is the only Gospel lesson I can recall where Jesus is absent.

For that reason, we should consider all that we do and think, because we carry so many burdens, like the women carrying their spices. That was a burden, as everyone knows who has trudged along, carrying one thing or another. Yesterday I needed to take a bag of rocks and a large bag of birdseed to the backyard, from the truck of the car. The first thing I thought of was – how can I make this easier? I used the two garbage cans on wheels as my wheelbarrow, and lightened the burden.

Imagine that over a long distance and wondering too, how will I manage to get this burden inside, since the tomb is sealed? And yet all that work, anxiety, and labor, though filled with good intentions, meant nothing.

This lesson teaches us that the Gospel message itself is everything, not our works, merit, not even what our anxieties, concerns, and sins are that we drag along with us

2 And very early in the morning the first day of the week, they came unto the sepulchre at the rising of the sun.

Their conflict came from the issue of the tomb itself. As most graphics show, the door was not an enormous round boulder, which would be extremely difficult for a group of men to move, but a stone lid that rolled in a groove. The lid could be shoved to the side in that groove, or even flattened to the ground, by several men. Unless the women were EMT bodybuilders, the shoulder strength required was entirely lacking for the very job they came to do. But in faith they busied themselves with the job anyway and arrived early.

So it was that the Jewish traditions and the timing of the crucifixion coincided to make them the first witnesses of the empty tomb, so that nothingness became the most important visible symbol of the resurrection of Christ.

3 And they said among themselves, Who shall roll us away the stone from the door of the sepulchre?

The question they finally asked is one that continues to bedevil our rationalistic society. They assumed Jesus was dead and sealed in His tomb. For many people today, that is their estimation of the Bible and the Christian Faith. That is probably the most significant question to ask an ordained pastor or theologian. “Did Jesus rise bodily from the dead?” One must qualify rise because some would say yes, meaning in a spiritual or mythological sense. I asked a future Unitarian minister that question, plus the Virgin birth, and she said, “Those are not important questions to ask.” The same response came from ELCA seminaries when I wrote to them to ask if anyone on their faculty taught the actual bodily resurrection of Christ and the Virgin Birth. One seminary (out of nine) said that yes, one faculty member published that the resurrection of Christ “probably happened.” That seminary is now merging into a college because of its financial and enrollment problems (Berkeley) … 

It is not surprising that Christians have problems finding a good church. A few of my readers are in that situation. Some like to talk to the clergy before they become members. Dr Jackson’s question is an excellent one for them to ask:

Did Jesus rise bodily from the dead?

The answer could determine whether they join or keep searching for another congregation.

I also liked Dr Jackson’s exploration of burdens, which often overcome us in our daily lives. We can take an example from these women who had sustaining faith. Even faced with the weighty obstacle of moving the stone to the tomb:

in faith they busied themselves with the job anyway

Dr Jackson offers this gem of wisdom:

Luther says in one of his Easter sermons that God salts and stretches our hides so we will pay attention to His Word. Our external and internal sufferings remind us of our need for comfort in the Gospel

A lot of Christians in the West are suffering physically or mentally. It is interesting to note from the blogosphere that, among them, those who read the Bible, pray a lot and worship regularly are coping with their trials better than those who refuse to read the New Testament, also eschewing church and prayer.

How can we have more faith if we do not pray for more grace? How can we find comfort, if we do not read and reread the Gospel message?

Eastertide is a time of renewed hope and new life. May we use this time to increase our faith through divine grace.

thirty-pieces-of-silver-3cf58ff031d96b76Wednesday of Holy Week is known as Spy Wednesday in traditionalist Catholic circles.

The name is fitting as the chief priests close their deal with Judas, eager to betray our Lord for a few months’ wages.

These posts explain this fateful day and a bit about Judas himself:

Judas offers his services

More on Spy Wednesday

More on Judas

St Mark’s Gospel has these accounts, with commentary from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur:

Mark 14:1-2 – what the Sanhedrin were thinking

Mark 14:10-11 – Judas volunteers to betray our Lord

On another subject relevant to Holy Week, some churches will be holding Tenebrae services. This post explains more about them.

jesus-christ-the-king-blogsigncomThis year, Ascension Thursday falls on May 9. The faithful recall Christ’s rising to heaven in order to send the disciples — and us — the Holy Spirit on Pentecost Sunday. From that point, we were — and continue to be — in the ‘last days’, awaiting His coming again in judgment.

However, there are Christians who believe that Jesus’s second coming took place with the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD. These Christians are called preterists. They believe that His second coming was a spiritual one — a judgment against the nation of Israel.

This is plausible until one begins to look at the New Testament passages about His Ascension, the arrival of the Holy Spirit to the world and Christ’s return. Consider John 16:5-11 (emphases mine):

5But now I am going to him who sent me, and none of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’ 6But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your heart. 7Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. 8 And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: 9concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; 10 concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; 11 concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.

What follows is Luke’s account of the Ascension — addressed to Theophilus, as is his Gospel — in Acts 1:1-11:

The Promise of the Holy Spirit

 1In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach, 2until the day when he was taken up, after he had given commands through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. 3 He presented himself alive to them after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God.

 4And while staying with them he ordered them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, “you heard from me; 5 for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”

The Ascension

 6So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” 7He said to them,  “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. 8But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” 9And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. 10And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, 11and said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”

In Mark 13:24-27, Jesus described His return — note the mention of clouds:

24“But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, 25and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. 26And then they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. 27And then he will send out the angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.

St Matthew records similar words (Matthew 24:29-31):

The Coming of the Son of Man

 29Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. 30Then will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. 31And he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.

St John used the same imagery in Revelation 1:7-8. John wrote this book around 95 AD. The Romans destroyed the Temple in Jerusalem in 70 AD.

7Behold, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him, and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of him. Even so. Amen.

 8 “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.”

Therefore, it is doubtful whether a spiritual judgment on the Temple and Israel of the day was Christ’s second coming.

In 2004, Keith Mathison wrote a 54-page paper on Acts 1:9-11 and presented prominent preterist views therein (H/T: Beggars All, ‘Acts 1:9-11 and Hyper-Preterism’). Mathison is not a preterist but presents their views and refutes them by studying the meaning of the Greek verbs used in the relevant New Testament verses, principally the two verses in the first chapter of Acts. Seminarians might find the paper useful.

I suspect that many more people today are preterists, even if they have never heard of the term. I was one for many years, but I had not connected all the related New Testament verses — Christ’s own words and the Ascension account. A number of Modernist and Postmodern Christians are probably preterists, in which case, why bother being Christian? As I have said before, if it is all about social justice, one can join a left-wing political party. If Christianity is about charity, well, most world faiths advocate and practice material kindness to strangers.

What, then, is left? The Cross and Resurrection carry little meaning if Christ already returned ‘spiritually’ to destroy the Temple. Therefore, we can disregard Revelation. It’s done, history.

Or is it? Wouldn’t John have written Revelation somewhat differently if it had been about the destruction of the Temple? Why would he have included these verses in Revelation 22?

18I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book, 19and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book.

 20He who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!

But, back to Acts 1:9-11. Keith Mathison writes in his paper (p. 50-51):

As we have proceeded through this study of Acts 1:9–11, we have noted in passing some common hyper-preterist objections to the traditional interpretation of this passage. It may prove helpful at this point to respond briefly to an objection that is raised, not by hyper-preterists, but by skeptics. Liberals and skeptics repeatedly claim that the traditional interpretation of Acts 1:9–11 necessitates the adoption of a false three-tiered understanding of the universe as well as the idea that heaven is located at some physical point somewhere in space. This objection is frequently raised in the writings of men such as Rudolf Bultmann and John Shelby Spong. But does a traditional interpretation of Acts 1:9–11 require us to believe that heaven is located somewhere in the sky above the clouds? The answer is no.

He goes on to say that Christ ascended in a way His disciples would clearly understand. He was returning to a place where they could not yet go.

Mathison concludes:

A careful examination of the text of Acts 1:9–11 reveals that the traditional interpretation of this text is the correct interpretation. According to Luke, the lifting up of Jesus was an objectively visible event witnessed by the apostles. They saw Jesus taken up with their own eyes. According to the two men in white, Jesus would come back to earth in the same manner that the apostles saw him go. Whether he was lifted up with the cloud or was lifted up to a cloud, the manner of his going was visible and bodily. The manner of his second coming to earth, therefore,will likewise be visible and bodily. At his second coming all of those who have died in Christ will be resurrected. God will give life to their mortal bodies (Rom. 8:11). The bodies of the redeemed who are still alive at that time will be changed (1 Cor. 15:51). The present heavens and earth will be transformed and freed from the curse of sin (Rom. 8:19–22), and the dwelling place of God will be with man (Rev. 21:3; 22:3). All of his people will be with him forever in a restored creation.  143

I hope that this helps to give greater resonance to the Ascension.

Bible and crossAfter Jesus’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, the days preceding His Crucifixion turned increasingly more uncertain.

Among the events of this week are the following.

On Monday, He drove the money changers out of the Temple (Matthew 21:12-13) and foretold the destruction of the Temple (Mark 13:1-12).

He also explained the ‘signs of the age’ with regard to persecution, false teachers and natural disasters (Mark 13:3-13).

Meanwhile, the Jewish Sanhedrin were plotting how to do away with our Lord by stealth (Mark 14:1-2). As they plot, Judas offers his services. For this reason, Wednesday of Holy Week is known as Spy Wednesday in traditionalist Catholic churches.

Maundy Thursday, which commemorates the Last Supper, follows.

Today, the notion of service (exemplified in Jesus’s washing of the Apostles’ feet) continues in Christian charity.  In England, the monarch traditionally distributes Maundy money to those in need. In 2012, during her Diamond Jubilee:

The Queen was on her way to York Minster for the traditional Royal Maundy service. To celebrate her 60 years as Monarch, the Queen will hand out money to people from all of the UK’s 44 Christian dioceses.

Usually, the Maundy money is given to pensioners from one diocese each year. But this year, 86 women and 86 men – one for each of the Queen’s 86 years – will receive the money in recognition of their services to the Church and their communities.

The Royal Maundy ceremony traces its origins to the Last Supper when, as St John recorded, Jesus washed the feet of his disciples …

The Queen’s procession included The Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu; The Chancellor of the Diocese of York, Judge Peter Collier QC; the Dean of York, The Very Reverend Keith Jones and other dignitaries and officials.

A short time later the Queen began distributing the Maundy gifts to the first set of recipients on the south side of the Minster as the Yeomen of the Guard followed closely behind.

After the second lesson was read by the Archbishop of York, the Queen distributed the Maundy gifts to the second set of recipients on the north side of the cathedral as music by Handel was played.

Each recipient receives two purses – one red and one white – in the centuries old tradition.

The red purse will contain a £5 coin commemorating The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, and a newly minted 50p coin.

The white purse will contain uniquely minted Maundy Money of silver one, two, three and four penny pieces, the sum of which equals the Queen’s age.

For more on Maundy Thursday, please see:

What is the Triduum?

‘One of you will betray Me’

Passover, the Last Supper and the New Covenant

Maundy Thursday and the Last Supper: Jesus’s words of comfort (John 14, with a mention of the Holy Trinity)

Bible kevinroosecomThis post concludes a study of the passages from St Mark’s Gospel which do not appear in the three-year Lectionary used in public worship.

As such, this reading comprises part of my ongoing series Forbidden Bible Verses, also essential to our understanding of Scripture.

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

Mark 14:26-31

Jesus Foretells Peter’s Denial

 26 And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives. 27And Jesus said to them, “You will all fall away, for it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.’ 28But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee.” 29 Peter said to him, “Even though they all fall away, I will not.” 30And Jesus said to him, “Truly, I tell you, this very night, before the rooster crows twice, you will deny me three times.” 31But he said emphatically, “If I must die with you, I will not deny you.” And they all said the same.

——————————————————————————–

The Last Supper is now at an end. We know this because verse 26 says that Jesus and the Apostles sang a hymn to conclude their commemoration of Passover and, for us, the beginning of the New Covenant.

Matthew Henry thought that the hymn comprised Psalms 113 – 118, the Hallel, sung at Passover. John MacArthur, however, said that the group would have sung those Psalms earlier. He believes that Jesus and the Apostles sang Psalm 136, in which this verse is repeated nearly every other line:

for his steadfast love endures forever.

Psalm 136 recounts the history of the Jews in light of God’s constancy, forgiveness and mercy. The last verse (26) reads:

Give thanks to the God of heaven,
   for his steadfast love endures forever.

Jesus and the Apostles — minus Judas — then walked to the Mount of Olives, where Jesus would spend His final hours prior to arrest, at which point Judas reappeared briefly.

MacArthur describes what they must have seen along their walk (emphases mine):

Out of the upper room, around midnight, out the temple gate toward the eastern slope of the temple mount, the temple mount being elevated, they would go down the slope out the east side, across the Kidron Valley where the Kidron Brook would be flowing at this time of year in the spring, a time of rain and the water flowing in the brook would be mingled with the blood from all the lambs that were being slaughtered and the blood would trail down the slope into that little stream and Jesus then would cross with them the bloody stream draining out of the temple.

As they made their way that direction, the houses of the city would be lit with candles because they would all be awake, all the exciting events of that weekend and some of them from Galilee would be celebrating that night the Passover meal, others would be preparing the Passover meal for the next day. The temple gates were to be opened at midnight to let any other pilgrims in for the Passover on Friday.

So they would cross the brook and they would climb the western slope of the Mount of Olives, perhaps along the place where He had sat with them on Wednesday night and given them the great message about His Second Coming. The Lord may be reminded as He made this little walk of the fact that He was basically following the same route that David had walked when he was fleeing from the pursuit of Absalom, according to 2 Samuel 15. You remember David went up the Mount of Olives barefoot and weeping ...

Now on the Mount of Olives, on the slope of the Mount of Olives was a garden called the Garden of Gethsemane where there was an olive press because the Mount of Olives was called the Mount of Olives because it was an olive grove. What was going to happen on that mount in the middle of the night was a rendezvous with Judas and the arrest of Jesus would take place. He would be tried in the morning, crucified later in the morning, to die in the afternoon as the sacrifice as the Lamb.

Jesus told the Apostles they would all ‘fall away’ (verse 27). In support of this, He cited part of  Zechariah 13:7 — a far from comforting verse:

“Awake, O sword, against my shepherd,
   against the man who stands next to me,”

         declares the LORD of hosts.

       “Strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered;
   I will turn my hand against the little ones.

MacArthur unpacks the verse and the reason why Jesus used it:

Zechariah has been talking about false prophets. He’s been talking about false prophets who would be wounded in their idol houses, the houses where they worship idols. But now he turns to the true shepherd and he says, “God’s Shepherd, My Shepherd, My associate,” declares the Lord of hosts, “that Shepherd, that true Shepherd will also be wounded.” And Jehovah here is the speaker and Messiah is the one of whom he speaks. This is a messianic prophecy.

Jesus again was afflicted by God. “Awake, O sword, against my Shepherd.” God is calling His own sword against His own Shepherd. It is God who strikes Messiah. “O sword, strike the Shepherd.” Then again I say, it isn’t Judas who led Him to the cross, although he played a role, it isn’t the Sanhedrin, the Romans, it isn’t Pilate, Caiaphas, or Herod. It is God, My Shepherd. God’s personal representative. My Associate, My fellow, say some texts. Literally the Hebrew is “The Man of My union, the Man who is united with Me, My equal.” And the word for “man” here is not the normal Hebrew word for man, it’s the word for a strong or mighty man. All of these are messianic references not only to the Messiah but the Messiah who is the Son of God.

So the prophet said that God Himself with His own sword will slay one who is His personal representative, who is His equal. This is a statement to the nature of Christ as bearing the same essence as God Himself. The result of the Shepherd being smitten by God will be the scattering of the sheep…the scattering of the sheep.

Concerning the scattering of the sheep, Jesus’s immediate implication for the purposes of this passage is that the Apostles would later flee the garden and disperse. They would run away, in fear of religious and civil authorities. Remember that only John was at the Crucifixion. Thomas did not show up until well after the Resurrection.

One wonders how many, if any, of the Apostles understood what Jesus meant in verse 28 by being raised up and preceding them to Galilee.

Peter boldly went on to promise to stand by Jesus, no matter what (verse 29). And, although he did remain in the garden for a time and struck the high priest’s servant with his sword, cutting off his ear, he later did exactly what Christ foresaw and foreknew (verse 30). Peter denied Jesus three times before the cock crowed. Once he heard the cock crow, he was shocked and saddened at his own betrayal of our Lord.

MacArthur explains how the Jews divided up the nighttime hours:

The Jews divided nighttime into four segments … From six in the evening till six in the morning was the night. The first was called evening, six to nine. Nine to twelve was called midnight. Twelve to three was called the rooster crow. And three to six was morning. Peter, before three in the morning, you will have denied Me three times. Before the rooster crows twice, you will have denied Me three times.

It’s interesting that, despite Jesus’s words, Peter insisted he would remain steadfast (verse 30), which then spurred the other Apostles to agree and state the same.

Peter was in the wrong, although he did not sin as gravely as Judas did. So were the others, to a lesser extent. However, Jesus could and would forgive their weakness.

Protestant clergy often point to this episode as a means of point-scoring for St Paul. To them, I would say that a) we do not know how Paul would have fared if he had been among the original Twelve; b) Paul was a Roman and would have had a different perspective on authority and c) Paul’s conversion happened after Christ sent the Holy Spirit to those gathered at the first Pentecost.

Similarly, I can somewhat emphathise with Thomas, although to a lesser extent. Some people have to see things for themselves before they believe. I read of an American television presenter recently who said she wasn’t sure the Earth was round because she hadn’t personally seen it from space. Hmm. It’s the same principle.

Finally, had I been one of the Apostles, I am certain I would have had the same reactions as they had throughout Jesus’s ministry.

We think we would do better only because we know the story and have the Holy Spirit to help and comfort us.

Notice how the Apostles changed after the arrival of the Holy Spirit at that first Pentecost.  Acts 5 is particularly descriptive:

12Now many signs and wonders were regularly done among the people by the hands of the apostles. And they were all together in Solomon’s Portico. 13None of the rest dared join them, but the people held them in high esteem. 14And more than ever believers were added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women, 15 so that they even carried out the sick into the streets and laid them on cots and mats, that as Peter came by at least his shadow might fall on some of them. 16The people also gathered from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing the sick and those afflicted with unclean spirits, and they were all healed …

27 … And the high priest questioned them, 28saying, “We strictly charged you not to teach in this name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching, and you intend to bring this man’s blood upon us.” 29But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than men. 30 The God of our fathers raised Jesus, whom you killed by hanging him on a tree. 31God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. 32And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.”

 41Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name. 42And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they did not cease teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ.

In our own lives, more mundane than the Apostles’, Matthew Henry has words of wisdom for us when we promise more than we can deliver:

he that thinks he stands, must learn to take heed lest he fall; and he that girdeth on the harness, not boast as though he had put it off.

This concludes the current series of Mark’s Gospel with regard to the Lectionary.

I have a final post on Mark 16:9-20, verses which presumably appear in the Lectionary although it is unclear as not all New Testament editions include them. They do, however, provide the rationale a tiny number of Holiness churches in the American South used to establish snake handling at some of their services.

Next time: Luke 1:1-4

Bible boy_reading_bibleToday’s passage from St Mark’s Gospel recounts briefly Jesus’s words as He institutes the Last Supper.

The reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Mark 14:22-25

Institution of the Lord’s Supper

 22 And as they were eating, he took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to them, and said, “Take; this is my body.” 23And he took a cup, and when he hadgiven thanks he gave it to them, and they all drank of it. 24And he said to them,  “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many. 25Truly, I say to you, I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.”

—————————————————————————-

Last week’s post covered Jesus’s ominous words directed at Judas. Consider Mark 14:21:

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

Mark continues the narrative of the Last Supper. Readers who wonder whether Judas was still at table might find that Matthew and Luke’s accounts do not fully answer the question. Luke 22:14-23  has Jesus blessing the bread and wine then mentioning a betrayer.  Matthew 26:20-29 does not mention Judas’s leaving the table. John 13 provides the most fulsome account of Jesus’s acknowledgment of Judas’s betrayal and verses 27 through 30 tell us that he left with the moneybag, going out into the night. Yet, his Gospel does not include the specific words instituting the Last Supper.

John MacArthur says:

… we don’t know all of the chronological sequence with any precision. It really isn’t that important to know what followed what. It only matters that we know what happened. All of these things that are important are laid out for us by the four gospel writers who write about Thursday night and collectively we get the full picture, if not in any kind of order. What happened is critical, the sequence is not.

However, he is quite certain that by the time Jesus instituted the Last Supper, Judas had left:

Judas is gone now. Judas is gone. It’s a good thing he’s not there because you’re not supposed to be at the Lord’s Table and eat unworthily, 1 Corinthians 11:27. Although it wouldn’t have changed anything with him.

MacArthur and Matthew Henry say that Jesus and the Apostles have already eaten their Passover lamb when Jesus begins His words of consecration in verse 22, which are still used today in the consecration or prayer of blessing at Holy Communion services.

Verses 23 and 24 describe the cup of wine which He passed to them, pronouncing it His blood. Protestants have always taken both bread and wine during their Communion services; it became widespread in the Catholic Church only at the end of the 1970s or early 1980s, depending on where one lived.

Henry specifies that this bread and wine are for spiritual nourishment only; he observes that Jesus has made sure the Apostles have had their physical sustenance beforehand.

It was instituted in the close of a supper, when they were sufficiently fed with the paschal lamb, to show that in the Lord’s supper there is no bodily repast intended; to preface it with such a thing, is to revive Moses again. But it is food for the soul only, and therefore a very little of that which is for the body, as much as will serve for a sign, is enough. It was at the close of the passover-supper, which by this was evangelized, and then superseded and set aside.

Henry adds a good point: we are to read the New Testament in light of the Old. The Old Testament holds the history behind the New. The New Testament provides the ‘Gospel key’ which unlocks our understanding of the Old. Emphases mine:

Much of the doctrine and duty of the eucharist is illustrated to us by the law of the passover (Ex. 12); for the Old-Testament institutions, though they do not bind us, yet instruct us, by the help of a gospel-key to them. And these two ordinances lying here so near together, it may be good to compare them, and observe how much shorter and plainer the institution of the Lord’s supper is, than that of the passover was. Christ’s yoke is easy in comparison with that of the ceremonial law, and his ordinances are more spiritual.

This blessing of bread and wine end ritual sacrifice, for Jesus will become the ultimate Lamb, the ultimate Sacrifice in propitiation for our sins. This, by the way, is how we answer atheists and other mockers who ask why Christians do not offer animal sacrifices. Christians have His Cross and the remembrance of Him in Holy Communion or, as some churches call it, the Supper.

Whether we consider the bread and wine as Christ’s actual body and blood as Catholics do or as an element of both as Lutherans do or as a Real Presence as Anglicans do or as somewhere between Real Presence and symbol as other Protestants do — we continue to receive it until we celebrate it again with Him in the Kingdom to come, that of God the Father (verse 25).

Let us also remember to partake of these elements in a worthy manner (1 Corinthians 11:27):

Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord.

John MacArthur has more on how the Last Supper initiated the New Covenant of Christianity:

[‘]This is My blood of the Covenant[‘]. Shedding the blood was always God’s requirement to establish a covenant. You see that in Genesis 8:15; Exodus 24; etc. Covenants were established, promises were guaranteed by blood … Reconciliation with God, covenant relationship with God, entering in to God’s promise of forgiveness and salvation required a blood sacrifice. That blood sacrifice could be an innocent substitute. Christ is that innocent substitute. He offers Himself on the cross. He pays the price for sin, satisfies the justice of God, takes our sins in His own body and bears in full the wrath of God for us and that is the act that validates and ratifies the New Covenant forgiveness.

MacArthur has more on the biblical covenants:

There [are] a lot of covenants in the Bible. God made a lot of promises. He promised not to drown the world again, that’s the Noahic Covenant. He gave us the law, that’s the Mosaic Covenant. He had a priestly covenant about the behavior of the priests. There was the Abrahamic Covenant which did promise salvation but no means. There is the Davidic Covenant which promises a Kingdom and a King, the Messiah and the future Kingdom. The new covenant promises forgiveness of sin, salvation, regeneration and new life. It is laid out in specific in Ezekiel 36, in Ezekiel 37 and in Jeremiah 31. It is a saving covenant. You get a new heart and a new Spirit and complete forgiveness. It’s regeneration. That’s salvation. That’s always been in operation. It’s always been in operation. But it was ratified by the death of Jesus Christ. The Old Covenant could be written constantly in animal blood because it was only a covenant of promise, it consisted of promise. The New Covenant is fully satisfied in the blood of one Lamb, the blood of Christ because it consisted not of promise but of fulfillment…fulfillment. The actual purchase of our redemption was made by Christ and He paid the price for the redemption of all the people who were before Him, all the way back to Adam.

The bloodshed, the blood which is shed, Matthew says, Matthew 26:28, the blood which is poured out. And here, please, it says, “This is My blood which is poured out for many…for many.” Isaiah 53:12 says the same thing, He did this for many. Matthew adds, “For the forgiveness of sins.

Final payment was made, now there’s no more need for the symbolic lambs, all we need to do is remember the cross…remember the cross. The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” So we come together, don’t we? Regularly … And again giving confident hope, verse 25, “Truly I say to you, I will never again,” strong emphatic language, “I will never, ever, ever again drink of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the Kingdom of God.”

… so not only in the Kingdom to come will we be rejoined to the Lord, and not only will be rejoined to Him to come to His table to celebrate the Passover, but we’ll also celebrate His table, Communion. That’s the Kingdom. Matthew, Mark and Luke record this statement that I’ll never do it again until I do it with you in the Kingdom. Folks, there has to be a Kingdom … The Old Covenant has ended, the New Covenant has come, it has been ratified with the death of Christ. The last Passover, the first Communion, we celebrate that Communion till He comes. When He comes, sets up His Kingdom, we will have a new kind of worship in which we will gather together as He leads us and celebrate a Passover and a Lord’s table that both look at His cross.

The gravity and the profundity of Christ’s sacrifice for us in instituting the New Covenant is why we must not receive Communion unworthily. Mainline Protestant clergy would do well to be particularly careful about the invitation to the Lord’s table. Many no longer specify ‘all baptised Christians’. Since then, I have occasionally seen young unchurched people who go up to the altar rail and have no idea what to do. (It is for this reason I believe they are unchurched; they also look inexperienced with the liturgy.) This is why, until recently, there was a extended period of study before enquirers became communicants.  Clergy who allow this laxity for reasons of ‘hospitality’ or ‘equality’ will one day have to answer for their actions in this regard.

Communion is not a snack. It is spiritual food. Not to be taken lightly — or by everyone.

Next time: Mark 14:26-31

Bible penngrovechurchofchristorgThis post continues a study of St Mark’s Gospel with an emphasis on the passages which do not appear in the three-year Lectionary for public worship.

As such, they become part of my ongoing series Forbidden Bible Verses, also essential for understanding Scripture.

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

Mark 14:12-21

The Passover with the Disciples

12 And on the first day of Unleavened Bread, when they sacrificed the Passover lamb, his disciples said to him, “Where will you have us go and prepare for you to eat the Passover?” 13And he sent two of his disciples and said to them, “Go into the city, and a man carrying a jar of water will meet you. Follow him, 14and wherever he enters, say to the master of the house, ‘The Teacher says, Where is my guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?’ 15And he will show you a large upper room furnished and ready; there prepare for us.” 16And the disciples set out and went to the city and found it just as he had told them, and they prepared the Passover.

17 And when it was evening, he came with the twelve. 18And as they were reclining at table and eating, Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me, one who is eating with me.” 19They began to be sorrowful and to say to him one after another, “Is it I?” 20He said to them, “It is one of the twelve, one who is dipping bread into the dish with me. 21For the Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that man if he had not been born.”

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Last week’s post discussed Judas Iscariot and his materialism which manifested itself in greed. He was a lover of money and made such an idol out of it that he betrayed our Lord. His story illustrates the importance of avoiding giving into the failings which are our Achilles’s heel.  Furthermore, smaller sins in time give way to serious sin.

In today’s reading, we move into Thursday, the day before Jesus’s Crucifixion (verse 12). Scholars have sometimes disagreed on exactly when the first day of Passover was: Thursday or Friday. Matthew Henry’s commentary reflects this:

Christ ate the passover at the usual time when the other Jews did, as Dr. Whitby had fully made out, and not, as Dr. Hammond would have it, the night before. It was on the first day of that feast, which (taking in all the eight days of the feast) was called, The feast of unleavened bread, even that day when they killed the passover, v. 12.

I’ll reproduce from last week’s post what John MacArthur says, which explains the reasons for the confusion (emphases mine):

There actually were two different evenings when the Passover was celebrated. I’ll just leave it at this. The northern people in Galilee celebrated it on Thursday evening while the Judeans, the Sadducees and the people in the south celebrated it on Friday evening. This is perfect, so that Jesus could celebrate the Passover with His friends in Galilee when they celebrated it on Thursday and still die as the Passover lamb on Friday at the time when the southern Judeans were slaughtering their lambs for their Passover. So there are actually two times; on Thursday for those in the north, and on Friday for those in the south. And that’s an important reckoning because there are texts in John’s gospel, in particular, that make it necessary to understand that.

In another sermon, he adds:

It is in the Jewish calendar the fourteenth of Nisan, year 30 A.D. And on that Thursday night is the Passover celebration for all of the Galilean Jews. In the Galilee, they celebrated their Passover on Thursday because they mark the Passover day from sunrise to sunrise. The Judean Jews in the south celebrated their Passover on Friday because they marked the Passover day from sunset to sunset. This difference we know from the writings of the Jewish Mishnah which are the official documents concerning the conduct of the Jews, and also from the history of Josephus. That’s important because that allowed our Lord to celebrate the Passover on Thursday night for a lot of critical reasons and still be the Passover on Friday, because they were two authorized and legitimate celebrations.

Note that Mark mentions that the first day of Unleavened Bread was when the Jews sacrificed the Passover lamb. The time of day when they did this ties in with the hour of Jesus’s death. If you have ever wondered about why He took His last breath at 3 p.m., MacArthur tells us it is because:

Now it is essential that our Lord be the Passover on Friday and die at three o’clock at exactly the time the Judeans were slaughtering the lambs for their Passover, for He is the Passover Lamb and God made the timing perfect because Jesus died exactly at that time on Friday.

At the end of verse 12, we read that His disciples asked where their final supper together would take place. Verse 13 tells us that He sent two of them, whom MacArthur believes to have been Peter and John, to look for a man carrying a jar of water. MacArthur points out that this would be an unusual sight because carrying water was women’s work, not men’s. It still is today in many parts of the developing world.

Jesus told the disciples that the man carrying water would meet them and lead them to the appointed room. They were to keep His identity secret, as per Jesus’s instructions in verse 14, by uttering a specific sentence and referring to Him as ‘Teacher’. There is a room which has since been declared the site of the Last Supper. MacArthur isn’t sure if it is the actual site:

I know there’s a traditional place in the city of Jerusalem where they say the Lord had His last Passover, but that is purely a traditional place. There is nothing in the New Testament that indicates where it was. And that makes sense if you’re trying to keep it a secret at that time, and maybe the disciples didn’t even know whose it was when they were there. We don’t know for sure what they knew, but we know that we don’t have any information about it.

Secrecy was important, he says, because

He must die … Friday, around three o’clock when the Passover lambs are being slaughtered, but He must also celebrate the Passover with His disciples so that He can give them final instruction, His last will and testament, if you will, and so that He can institute His table, playing off the Passover. And it has been suggested that He must also fulfill all righteousness and therefore He must celebrate the Passover commanded by God because it hasn’t been negated and it won’t be negated until this Passover is finished. For that to happen, He must not be arrested that night. He can’t be arrested until afterwards.

Also, if Jesus had announced the location in advance:

Judas will know and Judas is hungry for the money even though he’s trying to avoid the crowds, he’s not going to postpone this any longer than he has to, he just wants the money. He wants it fast. This is perfect, a perfect place away from the crowd and the leaders can capture Jesus who will be alone with His helpless disciples. Jesus cannot let that happen…cannot let it happen. And so that’s why there’s all the intrigue.

As for the man with the pitcher of water:

It tells you that the man was familiar with Jesus, the teacher. They don’t even say the word Jesus in case somebody is listening. They don’t want anybody to know where this is going to be. You just follow the man with a pitcher on his head. This tells us that our Lord had prearranged this, either actually, or supernaturally.

Jesus said that the room would be large, upstairs and prepared for the Last Supper (verse 15).

MacArthur says that Peter and John did not return once they knew the location (verses 15, 16):

… apparently Peter and John never came back. On this Thursday, this is Thursday, they went, followed the man, got to the house, were shown the room and they made the preparation so that the rest of the disciples went out from where they were, came to the city, probably back [from] Bethany where they’ve been every night, and found it just as He had told them and they prepared the Passover.

Matthew Henry’s commentary describes the room saying that rooms would normally be for hire for this feast:

No doubt, the inhabitants of Jerusalem had rooms fitted up to be let out, for this occasion, to those that came out of the country to keep the passover, and one of those Christ made use of …

He ate the passover in an upper room furnished, estroµmenonlaid with carpets (so Dr. Hammond); it would seem to have been a very handsome dining-room. Christ was far from affecting any thing that looked stately in eating his common meals; on the contrary, he chose that which was homely, sat down on the grass: but, when he was to keep a sacred feast, in honour of that he would be at the expense of as good a room as he could get. God looks not at outward pomp, but he looks at the tokens and expressions of inward reverence for a divine institution, which, it is to be feared, those want, who, to save charges, deny themselves decencies in the worship of God.

Verse 17 sets the scene at the Last Supper. Jesus announced that one of the men in the room, one of his trusted Apostles, would soon betray Him (verse 18). The verse also mentions that they reclined at table. I explored this last week when describing Mary of Bethany’s vial of fragrant nard. John MacArthur adds more detail:

Their heads would be at the table, their feet reclining away from the table. They didn’t put their feet under the table, as we do. We sit in a chair, put our feet under the table. They were on some kind of a reclining couch of some nature with feet away from the table and their heads toward the table …

Originally, however, if you go back to the Exodus, do you remember the instruction? The instruction of God was this, “Eat with your loins girded,” that is with your belt on, all the loose ends pulled together. “Your shoes on, your staff in your hand, standing up in a hurry.” And they were to do that and traditionally did that for some years because they were remembering the hurried reality of the Exodus. That custom had changed. That tradition had changed. And Passover became a more languid experience.

The reclining would give the opportunity for our Lord to accomplish everything that He wanted to accomplish.

Reclining there with Him, eleven of the Apostles were cut to the core by Jesus’s statement of imminent betrayal. They must have wondered whether they had a serious spiritual weakness of which they were unaware, something that only Jesus could discern. Henry tells us we can detect this by their reaction in verse 19, which is not a statement of innocence but a question to Him of guilt:

Christ said this, if it might be, to startle the conscience of Judas, and to awaken him to repent of his wickedness, and to draw back (for it was not too late) from the brink of the pit. But for aught that appears, he who was most concerned in the warning, was least concerned at it. All the rest were affected with it. (1.) They began to be sorrowful. As the remembrance of our former falls into sin, so the fear of the like again, doth often much embitter the comfort of our spiritual feasts, and damp our joy. Here were the bitter herbs, with which this passover-feast was taken. (2.) They began to be suspicious of themselves; they said one by one, Is it I? And another said, Is it I? They are to be commended for their charity, that they were more jealous of themselves than of one another. It is the law of charity, to hope the best (1 Co. 13:5-7), because we assuredly know, therefore we may justly suspect, more evil by ourselves than by our brethren. They are also to be commended for their acquiescence in what Christ said; they trusted more to his words than to their own hearts; and therefore do not say, “I am sure it is not I,” but, “Lord, is it I? see if there be such a way of wickedness in us, such a root of bitterness, and discover it to us, that we may pluck up that root, and stop up that way.”

Jesus’s answer must have further disquieted them (verse 20). He simply reiterated that it was one of them ‘dipping bread into the dish with Me’. In fact, Mark’s account does not mention Judas’s departure from the table. He ends with Jesus’s ominous statement that it would have been better had the betrayer — Judas — never been born (verse 21).

Readers of this column will recall the grave shock with which the Apostles discovered Judas’s betrayal as recounted in other Gospels. Remember that they had all travelled, ate and resided together for three years. They didn’t go to their respective homes at night; they were with each other nearly all the time.

Note that Jesus states the fulfilment of Scripture (verse 21). MacArthur says:

This is related back to Psalm 55, you probably remember that Psalm because it is familiarly linked, “For it is not an enemy who reproaches Me, then I could bear it, or is it one who hates Me who has exalted himself against Me, then I could hide Myself from him, but it is you, a man, My equal, My companion, My familiar friend who had sweet fellowship together, walked in the house of God in the throng” …

Every detail, the details of His crucifixion in Psalm 22, the meaning of His crucifixion in Isaiah 53, the detail of Him being pierced in Zechariah 12:10, the details of His resurrection in Psalm 16 and other features of Old Testament prophecy all prewritten. That is why when Paul preaches the gospel in 1 Corinthians 15, verse 3 he says, “Christ died according to the scriptures,” the next verse, “and rose the third day according to the scriptures.” Everything was laid out in Scripture. Our Lord was not killed at the whim of Judas, or Pilate, or Caiaphas, or Herod, or the Sanhedrin, or the Romans, or even Satan, but by God on God’s timing and in God’s manner.

In closing — to respond to those who are oppose the Bible and Christianity because of the different Gospel accounts, some of which say more than others on this and other events in Christ’s life — MacArthur advises:

… we don’t know all of the chronological sequence with any precision. It really isn’t that important to know what followed what. It only matters that we know what happened. All of these things that are important are laid out for us by the four gospel writers who write about Thursday night and collectively we get the full picture, if not in any kind of order. What happened is critical, the sequence is not.

Next time: Mark 14:22-25

Bible and crossContinuing with a study of passages from Mark’s Gospel which have been omitted from the three-year Lectionary for public worship, we come to another set of verses from Jesus’s last few days before His Crucifixion.

These verses become part of my ongoing series Forbidden Bible Verses, also essential to understanding Scripture.

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

Mark 14:10-11

Judas to Betray Jesus

 10 Then Judas Iscariot, who was one of the twelve, went to the chief priests in order to betray him to them. 11And when they heard it, they were glad and promised to give him money. And he sought an opportunity to betray him.

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These two verses about Judas are a cautionary tale for us about the dangers of sin.

Our parents, Sunday School teachers or nuns warned us that small sins lead to greater sins. And so it is with Judas, the worst person in the Bible. Why? Because he betrayed our Lord for money. Judas spent three years — day and night — with Jesus and yet turned Him in to the Jewish leaders in exchange for a few weeks’ worth of income.

Being placed in charge of the money for Jesus and the Apostles’ ministry led to betrayal. Matthew Henry warned in his commentary (emphases mine):

Covetousness was Judas’s master-lust, his own iniquity, and that betrayed him to the sin of betraying his Master; the devil suited his temptation to that, and so conquered him. It is not said, They promised him preferment (he was not ambitious of that), but, they promised him money. See what need we have to double our guard against the sin that most easily besets us. Perhaps it was Judas’s covetousness that brought him at first to follow Christ, having a promise that he should be cash-keeper, or purser, to the society, and he loved in his heart to be fingering money; and now that there was money to be got on the other side, he was as ready to betray him as ever he had been to follow him. Note, Where the principle of men’s profession of religion is carnal and worldly, and the serving of a secular interest, the very same principle, whenever the wind turns, will be the bitter root of a vile and scandalous apostasy.

This sinful yearning is also present among some of our clergy who will do everything to please the world in order to earn money — and fame: warped preaching, books, lecture circuits and worldwide ministries leading the unaware away from the truth of the Cross and Resurrection. Some of these pastors fall away from the Church altogether only to embrace agnosticism or atheism.

Henry encapsulated why it is so important for us, from our childhood onward, to avoid the near occasion of sin:

See how the way of sin is down-hill — when men are in, they must be on; and what wicked contrivances many have in their sinful pursuits, to compass their designs conveniently; but such conveniences will prove mischiefs in the end.

To show you how materialistic Judas was, let’s look at the story immediately preceding the two verses above.

Before we look at those verses, however, John MacArthur explains that Mark 14:3-11 is a flashback to the preceding Saturday when Jesus raised His good friend Lazarus — Mary and Martha’s brother — from the dead. It is interesting that Matthew also uses this same ordering of events whereas John takes a chronological approach.

The passage of Mark 14:3-9 relates the story of Lazarus’s sister Mary anointing Jesus’s head and feet with nard, or spikenard (as the King James Version calls it) — the purest and most fragrant natural perfume ingredient:

Jesus Anointed at Bethany

 3 And while he was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, as he was reclining at table, a woman came with an alabaster flask of ointment of pure nard, very costly, and she broke the flask and poured it over his head. 4There were some who said to themselves indignantly, “Why was the ointment wasted like that? 5For this ointment could have been sold for more than three hundred denarii and given to the poor.” And they scolded her. 6But Jesus said, “Leave her alone. Why do you trouble her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. 7For you always have the poor with you, and whenever you want, you can do good for them. But you will not always have me. 8 She has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for burial. 9And truly, I say to you, wherever the gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her.”

Here is Matthew’s account (Matthew 26:6-13):

Jesus Anointed at Bethany

 6 Now when Jesus was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, 7a woman came up to him with an alabaster flask of very expensive ointment, and she poured it on his head as he reclined at table. 8And when the disciples saw it, they were indignant, saying, “Why this waste? 9For this could have been sold for a large sum and given to the poor.” 10But Jesus, aware of this, said to them, “Why do you trouble the woman? For she has done a beautiful thing to me. 11For you always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me. 12In pouring this ointment on my body, she has done it to prepare me for burial. 13Truly, I say to you, wherever this gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will also be told in memory of her.”

What follows is John 12:1-8. John’s Gospel tells us that the woman is Mary, sister of Martha and Lazarus:

Mary Anoints Jesus at Bethany

 1Six days before the Passover, Jesus therefore came to Bethany, where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. 2So they gave a dinner for him there. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those reclining with him at table. 3 Mary therefore took a pound of expensive ointment made from pure nard, and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped his feet with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. 4But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (he who was about to betray him), said, 5“Why was this ointment not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?” 6He said this, not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief, and having charge of the moneybag he used to help himself to what was put into it. 7Jesus said, “Leave her alone, so that she may keep it for the day of my burial. 8For the poor you always have with you, but you do not always have me.”

Luke, however, related another anointing story in similar circumstances but involving a sinful woman and at an earlier time in Jesus’s ministry. Luke 7:36-50 describes a different woman. She is not Mary of Martha and Lazarus’s family.

Now to the accounts from Mark, Matthew and John. All describe the disgust, if not anger, of Judas — and, in Mark and Matthew, the disciples.

My left-leaning readers might object, but this is what I wrote about Judas when looking at John 12:

Judas takes offence, saying the costly balm could have been cashed in and the money given to the poor.  Judas would have made an excellent Socialist.  Always a materialist, note that his job is to mind the money bag, which seems to have instilled in him a love of money, which as we know from Scripture is the root of all evil (1 Timothy 6:10, Proverbs 15:27, Matthew 6:19). It is unlikely that he would have given the money to the poor, but most probably hoarded some for himself. Judas, the great materialist of the New Testament.

However, there is a larger issue — that Judas takes offence at Mary’s anointing of our Redeemer’s feet. Why should he begrudge Jesus such a humble yet beautiful act?

John 12:6 tells us Judas criticised Mary:

not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief, and having charge of the moneybag he used to help himself to what was put into it.

You can read more about Judas in my post on John 6. Also see here, here and here.

Back to Mark 14:10-11, however. John MacArthur says that it was then amidst the joyful commotion after Lazarus’s resurrection — with the increased belief in Bethany that Jesus was indeed the Messiah — that heartless Judas decided to act. MacArthur says that it would have taken him time from that Saturday night to what we consider Maundy Thursday to effect the betrayal.

MacArthur sheds light on other aspects of this initial part of Mark 14:

The identity of Simon and more about the dinner:

This occurs, we are told, in verse 3 at the home of Simon the leper. He would be a former leper or he wouldn’t be having a dinner party. You do understand that. Lepers were outcasts, right? They were outcasts. They didn’t interact with people at all. They were societal rejects, they were put out of society in every way and people kept as far from them as possible, fearing the contagion of such a disease. Likely then, this is a man who has been healed by Jesus and that was something Jesus did all over the land of Israel during His ministry. It is not a stretch to assume that this man named Simon who had been healed by Jesus, planned this meal knowing that Jesus was coming to Bethany to be with His friends and to be there for the Passover to say thanks. It would have been him, Mrs. Simon, if there was such a woman, and all the little Simons. There would have been the Twelve and it would have been Mary, Martha and Lazarus, so anywhere from 15 up, not including his family of 15 and other friends and his family would swell the number.

It is a typical meal in that it is an evening meal, reclining is the posture. You lounge, in a sense, in a reclining position. That means you’re going to be there a while, that’s how meals were taken in those days. They were really prolonged conversations…prolonged conversations. This is a normal posture for the prolonged conversational meal. This would be the antithesis of drive-through fast food.

A possible reason why Mark and Matthew do not say the woman was Mary:

Matthew and Mark were written very early in the life of the church. Mark may be very early. Matthew may be the earliest. But they’re written very early in the 50’s and 60’s. John’s gospel isn’t written until the 90’s. And maybe Matthew and Mark were just being sensitive not to mention the names to protect the family. John would have no need of protecting the family. They, very likely, were not an issue, maybe even gone 30, 40 years later. But John does give us the name and that’s very, very helpful.

The hygienic and aesthetic importance of cleanliness at meals:

It was a common custom at a meal to wash feet. If you were in a reclining position, that would be of great benefit because as you recline your feet necessarily appear in some way. And so, anointing feet, washing feet, we see that, didn’t we, in John 13 where Jesus washed the disciples’ feet. So this was a normal thing, even putting perfume on feet was somewhat of a tradition or custom. It was a courtesy.

More about nard and its scent:

Matthew says, “A very precious perfume.” This marble bottle typically would have a long neck…a long neck and perhaps some kind of small plug from which small drops of this perfume could be poured out, sprinkled. This kind of bottle would contain this perfume and the perfume might last a long time. It is said here that the value of it was three hundred denarii. That’s a year’s wages. Can you imagine spending a year’s salary on a bottle of perfume? First of all, you say, “Who would do that?” People would do that who needed to do that because even though it cost that much, it could be stretched out and used a very long period of time because a small drop would satisfy the social need. But she has an alabaster vial of very costly perfume of pure nard. Nard is a plant from India. Pure nard means its undiluted … But the perfume is the undiluted, pure form.

By the way … nard from India is still used for perfume. She does something that never would be done. She doesn’t drop a drop out, she breaks the neck of this vial and it says poured it over His head. And John adds, “Then anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped His feet with her hair.” She has dumped a year’s value of perfume on His head and on His feet. And John adds, this would be obvious, “The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.” You can understand that. You spray a little on you and you can smell it through the house. This dousing of a year’s worth of perfume all over Jesus would have dominated the environment. This is lavish love. This is profound, sacrificial affection.

Although we cannot say for certain, it seems as if Mary was so moved by Jesus — the time He spent with her and her siblings, His raising of Lazarus from the dead — that her affection for Him culminated in what could well have been a spontaneous act of love. Mary treasured Jesus.

However, the hand of Providence could also have directed her. Whilst Jesus’s friends did not grasp that her anointing of Jesus was a precursor to His burial a few days later, He, and possibly Mary, understood it as such. Jesus made it known to those in Simon’s household.

Now for another brief note from MacArthur about Passover in Jesus’s day:

There actually were two different evenings when the Passover was celebrated. I’ll just leave it at this. The northern people in Galilee celebrated it on Thursday evening while the Judeans, the Sadducees and the people in the south celebrated it on Friday evening. This is perfect, so that Jesus could celebrate the Passover with His friends in Galilee when they celebrated it on Thursday and still die as the Passover lamb on Friday at the time when the southern Judeans were slaughtering their lambs for their Passover. So there are actually two times; on Thursday for those in the north, and on Friday for those in the south. And that’s an important reckoning because there are texts in John’s gospel, in particular, that make it necessary to understand that.

In closing, MacArthur puts Jesus’s words in opposition to our present-day love of the social gospel. This is important to read and digest, because the social gospel is a false one and Jesus’s words are often misused:

Adoring worship of Christ is the ultimate priority. Did you get that? Giving to the poor has a place. Deuteronomy 15:11 says, “Give to the poor.” You always have the poor of the land and make sure you care for the poor and give to the poor. That’s a priority. But the ultimate priority is to worship Christ, isn’t it? The ultimate priority is to worship Christ. Care for the poor is important, worship of the Lord is more important. And Jesus wasn’t going to be there very long.

We should give for needs. We should minister to the poor. But far more, we should worship our Lord sacrificially. You give to the poor doesn’t really have a lasting value. But when you worship the Lord, that has an eternal impact. She had her priorities right. Poor people will always be around, Jesus said, but I will not always be around.

Charity is good. Charity is necessary. Worship is always better. And true worship will lead to charity.

Next time: Mark 14:12-21

Bible ancient-futurenetContinuing an examination of St Mark’s Gospel, today’s post discusses the days before that fateful Passover which culminated in Jesus’s crucifixion.

As this short passage has been excluded from the three-year Lectionary used in public worship, it becomes part of my ongoing series Forbidden Bible Verses, also essential for an understanding of Scripture.

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

Mark 14:1-2

The Plot to Kill Jesus

 1 It was now two days before the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread. And the chief priests and the scribes were seeking how to arrest him by stealth and kill him, 2for they said, “Not during the feast, lest there be an uproar from the people.”

———————————————————————————

We are  now into the Wednesday evening before the Passover when Jesus died for our sins. This particular Wednesday is known by some Christians as Spy Wednesday (read more here and here). It takes place during Holy Week, between Palm Sunday and Easter.

Note that the Sanhedrin — Jewish leadership, which included the chief priests and scribes — wanted to finish Jesus off in secret, without the knowledge of the people (verse 1). After Jesus’s public ministry in the region and His triumphal entry into Jerusalem (Palm Sunday), they feared a backlash from the people which would have threatened their power structure, in both a religious and political context.

As faithful Jews had converged in Jerusalem for the Passover, the Sanhedrin were not eager to risk their wrath, which is why they did not want their operation put into play until afterward (verse 2).

Matthew Henry’s commentary contains a good observation about the heartlessness of the Sanhedrin. They did not say that they wanted to postpone Jesus’s arrest and death because such a scene over Passover would have interrupted the Passover devotions of the faithful. No. They did not want to do it then because they feared for their own lives as a result (emphases mine):

Now see, [1.] How spiteful Christ’s enemies were; they did not think it enough to banish or imprison him, for they aimed not only to silence him, and stop his progress for the future, but to be revenged on him for all the good he had done. [2.] How subtle they were; Not on the feast-day, when the people are together; they do not say, Lest they should be disturbed in their devotions, and diverted from them, but, Lest there should be an uproar (v. 2); lest they should rise, and rescue him, and fall foul upon those that attempt any thing against him. They who desired nothing more than the praise of men, dreaded nothing more than the rage and displeasure of men.

This is a good warning to us against courting men’s approval for our own personal security or prestige. It can lead to all sorts of heartless thoughts and hateful machinations.

Matthew 26:3 mentions that the Sanhedrin’s discussion about Jesus’s fate took place at the High Priest Caiaphas’s house. John MacArthur explains:

The Sanhedrin … the Chief Priests and the scribes is just representative of this ruling group, 70 men plus the High Priests who were involved in all these plans.

John 11 details this meeting, which my post (see link) discusses further. The Sanhedrin gathered a few days after Jesus raised His good friend Lazarus — Mary and Martha’s brother — from the dead. John 11:45-53 relates the effect that this miracle had on the Sanhedrin:

45 Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what he did, believed in him, 46but some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done. 47So the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered the Council and said, “What are we to do? For this man performs many signs. 48If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.” 49But one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, “You know nothing at all. 50Nor do you understand that it is better for you that one man should die for the people, not that the whole nation should perish.” 51He did not say this of his own accord, but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation, 52and not for the nation only, but also to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad. 53So from that day on they made plans to put him to death.

Note that St John states Caiaphas had no idea he would utter the words in verse 50. Caiaphas and the Jewish leaders understood those words in an immediate sense: sacrifice Jesus so that we can live our comfortable lives in peace. In verse 51, John explains that it was, unbeknownst to the High Priest, a prophecy for the world going forward. Jesus would die for sinners’ sake, wherever they were and are in the world. He came to gather God’s children unto Him.

In reality, as we know, the Sanhedrin hadn’t figured on the emotional mob which would show up two days later shouting for Barabbas’s freedom.

MacArthur says in his sermon that, regarless of what the Sanhedrin wanted, God would turn events to His own timetable.  He calls our attention to the prophecy in Isaiah 53:3:

3 He was despised and rejected by men;
   a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief;
and as one from whom men hide their faces
   he was despised, and we esteemed him not.

and to the wisdom of Proverbs 19:21:

21 Many are the plans in the mind of a man,
   but it is the purpose of the LORD that will stand.

MacArthur also discusses misconceptions and heresy surrounding the substitutionary atonement of the Crucifixion.

It was not divine child abuse on God’s part nor failure on Jesus’s:

Isaiah 53 says He was wounded for our transgressions. He was bruised for our iniquities. He was chastened for our peace with God. And God was fully satisfied with His sacrifice and that’s why He raised Him from the dead and exalted Him to His right hand, made Him a High Priest over His own and one day will send Him to establish His everlasting Kingdom. He didn’t die an unexpected death.

He was killed by the one who loved Him perfectly, to satisfy divine justice and divine righteousness on behalf of unworthy, undeserving sinners so that, not for us, so that God might give to His Son through His Son’s death a redeemed humanity to praise Him forever and ever and ever and ever.

Nor does the Crucifixion mean that everyone is saved. It was never about modernist and postmodernist universalism as Rob Bell says (see commentary on Love Wins here, here and here):

There’s an old liberal idea denying the atonement of Christ, denying His substitutionary death, denying that He was a sacrifice in our place on whom the justice of God fell so that we might escape it, an old liberal thing that says Jesus is just an example of giving yourself up for someone, a model of love. That concept of Jesus as an example would say to us that you need to be willing to give your life up for somebody you care about, throw yourself in front of the bus and push the person off. Is that what it was?

That old liberal heresy has reappeared in the last month in a book by Rob Bell called Love Wins. That’s a heresy. And the supposed ten thousand people that are in that, whatever it is, I can’t call it a church, but whatever it is in Grand Rapids, Michigan where he is, he also denies eternal punishment. The people who are sitting there listening to this ought to run as fast as they can in the opposite direction from that place before they end up in the hell he denies because if you deny the substitutionary atonement of Jesus Christ, then you deny the gospel. This is the heart of everything.

In closing, here is what MacArthur has to say about the Feast of Unleavened Bread mentioned in verse 1:

The Feast of Unleavened Bread, you remember, commemorated the exodus when they made the Unleavened Bread [and] left Egypt … The Feast of Unleavened Bread was seven days long … Exodus chapter 12 verses 15 to 20. It was held on Nisan 15th to the 21st, that would be around April … The day before the Unleavened Bread was Passover and that was the order they appear in verse 1. The Passover is on the fourteenth, starting the fifteenth and running for seven days, [then] the Feast of Unleavened Bread, because you remember that when they left Egypt, prior to their leaving with their Unleavened Bread, there was the Passover. Kill the lamb, put the blood on the doorpost and the lintel and the angel of death will [pass over] you. And they were celebrating God’s salvation of them in Egypt with their Passover. They still do it, it’s the Jewish Seder.

Passover, by the way, comes from a Hebrew word pesach which means to jump over because the angel of death jumped over their blood-splattered houses in Egypt. The Feast of Unleavened Bread was then connected to the Passover so that they were terms used interchangeably.

Next time: Mark 14:10-11

Bible croppedContinuing a series on passages from St Mark’s Gospel which do not appear in the three-year Lectionary for public worship, this post examines Jesus’s description of the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem and imminent apostolic martyrdom.

These passages which have been omitted from the Lectionary are part of my ongoing series Forbidden Bible Verses, also essential for an understanding of Scripture.

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

Mark 13:3-13

Signs of the Close of the Age

 3And as he sat on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter and James and John and Andrew asked him privately, 4“Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign when all these things are about to be accomplished?” 5And Jesus began to say to them,  “See that no one leads you astray. 6 Many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am he!’ and they will lead many astray. 7And when you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed. This must take place, but the end is not yet. 8For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. These are but the beginning of the birth pains.

 9 “But be on your guard. For they will deliver you over to councils, and you will be beaten in synagogues, and you will stand before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them. 10And the gospel must first be proclaimed to all nations. 11And when they bring you to trial and deliver you over, do not be anxious beforehand what you are to say, but say whatever is given you in that hour, for it is not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit. 12 And brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death. 13 And you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.

——————————————————————————————

Mark 13 is a parallel version of Matthew 24 and Luke 21. This blog will cover the latter when I begin studying St Luke’s Gospel this year, all being well.

It is disappointing that Matthew 24 — none of it — is included in the Lectionary. It doesn’t hurt any of us to hear more frequently about the run-up to the end of the world with all its devastating events, both manmade and natural.

It is also unfortunate that the Lectionary compilers saw fit to truncate Jesus’s narrative as detailed in Mark 13 and Luke 21. Later in the post, I shall include the part of Mark 13 which is read in church.

In last week’s post, we read Jesus’s devastating reply to the disciples admiring the great edifice of the Temple.

Afterward, on the Mount of Olives overlooking this magnificent structure and the city of Jerusalem, Jesus’s closest friends among the Apostles — Peter, Andrew and the two Boanerges brothers James and John — asked Him when the Temple would be destroyed and what signs would precede it (verses 3 and 4).

John MacArthur explains what was probably going through their minds at the time:

On Monday [Palm Sunday readings], everybody said He’s the Messiah. Everybody hailed Him as the Messiah. Hundreds of thousands of people gathered for the Passover, were there in Jerusalem throwing palm branches at His feet, laying their garments down in front of the animal He was riding on and hailing Him as the Son of David and the Messiah and saying, “Hosanna.” And the disciples had their expectations elevated greatly.

However, the next day, on Tuesday, He comes into Jerusalem with them. Curses a fig tree and that’s a symbol of the curse that’s going to come on the nation. And instead of Him destroying the Gentile occupiers, the Romans, which the Jews wanted Him to do, He’s going to destroy Israel. He’s going to judge them. He’s going to curse them as He cursed the tree. And He sets that in motion with a second symbol of that. He goes into the temple and He throws the buyers and sellers out. He just cleans the place of all the corruption and crime and then comes back on Wednesday and with the debris and litter still lying around, He occupies the temple for that full day and speaks the truth in that place for the first time in hundreds of years.

The disciples don’t know what to think. They know that the leaders of Israel are after Him. They know they want Him dead. And Jesus has told them at least three recorded times that He’s going to be arrested, He’s going to die, and He’s going to rise. And they still are trying to figure out, when is the Kingdom going to come?

If you’ve missed the past few posts, it’s important to know that the Jews believed that their Messiah would redeem the nation of Israel in a temporal way and make it into a great earthly kingdom. Hence the confusion about what Jesus has told them and will set out in this chapter.

Although they did not realise it, the Apostles were asking about two different events and time periods. The destruction of the Temple would occur in 70 AD and the end of the world is yet to come.

Some reading this passage — and several years ago, I was one of them — believe that what our Lord discussed in Mark 13, Matthew 24 and Luke 21 all happened in 70 AD. These believers are called preterists. Within the past few years, I have changed my outlook in reading and rereading what these chapters say. It’s much easier for one’s mind to believe that all this happened in the first century and that we haven’t had to worry about it since.

For this reason, preterists often believe that the world can only improve. Utopians — religious and secular — fall into this category. Christians who are working towards a utopia are known in theological terms as post-millenialists.

MacArthur warns us about a rosy interpretation of much of Mark 13 (emphases mine) :

Well, I’ll promise you one thing, Jesus was not a post-millennialist. He certainly didn’t believe things were going to get better and better and better. This is a long pessimistic look at history. He doesn’t say when. In fact, He says, “No one knows, not even the Son of Man, only the Father.” But He does define the nature of human experience while history waits for His return. While history is waiting for Him to come back, there will be a barrage of false Christs, false Messiahs, false teachers, false prophets, wars, disasters, persecution, all through human history and getting worse and worse and worse. And at the end, the explosion of these kinds of things will reach epoch proportions that are described in Revelation 6 through 19 in a seven-year period called a time of Tribulation. Even the latter half of that is a time of Great Tribulation, the last three and a half years being the worst of all.

These prophecies do not describe 70 A.D. That’s impossible. And yet there are people called Preterists who say that everything that our Lord predicted here came to pass in 70 A.D., or by 70 A.D. That is an impossible interpretation, to be sure. And there’s no need for that. You can take Scripture at face value.

Whilst there are verses that do describe the times of the destruction of the Temple within this chapter, not all of them do. Some could also be read to pertain to that time and the end of the world.

In verses 5 and 6, Jesus warned against being drawn in by false teachers appearing to come in His name or proclaiming themselves as Christ. Matthew Henry’s commentary says that in the years after the Jews rejected Him, many began following false prophets. Henry says that this phenomenon had not occurred before. Although the Jews fell into sin, as the Old Testament and Gospels tell us, they had not been lured into believing false teachings at that time.

Jesus cautioned against fearing war — in the disciples’ time and in ours (verses 7 and 8). Henry’s commentary tells us:

Christ was born into the world when there was a general peace, but soon after he went out of the world there were general wars …

For us and future generations, Henry advised:

Those that despise the smiles of the world, and do not court and covet them, may despise the frowns of the world, and need not fear them. If we seek not to rise with them that rise in the world, why should we dread falling with them that fall in the world?

In other words, if we’re already turning away from the world’s pleasantries and entertainments, we can equally avoid getting too wrapped up the schemes of evil men and nations. This is difficult to do, however, as we see in election results: ‘Why didn’t the better candidate win? If only our society were less corrupt.’ In other words, whilst taking in the news we must try to not let it envelop our lives to the extent that we become fearful or fatalist. It is at these times when our faith should be sustaining us. It is this faith which we should be trying to build up in our own households.

Note that Jesus also mentions natural disasters in the second part of verse 8: earthquakes and famines. The ‘birth pains’ refer to the travails that generations past, present and future will have to endure in a fallen world.

Henry’s commentary recommends pragmatism, rephrasing what Jesus was saying and adding a conclusion:

” … instead of being disturbed at them, you ought to prepare for worse; for there shall also be earthquakes in divers places, which shall bury multitudes in the ruins of their own houses, and there shall be famines, by which many of the poor shall perish for want of bread, and troubles and commotions; so that there shall be no peace to him that goes out or comes in. The world shall be full of troubles, but be not ye troubled; without are fightings, within are fears, but fear not ye their fear.” Note, The disciples of Christ, if it be not their own fault, may enjoy a holy security and serenity of mind, when all about them is in the greatest disorder.

We are called to be materially and spiritually prepared. My grandparents always had a larder in case of storms. These days, such pragmatism is ridiculed. We would do well to always have spares of things on hand, from food to toiletries to blankets to linens. We should avoid a hand-to-mouth existence. Anything could happen. As the Scout motto says, ‘Be prepared’. If people ridicule us for it, so what?

In verse 9, Jesus began a short discourse warning of persecution and prosecution. Some of that is documented in Acts — with the accounts of Sts Stephen and Paul. In fact, of the Twelve, only one — John — was spared martyrdom. He was exiled on Patmos, where he died alone.  What Jesus said here pertained to His followers at the time but equally to subsequent generations. This will last until the end of time, whenever that may be. Jesus advised, ‘Be on your guard’: be prudent, be watchful, be aware of people, events, trends so that we know how to respond in wisdom and holiness.

Concerning verse 10 — the preaching of the Gospel — the context between Mark’s verse here and Matthew’s (Matthew 24:14) differs somewhat because of their placement in the text. Mark’s intimates that Jesus’s meaning here is to keep evangelising, regardless of general circumstances. In a secular context we say, ‘The show must go on’. We mustn’t give up being faithful witnesses. On the other hand, Matthew’s understanding is that the end of the world will not take place until the Gospel has reached every corner of the earth. Therefore, we must bear both meanings in mind.

And what happens if we are prosecuted for our faith? What if we are sentenced to be tortured or to die? What do we say before our persecutors? Jesus said not to fear; should we find ourselves in that situation, the Holy Spirit will speak through us (verse 11). We can read an example of this in Acts 7, which documents what Stephen said at his own trial.  Such powerful words must have sustained him in death. I pray that none of us reading this undergoes martyrdom, but, if we do, a strong witness will help us persevere at the worst of times, even in final moments of unimaginable suffering.

Just as alarming as court prosecution for our faith is the reality that persecution will also take place amongst family members (verse 12). There are many testimonies today from Christians — some converts from Islam but equally amongst unbelieving people around the world — who faced torture at the hands of their fathers, uncles, brothers, mothers or sisters. Sometimes this has resulted in death — then and now.  This is yet another reason why it is so important to shore up our faith every day. Pray. Study the Bible. Ask the Lord for guidance. Use the gifts of the Holy Spirit.

Jesus closed His discourse on persecution by confirming that people will hate us because we believe in Him (verse 13). Yet, He encouraged endurance and standing firm in the faith. On this, Henry wrote:

Those whom Christ calls out to be advocates for him, shall be furnished with full instructions: and when we are engaged in the service of Christ, we may depend upon the aids of the Spirit of Christ

Perseverance gains the crown. The salvation here promised is more than a deliverance from evil, it is an everlasting blessedness, which shall be an abundant recompence for all their services and sufferings.

The rest of Mark 13 is in the Lectionary, however, it is divided into two parts — each being read at a different service. It is little wonder, then, that some Christians side with preterism and post-millenialism.

So that we can compare Mark 13 with Matthew 24, I shall include the rest of the chapter here and add commentary on the main points:

The Abomination of Desolation

 14“But when you see the abomination of desolation standing where he ought not to be (let the reader understand), then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. 15 Let the one who is on the housetop not go down, nor enter his house, to take anything out, 16and let the one who is in the field not turn back to take his cloak. 17And alas for women who are pregnant and for those who are nursing infants in those days! 18Pray that it may not happen in winter. 19For in those days there will be such tribulation as has not been from the beginning of the creation that God created until now, and never will be. 20And if the Lord had not cut short the days, no human being would be saved. But for the sake of the elect, whom he chose, he shortened the days. 21And then if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or ‘Look, there he is!’ do not believe it. 22 For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform signs and wonders, to lead astray, if possible, the elect. 23But be on guard; I have told you all things beforehand.

The Coming of the Son of Man

 24“But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, 25and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. 26And then they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. 27And then he will send out the angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.

The Lesson of the Fig Tree

 28“From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts out its leaves, you know that summer is near. 29So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates. 30 Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place. 31 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.

No One Knows That Day or Hour

 32“But concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 33 Be on guard, keep awake. For you do not know when the time will come. 34 It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his servants in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to stay awake. 35 Therefore stay awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or in the morning— 36lest he come suddenly and find you asleep. 37And what I say to you I say to all: Stay awake.”

About these verses, particularly the abomination of desolation, Henry counselled:

Now, let him that readeth this, understand it, and endeavor to take it right. Prophecies should not be too plain, and yet intelligible to those that search them; and they are best understood by comparing them first with one another, and at last with the event.

The abomination of desolation which Jesus refers to in verse 14 means the Roman army. Henry explains that had the Jews acknowledged Christ — whom they viewed as an abomination — they would have been spared this judgment. To this day, the Temple ground stands desolate.

They had rejected Christ as an abomination, who would have been their salvation; and now God brought upon them an abomination that would be their desolation, thus spoken of by Daniel the prophet (ch. 9:27), as that by which this sacrifice and offering should be made to cease. This army stood where it ought not, in and about the holy city, which the heathen ought not to have approached, nor would have been suffered to approach, if Jerusalem had not first profaned the crown of their holiness. This the church complains of, Lam. 1:10, The heathen entered into her sanctuary, whom thou didst command that they should not enter into the congregation; but sin made the breach, at which the glory went out, and the abomination of desolation broke in, and stood where it ought not.

It is about this destruction of the Temple at the hands of the Romans which Jesus warns. He said to drop everything and not to return home. Mothers and wetnurses would suffer with the children they were minding. He said that it would be a worse invasion than the Jews had experienced at the hands of their enemies; indeed it was. It was also at that time that false ‘Christs’ appeared to mislead the Jews. Jesus also said that the suffering would have been even worse had God not spared the elect — the faithful who were there at the time. Jesus concluded these verses by telling the Apostles to be alert; this was going to happen. And it did in 70 AD.

However, verses 19 through 23 still hold true today. Many false teachers abound; a good number of them pose as wolves in sheep’s clothing in our churches. Some call themselves prophets. Others preach an Old Testament-only — ‘Judaising’ (as St Paul would have called it) — theology, full of legalism which makes their followers prideful. Still others preach secularism because they are too faithless to say aloud that Jesus Christ is Lord.

In a dual reading of the destruction of the Temple (historical) and the Second Coming, verses 19 through 23 describe the tribulation of both events. For us and future generations, the world will become more dangerous, more evil, more tyrranical and more hateful of Christ and His followers. These events culminate during a period of 1260 days, 42 months as prophesied by Daniel and reaffirmed in Revelation. (Unlike John MacArthur, I see nothing in Scripture to support the Rapture. As an amillenialist, I believe that the faithful alive during that time — whenever it occurs — will be caught up in it. However, I do believe that God will spare or mitigate their suffering.)

In any event, after the tribulation, whatever generation is alive at the time will see Christ’s Second Coming. This is not something most Christians think about. However, Jesus’s words in verses 24 to 27 and in the latter chapters of Revelation (in Messianic imagery) tell us that these hours will be terrible for unbelievers and awe-inspiring for the Christian faithful. Bible scholars like MacArthur say that people will die of fright. I would not doubt that, because the world will be in an unbelievable state by that time. Thus begins judgment for those who are evil or unbelieving and salvation for those who have persevered.

Verse 30 could be read to apply to the generation which would be around to experience the devastation of the Temple as well as a warning to us to pass along to future generations. The world will not end until all of which Christ accurately predicted happens. In verse 31, He clearly states that His words will withstand the test of time.

As to verse 32, John MacArthur theorises that perhaps Jesus suppressed His divine omniscience in saying that only God the Father knows when the end of the world will occur.  Henry thought that perhaps the Holy Spirit spoke through Jesus at that point. After all, human nature being what it is, if He said when that fateful day would come, nearly everyone from that point until now would say, ‘It’s not in your lifetime. Don’t worry about it’.  Faith would become lukewarm. Many more people would have lost their souls.

As it is, Jesus continually emphasises the need for us to be alert, awake and prepared for the tribulation and for His Second Coming. He means this in a practical and spiritual sense. If the worst happens, don’t mooch off your neighbours; you should have laid in enough supplies or made plans by then. Don’t expect God to provide if you haven’t made provision for yourself.

However, more importantly — don’t give up the faith. Let us store up spiritual sustenance now so that we may withstand what may come in our sinful world during our lifetime. Let us also prepare future generations in the same way.

Next time: Mark 14:1-2

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